Chapter 2 - One Fish, Two Fish
As BTC slams Pak’s book on the table, Kurt takes one glance at it and stands abruptly, looking like he sorely wants to curse. With swift steps, he makes his way to the nearest spruce tree, snaps off a small sprig. He strips precisely one twig from it, walks back to the table, and drops it on the book’s cover. Immediately, Arkas perks up a few chairs down, craning his neck to look at the sprig. Kurt doesn’t glare much, but BTC has a feeling that he’s glaring and him right now. Internally. With his mind.
Non-physical glares from unassuming explorers should not be so frightening.
“What, did I bring the literary manifestation of everything terrible with me?” BTC says, defensively. Not that he’d be surprised, with what the thing’s done already.
“Pretty much, yes,” Kurt says, slumping back into his seat. “That’s a Necronomicon. A book of lore on all things better left alone.”
Against his will, BTC shivers. Even the name sounds horribly ominous.
“Should I just…” BTC points towards the newly-deemed Necronomicon with one cloth covered hand and makes a tossing motion with the other.
“Er, better not. With Pak the way he is, this book might be the only key to helping him,” Kurt says, looking sadly at their friend. He’s still in the chair where BTC set him down, dripping with seawater and mumbling nonsense. At least it’s nonsense in a language he can understand, though, and not whatever he was spouting off back in that hellhole of a tower.
“But,” MC asks tentatively, from where he sits a few seats down, “he will get better?”
MC, BTC remembers, is good friends with Pak, too. When they’d burst into the clearing where the meeting was to be held, BTC panting with exertion and Pak half-conscious in a fireman’s carry, MC had been the closest Mindcracker to them and the first to jump to their assistance. He’d been the one to pull out a chair for Pak, had steadied him when BTC finally let Pak slide off his shoulders. He’d hovered over Pak (and, to BTC’s mild annoyance, over BTC too) until the meeting started, at which point he’d jerkily sat down and commenced fidgeting, sending concerned glances at them every few minutes.
Sometimes he forgets how young MC is. BTC wonders how many people he’s known and lost, if he’s scared because that number is small, or because that number is large enough that he knows exactly how much to fear losing someone to madness.
His shoulders still ache a bit, and he tries to roll them discretely while looking to Kurt for an answer.
Kurt shrugs a little helplessly. “It’s a tossup. I’m sorry, MC, all I know comes from rumors and legend. I’ve never seen a Necronomicon, I have no idea what could be in there.” MC nods, but BTC doesn’t miss the way he swallows sharply and is practically sitting on his hands to quell their shaking. Hopefully it’s just the shock and it’ll wear off soon, BTC wants everyone in top condition for whatever’s coming next.
“Hey, Kurt, is that an Elder Sign?” Arkas asks, having lifted himself halfway onto and over the table in order to scrutinize Kurt’s twig more closely.
“It… is, actually. You recognize it?” Kurt replies, bemused.
Arkas nods. “I found an old shack with one scratched into the door. The villagers got real skittish when I asked about it, but they eventually seemed to realize I wasn’t going away until I got answers and told me what they knew. They said it’s supposed to protect people from evil. I didn’t know you visited that village, though.”
“I haven’t,” Kurt says with a frown. “I’ve seen it on a few old churches, but never a house. They told me that it was a protection against insanity whenever I asked about it. Though,” he runs a nervous hand across his face, “from what I’ve heard, evil and insanity are quite closely linked. There might be more about it in the Necronomicon.”
Nebris levels an unmistakably predatory look at the book. “Why don’t we get started, then?”
Clearly reluctant to let one of the most megalomania-inclined Mindcrackers get his greedy paws on a book which could contain knowledge about any number of terrifying things, Kurt cautions him with a hand firmly over the spruce sprig, “Necronomicons are said to be able to induce madness just by reading the knowledge they contain. This Elder Sign will ward off some of it, but I can’t promise that you, or anyone here, will be totally shielded.”
Wiggling his fingers in a ‘gimme’ gesture, Nebris says, “That argument has literally never worked on me. Pass it over, I can tell the title on the cover’s written in En-script and you know I’m the best at it.” He pauses. “After Vechs and Pakratt, but Vechs is on the other side of the table and I don’t think Pak’s returning anyone’s calls right now.”
“Hey now,” Baj breaks in, frowning at Nebris, “you could stand to be a little more respectful of his situation.”
“Just calling it like I see it,” Nebris snaps his fingers, a lazy smirk on his face. “I don’t think we really have time for niceties right now.”
Baj arches an eyebrow. “Such callousness doesn’t become you, Nebs,” he says, sharply.
As Nebris opens his mouth to respond, irritation beginning to spark in his eyes, Guude raps the table with his knuckles. “Enough. Give Nebris the Necro-whatsit, Kurt, it’ll get him to shut up for a bit. Baj, we can discuss this after the current possible crisis.”
Hesitantly, Kurt slides the Necronomicon down the table. There’s a quick shuffling of seats as Arkas switches places with Mhykol in order to be next to Nebris, Arkas muttering something about “keeping him from attempting world domination again.” to which Nebris replies with “me? What about you?!” and an elbow to the ribs.
Guude looks a little traumatized at the sight of them.
As Nebris touches the Elder Sign he jerks a little, frowning down at it before back out at the rest of the table. “Sorry about that, Baj.” He turns to Pak. “Pak, too,” though from the uninterrupted muttering, Pak doesn’t seem to have heard him. He looks down at the Sign again, still with a troubled expression.
He and Arkas open the book, Nebris holding the Sign in his off hand, and immediately descend into flurry of pointing and furious whispers.
Well, perhaps now they can actually start the meeting.
BTC gets to his feet, laying his hands flat on the table. “Nebris is right about one thing, we don’t have much time. You all need to know what happened to me and Pak, and what we’re about to be up against.”
So he tells them about Pak’s discovery of the strange ocean monument, with its black—yes, black, Nebris, but you won’t be building with it—walls and its central tower. Of when Pak called him to investigate, the lack of life which was his first warning sign.
(He’s still kicking himself for not getting them out of there right there and then.)
He skims over most of the rooms, though he lingers on the glyphs in the entrance hall, mentioning how they’d made his head spin. He searches Kurt’s face for any sign of recognition, but Kurt’s expression just grows more thoughtful.
It’s not until he describes the contents of the main tower that he really gets a reaction, Kurt’s eyes widen considerably when he mentions the anchor, and more so when BTC does his best to recount Pak’s brief and disastrous journey into linguistics. To BTC’s dismay, he can’t remember much of what Pak said, between his own headache and the utterly foreign sounds, but he can recall the only word Pak said twice. When he tries to sound it out (“K-too-, Ku-too-, no, K-thoo-loo.”) he gets a few snickers, but those die off quickly when Kurt pales and drops his head into his hands.
He hurries though his and Pak’s escape, finishing off with the reverberating moans which chased them all the way back to shore. When he’s done with his story, he sits down and looks to Kurt, who has yet to raise his head.
When he eventually does so, he takes several deep breaths before slowly starting to speak. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we’re not as pressed for time as we could be; we have a few hours, maybe half a day, even. The bad news is that when the time’s up, weeee’re dead.”
The gathered Mindcrackers burst into a cacophony of questions, everyone trying to talk over everyone else. BTC can feel his eyebrow twitch, but before he can tell people to shut up, Guude does it for him.
“Everybody shut the fuck up!” he shouts, voice snapping out like a whipcrack.
Guude passes his glare over the table. “Kurt gets to talk now. You idiots can hold your questions until he’s done.”
“We-” Pyro starts, but quickly cuts himself off with a mutinous huff as Guude holds a hand up. They glare at each other until Kurt tentatively begins to speak again.
“I’ve only ever heard these legends from villagers, and didn’t put much stock in them at first. As many of you know, cultural mixing between villages is very rare. You’re unlikely to find the same mythology in more than a few neighboring villages, if at all. That wasn’t the case with these. I had to dig deep to find them, but they came up over and over again in villages everywhere,” Kurt stands up and begins to pace, gesturing as he continues to talk.
“They’re tales of impossible monsters and otherworldly places, many seemly unconnected but for a commonality they all share: humans like us are very small indeed. One creature that seemed to come up regularly was named Cthulhu,” he nods to BTC, “a giant, humanoid squid monster with bat-like wings. And Cthulhu- From what I’ve heard Cthulhu is the avatar of madness and chaos. Just its presence is enough to drive some people insane.”
“I’ve heard about this guy too,” Arkas interjects. “There’s this small, particularly unpleasant sect in the village with the cabin Elder Sign that has this saying: ‘In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.’”
As Arkas trails off to blink confusedly at Pak’s shoulder, BTC notices he’s unconsciously grabbed it in an iron grip at the mention of R’lyeh: another word he’s sure he can recall Pak saying. Not that Pak registers any of this, still murmuring to himself.
He carefully removes his hand, flexing away a faint sting of strain.
Clearing his throat, he says, “R’lyeh. Now that I hear it again I remember, that was another word Pak said while… under the influence.”
Arkas nods at him, distractedly because Nebris has poked him in the arm to clarify something in the Necronomicon and he’s already turning back to it. “Not just a word, a place. The corpse-city of R’lyeh, fallen from the stars. Where Cthulhu waits, sealed away from us in another dimension somewhere beneath the sea.”
BTC can feel the blood drain from his face as Kurt takes back the stand from Arkas, continuing his description of R’lyeh. A city in the ocean, but not one built there. Built with materials he’s never seen in the world he lives in, destroyed in a way that could be blamed on water damage, but also consistent with damage caused by falling from a great height. (And still none of it as bad as it should be; fallen from space, centuries in the ocean? That tower should be dust.)
He wants to rationalize this away, the Enderdragon was bad enough, now he’s expected to accept the existence of an insanity-inducing giant squid?
But he saw Pak go nuts, like a switch was flipped from normal, if somewhat obsessed, to raving and reasonless. But that’s not right either, Pak wasn’t reasonless, he’d been aimed. Whatever had happened to him, he’d had a goal: getting that book and saying those words. And after he’d accomplished that he’d been, what, tossed away? It certainly wasn’t BTC who snapped him out of it.
Suddenly, BTC’s angry. Furiously, irrationally angry at- something. Possibly at himself, possibly at Pak, possibly at everything.
He shoves himself to his feet, startling Kurt to silence, who from the sound of things was about to recount some useless legend.
“This is pointless,” BTC growls. “All I’m hearing is baseless, factless nonsense. Get back to me when you’ve found something helpful. I’m done.”
“Hey!” Arkas protests, glaring at him. “I can corroborate a lot of what Kurt knows! Are you calling me a liar?”
“Sit. The fuck. Down.” Guude says, and now he’s standing too, face flushed and narrowed green eyes bright with rage. “You will listen to Kurt, you will shut up, and I maybe won’t hang you out as squidmonster bait.” Detachedly, BTC notes Nebris has stopped flipping through his new book and is staring up at them, eyebrows knitted.
“No, you know, I think I’m with BTC on this. I don’t really want to follow your orders right now,” Pyro says, and now everyone’s getting to their feet. BTC can physically see the lines being drawn as they all square off, but as he finds himself nose to nose with Baj he can’t bring himself to care about anything beyond getting him to fucking back off.
The next few minutes get a little hazy. He’s aware of increasingly angry words being exchanged, and that he’s dangerously close to getting physical. Both his and Baj’s hands have inched down to hover by their respective sword hilts.
He’s set to flick the blade into his hand when he distantly registers a point prodding against his thigh. He stops, fishing around in his pocket and drawing out the shard of material he’d picked up in R’lyeh. Blinking at it blankly, he ignores Baj turning away with an irritated huff. The shard gleams at him as he turns it over in his hands.
He’s not really sure what to do with it or why it grabbed his attention.
Something lands lightly on his chest and his right hand closes on it automatically. In a sensation like a full-body bubble bursting over his skin, the world shifts back into focus with an avalanche of noise.
He looks up in time to catch Nebris mouth get rid of that rock, before his expression morphs into a dagger-sharp smirk as he rounds on Arkas, an insult already leaving his lips.
In BTC’s right hand is the Elder Sign, some of the needles crushed from his indelicate handling. The Elder Sign, as in what Kurt just explained as a ward against malevolent influence.
Somehow, despite apparently going nuts for a few minutes, he’s managed to stay close to Pak, which he realizes when he finally starts parsing out individual voices and hears a soft keening to his left. Damn it. BTC crouches to get level with Pak, who’s still seated, with one wary eye on the rest of the Mindcrackers in the clearing. If he has to, he’ll drop the shard to unsheathe his sword.
“Pak, hey…” he starts, tsking when Pak curls away from him. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
BTC holds up his hands, blinking in realization when Pak recoils jerkily from the hand with the shard. This blasted thing, he thinks, murder on his mind. Well at the very least, if this shard is the cause then it’s probably got a range to it, or else the whole world would have been mad from day one.
BTC stands straight, pulling his bow off his back and an arrow from his quiver. He tucks the Elder Sign into the collar of his armor, so it rests against the skin over his collarbone. From his pockets he fishes out some spare string, which he uses to tie the shard of R’lyeh and the arrow together with deft fingers. He tests the weight with light bounce. It’ll fall much faster, but, he nocks the arrow, he can still probably pin it to the birch tree about a hundred and fifty meters away. The clearing ends in a valley on that side, which should afford his arrow enough extra drop distance.
There’s a hostile presence at his three o’ clock, Pause charging at him and holy shit is the man fast. Can’t stop now, though, BTC dodges backwards, getting one booted foot up against Pause’s ribs as he crashes past. He kicks out, shoving Pause into the table and knocking him dizzy. The movement sets BTC off balance, too, but he raises his bow to aim, and fires as he goes down.
The arrow whistles away from the Mindcrackers, and BTC, as he pops back to his feet, notes with a thrill of pride that it strikes true, buried deep in the trunk of the birch.
Peripherally, he’s aware of tension melting away, of Pause shaking his head and holding a hand to his ribs, but he’s already turned back to Pak, noting with relief that at least he’s stopped making terrifying noises. He’s stopped muttering, too. Still, the blank look in his eyes hasn’t vanished and he’s nonresponsive when BTC nudges his arm. Is this one step forward, two steps back? Or is this simple improvement? He doesn’t know and he hates that.
“Uh, BTC, buddy. What the hell was that?” Pause asks, still sounding dazed.
“Apparently I brought a little bit of R’lyeh home with me, and it disagreed with how well we were handling the whole situation,” BTC says. He’s careful to keep any tremors out of his voice. That was a singularly terrifying experience. It might not have escalated to violence of the deadly kind, but he could imagine it going there, with no restraint from anyone. No matter who came out on top it’d have been a blood bath.
He checks himself briefly, yes he’s feeling a little frustrated and pissed off, but not to the point of violence.
“I can’t remember everything clearly,” Aurey says, almost to herself, “but I… I think I wanted to kill Mhykol. Oh my god, I’m so so so sorry.”
The man in question shudders. “I don’t blame you. I think I wanted to kill you back. Sorry about that.” He reaches out like he wants to give her a hug, but flinches back at the last second.
“Nobody’s blaming anyone,” Guude says, combing restless fingers through his hair. “Sounds like we were all under the influence of something?” He directs the question at BTC, who replies.
“It reminds me of what happened to Pak. Maybe we weren’t hit so hard because it was such a small piece, but he was surrounded by an entire tower of the stuff. …On that note, nobody go to the south side of the clearing. I shot it into a tree over there.”
There’s a general muttering of “yeah sure okay whatever works.”
When Kurt staggers over to the table to sit, BTC lets out a little sigh. He might owe an apology. He definitely remembers calling Kurt’s information nonsense, with a distinct clarity that the rest of the incident lacks. Even if the stone was influencing him, some of it was his own opinions and they weren’t entirely fair.
“I’m sorry for implying that everything you’ve been telling us is useless, Kurt. This Elder Sign,” BTC takes it out from where he’d stashed it and tosses it lightly back on to the Necronomicon, “really saved our butts. It kept Nebris sane until he gave it to me, and it was enough to bring me back, too, so I could get the cause of this mess away from us. Good work. If you’ve got anything else, anything at all that can help us get through this, tell us?”
Kurt gives him a wary stare and BTC forces himself to hold it. It was hard to draw Kurt out of his shell years ago when they all first met, he doesn’t want to be responsible for undoing any of the progress they made. Kurt’s a good man, and a good friend, he shouldn’t have to feel anxious about speaking in front of BTC or anyone else.
As Kurt begins to speak again, slowly and with more hesitance than before, they all take their seats at the table again. Nebris and Arkas settle back around their book, but their whispered conversation is subdued and lacking its former venom.
“I suppose before I begin, I should clarify something. This legend is extremely old. All of this stuff is. Everything I know comes from pre-Notch era. I think there was a purging of information just before Year 0 of Notch’s reign, which is probably why there hasn’t been any incidents since. What little survived the purge was reduced to spooky tales to frighten children into staying inside at night.”
“There is one story, though, that I heard a few times. It might contain a thread of truth. Cthulhu was summoned before, and it was defeated.” Kurt pauses, like he thinks they’re going to interrupt him (which, fair’s fair, Pyro, Pause, and MC all look like they want to, but BTC slapped his hand over MC’s mouth the moment he opened it and Pyro and Pause’s neighbors have done the same). With no comments incoming, he continues.
“When it rose out of the sea, a large ship was nearby. Nothing like the little boats we have today, this one must have been dozens of meters long and plated with iron. Realizing that they wouldn’t be able to run, the crew of the ship rammed Cthulhu with their vessel, which damaged it enough that it fell back into the ocean and was sealed again. Then a few years later the only surviving member of the crew went mad.” Kurt shrugs. “There isn’t anything else to the story. Like I said, it’s old.”
BTC exchanges a glance with MC. He knows everyone shares his thoughts, how the hell are they going to build a giant, iron boat in just a few hours that’s also buoyant and can move at sufficient speed to kill a leviathan of a sea monster? Which can also drive people insane?
“Sorry,” Kurt says into the silence. “That’s really all there is.”
“Not your fault, Kurt,” Guude says. “Any ideas? Arkas, do you know anything more about this boat?” He looks around, eyes catching for a moment on the two chuckleheads studying the Necronomicon. They look like they might have found something, but it’s hard to tell from the squabbling. Arkas slaps the table with a slight scowl, but he’s flipping back through the pages, while Nebris looks up at them all with mischievous victory written in every line of his face.
“We don’t need a boat,” he says. “We’ve got something a million times better.”
Arkas holds up the Necronomicon for everyone to see, displaying a sketch of a frighteningly familiar monster.
“We’ve got an Enderdragon!” Nebris finishes, happily.
To be continued...
Note 1: En-script being this 'verse's in-universe name for the enchantment table letters.
Note 2: This here is an interesting discussion about what exactly the Elder Sign does. https://www.reddit.com/r/Lovecraft/
Note 3: The legend Kurt talks about is a very condensed version of Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu! Gustaf Johansen did in fact (kind of) defeat Cthulhu by ramming him with a giant, steel-plated yacht named the Alert, which he'd liberated from some pirates beforehand. The man was a bit of a badass. Too bad he died soon after he got back.