The Slumbering King - Lovecraftian Horror
Just in time for Halloween! The following is my second attempt at creating a short story in the style of legendary horror author HP Lovecraft. Please note that I just finished this story very recently and have only had time to do a preliminary edit, so chances are there is botched spelling and other errors still lurking within. Enjoy,
I. The Thing Upon the Throne
A dark mystery hardly worth remembering, partially for its irrelevance and partially on account of the horror it carried with it. Black smudges against a canvas told the tale of forgotten truth buried in the arcane neurons that coursed through him as he worked feverishly to transcribe the impulses. Something ancient had consumed his mind in those moments, something buried beneath reason -beneath the higher brain function itself. Something unconscious and unknown to him, unknown to all mankind, or perhaps only forgotten.
Sweat formed across his brow in his dank dimly lit basement as ink met paper. The image was once no more than a few blots upon white canvas yet now it took on a shape both foreboding and relieving. Each line scribed upon the surface left the man with a sense of liberation as though he was freed from the horrible image by painting it, freed from his demon. Yet as the beast took it's familiar yet forgotten form he felt fright overwhelm him. His sweat was cold now upon his skin, skin covered with bumps. Fever swelled within him as the serpentine thing left his mind to take up a more permanent home upon the paper before him.
Each head had tusks and tentacles of its own despite each being a tentacle attached to an even larger more prominent head. The horrible thing burning a hole in his mind could scarcely be contained on one page. Even as he neared finishing the first likeness he had gathered other papers nearby and broken apart pens to get at the precious ink with which he could purge this demon. It's likeness was more slug than serpent, the massive hulking body that it dragged behind it was broken into several segments. Every segment had tendrils covered with reptilian dark skin that was some deep shade of green though he was now running out of the correct colors of ink.
In a fit the man searched for something, anything, that he could use to get this thing from his mind. He grasped another pen, this one blue, tight and eyed the point wondering if one good blow might release him from his prison. One puncture to the neck, one mighty wound, one less madman in the world. The idea passed without action and soon he found himself working again crafting with care the image of the thing he now hated most. He wasn't even sure what it was!
The air seemed to attack his lungs now each breath feeling like knives pressed against his chest. He was drawing the creature's eyes now, if they could be called that. Thousands of beady black orbs that covered its putrid green flesh all along its elongate grotesque form. The darkness of its gaze held him there for a few moments staring into those orbs. There was such menace in those black chaotic orbs of sight that seemed so alien to him. Yet here he was intricately aware of every last detail of this demonic thing he had scribbled down.
He was nearing the end he knew for his Feverish temperature continued to climb towards some nearby moment of release when at last the final splotch of ink reached its destination and the beast was revealed in full. Every sickening coil of its slimy body, every contour of slug-like flesh brought bile up into his throat as, with strangely incredible detail for an ink drawing, the thing burning in his brain was drawn.
At last the man was finished. At last he stood back. The horror had left his mind now and he felt the warmth of Fever leave him. In fact he was feeling flushed. His skin had taken on an icy white color as his eyes devoured the devilish drawing. What was this thing that had so suddenly attacked his mind? He felt as if his world, his entire life, had been turned upside down. He collapsed into his seat for a moment trying to further purge the image from his mind. He found rest at last.
A knock at the door awoke him a few moments later and he rushed to hide his drawings and the dozens of shattered pens and bottles of ink that were strewn across his workshop before rushing up the stairs. He leapt to the door at last composing himself as best he could as he opened the wooden portal to find a familiar face standing there. Elizabeth Cartwright, a woman he'd known for many years and a friend of his Mother's.
"Mister Eastman, my God, you look just terrible," she said pressing her gloved hand to his forehead, "Are you feeling alright?"
"A bit under the weather I'm afraid Lizzie," Eastman replied feigning a cough, "It's been this ghastly weather."
"Well let me come in, I'll make you some hot tea and soup and you'll be feeling better in no-"
"Not necessary Misses Cartwright, not at all necessary," Eastman interrupted hoping she would go away, "I'd much prefer to overcome this illness in private, I'm not a child anymore and in no need of a nursemaid."
"I'm quite tired Lizzie," he replied with a fake yawn, "Tell Mother I send my regards."
"But that's just it Peter, I have a package here from your Mother. Well actually she received it from a man from New York, a man who claimed to be an acquaintance of yours."
"Professor Lorry," Eastman mumbled losing his balance for a moment. Elizabeth caught him at the last moment setting him in his seat across the room before turning toward the kitchen. She turned back toward Eastman. In all the years she'd known the young man she'd never seen him in such a state. He seemed utterly delirious lying there his lips repeating sounds that seemed utterly inhuman under his breath. They seemed to have a lingual pattern though as if he were in some trance state.
"I'll go put on the tea," Lizzie said though she wasn't sure Eastman could hear anything.
"You shouldn't have," Eastman said when she returned a few minutes later with the tea all finished, he sipped the beverage while eying her nervously.
"What is this all about?" Lizzie asked and for a moment Peter Eastman froze afraid that she had discovered his drawing and would think him mad, "Working at all hours of the night, disappearing for days at a time and when was the last time you called your Mother?"
"I've been busy," Eastman replied absentmindedly although in truth he couldn't remember much of what he'd been doing these past three weeks. Shadows appeared in his mind slithering like serpents.
"Well you know how your Mother worries," Elizabeth continued, "She doesn't like the fact that you live alone. A man of your age should really be married.'
"I'm only twenty-five!" Eastman protested with a grin.
"Precisely my point Peter," Lizzie laughed.
"Now, about this package, where did Mum say she got it?"
"From the man you mentioned just before you fainted," Elizabeth said fetching the package which indeed was addressed to his Mother courtesy of Professor Lorry, "Professor Lorry, Professor of Anthropology. Did he send you this?"
"It seems that way," Eastman said searching the room visually for something he might use to break away the tape from the inconspicuous cardboard box, "The only problem is that Professor Lorry died some months ago. I can't imagine how or why this package was sent."
"Sounds like a mystery," Lizzie replied standing up and brushing off the crumbs from the crumpets, "But it's getting a bit late for me, mystery or not."
"I understand Lizzie," Eastman said offering the woman a friendly smile and a light bow, "Tell Mother I'll telephone her when I can."
"I'll be sure to," Lizzie agreed moving toward the door, she turned back for just a moment, "And try to take care of yourself Pete."
"I will," Eastman said as the door shut behind her. His eyes went to the box instinctively.
Eastman hurried over to the box feeling a touch of Fever return to his flesh as he neared it. There was something in this box he knew, something that would help answer his questions. Where had he spent the last three weeks and what was that horrible thing that had swallowed him up earlier? He started toward the box noticing for the first time that there was a letter taped to it as well.
He pulled off the tape and took the letter into his hands recognizing immediately the handwriting of notable PhD anthropologist Doctor Ian Lorry, a man he'd known while at University some years ago. Lorry had wanted him to go into anthropology as a profession but Eastman had dropped out before he could complete his doctorate. Now it seemed the old man was in the business of sending letters from beyond the grave. Eastman's sweat-covered clammy hands undid the envelope with haste and with hunger his eyes devoured the contents of the letter. The letter was dated May of 1937, almost a month after the Professor's death.
May 19th, 1937
Dear Mister Eastman,
I am aware that it has been a long time since my last correspondence and for that I am most sorry not only to you but to myself and to the entire world. If you are reading this than it is likely that I am now dead and that, as stated in my will, this package and letter have been sent forthwith to your current residence. The contents of this package are of the utmost importance and must be kept safe from those who would use them to impose horror upon this world.
It is no secret to one as well read and knowledgeable as you, I would gather, that Germany has in recent years become quite fond of a political party known to us in the English speaking world as the Nazis. I am not sure how much of my recent work you have followed or how closely you have observed my academic studies in recent years but much of it revolved around the discovery of certain fossils in the Carpathian mountain range in Southern Poland. What has been kept secret is that spies believed to be of Nazi affiliation have been seen in and out of villages in that region since at least 1935.
During my research I discovered untold passages beneath the mountains, tunnels most spectacular and more wonderful than any I had ever encountered or read about. Signs of workmanship in these tunnels were obvious and excavations even found evidence of tools dating back tens of thousands of years at least. The first of these discoveries was made by a peasant, a farmer, who fell into one of these tunnels quite by accident and found there an ancient statue there along with several sets of bones. It was after this accidental discovery that Polish archeologists all across the area began poking around though before long they realized that the ruins shared no known ancestry with any of the civilizations around 10,000 years ago in that area.
At this time my knowledge of this discovery was very limited, in fact during this time you were still a bright-eyed pupil in my anthropology course at the University. Soon after though I became intrigued when an expedition to the ruins uncovered the existence of fossils bearing similarities to human ancestors, that is to say the pre-human apes that later became us. In fact the remains of these sub-human creatures existed right beside those of modern humans and were of, apparently, the same age. This, I believed, had to be a mistake and so I requested of the scientists, who had luckily heard of my work, that a specimen be sent to the University so a full analysis could be made.
After some time working to get these specimen's sent through customs I finally got the samples and indeed could find no evidence that the pre-human fossils were any older than those of the human remains. Baffled by this I soon applied for my own expedition but was immediately shot down by the University. I took it upon myself to take a leave of absence from my professorship and set out at once for Poland.
I arrived in summer of 1935 and was taken to one of the least excavated parts of the ruins. It was here that I first encountered evidence of tampering for amidst these ruins were signs of contamination, of recent digging. The scientists assured me that none had been here and blamed grave robbers, yet nothing of any monetary value had been looted from this site.
Soon after arriving we began to discover the tunnels, a vast network of underground tombs, homes, shops, everything required for civilization yet all of it subterranean. The fossils we found began to grow stranger then. We discovered a new species of bi-pedal canine that had apparently adapted alongside the subterranean human beings, a dog that could get around on two-legs. The scientific community rejected the finding at first though after a while even they could not deny that the bone structure dictated this creature as an almost fully bi-pedal canine wholly unprecedented in science.
It was at this point that I began to have the nightmares that would beset me for the rest of my life. They started as mere whispers of something ominous. I would dream of the sound of a whispering wind, a gentle flowing wind that, for some unknown reason, carried with it the promise of horrors unimaginable. The menace of that wind would grow and grow in intensity even as the sound it made remained constant, and the speed of it remained gradual. For a few months I shrugged off the dreams as the result of numerous unrelated factors. The strain of constant digging and fighting for constant funding, the fact that the locals believed the site was sacred and were often hostile with us when we went into town, the unpalatable local food that we were forced to consume.
Then we found the palace and everything changed. Buried deep below the network of tunnels we discovered a massive chamber, a cavern of gargantuan size. We brought a team down with torches and ropes. We were nearly half a mile below the Earth's surface and yet as we looked around us we were astounded to find the entire chamber carved with ornate markings and marvelous rune-like letters and writings. Murals seemed to depict some great being shining and sitting on a throne and thus we called the room the Palace. The thing that sat upon that throne wasn't human, it wasn't anything that should be seen by human eyes.
The horrible appearance of the thing was only overwhelmed by it's stark familiarity to me. I had seen it before, though I knew not where, I was now struck with a determination to find out. That curiosity did not exist unopposed within me however and I spent the next few weeks having an internal debate about whether to continue in the mountains or return home to seek my own affiliation with that accursed image.
In 1936 one of our camps was sabotaged and a man was killed. The other scientists wanted to blame the locals but I knew better. The locals believed that the site was sacred, they would not have attacked. My dreams became darker soon after this and they began to intrude upon me even when I was awake. The wind was now accompanied by voices as it rose up in my slumbering mind, dark voices deeper than any utterance the human speech organ could ever hope to produce.
I felt as if this thing, this being, the controller of this voice, was not alive. The sensation was like seeing your own ghost. This half-alive thing whispered out of the shadows in a language that is only known to a few of the most brilliant students of ancient language, for it was the same language written on the Blood-Stone of Zin buried beneath the sands of that forgotten desert tomb, the tomb where the Mad Arab used every drop of his blood to pen the Necronomicon. Though I had never heard that unnameable language spoken allowed, and had only ever studied it in passing, I knew it's sound the moment I heard it.
We arranged to leave the area immediately and stayed in a village far from the site which was much more hospitable to our visit. What happened in this village raised my suspicion that Nazi spies had been the saboteurs of our camp. In need of the release of revelry we attended a local folk festival including a spectacle of dance, food and strong drink. While enjoying an uncharacteristic amount of alcohol I recognized a long lost friend of mind amidst the crowd, a Doctor Hans Drier, a German scientist of similar interests to my own.
In my opinion he would have fled, or perhaps even shot at me, had he too not been under the influence of quite a lot of drink. Instead we were soon reminiscing about old times spent at the University we both attended in England. The question eventually turned to what he was doing here in Poland and though he seemed reticent at first he admitted at length to being on a mission for certain interested parties in Germany regarding discoveries made recently in the mountains.
The Nazis, my dear old friend explained, were interested in legends that had persisted around the world of ancient cities below ground once inhabited by a great Master race. This was to fuel their delusional belief that they were, in some sense, descendants of this race. The way he talked about them I could tell that Drier did not at all consider himself a Nazi.
After this I remember little though I know we stumbled back to the place we were staying and that I must've fell asleep. I do remember, very vividly, the dream I had. It seems that the excessive alcohol only amplified the terror of the dream, as though it lowered my defenses and allowed the intruding forces of fear to enter more fully. The voice was now booming from below the Earth, and the sounds of gears, cogs as if in a grand machine, turning, the humming and motion of a great engine now revealed to be the source of the wind. Vividly appearing before me was the sinister form I had seen carved on the impossibly high walls of that underground palace, the sluggish towering demonic thing covered in shimmering black jewel-like eyes and with tendrils swimming from it in no pattern denoting a natural thing of this Earth. That beastly deity carved with care into the wall, I realized, was what was speaking to me in the dream.
I returned to England soon after this event not sure what to make of the strangeness of it all. On the one hand we had made great strides in science, we'd uncovered an unknown and truly unprecedented civilization buried beneath the ground, a civilization older than Egypt by thousands of years. Yet despite the importance of our discovery I felt sick to my stomach every time I thought back to my almost two years in Poland.
The dreams didn't stop, and the incessant wind that it brought began to intrude upon me even when I was awake. Even now as I write this I can hear that voice repeating over and over again a mantra that no earthly thing could ever fully conceive of. I began to tear into every ancient tome I could find but soon realized there was only one I need consult, the dreaded Necromonicon. In it I found what I was looking for, the source of my familiarity with that slug-like deity, a picture of it found scratched into the pages of the book by the Mad Arab's own blood-stained pen was the image of that demon and beside it the words “URUNAI KAR'THAL TOROS SLUM'TH KI'TUR”
Translated roughly the phrase means, The Slumbering King of Earth lies buried. I am afraid that we have delved into something horrible in our search for truth my friend. I am, unfortunately, not long for this world. Enclosed in this package are many of the photos we took including one of the creature on that wall. Along with it is a copy of the Necronomicon, one of only four known to exist. I fear that the Nazis or even the well-meaning Polish scientists, may be unearthing something that was never meant to be unearthed, something horrifying and terrible.
Someone must know, someone must stop them. I know that this is a terrible burden to leave you with my dear boy but I knew not where else to turn. Goodbye and God Speed.
II. The Dark Truth
Eastman sat in his study with an expression caught somewhere in the transmutation between horror and absolute fatigue. He had neither seen or had correspondence to the Professor for more than a year and had only just recently read about the Professor's untimely death. In fact, as Eastman recalled, it was two weeks ago that he had read that the library at the University was being renamed in honor of Lorry. Two weeks ago, when the terrors and lapses in memory began to plague him more fully. The two events had seemed quite random and not at all interconnected but now, after reading the Professor's all but unbelievable tale of monsters beneath the Earth Eastman was faced with the only explanation for his recent condition that made the least bit of sense.
A hunger to resolve the whole situation suddenly overtook him and with great haste he undid the bindings of the rest of the package. Inside he found photographs of the ruins, some seemed quite professional and were of the highest quality while others were obviously quickly developed and photographed with cruder older equipment. Of the utmost clarity however was the photograph which showed him what only his nightmares had heretofore revealed, the creature itself, the one that Lorry had called the Slumbering King. Eastman's eyes studied the image for a long while and his mind clawed desperately toward denial in a fruitless attempt at escaping the truth for the thing in the photo was indeed the same thing that he had only hours before inked in his basement. There were differences of course, Eastman's crude ink-blot version could hardly capture the truly fearsome, loathsome and demonic aspects of the creature in the way that the ancient carving, with depth and detail unmatched, could.
Amongst the photographs and other materials were the personal and academic notes of the Professor. Here Eastman began to calm down for at first the pages seemed those written by a quite sane and happy man. As he read on however the Professor's mental state grew more and more disturbed and the notes harder and harder to follow. He wrote several letters to friends and family which remained unsent, including several to his eldest son William Lorry. William and Peter had been roommates at the University with William pursuing a career in medicine instead of his Father's field of anthropology.
Sketches no doubt made by Lorry at a later date than the original ink were added to many of his journal entries in the margins. Many showed strange rune-like symbols and pictographs of creatures that had a distinctly otherworldly quality. Allusions began to appear in the Professor's notes to the legendary “Men of Ios” spoken of briefly in the Necronomicon but more recently resurrected amongst certain theosophic cults that worshiped such ancient ideas. Lorry's writings tell that he was convinced that Nazism was just such a cult, one built around Teutonic myths and even older forms of lore with roots that may have pre-dated human civilization altogether.
Finally Eastman reached the final page where ink became blood and the Professor's words became more ominous and far more cryptic.
“Here they built his tomb, the house of the Urunai Kar. Here the Men of Ios sent him to feed, to slumber, and ultimately, with the passing of eons, if such a thing were even possible, to die. But he is not yet dead, even at the passing of millennia. There are those who seek his awakening, to summon dark truths and erase the illusion of our own superiority. To build a new race of men, Men of Ios, men beneath the banner of the great Demon Kings spoken of in the Necronomicon.”
A chill overtook Eastman at the sound of these words rattling about in his own mind. He had never been one for superstition or myths despite growing up in the hills of England surrounded by tales of fancy and faerie folk. Now he was faced with the reality of what the ancients had left buried in a squalid hole thousands of years ago. A wave of hopelessness echoed across his psyche as his eyes wandered back to that dark photograph of the carving. It seemed almost mocking his insignificance. Man had risen from his lowly origin to become something more, something civilized and growing more so with each century, something truly special or so Eastman had thought.
For a moment the man thought he heard something like the distant hum of wind blowing. He rose from his seat at the unsettling nature of the sound and began to collect his things. Clothing, archeological tools, a small revolver he kept hidden in case of emergencies and finally all of the Professor's research materials. Action was needed, he knew, and the helplessness of a moment before had to be shrugged off, defeated for the sake of the human race. Lorry hadn't left him much in the way of actual help and stopping the Nazis wasn't very likely with all of Europe teetering on the brink of war with them.
Then the answer hit Eastman like the morning sun over the horizon. Lorry's son. Just a few days ago the man had been in London giving a speech at the newly named Professor Lorry Library at the University. With any luck the man would still be in the area and though it was clear that the Professor hadn't sent any correspondence, explaining the truth of his situation to his son that the evidence would be overwhelming when William was faced with the letters, photographs and mad scribblings now in Eastman's possession.
III. The Young Doctor Lorry
Returning to the University was all at once a nostalgic and foreboding experience for Eastman. He pulled up in his car and looked upon the campus experiencing a flood of memories both triumphant and tragic. Many of his best friends had been met here during his years at University and with them he had forged many fond memories. His fondness for the College was lessened by the true nature of his mission here, to track down his old friend, Doctor William Lorry. He'd determined, through a phone call placed to the University the night before, that his old friend was indeed still in the area and was, in fact, staying on campus to help catalog and organize those of his Father's possessions that were left at the University.
Despite the horrors that he had witnessed Eastman felt a great deal of comfort wash over him when he opened the door to the late Professor's office to find William standing there. The man, barely a year older than Eastman, bore a strong resemblance to his Father. He turned to regard Eastman at first holding onto a grim expression which seemed to melt almost instantly when he recognized who it was that had entered the room. Nearly dropping a set of digging tools that had belonged to his Father William dashed over to Eastman and shook the man's hand warmly.
“My dear old friend,” William chuckled, “I never thought I'd see another friendly face again.”
“It is good to see you Will, should I say, Doctor,” Eastman replied melting into a smile.
“Bah!” William exclaimed dismissively, “A Doctor must have a practice! I may have the degree necessary for the title, but I do not have the patients.”
“More than can be said for me I'm afraid,” Eastman reminded with a jab of his finger, “Do take some credit for the accomplishment.”
“It is good to see you,” William nodded, “The executor of my Father's Will told me there was a package for you, so I had hoped you might come. My Father never gave up hope for you you know, he always expected you to show up at his doorstep with tools and textbooks in hand ready to return to work. So, what are you doing with yourself these days?”
“I've been putting in time writing for newspapers primarily, science reporting and consulting with journalists,” Eastman answered now feeling nervous about the real reason he had come back, “many journalists aren't very good at conveying science, they tend to sensationalize, I try to rein them in I suppose.”
“And is that why you've come?” William asked sitting in his Father's old chair and gesturing for Eastman to take a seat opposite, “A bit late to write an article on my Father isn't it?”
“I'm here,” Eastman started but found himself chewing at his lip nervously as haunting images danced in his mind, “I'm here about the package your Father sent me, about what it contained.”
And so Eastman spilled the story to his friend attempting to separate his emotions regarding the horrible events that had transpired from his descriptions. He presented the photographs to William as well as the lengthy letter Professor Lorry had written just before his death. Eastman felt a terrible weightlifting off of him as he explained the ink drawing he had done, sketched in a maddened state only hours before reading of Lorry's account of the thing upon the throne.
“And you believe that there truly is a link?” William asked as the story concluded, “To the Necronomicon, the tunnels in the Carpathians and my Father's death?”
“The only other possibility is that your Father was a liar, or a madman, and these photos are a forgery,” Eastman nodded, “But I have kept abreast, at least in passing, of some of these discoveries he mentions. While not all the details he gives can be corroborated there is no doubt that ruins have been discovered at the coordinates he lists here.”
“And so you've come all this way to persuade me of what?” William inquired shaking his head in confusion, “That we should go to Poland and stop them from digging? By what means?”
“I'm not sure yet,” Eastman admitted, “But we must go and soon. It sounds mad Will, I know it does, but I can feel those machines beneath the Earth, and things, unknown things, buried there by-”
“The Men of Ios,” William said almost spitting as he did, “Such an absurd notion. Men on other worlds, fanciful, ridiculous, prepost-”
“Even so, these photos of the bones prove it, the carvings, the tunnels,” Eastman argued now getting animated, agitated, he stood up to face his friend, “You must help me William, you must help your Father! Doubt these images if you must, for I too would if I were unaware of the awful truth, but at least come to me, if not to bury your Father's work than to continue it! Come with me to Poland.”
“I'm not an archaeologist ” William protested but his words seemed only to disturb Eastman further, “I don't have the funds necessary!”
“I have found someone for that,” Eastman replied as he relaxed from his manic state and slumped into his chair with his face in his hands, “I just hope that we are not too late.”
IV. Below and Beneath
Eastman and Lorry soon had packed their things and readied themselves for the journey to Poland. The expedition would be funded and accompanied by a young woman who was quickly gaining worldwide renown. Janice Caldwell was born into a wealthy American family whose fortune had been built during the age of iron barons some decades prior to the present day. Unlike her other siblings Janice was not at all content to sit idly by resting on her fortune and notoriety as part of the American aristocracy. Instead Miss Caldwell held a strong interest in many subjects, including plays and films but more recently she had taken to the study of the sciences.
Eastman had persuaded Miss Caldwell revealing as little information as possible about their true mission in the mountains beneath Poland. It hadn't taken much to spark her interest. He'd already had correspondence with her as she had, on several occasions prior, written to inquire about one of the articles he had written or overseen while working for Newspapers. Her curiosity regarding the study of ancient man and ancient civilizations seemed insatiable and when pressed she had responded that her desire to know had come from the stories of authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells. In particular the story of the Time Machine entranced her with how it depicted the divergent evolution of these two societies of man, the parasitic elite and the working class.
When he finally met Miss Caldwell he was amazed at how much she knew about the subjects she had professed interest in. He was further taken by her uncharacteristic beauty. Her hair was a mysterious shade somewhere between red and brown and black that seemed to have a vitality and shine to it that was only reflected in her deep soft brown eyes. She was young too, a full three years younger than Eastman and yet seemed to know more, at least in general terms, than he even he did, though certainly he considered himself more knowledgeable on archeology, anthropology and science as a whole.
It is the belief of some that beneath the psychology of man lurks a darker side hidden away, a subconscious substructure built in a far more primitive era. Somehow, from this barbaric lower brain the wonders, the grand beauty, of consciousness emerges. What of those eons past and the men who dwelled therein? For Eastman the gaps were beginning to be filled and the farther the probe of science penetrated the more fearful and dreadful the truth seemed to become.
They departed from London on April the 3rd of 1938 but due to weather conditions in the mountain ranges they sought to enter they were not able to near the old village that served as a gateway to the ruins until nearly three weeks later.
The locals seemed an inhospitable sort, though for Eastman this was understandable. For several years archeologists and would-be explorers had been coming to this village seeking knowledge and fame and, as many locals believed the sites were upon sacred ground, they had grown tired of pokers and prodders. As such the three found it difficult to drum up any local guides to assist them in reaching the ruins. Their first day and night in the village yielded no results and they ended up sleeping in a rickety and appallingly overpriced room that was little more than a crude shack designed specifically to segregate tourists and those who didn't belong.
That night Eastman could hardly sleep. His dreams were dominated by the presence of something otherworldly. Half-remembered fragments of forgotten truths, truths with cosmic and sweeping significance, crept into his mind only to be expunged by the gusts of an ominous wind. That wind seemed to bring with it sounds, voices, mutterings in a language that was alien to Eastman, and indeed seemed alien to human ears entirely. He found himself standing, or was he floating, upon the crust of a world, a planet, other than Earth. He was looking out into the cosmos with the sun a bright but now more distant object and the Earth nothing but a pale blue dot. All around him humanoid figures gathered in panicked droves as an organized band of similar creatures heaved with ropes and primitive machines to hoist something.
It towered over them, a ring composed of red stone mixed with a metallic ore which shimmered in a baffling way that defied explanation or expression. Upon it's surface were runes, carvings of various kinds and shapes, many familiar but others harder to describe without using complex mathematics. The builders gathered around crying out their praises, but above the din of their accomplishment came another voice from some untouched slumbering depths, repeating the indecipherable phrase KITHAN JURAI, GETOS IOS DRETHA'X. YURIOX ERIA, ERIA KI'TUR.
With cold sweat pouring from him Eastman rose from his bed as though a needle had been driven into his spine from below. He leapt to his feet tearing open the dresser drawer and pulling from it a sharp knife used for cutting lengths of rope for cave diving and dangerous excavations atop mountains. His use for it, however, was to expunge this demon from his mind. The fever was taking him again and as the knife carved the lines into the wood of that dresser he found himself growing more and more relieved. The thing took shape, even as he whittled in the pitch-black room with the knife rapidly, noisily, carving away.
Eastman found his companions around him then, found himself holding the blade to his own flesh, staring down at that slug-like thing carved in graphic detail into the dresser. It's jewel-like eyes seemed alive despite the splintered medium into which it was carved and all around it's body lie rune-marks and twisted letters of some alien alphabet, the same he'd seen in the Professor's notes, the same scribbled in the margins of the dreaded Necronomicon.
“My God, are you alright?” Miss Caldwell asked pulling her hand back when a friendly touch on the shoulder brought a nervous and somewhat violent convulsion from Eastman.
“Snap out of it Peter!” William demanded and at that exclamation Eastman's demeanor became one of fatigue rather than insanity.
“Forever buried,” Eastman mumbled beneath his breath as he tossed aside the knife and climbed into one of three rudimentary beds, more like cots really, that barely fit in the confines of the building's one room, “buried beneath the Earth.”
Eastman rose the next day feeling light as a feather but his companion's reactions to him were understandably different than they had been previously. Miss Caldwell wore an expression of concern and compassion as they ate breakfast at a nearby tavern while William's face showed a far more fearful and even angry tinge to it. They ate in almost absolute silence and when discussion did become necessary it focused upon the business of the expedition itself which, thanks to William's work earlier in the morning, now had guides to lead them into the mountains.
Oddly enough none of the guides were locals, though Eastman knew the locals were fairly exhausted with putting up with researchers he had expected that at least some of them would have helped them for a price. Instead the men Lorry had hired were foreigners, two Italian-Americans formerly from New York and a wiry little man from an obscure area of the Shaanxi province of China that even Eastman's educated mind could not have placed on any map. These three unlikely guides had come here only a few months before and had lead one expedition to the ruins already though they were reluctant to give any real details on the nature of that prior arrangement. Eastman was quite sure by the way the Italian's carried themselves that they had less than noble intentions and were perhaps even grave robbers or black market artifact dealers. It mattered little to him, for archaeology was not the real goal of their expedition at all.
They set out that same day, having brought enough equipment to leave their three guides with little preparation to do. The hike was fairly scenic and not at all as arduous and troublesome as Eastman had initially expected. Once they arrived in the mountains they found the journey a bit more taxing as the thin air and variable mountain weather made things more difficult. Still the group, other than Eastman, were in fine spirits when they reached the first cave that showed signs of both former human habitation and former archaeological work.
“This site has already been excavated,” Miss Caldwell complained as Eastman peered inside the cave with his torch in hand.
“They may have missed the important things,” Eastman argued though Caldwell's expression seemed incredulous, “These were amateurs Miss, likely treasure hunters. Look at these broad shovel strokes, and they didn't even lay a grid, they took a pickaxe to at least one wall to get at the inside, likely for treasure.”
“I must remember that I am in the presence of an expert,” Caldwell replied facetiously.
“I'm sorry, I didn't mean it in so condescending a way,” Eastman apologized, for a moment taken aback by her independence and beauty.
They stepped into the cave tentatively. Eastman noted immediately that the air here felt still and thick despite their proximity to the mouth of the cave. He felt both relief and disappointment at the lack of wind, the absence of the ominous breeze that had haunted the dreams of Professor Lorry and which now haunted his own. Still the cave was worth exploring for the others, particularly Miss Caldwell who had only been on a single archeological dig, and that had been an entirely ordinary find of Native American weaponry and pottery in the American Southwest. This, Eastman knew, would be a far different discovery.
With great care they proceeded into the cave finding that the passages quite quickly became narrow. They'd only gone a hundred or so yards and already the evidence of archaeological excavation had ceased. These had been treasure hunters, Eastman reminded himself, not the sort of men to delve deep in search of truth, they would have swiped what artifacts they could and departed to sell them.
As they pressed on the walls around them became less natural and more clearly carved and worked as the passage descended. Runes began appearing on the walls, carved and smeared with what might have been ancient paint or dye of some sort, now faded against the cool stone walls. All of the walls, and even the floor beneath their feet, seemed damp, and as they progressed they ever downward, became slicker and more dangerous. Liquid seemed to be seeping through the porous stones, it rushed through crevices on the walls making many of the runes seem deformed and misshapen.
“What could they mean?” Miss Caldwell asked, stopping when at last they reached a part of the tunnel floor that was level.
“I have seen some of them before,” Eastman dared to mention.
“In your dreams?” Caldwell asked.
“You're a very astute observer,” Eastman replied, indirectly answering her question.
“The carving you made in the village, it had some of these same markings,” she observed further.
“Yes, so what!” Eastman snapped in anger but his visage quickly softened, “I'm sorry-”
“It's alright,” Janice replied realizing that their guides were now staring at them intently, she turned away, “Whatever you are going through, whatever you've been through, we are here with you now Mister Eastman.”
“This place drove Professor Lorry mad,” Eastman remarked, “I fear it may do the same to all of us, I should not have put you in danger.”
“Danger!” Miss Caldwell scoffed at the notion, “I am an American Mister Eastman, a New Yorker, and a woman, I'm well aware of danger.”
“I hate to break up this moment,” one of the guides interrupted, “But I think we've found something interesting.”
The expedition hurried down a side passage after their guide soon emerging into a wide room with two stories interconnected by a stone bridge that had been partially eroded by water over eons of decay. In the loft of this stone chamber was the point of interest, an idol upon a pedestal. The room was flooded leaving the group up to their knees in water as they walked in. Eastman concluded that the entire room was likely underwater recently and that that might have prevented grave robbers from stealing the idol.
It was small, a statue of a squatted figure, but not the figure of a man. The thing was barely describable in terms of human biology and completely alien to any mythology the group was familiar with. It bore some semblance of a man, with the torso the correct proportions and two seemingly ordinary arms. The legs however were more like tentacles of some kind with bony structure at the top and a more typical tentacle like shape at the bottom.
“The detail is exquisite,” Lorry exclaimed, “It's as if erosion hasn't touched it, yet look at all this water!”
“Could the figure be recent?” the Italians asked in unison.
“No,” Eastman shook his head, “It is definitely thousands of years old, and look at the inscription.”
“Can you read it?” Janice asked with a sympathetic expression.
“Yes,” Eastman replied with reluctance evident in his tone, “It is one of the four key languages of the Necronomicon, known to scholars as Bemal... the inscription reads, Behold the Gate is open, the King is at Rest, may his servants protect him even in the sleep of death. Below and beneath lies his tomb... the rest of it is in yet another language, but one unknown to me.”
“The Necronomicon, I thought that book was an urban legend, the academics I've talked to denied it even existed,” Janice complained.
“I've seen the book with my own eyes,” William replied, “And I know that my Father studied it for a time. Our University keeps it buried in the back of the library, one of the few copies known to exist.”
Feng, their Chinese guide, entered the room to inform them that all of the other tunnels ended in dead-ends. Even the main tunnel sloped down until a cave in ended it some half a mile from the chamber they currently occupied. The group gathered what few artifacts they could find, which consisted of the idol and a few shards of a strange shimmering mineral, which may have served as a the sharp edge of an ancient cutting tool.
Eastman felt a great burden lift from his shoulders as he met with the sunlight and fresh air. How desperately he wanted to forget his fevered dream, forget Lorry's letter, forget the possibility of slumbering slug-like creatures, monsters with tentacles and the intrusions of those men who sought to raise them from their death-like sleep. There in the camp, under the expanse of the sky, in the company of the enchanting Miss Caldwell He lay in his tent, hoping to forget, but knowing that his dreams would always remind him.
V. Forever Buried
The group broke camp early in the morning deciding it was best to head deeper into the mountains. Eastman insisted that they would find areas that had been untapped if they traveled farther than the other teams had been willing to go. He pressed them hard over the next few days hiking them deep into the mountains and to altitudes higher than any of them had expected. They managed to get use out of almost every piece of equipment they'd brought along.
None of the caves encountered during the first four days of hiking had proved very promising. Those that were untraveled by archeological teams and treasure hunters often proved to be dead-ends or to be entirely natural in origin. Still the group were in good spirits as they made camp on the fifth day with the sun setting across the peaks behind them. Even Eastman seemed to be much happier as they pitched their tents and built a roaring fire to keep them from the coolness of the thin mountain air.
“How high do you think we are?” Lorry asked peering down the mountain side.
“More than a kilometer,” Eastman replied raising his voice as the wind picked up, “But that's not too far up really, all things considered. Some of the peaks here are two times that.”
“There's a cave mouth just up there,” Miss Caldwell mentioned to the two men, she found herself having to all but shout, “Our guides say we should check it out in the morning, they say it's very promising, with signs of habitation around it that are very ancient, carvings right in the side of the mountain.”
“Good,” Eastman said, though in truth the revelation was anything but good.
“Do you think anyone's been this far?” Lorry asked his friend.
“One group,” Eastman nodded pulling his friend away from the camp for a moment, he moved aside some stones to reveal a charred patch of ground and several empty food cans, the remnants of a camp that had been there recently, “They couldn't have left more than a day or two ago.”
“These cans are German,” Lorry remarked before uncovering another piece of evidence, a swath of cloth with a familiar shape, “Swastika... my Father was right about one thing, the Nazi's are here.”
“They may still be here,” Eastman warned, his eyes flaring with great intensity, “Inside, in the mountain, there's no telling how far the tunnels extend.”
“I'll be sure to bring my pistol,” Lorry nodded, “We'll need someone to keep watch over the camp as well-”
“I'll do it,” Eastman growled.
“Are you sure Peter?” Lorry asked with concern brimming in his eyes, “You look terrible my friend, and I'm a Doctor.”
“What do you know, you don't even have a practice!” Eastman joked laughing for a moment before his face turned grave once more, “I'll stand watch... I can barely sleep a wink at night anyway.”
The night seemed to drag on forever and Eastman stood beneath the stars with his pistol holstered at his side hoping the Nazi's would stay within their tunnels. He had every reason to believe they were still inside the mountain. Professor Lorry had been clear about their intentions here in Poland, they hoped to awaken something beneath the mountains, some dark secret left buried thousands of years ago that was never meant to be unearthed. He wondered what the consequences might be if that sickening mass of slime and tendrils seated upon it's throne might taste the fullness of life once more.
There were hints of other horrors he'd seen as well, not only in the caves but in his own nightmares. There was the idol, of course, the tentacled creature that Eastman assumed to be a man of Ios but there were also other demonic shapes and forms of life that had appeared to him. Tonight, at least, there would be no nightmares.
He looked up at the stars which had once offered great hope to him but now, sure enough, had begun to lose their luster and sense of mystery. He suspected that the slumbering demonic king Lorry spoke of, the one that had taken over his mind in a fit of fever and fatigue, was not of Earth at all. Men of Ios, it sounded like madness, the strangest combination of theosophy and science, and yet there was no Earthly explanation for the carvings, the dreams, the artifacts. As maddening, as horrifying, as the truth was the evidence stood as testament to the reality of these things. What other horrors lurked amongst those stars? Eastman could only imagine.
At last morning burst over the horizon and the camp began to hustle and bustle. Breakfast was prepared and eaten quickly while equipment was readied and checked for functionality and safety. Eastman readied his things carefully, being sure to bring everything he would need to prevent disaster and fulfill Professor Lorry's dying request to him. The rest of the group were soon outfitted and ready to set out into the mountain.
The mouth of the cave opened before them like the unhinged jaw of a great serpent, it's body a coiled passage deep into the mountain. They entered with torches and ropes. The opening passage quickly narrowed into a tunnel that had clearly been dug out. Already carvings of runes became apparent, though many were so worn and old as to be unreadable. The floor of the cavern showed signs of having been smoothed at some point though erosion had since undone the work that had went into it. Soon the cave branched out into six different passages.
Each tunnel seemed to swoop away from them at an odd angle that appeared as if each tunnel must, at some point, intersect. One of the opening was thin and vertical stretching up toward the massive ceiling that this strange atrium possessed. Another opening was fat and star-shaped and not even tall enough for any of them to pass through while a third was perfectly rounded with groves cut deep into the sides and ceiling. They chose this third passage to travel down and were amazed that each of the groves was inlaid with what looked like a strange shimmering form of glass that lit up even brighter when it was touched.
As they reached the end of the tunnel a strange hum began to fill the air leaving the three guides more than little spooked. Eastman calmed everyone down and forced them to press onward but soon the hum became an ominous wind and then the wind became like a voice. The groves of the tunnel seemed to spin now though Eastman wasn't sure if they were truly moving or if it was an gramme illusion. He stopped for a moment and bent down on one knee trying to steady his mind. Sweat was pouring from him at an alarming rate now, as if the air around them were super-heated.
“I'm alright,” he mumbled as Lorry tried to help him up.
“It's so damned hot,” Miss Caldwell remarked as they continued, “could this be a lava tube?”
“Unlikely,” Eastman replied, his voice was scratchy and his throat parched, “Is the tunnel glowing even brighter now?”
“It is,” Lorry nodded, “I'm not sure we should continue any farther, you're beginning to run a high fever.”
“We have to finish!” Eastman begged pushing away Lorry's canteen, “I'll be fine.”
At last the strange luminescent tunnel came to an end giving way to a narrower but far cooler passage that wound downward in a steady descent. The group noted that the runes on the walls became more consistent and that the erosion that had been present on those near the mouth of the cave wasn't at all present here. Lorry concluded that these runes must be newer than the ones they encountered but Eastman disagreed, believing the truth to be the exact opposite. He concluded that the language here was extremely ancient and belonged to the fossilized beings that Lorry and the others had found in the same strata as the human fossils. The early men had used these tunnels after whatever civilization had left them behind, Eastman theorized, and had attempted to, perhaps even successfully, use their language as well. The method of making the runes was different. The runes they had encountered at the mouth of the cave were rudimentary carvings into the stone, while the ones they were seeing now were etched in an almost perfectly precise way.
Finally the tunnels stopped descending and they came out into a massive flat-floored cavern which seemed to have a strange chasm at it's center. Eastman's eyes were drawn to that dark pit instinctively and more importantly they were drawn to the shapes that moved along it's massive sides. The chamber was huge, with the floors slopping down to a large flat circular area that made up the main portion of the chamber. Around the edges of this rim upon which they stood were several more openings and both of the Italian guides remarked that the chamber looked eerily like the Colosseum or an ancient arena of some sort.
They could hear voices in the dark now.
“Germans,” Lorry whispered gesturing for everyone to turn their torches off, “You were right Peter.”
“I can hear the gears twisting in the darkness,” Peter replied with teeth chattering.
“This is all so strange,” Miss Caldwell pointed out, “This whole expedition has been one odd circumstance after another.”
“We haven't told you the whole truth,” Lorry explained coming clean with the woman at last.
“I suspected as much,” Janice whispered back, “What with Eastman's bizarre behavior.”
“Alright Pete, we're here, now what do we do?” Lorry asked shaking his friend.
“They're going to wake it up,” Eastman mumbled.
“Wake what up?” Janice asked risking raising her volume a bit.
“Urunai Kar,” Eastman said, “the Slumbering King.”
Suddenly a scream shook the cavern walls around them echoing across the grandstand of that ancient stadium. All eyes turned to the chamber's entrance tunnel, to Feng the guide, who's body shook and convulsed on the ground wrapped up in a set of strange gooey tentacles several of which slapped aimlessly to and fro as if in search of further prey. Eastman had his revolver out then and so did the two Italians who immediately began firing without even trying to get Feng clear. Soon Lorry joined them leveling a volley of fire at the creature.
“They're trying to protect him,” Eastman said as a second creature emerged from overhead, slithering down from above and transitioning from the wall to the cavern floor with no trouble at all.
They were grotesque creatures, even uglier than his dreams had portrayed them. Each had a disturbing squid-like head which expanded and contracted with an awful sound like that of labored breathing. Their faces, if they could be described as such bore only one eye, a dish-shaped pin-prick amidst a sea of black goo that seemed primitive, almost primordial in nature. They had tentacles, a mass of them protruding from their bodies in seemingly random places but also they had several bony ape-like arms that bent at the elbow in either direction and seemed apt at sticking to walls while their flapping tentacles searched for a target in the dark.
Eastman was firing at them both but he soon realized that Lorry's gunshots had ceased. He turned to see his friend had tripped and fallen trying to get to Feng, who had been released by the first monster and now the second creature's horrid tendrils were just feet from him. Eastman turned his pistol toward the second monster firing one round which hit soundly against its strange tan clay-colored slime-coated skin. It let out a howl that pierced the air around them as powerfully as that first scream. Eastman rushed in noting that Feng was dead and pulled Lorry away but not before one of the monster's managed to coil a constricting tentacle around Lorry's ankle.
“Let him go!” Eastman shouted trying to reload his revolver in the dark.
“Something is moving!” Janice shouted, “Something in the pit!”
“No,” Eastman muttered.
“Leave me!” Lorry demanded as the creature's tendril tore and ripped at his flesh, “GO! Stop them before it's too late for us all! Before all of them wake up, before IT WAKES UP!”
Eastman finished reloading and fired a few final shots at both of the creatures before grabbing his bag and starting down the arena's slope toward the shrouded pit with Miss Caldwell close behind him. He could hear chanting, the sound of voices speaking in that most horrible ancient language that he hoped he would never have to hear again. Janice had been right, there was something moving in the pit. The sound of cranking gears, ancient, tired gears, grinding against each other shocked through the air jolting Eastman forward even faster. He could see the row, the circle of chanting figures around the pit, and he put his shoulder down and rushed headlong toward them working to unfasten his bag and ready the remedy, a dozen sticks of TNT strapped together. All he had to do was light the fuse and toss it into the pit. Even from here he could feel the hot breath, see the sweeping tendrils and sense the sick ominous psychic power of the demonic king, already waking.
“Hor of mit!” a German voice demanded, Eastman slammed into the circle but found himself planted backwards onto his rear end, “I said stop!”
“Welcome,” another voice chimed, “You must be the colleague of my dear late friend Professor Lorry.”
“Drier?” Eastman asked into the darkness, “Doctor Hans Drier?”
“You have no doubt come to stop us,” the Doctor said ordering several guards to detain them, “It is already too late, Urunai Kar stirs already, and with you in my custody the ritual will be complete, you see my dear boy, it requires a sacrifice, a meal for the waking king. And I assure you that after more than ten thousand years he is quite hungry.”
“Let me go! Please, let us go!” Miss Caldwell demanded as the Nazi's began to push them inch by inch toward the pit, “I'm rich! I'll give you whatever you want!”
“Please Miss, we cannot be bought or swayed, there is more at stake than money here,” the wicked Doctor replied, “The world will be remade, it will return to it's rightful masters, as it once once, SO SHALL IT BE!”
“SO SHALL IT BE!” the whole group repeated in unison.
The chanting began again, growing louder as Eastman and Janice approached the pit. Eastman felt his feet growing closer to the edge until nothing but air was beneath him. He was falling, tumbling into the darkness. He heard Miss Caldwell scream a moment later, as she too fell. And all the while they chanted, lifting their praises in that dark and evil tongue of old to the demon that slept beneath.
Eastman opened his eyes unsure of how much time had passed and truly amazed that he was still alive at all. The ground beneath him was coated in a sticky liquid that seemed to be making him drowsy and unable to focus properly. There, just ahead of him in the darkness, was the thing that he had inked months ago, the thing that had sat upon the throne. He could see it's jewel-like eyes, half of them open, the other half still shut with sleep. It's slug-like girth was enormous, dwarfing him many times over and all around were it's tentacles which draped off the sides of it's sickening throne. Thankfully the creature still seemed dormant.
At each side of the creature's throne were several machines and each machine had twisting cogs and wheels that were grinding together. This seemed to create power which traveled along a system of electrical cords, the largest Eastman had ever laid eyes on, which rather than being insulated by rubber were insulated by the same strange glass they'd seen on the grooved tunnel. There were six machines in all though only five seemed to be functional.
“Miss Caldwell!” Eastman called out, risking waking the demon further, his eyes searched for her fervently in the dimly lit chamber, “Janice!”
He saw her then, at the base of the one of the machines. Where at first those sickly tendrils lie still, unmoving, without the shade of life about them, now they began to rise. In the darkness he heard them moving, casting themselves upon the moistened stones at the base of that pit. He tried to move toward her now, tried to call out, to stir her from her bizarre slumber. Nothing seemed to work. Eastman pushed himself up from the strange slime and tried to clear his mind of its affects keeping an eye on the spiraling tentacles that danced tormentingly just a few feet from her helpless form. He could scarcely see their dark shapes looming, flipping, searching for prey.
With all the resolve he could muster he moved forward toward her and soon he was sprinting. Eastman tripped then nearly smashing his head into a stalagmite in the process. He stood back up looking down at what had tripped him up to find his bag had fallen the entire distance with him. Eastman rushed for Janice then sliding into her and knocking her out of the way of the tentacles. He hoisted her onto his shoulder as comfortably as he could and began to look for a way out of the room. The creature was stirring more now, it's breathing was growing ever louder and with it came messages, images, thoughts intruding into Eastman's mind. Eastman grabbed the TNT from his bag using the light of a match to ignite what little else he had in the bag besides the explosives. In the flash of light that followed he saw an exit to the chamber.
The beast rose up then, with all eyes open and all arms reaching. Eastman felt a rush of horror unlike any he'd ever felt as he lit the fuse and stared into the horrid maw of that demonic otherworldly thing. He threw the TNT at the creature then and rushed from the room. He made it into the escape tunnel, moving as quickly as he possibly could, with his heart beating in his ears like a thousand angry frightened drums. Tentacles, tentacles around his feet pulling him backward. And then heat and sound and lungs full of dust finally, after what felt like forever, silence.
VI. Seven Slumbering Kings
Eastman woke with the stars stretched above him but they offered little comfort.
“How?” he asked the figure that was tending his wounds, he turned to see Janice in a similar state, “Miss Caldwell!”
“She is perfectly fine, just sleeping, please don't move, you're hurt,” the figure, who wore a hood to hide his face, replied.
“Who are you?” Eastman asked taking a sip of water.
“We call ourselves the Order of Orellyn,” the man answered, “It is our job to keep abominations like the one you saw at bay. We came to stop the raising of Urunai Kar.”
“You're late,” Eastman laughed, but the act of laughing pained him greatly.
“It would appear so,” the man agreed, “what you did may have saved the world Mister Eastman. But as always it is only temporarily saved, those who tried here may try again, in another part of the world.”
“Another part of the world?” Eastman echoed with a confused expression.
“Urunai Kar is one of the Demon Kings spoken of in the Necronomicon,” the figure answered, “there are six others... Get some rest now Mister Eastman... you've earned it.”