“This world is not what it seems to be. There are other things, old, terrible things that ruled it once and seek to rule it again. You’ve seen the signs.”
“Do you honestly think I can do anything to stop it? That anyone will listen to a tabloid newspaper raving about the coming end of the world?”
“No, Mr. Cooper. But I can hope.”
My conversation with Dr. Swanson replays through my head for what must be the hundredth time. She was right, it certainly does seem lately that there are a lot of strange, unbelievable things happening that are, nevertheless all too real. My role as a journalist for the National Arcane has given me a front row seat to some of those remarkable events. Most recently, in Dr. Jennifer Swanson’s case, the essence of an Aztec god possessed the body of her archeologist fiancée who has since been on a cannibalistic rampage across the southern United States as he chases after her. Authorities have yet to tie the individual murders together, but it’s surely only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, I’m left to dwell upon the implications of it all, of what might happen next. To that end, I find myself at a long table at the Pocotonic University library in Western Massachusetts, near Amherst. It’s a little ways outside of my normal stomping grounds, but this is not the first time I’ve spent a couple days of research at the college, due to the fact that a long-term visiting professor, Dr. Reynard Olik, is a world renowned cryptozoologist and expert in all things folklore, occult, and the generally weird. He has provided a significant contribution to the library’s supernatural resources, many of the texts being first editions and remarkably hard to find.
Through my years of reporting I’ve developed a sort of sixth sense to be able to pick strange but true tales from outright fabrications. More and more lately I’ve found myself making the drive across I-90 to peruse Olik’s impressive collection when a particular internet article or news report pings my otherworldly radar. Most of the time I don’t find anything, but today…today I’ve got something.
My attention returns to the article that sent me searching through Olik’s collection in the first place. The piece is from the Enquirer, which isn’t generally considered a competitor of the Arcane. Sure, both magazines tend to pander to the same crowd of conspiracy theorists and weirdos, but the NE doesn’t limit itself to the strictly supernatural the way we do. Still, every once in a while it puts out a gem.
“Terror at the North Pole!” screams the headline, the cover photo zoomed in on the face of a haggard, bearded man with bloodshot eyes and raw, wind chapped skin. Under the photo, the caption consists of a quote from the man, “Monsters killed my team!” His name is Professor Charles Whitehouse, an arctic explorer of considerable renown.
I vaguely remember seeing a few stories during the lead up to his latest expedition in more renowned publications like the Times and Tribune, but what really first piqued my interest were the articles written upon the man’s return. The party had met considerable difficulties, an unexpectedly harsh series of storms trashing a percentage of their equipment and forcing several of the explorers to remain behind at the final base camp. Ultimately it was only Whitehouse and three others that made the final push to the pole, with only Whitehouse returning alive. What the articles tended to gloss over was that the explorer came back to the base camp a raving lunatic who had to be sedated for the entirety of the return trip. Something had certainly happened there at the top of the world, but the respectable articles tended to lean more towards the more mundanely fantastic than the outright uncanny: stress of the expedition coupled with the loss of his team due to elemental factors caused Whitehouse to have a psychotic break. The fact that none of the missing members’ bodies had been recovered was explained away that they must have been lost in one of the many icy crevices zigzagging the arctic tundra. The stuff of a potential Hollywood blockbuster? Sure. Anything that questioned the firm lines of reality that the common person has etched rigidly into their self-conscious? Not particularly.
What those reputable sources did not take into account, however, was the madman’s own interpretation of the events surrounding his ordeal, something the Enquirer thought to remedy. In a bit of reporting that would make the author eligible for a Pulitzer if it were published in literally any other periodical, the NE sent a woman to the Fallen Leaves Psychiatric Hospital to gather Whitehouse’s firsthand account.
Couldn’t take the vehicles, too cold, parts would freeze up if you turned them off for even a minute. Dogs were the only way to go. Me and Thompson, Gurley and Weston loaded the teams and headed from camp to make the pole. Should have been easy going. Wasn’t. Two hours in, saw something in the distance, looked like a city of ice, all towers and such like a castle. Warned them it was a mirage but Gurley insisted we look, other two backed him up, so on we went. Took an hour and a half to get there, the image flitting in and out like something out of a dream. Finally reached it, damned if it wasn’t real.
Towers all carved from ice and snow, all different shades of black and blue. Beautiful, but terrifying. Something about it just wrong. Dogs were having none of it, teams started to attack each other, hadda separate them. Decided to explore the structure on foot. Crossed the bridge over a crack that we couldn’t see the bottom of. Must’ve gone all the way down to hell. You know like Dante? Said the seventh circle of the pit was frozen. He just might’ve been right.
Made our way inside. Like nothing I’ve ever seen. The whole thing was totally empty, enormous chamber ceilings reaching up so high you could barely make them out, everything carved from solid blocks of ice. Finally reached what looked like a throne room.
Biggest room we’d been to yet, could’a fit a stadium inside. Dais in the center, steps led up maybe thirty feet to the foot of a throne. There was a man there. Think he was a man at any rate. He spoke to us … no, that’s not right, he didn’t speak. But we knew what he meant, just the same, knew he could give us whatever we wanted if we asked and he deigned to grant it. The others started shouting things: money, fame, women, you know, the normal crap. Something held me back. Oh, I wanted to yell out just like they were, but … you don’t get something for nothing, yeah? Couldn’t make it balance.
Sure enough, they don’t get done falling all over each other but the thing like a man, he throws his head back and just starts to laugh. It’s an evil thing, you get me? And the ground, the ground cracks open, every bit as deep as the abyss we crossed to get into the castle. And there’s things there in the dark, moving, squirming. And up they come, and now they’re out into the light and they’re grabbing at Thompson and Gurley and Weston. They’re screaming, yeah? The squirming things are ripping them apart, taking chunks of skin and bone, and then they get pulled into the pit, the ground closing behind them. And there I’m left standing, looking at this thing, and I can tell from his expression that he’s waiting for me to tell him what I want. And God help me, I want to. But somehow, somehow I don’t. I back out of that chamber and run and run and run back the way I came, his laugh chasing me the whole way.
Just as I’m crossing the bridge, I hear him again in my mind, tells me he’s gonna find me, make me tell him what I want. And I knew he was speaking true, felt it in my frozen bones. He’ll find me, and I’ll tell him, I know it. And then those squirming things are gonna drag me into the dark too. Irresistible as a glacier, he’s gonna come. Just a matter of time.
Whitehouse’s story is remarkable, if hardly believable even for a yellow journalist like myself. But something about it has wormed its way into my psyche and lodged there like a popcorn kernel jammed in my teeth, sent me pouring through Olik’s collection, just to see if I can find anything that could give remote credence to his ravings. And I have.
There’s nothing particular about the story that makes it stand out, it’s just a fable, a fairy tale really, the same as hundreds like it. Except for now, in the context of a madman’s story, it makes a shiver of ice crawl down my spine. I flip the age worn pages to the beginning for a third time and begin to read.
Once upon a time, long before the New Age, there was a place of ice and snow, its ruler strong of arm and wise of mind, but hard in his stewardship of the law as the frozen land that comprised his kingdom. The king’s queen was a fabled beauty and their love was deep and wide. From the joy of their union they were blessed with three children, twin sons and a younger daughter who was the joy of the kingdom.
As the princes were the elder, tradition demanded that one of them would inherit the mantle of rule from the king upon his death. Since the boys were twins, and both equally qualified in talent and temperament, when they came of age the king sought the advice of the court magician to determine which boy was more suited for the kingship.
The mage took the princes into the waste for a full ten days, calling down most terrible magicks to see into their very souls. When they returned from the icy expanse, the magician had an answer for the king; the younger twin was to rule.
The older boy, though happy for his brother, was nevertheless saddened that he had not been chosen. The mage suggested to the king that, in order to soothe this disappointment, the prince be allowed to train in the mystic arts. The king loved all of his children equally and, hating to see any of them in pain, readily agreed.
But the king was deceived. Unbeknownst to him, the magician was a foul trickster who secretly hated the royal family, for what slight only he knew in his hidden heart. Conducting the rite in the waste he had discovered a kernel of darkness in the elder son, a seed that he devised he would nurture to the detriment of the king and all his house.
For the next several years the magician trained the elder twin in magicks great and awesome, but also clandestinely in spells dark and forbidden. This last would have remained hidden indefinitely had not the young princess one day thought to follow her brother to his training unobserved. Peering through the keyhole the girl witnessed the most horrible violation of an abducted maiden as the magician instructed the prince in the finer points of deadly blood rites.
In tears, the princess fled from the place, running directly to her father and confessing what she had seen between sobs. The king could not doubt the report of his daughter who he knew was as pure and honest as the early morning sun. Though his heart was heavy, he was resolved to what must be done in accordance with the law. The king ordered his guard to detain the magician and the prince, and to prepare stakes upon which to burn the pair for their crimes.
The soldiers suffered heavy losses to the mystic’s dreadful spells as they assaulted his keep, but ultimately forced their way inside and seized the treacherous wizard and his royal apprentice. In irons the criminals were driven along the ice-carved roads to the center of the capital where thick stakes had already been erected upon an enormous pyre of wood and pitch. News of the pending execution had quickly spread, and the king’s subjects lined the way to the killing ground, jostling each other to better observe the condemned men.
Reaching the pyre, the sorcerer and prince stood bound to their stakes before the king who asked if they had any final declarations before the sentence was carried out. The magician at last revealed his true face, spitting and swearing, and attempting to lay a curse upon his hated ruler. The king ordered the executioner remove the man’s tongue with a sharp knife.
Whereas the sorcerer had reacted violently, his eyes now glazed in pain, blood seeping from his wounded mouth, the prince maintained a cold, icy composure, his face a silent mask. Only the boy’s eyes betrayed the fiery rage that dwelled within, stoked to terrible heights by the treacherous magician. Gazing at his son, the king saw the prince was lost, and without a word of goodbye signaled the executioner to ignite the conflagration.
At the touch of flame, the sorcerer began to scream wordlessly, the stump of his tongue no longer capable of curse or prayer. The prince, however, held his silence as he burned alive, the awful heat of his eyes, still locked upon his father’s face, matched only by the surrounding blaze. At last, all that remained of the boy was ash and bone.
Having watched the entirety of the event, the sorrow at last became too much for the good king and he fell to the ground with a cry as despair overcame him. His wife and remaining children rushed to his side as the king died of a broken heart next to the still smoking remains of his eldest son. The kingdom entered a period of unparalleled mourning, unaware that its tragedy had only just begun.
The magician, no fool, had crafted mystical wards to warn him of danger. Sensing the approach of the kingsguard and knowing their intent, he had crafted a most powerful incantation upon the prince, a spell of resurrection that left the mage’s magickal energies significantly depleted and unable to replicate the spell upon himself. He made this choice willingly, knowing that even in death his revenge would be all the sweeter having been carried out by one the king loved.
Indeed, one month after the execution and subsequent death of the king, the prince’s remains stirred where they lay interred in an unmarked tomb, far into the waste. Dark energies of an unknown origin wrapped the flame blackened bones, coalescing and knitting into living flesh until the prince was reformed, whole and unmarked.
Besides allowing the prince to cheat death of its due, the spell served a second purpose, that was to transfer the sum total of the magician’s arcane knowledge to the boy. Imbued with this dreadful skill, the prince called upon an army of the dead, the frozen ground breaking open into fissures as his dark forces poured loose from hell itself. The prince and his host swept across the land in a wave of horrific slaughter enroute to his brother, now seated upon the throne in the capital. Along the way, the army of the dead was further augmented by the living, joined by those kind of low men who seek the will of the cruel and powerful to serve.
The young king’s forces were no match for this unholy alliance, and were washed aside by the forces of the vengeful prince. Taking the castle with ease, the prince came upon the remains of his family huddled in the throne room. His mother and sister he gave to the low men to serve as spoils of war. Their screams were loud and lasted many days as the prince’s living forces sated their lustful desires before finally, mercifully, ending the women’s misery with a sharp blade.
The prince’s twin, though, was to suffer perhaps an even worse fate. Forced to bear witness to the horrific torture of his mother and sister, upon their death he was brought to an audience with his sibling. Calling upon his magicks, the prince ripped open another fissure to hell. The dead of his army poured into the throne room, bodily lifting the defeated twin upon their rotting shoulders and surging through the rift, the screaming king borne with them into the pit. The unholy pilgrimage continued, a noxious flood of the dead and damned spilling through the crack until at last all had returned from whence they came. With a rumble, the fissure closed leaving only the sorcerer prince and the dumbfounded remains of his living army.
Ascending the dais the prince took his seat upon the throne of his father. “The king is dead,” he intoned, “Long live the king.”
The population of the kingdom had been ravaged by the advance of the king’s army. Fearing the ruler who now held their lives to his whim, the survivors began to leave, first a trickle and then more steadily until their exodus was almost as torrential as the restoration of the king’s dark army to the pit. Soon too did the living remnants of the king’s army disperse, realizing that the darkness that inhabited the king’s soul was too deep even for such evil men as they.
It is from those survivors, the subjects and low men alike, that the tales spread far and away of the dark king in the north. “He controls the dead,” they whisper in taverns and inns when the night has fallen and the moon shines high and full, “He’s king o’ the spooks.” King of the spooks they call him. King Spook.
They say he sits there still upon a seat of ice, steeped in shadows darker than the blackest night, kept alive by his unholy power. Some seek him, believing his magick can grant their deepest desires. Others warn caution, claiming it can indeed, but only at the cost of your very soul.
So travel north, if you dare, to the land of ice and snow. There you may find the King Spook, sat upon the throne of his father. If your need be so great, perhaps your soul may be cheap enough payment. Perhaps.
I sit back from the table as I close the book, fingers rubbing at the bridge of my nose. A fairy tale. A fable. And yet, as twilight sets in and the shadows begin to lengthen through the library windows, I am left to wonder on the tale of a madman, ice and horror. Dark things are coming. And this King Spook … I’m terribly afraid he might be one of them.
Written by Shadowswimmer77
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