—no. The confused image resolves itself suddenly, assumption yielding to fact, and you see what's truly before you: your mad girl caught up in the limbs with which the creature must have caught her, strong thick gleaming dark and sinuous around her wrists and ankles, snaking up her calves and forearms, winding over her biceps and thighs and shoulders and midriff—Emeline cradled half spread-eagle in the alien grasp of the deep thing lifting her high away from the water, away above the rail, and just—just holding her there, as if in impossible offering to some unknown god of monsters, while her head lolls to one side against the wrinkled slimy skin of its limb-tip and her fingers stroke that of it which they can reach, as if caressing a lover.

And then she raises her head and her eyes are open, open and fixed on yours and you can see her there. Her, and no fear; whatever this thing has become to her, whatever its grip is doing to her, she is not frightened of it, but there is something in her eyes—something like the complement of the horror you saw there earlier, when you told her what you know creatures like these to be good for.

Perhaps, even in such brief acquaintance, she knows them to be good for more. And then your nose tells you something you could've seen already, in the way her body is moving—tells you what the creature's grip is doing to her. Doing for her, even beyond what you've already seen from your cabin window earlier. Far beyond, from the scent of her. Not only a taste for the strange, then—a need for it, and no wonder she couldn't help but act as she did, before! A great vast beast like this, for one such as her? She'd rise from the dead to have it!

And perhaps it's risen from the depths again to have her, as well—though it seemed fleeing before, it is anything but now! Though it seems the very precipice of madness for a moment—has it indeed come back for her? It has her now—the thought of the harpoon flashes through your mind for an instant, but no; you've no ballista aboard to launch it, and anyway if the deep thing meant her dead, it could have torn her limb from limb in less than a heartbeat, and it is not even moving.

Or is it? Something stirring just at the height of the rail. Too dark to make out, but there is a glint as of moonlight off dark slick-slimed skin, shifting and writhing as if its very shape were unsettled, as if unsure of its proper form. Something—no. Some things. And just beginning to rise above the rail, you begin to see—

—oh no. No. The poor girl—"Lu! Quen!" Loud enough to wake the dead. "Get that damned gaff over here now I'll drive it into the thing with my own two hands if I have to—" and you can feel the shock from the two women turning to see behind you as if a fire at your back but Emi is still looking at you and—no it has to be the creature but those limbs aren't the ones moving now and yet still she's shaking her head and—and smiling? But she can't know what it is going to—

"Captain." Emeline. Nothing of fear in her voice but a low rich tone you've never heard from her before but you have heard its like. Heard it time and time again, in your cabin, in the night—but surely she can't—

"I can."


"We understand each other now, Captain. It was almost dead, before. It's better now. I can hear it better now. It hears me properly, too. And—" She shivers, suddenly, hairs rising all along her long limbs against the ichor and slime still stuck in her fur, and that low rich tone is stronger still, her voice down half a register and full of a need the like of which you've never heard before. "—and it's not going to hurt me..."

Slam of hatches fore and aft, thunder of feet on ladders as mates wakened by your shout leap onto the deck ready for action and then just—stop—one and another and all struck silent in shock at the sight before them off the port beam and Emeline there, transfixed by limbs strong thick gleaming dark and sinuous cradling her own as more and far stranger ones rise beneath her—rise to meet her—and the girl in the center of it all, high above and radiant with joy still smiling down on you, on Quen and Lu, on the crew now gathering in knots and straggling lines along the weather deck and all just watching, wondering beyond awe at the impossibility no mind here can doubt it sees before it, waiting to see what still greater strangeness must follow.

And then—