The Three Sisters and their cult would have been forgotten. But the youngest and the most beautiful of the three, she was tenacious. She was able to put her head back on her body.
The witch, Mera, searched long for the sorcerer who betrayed her and her sisters, and she found him in his spiral tower, cowering.
Mera knocked the chalice of wine over and hissed. The redness spilled over the sorcerer's table; his scrolls soaked up the crimson liquid.
"I would never deceive you!" he screamed, jumping up from his chair and removing his dripping papers.
"I know the betrayal you spoke to the Captain of the Watch the night we were raided!" Mera retorted. "But I have not sought you for vengeance only. I have a taste for your secrets!" She spoke the ancient tongue, sibilant and cruel, with academic precision. The sorcerer tried to respond, but fear choked him.
Mera balled her small hands into white fists. Biting her lower lip, closing her eyes, she turned her back to the sorcerer.
She could feel her blood thrumming in her temples. She breathed deeply and tried to control the rage. Using the calm voice of her mind, she recited a mantra. For a brief moment, the sorcerer, his foulness, his self-absorption, his idiocy, his betrayal, diminished and became the soft pattering of hanging silk in the breeze.
"This is one of three copies known to exist of the philosophical dialogs of Exu the Mad!" the sorcerer mewed.
Mera ground her teeth. She felt her nails dig into palms. And then--she grabbed a tight handful of her long, black hair.
Of course! Of course she couldn't trust this cloak-and-dagger sorcerer! She could hear Alesh the Old scolding her in her mind, "The only reason this imp will spill his guts is to avoid pain. He is human, sister. Give him pain."
Smiling, Mera unsheathed her glimmering, razor-sharp sword--nearly as long as she was tall--and turned to face him. Polished to a mirror sheen, Mera saw her features spread thin and distorted along the curve of the long blade.
"Please, no!" the sorcerer begged. He gesticulated with his fingers, made a fist, and then waved one of his taloned hands in an arc.
Mera's blade shot away from her, clattered amid a pile of yellowed scrolls. The sorcerer bit his nails.
"You dare use sorcery against me!" Mera screamed.
"I'm so sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to--"
Shouting a thousand-year-old insult in a language never uttered on that world, Mera charged the sorcerer. Before she realized what she was doing, she was straddling him and her small hands gripped his neck. She was squeezing, spittle hanging slimily from her thick lower lip, her chest heaving. She was gazing into the reptile eyes of this backstabbing sorcerer, eyes that were bulging and becoming red.
And then she heard her other sister in her mind, Sasha the Scarred: "You cannot kill him, idiot! If you are to help us you must find the ink of Cax, Lord of Slime. You soon make that impossible, fool!"
Noticing the sorcerer's lips were becoming blue, Mera let go, tears of rage pooling.
The sorcerer fell to the ground, gasping, hacking, heaving.
Mera walked casually to her sword. She used her bare foot to lift it and then gripped it, admired the length of it. After shoving off a pile of books, she sat on the sorcerer's throne, laid her blade across her lap.
She folded her legs and let one bare, beautiful foot dangle in front.
"Inmor'leh..." she said, rolling the word with her tongue. She spoke the secret name boldly and without fear.
"That city," the sorcerer gasped, "forbidden..." He was trying to rise to his feet.
Mera closed her eyes. She took a deep breath of power, felt it burn in her powerful lungs. Her full, cracked lips parted as she whispered the words. She felt the phantom weight of the sorcerer's head in the hand of her spell. It felt like a soft grape. And so she squeezed, ever so slightly.
The sorcerer screamed.
"No! No! Please!" he moaned. She squeezed harder, and his eyes, blood shot, bulged grotesquely from their sockets. He thickened tongue issued from his mouth.
"Inmore'leh!" she shouted. She made a quick fist and shattered a clay urn of organs nearby. The black slime within spattered the sorcerer's face. "Where is Cax, Lord of Slime? Where does he sleep? Reveal the secret!"
The sorcerer was on his knees, grimacing with fear and whimpering.
Mera fondled the tiny cylinder of dried batwing as she wandered the crooked and trash-strewn streets of Re. The sorcerer had given it to her. It contained the thin papyrus map that would lead to Inmor'leh. Mera hoped to charter a boat that could take her to that dead city where Cax, Lord of Slime, slumbered, that godlet who had gorged himself on a whole race of humans so long ago.
She dared not reveal to any captain she hired her secret destination, for the tale of Cax shriveled the courage of all who unfurled sails or rowed oars to the beat of drums. Finding a captain and crew who would wander with her into the unknown and dark past would be near impossible. She had spent days in wine sinks and pirate dens, where the smoke and foul body odor burned the eyes and nostrils and had debated and talked roughly with many spiral tongues to find her captain.
All rumor suggested one man, hard to find in Re for he was wanted for several murders, thefts, and unjust liberations of slaves. He was Egil the Crooked, and his flag was the Black Spiral.
Mera had to be careful as she searched for Egil. She was infamous in that city. The Priesthood of Atok-the-Million-Eyed believed her dead, beheaded in the swamps along with her sisters and their followers. Mera still bore the cruel scar of their punishment, a shiny welt running the circumference of her beautiful, slender neck. Her sisters were not as prepared for the stroke of the blade.
As Mera went about the city of Re, she cowled herself in cloaks of black and whispered in the dock district to this or that man and transferred coin from sweaty palm to sweaty palm: "Egil," "Black Spiral," "Inmor'leh."
Her cloaks, scars, hoarse voice, and razorish beauty drew the attention of some sailors. It took many days to find her man, but find him she did, dreaming in other worlds in a lotus den dug beneath the tombs of Morgot the Black. It was only a matter of baring a pale wrist, an ankle, the curve of a thigh, and whispering an enchantment:
"You need a boat?" slurred Egil. His eyes were heavily lidded with the drug and the enchantment had stirred him. He ground his teeth.
He wore dirty finery, probably stolen, and a large cap with three peacock feathers. He slid his greasy, sinewy arm, tattooed with writhing serpents in spirals, biting their tails, over her shoulder. Resisting the urge to de-hand him, Mera smiled coquettishly and stuck out her tongue. She tucked her chin into the darkness of her cloaks and spoke hoarsely: "Yes. Yes, Egil of Black Spiral. I do need a boat. Quite in need of a boat."
"Well, I have a boat," he said, inhaling the drug and hoisting up his belt. A curving saber with black blade, inlaid with jewels, rattled there. "A real seaworthy ship, I have."
"Is this so?" She licked her chapped lips.
"Indeed," he said, quaffing his chalice of red wine.
Mera delicately caressed the hair of Egil's chest. He sighed. And then she whispered, "Inmor'leh."
"Inmor'leh?" Egil asked, his eyes opening and widening. She could feel his flesh prickle with goose skin.
"You are my captain, yes?" she asked. The pupils of her eyes seemed to expand. The black irises dilated. She gazed at Egil with two black and shiny orbs as smoldering coals.
Egil felt his breath leave him. Perceiving her beauty, tears pooled in his eyes and trickled into his beard.
"I would do anything for you. I would even sail to that demon-haunted city of legend," he said, stretching out his arms and reaching for her.
A foot was placed on his chest: "Do not touch me until I say you can," said Mera. She smiled.
For a moment, rage flickered in Egil's eyes.
He stood, threw a quilted blanket over his nakedness.
"We must leave soon," he said, pulling pantaloons on. "There will be clear skies tomorrow. I saw so in the clouds at sunrise."
"Excellent," said Mera, rising. She threw back the black sheets, heaved a deep breath, and drank from a wine bottle. Some spilled out, rolled down the curves of her breasts and upper abdomen. "I toast your men, Egil."
The captain stood and faced her. He placed his hands--briny hands, hands callused from tying knots, hands that had, of late, cupped her breasts--on her cheeks. "I would die for you. I would do anything for you."
Mera bit his hand and he shrieked. His hand was bleeding.
"Do not touch me again without permission," she said.
Egil sucked his wound, steeped it in the water basin. He tried to curse, but the words would not come as he gazed on her.
"I know the way to Inmore'leh. I killed a sorcerer for the secret. But I need a boat. I can't fly the entire way."
The way she delivered these final words disturbed him.
He watched her drink more wine from the bottle. She smiled revealing sharp teeth. "You're my only hope, Egil," she said, tossing the wine bottle to the floor, rising to all fours. She crawled toward him.
The following day they left the Citadel of Re at the break of dawn.
On this morning the wind was dead. The priests declared it an ill-omen and announced that they would not bless any launch. Because of this, every sailor in Re lay abed that morning, for they were a superstitious. The sailors who manned Egil's ship grumbled, but Mera cared little for the blessings of priests. At her word, his men dipped oars into the blood-red sea of Fir, sung sonorous dirges to the Demon of the Sea.
East they went, against the trade currents, to the rhythm of a sad drum, and the bloated hill of smoking slums and tilting towers that was Re receded behind the swelling of murky water.
Mera stood on the bow, pulling her billowing cloaks about her body, leaning against her silver sword--a thin, long, deadly and graceful weapon. Her bare foot: it rested rudely on the crowned head of a goddess, whose wooden body, beautifully worked, was fused to the forward bow of the ship.
The cruel mouth seemed to sneer at Mera's rudeness.
For ten days they sailed, and for ten days Mera drank nothing, ate nothing, ignored Egil's advances with cackling laughter, and fixed her unwavering attention on the horizon.
One night, beneath a brilliant sky of numberless stars, Egil's lust brought him to a point physical pain. His hands trembling and teeth chattering, he reached and dared to caress the full length of Mera's silken hair. For this he received a knee to the groin, a shock of pain as a tuft of his hair was ripped from his head. And Mera laughed and cupped his beard and cheeks and delicately kissed his brow furrowed with pain.
On the eleventh day they were attacked by a warship captained by a petty noble, Castek of Ruon, of the city of Thray. Egil recognized his symbol flying on the solitary mast: a bloated toad with a tongue wrapped around a diamond: black on green. Egil knew this Castek, had offended him in the past for liberating slaves against the ancient customs of Thray.
Shearing off a large portion of precious oars, Castek bound his squat, frog-like boat to Egil's with a number of hooks and ropes, and the Black Spirals raised their voices in alarum.
A glorious madness of blood and steel and saltwater ensued.
There was slaughter enough for both sides. The fighting went on and on and smell of blood and sweat intensified. The fleshy sounds of fluids sloshing on the deck, moans of pain, the dull slap of steel slicing supple flesh--this terrible music played on.
That was, until Mera grew weary with it.
Drawing a deep breath of power, she began exploding heads. One. Two. Three. Four headless bodies tumbled to the deck, the material that had been their consciousness oozing down cabin walls, making slippery mast and desk and staining sail and pooled brine.
After that sorcery, the men of Castek surrendered, crying and bowing, placing foreheads to soggy wood and throwing aside weapons.
Egil beheaded Cestek with two brutal strokes of his saber. He replaced the oars that had broken with theirs, and, breaking their mast and burning their sails, left their attackers begging mercy in the middle of the sea, aimless, without propulsion, on fire.
Mera watched the color of their conquest intensify as the sun set and the stars came out.
Having witnessed her sorcery, the Black Spirals kept their distance from Mera afterwards. She walked proudly about the ship, her cloak discarded, naked but for a loincloth and her blade, laughing and hissing at the men who came too close.
She was like a ghost in the moonlight, or spirit in the morning. And she never slept.
Twenty-days later, they came within sight of the forbidden island of Inmor'leh. It was like the jagged, yellow tooth of some gargantuan god begrimed with green. Somewhere, deep inland, were the Inmor. And their sleeping godlet, the Slimelord.
"We won't sail any closer," Egil said. His Black Spirals stood behind him, cowering, bearded and gaunt from rude rations of raddishes, oranges, raisins, and salt-fish.
"I don't need you to sail any closer," she said absently, tying traveling sandals to her feet. She laced them to her knees. "I can see the island now. I can get there without further aid. Does it mean anything that I'm grateful you've brought me this far? That's a kind of courage," she said. She looked at him. The wind stirred her hair and her face was lost in that cloud of writhing blackness.
She stood up, swiftly, with the help of her blade.
"The Black Spirals are no cowards!" shouted the crew. There were some hoarse cheers and Egil raised a fist and they quieted.
"No," said Mera, "they are not. They fought well when we were attacked."
She approached Egil. "Will you forsake me?" Mera asked. She wiped back her hair and gazed into his eyes. Egil felt the weight of her gaze and looked away. "I see," Mera said dreamily to him. "I see your thoughts," she said to herself.
She threw on her cloak, tied it tightly around her form, and threw out her arms. She hoisted the weight of her sword over her shoulder. "I trust you, Black Spirals! I saved your lives. I understand you fear me. That is best. But do not me leave. Listen to Egil. Do not sail until you're sure I'm dead."
Egil swallowed hard.
And she lifted herself from the deck to the sky and began flying toward the island.
Giddiness overtook her as she sailed through the sky toward the island. The waters streaming beneath her made her smile. The sound of the air drumming in her ears muted her scream of elation. And the island surged forth. The shoreline, an indistinct sliver of white sand, thickened and seemed to writhe like a snake. Then she was forced to concentrate, to attend to her speed and trajectory: she landed gracelessly, buffeted against the ground, rolling and smashing with the full weight of her body. A spray of sand went up. She bounced, was shot into a ditch, smashed through thorns and roots and brush.
For a moment she lay there, gasping breaths, tears welling in her eyes.
With the help of her sheathed blade she stood. She could hear her sister, Sasha the Scarred, in her mind. "Trying to master my magic, eh? Thought you would have a little flight from the boat to the shore, eh? You were always arrogant! Father said you would be the death of yourself."
"Silence!" she screamed, dropping her sword and bringing her palms to her eyes.
She took deep breaths and sneered. After surveying her surroundings, dusting herself off, she sat, crossed her legs, made mudras with her fingers, and went inside herself.
When Mera's mind became silent, she opened her eyes. She bounded to her feet. She hoisted her sword over her shoulder, turned, and gazed out to sea where the sun was throwing blood on the choppy undulations of the bay. She could see the trireme of the Black Spirals against the red horizon, tossed by the red waters. Its oars were in and smoke issued from its deck. They would be having dinner now.
Into the jungle she went, hopeful that she approached the city of Inmor'leh.
The jungle was moist and dense and insect-filled, and so she was soaked through with sweat when she came to the first signs that this island hid an ancient city: a footpath cutting through a patch of tall reed issuing bizarre red flowers with engorged stigma and stamens.
Although the canopy was a thick tangle of vines, leaves, and looming trunks, a patch of stars shone through a sliver of clearing.
Light was fleeing. Darkness was falling.
The first Inmor she came upon were two youths at a vine-wrapped ruin of a bathhouse, bathing in slime in the moonlight. They laughed and loved each other and supped on eggs and did not hear her approach. She noted their fish-like eyes glowing in the moonlight, the gill-slits that textured their necks, and her lips parted in wonder.
For a moment she considered killing them, delicately beheading them. She even primed her blade for the task. And then the starlight revealed the brilliance of their scaled skin, and she found she could not do it.
So she left them there, hearing her sister, Alesh the Old, scolding her: "My sister was always sentimental. Leave them there and they may kill you, drag you flayed before Cax. They would praise his name as he devoured you. Why spare them?"
Muttering a curse the ghosts of her sister, Mera continued to follow the footpath and eventually came to a road, well-built and paved of ancient cobbles. She hewed to this road, slinking in the ditch, and this eventually stretched into a slick of swamp, the surface of which was a patina of glowing flies that sang a lolling song beneath three crescents of moons. Through this she waded, making sure to keep her silver blade held aloft. The insects crawled on her and bit her several times, but she merely placed her tongue between her teeth and let her eyes fall back.
All of her pain subsided.
Coming to an open field, she spied the ruin of an aqueduct. Her excitement rising, she sloshed from the muck and began walking in the shadow it cast in the moonlight.
She quickened her pace to a jog. A run. Her legs pumped heavily and she sped forward and she drew burning hisses of breath.
And in this way she came to the city of Inmor'leh.
Black. Lightless. A formation of stone in shadow, a mist rising from the many streets and alleys and grottoes it hid.
"Alesh. Sasha. Not much longer, my sisters," she said to the air.
Mera gripped her sword firmly as she wandered, bloodshot eyes wide, through the beautiful black ruins of Inmor'leh.
All around her were marvels: the buildings were of interlocking black brick without mortar; and their arched portals were so many yawning caverns. Statuary of grim faces hooded holding spheres and pyrmids were everywhere.
The Inmor had been great mathematicians and stargazers, and as pious as they were intelligent. Their inquiries and prayers had brought to the doom of Cax to their city.
Mera passed through a plaza, beneath archways; she walked along ditches and amid the ruins of temples and secret gardens and long porticos and alleys.
The ruins of Inmor'leh were a maze of black brick and vines and the occasional flowers that shocked with the vividness of their color.
And it was eerily silent.
But what else should it be? The city had been abandoned by its folk when they flopped and slithered into to the water.
Mera tried not to recall the story of how Cax, Lord of Slime, had come to Inmor'leh, then a flourishing city-state with far-flung colonies and a fledgling empire that drew rare goods--spices, textiles, slaves--like poison from the wound of the world. She tried not to recall this story but did anyway.
Her wondering mind overlaid colorful imagery of a vibrant past onto the moon-soaked ruins: merchants bantering in a market-place of stalls with blood red hangings; proud-breasted guards in polished breast-plates spitting and cursing and kicking beggars and biting twists of tobacco and laughing cruelly; senators in luxuriant robes of purple, whispering like serpents into the ears of rogues who flashed blades in response to coin placed in their opened satchels. And the true power behind the city: the sorcerers, who built spiral towers and gazed at the stars and mumbled formulae into the deep night and drew secret maps to other worlds.
Mera imagined the harbor crowded with ships, embarking, arriving, being loaded. She smelled delicious meat cooking on coals, and sewage, and unwashed bodies, and even corpses desiccating in the sin and hosting hives of maggots. The sounds of soliciting merchants, moaning beggars, news-criers, the dull thud of flesh on flesh emanating from the brothels and winesoaks. Mera could not take it. She closed her eyes and swiftly fell into the shadows, where she cleared her mind of history and ghosts.
But deep in her meditation she imagined the shade of Cax descending over it all, blotting out the sun like stormclouds; she imagined that strange day, that weird orgy, when the Inmor-- their minds boiled--felt compelled to bathe in the black slime together laughing, spiraling their tongues to articulate a name not meant to issue from a human throat.
Mera opened her eyes. Her teeth chattering, she struck out, down the street to the heart of city.
These images of roiling in her mind she came upon the temple she sought, dwarfing every building in the city, making them seem strange and child-like; making them seem but the encrustations of mindless insects.
She couldn't help but whisper, then, the name of her twin goddesses who sneered at mortal prayers.
The temple appeared as a giant, twisting shell, like that worn by a crab. The spiral of its point scraped the starry sky.
She found the entrance, crossed a swaying, slimy rope bridge that led to a rocky landing that could have once been a harbor. From there she could enter into the large, spiral shell opening. Into the blackness she plunged, sword gripped with both hands, before she could reflect on the insanity of her actions.
The hardness of the ground beneath her gave way to a soft, sponge-like consistency that upset her balance. Additionally, a foul smell of brine and fish and decay assaulted her, making her head swim and eyes water. She cursed when she nearly fell, righted herself with her sword, which, when speared into the ground, slid into it slimily.
She removed it.
She tried to conjure a light to see by, but her fear caused her teeth to chatter and therefore the precise incantation was beyond her.
Somewhere in this darkness was Cax, Lord of Slime, Terrible Slime-God of the Inmor, who descended ravenous from the stars.
She needed a vial of his ink.
She needed to see him, to speak his true name.
"What feet tickle my innards?" spoke a sibilant voice that seemed to echo throughout the vast chamber of the temple. This was followed by a hacking, phlegmatic coughing and spewing as equally loud.
Mera nearly fell to her knees. Dread filled her and her tongue went limp in her mouth.
"Who is it? Do you have a name? The last one who came to me had no name."
"I have a name!" shouted Mera, summoning as much courage as she could. "I do! I do! I have a name!"
There was another bout of coughing and the horrible smells seemed to swell.
"Will you tell it to me?" asked the voice timidly.
"Why?" hissed Mera. "Why do you want my name?"
In her mind she began reciting the incantation that she needed to speak, the spell that she must work here in spite of her fear.
She felt slimy tendrils enwrapping her legs, coiling around her neck, probing the crevices of her body. She moaned and nearly wretched.
She gripped her blade firmly. "Be warned! I wield a blade!" she shouted.
The slimy tendrils snaked away and a shiver of disgust shot through her body.
"Ohhhhh," said the voice. "I am a collector of names."
She began whispering the incantation, hissing it to herself; she could feel the magic churning in her deeper stomach, roiling in the core of her--burning, bubbling, expanding.
"Your blade! Beautiful! My antennae perceive it! Agnira! Urusa! You have been touched by those dark goddesses! Set it aside, my love."
Mera felt a slight tug on her blade, felt oozing tendrils enwrapping her wrists, pulling, writhing, attempting to pry open her hand and release the blade.
"Cax-ax-er-ax-ax-er-coo-op-uet-ex-th-et-Egil-ot-bel-sha-cax-cax-cax-cax!" she shouted, a piping staccato of weird singing that seemed to echo on throughout the darkness of the temple.
There was another coughing and slimy retching sound--angry and animal like--and the tendrils pulled away from her blade.
"My true name! How do you know my true name?" the voice gasped.
"That is irrelevant!" she shouted, her courage flaring. "Give me your ink! I desire your ink!"
Mera popped her blade into the ground, slid it in: once, twice, three times. There was a moan, as if in pain, echoing through the temple.
"The pain!" issued the voice. "I comply! Cup your hand so that my aim can be true!"
Mera did so.
She felt her hand fill with warm, thick liquid. Laughing giddily, she transferred what she could to a glass vial and stoppered it with cork. This she stowed away jealously. She began backing out of the temple, moved toward the light of stars she could see behind her.
"What city do you hail from, Champion?" the voice asked, dripping with rage.
"I will not speak its name!" spat Mera, who had almost backed away and nearly reached the portal.
She could feel her binding over the godlet loosening.
She felt the ground, the pulsating ground, beneath her; she glimpsed wavy tentacles in the moonlight of the portal.
Her escape must come soon.
The opening puckered like a sphincter.
Mera found herself desperately diving for the entrance and stuck in a kind of orifice, crawling out, flailing her hands. She felt tentacles enwrapping her legs, pulling her back in. She kicked and screamed and dragged herself free.
She plopped onto the landing, besmeared with slime, and bounded to her feet, which were now bare for her sandals had been tugged off. Turning, she slashed open two vindictive wounds on the fleshy wall behind her. She turned to run across the bridge once more, leaving the temple.
Returning to Inmor'leh, she was met by the Inmor, who had gathered, it seemed, to greet her. In the moonlight they stood, staring at her. Though their faces were expressionless, their eyes--the large, lidless eyes of fish--bespoke the rage of a folk whose god and temple had been violated.
"Stand aside!" she spat, gripping her blade, untying her cloak and letting it drop to the ground. She threw back her hair and hissed. She raised her blade in one hand and made a mudra with the other.
And the throng of fish-folk began plodding toward her, their webbed and clawed hands outstretched.
Egil stood at the prow of his boat, gazing at the island bathed in moonlight, his brows furrowed in worry. A southerly wind was picking up and the Black Spirals were busy preparing the sails.
"We need to lift anchor, my captain, if we are to catch these winds. This is propitious, it is," one sailor said.
Egil ignored the voice, gripped the edge of his trireme. In truth, he could not explain why he didn't leave, why he waited.
"We must depart. The witch is dead! Did you not hear those unnatural sounds on the wind?" another sailor shouted.
"Silence!" hissed Egil, turning. It was one of his veteran sailors, a mutinous lout who had been a slave for killing a monk while robbing a shrine, a typical Black Spiral.
"We have wind," he said, gathering his courage. "Many of the men think it's time for us to leave."
Egil sensed a tinge of insubordination in his voice. He grabbed the man by his tunic, lifted him from his feet, and threw him to the deck. "When we leave is none of your concern," Egil shouted. "It's none of anyone's concern but the captain's!" he crowed, spinning so that all of his men heard him. "Ready the sails, you cowards! But know this! We won't raise anchor 'til I say so."
Many hours later Egil had slit two throats, mutineers who had threatened him. Their bodies, he had hoisted them overboard himself. The wind had died and the sun was coming out, and the black was now a creeping grayness.
Egil knew the men were plotting mutiny now; he saw them crowding together, whispering, their heads nearly touching, their hands wringing.
He looked at the island one last time. In a flash, he knew what he had to do, hopeless though it would be. He put his foot on the rail, removed his shirt, and began to prepare to dive into the water to swim to the island--
There was a loud splash; a spear of water shot into the air. Something had fallen into the water out of the sky.
"Something from the island is attacking us, my captain!" yodeled one of his men.
"Starboard," shouted Egil, who pointed to the water near the prow at a pale body, floating, arms wide, and the undulating surface of the water. "Ho!" Two men dove into the water; Egil followed them.
For two days Mera lay unconscious in Egil's cabin, shivering, muttering fever dreams into the empty air, repeating the names of her sisters: "Sasha, Alesh, Sasha, Alesh."
On the third day she awoke, drank a full jug of water. Her first words were, "Where is my blade?"
"It has been safely stowed in my cabin," said Egil, laying a cloth-enwrapped parcel beside her on her cot. "One of my men touched it and it burnt his hand like red hot iron," he said. She tore it open, gloried in the brilliant sheen of her blade. She couldn't help but giggle. "The damned thing was stuck in the side of my ship," Egil said.
She ignored him, caressed the blade, gazed at her distorted reflection therein: pale face, dark lips, dark eyes, an insane mop of hair.
They were unmolested on their journey back to the Citadel of Re. Mera's strength returned to her quickly. She spoke little. When, in the night, she slunk to Egil's cabin and made love to him she left afterword, naked, silent as a shadow.
When they arrived to the Citadel of Re their parting was brief.
"Thank you for waiting," Mera said. "Your payment and my regards to the Black Spiral." She laid in his palm a black pyramid polished to a mirror sheen.
Egil was too entranced by it to notice her slipping into the throng of the port district. That was the last time Egil saw her, and the gift of the pyramid has a story of its own for another time.
Mera, however, had a task to perform, and she flew to it. To her sisters' former sanctum she went, a haunted place, desecrated, where angry spirits still lingered and evidence of a massacre was all about: rats, partially decomposed bodies, rusting blades, the occasional echo of lingering death curses.
The work of brewing the potion she needed entailed nearly a month of precise labor: boiling, distilling, fermenting. Praying, sacrificing, straining. In this time she barely ate, barely slept. When she finished the potion--unstoppered the vial of Slimelord Cax's ink and poured it into the cauldron--she fainted, tumbled to the ground, tears rolling from her eyes. When she awoke a pleasant aroma filled the room.
The potion was done. It was the color of blood and thick, a kind of lumpy pudding.
She ladled a bowl full and drank it down. She nearly retched at the taste of it, which suggested the iron of blood and urea. She ladled herself another bowl and drank it down. Another bowl was poured. She drank it down. She drank even more bowls, until she could feel the thick liquid sloshing in her distended belly.
She was sweating and was on all fours when she supped the last of it, licked the bowl with a tongue stained red.
She fell asleep.
She awoke to a gut-wrenching pain in her stomach. Her stomach had become hardened and swollen, like the belly of a woman ready to give birth. She stood, her head swimming, and felt a deep pain in the core of her.
"Sisters," she sighed, leaning forward, placing her hands on her knees. She began to retch, to hack, to couch. It felt like she was trying to force the world through her mouth and perhaps she was.
Eventually, her throat filled with slime, and shooting out of her mouth was a large, veiny, wet sack of flesh. She had barely enough time to register this before another similar sack shot out of her mouth. This was followed by a hot spraying of slime and blood.
She fell to the ground, the scars circling her neck burning.
Her vision blurring, she watched as tiny, wrinkled hands pierced the flesh-sacks from within. Out of them crawled two, infant-like creatures, vaguely humanoid with flesh the color of blood. They gazed at Mera, grinned.
"Sister," one whispered.
"Sister!" said the other. "We live! We live!"
Mera grinned. And darkness took her.
©April, 2016 Jason Ray Carney
Jason Ray Carney is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Christopher Newport University. His creative work has appeared in Beecher's, The Blue Lake Review, Make: A Literary Journal, District Lit, and elsewhere. His scholarship has appeared in The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror, The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies, and Lovecraftian Proceedings.