Byakhee, also known as "Wind Spirit", "Ice Demon", "Spirit Guide", "Whispering Guide", "Lesser Air Elemental", "Gargoyle", "Demon".
Origin: H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival (fiction)" might be the first appearance of what the RPG calls a Byakhee, though the name "Byahkee" was actually never used by Lovecraft, instead being an invention of August Derleth in his book Trail of Cthulhu.
A Byakhee is an inter-dimensional being described by Lovecraft as a combination of bat, bird, and insect, a vaguely humanoid creature with an insectoid, segmented body, membranous batlike wings, and taloned birdlike legs. Cultists and others with access to the right information and spells are able to summon Byakhees for the purpose of intersteller or interdimensional travel.
"Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the Tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membraneous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts."
— H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival (fiction)"
Byakhees appear to be the favored mounts of wizards, witches, and cultists: summoned to carry passengers away into the night sky, traveling through time and space into other worlds in alternate dimensions such as the Dreamlands for the cultists own mysterious and nefarious purposes.
Possibly the first appearance of a Byakhee-like creature, typically used as the best example, comes from HPL's "The Festival", where it is described: "There flapped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things... not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, but something I cannot and must not recall." However, the word "Byakhee" to refer to a bat-winged flying monster comes from August Derleth, who may (or may not) have meant it to be the same thing Lovecraft was describing.
Connections to the Hastur Mythos
By some accounts, generally inspired by Lin Carter's story "Litany To Hastur XX! The Unspeakable" and by August Derleth's portrayal of a rivalry between Hastur and Cthulhu, Byakhees are servants of Hastur and are instrumental in many of his rituals, and nests of the Byakhee can be found on the planet Carcosa.
Connections between Byakhees and Hastur, Carcosa, the Lake of Hali, and the King in Yellow can consequently be found throughout Call of Cthulhu lore regarding the creatures.
The Hune Organ
According to Sandy Petersen's Guide to Mytos Monsters, Byakhees have an organ in their abdomens called a Hune that is "attuned to the galactic magnetic field", which guides, propels, or otherwise allows the Byakhees to travel vast distances in space. It creates a space-time-anomaly called keim, in which the Byakhee could move "up to 400 times the speed of light"; this happens so quickly that it may appear to be teleportation to some observers. It is unknown whether the keim is actually the opening of a wormhole, bending of time and space allowing interdimensional travel or travel in hyperspace, or if it instead somehow gives the Byakhee the literal ability to break the light-speed barrier.
The Lovecraftian Science blog (link) explores the way that this organ might function in greater detail.
According to Derleth's version of the Byahkee, the rider has to drink space mead before he calls a Byakhee in his dreams through whistles and chants. Then the creature carries him to another place or time. Apparently, space mead protects the rider from the negative impacts space or interdimensional travel would have on the human body.
- "Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the Tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membraneous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts." - H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival (fiction)"
- "...a great bat-like bird..." and "...monstrous black-winged bat-like creature..." August Derleth, "The House on Curwen Street" and "The Watcher From the Sky" chapter-stories from The Trail of Cthulhu
- The Byakhee is described as bat-winged, black-furred, iron-beaked and with "eyes of hell", dwelling upon the "cloudy shores of Lake Hali"; whilst in Carcosa Story About Hali, he mentions nests of the Byakhee on the planet Carcosa.. - Lin Carter, "Litany To Hastur XX! The Unspeakable"
- "A devil from the Outer Dark... they lurk thick as fleas outside the belt of light which surrounds this world. Some find their way to earth, but when they do they have to take on some earthly form and flesh of some sort." (a line from a Conan the Barbarian story, possibly "The Vale of Lost Women", or perhaps not one of Robert E. Howard's but one by Lin Carter or L. Sprague de Camp?)
- "A Great Winged Beast from ye void which did sore Crowde my place of Busyness" (CoC, ed 5.6, p.93)
- "The summoned byakhee will flap down out of the sky, still icy from space...." (CoC, ed 5.6, p.215)
- "...Asteroids live and breathe and planets fall in love / Bat-beings groan and seethe and fit you like a glove / Traverse Orion's leg in the blink of an eye / Warm hands at dying suns and boiling midnight skies..."
- "Slave Ship" - The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets
- "Byakhee, Byakhee, fly me through space, take me away, far from this place; Byakhee, Byakhee, what must I do, to go for a ride with you? Byakhee, Byakhee, now heed my call, I've done the spells, I've done them all; Out of the Tartarean darkness appear, and fly me away from here. Byakhee, Byakhee, I hear your wings, I smell - a smell? What are those... things? Byakhee, Byakhee, what have we done? This suddenly isn't fun. I don't know how to describe you; To see you is a mind-blowing thing. Not moles, crows, nor ants are quite like you, nor partially decomposed human beings! Byakhee, Byakhee, now that you're here, I've changed my mind; I'm filled with fear: People who go with you don't reappear, So leave me alone, I'll stay at home, I will forget we ever met - I must not and won't recall."
- "Byakhee, Byakhee" - The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society
Heresies and Controversies
- See the Discussion tab for fan theories and suggestions.
- Chaosium's stats for the Byakhee put its intelligence at human levels: it should (theoretically) be able to feel, think, understand, reason, communicate, create and use technology, create art and learn science and engineer great works, form and follow and lead religions and governments, philosophize, mastermind plots, choose to do the "right" and "decent" thing as well as evil things or neutral and conflicted things, conspire and cooperate and love and hate, etc. at a level that is equivalent to (but of course not necessarily the same as) that of human beings. Byakhees can be thought of as "people", after a fashion.... (Chaosium; YSDC Forums)
- What do Byakhees normally do, while perhaps plunging from one dimension to another through deep space and time, when Harvey Walters and his friends and enemies aren't summoning them to do Call of Cthulhu dirty work? Do they resent, or look forward to being summoned and compelled to help human beings travel between worlds? Do they realize they have been summoned, or do they think that arriving on Earth at that exact place and time was their own idea? Are Byakhees at all curious about the strange little people of Earth, or have they seen so much on their travels that human life is trivial and dull? If they could talk to the cultists that order them to travel to sinister planets on dubious quests, what would the Byakhees say?
- "I have used Byakhee twice in convention games that I have run. They can be surprisingly challenging opponents. In the first scenario, which took place on an isolated movie set, the creature played an active role in the plot by killing and replacing the reclusive writer, slipping mysterious script changes under the door for the actor PCs to find." (John A. "NeferSutekh" Almack)
Associated Mythos Elements
- tome: spells for summoning Byakhees are common and can be found in many Mythos tomes, most notably:
- deity: Hastur
- location: Carcosa, the Lake of Hali, the Dreamland of Aldebaran
- location: the Astral Plane, Other Side, or Dreamlands
- cult: "hunters", a rogue faction of Byakhee possessed by the displaced intellects of insane Astral travelers lost in the voids between worlds, congregating together in some unspeakable mockery of human community on the Astral Plane until those times that they are able to hear the summons for a Bykahee, and respond in place of a true Byakhee - bloodthirsty, sadistic, deranged by their time in the Astral Plane. Stories of hunters responding to summons for Byakhee have given rise to legends of violent, dangerous, malevolent demons being summoned by witches and warlocks.
References and Appearances
- website: Lovecraftian Science blog
- fiction: H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival (fiction)"
- fiction: August Derleth, "The House on Curwen Street" and "The Watcher From the Sky" chapter-stories from The Trail of Cthulhu
- fiction: Lin Carter, "Litany To Hastur XX! The Unspeakable"
- Call of Cthulhu scenario: "A Happy Family" from Adventures in Arkham Country (instructive in ways to avoid treating Byakhees as 'mooks'!)
- Call of Cthulhu scenario: "A Victim of the Art" from Delta Green: Countdown
- YSDC Forums: Monster Make-over III
- Misakatonic University Podcast Episode 2
- Call of Cthulhu Scenarios
- Robert E. Howard seems to have also referred to nameless bat-winged flying monsters used as mounts in his Conan the Barbarian stories, though it's not clear whether Howard's creatures are Byakhees, or a different species.
- An alternative look at Byakhees can apparently be found in: 'Hideous Creatures: Byakhee'