How Much For Just the Good News?

[This is another bit of the original backstory to Bane of the Dead that didn’t make it into the final cut, as it were.  The story ultimately went in another direction, but didn’t wander far: you can still find some of the themes and tropes presented here in the finished MS.”]

C. Ashton Lumley, PhD
New Miskatonic University

Randolph H. West, MD, PhD
CDC Auxiliary Site
Atlanta Protectorate, GA

My Dear Friend:

I felt it necessary to use our little express courier ruse, because of the nature of the information I need to relate to you.  As you will not doubt agree, once you’ve read this, I could not trust this to any electronic means, or even regular post.  As always, the vials in the case contain sterilized revenant tissue samples, in the event someone got nosey.  I don’t need to tell you to flash them anyway.

As you may recall from my last update, we have been slowly tightening the noose of Project Homestead, with the help of two new inductees into our little fraternity.  (I suppose the “gals” would get all het up about “fraternity,” but if any of them see this, it will be the least of my worries.)  We can only request so much time on the mainframe without arousing suspicion, so it’s been slow going; but we finally managed to collate an enormous amount of data on our last run.

With the additional brain and man power, and the output from that run, we finally identified the location of the property once belonging to CDW.  I apologize for not informing you about this, but it just happened day before yesterday, and our elder fellows in the immediate area felt that steps had to be taken without delay.

We assembled a team promptly, and were at the property just after midnight.  We could see now why our on-foot search of the district had proved fruitless – any and all structures that might once have graced or blighted that plot had vanished.  If we hadn’t known better, we might have been looking at an empty, overgrown field in a county littered with them.

We were prepared for anything short of full excavation, and once we had located a couple of likely places, a judicious use of C4 and hand tools soon uncovered the opening to the crypts below.

Ironically, there is no need for me to describe the layout of the catacombs; just pick up the Founder’s text – it is absolutely accurate in every detail, save one.  This crypt was empty of anything more dangerous than a lingering odor of unholy things.  We did, however, find a wealth of documentary and forensic evidence, as well as a small library of, shall we say, technical volumes.

Purely as a scholar and – let’s be truthful, a geek – I am thrilled to report that we have added a number of tomes to our library, two of them being completely unknown to us until that moment.

The larger one is the least dangerous of the pair.  In fact, it may prove to be a wellspring of invaluable information.  It is very old, written in Norse runes, and apparently tells the tale of a war between the Northmen and the walking dead that occurred thousands of years ago.  The tome itself cannot be more than a thousand years old, and is obviously the written account of a tale that had been told around hearth-fires, beneath the cold blaze of the aurora, since prehistory.

More of that later.

The second book was the true prize, and has told us much, although I’m afraid a practical solution still eludes us.  We are working on a detailed report here at NMU, but I will give you the salient points here:

The book is entitled Utero Pestiléntiæ, The Womb of Pestilence, and we almost overlooked it.  It has none of the usual accouterments of an occult volume; no flayed-skin binding, no blood for ink, no human bone book markers, etc.  It looks like nothing so much as a slim ledger or journal of some kind, bound in plain brown cloth and leather.  There are no markings on the cover that we can discern by any means, conventional or otherwise.

Likewise the pages.  Simple parchment and (normal) cephalopod ink; no hidden symbols or texts that we can find.

The book is very brief, perhaps fifty pages, and contains a single spell, also bearing that unholy title.  About three-quarters of the pages seem to concern the gathering of ritual items, the selection of an appropriate recipient, etc, with the actual text of the spell being less than ten pages.

Nevertheless, this is a bad one my friend; witness what it has done to our world thus far.  As we presently understand it, a suitably fresh subject must be reduced to “essential saltes” via the kind of processes CDW employed, and then reanimated with the variation that is Utero Pestiléntiæ.  The result is the prototype of what we call a Stage 1 “thrasher.”

Now, the public knows of five primary outbreak zones worldwide, a fact we have never bothered to distort or conceal.  In the first year, we were as clueless as anyone else; for all we knew then, it could have been a terrorist bioweapon or some such.

After sifting through our hoard of information, we were able to reconstruct some of the events.  It appears a high-ranking cultist left Istanbul, one of the primary outbreak zones, and traveled by air to Johannesburg, Paris and London, before arriving here in Arkham, via Boston.  Again, each of those cities was the center of an outbreak.  The man, who arrived on our shores under the name Privett, had spent a week or less in each of the cities, with the exception of Arkham, which was his final destination all along.

So much we know conclusively, from the documents we found regarding his travels.  What he did during those visits we can only speculate, but no one here is in doubt.  Privett must have performed the ritual in each city, leaving behind something that only awaited the final sacrifice to awaken it, if that term even applies.  True to form, Privett himself was the final sacrifice, and we have no reason to believe that he did not die at the hands and teeth of his own last creation.  We found the place of reanimation, just as described by the Founder, and in it was a badly disjointed skeleton that a few personal items soon identified as Privett.  After some false starts, we located a tunnel that led toward the river, and emerged in a tangle of roots under a muddy overhang.  Directly across the knee-deep water was a swath of ruin that used to be a populous suburb.

The progression of events is horribly obvious.

Of course, as of now, we don’t know the ultimate origin of the book, how it came into Privett’s possession, nor whether any copies are extant.  The elders are working up a plan to address these questions; doubtless you will hear about it soon.

Unfortunately, Utero Pestiléntiæ is unique in another way, too.  Unlike the Necronomicon and its ilk, it contains no counter spell, no antidote, no defensive formulae, nothing.  There is no Undo button; once this thing is launched successfully, there is no recall.

I suspect that this is partly by way of revenge for the 1928 incident; the opposition spent fifteen years setting that one up, and ended up losing the entire cell, including two “princes of the blood.”  That had to hurt, and waiting almost a hundred years to exact their due would be nothing to them.

In many ways, we don’t know anything now that we haven’t suspected, even taken for granted, all along.  We always suspected the cultists, with their masters behind the scenes; we always suspected that the plague was the result of some kind of occult working.  We always assumed, however, that there would be a way to undo the damage inherent in the mechanism that caused it.  In this regard, we were regrettably in error.

However, we may yet make something from a minute examination and analysis of the Utero, which is even now underway, and will doubtless have produced some fruit by the time you read this.  I pray that it is a palatable, and not a poisonous, fruiting.

At the behest of the senior members here, I am making arrangements to travel to the Protectorate as soon as transportation can be secured.  The old-timers are anxious that you and I collaborate in person on this for the foreseeable future; you should be receiving a communication to that effect, if indeed, it has not yet arrived.

I look forward to seeing you again, and to getting your analysis of the information we are able to extract from the Utero in the meantime.  I understand that arrangements are being made for a secure data connection so that we can be updated directly from NMU.  If I had any doubts about how important this was, that extravagance erased them all.

I have incoming phone time set aside for you, so please call as soon as you get this.  We can’t really discuss the important bits, but the move will, I imagine, be its own little catastrophe, and I’ll welcome any help or advice you care to offer.

Looking forward to talking to you in a few minutes, I remain,

Sincerely yours,