An Incarceration in Bh'Yhlun by Ian Davey

Can one really overcome the domination of Nyarlathotep?

Sobbing continuously the girl held onto the tortured bars of her cage. Even though the jagged metal cut into her palms she still held on. Something of the pain leaked through to her consciousness and kept her aware. It was also a show of strength, that though at first even the bars of her cage had filled her with fear, she was now able to treat them with distain. If she were rid of them then perhaps freedom could be hers.

Thoughts of outside clouded her mind. She had dreamt of freedom for a while, of once again enjoying the sights and sounds of the world outside. Gradually though her nightmares had seeped into that vision, they had turned the sights of her earlier childhood into scenes tinged with darkness. Her childhood, though, had been ripped away from her, much as the sufferings of abuse had stolen from children in the past. A mere decade of life had left her aged beyond her years, as to remain a child, with a child's fears and insecurities, was to throw away the life nurtured throughout that brief time. She had to think and feel like an adult and as much as she could, she did. There was no solace in childhood, merely a prison, which she had been forced to escape.

In some ways her youth had held her in good stead, the imaginative makeup that children have enabled her to cope far better than many of the adults around her. She had quickly learned the physical language of this new environment and learned to live in it. As a child she had suffered along with her parents for a while. It didn't take long for them to succumb to the general madness. Her instinctive grasp of reality had enabled her to flee before they turned on her, but had left her suffering an extreme emotional turmoil. Bereft of her parents she took on a new identity, recreating herself as Glyph, a girl who didn't need parents, who needed no one but herself.

She hadn't understood her new name, though it had seemed to fit, a word stolen from the nightmares that pulled at her each night. So her old name was filed away, never to see the light of day until things were back the way they were. A dream she kept to her heart even now.

As Glyph she had the freedom to move through the strange world that now existed. There was no need to wilt, no need to curl up and wait for the inevitable. She could use cunning, make use of her wit, and survive. So when caught she had fought back with all her ferocity and escaped, again and again. She grew confidant and that was her downfall. When she had fallen an intense hopelessness had possessed her, allowing herself to be swallowed by an unconsciousness as convincingly as death itself.

Though she had awoken, despite all that, only to find herself within Bh'Yhlun.

Bh'Yhlun. The very name felt uncomfortable on her lips. She knew its name as everyone did, yet never had it been communicated in the conventional sense. Even now her pronunciation wasn't quite right, as the voice that whispered it in her dreams all those months ago had been something she couldn't possibly reconstruct with her vocal cords. Glyph had no desire to, either, the less she remembered of the voice -- the voices -- the better. She moved her hands down the bars and winced as old wounds were reopened.

If she couldn't escape this place then madness awaited her, she knew that, already it clawed subconsciously at her. Making her suffer visions that left her fraught with agitation, feeling as though she needed to tear and destroy whatever was in reach, even herself. Already her arms showed signs of those near incursions into madness, deep welts of dried blood. Spots that were signs of her failure to stop her weakness bubbling to the surface. The thought of her weakness made her want to hurt herself again, made her hate herself, but something had halted her. She was stronger even than they had suspected. Was that why she still lived?

The nightmare never ended; even upon awakening, the blubberings of the occupants of neighbouring cells filled the air continuously. She was oblivious to their plight. Her heart had been hardened over the past few months, and the more suffering she witnessed the less it disturbed her. Deep down it still did, though on the surface she was cool. When she thought about it her own coolness disturbed her, but she rarely had a chance to think.

She kept from thinking as much as she could, shut off as much of herself from outside as possible. Mostly she kept her eyes pointed at the bars of her prison, trying as best she could to avoid looking too closely at the walls. For when she did she noticed the shapes locked within them, the combination of stone and writhing flesh, where sometimes she could see the outlines of a face, or even clearly defined limbs. If the walls were merely petrified flesh then maybe she could stand it, despite the horror that even that suggested, yet somehow they were alive. There was an endless movement, almost too slow to see, but most definitely there.

Once, she had seen a sight she could never forget, that of a face breaking the surface and letting out a silent scream that lasted for hours. An awful fascination had kept her eyes fixed on it for a long period of time, as the face slowly revolved, flexing under the stone. A revolution that took several uncomfortable hours. When she slept she sometimes dreamt of the multitude of souls that spent their screaming non-life as veins stretching through that purgatory of stone.

The madness of those screaming occupants was shared by those within the cells, a madness brought by the presence of the one who ruled over this seething necropolis; one fashioned from living death. The thoughts of Nyarlathotep echoed through the structure, carrying with them promise of death and insanity. Glyph closed her mind to these thoughts, determined to keep her mind her own, to not let the insidious presence drag her to the same state as her comrades. She let out a sob that sent a throbbing pain through her head.

'Why are you crying?' a voice from the bordering cell broke her reverie.

Surprised to hear a relatively lucid voice rise above the constant confused babble she turned to see a young man looking through the bars adjoining her cell, his profile lit by the subdued light shining in from the corridor. She paused to wipe the back of her hand across her eyes and then said, 'Because I can.'

The man smiled, 'Good answer. What's your name?'

'Glyph,' she replied reluctantly, up until then it had been her own secret name. In saying it she had brought about the final part of her transformation, the final renunciation of who she had been before.

'Strange name,' he said and retreated back into his cell.

Glyph walked over to that side of the cell and tried to peer through the bars. The man had retreated into the shadows, only the glint of his eyes gave him away.

'What's yours?'

'Stanley. Not as cool a name as yours, but there you have it.'

'Stanley's okay, not as bad as Francis, my brother was called Francis.'

'Your brother?' Stanley said and approached the bars again. In the partial flaxen light, she could see his features again. He had a serious face, but then so did everyone now, and eyes that looked almost orange, and above them thick bushy eyebrows that met in the middle. His nose was thin and pointed and he had lips which were thin and rather severe. Not a handsome face, Glyph thought, but better than no face at all.

'I don't know why I said that. He's dead, part of before.'

Stanley's eyes seemed to glaze with that, as if he were looking back into a distance far beyond her, one separated by a gulf of time and circumstance. Moments later the look was gone and he looked at her again.

'I knew someone named Francis -- well, he had a name like Francis at any rate. But then, as you said, that's before. How old are you?'

'Twelve, I think. How old are you?'

'Well, I guess that's a fair question since I asked you the same. I'm twenty six,' and with that he smiled as if he had cracked a private joke.

'How long have you been here?'

He seem a bit uncomfortable now the flow of questions had reversed, 'Well, not that long. Not as long as you, I doubt.'

'No,' with that Glyph retreated back into her cell and seated herself as comfortably as she could against the wall, all the while trying to keep her thoughts away from what she was leaning against.

'Glyph? Glyph, are you still there?' he said and waited. There was a silence for a moment, an illusion of what now passed as silence.

Glyph realised he couldn't see her from where he was. 'Yes, I am here.'

'Do you want to get out of here?'

'Of course I do, but how?'

Again that silence, laid over the continual throbbing sound that filled the recesses of her consciousness. 'I'll tell you later. Rest now.'

Glyph thought Stanley was deluded, yet as she allowed herself to drift off she felt slightly less hopeless. Maybe it was just a consequence of a momentary human contact after such a long period in isolation, or the spark of the idea that it might be possible to escape. Something that had always seemed impossible. Maybe she was just being drawn into another's delusion, perhaps she was the prisoner of her own.

Her sleep was far from dreamless, yet this time it was free from nightmares. She was sitting on the bank of a fast flowing river, on soft green grass that smelt of life. Above her was a cloudless sky, and a sun which beat down unrelenting. The heat, though, was pleasant. She stood up and a breeze caressed her hair. She found herself facing a great mound, topped by stone. A voice whispered in her ear, maybe the wind, though she could make out none of the words. The more she strove to hear, the more distant they become, as if the act of listening frightened the words away. The mound drew her towards it and she walked unafraid. As she drew near she noticed the glimmer of a golden light, one which enthused the mound and all its environs. She was enthused by it, it was the guiding force that drew her to the ancient Tor. The whisperings continued, and though she still couldn't make them out, she knew they gave encouragement. The Tor was sinking, melting, forming into something else, something entirely different. She wanted to hurry, to reach it before she was halted, but it was too late, her last burst of speed merely threw her back into cold reality.

Glyph felt herself start, and when she heard the cold slithering, knew why. She backed into her cell, this was one daily event she had never gotten used to. The lights that ringed the corridors dimmed as a great black mass struggled through the confined space. In minutes it would pass by her cell, and for the space of some thirty seconds she would be left in absolute darkness, cold and abhorrent, a sudden plunge into black subterranean water that sapped the soul. She thought for a moment it was Nyarlathotep himself strolling the corridors of his domain, though she could sense his presence far above her, knowing he remained at the pinnacle of his black manse. For he was the messenger, one who carried the word to the disciples who waited, whose wisdom held death as its price. No, that which shuffled through the corridor was a lesser presence, though one no less fearful.

'Glyph, are you awake?' Stanley's voice broke the silence.

'Yes, I am,' she replied, getting unsteadily to her feet.

'Do you still want to escape?'

'Yes, but this -- you can't now, it's here.'

'I know, but it is merely one of Nyarlathotep's slaves. If you'll trust me, though, it can carry us out of here.'

'I can't.'

'Look, we don't have much time. Do you want to leave? Or would you rather rot here?'

'I'll go,' Glyph answered with her voice barely above a whisper. The lights were almost extinguished now, it was almost here.

'Then go to the front of your cage.'

Glyph clenched her fists and took a step towards the front of her prison. She could hear it coming, fear coiled its cold hand around her heart. She took three more steps, each was like the semi-paralysed footfall of a nightmare. Her hands grasped the bars and she held on as if for dear life, knowing that if she let go she would run back, only the strength of will she had built up over the past months kept her there.

Then it was pitch black and for the first time she wondered if the darkness protected them against a presence of which the light had no familiarity. With the darkness came a stench that magnified with each second, that of a thing so rotten it was beyond putrescence. She sensed its progression along the corridor and as she felt the touch of the cold questing tendrils about her feet she felt suddenly lost. Had she been right to trust Stanley?

Gradually she became aware of the strange whispered utterings coming from the direction of his cell. It was an incantation of some kind, though few of the words made sense to her.

'Sa! Nai-thrm fi jrst Nyarlathotep! Dzktn sa! Fi nkra sa!'

Glyph felt the bars melting beneath her fingers as the cold flesh of the presence in the corridor absorbed them, her hands, too, were coated in a viscous substance and she couldn't tear herself away. If she were to be absorbed as the bars had been then what possible escape was she to find but that of death, an escape she hadn't yet sought. There was not even room in her lungs for a scream as the oppressive darkness sapped her strength. Her legs gave beneath her, only to be cushioned by a mass of writhing tendrils, the touch of which froze her skin beneath it.

She was drawn forwards, out of her cage and into the cold gelatinous mass, her mouth locked shut, unable to breathe. She felt a tightness in her chest that became a burning pain, felt the urge to try and draw a breath but resisted with the last of her strength. Glyph met her death with a cold heart, no longer wishing to feel anything she gave up feeling, allowed herself to relax and await the inevitable. When the final blackness threatened to engulf her she welcomed it with open arms.

* * *

Glyph was thrown into a spluttering wakefulness with a cough that expeled a congealing mass of muck and mucus from her lungs. Overwhelmed by nausea, yet wanting to know where she was, she struggled to her knees and found only darkness. For a moment she feared blindness and came close to emitting a sob, though when she lifted her hands to her face, she found her eyelids coated with the same substance she had coughed up but moments before. She rubbed her eyelids and blinked several times becoming accustomed to the light. The foul tasting residue still coating her tongue was forgotten once her surroundings were revealed to her.

It might have seemed like the narrow confines of a tunnel had she not felt the sensations of movement, or the way the walls sunk beneath her weight and glowed with a green tinted phosphorescence. Glyph felt no fear, the situation she was in was far too bizarre to be frightening, it was as though this strange living tunnel had become her whole world. As if she were just the indigestion in the belly of the worm that ate the world.

Stanley was lying about eight feet away from her. He was gazing upwards and seemed to be awake.

'Stanley!' Glyph exclaimed, her voice a loud whisper.

He turned to look at her and smiled. 'So you're awake.'

A strange thing to say, Glyph thought, he must have heard her coughing, 'Yes, where the hell are we?'

'We are safe, being carried out of Bh'Yhlun.'

'Inside that thing?' Glyph coughed unable, 'Why is it like this?'

'This,' Stanley explained, 'is an incubation chamber. The Shoggoth that patrols the corridors of Bh'Yhlun has a multitude of purposes. It moves about the city removing the human debris, feeding on the corpses when necessary. Inside its body it grows the warrior Shoggoths that rule outside. This one is virtually domesticated, but those -- let's just say the less contact you have with them the better. I simply gave this one the instructions to flush out its young, and absorb new subjects.'

'How come you know so much?'

'I was something of a scientist. It's always been my job to find things out.'

'You're a bit young for a scientist, aren't you?'

Stanley made no reply, just tilted his head as if he was listening for something. 'I think we'll be outside soon. Now the Shoggoth contains fresh young, it will be heading for the caves outside, so it can pick up the genetic instructions it needs to secrete from these walls', with that he ran his fingers down the gently glowing surface.

'Then how do we get out again? I hope it's easier than coming in.'

Stanley smiled. 'Of course it will be, just like being born again, but easier even than that.'

Glyph didn't like the sound of that at all, but said nothing. If it meant she could escape then she should be glad, but already she was beginning to dread the sight of the world outside. What must it be like now? All the while she had been outside it had been warping continually, every natural thing slowly changing until it was outside the confines of accepted form. The only pleasure to be found in the darkness was freedom, yet that was worth having, wasn't it? If the only freedom was being able to take her own life. She wouldn't stay around Stanley for long, she had already made that decision. There was something about him she couldn't quite put her finger on, something that kept her from trusting him fully. He was an incomplete person, part of him was held back from her view, a part he didn't want her to see.

'How long?'

Stanley looked across at her. 'Just give it another twenty minutes or so.'

In silence Glyph waited, trying to ignore the intense itchiness in the scarred flesh of her palms, watching the silent Stanley out of the corner of her eye. Occasionally she found him looking her way and again she noticed his eyes, which glowed with an amber light, and seemed to hold within them sights unseen by most human eyes. They were eyes which spoke of an age far greater than he had stated and the pupils, which were of the deepest black, drew her into a distant infinity, off into a cosmos with no end. Each time she had to pull her eyes away with a wrench of her will, as if a magnetism held them.

She heard nothing, just felt the subdued movement of the creature in which she was seated. Even when she strained her ears she could hear nothing above their breathing and wondered what Stanley had been listening for earlier. The enveloping tunnel suddenly seemed too small, too alive, the external world seemed distant and unreachable.

'Will it be time soon?' she said, unable to keep what she was feeling from her voice.

Stanley paused and again cocked his head. 'Now seems as good a time as any. Are you ready?'

'Yes, I'm ready', Glyph said and was pleased when her voice remained steady without giving away the fear she felt.

Stanley closed his eyes and Glyph was able to look away. She had no idea what to expect, but this time she was determined to stay conscious throughout. Outside she would need all her wits about her, she had no desire to awaken into a situation worse than the one she was in already. Glyph would be upright when she took her first few steps into freedom. After that she had no way of knowing would happen, but those first few steps would be hers and hers alone.

Again Stanley began to chant, but this time Glyph ignored the chant, not even trying to make sense of it, not wanting to dirty her consciousness with the presence of those fractured syllables.

Instead she gazed at the glowing flesh that separated her from freedom and waited, watching as the phosperesence began to dim. Patches of blackness began to mottle its surface, stealing the light as they spread, throwing them into an unnatural dusk that brought with it the fetid smell of the Shoggoth, a not so gentle reminder of what they had been incubated from.

'Now push!' Stanley exclaimed and pushed himself against the living wall, there was still enough light for her to witness his absorption, to see him fall through the membrane. The sight made her pause, but only long enough to take a deep breath. She pushed and her hands were grabbed by a cold mass that dragged the rest of her forwards, so much faster than her initial ingestion, barely had she been enclosed within the clammy skin than she was thrown out into the chill outside air.

The shock of the cold was almost enough to make her pass out, but somehow she managed to stay on her feet, suddenly aware of how warm it had been inside there. Even as she shuddered in her freedom, unwilling to look back and see the harbringer of that freedom, her mind was working over what she knew of the Shoggoths: creatures spawned of necessity, of cold icy wastes and subterranean depths, not the clinging warmth of incubation.

These thoughts went no further once the devastation about her made its mark on her consciousness. The landscape she had known for the whole of her short life was no more, everything was swathed in a coat of liquid blackness, a decaying moisture that glistened with a pale uncomfortable light; one which seemed ever present, a replacement for the daylight which had once held the area in its welcoming glow. She remembered the grey horror of London as a joyous luxury of colour, the noise, pollution and confusion a symbol of better times. Now it was nothing, its fluid rapture torn and shredded into the living hell of Bh'Yhlun.

There would be no way back, she could see that now, all humanity could hope for was a new beginning; it took her child's view of the world to find hope even in the hopeless, despite the reality of the devastation she still held her own vision of a magical future. An illusion she could believe in, even now.

Now she was sure of her own well-being, she looked about for Stanley. He lay unconscious; or dead, she couldn't see which. Glyph had no intention of waking him, there were too many questions about him that she couldn't answer. She had been disturbed by her own coolness, yet he had seemed almost casual, and he knew far too much for her liking. She would be better off without him.

'Goodbye,' Glyph whispered and walked slowly past his prone form, noticing something that made her pause. A black leather book lay at his side, a book lying face down, its pages crumpled in the dirt. She had never seen him with it before, so he must have kept it concealed the whole time. Quietly, so as not to wake him, she gingerly picked up the volume by its corner.

There was no time to look at it now, so she merely tucked it under her arm, and began the slow trek across the slippery ground. Twisted growths, warped by the endless darkness and giving off that strangely lucid colour that coated everything, wrapped about her ankles as she walked. The decay gave the vegetation a strange non-life, one which made walking through it highly unpleasant, what it had been before she couldn't even guess. Maybe grass, though grass didn't grow this substantive.

When a sufficient distance separated her from Stanley she removed the book from under her arm and glanced at the cover. In raised letters were the words, Francesci's Cult of the Necronomicon. The phrase sounded familiar, as if it were an echo of before, though the book itself looked old and crumbling, nothing she would have seen before. There were carvings on the cover of the book, of horrendous beings, yet they held no fear for her, merely a sense of recognition. She knew most of them as harmless anyway, the one she feared most was receding behind her, residing high above her Bh'Yhlun. Glyph avoided looking back, afraid that the mere act of looking might alert him to her presence. Nyarlathotep would not overlook an escapee, she could not understand whatever alien pleasures the Old Ones took in the displeasure of lesser races, and she had no desire to find out. Though her freedom made her less afraid, it did not make her stupid.

'Glyph! Glyph!' an echo of a cry broke the silence and she froze. Stanley was awake.

Ignoring his cries she headed west, her instincts drew her in that direction and she had long since learned to believe her instincts. It was not believing her instincts that had led her to Bh'Yhlun in the first place, now she would rely on them to carry her away. The whisper from her dream guided her, and she felt a warmth at its presence, one which allowed her to walk beneath the warped, writhing trees without fear. They glowed with the same colour as everything else, a colour that both confused and beguiled her. It defied her attempts to name it, every time she thought she recognised its hue it sidled out of the space in the spectrum she had set aside for it. She had always known colour, and revelled in the life it offered, yet this was no colour she had ever seen. She almost wished for darkness in its place, for at least darkness never seemed aware.

Relief flooded her being when she felt the sensation of tarmac beneath her feet, the road came as a welcome break from that of the seemingly sentient vegetation. Though it was broken and pitted beneath her feet where the overrunning vegetation was beginning to break through.

To distract her from the aching hunger that ate at her stomach she lifted the book and began to thumb through it. Most made little sense, though it was written in English, not the old-fashioned English Glyph had always hated, but strangely out of place modern English, apart from places where it broke into passages similar to the chants Stanley had mouthed. She read from the beginning and the words quickly seemed to take on a life of their own. As she read she felt intensely uncomfortable, as the words described in detail everything that had overtaken her world, from the initial cataclysm and the rise of Bh'Yhlun, to the awakenings of the Old Ones and opening of gateways upon the Earth. She could see what had come to pass, and what had yet to come to pass, and the latter filled her with a paroxysmal fear. One paragraph in particular almost destroyed any sense of warmth that she might have felt:

With the assurgence of Bh'Yhlun, Nyarlathotep shall once again hold dominion upon the Earth. The black messenger will awaken his brothers and sisters into eternal night, and they shall once again make the Earth their own. Nyarlathotep will rend the gateways between the spheres and summon Yog-Sothoth; who shall hold them open for eternity. With Azathoth shall arrive a nuclear dawn and for the Earth a new beginning, that of a new power in the universe and outpost for vengeance against the Elder Gods.
* * *

Glyph knew she didn't have long, and there was still over a hundred miles to traverse before she reached her destination. Why she was needed there she didn't know, nor had she any idea what awaited her, all she knew was that something called to her. The voice was part of it, not of the madness of the Old Ones, but of something older and purer, in tune with nature as opposed to the damaging cacophony which grated against nature. The Old Ones were not the only power in the universe, not even the only power on Earth, and what Glyph felt was the wakening of something that had laid dormant for millennia. The benign power of a protector secure in its strength and slow to anger, yet with its domain ravaged, wakens with a bristling anger of incredible intensity.

With a gentle flood her fears washed away and left her feeling fresh and bright, her hunger dispersed with her fear and she felt enthused with energy. The blue of her eyes shined with renewed intensity, actually giving off its own light. She became aware of threads of energy criss-crossing the land, threads which intersected at certain key points, and concentrated in the distant west. For a moment she paused and looked back over her shoulder, at the monstrosity that edged its way into the sky, and a look of hatred crossed her features.

Glyph held the book up before her, then cast it to one side. 'No more lies,' she whispered and before she turned west again, threw one last searing look at the pinnacle of Bh'Yhlun. 'No more lies.'

Her quiet footsteps made no impression in the languishing landscape, yet they carried a weight far outweighing that of her own. In Bh'Yhlun a scream riped through the atmosphere, causing a pleasant ripple in the psychic consciousness of Nyarlathotep; yet whatever pleasure the alien felt was tarnished by the knowledge of something amiss. He lashed out and further screams echoed through Bh'Yhlun, screams he barely noticed, for Nyarlathotep settled into a new shape and readied himself for an excursion, the night beckoned with a thousand psychic summons and he must answer every one.

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© 1997, 2008 Edward P. Berglund
"An Incarceration in Bh'Yhlun": © 1997 Ian Davey. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: September 18, 1997; Updated: February 19, 2008