Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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THE PASSING OF KINGS
James D. Bozarth
Copyright © 1985
Author's Note: The Passing of Kings is a combination of Robert E. Howard's supernatural tales and H.P. Lovecraft's horror tales, inspired by a singular quote from "The Grey God Passes."
412 Psychology Building
Salem Junior College
7 October 19–
Miss Suzan Sebastian
375 Emery Road
My Dearest Miss Sebastian,
I understand your impatience, after all, six months have passed since I received the manuscript from you. I must admit my first inclination was to treat it as a somewhat tasteless hoax; but because your father is a close friend of mine, and you were so terribly distressed, I made every effort to confirm—or deny—the validity of the work. I am now determined to believe it, though portions of it are of so fantastic a nature as to defy belief. However, certain facts and events as described in the manuscript you say was so mysteriously delivered to you, are accurate and verifiable to an astounding degree and as such lend a grudging credence to the entire work. Each word carries a conviction that is hard to ignore.
I freely admit that on my first perusal I was tempted to dismiss this tale as fantasy, but for your sake—given the warrant out for John's arrest—I made the inquiries you asked of me. I am sorry to say that six months gathering information about your father's disappearance brings us no closer to his whereabouts.
On the surface, it appears that your father was in London, he murdered Clarke Lawrense, then chartered a ship (they called it piracy!) and, subsequently, disappeared from the face of the earth. The motive, according to the English police reports, was that Lawrense was a rival for your late mother's affections. However, I find it impossible to believe John Sebastian is capable of such an heinous act as tearing—literally tearing—Lawrense's head off no matter the inferences contained in the manuscript!
The police must not get a hold of his handwritten manuscript. They could conceivably consider it as a confession. Even I am not truly certain John is not hoping to establish grounds for an insanity plea, thus I have hidden it—I shall not tell you where—until I have a chance to speak to, or when John is cleared of these charges. I am sending you, however, a footnoted copy of the manuscript which shows my research. If your father is dead, you will have this to remember him by. But...if he is dead, can we long survive him?
C. N. Wyven
Associate Professor of Daemonology
PS: I haven't located the sailor who brought you the casket. Do you remember anything else about him? Anything at all? Please write soon.
C. N. W.
PPS: Please burn this. C. N. W.
* * * * * * * *
Sometime late July, 19–
To Whom It May Concern:
Since you are reading this, the probability is that I am dead. And if I am, it is most likely your doom is imminent. If Kulan Gath succeeds, this may be the last record of Man. In such a case, this manuscript will be as complete as time allows, before I must re-enter the cave—for what may be the last time.
The beginning then, was the Book.#1 It was old; so old the parchment crumbled at the edges. The odd little man at the English bookshop#2 was as old, if appearances speak true, as the Book itself. A wisp of bleached hair graced each ear and I do not think he ever used the out-of-date spectacles that perched precariously on the end of his nose.
#1 Evidence indicates that the volume is the legendary Necontic 'tir Ringel Telligen Rescenicon Noss. Legend holds that it was written by Kulan Gath; however, John Sebastian states later in his manuscript that it was written by Ericesoré.
#2 Most likely Harold Gillingham of 457 East North Kensington, London, England. He disappeared more than six months ago and has not been heard from since.
Even from the first moment I walked into his tiny shop on the West End, I felt his suspicious glance as he peered over the rim of his glasses. Having satisfied himself that, indeed, I stood there and had no intention of leaving without service; he drew himself together.
"Sir?" His voice was as dry as cracked leather. "A book you be needin'?"
"Yes." I didn't like his attitude, though it was his reservation, not his actions, which gave me the impression of instant dislike. "Do you have any books on the Eldritch Gods? Particularly a copy of the Necronomicon?"#3
#3 I never could convince John that the Necronomicon was a figment of H.P.Lovecraft's imagination.
He hesitated for just an instant and I knew he was lying when he replied: "No, sir." He dared me to contradict him, but I, a visitor to his country, knew better than to force the issue. I offered a civil thank you—displaying better manners than he—and turned to leave.
"But..." he called after me, his voice strained, "I have other volumes on Magicks and Sorceries..." He mentioned several titles as he led me through his maze of shelves to a corner alcove in the back. He walked strangely, almost mechanically. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his eyes were narrowed, though that may have been caused by the heat of mid-summer and the dimness of the claustrophobic stacks.
"Here's the section," he said. The bookseller moved back as he drew a large book from the shelves and appeared ready to take it away. He gave me a furtive glance and, with obvious reluctance, set the book down. "Please feel free to ask for any book that you do not see." His hands trembled over the ancient volume. His jaw was clenched tightly, as if he were struggling with a tenacious foe, then he finally left me alone with the books.
I began to inspect the titles of the books on the shelves, but some wayward emotion, some indefinable longing, drew my attention to that dusty volume of magick the curious old man had started to take with him.
The light from the single low-wattage bulb hanging bare of fixture was just sufficient to prevent one from running into the stacks themselves, but there was something about that tattered book which made it seem to glow of its own accord. Even before I so much as touched the stained leather covers, I knew that no other book—no other volume—not even the fabled Necronomicon could satisfy me.
I held the book and felt a course of excitement pass through me like an electric shock. This was the book I had been searching for! I could feel it in my bones. My heart pounded in my breast. I would have this book...
From my present vantage point I can now see that I did not choose the Book, but rather, was led to it even as a cow is led to slaughter.
Cradling the Book like a newborn son, I made my way to the front of the shop. Even as I came into full view, I saw the possessive look in the old man's eyes. "What price, bookseller?" I asked.
"Sir—I—" He clamped his lips together, refusing to give me answer.
"The price, man! The price!" I don't know what drove me that day. I was determined to own the book at any price. And—I am horrified to recall this!—I would have taken it if he had denied me. I would have walked off with it, I would have stolen it—I would have killed for it.
He trembled so violently his glasses slipped from his nose, to fall on the books stacked on his counter. His hands worked spasmodically, as if he was debating the wisdom of snatching the book from my hands. He was a small, bent old figure whereas I am not yet forty, vigorous in constitution, and one-hundred-sixty pounds of lean muscle. (I have never been one to take life in small doses and with a hearty appetite, one needs the physical strength to enjoy.)
"Your price, bookseller. Your price!"
I could not believe my ears when he stammered his reply: "Three shillin', Yank."
His eyes were filled with hatred, but I had his answer; that was all I cared about. I threw him the coins, and, without waiting for the receipt, ran out of the shop.
I moved as one in a fever. I paid no heed to pedestrians as I raced down the streets. I issued no curses to swiftly moving cars travelling on the "wrong" side of the road. My whole consciousness was on the book tucked under the edge of my suit coat.
"Good day, Mrs. Brougam," I muttered absentmindly as I mounted the stairs of my temporary quarters in a boarding house on Palmer Street. I caught a flash of contempt from the old woman as I turned the mid-point on the stairs. She was the gossipy, haggish sort who'd question good fortune and moan of bad. I'd known her kind before and there was nothing one could say or do to prevent them from thinking as they chose. I ignored her and entered my small room with the attached bath.
I locked the door.
I sat at my desk with the Book before me.
* * * * * * * *
The dawn was a red haze on my window when I became aware of myself and discovered I had not even opened the Book. My back was a mass of stiffened pain, the muscles complaining as I rose unsteadily. I rubbed at my eyes, feeling them gritty, as if they'd had been open while I slept.
But it was not sleep: I had succumbed to a bizarre dreamlike state shortly after returning to the boarding house on Palmer Street. I looked warily at the book on the desk. In the day-light it seemed so innocuous, yet I was positive that some ensorcellment emanating from the ancient volume had caused the confusion of kaleidoscopic images...images which shattered themselves against my conscious mind.
In my vision I saw a sailing ship voyaging southwest from England. It came upon an island rising from a green and frowning sea. It was ringed by a black beach; waves roared though the reef, then whispered against the sand. Brooding cliffs of grey basalt rose above the beach; the space between water and rock void of vegetation. In the barren rock-face the dark opening of a water-eroded cave beckoned. I entered to find an altar—a low mausoleum in reality—shining black and gold in the darkness. It squatted obscenely near a bright burning flame of green emanating from a carven urn of gold.#4
#4 Green flames have long been associated with the presence of the Eldren Gods, the Disciples of Ericesoré.
I heard snatches of speech in an unfamiliar language, monotonous chants that opened that glowing grave. I looked into the graven stone sarcophagus of the altar. A sense of triumph seemed to enter me from without, filling my being as a book—The Book—was lifted from the fur-lined arms of the corpse.
Here, at this point, the images became chaotic and even more disjointed than before. The rest of the images were meaningless, except for the one in which a white bearded angel recovered the book and returned it to the mummified arms of the corpse.
With a frown, I picked up the book that lay on the desk. It was red-tinged by the morning sun. Yes...this was the same volume in my vision. This was the Book.
* * * * * * * *
Later that morning, I placed the Book in my briefcase and went to the U. S. Embassy. My old friend, Clarke Lawrense, was newly appointed to act as adjutant to the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He, like myself, was an ardent student of Necromancy. We had known each other since college and I needed his opinion on this Book which had come into my possession, and which seemed to have possessed me!
When I entered his office, Clarke rose from his desk and rushed to greet me with surprised pleasure. He pumped my hand eagerly. "John," he laughed, "so good to see you. How long has it been? Two years?"
I grinned. It was good to see him, to feel the strength of his grip. The forebodings which had plagued me all the way to the Embassy seemed so ridiculous in his exuberant presence. "Six months, you old horse."
"How's Gaile?" Clarke asked, gesturing for me to take a comfortable chair of well-oiled leather beside his desk.
I waited until Lawrense was seated before I gave him my sad news, news which still pained me. "She died just after you left for England."#5
#5 John's wife, Gale Hampton Sebastian, died of a heart attack on the the 23rd of May, and John went into seclusion for a three month period in which no one was able to reach him. Even after he returned to civilization he was inconsolable. He began his search for the Necronomicon in a vain hope of reviving Gale.
"What?" he was stricken mute for long moments, then: "I felt sure Gaile was doing well—or I wouldn't have been seeing you. You know how sorry I feel, John. It's terrible, truly terrible."
"It wasn't totally unexpected, was it?" I asked, my voice threatening to break on me. "There are times I'd like to take the medical profession and shake them for offering promises that don't come true. She was in remission, Clarke. She was doing so well. I had even considered coming to England, but I was afraid something might happen and I'd be here and Gaile would have no one but Suzan to be with her. I put the trip off. Then she died. Just like that."
Clarke was not insensitive to my sorrow. At one time, when we were in college, it seemed possible Gaile might have chosen differently and it would be Clarke telling this sad story instead of me. He stammered his condolences and eventually turned the conversation to a less emotionally charged topic.
"What brings you to England, John?"
"A variety of things, Clarke," I managed a weak grin. "Hush hush for the most part, but I thought I'd get in a little research on our favorite non-national subject since I'm going to be here at least a month supervising the installation of the DEFCAT system. By the way, I'm looking for a flat. I'm in a boarding house run by a rather opinionated lady with big ears, a big mouth and a tiny brain."
Clarke chuckled. "Shades of our halcyon college days, eh? I'll get one of my boys on it, John. We'll find you something comfortable. So," he leaned across his desk, hands clasped before him, "have you unearthed any new demons or wizards?"
That was his favorite line for opening the subject, I remember our instant fascination with an exhibition of several arcane manuscripts which came through the college historical circuit when we were freshmen. "I'll tackle the wizards," he had offered. "You can have the demons—my nose is a little sensitive to brimstone."
"You know I've been looking for the Necronomicon," I said by way of preamble as I lifted my brief across my knees and thumbed the latches. They sprang open and I raised the lid. Clarke's eyes widened as I drew the Book from the interior and set it on the top-grain leather of the case.
"Is that it?" Clarke pointed an eager finger to the Book.
"No," I said, pushing it across the desk. "But I do want your opinion of it."
Clarke did not immediately reach for the worn volume. He stared at it in such a way that I felt a heat rising to my face. His interest was greater than a mutual friend's should be; I watched the tip of his tongue flick across his lower lip as his eyes widened, narrowed, then assumed a studied nonchalance. Clarke looked back down to the Book, his hand reaching toward it. Just as I was about to give in to the urge to jerk it away, a young man knocked and entered without waiting.
"Excuse me, sir," the young page said, "the delegation is here."
"In a moment," Clarke barked impatiently, then realized his rudeness. "Sorry, Malcom," he told the flushed page. "I've just had some bad news from home. Please tell the Ambassador I'll be there immediately." With an apologetic smile Clarke dismissed the young man. He turned to me.
"Sorry, John, business, you know. Tell you what, come back tomorrow and we'll talk all afternoon. That will give me a chance to check into that flat, too."
I agreed and began to put the book back into the briefcase. Lawrense cleared his throat self-consciously. I looked up to see his eyes glistening with nervous anticipation. "What is it, Clarke?" I asked, knowing his moods fairly well.
I was thinking it would simplify things if you should consider leaving the book with me this evening. I'll look it over tonight and we'll discuss it tomorrow."
Clarke Lawrense made it sound so reasonable I couldn't refuse without jeopardizing our friendship. He was my friend, after all. And Gaile had thought highly of him. Yet, letting go of that book and leaving it on his desk was the hardest thing I've ever done—even Gaile's death had failed to move me that deeply. It took every ounce of my will to rise and shake the offered hand.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then, Clarke. Goodbye."
* * * * * * * *
Clarke sat at his desk, pouring over the Book. He avidly strained closer to the pages, his mouth forming silent words, his eyes filled with passion. He frowned, his head jerked upright. He sniffed the air, puzzled. It contained a foul odor which caught at the lungs, stung the eyes. He stood up, turning to locate the source and his eyes widened in terror.
A dead white, blood-nailed claw-like hand#6 attached to a nebulous nothing reached out and, before Clarke could utter a sound, encircled the poor man's throat. The hand tightened remorselessly, squeezing and squeezing, until Clarke's head leapt from the juncture between skull and shoulders. The horribly mutilated body slowly collapsed down into the chair, twitching feebly. Blood flowed in weakened geysers from the terrible wound, drenching clothes and chair, pooling at the base of the chair. The claw, now red with Clarke's blood, mockingly placed the severed head in the body's lap.
#6 The description of the hand makes the monster appear to be Assuran. It was first seen in France during the tenth century and again in the americas by the tribes of the Northeast, specifically the Crow and the Pinda-Li-Koyay.
With apparent reverence, the claw gingerly closed the book and triumphantly raised it to my eyes. The would-be thief would never steal what was rightfully mine! The Book agreed, grinning obscenely. I woke up screaming.
In a mindless panic I clutched the sheets with a palsied grip until Mrs. Brougam came pounding on my door.#7
#7 Mrs. Adelaide Brougam runs a boarding house at 227 Palmer near East North Kensington. John had a room on the second floor rear. In her affadavit of July 7, given at New Scotland Yard, Mrs. Brougam stated that she heard some screaming on the night of July 5 coming from John's room. "I knocked on 'is door, I did, and when 'e answered 'e said 'e 'ad fallen down and cut 'imself or some such rot. I got meself after a Constable right shortly, I did."
"Wot the 'ell is goin' on, Mr. Sebastian?"
I staggered out of bed, dizzy and confused. I fought the remnants of that horrible nightmare as I opened the sturdy oak door a fraction. "Mrs. Brougam," I said. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you. I got up in the night and stumbled. I'm all right. Please go to bed." I made a shooing gesture with my hand.
The woman's eyes grew round as saucers and I felt a chill hand grip my spine. There was a fine sheen of liquid on my skin, and in the dim light of the grease encrusted night light in the hall, it looked very much like blood.
"Wot 'appened?" she demanded. "Cor—Look at that!"
I panicked. I told her the first thing that came into my mind. "Stupid thing, really. I bumped the lavatory and broke my shaving mirror. Cut myself cleaning up the pieces. You know how little cuts are, bleed like the very devil."
My knees threatened to give out on me. My fabrication must have been obvious to the old woman, she backed away from the door, though her eyes never left mine. She had her suspicions, but Lord, they weren't half of what I was feeling. I couldn't collapse in front of her. I took hold of myself and said, as calmly as I could: "Good night, Mrs. Brougam. I'm terribly sorry to have disturbed you."
I closed the door in her face. I locked it. I heard her knock on the panel, demanding to be let in to see the damage (wanting to snoop!). "Please, dear lady," I murmured through the oaken door, "It's very late and I'm not seriously injured."
She muttered something about "crazy Yanks" as she hurriedly shuffled down the hallway. I leaned against the door frame, eyes wildly scanning the room. I felt a presence, an electric atmosphere which permeated the bedroom. The pressure of that undefined presence left my already strained nerves stretched to the breaking point. It was then that I saw it.
The only light entering the room was from the open window which overlooked the alley. Just beyond, gleaming brightly in the full, or just past full, moonlight was the clapboards of the next house. The moonlight, reflected from that source, filtered in, tenuous at best, it was sufficient to illuminate the items on my writing desk. Wallet, keys, money clip, briefcase, diary, calendar and book. The Book. The Book I had left with Clarke Lawrense!
What was it doing here? How did it get here?
I crossed the room and hesitated before I dared switch on the small lamp. Dear Got, it was the Book and—Heaven forgive me!—it was covered with fresh blood!
My stomach rebelled. I fled to the bath, retching. No dream! No dream! I kept telling myself as I fought to control the convulsions which kept me bent double for agonizing minutes. He's dead! He's dead!
The spasms eased, my body no longer capable of responding to the gut-wrenching. I ran water in the lavatory to douse my head, to wash the blood from my hand. All the while the presence was watching me from someplace outside my vision.
I saw a stranger in the cracked mirror above the lavatory; his eyes were wide and wild; his face lined and grey with a day's growth of black beard. That man, with mad eyes, felt no pity for Clarke Lawrense.
He coveted the Book, they seemed to say. We could not let him keep the book from us—not when it is so close...so close...
I covered my face with my hands, certain I was going insane. I didn't have to go to the Embassy to physically confirm what I already knew. Clarke Lawrense was dead, brutally murdered. If I didn't do the deed, it was certain I had wanted him dead.#8
#8 A figure was seen in the shadows near the Embassy at 2:30 am on the morning of July 6th by Joseph Calizani, night watchman Over an hour later he saw John Sebastianrun from the office of Clarke Lawrense, carrying a large package that was roughly rectangular in shape. Calizani discovered the body moments later when he saw the blood stains on the windowsill of Lawrense's office.
I was going insane. That had to be the answer. Gaile's untimely death, my grief, my unhappiness and my compulsion to delve into the arcane past...these were enough to unbalance a mind. Would I be suspected? I shivered in the bath, staring at the face silhouetted in the mirror. Who would believe mysterious atmospheres, extreme possessiveness, voices which spoke in feelings, not words? All of these were signs of paranoia—mental-instability.
* * * * * * * *
I began to dress. Mrs. Brougam was too curious, too cautious, too quick to give up on trying to enter my room. I felt a compulsion to get out of the house, to be away from here before dawn. I had the the Book in hand, intending to take it with me, when I heard a pounding on the door.
"This is the Police. Open in the name of the Queen. Open I say."#9
#9 Constable E.F.Bracken reported a disturbance at 227 Palmer at 3:00am on the morning of July 6th. "On answering a call from Mrs. Adelaide Brougam, I went to room #9. I identified myself. Someone was inside. I heard him moving around. When hed did not answer, I had Mrs. Brougam unlock the door. There was blood all over the inside of the room. I went to the whidow where I observed a man I have since identified as John Sebastian of the United States limping away with a large book in his hand."
There was only one exit left to me with the police in the hall. I leapt from the second-story window, clutching the Book tightly. On landing, I twisted my ankle. A moment later I heard an angry voice shouting for me to stop. I increased my limping pace and escaped into the night.
I crept though hedges, over stone walls, circling back on my trail twice to throw off pursuit. My heart was beating strongly in my beast, and a thrill of excitement coursed through me. I moved with the shadows, dared the pools of light at street corners when necessary. I sensed someone was walking with me, someone who gave me warnings in advance. Where this feeling came from, or whether my senses were just so heightened from the astonishing events, I cannot say, but on three separate occasions it prevented my capture.
About an hour before dawn I managed to make my way into the back of a delivery truck heading towards the Thames. Why I took this direction, why I chanced discovery by hitching, again: questions without answers.
I was forced to abandon my transportation when the driver stopped at a warehouse near the waterfront. When his back was turned I slipped over the tailgate and sprinted at my best pace around the corner of the building.
There were a few early workers arriving at the wharves, all looking sleepy-eyed and mussed. I didn't draw any attention, being only one of many moving about the docks at that hour. But I couldn't do this for long.
I found myself distrusting every stranger's glance. Normally, I am an honest man. I believe it is a man's duty to honour the laws of the land. But this time—I cannot say why—I felt the need to run, to hide, to get away from England.
Just as I came to that decision, I discovered that the door to my left belonged to a shipping company. I entered the building. Once inside the office, I was unsure of what to do, until my eyes were drawn towards a model of a three-masted barkentine. I put my hand out, but did not touch it.
"What ship?" I asked the receptionist.
"The Moonrunner," the woman replied. She seemed a little startled that the office had a visitor at such an early hour. Behind her desk a small coffee maker was just beginning to percolate. I noticed her name plate of polished wood proclaimed to the world that she was Ms. Julia Anne Bridge.
"I want to charter her."
"I'm sorry," she looked at me strangely. Her face was flushed. "The Moonrunner is under restoration at the moment. We plan to retire her from active service..."
"I want to charter the Moonrunner," I cut in on her. "I will charter the Moonrunner."
My certainty hit her like a slap in the face. She nervously twisted her honey-brown hair. "It's out of the question, Mr.—Mr...."
I leaned across her desk, the Book held close to my breast. "I must charter that ship, Ms. Bridge. Please see what you can do."
"Sir—" she began, then paled under the intensity of my gaze. "I'll call the president of the company. It's his ship, it's his decision."
She picked up the handset and dialed a three digit number, obviously an inter-office call, and quickly explained the situation over the phone. "Yes, sir, Mr. Kilgaren," she frowned. "Right away, Mr. Kilgaren." She had a puzzled expression on her face as she rang off.
"Mr. Kilgaren," she told me, "said to lease you the ship. Will you fill out these forms, please?" As I took them, she continued: "She will be waiting for you at Dock 13-A."
I thanked her and, the formalities over, left.#10
#10 The Estes Shipping Company, Ltd. declined public comment other than the Moonrunner was overdue at her last port of call. Ms. Julia Anne Bridge, however, identified John for me.
* * * * * * * *
Captain FitzRiley approached me.#11 There was a clouded expression in his gray eyes, dim sparks under the bushy overhang of his thick eyebrows. His nose had been broken several times during his career, and did nothing to soften the angular roughness of his face. I turned toward the rail, not wishing to speak to the man. Over the last week, that had been sufficient to deter the man, but not this morning.
#11 Captain Ian FitzRiley, 59, of Liverpoole, England, a transplanted Canadian of French descent, commanded the Moonrunner on her last voyage. He has been declared missing along with his crew of twenty-seven men. The last contact with Captain Fitz Riley was a routine storm warning.
"I need to speak wi' ye, Sebastian," his voice growled like distant thunder. "This 'as gone on long 'nough."
"I have nothing to say to you, Captain FitzRiley," I muttered into the lee wash to starboard."
"Sebastain, I'm under your charter, 'tis true, but I canna do me job properly without a destination."
"You have your course. Hold it." To prevent further words I added: "I'll be in my cabin until the noon hour. I do not wish to be disturbed."
I left the deck, receiving hard looks from the crew members. They were as curious as their captain. Who was this strange Yank? Where was he headed? The Moonrunner wasn't equipped for a long voyage since she'd been getting ready for dry dock.
"Once we pass Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks, there's no land in this direction, I'm telling you!" I overheard a sailor say to another as they worked the deck outside my open porthole.
"Nothin' but the frozen hell of the Antarctic—"
"Lord," the man replied, "I dinna sign for no cold water voyage, mate."
"You be talkin' to the wrong man, Jock. Tell it to the crazy Yank—"
I stared at the Book on my bunk. Was I really crazy? They thought so. I was beginning to think so. From the moment I saw that ancient tome in the bookseller's shop, my life had not been my own. I was being moved about by unknown forces. To be sure, the recent events of my life might be explained as odd coincidence, but in my heart of hearts, I knew this was not so. Even the course I had the captain hold was nothing found on any charts, it was a pulling, a thread of mystical—for want of a better word—force. If the ship veered by so much as one degree, I could feel it, like an aircraft flying on a radio beacon. If the course remained uncorrected for more than an hour, I would go on deck and notify the captain, who was sorely perplexed as to how I could know these things.
I would reply to his weathered crow's eyes. "Sail on."
"Aye, sir," he grumbled, "but I like it not."
I would turn on him. "You don't have to. Just sail on."
* * * * * * * *
They left me alone for the next week, I knew they were grumbling, though. They wanted to know where we were headed. What they did not know was that I wanted to know the same thing. I was on my way to an unknown destination.
I felt as though I were a cripple lost in an impenetrable fog, knowing I had to go somewhere, but not knowing how or where. I felt like a puppet on a chain. Someone was controlling my every move. I knew it in my very soul. And I did not like it. Yet, what could I do? Nothing. Not one thing. I could only continue as I had been doing.
My meditations were interrupted by the cabin boy. "Mr. Sebasitan, come up on deck, quick." I followed him out into the ocean air.
The sky was overcast and grey. The captain's eyes were of the same cloth as the sky. He wasted no time as, when he saw me, he spoke right up.
"Sebastian," he began, "I'll not be fooling you. We are in bad straits. We did not bring provisions for a long sea voyage when we left England. We're running low. Our radio receiver is out of commission. And," he pointed to the clouds, "a hurricane is brewing. So, unless you tell me our destination, I'll be turning back."
We stood silently watching each other for several minutes, each passing minute like an eternity.
"You can not," I cried desperately. "I forbid it. Sail on!"
He nodded to someone behind me. Suddenly two pair of strong arms laced themselves around mine. "Lock him in his cabin."
He watched stolidly, arms crossed, as they dragged me below decks. I raved at them, but to no avail. Within minutes, I was securely trussed and locked in my cabin.
I strained at my bonds in an insane effort to break free. Suddenly I was sick—violently sick. I writhed and contorted in the utmost agony. Through a red glaze I saw a white claw. It was just like the one in the dream two weeks earlier. It reached out to the cabin's door. When the portal did not yield at its touch, the claw became a fist and smashed the door. The panel shattered under the force of the blow. The creature, or whatever it was, went onto the deck.
The sailors, with eyes terror-wide, were torn and crushed by the thing. The Captain emptied his pistol into the body of the creature before he, too, was torn in two.
When my spasms passed, I discovered that the ropes that had bound me had been torn free from my body. I turned my eyes to the cabin door. It lay in small pieces in the companionway outside.
I rose and went out on deck were I was appalled at the carnage I witnessed. I collapsed and fell to the boards, senseless.
I came to myself some time later. The sky was darker and the seas more rolling. The bodies lay contorted and still. I say bodies although few of them were whole, most were missing an arm or a leg with a few having no heads. My stomach sought ot empty itself of my last meal but nothing came out. I wandered over the ship until I came to the radio room. I had idly watched the radioman send and receive messages and thought to try to save myself from the creature which I was sure lurked in the hold, the creature that had slain the crew.
My efforts at working the radio were almost inneffectual until I flipped a switch on the left hand side of the radio console. Noises came through the speakers, noises that sounded like a response to my hail. Immediately, called out "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Please come in. Hello. Hello."
A voice replied asking for my position.#12
#12 Henry Quist, the radioman of the Mary Dean of Charleston, South Carolina, when questioned, mentioned in passing a mayday call on June 19 that was cut short and not repeated. He thought the call was a joke although he dutifully logged it. It is quite possible that Captain FitzRiley had not lied about the radio being out of commission but there is the evidence of Quist that calls FitzRiley's statement into doubt.
I did not know and was about to say so when the claw appeared and smashed the radio console with a shower of sparks and a cloud of acrid smoke.
I did not stay but ran for the deck, seeking to escape the creature which sought my life. I was so frightened that I stumbled on the last step and fell, striking my head on the jamb of the deck hatch. I knew no more until I woke to hear a ship hailing the Moonrunner. Staggering to my feet, I lurched to the rail. Weakly waving my arms, I sought to gain the attention of the other vessel's crew.
I do not know if they saw me or not, but a lifeboat was lowered into the surging sea. However, before the boat could be loosed from the davits, the storm broke in all its elemental fury. The boat was dashed against the side of the ship, capsized and, abruptly, sank. The sailors foundered in the churning waters.#13
#13 An excerpt from the log of the Mary Dean out of Charleston, South Carolina, Taylor Wilson, Captain: "20 July. Hurricane warning. Sighted S.S. Moonrunner. Derelict. Lone figure on board failed to answer hail. Launched rescue boat which was lost when storm struck. Dead: Evans, Jinner, Pinus, Billet, Owens and Ensign Nelson. Lost contact with Moonrunner during storm."
The scene was driven from my sight and mind when the wind filled the Moonrunner's sails and carried me away. I fled the deck for my cabin where I huddled on the bunk, clutching the volume of magicks in my ragged arms. The ship ran before the wind for several days until a black volcanic island loomed dangerously on the horizon.
The wind howled, the ocean roared; the rock murmured with sinister intent. They reached up from the bottom of the sea, shaking the ship in their igneous grip. Boards creaked and ropes snapped like taut wires in their massive grip. The masts shivered into matchwood. Hatches burst their bounds. Water flowed swiftly into the holds.
Silent hours later, I rose from my cramped position and marveled at the miracle of my survival. I waded though knee-deep water to gain the deck.
All evidence of the previous week's events had been washed away by the storm. I padded across the empty planks. Peering over the rail, I watched the green waters throw themselves onto the beach.
The sand on the beach was of black crystal. The low cliffs beyond the strand were of grey basalt. The entire scene was ultimately depressing.
I leaped from the ship into the surf which only came to mid-thigh. Once on the beach, I stood a moment to orient myself. Abruptly I turned left and, striding quickly, scanned the cliff.
In the distance one of the rocks cast a deeper shadow than its neighbors. This, then, was my goal. Curling the Book into the crook of my right arm, I ran towards the cave. I tripped over a small rock near the cavern's mouth, and sat up choking on the gleaming crystals. The sand left a dark taste in my mouth and a black itch in my eyes.
"Thou hast come, John Sebastian. This is well. We are pleased." I twisted my head to find the source of the strange and echoing chorus, but I could find none. "We trust," the voices continued, "that you found your voyage not too unpleasing." I had, but I was not too overly anxious to tell these hidden voices that I did not appreciate their actions on my behalf. I merely sat mute, brushing sand from my body and clothes.
"Thou hast the Book." This was a statement, not a question. I held the Book—which had caused so much misery for myself and others—above my head, turning it so that it faced in all directions.
"Yes, I have it."
"May the blessing of Ahmet-Ra be upon thee and thy house and with thy issue all the days of their lives. Bring the Book to us, John Sebastian."
I felt an urge to enter the cave, but I would not succumb to its call. "Not until you tell me who you are and what this Book is," I said.
"We are the disciples of Ericesorč, who is to us as thy gods are to thee. We were old before thy first ancestor ate of flesh. Our purpose is to sustain.#14
#14 Also known as Eldren Gods and Sustainers. Generally thought to be benign in nature, although the renegade Kulan Gath was once one of them.
"Ye must know that immortality is the unobtainable dream. We must finally turn to the dust of our birth. This is what happened to Ericesorč. Before his final disillusionment though, he was persuaded by Kulan Gath—who is known as the Fallen One—to impart and set to parchment all his knowledge. The Book that you hold is the Book of Ericesorč. But Kulan Gath was ambitious. He rose against us all and attempted—with the use of the knowledge of Ericesorč—to displace and rule. The power of Ericesorč, though lessened by his extreme antiquity, was still enough to defeat and banish Kulan Gath from this life.#15
#15 The legend of the fallen disciple is known in most religions. It is my belief that the story stems from Kulan Gath's fall. In the Eldren God's tongue it is called "Kulanifer." Note the similarity to Lucifer.>
"However, Ericesorč died and with him the power. We buried him on this island and his grave became our altar. The Rites of Sustainment have been performed on this altar for many centuries, for, soon after Ericesorč died, Kulan Gath returned and took the book.
"We have sought to sustain this world against the spells of Kulan Gath. He has the knowledge; we have the power. But, John Sebastian, we have aged and are weary. Our spells have finally brought fruit. The Book is once again on the island. Once it is in the hands of Ericesorč, we shall have denied Kulan Gath the knowledge.
"Come, John Sebastian. Bring the Book to us."
I entered the cavern. The way was dark and slightly uneven. I had little trouble following the way. The farther end of the tunnel flickered with a pale green light. It was towards this light that I made my way.
The light revealed a large black altar inlaid with runic designs of gold. Shifting the Book to my other hand, I touched the icy metal. I ran my hand over the ebon and gold altar, feeling the alternating heat and cold as my hand passed from rock to metal.
This, I knew, was the grave I had seen on the first night. I set the Book on the ground beside me. Placing both hands on the covering sheet of marble, I pushed it away from me. It shifted easily, revealing the mummified remains of some long dead mage. Ericesorč, I thought.
I set the Book in his withered arms.
"Thee must depart, John Sebastian."
I threaded my way back down the dark corridor. The setting sun was bright in my eyes as I stepped from the cave. Suddenly I heard a chanting in some foreign and blasphemous tongue. The ground began to shake. I peered into the dark interior of the cavern. The walls began to groan. The ceiling cracked. Large chunks of grey basalt fell to the floor where they shattered like fine crystal. the floor started to heave with a violence I had never experienced before, not even on the storm-tossed Moonrunner.#16 I turned and ran for the cliffs.
#16 These tremors were recorded on the 25th and 26th of July by the Institute of Seismographic Studies at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Again I was beset by staggering shafts of pain as they filled my inner being. I fell to the ground unable to control my limbs which jerked painfully as spasm after spasm wrenched my muscles into contorted shapes they were never meant to assume.
For the third time I saw the blood-clawed hand of pale flesh. It flew through the cavern's mouth, heedless of the falling rock and erupting ground. As it came to the crypt, it began to tear the interfering slabs of basalt from the mountain of rock that hid the Book from view. Grabbing the Book from the dead hand, the claw fled the cavern.
When my spasms had once again passed, I rose and staggered from the collapsed ruin of the cave. In my hand I discovered the Book.
"John Sebastian, why hast thou taken the Book from our place of security?"
"I did not. It was the claw."
"We have perceived no other entity with thee." They repeated with quiet force,"Thou art alone."
"You lie; you lie. It was the claw," I screamed.
"Give us the Book, John Sebastian." They ordered, their voices heavy with menace. I felt spectral hands pulling at the Book. Attempting to tear it from my grasp. I would not let them.
"Halt," a voice reverberated and echoed from the basalt cliffs. "Cease thy acts, I conjure thee."
We all turned to the sea, spectre and living alike. There, on the water, stood a majestic figure of at least three metres in height in flowing robes. White and angelic hair curled sweetly about his face and a snowy white beard hid his neck and chest.
"Come, John Sebatian, give the Book to me." The command fell softly upon my ears and I paced into the water with the Book held before me.
"Stop, John Sebastian, we beg thee. We have been remiss in our duty. The one who stands before you is Kulan Gath. Give thee not the Book. Trust him not."
All the while that the disciples of Ericesorč spoke, the figure on the water just stood with spread arms and smiled. Surely, such an innocent and guileless face could hide no evil. The honey eyes gave a soft command and I obeyed.
I gave the Book to Kulan Gath.
* * * * * * * *
Little is left to tell. I have doomed mankind. For, at the instant I gave the Book over into the hand of the man in white, he began to glow, shining brighter even than the sun.
Blinded, I turned back to the beach, but found no safety there. The ground heaved and rolled, throwing me around like a pebble on a drum head. In the silence that followed the final tremors, I lay exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
A low trill of laughter echoed in my mind. "I thank thee, mortal." I look about myself but could see no one near. "I thank thee for the Power. The disciples of Ericesorč are fools. They thought to deny me the Book, but they are too old, too weak. I am All.
"And you are as much of a fool as they are. They thought to use you, as I used them. You were as much my pawn as they were. They asked you to come. I ordered you to come. When it seemed that you would not come, I released the demon within you that destroyed those who opposed me.
"Know ye, then, King-that-was, that thee and thee alone have caused the downfall of thine own kind. Again I thank thee."
These words have echoed in my soul for these past few days as I have listened to Kulan Gath as he performed the Rite of Supremacy. If what he had said is true, then I am a murderer some thirty times over. And, if I am guilty; He, too, is guilty and should die. I have taken from the wreck of the Moonrunner this paper and pen and one thing more—a pistol. This, along with a knife, I will use against Kulan Gath. Tonight, after the sun has truly set, I shall enter the cavern (He has rebuilt the altar and cave) for what is likely to be the last time.
If I do not stop Kulan Gath, at least I shall die in the attempt. And, if I fail, may God—or whatever Powers-that-Be—have mercy on the souls of all men.
(signed) John Sebastian
"Soon you shall witness the passing of Kings—
Aye—and of more than Kings."
—Robert E. Howard