A pirate sputters and gasps back to wakefulness aboard—no, not aboard the Bitch. This slick, yielding surface beneath her doesn't feel like the deck of any ship in her memory. And there is something as her mind clears, a presence, Aftereffects of nearly drowning? None of the crew who have been retrieved from the waves ever spoke of such.

A presence indeed! Like looking at yourself in the mirror, and suddenly seeing two people looking back...like having a conversation with yourself, in the privacy of your thoughts, and suddenly realizing that the voice which is answering you is a voice other than your own. Like struggling up from unconsciousness, and feeling yourself breathing, and suddenly realizing that you're not the one doing it—that something else is operating your throat and lungs for you. And in the instant in which you begin to experience the awesome strangeness of that sensation—it ends, and you're breathing wholly on your own again.

But not alone. It is the strangest feeling, and one for which you cannot find words—but you're oddly certain that you are not the only one looking. There's something—someone?—something—else here now, too, sharing your mind with you, and you can feel it nudging its way into your memories. Quiet and gentle as a mouse in a library, it is—but it's there, and its mere presence is alien enough to distract you for long moments from your surroundings.

As that passes, you find yourself lying not on the boards of the Bitch's weather deck, but rather on—on the skin of the deep thing you've come down here to save? It must be; it's the same dark, gleaming surface, rugose but—as you now have cause to ruefully appreciate—rather slick nonetheless. But you're not sliding off it this time; you're next to it, the great hump of its body, and on it, both at the same time. You're sitting in a gently curved divot, in a part of the thing which it did not have before. And the implications of that you find...well, likewise hard to put words around. But your body has no such difficulty, and in scant moments it is not only the salt sea, and the dark ichor, and the strange slime of the thing, which add dampness to your fur—not in one region, at any rate. And the scent of your own musk is suddenly strong in your nostrils.

After a moment, though, you banish the fantasies which instantly, irrepressibly, arose when you realized the protean nature of the creature on which you're lying. Though not without a touch of curiosity, as to what it might make of them—for you can still feel it there, in your mind, quietly observing. Quietly observing...and weak nigh unto death, which helps you concentrate your own mind on the purpose for which you came.

It's easy enough to sit up, and then to get to your knees, but standing atop this creature's skin is going to be a problem; you've got your sea legs well enough, but the Bitch's deck isn't near so slippery as this, and a lot flatter besides. But that can wait a moment, because the lines are a mess, both still trailing from the Bitch's quarterdeck rail, but tangled from the fall and slick with the creature's slime—though this does make it easier to wiggle loose from what's left of the bosun's chair. It's the work of a good few moments to sort them out and get the heavy line fixed back around your waist—and now you've got to figure out how to get from here, where you are, to there, a good thirty feet away, where the creature's dark ichor still oozes from its wound, and the harpoon awaits your line.

To figure out—but, you suddenly realize, perhaps you don't need to stand. A quick tug on the half-inch line tells you it's tied off now, not running free. If you can get a little way up it and set it to swinging, and thereby cross the distance, and catch the harpoon's haft as you drop off, then maybe you'll end up where you need to be, instead of getting another dousing. It's a terrible idea, but every time you try to plant a foot and rise, it goes right out from under you, and—

—and then a foot suddenly doesn't, because suddenly there is something wrapped around it, holding it in place. Something vaguely tubular, dark and gleaming, rugose but rather slippery nonetheless—something that's slithered up from the creature's skin to wrap firmly around your ankle, not at all painfully tight but with a very—unyielding—feel to it, where it holds your sole pressed firmly against the creature's skin. You could stand, this way, if you so chose—if it chose to let you. And on that point—it's odd, the sense of an alien presence in your mind seems to have receded somewhat as you came to your knees, and more so still with every attempt to stand—but it's still there, and you don't get the sense that it intends to restrain you.

Quite the contrary—there is a thought in your head, now, unsought but not unwelcome, and it says that it does not understand how or why you are so tiny and so organized around all of those strange bright hard things that do not move freely but only hang and swing from one another, and it does not understand why you seem to choose this over merely moving—but if this is indeed how you choose to challenge yourself, and thus must be helped to move, then helped indeed you shall be. And so it has steadied one of your dangling things, that you may swing the other, and have it steadied in its turn, and so on until you reach the place where you intend to be.

What a very strange thought to have suddenly arrive in one's mind, wholly formed! But that is hardly the strangest thought in your mind right now, because at the sight and thought and feel of that tentacle wending its way up over your instep and around your ankle—at the little squishy sound of it moving against your fur, barely even perceptible over the susurrus of the sea, perhaps only imagined—why, the fantasies of a moment before have come rushing back, this time with force that will not be denied.

Even as you carefully shift your weight and stand, all you can see or feel or think about is...well. The same sorts of things you saw and felt and thought about when you were a woods scout—that led you to become a woods scout. Only so, so much more so. For there is so much of this deep thing, and it has such a power to it—even near death as it is, you can feel the vastness of its mind—the way in which, even now, it could if it so chose crush you so utterly and so instantaneously that it would be almost as if you were never there at all. Could—and chooses not to. And even near death as it is, its physical power is likewise, in that realm.

That was never something with which you had much opportunity to be acquainted, in your woods scout days. Of creatures not wholly dissimilar to this, you found plenty, plant and animal alike. But those were only beasts with urges, and deeply pleasurable as you found those urges to satisfy—urges not entirely unlike your own, after all!—those creatures lacked much by way of gentility, and often needed to be restrained in order that you might satisfy them—and, in so doing, yourself—without undue risk.

But this—this astonishing great beast of the deeps, this giant thing—so much more vast than any of the little monsters with which you've made sport before, and so much more gentle! Even in an extremity of agony. What, you cannot help but wonder, will it be when wholly itself again? Wonder—and more than that, much more. With every shaky step, every tentacle steadying a foot and then releasing it—all you can see in your mind's eye is the imagined sight of yourself, looking down the length of your long body, transfixed in the grip of alien pseudopods, fur slick with slime and your skin singing with its touch as another tentacle—a great thick tentacle, this one, its surface decorated with writhing tendrils and knobby protrusions and tiny toothed and sucking mouths—slithers its way up around your calf and rises between your wide-held thighs, between and between, and inside, in an intimacy beyond anything even you could ever have imagined, your belly rising with the great cool heft of it as its gentle unyielding force drives you open before it, and—

—and suddenly there are tentacles around your calves and thighs. Both of them—because if there had not suddenly been, you'd have tumbled to your knees with the force of an unexpected paroxysm that sends brilliant delicious fire through every tiniest part of your frame. And gasping for breath, tasting your musk strong in the air with every inhalation, hair fallen over your face as you struggle for composure, you can't help but wonder—if this is how you respond to the great deep thing, when it has barely even touched you, how then will it be when the thing is properly itself again? How much more—but no. If you start down that road now, you'll be so long coming back that the thing may actually die before you return. And surely Lu must be worrying about you? Especially after what she's just seen of you, if she's looking—and what that acute fox nose of hers might well by now smell of you.

And all the while, that tiny presence in your mind—studying the library of your life in your memories, acquainting itself with all your senses and the feel of being embodied as you are, quietly observing, thinking, listening, looking...