I wasn’t sure, at first, why they didn’t just kill me. They killed everyone else. Slaughtered them…. Left them half-dead on the ground and watched them bleed out.
They thought it was fun.
Yulpa was the last they killed…. Xie tried to save me. Got between me and some foxens, and told me to run but— But I was paralysed. I couldn’t move. They cut xer head off, right there in front of me. It was…. It was horrible.
Then, when I was all that was left, I was dragged away from the camp and into a cave at the base of the mountain. My hands were bound and they wrapped a cloth around my gills to stop me from screaming. It was so tight that I thought I was suffocating. I swear I can still feel it, sometimes. The suffocating pressure that made my vision blur and my head spin….
But I…. In the moment I had no idea why they hadn’t killed me like the others. I was confused, and scared, when they covered my eyes I thought that was it. I was waiting for them to kill me, but they didn’t. Instead they kept dragging me through the caves. I could hear them stumbling on the rocks and standing in puddles. They dropped me, at one point. And I felt gravel stick into my back. They didn’t even brush me down when they pulled me back up….
And they kept yelling at each other. Shouting and fighting.
It was like I was being carried by evil spirits right through the Dark Sky.
Then, the next thing I knew, I was thrown into a chair and they pulled the cloth from around my eyes and gills. And I remember the noise I made— I didn’t mean to make it but as soon as I could breathe again I just let out this high-pitch squeal as I tried to take a breath. I didn’t realise I made it at first, and it terrified me…. I thought they had an animal in the room or something. But, then the way they looked at me I realised I’d made the sound and… I….
It’s okay, Jaisa. Take a breath.
I still feel like I can’t breathe.
You can. Open your gills and take a deep breath in. Is that better?
I…. Yes. Sorry.
I just— I can’t—
Do you need to take a break?
No. No, I’ve barely said anything and— I just….
I just… need to breathe. I just need to….
Are you sure?
Y-Yeah. I think so.
Well…. Finding out why they kept me alive was worse than being killed, I think. I honestly think I would have rathered they just kill me…. But I…. They….
I was in the chair. And I was trying to catch my breath. And I heard this voice say my name. And… it was my genitor.
Your genitor, the dock manager?
Yes. Yes. Exactly! And they— I didn’t realise, at first, but they told me. I hadn’t been wrong. I’d locked the doors. I’d done everything right. And the reason that they’d had us finish work so early was because they’d planned it! To steal our stock and lead us out! I couldn’t believe it when they told me. I didn’t want to believe it. It felt like a dream.
A horrible, horrible dream.
My genitor told me that they were a part of a new religion. They didn’t say “cult” but… that’s what it was. A cult of— Of necromancy. That’s why they’d led us out. They needed more…. More….
Fresh corpses. To reanimate and experiment on.
My genitor said they hadn’t expected me to have gone with the others. That they thought I wouldn’t have been brave enough. I mean, I guess they were right. I’d only gone because I’d been forced to, and if I had the choice I….
I would have….
My genitor gave me two options. Join them or die.
I…. They…. I didn’t understand why they would do this. To me, or to anyone else. My genitor had always been a good person. I thought so, at least. I’d never known them to do anything wrong and….
I passed out.
I couldn’t handle it and I just… passed out.
It wasn’t for long, but I remember everything felt like it was pressing down on me, and then I woke up in a heap on the floor.
My head was pounding and my gills were dry and I felt like the whole world was rocking under my feet like a ship in a storm. And I remember asking my genitor, ‘Why would you do this? What could possibly be worth something like this!’
And then— They grabbed me by my arm and dragged me out of the room. To another part of the cave. It was a bedroom, but I didn’t notice at first because of the smell. It smelt like rot and damp and mould.
And they held out an arm proudly and motioned to the bed. And there was this— This corpse. Sitting on the bed. Staring at me. I was so surprised I screamed. It barely reacted. Just sort of, tilted its head at me.
I had no idea who it was until my genitor told me.
Yes. She died. Five years ago.
And she looked it, too, when I saw her. Half her face was gone, and her fins were just….
I can’t even begin to describe it.
It wasn’t her. It was something else entirely. And it definitely didn’t remember me. I don’t think it was sapient. It just… did what it was told.
My genitor seemed proud of it. But it— It wasn’t anything to be proud of. It was a rotting abomination whose skin clung too tight around sunken eye-sockets and missing teeth.
‘Immortality,’ they called it.
‘Revolting,’ is what I said.
They accused me of not truly loving my surrogate— Can you believe that? No— I loved her too much to believe that— That that thing used to be her!
Then my genitor told me I’d come around. I’d get used to her new look and realise I was wrong.
They— They said it like she’d pierced her fins or gotten a tattoo! Not like her entire chest had sunken in and her brain was falling out!
But… I was in too much shock to argue. I couldn’t bring myself to fight. I just felt empty, then. Like all the feeling had been sucked out of my body and left me numb.
‘Think about it,’ they said. Then they dragged me off into another bedroom and left me alone.
I’m not actually sure how long I was in there. It felt like days that I sat on the bed, just trying to process what I’d seen. But it can’t have been more than half a day, because my genitor brought me food.
I didn’t eat any of the meat on the plate. I didn’t dare. Who knows what it was…. Who it was.
They told me it was fish, but it definitely wasn’t.
Then they took me through the caves and showed me around. Sort of. I wasn’t allowed most places. They kept trying to convince me to join and I—
I said yes.
I didn’t want to join. I swear— But I was too scared to say no!
We understand. We do.
I was just scared! I swear, I didn’t want to be a part of it!
I didn’t want to die!
No, no. Of course you didn’t. Nobody can blame you for doing what you had to do to survive. We understand.
I— I just— I— Can’t breathe!