DOWNTON ABBEY MEETS LOVECRAFT MEETS NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in Deadtown Abbey.
It is a world few of us have ever known. A world of masters and servants, where everyone knows one’s place. A world of newfangled technology like telephones and motorcars. A world of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and monsters of the deep. At the center of his necropolis estate lives the Earl of Monroe, who must hold the family he loves and the servants he trusts together against the eldritch onslaught of this rapidly changing world.
In the months, then years, following Lord Monroe’s reading of this scrawled parchment:
Enemy confirmed risen stop Emanations focused perhaps with purpose on Archduke assassin stop Madness increasing from psionic waves stop o yog make it stop stop
the following developments took place:
- The pulses of psychic energy that the Enemy sent out as a part of Its Being increased in frequency and intensity until half the men on Earth had their dreams invaded and every sensitive alive had his mind filled with imaginings of impossible angles and the presence of something utterly alien. Not alien in the way that the strange populations of India or even Africa were alien, either. The Enemy was truly alien, Its psychic emanations making no sense to their human receivers, something that was driving those receivers further into madness every day.
- These powerful, supranatural impulses broadcast by the Enemy’s alien mind had stimulated something in the world’s supranatural creatures. Vampires had inhabited Europe as long as there had been a Europe to inhabit, but they had always lived in as much fear as they inspired among townsfolk. (They could not operate by day, for example, which left them utterly vulnerable to the murderous vampire hunters of the human world.) Since the Enemy had awakened, however, around the time the Titanic went down with all aboard, vampires had increased in boldness, as evidenced by Mister Tarboosh making no real effort to conceal his true nature when he came to Monroeville Hall with the Duke of Baskerville—on an official visit, no less. Were-creatures such as the unfortunately injured Mister Foree did not receive the shunning from the lower classes that they would have just a year or two before. The upper class, of course, which had been trying to divest itself of the Old Religion for generations, now had no choice but to admit the reality of monsters such as ghouls and zombies, as sometimes they would show up at the door, mindless but for their hunger.
- Lord Monroe had enlisted, naturally, along with his esoteric Order brethren, but he was considered too valuable to send off to fight. This was especially true when one considered that, at this point in the war, “fighting” Cthulhu consisted of a month-long steamer voyage to the South Pacific to the location of the half-risen city of R’lyeh, where horrors boiled from the sea. It would have been called a suicide mission, but suicide was much gentler than the gibbering, brain-scraping insanity that seemed to be the primary result of challenging the Enemy on Its own turf.
- While apparently the waves of psychic torture that came from the Enemy’s very Being were not directed at any one place or person, the sensitives who often found themselves the catalysts of world events—assassins, anarchists, Bolsheviks—were stirred to action by the stimulation broadcast from R’lyeh. Revolutionaries and the lower classes, assassins and monsters! It was the upper crust’s nightmare come true, this on top of the actual nightmares half of them were having anyway.
- Cthulhu was a true bastard son of a bitch.
* * *
So it was that in June of 1914, Captain Johnny Shambley and his personal assistant, Private Peter Zann (formerly the junior footman at Deadtown Abbey), were splashed with the freezing salt-water spray of 47°9′S 126°43′W, halfway between Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and South America’s Cape Horn in the extreme southern Pacific. In fact, R’lyeh was almost precisely at what the old salts called “the Nemo point,” the farthest distance from any land mass anywhere on the globe. And it was damnably cold this close to Antarctica.
BOOM! A flume of foam and ice flew into the sky and mercilessly pelted the men on the deck of the Order’s ship, the Emma.
Johnny had never done so much for his physical fitness as playing cricket in school, but the five weeks on board the Emma had seen the heir to Monroeville Hall harden, become inured to the constantly shifting deck, his stomach muscles developing almost without his knowledge as he tried to act like the military officer he now was. He was harder on the inside as well, the constant onslaught of psychic horrors having made him perform every action twice, unsure as he was of what was real now and what was not.
As they neared the sunken city of the Enemy, Johnny noticed that of any two perceptions, that which was more nauseatingly terrifying more and more often proved to be the one that was real.
“Are you all right, Peter?” he shouted over the noise of the raging sea. He could never bring himself to call the young man “Private” or even “Private Zann” when they were out of earshot of others. The fighting arm of the Order of the Elder Sign was, at best, a loosely constructed army.
“Quite, sir!” Peter shouted back, Yog bless him. “Ol’ Greenie ain’t gonna take me yet!”
The thing was, maybe Greenie wasn’t going to take any of them. Or even show himself. Itself. Not one man had called out “ENEMY TO STARBOARD!” or given any other sign of spotting the tentacle-faced Being that seemed to haunt every thought, every dream, every perception of every Order man’s mind more and more as they got closer to the Nemo point. The dreams had become more powerful and vivid even though no perception yet had included the monster Itself. Non-Euclidean geometries, yes. A sense of dread so sharp it felt like another organ in one’s chest, definitely. But any sign of the Enemy who showed Itself in any member’s mind during a mass shining at a meeting of the Order? There was none.
But there were dagons. Attacks hit the ship randomly: dagons coming one at a time, in twos or threes, or sometimes in a wave of uncountably many dead sea creatures made to stick together by psionic energy. For that is what dagons were: Masses of dead fish, eels, squids, sharks, and, near R’lyeh, formerly vital aquatic life. They took on a vague starfish appearance, and could swim, climb, walk, slither, and jump, getting onto the deck by seeming to roll up the hull and over the railing. The five, or sometimes six, radial “arms” coming out from the dagon’s center each were tipped with razor-sharp teeth from a shark, or anglerfish, or tigerfish, or some crosshatch-toothed denizen of the remote deep ocean. Six feet or so tall, they also could crawl along the hull and wait until a human arm was extended above it, perhaps one tossing off a dead dagon, to strike.
Dagons didn’t eat the flesh of their victims, since they weren’t “alive” in any traditional sense and so didn’t need to eat. Instead a dagon would bite or slash an opening into human skin and drive its infectious venom right into a man’s bloodstream, and this poison would attack the brain almost immediately, driving the victim insane before he, inevitably, died. Some men were dead within a day; others took weeks to die, every minute descending deeper and deeper into madness. And when they died, the crew of the Emma learned early on, the supranatural energy of the Enemy would use the dead man as part of a newly forming dagon, man-flesh being interwoven with the other dead creatures that formed the fighting ranks of Cthulhu. Seeing a dead shipmate’s body integrated into the star shape of an attacking dagon had seriously shaken even some of the hardened seamen operating the vessel.
“Strange,” Johnny said to Peter, taking a moment to look out at the bobbing starfish shapes riding the maelstrom of the unquiet sea.
“The dagons seem to be distributed with utter randomness. The ones that attack us are the ones whose paths happen to cross our own.”
“They can’t very well attack us if our paths don’t cross, sir.”
“True,” Johnny acknowledged with a smile, “but there doesn’t seem to be any coordination behind their attacks. No commander guiding the foul things.”
“But they’re all centered over the Enemy’s house, if you don’t mind my pointing that out.”
“No, of course I don’t,” Johnny said. “This is no time to stand on ceremony when one has an important insight.”
Peter liked that his insight was complimented by the Captain, but he felt that perhaps his point had missed its mark. “Sir, I mean to say that they get thicker the closer we get to getting right on top of R’lyeh. The bit of stone poking out over yonder is positively swarming with dagons. It’s plain that they’re protecting the Enemy, is it not, sir?”
“Indeed, Peter. But I’m becoming convinced that they’re like the medical concept of antibodies.”
“I am sorry to admit I am not a follower of medical innovation, sir.”
“Ah, no, of course. In science, antibodies are produced by the human body to fight infection and illness.” They ducked a fierce explosion of spray, then stood again like nothing had happened. “Whatever they are in actuality, these antibodies are entirely mindless germ fighters produced, as I understand it, by the body to protect the body. I am beginning to think that these dagon amalgamations are like antibodies to the ‘body’ of Cthulhu.”
“Then what are we, sir? The germs?”
“I’m afraid we are, my good man. These dagons, the Enemy’s antibodies, seem to me now to be produced automatically by Its psychic … well, body, if you will. I believe these corporeal collages of dead flesh are collected and made ambulatory by something in Cthulhu’s very Being. The Enemy Itself may not even be aware It is fighting off this human ‘infection.’ That’s how little impact our resistance seems to be making.”
There was a scream behind them, and they saw the Order’s Sergeant-at-Arms yanked into the sea by a six-spiked dagon that had been thrown onto the deck by a massive, freezing wall of water. There was nothing any of the sailors or the Order members on board could do to help him—the dagon latched onto his neck as it was then swept off the ship by that wave, its teeth still embedded in the poor man’s flesh so that he was dragged with the monster off the deck and into the churning sea.
“Then, sir—and I would never mean to question orders or a mission, of course—but what are we doing here? We can’t even approach the sunken city without losing man after man, much less try to drive a harpoon into the Enemy’s heart!” If It even has a heart, Peter’s mind chimed in, but he thought it best not to get overly cheeky with his superior.
“This is a reconnaissance mission. We shall strike Cthulhu if we have the opportunity, but we are here to gather knowledge that we can bring back to the Order and Lord Monroe, so that we may all work together for Its defeat.”
Peter was about to ask what, if anything, they possibly could have learned on their mission when a grey dagon flipped up over the railing behind the Private and sunk its spiky teeth right into the boy’s side.
NEXT WEEK: PART 18 — RETREAT FROM R’LYEH
 Not least from a fully human Mister Foree.