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The Stars Are Confused

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Investigator kicked down the door.

Things always had to start this way for some reason. Investigator wasn’t sure why. Just once, he thought to himself, it might be nice to stroll unhurriedly into a room. Better yet to, you know, knock politely, since you never knew when some random Unpronounceable Evil might be lurking on the other side.

What little remained of Investigator’s hair had already turned white with fright, and nothing had even been behind that particular door! Perhaps, if he hadn’t felt compelled to always jump in, feet first such things could be avoided, or at least mitigated--

Ah well. His life, it seemed, was just a never-ending series of doors to be kicked down.

He shined his miner’s helmet around the large, cavernous, pitch dark room. If it wasn’t such a useful item (+2!), Investigator would have discarded the headgear long ago. It crushed his very fine fedora, ruining the otherwise classic ‘inspector’ look he had going: smart brown slacks, wool jacket of just a slightly lighter hue, white-button down shirt, and a crimson bow-tie. The bow-tie had been a gift from someone very dear to Investigator… of course, that was Before... Before everything changed and his dear friend became a kind of monster himself.

Even so, as he always did just after entering a room, Investigator touched the silk of the bowtie for luck. Not that he’d had much of that lately. Not only had his hair turned white, but he was currently without any shoes, having run into a Sole Stealing Curse several doors back. Another reason to quit with all this door kicking--it was starting to hurt his bare feet.

Finally, the spotlight rooted out what awaited him: a Chibithulhu!

It was… it was…

Adorable?

A sickly sort of green, the Chibithulhu sat in a corner. Its tiny, chubby arms were raised as if begging for a hug. Huge eyes! So kawaii~

Wait, where did that word “kawaii” even come from? Obviously, this big-headed, tiny-bodied, cooing (or was that noise coming from Investigator’s own throat??!!) monster had some kind of nefarious power over him! He raised his brass knuckles, intending to fight. In his head, Investigator started counting down like he always did before engaging in any sort of fisticuffs, “One, two, two point….”

Before he could finish, a robed figure rushed into the room. “I’ll help for one treasure!”

The inspector lowered his fists in exasperation. The Cultist.

Of course he’d barged in here, offering help where none was needed. This was what he was like now: never making any sense--jibbering, cackling in the corner with other the Cultists, or worse, muttering to himself while reading the Necrocomicon.

It hadn’t always been like this.

When they’d first met as freshmen at Miskatonic University, Investigator had been quite taken by this clever, brilliant young man with short-trimmed, curly mouse-brown hair, who seemed well on his way to being a professor. That was until that fateful day, when he’d opened the door to the Campus Crusade. They’d caught him, they’d talked to him. Suddenly--and it seemed, irreversibly--after that moment, he’d traded in his Tweed Jacket for the Cowl of Cthulhu.

“Look, Cultist,” Investigator’s lip curled unconsciously. He hated even referring to him by that dreaded title, “I didn’t ask for help fighting this monster. I mean, look at it. It’s totes adorbs. I’m pretty sure I can handle it on my own without your help.”

“Oh, you think so? Well, we’ll see about THAT!” Cultist said, pulling a paper playing card from his voluminous sleeve.

Ever the showman, Cultist waved the card around dramatically, as if taunting Investigator with it somehow. By some magic trick or other, Cultist lit the card on fire. As it smoldered, he muttered some kind of a spell. Most of it was the usual gibberish, but Investigator swore he caught something that sounded like “wandering monster.”

The spell sounded almost like… a summons. But, that was insane. Not even the Cultist was suicidal enough conjure another monster, was he? It was moments like this that Investigator’s heart ached the most. Cultist had once been the sort of man that made others sit up and pay attention. Everything he’d done and said Before had been careful, deliberate, and wise.

Now…

Now Cultist was just a moron. Albeit, still good-looking enough to make Investigator’s head turn, but then he did things like this and…

Investigator sighed to cover the pang of heartbreak. Unconsciously, he touched the silk of his bowtie again.

At last, the mad, babbling incantation seemed to be coming to an end.

In a puff of foul-smelling smoke, a rather pleasant-seeming, well-dressed… lizard…?... appeared.

Green seemed to be the going color of monsters, and this one was no exception, though his skin had a slight olive cast to it. The creature bore two vacuous white dots for eyes, pointed ears, and a mane of scales, like a receding hairline that trailed down the back of his neck. It was otherwise dressed like a ubiquitous office worker. The lizard-man wore a trim pair of slacks, white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a rather dapper necktie. Single Windsor knot! Very stylish.

Surely, this creature was no more threat than the Chibithulhu!

Then, a long, whip-like tongue appeared from a lipless mouth, as if tasting the air.

Was it a bad sign that the Chibithulhu shivered uncomfortably at the sight of that tongue?

Yes, yes, it probably was.

“What on earth have you done now?” Investigator demanded.

Cultist just shrugged and giggled. The giggling grated on Investigator the most. Oh, how he longed for the fondly-remembered deep-belly guffaw of the man he once so admired! “You must now face Lloyd Lloigor as well!” Cultist gestured broadly towards the nattily dressed lizard man, and then he quite literally added, “Bwahahahahaha!”

Bwahahahahahaha?

Dear gods, how far the mighty had fallen. Investigator rubbed his eyes, wishing he could rub away the whole scene in front of him.

Meanwhile, Lloyd hissed, “Llike llicking llads.”

Investigator’s eyes popped open at that… threat? Or... was it a promise?

Lloyd's smile was hideously lascivious. “Llovly llads. Llike llicking?”

“Llots!” Cultist supplied happily.

“Are you encouraging it?” Investigator demanded, grabbing his former friend by the shoulders and giving them a shake. “We should be fighting this thing together!”

For a moment, the madness seemed to clear from Cultist’s eyes. Had the irises always been such a sharp blue? Or had it just been this long since Investigator had been this close to them? They stood toe to toe, close enough to kiss. Investigator’s head tilted slightly, in deference to Cultist’s height. Ah, Cultist had always been so tall and slender. With a blush, Investigator remembered the body beneath those maroon robes, hard and lean like a runner’s. His fingers dug into shoulder muscles unconsciously, thrilling at the strength there.

“Dear Tommy,” Cultist said, using Investigator’s secret name, the one that gave the gun at his side extra power. His breath was stale and sour, dampening Investigator’s growing attraction. “You’ve grown too powerful. The others and I, we’ve decided we must take you down a level.”

The others.

One by one, the members of their adventuring party had succumbed and become cultists as well.

“You’ve talked to too many people. You went to the military. You went to the president! It doesn’t matter that no one believed you,” The Cultist grabbed Investigator by the throat. “What matters is what you gained by doing it. If you gain any more, the rest of us will lose!”

Investigator could have been angry at this betrayal, but he fell numbed. “So you’re going to dump on me? Bring monsters to my door?”

Lloyd’s tongue slithered across Investigator’s cheek, making him shudder. “Llet’s Llove!” Loyld suggested, a hot breath in Investigator’s ear.

Panic tightening his gut, Investigator ignored the fingers at his throat and shook Cultist’s shoulders again. “You said you’d help me for one treasure! I accept!”

The glaze of insanity clouded Cultist’s eyes. His slow smile was strange, sickly. “I’ll help. I promised you after all, dear Investigator. But it’s too late for either of us. The others have another Wandering Monster card. Even now, in the shadows, they’re summoning something too great for us to defeat: Tht Whch Hs N Vwls!”

At first, Investigator thought maybe Cultist was having some kind of seizure that made him stutter nonsense, but then he realized that garbled mess was the monster’s name.

“You planned this with your crazy friends?!” Investigator shouted, finally pushing away from their violent embrace. This was too much. It was one thing to have lost his friend to cult madness, but another to know that he colluded with those jabbering fools! “Damn those people! They’ve twisted your mind! Do you even remember? You and I were once close. Closer than those…” the words that all sprung to the Investigator’s mind were too foul to say, so instead, he shook the Cultist’s shoulders in desperation again. “We were once....”

He almost said lovers, but Investigator’s heart was too tender at the memory of the intimacy of a tangle of clean sheets, of sunlight through the dusty windows of their dorm room, that first desperate, hungry kiss, the smell of his aftershave and old books…

Somehow, despite swallowing back the word, Investigator must have projected his strangled feelings, because Lloyd clapped his clawed hands together at his chest and lamented: “Llovers! Llingering llove lleft!”

“D’awww,” squeaked Chibithulhu.

Acrid smoke billowed in the darkness as the third monster began to materialize. A formless gelatinous blob, pulsating with tentacles. Dozens of jaundiced, yellow eyes floated in the mass, some wavering on stalks. It was h-rr-bl-.

Investigator looked away. Something about the monster made even his thoughts turn into a vowelless scramble.

He glanced at Cultist, hoping to see even a glimmer of recognition, of remembrance, or love--.

Instead, Cultist had tipped his head back and cackled. His maniacal laugh tore at Investigator’s tattered emotions, and with that Investigator decided he’d have to try to fight.

Swinging his Tommy Gun into his hands, Investigator let out a war whoop as he let the bullets spray Tht Whch Hs N Vwls. When they hit the jelly-like mass of the monster, they shattered into b-ll-ts.

Investigator refused to let that daunt him, and shouted out to Cultist, “Damn it, man! Help me!”

“Step back,” shouted Cultist. “It is time for my +4 Bonus Bagpipes!”

Cultist puffed up his cheeks, put the reed to his mouth, and a discordant wheezing noise filled the room. In the empty, echoing chamber the cacophony was deafening.

Tht Whch Hs N Vwls perked up, listening intently. The Chibithulhu covered its flap like ears--or tried to, since its arms were too short to actually reach them. Only Lloyd seemed unaffected. Llyod had slipped back to stand next to the Chibithulhu, his back against the wall, arms crossed in front of his chest, lazily licking at the air as if biding his time for his turn to engage the combatants.

Without warning, Tht Whch Hs N Vwls reared up. A ripple shivered through its formless body, and then its eyestalks mimicked the shape of the bagpipe. Once in this form, Tht Whch Hs N Vwls made an answering bellow that sounded, for all the world, like a… mating call?

Cultist seemed to come to the same conclusion. Spitting the reed from his mouth, he eyes darted between the bagpipes and the monster for several beats. Then, as if in disgust, Cultist tossed the bagpipes at Tht Whch Hs N Vwls. The monster descended on the bagpipes with a shriek.

Then the humping began.

At first Investigator watched the grotesque assault. With the hide bag still full of air, the bagpipe moaned with each thrusting press of formless goop. When Tht Whch Hs N Vwls’s eyes began to roll in ecstasy, Investigator dragged his gaze away. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, Investigator heard an evocative a kind of hiccuping wheezing and wet, slapping sounds.

Investigator nearly jumped out of his skin as he felt something warm close around his palm. Cultist had grabbed his hand. He pressed close to his shoulder now. They clung to each other, eyes shut, until the violated wheezing and sticky squelching noises wound down.

They allowed themselves a clinging sort of hug as Tht Whch Hs N Vwls howled in satisfaction, followed by a gushing, moist spurt.

Cultist squeezed Investigator’s waist “Sorry, old chum,” he whispered, sounding genuinely regretful. “Bad roll of the dice. One in six chance that would happen. I rather thought the odds favored us.”

Clearly, they did not.

But ‘Old chum’.... Those two words brought back fond memories. After all, 'old chum' was the sort of thing Cultist used to say Before. It was part of his professorial charm, the way he’d used such stuffy, old-fashioned phrases as terms of endearment.

“Can we still defeat it?” Investigator asked, his voice low and his eyes still shut, secretly relishing the warm familiarity of his arms wrapped around Cultist. He pressed his nose into Cultist’s shoulder thinking he’d caught a whiff of that old book smell. Even as he tried to recapture that elusive scent, it was overwhelmed by the cloying odor of incense. That pulled him back to the present: “Or should we try running away?”

“I have a vial of Sticker Ichor I’d been saving for an emergency,” Cultist said thoughtfully.

“I think this qualifies!” Investigator insisted, his eyes snapping open. “Unless you relish the idea of being disemvoweled!”

“Well, I’ve honestly always wondered what that would be like,” Cultist said.

Investigator let go of Cultist’s waist with a tisk of his tongue. He pointed at Tht Whch Hs N Vwls, its hulking mass still shivering with the aftershocks of spent passion. “Look at my bullets. Vowels clearly hold them together. Without them, they shattered into ineffective, unintelligible consonants. What do you think will happen to skin and bone? They’ll become nothing more than sk-n and b-n! And those aren’t things! They’re just sounds that don’t make anything sense! Why do you think Tht Whch Hs N Vwls looks like it does? It can’t have form, only f-rm! And f-rm isn’t a word! It’s not anything recognizable at all, now is it??!!”

“Oh,” Cultist said, as if sincerely impressed with Investigator’s thinking. “Ah, yes, I see. Indeed, yes, I think it would be best if I use this Sticker Ichor after all!”

After an inordinate amount of rummaging through pockets in his robe, Cultist produced the small vial. With his usual dramatic relish, Cultist tossed it at the distracted monster… who suddenly found itself stuck to the floor, unable to move. Not that it seemed to matter all that much to Tht Whch Hs N Vwls. Apparently, like many males of various species, it dropped into a deep slumber directly after coitus.

“Well, that’s one down,” Investigator said with a breath of relief. “We still have to face these two. Any chance you have something else useful in your pockets?”

Cultist made a show of checking each of the half-dozen pockets and hidey places in his robe again. When his hands came up empty, he shrugged. “I gave the rest to charity.”

They had no choice but to try to run.

Both of them easily outpaced Chibithulhu. The poor, adorable thing had such stunted little legs and oversized head that it toppled over itself when it tried to chase after them.

Lloyd’s tongue, however, tripped them up. Literally. Lloyd somehow managed to snag the Cultist’s ankle.

He hit the floor with a hard whack.

Directing his miner’s hat around, Investigator saw what became of Cultist. They’d been running hand-in-hand to keep pace with each other and not get lost in the dark. Now, the Cultist lay on the concrete floor dazed. He’d clearly received a Sudden Head Blow. He might even be concussed! At least there was no blood. He was still alive, thank Fate!

Lloyd Lloigor’s prehensile tongue slipped back into his mouth. He adjusted his necktie with a sly grin. As Investigator watched in horror, Lloyd crouched over the Cultist, in a manner very reminiscent of how Tht Whch Hs N Vwls had approached the bagpipes.

“No!” Investigator shouted, inserting himself between Lloyd and Cultist. It was a rash move, highly against the rules, but Investigator realized, quite suddenly, that it didn’t matter that Cultist had become insane. He loved him, anyway. He would always love him. He would take any Bad Stuff that Lloyd Lloigor might dish out in order to protect his special friend, his beloved.

Investigator closed his eyes and braced for the worst.

The experience of being tongued by Lloyd was difficult to describe, but if the Investigator had to do he would use words like: llewd, llavish, llurid, lluxuriant, llibidinal, llaudable, llusty, llathery, llaryngopharyngeal, lleechlike, lliquid, and lloathsome.

But, ultimately, survivable.

After a llast lleer Lloyd slunk back into the shadow from whence he’d come. Investigator took a moment to compose himself, and then hurried to turn to check on Cultist.

Cultist still lay on the ground, just beside Investigator. His body was deathly pale and unmoving. He hadn’t made a sound this whole time. Had the Investigator’s sacrifice been in vain? Was Cultist dead?

Investigator felt his throat constrict at the thought. As much as a royal pain in the butt that Cultist had been since those damn Campus Crusaders showed up, Investigator could not imagine life without him. Leaning in close, Investigator smoothed the curls from Cultist’s forehead. “I don’t understand your lifestyle choices,” Investigator said, leaning over Cultist’s body, “But, I never stopped loving you. Not even when you thought throwing Canned Meat at the Fun Guy From Yuggoth was a good idea.”

“It was a jolly good idea,” Cultist murmured. “+4! Though usable only once, which was not so jolly as I’d hoped to eat it.”

“Cultist! You’re alive!” Investigator said, burying his face in Cultist’s chest and wrapping his arms around him in an awkward lying down hug.

“Yes,” Cultist said. Removing his horned fez, he rubbed the back of his head. “But I don’t think you can call me Cultist any more. I seem to have received a Sudden Head Blow.”

Investigator had called Cultist by his title for so long, he had to ask, “If not Cultist, what should I call you?”

“Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late to dinner!” Cultist chuckled.

Investigator peered into his eyes. They looked mercifully clear of any insanity. Even so, he asked, “Are you SURE you’re cured?”

With a smile, Cultist pulled Investigator into a kiss. Their lips met so hard that Investigator’s miner’s hat was knocked from his head. The lamp sputtered and went out, but in the darkness, they rekindled an old flame.