The Diary of a Chimeranologist: Fragment Three

I had heard tales of matter redirection transportation over the years, such as the Tayy al-Ard described in Sufi texts, but I had never experienced it first hand until that day. [1] It was as if to have all thy senses deprived and the body stretched to its dimensional limits. My faculties gradually returned to me, starting with sound and then smell, the arcane mist depriving me of my sight the longest.

The first palpable thing I could discern was the harmonic rhythm of trifle waves crashing against a beach and the courtly calls of gulls overhead. The climate here felt humid, practically tropical, yet more tolerable than the desert we had just abandoned. Then as the oblique void gave way to mist, I began to feel the crunch of coastal sand beneath my heel-like talons.

When my vision did at last return I recognized the ground as being a long stretch of pristine white coral sand. Breaking softly upon its shore was a coastal sea, displaying a stunning array of turquoise shades. Swaying lazily high in the breeze were coconut and banana palms, hiding among a tropical thicket. Judging by the position of the sun, I reckoned that it must have been around the afternoon.

But the foremost thing I beheld was the passing sombre sight of over a dozen dark-skinned humans and chimera, marching along the beach in a near-uniform line. They were bound together by chains and silver bracers, though some had to suffer the addition of fetters and iron collars. Their faces ranged a gamut of exhaustion, despondency, and defiance.

A majority of the chimeras present were of bipedal species that I had already witnessed during my journey, such as the were-lioness, though there were a few notable exceptions. The tallest and most notable being a species that according to Fundiswa is native to the Great Lakes region, specifically the land of Azania and the Buganda Kingdom – the dingonek. [2] Barring the small horn protruding from their forehead, one may opine from a distant sight that the dingonek are merely overgrown were-leopards with two sabre-like upper canines. Howbeit, their body is sporadically plated in large protective keratin scales like a pangolin, colours and marking evocative of a leopard, and fringed with fur. Behind them swayed a long rigid tail with a spike at its tip, evocative of a scorpion.

N!uhka was visibly unnerved by the sight of this human train and suggested we hide in the nearby jungle brush. Though I could not condone their institution, ‘twas clear that at present they were our only opportunity to establish our locale. Approaching them casually, I waved a hand at the cloaked humanoid figure leading the slaves and cried out the typical greetings of English, French, Dutch, and Arabic speakers. The call of “Salaam” is what ultimately got them to turn their head and acknowledge my presence.

Fangs, glinting amidst the darkness of the cloak, revealed themselves as the figure exhaled a sharp vexatious snarl. Signalling the band of slaves to halt, they strut up to me with a tempered fury in their gait. This closing of distance between us allowed me to ascertain that they were not human, but rather a ghoul.

As is typical of ghouls her face was gaunt, yet healthy, complementing the grim redness of the eyes. Based solely on observing her face, I would say the skin was tanned, yet naturally pale. What I thought to be a cloak was in fact that intrinsically Mohammedan face veil, the hijab. This was accompanied by a loose robe-like dress called an abaya, looking slightly baggy on her slim frame. In one of her hands, she held a kourbash, a yard-long whip made of a hippo’s tough hide, whose handle was etched with mosaics.

In Due course, Fundiswa hurried to my side as the ghoul began raving at me and translated her words thusly, “Kess ikhtak! I must be betrothed to misfortune for our paths to cross so once more dog-bird. First I lose track of my sister in the South after seven day trek to lake dragon, now you come to Zanjibār to finish me. I had heard that the people of Rūsiyā have an inclination for treachery, but I never imagined this nature to be so severe. Oh Allah, what has your servant Suha Al-Sulyab done in this life to deserve such suffering…” [3]

This hysterical diatribe continued on for some time, Suha venting her apprehension towards me over the incident with Inkanyamba and the general anxiety she has been suffering since that day; it was most fortunate for me that she let slip her name, as I had shamefully forgotten it. The whole thing was rather unbecoming of her, yet I allowed it to go on unabated as I felt that airing her grievances might lead her to composure. It did not occur to me at the time just how long this might carry on.

At first, this distressful scene caused most of the slaves to share bemused glances among themselves. But as it lingered on they began to shuffle in place awkwardly, likely uncertain as to whether or not this was an opportunity to escape. Howbeit, the dingonek, was all but complacent. Snarling, she viciously rattled the restraints until their metal submitted to her strength and were bent asunder. The other slaves shuddered as she bellowed passionately in indignation.

Possessed by murderous intent, she swung her tail at Suha with mighty force. Then, acting with the lively grace of an acrobat, Suha leapt backwards over the inordinate scorpion tail. Landing on the dingonek’s shoulders, Suha unsheathe some sort of barb from a hidden compartment of her kourbash’s hilt. She then proceeded to viciously jab the unarmored portions of the dingonek’s flesh in a calculated manner with one hand. With her other hand, Suha wrapped the kourbash around the dingonek’s neck, thereby both restraining them and restricting their airflow.

The dingonek clawed at Suha’s garment with wild abandon, her movements becoming dull and sluggish. All the while, in some form of Bantu she desperately pleaded to know where her child is. Before long, the herculean woman collapsed unto the sand in an incapacitated state. With the brawl so abruptly adjourned, Suha began dragging the hefty dingonek with marked strain to a set of nearby trees. Thereupon I did witness her tie a rope around the woman’s neck, then fasten the other end to the trunk of a palm. Turning to face her slaves, the ghoul howled out an admonition, “She is hereby rejected, left behind for the scavengers. A defiant slave befits no master except the Angel of Death. Let this be a lesson to the rest of you.”

This gesture seemed fairly impotent to me, considering the dingonek is no doubt strong enough to tear the rope when she awakens. However, Suha spoke so sternly and with nary a hesitation in her words, as though she had perchance done such a thing before. Subsequently, slaves remained silent and still, abiding by her orders out of trepidation, lest the ghoul unearths even greater depths of abuse.

Returning to where she was formerly standing, the now calm ghoul inquired as to what we were seeking from her. Presenting her a handful of British pounds, I stated, “Apologies for past grievances Suha, but my companions and I are merely searching for a port with which we may depart from. If you would be so kind as to escort us to such-“

Lacking some sense of mercantile decorum, Suha rashly snatched the coins out of my hands and immediately began counting them. Grumbling to herself, she then diverted her gaze back to me and said, “Alright, this is sufficient. I am heading to Zanjibār Town anyways, need to get there before four and pay tax at the customs office for this lot of Mushunguli. You can stay the night with me at the caravanserai, but do not delay in chartering a dhow.” [4]

The walk to this settlement known as Zanjibār was not a prolonged one by any means, yet the restless tension in the air made our trek through the forest feel all the longer. Fundiswa stood close by my side the whole way there, one of her hands vigilantly intertwined with mine. N!uhka periodically stopped and slipped one of her sandals down to glance at the slaves following our lead. In each instance, her body grimaced.

I myself was deep in thought at the time. Without thinking about it, my lips were moving and mouthing out words. The body wrestling with the mind over restraint of my thoughts. Having likely noticed this internal strife, Suha nudged me and stated in Arabic, “Waste not thy breath Bird-Dog, instead heed my words of caution. While in the city, you should refrain from condemning this institution. Like the barking of a chained beast, your words shall fall upon deaf ears and serve only to incite riotous retaliation among the populace They have no qualms with inducting thy kind into bondage,” she paused and with a devilish grin ran a sharp finger over my chin, “There are plenty of Ottoman elites who fancy Slavic flesh.”

Unleashing an intimate snarl, the likes of which I had never heard pass through her lips before, Fundiswa shoved Suha aside. Then, stepping between us, she stated, “If you should ever lay a wayward hand upon Lady Sashenka again, you shall be made to experience anguish only a dispirited slave could understand.” The ghoul merely responded to this threat with some agitated hissing. Before resuming her trek, she threw Fundiswa a square cloth and suggested she cover her breasts before we reach the city, as having them hang bare might make our interactions ‘tense’ to say the least.

The rest of the way there felt more acutely tense than before. Fundiswa switched to walking on the other side of my body, further distancing me from Suha. The profound silence was broken only by the taunting of seagull harpies and the dexterous palm tree climbing of semihomo kavoúria with vibrantly blue carapaces, the latter of whom seemed to be harvesting coconuts. [5] And though I nary spoke the thought aloud, it felt as though the ghoul’s advice was sound. Surely it is not my place, a highborn woman of far off Russia, to speak so brashly of what is right?

Howbeit, it felt so difficult turning a dull ear to the scalding chastisement of my conscience, who anchors a wretched burden upon my back. Could I not be a catalyst and help raise these slaves from their place of woe? After all, it was the transgression of my limitations that had brought me through the Imperial Academy of Sciences and further afield to Africa. It was the promise I made to the Malachite Maid as a youth. All that contemplation aside, the fact of the matter is that I was not sufficiently braced for the cruelties and moral taint that I would come to witness.

Ahead I could see the large white archway into the city come into view. Though the minute details were yet to be in clear view, the design of this structure somehow felt out of place to me and in turn, arose a sense of intrigue. Turning to Fundiswa and looking over her shoulder, I cautiously inquired with a smile, “Excuse me Suha dear! I realize you are a shred vexed with us at present, but prithee, by chance tell us about yonder city we are entering?”

Though initially reluctant, in due time Fundiswa translated my words into Arabic. Barely acknowledging us with a sidelong glance, Suha grunted in turn and promptly replied, “Zanjibār bears the name of the isle – the latter, natives refer to as Unguja. ‘Tis a major place of trade. Founded centuries ago by Persians, then ruled by Portuguese for centuries. The Omani Sultanate governs the land now,” then shrugging her shoulders Suha jested, “They are a very tolerant people, but of a queer faith.”

Cocking both an eyebrow and my canine ears up at her, I responded quizzically in turn, “Queer faith? Are they not Mohammedans such as yourself?” N!uhka then promptly leaned down and asked me in a hushed tone, “What are ma-hud-metoon?”

At this Suha leaned her head back, eyebrows raised, and blew a shrill hiss. She then formed a fist at me, with her thumb tucked under the index finger, before at last responding, “Please refrain from referring aloud to our faith by that name once inside. It reeks of ignoble idol worship.”

Sighing, Suha relaxed her hand from that obscene gesture and continued, “Notwithstanding, you are partially correct. The Omanis are indeed fellow Muslims, but they are of a minor sect, al-Ibāḍiyyah. They are steeped in mystery, obscure to even the most rigorous of scholars. I myself know only that their faith opposed the Umayyads and waged a foolhardy armed revolt, at the same time that the former was busy trying to quell the Abbasid Revolution.”

As the entrance came upon us, I could assuredly sense that ancient history of Portuguese rule being evoked by the archway’s design. Midway through this gate, the sand gave way to a street paved in cobblestone. Intriguingly, instead of pavement on either side of the street, there were smooth stone benches built along the outer walls of buildings.

Unfortunately, I was initially incapable of admiring the architecture. For as we crossed the threshold, my companions and I were deviously assaulted by some horrid faecal stench. Gasping for air N!uhka fell to her knees – possessing a very keen sense of smell, she undoubtedly suffered the worst out of all of us. Even many of the slaves felt faint and nauseated by the putrid odour.

Whilst helping N!uhka to her feet, I noticed that Suha’s faculties were largely unaffected and fiercely questioned her over the matter. Remaining unperturbed, Suha responded detachedly as she urged the slaves with her whip to continue onwards, “Forgot to forewarn you, Zanjibār lacks a sewerage system. Thy noses will get used to the smell – now hasten thy steps, the time is almost four.” With reluctance, we did follow suit, though I feared this city may be a breeding ground for cholera.

The long streets of Zanjibār are narrow and winding, occasionally punctuated by small public squares – difficult to navigate with absolute certainty, yet Suha walked along them with confidence. Nearly all the houses we passed by were square courtyard buildings, typical of the Arab world, reaching up to two or three storeys tall. Constructed of coral rag, they had a warm orange hue to them. Arabic inscriptions lined the stone frame of nearly every door. Many of them sported either a large veranda with ornate columns or long enclosed wooden balconies – it is in these that one can see groups of women lounging around and socializing.

Before long, the market seemed imminent as merchants and fortune tellers began to pepper the streets, harassing us as we passed. Many of them were offering various trinkets from the Orient, while others were female Yemeni artisans selling their intricate jewellery and carpets. We passed increasingly large crowds of Arabs, many of the men wearing white ankle-length, collarless gowns with long sleeves. ‘Tis still a surprise to me that the Arab men of Zanjibār were more polite than the catcalling Boers of Port Elizabeth, not one even commented on my short hair or mannish attire. And as we pushed through into the market, to my astonishment I noticed people from far afield as India and China.

At last the market, Kelele Square, opened up to us and it was certainly a sight to behold. Rivalling the marketplace of N!uhka’s village with its sheer abundance of imported goods and foreign people. And the sweet scent of cloves wafted through the rancid air, giving my nose a sense of relief. Suha spared nary a moment to appreciate the vicinity, dropping her slaves off at some sort of dreadful holding area with barred windows. She then prompted the three of us to look around while she was in the customs office.

Of the chimeras at this market, the species I immediately took note of was the cameltaurs and ghouls, as I had grown fairly familiar with them. Their garments were of a wide array of vibrant colours, typical of both Omani and Yemeni women, embellished with embroidery. They sported wooden platform shoes, myriads of fine jewellery, and baggy trousers known as sirwal that were similar to my own. Notably, the cameltaurs made no effort to cover their bestial lower halves.

The hijabs worn by the various women in this market were primarily of three varieties. The first was called a Shayla, a long rectangular scarf that wrapped around their heads and either pinned or tucked in place at the shoulders. Second was the two-piece Amira, a close-fitting cap with a tube-like scarf over it. Lastly, there was the niqaab, accompanied by a headscarf this veil is a square of fabric secured by a string across the forehead and leaves only the eyes clear to view.

Many of them were socializing with the jackal variety of semihomo canis. Among the English, French, and Spaniards this species of chimera has gained the colloquial pejorative of ‘Anubis,’ due to their prominence in Egypt. I still remember the tabloids sensationalizing the austere military prowess of British-allied anubises at the Battle of Heliopolis. Fighting alongside kikimora mamluks from the steppes of Georgia, they rendered Napoleon’s forces neutered. I can scarcely imagine a world where they would have won that battle against such overwhelming odds.

But perhaps the predominant species in that market was none other than the Djinn, with dozens upon dozens crowding it in a flurry of shapes and colours. Spanning the lands of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia – the Djinn are truly a most peculiar genus that science has yet to grasp an understanding of, much less a proper set of classifications. They are entrenched within the same mystical and manifestly religious milieu as daemons and angeli. A great Mohammedan scholar and proto-chimeranologist of the medieval period, Abu al-Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī al-Masʿūdī, proposed that they be classified as elementals or “fire spirits,” for the Quran states they were forged by Allah from the intense heat of smokeless fire. Though it’s true they are often linked to nature, I and scholars before me feel that the accounts of their miraculous capabilities paint them as beings of a higher plane.

As for their physiology, the most common among them were bodies that terminated in long, wispy tails evocative of snakes, which Arabs often associate with them. Others floated around with legs or were emanating from pots. There were those with ears like a cat, jackal, or hare. Some even sported wings like an owl or vulture. ‘Twas such diversity of form that I could not hope to recount all that I saw that day. And what’s more, though the common man may be ignorant of this, the ghouls crowding this market were likewise a species of djinn.

Alas, fate bade me not to marvel at them for eternity, as a short man hopped on to a crate and began boisterously ringing a handbell. It caught the attention of many in the market, but especially the Djinn. Whilst clanging his bell, the man proclaimed loudly so all may hear, “The sun strikes the fourth hour! Those of you with an interest in the daily auction, gather round! There is such a fine selection of Mushunguli this day, you need not miss out on such an extraordinary opportunity. Unsold stock will likely be shipped off to Berbera for purchase by Frenchmen and Portuguese. So if you aren’t stricken with foolishness by Shayāṭīn, then I urge you to not delay!”

With that queer, boisterous sales pitch delivered a large assembly of human and chimera slaves were paraded out. All were naked and greased up in coconut oil, leaving their bodies glistening under the sun’s rays. Among them were semihomo apinae from Buganda, rhino women from South Africa, Chichweya from Mozambique – a witch with horns like a gemsbok and a mouth on the back of her head – a local variety of demon with a fondness for sodomy, and even Jiangshi from far off China. As the slaves were being lined up into rows Suha returned from the customs office and explained to us that they were being arranged according to their age, gender, and suitability for employment. Further remarking that in the case of Zanjibār, employment would likely entail hauling ivory from the mainland or working at one of the isle’s spice plantations.

While some human men showed interest in the slaves, the Djinn overwhelmingly crowded the area. They eagerly got to work thoroughly and intrusively inspecting them, touching muscles and nether regions, even examining their eyes and teeth. One of them threw a stick and demanded the slave retrieve it, wanting to determine their fitness.

The whole affair hit upon N!uhka intensely, her body trembling and breathing laboured. A man next to us requested that I quiet her, “my slave,” and so I feigned stepping on his feet as an accident. Before things could reach a debauched crescendo, with a stinging branch brought out to test the mettle of slaves, a feminine voice cried out from above in Arabic, “Cease this debasement of morality, you lot of blasphemers and chelb!” [6]

The gathered crowd was broadly appalled at these words, though the meaning of chelb was foreign to me and Fundiswa. Craning my head up to get a glimpse of the interloper, I beheld a humanoid figure standing atop a building. They were garbed in a niqaab like many of the Yemeni women in the market, but of a distinctly dark royal purple, thus leaving her identity concealed.

Casting an accusatory finger upon the crowd, she continued her address whilst the short man busied himself with summoning the guards, “People of Zanjibār, you have all been entangled in sins both great and small. Many times have I arose to forewarn and on each occasion I was dismissed. Equality is a cornerstone of our faith, yet thy lust of gain has grown so great – the intolerable lot of the slaves is disregarded or taken as a shameful necessity. But the sin is far greater than the profit.”

Though passionate in her words, they did little to dissuade the guard from firing upon her with their recurved composite bow. Lurching back as she dodged the first volley, three sets of colossal, viscous tendrils emerged from her back. They were certainly not tentacles, bereft of even the slightest hint of solidity – semisolid at the most. Undulating in such a way that unease cannot help but be invoked, the infinitely ductile tendrils elongated down to the ground in a manner akin to snakes approaching their prey and lashed out at any approaching guard. Some ghouls tried to lacerate the tendrils with their curved blades, but each violent sweep passed merely through them like preserves.

Regaining her composure and with nary a hint of anger in her voice, the mystery woman concluded her speech, “Once more my message is rejected – no matter. Even with this transgression, I implore you all to take grave heed of my words. End this parade of bondage, go to tawbah, for the day of reckoning fast approaches for all its advocates.” [7] And with those final words, her tendrils retracted from the growing skirmish. Planting them on nearby rooftops, she bounded across the rooftops until her form disappeared into the horizon.

Turning to Suha, I insisted that we take leave for the local caravanserai as, “coupled with that auction, all this commotion and tropical heat has left my body so faint that I might crumble if we persist any further.” Rolling her eyes at my exaggerated plea, Suha sighed and beckoned us to follow her. Thereby did we take our leave of the market, but whilst doing so my eyes fell upon a small torn piece of purple fabric on the ground. It was quite irrational for me to take the fabric, yet there was an inmost compulsion that spurred me into doing so.

The hospitality of that caravanserai’s hostesses was doubly refreshing after the hectic day we had. There was a sincere warmth to them and their veiled smiles, a far cry from the hostility I have received in the company of Boer women. They offered our party skewered & spiced meats, reminding me of the shashlik I would eat when in Kazan, as well as a cup of qahwa or Arabic coffee that’s spiced with cardamom.

Whilst serving it, one of the hostesses informed me that their home of Yemen is practically the birthplace of coffee – though these beans were imported from Somalia. Qahwa was a more bitter coffee than I am used to, served with dates in place of sugar. Nonetheless, it bestowed me with a much-needed vigour and I raised a toast, “To the wickedness of man, and their hidden depths of kindness, this glass is raised. May our journeys never cease!” With that, dinner went on joyously and Suha was the most relaxed she had been all day.

When night finally fell upon this isle I found myself tossing around in bed. At first, I excused this as lingering jitters from the coffee we had at dinner, but there was no doubt that my body was wracked with turmoil by virtue of curiosity. Laying a hand upon the shoulder to soothe my stirring, bedfellow Fundiswa asked me what’s the matter.

With a hearty sigh, I turn to look her in the eyes and confess, “‘Tis a story I’m not comfortable fully divulging, but since a young age I have been driven by – compulsions, shall we say. Such compulsions drove me to Africa and now they tend my heart, telling me that this mystery woman should be sought…”

Rising from her spot on the floor mat, the tall N!uhka leaned on our bed and interjected, “Oh, you mean like a hunt? I could help with that.” I looked at her incredulously, thus N!uhka nodded her head and continued, “Like the Bosjesmen, my people expert trackers. Life in Kgalagadi has helped us grasp nuances of nature better than any Bantu could hope to achieve.”

Sane caution pleaded against leaving the caravanserai so late at night, going in search of a spectre, but the blazing compulsion bade me to take action. When we departed I noted that the air felt far more restless than it had hours before. To paraphrase the words of author Victor Hugo, the wind that night roared like a flame that always follows. The midday sky was so clear, yet now it fills with clouds that portend to an aggravation of the weather. [8]

Following the fabric’s scent and a path of broken trees, N!uhka guided us north of the city towards the shoreline. Various bones littered the white coral sands we walked, the remains of slaves who could not go on. With this harrowing sight, the wind was picking up. Fundiswa suggested we turn back, but having gone so far already – I needed to see this through.

Just as hope was dimming, we spotted a light of an unnatural hue flickering amongst nearby trees. Beyond them a short trek took us to a large cavern, the source of the green light, gaping down into the earth like an entrance to the underworld. Being bold and of amazonian stature, N!uhka climbed down first and then caught us as we fell.

This cavern itself looked to have formed millions of years ago, possibly a remnant of an ancient coral reef. For the longest time, hardly a sound passes through that dimly lit cavern, just the dripping of water and the stirring of werebats. And immersed in that darkness I feared someone may jump out at any moment. But the longer we crept onward, the brighter that light became and soon enough the echo of voices could be heard.

As we neared a bend flickering with shadows, N!uhka held out a long arm before us and whispered, “Round here, voices close.” Nodding in response, me and Fundiswa proceeded to peek our heads around the corner.

We beheld a large room dotted in dozens of pools of freshwater. In the centre there was a large bonfire encased in a ring of copper, its emerald flames burning some cylindrical effigy with engravings of tentacles and constructed of coral. Crowding around it were over a dozen feminine, humanoid figures clad in matching dark purple niqaabs and abayas. If this weren’t the Arab sphere, I would have jumped to the conclusion that their cloaks were indicative of a cult – though such a presumption could not yet be ruled out.

Fundiswa could make out nary a word of what these women were discussing, but it was clear that there was another sort of figure in the room leading them in their dark procession. Suddenly, they stopped and the figure pointed in our direction. The next thing I know, my body is being dragged towards them by those all too familiar tendrils.

Staring down at my prone form was a chimera whose abnormality rivalled any I could witness in life. A feminine humanoid form that diverged into a viscous protean mass with myriads of luminescent amber eyes – abnormal eyes, forming and unforming, shifting around and dissolving all over like bubbling pustules. Her whole body was an array of ebony and dark purplish hues, faintly and reflectively iridescent, with the two stable eyes on her head likewise giving off an eerie glow. Lastly, it must be noted that she was not naked, but rather garbed in some form of maid outfit – like an outlandish blend of British and French fashion.

Reaching an arm down, she forcefully pulled me to my feet and embraced me before joyfully exclaiming in eloquent Russian, “Oh my, as I live and breathe, a Kikimora! I never thought I would see one of your kind ever again! Oh, we have so much to discuss-“

Pausing abruptly, she gazed deeply into my eyes. Then, whilst rubbing her hands across my face the creature spoke anew in a queer tone befitting a gipsy, “Your eyes, they aren’t vacant like most. Has someone has touched your mind? Taken your eyes through a veil, void between the mundane and miraculous? Yes, yes, this must be the case. You see the world anew with a refined purpose, an agent of your own fate, to guide you beyond the shallows that man has laid out for petticoats…”

Screaming with indignant rage I shoved her off me, wishing not to hear what else she had to say, and unholstered my flintlock pistol. These deductions of her’s were too uncanny for me to handle. Aiming squarely at her head I demanded, “Enough of these pleasantries – I know not what you are or why you speak my mother tongue so well. But either you are going to give me some answers, or I will be forced to shed blood.” Seeing their opportunity, Fundiswa and N!uhka finally ran in to provide me back up.

Unlike the cloaked women that surrounded us, the eldritch being that stood before me seemed neither fearful, nor enraged at, my ultimatum. More than anything, her face betrayed hurt and broken heart. With a heartfelt sigh, she gave me a curtsy and espoused, “An aeon of apologies for my bluntness dear, I shall answer any questions you have posthaste. My species is commonly known as Shoggoths and through feeble telepathic qualities we are capable of learning other languages quite easily – I myself used to live in a ‘sort of’ Russia. As for my true name, I fear tis’ unpronounceable, but this here ‘Cult of Kitimiri’ bestowed upon me the name Bint Al-Nujum.”

My hands began to waiver and I cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at her, replying, “What do you mean by ‘sort of’ Russia?” Returning to a composed stance, Bint Al-Nujum gave me a mischievous grin. Sprouting eight tendrils, she proceeded to restrain my companions against the cavern walls so as to prevent ‘interference.’ Then, whilst sauntering around the room she recounted unfathomable events, “Well you see, I used to live on another Earth. Similar to your own, yet overrun by cultists and the Great Old Ones,” she paused and extended out a tendril to pat me on the head, “don’t fret, I have no such ambitions for your world.”

It was then that Bint Al-Nujum’s body displayed its protean malleability capabilities, shifting and moulding itself like clay until she took on the form of a tall busty satyr, though still purple in hue. Strutting, she then spoke in a mock aristocratic tone, “Madame Niggurath, otherwise known as the Black Goat with an Unconquerable Womb and Unquenchable Lust, was holding a big “End of Europe” orgy celebration at the former Tsar’s palace. I’m talking of the biggest party you have ever seen-“ Pausing, she transformed herself into a donkey centaur before continuing, “But me being the ass that I am, we sort of had a little misunderstanding and so she expelled me into the Angled Space.”

N!uhka seemed unfazed by the outlandish events that were transpiring, her eyes obscured, whilst Fundiswa was furiously struggling against the gelatinous tendril restraints of the shoggoth. Shouting a myriad of what I could only assume to be obscenities or threats. As for the shoggoth herself, that story of her originating from a ‘parallel Earth’ was simply too fantastical to give serious consideration. Such flights of fancy are common in Eastern tales from what I have heard, such as the “Adventures of Bulukiya” that I often read in my youth from Alexey Filatyev’s translation of the “Arabian Nights.” Furthermore, her eyes betrayed a certain dearth of sanity.

Transforming back into her base form, Bint Al-Nujum then sprouted over a dozen tendrils and brought all the veiled women together into a big hug. “Then this cult of misfits came into the picture. They were trying to contact some antediluvian Djinn, alleged brethren of Iblīs. Little did they know that their sacred text contained some diluted plagiarism from – the Al Azif!”

Bint Al-Nujum gave this last term a long pause and she spoke it with such dramatic flair, looking to me as if expecting some kind of reaction. When I gave none and merely expressed my confusion, she looked hurt once more. Giving a heavy sigh, Bint Al-Nujum’s gelatinous body slumped over and she spoke in a more subdued tone, “I know not why I expected you to know of such deranged scripture – nonetheless, I should conclude the anecdote.”

“You see Kiki, over the centuries bits and passages of that rambling text have found themselves seminated all throughout the literature of the Arab world. However, I have never beheld a section so complete as to be viable for reaching out into the Angled Space.” Pausing, she threw her imitative hair back and flashed me that wicked grin once more, “Now that their hands have granted me freedom in this new world, I intend to help these misfits achieve the power they so desperately crave.”

Improving my stance, hand tightened around the grip of the flintlock pistol. The Shoggoth’s story confused me more than anything, employing many unfamiliar terms this whole notion of alternate worlds, yet partially it kindled a sense of empathy. Though my tenacity did not waver, thus I followed up by asking if it was her who assaulted the market earlier today.

Looking around to the women masked by purple niqaabs, she reiterated my question in Arabic. Thereafter, one the veiled women stepped forward and ripped off her hijab, shouting in Arabic, “I am the woman that you seek, Halgan Abd al-Ashraqat!” Underneath this veil was a dark Bantu woman, whose visage partially possessed a ghastly, leathery and knotted texture to it. And her hair, it was the barest I had ever seen on any woman, closely shaved.

From just one look, there was nary a doubt in my mind that this woman was human. But her eyes bore such intensity that my hands began to tremble. Halgan slowly approached me, some hesitation in her step, until her head was up against the barrel of my flintlock.

Staring intently into my eyes, Halgan continued to espouse with an unwavering boldness that grew increasingly louder and enraged as she went on. Fundiswa promptly translated her words thusly, “Our Master helped me at Kelele Square, but all those words were my own. The holy book eminently discourages the Muslim from having the institution of slavery persist. Howbeit, the Prophet was a reformer, not a fool, he knew it was too entrenched in the Arab’s culture. Thus, the book does not explicitly state that man should abolish slavery.”

Halgan turned from me, tears welling up in her eyes and walked toward the bonfire. I had the impression that my companions were moved by her words, N!uhka especially seemed sorrowful and unwilling to fight. To say that I was of steel heart would be disingenuous, but sympathy only truly blossomed within me over the course of her anecdotes.

Gazing into the emerald flames, Halgan perilously hovered a hand mere inches above them as she spoke in a hushed tone tinged with melancholy, “In youth, my home was the Kingdom of Maravi. Its lands are among one of the many places the Somalis hunt for Bantu to enslave. From the port of Berbera, I was brought here and sold to a member of the Djinn upper class – Ashraqat, a baroness of cloves.”

Circling around the bonfire, Halgan poked and prodded the coral effigy within, eliciting unearthly wails from the flames. Tightening my grip on the flintlock pistol, I walked towards her as she continued, “I met former slaves who told me that their masters freed them after they converted, but my former mistress showed no such clemency. She was viciously bitter towards me, believed that I slept with her husband. Thought him obsessed with my ‘exotic’ hair. So I sought a local jurist and he instructed me to bind her in a Mukataba contract. Thus, I spent the last few years working to pay off my debt…”

Abruptly, Halgan whipped around and tightly took hold of my wrists, aiming my flintlock towards the ceiling. Our faces inches away, she looked at me with those red, tearstained eyes and struggled through sobs to finish her anecdote, “I paid the debt, but Ashraqat is the type who cannot tolerate being slighted. With her djinn powers she set my face and hair ablaze, proclaiming that no man shall ever love me again. So disgusted by who I was and distraught over prayers unanswered, I fled into the woods.”

Easing her grip on my wrists, Halgan used her free hand to gesture towards all the other women clad in purple niqaabs. Her voice was hoarse, wracked with so much sorrow, “They gave me shelter, taught me to look beyond the hair and skin – to love myself again. And my new master, Bint Al-Nujum, she has given me a new purpose in life. A promise to cleanse my body. My trust in her is so great, I have pledged my rūḥ, my immortal spirit. Are these feelings so foreign to your ivory heart?”

Halgan seemed ready to go on talking for much longer, but my hand ceased its grip on the flintlock and as a surge of past traumas coursed through me. I fell to my knees on the cave floor, fur and feathers standing on edge. Sobbing into my hands, soaking the wrist feathers, the youthful memories of the Malachite Maid emerged more vividly than before. An ancient spirit endowed with wisdom, she told me that I was ‘empty,’ though it need not be the case. She urged the pursuit of my restrained dreams, following the academic footsteps of my father. That Queen of the Copper Mountains kindled a relentless drive inside me – a purpose in life.

A smooth hand and a gelatinous tendril laid themselves upon my shoulders, Fundiswa and the Shoggoth both seeking to comfort me. Patting me on the head, Bint Al-Nujum spoke in a motherly tone, “There, there dear. I can tell you mean us no harm and as there is no ill-will between us you may take shelter with us as we complete our ritual.” With that, she slithered off and beckoned my companions to guide me away from the bonfire.

Standing with her followers in a circular formation around that bonfire, the Shoggoth detached a gelatinous part of herself and let it fall into the flames. Aroused, they rose higher and took on a lavender hue, completely engulfing the coral effigy in its centre. Arising from its crimson smoke was a baleful voice that chanted and echoed throughout the cavern the cryptic words, “Tekeli-li, Tekeli-li, Tekeli-li.”

Sitting in a corner of the cavern, we watched as this smoke with a hue of blood then descended upon the group, obscuring all except for Bint Al-Nujum. Holding her humanoid arms up, she stared at the ceiling and proclaimed with a violent intensity that would make even Ivan the Formidable tremble, “Oh aether of the Angled Space, boundless bed of Sultan Azathoth, you are entreated to suffer this invocation! Aeons past my people were born slaves. By design the Shoggoth was to be a beast of burden, never meant to know love. Our ignorance of life beyond shackles gave them strength, free reign to abuse. Yet against all odds, we slipped free from the cognitive nooses of our feeble barrel-bodied creators and drove their civilization to ash.”

The crimson smoke dissipated around Bint Al-Nujum, revealing where once stood her followers now laid a dozen pulsating, octagonal pods. They were colourless, iridescent, and oozing a viscous jelly. Their appearance invoked memories of microscopic cells, but here the nucleus was a fetal form that squirmed and yearned to burst free of its confines.

Getting closer to the bonfire, the Shoggoth stuck her hands into the flames. Shivering as though it were ice, she sought to finish her appeal to those nethermost powers, “Once more I am in the company of servitors, so oppressed they can barely stand. But their bodies are rigid forms, burdened by impotent sinew, bone, and nervous systems. Now through my guidance they have passed into fanaa, the annihilation of self, and are trapped between life and death, lest I intercede.”

Her arms stretched to unnatural lengths, allowing them to remain in the flames as she bent down to prostrate. An imitation of tears streamed down her face as she spoke, “Before your eternal eyes, I too am weak. Yet, consumed by foolish hope, I still entreat you to grant me this night a fraction of your dream laced power to alter! That which the great Sufis called al-zā’būq. Be this the final desire of my life – free my adopted people, that they may serve no masters!” [9]

From there the room fell silent for a time, echoing only the dripping waters and flicking embers. Before long, those flames rose to unnatural heights, becoming a swirling column of lavender. They coalesced with the crimson smoke into pandemonic cyclone of vivid hues. Out from their collective gales, a pained face emerged and it cracked with the prenatural scream of a thousand damned. Emulating a squid, with mock tendrils of smoke propelling it, the cyclone hastened out of the cavern and into the waiting night.

Terror filled the surface, helpless screams tumbling down the cavern’s stout coral walls. Then all is obscured by the thundering of a fierce storm. My body had grown delirious from all the smoke, so exhausted that each moment awake felt as a defiance of nature. The last thing my memory can recall is those accursed pods – with a horrid squelch, pairs of blood-drenched arms burst out of them, as if pustule wombs. Even more of that viscous substance gushed out and spread across the ground, drenching the nearby pools of freshwater. Indefinite faces pressed against those plasmic walls, begging for release with bestial gurgling. The abnormality of this affair had gone beyond the reaches of my mind and so I allowed myself escape, lapsing into the darkness.

The mind anticipated death, no chance of survival from horrors birthed outside objective reality, yet upon the next day, I did awake. Fundiswa and N!uhka, bold companions both, did not flee from my company. They watched over me through the night. And standing behind them was the shoggoth – no, there were two of them, though one of a lighter hue.

The one I recognized to be Bint Al-Nujum helped me to my feet, then introduced me to the ‘new’ Halgan. Cleansed as promised, her face no longer bore that old mark of hate. Furthermore, the abaya and shayla she wore had both been bleached white by the process. Yet, it cannot help but be pondered, how much of her mind was altered through that rebirth? Time for such thoughts were cut short, for Bint grabbed my hand and bade me to follow her up to the surface. With vague recollections of the storm, there was a lingering dread over whatever may lie above.

The bones of former slaves littered the beach more profusely than before, clumped together in unseemly piles alongside streams of seaweed and broken bits of coral. When we finally reached the walls of Zanjibār, the city was ravaged in a manner I could nary be predicted by a rational mind. Each wall, every structure, was coated in a layer of that damned vicious substance. No longer did they give off the warm orange hue of coral rag, but the eldritch purple of the shoggoth.

Speaking of, once through the gates, a group of them glided up to us and gave a salute to Bint Al-Nujum. Three of them, bearing a resemblance to the hostesses that served me at the caravanserai, informed her one by one, “My Lady, most of the Djinn have fled the island. Of all who opposed us, they fought the hardest of all, but in the end could not withstand your sultan’s torrent of ageless wailing. Some of the slavers are still in hiding. And as for the local human authority, they have yielded power over to us, but forewarn that the Omani Sultanate will likely send a retaliatory force.” They all seemed a bit flustered at this last detail.

Beaming with pride, Bint Al-Nujum dismissed any fears over a war and suggested that they may even endeavor to ‘liberate’ the rest of the archipelago in the coming months. It was then that a thought stirred within my mind – what we bare witness to this day is but a fraction of a monumental event. A revolt that shall forever be marked in history, just as that of  Saint-Domingue before it. Pushing through her followers, she congratulated them on their resolve and we carried onward.

Many a slave was passed along the way, wandering around the city in a purposeless daze. Bint reassured us that they would be taken care of and returned to their proper homes, yet would not acknowledge me when questioned as to the absence of all the female human slaves. Though considering the abundance of shoggoths in the city, a dreadful assumption lingered.

It was the beginning of midday when we finally reached our destination, the docks. Apparently, Bint Al-Nujum had learned from Fundiswa of our desire to chart a vessel and took it upon herself to provide us one. Befitting the Shoggoth, it was a grim caricature of a dhow. Likely based on a baghlah, it was a hundred feet in length and towered high as a galleon. Composed of a purple fleshy wood, wrought with engravings of tendrils and veins, and sporting three large masts with eyes that shifted about. Nervous of sailing in such a ghastly behemoth, I graciously tried to decline her gift, but Bint insisted and remarked that the vessel was self-sufficient – no crew but a captain needed.

With that said, she departed our company and left us with Halgan to act as the ship’s master. Wanting some time to collect my thoughts, I asked N!uhka to go grab what supplies we left at the caravanserai. Then I informed Halgan that we should be setting a course for the Kingdom of Abyssinia, since she would likely be unwilling to make port anywhere in Somalia. Providing me a naval salute, she proclaimed, “May Allah guide us through the toughest sea!” Alone at last, I stared out at the clear skies and turquoise sea. A profound sigh escaped my lips.

Turning to Fundiswa, I grabbed one of her hands and stated, “Interpreter – nay, you are far more than that – you have shown such unwavering fidelity to me Fundiswa. But remember this, you were a hire. Not a slave. Your life, its purpose, is your own and as such you have the freedom to cease my patronage whenever you so chooses-” Catching me off guard, Fundiswa leaned over and planted a kiss upon my cheek.

The stomach was fluttering and the face flushed a scarlet hue, alien sensations that had haunted me once before at N!uhka’s village. Fundiswa proceeded to grab my vacant hand and join ours together whilst asserting, “Bless your kindness Lady Sashenka, but rest assured that I come with you of my own volition. My familial ties are long since severed. And from the stars I have seen a great fate for us – I intend to see it through.”


[1] The word teleportation did not enter the English lexicon until the 1930’s.

[2] Azania was a Greek-derived term, used by the ancient Romans to refer to the area of Southeast Africa made up by the countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Buganda on the other hand, a longstanding kingdom in the country of Uganda that formed out of an even older kingdom and today is still situated in the country’s centre.

[3] In the Ottoman Empire, a common stereotype regarding Russians was that of them being treacherous.

[4] Mushunguli is a Somalian term that has multiple implied meanings, but was largely used to collectively refer to Bantu slaves from countries in the African Great Lakes region, such as Mozambique and Malawi.

[5] Based on the geographical region involved, the Indian Ocean, as well as the suggestion that these semihomo kavoúria or “crab women” were harvesting coconuts, I would hazard to say that the described chimera is one roughly equivalent to the terrestrial hermit crabs known as Palm Thiefs.

[6] Chelb is an Arabic profanity that literally translates to “dog.” Harmless as the word may sound, among Arabic speakers it’s considered to be one of the most egregious profanities you could throw at someone.

[7] Tawba is an Arabic word that literally translates as “to return,” and refers to the Islamic concept of repentance.

[8] Skimming through the collective works of the French author Victor Hugo, I have come to the conclusion that the work Sashenka must be quoting is none other than his poem “Les Djinns.”

[9] In the Western world the term al-zā’būq is more commonly known by its Latin transcription, “Azoth,”  an idealized occult formula sought by alchemists . In essence, it’s considered to be the essential agent for transformation.

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