Pray for the Soul of the
Demoiselle Jeanne d’Ys
In her Youth for Love of
Philip, a Stranger
A. D. 1573
– Inscription on a Breton tombstone translated by Robert W. Chambers.
Gaston Morrell was drowning, The waters of the Seine were soothing as they clogged his lungs. He began to remember the six women that he had strangled. As he slipped into oblivion, Morrell knew that he was totally innocent of the deaths of the women. They had only themselves to blame. It had all started with Jeanette. She had such a wonderful angelic face. He had painted that face in his first true masterpiece, La Purcelle d’Orleans. Beneath that face was the soul of a prostitute. Once he learned the truth, he had no choice but to kill her. She had to pay for her deception. The same was true of the others…Renee with her smothering jealousy…Francine the police spy…Gaston had only one regret. He had failed to kill Francine’s sister.
“You caught Bluebeard?” asked Darlla Rassendyll in the Paris headquarters of the Sûreté in 1878.
“Yes,” confirmed Inspector Lefevre. “He was Gaston Morrell, an artist infatuated with Francine’s sister. I was writing my report to Commissioner Mifroid when you arrived.”
The police official spoke with great emotion. For the last several weeks, he had pursued a maniacal killer. The press had dubbed the criminal Bluebeard because he preyed on women like the wife murderer of folklore. Instead of locking his victims’ bodies in a secret room like his mythical namesake, this new Bluebeard polluted the Seine with their corpses. Lefevre had summoned Francine Lutien, a female undercover agent, in order to set a trap for Bluebeard. Tragically, the plan had backfired and resulted in Francine’s strangulation. The loss had hit Lefevre hard because he had been passionately in love with Francine.
“When will he be brought to trial, Inspector?”
“Morrell has already paid for his crimes. He attacked Lucille Lutien after her sister’s wake. Fortunately, my men and I arrived in time to save her. Morrell tried to escape us by fleeing across the rooftops. He lost his footing and fell into the Seine. If the fall didn’t kill him, he must surely have drowned. My men are searching for his body now.”
“I made you a proposal at Francine’s wake,” stated Darlla.
“You volunteered to be trained as Francine’s replacement in the Sûreté. You were overcome by grief at the loss of a close friend. If you wish to retract your offer, I fully understand.”
“I have no intention of reneging. My decision was meant to honor Francine’s memory. You clearly have much work to do tonight, Inspector. We can discuss my future tomorrow.”
Darlla left the Inspector’s office, passing one of Lefevre’s subordinates, who had come to report to his superior.
“Have you recovered Morrell’s body yet, Renard?” asked Lefevre of the new arrival.
“We’re still searching for it.”
“Damn! We must have Morrell’s corpse in order to quell all the hysteria that’s gripping Paris! The public must be convinced that Bluebeard’s dead.”
Renard felt it prudent to change the subject. “Who was that woman who just left? She looks vaguely familiar.”
“Remember those burglaries in the theatrical district last year?”
“Francine identified the perpetrator as a stage magician named Sorgue.”
“The actress who helped Francine solve that case was that woman,” said Lefevre “She has just been recruited to be Francine’s successor.”
“I recall her now. English father. French mother. Her stage name is Darlla Kent. Hopefully, Mademoiselle Rassendyll will be more successful in her solo endeavors than she and Francine were in the Sorgue case. The thief escaped apprehension.”
“Like all conjurors, Sorgue proved proficient in the art of disappearance. Nevertheless, Francine and Darlla were able to recover the loot from the burglaries. The Commissioner was quite pleased with the outcome.”
Another of Lefevre’s assistants entered the office.
“I searched Morrell’s home,” reported the newcomer. “I found this.” He handed a slim volume to Lefevre. On the cover of the book was the title Le Roi en Jaune.
“Did you read this, Cardec?” questioned Lefevre.
“No, Inspector. I’m aware of the Commissioner’s directive regarding this play. Any copies found are to be brought to headquarters for disposal.”
Lefevre handed the play to Renard. “In accordance with the Commissioner’s orders, incinerate this literary atrocity immediately.” Renard left the room with the book.
“I don’t understand, Inspector,” admitted Cardec. “Why treat a mere play like it’s the plague.”
“Nearly everyone who’s read it has been driven mad. It’s figured in numerous cases of murder and suicide.”
“Who wrote it?”
“No one knows for certain. Every supposed sorcerer in history from Baron de Rais to Cagliostro has been credited as the author.”
“Do we have any idea what the play’s about?”
“It involves a city called Carcosa, Cardec. Three different journalists read the play and wrote articles summarizing its events. Other than sharing the same characters and places, no two accounts were remotely similar.”
“What happened to those journalists, Inspector? Did they lose their sanity?”
“No, they all inexplicably went blind.”
“There is one other matter, Inspector.”
“What is that, Cardec?”
“I must tender my resignation.”
“Cardec, you have a potentially great future in the Sûreté. What prompts this action?”
“Last year, I interviewed Morrell in connection with an unsolved case. A wealthy American visiting Paris had disappeared. The American Embassy had asked us to look into his disappearance.”
“The Archer case. I remember it well.”
“Archer had rented a room in a house belonging to an artist. Archer’s landlord was Gaston Morrell. I cleared Morrell of any role in his disappearance. In light of recent events, I fear that Morrell murdered Archer. If I had arrested Morrell in the Archer case, none of those women would have been strangled.”
“We have no proof that Archer was murdered. Your original suspicion was that Archer may have committed suicide. What was your basis for that hypothesis?”
“Archer mailed a manuscript to one of his relatives in the United States. A copy of the narrative was later sent to the Sûreté. It detailed a supposed encounter by the American with the supernatural in Brittany. Whatever the nature of this Breton experience, it unhinged Archer’s mind. He became morbidly obsessed with death and the occult. He frequented the abodes of mediums and astrologers. I conducted some inquiries in Brittany. A man answering Archer’s description was seen along the Breton coast shortly after the American was last sighted in Paris. I fear that Archer threw himself into the sea.”
“Don’t you see the truth, Cardec? Your discovery of Le Roi en Jaune in Morrell’s house ties in to your original suspicion. Archer must have purchased a copy of that wretched play during his occult investigations. After Archer vanished, it came into Morrell’s possession. Both men must have read it. Le Roi en Jaune drove one man to suicide and the other to murder.”
The form of Gaston Morrell was lifted from the waters. The man carrying the artist wore a tattered robe. Emblazoned on his black garment was a yellow symbol resembling a swirl with three arms. A white lifeless mask seemed to cover his face. His eyes were without pupils, as though he was blind. He lowered Gaston on the shore.
The artist opened his blue eyes. “Where am I? This isn’t the Seine. It’s a lake!”
“You are on the banks of Demhe,” answered the stranger. “We must speak in whispers.” The man pointed to a city on the edge of the lake. “The citizens of Alar must not overhear us.”
“You aren’t from this city?” asked Gaston.
“I am from Alar’s rival, Hastur, near the Lake of Hali. You can glimpse it over there.”
Gaston saw the dark towers of a metropolis in the distance. The outline of the city was illuminated by twin moons in the night sky.
“This isn’t Earth. Hastur…Alar… Demhe…Hali. I read those names in a play. How can such things be?”
“Your questions will be answered in Hastur once you are presented to the Pallid Priestess. I shall guide you there.”
“Do you have a name?” asked Gaston.
“I am the Phantom of Truth.”
Gaston recognized the name of the nemesis of the King of Carcosa in Le Roi en Jaune.
It took hours for the Phantom and Gaston to reach Hastur. The streets of the city were largely deserted during the night. Occasionally, Gaston caught a glimpse of the inhabitants as he followed his guide through dark alleyways. All the city’s denizens wore masks like the Phantom.
Gaston was led into an ebony tower that overlooked the Lake of Hali. After climbing a winding stairway, Gaston and his guide reached the top floor.
“Your clothes are wet,” stated the Phantom. He opened the door to a room. “Inside you will find garments appropriate for an inhabitant of Hastur. Once you have changed, I shall escort you to your hostess.”
Gaston quickly changed into a purple robe worthy of an emperor. He joined his enigmatic guide outside. After passing two doors, the Phantom opened a third. He beckoned for Gaston to go inside. Once the artist had entered the chamber, the Phantom shut the door and remained alone in the corridor. In the chamber, Gaston beheld a woman in a skintight metallic garment that covered her entire body like a second skin. A white mask clung to her face. Enchanting blue eyes stared at the artist. With the exception of the eyeholes, the only other visible openings on her face were thin slits for her nostrils and mouth. Gaston couldn’t detect any separation between the mask and the portion of the costume covering her neck. The same metallic substance covered her scalp. No hair was visible.
“I am called the Pallid Priestess,” divulged the woman. “What do you recall of Le Roi en Jaune?
“My memories are blurred and contradictory,” confessed Gaston. “I vaguely recall a curse of the Pallid Mask that befell the citizens of Hastur for defying the King of Carcosa.”
“As you shall shortly learn, I too suffer from the curse. My history is tied to Brittany. Are you familiar with its legends?”
“Should it not be I who asks the questions? The Phantom of Truth promised you would explain everything.”
“Be patient, Gaston. The truth will soon become known to you. For the moment, tell me about your familiarity with Breton folklore.”
“I know of the sunken city of Ys, Jean Blanc the albino brigand, and Jeanne-La-Flame, the warrior Duchess.”
“If you know those stories, then you must have heard of Jacqueline the Bold.”
The blue eyes of the Pallid Priestess bewitched Gaston.
“Yes, she lived in the sixteenth century,” said the artist. “Like the later Jean Blanc, she was a bandit who preyed on the oppressive nobles and shared the proceeds of her robberies with the peasants. The authorities sought to defame her by branding her a sorceress. They called her the Black Priestess, and even asserted that she was descended from the infamous Black Priest who was a traitor during the Third Crusade.”
“Do you know of her connection to Ys?”
“There was a noble family who traced their lineage to the dynasty that ruled Ys before its destruction in a flood. They dwelt in a Breton castle named after the city of their ancestors. At this Chateau d’Ys, there lived a servant, Pelagie. She was employed as a nurse to Jeanne, the young daughter of the Seigneur d’Ys. Pelagie raised her own daughter alongside Jeanne d’Ys. The nurse’s daughter grew up to be the flamboyant Jacqueline the Bold.
“Five years older, Jacqueline cherished Jeanne like a younger sister. Both Jeanne’s parents perished when she was very young. At the age of nineteen, Jeanne was mistress of the Chateau d’Ys. Courted by a handsome stranger, she fell desperately in love. When her suitor vanished, Jeanne was devastated. Fearful that her surrogate sister would die from a broken heart, Jacqueline promised to find the missing stranger. The Black Priestess never returned from her quest. Jeanne perished in 1573.”
“Jeanne’s story must have left quite an impression, Gaston, since you remember the year of her death.”
“I stumbled across the grave while visiting Brittany. I wouldn’t have found it if not for the presence of an American tourist sadly standing beside it. Her tombstone’s inscription always struck me as odd. Her lover’s name was given as the English ‘Philip’ rather than the French ‘Philippe.’ I assume her lost suitor was an Englishman.”
“He was actually of a different nationality. I was responsible for his presence in Brittany. I am Jacqueline the Bold.”
“That’s impossible! She must have died centuries ago.”
The beguiling blue eyes of the Pallid Priestess flashed at Gaston. “You have journeyed to a world with two moons, my sweet Gaston. The normal strictures of probability no longer apply.”
“Your point is well taken, Priestess.”
“My family has long studied the hidden science that the unenlightened condemn as witchcraft. While my ancestor was the contemptible Black Priest of the Crusades, I do not serve the demonic forces that he did. My forebear was an apostate. The true faith of my family was the old religion practiced by the Druids. My beloved mother taught me those arcane arts at an early age. When I became a bandit, I used my occult knowledge of the Rituals of the Signum Veneris to evade my pursuers. Are you familiar with the Signum Veneris?”
“Latin for the Sign of Venus. Witches supposedly used it to project a psychic double miles away while they were in a trance.”
“My mastery of the Signum Veneris went well beyond psychic doubles, Gaston. I could open gateways in space which allowed me to physically travel long distances in a matter of seconds. Eventually, I grew overconfident. I began to experiment with traveling backward and forward in time. I inadvertently opened up a gateway in time through which a stranger from the future stumbled through.”
“Are you saying that Philip was a time traveler?” Gaston paused for a moment. “The American tourist’s name was Philip Archer.”
“Yes, Gaston. Your American was Jeanne’s lover. During all my tribulations, Jeanne stood loyally by me. She secretly hid me in the Chateau d’Ys while Charles IX’s soldiers searched the countryside for me. I pretended to be one of Jeanne’s male servants, a falconer. Since the Chateau d’Ys took its name from a doomed city, I adopted the name of a legendary cursed metropolis. I called myself Hastur in my masculine disguise. Philip accidentally stumbled back through the gateway. When he vanished, I realized what had happened. I ran to the gateway, but discovered that my spell had worn off. The gateway in time had closed.”
“Surely you reopened it.”
“It took me weeks to find the proper ritual. Before entering the gateway in time, I promised Jeanne to return with Philip. When I arrived at my destination, the year was 1877. The Chateau d’Ys was in ruins. My precious Jeanne was dead and buried. I should have realized that my quest had ended in failure. Instead, I became more determined to find Philip.”
“The grave told you that Jeanne couldn’t be saved. Why did you press on?”
“Because I am Jacqueline the Bold! I was brazen enough to imagine that history could still be rewritten on my terms. I believed transporting Philip back to the past would cause that tombstone to vanish in 1877.”
“How did you survive? Whatever currency you had from 1573 would have been difficult to exchange in my era.”
“I convinced a caravan of gypsies to provide me shelter. I was quite capable of adding to their coffers. Any genuine sorceress can enact tricks of prestidigitation for a gaping audience. My hosts also didn’t object to the occasional act of thievery. Since I had been a bandit in my own age, I had no qualms about mastering your age’s methods of separating the rich from their wealth.
“Philip had told Jeanne that he was an American. Inquiries around Brittany led me to discover that an American tourist had visited there. His name and description fit Jeanne’s beloved. He told more than one local resident of his intention to find lodging in Paris. When I had sufficient funds, I journeyed to Paris. It took me some time to locate Archer since I only knew his first name. I had to support myself through similar methods that I used in Brittany. Eventually, I heard of an artist who was struggling to make a living. In order to augment his income, this artist rented a room to an American tourist whom he had recently met in Brittany.”
“I am not some toy for you to play with, Jacqueline! Get to the point. We both know that I was the artist, and that my boarder was Philip Archer. He mysteriously vanished in Paris. I now realize the truth. You located him and transported him back to 1573. You must have found Jeanne d’Ys already dead.”
“You’re only partially correct. I did contact Philip. He agreed to return to 1573 with me. We went to Brittany. There we entered the gateway to the past, but we never reached our desired destination. We found ourselves there.”
Jacqueline pointed to a window. Looking outside, Gaston saw a massive metropolis filled with huge towers. The city brooded like a crouching dragon on the other side of the Lake of Hali.
“Carcosa,” muttered the artist.
“In Paris, Philip had sought an occult explanation for his journey to 1573,” said Jacqueline. “He told his story to a medium named Bayrolles. That soothsayer informed him that the name Hastur appeared in Le Roi en Jaune.”
“I found that book in Philip’s room after he disappeared.”
“And like Philip, you made the mistake of reading it.”
“Why shouldn’t I have read it?”
“The King of Carcosa uses it as a snare to entrap souls in the Lake of Hali. It plants a seed of madness inside the reader’s mind. If that seed fully matures, the reader finds himself in Carcosa itself. The seed inside Philip allowed the King in Yellow to bring both of us to his monstrous citadel. The tyrant of Carcosa attempted to coerce me into becoming one of his slavish concubines. When I refused, the King encased my entire flesh in the Pallid Mask. He mockingly christened me the Pallid Priestess, just as Charles IX’s underlings had insultingly called me the Black Priestess. He ordered the Phantom of Truth to escort me to Hastur. Here, the entire populace suffers the same curse but the Pallid Mask only covers their faces.”
“Wasn’t the Phantom opposed to the King of Carcosa?”
“He was once. The King used the Yellow Sign to enslave the Phantom. You saw that symbol of subjugation on the Phantom’s chest.”
“What happened to Philip?”
“In order to make me suffer, the King fed Philip to the hungry waters of Hali. I was forced to watch Philip’s torment.”
“How did you bring me here?”
“The Phantom of Truth resents his servitude. He secretly undermines the King in Yellow. See that bowl on the wooden table? It contains water that the Phantom brought me from the clear depths of Demhe. The Phantom instructed me on how to use it to glimpse events on Earth. I saw you struggling in the Seine. I used my mystic skills to draw you into Demhe. At my request, the Phantom brought you to my abode in Hastur.”
“Why do you want me in Hastur?”
“Only a man like you can remove the Pallid Mask.”
“The Phantom of Truth has long known the method. In Hastur, a great artist can look into a person’s eyes and see the soul beneath. If the artist then paints that person, the subject will be transformed into the image in the painting.”
“What is the source of this power?”
“Only the Phantom of Truth knows for certain, but he refuses to tell the full story. He merely hints at the existence of a great artist imprisoned by the King of Carcosa. This unknown genius exudes the mystical energy that other artists in this world can draw upon.”‘
“Why didn’t the Phantom tell the people of Hastur about this cure?”
“He did, but the King of Carcosa blinded all the artists inside Hastur.”
“Couldn’t an artist from Alar be brought here?
“Alar is the sworn enemy of Hastur. Neither city would help the other.”
“But why me? You observed me through the water of Demhe. You must know my past?”
“I do indeed, Gaston.”
“Then you know I’m a wanted murderer.”
“I witnessed all your killings – from Jeanne Le Beau to Francine Lutien.”
“Aren’t you repelled by me?”
“You aren’t responsible for your actions. I understand your true nature as well as I understand that of the King in Yellow. The real monster is the master of Carcosa. He planted the seed of murder inside you. If you had never read Le Roi en Jaune, those women’s lives never would have been extinguished.
“When I found Philip, he told me that his landlord would one day be a great artist. We had never met, but I had observed you in my enchanted bowl for months. I witnessed your torment as you metamorphosed into a killer.”
“Why didn’t you bring me to Hastur earlier?”
“I could only cause you to materialize in Demhe. To appear into that Lake, you had to be transported from a large body of water on Earth. I was hoping that you would take a swim at a beach along the French coastline, but you never did. When you fell into the Seine, you were finally in the proper alignment with Demhe.”
“Does the Phantom want me to cure him too?”
“He has no need for a cure. You mistake his true face for a mask. Only my visage is a mirage. Gaze into my eyes, Gaston. Tell me what you see.”
The artist lost himself in the depths of Jacqueline’s blue orbs. “I see the epitome of feminine beauty. I see Aphrodite. I see a goddess!”
“You can make your vision a reality.” She pointed to an easel supporting a canvas. “You can paint my portrait.”
“I shall on one condition, You do not gaze on the picture until it is finished. It will take me days of toil to do full justice to your true form. I’ll concentrate better without the fear of failing to meet your expectations.”
“I agree to your terms. You should rest tonight before beginning this arduous task. I have prepared a room for you.”
In the days that followed, the Pallid Priestess let Gaston toil in solitude. The artist put all his soul into capturing Jacqueline’s beauty with a paint brush. He had never felt happier in his life.
At night, he always had dinner with the Priestess. She regaled Gaston with tales of her native Brittany. The artist learned of the living shadowsthat crept through the sunken corridors of Ys, the Sabbaths of the dreaded cat people, the werewolves dominated by Le Meneur des Loups, and the brutal murders attributed to the Cursed One.
“The Breton legends are quite wonderful,” commented Gaston one evening. “Do they all have a basis in reality?”
“Yes, but some of the stories actually happened in other places,” explained Jacqueline.
“Do you mean other countries, or other parts of France?”
“Both. In fact, one Breton legend originated outside Earth.”
“What legend is that?”
“The legend of the Cursed One, the violent tale that we discussed earlier. I only learned of that fable’s true origins from an Arabic scroll that once belonged to the Black Priest. In fact, it was in order to gain possession of that manuscript that my deplorable ancestor betrayed the Crusaders. History claims that the Black Priest was in league with Saladin. This is a falsehood. Saladin was a virtuous Muslim. My ancestor really conspired with Sinan, the overlord of the Assassins in Syria. There is a gory tale of how the Black Priest identified the true source for the legend of the Cursed One.”
“I do not wish to hear any further tales of horror tonight. Let us talk of more pleasant matters. I am nearly finished, Jacqueline. Only the face remains to be completed on your portrait.”
“There is something that I must teach you, Gaston.” She showed the artist a scroll with words written in French. “This is a new Ritual of the Signum Veneris that I conceived while you’ve been painting. It will bring us back to Earth. I must teach you the Ritual in case anything happens to me.”
“What could possibly happen to you?”
“The King of Carcosa is the embodiment of cruelty. He might learn of our plans and try to forestall us. I don’t want you to suffer Philip’s fate.”
“Is that the only reason, Jacqueline? You wouldn’t do this for any ordinary man. Why not admit the truth? You’re in love with me.”
“Please, Gaston, let us not talk of love,” pleaded the Pallid Priestess.
“You forget that I can see into your soul, Jacqueline. I know that you love me. Once I free you from the Pallid Mask, there will be no obstacle to the consummation of our love.”
Jacqueline’s blue eyes filled with tears. “Gaston, do you remember the tale that I told you two nights ago?”
“The tragic story of Anne of the Isles.”
“What was Anne’s oath?”
“She took a vow of celibacy. Anne was a high priestess of the Druids.”
“I too am a priestess of the old religion of Brittany.”
“You claimed that your title of Black Priestess was a malicious lie!”
“That falsehood labeled me a Satanist. I do not revere the Devil or any of his avatars. My life is pledged to the benign gods who tutored humanity centuries ago. My mother made me swear by the golden sickle to be a virgin all my life. I love you, Gaston. I love you with all my soul, but my love can only be of the spirit. It can never be of the flesh.”
The following evening, Gaston stood behind his easel. The Pallid Priestess stood before him. The artist wore the clothes that he had been wearing when he had materialized in the lake of Demhe. Gaston made his final brush stroke.
“My masterpiece is finished,” announced Gaston. “It is my greatest work.”
Jacqueline looked down at her naked body. The second skin caused by the curse of the Pallid Mask had completely vanished. Touching her flowing hair, Jacqueline turned to see her reflection in a wall mirror. She screamed in horror. Her face was that of a rotting corpse.
The artist shifted the easel around, Jacqueline’s horrible visage matched her portrait.
“Gaston, what have you done?”
“Merely finished my masterpiece, my precious Jacqueline. It is a true masterpiece of horror. I have done with a brush what Poe achieved with a pen.”
“It was the King of Carcosa! He forged a mental link with you when you read his play in Paris!”
“You overestimate the power of Carcosa’s monarch. I couldn’t make any sense of Le Roi en Jaune when I read it a year ago. My sole reaction was that it was as poorly written as the Book of Revelations. The King in Yellow bears no responsibility for my actions. I, Gaston Morrell, have always been my own master!”
“Why did you do this?”
“I thought you were different, but you’re like all the others! A deceiver! A liar! You beguiled me with your bewitching eyes! You raised my hopes that I would share your bed! Then you dash my desires by invoking a childish vow of celibacy? You have no idea of my true nature! I am more than Gaston Morrell. I am Bluebeard!”
“Gaston, I love you! I will never love another!”
Removing his necktie, Gaston twirled it around Jacqueline’s throat.
“Yes, Jacqueline, you shall never love another,” prophesized Gaston as he slowly tightened his makeshift noose.
The lifeless body of the Breton maiden slumped to the ground once Gaston finished his allotted task. Lifting the corpse, Gaston carried it to the window overlooking the Lake of Hali. He gently pushed the body through the portal. The cadaver fell into the waters below. As Jacqueline’s remains sank, Gaston stared into the dark depths below.
“Let me compose your epitaph, my celibate priestess:
Pray for the Soul of the
In her Youth for Love of
Gaston, a Strangler
A. D. 1878.
“Gaston studied the scroll that Jacqueline had given him the night before. Before he could perform the Ritual of the Signum Veneris, he was interrupted by a harsh voice.
“Murderous scum!” shouted the Phantom of Truth. His arms held the drenched body of Jacqueline the Bold. “I sensed her danger, but wasn’t able to escape the scrutiny of the King in Yellow until it was too late. I couldn’t save her life, but I rescued her soul from the ravenous waters of Hali. You marred her face in life, but I can restore her beauty in death.”
The Phantom waved his hand over Jacqueline’s face. The decaying flesh was replaced by the radiance of her true visage frozen in death. “Your portrait is an obscenity. Let its vile imagery be completely erased.” The Phantom raised his hand. The canvas was now blank.
“Gaston Morrell, suffer the penalty for your blasphemous act! By the hounds of Yeth and the black star of Yrimid, I curse you for all eternity! The Pallid Priestess is dead. Long live the Pallid Priest!”
Gaston felt a strange tinkling over his entire body. He looked down at his hands. They were encased in a white chalkiness. Touching his face, he looked at his reflection. The Pallid Mask covered not only his face but his entire body.
“I now leave you in solitude to contemplate your destiny,” announced the Phantom of Truth. “Return to Earth if you dare. Before my departure, you should know that a certain memory is now forever lost to you.”
Still gripping the deceased Jacqueline, the Phantom of Truth vanished.
“Fool!” snarled Gaston. “The means of my salvation are well within my grasp!”
When he had gained the power to glimpse the human soul during his first night in Hastur, Gaston had stared into his own eyes in a mirror. He had seen only the stark blackness of night. If that was the true nature of his soul, so be it! He knew that his hands possessed the same power to alter his physical form just as they had Jacqueline’s.Picking up the brush, he prepared to paint his self-portrait.
Gaston soon realized part of his memory remained shrouded. The artist couldn’t recall his real physical form. The Phantom of Truth must have blasted that memory from his mind.
The artist laughed grimly. Jacqueline’s ordeal had proven that the subject of Gaston’s art could be transformed into any shape painted on canvas. There was only one image that Gaston could remember vividly enough to use as his new physical body. Working long into the night, Gaston labored with a fierce intensity. When dawn broke, Gaston had completed his work.
The artist scrutinized his hands. They were now fully flesh. He looked at his face in the mirror. Satisfied with what he saw, he removed all his clothes. The mirror divulged that his body was a flawless duplicate of the new painting,
“I was wrong, Jacqueline. This is truly my greatest work. My ultimate masterpiece.”
The artist spoke with a new voice. Befitting his altered flesh, Gaston’s voice matched perfectly the enchanting tones of Jacqueline the Bold.
The most respected art collector in Paris was the Duc de Carineaux. Living inside the nobleman’s house was his mistress, Feliciana Sorelli, the lead dancer for the Paris Opera House. Normally, the Duc would be spending the evening locked in the arms of his charming paramour. However, Feliciana had left Paris that evening to visit her ill mother. The Duc feared that the dancer was deceiving him. He suspected her of cheating behind his back with the Comte de Chagny. Her mother’s health could merely be serving as an excuse to mask an assignation with the Comte. Being in a bad mood, the Duc was reading Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de Mal in his study.
There was a knock at the door.
“What is it, Georges?”
The Duc’s butler entered the room. “There is a young man downstairs. He wishes to sell you a portrait.”
“Tell him to go away. It’s late.”
“Your Grace, as you have remarked on more than one occasion, I have no knowledge of art. Nevertheless, even a simpleton such as myself can see that this painting is a true masterpiece. I believe that it surpasses every item in your collection.”
“Based on that recommendation, my loyal servant, I shall see this gentleman immediately. Did this fellow give his name?”
“Hastur d’Ys, Your Grace.”
Upon reaching his study, the Duc discovered a visitor attired in male clothing. The individual was smoking a cigar. Smoke from the cigar obscured Hastur’s features.
The Duc’s eyes focused on a portrait reclining on the wall. He raised it from the ground. Holding it in both hands, the nobleman savored its majesty.
“Did you paint this?”
“Yes,” answered Hastur.
“Do you think me a fool? Months ago, I purchased a work painted in a similar style from an unscrupulous art dealer. Like this portrait, it was unsigned. Eventually the police traced the portrait to Gaston Morrell, the maniacal killer. He had painted the poor girl in the picture before throttling her.”
“If Your Grace will indulge me, I can easily quell any doubts about the authorship of this work. I can offer two pieces of evidence to verify its origins.”
“I assume that other artists have visited your abode. They must have drawn sketches for you. If you can bring me a sketchbook and a pencil, I can quickly draw the woman in the painting. Then you can compare my sketch with the portrait.”
The Duc summoned Georges to bring the appropriate materials. Once Hastur had completed his drawing, the Duc inspected it.
“I admit that your style greatly resembles that of the portrait’s author. You alluded to another piece of evidence.”
“As you noted earlier, all of Morrell’s models experienced the misfortune of becoming corpses. The young lady in the portrait is among the living. Would you like me to introduce her to you?”
“Could such a rendezvous be arranged for tomorrow?”
“You need not wait that long. We have been discussing a self-portrait. I am both the artist and the model.”
Hastur’s hands reached behind her head. She plied loose the pins holding her hair in place. Her ebony hair fell on her shoulders.
“I see a resemblance,” acknowledged the Duc, “but only a thorough inspection would completely verify your claims.”
“Is there a room where I could disrobe, Your Grace?”
“There is one upstairs. Let me take you there.”
Hastur followed her host up the stairwell. On the upper floor, the Duc showed his guest into the bedroom of the absent Feliciana Sorelli.
After stripping off her clothes, Hastur stood before the Duc, totally naked.
“Tell me, Your Grace, have I passed inspection?”
“With flying colors.” The Duc kissed Hastur passionately on the left shoulder. Embracing the artist, he lowered her gently into Feliciana’s bed.
As her back touched the bedside, Hastur whispered into the Duc’s ear.”
“I have a confession to make. Your Grace, I’m a virgin.”
“Not for long,” the Duc replied.
When Feliciana returned to the Duc’s establishment, she was told to pack her belongings and leave. Her room was now occupied by Hastur d’Ys.
The Duc de Carineaux immediately assumed the role of patron to the artist formerly known as Gaston Morrell. Identifying herself as a native of Brittany, Hastur announced her intention to launch a series of paintings based on Breton myths. Once she had completed several paintings, the Duc made arrangements for an exhibition to showcase his new protégé.
Hastur’s self-portrait was enshrined in a room that housed the Duc’s most valuable paintings. With his new mistress by his side, the nobleman commented on the prized jewel of his collection.
“You really should sign your self-portrait.”
“I don’t want my painting altered in any way. I arrived in your home with a purity that the portrait represented. I want the painting to remind me always of the voluntary surrender of my virginity.”
Hastur was lying. She really feared that any alteration to the painting could adversely affect her. Hastur wondered if she was supernaturally linked to the painting for the remainder of her life. She had heard of mystical paintings that preserve the youth of their subjects. Would she ever age? Would she always have the appearance of a twenty-five year old?
The ability to alter the appearance of others through her artwork had been lost by leaving the city near the Lake of Hali. Hastur had painted a portrait of the middle-aged Duc that made him appear ten years younger. The painting had failed to rejuvenate the Duc.
“The exhibition is in two days,” said the Duc. “There is one point about it that I don’t relish. Gazing on your beauty has been my exclusive pleasure since you arrived. Now I must share that ecstasy with others.”
“You wish to hide my beauty from other men.”
“Yes, my darling.”
“Then let me wear a veil and robe at public gatherings. It will generate publicity by making me appear to be a woman of mystery.”
The exhibition was a great success. Hastur’s paintings were praised enthusiastically by the acclaimed American artist, Foxhall Clifford.
Hastur d’Ys attended the art show wearing a black robe with a hood that covered her entire face except for a wide slit which revealed her blue eyes. The attendees were captivated by her exotic garb. Rumors began to circulate among them about her true appearance. Was she disfigured? Was she an orthodox Muslim who veiled her face?
“Let me compliment you on your amazing paintings, Mademoiselle d’Ys,” said a man whose age appeared to be about fifty. “Your Les Lavreuses de Nuits and Les Chats Courtauds are products of true genius. But your Christian name intrigues me. It is Arabic in nature?”
“It is an obscure Breton variant of Esther, Monsieur.”
“Ah, I now remember seeing that name in records of the sixteenth century. Your apparel seems to be influenced by certain Asian traditions. Am I correct?”
“I based it on a newspaper article about the ninja assassins of Japan.”
“Since you have an interest in Asia, I may be able to perform a unique service for you.” He handed Hastur a business card which read:
Repairer of Reputations, Literary Agent and Asian Dance Instructor
69 Rue des Quatre Vents
“What exactly is a ‘Repairer of Reputations’?”
“A man who assists clients who have been slandered. It is not in that capacity that I offer my services. As you can see, I am also an Asian dance instructor. I offer a course in which a woman can learn rare exotic dances that greatly enhances her femininity.”
“I shall consider your offer, Monsieur Grimoire.” Hastur placed the business card in the pocket of her black robe.
Hastur d’Ys soon became a major celebrity in the artistic circles of Paris. Accompanied by the Duc de Carineaux, she frequently attended parties in the Latin Quarter. Several of these parties were hosted by American expatriates. It was at a party organized by Richard Osborne Elliot that Hastur was greeted by Foxhall Clifford.
“Hastur, let me introduce my fiancée, Lucille Lutien.”
The black veil hid the shock on Hastur’s face. Here was the red-haired woman who had dared to betray Hastur’s masculine incarnation by threatening to contact the police. Having gained her composure, Hastur began to conceive a bold strategy. She would befriend Lucille and learn her current address. One dark night, Lucille would receive the ultimate punishment for her treachery.
As she was leaving Hastur’s company to socialize with other guests, Lucille was accosted by a tall man.
“Lucille, I just heard about your engagement. Let me wish you all the happiness in the world.”
“Thank you, Jacques.”
“That man next to Lucille, he looks very familiar,” whispered Hastur to the Duc de Carineaux. “Who is he?”
“An old friend,” answered the Duc. “Let me introduce you.” The nobleman beckoned Jacques to join him and Hastur.
“So this is your new artistic discovery, Your Grace,” observed the newcomer. “Seeing your lovely blue eyes, Mademoiselle d’Ys, I can only guess at the awesome beauty that lies under your veil.”
“Monsieur has me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but your own remains unknown to me.”
“Inspector Jacques Lefevre.”
“The man who tracked down Bluebeard,” noted Hastur.
“We must speak softly,” cautioned Lefevre. “The sister of one of Bluebeard’s victims is a guest at the party.”
“I shall be discreet,” said Hastur softly. “I need your opinion on a certain matter, Inspector. As you must be aware, all my work is based on the history and legends of Brittany. Have you heard of Conomor? ”
“He was a Breton sovereign of the sixth century. Known as the Cursed One, Conomor allegedly murdered four of his wives. I’ve read a book entitled The Ruler of All That Was. The work is credited to a Persian called El Hichmakani, but some claim this author is actually a false identity of Richard Francis Burton. The book argued that Conomor never committed the bloody crimes attributed to him. The earlier misdeeds of an ancient despot were attributed to Conomor by his detractors. In fact, the real wife-murderer founded a citadel in the Alamut region centuries before the Assassins built their fortress there. This obscure maniac of Persian legends was alleged to have a dark-blue beard. Nevertheless, Conomor is clearly a source for the Bluebeard legend that was grafted on to Gaston Morrell by the press.”
“Precisely, Inspector. I am considering a painting based on Conomor. I’m worried that the press might accuse me of exploiting the recent Bluebeard murders for personal gain.”
“You have nothing to fear, Mademoiselle. The only historical figure whom journalists regularly cite as a source for the Bluebeard legend is Baron de Rais, the child killer of the fifteenth century. Most of the public haven’t heard of de Rais, and Conomor is even more obscure. As far as the bulk of the press is concerned, the name Bluebeard is only associated with the cowardly Morrell.”
“You consider Morrell to be a coward?” said Hastur.
“How better to describe a man who assaults women? If he had not drowned, Morrell would have been sentenced to the guillotine. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have mounted the scaffold quaking with fear.
“Excuse me, Mademoiselle, Your Grace, the hour grows late and I must depart. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mademoiselle. I wish you further artistic triumphs in the future.”
The Inspector departed.
“Truly a great man,” declared the Duc. “President MacMahon wisely proclaimed him a national hero for ending Morrell’s rampage. The Inspector has always reminded me of Danton. He physically resembles that controversial revolutionary.”
“He does indeed,” stated Hastur.
Danton too was a public hero, thought Hastur. However, the public turned against Danton and destroyed him. That shall be your fate as well, Inspector.
Hastur had learned that Lucille’s address hadn’t changed. She still resided in the Latin Quarter close to the Seine. Hastur’s movements during the night were hampered by the Duc’s possessiveness. She needed an excuse to regularly visit the Latin Quarter. She examined the business card given her by the self-styled Repairer of Reputations. Jean Grimoire’s establishment was within walking distance of Lucille’s home.
The Duc was informed by his mistress that she had developed an interest in learning Asian dances. Hastur requested that her lover visit Grimoire’s establishment with her. The Duc was skeptical. Grimoire sounded like a mountebank. Nevertheless, the Duc indulged Hastur’s whim.
At the Rue des Quatre Vents, Grimoire introduced the Duc and Hastur to his assistant, a raven-haired American named Bailey Rollins. Her beauty nearly rivaled Hastur’s own. Dressed in a black leotard with exposed arms and legs, she performed an extremely sensual dance to the music of a flute played by Grimoire. While the Duc was enthralled by Bailey’s provocative movements, Hastur could not take her blue eyes off the symbol emblazoned on the portion of the leotard over the dancer’s stomach. The symbol was of a far different hue than the rest of the costume.
“Quite entertaining,” noted the Duc once the demonstration concluded. “Where in Asia did that dance originate?”
“In China,” answered Grimoire. “You just witnessed the Moon Dance of the Kuen-Yuin.”
“I wish to enroll Mademoiselle d’Ys in your school, but I wish her lessons to be private.”
“Private lessons are given only at night, Your Grace.”
Grimoire’s answer pleased Hastur. Evening lessons would fit in very well with her homicidal designs.
“Monsieur Grimoire, your assistant had a symbol on her costume,” mentioned Hastur. “What is it?”
“It is the Yellow Sign of Yian. I provide costumes similar to those worn by Mademoiselle Rollins to all my students. Would you permit Mademoiselle Rollins to measure you?”
“That will not be necessary. Being an artist by nature, I prefer to design my own.”
Back at the Duc’s mansion, Hastur sketched the designs for an appropriate costume for a sensual dancer. It was based on those worn by Middle Eastern belly dancers. She would send her sketches as well as her measurements to Van Klopen, the most popular dressmaker in Paris.
She brooded over Grimoire’s usage of the Yellow Sign. Was he an agent of the King in Yellow? Did he know of her connection to Jacqueline the Bold? Or had it merely been the Hastur alias that attracted his attention?
There was also the matter of Grimoire’s female associate. The name Bailey Rollins was similar to Bayrolles, the medium cited by Jacqueline. Hastur had assumed that Bayrolles was the name of a man, but it could easily have belonged to a woman. Bayrolles had known Philip Archer, but had she ever met Jacqueline?
Hastur became determined to proceed very cautiously when dealing with Grimoire and Rollins.
The Duc’s private coach drove Hastur to the dance on the night of her first lesson. It wouldn’t return to pick her up until three hours later. When she disrobed, Hastur glimpsed no signs of recognition in the eyes of her instructors. She concluded that neither Grimoire nor Rollins had any prior dealings with Jacqueline. Hastur changed into her flamboyantly red costume.
After the dancing session had proceeded for an hour, Hastur made a request.
“Could we take a recess for a half hour? My patron keeps me largely confined. In my youth, I use to walk along the Seine and gaze at the stars. I would like to do so now.”
“I have no objections, but you’ll cut a conspicuous figure wearing your hood and robe. Some fool will probably call the police and report a phantom haunting the Seine.”
“I will be wearing something totally different.” Hastur reached into the bag in which she had carried her costume. She brought out a different set of clothes.
“Male attire!” exclaimed Grimoire.
“It’s not without precedent,” explained Hastur. “Amantine Dupin, the woman who wrote novels as George Sand, often dressed as a man. My artistic nature compels me to follow in her footsteps.”
After an uneventful half hour, Hastur returned from her stroll. Her lesson then resumed. Once it had concluded, Grimoire had a special request to make of his new student.
“As you’re aware, Mademoiselle d’Ys, I am also a literary agent. If you don’t mind, could you read the verse play that a young poet has recently given me? I would like to hear the opinion of an accomplished artist such as yourself.”
“I would gladly do so. What is the author’s name?”
“For the moment, he prefers anonymity.” Grimoire handed Hastur a manuscript. Its title was Le Roi en Jaune.
“When do you need this play returned?”
“There’s no need to return it. Consider it your own personal copy.”
When Hastur returned to the Duc’s house, she burnt Le Roi en Jaune into the fireplace.
A criminal gang in Paris secretly owned a printing shop, Black Dwarf Press. The shop was run outwardly by a married couple, Marc and Miranda Douanier. Deriving its name from a novel by Sir Walter Scott, the supposed function of Black Dwarf Press was to print French translations of English escapist literature. The clandestine function of the establishment was to print forged stock certificates to be utilized in swindles. As a sideline, Black Dwarf Press printed works deemed pornographic for independent distributors.
One such distributor ordered copies of an allegedly pornographic play to be printed on a regular basis. He arrived every month at Black Dwarf Press to pick up his order. The title of the play was Le Roi en Jaune.
Foxhall Clifford and Lucille Lutien were invited to spend an afternoon at the Duc de Carineaux’s house. While the two men were discussing an item in the Duc’s art collection in another section of the house, Hastur and Lucille were sipping tea in the living room. The Duc had given his mistress permission to unveil when alone with their female guest. Lucille was one of the few people in Paris to see Hastur’s true visage.
“My patron can be very possessive,” said Hastur, “but I hope to persuade him soon to allow the permanent removal of my veil.”
“How do you intend to melt his recalcitrance?” asked Lucille.
“I’ve been taking exotic dance lessons. I hope a sensual demonstration of my new skills will give me some leverage. In exchange for my agreeing to dance only for him, he would allow me to dispense with my ridiculous veil.”
“I wish you luck.”
“You can actually do me a favor. I feel that I’ve perfected my craft, but I need an objective opinion. Could I give you a private demonstration at your apartment?”
“I’ll be more than willing to help.”
“My dancing lessons are every Tuesday and Thursday. The dance studio is within walking distance of your home. I am always permitted a recess between 8:30 and 9. Usually, I walk along the Seine and observe the stars. I hide my identity by adorning masculine attire in the tradition of George Sand. I could visit you during my recess, change into my costume, and perform one of my dances.”
“This Tuesday would be fine. Foxhall and I won’t be going anywhere together that evening. Tuesday is the night that he plays poker with his American friends.”
“Now, this is very important, Lucille. I can’t afford to have His Grace learn about our clandestine rendezvous. You mustn’t tell anyone about this. Not even Foxhall.”
“It will be our secret, Hastur. I promise.”
Hastur arrived on schedule that Tuesday evening. Inside the apartment, Lucille scrutinized her guest.
“You aren’t carrying any bag. Where’s your costume?”
“I’m wearing it under my suit.” Hastur reached into her jacket pocket. “Except for this.” She pulled out a red cap with a long white veil flowing from the back. Hastur placed it on her head. “The veil is easily detached.” She separated it from the cap. “This feature enables one to wrap the veil suggestively around the Duc’s neck like this.” She draped the veil around Lucille’s throat. Hastur tightened the improvised garrote with a swift yank.
Lucille’s eyes widened in horror as she slowly gasped for breath.
“I thought you were different, but you’re like all the others! A deceiver! A liar! You beguiled me with your bewitching eyes! You raised my hopes that I would share your bed! Then you dashed my desires by committing a foolish act of betrayal! You have no idea of my true nature. I am more than Hastur d’Ys! I am Gaston Morrell! I am Bluebeard!”
About two hours later, a boatman found Lucille’s corpse floating in the Seine.
Paris was soon thrown into a panic. Headlines like “Bluebeard Lives” and “Bluebeard Has Risen From the Grave” ran in the newspapers. The following article appeared in Le Taon, the prestigious left-wing journal, under the byline of Sigismond Trottier.
The Crime of Inspector Lefevre
Did not the Sûreté assure us that Gaston Morrell, the fiend known as Bluebeard, drowned in the Seine months ago? Like many others in the press, I raised an important question. Where is the corpse of the murderer? I remember the words of Inspector Jacques Lefevre all too well:
“The body must have drifted out to sea. The Sûreté scrupulously patrolled the banks of the Seine for days after Morrell drowned. The only way for Morrell to have escaped that police cordon would be through sorcery.”
While I and other journalists remain skeptical, no less a person than the President of our Republic voiced fullest confidence in Lefevre’s judgment. We now know that the Inspector and the President are outrageous liars, The earlier failure to apprehend Bluebeard had embarrassed the President. Therefore, the President’s regime falsely claimed that the strangler was dead. A massive cover-up occurred at the highest level. From the Inspector to the President, government officials knew that Morrell had survived. They gambled that he would flee France and pursue his murderous career elsewhere. Their recklessness has cost a young woman, Lucille Lutien, her life.
There is blood on the hands of the President and his cohorts. I call for the resignation of the President MacMahon. I call for the resignation of Commissioner Mifroid. I call for the resignation of Inspector Lefevre…
Darlla Rassendyll gazed sadly on an old playbill lying on her desk in the headquarters of the Sûreté.
“You seem lost in thought,” commented Anton Renard.
“I was remembering Francine Lutien,” confessed Darlla. “Lucille’s horrible murder has brought back all the pain of her demise.” She showed Renard the playbill. It described his female colleague as “Darlla Kent, the Blonde Nightingale and former star of the Paris Opera” under her photograph.
“I didn’t know you appeared at the Paris Opera House. Why did you dye your hair blonde? You’re much more striking as a redhead.”
“I flopped badly when I sang in a supporting role at the Opera. The critics ridiculed my singing. My Opera contract was terminated after a single performance. However, a theatrical producer asked me to appear as part of a double bill with another entertainer. The advertising correctly identified me as having appeared at the Opera, but I dyed my hair blonde in order to avoid recognition by any theater patron with memories of my dismal debut. There was a major problem due to the Opera fiasco: I couldn’t get any blurbs.”
“Blurbs are comments by critics praising a performance.”
“But there are at least ten blurbs praising your singing.”
“I was a relatively successful actress before I was a singer. Positive blurbs were edited from complimentary reviews of my acting. If you read those blurbs carefully, you’ll see that nothing indicates singing.”
Renard looked at the blurbs. They contained phrases like “…consistently brilliant…” and “…commanding stage presence…” Underneath the comments was a handwritten comment: “Here’s a genuine blurb. Darlla Rassendyll is a true friend…Francine.”
“Francine’s notation is very moving. I understand why you treasure this program.” “I intend to keep that playbill with me at all times, in memory of Francine until her murderer is finally brought to justice,” swore Darlla. “Anton, I need a favor. Since I’ve only been here a few months, I don’t have access to the Archives. I want to study the file on Gaston Morrell.”
“I’ll take you to the Archives,” replied Renard.
“Our careers as policemen are effectively over, Jacques,” predicted Commissioner Mifroid. “We have erred dramatically by concluding Morrell was dead. All we can do is salvage some semblance of honor by arresting Morrell before he can butcher any more women. We don’t have much time. An order has come down from the President himself. If we don’t prove within forty-eight hours that Lucille Lutien was strangled by someone other than Morrell, both you and I will be forced to resign.”
“It’s impossible that Morrell wasn’t responsible,” declared Lefevre. “My subordinate, Cardec, has a potential lead. He will soon be joining us.”
Lefevre was working under an incredible strain. He held himself totally responsible for the death of Francine’s sister. He was haunted by the realization that his own apparent negligence was jeopardizing the careers of others. An unsigned letter of resignation recommending Cardec as his replacement lay locked inside a desk drawer in his office.
Five minutes later, Cardec entered Mifroid’s office. He briefed his superiors on his findings.
“In the past, Morrell supported himself financially by selling his paintings without a signature through an accomplice. I suspect that Morrell has modified his methods. Now his accomplice pretends to be the painter. ”
“Who is this accomplice, Cardec?” asked Mifroid.
“I interviewed three distinguished art critics. I asked every one of them if there were any painters currently active with a style resembling Morrell. They all gave the same name: Hastur d’Ys.”
“The so-called Masked Artist,” observed Mifroid, “and the mistress of the Duc de Carineaux. We must tread carefully, my colleagues. We have already incurred the wrath of the political Left. We can’t spark the displeasure of the Right as well. The Duc is a prominent monarchist and a close friend of the President.”
“I know exactly what to do,” claimed Lefevre. “I shall appeal to the Duc’s political prejudices to gain his cooperation. All we need to do is have Mademoiselle d’Ys openly demonstrate her talents as painter.”
“The masked angle intrigues me,” said Mifroid. “What color are the Masked Artist’s eyes, Inspector?”
“Are both Morrell and d’Ys the same height?”
“Yes, Commissioner,” confirmed Lefevre. “They both even have slender physiques, but the idea that Morrell has disguised himself as the Duc’s lover is utterly absurd.”
“Nevertheless, I insist that this Masked Artist undergo a physical examination to disprove my supposedly absurd speculation. Surely you have a female employee capable of performing such an examination.”
“Darlla Rassendyll, Commissioner.”
In her private bedroom, Hastur d’Ys was giving a demonstration of her newly acquired dancing skills. She was wearing her red costume. A knock on the door interrupted her dance.
“Georges, I gave strict orders that we weren’t to be disturbed!” yelled the Duc.
“I’m sorry, Your Grace, but Inspector Lefevre is downstairs. He insists upon seeing you and Mademoiselle d’Ys immediately.”
Hastur quickly put her black robe over her dancing costume. She didn’t bother to remove her cap and flowing veil. Her black hood covered them.
She was disturbed by Lefevre’s presence. Had he deduced that she was Lucille’s killer? Was he here to arrest her?
In the living room, the Duc and Hastur were met by Lefevre, Cardec and Darlla.
“My apologies for interrupting you, Your Grace,” said Lefevre. “I need your assistance. As you are aware, certain unscrupulous journalists and politicians are seeking to exploit the tragedy of Lucille Lutien for political advantage.”
“Those pious Leftists!” exclaimed the Duc. “Ever since they won the parliamentary elections last year, they’ve done nothing but call for the President’s resignation.”
“I fear that the Leftists may be turning their libelous attention towards you,” claimed Lefevre. “Your prominence as a supporter of the President may drag you into the unfounded speculations of Trottier and his ilk. A rumor has begun to spread. It is only a matter of time before the Leftists publicize it. The allegation is that Mademoiselle d’Ys is a fraud. She never painted the works attributed to her. The real artist is Gaston Morrell.”
“I have personally seen Mademoiselle d’Ys paint,” stated the Duc.
“It would take more than your word, Your Grace, to quell this rumor. My colleagues and I must witness Madame d’Ys at work. We can then leak to the rightwing press that Mademoiselle d’Ys was unquestionably cleared.”
“Then let us all go to the room reserved to be my studio,” suggested Hastur.
After an hour at the easel, Hastur put the finishing strokes on the portrait before her. “It isn’t my best work because I rushed it, but I think that I did catch Mademoiselle Rassendyll’s likeness.” Hastur had chosen Darlla as a model because the policewoman’s hair was reminiscent of Lucille’s.
“You have quashed the vile assertion that Morrell is the true author of your paintings,” admitted Lefevre. “However, there is another rumor even more vile. The rumor is that you are Gaston Morrell in disguise. In order to dispel that bizarre theory, it is necessary that Mademoiselle d’Ys submit to a physical examination by Mademoiselle Rassendyll.”
“This is absurd!” protested the Duc. “I refuse to permit it.”
“Your Grace, I have no objection to having Mademoiselle Rassendyll examine me,” said Hastur. “Let us dispel this falsehood once and for all.”
“Gentlemen, we should go outside,” suggested Lefevre, “while the examination is conducted.”
The men weren’t summoned back into the room until ten minutes later. Hastur was wearing her hood. Her hands were tying the sash around her robe.
“Well, Mademoiselle Rassendyll, what is the result of your examination?” asked Inspector Lefevre.
Darlla pointed an accusing finger at Hastur. “Here is the killer of Lucille Lutien!”
“Are you mad?” shouted Hastur. She removed her robe and hood. Hastur stood haughtily in her red dancing costume, “Is this the body of Gaston Morrell?”
“No,” replied Darlla. “It is the body of Jacqueline the Bold!”
“What?” said a stunned Hastur. “Jacqueline the Bold lived centuries ago!”
“I’m not referring to the legendary Breton bandit. I’m referring to the stage magician of the same name. That performer claimed to be descended from the female brigand as well as the infamous Black Priest of Brittany.” Darlla removed from her purse the playbill signed by Francine. She handed it to the Duc.
Opening the playbill, the Duc saw two photos of different women who shared a theatrical double bill. One was listed as “Darlla Kent, the Blonde Nightingale and former star of the Paris Opera.” The other was called “Jacqueline ‘the Bold’ Sorgue, Illusionist Extraordinaire.”
Darlla’s eyes narrowed. “You didn’t recognize me, Mademoiselle Sorgue. My hair was dyed blonde when we knew each other a year ago. The Inspector only addressed me as Mademoiselle Rassendyll. You knew me last year solely by my stage name of Darlla Kent.”
“What does it matter if my protégé was formerly a magician?” questioned the Duc.
“Jacqueline Sorgue is wanted by the Sûreté for burglary,” divulged Lefevre. “Mademoiselle Sorgue, you are under arrest.”
Hastur searched her memories. Jacqueline had mentioned that she had committed robberies during her search for Philip Archer. Hastur knew she had fallen into an inescapable trap. However, she was only charged with burglary. Her physical body was only twenty-five years old. She could weather a prison term.
“I admit that my real name is Jacqueline Sorgue, but I had nothing to go with Lucille’s murder.”
“A long train of evidence proves otherwise, Mademoiselle Sorgue,” insisted Darlla. “With the Inspector’s permission, I will explain.”
“Please do,” said Lefevre. He had no idea what evidence Darlla was citing.
“Your burglaries, Mademoiselle Sorgue, were investigated by my friend, Francine Lutien of the Sûreté. When you disappeared before you could be arrested, Francine traced your movements prior to your appearance as an illusionist in Paris. You had traveled with a wandering band of gypsies in Brittany. Several gypsies remembered that you were looking for a man named Philippe. Since there are thousands of Philippes in France, the name proved of little value in Francine’s search for you. I now know the name of the man that you were looking for wasn’t named Philippe but the English equivalent, Philip.”
“Philip Archer!” snapped Cardec. “I investigated his disappearance. He was Gaston Morrell’s tenant.”
“Exactly, Monsieur Cardec,” added Darlla. “Philip left a strange manuscript detailing a weird experience in Brittany. Do you remember the details?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t,” said Cardec. “I read it a year ago.”
“It’s a strange story about a supposed love affair between Archer and a woman, Jeanne d’Ys, in Brittany,” revealed Darlla. “There is also a man named Hastur in the same tale. The story incorporates an actual gravestone belonging to a Jeanne d’Ys from the sixteenth century. I believe this story to be a fictionalization of a love affair between Archer and a contemporary Breton woman. Archer’s lover was an expert on Breton lore. She showed Archer the grave of Jeanne d’Ys, She told him about the obscure Breton name of Hastur. You were Archer’s lover, Mademoiselle Sorgue. Your alias ties you to Archer’s manuscript and Archer ties you to Morrell.”
“You’re spouting nonsense!” said Hastur.
“For unknown reasons, Archer broke off his affair with you,” continued Darlla. “Perhaps he sensed your scheming nature. Archer fled Brittany for Paris. You followed him there. Eventually you traced Archer to Morrell’s house. You and Archer disappeared from Paris around the same time. That can’t be mere coincidence. You knew the police were looking for you. You went to Archer’s residence to hide from the authorities. It wasn’t Archer who hid you. You now had a new admirer, Gaston Morrell.”
“What happened to Archer?” asked Cardec.
“Your earlier investigation indicated that Archer probably committed suicide. I see no reason to doubt that conclusion. I suspect that Archer was torn between a moral obligation to turn Mademoiselle Sorgue over to the police and his love for her.
“During the period that Mademoiselle Sorgue was hiding in Morrell’s house, she was taught the art of painting by her new suitor. This is the explanation for the similarity of her style to Morrell’s. Eventually Morrell arranged for Mademoiselle Sorgue to flee Paris.”
“You have no evidence that I ever knew Morrell!” objected Hastur. “A mere similarity in styles isn’t proof.”
Darlla turned towards the Duc de Carineaux. “Your Grace, I have heard a rumor that you have a painting depicting Hastur d’Ys?
“Yes, it’s a self-portrait.”
“Are you sure? Could it not be the work of Gaston Morrell?”
“That’s impossible to tell. Their styles are too similar.”
“There is one difference between Morrell’s paintings and those of the self-styled Hastur d’Ys,” responded Darlla. “All of Hastur’s works are signed. Morrell’s aren’t. Is the portrait signed?”
The Duc’s face became grim. “It’s unsigned.” The nobleman silently recalled that Hastur was a virgin when they had made love. Perhaps Morrell’s insane rages had resulted from an unconsummated romance with Hastur.
“Then the portrait is ample proof of a relationship between Morrell and Mademoiselle Sorgue,” concluded Darlla. “You were the great love of Morrell’s life, Mademoiselle Sorgue. You were his feminine ideal. Inevitably, Morrell’s obsession with you drove him to madness. No woman whom he painted could match your perfection. Morrell felt compelled to strangle his models.”
Hastur’s eyes flashed with hatred. This uppity redhead was creating a compelling case through a whirlwind of half-truths. Glancing at Darlla’s portrait, Hastur became determined to throttle the policewoman. The artist’s hand reached for the back of her veil.
“Obsessed with avenging your lover, you returned to Paris,” resumed Darlla. “You created the identity of Hastur d’Ys. You murdered Lucille Lutien because of her role in exposing Morrell as Bluebeard. You made the crime look like Morrell’s previous murders in order to ruin Inspector Lefevre’s career.
“I have established the motive. Now I shall establish the means. Your Grace, did Mademoiselle Sorgue leave your house last Tuesday evening?”
Before the Duc could answer, Hastur leaped at Darlla and whipped her veil around the redhead’s neck. Lefevre and Cardec rushed forward, but they were too late to rescue their colleague.
Darlla rescued herself by smashing her fist into Hastur’s jaw. Gazing downward at the unconscious murderess sprawled on the floor, Darlla saw no need for further explanations.
The French press retreated from their persecution of Inspector Lefevre and turned all their scorn on the woman arrested for Lucille Lutien’s murder. All the wild Breton stories involving the Sorgue family, including the treason of the Black Priest, were revived. Dubbed “the Black Priestess of Paris” and “Lady Bluebeard,” Hastur was portrayed as the maniacal woman who inspired Gaston Morrell. An interview with a retired policeman, Lecoq de Gentilly, yielded a most extraordinary theory. He speculated that Jacqueline Sorgue ordered the murders solely to kill Francine Lutien. Supposedly, Jacqueline wanted revenge on Francine for exposing her role as a burglar. All the other women were allegedly strangled to make Francine appear to be the random victim of a lunatic.
The trial of Lucille’s murderer was one of the most dramatic in the history of France. Testimony by Jean Grimoire and Bailey Rollins proved that woman known as Hastur d’Ys had ample opportunity to murder Lucille. The summation of the prosecution compared the accused to such historical murderesses as Lady Guilfort and Citoyenne Roget. The defendant was promptly found guilty and sentenced to the guillotine.
In her prison cell, Hastur d’Ys had tried unsuccessfully to escape. She had memorized the Ritual of the Signum Veneris that Jacqueline had given her. Nothing happened when the spell was invoked. This particular Ritual must only open the gateway between Earth and the world of the King in Yellow. Hastur then conceived a risky strategy to save her life.
The cell door opened. “Your visitor is here,” announced the guard. A man entered the jail cell. The guard shut the door and locked it.
“Why did you send for me, Mademoiselle Sorgue?” asked Jean Grimoire.
“I prefer to be addressed as Mademoiselle d’Ys, Monsieur Grimoire. I wish to employ your services as a Repairer of Reputations.”
“I’m afraid that your reputation is beyond my powers of repair.”
“But not beyond those of your primary client.”
“My primary client?”
“You act as the recruiting agent for a foreign monarch with a prominent lakeside estate. Our first meeting was part of a coordinated effort to recruit me.”
“Very perceptive. My interest in you stemmed from your intriguing pseudonym. Furthermore, my client is an art connoisseur who would appreciate your paintings. I have been in communication with my client since your arrest. He informed me of certain facts of which I was previously unaware. You had been a guest at his estate. You had refused a very generous offer of employment.
“A decision that I deeply regret.”
The Repairer of Reputations made a strange gesture with his left hand. “We can dispense with the formal repartee. I have clouded the mind of the prison guard so he cannot hear us. We must speak bluntly, Hastur. First, what was your exact relationship to Gaston Morrell? The prosecution’s claims at the trial were blatantly false. You were in Carcosa at the time it was alleged that you were hiding in Morrell’s house.”
“Philip Archer told me that his landlord was a great artist. I summoned Morrell to cure me of being the Pallid Priestess. He was weak due to his ordeal in the Seine. He cured my malady by depicting me on canvas. That was the portrait shown on my trial. The strain of completing his last true masterpiece caused Morrell to suffer a fatal seizure. As he was dying, I asked him if he had any last wishes. He had me swear to exact vengeance on Lucille Lutien and Inspector Lefevre. I transported Morrell’s body to Earth and disposed of it accordingly.”
“Where is Morrell’s corpse? I would like to view the body.”
“That’s impossible. I cremated Morrell’s body according to the ancient rites of the Druids. His ashes have been scattered to the four winds.”
“How did you learn to paint?”
“Morrell taught me during his sojourn in the city of Hastur.”
“You have come to Earth with the help of a traitor inside the Court of Carcosa. Name the traitor.”
“The Phantom of Truth.”
“I appreciate your honesty. The King of Carcosa deduced the Phantom’s treachery. The Phantom was erased from our plane of existence by being slowly tortured to death.” Grimoire chuckled. “His reputation for veracity was exaggerated.”
“What do you mean?”
“You apparently inspired great depths of loyalty in the Phantom. He told some ludicrous lie that Morrell had murdered you after deliberately botching your portrait. Supposedly, the Phantom cursed Morrell in retaliation. The cursed artist presumably returned to Earth. The Phantom doubtlessly was trying to hide the fact that you had successfully absconded. If not for the Phantom’s clever lies, the King would have ordered me to search for the missing Jacqueline the Bold on Earth. As I mentioned earlier, our first meeting stemmed from other factors.”
“I am willing to comply with your superior’s demands in exchange for being liberated from this prison.”
“Your request seems to be a little odd, Hastur. As Jacqueline the Bold, you demonstrated the ability to open gateways in time and space. Why do you need the help of the King In Yellow?”
“The last time I opened such a gateway, I was diverted to Carcosa. I don’t relish setting foot there again unless an accommodation has been reached between myself and the King in Yellow.”
Grimoire removed a sheet of paper from inside his coat. “You’ve answered my questions honestly. I anticipated your desire for an accommodation. Signing this sheet of paper will achieve your wish.” Grimoire handed the paper and a pen over to Hastur.
“This is a form that entitles you to claim my body after my execution!”
“Don’t worry your pretty head, my dear. I have been thoroughly authorized to conclude this matter. The King in Yellow gives his word that you will be resurrected in Carcosa in full bodily health.”
Hastur reached for her throat. “I was hoping to avoid the experience of being executed.”
“I’m afraid that it’s unavoidable. The escape of the most hated woman in Paris before her execution would cause the police to investigate a former prosecution witness who visited her cell. This is the only offer on the table. I suggest you sign.”
Hastur signed the paper.
“Considering your pedigree, it is appropriate that we are now allies,” noted Grimoire.
“My pedigree?” replied Hastur.
“Your ancestor, the Abbé Sorgue, alias the Black Priest, was my predecessor as Repairer of Reputations.”
The Sûreté had the power to restrict public access to the prison courtyard where the execution was to be held. Yielding to public pressure, the police allowed the courtyard to be filled to its utmost capacity. Upon entering the prison courtyard, Hastur d’Ys was greeted by a large bloodthirsty crowd. Cries of “Death to Lady Bluebeard” issued from the spectators.
Following her interview with Grimoire, Hastur had been plagued by suspicions that the King of Carcosa had no intention of resurrecting her. All the doubts flooded her mind when she heard the taunts of the crowd.
“I don’t want to die!” she screamed, and refused to mount the scaffold. The guards had no choice but to drag the hysterical prisoner up the stairs to the awaiting guillotine. “The King of Carcosa won’t save me! He lied!” The executioner locked the stocks around Hastur’s neck. “He won’t save me! My reputation! It won’t be repaired! ” The executioner pulled the level to release the blade. “The King is –” The head of the murderess fell into the basket.
Among the spectators were two people who had testified at Hastur’s trial.
“Did you hear what she was shouting?” asked Bailey Rollins.
“I couldn’t hear anything with all those people yelling,” admitted Jean Grimoire.
“Like all killers, Hastur d’Ys (alias Jacqueline Sorgue) showed her true character in the face of retribution,” said Inspector Lefevre seated behind his desk at Sûreté headquarters.
“Did you read the executioner’s report?” asked Cardec. “She mentioned the King of Carcosa just before the blade struck.”
“It’s not surprising. Morrell, her lover, had read Le Roi en Jaune. She must have as well.”
“Do we have any clues as to the identity of the distributor of that vile play?”
“He remains an elusive commodity. Le Roi en Jaune has officially been labeled a work of pornography comparable to the novels of de Sade. If we were to identify the distributor, he could be prosecuted under the censorship statues.”
“I may have stumbled upon the trail of the distributor. It struck me as odd that the murderess was also shouting about her reputation – according to the executioner’s statement. Remember that dance instructor from the trial?”
“Jean Grimoire? What about him?”
“He struck me as a bit of a charlatan, Inspector. Here’s his business card.”
“I understand your interest, Cardec, in this fellow who imagines himself a Repairer of Reputations.”
“He’s also a literary agent. Perhaps he’s the agent for whomever owns the ‘copyrights’ to Le Roi en Jaune. Furthermore, he visited Hastur d’Ys shortly after her conviction.”
“Very unusual conduct for a prosecution witness. Did the guard overhear anything of interest?”
“There were some confusing allusions to a foreign king.”
“Perhaps the King of Carcosa.”
“A document was also signed by d’Ys during the meeting. The guard didn’t overhear discussion of this document, but it was dated the day of the interview. Grimoire presented that document to the prison authorities. It allowed him to claim the remains of Hastur d’Ys. She was buried the same day as the execution.”
“Clearly Grimoire had an unusual relationship with the deceased murderess, Cardec. Put this Repairer of Reputations under surveillance.”
When Hastur d’Ys opened her eyes, she was lying naked on a bed. Standing over her was Bailey Rollins. She was dressed in the same black leotard that she wore at the dance studio. Long black sleeves covered her arms and ended just below the shoulders.
“Precious Hastur, you have been reborn in Carcosa. Your gravestone on Earth rests over a coffin filled with bricks. Using our combined talents, the Repairer and I were able to reanimate your carcass. Your flesh is unmarred. Rise and look in the mirror.”
Gazing at her reflection, Hastur saw no signs of her earlier decapitation.
“We were never properly introduced, precious Hastur. Bailey Rollins was a pseudonym. I was elsewhere during your earlier stay in Carcosa. I am Bayrolles, First Consort of the King.”
“You’re the Queen of Carcosa?”
“There is no Queen of Carcosa. My relationship with Our Lord is purely morganatic. Your question confuses me, precious Hastur. Surely Our Lord explained the nature of his Consorts during your prior visit to Carcosa?”‘
“Forgive me, Bayrolles, but my memories are hazy.”
“No doubt a temporary consequence of the resurrection process. Feel free to ask any questions.”
“What are the duties of a Consort?”
“In Carcosa, we satisfy the carnal desires of Our Lord. On Earth, we spread His Gospel alongside the Repairer of Reputations. You are to be the Second Consort.”
“That means my position in the Court of Carcosa is lower than yours.”
Bayrolles shook her head. “Our titles are merely chronological, They do not reflect the rank that we hold in Our Lord’s affections. Do not view me as a rival, precious Hastur. I have already accepted that Our Lord prefers you to me.”
“What make you say that?”
“The King has bypassed all the rules of selection. Normally a Candidate for Consort would be vetted by the Repairer of Reputations or an already existing Consort. Additionally, the Candidate must perform the Scarlet Ceremony.”
“What is that?”
“It would differ slightly for each Candidate. I was the Repairer’s paramour before I became Our Lord’s. The Repairer and I had a son. I was asked to mimic Abraham in the Bible, but no angel intervened to stay my hand. The King has waived the Scarlet Ceremony in your case.”
Bayrolles grabbed a black robe lying on a chair, On the back of the robe was a Yellow Sign identical to the one on the First Consort’s leotard.
“Put this on, precious Hastur. Walk with me.”
Wearing the robe, Hastur followed Bayrolles out of the room. Hastur debated the wisdom of taking the sash around her robe and strangling Bayrolles. With the First Consort dead, she could then use the Ritual of the Signum Veneris to return to Earth. Hastur decided against such a stratagem. The King of Carcosa was aware of her knowledge of the Ritual. He would have already taken countermeasures to prevent its usage. Hastur had no choice but to follow the First Consort.
“As I walk through these passages, precious Hastur, I am in awe of Our Lord’s architectural skills. Of all the cities that Our Lord constructed throughout the universe, Carcosa is the most impressive.”
“Did the King ever build any cities on Earth?”
“The citadels that Our Lord erected in Asia are now largely in ruins. Only the city of Yian and the Eight Towers of the Dark Star still stand as testimony to Our Lord’s artistry.”
Bayrolles and Hastur entered a corridor adorned with tapestries depicting beautiful women. The First Consort pointed to one.
“Her name was Cassilda. She died long ago. It is Our Lord’s will that all Consorts learn her song. I shall teach you the words.”
Bayrolles ushered Hastur into a room occupied by two Asian women. Dressed in yellow robes, they stood next to a pool filled with water.
“These are my handmaidens from Yian,” declared Bayrolles. “They shall bathe you and soak your flesh with perfume. I shall then instruct you in Cassilda’s song in preparation for your audience with the King. You shall be wearing this.”
Bayrolles displayed a red costume that was nearly a duplicate of the one designed by Hastur on Earth. The major difference was that the Yellow Sign adorned each breast.
“You shall also be wearing the Cerulean Necklace of Subservience,” added Bayrolles. She held up a necklace made from ringlets of hair tied together.
“Whose hair is that?” asked Hastur.
“It is from Our Lord. As First Consort, it was my duty to shave the King’s scalp today. Our sovereign is extremely handsome when his skull is devoid of hair.”
Two hours later, Bayrolles and Hastur stood before a closed door. The First Consort held a flute.
“The King waits within, precious Hastur. I shall stand outside and play the Music of the Black Stars. Once you are installed as Second Consort, the two of us shall search for a Third to complete the Unholy Trinity. Now, dance! You must dance as Salome did before Herod!”
Once Hastur entered the room, she beheld a massive figure seated on an onyx throne. He was dressed in a yellow robe. A raised hood made his features impossible to discern.
While Bayrolles played, Hastur danced in a sensual manner that would have enflamed the passion of any mortal man. However, Hastur’s audience was not a man but a living god. He gave no indication of even a remote interest in the mortal woman.
Hastur knelt before the inscrutable figure. Slowly removing her clothes, she sang Cassilda’s song: “Along the shore the cloud rings break…” By the time Hastur sang the last verse, she was totally naked except for the Cerulean Necklace that graced her throat.
The figure on the throne rose to his full height. His yellow robe fell to his feet. Huge bat-like wings spread out from his shoulders. His skin was the color of jade. Beneath azure eyebrows, seductive eyes gleamed brightly in a lean face. The color of the eyes constantly shifted from yellow to purple to sapphire. His thin lips formed a cynical smile that demanded total submission.
“Woman, you never saw my true form until now. Do you regret your earlier defiance?”
“My Lord, you are the embodiment of physical perfection. Not even the great Da Vinci could do justice to your magnificence. You have possessed many names throughout history, but only one captures your glory. You are the Morning Star. You are Lucifer.”
The unmasked King of Carcosa raised Hastur from the ground.
“I have lusted for you, woman, like I have lusted for no other.”
In the basement of Black Dwarf Press, Jean Grimoire had just finished counting the copies of his monthly order. He was about to pay Marc Douanier when the door at the top of the stairs burst open. “Police!!!” screamed Miranda Douanier from the top floor. A squad of policemen led by Cardec rushed downstairs.
Grimoire and the Douaniers were arrested. The Repairer of Reputations was charged with peddling pornography. The Douaniers were charged with forgery as well as printing pornography.
Cardec questioned Grimoire about the hysterical statements of Hastur d’Ys, but the Repairer of Reputations maintained a stony silence.
The next day, a guard was delivering dinner to Grimoire in his prison cell. When the guard unlocked the door, he was shocked to find the cell empty. It was as if Grimoire had disappeared by magic.
The Repairer of Reputation knelt with his head lowered in shame. He was dressed in a red robe. On the front of his garment was the image of a peacock. On the back was the Yellow Sign.
The Repairer faced three thrones. In the middle was seated the King of Carcosa. His true form was once again hidden by his yellow robe. On the King’s right was seated Hastur d’Ys; on his left, Bayrolles.
“You arrived in Carcosa earlier than expected,” observed the monarch.
“I have suffered a minor setback, My Lord.”
“It is for me to decide whether setbacks are minor. What defeat have you endured?”
“I was arrested by the local constabulary. Copies of your Gospel were confiscated and burnt. I escaped incarceration by opening a gateway to Carcosa, My Lord.”
“Is there any reason that I shouldn’t dispatch your soul into the depths of Hali?”
“My defeat rests at the door of another of your followers. The Second Consort behaved cravenly at her execution.”
“My Lord -” interjected Hastur.
“Silence!” commanded the King. “Continue, Repairer.”
“She cried about her reputation being irreparable. She invoked your name in vain. These statements caused the indigenous constabulary to suspect me of spreading your Gospel, My Lord.”
“You may leave, Repairer.” The King directed his gaze towards Bayrolles. “First Consort, I wish to be alone with the Second Consort.”
After the departures of Grimoire and Bayrolles, the King laughed.
“The Repairer was quite correct in his assessment. It was a minor, even a trivial, setback. Nevertheless, I must pretend to be harsher than necessary when such inconsequential defeats transpire. I have my own reputation to maintain.”
“Then you aren’t angry, My Lord.”
Rising from his throne, the King walked over to his Second Consort. Stroking her cheek gently, he spoke in a soothing whisper.
“When I first met you, I was attracted by your brazen defiance. You were once Jacqueline the Bold. Now you have devolved into a coward. I thought you were different, but you’re like all the other women. Weak. Unreliable. You captivated me with your seductive flesh. You raised my hopes about your worthiness to share my bed. Then you smothered my lust through a foolish lack of nerve. You are incapable of comprehending my true nature.
“I am more than the King in Yellow. I am the Ruler of All That Was. I am the original Bluebeard.”
The King’s right hand grabbed the Cerulean Necklace and twisted it around Hastur’s throat. “When you strangled a woman, sweet Hastur, how long did she take to die? Seconds? Minutes? My adroitness can prolong the agony of choking for an hour.”
After proving the accuracy of that remark, the King in Yellow removed from Hastur’s throat the necklace constructed from his blue hair. He then kissed his dead Consort on the lips before speaking to her corpse.
“Your soul still remains to be punished.”
Removing his robe, the King lifted the corpse in his arms. Flapping his wings, he flew outside the window. Swooping down, he gently deposited the slain Consort in the Lake of Hali. As the carnivorous waters covered Hastur’s body, the King returned to his throne room.
“I wear no mask, Cassilda, but you do,” said Rev. Dusenberry of Fairbeach, New Jersey.
“My name’s not Cassilda!” screamed the woman as she struggled against the ropes around her ankles and wrists.
“Cassilda is a character in a play. It’s about sinful women like you. Women whose beauty masks a soul of deceit. Women who can only be cleansed by entering my Chamber of Lethe.”
Dusenberry dragged the woman into his kitchen. He put her head in the oven just before he turned on the gas.
“What’s wrong, darling? asked the blonde of the man lying naked next to her.
“I’m afraid, Sylvia,” answered Severn the artist.
“Afraid of what?”
“I’m afraid that I won’t remember you.”
“How could you forget our meeting tonight at Elliot’s party?” She smiled mischievously. “Did you hear the story of the Russian Empress? After making love to a much younger man, she expired with a smile on her lips.”
“I’ve had blackouts…losses of memory…since I dreamt of Carcosa.”
Pulling the pillow out from under Sylvia’s head, Severn placed it over her face and pushed down. Once Sylvia was asphyxiated, he removed the pillow. Death had come very quickly because she had died with a smile on her lips – like Catherine the Great.
Removing a rose-colored garter from one of Sylvia’s legs, Severn closed the bed curtains. Walking into the foyer, he glimpsed Sylvia’s yellow-eyed cat. Severn playfully clasped the garter around the cat’s neck.
When Severn woke the next morning in his studio in the Latin Quarter, his premonition proved accurate. He didn’t remember anything about Sylvia Elven.
In the Gobi Desert, the elderly shaman addressed a congregation of three boys. They were all six years old.
“The Prophecies of the Kiot Bordjiguen reveal that the Disposer of Souls has been granted the divine right to judge the women of the universe ever since his birth on a black sun. When Our Lord slaughters a woman in his Lake of Stars, his Word spreads across the heavens to his disciples. We must emulate Our Lord.” He raised a dagger. “This was made from metal that fell from the sky eons ago.”
The shaman took the boys to the altar where three girls of the same age were shackled. The old man had each of his pupils take turns performing the Scarlet Ceremony.
Once more in his yellow robe, the King of Carcosa put the finishing touches on the tapestry that he was sewing. As he neared completion, a chorus of voices led by Cassilda rose from the Lake of Hali. Their song spread throughout the corridors of the palace: “Along the shore the cloud rings break…” The King’s keen ears detected that a new voice had joined the chorus of Consorts murdered throughout the millennia.
Only after slaying a Consort could the King release the great artist imprisoned within his own brutal soul. Upon completion of the tapestry immortalizing the beauty of Hastur d’Ys, the King in Yellow hung it on a palace wall. As the last verses of Cassilda’s song were sung, a smile formed on the lips of the first serial killer to plague the cosmos.
Rick Lai is an authority on pulp fiction and the Wold Newton Universe concepts of Philip José Farmer. His speculative articles have been collected in Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Daring Adventurers, Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Criminal Masterminds, Chronology of Shadows: A Timeline of The Shadow’s Exploits and The Revised Complete Chronology of Bronze. Rick’s fiction has been collected in Shadows of the Opera, Shadows of the Opera; Retribution in Blood and Sisters of the Shadows: The Cagliostro Curse (the last two titles are available from Black Coat Press). He has also translated Arthur Bernède’s Judex and The Return of Judexinto English for Black Coat Press. Rick also regularly appears on the Lovecraft Ezine internet chats.
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Story illustration by Dave Felton.