Blood Dimmed Tide
There have been many entries in the Vaush Papers and the folios continue to be examined by my assistant. This one came to my attention, not so much because of the fantastic nature of the encounter, but rather the self awareness on the part of Vaush in regards to his own mental instability. It is noted that these events have been independently verified by primary witnesses and do not represent the totality of the event that ensorcered the entirety of Hartwich.
~G.M. Frasier, Professor Emeritus, Queens College, Cadris
I do not concern myself with gods or spirits either good or evil, nor do I serve any.
I find myself today in a hollow mood. My mind is disturbed by the sleep of the previous evening. I am rarely disturbed by dreams. Sometimes however they serve to remind us of the artifices that served as the engines of our future.
In the beginning and perhaps even in the end, Sarah had it worse than the rest of us. No one can say that the heady days of my youth were full of frolic in grassy fields. I toiled under Robert’s whip; I trained without realizing that this was not how the youth of our time were suppose to spend their days. On the other hand Sarah had glimpsed what it was like to be a child and it was ripped from her through no fault of her own. It seemed that each time she stepped forward to do the right thing more was taken; her childhood, her father, her home; all placed beyond her grasp by the need to do right by her family and her friends.
I suppose that all of us had similar stories; our youth torn away, though I do not remember ever being a child. We were all cheated. Some worse than others.
It seemed that after my return from the highlands I made a sort of peace with my mother. She had become affectionate towards me in a way that I had previously thought impossible. It was a kind of attention that I had not realized I craved. Though my mistrust of her remained; my mother was a cunning creature and presented herself in multiple forms. She was continuously antagonistic towards Ruby while Sarah’s mother was treated with a kind of dismissive kindness. Which was worse I could not say.
After the confrontation between Oliver and the Lord Rush on the portico, I had realized that I possessed a need to protect Sarah though in truth she never really needed it. I think now that she was perhaps the most powerful of us. The one whose need for my violence was the least. I would later, after those dark days be ashamed to say that the needs of others were often dismissed for my own selfish desires.
A party was being planned. I had become a regular in the kitchen and because I showed a kind of respect for the portly cook and he used me now to test the sweets that would be served to Lord Rush’s guests. For an unknowable reason he trusted my untrained and youthful pallet. It was from them that I learned and as is my nature I felt the need to explore. I only mention this because it was the reason that the Lord and Lady Smyth were guests at the Rush Estates.
The Lady Smyth; whose name escapes me, had once been a harlot in the employ of Eve’s. In my younger years I often wondered if the Lord Smyth realized this. She was a whore elevated to respectability by the lineage of her cuckolded husband. It was yet another example of Rush’s inexorable ambition.
When I realized this fact; Rush’s intentions towards Veronica became obvious. In the end, she would be maneuvered into the bed of the Lord of Hartwich. Would that make Simon my brother? Even now it makes me laugh.
William, a brutal man in the employ of Robert approached us that evening. There was violence at the docks. There had been another instance that had been simply labeled as violence that had occurred in my absence and I was eager. Robert sent the man away with instructions to send men to investigate. I do not believe that a man such as William took orders easily; he was not that sort. However there was a professional respect between these two men that is seldom seen. There was nothing personal there; though on some rudimentary level I think they liked each other if for no other reason than the ease that comes with practicing a trade with another so often that it becomes natural.
The party ended and Sarah’s playing was beautiful. It filled the halls and whenever she put lips to flute the world is a better place. Robert’s calm demeanor evaporated and the cool potential for violence bloomed. He moved with a kind of predatory purpose that was now so normal that it was only by instinct that I followed. He knew and either had decided it was acceptable or it had been expected and disappointment would have followed any hesitation or stillness on my part.
I was ordered to change which I did in efficient haste. We met in the stables but only after my encounter with Veronica and Vivian. I lied, as is my nature. I told them both that I had been instructed to meet Robert in the stables. It was a lie of omission.
William was there and to the man’s credit, my presence did not seem to phase him. He accepted my presence with the a detachment that made his reaction such that almost anyone else would have missed the curious glance that I did receive.
We proceeded to the docks and soon came to berth that was occupied by a magnificent caravel. The high masts were cocooned in the furled sails. Her brightly colored standard named her as one of Smyth’s vessels. I remember it was quiet. The sea continued its assault on the shore and the gulls complained of their scavenging plight. While this was not the mercantile docks, there should have been the sounds the midnight toils of men. Nothing. There was no sound. It was disserted in a way reminiscent of a tomb. It was the quiet in the way of cobwebs and dust; of graveyards and the unnatural. The very lack of disturbance gave the air a charge and I could see the nervousness mount Robert’s shoulders. William, though professional and lethal without doubt fidgeted in a way that Robert was not capable, even in the worst of times.
We dismounted and approached Smyth’s ship. It was then that the first coppery odors reached us. The gangplank was down, bridging the sea born ship to the rooted world of the landed gentry. There was blood here. There was blood and murder. We could smell it. The air was charged with it; enveloping us. I discovered that the while the smells that wafted over us were sickening to William and even to Robert, excited me. I felt alive in a way that I had never imagined. My own blood sang in my head and it was all that I could manage to not rush up that gangplank to view the blood spilled source of my agitated excitement.
Eventually we did work the plank. At its mount we saw the first horror of the evening. The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living and I wondered if this torn soul had anyone to remember him. No man could have done this. I had witnessed murder, but it had been the efficient sort that was impersonal and was made necessary by the actions of the eventually deceased. This was something else entirely. There was nothing clean about this. There were no wounds that could be said; that is why he died. Instead the man’s death was the totality of his being which had been turned inside out. Bones and flesh had been broken and ripped. The man’s flesh had been gnawed. It was this that I had smelled and the gruesome aromas of mutilated flesh had made me dizzy. I am sure that Robert took these effects as a negative reaction to such a sight. It was one of those rare instances that Robert so totally missed his mark. I was enamored; not horrified.
Their professionalism continued. Robert and I headed forward while William inspected the aft of the ship. That is what the sailors call it; fore and aft.
There were no other signs of violence. There were no other signs in truth. It was a dead ship. By its berthing alone did this ship not traffic in the dead. William conveyed us back to the captain’s quarters that were situated below the vessel’s upper decks. The doors were fashioned of wood and stained glass. The sounds that we heard were of movement but not of life. They were not of any life that I could have imagined. Even then it reminded me of hogs at a trough of slop. Wet and slick it sounded of sliding meat; slick with the viscous fluids of the mangled. William had a lantern and it was beacon that burned above us; announcing to the horrors of this evening that we were of the living. I don’t remember who opened the door. I remember that they were well oiled and did not creak. They swung wide. They let in the light of William’s lantern and let out a smell that churned the stomach; rolling the evening’s meal into a lead weight that crawls from the gullet.
It took the three of us a moment to comprehend what was occurring. We saw the head of a man; much like the aforementioned hog at the trough, with his face buried in the ruined remains of an unknowable number of corpses. There was blood everywhere. The walls were splattered with such an amount that boards were slick with the stuff. The floor was a sea of entrails, ripped muscle and scattered and bloody bones. It was as if Hell had clawed its way up and erupted in a foul and gruesome menagerie of horrors. I had reveled in the coppery smells of blood and murder; but this was different. Death is a natural thing and murder expected in our society, but this was something else. It was bereft of reason. In this blood soaked cacophony there was but one motivation; simple in its being; food.
Where we believed to be but one horror there were three. At the edges of my perception where the contained madness that was mine converged with the insanity of the ship’s cabin I saw that these monsters wore the uniformed garb of the Watch.
Fear is the pain that arises from the anticipation of evil.
It was William that awoke us from our mesmerized horror. With an expletive he tossed the lantern into the cabin where it awoke an oil filled blaze. They screamed and it was no sound that could possibly emit from a human throat. It was inhuman and monstrous stirring in us some primal need to flee.
It was Brannigan’s arrival that brought sense to it. The foppish wizard and his feline companion arrived we disembarked from the dead ship. After a brief accounting of what had been encountered the wizard went aboard.
Curiosity is an odd thing. It leads to magnificient things but often robs men of their senses. That is the only explanation of what occurred next for we went back. The pressure of Brannigan’s crafting had begun. If you have never experienced this before it begins as a pulling just behind the navel and spreads up your spine to push against the backs of your eyes; eventually enveloping the totality of your being. There is a relationship that exists between the amount and type of pressure with craft that is being released.
Brannigan became encompassed in a shell of light. It blazed, pushing back the horrors that had erupted from the captain’s cabin. They burned in that light; boiling and popping like bacon but smelling of burned flesh. It is a smell that even today I abhor, though the coppery odor of blood still fills my senses with the same homicidal pleasures of my youth.
Even as they boiled in their own juices I heard a splash. One had abandoned ship and sought refuge in the wet and shifting sea. I worked my way to the far side of the deck. Even today I am not sure that Robert and William looked away from the bloody mess that burned in Brannigan’s light to notice my departure. I looked over the balustrade. The white froth of a splash remained but other than that there was no sign of the beast that had escaped into the treacherous bay.
Something scraped against my back, ripping my shirt and scoring the leather armor I wore beneath my clothing. Instinct and training welled up as I twisted and turned in the lethal arc that is my conviction. Oddly the horror that stood behind me did not inspire the fear that would have been expected. Instead it was Tomago’s soft voice that bloomed in my brain. It was not murder or blood; it was the need to breath. The man was forever telling me to breath.
I escaped without injury and Brannigan turned his burning light and it evaporated in a hissing mixture of boiling flesh and the inhuman scream.
The shell of light began to build. The pressure increased and our trio of frightened souls chose the wisdom of flight. That night Brannigan burned the ship to the water line. We told him of the horror that had jumped ship and a brief search of the docks ensued, but no sign of the monster was found.
The next night we would search and we would be better prepared.
I cannot count the number that I have murdered and worse the number that I cleverly convinced to murder themselves. There have been those that I have wished ill and sought their destruction whether directly or indirectly. None have I wished this fate; or even to bear witness to it.
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