The Abjuration Of The Magi

Three men descended from a soot begrimed locomotive carriage onto the still more begrimed platform of the decaying train station which was situated in the decaying village of Dunwich. An elderly ticket vendor peered out from between the bars of the tiny window through which he would have dispensed tickets to the riders of the trains – except that there were never any riders that boarded or disembarked in Dunwich.

The ticket vendor’s eyes narrowed. He grimaced and his usual slouch slowly contorted into more of a suspicious, defensive crouching. The three who had disembarked from the train were foreigners. Everyone who came to Dunwich was suspect in the eyes of the few, exceedingly insular locals. However, a visitor who was an obvious foreigner was beyond mere suspicion.

As the three men approached the ticket vendor’s small window, the vendor’s baleful glare was the only welcome they received. The elderly vendor felt gall rising from his gullet. The gall ascended into portions of his anatomy not insulated against the acrid juices. The vendor winced as he felt his innards burn in a familiar, yet not at all comforting, fashion.

The three strangers whom stood before the ticket seller seemed oblivious to the old man’s discomfort. As they tarried before him, they seemed to be conferring amongst themselves. Their conference appeared to be hampered by the obvious fact that the three were foreigners not only to this land, but also to each other’s lands. The three were all speaking in tongues unfamiliar to the vendor. However, even to the vendor’s untrained ear, it was obvious that they were sometimes using terms from one language at one time and from another language at another time, as if the concepts they were discussing were simply too broad in scope to be expressed completely within the confines of a single vernacular.

The three were an odd set. The first was apparently a catholic priest. He was short, rotund, and balding, with a fringe of light blond hair remaining around his pate. He was the least foreign looking of the group, but the way in which he held himself and the mannerisms he affected marked him as strange to the region. His movements were a bit too stiff and a bit too gentle in nature. His eyes were a little too wide and his mouth had an odd twist to its lips. The vendor really couldn’t have described to anyone what it was about the priest that advertised his distant origins, but when the man spoke the vendor was not surprised by the Germanic accent.

The second fellow was much darker than his compatriot. His skin had a disconcerting cast to it, like an olive that had ripened beyond greenness to more of a distasteful brown. His visage was brought further towards a shadowy edge by his bushy black mass of beard. The tight turban enveloping the dome of his skull was a type of headwear so uncommon to Dunwich that it set the vendors teeth on edge all on its own. The vendor was mollified to a tiny degree by the fact that he could see that the foreigner at least wore trousers beneath his robes.

The third fellow was, by far, the oddest of the lot. An obvious denizen of the orient, the man was very short, very old, and rather yellowish in his skin tone. His eyes bore the characteristic epicanthic fold, which marked him out as a Chinaman, or at least a close relative thereof. He wore yellow robes with a blue sash draped across his upper body. His sandaled feet hobbled along with the aid of a carved cane. The cane was carved from a strange wood, which was generally very dark in color but had odd slashes of whitish-yellow marbling. The ticket vendor’s eyes were unable to make out any details of the cane’s elaborate ornamentation, but he felt sure that it was undoubtedly engraved with wild and unwholesome designs of a heathen nature.

Eventually, the balding priest turned from consulting with his cohorts and said to the vendor, “Excuse me sir, we are trying to reach a nearby town by the name of Malwich. Apparently there are no trains that stop there. Would there be anyone in town willing to allow us to hire the use of their vehicle?”

“Taint no cars fer hire here,” growled the vendor in a surly rasp. The vendor moved a little further back into the shadows of his booth, as if worried that his refusal of assistance may cause the priest to lash out at him.

“Are you sure?” inquired the priest, beginning to rummage through a small leather satchel he held. “We are terribly desperate to reach our destination…”

“Ah told yeh, taint none here that’ld have a car fer yeh…” hissed the vendor from behind the shelter of his bars and shadows.

“…though Ah’ld be willin’ tah let yer make use of me old truck, seein’ as how yer all so desperate an’ all…” the old vendor continued in a much brighter tone. The weathered old face of the ticket vendor took on a mesmerized sort of expression as his rheumy, jaundiced eyes fixed their stare on the large sheaf of American currency that the priest had just extracted from his satchel.

“We would be most appreciative,” spoke the turbaned foreigner in a deep baritone, “Of course, we would pay handsomely.”

***

Soon, the three men of such diverse backgrounds were all crammed into the cab of a muddy old farm truck. As their vehicle bounced and trundled down the rutted and sinkhole ridden lane towards Malwich, the wizened fellow from the orient leaned slightly out of the passenger window and gazed upwards, towards the heavens. “We have been kept from this journey for far too long,” he warbled in a language that few on the face of the globe still spoke.

In fact, it was a language that few on the face of the globe had ever spoken at any point in history. The language was of a highly tonal nature and the sound of it was, to the ears of most Westerners, very odd. The language was more sung than spoken. Most tongues of the orient have a singsong quality to them due to their tonal character. This language went beyond singsong and headed off more in the direction of truly melodic.

“The delays were sadly unavoidable,” responded the dark man in the turban, speaking in heavily accented English, “The conflict which the Europeans have taken to calling ‘The Great War’ made it nearly impossible for all three of us to keep in communication, let alone travel together to the North American continent.”

“Not that it is ever easy to communicate with someone who resides in Bhutan,” commented the balding priest as he struggled to hold the steering wheel of the truck steady against the malicious contortions of the roadway.

The dark fellow with the turban chuckled, “We are not all so lucky as to have the amenities available to us that you enjoyed at the Vatican’s observatory. Of course, when you decided that it would be safer to relocate to your secluded Swiss valley you became nearly as hard to exchange missives with as our good Lama here.”

“Rome was too dangerous during the war,” responded the priest in a sad tone. “Kurdistan isn’t exactly cosmopolitan either, you know,” he continued.

“True,” concurred the turbaned Kurd.

The Bhutanese Lama, once again speaking in his strange singing language, commented, “The stars have not yet moved too far past the auspicious conjunctions. We still have time for the necessary rituals. The delay has been unfortunate, but not yet disastrous. We still have time to give the aid which our arts call us to render.”

The Lama drew from his small bag a scroll. Although the evening had already grown far too dark to make out the arcane runes which had been painstakingly inscribed upon the rice paper by learned hands far in the past, he still squinted at the text, once again perusing one of the many rituals which their secret art kept alive.

This secret art was ancient far before Zarathrustra ever walked the lands of Persia. Yet the Zoroastrian priesthood had been so inundated with the art’s practitioners that the title used for those priests had come to be the title used for the art’s adherents. Though the three men jostling against each other in the cab of the filthy truck were not faithful to the religion of Zoroastrianism, they were still known, (by those few who had knowledge of such things), as Magi.

***

The old truck wheezed slightly as it struggled up a steep hill. It rattled a bit as it came to a stop before a rugged old cabin. It gave a disconcerting clunk as the priest turned the truck’s key and extracted it from the ignition.

The magi clambered out of their makeshift conveyance and began to stretch their sore muscles a bit. “I think a camel would have been more comfortable,” grumbled the Kurd.

In moments, the three had readied themselves. They had extracted the customary gifts from their baggage and were setting their minds into the state necessary for the occasion. The gifts they bore, the gold, the rare unguents, were, essentially, bribes. These precious trinkets were the fees that would buy them access to their goal. It was these worldly goods that would aid them in persuading hesitant parents to allow the strange foreigners to have access to the child that they sought. A gift of gold could do wonders in transforming a possibly dangerous and untrustworthy religious lunatic into a wise man from afar.

Drawing themselves up into their most impressive and authoritative stances, the three magi approached the door of the mean hovel with the stately manner of diplomats approaching a sovereign. Stopping before the warped, wooden door, the Lama from the far away land of Bhutan raised his walking stick and struck it three times slowly against the portal.

The magi waited.

No one answered.

The priest sighed. “No one is here,” he muttered.

“I cannot believe that,” the dark Kurd uttered. “The signs indicate that this moment should be proper for our arrival.”

The diminutive Lama shook his head. “I was afraid that another sign in the heavens may have an affect on our efforts,” he sighed in his song-like language. He pointed towards the Pleiades and indicated the nearby, but barely discernable presence of the planet Mars. “There,” he stated, “that conjunction may prove our undoing. It indicates that our adversaries may have moved against us as we were forced to tarry. In fact, it may indicate that the so-called ‘Great War’ may have been purposefully used to cause our delay.”

Again raising his carved walking stick, the oriental mage struck the door. It screeched in protest, as it swung inward. The priest gave an involuntary gasp at the scene within. He stumbled through the doorway, slipping a bit in the pool of blood that lay deep on the cabin’s floor.

In a tone of dismay the priest uttered, “It cannot be…”

The priest never finished his statement. With a lightening swift movement, a shadowed figure lashed out from the darkness within the cabin and sent the entrails of the priest spiraling through the interior of the home to splatter against the far wall with a sickening noise.

As the corpse of the priest collapsed, the Lama felt a pang of regret that his friend’s last words had been nothing but the denial of what was, so plainly, the truth.

The dark Kurd dropped the bars of gold he bore and drew forth from his robes a wand. He quickly began to chant and draw figures in the air before him. “Az areth kah nah! Az areth soh vah! …” he intoned. The Lama recognized the words of the Greater Invocation of the Fire God.

Drawing forth a wand from his own robes, the oriental mage began the Greater Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.

Though they worked furiously, the dark thing within the cabin began to emerge. As it closed on them, it became obvious that they would not have time to complete their rituals in a leisurely fashion…

***

Professor Ian Chang flinched as his telephone rang. The large stone disk in his hands slipped and fell a mere quarter of an inch onto his desk. However, the fraction of a second it required to make that meager descent was more than enough time for the professor to blurt out at least three curses. Chang managed to secure the disk within his grasp within two seconds, but it would take another two minutes for his heart to cease its hysterical fits. Unfortunately, the professor’s poor heart would not have those few minutes of quiet recuperative time it desired so. For, as telephones have an unpleasant tendency to do, the irksome device continued to pursue its vexing behavior of ringing.

Disregarding the insistent din, Professor Chang slowly and carefully eased the ancient stone relic onto a clear portion of his desktop. The stone was priceless. It had been smuggled out of the Chinese Empire by several of Chang’s associates. All of these men had placed themselves in considerable peril in doing the deed, imperiling both their lives and, perhaps more importantly, their access to the sites of future archeological discoveries within the empire. If their sources of information were correct, the stone disk had been found in caves that appeared to house the burial chambers of an unknown species of ape. Chang couldn’t begin to even estimate the enormity of such a find, but he strongly suspected that this stone was the most important item that was likely to grace his desk during his career.

After ensuring that the large stone disk was in a position of stability and inviolability upon his desk, Chang finally answered his telephone.

“Hello? Professor Chang?” came a scratchy sounding voice, the product of many miles of telephone wire of dubious quality, “My name is Dr. Bristol, I’m a doctor with the Municipal Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. I’m contacting you due to the fact that I’ve been informed that you are fluent in a rather exotic language from an area known as Druk Yul. Are you able to speak the language Taktshangu?”

Professor Chang hesitated for a moment in shock. Then, returning to his senses, he answered, “Yes, doctor, I am familiar with the language, although I couldn’t really go so far as to claim true fluency. I’m very surprised to hear that you are looking for someone who speaks this language. It’s so obscure I didn’t even realize there was another person in this country aware of its existence.”

The telephone emitted a crackling chuckle. “Well professor,” the doctor answered, “to tell the truth, I was indeed completely ignorant of existence before today. However, a patient was recently admitted who has indicated that this is his native tongue. Moreover, it seems to be the only language that he can speak intelligibly. He appears to understand English and can write a little English, (rather badly), but I think that to truly communicate with him, we may need to enlist your aid.”

“I’d be happy to help however I can,” Professor Chang assured the physician.

“I’m relieved to hear you say that,” replied Dr. Bristol, “It’s rather imperative that this man be able to communicate clearly. You see he is not only a patient of this hospital, but also a potential suspect in an extremely gruesome homicide investigation. I’m afraid that this fellow is going to need a rather devoted interpreter for a while. Is there any chance you might be willing to come down to Providence for a few days? I’m not sure, but I suspect that the local police may be able to pay you something for your services.”

“Oh no, you needn’t worry about paying me,” Chang said, “It would be worth the trip down to Providence and several days of my time simply to be able to brush up on speaking that language again. I’m sure that I can get the director of my department to agree. The college can simply count this as a mini-sabbatical.”

Then Professor Chang continued, “I’m rather surprised to hear that someone speaking Taktshangu is in any way involved in a violent event. This language is almost exclusively spoken by Bhutanese Buddhist monks. Not exactly the types of fellows who go around engaging in gruesome murders…”

“Yes,” responded the doctor, “and looking at him, I would never suspect him of anything of the sort. However, he seems to be one of the sole survivors of a rather nasty bloodbath that took place somewhere in the hills of western Massachusetts.”

“What is it that is making the police believe this fellow is the perpetrator?” inquired Chang.

“Mostly just typical laziness,” responded the physician, “The authorities have absolutely no idea who committed the crime. So, rather than actually putting a lot of effort into investigating, they’re hoping they’ll just be able to pin it all on someone who happened to be nearby and also happened to be peculiar enough to appear suspicious to the locals. Of course, the fact that this man doesn’t speak any English makes him an even more convenient target. I think that if you are able to act as a translator it will help a lot in clearing him.”

“Well, I’ll do what I can,” replied Chang, “I’ll be there as soon as I possibly can.”

***

The following day, shortly after noon, Professor Chang found himself entering the Municipal Hospital of Providence. As he walked he attempted to hide the stiffness that afflicted his lower back and legs. He knew he had been very fortunate that the college had been able and willing to provide him with a vehicle for the trip. However, the fact that motorized carriages always played such havoc with his spine was causing him to have some trouble feeling particularly grateful. He wished that time considerations hadn’t made it impractical to take a nice, comfortable passenger locomotive.

Professor Chang stopped at the first nurses’ station he found. He peered over the desk at the rather plain looking, heavy set, middle aged nurse who was busily jotting something down in an official looking logbook of some sort. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, “I was wondering if you could help me? I’m trying to locate the room of a Bhutanese gentlemen.”

The nurse looked up at him. The vacant expression on her face plainly displaying the fact that she had no clue what he meant.

Professor Chang decided to try again, hoping that additional information might be what was required to trigger a useful response. “He may be dressed in some sort of monastic garb.”

The woman blinked. Then she continued to stare blankly at him.

Professor Chang decided to continue. “Um, Bhutanese people are oriental…” he offered.

Much to the professor’s surprise, his last statement seemed to cause a spark of some sort to form in the woman’s mind. “There’s only one oriental in the hospital,” she responded, “But he’s not Bhutanese, he’s from someplace called Duck Yule, or something like that.”

“Druk Yul,” corrected the professor, “That is the name that many Bhutanese use to refer to their countrymen.”

The nurse’s expression was still mostly vacant, but had also adopted a hint of annoyance. “Room 3G,” she announced in a clipped tone. Then she added, “But you won’t be able to see him without talking to Dr. Bristol and some policemen first. He’s under police guard.”

“Ah yes, of course,” replied Professor Chang, “It was Dr. Bristol that contacted me. He’ll be expecting me. Is there anyway that that a message could be sent to him telling him that Professor Chang has arrived?”

***

Shortly thereafter, Professor Chang was beside the bed of an elderly East Asian man. “A Lama,” the professor exclaimed in surprise as he recognized the barely perceptible marks of rank that were born by the monastic garb that hung nearby. Then, speaking haltingly in the song-like language of Taktshangu, the professor managed to say, “Your holiness, I am surprised to meet one of such preeminence so far from the monasteries of your land.”

The little oriental responded, in the same tongue, “And I am even more surprised to hear a man of this land speaking in a language which is so rare even in its native lands. Moreover, I am impressed that you have so great a knowledge of our culture that you would recognize my office from a mere glimpse of my clothing. How is it that you have come by so intimate a familiarity with the ways of so obscure a population?”

Professor Chang hesitated for a moment, and then he answered, “Lama, portions my family history involve your lands. In fact, they are even rather deeply entangled with your religious order.”

“Ah…” intoned the monastic in sudden comprehension, “If this is the case, then you would have to be the offspring of Lama Chang and the Scottish woman who caused so great a disruption at the monastery which he, at one time, led.”

Professor Chang colored slightly in embarrassment. “Yes, that is the case, sir,” he replied in the monks language. “My name is Professor Ian Chang, and I am the son of ex-Lama Chang and Sophia MacGidden. I can understand if you do not wish to converse further with me. I would imagine that those past events were so objectionable to your order that you would view any child of ex-Lama Chang as anathema.”

The elderly Lama chuckled at the professor’s words. “Well,” he replied, “such might be the case with some of my less enlightened brethren. However, I am cognizant of some of the details of Lama Chang’s story that are not widely known. Although many would say his actions were inexcusable and blasphemous, I strongly believe he had excuses that were most legitimate. I am Lama Tua and I am most pleased to make your acquaintance Professor Chang. In fact, our meeting may be of extreme importance. Is there any chance that your father still lives?”

Professor Chang sighed. “I am afraid not sir,” he sang, “Both of my parents passed away within the last few years.”

The wizened oriental scowled slightly in frustration. Then he asked, “You wouldn’t happen to still have in your possession some of the ceremonial instruments which your father spirited away upon his departure would you? There was a special Dung Shen he possessed which would be especially helpful in resolving a conflict with which I will be forced to deal.”

“Dung Shen?” asked Professor Chang, still in speaking in Taktshangu, “You mean the great ceremonial horn? Yes, I still have that. It would be very difficult indeed to misplace so large an instrument as that. But this conflict of which you speak, is it related to the unfortunate event in that shack in Malwich?”

Lama Tua nodded solemnly, “Yes, the conflict of which I speak is intimately associated with the infernal carnage at that ill-fated site.”

“That event is actually the main reason for my presence here today, sir,” Professor Chang informed the Lama, “The authorities are considering you as a suspect in the slayings. Of course, such a thing seems preposterous to me, but it could still cause quite a few problems for you. If you could tell me what exactly happened there, it might help clear up a few difficulties.”

The Lama nodded, then he spoke, “The sad fact of the matter is that the true story behind the grim scene will be more likely to cause more confusion for the authorities then less. Myself, my Kurdish companion, Dr. Ibrahim Ben Shirah, and my Swiss companion, Father Hans Weiss, had all come to this land to perform a religious rite of protection for the family which dwelt within that home. Unfortunately, we arrived too late. Our adversaries had reached the family before us and had attacked them before we could provide them with protection.”

“Dr. Ibrahim Ben Shirah is the severely wounded gentleman who arrived with you here in that truck?” inquired Professor Chang.

“Yes,” confirmed Lama Tua, “In fact, he lies in a bed just beyond this curtain beside me. I am afraid he has yet to regain consciousness. Both of us were lucky to escape with our lives from that place. There was an unholy entity that still lingered in the home. That entity murdered not only the family who resided there, but also Father Weiss.”

As the elderly holy man spoke, a male orderly strode past them bearing several items and entered the area where the Kurdish man lay convalescing. They paused for a moment, listening to the sounds that issued from the other side of the curtain. They were reassured to hear noises that were recognizable as nothing more than those that would be associated with a sponge bath being given to an unconscious invalid.

“An entity?” asked Professor Chang continued, “By your use of the term entity, I would infer you mean something other than human? Was it an animal?”

“It was neither human nor an animal,” Lama Tua informed the professor, “It was a denizen of a place that is not within this reality.”

Professor Chang felt an apprehensive tightening of several of his internal organs. This was not the type of information that he had hoped to glean from the elderly monastic. “That’s not a good thing, your holiness,” he advised the diminutive holy man, “The police will be less than pleased by that sort of statement. I’m fairly sure that they will be much more likely to prosecute you than to believe that some sort of evil spirit is responsible for those crimes.”

Lama Tua nodded, “As I said, the truth will simply cause confusion for those who are aware of so little.”

Professor Chang decided to press forward with his inquiries, “How is it that you and Dr. Ben Shirah ended up stopping way over here in Providence for medical attention rather than closer to the scene of the attack?”

“It was not my intention to actually stop in this place,” the Lama responded in the song language, “The entity which attacked us is not likely to leave us in peace for long. We managed to repulse it once, but we could not totally dispel it. It will strike at us again. My intention was to place as much geographical distance between it and us as possible. The sole reason that our journey came to a halt at this place was because the ocean prevented me from driving any further. I have placed special marks of protection upon my surviving companion and myself, but I am unsure of how long their power will be sufficient to ensure our safety.”

“I see,” responded Professor Chang, becoming more and more disturbed as the monk continued his tale. “And the Dung Shen horn that I have might help protect you from the entity?”

Before Lama Tua could respond, the orderly who had been bathing the patient on the far side of the curtain entered their area. He gave the Lama a quick glance, and then addressed Professor Chang. “You are the interpreter for this patient?” he inquired.

“Yes, yes I am,” stated the professor.

“Great,” the hospital worker replied, “Then I need you to tell him something. Tell him to please refrain from drawing upon the other patients in this hospital. I don’t know what type of weird ink or paint he is using, but it is very difficult to scrub off when we bathe the patient. The man behind this curtain is in a very dire condition and should not be disturbed. And he should definitely not be used as a canvas for this guy’s artwork.”

Professor Chang informed the Lama of the orderly’s request, being careful to phrase the demand in a more courteous fashion.

As the professor spoke, Lama Tua became increasingly alarmed. Suddenly, he burst out, “That fool didn’t actually wash off my protective sigils did he? This is a disaster, this is horrible!”

The elderly monk immediately grabbed a small pottery jar and a brush from the drawer of his bedside table and started to struggle out of his bed. When the orderly discerned the monk’s intentions, he immediately sprung into action, pushing the old monk back down onto the bed and attempting to wrest the utensils from the old man’s grasp. “Oh no you don’t!” admonished the orderly, “We’ll have no more of that from you.”

Even as the orderly pried the small jar from the old man’s fingers, there was a sudden change in the room. Professor Chang felt the hairs on the back of his neck and forearms begin to stand erect as the air in the room suddenly became rather frigid. Both the professor, and the two men participating in the struggle for the writing tools, stopped and looked about them as all of the shadows in the room began to seemingly move about in a wide swirling pattern.

“What the…?” began the shocked orderly as he regarded the darting and spinning patches of darkness which had so recently been meekly obeying the laws of optics.

“Get this oaf off of me!” Lama Tua said to the professor in Taktshangu, “We’re in great danger!”

Professor Chang grabbed the sleeve of the large man who was holding down the diminutive monastic and declared, “Let go of him! This is beyond your understanding! You must let him go at once!”

However, it appeared that the professor’s demands had come too late. For the swirling shadows had proceeded to gather behind the curtain, where the Kurdish mage lay unconscious and defenseless. The confused orderly stood stunned, apparently paralyzed by the events that were so far from the type of incidents with which he was generally accustomed to dealing. However, he was violently roused from his trance as the curtain flew over their heads in a wildly spinning mass of shredded cloth. As the orderly staggered back, he was struck by a massive spray of blood, shredded flesh, and bits and pieces of organs and bones that followed close on the heels of the shredded curtain.

“Run!” commanded the Lama in Taktshangu as he sprang across the hospital bed, snatched his robes from the hook on which they hung, and sprinted through the door of the hospital ward.

Professor Chang did not require any further prompting. He joined the old man in a mad dash down the hall of the hospital as the screams of the orderly echoed throughout the building. A police officer standing guard outside the door managed to utter a brief, startled noise as they raced out of the room, but the screaming within the chamber cut him short.

As the old Lama ran with surprising speed, considering his age and injuries, he managed to extract a wand from within the robes he carried. Turning, he began to quickly chant and inscribe odd symbols in the air with his arcane tool. As he undertook those mystical actions, Professor Chang could discern that an undulating, throbbing mass of darkness was beginning to ooze out of the wardroom. As the old man finished the last of his incantations, the dark mass gathered itself together and seemingly sprang towards them, hurtling forward at an insane pace.

Professor Chang drew back in horror as the mass sped towards him. He was about to collapse in fear when the darkness suddenly rebounded as if from an invisible wall as it struck the area in which the monk had inscribed the invisible runes.

Lama Tua grasped the professor by the shirt sleeve and pulled him farther down the hall, away from the dark mass which now seemed to be whirling in confusion on the far side of the mage’s enchantments. The Lama sang, “That will hold it for only a short while! We must get far from here! Do you have a vehicle?”

Professor Chang nodded numbly and turned and started to race towards where he had left the motorized carriage that Miskatonic University had been good enough to lend him. They both vaulted into the seats of the conveyance, the Lama still dressed in his hospital gown.

Professor Chang managed to goad the engine of the carriage into life and threw the clutch into drive. He soon had them careening through the streets of the town. After a rather hazardous and illegal bit of speeding headlong down the avenues of the city, they found themselves hurtling down a lane that led eastward, away from the horror that they had witnessed and which was quite probably pursuing them.

***

They continued traveling at their breakneck speed, forcing the motor carriage forward at the very limits of its ability, until they finally came to bridge that extended across a river. A sign nailed to one end of the bridge informed them that the bridge spanned the body of water known as the Palmers River. Upon encountering the crossing, Lama Tua ordered the professor to stop the vehicle.

Professor Chang hesitantly obeyed the elderly monk. The Lama hopped out of the vehicle, searched along the roadside for a few moments, and finally located a sizable, sharp edged stone. Taking the bit of rock, he knelt on the near end of the wooden bridge and began to use the sharp point on the stone to scratch yet another of his strange symbols into the planks, all the while giving voice to an odd chant.

Upon finishing his occult task, the monk climbed back into the motor carriage and instructed the academic to proceed to drive to the other end of the span. When they had reached the other end, the monk once again hopped out and proceeded to etch another symbol on the planks of the bridge. Finally, with one last, loud burst of mystical syllables, he flung the sharp stone into the waters of the river.

As he climbed back into the vehicle, he said, “That will confuse the evil entity. It will take it much longer to locate us now. We can proceed upon our journey at a rate which will be much less likely to cause our deaths.”

The professor nodded, taking the monk at his word. He once again threw the conveyance’s clutch into drive and they began to proceed along the lane at a more reasonable pace.

As Professor Chang was now driving at a rate that no longer required his undivided attention and, therefore, allowed him to hold a conversation, he once again spoke in the song-like language and asked the Lama, “What exactly is happening here? Why is that thing after you? Why did it kill those hill people living out in the middle of nowhere in that shack? Why are you traveling in the company of men from completely different parts of the world? None of this makes any sense for a monk leading an ascetic life in some monastery on a mountaintop in the Himalayas!”

Lama Tua nodded in acknowledgement. “This is true,” he sang, “However, there is more to my life than being a monastic Lama. My companions and I have been entrusted with a task of incredible importance, a task that, as you say, has nothing to do with my office as a Lama. The three of us are members of an ancient alliance of mystics and students of the unseen. It fell upon the three of us to make a journey to this land to find a child that was born for a very specific purpose. This child, when born, would need to have certain, very powerful, rites performed which would conceal him from powers that have existed upon this world far before mankind ever came into being. These forces are extremely hostile to mankind. They currently lay in a dormant state, but when the stars are right, they will rise from the depths in which they slumber and devour all.”

“Why are these ‘forces’ so interested in this child?” asked the professor.

“The child is no ordinary child,” the monk replied, “He is, in fact, a reincarnation of the founder of our order. The founder has undertaken to attempt to reincarnate himself periodically, at points in time when the dark beings are likely to succeed in undertaking the actions which will rouse themselves from their stupor.”

“I thought you said that these beings could only awaken when ‘the stars are right’,” protested the professor.

“That is true,” confirmed the holy man, “However, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that the stars have been right for the last 10,000 years and will continue to be right for several thousand more years.”

“So, what is keeping them from awakening then?” asked the professor.

“It has been the intervention of our master,” Lama Tua explained, “During periods when we are changing from one Age to another, as we are beginning to do now, the beings will be able to break free. They are strongest during periods of transition.”

“From one Age to another?” asked the professor, confused.

“Yes,” said the Lama, “The last Age, which we are now in the process of leaving was the Age which is known to Western students of Astrology as the Age of Pisces. The next Age will be the Age of Aquarius. Approximately two thousand years ago, the last transition took place. At that time, the world progressed from the Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces.”

“So, about 2000 years ago, this leader of yours reincarnated and did something to keep the creatures at bay? The thing he does must not be anything very noticeable, since I’ve never heard of anything in history that mentioned him.”

Lama Tua chuckled heartily at his companion’s statement. Then he answered, “Oh yes you have! In fact you are very familiar with his history, most of the world is. I am quite certain you have heard of his prior incarnation as well. And the incarnation before that…”

“Really? I hate to disillusion you, but I can’t begin to guess what you mean,” replied Professor Chang.

“Well,” said the monk, “My two companions and I are commonly referred to as magi. About 2000 years ago, three other magi made a journey to visit a child. Does that sound familiar?”

“Pull the other one,” retorted the professor, “You have got to be joking.”

“I can assure you that I speak in complete sincerity,” responded the diminutive mage, “Hasn’t it ever occurred to you to wonder why three magi, men who were not adherents of the Hebrew faith, would get so excited about the birth of a Jewish/Christian deity that they would travel a great distance to present him with priceless treasures? Haven’t you ever wondered why priests of a competing religion would be so very keen on celebrating the birth of a god which was not part of their faith?”

“Hm, that is a good point,” conceded the academic.

“That child was the incarnation of a man who has repeatedly undertaken the actions necessary to save mankind from a horrific, hellish fate,” continued the monk, “If you are familiar with the mythology of various other lands, you may realize that other men from far back in the halls of time have undertaken actions that are stunningly similar to the incarnation with which you are most familiar. Do you recognize names such as Dionysus? Osiris? Marduk?”

“Well, I was aware that the myths of all of those deities were similar to the Christian mythology, but it is commonly thought, at least among academics, that the commonality is simply due to the ideas of an older civilization being absorbed into latter civilizations,” replied the professor.

“That is a theory which would be plausible,” rejoined the elderly monastic, “However, the reoccurring reincarnation and enactment of certain rituals is also a plausible theory. Moreover, it is a theory which you will find is going to be shown to be the true theory once our founder actually manages to be successful in enacting the current reincarnation.”

“So it was your leader who was the baby that died in that shack?” asked the professor, in shock.

“Yes, I’m afraid it was,” concurred the Lama.

“But then all is lost isn’t it?” asked the professor, “Won’t the evil beings be successful in breaking free now?”

“They might be,” answered the monk, “However, if we manage to stall them, we will be able to allow our founder another chance at reincarnation. Actually, he has tried several times recently, and this is the farthest he has gotten yet. Usually, he doesn’t even manage to get born.”

“What?” the professor asked, astonished, “You’re saying that this type of thing has been going on a lot recently.”

“Oh my yes,” the monk informed him, “Usually, however, the forces that oppose us foment such turmoil in the portions of the globe where he is destined to be born that it is nearly impossible to protect him. His last attempt at reincarnation was among the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. I’m sure you have heard rumors of the massacres which that population has suffered?”

“You’re saying that all of that was orchestrated purely to keep this man from reincarnating?” Professor Chang asked, aghast.

“Yes, our enemies will go to great lengths to stop this reincarnation. Moreover, they normally gain great enjoyment in doing so. Just take for example the way in which they succeeded in influencing Herod to massacre all of the male infants among the population of his own people. That was an unimaginable act of madness which they managed to engineer solely for the purpose of killing one child,” the monk stated.

“How is it that your enemies and you both seem to know where the child will be born?” asked Professor Chang.

“Astrology,” stated the Lama succinctly, “It’s all written in the stars. That’s why, according to Christian mythology, the three wise men were following a star. It was actually a very complex reading of massive patterns in the heavens which lead our forefathers to the right place, not just one big, bright star.” Then the Lama chuckled as he said, “It certainly would be nice if it were that easy…”

“We had great hopes for this occasion,” the Lama continued, “This part of the planet is so placid at the moment that our adversaries seemed to be unable to actually cause trouble here. The best that they seemed to be able to do was start a large war in Europe. But they were unable to have this land successfully invaded. The war in Europe kept us from traveling here as soon as we would have liked, but due to the peaceful conditions, we hoped that the child would still be safe. Unfortunately, our enemies struck in a manner that was uncharacteristically direct. They managed to conjure an infernal shadow creature which they have employed to great effect.”

“How long will it be before your founder can reincarnate again? And where will it be?” asked the Professor.

“Unfortunately, according to the stars, the next time a reincarnation will be possible will be in roughly twenty years. It will take place in Germany, probably amongst the Hebrews living in that land according to the signs. Our enemies will have plenty of time to arrange the type of rituals that will awaken their horrible masters before then. If we manage to thwart their efforts, we can only hope that Europe has become a sane and peaceful enough place in twenty years to prevent our enemies from interfering once again,” the monastic replied.

“How can they be thwarted?” inquired Professor Chang.

“Well, now that I have lost my two companions, it will be nearly impossible to stop them,” responded Lama Tua despondently, “Unless, of course, I quickly receive help from outsiders, quite a few outsiders.”

***

Horses will habitually wander back to familiar surroundings when lost and confused. Apparently, Professor Chang possessed similar horse sense, as he and the monk soon found themselves driving up to the gates of Miskatonic University. Professor Chang aided the elderly Lama in climbing the required steps up to the professor’s Spartan, yet highly cluttered office. In the absence of a life threatening extra -dimensional terror, the injuries that the monastic had previously suffered were once again asserting their complaints.

Once the pair had finally gained access to the office, Lama Tua inscribed mystical sigils on both the doorway and the office’s two small, dirty windows, (both of which commanded a singularly unimpressive view of small, dirty windows in a neighboring building). Having completed the creation of the protective engravings, the Lama declared, “We will use this as our base of operations.”

“All right,” agreed Professor Chang, as he opened the door to a narrow storage closet. He reached deep into the closet, grasped an enormous horn, and hauled it clear of its confines. In the process he managed to dislodge only a rather small avalanche of dusty papers and curious ‘what-nots’ that had shared the horn’s dark sanctuary.

The monk hurried over and began to examine the Dung Shen horn as Professor Chang produced an old cloth and began to wipe the dust from its surface. “Sorry about the dust,” the professor apologized, “But I haven’t had much need of a six foot horn lately.”

The small monastic elder eagerly traced the lines that were etched into the ancient horn, lines that formed complex patterns. These patterns appeared as nothing more than ornamental design to the untrained eye, and even the learned professor had failed to note their significance. However, the Lama’s close scrutiny made it plain that the seemingly decorative markings held hidden import.

“Yes, yes, this is proper horn,” said the Lama, smiling widely and nodding to himself, “This is wonderful. This, at least, offers us one weapon with which to fight our battle. This offers at least a smattering of hope.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” stated Professor Chang, “Now, what else will we need? What kind of help are we going to have to recruit?”

“As far as items that we will need, most of them are fairly standard items used in magickal operations,” sang the monk, “The one component that will be difficult to obtain is a substance know as Mordotox Powder. It contains many rare ingredients from places all over the globe. It is notoriously difficult to create. The one thing in our favor in this regard is that our adversaries will have need of the same substance in order to enact their ritual.”

“You don’t think that they would have already mixed up a batch of this stuff before they began all this?” inquired Professor Chang.

“No, the powder must be mixed from freshly gathered ingredients. If it is mixed too early it quickly loses its potency. Their current master of the cthonic cult must be somewhere in the area. Only their most powerful and learned adept would be able to conjure and control something as fearsome as that beshadowed nightmare which pursues us. Therefore, they will need to find suppliers somewhere along this coastline who can provide the needed ingredients. If they can find such suppliers, we should be able to as well.”

Professor Chang looked doubtful, “Well, I’ll ask around, perhaps one of the professors of botany would have some ideas. What else do we need?”

“We will need a group of people who are knowledgeable in the field of ceremonial magic,” the monk added, “However, they must be of the purest character. We cannot make use of anyone who has ever dabbled in the darker side of the arcane.”

Once again, Professor Chang looked doubtful. “Well,” he said, “It’s a pretty well known secret that there are groups right here on campus that are interested in, and study, the magickal arts. However, it may be quite a challenge to locate any who haven’t mucked about a bit with the odd incantation of a nastier sort…”

Lama Tua sighed. Then he said, “Well, do what you can to try and locate such people. Bring any that you believe would be useful to me. I will quickly be able to determine if they are pure or not.”

“All right,” agreed Professor Chang, “Is there anything else that we need?”

The Lama nodded and replied, “If you know of any experts in ancient texts of middle eastern origin, that would be most helpful. There are a couple of incantations that I know of, but will need some aid in translating into a form that will be usable by the group we need to assemble.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the professor, “Finally! Something that I can easily accomplish!”

Professor Chang seized the telephone that sat upon his desk and quickly dialed the extension of a fellow professor and close friend. In moments, there was an answer at the other end of the line, “Hello? This is Professor Charles Jenkins…”

“Chuck! Glad I was lucky enough to catch you in the office,” exclaimed Professor Chang.

“Hulloo Ian,” responded Professor Jenkins, “Nice to hear from you. Although, frankly, since I twisted my ankle, it wouldn’t take you much luck to catch me here. It’s too much trouble to hobble off to anywhere else…”

“True,” conceded Professor Chang, “Sorry that ankle is still bothering you. Listen, I have a friend that desperately needs some help translating some ancient middle eastern texts. Odd as this may sound, its a real emergency and requires immediate attention. Also, if I bring him to your office, I hope you wouldn’t mind if he engraves some odd symbols on yours door’s wood paneling?”

“No problem at all,” responded Professor Jenkins, “In fact, the engraving will be most welcome. My poor little office needs all the decoration it can get…”

***

Soon, within the confines of the office of Professor Jenkins, (which happened to look amazingly similar to the office of Professor Chang – with the one exception that the piles of clutter tended to be graced with middle eastern characters rather than the characters of the alphabets of the far east), Lama Tua and Professor Chang were unloading a small set of cryptic scrolls.

“These are the scrolls we will need some help in translating and modifying slightly to meet our current needs,” explained Professor Chang. Then, seeming to be hoping for a bit of luck he added, “Say Chuck, you wouldn’t happen to know of some group on campus that practices a particularly pure form of white magic would you?”

Professor Jenkins, for a moment, seemed startled by the odd question, then he replied, “Well, there’s always the MTA…”

“Empty A?” asked Professor Chang, plainly confused.

“Yeah, the MTA,” confirmed Professor Jenkins, “The Miskatonic Theurgy Association.”

“Theurgy? What’s that?” inquired Professor Chang.

Professor Jenkins carefully repositioned his injured ankle on its big, fluffy pillow before answering. “Theurgy is a type of magic that is used to investigate the nature of reality through consultation with beings of celestial nature. Its antonym would be Thaumaturgy, which is the type of magic that is used to produce physical effects or to gain more mundane types of knowledge. Basically, Theurgy is considered High Magic while Thaumaturgy is considered Low Magic. Some groups consider Theurgy to be the purest form of white magic.”

“Interesting,” replied Professor Chang, “How big is this group?”

“Well,” said Professor Jenkins, “Its pretty small compared to the membership of the groups on campus who dabble in more ‘practical’ types of magic. There are currently about 30 members I think. I’m actually the group’s academic sponsor. That’s the only reason I’m so familiar with them.”

“That’s lucky,” said Professor Chang. Then he asked, “And none of these people have ever dabbled in magic of a more questionable nature? All of them are dedicated to this Theurgy stuff?”

“Well…..” responded Professor Jenkins, appearing to be slightly uncomfortable, “There are a few people in the group that are a bit seedy. If you don’t count them, you’ve probably got between twelve and eight who are likely to have never touched anything tainted.”

In the Bhutanese song language, Professor Chang asked Lama Tua, “Would between eight and twelve people be enough for our purposes?”

The Lama looked a bit disheartened and replied, “No, we need at least twenty.”

“Bother,” sighed Professor Chang, “Know anyone else that might be useful to us, Chuck?”

“Not off hand,” replied Professor Jenkins, “But I can ask around amongst the MTA folk, some of them might be able to come up with a few acceptable friends.”

***

As luck would have it, Professor Jenkins’ inquiries bore fruit. By the next day, a small group had assembled within Jenkins’ cramped office. Professor Jenkins himself was seated at his desk with his ankle still propped up on a big, fluffy pillow. Professor Ian Chang and Lama Tua, were squeezed somewhat behind him, both taking care not to bump their friend and aggravate his injured ankle, (as they had already accidentally jostled it several times and were eager not to be tossed out).

On the opposite side of the office were Miss Lynn Waymouth, the chairwoman of the Miskatonic Theurgy Association, and a friend of hers by the name of Mr. Ozric Thorncroft.

“So you say you have a coven of sorts that practices purely white magic?” asked Professor Chang.

Mr. Thorncroft nodded and replied, “Yes, we are careful to follow the rede and harm none. Although, our workings are not pure theurgy such as Lynn practices. We do quite a lot of healing work. As healing magick produces physical results, it would have to be classified as thaumaturgy. However, I still consider it purely white magic.”

Lynn Waymouth shrugged slightly and said, “Well, as far as Thaumaturgy goes, its probably the whitest type of stuff you’ll get. At any rate, I can vouch that Oz here has his heart in the right place.”

Lama Tua nodded in ascent. In his song-like language he stated to Professor Chang, “If I understood the young lady correctly, she was saying that her gentlemen friend was a practitioner of a pure form of magick. I would agree with her statement. His aura is pure. If his associates are of a similar nature, they will be suitable.”

Professor Chang translated the Lama’s comment.

Mr. Thorncroft nodded, and said, “The auras of all of my associates are pure. That is always the first yardstick I use in measuring any perspective candidate for membership in our group.”

“How many people are in your group?” inquired Professor Jenkins.

“At the moment we have what is normally considered the optimum number of coven members – thirteen,” replied Mr. Thorncroft.

“Thirteen!” exclaimed Professor Chang in surprise, “You consider thirteen to be a good number?”

Mr. Thorncroft chuckled and responded, “Well, lucky omens tend to work a little backwards for witches. We consider black cats lucky, too. However, like everyone else, broken mirrors are undesirable, and walking under ladders is just a plain old bad idea. Its too likely someone on the ladder will accidentally drop a bucket or something on you.”

“Sensible,” conceded Professor Jenkins.

“Well, with the purer part of the MTA and Mr. Thorncroft’s coveners, it looks as if we will have enough people to work the ritual,” stated Professor Chang, “Now, our main obstacle will be getting all the ingredients to make Mordotox Powder.”

“Mordotox Powder?” responded Mr. Thorncroft, “That’s damnably tricky stuff to get the ingredients for!”

“Yes,” agreed Professor Chang, “That’s why its such an obstacle.”

“Hm,” said Mr. Thorncroft contemplatively, “You know, I happen to know of a couple of fellows who tend to be able to locate all sorts of strange herbs. Let me put you in contact with them and we’ll see if we have any luck…”

***

Shortly thereafter, Professor Chang and Lama Tua stood in the Salon of Messieurs Stimperton Othecary and Renworth Hempton. Mr. Thorncroft was making introductions.

“Stimperton and Renworth here are practically alchemists when it comes to mixing the odd bit medicinal herbs,” stated Mr. Thorncroft.

The pair of vendors of pharmaceutical wonders colored slightly in embarrassment at such praise. “Well, we do our best to satisfy our customers,” responded Renworth humbly.

Stimperton, meanwhile, began to scan the list of ingredients needed to manufacture the needed powder. “Oh my!” he exclaimed, “Most of these items are not ones which we have imported in the past. I’m going to need to start contacting our suppliers at once to determine if all of these items are going to be available. I’m afraid the war simply played total havoc with our supply lines! It can be a nightmare to acquire anything from Europe at the moment. Northern Africa isn’t much better and Asia is only slightly more accessible. Anything coming out of the Middle East has to be sent via completely different channels now. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire has totally discombobulated shipping in that region. One can only hope that the Brits and French are going to be able to restore some semblance of sane commerce to that area shortly.”

Renworth nodded in agreement as he joined his partner in scanning the list. He gave his customers an apologetic look and added, “I’m afraid these items are not going to be cheap to acquire gentlemen, if it is even possible to do so. If you would like an estimate I would say…um…let’s see…this plus that…in addition to this…plus that quantity of those…would be…err, bother, I think we will need our accountant for this one…”

Stimperton seemed to be just as blank when it came to adding up a price.

Mr. Thorncroft responded, “Don’t worry gentlemen, I’m sure that we’ll be able to acquire the funds. There will be a good number of people from which we will be able to acquire donations to help this cause I believe.”

“Apparently Lama Tua will be able to draw upon the treasury of his monastery as well,” added Professor Chang, “So, payment should be assured. However, it may take some time for the funds to arrive from such a great distance.”

“Ah very well,” said Stimperton, “I believe we will have no problem in extending you credit for all this.”

As Renworth continued to scan the list he suddenly seemed to come to an important realization. “Say Stimperton!” he exclaimed in an excited tone, “You know, it suddenly occurs to me that I have seen all of these items before!”

Stimperton once again peered closely at the list, and then declared, “By Jove Renworth! You are correct! How could such a thing have slipped by me! Some of the items had slightly different names on the other order, but now that you point it out, I’m sure they were just different terms for the same substances!”

“Someone else has placed an order for Mordotox Powder with you?” Professor Chang asked in surprised.

“Yes indeed!” exclaimed Stimperton, “They didn’t use the name Mordotox Powder, but judging from the ingredients and the instructions they gave for the concocting, it must be the very same thing. This is very lucky indeed for you gentlemen! As we will have two orders for the same things, we will be able to offer you considerably reduced prices! In fact, I’ve already managed to contact some of suppliers about supplying a few of these items. I can just have them double their shipments!”

“Any chance we could buy the whole supply and you could just stiff your other customers?” inquired Mr. Thorncroft.

Renworth gave Mr. Thorncroft a rather disappointed look and responded, “Mr. Thorncroft, you know that would violate our professional ethics…”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” sighed Mr. Thorncroft, “But I felt the need to ask…”

“Actually, I should tell you,” Stimperton said, “In trying to fill the other order, we have had a devil of time obtaining one of these ingredients. The fungus known as Ardennes Bluecaps may have gone extinct it appears. No one has been able to find any. The war ravaged the area in which they grew quite badly. Its hard to find vegetation of any sort whatsoever in that area…”

“Ah, well, do what you can please,” replied Professor Chang, “Its quite vital. By the way, would you mind telling us who your other customer might be which placed the other order for Mordotox Powder?”

Stimperton and Hempton both looked uncomfortable. Then Stimperton said, “Due to the sensitive nature of our business, our clients tend to prefer that we not disclose their identities…”

“I understand perfectly,” replied Mr. Thorncroft as he reached out to shake Stimperton’s hand. As Thorncroft grasped Stimperton in a firm handshake, he suddenly stopped and pulled the vendor closer to him, staring Stimperton straight in the eyes.

“I say! Stimperton old chap! Are you quite all right?” inquired his partner Renworth. Stimperton, however, seemed to have fallen into some sort of trance as he met Mr. Thorncroft’s gaze. Mr. Thorncroft then proceeded to lay his other hand across Stimperton’s forehead. After a brief moment of concentration, Mr. Thorncroft smiled and stated, “He seems fine to me! I don’t feel a fever!”

As if Mr. Thorncroft’s remark had released him, Stimperton fell back a few paces. He then said, “Well, that was an odd turn. I felt a bit dizzy there…”

“Ah well, no harm done,” continued Mr. Thorncroft smiling benevolently at the vendor, “Just sit down for a bit and I’m sure you’ll be right as rain. If not, I’m sure Renworth can whip you up something that will make you feel five times better than you did before.”

“Ah yes!” responded Stimperton with a happy look on his face, “That is a fine idea! I do think this calls for one our special tonics Renworth, old chum!”

“Excellent notion!” concurred Renworth heartily, “I do believe I will join you! I feel as if I might have a funny turn coming on myself…”

***

As the group left the salon, Lama Tua began to chuck to himself.

Professor Chang asked the diminutive monastic, in his song-like tongue, “If you don’t mind my inquiring, what has tickled your fancy?”

The Lama responded, “It would be quite ironic if the war which our adversaries started in order to hamper our efforts resulted in depriving them of a substance which they required.”

After they had strolled a block further, Mr. Thorncroft confided to the other members of the party, “Their other customer is the Ordu Astra Noir.”

“The Order of the Black Star?” said Professor Chang, “I’ve heard a rumor of a group by that name. Wasn’t it supposed to have a lot of people in it that held important positions in Arkham?”

“Yes,” confirmed Mr. Thorncroft with a grim look, “I’m afraid this rules out interrupting our adversaries’ ritual by simply calling the police on them. I’m afraid that we would be the ones to end up in jail, rather than them.”

“How did you determine the name of the other customer?” asked the professor.

“Well, as Lynn said before,” responded Mr. Thorncroft, “I practice more than just Theurgy…”

***

Within days, the same small group had reassembled within the office of Professor Jenkins.

“Some of our ‘not-quite-pure’ members are still proving useful in our efforts,” reported Lynn Waymouth, chairwoman of the MTA, “The members with connections to other groups have been carefully putting out some feelers for us. The Ordu Astra Noir is a pretty closed mouth group. However, some of the more prominent members have children who share their parent’s interests. The OAN, (the Ordu Astra Noir), generally chooses to ignore such progeny of its as members when they do not possess exceptional gifts or positions of power of their own. However, these offspring have a tendency to overhear certain portions of their parents’ dealings. We’ve found that many of them are more than eager to impress their friends in occult circles with the tidbits they have gleaned.”

Miss Waymouth continued, “So far, from such sources, we have managed to determine both the time and location at which the Ordu Astra Noir are planning on performing their ritual.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Professor Jenkins.

“Most impressive,” Professor Chang added.

Mr. Thorncroft said, “Well, this is one big advantage we have in knowing who they are while they remain ignorant of our identities.”

“How do you know that the Ordu Astra Noir doesn’t know who we are?” asked Professor Jenkins.

“Considering who some of the people are on their membership roles,” replied Mr. Thorncroft, “if they knew who we were, we would most probably be either arrested or dead by now.”

The entire group paused, each silent for a moment as the true nature of their situation established itself more poignantly in their minds.

Finally, Lynn Waymouth broke the silence, asking the group at large, “Has anyone noticed any of the shadows around the school behaving oddly?”

Professor Chang stiffened at the question. He quickly translated the question into the singsong language of Taktshangu for the benefit of the elderly Lama Tua.

Lama Tua nodded. “It was only a matter of time before the shadow beast tracked us down again,” he stated. Then he added, “It is time that we rid ourselves permanently of that particular pestilence.”

“We can do that?” asked Professor Chang in surprise.

“Yes, with the aid of a few of our friends and the Dung Shen of The Thunder Dragons,” replied the elderly Lama.

Professor Chang stared at the monk in shock for a few moments, then he said, “You don’t mean that the big horn that I’ve had stuffed in the back of my storage closet for years is THE legendary Dung Shen of The Thunder Dragons, do you?”

Lama Tua nodded solemnly. Then he informed the startled professor, “Your father and mother required an artifact of great power to dispel the curse against which they fought.”

Professor Chang continued to stand, staring at the Lama as if completely dazed. Finally the Lama poked him in the side with his elbow and told him to translate the plan that he needed to communicate to their allies.

***

Later that night, a small group had assembled in a large cellar of one of the college’s halls. It was an old, dark cellar that was rarely entered and had been largely forgotten by the vast majority of the university’s staff. Although the room was nearly always deserted, tonight it was occupied by a dozen men and women garbed in dark robes, all of whom were engaged in a rather monotonous, droning chant.

Within the circle that the chanting ceremonial magicians had formed, stood Lama Tua. He stood serenely, as if awaiting nothing more important than a supplicant or pilgrim who had traveled to visit his monastery, high in the Himalayas.

Concealed behind a thick dark curtain, which had been inscribed with a set of arcane runes, stood two more individuals – Professor Chang and Mr. Thorncroft. “You’re sure that this will attract the shadow beast?” whispered Professor Chang to his companion.

“It should,” replied Mr. Thorncroft, “They are performing a summoning ritual of a general nature while focusing on the Lama. The vibrations that they are generating should act as a blazing beacon for the entity that is pursuing him. Just keep those lips of yours ready, when the thing enters the room, you are going to have to blow hard and fast.”

Professor Chang nodded and started puckering and unpuckering in the closest thing that he could devise to a lip limbering exercise.

As the droning chant continued, Professor Chang once again felt the hairs on the back of his neck and forearms begin to stand erect. He also once again felt the air in the room plunge in temperature. As the considerable number of shadows within the room started to swirl about them, he put his lips to the mouthpiece of the legendary Dung Shen of The Dragons of Thunder.

Taking a deep breath, he paused, waiting for the creature to coalesce around the wizened figure in the center of the circle of mystics. He was somewhat taken by surprise as the huge mass of shadows which inhabited the dark cellar seemed to plunge towards the monk with a sudden viciousness and speed which they had not exhibited during his last encounter with the entity.

He quickly pressed his lips hard against the mouthpiece and blew with all his might, or at least that is what he attempted to do. As he exerted all the force that his lungs could muster to force his breath through the Dung Shen, he was horrified to realize that he was hearing nothing that sounded like the sound of a horn. In fact, all he was hearing was the screaming of the gathered ritualists as the huge shadow flung them to all parts of the room.

The professor attempted to redouble his efforts, only to feel a spike of intense pain pierce his skull slightly above his forhead and his eyes begin to protrude from their sockets. Luckily, Mr. Thorncroft noticed the professor’s extreme discomfort.

Mr. Thorncroft quickly bent down and reached into the wide end of the horn. He groped about within the gargantuan wind instrument for a few short moments, reaching deeper and deeper inside. Finally, he stopped, braced himself, and gave a great pull at something within the horn. As the mysterious object within his grasp gave way, he fell backwards into the concealing curtain. The curtain collapsed on top of him, completely entangling him within its thick folds.

As the curtain collapsed atop the witch, the great pressure that Professor Chang’s lungs were exerting finally gave the Dung Shen voice. True to its name, the Dung Shen of The Thunder Dragons belched forth a resonating tone that was extremely reminiscent of thunder. The rumbling bellow shook the ancient hall’s crumbling foundations in a manner that would have been extremely alarming to all of the people within the cellar, if they had been capable of conscious thought while the blaring resonance pummeled their brains.

The great wave of sound struck the shadow creature in much the same way a flying bonfire might strike a house of cards. Which is to say, the shadowy nightmare quickly ceased to exist.

As the thunderous tone died out, and Professor Chang collapsed to his knees, a few of the younger and healthier ritualists managed to regain their senses and rushed to the aid of the fallen. Most prominent amongst the fallen was the old Lama. His crumpled form lay in the center of the room, looking much like an old wine skin which had been sucked dry and cast aside.

While the occultists rushed to the elderly man and began to examine him, Mr. Thorncroft had managed to extract himself from the thick folds of the curtain. Seeing that the wizened old monk had succumbed to unconsciousness, he quickly strode over to the prone monastic. Bending over, he unstoppered a small vial and placed it near the lama’s lips. Within moments, the old man awoke coughing and sputtering.

One of the ritualists peered over Mr. Thorncroft’s shoulder at the vial and said, “That potion seems rather potent, what is it?”

“Smelling salts,” Mr. Thorncroft answered, “They’re the quickest way I’ve found yet to pull an astral traveler back from a bad journey.”

Still disoriented from his recent ordeal, Lama Tua gasped, “What happened? Why did it take so long for the horn to be blown?”

Mr. Thorncroft held out a roll of rice paper to the Lama. “This had gotten jammed in the horn I’m afraid,” he said.

The Lama reached out and grasped the scroll with a trembling hand. He unrolled the paper in a rather unsteady fashion and then was forced to pause for several moments while he tried to force his eyes to focus. Finally, he was able to begin to read the curled document.

“Most interesting,” the monk stated, “This appears to be a banishing ritual which I have never before encountered. This may prove valuable in that task which lies before us. Such a discovery is almost worth the excruciating pain of having a portion of my soul sucked into an infernal realm of utter darkness. Almost, but not quite. I believe that from now on, we should be a bit more diligent in ensuring that our tools are in working order before the time comes to rely on them.”

***

The team of ritualists that the professors and the elderly monk had managed to assemble spent the next few weeks practicing the ceremony that they would need to perform in order to disrupt the efforts of the Ordu Astra Noir. They also spent the time collecting the various pieces of equipment that they would require. This equipment was largely composed of the tools needed for the ritual. The rest of the equipment tended to be firearms.

Finally, the evening that the Ordu Astra Noir had selected for its ritual arrived. Professor Chang, Lama Tua, Mr. Thorncroft, and a group of assorted theurgists and coveners assembled atop a hill which overlooked another, slightly lower, but much wider hill which the Ordu Astra Noir had selected for their ritual.

Professor Jenkins had expressed a desire to join the others. However, the combination of his injured ankle and the steep climb to the top of the hill resulted in his being forced to await the outcome of the evening’s activities from within the comfort of his office.

As the group donned their ceremonial garb, readied their ritual tools, and loaded their firearms, Lama Tua, Mr. Thorncroft, and Professor Chang discussed one last issue of great concern. “We won’t be able to do a thing without that Mordotox Powder!” asserted the Lama in as agitated a tone as his song-like language would allow.

“Stimperton told me that they were expecting a shipment of the Ardennes Bluecaps this afternoon,” replied Mr. Thorncroft after Professor Chang had interpreted the Lama’s concerns. “Stimperton said that they were going to deliver the powder to the OAN out here just as soon as it was completed. So I told him to bring ours over to this hill. Don’t worry, I made him promise not to give any clues that we were over here.”

Professor Chang grimaced slightly. “I’m not too convinced that those two are competent enough to avoid giving away our presence.”

Lama Tua, apparently having understood enough English to comprehend the professor’s concern, added in his own tongue, “I’m not convinced that those two are competent enough to find either of these hills…”

While the three voiced their concerns, one of Mr. Thorncroft’s coveners approached them. “SunDragon,” the man said, obviously addressing Thorncroft, “There is something coming up the side of the hill over there. We can hear it approaching through the brush.”

As the Lama, the professor, and Mr. Thorncroft hurried towards the area that the covener had indicated, Professor Chang gave Mr. Thorncroft a strange look and asked, “SunDragon?”

“Craft name,” the witch replied as they joined the group of ritualists that had assembled.

The group waited, aiming their shotguns at the general vicinity of the oncoming streperous being of unknown nature and purpose. As the cacophony of breaking tree limbs grew closer it was joined by the sound of the prolific employment of expletives. Professor Chang relaxed slightly, realizing that the interloper must, at least, be human and not some nefarious denizen of the nether worlds.

Lama Tua, speaking in his song language, advised, “Be most careful not to discharge your firearms prematurely. This person is obviously not approaching with even the slightest pretense at stealth – it is likely that they mean no harm.”

Chang translated the Lama’s warning to the others and they lowered their weapons to less threatening positions.

Finally, the newcomer burst out of the thicket, stumbled forward, tripped, and sprawled gracelessly onto the ground before the group. Chang and his companions still could not see the fellow well enough to determine his identity in the thick gloom.

He rose to his knees and began to brush dirt and bits of vegetation off of his clothing. Suddenly, he froze, apparently becoming aware of the fact that a group of individuals stood before him armed with shotguns. He peered about at the group for a moment, then spoke, “Professor Chang? It’s me, Stimperton Othecary! I’ve come with the powder you ordered. I hope its not too late.”

The professor laughed with relief. Lama Tua sang in his foreign tongue, “Wonderful! We will be able to perform the ritual! All is not lost!”

Stimperton offered a bag to Professor Chang. The bag was very small, but a stench was emanating from it that was wholly out of proportion to its size. As the professor took the bag he drew back with a gasp. The fumes coming from the diminutive sack were strong enough to sere the delicate tissues of his nose and throat.

“Ack! Nasty stuff!” he commented.

Stimperton nodded in agreement. Then he said, “Oh, there’s one thing I need to tell you. That rare fungus from the Ardennes finally arrived, but when we opened the package, we found that it had gone bad. I substituted a type of mushroom that is native to this area. I hope that is acceptable. From what I have read, the fungus I employed has even greater potency than the Ardennes Bluecap.”

Lama Tua instantly became exceedingly distraught. “Did I understand him correctly?” the Lama sang. “Did he say that he substituted a different type of mushroom?”

Professor Chang informed the Lama that this was indeed the case. “No! No!” sang the Lama, hanging his head in disappointment and frustration. “The formula must be adhered to exactly or it will not work!”

At that moment, Lynn Waymouth, the chairwoman of the Miskatonic Theurgy Association, arrived, moving at a fast jog despite the darkness of the woods. “You should see this professor!” she whispered loudly, pressing a pair of binoculars into Chang’s hands, “Something very strange is happening over at the Ordu Astra Noir’s ceremony!”

Professor Chang rushed over to the embankment and trained the field glasses on the bonfire on the neighboring hilltop. Bringing the blurry images into focus, he discerned that there appeared to be a man running and leaping about amongst the white robed figures. The man was not wearing a white robe, like the others. Instead, he appeared to be wearing a fairly conservative tweed suit to which he had added a more unconventional fashion accessory – a brightly colored plaid piece of cloth that he had fastened about his neck like a cape.

The strangely attired fellow was rushing about on the opposite hill, striking random cultists about the head and shoulders with what appeared to be a dust mop. The whole ceremony had devolved into chaos.

“What in the name of the heavens is that man doing?” muttered Chang.

Stimperton and the others had joined him in peering over the ridge at their adversaries. “Oh my,” said Stimperton in a worried tone, “This is not good…”

Everyone looked at him, waiting for him continue with his comment. Looking embarrassed, Stimperton cleared his throat. Then he explained, “I’m afraid that Renworth took it upon himself to sample a small amount of the Ardennes Bluecap to determine whether or not it might be usable despite it’s spoiled appearance. I’m afraid he hasn’t been quite the same since. He’s taken to wearing a set of particularly hideous curtains around his neck and referring to himself as ‘The Plaid Crusader’. He seems to have come to believe that it is his sworn duty to cleanse humanity of some sort of evil dust mites that are attempting to conquer the universe. I sent Renworth over to that hill to deliver the Ordu Astra Noir’s batch of the Mordotox Powder. Apparently, he appears to believe they have been infested with the villainous dust mites…”

Mr. Thorncroft interrupted, asking, “Did you and Renworth use the Bluecap’s in the powder that you made for the Ordu Astra Noir, or did you use a substitute ingredient in their batch also?”

Stimperton responded, “We used the substitute in their batch as well. Renworth’s reaction convinced me that it would be unwise to subject any of our clients to the affects of the rotten Bluecaps.”

The group peered over at the other hill again. They could see that the cultists had managed to wrestle Renworth to the ground and several of them were sitting on him. The extremely tall, dark, malevolent figure that appeared to be leader the Ordu Astra Noir’s activities was bending down over Renworth and prying something out of his grasp.

Through the field glasses, Chang could make out that the dark figure had wrested a bag from Renworth that seemed to be a twin to the noisome bag that Stimperton had presented to him earlier.

The Dark Figure made some gestures to his followers, apparently issuing some manner of command. The white robed cultists seized Renworth, lifted him above their heads, marched to a cliff on the opposite side of the hill, and tossed him off. Even as he was being thrown from the precipice, Renworth took one last opportunity to use his dust mop to whack at a couple of hallucinatory dust mites which he apparently believed to be perched atop some of the cultists’ heads.

“Oh dear!” said Stimperton in a worried tone, “Its a lucky thing that there is a lake at the bottom of that cliff! I had better get down there and fish him out!”

Stimperton dashed off to rescue his partner. Ozric Thorncroft turned to Professor Chang and asked, “What affect do you think the substitute ingredient in the Mordotox Powder will have on their conjuration? Judging from Renworth’s state, I doubt he bothered to inform them of the substitution.”

Lama Tua, apparently understanding Thorncroft’s question, told Professor Chang, “It is hard to say exactly what the affect may be. I hope that the incorrectly concocted powder will bring their efforts to complete ruin. However, they may enjoy some partial success…”

Mr. Thorncroft, again peering through his field glasses, announced, “It appears that they have started their ritual.”

As it was apparent that their own group had abandoned its plans to enact their own ceremonial magic, due to the incorrectly created powder, all the members of the gathering began to assemble along the bluff that afforded a commanding view of their adversaries’ ritual site. As the sound of the sinister cultists’ chants drifted across the hills, they peered down at the proceedings. All of them were trying to be careful to avoid notice. Many of them peered through binoculars. Others nervously fingered the barrels of their rifles, wondering if it would be necessary to resort to a firefight in order to avert a great horror falling upon the world of man.

The chants of the Ordu Astra Noir rose and fell in pitch and timbre. Its guttural syllables grating on the ears of the clandestine audience. “IA! IA! C’thulhu phthagn! IA C’thulhu! C’wurgrd ar n’rlyeh drc harrak kii!! Ahkwrr vthcha lurrgrrc na’ qilra! IA Shub-niggurath!! IA Azathoth! Tiilpuk arn y’loch IA gw’ur!”

As the shuddersome intonations reached a crescendo, the great dark figure step towards the center of their formation. It raised its great black arms over the fire that burnt within the circle. As its arms hovered above the flames, their wholesome red and yellow hues flickered and altered, becoming a putrescent greenish shade.

The dark figure struck its hands together above its head three times and gave voice to a appalling cry which tore at the souls of those who crouched atop the neighboring hillock. The figure then brought one arm downward in a grand sweeping motion, flinging a powdery substance upon the flames.

As the powder immolated within the conflagration, a peculiar effect seemed to come into being about the general vicinity of the preternatural rites. To the observers on the neighboring rise, it almost seemed as if the entire landscape around the cultists “puckered”. It was if reality itself was pursing its lips, much like a person who has inadvertently bitten into an unexpectedly sour portion of fruit.

Then, the air reverberated with a sound that was reminiscent of the cracking of a ghostly whip.

Several of the theurgists and coveners who were witnessing the event let small gasps of amazement escape their lips as the fabric of space and time began to convulse, spasm, and finally draw inward upon itself. The unearthly effect was similar to what one might see if a large, brightly painted scene upon a canvas was suddenly seized in its midsection from the opposite side by some great vacuum pump and stretched and pulled inwards into a cavity of nothingness.

More gasps and soft exclamations escaped the lips of the onlookers as it became apparent that the members of the Ordu Astra Noir seemed to be disappearing into the aperture in reality itself.

“They’ve opened a vortex!” Mr. Thorncroft exclaimed softly, “It doesn’t appear to growing, thank the gods of light, but how can the thing be closed again?”

Lama Tua, again seeming to grasp Mr. Thorncroft’s meaning, answered in Taktshangu, “I believe that the vortex will only last until the last vestige of the ersatz Mordotox is consumed by the flames.”

Within moments, all of the cultists atop the opposing rise had disappeared from view into the nothingness. However, the great dark figure that appeared to be both their leader and their object of worship was still managing to hold his ground. Tendrils of inky blackness flowed from the entity into the dreadful puncture wound that afflicted the very fabric of the universe, but the dark being still stood its ground.

Lama Tua gritted his teeth and seemed to be willing the figure into the vortex, “Damn you Nyarlahotep! Be consumed!” he muttered.

As the name “Nyarlahotep” left the lips of the mage, the head of the great dark figure snapped up sharply – staring directly at the location of the monk’s concealment.

“Ooooopssss….” gasped the Lama as his expression of intense concentration transformed into an expression of intense apprehension.

In the flash of a great arc of blackness across the night sky, the dark one was amongst the onlookers. Dangling from the grip of its great ebony fist was the Lama, whom the figure held by the throat.

As the dark figure stood with the Lama in its grasp, it was apparent that the vortex was still struggling to consume the being. Tendrils of darkness still stretched from the distortion in reality to the dark form of the evil entity that the Lama had named as Nyarlahotep.

Nyarlahotep spoke, “You wish for my consumption little mage? You shall have your wish, but you will be accompanying me! I fear that you shall find that the journey will be a little more trying for one such as yourself that for one such as I.”

Mr. Thorncroft began to gesture towards one of the students in the Miskatonic Theurgy Association. The theurgist was a young man of considerable build who happened to be standing beside the Dung Shen of The Thunder Dragons. “The horn!” Thorncroft directed him, “Sound the Dung Shen!”

The student managed to shake himself out of the daze of shock that gripped the majority of those assembled. He reached down and grasped the instrument, drew a deep breath, and raised the mouthpiece to his lips.

Apparently sensing the threat, Nyarlahotep sprung at the would-be horn blower with surrealistic alacrity. In the miniscule time span that was required for the mouthpiece to reach the lips of the lad, the dark figure had lunged several yards and struck the end of the instrument a great blow.

The supernatural strength of the impact upon the horn produced severe and unfortunate consequences for the young theurgist. To the horror of all who bore witness to the scene, the mouthpiece end of the horn was violently forced backwards into the mouth of the young man and then proceeded to exit via the back of his skull.

The victim of the horrendous act stood stock still for several moments, the shock and terror of the last moments of his life etched in his cadaverous stare.

Nyarlahotep grasped the great horn and with little apparent effort bent it in half. Then with the corpse of the theurgist still impaled on one end, he lifted the instrument and flung it far across the landscape and out of sight into the darkness.

“This is the little regard I give to the toy whistles of the weak gods of this world,” the great dark figure snarled.

The hideous black one then strode over to where the Lama lay collapsed upon the ground, streams of dark substance still being pulled from his form towards the aberration in the space-time continuum on the neighboring hill. Bending over the fallen mage, he once again grasped the small oriental by the neck.

As Nyarlahotep’s black lips parted to once again voice some vile curse, he was suddenly struck by a surprise attack. It was a surprise attack that consisted of a soggy dust mop striking him full in the face. As the cleaning implement made contact, a plaid caped figure leapt from the bushes crying, “Fear my holy mop of might O ye foul and ill-tempered dust mites of uncleanliness!!”

As incredibly unlikely as it seemed to all who beheld the event, the blow from the soaked dust mop appeared to startle the great figure of dark evil to such an extent that his concentration and resolve wavered for a brief moment. As it happened, it was but a brief moment’s worth of faltering that was required for the vortex to finally succeed in its attempts to consume the dark one. With a ghoulish, inarticulate howling, the substance of the ebony Nyarlahotep rushed into the nothingness that he had inadvertently created.

As the last traces of the monstrous being disappeared from this plane of existence, the vortex finally seemed sated – shrinking and fading away.

Waving his weapon of sanitation about, over his head, Renworth cried, “The dust mites seek to escape my divine vengeance!! I shall hound thee to the ends of the earth vermin!” The dripping Plaid Crusader then leapt forward, straight into a thick tree trunk. He stood stunned for a moment, then collapsed backwards, unconscious from the self imposed blow.

As Renworth crumpled, there was a mad rustling in the bushes and Stimperton dashed into view. “Oh dear!” he gasped, looking totally abashed, “I’m afraid I lost control of old Hempton after dragging him out of the lake. He made a beeline right for your hilltop. I do apologize for his behavior! He is really not himself at the moment! I hope that he hasn’t ruined the ritual thingy you were attempting up here!”

Professor Chang shook himself out of his state of benumbed stupor and replied, “Um, no! No, not at all. He was no problem, really…”

***

Within a half hour, all of the injured parties had been tended to. Renworth was still groggy from the blow to his head, (and quite possibly from several strange substances that he had probably consumed earlier). Lama Tua was once again on his feet and looked nearly as fit as he had prior to the harrowing ordeal.

The Lama smiled and sang to Professor Chang, “Tragedy has been successfully averted – although not in a manner I would have foreseen…”

“Are you going to be heading back to Bhutan now your holiness?” the professor inquired.

“Yes, I have been away too long, it is time for my return. By the way, I shall be bringing several students back with me,” the monk stated gesturing towards Lynn Waymouth and a couple of other MTA members.

Surprised, Professor Chang said to Lynn, “You are planning on going to Bhutan with Lama Tua? I wasn’t aware that his monastic order accepted females into their ranks.”

Lynn gave a brief laugh at his statement then replied, “Oh no, you misunderstand, I have no intention of becoming a monastic. We’re going to be studying with him to join the magi. Apparently, they have several openings in their organization at the moment.”

Lama Tua approached Stimperton, where he was sitting next to his dazed companion. Picking the still dripping dust mop up, off of the ground, the Lama asked in halting English, “Mr. Othecary, may I take mop?”

The illicit druggist looked surprised by the request, but answered, “Yes! Yes, please do. I think that it is time for the Plaid Crusader to go into retirement…”

“Why would you want that old dust mop?” inquired Professor Chang in surprise.

The Lama turned to the professor and answered in his singing language, “This mop has been steeped in innumerable mysterious and occult substances for a considerable length of time, as they apparently used it to sweep up the strange substances which they tend to concoct. Moreover, it has struck a blow that defeated the Great Dark Herald of the Lord of Chaos himself! With the proper consecration, this humble dust mop can, most probably, become an artifact that will overshadow the lost Dung Shen in power – many times over! In our future struggles, this dust mop may be the weapon which will defend all of humanity from destruction!


2 Responses to “The Abjuration Of The Magi”

  1. Issac Pilgrim Wrote:

    Ordu Astra Noir is a great name for a cult!

  2. Nickolaus Pacione Wrote:

    I want this one for The Ethereal Gazette: Issue 11. Is that cool — I published Adrian Shepard in Issue 4.

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