The Life and Times of Bartemius (etc) Moor, Part III

Now that I have mentioned it, I wonder if I really ought to bring up the undersea shrine. Do I dare recount the events of my journey to that accursed place? My time is running out. To squander this miraculous oasis of sanity, this final moment of relief before I meet my end, would be unthinkable. And perhaps you do not need to know precisely how I lost my mind.

Yet if I lay down my pen here, or skip over this part of the tale, you will not understand. You will have read how my parents were eaten by a dragon turtle, how my youth was stolen in forced servitude to the terrible undersea abominations known as aboleth. And you will say to yourself that loss and slavery do not explain the crimes I committed. Well, you are right. My madness was not caused by those calamities. And I think my writing will be for nothing if I do not, at last, reveal the terrible truth.

I was determined to enter that tomb. Only its vaguest outline could be discerned through the water, for it was a distance away from the algae-lit aboleth city. When I spent several minutes in discerning details, I could see some sort of dome, with four spiraling towers standing warningly at its four corners. I don’t think I would have noticed or bothered with it at all, had not the aboleth masters been so insistent that we slaves keep away. This denial of information was the spice, the scent that drew my gaze inexorably towards it.

As I mentioned, I was free of the psychic control the aboleth used to suppress dissent amongst their slaves. But I was still dependent on the disgusting secretions of their fish-like forms to be able to breathe underwater. Without that, I could neither retain enough oxygen to return to the surface, nor venture out along the ocean floor. So for many years, perhaps 5, perhaps 50, I looked longingly at that secret place, and waited for my chance. I prayed for the opportunity to go to the shrine, to learn what secret the aboleth were so scared of. That they had a reason to be afraid occurred to me, but a gnome with nothing to lose has no fear of death or damnation.

One fine night, my fellow slaves and I were set to the task of mining for the slimy, underwater stone out of which aboleth structures are built. The stone was heavy, and we were attempting to chisel manageable chunks of it away from an underwater mountain, while our aboleth taskmaster observed from down the slope. It took many of us to even damage the stone, hard as it was. Therefore I cannot claim credit for what happened next. We struck the rock in just the wrong place, and the top of the mountain began to crumble. Even as the aboleth’s three eyes went wide, a rock fell down, floating comically slowly through the water, and hit it on the head. Water might slow a fall, but it does not lighten sea stone, and the aboleth was killed instantly. I swam out of the way, but my fellow slaves, stupid with the aboleth’s mental control, just stood there and were buried.

I don’t recall any panic. I don’t recall any question. I was now free of supervision by masters and by slaves, and I had the body of an aboleth. Obscene in death, as in life, it was full of the mucus-like substance I needed to breathe. No notion now occurred to me but to venture to that shrine, the one I had been obsessing over, and to plumb every secret of its depths. If I died in the attempt, if the live-giving mucus ran out, so be it. I grabbed my macabre life support and some of the glowing algae, and began to swim.

I remember the crushing weight of silence as I approached the deathly shrine. The spiraling towers I had seen from a distance resolved themselves. They were not evenly spaced around the dome, but rather placed irregularly, as if a drunkard had attempted to hit four corners of the building plans with ruined, curved darts. The towers were topped with strange apparatuses in the form of hemispherical cups, each placed upside down at an angle. I would have guessed they were meant for spilling water, were the structure not located at the bottom of the dark sea. These occult signs above were not quite so disturbing as what laid beneath. The structure was ringed with columns of a hideously ancient style. They were not grooved like the glorious testaments left by the finery of the Gideon Empire, but were built with capitols and plinths of criss-crossing patterns and strange, spherical protrusions along the shaft. These protrusions were present also, and on a much grosser scale, in the tympanum above. These seemed to be to be eyes watching me as I swam nearer. They might, I thought, have been decorative, insofar as any sentient being could consider such gruesome imagery decoration. Or perhaps they were true eyes, magical devices allowing the keepers of the shrine to view any visitors from far away as they approached.

With a mixture of revulsion and eagerness I approached further, dragging the fishy corpse with me as I examined the walls of the shrine. They may have been on the floors too, but these were long ago covered with rocks and algae. The scratchings in the stone depicted depraved scenes of violence and destruction. Something which could have been fire or water was consuming creatures which looked uncannily humanoid, along with their crumbing buildings. Beneath both waves and dying humanoids was drawn a glyph which I soon found was repeated both on the outside and inside of the aged shrine. I need not describe it in full, but its disgusting shape, eye-stalks, and offensively contorted body made clear that this was some kind of creature. And above the scenes of carnage, in every instance, riding the waves (or fire), were ships.

These were great ships, mockingly drawn larger than the houses being annihilated beneath them. Humanoids, etched upon the ships, cavorted and danced to the destruction of the people below. They were shown flying a flag above their masts, but what details the flags had had been washed away long ago. One thing was clear to me, though, made obvious by the hideousness of the scene: These were pirates. Pirates, riding the waves above a scene of pure terror as some kind of… thing destroyed life on the surface below.

So fascinated had I been with these stomach-turning scenes that I had not noticed myself follow the images into the temple. Nor had I been able to tear my gaze away from the ungodly tale being woven in all the walls around me. So enraptured by this story of evil was I that I had not yet even looked at the center of the shrine. At last, I turned my head to look, to see what was being kept in this place. As my eyes fell upon it, I experienced the last truly sane thought of my life. This was none other than the the still-writhing form of the creature recorded on the wall!

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