The Chamber in the Hillside, Part Two.

To whom it may concern.
Thank you for your patience whilst waiting on my story’s continuation. My life is now a chase for answers no man would want to hear, and I seldom have chance to arrange my thoughts around what I can now laughably consider comparatively saner times. 

I was describing the night in 1954, shortly before midnight in the cold town of Maryport.
Johan Erkko and I had been hidden from the pursuit of an unknown group.
We had been rescued by a man named Father Roberts, a Priest of Maryport whose role had become that of a drunken recluse since his dockside parish had long since lost interest in his sermons.

We were informed that our American archaeological colleague had not left Cumbria with the expedition’s chance for fame and glory, but had in fact been taken somewhere by force. We were led swiftly to the grounds of Netherhall, the stately home of the original founders of Maryport.

The manor house was situated less than a mile inland with large, tree filled grounds.
It held a collection of Roman artefacts rescued hundreds of years ago from the grasslands around the fort sites. We kept our voices low having been assured by our strange new acquaintance that the residents were altogether ignorant of the town’s more nefarious activities.
Past the hall was a fourteenth century structure the old man referred to as the Pele Tower, the apparent reason for our visit.

If the old man’s speech was rambling his step was surely not. He strode ahead gesturing wildly as he spat words, and we hurried to keep up. I made him explain or repeat several parts of his rant and I made notes of his words as best I could, scribbling into a pocket book. After all, if Tom had been a victim of a crime, the police would need all relevant details. If any of this was true.

Below follows as much of Father Robert’s ranting as I was able to notate at the time, as he marched us quickly through the dark grounds of Netherhall.

“You educated foreigners have to understand that folks in English villages apart from the big cities get some queer notions sometimes. There are a few bored lunatics with nothing better to do can lead others wrong in naked dancing an all sorts of depraved behaviour. Most of it is harmless but sometimes it goes too far I reckon. Ignorance breeds profit to some buggers. These local legends have the foolish running wild, and they’re quick to follow the lead of the strong willed.”

We two archaeologists exchanged worried looks throughout, concerned that this could amount to no more that the village madman leading us out into the woods. There had been no request for money or strong drink as yet, but it felt only a mumble away.

“We will no doubt find your friend among pretentious young fools playing dress up with robes and chants. I have asked them before about their little club but they choose to ignore me. If this is some prank to scare foreign gentlemen types like yourselves there will be a reckoning with the law!
I followed them here when they took your friend, it was easy. Nobody pays me much mind these days.”

The Priest led us around the wooded rear side of the
Pele Tower where we found a trail cut through the vegetation. The base of the tower had sections of masonry missing, revealing a large hole down into the foundations.

“They seem to have dug out a den down there, under the tower. Probably bring along the wine and loose women, start up with their mumbo jumbo.”

The old priest turned and stared at us both, before sharing his wisdom.

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in all my time on God’s earth, it’s this: there is no shortage of virgins willing to be talked out of their innocence by persuasive men in robes. And most of them probably weren’t virgins anyways.”

The priest winked with a rattling laugh, before motioning for us to be quiet and descending into the hollow.

Father Roberts was mostly correct in his assumptions. In the foundations we found a circular basement, strewn with a few wooden chairs and blankets. It did not look like a romantic grotto, more of a look out post. There was no sign of recent habitation. A charming English metaphor regarding the pursuit of wild geese sprang to mind. Johan was about to confront the Priest when he stopped, inclined his head and sniffed. We followed his gaze and stepped back from the centre of the floor, lifting the low table to one side and hauling aside a section of wooden flooring.
A circular opening dropped vertically into a long, black tunnel. That stale rotten-fish odour came strongly from the westerly direction. Worn handholds allowed us to descend without fear of being trapped, and we utilised wax covered candelabras from the basement to light our way.
The tunnel walls and floor were made of some sort of precisely cut black stone tile, interconnected in triangles. Neither Johan nor I could identify its geological origin, certainly much purer than Onyx. As we walked we could see no damage to the substance, only a smooth concave beneath our feet, indicating this path had been heavily travelled over unknown years.

The old hallways seemed to throw doubt on the Priest’s confidence, until he found a link in his memory and launched into excited speech. We walked as he lectured.

“These must be the smugglers tunnels! They are part of local folklore. I just never knew they was under the manor! Every sea town has its old stories and legends. They end up as poems and songs and that way survive to modern times. I’m going to tell you the yarns these local troublemakers will want you to believe. This is the legend, all witchcraft and nonsense mind you. The storm of 1888 destroyed most of the wooden docks and killed many seamen.
That much is true to fact. The trouble is, seafaring folk have very powerful imaginations and tall tales grow in the years and the telling.”

“The stories say that things were found in the washed up flotsam. Bizarre jewellery, idols and such. Strange fish and bodies of other things unspeakable, dragged up from the depths. Blasphemous rubbish if you ask me, which I notice you didn’t.
They say a brig was washed up all the way from the
West Indies! The few native types that survived took one look at those weird bodies and paddled themselves down to Whitehaven!”

“There were those who sought to rebuild after the storm, those who had lost everything. Some chose strange methods, seeking out these smuggling tunnels and discovering some deep, dangerous caves. They took the weird jewellery and idols below, and they waited. And eventually when the waiting didn’t work, they tried a bit of worshipping. Sea monsters! Like mermaids and such no doubt! And in time they say they were met, and bargains were struck. Certain boats always seemed to find favourable currents. Sea trade boomed with some companies seemingly immune to storms and accidents. Other companies who didn’t believe in the old superstition and nonsense didn’t do so well.”

“Got to be that worship wasn’t enough though. Sacrifices and mating rituals an the rest, they say. And people going missing. That’s all just mad talk and coincidence though. They reckon these sea monsters had lost something, and they set their followers to finding it. Some been lookin’ for generations, granddads through daddies to kids and onwards.
The port came very successful for some people after that, and the town started to prosper again. People forgot about old wives tales of things from the sea and got on with their lives, on with the wars and such. It’s all nonsense of course. Trouble is there’s no religion no more. These people by the docks don’t want God in their lives no more, so old stories prosper again. I came here to be minister some thirty years ago. It was twenty years ago the church set fire. I haven’t led a service down there since.”
It was a very uncomfortable silence that hung over us when Father Roberts finally finished speaking. He was a talkative man by nature and vocation, but we were all aware that his stories were as much to control his nerves as for our information.
Something felt wrong down here. The strange tunnel still continued on and on, sloping down before us. We passed several tunnel junctions, but the peculiar smell we were following was coming from straight to the west, from the sea.
Stalactites between the black tiles hung long and heavy with the slow mineral drips from above. Stalactites of that size would have taken thousands of years to form. These smooth stoned tunnels had existed for ages before the Roman invasion of
Britain. So who on earth had created them?

After some time the tunnel rose again and then ended, opening out into thick darkness. The breezing stench of putridity and the new echo of our footsteps told us that the cavern opening at the tunnel end was very large.

Johan and Father Roberts moved in opposite directions, feeling around the wall of the vast cavern. They lit the torches in the regularly spaced brackets. We met again in the floor centre to marvel at the sights.

The torchlight revealed peculiar wall decorations. A host of rectangular, back curving Centurion shields, mounted in great lines on the walls. Undoubtedly genuine and nearly one thousand and nine hundred years old, they were dust free and maintained polished as if ready for a Roman arm that very day. The floor was patterned with neat pyramids of helmeted skulls and adorning the low cavern roof were strange symbols created out of hundreds of arranged Centurion spears. These caves and tunnels had clearly been home to a massive battle. Johan was in awe of this unheard of level of preservation.

Neither Johan or I were surprised when there was no sign of Father Robert’s alleged local pranksters. At this point I believe he was the only one of us who had faith they would appear. We knew we were dealing with something extraordinary. Professional curiosity overcame nagging fear for a time. The writing was on the wall, so to speak.

The collections of symbols and arcane letters now allowed me some chance of translation. The more samples the better, and this cavern was covered in scripture of all sizes. There was a wall of star charts, completely unfamiliar to my eye but showing planets and suns as numerous as sands on a beach.
Words were repeated next to pictograms similar to those on the dig chamber floor.
“Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
Some of these I could now identify as names.
An ancient god, dead or sleeping: Cthulhu.
R’lyeh: its sunken city or grave.
Words described ages and calendar measurement that bore no resemblance to human reckoning but showed a Roman battle standard marked at the top as if it had occurred merely yesterday.
The pictorials on the wall were of a similar descriptive design found at many historic archaeological sites around the world, set in three distinct murals.
Stick figures apparently representing humans were shown standing above a group of humanoids with fish or frog like heads, with waving lines of water separating them.
Another picture showed the human figures encircled by the frog head figures and kneeling before that same swirling centred star icon we had seen at the bottom of the dig chamber.
The final picture showed the humans figures and fish men mixed together, and a line below illustrated beings with the features of both.

We wandered the cavern in awe, the flickering flames of torchlight illuminating new wonders with every step. The cavern of relics was silent and empty of life but as we stood with mouths agape, we became aware of a panting breathing from the adjoining cave ahead.
The three of us gathered together and crept forward stealthily unsure who or what we would encounter.

Tom was naked when we found him, although it took a few seconds to recognise him as our missing colleague, or even as being alive. This new cave was a temple, abundantly furnished with elaborate furniture of an unknown design, carved from the black stone used to build those ancient tunnels.

At the back of the cave the floor held a carved shallow pool, containing submerged triangular portholes tunnelled straight down to the depths of the sea bed.
The entire cavern system must have been cut into the lip of coastal rock, directly beneath the sleeping town.
There was a small side cave as well, but our attention was immediately drawn to the room’s predominant feature, an ancient altar of that same strange black stone, its corners and edges smoothed to shined curves through use over aeons incomprehensible to man.

And it was chained upon this altar we found Tom.

In the wars of our history man has inflicted many physical cruelties on other men. I had read extensively on the subject as a young student, attempting to comprehend the fate and self-sacrifice that my parents and their peers suffered under oppressive fascist rule. There were atrocities committed on Tom that I had never seen even in accounts containing exaggerated hearsay.
Any torture that man had invented was present, and measures had clearly been taken to preserve his life so that there would be no relief in an early death.

As we approached his eyes danced wildly in the torchlight. His expression and gibbering speech betrayed the fact that he had experienced too much during his incarceration. The abduction, torture and whatever else he had witnessed had pushed his mind over the edge.

Apart from the mutilations, Tom’s body was covered in many deeply cut arcane symbols, similar to those found all over the temple cave.
I gently released his bonds and Johan quickly removed his long coat and wrapped Tom, covering his many wounds and preventing us brushing against the strange coloured unguents and caustic powders that had been applied to his body.
Father Roberts stood in distress and clearly in dispute with his own ideals. His mission to rationalise our situation was rapidly becoming impossible.
Tom leaned into me, clutching with mangled fingers. He spoke earnestly as if imparting secrets and great wisdom, but his words seemed fantasy at best.

“They didn’t know! They didn’t know where the chamber was until we found the carvings! They have been looking for a hidden prison for over a thousand years! Tonight they will recover the unholy prize abducted by
“Their race is older than the earth, Steffan! The city-continent of R’lyeh sank when the stars changed. They await the next change! The Deep Ones serve Cthulhu! His dreams come to men in theirs; they join him or go insane. They are everywhere!
The city will rise when he awakes from millennial sleep, he and his Deep One servants will devour the souls of the world when the stars lie correct!”

The priest was clearly shaken by Tom’s babble. He spoke in a cracked voice, making a final attempt at tunnel visioned reasoning.
“It is a nonsense! The men who did this are clearly sick minded criminals, but are men none the less! They are charlatans! These stories can affect those with weaker minds! It is a con!”

Johan gestured to the polished Roman weapons and armour. The big Finn was clearly losing his temper with the priest, but would still prefer a rational explanation to the alternative.
“What of these? No degradation of metal! Pristine and ready for battle. They have been maintained since the day their owners fell! What culture of man do you suggest has persisted here unnoticed in nearly two millennia?

I tried to reason with the irate priest, tried to make him understand that there may be things in the universe that humanity has not discovered or could not conceive of.
There was no doubt what this place was: A trophy room of enemy spoils constructed after a very ancient conflict, and maintained ever since as an undying temple to unholy gods.

That only served to make him more irate.
“It is all lies I tell you! There is only one true God! He would not allow such abominations to exist.

Father Roberts’ resolve was finally tested when we all entered the side cave to the left of the altar.
We stood in silence.
There was no longer hope of a rational explanation.

The room was stacked with the old corpses of human servants laid to rest in grounds that they obviously considered sacred.
Their reward for a lifetime of service to otherworldly gods and creatures.
Many of the deceased bore recognisable marks, the same facial and skin deformities I had seen on certain living residents of Maryport, but these were more advanced. The distinction between human and something other was difficult to recognise.
Father Roberts face was ashen as he pointed people he had clearly been acquainted with in life, now laid out in the clothes of the era they died.

“This man went missing over a decade ago. We thought him lost at sea but it is clear to me now that he was down here concealing his appearance, doing the devil’s work. What unholy unions are causing these changes in man? False idols and rituals and degenerate inter-breedings! This temple is an evil! It must be destroyed in God’s name, purge this place! Blasphemy! Blasphemy!”

The priest launched himself around the cavern temple, in his own mind becoming the divine weapon of Christian retribution. He smashed bizarre ornaments and idols, sweeping them from alcoves with flailing arms whilst screaming praises to God and damnation to heathen religion over and over.

Tom leaned to me wide eyed and pleading desperately.
“Stop him, stop him, there is a guardian! The Shoggoth will come! The Shoggoth will come!”
Poor Tom could not take any more. The shock of his torture and the fear that this ‘Shoggoth’ person would return seemed too much. It was all I could do to hold his wrists to prevent him clawing at his own eyes. His body, pale through blood loss began to jerk and contort in my arms. It was a heart attack or fit of some kind that killed him and it was over very quickly. I have no medical training. I could not help. Perhaps the man needed the peace of death to truly escape whatever he had been through.

I had no wish to see this ‘Shoggoth’ with my own eyes and I could see that Johan was also becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the situation and surroundings.
The priest however, would not heed our calls to leave. He was busy tearing pages from ancient arcane books, shredding scrolls and spitting at unholy relics, all the time quoting Psalms and commandments.

Suddenly we could feel it coming. A deep vibration emanating from the direction of those triangular pool holes. The water began to ripple and bubbles broke on the surface.
Something was rising.

Whilst I was a man confident in my ability to control my emotions, something felt very wrong here. I felt myself shuffling away from the altar, hugging myself tightly. A glance sideways showed Johan doing the same. We were both staring at the bubbling pool in the chamber beyond the altar. With small steps we edged ever back towards the cavern entrance, while Father Roberts raged and bellowed, smashing nightmarish statues of squid headed idols.

Father Roberts ignored our frantic warning calls and as the Shoggoth broke to the surface we both began to scream.

I felt what I can only describe as primordial terror, harking back to an age before the rise of modern humanity, when a cold fear would save a primitive life by filling it with the desire to back away and run from a predator. Johan and I clutched each other like frightened children as we backed pitifully away on shaking legs, our eyes still locked to the swirling, foaming whirlpool of water and the black horror emerging.

Man has little business in describing a creature so out of our space and time such as that. I will do so in the basest terms, but no picture in your mind can capture the demonic essence of the entity. I remember a wide slick of black oil, but as high as a man’s waist. Its surface constantly changed, a mass of dark and sickly green bubbles that formed various mouths, spikes and horns, or large patches of hideous compound eyes.

It moved with the rolling smoothness of a heavy, thick sludge and yet here and there appeared strands of inquisitive tendrils, reaching out to grab and brush against nearby objects. The mere appearance was enough to make a man fall to his knees in numb submission, but the Shoggoth was not mindless, and its voice was even more terrifying. Its call emanated in directionless echoes from the body, angrily screaming out in a horrible alien imitation of Tom Braden’s voice.
Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”
Having fully expanded its bulk out from the pool, the thing surged forward toward the Priest.

Father Roberts stood rooted to the spot in sheer terror. His faith and belief system had been shattered, ripped from him in the presence of the oncoming monstrosity.
His only defence was a small crucifix outstretched before him, torn from a chain around his neck.
A thick oily tendril lashed out from the mass and seized the cross, pulling it back into the beast’s form where it quickly dissolved. The Shoggoth shifted forward, rearing itself up in front of the Father as an undulating black wall.
Its edges curled around the shaking man as he dropped to the floor, still protesting hysterically against reality.

“It is not real! It is not true! Oh my God, help me! Lord save me! Save me!”

The priest’s voice cried for mercy over and over as the Shoggoth engulfed him, hideously rending and sucking apart his flesh until the divine pleading turned to agonisingly shrill screams.

Johan and I were already running down the tunnel by the time the screaming stopped.
Although we heard many approaching footsteps at intersecting junctions, our adrenaline fuelled torchlight sprint kept us out of reach of pursuers.
We exited the tower hollow and ran from the Netherhall estate, slowing only when our lungs and legs were aching.
We journeyed on foot back into town, avoiding the main roads. The deep country darkness kept us both alert and paranoid.
There was no point discussing what we had seen, or blaming hallucination or spontaneous mental illness.
There was no denying the evidence. Besides which, the night was not over and we needed to keep our breath.

We reached the lockup and entered our truck with fumbling fingers.
Johan took the wheel and threw me a canvas bag concealed under Tom’s seat. I slid out the metal case and unlocked it with a key removed from poor Tom’s pocket.  Only the American had felt the need to bring armament to the expedition, much good it had done him. The revolver felt cold and heavy in my shaking, clammy hands.

We did not expect to see anyone whilst driving through the misty Maryport streets, being that it was well past
midnight. But here and there were dark men in doorways, observing our passing. Our headlights always revealed those peculiar hybrid features now ominously familiar. Johan swore and hammered down the accelerator.
The truck roared out of Maryport onto the coast road and towards our fateful dig.

At present I can write no more.
I must move on again, scry the changing stars and find further sanctuary. Share my story with others you trust, but be careful: there are eyes everywhere. It is vital the truth is heard and understood.
I shall write with my final communication when the New Year is upon us.
Let it bring us all fresh hope.

Professor Andreas Steffan

The Chamber in the Hillside. Part 2/3

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