I posted the same thing on Facebook, but I’m insanely close to finished, midway through writing the big finale. In celebration, here’s a little excerpt I posted there. It gives some information on what one of the Deeplings–the monsters of the piece–looks like, and the general unpleasantness of being near it.
It was all black, with the slimy sheen of an insect, and Shona knew instantly that it was what the Knights of the Storm called a beetleback.
Every child learned the names of the Deeplings: beetleback, deeprat, grubling, rotborn. The corrupt spawn of the King in the Deep; the stuff of nightmares in the hours past midnight, of threats from angry parents and scary tales passed between children when they were meant to be sleeping. Shona had vaguely imagined what they might look like before, based on second-hand description and distant glimpses: patchwork creatures made of parts from all the foul things that crawled and rotted beneath the ground. But her imagination had not prepared her for the reality.
It had a head and torso vaguely like a man’s, statuesque and muscular, but it didn’t have a man’s skin; instead, it was covered in plates of glossy black chitin. Where its eyes and nose should have been, there was nothing but a dark smoothness like polished obsidian. Its mouth was a gaping hole surrounded in tiny finger-like appendages, with serrated mandibles on either side. At the ends of nearly-human arms, long claw-blades like jagged swords emerged from each wrist in place of hands.
And below the torso, even the smallest resemblance to anything human ended. A huge shelled body like a monstrous beetle bulged grotesquely from its waist, and beneath that swollen bulk were the remains of several segmented insect legs, splayed and broken. Its carapace had been crushed under the weight of the collapsing wall, and thick black blood oozed from the cracks, staining the stones beneath so dark that the creature seemed to lay atop a void in the earth.
She heard her mother retch at the sight, and couldn’t blame her. There was something profoundly unsettling about the monster, something that made Shona feel deeply wrong—as though it was somehow reaching inside her, twisting something pure into something corrupt. Yet there was something else, too… like a voice calling to her without words. Though she couldn’t remember deciding to do so, she felt herself moving closer, reaching out with one hand.
“Shona, what are you doing? Don’t touch it!”
Her mother’s voice made Shona jump, and her hand smacked painfully against the pile of stone, sending a torrent of loose rocks tumbling to the ground.
“You feel it, don’t you, Lady Shona?” Ollet took her gently by the arm and drew her back several steps. “It hit some of the men like that. Feels like spiders crawlin’ in your gut, but you can’t look away. Don’t get too close, you know what the Storm Knights say about touchin’ their blood.”
“Yes, I… I think I’ll keep my distance.” It took more effort than Shona liked to wrench her gaze away from the creature and face Ollet.
What was I doing? she wondered. It was said that the smallest drop of Deepling blood in an open wound would drive a man insane in days. The Knights of the Storm sent the infected alone into the Swamp to kill as many Deeplings and swamplings as possible before falling to death or madness—“the last pilgrimage”, they called it.
That was a journey Shona had no desire to take.