They were all singing in their beautiful enchanting eerie voices in the dark water depths, praying to the Great Mother. She was there in the centre of their wide circle, her huge body resting in the great underwater chasm. Her black tentacles were ten times thicker and larger than theirs, floating in the water, gently caressing her daughters' swaying bodies. It was the Temple of the Depths, their most sacred place, the Great Mother was there, presiding over the Darkness of the Territories from her shrine amid the gnawed bones of men they mated with on the night of the new moon and then feasted upon.
She was the Heart of Darkness.
She was the Sacred Great Mother, and they worshipped her.
Her form was huge and bloated, her swollen white breasts rested naked on her large body, the great round belly turning black down below, where the enormous tentacles sprouted. They writhed and danced in the water to the rhythm of the Sisters' chanting, their own dark much thinner sleek tentacles interweaving, joining the dance.
She spoke finally, and the voices stopped, they listened to the Sacred Great Mother, their Heart, bowing their heads with long hair floating in the water like sea-weed.
"One of you shall be Chosen. She shall venture upon the surface of the Territories and vanquish the Queen and unleash the Darkness upon the worlds. She shall meet a man with a heart full of the Darkness, and mate with him, but she shall not eat him, for she shall help him and be his woman, for he is of the Darkness, so that the Darkness may rule forever and ever, in this world and the other and beyond, in all the worlds that are and were and will be".
They bowed their heads to the Prophecy, the beautiful alluring eyes glistening, the black tentacles spread to the Great Mother in awe.
She was running fast, not quite looking ahead of her, so her pretty shoes stumbled on rocks and her skirts were torn by the bushes, her plump freckled cheeks flushed, her auburn curly hair disheveled. She was already smelling the sea, its fresh salty scent, yes, quite near.
She came to a stop at the steep cliff's end, catching her breath. Beneath, the sea was lapping at the rock. She had come to her destination. It was the end of her journey.
Margaret made a small, careful step towards the cliff's edge. At the back of her mind she noticed that her new once-shiny shoes were now completely ruined. It didn't matter now anymore. Still, deep inside she felt sorry for her pretty shoes.
She made another step, slowly advancing. Below, the waves were splashing and lapping. They were pitch-black, as was the night sky. Except for… She stopped suddenly and drew in her breath sharply.
There, in the lapping dark waves below, there was a girl.
She was also naked.
The cliff was not high; still, the water under it was known to be very deep. Margaret could see the girl quite clearly. She was very young, Margaret's same age perhaps; she had long dark wet tresses of hair which were floating all around her… she was clearly having fun in the water, splashing it a little around her with her hands and laughing a soft musical laugh.
"Hey! What are you doing here?" – Margaret shouted to the strange naked girl.
The girl jerked her head upwards. She was very lovely, Margaret noticed, with large dark eyes and full sensuous lips and smooth skin, glistening with water droplets. There was first an expression of fear in those lovely features, she scowled almost like an animal, but then her face gradually became curious, and she relaxed.
"Hello there", - the strange girl's eyes looked at Margaret with such wonder and interest as Margaret herself was looking at the girl in the water. – "I'm just up enjoying some night air, that's all, nothing special."
"Nothing SPECIAL?!" – Margaret's eyes grew wide in astonishment, and she suppressed a laugh. The girl must be crazy. – "You' re here alone, in the middle of the night, swimming in the sea absolutely naked, and you say it's nothing special?!"
The girl shrugged her shoulders. The water lapped against her smooth, white breasts with darker large nipples.
"No, I guess it's not. Well, for me anyway", - her eyes twinkled. – "You however… are an altogether different matter. Why are you here, alone and in the middle of the night?"
Margaret had completely forgotten the reason that had led her here in this crazy and unlikely night-talk with this young girl who was obviously insane. Now she remembered, remembered it all, and it made her go cold all over.
"I came here to die", - Margaret said in a small voice.
"To die?" – the girl in the water frowned. – "Why would you want to die? Dying isn't fun. If I were you…" – her eyes became dreamy and hazy, - "I would travel all over the world, see different things with my own eyes, walk all the Territories through and through… oh, I'd love to have all those adventures!"
Margaret wanted to ask the girl what stops her from doing all that, but didn't. The girl could have her own problems (most likely, having escaped from the house where mad people were kept, Margaret mused), and it could be tactless to ask. Margaret's great-aunt brought her up with very good manners.
"I don't have a choice", - Margaret said quietly, looking at the dark water. There was something in the corner of her eyesight, something that caught her eye, but when she looked closely in that direction, it had already disappeared.
"You always have a choice", - said the girl.
Margaret shook her bitterly.
"You do not know me… you cannot know me, and that all my life is decided for me, my great-aunt who is my only relative has it all decided for me, and I have to marry a rich noble who is thirty years older than me, and he is ugly, and I don't want it, but I can't do it any other way, 'cause my great-aunt wouldn't let me!" – she blurted it all out in one sentence, her voice trembling dangerously close to tears.
"Well, you can always eat him after you marry him, and you'd be free of him", - mused the girl thoughtfully.
Margaret stared at her.
"Eat him?" – her ideas about the mad house was confirmed, it seemed.
"Well, if he is that old and ugly, his flesh wouldn't be so tender, I guess", - continued the pretty girl in that same serious-thoughtful voice. – "But it is still nourishment. And, you'd be rid of him and free."
"Who are you?" – Margaret asked, her mouth agape.
"Name's Efrelle", - the girl answered with a charming smile, as naturally as if they were exchanging pleasantries after dinner. – "And what's your name?"
"Margaret", - the other girl replied. She was totally bewildered. She pinched herself on the arm to check if this conversation was a crazy dream. It all remained, and the girl, Efrelle, down below was beaming with a friendly smile. Margaret thought that though Efrelle was certainly crazy as nuts, she was beginning to like her.
"Hey… you know, you shouldn't be here at such an hour. It could be dangerous… you might get hurt."
Efrelle nodded her head.
"The Sisters tell me the same thing, yeah. But I don't care. I like to watch the moonlight from the sea surface. But I like sunlight better".
The Sisters? Could she be a convent ward? It was possible, Margaret thought. There have been stories of mad daughters of wealthy families being kept in convents. That could stop them from night swimming in the sea stark naked.
Efrelle swam to a rock protruding from the water and rested her arms there, crossing them and smiling benignly at Margaret.
Suddenly Margaret's eyes caught this strange movement again. Now she saw it, if only for an instant. There was something in the water. Long and black. And large. Something living, that a second ago popped up from the water dangerously close to Efrelle and disappeared back into the waves again. Margaret grew cold.
"Efrelle… listen…" – her voice was thick with fear. – "There is something in the water with you. You'd better get yourself out of there."
Efrelle's brows arched in surprise.
"No, there isn't. There is nothing here but me, I assure you."
There, this movement again. Long and black and writhing out of the water for a second. Closer to the girl now.
"Efrelle!" – Margaret nearly shrieked. – "There it is, there, can't you see it, you have to get out of the water, quick, on that rock!!!"
Efrelle turned her head to where Margaret was pointing, where the long black thing stuck out of the water and writhed.
"Ah, that", - Efrelle said, and laughed a hearty, musical laugh. The thing in the water, black and slippery and wet, protruded more out of the waves and whirled around itself. Margaret thought she was going crazy.
"Don't know why you want me to get out on that rock, though", - Efrelle said in her thoughtful, relaxed voice. – "But hey, I guess we are friends now, so I'll do as you ask."
She pushed her body out of the water onto the big flat rock.
Margaret nearly fell from the cliff.
The thing in the sea was obscene. Efrelle's lower body, starting from the delicate rounded curve of her lower belly, was a mass of long black writhing tentacles. They were glistening, wet with the water, and covered in dark pink suckers, same colour as Efrelle's nipples, Margaret noticed with a sickening sensation in her stomach.
"See, I told you there was nothing there but me", - Efrelle remarked with a cheerful smile. She tossed back the long dark strands of her hair and half-reclined her body against the rock. The tentacles caressed the water below playfully.
"You are a Si'Ren…" – Margaret whispered hoarsely.
A Were-Creature. Margaret had heard about them from her old Nan, but had never seen one. That is, until tonight. There were altogether four types of Were-Creatures in the Territories: the Wolfs, the Were-Goats, the Lizardlings and the Si'Ren.
Of them all, the Si'Ren were considered to be the most dangerous and terrible.
There were stories of them, turning into beautiful young naked women playing in the tide waves on the new moon nights… they sang in their beautiful voices, and combed their long beautiful hair, and lured men to couple with them. And when a man found himself in the embrace of the creature, she turned into her true form, and the black tentacles would drag him down into the sea depths, where the Si'Ren would devour them. There were never any male Si'Ren, no one knew why, but the Si'Ren were always female. They were the tales village wisewomen used to scare young boys and to keep them from ever coming to the sea shore at night.
"Yeah, I'm a Si'Ren", - the lovely monster beneath Margaret winked. – "I'd much rather be you, though. You have legs. I wish I had such beautiful, nice legs."
Margaret laughed a nervous, almost hysterical laugh.
"What do you need legs for?" She couldn't believe it, she was talking to this monstrosity. And it actually was funny. She sensed no danger coming from the Si'Ren. But neither did the men in the tales, she thought.
The creature pouted her lips. "What for? I told you, I want to go out in the Territories, see the world, be adventuring! Instead, I'm stuck down in the depths with only the Sisters and fish and sea-creatures for company."
"Don't you… grow legs, when you… when you…" – Margaret convinced herself that still, somehow, she was seeing a dream. But it was a very interesting dream.
"When we mate?" – Efrelle lifted her eyebrows. – "Yes, we do. But only for that night of the new moon. Anyway… it must not be very comfortable to mate with legs, right? Tentacles are easy to spread apart. Legs, however… you have to be very lithe, or what?"
Margaret blushed scarlet up to her ears.
"I… I don't know. I've never done it. Great-aunt says that all this… nakedness, and the wants of the flesh… that is all very sinful. It is dirty, and girls shouldn't have such thoughts. That is why I so detest the man I am to marry", - she confided in a quieter voice. – "When he looks at me… I feel… I feel as if I were a piece of meat! And the thought that… that I will be supposed to do that with him… it's more horrid than death! I've always dreamt… of a handsome strong knight who would come for me and carry me away on his white horse… And we wouldn't do the dirty sinful things. We would walk under the stars hand in hand, or listen to the sounds of the sea…" – Margaret was smiling dreamily.
"I've had enough of the sounds of the sea", - Efrelle remarked. – And the dirty sinful thing is the main thing that those knights want. Trust me. Well, I've never mated yet actually, but I know from the Sisters' words. The men taste good, though."
"You… you've done the sinful thing with your mouth?" – Margaret gasped. All this "mating" talk was making her blushy and guilty, but there was something pleasant in it.
"Well, I've gnawed their flesh from their bones, if that's what you mean. Goes good with sea-weed", - Efrelle said non-chalantly. – "Don't know if it is sinful though."
The things that Efrelle said were monstrous. But suddenly it all made Margaret burst out laughing. She laughed, and laughed, until she felt pain in her stomach and could laugh no more.
She really liked Efrelle. The creature was horrible, but she was really friendly, unlike the noble girls who teased Margaret and never missed a chance to make her feel uncomfortable, and she was certainly amusing. She was also very beautiful. Margaret admired her feminine dazzling beauty with a sort of envy, she considered herself to be fat and not that pretty, with her freckles and her round nose. She thought she'd kill to have Efrelle's looks. Well, her upper part, definitely.
"Are there no male Si'Ren?" – Margaret asked her new strange friend. They had been talking for a long time now, and Margaret was sitting at the cliff's top, looking down at Efrelle sprawled upon the sea-rock, her tentacles dangling in the water lazily.
"No, there are none. When the Si'Ren mate and get pregnant, only the female offspring are allowed to live. The males are killed. Otherwise, they would become ugly cruel monsters… it's the law of the Sea", - Efrelle shrugged her shoulders. – "Anyway… if my memory doesn't fail me, you were going to kill yourself. Are you going to do it or not?"
Margaret pressed her lips.
"I… don't know. I came here, having firmly decided to die… but now I don't know. It's just that… you know, all those stories about unhappy beautiful princesses finding their rest at the bottom of the sea…"
"You should have known what happens to those princesses", - Efrelle snorted. – "The women who drown themselves join the Sisters and the Great Mother. Grow some tentacles. Hey, maybe if you kill yourself, you'll get my tentacles and I'll get your legs?" – her eyes suddenly shined with excitement.
It was a bit unnerving to Margaret. She traced the length of long black things sprouting from Efrelle's lower body. Maybe not.
"So the Si'Ren are women who drowned themselves?"
"Not all of them", - Efrelle said. – "I am a born Si'Ren, and so are most of us. But there are the rumours that the first Si'Ren were those that drowned themselves. And if a woman kills herself in the sea, she becomes a Si'Ren. The Sea rejects no one."
"I see…" – Margaret said thoughtfully. – "Well… maybe I won't kill myself after all. But neither will I marry that old ugly noble. I'll run away from home then!"
"Good luck then", - Efrelle said. – "Don't get eaten by Wolfs. If you ever change your mind, you can always go back here, and I'll trade you my tentacles for your legs."
"Sure", - Margaret said and smiled. She felt a different person now. It was as if the meeting with Efrelle had dispersed a heavy black cloud hanging over her.
Suddenly, the sea began to fluoresce some distance ahead. There was also a strange sound, it came from where the fluorescent light was, deep underwater. It resembled eerie voices calling out in unknown words.
"Uh-oh", - Efrelle turned around. – "Looks like the Sisters are coming to drag me down. Again. You know, Margaret… it was very nice to meet you and all, but I think you have to go now. I doubt they will be glad seeing you, a human, here. I hope we'll meet again some day!"
"I hope so too", - Margaret smiled. She heartily parted with Efrelle and went off into the woods, in the direction opposite her home. No matter how curious she was and how she would like to stay and see the other Si'Ren, she had enough common sense to realize that they could prove less amiable than her new friend.