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The Pallid Mask

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At the closing of the tenth year of Valerie Ortega's mission to recover in its entirety a forgotten ancient ruin in southeast Asia, when finances from Golden University were beginning to dwindle due to dying third party interest, in December 1948, finally his team stumbled into what must certainly have formerly been a royal catacomb — the gold-adorned walls and esteemed-looking glyphs decorating the crumbling remainder of a throne gave proof to this, as did the dull white crowned mask which sat crookedly upon the throne. This catacomb was the first definitive discovery to separate this unknown ruin from other Asian cultures, with its hieroglyphics being markedly differentiated from any known Afroeurasian language subgroup. The mask, too, was undefinable in that its strange concaves could not be fitted into the work of any common culture.

More suspicious, indeed, was the fact that, until the discovery of the royal catacomb, the entire expanse of the ruin was stubbornly nondescript, with a building style such that it was impossible to determine who had constructed the place. Not a single artifact was left behind within the walls of the ruin save for in the catacomb, nor could any skeletal remains be found, nor even a single engravement. It was entirely ambiguous and open to the widest speculation. However, the openness that allowed this discussion also stifled it for lack of any concrete substance to which one could cling for argument.

The mask changed all of this. Valeria Ortega himself described it as pallid, unwelcoming, and innately forlorn and spectacularly alien to this earth. The finding of the royal catacomb reignited Golden University's interest in Valerie's endeavor, and several third party organizations who had once grown bored of the work competed against one another to contribute the greatest fund in order to share in Valerie's glory should anything monumental be learned. The mask was transported back to Golden University in Seventeenth County, Michigan, where Valerie had made his dwelling before traveling abroad to Asia to investigate the recently propagated rumors of some hint of an ancient discovery.

Then came the lengthy period of months during which Valerie refused the entry of any person into his study, where he obsessively examined the surprisingly nondescript and almost mocking mask. Colleagues of his spoke suspiciously and somewhat dejectedly of his efforts to glean some information from the pallid mask, and at length expressed their own interests in aiding him in his work. All the while, Valerie withdrew himself increasingly. On the rare occasions that visitors briefly entered Valerie's study, it was noted with much awe that the entire dwelling of Valerie was flooded with stack upon stack of handwritten notes, bizarrely jotted down through the use of an ink quill rather than a pencil or pen. Aside from the notes there were numerous hand-painted illustrations of Valerie's mask, with many of them appearing as a surreal interpretation incorporating a menacing yellow-gowned being — specifically, standing atop a high pillar above a non-Euclidean ancient city with horizontal towers and mirrored doorways, among other peculiarities. Also notable was the depiction of twin moons or twin suns, as well as black stars.

After one year, in the December of 1949, it became known that Valerie Ortega was ordering shipments of vague textbooks outside of Golden University's knowledge. Many a day, one could observe a mysterious black truck appearing on the road and inexplicably gaining access to university grounds; it would stop along the dirt road, only a number of yards away from one of the side entrances, and then Valerie would creep like a shadow to meet whomever was the driver, and they would hand to Valerie several dark books. It should be noted that, around this time, Valerie's physical form was beginning to diminish with malnourishment, and grayness always surrounded his sunken eyes.

In June of 1950, Valerie Ortega committed suicide by leaping from one of the university's high spires, to which no student should normally have access. His crippled body was found in the morning a number of hours after his rapid descent by one of his own colleagues, who was horribly shaken and appalled by the gruesome discovery. To this day, even in old age, that colleague remains unexplainably jarred by the sight — unable to sustain most basic human relations, for still he is damaged to the core.

When finally it was found prudent to pay a visit to Valerie's study, those who entered found that his fireplace was filled with the ashes of dozens of books, not to mention hundreds of pages of notes. However, the items that remained in the study gave more than enough evidence to ascertain Valerie's insanity. Intentionally, it seems, Valerie Ortega left on a wide table an array of notes and one copy of the abominable book The King in Yellow, atop which sat the pallid mask that he had discovered just a year and half prior. A chilling documentation in elegant print is as follows:

This Pallid Mask I have found with my team in Southeast Asia (specifically East Timor) has imparted upon me a cosmic awareness of something larger than we can ever know. That is why I have taken it upon myself to dissect the annexes of archaic knowledge, the sources of which are debatable at best. What I have discovered in these miserable months is the existence of a superior being who once ruled at his Immemorial City in his own realm, but whose power inverted at the advent of his sins, whatever those may have been — the tomes I have obtained in recent months have ascertained these hypotheses, especially the sole book I will leave for the discoverer's consumption: The King in Yellow. Though forbidden it may be, it has granted me insight into the key knowledge that I have lacked from the start. The words of Carcosa, the Immemorial City, and the songs of the Hyades and the King's tattered yellow robes — all of it, watched over by ominous twin suns and curious twin moons who rule over an infantry of black stars.

I apologize for the omission of the majority of my collection, but I do not feel that the world is ready for what I've learned. Myself I have ended because I am not ready for the knowledge. The weighing power of Hastur, the Yellow King, is pressing upon my very core, and I feel his pulsing otherworldly presence at every corner and in every shadow. I know that my death will not relinquish his influence, but it will at least take him farther away from this world.

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