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A note from Wutosama

VOTE

 

 
"Ramming speed!" Lei-bup commanded his kin in the engine room to punish the behemoth's whirling turbine. Thus far, their run of luck had persisted, for the ship's instruments had been made for "NoMs".
 
Upon the horizon, the floating island of hulks amassed by Biplipodoofu laid sprawled like a timid mermaid, arms-wide and ready to receive the Laioming's violent intrusion.
 
"Warriors of the Great Shoal!" Lei-bup stood opposite the cracked glass of the forecastle bridge, in his hand, a can of Spam, polished to a golden-glean, was held aloft. These were the remaining vessels of flesh from the Pale Priestess' pilgrimage on Turd Island, one of the few that now remained. "Comrades of the Shoal! Lend me your strength! Give yourselves so that all may attain our promised land!"
 
From above the sea's surface and below, Lei-Bup's call to a higher power traversed through the multi-kilometre swarm of swimming bodies, fuelled by the mental energies of some million-strong Mermen desiring delivery from the tyranny of the ocean's savage freedom.
 
“Weee—Weeee—“
“Gweee—Gweeee— Gweeee—“
“GWEEE—GWEEEN— GWEEENGH— GWEEENGH—“
 
CRASH!
In the fashion of tectonic plates colliding, the thrumming bow of the Liaoming kissed the rusted metal of the wrecks that made up the upper segment of Blightreef and gifted its unflattering name.
 
Straightaway, a quaking shudder ran through the super tanker's internal structure, followed by the ear-splitting din of metal scraping on metal. A resounding crash flooded the cabin as the momentum of the ship transferred forwards, casting Lei-bup against the console; after which the Liaoming pushed through.
 
A modern ship with only a decade of service, the Liaoming resembled an iron claymore, crumpling the rusty origami of time-collected flotsam. With barely a hint of resistance, the tanker penetrated the Merman port of Blightreef, travelling so far "inland" as to cleave the wreck-heaped island in twain.
 
"Comrades! Drop the anchors!" Lei-Bup knew the opportunity had ripened.
 
Below, the shoal's twin Ningen beasts, each an expanse of dumb muscle, tugged on the ship's tethered anchors. On the crumpled forecastle deck, hawsepipes holding three tons of Dwarven dark-steel discharged its coiled cargo, screaming red hot as its "M" shaped weight-ends plunged below.
 
From Blightreef, a school of Hammerhead guards, rising to strip the white-blubbered Ningen of their flesh, instead met with the unimaginable force of two descending blocks of metal some ten-metres across. In the anchor's passing, a bloody hole appeared in the shoal of slavering sharks as if by sorcery, with the sizzling chain further decimating their numbers by the dozen.
 
Lei-Bup's minions cleared from the listing ship. The Liaoming itself bit into the water with a violent splash; then, as the chains reached their constrained length, it rapidly began to sink, lead by the crumpling bow.
 
Inside the bridge, the supertanker's instruments sparked and fizzled as the ship traversed in a direction it was never designed for, bursting into arcane flames. When the sea rose, the storm-proof Wall of Force around the bridge lasted only thirty seconds, dashing Lei-bup and his fellows violently against the newly pressurised cabin.
 
Banishing the stars from his eyes, Lei-Bup wiped sticky blood from every orifice as the whitewater washed into the bridge's interior. By all measures, like the others, his mistake should have been fatal, his bone and muscles reduced to a pulp.
 
Yet, fuelled by the faith from the Elder Being's million-strong servants, he could feel his organs mending even as his lungs switched from air to water. In one hand, he still clutched his can of crushed Spam, while inside his torso, fragmented ribs quickly reformed.
 
“Weee—Weeee—“
“Gweee—Gweeee— Gweeee—“
“GWEEE—GWEEEN— GWEEENGH— GWEEENGH—“
 
The cries of the shoal vibrated through the water, conjoined with the warping lament of deforming metal to drown out all sound. Once past the waterline, the supertanker plummeted, dragged by the Ningen and its twin anchors, sending containers, crates, cranes, and bits of sheet metal racing toward the seafloor.
 
"Praise be to the Pale Priestess!" Lei-bup's command vibrated through the Geat Shoal.
 
"Praise!" ten thousand faithful answered.
 
"Praise be to the Shoggoth! Hear us! Pale Priestess! Deliver unto us ascension!"
 
"Praise!" a hundred thousand voices echoed.
 
"Praise be to the Elder ones, who art Mother and Father!"
 
"WEEE— WEEE— WEEE—" A million howling beings of the deep swirled around the city of Blightreef, their collected volume sending bits of coral and old barnacles from the jutting spires. "GWEEE—GWEEEN— GWEEENGH!"
 
Where Lei-bup pointed the momentum of the faithful, the city's defences were likewise whipped into a frenzy. The elite guards of the Kraken, the two dominant Clans, the Tigermaw and the Hammerhead Shark-folk, were rousing the population to defend their lord. The problem though was that since the arrival of the Great Shoal, Lei-bup had been peppering the city with propaganda that all would be equal under the Pale Priestess. The idea itself was absurd, at least for Mermen living under the shadow of a higher-life form— and yet, Lei-bup's ascension was living proof that there was some truth to his promise. Under the watchful gaze of the all-seeing Elder Gods, Lei-bup promised that tyranny would be a thing of the past, and all who laboured would receive their share of fish and sea.
 
Initially, thousands of Mermen, drawn to the allure of food dispensed by the Great Shoal had joined Lei-bup. But following a violent and rapid crackdown from the Kraken's Elite Guard, the Bightreef's proletariat was forced to relocate into the city's coral interior.
 
"WAIT FOR THE KRAKEN TO SHOW ITSELF!" Lei-bup howled from the inundated bridge as the last of the instruments fizzled. "Blo-bup! Fu-bup! Get ready to overload the Shields! Fear not for thy Cores, comrades! The Pale Priestess Protects! As one, we art fodder! Together, we art Leviathan!"
 
Would his kin survive? Lei-bup could only hope that they too had faith.
 
Under his feet, the supertanker shuddered; what little automated defence its superstructure still possessed withdrew until only the engine room and the Shielding Core remained operational. Somewhere within the ship's bowels, the fellow cultists of Lei-bup, his blood relatives, Blo-bup and Fu-bup, turned the dials on the instrument panels until their Cores were on the verge of splintering like overheated glass.
 
"The Priestess preserves!" his men answered over the spluttering, water-logged intercom Glyphs, amazed that their High Priests' words seemed to resonate within their heads. Each by each, they produced their cans of Spam and held the shiny metal close to their chest, where their Cores were beginning to unravel. "For the Shoal, comrade!"
 
"For the SH—"
 
A howl of tortured metal twisting and bending as the sinking tanker passed the halfway mark resounded. This deep, the micro blood vessels on Blo-bup and Fu-bup's fishy face erupted as the pressure from the descending hulk mangled their fishy forms. Even as the world turned dark, they held their cans of Spam, for they were the survivors of the Shoggoth's descent. They alone out of the thousands had endured! Such a thing had to be providence, Blo-bup and Fu-bup believed, for there existed no explanation for their continuance other than the especial care of an all-powerful creator.
 
“GWEEE—GWEEEN— GWEEENGH— GWEEENGH—“
 
The Great Shoal's chanting hammered at the hull.
 
"The KRAKEN COMES!" Lei-bup's voice was the last thing the cousins heard. "Comrades! Let none retreat! The Pale Priestess is watching us!"
 
 
The Kraken Biplipodoofu was an old monster.
 
To say that it was as old as Dragons would be an understatement, for things in the deep aged very slowly and drank deeply from the Elemental Plane of Water, allowing their powers to grow as unfathomable as the ocean's depth.
 
A century ago, he had arrived at Blightreef to claim it for his own. The city had been a raider's den then, consisting of nought but jutting crags of deep-sea coral sheltering shoals of Tigermaws and Hammerheads caught in perpetual conflict.
 
The reason for their conflict was Blightreef itself— for beneath the city was a ley-point where the continental shelves met, so abundant with mana that it had attracted the aimlessly drifting form of Biplipodoofu, an emerging master newly set out from the Abyssal Trenches.
 
Initially, Biplipodoofu had been wary. Tales of Dragons ruling the eastern seas had always circulated in this part of the ocean, and though Biplipodoofu did not think itself inferior, it also knew that Krakens were no match against an existence as ancient as the sea itself.
 
Thankfully, Krakens were patient schemers. After a decade of lurking, Biplipodoofu was appalled to find that no Water Dragons ruled these waters. It was as though these creatures who owned vast tracts of the ocean in the long dark had no interest in these shallow but rich waters.
 
It was a prospect which suited Biplipodoofu just fine.
 
Once the Kraken's mind was made up, Biplipodoofu moved on Blight Reef with brutal efficiency, quelling the tribal conflict between the shark-tribes. As a superior existence, he had invited their leaders to negotiate— then crushed the Chieftains into cankerous globs of mutilated pulp in front of their kin.
 
Over the next century, Biplipodoofu built on the existing city. With his tentacles dipped into the ley-line, his form grew massive and bloated, accumulating far more power than his still-wandering brethren. Naturally, greedy challengers presented themselves— Deep Whales, Titan Jellies, a Mindweaver Lungfish— twice he fought off older Krakens, absorbing the Essence from his victims to bolster his power.
 
Then came "The Madness".
Biplipodoofu, far wiser than the simple-minded Mermen thanks to the knowledge baked into his genes, knew it to be Dragon Fear. The Kraken had felt Dragon Fear before, but this was different. What he now experienced was the insane rage of something primordial, hailing from a time when the oceans were still unfilled; when the Kraken-kind still wallowed in their abyssal pools of ancient brine.
 
Never had Biplipodoofu been more thankful that his Core was bolstered by a century of feeding on the mana node. While his minions rampaged, the raging torrent of rippling mana merely filled him with violent agitation, causing Biplipodoofu to crawl from the depth to exercise an unbidden impulse for ultraviolence.
 
When he emerged, the usually clear water was hazy with fish blood, salty with spilt guts and churning with white flesh. His shark-troops had gone wild with terror and were marauding through the metropolis of millions, indiscriminately murdering as they went. Everywhere, every fish from the flat-bodied Manta-folk to the slender-waisted Hag-kin fought fin and claw in an orgy of destruction.
 
Biplipodoofu did his best to save the city from eating itself into extinction, but even with his powers, he managed only to quell a minor quadrant. As for the rest— Biplipodoofu despaired as his subjects emerged from coral and crag to commit mass murder-suicide.
 
In the aftermath of the Madness, Biplipodoofu had sent out his feelers into the surrounding waters. What surprised him was that all the Mermen Kingdoms had launched a Holy War against the Humans.
 
For the next few decades, Biplipodoofu defended his domain from privateers. A curious thing that happened was that ships— sometimes steered by Humans and sometimes as abandoned jetsam, began to collect above the city, driven by some unseen current likely responding to the ley-lines.
 
These hulks smashed together, sometimes sinking to form new reefs, otherwise joining the flotilla until they became a small island unto itself. On these wayward ships came Humans, which at first Biplipodoofu tried to eat, though he felt offended by their fibrous tissue. Interestingly, the Humans held no hostility to Blightreef and instead informed his sharks that they were willing to trade, facilitating something Biplipodoofu had not ever considered before— the ability to harvest exotic goods from the surface.
 
"Bring me Crystals," Biplipodoofu commanded the Humans, who said they hailed from the Greys. "And earthly morsels of every kind. I will trade you the Cores and flesh of my slaves."
 
And so, despite losing his century-long labour to the Madness, Biplipodoofu prospered, feeding on succulent things abducted from beyond the shoreline. Crystals of all elements, the flesh of strange creatures from plains and mountains, grains and produce from the Fae Folk filtered into Blightreef. Biplipodoofu also traded for food to expand his city, for the humans had mastered a means of generating endless grain, a feat Biplipodoofu could not replicate underwater. For this, the Kraken praised his wisdom, for the bilateral beneficence was a difficult scale to balance.
 
The Mermen hatred of Humans was a palpable thing, for their ancestors spoke of giant nets, fathoms deep and kilometres across, that would rake the seabed. Indiscriminately, these would abduct the fish folk's warriors, females and children to be dismembered on the Human's giant tankers. Others told tales of madness derived from the passing ships armed with "Shielding" that decimated their reefs, rupturing their eggs, or drove their young ones to suicide. All who lectured of the Humans wished for their destruction, a sentiment that Biplipodoofu had manipulated to unite the city.
 
To keep the facade, Biplipodoofu had asked the "Grey" Humans to send him prisoners. These he fed into the city's gladiatorial arenas, places were the Mermen merited out the savage justice of the sea.
 
For thirty-odd revolutions after the Madness, all had proceeded swimmingly— until the arrival of this "Great Shoal".
 
At first, the Kraken paid them no heed. A swarm of this size was no real threat to himself, especially when he discovered that their leader was a Mermen of the lowest order known as Lei-bup, a coast-dwelling mud-skipper!
 
If Biplipodoofu's parrot beaks could form a smile, he may very well have smiled in the guise of those Grey Human traders.
 
What was Biplipodoofu? An adult Kraken-kin! The sole surviving spawn of a million eggs! How many siblings had he consumed, how many monsters of the deep had Biplipodoofu bested? Even faced with the hard-headed Dragon Whales' warrior hunter-killers who pursued his kind for sport, Biplipodoofu had prevailed, strangling the son-of-a-drake to death by crushing their deep-diving lungs!
 
As for the coastal Merman, Lei-bup was an existence who could not match one sucker-fang on Biplipodoofu's two-dozen tentacles. Why should he worry about a shoal lead by such an insignificant being? Even if one of his guards filleted the minnow and presented Lei-bup with that Human flavouring— wasabi, it would lack sufficient taste.
 
And so, Biplipodoofu had kept one eye open as he watched the events unfold above.
 
His only thought was that this incoming shoal, with its diversity of ocean-kin, could revitalise Blightreef and give him more parts to trade to the "Grey" Humans. That was why, even as the "Great Shoal" began their blasphemous chanting, Biplipodoofu kept his calm.
 
That is until his precious port of smashed-up human ships erupted.
 
"BLOPUPUPU!" Biplipodoofu swore, sending such shockwaves out from the undercity that his guards instantly perished from the pressure.
 
His ink-sacks quivered with inconceivable fury! It was one thing to fight him, teeth against beak, hot fin against slimy tentacle, but the port was Biplipodoofu's livelihood, the source of his joy! How dare this Lei-bup touch what doesn't belong to his stunted fins!
 
The rush of raw and rare emotions coursing through Biplipodoofu tore his city apart. As he rose from the depth, Blightreef's districts shattered, entire columns of coral apartments toppled as Biplipodoofu's demi-god body slithered upward, ready to eradicate this "Great Shoal" and crush its insignificant, worm-like leader.
 
"GUARDS!" Biplipodoofu's order rang out, rousing the city's inhabitants. "Consume these invaders! Banish them to the deep! Feast on their females and young!"
 
Around his city, the "Great Shoal" had formed an enormous ring of silver, neither attacking nor retreating, merely chanting some strange, eldritch cry of "Weeee—" an alien syllable that made Biplipodoofu's scarlet skin crawl.
 
“GWEEE—GWEEEN— GWEEENGH— GWEEENGH—“ The chants grew louder.
 
The Kraken raised its enormous eye toward the murky surface above.
 
Something was coming.
 
A ship! Biplipodoofu recognised the silhouette at once. He could tell from the currents that it was falling rapidly toward his city.
 
THIS MUD-DWELLING BOBBIT WORM! Biplipodoofu abruptly understood his mistake; he had misread his enemy's goal! This Lei-bup was trying to destroy his city! That which now fell was what the Grey Humans called a supertanker, a Human-made thing larger than Biplipodoofu himself! If such a mass crashed into his city, his operations would be ruined! All the time he had spent building up Blightreef to service his every whim and pleasure: the breeding pits, the gladiatorial arenas, the endless games of inter-feuding that pleased his mind to no end, it would all cease to exist! Blightreef would become just that, a blighted reef!
 
Biplipodoofu grew so furious that a gush of hot ink polluted the seawater in his vicinity.
 
No! He would not let the mewling minnow have his way!
 
With one push, Biplipodoofu surged upward, his powerful body displacing the water so rapidly a torrent of air bubbles formed. Within his majestic, carmine body, his Kraken-blood burned blue and black, commanding the ocean currents to obey his command. With all his strength, Biplipodoofu was confident; he could turn the ship's falling trajectory and thwart this Lei-bup!
 
"BLUBLBUFU!" Biplipodoofu growled as the ship's anchor pierced his shoal of minions, turning dozens of warriors into chowder. Following behind was the enormous shape of the tanker, approaching as though it were a steel-wrought Leviathan, trailing bubbles even as it disintegrated. Two Ningen, as dumb as they were pallid, broke away and fled for the protection of the ring of invaders, pursued by hundreds of his sharks.
 
"CURRENTS! OBEY ME!" Biplipodoofu imposed his will on the incomprehensible mass of water surrounding his being.
 
An invisible nova formed around the Kraken as the stowed mana within his Core grew to encompass the region of his being. The arcana held in his ancient blood boiled within his dilating veins, sending his six-hearts into a pulsing frenzy.
 
Unseen currents tormented the space between city and ship.
 
Down the tanker came and up the Kraken went; an immovable force meeting the unstoppable object.
 
 
Lei-bup felt the trajectory of the tanker shift and so knew that the eye of Biplipodoofu was upon them.
 
With the cries of Weee— still bouncing inside his head, he prayed that his ploy would strike true and that the ship, with its resonating crystal, would crush the rising Kraken.
 
When their opposing forces met, a skull-splitting groan of twisting steel resounded. If the Liaoming could feel agony, then its sinews were now being wrenched from its bones.
 
Lei-bup felt his spine shudder. The Kraken was deflecting the ship!
 
It was impossible to imagine that such a feat was at all possible, even for the Pale Priestess. As robust as her Emissary of the Elder Ones could be, this was a supertanker of unimaginable weight bearing down like a mountain! How could one creature, even if its age and size were on the tier of ocean royalty, overcome the blunt physics of overwhelming mass?
 
Seconds later, Lei-bup received his answer. With a deep, metallic moan of overstressed metal, the Liaoming began to fall apart, its internal structure finally failing from the abuse.
 
Lei-bup prayed for the second stage of his plan.
The resonance from the Shielding Core, now close enough to be felt by their targets, thrummed and thrived, sending the city's defenders into a crazed frenzy. The organised shoals of Tigermaws and Hammerheads either fell apart or were dispersed as their members attempted to get away from the Core shredding agony of Abjuration magic. If the city's forces could be mitigated, Lei-bup hoped, then they could focus the Kraken.
 
From the bridge, Lei-bup could see the immense form of Biplipodoofu squirming in fury from the vibration. He also knew the respite was temporary, as soon as the ocean water flooded into the engine room, the resonator would cease its function.
 
After that, the Kraken would feast.
 
In the end, the shoal's path was pre-ordained.
 
"COMRADES, HEAR ME!" He called out to the teeming masses. "THE TIME HAS COME!"
 
With the golden can of Spam held high, he poured his faith and belief into his next words. "PRAISE YOG! CALL HIM! OPEN THE GATES!"
 
From around the city, the encircling shoal moved with the fluidity of a living thing, tightening their circumference. From his vantage in the crumbling bridge, Lei-bup could see that vaguely, the Great Shoal had obeyed his will and formed the Mandala he had meticulously recollected.
 
On their journey through the sea, he had attempted many times to call forth the Shoggoth, to plumb the depth of the Pale Priestess' craft. These were the times when the shoal had consumed sea tribes too stubborn to convert to the great commune, putting no less than ten thousand heretics to the trident. Yet, each time, Lei-bup had failed— and in those times, he wondered if his lack was to blame, or if some other arcane mechanism was involved.
 
Now, there was no more room for doubt.
 
With the Great Shoal joined and the city rising to resist their existential deliverance, all now followed the rite of summoning. This time, the Mermen gulped, how many of the faithful would give their lives for the Elder Ones? How many in the shoal truly believed?
 
Lei-bup steeled his faith. Maybe that was the point. Without a baptism of blood, how could the faithful be weeded from those who followed merely out of fear and self-preservation? What the Pale Priestess desired was absolute loyalty; what the Elder Things wanted was the commitment of both Core and Essence. Take himself— had Lei-bup not given up his tribe to be so anointed? Why should these neophytes be spared?
 
“GWEEE—GWEEEN— GWEEENGH— GWEEENGH—“
 
The ebb and flow of faith rose and fell.
Outside the bridge, the battle began.
 
"PRAISE!" Lei-bup cried out. "WEEE— WEEE—"
 
The waters of the Blightreef grew gradually pink as the great wheel of teeth, fin and claw met the city's defenders in savage disharmony. His school of the devoted, having accustomed itself to the resonance for many days, crushed Blightreef's howling, rag-tag marauders. The heartening sight lasted only a few minutes, for even as the shoal constricted its foe, the Liaoming choked on its Siren's song, then died.
 
Outside the bridge, the Kraken was now physically diverting the ship from its city. It was searching for him, Lei-bup knew, for that was how the creatures of the sea fought; minion-against-minion, leader-against-leader. In this regard, Lei-bup was a dishonourable coward.
 
A massive "W' shaped pupil passed the window.
It's multi-cloured, metallic-seeming iris abruptly focused on the fish hiding inside the small metal cage.
 
Knowing the end was nigh, a strange calm overcame Lei-bup.
The desperation he had felt a moment ago gave way to an indescribable certainty.
 
The Priestess was watching and listening, Lei-bup discerned. Something was happening.
 
Even as the bridge collapsed and crumpled under the Kraken's tyrannic strength, Lei-bup sat back in his captain's chair and directed the Great Shoal, correcting its course, ensuring that the circle remained accurate to the summoning Mandala.
 
Outside, with one swipe of a mighty tentacle, a thousand faithful fishes perished. Against the cracked and ruptured windows of the bridge, a great eye pressed itself upon the frame, its meniscus lens bulging against the jagged borders.
 
"I FOUND YOU!" the Kraken's voice was enough to shatter the windows that remained.
 
Lei-bup did not feel the need to answer the Kraken.
Around them, the blood-frothed waters churned. Distinctly, as before, he sensed the connection between worlds weaken. It was a familiar feeling, that strange vertigo which only creatures living on land could genuinely comprehend.
 
In the end, "sacrifice" was the key.
 
Only in the madness of ultraviolence could the Shoggoth be conjured. Only bathed in belief could Shub-Niggurath's will be known.
Only then would Yog send forth its Emissary.
Only by blood would the gates conjoin.
 
When the sea outside the shattered bridge suddenly darkened, Lei-bup opened his eyes. Bewildered by the rift in the Planes, the Kraken's eyeball swivelled in its socket.
 
"On the contrary, Master Biplipodoofu," the High Priest spoke with a faint, toothy smile at the ink-jetting Kraken. "I fear our Lord and Saviour has found YOU."
 
 
 
Llyn Alaw.
 
Gwen recalled too late that a Shield could act as an umbrella, and so employed an Extend Range meta-magic to create a semi-dome that encompassed both herself and Golos.
 
Gingerly utilising Conjure Water, she washed her mouth, then hosed themselves free of the fishy downpour.
 
With her barrier in place, the roaring storm of blood grew muted, though all around them, the howling WEEEE— seemed to defy all applications of Abjuration.
 
"I've got nothing to do with this," Golos assured her. "Calamity… when did the Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void become inhabited by fish?"
 
Forcing herself to ignore the "tinnitus", Gwen concurred that Golos was not the culprit here. What she couldn't guess was why an enormous eye, now torn to shreds, had flooded the entire dais with its milk-white internal juices. Paranoid, she searched for her spectators, conceiving through their absence that Brown and company must have retreated to safety.
 
"Golos, cover me." Gwen knelt to check her summoning Mandala.
 
In her studied eyes, the etched Glyphs were all in place. It made sense, for that was the reason why she had summoned Golos before the Shoggoth. If her drawing proved faulty or warped by some strange, unknown phenomenon, Gogo would have failed to materialise. Nonetheless, for insurance, she injected fresh mana into the Mueller-Burbank Octogramic Sigil that governed the contractual aspects of the Mandala, finding her inscription without flaw.
 
"Okay..." Gwen tsked. If the summoning was perfect, why was her Planar Ally spell raining blood and fish? Was bread or locusts going to follow? "This doesn't make any sense…"
 
"Calamity, your Shoggoth has descended," Golos spoke using their Empathic Link, for the WEEEEE— was unceasing. "I think it was in the middle of dinner."
 
Girl and Wyvern both looked out into the sorcerously-lit clearing, where piles of the Shoggoth's tendrils, some studded with eyes but mostly armed with lamprey lips, coiled like soft-serve ice cream onto the Triffid grove. The instant Shoggoth and Triffid-tree made contact, an explosion of ectoplasm splattered forth, covering an area about the size of a football field, smothering the strange, alien jungle.
 
Now that Gwen had time to take it all in, the scene around her was surreal beyond belief.
 
First, the milk-pus from the ruptured eye that emerged had painted the lake-forest white. Then, the pelting, pellet sized blood-rain had turned it pink and scarlet. Belatedly, like cords of clotted blood, the Shoggoth's tendrils hung from the heavens, where even now the portal into the Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void vomited up its grotesque, formless body.
 
"Shall we go up?" Gwen asked after a while, finding that there was little else she could do. "I've yet to see Shoggy in its entirety."
 
Golos agreed; though the Wyvern's booming affirmation grew mute against the raging WEEEE—
 
Ding! Ding! Another Message spell bloomed beside her face, though answering the damned thing was impossible. Both inside her head and as a physical manifestation, the howling voices drowned out all thought.
 
"I CAN'T HEAR ANYTHING RIGHT NOW!" she shouted back into the Message spell. "TALK LATER! SHOGGY IS DANDY! I DON'T KNOW WHY THERE IS FISH!"
 
"Are they going to believe that?" Golos asked with a snort.
 
"God knows," Gwen answered through their mental link. "I sure as hell don't. Flight!"
 
Gwen rose into the air with her Wyvern, keeping them shielded and protected from the soft archery of offal. "Look—"
 
From up on high, she could guess that the gobs of red flesh pelting down belonged to one creature. She had no idea what it was— but there were bits of tentacles, intestine and stranger things. The most remarkable piece of ejecta was the now perforated meniscus lens that covered the "W" shaped eye.
 
Gwen grew gradually confident that this was no fuck-up of her making. The Void was an unpredictable Plane, and no one knew what existed beyond the veil. Maybe the Shoggoth was wresting with another resident, and she had caught it in the middle of a throwdown? After all, Void Calamari was no less horrific than the lampreys she summoned. Both were aquatic-looking, slimy and phallic, and both had sucker-disk mouth-things. If the Triffids were engaged in a blood-soaked orgy and her spectators were braying, bellowing, and writhing, chanting "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" that would be someone else's story.
 
But nothing of the sort happened, and her Shoggoth seemed in perfect health. She couldn't vouch for the hundreds of thousands of fish-bits that were falling, but that giant eye that had appeared was similar enough to the smaller squid eyes that her Shoggoth usually sported.
 
The question then, was why the strange chant? And most importantly, why the fish? Was it because she was guilty about Mermen otoro? Maybe next time, she should think about salad.
 
Just as well, she formulated answers for her detractors. "I am the student here, you're the Masters..." she would say to them, why would a group of researchers ask an eighteen-year-old-girl with no more than four years of formal education under her belt to rationalise a world-first Void phenomenon? Was she supposed to interrogate her Shoggoth?
 
"It's growing larger still." Golos brought her back to the present.
 
Gwen concurred. Her Shoggoth now covered the span of the lake and was rapidly expanding as it digested the verdant Triffid forest.
 
Now and then, a living Triffid emerged to challenge the thing, only to be smothered by ethereal tendrils armed with gibbering mouths. These bit into the Triffid, taking it apart in the manner of an elephant overpowered by floating maws attached to an endless stomach. Further on, a Hydraffid burst forth, attempting to defend its portion of the grove, only to be tenderly devoured over ten-odd minutes. The Shoggoth wasn't fast, but it was fastidious. Against monsters, its toothy apertures rivalled Golos' chompers. For the thorn-walls, it first applied the sticky ectoplasm, then unleashed the main body's multitude of mouths. All the while, intermittent eyes appeared and disappeared, swivelling in their pockets of grey goo, searching for prey.
 
Where the Shoggoth passed, only bare rock slimy with semi-clear discharge remained. Gwen had half-a-mind to descend and examine if Triffid spores remained but felt compelled to observe her creature's progress.
 
Over the next hour, the discordant Gweeegn— Gweeegn— Gweeegn— faded, as did the rain of blood from above. Gwen thanked the Sleeper of R'lyeh that her prediction came true— that upon her Shoggoth exiting the summoning rift, the natural elasticity of the Prime Elemental Plane would weld shut the ethereal tear, cutting her creature from siphoning the mana it needed to remain manifested.
 
"I am back," Gwen once more addressed the Message spell. "The noise is gone. How's everyone?"
 
"… Gwen? Are you alright?" it was Brown who answered. "You've given us quite the fright."
 
"I can imagine," Gwen replied as jovially as she could muster. "For the record, I was in no danger. Moreover, Shoggy is taking care of the forest as planned."
 
"We can see that." Brown paused. "Any notion why the rain of blood? You're not a Necromantic Blood Mage, are you?"
 
"I hope not. I believe Shoggy was in the middle of lunch," Gwen answered honestly. "There's so much we don't know about the Void and what's living in it."
 
"That's God's truth." Brown hesitated. "Are you in control?"
 
Gwen willed the Shoggoth to pause its hunger. When no response came, she reported her finding.
 
"No control, I am afraid. Limited Identify Friend-Foe is the best Shoggy can manage."
 
"I see. We'll keep observing. Once enough of the island is clear; secondary operation will begin. I'll keep you informed."
 
"Roger that." Gwen watched the Shoggoth's expansion. Thus far, the absurd growth rate of the creature remained unabated. Was there that much vitality in the trees? Gwen doubted it. Earlier, Caliban had reported great dissatisfaction for the thorn wall. If so, how was it that her Shoggoth was so vigorous? Even as a laywoman, Gwen understood that the volume of materials needed to fill ever-larger spaces was exponential. To cover so much forest so quickly, just how much life were the Triffids leeching from the land? If so, then she could see why the Elves had demanded a Purge.
 
"Even the trees are fleeing." Golos chortled. "You really are a Calamity."
Gwen eyed the regions of the island that remained untouched, feeling a tiny tingle tickle her conscience. Now that the rain of seafood and the high-pitched wailing ceased, the susurration of the Shoggoth's murderous march was madness-inducing.
 
So the creatures did know fear, Gwen pondered the strange display. What would this world's Vegans say if they could see that even weeds understood despair?
 
"Let's give Shoggy a hand." She eyed her Wyvern's potbelly, suddenly wishful for enterprising distractions. "You can get some exercise, and I can gather some spare change."
 
 
 
The blood made it hard for Lei-bup's gills to function. The gory "air" felt so thick, especially when mixed with the ink from the Kraken.
 
All around Lei-bup was an impenetrable murk— not for lack of light, but that he swam in a thick soup of death, foetid with floating particles of Mermen, Kraken and ectoplasm.
 
Was he dead and now afloat in the primordial stream of life? Lei-bup starkly meditated, until something moved in the dark. A tentacle drifted in and out of sight, appearing and disappearing in the ectoplasmic gloop.
 
His lidless eyes attempted to focus, but there was nothing to be seen past the length of his own hands. When he churned the water, bits of fish-lip, tissue, and an occasional eyeball came floating by, propelled by some unseen current.
 
"ARRRRGGH—" In the uncertain distance, someone screamed, then its fearful cry was abruptly cut short.
 
"O Emissary! Mercy—" Another voice howled out its guts. There was a sound of bones crunching, then that too fell silent.
 
Lei-bup attempted to tap into the Great Shoal as he had done so before.
 
"Comrades..." he paused when a renewed pulse of vertigo washed over his trembling body. In the murk, something moved, parting the waters, drinking-in the chowder of dismembered carcasses.
 
An eye appeared, about the size of Lei-bup himself, with a "W" shaped iris yellow in the middle but emerald nearer the edge. There was something familiar about the colour— something that Lei-bup felt he should recall once his mind returned to clarity from the madness that now strangled his throbbing, frontal lobe.
 
Two more eyes appeared.
Then three and four, all moving independently.
In a minute, a dozen eyes, each swimming in ectoplasmic spheroids of vaguely organic strips attached to prehensile tendrils, gazed at Lei-bup as if caressing his quaking soul.
 
The High Priest swallowed. In his hand, the crumpled can of SPAM felt hard and cold, not at all the relic he had upheld to be the light and the truth.
 
"O Emissary of the Elder One…" Lei-bup stood paralysed, unable to move their merest fibre of his being. Was his faith sufficient? How much of the Great Shoal remained apart from himself? Would the miracle of the Deep One's mercy happen for the third time? A dozen questions raced through Lei-bup's fishy brain as his eyes swivelled in their sockets.
 
"How may your humble servant serve?" he begged of the eldritch manifestation.
 
The eyes came closer.
 
Lei-bup forcibly reminded himself that he should welcome oblivion, for only past the Void's veil can a fish be one with the body of an Elder Being. Such was the sacrifice the all-consuming ones demanded; it was not Lei-bup's intent to deny his patron.
 
Feebly, he raised the Spam, then sunk to his knees.
 
"O Elder One." Lei-bup's lips trembled. He wished that like Humans, he had eyelids, for thanks to the spiritual vitality gifted by the Great Shoal, Lei-bup had no doubt he would be eaten alive. "Your servant is ready."
 
Even now, somewhere out in the blood-dimmed muck, intermittent cries of guttural terror, together with the sound of flesh rending flesh tested his resolve. Slowly, gingerly, the tendrils approached to touch Lei-bup's pancaked tin of spilt Spam.
 
The Merman froze.
He finally recognised the unique colour of the eyes on the Shoggoth.
 
She was watching all along!
 
Before his mind could recover, Lei-bup found that his vertigo ceased.
 
"O! O! O!" Lei-bup wept salty tears, his excretions mixing with the bloody brine. He understood at once that the "Gwen" must have intervened ."O Pale Priestess, your servant is undeserving…"
 
For some time, Lei-bup remained kneeling, holding the SPAM in his hand. Gradually, the seawater regained its clarity; the gore, the ink and the ectoplasm either sunk or were blown away by the ever-cleansing currents from the Elemental Plane of Water.
 
Like a new-born, Lei-bup emerged into Blightreef, standing atop the shattered bridge overlooking the devastated city. His heart was whole, as was his being. No doubt now existed in his mind.
 
The Kraken was no more— that much was obvious. Its sole bone stood stabbed into the sodden seafloor like a tombstone. Elsewhere, one of its eyes, partially devoured, floated like a jellyfish's umbrella cap through the pink-tinged water.
 
Beneath his confident gaze, one by one, the survivors emerged.
 
"High Priest!" a shout cried out. It was Jinka, the warrior Chief of the Claw Clan. The peerless fighter had three limbs left, though they would eventually grow back. To Lei-bup's amusement, he wore a necklace of Spam polished to a glean. "Did we succeed? Did we defeat a Master of the Abyssal Trenches? We WON?"
 
"Was there any doubt?" Another cry drifted in with the freshwater. Karasin, the Bluefin Strider Captain, arrived with a dozen of his men. By some unfathomable stretch of arithmetic, they appeared unscathed by the Shoggoth's passing.
 
"I believed—" Karafin held an empty can of Spam aloft. "I consumed the flesh of the Pale Priestess, and it gave me strength and protection."
 
"Hooo!" his riders howled in turn, reeling their sword-fish mounts.
 
"AH—" Jinka slapped his carapace. "You mollusc! I should have thought of that!"
 
From up on high, Lei-bup's echoing laughter rang out. "I too, had misunderstood. The Priestess had given us the gift of flesh to consume originally, hahaha… To think I've kept these last few tins as a memento of our meeting."
 
"High Priest!"
"Chief Jinka!"
"Captain Karafin!"
"Lord Lei-bup!"
 
From here and there, from under the ectoplasm and the flayed carcasses; from the murk at either end of the city, from buried alleyways and collapsed coral apartments, hundreds and thousands of survivors belonging to the Great Shoal began to emerge. Together with Lei-bup's folk were the stunned inhabitants and the surviving Shark-folk. As their worshipful gaze converged upon him, unexplainable strength flooded over Lei-bup's body. From his earlier exhaustion, Lei-bup felt buoyed by an overwhelming vitality, as if the mana in his body was trying to escape the confines of his Core.
 
From the fore of the sloped forecastle, Lei-bup rose.
 
It wasn't even a conscious effort. The acolyte of the Pale Priestess simply ascended until he floated above the stark-white shape of the Kraken's bone-Core, behind of which the supertanker similarly stood, thrust into the seafloor, a testament to Lei-bup's conversion of Blightreef by right of might.
 
"Comrades!" Lei-bup's voice swept through the city, piercing every blockade and barrier. "Who among you still has doubt?"
 
The proletariat's answer, Lei-bup was glad— required no voice to be heard.
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Strictly Cali An islander's Meta-journey Strategic Magic The Strange Life of an Elf From Sydney The Rise of a Magi - Empires of Old
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