Kene was cold and wet and miserable, as usual.
The water in the boat was the worst part, he mused. The complaint was so familiar that it had ceased to be a complaint, if he was to be honest; it was more like a philosophical argument to have with himself, a detached observation of merely scientific interest. He had a lot of time to think about such things, out on the sea, and over many days he had managed to map out the cause of the water in the boat.
The water in the boat, Kene had decided, came from the spray of the oars. In sunny weather, rare as it was, the spray was gone almost the moment it left the sea, dried up by the light and heat. But most days, it simply arced through the mist, the fog clinging to it and gathering in the boat. Little by little, the boat filled up- not too much, but enough to be troublesome and unpleasant. Early in his fishing career, he had bailed out the water anytime he felt it touch his feet, but he had long ago found that this was a futile task. His coat was too small; his boat was old; his gray beard was wet and crusted with salt. And so he rowed, feeling the seawater creep up and up his boots, and grumbling to himself in his favorite ways.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the net had caught on something. He stood up and tugged gently on the line, then again, a bit more firmly. Something gave- he wasn’t sure if it was the net or whatever had snagged it. If the damn net ripped again, he’d have to give up patching it and get a new one. More gold down the drain, less in his pocket. He hauled the line until the net, only half-full of fish, came over the edge of the boat and spilled its cargo onto the rotting boards.
Kene shook out the net, checking for torn threads in the complex weave. Fish dropped out to flop and gasp weakly at his feet. Suddenly, the net lost its weight as something heavy thudded down. He bent to pick it up, assuming it was just a rock and intending to toss it over the side. His muscles, such as they were, bulged as he struggled to bring it out of the pile of expiring fish.
He set it on the seat to rest a moment, and then his eyes refocused on it. It wasn’t a stone- it was a carved figure, encrusted with barnacles and made of some sort of black glass or obsidian. It seemed to depict a person in clerical robes, or something similar. Its arms were raised.
Kene looked it over for a few minutes more, considering throwing it over the side. He dredged up things like these from time to time, mostly old swords and armor; on one occasion he had narrowly escaped a waterlogged but animate skeleton that had clung tenaciously to the net. This, however, was very different. Something about its unnatural density intrigued him, and he suspected that whatever exotic material it was carved from might fetch a decent price to the right collector; Mernin would come tomorrow, as he did every other day, and he might know what to do with it. Besides, this was an excuse to head home early. He didn’t want to be caught by the Nebelgast, shipwrecked or pain-wracked or driven insane. Lately the fish had been scarce, forcing him to go out further and stay nearly until nightfall.
Kene turned the boat around and began rowing home.
- - - - - - - -
Home, if Kene was honest with himself, was really too strong a word for his shack on the edge of the beach. The fog always came uncomfortably close, although the Nebelgast had never ventured past the sandbar, and the building itself was older than he was. He often joked grimly, albeit to himself, that he was growing to resemble his abode; salt-encrusted, smelling of fish, and half-rotten from the damp.
The sun was barely touching the horizon as Kene dragged the full net over the sand. The tide was coming in early today, he noted- the water was already nearing the dock as he struggled to slide the dark stone figure up the damp, sandy hill.
After what seemed like an age, Kene pulled the statue inside the shack; away from the sea, in the poor light of the shack, it seemed less exciting than before. The dark stone glistened slightly, but it suddenly seemed more greasy than precious. There was an oily texture to it, and his hands were now sticky with some sort of residue. He took out a knife and began to chip away at some of the barnacles and seaweed that had collected on it. At worst, he decided, it would turn out to be made of obsidian or something similarly worthless; even then, though, he should get a good price for it just for the collector's value. He knew from his contact at the market that some vampires collected pieces like these, and vampires weren’t stingy with their coin.
Kene worked until late at night on the statue, cleaning it almost like he would a fish. The barnacles, he found, were the hardest to clean, clinging stubbornly to the smooth exterior of the carving. Salt had collected on it, particularly on the face, and seaweed had grown over and around the base. And that clear, sticky resin was still there; he soon grew tired of wiping it off and simply left it on his hands.
When he was finished, the statue was a fair amount smaller than when he had begun, but not much lighter. It stood about a tall as his knee, and despite his initial thought, didn’t seem to be of an Avacynian priest- the robes were too short, and a hood obscured its features. Its arms were raised, but only halfway, in a gesture that reminded Kene more of a greeting than of a holy benediction. The base on which it stood was not carved smooth- either the sculptor hadn’t bothered, or the figure was supposed to be standing on natural rock.
Kene had been working for hours. His arms felt sticky and slippery all the way up to the elbows, and his hands were stiff from holding the knife, but he felt an immense sense of satisfaction. He was beginning to feel the exhaustion approach, and he collapsed into his cot, spiraling down into sleep. His head filled with visions of riches, and of no longer having to fish. He was looking forward to not having water in the boat.
His dreams were unpleasant, which he decided was the result of going to sleep on an empty stomach. He had been gnawingly hungry through most of his work on the statue, but the fish he had planned to eat had stared back at him (as dead fish were apt to do) and he had found the idea of eating it oddly repugnant. Whatever the reason, he woke up in a cold sweat. And that damned stickiness was still on his arms.
- - - - - - - -
Mernin’s cart slowed to a stop outside the fishing shack. “Hoy, Kene!” he waved. “I thought you’d be out fishing! I was just coming by for yesterday’s catch.”
Kene was standing outside the shack, by the fire-pit. He had a large wooden basin set up on a stool, and appeared to be washing something in it, his arms stuck in up to the elbows. There was something black- Mernin squinted to try and make it out- by his feet. “Hoy, Mernin,” he said back. “I thought I would be, too, but I caught this here-” he gestured with his head- “in my net yesterday and thought it might fetch a price. Come take a look.”
The young merchant, curious, left his cart and walked over to crouch by the statue. “What is it? I can’t say I’ve seen its like.”
Kene shook his head. “Nor can I, truth be told. It caught my eye, that’s all. Stayed up half the night cleaning it.”
Mernin straightened up. “And you think it’s worth a bit?”
“Got to be. Carved smooth, out of glass or some such. Looks like a priest, but it’s not- look at the hood. I imagine it’s a vampire, and I imagine a vampire would want it.”
Mernin shook his head. “It is a priest, one of the old ones. From before Avacyn. Might be of interest to a collector, but not a vampire. I can give you a few brass for it, but I don’t expect I’ll be likely to sell it.”
“Damn.” Kene looked at the statue intently, biting his lip. He stared aimlessly for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. “I’d like to get a bit more than brass. If’n you find a buyer, I’ll give it to you for a silver.”
Mernin nodded. “Don’t get your hopes up, though. It’s an odd piece, I’ll give you that.” He made as if to go back to the cart, then turned back. “What have you got in that tub? It sure needs washing.”
Kene chuckled. “Nothing to wash, friend.” He lifted his arms out of the tub. Mernin stared at his hands; they were a pale red, and covered in darker markings, like bloodless wounds.
“Damnedest thing,” Kene said, with more interest than annoyance. “Woke up this morning and they were stinging like hell- must have gotten a rash from the seaweed. Saltwater helps. It looks a lot worse than it feels.”
Mernin frowned. “If you say so. What kind of seaweed was it? Remind me to avoid it like the plague.”
They shared a chuckle as Mernin returned to his cart and headed down the road.
- - - - - - -
When Kene awoke from troubled dreams, there was water in his fishing shack. He sprinted away as soon as he awoke, terrified of the Nebelgast that came in with the tide, but even from a distance he could see that there was no fog. His arms burned and itched, as did parts of his face. Apprehensively, he returned to his shack; the seawater was ankle-depth.
Kene didn’t fish that day. He had fish left over from yesterday, after all, and with his arms feeling rubbery and weak, he doubted a day in the boat would be very productive. He bathed instead, something he didn’t do often, in cold water instead of warm this time. His arms felt better; his face felt worse.
He roasted a fish, but couldn’t bring himself to eat it. It seemed to be looking back at him, and its eyes seemed very human for a moment. He threw it, still charred, back into the ocean.
He slept early, after much thought, and dreamed of nothing at all.
- - - - - - - -
Mernin rounded the hill on his cart to find the shack completely submerged by the tide. Kene sat, impassive, staring at it; the dark stone carving sat beside him, arms raised towards the water.
“Hoy, Kene!” Mernin shouted, concerned. “What happened? Are you all right?”
Kene had no response. Mernin brought his cart as close to the water’s edge as he dared, and stepped out. “Kene? Are you all right? What happened to your house?”
Kene's arms moved, slightly, but he did not turn around. He looked very thin, and there were several fish on the ground beside him, cleaned and cooked but untouched.
“Kene?” Mernin said uncertainly, noticing suddenly how thin Kene seemed. “Have you eaten at all since I last saw you?”
“Couldn’t…” Kene mumbled. His voice sounded watery, and Mernin wondered if he had caught cold. “Couldn’t eat the fish. Could eat…”
For the first time, Mernin noticed that the fisherman’s oilskin raincoat was moving. He seemed to be shifting around with his arms. Or were his arms in his sleeves? A feeling of unease began to creep over him, and he took a reflexive step backwards. He glanced down at Kene’s legs, some instinct guiding his eyes. His face froze, and a hoarse sound too quiet to be a scream issued from his mouth.
Protruding from the jacket, lying half in the water, was a malformed mass of pallid flesh. A raised pattern resolved itself near the top into a layer of dull scales. Through transparent skin, Mernin could see something that barely still resembled a foot; a series of slits on the side opened and closed in the water, as if breathing.
Mernin backed away, stumbling over grass and stone, as Kene turned. His raincoat writhed unnaturally, then burst open. Mernin caught a glimpse of flesh, slime, writhing tendrils, things he could not name- a flash, a rubbery thud on the side of his head- he collapsed on the ground, bleeding badly.
A fleshy, suckered tendril wrapped around his arm and neck. On the edge of his perception, he could hear a weak shuffling as the thing dragged itself through the sand. “Couldn’t eat the fish. Fish, fish, fish. The water is deep, Mernin. You are deep, the water, the water. I’m sorry, Mernin.”
Mernin struggled for breath. The tide, he realized, must have been steadily rising- his chest, lying downhill, was already close to submerged. As the dark water closed over his eyes, he saw the black statue, drifting deeper underneath. Kene’s distorted voice reached his ears through the water.
“Couldn’t eat the fish, Mernin, I’m sorry, Mernin. Could eat, Mernin.
"Could eat you.”