The Nightmare Sea: A Tale of Yharnam Part 1

The Nightmare Sea: A Tale of Yharnam Part 1

This is a work of fanfiction, written to pay tribute to the video game Bloodborne, the visionary author H.P. Lovecraft, and other influences. I in no way seek financial gain from it, and the settings, concepts, and some of the characters within remain the intellectual property of From Software and Sony Entertainment.

I also cannot be held responsible for any deterioration in one’s mental faculties, resultant from the eldritch truths contained therein…those without sufficient Insight are advised not to proceed.

CAPTAIN’S LOG, DAY ONE: THE BAY OF BYRGENWERTH, MORNING WATCH

-1-

As our battered craft drifts in the eerily calm waters of the Bay of Byrgenwerth, my heart is as black as the looming crags of obsidian rock that tower above our ship where we have made anchor.

She is gone. I have lost her.

-2-

I had never wanted to sail upon this doomed errand, this accursed charter. Oh, the money was good, excessive in fact, and paid in genuine Healing Church gold. Yet in truth I have no great love of Yharnam, despite apparently having lineage with some of the nobility of this part of the world.

I had been there but once as a young girl, and have distinct memories of a dark, hostile citadel, that for all its grand gothic architecture and sweeping boulevards felt surprisingly claustrophobic. Even as an adult, the few Yharnamite merchants I had the misfortune to meet on trade routes and the like always came across as withdrawn, and nigh on xenophobic. They were also generally fanatical when it came to their unique religion, which as far as I can tell is a bizarre mixture of occult idol-worship and cosmic nihilism.

Thus, when the green-robed Scholar appeared at the shipping office claiming to wish to buy passage to prospect the ruins of Byrgenwerth, the long abandoned Yhanamite seat of learning, I was inclined to give him short shrift. The First Mate, however, was enraptured by the opportunity to go- she had always had a curious fascination with the tales of Yharnam-and as always with her, she had a way of enrapturing me to do her bidding.

In addition to the Scholar and The Solaire’s usual crew, we were chartered by four constables, who had some heinous quarry who had apparently fled to Yharnam to avoid punishment for unspeakable crimes. I am not ashamed to say that I am glad of their company, for if a half of the most recent rumours about this wretched place are true we may well have need of them.

The journey started well enough, but for one anomaly. As we pulled away from the quayside a mad crone un-cowled herself at the wharf and began screeching at our departing wake, beseeching us not to go. The bewitched hag bawled that our voyage was ill-omened, and to prove her point extracted the carcass of a huge, white cuttlefish from her garments and held the bloody, pulpy mess aloft, shaking it at the departing ship. At this point the Harbour Master appeared and carted her away.

I paid this incident no heed, as such happenings are common to seamen and women. Thus in spite of this, we left our home city in high spirits, with the wind flying hard in The Solaire’s sails as we pulled into open water. The First Mate even laughed at the crazed lady as we pulled away, the salty spit of the waves rushing around her angelic, auburn hair.

“Oh, she doesn’t know the adventures we will have, the things we will see…”.

-3-

We had just sighted the lighthouse when the squall hit us.

Up until that point, we had been blessed with unseasonably good weather, and a firm yet fair wind that had allowed us to gently cruise round the coastline for days. The constables and crew had even taken to sunbathing on the forecastle and aft-deck, a dalliance that I allowed for the sake of high moral. In fact, it was so temperate on the evening of yesterday that they were doing so even as the ruddy sun was descending on the seaward horizon.

Yet as we began to navigate around the great rocky spit that crescents the sea-inlet to the Great Lake east of Yharnam province, the Cabin-Boy did screech from the crowsnest:

“Lighthouse ahoy! She be lit, Lady Cap’n!”

I initially thought the poor boy was once again suffering from dementia brought on by sunstroke, and made a note in my brains to restrict the time he spent in his favourite crowsnest on the main mast. No lighthouse had adorned these shores since before my birth.

Nethertheless, I raised my pocket monocle to my eye and peered over the railing at the shoreline. Sure enough, standing erect and hazy in the evening heat, was the dirty white stone tower of a lighthouse atop the dunn cliff face.

“A lamp you weren’t expecting?” The First Mate’s breath in my ear both startled and thrilled me as she appeared grinning at my side, clad in her high-collared leather seamen’s garb with thigh-high deck boots.

I passed her the monocle. “The charts have not shown a light adorning that shore for at least one score years and ten.” I replied. A few of the seamen were beginning to sit up on the deck. Something in the air had changed.

“Legend has it that a hamlet once stood there,” I continued,  “whose inhabitants attended to a lighthouse like the one yonder. The shipmasters’ guilds have been petitioning the Healing Church government in Yharnam to rebuild it for years, for the loss of shipping to the rocks round this spit has been great. Mayhaps they have finally listened…”

Yet the First Mate was no longer listening to me. Her usual teasing, youthful face was creased up in wonder, as she frantically adjusted the viewing lense.

“What is it?” I asked, hesitantly.

“Captain… over there, on the beachhead…” She replied, pointing at a nebulous white patch between the sea and the cliffs whilst passing me back the monocle. I had started to raise the device to my eyeball when the Cabin-Boy once again screeched from the crow’s nest:

“STORRRRMMM!! Storm Lady Cap’n, to port! STORRRM AHOY!”

This time I felt the boy’s wits must surely have plunged from the main mast ahead of him. For the sky on the landward side was the paleblood hue of late summer, and the earth and sea shimmered with the heat.  Yet as I slowly turned round to face the port seaward deck rail in unison with the First Mate, that dread terror that has struck the souls of Captains down the ages entered my being.

For not only was the entire skyline a roiling, tempestuous war-tapestry of clashing, charcoal black clouds, criss-crossed with unreal blue lighting braids. Not only did a discordant quartet of the four winds suddenly howl through the Solaire’s  rigging, laced with a choir of the souls of the dead and bassed with the percussive crack of thunder-claps.

No, in addition to this nautical fright-show was a terrifying sight for any seaman or woman, green or sea-legged: lining the horizon from east to west was a charging wall of water fifteen, nay, twenty feet in height, bristling with angry white surf and bearing down as if from nowhere upon the Solaire and her unprepared crewmen who but moments earlier had been bathing under a now occluded sun!

“Wave ahoy!” I bellowed! “All hands man the rigging! Cabin Boy! Get down from there!”

The ship erupted into terrified life. The Cabin Boy shimmied down the main mast and bolted for the sail ropes. Regular crewmen leapt from their prone positions utop the decks and began hauling the sails in an attempt to tack the ship against the wind. The constables stood dumbfounded, their hands on their pistols and swords, battle hardened men whose weapons were useless against the enemy of nature. The Scholar stood trembling, his face as green as his robes.

“You heard the Captain!” bellowed the First Mate as she ran past them and leapt atop the quarterdeck to wrestle with the wheel. The constables began to fumble with the ropes under the bawling directions of more able seamen and women, whilst the Scholar promptly voided the contents of his stomach and then bolted below decks.

With no time to curse our fate at being so over-crewed with landlubbers, I rushed to help the First Mate. Together, we hauled the wheel and aligned the rudder to starboard as the regular crew tacked the Solaire towards the beastly wave. The boom swung, the ship lurched to port, and the bow was left aiming for that terrifying aquatic behemoth, now looming over the Solaire and closing the distance fast.

“BRACE!!!!” myself and the First Mate hollered, as every man grabbed masts, rigging, railings, and in our case, the wheel and each other.

As the Solaire crested the wave her bow was hauled skywards, and I thought for one terrifying minute that she’d be thrown backwards top-to-tail and decant her human cargo into the briny depths. Yet with an almighty crash of timber against sea we pitched downwards and plummeted down the rear face of the wave, into a rain-lashed sea-valley between the tsunami we had just crested and a second, even more mountainous wave we would surely have to summit just moments hence.

Yet this was not our only sufferance, for over the screaming winds I could already hear the Cabin-Boy jabbering what was plainly obvious to anyone with eyes: we were being forced back towards the head of the spit by the waves, and if we did not correct our course this next would likely dash us against the rocks, even if it did not capsize us!

“Take the wheel!” I yelled at the First Mate, but she was already leaping away towards my intended destination: the storm-jib at the bow of the vessel which urgently needed releasing.

“No, I’ll do it Captain!” she hollered. Unbelievably she was smiling, and I could tell in her gait as she practically danced down the ladder and across the foredeck that she was actually enjoying this pandamonium. As her hair blew wildly in the searing rain, she strutted down the foredeck, daring the storm to stop her, and yelling orders at crew twice her age:

“You there, Second Mate: look lively! You constables, get good at that rigging you wiley scrubs!”

Tossing her head back she howled with laughter, as I watched from the quarterdeck still straining to hold the wheel steady. I watched with my heart in my throat as she swung one lithe leg up onto the bowsprit and then stood, precariously, howling into the wind like a beast. Behind her, the next great wave loomed.

“Foolish youth!” I yelled across the deck, which was in disarray. “Release the storm jib and get back here, for both our sakes!”

Off to starboard, the craggy blade of the spit thrusted outwards towards the Solaire.

The First Mate casually placed a blade between her teeth and confidently traversed the bowsprit like a tightrope artist at a travelling circus. Releasing the blade into her hand she cut the storm-jib loose, and it rapidly inflated. At the same time the crew tacked the ship shore-wards to bring us round the spit and into the rushing sea-inlet of the Great Lake. The boom swung back and we began to turn, putting us at right angles to the wave.

“Get down from there! Please!” I yelled, but the First Mate just stood there, gazing in arrogant awe at the mighty wave.

“HAhaahhaha! I’ve done it I have…” she yelled as it beared down on us. Francially I hauled the wheel hard to starboard and screamed at her, pleading for her to get back, to stop this youthful tomfoolery, for I saw it now, there was not enough time to fully bring the ship about…

The second wave hit us in the port side with a sickening thud. I looked up, saw her laughing, joyous face, her striking figure atop the bowsprit, illuminated in a sudden pulse of purple lightning… then she was gone. I was thrown sideways by the impact. I was briefly aware of the world pitching to starboard before I lost control of the wheel, slid across the deck and hit my head on the side railing.

-4-

I came too to in what had been our bed, in the great cabin with the grave-looking, bespectacled ship’s Surgeon attending to my head wound. The Second Mate, a burly stalwart seaman with red hair, informed me of the events during my absence from the waking world.

The Solaire had miraculously stayed upright following the impact with the wave, and the ship had cascaded down the sea-inlet and into the Great Lake.

However, no sooner had we entered these waters the fickle storm had died a sudden death, and an eerie calm had settled over the lake. There was so little wind that the Second Mate had ordered the crew and constables into the ship’s two away-boats and had them at oars, towing the battered Solaire across the moonlit surface. Even the wiry Scholar had been roused from his sick bed to help with the grueling haul, such was the deadness of the winds that night.

They finally made anchor in the Bay of Byrgenwerth at dawn, and the exhausted crew had retired to the main cabin. Yet the constables had decoupled their tow ropes, and with the Scholar had made for the college grounds at the shoreline, not wanting to waste any time in their respective ventures.

Upon hearing this, I leapt from the bed, demanding that the crew be awoken from their slumber instantly- we would return and search for the First Mate, for she was a strong swimmer! But the Second Mate reminded me what I already knew, that the sea-inlet to the Great Lake was only accessible at high tide. Thus, including time to make necessary repairs and to traverse back across the lake, it would be at least two days hence before we again could make open water.

Heartbroken and frustrated, I dismissed the two gentlemen and ascended to the deck. Only the ever vigilant Cabin Boy was awake in the crowsnest of the now crooked main-mast. The rigging was a mess, and storm-torn and soggy sails drooped miserably from splintered wood.

Off to starboard, the classical pillars of the university that gave the bay its name sat on the lake’s shore in a low mist. A dome-shaped luminarium protruded from one of these structures, and the whole edifice was framed by that looming, mossy, endless rock. I could see the constables’ rowing boat docked just off a lake-facing plaza.

I returned to the great cabin and tried to sleep. But my grief prevented me from finding salvation in slumber’s arms, and thus I dug out these parchments from my sea-chest. Like the Captains of old, I will attempt to keep this log as an account of this accursed venture as it unfolds, so that a warning can be served to others, at least.

If the fates permit it I will write again tomorrow, but for now, I will open the rum that the surgeon has left for the pains from my head wound. And I will drink to remember, and to forget the one I lost, my First Mate.

CAPTAIN’S LOG, DAY TWO: THE BAY OF BYRGENWERTH, EVENING WATCH

-5-

Oh wretched fates, oh cruel cosmos- where should I begin this entry? Where I left off, is perhaps best…

Under the half pretence of requiring respite for my grief, I drank the sugary liquor steadily throughout the afternoon of yesterday. As evening beckoned a rust coloured sun began to set over the lake, visible in panaramic through the large windows that spanned the stern of the ship, and the entire rear wall of our great cabin.

At some point (I know not when), the Second Mate rapped on the door, blathering about how the crew had still not heard any signal from the constables and Scholar, despite nightfall closing in. I paid him no heed, and when he tried to force the cabin door I set my knee to it, barked at him to be gone to his labours, and bolted the latch from the inside.

I instead removed from my sea-chest a tiny music box given to me as a gift by the First Mate, and after winding its delicate mechanism, proceeded to waltz mournfully around the cabin to its chimes, all the while swigging rum from rapidly emptying bottles.

Eventually, I collapsed into the bed and fell into a fitful, drunken slumber, throughout which I was plagued by a vivid, haunting dream. Whilst precariously navigating a blasted cliff face of volcanic, cavity-filled rock, I was pursued relentlessly by a robed figure who possessed an enormous globe of blood-red roses for a head. Although I could not fully fathom the reason, I knew instinctively that I had to keep some fair distance from this apparition, lest I lose my very wits and sense of self. Indeed, whenever I paused for breath in this dream, I would promptly see that awful head of roses appear beyond a distant crag, and an awful pounding would build in my poor head.

This sensation followed me into the waking world the morning hence when I was awoken by yet more of the Second Mate’s pounding and yelling on the cabin door. Bleary eyed and disgruntled, I staggered for the portal, mediating on how mayhaps the creature that had haunted my dreams was the very incarnation of a hangover, or perhaps grief itself!

As I reached the entrance way I grabbed my tri-corned captain’s hat from the stand and plonked it awkwardly atop my throbbing head, and flung open the door.

“What?” I bellowed.

“It’s the landing party, ma’am.” Stammered the grave looking Second Mate.

“They’ve returned. Well… near a half of them. And not in good shape, ma’am.”.

-6-

As I stepped onto the deck the morning sun did sear into my skull, and my headache increased to such levels I nigh on thought my head would explode. However the sight of the remaining members of the landing party quickly cleared the cobwebs from my head.

Out of the original brigade of five, only the Scholar and Chief Constable had returned. The latter, a freakishly tall fellow who normally towered over one with a pride that would seem to defy armies, was now stooping, his garb and weapons leant against the deck rail, and clearly in some anguish. This was likely from a raw looking abdominal injury he had sustained whilst ashore, to which the Surgeon was now binding a white cloth. His left arm was already bandaged about the upper arm in such a fashion.

However, despite being the more injured the Constable was perhaps the least frightful looking of the two. The Scholar looked positively ghoulish, his green robe covered in a mixture of congealed blood and some unknown pale slime. As I approached he was babbling away some nonsense about monsters from the cosmos, and in my irritation I promptly told him to cease his ramblings and demanded a report from the Chief Constable.

If I had been expecting rational forthrightness from a man of the law, I was to be disappointed, for his account made scarcely more sense than the Scholar’s.

Whilst prospecting the main university building even now visible on the shoreline, their party had supposedly been ambushed by a female hunter in choral garb. She was eventually defeated and killed, but not before slaying one constable and severely wounding both the Chief and one other.

But this mysterious guardian was not the most awful happening to befall the expedition. On their attempt to beat a retreat back to the away-boat a creature, of which the details scarcely made sense, had ambushed the party and killed a further two constables before being quelled by our brave Chief. After finding the Scholar cowering behind a pillar, the two of them had then returned to the Solaire.

“Ye great fates, what to make of it?” grumbled the Second Mate once the Chief Constable had finished his tale.

“I never wanted too… it wasn’t my idea…”. All of us turned sharply to look at the Scholar who had just mumbled this last utterance into his grimy robes.

“What now?” I demanded. “What didn’t you want? Speak up, Scholar!”

“I…I am no Scholar!” Wailed the pitiful man. “It was her who made me do it!”.

I froze, something catching in my throat. I fixed the Scholar with an icy stare.

“Who, fraud? Who made you come on this accursed mission?”

The Fake Scholar looked like he wished to bolt back to the cabin, but the Second mate had blocked his way.

“WHO??” I bellowed.

“Your….your First Mate! The one we lost in the storm! It was her idea, all of it, I swears it!”

-7-

My shock took mere seconds to turn to unrestrainable rage. With scarcely a thought for what I was doing I grabbed the scholar by the collar of his garb and pushed him hard up against the main-mast, which wobbled precariously.

“Now listen to me you scrub!” I hissed in the Scholar’s face. That bizarre translucent slime was oozing between my fingers from his garb, but I cared not.

“You tell me right now what you meant by that last comment about the First Mate, or I swear by the fates I will run you through against this mast right here!”

The Fake Scholar whimpered, and like the cowardly waste of skin he was promptly regurgitated his tale. He had been but a useless beggar with a “troubled childhood”, when my love the First Mate had approached him. Apparently he was to don the green robes of a Scholar and convince me to undergo this mission, in order to collect some specific artifact from Byrgenworth at the First Mate’s behest. Needless to say, I was loathe to believe this creep over my deceased darling- although I had known her fascination with Yharnam and the occult to be great I would never have imagined her to be this reckless!

“And where is this “artifact”? Where is the proof?” I declared.

The Chief Constable stepped forward, wincing from the pain in his stomach. “We were not able to retrieve it, ma’am, before we were attacked.”

I breathed deeply. I knew I may regret my next actions but I had to know what wretched object had been worth this folly, her death, and the betrayal of my trust.

“We will return to the College…” I declared.

“No!” Yelled the Fake Scholar and he made to bolt, but I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.

The Second Mate attempted to advise me that this was unwise, but I was having none of it. After all, the assailants that had plagued the last party were all dead, were they not?

Declining his offer of accompaniment, I instructed the Second Mate to take charge of the Solaire in my absence. Instead, I took the injured Constable and the wailing Fake Scholar, which in hindsight was perhaps unfair but it was in some sense their mess that required laundering, and in any case I was both half-drunk and grief-raged. I also took a crew member to act as Oarsman.

Before leaving, I dipped into the great cabin. As I reached to retrieve my cutlass and pistol from their rack in the bulkhead, I noticed my hand was shaking. As a remedy, I grabbed a half-empty bottle of rum and tipped the contents therein down my gullet.

-8-

In the amber light of the late evening our sorry party of four piled back into the away-boat, and we cast off to the sounds of the Fake Scholar’s protestations, the stifled murmurs of pain from the Chief Constable, and the slap of the oars against the perfectly still lake.

As we neared the shoreline the principal building of the university became more visible as it emerged from the ever present mist, and even one such as I who had limited use for asceticism could not fail but to be impressed. The squat, classical structure had two storeys, buttressed by stout white marble columns, with the curved dome of the luminarium observatory crowning the whole edifice.  Large, square modernist windows laced with sturdy ironed frames fronted the building, with a dim yellow light emanating from within. A grand balcony strutted out from the upper floor, forming an archway over the lakeside plaza that encircled the complex. In better days I could imagine intrepid young students relaxing under the awning, discussing the mysteries of the cosmos, or meditating astride the balcony which must offer a stunning view of the lake.

At this time, however, the grounds were known to be uninhabited, the College having long been supplanted in the aspirations of young Yharnamites by the lure of the Healing Church, although I took note that the iron-trellis lamp posts that were regimentally spaced around the lakeside plaza were all a-lit with gas lamps, casting a spectral glow in the evening fog.

“Did you see any others here? Other than your attackers?” I asked the Chief Constable.

“No ma’am, not a soul” he replied gravely, as the boat slid up aside the stone railings that lined the lakefront.

Disembarkation was a predictable shambles. The injured Constable stoically declined help getting out of the boat, even though it was clearly a great effort from him to swing his frame over the railing. The Fake Scholar once again tried to refuse to come, but I hauled him out all the same.

“I am no Scholar!” he wailed again once I had him landside on the stone paving of the plaza.

“I have never learned from books! No, no…no…”

“Shut up!” I hissed at him. Both myself and the Chief Constable had drawn our weapons. Instructing the Oarsman to guard the boat with a musket, we made for the building’s side entrance. The heaven wooden door squeaked on its hinges but with a little force allowed us to ingress.

-9-

As we entered the ground floor of the college, I tried to suppress the memories of the stories the First Mate had told me of this place, in her high, excited voice as we had lain betwixt the bedsheets in the Solaire’s great cabin, mere days earlier.

I did not think, for instance, that the Fake Scholar’s nerves would be helped by the knowledge that this very campus was built above the ruins and catacombs of an ancient civilization, now lost to time but the object of much of the institution’s study.

Nor did I feel it prudent to repeat her assertion that the original lecture halls of Byrgenwerth had somehow “disappeared” in an experiment performed many years previously in the College’s hayday. I had no great belief in that rumour anyhow, and put it down as one of the many false myths peddled in all ancient academic institutions. Pretension over thought is never admirable, in seamanship or scholarship!

The ground floor lobby was a single large space littered with oak cabinets and desks. A winding staircase twisted its way up through the centre of the room. Eerily, this cavern of curiosities was all lit by candlelight, and appeared to be in disarray. My hands closed around the hammer of my pistol and the grip of my cutlass as I went to inspect the objects laid out upon the work tables.

Much of these transpired to be aged books and dusty journals, as one would expect at such an establishment. The yellowing pages smelt earthy and damp, and crumbled at the slightest touch.

More strange than these were the bizarre bronze models depicting a celestial body surrounded by what looked like great mirrors. I did not know whether they were the fruit of the archaeological labours undertaken beneath those very floors, or another line of enquiry entirely!

Yet stranger than those cosmological figurines were the ornate cages strewn hither and thither about the place, such as within which a noble lady might keep a pet bird. Some of these were open and empty, whilst within others lay the decayed remains of unfamiliar creatures long expired, which I was loathe to inspect too closely.

But most strange of all were the jars of eyes, grossly swollen and floating in some briny preservative. Perhaps more disconcerting than their human-like appearance was the sheer number of the squidgy orbs, perhaps over two dozen to a jar. Like the other artifacts, these were placed in random sequence across the room, and did not invite intense scrutiny…

To distract me from these spectacles I barked at the Fake Scholar, who was shaking and attempting to back towards the entrance:

“You! What was it she was after? The First Mate, what was she looking for? Tell me so we can find it and begone!”

“A-a chest Lady Cap’n!” He stammered. “She said it was a chest…”

Seeing no such object on this floor we ascended to the second by way of the twisted staircase.The Chief Constable and I flanked either bannister, weapons drawn, whilst the Fake Scholar timidly crept after us.

The upper storey of the college seemed to be a library or reading room of sorts. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling in a much more orderly fashion than on the floor beneath. I idly opened one tome, it appeared to be a botanical encyclopedia of sorts, containing illustrations of what looked like long fossilised invertebrate creatures, all meticulously labelled. The door to the balcony that we had spied from the boat was shut, and I paid it no heed as I wished to gain our quarry post haste.

The other object of interest on this level was what appeared to be a large chandelier or infant’s mobile hanging from the ceiling above the stairwell, depicting the same celestial body and mirrors as the models on the lower level.

As the chest we were seeking did not appear to be there either, I proceeded towards a steel ladder on the far side of the floor which lead upwards into the ceiling- presumably into the lunarium. Before ascending I told the Chief Constable to wait at the base, adding:

“If he attempts to leave..” I pointed at the Fake Scholar. “Cut him down!” I gained a certain morbid pleasure as the Fake Scholar turned an even sicklier shade of white in the candlelight.

At the ladder’s zenith was a small landing strewn with more books, jars of eyes, cages and the obscure planetary models. Situated at the centre of this area was the base of an immense telescopic device, like the Solaire’s viewing monocle, but infinitely more grandiose. Why, such a device could only be for examining the heavens themselves!

Another narrow staircase wound up around the device from the landing floor towards the domed roof. With some trepidation but also a grim determinedness that I should see this task through, I began to ascend. I stopped about a half of the way up, for I was sure I could hear a faint rustling in the metal rafters above my head! When it ceased, I ascended again, and briefly heard a low buzzing and felt a downdraft of air…

Cutlass and pistol held in front of me, I proceeded further, and reached another landing. This area was in near total darkness, save for a low beam of light coming from an aperture in the domed roof. By this I could see that I was level with a part of the telescopic device that had an odd steel wheel, much like a valve, protruding from it. For lack of any other ideas, and with an unnatural sudden burst of curiosity as to its purpose, I briefly pocketed my pistol (the cutlass being a better choice in this claustrophobic environment anyhow), reached over and turned the wheel a full cycle anti-clockwise.

An ear piercing groan broke the silence and the floor beneath my feet shook so hard I nearly lost my footing. I swiftly withdrew my pistol again and searched for the source,  and quickly saw it: the aperture of light above me was expanding into two halves. The domed room of the luminarium had opened by some hidden lever system, and now the light of the setting sun over the misty lake streamed onto the landing where I now stood, open to the elements on the roof of the world! I was half blinded by low sunlight, having been indoors, but could have sworn that something flew out into the air following this procedure.

The contraption’s movements were not complete, however. For once the roofing had completed its opening, the telescopic device began to ascend, hissing on pneumatic steel pumps as it did so. Once it had near doubled its height, it suddenly pitched downwards so that I had to duck out of the way. It then came to rest, aligned so that the giant lense was facing downwards towards the water, aiming to where the Solaire likely sat anchored on the serene lake hidden in the mist, and with the eyepiece elevated to the heavens! I was nigh on certain that this was an incorrect calibration for the device, but did not consider its operation a priority, as the daylight now revealed that which had been hidden, a single chest sat next to a writing bureau.

On some base instinct, I picked up the single piece of parchment that sat atop the bureau, which was lined on both sides in hastily scribbled writings. I then grabbed the chest by a handle on the end, and proceeded to heave it down the staircase. It was moderately heavy, but I managed to get it to the ladder and pushed it over the edge of the opening to fall the the floor below, causing the flustered Fake Scholar to leap out of the way.

I rapidly descended the ladder and went to pick up the chest to drag it yet further. However, I noticed that where I had dropped it the lid had come slightly loose, and a faint, otherworldly blue glow now emitted from the aperture.

“Just what exactly did the First Mate say was in this chest?” I enquired of the Fake Scholar.

“Surrogates.” He whispered.

A chill ran up my spine.

“What did you say?”

“Surrogates. That’s all she said. It contains “Surrogates!” Now please can we leave?”

A dread memory of another conversation between myself and the First Mate began to surface in my head. I reached with a mounting sense of horror to open the accursed chest…

“AIIiiiiiiighhhhhh!”

A gurgled scream from the top of the stairwell leading downstairs made both of us turn about at once. The Chief Constable was standing with his back to the top of the stairs, on guard to prevent the Fake Scholar from leaving as I had instructed. Yet his silent vigil had just been shattered by way of the sharp point of a cane plunged through his back, and standing behind him holding the cane was a lady hunter in the white robed garb of the Healing Church Choir.

“I thought you said you’d killed her?!” I exclaimed, incredulous.

“I had…” croaked the Chief Constable, before sliding forwards off of the Choral Hunter’s cane and falling face first to the floor.

The Fake Scholar predictable bolted behind a pillar and started to sob.

I drew my pistol and brandished my cutlass.

-10-

My father, who taught me to fight, always advocated that the fates reward those that adapt a proactive style when faced with an obvious aggressor. Although it was difficult to glean the mood of my enemy as she wore the blind-cap favoured by Church hunters, I took the deceased Chief Constable currently spasming at her feet as ample evidence of ill-intent.

Thus I fired my pistol vaguely in her direction to provide a distraction, and charged with the cutlass extended before me.

The shot went wide and embedded itself in a shelf of books against the far wall, but it did appear to startle her. I roared as I approached my target…

As I came within striking range, however, the Choral Hunter released a catch on an object bound by a silk sash about her waist. It looked like an ornate silver tankard with a mechanism attached, and it now began to disperse a pale blue mist. As I approached she brandished the contraption in front of her as an aegis, and I instantly coughed and stepped back rapidly, sputtering. Mercury!

As I regained my footing and my breath I saw that the Fake Scholar remained by the pillar, cowering in fright. I paid no heed, and started to circle my opponent, the two of us backing into a reading area adorned in plush purple upholstery. Twirling my cutlass I grinned, the adrenaline actually making me smile for the first time in days.

“So, is this how it’s going to be? Very well, Choir girl!” I bellowed. I hurtled forward once more. Once again she reached for the device clearly aiming to envelope me in that deadly cloud, but this time I struck for that hand, causing her to yelp and leap back, dropping the tankard to the floor where it proceeded to bellow mercury-laced blue steam into the air. We all started coughing, and it became clear that we would have to evacuate this upper level and continue our duel downstairs. I hopped atop the banister and slid down the staircase in an attempt to gain the advantage and steadier footing on the ground floor.

Having landed next to a table of college paraphernalia, I quickly took the opportunity to reload my pistol. Just then the choral hunter came charging down the stairs, swinging her cane about her head like a woman possessed.  As she reached the ground level, the blood-soaked tip of her weapon split open and a great whip of thin chain was unleashed, which she proceeded to swipe around in a great arc. I leapt to my right to avoid being decapitated, and the whip swept over the oak tables, cutting through books, knocking over candles, and splitting open glass jars that decanted eyes all over the floor in their briny suspension.

As I rolled upright I noticed several old tomes begin to catch fire, but I had no time to think of this. I darted forth and stomped on the whip, trapping it under my boot on the floor. I then slashed at the hunter’s whip hand with my cutlass-she abruptly yelped and dropped the cane-whip. Kicking the weapon to the side I rolled backwards and put a good few yards between myself and the seemingly disarmed hunter, and raised my reloaded pistol in my left hand.

“ENOUGH!” I bellowed, taking note of the azure and gold flames which were starting to slither like fiery serpents across the desktops behind the hunter. She dropped to one knee before my pistol and held up a hand towards me, I presumed to beg for her life in surrender.

What happened next perplexed me beyond any mystery I had thus far encountered in that thrice-damned college. From within the sleeve of the arm outstretched towards me, three blue-greyish tentacles, as thick as my wrist, shot out like a squid grabbing its prey, and seized the pistol from my hand at such speed I did not have time to discharge the weapon. As I stood there in shock, the hunter swung her arm and used the extended tentacles to throw my pistol into the flames behind her, before retracting the new appendages with a disturbing slurp.

The now emboldened Choirgirl began to advance towards me. I still had my cutlass, and held it aloft, but I had now lost confidence in my ability to bring this fight to a successful conclusion. I am ashamed to say I actually considered bolting for the door, but quickly saw that the choral hunter would not give me that option, as she was once again holding her arm outstretched towards me, and within the gaping maw of her garb sleeve I could see the trio of feelers preparing for another assault! And sure enough, here they came!

I barely managed to hop to my left as the triple-tentacular strike flew passed me at such speed I swear it would have punctured me if it had caught me dead on. As it was, I made good of my evasive maneuver, and captured the slimy masses under my right arm, before promptly throwing my legs up to cinch the accursed retractiles together in an armbar. This brawlers move, learned from many a bar fight in sailors’ taverns, was clearly not expected by our tricksy choir hunter who I now dragged to the floor by her tentacles, screeching. We both writhed on our backs on a bed of crushed eyes and brine, whist all the while the flames began to lick up the walls around us, unknown substances popping in the heat. The hunter tried to get to her knees and retract the tentacles, but I held fast with my legs, and brought the cutlass around to slash at the feelers, cutting straight through them where they emerged from her sleeve! The tentacles came off in my grip and the remaining stumps pumped slimy, clear pale serum. She screamed, a sound from hell itself, and squirmed on the floor amongst the eyes, trying to stem the flow from the severed stumps with her human hands.

With the hunter now grievously injured, I had no more time for this madness, and scrabbled to my feet. The room was filling up rapidly with black smoke as further tables were caught in the fire’s embrace. Suddenly, I remembered the chest of surrogates! They were still above, and I felt a most curiously instinct to recover them. I bolted up the stairs, coughing from both the rising black smoke and the residual choking stench of the mercury. I almost tripped over the corpse of the Chief Constable, but found the glowing box where I had left it. I was about to haul it down the smog-filled stairwell when I heard a movement to my left and to my great surprise, the Fake Scholar emerged. He was quite the apparition with his green vomit-encrusted robe wrapped around his face, eyes blood red raw from the mercury, but alive so I though I may as well put him to some use.

“Quick! Grab a handle! Let’s be gone!” I yelled, and we both hauled the blue-glowing chest down the staircase.

Upon almost reaching the bottom once more, the thick smoke caused the Fake Scholar to double over in a coughing fit, and he tripped. The chest thus spilled over onto the floor, flipped on its side and discouraged its contents onto the eye-strewn floor boards.

Time seemed to slow down into a gloopy flow in that flamed-licked, besmoked room. What was most passing strange was not that the the contents of the chest that my love had sought was now revealed to be a shoal of flapping, writhing invertebrate creatures. It was also not that they all emitted a strange blue glow as they squirmed in clear distress amongst the eyeballs next to the still screaming choir hunter on the smoke-choked floor of Byrgenwerth.

No, the strange thing was the feeling I felt at that moment within my very soul. I had not much ever been a woman to feel so much as even the slightest broodiness in the presence of the sweetest of babes, but in that moment I felt a most peculiar maternal instinct towards these spineless creatures of obvious aquatic origin! And thus, I found myself falling to my knees in the ocular sludge, frantically scooping the poor dears up in my arms and cramming them back into the crate as fast I could…

“Save them! Save the surrogates..” I wailed.

“There’s no time!” screamed the Fake Scholar. “Come, or we’ll be burned!”

I suddenly noticed the Choir hunter had ceased both her wailing and trying to stem her wounds, and had grabbed one of the little invertebrates in her human hands. Now eerily calm, she held the poor beast aloft above her head in a crushing grip. In response to this, it appeared to be glowing an ever brighter blue like a dying star.

“No! Leave it!” I yelled, swinging my cutlass towards her, but the Fake Scholar grabbed my hand, and started to haul me towards the exit. In frustration I grabbed the near-full crate of writhing creatures, and started to run myself.

A scorching rock shot through the ceiling and exploded next to the choir hunter, who was now laughing maniacally. As I ran I looked back and saw another puncture the back wall and hit a table, reducing it to splinters in seconds. The writhing invertebrate in the laughing hunter’s hands grew even brighter, and suddenly micro-meteors were smashing through every wall and the ceiling, further igniting the already smouldering building in a cacophony of explosions.

“RUUUUNN!” screamed the Fake Scholar and we both careened through the open door onto the plaza outside. We sprinted a further ten paces before looking back, to see a most awesome and mind befuddling cosmic display. Multiple rocky projectiles were cascading out of the heavens to collide with the Byrgenwerth college building, smashing windows and reducing rocky pillars to molten rubble. All these summoned rocks were hammering down from the sky above towards the spot within where the Choir hunter held the captured little invertebrate aloft in a deranged last stand. Mesmerized, we watched as the meteorites increased in size and number,puncturing the lunarium and pulverising the building until the frame buckled, the classical pillars snapped like table legs and the whole edifice came crashing down in an orange implosion. A pyroclastic mass of powdered brick came after us, and we ran yet further onto the plaza, heading for the away-boat.

Finally we came to rest, panting at the quayside, and surveyed the smouldering rubble where the great institution of Byrgenworth had stood just moments ago. The bombardment from the heavens appeared to have ceased.

Thinking himself free of any further danger, the Fake Scholar began to laugh maniacally.

“We did it! I survived! I….”

Whatever the poor wretch’s next words were I will never know, for at that instant something awful dropped from above and enveloped him.

He screamed.

-11-

I have always been a woman in possession of an extremely robust constitution. Nethertheless, as I recall that thing that ended my remaining companion I am not ashamed to say my hand shakes quite fitfully, and I feel the need to light an extra candle in the cabin, fetch a sturdier quill and take a larger than usual swig of rum.

The abomination that dropped onto the Fake Scholar next to the burning ruins of Byrgenworth had vaguely human arms and legs, although they were of a disturbing ashen hue. It used these to grip the man about the torso. It also wore the tattered remains of a Scholar’s green robe, much like our unfortunate fraud, and indeed perhaps may once have been one. However, that was where any linkage to humankind-pure ended.

From the abysmal creature’s back erupted a pair of insectoid wings of a dirty translucent nature, which enabled it flight of a limited fashion. They presently flapped spasmodically, aiding it in holding the Fake scholar aloft as it kept him in its crushing grip. But wings were not the most bizarre aspect of its anatomy, oh no.

The most harrowing feature to adorn this despicable creation was its head, or rather lack of it. For where a head should be atop its neck was a monstrous globe of flesh, and embedded all about this outgrowth were a huge number of eyes of varying sizes! My mind instantly thought of the jars of eyes in the now destroyed lobby, and a mounting sense of horror built in my soul! Why, but this thing was a very garden of eyes!

Momentarily transfixed, for a few seconds I did nothing as the poor Fake Scholar writhed in the creature’s grasp.

“Help me!” He spluttered. “Please!”

I had just redrawn my cutlass when the being emitted a sound of terribly great volume and ear-splittingly high frequency. I was forced to drop my cutlass and staggered back, clutching my ears on impulse! The sound continued to emanate from the critter for what seemed like an eternity before it mercifully fell silent, although a residual tinnitus remained which I swear has not completely dissipated since.

Following this emission, the being released its hapless captive and dropped back onto its legs. To my horror, the Fake Scholar collapsed to the plaza stones, fitting violently and hemorrhaging blood from about the ears, mouth and nose.

For a moment the being faced me down over the corpse, at least two dozen eyes in that awful fleshy mound staring back at me. Then its wings became a blur and it lunged. I was paralyzed by fear and wonder. I felt sure it would envelope me and do what it had done to the fraudulent Scholar, and yet my legs would not move!

With the being just paces away a loud crack echoed round the  plaza. A projectile slammed into the creature and knocked it backwards. I spun about to see the Oarsman, standing in the away boat and reloading the musket.

“Quickly!” he yelled.

Sure enough, the creature was getting back to its feet and preparing to go airborne. I grabbed a handle on the chest and ran, dragging it behind me.

I almost didn’t make it. Within feet of the boat I felt a draft behind me and saw the legs of the creature start to encircle me, but the Oarsman let off another shot and saved me once again.

I lept into the boat with the chest and grabbed the oars, leaving the Oarsman to his musket.

Pulling away with three broad strokes I quickly put distance from the shoreline. The creature stood looking at the water with its multitude of eyes, and for an awful second I thought it would pursue us, but it seemed to decide against it. Perhaps there was some truth in that silly occult fable the First Mate used to tell about water being an augur against horrors…

All the same, I braced my feet in the bottom of the boat and increased my rowing pace.

The creature and the rubble of Byrgenwerth college disappeared in the mist.

-12-

As the Second Mate gave me a hand out of the boat and onto the deck of the Solaire, I had half a mind to order him to ready the ship’s ancient cannon: I would destroy whatever was left of that thrice-damned university, and perhaps the rest of Yharnam with it!

However once back within the crew’s company fatigue set in, and I realised I had little stomach for more violence. I instead ordered the ship made ready for sail at first light, at which point the tides would open the sea-inlet to the lake and thus allow our exit. The Oarsman asked me if I wanted the chest placed in the hold, to which I perhaps a little harshly barked that it was to be placed in the great cabin, and any man who attempted to open it would walk the plank!

I presently retired there myself, and sit now at the writing bureau, the glowing chest of “surrogates” at my side, as I scribble out this account. I of course have a bottle of rum open, why, if I had a vial of the Healing Church’s accursed blood I would probably imbibe it now, despite having never done so previously!

Now alone I take the opportunity to open the chest and examine the invertebrate “surrogates” more closely. They are each roughly a foot long, with a flatish body of white, fishy flesh joined to a shoot of greyish tentacles at one end. They remind one in some ways of a cuttlefish. The flesh is flanked with suction cilia which gently undulate as if in a current, and they all emit a slight blue fluorescent glow.

They are quite lovely, and my feelings towards them have not changed one iota!

Before slumber I have one last task: whilst removing my garb earlier (for the Surgeon to inspect my latest wounds) I found the grimy document I had removed from the writing bureau in the luminarium where I had found the chest. Having made sure the chest of surrogates is secure at the foot of the bed, I now get within the covers, accompanied by a bottle of rum and this parchment, and settle down to read.

THE BYRGENWERTH MISSIVE

Dear Master,

I hope this letter (very likely my last) finds you as well as can be expected. I know the growths on your neck and back cause you such anguish, and that the balms I gladly rubbed about those hideous augmentations provide little comfort. Please know that my latest, brilliant discovery will soon make such earthly pains but an irrelevance.

You must know that it was with great reluctance I left Byrgenwerth. You have been as a father to me, and much more besides. I pray that you do not think I have followed that vulgar megalomaniac “L.”, who I dare not name in full- although I fear that is what you must suspect.

No, I have not left to join his Church of heretics, but I must confess I now know your line of enquiry into our transcendental awakening to be well intentioned, but- dare I say it, Master- false. Our cosmic evolution will not come from the cultivation of eyes (“ocular transcendence” as you call it). Nor will it come from the degenerate consumption of refined yet tainted blood, as “L.” and his acolytes hold true.

Rather, the path to humanity’s next childhood will come from the place of our original evolution: the bottomless sea!

In Yharnam, the Choir’s latest propaganda extols that they have had an “epiphany”. My fellow students who live within the city proper tell me they now shout it from the very rooftops at great rallies, and chant it at their communion. They state: “The Sky and the Cosmos are One!”.

I can report most accurately that they are only half correct- a more righteous statement would read “The Sea and the Cosmos are One!”.

I know for so many, many nights you would sit at your telescope in the lunarium, gazing into the cosmic void and searching for answers… So many times I would accompany you, seated at your knee, assisting you to map the celestial bodies above. But I have discovered, in methods that I will shortly disclose, that you would have been better to point your lens the other way, towards the unexplored ocean deep, where the answers truly lie…

My discovery started when I found a secret within the prohibited records concerning the fishing hamlet of Innsmouth… oh Master, you must not be angry- I know reading those old accounts is strictly forbidden, but I was oh so desperate to impress you with my studious enquiries into the cosmos! Thus, on one night when we were together, when I was sure you were asleep, I crept over your slumbering form and did take them from your personal chest… But I am sure you will forgive me when you discover the absolution that was borne of my treachery!

Although the bulk of the records had long been seized by the Healing Church and taken to Yharnam for Choral research, what I had was enough to spark within my young mind a great realisation. Before expiring under interrogation, a dying Innsmouth priest called a curse down upon Byrgenworth, by the wrath of the one they call the Cosmic Mother (recorded in our Zoological Encyclopedia under designation Kos-M). I rechecked the translation: he did this in the present tense! Do you see what this means, Master? The Cosmic Mother still lives on other planes!

To confirm my hypothesis, I went to Innsmouth myself. Oh, I know it is also forbidden in the extreme, and I had to fool the Healing Church militias who were dismantling the place, but you know how persuasive I can be, Master…

You will be pleased to hear than within the village proper very few structures are left. Your influence still extends that far in the Church’s upper echelons at least, and the Choir have agreed to raise the whole area to the ground. I was lucky to find the lighthouse still standing- engineers from the Church workshop were due to demolish it the very next day!

I ascended its claustrophobic, mossy stairway to the summit, searching for answers. I must confess when I surveyed the demolished village from my high vantage point in the lighthouse’s lamp-room I nearly gave up all hope- there was no evidence remaining of the actions you so regret, or that Kos-M or any of the other “studies” ever existed at all…

I turned to examine the great lens which was the central feature of the lighthouse. I was briefly overcome with a sense of immense melancholy that no lamp would ever illuminate its sparkling panes of glass ever again. Out of sheer curiosity I placed my own hand-lantern in its centre, and angled the lens out towards the open ocean. I thought of the villager who once have must operated the boom, and how that unfortunate peasant still came much closer to evolution than our greatest scholars have achieved, at least thus far…

As the lightbeam hit the choppy waves out at sea, I fancied I saw the horizon shimmer. The waters seemed to part, and in the portal that remained I saw another world, and a flash of white movement… In that very instant I heard her song for the first time, the call of the Cosmic Mother, reaching out to me across the dimensional void.

I knew I did not have much time to reach her. The next day the Church militia would reduce the lighthouse to dust, and my route to salvation would be terminated. Thus I made with great haste to return to Byrgenwerth.

I waited until the other students were a-slumber and then crept out of the dorm. I sequestered a small rowing boat from the plaza quayside and pulled out across the serene surface of the Great Lake, under a moon as full as a ripe breast. So bright was its luminescence that the stars themselves had retired in deference!

In the hour just before the dawn I made open water by way of the sea-inlet, which by the good fates was open to the ocean. I quickly located the aperture where the lighthouse-beam split reality asunder, and with almost no trepidation piloted my tiny craft into the frothing waters within.

I found myself in a thick white fog on a calmer sea, and heard the song of the Cosmic Mother summoning me. I wept tears of joy as I followed her siren’s call. If only I could describe it, Master, but all words seem to fail to embody that seductive transmission. It was as if my soul were a harp and her emissions the fingers of the most skillful player the world has ever known.

Eventually I followed the beautiful sound to this islet, a rocky outpost in the middle of an unknown sea. Here I was graced with the divine presence for the first time, and she is a sight to behold more cosmically perfect than even the Healing Church’s evocative sermons can describe. A perfect being, part aquatic invertebrate and part beautiful humanoid. And Master, when she came to me she made a most touching gesture to show benign intent and to seduce me further, why- she had taken the form of your face!

I have been on the islet for many moons now, and I have communed with her on many occasions. I bear fruit from these blessed connections, and she gains great comfort from these gifts- for she has suffered great loss, and they act as surrogates. I raise them as my own on this hallowed rock in this dreamer’s sea.

You must not be jealous of my interactions with the divine, Master, for just as you were a Father to me where I had none, she is my Cosmic Mother, and I am thus the child of the cosmos. When I have produced sufficient gifts, she will grant me the evolution that we have sought for all Mankind.. I will be given more eyes than you ever thought possible, Master, and when my ascension is complete I will return for you.

While you wait for that blessed day, remember that the cosmos is near. Know that I am both in the moonlight right above your head, and just beneath the waves of the lake outside your window.

When I have transcended, I will return to you, Master, and we will become one. Imagine it: the three of us traversing the endless cosmos, the endless sea, accepting of all that there is, and can be.

Your faithful student,


Check back soon for Part 2!

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