Sorcerous Voyage

To Whomever might find this record:
I am writing this message sometime in the latter part of the year 1812 Anno Domini. I cannot provide a more specific date due to the fact that I have neglected to note the number of days that have passed since I last had access to a calendar. My current location is, as near as I can ascertain, somewhere near the center of the Indian Ocean.

I have decided to record this narrative of the peculiar series of events which have brought me to my present situation largely due to the fact that I have very little else to do with my time. While this narrative may seem unbelievable and outlandish, I wish to make known that it is, in fact, true. However, you may believe it or disbelieve it, as you like, as your attitude will, undoubtedly, make no difference to me or to my future.

That being said, this then, is my tale…

When I first embarked upon my course of studies in foreign and ancient languages at the august institution know as Oxford University, I had the good fortune to be blessed with the mental capacity to easily excel in my field. I was definitely one of the most promising students enrolled in that area of studies. I would never have imagined that the high level of achievement that I accomplished would eventually lead to my utter degradation.

My stellar performance and obvious superiority over my peers led one of the professors to offer an opportunity to accompany him on a journey to the orient. He planned on acquiring samples of archaic Chinese texts and required an assistant to aid him in his efforts.

Of course, I eagerly agreed to play a part in such a notable undertaking. I felt that such experience would surely widen the breadth of my knowledge.

The sojourn was largely successful. We managed to acquire a very nice assortment of texts that would certainly add great value to the university’s collections. Unfortunately, the texts were not the only thing I happened to acquire.

While searching for ancient texts in the Far East, we occasionally made forays into mercantile sections of cities that were rather on the dicey side. Strange as it may seem, we found that we often enjoyed a greater rate of success in locating superannuated tomes and scrolls in small and shabby shops. Moreover, the prices were much more agreeable in such places.

It was in such an area of the city know as Shanghai that I first happened to stumble upon a strange little shop where the selection of writings seemed to be especially archaic and the asking prices were especially low. I was by myself at that point, the professor having decided that we should split up to more efficiently canvas the vendors within the large municipality.

Due to the extremely engaging assemblage of texts, I remained within the shop for many hours. As I dug through the wares, I was rather displeased to note that the elderly vendor had the annoying practice of smoking his strange pipe almost incessantly. This resulted in a cloud of murky haze, which hindered my efforts to scrutinize the merchandise.

However, as I spent more time within the heavy brume, it seemed that I found it less and less disagreeable. In fact, I eventually found that the vapors seemed to have a pleasant, calming effect. As I became more relaxed and unconstrained I began to strike up a conversation with the gentlemen running the business. Luckily, he spoke Mandarin, in which I happened to be fairly fluent.

When I happened to mention the pleasant nature of the aroma of his pipe smoke, he invited me to sample a pipe-full of the substance. I gratefully accepted his generous offer. I spent the rest of the day browsing his texts and puffing on a spare pipe he allowed me to make use of.

I purchased a sizable selection of works at that shop, some of which turned out to be, when examined at a later time, of questionable value. Despite the fact that I had already thoroughly rifled through that vendor’s goods and had almost certainly culled out every worthwhile item, I found myself returning to the same shop the next day. I was irresistibly drawn back there.

After sifting through the stock for several more hours I finally was forced to admit to myself that there was nothing else therein worth purchasing. The vendor, however, convinced me that I should not leave empty handed. Rather than selling me any of the wares he had on display, he instead persuaded me to procure a sample of the pipe fodder, which I had so thoroughly enjoyed the previous day.

That was the first time, but unfortunately, far from the last time that I purchased the nefarious material, which I would later realize, was, in fact, opium. >From that point on, my scholastic competence, as well as my financial assets, entered into a downward spiral.

For several years after my return from that fateful trip, I struggled with a nigh irresistible appetite for that soporific curse. In time, I finally managed to control the contamination which the vile blight inflicted upon my soul. Unfortunately, by that point, my academic work and my fiscal standing were both in shambles.

It was at this low point in my existence that I came across an opportunity to use my academic knowledge in a manner that would result in the betterment of my economic footing. I was offered a peculiar position with a gentleman who had need of a scholar who possessed an in depth knowledge of ancient languages and who also possessed so small a measure of self-respect that he was willing to engage in activities that were somewhat unsavory in nature.

The man who was seeking to employ a linguist of my caliber was an elderly denizen of a rather cramped section of the city of London, and it was to this locale that I journeyed to apply for the post. The neighborhood consisted mainly of townhouses situated cheek-by-jowl, forming large blocks of interconnected masonry. The majority of these homes were presentable and well kept. Unfortunately, this was not true in the case of the residence at which I eventually arrived.

The building looked as if it had, most probably, been maintained at least as well as its surrounding counterparts until fairly recently, for it was still of a solid nature. However, this solid nature was overlain with a vestment of general shoddiness that bespoke a period of ill use and neglect in its recent past. I would eventually come to learn the reason for this state of affairs.

My prospective employer went by the name of Angus McChurch. His personal appearance was very similar to the scruffy and unkempt appearance of his abode, but lacked the underlying solid structure.

Upon my arrival, he greeted me with a measure of enthusiasm that seemed inconsistent which the unpropitious and taciturn aura he exuded. As I spoke with him concerning the position, it became clear to me that his somewhat ebullient greeting was due to a degree of desperation that he had begun to suffer. This desperation was in regards to an enterprise upon which he had embarked immediately after receiving word of the disappearance of his twin brother, Argyle McChurch.

Angus was startlingly abrupt and forthcoming in regards to the disreputable business in which he was engaged. In a completely frank manner, he announced that he was deeply involved in the occult arts and that he routinely practiced sorcery. Moreover, it was in this category of pursuits that I would be laboring if I were to accept the position that he offered.

He stated that I would not actually be expected to involve myself in the otherworldly operations that he performed, but I would be translating texts that dealt with such subject matter. Mr. McChurch then went on to state that the vast majority of the works that I would be translating dealt with only the most circumspect and pabulum subjects of occult nature.

When he made reference to the innocuous nature of the works, it was plain that he harbored a strong disdain for the writings. In fact, he declared that he would normally not bother to occupy himself with such milquetoast and mollycoddling tomes, but he found himself in a situation that forced him to deal with such.

He related that the library that was contained within the house had belonged to his now missing brother, Argyle McChurch. Angus informed me that his brother shared his interest in the occult, but lacked his courage and thirst for raw potency. Argyle had, thus, been satisfied to putter about with mystical and theurgical workings in which he had dealt with entities of a purely seraphic nature. The studies that the two brothers had pursued were so different in temperament that they communicated with one another very rarely.

However, shortly before his disappearance, Argyle had sent a message to Angus that had been of great interest to his sibling. Argyle had intimated that he had stumbled across a seemingly unique pair of entities that, while angelic and beatific in nature, were willing to impart arcane secrets that would bring unto a practitioner great temporal power. This type of thing was unheard of when dealing with theurgical magicks, but Argyle had been quite insistent that such was the case.

Intrigued by such an assertion, Angus had decided to pay a visit to his twin, hoping to wheedle out some small knowledge of such transmundane puissance while engaging in a rare bit of brotherly palaver. Upon his arrival, he had been dismayed to find that his sibling was absent. Moreover, there had been absolutely no sign of where he had gone or that he had actually intended to be gone for a prolonged period of time.

Argyle’s housekeeper had stated that Argyle McChurch had been working late one evening and that she had retired for the night while he remained toiling in his study. When she had arisen the next morning, her employer was nowhere to be found within his abode. He had persisted in his absence for the next eight days, at which time Angus had arrived.

Angus had thoroughly questioned the housekeeper and then released her from service, not wanting to have to pay her out of his own pocket. He then decided to stay for a period within his brother’s home and try to locate any notes or clues that Argyle might have left that dealt with the strange entities that he had mentioned.

Unfortunately for Angus, the only hint that Argyle had provided regarding the entities was that he had come across the process required for their invocation in a grimoire that had been penned in “The City of the Gods”. Angus wasn’t exactly sure which city his brother had meant by the phrase.

Angus soon realized that his search would be further hampered by the fact that his brother was somewhat more adept at mastering foreign tongues, and therefore had many works in his library that were written in languages that Angus could not understand. This obstacle had led to his decision to hire an assistant that possessed talents such as my own.

After Angus had completed relating the nature of the work as well as his recent endeavors, I couldn’t help but hesitate in responding when he inquired if I would be willing to accept the position. Mr. McChurch’s involvement with so peculiar a subject as sorcery forced me to suspect that he was not altogether in possession of his faculties. Though I sorely needed the funds that the post would provide, I felt that I could not be sure that laboring under the patronage of a mentally unbalanced individual would be a wise course of action. In fact, I wasn’t entirely confident that McChurch would be able to pay the stipend that he offered.

Apparently sensing my indecision, Mr. McChurch proceeded to augment his original offer by volunteering to immediately render an additional special compensation of 10 pounds sterling if I accepted the post. He even went so far as to extract the lucre from his coat pocket and lay it before me.

I felt that it was likely that he must have access to a decent store of wealth if he routinely carried around such a collection of bank notes as petty cash. Having my concerns settled in regards to the veracity of the offer, and being driven by a rather dire spate of poverty, I agreed to undertake the employment.

Mr. McChurch was delighted and exceedingly eager to proceed at once. He immediately directed me to the upstairs study and showed me a table where I could set about my task. There was a desk in the room, but its surface was currently occupied by a curious collection of oddments that appeared to be related to some obscure and occult pursuit.

Angus informed me that I was not to touch any of the objects on the desk. This was due to the fact that he suspected that those items were most likely to be involved in the peculiar disappearance of his brother. There was one particularly large book on the desk that was written in Sanskrit. My employer stated that, as was the case with all of the objects upon the desktop, this work should remain in its original place. However, he still desired that I examine the text. Thus, I was required to carefully page through the book while taking great care to avoid jostling any of the surrounding detritus. Angus instructed me to initially search through that work for any references to the “City of the Gods”.

I spent several hours poring over the large work, but found no reference to the city in question. Angus was disappointed, but ordered that the book should remain in its place upon the desk.

Angus then began to pull one large tome after another from the shelves of the room, declaring that these were the writings in which he had the greatest interest and that I should begin my translating with those works. By the time he finished extracting the books that he felt were most promising, he had assembled two stacks, both of which were slightly taller than myself.

I then informed him that the translation of even a single text would require several months of labor, and the translation of the entire set which he had selected would, most probably, be a lifetime’s work. >From his reaction, I gathered that this timetable did not fit in well with his schedule. Obviously frustrated by my callous enforcement of the cruel dictates of reality, Angus McChurch began to pace about the room scowling darkly at nothing in particular.

After several moments of such activity, he announced that, rather than taking the time to actually translate all of the works, he would instead write up a list of words and concepts that I should attempt to seek out in the selected works.

As he set about writing up his list, I began to peruse some of the books contained in the stacks. The works were written in a surprisingly wide array of languages, including French, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Mandarin. There were even several tomes that contained languages that I had never before come across.

After nearly an hour, Angus finally finished his list. When he presented it to me, it was of so great a length that I began to wonder if it might be more expedient to just translate all the tomes after all. However, rather than aggravate my new employer further, I decided it would be best to set to work immediately, no matter how unwieldy the task might seem.

For the next several days, I continued laboring at my assigned exegesis, scanning through the ancient texts, comparing passages to the excessively long list, and jotting down copious notations. As the days passed, Mr. McChurch grew increasingly anxious and impatient. At times, he would check on my progress so often that I was barely able to make any progress at all.

Finally, Mr. McChurch decided that my work was progressing too slowly and that my goal, once again, required revision. Thus, Angus announced that I should henceforth disregard “The List” and simply scan through the works for any indications that they may have been penned in a place known as “The City of the Gods”, or something similar.

This greatly simplified aim did indeed allow my labors to proceed in an accelerated manner. Unfortunately, none of the tomes seemed to contain any indication that their place of origin was the mysterious “City of the Gods”.

At length, I came to a point where I felt that I would need to acquire some reference materials to do justice to a portion of the texts that I was examining. I informed my employer that it would be necessary for him to furnish additional funds for the acquisition of such materials and that I would most likely need to spend the next several days searching the shops of London for the needed works. This announcement did not, in any way, improve his mood.

As I prepared to set forth on my quest for linguistic appurtenances, Mr. McChurch seemed to have sunk into a particularly dark and brooding demeanor, muttering nearly continuously. Although I was unable to fully understand his grumbling, it seemed as if he were muttering about taking a faster route to his goal.

My search through the markets and emporiums of London did indeed require several days. However, I eventually attained success and made my way back to the McChurch residence.

As I approached the door to the building, I was disquieted to note that there appeared to be a trail of blood spatterings that ran from the door, down the walkway, and proceeded down the street beyond my range of view. Concerned that my employer may have suffered a grievous wound, (and thus might be unable to continue paying my salary), I rushed inside.

I followed the trail of crimson fluids to a door that led down to the home’s coal cellar. I had been forced to enter the cellar several times over the past few days to add fuel to the furnace that supplied our heat. On each of those occasions, I had come under the strange impression that the cellar was abnormally dark. Of course, one would expect a subterranean location to be dark, but this particular cellar seemed to contain a tenebrosity of a singularly unwholesome and malicious nature.

The fact that many coals were invariably scattered about the floor made wandering blindly about within the cellar a virtual solicitation of the fates for a twisted ankle. Therefore, before hastening down the dark and narrow stairs, I took the time to fetch an oil lantern. Boistered by the lantern’s cheery glow, I then proceeded with my descent.

The bloody trail led down the stairs, passed both the furnace and the massive coal pile, and terminated in a corner of the cellar that was generally empty and unused. However, at this point, it was obvious that someone had found a use for that dusty bit of space. For, it appeared that sometime between my last visit to the cellar and the present, some person had adorned the floor with carefully painted runes and designs, erected a makeshift altar, and then brutally disemboweled a human corpse thereupon. Much to my horror and disgust, the remains of the victim were still present.

Involuntarily giving voice to a tremulous shriek, I turned and dashed back towards the stairs. To be more accurate, I should say I attempted to dash back towards the stairs, for in my heedless flight I stumbled over several of the loose coals that were ordinarily scattered about the cellar floor. I then proceeded to pitch headlong into the side of the coal bin. Unfortunately, my oil lamp followed a somewhat different trajectory and came to rest within the coal bin, striking in a violent enough manner to precipitate its shattering. In less than a moment, the entire pile of coals was covered in flaming oil.

The cellar quickly began to fill with a thick, choking, cloud of smoke. As I once again attempted to reach the cellar stairs, I realized that the malicious briquettes had finally succeeded in their interminable goal of twisting my ankle. Nevertheless, impelled both by the gruesome tableau in the corner and the furious conflagration in the coal bin, I blindly lurched and limped my way upward through the acrid vapors.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs I stumbled into the arms of Angus McChurch. I immediately informed him of the mishap in the cellar and the fact that the house was now aflame as I attempted to move onwards towards the front door of the house. Mr. McChurch, in turn informed me that it would be unwise to attempt to exit via the front door of the house due to the fact that an angry mob had assembled in front of the building, apparently having followed the same trail of blood that I had previously noted.

At that point, I inquired in regards to the morbid scene that I had come across in the corner of the cellar. Mr. McChurch replied that he had decided to perform a certain arcane ritual that he had hoped would provide him with some information regarding the book that he sought. He further informed me that the ritual required the dispatching of a human victim. He had, therefore, selected a victim at random from amongst the neighbors. This selection process had apparently been performed in so clumsy a manner that all of the nearby residents had quickly been able to determine that the perpetrator of the misdeed dwelt within our abode.

As we were engaged in our discussion, the house had become completely filled with a nebulous, strangling, mass of smoke from the fire in the basement. Meanwhile, the neighbors had apparently found some manner of battering ram and were proceeding to attempt to breach the front door.

Mr. McChurch, wished me a curt farewell, and hastened to attempt an eschewal via the rear door of the building. I attempted to follow but was delayed by my injured ankle. This hindrance proved rather felicitous, as it allowed me to observe that Mr. McChurch’s choice of escape route had delivered him into the hands of yet another angry mob that had assembled at the rear of the building.

This mob immediately dispensed justice upon my employer in a most fierce and unrestrained manner. It was fairly easy to discern that they were of the opinion that anyone emerging from our dwelling was deserving of a prompt and fatal pummeling. With no easy means of egress available, I decided that my best hope of postponing my demise would be to ascend to the second floor of the habitation.

After struggling upwards through suffocating billows of smoke, I managed to hobble into the upstairs library wherein I generally performed my work. As it was apparent that the now deceased Mr. McChurch would not be providing any severance pay, I decided to appropriate a few items as a means of recompensation. I had left my large satchel near the desk and so found it most convenient to simply sweep all the items atop the desk into my bag.

Having secured a small collection of items that I might be able to exchange for funds, I then began to attempt to locate some means of departure. Before I had been able to perform much of a search, I was thrown to my knees as the floor convulsed below me. With a resounding din, the rear portion of the house suddenly gave way and collapsed in a cloud of smoke and flame.

This occurrence had the serendipitous result of causing a large gap to open in the wall that separated our residence from the neighboring building. Seizing the opportunity, I hastened to slip through the aperture. Within the neighbor’s abode, I made my way down the stairs and surreptitiously peered out the back entrance to ascertain the likelihood of my being able to slip out of this door without coming under the notice of the furious mob.

I was heartened to see that, due to the voluminous pother emanating from the blaze next door, the entire area was fairly obscured. Eager to grasp such a fortuitous avenue of departure, I lurched and limped away from the harrowing site as expeditiously as possible.

Unfortunately, my good fortune was not to last. As I hobbled away, I heard an outcry arise from within the throng of vengeful urbanites. Glancing behind, I saw that my attempt at an unnoticed hegira had not been wholly successful, for the vociferous mass had begun to surge towards me.

In the grip of desperation, I happened to note that a street vendor had left his curtained cart of merchandise nearby. As the street began a rather precipitous descent at this point, I realized that I could achieve my most expedient rate of flight by simply riding the wheeled conveyance down the hill.

I quickly limped over to the cart, kicked the chocks out from beneath its wheels, and pushed it towards the decline. In moments I was clinging to a barreling, uncontrolled wagon as it careened headlong down the thoroughfare. Although my breakneck odyssey was extremely unnerving, it served to put a good measure of distance between my pursuers and myself. By the time the cart came to a halt, I found myself down by the crowded wharfs. Taking advantage of the situation, I quickly dodged in amongst the crowd, hoping that I could elude the trailing band of vigilantes in the milling horde.

My afflicted ankle, however, continued to hamper my exodus to the point that the group that sought after me was soon closing once again. At this point, I found myself trapped out on one of the large wharfs with my pursuers coming ever closer. As I considered flinging myself into the water, I noticed that a nearby ship was in the process of casting off. A bedraggled group of men was in the process of scuffling aboard and I quickly slipped in amongst them.

To my delight, upon boarding the ship, no one raised the slightest protest at my presence. To compound my good fortune, within moments the docking lines were cast off, the gangplank was hauled in, and we were under way. It was with great relief that I watched the wharf and my pursuers recede into the distance.

When the pier had disappeared from sight and I felt secure in my deliverance, I began to take stock of my situation and the vessel upon which I had stowed away. My first impression of the craft immediately robbed me of my newfound sense of relief. The ship was obviously in so poor a state of repair that I feared that it might flounder at any moment. Upon turning my attention to the crew and my fellow travelers, I found that I was unable to judge whether the ship or its inhabitants were of a more dilapidated nature. It appeared as if I had set sail aboard a scow whose sole cargo consisted of vagabonds, paupers, and indigents.

I was at a loss for the rationale that would have led to such a collection of derelicts congregating aboard this floating wreck. What could be the reason behind such a voyage? What manner of situation had I unwittingly fled into?

I was not long in my wondering, for a loud shout from atop the ship’s forecastle augured an address from the craft’s commander.

“Ship’s company will come to attention!” cried the ship’s captain as he stood looking down at the ragtag assortment of fellows milling about his deck. “You are truly a sorry lot for the job we’ve got ahead, but step lively at my call and you might live to see the shores of England again. We sail for Bermuda and, by the leave of our good sovereign, we hunt for American gold! You lot do as you’re told and fight like banshees and we’ll all be rich men upon our return.”

The ragged band assembled on the deck gave voice to a rather indolent sounding cheer at this promise of forthcoming wealth.

The captain continued his salutatory address, brandishing above his head a begrimed roll of parchment, “This letter of Marque gives us His Majesty’s blessing. This is the ticket that bought you passage to a chance at a higher class of life! The king himself has seen fit to give you permission to acquire all the gold you can manage to pry from the hands of American mercantile barons! So if you all do as you are told and fight for all you are worth, we’ll scour the seas for fat, rich American merchants and make our fortunes!”

The crowd of vagrants gave another ragged shout of approbation as the captain completed his oratory. As my shipmates cheered, I looked about again at the vessel and the men who intended to sail her as privateers. I could not help but be overcome with dread in the face of such ill-considered optimism. I could not imagine a ship that would be so pathetic that we would actually present a threat to it. My only hope was that the decrepit wreck upon which we sailed would simply be too slow to actually come close enough to another vessel to attempt an engagement.

I resolved that if we managed to actually survive the voyage to Bermuda that I would bolt as soon as the gangplank hit soil. Until that point, all I could do was fervently plead with the fates to steer us clear of all American ships.

The captain directed us to stow our belongings in the hold. I made my way down into the filthy, bilge imbrued hole, and managed to lay claim to a hammock that seemed mostly intact and that was situated in a position that spared it from contact with the shallow sea of briny sludge that covered the floor.

There was a burlap sack nailed to a post near the hammock that was apparently meant to serve as a sea chest. The sack was threadbare but managed to retain enough sturdiness to contain my satchel without giving way. As I took stock of my belongings, I realized that all I now had to my name were the clothes that I wore and the assorted bric-a-brac that I had swept from the desk into the satchel. I doubted that the collection of occult trinkets would be of much use in the misadventures of a privateer. Nevertheless, I decided to sift through the items, just to see what exactly formed my entire estate of worldly goods.

The satchel held several tomes, all of with which I had already become familiar. It also contained a type of heavy translucent sphere that was commonly known as a crystal ball. If the sphere was indeed formed from crystal, then it would likely be worth a nice bit of coin, however, I suspected that it was simply made of glass.

There were also assorted small candles, coals, several small censers, and some packets of aromatic herbs and incense. I also found an assortment of small, labeled jars that contained substances such as sulfur, salt, mercury, and the like. There was also a large slab of wax that had obviously been carefully shaped and carved. One side of it was covered with arcane sigils and had at its center an indentation into which the crystal ball would have fit perfectly. The wax tablet also had curious slots cut through it at regular intervals, but I could not guess why.

Finally, at the bottom of the satchel I found a most peculiar paperweight that was fashioned in the likeness of a human head. It appeared to be manufactured from a metal such as brass or bronze. When I grasped the item, I was surprised to find that my hand instantly became numb and a curious tingling sensation extended up my arm.

As I sat regarding the strange object I suddenly found that the word “Greetings” came unbidden to my mind. This was an odd word to suddenly insert itself into my thoughts. I had never before spontaneously thought of strange words or phrases and I wondered if I had perhaps unwittingly struck my head at some point during my escape and caused myself an injury.

Suddenly, a whole new set of words echoed within my skull, “Fear not, for your mind is sound. These words come not from within thineself but issue from the bronze head that you regard.”

At this point, I very nearly dropped the item in shock. Several of the men around me began to stare as I recoiled and let loose a startled exclamation.

Not wanting to draw undo attention to myself, I quickly placed the bronze head back within the satchel and placed the satchel inside my burlap “sea-chest”. I then made my way back up onto the grimy deck of the ship, hoping that a good dose of sea air would clear my head.

I stood for several moments at the railing of the boat, admiring the view, enjoying the fresh air, and contemplating the singular event that had just transpired. Unfortunately, my leisure was not to last, for I was soon pressed into service hauling and stacking cannonballs. As I possess a physique that is rather common amongst devoted scholars, which is to say slight and somewhat frail, I would have normally harbored a measure of resentment at being forced into such a physically demanding task. However, as the men aboard this ship seemed to, more often than not, suffer from either scurvy or consumption, I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that I was amongst those most fit for the task and thus I was not truly being abused.

This onerous task occupied my time for much of the rest of the day, preventing me from acting upon any inclination I may have felt to conduct any further investigations into the nature of the bronze head. By that evening I barely retained enough vitality to find my way to my hammock and collapse therein.

A similar pattern was to be established over then next few days. There never seemed to be a lack of chores that required my toil on board that ship. Of course, the fact that the ship was virtually deteriorating beneath our feet helped in the creation of tasks necessary to keep us afloat. Much of my time was spent in bailing water out of our hold.

After several days of this sort, I was called upon to stand night watch during the early hours before dawn. This duty was an extra measure of torture to my enervated anatomy, but it came to result in a fortunate situation. For, as the dawn broke, I could not help but note that the sun was rising in front of our vessel. This was a rather disturbing phenomenon due to the simple fact that the Isle of Bermuda lay to the west of England, while the normal direction associated with sunrise is the east. The solar disk’s apparent predilection towards rising in front of our craft, rather than at its aft, seemed to me a likely indicator that we were somewhat off course.

I experienced a rather mixed set of emotions at this realization. I felt that sailing in the wrong direction would most likely help us avoid contact with any potentially dangerous victims. However, I also felt some apprehension at the thought of sailing about randomly until our less-than-seaworthy vessel finally fell victim to the elements.

I happened to point out the fact that the sun was rising in a somewhat inauspicious locale to several of the other crewmen whose duties required them to be about at that early hour. After I explained to them the significance of the event, they seemed to become rather distraught. My ambivalence towards our aimless drifting kept me from raising any further alarms, but the men that I had initially spoke with apparently managed to communicate our situation to their fellows. For before the sun reached its zenith, two of the captain’s burliest mates accosted me and brought me before the captain.

The captain then accused me of being an agitator and of conniving to rouse the assorted rabble aboard his ship. I professed my innocent intentions and assured him that I had merely made an observation and that the other crewmen had blown the whole situation out of proportion. I stated that I was sure that the navigator knew what he was about and that our apparent deviation from our intended course could easily be explained if the captain would care to inquire with the fellow.

An expression of discomfort became plain on the features of our captain when I made the suggestion of consulting with the navigator. Risking further charges of agitation, I then inquired of the captain if the ship did indeed have an experienced navigator on board.

The captain then admitted in a somewhat tense manner that he had not actually bothered to hire anyone to fill that rather expensive post for this voyage. He stated that he had been aware of the direction in which Bermuda lay in relation to our port of origin and that by simply keeping the ship pointed in that direction we would most assuredly reach our goal.

After this revelation, I then inquired, as graciously as I could, exactly how long the captain had been in command of this vessel.

I could not help but be overcome with a certain amount of queasiness when the captain stated that this was his first voyage. He then went on to confide that prior to this endeavor he had been a fairly prosperous gentleman farmer. The fates, however, by some aberrant happenstance, had seen fit to deliver into his hands a letter of Marque from the king. Thinking that this letter was a sign that he was actually meant for a more thrilling and glory-filled existence, he had decided to purchase a ship, round up a crew, and set sail as a privateer.

Feeling somewhat light-headed, I then questioned our leader on the subject of the ship’s supplies. I made a special point of requesting details that could help in determining exactly how long we could drift about aimlessly before the crew was forced to eat one another.

I was discouraged, but not especially surprised, to learn that our rations were nearly exhausted. In fact, the last cask of fresh water had been opened just that morning.

Having been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy a classical education, I was relatively familiar with the celestial bodies and the other minutiae that were necessary to undertake navigation. Hoping to avoid the prospect of having nothing to drink but my own urine, (or someone else’s), I offered my services as a navigator to the captain. He apparently was bright enough to recognize the sorry state of our situation and eagerly accepted my offer.

Having settled that matter, I then requested that I be shown to the charts, compasses, sextants, and other equipment necessary to the post. Once again, I experienced a wave of nausea as the captain’s features took on an uncomfortable expression. Visions of urine drinking swam through my mind as he informed me that those items were much too dear for his limited budget.

Finally, I informed him that, at the very least, I would require a dry, private cabin in which to work if I was going to have any success at all in navigating his ship. This request, at least, the captain was able to grant. Unfortunately, to accomplish this, he was forced to evict four frighteningly large bosuns from their quarters. Of course, all of them eyed me in a manner that made it plain that I had best avoid tarrying in any secluded corners of the ship.

Having secured greatly improved quarters for myself, I quickly retrieved my pathetic assortment of worldly goods from my burlap “sea-chest” and moved them into my private cabin. The cabin was indeed much drier than the bilge soaked hold, but it still lacked in the area of ventilation. As I busied myself in arranging my new lair I realized that, though the bosuns had been displaced, their aromas lingered on. Nevertheless, the cabin was most definitely the closest thing to comfort our wretched vessel had to offer. If I were to starve on the high seas, at least I would do it with a modicum of privacy.

Now that I possessed a place safe from prying eyes and ignorant, easily spooked minds, I felt that it would once again be prudent to examine the enigmatic bronze head. Controlling my trepidation, I opened my satchel, reached within, and once again grasped the bronze head.

As was the case previously, my arm was suddenly beset by a creeping, tingling sensation. I sat and gazed upon the exotic item for a brief moment, then I once again experienced a word forming in my mind through some volition not my own.

“Greetings,” the head again injected within my thoughts.

I wished to respond, but I hesitated, unsure of whether I should speak aloud or simply think in response. As I paused, new words suddenly sprang into being within my consciousness, “You may do either. I can sense your thoughts if that is what you wish, or if you prefer to speak aloud, I am capable of hearing and understanding your speech.”

Half wondering if I was actually experiencing some lingering dream from my unfortunate affair with opiates, I attempted to respond in my mind. Trying to form my thoughts in such a way that they would be transmitted, (although I had no concept of how exactly to accomplish such a thing), I thought, “Greetings Bronze Head. What are you and how did you come to be here?”

In response, the following words formed in my head, “As I stated previously, I am a magical bronze head. I am gifted with the ability to communicate with any that grasp me. As for how I came to this location, I was carried here by you, in your satchel.”

It was apparent that the object either understood questions in only their most literal sense, or that it liked to be difficult. Trying again, I thought at it, “Do you have a name? Who created you?”

“You can refer to me as Baff if you feel so inclined. That was the moniker by which my creator most often referred to me. My creator was known as His Holiness Pope Sylvester the Second,” was the silent reply.

This last claim seemed unlikely. “You were created by a Pope?” I thought in reply.

“Yes, that is the truth of the matter,” was the reply, “His adopted papal name was Sylvester the Second. His real name was Gerbert of Aurillac.”

Although my area of specialization was ancient languages and not history, I still had a vague recollection of some strange tales surrounding one of the medieval popes who had been rumored to dabble in alchemy.

“His Holiness was far beyond a mere dabbler,” the bronze head thought in response to my ponderings, “He was a master of the Great Art. Truly he possessed Arcanum that few mortal men have ever even suspected to exist.”

“And he used this knowledge to ascend to the papal throne?” I inquired within my mind.

“His ascension was aided by his hidden knowledge,” conceded the bronze effigy, “However, in truth his position was achieved in a greater part through the machinations of his allies.”

I had never suspected that one day I would find myself silently discussing medieval politics with a magical bronze head. Nevertheless, as the unlikely event took place, I found myself drawn into the strange item’s intimations. “What allies were these?” I thought at the metallic cranium.

“Foremost amongst his allies was a royal family known as the Merovingians, or rather I should say they were the foremost of his allies that were human, or at least somewhat so,” the head replied cryptically.

“The ‘Merovingians’ that were the original royal family of France?” I questioned.

“Yes,” replied the brazen cephalic item.

“Well, I suppose that they would be a reasonable ally for a Pope, as they claimed a legendary descent from the Christ. In fact, they were called priest-kings weren’t they?” I commented.

“Their descent from a deity is more than mere legend,” the bronze head asserted, “however, the deity that spawned that line was not the dying god of the Christians.”

As the brazen head’s tale seemed to be increasingly disturbing, a suspicion began to form in my mind that some unclean spirit may inhabit it. I had never been given to superstitious fears of deviltry, but the undeniable fact that I was encountering something truly bewitched caused me to suddenly give some credence to the existence of the diabolic. “Why did the Pope create you?” I inquired, hoping to gain a clue as to the nature of the thing.

“His Holiness created me as a tool that could be employed to meet many needs,” the head replied. “Foremost amongst my valuable qualities is my capability to retain all knowledge that I encounter.”

“Do you mean that you never forget anything?” I thought at the item.

“Yes, that is the case,” came the silent reply, “Whereas the meaty organs of thought employed by your race are most fallible, my mnemonic faculties have no defect.”

“How nice for you,” I thought in reply, a mite sardonically.

Recalling the rather dire situation in which I was enmeshed, it occurred to me that perhaps this uncanny construct might be of some help. “Do you know of any way in which you could aid me in navigating this vessel to the nearest land?” I queried.

“I have no means by which I can detect the nearest land,” came the disappointing reply. “However,” the words within my mind continued, “You have the means to gain all manner of knowledge that may be hidden from you.”

“I do?” I thought, more than a little surprised by this new bit of information.

“Indeed, within your satchel you have all the items needed to form the Almadel. By the art of this Almadel you may gaze upon and interrogate many spirits which possess much knowledge far beyond your ken,” the head asserted.

“And these spirits can direct me to the nearest land?” I pressed.

“Most assuredly you can gain such knowledge from many of the spirits that you will have at your call,” the head responded.

With this, I immediately opened the satchel and began to quickly, but carefully, extract all of the myriad items within. I attempted to arrange my plunder in as close a fashion as I could recall to the arrangement it had been in upon the desk.

I placed the perforated wax tablet upon its holders, placed the golden seal upon it, and then positioned the crystalline sphere upon the seal. Four candles were set at the corners of the waxen slab. A shallow dish of incense I slid beneath the tablet so that the aromatic vapors would issue through the slots cut through the tablet.

I quickly paged through the texts that I had managed to seize during my exodus and located an illustration that I had recalled that had shown the proper arrangement of the Almadel. After a few adjustments, my structure was a reasonable match. I then began to skim through the grimoire, searching for any sections that dealt with the activation and use of the Almadel.

According to the work, the actual operation seemed to be fairly simple and straightforward. However, the text contained a bewilderingly long list of spirits that could be called forth into the crystal. Each spirit’s description contained its name, its office, its sigil, its associated colors, planets, metals, and zodiacal alignments. For some of the spirits there was additionally descriptions of forms it may take upon its materialization, notes as to its personal likes and dislikes, certain cautions, and the occasional bit of miscellany or historical reference.

Daunted by the prospect of attempting to select the proper spirit from such an enormous list, I once again consulted with the brazen head.

“Which of these spirits should I call forth?” I inquired, “Will all of them be able to tell me what I wish to know? Or do I have to choose just the right one?”

The head once again caused words and phrases to form within my mind, “The selection of the proper spirit is indeed an undertaking that must be carefully considered. You will find that the spirits that are most kindly disposed towards you, and towards humanity in general, have an irritating tendency to refuse to take any action or provide any information that could prove harmful to yourself or any other being. Unfortunately, this prohibition tends to result in their only being willing to discuss topics that are rather theoretical and abstract. The knowledge they impart is wonderful for personal development, but not so good for achieving worldly aims.”

“From my discussions with Angus McChurch,” I responded, “Those beneficent, but largely useless, spirits where the type that his brother Argyle preferred to work with.”

“Even so,” the bronze head conceded, “Argyle carefully restricted himself to working with entities that posed no threat to his soul or body.”

“Whereas Angus followed no such safe course,” I added.

The bronze head silently responded, “As Angus never happened to discover that I was a sentient being, he and I never had an opportunity to discuss the nature of the magical operations he preferred. However, from what I was able to observe of his undertakings, I would say that your statement is correct.”

“Would it be best then to summon one of the types of spirits that Angus would have favored?” I asked.

“Perhaps,” the bronze head stated, “However, with that species of being, there are risks involved. Moreover, there is always a price to be paid for their aid.”

“Such as one’s soul?” I hazarded.

“Well, perhaps for the aid of the greatest of the infernal entities such a price would be demanded,” the head answered, “However, for others it may simply be some sort of burnt sacrifice or a blood offering of an animal or human. Of course, even if you have the means to give such a payment, the quality of the aid can be quite disappointing. One has to be extremely careful in the wording of one’s requests. Also, the conjurer will most likely need to resort to several different types of incantations that will threaten various types of harm to recalcitrant spirits. Dealing with such beings is best done only be the most experienced of magus.”

I was beginning to feel a painful pinching sensation in the forward section of my skull by this point. It was beginning to appear that just as the solution to my dilemma had seemed to materialize, it would prove to be nothing but an illusory and elusive bedevilment. As I felt my mind starting to spin into a spiral of depression and despair, I suddenly recalled the nature of Angus McChurch’s quest.

“Argyle McChurch had written to his brother and stated that he had stumbled across some sort of spirit that was benign yet was willing to perform useful tasks,” I alleged, “Do you have knowledge regarding such an entity?”

“Argyle McChurch had indeed contacted such a seraph,” the bronze head answered, “In fact, he had contacted two of them. However, the necessary operation to contact those beings is contained in a text other than the grimoire dealing with the art of the Almadel.”

“Argyle had written to Angus that he had found the operation in a tome written in the City of the Gods,” I prompted hopefully.

“Verily, it is so,” the head agreed, “You must seek out that book.”

“But I searched every book in that library and could not find one that indicated that it had been written in such a city,” I argued, “How am I to know which book it is?”

“With the knowledge you possess, you should recognize such a work upon sight,” the head stated, “The merest glimpse should be enough for one such as yourself to know that a book was written in the City of the Gods. However, as this description was something of a jest that Argyle was employing to needle his estranged sibling, I will deign to allow you a soupcon of mercy. Think upon this, in what scripts are the works penned that you have before you.”

I glanced down at the small pile of books I had saved from the burning library and answered, “Several are in the Roman script, one is in Hebrew, one is in Sanskrit, and one in Greek.”

The head then answered, “You say that one is written in Sanskrit, and that may be the case for its tongue, but what of its script? Sanskrit can be found inscribed in several scripts. Is the work penned in Bengali script? Or perhaps Gupta?”

I paused for a moment, contemplating why the bronze head would be following this strangle line of inquiry, then replied, “No, it is in the script most often employed when writing in Sanskrit, Devanagari.”

“Devanagari,” the head repeated meaningfully.

“Devanagari, which translates from Sanskrit to English as ‘The City of the Gods'” I continued, feeling somewhat dense at my lack of perception. “By ‘City of the Gods’ Argyle had meant it was written in the script of that name, not in a location of that name…”

“Even so,” the bronze head replied, somehow managing to form the words within my mind in an irritatingly smug tone.

“Well, that certainly was a clever little conundrum that Argyle concocted,” I commented somewhat acerbically, “I think I’m beginning to understand why he and his brother had been estranged for so long…”

“Do I sense a bit of vexation?” the head asked, “Are you perhaps somewhat peeved? Or mayhap embarrassed at being taken in by a trick that one of your profession should have discerned long ago?”

For a short moment I came close to responding with a cutting remark, but then I was suddenly seized by the ridiculous nature of my situation. I was being teased by a bronze head.

Finally I responded, “Be that as it may, now that the answer to the mystery has been laid bare, how can I most quickly locate the passage that I must reference in performing this operation?”

“Somewhere near the midsection of the tome,” the head replied, “you should be able to find a section that contains references to an entity called ‘Marut’. Search for this. Or perhaps ‘Harut’, if you prefer.”

“Harut and Marut, that sounds vaguely familiar,” I said, attempting to sift through my memories and determine where I had before encountered the two names.

“Not terribly surprising for one who has studied the Arabic tongue,” the bronze head replied, “I would expect that, at some point, you would have read through the Qur’an, seeing as how that text is such a dominant influence amongst those who speak that language. Harut and Marut are two angelic beings who are mentioned in the second surah, Al-Baqara.”

“Ah yes,” I replied as the head’s comment unlocked the sought after recollections, “They were two angels who had been sent by God to tempt mankind with forbidden arcane knowledge and powers, weren’t they? I remember thinking how odd it was that God would have thought it necessary to send beings to tempt men in that fashion when the world’s mundane temptations are generally more than equal to the task of damning humanity. It really seemed a bit of unsportsman-like over-kill on the part of the divine.”

“Well, such oddities have a tendency to arise in religions that insist that there is only one deity capable of compelling beatific entities to act at their behest,” the brazen head replied.

“Another passing reference to multiple deities,” I replied, “For a creation of a Pope, you certainly do display marked pagan leanings. How is it that a creature of the Holy See would espouse a belief in pantheons?”

“As I mentioned earlier, I recall all that I have ever seen or heard, and I have seen much,” was the head’s cryptic reply.

“So, then, what supreme being was it that sired the Merovingians? Which divinity dispatched the pair of angelic tempters?” I inquired, finally caving to the heads baiting.

“In truth, I cannot say what deity sent Harut and Marut,” the bronze head admitted, “For they have inferred, as best they could, that they have been restrained from naming their true master. They have claimed that they were instructed to state they were messengers from the ‘One True God’, and they are compelled to do so. As to the deity from which sprang the Merovingians, that being I can lay a name upon.”

“Well, then, name on, good sir head,” I replied, taken by a minor fit of drollery.

“There is a legend regarding the Merovingian line other than the tale of their descent from the Christ,” the bronze head began, “and it is this other legend that I know to be valid. It is said that King Merovee, the founder of the dynasty, was the spawn of a ‘Quinotaur’, a giant fish or a sea monster, who raped his mother when she went out to swim in the ocean.”

“That story certainly entails a wide variance from the legend that the Merovingians seemed to prefer,” I commented.

“I’m sure that you can appreciate that one legend would lend their rule more acceptance than the other,” the head replied, “However, to one who knew the signs of their ancestry, the piscean traits were easily marked. In fact, as the kings aged, the traits became more visible. You may have heard that they were referred to as the ‘long haired kings’. There was a reason they all favored such a hairstyle, it better served to conceal their features. You may also note that their true origin is denoted in the family name as Mer is French for sea.”

“Still, I have never heard of a deity named Quinotaur,” I asserted.

“Perhaps, you have come across the name Dagon?” replied the bronze head, “Dagon is a more widely used alias of the being. In fact, the name even appears in the scriptures of the Hebrews. One of the most famous of the not-too-subtle Merovingians was named for this progenitor, Dagobert. His name can roughly be translated as ‘Born of Dagon’.”

“Wasn’t Dagon a Philistine corn god?” I asked.

“Dagon was a god venerated by the Philistines, but he was actually a sea god. The idea that Dagon was a corn god resulted from the fact that the Semitic word for corn was ‘dagan’, this coincidence led to the confusion,” the bronze head stated.

Then the head continued, “However, the people most favored by Dagon was not the Philistines, but the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians truly received his blessings in full. With the aid of Dagon, the Phoenicians reaped great wealth from the seas. Their ships were guided to lands unknown by any other traders. Their sailors could navigate the most tempestuous of waters.”

“Why did Dagon so greatly favor the Phoenicians?” I inquired.

“The reason for this favor, was that the kings of the Phoenicians shared their ancestry with that of the Merovingians,” replied the bronze head, “Dagon was the sire of the first king, and eventual god, of the Phoenicians, Baal. It was Dagon’s intent that his offspring should rule an empire with its seat at the pivotal intersection of three great continents. In this way, Dagon’s might could be extended over the lands of the Earth as well as the seas.”

“That plan did not work out too well,” I replied, “I don’t recall that the Phoenicians ever managed to establish a sizeable empire.”

“Yes that is true,” the bronze head conceded, “They were influential traders, and had great wealth, but the dream of empire never quite came to pass. Alexander the Great saw to that when he laid waste to Tyre, though he had to build a land bridge to the island city to accomplish that feat. He found that his ships had a distressing habit of capsizing for no apparent reason when he attacked by sea. Alexander put an end to the kings of the Phoenicians and to the plans of Dagon. Of course, Dagon intended to have a second chance with the Merovingians, and that is where my creator Pope Sylvester the Second entered into the scheme.”

“And what was his role?” I asked.

“Sylvester, or as he was known prior to his papacy, Gerbert of Aurillac, traveled extensively as a young man in search of hidden knowledge,” the bronze head stated, “While he was studying in Moorish Spain, he happened upon an offer that would supply him with that which he sought. In exchange for great occult secrets, Gerbert agreed to act as an abettor to the designs of the sea god. The Merovingians had lost the rule in France, and it would be Gerbert that would restore them.”

The bronze head continued, “Employing his occult powers, Gerbert manipulated events at the Council of Rheims to ensure that Hugh Capet, the descendant of the Merovingians, was placed on the throne. He then used those same occult powers to gain the papacy. Once installed in Rome as Pope Sylvester the Second, he began a series of machinations that would eventually result in the crusades to retake the Holy Lands. Unfortunately for Sylvester, he didn’t live long enough to direct events as he wished. He meant for a Merovingian to claim the crown as King of Jerusalem, but this plan also fell short of its goal.”

“Why would it be important for a Merovingian to rule in Jerusalem?” I queried, “Couldn’t Dagon have had his empire based in France?”

“Jerusalem was important because certain powerful artifacts of Dagon laid beneath the Temple mount. These powerful artifacts would have aided the King of Jerusalem in expanding the breadth of his rule,” answered the Head.

“Why were artifacts of Dagon buried in the Temple Mount?” I asked, confused, “The Temple that stood there was Hebrew, they didn’t worship Dagon. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“The artifacts came to be placed in that locale due to the fact that the Temple of the Jews was built by foreign laborers – Phoenicians. For various reasons of which I do not have knowledge, the priests of Dagon secured those treasures in the foundation of the temple of the Hebrews,” the head stated, “The Temple was built under the direction of the Phoenician King, King Hiram. Or as he is known to the society of Freemasons, Hiram Abiff – ‘Hiram who disappeared’.”

“Why did he disappear?” I inquired.

“Like the Merovingians, the Phoenician kings had a tendency to grow more and more similar to their supernatural ancestor as they aged. In fact, they eventually became so similar that they could no longer live on dry land, they had to abdicate their throne and retire to the sea,” replied the head, “When Hiram disappeared, he disappeared beneath the waves.”

“Speaking of disappearing,” I said, suddenly recalling the primary reason for my current situation, “Why did Argyle McChurch disappear? Did he disappear beneath the waves as well?”

“No, no, not at all,” the brazen head answered, “In fact he never even left his home. Argyle was in the same building as yourself and Angus the whole time.”

“Where was he hiding then? And why?” I asked.

“He wasn’t hiding, he had simply had a mishap that rendered him invisible, inaudible, and incorporeal,” stated the head, “Argyle was experimenting with magicks that he intended to employ to gain access to a fabulous treasure. He had planned on simply slipping past the guardians of the horde via the magicks that caused his disappearance. As it happened, Argyle neglected to determine how to negate the magic, and once he had cast it, it was too late for him to learn how to turn back.”

“How unfortunate. This treasure, do you know its location?” I asked, curiously.

“Yes, I have that knowledge,” replied the bronze head, “Do you wish for me to reveal this secret to you?”

As the head made this offer, I suddenly felt an unreasoning sense of dread fall across my mind and heart. Fearing that the head’s proffered knowledge may have a hidden price, I replied, “Actually, in truth, the treasure I would most prefer at the moment is an ample supply of fresh water. I had best set to using this Almadel to gain the knowledge that is most pressing.”

Before long, I had located the necessary passage in the tome and begun the operation. I soon found myself gazing into the crystal whilst chanting evocations of barbarous names first mouthed in languages that no longer existed in the memory of mankind. As I stared and recited the incantations, the cloying vapors of incense wafted upward from the notches cut through the wax tablet of the Almadel and swirled in a nebulous cloud about my head.

I do not know how long I chanted, for I soon succumbed to a sort of trance. It was while in this dream-like state that I first perceived two strange forms within the scrying stone. The first form had the likeness of a young child dressed in a crimson robe and bearing a standard that flew an emblazoned claw. The second form was like unto a rampant seahorse. The seahorse was covered round a bout by a green aura and displayed wicked fangs from its gaping maw.

Recalling that the tome had stated that one must ascertain the identity of an entity before dealing with it, I intoned, “By the celestial powers and the imperium of the worldly princes I conjure thee to give forth thy names in a true and comprehensible fashion.”

The strange forms remained silent for a moment, the vision within the crystal wavering slightly. Then the crimson clad child replied, “My name is Harut.” Thereafter, the seahorse added, “and I am Marut. For what purpose hast thou called out to us? We offer to thee what craft we have, being so directed thereto by the one true god. But be ye warned that these mysteries in which we will instruct be cursed and it may well come to pass that these powers will damn thee.”

“I have need of your craft,” I replied, “I require an operation by which I may guide this craft to the nearest land upon which fresh water may be found in abundance. But before we speak further of this operation, I would inquire the rationale to your appearances. Do these strange forms hide a meaning?”

“As we be not of thy sphere, and thus are lacking therein a true form,” replied Harut, “We must needs seize upon images which avail themselves upon us. The forms which thou beholdest bear no message or purpose of our own. Tis mere happenstance that brings us thus.”

“Well and good,” I replied, “So then, let us proceed to the operation of which I have need.”

“As thou dost desire,” replied Marut, “Behold the mystery that is unveiled before thee, O mortal! Thus shalt thou undertake that which shall bring about thy desire. Thou shalt avail thyself of the wood of a tree of Pine. Thou must shape the wood of the tree in a manner so as to render it in this form.”

As Marut spoke, he produced a sword from which rivulets of blood continuously flowed. With the tip of the bloody blade, he inscribed a shape upon the ground that in moments resolved itself from a crimson splotch into the semblance of an elongated stick of wood, tapered at one end.

Harut then stated, “Upon this wood of the tree, thou shalt fashion a sigil. The sigil shall be upon the tapering of the wood and shall be formed thus.”

Marut then put away the sword from which the blood streamed. He, instead, produced a long trumpet of gold. He put the trump to his lips and blew, but no sound was produced. Instead at the flared mouth of the instrument a strange symbol formed in a mist. I carefully noted the design of the sigil.

“Thou shalt then proceed to inscribe upon the opposite a glyph of this form – behold!” intoned Harut.

As he spake “behold”, he took hold of his crimson garment and rent it from the neck down to the navel, exposing his chest and midriff. As I watched, a serpent crawled into view and immediately coiled about Harut’s leg. The snake then proceeded to crawl up his body to his exposed torso. Thereupon it resolved itself into a twisted pattern. Having formed the shape, it sunk its fangs into the Harut’s side. As the fangs pierced his flesh, the serpent burst into flame and disappeared, leaving in its place a glyph burned into his skin. Once again I carefully noted the design, suppressing my mind’s natural inclination to reel at such a bizarre vision.

“Thereafter, thou shalt obtain a creature of the sea and from this being thou shalt press oily fluids,” spoke Marut. “The oily fluids thou shalt collect within a shallow container of metal. Thou shalt therein make spittle from thine lips three times.”

Harut’s image had meanwhile closed up its garment, hiding the disquieting burn. He then spoke thus, “Thou shalt then place the wood of the tree upon the oily fluid in which thou hast spat three times. As the influence of Jove rises above thine vessel, the wood of the tree shall indicate thy path.”

Marut’s seahorse like form then gave forth a great cough of flames that filled the crystal. From within the concealing cloud of fire, Marut spoke, “Again be warned O mortal that this mystery which unto thee hast been revealed is cursed. If thou hast wisdom, these things thou shall not do.”

“For what purpose do you issue this warning, yet also your arcane wisdom?” I inquired.

Again from within the concealing fire, Harut’s voice replied, “This wisdom we reveal from a compulsion, this warning from a mercy. Take note thereupon O mortal!”

As Harut spoke the last of the words, I suddenly felt myself reeling backwards. My surroundings snapped into focus as if I were awakened from a dream. I took a moment to catch my breath, and then quickly wrote down everything that I had been shown.

As I read over the strange set of instructions, I felt a measure of apprehension at the repeated warnings from the spirits. However, cursed or not, I was not going to survive long adrift with no water. Therefore, I set out to acquire the needed items.

By good fortune, the ship itself was constructed from pinewood. As significant sections of the ship were rotten, it was an easy matter to break a chunk off. I quickly whittled the wood into the indicated shape, and engraved upon it the sigils that the two spirits had displayed.

Several crewmembers had been angling during the voyage, so it was fairly easy to locate a sea creature. Under my direction, several crewmembers crushed the unfortunate former denizen of the oceans beneath the ship’s anchor as I collected the drippings in a frying pan requisitioned from the ship’s galley.

After that, it was a simple matter of some expectorating and waiting for the planet Jupiter to become visible in the night sky. As Jupiter rose into the heavens, the chuck of pine in the oil filled frying pan immediately and purposefully oriented itself, pointing somewhat off to our starboard. I gave the orders to alter our course, relieved that the maledictions predicted by the angelic pair had, at least, not struck me down immediately.

My peculiar construct continued to point us true to our course, and within four hours a cry went up of “Land-Ho!” Needless to say, I was elated at the success of my experiment. Not only had I saved myself from a lingering death at the desiccated hands of withering thirst, but I had also gained knowledge of a method that would allow me to never fear such a fate again.

Unfortunately, my sense of elation was short-lived, for mere moments after the cry of “Land-Ho!” was issued, another shout was heard from our crow’s nest. This second shout rang out with the words, “Ship off our port! She’s an American merchant!”

At this revelation I felt my stomach tighten and my innards convulse in dread. Just as a supply of life giving water had appeared before me, our vessel swung about on a new course, a course that would take us away from the water, and quite possibly towards a watery grave.

“To your posts! Every man to his post!” the captain bellowed as his burly aids swung clubs at any man who didn’t comply immediately. “Load the cannons! Prepare to grapple and board her!”

I quickly dashed back to my cabin and collected up my assortment of occult items. As I packed them all up within my satchel, I looked wildly about my cabin searching for something that looked substantial enough to possibly shield me from enemy fire. There wasn’t much. The furnishings of the cabin were uniformly of a condition as decrepit as the rest of the ship. It did not appear that anything within sight would be likely to withstand a strong wind, let alone a cannonball.

As I realized that my room would offer very little in the way of protection, another notion inserted itself into my awareness. It occurred to me that I had seen a sign on a door very near to my own door that had born the words “Powder Room”. With the intrusion of this vision into my thoughts, I realized that not only would my room fail to offer me any safety, but its proximity to the ship’s store of gunpowder would place me in great danger.

Grabbing my satchel, which contained all of my worldly goods, I set off at a mad dash for the opposite end of the ship. As I ran I was dismayed to note that our intended victim was now much closer than I would have thought possible. For reasons I could not comprehend, it appeared that the American merchant ship had come about and was bearing down on US! As if we were the rich merchant vessel and they were the pirates.

This peculiar turn of events produced such a startlement within my mind that I actually forgot about my mad dash, instead stopping and staring dumbfounded at such strange behavior. I was well aware that our pathetic ship could not seem terribly threatening to our quarry, but the fact that our vessel was so slow, clumsy, and lumbering would surely allow the merchant to sail away from us with little effort. Why would a merchant ship want to risk doing battle when they could avoid any risk at all by running?

It was at this point that I spied the abnormally numerous, well armed, and dangerous looking crew that carpeted the other vessel’s decks. Those same decks also seemed to boast an array of cannons that seemed quite out of place on a vessel that meant to engage in trade, rather than warfare. As I contemplated these things, I arrived at the conclusion that either we had sailed into a trap or we were about to attack a merchant ship that was hauling a cargo of cannons and dangerous looking thugs.

My reverie was cut brutally short by a massive volley of cannon fire from the opposing vessel. Moments later as I lay on the burning deck of our ship, I realized that not only had my reverie been cut short but legs had been cut short as well. I found myself staring in shock and horror at the bloody stumps that had once enjoyed the presence of knees, shins, and feet, but that no longer were afforded these luxuries.

As the smoke cleared from the devastating attack of the enemy’s artillery, grapples were thrown and savage attackers began to swarm from one ship to the other. Unfortunately, the grapples and savage attackers were all originating from our opponent and not our vessel. The merchant ship’s crew was boarding us!

The merchant sailors began to quickly slaughter my wretched crewmates with a professional efficiency that belied any pretense that these murderous warriors were common seamen. As they went about their bloody business, I noticed that they were yelling out words in Arabic, Turkish, and Berber, all of which were languages not normally utilized by American sailors. It was then that I realized that these “sailors” were, in fact, a shipful of the infamous and feared Pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Obviously, these pirates, who routinely preyed upon American vessels, had been flying an American flag meaning to lull US ships into a friendly complacency, thus allowing them to more easily overtake and do battle with their prey. While I did not know if American captains were dimwitted enough to fall for such a rouse, it was obvious that our captain most certainly was.

With these new realizations fresh in my mind, I quickly discerned one other distressing fact. There was a very large and cruel Berber advancing on me with a bloody cutlass, quite obviously intent on finishing the job that their cannons had begun.

As he approached I screamed out at him, rather hysterically, that if he would spare me I would lead him to a fabulous treasure. I suspect that the reason that my plea actually caused him to pause was the fact that I was able to shout it out in the Berber tongue. As he tarried for a moment, I then proceeded to repeat the same plea in Arabic, Turkish, and, just for good measure, Latin, Hindi, Greek, and Swahili.

Apparently he understood at least one of those languages, as rather than chopping me in twain, he grabbed me and tossed me over onto the deck of his ship. Luckily, despite all of the rough treatment my poor body had recently seen, I somehow managed to retain my grip on my satchel. This was especially fortunate due to the fact that my one hope of actually buying my life by producing a fabulous treasure lay in the information that had earlier been offered by the bronze head contained within.

My captor soon presented me to a huge Turk who was quite obviously the captain of the pirate crew. This man stared down at me as I lay at his feet, hemorrhaging profusely from my truncated lower limbs. He leaned down towards me and said in Turkish, “You say you know where a big treasure is hidden, eh? It would be better for you to admit you know of no treasure than to try to lead us astray. If you are lying, we will know eventually, and then we will kill you very slowly and with great pain. Would you like to gaze upon your own innards? If you are lying you will get to see them pulled out of you and set on fire while you are still alive.”

Although his threat was quite intimidating, it didn’t really inspire the level of dread that it should have. Due to massive blood loss, I was rapidly losing all ability to feel any emotions. It was an arduous struggle simply to retain consciousness.

I responded to him in Turkish, saying, “No sir, I’m not lying, I swear, I can bring you to a great treasure. In fact, I can probably bring you to several of them given enough time and the proper materials. Moreover, I can unfailingly locate the nearest fresh water available. You and your crew will never have to fear becoming lost and dying of thirst on the salty sea.”

“This is a strange claim you make,” the captain replied, “You say that you can lead us to several treasures and to fresh water. But you do not seem to know how many treasures you can find. How can I believe you know how to find these hordes when you do not even know how many you can find?”

As the captain finished speaking, another crewman spoke up in a dialect of Armenian and said, “He is wasting our time, throw him to the sharks.”

Then another crewman spoke up in Arabic, but with a rather pronounced accent that plainly showed Greek to be his native tongue, “Aye, be done with the wretch, we will gain our treasure from fat American merchants. Why bother to follow this lying fool?”

Addressing the Armenian pirate in Armenian, I stated, “I can assure you good sir that I am not wasting your time and that I can indeed make good on my claims.”

Then I turned to brigand who has spoken Arabic with a Greek accent and, speaking in Greek, I said, “I would also like to state that I am neither a fool nor a liar. I can produce this treasure and I can assure you that it will be worth much more than any booty you are likely to gain through piracy. Moreover, it will be gained with little or no risk to yourselves.”

Then, speaking to the captain in Turkish, I stated, “Captain, I realize that my claims may seem outlandish, but the plain fact of the matter is that I can locate both wealth and water through sorcery. I can appreciate a skeptical response to such a statement, but if you will simply allow me several days to recover from my wounds, I will perform feats that will prove the validity of my claim.”

The captain was plainly surprised by my claim of being a practitioner of sorcery. I knew I was taking a great risk in making this statement, but I hoped that the novelty of the claim would at least buy me some time. I reasoned that curiosity alone might prompt them to spare my life.

Scowling at me in obvious doubt, the captain then stated, “If you are a sorcerer, show us some magic! Show us a wonder to prove that you command the jinn.”

“I would gladly perform miracles for you sir,” I replied, “But as you can see I have suffered a grievous wound that is sapping away my life even as we speak. I do not have the strength to use my art to do more than understand and speak in the languages of yourself and your crewmen.”

The captain considered for a moment and finally seemed swayed by my assertion that my linguistic skills were of magical origin. Having made his decision, he then put me under the care of a nasty looking old buccaneer who apparently served as the ship’s surgeon.

This ersatz physician proceeded to immediately tend to my wounds with tourniquets and cauterization. I lost consciousness at the first sight of the red hot metal poker.

Over the next few days, the pain caused by my wounds was well nigh unbearable. I seriously began to feel that I had committed a grave error when I persuaded that Berber to stay his hand, a swift blow from his cutlass now seemed as if it would have been a kindness.

The pirates, after inspecting the contents of my satchel, restored it to my possession. I was relieved to discover that none of them had grasped the bronze head. The head’s secrets would be my salvation and I would not have been in a good situation if he had struck up a friendship with one of the pirates. Of course, the fact that I had claimed that the items in the satchel were tools of sorcery had helped ensure that the superstitious members of the crew kept their distance.

When I finally had recovered enough to think in a coherent manner, I dug the bronze head out of my bag and once again began to converse with it silently, it reading my thoughts and its words forming in my mind. “This treasure that you mentioned in our earlier conversation,” I silently asked, “you can truly tell me how to find it?”

“Most certainly,” responded the bronze head silently, “I can guide you directly to the isle on which it resides.”

“Its on an island then,” I responded, feeling heartened by this bit of favorable news, “that should work out well. I wouldn’t imagine that these buccaneers would wish to stray too far inland. How far is this island from our current position? I’m fairly certain that we are still somewhere in the North Atlantic.”

“It will be a rather lengthy journey then I am afraid,” responded the bronze head, “The island is on the far side of the Indian Ocean. It is a shame that the ancient canal betwixt the Nile and the Red Sea was allowed to fall into disrepair, such a route would have shortened the journey considerably.”

“Be that as it may,” I stated, “the journey is at this point far from fore-ordained. I’m afraid that unless I manage to work some wondrous and impressive magic for the captain, his estimation of my sorcerous abilities will dwindle to naught. At that point, rather than making a voyage to a far sea, I will be making a journey to the afterlife.”

“If it is wonders that you require,” replied the bronze head, “then it is through the operations of the Almadel that you will find your deliverance. Harut and Marut surely have the wherewithal to provide you with the ability to work wonders enough for this lot.”

“I had hoped as much,” I said, “Though I fear that my current state may impede my ability to maintain the necessary degree of concentration for such an undertaking.”

“I believe that you will find that the trance-like state required for the use of the Almadel will ease much of your agony,” the bronze head stated reassuringly, “I have faith that such an enterprise is within the scope of your abilities.”

Spurred on by the intimation that I might find some abatement of my suffering via the employment of the device, I hastened to assemble the Almadel and begin the protocols that called it to life. Soon I was once again engrossed in the eldritch, apparitional, and dreamlike world of the seer’s crystal, sending forth the calls that would summon the seraphic pair.

“Greetings mortal,” came the voice Harut as he coalesced into the form of an armored knight astride the back of an eight-legged steed.

“Well met O son of man,” spake the voice of Marut as he appeared in the guise of an ancient crone, bent beneath the weight of a strangely carved rock that she balanced upon her back.

Taken slightly aback by the great differences between their current forms and their previous forms, I again intoned the incantation by which a spirit could be compelled to truly reveal its identity, “By the celestial powers and the imperium of the worldly princes I conjure thee to give forth thy names in a true and comprehensible fashion.”

“I am known as Harut,” replied Harut.

“And I Marut. For what purpose hast thou called us forth?” asked Marut.

“I ask that you instruct me in methods by which I might produce wonders and miracles,” I responded.

“What manner of wonder dost thou wish to perform?” inquired Harut from beneath his concealing visor.

“It must be a wonder that may be worked with few necessary items,” I responded, “and those items must be readily available. Can you teach me a working such as this?”

“Such is within our sphere of competence,” replied the knight from atop his octopedal jument.

“Hast thou within thy possession common sand and an ink where with thou mayest formulate runes and symbols upon thy flesh?” inquired Marut.

“These items I can acquire,” I replied.

“Then in this manner shalt thou work thy feat that thou mayest inspire astonishment and perplexity amongst men,” stated Harut, “Cleanse thy form well with the brine of the sea.”

“Thereafter, thou shalt scribe upon the sinister flesh of thine torso this symbol,” continued Marut. As he spoke the word “symbol”, his image transmuted from a bent old woman bearing a carved stone into a fresh, young lass who was now seated upon the same carved stone. This young woman extended her arm with the palm of her hand facing upwards. As she sat in this manner, a dove flew down and lighted upon her hand. Taking the bird by its wings, she held it in such a way that its belly was visible to me. Etched upon the stomach of the dove was a fairly complex symbol, that I immediately set to memorizing.

“When it comes to pass that thou desirest a wonder, thou shalt grasp sand within thy right hand. This hand thou shalt place beneath thine opposite arm, the sand then being set firmly against the symbol upon the flesh of thy torso,” Marut stated.

Harut then said, “Thou shalt withdraw thine hand from its place of concealment and display the flesh of that hand unto those before thee. Forsooth, the flesh of thine hand will be of the purest white, and yet thou shalt suffer no injury. Herein is a wonder and a mystery.”

At this point, both of the figures within the stone bowed low, touching their foreheads to the earth.

Although I did not wish to be disagreeable, or to risk antagonizing the angelic spirits, I could not keep my silence, “I thank you for this revelation, however, my flesh is already white. I am not sure that this particular wonder will produce the type of awe that I seek.”

“Thine flesh will be as if of purest alabaster, surely such a sign shall cause the face of thine enemies to blanch as well,” replied Harut, still bowing face down on the ground.

“Ah, yes, no doubt it will,” I replied, not wishing to press the issue further. Then I continued, “Still, I believe it would be best if you would deign to instruct me in yet another miraculous operation.”

“It shall be as thou biddest,” replied Marut.

During the rest of my scrying session, the angelic pair rendered unto me instruction in performance of several strange tricks. I desperately hoped that at least one of these “wonders” would impress my captors. Finally, I inquired if, by their art, one might be lead to concealed treasures.

“Verily so,” Harut assured me.

“But be ye warned, rash mortal,” interjected Marut, “a most terrible cursedness shall surely be visited upon all who would dare this labor. For truly I say unto thee, all so gripped by foul avarice as to undertake this operation shall see their line end with naught but themselves. If thou shalt elect to pursue this course, thou shalt never see an heir!”

While it was apparent that Marut considered this a truly dire consequence, one that would surely dissuade me from casting this particular bit of magery, I could not help but feel a rush of relief at his pronouncement. As I had never been a man of means, I truly had no need of an heir, nor did I ever expect to. In fact, had I an heir, who would no doubt expect some manner of inheritance, I felt it quite likely that I would be able to bequeath nothing but disappointment.

This state of affairs, in combination with the fact that I had never developed an affection of any sort for children in general, (or even really a tolerance), had the effect of twisting this particular malediction into something of a blessing. The news that this operation would not harbinger a dire punishment lifted my spirits greatly.

At my acknowledgement of their monition and assurance that I wished to proceed, Harut and Marut began yet another set of instructions, delivered via their own bizarre and otherworldly methods. At the close of all of their strange symbolism, transmogrifications, and disconnected portents, I finally awoke from my entrancement. I immediately fell to setting down on parchment the diverse and incongruous actions that they had prescribed.

Within two days I had collected and prepared all of the various oddments necessary for my display of mystical prowess. I considered experimenting with the arcane operations prior to my demonstration, so as to ensure their potency. Unfortunately, the collection of the requisite components had presented such difficulties that I considered myself favored for being able to execute the proceedings even one time. To my surprise, even simple sand had been hard to come across aboard the ship. If one of the enchantments failed to produce the anticipated results, I hoped that I would be able to gloss over the gaff and quickly proceed onwards with no one the wiser.

Soon after I had sent word that I was prepared to bedazzle the captain with my diabolism and wizardry, two thickset moors arrived at my cell and brought me before their leader. At some point during my captivity I had learned that the captain’s name of renown was “Acchad the Vile”. This Acchad obviously had arranged special accommodations for the occasion. A large comfortable chair, almost a throne, had been brought up onto the deck and the captain had made himself comfortable thereupon. The rest of the crew was spread across the decks and the rigging of ship. Some of the men appeared apprehensive or disgruntled, but all of them had found a perch wherefrom they could observe what was about to transpire.

Having been roughly deposited before the captain, I made an obeisance as best I could while hampered by my lack of usable legs. Then, fighting to control a quavering that threatened to overwhelm my powers of speech, I stated that I truly appreciated the captain’s kind attention and forbearance in allowing for my demonstration.

Captain Acchad, still looking skeptical, but otherwise seeming merry enough, proclaimed in a loud voice, “Very well wizard, show us these wonders with which you hope to purchase your life!”

“As you wish, your lordship,” I replied.

As Harut and Marut had instructed, I grasped a small handful of sand from a pouch with my right hand. I then placed my sand-filled fist beneath my left arm and pressed the sand hard against the strange symbol I had painstakingly drawn on my side. As I did so, I was rather surprise to experience a pronounced tingling sensation shoot through my palm and fingers.

I slowly withdrew my hand from beneath my opposite arm and gazed upon the fruition of my efforts. As I had been promised, the flesh of my hand had taken on the very purest shade of white. I gazed at the strange sight for several moments, realizing for the first time how truly non-white the rest of my flesh actually was. Despite my years of study, enclosed in shadowy chambers, rarely seeing the light of the sun, my flesh had never achieved this level of extreme pallor.

I flexed my hand several times to ascertain that my extremity was still in proper working order, and then I lifted my bleached member high for all to see. The result was not the tumultuous outpouring of awe that I would have preferred, but several of the raiders at least seemed slightly impressed.

I quickly pressed onwards to the next arcane presentation I had prepared. Attempting to present a suitably dramatic performance, I sat upwards a bit more and gestured grandly as I proclaimed, “Let only those among you who know no fear gaze upon the sight I am about to bring forth. For unbeknownst to common mortals, the very air about us teems with the most horrific and loathsome of entities. Beings that claw and tear at us with their nebulous talons, seeking to rend us, but lacking the substance to do so. These unwholesome creations are so truly hideous that any man lacking in sufficient will or fortitude risks the loss of their very mental faculties at the briefest observance of their forms!”

Predictably, none of the well-blooded killers who comprised my audience were intimidated by my melodramatic spiel. Having issued my warning, I then set about locating the powder that I had spent hours of painstaking toil preparing from a set of singularly unpleasant substances. Upon finding the correct container, I emptied a handful of the powder onto the palm of my hand.

I drew back my hand and flung the substance high into the air, attempting to form a great cloud of the stuff, as I intoned a series of bizarre syllables. As I forced my tongue to fashion these alien sounds, I desperately prayed that my timbre and cadence was proper. Soon enough, I beheld evidence of my competence in the field of incantations, for the very air seemed to explode with an obscene and abominable mass of twisting and writhing fiends, miscreations, and lusus naturae.

Mercifully, my mind has refused to retain any recollection of the sights that I beheld in that unholy cloud of unutterable madness. Still, even now, I often awake in the dark of night, shrieking loudly from haunting impressions that stalk my dreams.

It was this same type of shrieking that sprang from my lips as I was awakened by a bucket of seawater that was most rudely dumped upon my face. The crewmen claimed that I had “screamed like a little girl” and fallen into a dead faint at the first glimpse of the apparition I had brought forth. Unfortunately, this failing on my part seemed to have foiled the inspiration of wonder and dread my display may have otherwise brought about.

Fearing that my demonstrations had thus forth failed in dissuading the brigands from tossing me headlong into the depths of the sea, I hastened on to my next operation. I again intoned a long series of exotic and well nigh unpronounceable words while I set about drawing a group of complex and incomprehensible patterns upon the deck of the ship. While I was engaged in this activity, I was pleased to note a detectable variance in the quality of light and heat that the sun shed upon my surroundings.

I was gratified to hear gasps and exclamations ring out from my audience as they gazed fearfully upward. As my angelic tutors had promised, my incantation was producing the unmistakable semblance of the solar orb first approaching us then receding from us repeatedly. The sun alternately oppressed us with an inescapable glare and enervating waves of heat, then withdrew, plunging us into an eerie, twilit, frigidity.

At last, it seemed that I had impressed the gang of vicious plunderers. A great feeling of relief welled up within my breast as I completed my incantations and inscribed one last mark with the few remaining drops of my specially prepared paint.

I happily peered about myself, gazing upon the astonished and fearful faces of my captors. It was then that I noticed that the sun had failed to return to its proper place in the sky at the close of my sorcerous chanting. The flaming orb seemed to have become stuck in a position much too close to the ship. The heat was unbearable and my eyes began to feel as if they were baking within their sockets.

The crew scowled at me, as if they somehow expected me to remedy the situation. Attempting to ignore the hostile glares from the smoldering pirates all around me, I decided to move on to my last bit of wizardry.

“Now, great captain, I will demonstrate that feat which I had pledged to perform. I will use my arcane prowess to lead you and your worthy crew to a hidden fortune. Observe…” I quickly extracted a specially engraved and prepared tablet of wood from my satchel. I then produced a glass jar that held the heart of a rat, which I had steeped in my own blood for two nights. I set the rat’s organ upon the carved plank, and dragged myself backwards a few yards.

I then began one last set of incantations. During my chant, I was heartened to behold a seagull approaching. As I had been promised, the bird landed next to my piece of wood and swallowed the rat heart in a single gulp. It then took the air, heading off to our port, straight and true.

“Bring us about and follow the bird!” I exclaimed, “That gull will lead us to the treasure!”

Amazingly enough, Captain Acchad actually was willing to acquiesce to my request and ordered the alteration in our course. The seagull flew an unvarying linear course for the next four hours. I was surprised that the bird had the endurance to maintain flight for such an extended period under that blazing sun.

I managed to crawl to a life-saving patch of shade during our pursuit of the gull. Many of the other men on the ship followed my example, most sheltering beneath the shadows provided by the ship’s great sails.

Just as I had hoped, the bird led us to a small, uncharted island. The captain organized a shore party and sent them to search the small piece of land for traces of a concealed horde. To my great relief, the men returned within the hour, laden with two dirt caked chests.

I nearly fainted with joy, (or perhaps it was heat-stroke), when the chests were pried open and a mass of gold and jewels sent forth a dazzling shower of brilliance, reflecting the ridiculously bright glare of the sun.

Captain Acchad seemed to be truly pleased with my final success. He inquired if such a magical feat could be performed again and I assured him that it could be, given several days and another dead rat. I then went on to say that the horde we had located was a mere pittance compared to the great wealth that could be obtained upon an isle I had knowledge of in the Indian Ocean. The captain was so gladdened by this news, he personally escorted me back to my cell and saw that I was provided with a comfortable pallet and a large mug of the ship’s highest quality grog.

I fell asleep that night feeling that my luck was finally beginning to change – unfortunately, it wasn’t.

The next day I awoke in excruciating pain. Of course, after the mishap involving my legs being lopped off by cannon fire, this was nothing terribly new. The difference this morning was that the agony seemed to be originating in my groin rather than my stumps. Upon examining myself, my mind was once again sent whirling into a spiral of horror when I saw that I had been castrated!!

The pirate that eventually came around to beat me until I stopped screaming explained that the captain had had me drugged and castrated as a precaution. He informed me that a close advisor of Captain Acchad had sworn that the only way in which one could maintain control of a powerful sorcerer was to create a magical amulet, fashioned from the sorcerer’s genitalia.

I was rather shocked to hear of such a belief. This was one superstition that I had never before encountered. When I consulted the bronze head regarding this supposed amulet, it informed me that it had also never encountered such a tale. The head then went on to theorize that one of the Captain’s cronies had felt threatened by the captain’s newfound regard for my abilities and had concocted the idea as a means to strike out at me.

The bronze head also commented, “In retrospect, this development really shouldn’t be viewed as such a surprising event. Harut and Marut did give warning that you would never have offspring, did they not?”

“Well, yes, but I assumed that they meant infertility, or perhaps a poor love life, not emasculation!” I protested.

“Ah well,” replied the bronze head, “then I suggest that we view this happenstance as something of a lesson. From this point onward, you should exercise greater rigor and thoroughness during your discourse with those spirits. You would also do well to note that there have been many eunuchs throughout history who have lived full and happy lives. Your gelding should not lead you to believe your life has ended. You can still engage in many pursuits that will undoubtedly prove highly productive – but not reproductive.”

After this bit of spurious consolation, I decided that further discussion with the bronze head would not be likely to lift my spirits.

I was also slightly upset to note that my right hand was still dead white. The sun, however, had at least returned to its proper position in the sky when it had arisen that morning.

Captain Acchad was benevolent enough to allow me several days to recover from my castration before sending word that I should prepare to again perform the magic whereby hidden treasures could be discovered. I, of course, made good use of this time by lying in my cell and wallowing in self-pity.

Upon receiving these orders from the captain, I consoled myself with the notion that I would, at least, have nothing left to lose to the spell’s associated curse. One of the crewmen was kind enough to locate a dead rat in the bowels of the ship. After extracting the heart from the vermin, I proceeded to execute the rest of the required preparations for the enchantment.

When I was once again brought before the captain to perform my trove unearthing incantation, there were many fewer crewmen gathered to observe. I’m certain that this low turnout was most likely due to the fact that the most exciting portion of the spell’s execution simply involved watching a bird eat a small bit of meat.

I was cheered to observe that a bird again responded immediately to my incantation. Our course was altered to that of our avian guide, and in due time we came across the tattered remains of a ship. The wreck was resting atop a barely submerged reef.

Again a team was dispatched to search for a cache. As the pirates scoured the ruined ship, we were surprised to suddenly hear the sound of shots being fired. As we observed from the deck of our ship, a ragged individual emerged from a section of the wreck and began to fire at our crewmen. The fellow may have been mad, as he made no attempt to ascertain if we were willing to extricate him from his destroyed vessel. He simply attacked.

The man was armed with a large number of pistols, each of which he simply discarded after discharging. Luckily for our landing party, the unkempt individual was a terrible shot, as each volley went far wide of its mark. Unluckily for me, one of these errant projectiles somehow managed to span the distance between our ship and the wreck and lodge itself in my nether regions. I don’t recall anything further in regards to that encounter.

I was awoken by the none-too-gentle attentions of the ships faux-surgeon as he extracted the missile from what would have been my erogenous zone had any of my reproductive organs been present. Once again the would-be physician liberally applied the cautering iron to my person, alleviating the threat of death from loss of blood, but precipitating an alternate physiological reaction that very nearly finished me. I apparently drifted between life and death for several days before finally pulling through. Despite my survival of this misfortune, I did not escape unscathed. I believe that I must have suffered some manner of neurological damage as I have ever since been plagued by facial spasms, minor convulsions, and involuntary twitches.

During my convalescence, our ship passed around the southern tip of the African continent and entered the Indian Ocean. As we made our way up the Malagasy coast, Captain Acchad once again sent word that he would like for me to undertake the working of the Arcanum for the location of lost treasures. Needless to say, I was less than enthusiastic. After my most recent misadventure, it seemed likely that the emasculating curse felt that it was necessary to at least administer a serious wound to my lower abdomen, even if doing so would no longer deprive me of my manhood.

I once again consulted the bronze head, requesting a more detailed description of the treasure horde that it professed was located on the isle within the Indian Ocean. The brazen object disclosed that the treasure contained more than mere wealth. The head claimed that an artifact would be found upon that isle that it referred to as “The Garb of Jasher”. It also speculated that some draughts of a substance called “iksir” might be found there.

“What, exactly, is this Garb of Jasher? Who or what is Jasher?” I inquired.

The head replied, “Jasher is actually a Hebraic term meaning ‘upright’. The garb bears this name simply because the most commonly known reference to its existence is found in a ancient Hebrew text called the Book of Jasher, or the Book of the Upright.”

“A portion of this old religious text relates a tale wherein a mighty empire is built by a man named Nimrod, ” the Bronze head continued, “This Nimrod was able to conquer and dominate nearly all of mankind due to the fact that he possessed superhuman strength and seemed to be resistant to the most deadly of blows. These amazing qualities that he exhibited were due to the fact that he wore a seemingly magical set of clothing.”

“How did he manage to come by such an outfit?” I asked.

“According to the Book of Jasher, the clothes that he wore were the same clothes that Jehovah fashioned for Adam when he evicted his unfortunate creation from the Garden of Eden,” replied the head, “Of course, as the Book of Jasher was a Hebraic text, the attribution of the manufacture of these garments to their own deity is not terribly surprising.”

“So these clothes had a different origin?” I prompted.

“Surprisingly, the origin promulgated by the Hebrews has some basis in fact,” the head replied, “This set of clothing was, in fact, produced by the creator of mankind. However, unbeknownst to the Jewish authors of Jasher, this ‘creator’ was actually an ancient and powerful race that inhabited this world in long forgotten primordial epochs.”

“Indeed?” I responded skeptically.

“Yes indeed,” the head continued, “this race practiced a rather peculiar art by which it would manipulate lesser life forms so as to create entirely new species. Humanity is the result of one of their experiments. An experiment which those ancient beings saw as something of a failure, I’m afraid.”

“This ancient race viewed its human creations as too weak and fragile for any useful purposes,” the head stated, “However, it seems one of these beings was impressed by the rather dexterous digits which humans possessed and decided to attempt to find a way in which the limitations of mankind’s physique could be overcome. This being used its highly advanced skills to manufacture a special suit which would enhance the strength and the fortitude of the deficient organisms, hoping thereby to at least be able to utilize humans for work that involved fine detail.”

“This suit was successful in vastly improving the fitness of your species. However, it was eventually decided that the construction of such outfits would be too time consuming and costly for a large work group of humans. Thus, the few original human specimens were discarded – carelessly tossed out into the wilds to meet their fates as they would. One of the discarded humans was still wearing that special suit.”

“And the suit has survived all this time?” I inquired incredulously.

“It was well made,” the head replied.

“I see,” I said, “So then, what is this ‘iksir’ that you mentioned?”

“Its name would probably be more familiar to you with the Arabic word for ‘the’ prefixed to it, as in ‘al iksir'”, replied the head.

“I still don’t recognize the term,” I replied.

“‘Al iksir’ was eventually vulgarized by the European tongues to ‘elixir’,” the head stated, “as in the famed ‘Elixir of Life’. A draught of the substance is reported to prolong a human life span to nearly a millennium.”

“Such a thing actually exists?” I queried, again overcome by credulity.

“In the antediluvian epoch it not only existed, it was actually commonplace,” replied the head, “It was through this substance that old Methuselah achieved his geriatric record.”

“How exactly did such priceless objects come to reside upon this isle? And how is it that you have learned of their existence?” I next inquired.

“You recall our earlier discussions involving the deity known as Dagon?” the bronze head asked, “As I stated previously, my creator, Pope Sylvester the Second, was rather deeply involved with Dagon’s affairs. Through these dealings I happened to hear of this island and the relics that lay thereupon. It seems that at some point, these items fell into Dagon’s rapacious grasp. However, as he is limited to residing beneath the waves, and these items would most likely fall to ruin through exposure to sea water, he deposited them upon this isle for safe keeping.”

“And to acquire these items, we simply need to somehow overcome this being?” I asked, suddenly feeling a bit flustered.

“No, I don’t believe that Dagon actually resides very near the isle in question,” the bronze head replied, “I suspect that if we can simply get past a colony of his minions we should be able to make off with the artifacts.”

“Minions? What sort of minions?” I inquired.

“The island is the home of a fierce and xenophobic tribe that has invariably attacked any explorers that dared to attempt contact,” the bronze head replied. “This hostile stance is rather expedient due to the fact that these islanders have much that they must conceal from the rest of the world. These people are, in fact, only half human at best. Like the Merovingians and the royalty of the Phoenicians, this tribe has interbred extensively with the aquatic race of which Dagon is the master and progenitor.”

“And you believe that this ship full of pirates will be able to overcome these creatures?” I hazarded.

“A well coordinated, swift strike has a reasonable chance of success,” the head answered, “As these buccaneers seem quite competent, I would be willing to wager your life on such a venture.”

Choosing to ignore the bronze head’s impertinence, I then asked, “So you are claiming that with the items upon that island, a man could conquer the world and live for a thousand years?”

“Well, some men could,” replied the bronze head, “However, considering the state you are in, I doubt that you are one of them.”

“Unfortunately, that it all too likely true,” I agreed, “However, Acchad quite possibly would be capable of such a thing. Or at least he could be convinced that he would be capable.”

Equipped with my newly acquired disclosure, I immediately requested an audience with the captain. When the pirate lord finally deigned to allow me into his presence, I began to regale him with the wonders and unimagined powers that awaited him at our destination. At first he was skeptical regarding my claims, but I eventually managed to convince him that such marvels could, and did, exist.

Having enticed his appetite for fame and power, I then informed him that, in order to ensure that he would be able to acquire these items, I would need to rest and build my strength. Therefore, I asserted, I should not be pressed to undertake any more performances of the incantation by which treasures could be found.

Providence smiled upon my efforts and the captain agreed to forego any more forays using that particular occult operation. Moreover, to aid in my efforts to regain my strength, the captain had me moved out of my cell and given a rather comfortable private cabin.

For the next week, all went amazingly, (and uncharacteristically), well for me. Unfortunately, I was crudely deprived of my continued peace of mind by our vessel’s chance encounter with a well-laden merchant vessel. As the buccaneers initiated their attack upon the ship, I was overcome with unpleasant memories of the miserable attack that the privateering company, my original shipmates, had injudiciously launched.

Fortunately, the Barbary pirates were skilled in their profession and I never found myself in any peril during the battle. The merchant ship was easily overcome and their cargo was seized.

As it happened, a portion of this cargo included several crates that carried bottles of a fine vintage. My rather barbaric cohorts had a pronounced preference for harder liquors and showed no interest in that portion of the booty. Captain Acchad, perhaps seeking to in some way apologize for his confiscation of my gonads, had the wine sent to my cabin.

When I first sampled the spirits, I was immediately overcome by a familiar torpor. It was a sensation that I had not experienced in years, not since I had managed to rid myself of my addiction to opium. It was then I realized that the wine with which I had been presented was not simply wine. It was, in fact, laudanum. Laudanum is a soporific tincture produced by dissolving opium in wine. It is quite wonderful for relieving those who suffer from interminable pain. As the concoction suffused throughout my body, I experienced the most divine anesthesia. All of the torment which had become my permanent lot, simply melted away.

And so, resumed my opium addiction…

I spent several days adrift in an asomatous fog. I knew that partaking of that captivating substance was foolhardy and would be my undoing, but I simply could not find it within me to care. This idyllic period was brought to a close via yet another summons from Captain Acchad.

It seems that the waters through which our navigator had plotted our intended course were currently suffering the effects of a rather massive storm, quite possibly a full typhoon. Attempting to avoid this massive tempest via circumnavigation would almost certainly add weeks to our journey. Captain Acchad wished to consult with me concerning the possibility of keeping to our intended course and weathering the malicious elements via resorting to yet more sorcery.

I would normally have been quite leery of attempting additional magical operations. I was truly beginning to lend great credence to the veracity of the dire warnings uttered by Harut and Marut. Unfortunately, my judgment at that point was rather clouded by the fairly large doses of laudanum I had imbibed, and thus I found the idea appealing. I thanked the captain for the great faith that he was showing in my skills and stated that I would need to confer with the spirits in regards to the question at hand.

After I had been deposited back in my cabin, I set about employing the Almadel to contact Harut and Marut. I was rather surprised when two plainly angelic figures appeared within my crystal before I had even managed to complete the incantation.

“Greetings mortal,” spoke one of the figures, “I am Harut and this is my companion Marut.” As the angel spoke, he gestured towards the other figure, now identified as Marut. Marut did not speak, or even move, but instead stood completely motionless, as if he were not even an animated being.

“I’m surprised to see that the two of you are actually appearing as angels, as opposed to winged frogs, or dancing masonry, or some stranger thing. Are these images your true forms?” I asked.

“Yea verily, it is as thou sayest,” intoned Harut.

Not wishing to spend much time exchanging pleasantries while sailing towards a massive tempest, I immediately stated my purpose, “I need to know how to keep a ship safe while it passes through a violent storm.”

“A commendable aim, to be sure,” commented Harut. Marut continued to neither speak nor move. “This feat can indeed be accomplished.”

Harut proceeded to relate a fairly simple procedure that involved the continuous repetition of an incantation. At the close of his instructions, I was still more surprised when the angelic pair neglected to issue any warnings regarding curses.

Giving the angelic spirits a license to depart, I returned to the captain and informed him that I would be able to allow the ship to pass through the storm unharmed. Taking me at my word, Acchad issued orders commanding the helmsmen to take us straight into the dark teeth of the raging storm.

As I dragged myself across the deck, back towards my cabin, I experienced a momentary lapse in confidence. Deciding to err on the side of prudence, I appropriated several coils of thin cords. Upon reaching my abode, I set about using the cord to bind all of my belongings and loose items in a secure fashion. If the ship were to be tossed about, at least I would not have to worry that any of my goods would become threatening projectiles. As an afterthought, I then bound myself securely to my bunk, reasoning that it may be difficult to keep my footing and perform the necessary incantations simultaneously.

It soon became obvious that the precaution of securing myself was truly provident. As the great black thunderheads began to overshadow our vessel, the sea proceeded to transform itself into a violent and malicious assailant, battering and thrusting at our hull, tumbling us about wildly.

As this onslaught raged, I mouthed the incantation that I had been given, the incantation that should have ensured our preservation. However, despite my unflappable and careful chanting, the fever of the tempest seemed to rise ever higher. It was not long before I heard the unmistakable sounds of wood splintering and the hopeless shouts of men being washed overboard. Something was not right.

My mind raced backwards, carefully analyzing all that had been said and shown during my last discourse with the spirits. It was then that I began to realize how very odd it had been that Harut and Marut had appeared as angelic beings when at every other meeting they had been forced to adopt random forms plucked from the erratic remnants of dreams, drifting aimlessly in the astral. There was also the suspicious fact that Harut had delivered a diatribe while Marut had stood still and mute, as if he had been naught but an image. The omission of their habitual admonition against employing that which they bestowed seemed to be very odd as well.

It was then that I realized that, my mind being befuddled by my opiate tipple, I had neglected to issue the arcane challenge that compelled a spirit to state its name in a veracious manner. I must have allowed myself to be deluded by some unclean spirit! No doubt the incantation I was intoning was either useless or was meant to bring even greater destruction upon us.

The ship was pitching so frenziedly that there was no chance that I could set up the Almadel and manage to keep it intact. I had no way in which I could attempt to establish a genuine contact with my celestial tutors. Desperate, I decided to consult with the bronze head, hoping that the brazen entity would be able to provide some useful proposal.

I had secured my satchel beneath my bunk, with the head inside. To access the bag, I would have to unbind myself. Supposing that the bindings were now more likely than not to simply pull me down to a maritime tomb, I undid my knots. As I slid off my bed and made to reach for the satchel, our ship was tossed by a particularly violent wave. I was immediately thrown so strongly upwards that I struck the ceiling of the room. In less than a second I had rebounded from that impact and been sent hurtling floorward. That is the last I remember of the storm.

When I regained consciousness, I was crumpled in a bloody heap in a corner of the room. Upon attempting to move, it became apparent that I had damaged several of my ribs and had possibly disjointed my backbone. Nevertheless, I dragged myself to my door and peered out at the remains of our ship.

I was dismayed to see that every mast had been shorn off. The ship would never again be able to unfurl even a single sail. We were deprived of our only motive force. The vessel was helplessly adrift and almost certainly far off course.

I then realized that a sizable throng of surviving pirates was gathered near my door. Overhearing their discussion, I realized that they felt that the fault for their plight could rightfully be laid at my feet, (or rather stumps). They were plotting against me, discussing how best to convince the captain that I should be fatally punished for sending the ship into a deadly monsoon.

I quietly closed the door and hastened to unpack my Almadel. The crew would surely be coming to execute me in short order. I needed to learn some method whereby I could prevent this extremely unpleasant eventuality.

I summoned Harut and Marut in the standard fashion and diligently made use of the invocation forcing them to name themselves. Once I had satisfied myself that I was communing with the true Harut and Marut, I laid before them my need for some method by which I could stay my enemies from plotting against me.

“An expedient and serviceable means by which thine foes may be thrown into confusion and thwarted in their deliberations is known to us,” stated Harut, who, at them moment, seemed to be an embodiment of a swirling cloud of pink and green vapors.

“Verily so,” agreed Marut, who had appeared as a man clothed in an archaic fashion and having a head that seemed to have been carved from cheese, “We shall impart unto thee an ancient rite that has seen use in the undoing of great nations. By this mystery thine adversaries will be greatly vexed.”

“Excellent,” I responded, “It would be most charitable if you would deign to relate this operation in an especially accelerated manner, as my enemies may appear and seize me at any moment.”

“And so we shall,” assured Harut, “though, as always, thou must take note that this knowledge will bear forth a tribulation most grievous unto thee. Thou shouldst not lightly undertake this act, for it will bring thee low.”

“Duly noted,” I responded, feeling rather impatient and harried.

“This then is the method by which thou shalt sow consternation and discord…” continued Marut.

Thankfully, the process used to bring about the bewitchment was short and required very few items, all of which I had available within my cabin. I briskly granted Harut and Marut license to depart and set to undertaking the operation with the greatest of celerity.

Upon completion of the process, I was rather surprised and concerned to note a lack of any effect that might indicate that the crew had somehow been overcome. I waited several moments and then peeked out from my door.

The crewmen were still scattered about the deck of the ship, standing erect and moving about unhindered. I had hoped that they would all have been bound somehow, or perhaps had simply disappeared. I began to regret that I had neglected to press the spirits for a detailed description of the expected effects of the magic. Just as I was considering calling the angels up once more and making an inquiry as to exactly how my enemies were undone, I realized that several groups of the pirates had began shouting at each other.

It seemed that arguments and disputes were erupting throughout the group. I also realized that I could not understand a single exclamation uttered by the seamen. This was most peculiar as I had yet to find a single man among them who spoke a language with which I was not intimately acquainted.

As I observed the ruckus, I began to realize that none of the men could understand each other either. It seemed that they had all spontaneously begun to speak in exotic languages that no one could comprehend. Their tempers were fraying due to the fact that each man seemed to believe that the others were simply babbling incoherently with the intention of making sport of him.

This turn of affairs was, indeed, preventing the pirates from discussing my fate. It was preventing them from discussing anything at all. I continued to watch the strange happenings for sometime, fascinated by this linguistic fiasco. However, it seemed that the crewmen eventually began to realize that they must have become the victims of a hostile enchantment. As there was only one person on board known to employ magic, many infuriated scowls were soon trained in my direction.

In a panic, I closed and bolted my door. While it was true that my foes could no longer plot against me, it seemed that they would overcome this problem by simply electing to forego the plotting portion of their hostilities and moving on directly to the portion that entailed inflicting extreme violence upon my person.

The almost immediate pounding upon my door soon verified that I was in extreme and certain peril. I would have no time to once again consult Harut and Marut and there was no avenue of escape from my room. The lone porthole was much too small for my frame. With nowhere else to turn, I again sought the advice of my bronze head.

“A rather perilous situation,” assessed the head, “but if we happen to be anywhere near the island which was our goal, there may be a method via which you can overcome this. Listen carefully to what I tell you. Work fastidiously, but quickly. You have no time for hesitation.”

My lack of time for hesitation was being made all too apparent by the fact that the heavy wood of my door was beginning to splinter under the blows of the enraged buccaneers. Acting under the bronze head’s direction, I proceed to break the wax tablet of the Almadel in twain. Upon one portion I engraved a series of signs the like of which I had never before beheld. I then tied this portion of the wax to the long thin cord I had earlier attained and lowered it through my portal and into the sea.

After allowing the cord to play out to its full length, and thus allowing the tablet of sink quite deeply into the sea, I then secured my end. The head next instructed that I should carve yet another bizarre symbol upon the remaining portion of the wax tablet. That being done, I then inquired what our next course of action would be.

“Now we wait and hope that our summons is received and responded to with haste,” the head replied.

“Summons?” I asked, confused, “What are we summoning?”

The head answered, “The wax tablet you let down into the ocean is a distress signal which the minions of Dagon are sworn to answer. We have identified ourselves as their allies and requested that they aid us in overcoming a perilous situation.”

“But they don’t know me,” I protested, “What’s going to happen when they come and they realize that I am not actually their ally?”

“That is where the carving on the second portion of the wax will come into play,” responded the bronze head, “Only the allies of Dagon know how to inscribe that mark. Present it to those who respond and they will believe you are their ally. In fact, anyone aboard this ship that does not possess such a mark will be considered an enemy and dealt with accordingly.”

Unfortunately, my door gave way before any of my unknown allies chose to respond. The pirates seized me and hauled me before the captain. Captain Acchad mouthed some syllables that surely held meaning only for him. However, it seemed that everyone just decided to assume he had announced a death penalty against me.

The pirates then took me to the railing of the ship and prepared to heave me into the bosom of the abyss. As I peered downwards at my intended final resting place, I suddenly noted a very peculiar occurrence. Some species of dreadfully horrid sea creatures had begun to assemble about the ship and were beginning to scale the hull.

The beings seemed to be a loathsome combination of humanoids and fish. They were uniformly glutinous in complexion, being covered in a sheen of slime. Their skin consisted of scales and their limbs were alternately a combination of humanoid limbs and fins or a mixture of humanoid limbs and tentacles. Their eyes bulged from their sockets and their maws gaped with knife-edged, needlepointed fangs.

At the sight of these newcomers, the crew seemed to completely forget about my impending execution. They unceremoniously dumped me on the deck and set about arming themselves with cutlass and firearm.

As the first of the ichthyoidal invaders flung themselves onto our decks, several who had boarded nearby made as if to seize me. Luckily, I still had the second portion of the wax tablet in a death-like grip. I held it up, displaying it to the creatures, quite sure that they would simply ignore it and devour me on the spot.

To my surprise, the symbol produced the reaction promised by the bronze head. The beasts turned away, apparently satisfied that I was not legitimate prey.

The Barbary pirates, meanwhile, had mounted a counter-offensive, attempting to drive the hideous monstrosities from their ship. Shots rang out from every direction, cutlasses slashed wildly, and razor-like fangs gnashed. Both human blood and monstrous ichors flowed liberally and mixed freely.

The unhallowed nightmares of the sea had the advantage of superior numbers while the sailors possessed superior weaponry and well-honed combat skills. The pirates were clearly hampered by their inability to communicate with one another, but in the confusion of battle such communication was often nigh impossible at any rate.

I crawled off into a secluded hiding spot, displaying my symbol to any of the things that approached. As I peered out at the fray, it eventually began to seem that the pirates were doomed. There were simply too many of the fiendish fish creatures. This imminent conclusion, however, was called into question when the desperate pirates began to resort to turning their cannons against their foes. The blazing cannon shot felled the monsters in great numbers. The ship was being torn apart by the barrage, but the pirates didn’t seem to notice or care.

Just as it seemed that the fish-fiends were about to be driven back, a huge eruption of water burst upwards on the port side of the ship. All eyes were drawn to this new phenomenon, as a gargantuan image, torn from the bowels of some watery hell emerged from the waves.

The blasphemous thing appeared to be a much larger and much more dangerous version of the aquatic fiends that were currently scattered about our deck. The great beast, however, had a certain bull-like aspect. This may have been largely due to the ten great horns that sprang from its head. Rather ridiculously, I was reminded of the legend of the Elbstier, the bull who, according to legend, lives underwater in the mouth of the river Elbe.

This nightmare of apocalyptic proportions loomed over the deck of the ship, glaring down at the miniscule humans that dared to harm its get. The beast was so bone chilling, so nightmarishly impossible, that the majority of the pirates were overcome with fear and collapsed. Captain Acchad, however, let loose a war cry and charged towards this great foe, swinging his blade and firing as he came. This valiant charge was short-lived as the captain was crushed beneath a great tentacle within moments.

The minions of this colossal abnormality quickly brought the melee to a close. Most of the pirates were torn to pieces there and then, but a few unfortunate souls were seized while still alive and dragged down into the abyssal depths. As the ichthyoids collected the last of the available prey, they dove from the ship and disappeared beneath the waves without any indication that they knew I still existed.

Their great ruler and god also sank back into the depths, the last visible portion of the beast being the ten horns with which it was crowned. As they sank from sight, I contemplated whether the term Quinotaur had been inspired by these great protuberances. It was reasonable to imagine that ten horns would somehow be affiliated with the idea of five bulls, thereby producing the term Quinotaur.

This may also explain the strange connection between the legendary Poseidon and the bulls that were considered sacred to him. I had never before understood in what manner a sea god would be associated with a purely terrestrial beast such as a bull.

During later discussions with the bronze head, the head would agree that such suppositions held some validity. These discussions with the bronze head have become quite numerous, largely due to the fact that there is no other intelligent being alive aboard this wrecked vessel.

I am now a mutilated and useless man, trapped aboard an aimlessly floating ship, with no way in which I can direct her course and no place to go if I could. I spend my time conversing with a bronze trinket and penning my memoirs, only to seal the writings into bottles and toss them into the sea.

Having broken the wax tablet, I can no longer converse with or gain aid from the spirits. On the whole, I suspect this is good thing. I often wonder whether the price that a demonic entity would have demanded for its servitude would have been far less costly than the price I paid for utilizing the wisdom offered by Harut and Marut.

I have fairly ample supplies of food and water and I expect to be able to survive for many months. The bronze head has intimated that certain unholy magicks exist which could quite possibly transform my body from that of a shattered human to that of a whole and healthy denizen of the depths. He believes that if I chose to undertake such a transformation the deep ones would willingly aid me in the endeavor and allow me to live amongst them in their preternatural and aberrant world in the depths of the abyss.

I may eventually begin to contemplate such a future, but at present I feel that there is no need to rush to any type of decision. I am fairly content with my present situation and expect to remain so until I have finally exhausted my remaining supply of laudanum.

One Response to “Sorcerous Voyage”

  1. JJ Burke Wrote:

    Another fantastic story, I salute you. While I am sometimes turned-off by seemingly gratuitous vocabulary, the story itself shines straight through. Just a quick hat-tipping as I move to the next story…

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