Tadashi was taken to a large chamber that had been hewed out of the rock. Like the corridors it was lit by torches, the flames casting writhing shadows in al directions. The walls were adorned with yet more golden sculptures and painted murals. Most of the bizarre artwork depicted humanoid figures bowing to a giant fish-headed man that sat upon a great throne. In the middle of the chamber was a large circular pit, almost twelve feet in diameter and rimmed with white gold. In front of it was a metal bar suspended in the air by two chains.
The robed figures began lowering their hoods and he gasped in horror as he saw how badly deformed some of them were, to the point that they no longer looked human. In addition to what he'd already observed, many had webbed hands, claws, gills on their necks and grey-green scales.
He didn't want to believe what he was seeing but he couldn't deny what he saw with his own eyes. Is one of these the thing Kaori saw yesterday?
"What are you? What do you want with us?"
The leader turned to look at him. Tadashi now saw that his eyes were jet black, without an iris or sclera. They were like the eyes of a shark.
"What are we? We are the last sorry remnants of a proud tradition. We are the worshippers of Dagon, the great god of the sea."
"Dagon" Tadashi repeated.
"Yes. Many years ago my noble forebear Obed Marsh brought the worship of Dagon to the fishing town of Innsmouth. In return for human sacrifices Dagon gave us bountiful catches of fish and a limitless supply of gold."
"In other words you sold your souls" said Tadashi disgustedly.
"Bah, what need do we have of souls? When our changes are complete we will live forever in the depths of the sea. Some of us are nearly there." He gestured at the other cultists. After a brief pause he resumed his story.
"For a time we lived in prosperity. But then, in 1927 the U.S. authorities raided Innsmouth. The town was destroyed and our forebears were slaughtered. Only a handful of us made it out alive. We were forced to live as nomads, moving from one place to another and living off whatever scraps we could scavenge. Finally we came to this village and made it our home. Since then we have worked to preserve the Esoteric Order of Dagon as best we could. Now at last we have worthwhile sacrifices to offer him."
"Let Kaori go. I'll be your sacrifice" Tadashi said imploringly.
"No. Both of you will be given to Dagon." He pointed at the pit. "Bring him."
Tadashi fought desperately but was unable to get free as the cultists dragged him over to the pit. They roughly yanked up his arms and bound his wrists to the bar with coils of rope. The cult leader raised a hand and all of them began to chant in a bizarre-sounding language unlike anything Tadashi had seen before. All he recognised was the name "Dagon."
Even as they continued to chant one of the cultists began operating a large winch. With a sound of rotating gears Tadashi was lifted into the air and suspended over the edge of the pit. He winced as his arms took the strain of bearing his weight. Looking down he saw that at the bottom of the pit was a deep pool of dark water.
The chanting only grew louder as the cult leader took out a dagger with an odd-looking wavy blade. Smiling cruelly he walked over to Tadashi and drew the blade slowly across his left tricep. Tadashi clenched his teeth to keep from crying out as the dagger sliced deeply into the muscle, staining his t-shirt a bright red. Still smiling, the cult leader held out the dagger and let drops of blood fall from the blade into the water. Tadashi's horror grew as it began to ripple. He realised what that could only mean.
Dagon was coming.
Kaori was frantically searching the cell for something she could use to get out. To her surprise and delight she found a metal pipe that had been hidden behind one of the bench's legs. No doubt another prisoner had managed to sneak it in but hadn't had the chance to use it.
She raised the pipe and brought it down on the chain lock with all her strength. One of the links, weakened by rust, broke and the chain fell to the ground. She pushed open the door and hurried down the corridor.
Hold on Tadashi. I'm coming!
After just a few moments she came to a corner and peered around it cautiously. She barely managed to suppress a gasp at the sight of Tadashi being tied to a metal bar and winched over a large pit. The chamber was filled with the robed cultists but thankfully all of them had their attention fully focused on what was going on. None of them noticed her.
Kaori carefully removed one of the torches from the wall and crept closer. She took a moment to steel herself and gather her resolve. Then she struck the nearest cultist in the back with the torch, igniting the rough material of his robes.
The mutated man howled in pain as he stumbled away, inadvertently setting several of his comrades ablaze as well. Panicked cries and screams filled the chamber as Kaori fought her way through the crowd, swinging the torch at anyone who got in her way. She made it to the pit and swung at the cult leader. He nearly fell into the pit as he hastily backed away, dropping his dagger in the process.
"Tadashi!" she cried.
She ran over to the winch and began turning the crank. To her relief Tadashi was raised out of the pit. She raced over to him, picked up the dropped dagger and quickly cut the ropes that held him. Once he was free he immediately threw his arms around her in an embrace that she joyfully returned.
"Are you all right?" Kaori asked.
"I'm okay" he replied. "Thank you Kaori."
Just then they both heard a horrible sound coming from the pit. It was something like rocks being clashed together mixed with a sloshing of liquid. Not wanting to but unable to help themselves they both looked down.
At the bottom of the pit the water was now churning violently. Despite the obscuring white foam they could make out that something was lurking just beneath the surface. All that could be seen was a gigantic lipless mouth with two rows of pointed white teeth the size of stalactites and a huge black tongue. The teeth gnashed together repeatedly, showing glimpses of scaly green skin.
"W, what's that?" Kaori managed to ask.
"Dagon" Tadashi replied shakily. "They worship that thing."
The sound of running feet brought Kaori out of her horror-induced daze. She tore her gaze away from the terrifying sight and whirled around as the mutant cultists tried to rush them. Immediately she began swinging the torch around, forcing them back. They stopped and stood outside of her reach, glaring menacingly and hissing through bared teeth.
"Keep back" she said firmly. She saw that the cultists she had set fire to before were huddled on the ground and whimpering in pain, having been able to put out the flames. None of their fellows spared them a glance. The stink of burned flesh was sickening but she forced herself to ignore it.
"Keep back" she repeated. As she spoke she handed the dagger to Tadashi and he brandished it besides her.
"You cannot defeat us all" said the leader. "Dagon will have his tribute."
Kaori shifted her balance and felt something in her pocket press against her leg. At once she remembered the shisa head she's picked up earlier. An idea came to her.
Noble guardian spirit please protect us she thought as she reached into her pocket and drew out the head of the shisa statue. She turned and threw it down the pit, right into the monstrous creature's open maw!
At once a deafening roar filled the chamber. The walls and floor began to shake violently as pieces of rock fell from the roof. Panic gripped the cultists as they began running around aimlessly, many of them tripping over their burned fellows and falling down in tangles of limbs.
"Now's our chance!"
Tadashi and Kaori ran from the chamber and fled down the corridor. The shaking was growing more violent with each second, with cracks racing along the walls, dust and debris falling from the ceiling. They ran as fast as they could and when they made it to the staircase they sprinted up it, up through the trapdoor, out of the hall and into the sunlight.
On the surface they could see that the rotting buildings were collapsing as tremors shook the ground, opening up great fissures in the soil. In desperation Tadashi and Kaori ran over to their abandoned bikes, hopped on and began frantically pedalling, narrowly weaving around great fissures that were opening up in the ground. Without looking back they sped out of the village. Only when they reached the tree-line did they finally come to a stop as the tremors ceased.
Kaori put a hand on a tree for support, breathing heavily as the adrenaline rush began to wear off. She looked over at her fiancé.
"Are you all right?" she asked again.
"I'm fine, just a, ah!" Tadashi winced and put a hand to his arm, his exertions having made the cut bleed more profusely.
"Tadashi you're hurt!" Kaori cried as she gripped his arm and examined the wound.
"Kaori it's fine. It's only shallow" he assured her.
"We have to get it looked at" she replied worriedly. "You might get an infection from that horrible place…"
At the mention of the village Tadashi glanced back in its direction and his jaw dropped. Kaori looked as well and her jaw also dropped.
The village had disappeared completely, swallowed up by an enormous sinkhole where the ground had collapsed. There was no sign it had ever been there, all traces of it wiped out by the wound that had been left upon the land by the last act of a monstrous horror.
Maybe that's for the best Tadashi thought. Maybe that foul place needed to be erased.
And yet despite how corrupt it had become there had still been a spark of something good there. A guardian spirit that had endured to fulfil its duty of protecting the innocent…
He pushed the thoughts from his fatigued mind and sighed deeply. A smile returned to his face as he looked at Kaori.
"Thanks again for saving me Kaori" he said. "You were very brave."
"Tadashi" she said with a warm smile. She took his hand in hers. "Come on, let's go."
They decided not to tell anyone about their strange encounter. After all they had no proof. Who would believe them? Although they were deeply shaken by what had happened they supported each other in getting through the aftermath and their relationship was only strengthened. Tadashi decided that there was something he needed to do to help him get over the experience fully though.
And so, several months later, they found themselves on Shirahama Beach. With its white sand and crystal-clear waters it was like they were back in Okinawa. The weather was just like that day had been too, with bright sunshine and a clear blue.
"Are you sure about this Tadashi?" Kaori asked. "You know you don't have to do anything you don't want to."
"I know and thank you Kaori but I want to do this" he replied. "I want to face my fears."
"I understand. Just remember I'll be with you" she said. "We're together forever."
"I know." He held her hand for an extra few seconds and then took a deep breath and marched across the sand into the sea, the waves lapping at his feet. He shivered as he waded into the cold water but he kept going and soon adjusted to the temperature. Before long he was treading water.
Well here goes he thought. I've done this in a swimming pool. I can do it here.
He continued forwards and started to move his arms and legs as Kaori had taught him. At first his movements were clumsy and uncoordinated but after a moment he managed to get the hang of it and was propelling himself smoothly through the water.
"I can't believe it. I'm actually swimming in the sea" he said with a pleased smile.
"Tadashi, I'm so proud of you! I knew you could do it" Kaori exclaimed.
He looked to the right and saw her swimming alongside him. His smile grew. He'd known she'd be there just in case. They would always be there for each other.
"Kaori" he said as he stopped swimming and treaded water.
"I'm wondering if perhaps a seaside honeymoon wouldn't be such a bad idea after all."
Kaori giggled happily as she paddled over to her fiancé. They put their arms around each other and kissed tenderly.