When Muirgein returned, she emerged from the water like foam-arisen Aphrodite. She had saved me again and oh, how she had grown – grown and changed – and what a magnificent metamorphosis it had been. With no hindrance from gravity, Muirgein achieved prodigious size and now towered over me at more than twice, perhaps even thrice my height, though her singular anatomy rendered any estimation of her exact length or weight inextricable.
Obsidian-like scutes and bulging osteoderms insulated her dorsal hide from harm yet her grey ventral skin remained comparatively sleek. Despite these reptilian adaptations, well-developed breasts betrayed her mammalian heritage – unless, of course, they were merely plump with venom. During the time since our last encounter she had become both more and less human. A true daughter of Typhon and Echidna, her monstrous elements served only to intensify her allure.
Muirgein’s beauty was not exclusive to anatomy, to aspects of the flesh. Golden ornaments decorated her body, much of it undoubtedly salvaged from the wrecks of long-lost galleons. The jewellery had been bent, twisted, and linked to create pieces capable of accommodating her size and distinct physiology. Torcs and bangles wrapped around her neck, ankles, wrists, and even her various tendrils, while a warped and strikingly asymmetrical diadem adorned her head, accentuating her six-pronged osseous crest. This gold had developed a porous, almost organic quality, though I’m uncertain if its texture was an aesthetic choice, perhaps an alloy or process unique to merrow metallurgy, or simply a byproduct of prolonged exposure to a marine environment.
Among her many necklaces was a familiar cannetille, my gift to her from years before. Unable to contain my excitement, I called out her false name. Alas, the barrier of language remained between us. Her voice had such power over me and there was a degree of comprehension, even if the details proved elusive.
But it was doubtful that my tuneless words possessed equivalent significance to her. How defective I must have seemed. Like a nightingale, caged and isolated since hatching, forever ignorant to the melodies of her lost watch. For this, I could not help but wonder if she pitied me.
Tears of joy trickled down my cheeks. Unable to fully wrap my arms around her ample waist, I instead buried my face in her stomach. I was haunted by the horrors of the recent past, the lingering pain and unwanted memories, but her warmth would cleanse me of their poison.
I sat down where the bubbling water was shallow. Muirgein took to the deeper centre, where she performed an aquatic pirouette; if this display was meant to impress me, it succeeded. Looking at her, I found myself drowning in the twin amber pools of her labyrinthine eyes, whose cloudy spirals seemed to go on forever. Her sable lips parted, flashing sharp teeth; a human smile to disguise an inhuman maw.
Muirgein flaunted her luminous flesh, producing a chromatic and mercurial glow that limned every voluptuous feature. Nothing was hidden and I studied these shimmering lines not only as a captivated admirer but as a naturalist. Life under the sea facilitated the development of powerful muscles, especially her abdominals which had grown to resemble chiselled marble. I trembled in the presence of this corporeal goddess as my heart sank beneath my navel and continued to flutter.
Located beneath her breasts were a pair of gills, a trait that had gone unnoticed until now. Likely there since birth, it is probable that they simply appeared increasingly prominent with age. This discovery further mystified merrow evolution, undermining my original assumption that the species underwent a selection process similar to other aquatic mammals, such as cetaceans. I would come to question if the merrows were altered by a greater intelligence as opposed to the anarchy of evolution. Muirgein truly was the living reconciliation of faith and nature.
She lunged at me, like a predator moving in for the killing blow, feinting an attack only to hug me at the last second and spin us round like a pair of dancers.
Feelings of friendship and innocent fascination gave way to burning desire. Such was the strange alchemy of emotions, transmuting perceptions following the introduction of a potent catalyst. I did not consider myself the amorous type, an opinion my past suitors only reaffirmed, and yet there I was, enthralled by passions once thought absent.
These memories are still warm, like the embers of a smouldering bonfire.
Drunk with newfound lust, I abandoned the burden of reason and let instinct be my guide. I began to kiss her smooth ventral skin, tasting the salt of her flesh as my impetuous fingers caressed the tightly bound sinew of her Amazonian physique. Recognising the impetuosity of my actions, I ceased my self-indulgent fondling and pulled away from her.
I tilted back my head and tried to meet her gaze, embarrassed, ashamed, and desperate to convey some manner of apology. Muirgein’s coquettish grin, though full of fiendish incisors, quickly dispelled my nervous worries. She had the slightest underbite, just enough to display a pair of fangs between where her lips ended and where her extended jawline began. What a strange and savage beauty, intimidating yet so easily adored.
There was something different about the way she looked at me. It was subtle, at first, until her eyes and squamous brow contorted to convey a singular and all-too-telling expression. Yearning, it seems, communicates itself through a truly universal language.
Muirgein lifted me from the water, leaving my legs dangling in the air while her more dexterous tentacles cradled my head and torso. One such appendage brushed between my thighs, if just for a moment – brief enough to seem accidental. My beloved knew exactly what she was doing.
There was no turning back, no means of escaping her grip, but egress was the furthest thing from my mind. Brought face to face, I watched her mouth open and a long, azure tongue roll out. It wagged suggestively, displaying considerable prehensibility. Having teased me long enough, she drew me into her sweet embrace.
We kissed. Her dark lips, the only lips I’ve ever known, caused mine to tingle, as electricity pulsed through every nerve in my body. I felt as if my heart would erupt and engulf the world in flame. Truly, the cinder of my heart burns just as bright for her now. For her, all others were but tinder and I would raze all-creation for one more taste.
She explored my neck, then down my back – kissing, licking, and gently grazing my skin with her teeth, a reminder: “I could devour you…”
I whimpered as my most salacious dreams were realised, oblivious to the ecstasy that still awaited me.
Swooning, I laid my hand upon her cheek and slowly gravitated to her lips where my middle and index fingers slipped inside. Muirgein’s bright eyes widened with apparent bemusement as my saliva-soaked digits pulled aside her mouth to its furthest corner. There I paused to admire her rows of interlocking teeth and their zigzag pattern. The fact that she could effortlessly destroy me, and that I would let her if such were her desire, only deepened my arousal.
As a virgin, I was utterly ignorant to the ways of intimacy. Rarely did I engage in the solitary vice but alas, my living goddess manifested a carnal itch that no amount of deviancy could satisfy. Only she could ever invoke such mad affection and not a single soul in the world would feel differently had they known her as I.
Gripping me tight, Muirgein dove backward and propelled us to the other end of the spring with a single swipe of her tail. Leaning against a monolith, she set me straddled atop the underside of her vertical length. A witness to her full glory, I was rendered dumb and drooling. If this forgotten grotto was a temple, then I was now before its holiest of altars. I nudged closer, wide-eyed, bouncing, and smiling like a simpleton.
Harmonious moans guided my touch, and when the time was right, Muirgein delivered me to the heart of her femininity. Her pliant folds resembled a bluebellvine flower and I explored her garden like an innocent in Eden. There was joy in service and submission. We were but two creatures, sinless in our love, entangled as nature willed. As we delighted ourselves, her song never ceased – a melody interlaced with carnal cries, lewd whimpers, and their accompanying spasms.
I hear them still, in my most euphoric dreams.
A seemingly satiated Muirgein let her body slump but raised her tail, allowing gravity to send me sliding down onto her lap where our most intimate parts touched, flushed and throbbing. With one hand gripping her hip for balance, I nestled the other between us and stroked to the rhythm of her sonorous hymn.
Upon her holy altar, I sacrificed myself; again and again, I died enraptured until we both collapsed, entwined in shared oblivion. Through her sacred flesh and unabashed designs, my goddess showed me the agony of ecstasy.
It was my twenty-first Summer and our ride to the coast that year proved memorably intolerable. Father had matters of business to attend and would not be joining us, vowing to arrive sometime in the weeks ahead. Without him as an intermediary, Mother was free to focus all her scathing ire upon me. To hide my tears, I turned to face the window. Our destination was still days away.
There was a short-lived period when I actually strove to be the debutante I thought she wanted. In my foolish naivete, I convinced myself that I could truly earn her affection, or at least her respect, through imitation – that she would see something of herself in me, as for her there was no other more beloved.
My efforts were in vain. Mimicry only served to better illustrate the differences between us. In despair, I returned to the quiet defiance that had always characterised our relationship.
For four days I suffered in silence, seething in my secret hate, but Mother’s suffocating darkness diminished as the Welsh coast came into view. Alerted, I focused my gaze on the distant beaches, watching the shapes – little more than dots at first – manifest familiar forms. The stones had again been raised, heralding the coming of the merrows. I smiled, I truly smiled, as hope rekindled my dimming heart.
Kicking off my shoes, I practically threw myself from the carriage the moment we neared the gatehouse. I sprinted down the hill, across the emerald headland, along that narrow path leading to the hidden cove. Foolish in my excitement, I failed to reckon the hours remaining between then and sunset. Already weary from the daylong journey, the sudden exertion depleted what little vigour I had left. Slumping beside a boulder, I slipped into a sweet torpor while the placid tide lulled me to sleep.
My mind’s eye conceived, or instead found itself impressed with, a double flash of white and scarlet. I awoke face-down in a pool of my own coagulated blood with my hands bound behind me. Shifting my weight from side to side, I rolled onto my back and regained my field of vision. Though the sun had yet to wholly set, the moon, full and silver bright, presaged the advent of night.
My eyes widened as my dread surmise became fully realised.
Having been rendered senseless by blunt force trauma, I was bound, gagged, and taken captive aboard a skiff. To this day, I do not know if the assault was an act of opportunity or one premeditated with grim intention. We were far from the coast, far from any who might take pity. Two strangers manned the oars whilst at its bow, facing my direction, was an old man bearing a familiar visage.
It was the groundskeeper of Caeruchel Hall, the man who spurned my search for answers years before – questions that undoubtedly raised suspicions and ultimately precipitated the dire situation I found myself in.
I lay there, still as the dead, virtually invisible beneath the groundskeeper’s moonlit shadow.
He spoke to me, or rather at me, as he seemed oblivious of my return to consciousness. Between his litany of chants, prayers, and ancient invocations, were apologies. Solemn, sincere, but not too mournful – the words of a man who had experienced a lifetime of necessary evils yet never grew entirely numb to the deed. He went on to say that I knew too much; that what he intended was without joy or malice. “Better an outsider” he said, “than yet another of our own”.
“Just one life,” he muttered, “just one life to ensure the survival and prosperity of Craigwen”.
When the oarsmen ceased their rowing, the groundskeeper lifted a crwth and bow from his lap, braced the bottom of the instrument against his chest, and began to play. The sounds he produced bore a singular assonance that deviated from the region’s traditional folk music. He called out to the sea with his strange and frightful melody and the sea called back in immaculate chorus.
The merrows had risen.
The largest oarsman lifted me over his shoulder, bringing my head so close to his that I could smell the ale on his breath. Perhaps the brute drank a few pints for courage – and to numb his conscience in preparation for what he intended to do next. In spite of his robust physique, he grunted and laboured to carry me, leading me to notice that my bindings were tethered to several hefty stones.
These men planned to drown me – to sacrifice me to the merrows and their nameless gods – and these weights were there to seal my fate. This had always been their way. A tried and true method, learned from their fathers, as their fathers learned from theirs.
The sea was full of light and song, a beauty so mesmerising, so utterly transcendent, that few would ever recognize it for the predatory lure that it was – no, not before the trap was sprung. And the colours! Gold and violet, turquoise and indigo – sprawling, cascading, and vibrating to the rhythm of their ancient rime.
Rolling my wrists, I successfully loosened the ropes that bound me, just enough to free my hands as the brute prepared to toss me overboard. Hastily, desperately, I hoisted one of my intended anchors and tightly grasped the stone with both hands. Invigorated by the hysterical strength that accompanies the will to survive, I took that stone and drove it through the giant’s skull. His head caved in with a sickening crack, splattering blood and brain as his lifeless body crumpled where he stood.
The groundskeeper was blind to my actions, his conscious mind lost to the frenzied playing of his crwth.
But the remaining oarsman was soon upon me. He was a lanky fellow but his tenacity more than made up for his size. Before I could react, he had the shaft of a paddle pressed against my throat and was attempting to push me into the sea. I clung to the hull, digging my nails into its sea-worn wood. Something had to give and my stubborn defiance, faced with his relentless force, would ultimately result in vicious dislocation of my left arm from its socket. The pain was of a nauseating nature and caused me to vomit. With nowhere to go due to the gag in my mouth, I began to choke on my own bile.
What a wretched and ignoble way to lose one’s life.
My attacker laid aside his oar and squatted over my limp, defeated body. In his palid, pox-scarred face, I beheld terror of an order beyond that even I, his intended victim, could possibly comprehend. He mouthed a few words but all I heard was the hundred-voice chorus and the groundskeeper’s screaming crwth. Then calmly, coldly, he pushed my head beneath the surface of the water. Powerless to stop him, I could do no more than look on in dismay.
The ocean was ablaze with the luminescent flesh of oscillating ophidian forms. Golden spots, ethereal blue-green ribbons – like the fire of rare falling stars – and suddenly, splashes of crimson, a torrent of blood as the mangled bodies of men hit the water. The calloused hands that so tightly held me released their grip and floated away, severed and trailed by streaming clouds of maroon.
I sank into a storm of teeth and claws and bone and flesh as the merrows eviscerated their own devotees. Still wracked by pain, my frayed nerves sent my body into shock, sparing me from any further glimpses of that vision of hell – before the sea, or my own spewage, had the chance to drown me.
I awoke in darkness. Though my body was battered and bruised, I was relieved, if perplexed, to find that functionality had returned to my left arm. My head had been attentively swathed as well, with seaweed serving as an opportune substitute for cotton bandages. I did not question how I came to reside in this lightless place, nor was I curious about the identity of my guardian and healer, for that answer was self-evident.
The brutes of Craigwen had sought my demise. I witnessed the end of three lives, one conceivably felled by my own hand, and returned from the sea haunted. And though it all transpired in a blur of shapes and colours, perceived through barely cognizant eyes, a troubling, albeit not entirely unsuspected truth was confirmed.
Imagine a child growing up on a farm. Too young to partake in the family’s labours, they might instead seek companionship among the domestic beasts, blissfully unaware that these animals were destined for the butcher’s block and kitchen table. Muirgein and I were young when we met. As we were too innocent to comprehend the true nature of our respective races, I was forced to wonder if she would regard me as friend or food.
These concerns gnawed their way to the forefront of my mind. There they embedded themselves – feeding on my sanity and breeding increasingly complex, ever conflicting emotions.
As I fumbled through that sunless realm, I eventually regained my bearings and, not long after, encountered an unlit lantern – specifically my lantern, and one of the many I intentionally secured in the caverns beneath Caeruchel Hall. A cache of matchboxes and oil was nearby, for I had seen to their strategic placement throughout my hidden grotto. I cast out the darkness, though I suppose I had little need for light to guide my way through such well-traversed corridors.
In search of respite, I stripped down, discarding the trappings of humanity as I approached the primordial spring. The warm water embraced me like an old friend, soothing aches and wounds. My sense of self soon became as vaporous as the balmy mist and I no longer knew where my body ended and where the water began.
My concentrative idol, the pearl-eyed goddess, stared back at me. I closed my eyes, inhaled the sibylline fumes, and entered an intoxicating reverie. Words poured like liquid from my mouth; gibberish at first but a harmony soon developed. The lyrics escape me now, if there was anything lyrical to begin with, but I was certainly no prima donna. I was loud – hysterical even – as I unburdened myself of those accumulating emotions. I wailed and crooned, though I have no notion for how long; time was meaningless – nothing existed beyond my sacred grotto.
Virtually a prisoner in my own domain, I satisfied my need to explore within the manor itself. The estate had undergone numerous incarnations throughout its existence; the ordered grandeur of its Neoclassical architecture succeeded the Stuart period’s simplicity, which itself replaced a grim and austere Tudor castle. Evidence for this process of destruction and reconstruction can be traced back to a 1st century Roman fortress whose brickwork still stands as the manor’s foundation. Only those long-dead legionnaires know what came before but I’m certain the tribal Demetre or Silures made effective use of this land prior to their subjugation.
This history of consistent occupation had a perfectly logical explanation. The horizon was wholly visible in every direction due to its high elevation and the ocean surrounded the estate on three of four sides. Unscalable cliffsides prevented access from the shore, save for a single narrow path. Thanks to these and other geographical features, it was the most naturally defensible location in the region.
There is one place older than the foundation, a place so genuinely ancient that any speculation regarding its age was pointless.
I discovered it by accident while in the basement, hiding from Ms. Bradshaw and her vacuous lessons. Lantern in hand and my afternoon reclaimed, I spent the time in search of the skittering vermin that so naturally congregated in the damp and inky blackness. Cobwebs formed congruous patterns across the ceiling, merging the silken domains of many a spider. I remember how it twinkled before my light, its surface bejewelled by drops of moisture that no doubt lured prey as diamonds would a thief.
At the far end of the chamber, behind the furthest cask, the web grew dense and layered, littered with the desiccated remains of winged insects better suited for the wide outdoors than a lightless cellar. Spiders are of an inherently unsociable disposition and I wondered what brought about their atypical assemblage. Intrigued, I brushed aside the web and forced my way through.
Beyond the viscid threshold was a wall – ordinary and not unexpected, save for the presence of a gaping vertical fissure. Despite its advanced state of deterioration, the structure was relatively modern compared to adjacent architecture. It was undoubtedly the stonework of an amateur, someone other than the master masons responsible for Caeruchel Hall or any of its previous iterations. Proof of this was how one strong push was all I needed to send it toppling.
The dust settled and revealed a timeworn stairwell. After a period of hesitation, I swallowed my fear and descended. The spiralling passage delivered me to a labyrinthine network of megalithic tunnels. Underground structures could be found throughout the world and Britain was no exception. Mediaeval crypts, Anglo-Saxon barrows, and even Roman Mithraea were hidden across the Isles.
The walls bore singular engravings – pictograms, possibly even hieroglyphics – which failed to coincide with any known culture. Aeons ago, a cult carved this complex from solid bedrock. I could only imagine that these were the creations of the Demetae or Silures or perhaps some other forgotten Celtic tribe unknown to the historians and archaeologists of our age. These depictions ranged from the familiar, such as waves, fish, rain, and whales, to the utterly abstract, if not alien. Abstruse as they were, these symbols and their configurations invoked a particular aesthetic or theme – one that, like the songs of the merrows, seem to embody all things thalassic.
Though devoid of life, these ruins were not silent. There had been a faint droning since the moment of my arrival and the volume only amplified the deeper I travelled. By the time I recognized the steady burble of running water, I had already reached its source, where a confluence of subterranean tributaries fed into a large central basin. Steam emanated off the surface of the water and I knelt at the edge of the pool before dipping a finger, finding it warm to the touch but not scalding.
Just how much of this grotto was a product of nature or human artifice, I cannot say, but what I did know was that this was a sacred place.
Five monoliths encircled the basin like the outstretched fingers of a buried giant. Jutting from the centre of the pool was a statue depicting a menacing amalgamation of serpent, octopus, fish, and woman. The chimeric goddess displayed the plump breasts and distended abdomen of late pregnancy, leaving little doubt of an association with fertility. It had the head of a devil-fish, a hideous species known for its enormous mouth of needle-like fangs and bait-like cranial appendage. Long, sharp spikes protruded from the shoulders and back like the spines of a sea-urchin while the lower-half was an anarchic skein of snakes and tentacles with a strangely chitinous texture.
Within the shallow gouges that constituted its eye sockets were a pair of large pearls, their perfectly spherical bodies appearing jet black with green-blue overtones – a rare coloration that has, to the best of my knowledge, never been harvested from British waters; indeed, my research on the subject suggests that such pearls are typically only produced by the black-lipped oysters of the exotic South Seas. I cannot say for certain how they came to be on the other side of the world but it stands to reason that the merrows were at the root of it.
I stared in awe, in horror, so great and terrible were the gods of old.
Mother Ocean, Her Undulating Vastness.
Low on kerosene, I retraced my steps and returned to the manor. I told no one of these ruins and hid the entrance through the strategic arrangement of wine racks. As I wrote before, this was a sacred place, and I would not have it profaned. It would serve as my lifelong sanctuary, my truest refuge from civilization. Ms. Bradshaw would berate me for my sudden and inexplicable absence but proved otherwise ignorant of my whereabouts.
By the age of eighteen, I was free of Ms. Bradshaw, who had fulfilled her contractual obligations and left our home without fanfare or farewells. I do not know how common it is for a governess to feel fondness towards her ward but there was certainly no love to lose between us. In retrospect, I must admit that I did not make her position any less tolerable. One might expect that I would have sought to extract some sliver of affection from her – to find in Ms. Bradshaw a maternal surrogate. Alas, I simply regarded her as an extension of Mother’s will, if I regarded her at all.
It is a terrible thing when tutelage merely distracts from one’s true vocation. My governess was but an obstacle, though through no fault of her own.
As I neared marriageable age, Mother organised the visitation and courtship of several suitors. She often insinuated that the bloodline would end with me if left to my own devices. Though her goal was to insult me, Mother spoke the truth – I was terribly shy, barely speaking more than a few words.
But do not mistake my diffidence for bashful simpering. I felt nothing for these men.
It became increasingly apparent that these suitors weren’t invited for my benefit alone. Mother would parade herself through the parlour and devise excuses to join us. I saw how she positioned herself, how it would further exaggerate her natural curvaceousness. She knew how to look at them, how to smile and laugh, and when to be coquettish or coy. As she feasted on their adoration, her ego bloomed.
I do not pretend to understand the reasons for her endless cruelty. At the cusp of my development, time would begin to take its toll on the woman to which it had previously been so kind but this was not the fault of envy. No, it was instinctive – an emotional form of filial cannibalism, like beasts who consume their brood at the first sign of weakness. Mother was a predatory creature, a witch wielding insidious glamours, and who she hurt was inconsequential. Whatever Mother desired, she received.
Alone again and consumed by curiosity, I sought to learn all I could regarding the vagabond merrows. As the village was forbidden to me, I turned to the solitary native in my family’s employ. I knew little about our groundskeeper, not even his name, but I did know that he was born and raised in Craigwen. Shy and lacking my family’s gift of gab, I could not bring myself to openly approach a man who was, for all intents and purposes, little more than a stranger.
Instead, I wrote a letter with a series of questions – about the town, its history and folklore – in addition to directions to a particular rock, beneath which he could deliver his response. I placed the message at his doorstep, along with a handful of sovereigns for his troubles, and would check my impromptu drop-off daily. It was all so comically elaborate but such was my nature; I hadn’t even considered the likelihood of his illiteracy. After a week of waiting and nearly ready to abandon this endeavour, I lifted the selected stone and found my letter returned, along with my bribe of coins. Written on the back of the parchment was a simple, straightforward reply:
The groundskeeper was literate, at least partly, but unfortunately wanted nothing to do with this bargain. I watched him tend the garden, where he kept his head down and avoided my gaze. I was confused, seething even, for it never occurred to me that he might decline. The severity of my dismay revealed that more of Mother’s haughtiness lurked inside me than I imagined.
If he was unwilling to tell me the truth then I would have to glean it through subterfuge.
Ms. Bradshaw’s watchful gaze remained a problem, necessitating a certain degree of trickery. I ultimately decided to exploit our situation and requested that she chaperone me to the village, feigning interest in Cragwain’s scrimshaw and assorted knick-knacks. My pretence was met with scepticism but she nevertheless acquiesced. Her only demand was that we remain together and that we would return before dusk, citing the village’s notorious inhospitality.
We departed Caeruchel Hall after tea and travelled by foot to that destitute hamlet. Craigwen was but a quarter mile from the manor – appearing from that distance as an ugly blotch upon an otherwise splendid scenery – and so the journey was not unduly arduous. For reasons unknown, neither clear skies nor a bright summer sun could lift the heavy gloom from that place and there was an ever-present fetid miasma, reeking of fish and the nitrogenous waste of low-tide mud.
The history of Craigwen was far less known to me than that of the region as a whole. The putrescent village appeared as if frozen in time, preserved beneath layers of rust and rot as if it were an insect in amber. And yet I suspect that even the most discerning of antiquarians would fail to glean a shred of truth from this mummified corpse-town.
Though penniless, hunger was not a peril these people suffered. The men always returned with a truly bounteous catch, undoubtedly miraculous by the standards of other fisherfolk. Why the people of Craigwen never simply sold or bartered their surplus sustenance would be readily apparent to any who had set their eyes upon it.
I’ve previously noted that Craigwen does not appear on any maps, that few are even aware of its existence. This did not prevent neighbouring villages from being rife with rumours about the beshadowed little town. A common claim was that no two fish caught off its waters looked the same. This, like most hearsay, proved false, but hardly an unreasonable conclusion to come to. North-Atlantic marine life is not known for its beauty but there was something offensively hideous about Craigwen’s principal resource.
I saw this firsthand at the wharf, where mothers and wives gutted the most recent haul. There was a diverse array of obsidian eels, some with dragon-like heads and faintly glowing bulbous eyes, others with mouths thrice the size of their bodies; grinning fish with the scaleless pink and wrinkled skin of men; ghost-fleshed wretches with organs visible, bearing the lamenting visage of doomed souls. Grotesque fiends, fantastic beasts, and loathsome aberrations – malformed by the crushing black abyss and now destined for the pot and plate.
Peering over the edge of the docks, I searched for evidence of yet another rumour. Our cook, though not a native to Craigwen, was born and raised in a nearby village, and it was from him I was able to learn these tales. He told me that large ships gave Craigwen a wide berth because of hazards hidden below the water’s surface. These lurking threats easily brought ruin to even the most seaworthy of vessels and folks these days knew to steer clear. This ultimately meant no cargo-laden clippers, no prosperous whalers – as industries developed, often bringing the benefits (and horrors) of mechanisation, the village of Craigwen was left behind.
The cook had never seen them himself but others had, including his late great uncle, whose ship foundered off Craigwen while lost amidst a fog. The sailor returned to his village as the crew’s sole survivor, claiming that the old legends were true; that these were no mere rocks but great cyclopean statues – monstrous effigies from before the Deluge.
He said no man was mad enough to conceive such beings; that these were the idols of forgotten beings – of God’s first and failed creations, rightly cast down and drowned in preparation for humanity. Even devils, he said, were more kin to us than the makers of those profane stones.
Alas, whatever was out there was content to remain hidden from me.
There was one other rumour I wished to investigate, regarding a certain church and its unwholesome reputation. Knowing my governess would never allow it, I waited for when she seemed most distracted. Fortune graced me in the form of an elderly accordionist, who played just well enough for her to linger. Seizing this opportunity, I surreptitiously slipped between buildings and serpentined the grimy narrows which wormed their way throughout the harbortown.
Craigwen hid more within its clustered shanties and tortured alleys than outside observation would impress. Unfortunately, I had no time to appreciate the singular, almost organic quality of the dilapidation. What I sought would not be too difficult to find; indeed, I could see its steeple from Caeruchel. There, in the ramshackled heart of Craigwen, was the Church of St. Brendan; one needed only to follow the town’s capillaries to reach it.
The old stone church was distinctly Welsh, though oddly placed. Traditionally, such religious sites were located on the outskirts, adjacent to or surrounded by a cemetery. There were no graves here, at least none that were marked. The only standing monument was a statue of the church’s namesake. The iconic saint had been deliberately defaced, its head removed and its body engraved with blasphemous symbols not yet known to me. It seemed unlikely that superstitious mariners would spurn their patron saint.
Unless, that is, they had gained the patronage of another – something jealous and unwilling to share the devotion of its faithful.
If these people worshipped a new god, I found few signs of its veneration within that putrid sanctuary. I remember how the sunlight poured through cracks in the roof, illuminating particles of dust and spores as they floated through the aether. Exposure to the elements caused the damp interior to be fertile grounds for all manner of fungi. A particularly pervasive mould blackened those long-neglected pews and gave its wood the sodden aspect of flotsam.
The church had fallen into disuse, and decades ago if the level of decay was any indication. Time was limited, so I immediately began my search for clues, though had little notion of what I sought. Focusing my attention on the nave and chancel, I sifted through rubble and rubbish but failed to identify anything of significance. Frustrated, and full of youthful vigour, I impulsively pushed over a decaying pulpit and watched satisfied as it splintered across the hard stone floor. This petty act of childish vindictiveness proved unexpectedly fortuitous, for half-buried in the resulting wreckage was a book, no doubt of some importance and secreted away long ago. Loosening my bodice, I hid the tome close to my body, believing it best to conceal my prize from Ms. Bradshaw.
I returned to my governess with feigned ignorance, claiming that our separation was purely accidental. While she never called my bluff, she betrayed her scepticism with furrowed brows. I noticed that her face was paler than when I left her, despite the summer warmth; it was the haunted visage of one who had seen a ghost and, as memory serves, she would never visit Craigwen again.
Back at Caeruchel, I secluded myself with the tome and pore over its sepia pages. By happy chance, it was written in English, albeit the antiquated English of three centuries ago, and was primarily a record of local events.The first half was dedicated almost entirely to mundane celebrations and incidents – marriages, baptisms, funerals – anything that required the local priest, who was undoubtedly the book’s anonymous author. The tone of these chronicles took a sudden turn when Craigwen was besieged by a series of disasters. A powerful storm tore the town asunder, which was next followed by disease – an unknown sickness festering among the fish, spreading to those who consumed their poisoned flesh – and finally, famine.
Henceforth, the book shifts from record-keeping to what I could only then, in my ignorance, perceive as the diary of a madman. Believing himself forsaken by God, the priest made a desperate plea to a seemingly indifferent universe. That was when they came. Though he called them “Angels”, they did not descend from the long vault of heaven but instead rose from the fathomless deep.
Through these angels of the sea, a new covenant was formed – its fulcrum the promise that Craigwen would never hunger again. Alas, the specifics of this pact are lost to me, for mould blackened the remaining pages, rendering most words illegible. But I had to wonder: what did these thalassic saviours expect in return?
In my twelfth year, our household was joined by a governess, Ms. Bradshaw, who would tutor me on subjects deemed crucial to a child of my class and gender. Beyond some elementary mathematics, there was no place for the sciences in my curriculum; for that, I would be forced to self-educate. No, I would instead learn etiquette, social grace, and the banal rites of polite society.
I despised these lessons, and every new rule and ritual – the manners of self-control; awareness of social position; which fork was reserved for dessert – were designed to erode my identity until nothing remained but an elegant husk. Aimless days blurred together to resemble the grey monotony of Purgatory. I was dead, a ghost and her walking corpse, awaiting the chance to live again.
Bound by familial expectations, our aestival retreat no longer afforded me the same respite it had before. It was not ‘ladylike’ to explore the coast, its sea caves and tidal pools – those rare places that soothed my fragile constitution and lulled melancholy to a tolerable repose. Ms. Bradshaw paid close attention to my activities; like Father’s stalking valet, she had become my shadow, and I was forbidden from venturing beyond the estate unchaperoned. It was impossible to live as I truly desired; nay, not merely desired, but in a manner essential to my being.
My family endeavoured to break me of my habits – to destroy me, and shape the remnant pieces into their ideal daughter. If they wished to fashion me into their dreamless doll, I would rather be like an effigy and burn.
Even with my mind lost in the fog of despair, there was no escape from the spring-tide of life. Adolescence, no doubt an exciting phase for many, only served to amplify my frustrations. Mother had finally begun to take notice of me. Some souls, desperate for recognition, will not discriminate between love or animosity.
I immediately wished for the return of her characteristic neglect.
Mother descended from nobility – a fallen house – and married Father in a bid to retain her lavish lifestyle. Inheriting the malignant pride of her ancestors, she turned her nose up at him and other members of the nouveau riche. An interminable hypocrite, Mother’s disdain for Father’s inferior pedigree never prevented her from squandering his wealth on frivolities.
Her lust for worldly possessions typically gravitated towards Parisian gowns, fine furs and pearls – each a sacred relic in her cult of self-worship. This vile sect held power in our household, manifesting itself as an overabundance of mirrors and a constant air of condescension. Father was among the faithful and indulged her every whim.
She ridiculed my appearance, regularly disparaging my body as too thin, my face as too angular, and openly questioned how she gave birth to a daughter so unlike her, placing blame on Father’s common blood. I knew she only wished to hurt me but her accusations were not inherently without merit, for we shared little resemblance; that I took almost entirely after my father was plain for anyone to see. Not that any of that matters. We are all bound by the chains of pangenesis, but I am no more tethered to the most recent coupling as I am to the eldest link.
I am not my blood; I know this now.
Books were to be my only refuge. Neither of my parents could be described as active readers and it is probable that, as a solitary child deprived of friends or siblings, I simply lacked other means in which to occupy myself. My favourite subject was biology, which was in many aspects still in its infancy.
Despite his blatant disinterest in literature, Father maintained a library at both residences. After all, books symbolised status and presented the owner as an individual possessing vast knowledge and a keen intellect. As trade was his only acumen, his intellectual curiosity did not expand beyond new and improved methods of cost-effective shipping.
The library was quite different at our summer abode, containing singular titles that would never be found in the frugal bulk purchases my father preferred. At our primary residence, the collection was, if not famous, then at least recognizable—encyclopaedias, dictionaries, poetry, and prose; authors whose works were known even amongst the illiterate.
But not here.
A sizable portion of this library had been left by the manor’s previous occupants, a family whose name and bloodline had since faded into obscurity. Whoever they were, their selection betrayed interests both scientific and esoteric, with topics ranging from forgotten Pagan gods and rituals to heterodox theories of abiogenesis. I would lose myself in those pages, finding a fleeting, artificial means to transcend the mundane.
Most of the books were handwritten, often in languages not yet familiar, and lacked any indication of formal publication. Knowledge starved, my appetite had grown voracious. Many of these age-worn tomes were ultimately beyond my comprehension and it would be decades before their full impact came to fruition.
I retained access to the widow’s walk, where I would excuse myself to watch the sunset. Of course, I was not there for the sun, nor the moon and stars, as my interest, my obsession, was strictly worldly. The heavens could wait, for I sought the electric blue and amber lights of vagabond merrows – of my solitary, long yearned companion.
My patient vigil was rewarded five years after my initial encounter with Muirgein, just a month after my sixteenth birthday. I remember gazing at the coast as our carriage approached Caeruchel Hall. There, by the water’s edge, were rocks stacked in tight formations and laden with oblations that glistened beneath the Summer sun. These were the silent harbingers of her return.
I departed from the manor once all had retired for the night and surreptitiously made my way to the rocky peninsula leading to the lighthouse. The keeper had once again raised his palisade in preparation against the merrows. It was a bulwark born of fear without reverence and betrayed his status as an outsider.
In time the sea erupted in light and song. I came prepared this time, donning a navy blue bathing gown and carrying a folded terrycloth under my arm. Had I brought my parasol, I’d have undoubtedly appeared ready for an ordinary day of sun and leisure on the beach.
Silver ripples moved upon the face of the water, joined by the foamy wake of undulating bodies hidden just below. A couple serpentine shapes broke from the throng and surged towards me, reigniting old fears – primal, instinctive. How foolish I was, to stand so boldly before the sea folk; for fear, like respect, was due. They breached the surface with incredible force and sent me flying backwards.
A vociferous wail, like a banshee’s shrill lament, called the merrows back into the water. I sat there, bewildered, as my rescuer slithered up the stony slope and threw herself upon me. Blinded by tears of joy, I lurched forward and wrapped my arms around Muirgein while she cantillated a delightful song of reunion. Both of us had grown, with nature guiding us along analogous paths of development.
Mesmerised by her sacred tones, I surrendered to her euphonic baptism and sank into the depths of its profundity. Soon we were in the water and among the tides we sang and danced; no one could stop us, nothing else mattered. Here we made merry until forced to flee the approach of dawn.
Feigning illness, I took to bed during the day and visited Muirgein in the night. By this method, I was able to maximise our time together – a resource I now knew to be in short supply.
Misanthropy and a propensity for brooding rendered friendship, let alone the lowest manner of acquaintanceship, an unfamiliar notion. Despite my introverted nature, I still knew that girls my age typically gifted each other tokens of appreciation.
But what does one give to a merrow? Wild and transitory, the sea folk had little need for material possessions. Humans hoard; it is an instinct born in reaction to our environment – to cycles, to seasons, of sowing and reaping and of famine and feast. But for a merrow, survival is to live in the moment, to exist in the now, without care for the future or past.
At least, that is what I imagined at the time. The truth is more complicated.
Following days of indecision, I eventually settled on a gift and made my offering at midsummer. It was a cannetille necklace, whose golden filigree tendrils and aquamarine adornments reminded me of her. I had pilfered it from Mother’s armoire, who regarded the piece as out of fashion. Having plenty of jewellery to spare, she would not notice its theft.
My hands trembled when I wrapped the chain around her neck. I felt something with her that I had never felt before – an emotion I was too naive to understand. It began as an inner warmth, a perplexing sensation that left me almost stupefied.
On our final night, before Muirgein parted, she held me close and pressed her sable lips against mine. She uncoiled, releasing me before slithering wistfully back into the sea. I looked on, tears trickling down my cheeks, as her luminous body merged with the radiance of her kindred shiver. Sorrow took me, sending me to my knees, while one by one their light disappeared, until the sea was again as black as the moonless sky.
The dynamic of our relationship had changed. I did not simply wish to be with her, to frolic and delight in shared activities – I wanted her. My burning heart, so consumed by girlish infatuation, ensured that the next five years would feel like an eternity.
The sea was black, cold, and seemingly infinite. Though conscious of my environment, I had been rendered senseless and made no attempt to breach the surface. Even as the darkness pulled me under, I offered no resistance and slowly succumbed to a death-like sleep.
After lingering in a state of unconsciousness for an indeterminate length of time, I awoke with a spastic jerk. Rolling to my side, I coughed and heaved until every last drop of seawater was purged from my body. Choking, gasping, I struggled for air and blindly reached for some surface to clutch and regain my composure. The silence was oppressive and neither wind nor rain nor thunder reached this place. Lifting myself to my feet, I leaned against the rightward wall and waved blindly ahead with my left hand as I stumbled onward across the barnacle-encrusted floor.
Despite their neglect, I did what any imperilled child would do and instinctively called out for my parents. When my voice echoed back, it brought with it a realisation. Though I had little notion of how I arrived, it was nonetheless evident that I had become trapped within one of the many sea caves that dotted the lower cliffs. With this knowledge, escape became conceivable and emboldened my steps. Alas, hope is a fleeting, flickering thing, and mine was extinguished the moment I felt the undeniable tactile sensation of flesh upon flesh.
I tried to scream, not that any would hear it, only to find my voice muffled by a slick hand. Never before had I known such fear, such sheer and bloody consternation. I kicked and thrashed about until the stranger sang softly in my ear and lulled me into a state of limp surrender. As my head rolled back, I beheld a pair of luminescent eyes – spiralling radials of gold, stippled by flecks of azure and encircled by pitch. These eyes, gleaming with intelligence, gazed deep into my own before blinking through two distinct sets of eyelids.
Wrestling with the unnatural calm, I eventually slipped free of my captor’s grasp. In desperation, I crawled into the miry darkness but found egress barred by solid rock in every direction. Trembling, I reluctantly turned to face my pursuer and was granted my first full and unobstructed view of the creature.
The entity’s skin bore streaks of luminescent colours, forming beautiful patterns and bathing the cavern in a pale, spectral glow, without which I would be blind. It was not as large as I anticipated, only eclipsing my petite frame by virtue of its serpentine lower-half. Long, supple arms hung listlessly to its sides, ending in broad palmed hands with spindly webbed-fingers. A pair of appendages whip-like extended from the waist down, appearing to aid in balance and stability when on land.
An osseous crest spread from its brow to the top of its skull where it separated into six sharp points, beyond which hung a gorgonic mane of luminescent tendrils which coiled and writhed as if by their own volition. It continued to stare in my direction, its grey lips parting to expose rows of shark-like teeth. This creature was not the unimaginative merger of fish and woman of folklore, nor the crudely stitched together chimaera from some huckster’s exhibition. These traits were seamless, revealing a singular species greater than the simple sum of its parts.
Strangely, it was not its monstrous aspect that astonished me most. As a suffererer of chronic nightmares, I already expected something bestial but instead, the creature bore a visage of youthful femininity. My “captor”, in truth my savior, was a girl, like myself, but from a world utterly alien to the one I thought I knew.
She immediately reminded me of the merrows – the sea-folk of Celtic legend. Among my family’s servants was the widow Ms. Kelly, who, acting as a surrogate to my mother, regaled me with tales of these and other fantastic beings at bedtime. Even as a child, I never imagined them to be more than fairy-tales and make-believe. In retrospect, it was a trifling resemblance but “merrow” would remain my preferred nomenclature for the species. Every culture with an affinity for the sea had tales of mythic species bearing these singular traits – sirens and finfolk, naga and lamia, and a full bestiary of others – and the very reason as to why was right before my eyes.
Through the sidewinding slither of her serpentine body, the merrow came nearer. Uncertain of her intentions and paralyzed with fright, I dared not even breathe. At various times she would retreat, disappearing as she dimmed her light-bearing flesh. After several minutes of this game, the merrow lunged and wrapped herself around me. She proceeded to open her mouth, widening until the jaws parted far beyond its lips and eventually separated from ear to ear. Slowly, deliberately, she clasped my neck between her teeth. I remained perfectly still; too afraid to scream, I merely whimpered. The ordeal lasted only a few seconds before she pulled away and returned her mouth to its resting size and shape. It had been a surprisingly gentle display and failed to puncture the skin.
It made little sense to me at the time but I would later understand the meaning: “I could devour you, but I choose not to.”
I occasionally wonder if the human smile or kiss originated to express a similar intent or lack thereof.
Like a sprightly child on her first playdate, she took my hand into hers and dragged me off. At first I faltered, for though her light allowed me to see her, I was otherwise oblivious to my surroundings. Though she had the strength to take me by force, the merrow instead showed patience, even empathy, and slowed her pace in response to my frequent stumbling.
We would eventually arrive at the edge of a briny pool, where she slithered into the water and waited half-submerged, her luminescent eyes watching me expectantly. My mind raced, leaving me dizzy and dumb but still clever enough to observe my environment, from which I deduced that there would be no possibility of escape once I entered. After untangling my thoughts, I further recognized that the merrow had many opportunities to kill – and that if she intended my demise, then she would have already seen it through.
Freed from trepidation, I silently agreed to her invitation and lowered myself into the pool.
The merrow looked at me and smiled and I tensely smiled back. Unable to contain my anxiety, I fell into a fit of nervous laughter. My pathetic noises seemed only to delight the merrow, who gaily slapped the surface of the water. I pointed to myself and told the merrow my name, distinctly enunciating each syllable. She tilted her head, seemingly perplexed. How strange my sounds must have been.
She lay both hands upon her chest, closed her eyes, and sang the aria of her true name. The harmony called forth visions – whole experiences – all closer to reality than any dream. I imagined myself floating through the murky shallows of mangroves and among coral gardens in unknown tropics. I tasted blood in the water as ancient reptilian instincts awakened, if but only for a moment.
It is a name beyond the human tongue, something no system of writing could ever truly convey. In later years, I would endeavour to transcribe her song, merely to create something so shameful, so utterly profane, that I had no choice but to consign it to the flames.
I would instead call her Muirgein, meaning “sea-born”. According to legend, it was the Christened name bestowed by St. Comgall to the mermaid Lí Ban as part of her baptism. Though it ended with the mermaid’s death and ascension to heaven, it was her aquatic adaptations and angelic voice that stuck with me most.
It was a flawed, all too human name for such a magnificent being but alas, it would have to suffice. Simply lingering on the memory of her true name excites my mind with the anguished longing of a dipsomaniac for the bottle. I sweat and shudder even now, failing to hold it back. If you heard what I have heard, you would feel the same.
I let go of the edge and drifted towards Muirgein and into the pool’s centre. I remember the curious manner in which her grey lips curled – almost mischievous. She would again take my hand, drawing me so close before plunging us both beneath the water. Perhaps it was the influence of her voice but I heedlessly capitulated to her whims.
Muirgein was, in what should come as no surprise, a phenomenal swimmer, and I had not yet even begun to struggle for air when we breached the surface. The sky was a welcome sight, tumultuous as its darkened clouds were, and what I now knew to be the light of her kin still filled the sea. She took me to the shore, where we would spend the rest of the night at play.
The language barrier – and the barriers of culture and species – were minor obstacles to our amusement. We swam, gathered shells and driftwood, and built small palaces from stone and sand. At dawn, we parted; I waved goodbye, and she mimicked my actions, though I cannot know whether or not she understood. I hurried home, washed the salt from my skin, and returned to bed mere minutes before the grandfather clock struck and rang the sixth hour. Exhausted, I feigned illness to catch up on sleep lost to last night’s escapades.
Muirgein abhorred the daylight, a trait emblematic of her species, and so we came together exclusively under the cover of darkness. The storm had passed and the moon was waning gibbous, leaving me less reliant on my companion’s nocturnal vision.
One particular night stands out among my memories. I had led Muirgein, who swam in the water parallel to me, along a lowland peninsula and to the old lighthouse. It was hardly the Pharos of Alexandria, but it was one of the few artificial structures to ever really call to me and I wished to share it with her. Once we arrived at our destination, she climbed up the rocks to join me, employing all five of her appendages with hypnotic grace.
The lighthouse was different from how I remembered it. The keeper had boarded its windows and wooden stakes formed a palisade around the tower’s base. Though undoubtedly raised for defensive purposes, my young mind failed to connect the enclosure to the merrows’ arrival. Inside the lighthouse, a man recited a litany of prayers.
A mournful dirge echoed from across the bay and drew my attention back to the sea. It was the song of a great whale that had been lured into shallow water, stranding and bloodying itself upon a reef. Merrows swarmed the trapped leviathan, and though the finer details were beyond my sight, predator and prey alike glistened crimson beneath the moonlight. I have heard that whales are notoriously difficult to fell, and knowing this, I can say that the beast’s lamentations were mercifully short-lived. These pelagic hunters were, if anything, efficient killers.
The wild hunt was terrible to behold and though I pitied the beast, I could not avert my gaze. I had to see this – I had to understand – that there was no evil, no cruelty in the hunt. This was the way of all living things.
I learned this lesson well.
Unfortunately, these nights of joy and adventure could not last. Although I dreaded my family’s return to the city, it would be the merrows who were first to depart. I waited by the shore, gazing at a sea of stars, but Muirgein never came. One by one, the lights disappeared, and I was left alone to wonder if it had all been a dream.
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-XXXX cannot be directly contained but has a relatively low probability of being encountered by the public in a verifiable manner. Research should be conducted from a distance and missions involving exploration or artifact retrieval should be restricted to D-Class personnel. SCP-XXXX is to be equipped with a GPS tracking device which must be upgraded or replaced whenever possible. Physical contact with SCP-XXXX-1 is forbidden.
Description: SCP-XXXX is an anomalous seafaring vessel displaying dimensional instability, inexplicably disappearing and reappearing at different coordinates for reasons unknown. Most manifestation events last between 12-36 hours and SCP-XXXX will often not reappear for days, if not months. It is the largest known watercraft in recorded history, having an estimated length of 500 m, a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of approximately 580, and a gross tonnage (GT) of 275.
SCP-XXXX’s design fails to correspond with the ships of any known civilization. SCP-XXXX is primarily composed from a seamless and gnarled dark wood but with a strength-to-density ratio on par with titanium. The wood appears as though cultivated and grossly manipulated into the form of a seafaring vessel. SCP-XXXX is estimated to be several thousand years old, the vessel’s hull encrusted with the remains of shipwrecks both ancient and modern.1
SCP-XXXX is accompanied by a three kilometer radius fog thick enough to obscure nearly all incoming light, resulting in the appearance of night regardless of local time. The only sources of light within the fog are the lanterns that adorn SCP-XXXX, which glow with a pale greenish-blue luminescence. These lights behave unnaturally and are not the product of fire, appearing to float in and out of their lanterns and being cold to the touch with a temperature of approximately -70°C.
SCP-XXXX is operated by a crew of humanoid entities classified as SCP-XXXX-1. SCP-XXXX-1 resemble muscular human males of advanced age and indeterminate background. Instances appear to suffer from a collective disease, resulting in jaundiced skin, blindness, and barnacle encrusted skin. SCP-XXXX-1 display anomalous strength but appear grossly lethargic, being slow to move or react. It remains unknown whether or not SCP-XXXX-1 are even sentient, as they generally repeat the same behavior (patrolling, watching, adjusting sails, etc.) and do not appear to communicate with one another.2
The majority of SCP-XXXX-1 display tattoos, piercings, and ritualistic scarification; common patterns include waves, tentacles, and labyrinths/spirals notably analogous to ancient symbols found on the Canary Islands. The only form of attire among SCP-XXXX-1 is a kilt-like garment bearing superficial similarities with the Ancient Egyptian shendyt. Some are nude, while a minority wear deteriorating outfits spanning a wide range of cultures and time periods.
DNA analysis has revealed that most SCP-XXXX-1 descend from North African Berber peoples; an ancestry shared with the Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands – further evidence for a connection between SCP-XXXX-1 and the Atlantic archipelago. A minority, as previously implied, are genetically diverse. It is possible that these instances of SCP-XXXX-1 represent sailors conscripted from encountered vessels (such as from those whose debris have merged with SCP-XXXX).
The Foundation became aware of SCP-XXXX on the 19th of October, 1938, having intercepted an unusual and cryptic distress signal being broadcast from the Drake Passage. Provided is a transcript of communications between the SS Labyrinth (a Foundation steamship near Site ██, located near the South Shetland Islands) and the RRS Elizabeth (a British research vessel and sender of the distress signal):
12.23 a.m. 19 October 1928 R.R.S. Elizabeth to Any Ship: “CQD CQD SOS Elizabeth Position 60.50 S 64.26 W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. Sinking. Struck by colossal object. Under attack.” 12.25 a.m. 19 October 1928 S.S. Labyrinth to R.R.S. Elizabeth: “Putting about and heading to you. Please describe object.” 12.28 a.m. 19 October 1928 R.R.S. Elizabeth to S.S. Labyrinth: “Black tower. Too large to be a ship. Require immediate aid. Hostiles boarding.” Broadcasts by the R.R.S Elizabeth cease. Vessel and crew are presumed lost.
SCP-XXXX was ultimately located and boarded by a Foundation exploration team. SCP-XXXX-1 were found coated in relatively fresh blood (likely that of the crew of the RSS Elizabeth) but did not immediately react to Foundation operatives, revealing their sensory limitations.
Partial map found aboard SCP-XXXX.
Navigational tools and maps were discovered aboard SCP-XXXX, a heavy layer of dust suggesting that they had not been employed for some time. These objects, while non-anomalous, were still far too advanced for the period they were dated to and belonged to no known civilization. The maps were found to be incredibly detailed but unusual, displaying several deviations and many landmasses that do not exist in reality. These aberrations include:
An island in the Baltic Sea (analysis of the ocean floor in this region revealed several hundred seemingly artificial structures, closely resembling a small neolithic city).
An island west of Ireland.
A large circular landmass centered around the North Pole.
A small continent where Micronesia should be, approximately the size of Greenland.
A depiction of Antarctica with minimal ice as well as a large lake or sea within its geographic center.
And most notably, four islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – the southernmost island appearing to be the point of departure for SCP-XXXX. Analysis of the ocean floor at coordinates corresponding with this location suggests that such a landmass has never existed.
Related to the previously noted island group, the largest island appears to correspond with the legendary Antillia, a phantom island3 that was reputed, during the 15th-century age of exploration, to lie in the Atlantic Ocean, far to the west of Portugal and Spain. The smaller islands appear to coincide with the equally non-existent island of Royllo to the west of Antillia and Satanazes4(also called the island of Devils, or of the Hand of Satan or of St. Athanasius) some distance to the north along with the small island of Tanmar to Satanazes‘s northeast. These maps include notations written in an undeciphered script; though unidentified, the writing system appears somewhat similar to Southwest Paleohispanic script (also known as Tartessian5), another undeciphered script.
Detail of north Atlantic islands in the 1424 map of Zuane Pizzigano. Later explorers found no evidence of these supposed islands.
Antillia, also known as the Isle of Seven Cities (Ilha das Sete Cidades in Portuguese, Isla de las Siete Ciudades in Spanish), originates from an old Iberian legend, set during the Muslim conquest of Hispania c. 714. Attempting to flee from the Muslim conquerors, seven Christian Visigothic bishops embarked with their flocks on ships and set sail westwards into the Atlantic Ocean, eventually landing on an island where they founded seven settlements. However, there is no corroborative evidence to support this and related legends; nor would this be supported by the existence of SCP-XXXX and its associated maps, the civilization responsible for the creation of the anomalous vessel likely predating the development of Christianity, let alone the Muslim conquests of c. 714 CE.
On 04/31/2004, SCP-XXXX and a nearby Foundation research vessel were struck by a rogue wave. SCP-XXXX was undamaged but the research vessel was destroyed, resulting in the loss of 24 personnel. SCP-XXXX would disappear shortly after and has yet to reappear.
Foundation satellites detected a unique distress signal on the coast of Svalbard on 12/20/2016. There operatives recovered a Foundation GPS device safely secured within a glass bottle. The bottle also held several furled pieces of paper containing the writings of Dr. Stephen Barrett, who had vanished in the disaster over 12 years prior and was presumed deceased.ACCESS GRANTED
This is Dr. Stephen Barrett; Level 3 researcher for the Spacial Anomaly Department; personal ID code: 64112-A9. I regret to report the deaths of Dr. Corwin, Dr. Peters, and Security Officer Marcos. My colleagues came into conflict with the SCP-XXXX-1 while in a state of panic. We were aboard SCP-XXXX when the wave struck and (as you no doubt already know) were unable to escape. I am the only one left alive and I fear the ship has dematerialized – or, as I’ve come to speculate, shifted into some “other-side”. I have collected their bodies one by one, caching them along with our supplies within a small room. This chamber, located below deck near the aft, is rarely approached by the SCP-XXXX-1. It has in turn become my place of refuge and operations as I continue to both study SCP-XXXX and hopefully survive until the next manifestation event. I must remain calm and in control – I will not allow my training to fail me as it did the others. The sky here suggests a perpetual state of twilight. I have yet to see the moon or sun, which has rendered the passage of time difficult to track. The dark sea reflects no light. Stranger still are the distant towers that rise from the water – they resemble nothing from nature, but nor do they look like the product of human artifice. I must conserve what paper I have left and will report again when I have new information.
I may have discovered how this seemingly damned crew sustains itself. The ship does indeed appear to be living organism and it produces a sap-like substance, which itself glows with an unusual amber luminescence. This is, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the only food source aboard SCP-XXXX. My only other choice was to feed on the dead. Something I simply cannot bring myself to do. Update: I have consumed the sap. I no longer feel hunger or thirst or even a need for sleep. Its warmth staves off the chill, at least for now. The ocean is full of life. I’ve seen whales. No. Not whales. Whales swim up and down but these creatures moved side to side, much like serpents. Their flesh was as black as the sea but covered in luminescent patterns. Their gaping maws and bulging eyes remind me of Bathypelagic fish, like anglers and gulper eels. These patterns do not seem natural or at least adapted for any environment I can think of. They are like runes or glyphs and some seem so familiar. Aquatic beasts swim alongside the ship like faceless dolphins. Their vocalizations resemble the laughter of children and leave me thoroughly disturbed.
I see what remains of a great battle. Some ships are still sinking. Others have been shattered, with their debris left floating with the dead. A sea of corpses. A sea of… The mariners are mournful. Tears roll down their cheeks. They pray. It is deep and strong, like Gregorian chant. I’ve never heard anything like it, so why does it feel so familiar? They are longing for something. A song of the homeland, to remember better days. I am homesick too but the home I try to remember isn’t right. It feels like the desires of another. Whose dream have I stolen?
I sound like a fool, inferring things without proof.
Focus. Center yourself. You are a scientist. A member of the Foundation. That means something.
But it feels like I’m sleepwalking over my own grave.
An SCP-XXXX-1 looked me right in the eyes today; his milky gaze tells me he saw nothing – his smile told a different story.
No. I would be dead if they knew I was here.
We remember. We sing songs of long lost homes, of weeping wives and children. My brothers speak to me. I died for them. And for them I would face another hundred thousand deaths. How long have I wandered? We are too lost to feel this brave. I don’t understand. This isn’t me. My name is Stephen Barrett. I am Barrett. I am Arezqi. I was always Arezqi. I have worn so many faces but I was always Arezqi.
We will face our destiny. For deathless brothers and lifeless wives. Tiziri, my love, my light of lights. Still I dream of you, even as I wandered lost in that labyrinth of faces. I knew the beauty of your words, even as I forgot our mother tongue. Your ways were always bringing me to you. Are you waiting for me? I long to be at your side. Please wait for me. I will see you at the end of all things.
I’m sorry. I’ve not been myself lately. I’ve been of two minds, or three, or four. Part of me wants to destroy this – to deny the undeniable. It doesn’t matter. Barrett knows to write this. We understand it. We are still Barret. But long before we were Barrett, we were Arezqi. We feared one would overtake the other but we understand now. The memories converge. The past and future unite. We wish we could explain more. There is so much to tell but so little time. We wish the Foundation to know. Take this secret. You can never know how much was lost – the eons of pain we endured. But that was the choice. Honor demands we bring this to an end. Our mission is sacred – we will always find our way back. We are bound by oath to return.
The maelstrom is so close now. The way within is clear. We deliver this message to the sea.
Footnotes1. Encrusted debris include pieces of a Phoenician trireme, the sails of a Song era junk, the aft of a Spanish galleon, the bow of a Norse longship, an entire Polynesian voyaging canoe, half of a Mesoamerican raft, a small bronze submarine of unknown origin, a part of a steamship’s hull painted with the letters “W A R A” (hypothesized to be a part of the SS Waratah, which disappeared in 1909 with 211 passengers and crew aboard), and many other fragments too damaged to be identified.
2. However, operatives aboard SCP-XXXX have reported the sound of whispers/grumbling, though the source of this phenomena has yet to be found.
3. A phantom island is a purported island that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but was later removed after it was proven not to exist.
4. Despite its ominous name, the island of Santanazes lacks the associated legends tied to the larger Antillia.
5. The Tartessian language is the extinct Paleohispanic language of inscriptions in the Southwestern script found in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. The name is a reference to Tartessos (Greek: Ταρτησσός), a semi-mythical city and the surrounding culture on the south coast of the Iberian Peninsula (in modern Andalusia, Spain), at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. The city was supposedly destroyed by floods, its ruins buried beneath the swamplands of southern Spain.
In my twelfth year, our household was joined by a governess, Ms. Bradshaw, who would tutor me on subjects deemed crucial to a child of my class and gender. Beyond some elementary mathematics, there was no place for the sciences in my curriculum; for that, I would be forced to self-educate. No, I would instead learn etiquette, social grace, and the banal rites of polite society.
I despised these lessons, and every new rule or ritual – the manners of self-control; awareness of social position; which fork was reserved for dessert – were designed to erode my identity until nothing remained but an elegant husk. Aimless days blurred together to resemble the gray monotony of Purgatory. I was dead, a ghost and her walking corpse, waiting for the chance to live again.
Our aestival retreat no longer offered the same respite as it had before. I found myself bound to new and restrictive expectations. It was not ‘ladylike’ to explore the coast, its sea caves and tidal pools – those rare places that soothed my fragile constitution and lulled melancholy to a tolerable repose. Ms. Bradshaw paid close attention to my activities; like Father’s stalking valet, she had become my shadow, and I was forbidden from venturing beyond the estate unchaperoned. There was no way to live as I truly desired; nay, not merely desired, but a manner essential to my survival.
My family endeavored to break me of my habits – to destroy me, and shape the remnant pieces into the perfect gentlewoman. If they wished to fashion me into their dreamless doll, I would choose to be like an effigy and burn.
Even with my mind lost in the fog of despair, there was no escape from the springtide of life. Adolescence, no doubt an exciting phase for many, only seemed to amplify my frustrations. Mother had finally begun to take notice of me. Some souls, desperate for recognition, will not discriminate between love or animosity. It was not long before I yearned for the return of her characteristic neglect.
Mother descended from nobility, a fallen house, and married Father in a bid to retain her lavish lifestyle. Inheriting her ancestors’ malignant pride, she turned her nose up at him and other members of the nouveau riche. An interminable hypocrite, Mother’s disdain for Father’s inferior pedigree never prevented her from squandering his wealth on frivolities.
Her lust for worldly possessions typically gravitated to Parisian gowns, fine furs, diamond rings, and strings of pearl – each a ceremonial object in her cult of self-worship. This vile sect held power in our household, mainly manifesting itself as an overabundance of mirrors and a constant air of condescension. Father was among the faithful and indulged her every whim.
She ridiculed my appearance. My body was too thin, my face too angular. She derisively questioned how she birthed someone so unlike her, placing blame on my father’s common blood. Of course, it was an exaggeration meant only to hurt me, but it was not inherently untrue, sharing little to no resemblance. I took almost entirely after my father. Not that any of that matters. We are all bound by the chains of pangenesis, but I am no more tethered to the most recent coupling as I am to the eldest link.
In response to this oppressive atmosphere, I turned to books. Neither of my parents could be described as active readers; thus, some Lamarckian mechanism cannot explain my seemingly innate bibliophilia. It is probable that, as a solitary child deprived of friends or siblings, I simply lacked other means in which to occupy myself. My favorite subject was biology, which was in many ways still in its infancy.
Despite his blatant disinterest in literature, Father maintained a library at both residences. After all, books symbolized status and presented the owner as possessing vast knowledge and a keen intellect. As trade was his only acumen, his intellectual curiosity did not expand beyond new and improved methods of profit maximization.
At our summer abode, the library contained specific singular titles that would never be found in the frugal bulk purchases my father preferred. At our primary residence, the collection was, if not famous, then at least recognizable—encyclopedias, dictionaries, poetry, and prose; authors whose works were known to even the illiterate.
But not here.
A sizable portion of this library had been left by the previous occupants, a family whose bloodline had since dwindled into obscurity. Whoever they were, their selection betrayed interests both scientific and esoteric, with topics ranging from forgotten Pagan gods and rituals to heterodox theories of abiogenesis. I would lose myself in those pages, finding a fleeting, artificial means to transcend the mundane. The more forbidden the subject matter appeared, the greater my curiosity. Much of it was handwritten, lacking any indication of formal publication. A number were foreign, and while I was able to identify Greek, Latin, Irish, and Welsh, others were unfamiliar. For too many years, I had been deprived; knowledge starved, my appetite had grown voracious. Many of these age-worn tomes were ultimately beyond my comprehension, and it would be decades before their full impact came to fruition.
I retained access to the widow’s walk, where I would excuse myself to watch the sunset. Of course, I was not there for the sun, nor the moon and stars, for my interest, my obsession, was strictly worldly. The heavens could wait, for I sought the electric blue and amber lights of vagabond merrows – of my solitary, long yearned companion.
Virtually a prisoner in my own domain, I satisfied my need to explore within Caeruchel Hall itself. The estate had undergone numerous incarnations throughout its existence. The ordered grandeur of its Neo-classical architecture succeeded the Stuart period’s simplicity, which replaced a grim and austere Tudor castle. Evidence for this process of destruction and reconstruction extends as far back as the 1st century to a Roman fortress whose brickwork still stands as the manor’s foundation. Only those long-dead legionnaires know what came before, but I do not doubt that the Demetre or Silures made effective use of this land before their subjugation.
This history of consistent occupation had a perfectly logical explanation. The horizon was wholly visible in every direction due to its high elevation; the ocean surrounded the estate on three of four sides, while unscalable cliffsides prevented access from the shore, save a single narrow path. Thanks to these and other geographical features, it was the most naturally defensible location in the region.
There is one place older than the foundation, a place so genuinely ancient that any speculation regarding its age was pointless.
It was discovered by accident while hiding in the basement, doing my best to avoid Ms. Bradshaw and her vacuous lessons. Lantern in hand and my afternoon reclaimed, I spent the time in search of the skittering vermin that so naturally congregated in the damp and inky blackness. Cobwebs formed congruous patterns across the ceiling, merging the silken works of many a spider. I remember how it twinkled before my light, its surface bejeweled by drops of moisture that no doubt lured prey as diamonds would a thief. At the far end of the chamber, behind the furthest cask, the web grew dense and layered, littered with the desiccated remains of winged insects better suited for the wide outdoors than a lightless cellar. Spiders are of an inherently unsociable disposition, and I wondered what could have drawn them so close. Intrigued, I brushed aside the web and forced my way through.
Beyond that viscid threshold was a wall, ordinary and expected, save for the presence of a vertical fissure. Despite its advanced state of deterioration, the structure was relatively modern compared to the rest. It was undoubtedly the stonework of an amateur, someone other than the master masons responsible for Caeruchel Hall, or any of its past incarnations, and one strong push was all it took to send it toppling.
When the dust finally settled, my light revealed a stairwell. After a period of hesitation, I swallowed my fear and descended its stone-carved steps. The spiraling passage delivered me to a labyrinthine network of megalithic tunnels. Underground structures could be found throughout the world, and Britain was no exception; medieval crypts, Anglo-Saxon barrows, and even Roman Mithraea were hidden across the Isles.
Eons ago, a cult carved this complex from solid bedrock. The walls bore singular engravings – pictograms, possibly even hieroglyphics – which failed to coincide with any known culture. I could only imagine that these were the creations of some forgotten Celtic tribe, or perhaps a people who came long before them – a people who remain unknown to the historians and archaeologists of our age. These depictions ranged from the familiar, such as waves, fish, rain, and whales, to the utterly abstract, if not downright alien. Abstruse as they were, these symbols and their configuration invoked a particular aesthetic or theme – one that, like the songs of the merrows, seem to embody all things thalassic.
Though devoid of life, these ruins were not silent. There had been a faint droning since the moment of my arrival, and the volume only amplified the deeper I traveled. By the time I recognized the steady burble of moving water, I had already reached its source, where a confluence of subterranean tributaries fed into a large central basin. Steam emanated off the surface of the water; I knelt at the edge of the pool and dipped a finger, finding it warm to the touch, fortunately not scalding. Before me was a geothermal spring and grotto; how much of it was a product of nature or human artifice, I cannot say, but what I did know was that this was a sacred place.
Five monoliths encircled the basin like the outstretched fingers of a buried giant. Jutting from the center of the pool was a statue depicting a menacing amalgamation of serpent, octopus, fish, and woman. The chimeric goddess displayed the plump breasts and distended abdomen of late pregnancy, leaving little doubt of an association with fertility. It had a head like a devil-fish, particularly Melanocetus johnsonii – a hideous species known for its enormous mouth of needle-like fangs and bait-like head appendage. A pair of large pearls had been set within the shallow gouges that constituted its eye sockets. Long, sharp spikes protruded from the shoulders and back like the spines of a sea-urchin. The lower-half was an anarchic skein of snakes and tentacles with a strangely chitinous texture.
I stared in awe, in horror, so great and terrible were the gods of old.
Mother Ocean, Her Undulating Vastness.
Low on kerosene, I retraced my steps and returned to the manor. I told no one of these ruins and hid the entrance through the strategic arrangement of wine racks. As I wrote before, this was a sacred place, and I would not have it profaned. It would become my lifelong sanctuary, my truest refuge from civilization. Ms. Bradshaw would berate me for my sudden and inexplicable absence but was otherwise ignorant of my whereabouts.
I was desperate to know more. As the village was forbidden to me, I turned to the single local in my family’s employ. I knew nothing about our groundskeeper, save that he spent most of his life here. Shy and lacking my parents’ gift of gab, I could not bring myself to approach a man who was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger.
Instead, I wrote a letter with a series of questions – about the town, its history, how it connected to the merrows (my actual wording was subtler), as well as directions to a particular rock, beneath which he could deliver his response. Looking back, I can see how comically elaborate it was, but such was my nature. I placed it and a few sovereigns for his troubles at his doorstep and would check my impromptu drop-off every day, impatiently awaiting his answers. I began to consider the possibility that he was illiterate, like most men in the village, but I received his response after a week. Beneath the stone, I found my coins returned, along with my original letter; written on the back was a simple, straightforward response:
The groundskeeper was literate, at least partly, but wanted nothing to do with this bargain. I watched him tend the garden, where he kept his head down and avoided my gaze. I was confused, seething even, for it never occurred that he would actively decline – primarily due to my parentage. This sense of dismay revealed that more of Mother’s haughtiness lurked inside me than I ever wanted to admit.
If he would not tell me, then it was doubtful that others were willing to divulge the truth.
As I neared marriageable age, Mother organized the visitation and courtship of several suitors. She often insinuated that the bloodline would end with me if left to my own devices. Admittedly, she was not wrong. My boldness outdoors did not translate to socialization, and I was terribly shy, barely speaking more than a few words.
But do not mistake diffidence for bashful simpering. I felt nothing for these men.
It became apparent that these suitors weren’t invited for my benefit alone. Mother would parade herself through the parlor and devise excuses to join us. I saw how she positioned herself, how it would further exaggerate her natural curvaceousness. She knew how to look at them, how to smile and laugh, and when to be coquettish or coy. Her ego bloomed as she feasted on their adoration.
I do not pretend to understand the reasons for her endless cruelty. At the cusp of my development, time would begin to take its toll on the woman to which it had previously been so kind, but envy was not to blame. She had always been this way, her methods adapting to my changing body, mind, and social expectations.
It was instinct, a psychic form of filial cannibalism, like beasts which consume their brood at the first sign of weakness. Mother was one of those predatory humans; who she hurt was inconsequential – whatever she desired, she got.
This was my life up until the Summer of 1873. There was undoubtedly more to it than what I’ve described but nothing worthy of elaboration. I was by this time free of Ms. Bradshaw, who had fulfilled her contractual obligations a month before and left our home without fanfare or farewells. I do not know how common it is for a governess to feel fondness towards her ward, but there was certainly no love to lose between us. In retrospect, I can see that I did not make her work any less painless. One might imagine that I would have sought to extract some sliver of affection – to find in Ms. Bradshaw a maternal surrogate. But no, I simply regarded her as an extension of Mother’s will, if I regarded her at all.
It is a pity when tutelage merely distracts from one’s true vocation. My governess was but an obstacle, though through no fault of her own.
Our ride to the coast that year was memorably intolerable. Father had business to attend to and would be delayed a few days. Without him as a buffer, Mother was free to focus all of her scathing ire on me. There was a short-lived period when I strived to be the debutante I thought she always wanted. Indeed, I was foolish enough to believe that I could earn her affection, or at least her respect, through imitation; that she would see something of herself in me, as for her, there was no other so beloved. Mimicry merely served to illustrate the differences between us; in despair, I returned to the quiet defiance that had always characterized our relationship.
I gazed longingly at the coast as we neared Caeruchel Hall. There, along the water’s edge, were rocks stacked in tight formations and laden with oblations that glistened beneath the Summer sun. These were the harbingers – the merrows had returned.
Upon our arrival, I kicked off my shoes and practically leaped from the carriage. I ignored Mother’s shouts and ran down the hill, across the emerald headland, along the narrow path, and to the stony shore. Foolish in my excitement, I failed to reckon the hours remaining between then and sunset. Already weary from the daylong journey, all that running rapidly exhausted what little vigor I had. Slumping beside a boulder, I slipped into a sweet torpor as the placid tide lulled me to sleep.
My mind’s eye conceived, or instead found itself impressed with, a double flash of white and scarlet. Not until later did I understand that my state of unconsciousness had shifted from slumber to one born of savage trauma. When I recovered, I found myself face down in a pool of my own coagulated blood, my hands tied behind me. After some struggle, I successfully rolled on to my back. Though the sun had yet to wholly set, the moon, full and silver bright, heralded the coming night. What began as fragmented senses – the feel of damp wood against my skin, the reek of old fish and inferior tobacco, the noise of quarreling Welshmen, the throbbing pain within my skull – came together piece by piece. I raised my head and stared blankly, terrified as my dread surmise was realized.
I had been struck by a stone or club or some other object – I do not know, nor does it matter. Neither can I say if my assault was an act of opportunity or one premeditated with grim intention. Once senseless, I was taken aboard a skiff. Two strangers, presumably fishermen, manned the oars while at the bow, facing my direction, was the groundskeeper.
It was pointless to scream; I was gagged, and besides, we were far from the coast, far from any who might take pity. I lay there, still as the dead, virtually invisible beneath the groundskeeper’s moonlight shadow. He spoke to me, or rather at me, as I do not believe him aware of my return to consciousness.
In between his litany of chants, prayers, and ancient invocations, were apologies. Solemn, sincere, but not too mournful; the words of a man who had experienced a lifetime of necessary evils and yet never grew utterly numb to the deed. He said I knew too much; that what he intended was without joy or malice; better an outsider than yet another of their own.
Just one life, he said—just one life to ensure the survival and prosperity of Craigwen. When the oarsmen ceased their rowing, the groundskeeper lifted a crwth and bow from his lap, primed the instrument against his chest, and began to play. These sounds were neither hideous nor elegant, though they bore a singular assonance that deviated from the region’s traditional folk music. He called out to the sea, and the sea called back in an immaculate chorus to herald their arrival.
I was grabbed by one of the oarsmen, a heavy-handed brute who stank of ale; no doubt a bit of liquid courage before the deed. Despite his muscular physique, he grunted and labored to move me. Then I noticed what all his struggling was about; the same ropes that bound me had been additionally tethered to several hefty stones. What they intended was now clear. I was to be sacrificed – to drown or be devoured – and the villagers weren’t taking any chances.
This had always been their way. A tried and true method, learned from their fathers, as their fathers learned from theirs.
I gazed into the water. The sea was full of light and song, a beauty so mesmerizing, so utterly transcendent, that few would ever recognize it for the predatory lure it was – not before the trap had sprung. And the colors! Gold and violet, turquoise and indigo – sprawling, cascading, and vibrating to the rhythm of their ancient rime.
Rolling my wrists, I successfully loosened the rope and freed my hands, just as the brute heaved me over his shoulder and prepared to toss me overboard. I hastily hoisted one of my intended anchors and tightly grasped the stone with both hands; with the hysterical strength that accompanies the will to survive, I drove it into the his head. The giant’s skull caved with a sickening crack, splattering blood and brain as his lifeless body crumpled where he stood.
The groundskeeper was blind to my actions, his conscious mind lost to the frenzied playing of his crwth.
But the remaining oarsman was soon upon me. Before I could react, the shaft of his paddle was pressed against my throat as he tried to force me overboard. I held on to the hull, but my stubborn refusal to release my grip, faced with my attacker’s superior size and strength, caused my left arm to violently dislocate from its socket. In his moon-lit eyes, I beheld terror of an order beyond that even I, his intended victim, could understand. What did he know? What had he seen?
My attacker put aside his oar and squatted over my limp, defeated body. He mouthed a few words, but all I heard was the hundred voice chorus and the groundskeeper’s screaming crwth. Then he calmly pushed my head beneath the surface of the water. With my strength gone and my will broken, I could do nothing but look on in dismay.
There was no darkness, for the sea was ablaze with the luminescent flesh of oscillating ophidian forms. Golden spots, ethereal blue-green ribbons – like the fire of rare falling stars – and suddenly, splashes of crimson, a torrent of blood as the mangled bodies of men hit the water. The calloused hands that so tightly held me released their grip and floated away, severed and trailed by streaming clouds of maroon.
It was a feeding frenzy, and I was trapped in the eye of a storm made from teeth and claws and bone and viscera as the merrows tore those men apart. Still wracked by pain, my frayed nerves sent my body into shock. I fell once again into a state of unconsciousness, mercifully spared from that visage of hell before me.
I awoke in my own bed. Mrs. Kelly had found me on the shore that morning. She and the other servants brought me home where I was bathed, dressed, and received rudimentary care. Though still bruised and sore, I was relieved to find that functionality had returned to my left arm. My head had been bandaged, but the wound was severe enough to require professional medical treatment, and an electric telegraph was sent for my physician. My discovery was entirely by chance. Mother either failed to notice my absence or simply did not care enough to even delegate a search. Though I required significant stitchwork, my recovery was without incident.
Still, the scars remain.
Despite the trauma I endured, my thoughts quickly turned to Muirgein. This was my chance to find her after more than half a decade of waiting. When Father arrived a few days later, he was distressed by the state he saw me in. Displaying unexpected concern for my well-being, he forbade me from leaving Caeruchel, an opinion shared by the visiting physician, and ordered the servants to keep watch to prevent me from getting myself into further trouble.
I never told them what happened. Even if I omitted the merrows from my account, I doubt they would’ve believed me. I had no desire to complicate things further. For all they knew, I had slipped on a wet stone and hit my head. As it occurred soon after our arrival, no connection could be made between my apparent accident and the disappearance of our groundskeeper. Father assumed he quit or died of natural causes, as he was already of reasonably advanced age.
As demanded, I remained indoors; an uncharacteristic behavior considering my history of nightly escapades. The realization came to me slowly, but it grew increasingly clear that there was more to my trepidation than worry over parental disapproval. Their threats were toothless – idle and easy to ignore. As their only child, it was not as if they would condemn me to a nunnery.
Almost murdered, I had returned from the sea haunted, and death was my familiar. I also witnessed the end of three lives – one conceivably by my hand. And though it all transpired in a blur of shapes and colors, perceived through barely cognizant eyes, a troubling, albeit not entirely unsuspected truth was confirmed.
Imagine a child living on a farm. Too young to partake in their family’s labors, they might instead seek companionship among the domestic beasts, blissfully unaware that these animals were destined for the butcher’s block and kitchen table. Muirgein and I were young when we met. Too innocent to comprehend our true natures, I wondered whether she would see me as a friend or food.
These frightful thoughts gnawed their way to the forefront of my mind. There they embedded themselves – feeding on my sanity and breeding increasingly complex, ever conflicting emotions. Wracked with dissonance, I sought the serenity of my darkened grotto. I brought my lantern, though my visits had grown so frequent that there was little need for light to guide my way. Others might consider it strange to find tranquility among such deep and hidden corners of the Earth, but I did.
I stripped down, discarding the trappings of humanity, and lowered myself into the primordial pool. The warm water embraced me like an old friend, and I had to fight the urge to let it take me forever – not yet aware that to drown in her waters is but to change. My sense of self became vaporous as the balmy mist, and I no longer knew where my body ended and where the water began.
My concentrative idol, the pearl-eyed goddess, stared back at me. I closed my eyes, inhaled the sibylline fumes, and entered an intoxicating reverie. Words poured from my mouth, gibberish at first, but I soon found myself singing. The lyrics escape me now, but I was certainly no prima donna; I was loud, hysterical even, as I unburdened myself of those accumulating emotions. I wailed and crooned, though I have no idea for how long; time was meaningless – nothing existed beyond my sacred grotto.
[This is taking from an old novel draft (one I haven’t touched in about 8 years) for a post-apocalyptic series, titled Whimper. This is from the point of view of one of the novel’s antagonists, the Grand Templar Mordecai. He is a high ranking member of the Holy Dominion, a theocracy which governs the wasteland that was once middle America.]
Monks infested the antechamber. Blind, deaf, and mute – their faces ritually erased. They swayed and trembled with ecstatic fervor, unaware of Mordecai’s passing. Joshua, his youngest son, once asked: “Where does their food go?” He was unable to provide an answer, despite his high rank within the church. An innocent inquiry, it was nonetheless a heresy to question the nature of the faceless. To spare the rod, Mordecai knew, was to spoil the child. Curiosity, like good intentions, paved the road to hell, and it was crucial to curtail its development at an early age. Corporal punishment taught Joshua to substitute free-thought for simplistic and easy to repeat aphorisms – not unlike his father.
The faceless served with mindless devotion, tending to the diverse and often singular desires of His Holiness. They approached tasks with unrivaled zeal, compensating for their lack of intelligence through avidity. A heathen ambassador from the Atlantic Trade Consortium once referred to the monks as “lobotomites”, a term Mordecai was unfamiliar with.
He entered the Eternal Sanctum, closing the door behind him. The interior was composed of black stone, polished and seamless. Decorating the walls of the spherical chamber were golden vines and jeweled flowers. Windows of stained-glass, four in number, depicted biblical legends.
The Forge of Eden: The place of man’s creation. Adam and Eve. Hammer and anvil, sword and sheath. Tools of immutable design and purpose, the story represented the cornerstone of Dominion ideology. Coiled around the base of the anvil was a familiar serpent, the same burned in effigy during the high holidays.
The Binding: The composition required significant use of red tinted glass. A lesson in obedience and sacrifice. The Word of God transcended that of man, their laws and ethics. Isaac was a good son. He loved his father and looked upon him with adoration. He loved him even as he felt the blade inside. Tender thoughts and tender flesh. Loved him even as it plunged again, and again, eviscerating him upon the altar.
The Flood: A reminder of the fleeting and inessential nature of humans. To be broken and discarded at a whim of its creator. It reminded him of a thought, a forbidden thought born during the naivety of youth when confronted with contradictions. The question died before asked, existing only as a momentary sense of cognitive dissonance.
The Fall of the Blasphemous Tower: Obsidian shards arranged in the image of a colossal spire. The highest tier formed a hand, its fingers wrapped around a crimson orb. Man sought to conquer the heavens. To see what lurked beyond even the stars. The Red World became a symbol for their godless hubris, a false idol of logic and reason. God toppled the tower and blackened the sky. He cloaked the stars in darkness, forever hidden from man’s covetous gaze. This world alone was their gifted domain, never again would they desire another.
A black tendril caressed his face, the sweet touch of an angel.
“You may approach.” spoke a voice, dissonant and disembodied. “Bask in the glory of my presence.”
[An old draft page, one possible story for a setting I could never really settle with]
The Hölle District was constructed in the name of progress, the apotheosis of civilization, and was, by necessity, a place of fire, steel, and transmutation. When hell poured into Berlin, none could have imagined a positive outcome among its flames and darkened keepers.
Here, along one of its red-brick sidewalks, a faun advanced with singular purpose. A young woman, no longer a child but hardly yet an adult, shadowed her cloven hoofed master by a few steps behind. A handkerchief over her nose and mouth was of little defense against the sulfurous odor of tortured elements.
“Katja,” The faun maintained a steady saunter as he spoke. “What do you know of Hölle?”
“That it’s hot and smells of rotten eggs.” she replied, her dreadful tone betraying misery. How anyone could live here was to her a mystery.
He sighed, rolling his horizontal pupils. “A comfortable environment has resulted in an entire species of whiners. Truly, you are the epitome of your race.”
Clearing his throat, the faun returned to his original point. “Kobolds were the first non-humans to be encountered by the German people – and they arrived with a bang. The ground ruptured, breathed fire, and grew to resemble the hell of human myth and superstition. Devils, your people thought, and your doomsayers for once seemed validated. Humanity struck first, though I am able to understand how they would have seen things differently, and thus ensued a dreadful bloodba-”
“The Massacre at Mitte. Falkenrath taught me about it.” she interrupted.
“Good! You’ve actually learned something, if not manners. May I please continue?”
“Of course, Mr. Pox. I apologize.”
“Right then. As I was saying…” he paused, narrowing his gaze at a gathering of kith. “Eh. I’ll save that tale for another time. I do believe we’ve arrived at the scene of the crime.”
Golems and pickelhelmed constables barred access to the alleyway. Faces grim, they moved aside to allow the pair to pass without speaking a word. The officers barked orders at the crowd, their demands for dispersal inadvertently luring more to the scene. Katja saw their gawking eyes peeping through the gaps between black uniforms and man-shaped metal.
It was early, her tired eyes red from lack of sleep and the brimstone fumes of industrial transmuters. She suddenly stopped in her tracks, an audible gasp escaping her lips.
“You’ll get used to this,” said Pox, donning a pair of rubber gloves. “Eventually.”
Katja was paralyzed. Her stomach churned and she covered her mouth against a rise of vomit. Loose skin and viscera cloaked the victim but a radiant light reflected from various fissures. Retrieving surgical scissors from his side satchel, Pox proceeded to snip through strings of sinew. The remaining epidermis unraveled with a sickening schlop, revealing a maiden of gold, preserved mid-contortion.
Averting her gaze, Katja leaned up against a soot-stained wall. Pox had already begun to speak while she scrambled to find a notebook and pencil.
“Decedent resembles a human female. Dark hair; fair skin; facial features unrecognizable. Clothing has merged with what little flesh is left. I am able to discern the remnants of a corset among the mess. Possibly a skirt as well. Nothing else. Soles of the feet are well preserved; heavily calloused and blackened by grime. I also detect the heavy aroma of cheap perfume – something obnoxiously French. Victim was likely a prostitute and one that was fairly active in this district. Will likely find many who were familiar with her, if there was only some way to identi- ”
Pox stilled his tongue, shifting all attention to the soft remains which he lifted from the ground and unfurled, letting the flayed hide flutter like a banner in the wind. Katja turned to the wall and vomited.
“Toughen up, girl. Take a closer look.” said Pox, responding to the noise of slurry on stone.
Katja wiped breakfast from her lips. After a moment of mental preparation, she turned to face his ghastly display. It was a grotesque effigy of the woman that once was, distorted by lack of shape and substance. Pox pulled the skin, rendering it taut and its details more perceivable. There were deep cuts and lesions; they had not healed well but they had at least healed.
“Scars?” She hoped her answer was enough to satisfy that persnickety old goat.
“Explicate. Remember what I told you before.”
“Scars…” She paused, mindful of his expectations. “Scars tell a story. They represent the history of an individual and their relationship to others, as well as their environment.”
“Close enough but what do you see? Read the scars. Be precise.”
“The scars aren’t too distinctive. Lots of cuts – probably from a knife. This woman likely lived a traumatic life. And what’s that? Above her left breast. It doesn’t look like the others.”
Pox turned over the husk and studied the mark. His yellow eyes narrowed and then abruptly expanded. “A brand.”
“Someone branded her?”
“Quite crudely. It appears to be the letter M.”
“But why?” A question almost childlike in its innocent naivety; it felt out of place among the blood and flesh and that auric enigma.
“Because they could. It is not unheard of for a pimp to mark their so-called ‘property’.”
Katja shifted her gaze to the golden statue. “Okay. So – cause of death?”
“Death by chrysopoeia. Human transmutation. I’ve only ever heard of them happening in industrial accidents. A worker falling into a live transmutator – that sort of thing.”
“Putting the ‘how’ aside for a moment – but why wasn’t the rest of her converted?”
“An astute observation! That, however, is outside my area of expertise. We’ll have the body delivered to Shimndglurm. That old kobold will know what to make of it.”