My real name is Howard E. Pennington, although many of my friends know me now as Charles Thornton, the name I took for myself after the dreadful expedition of 1929, after the horrible events at the lost temple of Tsakat'tho. Most of you would not understand my reasons for taking this false name, though to me it was the only possibility, the only way I could keep my sanity and go on living a normal life. The reason of Pennington's disappearance was simple: after the events at the Temple certain people would have demanded explanations. In my state of mind at that time repeating the story of my expedition to anyone, even the closest of my friends or colleagues, would have led me to insanity, or to the misapprehension of others that I was insane. So I vanished, taking the name of Thornton, and moved to New York, even though I was very reluctant to leave my loved Massachusets and my dear friends and colleagues at the University. But my new life did not help me forget that horrid year and I now under stand I can not rest before I share my dreadful knowledge with someone, though the information I am about to put down in ink after all these years is likely to drive a man of weak will to insanity and depression.
My tale begins in the year 1920, the year of my graduation at the University. After my graduation I accepted a job at the University as assistant to Robert Jennings, professor of anthropology, a well known and respected researcher. Under his guidance we researched the history and development of man, from the early years before the existence of history to present day. Most of all we worked on the deciphering of old books in languages almost forgotten on the face of earth. During the third decade of this century of science and discoveries we unveiled many forgotten secrets and mysteries of ages long past. I myself worked much on a certain Arabic manuscript from the fourth century and already on the first pages found references to a mysterious temple of a Tsakat'tho. These references caught my interest, for I had never heard of a god of that name in the Arabic regions, nor anywhere else in this world. Because the book was ancient, and partly destroyed, my work was very slow and strenuous. By 1926 I had translated a great part of it, but still the references to Tsakat'tho were scarce and unclear. I started to believe I would never find out anything of this mysterious god, and was almost ready to give up the translation of the manuscript to work on more important ones waiting for my attention, and now, over twenty years later I wish I had, for what I discovered during the following month led me to the very gates of the Temple itself where I learned the true nature of evil.
As I approached the end of the manuscript the name Tsakat'tho appeared more and more often, leading on to a chapter entirely on the subject which I had devoted my work to learn about. When I had finished the translation I slammed the book shut and burst out of my office for a breath of fresh air. So shocking had the discovery been that I was still shaking two hours later when I returned to the office after a rapid walk through the town's parks and avenues, hoping the air and exercise would clear my mind, for I had learned much more than I had ever hoped. It was evident now that Tsakat'tho was much more than just another god of the old days. According to the manuscript there had been a cult of Tsakat'tho's followers in the third century, a cult witch had acquired thousands of members. The members of the cult and especially it's priests were considered the wisest men of the country by all others, because they were said to know the Greatest Truth, the identity of the source of all evil in the world. But the Truth would never be told to outsiders and then it was forgotten when the Muslims forbid all other gods. But it was not the identity of the source of all evil that had so shocked and fascinated me, but the exact location of the temple which was revealed at the end of the manuscript. As I studied maps and the history of the region it became apparent that the temple, or at least its ruins, might still be found.
Now I set it as my goal to organize an expedition to that place. After two years of hard work I had finally raised the funding required and started to make arrangements. I found a few willing assistants among my students (I was at that time teaching anthropology while professor Jennings was on an expedition in South America). Finally in the early spring of 1929 we set of for Arabia. The long trip by boat was used for more study of history and maps so that our search would be as easy as possible. On the first of April we set shore and continued by car, travelling east to the mountains, and at last we arrived in the village of Alaharedz, near the foothills of the Mountains, and more importantly near the high pass that led to the valley where the Temple supposedly rested forgotten by most inhabitants of this Earth.
After a peaceful night of rest among the hospitable villagers we tried to find a guide and carriers for our equipment to help us through the mountains. But this time luck was not on our side, for the villagers were not willing to help us, indeed they seemed frightened of the mountain passes, and spoke in whispers of ancient evils that still dwelled there. At last, when the day was nearing its end, we found two brothers who volunteered to accompany us for a reasonable fee. They did not appear to be disturbed by the superstition that so affected most of the villagers, and were young and agile, although dirty and seemingly some sort of outcasts in the village. We accepted them as our guides because they were the only ones available and departed from the village early on the following morning.
It was a hot day and the path rocky and steep, which made the journey a physical ordeal such as no member of our expedition, except for the guides, had ever confronted. First we travelled up the foothills, and then up a steep mountainside, till after three days we entered a narrow gap between two high peaks. Through this ravine we then walked in single file for more than three miles until at last the way once again became wider and we begun a long descent into a rocky valley high between the mountains. Travel became easier at once and it was evident that here had once been a well used pathway, leading to the temple of Tsakat'tho. We grew excited, for we knew now that we were drawing near our destination. For two more days we journeyed and then, coming around a shoulder of the cliffs, we beheld the whole of the valley, and there was the Temple, at the bottom of the valley, built of black stone that shone under the last rays of the setting sun.
That night we camped there on the ledge facing the distant temple, gathering strength for the last day of the journey. I could see that my assistants were as excited as I was. Who would have thought we would still find the temple intact after all these years, yet there it stood, the same as it had almost a millenium and a half ago. I could almost see the priests and pilgrims journeying through the mountains seeking the temple and the terrible secrets hidden within. But I also noted that our guides were ever more nervous as we approached our goal. Maybe, though they were fearless and skeptical on the surface, somewhere deep inside a little of their native superstition still remained. The next morning we found our guides had vanished, probably overwhelmed by the fear caused by the old legends of their people, leaving us to finish our journey on our own. However the temple was now in sight, and we no longer required any guidance, nor were we in any way unhappy to part from their company, for they were dirty and stank.
At last in the late afternoon of the following day the great moment we had so patiently waited for had arrived, and we finally reached the ancient temple of Tsakat'tho. How glorious that moment felt then, the greatest moment of my career as a researcher of history and anthropology! And how I now loathe that cursed moment when I first stood before the gates of the black temple! It was a colossal building of strange design, built of strange stone that appeared to be a sort of black marble. The building was symmetrical, with pillars like in old Greek temples, yet the proportions seemed somehow odd and wrong to the eye of one accustomed to western architecture. The temple seemed hardly touched by time, not even dust had marred the perfect surface, wether because of some ancient enchantment or because of strange drifts of wind in the valley.
For the remainder of the evening we decided to rest after our long journey and be content with admiring the outside of the great temple, leaving entering the building and other work for the next day. We went to bed early, and woke late, although none of us slept well because of the excitement of the day before us. In the morning we started with the exploration of the temples exterior and found it was a perfect rectangle, a furlong in length and half the width, and almost a fathom high. The surface was perfectly smooth and there was only one entrance; the great double doors at the west end, made of the same black stone. We took many photographs and drew illustrations, along with exact calculations of the longitude and latitude of the location. The next night I slept even less than before, because on the following day we planned to enter the temple of Tsakat'tho, and that day was to change my whole life.
The next day dawned as hot and sunny as the ones before and seemed full of promise and hope of new discoveries. After breakfast we examined the doors and to our surprise found they could easily be pushed open. I was the first one to step into the vast hall that opened in front of us. With an electric torch in my hand I carefully walked deeper inside. The great hall was held up by rows of pillars, made of the same black marble, as were also the walls and the floor. The hall was entirely bare, no ornaments could be seen. My students stayed behind examining the hall and making illustrations, while I myself walked to a door in the far wall which I found led into a short corridor. Waving my torch around I saw many doors on both sides of the corridor. I proceeded to examine these doorways with great excitement, but soon found they only led to small, unfurnished rooms, possibly the living quarters of priests in the old days. The door at the end of the corridor, however, led to a room of much more interest. It was a round room, maybe ten yards across, unfurnished like the others, but this ones walls were carved with strange symbols that reminded me remotely of Egyptian hieroglyphs. At the far side of the room began a stairway leading downwards, which I took as I soon realized I could not decipher these hieroglyphs without many days, or even years, of work. I did not call to my assistants because I was eager to witness my discovery first and alone. I shuddered with excitement as I realized I must have been the first man to walk down these stairs in hundreds of years. Before long the stairs ended and were replaced by a narrow corridor, or tunnel, that sloped slightly downwards, and I realized I must have been under the ground. I walked on for a furlong or so and finally emerged in a vast cavern, so large the beam of my electric torch could not illuminate the far wall. The cavern appeared to be natural, although the floor was apparently smoothed by tools. I walked slowly across the cavern, turning my head and torch form side to side, fascinated by the vastness of the place, indeed feeling very small and unimportant compared to this eons old chamber. It became clear to me why the followers of Tsakat'tho would choose this as their holy place.
Finally I had the far side of the cavern in my sight, and was filled with a new wonder, and also began to feel the dread that has filled my life ever after. Near the far wall was an altar, made of the same black marble as the above ground parts of the temple. But it was not the altar that caused my dread, although its ominous shape made me sure that human beings had once been sacrificed here to the dark god that inhabited the place, but the small space hollowed in the wall beyond the altar. That space seemed occupied by a strange shadow that my light would not penetrate. The greatest shock came when I realized I felt some kind of presence in that shadow. Slowly the horrible sensation that I was not alone in this cavern crept over me. I realized there was someone or something in that shadow, waiting for me, and for a long moment I stood there, listening to my racing heart, trying desperately to rationalize this unbelievable discovery that seemed to deny all that I was taught to believe possible. It seemed apparent that I had stumbled on some sort of spirit-being, maybe even Tsakat'tho himself, that had lived in this cavern for ages, maybe even for all the long eons since the cavern was formed. I became aware of an expectancy in that horrid shadow, and realized I would have to say something, try to make contact with this great being. I could hardly believe my own words as I heard myself utter them, feeling as if the words were coming from some part of my subconscious that was out of my control.
"Oh great Tsakat'tho!" I heard myself saying, "Oh great god that guards the Truth of the world! Reveal to me the source of all evil!"
Despite the insanity of the situation there was some part of me that wanted to find the answer to that eternal question, the answer which according to ancient manuscripts could be found in this very temple. I heard a cold laughter that sent shivers down my spine coming from the shadow.
"You do not know the answer yet?" the cold, otherworldly voice demanded. "Then you do not know the Ancient Tongue, or you would have guessed, for my name is the answer. For years you might have lived in happiness without that knowledge, small fool, but I shall grant your wish."
At that moment the veil of shadow started to fade and I at last saw the true form of Tsakat'tho. Screaming I turned and fled from that place, the hollow laughter echoing behind me, across the vast cavern, completely dark now, for I had dropped my electric torch and it had broken. I found the long tunnel after a short while of groping in the darkness and proceeded upwards, running as fast as I dared in the dark. After what seemed like an eternity I reached the stairs, and stumbled up them. I was distantly aware that Tsakat'tho's cold laughter had changed into a rumbling sound, and I realized the great cavern was collapsing, broken by that chill laughter, and somehow that thought eased my mind as I knew now that no one else would stumble upon that dreadful secret. Suddenly I emerged into the round room of hieroglyphs, and was able to see again in the light of several electrical torches held by my faithful students that I found there waiting for me, alarmed by the sounds of the collapsing cave. They helped me out of the temple and I finally relaxed a little in the fresh air.
Early next morning we departed from that accursed place, but I would not give any explanation of the events that took place under the ground to myself, not to the expedition, nor to my friends and colleagues who were waiting for me when I arrived home. Repeating those events to anyone would either had driven me to insanity or branded me as a lunatic. So I fled all the questions and all that connected me to that horrid expedition. But that dreadful day has ever after been on my mind, and the vision of Tsakat'tho's true shape has haunted me in my dreams every night. I was lucky to escape that place with my sanity, though sometimes I doubt that I ever was sane during those moments of dread, but only hallucinating. Yet after all that I am overwhelmed by the immense reality and logic of that vision, for what I saw when the shadow was lifted was a silver mirror, set in a grotesque black marble frame, and in that mirror I saw my own face.