Tales in old locales oft seem to be associated with subjects as quaint as their place of origin, with a romance or else some lively humor involving the sprightly and joyous inhabitants of such a place. But such is not the case in the story of that drear place to the North of us, where no travelers go and animals shun as well with the instinctual fear that gives them wisdom; or else the knowledge that those of their kind who venture too close to that dread location oftimes never return.
An acquaintance of mine, one Bronn Blackwater by name, who has made himself notorious through his exploits in seeking distant and forbidden lands and uncovering eldritch and horrid secrets that mankind ought not to know, proposed a search into that unknown land to me, and being his closest friend and often having assisted him in his dreadful and blasphemous studies, I could not help but agree. So we packed ourselves for a long journey in dark and cold and traveled north to that place where winter still reigns king.
As we went, the nights grew longer and colder, but we were well prepared, and our fires kept the howling wolves that prowl great and hungry at bay, though Bronn did manage to slay one that crept too close and thereafter bore its skin like a cape. However, the farther we went, the fewer of even those dread beasts did we espy. This struck my heart cold, but my companion scoffed at my apprehensions. "Come, Stark," he laughed, "The things that lurk in the dark are to be conquered, not feared. And so we will."
In my heart, secretly, I feared nonetheless and thought of the whisperings of the mad prophet of Braavos, Abdul Alhazred, of the things that live in the deep places and those whose slumberings may be disturbed to the seeker's peril by the proddings of curious man. But I knew that Bronn was fearless indeed and would not heed my warnings, and did not wish to seem a coward, so I said nothing and merely followed on.
In the cold night when we were far north of any known location, far past the last and most primitive hovels where the poor crouched and huddled around fires, their misshapen forms hardly lifting heads to stare as we passed by, our mule was panicked by something we neither saw nor heard and fled. Here, I wanted to turn back, but if anything the loss of our pack animal seemed to make Bronn more stubborn, more determined. He insisted on forging onward.
And so we did, ever further north, penetrating deep into the secret places where no foot had touched – no foot of known thing, anyway – for years and years gone. However, though the land was supposed to be deserted, we heard in the dark sounds, sometimes, like whisperings, insidious and creeping, and the ground seemed to glow when we woke in the night, as with the light of some daemon mushroom that sprouted only here in the nurturing and eternal darkness.
Our food seemed to go bad more quickly than it should have, and so we were at first relieved when I managed to snare a rabbit in those blighted and bare trees, but we were quickly horrified when we cut it open to discover that its flesh was all over infested with strange small black bugs, and had a queerly funguous texture. We discarded the thing at once, and almost I could have sworn to have seen it crawl away, a dead thing, and vanish into the roots of one of those dead and twisted trees that reached their clawed fingers toward the bleak and clouded sky during the brief daylight hours.
It was not so long after that that we found what we sought – the great ruins, known to some as Winterfell and to most simply by more horried, whispered names that should not be said aloud in the twilight hours or those to come later. The stones toppled and broken struck a queer sort of terror in me, but Bronn smiled in satisfaction and rubbed his hands together. "At last! We have arrived, at this the most terrible and forbidden of places, and who has come to stop us? We have nothing to fear. Let us spend the night in these ruins, and tomorrow we shall begin the exploration of them – and the conquest of any things still attempting to eke out an existence in this rotten place."
I did not want to enter the ruins, and as I stepped among the stones a sense of terrible dread settled on my shoulders, but I obeyed, and we set up camp, lying down to sleep.
Midway through the night, we were both woken, by that queer whispering sound, as though of voices just out of reach, but this time I was struck not by the sound itself but by the sense that the voices came not of this world, that there was something awfully other about them, strange and terrible. An eldritch blue light seemed to fill the sky, penetrating even this eternal night, and though I raised my head and searched the darkness, I could see nothing, and hear nothing other than that damnable eternal whispering and a soft and nauseous hum, like the vibration of some great string. Bronn, too, was awake, and staring out into the ruins, his body as taut as a string as though he heard something that I did not.
"My friend?" I asked, and he shook his head.
"It is strange, that is all…for a moment, I imagined I heard human voices, as though carried on a wind from far distant."
I shook my head. "Those are no human voices. Of that much, I am certain – and they mean us no good, either. I think we should quit this place at once."
Bronn shook his head. "No! Especially not now. I will go searching tomorrow, and you may stay here if you wish, and the glory of my discoveries will belong to me alone, as it should. Your cowardice shames you, Stark."
"I am no coward," I said stiffly, and so when the morning came I went with him on his search.
We found nothing of the strange whisperers, or any source of the light, but we did come upon a door, set in the ground, heavy and metal and engraven with strange characters that made my spine chill. We made a rubbing of them, and then set to trying to lift it. It took both of us, with all our strength and using one of the blighted limbs of those strange trees as a lever, to lift it, and my uneasiness only increased as the door slowly rose. A strange scent wafted up from below, so strong it nearly like to made me faint. I held my ground, though, and Bronn thrust the torch at me and looked down into the black hole, grimly.
"I will go. I think…here, this is what we are looking for."
I pleaded with him, tried to convince him of the folly of his choice, but he would not be swayed, and descended into the dark. It was not long before I could not see him at all.
I do not know what happened to my companion there in the dark. I heard no sound, no scream. But night began to fall and he did not return, and the dark frightened me, with its creeping whispers and the growing phosphorescence of that strange fungus under my feet.
I fear I shall never see Bronn again, nor the light of day. The things, the whisperers, are drawing nearer every day. The lights are bright enough that day is like to night, and I feel as though even if they do not take me the fear and the voices, the insidious and horrible voices will drive me mad, and I will be left a screaming wreck. I write this as a last chronicle, that anyone who finds this and what remains of me, if anything remains of me, may know their danger before it is too late.
Beware the north, beware its dark and endless nights, and the lure of mystery, for too many things are not meant for man to know, and will end him for trying. Here, this is the end of my sorry tale – goodbye, and have caution – run, traveler, while you can! When the whispers come and the lights appear, then it will nearly be too late- Iä, Iä, what dread things lurk in the dark watched by the crawling chaos Azathoth, waiting only for their chance to rise as the black faced Nyarlahotep capers endlessly in the outer reaches of the stars-?