The Tomb of the Phoenix

Jonas Kyratzes

 

I must begin my report by assuring you - and I hope that in this I am supported by the doctors who have watched over me - that, fantastic as the events I am about to describe may appear, I am entirely sound of mind. I will not dispute that my stay in the sanitarium was indeed a necessity; but that unfortunate period should not be taken as a sign of some congenital irregularity of mind. Rather, it represents the difficulty with which even the most rational mind can grasp events of such magnitude that they challenge all heretofore believed.

You may remember the tragic words of the ill-fated poet Wilfred Owen, writing of the Great War that now threatens to repeat:

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?

Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,

Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,

Baring teeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?

Stroke on stroke of pain,—but what slow panic,

Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?

Ever from their hair and through their hand palms

Misery swelters. Surely we have perished

Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

—These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.

 

Memory fingers in their hair of murders,

Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.

Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,

Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.

Always they must see these things and hear them,

Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,

Carnage incomparable and human squander

Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.

 

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented

Back into their brains, because on their sense

Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;

Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.

—Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,

Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.

—Thus their hands are plucking at each other;

Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;

Snatching after us who smote them, brother,

Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

Such indeed was my state, and the state of my fellow survivors, when we returned from our expedition; but as we do not doubt the reality of the war because it has broken a soldier's mind, so I hope you will not doubt the reality of my account, though unquestionably it did, for a while, break me.

 

II

The expedition was organized by Boston University, no doubt in part for the publicity it might bring. It came in response to claims, repeated with increasing sensationalism by the yellow press in the fall of 1937, of a mysterious island sighted in the Bellingshausen Sea, off the coast of Antarctica. The accounts - for which no credible source could be discovered, with some at the university quietly suspecting they had been entirely fabricated - ranged from merely describing an unknown, strangely-shaped landmass to detailing the presence of ancient stone structures. It was, of course, the latter idea that inflamed the public imagination, aided by a blurry photograph that might, in all honesty, have been anything.

How I wish I could determine the origin of this story! Though we investigated it before we left, our explicit instructions were "not to look too hard" - the opportunity was too good, and even if the story turned out to be false, the expedition itself might prove valuable. Such is the state of science in the modern world, that an opportunity to seek understanding must be gained through trickery and politicking.

But it would be hypocrisy of the highest order to claim that I was not then myself part of the problem. You see, I was a philologist, in the original sense of the word: a lover of the word. I treasured above all else stories, myths, poetry - all that is divine about human thought, or so I then believed. Perhaps it would be accurate to call me a Romantic, with little time for human science and industry.

It was the Romantic in me, then, who caused me to join the expedition. I had written several papers on the recurring motif of "lost worlds" - Atlantis, Mu, Agartha, the Plateau of Leng, and so forth - in works ranging from classical antiquity to Theosophy to (somewhat controversially) the stories published in pulp magazines. My participation would allow me to write either about the discovery of a true lost world, or - more likely - the strange psychological impulses that lead us to return to this myth again and again, even as modernity has stripped away much of the mystery that defined previous ages of discovery.

The expedition was led by one Professor Chambers, a good-natured geologist prone to bouts of uncontrolled enthusiasm. Other notable members included Professor Emerson, a loud-mouthed biologist intent on studying Antarctica's unique fossil record, Professor Johnson, a stern but respectable physicist, and Shklovski, a quiet Russian-born geographer. Our ship, a former whaler named the MV Pontus, was commanded by the avaricious and deeply unpleasant Captain Tremaine, to whom I took an immediate dislike. There were also any number of sailors, assistants, and - naturally - various students who had foolishly volunteered in hopes of academic recognition.

You may be aware that there exists at many universities, and in the academic life in general, a kind of childish antagonism between the social and physical sciences. To them, our work is meaningless babble; to us, their science is superficial, neglectful of the human spirit. All of us, apart from Shklovski, were prone to such opinions, and as a result I spent much of the journey in my cabin, working on a book about the great nautical writers, with particular attention paid to Melville and the unjust treatment of his work by his contemporary critics. There was little difference between my cabin and my excessively small office at the university, so although we were moving ever further from humanity and civilization, I felt as if my everyday life were continuing uninterrupted. Only when vast icebergs began to drift by my window, some of them so great that one might imagine entire cities could be built upon them, did I realize we had left the world I knew behind.

 

III

As the location of the island as described in the press was vague at best, we were forced to search according to an ingenious pattern devised by Shklovski, the details of which I cannot claim to understand. In any case, we spent days doing this, during which time tempers began to fray, culminating in a fistfight between Emerson and one of the sailors. The sailor had taken Emerson for a weakling due to the man's profession and tendency to speak too much, but that was a foolish assumption; Emerson had grown up in poverty in West Virginia, the son of a coal-miner, and for all his academic knowledge and refined language, he fought like a professional pugilist. Suffice it to say, it did not end well for the sailor, which greatly endeared Emerson to the rest of the crew, who disliked the sailor for his thuggishness and subservience to Captain Tremaine. I must admit I felt some jealousy, then, for Emerson expressed a kind of truly American dynamism that my more reticent nature denied me, though the Romantic in me longed for it.

I note all these details so as to accurately describe the mental state we found ourselves in when we came upon the island. It is true that we were not in the best of spirits; but we were not, as I have heard claimed, lost, hungry, or on the verge of madness. If anything, from the moment we sighted the island, everyone's spirits lifted immensely and a surge of enthusiasm swept the boat.

It was Chambers who spied it first, which was unsurprising, as he was the most convinced of its existence, and spent the most time on deck or staring out through the portholes. He came running down to the mess, where the rest of us were assembling for breakfast, shouting incoherently. When we realized what he was trying to say, we followed him to the port deck. At first we thought he had been wrong, and all we were seeing was a particularly large iceberg, but then Chambers pointed out what appeared to be stone cliffs, and what he thought might be structures. Shklovski agreed, which swayed the rest of us. Chambers ordered Tremaine to head straight for the island.

As we drew closer, excitement grew. It was becoming apparent that Chambers was right. The island did not exist on any of our maps, and it certainly wasn't an iceberg. Whether the straight lines we saw atop the cliffs were artificial or natural was another issue, but one that could be cleared up soon enough. It would take us some time to reach the island and to find a good place to drop anchor, but we were well-rested and the sun was always in the sky, so we began to prepare for our first landing.

 

IV

The island was surrounded by steep cliffs and treacherous currents. When we finally found a large but well-protected bay to lay anchor in, several hours had passed, and we were itching to start exploring; Emerson joked that Chambers was ready to just swim to the island. As soon as the nautical procedures were complete, a small group of us - including myself, Emerson, Chambers, Shklovski, five or six sailors and two young students whose names escape me - rowed to shore in small wooden boats, taking with us a batch of scientific equipment, climbing gear, supplies, and tents.

The cliffs were steep and of a strange dark color, a kind of rich grey I find hard to adequately describe, and which the photographs we took do not properly evoke. Beneath the cliffs stretched a beach of rough pebbles; this beach was devoid of all life, even such as one may find in Antarctica, but as we drew closer, we saw that the numerous splotches of white, which we had previously taken for ice, were in fact skeletons. As soon as the first boat touched land, Emerson burst forth like a cannonball, followed by Chambers. Emerson headed for the nearest skeleton; Chambers headed for the cliffs, to examine the nature of the exposed rock. He was the author of a world-renowned monograph on the different types of geological strata, precisely the sort of work I looked down upon as illuminating nothing valuable about the human condition.

The others, likewise, all busied themselves with their respective specialities. Strangely, only I looked up. What I saw froze me in place, shivering with a premonition that seemed instinctive, ancestral.

Emerson began loudly exclaiming that the skeletons were most unusual - his excitement so genuine that a trace of his natural accent, suppressed at the university, slipped back into his words. These animals had been seals and penguins, he said, but of a kind no-one had ever encountered before. Strangely, few of them seemed to match up, each skeleton having unique features, as if each and every one of them represented a new unknown species. Moreover, some of the unusual shapes in the bone structure seemed very hard to explain rationally. But could so many animals in one place all bear terrible deformities? What could cause such a thing?

Chambers, meanwhile, was both excited and confused. The stone, he proclaimed with a puzzled expression, was unlike any he'd ever seen before, rich with fossils of creatures he could not recognize. He asked Emerson to come take a look, but Emerson noticed me staring at the top of the cliffs, and turned to look. Then he fell silent, and this was unusual enough for all the others to look as well.

The straight lines we had seen, which the others had forgotten in all the excitement, were artificial. They were a wall.

 

V

Strange fossils and deformed skeletons suddenly seemed secondary. Here, in a region of the Earth no-one had visited for millennia, where even in today's technological age only few dared venture, stood a massive fortification that would have been the envy of any of the great civilizations of the ancient world. Who had built it, and why? Though elements of its design immediately led one to think of cultures as varied as the Egyptians, the Chinese, or the Mayans, even from this first look it was possible to tell that it belonged to none of them.

We felt a profound awe; but I also felt a terror I could not explain. I was caught between wanting to know what was beyond that wall, and wanting to run as fast as I could. I might in fact have run, or might have stayed locked between impulses forever, if Shklovski hadn't suddenly pointed to the eastern part of the cliffs. There, carved into the strange dark rock, were stairs.

The plan had been to establish a very basic camp on the beach, then carefully scale the cliffs and proceed inland. The existence of the stairs disrupted that plan. Emerson wanted to proceed upwards immediately, but Chambers wanted to further examine the rocks. Shklovski stayed out of it; I wondered whether he was experiencing the same primal fear as I was. Finally, it was agreed that Emerson and myself, along with one of the students and two of the sailors, would go and "have a look." Emerson swore it would be no more than that, but it was clear he did not mean it.

We ascended the stairs carefully, although they seemed to be in nearly perfect condition despite their apparent age. It took some time; the cliffs were frighteningly high. I have never suffered from acrophobia, but during that ascent, I was haunted by frightful images of falling to my death that still sometimes trouble my dreams. But unlike my dreams, the actual ascent did not present any problems, and we reached the top without anything terrible happening.

The stairs led directly to the base of the wall, which was built out of blocks of stone that would put the pyramids to shame. How could any ancient culture have built this structure, particularly in so remote and inhospitable a place? It was baffling and unsettling.

Further on, a second set of steps ascended the wall. We headed for these, looking down occasionally, seeing the other men building a camp on the beach. They seemed further away than they were, as if we had ascended to another world. That feeling of separation from known reality, however, only fully set in when we ascended the final part of the way and looked over the wall onto the vast plateau that was the heart of the island.

 

VI

Surrounded by the wall we had just climbed stood a vast necropolis of gargantuan buildings and half-crumbled statues, whose size and splendor, even in ruin, matched that of humanity's greatest accomplishments. I found myself murmuring, under my breath, the words of Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

As with the walls, even more so with the city itself, the style of the architecture seemed at once familiar and entirely alien. What people of antiquity could have built this vision? I felt as if we had entered a region of myth, and the most likely answer was - this city was built by the mighty Cyclopes of legend, with stone blocks carried by flocks of Pegasi. Yet even that fancy seemed inadequate, for this city surely predated even those beings.

Emerson wanted to have a closer look; curiosity overwhelmed me, and I agreed. He and the student headed for what appeared to be a temple, or at least somehow evoked the idea of a temple in our minds: a structure at least three stories high, its entrance surrounded by pillars. Shklovski and I headed for one of the crumbled statues, which stood upon a base almost as large as the MV Pontus herself.

Only the feet of the statue still stood. The rest had fallen backwards and shattered, destroying several buildings in the process. From the look of it, this had happened a long time ago, but it is not always easy to tell in such a frozen land. The base of the statue held a lengthy inscription, which was why I had agreed to Emerson's proposal that we explore further - I desperately wanted to know what manner of writing this civilization employed.

I stared at the writing for a long time as Shklovski attempted to reconstruct the shape of the statue from its fragments. He walked around with his sketchpad, taking notes, while I brooded.

Allow me to explain. Not all philologists are linguists; not all linguists are polyglots. But it so happened that, due to my interest in certain ancient myths, I had spent a good many years learning some of the most ancient languages known to man, so that I might read the foundational texts of our mythologies without the distortions of translation.

The language on this immense pedestal was not any of these ancient languages; yet it seemed to be all of them. I could never have imagined such a thing on my own, despite all my knowledge, but seeing it now everything fell into place. This proto-language was the missing link between all human languages, the root of words spoken continents and millennia apart. This, too, was the origin of writing; the First Language, foundation of all that I treasured. No-one without my specialized knowledge could have understood this, but I could almost read it.

My reverie was broken by Shklovski, who returned with a complete sketch of the statue. His face was ashen. Looking at the sketch, I did not understand. It seemed to be a rather bad, distorted image of a man holding a rod. Shklovski was a talented artist; why had he drawn the man with a strangely elongated head, unusually long arms, and a decidedly unlikely torso? Judging from the feet, this statue was of a realistic kind, not abstract like the mysterious statues common in Cycladic art. Had the poor man let the fear we had both felt overwhelm his senses?

I looked at Shklovski again, and I saw in the clarity of his eyes that he was entirely rational. Only then did the abhorrent thought my mind had clearly attempted to suppress manifest itself, and I stared at the fragments of the statue, trembling. No, I thought, this could not be. These were men, men such as ourselves. Nothing else was possible!

As if struck by the same idea, the same need, Shklovski and I began to run, looking for another statue like drowning men looking for air. Finally we found a statue that had fallen, but not broken. From behind, it seemed like any statue you would expect to come across in an archaeological site, save for its unusual size. But when we rounded it to see its front, Shklovski screamed - or perhaps it was I. These were statues of men, indeed, but not not men such as ourselves. Though surely they were of the genus Homo, they were not Homo sapiens.

 

VII

The one man who might be able to answer the myriad questions that flooded our minds until we could barely speak was nowhere to be found. Neither Emerson nor the student who had accompanied him answered our calls, though all was silent and our voices echoed amongst the dead monuments. We entered the temple they had headed for, thinking its thick walls might have kept them from hearing us, but they did not seem to be present.

The walls of the temple were covered in murals depicting the history of these non-human hominids, with extensive writing in the proto-language we seemed to have inherited from them. I wanted to study these, which surely were the most remarkable cultural find of the century, if not all time, but Shklovski and I were now getting seriously worried about the wellbeing of our fellow explorers. At the back of the temple, where the shadows were deepest, we discovered a seemingly bottomless pool of unfrozen water, above which hovered a thin, inexplicable mist. This unsettled us deeply, in the same manner as the sight of the city walls had earlier, but we approached as far as we dared. At the edge of the pool we saw a piece of cloth that looked suspiciously like Emerson's scarf; further objects, which might be other articles of clothing, were floating in the dark water. On the smooth rock that surrounded the pool, there was a single wet footstep, as if someone standing in the pool had hesitated, taken a step back before plunging in.

I do not know what impossible phantoms were haunting Shklovski's mind at that moment, whether he was imagining the same terrifying scenarios as I was, or whether he was managing to keep the demoniac aspects of his brain under control, but we both agreed that immediate retreat was our only option. We moved briskly, not fully acknowledging what we both feared, but heading back to the safety of other human beings as quickly as safety allowed.

As we descended the stairs, we heard the agitated ramblings of Chambers echoing up at us. The one word continuously repeated in his monologue was one I had thought frequently in the last few hours: "impossible." He was not speaking about the necropolis, however, but about something seemingly far more mundane: rock. The usual warmth of his enthusiasm had been replaced by something bordering on hysteria. When we finally reached the camp, he grabbed me by the shoulders, asking me over and over where Emerson was. I tried to respond, but he did not have the patience or the mental stability to listen to a complex explanation. There was too much iridium, he shouted. Entirely too much iridium! And he could not recognize the fossils, not at all. He needed a biologist to tell him that he was wrong.

It was Johnson, the stern physicist whom I barely knew, who managed to calm everyone down. He came over from the ship and announced loudly that we were behaving like savages, not scientists. That insult cut deep, and it was to defend our pride that we finally set aside our fears and began to talk. Chambers, in carefully picked words, clarified that he suspected we were standing on a piece of land that was not of the Earth, but the result of an ancient impact on our planet. Asked to guess the point in time when this had occurred, he estimated at least two and a half million years, in the Pleiocene Epoch.

At this point I spoke up, and with Shklovski's help outlined what we had discovered. The others evidently found it difficult to believe our assertions regarding the hominids who had built the necropolis; they also could not understand our terror at what we found in the temple. And I will admit that in the bright sunlight, in the presence of friends and allies, it was hard to fully recollect that feeling. Perhaps our companions had just gotten lost somewhere in the ruins, and what we'd seen was merely our imagination playing tricks on us. Shklovski seemed less reassured. It was agreed by all, however, that finding Emerson and the missing student should be our first priority.

More men came over from the boat and about twenty of us returned to the necropolis to search for our fellows. As we ascended, we were full of determination, but when we crossed the wall and the ruins stood before us, silence fell over the group. I have heard of people being overcome with awe upon seeing the pyramids of Egypt, or the Parthenon, or the Roman Colosseum; what we saw before us dwarfed these in size and antiquity, and despite the great difference in form, somehow matched in dignity and beauty the greatest of the Graeco-Roman works, which I would count as the most accomplished yet conceived by Homo sapiens.

This time it was a sailor who broke us out of another strange state of mind, by employing a rather colorful swearword that I won't repeat here. We laughed, and I feel grateful to him still for that one moment. I wish I remembered his name, as I wish I remembered the name of the student who had gone missing with Emerson. If one of you reading this has access to the expedition's documents, I would kindly ask you to inform me, as knowing their names would bring me a certain degree of peace.

We split up into half a dozen groups and began surveying the necropolis as best we could. Shklovski and an assistant began walking the wall and attempting to create a map of the city. Myself, Johnson, Chambers, and the cursing sailor, returned to the temple-like structure. The mist hovering over the pool was gone, as were the floating objects. The footstep had dried. But Emerson's scarf was still present, proving we had not been hallucinating. The sailor walked up the pool and stuck his hand in. I tried to warn him, but it was all too quick, and I'm not certain what I would have said. As it was, he merely commented that the pool was cold and deep, and that if Emerson had somehow ended up at its bottom, we would require a diving suit to retrieve him.

The notion of anyone entering the pool terrified me, but since it seemed likely that something had happened to Emerson here, I sent the sailor back to the ship to retrieve the diving equipment. Not long after he was gone, we heard a peculiar howling, which we soon realized was a gale blowing between the ruins; a storm was upon us.

 

VIII

The storm was of such suddenness and intensity that we were forced to take shelter wherever we were. In our case, that meant staying inside the temple. The temperature dropped precipitously. There was nothing to do but wait.

As the hours passed, I began a rough translation of the writing on the temple walls, aided by the stylized but remarkably detailed images. What I found unsettled me to the very core my being. I will attempt to recount my findings here, but it is my hope that a better translation could be produced by linguistic experts studying the photographs I took. I would be glad to assist in such a project.

The story told in the ancient words and images was that of a great civilization that arose long before modern humanity, on a continent now lost to the sea. Like us, they struggled upwards from humble roots, rising from ape-like being living in caves to become civilized beings living first in villages, then towns, then cities. They placed great value upon the development of the spirit, which to them encompassed both the sciences and the arts. They explored the other continents, where they found less developed peoples; they described twelve different species. I wished again for Emerson's expertise; Chambers, who knew a little of paleoanthropology, suggested that one of the images on the wall looked like Homo habilis, one of our ancestors.

The discovery of the primitive peoples caused a great conflict within the ancient society. Two factions emerged: one advocated subjugating them, the other considered them intelligent beings deserving of freedom. A terrible civil war followed, in which the anti-imperialist faction was victorious - but the victory rang hollow. Many cities had fallen, millions had died, and the infrastructure of the land was in crippling disrepair.

All might have been well, had a new star not then appeared in the sky. It would seem that the ancients had great knowledge of astronomical matters; they considered this star not like the others, which are constant and reliable, but similar in character to the planets, which wander about the heavens. Their scientists, using equipment much like our own, calculated that it was on an orbit entirely unlike that of the other planets. Here Johnson helped me, because of my own regrettably limited knowledge of scientific matters. All the planets we know so far, including the recently-discovered Pluto, rotate around the sun on the same plane. But scientists have long speculated about the existence of another trans-Neptunian planet, moving at an orbit perpendicular to that plane, in an elliptical orbit that takes it to the furthest reaches of the solar system, only returning from the outer darkness once in many thousands of years.

It was precisely such a planet that the ancients discovered, calling it - if I translated the sounds correctly - Yuggoth. They also discovered that its orbit was such that only upon the rarest occasions did it come close enough for the sun to have any effect upon it. But that year was such a time, and when it entered the regions of the sun, a piece of Yuggoth was expelled towards the Earth.

The destruction caused by the impact was devastating. Waves as high as mountains swallowed much of the ancient homeland. Even this the ancient civilization might have survived, given time; but something had come down from Yuggoth. It began as a growth, a fungus of some kind, but little attention was paid to it, understandable given the situation. Things began to change; a strange mist was seen, and rumours of monstrous creatures. The imperialist faction, defeated but not gone, seized upon this, claiming Yuggoth was the home of the gods, and the star that fell from the sky a warning that they were on the wrong path. Some took this further, claiming that the gods had sent them a way of ascending, of becoming more than the inferior beings who had failed to conquer the primitives. They embraced the transformation, becoming abominations that wreaked havoc upon their fellow hominids.

There followed one final war, in which the best and brightest of the ancients devised a way to stop the growth of the alien infection; but the price of victory was unimaginable. In some manner I cannot fully understand - to translate their scientific terminology would require far more time - they created an opposite to the virus, a kind of poison.

I had called the place a necropolis because of its eerie emptiness; I had been more right than I could have known! This was their last monument, a celebration of their history and a warning to the future. They had destroyed themselves to save the other races of the Earth.

 

IX

When things go wrong, they often go wrong rapidly. So it was that day. Just as the storm was abating, still lost in thought as I considered the writings of the ancients, I heard a dripping sound. The others had fallen asleep, having been awake longer than they'd realized in Antarctica's permanent sunlight. So, as I was the only one awake, much of the blame is mine. I ignored the dripping, thinking it had been caused by the storm.

Emerson and the missing student had risen from the pool. They were not as they had once been. I only caught a glimpse of the student as he grabbed Chambers and dragged him into the water; I will swear by all that I value, however, that the poor man had turned into some manner of abominable fish-creature, so deformed that I doubted he would live long. Emerson I saw more clearly as he fell upon the sleeping men; his arm was no longer human, but could only be described as a claw, not unlike that of a crab. His skin, too, was changing.

He tore through the men like they were made of paper; I have never seen so much blood. Only Johnson survived; he was sleeping further away than the others. Emerson turned to face me. I knew then that it was time to make my peace with God; but as he approached me, Emerson hesitated. For an instant, there was something human in his eyes, and he spoke one single word to me: run, he said. And I did, managing to grab only one roll of film.

Johnson and I screamed as we ran, trying to warn the others. Emerson was following us, his humanity extinguished. Shklovski joined us, fleeing from another creature, one that had once been his assistant. We ran towards the stairs that led to the beach, but at the top of the wall our way was blocked. It was the sailor I had sent to retrieve the diving suit. He was still holding it, though his hands were twisted, transforming into something alien.

I wondered, for a second, what we would have found at the bottom of that pool. I thought this might be my final thought, but Johnson did something remarkable: he threw himself at the creature. I do not know if he intended for both of them to go over the edge of the wall, but I think he did. It was the sort of man he was - stern, dedicated, putting what was necessary before what he wanted, like those other humans (and they were human, though they were not us) of so long ago.

More creatures came following us, but many of them seemed deformed like the fish-man I'd seen. Running past the bones on the beach, I thought that this might be their cause - some lessened form of the infection, or some remainder of the poison. These, apart perhaps from Emerson, were not quite the creatures that had destroyed the ancient civilization; but they were enough to destroy us, so we fled.

I wish the story ended here, but there is one more event I must describe, as it relates directly to my credibility. When Shklovski and I had reached the ship, we realized to our horror that there were three more survivors on the island: two of the sailors and an assistant. They appeared on the top of the wall, waving and shouting, fighting off the creatures using some of the equipment we'd brought as makeshift weapons. I told Captain Tremaine not to go, to give them time; there was a chance that they might survive. But he, having none of the humanity so many of the others had demonstrated during this hellish journey, turned the ship around and left.

When I realized what he was doing - when I heard their screams as they fought their way down the stairs, begging us not to leave them - my mind finally snapped. I remember it as something that happened to another man; as if I was outside myself. I took hold of Captain Tremaine and beat his head against the ship's wheel with such force that I heard his skull crack. I repeated this action multiple times, until Captain Tremaine was no more. The next thing I remember is the sanitarium.

 

X

Allow me one final remark. The last image I saw in the temple, the one that accompanied the description of why the ancients chose to sacrifice themselves, was a symbol familiar to us from our own mythology, no doubt derived from dimly-remembered encounters with their people: the phoenix, rising from the ashes. When they made that impossible choice, they expected themselves to die; but they did not expect humanity to die. They expected their civilization to end, but not all civilization. They had fought a war to guarantee our freedom, and they died so we could flourish. They believed in the betterment of the spirit, through art and science; they expected us to carry forward that work.

There is only one human species left now; there are no second chances, no others to defend the human spirit. But Yuggoth is still out there, waiting in the darkness; and terrible things may still linger under the ice of our own planet. Sooner or later, this threat will come again, and we must be prepared. We must increase our technology and our powers of production to the outmost; we must invest heavily in science, in understanding the methods by which such threats can be countered. And we must not neglect the other side of the human spirit - we must embrace our humanity, in its infinite beauty and variety.

We will need these things when the darkness comes again.

 

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are —

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Jonas Kyratzes