The oceans are deep and dark, the ancient and ancestral home of all life, and sometimes spawn things more alien and more horrendous than a healthy mind might conceive of.
Although its closest common relatives were once believed to be starfish (from whose scientific class it takes the latter part of its name) the Lichtenberg Asteroidea is, some now argue, more likely an unnatural mutation of some already-strange cephalopod. Hunting primarily in the waters of the Tsushima Basin, though probable victims have been found as far afield as the Puysegur Trench and even the Alaskan Abyssal Plain, they are exceedingly rare. In fact, there have only been a handful of confirmed sightings of these solitary predators in the decades since the first live specimen was caught; the study of their unique appetites and eccentricities hampered by their scarcity and by the tremendous dangers they pose even, and perhaps especially, to those who go looking for them.
At first glance, and particularly in motion, a Lichtenberg Asteroidea looks like a roiling mass of undifferentiated tentacles. Branching off less from a distinct body than a central junction, each of these limbs lead to smaller and shorter ones, giving the quasi-fractal Lichtenberg pattern (like the forking form of lightning) for which the creatures were named: An explosion of energy frozen in dissipation from powerful core to lingering cilia. Each of their many limbs are irregularly lined with grasping suckers, which are similar to those of the octopus except that each one terminates in a twitching, cartilaginous sphincter. These organs serve a number of functions, acting both as the vents for jet propulsion - their method for navigating open waters - and being used to rip the flesh from their prey.
Lichtenberg Asteroidea are unambiguously carnivorous, but are unusually selective in what parts of their victims they will choose to consume. Like a number of other predators, it seems that they seek to pacify their prey quickly; anchoring themselves with shallow bites whilst tearing into areas of weakness and vulnerability. In their human victims this has typically been caused by tearing into arterial blood vessels, by massive damage to the spinal cord or, sometimes, by biting through the trachea to disrupt the airway. The best forensic evidence - which is supported by the few eyewitness accounts of their attacks - suggests that once a fatal bite has been delivered, the Lichtenberg Asteroidea will abandon the violence of their attack to focus on their desired prize.
Moving methodically, sometimes even disgorging what flesh they have already taken, they act on an unwavering intent that belies the apparent lack of a guiding or driving intelligence. In each known or observed attack the prey’s eyes have been torn out in a crude and brutal enucleation, leaving ragged optic nerves hanging from ruined sockets. Lichtenberg Asteroidea are single-minded in their work: Where attempts to stop them from making a kill can refocus their attentions, any efforts to distract them from their harvest are rebuked with a cursory, almost disinterested violence. They inflict whatever harm is necessary to allow them to continue without interruption and, having taken what they originally intended to, will usually withdraw to the gelid depths and the inky, unobserved darkness in which they dwell.
No matter whether their ancestry truly is cephalopod or starfish, the Lichtenberg Asteroidea have an internal structure quite distinct from either. Lacking any discernible neurological tissue or sensory organs (or any recognisable reproductive mechanism) they are instead akin to an enormous stomach, with the thick bands of muscular tissues that make up the walls interspersed with glands that secrete a wash of different organic acids. The efficacy of this chemical bath - meat and bone, cartilage and clothing, even any metals that have been found within their stomachs are corroded almost past the point of being identifiable - is nearly unparalleled, making the discovery of what does survive as surprising as it is disturbing: The eyes, rather than being broken down, are absorbed and integrated into the Lichtenberg Asteroidea.
Both of the necropsies that have been performed on Lichtenberg Asteroidea - one beginning, grotesquely, as an abortive vivisection - have found stomach walls lined with dozens of eyes which, although they largely belong to fish and other sea life, are sometimes taken from human prey. Undamaged, despite the presence of various chemicals that ought to eat into and destroy them without hesitation, they are instead grafted into the creatures’ internal musculature and attached to invasive nerve fibres. Their pupillary responses are even preserved for some hours after all other signs of life have ceased, which suggests that Lichtenberg Asteroidea continue to receive some kind of muted sensory input from the eyes they have ingested (even absent the apparatus to interpret those signals’ original complexity).
Given how unlikely one is to encounter Lichtenberg Asteroidea, it is unsurprising that they have taken on a mythic quality amongst seafarers, oceanographers and marine biologists. Misunderstanding and misinformation heavily outweigh the confirmed truths of their existence, with some still classifying them as an interest belonging purely to cryptozoology. For those with more direct and demonstrable experiences with these creatures, the scope - and strangeness - of the questions that they raise are often enough to quell and quiet further inquiry. Although a number of fanciful theories have been proposed, there are no convincing arguments as to why Lichtenberg Asteroidea are so obsessive in their habits (nor how the stolen eyes are preserved or into what service they might be intended to be pressed).
The act and the fact of the enucleations speak to and suggest a purpose that has more of the symbolic than the pragmatic, with the bloody poetry of the viciousness easier to reconcile than its science. Nature creates its monsters by accident, or by dint of circumstance, and those without a supporting niche tend to die out without much fanfare. Lichtenberg Asteroidea apparently live to carry out a very specific form of violence - one that does not support their survival or proliferation - which suggests a deliberateness or design to their creation that only occurs outside of the natural order. Unless one is already open to such ideas, it is far easier to deny that creatures such as these exist. Or to ignore them altogether.
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