It was last year that the Gilded Wind was lost with all hands, other than myself. But it wasn’t as simple as the stories of a simple mishap among the storms. There was more to what happened, which I must tell to someone. I can feel them coming for me, and I fear my time to die draws near. They will not allow one who has seen their most holy sanctum to live, and I must spread word before it is too late.
I shall begin from when I boarded the Gilded Wind, seeking overseas passage from Gungzhou. I had been traveling for the last year upon scholarly journeys across Terranis as part of my doctorate with the University of Kunskaborg. The Gilded Wind was traveling from Kaldoris to Korandus, that frozen northern island that is home to the Order of Light. A chapter about the reclusive paladins would be the crowning section of my paper, and so I eagerly booked passage upon the vessel, and we sailed along the northern coast of the Weijin Empire to take advantage of being near land before venturing across the frigid North Sea that would take us to Korandus.
I spent most of my voyage in my cabin, revising my paper and conducting additional research among the books I had brought with me, plus others acquired on my travels. I wanted to be prepared to interact with the intransient Order upon my arrival. As such, I barely noticed as we swung north to sail around Oni no Shima, or “Island of the Demons” as it translates to plain Dorlish. It was a large island some miles off the coast of the Empire, which had never been inhabited due to superstitions of demons and other such inhabitants. Though swinging north of the island meant adding several days to our journey, it was considered bad luck to navigate the channel between the island and the mainland. I attempted to inquire with some of the crew, but they would merely give me evasive answers about “ill omens” and hints of ships disappearing within the straights. I resigned myself to not finding out on this trip, and made a note to research it more upon my return to Kunskaborg.
It was as we had passed the apex of our journey past the island, and it was beginning to disappear over the horizon behind us, that the storm struck. I was again in my cabin, and didn’t even notice until the first peal of thunder visibly shook the items on my table. I went above deck to see what was happening, a lantern in hand, only to find our ship being battered by an absolute torrent of rain. It was dark, with the main illumination coming from flashes of lightning, as it was far too wet to keep any torches going. What few lanterns were lit gave only the barest illumination. Above the pounding of rain and roars of the waves, I could faintly hear the crew desperately shouting to one another as they fought to keep the ship upright and stable amidst the storm.
A towering wave slammed into our ship from the starboard side, and I was thrown from my feet and immediately drenched. My lantern went out before shattering on the deck, the fragments washing overboard and into the sea. The small comfort granted by its light vanished instantly. I tried to get to my feet, but the slick wood of the deck proved impossible to grip onto. A pair of rough hands grabbed me and I was lifted to my feet before finding myself staring at the first officer, a Kornethi man named Hans Ulfric, as I recall.
“What are you doing up here?!” he bellowed in my face. Before I could stammer a reply, he continued, “Get back below deck, and stay out of our way!”
“Where did the storm come from? The skies were clear earlier!” I managed to reply. He shook his head.
“Damned if I know. Came out of nowhere, it did, almost as if it was summoned. God willing, we’ll be clear of it by morning, but not if simpletons like you keep getting in our way! Now get below!” With a rough shove, he threw me back towards the door leading down below, and I meekly followed his command.
I returned to my cabin, trying not to let my sickness from the violent rocking of the ship overwhelm me, but my efforts were in vain, and I spent most of the next hour vomiting out my cabin porthole until I was free of substance to expel. When I finally was able to not feel like I was going to hurl for more than a solid minute was when the largest wave of all smashed into our ship.
With an ear-splitting crack, I was thrown to my feet as the ship began to split into two. The rearward wall of my cabin suddenly shattered as if it was nothing but cheap pottery, flinging wood splinters towards me. I shielded my eyes for a moment, wincing as a few splinters buried themselves in my forearm. When I looked again, I could see the rearward half of the ship drifting away from me, with men spilling into the ocean. Before I could grab onto anything, the half of the ship carrying me began to tilt downwards as it took on water, and I slid down the new ramp of my floor, out into the ocean.
Just before I began to slide down, and as I did so, I saw something. At the time, I could have sworn it was just a trick of the light from the storm, but, after what I saw later, I don’t think I imagined it. The light was indistinct, only flashes from lightning, but every time there was a flash, I caught glimpses of things. Men falling into the ocean, struggling to stay afloat or clinging to pieces of wood for buoyancy in one flash, would be gone without a trace by the next flash a few seconds later. But it’s what I saw during those flashes that chilled my blood more than even the cold rain. I could see shapes, vaguely humanoid, emerging from the water, grabbing onto the men, or leaping into the air and coming down atop them. With only an instant to see them, I could be forgiven for attributing inhuman characteristics to them, but they were no humans. I distinctly recall hunchbacked forms, arms and backs with spined crests rising from them, and great, shining eyes far larger than any other creature I’ve seen, human or otherwise.
By the time the two halves of the Gilded Wind sank below the raging waves, there was no one else left above the water, save for one other. I do not know why we were spared. Perhaps whatever infernal appetite those creatures had was sated. Perhaps they wanted me to see what I would see soon after for reasons beyond human comprehension.
Whatever the case, I was too concerned at that moment with trying to stay above the water. I was never a good swimmer, and I latched onto a large plank, coughing water from my lungs and praying a wave would not overtake me. I hardly even noticed the other man until he was nearly upon me. His ability at swimming was clearly superior to mine, and he forced his way through the water to my plank with seeming ease, though I’m sure it was still a considerable struggle for him. He grabbed onto my improvised raft and looked at me.
“We have to get below the water! It will be calmer there, and we will not be thrown about as much!” I looked at him with disbelief.
“How can we get below the waves? We’ll drown!” He shook his head free of water, and pulled a rod from somewhere beneath his clothing.
“I’m a mage! I can conjure a spell of water-breathing for us! We will survive, but only if we head below!” Of course, I should have figured he had some kind of magical ability. While I’ve never been very trusting of the magic-wielding types, I reasoned I had little choice at the moment, and nodded my consent. He quickly cast the spell, and I felt a tingling within my chest. I ducked my head below the water to test the spell, and found I could breathe just fine, although the sensation was quite unlike anything I had ever felt before. He submerged himself as well, and began to swim downwards. Not wanting to be left alone in the storm, I followed him, figuring we would swim south until we hit the coast of the Empire and return to civilization. Of course, I had no idea which way was south in the confusion, but I hoped this mysterious man would know where to go.
We swam about a hundred yards underwater for what seemed like an age, but was probably less than an hour. My limbs were starting to burn from the exertion, though the mage seemed possessed of as boundless energy as when we started. I looked above, and could see from even down here that the storm was still raging above. It seemed to be without limit, and patches of the surface exploded with light as lightning struck.
The mage continued on, and before much longer I realized he was swimming towards a light. I nearly stopped in surprise, not expecting to see any kind of light underwater like this. My mind began to race with wild imaginings of what it could be, such as a secret mages’ coven of some sort. I tried to yell out to him a question, but my voice was muffled and distorted beyond recognition in the water, and so I silently followed him.
I soon discovered the light was coming from a small cave opening within a massive cliff face. Was this the coast of Weijin? I had no idea how far we had swum, but my heart began to feel elation at the thought of returning to solid land after this ordeal. I felt suspicious at this underwater light, however. Maybe it was just a cave leading to the surface, I tried to reason. The mage swam into it with little hesitancy, and I followed.
The cave quickly returned to regular air, and we emerged from a pool inside a well-lit chamber. I gasped and spat the water from my lungs as I adjusted back to breathing air, with the mage doing the same. As we climbed from the pool onto solid ground, I spoke to him.
“Who are you?” He began to wring water from his Weijin-style clothes as he answered.
“Dai Zhi Akito. I’m a magister of the Weijin Empire. I had planned on disembarking from our vessel near Yanoshiko, but it seems the ancestors had other plans for me.” His name was of little surprise to me, given his Weijini appearance.
“Alright. Well…where are we? Some sort of secret Weijin base?”
He laughed. “I wish. I have no idea where we are. I just saw the light and swam towards it. I thank you for following me; I had no wish to be alone. Despite all that has happened, I am very curious as to the nature of this cave.” He turned to look around, and that’s when I noticed the statues.
The room wasn’t just a natural cave, but a large room hewn from the rock. The walls were lined with statues of inhuman creatures that seemed to offend my sensibilities just by looking at them. I could have sworn they bore a striking resemblance to some of the shapes I had seen as the Gilded Wind was sinking.
“Are we…on the mainland?” I asked quietly, afraid that raising my voice above a whisper would cause the statues to leap to life and tear us apart.
“I don’t…think so. We were much closer to the Oni no Shima. I fear we may have discovered something man was not meant to see.” I thought I had reached the limit of freezing, but my blood found a new level of cold to sink to at this declaration.
“What could this possibly be? Surely this is manmade. The Great Enemy doesn’t…they don’t have the intelligence to create statues, do they?”
Akito shrugged. “They were smart enough to nearly destroy the human race in the Judgment War. I would not put statues past their ability.” Before I could speak further, he began to walk towards an opening along a far wall that led deeper underground. I knew I should have told him to stop, that we should have simply swam back to the surface and returned to proper land, but my scholar’s curiosity got the better of me. We were standing in a room that likely no other human being had ever been in before. The potential for learning overwhelmed any sense of danger I had at the moment.
The opening led to a cave that wound through the darkness, occasionally branching and twisting about until I had only a faint sense of what direction we had come from. A luminous moss coated much of the walls, giving a pale illumination from the entrance room to the deepest of these caves, though it left stark shadows. Our movements made me jump repeatedly at the slightest hint of implied movement from the shadows.
Perhaps what unnerved me the most was the deafening silence. Other than the scraping of our feet, there wasn’t the slightest sound to be heard, and my mind raced at what could be causing the faintest echo I’d hear. This wasn’t to last, however.
Akito held up a hand to stop me, and gestured for my silence when I tried to ask why he stopped. I strained to hear, and that’s the first time I heard the sound. That horrible sound that still haunts my mind to this day.
It was a terrible sound, between a chant and a bestial series of grunts, in a language I did not recognize, nor do I ever care to. And it was accompanied by the sound of drums. Not just any drums, but drums not made by human hands, made of materials not of this world. To hear the rhythm of these drums was to feel my very soul shiver in terror.
While I struggled to regain my senses, Akito pressed on towards the sound without a word. I made to call out to him, but thought better of it, lest whatever was beating those drums would hear us. I knew at this point we should have turned back and fled, but my fear of being alone compelled me to follow the mage. He seemed almost hypnotized by the beat, and his steps grew increasingly rushed.
Within a few minutes, we crept towards a fresh doorway leading into a massive chamber of impossible proportions. More inhuman statues lined the walls, standing taller than any human-built tower I’ve ever seen. Towards the middle was a tiered pyramid of sorts, and in the dim light I could see intricate murals carved into its surface depicting all manner of ghastly and blasphemous images. From around the pyramid, hidden below the floor in grooves, sickly green lights of some sort shone out, illuminating the chamber, and casting flickering shadows on the walls from the figures within the chamber.
And such figures! I knew instantly that these were the same flitting shadows I saw in the storm above; no longer confined to short glimpses, I could see them in all their horrible form. They were indeed humanoid, but the vilest mockery of the human form. The stood upright on two legs that ended in massive webbed feet. From their hunched backs extended thin but powerful-looking arms that ended in three long and taloned fingers. And all about them extruded crests like a reptile, though these creatures seemed a bizarre fusion of amphibian and reptile. My mind raced to recall anything like this in my studies, but I knew not of these creatures. It was only afterwards that I found the name for these creatures: sahagin. A name taken from forgotten legends of Old Earth, but these creatures were far worse.
They cavorted and danced on their inhuman legs, leaping about with bounds far greater than a human could manage, and in unison repeated the chant we had been hearing for some time now. Rows of the creatures stood to either side, beating on those infernal drums made of materials I could only guess at. It was then that I noticed the central figure at the base of the pyramid, larger than the rest. He had his back to the others, and was looking up to the top of the pyramid, whereupon sat a massive statue resembling a tor-wego, those nightmarish multi-headed creatures which plagues the deepest reaches of the sea. Only this statue was of a far grimmer aspect than any picture I had ever seen, seemingly more ancient and vastly more powerful and malevolent. I would not be surprised if it was a statue of some dark god of those creatures.
As the…priest, chieftain, whatever the largest of these creatures was, concluded its own chanting, more sahagin appeared, dragging drenched forms. With an audible gasp that was thankfully drowned out by the drumming, I realized these were the bodies of the Gilded Wind’s crew, dragged below the waves to drown. Dozens of bodies were brought forth, and piled together in a massive heap before the leader. I suddenly saw one of the men was somehow still alive. Hans, the first officer of the ship. I do not know how he survived such a long time under the waves, but I saw him squirming and struggling to break free. In response, three of the creatures leapt upon him and plunged their claws into his body, while simultaneously tearing chunks of flesh from him. After a moment of intense screaming, his form went limp and was thrown on the pile.
I was too horrified to move. Without even thinking, I began to mumble the Benediction of Safety, something I have not done since I was a child, praying for the Creator to watch over my soul. It gave me some modicum of courage, perhaps mostly because it was something familiar amidst this assault of the alien.
Akito ignored my prayer, and gestured for me to look towards the leader again. The creature was gesturing wildly as it chanted, waving a staff whose headstone glowed with eldritch light. I turned to Akito for some clue as to what was happening, but he shrugged and muttered he was as new to this as me.
“I do not know what they intend to do, but I feel we must learn what we can and report it to the Empire. This could be a grave threat,” he said quietly, and I shuddered to think what plans these creatures might have for the surface world.
The light of the headstone washed over the pile of dead bodies, whose flesh seemed to melt and merge together. With a few minutes, the bodies had all dissolved into one massive pile of skin and bones, which reformed itself into a single large humanoid form. Its arms were as thick as tree trunks, and its legs were stunted but no less powerful. From its fanged and decayed face, its eyes erupted to life with an unholy blue light, and the creature arose, a towering mass of dead flesh.
“What…what is that?” I whispered urgently.
“I believe that is a creature known as a behemoth. Some of the most powerful undead in the world, they can defeat almost anything humanity can muster. By the ancestors, they must be harvesting humans to create more of these abominations. The Empire cannot stand against an army of these creatures, and neither could any other nation.” My head began to fill with images of the whole world burning beneath a resurgent Great Enemy. But what could I do? I was merely a scholar. I was no warrior. If one of these things saw me, I knew I would have no chance of surviving the encounter. Akito was my only protection with his magical powers.
“You must return to the surface,” his words snapped me from my reverie. “I will do what I can to halt this ritual and, ancestors willing, destroy that abomination before it can reach its full strength. My spell on you will last a day or more, so you can return to the Empire. Go now, and do not look back!” Before I could say anything, he arose and charged into the room, bellowing. As one, the creatures turned to him and they…they screamed. Oh, what a hideous and terrible sound it was. I clutched my ears at it, and felt blood leaking out, while I wept uncontrollably at the sound of it.
The scream stopped and I heard the first of Akito’s fire spells erupting from him hands as he bellowed, “For the Emperor!” His shout of defiance snapped me out of my daze and I ran. I took only one glance back into the room, seeing him surrounded by the creatures as fire blazed from his hands and eyes, and knew he would never even reach the behemoth, let alone destroy it.
But I ran. I ran as hard as I could back down the caverns, stumbling blindly and still weeping. It seemed like an eternity as I ran, an eternity which only became longer as I heard Akito start to scream. His screams never stopped, even after I found entrance of the cave and dived below the water. I swam and swam for as long and as hard as I could, until sheer exhaustion overtook me, and I passed out.
I awoke on a beach a day later to a fisherman’s dog licking my face while the tide lapped at my legs. I soon discovered I had been swept ashore nearly a hundred miles east of the Oni no Shima. A week later, I arrived at the court of the Emperor in Yanoshiko, and attempted to relay my warnings to him. I was not permitted to see the Emperor, and instead met with the Imperial Regent. My warnings were dismissed out of hand. The storm that had destroyed the Gilded Wind had been seen a day before by coastal villages, and its speed was not unusual for the North Sea. No one else had ever encountered anything like what I had seen, and the Regent insisted there was no one named Dai Zhi Akito in the court. The Emperor’s chief apothecary, who had joined our conversation, suggested my story was merely delusion brought on by imbibing too much sea water as I drifted to shore. I realized perhaps I imagined it all, but I had done my part. If the Empire chose to ignore its doom, then so be it.
I returned home to Kunskaborg and tried to forget the ordeal, but in the intervening months, I have encountered clues that what I saw was not a fever dream. In the dead of night, when all is silent, I can faintly, just barely on the edge of my hearing, hear the sound of drums. And not just any drums, but drums not crafted by human hands. Once, last month as I walked along the coast near Kunskaborg on a visit to my cousin, I heard an inhuman shriek from the cliffs behind me. When I turned to look, I saw a humanoid shadow disappear over the edge.
I know not what means they used to track me halfway across the world, but they know who I am, and where I am. They are coming for me. I swear I can hear the drums almost constantly now, even if no one else claims to hear them. I see shadows darting about at night, shapes beneath the waves and glistening eyes staring at me from the city’s wells. They say I am going mad, but I wish it were only that simple. I must share this story with others before they come for me, and I disappear into the night, never to be seen again, except perhaps as a part of one of those golems of flesh.
There is a scratching at my window. I am five stories above the ground, yet something scratches at my window. A trio of long talons. I can see its shadow in the moonlight from outside. I have called for my guards, but there is no answer. I shall go downstairs to investigate. For now, I will hide these papers in my desk.
If I disappear and all that is left are these papers, you must warn the world. Humanity will not last if these creatures continue their dark rituals beneath the sea!