This short cosmic horror story is the background for a D&D character, Arkham Grave, that I played in a couple of campaigns.
Arkham paced back and forth nervously in front of his master’s study. He had no idea why his master had summoned him. Perhaps he had heard of the pranks he had pulled on Hastur and wished to reprimand him. Hastur had been tormenting Arkham ever since his arrival at the sanctum, jealous of the young half-elf’s apparent talent and wishing to assert his superiority, both as a noble and as a scholar. Arkham doubted that his master would accept that excuse for his antics, however; Master Saryn stressed discipline among his apprentices, and sneaking spiders into another apprentice’s bunk would surely breech his code of ethics. It wasn’t fair. The spiders weren’t even poisonous. Arkham had been sure of that. Well, relatively sure, anyway.
Suddenly, the door to the study opened—seemingly of its own accord, as no one was on the other side—and a deep, raspy voice said “come in.” Arkham swallowed a lump in his throat and walked inside. There, behind a mahogany desk strewn with all manner of papers and arcane formulae, was his master, and elderly human with a long beard. His dark eyes studied Arkham, and yet they also seemed to be looking through him, as if gazing at something that lurked within Arkham’s soul.
Arkham cleared his throat. “You, um, wanted to see me, sir?” he said.
“Yes,” said Master Saryn. “I’ve been watching your progress, Arkham. And I think you are finally ready to have the secret of my power revealed to you.”
Arkham’s face lit up. He could hardly believe his ears. Every student of cosmology in the sanctum knew that Master Saryn possessed great arcane power. Yet he was very reluctant to reveal the source of his powers to anyone, and never spoke of it to his students. That Master Saryn was willing to reveal such a secret to Arkham was a compliment of the highest order.
“Truly?” Arkham asked.
“Yes,” replied Master Saryn. “But you must never reveal what you see to any of your fellow apprentices.”
“Of course not, Master,” said Arkham. “I would never dream of doing so.”
“Good.” Said Master Saryn. The old man rose from his seat and picked up his staff. “Follow me.”
He led Arkham out into the hallway, leaning on his staff for support. The two of them walked down the hall until they got to the staircase. Then they began to descend. Down and down they went, past the sleeping quarters of the other apprentices, past the library where even now Arkham’s fellows worked on expanding their knowledge of the multiverse. Eventually the even passed the grand entry hall and went deep below the tower into the dungeons.
When they finally reached the bottom stair, all that lay before them was as long hallway, completely dark. Master Saryn spoke a word, and suddenly the hallway lit by green torchfire coming from every sconce on the wall. Master Saryn continued down the hall, motioning for Arkham to follow him. At the end of the hallway was a large iron door. Taking a key from his pocket, Master Saryn slowly unlocked the door and pushed it open. The room inside was pitch black, but just as before, Master Saryn spoke a word and the room became filled with an emerald glow.
Standing at the doorway, Arkham could see that the room was circular in shape. The circumference of the room was lined with candles, each of them lit with the same green flame that lit the torches in the hall. In the center of the room stood a tall iron pedestal, upon which sat a book with a black cover. Two candles stood on the pedestal, one on either side. By their glow, Arkham could see that the cover of the book was inlaid with a picture of what looked like a clump of eyes. Arkham took a step into the room, but the pressure of Master Saryn’s hand on his shoulder caused him to stop at that one step.
“Where you go now,” said Master Saryn, “no being, be they god or mortal, will be able to help you.”
Arkham turned to look at his master and found that the old man was looking right at him. He did not appear to be looking through him as he had done before, either; his gaze was focused completely on Arkham. And there was some emotion in those eyes. Pity, maybe? No. Fear. Arkham started to sweat. As long as he had known him, Master Saryn had never been afraid of anything. But he couldn’t turn back. This was everything his studies had been leading up to. He had to go through that door.
Arkham faced forward and walked into the room, Master Saryn’s hand falling off his shoulder as we stepped forward. He heard the door shut behind him and knew that he was alone. Carefully, he walked up to the book, took it off the pedestal, and opened it to the first page. Before he could begin to read, however, the letters on the page began to swirl, transforming the page into a vortex of arcane symbols. From the center of the vortex emerged a yawning darkness which grew and grew until it had swallowed Arkham whole.
Now Arkham found himself floating in space, surrounded on all sides by darkness. The area around him was deathly cold, and there was no light to be seen anywhere. And yet Arkham knew that there was something with him in the darkness. He could not see it, but he could feel its eyes upon him, thousands of them, all focused on him. They were studying him, taking in every detail, measuring his very essence. Something wet and milky brushed up against his leg. Then the whispers began. There were thousands of voices of varying timbers and pitches, all whispering in his ears. They spoke of ancient magics and long lost secrets, and of a great hunger that threatened to consume all the matter in existence. They asked him a question, and he answered them in a language he did not understand. A pact had been made. Of this he was certain. Then he felt himself falling backwards.
When Arkham landed, he found himself lying on a stone floor, staring up at a ceiling lit by an emerald glow. Arkham sat up, and looked around. He was back in the sanctum, in the very same room that he had been spirited away from. The book was back on the pedestal, its cover closed. He briefly wondered how it had gotten back up there, before deciding not to question it. Confused and mentally exhausted, Arkham laid back down on the floor and tried to make sense of what had just happened. He had read books about strange beings that lurked in the dark places between the stars. Supposedly they could touch a mortal’s mind. He had never taken these tales very seriously, but after what had just occurred, he decided that the tales must be true after all.
Unbidden, the word “Hadar” appeared in his mind. Hadar. Yes, that was it. That was the name of the being he had formed a pact with. Hadar, the beast that lurked in the dark between the stars. He thought of his quarrel with Hastur. How could mortal arguments such as that matter when beings such as Hadar lurked in edges of the cosmos? And that wasn’t the worst of it. Mortals fought wars over land and resources and prayed to gods for favorable harvests. It was all so pointless. What could mortals hope to accomplish that could compare to the might of Hadar? And yet they continued to run around thinking that their lives meant something. It was all so funny! Arkham opened his mouth and laughed.