The entire landing party, at least half of Captain Kobeyashi’s crew, had slaughtered each other in the grotto. They lay in a tangled mess, spreading fresh blood into the sand from gaping pistol, rifle, and sword wounds. The furthest corpse was at the very foot of a coral altar heaped with gold.
Kobeyashi himself was near the entrance, seated on his knees. His starched white dress uniform was unrecognizable, spattered with gore and unidentifiable chunks of human flesh.
“Easy now,” said Harrison, leveling his gun. He motioned Joy forward with his free hand.
“What…what in God’s name did you do?” Joy cried. She found herself numbly trying to count the bodies.
“Did you ever wonder what happened to the two thousand people who lived here in 1914?” Kobeyashi said evenly, without meeting his foes’ gaze. “They did not abandon the island. The Saudeleur didn’t sign away the islanders’ lands to Bernhard…he signed away their souls.”
“Like you, giving up everything to run after some treasure?”
“Don’t you see? This isn’t a treasure trove, and that isn’t gold it contains. It’s the sepulcher of a dead god, piled high with its manifest essence.” Kobeyashi produced a pistol from the depths of his blood-spattered uniform. As if preparing for a dress inspection, he slowly and deliberately loaded it.
“Watch it,” Harrison barked. His voice quivered on the edge of breaking.
Kobeyashi gave no sign that he’d heard. He raised the pistol to his right temple. “Incorporeal for longer than humankind has existed, now enshrined once more in flesh. A pity I won’t be able to see it.”
He fired, and slumped to the ground.
“Ninety-nine…” Joy said. She seized Harrison’s shoulders. “Ninety-nine sacrifices! We have to get out of here!”
Harrison stared blankly at her for a moment, before Ishi’s warning flooded his memory and his eyes widened.
Before either could make it to the coral staircase, the grotto was gripped by a series of violent tremors. The spilled blood began to boil, to vaporize, as skin and viscera sloughed off the corpses. Rivers of meat and bone churned toward the center of the cavern, where they were joined and twisted into terrible amorphous non-Euclidean shapes. An inhuman roar flooded the grotto – the birthing cry of something altogether too terrible to comprehend.
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