City of Bone

It was not as damp inside the decaying body of an Old One as Kayeera had been expecting. It was also much brighter than she would have thought; it turned out that the deeper one traveled inside the body, the brighter it became; the godly corpse glowed as it rotted. The only downside to this, of course, was that occasionally one had to step out of the way of falling chunks of flesh and meat. The group’s local escort were adept at this, almost preternaturally avoiding Old One flesh in a manner so smooth it hardly seemed that they were dodging it at all. Kayeera, Grzzk, and Ygmawr were less skilled, and after only a few minutes Kayeera was sticky with the rotting flesh and blood of a god. Her new fleshy and bloody coat did not help eliminate the overwhelming stench of the body.

“Well, I guess the Old Ones do have a physical body,” Kayeera muttered as something splattered on her head.

Of course they do, a voice spoke in Kayeera’s head. From Grzzk and Ygmawr’s sudden jumps, Kayeera guessed that they heard the voice too. The scantily-clad man striding just ahead of her turned back and smiled. Though it is not their entire body; what you see here is only part of the corpse of the Old One we knew as Yig. Other aspects of his corpse decay on other planes of this universe.

“Ah, so it is Yig that died here,” Grzzk said, nodding to herself.

Indeed. And no, we don’t know how it died, a woman, walking behind the group, said through her mind-speak. Even in death, though, an Old One wreaks havoc. Our kingdom had long lived out its glory days, and pitifully clung to the last shreds of existence by the time of the Cataclysm that ravaged this planet. When it arrived, two mighty Old Ones fought each other across our kingdom, neither even noticing our presence. Yig was one of them, and perished in the battle, his corpse quite literally crushing out kingdom to dust beneath him.

“Valusia? You-”

Yes, we know of Valusia, another man said. A kingdom nearly as ancient as our own. And it seems that you have recently traveled through it, after it made a journey forward through time. Most interesting.

“So-”

Yes, we know it is Yig. We, the last survivors of our fallen kingdom, are magical adepts. We know our Old Ones; our people had even seen Yig himself in the far distant past.

Another woman spoke. And I see that you travel to the lead sorcerer and servant of Eibon. You have struck a dangerous bargain, travelers.

“What-”

Your mind is open to us, unguarded and undefended, the original man ahead of them said. We are not only magical adepts, but telepathic ones as well. Thus, there is really no need for you to hold on your end of the conversation.

The feline is most interesting, a woman spoke. I see from your memories that he came from a dimension in which he communed with Yog-Sothoth, the Key and the Gate. His mind is closed to us, though we can still project to him. He sees much.

Tell us, a man said. What is it that you see, Ygmawr?

“A rotting corpse,” Ygmawr said. “And ahead, I see bones. Bones that have been carved out by tools and sorcery; a city of bone in a sea of flesh.”

You truly can see beyond the apparent, the original speaker in front said said. A remarkable gift. We shall have to question you about it.

In response to Kayeera’s thought, a woman answered. Yes, we are taking you to our city. You are to be guests there; though naturally, we will hold on to your weapons until you depart from this place.

“And what-”

We are holding you there to learn more about you, and the outside world. We will deeply interrogate you – do not worry, we mean you no harm. We also can offer you sanctuary and a home and haven down here if that is what you choose, Dreamlander, but we see that you are set in your quest and we will make no attempt to stop you.

It is most interesting that you travel with a Deep One and an Ultharian cat, another thinker thought. Once, long ago, I visited Ulthar in the Dreamlands, before Nasht and Kaman-Thah. It was a lovely town, though this was, of course, long before the events that led to the feline ascension there. Yes, I am rather old; centuries. We all are. We are a long-lived people.

The small group rounded a bend in the internal passages of Yig, and Grzzk and Kayeera played their lights over an enormous, cavernous space. The ceiling, just visible to them through their lights, was almost entirely stripped of falling flesh, and enormous ribs towered above the cobblestone ground, with stairs, doorways, and windows carved into them. On the ground itself were more houses of bone and stone, and several individuals, dressed like their escorts, waved as the small group made their way towards the center of this city of bone.

Other than Grzzk and Kayeera’s lights, the city was completely dark, as the glowing flesh had been removed from this place. We do not need light to see, one of their escorts said. Our minds are enough. For you, though, we can make light. Let us show you this city, and after you have rested, washed, slept, and done something for you to forget about this horrible smell, we shall begin to get to know you better. Welcome to K’n-Yan.

Advertisements

Freefall

The green gas in the spheres expanded behind Kelley. Dieter, the boy in the body of the old man Gunther, continued crying and sniffling as the gas grew thicker and expanded, floating green tendrils unfurling slowly towards the duo. “Maybe I can find a manual for this damn sack in here somewhere…” Kelley muttered. He reached out with a hand towards the translucent film surrounding the floating piece of stone he and Gunther stood upon. After a moment of hesitation, he touched it.

The film vanished with a strange sound halfway between a pop and an intake of breath, and Gunther and Kelley’s stomachs dropped a moment later as the stone platform beneath them began to fall. Dieter screamed, and Kelley let out a startled gasp. “Well, that’s inconvenient,” he muttered as they fell. He looked down, and past the sobbing and shrieking Gunther/Dieter, he saw a smoky, endless haze beneath them. “We’ll be falling for a while, it seems,” he drawled. The stone platform that they had been standing on fell alongside them, until it hit another bubble floating in this strange dimension, and bounced off away from them.

Dieter’s cries grated on Kelley’s ears. “Shut up!” he said, and reached over and smacked Gunther. The sobbing instantly stopped, and Gunther stared directly at Kelley.

“Did you just hit my child?” he said.

“For the love of- no, I didn’t. We’re falling though and I’m trying to think, so if you could just shut up for a moment…”

Gunther looked down and his eyes widened. “Where the hell are we? What’s going on? Why are we falling? What are those bubbles?”

“I said shut up!” Kelly shouted. Eva fell silent. A bubble floated far beneath them, growing larger all the time. The two of them were on a collision course with it. Kelley looked thoughtful. “Do you think we’ll break it if we hit it…?”

He got his answer a moment later, as he and Gunther/Eva bounced off the bubble, much like the stone had. Before contact, Kelley grabbed Gunther’s hand just in case they did bounce, and prevented them from soaring off in different directions. So the bubbles can only be broken from the inside.

“Whee!” Dieter’s voice came back. “That was fun!”

“You make absolutely no sense,” Kelley murmured. So what now? Another bubble appeared beneath them. I wonder if we can bounce our way to the top? Or… can we only emerge from this place if an outside force reaches in? The pair of them bounced again as Dieter giggled, and Kelly thought. No, we can’t bounce up… not enough momentum here. But I wonder… does this sack have a bottom? Or will we fall forever in this realm of spheres?

Fallen God

“A dead Old One?” Kayeera said, after taking a moment to think over Grzzk’s words. “How is that even possible? I thought the Old Ones were gods, practically immortal.”

“Even gods can die,” Ygmawr said, casting his eyes over the corpse. It stretched far beyond the vision of the other two, and was so massive as to make it impossible for either Kayeera or Grzzk to make out its full form. Ygmawr’s eyes, however, could see it all.

“It is, I would hypothesize, common for Old Ones to die… just not around mortals like us. Old Ones are more than capable of killing each other; it is simple for a human to kill another human, or a Deep One another Deep One… but it is nearly impossible for the lone ant to kill a human or a Deep One.”

“Unless the ant is poisonous,” Kayeera said. Like I’m supposed to be…

“Or venomous,” the Deep One said. “It is a rough analogy; the differences between human and Old One are much greater than human and ant, and humans do not have the advantage of being a virus… but if we see the corpse of an Old One here, and that is what it truly is, then it was almost certainly killed by another Old One.”

“It’s a snake,” Ygmawr said. “I can see its whole body; it’s shaped like a snake that stretches on for miles and miles, with occasional arms…”

Grzzk frowned. “A snake? That sounds a lot like…”

“The god of the serpent-people of Valusia? Yig, wasn’t it?”

Grzzk nodded. “Indeed it was. And this could be his corpse… and it would match well with the accounts that the sorcerer gave us, and his observation that Yig no longer supplied his followers with power. A dead Old One has no power to supply.”

“Alright, so let’s assume that this is Yig lying here,” Kayeera said. “That doesn’t help us get across this chasm. We need to get to the other side. So we can either climb over this pile of rotting scales, or go around it.” Kayeera looked up, but the corpse towered higher than she could see.

“Going around is not an option,” Ygmawr said. “The body is too long. And climbing is scarcely any better. This thing is enormous.”

“Can we… magic our way through?”

“It would be quite some spell to get us all the way through this thing,” Ygmawr said. “This body is practically an insurmountable wall, an obstacles we cannot cross.”

“Well, we can’t just turn back,” Kayeera said. “Even if we wanted to, I don’t know if we could.”

Grzzk walked up to the size of the dead Old One, and after a moment of hesitation poked its flaking scales with a finger. The scale she touched slithered down the body. The trio watched it fall. Grzzk nodded to herself, and then brushed her whole hand across the body, causing a wave of scales to fall, and then pushed against it. There was a groan and a creak from somewhere inside the body, and a small section of its skin collapsed under the weight of Grzzk’s hand. The stench of decay that permeated the air became exponentially more powerful, and Kayeera gagged.

“We could walk through the body… perhaps…” Grzzk suggested tentatively. She put one foot inside the body, and grimaced at a squishing sound. “It will not be a comfortable journey, but perhaps the best way forward is through the dead…”

Halt, intruders! Grzzk’s and Kayeera’s heads snapped up as a female voice shouted in their heads. For what reason to you defile our savior?

Grzzk and Kayeera exchanged glances, and then looked at the feline with second sight. He blinked. “I’m as blind as you are,” he hissed. “I can’t see anything!” He narrowed his eyes. “I can’t make sense of my sight inside that body… the interior of an Old One is something that I cannot begin to understand… so many twists and turns and mirrors…”

The cat was scooped up by a tall woman, and a small group of tall men and woman were suddenly standing around the trio, both inside and outside the corpse. “What the-” Kayeera said.

“Sorcery!” Ygmawr growled.

Kayeera’s hands flashed to her weapons, but she found they were not there. A tall, broad-shouldered man wearing only a loincloth and a golden collar spun her weapons in his hands. A voice spoke in her head. These are nice, but unfortunately for you, weapons are not permitted in the kingdom of K’n-Yan.

Spheres

A misty green vapor flowed past Kelley and Gunther. Kelley coughed and hacked as he inhaled some of the stuff, and then spat out a clod of blood. “This stuff can’t be good for us.”

“Wh-wh-what was that thing?” Gunther said, his voice small, weak, and childlike. “It was so scary… with those feathers and that beak and the scales and the tongue and the-” The man coughed, and a small trickle of blood rolled from his nose. His eyes filled with tears.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Gunther?” Kelley said. He coughed again, and wiped his mouth, his hand now damp with blood. “Pull yourself together.”

“I’m not Gunther, I’m Dieter!” the man wailed. He sat down on the moss-strewn floor heavily. “And I want my mommy!”

“What in- get up, you idiot!” Kelley grabbed Gunther’s arm and dragged him to his feet. “The thing is gone now, anyway! Don’t you remember?”

“We…” Dieter sniffed. “We jumped into a sack… before the thing could bite us.”

“Yes, we’re in my extra-dimensional sack. We just have to hope that whatever is out there doesn’t know how to open this thing… or at least doesn’t think to open it.” Kelley coughed again. “What the hell is this stuff? Come on, let’s get out of this mist before it kills us both.” He dragged the whimpering Dieter behind him, walking on the cold stone. “Who the hell knew there was moss in here?” Kelley grumbled. “And stone!”

The pair of them stepped out of the green mist, and Kelley ducked as a food rations bar from the Hermetic Order floated by his head. “And to think I stick my hand in here to get stuff…” Kelley looked up and saw a thin glimmer of light. It was barely enough to illuminate their surroundings. The doctor looked ahead and squinted. There seemed to be a thin, filmy membrane ahead of him, just beyond where their rock floor stopped. Kelley marched Dieter over to it, and inspected it carefully. He looked around, and then nodded.

“Are we in a bubble?” Dieter asked, sniffling and rubbing his nose.

Kelley rolled his eyes. “Seems it. We’re in some sort of sphere… dammit, now I wish I’d taken the time to understand how these sacks worked. Maybe it would shed some light on the poison gas back there, and why there’s a floating rock with moss in my sack…”

Kelley knelt down and poked the moss. It made a horrible squelching noise as he did so, and he winced. He wiped his hands on the stone and stood back up. He looked through the filmy membrane, and narrowed his eyes. “Aha! Look, over there; there are other floating bubbles! And I bet that light up there is the entrance and exit to the sack!” He thought a moment. “Though I wonder where the sack is now, or if we could even survive whatever’s out there… maybe that thing ate us.”

He turned about. The cloud of green gas was growing. He turned back and looked carefully at the other spheres. They’ve got green gas too. “I wonder,” Kelley mused to himself, since Dieter certainly wouldn’t be of much help, “how something digests a pocket dimension?”

The Stench of Decay

Do I smell that?” Kayeera said, nearly vomiting up her last meal of jungle fruit. “How could anyone not smell that?”

“I cannot smell anything,” Grzzk said softly. “My nostrils are limited in their ability to pick up airborne scents.”

“Lucky you,” Kayeera said, plugging her nose with her fingers. “It smells like a mountain of moldy butcher leavings left out to slowly rot in the sun!”

“I was going to suggest it smells like the decay of rotting corpses,” Ygmawr said, having detached his ears and using them now to cover his nostrils, making his voice take on rather nasal overtones.

“You know what else?” Kayeera said, her own voice taking on the same overtones, “I’m getting a little bit sick of walking around in pure darkness.”

“I can understand your frustration,” Grzzk said. “I too can barely see… but our feline friend, I believe, can see just fine.”

“Got that right, wormling,” Ygmawr growled. “Stay here.” The cat trotted off ahead. A moment later, a bright light appeared ahead of Kayeera and Grzzk, and Ygmawr yowled for them to come. The pair of them walked carefully through the darkness toward the light, and revealed Ygmawr sitting next to some sort of flameles of lantern, with more on the ground behind him. Both the cat and lantern were on top of a strangely shaped rough rock.

Kayeera picked up the lantern. “Handy that you could see these. Thanks, general.” Ygmawr smiled to himself at those words, while Grzzk picked up a second lantern. She pushed a button, and it turned on.

“This is advanced technology,” Grzzk said. “Powered internally somehow…”

“Yes,” Ygmawer said, peering through the lantern’s sides and inside it, his gaze stripping away the power supply’s metal shell. “It has a great deal of power; it should last for days. And we’d better not be here for days, or there will be a court martial.” Ygmawr hopped down off the rock, acutely aware of Grzzk’s piercing, yet curious, stare.

Kayeera shone her lantern on the rock Ygmawr had been standing on, still covering her nose, and narrowed her eyes. “This looks like the remnants of a stone wall…” She turned her lantern away from it and shone it on what was ahead, and this time her eyes widened. “And these look like…”

Grzzk’s light joined Kayeera’s. “The ruins of an ancient city.” Kayeera only nodded at the sight; the ruins stretched far beyond the light cast by their lanterns, but seemed to become progressively higher, and the stone arches and domes became larger the further away they were. Only a few meters ahead of the trio, cobblestone streets were visible, leading into the mold and moss-covered city.

Kayeera took a step forward. “So, what do we do now?”

“It is pointless to wait for the others,” Ygmawr said. “We don’t know if they’ll ever return to us. We should press on ahead… and if I am not mistaken – and I know I am not – then the far side of the chasm lies on the other side of this city.”

Kayeera looked down at the cat suspiciously. “Are you sure?”

“The cat has no reason to mislead us,” Grzzk reminded her. “I think we have no choice but to trust his enhanced vision. After all, he did save us from the hunter.”

After a moment, Kayeera nodded. “Aye, you’re right. Let’s go.” Kayeera began walking into the middle of the city, doing her best to ignore the growing stench of decay all around them. Grzzk and Ygmawr followed, Grzzk casting her light around the crumbling city, which almost seemed to be visible deteriorating as they walked by. On more than one occasion, one or another member of the group had to dodge falling debris, primarily in the form of bricks sliding from a tall building or spire.

As they walked, the foetid smell of death grew stronger, until they stopped in front of an enormous pile of rubble, where no buildings remained standing. Grzzk and Kayeera shone their lights into the center of the pile, and Ygmawr narrowed his eyes. Kayeera took a sharp breath, and Grzzk tilted her head slightly, as they comprehended the enormity of the mass in the center of the rubble.

“Well, there’s our smelly friend,” Ygmawr said. “A lot bigger than I expected.”

“Indeed…” Kayeera said softly.

Grzzk cleared her throat. “It has strange magical energies coming from it.” She took a few steps forward and then paused, eyes closed. “It seems to me,” she said. “That what we have here is the body… of an ancient Old One.”

Into Hell

“Y’know, ye probably shoulda’ thought the whole descent into darkness thing through a little better,” Gunther said. “I can’ see anything in front o’me.”

“That’s because you decided to bring up the rear,” Kelley said, standing in front of him. Kelley was holding a flashlight, sending a beam of light in front of him and illuminating the chasm-side steps for the rest of the group.

“Y’could hand me the flashlight,” Gunther grumbled. “Before I fall to my doom down there.”

“Hush up, you’ll be fine,” Kelley said.

“I recommend silence,” Grzzk said softly from ahead. “We do not know what awaits us down there, or what might be listening.” Or what made these stairs, the Deep One thought to herself. In response, Gunther gave one last unintelligible remark, and then the group made the rest of the hazardous journey in silence.

None of the members of the group, save for the perceptive feline general among them, could recall how long their journey took, or the specifics of most of their descent, as time and space bent more than they should and danced to an arrhythmic beat. Ygmawr’s steps were firm and unfaltering, and Kayeera only wavered once or twice. Grzzk’s were slow and ponderous, Gunther’s uncertain and very faltering, and Kelley’s light and unsure. Aside from the small cone of light emanating from Kelley’s hand, the world they descended to was one of darkness. In the lead, Kayeera was reminded often of her time spent alone in the utter darkness of the cave in the dead wastes, where she had almost died…

She grabbed the wall as he foot slipped off the roughly hewn stairs out onto open space. The rest of the group halted when she did, and Gunther nearly took Kelley over the edge with him as he stumbled. Kelley yanked Gunther back onto the stairs, then growled ahead, “What’s the hold up?”

Kayeera knelt down and ran her finger on the slick stair before her. When she held it up to the flashlight’s light, she grimaced. “The stairs ahead are soaked with blood… fresh blood too, at that. Be careful.” She wiped her finger on the wall and kept walking.

Ygmawr sniffed the blood as he passed. Only part human blood. He paid it little heed as he trekked along. Grzzk’s steps became more cautious as she stepped on the slick surface, but otherwise she showed no sign of unease. Kelley and Gunther, however, both moved more slowly and tread very lightly. They quickly fell behind the rest of the group.

Occasional bursts of light flashed in the darkness as they moved further down into the chasm, the thin strip of light from above that had guided them for the first half hour long since vanished. In thise bursts of light, thick tendrils and thin pillars of smoke were visible, and half-hidden, monstrous forms moved both quickly and slowly behind walls of vapor and mist.

“I do not want to go out there,” Gunther whispered after a particularly large – and long-lasting – flash of light revealed a draconic visage, shattered into three parts, spiraling slowly down in the same direction as the group.

“Hush,” Kelley said. His flashlight flickered off for a moment, leading to a short string of curses from both himself and Gunther. When he flicked it back on, the three in front of him were gone. “What the-?” he said, and swung his light out over the chasm.

He immediately wished he hadn’t.

***

Ygmawr paused as the light behind them suddenly switched off. He turned around, his eyes piercing through the darkness, but Gunther and Kelley were both gone.

“Kelley, get the light back on,” Kayeera whispered fiercely.

“He’s gone,” Ygmawr said. He narrowed his eyes. “We’ve shifted; the fragment of space-time were were on split, separating us from them.”

“Well, that’s not good,” Kayeera said. “Now we have no light. How in Oukran’s name are we supposed to get down?”

Ygmawr turned his attention back to what was ahead of Kayeera. “I can see in the darkness,” he said. I can see beyond it… “We have no way of finding the others,” he said.

“Could we not turn back?” Grzzk said.

“No,” Ygmawr replied firmly. “I can see across the fractals of reality. Their reality has floated away from ours. We have to assume they’re lost.”

“I trust them to make it,” Kayeera said. “Or at least I trust Gunther to. I’m not sure how much I trust you, though, cat.”

“Only the cat who saved your life back when we were being hunted, soldier,” Ygmawr growled. “If you want to turn around and go search for the other wormlings, be my guest. I guarantee you’ll have no luck, and not even I know where you’ll end up. Reality is fractured here, just like the ground is; you’re liable to just fall away from us if we become too separated.”

“I think he may be right,” Grzzk said softly. “Everything here feels… fragmented.”

Kayeera sighed. “Alright. How can your night vision help us?”

Ygmawr narrowed his eyes, and turned to face in an impossible direction. He saw the bottom of the chasm. “Be completely still,” he said. Your eyes are closed, so your vision won’t get in the way… Ygmawr leapt up onto the side of the chasm, and pushed off against Kayeera’s head, causing her to fall with a yelp in the impossible direction.

“What was that?” Grzzk said. Ygmawr quickly repeated the same process on the Deep One, and then followed himself, rolling to his feet on a wide expanse of solid ground.

“What the hell was that?” Kayeera said. “I feel… dizzy…”

“You pushed us in a way… we were not meant to travel,” Grzzk said, gasping. “It puts a strain… on us.”

“Would have been worse if you’d been able to see,” Ygmawr said. “But we’re at the bottom now. A passing fragment of reality had it there. And down here, we should be more or less safe.” Ygmawr began trotting forward. “The ground is flat and featureless here; follow my voice and we’ll leave the fractured area.

Kayeera and Grzzk grudgingly got to their feet and followed his voice, still in complete darkness. They walked for several minutes before Ygmawr paused. He wrinkled his nose. “Do you smell that?” A moment later, their olfactory senses transported them to another place.