Jeb waited at the bottom. Nate saw him standing in a cone of light cast from a single coiled bulb. He was Jeb, the tavernkeeper, but he was also something else—naked to the waist, his arms looked elongated. He held his left hand thrust forward, its fingers stiff with spines on which Tiny had landed.
The tavernkeeper threw out a right hook and further impaled the fisherman’s chest. Though pale and scaly, Jeb’s torso had taken on a musculature unequal to his age, and his bones looked overlong and deformed. Carrying Tiny’s shocked, quivering body like a half-gutted fish on a spit, he turned and walked deeper into the cavernous workshop.
Harpswell lit more bulbs with a switch on the wall. Nate had to keep back in the shadows, though here the stairs turned away from the concrete wall into an open room, giving him a view from a high vantage.
A trough ran the length of the floor, the type used at the seafood processing plant to feed shellfish along the assembly line. Except this one looked thrice the usual width, and instead of being fed by hoses, appeared to run directly into the harbor. The dark, foaming water surged with each wave of the incoming tide. Nate could see a large shadow emerging from the opening in the wall. Jeb was walking toward it, dragging his freshly killed quarry.
Van Garing had fallen in behind him, dress hanging half off her shoulders, mucked with brine, while the ax dangled by her thigh.
When they reached the mouth of the trough, Jeb climbed up and straddled it. The muscles on his crusty naked body went taut as he hefted Tiny’s corpse and hung it in the trough.
The shadow that slithered through the opening reached the light and Nate shuddered, nearly giving way to vertigo and tumbling from the top of the stairs: a great, shell-encrusted tail, nearly fifty feet long, was quivering its way in with the tide. Where a crustacean would have had spidery legs, the thing had human arms, half swimming, half pulling it along. Its end, where a head would have been, showed a great, gaping circle of a maw. Rows of teeth wound inward in a spiral, disappearing into a cavity of pitted and scabrous cartilage.
Just as the thing reached Jeb’s position, Van Garing hacked off Tiny’s arms. She pulled them from the trough, and Jeb lifted the remainder of the corpse high over his head. The creature’s maw rose up with a third of its length like a gigantic cobra. Foam glistened on its mottled shell and the stink of submarine decay and rancid blood filled the room.
“Cold skin to cold stone, Malgro-Malgron, Lord of Death and Depths, accept our sacrifice!” Van Garing was crying out as Jeb shoved the corpse into the creature’s gullet. The serpent shook its length, exoskeleton clanging against the trough’s steel walls as it swallowed down the fisherman’s body.
As soon as the last of Tiny’s flesh had been devoured, Jeb turned and began himself to climb into the beast’s mouth. Dizzy with what he had seen, Nate at first mistook it for another offering in the frenzy of their ritual. Twisting inward, as if his body fit the corkscrew weaves of the beast’s teeth, Jeb cried out with pain until he was inside the mouth up to his waist.
At that moment the beast clamped down. One more gasp as the thing’s outer jaw bit into the tavernkeep’s midsection like a belt made of teeth. Then his eyes milked over and his own mouth grew fangs. His claws grew longer and the entire serpent began to dance its mutated length in the salty stream, arms fluttering over its fins and bony plates, preening and rolling with the swelling tide as Van Garing cried out: “We live, we live and hunger, and we shall hunt the Star Garnet tonight!”