The King in Yellow
Hastur appeared from the depths at the end of the Overlord Conflict, to reclaim Hemah’s body and serve as an ambassador mediating the end of the fighting.
It lay at the heart of the temple, a strange amalgam of pearl and coral, a thing touched by the power of the Overlords. A living thing, it was constantly rippling, the way a stormy sea ripples, and we could hear its ripples in our minds, the music of distant waves. From the moment when I saw it, I knew I shouldn’t have come: but some other part of me rejoiced, drawn to its lure like a moth is drawn to a flame.
The priests held gatherings at the beginning of each week, open for all. Newcomers would need to be taken to the chamber with the coral, while the rest of us knew the way, even the ones who’d only been there once before. From the moment we stepped to the surroundings of the temple, we could feel the faint whisper of the waves, guiding us towards the temple’s heart. We approached and outsiders always felt unnerved, unable to tell why, only subconsciously noticing the slight wave in our shoulders, our bodies picking up the rhythm of the chamber.
We would gather around the coral and dance and laugh and celebrate, seeing strange visions of a vast kingdom, now buried under the sea. As the hours passed, the dance would grow faster and faster and the music would grow louder and louder. Only that the music was only in our heads, an intoxicating storm that was sweeter than any nectar. We were drunk on the coral, ready to do anything, and more than one child was conceived with a total stranger on those nights. Sometimes the priests would join into our celebration, but most of the time they would just stand aside, watching, waiting.
The nights always left me exhausted, my body in pain after I had neglected its limits. I worried about going too far-every year, there were some who’d die of the exhaustion-and occasionally I tried to stay away. But the music of the waves would always haunt me in my dreams, a faint tune stuck in my head, infuriatingly just a little too quiet to be heard. And the visions that I would have after a good temple night! I was a poet and an artist, and nothing could leave me more inspired, nothing could compare to the poems I would compose after listening to the corals. Was it more for the sake of myself or my art, I’m not sure, but I always found myself returning after a while.
One of the priestesses seemed to take a special interest in me when I returned after an exceptionally long absence. She never said anything, but I could feel her eyes on me when I danced, thoughtful. I would catch the occasional whisper as she discussed something with the others, though I never made out any exact words.
After several such nights, something in the music crazed me in a way it had never crazed me before. My dance was wild, my visions feverish, my body screaming in ever-increasing agony as the night progressed. I could see the others growing tired and leaving, but I could not bring myself to stop, could not leave the coral that suddenly seemed to only be singing to me. I could see in the dance of the others that they did not hear the same tune as I did: their rhythm and their steps were all wrong. So when they left I ignored them, knowing that they were deaf to the true music I was hearing.
Then, when I was alone save for her, the priestess came and joined my dance. Her dance was perfect, in complete harmony with the waves, and I watched her, enthralled by the beauty I suddenly saw in her. I sought to imitate her elegance, but my own clumsiness was apparent to me-but she did not seem to mind, for she only smiled. She took my hand, and continuing to smile, she led me away from the coral, to a part of the temple I had never been in before. I paid no heed to my surroundings-the ecstasy of the coral was nothing compared to the pleasure of her attention, every muscle in my body shivering each time she looked at me. I was lost in her, the details of her body being like a vast, deep valley I could never climb out of.
It never crossed my mind to protest as we came to the pool and she pushed me into the water. I felt something grabbing my arms and legs and pulling me down, but the priestess smiled at me, and her happiness was all that I cared for. I opened my mouth to sing a song of praise for her, and it was only then that I realized I was underwater, water filling my mouth and my lungs. For a brief moment, panic filled me and broke the spell – I screamed, and the priestess only smiled in return.
The priestess still smiles at me, in a strange amused way that I have a hard time deciphering. It has become hard to think at things, after the drowning. It is much easier to kill, those that the priestess tells me to kill.
For a moment, I thought I felt a distant memory when I crushed the skull of the first people the priestess told me to slay. She must have seen my confusion, for she laughed in her angelic voice. With a happy gleam in her eye, she told me that the corpses at my feet were those of my wife and children. I looked at her and the bodies, and there was another momentary feeling of recalling something, but the words bore no meaning to me. I looked at the corpses and shrugged, and we left, her joy echoing in my ears.
I’m the bodyguard of the priestess, now. For as long as she is happy with me, the music of the waves will never leave me, and that is all that matters.