Honestly, I missed most of what happened after Benedict attacked the Black Goat. I was fighting my own battle, trying not to get crushed to death while focusing on keeping the avatar separated from its source. I noticed, partway through, that it wasn’t just one connection I was severing, but many. I hadn’t even realized before that I could sense things like that, but there it was, once it was the only thing my mind was fixed on. I knew, somehow, that this creature wasn’t just summoned for the sake of being there, or whatever. Someone, some massive group of people, was siphoning its power for themselves. It was an intermediary, a means by which the dread power of an unknowable god was filtered and distributed to mortal practitioners. Were there any others of these out there? I suspected there were, though I couldn’t seem to identify that from this point in the power network.
Then I was falling, and I blacked out until Benedict woke me. Everything hurt. Then we were off again, him slowly helping me as I went along, unable to put weight on my right leg. My left hurt like hell, too, from the spear wound, but at least it would still push against the ground a bit.
“You disrupt magic, right?” Benedict asked me at one point, when we had stopped to rest partway up the stairs. I nodded, catching my breath. “Why am I able to keep this form around you, then? Why couldn’t I access my fire, which is just part of my natural form?”
“Is it not obvious?” I asked. He furrowed his brow as he watched me. I sighed. “It isn’t magic.”
“What do you mean?”
“Magic is…” I waved my hand in a circle a few times, trying to place the words. “It’s like, it’s something from one side influencing the other, is how Jackie describes it. It isn’t magic for you to look human, because on some basic level, you are human. I don’t even see the demon when you’re in this form. They’re just…ways for you to be, I guess?” He sat in silence for a while after that, before helping me up and continuing along the stairway.
We came eventually to a large rock blocking the way, and with some effort he managed to shove it just far enough out of the way for us to slip through. We were in the woods, and sat down again while we debated which direction the building would be based on the layout of the chambers and the curve of the stairway, and finally agreed on a way to go. He left me there to rest a bit longer as he ran off to check our chosen direction, and came back after about a half hour to tell me we were wrong. So we tried again, and he ran off again, and returned after ten minutes with news that we were wrong again, but close enough that he was able to see which way was right. So we set off again. We ended up on the road the military hospital was on, and as we approached I realized the cars my friends had been in were gone.
“Cowards,” I muttered as we made our way inside. We remembered that one room still had an intact bed, in highly questionable condition but much better for dealing with our injuries than the floor, and we made our way there. As we passed another room we heard a familiar voice.
“Took you boys long enough,” Akshainie said, putting a sword and a whetstone away. She helped Benedict get me to a bed and looked me over. She tried to use magic to heal me, but of course it didn’t work, and when she insisted I drop my power long enough for her to help me I had to explain that it didn’t quite work like that. Sure, I could prevent it from affecting another target, if I tried hard enough, but I knew of no way to allow magic to touch me. At least, not without granting them knowledge about, and power over, me that I wasn’t ready to just throw out there. While she went about tending my wounds in the normal fashion with the supplies from a first aid kit they had and whatever crap she found laying around, I explained the connections I sensed while making the Black Goat functionally mortal. Benedict theorized that it was the cult itself, that the Brood of Nachash had summoned an avatar of a dark god specifically for the purpose of binding its power to themselves. And if they had done it once, they very well may have done it many times over the years. The current cult members might not even know they were gaining power this way. I think I may have changed their entire approach, as they spent the rest of the night carrying on about the possibility of hunting down any other similar ritual sites and undermining the cult’s power before facing them directly again. The only break in the conversation was when Akshainie left to slip down the stairway we took and gather my bag and notebook I had lost during the fight. She reported that there was still no sign of the Black Goat regenerating, and that my friends hadn’t returned yet.
She never did tell me how she got through the horde.
They helped me make a cobbled-together crutch, and we exchanged contact information. Benedict said he was going to visit my dad, but first he wanted to follow up on that town we found back in fall. I told him what I knew, and they slipped off before morning. When I emerged from the hospital after dawn, as agreed, I was met by Tony and his coworkers. They ran out of the cars when they saw how messed up I was, and Tony hopped into Alpha’s driver seat and ran me to the hospital. I made sure to collect my money on the way there. I was admitted, as there was a lot of work to do, but I didn’t much care. As soon as I was in one of those nice, fancy hospital beds, I slipped right off to sleep.
I tried to turn my focus to the Black Goat, but there were too many creatures at the doorway now. I didn’t realize some were slipping past the other two until I felt a stab in my leg. I dropped down to my knee and screamed, then blocked another strike from the small spear the creature held and punched it repeatedly until its head burst. I looked over and saw more coming, and from my location I could see that the Black Goat was extending itself and reaching down to join the fight.
“There’s too many!” I called over. “We can’t do this and face the horde at the same time!”
“We need you at full strength, Benedict!” Akshainie yelled from the hallway. Benedict hesitated, but then sighed and stepped backward from the doorway a bit. I started attacking the other creatures that were slipping past him.
“Behind you!” I called, as the Black Goat extended a long, clawed tentacle toward him. Suddenly, his entire body caught fire and grew, quickly going from a white man a little over six feet tall to a huge, muscular, horned demon composed of flame and standing at least twelve feet tall. He growled and turned, grabbing the tentacle and breaking it off. The Black Goat roared and writhed in pain, shaking the whole chamber and sending more stones down into the doorway from the arch surrounding it. It recoiled what was left of the tentacle, reabsorbing it and shooting out what looked like a massive tiger paw at him. Benedict slammed his foot down and a burst of fire erupted around him, consuming the smaller creatures and pushing the paw back. It threw me, as well, and I lost my notebook as I hit the ground and rolled into the far wall.
The blow knocked the wind out of me, and for a moment everything went out of focus and I had a ringing in my ears. I rolled onto my stomach and groaned, before slowly pushing myself back up. I felt a sharp pain shoot up the leg that had been stabbed before it went out from under me and I crashed back onto the ground. As my senses started to focus, I pushed myself up again enough to look over and assess the situation. Benedict, or whatever he was now, was actively trying to fight the creatures and the Black Goat, but the horde showed no signs of slowing down and I could barely see Akshainie anymore. Then, much to my surprise, I saw her leap out of the mass of creatures. She shouted something to Benedict, I couldn’t make it out; whatever it was, he looked deeply concerned and turned, apparently to stop her. It was too late, though. She went up again, this time driving her swords into the ceiling.
The doorway collapsed entirely, crushing a host of the creatures and blocking the rest from entering. Benedict screamed and I started breathing heavy as I realized she was still on the other side. As he screamed, another burst of fire shot out from him, incinerating fully two-thirds of the creatures that had managed to make it through before the way was cut off. I tried to call over to him, but before the words were out of my throat I felt a heavy, wet thud crash into my chest and at least two ribs break. I was lifted up by a massive three-fingered hand, which began to sprout eyes looking at me and a sharp-toothed mouth near the wrist. I glanced over and saw Benedict, his fire growing in intensity, turning to the Black Goat. I smiled, turning my attention back to the entity, and grabbed its wrist with both hands.
“Oh, you’re fucked now,” I said, focusing my mind on severing the connection feeding the Black Goat.
There was a large set of doors a little ways down the main hallway, and we forced it open and then closed it behind us. Beyond that the hall tapered as it descended, eventually leading to a doorway that was only large enough for two people to pass through at a time. Must have been part of whatever ritual was happening down here. The structure was old and poorly-maintained; when Benedict sent fire up to see it, we were able to identify a number of structural weaknesses in the doorway and surrounding ceiling. I remembered the couple small earthquakes that had happened in the area during my lifetime, and figured another one would probably bring this whole chamber down.
From beyond that doorway, we could hear the roar and arrhythmic beating of whatever was in there hitting the ground. Each time, the ground shook, and the ceiling dropped a few small rocks or bits of dust. It wasn’t going to be safe to stay here, but going forward meant facing whatever was causing all of this trouble. And now, as we heard things hammering against the doors, we knew it was too late to go back. We pressed on.
As we passed into the inner chamber, we finally got to see what was causing all the noise. Embedded in the ceiling, probably fifty feet or so up, was a mass of black goo, with an assortment of eyes and mouths and legs, appearing and disappearing across its surface, each different in form and size from the others. It hung suspended above a pit, with the same diameter as the hole in the ceiling holding the mass; at a glance, I would have figured it about thirty feet across, with a ring of smooth floor stretching another fifteen feet from the edge of the pit to the walls. The ceiling was domed, beginning to curve just a little above Benedict’s head and rising gracefully to meet the edges of the entity’s housing. I frowned as I began to remember my dad’s books.
“The Black Goat of the Woods,” I muttered. Benedict and Akshainie turned to me.
“What was that?” she asked. I pointed at the elder god as it slammed a clawed fist against the ceiling.
“It’s a Lovecraftian monster. Dad has a book that theorized about the metaphysical implications of their place in pop culture.” Both of their faces seemed to glaze over, as if I was speaking a completely different language. “You guys…do you know who Lovecraft was?” They both shook their heads, and I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Okay, look, he wrote fiction stories, basically established the cosmic horror genre. His stories involved these entities of madness like the elder gods or outer gods. There’s some speculation that he was describing actual spirits tied to madness and the concept of an outer darkness from various mythologies, but the popularity of his stories in the minds of so many readers may have actually caused them to change to reflect his descriptions. I think we’re looking at confirmation of that theory.”
“Are you telling me that the Brood of Nachash found and built a temple around a god of madness from a horror story?” Benedict asked. The thing roared again, and we had to cover our ears from the noise. It took a moment for us to recover, but the beast did not seem to have noticed us yet. That, or it was expecting something from us and waiting to see if we would do it.
“No, well, maybe? I don’t know. But chances are this is just an avatar for one of the elder gods, specifically Shub-Niggurath, which they may have actually summoned here.”
“They do seem fond of summoning,” Akshainie noted.
“Does that make a difference?” Benedict growled. “We still have to deal with it.”
“Yeah,” I said, lighting a cigarette. I took a drag and blew out the smoke in the entity’s direction. “An avatar can be killed.” Both of them smiled at that and looked toward it. That’s when we heard the massive doors behind us finally drag open, and the sound of scurrying and tapping approaching.
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The blog of John Matteson.