I want to be dead with an assurance that I will exist no more, for only in such a state will I know freedom from my torments. I seek now methods to insure the destruction of my very soul, utterly, so what haunts and besets me will never touch me again, not for any time, not for any eternity. I am wretched, miserable, unfortunate, and doomed, but I will be determined to persevere in my life until I have discovered the secrets of true self-destruction.
The eternities I want no part of. Others may have faith of what may or may not lie ahead of them, but I know terribly well what will befall me. I pray, to no god in particular, that I will find the way to eliminate myself while I still have the chance so the horrors that await me will wait in vain.
My doom could have been avoided, had I not stumbled into what I discovered. That others now seek it out deliberately gives me great anxiety, as not only might they bring upon themselves a common doom, but perhaps hasten the onset of mine, and I will not have that!
I write this to you, for your name came up several times in discussions regarding a certain research effort, never mind how I came to be privy to them, and I hope to dissuade you from participating in a mission which will end in either tragedy or terror. Should you not heed my warnings, pray I am able to kill you before you get to your destination so your death will be reasonably blissful and not full of the things I fear most.
I know I cannot make my case based entirely on what may appear to be mad ravings and rabid threats. Therefore, I shall tell you of how I got to be in my state and how you might get this way, as well, should you decide to go on this particular expedition and I not succeed in killing you in time. My story is long, I admit, but I trust you will give it proper consideration, given the gravity of the situation I threaten to bring against you.
The expedition in question is one that is going to a singular location in the Indian Ocean, some distance to the south of the Arabian peninsula. You may or may not have heard of it; you may or may not have been approached to join it already. Decline any participation in this adventure. Do not assist in any way, regardless of the capacity you are asked to perform in. Your particular skills may be highly valued by the expedition, but do not accompany them: money will never buy back what you will lose along the way, be it your life or your soul.
I went on an expedition several years ago to that very location in the Indian Ocean. I wish I had died before getting there.
It all started off innocently enough. I was approached by an amateur archaeologist to provide translations for several artifacts he anticipated discovering in a shipwreck he thought he had discovered. He told me he would like to have an expert in ancient languages on hand to decipher whatever inscriptions he brought up from the wreck immediately. He was very excited about this trip and was certain there would be writings in ancient Sanskrit, Arabic, and other ancient languages with which I am familiar. He was a wealthy man and financed the expedition out of his own accounts. He offered me a contract sufficiently lucrative to have me take leave of my university post and join on with him.
Mr. Ramm Peterson was quite the cordial host on the voyage over there, and we struck up a friendship after innocuous adventures in ports along the way. The weather was superb for most of the voyage, and the Mediterranean ports were full of warm, inviting bustle, bar none. As we sailed, he told me of how his Viking ancestors once rode these same waves, conquering and plundering as they went. He was very well versed in his family's deep histories, and fascinated me with his adaptations of the ancient sagas his forefathers had a hand in.
After we passed through the Suez Canal, Ramm began to focus more on the mission at hand. He had a few other specialists on board, but he told me my services would be the most critical to the success of the mission and wanted to prepare me as best he could for what would lie ahead.
Ramm explained there wasn't really a wreck down there. There would be inscriptions enough, though, as there was a sunken city awaiting us. He had found out about it from contacts among oceanographic research groups that had discovered some anomalies on the ocean floor near Socotra that looked to include human artifacts. They suspected it to be a wreck, and reported it as such to Ramm.
Ramm's first voyage there found the site easily enough, but no one on board was prepared for what awaited: an entire city, sunken beneath the waves, preserved in form in spite of the vast depths of water and time separating the sunken city from its former place in the sun. Most of his crew that time were recovery specialists and the best he could do was to map things out, catalog locations, and bring up several artifacts they could properly free and recover. The majority of the city, though, could not be brought up, and that included the inscriptions he wanted me to decipher for him.
Ramm was a sensible fellow about the discovery: he made no speculations about the possibility he might have discovered Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, or any other fabled lost lands, although we did joke on at length about it being the final resting spot of old Prester John. The Lost Civilization is always a bugbear among archaeologists, and Ramm was sensible and sensitive enough to not claim the discovery of such, even though all evidences pointed to it being one. He would let the scientific community at large make the judgment on the sensationalism of his discovery and research project.
For this journey, he had acquired a submersible, one patterned after the Japanese Shinkai 6500 (which had the greatest depth potential of any such manned submersible available), that he had practiced enough to pilot properly. I would be the only one to accompany him on the translation missions and would have to do my work from within the submersible. I had a little apprehension about such an arrangement, but Ramm assured me the vehicle would be quite safe and, aside from a few safety points and preparations, I was quite ready to go down with him.
One of those preparations included a promise to keep whatever was discovered in proper confidences. He knew enough of the old languages to know this would likely be a major archaeological find and wanted to work the site exclusively in the first stages, to recover the best treasures for himself and those on the mission. Once the initial plundering had been completed, he would report the finds to the scientific community and let them have their turns at it. I promised discretion was my watchword and what we found would be secret until he was ready to announce it. I kept the secret, but I have reasons other than the oath for doing so. I take a grave risk in sending this letter to you, but I am close enough to the secrets of self-destruction that this risk is worth taking. What stalks me moves slowly, but deliberately, giving me both time and a near-unavoidable doom.
Bear in mind what we discovered there and my threats are not the only dangers of the great deeps. Ramm had several books on his ship dealing with the world far beneath the ocean that I read through. One book, Half Mile Down
, written by the deep-sea pioneer William Beebe, related the following incident, after hauling up his bathysphere from a test dive:
"It was apparent that something was very wrong, and as the bathysphere swung clear I saw a needle of water shooting across the face of the port window. Weighing much more than she should have, she came over the side and was lowered to the deck. Looking through one of the good windows I could see that she was almost full of water. There were curious ripples on the top of the water, and I knew that the space above was filled with air, but such air as no human being could tolerate for a moment. Unceasingly the thin stream of water and air drove obliquely across the outer face of the quartz. I began to unscrew the giant wingbolt in the center of the door and after the first few turns, a strange high singing came forth, then a fine mist, steam-like in consistency, shot out, a needle of steam, then another and another. This warned me that I should have sensed when I looked through the window that the contents of the bathysphere were under terrific pressure. I cleared the deck in front of the door of everyone, staff and crew. One motion picture camera was placed on the upper deck and a second one close to, but well to one side of the bathysphere. Carefully, little by little, two of us turned the brass handles, soaked with the spray, and I listened as the high, musical tone of impatient confined elements gradually descended the scale, a quarter tone or less at each slight turn. Realizing what might happen; we leaned back as far as possible from the line of fire. Suddenly without the slightest warning, the bolt was torn from our hands and the mass of heavy metal shot across the deck like a shell from a gun. The trajectory was almost straight and the brass bolt hurtled into the steel winch thirty feet across the deck and sheared a half-inch notch gouged out by the harder metal. This was followed by a solid cylinder of water, which slackened after a while to a cataract, pouring out of the hole in the door, some air mingled with the water looking like hot steam, instead of compressed air shooting through ice-cold water. If I had been in the way, I would have been decapitated."
The pressure underwater increases by one atmosphere for every 10 meters of depth. Beebe's bathysphere had experienced just over 900 meters of depth. The nuclear submarine U.S.S. Thresher
experienced less depth than that and was crushed into debris with all hands on board lost when an internal joint failed, creating a condition that forced the shutdown of her main reactor, with the subsequent loss of power letting her fall past her crush depth. Her sister sub at the surface heard only a few, brief splutters over the radio, the sound of rushing water, and then silence as over 100 souls went to the bottom, probably dead from the tremendous pressures before they were drowned.
That was in 1963, and five years later, another nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Scorpion
, went down with all hands in the Atlantic, off the coast of the Azores. There were many who served aboard her that complained of failing machinery and faulty systems. The information about what precisely finished off Scorpion
is not available to the general public, should the Navy have that information at all, but it is surmised that perhaps a simple failure in the trash disposal systems was all that was needed to provide a deadly breach in the hull for the killing waters to rush in and clutch the lives of all on board, drawing them to the bosom of the ocean floor.
But even craft in top mechanical condition can run afoul of the will of the deeps. Years after Thresher
, a proper deep-sea submersible, the Johnson Sea Link
, became entangled in some wreckage it was exploring and could not surface. In the agonizing hours before a rescue craft could arrive, two of the four men in the crew died of suffocation.
To add to these would be the countless stories of the men who served aboard underwater boats in the two world wars and thereafter, who spoke of rivets firing off as they dove deep beneath the waves, of the tremendous heat and pressures far below, of the closeness, stink and smell, of how sea-water could sometimes get into the batteries, creating deadly clouds of poison gas, and these all from the survivors. The tales of the dead will never be known. Nothing of their final moments of dread and horror will be known; no witness remains of their last, desperate breaths as the atmosphere turned poison around them or of their frantic fights for light, air, and life as the waters rushed in upon them, apprehending them in the cruel physics that kills men so heartlessly those several hundred meters down.
Given all that could befall a mission as risky as a deep-sea dive, one would surmise the ocean would need little help in claiming additional lives for its collection. Nevertheless, I am prepared to assist it in whatever ways are necessary so that other
things down there do not add me to their store of souls. At least a victim of the seas can rest after his death and is hunted and tormented no more; what else is down there is far more relentless in its war on human life.
But the former terrors were all we knew of as we sought out a destination that would disclose the latter. We were younger then, much younger, unaged by the watery pits. Ramm assured me there was nothing to fear in his modern bathyscaph. He was meticulous in his upkeep of all parts of the vessel, the craft itself, its remote control companion unit, and the mother ship we were sailing on. I was soothed by such talk and thought no more of what could possibly go wrong.
Our last port of call before arriving at the exploration site was the island of Socotra, south of Yemen and part of that country. From there, we sailed on to our destination. I will not disclose the exact coordinates of the sunken city, as I do not want them to be general knowledge. If it cannot be found, then it cannot be disturbed further, which will give me more time to work toward my ends. All the same, I cannot risk a single expedition finding it, hence this letter of caution.
We arrived at the dive location and made preparations for the descent. Ramm and I had to prepare in a special chamber to adjust us somewhat to the mixture of air that was required in the bathyscaph. There was rather a lot of helium in this mixture, so our voices sounded comically high-pitched. Once we were properly acclimated, we began the dive.
It would take us eight long hours to get to the bottom. We did our best to sleep during the dive. Ramm slept better than I did, but in addition to the hum of machinery and the novelty of the situation, I kept having odd impressions of what we were about to discover. I cannot describe the premonitions exactly; all I can say is that they were real, faint, and made me somewhat ill in the pit of my bowels.
Once we got to the bottom, Ramm turned on the xenon arc lights and illuminated a part of the world that had been allied with darkness since time immemorial. He took a few readings and piloted the craft toward the sunken city. The craft moved along at two knots, almost our top speed, with the artificial suns on it bringing a harsh dawn to all ahead of us that ended quickly as soon as we had passed.
Finally, we arrived where we could see the outskirts of the sunken city. What had caused this place to arrive at the ocean floor? Whatever had called it downward was most considerate of the architecture: there was no sign of catastrophe or cataclysm. All the buildings stood quiet, brooding, undisturbed. No plants, barnacles, or tubeworms covered the surfaces of the homes and public edifices. The town was completely deserted, with nothing living anywhere within it or its vicinity save for Ramm and myself in our submersible. What disturbed me most as a student of antiquities was the incredible preservation of the city. It had been at the bottom of the ocean for far too long to appear almost pristine in its condition. It was a most unnatural thing to behold as we drew closer to it, to get a look at the inscriptions and murals on the walls of one of its temples.
The hours were silent eternities in the pitch-blackness, the lifeless waters yielding their secrets only to the places where the stabbing arc lights pierced the nightmarish deeps. As we approached the sunken city, I became filled with a dread, a fear that began in its instinctive cradle of my gut and spread to its evolutionary pinnacle in the nether recesses of my mind. The fear grew as the city became closer and closer still: as details of the place became clearer, the dread proceeded along its crescendo line. Perhaps it was my imagination giving me the horrors, or perhaps I had already gathered some minute hint as to the source of the city's eerie preservation.
I noticed the sight of the dead place transfixed Ramm. His eyes were wide and mouth slack-jawed in the face of this submerged urban area. His expression was a mix of fear and almost child-like greed, as I recall. He appeared as if he was about to open a present at some macabre party, one that could cost him his life, but was a present nonetheless and desirable simply because of its being a gift of some sort. I was too awed to speak and went back to view the city. Perhaps my expression became like the one that possessed Ramm, but I do not know for sure. I do remember Ramm's visage, and I do remember the awful fear that gripped me and drew me in.
As we watched the sights the xenon lights presented us, I was again impressed at how lifeless the place was. I had known of voyages to places of great volcanic heat at the bottom of the sea, where great swarms of life flourished in the sulphuric toxicity of the geysers. No such heat sustained any form of life here in these oxygen-poor waters. This was a desert of the deep, a waste not because of a lack of water, but because of a dearth of light or warmth. Nothing stirred here, save that which our propellers disturbed.
I felt suffocated by the gloom and quiet. Neither of us spoke as we began to pass the first rude huts on the fringes of the town.
There did not seem to be anything more out of the ordinary with these first few buildings, other than their incredible depth and remarkable preservation. They were normal, human huts. They had once been dwelling places for various souls who eked out their ancient lives in this place. There did not seem to be any visible remains of the former inhabitants, which struck me as being very odd. There were no shards of pottery laying about the place, no rubble, no detritus. It was altogether too clean, as if some impossible custodian was still keeping the place tidy in anticipation of a repopulation.
The architecture was sound and sturdy, very much in a derivative Hellenic style. It was not Classic Greek, but very close to it in terms of skill and craftsmanship, and made me place the date of most of the buildings in the city to be some time after Alexander the Great and probably well before the time of Constantine. Language was my stronger suit, and I knew I would make a better guess as to the date of the city's time of habitation once I could see some writing samples.
I took a small comfort in being able to become a scientist once I got into the city, and was able to forget the gnawing fear that made me nearly scream and attempt to bolt from my mobile tomb. The sound of the engines became noticeable again: I began to talk to Ramm about my observations, and he seemed to come out of his trance enough to be nearly normal again. The place still had its influence, though, and he was not entirely out of its grip.
I surmised he was not here for any treasure of gold, but there was some scrap of knowledge he wanted to obtain, and my linguistic skill was to be his key in attaining it. He did not pilot the craft aimlessly, but picked out a broad avenue among the other streets and began to follow its course.
I asked him, directly, what it was we were here for. He told me that, if his researches were correct, this city would contain fantastic treasures of knowledge few men had ever dreamed possible to know. As he said this, his face clouded somewhat, and he turned to confront me.
Ramm swore me to secrecy. He made me swear that, upon pain of death, I would not whisper a word of this to any soul, no matter what the promises were regarding its divulgence. Something there made me agree at the time, although I obviously have betrayed that trust with this letter to you. No matter: my self-preservation comes before protecting the secrets of a man who I seriously doubt is in any position to do me harm.
Ramm whispered to me certain things he had read in von Juntz' Unaussprechlichen Kulten
and other books dealing with religious rites well off mankind's usual beaten paths. He spoke of an island, not far from the isle of Socotra, where a certain group built a haven of sorts. It was a place of learning, but of learning the things most men are incapable of even dreaming about. Yet, in men's dreams, he said, men would be drawn to this place, eventually to discover it in their waking hours, whereupon they would pull ashore and end their voyage for knowledge on this island's shores.
Once ashore, they would learn and put to use the things we were about to discover. When I asked for specifics on what we were to find, Ramm demonstrated a mountain ahead of us, barely discernable in the murk. At its base was a temple front, reminiscent of Petra's cliff-hugging marvels. As we drew closer, Ramm went on to describe fantastic things the knowledge was supposed to be able to bestow upon its masters and how we would all profit immensely merely from reading what the temple walls had to offer.
It was insane, but we continued on. We moved maddeningly slowly through the crushing depths, through the complete blackness, until we drew up just outside the entrance to the cave temple.
We paused at the entrance. Ramm said that, for the first time in perhaps two thousand years, men were going to see and understand again what was written on those walls of this temple that belonged to this nameless city that sank gently enough to the bottom of the ocean to not have a single block of stone disturbed upon arriving at its final resting place. When he had been here before, he had seen the writings; now he was going to understand them, with my assistance in the manner.
We would be able to enter the cave, as the entrance was sufficiently broad and high enough to permit our submersible entry. Ramm pointed out that, should we arrive at a tight spot and be able to proceed no further in the manned vessel, we had a remote-controlled craft which would be able to carry on significantly further ahead than we could in ours.
As we entered the grand old temple, there was no difference in light, as one entering a building from a sunlit street. Rather, in this world where the sun is not sufficient to enlighten, it was much as perhaps moving from one part of a torch-lit tomb to another, reading the hieroglyphics on the wall as one went. The writings themselves were confined to a band that extended all along the length of the left wall, and from thence, on into the blackness. The texts were painted on the wall and lacquered over with some sort of protective coating that had kept the water out all these years and gave them an eerie, greenish sheen when the lights shone upon them. The right wall was decorated with the odd symbol or animal shape, presumably for ritual naming practices or for some other function. We could not be sure until we could decipher the text, but it was our guess that that was likely to be the explanation for the pictures and symbols.
I felt it was quite anticlimactic that the first script we saw was completely unintelligible to me. It was completely unknown, and must have come from the original dwellers of the city, who probably first used this cave as a holy spot. The script appeared to be glyph-based, much like ancient Egyptian or Mayan, but much differed from the two. We proceeded further in the hopes something more understandable would present itself.
We were soon rewarded in the discovery of the next script, a Sanskrit-type language, one I did not have difficulty in picking up at all. It seemed that where it began was in the middle of a story or description of sorts, perhaps where the other language left off.
It described why its author had chosen to come here. The writing style was ancient, far older than the age of the buildings outside. From what I could make out, he had traveled from his village in northern India because of dreams he had had that drew him here. He wrote of a creature, a beautiful creature, he called it, which beckoned him with those dreams, to come to this island to worship it and to prepare to serve it better. He went on in loving prose of how he was devoting his life to the service of the creature, and how he intended to bring other gifted thinkers around to the service of his glorious master.
The Sanskrit writings continued in various vague hymns to the god of this place, without much more descriptiveness to them than what else had been written. They concluded, however, in a way I did not expect: the writer indicated he would descend further into the cave, never to return, and invited the reader to join him. Somehow, my natural curiosity drew me further into the cave against any survival instincts that might have pulled me in the other direction: Ramm seemed to desire what lay beyond, and I sensed he was eagerly accepting the invitation I had translated to him.
Following the Sanskrit portion was a short section written in a language based upon Indus Valley scripts. These were recognizable, but undecipherable. Ramm seemed agitated at that development, for he wanted to know more of the secrets that were supposed to be here. He was pleased, though, when it gave way to a section in Byblos script, which I could muddle my way through.
This writer was not as enthusiastic as the Sanskrit author, but seemed to be as fervent. I could wrangle only so much from the writings, but what I deciphered was enough to stoke the fires of greed burning within Ramm. This fellow spoke of how service to the god of this place would place the dutiful servant beyond the pale of death and in possession of knowledge sufficient to control the stars in such a way as to make one master of many things on this earth and potentially other earths that held their strange beckonings.
Of these other earths, he said very little except that they would be opened up to those who descended further and read the things to be written by those that would follow him. That many more would follow him, he was certain, for he wrote of how settlements had begun just outside the mouth of the cave and that men had begun to raise their families in sight of the cave of the god of this place.
Apparently, nothing much had been here prior to this time, which I estimated to be roughly around the 20th century BC. Now, people were gathering in some sort of convocation dedicated to the thing that gave them dreams and had drawn them here.
A few of the rites associated with this god were described in passing, and seemed strangely foreshadowing of Jonah, but with a twist: the cult anticipated and sought out being devoured and regurgitated by sea creatures, in particular those capable of traversing the watery world to its crushing depths.
Many of their religious activities took place underwater, or so the writings claimed, but I was skeptical about such a thing due to the incredible length of some of the ceremonies. Ramm rationalized that they probably took turns in the different roles of the rite, or took pauses for air. I countered by pointing out that they indicated a preference for deeper waters, where one could not quickly get to the surface and where one would almost be required to use special equipment to survive. Ramm's reply was simply that they might have grown accustomed to the depths over time, like pearl divers, and that I should read on.
Reading on, however, was becoming all the more difficult, as the effects of time on the Byblos script had begun to render it unreadable not because of erosion or wear, for the writings themselves were in pristine condition, but because the isolation of the community allowed for changes in idiom and expression that were all the more unintelligible to me. If I had copies of the writings and years of research time available, perhaps I could decipher them, but in a black chasm several thousand meters under the surface with no time whatsoever to prepare beforehand, it was fruitless.
I did have a few insights into some scattered meanings, but they were faint impressions and hunches that I discounted as imprecise. Ramm began to grow impatient, though, and then began to ask things like, doesn't that symbol mean such-and-such, which shocked me deeply not because of any accuracy in guessing the meaning on his part, as I could not verify the meaning, but because of his accuracy in declaring what it was I kept to myself as the faint hints. He held no reservation about the impressions he was receiving, but declared them boldly and terribly.
As Ramm translated, he did not provide alternatives to his translation or debate the accuracy of certain elements. His version was done in bold, clumsy strokes, which made him sound more like a schizophrenic genius madman than a scholar of antiquity. His dialogue moved along in fits and starts, a staccato stream of Haiku consciousness that invoked images of the cosmos beyond contained in the pitch blackness beneath. Sacrifices of an unheard-of nature, strange characteristics of the nameless god of the nameless place, teachings that hinted at scientific discoveries not known to other segments of humanity until the dawn of our modern age, all these things and more passed from out of Ramm's lips and frightened me deeply. I feared he spoke of things that man should know or talk about, if they were true. Nevertheless, what frightened me more was that, although the perverted script made no sense whatsoever to me, I was receiving impressions still, slightly stronger now, that correlated precisely with Ramm's impromptu declarations.
And then, as Ramm was building towards what seemed to be some sort of revelatory climax, the writings in that script stopped suddenly. A glance over to the abstract images on the opposite side showed a halt at roughly the same time. What was a relief of sorts for me was unbearable to Ramm. He fell silent and stared out of the window as we waited for more to come into view.
I noticed the submersible had been traveling forward for quite some time without Ramm's piloting. The straightness and broadness of the cavern was absolutely remarkable. Whatever craft had been employed in its construction must have certainly been expert, as it was nearly perfect in its making and had stood for time so well. Looking forward, it did not seem to veer or shrink any and I did not fear of any crash as we followed it along.
After an interval of several meters of blank wall, we saw the writings begin again, this time in a very recognizable form of squared Hebrew script. Ramm brightened at the continuation of the writings, and I hoped perhaps they would take a saner course; if they were this different, they had to be the writings of outsiders, perhaps conquerors who had cleansed the island of its madness. If so, it would return us to a much calmer mood, and help us to settle into the time for sleeping, which was drawing closer. Even though it was eternally night in this hellishly unlit realm, we were still slaves to our human clocks: it was late in the day and we were growing weary.
The writings were indeed those of a conqueror: they were written by a Jewish mercenary who had been in an army hired to wipe out this place, as it seemed to have been perceived as a wicked threat to kingdoms in southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa. His description of the conquest, however, was unnerving.
Certain things he described in his account should have sent us reeling out of that cave. If not those things, then the manner in which they were described should have done the job. Ramm, though, was under some sort of spell and I was falling under its influence, as well. The story told by the mercenary only thickened the web binding us closer to the heart of the cursed mountain.
We spent the rest of that day and most of the next poring over the mercenary's story. It will remain in my mind until the day I destroy myself.
The invasion of the island took place some time after the death of Alexander the Great, from the dating information the soldier left. The fleet assembled in Aden and set sail to the island with the intent of eliminating the settlements there. The people of the island had been engaging in piracy. That alone had drawn the wrath of the kings of the region, but the ruthlessness with which their captives were slaughtered and sacrificed to horrible, squid-like gods earned them particular hatred.
The soldier wrote of how the fleet landed at the island to find not a single living soul upon it. They found a main settlement on the island and a few secondary hamlets, as well as a sealed entrance to a cave temple in the side of the mountain. The captains of the armies ordered every dwelling to be looted and razed. This the soldiers accomplished with efficiency.
The main general then ordered an assault on the mountain temple. Several sub-commanders were loathe to attempt such a thing, due to certain incidents in the pillaging which left several soldiers inexplicably maimed, insane, or dead. The place was obviously cursed or worse, with an inhuman foe fighting the battles so far.
The leader of the expedition, however, was unmoved by his subordinates' pleas, and remained steady in his resolve to cleanse the place. At this point, the superstitious soldier noted that he did not wish to take part in such an adventure and decided to hide on the island until such a time when he could blend back in with whatever force remained and leave with them. He did not care if he lost any of his shares of the booty: he only desired to live, and he had an ill omen about the general's next move.
After getting his men to ready several battering rams, the general ordered the attack on the temple gates. There was no opposition from within, and the gates were broken and breached very quickly. The general strode into the temple and ordered his men to follow him: every one of them entered the temple, save for the soldier who wrote the account.
The soldier then noted that the army was gone for a very long time. After the first day of their ingress, the crews of a few of the boats went to the doors of the temple to peer inside for signs of life. They hurried back to their ships in quiet, agitated states: some feeling of dread and fear had overcome them, and they did not wish to be any sort of hero at the time.
Two more days passed without sign of the army. One boat crew attempted to desert, but the top officer of the fleet stopped that maneuver and had its leaders put to death on the beach. The rest of the boat crews promised to remain at the island until the head officer ordered otherwise.
On the night after the third day, a sound could be heard from within the temple. It was a long, low scream. It should not have awakened anyone, but all the sailors and the soldier were brought to their feet by the sound and marveled at it. The sound was barely audible in the still night air, but those that heard it could concentrate on nothing else.
It was definitely a human scream, but that was determined from the sound alone. The duration of the cry was altogether too long. No man was capable of sustaining a scream like that for as long as it lasted, wrote the soldier.
No one moved for the longest time as the scream continued, growing gradually louder as the hours passed. Finally, movement within the temple could be discerned, deep within the shadows of its vaults. The darkness within the temple issued forth first, blending in with the general twilight shrouding the scene. Next to emerge was the legless torso and head of the leader of the expedition, propped up on a cart, with a huge bellows-like machine attached to him.
Shaggy, demonic men were working the bellows that drove the scream unceasingly out of the general's mouth. The demons worked silently so the only sound that assaulted the ears of the listeners was the dead general's automated howl.
This terror caused the sailors to break and run to their ships, while the soldier remained transfixed with fear. As the sailors screamed and cried in the dash to their boats for a hasty escape, more shaggy demons leapt silently over the rubble and ruin to the ships, reaching them with a speed not possible for normal men.
The observing soldier then reported on the battle at the ships. The silent demon-men tore into the moored ships, ripping the wood from the frames with their terrible claws. Any man that tried to fight a demon discovered their flesh turned all blades and they could not be knocked over with any blow, no matter how forceful.
Many sailors tried to abandon their craft and swim out into the open sea, but were met with a foe more terrible than the demon-men. Huge tentacles began plucking the hapless sailors from the surface, pulling them into places the soldier dared not imagine.
Caught between the raging demons and the tentacled waves, the sailors were overwhelmed. Those that did not try to swim away were carried off by the silent, shaggy men. All the while, the dead general was kept screaming by the demons working the unholy bellows-machine. His screams were now joined by the more natural-sounding cries of the captive sailors, who were in the grips of the worst fear they had ever witnessed.
The sailor then wrote of how the macabre procession returned to the depths of the temple and how the tentacles removed all the debris of the destroyed ships. After those harrowing sights, after the temple fell silent, after the last tentacle slipped beneath the tides, after many hours, came the greatest shock to the soldier: one of the shaggy demons grabbed him from behind and spun him around to behold his awful presence.
The demon stood tall. He was covered in hair, and the hair on his head had grown out to the point where it covered his face and upper body in a shaggy, tangled mass. His skin had a bluish cast to it and his touch was exceptionally cold. He made no sound as he motioned the soldier enter the temple. The soldier obeyed, realizing resistance was futile.
The soldier was taken to the temple and shown the blank section of wall where the writings had stopped. Without using any words, the demon motioned to the soldier to write on the wall, using the paints and brushes placed there. The soldier wrote of how he received impressions and waking visions of what to write.
The soldier ended his account with a description of his passable treatment as a captive writer. He was fed, watered, permitted to sleep, and allowed to exit the temple periodically to relieve himself or take a break from his labors. Always with him, though, was his demon captor. The demon would motion for him to return to work, wake him from his slumber, and mysteriously produce sustenance for him. The soldier was unsure of what would happen to him after he finished his writings.
The final words from the soldier described how the demon had begun to apply a glaze to his writings and that the place terrified him. He wrote a plea to any who happened upon the place accidentally, should they read his tale, to depart immediately and never return. The temple and surrounding area were only for those who were invited: great, silent terrors awaited those who defiled its grounds.
The record of the Jewish mercenary ended after his final testimony of the powers not to be tampered with in this place. Ramm and I both wondered what had become of the soldier, but all we could do was speculate, as we had no evidence of his final disposition. We certainly saw no evidence of his continued existence in the temple cave, although we had not searched the buildings outside for any real information about him or anyone else.
We were haunted most by the mental images of the horrors of that battle for the ships: the dead screaming captain, the silence of the demon-men, the impenetrable mass of hair about their faces, the tentacles pulling fleeing men to their doom, the final procession of the captives, and the terrified final words of the mercenary. If the soldier had been telling the truth, and we felt the force of truth in his words, we were in grave danger to proceed further.
I recall we were aware of the danger, but proceeded in spite of it. I suppose we already had a premonition of our eventual dooms. We had subconsciously realized we could not escape them.
The writings were now in Greek and were much bolder than previous accounts. The new inhabitants had built a new city and were even more aggressive in securing human fodder for their ravenous god. Their pride in the new city was overbearing.
They were even bold enough to note the name of their god for the first time: Teuthis. The name evoked an image in my mind of a squid, terrible and long, greater than any such beast encountered or imagined by man. I did not know then what had given me that vision, and I am not entirely sure now, but Ramm and I both received it, and we trembled.
From our readings, we gathered Teuthis was an enormous monster that apparently held court far below the surface of the ocean. His high priests and priestesses would summon lesser giant squids and hurl themselves into the ocean to be swallowed whole by the beasts, to be carried deep down. There, they would be communicants with the great Teuthis and receive his mysteries in his presence. The writings noted that the mysteries were preserved, in lesser form, further within the cave.
I gathered they assigned intelligence and emotions to the motives of the great Teuthis. How such things could be possible in a huge beast escaped me: it was quite likely they were impressed with the creature, had domesticated it after a fashion with regular feedings, and had anthropomorphized it.
That was the only rational explanation I could devise for this cult's attachment to the giant squid. Other explanations presented themselves, but I refrained from letting them into the full consideration of my consciousness.
I wanted things to be rational. I was in complete denial regarding the things I had already seen and read. Regardless of what I had witnessed, I was willing to sin against that knowledge and grasp at anything that had but the faintest echo of the mundanely causal world I had once known. But how could I expect to remain sane? Here I was, in a perfectly preserved city, 5000 meters down. I had just read a record mentioning demons and seen my companion teeter on the edge of madness. Which side of the chasm of insanity he was on, I could not be certain, save that it seemed less likely he was sane the deeper we went into the cave of Teuthis. I could not be too far behind.
Even after what I saw, I cannot believe the description of the means the island came to be at the ocean floor. Terrible sacrifices invoked powers I wish I never knew could be called upon. Men were taken from nearby coasts and slaughtered in horrible baptisms of blood for the priests of the cult in a manner reminiscent of the tauribolium
of the Phrygian Magna Mater cult. The ground of this island was reddened with the leavings of the sacrifices and all the people of the city reveled in the ritual murder of their hapless victims, gaining powers from the blood they spilled.
They knew another assault would come, but this next one would have magicians in its company. Their spies knew of men from the outer world who were on their way to use their sorceries to combat those of the servants of Teuthis. The approaching magi were themselves protected from the magics of the Teuthis cult: the only escape was to move the island to where it could not be defiled. Teuthis had foreseen this crisis and had given his servants their deliverance, so the writings stated.
As the stains on the ground deepened, the land began to move. As the blood was repeatedly spilled and offered in empowering sacrifice, the land began to gently sink. My rational explanations were routed by the madness of embracing what were eyewitness accounts of the island submerging, and the people with it, but not drowning. Once underwater, the sacrifices continued apace, with the blood now coloring the surrounding waters, drawing hundreds of monstrous-sized squid to the area.
Voyages to commune with Teuthis increased in frequency according to this mad record, now being kept underwater. Stranger still, the city's population was growing: new writings appeared, in Latin and Aramaic. Much of what was recorded was relatively pedestrian and of little note beyond the fact that is was written by a race of men somehow adapted to life underwater.
No new buildings were made for the newcomers. Many of the place's older inhabitants began to move permanently into the temple, leaving domiciles for those arriving to the slowly sinking island. Behaving with greater openness, the underwater folk ranged further and wider in their raids for captives, constantly bringing drowned souls to their murky and hellish realm.
Then a disaster struck the islanders: although the surface-bound magicians could not directly harm the island any more, they were able to protect much of the coasts and the ships of the region from the ravages of the Teuthis cult. The island would continue to sink, but its people would lose their vigor if deprived of sacrifices. The writings told of how the populace migrated into the depths of the temple, to sleep and await a day when magicians no longer stood vigilant on the shores.
When we read the last statement of the ancient world, Ramm and I expected nothing more on the walls until we reached the inner chambers of the temple. No comforting silence awaited us on this part of the journey: men of esoteric learning in later ages had not only discovered the Teuthis cult, but had managed to get to this temple, unassisted by any technology, such as the bathyscaph that carried us into this sunless world.
We received a terrible jolt when we discovered writings in plain English. Their very familiarity was their most frightening aspect. Ramm confessed he never got this far in his first expedition, and he had no idea what awaited us. Stupidly, blindly, we drifted on, riveted by our fear and unable to shake the pull of the terrors ahead.
With all the records of people that came here without special aids, it was tempting to just open the craft to see if the laws of nature would be suspended for our benefit, as well. I recall several occasions when I looked at the airlock and gave serious thought to turning the handles and letting the waters invade our craft, just to see what would happen. I caught Ramm casting longing gazes at the airlock, but said nothing. If we were mad and cursed at that time, we were not so mad and neither so cursed to kill ourselves outright at the first promptings of such an activity.
We had gone into a daze, though. We no longer translated what was in front of our eyes, no matter how easy the job would be as the languages became progressively more modern. The xenon arc lights bore down relentlessly on the writings we had become numb toward. We were oblivious to events around us. We were having nightmares with our eyes open.
I do not recall how many hours we spent in that listless state. I do recall what awoke us: our craft collided with the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, the craft traveled at a very slow speed, so the end of the line came more as a bump than as a melodramatic sea-borne disaster. Ramm's piloting instincts snapped to and he had quickly disengaged the propulsion system, bringing our craft safely to a halt in front of two great doors, each flanked by a statue of a man-demon that fit the Jewish mercenary's dread description.
Ramm backed up the craft and we both took inventory of the great gates we had bumped up against. They were covered with bas-relief sculptures of underwater scenes, most involving men and squid in close company. The men depicted were as the demon-men statues appeared: shaggy, and with hair covering the entire head, down to the upper torso. They appeared exactly as I imagined them to be, a coincidence that did not register with me until long after the cursed voyage had ended.
The priests and devout followers of the Teuthis cult wore their hair in such a manner in homage of their god whose tentacles sprang from his head. No special powers were gained by this outward sign: it was merely employed to differentiate the long-time faithful from the outsiders or the new initiates.
The gates were extremely heavy: they were at least 5 meters tall and 3 meters wide and made of stone. The mechanical arm on the modified Shinkai could not budge them. We were in no mental state to return, however: we had to press onward and discover the secrets behind the doors.
We decided to sleep for a while, as we were exhausted from the long, terrifying ordeals of the translations. We had several days of air left, and we were not overly concerned with returning to the surface. After a simple meal and a brief message to the mother ship, we retired for a sleep in a world that was eternally benighted.
Once I had fallen into a dream-state, the peace of my rest was shattered. I imagined that the four of us were awake and sitting in the submersible, regarding each other. It seemed a natural enough gathering, Ramm, myself, and our two watchers that had spied on us since we entered the town. We said nothing, but thought many things and our thoughts were like pages from a book that the others could read and respond to in like manner.
We were questioned about what we had read and experienced in visions and we responded in kind, making the interview something of a catechism review for a test that lay ahead. The demons then regarded each other for a while and we sat in silence, awaiting what we knew would be their judgment. After an interval, they rose and stood over Ramm. They turned his chin upward and began to paint vertical lines on his face until it had a sort of pinstriped appearance. They then exited via the airlock.
After that, I dreamed I was swimming alone, pursued slowly but deliberately by some huge, sentient monster of the deep. I don't know how I knew it was sentient.
I awoke in a terrible sweat and felt tired and distraught. Ramm awoke fresh and eager for what the day would bring. He did not recall any sort of dream he had. I did not tell him mine. My dreams had filled me with fear, but I suspected they would bring completely different emotions to Ramm.
When we activated the xenon arcs, they shone upon a much different scene than the day before. The gates were opened wide and the statues appeared to me as having been moved slightly to either side. I did not mention what I saw in the corners of my eyes when the powerful lamps were switched on. I am still not sure, as they were little more than fleeting shadows slow to be banished in the new light. The shape of the shadows, though, haunts me still.
The opening was wide enough for the Shinkai to proceed forward into the sanctum of the temple, but I refused absolutely to go any further. Ramm became very red in the face, but controlled his obvious anger as we argued about what to do. I suspected a trap. He called me paranoid and said an earth movement provided our little boon; there was nothing sinister at all. I countered that we only had 8 days of air in the craft and we had to save enough for the journey back: we should make certain that our path back would not use up all the remaining air, but could be done ahead of running completely out.
Ramm was surprised with my argument about the air supply. I say that because he seemed to regard the notion of returning to the surface as something that wasn't part of his current plans. It had my desired effect, and he agreed to use a drone to press forward into the cave. We could still decipher writings from its television cameras' view of the cave and it would provide us with ample warning about obstacles from a sonar device in its nose cone.
The first thing we discovered inside the cave truly dazzled us. Bas-relief sculpture of a variety we had never seen covered the walls, ceiling, and floor. Clearly, it had been made a place to swim through. The statuary depicted scenes involving squid and their lives. Here, a hunt; there, a meeting; over there, a punishment meted out to a transgressor. The squid were being depicted in as being part of an organized, established society and the whole effect was unnerving. The inhumanity of the sculpture style gave me doubts that men had fashioned them, even if under some alien influence. I surmised the organized society being shown was responsible as well for the statuary, and the bas-reliefs antedated anything else in the cave.
I had read speculative fiction about the possible intelligence and size of the great squid of the deep, but the flights of human fancy paled in the sight of what the sculptures depicted. There were rites to keep holy, laws to be enforced, bargains to be made. They had religion, police, and commerce in this society. Sperm whales were no threat to them, as scientists had guessed: they were tools of justice. A squid that had profaned holy things or done some other foul deed would be drugged or otherwise rendered unconscious and turned over to an awaiting whale or two. The whales would typically maul the recalcitrant squid unto its death, but one would occasionally break free and survive, being banished to wander in exile thereafter.
Humans were regarded as potential equals: this was made plain by depictions of Teuthis-worship with man side by side with squid. Men and squid could both be sacrificed to that god of insatiable hungers. I speculated that the real bond of this society was religious, not based on species, and those outside the bond could either convert or be sacrificed.
A new fear gripped me. I had discovered the secrets of the cave. I had seen things only the initiates were supposed to see. Was I now responsible for those things? Was I faced with the convert or be sacrificed question?
I did not desire either, although Ramm seemed a likely candidate for one or the other. He had an insane smile on his face as he watched the screen displaying the fantastic images the drone discovered. There was nothing to read, so I could retire behind him and spend more time taking stock of the situation than letting myself get drawn further into the lore of the Teuthis cult.
Mind you, I saw enough to convince me I never wanted to join their number. I also saw enough to know the end of those that go against the cult is not a beautiful one: death for them is but the beginning of their torture. Squid and men who transgressed were slain and their souls turned over to Teuthis' terrible wrath, which ruled over them in their hellish post-mortal existence. I cannot explain with mere words the horrors impressed upon my mind when I saw the sculpture depicting Teuthis meting out judgment. Perhaps you will discover them if I destroy myself and the expedition proceeds as planned, with you on it?
Ramm watched the drone's transmissions for hours and I tried to get some sleep to make up for the awful night I had had. I had fallen into a dreamless sleep when Ramm's brain-melting scream awoke me.
I came to with a terrified start. In the first moments of confusion, I remember nothing more than a chaotic blur of his screaming and my cries of What's wrong? that were shouted to no avail.
Once I realized Ramm wasn't going to respond at all, I crowded to the screen to see what made him scream so. I never took a thought about what would happen to me if I saw the same thing. Mercifully, all I saw on the screen was static. I tried the controls for the drone: it did not respond.
Something had destroyed the drone and something had made Ramm to scream uncontrollably. I suspected the same thing had caused both and we were consequently in grave danger. I forced Ramm out of his chair and on to the floor. I knew enough of the controls to know how to put it in reverse. The path was straight and currentless, so I would not need to steer, just as we never steered our way in. Our slowness was agonizing: 3 knots is glacier-like and terror-inducing when you know you are now the prey of something capable of much faster movement.
I kept the xenon arcs on, pointing them to the fore. I noticed the statues by the gates were gone.
Ramm's screaming increased in ferocity. His eyes were bulging and his face was red. His nose had started to bleed. I grabbed the first aid kit and searched for something I could use to knock him out. As I looked, images of a great squid, a terrible and mighty beast, threw themselves into my mind, invading my ability to focus on anything but the god Teuthis.
I saw the creature in his fury, glowing brilliantly in the darkness of the waters. The phosphorescent patterns on his head spoke to me in a language I did not understand, but somehow comprehended. I began to weep and scream as Teuthis revealed his wrath to me.
The screaming drove the terrible thoughts out of the main focus of my mind, but they were always looming in my mind, shouting at me, glaring at me, their tentacles reaching toward me to draw me in as a sacrifice to the hungry god.
When I had recovered somewhat, Ramm was banging his head on the floor and screaming in an awful, hoarse way. Worse, a pool of blood formed around his head. I tried to restrain him, but he threw me aside. The force of his throw knocked the wind out of me.
As I gasped for air, I had to do battle again with the great god Teuthis in my mind, joining my fresh voice to Ramm's in the cacophony of the pit. I won a respite again and desperately grabbed at anything I could administer to Ramm to put him down.
I found a vial of morphine and injected it into Ramm's leg. He continued screaming. I injected him with another, and another, and finally, he stretched out and fell into a deep rest. I lifted his blood-stained body onto a bed and thought to restrain him, but some thought entered my mind at the time, urging me away from my present concerns. Unable to resist the thought, I did its bidding and looked out the fore window.
Looking out that window, I became dumb with raging, fear-spawned madness within. There, in the full gleam of the arc lights was a host of the demon-men marching in formation with several squid above them! The awful silence of the procession made me wish for Ramm's screams to return to keep my mind occupied with human noises, no matter how dread and desperate, than to face the inhuman silence of the priests of Teuthis.
I switched off the arc lights and the main lights in the cabin, plunging nearly everything back into the welcoming arms of the darkness of the bottom of the world. The sights of the outside world were at least gone from my eyes and I begged any god that would listen, half praying to Teuthis himself, I would be spared, I would survive.
I do not know why I prayed for survival after seeing such terrible things. The survival instinct can be a terrible burden at times that man must learn to overcome.
My eyes were still open in the red half-light of the bathyscaph's secondary lights, still facing the window. The glow began to come off the procession. Parts of both squid and men began to give off phosphorescent light and I saw they were not only moving in procession, but making ritual movements, both squid and man
, meaning to sacrifice one or the other of the intruders into their sacred temple.
I knew this because of the thoughts they sent to my mind. They wanted one. I assumed it would be me, as Ramm had been anointed in the dream I had and had so eagerly embraced the notions of the Teuthis cult. I tried to close my eyes and turn away from the phosphorescent madness, but some pull
kept me facing it, growing more desirous of a merciful sudden destruction than to have to face any more of the dread, plodding procession.
In the agonizing hours of my silent retreat, I heard faint fumblings at the airlock door. I do not know how long they had been going on, but they drew my attention away from the procession to a sight more terrible. Ramm, bloodied and haggard, was trying to open the airlock and exit the Shinkai. I lunged at him, to restrain him and put him back down on his bed. He desperately tugged at the door, but put up little fight. His mind was gone; whether from the morphine or the priests of Teuthis and their rituals outside I could not tell.
I talked to myself as I strapped Ramm to his bed, finding it helped me to keep my focus and avoid the awful thoughts invading my mind. In my mutterings, though, my mind still wandered: I asked how could the things I saw be possible? The humans and squid at this depth, uncrushed? The ritual? The sentience of the squid? The whole temple and city?
I was hopeless. I began to cry, I remember that. You might have pity for me, but you have no idea what caused me to cry and scream. I can never explain it to you: there are no words I can say to convey the awful, relentless visions I endured. I was already resolved to destroy myself at this point, although I foolishly assumed that it would enable me to escape to a quiet, silent death.
What I saw and experienced was true, and my reasoning returned to remind me of that. I could never escape what I was doomed to face unless I ceased to exist. With every move of an arm or tentacle in the demonic procession, I resolved further to end my own existence and rob these fiends of a prize in my soul.
They continued to follow the craft as it left the cave. I wondered why they did not rush the Shinkai, as they did the ships so many hundreds of years ago. I was thankful they did not, but wondered nonetheless.
The realization dawned on me with a blood-red sun and blackened sky. I was not the only one, nor was Ramm. They sought the crew of the ship, not just the two souls in the tiny Shinkai.
What could I do to save them? How could I save myself? If I did nothing but drift, it was quite likely the ship would be found: worse, a rescue or recovery effort would endanger many more lives.
If I radioed above, there was a shred of a chance they would believe me and be able to attempt an escape. They could have a fighting chance. I decided that I would have to try to convince them to leave.
The thoughts flooding into my mind increased in intensity and ferocity when I reached to start the radio. I could send the message, they said, but I would suffer grievously for it. The vision of my suffering was then replaced with a taste of the agonies. I did not see what would happen to me. I felt it, I felt it all.
I find it difficult to keep writing unless I put that terror out of my mind. You will not stand in my way of avoiding it. I did not let anything stand in my way of avoiding it. I picked up the radio and told the ship I would be starting the ascent. I said Ramm had gone unconscious and we would need medical help when we came back up.
Immediately, I knew I was safe. The priests of Teuthis promised me safety for several years for my cooperation in their efforts. I was still condemned for having seen the secrets of the inner cave, but I at least had a chance to destroy myself before they got to me. The priests accepted this boon as part of the bargain. I had delivered many to them, and they could tolerate one slipping through their fingers and tentacles.
The scenes on the ship were horrible enough from what I saw once the Shinkai was decompressed and I emerged from it. Most of the bodies were gone, but enough blood and carnage remained to turn my stomach. The demon-men priests remained silent and dexterous as they slithered about the ship, mostly ignoring me. They also ignored Ramm, who remained unconscious.
A day later, I awoke to a strange setting. When I emerged from my cabin, a priest motioned me to go to the main deck. I followed him up there. Many of the demon-men were milling about some contraption I could not immediately see.
The demon-men from my dream came up to me. The thoughts they sent were stern. I was infidel unclean and deserved to die, yet Teuthis had found favor with me. To reconcile the two conditions, they impressed upon me a horrible proposition that I gladly accepted to save myself from a much worse fate.
I will describe this to you so you know what lengths I will go to in order to avoid the hells Teuthis had prepared for me. Ramm was there, his face painted as it was in the dream. I had assumed wrong: his selection indicated his suitability as a sacrifice, not as an initiate into the Cult. The demons then silently hoisted him onto a scaffolding. The lead priest made me stand directly underneath him.
I knew what was to happen and I cried bitterly for Ramm, but allowed the sacrifice to continue. At least he died peacefully, although I know nothing of the ultimate disposition of his soul. I stood, moaning and shouting as the knives plunged into his body and his hot blood poured out on my head, spilling on my body and the deck surrounding me.
I was cleansed to Teuthis, filthy to man, but do you know which means more to me? The morals of surface men mean nothing to me. I have avoided morals and other obstacles to my salvation in destruction since I first returned to the world of men. I move in the shadows and exist without being seen by those that once supposed me alive. Let them think on I am dead: it suits me, for I am dead and about to be annihilated by my own hand.
I shed tears for Ramm, but I will shed none for you should you risk my fate on a foolish expedition to the hells on the ocean floor. Do not bother listening for my fell footsteps as I approach to cut your life away, for as one who has been cleansed by Teuthis, I will make no sound as I leap over any obstacles to perform my saving ordinances on your hapless body.