The Archivist’s Apprentice- Madness, Or The Curious Case of Philip Howard

***From The Journal Of Lysander, Apprentice to The Royal Archivist***

     I set the quill down with shaking hands, placing it into the inkwell, my ledgers finally finished for the day. The library had been quiet, and the dancing candle flames had threatened to lull me off to sleep as the dry figures on the parchment held little interest. Archiving was dull work, but I had come to view it as my calling. Besides, I would endure any tedium for the chance to be in Miss Bianca’s company. The Hakutaku that served as my mistress was the shining light of my work.

     Alas, she was not present today. She claimed to have some business in the city proper, my mind was too busy thinking of our time apart for me to register much of what business tore her from my company. I noticed the library bored a marked emptiness in her wake. I was her only apprentice, and there wasn’t much in terms of patrons to the Imperial Library. Sure, there was the odd monster that came to call in search of rare books, but those were handled by my master. Mistress Bianca was the only authority who was allowed to trade or sell tomes, and often only with direct consult to Lady Arabella, the Lilim who ruled this demon realm. Since I was not yet experienced enough to appraise the value of a book, my duties involved turning away rare book collectors in search of barter, and maintaining an official presence when the Library was open for public visitors.

     The open hours were long past, and my duties were done for the day. I sighed heavily as my thoughts returned to my master. I would not be able to spend the evening helping her close up, nor would she sit across from me at the dinner table. My heart sank, but an idea came to me as if to console my lonely countenance.

     My thoughts returned to the strange books my mistress had kept in the back sections. The ones she had told me were not books, but experiences. Memories put to paper, leaping into any mind that read them. The first time Madam Bianca had let me read one had left me shaken and weak for a fortnight. My strength returned, but I was forbidden from delving into the interactive books until I had more practice. Madam Bianca had explained to me that taking in someone else’s memories took a toll on one’s mind. She had told me that the process would get easier on me in time, but that I was not allowed to delve into the experience books without her supervision.

     After my strength had returned to me, Madam Bianca was true to her word in that she helped me accustom myself to the memory pages with a few of the lighter tales. Given the nature of monsters, these covered an array of racy tomes. I experienced tale after tale, engrossed in the relationships between monsters and humans.

     I had often wondered if Madam Bianca was aware that I experienced every sensual part of these memories I read. Every time I came out of a memory, I would be drenched with sweat and other fluids that required an immediate bath. The words of the memories allowed me to experience everything in the tome as if I had been there first hand. To my great anguish, my fantasies of Madam Bianca accompanying me to the bath never came true.

     Today, in the absence of my master, I wandered into the back rows of the library. I was feeling much stronger these days, and decided that if my master was gone, I could at least lose myself in a tale of love to ease my solitude in the absence of Madam Bianca. I wandered the rows, looking in particular for a story that suggested it might feature a Hakutaku.

     Unfortunately, I did not find one. The back rows were covered in plenty of strange and curious tomes, to the point where the strange and curious ceased to be an individual quality and blurred into entire rows of oddity. As I walked down the aisle, I felt an odd sense of foreboding. It was as if the library itself had known I was not allowed to be back there. The air grew heavy, almost oppressive as my hand reached out to trail along the spines of the books I passed.

     A faint whisper trailed behind me and I immediately spun around. There was nothing, only the library. I called out, but there was no answer. I figured the sound to be an effect of the candles, perhaps one sputtering out. I looked over to see my outstretched fingers had come to a purple book bound in a substance I could not recognize. It felt lumpy, almost fleshy as my fingers grasped it and pulled it from the shelf. On the book was a strange silver star. “Madness, Or The Strange Case of Philip Howard.” I read aloud, the title in silver inset into the curious substance that bound the book in my hands.

     I moved almost automatically, my mind suddenly incredibly curious. I took the book back to a table, and sat down. I opened the book cover, and began to read.

 

***Madness, Or The Strange Case of Philip Howard***

 

     I am not insane. I fear I must stress this point, though I am only reasonably sure of its efficacy. It is a tenuous precipice to stand on, not being sure of your own sanity. Those who have not stood on it can never know the true terror that comes from an inability to trust what you perceive as reality itself. People liken insanity to the disabled and sick, but I have come to realize that they are worlds apart. If you are diseased, you know it. If you are blind, you know it. The world is fraught with ailments whose symptoms are apparent in the cause-effect evidence of their being. This is not the case with madness.

               Everything we perceive, things inside of us and things without, must pass through the brain. Everything else is just signals, and philosophers have long since attempted to discern the nature of what is apparently reality when all we know is what we perceive. I would not presume to delve into such experimental thoughts, but only to ask you: what is a man to do when he can no longer trust the things he perceives? Sight, taste, touch, sound, and even such senses such as pain and memory, how can I trust that I am really experiencing them when I can no longer trust my brain’s ability to process the steady stream of signals it is constantly being relayed from my other senses from something as simple as merely being conscious?

               It had been said that the insane never think they are insane. That madness manifests itself to the mad as the harmonic clarity of the world falling into place. By this logic, I cannot be insane, as this muddled tumult that plagues me could only be called as far from clarity as I have ever experienced. The thought that suggests the mere act of questioning one’s sanity is the product of a sane mind.  It is this reason that I must reiterate: I. Am not. Insane.

               I say this in culpability to the incredible nature of the account I now pen. That is a word I must stress: incredible. Do not get the meaning confused with the more modern vernacular which would imply benevolently wondrous. When I say incredible, understand that I am saying it is unable to be credited. Meaning, credited in this case, for the integrity of its narrator. The details of the account cannot be credited for its veracity in any context other than the credence of my own perception, for whatever value that may be. I relay the following to the best truth that I know, without deliberate falsehood. I had always attempted to live my life honorably, but should a reality outside of my tenuous perception make me a liar, then I apologize for my lack of stern grasp on what might be called real.

               What I can say in relative certainty are the earlier parts of my life. My mother told me that I was born on a Thursday, at midnight and eleven minutes, six seconds on the first day of November in the year of the Wyvern. I had entered the world under a caul. It had apparently settled over my face in such a fashion that the midwife was concerned at first that I had been born without a face. Mother had confided in me when I was older, that she had seen the woman, a superstitious sort, reach for her knife out of reflex. Upon realization that my face was a lucky portent instead of some demonic influence, the woman used her knife to slit tiny breathe holes in the caul before setting to remove it from my head. Mother said her still-shaking hands resulted in a rather rough removal, which is why I have scars behind my ears. The midwife pretended innocence, as if reaching for the knife had been purely to cut the caul from the start, and not intended to still any demonic heart within my infant body. My mother had allowed her this illusion, and spoke nothing of it.

               Demons hadn’t ever come around our lands, but the stories from the outer reaches of our Kingdom were known to us. They were spoken of by the Order clerics calling for donations to help what they called, “the good fight,” and soldiers to do the same. The demonic tales were then regurgitated in the hushed, slightly slurred tones of the tavern patrons around low-burning fires that cast ominous, dancing shadows. I was told that my caul was put up for auction at a price of fifteen gold pieces, but no bidders had ever come forward. Cauls were rare, and a well preserved one often fetched large sums of money as they were believed to bring good luck. Sailors often bought them to guarantee safety out at sea. No doubt my mother expected some windfall to breeze her way since my own caul was supposed to be a very good specimen.

               I remember taking this news rather personally, the news that no one had wanted to buy it. Perhaps this was by some measure of pride that I took offense, that no one wanted what was supposed to be the luckiest piece of my person. Looking back, I wonder if this incident holds any fault to what would later develop to be a lower than necessary sense of self-esteem. It would just go to show the complete lack of worldly awareness that plagues the young; for it is only a youthful mind that would contrive to think it is because there is something inherently wrong with them that no one should want to buy their caul. To look inward for answers, instead of seeing the more worldly, and most obvious answer: which was that fifteen gold pieces was what the local populace would call “fucking expensive”, and food was a much larger priority and therefore a much more sensible a thing to spend money on than a piece of old and frankly crusty-looking baby sack skin.

               My caul stayed in my parent’s possession through my childhood, possibly as a result of my mother figuring that if my caul couldn’t bring fifteen gold pieces, then perhaps it could at least bring the family some good fortune. The odd talisman stayed hidden away in some trunk or box while my life continued on as it always had. Thoughts of the caul were so far removed from the concerns of daily life and the pains of growing up that I had all but forgotten its existence.

               My thoughts returned to it in the autumn of my fifteenth birthday. I remember it was an exciting year; my father was in talks for me to go to work at the courthouse, helping an aging clerk write his ledgers. Arthritis had rendered the clerk’s penmanship unreadable, and he needed a steady hand. My parents were excited that I would learn to read and write, while I remember being excited for the prospect of working and earning a wage; the shine of having my own coin sparkled behind my eyes.

     A single day after my birthday, the evening was unseasonably cold. It was autumn, but on that night, the air had borrowed winter’s chill and was doing its best impression of a howling snowstorm; fallen leaves were used as substitutes for stinging ice flurries.

               My family was huddled by the fire, my father sleeping in his chair, my mother reciting Order Testaments to us from hers. She was a religious sort, who always insisted on telling us the Order proverbs on a nightly basis. In our youth, she insisted Father be awake and alert during the sermons, but the long war of domestic cohabitation had eventually led her to a certain understanding: there was not a force Heavenly or Demonic that could keep father awake past nine on the clock. Our father made his living on the docks, hauling a variety of cargo and sea food from one place to another. Father outworked the sun, hauling fish hours before it rose and hauling cargo hours after it set. By the time Father had come home, he was exhausted. He was a kind man, and always seemed to perk up from his hard days at the sight of his family. He was always attentive before and during dinner, and for a little bit after.

               After some fifteen odd years of marriage, mother eventually realized father’s position. After eating her lovingly cooked meal, hearty and warm, after sitting down in his most comfortable chair and after sitting in front of our crackling fireplace, there was no sweeter lullaby than the sound of mother’s voice dryly carrying on with proverbs from the Order. He had once explained that it was the voice of his wife that made it impossible to stay awake. He’d heard the tales a thousand times, most adults did. The sound of her sweet voice speaking on things his mind had little interest in formed a pleasant sort of white noise that lulled him off to sleep. Mother had come to take this as a compliment.

     It wasn’t that he didn’t place stock in the Order; father was a man of faith. Almost everyone in the town was. Aside from a few contrarians still worshiping the Old Gods, the Order faith was pretty rampant in our home town. Of course, as a working man, Father’s opinions held that religion was a good thing in moderation. Excess time spent on your knees in prayer was time that could be used to be hauling more fish, and father often regarded the fanatical with the same distanced reservations normally held for those who engaged in other forms of overindulgence, like the fat and the drunk.

               That cold night had been just like any other, until a series of thuds resounded at our door, and it was only when they came a second time that we understood that it was not thunder. Mother roused our father, who went to the door and opened it. From the storm came a figure in a black robe, hunched over and frail-looking. The figure’s gait was more of a hobble than a true walk, and I could not help but wonder how such a wispy form had endured the harsh winds without blowing away like the paper their skin resembled. Mother ushered my sister and I out of the room, while our father conversed with the newcomer.

               Mother left us in the other room to join Father, but my sister and I crept close to listen to the conversation, eavesdropping as children are wont to do. “It’s a hard evening for traveling, ma’am, surely your business could have waited until a night where the wind was not trying to blow us all into the sea?”  Father’s voice came. There wasn’t a bit of harshness in it, though I recognized it as his ‘I’d really not rather do this now’ tone.

               The figure pulled her hood back to reveal a skeletal old woman with white hair. From inside her cloak, she produced a piece of paper. It was an old manifest from the auction fifteen years ago. “I was wondering if you still had the caul for bid.”

     I could see the look on my father’s face as he pondered this. “We do…” he said tentatively, I could see the questions behind his face. Why wait fifteen years to come for it? He shook his head. Later my father would express his belief that the lady was ill, and wanted the good fortune of the caul to ward off some affliction. Why else would she come? “We still have it. The price is set the same.” My father said at length, the promise of fifteen gold pieces too great a gift horse to look directly in the mouth.

      “A price a little too steep,” said the woman, producing a small bag from her cloak. “I have but six to offer.” She held it out to my father, who did not take it. “Less than half of the asking price.” He said disapprovingly, not wanting to be swindled by an old woman. “Perhaps some collateral?” The woman asked, which made my father give her a curious look. “Collateral?” he said, incredulously.

     The woman smiled, and took off a ring from her finger. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now that she held it aloft in the light, I wondered how such a beautiful thing could have ever gone unnoticed. The silver of the band shone like a star in the firelight, twinkling like a jewel of the heavens. The polished stone set in the band was pure black. It did not shine, but rather drank in the light of the fire, greedily and completely. It seemed as if it were insubstantial, a hole in space where the black stone should be. The only indication that it was a solid mass was the eight-pointed star inset in silver. Not a star like the geometrical lines the Order often used in its symbols, it was a diamond shape with eight lines coming off of it, as if it were shining. The shape hung in the void of the stone, giving the appearance that the ring held a piece of the night sky. I was entranced by the otherworldly beauty of it, and its ethereal effect was not lost on my father.

      “An heirloom of my family.” She said, “Of great sentimental value.  Take it, as collateral. My son’s estate is lacking in coin, but we have land. Land that collects a meager tax, but land that is ours. Give us some time to raise the difference.  If we do not meet the difference in two years, feel free to sell the ring. It is of a decent value, it will more than make up any losses. Though it is quite sentimental to me, so please, do not sell it before the due time.”

     I could see my father thinking, eyeing the ring. Its craftsmanship was exquisite, and it certainly was eye-catching. The expression on his face was thinking that the ring could possibly be worth a lot more than the difference of nine gold pieces. If the old lady reneged on the agreement, then he would make more of a profit than they had initially sought. Sure, it was less money up front, but whatever occurred, it seemed to be a net gain for him. He nodded. “All right, ma’am. I’ll fetch the caul.”

     Father went to his room to fetch the parchment my caul was pressed upon. My mother went to introduce herself, though perhaps less out of polite hospitality and more out of reservations about having the strange old woman standing alone in our house. Their pleasantries blended into a sort of dull background noise, my attentions rapt upon the black and silver ring. My recollection gets a bit funny then, as if the memory was dipped into water and the ink had started to run. For some reason, I remember the air having a strange, oily feel to it. The house, the furniture, the fire, even my family seemed… somehow less real than the ring and the woman still holding it. I remember seeing faint ripples in the air, but since that was impossible, I thought it was a trick of the fire. I also remember feeling a bit dizzy, and my sudden spell felt more like the onset of an illness than any real witchery. There strikes the youthful tendency to look inward again, as if the effects of the world would find all of their causes within us.

     As my mother talked to the woman, the crone had turned and stared right at me. Her gaze pierced me like a needle, sinking into my flesh and driving right into the core of my being. I felt transfixed, my mother somehow oblivious to the exchange. The old woman’s eyes fixated me like a snake staring at its prey, and I was every bit the helpless mouse. She broke the gaze, and turned back to my mother. “I think it a great portent if the caul-bearer also bear the ring.” She said. My mother looked curious, and then seemed to see the logic in this proposal. Mother always had been the superstitious sort, and my wearing of the ring used as collateral for my caul seemed like the exact sort of spiritual providence she placed faith into.

     My father returned with the waterproofed scroll case that held the parchment upon which was pressed my caul, and I watched him exchange the little piece of me for the little bag of gold coins, and the strange but beautiful piece of jewelry. The old lady bowed and returned into the storm. My father had offered her to stay until the winds died back down, but she declined. I had half-expected her to be swept off into the void of the night sky, so frail was her frame and so strong were the howling winds, but she trudged onward into the night. She seemed heedless of the weather, and the winds seemed to only take notice of her cloak, but I was apparently the only one that figured this.

     My father took the money to my parent’s room to pool with the small pile of other coins that would probably hold the name of our family fortune, and my mother presented him the idea that the ring should be worn by me as if she had thought of it. My father did not argue. The ring, in all of its beauty, represented a frivolity that went against everything he stood for; father saw no use for it. He would have put it aside and thought nothing more of it, like a bank note biding time to collect. My mother might have worn it, for while vanity might not have been a big indulgence on her part, she certainly did not share my father’s view of fine things. Still, her mind was made up, and Father did not mind her superstition.

     I was presented the ring to wear, and mother was surprised at how well it had fit my finger. “Like it was made for you!” she had said in a tone that suggested that she might have started to hope that the old woman would renege on the deal, just so her son could have so fine a thing. This was the end of the strangeness of my fifteenth year. I went to work with the clerk, and while my mother was insistent that I take care not to lose the ring, no doubt her warnings were the result of an overactive imagination. Mother was prone to worry, and I had no doubt her bids to be careful were an attempt to assuage her visions of misfortunes conspiring to ensure that the ring was lost to me somehow.

     Nothing of the sort had ever happened, the silver band sat upon my finger like it had been glued there. Not that it was tight, just perfectly fit. It did not slip, but did not constrict. I went about my life, and all but forgot about the existence of the star ring. The black stone and the silvery sigil simply became another part of my being. Some people had birth marks, I had my star.

     My thoughts returned once again to the ring only at the two year mark, which saw the anniversary of the old woman come and go with neither event nor ceremony. Unless you counted ceremony as the meager grumbling my father managed between dinner and his evening pre-bedtime nap. “Shouldn’ta trusted her…” he said in the twilight state between the waking world and sleep. My mother offered him some words of encouragement, “At least we get to keep the ring. It really looks nice on him!” she’d said. Mother was the kind of parent who thought that would have said the same thing if I had been wearing a burlap sack with mud in my hair. A kind heart, but to her credit, I had always felt her feelings on the ring and I to be genuine. She really believed I was suited to have it. I didn’t argue. The ring was perhaps the finest thing I’d ever owned. To me, it was a reminder of my own special nature. The caul had been an ugly piece of placental flesh, browned with age, pressed onto stained paper. Not something you wanted to walk around and let everyone see.

     The ring, however, was beautiful. Stunning, even. It was certainly striking and had often merited me some attention from a higher class of people who normally viewed the common folk as something to be stepped over. Most were pleasant encounters, with some flighty pomp insisting that my ring was “marvelous”, or “exquisite.” I had been offered money at least six times on the spot, and had caused offense to two of them when I politely declined. I couldn’t sell the ring, and I would have felt a pain if my father had deigned to sell it to make up the other nine gold pieces.

     The day after the two year mark, I had offered my father some of my salary to pay for the difference over time. To buy the ring from him, but he had declined to take even a single copper from me. I remember his words clearly, “Nine gold pieces is a cheap price to pay for my son’s happiness.” He’d said, and I’d hugged him for it.

     Once more, I’d settled back into my life, though a bit happier. The ring was mine now, indisputably. I wore it with the pride that I was special, lucky, and perhaps meant for great things. I wonder if I would have been as proud if I could see the path ahead of me as clearly as hindsight allows me to see it now.

     The first time I came to doubt my sense was the summer after I had come to see the ring as my own possession. I remember because the weather was warm. I had worn no gloves, with short sleeves; my ring was on prominent display. A commoner possessing such a lavish piece of finery came to arouse some suspicion as to its origin. No one had ever remembered any old lady in black passing through town, and no one would believe such a frail figure to have braved the storm that cold autumn evening.  I remember my father cursing himself for not getting a receipt.

     I remember that while walking home, I was accosted. Four boys my age, I recognized them. They were slow of wit, but strong of back, with aspirations as low as their birth. They were the exact sort of mind and build that lent itself well to general thuggery, and the exact sort of disposition to savor any opportunity, even a distasteful one.

     As it were, they had opted to pursue training as guardsmen. It was training that they took to mean that they could bully anyone so long as they managed to concoct some sort of probable cause. To their narrow vision, everyone was guilty of something. It just took some beating to find out what it was.  “That’s a noble’s ring,” their leader had said, his knowledge of nobility ending at ‘rich people have nice things.’ He had grabbed the collar of my shirt and demanded, “Who’d you steal that from?”

     One of the boys scoffed, “Scrawny little fuck like him wouldn’t have the balls to steal it. Likely found someone dead in the woods and just took it.”

“That means it’s evidence,” said another, grinning sinisterly. “We should take it in for… for, uhh… Processing.”

               There was a chorus of agreement, and they fought to take the ring from me. In the struggle, I thought of nothing but clenching my fist as tightly as I could to prevent the ring from coming off of me. “Squirmy little fuck!” came one of them who I managed to elbow in the stomach during the struggle. They weren’t beating me, seeking to just rob the ring from my finger without doing too much damage. Their leader, however, decided to change tactics when he’d said, “Take him into the alley. We’ll cut it off if he wants to be difficult.”

               I saw the flash of a blade as I was dragged into the alleyway. I looked around for help, but no one came to my aid. Interfering with guardsman investigations was a crime, and any complaints were to be taken up with the captain of the guard. Our town didn’t really have one, being under the jurisdiction of a central constable that made his rounds between several towns. The right thing to do by the law was hand the ring over, and file a complaint. However, I knew what kind of men these were. I’d never see it again. It would be lost in evidence and I might be awarded a few silver pieces as compensation. I knew I had to stop them from taking it.

               A punch to the gut knocked the wind from me and stopped me from struggling too much more. I was dragged into the alleyway, and felt my fingers pried open. I felt them try to pull the ring off, but it would not budge of its own accord. I saw the blade brought to bear, and struggled even more. I was winded, and it didn’t amount to much. “Shoulda just handed it over…” came the voice of the leader, as if the situation was entirely my fault. I felt the blade bite in between my fingers, and I remember screaming. I saw a spray of blood, and my vision started to go blurry.

               I saw a shadow move at the entrance to the alleyway, but it was not a shadow I could process. It wasn’t the shadow of a person. It didn’t move so much as slither. The shadow moved closer, and all I saw was the dim light of the alley fade to pitch black. I remember sounds, inhuman and gibbering.

               I was shaken awake by my mother. She said I was screaming in my sleep, besought by night terrors. I thrashed around, taking stock of my surroundings. I was in my bed, in my sleeping clothes. “My ring!” was the only thing I could manage to say, and she gestured over to the candle table by my bed. My ring was lying there, neatly and plainly. I heaved a sigh of relief. My mother had asked what plagued my dreams to cause me to writhe and scream, but trying to remember them was like trying to hold water in my hands. The details slipped through my mind and dripped down to form chills on my spine. The vague images that chose to return to me were unsettling at best. I remember the gibbering sound, the crunching of bone, the screaming of men… I remember the smell of blood, and then things more alien. I remembered stars, strange places outside of this world. Vivid fantasies that could only have been born of confusion and fear. Shadows and eyes, tentacles and teeth. I felt it a mercy that I could not remember more.

               I looked at my hand and found a scar between my ring finger and pinky, on the hand that I wore the ring. It was curious, for I had never seen the scar before. This was odd, but certainly no proof of the circumstances of my dream. If it had really happened, I would have remembered the injury healing, wouldn’t I have? I set about to move on with my life fully intent on forgetting the strangely vivid nightmare, though I did take more care not to flaunt my ring.

               Not one full week after the terror that visited my sleep did I receive a letter at my home. The letter informed me of the passing of the late Lady Raleigh. I had never heard the name before, but I think even then I could guess as to her identity, and how it pertained to me. The letter stated that I was charged to attend the reading of her will. It explained that my passage was paid for, and gave me a date and time when my coach was to depart from the wagonmaster. It wished me well on my travel, and was signed by a signature I did not recognize. The seal, however, was the same star that bore my ring. I thought it strange at first, for the sigil seemed almost a negative of itself. Instead of black ink in a star shape, it was a circle of ink, with the star pattern bare inside of it.

               It was odd, to finally have a name to put to the ring that I had come to think as a special piece of myself. To remember that this ring bore the sigil of a family I was not born into. I came to the conclusion that it did not matter. The old woman gave the ring as collateral on a deal that she had then reneged on. It was mine by rights. I told myself that this bit of logic should have to hold up in court, though my journey was plagued with thoughts to the contrary. Shadowy visions of the old lady’s relatives, faceless since I did not know them, levied accusations of theft in the theatre of my mind’s eye. Scenarios played themselves through my head, though the visage of me somehow always bore more confidence than the real one. What if the old woman had left the remaining sum for me? Would it be wrong of me to decline it? Two years was the deal, would it hold for me to keep the ring? What if the family offered more money? What if they can’t bear the thought of someone not of the family wearing their sigil?

               Personally, no amount of money would tempt me to part with the ring. It had become sentimental to me, an emotional attachment that only seemed to border on the curiously strong in hindsight. In the moment, however, there would be nothing anyone could offer me to part me from it. It was, precious to me.

               These thoughts plagued me as I traveled, dressed in my finest shirt, bearing no finery but the signet ring. It was all I had, and I thought I might as well have been naked without it. I was so occupied with my worries that the travel to the Raleigh estate was over before I realized. Lost as I had been, the trip itself was not overly long, but no short matter.

               I realized the trip was over when I saw out of the window, the coach pass a set of large wrought iron gates, inset with which was another star sigil. The sun was bright and shining, the afternoon illuminating exactly how well off the Raleigh family was. The grounds were immaculately kept, not a leaf of grass out of place. The manner itself sat high on a hill, overlooking the grounds below. The paint on it looked fresh, if not new. The house bore no signs of disrepair, though as we approached, I could see no one tending it or the grounds. Perhaps the groundskeepers did their work outside of the sun, which seemed to make sense.

               The coach pulled up to the house, and I departed. The coachman left me at the Raleigh Manor’s front door, a vast spectacle with an iron star door knocker. I looked around from my vantage point, letting the sheer lavish splendor of such a place envelop me. The woman had been frail, an ancient relic of times long past that I had expected to see reflected in her estates. This was not the case. If I had not known different, I would have expected this home to belong to a court noble, and the old woman to live in a wooden shack in the middle of the woods where she preyed upon children who disobeyed their parents by wandering too far.

               Standing in the middle of such an estate, I began to wonder. Nine gold pieces was what the woman claimed to be able to ill afford. From my pitiable compensation for my work helping the clerk, I could only guess that much money went into paying someone to sweep the veranda. It was news to me that people who lived like this were even aware that such quantities as ‘nine gold pieces’ even existed, much in the same way that I never bothered to think in terms of ‘nine blades of grass’ or ‘nine drops of water.’ For the first time in my life, twinges of fear crept into the back of my mind. They whispered ideas to me that I had never even thought to entertain. Ideas, that I wasn’t good enough to be wearing my ring.

               I shook my head as if trying to shake water from my ears, or thoughts from my brain. I took a deep breath and reached out to grab the knocker. Before my fingers could close around the wrought iron, the knocked slipped away and I grasped nothing but air. The door swung inward, and I beheld the demure figure of a maid. A maid with white hair, a fair complexion, and striking yellow eyes. “Greetings and welcome to the Raleigh Manor.” She said with a friendly air of professional courtesy. I greeted her in kind, and was ushered into the parlor. “You’re right on time, Mister Howard. The other guests have just arrived and taken their seats.” The maid had said, though I wondered about this because I hadn’t seen any other coaches on the road coming here. I had wondered if they had gone along another road.

               I entered the parlor, and found it full of guests. There were rows of seats packed with people dressed in more finery than I was, though admittedly it wasn’t a high threshold. Each one of them bore a black stone with a silver star somewhere on their person. The women carried it on broaches, the men on rings or cufflinks. To my relief, I found that their attentions did not immediately snap to me. Indeed, their focus remained on the man in the black suit that stood in front of a podium at the front of the parlor. I was seated near the back, and was greeted with smiles that seemed far too cheerful for people who were supposed to be at a will reading. Wasn’t this supposed to be a somber affair?

               I sat down, and almost immediately the man in the suit turned around and started addressing the crowd. He expressed condolences and well wishes, speaking of the passing of Mrs. Raleigh. I came to understand that Mrs. Raleigh was a stranger to me. Apparently she was a widow some fifteen years, survived by three boys. Her three boys seemed like the typical noble sort. They were young, sharply dressed, and held an air that affected a sort of entitlement. To their credit, they seemed affable enough. The rest of the proceedings went as I had expected them to, with Mrs. Raleigh’s possessions being listed off. Fine china went to a niece, crystal goblets to a sister in law. Certain paintings were divvied out among various relatives who fancied themselves collectors. Certain fine pieces of clothing were gifted to relatives in accordance with who Mrs. Raleigh thought they looked best on. As an outsider who knew none of the names being listed off, I found the proceedings rather dry. My mind wandered for a bit before it returned to its fits of imagined scenarios where things did not work out for me. My heart beat faster and my stomach twisted itself into snakes as my own fretting rendered me anxious and sickly nervous.

               “To the matter of one Mister Howard,” I heard the executor say, “I officially bequeath the sigil of Raleigh. His caul has brought me good fortune in my twilight years, and as I neglected to pay the difference of its price, the law dictates that the collateral of the signet ring be offered up as settlement for the debt. He is not of Raleigh blood, but I have come to cherish his very flesh as I would my own. That I have come to treasure him so, I wish the Raleigh family to welcome him. He may not share our blood, but he is as deserving to bear our sigil as any trueborn. I will the ring to him so that he may carry a piece of us, as I have carried a piece of him these long years. I urge the members of my family to get to know him and learn of his character, since I could not introduce him myself.”

               The words of the late Mrs. Raleigh settled over the room, and all heads turned toward me. I felt my heart still and my breath freeze in my lungs. Some people have a gift for spotting hereditary, able to discern family blood by noticing features about a person that might have belonged to a grandfather or a grandmother. I never possessed this ability, but it was not great deduction to notice that the entire Raleigh clan bore the same kind of yellow eyes. I felt the world fall apart around me, leaving me floating in a void of encroaching blackness. All around me were the piercing, yellow stares. Their smiles were affable, even pleasant. However, in my state, I could only see the teeth they revealed. I felt like a small minnow that had swam too deeply into hidden waters. The inky depths concealed barely-hidden terrors, the yellow eyes were pinpricks of light piercing the darkness, assuring me that I was not alone while the gleam of teeth told me that I would probably be better off if I was.

               I smiled back at the Raleigh clan, putting my hand up in a sort of acknowledgement wave as I nodded my head. This seemed to satisfy them, as they turned back to listen to the rest of the executor. Once their gaze was no longer upon me, I felt myself collapse back into my chair. My bones felt like jelly and I felt myself sweating. Nothing else on my trip had reminded me of how out of place I was until that moment when they were all smiling and staring at me. These inky depths were their territory, and I felt their bemusement that a surface dweller had dared venture so deeply into their hunting grounds. I expected to feel the snap of teeth as soon as one of them felt the novelty wear off and decided to feast before I came to my senses and darted back to the safety of the surface.

               The jaws of my demise never did clamp down, though. The rest of the reading went without incident, and was more of the same as the first part. The time passed in a blur as I retreated into myself. Once the executor had finished, the family adjourned to another room, where refreshments were being served. As the Raleigh clan moved back, I sat still in my chair. A few of them greeted me, to which I offered a stilted return.

    “Are you quite all right, mister Howard?” came a cheerful voice. Another maid, like the one before but not entirely the same, smiled down at me. I nodded meekly. “Will you be joining the others?” she asked, almost in a prodding tone, as if she were trying to clear the room. I looked down at my clothes, feeling like a rock among gems. “I think I’m hardly dressed for mingling with that crowd.” I said, attempting a bit of self-deprecating humor. The maid smiled, “Well, if you’re feeling underdressed, we have a fine selection of clothes in the guest rooms.” The maid took my hand and said, “Just come with me.”

    I tried to give a word of protest, but the maid was surprisingly strong. She managed to pull me to my feet almost effortlessly, completely the opposite of what I expected from her waifish form. I allowed myself to be led off, and was taken upstairs to what was presumably a guest bedroom. It was furnished and decorated in a comfortable manner that suggested wealth, but not so lavish as to give the impression that anyone important lived in it. The maid left me standing by the bed and moved to the closet, which was filled with an array of fine clothing. “The masters liked to ensure that all of our guests’ needs were taken care of. You never know when an accidental spill or tear would ruin an outfit. So there’s plenty here…”

    I watched her pick out some evening suits, ensembles that probably cost more than I would ever be able to afford. She moved more fluidly than I had ever seen anyone move before, with the ease and grace of a dancer. Her uniform was cut modestly, but it hugged her hips in a way that made me grow very hot. I averted my eyes to avoid staring. She glided back in front of me, and I felt myself drawn to her gaze. She was smiling almost impishly, “I gotta take your measurements so I know which ones will fit.”

    Before I could react, I felt myself being groped and squeezed. I tried to pull away, protesting “H-Hey! What are you doing?”

     She just laughed, continuing to grope and squeeze my person despite my attempts to writhe away. Her hands would dart in to stroke some portion of my body, and then withdraw before I could bat her hand away. She was quick as a snake, and I could do nothing against her onslaught. She giggled and laughed as I sputtered out half-formed words, frustrated and embarrassed that I could not fend off the attack of one lone maid. “Just relax, mister Howard. I only need to take your measurements.” she said in a fit of laughter.

    Her attacks relented, and I was left panting. Beaming her coy smile, the maid presented me with one of the suits. “This one should fit you just fine, mister Howard.” I tried to glare, but for some reason, I couldn’t stay mad at her mischievous smile. Her face was feline, angular with almond eyes. Her lips were full, and elicited visions of how they would feel pressed against mine. She had an unearthly beauty, accentuated by the fact that her very movement belied an otherworldly grace. I remembered the old tales telling that demons adopted beautiful guises to enchant men and beguile their senses. Looking back on the memory, I would have voted her first in a “most likely to be a demon” contest. In the moment, I couldn’t think of this creature as anything other than divine.

    Unable to muster the willpower to contest her, she had undone the buttons on my clothes and I felt them slacken and start to slide off. A meek protest welled up as my clothing fell from my person as I tried to hold them up. She was quick as a cat, snatching my pauper’s rags down from my grip, leaving me naked and standing in a puddle made of clothing and shame. “Ah, mister Howard.” she said, in realization. “Perhaps this is why you were so uncomfortable.”

    I followed her gaze down to the erect length now poking out of my underwear. Quick as a cat, her hands grabbed me before I could cover my shame. I froze instantly as her soft fingers clasped around my length with a soft, yet firm grip. The shivers of pleasure seemed drowned out by the alarm blaring through my brain, and I felt rooted to the spot. “Is this the cause of your discomfort?” she asked, though she appeared to be talking more to herself than to me. “Well, our guests shouldn’t be so flustered. Allow me to help~” she cooed, then knelt down before me.

    The maid was apparently the perfect height for this, considering her kneeling position brought her mouth right at the level of my cock, which caused it to pulse in her hand as my heart beat faster. I felt her breath wash over it as she slowly moved closer. My heart seemed to beat faster the closer she got. I saw her lips part, and my musings over how they would feel against my own lips were pushed to the back of my mind as I experienced how they felt wrapped around the crown of my length. She looked up at me, bearing the same yellow eyes that I had noticed from the Raleigh family. Was she related? Or perhaps wherever they were from, yellow eyes were as common as brown was here. Whatever the case, once again I was transfixed by an amber gaze. Though this gaze was sultrily telling me how wonderful it would be to get devoured.

    She gave little moans as I watched my length disappear between her cheeks inch by inch. Her tongue roamed the underside of my shaft as I felt my head press into the warm depths of her throat. To her credit, she made no choking or gagging noise even as I saw her throat distend a little from my girth. “Mmn~” she cooed, muffled a bit by my cock. I felt her delicate fingers grasp my balls gently, and she started to massage them as if to coax every bit they had to offer.

    She pulled off of my length, only to sink below it and lick upwards until her lips were planting a feather-light kiss on the very tip of my cock. Even this light touch was exquisite, and the pleasure she lavished upon me rolled along my nerves like warm waves. She took my cock inside of her mouth again and set to a slow, easy pace. True to her word, I could not help but feel relaxed, even though the back of my mind frantically attempted to press upon me the alarming nature of the situation, the dull pleasure grew from a warm cloud to a thunder storm that drowned everything else out but the electricity of it. My breath came fast, I was almost panting as the maid continued her pace, neither speeding nor slowing. She played my nerves like they were strings on a violin, playing a slow, delicious melody of wonderful agony.

    Mercifully, she did not slow to tease me even as my orgasm crept up on me. So lost was I in her oral attentions that it did not even cross my mind to inform her that I had reached the precipice. My cock twitched twice before I felt the gentle waves of pleasure surge with tidal forces, and a torrent of hot cum flooded through my cock, into her mouth, and erupted down her throat. She gave a soft moan of surprise, before the yellow eyes that were locked into mine closed, and the maid seemed to savor the orgasm as much as I did. She even seemed to moan louder, and I felt a vague sense of pride that my essence was apparently so tasty. My own orgasmic moans soon died off, replaced by the steady, gulping swallows of the maid whose lips remained firmly drawn around the crown of my manhood. She did not let a drop escape before she came off, a strand of saliva still connecting her pouty lips to the head of my cock. She wiped her mouth, though mostly for show, and stood up.

     “There, feeling better?” she asked cheerily. I could not answer, my legs shaking and barely able to hold my weight. She helped me to the bed, smiling warmly. “Oh dear,” she mused, “I think I just went and made you even more flustered. I’m dreadfully sorry.” Even through her apology, she seemed to smile widely. I could not tell if she was sincere, but it was not a point I was presently concerned with. It was the first time any woman had ever shown interest in me, let alone did… well, exactly what she had just gotten through doing. A dozen feelings rushed through my mind, like a dam of thought had been broken. I felt affection for her, but I barely even knew her. Did she do that with all the guests? Were the Raleighs the kind of family that expected their servants to sexually service their guests? Were all rich people salacious degenerates?

    “N-No.” I stammered, brought back to reality by the maid sitting next to me. “I just… never had anything like that happen before.” I tried to keep an air of politeness, though I was torn between gushing out thanks and compliments, and being offended. She leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder, “You taste nice.” she said dreamily. I felt a swell of pride, and my mind was brought back to the moment. “Well, thank you, miss. I should have hated to, ah, be a disappointment.” I said, attempting to be aloofly charming. Whether it worked or she was just inhumanly polite, she giggled and stood up. “Well, you better get changed. I’ll get your regular clothes washed in the meantime. I think they’re waiting for you downstairs.”

    I barely remember the time after she left with my clothes bundled in her arms. She blew a kiss at me that made my heart skip a beat. I dressed myself in the suit laid out for me, and was amazed to find the maid had an impeccable eye for sizes. The suit fit me like it had been tailored specifically for my body. The Raleighs certainly knew how to prepare for guests, it seemed. I made my way back down to the living room, where the Raleighs were sitting in attendance.

    I remember being swept up in a host of introductions, being show to this cousin, or that aunt. I met uncles, brothers, nieces, nephews. The entire Raleigh clan seemed to be in attendance. Names blurred together, and at some point, a drink was placed in my hand. As soon as this happened, I started being offered toasts in welcome to the family. I had drank little in my life before hand, having the odd glass of wine on the occasional holiday. Suffice it to say, my alcohol tolerance was abysmal and I felt a haze wash over me after just the first round of toasts.

    Apparently in this haze, I had become quite affable. I remember laughing with the family as if they had been mine from birth. Everyone was in a good mood, despite the somber occasion. Oddly enough, I found myself taken with their mirth, and unable to be suspicious of anything even though it was clearly out of the ordinary. Perhaps it was the steadily flowing alcohol, perhaps it was the charm of the Raleigh family. Either way, the late afternoon gave way to the evening, and dinner. I was seated at the head of the table, surrounded by the three brothers. They looked almost identical, with minor variations of face and height. Sharp features and calculating eyes, they appeared to be the most dour looking individuals of the family, but this was only so far as appearances. I felt myself feeling as if they really were my brothers.

    I remember asking why I was at the head of the table, and received the answer that it was just that every other family member was used to the late Mr. Raleigh sitting in the spot. Since his passing, none of them had ever felt comfortable sitting there, and since I was more or less the guest of honor, they all thought I should sit there. In my more than inebriated state, this seemed to make sense.

    Dinner came and went, leading into more drinks, dessert, and more toasts. It as this point the evening dissolved in my memory. All I remember was the laughter, the taste of alcohol, and, strangely enough, grape jelly. Perhaps dessert was jam muffins?

    Whatever the evening turned out to be, I awoke in a strange bed. It took me an alarmed minute to realize I was back in the guest bedroom. I sat up, and the first thing I realized was that I was wearing black silk pajamas with the Raleigh sigil on the breast pocket. The second thing I noticed was the girl sleeping next to me. A careful glance told me that it was not the same maid, though there were enough similarities that I thought she was at first. At my inspection, her eyes fluttered open and she smiled at me dreamily. “Good morning, Master Howard.” she said.

    I blinked, “Eheh, good morning miss… Umm, I think I was a little too into the cup last night.” I said, trying to be polite. “Did we?”

She took a moment to realize my implication, then nodded. “Oh yes, you were quite wonderful!” she said sultrily. “Quite the ride if I say so, myself. The other one was right, you do taste good~”

    I flushed with embarrassment as I stood up out of the bed. “W-Well, again. I’m certainly glad I didn’t disappoint. But I did not mean to stay here. I missed the coach back to my town, and I think I should look into catching the next one.”

“Oh? Ah, I see.” she said in a friendly tone as she stretched out, the blanket fell from her form and revealed her sizeable breasts. “Well, I think you missed your chance. You can’t go anywhere right now.”

I looked at her quizzically. “Why not?”

She gestured toward the window. “Because it doesn’t look like anyone is going anywhere.” I moved to the window and gazed out of it. My heart sank as I saw the black, ominous clouds. Perhaps the weather was a day late, for the storm was perfect for as morbid an occasion as a will reading. I couldn’t understand it, the day before had been so clear and bright. “So everyone is stuck until the storm clears up?” I asked.

    “Oh no.” the girl said cheerfully, laughing a bit. “Everyone else had left last night. Master Brendan, er, Mrs. Raleigh’s oldest son,” she elaborated, seeing my blank look. I had met so many people that my brain had stopped registering names. “-told us to put you to bed and get you on a coach in the morning.” she continued, “But I can promise you that they won’t be running in THAT weather.”

    As it turns out, she was right. I had even braved the storm to walk to the coach office down by the manner gate, and no one was there. When I returned to the house proper, the maids were fretting over me, stripping me of my sodden clothes and telling me how much they hoped I didn’t catch a cold. So that was how it was, stuck in the manner for another day. I came to learn that the only other residents were the service staff, which seemed to be comprised entirely of maids. Everyone of them seemed to bear similar features, and all of them had the same yellow eyes the Raleigh family had borne.

    Well, as the only male occupant in a house full of female maids that, as they had explained to me, had spent the better part of the last decade with only the elderly Mrs. Raleigh to serve, it becomes clear that I grew comfortable with my situation.

    The first three days I barely even noticed the storm, my attention was focused solely on the indoors and my company. I felt myself lucky to enjoy my time with the affection-starved maids. I viewed my predicament as a blessing, and the stranger things around the mansion eluded my notice until the fourth day. Once again the world around me fell away as I focused inward, so lost was I in the tangled sheets, fine food, expensive drink, and lavish lifestyle of the mansion. I didn’t notice that I never saw the maids ever eat or drink anything. In my hubris, perhaps I thought I was so sexually potent that they chose to entirely subsist on my virile effluence; they certainly lavished me with enough compliments to my ability as to make me think so. I never once thought it odd that the maids seem to have an array of clothes, perfectly tailored to fit me and in colors that I had always thought looked best on me. Not a thought was spared that they all called me Master, or that they insisted I sit at the head of the table.

               My morning routine consisted of being woken up by the feel of a maid’s lips, and then the feel of the rest of her. I would then go wash up, inevitably to be joined by another maid. If breakfast was ready, I would be served at the head of the table. If it wasn’t, the cook (yet another maid), would demand attention as she worked, a task made easier since she always deigned to wear nothing under her apron.  After breakfast, I would have a brief reprieve as the maids cleaned up. I found myself in the study, amusing myself with whatever tome caught my fancy for the day. If I wasn’t reading, the maids would play music for me and serve me drinks. I found I had a taste for alcohol, particularly one of the black drafts that the maids assured me was a Raleigh secret recipe. Inevitably, this would lead to whatever maid was serving as my entertainment to another game of pillow tricks, and that would lead to another bath and another row… though not necessarily with the same one. This led into dinner, and the entire process would repeat itself until I was in another warm haze of alcohol until I found myself in bed with yet another maid for the day. That and the grape jelly. I remembered dessert always involved grape jelly. I hadn’t ever considered the thought that it was odd to find so many maids willing to compliment the prowess of someone whose orgasms were always a solitary experience before coming to the mansion. Pride is particularly blinding vice. My time with the maids was a gift horse I absolutely refused to look in the mouth. Besides, any inexperience I had in the bedroom was quickly rectified by the instruction of the maids. Instruction I was all too willing to follow, for I had never been so attentive in any lesson previously taught to me. Is it any wonder that I thought all was well? Such a fool, I was.

               It was the fourth day of endless storm that I started to get restless. I took to wandering, though it seemed no matter where I wandered, there was a maid waiting for me. I could not escape them, and I took to trying at every opportunity to elude their gaze. How vexing it was, to find them waiting for me no matter how many corridors I ducked down or rooms I cut through. Wherever I stopped, there was a maid busy tidying and cleaning. Just how many of them were there? Once my attentions were focused on actively exploring the house, I noticed the strange nature of the Raleigh Manner. Rooms seemed to move about, and the same doorway did not always lead to the same place. At first, I thought I was just getting myself lost and confused, but the longer I spend in the mansion, the more I was sure that there was some strange geometry about the place. Still, there were the ever present maids. Always smiling, staring their amber stares. When I asked them about my findings, they simply laughed. They said I was probably just confused, and then asked me how many drinks I’d had. That was when I started refusing drinks, and started taking water.

               I had sought clarity through sobriety, but found only more questions. The rain continued for three more days, and I found myself grow more and more suspicious of the maids. I started paying more attention, and found that I was never in the company of the same maid twice in one day. There wasn’t any schedule I could discern, but I did notice that it was never the same one twice in a row. In addition, without the alcohol to cloud my mind, I found my dreams plagued with more strange visions. I drifted through the stars, and came upon sights that I could not fully comprehend even in the dream state. Impossible visages of a city beyond the stars, fraught with broken shapes and crawling, shadowy denizens plagued my nights. I awoke with headaches, and sometimes suffered nosebleeds that plagued me at random times.

               It was the night of the sixth day that the dark shapes of my dreams seemed to look up at my vantage point over the city of impossibilities, and I saw dozens of yellow lights. The shadow creatures took form, and became the Raleigh family. They gazed up with the same affable smiles, and some even waved. I awoke in a cold sweat, and another headache.

               I pushed the maid off of me, to her surprise and the chagrin of my lower half. I hastily dressed myself, not saying a word to the maid, who harrowed me with a barrage of questions. I answered none of them. I was resolved to leave this day, heedless of any storm. I would walk to the nearest town if I had to. On my way, the maids seemed to converge on me, pleading with me not to go. I paid them no mind, and opened the front door.

               I was almost blown back by the hurricane force winds that poured into the foyer. All of the maids at once, called out my name. “Master Howard!” Well, close enough to my name, anyway. Still, the voices stilled my heart with a cold chill. All of them had cried out in the same voice, yet the one voice was somehow all of their voices. They moved as one, clapping their hands over their mouths. I looked at them each in horror, unable to make any sense of it. I made for the door again, only to have it swing shut in front of me and lock itself. I looked from the door, to the maids that were walking toward me. I stood up and tore down the hallway, brushing past several maids on the way.

    From every door I passed in my frantic sprint came a maid, pleading in that thousand-tone voice that I stop and allow her to explain herself. I didn’t slow, I didn’t even meet their yellow eyes. I ran through hallway and door, heedless of where they went so long as I put more distance in between myself and the maids. Where I was running to could wait, for I was far too concerned with what I was running from.

    I had put a good distance between the maids and myself, but still their voices called through the building as if they were on my very heels. Once I looked back to see if they had perhaps gained any ground, I slipped. My hands shot out to stop my fall, and to my horror, I saw a rug slither over underneath me. It moved like a sea creature, gliding smoothly and coming to rest underneath me. My hands disappeared into it like it were quicksand, and my entire body tensed as my face met its surface. It was if I had fallen into a small, rubbery pool. The surface of the carpet had given way to something thick and soft, despite the fact that the pool disappeared into a space where there was solid floor only moments before. I grasped the edge and hauled myself out, trailing purple slime.

    I continued to run, even as the rest of the furniture in the Raleigh estate seemed to start to melt into more purple goo. The paintings on the wall, the chairs, dressers, various curios and conversation pieces, all of them melted and flowed after me. It seemed the entire house threatened to swallow me under the purple, slimy tide. I started to scream as I continued to run. Everything went purple, and I splashed through more slime. I tore through one final door, and stepped out into space.

    I floated in a black void, comfortably and endlessly. Reality came crashing down when a lance of pain shot through my head and I tasted blood. I awoke to the sounds of slithering in the darkness. I was upside down, and my entire body hurt. I looked around, and by the light streaming in from the doorway, I found myself face down on the stairwell, being gently carried to the floor by a mass of purple slime. I tried to scurry away, but the slime reared up to wrap itself around me. It continued to bear me to the basement floor, holding me fast.

               “Master, you really should be careful.” came a new voice. It wasn’t the thousand maid legion voice from before, this was new. It was as if all the other voices from before had converged into one. The purple slime slithered over to the middle of the basement floor. It then lifted me, becoming a pillar with me held on top of it. The top blossomed into something somewhere between a throne and an altar. It spread out like a flower; tendrils wrapped around my wrist and ankles and pulled them out. Then it hardened. The slime underneath me became a seat, the tendrils became manacles. I was full spread eagle, unable to move except to squirm fruitlessly against the bonds.

    “Please don’t thrash.” the voice said said, her voice silky and reassuring. Bellow my impromptu bindings, a figure rose up. Coalescing slowly out of more purple slime, a figure roughly resembling the maids from before came into my field of view. She wore the clothes of the Raleigh maids, but her skin was blue-black, the same color the void of space had been from my dreams. Beneath her smock, spilling out into another puddle, was more purple slime. It’s flowing mass seemed to make up the base of her body. It constantly moved, seemingly of its own volition, forming tendrils, teeth, and perhaps most disconcerting, yellow eyes. These eyes seemed to move within her lower mass, glowing with a pale light that cast an odd sheen on her more solid upper parts. Her hair was black as night, and she looked at me with the same yellow eyes. She was at the same time terrifying and beautiful, a concert of ethereal wonder the likes I had never even contemplated before. Perhaps the most absurd thing, was that she was looking at me almost sheepishly.

     This strange creature spoke in exactly the same tone that the maids had when we had exchanged pillow talk. “I didn’t want to bind you, but I can’t have you hurting yourself, good master.” She glided close to me, her upper form propelled along by the slithering of the slime below. “W-What are you going to do to me?” I stammered, feeling more than a bit exposed. She was between my legs now, and a rather vulnerable part of me was entirely too near her lower portion. Next to the teeth and things. To my alarm, one of those very tendrils snaked up to hover so close to my exposed unit. I felt the breath catch in my throat, which was somewhat abated by the realization that this particular tendril had neither teeth nor eyes. The womanly figure in front of me looked down, as if noticing it for the first time.

     “Oh?” she looked back into my eyes and smiled, laughing. “No need to worry about that, I’m just so eager to taste you again.” As she spoke, she moved closer to me. Given my bonds left me somewhere in between standing upright and laying back, her moving closer left her more or less on top of me. She filled my field of vision with her face and ample bosom, leaving me to wonder as to the fate of my most precious appendage and the purple tendril still hovering in front of it, like a snake about to strike. “I must say that I’m sorry, dearest Master, for spoiling myself. But I couldn’t resist. You just smell so delicious… I am a bad maid, I hope you can forgive me.”

     As she spoke, I felt a warm, slick sensation wind itself around my length. It coiled up my shaft until it enveloped me in a tight cocoon of slick purple tendril. The woman creature gave a shuddering sigh, “Ahh,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper, “It’s just so wonderful… your taste, your touch… I want to feel all of you!” I tried to speak, but the words just did not come to my lips. She hadn’t answered my question at all, and I was left to infer her meaning. Only a select few words stood out to me, words like taste, and feel. Every logical sense I had told me that this creature was about to devour me. Only one sensation threw a proverbial wrench into this working theory, and that was the tight coil around my cock that had started to squeeze and rock.

     The coils of the tendrils slipped smoothly along my shaft, suffusing it with an elegant pleasure that made my face flush. I had never felt anything like it before, even during my time with the maids. The feel of it was, exquisite. I let out a moan, quite against my will. The noise, however, had an immediate effect on the woman creature. She laughed again, but not her usual warm, subservient, and comforting laugh. This was a cackle, reserved for mental patients and witches who prey on fat children in the woods. She laughed the insane laugh of a madwoman and her eyes looked at me in a way that would have made my cock shrivel under its crazed intensity had not the feel of the tendril still stroking me been so divine. They were predatory eyes, hungry, and glowing with an eerie yellow light, but as they bored down on me, they turned into a look of curious concern.

     “Master, you really shouldn’t be getting yourself so worked up.” she said, almost cooing in her tone of comforting affability. Another tendril reared up out of the darkness, and wiped away the sweat beading on my forehead. I began to notice the dull ache growing in my muscles and joints, and I realized that it was because I had been tensing every muscle in my body.

     “You need to relax.” As she said this, she leaned in. She placed her lips against mine, though I tried to resist. However, despite my pursed lips, hers slithered between mine and my mouth filled with what I could only guess was the other tendril that served as the creature’s tongue. I felt it explore my mouth, before it found my tongue, and started toying with it. The creature’s tongue plied my own with playful twists and coils, despite my efforts to withdraw it into the sanctity of my mouth. There was nowhere for my tongue to hide, and hers danced along it, playing my nerves and sending shivers rolling up into my brain. From there they cascaded down my spine and settled into my groin, surging through my cock and causing it to throb under the onslaught.

     I could not help but ring out with more moans as I was kissed and stroked, forming a pleasure circuit that only seemed to grow in intensity the longer it went on. Despite my best efforts, I could not maintain my tension and I felt my body go slack. With nothing else to distract my mind, the pleasure surged through me unfettered. My groans were muffled into the mouth of the woman, whose own muffled vocalizations suggested a pleasure that matched my own. It was at this point that I realized, her tongue tasted strongly, of grape jelly.

      She withdrew her tongue from my mouth, and pulled away. Her glowing yellow eyes were half-lidded, staring at me with a look of utter adoration. “You asked me a question.” she stated calmly, “I should answer it.”

     I felt the tendril uncoil from my cock, and almost wished she had forgotten the question just so she could continue with her tentacled ministrations. She leaned forward, propping her face up with her hands, elbows on my chest. “What I plan to do, is ensure you never want for anything again. I will fulfill every desire you have, and every need. I will drown you in luxury and overwhelm you with pleasure until your mind breaks from it. I will show you wonders the likes of which you can never imagine. Wonders of the stars, and wonders of the flesh…”

    She trailed off, as if lost in thought. What those thoughts were, though, played behind her eyes as she kept looking at me. Her eyes were slightly wider than strictly necessary, focusing on me with the intensity of idol worshippers and axe murderers. “W-What do you mean?” I asked, completely at a loss in the face of her answer, which made absolutely no sense to me. Her smile curled into a devious sort of half-grin. “Let me show you.” was all she said, ominously.

    The womanly figure sank lower, slithering down until her face was level with my cock. It was still throbbing, swollen and almost painfully neglected after the tendrils affectionate treatment of it not mere moments before. Her hands, or at least the ones that were humanoid, reached out to cup my hanging orbs and rubbed them gently. My cock twitched in response, and she smiled up at me. With a wink from one of her glowing eyes, like the twinkle of a strange star, she reared her head up and I watched my length sink into the mouth of the creature.

    I felt my cock plunge into the waiting depths of her throat, though the creature seemed to be more adept at taking it in this form. There was no gagging, no teeth, not even a tongue that I felt. At least initially, for soon her mouth felt like it had a hundred tongues, each one vying for position to taste along my cock. The myriad assault up and down the length was almost too much for me to handle. I tore my eyes away from the enchanting gaze of glowing eyes down by my groin, and I leaned my head back against the solid mass of slime I was bound upon. My body went completely slack, such was the intensity of the sensations surging into my core through the fleshy conduit still lodged inside the creature’s mouth. I heard her giggle, an understandably muffled sound before my body was wracked with spasms.

    Her time spent with me as the other maids had apparently allowed her to learn every sensitive spot on my girth, and it came as no surprise that my orgasm crashed over me with the force of a hurricane. A slight twitching was the only warning the creature got before her mouth surged with thick, hot cum. I continued my orgasm until I collapsed back into my bonds, almost fainting from the intensity.

    As the post-orgasm afterglow settled over me like a warm blanket, something unprecedented happened. After her movement had stilled so she could drink down my offering of seed, she resumed her affections. Her head started bobbing again, and the hundredfold attack on my nerves resumed, cranked to a blinding degree due to my post orgasm sensitivity. Immediately my body thrashed, attempting to get away. She giggled her mad giggle again, halting her onslaught to say only briefly, “I could taste you for hours…”

    I pleaded with her to stop, but she did not relent. She bent low again, running her tendril of a tongue over my oversensitive head. “Hmmm~” she cooed as my nerves were flayed to the point of pain, and then she sank down on my shaft once more, returning to her work.

    The pain reached a threshold that it broke through with the force of a sledge hammer through a thin wall. I was pushed to a new precipice. She continued to please the length of me nestled inside her, varying her pressures and the textures running up and down my cock. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. After another orgasm wracked my body with blissful agony, I felt her relent. I felt my length pop free of her lips, and the relatively colder air of the basement kissed by length almost as gently as she had. The sensation might have been enough to pushed my flayed nerves over again, but the coolness had a slight numbing effect that served to help my brain swim out of the sea of white.

    To my horror, I noticed her glide further on top of me, gazing down into my eyes dreamily. Her eye still glowed with the light of madness, and I knew her intentions. Before I could find enough wits to protest, the lower bulk of her amorphous lower half glided over me. The warm, comforting slime undulated pleasurable massages over my skin, and I felt it envelop my cock once more. I heard her giggle again, but the sound came as if from a long way off. “Ahhh,” it said, sighing with exquisite delight, “You feel so good… I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop~”

    The sensations poured in, my nerves now open pathways for her to surge all manner of pleasures into. No longer was my body in any sort of condition to put up resistance, and the pleasure rolled through to claim every nerve ending as her amorphous lower half rocked over me. I weakly lifted my head, and all I saw was purple slime covering the lower part of me. I could no longer tell where my body ended and hers began as she made true her intention of devouring me. Another orgasm roared through me, and I lost all semblance of thought as my mind swam in a sea of white. I lost count of how many times she made me orgasm, and I lost count of how many times she denied me rest and instead pushed me to yet another precipice.

    I couldn’t see anymore, I couldn’t think. There was nothing but blinding yellow light, my thoughts burnt to ash in the corona of its blaze. There existed nothing but her, and the pleasure. I was reduced to a drooling husk, unable to move let alone resist, and still she persisted her administrations. Time lost all of its meaning, and still there was only her. Only the pleasure.

 

    I walked with my bride down the main channel of the city in the stars. Y’quaa, it had been called. The Raleigh family were in tow, chanting merrily. “Tekeli-li!” they cried, celebrating the recent wedding. As I walked, my new wife on my arm, we passed by a fountain. I stopped, and turned to look at it. “Are you all right?” Shae had asked. For that had been her name, Shae. A lovely name, I thought. I shook my head, “Oh, nothing dear. Just thought I saw something. Never mind it, this is a happy occasion!” I declared, which seemed to satisfy her. She leaned her head on my shoulder and we continued on.

I had not meant to alarm her, it was just my reflection. Still, something puzzled me.

Had I always had yellow eyes?

 

***From The Journal of Lysander, Apprentice to the Royal Archivist***

 

    I awoke screaming in the dead of night, my head shooting bolt upright as my mind found that it had a body to control again. I saw the book before me on the table and lurched backward in an effort to get as much distance between me and the book. The feeling had been too intense, the madness too real. I pitched backward in my chair and landed.

    To my surprise, my landing was wet and soft. I scrambled to right myself and crawled on my hands and knees a distance away. I reached one of the bookshelves and immediately turned to look back.

    The book was seeping purple slime. It spilled out from the pages and slithered down the table. It congealed into a pool underneath where my chair had been. As I watched it, a figure started to rise out of the pool. A head formed atop a humanoid figure. Eyes opened to reveal a pale, yellow glow. It smiled.

“Hello~” it said.

 

I could do nothing in response.

Only scream.

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10 thoughts on “The Archivist’s Apprentice- Madness, Or The Curious Case of Philip Howard”

  1. How was this story recovered? It’s almost as though it was Philip’s journal, but it seems as though after stranding him At The Mounds Of Madness she spirited him away to some non-Euclidean city, so I don’t see how anyone would find out, much less get it into some Lilim’s library.

    That said though, I enjoyed this and would love to see Madam Bianca getting jealous cuz this grape bitch is moving in on her man.

    1. Well, it’s not his journal. It’s technically his memories. Madam Bianca transplants memories onto blank pages, allowing the user to experience the story first-hand rather than just through reading words. It was talked about more in the first part of The Archivist’s Apprentice here: http://touchfluffytail.org/?story=the-archivists-apprentice-sweet-dreams

      As for how Madam Bianca came to acquire Mister Howard’s memories, well. That remains to be seen.

    2. The Raleighs aren’t necessarily the only Shoggoths to come to earth from time to time. It could be that one of them brought the memory back–or that Philip himself had at one point returned. After all, it isn’t unreasonable that he’d want to see his parents from time to time, even if he is insane. Although he might not introduce his wife to them, considering that he may very well be wearing her at the time.

      But however Bianca stores memories in books… well, Philip very clearly had his mind touched by That Which Ought Not To Be Known (except in the Biblical sense). They don’t like physics much. Just containing his memories might have been enough for a Shoggoth that he met at some point to seep into its pages. Then she just waits for a master-husband. Or they might have become aware of it, and decided to replace it with one of their own, which held the memories because… I don’t know, they just can. Because insanity.

      Although I think that she introduced herself first thing is rather a fortunate sign, don’t you?

      And I’m personally betting on it being Carcosa.
      (Sidenote–I liked how you used the name for the family. After all, Raleigh and R’lyeh are pronounced the same).

  2. I did enjoy this a good bit, instead of being about madness and despair, it was instead about madness and pleasure… Great adaptation, but, instead of bored, I would have used bore (from bear, as in a weight), or better yet, harbored. That is the only error that really was apparent. With this as a benchmark, you could write a good bit more Shoggoth MG stories…

  3. You are a fantastic author! Not only did you write well, but you managed to make the change in tone from the Apprentice’s POV to Philip’s without being cumbersome; it felt as though you were still writing naturally, while keeping that Lovecraft-esque style. I liked

    I’ve quite enjoyed this, and hope to see more of you writing the more rarely used monsters girls.

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