top of page

Portents - Horror (Short Story)

0

I stand alone in the plush room. It is small, but richly decorated, as befits my station. The fireplace in front of me crackles, its warmth at odds with the cool wind blowing through the open window. My eyes rest on the flames, watching them slowly consume the wood in their heat. The journal was delivered to me this afternoon, at great expense to the Order, but I could not bring myself to read it. Would it be our path to salvation, or proof of our doom? I shake my head to dispel the thoughts, and steel myself.

One who is willfully ignorant can be more dangerous than a zealot. So it is written on page one hundred and three of the seventh volume of the Book of Portents. In my experience, the statement is true. I refuse to calmly await the end. I refuse to be willfully ignorant. I have recognized the signs. By fours they will come, called forth from the abyss by the unwitting and the foolhardy. So it is written. So it has begun. Still, the order was established to safeguard against these… things… and so I search for an answer. I turn away from the fireplace.

The leather-bound journal, embossed with the family seal of a renowned explorer, sits on my desk. I run my fingers along the crest, a winged lion on a field of chevrons. Adelaide Devon has been missing for months. Just another disappearance in the deserts. A reckless adventurer dragged to her final fate by her hubris, they say. I agree with the sentiment, if not with the reasoning.

Adelaide Devon. Explorer extraordinaire. The public sees her myriad discoveries, her contributions to scientific discovery in her field, and nothing else. The Order had found other things. Interacting with Miss Devon was, it seemed, nearly always a death sentence. Or at least this seemed to be the case when it came to her expeditions. Guides, escorts, and more would accompany her. She would return alone, offering no explanation for their disappearance. While I primarily hoped the journal would advance the Order’s interests, it would be a lie to say I did not wish to have my idle curiosity sated.

I pick up the book and turn it over in my hands. The leather is soft. Well-worn from use. A red ribbon holds the journal closed, tied in a delicate knot just under the seal. I look away, out the open window. A clear night. The trees sway, and the wind carries the scent of pine. In the distance, following a cobble road down a hill, is a town. The evidence of fire rises from many of the chimneys. The smoke twists in the wind and, for a moment, I swear it becomes something else. A malicious mass of raging eyes and ravenous mouths.

It began before Miss Devon’s disappearance. People seemingly vanishing. Whispers of occult gatherings once held in total secrecy now growing bolder. Visions plaguing the populace, driving them mad. “Natural disasters” spread across the globe in a pattern too regular to be ordinary. Four at a time. Spaced perfectly around The Gate. I look back down at the journal and reach for the ribbon, hesitating for only a moment before pulling it open.

A package falls from the journal’s hollowed innards, and I start in surprise as it lands on my desk. I examine the journal. The pages are glued together, and their centers are cut away, forming a space some ten centimeters across and fifteen tall. If the pages of the journal once contained writing, it was no longer legible. I place the book aside and consider the package.

A letter is fixed to a piece of canvas wrapped around some object. The letter is sealed with wax in the same design as the crest on the journal. I grasp the pin that holds the letter in place and pull it away. I open the letter. It is dated from ten days before Miss Devon’s disappearance. I begin to read.


1

I have been told it is polite to begin a letter to an unknown party with an introduction. I will dispense with such niceties. If this letter is in your hands you know who I am. More to the point, you know some of what I’ve done. But not all.

In truth, it is my hope that this letter is never read. That I return from my expedition and put it to the torch. As much as I do not wish to contemplate the alternative, I am a realist. It is how I have survived for the forty-three years of my life. Still you will understand if I ramble, diving into the intricacies of my life. The chance to write what may be the final words I put to paper is… distracting.

Twenty years ago, I found an engraved stone. I was working under my father, at the time. We had been hired to seek out a hidden temple, lost to time, by a rich benefactor. My father told him we were unlikely to find what he searched for, but the man insisted. His eyes were glazed like those of a corpse. I was glad to leave his estate.

The expedition began in the southern lowlands. It was dangerous country, with the war, and we hired our usual mercenary escort. We made good time to the wetlands, following a map our benefactor had given us. The faded words on the edges of the canvas seemed to swim in my vision and looking at the map for too long gave me pulsing headaches.

One morning I broke off from the group. I thought I had seen some large animal and wished to identify it. I assured my father I would be safe and left as he and the others broke fast. I followed the animal’s tracks deeper into the swamps. It had torn through the woody brush with what seemed like vengeful purpose.

The tracks led to the bank of a wide, fast-flowing river. It had been on none of the maps we had seen. Of that, I was certain. Thinking back, it should have struck me how little sound the water made. How there seemed to be no wildlife but the bloodsucking insects native to the region. The stone was at the edge of the water, sunk half-way into the wet soil. I approached the artifact, the animal I had chased forgotten.

Sourceless desperation struck me, and I feverishly dug at the ground around the stone. The earth itself seemed to fight me. It sucked at the stone and threatened to pull it deeper into the muck. I wish I had let it sink, then.

Some minutes later I was holding the ancient artifact in front of my face. It was a perfect cube. Pictograms decorated each of the faces. Images reminiscent of sacrifice. Of a triumphant reawakening. Of forbidden treasures, left behind by a people forgotten even by time. I turned the cube. Over and over. There were more than six faces. Many more. I pocketed the cube and returned to the expedition. I did not share my discovery.

After two months of arduous searching, we made to return. I argued with my father. I showed him the stone. There was something here, I told him. Something to do with the Stone. He stared at it, his eyes going wide. Throw it back into the wetlands, he commanded me. Whatever it was, it was not meant to be. That we would cut ties with our benefactor. It strikes me that he knew something of what the stone was. Of what it would lead to.

I left my father’s presence in a rush. The cube whispered to me. Filled my mind with the idea that my father was an old fool, too blind to see the stone for the precious artifact it was. The next day, I lied and told him I had cast it away. Soon after we began the trek back. My father died. A sudden, unexplainable disease took him. When I next checked the stone, there was yet another face.

I now believe our benefactor knew we would never find the temple. That the expedition was, in truth, engineered to find the stone. There is, at the time at which I write this letter, no point to the speculation. Besides. I am just as much at fault, as you will see.

The stone bewildered me. It was impossible, yet I carried it with me on my journey back to our patron’s estate. In the time since I had found it, I had become obsessed with it. With finding its secrets. It whispered that it would lead me to greatness. To eclipsing even my father’s achievements. With the help of the stone, I would become the Devon. Not merely one amongst many.

I showed the stone to the man who had funded our expedition. He smiled. I chose to ignore the knowing glint in his eye. I needed his resources if I was to hunt for what the stone promised me I could find. I left that night with assurances the man would be in touch eventually.

Three years later, a package arrived at my door. A letter, a tablet engraved with the same archaic language as the stone, and a stack of promissory notes that would serve as funding. The letter said the only thing required of me was that I continue the search. I left that same night.

The stone led me first to a cave in the frozen northern mountains. I had found a guide to take me up the snow-capped peaks. Wrapped in furs and eating a dried concoction of fats and meats, we made good time. In truth, I am uncertain it would be possible to find what we did without the stone’s guidance. Drawn by some inexplicable force, we found the cave within mere days. It was nestled in a split in the mountain’s face, and as far as I know we were the first people to find it since time immemorial.

Two pillars flanked the entrance to the cave, one on each side. Carvings decorated them. The carvings spoke of a reward. Of a gift. I felt the heavy weight of the stone in my pocket. My guide, a member of a superstitious people, wished to leave. He said entering the cavern would bring doom. I scoffed and told him I wouldn’t be paying him if he left now.

We entered the cave, electric torches held aloft. The irregular shape of the tunnels drew us downwards. The path branched repeatedly, but through some miserable happenstance we eventually made it to the heart of the mountain. Here, it seemed the earth had been hollowed out by some grand design. The cavernous space seemed to continue on for far longer than was possible given the physical confines of the mountain, and within it was a city lit by an eerie light with no origin.

The buildings here were strange. They were made of a basalt volcanic rock that appeared to gleam, and their geometry was counter to anything I had encountered. We approached one of the squat buildings. I wished to enter one, but we would have had to crawl. By now, my guide was whispering prayers for protection and deliverance under his breath, and I ignored him as we made our way deeper into the city.

Eventually after what felt like days of walking, but could only have been scant hours, we reached the center of the city. A large hole, some five meters across and rimmed in unknown metal beckoned us forward. We edged closer. The metal around the hole was engraved with more pictograms. Creatures, small and innumerable, gathered around some spherical object decorated with incomprehensible symbols. A sacrifice, as one of them was dropped into the hole. The opening of a door.

My guide was looking over the edge of the hole, a small distance ahead. The stone whispered its malign inspiration. My arms moved on their own and pushed him. It had made me. The Cube. It was never my intention. Never my choice. The man flailed as he lost his footing, his electric torch clattering against the floor. His hands caught the edge of the hole. His eyes met mine. A look of betrayal flickered across his features, before settling into acceptance. He closed his eyes and let go, making not a sound as he fell. I would later discover the stone had once again gained a face.

I make no excuses for my actions. What is done, is done. In comparison to what has happened since… no… not to what has happened. To what will happen, if I fail. I digress. Moments after his fall, I heard a terrible grinding. Stone against stone. Hot air, wet like the exhalation of some beast, blew towards me from farther in. Sulfur tainted my nostrils, and I covered my face as I began to walk towards the source.

Again, the path through the city felt longer than it could have been. The winding and senselessly laid out streets defied any attempt at organizing them in my thoughts. Eventually I gave up, trusting whatever instinct had led me this far to continue to do so.

I found the temple then. Its great stone doors had swung open on hidden mechanisms, inviting me inside. Within was an altar to some abominable god. A statue, four times my height, dominated the far side of the temple. Before it, at the bottom of a set of steps leading to the statue, was a pit filled with a viscous bubbling liquid.

Driven by some desire, I threw tablet my benefactor had sent me into the pit. The liquid rushed away, leaving behind the shattered remnants of the tablet. In my shock, I almost missed the statue begin to curve forward. Whatever it depicted was leaning in my direction, opening like the petals of some noxious flower. I stood enrapt as it completed the motion, revealing yet another tablet. I grabbed the tablet quickly afraid the statue would close before I could do so. This one was different from the first. It was engraved with a map, as well as a series of pictograms depicting a ritual. I left the city, the second tablet tucked safely in my bag and the cube gripped tightly in my hand.

2

My hand trembles as I set down the letter. Part of the Order’s fears confirmed. Adelaide Devon had indeed found the Sunken City. I take a breath. She hadn’t just found the City, she had broken the first seal. Despite knowing it is my duty to continue, my heart thuds in my chest. How could she be so foolish? I think to myself as I sit down in the stiff red armchair in my office.

I pour myself a glass of fortified wine and bring the glass to my lips. The drink, pleasantly warm due to the fire burning close by, serves to revitalize me as much as to settle my nerves. I think on the letter. If its contents were judged to be truthful, and nothing indicated them to be anything but, the Order began to track Miss Devon much after her first contact with the Stone.

My mind raced, as the picture began to become clearer. The Book of Portents was considered by the general populace to be a work of enchanting fiction. The fever dreams of some religious fanatic or artful prose of an unknown author. Over the course of its long lifespan, the Order has known it for what it truly is. A warning. One meant to be understood only by those who are already privy to the true nature of the cosmos.

It is speculated in the Book of Portents that the breaking of enough seals will allow either the release or the reanimation, the translations are never clear, of some great and unknowable thing. As for what this thing might be the author offers no explanation. Or at least nothing beyond the implication that should its rebirth come to pass the lives of mortals shall become torment.

I have seen the horrors lurking in the dark from which others avert their eyes. I have fought them with word, blade, and black powder. I have killed them in the ruins of great houses who thought themselves too important to fall, and in the cellars of run-down villages consumed by utter madness. I have the scars to prove it. Whatever is, or was once, held in check by the seals Miss Devon tampered with is much worse.

I look back out the window towards the town. The lights in the houses seem sinister now, for some reason. The smoke curling from brick chimneys seems to hang overly long in the air and draw towards me. The feeling of being watched creeps up my spine. I snap the curtains closed. These distractions must be ignored. The Order depends on me to ascertain the truth of Miss Devon’s actions. I pick the letter back up and return to my duty.


3

I will spare you the details of the rest of my travels. Suffice to say that over the intervening years I found still more hidden places. In each one I performed a ritual and was led to the next. In each one, the Cube used me. Used me, you see? It took each and every person that accompanied me on my expeditions and it ended them. It made me end them. I lived through each encounter, no matter how dangerous. I never stopped to ask why because I didn’t need to. I was destined to succeed on my quest. Yes. Tragically destined.

The closer I drew to the end of my journey, the more the cube whispered its damnable words. It told me that I was right to do as I had. To follow where it led. That what I wished for would come to pass. Each time I looked at the stone I was consumed by my hunger for more.

Finally, less than six months ago, my search came to an end. The stone had revealed to me the final temple. A great construction hidden under the great desert’s sands. This time, my benefactor insisted on accompanying me. I warned him I could not guarantee his safety. I warned him that the Stone would take his life as it had all the others. His laughter was response enough.

We crossed the desert alone. The two of us. He never slept, or at least, he appeared not to. I would attempt to engage him in conversation, but he would stare at me with a too-wide smile until I stopped. It didn’t matter, I told myself. Soon it would be over. My discoveries had already brought me fame and fortune. This final one would cement my position as the foremost explorer of the age. Of any age. The stone had promised. It had promised, you understand?

A small pyramid marked the entrance to the temple. It poked above the dunes, scoured clear of any markings by the wind and sand. Upon seeing it my patron fell to his knees and began to pray in a language I could not begin to understand. The words grated against my ears. The more he spoke, the more meaning I took from his words. I felt cold despite the sun beating down on us. I urged that we continue, and he smiled his smile.

Within the pyramid were stairs leading down. We took them quickly and arrived at some sort of library. Ancient tomes were set neatly into shelves carved from sandstone. There must have been thousands, tens of thousands of volumes. Close the Cube whispered. So Close. We went still further down.

On the lowest level we found a stone slab. Deep grooves were etched into its surface, and a single hole the size of my palm was at its center. Four pillars, disappearing into the darkness above, surrounded the slab. Each of the pillars had a different symbol carved into each face. I looked away from them quickly, my eyes falling onto my patron.

The man had lost weight as we had made our journey. His skin sagged off his flesh and his eyes seemed strange and bulbous in his skull. He shuffled towards the slab and ran his hands reverently along its surface. He muttered to himself. The words he spoke seemed to scratch at the surface of my mind, like fingers digging into sand.

Suddenly, he looked at me and smiled. He thanked me for all I had done for them, gesturing at the symbols on the pillars. “But nothing is here!” I answered, distraught. Had my search been for nothing? Certainly the tomes above would be remarkable, but compared to what I had expected they were insignificant. What I had sacrificed. What the Stone had made me sacrifice. This was not what it had promised me.

“Oh no. Not nothing. Not nothing at all” he said, laying on the slab. His next words are burned into my mind by what followed. I will leave them here, should you be capable of making more sense of them than I. “By the four among the sixteen, by the will of the elder gods among the stars. May the final door be open, may you be welcomed home” he screamed, as a spike from the center of the slab pierced through him.

His blood seeped into the grooves on the slab, carried away from him towards the four pillars. It was then that it happened. That I realized the gravity of my mistakes. My benefactor’s body twisted with a sickening crack. His blood began to reverse its flow. A rapturous look was on the man’s face for a brief moment before he became something else. His body bloated into some sort of chrysalis, his skin stretched taut against some macabre internal structure. I could see something moving inside. Something that could not and should not be. I remembered the statues. I ran, screaming.

I woke up days later in an empty hospital room. I returned to my home. I was… I am… assaulted by nightmares. Hideous shapes dragging me into oblivion as abominations chitter madly in my ears. I fell to drink, and then to drugs. I sought to wipe away my consciousness, but nothing worked. Eventually I tried to take my own life. Each time, by some twisted quirk of fate, I survived.

Some few days ago I looked at the stone for the first time in months. Whatever had once driven it is gone now. But I still remember where the final temple is. Perhaps if I can return and strangle the creature in the womb the nightmares will cease. Perhaps then I can finally die.

With this letter you will find a map to the pyramid, as well as the stone. With these, I hope you can do what it appears I could not. To find this monster and kill it. Or, if all else fails, to brace yourselves. I do not know what it is I helped bring from the beyond, but I know it brings the promise of the end.

Oh. And I know now why it kept me alive. Why it won’t let me die, even now as I write this letter, flames licking at the walls of the ancestral home of the Devon line. It wishes itself known. It wishes me to send you a message. It told me in the nightmares. In convoluted meaning. The message is simple. I AM REBORN.

Good Luck,

Adelaide Devon, Explorer, Trailblazer, Fool.


4

I sit in my armchair and reread the letter. I do so again, and again, and again. Each time I do I feel my anger building. Adelaide Devon had undone in under twenty years what the Order had spent millennia protecting. I shake as my rage washes over me. I was taught that rage was good. It can be sharpened into a weapon. It can be used to focus intent and shield you from what is to come. I use it now.

The letter drifts to the floor as I unwrap the rest of the package. Miss Devon had told the truth. Protected by the canvas was a hand drawn map, in immaculate detail, to the pyramid she spoke of. Sitting beside it was the Stone. A perfect cube, as she had said. Simply looking at it cause the hair on my neck to rise. I wrapped it in the canvas and placed it aside.

It was now a question of time. How long has it been, exactly, since Miss Devon and her “benefactor” broke the final seal? How long do we have until something utterly alien and utterly ruthless is unleashed upon us?

I pen a short letter. Time. There is no time to wait for deliberations. No time to assemble our forces. I copy the map as best I can, and stuff the copy into the pocket of my coat. I rewrap the package, including Miss Devon’s letter, and pin my addition to it. I open the cabinet on the opposite wall. I take up my sword. I belt it in place. My pistol follows.

The letter will serve to explain my intent to the others. I will find this Pyramid and I will either put an end to this before it begins or buy whatever time I can. I slip my signet ring off of my finger, pour wax onto the paper, and seal my letter with my mark. My servants will see that the package goes where it is needed. Meanwhile, I will do my duty. I will Hunt.


__________________________________

Hopefully you enjoyed! If you did, find more like it over on Patreon through the link below!

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

End of the World - Post-Apocalyptic (Short Story)

Every night, I sat down on the roof of my house hoping to see the end of the world. Who would’ve thought I would get my wish? Burning lungs, stinging eyes, a black haze of dust, and the smell of somet

Comments


bottom of page