Disclaimer: Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, and associated characters are the property of Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle and his estate. Other concepts are the property of Mr. Howard Philip Lovecraft, with contributions by other authors of the Cthulhu Mythos. All rights reserved.
Author's note: This story was inspired by "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman, which presented a vision of the Sherlock Holmes universe under the rule of the Elder Gods. Here I am attempting to present the other side of this story.
It is a curious thing, upon reflection, the hardships which one is willing to endure simply because one does not know any alternative. In hindsight, I was stunned at the adverse factors that had to be pointed out to me because my mind was not in the right state to properly perceive them. There are days when I would have preferred to be left as I was, a blind fool up to my elbows in the horrors that had permeated every fibre of the London gentry, or perhaps blown my brains out to escape this hell – but, on the whole, I count myself fortunate that a stranger had taken the time to open my eyes, for one cannot excise a cancer one cannot perceive, and I would be remiss as a medical man had I let this wound fester any longer.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Having taken my degree in Medicine at the University of London, I continued along the path prescribed for army surgeons and was thereafter sent to serve in a brief but momentous campaign in the second Afghan War, during which I served as an assistant surgeon in Albion's Army, assisting those who toiled to quell a recent uprising of the savages who worshiped the Nameless One. During the battle of Maiwand we were forced to take cover in a cave, in the depths of which I fear we stumbled across one of the dark secrets of Mother Earth, which man was not meant to know. I will not recount what I witnessed there – not the Thing, nor the blasphemies it perpetuated upon my poor fallen comrades before our sharpshooter, Moran, wounded the Thing in the eye and my mind granted me the mercy of complete oblivion – but I will say that were it not for the bravery of Murray, my orderly, dragging me away from that foetid lake, I might have lain down and allowed the Thing therein to do as it pleased in sheer madness and despair.
When next I had regained my senses, I was torn from a bout of the most frightful nightmares by the pain of a wound I had suffered in my leg, which exists today as an insensate patch of corpse-pale flesh encircling my thigh just above my left knee, which Murray told me was where the Thing had caught me, and would have dragged me to my doom were it not for Moran's keen eye and steely bravery. I was additionally told that six months had passed since I was admitted to the military hospital, and that I was one of the lucky ones – most of the remaining survivors of Maiwand were either still insensible or had committed suicide out of madness.
Shaken to my core by my experience, and weak with the pain of my wound, I was discharged, along with a number of other wounded, and spent the next few months wracked by nightmares until, finally, I was deemed well enough to return home to Albion. It was there that, in recognition of my service to the Crown, I was offered a position as a resident physician to a member of the Royal Family. It was there that I had my first glimpse of Lord William, the youngest son of Queen Victoria Gloriana, a young man whose features were, while not asymmetrical, certainly ill-proportioned in a way that inspired in me an instinctive horror of the man, without paying any attention to the pair of secondary limbs he possessed, those corpse-green, rubbery tendrils covered on their underside with a layer of grasping suckers that drooled cloudy slime during his high emotional states. He was an awkward youth of about twenty-two, with a clumsy gait that seemed at any given moment to pitch him into a heap on the floor, and his complexion had a distinctly greenish hue to it common to the Albion gentry. His breathing was thick and wet, and overall he struck me as a creature that had no business being on land at all. However, I felt it impolitic to decline this position (for none refused the charity of the Queen!), as well as impractical – for without it I had only my Army pension to live on, and no other place to stay.
My duties in this role were threefold. First, I was to attend to the medical needs of Lord William; to this end I was given new anatomy books to study, covering the bizarre physiology of members of the Royal families. The text and illustrations of these tomes of knowledge initially turned my stomach and made my eyes blur and water in rebellion, for it was my first glimpse into the truly alien nature of those in the seat of power of Albion. When I first finished the book, in fact, I am told I had a mental breakdown, wherein nothing would stir me from catatonia for a week. However, when I recovered I set myself anew to my task, forcing myself to study the volume over and over until I was (to my horror) as familiar with Elder anatomy as I was with human anatomy. Lord William required the administration of a nerve tonic three times a day to bolster his strength, and the application of an ointment to his secondary limbs to prevent the flesh from drying out. Many times I would enter for my scheduled duties or at his request, only to find him fondling the naked form of a catatonic, twitching girl (very seldom were they older than fifteen) driven instantly insane by the blasphemous touch of one of his rubbery, boneless tendrils. In one case the poor girl had clawed out her own eyes. I never knew all the myriad ways he would toy with these living corpses, but I had heard rumours, and I never cared to hear more than that.
My second duty was to assist the Royal scientist (although in hindsight, applying such a noble title to such a vivisectionist makes my bile rise) in his studies of human anatomy. The scientist, who went by the name of Dr. Vanguard, was a hideous base hybrid originally sent from the States to assist the Queen, as he was already well-known for his studies into a familial metamorphic condition known as Innsmouth Syndrome, so named because it was peculiar to the small fishing village of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, whose inhabitants comprised a splinter group of Albion's own state religion. He described with enthusiasm the dissections he had performed on the residents of that village, and his glee at the discovery that he, too, had apparently developed the aforementioned condition, believing it to be a sign that he was also descended from Elder blood despite the fact that many creatures of the hidden world are capable of crossbreeding with humans (a topic on which I do not care to reflect at length, even now). His favourite pastime was the dissection of living, conscious subjects, bound fast to the table as he worked but left un-gagged so he could hear them scream – and every time he prepared such a subject, he would make a point of telling them how useful they would be in helping him unlock the secrets of life and death – namely, the prolonging of the former and the cheating of the latter. His only claim to success came in the form of one of his subjects, who was screaming and struggling like the rest but I discovered midway through the dissection that his heart was not beating despite his frantic activity. The final fate of this particular individual I never learned.
This led directly into my third duty, which was to attend the rituals of the Royal sorcerers, which served primarily to honour Her Majesty the Queen and secondarily to fuel the dark sorcery that strengthened the security of the mansion where Lord William lived, mainly to nourish the Tindalos Hounds. These beasts were canine in name only, existing across several more dimensions than Man was able to perceive, and were unshakeable hunters once they knew of their prey. Only death would preserve a man from their jaws, and Lord William kept seven of them as pets and guardians. My role in these ceremonies was to keep the sacrifices alive until the ritual was completed, even though I was not allowed to alleviate their pain in any way. What made this worse was that there was no concrete medical reason for their pain – their agony was borne of sorcery alone. For this reason I was also required to have a working knowledge of the ways of sorcery, even if I was not willing or able to cast any spells myself.
In the midst of all this, it was a wonder that my mind did not fray any more than it did, for I had seen many of my fellow servants commit suicide, and many more descending into the screams and gibbers of madness. These I knew were human, for those of the Elder blood seemed to perceive nothing maddening about their circumstances. The lowest rung of servitude in the Palace were the Ghouls, those mobile corpses that possessed a chilling intelligence but were absolutely loyal to their masters, even as they fed on the filth that collected in the privies, and those privileged few received special treats in the form of the leftovers from one of Dr. Vanguard's dissections. The ghouls spoke not a word to me, nor I to them, though occasionally I would see one or another of them eyeing me hungrily, as though they found living flesh to be tastier than dead.
I do not recount these events for the sake of sensationalism, nor is it my goal to deliberately offend your gentle sensibilities, dear reader, but instead I intend to record only a truthful account of my experiences, to provide a context for my state of mind.
I tried to escape twice, but each time I would be found and brought back within a day. I was not punished for these infractions, but the guards made no secret of the fact that I would be retrieved each and every time – and if I displeased Lord William too much further, he promised that he would send the Hounds after me, and I would know what it was to experience infinitely prolonged agony in only a few seconds of objective time as my wretched form was turned through several more directions than Man could even measure. It was then that I started to know despair, and more often than not I contemplated the possibilities of a quick dissection of my brachial artery, but I never had the courage to go through with it. The days and weeks blurred together, between my care of Lord William and my attendance of the dissections and rituals, until my mind was nearly numb with the horror of it all. Somehow I managed to keep my mind together until one day in the year 1880 I met an island of sanity in this sea of madness in which I found myself adrift.
I had just finished my supper and was numbly preparing to attend another one of Vanguard's dissections, when a man entered my chambers, clad in the purple robes of a cleric of the Esoteric Order of Dagon and with the pale green complexion of the Elder blood. He was tall and very thin, with piercing grey eyes set into an aquiline face that possessed such a frightening clarity to it that I was immediately on my guard. The amulet around his neck, crafted of carved stone, did not correspond to any rank within the Church I could name.
"I am in need of your azssizstance," he said, as I opened my mouth to speak, with the curious buzzing accent of those of the Elder blood, so grabbed my bag and moved to follow.
"What do you need of me?" I asked.
"You are a man who knowzs both medizcine and zsorzcery," he said, "I need you to conzsult on a matter covering both."
After a moment's consideration, I added to my bag my book of Elder anatomy and the small journal in which I had compiled what I'd learned of sorcery. He nodded and beckoned for me to follow. My curiosity was piqued when he led me not to the chapel, but through the servant's quarters and out a side entrance. I had been conditioned from my boyhood to obey the Dagonites without question, so I continued following him, certain that I was being taken somewhere very important (or at least someplace important enough to warrant the attentions of a Royal physician), and as it turns out I was not far wrong.
We soon arrived at a seemingly derelict tenement building, where he knocked at the door – two raps, then three, and finally a single rap. A narrow panel opened in the door at eye level, and then I heard the sound of a latch being thrown. The one who greeted us as we entered at first appeared to be a slender young man, until closer inspection allowed me to discern the softer features of a human woman – ill-kempt, but still attractive – in trousers. She eyed me suspiciously, and I noted that she had a revolver in her hand, currently pointed obliquely towards the floor, and an amulet around her neck similar to that worn by the priest.
"Who is this?" she demanded of the priest as we entered.
"The very one I zset out to find. He'zs here to look at zSimmonzs," said the priest, closing and locking the door behind us.
She winced at the name. "Can he be trusted?"
"I believe he can. I am generally a good judge of character."
She sighed. "He's in there," she said, indicating another door with an expression of vague disgust.
I stepped through the door, and at first I saw, instead of my patient, a tangle of thorny vines apparently growing from some arrangement set atop a narrow cot. As I drew closer, however, I perceived that there was in fact a human form under the clot of green, and further examination proved my worst fears – the vines had sprouted from the man's body!
That image will be forever burned into my mind, the tortured corpse still twisted in what must have been unimaginable agony as the plant tendrils sprouted from his ears, his mouth – his eyes! – and tore their way through his skin. I even saw the remains of ruptured innards serving as fertiliser for these fiendish brambles. My gorge rose, and I had to turn away.
When I opened my eyes, the priest was standing there, watching me expectantly.
"How long did this take?" I asked weakly.
"From firzst zsymptomzs to death, about five minutezs," the Dagonite said emotionlessly. "That wazs when he finally choked to death on the plantzs coming out of hizs mouth. He wazs zscreaming the entire time."
"Baleful thorns," I identified, forcing myself to turn back to the poor wretch, "A spell used by sorcerers of the Masked One against His enemies." I considered with a shudder the perverse irony behind the predilections of the God of Africa towards using fertility-based and plant-growing sorcery to kill.
"Izs there any way to protect against it?"
I thought a moment, and then dug out my book of sorcery, grateful for the escuse to turn away from the corpse again. I soon found the appropriate page and pointed out a sigil to him. "Here. This sign will ward off His magic, at least for long enough to take countermeasures." I had recalled seeing the sigil in question carved into the flagstones around the Queen's garden. "But as for him, I suggest you burn the body – bury him, and the plants will just keep growing."
"You see, Adler?" the priest said, and I noticed with a chill that his Elder accent had vanished. I turned to see that the woman – presumably Adler – had entered the room and was now standing beside the priest, who was wiping his face with a cloth. As the green pigmentation came away from his skin I realized to my shock that he was not one of the Elder-bloods at all, but a human in greenface, in the style of fashionable ladies and gentlemen who wore green makeup to emulate the gentry. I had never seen an application that held up to any but the most cursory scrutiny, and no human had the audacity to dress as a Dagonite priest on top of it. This man, whoever he was, was playing a very dangerous game, and had apparently risked his life to get me here.
"I see that he knows his sorcery," Adler said coolly, "But he's a Royal physician – who knows how badly brainwashed he is?"
"His horror at Simmons' fate was unfeigned," said the false priest, "He could certainly be useful." He looked at me keenly. "That is, if you're willing to leave your current post."
I felt a small thrill at the prospect of escaping that hell, but I was forced to remind myself of my decided lack of previous successes. "They'll find me," I said.
"They are not omniscient," said the false priest, "And we have ways of hiding you, but you must decide quickly, for you are nearly due at another dissection."
"What do you want from me?" I asked, half in hope and half in despair.
"Someone as familiar with Elder anatomy as most physicians are with human anatomy. Someone who knows the signs of sorcery without being corrupted by it. Someone who knows the most intimate habits of the Elders, and who knows what they can do. Someone who is interested in restoring human supremacy to this world."
This last idea made my breath catch. Human supremacy? A world ruled by humans, rather than inhuman beings that saw us as little more than pets and insects? It was then that I realised the company I was in.
I had heard tales about the anarchists calling themselves Restorationists, who believed that the Elder Gods had no place in this world and sought to drive them back to wherever they came from, whether it be the furthest reaches of known space or the deepest abysses of the ocean or far, far underground, sealed away so they could never return. In my youth, I had read the tales of Jules Verne, of a world where there were no beings from beyond time and space ruling over humanity, where even forces as fundamental as sorcery didn't exist, and where you could read any book you wanted without fear of madness. The prospect strongly appealed to me – and it appeared this man believed such a thing was possible! And he was inviting me to join him on his quest!
"Why me?" I asked uncertainly.
"A number of reasons," he replied, "You have been to Afghanistan and experienced the horrors of the Nameless One, leaving you wounded, mentally broken, and unfit for a further military career. You have studied both human and Elder medicine, as well as sorcery, though you do not practice the latter. You have seen what lies beyond the veil of polite society, and you are understandably horrified. You have come to fear death and continued existence in equal measures, which has led you to calm your nerves with whisky, which helps steady your hand and keep your mind intact. You sleep poorly at night regardless and suffer from horrible nightmares. You have contemplated suicide no fewer than three times. You loathe and fear your current charge and all associated with him. And despite all this, you believe that there is a better alternative."
I was speechless for several seconds as he summarized my tortured existence to a T. "How did you…?"
He waved off the question as though it was unimportant. "All you need understand at this point," said he, "is that in joining us you will forfeit your ability to return to the Palace as the Royal physician. You must be prepared to turn your back on that life, without question or hesitation."
I had already made my decision. "I'll help you," I said, "in any way I can."
"Excellent!" he said, "I knew I hadn't chosen wrong, despite what certain personages like to claim." Miss Adler glared at him. "But one must not forget one's manners." He offered me a thin hand. "My name is Sherlock Holmes, and this is Miss Irene Adler."
"John Watson," I told him, and shook his hand.
End Part 1.