In the ocean, life thrives near the surface, warmed by the light of the sun. It nurtures bright colors, fair winds, and brilliant sea-sprayed memories.
But in its darkened depths, past the reach of light, lies an invisible graveyard.
Entombed in an iron maiden, Quynh sinks down to the ocean floor and finds out how terrifyingly deep it goes. There is no sun here. No warmth or sound; only silence.
The pressure of the deep weighs on her like a heavy hand. A hand that leaves her blind and deaf, in the frozen tundra of the sea.
She’s a living ghost without a voice, whose cries are forever trapped inside her lungs. Her throat convulses violently as she tries to breathe, but there is no air for surface-dwellers in the deep. Those who do dwell in the dark have no need of it.
Her lungs fight to expand, over and over, even long after her mind stops fighting. They suffocate and collapse every time. Her eyes see nothing in the pitch black expanse of these unknown depths. The salt of seawater tastes like bitter tears.
Time dissolves entirely, as infinite darkness steals it away. The bone-deep cold becomes as familiar as the shackles that bind her hands.
Images stretch and bleed together in her mind, memories and visions alike. She tries to crawl inside them, to carve out a warm place to live, if only in her mind. But they wash away like ocean currents, and the freezing cold seizes her in its grip once again.
She begins to think that perhaps life at the surface was a dream, her beloved a distant mirage, and now she has awakened to the reality of suffering. The dead do not suffer. So she must still be alive.
The creatures of the deep find out quickly that her body is an infinite source of sustenance. They creep inside her iron tomb like insects through a sarcophagus, and gnaw through her skin, into the flesh of her cheeks, the sockets of her eyes. Sometimes, when her body restores itself, the crabs and the fish cling to her bones and begin their feast again, sharp pincers and teeth eating her from the inside out.
Their frenzy brings larger, older creatures who hunt in the dark for signs of life. Prehistoric creatures who are preserved in shadow like she is. There are strange blind fish who lure in prey with cold-blue light that illuminates a dim unreal world. Perhaps her mind has conjured this up, too.
One day, the seafloor quakes, a surge of fury from the deep, breaking apart the earth itself. She hears the echoes of vents hissing from new cracks and feels the shift in the underwater landscape as her iron tomb lists to the side. A sudden hope pierces through the numbness of her fading sanity, and she claws against thick metal, down to her fingerbones, releasing an incomprehensible scream that never materializes.
Painful convulsions wrack her body once more, and she feels her soul splitting into pieces, subducting into nothingness like the tectonic plates below. Her soul breaks—and in its wake, a molten rage emerges from the trenches of her remains.
In the deep, there lies an iron maiden, and it is her.
Her hate subsumes her love, tearing it away like a rip tide through her heart.
It lashes against the jagged shores of her mind, and instead of silence, she hears—
Andromache, Andromache, Andromache
They have bled together, sunk their teeth into each other, but her beloved does not know the true taste of iron. The true agony of being so alone.
Andromache, Andromache, Andromache
Her beloved’s name beats in anger, in place of her heart. Her heart had long been pulverized, consumed a thousand times over by the jaws of a thousand sea creatures. It is now remade in iron, and it holds her fraying mind captive.
Her beloved’s name erodes the names of all others, her sun-kissed visage eating away at the dark. It eats slowly, steadily, like rust on iron.
When the next seaquake comes, it feels as if the ocean itself is going to war, uprooting the very foundations of the earth, unleashing its ancient vengeful warriors from the deep to drown the world in a mighty flood.
And the living ghost of Quynh answers, surging out from her ruptured, corroded tomb.
The ocean trembles with her fury, and she rises through the dark, the very air in her blood breaking it apart, every cell in her body excruciatingly remaking itself, a thousand more deaths to endure before she breaks the surface—
The air plunges into her lungs like shards of ice. The sunlight blinds her milk-white eyes. Her skin is paper-thin and translucent, like a creature of the deep. There is no luminescence left in her.
Time begins anew, and it coils inside her like an ouroboros. A serpent suffocating on its own tail, forever regenerating only to destroy itself. The agony of an immortal being.
In this new world where the old gods have long been forgotten, she will remind her beloved of their wrath.
She will remind her beloved that they are very much alive.