Ragged claws scuttle across ocean floors.
A hunter in search
of arcane syllables
beneath the waves
where a human
performed a ritual
spirit or mind
in exchange for
The last page still isn’t there. Again.
Miles McKay walked into his grandmother's attic office. Again. He'll go through the entire book. Again.
Miles closed the ancient and dusty tome. Again. He stands up and leaves the house. Again.
And, he turned the page and saw three-quarters of the last page ripped out. Again. He will pick the book up and throw it across the wall. Every time he hopes the missing bit of that page will slide out from between two of the other pages, even though he's been through the book over and over and over and over...
Was it the seventh time Miles looked over the book... or perhaps the ninth... when he realizes... realized... will realize... it’s magic? Sometimes, while he got lost in translating the pages, Miles has trouble recalling the difference of the order of happening. That didn't scare him, it will only encourage him. The tome is that old, and the spells are that strong, strong enough to set things right in his mind. Miles misses the quiet his mind used to have. That's the only thing that Miles will be able to associate with the past, unless he ever manages to get the last page and translate the last of the book and make his mind whole again.
On his first visit to this house after the inheritance came through, Miles would discover a book up in the attic office, on the desk surrounded by candles. Grandmother's last note said: Go to my house and find some peace and quiet. The book had to be the secret to that quiet. Why else the candles?
As Mile studied the book, he will keep those candles lit...day out...night in.
Ragged claws scuttle across ocean floors.
A hunter in search
of whisperings waits,
Over the centuries,
the rituals grew further and further apart
as mankind forgot and neglected the
and Elder Gods,
but what are a few centuries, more or less,
to a creature who recalled the formation of
dozens of worlds
and who had instigated the
death of more than it bothered
He started by handing out pamphlets with chapters and verses from the book. First, he’d hand someone pamphlets. Harmless. Quiet. Bringing the Word to the people. Then, he’d ask if they’d heard of the book. None of the sinners had. If they hadn’t heard of the book, how could they stop from being sinners?
The pamphlets weren’t enough. Sinners sinned without a care in this world or the next, and no one, not one person, had ever heard a whispering of the book. Time to upgrade. Signs. Each time he went out, bigger and bigger signs. And a megaphone. Hours and hours of speeches and sermons, bringing the good Word to the people. Hoping that he would find someone else who knew of the book. The louder the words got, the more righteousness surged in the heart and spirit. Why couldn’t the people see that an come along for the sale of their souls, their immortal souls, which they were squandering in their gluttony, pride, and hedonism?
Do not mock the Lord’s good Word. When the Word speaks, the sheep should listen. Some did. Some of the flock followed the shepherd. Most did not. Even ignoring the Word was an insult to the Lord. The Lord could not tolerate insults, as so, the Lords speaketh unto the Word, “Gather the flock. Tell them what shall become of those who would mock the Word of the Lord. For in mocking the Word, they mock the Lord. Take the flock, and together, you shall show the might of the Word to the World. In seeing this, the world will flock to the Word and the Word shall speak to them of the Lord.”
The Word will lead the flock to the place where the people have and will mock the Word, and in doing so, mock the Lord. On that day, the laughter will be cut short by the sound of gunfire.
All of the Lord’s servants will die at the hand’s of the police, as they have before, as they will again, and again, and again. Sacrifice, the Lord demands it. The Lord feeds off of sacrifice.
In another city, he stood on a corner speaking to people as they passed. “Have you heard the Word of the Lord? No? Do you have a moment to read this book?”
A young man stopped. “I know that book.”
Miles screamed when he turns to the last page and will find it torn out. His mind is so loud, with so many memories of the past and the future slamming around, taunting him. Again. Tears will slide down his cheek as he shook and pounds his fists on the desk. The candles fall over. Getting his breathing under control, Miles gathered the candles and set them right, relighting the ones that went out. He closed his eyes, and presses his palms into his eye sockets, reveling in the momentary darkness. With his eyes still closed, he will reach out, and close the book.
By the time he calmed down enough to open his eyes, Miles forgot all about the three-quarters of the last page missing.
I’d like to thank the Association of Entrepreneurial Treasure Hunters for having me speak today. I’ve been freelancing my services for the better part of three decades, and one of the most frequent questions I get I some variation of, “How have you managed to stay sane?” And this is an excellent question, as while we face many dangers, our greatest risk is exposing our minds to the horrors and twisted things – elder gods, alien intelligences, and ancient magics – that sometimes protect the items our employers hire us to fetch. We all cope in our own way. Me, I hold fast to my sense of professionalism, that and a healthy fear of what some of my employers will really do to my body, as opposed to worrying about what those things might do to my mind. But mostly, first an fore-mostly, it’s about the work ethic to get the job done. Bottom line: the job comes before all other priorities.
Take, for example, this one job where I was crawling through this tunnel complex in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Time was of the essence, as I’d seen one of my chief competitors Wolf Bretson in a coffee house a few nights previously. We’re not friends, but we’ve both been in business long enough to be social when we meet in public. With him in the same area, I had the suspicion we were after the same thing.
So, I made it all the way through the traps and guardians of this particular tomb, and when I got to the center, I find this woman kneeling in the center of this chamber, and lifting her face and arms to the ceiling. Well, "woman" was such a loose term. The flowing sleeves of her red, black, and yellow robes had slid down to her shoulders revealing her mummified limbs. On second thought, calling her human might be pushing it as well. Kind of freaky, but still nothing to get me worried about my mind snapping over it.
The ritual laid out in front of her wasn’t too bad, all things considered. Candles burned at each tip of a seven-pointed start drawn in blood – I’ve seen enough dark rituals to recognize it. Rather than normal flames, Eldritch energy danced atop each candle. A massive corpse lay in in front of the woman.
Then the woman spoke. I’m a well-traveled man, but I’d never heard any language like that. Each word grated on my nerves the way a radio did when someone hadn’t tuned the station in all the way. Motes of multi-colored danced and swirled coalescing together, and the air above the corpse shimmered and warped like a heat mirage.
Starting to get weird, but it didn’t matter, as I had a job to do.
I felt a presence behind me. I tensed for a second and then calmed down. It was Wolf Bretson. Anyone else, and I’d be dead.
“It isn’t like to be this timid,” Wolf said.
“Patient,” I corrected him. “Been waiting for her to get really involved in that.”
I waved my gun at the ritual.
Wolf blinked. “You’re just going to let her do it?”
“Why not?” I shrugged. “She can’t really stop in the middle. And even if we stop her, someone else will come along and do it.”
Wolf understood that criminals and occult lunatics were alike that way. No matter how many you stopped, someone would always be desperate enough to take their place.
“What are you after?” Wolf asked.
“Cloak,” I replied. “You?”
“Idol,” he replied.
He nodded. “Indeed.”
“We get what we came for,” I said, “and bail before that finishes.”
As the once-human creature chanted, I scanned the chamber, seeking out my prize. I saw it pretty much right away. The long, patchwork leather cloak hung against the far wall, matching the description pretty much exactly, looking even more worn and ancient than the thing conducting the ritual.
“Stay here,” I said, and headed off without waiting for Wolf to reply.
As I slunk around the edge of the room, all the weirdness started worming into my head, making me wonder. No. Don’t ever wonder. People who wonder don’t last long in our line of work. We don’t make it home. So, I focused on doing the job. Get the cloak and go home.
I reached the cloak, a sound of ripping cloth echoed through the chamber. Looking was a risk, but a calculated one. See, it just might be the sound of something that would shred my body rather than my mind. And I couldn’t do the job with a shredded body.
The air above the corpse seemed to have torn open, revealing spinning stars and swirling galaxies.
The sorceress crone stopped chanting and collapsed to the floor.
A ghostly form floated through the rend and settled onto the corpse. Muscles reknitted onto the bone. Skin sliding over the muscles. The man sat up. Even as he blinked, eyes formed in his sockets, deep, dark eyes that seemed to look at everything at once with a preternatural intelligence.
Before I could think too much about it, I raised my pistol and fired three shots into the reformed face. Then, I fired two into the mummy lady’s body. Didn’t think for a minute that I’d kill either of them, but while they worked their deep dark elder magic to put themselves back together, I snatched the cloak, stuffed it into his satchel, and beat feet like a bat out of Hell.
Wolf either made it or he didn’t. Not my job to make sure the other guy makes it out. It’s my job to deliver the treasure.
I figure since we’re all here, humanity, civilization, and the planet, that everything worked out.
Miles made sure he will be the last in line for the meet and greet after Marius Johan’s talk.
“Excuse me, sir,” Miles said. “Are you familiar with this work? I hear it’s very rare.”
He placed the book on the table in front of Marius.
Like a true professional treasure hunter, before handling the tome, Marius dons pristine white gloves. He flipped through the book, and with each page he turns, his face brightens, like a kid opening the present they’ve always wanted and will want forever.
“Come with me,” Marius says.
He will lead Miles to the green room. There, he will open a briefcase. The briefcase has some various and sundry treasure hunting knickknacks. Most importantly, it has a torn page that matched the missing page of the book.
Miles caresses that page as he leaves Marius Johan’s corpse behind. Finally, he will be able to summon his master and put an end to everything.
Ragged claws scuttle across ocean floors.
A hunter in search
grows weary of waiting.
patience is not
the Old Laws,
those rules which
ancient war between
Darkness and Light
carved into the giant stone slabs
in ancient Atlantis,
could be bent and pushed
Only the sliest,
beings would dare
attempt to push the
rules so far
for fear of
attracting the attention of
The Powers that Be.
Finally, this time, or the next, or the one before or after that, Miles remembered that he finds the last three-quarters of the last page of the book.
He puts the page back into place.
Everything makes sense.
A name burned itself into Mile’s mind.
He whispers the name aloud.
The Lord is coming.
Ragged claws scuttle across ocean floors.
A hunter in search
of whisperings waits
Being on the SCS (Summoning Containment Squad) required split-second timing and a stomach of titanium. Split second timing, because we’ve got a limited window between the conclusion of a summoning ritual and when the nasty thing from another dimension gets free. A stomach of titanium to keep down our last several meals while the nasty thing from another dimension does unspeakable things to the guy who summoned it.
It’s a rough gig, the SCS. First the alarm goes off, then we hurry up, get to the summoning site, wait around for a couple of hours to days while the wizard or witch finishes the summoning, and then blast the unholy out of the nasty, and maybe, if the wizard or witch is REALLY lucky, take them into custody. If the wizard or witch isn’t REALLY lucky, we moonlight as janitorial staff. Taking all that into account, most people don’t even last a year. Me, I’ve got five and a half, and as of last week, I’m the old timer of my squad. Last week, Jace Conroy retired after twenty years. Rookies ask me all the time, “He must be cold as the depths of the Void to have lasted so long, huh?” I shake head, and say, “Nope. He lasted this long by staying warm. Staying human.”
I can sum up how JC hung in there for twenty years in his very last call.
The alarm went off in the station, flashing bright green, indicating that some idiot was trying to reach across the Void into the Elder Reaches. Bad, bad, bad. We rushed to the site, and sure enough, the summoner had pulled out all the stops. Dead animals, runes written in blood, candles, and alter, and I’d bet money the girl on the altar was a virgin. We set up our lawn chairs and reached into our coolers for a long wait. While we munched out and caught up on our shows, JC flipped through all his ancient tombs and the pictures of his scrolls he loaded onto his tablet.
“Alright,” he said after a couple hours research. “If I’m right, the girl is an offering for the nasty once the whole shebang is done. Freddy,” He looked at me, “You grab her. The rest of us are on creature duty. It’s going to be big and nasty in ways that you aren’t prepared for. Don’t think about it. Don’t try to comprehend it. Its very nature is going to try and worm its way into your heads and enslave you. Here’s your mantra. ‘Pull the goddamn trigger.’ Now, everyone repeat.”
They all did.
They all repeated it.
“Now, keep repeating it over and over until the ritual is over. Earworm that into your brain. Set it to that annoying jingle that you can’t ever get out of your brain after you hear it.”
And that’s what everyone did, because, you learned in your first couple of gigs, JC had lived through this for twenty years because he knew what was what. Every couple of months we get a guy who thinks he knows better than JC, and that guy's life expectancy diminishes to zero.
And so we waited. Shows went off, replaced by mumblings of, “Pull the goddamn trigger,” or in my case, “Get the god damn girl.” We waited a day and a half, which was pretty good news, considering the wizard was pulling something from the Elder Reaches.
At this point, I bet you’re like a lot of people and you’re asking, “Why don’t they just stop the guy from summoning the big nasty?” Well, once someone starts a summoning ritual, something is coming across the Void. If the ritual stops in the middle, it could be anything, and it could pop up anywhere. We let them finish so that we know when and where the big nasty is popping up.
Then the blood started glowing, the candles started flickering from a wind that wasn’t there, the I-bet-she’s-a-virgin started screaming. That’s the biggest clue, when the victims start screaming. Somehow, deep in the back of our heads, we all have this little switch that goes off when confronted by things from across the Void that want to eat us. It turns off the thought processes and turns on the screaming, almost like we hope the sound will make us unappetizing.
Anyway, a hole ripped open in the air right in front of the wizard.
“Go!” JC shouted.
“Pull the god damn trigger,” the rest of the squad repeated over and over, while I dashed into the ritual, snarling, “Get the god damn girl,” over and over without looking at the hole in reality opening up only a few paces from where I was busy rescuing a damsel in distress.
Something roared too close to me for me to do anything but change my mantra to, “run like hell…run like hell,”
“This is for my parents!” the wizard said.
I couldn’t help it. I glanced back. Most people who work at summoning something from across the Void want favors or wishes or a slave. This was a new one.
The thing that my mind won’t let me remember had the wizard in a tentacle. The wizard’s robes had opened, and he had about a dozen bricks of C4, a few sticks of dynamite, and a claymore mine strapped to his chest. All these explosives went off right as the big nasty dropped the wizard into its mouth.
The rest of the squad lit the big nasty up as I beat feet, miss virgin over my shoulders in a fireman’s carry. I got the girl back to the rest of the group just as the wizard dropped down right in front of JC…minus two legs, hips, and arm.
The wizard blinked up at JC, who knelt down and put his hand on the wizard’s forehead.
“I get him?” the wizard croaked as he coughed up some blood and lung tissue.
“What’s your name?” JC asked.
“Miles,” the wizard said between coughs. “Miles McKay.”
“You got him, Miles,” JC said. “Ballsiest summoning I’ve seen in twenty years.”
“Good. That thing destroyed my life.”
The light left the wizard’s eyes. The rest of the squad looked down at JC like he was madder than the wizard. Like, why be so nice to this guy who almost unleashed who-knows-what on the world, especially when the squad’s hardware did more than his explosives.
“His soul is probably going somewhere pretty dark,” JC said. “Didn’t cost me anything to send him off with a bit of happiness. Now, let’s get the mops. Last thing we need is some news crew getting here and any of this showing up on the news for all those armchair summoners to debate on.”
As we got to work, JC called out, “And burn that book. No telling what other trouble it might cause in the wrong hands.