A Will and Testament

We are fortunate that as human beings, our memories are so limited. We struggle simply to recall all the things that we ourselves have seen and felt and can remember nothing at all of what previous generations have encountered save for what precious little is passed down through word or letter. As a man of no small learning with a predilection for history, I have often raged at such limitations. Yet I see now that such limitations are not simply fortunate, they are necessary, for there are some things that mankind was not meant to remember, some truths that are so terrible that to know them would drive us mad. If our ancestor allowed certain memories to fade then perhaps they did so with good reason and it would be wise not to question their decisions.

If my words seem trite, even hackneyed, perhaps they are. However, I can think of very little that I have ever written that I believe in more than the words set down here. For the fact is, if you are reading this, then I, Bartholomew Estheim, am dead and all my worst fears have been confirmed. Ignore, if you can, the paltry, grasping explanations of any physicians who might seek to rule on the nature of my demise – they are well intentioned, but they are wrong. Instead, I would ask that you read what follows and understand the real truth of the matter.

I should say, having warned you of the dangers of thinking too much on certain matters, that the human desire for knowledge is, in most cases, a commendable thing. It is our thirst for knowledge that has elevated us above mere animals, but as I have already said, there are things that mankind is better off having forgotten and to delve too deeply into them can only lead to disaster – disaster of the kind that has surely engulfed me. Still, I consider myself fortunate that even now I cannot grasp the whole of what I have seen and experienced, because if I could, I doubt that I would have strength of mind enough to write down anything at all, and something must be written down, if only so that others do not follow so foolishly in my footsteps. I also hope that this record might spur some action, but I am not so arrogant or foolhardy as to believe that my words alone will suffice for evidence, or even if they do, that men and women of sufficient courage can be found and made to take the necessary steps.

It began not more than two years ago when my wife Nora first became an artist of renown. She had always been gifted with some skill, but toward the end, her art began to take on a cast that was at once unmistakably brilliant yet unbearably terrible. Since her youth, she had loved the sea, and she had painted canvas after canvas of bright, sunlit beaches and gentle, rocking waves. I loved those paintings for there was something of her soul in each of them and her soul has gentle and kind. There was not a person alive who could look at those paintings and not feel at least some measure of the cool sea breeze, or smell at least some hint of the ocean.

However, it was not her paintings of the sea that secured her fame. After a spate of strange dreams of which she would not speak, her painting began to change, and where before the sea had covered all, only crystal remained. Yes, instead of the shimmering beaches that she had painted, or the whispering waves she had loved, she now gave life to canvas after canvas of brooding crystal and I can say without any measure of exaggeration that there was never an artist who so keenly captured the almost sinister glitter of crystal shining in the night, or the sharpness of diamond forests lit by the glow of a murky sun beneath a darkened, storm-ruined sky.

As beautiful as those crystals were, they were dreadful too for there is something chilling about a landscape devoid of any colour save the shine of purest crystal. I wondered too how she could draw vista after vista of crystal when no such place had ever existed. It was as though the world she saw each time she closed here eyes was wrought of crystal and nothing more. There was a strangeness to those crystals also, for the crystals that she painted did not have the appearance of cut gemstones, but rather the appearance of things that had once lived but which had somehow, by some strange power, been transformed entirely into crystal. As a lover of antiquities, I have seen many things wrought of crystal and I can attest that no level of skill could ever allow a jeweller to craft in such detail the things that my wife painted so easily.

No doubt, you have reservations about my thoughts, for crystals have always fascinated mankind and we have always judged them beautiful. Yet there is something terrible, truly terrible, in vast, endless plains of jagged crystal, of a world stripped of vibrant colour and reduced to the shimmer of the sky in countless shining faces. But there was more to it than at, and here I must mark my words closely, for I fear I cannot express accurately what I wish to convey.

The crystals that my wife drew had a curious geometry, an unearthly geometry. There are names for the angles that exist in this world, terms like obtuse or acute, but when I looked into those paintings of hers, I could find no names to describe the angles that I saw. It is a horrible thing to see an angle that seems at once acute and obtuse, to curve both in and out at once. Such sights leave a viewer unable to tell up from down, the sky from the ground, and such confusion can only ever inspire fear. Yet there was more to it than that. As any scholar of art knows, there are certain shapes, certain lines and curves that together strike fear into the heart of mankind. Why this should be so, I cannot say, but the fact remains that there are things that terrify and so many of them share the same shape. There are ancient carving cut into the walls of caves hidden in the Yun mountains that have just the ideal proportions to inspire fear. Those caves are shunned even by the hardy people who still live amongst those ancient peaks, and I can say that what those carvings had in some small measure, my wife managed to capture in its entirety.

But despite the steadily growing horror that consumed me each time I looked upon my wife's work, I was pleased for her. She had struggled for much of her life for the recognition that she deserved and it had always hurt me to see her fine works passed off as mere amateur sketching. It was almost as though the ever so sophisticated doyens of the art world thought that scenes of sunny paradise were worthless, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. However the so-called experts of the art world might have felt about her previous work, my wife's new paintings caused a sensation. How could they not? Every single person who looked upon them felt the same fantastic shiver of fright, and in the world of art there is precious little more important and prized than the ability to genuinely make others feel – even if what they feel is terror.

So, the accolades came and for a while all was good. I was proud of her, and pleased that her efforts and skill had been recognised. Our son, Hope, was proud of her, as well, though he had few chances to show it, as he spent much of his time away at boarding school. I have no doubt that he resented that, for he wished to spend more time with us, but I am grateful now that he missed much of what was to follow. With any luck, that shall continue to be the case even though my death makes it impossible to be sure of that.

However, no more than six months after the first exhibition of her new paintings, she began to show signs of great mental strain. Her dreams, which had, of late, become very tortured, grew even worse and at last she found herself with no option but to confide in me. She told me of the things she'd seen: vast endless chasms of crystal shaped into mocking imitation of the world around us; a tall spire of crystal rising from the boundless, endless depths of the ocean, its peak surmounted by a titan sphere of coruscating diamond. There was more, of course, but I find myself unable to gather the courage to write of the other… things she spoke of. Soon her visions of that phantasmal world were accompanied by voices, titan voices that in her dreams shook the oceans and tore the heavens with each word they spoke. These voices told her of things, old things, forgotten things, things that all rational men and women know are insane.

The voices spoke of an ancient time when gods had walked the world with men. They told her that those days had passed but that they would come again and that once more the gods would walk the earth and the men that cast them down would tremble and the whole world would burn in the glory and terrified ecstasy of their awakening. What had ruled once, would rule again, and mankind would pay in blood and tears and suffering for the treachery it had shown.

Each night her dreams grew worse and little by little, the joy that my wife had found in recognition ebbed away in the face of the horror that stalked her each time she closed her eyes. The voices and visions grew ever clearer and more insistent and she became convinced that she was not imagining them, that they were, instead, the work of some vile alien intelligence, some ancient, malignant terror that sought knowledge of the outside world through her.

If that sounds impossible, indeed, if it sounds utterly mad, I cannot fault you for thinking so. Certainly, despite my assurances to her to the contrary, I could not quite bring myself to believe her, and I could tell that my scepticism hurt her deeply. Her painting grew ever more frenzied and wild and took up more and more of her time. I was hard pressed to get her to eat or drink and she refused to leave her studio for more than an hour at time despite my best efforts to get her away from what I saw as the centre of her growing madness. Indeed, whenever I returned from giving a lecture at the university where I worked, I would invariably find her hunched over the easel, her face a mask of horror and desperate longing as she brought to life some fresh new crystal nightmare.

And make no mistake, those last paintings that she did were truly terrifying, far more so than anything she had done before. If her earlier works had filled me with a quiet sense of horror and loathing, her last works drove me nearly mad with terror. I could scarcely stand to be in the same room as them, let alone look at them. Her mastery of the geometry of fear, of the architecture of nightmares, had reached a frightening zenith and the fear that had worked so insidiously but effectively in her earlier work now stood proudly at the fore. It tore my heart to look at those paintings and know that she had seen things that all the known laws of science and nature deemed unable to exist.

It was then that I began to feel that those painting were more than simply fright crystallised into impossible perfection. I began to feel that each time I looked into them they looked into me, or rather, something else, whatever it was that had inspired them, looked into me. I could feel the cold gaze of alien eyes upon me, hidden in the jagged mazes of crystal on each canvas, eyes that looked into me and knew me and were filled with ancient loathing and contempt. For the first time, I began to believe that she might be right, that there was something speaking to her, something old and vast and terrible. I wish, how I wish, that I'd had the courage to have her confined then, for though I doubt that a hospital of the mind could have cured her, it might at least have kept her alive.

One cold winter night, I returned home from an evening lecture and she was dead. She was there at her easel in front of a canvas and she was dead. I would have screamed, I think, but there are some sights so horrible that mere screams cannot suffice. I will say, however, that my soul shrieked wildly when I laid eyes upon that last canvas. She had used her own blood on that last canvas, had let it pour from the gashes across her wrists, as she worked in one last frenzy of madness driven creativity. I will not tell everything that I saw painted on that canvas in florid shades of red and brown, but there are some things that I must speak of if my tale is to make any sense. To be safe, I have ordered that painting destroyed in the event of my death, but if it is not, I urge you not to look at it. For you own sanity, for your own soul, I beg you, do not look at it.

I will speak only of two things that were on that painting. The first thing was a face. It was a vast face, a face the size of a mountain and all around it were other faces. All of them had the same look, the smallest of smiles, yet those smiles seemed to hold all the secrets of eternity and to flaunt them in my face. They knew, I thought, as I looked on them, they knew what madness had taken my wife and what was more they revelled in her suffering, in the last, twisted bout of genius that had killed her. On either side of those titan faces were wings, huge, endless wings that swept up to brush the very pinnacle of the sky. I do not think I have to explain what is monstrous about a thing as vast as a mountain range, with faces upon it the size of mountains and wings so great they breach the ceiling of the sky. The second thing on that painting that I must mention is what was behind the giant thing with many faces. It was that spire that my wife had painted so many times before, that tall, slender spire surmounted by a single sphere, both of them glittering darkly with the crimson light of fresh blood.

I don't know how I found the strength to stumble away from that painting and call for an ambulance that I knew could do nothing for her. The whole time, as I waited, I clutched Nora to my chest and wept and always I could feel those eyes on me, could see the mocking smirk on those countless unhallowed faces.

I buried Nora and with her death everything changed. My son never forgave me for not telling him about what had happened, of how her steady descent into delirium had culminated in the creation of one last painting wrought with her own blood. I could hardly blame him, but part of me was glad that he wanted nothing more to do with me. There was a darkness closing in on me, the same darkness that had taken Nora and if distance might keep Hope out its clutches, then I would gladly shoulder all his hatred.

For a few months, I grieved but in time, my sorrow gave way to rage. I became obsessed with finding out why she had gone mad. I needed to know what she had seen and to find the thing that had touched her mind so darkly. If it cost me my fortune, or even my life, I didn't care. I had not bargained on it costing me my sanity.

Still, I was fortunate when it came to starting my search, if the word fortunate can be applied to anything that I have described thus far. I had a solid background in ancient history and many contacts throughout the world that could remedy any gaps in my knowledge. In retrospect, I am ashamed not to have noticed the link earlier, but while my wife was alive, I was hardly thinking clearly.

The link I refer to is the singularly interesting finding that despite all the vast differences in culture and technological advancement that were present amongst the ancient societies of Pulse, all of them, bar none, reference one particular myth. This myth, what I have come to call the Cocoon myth, speaks of the origin of mankind. According to the myth, mankind was not born on Pulse, but rather on another world, a world of paradise and glory where men and gods walked side by side. But the cost of living in such a paradise was steep – the gods demanded absolute obedience. However, mankind has always sought freedom, and so mankind rebelled and the gods were cast down. As punishment for their crimes, the gods used the last of their waning power to cast mankind from paradise and into Pulse, the world we know today.

That version of the myth fit with the fiendish hints of vengeance provided by the voices my wife had heard. Yet, I could not shake the sense that something was missing. The breakthrough came when a colleague of mine shipped back a whole crate of relics taken from a ruined city built high in the horrid peaks of the Yun mountains. Amongst those battered relics there was a stone tablet, and upon that tablet was a drawing that matched with awful exactitude the titan thing with many faces that my wife had drawn. However, to my disappointment, there was no name for the thing on the tablet, or rather there had once been a name, but it had been scratched out as though the writer feared to put in letters what this thing was called.

With this discovery, I felt certain that I had at last found a solid lead, and so I waited eagerly for my colleague to ship back more of his discoveries. I was not disappointed. More artefacts arrived and once again, a few of them bore that same terrible image, and upon all of them, the name was effaced. There were other tablets too, but these bore the image of the spire and sphere, and I knew, I knew without doubt that what the Yun had seen was the same as what my wife had.

I gathered what money I could and set off into the Yun mountains. For those who have not been there, the Yun mountains are a terrible place. The peaks are tall and wind swept and the winter there never seems to end. The clouds are too thick there, as well, and when the night comes, the shadows cling too closely for my liking. If I'd been in my right mind, I would have stayed no more than a night, but by then I was possessed, driven by fear and vengeful wrath to uncover what had happened to my wife. Thus I pressed on, ignoring the advice of all the guides that I hired and the frantic pleas of the locals.

There was, I was told, an old woman who lived in the mountains. She was a shaman, a priestess, a keep of old stories and ancient tales, the last link of a chain that stretched back to the ancient days. That no historian had spoken with her surprised me, but then I learned that many had tried, and all had been refused. Still, I made the journey to her lodgings deep in the mountains and resolved to show her the painting that my wife had made with her own blood. The moment that the old woman's eyes fell upon the painting, she gave a great wail and her hands clawed at the air in eldritch, obscure gestures of warning as she babbled prayer after prayer in a language that I could neither place nor understand. I put the painting away and followed her inside and there with the winter winds howling their hate and rage, she spoke softly of things that even she could barely remember and that her people had never had the courage to write down.

The old woman spoke of a world that the Old Gods had built to house mankind. It was a place of paradise where mankind wanted for nothing. But beneath that paradise was a terrible secret for the Old Gods had another goal. The Old Gods, for all their might and power, were not the first gods and they sought to call back the one who had created them, to awaken the Maker from countless aeons of dreamless sleep. To do that, the Old Gods would need a fire, a fire so hot and bright that its light would shine even unto the edges of creation and past that to the lands of dream where the Maker slumbered. Mankind would be the fuel for that fire, their souls, the light it cast.

Only the Great Mother Goddess, Divine Etro objected and so, in secret, she spoke to the leaders of mankind and chose from them some who would serve as her champions and wield her power against the other Old Gods. Somehow, her plan succeeded and Divine Etro was able to work a great magic that transformed the false world created by the Old Gods into a prison wrought of purest crystal. Unable to kill them, she cast the crystal prison into a place far beyond the reach of mankind, to a place where no mortal science or magic could ever reach.

And so the Old Gods lay there beyond the reach of mankind, brooding in the primordial darkness into which Divine Etro had cast them. But the crystal prison was not perfect, and so the minds of the Old Gods reached out, prying, hoping, searching for someone who could hear them, for someone who could free them. Over the years, they spoke to countless special individuals and in exchange for knowledge and power those individuals swore loyalty to the Old Gods. In exchange for their gifts, the Old Gods demanded that certain rituals be conducted, that certain things be done, so that one day they might walk the world again, free and unbound. It might take aeons, but the Old Gods had time, and one day those that served them would succeed.

The old woman told me that the Old Gods often sought out those of sensitive nature, such as the poets and the painters, the scientists and the dreamers. One of them, she said, had reached out and found my wife, but no matter how I asked, she would not say which one. It was only when I once more threatened to show her the painting that she relented. She told me that the one I sought was known as The Betrayer, the Lord of Lies, the Master of the False Paradise. She warned me also, that I should destroy the painting. To speak his name or draw his image gave him power and it was the blasphemous act of depicting him that had driven the ancient Yun to ruin and despair. It would be better, she said, if the world forgot him, for to think of him might draw his attention and no mortal mind could withstand him for long.

I left the Yun mountains and returned home, but scarcely two weeks passed before I received word from some of the contacts that I had made there. Sometime in the night, not long after I had visited her, the old woman had been killed, and in such a manner that my correspondent could not put it into words. What my correspond did say, was that the old woman's face had been such a mask of soul-shattered horror that they had been forced to cover her lest they themselves be driven mad. But there was more. On the walls of the old woman's home, drawn in her own blood, was the same titan thing with many faces and behind it, once again, that tall crystal spire with a single glittering orb atop it.

If I had feared before, my terror now knew no bounds. Real, physical forces had reached out and slaughtered the old woman and it was not unlikely that a similar fate might befall me. After all, the woman had spoken of a cult, of followers sworn to the Old Gods and whether or not these monstrous ancient entities truly existed, their followers certainly did. A sort of furtive desperation overtook me and I severed all contact with my friends and colleagues lest they be drawn into this circle of doom. At the same time, I was forever watching myself, my eyes looking all around me in some weak attempt to forestall the doom that must surely come for me.

As a result of all this, a most disturbing change came over my appearance as I began to neglect all but the barest necessities of hygiene. At the same time, my speech grew rough and coarse, and I spoke only when I had to and never to anyone that I cared about. I began to dream then, as well, and each time I closed my eyes, I was witness to endless fields of diamonds spread beneath a broken, blackened sun. Madness had come for me, but if I were to die, I would strive to learn as much as I could, for surely there was nothing else now that I could do. Yet, I now I wish I'd simply taken a revolver to my head. It would have been swifter and more merciful by far that what lay ahead of me.

I sought any information that I could find about the cults that worshipped the Old Gods and I searched also for any information about others that might have shared the madness that afflicted my wife. I eventually stumbled upon the tale of a small chain of islands in the middle of the ocean. The islands had once been home to a thriving fishing community yet at the very same time that my wife had first begun to paint crystals and dream of horrid things, something had happened and all the fishermen had left. It took some investigation, but I was able to locate several fishermen from those islands that had settled not all that far from me.

As soon as I could, I spoke with them and asked them what had happened. At first, they did not wish to speak, but I had money and liquor enough to motivate them. According to the fishermen their islands had long been good for fishing and generations of them had made their livings there, hauling in what the sea provided. But all of that changed when a series of tremors shook the islands.

At first, the islanders were relieved. Although the tremors had been quite violent, no one had been harmed. Yet, as the days passed, the tremors continued and before long the fish fled the islands. Worse, many of the islanders began to see strange lights in the water at night and soon they grew too afraid to even approach the ocean once the sun had set. A few brave fishermen dived deep into the water and they found that where before the waters near the islands had been reasonably shallow, a vast chasm had opened up. This chasm seemed to reach down into the very heart of the earth and no equipment they had seemed able to properly gauge the depth. Not long after that, the dreams started, and the dreams they spoke of filled me with horror, for they were all but identical to the dreams that had plagued first my wife and now me.

With the fish gone, many of the islanders wanted to move, but they had lived there all their lives and few of them had the money to start elsewhere. And then outsiders came with more money than the islanders had ever seen. The outsiders paid the islanders handsomely to leave and with the fish gone and more money than they'd ever dreamed of in their pockets, the islanders saw little reason to refuse. Of course, there were a few who protested, for the islanders had lived there for generations and part of their soul was in those islands, but those few seemed to vanish, their boats swallowed by the waves when they were out at sea. Now, the islanders said, only the outsiders were there and they allowed no one onto the islands.

I knew without a doubt that I had to go to those islands. I was beginning to run low on funds for I had set up a trust for my son so that in the event that the worst should befall me, he would not want for money. I could tell too, that he wished to speak with me. Perhaps he regretted the harsh words that we had both spoken when we had last parted, or perhaps he simply wished to inform me that he wanted nothing more to do with me. In any case, I refused his calls for a meeting and set out for the islands. By then, I was all but certain that death was coming for me and resolved to keep him out of things. I had failed his mother, but I would not fail him.

No plane would take me to the islands, so I took a plane to the closest port and sought to find a ship that would carry me the rest of the way. However, no ship would take me, and many of them refused to even admit that the islands existed. By chance, I stumbled upon a conversation between two pilots and as I listened intently, they spoke of the strange lights they'd seen in the water near the islands and the unearthly crystals that had been hauled up onto the peaks of all the hills that dotted the islands. They spoke, as well, of the way their instruments failed them as they grew closer to the islands and of the strange, eerie voices they heard booming through their radios. I approached one of them and asked if he would fly me over the islands at night, but he refused and when I questioned him about what he'd said, he denied having said anything of the sort and hastened away.

So, almost despairing at my chances of ever reaching the islands, I spent a good fortnight at the port, skulking about in search of someone who would take me. But despite my pleas and the offer of a sizeable reward, no one would take me. However, I did learn a little more about the islands' denizens. A few weeks prior to my arrival, a boat had ventured closer than usual to the islands. There had been ten people on that boat, all of them expert sailors, yet when the boat finally drifted back to shore, not a single person had been found on it. It wasn't a matter of piracy either, for there were no signs of a struggle, nor was any of the boat's equipment missing. The sailors were simply gone.

Finally, I struck upon some luck. By chance, I was able to sneak aboard one of the ships moored at the port and while its owners amused themselves at one of the dingy port bars, I set off toward the islands. It was just going on dusk then, and if I had not been so frantic or desperate, I would have waited, but I did not know if I would get another chance, and so I seized the opportunity despite all that I had heard of the strangeness that overtook the islands after dark.

The ship was an old one, but a quiet one and for that I was glad. As I got closer to the island, I began to feel as though I was no longer alone. I saw the shine of something in the water ahead and made the mistake of looking into the water. There were… things down there, shining, shimmering, flowing things made of crystal and in their maddeningly ethereal forms, I could have sworn that I saw my Nora. For a moment, I almost leapt overboard, but in the end, I was able to wrestle my wits back and just in time too, for had I dallied but a moment longer, I would have run aground on the jagged rocks that loomed ahead, their surfaces brighter and shinier than the water and moonlight could explain. Yes, in the moonlight, those rocks looked almost like crystals.

I steered the ship past the rocks and into a lonely cove and from there I made my way inland. The islanders had told me of the villages that they had built, but of these I found no sign. In their place, I found a temple, a towering edifice of finely cut stone that was the equal of any cathedral I had ever seen. The temple stood upon the top of a hill and at its peak, soaring high as any belltower was a single gigantic crystal cut so that it mirrored that awful image my wife had drawn: the spire surmounted by a sphere. Elsewhere on the temple, crystal had been used to fashion horrible statues and amongst them I recognised the many faced thing that Nora had painted.

Gathering my swiftly flagging courage, I crept as close as I dared and listened keenly as chanting began within. Parts of it were spoken in a language that I did not know, and the walls of the temple muffled much of what was said, but it was clear to me that this was some kind of ritual. As I said, I could not understand much of the ceremony, but I will try to set down some of what was said.

"The time of awakening is close!" the leader of those within the temple cried.

"Praise be to the Lord of Cocoon!" the followers replied.

At another point in the ceremony, the leader of the temple began to call out names, some of which I could understand, others of which seemed to be almost random collections of sounds put together. The names I could make out included: Eden, Phoenix, and Orphan.

Later, the leader began to speak of all the glories that would be theirs so long as they could stay the course. He spoke of the gifts that the Old Gods had given them, and of how their return would lead to the rebirth of paradise, to a world purified of sin and made whole and pure and perfect as the crystal world that slumbered beneath the waves. The Old Gods might be imprisoned for now, but at last, after countless storied ages, the time was right. The keys to their prison would soon appear and all they needed to do was seize them. Once the Old Gods were free, those who served them would be rewarded, exalted as the blessed amongst mankind in a new golden age.

I knew then that I had to leave as quickly and quietly as I could. These people were insane and I did not doubt for a moment that in their fervent zeal they would butcher any who dared stand against them. But just as I turned, those inside the temple began to chant, their words rising and falling in a freakish parody of the hymns used to praise Divine Etro. As their chants rose to a dizzying, unholy crescendo there was a crack as of lightning and the sky above the temple rippled and tore.

"Orphan!" the leader of the temple wailed. "Hear our prayer and let us lay eyes upon your majesty. Please, appear before us now, Orphan, Heart of the World and Harbinger of the Promised Land."

From the depths of that tear in the sky came light, glorious light. It shone with all the intensity of the sun but with a colour for which no words exist. Voices filled the air, a maddened, crazed cacophony of heretical ecstasy as the body of some gigantic, world-crushing thing appeared. It was a giant of gleaming metal, a shimmering wheel of golden radiance that shone with unhallowed brightness. To look upon it was to know perfection and I felt my eyes begin to burn with the brightness of its unholy glory. Slowly, it began to spin, and the way it moved was enough to almost drive me mad for no wheel should be able to spin like that, and its substance seemed to somehow occupy more than the usual three dimensions.

But worse was to come, for as I looked, unable to turn away, the monstrous thing spoke. Its voice filled the air like a thousand peals of thunder and I fell to my knees. Blood poured from my eyes and nose and mouth and ears and each second that I listened seemed like an age. I will not, cannot write, what I heard in those few moments, but suffice it to say, I wish I had not heard.

And then, just as quickly as it had come, the glowing, seething, writhing wheel of impossible perfection and unearthly glory vanished. In its wake, the sky rippled once more and the crowd inside the temple fell silent, their eyes gleaming with mind-broken satisfaction. As I stumbled to my feet, I wondered if what I had seen was truly the real form of that thing they called Orphan. My soul quivered and inside me I felt primordial memories stir. No, I realised, it could not have been, for it had been, I would have died where I stood, my body and soul shattered by Orphan's glory, my mind torn asunder by the merest brush of its thoughts against my own.

But I had dallied too long in my thoughts for the people inside the temple had recovered and as I sought to leave, they spotted me and gave chase. Still half insane from what I had seen and with my body still burning from Orphan's unearthly golden flame, I fled as best I could. How I got to my boat, I cannot say. All that I know is that somehow, in my panicked, terrified delirium, I managed to get to my boat and cast off. However, I do remember gunshots and cursing and the glitter of crystals that have no place on the face of this earth. I managed to get back to the port I'd left, and exhausted, I could only lie there as the stunned locals cried out in surprise and summoned help.

I took what help I could from the locals, but refused to answer any of their questions. They were better off not knowing and I knew that those that I had evaded on the islands would not be far behind. I left the next morning and went at once to my lawyers to write down this testament of all that I had seen. Already, I could feel my life slipping from me and each time I closed my eyes, I was once again back on the island staring up at the glowing, burning, blazing, writhing wheel of godless perfection that was Orphan.

For a time, I considered going to the police, but I quickly discarded the idea. They would never believe me, and the sorry change in my behaviour since the death of my wife could just as easily be attributed to nervous strain as any real threat. But even if they did believe me, by what law could they go to the islands and by what power could they hope to stifle the horror that those vile cultists had awakened. And yet, my other options were few, for I cared too much for my colleagues and friends to drag them into this. My son, I knew, could never be allowed to know.

It wasn't long before I began to feel death's grasp closing in and this time, I was certain I would fall. One time I was nearly run over crossing the street and another time I almost tumbled down the stairs, but I was sure that I had been pushed and that the car had swerved just a little to try and hit me. If the Old Gods didn't kill me, their servants surely would.

And that is why I have written all this down. If I should die then at least the authorities might read this document and by my death know that my words were true. I can only hope that the executor of my will has the good sense and fortitude to follow my instructions. Show this to the authorities but do not show this to my son. In fact, if the authorities refuse to believe what I have written, then take this document and all the other evidence that I have included with it and burn them, all of them. But I beg you, please, do whatever is in your power to make the authorities believe that these are not simply the ramblings of a lost and broken man. There are things going on upon those islands that should not be. Laws older than science and nature have been broken and the price for that may be too high for the world to bear.

Those islands must be destroyed along with everyone on them. If this sounds monstrous, know only that the alternative would be even worse. Blast the temples and cast all those accursed crystals into the sea and never again let anyone set foot on those islands. Pay close attention to the paintings and sculptures that have come into vogue recently. Although none have had the diabolical brilliance that my wife showed, there are things in some of the newer works hanging in galleries across the world that hint all too clearly that the end is fast approaching. If action is taken, the presence of these works might serve as some sort of guide. If they continue to be produced, then the madness of the Old Gods endures, if not, perhaps we have bought ourselves a reprieve.

In any case, I beg you, do not view my writings as those of a dead man driven mad by the loss of his wife. View them instead as the last hope and wish of a man who has done all that he can and now finds himself in the grip of a terror as inescapable as it is ancient. But most of all, do not let my son, Hope, know of this. If you must, tell him I died grief-crazed and foolish, but do not let him know what really happened. He is too much like me to simply walk away and I fear that should he read this, his path will be much the same as mine has been. Do not let that happen.


Author's Notes

As always I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off this. I don't own any of the works of H. P. Lovecraft, either.

I've been meaning to write something with a more Lovecraftian twist for a while now, because I think the mythology of FF XIII really does lend itself quite nicely to Lovecraft's style. For those who are curious, the stories by Lovecraft that most heavily influenced this chapter are "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". If you are at all interested in horror, I strongly recommend giving them a read. It was also nice to take off my (metaphorical) Western hat for a while and put on my (equally metaphorical) Lovecraft hat.

As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.