The hollow peeling of a brass bell heralded the arrival of the evening tide. It was accompanied by a low fog. It swirled through the streets, its questing tendrils creeping between the cobbles. Their touch drained colour, sound and taste. The world faded, leaving behind a muted, distorted reflection of itself. The tide-bell rang again, its dead note carrying through the grey twilight.
Out on the docks, vast fishing nets glistened like spiders’ webs. Fishing boats bound by chains and ropes heaved up and down with the rising tide, bumping against the piers and each other. Waves lapped against the stone foundations and susurrated among the shingles.
The wet cold chilled Jaramieh to his bones, but the fear nestling in his heart was worse. As his pursuers scoured the fishing town for his whereabouts, he hid himself in the docks. Cowering behind barrels of dead fish, his troubled mind recalled the signs: the distant looks, the haunted expressions, the occasional whimpers.
Yet he ignored them, so intent was he on uncovering the town’s secret, failing to see it for what it truly was. Every decade or so, a whole generation of pre-adolescent boys went missing. Perhaps it was bad luck, perhaps it was the God-Emperor’s divine will, but he had arrived just in time to bear witness to this foul event.
They came for him as he left the Registrar’s Office, but by the God-Emperor’s grace, he managed to slip away into the shadows. Not long after, he heard the town’s priest get beaten and dragged away, to be tied to his Master in the little church.
Eerie chanting rose from the town, the words muffled by the lingering fog. Peeking from his hiding place, Jaramieh watched a procession approach. Their path was illuminated by storm lamps, waving like the very waves themselves. Shapes moved within the mist, shambling like reanimated corpses, headed for the waters. The wind picked up and cleared the fog momentarily. Jaramieh gasped in horror.
Bulky stone coffins lined the shore, their open lids beckoning the forsaken. The townsfolk brought forth their children. Some cried, some struggled, some begged. Yet they were all forced into their coffins, heavy lids closing over the boys with dread finality. Kerrogh, the Mayor and Dock-Warden stepped from the crowd, holding high a timeworn tome.
‘Harken and watch as ancient oaths are observed. As the calamity drowned our world in the tears of fallen angels, so do we drown our kin to appease the gods beneath the waters. By their blood do we keep the fathomless horrors at bay. By their blood do we stop the ever-rising tides. By their blood will our haul be bountiful. Now, avert your gazes, for they come to take our sacrifice!’
Silence descended as the gathered townsfolk collectively covered their eyes. For long minutes, nothing happened. Jaramieh was about to consider doing something rash to save the children when he saw something beneath the surface of the sea. In the inky depths, witch-lights drifted towards the shores. Mesmerised, he followed them as they drew closer and closer, until they broke the surface.
Terrible eyes glowing baleful green emerged from the obsidian waves. Water cascaded between fangs, frozen in a perpetual snarl. Gargantuan shoulders were covered in kelp and barnacles, as if the seafloor itself was on the move. The auditor saw two dozen such creatures emerge from the depths, striding with the inevitable momentum of a tsunami. On their chests, a two-headed cephalopod mocked the sacred Aquila.
With a snarl of servo-joints, the hulking monstrosities came to a halt. Those dreadful eyes carried across the gathered and their offering of flesh and blood. The townsfolk kept their eyes hidden, for to look upon the drowned angels was to invite disaster. As if by an invisible signal, the sea-clad behemoths stepped to the coffins. Jaramieh, fascinated despite the fear crushing his soul, shifted his weight to better see the fate of the children.
Duty unto death, he thought to himself as he watched the stone coffins lifted with apparent ease onto massive shoulders. The creatures turned one by one, taking their bounty with them into the depths. Jaramieh’s eyebrows knitted as he realised not all the monsters had returned to sea. The wooden pier where he hid creaked under something immense. With a sinking feeling, the auditor turned.
Up close, it resembled the Adeptus Astartes, the God-Emperor’s Angels of Death. Yet the sea life clinging to its ceramite plate had hidden that aspect from those who would behold them. To the locals, these were the drowned angels, emissaries of the fathomless gods and heralds of the calamity. The auditor felt none of the righteous joy he was supposed to. These… things were abhorrent, a far cry from the fables and hymns.
Vice-like fingers closed around his throat. His flaring nostrils were filled with the stench of salt water and seaweed. He tried to cry for help, but no sound escaped his lips. His mouth opened and closed, as if he were just another fish caught in a net. Jaramieh’s arms and legs thrashed about him as he was dragged unceremoniously from the pier and to the shore. No one moved to help him. No one looked to see who it was. Kerrogh and his kinsmen just stood there, waiting for the gods to take their leave.
The bitter cold of the water hit Jaramieh like a punch. His heart hammered inside his chest, close to bursting, yet without more oxygen, it would cease soon enough. The waves washed over him, saltwater filling his mouth, nose and ears. Everything went silent. The staccato rhythm of his heart slowed. Above the waters, the fog finally cleared. The storm lamps lining the shore glimmered like distant stars. Their reflections twinkled in Jaramieh’s glazed over eyes as he was inexorably dragged into the cold depths.
About the Author
Daniel was born on a sunny, peaceful spring morning in Budapest, Hungary. He preferred watching television over reading books. Like, a lot. That changed when his school took him to the public library and everyone was forced to pick a book to read. He chose The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Despite his initial disdain, our hero devoured the book in a few days and hasn’t stopped reading since. If you got this far, please send help, his budget (and shelves) can’t handle more books! Oh, and he occasionally entertains the idea of being a writer. The fool.