The Inky Depths
by Martin Hall

   The moonlight danced on the black ocean like frozen white fires as the longboat pushed out from the Prince of Kirkwall. David MacAllister watched the bleak and forbidding coast of Inismore as he pulled his cloak tight about himself. The night winds cut across the boat, "Tobacco" Jack Jones' breath rising in clouds beside him. The gnarled and wheezing man pointed a yellow nail at the coast.

   "There they are, Davey. Over yonder." MacAllister turned to where Jones indicated. A lantern flashed, once, twice. He waited, and the water gently slapping the edge of the boat sounded like thunder until the third flash winked briefly from the coast. MacAllister turned to Jones and Morgan.

   "Pull, men! That's the cove there. But take 'er in gentle now. Oor man was firm that we widnae be seen as we came in." MacAllister stared anxiously back to the inky shadow of the Prince as it seemed to soak up the moonlight from the surrounding sea. Black clouds cut stealthily across the sky, seeming to stalk the moon, intent on devouring its light. MacAllister nodded at them. "Guid weather fer smugglin though. Fine time fer clouds."

   Stefan Morgan, his back to the coast, mused aloud as he dragged the boat forward. "What are they wanting this for, then? Those swords. They don't even look that well made. I suppose they'll sell 'em on legitimate. Profit." Morgan enunciated the last word to the uncaring air, and Jones punctuated the mercantile speculation with a truly sickening cough. MacAllister turned back to the coast as Jones spat noisily into the sea.

   "You've not learned the first rule o' this business. Oor supplier that blacksmith, he wiz a wee bit shifty, aye? Yed say so. We dinnae care aboot that. He," MacAllister jabbed a finger at the coast, "disnae care whaur we got them from. So it's only right that we dinnae care whit he does wi them. Dye see?"

   Morgan nodded sagely. "Economics. Wealth of Nations, they say. Nature and causes, supply and demand. Heard about it all in Vendel, now."

   MacAllister whipped his cloak at the Avalon. "Haud yer wheesht and get rowin ye lazy swine!" In the quiet after his shout, he shrank back, fearful of the tricks played by voices carrying on the waves.

   Jones cocked his head, intent on the lapping of the waves as the sea played with the tiny boat. A large swell rocked the boat, causing MacAllister to stumble. "Stop fartin about, man, and get us tae the coast there. Mr. O'Toole'll no be pleased at yer tricks."

   Jones wheezed as he bent over the oar. "It wasnt me, Davey. Just a wave, that's all."

   "Aye, well. Let's just get the deal done, and they can take the damned swords. I dinnae like the look o them one bit." MacAllister sniffed in the cold air, and looked out over the small stretch of sea between the boat and the rocky beach where the O'Toole family's man waited for them. The surface rippled in a thousand tiny waves, picked up by the cool air.

   Morgan looked around. "There's no-one around, Davey. Stop getting so jumpy, now." The oars rose and fell, and a second wave rocked the boat. As it coasted forward, something brushed the bottom. The sound filled the midnight air like the chime of a bell.

   Jones eased back on the oar. "Rocks. We'd best be careful, Davey."

   MacAllister looked at the distant coast. "Naw, that's no rocks. Were too faur oot fer rocks." The boat rocked again. "Whits daein that?"

   Morgan looked out to his right. A soft light drifted up from the depths of the ocean, half-imagined on the black waves. "I swear I saw something, Davey. There's someone out there. I saw a light." He gripped the oar with renewed vigour and pulled. "We'd be better on land now."

   MacAllisters voice trembled as his lantern squeaked open. "There's nothin oot there, see?" The beam shone over the dark waves, the sea as black as tar. "Nothin at all..." his voice trailed off a small sound crept through the air, the sound of something quietly breaking the surface nearby. MacAllister looked to the oars, hanging silent above the water. He bent forward and looked down into the sea. In the second before he dropped his lantern and the night went dark, the light shone onto a flat black eye, without mercy and impossibly huge, floating just beneath the surface. An eye that soaked up light, like a window into the Abyss itself. Then he screamed.

   Michael O'Toole dropped the spyglass as the screams died. It fell with a dull thump onto the wet sand.

   Fergus stood beside him. "What in Theus name happened out there? What happened to them?"

   Michael shook his head numbly. "Roland isn't going to like this."

   Fergus picked up the spyglass and turned it on the cove. "Nothing. There's nothing out there. What happened, Michael?" Then he saw the fin as it cut through the water toward the Prince of Kirkwall. A hellish light glowed from the waters that broke before the beast. "Sweet St. Jacob! That's a monster!"

   Michael stared out into the cove as the distant sound of timbers shattering drifted across the still night and the screams began again. "No, Fergus. That's a threat to shipping. We'd best get a message to Ian. He's with the Merchant Marines, is he not?"

   Fergus pointed at the cove as he backed slowly away from it. "How can they help us against that?"

   "That things eaten our merchandise, Fergus. Have you any idea how hard it is to track down a MacEachern? We've got to catch it and kill it. And if we want to catch a fish that big," he looked out to the cove as the spars of the Prince sank beneath the waves, "we're surely not going to be able to get it with a line and bait."

   Fergus O'Toole stared out to sea as the screams died down. "It's only a fish, Michael." He murmured, his voice laced with doubt. "How difficult can it be?"