What’s In a Name?

This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.

The Resulting Story: The Brand of Nasht

We begin this week with an interesting pair of names that are of note in the world of the Mythos: Nasht and Kaman-Thah are the priestly guardians of the Dreamlands of Earth, preventing the unworthy from journeying there in slumber. This role lacks the sinister overtone that Lovecraft has here described; all accounts point to Nasht and Kaman-Thah being beneficent forces of caution. Digging around the paragraphs or so dedicated to them in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, we find a few suggestions of where to go. They wear crowns of Egypt and have at the center of their temple is a pillar of fire that seems to reference Zorastrian fire shrines. Mr. Lovecraft’s interest in magicians of the middle east—hardly a unique topic for his time—is well noted.

However, the use of names might provide more of a resource. Names are things with no small amount of power. The real name of an individual can grant power over said person. Isis gained power over Ra by means of learning his true name. Ra in turn formed the gods from naming of his limbs, according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. These names can be invoked for the safety of the travel into the world of the dead. The name of a god invokes their power—it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that Catholic and Orthodox rites are preformed, for instance. The inability to name or create image of the Abhramic God is precisely because of this power wrapped up in names.

TheFuries

The Kindly Ones

This power of names and the divine extends further into mystic and magical arts. Writing the name on pieces of lead and burying it in the ground was a common way to lay a curse on someone in Greece and Rome. The recitation of names is key in conjuring forth demons in the Goetic arts. In the Odyssey, the name of Odysseus has to be learned for the curse of Polyphemeus to lay hold on him. Without the name, the curse couldn’t find its mark and be grounded in the world. Names are often changed for the sake of politeness: The Friendly Folk and Kindly Ones (the fae and furies, respectively), are named not so much for accuracy as for appeasement.

The names of children are of special importance. Many cultures take pains to wait to name the child, especially in regions with high infant mortality. The role of Christening in some countries doubles as protecting the child and marking the child as a social being. The child becomes more real when named. Naming a child after an ancestor honors the deceased and builds protection. The Netsilik and other Inuit people invoke lengthy names, therefore, so that a newly born child has a number of protectors. New names are added to the child’s birth name as life goes on, helping further protect them.

Abraxas

Abraxas

Amulets in particular often have names inscribed on them, in order to ensure the protection of the depicted figures. Amulets may have gods themselves, saints, and so forth. The most memorable of such entities, for me, is Abraxas. Abraxas is a rather strange entity, a god or demon or aeon or perhaps the God, who we know chiefly through amulets that display his form: a man with a rooster’s head and snakes for legs.

The Olympian Spirits—not to be confused with the Olympian Gods of Greece—also provide power by engraving their names on objects, granting long lives, familiars, and other mystical powers. With proper preparation, these strange entities are formidable tools of magic indeed. Sadly, whatever tradition they belong to appears lost to history.

The Sigils of the Olympic Spirits

Symbols of the Olympian Spirits, for use on amulets.

Other times, the actor takes on the name and role—and thus power—of an entity by assuming their name and a mask. This role, often taken up by priests, could give insight into our ensuing plot where one becomes the named entity for a duration of time.

The name then has mystical and magical import built into it. But the problem is greater here, in that theses names we are given are sinister, left handed and wicked. What does it mean for a name to be sinister? Is it a wicked sounding name? In all likelihood, that is what Lovecraft meant, but that is a boring answer so I’ll ignore it.

Hephestus

Hephaestus, the occasional employer of the Dactyls.

As a brief aside, while digging for information on name invocation, I came across an oddity. Now, its fairly well known that sinister has its roots in the Latin for left handed(sinister). The act of theurgy, sorcery, and demonic invocation traces itself back, etymologically, to the left hand Dactyls. This connection, while tenuous, seems like it could be built on. After all, Egypt and Babylon have sorcerer connotations to some (we discussed the implications of that here, in case your wondering). Names then could wrack strange effects on the world.

Another answer is that these names are emblematic of wicked or dangerous powers. These are sinister names, in that they are names not meant to be said or they will draw unwanted attention when invoked. A curse or a demon swear. The names, when given or spoken or taken, work some disturbing change on that which they touch. We can consider the various names that mustn’t be said in this category. Hastur’s supposedly dangerous name, for instance, is in this category.

Another possiblity is that the assumption of this name brings about something sinister. By becoming, in a very real way, Nasht or Kaman-Thah, the person becomes wicked or inclined to wickedness. They become something like a demon by taking on the mantle of long lost powers.

That leaves what has happened. We could do a story that tells how these ancient names became sinster—what force or history made them so corrosive? Alternatively, the names are inscribding on a tablet, a piece of paper, an amulet of some sort that afflicts the people who behold it or touch it. The names themselves are inciting and powerful implements, if mostly passive agents in the world. What effects they cause, what curses they bear are matters to be worked out.

I think I will take a different route. Instead of dealing with the horror at first and straight ahead, it would be better to come at the invocation and evocation of these dread names as things of the past. The utterances or history of these names, written and embodied in the world.

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The Sacred Fish

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.

The Prior Research:Dredged Up From The Depths

The fisherman of the western cliff face, far from the city of Kahal, lived entirely at the mercy and providence of the primeval mother sea. On it’s black waves, as the moon glimmered down, a passing stranger would find one of the small ships sailing along the cliffs and coves, dragging the net behind. Old Ichabod kept his ship out late that night, searching for fertile waters. His ship was slow, his nets were poor. His wife Sarah had held their home, by carving the other fish and making clothes to sell. So tonight, he sailed past his normal waters, off towards the shores marked by crumbling pillars.

During the day he would not be so daring. For reasons long forgot, the village did not fish in the bay where old spiraling coral rose as long lost gate posts. But such protected paradises become rich for desperate plunder. The waves were strong at the coral edge, and most canny fisherman avoided the bay for those dangers alone. Ichabod, however, moved between them with ease. He dragged his nets along that shallow floor, looking to bring fish that had never seen such a boat. And shortly after, his nets grew heavy.

DeepFish2.png

Pulling them over, he found them thick with a pulsing white mass of fish. They were strange, squirming, wretched things. Their skin was smooth to the glance but sharp to the touch. They had no eyes, and no teeth in their mewling mouths. Their fatty, fleshy bodys struggled feebly against the air. But their bodies, as life left them, smelled like honey and their blood was like olive oil. Despite having never seen such things,Ichabod reasoned that such a haul was worth returning with, and the fish worth at least a taste.

Icahbod slipped back home in silence, returning home to a confused wife. He took one of the fish inside and carved it, and cooked it in the pan. A bit of fat flickered off it’s goldening meat and onto his thumb. He took a quick taste, and found the substance tasted sweet and succulent. The finished fish was filling, the best the couple had ever consumed.

They were less delighted and more deeply confused when the next day, Sarah found herself sick in the morning. The two went to a wise woman, who confirmed their suspicion. Sarah was pregenant. The two were both delighted and confused. They hadn’t lain with each other in some time. Ichabod grew wrothful, suspicious that some more fortunate fisherman had visited his wife. But her pleading convinced him she had been faithful. Strange as it seemed, the two concluded the fish were to blame.

The bounty of fish, cooked to delight, brought them some fame in the day as well. And, full of daring, Ichabod made the trip again and again, growing rich off the sweet tasting blind fish. It’s effects became known, as many women was with child in a few weeks, and the village hungered for more of the strange fish.

DeepSeaFish.png

Other sailors began to wonder where Ichabod got his fish, unseen elsewhere in the ocean. A few tried to follow him at night, but Ichabod was wise to them and refused to sail to his hiding spot until he was sure he was alone. The fish he ate restored him every day, as if he’d never slept.

But one of the farmers, a younger boy Obed, snuck aboard Ichabod’s ship one night, hiding in the cabin as the fisherman left the shore. And by moonlight, through the door, he saw Ichabod breach that taboo bay. He was so startled he let out a squeal, revealing himself to the old fisher man’s wide pupiled eyes. Icahbod had the boy over the edge in moments, dangling by his shirt.

The boy quickly offered to help Ichabod catch even more of the fish, saying that with two ships, they’d both make four times the profit, helping each other carry more of the load back. And Ichabod considered, and agreed, for substantially more of the profit than a mere half. Given his precarious position, the boy agreed.

So the fish poured in greater numbers, their mewling and whining stifled by the flames and ever hungry populace. Eventually, Ichabod hit upon a better idea. He and the boy went and rebuilt the old tower near the bay and built a crude gate. Coming to town, he explained that he would allow any to fish from his hidden bay for a fee.

OldIchabod1.png

At first there were threats of violence, but by then Ichabod had grown large from his diet. His skin was growing gold, and his hands had become webbed. Small growths had appeared within his mouth, barely visible but he felt them when he ate. It made eating much hard, but the small growths massaged the soft flesh of the fish well, refining there flavor and picking bones clean, saving him the bother of cleaning the fish. Some even said he at them live. In the last three months, he’d grown a foot in height. The boy, in his fishing and abundance of the fish he had, was up to his shoulder and had small teeth running on the top of his mouth. The two of them had nothing to fear of violence. So the village relented.

It became common to spend nights in the bay, catching fish and eating them on the shore, before retiring home in the morning, to tend to wives and trade with sea born merchants, who found the changes startling. Men and women and children no longer ate grains, but devorued fruit and raw flesh. Their skin was paleand scaled, their arms lengthy. Ichabod allowed traders to ply their wares, but prohibited them enter his bay, erecting barricades around his tower and piling stones to hurl at vessels. He and his wife rarely left their tower, sending the fishing boys to do his biding from the shore.

But even this was tiresome. In time, the village moved into the bay entirely. They caught the fish with their hands, no longer bothering with nets. They had boats, but swimming in it’s inky deep was a common pastime. And, at last, the children were born.

They were pale mewling things, with eye lids too heavy to open, and skin that was soft to look at but sharp to the touch. Their hands had small claws, and their mouths had loathsome tendrils, perfect for catching fish and the deeper things of that by gone bay, the things that had lurked so long ago in sacred waters long forgotten. And so the people of the western shore were known as far as distant Kahal.


That ends this weeks tale. I had a busy week, so didn’t have the chance to review and rework this as much as normal. I like the general premise, and I think some horror of what you consume could be played with. A longer time scope would also serve the story: gradual mutation after eating unknown substances is ripe for material.

Next week: a pilgrimage to a demon throne!

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The Many Doors of the Dead

This Week’s Prompt: :59. Man in strange subterranean chamber—seeks to force door of bronze—overwhelmed by influx of waters.

The Research:Bound Beneath The Earth

Theodore was unconcious when the lowered him down the ancient pit. His mind had been adled shortly before, so that when he awoke, he would only distantly recall the actual descent. And his limbs would be limp, unable to resist his executioners. They were oddly kind for what they did, lowering him almost gently down to the dimly lit shore of that vast aquafir. After it was done, they cut the rope with a quick knife stroke, and closed the door.

Theodore came to an unknown time later, with only a dying fire and his stocks. Finding a sufficiently sharp rock, he bashed his hands free, and seized a larger piece to be a light. The rest he tossed on the fire, to shine brighter on his return. Doing so, he made his way along the shore. The water was fresh but almost algae filled. It lacked the familiar smell of salt, the motion of coming and going waves.

There were no shells, only broken stones along the shore, and the charred remains of other stockades and fires. Theodore stepped around them with some respect, wondering sometimes if something lived in the lightless pool. But no motion, not even the pull of the moon, seemed to alter it. Deciding that he would not die with only a pool of water to stare at, he turned away and walked deeper into his tomb.

ThreeEyedSkull2.png

The first thing he found was a corpse, bloated and rotting from the nearby lake. It lay curled up at the bottom of an alcove, the burnt ashes of stocks having only left a vague mark on the ground. Theodore raised his torch a bit to see if any remained, revealing the man’s slack jawed face as he did so. His hair on end, Theodore turned and pressed on. The cave couldn’t go on forever.

Theodore found the quiet and emptiness made him prone to introspection. His shadows and the unmistakable presence of a hundred other condemned bodies were the only company. He wondered how long this receptacle of misery had existed. What crimes had condemned men through the ages down into the pits. Ages past they said, blasphemers, witches, sorcerers, and worse had been sent into the unknown depths of this purgatorio. Theodore felt his own crime, then, was rather small. A bit of blood on the stones was not compared to the horde of sinners that teemed around forgotten fires.

As the cave descended, the flickering light revealed crumbling walls and walkways of stone and dried mud, the outlines and echoes of a habitation. There were collapsed beams of smooth stone, having given way to long forgotten weights. There was nothing written here, no wind to stir the accumulated decay. The only marker of time was that as he went farther and farther, the buildings rose and grew sturdier and sturdier. As the fire began to fade a great gate, opened by a long forgotten traveler, came into view. It’s metal frame and wooden form were better made. Atop it was something inscribed:

The hands that raised me have perished. The hands that sought to tear me down have become naught but dust. The Sky that smiled at me is buried, and the mountains from which I was quarried are long worn down.

Inside the buildings were of stone, locked together without mortar. The cyclopean structures were preserved, with only broken shards of glass along the floor. Here, the dead had taken more corporeal forms. Corpses lay, as Theodore explored, against windows. They looked out longingly, minerals having long replaced muscle, statues frozen in rotting states. The dead idols, lifeless beyond dead, were found in the streets.

Here were some locked in embrace, heads tilted and small streams of salt marking where tears would fall. There, beneath the greened copper eagle, was a figure gripping at the base of an altar to some forgotten god. Around a dried fountain lay others, arms covering their chest. They waited in rows,eyes and tongues missing, some creature having long chewed them away before the petrified wastes could have their way. At the base of the fountain, Theodore found more scrawled writing in holy script.

Weep not for us, traveler, who has come to this most holy shrine. Far and wide is our fate known, and you must surely know it well. Your pilgrimage is welcome, to look upon our last works before the great gods recalled us to our heavenly posts.

Theodore continued on, stepping carefully around the stone bodies, moving deeper inward. The statues at the gate were crumbling horsemen, proudly facing out with rusted blades the underground lake, welcoming long passed foemen. The center statue between them had decayed such that the line between victor and defeated was hard to see. Whether the forms gripping the standing man’s limbs were carved from stone or frozen flesh, Theodore did not want to know. The limbs had fallen limp either way, outcry now fallen away, recorded only in it’s failure.

The dark had made Theodore numb. The vague outlines of finished structures, edged by shifting shadows, and the remains of the sedatives he’d been given when lowered into this pit had made put his mind into a state of dull curiosity. Still, the bodies had broken into his soul, and planted a seed of growing fear within. Deeper in, he went, until he came to an elaborate door of painted wood. When the torch touched it, it sparkled and nearly blinded him. The broken piece of stock dropped to the floor and nearly went out as he rubbed his eyes to see the bejeweled door. The engraving was as follows, in archaic tongues.

I defied the deep. I defied the Flame. But when at last my doom came, it made me hollow and hallowed my steal to gold. An exquisite corpse I leave, for lesser worlds to recall.

The buildings rose like columns beyond, broken tops of glass shimmering like stars from the torch. A shimmering and flickering of candles and the constant smell of incense and myrrh filled the air. Theodore tossed the burning remains of the torch aside, and watched in horror and awe as it caught on a puddle and ignited a larger fire from the strange mater. In the snaking light of the new inferno, he saw bodies wrapped in fine silk, with tendril funerary masks carved from green stone.

A pair of statues, carved from flesh colored stone and covered with moss, leaned forward in the hall. They were like lions, but with manes of peacocks feathers, a million colored and cracked eyes. Past them were orbs held up on hundreds of spindly legs, like spiders of glimmering glass, red sand illuminated by their circuitous path. They danced around a monolith with a whole running through and what appeared to be an entire choir of bells and drums inside it’s hollow frame. When Theodore rapped it, a wondrous tone was made.

THe Last Room Below.png

He could have, should have, wandered among those many delights for ages. Had Theodore done so, he would have perhaps found rare rest among illustrious if unknown people. The three eyed forms he found, their bodies thick in oil and dripping along the floor, eight feet tall and with the occasional visible claw, were at the least of more noble dress than those he left behind. There was something, however, that caught his eye. And Theodore’s eyes had betrayed him before into this down below.

There was a bronze door along the wall. It was plan, without ornament. There was an engraving, a fish and a hand. It’s meaning was lost to him, but given the dire warning that every other door had born, and the safety so far, Theodore was unafraid by now. He gripped the strange, circular hold, twisting it readily, and throwing open that antique door.

The onrush gave no moment for though. Lights were extinguished as the waves suddenly overcame him, overcame the tomb. Glass and fiber, metal and bone, silk and stone mixed in the pandemonium that fell out, that rushed down along. It swelled and surged, dragging the glorious dead to the convicted and damned, mixing the ashes of the condemned with the sacred oils of the eldest. When and how Theodore died, none can say. His fate was learned, when the waters bubbled up, out of that old forgotten hole.

I didn’t have time to edit this one as much as I wanted, and obviously the details of Theodore’s crime are left to the reader’s imagination more than I might have preferred. Aw well, that is the nature of these sorts of things. Next week, we pull strange and ominous things out of the sea!

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What Was It?

This Week’s Prompt:55. Man followed by invisible thing.

The Relevant Research:The Little People In Life

The two men squatted in the bushes across the old house in the woods. For the last ten years, it had been assumed that no one lived in the woods, and that this house had long been abandoned.

“Alright, so review. Old man’s on the second floor, behind the blue door. You run up there and…deal with him, in case he tries to get something on either of us. Vergil said, flick the sack open for the third time. Only one sort of person lived this far from the world, in derlict houses.

“Then I put everything that looks vaguely valuable in the sack. You get his books from his room, and any of the weird stuff he has up there. We make a break for it, and if anyone asks, he broke your kids leg.”

“I thought the fall did that.”

“Then he caused your kid to fall. Look, witches are strange like that.”

“Aren’t women witches?”

“Remember Godfrey? He was a witch, stole all that cattle and got so big.”

“Okay. So I kill-”

“Deal with.”

“Deal with the old man and steal all his magic stuff. Why do I wanna do that?”

“So we can give it to the church to get rid. You know. In case he’s bound some stuff in the pages. Don’t wanna burn it all and make things worse, letting loose Lord knows what, right?” Vergil said. Of course, Dominic would forget all about it when they got back with the loot. Vergil could get to work getting himself some of the old man’s magic, and all that came with that.

The two men rushed quietly from the bushes. The front door of the building was locked, but it was an old wooden door and Dominic had a hatchet. Cutting open the front,they were able to get in and get to work. Vergil busied himself with tossing silver into the bag—there was a lot, Vergil noted, probably to facilate his witch craft—as well as a number of knives and carved wooden plates. He examined a well made drinking horn when he heard thrashing from up stairs. Vergil sighed, looking around for anything more valuable before seeing an iron glint near the fireplace.

BookFinished-Textless.png

A spear was held across a shield with carefully scrawled runes along its edge. Something from the old country. Something mighty from the old country. Vergil decided that this was also his and no way in hell was Dominic to know of it. He dropped his bag and took the spear down carefully, before running out the door and jamming it beneath some old and bending roots. All the better, he thought, to come back to later. Judging from the noise, Dominic still had some work to do.

The two had no difficulty removing the rest, and Dominic didn’t bother asking about the books when Vergil gave him some silver. No, all was well. That night, Vergil hid all his plunder beneath his bed and wasted the night away doing his best to make sense of the books letters and pictures. All seemed well.

In the midst of the night, Vergil’s breath left him. He awoke, cold and transfixed, gasping for air. Around him the room seemed to swell and deflate, his lungs taken out of his chest and made into the entire house. Footsteps ran across his stomach, like a herd of cats waiting, clawing and prodding him as he was trapped and struggling. Eventually, he collapsed back, into a dreamless sleep.

Mare

When he awoke, he found his limbs ached in every which way. Vergil pulled himself up from his bed, his knees no longer obeying him entirely. He pulled himself along the ground as a seal, blood painfully returning to his still waking legs. At last, he managed to grab a walking stick, and struggle to his feet. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself along the road. The morning mists were still on the ground, hiding the occasionally loose stone that scrapped his hands when he fell.

Vergil had already concluded he was cursed.

With stings in his side, hungry and tired, he arrived at Dominic’s home. Best to see if both theives had been struck down, Vergil reckoned. He rapt on the door with his staff, supporting himself with the wall. Dominic opened the door, coughing slightly, his skin a slightly sickly green.

“Okay, so, maybe he was actually a witch.” Vergil said, with a pained smile. Dominic grimaced and nodded.

“So now what? We go to the priest?” Dominic asked, the door still in hand.

“What, and confess? No. No, we just…ah!” Vergil said, snapping his fingers together. “I know! We must have forgotten to bury him. Right, of course. He’s restless, that’s all. We bury him, read some scripture over him, and there you go.”

“Right, but don’t we need a priest for last rites?” Dominic asked, scratching his chin.

“What’s with you and getting clergy involved?” Vergil muttered.

“What is it with you and avoiding them?” Dominic asked, looking towards the church and giving Vergil a sidelong glance.

Vergil eventually relented. The two went and fetched Father Lionel, and explained that they had come across a deceased old man in the woods. Neither made much mention of sickness, and Vergil did his best to hide the pains in his joints. The priest was shocked such a grizzly robbery could occur, and agreed to come and help in the burial of the poor dead man.

The old man hadn’t moved from his bed. Vergil was almost dissapointed. By now, use of his legs had returned to him in no small measure, and he was able to assit dominic in wrapping the body in his bloody sheet. The makeshift cloth coffin was carried down the stairs, to the aghast priest. The priest, of course, agreed to bury the man here, nearer to home. The church cemetary was nearly full in those days, as Vergil and Dominic well knew.

The three of them then stood round the empty plot. Dominic and Vergil slowly lowered the body into the ground as the priest read the rites allowed. Just as the body settled, before the dirt was shoveled in, Vergil’s grip on his staff was pricked with thorns. Letting out a yelp, he stumbled into the grave, onto the dead man’s rotting form. Vergil struggled to pull himself back out, scrambling backwards out of the grave and pushing himself back up with his stick, out of breath and sweating in pain.

OpenGrave+Priest.png

The priest assumed it was the face of mortality that drove Vergil to gnashing and cursing on the ground in pain. He was, in a fashion, correct.

Vergil and Dominic slumped back to their haunts, and there decided to share bread. The burial of the old man had exhausted both of them, and in his misery Vergil had forgotten to eat in the morning. Dominic let Vergil rest as he acquired the bread and broke it between them. Vergil, near starving, ripped half his portion off with one bite, before turning and spitting it up.

“What the hell?” Vergil said, staring at the chunks of what for a moment looked like rat, before realizing it he was mold spread over the entirety of his meal. Dominic’s eyes widened as the mold spread over the bread in Vergil’s hand, and the smell of decay filled the air.

“I…I don’t think it was the ghost.” Dominic said slowly.

“Course it was! We just…the priest missed something.” Vergil said, rubbing his temple and trying to ignore the pleading in his stomach. “Beat you he wasn’t holy enough anyway. I’ll sort it out tonight, find something in the stuff we stole, and then this will be done with.”

“You’ll starve.” Dominic said gravely.

“I’ll go hungry a day to get a ghost off my back. Whatever that old man did, I’m sure he wrote down a cure or some such. After all, what’s the point of curses if they don’t have a cure?”

“Cursing folks.” Dominic said, frowning.

“That’s half it. Any good or smart wizard knows you curse people to get what you want. Then, you get’em to pay you to fix it. It’s like that priest down in south France. He’ll curse a family for you for a soverign. And if the family want’s to get cured, he’ll fix it for twice that much. If you pay thrice, he’ll never curse you in the first place.”

“What if they just wanna kill you?” Dominic said, scracthing his chin.

“We got axes and swords and poison for that. No need to wait till your beyond the grave for that.” Vergil said, pulling himself up and limping down the road.

The day seemed darker then before. His shadow ran long infront of him, the sun dimly red to his back. Vergil heard every sound now, his sickness having sharpened his ears at the cost of all else. The wind rustling between the leafs and branches held conspiracies and laughter. The creek giggled at his expense. Distant travlers and townsfolk sounded like a crowd all around him, and the birds whistled in horrible tones as he passed. Squirrels scurried up the trees, their tails flat and teeth bared. How rarely, Vergil noted, had he considered the close kinship between rats and squirrels until that long walk home. At last, beneath the wooden ribcage of the forest, he arrived at his home and set about sorting through the magician’s things.

The Ribs.png

He noted the spear as a cause at once. Such a fortunate and fine looking tool, a ghost might be jealous of it. The latin letters glimmered as he continued to dig. The books as well, but he was slow to part with those. Then there was the old horn. That might be the cause as well. Some spell worked on it, although a horn being the cause of his agony seemed less likely then a spear.

Gathering these around him, Vergil now wondered how to go about speaking with the dead man, or appeasing him. The strange thought occurred to him, to go out to the new grave. Yes, to the new grave. There, he could leave these, and get on with his life. The ghost would take them or not, and all would be well.

So, with spear and book and bent back, Vergil went walking into the woods at night. The moon was high, and if it weren’t for his coughing and clean shaven chin, a strange might have thought that in the woods walked Wotan, returned from his grave work. In the silence of night, puncuated by the hacking of his illness, Vergil at last came to the freshly turned grave and slumped down, to rest from the walk. The sickness had sapped his mind and body of it’s cohesion, such that his spirit would wander off at the slightest touch. Looking at the starry heavens, Vergil decided to rest.

StarMouth.png

He awoke, held in place by a hundred thousand pins and needles. He tried to scream in pain, but his mouth was sewn shut as well. Above the stars seemed to draw closer. But gone was their luster. Now they became shimmering eyes full of malace, glittering fangs stretching out in hunger. The array swirled around him, a sea that engulfed him and tore at his skin and muscle. Frozen and screaming, Vergil saw himself die.

Dominic found Vergil’s remains the next day in the woods. Neither horn nor spear nor book had been moved from his frost covered corpse, which defied the July sun. Not a thing out of place. Dominic rushed to Vergil’s house, convinced that the spirit had found what it wanted. And there, a great tree had been felled onto the house.

Inside the crushed remains of Vergil’s hovel, was the overturned bag. It did not take long for Dominic to notice what was missing. All the silver was there, neatly stacked despite the chaos around it. All that was missing were the knives.

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In The Garden I Saw A Shade

This Week’s Prompt:51. Enchanted garden where moon casts shadow of object or ghost invisible to the human eye.

The Resulting Story: There is a Garden atop a Mountain

Now we begin a venture into two separate realms, both of shadow and of gardens, and what is in between. The central place in this story is something of an uncanny places, where the unseen is temporarily perceptible under the moon (who’s various shapes we recorded here). A moonlit walk in a garden is an almost romantic view of something unseen.

CarlLineaus

Look at this dork. Hey Carl.

The role of a garden is important however. Garden’s have long had a place in Western thought, as places of cultivated nature that appear wild. Carl Linnaeus, an advocate for the idea of a fixity of species, viewed the world as a well cultivated garden, with the Lord as it’s gardener. This connects to the presentation in Western mythos of the Garden of Eden, where the lord tends to all things. It is a symbol of cultivation, growth, and to a degree riches. YHVH is not the only god with gardens however. The Greeks had the Hesperedies and some sources point to Indra possessing a celestial garden. Peach trees were cultivated by the celestial bureaucracy of China, and fruits of immortality were also grown by the Norse gods.

GardenofEarthlyDelights1

This is cropped from the Garden of Earthly Delights. It gets weirder. See the cover pic? Yeah…

The connection with gods and gardens is more than something exclusive. Temples and monasteries often maintained gardens, either for contemplation or meditative purposes. These are separate from the wild places of the world, sacred groves and mountains that are maintained as wild as opposed to cultivated, and separate from those agricultural lands devoted to a temple that would often be redistributed among the public.

The most famous of these gardens are the Zen gardens of Zen Buddhism and Mary gardens of christian practice. I would point, briefly, to a wonderful story concerning monastic grounds and the discovery of a statue there in. It’s either a horror or humor story,depending on your own take. For me it was both.

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The connection between gods and gardens is more than just a potential connection of cultivation of the earth and tameness. It is also one of riches and authority. Gardens in ancient Egypt were known for providing nobility shade. Assyrian gardens were vaster complexes, given over to hunting areas of leisure. Gardens often in later times provided vegetables for manor houses. The garden was, in many ways, a symbol of riches and cultivation.

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The most famous of this category, without a doubt, is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…which there is no archaeological evidence for in Babylon, although Nineveh may be their true home. All the better, if we are to work in mythology then. The gardens, one of the Seven Ancient wonders of the World, were built according to multiple informants to replicate the green hills of a queen’s homeland that she dearly missed. They are often raised or tiered, hence “hanging”, and have marvelous aqueduct systems to supply water to the trees.

Gradens thus already have something of the uncanny in them. They are close to gods, and by extension kings, and could be arranged as something liminal between the wilderness and the civilized lands. Particularly in periods where a garden served as much as a hunting reserve as it is a place for the gathering of fruits. The shadow is just as much, if not more, of a liminal thing.

Shadows have been tied to the realm of the dead for a considerable amount of time. The word “shade” shares an origin with shadow, obviously, and many descriptions of the afterlife in the near east place it in shadow. The shadow or shade is where the dark and light intermingle in a way. There are also reports, in the last few decades, of mysterious shadow people who may be reiterations of this older mythology.

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The loss of a shadow is bemoaned in many stories, although I cannot find any particularly old folklore. We have works by Dunsany that involve selling one’s shadow, a darker tale by Hans Christen Anderson where one’s shadow leaves and becomes a rather wicked man, a story of being shunned by society for lack of a shadow. In older mythology, the shadow sometimes reveals a creatures true intentions, as a reflection might. For instance, the Kitsune’s shadow is that of a fox demon regardless of her form. The devil has some associations with the shadows as his role of prince of darkness, helped by the Jungian concept of the shadow (We will get to that shortly).

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I feel like linking to “She’s a Maneater” here would be tasteless

Not all creatures of shadow are wicked, however, as the Sun god Surya in Hindu myth has married the goddess of shadow, and biblical passages often refer to the Lord as providing shade from the harshness of the sun. Dark isn’t evil I suppose.

Which brings us to the psychological shadow. The shadow, as conceived by the pyschoanalysist Carl Gustav Jung, is the result of repressed emotions and thoughts from the self. It has something in common with the Id of Freudian analysis, but is less inherently antagonistic and sexual. The shadow is better thought of as the opposite in the mind, rather than the barely contained chaotic.

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Ha. Look at this other dork. Also named Carl. Hi Carl.

The shadow as the source of a true self, as hidden hold of the soul, actually works fairly well with the notion of the Garden to a point. The graden is a place of divinity and sacredness, and while the shadow may be something profane, it is also a signifer of something human and sacred.  The shadow, like the garden, is something of revelation of character. It is the place where perhaps truth about the self comes out.

Alternatively, it might be better to have the garden by a place of confrontation with some spiritual force. This could call on a Lovecraft theme of seeking forbidden knowledge (And oh, wouldn’t that have a western parralel in Christianity!), and the shadow is often an uncomfortable thing to confront.

Said gardens, especially those that have been trespassed before, have guardians. The Hesperedies have the great dragon, and the Garden of Eden has the four headed cherubim, an angel of truly terrible appearance and power with a flaming sword that strikes in every direction. The Lovecraftian equivalent is an embodiment of time, of Yog-Sothoth, who guards the sleeping ancient ones. In the story of Death’s Master, Tales of a Flat Earth points to another sacred garden guarded by many fierce beasts.  So too will our garden be guarded by dreadful things.

Ezekiel

Pop Quiz: Are these four-headed winged warriors from Lovecraft or Ezekiel?

But then we have a new problem. What is in the garden that is so valuable. We could do well with fruits, I think. Fruits of immortality are common, but something interesting might come of using the apples of an odder sort: the golden apples of Perun. These are not tools of eternal life but items of ultimate destruction. Of course, perhaps there is a connection between the two concepts. Lighting and diamonds are often connected as symbols of enlightenment, power and durability. But that is secondary to the goal.

So our story will be of an expedition. I think at least two maybe three individuals, climbing the mountains in some far off land, to find the garden. The second portion will be the confrontation with the guardian, perhaps at the cost of life for one or two members. And then in the garden, they will find the shadows of those unseen. Perhaps hidden masters who have already partaken of the fruit, perhaps new guardians and gods enraged at being disturbed by mortal hands.

Or, perhaps, hunters in their garden surprised at new prey. We shall see.

 
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A Blind Idiot of A God

This Week’s Prompt:49. AZATHOTH—hideous name.

The Story: Father And Son

Azathoth is a creature of some surprising clear description in the works of the Lovecraftian Mythos. Azathoth, epithets ranging from the Demon Sultan to the Nuclear Chaos to the Blind Idiot God, is the close thing the mythos has to a creator deity. From Azathoth spews forth all things madly and randomly, creation occurring out of his court on a whim. Azathoth is credited as having long gone mad, being now only entertained by his court of outer gods and their music and piping. Azathoth’s origins are perhaps as manifold.

The name holds many hints. One theory is that Azathoth derives his name from Azazel. Azazel is a desert demon or fallen angel who accepts the scapegoat for the sins of Israel, an angel thus involved to a degree in the purging of sin. Azazel is also credited, however, in Enochian texts as the creator of the weapons of humanity (in traditional mythic fashion, he gives men weapons and women make up). He was also there the father of some of the Nephilim, man-eating gigantic heroes that were destroyed in the flood.

Another theory suggests, particularly from the name Demon Sultan, that Azathoth derives from the story of Vathek. Vathek is an old Gothic story, that is distinguished in the setting and cosmology from other horror tales of the genre. Vathek is set in the court of a Caliph, and the predominant religion in imagery is Islam instead of Christianity. We named ‘Valley of Vathek” after the main character, and a full version of it can be found here. The connection between Vathek and Azathoth the Demon Sultan seems based primarily on it’s ending of profound suffering in the courts of hell rather than the expected elation. The punishment of the damned is a sort of blinding truth and madness.

Azazthoth, broadly speaking in the Mythos itself, is to a degree the supreme creator deity, credited with giving rise distantly through more famous children such as Yog Sothoth and Nyrlanhotep. More pressingly, his authority is somewhat supreme. His name alone cows multitudes of monstrous creatures

Demiurge

Demiurge

Azathoth bears a resemblance to the characterizations of a few more creators worth mentioning. Chaos/Kaos as creator of course resembles Azathoth, as an apparently unintelligent creator force. Hudun resembles him as well, with no perceivable senses. Instead Hudun simply exists, and is in fact slain by receiving senses in certain Taoist texts. The Gnostic Demiurge, a creator of reality who is blind to it’s true nature and has woven a nightmare realm from his own selfishness, has a passing resemblance as well, if only as a hostile creative power that seeks to trap mankind.

Azazthoth has one significantly literary reference that must be recalled however.

Azathoth’s name and title however, belie more horrifying insinuation. His name recalls an alchemcial term: Azoth, the primary substance of Creation in many branches of Western Occultism and alchemy. Described sometimes as the source of Solar fire and Lunar water. Azoth then is similar to primary material or chaos. But unlike those, Azoth persists at the core of everything. The thing that gives things their existence.

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A depiction of Azoth

This presence is echoed by the title Nuclear Chaos. Now, in the post Hiroshima world, Nuclear has a very clear meaning as associated with radiation. And certainly, as horror iconography goes, radiation and nuclear weapons might be reflective of the destruction and perverting influence of the gods of Lovecraftian lore. But the Nucleus here meant something entirely different. It meant the core of something, it’s center and by extension it’s very being. The nuclear chaos alludes to Azathoth’s all pervasive nature that makes him more than a distant disorder. The madness that is Azathoth, the thing that is at the bottom and center of everything, giving existence to all things, is insane. Utterly idiotic and insane.

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This is almost a horrible punchline to a nihilist joke, isn’t? It reads almost like something from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Goats. It’s a silly supposition, comically from the right angle. But we must labor to make this farce something almost horrifying. Restore some majesty it has lost.

So how to make this horrifying? Well, we might first abandon the primacy of the creature. Being trapped or happened upon by an absolutely mad and all powerful entity is itself rather terrifying, if full of humorous potential. The strange and disturbing effects that something omnipotent and foolish could do are rife with potential.

Or we could focus on the change wrought on such a being. How did Azathoth come to be in this state? What was it like, when the essence of the cosmos changed from what it was before? That has potential, but might be too abstract, and frankly too small in effect.

We could return to the notion of Azathoth as an inspiring source. Something that hasn’t been touched on that Lovecraft was fond of was the creation of arts in the wake of terrible beings. We discussed this somewhat, back in our discussion of wicked muses. The Demon Sultan has played that role in the past, particularly regarding The Music of Erich Zann. This might put further emphasis on the name’s hideous in someway, regarding perhaps its latent power inscribed into a poem or even a play (something like the King in Yellow perhaps?).

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Azathoth as an infectious thing in reality, spreading and warping like a maddening rot, might be an approach to consider somewhat seriously. The story would need to begin with establishing the nature of reality as it is, and then gradually introduce the corrupting changes. Ideally, only our character notices these changes. Perhaps they are only changes in his perception, perhaps they are real. The changes will be such that whatever goals the lead was pursuing become increasingly impossible. Slowly, the world seems to drift away from his understandings and notions. Until, at last, he is isolated to a degree in an alien landscape.

Hegel

Hegel. Looks Kinda Like A Deep One

In this manner we might examine Azathoth as an anti-Hegelian conception of the universe. Hegel’s theory of history purports that the world spirit, the embodiment of …well, existence grows closer and closer to self knowledge through the synthesis of thesis and anti-thesis. Azathoth, who sits not only at the core of real space but at the center of the Dreamlands, and thus of both the waking and sleeping world, is the opposite. If anything, Azathoth is losing awareness, deluded by music and his own madness.

Of course, incorporating these ideas into a single story is hard. I suggest then a short vignette. A brief story of a decay to madness that has, at least on paper, another plot entirely. A story of a date, or of a confrontation with a father, or a bad day at work. A generally normal outline, that slowly decays both in the mind of the main character and in the outline overall. A place of insecurity can be magnified by the inclusion of a literally changing world. Albeit, at least physically, probably for the worst.

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By the Lake

This Week’s Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Research:Out Of the Lake

Robert, Seamus, and Logan observed the smoldering remains of castle Lochancath. From the tall tower, the only stone structure left. The men below were rifling through the crumbled buildings for anything that could be carried home. The proper treasury was already under guard, trusted men at arms of the three lords holding fast with spears to defend newly one gold.

“I wonder if it will all be as leaves.” Robert wondered at the ash whipping into the air. “That’s what they say about faerie gold, isn’t it? Ash and leaves when you leave with it.”

“I doubt the coffers of the lord were leaves. If they were, someone would have beaten us to killing all this lot years ago.” Logan said. “Ys title or no, you don’t pay men with leaves and not get a pummeling from’em. Antsy men aren’t trustworthy ones either.”

“Men of magic have their way of doing things. I’d not put it past them, to value leaves as gold. Given Their style, who can say? That knight, with the blade made of mirrors was rather dreadfully skilled, despite his size. You’d think a giant would be less swift.” Seamus said. “And who knows? I suspect their magic fades with them, but well, would you look at that.”

Seamus gestured over the opposite end of the tower, looking over the castle’s namesake lake. There, in the still waters, the castle and town were reflected as they had been summers ago. Not a single sign of seige or famine, every building intact and gleaming gloriously from the waves. Only a small ripple disrupted the image, something bobbing along the shore.

“Is that–” Robert said squinting. “By God, it is. Would you look at that, a little Moses.”

“Go, get the babe from the river reeds.” Seamus said, turning to one of the standing soliders, “Bring it here.”

“Bring it here? No, no kill it before we suffer whatever magics it has.” Logan said, turning ot Seamus. The solider waited in confusion.

“Kill it? Can you not see the value in a sorcerous squire?” Seamus replied.

“Yes, but can’t you see the danger? One boy was spared by Herod, one by pharaoh, one by every tyrant. And they will grow and avenge themselves on their parents.”

“Only because their parents were fools, and headed prophecy. If we are fated to die at the hands of one of Lochancath’s heirs, tell me, will killing this babe forestall our destiny?” Seamus said, shrugging. “There is much to gain, and little to lose. Stories are not history, and the scholar is quick to see the doom as foertold. How many did Herod massacre with no savior? How about Caesar?”

As soon as Seamus was done, his footman returned with the babe, wrapped in red cloth. It was pale green, and quiet despite staring out with ever curious eyes.

“Do not bring that thing up in your own house at least,” Logan said, shaking his head. “Send it somewhere where it will never learn what we’ve done nor have ambitions to thrones our sons have been promised.”

“Very well, he’ll live with a squire of mine. I know just the one.”

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It would be almost two decades before the child was seen by Seamus or Logan. It was on Saint Jude’s day, and Logan had almost forgotten the boy in the years since. He was thus at also for words when the old squire, now a knight in his own right, presented the boy to the court as Anloch, here to become squire of one of Lord Seamus.

“My son Anloch has done well in my household, serving with distinction and grace. I humbly submit him to be a squire of your majesty,” the old knight said, gesturing at the youth beside him. He was still pale, almost luminescent. Long curling red hair hung from his head, and his hands and feet seemed made for a larger man. Logan, frowned, his mind worrying about some forgotten dream. Frankly, as the youth was presented, bowing humbly to the king, Logan suspected the weight of the feast landed heavily on him.

“Ah, we’ve heard a little of this lad,” Seamus said with a smile, “Except that he is fond of the hunt and does not lack skill at it.”

“Many a mangy hind have I hunted, four fierce boars I’ve speared as well.” Anloch replied, standing unblinking before Seamus. His voice reminded Seamus of a flute, high and airy. “And many more than these have I found with hand and knife.”

Seamus smiled and laughed.

“Boars, you say? For someone so slight, that is quite the feat. Well, you are welcome in my court then. Come, sit at my side.” Seamus said, gesturing beside him, and sighing low some. He seemed tired to Logan’s eyes. Perhaps he had been up late, examining plans and books. Or perhaps memories of the wars abroad, of battles near and far, had kept him up with their clamor. Logan shrugged it off.

The youth tilted his head as he sat beside the sons of his new lord. They engaged in some lengthy conversation, but neither Seamus nor Logan could hear it. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands, spinning invisible circles round and round in front of the boys eyes, as if Anloch was trying to weave a net out of the air.

“He’s come along well, hasn’t he?” Seamus said after to Logan. “And hunting so much at his age. He’ll be a grand fighter, even if he never does practice. Imagine him honed in iron.”

“He winces at the sight of a mirror,” Logan said, frowning. “Even his reflection in a plate of iron gives him pause. It worries me, that he’s grown so.”

“Are you talking of Anloch papa?” Seamus son, Scath, said. The boy was barely into his eleventh year, but already walked about with a knife at his side.

“Yes, was he fine entertainment?” Seamus said, kneeling down to his son’s level.

“Yeah! He’s done so much work out in the woods! I think Rachel has gotten smitten for him!” Scath said.

“Scandalous. Well, we’ll see how she feels when she’s of more marriagable age.”

“You’d consult your daughter?” Logan asked with a raised eyebrow.

“If I didn’t, tragedy would most certainly follow. You are slow on your hearing of old stories, friend. A bitter bride is poison in the house.” Seamus said, waving a corrective finger.

“Papa, where’s Anloch from?” Scath asked. Seamus turned cold for a moment, before smiling at his son.

“Well, Sir Bedeve is from the western part of the county, so that should–”

“But he doesn’t look like Sir Bedeve! He’s got no beard, and red hair, and his eyes aren’t as blood shot and he walks like a bird,” Scath asked, crossing his arms.

“Well, you have the curiosity of a crow and belly of a pig.” Seamus said, poking his nose and belly. “Anloch’s from Sir Bedeve’s house, and that’s all that matters.”

“But he talks funny–”

“That is all that matters, little one. For you and anyone else.” Seamus said, ending the discussion as much with his tone as with his words. Logan saw Rachel looking from behind a column, darting back at the end. He ought to have considered things to come.

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Years again passed, and Anloch remained something of a fixture at court. Logan watched his youth and found his own age weighing stronger and stronger. He seemed, when he looked in the mirror, to be a caricature of the elderly, each day growing feebler and feebler. The more time he had to ponder the change, the slower his mind’s gears seemed to turn.

Logan assumed the same was true of Seamus.He hadn’t seen Seamus in two years, with his boy Scath returning missives, not infrequently with that Anloch boy attending to him. Like a flame, he drew people round him wherever he went. Ladies and squires and even knights at courts, Logan had seen. Tripping over themselves to talk to the strange lad, who never seemed to blink properly. It bothered Logan to know end. Anlochs blinks, they rolled between his eyes instead of closing and opening at the same time.

He needed not to assume with Robert. The two rode and visited frequently. Each time Robert seemed to speak in more hushed tones and in more irregular patterns. Pauses would give way to hurried or slurred words, and he’ stare lazily into space for hours. Something had become of him, Logan knew it.

Logan thought over this as he rode under moonlight, a dog helping him on the trail. He knew the boy was related to this nonsense. His daughter had vanished into the night, along with half the guards and footmen. And as tired as he was with the world, he had reserves yet to go and find her.

Logan’s hounds followed her scent down the old roads at night, back to the ruins of Lochancath. He saw two more horses, Robert and Seamus’s riding to the same outcropping, and the same placid lake. There along the shore, in the rubble and remains, Logan saw a sight unimaginable. A host of men and women dressed in the finest clothes, men at amrs with shields painted white with a single red stripe, children in baptismal apparel. His daughter among them, and Seamus’s son as well, and at the head of the host stood Anloch.

How tall he was! He towered a head and shoulder above every knight and walked still as softly as a cat. He directed the host with a single finger down into the lake, and each walked into the reflection of the castle, still perfectly maintained in the rippling water. Anloch turned wordlessly to see the three lords who he had beggared of household and lives. On his brow was a third, crimson eye. He did not smile knowingly, he did not smirk with malice. There was a calm of completion that he spread, as he with a few steps, descended into the depths.


 

So, there are a few things I wouldn’t do if I were to rewrite this. Logan and Robert could be fused, and the center of action is clearly in the two middle acts, during Anloch’s ‘seduction’ of the various courtiers. As it is, this is a piece that suffers a lot, as I feared it would, from my attempts to say at 1500 words. I have some ideas for expanding it into a bigger story later, but those will have to be done outside the Society.

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