what did Nyarlathotep have to do with it?
Part 1. Connections
Ron Sheffler laid the opened book face down on his computer desk, then sat back, rubbing his tired eyes. He had been going through the book since early afternoon, and with late evening coming on, he'd gotten no further ahead then he'd been when he'd started his perusal. He knew the answer was there, somewhere. There was some connection in those pages, and some connection to the dreams about Egypt he'd been having of late. Paul Bergen had alluded to the book connection in his last letter to Ron, but Paul had never found the answer. He, like Pete Worley and Cory Wentworth, had disappeared without a trace.
The answer has to be there! Ron sighed as he glanced at the cover of the book. The Nyarlathotep Cycle, published by Chaosium, Inc. Ron ran the story titles through his mind. Nothing there . . . just a collection of various stories using the Nyarlathotep theme. Of course Ron knew full well the truth of Nyarlathotep, that although the stories might be fiction in context and content, the fact remained that Nyarlathotep himself was far from being fiction. But that wasn't the connection. There was something else . . . something hidden, unseen.
Ron shook his head, and glanced at the active computer screen. On the screen was the title page of his archival material -- The Innsmouth Archives -- a file Ron had been compiling for nearly three years. It was his job as a member of the Celaeno Project to compile useful material pertaining to Innsmouth in the event that some action against the Massachusetts seaside village need be taken. All the members of the Celaeno Project had their specific duties, their specific research areas, but the Project members were disappearing. Someone or something was destroying the project, and Ron was certain the clue to who and why lay in the pages of The Nyarlathotep Cycle.
Ron's thoughts shifted. Siva. Maybe that's it . . . Bob Price's introduction about the similarities between . . . Ron turned his eyes from the computer screen back to the cover of the book. Siva, maybe . . . As he reached for the book, his thoughts were interrupted by the soft flash of heat lightning in the distance. A soft peel of thunder echoed through his study as he turned his eyes to the window. A storm was brewing in the distance. It was going to be another one of those nights, a storm clawing its way across the Texas plains.
A shadow suddenly crossed in front of the window, and Ron swore he could have seen a soft shimmering of red flutter for an instant in the darkness beyond the window pane. A brooding pall suddenly overcame him; it was an instant and seemingly irrational fear of something he could not pinpoint, but he knew it was real, tangible. And then he knew beyond all doubt -- it's come for me, just as it came for Paul, Cory, and Pete!
"Dammit!" Ron whispered under his breath as he turned back to his computer. His fingers flew over the keys. The Innsmouth Archives file disappeared from the screen to be replaced by another file, its title reading: "Personal Diary of Ron Sheffler." Ron began a final entry . . .
". . . I couldn't find anything in the book, but it doesn't matter now. Too late . . . much too late. It's come for me, whatever IT is. Just like Wentworth, Bergen, and Worley. Now me. The dreams . . . the book is the key . . . something in the book . . ."
And the window imploded, sending small shards of glass all through the study. Ron flinched, hunched his shoulders and shielded his eyes from the flying glass. As the raining glass settled, Ron glanced toward what remained of the window. The window was gone, as was most of the sill . . . the wood siding framing the window was splintered and peeled back. A flash of heat lightning highlighted the damage.
Ron gasped, his eyes grew wide, his heart leapt into his throat. He could feel the presence, interminable evil . . . if the term evil could be used to describe it. There, somewhere in the study, IT was lurking, and it didn't take Ron long to find it. He slowly turned his head, training on his senses, hoping he wouldn't see what he knew he WOULD see. And it was there, opposite the window . . . towering at least eight feet tall, and dressed in a red silken cloak.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, Ron's mind tried to grasp an appraisal. But deep inside he knew the truth and did not want to admit the identity of the figure. He squeezed it out, a soft whisper, "Nyarlathotep." And as the Black God stepped toward him, Ron slowly leaned toward his computer. Instinctively, he reached a hand to the keyboard and pressed a button. His diary file was saved.
Nyarlathotep rounded the desk, and Ron pushed back in his chair. The Black God, towering over Ron, raised an arm toward him, an empty sleeve. Wispy tendrils of smoky vapor suddenly erupted from the sleeve and formed into a smoky hand, the fingers exceedingly elongated. The smoky fingers grasped the top of Ron's head, and in the night no one heard the screams.
Silence descended on the study, the soft light of the computer screen reflecting in the shards of glass that littered the desk. Outside, the storm was gaining strength as it neared, the peel of thunder more frequent, the flash of lightning stronger, traces of streaking light clawing across the sky. The study was empty -- the Black God was gone, and so was Ron Sheffler. And on the desk a clue was left behind. Lying next to The Nyarlathotep Cycle was a small strip of parchment containing a circled letter "N," five hieroglyphic figures, and a cartouche.
Jake Andersen walked the grass-covered floor between the great stone walls of the long abandoned Lusk's Lock. Lusk's Lock had been one of the many lock systems along the seventy-plus mile stretch of the old Sandy and Beaver Canal. The canal had been built in the mid-1800's as a spur of the Erie and Ohio Canal system, Lusk's Lock a part of the lower end of the canal located between Lisbon and East Liverpool, Ohio. Lisbon was, and is, the county seat of Columbiana County; East Liverpool -- a trade center which had arisen at the confluence of Beaver Creek and the Ohio River.
The lower end course of the old Sandy and Beaver Canal ran parallel to Beaver Creek, the old canal meant as a means for river traffic to bypass the shallows and occasional swift current rapids of Beaver Creek. The water still ran the course of Beaver Creek, but the course of the Sandy and Beaver Canal had long since run dry, most of its course now thick with an overgrowth of brush, weeds, grass, and trees. The course of the canal was now nearly vanished, the ruins of the few remaining locks the only trace of the once man-made waterway. And of the few ruinous locks remaining, only Lusk's Lock remained mostly intact.
It had been years since Jake had been in Columbiana County and even longer since he had seen Lusk's Lock. He puzzled over why he had even come here to the lock, what impulse had driven him down to the rolling hills in the southern part of the county where the old black stone block walls of the lock sat nestled along Beaver Creek just east of Elkton. Those great stone walls ran parallel with one another, each end of the parallel walls forming huge curving staircases.
Hmmmm . . . huge black stone blocks! Like something from R'lyeh! The thought rankled Jake, but he quickly passed it off. It was his familiarity with the works of Lovecraft that stimulated his view of the lock walls, a view he did not have when last he had been here. The last time Jake had been to Lusk's Lock, some twenty or so years before, those huge black stone blocks were -- huge black stone blocks. Nothing more. Lovecraft was yet to come. When Lovecraft DID come, Jake was changed forever. And that change in Jake was what ultimately had driven him back to Columbiana County. R'lyeh my ass! I came here to get away from that stuff . . .!
"Troubled, Jake?" came a familiar voice from atop the black stone wall on Jake's left.
Jake stopped in his tracks and glanced up. Standing on the edge of the stone wall and peering down at Jake was Lawrence Whateley. His hands shoved in his jacket pockets, his wire rimmed glasses riding on the edge of his nose, a grin slowly crawled across Whateley's face. Whateley, a short and stocky man with grizzled gray hair, was in his fifties, seemingly so at least to Jake, but Jake was certain he was much older, perhaps centuries older.
Whateley was a wise and learned man of old New England stock, perhaps just "Old England" stock. Jake really wasn't sure where Whateley came from. But Jake knew that Whateley had been fighting the Great Old Ones for a long, long time, and that Whateley knew things about the Great Old Ones that even he refused to talk about unless it was absolutely imperative -- a life threatening situation. And it had been Whateley who had enlisted Jake into the "Celaeno Project" several years before, an association Jake had regretted many times, but an association Jake had never been able to divorce himself from -- even if he'd wanted to.
"How did you find me?" Jake said, more a statement than a question.
"You need to ask? Here? In this place?" Whateley chuckled, trying to lighten Jake's mood. Whateley raised his arms, gesturing about. "Come on, Jake, Columbiana County with all that goes on around here? And it's your home!"
Jake shook his head, grumbled at the thought of what Whateley had just said, then glanced back up at the older man. "What goes on around here . . .," Jake's voice was laced with sarcasm. "I don't care what goes on around here. I came home to write, not to . . . not to . . . track anything down."
Jake didn't wait for Whateley to reply. He turned away, shoved his hands in his jacket pockets, and continued on slowly between the great stone walls. Atop the stone wall, Whateley remained silent as he paced Jake toward the southeast end of the lock.
"So, why are you here?" Jake finally voiced softly, his eyes trained on the grass at his feet.
"We've lost Ron Sheffler," Whateley replied, his voice turning cold and serious.
Whateley's reply trailed away as Jake stepped past the southeastern end of the great stone lock. He stopped, glanced to his right. The waters of nearby Beaver Creek glistened in the dwindling evening sun. "I was afraid you'd say something like that," Jake replied softly as Whateley began to descend the huge curving staircase seemingly meant for other than human feet. "When?" Jake added as he noted Whateley's approach.
"Two days ago."
There was silence as the two of them slowly walked toward the bank of Beaver Creek. Jake studied the placid waters of the creek, docile and dark green. Off to the right, somewhere around the bend, rapids could be heard trickling over rock. These waters . . . so innocent. But Jake knew they weren't. He had heard the story about H'chtelegoth rising from these very waters. And a few years back, an old classmate of Jake's, Ray Carson, had disappeared several miles to the west near Dungannon. Ray had been doing the same as he, the same as Whateley, Pete Worley, Ron Sheffler, Paul Bergen, and Cory Wentworth -- fighting the Great Old Ones. And Ray had disappeared. Only a hastily scribbled series of notes resembling a diary was left. . . . some black horror the locals had whispered. A black horror, Hell, a shoggoth! It was a damn shoggoth! And there was that house, the one on the hill off Church Hill Road . . .
It seemed there was no place on Earth that the Great Old Ones hadn't touched. Not even here, Jake's home, a place he had never thought as being touched by an abhorrent collection of alien beings that most people could never comprehend. But touch they certainly had, and even more so -- they had quite a foothold here in the forested hills of southern Columbiana County. And most of the locals were completely unaware of the true nature of the events.
"Ron was building an archive file on Innsmouth activities. The Deep Ones . . .," Jake began, his eyes trained on the creek.
"It's not the Deep Ones," Whateley interrupted.
"How can you be sure?" Jake questioned. He turned his gaze to Whateley.
Whateley paused, his eyes intent on the bank on the far side of the creek. He sighed as his mind began to reflect on the contents of Ron's diary. "I was able to pull something out of his computer. He was keeping a diary . . .," Whateley said softly, then paused as he reached inside his jacket. Pulling a folded piece of paper from the inside pocket of his jacket, Whateley handed the paper to Jake. "Here . . ."
Jake took the paper, unfolded it, glanced over the contents, then began to read the diary aloud, picking up on an arbitrary entry. "'August 19th. They were here again last night. They or it or whatever. I heard the voices, then the whippoorwills. I'm convinced more than ever that the answer to Paul, Cory, & Pete's disappearance is to be found in the book. . . .'" Jake paused, glanced at Whateley, then turned his attention back to Ron's diary. He picked up with the final two days before Ron's disappearance. "'August 20th. Happy birthday HPL. If you only knew, or could help. More voices and whippoorwills last night. I've got an eerie feeling that I'm next in line. Whoever or whatever they are, they're effectively dismantling the Celaeno Project. I paged through the book again, and still nothing . . . August 21st . . . I couldn't find anything in the book, but it doesn't matter now. Too late . . . much too late. It's come for me, whatever IT is. Just like Wentworth, Bergen, and Worley. Now me. The dreams . . . the book is the key . . . something in the book. . . .'"
Jake lowered the page and turned his blank eyes to the creek, his mind in turmoil. Whateley remained quiet, waiting on a reaction, watching as Jake slowly stepped to the edge of the creek bank, toe at the water, then turn to face him.
"What book was he talking about?" Jake asked softly.
"The Nyarlathotep Cycle."
"Are you certain?" Jake questioned as he slowly walked back to where Whateley stood.
"That's the one common thread," Whateley said softly, Jake noticing the striking and unblinking deep pools of gray that were Whateley's eyes. "They were all reading or researching The Nyarlathotep Cycle when they disappeared."
Jake paused, his mind a moment of reflection. Things didn't add up, and Jake was certain Whateley would never have tracked him down just to let him know another of the Celaeno Project had vanished. There was much more to it, Jake was certain, something Whateley wasn't saying. And Jake knew that wasn't like Whateley . . . to hide things, cover things up. "All right, level with me Larry," Jake finally said. "Why did you come here just to tell me this?"
Whateley paused as he shoved his hands into his coat pockets. He fingered the slip of paper in his left jacket pocket, wondering whether to approach Jake with it now or wait. Whateley knew the implications were obvious, but still there was something missing, or at least something that was eluding him. He shrugged it off, released the strip of paper, knowing it could wait, at least wait for now.
"I'm afraid you're next," Whateley replied. It was the truth, but not a total explanation.
"You came here to tell me that you think I'm next?" Jake was incredulous. "Me? Why me? I'm just a fiction writer . . .!"
"And just as dangerous to them," Whateley broke in. "Remember, Lovecraft was a fiction writer. And besides, you ARE a member of the Celaeno Project, and they know it."
"I'm not going to deal with this now," Jake said coldly as he shoved the page from Ron's diary back at Whateley, then turned and walked away.
Whateley watched as Jake skirted Lusk's Lock, headed for the path that followed the creek back to the place he had parked. "You're going to have to deal with it sooner or later, Jake!" Whateley called out.
At the far end of Lusk's Lock, Jake suddenly turned and glanced back at Whateley. "And no!" he shouted to Whateley.
"No, I'm not troubled!" Jake replied. "You asked me, remember? Just a mild case of writer's block!"
"Jake! Keep your eyes open!"
Jake grinned and waved as he began to step backward. "Yeah, right, as if it would do any good," he said softly, knowing Whateley could not hear him due to the distance which now separated them. And then he turned, and disappeared around the far end of the lock, leaving Whateley standing alone on the bank of Beaver Creek.
Jake pushed back from his desk and stared at the old beat up Olympia typewriter. The page in the carriage was blank. Nothing would come, the writer's block intact and as strong as ever. His writer's block had an ally, an accomplice, and that was Lawrence Whateley. Events were unfolding, rapidly -- the Celaeno Project dissolving, one member after another. How long it would go on, and who would be next, Jake didn't know. And yet, Whateley was convinced that he, Jake Andersen, was next on the list.
How the Hell does he know? Jake had an ill feeling. Things didn't look good, and it occupied his thoughts to the point of no story production. Well, if the Great Old Ones don't want me to write, they are doing a good job of stopping me. They sure don't have to come and get me . . . just make me scared. Good enough.
Jake played the scene over and over in his mind -- Lusk's Lock and Whateley, Ron Sheffler's diary, the mention of the book The Nyarlathotep Cycle, and dreams . . . "The dreams," Jake whispered the thought. "His diary, he said something about dreams."
Dreams were mentioned, but with no elaboration. No explanation. Jake wondered what Ron's dreams had been, their content. He sighed, reflecting on his own strange dreams of late. Ancient Egypt, hieroglyphs, stone altars, monuments, desert sand. Jake laughed a soft uncertain laugh. It was too much of a coincidence. Dreaming of Ancient Egypt and then Lawrence Whateley shows up and mentions The Nyarlathotep Cycle.
A recurrent theme crawled into his thoughts. He shook his head, sorting through the images, trying to make sense of it. There had been images superimposed over the scenes of Ancient Egypt -- a cartouche, four hieroglyphic figures, and a circle . . . a circle enclosing a letter.
"N," Jake thought aloud. "The letter N."
Ron had been right, Jake was sure of it. Somewhere in that book was a connection, an answer to everything that was going on. If only he could find . . . Jake spun around in his chair, glanced at the makeshift bookcase along the wall behind him. There were few books on the series of shelves -- shelves made of planking supported by building blocks. He laughed at the makeshift bookcase, but it served its purpose. After all, he came here to write, and the few books he brought were for entertainment and research purposes. No need to be extravagant. His rental choice certainly was not -- a small mobile home along Beaver Creek just west of Lisbon. It would do, peace and quiet, no interruptions. It didn't matter. He still couldn't write.
Jake forced himself lazily from his desk chair and approached the makeshift bookcase. He scanned the titles . . . a lot of Lovecraft-oriented material for research, Gothic ghosties (as Jake liked to call them) for entertainment, a few texts on obscure cults, and a stack of historical notes on the covered bridges of Columbiana County for a future project that Jake was certain he'd never get around to. He brushed all of them from his mind but one -- the one his eyes settled upon. The copper lettering on the white border jumped out at him. And Jake reached for the book, The Nyarlathotep Cycle.
"I need coffee," he softly voiced his addiction, and the Lock 24 Restaurant in Elkton came to mind. Cradling the book under one arm, he grabbed his car keys, turned off the desk lamp, and left the trailer.
Jake sat in a darkened corner booth in the Lock 24 Restaurant, sipping his coffee, and paging through his copy of The Nyarlathotep Cycle. In his initial survey of the text he was as baffled as Ron apparently was . . . at least as much as his diary had indicated. Ron had gone over the text again and again, and found nothing. If Ron hadn't found anything, then how the Hell am I . . .?
The case for Siva that Bob Price had made in the introduction was very well founded, at least it seemed so to Jake. He was preoccupied with the concept, perhaps more than he should have been. He couldn't place his doubt, but for some reason Jake was certain the connection Ron had hinted at had nothing at all to do with Siva. There was something else, something hidden or . . . perhaps not so hidden, but rather so plain and evident that he, Ron, and whomever else had sought the connection was just overlooking the obvious.
Okay. Now, Nyarlathotep. Egypt. What's the damn connection? It was irritating, and Jake was becoming exasperated. He knew that the chances of finding a connection in The Nyarlathotep Cycle was next to impossible without having to reread the entire book, and then sort out the facts. Or at least attempt to sort out the facts. And if Whateley was right, and he was next on the list, then time was paramount, and Jake was certain that time was something he did not have on his side.
"Do you mind?" came Whateley's voice.
Jake glanced up to see the short wizened man standing at the head of the booth. "No, not at all! Sit down Larry . . ."
"Ah, in a better mood, I see," Whateley replied as he slid into the booth across the table from Jake. "Your writer's block must have crumbled."
Jake chuckled halfheartedly. "No, not really, still can't write, but you certainly do have a knack for finding me."
"Well, we don't exactly run in different circles, you know," Whateley smiled as he glanced at the book and picked it up. Whateley turned the books over in his hands, glancing at the front and back covers as though inspecting it for flaws. "Hmmm, nice artwork," Whateley added, then laying the book down, he crossed his arms on the table and glanced at Jake. "I see you're trying to find the connection."
"Yeah, well, Ron mentioned dreams in his diary . . .," Jake began. "I suppose I should have mentioned this before, but I've been having some strange dreams myself."
"Strange dreams?" Whateley's mood shifted, a somber pall crawling across his features.
"Egypt," Jake nodded. "Monuments, tombs, hieroglyphs . . . ethereal in a way. Strange because the images I see seemed to be superimposed with specific images . . ."
"What images," Whateley's voice was quick and sharp, startling Jake.
"Just strange images, meaningless really," Jake replied. "A cartouche, four individual hieroglyphic symbols, and . . ."
"Five symbols," Whateley corrected. "And an encircled letter 'N.' Like this." Whateley pulled the slip of paper from his pocket and laid it on the table.
Jake stared at the slip of paper in disbelief. It was a parchment that contained the exact same images Jake had seen in his dreams, only ordered as opposed to random images. "Where did you get this?" Jake whispered, looking up at Whateley.
"It was found on the desk in Ron's study," Whateley replied. "That's why I'm here. I was going to show you earlier out by the creek, but decide against it. I didn't know you were already having the dreams."
"Already having the dreams?"
"Yes, Ron was having them before he disappeared; he mentioned them in his diary," Whateley said softly. "Whether or not Paul, Cory, and Pete were having the dreams is anybody's guess; this same parchment was found where Paul, Cory, and Pete each disappeared. So I would assume they were having the dreams as well."
"What does it mean?" Jake questioned, glancing back at the parchment.
"I am not sure," Whateley said. "The five hieroglyphic symbols, four of them as you say, since two are identical, are in no specific order that spells out anything. I've also checked a listing of the kings and queens of dynastic Egypt, and none of them have this cartouche, and this letter N in the circle . . ."
"Nyarlathotep," Jake said suddenly, interrupting Whateley. He didn't know why the thought came to him; it just did.
"Nyarlathotep," Jake repeated. "The N in the circle."
Whateley glanced at the parchment, nodding his head. "Yes, that is possible."
"Do you mind?" Jake questioned, reaching for the parchment.
"No, not at all," Whateley said. "I've got the others from when Paul, Cory, and Pete disappeared."
"Good," Jake said, his voice excited. "Well, hate to drink and run, . . ." he added as he stuffed the parchment between the pages of The Nyarlathotep Cycle. He paused long enough to gulp down half his lukewarm coffee, then slammed the coffee cup down on the table. ". . . but I wanna check this out." With the book in hand, Jake was half out of the booth before he finished the sentence.
"Hey, keep in touch," Whateley said hurriedly. "You find anything . . ."
"I'm sure you'll find me," Jake interrupted, and was half way to the door before Whateley could say anything more.
Whateley, his thoughts dim, turned in the booth. He rested an arm across the back of the bench, and watched as Jake disappeared out the door.
"Can I help you sir?"
"Wha . . .?" Whateley said, shaking his head clear as he glanced up at the waitress who was standing there with pen and pad in hand. "Ah, no thanks." And as the waitress turned away, his thoughts spoke a truth that the waitress could never have understood. I'm not the one that needs help.
Jake hurried across the parking lot to toward his car. His mind mulled over research material
. . . a text on Egyptology. Where to get one was his primary concern. Youngstown State University was too far away, at least too far to alleviate his impatience for wont of a text. Kent State branch campuses were the logical choice, either East Liverpool or Salem. They were closer, the Salem branch closest. Salem it is . . .
A sudden slight movement out of the corner of his eye brought Jake's impatience to a walk. Slowing his pace, he glanced to the side of the parking lot. A boy was standing there looking at him, a farm boy with a small black and white goat. Evidently a pet goat. Jake felt an uneasiness as he noted the goat turning its head, seemingly glaring at him. There was something about those eyes, giving Jake the impression that the goat knew something or saw something that human eyes could not see or understand.
"Theys inishuls, no words," the boy suddenly said.
"What?" Jake questioned as he stopped.
"Those pichers on the paper," the boy replied. "Theys inishuls."
"What are you ta . . .?" Jake began, but stopped in mid-sentence as the boy turned and scampered off, the goat trailing at his heels. Jake stood and watched until the boy and his goat disappeared amidst the trees. He shook his head, glanced at the restaurant entrance, then continued on toward his car.
And reaching for the door handle of his car, Jake suddenly realized what the boy had meant. "No words, only initials," Jake voiced his thoughts softly. "The hieroglyphs are initials, not words."
Part 2. The Dreamer
It was a disjointed dream world that Jake was viewing. Fractured images flashed before his eyes -- people, places, and things, but all with the same theme . . . circles. There were factions, cliques, circles within circles. The images were given over to names: Ib, Lovecraft, Celaeno, Shub-Niggurath, Mennufer, Ithaqua, Whateley, Iunu, The King . . . in Yellow, a god . . . in red, Nyarlathotep . . . circles within . . . circles. The circles became manifest in motion, a blur . . . everything spun, spiraled. Jake's feet caught hold, and he was lurched sideways, stumbling. He caught his fall, steadied himself, and looked around.
It was night. There was a deathly silence. A full moon in the sky bathed the landscape in a soft ethereal light. Off to one side a brazier was pitched in the sand, its coals glowing softly, the vapor disappearing into the night. Nothing moved. All about him Jake saw ruins -- toppled red granite columns, huge stone slabs, crumbling walls, a towering sand-choked pile of blocks that resembled a huge crumbling pyramid. There was no doubt in Jake's mind. This was Egypt. But where in Egypt
. . .?
Someone had to be there, the brazier attested to that. Jake glanced at the pan of soft coals as he slowly approached what appeared to be the base of two red granite columns. The brazier was planted in the sand just off to the left and a little beyond the two columns, seemingly at the entrance of what had once been a corridor of some kind. Now all that remained of the corridor was a sand covered floor, a crumbling wall made of blocks on the left, and on the right what appeared to be a series of stone slabs in the form of alcoves or niches.
Jake passed between the two column bases, and slowly approached the brazier. Who . . . what? But Jake forced the thought from his mind. He was certain he'd soon find out. His eyes caught a gap in the left corridor wall just past the brazier. Beyond that wall, to the left, was a large pit. Evidently something had been there at one time. The sand, the blocks, the crumbling walls, the towering structure resembling a decaying pyramid -- all of these were Egypt, and yet, Jake could not place the locale. Certainly not Giza; certainly not Waset. Certainly somewhere else . . .
"Welcome to Abusir!" a voice suddenly called out as if in answer to Jake's thoughts, a voice Jake knew well.
Jake tore his eyes away from the brazier and focused on the figure sitting atop one of the stone slabs just off to the right. "Ron? What's going on . . . where are . . .?"
Ron Sheffler raised his arms, gesturing about where he sat. "I believe this would be the temple treasury rooms," Ron interrupted, and glancing over his shoulder, he added, "And behind me there, at the base of the pyramid, is the temple sanctuary!" Ron glanced at Jake and smiled. Planting his hands on the stone slab for support, he jumped to his feet and slowly approached Jake in the ruined corridor. "Exquisite, isn't it?"
Jake was baffled by Ron's demeanor. Ron was evidently pleased with himself, delighted to be among these ruins of Ancient Egypt -- like nothing had happened, like he was on vacation! This was certainly not the same Ron Sheffler that Jake had known, not the same Ron Sheffler whose diary excerpt Jake had read on the bank of Beaver Creek.
"Abusir?" Jake questioned, the first thing to surface from his puzzled thoughts.
"Ah, yes, Abusir," Ron confirmed. "This is the pyramid complex of King Sahure'. He was the second king of the 5th Dynasty . . . ahhhhhbout 2450 BCE, I believe," Ron added, drawing out the "a" in the word "about" as he pinpointed in his mind the average date of Sahure's rule. "Too bad it isn't daylight! You could see Giza in the distance to the north!"
"Why here?" Jake asked.
"Ah, no particular reason," Ron answered. "It's just a place." Ron paused as a grin crawled over his features. There was a strange light in his eyes, and his voice was nearly a whisper when he spoke again. "On the other hand, just north of here is the Sun Temple of Userkaf, the first king of the 5th Dynasty. Hardly anything there anymore. What's important is what lies beneath it . . . far, far older than this place."
"What lies beneath . . .?" Jake began.
"A pre-dynastic burial chamber," another voice interrupted. It was Cory Wentworth, standing between the two column bases. Cory sighed as he glanced at the surroundings. "Certainly not a place you'd find Shub-Niggurath! Ah, but hey, we all have our task to perform."
"What's going on here?" Jake blurted out. "What task?"
"The task is the circle," came a voice at Jake's left shoulder.
Jake turned to see Paul Bergen standing there.
"The circle," came Pete Worley's voice from directly behind Jake.
"The circle," Ron smiled.
"Yes, the circle," Cory said, suddenly appearing at Jake's right shoulder.
Jake glanced at the four men that surrounded him. Cory, Paul, and Pete had the same strange light in their eyes, the same strange light that had suddenly overcome Ron. There was deep wisdom, a knowledge that Jake didn't know, didn't understand. And they were quite content to only give Jake bits of information.
"All right, what are we doing here?" Jake said in frustration. "What's gong on?"
"You're not here," Paul said softly. "We are, but you're not."
"You're asleep," Cory added. "Nice and comfortable on your couch back in Ohio."
"This is a dream," Ron said. "Just to let you know."
"Let me know what?" Jake questioned.
"The circle," Pete said. "Soon the circle will be complete. You are the 5th. It is written on the parchment. The five symbols are the circle . . . the circle . . . the . . ."
circle . . . the circle . . . the circle . . . thhhe . . . ciiirclllleee . . . Pete's words trailed away, disappearing deep into Jake's mind as the world was wrenched from beneath Jake's feet. He suddenly felt weightlessness. Trying to regain his composure, Jake glanced down, saw the world spinning a slow circle beneath him as he moved higher into the night sky. Far below and receding in the distance were the ruins of Sahure's pyramid complex, and standing there in the ruined corridor next to the brazier, Jake could make out four figures -- Ron, Paul, Cory, and Pete -- all of them standing there, looking up into the sky, looking up at Jake as he spiraled upward into the heavens.
And then all was dark. There was a rushing sound as if Jake were barreling down a long black tunnel. He felt his weight slowly returning. In a burst of consciousness Jake felt a forward pressure mount suddenly, and realized he was forcing himself to sit up. The rushing sound suddenly ceased. He gasped for air, opened his eyes, and squinted as he focused them. He found himself on the couch in his trailer along Beaver Creek. Outside, through a window, was darkness. Night had come.
"A circle of five," Jake whispered the thought.
He turned on the couch and glanced toward his writing desk. The small desk lamp was still lit, and stacked neatly to one side were the books Jake had acquired earlier in the evening at Kent State University, Salem Branch. He virtually had to sign his life away to get them. It was of no matter to the library desk clerk that Jake had been a student there nearly twenty five years earlier. Twenty five years was a long time; perhaps it had been an irrational thought on Jake's part.
Jake forced himself off the couch and stumbled to the desk. He pulled the chair back, sat, and slid the three books in front of him. He glanced at their covers, one after another, reading the titles. There were three of them -- Early Dynastic Egypt by Michael Minneaus; Texts in Hieroglyph by James Ambrel; and Religion in Ancient Egypt by Ian Davis. Jake wasn't sure if he'd find the connection Ron had sought for so desperately in The Nyarlathotep Cycle, but at least he felt certain that with these books, he'd be able to decipher the parchment . . . or at least part of it.
The kid said initials, the five symbols are initials, not a name or word. The Ambrel book should help with that . . . Jake set the Davis and Minneaus books aside, and began to page through the Ambrel book. He sighed, paused, then turned to the index, and found what he sought -- a listing for English translation of hieroglyphic symbols. And Jake turned to the page . . .
Hmmm . . . let's see -- two categories of symbols which are . . . phonograms and semograms. The phonograms denote a phonetic sign and the semograms denote a meaning
. . . of some sort. So, the pictographs stand for consonants or a combination of consonants. No vowels. Jake paused, pulled a piece of paper closer to him, and picked up a pen lying nearby. Now, the kid said initials. Jake reached for the parchment he had borrowed from Whateley, and spread it out above the book. He glanced at the five symbols on the parchment, then glanced at the Ambrel text.
Near the bottom of the page was a graph showing letters and their corresponding symbols. Ah, here we are. Uniconsonantal symbols. One consonant and corresponding symbol. On the parchment we have two . . . birds, I guess they are. The birds correspond to the letter "w." Now, the . . . leg? A leg corresponds to . . . the letter "b." Okay, let's see what we've got . . . Jake turned to the piece of paper and wrote down the letters in order of their corresponding symbols. We have . . .
"W-b-w," Jake said softly as he wrote the letters down. He paused, sitting back and staring at the letters. "W-b-w."
Hmmm . . . okay, w b w, now this hook thing . . . whatever it is, it's an . . . "s." So, that makes it w-b-w-s. Jake added the letter "s" to his list, then sat back. He slowly picked up the piece of paper and stared at it. The meaning of the letters immediately exploded upon his thoughts. "W-b-w-s; Wentworth, Bergen, Worley, Sheffler," he voiced his thoughts softly. "Hmph, and in order of disappearance."
Jake dropped the paper on his desk and leaned over the Ambrel text. That leaves one symbol left, and there's no symbol that corresponds to a vowel. No letter "A" as in . . . Andersen. But this little flag thing, papyrus leaf, whatever it is, does correspond to the letter . . . "j," . . . as in . . . Jake.
"I should have known," Jake sighed as he dropped the pen on his desk and sat back again. "Wentworth, Bergen, Worley, Sheffler, and . . . Andersen."
The morning sun glistened on the waters of Beaver Creek, the angle of the rays causing little diamonds of light to dance across the surface. The air was cool, the warmth of the sun slowly crawling through the trees, siphoning off the coating of dew which blanketed the landscape. Life was waking amidst the foliage, and somewhere up the creek there was a splash . . . an unseen beaver diving from some perch into the cold water.
Whateley stood on the creek bank just beyond Lusk's Lock. His gaze was on the placid waters, but what he saw was the parchment. His mind was focused on the symbols and their obscure meaning that had consistently eluded him. In all his three hundred or so odd years, he had never been so puzzled before. And he considered his knowledge of Ancient Egypt adequate. Certainly adequate enough that the parchment should be easy for him to decipher. He shook his head in frustration.
"Troubled Larry?" Jake said as he stepped up next to Whateley.
"I certainly don't have writer's block," Whateley replied, his eyes on he creek.
"Maybe that's because you're not a writer," Jake said.
"I knew you were coming," Whateley said, dismissing Jake's comment.
"I knew you'd know," Jake replied. "Don't ask me how I knew." There was a pause as Whateley remained silent, his eyes still trained on the creek. Jake glanced at him, then turned his eyes to the creek as well. "I had a dream last night," Jake added softly.
"Egypt," Whateley said softly.
"Yeah, found myself at a place called Abusir," Jake replied.
"Ah, Abusir, 5th Dynasty pyramid complexes," Whateley's tone of voice rose slightly. "The tombs of kings Neuserre', Nefer'irkare', Sahure', and, I believe, Re'neferef."
"Tombs," Jake voiced his thoughts, a shadow crossing his mind. A sudden sense of impending death coursed through him.
"The pharaohs, they dream a dreaming death, much like Cthulhu," Whateley said softly, then added, "but they have nothing to do with Cthulhu."
Jake ignored Whateley's comment as his mind scanned the fragments of his dream and came to rest on the image of Sahure's decaying pyramid. "Sahure'," Jake said softly. "I was at Sahure's pyramid . . . with Paul, Ron, Pete, and Cory."
"Oh?" Whateley said, shifting his gaze to Jake.
"You were right," Jake said softly, his eyes still on the creek. "They hinted at it, the five symbols are initials -- the initials of a new circle . . ."
"The Circle of Nyarlathotep," Whateley interrupted.
Jake turned to face Whateley. Whateley's words were something Jake hadn't considered, the Circle of Nyarlathotep, and yet it was so obvious now that he thought about it. There were the five symbols, the initials, and the encircled letter "N." Yeah, the Circle of Nyarlathotep. But why? For what purpose? That was still a mystery . . . to the both of them.
"Yeah, it would seem so," Jake replied. "But why?"
"Perhaps the cartouche has something to do with it?" Whateley said.
"The cartouche," Jake agreed. "I tried to figure that out, but only got jumbled letters. The Ambrel book was good, but I couldn't . . ."
"Ambrel?" Whateley suddenly interrupted. "James Ambrel?"
"Yeah, " Jake was surprised. "I picked up three books last evening at Kent State - Salem. Works on Ancient Egypt by Minnaeus, Davis, and Ambrel."
"Hmph," Whateley said softly, brooding. "Ambrel wrote the definitive text on the Cult of Byagoona."
"The Cult of Byagoona," Whateley repeated. "The title of the book is Ritualistic Practices in the Cult of Byagoona."
"Yes, yes," Whateley said as he sought his mind for the facts. "Byagoona is Nyarlathotep in his true form -- the three-lobe-eyed towering tentacled monster in all his glory."
"What does this Byagoona have to do with everything?" Jake questioned.
"Nothing except for the fact that Byagoona and Nyarlathotep are one and the same," Whateley said. He paused, turning his eyes back to the creek, trying to make sense of the jumbled facts. He trained his thoughts on Nyarlathotep, on Egypt, on Jake's dream of . . . Abusir. "You said you dreamed of Abusir, that you were at King Sahure's pyramid . . ."
"Yeah, with Cory, Paul, Ron, and Pete," Jake interrupted. "You're beginning to confuse me
. . ."
"Na . . . na . . . na . . . no matter," Whateley interrupted, shaking a hand. "There has to be a connection between the parchment and Abusir, something about King Sahure' . . ."
"I don't think so," Jake interrupted. "There was something else in the dream . . . something Ron said about another place . . . a place more important . . .," Jake fell silent as he tried to pull the memory from the depths of his mind. He paced along the bank of the creek, tapping the side of his head with his knuckles. "Some temple . . .," Jake added, then the memory came. He turned, his eyes wide, as he glanced at Whateley. "The Sun Temple of Useka . . . something like that."
"The Sun Temple of Userkaf," Whateley corrected. And Whateley pulled in on himself, his thoughts forming a seemingly wild idea. The Sun Temple of Userkaf . . . Sun Temple, . . . perhaps Son Temple? Temple to the Son? The thought took hold and would not let go. That had to be it, something hidden in the Sun Temple of Userkaf, a temple that was, in fact, a temple to a son, but whose son? And Whateley spun on Jake. "You said you couldn't figure out the cartouche . . ."
"Just jumbled letters," Jake said haltingly. "Is there something that . . .?"
"I'll let you know later," Whateley said as he turned and hurried toward Lusk's Lock. "I've got something to check out." He skirted the lock, and just before he rounded the far end, Whateley drew himself up and turned. "And I'm not troubled. Not anymore. I think I know what the cartouche says. See you this evening."
And Whateley was gone. Jake sighed as he stared at the spot where Whateley had just stood. "Well, I am . . . troubled," Jake voiced his thoughts softly.
The day had passed quickly. The only passing notice Whateley gave was when he took the time to lean across the card table and light a small candle. He sat in his little one-room rented apartment in Lisbon, engrossed in his copy of Ambrel's Ritualistic Practices in the Cult of Byagoona. For some unexplained odd reason it was one of the texts he had brought with him on his trip to Ohio. Although Whateley knew the text well, this time he read through the text as though he had never read it before.
There were references and cross-references, notations made, pages pigeon folded, and torn strips of paper marking pages to turn back to. Whateley highlighted passages, underlined others, placed asterisks at key sentences, and all of this done for future reference along with the immediate purpose of deciphering the cartouche, and, if possible, to uncover just what the parchment meant . . . just why four key individuals of the Celaeno Project mysteriously disappeared. Whateley hoped to stop the fifth.
"Ah, here we go," Whateley whispered to himself. A passage caught his eye. He frowned, backtracked a page, glanced at it, then returned to the passage on the next page. He scanned down the page, skipping over words, focusing on events and names that the passage related. Ambrel's original source was the Altuas Fragments, the passage relating "The Testimony of Tal Hodar on the Destruction of Zendosh." And what Whateley sought, he found.
His eyes hovered on the name for a moment, then scanning back a few lines, he began to read the passage. "'. . . and when the battle had ended, there was silence. The army rode forth from the plateau, an army of death and decay . . . and the Black God Byagoona rose up above the Plateau of Shung, and descended upon the village of Zendosh. In the passing of one night, death and decay fell upon the villagers of Zendosh. What the Legion of the Dead had started, the Black God had finished . . . and it was in that night of death and decay that Byagoona sired a son to a Zendoshi woman . . . and the son was called Nefre'ka'.'"
Whateley sat back and stared into space, his mind on the passage he had just read. His fears were realized, his guess as to the name in the cartouche was right. "That's it," he whispered softly. "Nefre'ka'. Nephren-Ka, the son of Nyarlathotep."
The sudden flicker of the candle flame arrested Whateley's attention. He glanced at the flame as it settled, then peered hesitantly around the small apartment. The apartment seemed darker as though a blanket of "shade" had settled over the already gathering shadows, making the darkness deeper. A pall had settled over him, that same feeling he got when some thing was near. Perhaps it was his intuition to sense the presence of the Great Old Ones or their minions, perhaps gained and refined during his three hundred or so odd years of conflict with them. Perhaps it was a gift given him by those he worked for on Celaeno. No matter the reason, his senses had never once failed him, and it wasn't failing him now. This time it was academic as to who or what it was.
"Nephren-Ka's father," Whateley voiced his thoughts softly. "He's come for Jake."
Whateley tossed the Byagoona text on the card table, and jumped from the chair. There was no time to lose.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004