The ocean floor, having been the subject of a great deal of my childhood fantasies, did not at first strike me as an unusual setting in which to find myself. I naturally assumed I was in the middle of some pleasant dream I would soon wake from. As time progressed, however, both the sharpness of my consciousness and solidarity of my surroundings became increasingly apparent. I was, evidently, standing on or perhaps gently floating above the sandy ocean bottom.
I did not want for air, nor was my vision impeded very much within a certain radius. I was being conveyed, perhaps by a current, through a forest of columnous, craggy towers of blue rock. I craned to see the extent of their height, but they rose into the blackness and out of sight. I heard nothing save the swish of the salt water in my ears as I turned my head, and noted the absence of any form of sea life, fish or otherwise.
Though I was not oppressed by the ocean’s weight that one might expect at a depth so great a one as I was surely at, the great expanse made me feel horribly alone. I am a potter by trade, with no apprentice or family, and I am accustomed to being at work without human contact for several days at a time. But even I, and I would imagine many who lead far more solitary lives than I, take comfort in knowing that I have neighbors, however distant they may be. Living a mile outside of a small town gives one a comfort that one lacks if he lives in the wilderness. Here my only sense of surrounding came from the rocks, and I took as much relief from their presence as rocks are able to provide.
I floated on, never seeming to change direction, and my path never impeded by any obstacle. I could not think of how I had come to be in this situation, nor why I was not at that moment drowning. No bubbles issued from my mouth and nose when I attempted to exhale, and I found I breathed quite normally. I preferred to seal my lips, however, for I could taste the salty sea all the same.
The novelty of my predicament soon waned and I wondered if I were being taken somewhere purposefully. I could not imagine a force capable of conveying me in the manner I was being so, save God Himself, and I decided that if He was indeed behind it, He could certainly do whatever He pleased with me.
I now believe that it was a little less than an hour from that time that I first saw the light ahead of me. The terrain became steeper and I more or less crawled up the incline, barely touching the ground with toes and fingertips, and pushed along by the current or God or what have you. The light began as a yellow pinprick like the start of a sunrise. It gradually increased in vibrance and intensity until I reached the lip of a cliff, at which point the force driving me forward ceased completely and I settled gently lying on my stomach, peering down into an enormous crater at a wondrous scene.
Where to begin! Dug into the center of the immense crater were many hundred pits, like deep holes, and from these rose, attached by long translucent tendrils, a host of creatures the like of which I had never seen, nor even heard of in stories. Their slim, spindle-shaped bodies were long, covered in a myriad of transparent tentacles that stirred the water around them, and extended up to a round head with globular eyes and a wide, thick-lipped mouth. These heads too were covered in a nimbus of smaller tendrils, closely resembling hair. The entire scene was almost blindingly bright, and from what I could tell, these creatures were the source of the light.
None took notice of me, and all seemed to be looking intently skyward, or surface-ward, as it was. It was deathly silent for some time, and it was this that allowed me to detect the instant the first of them began to sing.
It seemed that the very centermost creature closed its eyes, tilted its head back, and issued forth a soft note, so gently as though the song had already started a good deal of time ago, and she (for the voice seemed feminine to me) was simply joining in as unobtrusively as possible. The note quickly grew in strength and volume, however, and soon her immediate neighbors started up, and then their neighbors, and the song rippled out to the edges of the crowd with great speed. As this happened, the light, which had been difficult to look at before, became nearly intolerable, and I was obliged to shut my eyes.
I lay motionless for a great length of time, eyes closed tight, yet far more attentive to the song or chorus than I had been to any prior musical performance. I was by turns transfixed and upset by the beautiful yet definitely inhuman voices. The emotion being expressed by this fantastic chorus was, however, unmistakably joy, and in this notion I took solace. I could feel their joy, blasting through their song through me, and out into the dark sea in all directions. A creature that expressed its delight through song seemed, to me at least, to share something of the human condition. Indeed, the longer I dwelt upon it, the less alien they seemed.
I had by this time forced my eyes to adjust to the light and I was able to see well enough provided I did not focus on any one particular for more than a few moments. I saw that their sizes varied greatly, and evidently with their size, their note. It became apparent after some observation that each creature was capable of only one musical note, and had to rely on its neighbors to sing when others were necessary. They coordinated a melody quite beautifully, and I found myself getting so caught up in the whole thing that I stood up on the lip of the crater, fists raised in the air, tensing triumphantly in before the crowd like a conductor at his orchestra.
The memory of the events that followed is painful to recall, but I must recount them nonetheless. Piercing through the chorus came a hideous shriek, in a voice that sounded as though living metal were being scraped upon living metal. The singing died in an instant, and the light dimmed considerably. All the creatures’ attentions turned to face away from me, and upward.
The scream came again. It was a scream and nothing else, for like the luminous creatures’ song, there was no mistaking the intent of the voice. It was not a scream of pain, nor anguish, nor anything except hatred. It was a scream of an ancient, seething, concentrated rage that had festered and stewed for centuries. The sound shook me to the core and I fell back into my prone position to see what was coming.
For a long time I saw nothing, partly because my hosts had retracted into their holes up to their necks, greatly diminishing the scene’s brilliance. Eventually I made out a great black form, blacker than the waters around it, hovering over the edge of the crater opposite mine. The shape was wholly unfamiliar to me, and it was a few moments before I realized there were two separate entities involved in its formation.
I have been fortunate enough to live in a time of complete peace, and had never before this point attempted to imagine the terror a lowly peasant might experience when mounted, armored raiders charge upon his village to destroy his way of life and everything he values. I now believe that they, like myself at that instant, would be rooted to the spot with fear at the sight of a giant, black-helmed horror wielding a great glaive atop an armored beast of war.
The intruder snapped his reigns, and his great whale of a ride inched closer to the silent chorus. For what seemed like hours, the crowd and the monster sat motionless and mute. I could hear the chinking of his armor and the creak of its fastenings as his mount treaded in place.
Then a poor, luckless luminous creature began to rise from his pit and glow with great force once again. Wide-eyed he stared at the armored beast and hesitated for a moment, then tilted his head back, opened his mouth and began pouring out his note.
The ear-splitting shriek came in an instant, and with a hideous swiftness the monster swung his great blade and clove the unfortunate singer through his grounded stalk. In an instant his light died, and he floated upward, transparent and nearly invisible like a ghost. His faded corpse hung over the crowd for a moment before being slowly taken away by the current.
I wanted to shout and cry, to hurl rebukes at the monster, but I was paralyzed with fright. In my mind I fervently urged all the remaining creatures to remain silent and still, lest they wished to join their dead friend.
But twice more members of the choir rose up to sing, and twice more they were cut down with a sickening snick of the tremendous edge and a shattering scream. For a long time, none of the creatures built up the courage to raise themselves from their holes, and the standstill resumed once again.
In a while the silence was broken again, this time by the monster himself. He began to laugh, in deep-gutted guffaws, at the cowering crowd. His shoulders heaved and his head tilted back in his mirth, his mount struggling to maintain stationary under all the jostling.
Then, to my amazement, the creature closest to the monster raised himself to a height above that than I had seen any yet achieve, and began to sing his note with terrific force.
The monster reeled at the sonic blast, and attempted to recover himself. The rest of the crowd, however, seeing their adversary so disoriented, quickly followed suit and rose to join in the song.
There were no more martyrs. The volume of light and sound far surpassed that of the previous displays I had witnessed, and I was once again forced to shield my eyes from the glare. I stood up and squinted from behind my shading hand, however, and saw the monster struggling with his mount, which was wriggling frantically and trying to get away. With a mighty heave it bucked him and shot off, leaving the armored fiend to fall heavily to the ground.
Deprived of his means of escape, the warrior struggled to his feet and attempted to raise his glaive to make corpses once again. As he did so, I could see his armor cracking and smoking, issuing a billowing black discharge from his armor joints and eye-holes. He screamed again, the same metallic voice, but in true agony. He dropped his weapon and clapped his hands to the sides of his helm, in a futile effort to shield his ears. He desperately tried to climb the wall of the crater, but it was too steep for him in his heavy armor. The fissures in his armor became larger, and he dropped to his knees, covering his head and burying his face between them.
A tremendous cloud of oily black smoke erupted from all sides of him; his armor bulged, then shattered and flung its tiny pieces in all directions. The dark smoke cleared, and nothing remained behind. He was gone.
The most fascinating part of the whole ordeal, to me, however, was not the death of the tyrant. The chorus, even when they sang in defiance of the monster, their message had not been one of revenge or righteous retribution. It remained the same joyful song as it was when it had first begun.