Wizards of Hyperborea (A novella)

John R. Fultz

(with Jonathan Burns)

"There is a Thing that crouches, worlds and years remote,
whose horns a demon sharpens, rasping forth a note
to shatterthe donjon-keeps of time, and crack the sphere of crystal."
-- Clark Ashton Smith


In the jeweled city of Cerngoth, greatest of all the cities of Mhu Thulan, stood the ivory Temple of the Seven Gods. Each morning as the bright rays of the rising sun painted the temple with the hues of blood and gold, the High Priest Jasu'un Toth knelt before the great ruby altar at the feet of the Seven Idols and prayed for the prosperity of Cerngoth's king and people.

He prayed to Karakal for protection against the everlasting darkness which lurks beyond the sky. He beseeched Lobon for defense against all the enemies of Cerngoth, earthly or demonaic. He uttered whispers to Zo-Kalar for prosperous births and healthy babes. He sang to Nath-Horthath for the fulfillment of dreams and for the wisdom to guide Cernoth's King. To each god Jasu'un made supplication, asking favor or begging for a continued absence of divine wrath.

And then he rose, walking out into the bustling streets of mighty Cerngoth, casting his gaze across the griffon-carved wharves of stone, and beyond to the blue cerulean waves of the Hyperborean Sea. Great galleys from distant Atlantis and chill Polarion sat moored at the wharves while barefoot sailors hoisted bales of exotic fabric, fruits, and spices, coffers full of foreign gems, and barrels loaded with alien wines from far-off lands. Through the streets thronged with eager merchants, rushing laborers, and palanquin-borne nobles the High Priest walked clutching his sapphire-headed rod of office, and the crowds parted before him like gentle waters beneath the keel of a splendid and proud galleon.

Toward the glimmering domes and spires of the King's Palace the High Priest traveled, ignoring the outstretched hands of sweet-vendors and fruit peddlers who offered him edible tribute. For Jasu'un Toth was a man of little appetite, his only hunger being for the grace of the Seven Gods, without which he would surely starve and waste away like a beggar amidst famine. Yet the gods had smiled on him thus far, for Cerngoth prospered.

Entering the grand hall of audience, Jasu'un bowed before the black-bearded King Numanthees, who sat high upon his great throne of darkest ebony while scroll-bearing advisors read to him the latest news from afar. Of great Uzuldaroum to the south, they spoke, and of dusky Mu in the East. Of these and many more distant kingdoms the King was informed, and after he heard all that his sages had to tell he waved them away, and a golden chair was brought for the priest.

And then was the time when Jasu'un imparted the will of the gods to the King of Cerngoth, and the broad-shouldered monarch asked for such advice as he might need in governing the affairs of his land. When their speech was done, and the King had grown tired of listening to the words of sages and priests, he summoned forth his musicians, and Jasu'un sat listening in wonderment to the melodies of the finest harpers, lutists, pipers, and singers in all of Mhu Thulan, while the black-skinned dancing girls from the jungle-kingdom Tscho Vulpanomi whirled and contorted in a festival of lusty beauty.

Such were the days of Jasu'un Toth, High Priest of the Seven Gods in Cerngoth, for the land did fairly swell with prosperity and health. There were no lepers to beg for his holy touch, no blights or floods for his divine grace to quelch, and no marauding armies upon which to call down the wrath of the gods. Thus it was a golden age of peace and plenty in mighty Cerngoth, and the people thereof were ignorant of the dark evils which slithered and chanted in the less blessed lands of Hyperborea.

Yet the handsome face of Jasu'un Toth was often vexed with worry, or darkened in solemn contemplation amid the lion-guarded temple gardens. For one as wise as the High Priest of Cerngoth surely knew that even the brightest Golden Age cannot shine forever beneath the gods' fickle stares...

* * *

In the darkened house of the warlock Izzamandiuth, among the statues of gargoyles which lined the carpeted halls, and the skulls of rare and fearsome creatures which hung along the walls, there stood a black door of onyx carved with the face of a leering, horned demon. None of the sorcerer's servants ever passed beyond the door, and Izzamandiuth carried always its golden key within the folds of his rune-stitched robes. During those darkest nights when the moon was lost in the black, starry void above sleeping Uzuldaroum, strange and disturbing sounds could be heard coming from behind the black door, where Izzamandiuth had gone to conjure forth demons from the foul hells beyond and beneath Hyperborea.

A vast magical knowledge had Izzamandiuth gained over the years from such captured infernal spirits, enough to make him the most powerful and respected sorcerer in all of Uzuldaroum, the splendorous city of central Hyperborea. All in the vast, gleaming metropolis knew the name of Izzamandiuth, and he could be seen at times walking the crystal-paved streets alongside Trinius D'vor, Prince of Uzuldaroum, as the two discussed the philosophy of long-dead sages or the intentions of various foreign ambassadors and scheming nobles. The tall sorcerer was indeed famed in the city as a chief advisor to the Prince, and tales were often whispered at nighted taverns about that time Izzamandiuth delivered the Prince from the claws of a vicious demon summoned by some enemy of the Royal House. And people have seen Izzamandiuth strolling the Royal Gardens with the fair Alithria, cousin to Prince D'Vor, and they said that the dark-eyed sorcerer intended to marry the golden-haired maiden of noble lineage. Some said he would then lock her in his walled house of green stone and none should see her ever again. Others said that there was obvious love shining in the dark eyes of the wizard, and he would fain make her a queen by his magic.

Behind his black door tonight, Izzamandiuth consulted with the crimson-skinned demon which his conjuring had brought recently into the living world. The stench of the demon filled his nostrils, but it was a smell he long ago learned to ignore. The demon writhed like a snake on a hook inside the runic circle which was its prison. Narrow pupil-less eyes gazed at the wizard in futile hatred as it gnashed its fangs in a mute longing to taste the flesh of this frail being who was its tormentor and jailer.

'Tell me again, what does the omen portend?' asked the sorcerer, his voice firm and cold as stone. The demon smiled, grimaced in mock pain. With a laugh it spat out words like the clatter of gnawed bones: 'The happiness of mortal things, the joy which they seek, these are like the darkest sea, bright and clear on the surface, yet beneath lay the terrors of the truth.'

'Cease your fiendish philosophy and answer my question if you wish release,' demanded the wizard. 'The omen...' A wave of his hand set the demon to slithering on the floor as waves of agony washed its blistering skin.

'The...moon of blood...' it said, red serpent-tongue licking the smoke-filled air, 'Signifies the death of dreams, the coming of one who rips aside the veils of illusion...the black heart of nothingness....'

'Who is this one of whom you speak?' asked the wizard. 'Name him!'

The demon screamed in its enforced pain. 'His...name is not known to us...he is the many forms of evil...and he serves...the Blind Lord of Idiots...'

The wizard turned his gaze toward the green stone of the wall. The moon had been red as fresh-spilt blood for nearly a fortnight, and the Prince had demanded an answer. He ran over in his mind again the theological and demonological texts which he had lately read, gleaning nothing that resonated with the demon's telling. He turned again toward the fiend.

'Who is the Blind Lord of Idiots?' he asked. The demon quivered, howling like a dying wolf.

'Do not make me say his name, Master!' The infernal contorted with agony again as Izzamandiuth's hands formed an eldritch symbol.

'Speak it! Tell me the name!' The demon screamed and flopped like a gutted fish on the green flagstones.

'Azathoth!' he screamed, 'The Minion of Azathoth has come!'

With that the house of Izzamandiuth began to tremble, and the floor beneath his slippered feet began to sway and rock. Trails of dust fell from the ceiling. The flagstones shifted, ever so slightly, a fractional movement which readjusted their alignment by a less than minuscule degree. The demon leapt from the broken circle like a blood-stained hawk, anxious claws grasping for the sorcerer's face...and faded into a moaning black mist as an ancient word left Izzamandiuth's lips. The mist whirled like a cloying fog about the wizard's robed legs, and dissolved into nothingness as the earth's tremor subsided.

Standing once more on firm, unmoving ground, Izzamandiuth contemplated the demon's final words. In the morning he would accompany the Prince to the Royal Library and peruse once more the antique texts of long-buried sages for mention of that horrible demon-feared name. He must prepare, for the blood-red moon, the trembling earth, and the tortured demon had told him that the peaceful spring of mighty Uzuldaroum was near its end. He made his tired way to his private chambers, where servants poured him wine and bathed the sweat from his body. Then, laying his conjure-weary body on silken pillows, he fell into a dreaming oblivion.

* * *

In a remote and lonely tower of blackest jade, Ooth'zar the Necromancer practiced his dark, forbidden art. His retinue of servants within this lonely spire were living mummies stolen from forgotten tombs, and they worked tirelessly to serve his every need, draped in their perfumed robes of violet gold-trimmed silk. The guardian at the door of the jade tower was a black-mailed warrior's animated skeleton, plundered from the mausoleum of distant Cerngoth, that jeweled metropolis of Mhu Thulan which sat in splendor by the Hyperborean Sea. The mute guardian hoisted ever a great black sword of strange metal which had been purloined from a far tomb on a nameless isle.

Within the tower were chambers more apt to fit a princeling than a brooding mage. Silk from beyond the Orient sea and ornate tapestries of dark grandeur imported from fair Atlantis draped the necromancer's chambers. The upper levels of his dark tower were given to his laboratories, and crypt-like chambers for storing the bodies not yet put to use in his eldritch research. In these laboratories the solitary mage worked to divine ever more of the secrets which separate life and death. Pouring over ancient books and scrolls from his immense library and speaking with the animated skulls of ancient sorcerers, he had plumbed the depths of the darkest art of sorcery, and achieved powers which few cared to know or experience. The fine antique jewelry: rings, amulets, and the golden band which adorned his brow in fiery emeralds, all were plundered from the tombs of lost emperors and kings, gathered in his many travels through dead and decaying lands where forgotten kingdoms once rose proud and arrogant against the fire of morning, and now lay broken and humble beneath the uncaring stars.

The Tower of Qoth'zar rose high among the wooded hills east of a great nameless desert in the far east of Mhu Thulan. Only the tiny village of V'hixia sat nearby enough to know of the Necromancer's presence. The villagers lived in fear of his dread powers, but since he had as of yet never molested them, they bothered him not. Of occasion he would send his fairest veiled zombie-maiden into the village for the rich pomegranate wine which southern merchants traded there, or an item of livestock to be spitted and roasted at a solitary feast in his shunned home. Much of the necromancer's time was spent traveling the lands of Mhu Thulan and beyond, searching for an undiscovered tomb or fresh graveyard ripe for exhumation. Dark rumors of what the mage kept captive in the catacombs beneath his terrible tower were sometimes whispered in the village's darkened inn though none knew the truth of the tower's secrets, and none would dare venture an attempt to gain such knowledge.

Of late a foul wind had taken to blowing out of the bitter desert, carrying a black fog which chilled the countryside, withering the fresh fruit on the vines of the necromancer's orchard, and the moon turned red as blood in the night sky. But, being not a Seer, Ooth'zar understood not the portent of these happenings, and focused his attention foremost now on the study of brittle antediluvian bones...

* * *

Where the nameless desert collided against the jagged peaks of the Mountains of Nephtarya, Nod the Seer dwelt in his humble cave atop a high cliff. For many years had he dwelt in hermitous isolation, his only companions the dry desert wind, the eagles of the mountains, and the great sabre-toothed cats which prowled the peaks at night. But not always had Nod been sequestered in his remote cavern.

In his youth he was said to have been a great warrior, fighting among the ancient armies of lost Commoriom, though that fallen city of Hyperborean legend had now lain dead amid the wild eastern jungles for centuries. For it was well known that Nod was far older than any mortal man; some even said he was in truth immortal, as are the gods themselves, though Nod had denied this many times. It was also told that before tall Commoriom was abandoned by its million inhabitants under the curse of an ancient, forbidden evil, Nod was general of the greatest army in Hyperborea's long history.

Against the savage and prehuman Voormis who swept down from the demon-haunted Eiglophian Mountains, Nod led the armies of Commoriom in battle to preserve their fair city. Though in the end a greater and more terrible doom than the threat of bestial hordes would claim Commoriom. It was whispered, too, that Nod foresaw the coming of his city's doom, yet none would listen to the ranting of a young soldier. The power which had nestled in him had at last emerged in the prime of his youth; he had the second sight, the ability to see beyond our world. And from that time forward he abandoned the way of the warrior and left Commoriom, haunted by the futile visions of its impending doom which would not leave his thoughts.

Into the wilderness Nod had fled, alone and bewildered by his emerging powers of divination. He wandered far across the breadth of Mhu Thulan, and south through the jungles of Tscho Vulpanomi and the sea of fire which burned beyond. And north past the isles of Polarion, into the cold wastes where the ice demons whisper of their hatred for warm-blooded things. For years Nod wandered the length of vast Hyperborea, and his friends became the spirits of the sky, earth, and waters. Never could he rid himself of the Arcane Sight which set him above mortal men, rather it only grew within him. Some said he had at last embraced the power which the gods had given him, some said he resented it still. Yet alone he dwelt now, far from the unbidden visions of others' fates, and away from the constant questions of those who wished always to know the future, yet were unwilling or unable to change it.

Of occasion lone pilgrims or wisdom-seeking youths would journey across the Desert Without Name to climb the steep cliff and reach the cavern where dwelled Nod. They brought to him exotic foods or wines, precious jewelry, antique swords and daggers set with the rarest of gems, the crumbling scrolls of long-buried wizards plundered from broken tombs, anything worthy enough to serve as tribute and obtain a few answers from he whom they call the Oracle of the Mountain.

Always Nod humbly accepted the tributes and gave the seekers the answers they sought, for only then would they leave him to the peace of the quiet desert and brooding mountains; and because he sometimes grew tired of the flesh of desert lizards and coarse mountain berries which were his daily provender.

The longer Nod lived in isolation the less was he troubled by unwanted visions of mens' and nations' fates. Yet this night the seer was troubled by a rare occurrence: a dark dream of churning black waters, as if an angry ocean leapt up to drown the starless sky where floated a blood-red moon; and a single ship tossed upon the dancing waves, bearing the light of four torches against the smothering darkness. On the deck stood himself, a golden sword at his side and red blood dripping from his face and hands. Then he awakened to the cool darkness of his cave, and burned some vaporous incense to wipe the dark vision from his mind.

* * *

Long had the priest Jasu'un Toth served city and king in sea-washed Cerngoth with such wisdom as the gods allowed him. The Seven Deities had smiled on the city; its men failed not in courage, nor its women in care. In conflict, its enemies had tested it, yet King Numanthees had known better than to pursue gloried warfare to the ruin of his nation. Within the favor of the Gods, pestilence and drought had passed lightly over it. Cerngoth's ships ranged the sea beyond Atlantis and Mu, returning with wonders; its astronomers tracked the Ten Planets, its artists saluted the Gods with noble icons of the ancient mythologies; and there was none so low who shared not some measure of the city's grace.

Yet there came lately upon the High Priest a nameless foreboding, as of one who on a summer's day, when the fruit are ripe and the hot winds of Karakal blows wild and far the fragrance of the hills, remembers only the frost and the howling gale. For all reality is illusion, the priest reflected, and must at times drop its mask to show the darker mask of Truth which lies behind.

On a night in the sweltering month of the Lynx he took himself to the Peak of Camla-Zaon, to cast from his mind all comforting deceptions, his one prayer that he might be naked to Truth in all its grimess. For two days and nights, never sleeping, he rejoiced in the power of concentration which had been attained through long years of dedication to theomantic study.

On the third day and the fourth, he pressed on like a climber on a steep mountain, putting one foot before another, careful lest the slightest slip throw him tumbling to the rocks.

On the fifth, the effort was like a band of iron that tightened on his brow, and the prayers seemed to choke in his gullet.

On the sixth, phantoms arose gory and shrieking, and he moved in despair as in a quicksand, shuddering.

On the seventh day, as he mumbled the syllables mechanically, beyond hope and despair alike, between one breath and another his spirit was seized from its body.

He stood then on an endless steppe, amid a black night beneath myriad burning stars, staring into the billowing rays of a dancing aurora. And he saw there was One Who stood behind those gleaming, endlessly shifting curtains, whose face was hooded; and the wings of his cloak were the very gulfs between the stars. And he heard these words:


Then he awoke, and found himself in a hostel in the vale below Camla-Zaon; and it was twelve days since he had began to pray; for on the ninth day searching priests had found his body, cramped and rigid on the height, and brought him thence.

Rising at once, he returned to Cerngoth and bade farewell to his King and fellow wardens of the temple. Upon the Abbot Peneleos he laid the Seven Keys, though their power he carried within himself. And that very day he set forth to do the will of the gods.

And yet, who was it that bespoke me from behind the green flames? he ruminated in silent epiphany. Did I look in truth on Varvadoss, Lord of the Universal Spaces? Or was He of that unknown order, of which my priestly tutors had but dimly hinted, who have no faces nor anything in common with the human race, and whose whim holds Chaos on a silken leash from the throat of this blue speck of a world - of those unseen Other Gods?

From Cerngoth the Bountiful, among the golden meadows hedged with walnut and olive, northward into the forested hills, sombre and serene, of blessed Mhu Thulan, came Jasu'un Toth alone, riding a trim small cart behind a patient donkey. Tall and lean he seemed, with his back straight and his knees high under the skirt of his dusty robe. His eyes were deep and black among wrinkles, his brow furrowed, and his countenance weathered, wherein the marks of older passions were smoothed as stones beneath a rapid river. White was his brambly beard, which whiteness had won to his ears and besieged also the black of his head.

Piled about the traveler were these: goatskins of water; his larder corns, onions, meadow-greens and fat mushrooms of the meadows; tools of a wood-carver, folded in leather of antelope; a purse jingling with oddments of gold and silver from jewelers' forges; pots and pans; and a light chest filled with small jars of ointments and healing liqueurs.

When the sun set on a clear day, it was the habit of Toth to set his donkey free to graze untethered while he supped in the shelter of a hedge or the fold of some hill; and having scoured the pots, he would quench the fire and sit up under the stars, silent as the stones. And when the stars faded against the rumor of dawn, he would be sitting still. At the first color in the sky, he was boiling water for his tea; and then in the hour before the sun, his voice was raised, sonorous and echoing among the hills, in praise of the Beneficent Seven. And when the sun had burst over the hills, and the world was decked anew in colors, then Jasu'un Toth would turn to his cart and behold the donkey returning at the very moment from its night rambling.

But on days when branches bent in the wind and the grey clouds gathered, the traveler would be near some farmstead on the road, or some village of scattered huts and barrows, and hail the house. 'I am Jasu'un Toth, who serves the gods', he would say, then humbly ask shelter as evening came on. Unfailingly he paid by cutting wood, or by whittling through the night the image of Nath-Horthath, Lord of Dreams, for ward against the night-mare, or a crude statuette of Zo-Kalar for a safe birth or easy death.

Over the hills he came, to the proud cities of upper Mhu Thulan, whither the shaggy cattle were driven home, and the bright sails of the merchants dappled the broad rivers. If it were a city of the hills, he sought for his lodging the temple of some gentle god, who urged no harm to man; and into the night, as the monks intoned their psalms and the fume of nutmeg and sandalwood coiled from their lamps, he held converse with hierophant and soothman, with doctor and sacred fool. But if it were a city of the river, he brought his cart down to the wharves, and for a share in the working-man's porridge, took his part in the caulking of planks or the setting of a mast. But on the night when the moon hung red in shadow, between death and rebirth, Jasu'un Toth would be far from the dwelling of men, on the crag of a barren hill, or the bank of some deep fold of the marshland. And a traveler who passed by perchance would hurry on his way, hearing in the chanted prayers groaning like that of a prisoner condemned.

* * *

Before the sun arose to chase the darkness from the marbled streets of high-towered Uzuldaroum, Izzamandiuth the Sorcerer awakened, donned a fine black robe of red-runed silk, and marched across the awakening city toward the Royal Palace to deliver the foreboding and enigmatic news his demonaic conjurations had revealed.

Upon his arrival he found the gate of entry to the palace surrounded by dozens of golden-mailed soldiers, a mass of plumed helms gleaming in the fresh sunlight. At the arched courtyard entrance he was halted by a pair of crossed spears. 'Halt, sorcerer,' said one of the burly guardsmen. 'None may enter today. An evil most dire has befallen, and the prince lies dead.' 'Dead?' repeated the sorcerer, face frozen in disbelief. 'Prince D'Vor? If this is a jest, guardsman, I'll have you--'

'Tis no jest, my lord! In the dark of the night the palace was besieged by serpentine phantoms which did descend from the very sky and slaughter all the night guardsmen in a most horrendous manner. Then the bat-winged creatures did invade the palace chambers, wrapping in their foul tentacles the women of the noble house, one by one! Valiant Prince D'Vor, aroused by the screaming, rushed to aid the women and was slain in a way I dare not recount, for such a death should no prince face. Thirty-one ladies and maidens have we lost, carried screaming into the black night sky, and our beloved prince is no more!'

The sorcerer could not pay credence to what he was hearing, but saw now the bearers of blood-stained corpses approaching the gate from the palace halls, carrying bodies which had been unspeakably...crushed. And then a realization of deepest dread hit him like a red-glowing coal from the fires of a Stygian hell. The women...

'Alithria!' he screamed, grabbing the guard's shoulders. 'Did they take Alithria? Speak, man, or I shall reduce thee to a smoldering ash!'The guard put a hand nervously on the hilt of his sheathed scimitar. 'All the palace women...have been taken, my lord,' he said, voice low and unsteady, eyes turned toward the cobbled ground.

'No!' screamed the sorcerer. 'Alithria!'

And his screams rang across the sullen-towered city like some doom-filled clarion of the damned

* * *

Strange sounds came drifting up from the base of the jade tower, entering through the arched window and falling into the parchment-strewn room where the necromancer Ooth'zar poured over moldy texts of divination and eldritch omencraft. The sounds were of steel clashing together, mixed with a visceral grunting, joined by the harsh cries of human voices. The morning sun streamed into Ooth'zar's dark eyes as he turned his gaze from his study to the window.

Peering out he saw a hundred feet below a group of villagers, probably from nearby V'hixia, gathered in a loose circle around what appeared to be the clashing of two armored warriors. 'Bones of Taarana...' oathed the wizard, seeing now that the villagers' champion was crossing swords with the black-mailed skeleton which guarded his tower door. He allowed himself a chuckle, for he had believed them too terrified of his reputation to even approach this vicinity, let alone challenge the unliving guardian of his door. The great black sword wielded by the undead guardian rang against the champion's breastplate, and the man staggered backward as the winged helm fell from his head; a black-bearded man with more the look of distant Uzuldaroum about him than V'hixia. He countered another blow with his heavy broadsword and struck with unerring skill directly into the heart of the skeletal warrior. But, being a dead thing whose heart had long ago rotted to nourish the worms of Mhu Thulan, the necromancer's guardian paid no heed to the killing blow, and delivered a crushing blow of his great evil blade upon the man's shoulder. Only the spike-hemmed shoulderplate prevented the man's arm from parting with his body, and green sparks flew from his armor as the necromantic sword careened aside.

'The fools,' muttered the necromancer at his windowsill. He turned and strode toward the spiral stairs which would carry him downward to the scene of this rare confrontation, knowing full well that, should the villagers' champion fall, the skeleton warrior would then slaughter them mercilessly as well. Yet Ooth'zar did not hurry as he paced down the stairwell. A few fresh specimens for his work, while unneeded would have been of no objection to him. He was puzzled at the villagers' presence, for they had never visited his forbidding tower in all the years since its building.

At last he entered the ground floor antechamber and a mummified servant threw open the door as he walked toward it. Outside the villagers shied away from the open entrance to the spire of blackest sorcery, and the dark-robed necromancer stepped into their midst. Their champion was bleeding from perhaps a half-dozen wounds as the battle with the door's guardian continued. He seemed not to notice the wizard's presence as he lifted the great broadsword and cut a swathe at the black-armored skeleton. The helm and the fleshless skull flew from the lich's shoulders and the black sword dropped from once-again lifeless hands, the armor collapsing upon itself as the enchanted bones within lost their mystic cohesion. With a noisome clatter, the guardian of the door was no more.

'Gelek!' screamed one of the villagers, pointing towards the necromancer. 'The sorcerer! He has come!'

The panting warrior turned toward the silent Ooth'zar and held the nicked broadsword before him, trying to gather his breath for speech.

The necromancer met the knight's gaze in a calm stare, ignoring the blade leveled evenly at his head. 'Now that you have done away with my doorman, why have you come to disturb me?' his words were for the villagers, not the warrior. 'And who is this bleeding oaf?'

One of the village men, an old gray-haired burgomeister stepped forward, his hairy finger pointed toward the wizard. 'We've come for our dead! Give them back to us, foul sorcerer, or your fate shall be that of your servant! For this is Gelek, the Hero of Uzuldaroum, whom we have given much gold to bring you justice!'

The necromancer frowned. Never had he raided the village cemetery or taken any citizen from the village. He knew the importance of having good neighbors, especially when necromancy was an outlawed art throughout Hyperborea.

'I know nothing of that which you speak,' he said.

'Come, wizard!' said the winded champion, waving the tip of his broadsword before Ooth'zar's face. 'Can you give us another explanation for the dead of V'hixia rising from their graves and marching into the desert, other than your black schemes?'

The villagers looked on, ready to flee if the wizard's wrath were seen to be stirring. They must have paid much gold for a fighting man of Uzuldaroum, Ooth'zar thought. 'You speak to me of a necromancy with which I have no involvement,' he says. 'If the dead of V'hixia have risen, it is no doubt due to lack of proper burial; or perhaps they've grown tired of the smell of cow-dung.'

'You claim innocence?' asked the gray-haired mayor. 'How are we to believe you, when no wizard dwells near us but yourself?'

'Whether you believe me or not is no concern of mine,' said the necromancer. 'I fear you have m isspent your gold. When did this exodus of corpses occur?'

'One week ago, and every day since,' said the warrior. 'These people have seen their deceased brothers, fathers, and children walk rotted through the streets of their village! The only way for you to prove your innocence in this infernal witchery is to aid us in discovery of its true source.'

The villagers nodded, turning their eyes away when Ooth'zar glanced at them. The necromancer rubbed his chin. The dead had marched into the desert, from where the recent chill winds had come to blight his orchard. Could there be a connection between this foreign necromancy and the blood-colored moon of recent nights?

'Well, necromancer,' said the armored man. 'What is your answer? Do you deign to help seek an answer to this phantasmal dilemma, or shall you, by your own refusal, prove your guilt and suffer the sword's justice?'

On a particularly cold day in the Desert Without Name, Nod the Hermit sat in meditation atop the high crag where lay the cave which was his home. Wrapped in the pale fur of a great walrus from far Polarion, he sat beneath the chill sun and filled his mind with the peaceful nothingness of the vast universe. Behind him the tall mountains stood as brooding guardians against civilization, walling Nod from the rest of the world. Before him and below stretched the endless vista of the golden desert sand.

After awhile he heard them, climbing the cliff below. He always heard them as they came: pilgrims, priests, heirophants, peasants. All manner of civilized men had braved the burning desert or crossed the tiger-infested mountains to find ancient Nod and ask for question or prophecy, always bearing the gifts of tribute, few of which the Hermit had little use for among the unpeopled desert. The white walrus cloak he now wore was a favorite, but few gifts were so practical. He had no use for the gold, gems, and jewels piled in the back of his simple cavern. Nor did he need the finely-crafted swords, jeweled of hilt and sleek of blade, or spears, daggers, or any other prized weapon. His favorite gifts were usually food and wines, for the desert offered little variety to a hermit's diet.

Now they topped the steep ridge and their eyes met with Nod, wrapped in his white-furred cloak whipped by the fierce, high winds. They were three, Nod saw as he opened his eyes. Youths, dressed in the simple grey tunics of the farmers who tilled the soft fertile earth south of the desert. They bowed and touched their foreheads to the ground before the seer's still figure. Nod was glad they choose not to sully this moment with speech. The peace of the quiet desert was never interrupted so rudely as by the sound of human language, which has no place among the mute cacti and dry stones.

Now Nod noted that all were wounded of sorts, dried blood clinging to their desert-stained garments, and each wore a plain-hilted short sword, an uncommon piece of baggage for the southern agronomists.

One of them pulled from a leather pouch a twine-bound bottle of wine, placing it at the feet of the sitting Oracle, then resumed his place among the other kneeling lads. I suppose speech is unavoidable, thought Nod. Still they are polite lads not to demand their answers immediately.

'Why have you come?' asked Nod. His voice was like old leather, too long dried in the hot sun. The sound came from a throat long unused to making such noises.

'Oh, Great Oracle of the Mountains,' spoke the lead youth, 'we come from Merba, in the South, where grows the pomegranate tree and zela-flower. Ours was a peace-filled land until two moons gone, when our village was marauded by... dead things...out of the desert. They swept down into our valley on skeletal steeds, slaughtering all who stood in their path. They were the living bodies of warriors long-buried, or left to rot in the desert! No flesh had they, but were like the soldiers of deepest Hell! No blow could kill them; they slew our men and most of our children. Only we three men escaped.' The boy lowered his eyes in shame. 'Oh, Great One, they took our women! Carried like sacks of wheat across their saddles, each bore a screaming girl or woman, and they left as they had come, disappearing into the desert wordless and wet with the blood of our families.'

There was a silence then on the cold mountaintop, and the youths searched Nod's blank eyes for a reaction to their tale.

'We know that the gods have forsaken us, Great Oracle, so we have come to you. What must we do to gain revenge against this unnamed evil and bring back our lost women?'

Nod was silent. They waited, patiently. At length the Seer took a long, deep breath and stood. 'I must speak with the sky,' he told them. 'Go within, and sleep. There is food.'

The youths stumbled into his cave and he was left alone to face the black clouds which hid the roof of the desert. Nod lifted his hands, and an incantation escaped his dry lips. The wind moaned, and grew in power, threatening to whip him off of the high ledge and deliver him to the sharp boulders far below. And then his vision began...

Dark skies churn and boil above a black, endless sea which leaps and dances, forming canyons and mountains of angry, boiling water
The ocean is alive and tortured in the spasms of a continental birth
Something is forcing back the titan waves, shedding the depths of darkness, rising toward the air and the fear-stricken sky
Great towers, monolithic and black, stained with algae and draped in miles of seaweed break the surface of the slime-ridden sea
Coral-encrusted domes meet the fouling air, forbidden moons of a dark, evil world rising beside massive ziggurats and pyramids of black basaltalive with legions of clinging mollusks and legions of dying urchins
The structures designed by no mortal hand, indicative of no sane orderor reasonable scale of supporting mass
The black, perverted mockery of a city now stands in blasphemous grandeur beneath the averted eyes of the cloud-cloaked sun
In the center a mountain of geometric impossibility, green with the verdigris of untold ages beneath confining waves, naked now to the pale light of the surface world
Pregnant now with impending release of eons-buried doom
The great black doors of the structure open and a foul wind sweeps across the world, erasing all goodness and innocence, drowning the sane atmosphere with infinite currents of dread and pestilence
From the ever-widening portal emerges a legion of squirming, anxious tentacles dripping with the extra-terrene slime of something ancient and inconceivablyevil
The great, godlike octopoid head emerges next, vast twin orbs the color of stellar voids staring out at the ripe dimension spread before its bottomless hunger,a feast laid steaming before the bloated alien king
And from the seas pour forth its billions of scaled and tentacled children to sweep across the Hyperborean continent, like maggots devouring a fallen, rotting fruit
And the spaces between the stars vomit forth monstrosities which tear the skies, plummeting downward to join in the horrid orgy of alien appetites
While the serpent-winged god summons forth its eager cosmic brethren, and the world of men becomes the feeding ground of a new empire
Which will reach beyond the stars
Into doomed worlds undreamt of by mortal minds...

And Nod awakened atop his high crag, cold rain pelting his shivering form. The wind had taken his walrus-pelt, and he stood beneath a red moon, lost in the grip of a fear he had never known.

* * *

Three red moons had come and gone since Jasu'un Toth left the golden splendor of the Temple of the Seven Gods and set out across Hyperborea with only a grey mule and a cartful of provender. North and east he traveled, ever performing the humble duties of a pilgrim when called upon by the sick or needy, living as one who had never known a home, wandering always toward that unforseen place where the gods had chosen to guide him.

For many days now he had seen no settlement nor sign of human habitation, and had long since left behind the dirt roads of Mhu Thulan. Now he rode his mule into strangely-blossomed valleys seldom trod by human foot. Through dark and starless forests choked with bramble and thorn he traveled on. Wild beasts seemed to ignore him, though many times he saw clearly the blue-furred wolves of Hyperborea crossing his path, or a great fanged reptile lumbered past his timid mule, when the mount's smell alone should have attracted voracious predation. Yet unmolested he traveled as the green lands turned to brown and the fertile valleys gave way to deep shadowy canyons, and the ever-changing blossoms of the Hyperborean landscape were replaced by stunted black cacti which thrived between fallen clumps of boulders. And the roar of great wildcats echoed through the mountainous domain, though the priest saw no sign of the massive sabre-toothed tigers whose challenges he recognized.

His stubborn steed scrambled onward until a narrow canyon opened like some massive, gaping maw before him, and he rode out of the dark mouth into a brilliant panorama of shifting sands which stretched toward the horizon in unbroken swells. The hot, sweeping winds of the desert brought curtains of harsh sand stinging into his eyes, and he fell from the mule, landing in the sand-drift which smothered the canyon's outer walls.

Lying in the sand, he saw above him the yellow globe of the sun, the fiery face of Karakal, burning down on him like the hot breath of revelation. And, lying on the shifting sands of the nameless desert, Jasu'un Toth was stricken dumb by the second Great Vision of his pious life...

Much later he awakened trembling in the cold of the swift-fallen desert night. Mind and soul shaken by this apocalyptic vision of prophecy, he rose to his feet, unfeeling, and wandered into the black night of the desert, never noticing that his mule had long-since wandered off to seek its own fortune.

* * *

Running into the palace, Izzamandiuth saw red blood painting the walls, and broken bits of guardsmens' bodies strewn aimlessly throughout the golden halls. Frantically he ran to the chambers of his beloved Alithria, passing through the raw carnage unheeding. Only thoughts of his lovely bride-to-be swirled like tempests within his head, and he did not notice the stench of corruption all around him.

Reaching her chamber he found it bare, except for the blood and crushed remains of the two guards who had attempted to drive off the invading creatures. Yet as he turned to go he overheard a silent whimper. Looking beneath the great satin-draped bed he discovered a cowering servant-boy, one Feldoth by name, a lad of perhaps 12 who tended to his beloved and the rest of the Palace Ladies. The lad's blank face was stained with dried tears. The sorcerer called to him but the boy did not seem to hear. Izzamandiuth grabbed the lad's hands and dragged him out, though he screeched and screamed as if the hounds of Hell were carrying him into their flames.

'Feldoth!' demanded the wizard. 'It is I, Izzamandiuth! Tell me what you saw! Tell me!'

The lad ceased his screaming to gaze up into the wizard's dark-browed face. For a long moment he was silent, then: 'Serpents...winged black serpents from Hell! Through the open windows they came! Like the wrath of the gods! Wrapping themselves around the soldiers....crushing them....I saw Tholizin's eyes pop....' The lad had obviously been driven well beyond the gates of sanity. He was laughing now. 'Like slippery grapes! Ha, ha, ha! Ripe, tender grapes!'

Realizing the pitiful wretch could tell him no more the feverish sorcerer returned to his green-stoned abode and entered the forbidden room behind the demon-carved door. The circle of power was drawn, and the ancient incantations spoken; a writhing, slime-laden thing emerged from the Beyond to squat slobbering within the circle. The wizard interrogated the demon, describing the creatures which had assailed the palace, demanding the demon answer his questions regarding the horrid abduction of his beloved and the murder of Uzuldaroum's brave Prince.

The demon's maw was a vast, quivering, shapeless thing, dripping with unholy fluids which evaporated instantly into the netherworld before they hit the floor. The unlikely mouth contorted, and a voice like ripping flesh spoke.

'Servitors...of...the darkest king...your world has known...newly come to power...He is the one of a thousand forms...His names are Ahtu...Tolometh... Azrarn...Yith-Na...Baal...and many others...His grandeur is madness...his Masters are the Outer Gods...Abhoth... Daoloth... Shub-Niggurath...Tulzscha...Ubbo Sathla...Yog-Sothoth...Azathoth...He will bring the Old Ones into your world...to reclaim their stolen kingdom....'

'This is the one who has taken my bride?' asked the sorcerer, not letting the demon see the fear growing in his eyes.

'In a place without name...where the waters are none...he has built a citadel. Here he gathers...sacrifices... to call the Great Old Ones...Here he feasts on death...I can tell you...no more....'

The sorcerer ran over the demon's words in his keen mind. He was no theologist, and studied not the gods, good nor evil. The names meant little to him. But this new king; it was he who sent the flying horrors. It was he who stole sweet Alithria.

It was he who must die.

The demonaic soon dissolved. Izzamandiuth left the summoning room and entered his librarium. Long he studied the many maps in his keeping, and determined at last that he must go into the East.

For a great desert without a name lay between vast Hyperborea and distant, dreaming Mu.

* * *

With the great black sword hanging now at his side, Ooth'zar walked alongside the villagers and the mercenary Gelek to view the disrupted cemetery of despairing V'hixia. As the sun lost its rays in the gulf of night the necromancer entered the graveyard where the earth was turned and scattered, with not a grave undisturbed. Only Gelek would accompany him into the now-unhallowed ground, standing silently as the necromancer examined the burst-open graves. The trail of the walking dead led directly into the nameless desert, as if the liches had followed the blood-red moon in its rising. Ooth'zar had followed the trail of decayed flesh and grave-dirt into the chill nighted desert, and Gelek had followed him. After hours of mute travel, the mercenary finally broke the silence. 'What do you make of it, wizard?'

'We will know when we have reached the corpses' destination,' said the necromancer.

They walked on through the shifting sands. Onward and onward until the hot sun rose to paint the sky in shades of gold and purple. 'We must rest,' said the mercenary.

'Rest, then,' said the necromancer, and his nimble hands traced invisible patterns in the morning air as he muttered an incantation. A dark steed appeared, with hooves of pale fire and eyes of gleaming starlight. Gelek could see the desert behind the horse, through the horse. It was a phantom, or vision, a thing of no substance. Yet the necromancer climbed atop the spectral beast's back and galloped away without a sound, black robes flailing in the morning air.

'Wait!' shouted the exhausted warrior. His armor seemed heavy as lead around his weary body. 'Damned wizard!' This oath was the last Ooth'zar heard from Gelek as he sped away from the armored fool.

The phantom stallion carried him across the shifting golden desert more swiftly than a flesh-and-blood horse traveling solid ground. The sun reached its full heat, beginning once again its endless attempt to melt the sand and stone beneath its radiance. And Ooth'zar rode on, following always the trail of the displaced corpses of V'hixia.

At length he spied on the horizon the high wall of a great plateau rising from the sands like a black island above a golden sea. And Ooth'zar brought his phantasmal mount to a halt then, for upon the heights of the plateau sat a black citadel of wicked design and massive as a great hill.

A central spire of dull ebony dominated the weird structure, whose architecture was like none the widely-traveled mage had ever beheld. Ziggurats, pyramids, and faceted domes of unpolished black stone rose toward the raging sun like a scar of pestilence on the face of a comel y woman.

As the necromancer observed the alien citadel he saw the great black gates swing slowly open, while a host of shambling dead crawled over the far lip of the plateau and stumbled one by one into the gaping maw of darkness, like rotted pilgrims entering the halls of salvation.

Nod lifted the great broad-bladed sword from the mound of weaponry which had lain untouched for years in the recess of his cave. Sheathed in a green scabbard made from the fulvous skin of some great reptile, its hilt was a masterwork of gold inlays and rune-writ patterns of ancient wizardries. The head of the hilt was worked into the shape of a golden eagle head, minuscule rubies gleaming in the bird's eyes. He pulled the blade free of its scabbard: a three-foot length of pure Atlantean steel with a line of eldritch glyphs etched along its middle.

To hold such a blade in his hand again, to feel its weight and test its expert balance by swinging it in the dueling patterns of Old Commoriom left Nod with remembrance of a hundred battles fought and won across primitive Hyperboria. He felt again the roar of the host's charge, the thunder of a horse beneath his legs, the red fury of battle-madness which struck amid the pulsing clash of armies. He waved the blade in a dance of youthful vigor, forgetting himself and the horrid vision which had claimed his consciousness moments before.

"Twil serve,' he said to himself, hefting the blade, and strapped the serpent-skin scabbard belt around his narrow waist. When the sun rose above the desert's golden waste it found Nod and the three boys tracking across the sand, moving south toward the ruined village. Each carried a shoulderbag of water and dried berries. At midday Nod flung a stone at a scuttling lizard, and thereby secured their dinner, which he later skinned with a jeweled dagger brought from his cave. When the sun was past its zenith and they were well into the desert, Nod called a halt and raised his face to the wind while the boys sat at rest. The desert's hot breezes bore the sounds from beyond distant dunes into the Seer's ears.

He heard the patter of lizards' feet and the scraping of sand across barren stones, all the common sounds of the desert. Yet as he continued to listen to the news of the wind a strange sound came to him. A dark chanting, it was, as of worshippers whose voices were not quite human, giving libation in a language never meant for human ears. Then the grotesque voices were stilled by the clangourous shutting of some massive portal, ringing across the dunes from the West, like the black gates of a cyclopean hell slammed against the dimming light of sanity.

Nod stared into the western sky. Never had he heard these sounds in the nameless desert, not in all his years living here. Last night's vision of the continental alien city arising from the tortured sea entered once more into his head, the vast monolith whose gates had opened, granting exit to the dark, terrible god whose coming would whelm the world.

* * *

Under the silent stars the shaken Toth walked in a trance of fearful wonder, and it was not until the sky paled and the horizon was a line, straight as a geometer's ruling and as inky black, that again he took stock.

In other times he had managed to grope my way back from excesses of despair, even rabid panic, by a firm and temperate insistence on confronting the facts. But in the cold light of this night's dawning, sanity itself was madness. Holding fast to fact (for that Black Epiphany was not within the power of doubt!) was of no more use to him than to the most pitiable wretch who screamed without hope until his end, while his brain is eaten by tumor.

The Ultimate Terror was upon the world, and the full power of his priestly knowledge was nothing but a gesture in the face of it. He could only proceed with no comfort other than the irrational, indeed the insane, hope that somehow he might discover and win to alliance some earthly power of a magnitude un-rumor. The only tenuous thread of optimism he realized was that the unknown power who had earlier addressed me, had not unconditionally stated that the Shape of Evil would consume the world; though it certainly would do so if Toth sought to turn away from the facing of it.

His intention was firm; but how was he to survive? In this wasteland, no men were known to live. If perchance there were deer or fowl, and lions to hunt them, then their tracks might take him to a waterhole. But looking to the horizon he could make out not a single tree or shrub. An hour after dawn and he would be sweating; two hours, and the whole land would become a windblown inferno.

As the red-yellow sun came near to rising, the words of the dear old hymn came back to him, that the children of Cerngoth sang on holy days:

Sleepers, awaken! The Night has gone, and taken Your darkest fears, and left you here, And the Sun it shines so clear!

So he sang, in the mouth of the desert, and then the most cheerful hymns to each of the Seven Gods that came to mind. The monstrous vision of the nigh—the continental necropolis and its monstrous, rising demon-god—became a remote abstraction, like the hour of his death; and what man thinks of death at the rising of the sun? He was mightily thirsty then.

Having no prepared talismans of power, nor the time to work a Middle Calling without them, a Lesser Calling would have to do. But a priest accomplished in Cerngoth was never wholly without resources. With his finger in the sand he drew the Egg, with the Four Directions about it, the Waters above and the Foundations below; and carefully leaning into it, lastly he traced the twisting curve of the Sleeping Serpent.

Then, with Karakal's solar glory burning red even through his closed eyelids, he began the chant:

O HAGARG RYONIS Thou Serpent Who Guards The Gravestones of the Righteous The Tombs of the Elder Kings Give help to Thy worshipper!

O HAGARG RYONIS Thou Lizard Who Keeps The Worm from the House The Locust from the Harvest Give aid to Thy servant!

In the Circle of the Horizon There is no beast or bird That calls this wasteland home But only Thy creatures Cool and cunning Make me cool as the lizard Make me cunning as the snake

O HAGARG RYONIS Thou Turtle Who Swims Ancient and Unseen In the Wisdom of Aeons Give me share of the shade Give me share of the hidden water That keeps Thy creatures living

O HAGARG RYONIS Thou Dragon Who Pursues The Tyrant to His Fall The Dark Star to Its Pyre Grant Home and Hearth Grant Water and Food To the Servant of Thy Vengeance!

Now, if burning Sun and parched throat had given sincerity to his prayer, then haply the Scaled Lady would make him aware of water and shade hereabout, if it be only enough for a lizard. So would the Gods decide if he should live or die.

His next action was clear, though it was not normally his temerity to call twice upon the gods in a single day; yet this was no day for prudence. He set himself to composing a prayer, unto NATH-HORTHATH, the Lion of Heaven, who from His Lunar lair observed and instructed the dreams of men. With all force he would beseech the Dream Lord to send down a Servitor to guide and protect in this unfriendly and lifeless waste.

The rising breeze brought no relief, but fanned the desert's heat as he trudged across the sand. Yet he hardly noticed, setting his concentration upon the litany of the Middle Calling, striving to bring before his senses the perfume of Ash-of-Eucalypt, the measures of the Dance, and the unfoldings of the God's Major Diagram. He must enact in his mind alone what was to be performed by six initiates on the ivory Floor of the Lion, through a night of trance and intricate movements. Yet he had far overestimated the resources of his body, shaken, sleep-starved, and drying fast beneath fiery-faced Karakal's naked ardence.

The dancers swirled before his sight, the hypnotic syllables reverberated in his ears - he pitched over, to lie insensible under the furnace sun.

* * *

Izzamandiuth, through a combination of his noble affiliations and the Palace Guards' fear of his sorcerous powers, gained an audience with the King of Uzuldaroum, Jeddar Fong. Upon relating to the great king news of his discoveries involving the abduction of the Palace ladies and the death of Prince D'Vor, the grief-stricken monarch immediately granted the lauded sorcerer a thousand of his best troops, those warriors known as the Black Falcon Guard, to be led across Hyperborea eastward and northward, into the nameless desert. The troops were to be commanded by the legendary warrior Chag Ylum, whose sword was rumored to have slain a hundred demons. Though the warlock doubted the veracity of such a claim, he gladly accepted the captain's aid in his endeavors.

Arrayed in their gleaming war finery and bearing the crimson banners of Uzuldaroum, the host set out the following morning, Izzamandiuth and Chag Ylum riding mailed black stallions at its head. Gleaming lances and burnished helms carved in the likeness of dragon and roc swarmed across the prairies and fields of fair Hyperborea. Through black forests the massive host traveled, unmolested by the dark and fiendish denizens whose pale witch-fire eyes stared into their firelit camps at night. Across the length and breadth of the Hyperborean wilderness the wizard led the thousand vengeful warriors, toward the forbidding goal his thamauturgies had revealed as the seat of the Evil which spread across the continent borne on black devil's wings, and stained the evening moon with shades of fresh-spilt blood. And at last, having marched two weeks across unclaimed and sparsely settled wildlands, the Legion of the Black Falcon reached the edge of the Desert Without Name.

Now the wizard stood before his host beside the black-armored captain and peered into the desolation stretching endless toward the far horizon. A burning sea of golden sand, windblown and alive in swirling dances of barren mirth. A few leagues before the army had encountered the remains of a lonely village with not a soul left alive in its abandoned streets. Only a few piles of bones lay here and there amid the crumbled ruins of houses, temples, and taverns, picked clean by black ravens who sat like smirking lords amid the little hamlet's remains.

The season's crops, ella-fruit and tall stalks of uma-wheat lay rotted in the farmcarts, untouched by any except the worms and insects. And the most curious thing of all, the village's graveyard had been empty, the graves disturbed and burst asunder, as if the moldering occupants within had suddenly dug their way out and wandered off. Perhaps some foul necromancy was responsible for the death of the village. This close to the desert, where this new 'dark king' held his power, it was no surprise to the sorcerer of Uzuldaroum to find the devastation. But now he must enter the barren desert and find the seat of this black lord's power. He stared into the swollen purple clouds above the windswept desert and pondered his next course of action.

'What could live in such a death-giving place?' asked the tall Chag Ylum, gauntleted hand resting on the gemmed hilt of his great sword.

'Only Death could live here,' said Izzamandiuth. 'Death and those who serve him.'

'Is it Death himself we go to battle then?' asked the warrior.

The sorcerer smiled. 'Perhaps worse, captain.'

The blood-red moon was rising now, swollen and bloated as if on the suckled blood of innocent things which were its hapless prey beneath the starry sky.

'When the sun rises, we enter the desert,' said Chag Ylum. The sorcerer nodded, staring into the shadows which emerged from the sand to reclaim the cooling wasteland from the dying sun. Memories of sweet Alithria swam within his head, stirring an impotent wrath yet to be released; and an icy fear which would travel into the dry dunes with him like a silent, mocking companion come the morn.

* * *

Beneath the dark shadow of the tall mesa and its alien citadel, Ooth'zar worked the pre-human incantations which would force the demon into his hastily-drawn Circle of Power. Slowly his chosen quarry began to take form atop the crude altar of tumbled desert stones. Like a swirling, sluggish smoke the form twisted and achieved enforced solidity, the whims of the demon or the powers which invested it with life choosing its physical form.

The figure of a nude woman, voluptuous and full-breasted, with the gray-furred head of a sharp-fanged jackal, stood now before the necromancer. Black wings like those of a great raven arose from her shapely back, and her feet were the hooves of goats. The demon hissed in discomfort at its summoner.

'The blackest curse be on you for bringing me to this place!' spat the demon.

'My sincerest apologies, O, Comely Spawn of Night,' said Ooth'zar, 'but I am in need of supernatural advice and have chosen you as my viceroy. Answer now the questions I have posed: what is the portent of yon otherworldly citadel, and who dwells within? Am I to meet my doom there? What is the meaning of the pilgrimage of V'hixia's corpses?'

The demon dropped to all fours, its pulsing flesh arousing desires which slept in the darkest pits of the necromancer's psyche. Its pale breasts heaved. 'This place is cursed! One has come who even demons fear! This is the seat of his power, and the machination of his terrible brood! The master of the black citadel is the Lord of a Thousand Forms, the Haunter of the Dark, he who is servant to the Outer Gods; the Dog of Azathoth, the Waster of Hope, the Mouth of Madness. By endless names he is known, none of which I dare to speak this close to his presence. Let me go now, or your soul will rot through eternity in the pits of Malbogea!'

'Finish your answers,' said the necromancer.

'Your doom will come when the forces which rule mens' lives decide it. Such knowledge is forbidden to demons. Yet I will give you my own counsel: your powers are great, you have conquered the boundaries of death and chained demons to your will. If any can survive the journey within yon black citadel, it is the mighty Ooth'zar. Thus I bid you enter, and discover the terror of demon and man alike!'

'And the dead of V'hixia?' asked the necromancer.

'Summoned by the Unseen Lord within, for what purpose none can say. Though it is known that the Lord needeth both servants and sustenance in his earthly forms. Now I have answered your questions, you must release me!'

The necromancer considered all that the demon had told him. 'Very well,' he said. 'Return now from whence you came....'

The demon began to fade, yet it mouthed a final statement as it fled the earthly plane. 'The breath of the Void will soon breathe its hoary frost upon you, precocious mortal!' Its wicked laughter faded as soon as it began. Ooth'zar stood alone beneath the chill stars. Beyond a rocky outcropping atop the mesa he could see the topmost spires of the vast black citadel. As his steps carried him once again near the base of the high plateau where the sprawling structure reared like some twisted mountain wrenched out of hell, he noticed a freshly-arrived legion of the dead approaching from the north. At least a hundred corpses marched stiffly across the sands toward the plateau and the massive gates which would open to receive them. He could easily join the marching dead, and gain entry into the forbidding structure.

The demon spoke truth; Ooth'zar was the Master of Undead, the most powerful necromancer ever to come from Mhu Thulan; he had bent armies to his will and driven the most noxious of demons to defeat. He must enter the citadel and discover what blasphemous intrigue was to hatch from the corpse-tended abomination, for surely his powers of necromancy and magecraft would serve to effect his immunity from harm therein.

But as he walked closer to the advancing army of dead things, a voice within his arcanely-tutored mind spoke to him in half-heard tones, telling him that the truth of demons was seldom the truth of living men.

It seemed that some illusion of blessed shade had settled over Jasu'un Toth's prone form. For the heat of Karakal no longer touched his skin so hotly, and the light which penetrated his eyes seemed not so terrible. At length he opened his eyes and beheld that which blocked the sun from his face.

A great black lion stood before him, a phantom of living shadow where there was no shadow, the black dream-lion of Nath-Horthath; the shadowcat had answered his calling and stood now between him and the sun, its clawed paws making no impression in the sand. Its wild mane danced like black smoke in the desert breeze as it trained its fire-red eyes on the waking priest. It seemed the lion-headed Lord of Dreams had answered his calling after all. Jasu'un kowtowed before the shadow-beast and mouthed a libation to the Night God. The lion growled, a soft sound like the distant echo of midnight thunder.

Then the priest arose into the hot sun, and the cool touch of the phantom-lion soothed him as it rubbed its ebony mane against his legs. He looked about, taking in the featureless desert which stretched in all directions, dunes of golden sand rolling in gentle waves out to all horizons. Yet a small dark thing caught the priest's eye, the only shape visible on the distant horizon. The dream-lion seemed to see it too, turning its crimson eyes toward the horizon and purring against its summoner's side.

Jasu'un walked toward the horizon, and the shape grew slowly larger. His mouth was bone-dry and polluted with sand. The dark cat loped beside him. Closer, ever closer he came, until he saw that the object was an abandoned caravan, a line of three merchant wagons, lying forgotten and sand-laden between the dunes. Once-colorful banners of yellow and purple silk ruffled in the desert breeze, their colors turned to near-gray by the weeks or months of daily sun. Cracked and broken wheels lay beside the wagon frames, and the skeletons of four camels lay rotting at the caravan's head. Across the decaying frames of the wagons crawled a dozen green lizards, tongues whisking in and out as they searched the cracks and holes of the strong wooden frames.

The priest approached the first of the half-buried wagons, prying open the sand-weighted door and peering into the stuffy gloom, exclaiming. 'Praise be to Hagarg Ryonis!' Casks of water and crates of dried fruit lay tumbled within. The priest used a rock to burst the top of a water-cask and drank deeply, chasing the desert's killing thirst from his throat. Dried dates, mangos, and other fruits whose names he did not know he ate like a starved man.

Later, bearing a waistful of emptied wine-flagons he'd filled afresh with water and a bagful of the dried fruits, the priest set out into the desert again with his dark feline companion. After a while he realized that it was he who was following the lion of Nath-Horthath. The shadowcat was leading him somewhere, to some appointed meeting or locale, of this he felt increasingly sure. So he followed, every few hours allowing himself a drink of the water he carried around his waist.

As the sun began to lower itself toward the far horizon in promise of a chill, dark night, it came to him that there had been no signs of the drivers of the abandoned caravan, no skeletons of the ill-fated guardsmen, loadbearers, or merchants lying near the bleached bones of the camels. What had caused the caravan to end in the midst of the lifeless desert, he wondered. What had happened to the men who piloted the caravan to its doom? And if they in truth still lived, why had they taken none of the caravan's provisions into the burning desert?

For several bright, burning days and cold bloody-mooned nights Jasu'un Toth walked the wastes behind the Lion of Nath Horthath, drawing ever closer toward his unknown goal. No sign of life had he spied among the lifeless dunes, other than the occasional green-skinned lizard or hapless bird of prey. The days melted into one another like featureless mortar stones in a great and stark temple wall.

* * *

Ever westward, toward the sounds of unearthly chanting, Nod tramped through the desert sands. The three lads from south of the desert followed him like mute servants or forlorn bodyguards. Perhaps they felt that no harm would come to them while they traveled with the seer, or mayhap their hunger for revenge exceeded any effort at self-preservation. Nod did not know, for his mind is wrapped in the tattered wisps of apocalyptic visions and inhuman voices.

For a day they walked the hot sands and, as the sun began to set, Nod stopped to examine the sand. He stooped and walked with head bowed, as if reading ancient runes in the scattered patterns of the windblown sand. His three disheveled retainers collapsed to the cooling earth, sipping at their diminishing water bottles as he learned what the sands had to say. One of the youths set about building a fire, preparing to cook the lizard which Nod's skill brought down for them today.

As the fire began to rise and the skinned reptile was placed above the crackling flames Nod returned to the circle of flickering light and sat himself down on the hard desert's cushion. He drank from the flask of pomegranate wine which the youths brought to him from the South's ruined groves.

'What have you found, Great One?' asked one of the boys.

Nod swallowed. 'The sands tell of many feet moving in the direction we are heading, like those of an army passing in pilgrimage.'

'Perhaps it is the marks of our stolen women!' exclaimed hopeful youth.

'Perhaps,' says Nod. He did not tell them that the prints he found were made by fleshless feet, as if bare bones walked the desert, leaving the trails of no living things. Yet all the trails of naked-boned feet and rotted boots led into the West. There could be no doubt that this migration of the unliving possessed a single goal. That very goal which Nod had heard on the wind, and now passed toward in the footsteps of the stalking dead.

When the youths had drifted off to sleep, Nod lay awake, sipping now and again at the potent pomegranate liquor. His aged eyes were about to close when he spied a dark form moving at the edge of the firelight. A great black lion walking out of the desert, and behind it's sinuous, shadowy form, a figure in the tattered robes of a priest or monk. Believing this a phantasm brought on by the wine's subtle mysteries, Nod stared in silence at the approaching figure and the great dark cat which walked before it. Then some instinct or inner alarm, triggered for the first time in more than a century , brought him to his feet, the Atlantean blade gleaming in his fist. He stood wary before the wearily marching figure, ready for the revelation of some hideous mummy or lich as the figure emerged into the light of the dancing flames.

But it was no rotted cadaver which the hermit saw now standing across the fire from him, but a living man, whose skin was burned and cracked from long days under the sun. The long, dark hair reaches past his shoulders; the lightly slanted eyes and pointed chin reveal him to be a western Hyperborean such as Nod himself. The man's rune-inlaid robes hung upon his thinned body like wind-shredded rags, he carried around his waist a multitude of sloshing wine-bottles, and a leather bag was strapped across his shoulder. The great lion circled his robed legs, staring with eyes like glowing red coals at the seer, and Nod reflected silently that this man's pet is blacker than the night which surrounds the tiny camp; as if it were a creature of living shadow rather than furred flesh and blood.

Nod held the great sword before him, though he lowered its gleaming point a bit. 'Who are you that travel this cursed waste in the company of this night-beast?'

The stranger bowed, the mannerisms of a priest used to supplicating beneath towering godly idols. 'I am Jasu'un Toth,' says he. 'A priest of Cerngoth in Mhu Thulan. I have followed a vision of celestial doom into the desert. The Lion of Nath-Horthath has led me across the sunblasted land to your fire.'

Nod lowered the jeweled sword, sticking its point into the sand. How quickly his soldierly impulses had taken over, even after these long years of unuse. He tosses his bottle of wine across the flames into the man's grasping hands. 'I too have been visited by a vision of doom,' he says. 'Drink, Priest, and sit. Let us talk of what we have seen.'

The shadowcat stretched its frame before the fire and appeared to fall asleep, if such a spectral being can know the comfort of slumber, and the two men spoke, sipping the yellow wine while the bloody moon looked on and the cold of the desert began to grip the night.

Upon relating his vision of the monolithic city which rose impossibly from the blackened sea, and the emergence of its terrible, hungry god, the two discover that their visions were indeed the same. The priest claimed his seven gods had sent him into the desert, guiding him in visions and portents, though he knew not where they lead him, or the exact purpose of his geas. Only that it involved the awakening of a vast evil which threatened the very whole of Hyperborea and beyond, perhaps unto all of existence itself.

Upon this matter Nod agreed, and he told Jasu'un Toth of the undead marauders which had razed the village of the sleeping youths. He spoke of the horrendous chanting carried to his ears on desert winds, and the migration of dead feet toward some fiendish goal in the West. And the two agreed to travel on, westward toward the source of the brooding evil. Later, in the scarlet glow of a forbidding moon, Toth cast an enchantment of Blessing on the short, wide-bladed swords of the three youths, calling on Lobon, the God of Warriors, to temper their weapons with godly sharpness.

When the wine bottle was empty they fell to sleep, knowing that the light of dawn would bring them closer to the terrible source of the nightmares which haunted their unfit dreams.

* * *

Three days the armored legion had traversed the barren desert, and no sign of an enemy, no sign of life, nothing but the golden sand and the blazing sun. Chag Ylum said nothing, but the soldiers under his command had begun to complain bitterly, claiming that the sorcerer was half-mad, that there could be no citadel or palace in such a place; some whispered they should put the wizard to the sword and leave him to rot in the desert, before the entire legion lay as bleach-boned corpses in the hot sand. But the merest glance from steely-eyed Chag Ylum brought any such talk to a halt most quickly.

Izzamandiuth had overheard this talk, and paid it no heed in his constant studying of the desert's ever-changing horizon. What mattered the deaths of a thousand apish soldiers when the precious life of sweet Alithria hung in the balance? He knew she was here, somewhere deeper in the waste, a frightened prisoner languishing in the filthy dungeons of some unspeakable monarch mage. He would find her, no matter the cost to himself, his kingdom, or the entire Hyperborean world.

The third day amid the wastes ended uneventfully, as had the previous two, and the army stopped to erect tents amid the subtly shifting dunes. The relentless heat of day was rapidly replaced by night's frosty chill, and the blood-red moon hung like a murderous sickle in the star-choked sky. The dark gulfs between the stars drew Izzamandiuth's attention as the camp rose around him. He stood upon a great stone and peered into the night sky. It seemed that some half-heard hum or moan rang with doom-wrought timbre between the stars. Perhaps the desert heat had finally began to delude his keen mind, he thought, and wandered into the tent which had been set up for him by the soldiers, there to quaff a flagon of plum brandy and wallow in the faceless anger and misery which his love's abduction had poured into his soul. Perhaps some further divination would be required to locate the citadel of the demon-feared lord whose foul servants had raided Uzuldaroum's palace.

The sound of screaming met the sorcerer's ears, at first in dire tones of warning and shock, turning quickly to dreadful wails of pain and abrupt death. The clanking of war harness, shield, and unsheathed swords rushed by the walls of his tent as the weary legion sprang to life outside. The wizard rose toward the tent's exit, when a new sound merged with the screaming of desperate warriors: the thunderous flapping of immense wings, as if a monstrous flock of godly bats had descended upon the camp!

Running from his tent the sorcerer entered a hellish scene of black-winged chaos. The stars were blotted out by hordes of serpentine, bat-winged things which assailed the unprepared legion, ripping at exposed flesh with the fangs of their great, distorted heads, and wrapping men in their huge snake-like bodies to crush bone and flesh to formless pulp.

Already the smell of fresh blood filled the encampment as hovering monstrosities fell upon hapless mortals, like hellish birds of prey upon fleeing mice. Several soldiers made no attempt to battle the horrid demons, but ran screaming into the lightless desert consumed by unholy fear, or curled infant-like upon the ground, hiding their eyes from the sinuous beasts who plucked them from the sand to die screaming beneath the great leathery wings.

Izzamandiuth caught glimpse of Chag Ylum, carving with his great sword a vicious, snapping beast as it wrapped a tentacle-like tail around his legs. Then sight of the raging battle was lost to the wizard as a winged abomination descended upon him, quick as a striking viper, sinking its long fangs into his shoulder and sliding its slippery coils at once about his robed body.

* * *

Walking among the shambling dead, Ooth'zar grew nearer to the black citadel. Approaching the wall of the great mesa upon which the towering structure was perched, he began to climb with the animated cadavers, while the fierce sun beat at his back. Once reaching the cliff-face's summit, he raised himself to stand before the gaping portals wherein the sun's brightness did not pass. A wall of clinging shadow filled the open portals, and the dead marched into its nebulous womb. The necromancer followed, walking a long while in the impenetrable darkness, seeing nothing, hearing only the awkward footsteps of the walking dead as they traversed the tomb-like hall.

Then the thick dark lightened to a gray gloom, and he saw before him the high arches of two wide passages, very different in appearance. One sat at the top of a gigantic staircase, its open doors horribly designed and frescoed in dully gleaming silver. His gaze lingered not long upon the unutterable runes which covered the silver doors. The other portal was a low cavern-like entrance, reached by another set of stairs, these descending as if to a great crack in the very bowels of the earth. The undead crowds passed by him in both directions, some rising to journey through the silver doors, others descending to disappear in the rough-hewn cave-like aperture.

Ooth'zar walked the slime-ridden surface of the upward stairs and passed through the open silver portals, following the ranks of dead. In his passing he realized that the black, cavernous portal beside the towering silver doorway served as egress only for those who appeared to have been warriors before death's corruption. Rust-armored skeletons and scimitar-clutching mummies filed into the crude tunnel toward the very depths of the great structure, as if a special place was reserved in the bowels of the black citadel for the martial dead. Meanwhile, the dead who passed through the silvery portal alongside Oot h'zar were the corpses of women, children, and unarmed cadavers who did not appear ready to wage the war of the dead which perhaps bubbled and festered in fleshless planning beneath the ramparts of the necropolis.

A vast chamber lay beyond the silver gateway, lit with the flames of a thousand flickering fires hanging amid the frosty air, burning without source or gravity; varied hues of levitating witch-fires which the mage knew would burn not only flesh, but the flammable soul as well. Ooth'zar determined not to touch any of the floating fires flickering at various heights throughout the vast hall. The stench of the rotting dead, the reek of decayed flesh filled the chill air along with pale smokes made by the airborne fires. The line of marching dead seemed to be moving toward some unseen center in the hall, whose far wall distance made invisible. Yet as he walked across the black pavestones, each wide as a town square and many-sided, set in in chaotic, confused patterns of inhuman design, he began to notice patterns, or murals of a sort which adorned the walls on either side of him.

The immense size of the carvings or paintings was such that the necromancer could, to his dismay, clearly discern the horrid patterns depicted there. Throngs of screaming multitudes were scooped in vast clawed hands, deposited in the gaping maw of a vast, bat-winged demon-god or alien gargantuan. The many tentacles of its octopoid head grasped hapless tiny victims, as did its monolithic claws, and its great, black, onyx-like eyes gazed with an ephemeral hidden knowledge at Ooth'zar and the walking dead. He felt that he surely must turn his gaze from the horrid mural, or run screaming to dash his tortured brain against the unearthly stone of the monstrous wall.

Turning his head to the opposite side, the irresistible curiosity of the sorcerer overpowering his dread of the demonic mural, the necromancer beheld another such engraving of different yet similar horror. A bloated, toad-like godling squatted corpulent upon the ruins of a city, horrid tongue spilling hungrily from its vast maw and lifting the forms of kings and priests to its numberless fangs. Such was the detailed skill of the non-terrestrial artists that Ooth'zar gazed upon this scene not as a stone carving, but as a living vision of forbidding apocalypse, the naked gorging of a gulf-spawned hunger.

Turning his eyes again from the wall, vowing to look at no more of the huge wall-carvings, Ooth'zar walked on beneath the dancing flames og violet, emerald, and amber which adorned the empty air of the giant chamber. Before him a shape like a small hill gradually took form amid the dense mists, the intricacies of its bulk growing clearer as he approached. A mighty circular dais of black stone rose well above his head, crowned at its top by a single massive throne, bat-winged and demon-carved in honor of its kingly master.

Behind the tall dais and throne the wizard could see now the far wall of the chamber, where six immense archways stood filled by unwholesome darkness, doubtless other entries to various horror-filled areas of the black citadel. About the base of the dark dais, gathered on the lower steps like suitors before a comely queen, stood the rotted dead, a few hundred figures who had at last reached the culmination of their long, posthumous journey across the desert. The group of corpses which Ooth'zar walked amid came limping steadily as ever toward their ultimate goal, yet he drifted in nameless trepidation toward the rear of his clique of corpses, eyeing the majestic figure who sat in regal silence atop the elevated throne.

The figure atop the dais was wrapped in purest white, a tall crown of dark metal adorning his regal head, set with three blood-red gems which pulsed with an unholy glowing, like the beating of dripping hearts freshly ripped from warm bodies. The face beneath the crown was not unlike the typical Hyperborean visage; hawk-nosed and great-lobed with dark eyes which slanted slightly, narrowed as if to hide a darker glow within, and the noble-seeming chin was overly long and beardless. The color of the dreadful king's skin was brown, as the skin of a desert nomad, or perhaps the sun-given shade of the olive-skinned people of Mu. He seemed, in fact, to be a representation, or a mockery, of each race to be found across the Hyperborean world, yet could be consigned definitely to no single lineage. His long fingers rested ringless upon the demon-carved arms of the throne, and he gazed down at this newly-arrived assortment of unliving subjects with a faint smile which spoke of neither mirth nor goodwill.

Standing as far back as he dare without arousing suspicion, at the edge of the necromantic crowd gathered below the throne, Ooth'zar began to experience a smothering dread which claimed for the moment his soul, as if the inner workings of his consciousness now warned him that this was not a place for the living or the sane. He fought the urge to turn and run from the terrible throneroom, yet the inevitable curiosity of the mage again won out against the psychic safeguards enforced by his rational mind (as it often had in his study of deathly magic) and he stood silent below the glowering king.

Then the white-garbed monarch rose from his high seat and spread his arms as if to embrace the whole of his lowly congregation, and Ooth'zar expected then that he would at last speak. Yet the sound which emerged from the open lips of the gaunt lord was in no way human, but was instead the ghastly shriek of a thing from far beyond the sane and sunlit world, a rising clarion of fiendish glee, ripping past the living ears of the necromancer and deadening his very soul in its unclean tones. And the thunderous sound of a multitude of giant beating batwings filled the chamber's upper darkness, as if thousands of roosting lightless things were disturbed and excited into flight by the blasphemous wail.

Then began the thing which even the darkly educated mind of the necromancer could not accept or bear with any semblance of sane composure. For the tall king on his regal dias began to...change...

The white wrappings around the dark-eyed king's body began to writhe and ripple, as if the very flesh beneath struggled for release and rebirth into a vastly more horrible form; the arms and legs elongated and twitched in rubbery spasms as the long fingers swelled and became dagger-long claws; the head, too, pulsed and quivered bonelessly as the brown skin split and a dark presence spewed forth, toppling the mighty crown to the floor of the dias. Sliding like snake-shed skin the thing's manly visage fell from its body as the white robes of rulership burst in tatters, too delicate and small to hold the swelling behemoth which now topped the dias.

Three long, sinuous legs of black, alien flesh held up the quivering torso; two elongated tentacular arms waved and grasped the frigid air with anxious claws; and what was once a handsome and well-formed head was now a great blood-red tentacle rising from between warped shoulders. The mass of the thing began to dwarf the dais, and the thick crimson tentacle snaked down the black steps to plunge its sharp proboscis into the nearest mummy, sucking rotted flesh, liquifying bone and long-dry marrow. The great necrovore's claws scooped up each a living cadaver, and the head-tentacle tore away from the brittle remains of the first corpse, dropping a pile of dry ash and bone shards to the floor. Into each of the claw-held cadavers the beast's red-tentacled proboscis plunged one at a time, taking there its horrid, grave-enriched nourishment.

The King of the Black Citadel was feeding.

Behind the six great darkened archways monolithic shadows began to move and gyrate, as if any moment they too would emerge from those darkened passages and join in the abominable feast. And Ooth'zar, scholar of the horrid and oft-repulsive secrets of the black arts, turned and fled across the vast chamber of floating flames, some deeply-ingrained part of his shattered mind overtaking frozen limbs in demand of self preservation, and he passed in flight beyond the silver portal and through the lightless hall beyond, fleeing in thoughtless, ultimate terror toward the sweet salvation of the heat-stricken desert.

Crashing into a newly-arriving cadre of walking dead, spilling long-traveled bones to the floor, Ooth'zar fled heedlessly through the citadel's outer portal and into the heat of the fierce desert sun where, sliding and rolling down the side of the great plateau, he at last collapsed into the sunbaked sand, skin and robe ripped and sullied by the terror-filled flight.

And without a glance back toward the twisted black towers he rose instantly and fled into the desert, as if the blood-red tentacle reached now from the cursed citadel in eager anticipation of his salty flesh. Into the depths of the burning waste he fled, screaming and muttering and drooling as one who had never known the forbidden secrets of necromantic lore, or indeed, the merest touch of sane existence.

In the morning after their fated meeting, Nod and Jasu'un awoke to the first rays of an angry sun, and set about preparing a frugal breakfast of dried fruit, cactus-flesh, and water. When the three youths, whose names were Bel, Zojin, and Haar, awoke to continue their quest, each found that the blade of his shortsword now bore a line of curious runes etched mysteriously down their centers. Upon seeing this, the priest bowed down and gave thanks to his strange god, and the inspired youths joined him, following his foreign chants like freshly admitted novices into the Temple of the Seven Gods, whose gates they had never seen.

After their brief repast the motley group began once more their trek through the stifling waste, with the great shadow-lion loping before them, a mute guide toward the unknown source of unseen doom. Before the blazing sun had reached its zenith, the keen eyes of Nod had spotted a black presence on the horizon. Another hour's walk and the shape became visible to the priest and the boys as well. A mountain of darkness it seemed at first, but as the hot sands passed beneath their feet and they drew nearer behind the pacing lion of Nath-Horthath, the dark shape became clearer through shifting walls of desert heat.

A great flat-topped mesa rose from the center of the barren plain like a black island from a golden sea, and upon the heights of the plateau sat a black citadel of wicked design and massive as a great hill. A central spire of dull ebony dominated the weird structure, whose architecture resembled the styles of none before witnessed by the far-traveled Seer or Priest, suggesting the work of gargantuan and inhuman builders. Ziggurats, pyramids, and faceted domes of unpolished black stone sat brazenly beneath the golden sun, like a scar of pestilence on the face of a comely woman.

Pausing for only a moment to turn its crimson eyes in the travelers' direction, the black lion padded onward toward the alien citadel, and the questors followed as the sun fell ever lower toward the gaping portals of night.

When the shades of the sky were vicious purple and cooling scarlet, and the great citadel rose ever larger to blot out the light of the sinking sun, a solitary figure appeared atop a nearby dune, the evening wind whipping the tatters of a once-fine black ermine robe trimmed in blood-colored runes. The three lads drew their rune-blessed swords in anticipation of a fierce assault from the lone figure, whom their wary minds expected to be a rotted and violent corpse sent to tear their flesh as was the flesh of their fathers and brothers. But Nod's sign stayed their rush toward the figure, who crouched now like some nervous ape atop the windswept dune.

Peering closer, Jasu'un Toth could see that it was indeed a man who crouched in the sand above them, now grabbing handfuls of the coarse stuff and tossing it into the air to fall like dry rain upon his face and hair. At the priest's suggestion the group approached cautiously the twitching figure, and all could see the noble face of a civilized Hyperborean, though the half-grown beard and unkempt hair spoke of days or weeks in the desert. The black citadel loomed on the horizon as they neared the crouching man, who sprung up at noticing their approach and ran toward them with wide, staring eyes which spoke of madness, and fear. Now it could be seen that the tattered robes worn by the emaciated man resembled those of a sorcerer.

'The Dark King has claimed his provender!' screamed the wide-eyed man, crouching now before them to stare queerly into their faces. It was obvious that his mind had been pressed close to the point of breaking, though his speech was that of a cultured and educated Hyperborean. 'The wings will fly soon! The sun will die and breathe no more! A great necromancy will be required to revive it! It is beyond our knowledge....It is beyond even us....'

Then the shaking man sat in the sand, grabbing handfuls of the stuff and letting it run through his thin, spread fingers. 'We are but motes in his fist...' he muttered. 'Motes....'

The man's lips were dry and cracked from the deprivation of water. Yet feeble tears began to fall slowly down his sand-coated checks.

The youths exchanged glances. 'He is mad,' said Haar.

Nod leaned close to the weeping man. 'Yet his madness is a recent thing,' said the seer. 'He has not long been so.'

Jasu'un Toth nodded, and pulled forth a half-full bottle of water to offer the pitiful man.

And the sun sank behind the grotesque black citadel, whose twisted towers and monolithic domes seemed to grow and shine with the coming of chill night.

* * *

Mouthing the eldritch incantations which surrounded him in an invisible aura of power, Izzamandiuth strove against the wrapping of the great winged serpent's body. The horror's snapping jaws closed around his head, yet the sorcerer's power prevented the yellow fangs from piercing his skin, and it was only the charnel stench of the creature's breath which made him swoon somewhat, as the serpentine coils of the great monster wrapped and tightened around his robed body.

The creature shrieked in anger as it squeezed in vain to crush the human it had caught. Izzamandiuth's spell left him invulnerable to the crushing death as well as the deadly fangs of the unearthly beast. Though the intense cold of its warted hide froze his bones most uncomfortably. All around him, soldiers died beneath slicing fangs or pulped in the tentacles of the winged things. Horrendous screams of the doomed and dying mingled in the cold desert air with the stench of fresh slaughter.

Now, the sorcerer had given his body immunity from harm with his arcane magic, but the creature held him motionless, arms pinned to his side, refusing to give up its hold on him even though it could cause him no harm. The wizard was free from the creature's assault, but in his state of constriction could cast no further spell to blast the demon-thing away from him. In this state, Izzamandiuth found himself carried far above the screams and stench of battle, taken into the pitch-black sky by the determined creature, whose repeated biting could yield its mouth no flesh. Below he saw the doomed camp, alive with the flapping wings and writhing bodies of its horrid destroyers. No sight of hardy Chag Ylum did Izzamandiuth get as the creature bore his body away from the scene, as if an unguessed intelligence within its reptilian brain demanded that he be taken prisoner if not destroyed utterly. To what terrible fate the beast carried the helpless sorcerer, he did not know. He could only maintain his aura of power, or be crushed into a red rain of jellied bones by the grasping body of the wyvern.

Then a dark joy entered the heart of the captured wizard, for was not this the fate of his lost love, Alithria? She had been carried in such a manner by just such a beast to languish in the gaol of her captors. Fate had decreed that he, as her rescuer, must be subjected to the same imprisonment. Secure in the belief that the creature was carrying him toward sweet Alithria, the sorcerer smiled within the great coils of the alien beast.

It flew faster, great black wings beating like the hateful winds of a mad hurricane, and a dreadful cold filled the sorcerer's body, and ice appeared upon his hair and short beard. Yet he focused his consciousness on maintaining the power of his spell, for he knew that to release the magic would mean his doom. The stars above flew past like legions of rushing fireflies, and he wondered if the cold and terrible wind would destroy him through its own efforts. Then, at last, after a time immeasurable to the near-senseless wizard, the beasts speed began to wane. Ahead, beneath the blood-red sickle of bright moon, glimmered the dark goal of the beast's journey, and Izzamandiuth held back the exclamation of wonder and awe which lept to his cold lips.

Atop a great plateau stood a black citadel of wicked design, massive as a dark mountain. A central spire of dull ebony dominated the weird structure, whose architecture was like none the mage had ever beheld. Ziggurats, pyramids, and faceted domes of unpolished black stone sat amid the twisting towers which rose from the high mesa. Its vast proportions suggested the architecture of gargantuan, inhuman builders.

Toward the wicked citadel the winged beast carried its hapless bounty, the vengeful, smiling wizard of Uzuldaroum, whose wrath sat poised to spring upon the hidden lord of the approaching citadel, wherever he might sit on his great, arcane throne.

'Sweet Alithria,' yelled the sorcerer into the rushing wind. 'Despair no more! I come to reclaim thee from this hellish and uncouth city! The vengence of Uzuldaroum is nigh! I come, Alithria! I come!'

The great black wings carried him ever closer to the looming citadel at the heart of the nameless, nighted desert.

* * *

Nod stayed by the unfortunate man, cajoling him to take a mouthful of water and to come to some calmness; while Toth and the lads put together a poor supper from what they carried. They were down to the nomad's last resorts by now: roots they had dug, the last dried fruits from the lost caravan, two burrowing lizards which had come trustingly to the priest's hand as he rested.

Toth was about ready to cry surrender on the nomad's life by then. After days of unremitting march under Sun and Moon, he ached to the bone, and moved under a mountain of lethargy. Only his mind thrashed about in its cage of fearful possibilities, and he would have prayed the gods for sleep, did he not fear that the hour for swift action was near upon them.

With Moonrise however, there came a measure of relief. It was huge against the horizon, an arc making its way up through a yellow glow, soon breaking down along its crescent. Certain matters came together, not comfortingly, but in some proportion; and courses of action not altogether idiotic suggested themselves. At the same time, the madman, who had been moaning quietly, broke into his panic raving, of wings blotting out the sun, and of the Dark King's Feast.

The shadow-lion lay at ease in the yellow light, his great head high, like some statue of kingly might. Toth went to sit near the beast. 'Lord of Dreams', said the priest, 'that hapless man yonder truly needs Your help; and so do we. Take him, I pray Thee, to that place between waking and sleep, where choice and worry are set aside, and gentle counsel hath the power of command over body and mind.'

Whereat the spirit-beast opened his eyes, like the shutters of a furnace when the molten bronze is ready to pour. And he stretched his body and rose, and came unto the tattered man. Toth followed and found the wretch, his gaze locked to the Dream-Lion's awesome countenance. He had quit his raving, and now stared ahead unblinking, his mouth slack.

Toth took the vacant head in his hands, and turned it so he was looking straight into the panicked eyes. 'The Sky is your Soul, Oh Man, and the Lion is your Brother. From high above the Earth, you survey all, calmly, dispassionately. The Moon has power over all tempests and terrors below; the Moon is your Citadel; the Lion is your Brother. Praise be unto Nath-Horthath. Whatever visions you perceive, they are but visions; the Lion has power over all such; the Lion protects you. Whatever events you remember, they are but memories and dreams. Calmly, as from a great distance, you see them full clear, and the Lion protects you. You see them clear, and to all who ask, you willingly tell of them, calmly, remotely, dispassionately. For the Sky is the Soul of Man, as has been written, and the Lion of Dreams is the Brother of Man, praise be unto Nath-Horthath.'

Thus he muttered on in kindly tone, repeating the images of remoteness and safety, until they should catch in the poor fellow's mind. When Toth was done the man was staring mutely still, but blinking at natural whiles, and quiet. The horrors at least had released their grip in part on his bodily motions. Toth rejoined the others and stretched out beneath the stars, speaking of dark matters.

'My friends, I think we stand right now in peril, plain to whatever may be watching from yon dark fortress. Consider, for months now, some power has been raising up the Dead throughout the desert; then sending them forth to collect the living; and to bring them where? Where but here? But then who? And why?

'Far-seeing Nod agrees that we have seen no such building as this black citadel, not even in our ill visions. What dwells within may be a power from the Isles of Chaos. If that is so, then alas for the innocents of your village; and alas for us, since nothing remains but to raise our utmost forces in the face of it.

'The madman prates of wings - wings to smother the sun. Are they to fly from yon city above? That I can hardly believe, for we know the sun to be as vast as this turning world, or vaster. Yet the vision of the Black Isle puts all proportion in doubt, and I cannot stand futilely by, if winged blasphemy 'gainst Holy Karakal be launched from those towers.

'Now our crazed friend has spoken the word necromancy little to be deduced from that, for if he has been in this desert he has seen plenty. I could almost think he were the necromancer himself, and his dead have cast him out. Yet he speaks of a Dark King, whose powers diminish his own to dust. Verily, I think him a sorceror, who has sought to penetrate too far into the Isle of Chaos, to spy on its masters, or to bind what lies therein - and instead it has driven him mad.'

* * *

A great darkness smothers the world for a long while, the warm sun and cold moon swallowed and lost in the clinging webs of stellar darkness holding Ooth'zar's mind captive. Occasionally there are flashes of lucidity and clearness: the dry, burning sand, the peeling of parched skin, the heated desert wind, yet these are fleeting things, momentary lapses between sanity and madness.

At last, after a time unkown, there comes a tall figure striding through the darkness. A blue-glowing handsome youth with a crown of laurel, and robed in star-flecked indigo. Around his golden-sandaled feet prowl lions blacker than the surrounding darkness, with red-glowing feline eyes alert and watching, as if their appointed task is to guard the young lord.

The man approaches, and behind him the darkness fills with the glow of purple twilight, the far outlines of temples and glorious cities standing proud before the sinking crimson sun. The regal figure approaches Ooth'zar, where he cringes in the cold darkness, and reaches a shimmering hand to the maddened necromancer's cheek.

The touch fills Ooth'zar with a celestial warmth, and god's gentle smile and fierce glowing eyes dispe the last of the gloom which has prematurely entombed the mage's soul. Now he is aware of some great, blessed godly land, where mist-wreathed mountains are set with vast palaces of jade, chrysoberyl, and amarinth. The young god's shadowy lions lick at Ooth'zar's face with tongues like cool drops of long-awaited rain.

Ooth'zar rises, now amid the misty dusk of the flickering godland, and the blue-skinned youth nods, and in a voice like unto the singing of nightingales, speaks:


* * *

Ooth'zar opened his eyes to the setting of the desert sun. He lay near a flickering campfire, and around him sat five individuals who seemed not to notice him as they discussed some whispered topic. In the distance the black citadel rose mountain-like against the twilight horizon.

He gazed down at himself, barely recognizing his own frail, emaciated body. His once-fine sorcerer's robe hung in tatters about his dirt-encrusted body, and at least a week-old beard decorated his long chin. An intense hunger ached within his stomach, and he realized that he'd been in the desert for several days without food, or water. He knew not how he had escaped death, but here seemed to be a party of rescuers.

Four ragged youths and two robed older men, all who bore the marks of long desert travel, sat around the little fire. And then Ooth'zar saw the lion. Blacker than shadow it was, lying relaxed beside the fire, next to the side of one of the older men, who the necromancer knew instantly as a priest of some sort. He remembered the lions which had surrounded the god's feet in his dream. Just then, the shadowcat's glowing crimson eyes looked up at him, and the men turned their heads and met his stare with grim yet curious looks.

Three of the men were little more than boys, though each bore a fine shortsword at his side. The eldest of the five was a wild-maned, wise-eyed man whose great golden-hilted sword lay beside him where his bony frame reclined next to the warm fire. He did not seem elderly, though his very aura indicated an advanced age which belied his physical fitness.

And the priest in the worn, faded robes, gazed upon him with eyes full of piety and concern. The black lion nuzzled his legs. It was one of the youths who spoke first, from beyond the flickering flames. 'It seems our witless companion has arisen from his swoon. And the touch of madness doth seem to be gone from his eyes. See how he blinks and meets our gazes?'

The priest spoke then. 'Are you hungry? Thirsty?' he asked. Ooth'zar nodded. He tried to speak but his throat felt choked with sand. He must drink first, then find if the power of speech still remained within his thinned body.

They gave him water and bid him sit among them near the flames. He spoke to them then in stuttering tones, relating the tale of his entry into the black citadel, and the horrid thing, the monstrous demon-king whose necrotic feast he had witnessed. Thus the three grim wizards shared their stories and agreed that all the powers at their command must be brought to bear against the doom-built citadel and its abominable lord.

When they had done with their discussion on the best course of action to take against the black citadel and its fearsome lord, they gathered around the fire and made ready for sleep. Tomorrow they would enter the citadel beneath the light of the warm morning sun, after a night of much-needed rest. Nod volunteered for first watch, saying that he wished to call upon certain forces to perhaps gain better insight into these momentous matters. None argued, for all bore the fatigue of the desert upon his shoulders and legs. As they slept, Nod stood a little away from the camp, the wicked citadel lost in the darkness which swallowed the horizon, and stared into the star-flecked sky. His mind opened to the voices of the wind, the wisdom of the stars, and the insight of the all-seeing moon, draped in dire crimson though it was.

Amidst his silent meditation, like a bolt of soundless thunder, his vision of Omen began...

A deep pit, filled with hundreds of unclad human females, the masks of hopelessness and deprivation etched indelibly upon their delicate faces. Huddled in cataleptic masses, or lying senseless on the frigid stone floor of the deep pit they lay. They are beyond screaming, reduced to little more than frightened animals who care not for either life or death, for all nobility and prideful dignity have been stripped from them. The high walls of the pit are black and slime-coated.

One by one, they are drawn up out of the pit by a snaking tentacle which descends into the pit from the smoking environs above. The gray-green immensity wraps around a forlorn woman's unprotesting form and she is lifted toward the horrors which await her above. And then another is drawn forth from the pit by the bloated tentacle, or another similar to it. The others sometimes watch as the next girl is lifted out and away from the torment which has become their existence. Perhaps each awaits her own lifting as a sick, suffering man awaits the relief of oblivion on his deathbed.

Nod's view shifts, rises, carrying him into the vastness of a great chamber, where hordes of shrouded and shadowy figures mill about, hunched and limping, robed in dark cloth as if they were the misshapen monks of some lightless Hell, gathered for an unholy ceremony. The tentacle draws its latest prey towards its source at the center of the gathered throng.

Between two pillars massive as temples themselves, stands a six-sided alter of basalt, stained fresh with the blood of innocent maidens. The monstrosity quivering at the steps below the raised altar is a thing which has no place in this world, a swollen, distorted mockery of a gargantuan toad, constantly shifting in formless psuedo-matter, a mass of tentacles birthing and dying continuously along its obscene length. And from the horrid mockery of amphibian morphology emerges a sound like unto ghostly piping, filling the ritual chamber with a horrible dirge which seemed to stir the black-robed congregation into movements not wholly human in their execution.

A vast, monolithic statue stands between the pillars, towering over the altar. It is the great sea-god from his former nightmarish vision, Nod knows, standing with wings spread, a massive clawed bulk with the gross head of a colossal squid, dripping with a mass of tentacles. The eyes of the giant idol are black globes of ebony or onyx, though an evil red glow pulses deep within their crystalline depths. The stone god stares down at the one who tends its altar, the dread lord who chants evil liturgies to join the abominable song of the creature on the steps.

The Dark King, it must be, Nod thinks amid the flowing horrors of his vision. Like a tall god, handsome of face and regal of bearing, he stands with dripping dagger in raised hand, its blade curved like the frozen movement of a gliding serpent. Atop the dread lord's head sits a black crown, gleaming with the light of unknown gems. His fine white robes are red with the spilled blood of his feminine sacrifices. He greets with smiling eyes the latest of his offerings, plucked from the pit and laid by the tentacled beast atop the altar.

The sacrificial blade rises, and the bloody light in the great idol's eyes increases its glow.

Then the visions shifts again, and the surface of a black sea bubbles and froths, and a familiar terror grips Nod's soul, for he knows the terrible thing which will now rise from the darkest depths of the waters, called by the blood-splashed lord who spills noble blood on a black altar.

In the sky, the moon is a full, swollen crimson as the first of the black towers begins to rise above the waves...

And Nod's vision was over. He stood again inside his own body amid the sleeping camp, staring at the blood-stained moon, near to fullness in its waxing glow. One night, perhaps two, and then the full moon would rule the sky, and the sea would vomit forth that secluded evil which it could no longer hold submerged 'One day, maybe two,' Nod realized, sinking now to the soft sands. 'That is all we have.'

As the full import of his vision filled him, a black shape flew across the blood-bright moon, drawing his attention. Like a great bat it seemed, yet thick with the coils of a snake. In the direction of the citadel it flew, some horrid servant of the dark master within, perhaps carrying news of the Hyperboreans' presence. A sudden near-panic overtook Nod's stunned mind, and he leaped to his feet. Then he heard the screaming.

Not the inhuman screaming of a night-beast did it seem, but more like the raised voice of a man who bellows in rage or oath. From the sky it came, in the direction the beast had flown. Nod listened closely, clothed in silence. And one word, could the seer make out, shouted to fall against the desert by some high voice. It was a word he had not heard in many years, the name of the splendiferous city which sat now far across Hyperborea, serving as pale replacement for doom-lost Commoriom. Nod could scarcly believe his ears, yet they were keen ones, made sharp by centuries of quietude and listening to the subtle sounds of the desert. A strange word to hear wind-blown at the passing of a winged hell-serpent, yet there was no doubt in the seer's mind. The one word distinguishable in the distant shouting was Alithria.

Mouthing the arcane incantations and making the sign of supplication to the forgotten ice-gods of Polarion, Nod sent forth a shimmering green aurora, the fearsome flying mist known to savants and sorcerers as the Viridian Wind. The emerald-glowing wind flew forth from the aged seer's weirdly configured hands, speeding toward the citadel and overtaking at once the path of the flying monstrosity.

A dim screech of inhuman rage or terror reached Nod's keen ears, followed quickly by a great crashing sound, and a slight shaking of the earth beneath his feet. Whatever the fiendish thing was, the dread aurora of Polarion had brought it crashing into the desert. Nod set about waking his sleeping compatriots. The heavy foreboding of his vision was almost forgotten, yet the images remain etched in his mind. He would tell them of this omen after they had assured themselves of the beast's fate. No word of their presence must be carried to the Dark King within his citadel.

* * *

As the great speed of the winged demon slowed, and its descent began toward the nearing citadel of dark design, a strange thing occurred. Shouting in anger and abject despair the name of his lost love, Izzamandiuth noticed a greenish glow, as of some unguessed sorcery surrounding himself and his captor. The serpentine monstrosity shrieked, turning in its flight as the emerald mist enveloped it.

A coating of green-blue ice froze instantly on the beast's flapping wings, and the wizard knew a cold more severe than that of the gulfs between the stars, though his aura of sorcererous might did protect his body from the terrible effects of the enchanted freeze. In an instant the beast's form was frozen solid, and it hurtled like a far-flung stone toward the desert sands far below, the powerless sorcerer caught still within its immovable, ice-claimed coils.

The wizard could do naught but sustain the eldritch spell which protected his fragile form as the demon-thing crashed into the earth, a wall of displaced sand spewing like rain into the night around it. The beast was dead, he was sure of it. Its fanged maw was frozen perpetually open, and the great brittle wings had snapped from its rigid snakelike body.

The captor of Izzamandiuth was dead, yet he lay still, imprisoned within its tightly coiled bulk, unable to move his arms in even the slightest configuration of spell or incantation. His only hope was to wait for the hot desert sun, hours away, to melt him free of the frozen monster's coils. But dawn was long, chill hours away, and he would be at the mercy of whatever terrible things might roam this accursed desert by night...

* * *

It seemed that heavy sleep had not enough time to soothe the aches of the weary mens' bodies, when Nod was nudging them awake, whispering alarm and brandishing his sword. 'Awake, ye sleepers,' said the seer. 'An omen most fell have I seen this night. And yonder lies the horrid form of I know not what beast which I felled with a spell most dire as it flapped across the moon, a bat-winged spy on our camp! We must investigate the thing which I have knocked from the sky, for it may yet live! Awake!'

The three youths were first to jump into wakefulness, grasping their runed shortswords and leaping to the seer's side. The two older men, Jasu'un and Ooth'zar, were standing moments later, blinking the sleep from their tired eyes. 'Come,' said Nod, and they wordlessly followed, clutching their weapons dearly. Through all of his mad roamings in the desert, Ooth'zar had yet retained the great black scimitar rested from his toppled guardian mummy. He hefted its gleaming blade to reflect the distant, flickering stars as he followed Nod into the night. For a great distance they traversed the dark plain, lit only by the long torch which ever-alert Nod had snatched from the fire. Eventually a great bulk took shape in the reddish moonlight. Half-buried in the sand, as if fallen from a great height (which indeed it had) lay the frozen, ice-caked remains of a great, coiled serpent. The dragonlike head had snapped from its thick neck as it struck the earth, as well as the great, cracked reptile wings. The horrid creature was like nothing earth-born or nurtured beneath the life-giving sun of Hyperborea. Rather of the outer gulfs it's alien body spoke, it was a thing which had no place on this world. Except, of course, within the nearby citadel of shadow-cloaked horror.

Nod motioned for the ragged troop to stop, whispering of a slight movement within the massive frozen coils. 'Surely 'tis but the beast's own death twitches,' whispered a cautious Ooth'zar. Yet as they moved closer, they saw that it was not the icy coils which moved but rather someone or something which was wound within the snakelike body, struggling as if to free itself from the confining coils.

Moving to the other side of the massive beast's body, they could see the head of a man sticking out from amid the circled coils, his body surely held in a frigid grip which even the creature's death had not dispelled. It seemed that the man's head was surrounded in a dim glow, as if some arcane aura surrounded his captured frame. He muttered low curses as he struggled against the immovable coils of his fallen captor.

Izzamandiuth lay helpless within the frozen coils of the fallen demon. His struggles yielded not an inch extra space for his movements. Only the aura of power kept him from suffering the grizzly effects of the bewitched ice covering the creature's entire body. Perhaps he now would never find sweet Alithria's dungeon. Perhaps he would meet his end out here in the nighted desert, beneath the thousand-pound carcass of a fiend from some stellar hell.

No, he told himself. No, I will not abandon her to the depredations of the demonic lord! He cursed again as he struggled in vain to move within the confining coils. Then he heard the sound of footfalls in the sand behind his head. Straining his neck around, prepared to see a legion of undead soldiers come to retrieve his head for their dark master, he saw now instead a motley group of desert travelers, staring nervously at his strange predicament.

Three were but youths, garbed in simple farmer's rags, each bearing a rune-carved shortsword in white-knuckled fists. Before them, bearing a torch, stood a leader of sorts: a tall, lean man with the worn robe of a hermit or monk. His hands held a great golden-hilted blade with the sheen of fine Atlantean steel. His hair and beard were the color of sand, and grew wildly from his head and chin as if they had never known the grace of grooming. Yet the wild-maned man's eyes were wise, glimmering with the wisdom of ages. Hard and fit was his body, yet the aura of great age lay about him somehow.

Two more older men stood next to this tall one. A priest in worn robes, with the look of Cerngoth on his finely-shapen features. And a tattered, blistered man with the appearance of a banished nobleman, whose torn and stained robes of black silk bore here and there the crimson runes of magecraft. A great, black-bladed sword was held loosely in his unsteady hand.

'Well met, noble travelers!' Izzamandiuth said, graceful voice belying his adverse position. 'I know not how you come to be in this cursed wasteland, but I would be most indebted if you would deign to effect my release from these monstrous coils.'

The tall, unkempt man nodded his head to the three youths, and they proceeded to slice open the thick frozen coils of the dead beast which still held Izzamandiuth prisoner. Their shortswords slid easily through the icy flesh, gleaming blades glimmering beneath the starlight, scattering flecks of frozen gore.

The ragged priest was first to speak, his voice thin with the sound of weariness:

'Welcome, O Dragon-borne! There in the night lies our goal, where the slave of that I would blaspheme to name bloats itself on the living and the dead, and prepares to spew up its foulness against the very Cosmos. To face it is to be struck mad and we doubt the power of steel to harm it, nor any help of god or spirit we might call.'

As the lads continued to slash at the gargantuan coils, the tall man spoke to his two older companions in tones most dire. He claimed that he had received a vision revealing the inside of the black citadel. His words held Izzamandiuth's attention, and he dod not doubt the veracity of the hermit-monk's terrible vision.

The coils were reduced to chunks and bits of dark, frozen mush and the youths helped Izzamandiuth to his feet, just as the seer was finished relating his vision of the black ceremonies. Izzamandiuth was sure that sweet Alithria was one of the maidens facing such unspeakable peril. Free at last of the gripping coils, he stood among the youths and bowed deeply to his rescuers, dropping at last the Aura of Power which had sustained his body during flight. He sighed, as weariness set into his limbs.

He told them of the mass of flying demons which had invaded the royal palace of Uzuldaroum, slaughtering the city's finest guards and most beloved prince, wrapping in their tentacles the noble women of the palace and flying into the night with them. He went on to relate the sorry fate of the army he had led into the desert, and his abduction by the winged thing which now lay frozen and dead nearby. Now, he told them, he sought only to enter the citadel and retrieve his beloved Alithria, for whom he would gladly face the wrath of god or demonking.

And so the wizards of Hyperborea sat gathered in a ring around their tiny fire and held severe council. The blood-red moon rose ever higher, while Nod's wise eyes studied the flickering stars. At last they slept, setting the lad Haar to guard next. And the course of action upon which they had decided would shape the outcome of cosmic events whose scope they could scarcely imagine.


In the searing light of chill morning, the four Hyperborean mages and their three young sword-bearing companions set off toward the black mass of twisted architecture which crouched atop the high mesa. The purple and crimson auroras of the desert dawn slid around the ebony citadel like ghostly auras of arcane power, growing and seething beneath the great, glaring sun.

The day had reached its full, terrible heat before the seven Hyperboreans had reached the foot of the high plateau, and stared up at its monolithic black gates of strange, dark metal. Then, one by one, they began to climb the tall cliff-face which led up to the great, forbidding gates. The priest's great shadowcat glided swiftly up the cliff-face like the passing shadow of some high-flying bird, and awaited the climbers now in silence, a mute guardian staring down from above like some scarlet-eyed gargoyle.

Earlier had the priest performed liturgies and chanted incantations to his mysterious gods, bestowing upon them all the illusionary semblance of rotted corpses. So now it was that, as each gazed at the other, he fought the revulsion which rose within his stomach, and reminded himself that he was among living, healthy allies, and not surrounded by the animated corpses of his companions. First to reach the plateau's summit were Bel, Haar, and Zojin, their young muscles as yet unhindered by more than a week in the desert, for Nod had fed them well with his desert-grown skills. Next came Nod himself, pulling his long, lean body over the cliff-edge like some gray-maned spider, Ooth'zar mounting the bluff close behind. And at last the panting form of Jasu'un Toth rose to join the group, and they stared now upon the great gates to the black citadel, which sat firmly closed against the golden light of day.

'It appears our disguises as the Unliving are not enough to sway the keepers of yon dismal gates to swing them open,' said Haar. The three youths held their enchanted blades tight in skeletal-seeming fists. His brothers urged him to silence as the winded priest drew near. The black citadel stood like a black mountain arisen from some alien and unholy plain, silent as the deepest of web-shrouded tombs.

Chanting in the forgotten tongue of some age-lost wizardry, Izzamandiuth of Uzuldaroum circled round the eldritch circle of runes he had drawn in the sand before the great gates to the dark citadel. After a while a reeking smoke began to arise from the runes and gather to itself in the center. As the stench grew so did the solidity of the noxious vapors, until a thing began to form which towered well above the sorcerer's not-inconsiderable height.

It was a thing from the nether pits, a black-skinned behemoth vaguely humanoid in form, with black goat-hooves, matted shaggy legs, and a hugely-muscled torso whose brawny arms ended in great six-fingered claws. Its head was like that of a hairless bat, with the curling yellowed horns of a large ram dominating the skull. Fully twelve feet tall stood the imposing demon, glaring down at its puny summoner with the hatred born of eternal damnation blazing in its eyes.

'A curse on all the progeny of he who has brought me to this place,' said the demon, it's voice like the grinding of great slabs of granite. 'What need have you of me?'

'I am your summoner,' spoke Izzamandiuth, in a most imperious tone, 'and I command you to my service for this day.' The demon roared in pain, or anger, or both.

'This is no place for demon or mortal,' growled the creature. 'Let me remove you from this citadel of doom, and thus serve you better than any demon ever shall!'

'No!' said Izzamandiuth. 'We shall not depart from here. Rather you shall use your demonic might to gain us egress through yon gates! Open the gates, hellspawn!'

The demon's eyes widened momentarily, in seldom-seen fear. Or was it amusement?

Nevertheless, the hulking creature strode out of the circle of power and walked toward the tall black gates at which Izzamandiuth pointed. 'Ever do mortals seek the most terrible of dooms,' said the demon. 'So be it.'And he smote upon the gates with his demonic strength, and a sound like thunder rang across the desert far below as the great gates swung inward, releasing the chill wind of void into the cloying heat of day. Inside a vast darkness lay in wait, a terrible quite slept pregnant with unseen horror, and the Hyperboreans exchanged glances as their eyes strove to pierce the Stygian gloom which guarded the threshold to the haunted citadel.

A second or two of quiet and impenetrable darkness, and then a movement within grew and shifted, as a horde of shambling corpse-warriors vomited forth from the inner recesses of the dark place, brandishing corroded swords, rusted spears, and spiked maces in skeleton-hands, grinning skull-faces beneath tarnished silver helms draped in rotting mail or shredded grave-robes. In an instant, the undead host swept out upon the Hyperboreans, eager to spill fresh, living blood after an eternity of entombment.

As Ooth'zar intoned a necromantic incantation the great horned demon began smashing with great fists at the walking corpses, grinding skeletal warriors beneath his black knuckles, and the fierce Lion of Shadow leapt forth from Jasu'un Toth's side and brought an armored mummy crashing to a second death beneath its gnashing fangs.

Then the army of undead spilling from the charnel portal ceased its march, standing still before their new master, Ooth'zar of the Jade Tower, who embraced now one of their own, and smiled at his undead children. Meanwhile the demon continued venting the frustration of his slavery on the unmoving zombies, smashing them to dust and piles of clattering bone; the shadowcat returned to Toth's side, stalking protectively about his knees. Within the chill darkness inside the great gate, Ooth'zar's legion grew as more warriors of the dead filed out to destroy the intruders. With a wave of his hand, Ooth'zar sent his new allies marching back into the portal, where a rotted and corrupt battle began anew as undead warriors battled against themselves, those under the necromancer's sway slashing with sword and halberd at the newly-arrived troops still under the command of the Citadel's black lord.

Now in the dark regions within the great cold hall a worm-infested battle of long-dead warriors raged; the clash of arms and the clanging of burial armor brought the ringing, unseen walls alive in a torrent of sound, made all the more eerie by the fact that no screams of pain or battle-cries rose from the contesting warriors. The demon brought of Izzamandiuth's sorcery seemed to tire of his unnecessary corpse-bashing, as the hostile warriors in the back of the melee engaged Ooth'zar's protectors.

'Indeed a nice trick, mortal,' spoke the hulking demon to the grinning necromancer. 'Though not as effective as a wall of hellfire against these skull-kings!'

Izzamandith spoke then to his servitor: 'Demon, clear us a path through yon lifeless fray, that we may enter this cursed citadel.'

The demon laughed. 'If it is your doom you seek, master, then I shall abide by your wishes. Follow and none of the undead shall touch thy flesh or mar the hem of thy robe.'

The demon waded throught the ringing melee, smashing here and there at stray mummies or skeletons who came to close to his path; Izzamandiuth and the Hyperboreans followed. The three youths stayed close to Nod, who held at the ready his great golden-hilted blade of Atlantean steel, which glimmered now with a soft light of enchanted blue-white flame along its keen length. Ooth'zar held forth his long black-bladed sword as he surveyed with obvious interest the battle techniques of the corpse-legions on either side of his companions. Jasu'un Toth brought up the rear, his dark lion loping beside him, guarding his steps with its crimson eyes.

Soon the clanging of battle was behind them, and they walked now through a clinging darkness where the walls on either side of them seemed to disappear in the dark. The cold was intense, and their breath clouded around their heads in a white mist. The floor was of an unkown black stone, and they could see no ceiling or walls. Through the darkness they marched, at Ooth'zar's insistence that ahead lay the double portal to the realms of upper or lower citadel.

'I see them!' spoke Jasu'un Toth. The others noticed his eyes now glowing as red as those of the great shadowcat. 'Two great portals, straight ahead, one atop a set of giant steps, one sitting below a similar set of stairs. The upper portal is engraven with silver, set with horrid designs of whose make I will not deign to describe. The lower is a black, cavernous entrance.

'Demon!' spoke Izzamandiuth, 'give us light!' At this the demon suddenly held a great ball of flickering orange flame in his mighty hand. Before the group stood the two titanic entries: one a great double-door of silver lined with slippery runes in ornate monstrous detail, and the other a yawning, cave-like portal at the bottom of slab-like steps. The smell coming from the cavern-entrance was like that of a hundred opened tombs, where the flesh of ages had deteriorated and filled the stale air with its cloying stench. A low, half-heard rumbling, like a continuous muted roar, came rising to their ears from the cavern.

Izzamandiuth wondered then where in this vast, dark place of evil design languished his fair Alithria, and what horrors were even now bearing upon her, intent upon her sacrifice to some horrid alien deity.

Nod stared keenly at the two portals, wondering which pathway to oblivion they should take. The three lads stood speechless near him, clutching their runed shortswords, perhaps regretting their decision to follow their abducted village-kin. Ooth'zar stood silent before the portals, staring at the silver gates which he knew had led him to madness and near-death in his confrontation with the Black King. And he wondered if soon they would all know the touch of a far worse madness, and swiftly following, a horrendous death beneath the King's grasping tentacles. His hands trembled, as he clutched the hilt of his black weapon.

Jasu'un Toth leaned upon his walking-staff and rested a hand upon his shadowy feline companion. 'If Hell be above or below Man, be it still not Hell?'

Behind them echoes of the still-raging necromantic battle rang through the darkness.

Toth then arose from whispering in the ear of his shadowy lion familiar. The shadow-beast's crimson-burning eyes turned toward Izzamandiuth, and it approached the sorceror's robes, as if sniffing at some invisible aura which surrounded him. The towering demon servant, who Izzamandiuth had addressed as Vultec Vad during his summoning, watched the shadowcat with curious, diablolic eyes. 'Beware the touch of the shadowspawn, master,' said the demon in low tones. 'Such beasts are known to hunger.'

'Silence, Vultec Vad,' said Izzamandiuth, without looking at the demon. His eyes were on the dark Lion of Tamash, which now padded down the wide, slippery steps toward the gaping cavern below.

'Onward!' said Jasu'un Toth, waving his tattered vestments, 'The Emmisary of Nath-Horthath doth lead us upon the trail of thy sweet lady! Follow the lion and we shall find Alithria!'

The group moved then, stepping quickly behind the swift padding of the soudless lion, who led them into the lightless cavern-mouth without a backward glance. The bluish flames licking the blade of Nod's great sword, and the glowing ball of fire held by Vultec Vad shed flickering light across the walls and floor of the wide, damp cavern. Once inside, the distant roar seemed to grow indefinably louder, a low rumble which seemed to come from the floor itself. Izzamandiuth and Toth lead the march, the priest anxious to follow in the steps his god had allotted for him, and the sorcerer eager to discover the prison where languished his true love.

'Thank you, Jasu'un Toth,' said the warlock.

'Praise be to Nath Horthath,' was the priest's only reply.

Onward through the darkness the Hyperboreans walked, following the darker shadow loping ahead of them, the cold of the citadel turning eventually to a stifling heat as they entered the bowels of the world. A curious coating of slime or mucous covered the rough-hewn walls, and it was not entirely easy to maintain steady footing at times.

Now various passages opened along the way, and a horrible scent unlike that of the moldering grave filled the humid air. It was a smell akin to rotting meat, yet tinged with an unknowable sweetness which turned the stomach. The cieling was too high to see, yet occasionally sharp stalactites hung down into the realm of light, hovering like great spears ready to crash down upon the small men who marched in such a vast and inhospitable place. Onward walked that Lion, turning down this way or that, walking eventually to the foot of a crude set of stairs which wound upward out of sight.

One by one they mounted the stairs, the constant roar growing louder around them, after the guiding shadowcat, winding and spiraling until the light of an archway above shone down upon them. It was the dim flickering of fire or torchlight, moving as if cast across a surface of shimmering water, dancing across the stone walls in turquoise and orange patterns. Atop the stairs the lion turned back to stand and wait for them.

Izzamandiuth was first to top the great stairs and gaze into the vast chamber beyond. As the others topped the flight, they saw at once the source of the ceaseless roar which now filled their ears to the exclusion of all else. A mighty underground river flowed through the middle of the vast, vaulted cavern, whose high roof was supported with massive pillars carved into tentacled forms unwholesome to look upon. The river itself was perhaps two hundred feet across, and although the steps had brought them up a ways, they knew that they were deep beneath the surface of the parched desert where the flowing of water was only a distant memory out of fertile lands. Along the walls of the chamber burned tall, ensconced torches here and there, shedding an unholy light across the dark waters.

Across the river the mighty cavern continued, ending at a vertical wall carved with more of the demonaic symbols involving tentacular masses of writhing entities without name. And in the center of the far wall sat a great, arched doorway, where a massive portal of carven stone sealed the entry to some unseen den of horror.

On the near side of the river gaped two passages which led off deeper into the catacombs. Yet the most disturbing sight in the strange, high cavern was that of the great, ovoid shapes which filled much of the area between massive pillars. Each was fully twenty feet in length, and at least fifteen in diameter; they lay scattered about the horrid-smelling cavern, coated in some clinging, mucous-like substance akin to that which stained and made slippery the floors of the catacombs. More than a dozen of the great spheroids lay about the great river-cavern. A fine mist from the rushing waters filled the air of the cavern, doing nothing to alleviate the cloying stench.

Ooth'zar was the first to speak. 'Eggs....' muttered the necromancer. His voice was trembling with awe or fear. 'They are eggs....'

The shadow lion stared at its followers. Then it seemed to dissolve in the shadows of the wall near the archway, and slide as a moving blot of darkness up the wall into the forest of hanging stalactites and great pillars. A second later, they saw it slide down the far wall across the raging river, and take full form again, standing before the wickedly-designed portal. It's fiery eyes burned brightly in the gloom, and it stood watching, waiting for the Hyperboreans to cross the vast chamber and join it at the tall door.

It was then that the lad Haar touched the arm of Nod, and pointed to the riverside, where all look now to see a disturbance of the rushing waters. All at once a great ovoid, similar in all respects to the ones already in the chamber, broke the surface of the river, and was rolled by unseen hands onto the stony floor, dripping with the unclean water and thick slime of extra-terrene depths. And then, walking from behind the great egg-thing, came shuffling the horrible creatures who had hoisted it from the depths of the waters.

An unspeakable hybrid of fish and man they were, with rubbery, thickly-muscled arms and legs, webbed at fingers and toes, and a great finned heads set with pulsating red gills. Their unclean eyes bulged with malevolence and inhuman intelligence as they manipulated the huge slime-encrusted orb farther from the riverbank. Then, from out of a nearby passage, walked a procession of black-robed figures, hunched and shambling in awkward gaits to join the new arrivals and inspect their fresh cargo.

The hooded figures shambled to encircle the dripping spheroid which towered above their hidden, misshapen heads. The egg's bearers deposited it near a great carven pillar and performed a weird greeting ceremony in honor of the robed ones. In the entrance to the strange vault, Jasu'un Toth chanted softly an incantation to Hagarg Ryonis, Wrathful Goddess of Reptiles, and his arms writhed like the twitching of maddened cobras.

'Master, let me go forth to smash your enemies,' said the demon Vultec Vad to Izzamandiuth. The Warlock said nothing, for his silent eyes were fixed upon the graven doorway on the far side of the raging torrent, behind which he knew lay his tortured love.

Beneath the rumbling of the river through the high cavern another and more horrible chant filled the foul, moist air. The gathering of horrid amphibians performed now an unholy rite around the newest of the great ovoids. Engaged in their ceremony, the creatures failed to notice the lurking Hyperboreans in the shadows of the torch-lit vault.

Toth's chant eventually ceased, and he looked drained, sweat and fatigue showing on his aged face. The uncouth ceremony among the eggs continued. 'Now we must wait,' said the priest. The Goddess sends a servitor...'

'How long must we wait?' asked the impatient Izzamandiuth.

Yet his question was answered as the black waters of the rushing river exploded with the emerging of a huge head, a hundred-hundred fangs gleaming wetly in the gaping maw of some huge emerging behemoth. The creatures in the chamber dropped their ceremony, alarmed by the entrance of this new and unexpected beast, whose great green-black scaled body slid out onto the cavern floor, pulled by four squat, massively-clawed legs. Fully fifty feet in length was the great Nirn-Ag, a mammoth Hyperborean crocodile.

In its great maw it snapped up two of the nearest fish-men, screaming and squirming like impaled mackerel. The rest fled the riverside, moving deeper into the recesses of the cavern in that uneven, lurching gait that was what passed for running to their kind. The giant beast came fully into the cavern now, it's vast tail whipping in anger, smashing against the nearest of the wide pillars, and bringing great stones and clouds of dust falling into the chamber. Another amphibian was given to those swiftly-closing jaws as the servitor of Hagarg Ryois came closer to its retreating prey.

Then, among the dark-robed figures one stood out and raised a web-fingered fist above his swollen head, and it seemed that a small sun burned with crimson light within his inhuman hand. As the Nirn-Ag devoured another two of the creatures, the gleaming struck out at the great croc, a fiery ray as if from the heart of the sun itself, and at its passing, Nod could see now that the hooded one held a great red jewel, spewing mystic waves of sorcery onto the charging reptile. Flames erupted along the length of the great croc's hide, and a rage of pain and anger shook the great cavern, as did its massive tail, crashing in frenzy at the pillars. Another sorcerous bolt escaped the raised gem and the big reptile was engulfed in eldritch flames. Toppling a great pillar in an avalanche of thunder, the burning Nirn-Ag turned and slid into the depths of the chill black waters, leaving a fetid cloud of burnt croc-flesh filling the cavern along with the smoking debris. One of the great spheroids was completely covered in the rubble.

'The lion, it is gone!' swore Izzamandiuth, gripping Toth's shoulder and looking still at the weirdly-carved door across the scene of fresh destruction.

Toth nodded. 'Such is the will of the gods. But I think now that we have a more pressing problem...'

The hooded, inhuman sorcerer was now pointing to the Hyperboreans, and waving his gleaming eldritch gem before him, pulsing with the fires of an unknown witchery. His comrades, robed and unrobed, twelve of which had been left unharmed by the great croc's attack, were rushing to intercept the invaders of their subterranean sanctum.

'Lords of the Netherworld!' exclaimed Ooth'zar, brandishing his great black blade. 'What be the power within yon gem? Prepare thyselves, noble men, they are upon us!'

'Blood for blood!' shouted the youth called Zojin, and rushed forward with drawn rune-sword, his two young fellows at his side, ready to slice the flesh of the abominations whose undead brood had slaughtered their families.

'Now, Master?' asked the hulking Vultec Vad. 'Now may I smash thine ememies to briny pulp?'

Nod gripped his burning blade; Toth stumbled backward and slumped against the cavern's cold wall; Ooth'zaar stood ready, his eyes on the mystic gem which had devastated Toth's great reptile.

Izzamandiuth of Uzuldaroum simply nodded, and the black-skinned demon raged forth. Nod and Ooth'zar joined the fray, swinging their great blades with deadly effect against the mass of charging assailants, while Haar, Bel, and Zojin struck with their enchanted swords. The writhing, leathery-skinned amphibians fell one by one to the cavern floor in pools of their own greenish ichor as Vultec Vad smashed and crushed brittle skulls in his great claws.

The grotesque creatures fought back with flailing, grasping webbed claws, one of which wrapped itself around the naked throat of Zojin in a ripping grasp. The lad screamed as his lifeblood spewed down the creature's arm, just before Haar's flashing weapon divided the monster's bulky skull and it dropped to the ground, carrying the hapless Zojin with it. Nod's blue-flaming sword brought steely death to the next batrachian fiend, as Vultec Vad squeezed the innards from two more. And the last creature, rather than fleeing toward the river to preserve itself, chose to exact vengeance for its dead brethren, thus grasping the head of Bel in its vicious hands and driving its long claws into the screaming lad's skull, wrenching it from the supporting shoulders.

Nod's blade swept the creature's own head from its slime-coated body, and the battle had ended. Two of the lads lay dead now, and Haar sank weeping to his knees before the mangled bodies of his brothers.

'Oh, foul gods of night and death,' wept Haar, 'why has thou taken the last of my people? Is there no end this the slaughter of good men?'Nod placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. 'They fought like true warriors,' said the gore-spattered seer. The demon Vultec Vad dined now on the crunchy bones of the mutilated creatures. Jasu'un Toth came forward, his eyes too etched with the tracks of tears. The illusion of corpse-hood had dissipated from the Hyperboreans, and the faces of the dead youths stared unseeing at the dark roof of the torchlit cavern. Toth muttered the sacred blessings for the newly departed over the torn bodies, consigning their souls to the peace of afterlife in the hallowed halls of Zo-Kalar. Haar wept beside him.

Ooth'zar had made his way into the cavern, amid the massive carven pillars and the looming egg-things, and now picked up the crimson orb with which the hideous mage had commanded fires of destruction. All his attention seemed now invested in the dimly glowing orb, as the dripping black sword hung limp in his other hand.

'We must cross the river,' said Izzamandiuth, his determined gaze set once more upon the tall intricate door on the far side of the raging water. 'And gain egress through yon portal.'

'A moment only, Warlock,' said Nod. He indicated the mangled youths, the praying priest, and the weeping Haar. 'For lamentation of the dead.'

Izzamandiuth seemed not to hear the seer's words. He commanded the demon to cease its devouring of the foul fish-things and accompany him to the rushing river's edge. 'I do not like this place, Master,' said the demon as it loped behind him. 'There is an unseen power which lies at sleep here. I feel the caress of an evil which rivals my own.' Vultec Vad licked his stained lips.

Ooth'zar stared deep into the blood-red orb in his gore-slick hand.

Nod knelt beside the black river, touching the hard granite of the cavern's floor. Lower he sank, until his ear was pressed to the rock, and his eyes were closed, as if listening to a far-off disturbance.

Izzamandiuth had not taken his gaze from the demon-carved door, and stood ready at the bridge beside Vultec Vad. 'Well, seer?' he said, after a moment. 'What do the earth-spirits tell you?'

Nod rose, blinking. He seemed visibly shaken, the cast of deep worry vexing his gaunt features. 'Gathered behind yon door are yet twenty virgins of royal blood, stolen from the far corners of Hyperborea. Once their sacrifice is complete, the Dark King will wake the Dweller Beneath the Waves, the sleeping god called Mighty Cthulhu who will come forth to devour our world! This my visions have shown afore in waking nightmares. Only by preventing the sacrifices can the Ceremony of Awakening be forestalled!'

'Then let us go!' said Izzamandiuth, commanding his hulking demon to lead the way across the bridge.

'There is more,' said Nod, falling in behind the warlock as they stepped out onto the bridge. 'The earth-spirit told me that the rushing of deep waters may carry us to safety, though what this means I cannot say.'

The last of the surviving youths, weeping Haar approached, with the tired Jasu'un Toth at his side. Toth now held the rune-etched blade of a fallen lad, and seemed almost prepared to use it, should worse come to worse. Ooth'zar bade them go before him onto the bridge, and followed after, carrying the fiery red orb in one hand, and his curved black blade in the other.

As they crossed the bridge they saw to their left the looming tunnel from which the rapids flowed, and to their right a similar vast passage, round and filled with the thunder of waters, flowing off into unguessed subterranean realms, toward some distant murky sea. The passage which held the river was large enough to admit a full-sized warship of Cerngoth or Uzuldaroum. Walking just yards above the rapid flow, Jasu'un Toth peered down into the dark waters. There was no sign of the scorched Nirn-Ag which the Goddess had sent to his aid. It was doubtless swept downstream immediately by the powerful current. The priest sighed, and muttered a half-heard prayer.

At the bridge's far side, they gathered before the strangely-wrought doors, gazed upon by the leering visages of evil and inhuman mockery which decorated its gilded surface. Izzamandiuth raised his hand. 'Open it!'

Vultec Vad smote upon the portal with his boulder-like fist, twisting the metal into an odd shape, then grabbed both sides of the tall door and wrenched them free from the archway. The horrible stench of human waste and sweat flowed warmly out to greet the Hyperboreans. As the demon stepped aside, they could clearly see into the dim chamber beyond, lit only by faint light from far above. Nod suppressed an oath.

The chamber was the bottom of a wide pit, perhaps thirty feet across and as much wide. The walls were slick with an unnamed mucous and the 'ceiling' was a square of flickering light more than eighty feet above. All about on the cold stone floor, lying indifferently among puddles of their own bodily waste, were twenty wasted maidens, pallid, naked, and emaciated. Most took no notice of the men who now stood where the heavy door had been torn away. Some of the women stared blankly at the black walls, expressionless and without any remnant of emotion. Others were curled into themselves, hiding faces between bony knees. Still others lay as if in the grip of death, only the rising and falling of their stained breasts betraying the presence of life still within them.

'Gods of Kadath bring us mercy....' muttered Jasu'un Toth.

Izzamandiuth rushed forth, shouting the name of his love, searching among the lifeless faces until the flame of recognition seared his face. 'Alithria....' He fell to his knees alongside a blank-eyed girl whose long, curled hair lay tangled in filth. She seemed not to notice his presence. 'Alithria, it is I, your betrothed,' wept the shattered warlock. 'I've come to take you home.'

The girl's only response was a calm blinking. Nearby, another girl began to sing, a soft, broken song.

'Their minds have been shattered,' spoke Ooth'zar. 'They live, but are soulless and without hope.' His voice was grim with understanding.

'Alithria!' screamed Izzamandiuth, his cries receiving no reply from the limp maiden in his arms. 'Demon! Carry her out of here!' screamed the warlock between tears. Vultec Vad scooped Alithria up in his great arms and exited the foul pit with her. Izzamandiuth followed, despair written deeply on his handsome face. Yet in his dark eyes smoldered the fires of wrath, awaiting a chance to leap forth and ignite a fiery vengeance.

'What of the rest of them?' asked Haar, his eyes too dry to shed any more tears.

It was then that the chanting reached their ears, drifting from above like some evil spell, descending in tones of joyous evil to the bottom of the pit from some horrid ceremony newly resumed far above. And, as if on cue, a mass of writhing tentacles slid into the mouth of the pit, slinking down the slime-ridden walls toward the senseless females, and the Hyperboreans standing among them.

Jasu'un Toth felt himself slip toward madness. It was a palpable sensation, as when a tooth is torn bloody from the gum. 'I let them bind her to the flaying-wheel,' he confessed to unseen accusers, white-eyed, tears welling, 'I could have saved her. No more.' He placed his palms upon the chests of Ooth'zar the Necromancer, and Nod the Visionary. 'Go. Go without question. Survive and vengeance wreak. Ooth'zar I charge thee, wrest power necromantic from the Black-Crowned. Aye, choke him on the feast he'd serve Abomination. Nod, do thou descry the Fourth Torchbearer, who'll sail with ye the storm-black sea. Now get thee OUT!'

Then standing among the sacrifices, the fetid vapors descending and the mucid tentacles groping near Toth made his prayer.

'Hagarg Ryonis, Mighty and Beloved; when that the Children of the Warm Womb were given favour over the Children of the Egg, Thou wert not despised. For the Underworlds were given Thee, and Thou made welcome among the Gods of Men; and Thy children honored. Protect now the Ancient Pact, and purge Thy house of evil, even as the homely serpent keepeth the rat from the larder. See, the flesh and soul of this man are Thine! Give me Thy crushing coils, and Thy fangs that tear, and Thy venom that bringeth implacable death! Hagarg, I entreat Thee by the Ancient Word!'

As Toth began the call to his dreaded Goddess of Vengeance, Ooth'zar and Nod made for the exit of the foul pit-room. The first of the pustulant tentacles wrapped itself around an unfeeling girl's waist, as young Haar ran toward another mindless female.

'The maidens!' He picked up a shivering naked form even as the horrid tentacles surrounded the first girl's body and lifted it from the filth-caked floor. And Toth's voice began to deepen, his body to tremble, as cosmic forces set into motion wracked his frame. Blood poured from his mouth. His skin erupted in bursting boils, and was replaced with black-green scales which shown through tears in his flesh.

Haar carried the girl out the door as Toth's chant turned to a piercing scream, and he looked back as the priest's body erupted in a swelling mass of scaly flesh. Horn-like protrusions slipped outward from his ribcage, legs, and head. Soon there was little left of Jasu'un Toth, for his earthly flesh had been cast aside as the serpent sheds an unwanted skin, and the great Thing within magnified in proportion.

Izzamandiuth knelt oblivious to Toth's transformation beside the cold river, washing the grime from the limp body of his true love, who lay senseless in the arms of his demonic servitor. Ooth'zar, Nod, and Haar watched in fascinated horror through the torn metal portals as a great, vicious being was born through the womb of Jassu'n Toth's shredding body.

The tentacles lift a mute maiden toward the open roof of the chamber, wherefrom horrid, inhuman chanting continued to pour into the pit. Now a great loathsome reptilian beast rose at the bottom of the pit, black with horny scales, four-legged with spear-like claws of dark obsidian. With its two front legs against the pit wall, its back claws dug into the stone of the pit's floor, and it raised a many-fanged maw similar to that of the thrashing Nirn-Ag toward the rising tentacles. At least six green-glowing serpent-eyes opened widely across its scaly body, peering angrily from various points along the lizard-like anatomy. Its size increased still, growing longer and higher, and the powerful snapping of vast jaws were heard by those outside the room. A mass of severed tentacles fell to the floor, softening with their pulpy substance the impact of the girl entwined within. Then the great lizard-thing which once was Jasu'un Toth, the vengeful avatar of Hagarg Ryonis, dug its hind claws into the stone of the slimy walls, and scampered upward toward the source of the alien chanting, leaving in its wake a stream of shattered rock torn loose by the massive claws.

Haar rushed inward, to begin carrying the rest of the women out of the pit. From above came the sound of roaring chaos, as the great lizard climbed out of the pit, bringing the taloned, gnashing wrath of the Reptile Goddess to the evil ceremonies above.

Ooth'zar held the gleaming crimson orb before him, bathed in its sorcerous light. The watery light of the cavern turned scarlet, and the shadows along the walls and beneath the grotesque pillars began to deepen and writhe as the necromancer mouthed his ancient incantation. As Haar rushed from the trembling pit-chamber with another of the senseless maidens in his arms, a rush of darkness gathered about the necromancer, taking on the half-formed shapes of demonaic presences, hunched, horned and clawed, formed of solid, sentient darkness.

'Bring to me the maidens which lie in yonder pit,' commanded Ooth'zar, his face hellish in the bloody glow of the gem. The five dark specters glided into the room, emerging one by one clutching the helpless females in arms of congealed shadow.

Izzamandiuth gave a final command to his hulking demon-slave, declaring that Alithria be taken far from this cursed place and made safe. The demon grinned, holding the cleansed body of Alithria gently as a mother holds her newborn. 'I shall see to her safety, Master! Far from this doomed world!' And the demon Vultec Vad vanished in a cloud of acrid smoke, taking the sorcerer's love with him. Despite the worrisome cast of Izzamandiuth's face, he came forward to join Nod, dispelling from his countenance the pain which festered in his heart.

'Shall we ever see the noble Priest again?' asked Haar, his garment stained from the filth of the pit.

'Only his fickle gods may say,' said Nod, watching as another maiden was carried to the riverside by a shadowy wraith.

From above a great rumbling came, loosening rocks and stalactites from the vast dome of the river-cavern, as if some great and foul idol had toppled and broken. Dust and debris showered down, much of it crashing into the fierce river to be swept away into the great dark tunnel.

'It seems our esteemed Toth is creating quite a furor in the realm above,' said Ooth'zar.

'Let us hope the commotion isn't too great,' said Nod, 'or we may find ourselves buried 'neath the remains of this dark citadel.'

It was then that a great cracking sound split the air of the cavern, drowning for a moment the immense roar of the river. The rending came from behind the Hyperboreans, across the rushing water. As the shadows continued to carry forth the remaining maidens, they whirled to behold one of the huge egg-things now crumbling as its horrid contents unfurled and rose toward the ceiling of the vault. At first only mass of quivering black-green tentacles could be seen, then the compressed figure beneath and attached to them unfolded its unfathomable shape, with a great roar of alien emotion signaling its ressurrection from the abominable cocoon.

More than the height of seven tall men stood its massive, inhuman frame, spreading vast bat-like wings wet with the primordial scum of its shattered womb. A bloated, two-legged thing with vast, clawed hands and feet, its head akin to a great octopoid, hung with twitching, anxious tentacles which hung to drape and scour the ground. Its bulbous eyes were the black orbs of night itself, the lightless dark of the nether gulfs where neither light nor warmth has ever existed. With an unspeakable intelligence in those depthless orbs it gazed upon the tiny Hyperboreans gathered across the rushing waters.

Nod's widened eyes glimmered with a terrible recognition as the memory of his doom-filled vision filled his head once more, and he knew that here stood the spawn of Terrible Cthulhu, carried forth from the briny depths by its amphibious worshippers to herald its dread master's awakening!

As the last of the nineteen noble-blooded virgins was laid at Ooth'zar's feet by the oblivious shadows, another of the great cocoons began to crack with the sprouting of unearthly tentacles, and the looming monstrosity leaned forward, its own lengthening tendrils reaching toward the hapless Hyperboreans.

Beneath the looming shadow of the tentacled monstrosity, Nod gazed round himself in shock before the alien manifestation of his oft-remembered apocalyptic vision. Soon, the great tendrils would wrap around his companions and he, and their lives would be squashed from them like nectar from tender-skinned upas-fruits. He recalled the words of the Earth Spirit he had called on upon entering this abominable chamber. The underground river sped into the vast tunnel, hurtling toward the gods-only-knew what dim subterranean resevoir. As the dripping tentacles neared the bank, Nod made his decision.

'Into the river! ' he wailed, sheathing his great Atlantean blade and diving deeply into the raging current.

With a quick command to his five shadowslaves, Ooth'zar followed. The hovering shadowthings each grasped a pair of oblivious females in arms of solidified darkness, and followed their master as his body flowed swiftly to disappear into the gaping tunnel.

Nine maidens yet lay upon the bank, as Izzamandiuth of Uzuldaroum began an eldritch chant, his dark eyes meeting those void-black orbs which stared from across the river. Young Haar raised his runed shortsword and slashed desperately at the first of those terrible tendrils which slithered onto the bank at his feet, even as another of the hulking egg-spawn rose up to tower behind the first. Even as the youth's enchanted blade rent the foul flesh of the being, another tendril wrapped itself around his body like a great python, instantly reducing the valiant lad to a mass of pulped bone and flesh. Other tendrils claimed the shattered maidens, as still others recoiled from the mass of purple flames which now burst forth from the chanting warlock.

Encased in the spherical Flames of Ziridiaz, from which the beast's tentacles shied away bearing marks of sorcerous scorching, Izzamandiuth screamed a dread oath at the horrible godling which now lumbered forth into the river. A few strides and the entity would be close enough to scoop his flaming form in the gargantuan claw which it now held toward him. Its insanely elongated tentacles drew two of the limp maidens into its hungry, unseen maw.

Across the river, more of the egg-things began to crack and spew forth their unspeakable contents.


For a long time there was only pain; pain and the vast, red rage of the vengeful goddess, coursing through his veins, blossoming from his failing flesh, hot lava from the roaring volcano of his immortal soul. A thunderous drone, the toppling of a great, monolithic idol, winged and draped in psuedopodia, cast into ruin by the great lizard's tail, glaring black orbs shattering against a basalt floor thick with unhuman gore....

Then darkness.

Jasu'un Toth opened his eyes. The soft touch of silk caressed his naked flesh as he rustled the silvery linen upon which he lay. Above him a great, high dome of purest ivory, set with skylights of amber and rose quartz. A gentle, ghostly light streamed into the great, ivory-pillared chamber where he lay upon a soft divan. At once he was aware that he lay within a vast palace, yet not the dark fortress of void-wrought stone where Hagarg Ryonis had claimed his body as the instrument of her terrible wrath. He arose and gazed out a great, glassless window onto a deep green sea, stretching into the light of a pearly-clouded infinity. There were no sounds of mighty breakers crashing against the side of the pale fortress in which he now stood, but rather an overwhelming silence, the voiceless sound of an unearthly peace. Walking to the window, his body moved lightly, the pains of his harsh desert-journey gone, and the feeling of leaden age on his limbs nowhere to be found. Standing before the wide balcony he gazed down at himself, and saw a body which was not his; lean and muscular, young and strong, whole and vigorous.

Then he turned at the soundless approach of a figure behind him, a presence which he felt deep within his rejuvenated bones as surely as he would have heard the approach of an armored guard. The tall figure facing him within the chamber stood wrapped in rustling robes of blackest satin, in sharp contrast to skin and hair as pale as the ivory walls. And Jasu'un Toth knelt, placing his head immediately on the finely-carpeted floor, not daring to look at the bone-white lord's dark, onyx-hued eyes. For he knew in an instant that he stood in the realm of the gods, in the presence of melancholy Zo-Kalar, the wandering God of Birth and Death.

'At last my life has expired,' he thought, 'and thus I have come to the sweet abode of Afterlife....'

The grim-faced god spoke to him with a voice like the rustling of leaves beneath the moon-driven winds of midnight. 'Arise, Jasu'un Toth. The time of your passing is not yet come.'

Toth arose effortlessly with the new strength of his renewed body. The dark eyes of Zo-Kalar were upon him.

'Oh, great harbinger of Birth and Death,' he spoke, 'have you not come to guide me onward to the Land of Resting Souls?'

'Nay, trusting Mortal,' said the god, "Tis the occasion of your rebirth which draws me thither.'

'I don't understand...' Toth spoke.

'Hagarg Ryonis brought you here, having sated her purple vengeance and fulfilled the will of the Seven. You have proven yourself possessed of a devotion which necessarily demands your return to that realm from which you were torn. You have served us well, Jasu'un Toth, and this service will continue. It is not yet the ordained time of your ordained into the realm of spirit. You have much to do.'

Of a sudden Toth noticed a great oval mirror beside him, and saw now his own form, as it must have appeared thirty years prior to his ordaining as High Priest of bright-towered Cerngoth. The god had restored to him his vibrant youth, and perhaps even more.

'Why?' was all he could ask the pale god.

'Because you have opposed the will of Nyarlathotep, and brought the wrath of Hagarg Ryonis upon his worldly schemes. Yet the many-formed one has loosed the Children of R'lyeh upon your world. Now they will roam free, seeking to awaken their sleeping lord, and this is a thing desired by neither man nor god. So you will return, and oppose the spreading evil of those star-spawned ones which the dark sea no longer hides. You will seek out and vanquish the lurking brood of ancient, slumbering Cthulhu. For the death of your world now would be an occurrence of some disfavor among the gods. And so you are reborn; again to walk the earth as the instigator of Our will.'

'Praise Be to the Seven....' muttered the newly-young priest.

'Take with you this staff of ivory,' said the god, and offered a tall staff as colorless as his own hand . 'To carry it will be to carry the power of the Seven. Draw upon this power when the need is upon you.'

Toth's strong hand closed around the staff, as the light of an unseen sun suffused the domed chamber, growing to blot out the celestial surroundings. He felt now a great pulling, and knew his time in this blessed realm was at an end. The dark eyes of Zo-Kalar were the last thing he saw as the ultimate light claimed him.

'I will not fail you, O, Great Lord of Beginnings and Endings....' Toth shouted. Then the night-colored eyes were gone, and the dissolution of transitory oblivion swallowed his words.

* * *

The dark, roaring cavern glowed crimson in the gleam of the eldritch orb clutched in Ooth'zar's hand. He held his arm above the raging current, providing hellish light for their river-tossed journey. Often the strong current would pull him under, and Nod was left to plummet blindly along through the pitch darkness until the necromancer again brought himself above the rushing torrent.

In the eerie light of that strange gem, the necromancer's living shadows flew above the river, clutching the ten deranged maidens in their ethereal claws. For an eternity it seemed they went on like this, buffeted and tossed by the raging river, swept ever-onward through the cavernous bowels of the earth in the subterranean flow. If not for the power of the gem coursing in his hand, Ooth'zar's shadows would have long since dissipated , yet still they flowed on above the half-drowned wizards, even when long hours later they felt themselves spilled into a great, still body of water, and the walls of the tunnel were spread away, replaced by unyielding darkness.

Floating now in the calm waters of the great open space, Ooth'zar's scarlet gem-light showed nothing but the dark waters encircling their exhausted forms. It seemed at first they had been vomited out into a vast ocean in the dead of night, but Nod sensed not the touch of any proper winds, and there were no pale stars gleaming in the blackness above. More likely the subterranean river had deposited them in a sunless sea, far beneath the surface of the world.

'Tis a dark sea, Ooth'zar,' spoke the weary seer. 'Yet there is no moon to summon the tides, and no sun for warming these waters. We are still far from daylight, I fear.'

'Indeed,' spoke the sputtering necromancer, 'yet our fate is a better one than those we left behind, may the Outer Gods have mercy on them.'

Then a splashing reached their ears from the direction of their arrival. The river current had propelled them gently away from the tunnel mouth from which they had emerged, and they had soon lost sight of the gaping cavern which served as the mouth of that nameless river. But now, something was splashing toward them, it was an unmistakable sound. Ooth'zar held the witch-gem high, readying a dread incantation as the unseen swimmer entered the crimson glow.

'Izzamandiuth!' smiled the necromancer.

The sodden, grim-faced warlock of Uzuldaroum nodded, pushing back his sodden black locks. 'I entered the river shortly after you. Young Haar fell victim to the tendrils of the egg-spawn. And the rest of the maidens.'

'And so we are three,' said Nod. 'And lost in this blind sea of the underworld.'

'We must find a dry place to regain our strength,' muttered Izzamandiuth.

Nod closed his eyes, extending his arms outward into the black water, turning his body in a slow circle. 'There is an island,' he spoke at length. 'There,' he pointed into the darkness. The three waterlogged wizards began to swim in the direction indicated by the seer, the soundless spirits of shadow flowing through the darkness above them.

It was not long before they reached the island, a smallish atoll of black volcanic rock, and crawled out of the water onto its hard, dry surface, each one collapsing among the grit and sand, falling instantly into the oblivious realm of sleep. One by one, the fading shadows placed the pitiful maidens on the surface of the island-rock, as they slipped from this world back into that arcane region between life, death, and darkness where the Shadow-King holds his legendary court.

It was some time later when the whiteness of an unearthly light brought the slumbering Nod awake, rubbing his eyes against the sorcerous glare emitting from the center of the island. The figure of a man stood silhouetted in the ghostly light, clutching a long staff and draped in voluminous robes. The figure regarded now the rising form of Nod, and walked toward him as the glow surrounding his lean, muscular body began to dissipate. Now only the dim glow of the unconscious Ooth'zar's witch-gem lit the little isle in the sea of darkness, but in that vermilion gleam Nod saw the impossible face of Jasu'un Toth drawing near to him.

'Surely this is but a dreaming phantasm,' muttered the worn seer. 'I lie yet asleep on this ungentle piece of basalt, fantasizing about my lost friend, Jasu'un Toth, seeing him in the grace of his youthful years, as I am sure he would like to be remembered.' The chill air of the chamber sent a fierce shiver through Nod's soaked body.

'Tis no dream,' spoke the youthful Toth. He carried a bright staff of what looked to be purest ivory, and his simple raiment was of black satin; dry leather sandals covered his feet. 'I am come back to help guide you from these subterranean realms, my friend. By the grace of mighty Zo-Kalar have I been restored of body and spirit.' The broad-shouldered youth laid then a strong hand on Nod's shoulder, and the seer gazed keenly at the familiar details of the youthful face. And he knew then, looking into those wizened eyes, that this was indeed his lost friend returned, miraculously from his doom in the depths of the black citadel.

'Rest, now, Good Nod,' said the newly-young priest. 'I shall sit here and guard your rest. And when you arise we shall begin our journey to once again stand beneath the face of the sun-God. Rest...'

Nod laid himself back down on the hard ground, and fell soon asleep, dreaming then of secretive, benevolent gods and the dark forces which opposed them.

It was many hours later when Ooth'zar, Izzamandiuth and Nod rose from their heavy slumber, and began to hear the tale of the strangely youthful Jasu'un Toth. And as he told them of his celestial rebirth, Toth made certain to make them aware of the immense mercy and grace of the Seven Gods of Cerngoth, bidding each of the wizards to offer up a great sacrifice to Hagarg Ryonis and Zo Kalar, once they had all returned to their homes on the surface world. To this, each of the three Hyperboreans heartily agreed.

'Sure 'tis I', spoke Toth, 'or if it be not I, at least it is no mask of our Enemy, work what proofs ye will. Not least am I restored to find you yet alive, my companions... well, nay, not all. Poor Haar. And Alithria? '

And when he was told what had been the fate of that maiden, doubly exiled from the world of men, Toth looked upon the ten who had been borne from the Citadel of Slaughters, and his face was wroth.

'I dreamed me in a goodly world, where just and noble Gods approve the Human Form Divine. I awake to a world where humanity's a candle-light, to be snuffed at an alien breath. Surely doth sanity

require two men, to believe in two such realities, and each to know the other for a mooncalf mad. But sanity's denied. Mauled and stamped is my mind, with the warring of Gods ... and I have heard the dread name Nyarlathotep even from the lips of the Blessed Gatekeeper of Lives!'

Then did the Wizards three perceive the soul behind the eyes of Jasu'un Toth, like unto the wolf when it is snared, and gnaws upon its own flesh to find release. But the Priest spoke of what had seemed to befall him, in a mighty dome above a silent sea, and by that speaking recalled himself to tranquillity.

As Nod tested the veracity of the youthful Toth's humanity by drawing a modicum of red blood from the priest's thumb, Izzamandiuth began to scratch with his rusted dagger a circle of eldritch glyphs in the surface of the little islet. Muttering familiar incantations which were old when the continents were cooling, the warlock finished his Conjuring Circle, and began the eerie chant which would bring forth once more the demon Vultec Vad, for he wished now to reclaim the form of his fair Alithria, before she should languish too long in whatever infernal nook into which the demon had secreted her.

Ooth'zar watched nervously the summoning, fearing the worst should a word be misspoken, and wondering at the wisdom of the warlock's second summoning of a most powerful and clever demon.

Satisfied that Toth's new body was indeed flesh and blood, Nod washed the red smear from his golden blade in the dark waters, noting as he did the presence on the isle of several pale, blind cave-toads, which he swept idly back into the waters from whence they had swam. Though the gnawing hunger in the seer's belly made him think twice, he dared not ingest the flesh of any creature spawned in this unwholesome realm.

Soon the area within the circle of power began to glow with a sickly yellow light, and a foul-smelling smoke billowed forth at the urging of the sorcerer's antediluvian syllables. Within the hellish smoke the form of a nude maiden soon took shape, long golden locks propelled upward by invisible winds from beyond the living world. A crimson gleam filled the beauty's eyes, and the warlock of Uzuldaroum was heard to cry out, and stumble amid his incantations.

'Alithria?' spoke the sorcerer.

The girl's mouth smiled, and the booming voice of Vultec Vad came forth from her shapely throat. 'Tis indeed thy beloved Princess, O Master of Bindings, she who is restored once more to life by the internal presence of your true servant. I do hope that you approve of my work, Gracious Master, I have kept her safe from all harm as thou did command....'

'Begone from her body!' screamed the maddened mage.

'As you command, O, Lord of Prestidigitators,' said the demon, and a foul substance flowed from the maiden's mouth and nose, pooling at her feet within the circle and building upon itself as Izzamandiuth cried his rage at this further violation of his beloved. Tentacles sprouted from the pool of congealing mucous, as the demon poured forth into its new and hideous form. As the last of the pulsing ooze left the girl's body, the light left her eyes, and she swooned as the mindlessness of her recent torment returned. And, gazing for a second into the formless darkeness beyond the island, she fell....

At once, the pustulant entity shot its tentacles from the broken circle of power to wrap around the body and neck of its hated summoner. The girl's body lay half-in, half-out of the protective circle, her inert form had violated the delicate seal which held the demon at bay. 'Now you shall pay for your insolent abuse of the demonic covenant!' growled the demon, his body still amorphous, growing larger as his tentacles held the warlock tight. The familiar hulking form of Vultec Vad's previous incarnation began to coalesce, as the tentacle around Izzamandiuth's neck became a great, clawed hand. 'Now I will crush you and carry your soul into the Pit!' Flames burst from the demon's mouth and eyes.

At once Toth's ivory staff burst into white flames and with the name of the fierce sun-God upon his lips, the youthful priest smote upon the demon's ram-horned head. Now fully nine feet tall, the muscular form of Vultec Vad was completely coalesced, though various tentacle-like pseudopods still extended from his midsection, holding the warlock in a vice-like grip. At the staff's heated blow the demon turned his swollen, black-pupiled eyes to the priest.

Nod's great blade sang then, swiping the leering, fanged head from its massive shoulders. The disembodied head of Vultec Vad roared its anger as it toppled down the pebbled beach into the black water. Izzamandiuth wrenched himself free of the headless creature's grasp. The body fell with a meaty thump as tendrils of black gore extended swiflty from the severed neck into the water to retrieve the sunken head.

One word of power from the gasping sorcerer's lips, a wave of his long-fingered hand, and the demonic body became a noxious black smoke, rising to fade into the dark vault of the measureless cavern. The black water bubbled for moment near the island, and they heard a distant, dimming scream of rage. The warlock raced to the unconscious form of his dear Alithria.

'Tis enough with demons for the time being,' said Nod, sheathing the Atlantean blade. He sensed a trembling deep within the enchanted steel, as if something had been awakened; some long-slumbering need or purpose for which the blade had been forged by the smiths of the heralded Golden City. Feeling the strange power of that eldritch blade coming to life, Nod felt now a sudden need to contain whatever mystic force lurked within the steel. In it's scabbard, the blade sat silent.

'Forgive my unwitting deception at the hands of infernal slug,' spoke Izzamandiuth to his friends, his eyes on the still face of his true love. 'Never before has a demon gotten the best of me.'

'The force of love doth turn us into fools,' said Toth, the tip of his tall staff still flaring, a brilliant white torch in the gloom of the watery cavern.

Ooth'zar sat silent, staring into the depths of the crimson globe he'd carried from the dark citadel.

'Priest,' spoke Izzamandiuth, cradling Alithria in his arms. 'You are descended of the gods. Can you not restore some semblence of health and sanity to my true love's being?' Tears stained the prowd mage's gaunt cheeks.

Nod kicked a few more colorless toads off the island, and ignored the gnawing hunger within his gut. 'It seems we have been set upon an Elemental journey,' muttered the grizzled seer, seating himself by the side of the melancholy necromancer. 'First the Fire of the desert, then the swift Water of mysterious realms. And now, we lie ensconced deep within the third of these elements, the Earth itself. Of course, the key to any elemental solution involves the part of the fourth. The twisting ways of the inner Earth we must travel, in order to reach the fourth element, the freedom of worldly Air.

In the light of Toth's supreme flame, Ooth'zar and Nod could now see a great wall some distance from the rock upon which they sat. In the dim face of the great cavern wall, which arched upward into the darkness of the hidden vault far above their heads, were set many tunnel-like cave openings above a narrow beach.

'Indeed, the passages of ghouls,' spoke the necromancer, his narrow eyes studying the distant black openings. 'They who know all the paths of the sunless Realms.'

With some little concentration Toth discovered he could moderate the blaze of the Ivory Staff, to an inward heat that warmed the chilled flesh of the party and their unconscious charges. And while he did so, he who loved Alithria was quick to raise her and bring her away from the Demon's remnant slime.

'I agree with Izzamandiuth', said Toth, 'we must look to the maid's restoration. The others may wait awhile, but this one has been through too much. If we act not on the moment, I fear the harmony between body and spirit may never be regained.'

Then priest and sorceror took themselves aside with the noble virgin of Uzuldaroum, and bent their heads in prayer.

'Ironical Tamash, our Master of Merriment, who hath redeemed many from despair,' did Jasu'un Toth intone, 'It will be a small matter for Thee, to find the maiden's psyche, where it lies in the dungeons of dementia, and beats upon the Gate of the Bygone Hour, which opens to no man. We bid Thee awaken her; take her by the hand; lure her with remembrance of her lover's arms, and so lead her forth from the House of Dread.

'Then may Thy gleemen sing, of Alithria the Dearly Bought, and how she was seized away from Uzuldaroum's highest tower; and how Izzamandiuth the Sorceror braved the Sky-Drake's bowels, and followed her into the nightmare corridors of the Black Citadel, and crossed the Devils' River to bear her thence; and how Thou didst restore her at the last!'

For it was a fact that Tamash, whose mastery was illusion and the forgetting of pain, was very partial to the extravagant fables of Men, and the more so if they were unbelievable, and most if, being unbelievable, they were nevertheless true.

As Toth completed his invocation to the Lord of Illusions, the glazed eyes of Alithria were set to blinking, and a light which seemed forever vanquished had returned to those sweet eyes so cruelly robbed of innocence. Clutching his awakening bride-to-be, Izzamandiuth called out her name, as he had so many times since her rescue from the Pit of the Dark Citadel. Yet this instance the girl seemed to hear her lover's voice, and turned her freshly blazing eyes to meet those of the warlock. They claimed each other in a fierce embrace, as she repeated the name of her deliverer, and kissed his begrimed face and neck.

Toth turned away from the restored maiden, leaving the lovers to their tearful reunion, and saw the still forms of Nod and Ooth'zar at little isle's opposite beach. Ooth'zar sat conptemplating the depths of his mysterious crimson gem, that orb of power which had come into his possession from the hands of the batrachian sorcerer in service to the Powers of the Dark Citadel, a minion of dreaming Cthulhu, whose waking must never occur. Toth did not like the evil red gleam of the orb, or look with ease upon the necromancer's wordless fascination with the enchanted relic.

Nod sat with his own legs crossed, his eyes closed and moving behind his heavy-lidded eyes, a position which indicated that he was casting his inner eye toward the future, in an effort to divine the immediate course of Fate. White cave-toads scattered from under Toth's feet as he walked toward the meditating seer. Along his way he passed the sleeping forms of the ten maidens which Ooth'zar's magical servants had spirited from the cursed catacombs. They slept peacefully, and the priest resolved to restore them all with the Grace of Tamash. Yet now, while their situation showed no sign of improvement, he thought it best to leave them in their mindless state, lest further horrors in this subterranean realm shatter what little sanity Tamash might restore them.

Suddenly Nod's eyes came open, and he leapt to his feet, hand wrapping about the hilt of the sheathed blade at his side. 'We must leave this island,' spoke the seer. 'The Deep Ones are coming. Soon they will be upon us, many more than in the catacombs... and with them, something far worse....' Nod seemed shaken by the vision. 'We must enter yon caves and seek egress to the surface world, for the water holds only scaly doom.' He turned toward dark-robed Ooth'zar, who clutched still his blood-red gem. 'They come to retrieve that which you hold,' said the seer, pointing to the spectral orb.

Ooth'zar's eyes blazed to instant fury. 'They shall not have it!' he declared, and rose to his feet, as if ready to unleash a black death upon invisible foes swarming about the little isle.

'It appears we must effect passage to yonder cave-strewn beach, then,' spoke Toth. 'A fair swim in any event.' The dark cave-mouths were barely visible in the mighty glow of the priests flaming ivory staff. The water between danced in glimmering currents of threatening calm.

The Priest set himself down between his two companions, but closer to the Necromancer. For a while, he too brooded on the silent waters.

'It is well attested,' said he to Ooth'zar, 'that some who indulge in the more ... unorthodox ... kinds of dreaming, have learnt the secret tongue of Ghouls, even struck alliances with them. Regrettably, I am not such a dreamer.'

The waters sparkled in the borrowed sunlight. The wizards contemplated; the Lovers whispered.

Then of a sudden, the silence was rent by Toth's crow of laughter. 'But the Stomach needs no language! And a Ghoul's is never full! Ha, I have it! Come, fishy-fishy, to the Necromancer's Lure! We'll

set upon 'em, with Sword and Staff and sorcerous blast - and the Ghouls will pick their teeth on the bones!'

He leapt to his feet, and cavorted wildly across the rock. 'Food! Glorious food! No wonder we're such moping mutes, it's been days since our last bite! Now by the Majestic Seven, let there be feasting!

Pheasant of the woods, wild rice of the marshes, succulent meats of Iqqua, olives of Mhu Thulan! Mangoes of the Isles, and the incomparable Durian!'

The Staff of Ivory covered the stone for a moment in kaleidoscopic colors; and each head turned at once to the smell of roasted game and aromatic fruits. Delighted with his conjuring, Jasu'un Toth all but tripped over the sorcerer and his lady; recovering balance with an awkward but flourishing bow.

'O, Lord Tamash, what magnificent answer to our prayers! For this, Cerngoth will celebrate the Grand Masquerade three nights and days in Thine honour! Now surely, Thou'lt not deny the final touch, to

steal the hearts of little girls, whene'er this tale shall be told!' With a wave of his staff, the Maid of Uzuldaroum was suddenly clad in the samite of her city, in silk cerulean of Zalgara, and brocade of Kamar-Taj.

'Be welcome, Milady, to our repast! And though we are not yet quite out of the woods, none the less ye may count each man here your defender. All, to table! In honour of Tamash, and true love!'

In the glow of the scarlet witch-gem, Ooth'zar's shadow-slaves sprang into quasi-life once more, seizing up maidens and whisking them over the dark waters toward the distant, rocky shore where the yawning cave-mouths awaited.

'Come, we shall all be ferried by these tireless shades and seek our sanctuary in the bowels of the earth-bones! Toth's mystic feast shall be carried as well, for the smell has roused the dragon sleeping within mine stomach; many thanks to you kind priest. Or perhaps I should deign to call you Lord, for thy bearing is no longer that of a simple man of the cloth. Thy staff bears the powers of flaming retribution and blessed redemption. Mayhap I should call thee 'Messiah'?'

Toth shook his head, and bowed to the invigorated necromancer. 'I am, as ever, Jasu'un Toth only,' said the youthful Cerngothian, and rose in the clutches of a swift-flying shadow, to be carried toward the waiting shore.

Izzamandiuth held still the revived Alithria in his arms, she now clad in the shimmering raiment which Toth's indiscreet powers had summoned for both her and the ten mindless maidens. 'O, my dearest Izzamandiuth,' she wept. 'Can it be that my love and life have been restored so? That which I never hoped to see or feel again? Or have I passed on to that realm of afterlife where dreams are made real to the faithful? No, for you are flesh, that same strong form that I recall. O, sweet conjurer! The horrors I have seen....'

The warlock held her tightly and whispered in tones most urgent, as grasping shadows flew about their heads, gathering the spread of well-cooked food which Toth's uncontainable generosity had so prematurely summoned. Nod stood gazing at the black waters, mumbling a half-heard litany or chant, and the shadows avoided him as they grabbed the shoulders of their dark-robed master and lifted him from the isle.

Alithria spoke in response to Izzamandiuth's whispered questions: 'I do not remember it all, or perchance I should still slumber in the grip of madness. But I will tell thee what I can. The wicked Priest of Azathoth, Balok of cursed Altuas, was the summoner of Nyarlathotep, the Harbinger of Chaos, the Faceless One, Lord of the Black Citadel. Seeking to capture the power and favor of the dark one he was, yet devoured in his own temerity at the whim of the Faceless, when he sought to keep a captured virgin maid for his own.

'Then the crawling chaos assumed a lordly, human form and parleyed with those things from the deep, the nameless monstrosities which carry the stink of the brine, and worship at the great eidolon carved in the likeness of...of...' It seemed for a moment the girl would slip back into ravening madness, if not for the gentle touch of her sorcerer-love's hand at her cheek. 'Cthulhu...' she finished.

'O, Gods of Our Fathers, he sought to raise the Lord of the Deep to reclaim this world which was once ruled by the star-spawned horde! We...we were to be the sacrifices which brought Terrible Cthulhu and sunken R'lyeh above the waves and set him free upon Hyperborea! Tell me you have stopped him, my love! O, swear to me that the ageless necropolis shall never break the sea's calm surface!' Fresh tears ran down her smooth cheeks.

'Hush, my little sparrow,' spoke the warlock. 'We have carried thee and ten other of the innocent maidens away from the halls of the hell-wrought dynasty. Such ceremonies must take place of a certain time, when exact cosmic conjunctions occur, and thus we have ruined the plans of foul Nyarlathotep to raise dreaded R'lyeh.'

And then the arms of living shadows swept about them and swiftly deposited them on the crowded shore of the night-black subterranean sea. Now only chanting Nod remained on the little isle, and the dark waters jumped and sang at the waving of his gnarled hands. Izzamandiuth stayed his shadows, seeing that the completion of the seer's spell was near to hand.

A great wave of watery form arose before Nod, as if to plummet down upon him the fury of the enraged sea. Yet the wave held fast, spewing only white mist from its bubbling summit onto the seer's form. 'Yin'caerith'shaahraa, Lord of the Lightless Waters,' spoke the seer, 'I bid you hold back those who come from the depths in quest for our blood. Do this, and I shall call on ye never again!'

A great roar filled the cavern, and the sentient wave collapsed, though the waters about the small island still raged in the light of Toth's magnificent staff-light. Ooth'zar signaled his shadows once more, and they poured forth to engulf the seer and carry him swiftly from the midst of the boiling waters to the rocky escarpment where the Hyperboreans ate quickly the still-steaming feast of Toth's making.

Greatly famished by his recent conjuring, Nod did help himself to the fine viands supplied for the party's nourishment. Only Toth did not eat of the food, claiming no hunger but for that of the sun's holy light upon his skin. The waters continued to boil as the wizards fed, Alithria and Toth helping the shattered maidens to eat their share.

'Thank you, O Kind Priest,' said Alithria, kissing the back of Toth's hand.

'Praise be to the Seven,' was Toth's only reply, 'all are blessed by their beneficent glory.'

'Come,' said Nod, before even the last of the feast had been consumed. 'We must go now!'

About the little isle from which the shadows had borne them, there now rose a gathering of horrid tentacles, sliding across the porous stone and rising as if sniffing the air of the cavern for living prey. More than a dozen pseudopodia they spotted, each alike in size to the bole of a great oak. As the Hyperboreans wiped their mouths and prepared to enter the caverns, the water began again to surge and boil, and the great wave rose again, to loom over the abandoned isle, and descend upon those questing tendrils. A noxious steam stang the noses of the retreating humans as the black lake's waters began to boil, as with the heat of a great fire. The flailing of those massive tentacles grew wild and a great, shadowy bulk began to rise from the superheated waters as the Hyperboreans disappeared into the dark refuge of a slime-stained tunnel.

Nod hurried his fellow wizards along the rough, narrow way as each of Ooth'zar's shadows carried two helpless maidens soundlessly above the stony floor. Toth's bright staff gave a weird luminesance to the damp fungi and viscous slime which coated the walls of the ascending tunnel, and there was no lack of light.

Then a great roar, as of some unimaginable pain or rage sounded behind the fleeing group, shaking the very walls of the earth around them.

Ooth'zar, bringing up the rear, turned to see a host of groping tentacles sliding furiously up the tunnel. Raising the brilliant globe of gleaming crimson, he paused in his flight, facing those hellish pseudopodia with a dread chant on his lips.

At once a dark mist blew forth from the wizard's spread fingers, dousing the grasping tentacles in a foul fog of blackest necromancy. By the light of the red gem, Izzamandiuth, who had turned in his own flight to assist the necromancer if need be, saw the pustulant flesh of the tentacles begin to rot instantly at the touch of that ebon cloud, eaten away by the nefarious properties of Ooth'zar's terrible mist.

As the black spell-cloud obscured the entirety of the passage behind them, the two wizards turned their feet again to running, soon rejoining their fleeing companions in the mad flight toward whatever dubious refuge might await them at the steep tunnel's end.

For once Jasu'un Toth is speechless. He runs on, following the elusive shadow-forms, with no goal but to stay with his comrades. Once he looks back, to see Ooth'zar framed in crimson light, and beyond him the mass of writhing tentacles, bubbling as if plunged in ebony acid. He thinks only: It is confirmed. The dreams of madmen shall be my secret testaments hereafter.

'For their Soul and Messenger ... is the Crawling Chaos ...'

How long they ran through that widening, slime-ridden fissure none could with confidence say. Yet after their indeterminable flight, they came into a vast level-floored cavern, where gargantuan stalactites and stalagmites had grown together into vast pillars, supporting a vault studded with glimmering minerals of a diamond-like quality. The light from Toth's staff and Ooth'zar's orb brought the sparkling ceiling to gleaming life akin to a dark night's star-laden sky. The Hyperboreans traversed the depths of the great cavern, floating shadows still ferrying the helpless maidens.

They came at length to a curious and forbidding structure looming at the rear of the weird cavern. A great boulder, many times the height of a man, had been hewn keenly, with exacting detail, into the likeness of a great, toad-like being, whose gaping, toothy maw was open as if to scoop up the chamber's inhabitants in a grisly feasting. The monstrous eyes were two impossibly huge spheres of onyx, blacker than the depths of the sunken cavern they'd so recently escaped.

Izzamandiuth let go the hand of his beloved Alithria for a moment to strike a suplicatory pose before the grotesque eidolon. 'Ia, Ia Tsathoggua,' he whispered, making an eldritch sign of salute to the strange god.

'What is this?' exclaimed Toth, upon observing the warlock's posture. 'This foul idol is deserving of your adoration, Man of Uzuldaroum?'

Izzamandiuth met the priest's gaze with a respectful, if stern, visage. 'Nay, good priest, I do not adore such an alien deity, but merely pay my respects to the Sleeping God. For this idol is a dedication to dread Tsathoggua, who I have drawn on numerous times for arcane enlightenment and forgotten spells which may be obtained in no other manner. The way of the sorcerer is to draw power from various otherworldly sources; whether they be demonic, alien, or godly, it matters not in the quest for the Wisdom of Power.'

'My dear Mage,' spoke the priest. 'Far be it from me to tell the sorcerer his business! Yet know that dealing with such horrid entities has its price, and none can avoid its payment for long. You'd best offer recrimination for consorting with this elder devil in the Temple of Zo Kalar, or thy soul may suffer the torment of unknown realms upon your earthly demise! I say this as a warning only, and not as an indictment of your moral sovereignty.'

Izzamandiuth nodded gravely, and Alithria clasped him closely.

'Never mind these ruminations on matters theological,' spoke Ooth'zar, studying the vast, black jewels in the crimson glow of his power-orb. 'For whatever race did carve this gruesome image must lurk in this region of the underworld. We'd best be alert to the possibility of unwelcome presences....'

Before the great idol, the necromancer indicated a dark-stained altar block.

'Indeed,' spoke Nod. 'There are several passages here. Let us make haste to quit this temple-cavern.'

Choosing at random a wide passage leading from the eerie chamber, they journeyed then through a maze of tunnels and caverns, seeking out those passages which angled upward toward the surface world so indeterminably far away. Not long after leaving the idol-chamber, Alithria spoke of yellow eyes glimmering in the darkness behind them, though the wizards' investigations yielded nothing on their trail. Then Nod, leading the party, noted a collection of evilly-glowing eyes staring from a side-passage.

'There is something here,' he spoke. 'Many of them. We are traveling in territory which is obviously claimed by whatever race of beings worships the toad-idol. Be wary, my friends.' And Nod drew forth his long Atlantean blade.

More wandering through the rough bowels of the underearth brought them to a large ovalish chamber with more than a dozen openings leading off to further dark recesses of the lightless realm. 'Perhaps some supernatural guidance is in order, if we are to find a way out,' said Nod, calling a halt to the party in the round-walled chamber. The seer began to assume the familiar posture indicating that he would soon receive a guiding spectral vision, and so divine their best path of egress from this dismal realm.

Yet hardly had Nod closed his eyes, when Toth's cry of alarm rose up to shatter the chamber's silence: 'Look! The hate-filled eyes do gleam in the darkness of every passage! The fiends of the lower world have surrounded us!' He brandished his flaming torch-staff high.

In the dark cave-like openings, masses of sickly-yellow eyes like those of hungry wolves grew closer to the oval chamber, and Nod ceased his interrupted divining to grasp his great sword, the blue flame of a deadly enchantment erupting along its length. It seemed to all present in the cavern that the golden blade did sigh then, issuing a moan as of an impassioned lover on the verge of erotic climax. If Nod heard this, he gave no sign.

Ooth'zar stood ready for the onrush of the shadowy host, one hand brandishing his curved black scimitar and the other clutching the scarlet-pulsing orb. The flame atop Toth's ivory staff grew in heat, till sweat poured from the priest's own scalp, as Izzamandiuth readied a potent spell. The wizards gathered in a protective circle around the frightened Alithria and the ten shadow-borne maids.

Then the ravening horde burst forth from the concealment of shadowy tunnels, gibbering and slavering in the inhuman bloodlust of their unknown kind. Shaggy bipeds they were, hunched and snouted like mongrels, with wicked fangs and sharp-hooked claws. An unnumbered mass of the hideous fiends shambled into the chamber from all sides, descending at last upon the prey which their unnatural senses had bade them track through the caves.

Alithria's terrified screams joined in the gutteral chorus of the bloodhungy beast-men.

Into the midst of the onrushing horde Jasu'un Toth's ivory staff spewed a brilliant gout of flame, and the shrieks of the beast-men filled the great chamber as holy fire spread throught their number, leaping from matted mane to shaggy pelt like a howling forest fire through a brittle autumn wood. The sighing blade in Nod's able hands struck down a pair of the clawed fiends as they attempted to gain the center of the circle and the ripe female flesh cowering behind the wizards' protection. The black scimitar of Ooth'zar drank deeply of the foul cave-dwellers' blood beneath the glow of the necromancer's witch-gem. Izzamandiuth incanted into being a living blade of emerald effervesence with which to smite the ravenous horde. Behind him Alithria cried in terror as the wizards began their slaughter of the ghoulish tribe.

As quickly as they had rushed forth out of the clinging shadow, the bestial horde retreated, leaving their maimed and burnt brethren to the Hyperboreans' merciful blades. A forest of gleaming eyes surrounded them once more, the shadows of every tunnel infested with gibbering clots of the creatures.

'I have heard tale of the uncouth worshipers of Tsathoggua,' said Izzamandiuth. 'These are the Voormis, the People of the Toad-God. They wish to feast on our flesh and gnaw our on our bones. By their presence I judge our location to be deep beneath the demon-haunted peaks of Mount Voormathedrith, where the Voormis were known to dwell in generations past. We shall be forced to slay them all to gain egress from their tunneled lair.'

'The fires of Karakal shall scour our path clean!' declared Toth, a sheen of sweat covering his youthful face. Another blast of fire from the priest's god-wrought staff filled the tunnel before him

As the flames died away, the tunnel sat dark and eyeless. 'It appears our way is clear,' spoke the priest.

'Wait,' spoke the wary Nod. 'Do you not hear the wicked chanting of some inhuman shaman or heirophant?'

The wizards were silent, each now recognizing the strange language which echoed toward them from one of the many Voormi-filled tunnels. 'I like not the sound of this,' spoke Ooth'zar.

Izzamandiuth's green blade hovered near to his outstretched hand, pointed at the nearest of the threatening tunnels. 'Let us make haste, before the Spawn of the Toad is upon us!'

A sudden rush of stench-filled air, and the darkness within the open tunnel poured forth and rose up, a wall of fluid blackness topped with a pair of gleaming orbs, the alien eyes of a thing from some outer void. With the speed of striking cobras a brace of inky, whip-like tendrils struck out at the startled Hyperboreans.

Both Toth and Nod were caught up in the mass of black tentacles, the ivory staff torn from the priest's grasp, its eldritch flame snuffed. The pair hung struggling and helpless in the shadowspawn's tentacled grasp. Ooth'zar dropped his great black sword, staring as if transfixed into the depthless eyes of the monstrosity. He hefted the blazing crimson gem, his own face masked in a grimace of mad rage.

'I am the Lord of Death!' screamed the necromancer through foam-flecked lips. 'Master of the endless Void! Let the Abyss open! Ia Thasaidon yheg'rith ali thal zuum qihtorak!'

Izzamandiuth clenched his teeth at the immense gathering of magical forces in the vicinity of the necromancer's pulsing jewel. The warlock could feel now the very fabric of reality beginning to strain and bend under sway of the terrible forces unleashed by the maddened necromancer's incantation. The helpless screams of Toth and Nod rang in his ears, and Alithria fell faint at his feet.

'What doom will this mad mage unleash on us all?' swore the warlock, unsure if he should strike to end the spell of his incensed comrade, or hurl a deadly bolt against the writhing abomination which loomed before them.

The mage from Uzuldaroum uttered an eldritch Word of Power, performing the sign of the Elder Lords before the black monstrosity. A beastly wailing escaped the living blot of darkness, and it cast its two captives away with thrashing tentacles, as its fluid mass began to fold in upon itself. Nod's flying, helpless body collided with the wide-eyed Ooth'zar, and the two tumbled to the stony floor. The necromancer's blood-red gem flew from his upraised hands, ending the deadly spell which was near to being unleashed by its enigmatic power.

Toth fared little better, crashing with boneshaking force against the far wall and tumbling stunned to the ground. The dark thing bubbled and frothed, a boiling stew of inky foulness, writhing and diminishing into a pustulating mass. Soon it was no more, having passed into some nether dimension where it would await its next summoning in the embrace of eternal dark.

Ooth'zar lay unconscious as Nod struggled to his feet above the downed necromancer. Toth rose achingly, searching for his staff. With the dispelling of their hideous god's servant, the troglodytes had lost the will to fight, and fled in fear at once from the area of the cavern where the Hyperboreans stood. With the passing of Ooth'zar's consciousness, his summoned shadowslaves dissipated, lowering the ten blank-faced maidens to the cold cavern floor, all of them oblivious of the horrid fate from which they had been delivered.

'By the Seven!' swore Toth, raising his ivory staff in the dim glow of Ooth'zar's fallen gem. 'What was that hideous monster?'

'A servitor of Tsathoggua,' spoke Izzamandiuth, clutching Alithria close to his chest. 'I have heard legends of such entities who guard still the forgotten temples of the Toad-God in lost Commoriom. Yet never had I encountered proof of their existance until now.'

'Our necromantic friend is insensible,' spoke Nod, examining the still form of Ooth'zar. 'But he will live.' His gaze traveled to the quiet, pulsing Gem of Power where it had rolled against the base of a short stalagmite. 'What of this?'

The three wizards' gazes turned now to the fallen bloodstone. Far off, in the nighted labyrinth, the shrieking howls of the hungry beast-men echoed through the bowels of the earth like the screams of restless, angered spirits.


Toth removed his black robes and wrapped the blood-bright gem, performing oblations in the name of his seven gods against the forces which lurked within its pulsing depths. Then, rising to rejoin his companions, he carried the ensorcelled jewel in its makeshift pouch, standing nearly nude in his only remaining raiment, a short silken loincloth.

Izzamandiuth revived his fainted Alithria, who now stood again, and begged for a quick departure from this unfriendly cavern. The wizards all agreed as Ooth'zar's low moans told them the necromancer had awaken again. His pale face stared into the darkness of the tunnels, his face haunted by the vestigal glimpses of the black horror they had narrowly escaped.

'Let us be swift,' spoke Izzamandiuth. 'Before the Children of Tsathoggua gather their courage.'

Toth bent to examine the kneeling Ooth'zar, who nodded affirmatively to the priest's questions about his bodily health. The necromancer rose, and seemed not to notice the absence of his power-gem. His dark thoughts were his foremost concern, and he had either forgotten or did not care about Toth's claiming and cloaking of the jewel.

'I am cognizant of a certain spell,' spoke Izzamandiuth, 'by which we may travel the length of an alternate dimension, and so escape these endless tunnels. From this netherworld, called V'zath by the sages of Uzuldaroum, we may hope to find egress to the surface of Hyperborea. Yet I must warn you that the Nebzoolian Codex speaks of various dangers native to V'zath, so the journey will not be without risk.'

There was some discussion, and the wizards seemed to agree that leaving the subterranean realm could only lead to the betterment of their situation. Ooth'zar remained silent, lost in his own dark thoughts.

'Let us make haste from this chamber,' said Izzamandiuth, 'and find a secure cavern where I may perform the lengthy and complex rites which will open the way to V'zath.'

'Tis time these maidens wake again into the dawn of reason,' spoke Toth. 'A moment, noble friends, and I shall call upon the blessings of Tamash.'

The young-bodied priest stood then before the plainly-clad, mute-eyed maidens and raised his ivory staff like some nude messiah. An invocation he spoke then, calling upon the power of the blue-eyed god of illusions whose breath is the stuff of dreams, and each of the maidens fell in a swoon to the gritty cavern floor. He sang:

Awake! The tide is lifting and the gulls insistent call
The beacon torches gutter out, along the harbour wall
The sailors catch the wind of dawn, the silver current streams
Along the bow, awaken now to voyage the Sea of Dreams
Forward the gold horizon spreads and sternward falls the blaze
Of sunrise on the minarets of timeless Celephais

For I am Tamash, Merry Tam, illusionist and clown;
Princess awake, the hour is come to lay your terrors down

At noon on lonely capes will stone gods stare from forest towers
And parrots flirt and apes cavort amid the twining flowers
By night the lambent phosphorus shall thrill thy maiden eyes
An strange songs rise from onyx shores to seek the star-drenched skies
By Thran and lost Thalarion, by salt and shine and foam
Thy course is laid, across the Sea of Dreams to bear you home.

And when the maidens awakened the semblance of life and sentience had returned to each of their lovely, begrimed faces. Ten princesses raised themselves now where ten helpless, yet beautiful, idiots stood before.

Alithria quieted their multitude of questions and forbade any of them to cry, as many were wont to do, for none of the noble girls could remember anything since the time they had been abducted from their fathers' and uncles' palaces, and drawn to the black citadel of Nyarlathotep by scaled horrors.

Ooth'zar stood silent still as Toth ended wearily his incantation, and Nod spoke. 'Let us quit this loathsome den of ghouls and find a place where Izzamandiuth may work his dubious spell.'

The four wizards and eleven maidens set off then, into the narrow tunnels, until they encountered a smallish, damp cave where no sign of the Toad-God's worshippers could be seen. And Izzamandiuth began inscribing the sigils and glyphs of another world into the loose dirt of the cavern floor, and mouthed his winding chant. Long the sorcerer incanted, while the nervous faces of the revived maidens looked on and the men stood guard in the tunnel with swords and staff.

After a while the stale air surrounding the mage from Uzuldaroum began to take on the quality of a curious, spectral glow. Izzamandiuth continued the alien chant, and the glow grew brighter, consuming him in a pillar of effervescent white. The light seethed and twirled, yet remained fixed in its cylindrical shape, disappearing into the roof and floor of the small cavern. Alithria's eyes widened at the evaporation of her beloved, and feared that the pulsing light had devoured him. Then they heard clearly the voice of Izzamandiuth speaking to them from the shaft of light, bidding them to enter it, and thus cross into alien V'zath.

One by one, beginning with the brave Alithria, the maidens entered the light, and sight of them was lost to Nod, Toth, and Ooth'zar. At last only these three remained in the subterranean realm.

'From one world of peril to another,' spoke the the priest, and gripping the robe-wrapped witch-gem in one hand, and his godly staff in the other, entered the blinding light. The necromancer and seer soon followed.

Now they stood bathed in the purple light of a swollen sun, and Toth knew at an instant that this was not the sun of Hyperborea, for the face of fiery Karakal was known intimately to the priest. On a vast, rubble-strewn plain the fifteen stood, the hems of their robes whipping in the strong, pungent winds of V'zath. A thick fog lay low over the land, preventing any sight of the immense distances which each could somehow feel stretching away in all directions. The light through which they had walked was nowhere to be seen here, and Izzamandiuth explained that he had closed the portal upon the instant of the last wizard's arrival.

'Not a place of beauty by any means,' spoke the sorcerer. 'Yet much improved from our lightless, entombed environment, I'm sure you'll all agree.' Most of the Hyperboreans nodded in agreement.

'It remains to be seen if we can return to Hyperborea from this weird place,' said Nod. 'I take it you have another incantation for returning us soundly to our own world?'

'Actually, no,' said Izzamandiuth, and the mages bristled. 'However, there is a portal here, a gate built by Nirizium of Commoriom, many centuries ago. It was that lauded archimage which discovered the existence of V'zath, and thus was said to have made frequent journies here. We have merely to locate this gateway, said to bear the look of a granite arch surmounted by three heads of gargoylish aspect, and it will carry us back to the sunlit regions of Hyperborea. Somewhere near to the ruins of Old Commoriom, I believe, for it was there that the archimage's tower was said to have stood.'

For the first time since his awakening from unconsciousness, the grim-faced necromancer Ooth'zar now spoke: 'Is this Nirizium of Commoriom that selfsame warlock who was known to have met with a horrible end at the hands of his own demonic servants, long before the destruction of his native city?'

Izzamandiuth scratched his beard. 'As I recall, they were not demons which disposed of the archimage, but an unknown species of extradimensional beings known to sages as the Yekubbians.'

'And could these 'Yekubbians' be denizens of V'zath?' asked the ever-wary Nod.

'It is not known,' commented Izzamandiuth. Yet a trickle of worry spread down his dark-eyed face and he studied the dense walls of violet fog suspiciously.

Sitting himself cross-legged on the grey sand of the plain, Nod the seer mumbled, as if to himself, in an ancient tongue which not even the learned wizards could recognize. In the language of the elementals he spoke, and called forth a great wind which dispelled the thick fog and tore at the hems of the Hyperborean's robes. Soon a towering funnel of sand stood whirling before the calm, unmoved Nod, and he spoke to this wind-entity in that language which is the sound the clouds make as they scrape the vaulted sky.

The elemental whistled and whoosh-ed, and flowed off in a certain direction , flailing sand and rock in its wake. Before the fog could again settle in to block their vision, the Hyperboreans saw the vast plain run away on all sides of them, bordered by low mist-shrouded mountains on one horizon. On another far horizon the great crooked spires of an alien city reared into the violet sky, an intricate webwork of airy bridges linking the bulbous towers and gleaming domes together in patterns unknown to any Hyperborean architecturalist. It seemed that a pale greenish glow filled the sky above that weird metropolis, where jagged and uneven minutiae suggested either an ancient, massive ruin or an unguessable philosophy of design; they could not decide which was the case.

Nod arose, as the creeping fog lazily surrounded them again, smothering their view of the strange city and mysterious mountains. 'We will find the Gate of Nirizium in the direction indicated by the elemental.' He pointed a bony finger in the direction of the sentient funnel cloud's windblown path.

'It is good that we do not have to journey in the direction of yonder grim city,' spoke Toth. 'I've no desire to parley with any of the weird inhabitants of this forsaken place. Who knows what unthinkable rituals or customs we might be subject to? If even there remains life in those battered towers. Best to steer clear of any haunted ruins.'

'Indeed,' spoke Izzamandiuth. The warlock's feet wobbled unsteadily, and he fell to his knees in the hard sand. 'Yet bringing us was a feat which was not without a considerable strain. A sleep, friends, I implore you. Otherwise I shall be but a burdensome companion on the journey.

'Very well,' Toth agreed. 'We shall rest here for the remainder of the evening. Sleep, all, and I shall stand as sentinel against any predators of this unfriendly place.'

They settled down then into the sand, making themselves as comfortable as possible for sleeping, which not very. 'Fear not, noble lasses,' Toth reassured the maidens,' we shall soon have you safely returned to your silken beds and perfumed pillows. Only bear your harsh journey with faith in the will of the Gods, and you shall persevere.'

Ooth'zar had once again reclaimed his crimson gem as Toth's attentions were diverted to the maidens, and sat mutely staring into its flickering blood-colored depths. The priest picked up his silken raiment where the necromancer had cast it aside in uncovering the gem. The night air of V'zath was chill, and Toth donned his robe, keeping his eyes on the silent necromancer and the gleaming gem whose unknown power he feared.

Soon darkness and sleep claimed the crude encampment, and only Toth sat awake to watch the two cratered orange moons of V'zath rise as the curious day-fog evaporated. Ooth'zar had gone to sleep with the glowing witch-gem cradled in his arms, as if it gave him warmth in the cool night. Perhaps it did.

On the horizon, the weird green glow of the jagged-towered city seemed to glow brighter against the black star-flecked sky. The Hyperboreans had been asleep for several hours when Toth saw the quivering, elongated shadows arise from among the glowing towers, blotting out the stars in their slithering wingless flight.

Toth wasted no time in reviving the slumbering wizards, and the foursome stood ready to greet the approach of the encroaching worm-like shadows which blotted out the glow of the moons with their quivering bulk. There were perhaps six or seven of the alien things, floating closer upon the chill wind of V'zath. Ooth'zar held the gleaming witch-gem to his breast, as if its radiance would feed his heart with an arcane power.

More than twice the length of a tall man's body was each of the centipede-like creatures, gliding through the air without wings or any other apparent means of flight. Great ribbed fins ran the length of their boneless backs, and flexing spike-shaped appendages encircled a round purple maw at the front end of their awful bodies. Along their veined, pulsing sides contracted and expanded a multitude of anxious insectoid legs like those of hairless spiders.

The Hyperborean mages were nearly sickened by the very sight of such monstrosities, and disturbed by the fact that something so entirely inhuman could possess an intelligence sufficient to construct the distant gleaming city. Alithria screamed, and other of the maidens awoke to cower in fear and panic while Izzamandiuth's bride-to-be ran howling into the darkness of the open plain.

Ooth'zar raised the crimson gem high, ready to summon forth a black torrent of death. Looming now like nebulous clouds, the strange denizens of V'zath slithered nearer through the naked sky.

'Ooth'zar, hold thee back a moment yet', said Toth, in a tone of calm that lied bare-faced as to his state of mind. 'Something in the creatures speaks of curiosity, I know not how. Intelligent - builders of cities -why, perchance they may be no more perilous ...', and most sardonically he chuckled,'... than are men. One chance, friend. If they attack me, then work thy damnedest.'

Then, as serenely as if he were stepping forward to pronounce the Blessing of Zo-Kalar upon a new-born babe, the Priest strode out and craned his neck to view the floating aliens, all the while striving to think what to do. None of the Callings known to the Seven-Fold Temple would seem to meet the case. He planted his staff in the sand and waited, as the myriapedes swayed and stooped in the light of the unknown moons.

'Masters of the High Towers, heed now the warning I bear ye! Terror is risen in Hyperborea, beyond the Gate of Nirizium; and it is laid upon us few, to raise the alarm, among all beings that think and care for their Worlds,' cried the priest. 'See now the Colossus of Destruction, that cometh from the Abyss

beneath the Great Ocean!'

Hefting now his godly staff, he envisaged the tumult of the seas, the catastrophic breaking-forth of the tomb-island; the titan mass that raised itself from that tomb and spread wide the tentacles of Its face, horribly surveying the Earth. 'Its Hour cometh nigh; unto the Orgy of Devastation are called all that breedeth in the gulfs...' And he envisaged the boiling shape raging from the underground sea, reaching for the fleeing band, its membranous skin blistering in Ooth'zar's necrotic mist. '... and lusteth mindlessly beyond the spheres of space and time...' He envisaged Tsathoggua, and the unclean servant of Azathoth sent to gorge and swell on flesh and to pupate for Great Cthulhu. '... and care not for cities, nor the thoughts of those that build them, nor for the beauty of dunes, when the wind bloweth the sand beneath the moons. Therefore are we called by the Highest, from their dwellings, in the White Moon of Earth, and the

Ultraterrane City...' With sudden inspiration, he recalls the vast marble dome of his vision, its pillars like waterfalls, its ceiling wrought majestically as the plan of creation, '... to watch against such foulness, and to give warning, and to discover what weapons may be turned against them.

'Therefore give us aid, in the Name of Life; or if ye help us not, then give us leave to pass safely beyond the Gate of Nizirium-- and then seal that Gate behind us-- lest Terror come also upon this world, and burrow in your dunes, and befoul the fair purple vapors of the day!'

So spake Jasu'un Toth, and the while, those supple, finned and many-legged beings drifted down from the night upon the company of the wizards, and were silent.

Presently an eerie ululation filled the chill air above their heads, and alien thoughts slid nauseatingly into their minds as the telepathic V'zathians responded to Toth's soliloquy.

'Long has it been...since your kind passed this way. You have forgotten ancient customs...we must be satisfied....'

Toth was enheartened by the aliens' willingness to parley, yet he had no idea what manner of satisfaction the worm-things might desire. 'What do you require of us? We seek guidance to the Gate of Nirizium.'

'Our world dies...we require...sanctuary....'

Nod's brow wrinkled as he considered the import of this strange request. 'They wish to accompany us into Hyperborea!'

Toth stood, for a moment, speechless. 'How many more of you are here?'

'Only we survive....'

Ooth'zar broke his self-imposed silence, the blood-glowing gem of power still ready in his hand. 'Why do you not simply use Nirizium's Gate yourself?'

'The passage...is...of your kind...we know not the secret....'

'By the beard of Zo-Kalar!' swore Toth. 'In order to return to the fair fields of sun-warm Hyperborea, we must agree to admit these unseemly creatures! Or face them in a fearsome battle here in the remains of their dying realm!'

'Thus would seem to be the case,' spoke Nod, grimly.

Said Toth to his companions, tight-lipped: 'We accept; and I do not even ask Nod, whether it forecast well or ill. For this, I alone shall be answerable before the Gods.' He turns then to the remnant of the race of V'Zath, hovering insectile above; and concentrates his thoughts anew. 'Between two such different races, there can only be peace or war. If it be war, we stand ready. But in such conflict, Hyperborea must lose her most needful champions; and yourselves must abide on this dying world, which were shame unto Creation.

'Therefore we offer peace, and bid ye come with us through the Sorcerors' Gate. But these be the Conditions of Peace; and if ye betray them hereafter, no difference shall Men make between ye, and the monstrosities that menace our planet. Firstly, that while ye dwell on Earth, ye harm no living child of Woman. Secondly, that ye make your first home in the desert place of Hyperborea, which now ye perceive in my mind, in which lies the Black Citadel; and that ye mount guard to destroy what evils shall come out of it; whether they be winged serpents of the air, or the husks of men which Art Malignant hath usurped. For this,

I have no doubt that ye can do. Then let men say, these be strange beings, but amenable to the desires of the hearts of men; let us do them no harm.

'These be our conditions, Masters of the Heights. Now decide, whether ye shall join us in compact of survival; or execute now our doom - and yours.'

The airborne behemoths seemed to quiver a moment, their great feelers waving about meaningfully, as if they might be conversing amongst themselves regarding Toth's proposition. Indeed they were, the wizards soon discovered, as alien thoughts slid again into their minds:

'We like not... these terms of servitude....but have little choice....there is nothing... in V'zath for us....We, the last of the once-great Yekubbians.... agree to all you have asked....'

Nod relaxed his grip on the Atlantean blade, sliding it to rest in its fulvous scabbard, ignoring the disappointed sigh of the blood-hungry weapon. Ooth'zar lowered his blazing gem of power, and made declaration to the Yekubbians in commanding tones, as he would have spoken to those animated cadavers which served his every whim within his faraway tower of black jade.

'When the sun rises you will lead us to the Gate of Nirizium. Agreed?'

'Agreed...With the light...we shall return....'

And the weird-bodied Yekubbians floated away from the wizards' encampment in their disturbing worm-like manner, descending at length again into the phosphorescent ruins of their distant, empty city. Toth consoled the still-affrighted maidens while Nod searched for Izzamandiuth and Alithria, finding them some little distance away, enclosed in a gleaming sphere of magical flame which the warlock had summoned for his love's protection as he calmed her nervous fear and subtly removed her panic in that way which only rapturous lovers may attempt.

Once more the group settled down for their rest and the wizards spoke not of their strange pact with the Yekubbians. For each knew that, just as the aliens, they had no choice in the matter. Ooth'zar, claiming the power of his gem had restored his vitality, demanded that Toth now sleep while he took guard of the camp. To this Toth agreed reluctantly; he still trusted not the eldritch forces lurking within the necromancer's ruby prize.

'Do not fear this power, priest,' Ooth'zar reassured him. 'It is I who master its dark force, just as I master the hordes of vengeful dead and the fearsome of the ether. Rest, noble Toth, and regain thy fortitude.'

And so they slept again beneath the peculiar constellations which sparkled dimly in among the nebulous skies of dead V'zath.

True to their word, the flying insect-worms returned at dawn's first light, and led the Hyperboreans in a direction they called 'moonward.' Realizing the futility of trying to place north, south, east and west coordinates within the measureless realms of V'zath, the ever-thoughtful Izzamandiuth ceased trying to accomplish this feat as he walked hand-in-hand across the foggy plain with the becalmed Alithria. The maidens followed these two chiefly, as if the vision of such bounteous love were the beacon which would eventually lead them back to the warm and safe environs of their palaces, temples, and houses.

The pulsating Yekubbians hovered over the marching group of Hyperboreans, blocking the sun's harsh rays and guiding their steps through the long and wearisome day. Nearly featureless, their surroundings, lost in the vast banks of whirling purple fog, though several times they glimpsed the fallen pillars of some ancient metropolis which had withstood the ravages of time less than the Yekubbians' own city. Ooth'zar was sorely tempted to explore such ruins for likely evidence of V'zathian mummies or forgotten burial-treasures, as was Izzamandiuth of a mind to stay awhile and pursue a course of study involving the strange runes engraved across many of the colossal blocks of masonry and sand-drowned pillars. Yet, each controlled his lust for arcane enlightenment, as the need to reach the gate and know once more the sight and feel of their own threatened world's sun was the dominating factor within each of the long-traveled Hyperboreans, especially so among the perpetually frightened maidens of noble lineage. Their pampered, luxury-laden lives heretofore had in no wise prepared them for such a perilous and wearisome journey.

So it was, that as the violet light and effulgent mists of day began to fade, they came upon a curious arch of stone, about the height of three men and half as wide, hidden within a broad ring of massive, tumbled boulders. The familiar runes common to Hyperborean sorcery were etched and worn along its cleverly-designed bricks. At its rounded pinnacle sat two fanged and twin-horned heads whose eyes were the demonic likeness of netherworld spirits, set with ovals of tarnished onyx. They had reached, at last, the gate of the long-dead Sorcerer of Commoriom.

They did not at first, for some reason, see the tall figure standing motionless at the center of the arch, wrapped in billowing crimson robes and hooded in the manner of a strange priest or heirophant. They thought the still, regal figure a statue or idol, until it spoke to them in ringing tones which hinted of a vast, depthless void where sound was a haunting, maddening thing.

'Thus you have come unto me again,' said the cowled being, speaking in the lilting dialect of Hyperborea. In a mocking timbre, it continued: 'Will you return as desperate tribute that which you have taken from me? Best to bow and grovel, for ye Breakers of the Black Citadel are far removed now from the saving grace of your childish gods. They cannot aid you here, for this world is beyond their grasp. Come now! Bow down and beg for the mercy of thy True Lord.'

Within the shadows of the hood, two points of flame stirred to life, and the purple sun of V'zath seemed to dim, smothering the barren land beneath a shroud of forbidding gloom.

Ooth'zar the necromancer strode forward to stand before the scarlet-wrapped figure whose true form had sent him screaming and mad into the desert. Raising high the blood-bright gem of power he spoke thusly to the cowled Lord:

'Know now that I am the black-souled ruler of death, ye Dog of Azathoth, and within my grasp lies the power of darkness and pain. I, who have seen thy hideous uncloaked shape now bid you to suffer, as ye hath made the Children of Hyperborea!' And a great darkness spewed forth from the blinding gem, dividing into the jagged forms of two gargantuan claws as those of some fierce demon-god, and they reached to encircle the crimson robed Lord in a fell grasp.

As the necromancer made his declaration, the fear-stricken Toth backed away and bid Nod to slice open the vein of his wrist. Drawing his great gleaming blade the unquestioning Nod did so, and the priest poured his lifeblood along the length of his ivory staff, for he knew that the shrouded Lord spoke true, and he was here far removed from the spheres of his Seven Gods, having only the staff's investiture of holy power to protect him; and he knew, too, that to stand against Nyarlathotep, the Thousand-Formed One, Lord of the Black Citadel, was an impossible task without the aid of some greater power. He gave out a telepathic call to the hovering Yekkubbians: Grasp up the women; be ready to fly for the arch! And with a crazed howl, his blood running down the carvings of the staff to spill on the alien sand, he called upon the spirit of that Beast from whose single tusk those two yards of flawless ivory were carven by young Gods aeons before the ascent of Man.

The V'zathians obeyed Toth's order, sweeping up the terrified wailing maidens in their lengthy centipedish legs and rising again into the darkening sky. Izzamandiuth grabbed his precious Alithria and encircled them both in a living sphere of emerald flame. Grabbing her up into his arms, he ran toward the gaping arch; for he too knew that dread Nyarlathotep had come back to avenge the ruin of his citadel, and he must get his beloved away from this hideous presence, though all about him his comrades may perish. As he ran he incanted a Word of Power which he hoped would activate the latent power within the demon-headed arch.

The great black disembodied claws of Ooth'zar's summoning tore deeply into the flesh of the crimson-clad figure with the wrenching strength of a daemonic corpse-giant. In a peal of cold laughter the Lord threw back his head and waved his reed-thin arms in banishment of Ooth'zar's necromantic claws. Ooth'zar's spell dissolved like black mists around the torn Lord's body. Through the torn holes in his red robes, black blood poured onto the sand and dark fire sprang up about him. Within the laughter, he spoke:

'Let the mortal Ruler of Death become one with his passion!' declared the bleeding Nyarlathotep, and Ooth'zar's flesh began to rot, and fall in steaming clumps from his pale skeleton. The necromancer screamed and his blackened tongue fell from its mouth as his face became, of an instant, the visage of a dried and ancient mummy, the like of which his art had countless times given rise.

Wiry Nod leapt forward, the ancient war-cry of lost Commoriom bursting from his throat for the first time in many centuries. The singing cry of the Atlantean blade joined him and they struck the flaming Lord in a swift, fierce harmony, the blade sinking to its hilt in the shadow-oozing chest of Nyarlathotep. Ooth'zar's mummified corpse collapsed to the sand, the red gem still grasped heartily in his fleshless fingerbones.

The ebony blood-flames pouring from Nyarlathotep's riven body travelled up the golden blade to smother the hands of the screaming Nod. The seer wretched away from the burning blade, his hands now in smoldering ruin, and fell backward in the throes of his agony.

Toth's chant of summoning rose to a whirling climax and the very desert trembled beneath the ring of towering boulders. Inside his burning sphere of sorcery, Izzamandiuth made for the arch, reciting all the Words of Power his studies had revealed, willing the world-gate to open. Yet not a flicker of the gate's hidden magic did he sense.

Standing for a moment with the pouring lightless flames devouring the ground of V'zath about him, the impaled figure of Nyarlathotep turned his gaze toward the enraptured priest, whose chant has caused the tremors which rocked the desolate plain. The dread lord waved his hand, and Toth's ivory staff shattered in his grasp, exploding shards slicing deeply into the hands, arms, and face of the stunned priest. As the tremor died away, the tall figure of Nyarlathotep stood wavering before the gate, and turned its head toward the gleaming ball of flame wherein Izzamandiuth incanted toward the gate, clutching the frightened Alithria to his breast. And Nyarlathotep spoke to the Warlock of Uzuldaroum as black flaming ichor poured from his mouth.

'The Doors of Yog-Sothoth obey my command....' he spoke. And his words were cut short as the hooded head flew from his shoulders. Standing before the headless being now was the corpse of Ooth'zar, bathed in the reviving glow of the blood-red gem of power, lowering now the curved obsidian sword which had decapitated the dread Lord. The necromancer's bulging eyes gleamed bright within their fleshless sockets. Truly had Ooth'zar now become the Ruler of Death, a subject in his own kingdom.

The head of Nyarlathotep rolled to the ground and blossomed into ebon flames, and the red-robed body toppled, the hilt of Nod's golden blade still protruding from its ruined chest. The black flames died at once, and a noxious bubbling thing began to swell where the body lay. The torn robes were split asunder as a great roar desended from between the alien stars, and the pustulating remains became a bloated, distorted mass which stretched toward the screaming sky, numberless tentacles rising and black wings convulsing as the monstrous new form of Nyarlathotep birthed itself.

Toth screamed at the horrid sight of the terrible prodigy lifting its dripping appendages toward the weird stars, the divine grace of his benevolent gods burned from his brain, and his screams continued as he lay face-down in the harsh sand of V'zath, until he vomited blood and consciousness left him.

Nod stared full into the abominable face of the bubbling terror, and with his own ruined, charred hands plucked the eyes from his head, afterwards tearing at the flesh of his face until he wore a red mask like unto that of Ooth'zar.

As for the necromancer whose very life had become sustained by nothing but his own sorcery, he merely sat quietly on the sand and stared meaningfully into the glimmering vermilion depths of his precious arcane jewel. There those who say he sits there still, near the ruined Gate of Nirizium, in the dead world of V'zath, and watches eternally the flickering of the scarlet gem's dancing flames.

Within the opaque sphere of shielding emerald flame, Izzamandiuth and his bride-to-be saw nothing of the unspeakable new form which rose fresh-born into the black gulfs, the flapping of its monstrous wings like the thunder of a thousand storms. The warlock tried again his eldritch formulae as the resurrected Nyarlathotep's deafening cries faded into the night sky with that terrible being's passing. And he felt now the forces of the gate stirring to life as the ancient magic was triggered by an obscure couplet of antique verse from the Book of Yog-Sothoth.

'We must begone from this hellish place!' Izzamandiuth swore to his weeping Alithria, dispersing his magical flames and turning to lead her through the arch.

'Wait!' cried the maiden, looking back. The V'zathians were approaching again from the distant horizon, ferrying the ten terrified maidens toward the shimmering gate. Alithria ran to the bloody, unconscious form of Jasu'un Toth where he lay with his face buried in the violet sand. 'We can't leave him!' she said. 'He's done so much for us,' she pleaded.

Izzamandiuth glanced over at the skinless face of Nod the seer, who now sat gnawing on the blackened stubs of his wrists. At his other side the quiet lich which was recently a living master of necromancy cradled its crimson prize, studying its hidden depths with unmoving, naked eyeballs. The warlock raised his hand toward the shattered Nod, releasing an azure blast of sorcerous energy. Nod's mindless body fell still as the merciful bolt found his heart. Then the warlock bent near to the senseless priest and lifted his youthful form in strong arms as the pulsing V'zathians descended with the noble maids held safely in their jointed limbs.

Through a sparkling curtain of sorcery they walked toward the waiting fields of Hyperborea, the warlock bearing the helpless priest; and the anxious, weird-bodied V'zathians floated through above their heads. As they disappeared from the purple plains of dead V'zath, the granite arch cracked from base to summit, and the twin demon-heads tumbled to lodge broken in the deep purple sand.

Special thanks to Claude J. Smith III, Gary Woodward, Morten K. Pettersen, James Ambuehl, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, without whom this adventure would not have been possible.

Top of Page