[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
Jay forced himself to breathe, pushing the panic off. He didn’t have time to panic. Every moment he took to panic was a moment one more thing could go horribly, completely wrong. He had to act.
He dug his toes against the damaged hardwood floor, pushing himself slightly under the bed, feeling wood splinters stinging his flesh. He didn’t let himself hesitate, arm outstretched as he squirmed in the narrow space until he felt the ominous weight of Nyarlathotep’s ankh and grabbed it in one hand. His fingers curled around its cool, curved shape.
This was the thing he needed before he could do anything else—the world came before either of their lives, if it came down to that, and he didn’t want to risk touching the flute without having all four signs. Besides, Keziah’s advice was to grab it and immediately use the Sign of Nyarlathotep to summon him here, before the flute could get to him, drive him mad. If he went after it without this particular Sign, or if he waited and the Sign got pushed further away, out of reach, in all the chaos—well, he didn’t know what would happen to their world, let alone either of them.
Louis was screaming now. The sound was more in fear than in pain, Jay thought, but he wasn’t sure which was worse, not in the moment. Despite the madness inherent in all of this from the start, he couldn’t recall, in the moment, any time that he had seen Louis show fear. Something about it filled him with a near panic that he tried to hold off, breathing deeply as he tried to back up.
Jay found himself almost stuck, wedged in there, and he dug his fingernails into the gaps between the floorboards, scrabbling at it as he hauled himself backwards, inch by inch, until he was out from under the bed. Immediately he turned, whirling to face Louis, almost entirely obscured by the swarm of Byakhee. There was blood spattered around where the Byakhee were piled on top of Louis’s hunched form; Jay couldn’t tell how much of it was from Louis, couldn’t tell how bad his injuries were. Louis was still screaming, short, sharp little sounds, an almost childlike terror under the mass of horrific forms.
The sound of Dr. Archer’s coughing had cleared up, no longer muffled; it sounded as if he’d either managed to dislodge the temporary gag that Louis had made for him, or had swallowed it. Jay didn’t have time to worry about which it was; the man still had his hands bound and he was no threat for the time being.
Nyarlathotep’s symbol still clutched tightly in one hand, Jay pushed himself to his feet and had to make a split-second decision about what to do with the other, how best to hold off the Byakhee as he went to save Louis. His eye fell on the glint of the knife; it was an obvious choice of weapon.
But he wasn’t sure how much damage he could do to a hoard of Byakhee with a simple pocket knife. Enough, perhaps? Perhaps not. This wasn’t a situation where perhaps not could stand.
And Dr. Archer had already established an authority they would listen to. Jay dug around in his pocket with his free hand, trying to identify each Sign by feel in an instant despite the numb trembling of his fingers. They traced out that twisted triangular shape, and he gripped the Sign, yanking it out of his pocket, and held it out in front of him as he charged at the mass of Byakhee crawling over Louis.
“In Hastur’s name,” he yelled as he tackled the mass, shoving unspeakable shapes away with a meaty thunk of his body, his arm still outstretched like he was using a cross in a vampire movie—God, he wished it was that simple—”Leave that man alone! He’s the bearer of the Pallid Mask! The true Phantom of Truth! He speaks of the coming of the King in Yellow and will guide his path to the world!”
He was saying whatever came to mind, whatever he thought servants of Hastur might listen to, swinging that Sign around, his arm impacting those heavy, impossible bodies as they scrabbled now at him with insect-like limbs. Louis’ screaming had stopped, and Jay could hear him drawing sharp breaths. Jay crouched over him, almost straddling his curled form. One of Jay’s hands still clenched the ankh, his arm raised to protect his eyes from the claws of the Byakhee; the other held the Yellow Sign over his head.
It seemed like they were slamming into him less, clawing him less, so he kept babbling, though he didn’t know if the reprieve were due to his words, to his motions, to the Sign he held. “That man who has been commanding you is a liar! He wore the mask once, but now he is faceless. He speaks of the coming of the King only to uphold his own glory! Is he your master? Who is your master? Whose sign do I hold?”
Louis was relaxing under him, straightening out, tapping at Jay’s leg like a wrestler tapping out. Not too injured, then. Jay shifted, rising, as Louis began to sit up, trying to give him the space to do so without moving so far away those creatures could swarm back in.
Louis lifted his voice, head tilted up. “Iä Hastur cf’ayak’vulgtmm, vugtlagln vulgtmm,” he sang, his voice gone calm again, as if he’d entirely forgotten that he’d been in terrified pain moments earlier. Though it sounded like babbling, Jay felt like he knew the meaning of it in a general sense, some sort of prayer to Hastur. Louis’ eyes met Jay’s, a bit wild, then jerked away as he looked for his knife, scrabbling to reach for it, still chanting in a sing-song voice. “Hastur cf’tagn, Hastur cf’tagn, Hastur cf’tagn…!”
The Byakhee were hovering uncertainly now, their wings flapping with a horrid, wet sound, and as Louis grabbed the knife he pointed it at them in threat, rising up to his full lanky height. Clawed injuries on his back and arms were bleeding freely, but none seemed too deep, and Jay pulled his glance away from Louis at long last, trusting him to have that situation covered.
Something felt wrong, odd. There was an additional flapping sound beyond that awful meaty clap of the wings of the Byakhee, like a flag blowing in the wind, cloth blowing in a storm, battered this way and that. The torn remains of the bed curtains and sheets were moving uneasily in a breeze that seemed more intense than what Jay could feel from the window or the displacement from the Byakhee’s flight; the ragged curtains in the window were flapping too, freely, reaching inward like the long arms of some horrible creature grabbing onto the walls, using it to drag itself inside, their shadows cast wide in tattered shade. His skin crawled as if the shadows had a tangible sensation as they passed over his body. Louis was still chanting, knife upraised toward the majority of the Byakhee. The Yellow Sign in Jay’s hand was growing hot.
Something was coming. He could hear the tatters of the king.
He heard a scrape, a drag, and he forced his attention away from the crawling shadows to look back to Dr. Archer. His hands were still tied, but nevertheless, he was shoving himself along the glass-strewn floor with his feet, not minding the damage it did to him, flopping and wriggling like a caught fish. His head was turned up, lips parted wide, struggling to reach something, to… catch something in that raw, open mouth.
Jay looked up from Dr. Archer and saw that the Byakhee that had been carrying the flute had loosened its grip. It hung from those many claws tenuously, beginning to slip, to topple to the ground, toward Dr. Archer’s open maw.
There was no time to think, no time for careful action. He needed a hand free, so he flung the Yellow Sign toward Louis—no time to pocket it—and threw his free hand forward as he dove over Dr. Archer, trying to catch the flute as it fell.
It slipped, hit his fingers and almost slid between them, but his grasping hand caught in the twisted, bored holes in its body, and—
—he was nowhere. He was everywhere. His feet were planted on nothingness and he was filling his own sky in a shapeless void. Black chaos swarmed around him, whirled around him, clouds in a timelapsed day, shadows in a nightmare, tatters of cloth on a beggar’s body, reeds at high tide caressing his limbs to pull him into the undertow. The flute was held securely in his hand, warm, comfortable, a perfect fit, and it said,
Put me to your mouth and play me and I can give you anything you want.
You have been lonely? Alone? A one of a kind person in a small town not meant for you? I can give you everything.
If you are alone I can crowd you with those who can remake the world in your image.
I can take you out of this world to give you a world of your own.
Who do you want to love you? I can make them love you, whether they are mortal or god.
Who do you want to cure? To fix? To heal? To ruin? To destroy? To remake?
I am creation, I am destruction, I am the dance. Play me and I can be your dance.
Jay’s lungs ached. His heart ached. His hands, his body, his mortal form, ached. His soul ached.
And he thought about what he wanted. And he thought about what he must do.
[In the comments, please submit:
1. What you think Jay wants.
2. What you think Jay must do.]