Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Return of Cthulhu

[Hat tip to Hotspur O'Toole for bringing the Lovecraftian-themed sims to our attention, and may H.P. himself forgive us for what follows - RJ and KJ.]

I received an encoded message from Kathy via a long-range device. I could make no sense of it, so I reproduce it here in the hope that someone may understand. In plain text it reads:

[Begin transmission] I had set out in my aircraft to find the mythical Lost Isle of the Elders. The island was long thought to exist in legends only, but I had received coordinates that appeared promising. However, well short of my intended destination, warning lights began flashing in the cockpit. Though the cause was unknown, it appeared that the engines had overheated, and I began to lose altitude as the forward thrusters fired intermittently.

Fortunately, or so I thought at the time, land appeared on the horizon. The lighthouse shined a welcoming beacon, and I made plans to land - not understanding that lighthouses also provided warnings to craft to stay away.

Kathy's Aircraft Approaches the Lighthouse

As I brought my craft down low, I saw mists rising, shrouding the gnarled and withered trees as though the earth itself contained a secret it dared not share with a stranger.

Looking for a Place to Land

A Shrine to the Old Ones

Though I saw no signs of life, the town had clearly been prosperous enough in the recent past to afford stately homes, a fine church, and an enormous Gothic mansion, all of which I could see in the distance as I landed. Nearby was a tent containing vials of foul-smelling chemicals and a sampling of the local flora. Clearly, an experiment of some undetermined sort was underway when the scientists were interrupted. Footprints led away from the tent, the long gaps between steps suggestive of running.

Examining the table, I saw some cryptic runes, and what appeared to be an effort to translate them: "Beware Cthulhu home [?] plants revenge [?] who opens [cf. desecrates???] ancient [untranslatable]." I felt uneasy, and, despite the warm climate, a chill wind blew through me.

The Field Laboratory

I decided to travel to the village, where I thought I might seek shelter for the night while my engines cooled and, if need be, I might find someone to help diagnose and, I hoped, repair my aircraft. The town itself was deserted, and the church doors stood wide open. Dead leaves blew in, creating small piles in the vestry. I made my way to the manor house, hoping its occupants and not disappeared with the villagers and could help me. Many of the houses appeared damaged, quite severely, as though localized earthquakes had swept through the village.

As I walked, the mist descended until I could scarcely see before me. Fortunately, I had seen the layout of the village from the air, and had a good sense of the direction in which I needed to travel. The air was oppressive, and I felt sinister forces gather around me in the deepening gloom. I quickened my pace, sensing that I would be best served by reaching the mansion before nightfall.

The sign on the door read "Miskatonic University." I knocked with some trepidation. The door opened a crack and a shattered face peered out. He scrutinized me before saying, "Come in quickly, stranger, for we are nearly out of time."

Miskatonic University

Having no time to ponder that remark, I moved quickly into the vestibule, and the wreck of a man slammed the door shut behind me and bolted it. Briefly, I explained how I had come to find myself in this place, which the wraith described as the Miskatonic Valley in the state of Massachusetts, though the names meant nothing to me. "If I could trouble you for a place to spend the night, tomorrow I will check on my airship. If it needs no further repairs, I should be on my way, and trouble you no further."

Kathy Waits for the Door to Open

"I agree with you that nothing can be done until morning. Of course you may stay the night, though our accommodations are quite spartan and come with their own inconveniences. In the meanwhile, come have a drink with me." He showed me to a parlor and poured us drinks from a decanter. His hands shook as he did so. I sipped the brandy, but he downed half his glass at one go. That seemed to steady his nerves, and he explained,

"This town was once prosperous, with many scholars and scientists. You may not think so in gazing upon me, a ruin of a man, but I was one of those scientists. In the field below the town, we dug up an artifact not of Earthly origin. We began to examine it, and started to decode the runes that lined the artifact, when it emitted a ghastly miasma. Some of the older members of the team died instantly, their lungs unable to handle the foul air. The rest of us were sickened greatly. As the haze spread throughout the valley, house after house closed, the families fleeing if they could, dying in place if they could not.

"Then at night came..." He faltered. With a wan smile he continued, "Well, you shall see for yourself soon enough."

I sat forward, looking at the man with interest. Who could believe such a preposterous tale? And yet, the atmosphere was thick and somehow alive. Outside, the wind picked up, slamming against the shutters. "Did you ever discover what the artifact was, or how it was causing your troubles?" I asked.

He drained his glass. "I believe we made considerable progress, little good though it has done us. You see, our legends had it that one of Cthulhu's children came to the valley thousands of years ago, brought here on a meteorite that crashed into the ocean. Pieces splintered off, each containing a piece of the god, and buried themselves deep in the earth. Only when the pieces are again together will the god be able to rise and leave this planet. We think we excavated one of those pieces, and that the god has enough power that the single piece of him allows him to search for the remainder of his body."

At that point in his story, something solid and heavy hit the house. The force of the impact was enough to cause the walls to shake, the pictures on the wall to shift, and the glasses to rattle. I looked uneasily at my host, who seemed to take this in stride.

"I must finish my story quickly," he said. "We hypothesized that the god has been seeking the remainder of itself over the past few weeks. For reasons unknown, it has no power during the daylight, but can manifest itself only at night. It can detect the presence of a piece under the earth, but cannot directly retrieve it. Instead, the creature can use its power over the elements to cause the earth to move, thereby opening a path to each part. As the creature becomes whole, its power grows." Another blow hit the house, and the plasterboard started to crack. "I believe I am the last survivor of the village, and I attributed that to my rooms here at the university, as this mansion is the most solidly-built house in the village, made of stone from top to its foundation deep in the earth. The creature has retrieved every but one piece of itself, and I believe that last piece is directly beneath the foundation of this house."

I looked alarmed. "Shouldn't we leave? If we could return to my ship, I could see if the engines are sufficiently cool to take off and we could both depart the valley."

"No." The man shook his head. "Outside in the dark there are things...eldritch horrors beyond your imagination. Cthulhu has sent them to help his offspring in its search, and to protect it against harm. This house is sealed tightly. If we leave, however..." His voice trailed off, but I had no doubt regarding the fate that would befall us should we attempt to leave before daybreak."

The night wore on, and the assault on the house continued. It would abate for some time, then begin again with a renewed vigor. Sleep was impossible. Cracks appeared everywhere, and we became accustomed to the sound of breaking glass. Finally, after one particularly vicious pounding, a thunderous sound was heard above us. "The top floor has collapsed!" I cried.

"Quickly, we must head to the cellar. There is no time to lose!"

We hastened into the dark cellar, a single lantern with us, and fixed the heavy iron door shut behind us. The entire cellar was a stone chamber over which the house stood. Nowhere else was more solidly built. For hours we endured the sounds of the house collapsing around us. Near dawn, the barrage became so intense that I thought our redoubt would surely fail. Finally, the foundation split, at first a small crack, building up to a fissure of considerable width. Far beneath the earth, I could see a meteorite, glowing eerily. At that moment, the ceiling of the cellar collapsed, along with the walls, and I was certain my end had come. Through some miracle, I landed in a small pocket of habitable area, beneath several slabs of stone that came to rest atop one another, forming a tepee over me. The next time the earth moved, the stones would shift and land directly on top of me.

Suddenly, the assault was over. I climbed out of my tomb very carefully, making certain I did not upset any precariously-balanced stones, and looked up. The house was gone, a mere pile of rubble left in its place. Hovering above the house was a winged creature - not a bird, for no bird could have flown with the armor-like skin and enormous talons that this creature possessed - staring at me with malevolent eyes. I was fixed into place by its sinister glare. As it started to attack, the first rays of dawn flashed over the horizon, and the bird-like creature became transparent, and then faded into wisps of texture which went through me. I could feel the evil wind as it passed, but it did not otherwise harm me.

I looked for my host, and called out to him, but heard no response. I concluded he was lying under the stones, crushed to death, in a fate that I had just narrowly avoided. Without further hesitation, I moved as quickly as I could through the village and back to my aircraft. Praying that my diagnosis of an overheated engine was correct, I toggled the craft back into life and held my breath. No warning lights shone, and I gave power to the engines, moving quickly away from the valley. I did not look behind me to see whether a taloned creature made of the morning wind attempted to follow.[End transmission]

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