A sharp knock resounded on the door. Frank looked at Paul; Paul looked at Frank. Neither moved. Finally, Frank said, "Fine, you win," and got up to answer it.
Frank open the door, looked into the apartment building's hallway, and immediately slammed the door. From the other side came a chuckle. "I know you didn't give at the office, Frank!"
Paul looked up from his computer. "Is that who I think it is?" he asked. Frank nodded glumly. "Aw, come on, it wasn't his fault. If it wasn't for him, we'd have been crunch 'n' munch for a Great Old One."
"Yeah, and we almost were because of him too," Frank fired back, but relented and opened the door. "Connor, come in."
Through the doorway strode an elderly man of medium build, but in very good health. A sense of self-assurance and power seemed to emanate from his body, the way he carried his shoulders, the look in his eye. Chin length, curly grey hair framed his grizzled face. He strode into the small apartment with quick, long strides, and patted Paul on the back. "All's quiet on the computer front?" he asked.
"Haven't seen any sign of the Hnarqu cult or their Tentacles virus since that night. How have you been?"
"I've been good; covering some loose ends since the cult let Hnarqu loose last year. I'm glad the cult is quiet; unfortunately, they're not my real worry now."
"You know, I figured your coming here wasn't a social visit," Frank grumbled. "Have a seat, anyway."
Connor looked uneasily at the threadbare couch against one wall and decided not to take his chances. He swung a chair out from the desk next to Paul's and sat down.
"What's on your mind?" Paul enquired.
"You remember what I told you about Hnarqu? That he had been imprisoned in New England after the War of the Old Ones, and a meddling sorcerer from England freed him in the seventeenth century?" Frank and Paul both nodded. "Legend had it that letting him loose had been an accident, an unexpected effect of the sorcerer. The sorcerer was, of course, burned at the stake by the Pilgrims; several members of the Grey Brotherhood created a new seal for him, and things were fine for more than three hundred years.
"Well, I've done my reading, and I've determined that it was no accident by the sorcerer. His power was amplified by the Old One's proximity and his mind infected by the beast's raging against his bonds. He became, willing or unwilling, the slave of Hnarqu."
"How did you find that out?" Frank asked.
"I have a friend in the Grey Brotherhood, and I got access to their archives in Spain. I read the notes of the two men who came to investigate.
"Unfortunately, the sorcerer had been burned over a month before their ship finally arrived, so they couldn't interview him. Well . . . more on that in a minute. His hut in the woods had been trampled and partially burned, but sifting through the ruins, they found a fair amount of evidence.
"The man, Simon Wything, had been feared as a minor wizard before he left England. Not terribly powerful, certainly. That's why it was assumed that he freed Hnarqu accidentally. No one with Simon's power in his right mind would have knowingly attempted it. But Simon had a lot more power and was not in his right mind.
"As a reputed wizard, he was not well-liked in the Plymouth colony -- I'm surprised he even got in there at all. Anyway, he soon set out to make his living in the woods. The Pilgrims, of course, assumed they had seen the last of him. But the Indians in that area were not particularly bellicose, and if anything, the middle-aged man was a curiosity. So they left him alone at first. Soon they actively avoided him, fearing his craft.
"He lived not far from the spot where Hnarqu was imprisoned. As near as I can figure, that was an accident, at least on his part. He didn't have access to Alhazred's text or any other book with the least rumor of the Old One. Maybe Hnarqu had sensed the wizard before and brought him closer. I don't know. At any rate, with Simon in such close proximity, Hnarqu began a nightly assault on the man's dreams, wearing down his mental strength and twisting his mind to the worship of the Great Old Ones.
"Simon's studies took a new turn -- to the necromantic art. He took to raiding Indian burials for some of his rituals, and from the spirits of the dead consciously learned of Hnarqu for the first time. He had discovered a shamanic burial ground, no less, and was able to derive a fair amount of power from the dead magicians' bones. His experiments became wilder and wilder, and he became convinced of his power. He recognized that some of it came from Hnarqu's nearness, too, and soon decided that freeing the Old One would make him omnipotent. In his dreams, Hnarqu gave him the key that would destroy his bonds, and Simon used it one May Eve.
"Hnarqu raged through New England, enjoying his first freedom in millennia. For whatever reason, he avoided the coast, and so his awakening is but the slightest whisper in European records. Only the leaders of the Plymouth colony knew of the strange happenings inland; they dispatched a group to deal with the wizard and sent discreet word back to Europe.
"Before their word ever reached England, the Brotherhood knew about it. They read the signs in the stars and some earth tremors, and dispatched two of their most powerful members to deal with the threat. How exactly they imprisoned the Old One is, if written at all, in archives even I was not allowed to see. Such knowledge would have been a powerful tool to those who wanted to free him, and is still protected as such. But they did, as you yourselves have seen.
"After that was attended to, as I said, they began to research Simon. What they found was . . . well, let me translate from the Latin directly for you." Connor reached into his dingy coat and produced several pages of loose-leaf. "Let me see . . . here: 'In the man's ruined domicile, we found little, but enough. He had bones of some great antiquity, including three skulls, somewhat broken and charred by the hut's destruction, but still bearing cabalistic markings. There were a number of stoppered glass containers, several of which were unbroken. These we found to contain powdered bone, several herbal derivatives, and an alien substance which he either procured before leaving England, or else achieved through consorting with the beings from Yuggoth. The substance was so volatile that it exploded upon being unstoppered, before we could do further analysis. Inigo -- that was the author's partner -- was badly burned. The material left a lingering odor of ammonia mixed with organic decay.
"'Next we examined the necromancer's -- for it was obvious that he was such -- grave, with an eye to exhumation. To our vast dismay, however, we discovered no body.
"'The colonists had assured us they had captured the necromancer and burned him at the stake. We were disheartened to hear, though, that they could not burn the body totally, for the fire would not take. They were satisfied with a cessation of vital signs and a thorough charring.
"'From evidence around the grave, it would seem the wizard clawed his way up through the soil. We searched the area for a fortnight, but could find no further sign. The Indians to the north had heard some rumor of a raving earth spirit who had stolen two babies, but we came no closer than that.'"
There was a silence as the two young men digested this. Finally, Frank spoke, "But Hnarqu stayed sealed, and the wizard must surely be dead now. What are you concerned about?"
"I have a conjecture as to the fate of those two Indian babies," Connor began. "The male child was sacrificed in a ritual to restore the necromancer to health. The female child he raised and made his consort, having a child or children."
"And what makes you think that?" Paul asked.
"In 1780, one Simon Wything, a young man of unclear heritage, but definitely some Indian blood, was tried and found guilty of sorcery in Boston. He disappeared. In 1830, another young man, also named Simon Wything, built a mansion to the west of Arkham. There is good documentation that he was the grandson of the disappeared man. He was noted for his mysterious wealth and his predilection to wander the hills at night, calling in strange languages."
Frank sighed. "So his descendant knows about what we did and wants to kick our collective ass, right?"
"Oh, no. That Simon Wything died childless before the Civil War. The line seems to have truly died there. The estate passed to the government and a number of families have lived in the mansion since.
"I'm worried about what the original Simon Wything seems to have called out of the sky after his recovery. That part of Massachusetts has been plagued with disappearances and mutilated bodies, human and cattle, from time to time."
"How recently?" Paul asked.
"As recently as last year . . . right about the time we were dealing with a computer virus," Connor replied.
"What do you think it is? And has it been the same thing all this time?" Frank asked.
"I'm sure it's the same thing; it's some being of great potency, though less than an Old One. What exactly it is, I don't know, but it seems to fly, and it inflicts claw and tooth wounds -- and the tooth wounds are made, on the same victim, by mouths of different size."
"So there's more than one?" Frank enquired.
"Possibly. But eyewitness accounts never mention more than one."
"OK. Then what do we do about it?" Paul asked.
"Hold on a minute with this 'we' business, now!" Frank warned.
"The mansion has stood empty for several years now. The last owner died in the mid-eighties and his heirs have not used the house. It has recently gone up for sale, and rather than exposing an unwitting party to risks, I purchased it." Frank and Paul exchanged surprised glances. "Next week I take possession. I would like you to visit me the weekend after, if at all possible, so that we can do a thorough search of the house and the surrounding woods."
Frank sighed. Paul jumped at the chance. "We'll be there! Just draw us a map before we leave. Right, Frank?"
"Yeah, I'm in. At least until I see this thing for myself."
The days passed quickly until it was the appointed weekend. Paul and Frank loaded a small amount of luggage into Paul's cramped hatchback and took off for the hills west of the university town. Their drive through the crisp New England fall was entirely unremarkable, and they passed the time in discussions of how built-up the area was becoming. As they neared Connor's new home, however, the developments thinned out and they plunged into richly colored woods.
"It's almost like a different world," Frank commented, "like this area's under completely different influences than outside."
"Different influences? That's an odd way of putting it," Paul commented.
Frank became immediately defensive. "That's just the way it seems to me," he blustered.
They descended into a silence for the last few minutes of their trip. Following MacKenzie's directions, Paul turned off onto a narrow gravel track which, a few hundred yards later, emptied into a clearing where a large house massed on a hill. The house had clearly been built up over successive generations, with additions of varying styles congregating on its sides, as if the additions were looking for the strength in numbers to overwhelm the others and take over the house's style.
Paul whistled. "Now that's what I call an ancestral pile! Nice digs Connor's gotten himself." He pulled up on the overgrown rotunda in front of the house and turned the engine off. He and Frank eagerly scrambled out of the car to stretch their cramped legs. After a few moments recovery, they retrieved their luggage and carried it towards the door.
"Odd," Paul said, "I would have thought Connor would be out here already to greet us."
"You know Connor," Frank disagreed. "He's either holed up over some old document or out wandering the grounds, looking for the Bogeyman of the Hills." With that, he found the door unlocked and made his way inside. Paul followed. They called out as they entered, but got no answer.
Frank set his bags down in the front hall and looked at a small table there. "Here we go," he said, picking up a note lying there. "'Boys: Make yourselves at home. I'm checking out a few leads and will be back before nightfall. We'll have much to discuss then. Meanwhile, if you want, you can read the materials I've set out in the dining room.' See? What did I tell you?"
Paul grunted assent and began to poke his way around the house. The front hall led into a longer hall, which on one side held stairs to the two upper floors. To either side of the longer hall were parlors; off the back of the one on the left, they found the aforementioned dining room, which several musty books atop the dining room table. Frank went into the kitchen, hoping for something to drink, while Paul examined the books.
Frank emerged with two cans of Pepsi. "Well?" he enquired.
Paul replied, "Three books." Frank started to open his mouth to say something inevitably sarcastic, but Paul cut him off. "A local history, a nineteenth-century spellbook, handwritten, and a journal, also handwritten. He's flagged a number of passages for us, and there are some notes in his handwriting." Paul gestured to the bright yellow notes adhering to certain pages.
Frank picked up one book, which turned out to be the local history, and began to review, pulling out a chair for himself. Paul continued through the spellbook, noting, "These two are written by the same hand."
They spent quite some time reviewing the books. Frank finished first, as most of the material in the history book was irrelevant to their concerns, and began with the journal. Eventually Paul set the spellbook down and noted, with a start, "It gets dark quick out here!"
Frank looked up. "I guess it came too quickly for Connor, since there's been no sign of him."
Paul gave a worried frown, then shrugged it off. "What have you picked up?" he asked.
"Well, I haven't finished the journal, but I'm getting two very different impressions of the last Simon Wything. According to the history book, he was an honored citizen and a devout Christian. He went out of his way to help people. No one thought ill of him. Look, they even included a portrait of him," Frank said, gesturing to a painting of a dignified middle-aged man with a hawk's nose and oddly bulging forehead.
"I guess he learned from his ancestors' fate. According to the journal, he stole more than one baby. It's filled with sentences like this: 'The Minion still hungers. It is becoming very hard to keep his existence hidden, even in my remote manse. I fear I cannot keep him bound much longer. After all these decades, to have this happen! But he has finally matured.'"
"Hm . . . the Minion? There are a number of spells here that refer to him . . . Binding the Minion to the Earthly sphere . . . Feeding the Minion on the six days of Power . . . Dissolving the Minion -- that one is marked boldly, 'Never Use!'" Paul responded.
"Yeah, well, apparently, the minion broke loose in 1841, since Simon writes, 'I can control it no longer.' He came to fear it at the end of his life; the last few years are filled with ravings about it and about how he thinks it hunts him.
"And what's more, the local history records disappearances, odd deaths, cattle mutilations, all those kinds of things, beginning in the winter of 1841. They remain bad for a few years, worse in the winters than the summers, and then end in 1846, the year of Simon's death, . . ."
There was a long silence between them. Paul gave a worried look at his watch. Frank finally said, "Well, it's obvious what went on, right? Three Simon Wythings, all sorcerers, all of whom disappear, all of whom never seem to age? It's the classic horror plot! The sorcerer stays alive over the centuries through the blood of young victims, and then finally loses his mind! He probably still roams these hills, the Burned Bogeyman of the Night! Blaaaagh!"
In the next moment, a large moth flew toward the light, casting a huge shadow that made Frank jump back with a bloodcurdling scream. He gave a nervous laugh. "OK, maybe it's not that funny."
Paul gave him a dirty look and picked up one of the books he had not looked through yet. Frank sheepishly sat back down and continued to read. After a moment, Paul said, "It wouldn't explain the tooth marks from several mouths, anyhow."
A half hour later, Frank flipped the journal closed. As he did so, his finger caught on the rear endpaper of the book and peeled a corner off. He looked at it intently, and a moment later peeled the whole thing off. A yellowed piece of folded paper fell onto his lap. Paul, not noticing, continued to read.
Frank gingerly unfolded the paper; the edges crumbled at his touch. He carefully unfolded it on the table, though, and gave a gasp. That was when Paul looked up. "Well, lookee what I found," Frank said. "It's a map to a tomb."
Paul stood up and leaned over the table. Frank continued, "It's apparently where the original Simon Wything lies buried."
"So much for your theory," Paul sneered. "That's in bad shape; let's make a copy before it falls apart even more."
The two bent over their work. After the time they spent examining and carefully reproducing the map on a new sheet of paper, it was quite late. "I think it's time to admit something's wrong," Paul said. "There's still no sign of Connor."
"Well, let's take a quick look around," Frank suggested. "Together," he added quickly.
Walking through the dark surroundings of the house, Frank soon rethought himself. "Let's think about this. Connor told us he'd be back before nightfall. Doesn't that tell you there's a reason not to be out after dark?"
"All the more reason to find him sooner, rather than later."
"Yeah, well, I'd hate to meet Hnarqu in the trees over there."
"Hnarqu's gone. You saw it too," Paul replied.
With flashlights, they quickly made a pass through the area. "Come on, let's get inside," Frank urged. "If he were anywhere that we'd find him, we'd have heard him by now. Or the beastie sucking out his brains. We're not going to find him tonight."
Paul grudgingly assented. As the two trudged back towards the lit house, though, he suddenly stopped. "Do you hear that?" he asked.
"Hear what?" Frank, predictably, asked.
"Hush!" Paul cried, and then they both heard it. A flapping, coming from the woods behind them. Both turned around; Paul started back towards the woods, while Frank extended a hand to stop him. Immediately, both were assailed by a smell of rotting meat. Frank released Paul and crouched over, beginning to heave. The smell swept toward them as the flapping noise grew louder. A dark shape shot up through the night, the smell lessened, and both watched an odd, asymmetrical shape sweep in front of the moon. It began to descend; the two, fearing it was coming towards them, broke into an open run to the house. Frank reached the door first and yanked it open, banging it into his forehead in the process. Paul shot through the open door and Frank dragged himself in a moment later, slamming the heavy inner door behind. Frank turned around to find Paul collapsed on the floor, his slightly overweight shape gasping for breath. "You OK?" Frank panted.
"Yeah," Paul replied, "I think I've still got all my limbs."
After a few minutes, they had regained their composure. They went to a number of windows but could not see or hear any sign of the nighttime visitor. Eventually, they agreed to go to bed; they hauled their luggage up the steps and chose the first two empty rooms, which Connor must have made up before leaving. Both slept soundly.
Frank heard a clattering which brought him awake with a start. It was early morning, perhaps 7 am. A wan sunlight came filtering in through the window.
Frank jumped out of bed. "Paul?" he queried. "Paul, is that you?"
A muffled voice came from somewhere above. "Yeah! Now that you're finally up, come give me a hand. I'm upstairs."
Frank followed Paul's voice until he found him, half lost in packed boxes. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I thought I would look through the house -- make sure Connor wasn't hear somewhere."
"Come on, Paul, if Connor were here, we'd hear him. He'd hear us." He caught Paul's look. "Oh."
Frank and Paul made their way through the third and second floors, before finally giving it up and getting breakfast. Through some unspoken agreement, their flight into the house the night before went unmentioned. Over some eggs from Connor's well-stocked refrigerator, Frank asked, "So, you wanna check out the tomb today?"
"No, Frank, I want to find Connor today," Paul said condescendingly.
"Yeah! That's what I mean --"
"But we found the map, sealed, last night. Connor didn't know about it."
"Right, but he was following leads. Maybe he had the same information from another source! Maybe there was another map. I think we might find him there!"
The conversation went back and forth a few times, but eventually Paul agreed, and they set out.
It was a brisk October morning the two walked through quietly. "I think it's just on the other side of that rise," Frank said, reading from their copied map. Paul maintained his worried silence.
They crested the rise and saw nothing but underbrush on the far side. Vines and brambles covered the ground pretty densely. Frank stopped. "It should be here," he said.
"Give me that map!" Paul snapped. He grabbed it and looked. "Yeah, this looks right. What'd you think, anyhow? A fugitive sorcerer would have a giant tomb?"
"Well, I was hoping for at least a monolith or something," Frank said, making his way down the incline. "It should be right about --" And he crashed through the undergrowth. "Son of a . . . I'm stuck!"
Paul hopped down and helped Frank pull himself out of the hole. When he was out, the two peered down. "It looks like some kind of burrow," Paul observed. A ragged passageway about four feet wide ran away from the hole.
Frank scratched his head over the map. "Uh, Paul," he said, "I think this is the tomb. Oh, man, how could I not bring a flashlight?"
Paul produced a flashlight from his pocket and flipped it on. He stepped into the hole and leaned forward into the passage. "It runs at least fifty feet," he called back, "rising and then descending after that, I think." He pulled himself back. "Look, Frank, the vegetation was undisturbed. He hasn't been here. I really think . . ."
"Paul, this is what he was looking for. Maybe there's another entrance, a passage from the house or something! It's not all that far."
"I guess," Paul assented. "But let's not take too long, if it doesn't look like he's in there." With that, he flipped his light back on and began to crawl down the passageway. Frank followed.
The passageway did indeed run a little over fifty feet, then take a rather sharp downward turn. The two had to proceed carefully to avoid sliding down it. They went another hundred feet or so and then the passageway became smoother. A dozen feet later it was lined with carefully dressed stone of a light tan cast. The two could stand up now, and continued to walk down the passage. Paul ran his fingers along the smooth stone. Suddenly he flipped his light off; they could still see ahead. "Look, there's light coming in ahead," he said.
They rounded a turn in the passage and came to a stop. The passageway came out on a high balcony, about forty feet above a vast chamber. The ceiling, of vaulted stone, held a huge oculus in the center. Roots and dirt clogged some of the opening, but sunlight still streamed through.
The floor below was about a hundred feet long and fifty feet wide. Stairs on either side led down to a platform. Where the platform ended, a black liquid pooled. A thin stone bridge, apparently of a single piece, spanned the pool, and led off onto a matching platform on the far side. A doorway yawned on the far side.
In the mild sunlight, Frank and Paul could make out all manner of carvings on the stone walls. Some appeared to be writing, but in no language either recognized. The two exchanged a glance and made for the bridge.
They had to cross the bridge one at a time. Paul made to go first; "It feels solid enough," he judged. He walked carefully over, casting an uneasy eye on the bubbling black liquid on either side. He stepped off on the other side and turned to watch Frank make the second half of the trip.
Once both were over, they looked around the far platform. Like the other side, it had alien images and unreadable glyphs over most of the vertical surfaces. At the far end was a yawning opening, flank by two massive columns. Not seeing anything of interest, the two walked to the portal.
On the other side was darkness; unlike the chamber they stood in, it had no natural light. Paul flipped his flashlight back on and probed the darkness.
The first twenty feet held emptiness; then, moving into the room, the two began to pick out walls on either side. About twenty feet into the chamber lay a huge circular dais, made from some black stone, ascending several feet.
"Is that obsidian?" Frank asked, seeing the way the light glinted off the smooth material. "How the hell did anyone get that quantity of obsidian, and how did they get it down here?" As they neared the dais, they could see fine writing carved over all the surfaces of the platform, writing clearly in the same language as that they'd seen before.
Beyond the altar was a large space, about forty feet on a side. The ceiling of the chamber sloped upward over the space until it met the back wall. But on the glittering altar lay a sight which the flashlight had skipped over on its first pass: A desiccated corpse in clothing which had long ago fallen to tatters. His limbs were tightly folded against his body, his head turned to one side, empty eye sockets open and mouth stretched back in a triumphant leer.
"Well, I guess the original Simon Wything isn't bothering anybody," Paul said.
"If indeed that's him!" Frank protested.
"Look at the clothing that remains. It's of the right age. Look at these magical talismans he's holding. Who else would even be down here?"
"OK, it looks like it could be that old, but what preserves a body this well for centuries?"
"Frank, we're in a massive underground complex, decorated with art and a language very few people have ever seen, standing on an enormous piece of volcanic glass. Do you suppose there could be forces which we don't understand at play here?"
Frank lapsed into silence. The two circled the body carefully, looking for anything of possible import, but could find nothing. They then engaged in a careful search of the walls, but found no other passages. At last, Frank admitted that staying would not help find their friend. "And that corpse is starting to freak me out, too," he added.
They passed out of the tomb chamber and made their way back across the bridge, taking a last look around. As they went up the stairs and into the passage through which they had entered, they failed to notice the winged black shapes which emerged from the dark pool.
"Frank, that chamber is clearly older than the wizard -- or any other European on this continent. From the looks of it, and the size of it, it may be older than any human on this continent. Quit trying to figure out how the sorcerer built it."
"Yeah, I guess so. But then, who did build it?"
"I hope we never find out, Frank," was Paul's reply. They were walking back toward the house through some dense trees, and spoke as they went. When they emerged from the tunnel to the surface, they were surprised to find the sun well into its decline; far more time had passed underground than they had realized, and they were hard-pressed to account for it, unless it was due to their wonderment at the architectural wonder they had found. As they walked back, the sun sank behind the hills. Paul flipped on his flashlight and the two picked up the pace.
As they emerged from the stand of trees, the two of them stopped momentarily as they heard the whisper of wings above and behind them.
"What is that?" Paul asked, beginning to walk briskly.
"Owls. It's got to be. It sure doesn't sound the same as last night's visitor, does it? Too quiet, too slow."
"Owls? As in more than one?"
"Oh yeah," Frank said. "Don't you hear multiple sets of wings?"
"Let's get moving," Paul decided, breaking into a jog. Frank kept up. Glancing over his shoulder, he turned to see two large black bat-winged shapes glide over the trees toward them.
"MOVE!" he said, breaking into an outright run. Paul looked behind him, saw the shapes, and took off past Frank, losing his grip on the light. They were in sight of the house already. Frank was startled to see some lights on inside; they had left none on. At that point, however, nothing could stop his precipitous flight.
Nothing short of the solid body Paul ran into in the dark. Paul and the colliding person fell down, and Frank, unable to slow himself, went stumbling over them, falling into the grass beyond.
The unknown one stood up first, his back to the other two, his face towards the flying creatures. In a commanding, guttural voice he called out some syllables in an unknown language, then threw something towards the approaching creatures. That something exploded in a flash of light; even though the creatures were a short distance away from it, in that searing light, they burst into flame, leaving only a few ashes to fall to the ground.
The unseen man turned and addressed the two. "Welcome to my new home," he said kindly. "I was sorry to miss you yesterday and this morning, but I found a man I had much to learn from."
Connor helped the two up and led them into the house.
"When I left yesterday morning, I didn't expect to meet whom I met. I went to look for the tomb -- and I saw you found the map I could not -- and I met another man wandering the hills.
"His name isn't important. As a matter of fact, I don't even know it for certain myself. I knew of his reputation, however. He's lived here most of his eighty years, and has a lot of valuable knowledge. He wasn't too much help with the matter of Simon Wything -- for some reason, it never sparked his interest. Too local, I guess, or maybe not abstract enough to excite him.
"Anyhow, he's read many of the old books, and has been experimenting with that knowledge for many years. A careful experimentation, mind you! He's rediscovered many secrets which had been lost; like the trick to making the Nicolyodis spheres, like the one that saved your behinds out there. Even though the description in the Necronomicon is fairly specific, there was a step in the manufacturing process which had been lost! How marvelous.
"So! Back to matters more at hand. I see you've had an exciting day!"
"What were those things?" Paul demanded.
"I take it you've been in the tomb," the older man ventured, "and there was a black pool there."
"Yeah!" Frank burst out. "How did you know?"
"That wasn't just a tomb, you see. If it were, it wouldn't really matter to us. The original Simon Wything is dead and there's very little he can do for us. It's what he left behind that I'm concerned with.
"The tomb is, as you no doubt surmised, far older than old Simon. It was built as a temple to Hnarqu. Remember what you read in the Necronomicon, Paul? When Hnarqu descended to Earth from beyond the star-spaces, he landed not far from here. His kinetic energy blasted a huge crater into the ground. What is in a less well-known book than the Necronomicon is that a temple was set in the crater, which was then filled in. Some of the glass fused by his landing was shaped into an altar platform -- is it still there? Ah, good."
Frank and Paul were both getting fidgety by this point, eager for an explanation of their more immediate experience. Noticing this, Connor declared, "And as for the pool, that is something very special. It contains some of the star-spoor of Hnarqu. Just as Hnarqu can shape the dreams of humans, so that spoor is shaped by dreams. Or more to the point, nightmares. It is reputed to respond very strongly to the fears and anxieties of human beings. But I wonder why it took shapes so close to the Minion's?"
"Gee, maybe it was because we got chased last night by the Minion!" Frank exclaimed sarcastically. "I wonder what will chase us tomorrow night? Can we go home now?"
Connor became very intent. "You saw the Minion last night? Where? How?"
Frank relayed the story. Connor registered surprise, saying, "I wouldn't have expected it to give up so easily. I would have expected it to flatten the house to get an escaping meal . . ."
Frank drew a deep breath. "Well, fortunately, it didn't."
There was a brief pause. Paul finally asked, "Who built that temple? The Indians?"
"No, Paul, it's far older than even them," Connor answered. "The builders are not recorded in anything I've read. Who knows? Maybe the Xinaians . . .," he finished, his mind wandering elsewhere.
"What is the Minion?" Frank prompted.
"Ah, yes . . . a good question. I wish that I knew. You've read, in that journal and spellbook, as much as I have about the Minion. The Wything clan were apparently the only humans to ever know of it.
"Apparently, it's some being from the same 'place' as Hnarqu. Hnarqu came to Earth through a rift in space, much the same as the one we used to dispatch him. The Minion must have been summoned the same way by the first Wything, his mind reeling from the loss of his master. I can only assume it's a similar being, but lesser in power. Apparently the Wythings controlled it and kept it underground here, under the temple, for around two centuries -- so it can't be that powerful."
Paul interrupted, "But it looks so different from Hnarqu! I wouldn't call them similar beings at all. The Minion was a dark, winged shape."
"I assumed as much from the references in the journal. I meant similar in a metaphysical sense."
Frank and Paul were unable to make much sense out of this or the following exposition. Eventually, all three went to bed, agreeing to return to the temple the next day. Despite the younger men's assurances, Connor believed there to be a passage leading off of the temple.
The next day Frank and Paul evidenced high spirits. Connor's return provided them with a sense of safety and power. At breakfast, Frank forwarded an idea. "We've got a spell here for the dissolution of the Minion," he said, gesturing to the spellbook. "Can't we just use that."
"Indeed, that's what I hope to do," his elder replied. "But we can't just stand outside, or even in the temple, and cast it. If you read through it, the immediate physical presence of the Minion is needed. So we need to find it -- not only that, but get closer than any sane person would want!"
"Greaaaaat!" Frank responded.
"I have committed the rite to memory, and I have the spell's components assembled in this pouch." From a full pouch at his waist he drew two glass spheres, inside which a brownish liquid sloshed. "These aren't necessary, but they could help. Meeting that man was a stroke of luck!"
Paul eyed the spheres. "You used one of those last night?"
"Right," Connor replied. "The Spheres of Nicolyodis. That liquid is extremely volatile, and inimical to certain creatures. It did not explode in and of itself -- its vapor ignited the two spoor-beasts." Paul and Frank nodded, wide-eyed.
"So! Let us be off. Lead me to the temple that you discovered."
Other than two charred spots on the grass, no sign of the previous night's encounter remained. They passed their walk to the temple with light talk of Connor's experiences in his new house. The older man had not seen the Minion; most of his time in the house had been spent locating family documents, among which he found the spellbook and the journal, tucked away in an attic that hadn't been touched in a century.
Frank took them on a different route to the entrance, hoping to find the oculus which admitted light to the chamber below. Despite his professed good sense of direction, however, the group could not find any opening. "It's got to be hidden in these trees somewhere," Frank insisted, but soon allowed them to continue on.
The opening from the day before had been greatly expanded. Frank and Paul shuddered, knowing what had clawed its way out after them. They steeled themselves to seeing that pool again and listened to what Connor had to say: "Remember, the spoor picks up fear and shapes itself based on that. Clear your mind of all fear."
Frank joked, "Now that we're afraid of the pool, maybe it will turn into a pool!"
"Keep all of that out of your mind. It's just an unusual pool; you cannot be afraid of it."
With that, he led the way underground. This time all three had flashlights. The going was tough at the beginning, as much earth had been loosened by their pursuers the night before. They had to make their way carefully over the mounds of earth without displacing more, which could bury them alive. Finally they reached the stone-lined passage and could walk upright again.
They made their way into the huge chamber, finding it unchanged. Connor crossed the bridge first, then Frank, then Paul. As Paul crossed, however, a tentacle whipped out of the dark sludge and tried to wrap itself around his ankle. He lurched forward to avoid it and almost slipped off the bridge, but managed to make it to the far side.
Hearing Paul slip, Frank turned and saw the tentacle. He gasped and drew back at the sight; the pool exploded in response. Tentacles and eyestalks surged forward as Paul and Frank ran for the inner chamber. Connor, however, stood his ground. Finding his other charms ineffectual, he quickly drew out one of the precious spheres and cast it deep into the pool. Harsh flames flared immediately and spread over the surface. A keening wail rose from all around them.
Connor turned and moved toward the portal quickly. "We'd better hope there's a hidden passage in here, because we won't get out this way for a while. If ever," he added.
Frank and Paul flanked him as he entered the tomb chamber. Reflections of the flames danced eerily over the glossy platform, making it seem to glow from inside. The corpse leered from the same position it had the day before. The carvings and hieroglyphs on the surrounding walls, though, seemed to writhe and twist in the firelight. The keening continued through it all. These things combined to make the trio's search for a hidden door very difficult indeed.
The situation removed the need to find the hidden door within a few minutes of their arrival, however. Frank stopped and asked, "Do you feel the ground trembling?"
Connor and Paul paused. The former said, "Yeees, I think I do. It might just be the agony of that thing outside, though."
Paul walked toward the platform and observed, "It's stronger over here." As the swelling strengthened, he backed away again.
They had two seconds' time to react when Connor said, "Oh no . . . shield your faces!" The top two stairs of the dais exploded into deadly shards which shattered on the walls above their heads. Many shards flew out at a lower angle, however, and the three were covered in a variety of slashes and gashes.
As they lowered their arms, they saw what had come to answer the death-cries of the star-spoor. Hovering over the dais on three asymmetrical, strangely bent wings, the jet-black Minion seemed to dampen the firelight. Mouths all along its arms and torso sucked wetly at the air and gnashed sharp, tiny teeth. What could have been rudimentary legs fused into a tail at the end, which it dragged on the ground. But topping it all was a visage they recognized, a human visage with a hawklike nose and protuberant forehead. The face swelled into a massive mandible which, as they watched, opened up as if to utter a piercing cry. Not a sound came out, however; only the rhythmic beating of the three wings could be heard.
Connor fumbled in his pouch, setting out the various charms and spell components he had brought, and chalking a couple of quick glyphs which picked up a diffuse aura from the firelight behind him.
Connor began to chant the strange syllables he had memorized; the misshapen black thing seemed to shrink back as the chant began. After some hesitation, it surged forward at the man. A few feet away, though, it began to writhe and beat at the air, coming no closer, as if fighting a wall of the old man's words. It retreated a safe distance and continued to flap; the man's voice began to rise and reverberate throughout the large chamber.
The flapping of the things wings took up an odd, alien rhythm which no human could have ever repeated or even remembered. As the cadences continued, the very walls of the temple seemed to repeat them in a fearful swelling. To their own surprise, Paul and Frank found themselves uttering a chant in another language, a chant which fit perfectly to the rhythm of the Minion's wings.
At this turn of event, Connor's eyes opened wide in surprise. The Minion visibly swelled in the air before him, drawing power from the chants. Connor's voice began to fade, while Frank's and Paul's reached a deafening crescendo.
Suddenly, the older man lunged forward, thrusting his foot at his one remaining liquid-filled sphere. His toe caught the sphere and sent it soaring across to the flapping monstrosity. Flames erupted on its chest, and again the powerful jaw opened in a noiseless cry.
The rhythm had been broken, however, and Frank and Paul were looking around the chamber with disoriented, glazed expressions. Connor bent over to hastily re-chalk a disturbed glyph and immediately continued the chant.
Quickly, the flames disappeared from the black creature and it restarted the rhythm, but it was too late. In a surging voice, Connor completed the last few guttural syllables.
The change was drastic and immediate. The thing's features seemed to get drawn inward; mouths peeled back; the skin wrinkled and writhed. Its wings stopped flapping and it fell to the floor with a shuddering thud. Parts of it began to simply melt away, and soon there was nothing left of it.
Connor took a deep, triumphant breath, and then turned to look outside. The pool, where flames were beginning to die, was whipped into a frenzy. Some of the shapes began to pull themselves out onto the stone flagging. At the same time, the whole temple began to shake.
"We must hurry!" Connor called out, and moved over to the dais. Frank and Paul shook off their stupor and neared it as well. Looking down into the shattered top, they could see a tunnel and a few fragments of Simon Wything's corpse in with some collapsed obsidian.
Connor went over the edge, holding on with his hands, and lowered himself. He slid down the passage wall the last few feet and glanced at his bloodied, cut hands. Paul followed suit. Frank waited for the two to clear and took a single jump down, landing in a crouch. The three hurried along the passage, which began to shake from loud impacts above.
The passage was a natural-looking cave through the solid stone. It led away from the temple and a little bit downward. When the group was a few dozen feet in, cut stone began to collapse through the opening.
"We should be safe here," Connor gasped, and began to slow down. He had to put hands out to the others to slow them, however.
They took a leisurely pace through the cave, which emptied into a larger cavern. A few stalactites dotted the ceiling. It was spacious, but not so large as to be out of the range of their lights.
Connor's light picked out a single opening on the far side. As they made their way towards it, they passed a petite skeleton covered in some calcium deposits. Connor squatted down briefly and wondered, "The Indian girl?" Her pelvic and leg bones were completely shattered.
As the three made their way up through the second cave and eventually back into the sun, Connor breathed, "I wonder how many births she lived through?"
Created: March 12, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004