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The Primeval Horror

The primeval horror

Estimated reading time — 14 minutes

Please do not come looking for me upon reading this letter, for the likelihood of my death is now more certain than it ever was before. I refused to heed your warnings about pursuing the Pyli Scripts, and now I understand why. They are after me, Arbuckle, and when they find me, any crumb of my existence might be stricken from this Earth, as if I never was. Presently, I await my fate here in Grand Bassam, but in the interim, I hope to consolidate my findings and somehow present these manic ruminations as undeniable proof that our world hosts a plethora of supernatural instances and the inexplicable consortium that seeks to suppress this knowledge. You were right, Will. Some things are best left to the unknown, but this—whatever it is, or whatever transpires from it—must be revealed to everyone. People must know. For God’s sake, it’s our duty!

Our instincts about Rolander were correct. He was not a charlatan. And I fear that if we hadn’t selfishly dismissed his discovery so abruptly, he would still be alive. He was not searching for fortune and glory; he only sought answers, like any of us. I understand your duties as a father kept you from pursuing this feat when things turned cruel and ugly and I should’ve followed your lead, but how could I? The contents of those scrolls—the unnatural horror they describe—it’s all true. Something evil and indefinable exists out here, and it must be found and destroyed. You must understand this. Please, if you happen to steal away unnoticed, lay a flower at Rolander’s grave for me, but be careful. Those strange, dark cloaked men keep wary eyes on it. Should these scrolls meet the same fate as I, then a record of their contents must be preserved. Below is the story they tell of:

In the 5th Century, BC, when Persia assailed the Greek world for a second time, a small contingency of no more than twenty-five Spartan warriors were sent from Chalcis to Plataea. The contingency commander, Democedes, decided against a direct march in favor of a more lateral approach, which avoided the Persian horde. The war path snaked around the coast towards Athens, then back up through Parnitha. It would have been a straightforward, otherwise unremarkable footnote in the Persian conquest whereby the contingency would reconvene with other Greek combatants in Plataea, and the battle would be sealed by a Greek triumph, but Democedes and his Spartan warriors would never make it to Plataea alive. Their bodies were never found. When the Spartans reached the burning city of Athens, it sparked livid resolve in the men’s hearts, and so they marched into the dense forests of Parnitha that evening.

At first, the men believed the forest was playing tricks on them. Eerie shapes, twisted shadows, and strange moans seemed to encircle their procession, but Anaxis, Democedes’ captain, dismissed it as merely the sounds one would expect to hear in the woods. But as the noises grew in number, it was clear to everyone that they were being followed. The presumed culprit was a small band of Persian marauders. Soon, thereafter, the contingency found themselves lost in that dense plane of pine and shrubs. Marching back the way they came lent no familiar landmark. Kyrios, a citizen-soldier conscripted by the Spartan government, said he couldn’t even see the mountain range, as if it were never there. “The forest swallowed us whole,” Democredes later recalled. Then, on the third day, they approached the ruins of an ancient settlement, overwhelmed by centuries of mud and soil.

Democredes gives us his impressions: “When we approached it, all of us felt the absents of anything living. We heard no insects; no birds, no rodents… not even the wind. The ruins looked threatening—unlike any village or city seen here in Arcadia, or in the farthest, darkest corners of the Persian empire. Nor did it appear Egyptian, Hittite, or Babylonian. It was foreign, as though it belonged elsewhere—somewhere far away from this land. There were no columns; no tiled roofs, or paintings, or monuments, or edifies, or anything signifying a civilized culture. Structures were built by placing boulders on top of each other and weaving together branches. None of us slept easy that night. The presence of that horrible place troubled us. It was just there—marred by darkness, consumed by the soil, and left open like an old wound. We thought it belonged to a savage people, and that they were gone long before the Mycenaean age of heroes, but that the inhabitants were men and women. How foolish we were.”

After some time, the Spartans emerged from the forest and found themselves along the coast of the Euboic Gulf where they broke camp. Anaxis gathered a small party to hunt for food, but instead of finding pigs or deer, they found Persian marauders. Democredes’ assumption was correct, however, the Persians swore they never stepped foot in the forests. Against his own men’s wishes, Democredes held the Persians captive as prisoners of war.

The next day, the Spartans ascended the coast and took heed of a sinister red glow that permeated the horizon. When they arrived at the smoldering, crumbling gates of that seafaring Greek city, the carnage was indescribable. Buildings and temples were still ablaze; the streets were littered with slaughtered civilians, and a fleet of triremes bound for Athens all but torched in their harbor stalls. Persian war policy, Democredes thought, but Kyrios uncovered a more ghastly explanation. Anaxis first noticed large paw prints in the dirt, which were much larger than a foot. However, if they were wolves, the tracks would be quadrupedal, but the paw prints Anaxis discovered were bipedal. Shortly, thereafter, Kyrios turned one of the bodies over only to recoil in horror and revulsion; for the body was slashed across the face, throat, and stomach. The Persian captives pleaded with Democredes, insisting that the carnage was not Persian. As one explained, “Stabbing, gouging, slashing, beheading—these are what we do to the Greeks. But this abomination was not from blades or spears but from claws.”

An order was given to search for survivors. Then, under the command of Anaxis, the horrendous terror responsible finally presented its atrocious self. While at first Anaxis believed the hunched figure was someone afflicted with injury—when he called out to it, it lurched and stiffened up. Its muscles bulged out, swelling the figure to enormous proportions; and thick black fur covered its body. The face that stared back at Anaxis was not human, but that of a ferocious, wicked wolf—some horrible abomination between man and beast. It charged him with furious speed, but Anaxis’ strength, like most Spartans, was formidable enough to stave off the attack. The two engaged in ferocious combat—that which pitted spear and shield with talons and teeth. Democredes arrived shortly thereafter and called for a hasty retreat. Anaxis injured the beast long enough for him to retreat with the others, and as they fled the city, Democredes recalled hearing a guttural, preternatural howl. “It was not a cry of pain, but a cry for help,” he explained. “It was crying for reinforcements.”

The contingency was driven back into the forests of Parnitha, where, as Kyrios attested, “we were chased under the blanket of night. One by one we lost men. I could see them—monsters that ran on four legs, howling and screaming; flanking us on all sides. We outnumbered them, but we lost half our men. No fighting; just instinct to survive.” As dawn approached, the remaining Spartans, together with their Persian captives, came to a clearing where, in the distance, they found the ancient Attic fortress of Panactum. The monsters refused to leave the murky sanctuary of their forest, affording the Spartans a few hours of sleep and refuge. Then, as night came, and the moon doused its pallid beams over the brick and mortar, a man dressed in scarce cloth walked out of the forest to the door of Panactum. He wished to talk to Democredes.

The emissary was fluent enough in Greek to negotiate the Spartan’s unconditional surrender, but Democredes all but laughed at his terms. Hoping to inspire some sympathy, the emissary pled their plight and elucidated their genesis. They came from the east, along the Hypanis, and settled on a mound somewhere in the Parnitha forest until Spartan conquests pushed them under the Earth. Indeed, the ruined village was once their home. I recall Herodotus, in his Histories, mentioning the Neuri, a race of men who turn to wolves. And the Koryos; shape-changing warriors who wore animal hide to assume the nature of wolves. Likewise, the emissary admitted that he, along with his sordid clan, felt physically transient and removed from the physical mortal world. Though I must starkly confess, none of these legends even slightly resemble the iniquitous, bastardization between man and wolf that these manuscripts tell of. The emissary explained that the whole village—men, women, and children alike—had surrounded the fortress, and if Democredes surrendered, they would allow him and his men to live under servitude, but if he denied their offer, the fortress would bleed over in Spartan blood. Democredes snidely remarked, “then we’ll see you in Hell.”

With the night reaching its apex, and death all but certain, the Spartans freed their Persian captives. They gave them spears and shields and asked that they fight alongside them not as enemies but as brothers. One Persian, who regrettably remains nameless to history, compiled testimonies from which these manuscripts originate so that the story of the Spartan contingency could be related. At this point, the narrative concludes. There is no record in any library, present or ancient, that mentions Democredes or his Spartan contingency. I must, therefore, reluctantly surmise that sometime after the record was written, Hell descended upon the contingency, and none survived. What a frighteningly awesome spectacle it must have been—the boundless, disciplined strength of the Spartan warriors set against the enormous, unflinching fortitude of those inhuman beasts.

My first glimmer of provenance came with the late Rolander. As you already know, the scrolls he found in Pergamum were original, but Latin copies of an older Greek manuscript. In our final meeting, Rolander arrived at my office in a manic state, which seemed to forewarn his inevitable fate. He showed me a line on the scroll that read, “ex Beotia in panactum.” Indeed, though obvious in hindsight, the original manuscripts came from the Boeotia region in Greece, near the site of that ineffable confrontation.

Here I confess, Will… I’ve seen the prehistorical village those creatures once kept in. Though now, mostly buried in centuries of earth and limestone, its cyclopean arches and spires still protrude out of the Earth like menacing gravestones. I heard no birds, or insects, or vermin of any kind. An eerie stillness grips the land with tight, looming dread. I arrived at the only inhabited place I could find—the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring where I was welcomed in as a pilgrim of the Orthodoxy. The monks offered me food, water, and shelter. Then at the expense of offending or deterring their hospitality, I mentioned Democredes, and pulled the manuscripts from my bag. If you saw the horror in their faces, Will, it would haunt your dreams as it does mine. None of them breathed a word, as though some invisible malevolent power compelled them to stay silent. The fear was not so much in the manuscripts but in the reprisal of divulging any information about the manuscripts. I soon found myself at a loss. Had it not been for one monk, who shall remain anonymous, I might’ve returned to Michigan.

According to the anonymous monk, the original Greek manuscripts were recovered and inspected by the Athenian general Themistocles. The scripts were kept safely in his convoy, then brought to Athens, and soon returned to Pyli. In the 2nd Century AD, a Roman auxiliary re-discovered the manuscripts and brought them to Rome, where they were copied. The Latin copy was dispatched to the library at Pergamum, and the original was again sent back to Pyli. The Romans would eventually conquer Greece, and the provinces of Macedonia and Achaea, the latter of which included Pyli, would fall under the governorship of Publius Regulas. He obsessed over the manuscripts. He sought to retread the infamous Spartan journey, and when he came to that primordial village, whereupon he uncovered an antechamber incised with unusual glyphs and grotesque paintings of monsters, he ordered his men to fill it with concrete.

For months, Regulas was tormented by the horror depicted in those savage paintings. The enormous human-like figures were wrought with thick black fur; the pointed ears; the red eyes, and sharpened fangs. The only decisive maneuver, he concluded, was total extermination. He ordered an auxiliary to probe the forests of Parnitha, and on the seventh day of their inquisition, an opening was uncovered along the cliffs of the Pyli mountain, which descended several meters down into a subterranean corridor. Dozens of smaller tunnels branched out from that central corridor, each terminating in a bedroom or a public space. Before the creatures knew of their presence, and ultimately their fate, the Romans set their homes ablaze, which collapsed the entire structure into a smoldering crater, burning the creatures alive. Regulas returned to Corinth with the manuscripts and kept them locked in a chest buried beneath the floor.


Regulas spent years sneering at the success of his genocidal campaign. Then, in 39 AD, a middling line in the manuscripts—so apparent and understated that even I, endowed with savvy cognition, never paid any attention to it—captured the interest of an attentive scribe. The line, in Latin, reads: “Multos fructus Gaetuli edimus.” Which, in English, translates to: “We ate many Gaetuli fruits.” That line, so plainly uttered by the emissary, liberated a sobering truth… a truth that I, like Regulas before me, so desperately sought. The beasts were not conceived from the bosom of the Hypanis. Gaetuli fruit is not indigenous to Grecian or East European regions but cultivated along the dark peaks of the Atlas Mountains, near present day Morocco.

In 40 AD, Emperor Caligula appointed Suetonius Paulinus as governor of Mauretania. The following year, in 41 AD, the war-weathered general found himself at the reins of an enormous expedition into the Atlas Mountains. Perhaps a more enlightened man would dismiss the affair as mere coincidence, but after everything I’ve seen and read, I believe it was surreptitiously conceived. Though I present no corroborative indications, I’ve come to suspect Paulinus and Regulas convoked before the campaign’s inception, and agreed to secretly incite the inquiry. Paulinus had the manuscripts when he reached the River Daras. Latin accounts recently unearthed in Oxyrhynchus detail the experience of one Roman officer under Paulinus: “De eo loqui non possum. Sed cartis alicui dedit. Et media nocte dimiserunt.” Which, in English, reads: “I can’t talk about it. But he gave scrolls to someone. And they left in the middle of the night.” When he returned to Rome, Paulinus sent a messenger to Corinth, whereupon his arrival, he conveyed to Regulas, “Factum est.” The words coldly state: “It is done.” I will stake my own life that Suetonius Paulinus found the home-lands of those insufferable beasts, but what he did—be it retribution, observation, or annihilation—has been deliberately buried from the historical record.

On July 28th of the current year, 1921, marble fragments washed up on the shores of Grand Bassam, near Fort Memours. Nzemian fishermen first noticed them and were later inspected by French authorities under the stewardship of officer Marcel Louis. The fragments were undoubtedly ancient—once belonging to an enormous fluted pillar. When more washed up, Officer Louis, dispersed a unit along the shores in an effort to seek their source. Some men believed they were remnants of that once great antediluvian civilization cited by Plato, but Officer Louis, ever more pragmatic, held the conviction of a long-lost Roman colony. The Nzemian people and their leaders, however, refused to set foot on the beaches; fearing that the marble forewarned a grievous arrival. “Better return it to the sea,” one of them remarked. “For soon, They will come back.” When asked who would return, the fisherman clarified, “the men with fire.”

More than a week passed without any insight, until the morning of August 6th, when three French officers noted a dome-shaped structure protruding from the sand. It was an extraordinary building—perhaps no larger than the Elenska basilica—entirely submerged beneath the sands of the Komoe River delta. Against violent protests from Famienko leaders, the French tediously exhumed the building from its sandy, watery grave. A breakwater was implanted to fortify the diggers, and a dam was built to keep seawater from flooding the site. By August 9th, the temple’s dome was entirely exposed. Officer Louis led a small excavation party into the structure from the dome’s oculus, which had been sealed with ancient timbers—unbroken for thousands of years. Here I include Officer Louis’ transcript of his observations.

“What we thought was a temple is instead a Roman basilica—a functionary office from before the reign of Constantine. In the atrium are marble effigies of Juno, Minerva, and curiously Lares, the house guardian against evil spirits. We noted fossilized wooden remnants of some large structure that sat in the atrium; possibly a table or a cabinet. There are iron sconces along the walls and pillars; a doorway leading out to the front portico from where the water eroded the fluted columns; and several plain empty rooms. At which point we asked ourselves, why weren’t there any windows, or frescoes, or niches, or anything that could indicate the purpose of that malevolent place? The walls are barren; the doors are flush; the floors aren’t tiled. It imparted a chilling wonder that expressed a vague Hellenistic idea, and yet so foreign from any known classical architecture. It is utterly and defiantly stark. Whoever built that place—wherever they came from—certainly did not believe in God or a greater morality, but they surely believed in a greater evil.

We found a passageway that led to the catacombs—these labyrinthine vaulted chambers that cached thousands of papyri, most of which are now mounds of carbonized soot and tatters. I thought it was a library, but Philippe—our second officer—knew it was a records hall. He made the incisive observation that the wooden shelves are charred. Indeed, at some point in the ancient past, the shelves and their contents were burned. In fact, scorch marks were found all over the chambers. Time did not reduce the scrolls to pulverized debris. It was some horrible, cataclysmic disturbance that submerged those chambers in flames. When we returned to the atrium, there was but one question on our minds: was the fire contained in the catacombs? See, we were inexperienced, and blind to the unconditional evidence. The material which peeled off the walls was not aged stucco like we assumed, but centuries of compounded sand and dirt. Beneath it, hid the real walls… and the same incendiary markings which permeated the chambers. The flames completely engulfed the interior of the basilica, reaching out through the oculus, and consuming everything inside. But the method by which these flames spread ran contrary to thermal physics. Fire and heat ascend. You can see the tendril-like ashen patterns—like flames themselves—spread across walls, pillars, ceilings, and rooftops. A sort of shadow that portrays the history of the fire. Here, however, the thermal markings are anomalous. They don’t spread upwards as they should… they are splattered in vulgar, amorphous patterns… as if the fire was sprayed out of a nozzle. Someone came here long ago to purge those records from history. The fire that condemned that place to its rotting state was intentional. The natives, so affected by this callous act of sabotage, transmitted it across their storied mythologies. The men with fire.”


From the ship I charted out of Athens, I could see the dark jagged peaks of the Atlas Mountains where my paranoid and curious mind conjured such gruesome scenes of ancient battles, snarling fangs, red eyes, and horrible massacres. It was there, tucked beneath the gloomy canopy, that a savage prehistoric city that exists out of time and space, with its temples, and edifices, and bridges, and terraces of indeterminable design once laid. The inexpressible carnage, so limited by imagination, was closer to me than ever before, and yet I will never see the city myself. And should a singular outcropping or earthen wall remain, I would never wish to lay my eyes upon it, for my imagination would all but paralyze my feeble wits. In three days I would embark on the final leg of this sordid journey. My final resting place.

I’ve seen the basilica myself, Will. When I laid my eyes upon its cold, featureless construction for the first time, any hope of bringing adequate finality to this macabre expedition dispelled like ink in water. I’ve walked through the darkened catacombs; I bore witness to those abnormal thermal markings firsthand. I stood with anxious splendor in the axis of that enormous round atrium, now dimly lit by a single shaft of light that cascades through the aperture. The building should not exist, Will. The Romans visited the Sahara—merely brushed the Sahel—but they never reached the Guineo tropics… and yet here, in the Ivory Coast, an impossible Roman basilica defiantly rests.

While, admittedly, I yearned so deeply for totality in this impending affair, and the experiences thus have all but turned me callous to the supernatural… Will… what I saw… what the French dug up, and exhumed from that vile place… I was not mentally prepared for. The body is mummified; expertly preserved with ointments and jellies that kept the skin… and fur suspended in a state of near freshness. And it is undoubtedly monstrous. Its arms are fortified by tremendous muscles, and its legs bowed in a digitigrade arrangement suggesting a creature not quite human, but not quite animal. It is covered in thick, black fur that now pokes out of the disintegrated wrappings like bristles on a broom. And the head… largely canine in appearance… and yet vaguely human. Its eyes have long melted away; its teeth jagged like the peaks of the Atlas Mountains; and its snarled expression permanently frozen as a hideous epitaph to its cursed existence. Do they still exist? I firmly believe they do.

Now I rather hesitantly conclude this narrative and admit the futility of my endeavor. My objective was to gleam greater knowledge of the world, and a desire to set certain unusual facts before the public to rehabilitate a man’s shattered credibility. However, it seems we both overestimated ourselves. I extracted no new knowledge of the world, but only accumulated further questions. Men have died for the information detailed in these pages, and yet, despite my aggressive plunge into this audit, I failed them. I failed in everything I did. The original Greek manuscripts were burned centuries ago, and now I fear the Latin copy I hold so tightly in my hands is marked for the same fate. Marcel Louis, and his fellow officer, Philippe, are dead. Last night the basilica mysteriously caught on fire, and the body recovered from the catacombs disappeared from French custody. The same dark cloaked men who patrol Rolander’s grave now keep sharp surveillance on the hotel I’ve barricaded myself in. I will miss everyone—all my friends and colleagues, including you, Will. You’ve been a dear friend. My hope with this letter is that when my body is recovered—if it is recovered—that my acumen for venturing on this crusade is somewhat clear. I just feel so unsatisfactory. I will die here unfulfilled and blatantly alone.

Letter recovered from the body of William P. Arbuckle, papyrologist at the University of Michigan. Found deceased in his home on October 10th, 1921. Probable execution.

Credit: R. P. Romanowski


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