If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Chapter One!
SYRA: THE HUNT
Thirty miles to the east and more than two miles down, a group of hunters approached their unsuspecting prey.
Five armed warriors crept through the blackness, moving silently in a world where silence was absolute. They swam in a loose formation; the leader flanked by her most trusted fighters who were in turn flanked by junior hunters. Their powerful fishtails were tense and coiled, barely flickering in the water as the group proceeded inch by cautious inch towards the hulking monster that lurked in the darkness.
Enormous solid-black eyes dominated their faces; they stared unblinkingly ahead, attuned to the smallest particle of light. Around each hunter’s head floated a halo of thick black hairs.
These sensory tendrils perceived even the tiniest vibration, the smallest change in the water pressure. Right now each one was sending a wealth of information to the figures as they communicated silently with one another, devising a plan of attack.
Each of their long, thin hands were clutched around their krakana, sturdy bone spears. Each was tipped with a variety of sharpened bone and teeth. The leader’s weapon was wickedly curved, hewn from the lower jaw of a great white shark.
At her signal, all five of the creatures stopped and surveyed their prey.
The giant squid stretched forty feet from its upper fins to the tips of the powerful, dangling tentacles that it used to push through the water with tremendous force. There were ten arms in total, eight short ones and two long. Each covered with rubbery, biting suction cups running along their length. These arms ended at the squid’s bone-crushing beak, and hungry mouth.
Its eyes were gigantic, almost a foot in diameter, and they pierced through the darkness in search of small fish and other prey.
As the hunters gathered around the beast, it located an angler fish. Faster than seemed possible, a tentacle shot out and wrapped around the struggling animal. In another heartbeat the fish had been swallowed by the hungry squid, leaving behind only a faint dusting of scales that drifted idly to the ocean floor.
The dark eyes of the hunters were now fixed solely on their leader. She made a series of quick, abbreviated hand gestures, trying to disturb the water as little as possible. Her warriors dispersed, spreading out in a slow fan. They moved into position, each fighter at a distance that would keep her just out of reach of the squid’s gripping tentacles.
The leader swam up a few feet until she was almost directly above her prey. It’s constantly shifting eyes roamed over her and she froze, not a single sensory tendril wafting in the water. The squid didn’t see her in the blackness, and she slowly raised one arm to the side of her head, then jerked it down suddenly.
Flashes of bioluminescent light erupted from all angles. Its massive eyes unprepared for the sudden onslaught, the animal was struck momentarily blind.
The leader lit up a red stripe of light along her spine, signalling the second stage of the attack. Her hunters took their places at the base of the largest tentacles, krakanas poised and ready.
Raising her shark-jaw spear, she slashed down violently into the soft skin of the squid’s mantle.
The wounded beast twisted violently in the water, stretching it’s murderous tentacles blindly in search of its attacker. One of her hunters was knocked sideways by the power of the squid’s movements. She sank heavily into the soft floor of the seabed, kicking up a billowing cloud of sand.
Now the world was a blur of sand and blood and black, inky water as the squid turned and thrashed in the water. Another warrior flashed a bright white glow next to the animal’s sensitive eyes and it shrank back from the sudden light, allowing her sister to get close enough to begin slashing at the squid’s powerful arms.
The animal drew its arms protectively into its body, leaving only the two longest tentacles to continue sweeping for the source of its pain.
Red light began flashing wildly as one of the tentacles wrapped itself blindly around the leg of a hunter and began drawing her towards its snapping jaws. Her powerful tail beat the already cloudy water until all that could be seen was the rapidly flickering red light moving closer to the squid’s mouth.
The leader raced to her trapped hunter, slashing again and again with the serrated blade of her spear. But the squid’s arms were thick and muscular. Her blade scratched the surface but couldn’t penetrate deeply enough to break the squid’s grip.
The other three hunters began flashing in rapid succession, confusing the large predator. It twisted and doubled back.
Suddenly the leader of the warriors was face to face with the animal’s enormous rolling eye.
It was larger than her head, and rimmed in white. It looked directly at her with a terrible intelligence.
It saw her.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she withdrew a sharpened bone dagger from a sheath on her hip and buried it into the squid’s eye, piercing it’s brain.
Dead, the animal sank slowly to the ocean floor below.
The hunters now fell to the task of gutting and butchering the massive squid. They worked mostly in complete darkness, only occasionally flashing a bioluminescent signal to one another. They moved as a well-trained unit; each one falling to their usual tasks with little need for communication.
First, they sawed off each of the long arms, twisting and knotting them together to form a bulky but manageable bundle. The heavy mantle contained the majority of the meat, and they sliced it into long, thing strips. They keep all the edible organs intact, discarding only the black line of intestine that ran along its body.
The squid’s enormous eyes were wrapped in carefully in a square of seasilk and set aside. A gift for the Gods.
Some of them took trophies from the kill. As the one who had delivered the killing blow, the leader claimed the animal’s strong beak as her prize. Another hunter cut away a piece of toothed sucker and affixed it to a bone necklace, where it joined the suckers of eleven previous hunts.
When they were finished, the lingering traces of blood in the water were the only evidence of the recent violence. Already though, scavengers were arriving upon the scene, drawn by the lingering scent of the squid’s entrails. A finless hagfish swam lazily a few inches above the ocean floor, seeking out any scraps of meat that may have fallen to the silty ground.
Dead, the giant squid weighed more than four hundred pounds, and there was enough to spare that the hunters did not begrudge the hungry fish a few mouthfuls. From behind a nearby rock they retrieved several wide, flat pieces of bone, scavenged from the skull of a fallen whale.
Using thin, flexible lengths of seasilk, four of the hunters bound the enormous sections of squid to the bone, then wound the shimmering white fabric around their shoulders. Harnessed to these makeshift sleds, the warriors kicked strongly, their powerful scarlet-red tails stirring up the silty sediment of the seabed.
Underwater, the hunters were able to carry loads many times their own body weight. They had also been trained in strength and stamina since birth, and their muscular bodies strained at the sturdy seasilk until the heavy loads began shifting slowly, and then with greater speed. The captain of the warriors took her place at the center of the pack, unencumbered except by her sharkbone spear.
The band of hunters began the slow, four-hour journey back to their city, the heads of the four bent as they dragged the heavy whalebone sleds. The leaders eyes were huge in her face, on a constant swivel as they cut through the infinite darkness of the abyssal plain.
An auspicious hunt. No one injured except Mara, and even that was only a sucker-bite.
The leader took a moment to peer back at her Beta, her right-hand fighter. Mara and their fellow pack-sister Tyre were the veterans of nearly a dozen hunts, and the violent bouts against the squid had left all three of them pocked with circular scars left by the animal’s toothed tentacles. Even her two junior warriors, Jada and Aeleon, bore signs of their encounters with the giant squid.
The meat from this kill will feed the people of Lai’lore for at least three months. A sure sign after so many failed hunts. Relief washed over her, though she was careful to keep her face expressionless. Perhaps the Gods have finally been appeased.
The sensory hairs on her head picked up a vibration coming from ahead of the group and she swam aggressively ahead, flashing her B. spinal ridges in warning. A flash of blue lights flickered back, signalling to the group of heavily armed warriors.
Spear still poised at the ready, the leader closed her eyes and focused, summoning her energy. A soft glow began under her ribcage and spread slowly until her entire body was illuminated in a glowing yellow light from the top of her head to the very tips of her tail flukes.
Where a moment ago there had been eternal blackness there was now a shining halo around the leader of the hunters. Her hair flowed wildly, the sensory tendrils swaying in the otherwise still water. Behind her, her fellow warriors bowed low, still dragging the heavy sleds.
It was a display of great and dreadful magic, known and feared by all the denizens of the deep waters. Immediately, the approaching creature froze and began showing red flickers.
A sign of subservience. One of their own. Clearly visible now in the yellow light emanating from her body, the leader beckoned the newcomer forward.
She was thin, with a long silver torso ending in a bright cerulean-blue tail. Across her chest was a gleaming sash of white seasilk bearing a distinctive stylized spiral.
A messenger. From the Temple of the High Priestess. She hovered at the edge of the light shining from the leader of the hunters and, wide black eyes downcast, that she had a message for the leader. She was still visibly trembling in the presence of the leader’s shining yellow aura.
Poor thing. Why in the Abyss was she sent out here without protection? She loosened the tension in her abdomen, and the glowing light quickly faded, leaving them surrounded once more in safe, comfortable darkness.
“What could possibly be so important that my grandmother would send you all the way out here alone, young one?” the leader asked. She communicated in a combination of high-pitched whistles and clicks, bioluminescent flickers, and broad hand motions which created traveling vibrations in the water.
“Pardon me, Lady Syra,” the young woman answered with a deep bow, her voice still quaking with fear from the leader’s earlier show of aggression. “The High Priestess commands that you come to the Temple at once.”
The lead warrior, Syra, scoffed and gestured to the heavily laden females behind her, “My warriors are already returning after a successful hunt. We are tired and thirsty. Tonight we will give our offerings to the Gods. Can my grandmother not wait until then?”
The young messenger bowed again, but was already shaking her head, “She says you are to leave the others behind and come at once. An offering has been found.”
“We have an offering wrapped up in the sleds behind me!” Syra gestured impatiently.
“No, my Lady–”
“Don’t call me my Lady. Syra will do,” she interrupted.
Yes my L– Syra,” the messenger stumbled on her words, misery painted clearly on her features. “But your grandmother said that an offering had been found, and that you were to come back immediately. She said something about it being a “sacrificial” off–”
“That’s enough.” Syra cut the girl off again, and she fell silent. “You will stay here with my warriors. They will see that you return safely to Tessai.”
Now she spoke directly to her first hunter, “Mara, divide your load between the others and take lead. See them back safely, sister”
Mara gave her a fierce, proud look and said nothing. There was no need. The two had been raised together since infancy, they knew each other’s minds as well as their own.
Still clutching her long spear, Syra left her fellow hunters behind and began swimming in the direction of the City as fast as she could. Almost instantly the dark closed around her and she was swimming alone through the silent blackness. She swam mindlessly, lost in her thoughts.
A sacrifice had been found.
How many years it had been? Before Syra’s time, so at least twenty years ago. In that time, the Gods had grown angry and restless. So many eggs failed to hatch, and too many of the surviving hatchlings were sickly and weak. Most did not survive to see their second year.
The people of the Abyss were growing restless as well, and fearful of what further devastation the Gods might unleash if they were denied their rightful gifts. Already there were rumors from neighboring communities of violent shakings within the Abyss, and plumes of black smoke that spewed up from the chasm.
A sacrifice was desperately needed, and Syra sent a silent prayer down to the Gods that they were able to send along an appropriate offering in time.
Still, her heart hammered as she thought of what surely awaited at the Temple of the Abyss.
A pure offering to the Gods Below could only come from the Realm Above.
One of them would have to undergo the perilous journey to the surface, lure the sacrifice into the water, and drag it down to the Abyss as a gift to the Gods.
Let it be me. Syra clutched her krakana tight, and swam faster through the darkness.The silty sea floor was midnight black beneath her tailfins as she raced to obey her grandmother’s summons.
The High Priestess did not like to be kept waiting.
Click here for Chapter Three!