The Manticore was alone. It had always been alone, even at its birth. For while it had qualities characteristic to a living entity, it had qualities characteristic to other things, as well; things which could under no stretch of the imagination be described as either “living” or “entity.” In fact, it might best be understood as a creature of living force, only incidentally housed in material form. It was a product not of biological birth but of a gathering of energies and elemental substances, some of them, perhaps, beyond the comprehension of science as understood by other beings. For the Manticore had been born inside the nebula known as the Lantern of the Lost Worlds, and there are conditions there that are strange, indeed.

The Lantern of the Lost Worlds is located near the base of the Orion Arm of the Galaxy so close to the galaxy’s center that the central bar from which spring the galactic arms can be seen from neighboring space. The outer regions of the Nebula are, for the most part, ordinary in their composition, and there are stars inside it, even stars with planets, even planets with life as it is known outside the nebula.

 

But further in, deep toward the nebula’s center, conditions change. Here rise the great radiation storms and electrical displays called devil fires by those who view them from outside the nebula. There are forces and conditions here that are said to be found in no other part of the galaxy; it is said by some that there is a lesion in the fabric of space here and that it rips across the whole dimensional spectrum, spilling elements and energy forms and other things, many indescribable in the terms of rational physics, into parts of existence where they do not belong. Here there are worlds that are not worlds, places that exist in many points of space not only in our own galaxy and universe, but in other universes as well. Some of them have been named: Porlon, R’lyeh, Leng; and it is said that certain creatures known throughout the galaxy wander or live in this region other than manticores; among them Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu, Taimrey, Azathoth.

Once, in this place where not only the natural laws of our universe but the laws of others as well may operate, the devil fires burst into being with exceptional fury, creating a storm that raged for centuries,

Planetary Stories
The Manticore
Page 1
 

traveling across the distance of the nebula before it’s power was spent. In its wake incompatible forces and radiation produced a terrible chemistry, indistinguishable from magic under those commingled laws. And the Manticore was born.

Born not of a mother and father, the Manticore had no urge to procreate. Born complete and with a lifespan of such length it might just as well have been immortal, the Manticore had no social need for others of its kind. It had awareness, but awareness so rudimentary that it did little more than drive it into movement through the particle clouds in a hunt for food. All things, save the herdsman Nyartlathotep, were its enemies, including others of its type, of which there were not many. And while it recognized the superior strength of some things, it instinctively regarded all material objects, and many immaterial ones as unfriendly, and thus subject to destruction. Those less formidable who lived on the outskirts of the nebula were fortunate indeed that the Manticore seldom strayed far from the deadlier environs at the nebula’s center.

 

But to occasionally offset this good fortune, there were those who ventured further in than was wise.
2
It was not just the Manticore and the Great Old Ones that existed in the center of the Lantern of the Lost Worlds. There were roving adventurers such as Thel, great wizards and witches; strange races of beings such as the Hasserflit, the Taun and the Ang, spawned in the nebula on planets hidden almost as well as R’lyeh; the occasional worshiper of Cthulhu; bands of pirates risking the region from the need to secrete themselves from the vengeful armies searching for them; and outsiders, who came in two forms: the very, very wise, and the very, very foolish. There were hunters after dreams, and hunters after destruction.

It is hard to say which of these Bired was. He came to the Lantern of the Lost Worlds in a ship of his own design, manned by robots of his own invention. Its drive borrowed many features from Agrisiti technology, but Bired had added several innovations of his own. On the distant world from which he came, Bired was admired as a scientist and explorer, and marveled at for his ability and daring. His reputation there was not unlike the reputations of the Grand Mages and Star Witches who lived in the Lantern of the Lost Worlds.

So it was that after a voyage of years, because the world he started from was so distant from the Lantern, Bired eased the prow of his starship into the particle cloud and proceeded toward its center, in search of the legends of the Lantern of Lost Worlds. He would begin with Taimrey the Ever-wakeful, Taimrey the Guardian, Taimrey the Ravenous.

After a stop at Ullusk to replenish his ship’s stores, Bired proceeded

Planetary Stories
The Manticore
Page 2
 

onward toward the nebula’s center. Ahead of them the devil fires and the great nebula lightning flared and streaked through the clouded firmament, warning him to turn away. He paid no heed.

His own view of himself was that he was, indeed, a scientist and explorer, but it was tinged with what one Terran might term romanticism, and another term hubris. Bired saw himself as being one with the universe, and the rightful custodian of its secrets and marvels. Nothing should be hidden to Bired in Bired’s opinion. All doors ought to be opened to him. Moreover, they ought to be opened eagerly and willingly. It is in many ways an admirable attitude, but it is also foolishly incautious.

And what true scientist is ever incautious?

And after a time the Manticore sensed the ship as it nosed toward the forbidden center of the nebula.

The Manticore was in many ways a rudimentary form of life, but it possessed a complex and altogether remarkable nervous system, rendering it capable of fast response to certain stimuli, among them the encroachment of anything into what the Manticore considered its territory. Almost as soon as it detected Bired’s ship, it was on its way to see about it.

For the Manticore, the nebula itself was usually camouflage. Because it consisted generally of the same materials as the particle clouds, it was difficult to distinguish it from its surroundings; and, indeed, the fog-like thickness of the clouds gave it a nearly perfect visual cloaking. It would not be detected by most of its prey until it loomed up close by, and then only as a shadowy thickening of the surrounding gases. But it was denser

 

and more massive than the clouds, and held a shape. The instruments aboard Bired’s ship detected the creature while it was still some distance away, and Bired knew instantly what it was.

The Manticore had only a few moment’s warning, and in the end its own mass prevented it from turning quickly enough. Bired’s missile struck it head on and exploded.

3

How Bired learned of Taimrey’s world and its location can only be guessed. It is believed he acquired it from the archives of the great University of Meletenes. But those archives are most secret, and well hidden from casual observers. The Collection of the Philology Department at Meletenes included the greatest catalogued accumulation of Hideous Books of all time. Not even the collections of such practitioners of the darker arts such as Meriem Abd Al-Azrad were so complete as that one. And that the gatherer and guardian – mother hen, if you will – of that collection, Lor Fennell, would allow someone of as dubious a reputation as Bired to have access to any of the restricted sections of his library was unthinkable. But not everyone, even at Meletenes, has the fierce integrity for which Fennell is known, and somehow Bired gained a copy of that chapter of The Grael Saith that dealt with Taimrey as well as the coordinates to the planet on which Taimrey dwells.

So it was that as the Manticore drifted aimlessly in the grey miasma of the nebula, stunned and unconscious as it knew consciousness, Bired turned his ship toward the small, bleak, violet star around which Taimrey’s planet orbited.

Planetary Stories
The Manticore
Page 3
 

The star cast little light and less heat. Long ago it had burned a bubble into the cloud of the nebula, but now the cloud was returning in drifts that sent tendrils so close to the star as to be inside the orbit of the single small, barren planet of its system.

It was the function of Taimrey to watch and protect, and most sources claimed that what it protected was no less than R’lyeh itself. Bired hoped that this was so, since that discovery would hold the most potential for enhancing his reputation, to say nothing of his wealth. But it was generally agreed also, that in addition to whatever it guarded principally, Taimrey also guarded great wealth. The holds of Bired’s ship were generous and empty, and waiting to be full.

As his approached the small planet, Bired realized that this was certainly not R’lyeh. He decided that, if indeed, Taimrey protected R’lyeh, the planet on which it sat was elsewhere. He had enough information to know that this nebula was a place where many universes converged and space and time in this quadrant of the galaxy did not obey ordinary rules. He quickly concluded R’lyeh was not here, but he suspected Taimrey protected it, anyway.

He found what he was looking for on a plain at the foot of a great mountain, topped with some sort of fungous growth.

There was a building, obviously a temple, before which were great carvings from a black and lustrous stone, of Cthulhu, Azathoth and Nyarlathotep. The temple itself was ordinary and undecorated except for the great carvings nearby. The stones from which the temple was constructed were probably not green under any light, especially not the weak light of this star, but they were colossal, and there was

 

something about the way they fitted together that was certainly non-Euclidian. But there was no city around it as there was surrounding the Temple of Cthulhu, and the building itself was squat and unimpressive. Bired landed his ship on the plain and sent his robots to investigate the temple.
4

Stunned by the impact of the explosion so close by, the Manticore drifted, carried by the forcewaves of the explosion, away from Taimrey’s world.

It is doubtful that the Manticore knew pain in the way that other organisms do. But the explosion had set up a system of vibrations within its being, not unlike the aftershock of an earthquake on a planetary surface. It found them both unpleasant and debilitating, so that it drifted aimlessly.

Perhaps the nature of its comprehension did not permit the Manticore to fully understand what was happening on Taimrey’s planet, and had not something happened at that precise time, it would have simply drifted until it recovered from its shock, and never had contact with Bired again.

But something did happen. Not something extraordinary, but something familiar.

There came to the Manticore something that was not a sound but that was very much like one. A human would have described the sound as the music of flutes. A great dark shadow, bigger than the Manticore, loomed up and gathered in the creature close and flooded its mass

Planetary Stories
The Manticore
Page 4
 

with healing energies. Nyarlathotep, the great herdsman of the Manticore, was there.

The concept of companionship was alien to the Manticore, but not the concept of survival. It was being brought back to life and health, and its full, great strength.

On the planet of Taimrey, Bired watched as his robot scouts advanced across the plain toward the temple. Of Taimrey he could detect no sign. The robots reached the temple and hastily reconnoitered it. There seemed to be nothing to interfere with them.

Of course Taimrey was likely to be inside the temple, and that must be approached with caution. But Bired began to reevaluate what he had read in the chapter of The Gräel Säith. Most of that was undoubtedly conjecture, based on a fairly accurate basis of legend. But had the god worshipped at this temple ever really existed? And even so, if the stories of extra-dimensional beings dwelling in this part of space were true, did that mean that Taimrey or Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep could possibly be still alive? Even if they were, it seemed to Bired unlikely they would be any sort of menace to one as equipped and well-prepared as he was.

The robots broke down the doors of the temple with ease and went inside, under orders to search the entire place and determine everything that was in it. After a time they reported no sign of Taimrey. But the rumor of Taimrey’s wealth, they reported, was true. They began to haul it out of the ancient building.

Bired was beside himself with delight. He hastily made his way to the

 

airlock and just as hastily he donned an environment suit. Outside he crossed the plain as quickly as was safe, and finally stood in front of the heaped wealth which he now considered as his own.

He could not help but laugh loudly. Even in the light of this pallid star, the jewels and the precious metals glittered like fire. To his eye the workmanship of the various pieces seemed crude and even primitive, but he would be the first to admit he was no authority on art. He knew it would bring a fortune on any planet he took it to.

There was not even a rudimentary atmosphere on this planet, so he was not warned by any sound or flash of the weapons, but a crackle of static in his suit radio caused him to look around. He saw one of his robots firing its weapon at something behind him. Bired turned to see what the robot’s target was, and he could not suppress a scream.

The fungous mass that crowned the mountain at the plain’s edge had lifted itself from the mountain’s top and stood now revealed as a huge creature of amorphous and changing shape. It had slid down the mountain side and was now almost to the ship. The energy streams of the robots’ weapons seemed to have no affect on it.

It reached the ship and its glutinous mass slid over the ship. Almost at once the ship began to crumble and break away like dry, sun baked dirt. Bired screamed again. The creature was causing itself to form tentacles now and, reaching out for the robots, it lifted them one by one and crumpled them like tinfoil, throwing what was left aside.

It required only about a minute to destroy them all. Bired watched in paralyzed fear. Then, realizing suddenly that he would certainly be next, he turned and started to run away. But one of the creature’s

Planetary Stories
The Manticore
Page 5
 

tentacles lay on the ground in front of him. He turned to run in another direction, but the creature had him cut off there, too. That didn’t stop him from trying, though. He ran in short panic-driven spurts, first this way, then that, having no place to run but unable to stop himself. And all the while, inside the suit helmet, he screamed with terror.

Then a great shadow passed across the sky and something that was not one of Taimrey’s tentacles reached down and plucked him from the ground, screaming all the while, protected by the spacesuit he wore, even when the thing that had him carried him deep into the particle cloud, away from Taimrey’s world.

He was still alive, still aware, when Nyarlathotep fed him to the Manticore.


 


fillo by Jerry Burge

Planetary Stories
The Manticore
Page 6