The Avernals

14 Dec

From earliest childhood, my parents and siblings drilled into me the single purpose of my life: to become an active hunter of demonic avernals.

“We are sublimes whose ancient ancestors fell down here from the heavens,” my father told me numerous times in my childhood years. “Only if the underground monsters are kept away from the surface can our dominion be maintained. We are in an eternal war against our hellish enemies.”

From my native dorp, I was able to see clouds of rising sulphur fumes from one of the openings of our continent. An outlet for avernals was what this represented, I was taught.

When I reached adulthood, at the age of nineteen, my father approved my intention of visiting and observing the crater lake from which the most smoke arose. My curiosity about the center of our planet and its inhabitants had captured possession of my young mind.

“If only I could see for myself the boiling water and the terrible fumes, father,” I pleaded with my aged parent. Eventually, he gave me his approval for the two-day trip.

A pack full of food on my back, I headed on foot for the area that was the source of the obnoxious smoke and smells. There were no sublimist settlements near the volcanic lake that served as gate to the underworld. I experienced rising excitement as the terrible site came near. Vegetation suddenly disappeared. No trees, no bushes or grass anywhere near the lake shore.

I sensed a fearful awe at the edge of the gray, dead looking water from which smoke lifted up. What could be anticipated from such a dangerous location?

All at once, the questions torturing my thought received immediate answer. A form unlike anything I had ever seen before rose up out of the still water.

This had to be an avernal, I told myself.

Panic seized hold of me. I stood petrified, without any idea what to do. But I heard some words.

“Do not be alarmed. I shall not cause any harm to you. My sole aim is to become acquainted, young sublime.”

By that time, my body was shaking. My brain felt frozen by fear. Though I was speechless, the unnatural being continued to address me.

“On your right side, a small distance from  here, there lies a giant rock that sticks forth into the lake. Go there and sit down. I shall join you and reveal many things to you.”

With that, the avernal sank below the surface of the lake.

My mind in a whirl, I did as I was told by the mysterious entity.

The top of the rock was smooth and level, so that I sat on it in comfort. My wait there was full of apprehensive anticipation. In surprise, the voice of the avernal sounded from behind me, on the land side from which I had not expected it at all.

“Let me introduce myself by name,” said the creature from below. “I am called Jaen.”

I told the avernal my own name and that of the dorp I came from.

“Why did you travel here to the lake?” it asked me. “What is it that you seek?”

I was in a quandary, striving to give some answer to the question.

“My purpose is to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. I want to find out all I can about the lake and the kind of beings who emerge out of it, specifically the so-called avernals.”

“There is much for a sublime such as you to learn concerning us. We are not all the evil devils that rumors maintain. There are many lies that people of the surface believe. We do not steal and then roast and consume the children of sublimes. That is an ugly canard meant to create hatred and dread of us. None of us is so  vile as these libels hold us to be.”

“Tell me this: why do the avernals dwell under the soil? What are they concealing there?”

“Our ancestors once covered the upper part of the planet, but that became impossible for us. Can you guess the reason for our withdrawal?”

It looked at me with blazing red eyes in its froglike face. Since I made no reply, the avernal proceeded to answer its own question.

“We were driven downward by force. Our entire species was herded off the upper surface. No mercy whatever was given our forebearers. Suffering and exile was their awful fate.”

Something invisible began to move deep within me, causing a major change in thought.

The two of us stared at each other for a long time. I had never seen such green reptile skin on arms and legs, such misshapen a head without any hair.

“Can you swim?” the avernal asked me out of the blue.

“Yes,” I replied. “I learned how in our dorp’s pond.”

“I want you to follow me into the lake so you can come to know it,” said my new companion.

Exploration of the openings into the waters from below ground was a revelation to me.

There were so many of these large pores! Such quantities of heat poured up out of them! I was astounded at the world I found along the bottom of the avernal lake.

Soon I met and became acquainted with other inhabitants like my friend. They were all curious about me. None had ever encountered a genuine sublime. I made revelations to them,and they did likewise to me. The more I learned, the greater grew my curiosity about their unknown world.

They clearly were not the malevolent evildoers that brought nightmares to ground people. I came to realized the extent of the slander and calumny they had suffered for uncounted ages.

The time arrived for me to return home.

“I promise to tell the truth about avernals,” I said to my friend and his relatives.

With a degree of sadness, I started to retrace the route I had followed to the lake.

My body was tired as if from carrying colossal weights, yet my brain seemed full of energy. What should I say to my father when he quizzed me on my journey to the avernal lake?

I attempted, at first, to equivocate.

“It is not at all easy to describe what I experienced there. Everything was so new and different for me. Nothing was as I expected it to be. All of this is difficult for me to put into words.”

My parent scowled with disdain. “Did you sight any avernal?” he inquired.

What could I say? The truth had to be provided him.

“Yes, I saw one of them swimming about in the water. It came near. I spoke with the creature. We became used to each other and we held a series of conversations.”

My father’s pale face reddened. His hazelnut eyes began to bulge out and his voice hardened.

“You threaten to bring me shame, my son. It is our strict rule never to have any contact with such malignant monstrosities. No truck with those things is permissible. They are unlike sublimes in every way possible. We and they are different in our natures and essences. Don’t you understand?”

It was better not to start an argument on my part, so I turned and left without any further word.

I should have seen the danger threatening, but I was blind to what hung over me.

Over and over again, arguments broke out with inhabitants of our dorp. The more I defended the avernals, the angrier our neighbors became. Anger against me burgeoned on all sides. Both young and old turned against me as a traitor to the self-image of the sublimes.

My father, getting wind of what was going on, warned of the potential peril.

“Do not talk that way about the demonics, my son,” he advised me. “No one can foresee where that could lead you.”

But in my rigid stubbornness, I ignored what he said to me.

Finally, the rumors about me reached the office of our regional constable. A squad of troopers was dispatched to our dorp and I was arrested. Imprisonment in the lockup was my summary sentence. Infinite shame descended upon my parents and close relatives.

The effect upon me was overwhelming. My old life could never be restored, that was clear.

What am I to do now?

It was not difficult to make an escape, and my father provided me sufficient coins to bribe my guards. Where was I to go? There was only one path for me to take.

My feet took me all the way to the fuming lake of the avernals. Where else was there any refuge?

It was easy to find my friend. I told the avernal what my plan was.

“A hut is easy to build with rocks and sod,” I explained. “My home will be here by the boiling waters. I shall become a hunter and trapper. My plan is to trade with the avernals of the area and thus meet all my material needs.

“I will have the opportunity to learn the ways and traditions of your kind. My dream is to create a joint community consisting of both our species. That is my personal hope: to start a process that dissolves our enmity, that makes for harmony and understanding.”

With surprising alacrity, my friend accepted my aspiration.

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