He held his breath for as long as he could. He held it as he was dragged down, out of the light. He held it as the water grew colder and colder. He held it even as the pressure of the water began to build, threatening to blow in his eardrums.
And finally he could hold his breath no longer. The crushing pressure of the water collapsed his lungs. He vomited forth what air he had left and felt the pain of the cold salt water rush into his nose, and throat, and fill his lungs. It hurt more than anything could hurt, and then his mind shut down.
But then there was more pain.
He was throwing up water, gasping for breath and flopping around on some slippery surface. He was on his hands and knees, racked with agony and shivering uncontrollably. He felt that his flesh was torn where the great kraken had held him and he was sure several of his ribs were broken.
But he was alive and he was breathing, though the air was so foul with scent of decaying fish that he wished he wasn’t.
Slowly his body stopped its spasms. He drew a painful breath and looked up.
A crowd of some twenty people stood in a loose circle around him. They were the most pathetic creatures Baltrog had ever seen. Their skin was so pale it looked translucent. They all bore the scars of the kraken’s suckers and other scars besides – infected wounds, badly set broken limbs – that showed through the putrid rags they wore. Most were missing teeth, their gums inflamed with scurvy. Most had lost their hair.
The space they stood in was a huge shelf in a sea cave, lit dimly by some natural phosphorescence on the rocks. Cold water dripped constantly from the ceiling. There were no exits out of the cave save through the black water that lapped at the shelf. They were clearly deep below the ocean, at a depth that no man could ever hope to swim, trapped in this small pocket of foul air.
The floor of the cave that Baltrog kneeled on was covered inches deep with slime. Fish bones and scales poked up through it. Baltrog jerked his had back when he felt something move in the slime. It was a long, white worm. Indeed, the slime was alive with a myriad of disgusting creatures, feeding off the rotting fish carcasses.
One of the people shuffled forward through the slime to Baltrog. He was a man, but it was impossible to tell his age. His skin was so pale, wet, and scarred that he could have been a hundred, but was probably in his twenties. Baltrog noted that his fingernails had rotted off and that his skin was puckered from the constant moisture of the slime.
“Welcome to your new home,” said the man. He bent down and plunged a hand into the slime. It came up clutching the worm that had frightened Baltrog. The man held the squirming monstrosity at arm’s length.
“Lunch?” he asked.
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