Arkham Horror: Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King

Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King
by Gloria Goldberg

Zelda Zimmerman jumps out of the shimmering portal, just barely eluding the lumiscient tendrils that almost had her in their grasp. Her company, Mr. Law, lands at her side breathing heavily. Those cigars obviously haven’t done her self-appointed bodyguard very many favours.

“Damnation woman!” He gasps, reaching out a shaking hand to readjust his Homburg hat. “I thought only Kraut U-Boats could go deeper than that. What were …”

“It’s best not to think too much on such matters, Mr. Law.” Zelda says, her fingers still grasping the soil of the Manchester Cemetary hard as she comes back to her feet, her other hand clutching her .45 pistol. She’s shaky, but she doesn’t want to show it. It’s bad enough that she had already lost her favourite cigarette case somewhere down the line in between all the grisly, eldritch trophies she has practically sewn into her violet attire, but it’s only now that the laudenium from the Sanitarium is beginning to wear off. “But we delved the mysteries of the Sunken City, of R’lyeh itself. The City of Yith from the Witch House was bad enough, but I have just enough … just enough to …”

“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!” Mr. Law shouts, loading his shotgun and pointing it into the nearby shadows. “What in all hell’s deep is that!”

“Oh … dear …” Zelda mutters a few Slavic curses to match some of Mr. Law’s more colourful sailor language as the .. crustacean, covered in fungus … made of it … hovers towards her. “Don’t … look directly at it, Mr. Murphy. I will … I must …”

One would think that after finding themselves in an eternal, sunken city, surrounded by green … so much green, that Zelda would be desensitized to the presence of such an otherworldly, almost aquatic entity. She mutters a spell, taken from one of the old books in her travels, protecting Mr. Law from realizing the entity further. As it is, her own mind strains as the Mi-Go hovers forwards. It … must have come from another of the many portals that the Golden King’s cult of Actors, his otherworldly chorus and dithyramb, opened throughout the city.

Ironically, even as Mr. Law opens fire at the being, Zelda falls back on her knowledge of forbidden lore to ground her fraying sanity. Its antennae twitch, obviously sensing her and her companion, but perhaps drawn to the psychic lifeforce she already utilized to protect the latter.

“Come with us …” It clicks. “You are a … worthy specimen.”

Zelda sees the discoloured part of its body. A part of her, not reeling in instinctual terror barely staving off maddening revulsion suspects it had been here for a while. Many dark things hide in Manchester, along the river Merrimack, but now so late into the drama, so close to the finale of the Golden King, they don’t hide behind their cloaks and masks anymore.

“Come with us.” It croons, with its loathsome, clattering voice created from some of the most unfathomable surgery, an inhuman practice of medicine with or without a willing donor. “We can free your mind. Free it to soar forever through the stars …”

“I have … had enough adventures for one evening …” She says, shrugging off the temptation of an inhuman voyage, a liberation from flesh, embracing horror beyond horror to feel nothing but the possibility of eternal knowledge and falling, falling forever. “For several lifetimes!” Zelda snarls as she moves her fingers and intones the ancient signs while continuing to fire her pistol.

It all becomes a blur. The creature shrieks towards her and then, it is lying there, mouldering on the ground, still twitching. She blinks. Mr. Law is lying on the ground. Zelda staggers over to him and checks his pulse. Thankfully, he is simply unconscious from the strain. She wants to join him, badly, but the portal still shimmers. The interdimensional energies she and her fellow Dramatis Personae have been closing and sealing are feeding the madness of Manchester, stirring the Golden King from behind his Wall of Sleep. But this one is different. Its power is immense. She knew that much, even before literally leaping into it. This is the crucial one.

But … She isn’t powerful enough. She Sealed the one at the Witch House, but she knew so much more then. She was just a little stronger, then. And even that portal wasn’t as potent as this one to the dread Dreamer’s realm, leaving all these horrors to roam Manchester.

It has to be enough, though. She has gathered the Elder Signs. She just needs to dig deep for her strength. Lord Cerentes, in his drifter guise worthy of Odysseus himself, has already closed enough of the portals. And Alicia Pointe has closed some more, and even Sealed one with Zelda’s own advice. This is it. This is their only chance to cancel the finale of the Golden King’s Play …

But just as Zelda is about to intone the ancient words, something comes out of the portal. She tenses, but perhaps her brain has gone numb to all the horror with which she has participated today when an amphibian humanoid shambles out towards them.

Of course, it makes sense. R’lyeh wouldn’t pass this opportunity up. They had intruded into their realm. Worse, they are attempting to close the gate between their space and their world’s.

The Deep One walks up to her and the fallen Mi-Go … and stops. It takes Zelda a moment, until she realizes what this is. A realization that isn’t a terrible truth spikes through her mind. They are all eldritch beings, abominations, but they are not in league with each other! The Golden King is a rival of the Dreamer … and the Deep Ones and the Mi-Go at some point in prehistoric times had a war on the very Earth itself.

She feels the Deep One looking at her expectantly. Zelda knows that what happens next will determine whether or not she will live: which will not matter a jot if the Golden King awakens in this world!

Zelda bows to the Deep One, gesturing at the Mi-Go. She notices the crustacean jolting. It is crippled, but it still lives. It is buzzing, almost pathetically. The Deep One snarls and with one swipe, it grabs the remnants of the Mi-Go. She watches this repulsive sight, as the amphibian tackles and rips apart the fungal hybrid to reveal … a glowing blue shape …

The Deep One looks back at her. It snarls again, but inclines its head. She would have said, in more outlandishly better circumstances, that it was a gesture of thanks but the feral, maliciousness in its slitted eyes belays any of that. It’s almost as though … it is some kind of playful joke. Then, it takes its somehow still living, wriggling, prey and disappears back into the portal, leaving the glowing object behind it.

And then Zelda realizes why.

It is a pyramidal crystal, not seen since the earliest antiquity. The Watcher in the Dark. There is the power of an Ancient One within this inhuman artifact. It preludes it from being used against its creator or its kin, but … It can allow one to accomplish anything else, just for a moment … for as long as their body can handle its power.  

Zelda looks up at the pulsating portal as its edges grow, and she realizes the cruel jape and knows that she has no choice. She clutches the pyramid in her hands, chanting the Signs … even as the mystical energies in the artifact begin leeching away her vitality … Zelda screams from the pain of her life essence flowing into the object, acting as a battery, as it empowers her mind and she finishes her ritual …

The Elder Sign forms over the Portal, suturing the rent air, sealing the threads of existence back into place, containing the eldritch truths behind it even as Zelda Zimmerman slouches to the ground, finally, and completely exhausted.

*

“So damned many of them …”

Zelda is barely able to nod her head in agreement as she and Mr. Law hide in the crypt from the Golden King’s swarm of hovering actors. She munches, slowly, on the chocolate that Mr. Law had been so kind to retrieve from her pouches. She feels a little better, but not by much.

“They know their Play can end …” She croaks. “Now they are pulling all the stops … I’m just … glad I sacrificed enough power beforehand to disrupt their last Ritual …”

“Easy there, lady.” He actually pats her on the shoulder. “Shell-shock’s going to be bad enough as is, we’ll just stay here, lay low, until we get our strength back … I could drink for days after this.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Law.” Zelda murmurs. “The authorities do not seem to take kindly to drinkers, even at the end of the world …”

The truth is, Zelda Zimmerman is tired. She doesn’t know if she has the strength to continue. It is up to her companions now. She slouches against the wall of the crypt. And, before finally giving into the exhaustion of pain and mental fatigue, she sees a fresco. It is splayed out on the opposite well and it glows with a peaceful, gentle radiance. Serenity flows over her as she knows, now, that the sanctity of this place has been restored.

For just as erasing the Holy Name from the clay of the golem ceased its rampages, this Sign, this Elder Sign returned a rightful slumber to the Manchester Cemetery.

“Well …” Mr. Law mutters. “Would you look at that …”

Zelda smiles. Perhaps not all magic, not all of the universe, is cold and uncaring after all. They rest on the ground in companionable silence, before the sound of firearms boom through the quiet.

“Hello!” A familiar voice calls.

“In here!” Mr. Law shouts back, recognizing the voice as well.

There is the sound of a gun being cocked, as the dark haired, disheveled form of Alicia Pointe stumbles in. “Madame Zimmerman, I see you succeeded.”

“Yes, dear.” Zelda replies, smiling at the younger woman. “And you as well.”

“I was almost right behind you in that watery city.” Alicia looks at her own assortment of eldritch trophies and Zelda’s. “Between us and the drifter, we are going to be advancing Manchester Dissection Science by a few decades or more.”

“Centuries even.” Zelda grunts, coming back to her feet. “Though no one will talk about any of this. I know. This is probably not the first time.”

“I don’t care about any of that.” Alicia spits, unladylike, into the crypt. “Right now, those gentlemen on the City Council, the people in this town, know who cleaned up this little bit of entertainment. I will make Chief. They owe me that much. Maybe even a run or two for office …”

“All I want to do right now is order a drink.” Mr. Law grouses beside them.

“I hope so.” Zelda says, wanting nothing more than that the drink that the Federal authorities took from her earlier in the evening. “Let us leave this place to the dead. Perhaps Lord Cerentes can avail us of his hiding capabilities and find us some of the moonshine I smelled on his person.”

“Amen, sister.” Alicia says, putting an arm around both Zelda and Mr. Law as they walk back to the city, the horror finally over. For now.

Arkham Horror: Finale of the Golden King

Finale of the Golden King  
by Gloria Goldberg

Epilogue

In the end, no one would know the events that led to the election of the first woman Mayor of Manchester. From a humble graduate student at St. Anselm College and part time bank clerk, to Police Deputy, and eventually the Chief of Police the Right Honourable Alicia Pointe’s star rose — her chart taken into her own hands — as another, more eldritch celestial body, as though from the Hyades, from Lost Carcosa finally fell: leaving the State and mankind’s world with a sigh of relief to the conclusion of a play with which they did not know they were even participants.

As a protagonist in what would become a rendition of the dread Epic of the Golden King come to Manchester, the city elders knew that Ms. Pointe had cast aside the yellow fleece of ignorance and cowardice to fully embrace the cold, hard truth of the terrible knowledge that they could not: that we — all of us — are just characters on a stage, our actors our intentions, forces that can be subverted and so easily broken, and yet with indomitable will we can conquer the stars.

In the chaos of the final act of the psychodrama, when authority fled from the terror of backstage and the Golden King’s horrific, bloodthirsty cult of actors and eldritch abominations, it is only fitting that a woman of strong character and fortitude such as Alicia Pointe — deputized by blood and firearms, and knowledge — would eventually ascend to the position of Mayor to do what others cannot: with exchequer, frugality, and the lore of the eldritch truth.

No one would truly know this, however, beyond the city elders who have always suspected, but hidden from the horrors in the backstage of Manchester, from the spaces between the world itself, that Alicia Pointe did not act alone.

As Ms. Pointe had faced down the actors of the Golden King with fisticuffs, keen wit, firearms, and occult aptitude, a sovereign and his faithful hound pursued and entrapped the darkness in the places from where it planned to strike. His name will always be known, throughout the hallowed halls of humanity’s Dreamscape as Cerentes of Ashemore who — with his trusty friend Cornwall — learned to navigate the dark places, the forgotten spaces, to survive and travel through the fragile places between sleep and wakefulness, in the deepest, darkest alleyways of Manchester to ward our world against evil beyond understanding.

After the Finale of the Play, Cerentes and Cornwall vanished from this world, perhaps to complete their apotheosis in Ashemore beyond the red dawn. Nothing was left behind of this saviour, save a beggar face down in a gutter, an emaciated dog at his side, an empty  shotgun, an emptier jug of moonshine, and a small funeral with littler fanfare.

Zelda Zimmerman remembers this truth. She is even more a myth now than Lord Cerentes and Cornwall the Great. As Cerentes lurked the shadows as hunter and hunted, and Ms. Pointe took charge of the streets in dearth of local and Federal authority, Madame Zimmerman navigated the highs and lows of the realities themselves. She will never forget facing down the shoggoth in the Abyss, with only a revolver and crucifix-blessed bullets to bring it down, or the eldritch power she turned upon the Golden King’s cultists, or even Byakhee, Star Spawn and Cthonian that she turned to dust. She will always remember the Other Dimension and climbing the endless rope like Jacob’s Ladder, the presence that tried to take her mind that she overcame in the City of the Great Race, and evading the living halls of R’lyeh, the cultists’ manipulation of the Law to seal her away, sealing the Witch House, leaving the Elder Signs as marks for with which the inhuman players of the Golden King will forever remember her by.

If Ms. Pointe is their Executioner, and Lord Cerentes their Hunter, then perhaps it isn’t too much of an authorial exaggeration to say that Madame Zimmerman became the Witch — the Baba Yaga with fire and sorcerous might — of the Eternal Dream with whose destruction she had dedicated her mind and body.

The years pass now as the eternal tyranny of the Golden King failed to feed on the madness of his story, sealed behind the Great Wall that was once his greatest triumph, his most pronounced tragedy. But does not all enlightenment come from accepting one’s limits? Even now, to this very day, these limits remain reinforced by the three that came to Manchester: Ms. Pointe, Manchester’s Favourite Daughter, the Lord Cerentes from the realm Ashemore, and Madame Zimmerman as Lore Master of their own coven: the Fellowship of the Dramatis Personae.

For it is these three, with their intrepid allies in the dark, that faced horrors that would have made a Machen, a Chambers, or even a Lovecraft blanch. And it is from the land of the river Merrimack that the Dramatis Personae will, for as long as they are able, keep Manchester and the world from the Golden King and his brethren, from allowing humanity to exeunt stage left.

Gloria Goldberg is a best-selling author of Strigoi Risen and Witches Have Wishes. Having spent her childhood in Romania with parents of Roma and Ashkenazi extraction, Ms. Goldberg has brought their storytelling sensibilities to the English language and America where she currently resides as the Writer-in-residence at Miskatonic University, in Arkham, Massachusetts. When she isn’t hosting readings or her reader’s circles at Velma’s Diner, Mrs. Goldberg volunteers at Arkham’s own Shelter for Ulthar Cats.

The King in Yellow Spreads the Sign

I just want to state, right off the bat, that I am a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. It took a very long time for Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos, specifically the idea that something ancient, eternal, and either uncaring or malevolent underlying our conception of space and time, to come to some kind of mainstream appearance in geek culture. It was on my quest to read everything eldritch and gibbous by the man who was Providence and spurred on even further by Alan Moore’s The Courtyard and Neonomicon comics when I came across something called “the yellow sign.”

I followed this up online and found a book called The King in Yellow. The book contains a series of short stories published in 1895 written by Robert W. Chambers: a writer of many genres but especially romance, decadent literature and, in particular, horror. In four of The King in Yellow‘s stories, “The Repairer of Reputations,” “The Mask,” “In the Court of the Dragon,” and “The Yellow Sign” as well as some mention in “The Prophets’ Paradise” we are introduced to the idea of a play in a book that drives people insane, a malevolent entity known as The Yellow King that is a part of the play or summoned by it, and “the yellow sign”: last of which is a symbol associated with the King that can manipulate or distort the minds of those who see it.

They were some fascinating tales, by favourite being “The Repairer of Reputations” but aside from taking some notes on them, I thought that they would remain some fascinating but otherwise obscure stories even though it has a specific following and Lovecraft himself read them and alluded to their content in his story “The Whisperer in Darkness.” But I thought that would be the last I ever saw of them.

So how does this book from 1895 have any bearing on geek culture right now?

The answer is possibly a lot. Very recently I watched a recent video interview with the author and editor Joseph S. Pulver Sr.: who is an expert on the mythos of The King in Yellow. I knew that he would say some very interesting things on the stories, but what I didn’t know then until he and the interviewer, The Arkham Digest’s Justin Steele, mentioned it was that there is a recent television program that draws heavily from The King in Yellow. Please don’t click on the video unless you want spoilers from True Detective.

I’ve had a friend or two suggest that I watch True Detective and I just thought it was another generic police show or a derivative of Criminal Minds until this little nugget was revealed to me. Two detectives undertake a seventeen year old hunt for a serial killer named The Yellow King:  a quest that seemed to have come to its conclusion this past weekend. Steele and Pulver seem really enthusiastic about The King in Yellow becoming more mainstream as a result of this plot development in True Detective. Indeed, for years Pulver himself has been instrumental in gathering The King in Yellow‘s stories for Chaosium anthologies and then even editing and encouraging writers to create stories in Chambers’ particular universe. Pulver takes great pains to point out that despite August Derleth’s attempts to make The King in Yellow a part of the Lovecraftian or Cthulhu mythos that these stories exist in their own continuity and outside of Lovecraft.

In addition, Pulver himself is in the process of gathering further King in Yellow stories from new writers: particularly female horror writers. It is quite fitting in a way. After all, unlike Lovecraft whom the mythos of The Yellow King is often attributed, Chambers was definitely not afraid of writing female characters into his stories that weren’t monsters, one-dimensional throwaway characters, or that just pretty much exist at all.

Justin Steele’s interview with Joseph S. Pulver Sr. is very fascinating and I would definitely recommend watching the above video if you are at all interested in the origins of The King in Yellow as well as reading Pulver’s article on the subject at The Lovecraft eZine. Also, please check out True Detective: Season One is now over and there are only eight episodes in the series, so it shouldn’t take you long to get through them. Finally, I should point out that you can read The King in Yellow for free online.

As an added bonus, it seems that H.P. Lovecraft himself and a Southern doppelganger, reanimated for YoutTube by Leeman Kessler, have their own opinions about both True Detective and The King in Yellow.

In any case, you will find that the mythos of The King in Yellow is a very mysterious thing of poetic fragments and goose bumps not unlike its yellow sign. This is just as well: as that sign, whatever its shape or purpose, makes minds receptive to madness.

See you in Carcosa.