There was a time when we lived below. We guarded the core and kept the demons in chains. We never went to the Upside. The Elders told us it was a barren place and we believed them. So we stayed at the core, where the fire seared our skin and the demons roared and raged.
In time my younger brothers, Sebastian and Gideon, started to criticise the Elders. “They are wrong about the Upside,” they would say. “It isn’t like that at all.” Then they would tell tales about the Upside. Listening to these tales made me shiver with excitement. But I never let them know them. Instead I’d rebuke them for their wild stories. However, many of the others would sit and listen for hours on end.
My brothers spoke of an Upside divided into land and water. “What is water?” some of the younger children would ask.
“It is something that flows like lava,” Gideon would reply, “But cooling and gentle on the skin.”
“And what is land?” another child would ask.
Sebastian would stamp his feet. “It is the rock that lies beneath us. But here it is black and fierce, there it is green and soft.”
“And alive of course,” Gideon would add.
“Yes,” said Sebastian, “The land and water are both alive.” At this we would all gasp (yes even me, hidden away in the corner).
“How do you know all this?” someone would ask.
“We see it in our dreams,” my brothers would answer.
At this point I’d always steal away. “This is nonsense,” I’d say to myself. But every night I would also dream of the Upside. In my dreams I would see the green soft land they had described and I’d feel the water soothing my crusty skin.
Soon a lot of the people wanted to leave our burning core and visit this fertile land. Sebastian and Gideon told the people this could not happen until the last Elder died. So they waited. And one by one the Elders passed away until the day came that no Elders remained and it was time to leave for the Upside.
But not everyone wanted to leave. Some still believed in the Elders. I would not leave. I told my brothers I wanted to stay at the core until they returned for me with proof that the Elders were wrong, that the Upside was a fertile land and not a barren wilderness. In the meantime I would guard the core and those who chose to stay and I would keep the demons in check. “You are scared,” said Gideon. “Trust us,” said Sebastian. But I couldn’t. “We will return for you,” they said. And I believed them.
And so one day they left for the Upside and took most of our people with them. And when they reached the Upside the people saw that Sebastian and Gideon had been right. The Upside was a fertile paradise, full of colour and life, beauty and abundance. And the warmth of the sun was a gentle warmth, not the dry searing heat of the core.
The people celebrated for days but then an argument broke out between Sebastian and Gideon. The brothers couldn’t agree on what to do next. Sebastian wanted everyone to use their gills and scales and live in the sea and Gideon wanted everyone to use their sharp teeth to hunt the land. For three days and three nights arguments raged until finally a decision was made. Half of the people would go with Sebastian to the sea and half would stay with Gideon on the land. The people were sad to be parted but they knew there was no choice. Sebastian and Gideon could not agree and neither would back down.
And so it came to pass that Sebastian and his people used their gills and scales and lived in the sea. Soon they lived in every ocean, river and lake. Where there was water there was life. And their numbers grew. Gideon’s people used their sharp teeth to hunt the land. They hunted far and wide. From the highest mountain to the deepest vale. They hunted and grew strong. And their numbers grew.
But of course as time went on sea creature forgot land creature, and land creature forgot sea creature. One dark day a land creature hunted and killed a sea creature. Soon after that one sea creature turned against another and a land creatures killed his brother. Thereafter blood flowed throughout the land and stained the oceans and seas.
I saw this from below. I saw it in my dreams. I saw it and I wept. But I was hurt and angry too. I had stayed behind to guard the core and wait for Sebastian and Gideon. But they never came back. They forgot who they were and who our people were and they forgot me.
It was then that I began to visit the demons. I listened to what they had to say and I listened to what they promised. One night I knew it was time to act. I visited them and I unfastened their chains and I released them into the world above to do my bidding. For seven days and seven nights they brought chaos to the world. They made the seas rise, the ground quake and the stars fall. And on the seventh day they blackened the sun. I saw this from below and I saw that it was good. Then they returned to me.
Those of us who remained are the Elders now. We will ensure each generation guards the core and cares for the demons. And we will warn each generation about the barren world above, we will tell them the truth about the Upside.
I never saw the Upside but I still visit it in my dreams. I gaze upon the broken world, I walk its landscapes and swim its seas. I mourn for what could have been and I weep for my lost brothers.