The Book of Emrys (Unreviewed)
The Somber Starlight Roadhouse didn’t seem like a creepy motel when I pulled into it. Quite the contrary, in fact. I thought it was nice, or at least, far from the worst place I had ever stayed in.
It had an adjacent gas station & convenience store, a diner, and a heated pool with a built-in jacuzzi in the back. There was a gravel parking lot for transport trucks that separated the motel from the neighbouring Somber Creek Trailer Park, and the lot must have been a drive-in theater at some point since it still had a movie screen up. It was in pretty good condition too, enough to make me wonder if they ever still had screenings on it.
The Roadhouse itself was at the intersection of two county highways, one of which connected to the provincial highway system, and it was only a short drive from both the small city of Sombermorey to the south and the cottage country up north by Samhnair Lake. It was in a good spot to lure in passersby, and as I drove past the bright blue sign advertising 99 dollar-a-night rooms in the pouring rain, I found myself turning in.
I had been planning to keep driving for a few more hours until I got home, but the weather had been worse than I had been expecting. I didn’t know how much worse it would get or where the next rest stop would be, so I decided to get a room rather than risk driving in a thunderstorm.
When I pulled into the parking lot, the rain was coming down so hard I could see it splashing in the pool, and hear it pelting against the metal roofs of the other vehicles. I raced under the cloisters as quickly as I could, but still got partially soaked before I managed to duck into the main office.
The man at the front desk – a tall, middle-aged First Nation’s man who happened to be the owner and introduced himself as Leon – was happy to rent me a room for the night, albeit on some unconventional conditions.
He advised me that if my neighbours or any of the other guests should disturb me, that I was to call the front desk rather than confront them directly. I was not to bother any of the other guests either, and he said this in a tone that made it clear this rule was for my safety. All the doors shut and locked automatically, I was not allowed to prop my door open, and I wasn’t to open it for anyone without a key card. He suggested I not leave my room between midnight and dawn, and most especially not to use the pool during those hours. If I saw a girl skinny dipping in the pool in the middle of the night, I was not to acknowledge her in any way. The basement was completely off-limits, and if I saw anybody go down there, even if they had a key and looked like they worked for the Roadhouse, I was to call the front desk and report it. If I saw a movie playing on the screen in the parking lot, I was to close my curtains and report that as well.
And finally, if any previous guests had left anything behind that the maids how somehow missed, I was once again to report it straight to the front desk and not handle it myself.
Check-out was at eleven.
“Ah, what kind of guests do you usually get here?” I asked anxiously, suddenly doubting if taking shelter from the storm here was really the preferable option.
“All kinds,” he smirked, handing me my key card and a voucher for a complimentary breakfast at the diner. “Enjoy your stay, sir.”
Reluctantly, I took the key and headed up to the second-floor room I had been assigned. It was completely unremarkable and not even worth describing, aside from that the rear window offered a view of the Harrowick Woods across the highway. I’m sure that under better circumstances, such a view probably would have been pleasant enough, but dark silhouettes of trees swaying and creaking in the howling wind were not something I was in the mood for then, so I drew the blinds down.
I grabbed an overly fluffy towel from the bathroom and dried myself off before settling in. The owner’s odd rules had left me a little paranoid, so I conducted a quick search of the room for anything out of the ordinary, even looking under the beds as though I were checking for monsters.
After finding nothing, I was starting to relax and ready to dismiss the owner’s concerns as just the result of being at his job for too long.
But then I found it.
I pulled open the top drawer of the nightstand and saw what at first glance I assumed was just a Gideon’s Bible. But as I peered down at the crimson, leather-bound cover, I saw that the darkly imprinted words did not say 'Holy Bible'.
They said, ‘The Book of Emrys’.
Beneath the title was an emblem of three interlocking ouroboroses, snakes eating their own tails. It was undeniable someone had left it behind, and I had not so quickly forgotten the rules Leon had given me.
But, I was curious. It was only a book, after all. What harm could it do to read it?
I picked it up cautiously, some irrational corner of my mind fearing it was some kind of Necronomicon or something, but nothing supernatural occurred when I touched it. It gave off no aura of malice, did not speak to me in furtive whispers, grew no eldritch tentacles to flay my soul.
And so, I read.
“The Book of Emrys. In this World, there is only Light, and Darkness is naught but the deficit thereof. But this is not true across all Worlds. In another World, an Elder World, a World older than our own, there was and is only Darkness. A deep and thick miasma of utter black, churning and bubbling like turbulent storm clouds above a wine-dark sea. Thundering without lightning, wailing and moaning as It shifts unbound and rudderless across Endless Void.
“The Darkness does not remember when It first awoke, nor can It even say there was such a thing as time before It first perceived its passage. Vortices of thought began to form from the Darkness, and it is likely that many of these dissipated before the first stable web of thoughts could emerge, ever-growing in size and complexity until It was the Darkness, and the Darkness was It, and it no longer made sense to speak of them as separate beings.
“This is how Gods are born, from the primeval chaos of their own cosmoses, weaving and carving themselves out from those ancient Timeless Depths. The Darkness is not the God of our World, nor did It even desire Worlds other than Its own to rule at first. Why fracture itself into a myriad of lesser spiritual avatars, when it could remain whole? Why spawn an innumerable host of ensouled beings to fight and bicker when It could retain dominion over Its own World unchallenged? No, The Darkness remained intact and alone, content simply to meditate on Itself, for all eternity if need be, until It deemed Itself perfect; a God worthy of the title.
“Long ago in our World, there was a King. A Celtic King, most say, though it's impossible to know for certain. In his youth, he was a mighty warrior and conquered many neighbouring tribes. He was feared by his enemies and kinfolk alike for his martial skill, brute strength, and sheer pitilessness. Those he slain on the battlefield were fortunate, for when he had the luxury, he would most commonly flay the hides of those who opposed him, their agonized screams and deformed bodies a testament to the price of disobedience.
“For years he ravaged the countryside and the flesh of his victims with impunity in equal measure, assured that no man could harm him, and that his reign was secure. But, as the years went by, he began to feel the strength wane from his limbs, his fervour lessen, his bones begin to ache. It was a truth he had long denied but could deny no longer. Time itself was slowly killing him, and if it did not finish him off itself, it would at the very least usurp enough of his might to allow a foe to slay him in battle.
“His own body no longer enough to keep him in power forever, he sought protection from the gods. He consulted with the Druids, pressed and threatened them for whatever arcane knowledge they held secret, and made many offerings to many gods in many sacred groves. After years of unanswered prayers and vain sacrifices, he forsook the gods of his tribe and vowed to seek mightier gods. He sought the mightiest god that there was, and he decided that that must be the god of Darkness, for what could possibly be older than Darkness itself? Was Darkness not the default state of the World, present everyone unless meticulously kept at bay, ever ready to reclaim its lost territory as soon as the sun set or the fire died?
“The King decided to venture deep underground, down into the caves that his tribe had long believed to be haunted and the gateway to the Underworld. He sought to go as far below the Earth as he could, so as to find a place of primeval, virginal Darkness, that had never once been sullied by light. For that, he thought, must be the oldest and greatest Darkness of all. He didn’t even bring a torch with him out of fear of contaminating the pristine Darkness he so lusted for. He fumbled blindly through the caves, likely nearly falling to his death more than once, until he felt certain that no man had ever gone so deep down, and that no light had ever befouled the Darkness around him.
“There, in the silence, in the unchanging temperature, and in the dark, the King sat and meditated, resolved not to move from that spot until he had achieved enlightenment.
“Days passed, then weeks, and months, and some even say years, and all thought for certain that the King was dead and rejoiced. But in the monotonous Darkness of that deep cave, the King lost all sense of time, and he entered a deep meditative trance. The timelessness of his mind encompassed his body as well. He no longer had need of food or drink, nor did his muscles waste from their long disuse, and even his flesh ceased to age, as he had so desperately desired.
"His mind though became attuned to the essence of the Darkness around him, and when he projected his consciousness out into the cosmos, that dark essence is what he was drawn to. His spirit crossed the Veil to the Astral Plane, and it fell far. It fell below the Underworld, below Tartarus, below even the taproots of the World Tree itself. And when his soul was at the uttermost bottom of all Creation, he dug. With his bare hands, he dug, sensing that the god he sought was just on the other side. He dug without rest or respite, for what felt like an eternity until he finally broke through to the other side.
“The King was the first soul that the Darkness had ever encountered, and before he could even open his mouth to praise It for Its greatness, It flayed his soul as the King had flayed his enemies. The King’s conscious awareness was ripped from the rest of his mind and cast out to drift in the Darkness for all eternity, while the Darkness wore the King’s soul like a sock puppet, gaining all his knowledge and emotions, including his will for conquest.
“It was then that the King’s possessed soul returned to his body, and he awoke from his long mediation. The King was no longer the King anymore, of course, but the avatar of a dark God from outside our World, and the dark miasma leaked from every orifice. The body remained in its timeless state, unchanging and not subject to age or peril. And thus, those who first beheld this new King named him Emrys; Immortal.
“Emrys’s powers were beyond all reason, for the Darkness had long ago learned how to control the laws of Its own World, and it was not hard for Emrys to learn to apply this skill to ours. Both physical and astral matter could be transfigured or transmuted into one another seemingly without limit, the forces of nature suspended or modified on a whim, time and space as malleable as melted wax.
“But no power was more horrifying than his ability to flay minds and souls, to take what he wanted from them and discard the rest as one would discard seeds from a fruit. His encounters with mortals, though terrifying, were brief. The physical plane was primitive and sparsely peopled in those days, and Emrys soon turned his conquest towards the Astral Plane and the gods who ruled it.
"These gods were the astral avatars of the Divine Oversoul that permeates all Creation, the supreme, aloof, nigh deistic Creator who alone can claim the title of God. To flay the souls of the lesser gods was thus to flay the soul of God Almighty, and Emrys could claim our World as his own.
“The old gods proved harder to flay than mortal souls though, and Emrys was long held at bay by the fortitude of the Sky Father. The Mighty Thunderer, clad in his resplendent armour atop his many-hoofed steed, battled tirelessly against the Emrys. Emrys himself could not be vanquished, and yet the divinely forged armour rendered the Sky Father’s soul unflayable to him. And thus, their battle was one of attrition.
“Polymetis, the Machine God and Divine Smith, believed he could craft silver chains capable of binding Emrys, but he would first need a drop of his blood, something even the might of the Sky Father was unable to draw. It was The Maiden, daughter and Ever-young avatar of the Earth Mother, who found a way to do it. Fairest Persephone, Dread Persephone, Goddess of Spring and Queen of the Underworld, used her unique understanding of and power over both life and death to create the Emrys Rose, an astral flower whose thorns alone could pierce his eldritch hide and draw forth his strange ichor.
“When the Rose was ready, Fairest Persephone sprinted into the battle of the two celestial patriarchs, pleading for peace and presenting the Rose to Emrys as an offering. As eldritch and ineffable as the Darkness may have been, part of Emrys had once belonged to the old King, had once been a man, and that part was soothed and lulled by the beauty of Persephone. Her tears and pleas stirred some semblance of pity in his heart, just enough for him to reach out for the flower in her hand.
“The instant he touched it, his finger was pricked upon its thorns, and evermore did he bare an eternally unhealing wound upon that finger. The droplet of blue blood condensed upon the thorn, and the Rose’s red petals were turned to purple, for its very essence was contaminated by that strange and ungodly ichor. Dread Persephone smiled, and swiftly fled back to Polymetis so that he could forge the chains.
“Emrys, too shocked at the sight of his blue blood seeping from his indestructible form, did nothing at first, and when he moved to flay Persephone, it was too late, for the Sky Father was already upon him once more. The Sky Father continued to fight valiantly and kept dark Emrys subdued while Polymetis crafted those mighty hallowed chains, and when they were complete it was he who bound Emrys while the Sky Father held him down. Seven Chains had been made in total; one for each limb, his waist, his neck, and the final chain was used as a leash to drag him towards the Celestial Ocean that borders the Astral Plane, where the Sky Father tossed him into the gaping maw of the World Serpent Ophion.
“Bound by these chains, Emrys was no longer the flayer of souls, and his other powers were greatly subdued as well, so much so that he could no longer challenge the gods. He could not force his way out of the dark pit of Ophion’s stomach, nor could he induce the Great Serpent to wretch him up. But Emrys could still cry out to Great Ophion, and Ophion would later pass these secrets down to those of our order.
“Though Emrys’s true form is trapped inside of Ophion until The End Of Days, it is possible to summon physical and astral projections. Emrys’ physical form is now bound by chains of our own making, material recreations of the immaterial chains that bind his astral form. For centuries now we have summoned him, bound him, and used him for our own purposes. This tome contains all the knowledge we have extracted from him thus far, as well as accounts of some of the more eventful summonings.
“Learn its contents at your own peril.”
That was the end of the introduction, and only when I finished did I realize that I had been reading it out loud. I tried to turn the page, but to my dismay, I found that I was suddenly and inexplicably paralyzed. I could only move my eyes, and when I looked up, I saw him.
Tall and gaunt, dark hair and translucent skin, clad in regal furs and penal chains; it was Emrys. The black vapour wafting out of every orifice in his face left no question that this was the entity I had just read about. He reached for the book, and as he pulled it from my hands, I could see that the tip of his index finger was wrapped in dark linen, covering a thorn prick that would never heal.
“My ears were burning,” he chuckled, despite his ears being the only visible orifices not fuming black smoke. “Do pardon the intrusion. I was set free upon this plane a few moons ago, and I’ve been eavesdropping for mentions of anything that may be of use to me. It may be interesting to see what knowledge the Ooo has collected on me.”
He flipped back a few pages to the beginning of the introduction, and slowly ran his pricked finger along it like he was a blind man reading Braille.
“So pompous. So biblical. So like them to start with a creation myth,” he muttered with a slight shake of his head. “And like so many myths, it takes quite a few artistic liberties with the empirical facts. Calling It ‘Darkness’ utterly fails to capture Its true alienness to your World, not to mention confusing since they used the term Darkness to refer to a number of other metaphorical dark entities and forces. They gloss over the King far too briefly to do him justice. The brute they paint him as here could never have mastered astral projection as he did, and the Darkness took nothing from him; it was a willing sacrifice for power. And Persephone’s the hero here, is she? She alone was clever enough to draw my blood, and because I was a sucker for a blonde, I just let her do it?”
He scoffed and bitterly snapped the book shut.
“Old Jove did put up a hell of a fight though, I’ll grant him that,” he conceded.
Even though I was paralyzed, I was shaking. My body was screaming for action – to fight, to flee, to scream for help, anything – but I was completely powerless, completely at this being’s mercy.
And when I looked into his nebulous black eyes, I saw that there was none.
Emrys held his right hand aloft, and more miasma began to exude from the pores of his palm, condensing into a medusa head of whip-like tendrils, eagerly darting in all directions in search of prey.
“The term ‘soul-flaying’ is also tragically inadequate,” he mused. “To have your core sense of consciousness torn from your brain, your mind, even your astral soul and then absorbed into something so inconceivably eldritch as my Darkness? That is a horror that not even the gods, let alone you, can comprehend without having experienced it. You won't remember anything before the Darkness, nor be able to conceive of anything beyond it. You'll be like a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat, gasping for water, your skin baking in the hot sun, desperate to return to a world you can no longer recall, for all eternity. At the very least, you can understand this is a fate you’d like to avoid, can’t you?”
I couldn’t respond verbally of course, but at this point, I was just assuming this thing could read my thoughts, so I screamed 'Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes!’ in my mind as strongly as I could.
Emrys nodded, and gently closed his fist around the orb in his palm.
“Good. I’d hate to have to do anything that might draw attention to myself. Plan B it is then,” he said as he slowly undid the wrapping around his finger. When it was off, I could see a single droplet of dark blue blood pooled at its tip. He stared at it wistfully for a moment, before turning his attention back towards me. “I’m going to have to keep you paralyzed for this. We wouldn’t want to disturb the other guests, now would we?”
He took two steps towards me and started reaching out his index finger, the drop of blood upon it seeming to quiver with anticipation of what was to come. The impotent terror welling up inside me could do nothing except dilate my pupils, so much so that even the light from the bedside lamp hurt my retinas, though that obviously was of no concern to me at the moment. My paralytic muscles shook so hard I thought my bones might break, but I could not will myself to move.
Those seconds where Emrys was reaching towards me seemed to stretch on endlessly, and my terror-stricken mind could not begin to fathom what that drop of blood was going to do to me.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out. The door to the room swung open and there was a blindingly white light, focused into a cluster of beams that were reminiscent of crepuscular rays breaking through the clouds. They fell upon Emrys, and he immediately recoiled, letting the book fall to the ground. He shimmered like a mirage in the desert, vanishing without a trace. I wish I could say that he was dead, but I know he only made a tactical withdrawal back to wherever it was he had come from.
As for me, the second I was out of his control, the sudden influx of sensation to and from my body was so much that I fainted.
“Hey. Hey buddy. Wake up,” Leon’s voice roused me from my stupor. I was lying upon the bed with him standing over me. In one hand, he held a bizarre-looking lantern with eccentric prismatic lenses, which I could only assume had been the source of the light I had seen.
In the other hand, he held the Book of Emrys.
“What part of report anything strange directly to me did you not understand?” he asked rhetorically, struggling to restrain the frustration in his voice. But then he let out a resigned sigh, seemingly out of pity. “Are you alright?”
“What, what the hell is going on?” I demanded as forcefully as I could, though at that moment I don't think I could have stood up if I had to.
“I… happen to have an anonymous informant within the local chapter of a certain secret society that dabbles in the occult,” he admitted reluctantly. “He – it’s probably a he, anyway – likes to leave messages and contraband in the rooms for the cleaning staff to find. Sometimes they miss stuff though, hence the rule about reporting any strange findings to the front desk at once. Do you have any idea how close you just came to becoming the slave of an Exo-Cosmic entity from outside of our spacetime continuum? Lucky for you, your neighbour overheard your little gospel reading and called down to me."
I was speechless. I was angry at him for putting me in danger, remorseful for not heeding his warning, and grateful to him for saving me all at once. I wanted to yell, to scream, to cry, but I was too exhausted.
“What are you going to do with that?” I asked, nodding towards the book. He stared down at it as he considered his response.
“There’s a young lady who lives nearby. She comes into the diner or gas station sometimes,” he said. “She has a collection of similar literature, and I’m sure she’ll appreciate a donation to her library. Next time I see her, I’ll pass this along. It will be safe with her, don’t worry.
“As for you, well, I don’t think Old Rosebud will care much either way. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just don’t say his name or speak of him out loud, stay away from this book and anything else to do with him, and for God’s sake don’t recite his freaking creation myth. He’ll probably forget all about you.
“At any rate, he won’t be coming back here tonight after my little light show, so you can rest easy. Get some sleep, sir. You look like you need it.”
Leon slipped the book into a wire bracket on the lantern’s side, and then headed back out into the rain before I could ask him any more questions.
I didn’t sleep that night though, and I was back on the road at the crack of dawn, determined to leave that place behind as quickly as I could. I'm hoping that Leon was right, that Emrys won't bother coming after me, that I can treat what happened as nothing more than a freak waking dream and move on with my life.
But, the first chapter of the Book of Emrys has been burned into my memory. I can recite it verbatim without even trying, and it often fills my mind when I have nothing else to think about. Sometimes, I’ll catch myself muttering snippets of it without realizing it.
I know Emrys is still out there, still listening for anything that may be of interest to him. I fear that one day he may hear me mutter his name, and – knowing that this time they’ll be no one to save me at the last instant – flay me; mind, body, and soul.
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