Part 3. The Circle
It was dusk; night was coming on, the sky purpling, a creeping shade moving through the woods from the east. The air was softening, a slight chill, and there was a light breeze licking at the leaves of trees. Jake stood on the bank of Beaver Creek behind his rented mobile home. He was brooding over recent events, thought of going to Lusk's Lock again, but here, along the creek behind the trailer, was just as well. After all it was getting late, and Jake was awaiting word from Whateley.
Still, Jake had half a mind to run, but run to where? He had run . . . here -- to Beaver Creek, southern Columbiana County, hoping to escape from recent pressures, but had, instead, run headlong into everything he had been running from. Whateley had come with a warning, and the Great Old Ones had ways of finding him -- no matter where he ran. And all Jake had wanted to do was relax, "get away from it all," to break through the wall his writer's block had erected. So much for that.
There was a slight shift in the breeze, but Jake hardly noticed. His thoughts were preoccupied with Nyarlathotep, the Celaeno Project members, Abusir, the knowledge that he was next on the list to disappear . . . no matter how ridiculous the idea was. Jake was certain that his knowledge, his threat to the Great Old Ones, wasn't near the capacity of threat that Paul, Ron, Pete, and Cory possessed. Why in the Hell would Nyarlathotep . . .? Jake brushed the thought away. Evidently it didn't matter. Jake was next on the list, and he knew that Nyarlathotep had his reasons -- logical or not.
Jake shook his head trying to clear the jumbled images that cascaded through his mind. Something suddenly broke through, erupted on his consciousness. Everything else in his mind faded, displaced by a sudden realization. The world around him had suddenly gone still, quiet . . . except for the trickling waters of the nearby creek. The breeze had gone, and so had the soft noises of the woodland night creatures coming out of their lairs. Jake stopped in his tracks and peered around. Not a leaf moved, not a twig snapped, not a rustling of underbrush. A deathly silence. And in the distance, among the trees, Jake saw a soft momentary motion -- a flicker of scarlet material. It shifted, faded, then reappeared, seemingly closer.
I don't like this! And Jake turned toward the trailer, picking up his pace. He glanced over his left shoulder -- out of the corner of his eyes. Whatever was in the woods was closer, pursuing him, a formless shape defined only by shifting glimpses of scarlet material. Jake broke into a run, his fear tearing through his mind, searing the disjointed images that had suddenly resurfaced.
The images began to supplant reality; Jake saw Ancient Egypt instead of rural Columbiana County; saw the ruins of King Sahure's pyramid instead of his mobile home; saw rolling sand instead of forested rolling hills. His eyes strained, and through the images Jake noticed the trailer door before him. He squinted his eyes, focusing on the door handle. He grasped it, flung the door open wide, and stumbled into the trailer. Sprawling on the floor, he rolled over, jumped to his feet, and slammed the door shut.
Whatever was out there in the woods, it was coming; Jake was certain. He hadn't seen it clearly in the woods, but he knew it was there. He could sense it, feel it in his thoughts. He slid a chair in front of the door, an irrational act he realized -- as if the chair would stop whatever was coming. Jake slowly backed away from the chair and door, backed toward his writing desk. A soft eerie piping had begun . . . an unearthly music as if several flutes were playing out of tune deep in the woods. There was a drumming noise that accompanied the flutes, and as Jake backed against his writing desk, he glanced instinctively at a window. Just beyond the window, silhouetted against the increased darkening of night, stood a towering form shrouded in a scarlet red cloak. And Jake knew. It was time. His turn to go.
The window buckled and exploded inward. Jake shielded his eyes from the flying glass and pieces of aluminum siding that rained into the room, then rolled away to one side, stumbling against his makeshift bookcase. Several books toppled to the floor. Regaining his footing, he turned and gazed across his desk toward the window. The figure, stooping slightly due to it being taller than the height of the ceiling, was now standing inside the window.
"Nyarlathotep," Jake whispered amidst the cacophony of drums and flute music that surrounded him, and, as if in answer, an ethereal whispering voice entered in his mind.
I am the Black God, I am the Messenger, I am Ilukurgal, I am Pan, I am Siva, . . . I am Byagoona -- destroyer of Zendosh! I am . . . ALL THINGS . . .
"Why me, why am . . .?" Jake whispered a hesitant interruption.
The circle is to be completed once again. Renewed in honor of he who is my son.
Jake could only watch as Nyarlathotep stepped forward. At the edge of the desk, the Black God paused as the empty hood turned toward the cluttered desktop, unseen eyes scanning what lay there. Jake watched as an empty sleeve of the scarlet cloak rose toward the desk top. Smoky tendrils erupted from the sleeve forming a translucent hand with elongated fingers. The smoky hand lightly touched The Nyarlathotep Cycle, brushed over the text, then picked up the three texts on Ancient Egypt. Nyarlathotep held them up, then dropped them to the floor one by one.
And Jake heard the voice of Nyarlathotep again, this time darker, more malignant & menacing, the airy ethereal whispering now gone. Minneaus, Ambrel, Davis. Those names I shall remember. The smoky hand of Nyarlathotep reached across the desktop again, picking up the parchment Jake had borrowed from Whateley. The Black God glanced at it, then turned the empty hood of his cloak in Jake's direction.
"I . . . I know what . . . it says," Jake stammered, his eyes growing wider.
It matters not. The circle shall be completed. You are the last.
"What circle?" Jake asked softly. "For what reason . . .?"
Soon you shall come to know . . . Nyarlathotep's words trailed off as he dropped the parchment. As it fluttered toward the desktop, Jake was astounded to see a second identical parchment form out of thin air. Both parchments came to rest atop Jake's copy of The Nyarlathotep Cycle.
Come, the circle awaits . . .
Hearing Nyarlathotep's words in his mind, Jake turned his gaze from the two parchments to the towering Black God in scarlet cloak. In one step Nyarlathotep passed around the desk and stood before Jake. Jake stood motionless, unable to move, terrified, as the Black God raised his smoky hand and rested it softly upon Jake's head. Jake forced a scream that never came.
Instead, the scream faded with his fear as a calm settled over Jake. An alien feeling of peace and serenity washed through him, dimming his senses, drugging him. The music of the flutes and drums faded, then were gone. He turned his eyes slowly, peering about the room. Everything was hazy, dreamlike, and a feeling came over Jake, an impression. Trying to define the impression, he found that he didn't . . . care. Everything was all right.
As the dark of night veiled southern Columbiana County blanketing the softly flowing waters of Beaver Creek, a stillness settled over the ruined mobile home that rested among the trees. The mobile home was now empty . . . the two figures having faded to nothingness, passing through time and space to a land where the dead only slept.
Whateley paused in the dark amidst the trees, his eyes trained on the ruins of Jake's mobile home that stood ghostlike near the creek. Jake's car was parked next to the trailer, but the trailer was dark. Jake wasn't there, and neither was Nyarlathotep. The presence Whateley had sensed was now gone. Nyarlathotep had come and had taken Jake. There was nothing Whateley could have done no matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise. The last piece of the so-called Nyarlathotep Circle was put in place . . .or nearly so.
A sudden slice of moonlight cut through the woods as the moon broke from behind the clouds. Whateley glanced up, took note of the moon, then carefully approached the trailer. Behind the trailer the soft trickling of Beaver Creek whispered in the night. Otherwise it was quiet -- no sounds that naturally permeated the nighttime woods of southern Columbiana County. Whateley knew that the night creatures had withdrawn in fear of the presence of the Black God. They had yet to reappear, to continue their night errands.
The side of the trailer was splintered, peeled back like a sardine can. Where the hole was there had once been a window. Whateley leaned through the hole, glancing at the darkened room. Shards of glass, bits of wall siding, and insulation lay everywhere, and books had toppled from the makeshift bookcase. Whateley gripped the torn siding, and stepped through into the darkened room.
"Egypt," Whateley whispered as he stared down at the three texts lying on the floor next to the small writing desk.
Whateley lightly kicked at the three texts with the tip of his shoe, then glanced at the desk, taking note of the two parchments lying there. He reached for one, picked it up, glanced at it, then crumpled it in his fist.
"Yeah, I get the message," he thought aloud. "I get the damn message." Then suddenly, his blank eyes staring off into space, a seething hatred welling up inside him, Whateley slammed his clinched fist on the desktop. "And you get this message -- if it takes me until the end of time, I will get them back," Whateley growled, focusing his thoughts and directing his hatred at Nyarlathotep, knowing the Black God would hear him. He paused, then added, his voice soft, menacing, "I will get them back, all five of them."
The Earth turned while half the world slept. Where it was dark was now light, and where it was light was now dark. The whispered words traveled through time and space. I will get them back, all five of them. Nyarlathotep turned, focusing his thoughts on the words. They had been soft, distant, but he had heard them, and knew their source. And in the dark Egyptian night, a sense of victory came over the Black God as he replied to the words with his own thoughts . . . never shall you see them again.
In his mind the Black God laughed as he turned his attention back to the landscape before him. Next to him stood Jake Andersen, a changed Jake Andersen, pallid, hair tinged gray, a blank expression of contentment on his face. Before them spread the rolling sands of Egypt, soft gray under the light of the moon, much like a moonscape Jake had once seen in old black and white photographs. To the right at an oblique angle ran a small ridge of sand-covered blocks that disappeared into the darkened distance. It was the foundation of a wall, a 4500-year-old wall that had once been the enclosure wall of the Sun Temple of Userkaf.
Together, Jake and Nyarlathotep approached the ruined wall. The desert night air was cool, but Jake didn't seem to mind, perhaps didn't seem to notice. Jake didn't seem to notice anything -- his surroundings, the Black God walking next to him, the short crumbling wall as they passed through a gap into the temple complex. Only the trained eye of an Egyptologist would know there was a temple complex. To a casual observer there would be nothing but . . . sand, more rolling sand with no hint of what lay beneath -- a temple which had stood here on this spot in majesty and glory to Re all those centuries ago. Now there was nothing but fragments of a short crumbling wall covered in sand, enclosing a vast expanse.
Nyarlathotep and Jake stopped in the center of the enclosure where the Sun Altar of the temple had once stood. In the sand was a line marking where the edge of the altar foundation had been. Nyarlathotep passed an empty sleeve over the sand, and the sand spiraled away, revealing an opening with a stone staircase descending into the blackened depths. Together they descending the staircase into darkness.
The darkness was washed away as a wall-mounted torch suddenly roared to life. The flame of the torch crackled momentarily, then settled. The light of the torch revealed what appeared to be an anteroom of some sort, but with no passages or doorways into other rooms. The air was stifling, stagnant, deathlike, but again, Jake took no notice. Above them the sand spiraled back into place, then solidified into a part of the ceiling with no markings to show there had ever been an opening.
Jake stared blank eyed at the hieroglyphs adorning the four limestone walls. The hieroglyphs in this room had retained their brilliant colors of blue, red, green, black, and yellow -- even after 45 centuries, the room having been unknown and undisturbed but by a select few. In the center of one wall was the Seal of Nephren-Ka. Contained within the seal was a cartouche, the same cartouche that had been on the parchments Nyarlathotep had left behind upon the disappearances of Ron, Paul, Cory, Pete, and, now, Jake. Jake stared at the Seal, but remained silent, unmoving, emotionless -- as if it didn't matter or as if he didn't recognize the royal name of the priest-king, Nephren-Ka.
Come! The voice of Nyarlathotep entered Jake's mind, and the two of them approached the wall bearing the seal of the Black God's son. The flame of the single torch fluttered momentarily as Nyarlathotep and Jake passed through the wall just as a ghost would pass through a wall. And with the room empty, the flame of the wall torch withered and died, plunging the room back into silent darkness.
Jake and Nyarlathotep stood on the other side of the wall as a series of wall-mounted torches roared to life, revealing a long downward sloping corridor that receded into the darkened distance. As they started down the corridor, Jake glanced haltingly at the hieroglyphs which adorned the upper end of the corridor. Like the anteroom they had just left, the walls were made of limestone and the hieroglyphs were colorful and untarnished. The scenes depicted were undoubtedly scenes from the 5th Dynasty and events in the life of Userkaf. Half way down the corridor the limestone and colorful hieroglyphs came to an abrupt end as though construction had been halted for some unknown reason.
The limestone construction with bright hieroglyphs gave way to a corridor of black cyclopean stone construction. Where the two sections of the corridor came together, there was a small ledge made of the same black stone. This small ledge jutted out about two inches from the walls, ceiling, and floor as though a wall had once blocked the black passage beyond, a wall made of the same black cyclopean stone. Whatever had been the case, beyond lay a passage made of black stone, a passage alien and far more ancient than the construction of 5th Dynasty Egypt, a passage descending further beneath the desert sands of the already ancient land of Kemet.
Jake and Nyarlathotep stepped over the small ledge into the corridor of black cyclopean stone. As with the hieroglyphs adorning the limestone walls of the upper corridor, images also adorned the black walls of the lower corridor, but much different in content and design. Here were petroglyphs, an assortment of strange alien images and symbols with no association to any image or symbol common to Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
What these strange images and symbols stood for, Jake had no idea, much less whether he even cared. His expression remained emotionless and docile as he and Nyarlathotep descended the ancient corridor. In the soft light of the torches Jake gave only casual passing glances at images of horrible beings and lettering of no known script. The images and script seemed to be telling a story of some sort -- a story divided into panels, each stone block an individual panel.
One panel revealed an octopoid creature rising from the ruins of a great stone structure . . . the lettering above the image heralding it, as best as can be transcribed in comparable lettering, as Gr't Cthlh rsng frm snk'n R'ly'h. Another panel was depicted with the carven image of a great winged and tentacled creature rising above what appeared as an earthen mound, the single series of lettering above the image reading Z'tgg. Panel after panel on both the right and left-hand walls revealed similar creatures and strange symbols or lettering describing the event or image until the corridor came to an end, blocked by another black stone wall. Nyarlathotep turned, gesturing with an unseen hand across the last five panels of the right hand wall. The story of my son, he who lies beyond, came the words of the Black God.
Jake glanced impassively at the five panels which depicted a series of events. In the first panel was a towering tentacled monster with a three-lobed eye rising above a great stone edifice. Below the edifice in a valley were a number of huts depicting a village. The second panel showed an army of death and decay descending on villagers, undoubtedly villagers of the small group of huts depicted in the first panel. The third panel showed a horribly deformed infant held high by the tentacled, three-lobe-eyed monster of the first panel. The fourth panel depicted the deformed child as an adult, dressed in strange garments of an unknown culture. And the last panel, nearest the wall blocking the corridor, depicted the same deformed adult, but this time dressed in the priestly garments of Ancient Egypt. And across all five panels near the ceiling were the strange symbols or lettering which described the events, reading:
Th' Blck Gd Bygn rs' 'p 'bv' th' Plt' 'f Shng, 'nd d'sc'n'd'd 'pn th' vllg' 'f Z'ndsh. 'n th' pssng 'f 'n' nght, d'th 'nd d'cy f'll 'pn th' vllg'rs 'f Z'ndsh. Wh't th' L'gn 'f th' D'd hd st'rt'd, th' Blck Gd hd fnsh'd . . . 'nd 't ws 'n tht nght 'f d'th 'nd d'cy tht Bygn sr'd ' s'n t ' Z'ndsh w'mn . . . 'nd th' sn ws cll'd N'fr'k. 't 's N'fr'k' wh 's N'phr'n-K, Hgh Pr'st 'f th' Clt 'f th' Blck Gd, hs fth'r, Nyrltht'p, 'nd wthn th's' wlls, h'r' h' sl'ps, d'd y't 'lv' 'n th' l'nd 'f K'm't.
Nyarlathotep and Jake turned away from the panels, and paused momentarily at the wall blocking the corridor, a wall with a single inscription centered on it. The inscription was the same Seal of Nephren-Ka as was on the wall in the anteroom far above. As Nyarlathotep raised an empty sleeve to the wall, smoky tendrils erupted from the sleeve, lightly touched the black stone, then passed through. Come! The Circle lies beyond this wall. And Jake and Nyarlathotep passed through the black stone wall as though passing through air.
The anteroom to the burial chamber of Nephren-Ka was constructed with a mixture of limestone and the much older black cyclopean stone. The walls of the room were decorated with both Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the petroglyphs displayed on the walls of the lower and older part of the corridor leading to the anteroom. The wall blocking the corridor displayed a large relief carving of Nyarlathotep in his incarnation of Byagoona, the towering tentacled monster with the three-lobed eye. In the wall opposite this carving was the large rectangular opening to Nephren-Ka's burial chamber. Upon the architrave over the opening to the burial chamber was a relief carving of Nephren-Ka's cartouche.
Centered just in front of the opening to the burial chamber rested a long flat rectangular table. The table, made of stone, consisted of a flat top about six inches thick resting upon four ornately carved legs resembling in miniature the columns found in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak or the Grand Columns of Dendara. An exact replica of Nyarlathotep's parchment was carved into the front face of the table.
Soft light washed over the anteroom provided by torches mounted in wall brackets. At opposite ends of the table were braziers on floor stands, the coals of incense glowing softly, their fragrance curling in smoky tendrils rising in the air. Seated at the table in high back stone chairs in "parchment order" were Paul, Cory, Pete, and Ron, their backs to the burial chamber opening. A fifth empty chair awaited its occupant.
Their hands splayed out on the table in front of them, Ron, Paul, Cory, and Pete stared straight ahead through unseeing eyes at the relief image of Nyarlathotep, their minds controlled and awash with a barrage of images -- storms, lightning, swirling churning black clouds, writhing tentacles, softly glowing globes of green incandescent light, and overlaid upon all of this in their minds were chanting voices in an alien tongue and the soft ethereal piping of flutes. They paid no heed to the relief image of Nyarlathotep as pools of scarlet liquid began to bubble from the stone, congealing into the towering form of the Black God as he passed through the stone wall followed closely by a ghostlike image of Jake Andersen.
The two forms solidified inside the anteroom. Jake turned slowly, his mind distant and unconcerned, yet able to discern his surroundings. His eyes fell upon his four friends. They were pallid, their hair turned snow white, their eyes deep pools of emptiness. They were dead, yet alive, and made no motion, no indication that they were aware of Jake and the Black God's presence.
Jake gave a passing glance at the parchment replica on the front edge of the table, the layers of dust beneath the table and chairs, and then turned his eyes to the cartouche above the opening to the burial chamber. Nephren-Ka, he heard his own voice in his mind, distant and withdrawn. He glanced into the burial chamber at the ornately carved sarcophagus of Nephren-Ka lit by torches within the chamber.
The burial chamber of the priest-king who gave rise to the grandest civilization this world has ever seen! He lies dead, yet he lives!
Upon hearing the Black God's words in his mind, Jake slowly turned his eyes to Nyarlathotep. In that moment a realization came over Jake. He knew what the parchment truly meant, and understood the purpose of the Circle of Nyarlathotep. They were the new guardians, the protectors of Nephren-Ka's tomb. Nyarlathotep had selected the new vanguard from the ranks of his enemies, dealing a severe blow to the Celaeno Project, to protect the priest-king while he slept. It would be an honor that Paul, Cory, Ron, Pete, and Jake would maintain for centuries to come until they crumbled to dust upon the floor of the anteroom. And only then would a new vanguard be selected.
Knowing his purpose and place, Jake turned away from the Black God and took his place at the table of the protectors of Nephren-Ka. He placed his hands, palms down on the table, in imitation of the other four as his feet shuffled the dust lying beneath the table and his chair -- the dust of countless other protectors. Jake's self-awareness faded as the room faded before his eyes. Sounds and images took hold in his mind -- those same sounds and images of churning cloud, writhing tentacles, green globes of light, piping flutes, and ethereal chanting that held Pete, Ron, Paul, and Cory in sway.
Nyarlathotep turned toward his relief image on the wall opposite the table. His form split into a thousand tiny fragments, pools of scarlet liquid seeping into the black stone of his image, passing through the wall to the corridor beyond. As the Black God disappeared into the stone, the light of the torches in the anteroom and burial chamber began to fade. One by one the torches expired, the last torch flaring momentarily in defiance, highlighting Jake's hair that had begun to turn white as had the others. Only the soft glow of the incense coals on their braziers remained. Darkness and the silence of death had once again descended upon the crypt of Nephren-Ka.
The sun was setting as Lawrence Whateley hurriedly made his way through the narrow allies of southern Cairo, the scent of freshly cooked food and the shouted bargaining of the bazaar's street vendors infringing upon his thoughts. He pushed the thoughts of his immediate surroundings from his mind, concentrating on his destination. South . . . cross the river and south. He slipped through Old Cairo, crossed the Nile, and picked up the road leading to the Giza Plateau.
The sun was gone, the sky in the east darkening rapidly as Whateley approached Giza. He paused momentarily, staring at the three Giza pyramids silhouetted against the western sky, then turned south off the road. The sounds of the city left behind, a soft silence began to descend around Whateley interrupted only by the soft trickling waters of the Bahr-el-Libeini. In the deepening twilight Whateley followed the course of the creek, leaving his tracks in the soft earth and patches of sand until his tracks suddenly stopped as though he had disappeared into thin air. And he had.
Eleven kilometers to the south, Whateley stood atop a small dune, peering across the landscape at the unrecognizable ruins of the Sun Temple of Userkaf. The dark of night had fallen, and the moon bathed the sand in its soft gray light. Whateley focused his mind, his thoughts. He could not "sense" Nyarlathotep. The Black God was apparently gone. But Whateley picked up faint impressions of chanting and ethereal flute music as if coming from far away, and there were images, faint and blurry images -- black churning clouds, green incandescent globes of light, and writhing tentacles. And buried deep amidst the blurred images and faint sounds was a faint flickering of consciousness, the consciousness of five individuals poised on the edge of a sleeping death.
Whateley sighed as he stared out across the gray landscape of rolling sand. "I'll get you back," his words a soft whisper in the distance. "Somehow, some way, I'll get all of you back."
And he turned away. There were plans to be made.
Author's Note: My thanks go to Robert M. Price for permission to use his name, the book title The Nyarlathotep Cycle, & the company name of Chaosium, Inc., for use in this story, & also to James Ambuehl for permission to use his story, "The Bane of Byagoona," as background material for this story.
Created: December 5, 1999; Current Update: August 9, 20044