This Week’s prompt:25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.
The account thus written was never known to the board of directors or to Derelth, and so we must leave them be. It was found amongst the belongings of the recently deceased Mrs. ____ as the only article left to the public from her estate.
“We, for Queen and Country, approached the Veronan hills. The good governor was the old sort for the region. His daughter had run off in the night, out to the hills and forests, and he was dearly concerned. A superstitious old man, he feared that the people and things that lived between the hills and trees would do the most dreadful things to his lost daughter. So we made our way, Roger, George, Edward, John, and myself, under orders, with naught but a rifle each.
“The way up the hills was one of laughter and jokes. More than likely, John said, the girl had run off to rendezvous with a native lover. Or perhaps she had to hide away some store of jewels. The dogs we had brought were chipper, barking at hares and rodents that scurried in the tall grass. Crossing over the hills, to where the forest was in sight.
“The woods of on the other side of Vernonan hills are a strange sort. There bark was like ink or ash, more a painted on effect than something real. And on this night, a cloudy new moon, they were almost invisible. A few lanterns hung near the houses, marking the cottages near the woods. There was still no sight of the girl. We reckoned it’d be best to check the houses, then the woods. After all, bandits of all sorts could lurk the woods with their wild beasts and wicked weapons.
“Roger was the strongest, so he forced the doors. They were all locked of course. We’d been here before, cleaning up squatters and checking in on debts owed to the Company. We didn’t wear anything to hide our prescence and the barking dogs surely gave them warning. So we searched each house, one at a time. Not a soul was found. Now, there were around twenty men and maybe fifteen women in that little squalid site. No children or chickens either.
“When we got to the decaying fields of wheat, we at last found a man. He was shambling in the distance, his eye-catching the light of our lanterns like a cat. Our dogs immediately pulled and in frustration, we set them on him. Do not worry, like good hunting dogs, they only surrounded and tackled their prey down.
“At closer look, he was a rather old man. He had an old factory hat on, and a nice leather vest for the are. His hands were a farmer’s hands, and his face the face of lost solider. All together, he certainly had suffered worse than dogs being set upon him. We still took our time approaching.
“George whisteled for the dogs to relent while me and Edward stood the old man up. John asked most of the question. Rather simple ones, really, though the poor man barely seemed to understand some of them.
“ ‘Have you seen a nice lady come through?’ John would ask. The man would smile and say he has seen many nice ladies in the hills. John got a bit more specific, and the man would get quiet for a bit. Then Roger did somethings that were, admittedly, a little unbecoming of our station. I have heard it said by wise men that the capacity for good is measured in equal part by the capacity for evil. If there is ever a testament for how civilized the Empire can make a man, none is more damning than Roger’s behavior.
“ ‘Have you seen the nice lady, the governor’s little lady come through here?’ John asked slowly this third time. The man was still catching his breath when we stood him up, a bit bruised. Roger had aimed for the chest, and for a moment I feared he’d broken the man’s lungs. John held up his hand as Roger prepared another round.
“ ‘The nice lady? She’s not that little or that nice.’ the man said with a chuckle, holding up his hand as Roger pulled back his fist. ‘Yes, yes, she came by tonight, she had bad dreams and knew, she knew we were people of dreams.’
“ ‘She had bad dreams?’ John said, raising his eyebrows as best as I could tell in the light. ‘Stand him up proper.’
“ ‘No, no, she did! Terrible dreams. And tonight, of all nights? It was a sign.’ he said as we hefted him up. He shouted for us to stop, but Roger wasn’t restrained. He was coughing horribly when John spoke to him again.
“ ‘I’m telling the truth!’ he managed to get, crumpled on the ground. ‘You imbeciles don’t see it. She had terrible dreams of things we knew. The Black Sun, she is rising to fill the world with beautiful forms again. To cast a shadow, that a multitude might grow.’
“ ‘So she’s in the forest?’ John asked, more annoyed than anything. The man nodded. At the time, I thought it strange, that he should comply after such rude treatment. I learned that night he had complied, but only for our own doom.
“ The wood was thick as we went in. The branches stifled the already dim stars, and caught the lantern light like flies in a spider’s web. More strikingly, there was not a sound that night. Not a single leaf crinkled beneath a foot. Not a single breeze blew, not a branch rattled, not a twig snapped. No rabbit hopped. Not a wolf howled, not a whisper was heard. Even when we spoke, it was like whispers struggling against a breeze. We eventually resorted to simple hand gestures, keeping an eye for even the slightest shimmer.
“It must have been hours in that dreadful space. I entertained the idea that perhaps the sun rose and set and we hadn’t noticed, so dark were the woods. Then the smoke began to come from the distance, though still we saw no fire. Simply a tendril of the darkness stretching into our hallowed sphere of light.
“But the smoke quickened our minds. We knew, we knew that smoke came only from fire. So we followed it, covering our mouths to not inhale it. Slowly color intruded on the wood, red sigils painted on the trees, carvings carefully colored white as corpses. Sound came necks, drumming sounds, and the braying of the hounds, the crack of twigs and the crunch of crushed leafs all returned. And we beheld a dreadful sight.
“There was a great pillar of stone there, crude volcanic stone. Around it danced men and women with madness, masks like pigs and goats and other unclean characters. Above them was a pulsing cyst of the sky, a tumorous mass. I have heard tell that among savage or decadent magicians, there is much desire for the hair a woman has devoured and has calcified. I can only imagine they would love this strange growing mass, with its hairs and scales and eyes and mouths. It grew crooning outward, singing and moaning as it spread. Lumps fell down to the earth and out sprung vermin and slugs and leeches in swarms.
“And we saw the governor’s daughter there, directly beneath, utterly indecent. Tar sputtered from the ground and filth fell from the sky and she reveled in it. Her form swelled, nearly to the point of bursting as we watched. And that, beneath the deep shadow, was the last of it. John, the religious sort, let cry a ‘Deus vult!’ and at once we let a salvo loose and forgot our dogs.
“The heathens were not quiet in their departure, however. Quickly, easily even, they drew knives and daggers and set upon us. And while we bore guns, they had numbers. Blood quickly watered the ground, both ours and savages. As it did, the ground grew hard, and the thing above seemed to squirm and flicker. Until, at last, as Roger fell to an ax to the shoulder, the thing pulled itself back into the pillar.
“Whence it came and went I do not know. But the forest must be raised, and the hills demolished. Dark things live in those places, and we can abide them no longer.”
It has been a long celebration, my brothers and sister! But I hope it was not too bad. Next week, we return to our regular schedule and regular research. What did you drum up from this classic corpse? Did you find some sea drenched beast? Or was your tale more mundane in it’s terrors?
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