© Michael Eric Oberlin, October 11, 2014
The bottle had a transformative effect on the meal. Something about the ingredients loosening their tongues and their wits, morphing each of them into someone else, someone hidden. Maegon couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much. He couldn’t quite remember what he had said, either, so at least there was a sense of balance to it.
As he came to sobriety, the first thing he noticed was the feeling of wet sand between his bare toes, the feeling of the cold ocean washing over his feet. His lock was still tied, but a bit tangled. He was at his home, his real home. His house wasn’t much to speak of, a single room shack somewhere up the beach. It was the ocean, the Grey, that brought sobriety to him.
The mists never cleared, in this world of his. They slurred starlight and sunlight into an indistinguishable half-light. Where there was no river or ocean, there were hot springs and faults, the planet’s inner heat forever belching out refined vapor. It drifted out over the ocean, into the unknown, forming an intangible barrier to those that would stray just a little too far.
He dug his feet into the sand once more, and thought. He wasn’t entirely sure how long it had been. He wasn’t tired. The only rational thing to do was that which he knew, so he treaded down the beach, barefoot, to the docks, where his boat was moored.
Maegon could only guess what had happened to his boots. They were good boots, durable, leather; likely somewhere in the ornithomancer’s abode, perhaps scattered, haphazard, on the floor. He skipped over the aging wood of the dock, careful not to get a splinter from its stressed and broken surface, and stepped down into the more polished surface of his watercraft.
Beneath it was a thick pane, made of soda-lime glass; a small lens shape was molded into it, beneath a trapdoor that covered part of the window. Beneath the pane was eternity, the whole of the ocean staring up at his wide pupils, free of the shroud of fog and wall. On the end was a reel of wire, the “chain”, one end permanently attached to the end of the dock. The other had a curious timer on it, consisting of one gear within another within another, each rotating about the edge of its containing gear for a full cycle before the other one moved a tenth of the way about its own container.
Their clocks were based on the only thing available to them that everyone could agree on, and that was the metric, the number ten. Beyond that, it was a question of mainspring temperance and convenience of construction, leveling off at the easiest materials to make and maintain.
This clock was not the best clock, the salt had eroded through its central spring many times now, and the condition of the other gears was questionable at best. Sometimes it ticked a little too slow, others it was too fast, occasionally, not at all. When it reached a third of the outermost gear (colloquially called a “throne”), the clock would trigger a small motor which would reel him back to shore.
Maegon untied the mooring rope, and pushed off. The metal wire slowly unreeled behind him, and gradually, the shore disappeared in the white fog. His only real notion of how far out he was was the emptying of the reel, but that could be deluding. The wired dropped into the sea, how far down he could only guess, and the docks could be anywhere from ten meters beyond the edge of his sight, to a thousand kilometers away.
As far as Deep was concerned, the docks no longer existed.
Maegon raised the trapdoor, exposing the lens. He opened up a small tackle box and pulled out two vials, one full of a white powder, the other a yellow salt. The white powder was emptied in part on the glass lens, and the yellow salt behind it. He tucked them away, then dipped his fingers in the ocean and splashed a little water onto the conglomerate. It began to smoke, just a little, then light up in a brilliant yellow.
The trap door closed behind the alchemical fire, protecting his eyes. Below, the entire ocean seemed to come into focus, the flame pouring its light down on everything beneath the boat. Every fish, every piece of coral, seemed to glow in the phosphor radiance. He supposed that he hadn’t been entirely forthcoming, earlier; he was not entirely alone on the ocean.
A puffer fish bobbed by on the seafloor, its casual burst of hidden spines dissuading the attention of a sea snake. Deep found himself again under the spell of wondering how deep the ocean went, how far out it might go, what lay beyond the beach of infinite shrouding. Were there other continents like this one? Were there other people, beyond the fog, or in some other part of it?
His tail coiled itself nearly into a ring and his fingers formed white-knuckled fists, his natural muscular response to his equally tense curiosity. There were other sailors, other fishermen, who had been lost at sea. Their cables rusted and broke, or their pegging on the pier collapsed, allowing their boats to drift further away, swallowed by the Grey itself. What happened to them, no one was really sure, but there were plenty of fisherman tales about what might have been.
Deep liked to imagine that they had landed on some other body of land, one that was not accessible by any dry route. He imagined that they found a place so wonderful that they never wanted to go back, or so alien that they never ran out of riddles to solve. The notion of an infinite ocean, one without bounds, was difficult for him to justify. Perhaps some of them did die of thirst on the open sea, but maybe someone reached a new land.
He stretched out his bare feet, and dropped his net over the side. A swarm of sardines was gathering beneath the glass, a potential gold mine of a catch, if he played it right. Calypso was right. The Grey had been good to him, lately. He dreamt sometimes that he was like the fish, and could walk among the coral and the anemone beneath the boat, down at the bottom of the sea, so very far away. He dreamt that he could breath the water, and meet the fish face to face, not as a predator, but as brethren. He dreamt that he could walk off into the distance, following the submerged sand to the end of its line, until the world ran out of ideas and repeated itself and just maybe, a new continent rose from the waters. He could always dream.
For now, he knew that every time he unreeled his line and slipped off into the mists, he was a bit further away from the land he knew. The beach drifted into eternity, and for a third of a throne, he was just a little closer to those strange places that stood beyond the wall of white. He dropped a fine net over the side, and prepared to grab a group of sardines. Someday, fortune might turn its eyes to him, and for better or for worse, he would be lost at sea. He would have an answer. For now, he had a little work to do.