Nobody brought their boats out to Land’s End, not anymore. A long, long time ago, Dot’s family had built a lighthouse on one of the islands there, and a temple to the gods of invention and progress. Nowadays, the lighthouse was derelict, the glass all shattered out and the brazier long cold. The sea had risen to swallow the temple, until only the top of its domed roof broke the surface.
Once, they sent their boats out into the open ocean, but now they stayed safe, sheltered by the arms of the Sound, away from the sea.
Dot only took her motorboat down the Sound when the new moon was out and on the first night of the waning gibbous. People whispered about it, but she was used to that. They’d whispered even before she started making her trips to Land’s End.
The other villagers expected her to use the inheritance the Goodwife Clare left her to attract the best possible husband. It was the sensible thing to do, and despite all her eccentricities, Dot had always been considered quite sensible. It had always been one of the only points in her favor.
Instead, she packed it all the jewelry, all the gold-plated decorations, the gilt, the silver, everything she thought might attract a thief, into heavy crates and put them in her basement. She packed all the books, specimens, and other curiosities into her cottage, and sold everything else.
Even the mansion they’d expected her to be eager to raise her children in was sold, to a nice professor from an inland city to use as his summer home.
Yes, the villagers had said, she’s always been eccentric, but this really tops it all! Our Dottie Roi is not all there in the head, even if her heart isn’t in a bad place.
Not the right place, but not a bad one.
Without the moon, the way was dark, but Dot had been born in the Sound. Navigating its waters was a skill people learned at the same time as walking and speaking. The motorboat made it even easier.
Lanterns were not allowed past Land’s End. They lost the privilege of lighting the sea a long time ago. It was better to know the way by heart than by sight, anyway. Eyes lied all the time. Dot had gotten to thinking that it might be their primary purpose. Tell enough truth that you didn’t blunder right into death, but cover it up with enough lies that you could make it through the day.
Those weren’t very comfortable thoughts, but Dot was getting used to them. Goodwife Clare’s books had quite a profound effect on her.
She drove her boat out to the island her ancestor had built the lighthouse on, its ruined frame a tower of black against a glittering sky full of stars. The dark new moon hung as a void, a counterpart to the derelict lighthouse. There was no dock; she had to pull the motorboat up the beach by a chain to keep it from drifting away.
Nothing by human hands could be constructed here, or the ocean would take it and destroy it. All that would be left were useless ruins, incapable of their original purpose, to serve as reminders. Dot stared up at the lighthouse, catching her breath.
She stripped off her overclothes, leaving her in jogging pants and a t-shirt, and spent a few minutes limbering up. When she waded back out to the water, the chill of it shocked her, but she soon got used to it.
Dot swam out to the domed roof of her ancestor’s temple to the gods of invention and progress. It was about thirty yards out from the lighthouse, a reminder that this tiny island had once been much, much bigger. The rock was slick from years and years of seawater splashing over it, but it provided a good vantage point for her wait.
Like this, if you faced away from the Sound, away from Land’s End, you could imagine yourself out in the middle of the open ocean. Nothing but water as far as the eye could see.
She wondered what it might be like to poke her head above the water much further out, where it wasn’t an illusion. What it might be like to come face to face with your own tininess in a way your eyes and mind couldn’t disguise. Probably really, really horrible. Humans weren’t meant for open water.
Wet, webbed hands slapped on the stone behind her, and lungs gurgled into use, switching over from pulsating gills. Dot turned in place and met the black gaze of the first Abyssal of the night.
Judging by the placement of the glowing spots on its chest, she was pretty sure this was Tower. He was about her age, as far as these things went, and far less wary of her than some of his fellows. As the creature approached, she looked for the tattered dorsal fin and shark-scarred arm that would confirm its identity.
A wave of good humor slammed into her head–flashes of the journey towards the surface, the fish they’d passed, familiarity, hello my friend–Dot wheezed and caught herself before she slipped from the dome.
“You could be a little quieter, Tower,” she gasped as he sat next to her, shoulder to shoulder.
His name wasn’t actually Tower. But, being as Abyssals lived in the sea, they didn’t speak as human beings did. Weren’t capable of sounds much more complicated than squeals and gurgles. Telepathy was the order of the day, and the swirl of images, suggestions, and feelings she’d been shown when she asked his name seemed to fit ‘Tower’ better than anything. He’d agreed to it, anyway.
How Abyssals understood spoken human words, Dot had no idea. Goodwife Clare’s books were often hard to decipher, and the answer might not even be in there. It was something for the old gods to know, probably, and something she’d be better off just not thinking about. Uncomfortable thoughts were one thing—useless thoughts entirely another.
“I’ve got the stuff,” she said. “For when everyone else gets here.”
Curiosity. Pleasure. Tower pawed at her shirt, but she pushed the squamous, icy hand away.
“For when everyone else gets here,” she repeated.
There was a story, written out over various pages in Goodwife Clare’s books. Written in the folklore of the village and the villages that had once stood nearby but died out. Written in the whispers of the very old and the very superstitious, in the fears and dread of fishermen.
Once upon a time, there was the Old Bargain.
In those days, human beings were allowed to build in their harbors, and send big ships out across the open waters. They were allowed to light the sea. In exchange, sacrifices were made to the Abyssals. Not sacrifices of death, for the death of humans meant nothing to the children of the sea. Things they couldn’t get in the ocean. Sacrifices of honey and milk, of raw animal liver. Sacrifices of gold. Valuable things that convinced them to allow human beings to share their realm.
Humankind broke the Old Bargain, so long ago that the name of the people who did it had been forgotten. And so they lost the privilege to build, to ship. They lost the privilege of lighting the sea. The Abyssals abandoned their human cousins and returned to their cities below the waves.
The stories said there were other things, too. Reasons for the Old Bargain to be broken. Requests for the sacrifice that could not be made. Kidnappings and devourings. Dot didn’t know if it was true. She hadn’t known if any of it was true.
All she’d known was that the ocean swallowed the temple her ancestors built, and that no ships went out across the sea anymore without disappearing.
“Hey, Tower,” she said, looking up at the stars.
“What do your people think about mine? Y’know. What do you think about humans?”
You never asked before. Odd, funny-looking things, creatures of just one world. Harpoons and nets, shit in the sea, spewing black clouds from engines, oily fires. But you’re okay, you’re even cute, practically pretty. Tower flared his arm-fins so they brushed against her, and cooed. If you could call the rattling noise that came out of his lungs a coo.
Another piscine head popped from under the waves. Dot waved, and the Abyssal returned the gesture, but stayed a few yards away. Another, and another, luminescent spots glowing beneath the choppy waves like the reflections of stars. After a few moments, there were dozens of them, risen from their reef-city to contemplate the wounded sky, the absent moon. They came up the night it began to wane away, the night it was gone entirely. The never-ending death of the Tide-Father.
Waves of their psychic chatter washed over the whorls of Dot’s brain. The eclipsed moon, the dark sea, the twinkle of gold. Anticipation and want and bemused, distant fondness for their ugly land-dwelling… friend? Benefactor? Pet? It was hard to tell if these were separate thoughts or just the single nuanced thought of the entire group. The timbres and sensations of the different thought-voices swirled together at this distance.
Still, at least there was something. In the early days, there had been complete silence, and Dot had been entirely unable to know what the terrifying, alien creatures around her intended. Now they didn’t bother keeping quiet, and even if she wasn’t meant to be a conversation partner, they didn’t cut her out.
Dot reached into her shirt and pulled out two handfuls of jewelry, barely a fraction of her inheritance from Goodwife Clare.
“You’re not vain,” the woman had told her from her sickbed. “You’ll put these things to good use.”
She’d winked then, and Dot still wondered if it was more than a lonely, dying madwoman’s whim that had earned her the Goodwife Clare’s affection. Whatever it was, there was no reason to dwell on it. She had been put to ground, and all her riches were Dot’s to do with as she pleased.
Was this how the Old Bargain had been struck originally? A single person making offerings? Or had there be delegation, real diplomats and ambassadors, pomp, ceremony? The stories did not recall, or if they did, Dot hadn’t found them. She knew ritual came later, for what are humans besides ritual-writers? She wasn’t interested in that. The old, old times, those were what interested her. The first set of eyes to lock with the black gaze of their sea-dwelling cousins, the first set of hands to pass over something valuable.
How the Abyssals determined queue order, Dot couldn’t know and had never asked. She tried not to overstep her bounds. She wasn’t sure how much of what she did was infringement, was achingly aware that she was really, really sticking her neck out here. If she offended one of them, all they’d have to do to kill her is hold tight and sink.
If Dot’s body were to wash ashore, would the villagers be upset? Or would they only shake their heads and blame how she wasn’t all there in the head, how her heart wasn’t in the right place?
Dot was pretty sure that the Abyssals wouldn’t kill her, and if she did die, the villagers would be sad. But she wasn’t sure. All of this was mostly uncharted, with just enough of a map to cement just how incredibly lost she was. But she’d unfurled to full canvas, so to speak, and the winds blew her forward at full tilt. She couldn’t go back to harbor now.
Before long, she’d handed out all the jewelry to a long procession of fish-people, who milled about the dome adorning themselves. Tower stayed quiet and out of her head, gaze burning into the side of her throat. Of all of them, he hadn’t received anything, and as far as jewelry went, Dot had nothing for him.
One of the Abyssals, no different to her than the others aside from the pattern of glowing spots, held up its finned hand, and all chatter fell silent. Dot bowed her head. If the Abyssals couldn’t read human respect in the gesture, at least they didn’t read anything rude. The voice that swelled from the Abyssal was haughty, crushingly cold as the sea was when Dot first dove in. There was no thankfulness there, only a sense of being delivered its expected payment.
Abyssals could live a long, long time. Centuries, according to Goodwife Clare’s books. Maybe this one had been there before the breaking of the Old Bargain.
It called the rest of the school to swim beyond the nearby reef, and made it clear in its condescending tone that this was an indulgence to Dot, a further extension of their good will. It was humans that broke the Old Bargain, after all, not them. Squeamish, disgusting little creatures, as fleeting as a wave, tiny as a mote of plankton. Well, most of them. Dot was not squeamish, not truly.
She just needed to get her toes wet.
Dot wondered if the Abyssal was trying to be funny or it if was just a jerk. Certainly Tower wasn’t immune from bouts of meanness, as demonstrated by his constantly yelling into her head. Whatever its real feelings, it set out toward the open ocean, its fellows following in its wake. Only Tower remained behind, breath picking up, fins flaring beyond his control.
When his composure snapped and he pawed at her again, Dot didn’t push him away.
Tower had enough patience to let her undress herself, which was definite personal growth. The first time they did this—the first time Dot had ever done anything like this—he tore her clothes apart, peeled the wreckage from her. Her elbow to the top of his skull had convinced him this was not acceptable behavior. It still took him a few times to figure out how to get at her skin without popping any seams.
Abyssals didn’t dress like human people. If they wore anything, it was purely decorative or ceremonial. Dot supposed that with no breasts on females and no external genitalia on anyone, there wasn’t really any point to it. He couldn’t be expected to intuitively understand the etiquette, or how fragile cotton ultimately was. And even she wasn’t immune from stupid, selfish decisions when she was excited. She’d never caused irreparable property damage, though.
Tower trilled and pulled her close, tugged her hand to his groin. The wet tip of his cock was just starting to poke out. It pulsed against her fingertips and twisted like it was trying to wrap around her. Cool, much cooler than any human, but warmer than the rest of him.
Desire slammed her like a storm surge, so sudden and huge her body ached from it. Nothing else had ever affected her this way. No shirtless farmhand, no grinning bearded fisherman, not even Goodwife Clare’s clever hands. She was wet before she got her jogging bottoms off, dripping by the time she had pulled off her shirt and set both articles of clothing beneath her to keep the stone from rubbing her raw.
Tower grinned at her as she lay back, a shockingly human expression. Even with the moon gone, light glinted off every translucent needle tooth. His glowing spots were starting to dim down, leaving him a mostly black shape looming over her. Same as the moon, same as the derelict lighthouse.
He pressed himself to her, cock wriggling against her vulva and dripping slick the same way she was. Dot ran her tongue over Tower’s pulsing gill-slits, kissed the corner of his mouth and ducked away when he tried to kiss her. He gurgled in protest and bombarded her with images of what he wanted from her.
Open, acquiescing mouth—short, scalding tongue against his long one—blunt teeth knocking into his upper lip—her soft fingers digging into his shoulders and forcing him closer. Even though his volume—or whatever she was supposed to call something technically silent—was manageable, the sheer intensity swamped her. Had her dazed, jaw slack, so Tower could get exactly what he’d asked for.
Inside your mouth is so hot, he said, lifting his hips to line himself up. And here’s even hotter. Little creature of fire.
Dot couldn’t think of anything pithy to say to that. All she could think was ‘please please please fuck me,’ all her much-lauded sensibility and less-acknowledged intelligence completely washed away. She grabbed her knees and pulled them back, opened herself up wide as she could without it hurting. Tower let himself bask in smug approval of his effect on her for much longer than she wanted, practically three whole seconds, before sinking into her.
The noise he made was almost sub-sonic, a buzz in her teeth to match the buzz of pleasure in her brain. Hers and Tower’s both. Her moan was high and clear and she wouldn’t be shocked to learn there were night-fishers in the Sound who heard it. Every ridge of him caught on her rim, then popped in with a little jolt of not-quite-pain, added to the building pressure inside her. Her legs trembled, her toes curled and uncurled without permission, and her breathing was increasingly shrill, almost sobbing. Mother of the sea, old gods, any god who was listening, so big, so big, so deep—
Then his body was flush with hers, his clawed fingers scratching against the stone, his cock squirming against her walls. The fullness was still shocking, how far she could be stretched and still feel good. Tower wasn’t broadcasting images anymore, just feeling, pleasure stretched like a long-held note.
It was always overwhelming when he got properly started. Relentless and not rough, exactly, but hard, insistent. Slick bubbled from where they were joined, hers and his both, the squelching noise almost louder than the crashing of the waves, the smell of sex almost stronger than the brine.
Every fin flared, the sharp edges of their spines prompting Dot to lock her ankles at the small of Tower’s back to avoid getting her calves jabbed again. The smell of blood could make Tower go… weird. Weirder than his baseline.
Dot was well aware that he was holding back for her benefit, for the benefit of the tentative steps they were taking toward remaking the Old Bargain. She saw the bite scars on his shoulders and throat, the silvery tooth marks on the other Abyssals, and he’d very nearly sunk his fangs in her the first time they did this. It was only her scream—one of genuine terror—that made him stop at just shallow punctures.
Eventually she’d stop wincing about it and let him do it. She imagined it while she masturbated, him latching onto her and making the dome slick with blood in addition to seawater. Here in the real world, she wasn’t as gleefully masochistic. She wanted it so bad but every time he tried, she flinched away. One day, though. The elder Abyssal was right. She wasn’t squeamish. She just needed an adjustment period.
The gills on his sides fluttered against her arms. It was as foreign to her as her breasts squishing against his chest must be to him. The bleating squeals he made could not possibly be human. Neither could the way his cock moved inside, twisting as he thrust, curving to drag against the spot that made her see stars. She wondered what it felt like inside a female Abyssal, how different her pussy must be from what he was used to.
He bottomed out on a particularly jarring thrust, and it knocked the ability to talk right back into Dot. She was babbling before she realized she had anything to say.
“I love it—” she gasped and readjusted her hold, embraced him harder, “—I wish—I wish we could do this every single night—”
Affirmation flooded her, Tower trilled again and moved for a different angle, one way dirtier than before. The fluid between them splashed, and every muscle in her spasmed like she’d started to come already.
I will, he promised, nipping at her ear. I’m going to steal you.
Somewhere under all the lust and pleasure, the memory of the sacrifices humanity had been unwilling to make screamed for attention. But Tower was so perfect in her and she was so desperate and aroused that she dismissed it.
I’m going to steal you, Tower continued, I’m going to steal you away from that village, I’ll keep you where I can get you, whenever I want, whenever I smell you, smell you right now, you smell so good. Smell like a slut.
Slut probably wasn’t the right word, but she was too out of her mind to come up with a more accurate translation. It felt good anyway. Slut. It didn’t feel like an insult with her being split open like this, legs in the air.
“O-okay,” she said, after he made it obvious he wanted some kind of response. “Okay! Will you—will—will you fuck me all the time?”
As much as you can take, until you cry. He showed her the inside of the cave he was imagining, the details too vivid to be entirely imaginary. His thrusts got sloppier, the rhythm faltering. His cock stopped squirming and started to bulge, readying to empty into her. Dot wanted that so sharply it was almost frightening. Her lips moved soundlessly for a moment, before she could find her voice again.
“Hurry, please, please. It’s—inside, please, it’s too much, please hurry—”
I will, I’m going to flood you out, going to—Tower stopped broadcasting words at that point. As he came, though, he showed what he wanted—her, on her back in that cave, pregnant, belly swollen like the full moon and framed by her open thighs. All his thick cum spilling from her abused, puffy cunt, splattered over the curve of her stomach and pooling on the floor. Her fingers slipping through the mess and her face pink, hot with adoration.
Was that—could that—all this time she’d assumed this was, at most, transactional—she remembered the stories of people kidnapped and devoured—
The vestigial idea of ‘that’s impossible’ broke through the arousal and was promptly drowned again. So many things that were impossible were looking her right in the face, heavy and cold on top of her. The disgust she kept anticipating never surfaced. Maybe it had never been there at all.
Tower didn’t stop, not like every other man Dot had let do this. After a shuddering moment of mostly stillness, nothing but the throbbing of his cock and his dorsal fin flattening and raising, he took a deep, wet breath and started in, just as harsh as before. Dot mewled, so far from being able to control herself it was laughable, and slid her hand between them. Her clit was fat and firm under her fingers. The light little brush was enough to send pleasuring jerking through her limbs.
“Okay,” she whispered against Tower’s gills.
He paused, curious, preemptively frustrated.
“P—please don’t steal me, but if you want to—if that’s how you want me—”
She’d never felt him as happy as he was at that statement. He wrapped both arms around her and got up on his haunches, moved her up and down on his cock like a toy. Dot squealed at the feeling of cum and slick dripping from her—and how much deeper Tower was in her like this, her body pulled down further by gravity than he could have pushed on his own. Any concern that’d tried to rebuild itself during his orgasm shattered under the force of him moving into her.
Dot braced herself backward on her palms, the stone of the temple her ancestors built for the gods of invention and progress as cold beneath them as Tower was between her thighs.
Dottie Roi disappeared from the village one day in midsummer, leaving nothing behind in her little cottage. It was impossible the way she cleaned it out in the night, the way she vanished with nobody noticing a car or a boat. Her motorboat was gone, too. The inland professor she’d sold old Widow Clare Bishop’s mansion to was beside himself, and his wife was silent and angry for reasons she refused to be drawn on. Her friend in town, Kristine, said she saw her tearing up some knitting that could have only been a baby’s jumper.
Nobody wanted to talk about that part. There’d been rumors, but nobody meant anything by them, they were idle speculation was all. Nobody, not even the most shameless rakes in the village, would admit to having had her, not in nearly four years, since took to going out to Land’s End. It could have been anything. Nobody had really thought anything by it, but if she had been that way, and now she had vanished…
Dottie had never been all there in the head, though she was a good-meaning sort of girl, the type who would look after a dying woman who bore her no relation for no reason other than ‘she had nobody else.’ She was always good to the fishermen and she gave sensible advice, always had a copy of the nautical and farmer’s almanacs she was happy to share, or read to them as could not. Odd she’d been, but the villagers could not take her disappearance laying down. She was their own Dottie Roi.
A team of fishermen started trawling the Sound’s bed, dreading the worst, and the farmers scoured their fields. It was the professor, out on a boat with Captain Davis, who suggested they check Land’s End. Nobody was keen to go out there, nobody but Dottie Roi. Her ancestors, after all, had built the temple the Sea Mother devoured for whatever reason the fickle sea could have. And she’d always been odd.
Night was already coming down heavy when the men approached Land’s End. The professor twiddled his hat in his hands, and Captain Davis blew smoke from his pipe like a broken engine.
As they came up to the wrecked lighthouse and the ruined temple, the crewmen noticed something that had them leaning against the railing for support. Captain Davis dropped his pipe, then removed his hat, while the professor looked on in confused horror.
Sitting on the dome was Dottie’s electric lantern, lit bright as a star in the gloom.
“She would have never,” Captain Davis muttered. “Not our Dottie. She knew better. She knew better.”
The sea must have swallowed her. Everyone knew there was no light on the sea. Why she would have broken that ancient covenant, why she would have acted in such flagrant violation of the very traditions her ancestors had embodied—why she would have committed suicide in so roundabout and cosmic a way…
She must have been pregnant after all. Every male villager cursed the one amongst their number who ruined their Dottie Roi. And they cursed the greedy sea that must have stolen her away, the way it stole everything from humankind, even though she’d always loved it so.