Friday, August 10, 2012

Story: Still Waters

The land is being eaten by an ocean and its ravenous hunger. Not many people remain and most gave up hope long ago, but where past is shrouded in legends and future is uncertain, a hero can always rise.

This story was inspired by the current writing prompt from here, which is wise.

Table of contents: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Chapter 1

The hut was large enough to house a hundred of people, yet there were hardly thirty. An old man was sitting in the centre, surrounded by listeners, or perhaps students. Most of them weren't older than twenty.

"Are your stories true, Erkel the Wise?" asked the youngest of the children, a small girl called Molly.

"Oh, they are always true," the elder replied, his wrinkly face smiling wide. His age must have been a three digit cipher, yet he was still very lively. He was the senior of the settlement, a guide, a chief, a leader.

Hunters sought his counsel and people eagerly heard his tales. Although he had never opted to be chosen for the position, his natural personality earned him that and he didn't object to it.

"But it's so unreal."

"It indeed feels like a dream," Erkel concurred. "For it is so long ago when I could walk from one end of the Earth to another and arrive where I began. However, my memory reassures me that I am not making this up."

"Will the still waters withdraw sometime?"

"Maybe. And maybe not. I lack that knowledge. So far, we can only hope so," the old man spoke as he stood up and headed towards the door. He opened, revealing an endless ocean in front of him. There were no waves whatsoever, no current that would cause ebb and flow. The surface was perfectly flat.

The people gathered around him and followed him outside the hut, creating a row that observed the vast emptiness before them. In their immediate vicinity, they could see roofs of sunken houses poking out of the water.

"When you were born, the shores were touching the steps leading to the entrance of those buildings," Erkel commented.

"Why is the water so evil?" Tomas asked. He was one of the younger boys, but he was certainly not the least courageous.

"Who knows? Some things are simply beyond our understanding. Water is not sentient. It doesn't think. Its purposes are mysterious and its power is untameable. Perhaps it may be meant to work that way."

"But what about the sea demons?" the girl inquired.

"Those are just scary stories for children."

"But they are the reason why we stopped using submarines."

"The submarine? Well, it is a mystery why people disappeared as we had never found any. Maybe it was curiosity that led them to their demise. Maybe they ventured too far to be able to return."

"Jason was a skilled aquanaut. He wouldn't have done such a foolish mistake," she continued to defy the old man's reasoning.

"Even the best of the best can slip up."

Although his words were wise, neither of the children wanted to believe that such a great man had perished due to a fault. No. A monster from the depths of the evil waters must have been responsible.

"One day, I hope I will be able to beat the devil creatures below the surface," she expressed her dream.

"Provided that they exist, my little friend," Erkel smiled.

"Of course they do!" she was firm in her convincement.

"Well, I won't argue with you on that. So what about you all? What do you wish to be?"

The man turned to the people around him, addressing the children.

"I want to be an aquanaut!"

"Me too!"

"Me as well!"

The kids were eager to show their uniform interest. It was to nobody's surprise though. Their fascination with the ocean was undeniable.

"That is a great aspiration, but you know why we stopped venturing into the water, right?" Erkel said.

"Because of the sea demons. So they exist! I knew it! Ha! I knew they did!" the girl was at it.

"Maybe they do. Or maybe they don't. It's a mystery. A mystery that unfurls at nights when wary sailors let their guard down."

"That story again?" a child expressed her annoyance with hearing the beginning of a familiar tale.

"I could tell you another..." the elder appeared deep in thought. "Or perhaps we could shift the roles. Perhaps you could create a wondrous legend that would inspire or frighten the generations to come."

"But legends can't be created without a hero."

"Who says we don't have a hero amongst us? Each one of you has the heart of a hero. Even you, Eugenius," the old man addressed the smallest of them all, a young and frightful boy.

"Really?" he wondered.

"Really," Erkel answered his question with a smile.

"But a hero must have an enemy," the girl objected.

"And yet the world may be teeming with evil monsters whose existence you so vigorously defend. That is how legends are born."

"But none of us can use a submarine!" she was constantly in denial.

"Is it true? What is your opinion, Tomas?"

"He can?" she stated in disbelief.

"His father is a retired aquanaut, of course he can!" another kid replied and the elder nodded.

"So what are you waiting for? Are you going to be a hero or not?" she was almost shouting.

Tomas was standing still, not sure what to think. He knew how to operate the submergible module, but he wasn't as skilled as his father. Besides, the usage of the submarines had been discontinued and he had only been in under close supervision, held by a reel rooted firmly into the ground.

"Perhaps it is high time you embraced your destiny," Erkel said with a wise look on his weathered face. It was hard to tell whether he was serious or simply playing along the mysterious mood he had established.

Either way, it seemed to have been decided without Tomas. He left the group for another underwater experience. And so he disappeared behind the nearest corner, heading towards the docks.

Meanwhile, the elder continued with the ocean fascination. "So now that we have our own hero, I believe it is time for a brand new story, don't you think? A tale that you won't soon forget."

The children nodded.

"Good. So sit down and let me reveal an untold legend to you. There once was a human living in a small settlement..."

Chapter 2

He was almost certain that it wouldn't end up in anything breathtaking. Just another exploration for the sake of killing time. In fact, he felt that his entire life revolved around killing time.

There wasn't much to do after all. The land was merely a tiny fragment that couldn't even be seen from the Earth's orbit. An island surrounded by an endless carpet of blue that was equally as tedious.

The ocean wasn't nicknamed still waters for nothing. Besides fish and plants, there wasn't anything worth of interest. No adventure or glory awaited him, Tomas thought. No thrill would lift his spirit up and it was only a matter of a while until the diving would begin to bore him.

Others didn't share his mental state. Especially the adults. They were terrified. With the sea levels rising visibly by each month, it was estimated that this small haven would sink in twenty years.

It wasn't a happy scenario, but what was the settlement supposed to do when they had given up their hopes and effort long ago, having been beaten by the calm ocean? It wasn't just frustrating, it was downright exasperating as something still and apathetic won at every turn by doing nothing.

Even though it was scaring at the least, Tomas didn't feel intimidated by the prognosis. A tedious existence wasn't worth more than no existence at all. A world where it took ten minutes to walk from one end of the isle to another didn't have much to offer. A few houses, farms and fields and that was it.

He arrived at the docks, but it wasn't anything breathtaking. Simply three wooden wharves. The submarines, as that was how the submergible modules were called, were rusting in the water, their tops open and ready to be boarded.

He wondered whether he wanted to go in. There wasn't any glory waiting for him, he believed. He would merely gaze into the blue until he grew tired, decided to resurface and go home.

However, it wasn't his decision once again. Mark, a balding man in his fifties whose job was to tend to the submarines, approached him from behind, noticing that Tomas was standing on the edge.

"Father sent you to take a dive? Hop in, I'll make sure the cord holds," he said, his sudden talk spooking the boy.

Tomas recovered fairly quickly though, turning to the man and nodding. It was more an instinctive reaction than a firm resolution. Without even knowing it, he jumped in and closed the lid with a creak, letting himself be engulfed by arrays of buttons and levers in every corner and nook.

It was circular in design both on the outside and inside. There was a rotary seat in the spherical room, allowing him to face any of the four round windows situated around the horizontal perimeter of the module.

Besides these, there also were panels meant to control it. He was familiar with those. Most of the equipment was rusty and decaying, but that was to be expected from a hundreds of years old machine.

Nevertheless, he pressed a large green button and pulled a small lever to the left of his chair. The submarine responded with mechanical roars and mild shaking. It was always like that, but the pilots got used to the twitching after a while.

Even he did. With the moving of another lever, he began delving deeper. He didn't know where he was going and he didn't care. He just floated in the water aimlessly. The module crawled along the bottom and the rope was reeling out slowly but steadily. It was boring, but his aimlessness couldn't put an end to it.

He stared before him, his eyes barely paying attention to the vast sea. His thoughts were wandering in the corners of his own imagination, but it was hardly better than the blue emptiness because he was uninspired.

His mind was straying so far away from awareness that it came as a great shock when the machine shook more than usual and wouldn't go further. The safety cord was stretched to its limit.

He stopped the engine and gaped in front of him. There were fish swimming in tall weeds, there were clams treasuring pearls, but none of it interested Tomas. It might have been a sight for someone who hadn't seen it before, yet it wasn't new to him.

So he was to turn back now. He was to go home and live the boring life. Or not? What if he actually went forth? What if he ignored the purpose of the safety rope and tried to go against it?

He didn't know what he was doing. Why he pulled the lever. The engine roared like an angry bear, straining the cord to great extent. He could spot smoke rising from the bottom of the module, thinking that it would break, yet then a loud thick noise echoed from behind and the submarine thrust forward.

He was free. He hadn't believed that he could feel happy, but he was. He was so ecstatic that he couldn't resist laughing aloud. He was out of his senses and there was no stopping him.

The module went forth on and on, roaming through the endless ocean, passing by sharks and sea snakes alike. The farther he was, the more the creatures got bizarre. He had never beheld anything like them. Trilobites, spiders, pufferfish and many more species were floating in the shadows.

He was amazed, holding breath as he witnessed the marvels with his very eyes. He was so mesmerized that he didn't care the submarine was gaining distance from the shore. Worse still, his fuel wasn't going to last forever.

Only after an hour of gazing did he wake up from the trance and stopped. The thrill that he had felt was priceless, but now that he had sobered up, his other instincts started to surface. Among them, the fact that he wanted to live appeared.

However, the fuel indicator revealed that he was way below the half. He had embarked on the journey with full supply. He didn't fret though. It was easy to reach the air and then swim for the island, he thought.

Yet before he could have commenced that plan, something inexplicable happened. He didn't pull any lever, neither did he press a button, but the module was moving again. It ignored his will, slowly speeding up.

He was calm at first, but as the pace surpassed a simple float, his senses began beating on alarm. He brought the machine back to life and headed away from the flow, yet it was growing immensely strong, overpowering the submarine easily.

The situation was grim, but he didn't want to admit that yet. He was still trying to regain control, he was still fighting against the current, but it was a lost battle. Smoke coming from the engine was thicker and thicker until it obscured his view completely.

It was apparent that the module was on the verge of breaking, its roars deafening. But before he could anticipate it, it gave out one last thunder that resounded in his ears for minutes. It had died out.

He felt he was consumed by darkness itself and thought he would never see the surface again, yet fear and anxiety were suddenly changed by curiosity. A bright blue blaze was rising towards the skies from the bottom, somehow separated from the water.

He gazed at it in disbelief, but his amazement was cut short as the submarine crashed, flinging Tomas twice over. It was a harsh impact, but thankfully he only fell unconscious.

Chapter 3

He woke up, but he wasn't in the rusty confines of the module. Instead, he was in a transparent tube, standing there like an animal on display in zoo. His prison was situated in a vast room full of bleeping blue machines that were constantly moving, forming new bodies and collapsing.

It seemed that there wasn't a single point that stood still, yet then his eyes rested on a greyish throne with segmented black pipes steaming with dark fumes. There was an unhealthily looking individual wrapped in a mechanical suit covered in blinking wires, some of them connected to his pale bald head.

Tomas believed the man was kept alive by nothing more than wishful thinking, but the monster thundered: "Why did you intrude upon my realm?"

His eyes were brimming with graveness that could almost kill, waking great distress in the boy's mind.

Yet the person pressed on. "I expect an answer. Now!"

"I... I was bored," he stuttered in fear.

"That doesn't entitle you to sneak on my belongings and spy on my stronghold!" he yelled, each of his words causing a thunder so strong that the child barely remained standing.

There was silence for a while. The kid was searching for something to say and appease the dreadful creature, yet he wasn't fast enough. The sitting individual suddenly rose, revealing that the suit was connected to the morphing devices via series of intertwined tubes. They were powering him, sending anger and hate into his whole body, making it glow blue. Death. He was the living death. That was the impression he left on Tomas.

"Perhaps I should crush you like a bug and use your proteins as a rejuvenating elixir," he thought aloud whilst he was sluggishly turning away. "Or perhaps I should jettison you into the depths of the ocean and let the pressure take care of you.

But it is too costly and I need every drop of this station's energy to fuel my very existence. Prison will be your fate, just as with all the others."

"Others? There are others?"

"You show curiosity now?" the man was amused, forcing his body and suit to reassemble exactly like the machines surrounding him in order to face him. Although the place was oozing with grimness, it was the pale individual that influenced the child's emotions. Considering that the being wasn't raving and actually showed a calm side, the boy was emboldened for that moment.

"What others?"

"People like you. Interlopers. Many came so long ago, but they didn't come to ask. No. They wanted to attack. They wanted to rob me of my life. I wouldn't let them."

"Why did they want to kill you? Because they were afraid of you?"

"Some, yes. Others... not so much."

Tomas' thoughts were wandering. Prison. State-of-the-art technology. A blaze rising skyward. What was its purpose?

"What is the purpose of the beam?"

"To keep me alive. To raise the waters."

"Raise the waters?" the boy couldn't believe his ears. So he was the sea demon! He was responsible for the elevation of the ocean!

"But what about the people on the surface?! Didn't they come because they were losing ground?"

"It's always about survival. And if survival means to deprive others of life, I have no chance."

"But what gives you the right?"

"Natural selection gives me the right!" he thundered. "I live because I manage to do so!"

"So others do not have a place in the world because of your power?"

"I thought I made it clear that I do not care about people. I care about myself and the world should respect that!"

"Yet your actions led to so many deaths. How long have you been at this? Years? Centuries?"

"It is so long that I can barely remember, but your insolence tests my patience!" he burst in anger, his body suddenly rushing to him and stopping an inch away. "Perhaps I should torture you. Perhaps I could spare an ounce of my strength to set an example for those who aspire to be annoying!"

His eyes were gazing directly into the boy's, sending out waves of indescribable hate that paralyzed Tomas. The child almost believed that he was dead, petrified by an unknown attack of the monster.

Yet even though horror had overwhelmed him, there was a drop of something, a drop of good will that propelled him to say words blasphemous for the creature that had once been human. "Please stop."

"I'm terribly afraid that I can not and will not," he spoke coldly, drawing away from the child.

"But if you do not, everyone else will die," Tomas tried to play on the better side of the man, hoping that there was any at all.

Yet the being carried on with its apathetic stance towards the rest of the world. "Let them."

"Surely there is a hint of compassion in your heart. Surely you must know that the suffering of others is not worth one life!"

"You don't understand," he gazed straight into Tomas' eyes. "There is nothing of higher value than my life. It is a simple truth, a trait human was born with. Why should I not heed my instincts if they are the gifts that I had received?"

"Because there are others in the same situation, same plea for life, yet they can't heed them."

"You are mistaken. They can. And they do. You are proof to that. My prison is proof to that. If your statement was true, you wouldn't be here. But you are and that means your idea is flawed."

"That doesn't change the fact that many could live if you just stopped raising the water level."

"I'm sorry," the man shook his head. "But I need each drop of water to sustain my life. It stays. Period."

"Are you really that selfish and arrogant? Why should you live and others not? Why should you viciously wipe out the entire planet? What entitles you to such right? To such genocidal right?"

"I thought I made myself clear!" the creature raved, causing every piece of technology to shake, turning its colours red. "I have the power to do so and I can do as I please! Others would have done the same if they were here instead of me. You are not an exception, no matter how hard you will try to convince me otherwise."

"I would never be such a devil monster," Tomas snarled, showing anger for the first time in this underwater realm.

"Lie to yourself as you wish, you are too young and idealistic to understand it anyway. Your words are as hollow as your seriousness and your playing the hero is making me increasingly weary. In fact, you have outworn your welcome."

Before the child could have done anything, the man closed his eyes and the lights went yellow. However, Tomas couldn't have seen that as he was wrapped in metal.

Chapter 4

The oppressing confines of dark steel were waking great anxiety in his mind as he struggled to break free, but it was to no avail. He tried hard to get out of the pod, but it wasn't his effort that eventually resulted in a hole at his feet.

He fell, slipping through a translucent blue layer that formed a dome in a gigantic warehouse room, preventing him from leaving. He recovered from the impact, standing up and glancing around in order to familiarize with his cell, a shell in an underwater structure leeched onto the bottom of the ocean. The soil was dry as there was no water to keep it moist, but somehow there were plants and weeds thriving in there.

He wasn't alone though. There were five more people, most of them impoverished and underfed, hinting that hey had been there for quite some time. How did they manage to survive was a mystery.

"A newcomer..." an undernourished old man with a long thick beard wondered, his wrinkly face trying to conjure up a smile despite his pains and aches. "How's it up there? Has the land disappeared already?"

"They say that only twenty years remain," Tomas responded truthfully.

"Oh, and you wanted to play the hero and save the world in spite of having so many years to live. Kid, you shouldn't have been as stupid as us," the elder shook his head.

"I didn't play the hero," the boy objected.

"Yet you are here, trapped along with us. Something must have brought you here, friend, and I doubt toys were the matter."

"Let him tell his story," interposed a woman that was significantly younger than the old individual, but her wrinkles were still undeniable. Her weathered face was smiling, but the burden she had endured so far was weighing it down. "Now, come on. Tell us how you got here."

"I was bored. Life on the surface isn't interesting. There are a few houses, a few fields and nothing besides that."

"So you ventured to the depths of the ocean to seek thrill and adventure?" she was astonished.

"Yes," the child nodded.

"But how did you stumble upon this underwater base?"

"By accident. I saw the beam and then I was sucked in. I attempted to escape, but I couldn't manage to do it."

"Hmm, it seems that times are indeed changing."

"What is so surprising to you, Vilma?" the old man spoke again. "He's like the newer guy. Contemporary surface dwellers don't know a thing about what's really going on and so they can't gather to attack this place. Not that it would be of any help."

"I know what's happening," Tomas objected.

"You do? Well, good for you, so why didn't you stay clear of the water? The danger... you must be either extremely brave or downright stupid."

"The creature in the suit told me. I hadn't known anything before I was trapped and brought here."

"Aha, well then, that... changes a little," the old man suddenly lost interest, feeling that he had exhausted every conversational topic available to him. Now it was only his life of imprisonment again.

However, the child wasn't yet done. He had many questions that he was eager to find answers to.

"How long have you been here?"

"How long?" the elder laughed. "How long?! At least fifty years!"

"That many?"

"Unless I somehow aged extremely fast, my words are entirely true. My late wife could tell... if only she had been here. Alas, she perished long before any of these you can see arrived.

Anyway, don't bother talking with me. I'm just an old sod. Try the others surrounding you. I believe the man that was thrown here a few years before you might even be an acquaintance of yours. What do you think?"

Tomas didn't say a sentence, but he glanced around attempting to find the person, yet he couldn't spot him despite being careful in his search.

"He's sleeping between the large patch of weeds in front of you," the elder gave him a hint.

With that help, it was easy for the boy to locate his target. Shrouded by tall blades of grass, there was somebody deep in slumber, his clothes dirty and bloodied. However, when he looked at the face of the individual, he realized that it was none other than Jason. The last of the true aquanauts.

He knew him only barely as he had been but a whelp when the diver had been at the height of his fame, but the legends speaking of his ocean exploits were breathtaking. He had hunted sharks and whales, he had swum through sacred ruins of ancient cities and much more. Each tale about him was inspiring.

"Jason?" Tomas attempted to wake the man up.

"He's exhausted, you should let him sleep," the woman told him.

"No problem," the slumbering person replied whilst rising up. He coughed afterwards, showing that he wasn't exactly in good shape. "I was merely resting anyway."

"Is that really you, Jason?" the boy found it hard to believe in spite of his eyes weren't lying.

"In the flesh. I remember you being a baby when I left. So much time has passed. It feels like eternity. I almost forgot about the outside world. So long ago... so distant now. I hope you father is al right?"


"Hmm. He must be missing you greatly. How did you get in here?"

"He was curious and sought thrill," the woman answered.

"I jumped into a submarine and went on until the safety rope broke. I carried on till I spotted the beam and was pulled in."

"Safety rope?"

"Aha. Well, after the incident of your disappearance, the settlement decided to stop using submarines for exploration and hunting purposes, leash them and make sure nobody ventured farther than allowed."

"I see. A reasonable precaution for a dying nation. I wonder how many people have lost their lives to this lair of evil. And to think that there must have been millions in the past that were aware of this. They surely fought on and they failed. What makes but a few have a formidable chance against this? The answer is..." Jason suddenly paused. "I shouldn't frighten your young head. How are you?"

"I'm fine," Tomas spoke albeit he was a little bit shaken.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Save the pleasantries! The kid isn't dumb, is he? He surely knows that he is going to die here along with us!" a pungent voice almost shrieked, prompting the two to look its way and witness an old hag in tattered rags sitting by a boulder. The grimace on her crooked face was oozing with balefulness, deterring most and frightening the rest.

"Don't mind her, she always has that attitude," Jason calmed the boy. "There might not be a way out, but that doesn't mean we have to despair for all the years to come."

Chapter 5

It was night, or at least that's what they thought. They were weary and disoriented, but their bodily demands spoke firmly. Sleep. And so most of them slept, the boy especially, his annoyance having reached high levels.

There was hardly anything to do. Although he had witnessed grim and scaring things, it was back to boredom again. The tedium that he had sought to eradicate from his life. It was kind of ironic to realize that.

Nevertheless, his slumber was short-lived as someone woke him up rather abruptly. As he rubbed his eyes to see who it was, the culprit replied in a whisper: "No fast moves, we need to remain silent."

"What..." the boy wondered silently, observing everyone apart from the old man gathered around him.

"We have a chance to stop this," Jason explained.

"Stop what?"

"The rising of water, the misery of our people... everything."

"But how? And why the silence?"

"We've been digging a hole underneath the protective layer. But there is a steel surface a few inches beneath."

"I don't understand."

"We can't dig more and we certainly can't squeeze through. But you... you can, Tomas. You can manage."

"Why the secrecy? Is somebody spying on us?"

"The old man. He's a spy. He made a pact with the evil monster that runs this facility. He chekcs on us discreetly in exchange for years of life. He thinks we don't know, but we do. And it is imperative that we keep it that way."

"Why didn't you get rid of him?"

"It would mean that there would have to be a new spy. Possibly someone from us. I can't imagine it, but if it happened, it would put an end to our plans. That is exactly what we don't want to happen."

"Alright. I understand now. Yet what am I supposed to do once I get out?"

"We haven't got a faintest clue where to go. Your best bet would be to stay hidden and carefully observe. Try to make your way to the evil creature. Sneak from behind and kill it swiftly."

"What if I fail?"

"No. Don't think that. You'll manage. You're brave. You'll certainly make us all proud. Especially your father."

"But I don't have any idea how to do it."

"Come on, we are counting on you, Tomas. Here, it's hidden between clusters of seaweeds," Jason pointed towards the edge of the protective layer. They approached it afterwards, uncovering a hole beneath a bunch of leaves.

The boy gazed inside, witnessing the barrier was rising from a circular tube running around in the ground.

"Try crawling in," they encouraged him.

He wasn't decided even though he realized he didn't have any other option. The vision of boredom vanishing was almost palpable, yet he was aware that it wasn't merely about tedium and thrill.

Great burden was delivered to his shoulders and he didn't know whether he was able to carry it. But he was slowly getting convinced that it was the only way to go. He had to embrace his destiny. Exactly like Erkel had said. His words were echoing in Tomas' mind in that moment.

He did it. He crawled in and emerged on the other side. The freedom was bitter and strange, but there was no time to ponder its nature. The people in the prison were counting on him.

He glanced around, hoping to find an exit. The room was vast and darkened, but he spotted black computer panels embedded into the walls far away. His instincts spoke clearly. Go after them.

His steps led him near, but there didn't seem to be a way out. It was simply a congregation of blinking devices. They didn't move at all unlike their counterparts in the place with the monster.

He was curious though. He walked as close as possible, observing the marvel of technology. And then he touched it. Suddenly, everything began moving. The electronic platforms disassembled, opening a path consisting only of them.

Although he wasn't trusting at first, he eventually decided to carry on. He wasn't even remotely aware where he was going, but when he arrived at the end of the cul-de-sac he had been exploring, he was certain that he wasn't supposed to just turn around and go back. There must have been something more.

He witnessed streams of blue light formed by the blinking panels, creating a wave that flowed into the wall in front of him. It was beckoning him to continue that way, but there was nowhere to go.

Tomas was puzzled, but not for long. He promptly recalled how he had touched the devices and they allowed him passage. His next step was obvious. With a minor press, the electronics slid aside.

A jagged corridor of sharp lines and cubical shapes protruding from the mechanical floor was before him and he went in without hesitation. He didn't know where it would lead him, but he followed the stream as long as it was possible, touching a closed entrance when he stumbled upon one.

It was much to his amazement to see that he emerged into the very first chamber. The monster was nowhere to be found, but he was persistent. He searched the room for a hint that would lead him to his target.

He scanned his surroundings, noticing the blinking stream navigating him to an aggregation of black panels in the corner. It didn't seem suspicious, but as he reached it, a cube from there twitched, spooking the boy.

He retreated a few metres back, but curiosity took hold of him shortly after, propelling him to approach it again. Wondering what sort of thing it might have been, he extended his hand towards it. Perhaps it was a central computer controlling everything ongoing in the facility.

Or perhaps not. As soon as his palm landed on the black surface covered with wires, it cracked and shook, revealing a pale skin beneath. It was him! The monster! What had he done? That was a mistake!

"What?!" he thundered as his body reassembled, his face glaring threateningly straight into the child's eyes.

"I..." Tomas stuttered, his steps going backwards.

"How did you get out of the prison?! You were supposed to rot there for eternity and leave me be! But never mind! I will have to look into it... and as for you..." the creature drew dangerously close. Who knew what kind of deed was he capable of? Snapping the kid in half? Devouring the soul out of him?

Suddenly, overwhelming fear took over the child. He jumped back, seeking a weapon. He was driven by desperation so powerful that his reason couldn't react and guide his rash instincts. He was an animal fighting for survival.

"Are we playing a game now?" the man thundered.

Yet the boy didn't answer. Instead, his hand grazed the machine surface, searching for something sharp and loose so that he could use it as a weapon. Thankfully for him, his palm swiftly found its target, resting on a razor appendage of one of the mechanical panels.

He mustered every ounce of strength in his body to tear it from the ground, ignoring the blood that was oozing out of the self-inflicted wounds. It was a minor injury in comparison to the impending death.

The monster was approaching. Tomas swung the weapon in front of him, causing the enemy to back down for a second. However, it wasn't caution that drove the adversary. It was contempt.

"You think you can beat me so easily?" he grinned, closing his eyes, only to open them again. They were burning red, but that wasn't as horrifying as the shockwave of electronic blades that emerged from the floor and were darting towards the child.

He jumped aside at the very last moment, but his opponent was already hard at work, sending an attack after another at him. Tremors and thorny spines, boulders of stone and much more. He barely dodged it, but he was notably exhausted. A single blow of wind knocked him to the ground, wringing the shard out of his hands.

He breathed in and out heavily, trying to get up in a pathetic attempt, but it was hopeless and he knew it.

"Say your goodbyes, you little maggot, for this is the end!" the creature thundered angrily, making the panels surrounding the boy rise above him and prepare for the final decisive strike.

Tomas cried. His strength had waned, his hopes had abandoned him. Demise was inevitable. His eyes were covered in tears, blurring the sinister hall and all the things within, even the man.

The threat was drawing in. Precious seconds were ticking. Yet the crushing blow didn't come. Minutes were passing away, seeming like tiny fragments of a moment, but nothing happened.

"I... I can't do it," the creature sighed, revealing a struggle against his own conscience. So the boy was right. There was a drop of goodness somewhere in there. "You've won. I'll stop. Immediately."

With those words, everything around shut down. The whole room went dark. Even the man's eyes ceased flashing.

Chapter 6

"Is the story true, Erkel the Wise?" the girl asked the elder. They were standing in a row, each person gazing into the still waters.

"My stories are always true," the man responded with a smile. "Yet only time will tell whether our young hero has brought us salvation."

"I haven't seen the ocean rise up since this morning," she replied.

"Then maybe the ocean has finally satiated its ravenous hunger for the land and we are free."

"Will it come to life again and will currents appear on it as they had been in the past, Erkel?"

"As I've said, only time will tell, my child. Only time."

"And will Tomas ever return?"

"Maybe. But what point would there be to it when he embraced his destiny that was deep under the surface?"

"Can I become a hero too?"

"Of course you can. Everybody can."

"And soon?"

"As soon as you wish that to be," the old man smiled. "But the sun is about to set today, so perhaps you should go sleep and leave the glory for tomorrow, young hero. We all should sleep."

When he said the last word, he turned his back to the water and everyone around followed his example. They couldn't see the bubbles emerging from the ocean and reaching the air, breathing life into it if only for a second. Instead, they went to their beds, knowing that tomorrow was a grand new day.

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