To Sleep, Perchance to Dream & Lemon Sails Part 3 - Lemon Sails
CoC 1-6e Dreamlands Jazz Age
At that he sighed and explained his plight.
“Across the world I have sought my kind,” he said. “I have seen the delicate minarets of Celephaïs, the wondrous gardens of Inquanok, the low wooden buildings of Rokol, and the squat stone fortresses of the Gnoph-Keh, but I did not find my friends there. Long ages ago we were enslaved, and taken to different lands. Now I am free, and I seek my kin, but grieve because none have seen them. I have passed through the Forbidden Lands, and delved into the Underworld further than I care to remember, but still they remain lost. Thus I have traveled alone through the many lands of dream. I would be ready to discover lofty Kadath itself if I knew I would find my friends there. Ten thousand years of lonely travel have shown me that they must no longer be on Earth. My soul is wearied, and I am in need of aid and companionship. I know you are strangers also, travelers like myself. Would you be willing to accompany me on my final journey? I mean to return to Sarrub, for that is the only place I can imagine they could be now. But I fear what I may find. I offer you no payment, and the burden of my sorrow weighs heavy upon me. Show compassion. Will you help me?”
“You say you won’t give us payment,” Fontaine said. “Is there knowledge you could offer?”
“The lemon sails of my people’s ships ten thousand years ago brought wine to this land that kings themselves cherish,” Mironim-Mer said.
Captain Ferguson perked up at the word “ships.”
“If you love travel, I offer experience,” he Mironim-Mer said. “If you love wisdom, I offer the truth of Sarrub’s doom. If you love crass luxury, I offer none, though perhaps there are remnants of the old Sarrubian wine left upon my world. If so, you are welcome to it. If you brought such wine back to the Dreamlands, the value of it is incalculable. I, too, am a dreamer from the Waking World, though not of Earth. Help me, and may you be helped similarly in your need.”
“Wine, ships, I’m in,” Captain Ferguson said. “And what if I love ships?”
“Then you will find the sailing is more fantastic than you can ever imagine,” Mironim-Mer said. “Where we go is beyond any ocean you have ever, ever plied before.”
“Looks like we’re going to be here for a while, Billy,” Captain Ferguson said.
“Yea!” Billy said.
“Sounds good to me!” Fontaine said.
“So, where are you trying to go?” Miss Edington said.
“I am from Sarrub,” Mironim-Mer said. “It is a world beyond the Dreamlands.”
“You said something about Celephaïs.”
“I visited Celephaïs looking for my other companions. There were three of us left behind ten thousand years ago when my people were recalled to my world for some disaster.”
“That’s a while to be missing your friends,” James said.
“It is,” Mironim-Mer said.
“So, you’re looking for a place beyond the Dreamlands,” Johnson said. “How do we get there?”
“By boat,” Mironim-Mer said.
“Let’s go, Billy!” Captain Ferguson said.
Miss Edington was staring at the cat.
“I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere,” she muttered.
The cat merely mewed at her.
“Ain’t you had enough of cats yet?” Captain Ferguson asked her.
“No,” she simply replied.
“This is Fortune,” Mironim-Mer said, gesturing towards the black cat. “He has accompanied me for some time.”
“Hello!” Miss Edington said to the cat.
“Is he lucky?” Fontaine said.
“Hello,” James said, scratching the cat’s head.
“He’s a lucky black cat!” Miss Edington said.
“He is a cat,” Mironim-Mer said.
Mironim-Mer told them he sought his love, Kalya-Kaan and their companion Taila-Tane. He told them he wanted to first go to the city of Dylath-Leen, which was down the River Skai on the coast of the Southern Sea. He said it was a port and there was a slave market there. He was hopeful the two might be enslaved there. He noted that if not, it was the last place he would look there on Earth’s Dreamlands at least. He said if they were not there, they would hire or purchase a boat and head out to sea to Sarrub. He noted it was a week’s travel.
“Who will be the captain of the boat?” Captain Ferguson asked.
“Whoever knows how to sail it best,” Mironim-Mer said. “I am an old sailor.”
Ten thousand years? Fontaine thought. He probably sails really well.
“But, if you prefer, you may be captain,” Mironim-Mir said. “In command of the ship. We have to find one first.”
“I would love to sail,” Captain Ferguson said.
“We will sail,” Mironim-Mir said.
They traveled for a week, following the River Skai, until they reached the dark towers of Dylath-Leen, which loomed with rigid menace into the sky, overshadowing twisting, narrow alleys that did not always go wither they aught. The dismal city was a horrible mass of such spires built mostly of basalt. A haze of smoke hung over it all. Mironim-Mir warned them the place was the home to thieves and murderers, and less desirable things. He noted the worst of the inhabitants were rumored to venture out at night, when the dark covered their odd form. He warned them to be on their guard if they were not familiar with the city, for many dangerous and awful things met there, and the city rulers chose to see only that which benefited them. Even the natives were swarthy and sullen; perhaps only the cats were trustworthy there.
“Can we go back to Ulthar?” James asked as they moved through the streets.
“So, Fortune,” Fontaine said to the cat. “Are you good at teaching cat language? Mironim-Mer, do you speak cat?”
“I do,” he said.
“Would you be able to teach us,” Fontaine said.
He said he would try.
“Does it work in the real world?” Miss Fairfield asked.
He doubted it.
Mironim-Mer wanted to visit the dismal city as it was a slave port and it was a natural place to seek the Sarrubians before going to Sarrub itself. However, they learned the markets were reserved solely for those who were sold and those who wished to buy, not for curious wanderers such as they. Many of the slaves, they learned, were bought behind closed doors.
The markets themselves were a large ring of wooden buildings around a central enclosure, in which the choice slaves were bought and sold. The outer buildings were used for the purchase of lesser specimens: the aged, the infirm, diseased, and non-humans. The huts were laxly guarded but the inner area was bounded by a high, wooden fence in which stood gates at regular intervals. Each gate was manned by two burly guards wearing black leather and iron armor and toting iron tridents and heavy gray shields.
Mironim-Mer guessed that if any Sarrubians were there, they would be in the inner market.
They also heard rumors that one of the black galleys was in port. It was well-known that the black galleys often came to Dylath-Leen to purchase slaves from the Forest of Parg across the River Skai. There was nervousness about the black galleys. No one ever saw the rowers, which were said to propel the ships with a strength and speed unknown to men. The traders of the ships were evil-looking men with wide mouths, tall turbans, robes, and very small shoes. They purchased their slaves by the pound.
Miss Edington realized she could look like a buyer. Fontaine suggested they try to dream up money to use. He noted since Miss Edington seemed to be the one who presented herself as the most rich and powerful, she could be the front man for the group. James wondered if he acted like a slave if it would help. They also realized the others could act as Miss Edington’s retainers. When Fontaine pointed out they would need money to buy the other Sarrubians if they were enslaved there, Johnson noted they didn’t have to show money just to get in.
Fontaine moved to a darkened alley that seemed to be abandoned and tried to create money out of the thin air. He created a bagful of gemstones of various shapes and sizes.
Miss Edington headed for the slave market, walking in like she owned the place. The others trailed closely behind her.
The inner compound had many more slaves, most of them in better condition than the outer market. Mironim-Mer pointed out one of the merchants from the black galleys to them. The man had narrow eyes and a wide mouth. He wore robes of silk and a tall turban that completely covered the top of his head. The merchant was talking to someone about buying very fat slaves. He noticed them as they walked by and his gaze lingered on Mironim-Mer for an uncomfortably long time.
They made inquiries about the other Sarrubians or anyone with solid yellow eyes and pallid skin. Most of the slavers were too busy to talk to them or merely wanted to make a sale and so were uncommunicative with the dreamers and the Sarrubian. They had many different kinds of slaves, including a cage filled with zoogs and a man claiming he was selling ghouls, which were locked into a large crate.
“If you want ghouls, I’ve got your ghouls!” he said to them.
He pounded on the box and they heard a gibbering from within. Those of them who had known the ghouls in Providence recognized the sound.
“Ah!” the man said, noting their interest. “They’re they finest. They’ll get rid of any rotten, dead flesh that you have. They’re rare to find on the surface, you know. They stick to the Underworld because, up here, the wamps tend to dispose of the dead. But, if you wish to dispose of rotten flesh, these ghouls are for you. Wake up in there!”
He pounded on the side of the box again.
“They can do it for you in a moment!” he said over the gibbering within the box. “They’re not easy to catch so they’re not cheap to buy. You wanna take a look!?!”
“No, I can hear them,” Miss Edington said.
“Anyone?” the slaver said. “Anyone?”
“What is a ghoul?” Fontaine said.
“Come along!” the slaver said.
He took the dreamer to the side of the box and opened a hatch that covered a barred window. The stench was terrible and he saw the creatures with their rubbery flesh, canine features, and filthy muzzles. They looked at him with hateful eyes. He could hear the thump thump thump of their hooves on the wooden floor of the box.
“Back in there!” the slaver cried out at the creatures, using a metal bar to bang against the bars.
“Maybe another time,” Fontaine said.
Only one trader spoke to them in a friendly manner. The man had long hair and a beard and mustache. He wore a wide-collared shirt. He recalled a tall and exotic woman slave with yellow eyes. However, it was some time before and he didn’t recall where she went or who sold her.
After hours, Mironim-Mer suggested it was foolish to look any longer and they should get to the harbor and get a boat.
“I concur,” James said.
“Let’s get out of this horrible place,” Mironim-Mer said.
“Well, we’re here already,” Fontaine said. “Before I say anything more … who’s against slavery?”
“I’m from the south,” Miss Edington said.
Johnson raised his hand.
“Well, I know who you work for so I can understand that,” Fontaine said.
“This is my son,” Captain Ferguson said, putting an arm around Billy’s shoulders.
Billy just stared at Fontaine as if asking him “What’s wrong with you!?!”
“They’d be free,” Fontaine said. “Because I’m not really going to force them to do things. Just an extra companion that can help us out.”
“It’s not slavery if you release ‘em,” Captain Ferguson said. “You would be … you would be saving ‘em.”
“Yeah,” Fontaine said.
He looked around for the merchant from the black galley and saw the man heading towards them, a nasty little smile on his face.
“I … I hear … I hear that you are looking for Sarrubians?” the merchant said. “Yaass?”
His grin was far too wide and his teeth terribly white.
“Yes,” Fontaine said.
“I was … looking for a female addition,” Miss Edington said.
“Ah … yaass,” the merchant said. “I might … have information if you so desire,”
“Perhaps we should speak in private.”
“Mm. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. Shall we go to the inn? I can arrange a room. We can share wine … and I can tell you what I know and you can tell me what you’ll give me for it. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.”
“Sure,” Fontaine said.
The merchant laughed wickedly and rubbed his hands together. James looked at Fontaine like he was quite insane.
“I wanna get on a boat now,” Captain Fontaine said.
“Come,” the merchant from the black galley said. “Come. Let us go.”
“This is the best lead we’ve had,” Fontaine whispered to the rest, who were all doubtful about going with the strange and unsettling little man.
The merchant led them out of the slave market and noted a nearby public house.
“Meet me in that inn in half an hour,” he said. “Yes yes yes yes yes yes.”
“Why not now?” Fontaine said.
“Because I must arrange the room,” the merchant said. “A room. A private room for such distinguished, distinguished folk.”
He laughed again.
“Yes yes yes yes,” he said, tenting his fingers and tapping them together. “Meet me there. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.”
When he walked away from them they marveled at his strange gait and noticed, for the first time, that his shoes seemed too small for any normal man’s feet.
Fontaine asked a nearby shopkeeper if the people from the black galley were trustworthy at all. The man merely looked frightened and made a symbol in the air, walking away from him, terrified.
“Interesting,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine and Captain Ferguson spoke about whether or not to deal with the merchant from the black galley. Captain Ferguson was of the opinion they should get a boat and leave the terrible city of Dylath-Leen. Fontaine pointed out that with their dreaming abilities, they would be able to defend themselves should the merchant prove less than trustworthy, perhaps even turning his head to stone.
“Don’t trust a guy that says ‘come come come,’” Captain Ferguson said.
“‘Yes yes yes yes yes,’” Miss Edington mocked the terrible merchant.
“Well, clearly he wants to steal our friend here,” Fontaine said, gesturing towards Mironim-Mer. “To sell off to someone. But I feel like he may have the other ones too so if we can just find out where they are …”
Fontaine asked if Mironim-Mer was a dreamer and the man said that he was. He noted he did not have the ability to create things as the human dreamers did, not being of their world. He asked if the man had seen other human dreamers and Mironim-Mer told him they were rare. When asked if dreamers had the ability to turn living things into other materials, he said they did not. He noted, for instance, that they would not be able to turn a man to stone, for instance.
“If we are to see him, I suggest we not stay long,” James said. “I suggest we get moving.”
“I want to catch him before we go into the room because he’s going to have a bunch of other people there,” Fontaine said.
“He has 30 minutes to prepare,” Captain Ferguson said.
They talked about the possibility of sneaking into the place. Miss Edington thought they should get the woman and get out of the city. Captain Ferguson and Billy voted no, thinking it was a bad idea. Fontaine suggested they didn’t take Mironim-Mer with them if they met the merchant, putting him someplace safe.
“There’s no place safe in Dylath-Leen,” Mironim-Mer said.
“We can’t possibly leave him alone,” James said.
There was talk of splitting up and someone getting a boat while others met with them. When Fontaine suggested telling the man to meet them at the dock immediately, James said he didn’t think that was a good idea either. Johnson didn’t think they should split up either.
“How important is this woman to you?” Miss Edington asked Mironim-Mer.
“She means everything to me,” he said.
“That’s all I needed to know,” she said.
Fontaine asked about the possibility of trustworthy mercenaries but Mironim-Mer didn’t think they could be found in Dylath-Leen. Miss Edington asked for a description of Kalya-Kaan and he told her there were only three of his kind in the whole of Earth’s Dreamlands. If they found someone who looked like him, that would be her.
As they spoke, they saw the merchant from the black galley come out of the inn, look left and right, and then move with his strange gait down towards the dock. He laughed strangely.
“I think we should take whatever chance we can to get this woman back,” Johnson said.
“Exactly,” Fontaine said. “That’s our best bet at the moment. I mean, it does look … possibly completely false but … should we just follow him to the docks? If it looks shady, we just get a boat and leave.”
They followed the merchant at a distance and saw him return to the black galley, going up the gangplank with a grin and a giggle. He disappeared into the quarterdeck at the back.
“Let’s get a boat,” Fontaine said.
They searched the harbor for a couple of hours and it was getting towards dark when they found a wizened old man willing to sell them his boat for fifty pieces of gold. He pointed out the small, 40-foot long boat with two masts and lateen-rigged sails.
“Would you accept gemstones?” Fontaine asked.
“Never!” the old man cried. “Never! I will not accept gems. I do not know their value.”
Captain Ferguson went to the boat to examine it more closely. It had a tiny cabin in the back that would hold provisions and gear. Three of them could sleep there comfortably or more less comfortably. A little bilge was under that. It was steered by a tiller and the sails and masts seemed sound. He felt like the boat was in good shape and though it was taking on water a little, that was to be expected.
“I think I left some gold back at my place,” Fontaine said.
He went around the corner and tried to dream up some coins but could not concentrate in the terrible city. He returned to the others empty-handed.
“I can offer you this,” he said.
He leaned down and Fortune jumped up into his arms.
“No!” Miss Edington said.
The old man’s smile broadened uncomfortably. His tongue crossed his lips in eager anticipation.
“Mm,” he said. “Oh! Hmmm. Very well! Very well!”
“No, not Fortune!” Miss Edington said.
“I will take the cat!” the old man said. “I will take the cat!”
Miss Edington stomped her pretty little foot on the cobblestone ground.
“Are you sure you don’t want a sack full of gems?” Fontaine said.
“Fie on your gems!” the old man said. “Give me the cat!”
He laughed uproariously.
“It will be perfect!” the old man said. “Yes!”
Fortune looked at Miss Edington with a knowing nod and a wink. Fontaine noticed the exchange.
“It will be fine,” Mironim-Mer said.
He handed the cat to the laughing old man.
“Oh yes!” the old man said. “Take your boat!”
Fortune seemed none-too-bothered as the old man took him away.
Captain Ferguson had already gone to the boat to ready it to sail. Mironim-Mer suggested they get heavy clothing for the trip. The dream gemstones came in handy to purchase a great deal of blankets and heavy coats and boots. They also got provisions and were able to leave in an hour. Fontaine returned last, having spent the rest of the dream gems on a life-sized ivory statue of a muscular naked man. He put it into the bottom of the boat. They all looked at him as if he was quite mad.
As they got ready to get underway, they noticed a few loose sails on the deck were moving. Something was underneath them. Miss Edington and James looked under them and saw a slightly ruffled Fortune, who was obviously able to take care of himself. James gasped in delight. Miss Edington covered him back up with the sails until they were underway, whereupon she let him out.
They headed out of the Bay of Wharves as the cold stars shined overhead.
“So, Mironim-Mer, have you ever been to Ulthar?” Fontaine asked him.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Have you heard of the story of story of the Cats of Ulthar?”
Mironim-Mer told Captain Ferguson to set a course following the coast first to the south and then to the west. Captain Ferguson did so. When Fontaine asked how long it would take, Mironim-Mer guessed it would take a month’s travel or so.
They passed by the Forest of Parg on the shoreline to their west and, at one point, Mironim-Mer had them pull ashore on a barren spot on the coast to coat the boat’s hull with space-mead which he had so carefully kept. He told them this was the secret of space-mead. He noted that, imbibed, it allowed one to withstand the rigors of the cold vacuum of space in the real world. He noted that he knew how to make it. Though the mead did not allow a person to actually get to outer space, which required transportation that some creatures of the Waking World like the byakhee could provide, it would keep a person alive despite the vacuum of space.
“Here is the secret of the space-mead in the Dreamlands,” he said. “If we spread it over the hull of the ship, when we reach the Basalt Pillars of the West, instead of falling down into the abyss where the waters of the world go, we will fly into the ether and from there to Sarrub. On this small vessel, it will last at least four or five journeys.”
“Space ship,” Miss Edington said.
“So, if I were to put this on a vehicle, per se, and then go off of a cliff, I would keep going straight?” Fontaine said.
“Here in the Dreamlands, yes,” Mironim-Mer said. “In your world, you’d have to drink it and then have transportation to other worlds. It allows you to survive in space.”
“Does that let us survive underwater as well?”
“No. You survive in space. It’s a magical elixir.”
“You know, no air. No air.”
“But there’s also pressure underwater,” Miss Fairfield said.
“That’s true,” Fontaine said.
“And there is …” Johnson said.
“Zero pressure,” Fontaine said.
Mironim-Mer told them he knew how to make the golden elixir and that not many knew of the trick of spreading it on a boat or ship in order to fly off the world.
They continued on their journey. Along the way, they caught fish and shot sea-birds for food, Mironim-Mer using his sling, catching rainwater to supplement their drink, and swam in the sea for exercise and pleasure.
They passed around the southern coast of what Mironim-Mer called Zak, which he described as the abode of forgotten dreams. It rose up from the sea on tree-studded terraces among which were nestled strange, colonnaded temples of white marble. Along the shores could be seen wondrous forms of fancy and delight and each of them saw different things as each of them had their own unremembered dreams. He noted in that land dwelt all the dreams and thoughts of beauty and wonder which came into the minds of men once and were then forgotten. He pointed out that it was not only pleasant thoughts of men which were forgotten, however, and he said there were terrors more awful than any which lay outside the universe that stalked the hinterlands of Zak.
“It is said that those who tread the sleeping meadows of Zak will never return to their homes,” he said.
Sometime after that, they passed a great city which he told them was Zar, within the land of Zak. He said it was populated with the dream-forms of those in the Waking World who suffered amnesia and, as they passed, well out to sea, they saw that it was a park-like place with only scattered buildings. They could see lordly terraces of verdure dotted with gleaming roofs and colonnades of Grecian-style temples.
They only stopped briefly at the city of Aphorat on the on the dark green Zuro River in the shadow of Thalarion to the west. The river was swift though narrow. Remote and little-visited, there were few ships of other lands in the harbor of Aphorat. The men there were sailors and friendly, however, who warned them to avoid dread Thalarion.
As they continued their journey west, Mironim-Mer told them that tales named Thalarion the City of a Thousand Wonders, but no man had ever returned from the place after gazing upon the Lathi, it’s queen. As they passed by the city, staying well out to sea, they could see it was a place of glittering towers and awesome turrets. They did not draw close enough to see more than that, at Mironim-Mer’s suggestion.
The lands north of their journey were the Fantastic Realms, according to Mironim-Mer, and they saw a pleasant coast bright with flowers and splendid groves of trees. Mironim-Mer said that was Zura, the Land of Pleasures Unattained. They heard haunting songs and music drifting to their ears across the waves.
They passed Sona-Nyl, whose only entrance was through the Crystal Highlands on the coast. He told them Sona-Nyl was a realm without time or space, suffering or death. He had never seen the place but said he had heard it was filled with green groves and pastures of bright flowers, clear streams which laughed as the sun shone off their surfaces, stately temples, fabulous palaces, and bright cities filled with cool fountains.
They passed the last of the Fantastic Realms as the coastline bore away to the north. Mironim-Mer told them the coast was the Land of Ennon, the Land of Music and Poetry. He said in that land resided all the dreamers and poets who offered their vision to the world but were rejected. The land, he said, was filled with music and merriment, and at night the air was filled with songs which once lived in men’s souls but were pushed out as wonder left the Waking World.
He told them Theelys stood far to the west on the southern banks of the mouth of the River Tross, marking the farthest western extent of the ancient Tyrhhian Empire. It was called the City of Mists as it was always shrouded in fog.
Some weeks into their journey, they heard a strange sound, almost like sizzling bacon, and saw Fontaine concentrating on the ivory statue of the huge naked man. From the top of its dead, slowly downward, the ivory was changed to flesh and blood and bone, though he still retained his white hair and pale skin. The man was very large and obviously very strong.
“What are you doing!?!” Johnson said.
“I live?” the Adonis said. “I live. I live!”
“Hello …” James said.
“What have you done?” Miss Edington, who had been trying to learn the cat language from Fortune for weeks, said dryly.
“Clothes!” Miss Fairfield said, looking away. “Clothes!”
James gave the man who was once a statue a blanket.
“You shall be Terry,” Fontaine said.
“Terry,” the huge man said, raising one hand to the skies. “I am Terry.”
Their journey took them further and further west until, in the distance, they saw the Basalt Pillars of the West, titanic columns of rock rising out of the sea and reaching upward, seemingly without end. Between the pillars, they could see the edge of the world. A great cataract seemed to drop down into the abyss. Miss Edington looked down into the darkness and felt it looking back as Mironim-Mer took the tiller. The boat shot over the edge of the Great Cataract and into space.
It grew terribly cold and they saw why Mironim-Mer had told them to bring warm clothing. A puddle of water on the deck began to freeze before their very eyes and they quickly donned the heavy clothes.
Out in space, blind and mindless things floated around, sometimes reaching with blind tentacles for them. The shapeless black things lurked and capered and floundered all through the ether, leering and grinning and sometimes feeling about with slimy paws when some moving object excited their curiosity. Captain Ferguson sent Billy to the safety of the cabin so he would not see the terrible horrors of the night’s sky. Johnson was terribly affected by the sight of the things, falling to the ground in the fetal position and screaming.
“Joel!” James said, running to the man’s side. “Joel! Are you all right?”
“No!” Johnson said. “I’m not!”
Miss Fairfield carried the man to the cabin where he suffered a terrible fear of the stars and the night’s sky.
Mironim-Mer told him the things were the Larvae of the Outer Gods and managed to steer the ship between them. He seemed to perk up a little bit and, while they flew towards Sarrub, told them about his people.
He noted Sarrubians had a lifecycle unlike the other dreamers. They lived an extremely long time in five phases, spanning up to 17,000 years of Dreamlands time which was only about a hundred years of Waking World time on his world. He told them he was in the fourth cycle. The first cycle lasted 10 years, in which the Sarrubians were mindless, pink, many-legged creatures, thousands of which populated the world’s deep green oceans. These were paradoxically preyed upon by the second stage, a small carnivore consisting mainly of bones and teeth. The second stage spanned 30 years, after which the creatures crawled to the ocean shore, bloated within its shell, and lay inert for several weeks. Then the shell broke open and a slimy green reptilian creature emerged. The lizard-like being fed upon other, smaller creatures for about 45 years, growing slowly but continuously, shedding its skin periodically, and its tail and various limbs throughout the process, until it became an adult Sarrubian.
“So, you’re a lizard … but now you’re a man?” Fontaine said.
“In the Dreamlands, we can change ourselves into this so we can better trade with the people of your world,” Mironim-Mer said.
“Excellent,” Fontaine said. “Okay. So what do you actually look like?”
He told them he was actually an armored, spined creature. He said Sarrubians then returned to the waking world and were taught and then returned to the Dreamlands to explore other worlds. He noted they could live many thousands of years in that fourth stage. He said when the final stage was near, the Sarrubian would become restless, their intelligence wane, and their personality break up. The Sarrubian desired to return to Sarrub, where they would return to the sea, at which point they crawled to the ocean shore, becoming a dried out husk. At that point, thousands of many-legged, pink invertebrates crawled out, eating the body until they could barely walk and then scurrying into the sea where they soon transformed into the first stage of the Sarrubian lifecycle.
“Aw,” James said.
“It is unlike your people,” Mironim-Mer said.
“Very much,” Miss Edington said. “Very much.”
He confessed he did not know what had happened to his world as he had not left Earth’s Dreamlands for his own world or the real world, as he would return to his normal form.
After a lengthy voyage, they saw another world ahead and the ship soon came down onto a frigid green sea. This unsettled Mironim-Mer, who remembered Sarrub’s waters being tropically warm. Here and there floated sickly white fleshy corpses, which he identified as first-stage Sarrubians. Their fate disturbed him and he did not speculate on it.
A day’s travel under cloud-laden skies brought the boat to an icy, forbidding shore, where snow covered boats and ships sat idle in the water. When they disembarked, a ribbed and bony creature with two spiny and clawed foreclaws reared up and skittered their way. It’s hind-body trailed off into a mobile, muscular flipper or tail. It was the size of a large dog. They recognized from Mironim-Mer’s description that it was a second-stage Sarrubian.
Miss Fairfield drew her sword and rushed the terrible thing, stabbing at it but the weapon was turned aside by the thing’s carapace. Terry was ordered forward by Fontaine, who had magically fashioned a club for the statue-made-man. He swung at the terrible creature, which skittered out of the way. Miss Edington looked on, unsure what to do. Johnson rushed the thing and swung at it with the baseball bat he’d fashioned out of a club he’d found but barely hurt it.
“This is one of your kind,” James said to Mironim-Mer. “Do they act like this?”
“No,” Mironim-Mer said. “They should not be attacking us.”
James rushed the terrible creature as well, stabbing it deeply with his knife. Mironim-Mer finished off the terrible thing.
Mironim-Mer was confused by the attack of the second-stage Sarrubian. He told them the things didn’t attack things bigger than itself, normally, but fed on the first-stage Sarrubians which were smaller. He was confused and concerned.
“We’ll have to head inland,” he said. “To the Temple of the Oracle Mirror. There, I can find out where my other companions are.”
They headed inland.
It was three days march to the temple. The temperature was well below zero and they had to wear the clothing they had brought for the trip between the worlds. Freezing winds blew off the seas bringing blizzards and sleet. Along the way they saw some weird and terrible sights. A dead Sarrubian husk lay by the road, filled with shriveled insect-like first-stagers that had perished in the terrible cold. They spotted black-winged figures in the sky, circling over a faraway hill. When they approached, they found only the clean remains of a huge skeleton. They found a dwelling containing the frozen corpses of two Sarrubians huddled together for warmth. A curious mark was scratched on the remains of the shattered door. They found huge, shapeless footprints in the fresh snow with an old trail of blood alongside. They spotted wandering figures in the dark, staggering aimlessly through the snow. They were never seen up close and vanished when pursued. Perhaps they were the spirits of the dead, though Mironim-Mer did not acknowledge that possibility.
Eventually, they reached their destination. The temple sat on a low hill surrounded by now-empty homes. It was built of white stone veined with gray, the path leading to it flanked by broken columns of the same stone. The temple was low and its door-less entrance yawned darkly. A figure crouched in the doorway, scrabbling in the snow with its fingers. As they approached, the figure scurried inside.
Mironim-Mer identified the figure as the Keeper of the Temple. At least it wore the Keeper’s robes.
“Perhaps it is shy at the approach of humans,” he said. “The Keeper never left Sarrub so it always maintained Sarrubian shape. It might not be pleasant to your eyes.”
“Is that where the wine is?” Captain Ferguson asked.
Mironim-Mer didn’t know if there would be wine there or not.
“But this is the place we want to go to?” Captain Ferguson asked.
“Yes,” Mironim-Mer said. “I need to consult the Oracle Mirror. That can tell us exactly where the other two are and then we can find them.”
As they neared the temple, a hoarse voice from within shouted a warning.
“Leave!” it cried out. “Doom awaits those who enter! Flee! Flee for your souls’ sake!”
Mironim-Mer walked towards the entry, followed by the rest.
“Hey guys, I’m going to guard the entrance on this one,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen enough.”
Miss Edington said she would stay with the man.
They entered the temple and saw the Keeper in the corner, hiding in the shadows so they could not see him clearly. He cowered and whimpered pitifully. The temple interior was empty except for small drifts of snow, icicles, and the Mirror, which was set in the middle of the floor.
As Mironim-Mer strode towards the Mirror, the Keeper begged him not to use it.
“Don’t!” the creature cried out. “Don’t! Don’t look in the mirror! Don’t! Don’t do it!”
Mironim-Mer ignored him, striding to the mirror and pulling out a handful of colored crystals from his pocket. He scattered them across the surface of the mirror and began to chant. Outside, the skies reddened and clouded over as the chant continued.
With an outraged scream, a glistening limb reached out of the mirror and grasped Mironim-Mer by the face, squeezing his skull. Several green eyes glared balefully from the center of the mirror and a thundering voice bellowed in a tongue none of them could understand.
Miss Fairfield ran forward as Captain Ferguson yelled a profanity. She drew her short sword and struck at the arm, missing completely. Fontaine flung a dagger at the arm while Captain Ferguson ran forward and grabbed Mironim-Mer, trying to pull him from the mirror.
“Terry, help him!” Fontaine said.
“How so?” Terry answered. “How do you want me to help him?”
“Grab Mironim-Mer!” Fontaine yelled.
Johnson looked into the temple and saw what was going on. He ran into the temple and struck the arm with his bat. It just bounced off the terrible arm. James also rushed forward and stabbed the arm, striking it a telling blow but the blade sliding right off the terrible flesh of the arm.
Mironim-Mer shrieked as if his soul were being rent in twain. Miss Fairfield grabbed at Mironim-Mer and tried to pull him free but the hand held firm. Terry also grasped at the Sarrubian but did not get a good grip. Miss Edington ran into the room and grabbed the arm, trying to pull it off Mironim-Mer. She found it terribly cold. It was like steel and didn’t move at all.
“Keeper how do we save him?” Fontaine cried out.
“There’s no saving him!” the Keeper croaked from the corner, weeping.
Fontaine grabbed the gems off the mirror while Captain Ferguson slapped the crystals away all while the terrible chanting came from the mirror and the eyes looked at them balefully. Even when they were all removed from the Mirror, nothing changed.
Johnson brought his baseball bat down on the Mirror, shattering the glass. The mirror vanished, thunder sounded outside, and heavy rainfall could be heard without. Mironim-Mer stumbled backwards and crashed to the ground. Tears sprung from his eyes.
He explained haltingly that a wendigo had possessed the Mirror and its influence on the Mirror doubtlessly exacerbated the disaster which had befallen Sarrub. They heard a skittering noise from the corner as the Keeper scurried forward. Johnson averted his eyes, not wanting to see the thing, already feeling broken from seeing the Larvae of the Outer Gods. Captain Ferguson ran out of the temple followed by James.
The thing that came out of the shadows was an armored, spiked, reptile thing, squat and hideous. Its eyes were lifted from its head on scaled stalks, its nose flat and flaring, and its mouth filled with sharp teeth. Its face was mobile and expressive.
It croaked that it was often allowed to gaze into the Mirror under the demon’s control. It had watched Mironim-Mer for a long time and it took all of its will to cover the group’s purpose from its terrible master. However, it said it knew where Kalya-Kaan and Taila-Tane were held and what their fate had been. It said the two had found each other and made a skyboat to sail to Sarrub, but they were captured en-route by horrible pirate-things, the wenelians, from the world of Yundu. The Mirror showed they were held in the House of the Single Spire on the shores of the Circle Island on Yundu itself.
Mironim-Mer thanked the Keeper and left hurriedly, having heard enough.
Fontaine quickly collected the rest of the crystals and they fled the terrible place, moving through the falling rain. Mironim-Mer explained the wenelians rode green phosphorescent creatures, often preying upon Sarrubian trading vessels, and that their raids caused woe on many worlds. He knew little of the wenelians themselves, and even less of the dread world that had spawned them. But he knew the way there.
The rains washed away the snow as they made the trip back to the sea. It uncovered many things that were undesirable, but freshened the air. It was warmer. Perhaps Sarrub had not yet been utterly ruined.
They returned to the boat and left Sarrub much as they had left Earth’s Dreamlands. In the weeks it took them to sail to Yundu, Fontaine tried to make a breastplate for Terry unsuccessfully. They finally reached Yundu, whose black, rolling surface was terrible to behold. The world had no sun but was instead encircled by a ring of what appeared to be glowing red coals. Hence, on Yundu, there was no day nor night, only eternal, sullen twilight.
As Mironim-Mer sailed the boat downwards, an island became visible, its peaks rising above the filthy-looking ocean waves. It was in the form of a ring, perhaps a circular reef or possibly the remnants of an old crater whose inner and outer parts were now filled with liquid, leaving only the mountainous top of the crater’s rim above the surface.
The boat touched down on the wrinkled surface of the tarry black liquid that passed for water on Yundu. They soon sailed within sight of the jagged coast and the grim towers of an unpleasant city. One building, standing high up on a mountain edge, had a single enormous steeple spearing up into the sky, clearly the House of the Single Spire. Mironim-Mer sailed the boat in shadow right up to the quayside under the very nose of the wenelians.
A colossal glowing green horror with vast bat-wings and attended by numerous wenelians was being unloaded of prisoners and goods further along the dock. The thing was huge and the wenelians pulled living people out of its massive mouth, prisoners and goods both, Hapless human and non-human slaves were nailed into boxes and floated off by the wenelians to fates best left unconsidered.
Many of the dreamers refused to look at the wenelians or the horrible phosphorescent green beast, not trusting their minds would withstand the horror of it. Miss Fairfield took notes as quickly as possible.
They crept to the spire which they found consisted mainly of a seemingly infinite flight of dark stairs leading to a circular room twenty feet in diameter at the top. Two people were chained to staples in the center of the room. Taila-Tane was obviously dead due to some grievous wounds across his back while Kalya-Kaan was disheveled and haggard, surrounded by the remains of many uneaten meals and horror still in her eyes.
Mironim-Mer rushed to the woman and comforted her, weeping for Taila-Tane.
Two chains held the woman to the ground and they all tried to use their ability to manipulate the dream to destroy them. Miss Edington changed the chains to rope but then James turned that into sand, freeing the woman.
“I was going to turn it into Jell-O,” Johnson quipped. “Then we could all have a snack.”
Mironim-Mir asked them to free the body of Taila-Tane as well so he could return it back to Sarrub. They tried to change the chains on the body until Miss Edington was able to change the chains to sand as well. Mironim-Mer picked up Kalya-Kaan.
“Terry, if you want to pick up this guy, that’d be great,” Fontaine said.
“Oh …” Terry said, thinking about the existential pointlessness of all life. “Okay.”
They headed down the stairs. When they were halfway down, they felt a presence below them. Terry had led the way but wasn’t sure how to fight with the dead body in his hands so he put it gently down on the steps at Fontaine’s suggestion. He waited in the stairwell in front of them with his club in hand.
The thing that came up the steps didn’t walk, but floated, it’s boneless, tubular body pulsating. The body was sausage-like, but beautifully patterned in subtle shades of golden yellow, mouse-gray, ocher, and emerald. At one end of its limascine body was a wrinkled tubular proboscis. Just above that sprouted a pair of fin-like appendages somewhat reminiscent of ears and just behind those a pair of long stalks waved, tipped with shiny black globes of eyes. It was the size of a man and carried a tray upon its back.
“It’s a wenelian pirate!” Mironim-Mir said.
Johnson tried to avert his vision, not wanting to see the horrible thing. Terry rushed the thing and swung his massive club but missed completely, knocking the tray off the thing’s back. The wenelian fired a dart out of its proboscis at Terry, the sharp, nasty calcite thing missing the man and shattering against the wall. Miss Fairfield rushed the thing and grappled with it. The horrible thing felt completely alien to the touch. Miss Edington rushed the thing as Fontaine flung a knife that clattered down the stairwell. She tried to stab it but wasn’t able to penetrate it’s skin.
Johnson waited ready behind the others, not seeing an opening. James moved in front of the man, knife at ready. The wenelian suddenly emitted a grainy, blue-black vapor that clogged their eyes and ears, making it hard to see or hear. Terry swung his club but missed the horrible creature, his eyes burning from the terrible substance.
“I can’t see!” he cried out. “My vision is impaired!”
Miss Fairfield tried to hold the horrible, writhing thing more still and moved to one side to better allow the others to strike it. Miss Edington stabbed the terrible thing and it bled a greenish blood. Fontaine flung a knife at the thing, impaling the blade in the horrible creature, which let out a squeal. Captain Ferguson and James backed up, avoiding the gas and getting out of sight of the horrible creature. Johnson rushed forward through the terrible gas and swung his baseball bat at the thing but the bat merely bounced off the horrible thing’s skin.
The wenelian tried to break free of Miss Fairfield’s iron-like grip but was unable to get free.
“With you holding it still, I will be able to strike the telling blow against the beast!” Terry cried out.
He swung at and missed the wenelian. Miss Edington swung ineffectually at the thing again and Fontaine flung a dagger that struck the thing between the eyestalks. Greenish blood spurted out of the wound and Miss Fairfield felt it go limp in her arms.
They heard the alarmed cries of more wenelians outside and fled down the staircase, Terry grabbing the body of Taila-Tane. They raced across the docks as numerous wenelians approached, and leapt into the boat where Billy already had the ropes ready to be released. They got the little boat underway and fled from the terrible island. Once they were at sea, Mironim-Mer got the boat back into the sky and they fled Yundu.
It took several weeks for them to get back to Earth’s Dreamlands. Mironim-Mer said he could take them wherever they wished to go. They returned to Ulthar.
Mironim-Mer, Kalya-Kaan, and Fortune were all going to go back to Sarrub.
To dwell a moment on happier things, Sarrub was partially healed, Mironim-Mer and his love were reunited, and perhaps someday in the future white ships with lemon sails would reappear on Earth to vend the heady chartreuse wine from beyond the world again. That might not have taken as long as one would suspect, either. Remember how different time flowed on Sarrub? In any case, if it ever did happen again, they all guessed they would certainly be remembered in a most friendly manner by the Sarrubian traders. They were also privy to the secrets by which they could sail the winds of space: the space mead trick.
* * *
They all awoke the next morning, only a single night having passed, on Saturday, June 30, 1928. It was not long before they learned of the death of Robert Ramsden the night before. The man had committed suicide with sleeping pills, leaving only a short note of apology.
Subsequent journeys to the Dreamlands and Ulthar, however, proved Ramsden alive and well there. He explained that dreamers could sometimes transport themselves to the Dreamlands upon their death if they especially prepared for it as he had done.