THE LIGHTHOUSE

Korachan, 4007 RM

The rain drums against the corrugated iron roof of the lighthouse. I hear it, though pay little heed. It keeps me company.

     Outside, the wind howls. Farther away I hear waves crashing against blackened rocks. 

     It’s a big one, I think to myself as I sit in front of the fire, soaking up the warmth.

     I pull a thick aloe weave blanket around me and tend to the stew.

     Not much. Some potatoes and onion, herbs, and the flesh from a small crab I caught before the storm hit. Enough for a few days, maybe longer if I stretch it out.

     I eat some and turn in for the night, but the wind, the rain, the waves, keep me up. 

     I toss and turn, but what once kept me company has now outstayed its welcome. 

     I stir, and head up the old tower, blanket pulled tightly around my shoulders.

     It’s dark, but the Ivory moon is near-full and guide my ascent of the spiral stairs. 

     I skip the missing step and the rusted railings without thought, the motion ingrained into my muscles from years of repetition.

     The upper platform, on what once would have been the light and reflective backing is long gone. I stop in the room below it, whose panoramic windows afford a great viewpoint of the peninsula.

     At least it would if it were not for the storm.

     Instead, all I see is the thick curtain of rain broken up by the occasional distant white wall of spray and salt.

     I turn inland and see more rain. 

     Above, the sky is sundered by occasional flashes of lightning that are chased by an almost chthonic rumble that I feel deep in my body after the sound has passed.

     It is a big one, I think again, almost trying to reassure myself.

     I found the abandoned lighthouse years ago, the murdered body of its previous occupant still at his table, desiccated by the salt air. Everything of value was gone, and it had clearly been decommissioned as a lighthouse long before that. It was in bad condition, and I was apprehensive of settling there at first. Miles from any settlement of note, it was off the beaten track and might afford me the safety I was looking for. The distance from others’ dreams I was hoping for.

     I stay upstairs for a while, letting the chaotic rhythm of the waves and lightning overtake me, bringing tiredness back to my body. After a while I head downstairs again and take a gamble on sleep finding me again.

I awake to a lessened storm. The rain has diminished to a drizzle and the sky is brighter, though still hidden beneath a thin veil of clouds that are moving lazily away from the Inner Sea.

     I put on a waxed duster and gather my walking stick and a bag. These late winter storms have a habit of regurgitating secrets and scrap from the depths of the sea. 

     I take the lull as my chance to search for any bounties that may have been offered to me by the sea.

     The rain follows me but it is light and I don’t let it bother me. It clings to my hair in minute droplets that fall in a sudden shower with the occasional heavy footfall.

     I’m at the water’s edge in about ten minutes, a walk that would have taken close to half an hour were the tide low.

     The sea is lapping at the shore, splashing lazily over the slick rocks. I admire the change in temperament and remind myself to treat it with the respect it deserves as my thoughts flit back to the storm last night.

     I spend the better part of the day meandering along the coastline, stopping to examine anything that looks interesting. For the most-part its rounded driftwood, bits of nets and weathered glass. But there are some things that strike me as curious. I find a conch that’s very far from its home, and place it in the bag alongside the driftwood I’ve been picking up. I come across some strange jellyfish that are washed up in a small inlet. I spy larger marine beings in a pool of water not far off, though the odd stench that surrounds it is warning enough to leave it alone.    

     Towards the end of my foraging I find the sort of prize I hope for but never expect to find.

     Other men might have ignored it, thinking it another stone or rock, but I know what it is right away.

     I pick it up and run my fingers along the strange yellow-black surface. It feels waxy. I smell it. A sweet, earthy smell. 

     Ambergris. 

     I stand and look out to the sea, wondering where the sea-bound beast that produced it might be, or if it is still even alive. 

     Off the coast I see heavy grey clouds taking form once more and predict another storm coming. I take another sniff and put the stone in the bag before I make my way home.

     By the time I return to the lighthouse the wind has picked up, bringing heavier rain with them.

     I heat up the last of the soup from the previous day and put the driftwood in front of the fire to dry it up. 

The rain knocks at the windows, trying to gain entry. Inside, I read the compositions of Berlene for the upteenth time, the music playing in my head. I know the notes by heart and could put the papers away and replicate the tunes without fault, but there is something comforting about holding onto the papers. The feel of them in my hands brings back memories of a previous life cut short by my link to the dreams of others. 

     I let the papers drop onto my lap as images of my studies at the minasterium return to me. A life in the city, drinking at cafes and interacting with other bodies. Hearing their laughter and playing off their interactions.

     Memories of being tired. Of struggling with my studies. The gift is there, sure enough, but the discipline, the want to control the raw, to shape it into something civilised and disciplined, is missing. Headaches and nights marred by the thoughts of those surrounding me.

     Their dreams transported into my head, where I can do nothing to stop them. Sleepless nights, every nightmare etched into my memory where it exists to this day, waiting in the crypts of my mind to emerge at the most inopportune moment. 

     Such as now.

     A flash of lightning brings me back to the present. 

     I was asleep, not sure for how long. 

     I stir the fire and put the papers away, surrounding myself in the blanket. 

     I try to sleep but do not manage. 

     The rain is heavier now and the wind angrier than last night. I can hear it whistling in the tower above me, having somehow clawed its way inside.

     I get a headache.

     I reach out to old exercises, the foundations of Atramental study that even I had once mastered. I empty my mind of thought, bricking it up against old demons and the growing tempest alike. Both grow distant and eventually disappear entirely. 

     I feel the warm crawl of blood leaving my nose. It has been a while since I called upon the Atramenta and the act is a strain on my unprepared body. I ignore it and lie down, exhaustion taking hold of me. 

I wake to the screams of another person reverberating in my head.

     They are distant, like an echo from deep in my mind. 

     It is dawn, barely.

     I rub my temples, my eyes, and stand. This is something I have not felt in a long line.

     I run to the tower, blood rushing to my head. I pause, look around.

     The storm is still raging and I cannot see anything. Lightning flashes in the distance, behind miles of clouds. I’ve never seen the sky this angry before and doubt I ever will again. 

     Above me water is dripping into the room from the parapet above. Something else that will need to be seen to once the weather turns.

     More screaming, shooting into the backs of my eyes and grabbing my spine this time  

     I wince in pain and pause, gathering myself, trying to let my masters’ old teachings come back to me.

     Why bother? I quit for a reason and after all these years I’m not going to suddenly perfect skills that eluded me in the minasterium.

     I take slow deep breaths and let my body acclimatise to the invasion.

     There must be people outside.

     Maybe a shipwreck? 

     I take stock of the situation and convince myself that there are greater things in the world than the safety that solitude can offer me.

     If there really are people out there, they need my help.

     But this weather! 

     Another lightning bolt strikes, closer this time, as though nature is trying to intimidate me. 

     But the terrified gibbering supercedes it. 

     I put my duster on and head out with a sled and my walking stick. 

     I turn the handle on the door and it slams into me, pushed by the wind. 

     By the Throne, this is going to be hard, I mutter as I pull the door closed behind me. 

     I push against the wind, making my way to the coast. 

     It is just about light-enough to see, but the clouds are heavy, and let only a soft diffused light through. Above, I see no indication of where the sun might be and were I not accustomed to the area, I’d have no idea of where the coast might be hiding. 

     I push on, struggling against the ephemeral pulling and pushing of the wind, drawn on by the droning mumbles of these intruders. 

     The sounds rapidly become a cacophony of overlapping screams, gibbering, babbling and braying. I can make out what might be words, but they are unintelligible to me. Perhaps foreigners? A merchant ship run aground, the survivors washed ashore to torment me in my exile? 

     “Hello!” I call out, my voice hoarse from impractice. 

     My skin is soaked through despite the duster. I am freezing. Aching. My head is throbbing and my fumbling attempts at bringing order to my thoughts are rebuked, leaving me under the thrall of those screams and cries.

     Perversely, the intruding thoughts serve as a beacon to my search, drawing me towards them though I cannot yet see their source. 

     I continue to call out, to let them know that there is someone coming for them, but it seems useless, the words ripped from my lips the moment they are uttered, lost in the swirling tempest. Absently, I wonder where they are carried to, if another unfortunate body will hear them half a world away from here. I wonder what they might think, or what they would make of it. 

     And then, I see it, illuminated starkly by a fateful lightning strike.

     Broken against the shore, a long body, part piscine, part human.

     My heart stops and for a moment the wailing in my head is muffled by the heavy fear that envelops me.

     I have no idea what to do. What to make of what this accursed storm has dragged up from the depths and presented to me.

I dredge up the courage and edge closer to the thing.

     A monster, its bulbous eyes staring blankly into the air, lies before me. Where nature dictates should be legs is instead a long scaly tail that lies limply on the shore, moving, whether at the behest of the wind and waves or its own strength, I cannot fathom. It is cut up and covered in loose shreds of skin and blood that is denied the chance to dry.

     The thoughts in my head return, changed now. More focussed. Less of the gibbering and more of the overlapping foreign words.

It is alive, thoughts racing through its head in its semi-conscious state.

     And it is then that I realise that there is no shipwreck or estranged crew. Just this one abysmal creature, taken from its home and slammed into the world above.

     I’m acting on instinct now, thoughts evading me. 

     I crawl forwards, reaching out with my stick. Am I trying to push it back into the sea, away from my purview, or handing it something to grab onto?  

     I prod it and it splutters into life, arms flailing wildly. One hits the stick and grabs it, pulling it. 

     The thoughts invading my head change flow, and where before there was a plethora of competing notions, now they are all pointed in the same direction, their unintelligible words aimed at me. 

     And then they subside, as consciousness returns to the monstrosity, and it mouths something I know immediately to be a whisper for help.

     I gasp, frozen, my body being beaten by the wind and spray.

     I shake free of the spell cast by the words and push the sled closer, dragging the slimy body onto it. Bits of seaweed are caught on it and I pull them off. 

     I seem to move and act as though in spite of myself. It must be the adrenaline.

I am back in the lighthouse, drying myself off, memory of how I got back there muddy. 

     The fire is dying down and the room is a darkened hall of dancing light and shadow. I poke it into life and turn to the body on the floor, its chest slowly rising and falling beneath the flickering red light. 

     I am seated far from it, scared of approaching it.

It passed out sometime during my rescue, granting me some reprive.

     Now the silence in my head is haunting me.

     Alone with my thoughts once more, I find a relic from my days at the minasterium. A lecture on the mortal-kind of Elyden. 

     A merill. One of a couple dozen mortal races that once shared Elyden with humans, long before we made the world our own through genocie and a plague-like spread.

     I recall something about merills having a shared memory. Every merill alive today is a repository for the memories, thoughts and dreams of every other merill that has come before. This has cursed them, making them babbling lunatics, unable to control the sheer weight of information they carry. Every passing generation makes them that bit less coherent, the moments of lucidity fewer and farther between.

     That short morsel of knowledge has remained with me for years, haunting me, feeding the worries that grew around my sensitivity to the dreams of others.

     Finally I understand the cacophony from the night before, the assault against my mind that I thought had belonged to multiple castaways. 

     Now the thing is passed out I can think properly, but what if it wakes up or sinks into a dream-filled slumber? Who knows how bad the barrage will be then?

     I can’t risk it. If a merill, with their millennia of lineage before it, cannot cope with the weight of memories and secrets of its ancestors, how can I, a failed oneiromacer, hope to?

     I creep towards the thing, poker still in hand. The feel of its cold iron in my hand is comforting, feeding the sudden urge to rid myself of this interloper.

     I am standing above it, examining every grotesque portion of its body, from the barbells on its chin, the glistening sheen of its skin, to the sickly green scales on its broken piscine tail.

     Then I see its hands again. So human. So much like mine.

     I look into its eyes and see myself reflected in them. 

     I realise then that I am shaking, my chin quivering.

     “I cannot become this,” I mumble. I have fooled myself into thinking that I excised myself from society to cure myself. But this is no cure. The solitude is just a mask to hide the truth. I am weak, and if I ever find myself amid others again, I have no will to resist what will happen to me come night. To be subjugated by one dream is toil enough, but to be surrounded by a city would be my end. And this… thing… has brought that reality scarily close. 

     If it slips into a dream-fugue… or worse, a nightmare… I’d be powerless to resist. All those memories, all those secrets and thoughts and past dreams. They would destroy me. 

     I cannot let that happen.

     I stab into its chest with the poker.

     It lurches forward, its body weak, barely able to lift up. 

     It gasps as black featureless eyes look into my own.

     In that moment I see EVERYTHING.

     I see the first seven merills, born by the actions of uncaring Demiurges, imperfect beings born into an imperfect uncaring world. 

     Millennia merge into one another and the mysteries of the Scions are revealed to them. I learn more of the Atramenta in that split second that I ever could with centuries of study. I am suddenly a master of the Art, but the thought is consumed by the passing generations and memories and thoughts and wants and needs and cravings and knowledge. More and more, as their curse begins to take root. 

     Like a tree branching out exponentially from those first seven merills, I experience the life of every ancestor, ten-fold, hundred-fold, thousand-fold. 

     Too much.

     Memories polluting dreams and nightmares.

     Everything becomes indistinct. 

     Colours grow grey.

     Languages marred by gibbering.

     Culture becoming primal. 

     Submerged cities toppled by time into ruins. 

     A plague spreading, destroying reason with chaos.

     Mind broken.

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©2018 by Nate Mangion