Left enervated from my initiation into the rites of Venus, oblivion rolled over me like a wave. I later awoke to find myself still engulfed by Muirgein’s coiled embrace. Though my body ached, it caused me no anguish; quite the contrary, for each twinge of pain brought to mind their carnal source, producing involuntary moans and muted whimpers. My lover contracted and constricted for every yelp, for she knew, and delighted in teasing me. She clasped me close like a treasured doll as we indulged ourselves lasciviously.
Time had no meaning in our Sunless Eden. How I wished to immortalise these experiences, to live within each sublime moment as if it were a lifetime. I had no intention of leaving Muirgein’s side; let Mother and Father draw their own conclusions from my absence. I was a woman now, not some needy child, and choices were mine and mine alone to make. Perchance I gave in to wanderlust or succumbed to suicide – my family certainly gave cause for either.
But time did in fact matter, even if it moved unperceived. The stars aligned for us, allowed our lives to intersect, but such moments were tragically fugacious. We were an eclipse, and like the Moon and Sun, destined to spend the greater part of our existence apart. In this knowledge, it is no wonder why the consummation of our love came so swiftly; perhaps, under less ephemeral circumstances, we might have enjoyed a slower courtship, to better relish the anticipation.
My devotion to Muirgein was, is, and shall forever be without question but her interest in me proved difficult to comprehend. By sheer size and strength, she could have claimed me – to do with me whatever she desired and leave me spurned, or worse – and yet instead she treated me with adoration; I, the one so small, so human, so tragically mortal.
Did she find my frail body and broken song somehow endearing? Was I, as a landwalker, an exotic curiosity? Truly, she could declare her love for me in the Queen’s English and I’d nary believe her.
But it was good to feel wanted. To be desired, to be loved – through her, I was closer to Heaven than I ever thought possible. Even as days turned to weeks, we remained committed to the pursuit of bliss and did so with wild abandon.
Sustenance was not an obstacle, despite our isolation. The fresh water streams that fed into our brackish grotto quenched my thirst while I tended to ablutions far from its source. Muirgein hunted, scouring the sea for fish, crab, and bivalves. I roasted whatever she returned with over a small, lamp-oil-fed flame, though she preferred to consume her portion raw, swallowing it whole; her teeth evidently reserved for larger prey.
It was comforting to know that she had not spared me for lack of appetite.
I would occasionally accompany Muirgein on her hunts, riding her through flooded caverns and out into the great open sea with spectacular celerity. Seeing Craigwen from the water, I was better able to appreciate its decay and just how much. As this land was lost, the community was forced to rebuild in an increasingly clustered and haphazard configuration. I suspect that the Church of St. Brendan was originally situated on the outskirts, eventually becoming the centre through a process of elimination; soon, it too would drown.
Together we formed a union of apocalyptic singularity and exhibited ourselves for any sleepless souls to behold. Though muddled as we were by the dim and fog, I could not help but imagine hidden onlookers, struck by awe – that bewildering amalgam of wonderment and terror – even if there were none to tell me so. In the presence of Muirgein I felt synchronously, contradictingly, a fool, a slave, a queen and goddess.
At high tide, beneath the pale full moon, Muirgein carried me to a semi-submerged shoal where a stone altar protruded just above the surface of the water. Wrapping her serpentine lower-half around the shrine’s foundation, she pinned my body against the mist-soaked slab as we enjoyed a prolonged, amative kiss. Gently, reassuringly, she pulled away, even as my trembling lips and imploring gaze begged for more. She closed her eyes, held her hand over my heart, and proceeded to serenade me as only a lover could.
The arcane reverberations of Muirgein’s musical language interlaced the waking world with dreamlike visions. Though they began as little more than undulating and amorphous lights, these tonal illusions developed definitive forms over time, revealing visages of an antediluvian age. Soon the shoreline disappeared, leaving only the rippling vastness of a seemingly endless sea and the mauvish-crimson firmament up above.
This portrait of formless beauty lingered but was gradually replaced by the emergence of colossal blocks of porous greenstone. These megaliths rose from the depths until we were encircled – more so enshrined – within the grand fane of a cyclopean temple-city. Tunicates and corals decorated the walls, hosts to a myriad of luminescent colours that shed light on the sigil-scarred architecture. The transformation was thorough, for even the slab of unwrought stone upon which we lay had come to resemble the exalted edifices of that phantasmal cathedral.
Muirgein’s flesh shimmered with a nacreous lustre which reflected off my pallid skin as an imitation much diminished. She opened her eyes, erecting her torso while she settled over me and began to sway exotically as if dancing to the rhythm of an inaudible drum. I was mesmerised by the motions of her hips, her heaving bosom and writhing tendrils, though no aspect was so enchanting as those brilliant, labyrinthine pupils.
Yearning for her touch, I reached for Muirgein in fevered desperation. Her sable lips curled into a smile, exposing a hundred gleaming daggers. She wrapped her clawed fingers around my waist, lifting my body in the air before drawing me into her engulfing embrace. Nestling my head against her sternum, I breathed in her salty musk and sighed in satisfaction.
Muirgein grasped my chin with a single tendril and tilted my head until our faces were aligned. Our eyes remained fastened as she laid me back onto the slab. With my body splayed and exposed, her gaze gravitated, ever slowly, down my entire length. The memories flood my mind, flawlessly vivid despite the interminable gulf of years. Like two serpents entwined, we surrendered to our passions and rolled about that fleeting bed of Eros, singing a duet of sensuous exaltation.
I was to be her bride. At this altar, within this ancient memory, we were to wed – uniting us in spirit and flesh. Look at how my tears stain these pages and smudge the ink – let them serve as testament to the veracity of my experience! Like St. Teresa in maddened ecstasy, I impaled myself upon her spear and allowed her divinity to fill the emptiness within.
And in a moment, in the single tick of a clock, our rapture was interrupted by a loud crack, like the snapping of wet canvas in the wind, followed by a thunderous cacophony echoing off the cliffs and across the bay. The mephitic stench of sulphur filled my nostrils and forced me back to a bleak reality. Smoke rose from Craigwen and, of more immediate importance, from the muzzle of Father’s Whitworth rifle; an old purchase, though unfired until this very moment.
And there was Father, standing at the head of a mob armed with torches, clubs, and rusty flensing knives. I remember his face clearly, but I still cannot say whether his countenance betrayed fear – fear of “monsters”, fear for his child’s safety – or revulsion for what we were. Regardless, his actions and words implied that he was blind to the truth. His posse was composed of men from the nearest constabulary, in addition to his valet and several locals successfully pressed into service.
And Father, drunk with rage and grief and probably whiskey, tore the secrets of this place from the flesh of its denizens. Through his ignorance and impulsivity, he broke the old covenant. Like Caligula, he declared an unwinnable war on the sea.
It was a foolish, though ultimately accurate shot, and the bullet struck Muirgein in the upper-back. If there was blood, I did not see it, but the force of the impact was strong enough to cause a violent shudder and the sudden constriction of her body still wrapped around mine forced the air from my lungs. Her torso spun backwards as she uncoiled from the altar, ending our union of flesh before focusing her predacious gaze upon the crowd.
Muirgein opened her mouth and unleashed a wrothful aria that reached far and wide, indiscriminate in its permeation. In the beginning, there was pain – a visceral suffering accompanied by the most infernal emotions, as if nails forged of pure rancour had been hammered into the back of my skull. Agony forced me from the altar and sent me reeling into the shallow water. I tried to scream but the words never left my lips.
Her seething hymn summoned manifestations of ill-defined horrors followed by complete and utter darkness. Though I could not see, I experienced the nauseating sensation of spinning and falling, as if the earth had vanished from beneath my feet. The gaping chasm of the mind swallowed my consciousness whole, sending me plummeting through a psychic void until I at last pierced its strangely gelatinous borderline. And beyond that realm of nothingness, I beheld unthinkable monstrosities.
The limitations of the mind, of the human senses, provide a curious defence against such aberrations. The memory is neither vague nor fragmented, and yet there is something mercifully incomplete about its recollection. Each component can be called upon with visceral clarity, only for the line of thought to terminate as I approach the sum of its parts.
These were the True Leviathans and I was but a transitory visitor to their abyssal domain. Fleeting glimpses of their singular anatomy revealed traits found among both flora and fauna; resemblances that were at most superficial and betrayed a lineage severed from the tree of life as we know it. I cannot imagine what strange epoch spawned such entities, if they were ever native to our world to begin with.
I remember how their vaguely anguilliform lower-bodies seemed impossibly long. With no end in sight, perhaps they went on forever. Clusters of tentacles sprouted from their sides and expanded root-like throughout their domain. Their bulbous heads lacked facial features, bereft of eyes or even a mouth, and were instead covered by numerous, irregularly placed holes. The texture of their flesh seemed more fungoid than animal but this, like the preceding descriptions, fails to wholly capture the nature of what I witnessed. But with the evanescence of a dream, the vision soon abated and only dread remained. From the abyssal court of forgotten gods, I was delivered – transported from one nightmare to another, “incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim”.
“He runs on Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis”.
Torn from that otherworldly realm, I stood knee-deep in reality’s aftermath, wading through shallow pools of maroon and pushing aside pale corpses until at last reaching the shore. A wild tempest now held dominion over this land and its power was increasing by the minute. I followed the trail of dead, of blood splattered across the chalky stone, as it led me back to Caeruchel. There I found the main door in pieces, evidently smashed apart by something seeking entrance from the outside.
On the floor, beyond a failed barricade of tables and bookshelves, was the corpse of my father. With hands over his ears, his eyes bulging and mouth agape, his ghastly visage betrayed the abject horror of his final moments. Blood soaked through his hunting jacket, drawing my gaze to a gaping hole in his chest. Father’s heart had been destroyed, a relatively swift and merciful end to his life; a death undoubtedly kinder than what he and his ravenous coterie intended for Muirgein.
Father was brave; stupid, yes, but still more courageous than I ever knew. He cared enough to kill for me – and I suppose to die as well, though perhaps he was too arrogant to consider his own mortality. Unable to recognize the exorbitant naivety of his endeavour, he died for nothing. Victory had always been impossible, for Muirgein was, and forever remains, a living goddess – a daughter of the monstrous and divine.
And a man cannot kill a god.
Nude and trembling, I retrieved Father’s heavy redingote from the coatroom before returning to the unseasonably cold outdoors. The logical choice was to remain sheltered, to hide until the storm had passed and for when the Sun would drive the merrows for darker waters. Blinded by the glare of anarchy, of blood and haunted melodies, I wandered about the manor grounds in a state of discombobulation.
Trudging through the sodden earth, I unwittingly followed the desolate road to Craigwen. As I approached the flooded isthmus marking the edge of our estate, a large object began to take shape in the fog and would in time unveil itself as the overturned wreckage of the family carriage. One horse lay dead, the other was missing. Though rain had washed away the blood, limbs and viscera remained to mark yet another grisly repercussion. Inside the cushioned interior was Mother’s mangled body, her head crushed beneath an iron lockbox laden with riches. Father may have provoked the merrows’ wrath but Mother sealed her fate through greed and want.
A weight had been lifted – a shackle broken – and in her death, I found catharsis. And so I left her there, forever unmourned, while the ebb and flow of the tide gradually interred her corpse in silt. The indifference she showed me in life I repaid her in death.
Having seen enough, I turned away from the wreckage and marched on into the heart of the maelstrom – to the doomed village of Craigwen.
Between roars of thunder, I heard the merrows sing. A dismal rage imbued each note, suffused every shift in tone and tenor and enveloped me in their seething litany. While desperate villagers prayed for mercy, I alone embraced the deluge with open arms. And as others tried to flee the winnowing, I called to Muirgein with love, wanting only to be returned to her side.
Though I could barely see through the tenebrous winds, flashes of lightning granted moments of illumination and revealed the world around me like etchings in a flipbook. Each step I took met resistance, the buffeting gale countering my stride to almost a standstill. Titanic waves surged through the streets and alleyways, demolishing homes and assimilating the resulting debris to create even greater destruction. In flashes of lightning, I saw the old church topple, as prayers were replaced by unintelligible shrieks and then silence. When the tempest finally abated, I beheld ruin.
Most of Craigwen was gone, not just the harbour and hovels but the very land itself – all dragged to the bottom of that oldest voracity. The merrows called this storm, for their words enslaved the air, commanded the tides, veiling both the Moon and rising Sun. Through its elemental fury, they exacted punishment on the breakers of laws, of creeds either unfamiliar or near forgotten, making no distinction between outsiders and oathbound.
What little remained of the town was indistinguishable from a shipwreck. An outsider would be quite justified in thinking this land unclaimed. Looming over the great emptiness, atop a high drumlin, stood Caeruchel Hall, which suffered no more than the loss of a few roof tiles.
The merrows were gone, and with the covenant broken, would not return again.