This will be a thread where I post my own FL fiction, background stories of my characters, and all kinds of RP-ing that doesn’t fit in any RP thread - namely, the introduction of my new Main, "What happened to Noah afterwards" after Shade hunt, and later on, whatever I feel like. Strong Parabolan themes are likely, as are multitudes of cats.
This will be a thread where I post my own FL fiction, background stories of my characters, and all kinds of RP-ing that doesn’t fit in any RP thread - namely, the introduction of my new Main, "What happened to Noah afterwards" after Shade hunt, and later on, whatever I feel like. Strong Parabolan themes are likely, as are multitudes of cats.
This is not the beginning of a story; it is the ending.
In dream-space, a man is falling. Through the clouds of cotton, he falls. Down below the cosmogone sun, towards a jungle of verdant green, he falls. As his body hits the ground with a loud thud, he bounces back slightly from the forest floor of dead leaves and branches, and his leg bends in an unnatural sort of way.
Smoke rises from his body, and his clothes have been burned into cinders and torn to shreds. His left arm is missing, only a charred stump of a shoulder remaining, and his left side is covered in heavy burns. What remains of his hair is long and golden. He looks young, although the burns covering most of his face make this hard to discern. Within his chest, a golden light shines, thumping in rhythm with a weak heart-beat.
Over time, the glow dims until it can no longer be seen. The sun sets, and the moon rises to watch over the jungle. As the man’s remaining arm twitches weakly, a light glimmers in the eye of the shape curled up on the moon’s surface. Over time, a jaguar saunters over to the clearing created by the fall. It sniffs the man’s face and listens to his pulse. Apparently satisfied, it seeks the nearest mirror, touches it with its paw, and sits down to wait.
As the shadows have grown, and shortened, and grown again, the mirror begins to shine, and a red-haired woman with cosmogone shades steps through. She drags the man through the mirror into a small London apartment, where a group of people dressed in shades of gray and black is waiting. The woman receives payment, and her and the group part ways, the group carrying the unconscious man to a carriage waiting on the street.
The man is brought to an old house in Bugsby’s Marshes, where the group leaves the man to a plump man with a thick moustache and a table laid out for surgery. When the man’s bones have been set and his burns have been treated, and as the surgeon ponders what to do with the arm-stump, a loud banging startles him.
Behind the door awaits a lumbering giant of clay, with a disembodied clay arm in one hand, and a skinny, bespectacled clay-man in the other. The skinny one is clearly not amused. “So, where’s the cripple, then?”
It has now been a week since the man was brought into the house, and he is sitting upright before a roaring fireplace. The surgeon comes by every day to change his bandages, but otherwise the only company he keeps are the cats that have started to slowly gather around the place during his stay. His hand of flesh strokes the chin of a grey shorthair, and his hand of clay suffers the attacks of a young siamese. The glow inside his chest has not returned, but any seeing the eyes reflecting the fireplace would swear on the orange glow on the pupils being partially innate.
This is not the beginning of a story; this is the ending. This man is a hero who saved the kingdom, or a knight who slew the dragon, or a seeker who found the treasure. The friendship that was the treasure all along was found, the battle lost and won, the inner darkness conquered and pirate-treasure excavated. Now is when he’s supposed to enjoy his well-earned peace, write his memoirs, and run into his soul-mate in a cafe to one day die in this house as a beloved husband and grandfather.
However, a life of fighting dragons is terrible preparation for tending a garden, and the hero might wonder what kind of idiot would think trading a sword for a plowshare follows any kind of established market rate. Ears used to the roar of war are driving him to insanity in this silence, and his muscles ache to move. Within him, a thing of light and urgency screams at him to take action, to find new fires in which to burn.
Carefully, he stands up, and lowers weight on the splinted leg. It holds. A smile creeps on his lips. The hairs on the cats’ backs rise up.
A table holds things delivered during his stay. From these, he dons a suit of dream-linen, replacing the jacket with a robe of sunset; slippers of softest silk, soaked in an impossible colour; and from a narrow casket of mahogany, a brazen rifle from the factories of Hell, that he slings over his back.
This is the ending of a story, but there are no endings, only parts where storytellers stop talking. A hero is propelled forward by his burning determination, and though the mission might end, a roaring blaze is hard to extinguish. Besides, a hero is only called so for being on the side the storyteller likes. Afterwards you’re left with a driven expert of violence with nothing to do and no skills for peaceful existence.
The man opens the door, and breathes the smells of Neath in deep. The thing of light within him screams of joy and anticipation, filling him with vitality and passion. Inside his mind, gears of gold are turning. Someone’s day is about to be ruined.
edited by John Moose on 9/30/2017
Blythenhale, the Mayor’s mansion. A large man with a thick moustache and expensive clothing bursts into the noise of gambling, duels and shouting over bets. The mayor himself is talking to a heavily built woman from the docks, and glancing over to a young light-haired man between the woman’s exclamations. The woman seems to be making introductions or recommendations of some kind, and the Mayor’s posture betrays a level of interest. The new arrival fails to register, or care, these facts as he strides to the Mayor’s makeshift throne. At his approach, Feducci motions his guests to make way for the Lord.
“Now, what is the matter, dear citizen?” Feducci asks cheerfully. “You seem somewhat upset.”
“My title, that’s what’s the matter, you upstart!” The moustachioed man huffs as he stops in front of the Mayor. His expession is the self-satisfied, manic grin of someone who’s spotted a crucial spelling mistake in a contract that has turned out unfavourable. “The disgusting gutter rat who cheated me of my barony in a game of dice has gone and drunken himself to death! Last anyone saw of his corpse, it was floating along the river, out to the sea! I demand you declare my title returned to me this instant!”
The Mayor chuckles. “Partied himself to death within days of becoming a lord! Truly, ‘a day as a lion’, indeed. I’d say he did us all a favour, skipping to the last bit of his societal role, and saving us all those decades of tedious dinners that usually precede it.”
His-Maybe-Lordship is no longer amused, and not being taken seriously is making his face redden with anger. “This is NO LAUGHING MATTER! My ancestral title will not drown in the river with a common vagrant! I demand I be returned what is rightfully mine!”
The mayor considers him with a calculating look. “I do believe you’ll find that gambling your title away quite contrarily means you revoked any rights you had to it. However…” His gaze lingers with the young man standing next to his friend from the docks. “The title is rather going to waste on a corpse, I agree. Here’s my proposition: duel this lad, and the winner gets to be Lord Whatever-it-was from here on out.” He considers the two men. “Let’s say… Unarmed, like real men! Fisticuffs and wrestling! What say you?” At the word ‘unarmed’, the young man’s lips curl in a slight smile.
The moustachioed complainant considers this. He’s not happy at having to jump through hoops to get his title back, but he’s also a heavy-built man, with medals in wrestling and a body hardened by the rough exercise his father, a military man, has put him through as a young man. Besides, venting his frustrations out on some bohemian type dreaming of a life beyond his station could be a pleasant way to vent the stress of this business… “…Fine. Let’s do it, then. I hope the boy at least knows how to throw a punch!”
The two contestants take place before the Mayor. The woman sits down beside him, with a look of motherly pride on her face. Removing his coat, His-Maybe-Lordship considers the young man. Light hair, longer on the right side, shaved short on the left. Under the short shave, the pink sheen of a burn-scar distorts his otherwise not-unhandsome face, although the former Baron suspects this probably just adds to his popularity with the other youth of this anarchistic hell-hole. His build is athletic, but he is barely in his twenties, and his muscles are thin and sinewy, like a long distance runner’s, in contrast to the claimant’s heavy, muscled arms, those of a grown man. The young man’s left arm is covered entirely in bandages - being a likely weakness to exploit, if the older man expected that to be even necessary.
“Are the contestants ready?” Feducci asks. The older man grunts, the younger nods with a smile of anticipation. “Very well. Allez!”
His-Maybe-Lordship barely registers the outstretched fingers reaching for his eyes before his arms are already in the way with a block, the speed of the thrust throwing him off completely and causing him to stagger backwards for safety. Before he has time to think, he feels the bandaged hand grip around his throat and squeeze with a vice-like grip. He attempts to pry off the arm, but the rock-hard arm doesn’t even begin to yield. The moustachioed man’s plans for escape are interrupted as the young man places all his weight behind a kick to the knee, and white-hot pain erupts from the shattering leg as it collapses under him. The two tumble down as the heavier man loses his support, but the murderous grip on his throat does not ease up. A panicked flailing arm tries to reach the young man’s face, but this only causes him to pull closer and crush the older man’s nose with a headbutt. The pain is too much for the former Baron, and he sinks into unconsciousness.
Feducci considers the smiling young man before him. Blood is spattered over his face, the bandages covering his clay arm have been torn, as has the loose-fitting white shirt, but the boy looks refreshed, rather than tired or shaken. His expression is that of a cat that would very much like to continue this particular game, thank you very much. The lady from the docks is chuckling benevolently. “See? Told yer he’s a spunky one! Think ye can find work fer ‘im?”
Feducci’s smile reaches his uncovered eyes. “Yes, I do believe I have a friend or two who would wish to make acquaintance with our young Lord here… I’m sure they’ll get along marvellously.”
edited by John Moose on 10/11/2017
The day is busy in the district of Elderwick. It’s late afternoon, so the poets and painters have more or less managed to exhume themselves from their apartments, and are beginning to fill up the cafes and form gaggles of the like-minded on the street, ready to revolutionize how Londoners see the world. Bookshops of lesser repute try their best to lure these people in with posters of the latest trendsetters, while shops selling paint, canvas and other materials are confident signs of “FUCHSIA 3p/JAR” and “CHEAP BRUSHES” will be all the siren song needed to bring in the money. In the midst of all this creative spirit, two men with much more mundane aspirations are strolling along.
The older of the two gentlemen sticks out from the crowd like a sore thumb, and not just for being about as big as any five underfed artists put together. He wears a suit of worn ratskin, and although the cut would be fitting for a gentleman, his demeanor manages to turn the effect into that of a workman wearing his trusted overalls for just one more day at the grind. What remains of his dark hair is combed over in a futile attempt to cover his expanding bald, and his face is red and swollen from years of heavy drinking. His friends call him Les, if you can use the word “friend” for “people who’ll drink with him after they’ve all washed other people’s blood off their shoes.” It’s alright, though. Those people probably deserved it for their sins. Such as “being smart” or “talking back.”
The younger of the two men, by contrast, fits in with the scenery quite well. A young man with an absent-minded smile, wearing his long, blonde hair in a loose ponytail, and himself in a flowing robe of sunset colours, a white linen shirt and baggy-kneed trousers underneath, sliding through the crowd on slippers of soft black silk. The left side of his face is covered in a burn-scar, though he does not seem to mind - today, he has a bright green flower behind his left ear, as if to draw attention to the scarred side. His left arm is covered in tightly-woven bandages of blue and purple. Everything about his demeanor suggests there’s nowhere he’d rather be, and he’s seemingly oblivious to the ill humour of his companion. His name is, after a recent duel, Lord Bennett, although he keeps insisting people call him George.
“Should be three, then - ‘customers’, that is. Is that a typical amount?” George asks cheerfully.
Les grunts. “Mhm.”
“They’re pretty young, so I imagine they won’t give us too much trouble.”
“I mean, that could make it feel kinda bad, but they’ve honestly got it coming.”
George turns to regard his companion, his smile fading for once. “You don’t really feel like talking, do you?”
An uneasy smile crosses the young man’s face. “Well, I get being the ‘strong and silent’ type and all that, but honestly I haven’t even told you who they are, or what they’ve done. Don’t you think you should be in on that before we go in?”
The older man is quiet for a moment. When George is about to continue, Les turns to look him in the eyes. “That ain’t my job. Tha’s yours. Yeh ask the questions, yeh remember the answers, an’ I jus’ bash in their heads if yer not happy. Yeh tell yer boss I did that, I get paid. Tha’s it, and I ain’t askin’ who they are any more’n a baker wants ta know wha his bread’s bin up to. Go’ it?”
George seems both surprised and slightly saddened. “Well, I mean, I get that, I guess, but isn’t it nice to know what you’re doing, exactly? I mean, you’re not just some criminal, we’re liberating people from the Masters’ oppression! Every head you crack is one that was colluding with those keeping the poor, poor and the rich, rich!”
Les sighs. “Yea, tha’s wha’ they usually say. I dunno about liberatin’, ain’t been much’a that as I’ve seen, an’ I’ve been down ‘ere since the Fall. Better worry about havin’ money fer food an’ a roof over yer head, the rest ain’t gonna change anytime soon.”
This leaves George quiet for a while. The two walk in silence for a while, Les as expressionless as usual, George frowning in quiet thought. At a bookshop smaller and more poster-laden than most, he jolts out of his rumination and motions Les to stop. “This one. Let’s do this, then.”
A painter selling his works on the streets notes the beautifully coloured robe of the man entering the shop, and stops to wonder whether he’s found inspiration for his next work. His thoughts are interrupted by an interested customer. Through the negotiations, however, someone’s loud voice from above the bookshop the men entered keeps reaching his ears.
“-at does February look-”
“-N WHY’D YOU TRY TO-”
“-Y BAT ONE MORE TIME-”
A loud crash of breaking glass stops the painter’s sales-pitch short, as someone falls through the second story window, hitting the cobbles with a thud. Shocked, he turns to look towards the broken window, where the sunset-robed young man is standing. He sees the man turn on his heels to address someone still in the room. “AIGHT, THEN, now WHERE did you little pieces of-”
The painter hurriedly gathers his wares into his cart, and makes to leave with all possible haste to a climate with a lower daily artist-precipitation.
“Y’know,” Les notes as the two make their way back towards Watchmakers’ and their employers, “I’m supposed to do the throwin’. ‘S what I’m paid fer.” The older man tries to look annoyed, but can’t help the corner of his mouth from twitching upwards.
George is smiling once more, although now there’s a certain look of dark satisfaction in it. “Oh, don’t worry dear, I won’t tell them if you won’t. I’m afraid I got somewhat caught in the moment.”
It’s Les’ turn to be pensive, now. He’s worked as muscle-for-hire for nearly every kind of criminal, anarchist and spy by now, and he thinks he remembers running into a few that reminded him of this youth. He doesn’t seem to be a monster, or a heartless killer, but maybe someone who never learned to hold back. His type will praise their friends to the heavens, worship their lovers through the night to the morning, and tear their enemies into tiny pieces all without a thought of moderation or hesitation ever even entering their heads. This is someone dangerous - not in the way Les is, the way a bear is dangerous if you bother it, but dangerous in the way a speeding train is. If the tracks run out, or turn too tight, it’ll keep plowing on, and sod what’s in the way.
“Say what, kid, I’ll get us drinks, to celebrate, like. ‘S yer firs’ job, after all.”
As George’s smile widens, Les considers his life experience. After years upon years of dealing with people, he’s rather good at it. And when this train derails, he intends to be firmly wedged at a healthy distance from the direction of the crash. That’s what it’s all about, in the end. Food and a roof.
George is holding an informant of little consequence over the edge of a roof when the light erupts. He does not even register his grip loosening, and the scream. Ignoring Les, shielding his eyes from the blaze, George runs towards it and leaps down from the roof. He crashes down on a carriage, breaking a foot, and rolls over on to the street. He continues running, now on all fours while limping the broken foot, until he reaches the terrace of a cafe. On a table now vacant he finds what he yearns. He lifts the half-full bottle of wine, slogs its contents down in one go, and then thrusts it upwards in the direction of the light.
George holds his silent toast well after the light is gone, until Les later catches up and carries him away. His cheeks are streaked with tears, his eyes wide. The light in his heart screams a concerto of joy and victory.
A great light reached its zenith today, and then was snuffed out.
In his heart, body and mind, and soul, the leonine man swears to light an equally bright one in its memory.
edited by John Moose on 12/21/2017
A Perfect Catch, part 1[b]: Something Merry
December 22nd, 1894
Three tables over, someone jingles their glass with a silver spoon, causing a short interruption in the background noise of smalltalk and eating. As the speech goes on, the talking picks back up, quiet first, then louder. Seven chandeliers decorate the ceiling, a hexagon with the most opulent one in the middle. Seven, it’s always seven down h-
Theodore snapped out of his daze as he heard his name mentioned. “- Ted will be back in a few months, mom, it’s not a big deal, really! It’ll be great for his career, Professor Murray is the foremost expert in his field, it’ll look great on Ted’s résumé -”
Theodore looked to at his newly wed wife. Larissa was wearing an ivory gown that made her look even more stunning than usual. Somehow she managed to seem beautifully tanned, even down here, and the white of her dress brought it out even more. She’d been wearing white all the time since the wedding, like she was refusing to admit that the day had passed, and that she couldn’t simply keep having it again and again.
Her mother, the widowed Mrs Norwood, was wearing her usual black, and an expression of irritation and disapproval. “I’m not sure the professor would be happy to hear his assistant is leaving his expectant wife alone, Rissa. I’m sure he can practice writing papers and cutting up oysters at Summerset just as well. I don’t see the point of a risky sea-voyage just for some fish when they sell every kind of those at the Docks.” She gave Theodore a sharp look. “Have you asked if any of the fisheries are hiring? I’m sure they’d have a respectable position for someone with an education in… Well, what they trade with.”
Marine zoology, you hag, marine zoology, it has a name and you know it. This again, then. Theodore had gotten too comfortable when the discussion had been about his brother-in-law’s work. Respectable work in the Windward Trading Company with a fat paycheck and frequent promotions.
Theodore tried not to begrudge the man who had married Larissa’s sister three years past. It was great for him to be so eager and driven, but… Seriously. Winston was just so easy to hate. Square jaw, captain of the cricket team in College. Now obsessed over becoming the best salesman of chimneys, or whatever. Nose always up the fat old businessmen’s behinds. He seemed to be actually interested in a job of telling engineers to work harder and shaving numbers off trade deals for purchasing surface iron. And to top it all off, the dullard shared the family matriarch’s opinion of his superiority over Theodore, and expressed this by being extremely friendly and supportive, like Theodore had a silly hobby that he’d grow out of if he only received enough big-brotherly encouragement.
Will this end better or worse if I just barf on my plate?
“She’s on her second month, ma’am, and we’ll be back in three, even if there’s delay. The doctor assured us she’ll be fine, as long as she doesn’t overexert herself. I’m sorry to worry you, but Larissa and I agreed I couldn’t afford to miss the opportunity.”
Mrs Norwood, unsurprisingly, was not convinced. A long speech on the duties of husbands followed. Larissa kept casting Theodore apologetic glances, and he did his best to look solemn and even more apologetic. If only the starters would arrive soon…
December 25th, 1894
Theodore and Larissa stood by the gangplank, lost deep in each other’s eyes. Her shining golden curls flowed over the ermine stole, flecked by snow. …’Snow.’ He was wearing a jacket that made him look like an Eskimo borrowing his father’s clothes.
She was trying not to let the worry show.
He was trying not to let the guilt show.
“I’ll be back as soon as possible. If you feel at all-”
“Hush. You have fun with your fish.”
“I mean it.”
“Yes, and so do I. Just… Don’t get too close to the big ones, alright?”
“Or the mermaids.”
“No promises, there.”
A smile, reciprocated. Both leant closer.
The clamour of the ship’s bells ended their goodbyes. A final kiss, and he climbed aboard. In the distance, Mrs Norwood’s expression was colder than the zee.
January 3rd, 1895
The mess hall was quiet. It was 3 am, and most everyone was deep asleep. Theodore had woken up in sweat, with no memory of his dreams. All that remained was an unsettling feeling to do with depth, and the absence of light. He’d taken a walk on the deck in the light of the false-stars, and was now finishing his report on previous day’s findings. They were close to Whither, now. Lots of odd fish, adapted to life among the lifebergs, just as Professor Murray wanted.
Something about the zee was getting to Theodore. He had a shift in the diving bell in two days, and after his dream, was not looking forward to a place of, well, lots of depth and no light.
Like being bait for a gigantic fish.
He picked up his pen and continued writing.
“The multitude of mandibles seems to suggest a diet of…”
As the ship passes Cant’s Abyss, a current turns and disturbs a sunken building covered in coral. A heavy block of metal turns, slowly, to the side and upwards. As the current changes again, the heavy bell swings, clanging once, twice, thrice. The sound is dull and sudden, and not as much heard as felt by the fish taking refuge within the building. Aboard, Theodore turns uneasily in his sleep.
[b][u]A Perfect Catch, part 2: Something Mellow
January 4th, 1895
The diving bell was quiet, now. Lisa was diving, and Ted stayed behind with the watch.
He stared at the window, seeing only black. Eerie, distant sounds, creaking and humming, magnified in the silence of the bell. Now and then, a fish could be seen against the glass, invited by the light of the lamp within.
I could always just ring the bell at 5 and pretend it’s time…
Ted wasn’t scared, as such. It would have been normal to be, as the professor had told them. It was a claustrophobic little bubble of air surrounded by countless tons of crushing seawater. It was more like… That word in French, for the urge to jump off a cliff. He looked down at the onyx mirror formed by the water’s surface. He thought he could in that moment understand how a cat feels when it sees a vase right on the edge of a table, and knows a tiny push is all it’d take. If he just leaned a little bit forward, he’d be surrounded by the depth and the darkness, and it’d go into his lungs, and he’d actually know what that feeling he kept having in his dreams was about.
He leaned back.
So does this mean I’ve developed a suicidal streak, or…
He stared at the lamp’s flame. Being blinded didn’t feel like such a bad thing, right now. It was something to think of, something else than the depths.
His skin felt a bit dry. He reached to scratch his neck.
He’d soon be out, back in the light of the false-stars. The cold didn’t really bother him anymore, and there would be hot coffee waiting, anyway. They’d spotted a whale in the distance, last night. He could get used to the above-surface part of the zee.
6 minutes, 45 seconds. That’s enough.
“And there was this anemone with eyes, and I don’t really get why, because it’s not like there’s normally any light down there, and I tried to pick it up but as soon as I reached out it vanished into a crack in the rock. But there’s the weird hermit crab, and the catfish - I don’t know why it didn’t even try to escape - and…”
Ted was happy to listen to Lisa’s excited babble. It distracted him from the creaking and clanking of the chains and the bell, and from the waters around them. Besides, whenever something got Lisa excited enough to forget her conspiracies of space bat overlords controlling the Masters and the lava-breathing hedgehogs sleeping under London, she could be excellent company. It was as if she had pure Darkdrop in her veins, although she barely touched the stuff.
Her voice trailed off. “Are you ok, Ted? You look a bit pale.”
“Oh. I’m alright. It’s probably just the cold.”
“If you don’t like coming down here, you could just ask Murray not to be on the roster. There’s enough to do on the boat.”
Ted shook his head. “No, I can’t be the only one skipping this. I’d be a sorry marine zoologist if I never went to see the creatures for myself. It’s just…” He hesitated. “It’s these dreams I keep having.”
Lisa frowned. “Dreams? Like, recurring ones?”
“Something like that.”
“You know, I’ve heard of a theory about that…”
Ted couldn’t help smiling. “I’m sure you have. The primordial goldfish possessing people, I’m sure?”
“Oh, har, har. I really don’t understand how come people go on the streets, shake hands with a devil, chuck a stone at a squid-man, and then go on to say how life from outer space is a ludicrous idea.”
The water at the bottom sloshed as the bell rose from the zee.
“I don’t think life from outer space is ludicrous. I’ve got a real live Martian right in front of me.”
“-so anyway, only her and two others were still alive when they were found, and that’s why Adams is the only first mate crazy enough to want to sign up for her.”
Zoya, the young woman from the Elder Continent, was waving a forkful of mackerel at the rest of them as she shared the latest gossip. Zoya enjoyed being in the headlight, and the rest of them didn’t really mind letting her hog it - the stories of her home were fantastical enough to be good entertainment at any gathering. Whether they were all true or not, they were in any case more interesting to listen to than the crew’s discussions on who needed to clean the anchor and how big of a bosom or bicep their latest lover had had.
“So you’re saying, what? That she’s been on a rough voyage and now people don’t want to sail with her?” David was a serious-looking young man whose family had moved here after a business venture in the Americas went belly-up. He was the only one still bothering to question Zoya’s more outrageous claims.
Zoya gave him a knowing, slightly condescending smile. “No, my boy, I’m saying she was remarkably well-fed after months as a stowaway, and that’s why it’s a good idea to leave her ship if the steak ever runs out. We do have those back home, you know, entire armies of… Hungry people.” Her expression darkened. “And apparently she grew accustomed to the taste, because ever since then, kids keep disappearing in ports she visits. I think she’s got it in her head she’ll stay forever young by eating their youth.”
This was a step more outlandish than usual, and Ted grimaced. “Oh come on, there’s no way they’d let a cannibal just roam the seas. I’m pretty sure there’s a death penalty for that in London.”
“That’s it, isn’t it? No one goes to the constables, because they’re afraid they’ll find their children in Chevalier’s pot. I’m telling you, I’ve heard of her before, and there’s a reason why we got her to ferry us for so cheap.” Zoya looked at the boys, daring them to object. Lisa was reading a thoroughly thumbed copy of “Vake: The Truth”, and not paying much attention to them.
He wasn’t in the mood for an argument after the dive, so Ted shrugged, and left to take his plate to the kitchen. Behind him, he heard David voicing his objections.
As he left the plate with the rest of the dishes, he glanced at the shelves behind the chef.
They do have an awful lot of meat here, don’t they…
That night, Ted dreamed of the wedding. Rissa was glowing like the sun, putting the golden furnishments of the church to shame. However, as he looked around, he saw that the guests were different, now. Mrs Norton was swelling, and purple, and long spines were poking out from her face. Winston was slowly gasping for breath, his gills flapping as his empty eyes stared ahead. All the stuffy ladies and gentlemen present were changing, were it by growing pincers, or by scales spreading over their skin.
He looked at Rissa. Her golden flocks were flowing behind her, now, as a cloud of ink led her by the hand to the altar. She was still smiling, happy as ever.
Slowly, slowly, Ted turned around to look at his side of the church. No mates from the university, this time. No headmistress of the orphanage. Floating corpses, dead, dull eyes staring. Many without head. Many with pieces missing, eaten away. Behind them, a giant moray eel, eyeing him like a morsel of meat. The smallest goldfish, cleaning the moray’s teeth. The goldfish turned to swim towards Ted, and with a slight popping sensation, his teeth jumped free of his gums to make way for sharp fangs, already pushing their way out. The goldfish began to eagerly swallow up his old teeth, one by one.
He turned back towards the altar, and Rissa was now holding his hands, looking into his eyes. The priest had grown vast, as a reef of coral.
I DECLARE YOU-
Above them, a great bell chimed, filling the submerged church with a sound as golden and bright as the bell. The golden sound turned into golden light, and-
-the cabin was dark, and Ted realized his blanket was drenched with sweat.
He looked at his watch - 5 in the morning. He groaned, and got up to get dressed and have an early breakfast. He seemed to have gotten some kind of rash from the rough sheets, red patches on the backs of his arms, dry and itching.
As he started brushing his teeth, he felt something odd in his mouth. There was something in there that didn’t belong. Did a piece of the toothbrush break off? He spat into an empty cup.
In it lay, in the pink mixture of tooth powder and blood, one of his molars.
[u][b]A Perfect Catch, part 3: Something Brazen
“Brimstone on the wind. Shouldn’t we take a course more to the south? No point risking the brass ships, aye?”
“We’ve been paid to sail in the northern waters. I would not disappoint our passengers.”
“Aye… But since when do we let landlubbers decide the course, cap’n?”
“Do you hear it? He hums tonight. His song is between each wave, between the false-stars, to be heard only by those empty enough for it to echo within them. He calls us forth, my good man. Are we not to answer his call?”
One of those nights, then.
February 13th, 1895
It was evening, and all of the day’s work was done. The ship was making its way slowly through the northern Unterzee, with the false-stars glimmering high and cold this close to the Horizon. Behind the ship, Frostfound’s azure cliffs were vanishing into the distance. The deck was empty, except for Lisa. She was standing in the prow, smoking a Rosegate’s and staring off into the darkness. Under the brim of her old iron hat, her brown was furrowed in thought. She had been getting worried the last few days, and feared the coming ones wouldn’t ease the feeling.
Not over the expedition, which was going as well as they could hope, so keeping the professor in an almost uncharacteristically good mood. They were getting less specimens up here, but the ones they did catch tended to be uncatalogued and highly adapted for the cold waters. These adaptations were what they’d come here to study, and so Professor Murray seemed more and more like a gruff, bearded child in a candy store with every day that passed.
The crew was friendly enough and slowly warming up to the research team. The captain was still distant and eerie, but since they mostly heard of her only through the ever-friendly first mate with no indoor voice, this wasn’t really an issue. The research team - Zoya, David, Ted and her - had already been good friends back at campus, and working long days at the ship had been making them closer than ever. Lisa had jumped at the opportunity for a zee-expedition because she’d hoped for a distracting adventure, and she’d been getting everything she hoped for and more. Although she’d never admit it to the others, she’d been a bit fed up lately with how much time and mental energy she spent on her theories about the true rulers of London, and being on the ship had felt like a very healthy spring cleaning for her head. This gave her a small pang of conscience - the theories were hardly unimportant - but theories about subcutaneous fat in northern fish left her far less drained at the end of the day.
The source of her worry was Ted. He was trying to hide it, but it was clear he wasn’t feeling well. Even if being quiet and reserved was usual behaviour for him, he was hardly talking at all the last few days, sticking to one- or two-word responses if spoken to. He’d been getting increasingly pale, and the bags under his eyes made Lisa think he barely slept at all. What’s more, there was a nasty looking red rash on his neck and the back of his head, which Lisa had seen when Ted had been bent over some instruments. Something was wrong with him, and he refused to go to the ship’s doctor. All Lisa had received in response to asking about it was “it’ll pass.” She didn’t want to go to the professor behind his back, but… It didn’t seem like it was passing. What it seemed like was that it was getting worse, and fast. Maybe if she-
A door clanked behind her. Turning, she saw Professor Murray stepping on deck, closing the door behind him with his pipe-free hand. He nodded to her, and walked over.
Lisa fumbled for her matches, and passed them over. The professor thanked her, and proceeded to light the stygian ivory pipe. He was a man in his fifties, although he looked older, with a long, bushy beard and a thinning head of hair that he tried covering up with a comb-over. His eyebrows were unusually thick and long, like his eyes had curtains of their own.
They stood there in silence, smoking and looking at the horizon. Lisa wasn’t sure if she should come up with some small talk or if the man preferred the silence - she realized she’d never really been alone with him outside work. He eased her decision by speaking first.
“So. Is Theodore feeling better?”
Lisa turned to look at him. Of course he’d noticed. “You mean…”
“I mean, Miss Schuler, that he’s barely staying on his feet, he looks like a drownie and a zailor spotted him spitting a tooth over the rail.” The professor drew a deep breath. “I’d suspect scurvy, but we haven’t been afloat nearly long enough for that, and the cook swears his food has plenty of variance and vegetables for long voyages. He needs to be inspected by the doctor, but seems reluctant, for some reason. Still, I’d prefer if he would go by his own choice, and not by being dragged. I was wondering, then, if his friends could maybe help me with this.” He turned towards Lisa, with an enquiring look in his eyes. Also, it was hard to tell because he always seemed to be frowning, but Lisa thought he looked worried.
“I… We’ve tried, but he says it’s nothing, and won’t even talk about seeing the doctor. I’m not sure…”
The professor turned back towards the zee, keeping silent for a while.
“I understand. However, this could be… No, is, a serious matter, and I have no desire to tell young Mrs Moose that we let her husband perish because he was too stubborn to seek help. I don’t want to put too much pressure on you - if you don’t think the three of you can do it, tell me, and I’ll ask the first mate - but I still think it’d be better if he’d come voluntarily, and as his friends I feel you have the best chance of succeeding at that.”
“I’ll… We’ll try.”
“For Heaven’s sake, Ted, you look half dead! And it smells like vomit in here! Would you please just go see the doctor?”
“I’m fine! I’m fine… It’s just… Seasick, give it a rest won’t y- Uhhh… Uuuurrrrr-”
“AAH! Yuck! That’s it, we’re going NOW! Zoya, David! Give me a hand with-”
Zoya and David were in the cabin that was serving as dissection room for the journey. Both were working, neither saying very much. Ted would probably have struggled if he’d had any strength left to do so. As it were, he was now lying in a bed in the doctor’s office, heavily medicated and being spoon-fed whenever he came around. It wasn’t the kind of day where happy conversation flows.
Zoya was cutting her jellyfish with enough concentration to go through diamond. She was used to being in charge in every situation. A friend literally vomiting his teeth out left her feeling shaken - no amount of take-charge attitude or fiery rhetoric changed that. Instead, she tried to lose herself in the work, for lack of better alternatives.
David, on the other hand, was having trouble concentrating at all. He kept glancing over his glasses at Zoya, who was too focused to notice. Her long braided hair was in a loose ponytail, flowing over her shoulder. In his jacket’s breast pocket David had a letter he’d been intending to give her on the fourteenth. This had been enough of a terror in the first place, for a young man who’d never kissed a girl except on the cheek, and then only his mother and sister. Now that she looked like she wanted to bring the jellyfish back to life just so she could kill it again, he’d have been hard-pressed to as much as ask to borrow a scalpel. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve, and tried to focus on the crab whose stomach he was supposed to inspect.
Zoya, on the other hand, wasn’t nervous at all: she’d folded a bouquet of flowers out of discarded research notes weeks in advance, and already had elaborate plans in place for how she’d deliver them to Lisa.
Professor Murray was a good teacher and cared for his students deeply, but it could be said that he may have forgotten a thing or two about people in their early twenties by now. Such as “how wise is it to place them in isolation, for months, in dangerous and exciting environments, with little to do on their free time except to socialize with each other.”
“…Zoya, I have something that-”
A loud crash, like a gong being struck in half, made them both yell in surprise and drop their scalpels. The shakes carried through the ship, throwing loosely attached objects on the floor.
“Up on the deck! I think we hit an iceberg!” Zoya was already running out of the door. Her expression betrayed some eagerness at the thought of a crisis where she could shine.
Captain Chevalier stood on the bridge, gazing at the corsair ship behind them, glowing like pale gold under the light of the false-stars. They had little to speak of in the way of armaments, so she’d ordered a retreat at full speed, but secretly hoped the faustic pirates would not give up. It had been long since she’d last let her cutlass drink blood.
They were at the edge of the corsair’s firing range. They had probably been spotted at the very last moment, and the corsairs were trying to slow them down in order to succeed in the chase. Only two shots had hit so far, at that distance. On the other hand, two shots had already hit, at that distance. The helmsman was sweating, and the first mate was yelling orders at the top of his lungs.
Chevalier had to restrain herself from whistling.
Professor Murray arrived to the bridge with much waving and fluster.
“Captain! Captain! What in bloody hell is going on?”
“Ha! Yes indeed, professor.”
Murray stopped in his tracks, trying to make sense of the answer. “What? …Devils? Well, don’t just smile there! We need to escape! Shoot back! Something!”
The captain kept smiling. “Everything is under control, professor. You may return to your assistants.”
“Cap’n! That… May not be entirely true. Ahead, cap’n.”
Both of the arguers turned to look where the first mate was pointing. Slightly to port from where they were headed, something was rising from the zee. Something that had already risen to the height of the ship, and didn’t seem to be getting bored of further ascent any time soon. Something like a mountain of black glass.
Ted was twisting and turning in the bed. He kept slipping in and out of sleep, not quite sure when he was awake. The obese man sitting by the desk and shoveling putrid liquid down Ted’s throat was maybe real. The fish swimming around the ceiling probably were not. It was not easy to tell.
He’d been hoping it’d stop. Every night now he dreamed of the vast black ocean surrounding him. Every morning he woke feeling worse for it. He’d been trying to work himself to exhaustion to be too tired to dream. It hadn’t worked. He’d stolen laudanum from the doctor. It hadn’t worked. He’d tried eating himself sick before bed time. It hadn’t worked. He’d tried starving himself. It hadn’t worked.
He knew it was the dreams causing the sickness, no the other way around, somehow. And he knew what happened to people who got sick from dreams. He’d be carried away to Bethlehem if he was lucky, somewhere worse if he wasn’t. And Rissa would be, for all intents and purposes, a widow, raising their child without him.
That would not happen. It wasn’t going to happen, he wasn’t going to let it happen. He’d take a deep breath- AAAH -not that deep then… He’d gather his wits, he’d get up, and go back to work. He’d just steel himself and pretend the dreams weren’t happening, that there wasn’t an octopus sitting on the doctor’s head. He’d fake sanity for the rest of his life, if he had to.
He clenched his jaws. He clenched his other jaws.
He sat up. It hurt, but he felt stronger already. Actually, he was feeling… Hungry.
…Oh! Maybe… It’s the food? I’m allergic to something in the food, and now I’ve finally vomited it out, I’m feeling better? That’ll be it, then…
The fat man was fussing in front of him, trying to get him to lay down. Ted said something he assumed was a calming assurance of good health. The doctor only got more frantic, and tried to force Ted on his back. That was annoying, and Ted wasn’t in the mood for annoying things. He pushed the doctor away - too hard, as it turned out, when the man hit a shelf behind him, causing it to fall over him.
Ted stood up. He hadn’t been wrong - he was clearly feeling better. Stronger. The rash was getting hellish, though. His skin itched like never before. He didn’t bother resisting the urge to scratch. His neck, his scalp, his forehead.
Next to him, the doctor groaned quietly. The man seemed to have a tendency for drama.
There was some dead skin on Ted’s forehead, and he picked at it. It started to come off, revealing quite a larger strip of dead skin than he’d expected. Tearing it off made the itch ease up, though, so he continued. And continued. And continued.
Something like alarm entered his mind as he looked at his hand, seeing that he was holding half of the skin off his face, now white and dead. At the ends of his fingers, sharp claws were pushing their way out.
Not too alarmed to spoil his appetite, though.
edited by John Moose on 12/30/2017
For the story Perfect Catch, I doodled the characters a bit beforehand to help with planning, so here’s a link to pictures of the doodles in case that helps with making sense of who’s who.
[u][b]A Perfect Catch, part 4: Something Melancholy
Zoya and David had still been inside the ship when the living mountain crashed against it, and so had not been thrown overboard. As they were scrambling to get up on the corridor they’d been running along until the shock threw them against the wall, the mountain celebrated its coming feast with a scream of fire and pain. The voice was like iron scraped against the inside of your skull. All they could do was scream and cry tears of blood as the murderous voice tore the air from their lungs. When it ended, it seemed to linger in the bones, rattling them and turning blood to ice in the veins. Every sound the ship and the battle made seemed to have become muted in comparison.
Slowly, Zoya made it back on her feet. The voice was gone for now, and despite the feeling that it had put its fingers in her skull and would never let go now she’d heard it, she could feel her shaken thoughts begin to reorganize. She didn’t know what was happening, except that something extremely dangerous had attacked them. What they needed to do was get to the lifeboats… Unless that’d just make them easy pickings? But if the ship had been damaged enough in that crash, it would already be sinking…
As her ears slowly began working again, she realized that what she’d thought of as tinnitus was a scream - a high-pitched scream, from someone she knew very well. She grabbed David’s collar, dragging him to his feet. “David! Get up! Lisa’s down! We have to get her!”
Ted shoveled the food down his throat, his long claws digging into the meat and tearing it into comfortably-sized chunks. Food was good. The storage room was dark, now he’d smashed the lamp. Dark was good. The room was also quiet, now the sound that tried to fry his brain was quiet. Quiet was good. There had been struggle, but that was over now, and there was peace. Peace was good.
He had an uncomfortable feeling that when he was done eating there would be no time for rest. He was not the main guest to this dinner table. Soon, he’d have to move over and leave the rest for the loud one outside. For now, though, he could eat.
As Zoya burst into the dark storage room, David at her heels, all light was coming from behind her. Because of this, she didn’t see what was in the room very well. What she saw was the black-red pools on the floor, around the ragdoll-like form lying on the floor.
Behind that, she saw something tall and pale, wearing Ted’s clothes and the remnants of his face. Its eyes were bulging and pupilless, glowing silvery with the reflected light. Its fingers ended in long, sharp claws, and its hand was holding a chunk of something wet and dripping.
Zoya didn’t think. As terror and fury flooded her veins, she was already charging forward, her hand already holding the long knife she carried at her belt. She didn’t need to think. Instinct and muscle memory guided her arm, and the knife lodged itself in the monster’s chest. Seeing everything as through a tunnel, she saw blood gush from the wound, and pulled at the knife to strike again.
Sharp claws sank into the flesh of her back like hooks, and a long arm threw her across the room, talons ripping her skin and jacket both. The wall hit her like a train for the second time in a few minutes.
As she looked up, she saw David charge at the monster unarmed. It reached for his head, and smashed it against the wall. David didn’t move anymore. The monster seemed nervous, glancing around itself, and holding one of its hands over the wound gaping on its chest, the knife having come loose. It looked at her once more, and strode out of the storage.
The ship, or what was left of it, had been caught by the black mountain’s tendrils, and was being pulled under slowly. Some of the crew had escaped in lifeboats, but Captain Chevalier did not think much of their chances. She stood on the deck, sipping of her pocket flask, a god of dark glass behind her, North stretching out in front of her eyes. She had come here, feeling the pull of a feast, a night of appetites. It was hardly her place to complain if she’d been invited to be eaten, not to eat. In the distance, she could hear bells of iron tolling.
As the ship descended and the water began covering the deck, she saw a face rise from the zee further away. Two eyes, silver and unblinking, stared at her from the waterline. She smiled, and raised her flask.
“The Drowned Man hums tonight, my friend. This is not a night to go hungry! Let your hunger guide you, young man. Not postponed, not in the end, not for-”
Her speech was interrupted as a tendril dragged her below the surface with one powerful yank. The silvery eyes widened in surprise, and what-had-been-Ted swam down in fright.
In the distance, the iron bells tolled, as the mountain of black slowly descended back below the waves.
June 7th, 1895
“When he came back to his senses, he was hiding in a small cave nearby. As he remembered what had transpired, he was appalled, and forced himself to throw up. However, all that came out, was of the deepest peligin black. You see; stories of monsters have half-man, half-beast creatures hunger for human flesh, but in truth neither men nor fish normally subsist on man-flesh. They both do, however, eat fish. All he’d hungered for was the abundance of zee-fruits in the hold. As it happens, his friends and compatriots did not know this… And man and fish both fight back. Morays are not known for their gentle touch, when their burrow is disturbed.
It is what he tells himself, to this day, so that he can sleep: ‘It was black, black, it was all of it black.’ He believes it is what purchases him the last dregs of his humanity. Might be it does.
I heard his story from subjects of mine that invited him to my kingdom. He refused, and has been roaming the zee over the surface since, afraid of what awaits below. For how long, that we shall see.
You have your story now, little one. Run along now, lest you remain here forever. I believe you have a fish to catch.”
Zoya bowed stiffly, and strode out of the throne room of green and blue, past the drowned courtiers. Over her shoulder she had strapped a harpoon of stygian ivory, and in her eyes revenge burned like fire.
edited by John Moose on 1/15/2018
May 8th, 1895
In the depths of the zee, a sunken wreck lies.
The wreck does not lie in the peligin depths - here, the water still lets through light. Occasionally, a ray of light manages to pierce the gloom. Now and then, they hit one of the gold bullions strewn on the ship’s deck, revealing to any passing explorer where a treasure may be found. A closer inspection would reveal that there aren’t many coins visible to the curious, but the dozen or so that are, have been spread amazingly evenly around the boat by the random currents and animals of the zee. Almost as if to lure in bold zubmariners.
Four have even been spread around the boat, on top of rocks, one in each direction.
With nails holding them in place.
Further off, a man swims through the seaweeds in broad, calm strokes. From him, the occasional ray of light reveals specked, leathery skin, long limbs with webbed digits and, most prominently, bulging, silvery eyes that reflect the light like a cat’s eyes might.
The man approaches the wreck with idle curiosity. Picking up the golden shine through the darkness, he swims higher to observe the setting. The coral on the ship doesn’t quite match the surrounding reef’s colour. While the furnishings on deck are in serious disrepair, the hull seems intact, and the cannons seem somewhat newer than the rest of the vessel.
Ignoring the coins, he dives for the ship straight from above. Sliding over the roof of the cabin on top, he peeks in through a window.
Inside, two corpses are seated at a table, with a marble chess board in the middle. As the man watches, one of the rotten, greyed corpses reaches for a piece of coral on the board, moves it, and knocks another piece over.
The other corpse notices the diving man, and turns to look at him with its milky white eyes.
Following its comrade’s gaze, so does the other.
The man stares back at them with his silvery gaze.
The first corpse that spotted the man opens its toothless mouth, and utters in the dread voice of one long drowned:
“D’yer fuckin’ mind?”
The man with silvery eyes pushes himself off the boat, and swims away.
edited by John Moose on 2/23/2018
May 11th, 1895
-and she strode ahead before he could stop her. But instead of biting her hand off, the tiger pushed its muzzle against her hand, eyes closed. It purred as she stroked its chin, and the purring grew louder and -
Ted came awake slowly, as the rumble of the engine filled his ears. His eyes, like two globs of quicksilver, opened slowly to see the shadows caused by a distant light playing on the rocks of the islet he’d been sleeping on. He crawled out from under the rocks enough to see the approaching Khanate fishing boat. If it got much closer, he wouldn’t be able to leave his small refuge without being seen.
It wasn’t that he needed air to breathe, now, or that he needed to warm up - he hadn’t really felt as much as chilly since - since -
-but that he hadn’t mastered whatever trick let the denizens of the zee wake up as something with sharp teeth snuck up on them, so he made sure to sleep on dry land. The cold black waters were full of things that would see him as little more than a pleasant little snack.
Staying low and behind the rocks, Ted crawled to the water’s edge with his long, clawed limbs and slid into the briny waves. The feeling of the water hydrating his dry leathery skin and filling his gill-sacks felt every time like a small rebirth, and the smells of the ocean entered his nose. From his right, the smell of human waste, the sharp smell of industry, the invasive whiff of horse manure. To his left, the wide open zee, deepening and darkening, and the smell of monsters. Behind him, the Northern waters, where he’d -
-he kicked up speed, heading left, southeast.
Ted was keeping close to the bottom, letting the sand slide past his face as he sped through the seaweed. This deep he was practically blind - no matter how sensitive his eyes were, they still needed at least some light to see by. It didn’t really matter, though. His nose told him all he needed to know. Now, it told him that in these waters in particular, he was a very small fish indeed. The smell of rotting leviathans and territorial markings of krakens grew stronger and stronger as he went on.
Furthermore, in the distance he could smell death. Centuries, millenia of death, like a drain at the bottom of the ocean where life spilled out. Not an impatient death, not something that would chase after him or anything else. A death that knew all came to it in the end, so it had made itself comfortable in the bones of those it had already welcomed, awaiting its next permanent visitor. The death that awaited when all hope had been eaten away.
Suddenly a stronger smell than any of the others filled Ted’s protruding nostrils - the smell of fresh blood. His head yanked towards the source of the smell, and in the distance he could see the faintest source of light. He turned towards it, and swam.
As the zee bottom fell from under him, Ted saw the source of the smell. A midnight whale, mortally wounded, shining in the chasm below. It had been heading to its final resting place, but came too low here, and no longer had the strength to escape the abyss it was slowly sinking in.
The pinpricks of light on its back, like a starry sky, lit up the chasm walls, and the sharks and crabs and eels moving in on it. The beast was in pain and almost immobile, but the zee’s creatures knew nothing of mercy or compassion, They just had empty stomachs to fill.
Ted felt his stomach grumble.
He hadn’t eaten much, lately. Just the odd crab or seashell he’d happened upon on his way, and those didn’t really fill him up. Like only eating carrots and cucumber.
This, he knew, would. Oh, it would.
But he hadn’t wanted to listen to his appetites since-
-since he’d last done so and he’d gone down to the hold and-
-and he’d done things he could never undo and he’d later thought he’d eaten-
He covered his face in his hands, sinking his claws into his face, a voiceless scream shuddering him from within.
His stomach grumbled again, now accompanied by sharp pain. He was so hungry.
Below him, the sharks and eels were already tearing at the whale. It tried to shake them off, but barely had the strength left to inconvenience them.
Something in Ted told him that this would be his very personal Rubicon. He’d been barely conscious last time, he’d thrown it all up afterwards, and since then he’d subsisted on what any fisherman might eat, although a fisherman would probably cook it first. He was conscious and lucid now. It would be his own decision to act like a zee-monster, to follow his new instincts. He could fully well grab a crab heading for the feast and go eat it on a rock somewhere. But he wouldn’t.
With long, deliberate strokes he descended into the abyss, joining the feeding frenzy. His hook-like claws anchored him on the whale’s flank as his jaw opened to let his icicle-like fangs sink into its inky black flesh.
The whale let out its last moan, as the swarm thickened around it to tear at its flesh.
In Ted’s eyes of silver, a sliver of peligin spread, like a drop of ink in water.