‘What in the world am I looking at?’ said Joanie, rubbing the back of her neck.
Brandon shrugged. He stared at it with a perplexed look chiselled onto his rough, dirt caked face. ‘Beats the hell out of me.’
‘Yes, I too have no idea. It is probably nothing of importance though, so we should leave,’ said Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming.
A light behind the ancient stone door pulsed in time with its words, emitting an amethyst glow. The light danced on the walls of the grand chamber, illuminating the room all the way to the other side where the three miners had clumsily broken in. Strange tapestries hung from the ceiling, depicting savage acts of sacrifice and strange symbols that seemed to beckon closer inspection, like a crooked finger cloaked in shadow.
Joanie took a step towards the arcane door, placing her hand on her hip. ‘Yeah, probably right Yoggo, just a big rock with a fancy light show .’
Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming cringed at the nickname. It’s true and full name was utterly incomprehensible to the human tongue, even an attempt to speak it aloud would be enough to drag the speaker’s mind into babbling madness. Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming, was as short as his name ought to be; the Australian’s insistence at making it shorter still was a grave insult. That being said, it was not nearly as insulting as calling its Vault of Unspeakable Horrors a “a big rock”.
‘Well, I mean, it looks like a little more than that, just look at all the inscription chiselled into the stone, as if a trillion fingernails scratched away at it until bloody and raw. That must have taken ages, and cost whoever commissioned it a fortune.’
Brandon scoffed. ‘I bloody hope not. The craftsmanship’s terrible. I can’t even tell what language that is.’
‘Probably Latin I reckon,’ said Joanie, sniffing at the air. Satisfied that she couldn’t smell any flammable gasses, she pulled out a cigarette.
‘Figures’, said Brandon, walking towards Joanie. ‘Them Greeks love their scribbles.’ Without a word she passed him a cigarette as the older miner brandished a nickel-plated lighter. He lit Joanie’s first, then his own.
‘Pretty sure Latin were the Romans, mate,’ said Joanie in-between puffs. She pulled a third cigarette from the carton, holding it out towards Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming’s writhing mass of appendages. ‘Ciggie?’
‘I do not smoke,’ it said, coiling a tentacle towards what one could only assume to be its face. It removed its hard hat and wiped away a bead of slime trickling down its vibrant frame. Colours danced along its body, like a starving cuttlefish gliding along a reef searching for prey. A second tentacle burrowed into the weeping pore, merging with the patch of bare skin. The wet, sloshing noise echoed throughout the room, only ceasing when Joanie’s loud voice shocked Yogg’Shathoth out of its concentration.
‘Oi! Keep your fucking helmet on dickhead.’ She pointed towards the cracks in the ceiling above the Elder God. ‘Safety first.’
‘Christ Joanie, scared me half to death there.’ Brandon coughed hard, hacking up a glob of black spit onto the ground.
Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming said nothing as it placed the helmet back on the top of its body. It quivered, shuddering in unnatural ways at unnatural angles. Whether this was a sign of tremendous fury at the indignity of an Elder God being chastised, or just another feature of its unknowable corporeal form, was anyone’s guess.
Joanie sighed, walking over to pat Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming on the tentacles. ‘You’ve gotta stay switched on down here, mate. If something happens to you, then it’s up to us to get you outta’ here. If rocks go a-tumbling and you get knocked out, then you’re putting myself and Brandon at risk too. Brandon’s an acceptable casualty, of course.’
‘Fuck off,’ chuckled Brandon.
‘But still, bad practice, yeah?’ Joanie tried to meet one Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming’s roaming eyeballs. It was easier said than done, and after a few moments, she gave up with a sigh and another gentle pat. ‘Come on, let’s go get a closer look at this Latin gibberish.’
‘Cuneiform,’ said Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming. ‘Not Latin. It is one of the oldest tongues known to man.’
‘Huh.’ Brandon reached into his pocket as he followed Joanie, walking until he was close enough to place his hands upon the Vault. He pulled out his phone and unlocked it, swiping back and forth across the home screen. ‘That’s strange.’
‘What’s that?’ said Joanie, taking her eyes off the ancient glowing device.
‘Oh, well, it’s just that we’re hundreds of metres underground. I didn’t think I’d get any reception down here but Yoggo’s setting off my nerd alert’.
The two laughed and the sound bounced off the walls, taunting Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming even further. ‘Silence, you wretched mortals.’
‘Calm down, just taking the piss, brother,’ said Brandon, stifling his own laughter. Joanie punched him in the arm and continued to chuckle.
She ran her fingers along the wall’s markings. ‘Don’t suppose you’d know how to read cuneiform, would ya Yoggo?’
‘I do. Its intricacies are very familiar to me, as are all secrets that dwell within the unbound past of this ancient wo—’
‘Oh yeah cool man, what does it say but?’ Brandon nudged the door with his foot, pointing towards some of the inscription. Stone caked in dry blood trickled down to the floor.
Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming was growing more tired of these fools by the second. The Vault of Unspeakable Horrors was not some curiosity to be poked and prodded at. It had intended to draw them away from their accidental discovery, but perhaps it was high time it punished them for their insolence. If these mortals were so interested in its vault, then who was it to stand in their way of accessing such forbidden knowledge? ‘The scripture engraved upon this ancient stone,’ began Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming, ‘Reads as follows. In the first age, before the flawed empires of humanity, before the mange-ridden mongrels of the living world could grasp the ways of thought, reason, and power, there was—’
‘Don’t suppose there’s a tl;dr down the bottom.’ Joanie flicked her cigarette butt across the room with a yawn.
The Elder God trembled again, groaning as wicked teeth began protruding from the ends of its tentacles. ‘This,’ it said, speaking as if through gritted teeth, ‘Is the Vault of Unspeakable Horrors. To step even a single foot inside would rend your feeble minds asunder.’
‘Nah,’ said Joanie.
‘Yeah, not feeling it,’ said Brandon.
‘I, um, sorry what?’ Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming stilled. Even the appendages that wormed together in a fluid motion of incomprehensible change paused their previously ceaseless undulations.
‘Sure you’re reading it right? Doesn’t look like a Vault of Unspeakable Horrors.’ Joanie ran her fingers along the markings engraved on the door. Fresh blood began to weep from some of the letters, staining her hand. ‘Yuck,’ she said, as she wiped her hands clean on her hi-vis vest.
‘How would you know what a Vault of Unspeakable Horrors looks like?’ Anger was building within the cavities of Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming. Divinely punishing these arrogant fools was looking more and more appetising by the second.
‘Skulls,’ said Joanie.
Brandon snapped his fingers. ‘Yeah, yep, was thinking the same thing,’ he said, extending a fist towards Joanie.
‘A Vault of Unspeakable Horrors,’ Joanie continued, reciprocating the fist bump, ‘Or anything with a big scary name like that, is bound to have heaps of skulls around it. Just common practice.’
‘Amps up the fear factor, and really lets people know that there’s something going on. It’s the oldest hazard sign known to man.’ Brandon looked up at the full height of the door, watching with disinterest as the symbols towards the top seemed to stretch upwards into an infinite spiral of unbidden knowledge. ‘The vibe’s just all the way off without ‘em.’
Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming writhed towards the miners with slow, deliberate movements. He had endured much in the time spent working with these lowly menials, but this was finally testing his patience beyond its limits. ‘I was told-, I mean, I’ve often heard otherwise from many professionals. Skulls are tacky, cliche even.’
‘Well you’ve heard wrong then,’ said Brandon, looking away from the ceiling. ‘Skulls aren’t cliche, they are a classic. Big bloody difference, dumb-dumb.’ He knocked against the stone door to accentuate his point, dismissing the identical tap that came from the other side.
These labourers had already served their purpose in the carefully calculated plans of Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming. It had intended to let them live, unburdened with the knowledge that they had assisted in its malevolent schemes, that the miner who had been posing as their latest hire was in fact the Elder God of Nightmare from a time before history. This was the final straw.
‘What is that saying mortals are so fond of, Brandon Hempford? Never judge a book by its cover, that’s right. Perhaps we should open this Vault of Unspeakable Horrors, that you might cast your insults after seeing what lies within.’
Joanie checked her watch. ‘We can spare another few minutes if you really want, guys, but it’s gonna eat into your lunch break.’
Brandon shrugged. ‘Eh, might as well.’
With that, Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming chanted words that had long gone unspoken. Words that the human mind is too frail to comprehend, powerful enough to move rock and stone without rising above the faintest whisper. Inch by inch, and accompanied by the bone-rattlingly powerful grating of stone against stone, the doors of the Vault began to open. Joanie checked her watch again.
‘Any day now.’
Joanie and Brandon sparked up another cigarette as they waited the twelve whole minutes it took for the doors to open. The Vault was impossibly stygian inside. Both miners activated their torches, sweeping the beams through the interior of the Vault in an effort to see anything at all. The light could not penetrate beyond the doorway, swallowed up by the midnight black of the new chamber.
‘What a load of bull,’ said Brandon, sheathing his torch.
Joanie smacked hers, turning it off and on again several times as if that would affect anything. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘It’s the Vault of Unspeakable Horrors, Joanie,’ said Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming, conceding its spiteful emotions. ‘If you could see what was in it from the outside you’d be able to speak of it. You have to go inside for that which would rend you incomprehensibly insane.’
‘Fuuuuck off,’ said Joanie and Brandon in unison.
Joanie spat into the vault, watching it disappear into the blackness. Something squealed in the distance. ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.’
‘It’s not dumb!’ roared Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming, rearing its corporeal form to its full and terrible height.
‘Is too,’ said Joanie.
‘Fuck this,’ said Brandon. The old miner walked towards the hole in the wall from which they entered. ‘I’m off, not skipping any more of my lunch break for this.’
Joanie began to follow him. ‘Yeah, me too. You’re welcome to bum around down here for a bit longer if you love it so much Yoggo. I expect you back on shift in forty-five, though. No excuses.’
And with that, Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming was alone. With access to the Vault of Unspeakable Horrors again after all these years, the Elder God could finally move to the next stage of its plans, spanning centuries. Yogg’Shathoth, the Undying and Undreaming moved to enter the Vault, but stopped just shy of the doorway, casting its betentacled gaze over the other side of the doors. It stood like that for a moment, deep in thought. Once more, what could only have been a sigh passed through the being.
‘Damnit. He is totally right about the skulls.’
Author: Jamie Stevens (he/him) is a third year creative writing student from Brisbane. With an unhealthy love of everything abject and absurd, Jamie crams his sense of humour into everything he makes. For more news on his other publications and projects, check out his Instagram @jamie.c.stevens.
Artist: Harrison Coates is an emerging writer studying at QUT. His work investigates the varied and complex lives of those around him, and their place in an increasingly strange world. Living in Brisbane as a 3rd year fine arts student, he finds inspiration for the absurd situations explored by his fiction easily.
Editors: Rory Hawkins and Bea Warren