The hull of the Proteus creaked as the vessel jolted. Charles's arms pin wheeled, snatching at the edge of an instrument panel to maintain his footing. Captain Cecile managed to keep her grip on the wheel, her mouth set in grim lines as she righted their course.
"These current swells are rather deep, even by ocean storm standards. We may need to find a reef or shoal to wait it out." Cecile kept her eyes on the thick glass offering her a view of the swirling murk outside. The Proteus possessed two illumination globes, powered by the same steam currents that kept the ship's engines tumbling away. The globes struggled to light up the silt choked water, creating wavering shapes and shadowy hollows. There was nary a fish in sight, they were wiser than to be out with such a vicious storm stirring the water. It was so dark Charles almost missed it.
"What about a cave?" He pointed to the hollowed indentation in the one of the larger under water crags that rose from the ocean floor.
Cecile shook her head. "No way to tell if it's deep enough. The Proteus could get lodged in a narrow passage. Then we'll be in real trouble."
Another abrupt shift in currents rocked the ship. "As opposed to being torn apart?"
"Point taken, least we could draw in closer, take shelter at the mouth." This was an unsettlingly apt description of the area as the Proteus drew closer, revealing a jagged row of rocks lining the entrance like the waiting mouth of Charybdis. Charles tried to shake the image from his thoughts as the hollow eased the push and pull on the vessel's exterior. Cecile slumped on the wheel with a groan.
"We should be safe for the moment. The storm must be a boat tosser on the surface. Normally a good sink toward the bottom gives us a breather from the worst currents, but this," she flapped a hand at the outside beyond the cave entrance. "Never seen anything like it."
For some reason, Charles found his thoughts turning to Ingrid's ominous description of what waited for them in the water. "What if it isn't natural?" He asked under his breath. Something caught his eye outside, a flickering glow floating within the mouth of the cave. "What is that?"
Cecile drew up next to him, pressing even closer to the glass to peer into the dark. "We are rather deep. Could be one of those lure fish. They have lights attached to their heads to bait a nip here and there."
"It's far too large, look at it," he said. They were both so intent on the light they missed the face beneath it until it was only a few feet from them. Charles gasped, scuttling backward while Cecile reached for her pistol.
"What are you going to do, shoot it through the glass?" Charles snapped. Chills skittered up his spine. It hovered outside the window, equal parts human and inhuman, with opaque luminous eyes. Hair the color of cerulean coral floated around sharply angled features. Ridges rose along the tops of its cheekbones and the bridge of its nose. It was beautiful and horrible, as much stunning as it made his skin crawl. The scale of fascination tipped rapidly when it opened its mouth. Charles caught sight of row upon row of needle like teeth before the song hit him.
His eyes rolled up in his head so fast, he didn't remember hitting the floor.
Someone was shaking him awake. Charles groaned, rolling onto his back. Drool dripped off his chin from the puddle of spittle he'd left on the floor in his unconscious state. He wiped it away with the back of his hand, cracking open his eyes to find Yan's beautifully concerned face hovering over his.
Charles started, nearly braining himself on the edge of the instrument panel. The first mate steadied him, long fingers reaching up to feel the back of his head.
"What are you doing?" Charles asked, his tone a bit higher than he liked, hoping the other man didn't notice.
"Making sure you don't have a concussion," said Yan, clucking his tongue against his teeth when he found a tender lump at the base of the scientist's skull. "You took a good knock. Seems we all did."
Charles attempted to shake off the groggy sensation dragging on him. "Where's the captain?"
"Taking a head count. We appear to have been robbed."
"What?" The information jolted him awake, allowing him to notice the Proteus listed heavily to the side. The two of them were nearly perched on the wall. Peering out into the gloom, Charles realized they'd been beached, but not on the surface. "Are we in the cave?" He asked quietly.
Yan nodded once. "We-"
The captain staggered into the room, her face a mask of devastation. Dread pricked at Charles, chasing away the last fog over his thoughts.
"Keto, what is it?" Yan was on his feet, catching Cecile when she slipped.
"It's gone, stolen. Oh, gods above and below, Ingrid's missing." She gripped Yan's arms, her face crumpled. "It was taken right off my bed, Yan."
Alarmed, Charles looked between the two shocked crew mates. "Took what? What's happened to Ingrid?" He struggled to his feet, determined to discover the fate of the young woman.
"She's gone, Charles," said Cecile, her voice strained. "Whatever did this stole her skin."
YOU ARE READING
The Daring Adventures of Darwin and CecileFantasy
***Winner of @JessicaBFry's Fantasy Writing Competition: Terrifying Creatures of the Deep*** ***Winner of The Under the Sea Writing Contest @Jos1eDemuth and @BrittanieCharmintine*** ***Slow, slow updates*** Sir Charles Darwin, favored scientist of h...