The good ship Commandant Lâ€™Herminier cut through the frigid waters of the southern ocean. Antarctic wind blasted swirls of the salt spray across the deck, buffeting the lone figure standing upon the vesselâ€™s prow. Coralie rubbed her hands together, refusing to let the cold defeat her. Instead she fixed her gaze on desolate Heard Isle, a barren rock dominated by snowy Mawson Peak.
Wispy clouds of mist wrapped around the island, their constant shifting giving the otherwise barren rock an otherworldly appearance. While taking in the sight, a hand unexpectedly landed upon her shoulder. She spun around, confronted by the lined face of the shipâ€™s captain.
â€œMademoiselle,â€ he said through chattering teeth, â€œIt is negative ten degrees out here. Why do you insist on isolating yourself out here?â€
â€œAcclimatizing myself,â€ she replied, â€œI want to be ready for this godforsaken rock.â€
â€œAs you wish, Madam,â€ he said, shaking his head.
She quickly turned away from him, back towards the miserable rock she would soon be combing. Six college students had gone missing in the area. The ship they had taken a joyride on had been located in a cove of the island. Whether or not they still lived was unknown. What was known was that an influential bankerâ€™s son was amongst them.
A particularly large spray fell upon Coralie, chilling her to the bone. For a time she imagined herself sitting behind a desk, pushing papers back and forth in some warm bureaucratic office. It was a wonderful fantasy while it lasted.
The Commandant Lâ€™Herminier slowed as she steered to the mouth of one of the little coves on the island. Before her appeared a small clutch of rusting, rotting buildings huddled around three piers and a partially collapsed crane. A whaling station, or so she assumed. Moored to the nearest dock was the bankerâ€™s yacht, which appeared remarkably intact.
With the cove mouth too small for the corvette to enter, Coralie was directed to a launch that would take her the rest of the way. A pair of marines crowded in beside her, one manning the motor while the other fiddled with a flare gun to look useful. The boat cruised towards the yacht slowly, to minimize the burning spray of the seawater.
The dock beside the yacht was fairly intact, allowing them easy access. Coralie marched across the gangway, shining her powerful flashlight across the freezing rooms inside the vessel. What she found was desolation. Everything not nailed down had been pilfered. Mattresses were missing from the bedrooms, the kitchens were barren, even the water tanks had been drained.
â€œMadam, do you think that we are dealing with Piracy?â€ one of the marines asked.
â€œWhy would pirates operate out of this place?â€ Coralie countered. â€œMy best guess: they were caught in a storm and sought shelter on the island, not trusting the ship to remain afloat.â€
â€œPerhaps,â€ the marine replied, stroking his thin mustache.
â€œTell your partner to start searching the station; Iâ€™ll make one last sweep of the yacht.â€
He nodded, starting towards the gangplank, while Coralie headed for the bridge. At the top of the stairs she found a map embossed onto the wall. Heard Island was sounded by a red star, a dotted line leading from its shores to Marseille.
â€œThey meant to come here,â€ she whispered to herself, a shiver running down her spine. Suddenly unsure of herself, Coralie retreated from the cold, dark ship to the relative safety of the dock. She rushed to the radio set in the launch and pulled off the mike.
â€œCommandant Lâ€™Herminier, come in,â€ she said, her voice quavering.
â€œThis is the Commandant Lâ€™Herminier,â€ the captain said through the crackling speaker, â€œHave you found anything Madam Coralie?â€
â€œI have reason to believe the missing students intended to travel here,â€ she replied glancing over her shoulder, â€œsend reinforcements immediately to expand the search. Coralie out.â€
â€œReinforcements will be there soon, over and out.â€
Heartened that the island would soon be swarming with marines, Coralie turned and strolled down the dock, hoping to link up with the marines already there. Her path took her up the twisting gravel road that wound between the darkened husks of dead buildings. Past a garage where were two ancient trucks rusted away in silence the road lead across a barren plain of black volcanic sand.
At the end of the road was a circle of six fairly intact cabins standing around a pile of debris. A curling tendril of smoke rose from the furthest cottage, a signpost guiding Coralie to the missing students. Inside she found a sparse interior. A moldy bed stood in one corner while a chair and table stood in the other. Beside a filthy window stood an old iron stove where a few embers were burning away.
Her search ended as soon as it had begun, as the place was obviously deserted. Frustrated, Coralie kicked the aged chair over. It landed upon the floorboards, making them rattle as though they were not nailed down. Intrigued, she knelt down and pulled them up one by one, finding a hidden stairwell sloping down into the cold earth.
Flashlight in hand, Coralie descending town into the cold heart of the earth. The tunnel appeared to have been melted through the islandâ€™s rock, puddles of dark stone pooled around the carved stairs. As she descended deeper into the earth her original mission melted away, replaced by an overwhelming curiosity.
At the end of the corridor, miles below the southern ocean, Coralie emerged into a balcony overlooking a chamber the size of Manhattan. Columns of shimmering, bluish light illuminated an impossible city of towering, bulbous monoliths. While taking in the impossible sight, an unearthly wailing echoed through the immense hall, the sound sending a shiver of primal terror rushed through her being.
Panicked, Coralie turned and ran from the scene of madness, back to the surface world where things made sense. By the time she emerged into the cabin, the sky had grown dark. Noxious smoky tendrils emerged across the island, the earth itself trembling as if a great being was moving beneath its surface.
No longer caring about anything except escape, she fled down the road, passing a number of stunned marines standing stock still around the island. Coralie jumped back into one of the launches now crowding around the docks, speeding back to the Commandant Lâ€™Herminier. Shouts and screams began echoing through the air.
Against her better judgment, Coralie glanced over her shoulder. A column of living smoke issued from Mawson Peak, wrapping around a twisting entity of ropy grey flesh. The skyscraper sized bundle of pulsating tubes soared into the sky, shifting colors as mile long arms emerged from the mass.
Coralie felt her mind come close to fracturing, a large portion of herself refusing to believe her lying eyes. The launch crashed against the side of the corvette nearly throwing her into the freezing southern ocean. Somehow she had the presence of mind to grab hold of the shipâ€™s ladder. Feeling the burning cold nipping at her heels, Coralie pulled herself up to the deck, a new determination flooding through her.
â€œIt has to be stopped!â€ she cried, rushing into the bowels of the ship, passing by stunned crewmen rubbing their eyes. She arrived at the gun controls, flipping switches until she could move the forward turret.
She fired into the midst of the madness, shells exploding along its carapace. The eldritch thing cast down a plume of purple ectoplasm, the substance burning through the hull. Sailorâ€™s screams echoed through the shipâ€™s passageways as it poured into the Commandant Lâ€™Herminier. Torn by overwhelming terror, Coralie ran from the controls, barely outrunning the wall of acidic ichor as she fled onto the deck.
While running across the foredeck the magazine exploded. The shockwave sent her flying through the air. For a moment Coralie beheld the titanic horror that had been unleashed. Then she plunged into the freezing waters of the southern ocean.