Reasons to like Lovecraft: Byakhee

If you’re a fan of H.P.Lovecraft you may recognise and hopefully enjoy seeing this. If you’re unaware of H.P.Lovecraft, then peel the rime off your eyeballs and get into this world of ultimate, sanity-blasting cosmic horror…

Byakhee - Cthulhu Mythos art - copyright 2010 Fantasy Flight Games

Night flight – Byakhee artwork – Copyright 2010 Fantasy Flight Games

Byakhee

The Byakhee are an interstellar race; winged and bipedal, with a vicious fighting capability combined with a compact size, they’re often pressed into servitor duties by powerful sorcerers.  Can be used as fearless steeds, swift through any gaseous atmosphere and able to carry a person through Outer Space.  Being the most common form of encounter, bound to the Will of a human or non-human, Byakhee are usually dismissed as feeble-minded critters worthy of as much interest as a flying ant colony or stable of war-horses.

The truth is they’re on par with human intelligence and encountered on their own terms, they’re a formidable opponent.  In one aspect they’re a “barbarian race” – with almost no technology to speak of, and a primitive social order – which is a very flat hierarchy, and a dispersed “hive” mentality. This means they belong to large social groups, but individual members are often separated by vast distances.

Knowledge of these social groups is almost non-existent; they’re not one for communicating, and when bound to the Will of another – perform their duties with simple, silent and sullen obedience.  Likewise nothing is known of their origins or the higher echelons of social hierarchy -if there are any.

They are devout worshippers of Hastur  – and if placed in human terms, would be considered fanatics regarding the reverence they hold towards this truly monstrous god-like entity.

Their unique special ability is their knowledge of an arterial wormhole network that riddles the entire span of the Universe.  They have an innate capability to sense the location and distance to these ‘flaws’ in the fabric of Space-Time  thus allowing them to navigate, to traverse vast distances almost instantaneously, to avoid prolonged exposure to damaging ultra-violet radiation (Sunlight) and appear quickly when Conjured by a sorcerer.

The wormholes are an aspect of the Quantisphere, the artificial membrane created in the age of the Elder Gods that borders and contains – and some would say protects human existence.

Byakhee - Cthulhu Mythos art by Rob Torno

Byakhee – illustration copyright Rob Torno – click to view website

Byakhee are a space-orientated species so rarely communicate via sound; they have been known to make a horrible, belching, coughing-like sound when in close proximity to others (when not in space), a process which involves expelling stored gasses from neck sacks to vibrate vocal chords – this is likely to be more of a display to influence other creatures, a threat or warning, but most communication with other Byakhee occurs via thought.  This ties into the dispersed hive mentality.  They can silently cast their thoughts, as packets of information, across vast interstellar distances – utilising the arterial wormhole network.

There flapped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things… not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, but something I cannot and must not recall.
    ―H.P. Lovecraft, The Festival

Byakhee were actually created by August Derleth and appear in two of his stories, “The House on Curwen Street” and  “The Watcher From the Sky”, as well as many other stories and scenarios associated with the Cthulhu Mythos.  Similar flying creatures appear in Robert E. Howards Conan the Barbarian stories.  There is uncertainty regarding the creature described in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “The Festival” (above) and whether or not it is the same creature Derleth used to base his Byakhee upon.

In the role-playing game, Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur, Byakhee are listed as follows:

NON-HUMAN SPECIES – An upright, bi-pedal creature with powerful hind-legs for squatting, and long forelimbs that end in razor sharp claws. A pair of vast membranous wings, that can fold up against its back, or unfurl and beat to create lift. They worship Hastur.

STR: 28    INT: 12    DEX: 17    Mass: 2    HP: 28
D/b: +1d8        THSP: 1        ANX: 1/1d6
Move: running with hind-legs, 6 metres; flying it can ascend from stationary by 6 metres, then 12 metres, 18 metres, and finally 24 metres per round, with flying speed of 24 metres per round (24 miles per hour).
Physical skills: 68%
Intelligence skills: 48%
Notes: Byakhee are often used as steeds by sorcerers, either to transport them to earthly or far-flung destinations. Reaching the nearest ‘worm-hole’ or portal opened by Yog-Sothoth only takes minutes once they reach Outer Space– therefore any journey to the furthest flung parts of the universe often only takes an hour or so on top of the time spent at the destination. They are invisible to IR vision and Radar.  Byakhee can fly anywhere around the world within 4 hours but they will not enter anywhere cast in sunlight. They can also access anywhere in the Milky Way Galaxy within 8 hours by use of wormholes and physical flying.

COMBAT
Immunity: none. Direct sunlight (from Earth’s Sun only) delivers 1d6 Hp damage per combat round. A UV torch delivers 1d3 Hp damage per hit. When flying away from Earth towards a wormhole, they always stick to the dark-side of the planet.
Vision: 300 metres in direction of gaze; can see in total darkness.
Ranged: none
Threat Zone: attack skill 42%
1 tail whip, range 4 metres, has a razor sharp bone tip, delivers 1d6+1+d/b stab wound (SAP).
Close Proximity: attack skill 56%, 1d4 hits.
[1-2] Claw 1d6+d/b knife damage
[3] Bite, delivers 1d4+2+d/b knife damage  . If it can deliver 5+ damage the Byakhee gains a full-bite grip on victim, draining 1 STR blood per round. This also means it is using both claws to grapple the victim from now on.
[4] Tail whip (if not used in Threat Zone this round), otherwise a bash with part of body or limb delivering 1d3+d/b stun.
Tactics: if the Byakhee has managed to get a full-bite grip, then it might decide to fly upwards, dragging the victim with it, in order to feed without risk of further attack on the ground.
Use of Magick: POW 10, will Commune with Hastur as part of worship routine; and can activate wormholes.
Further information: “Passengers” being carried through space must fend for themselves during the trip, including dealing with zero atmosphere and extreme cold (drinking space mead is the most common option).

One aspect that seems to be underestimated about Byakhee, in combat, is the tail.

I see the Byakhee tail, tipped with a piece of razor-sharp chitin, working like a lethal stabbing-blade-on-a-whip.  It creates a 360 degree threat zone around the creature and can plunge forward, in any direction.

Byakhee on their own terms

Insane worshiper of Byakhee illustration by John T Snyder taken from Call of Cthulhu scenario - A Happy Famliy - published by Chaosium

Insane worshiper of Byakhee – John T Synder

Back in the mid 1990’s I came across a Call of Cthulhu scenario called “A Happy Family” published by Chaosium. I loved it and used it to great effect with my CoC game group at the time, and again, more recently, with my Yellow Dawn players.  It charts the consequences of a solitary man, living out on the edge of a small settlement in a remote part of the world (perfect Yellow Dawn setting), who has come across a stash of arcane knowledge.  Ultimately the man conjures a Byakhee to flap down, steaming in the dark of the night from the chill of Interstellar space – utterly unbound.  And this is the part I love.  Rather than devour the fool like some mindless monster, the Byakhee puts the man into its service.  Much like a more physical version of the horrible bond between a demon and human servant, the Byakhee takes up residence in the area and begins a campaign of terror: motive, blood sacrifice for its worship of Hastur.

The illustration (left) by John T Synder is taken from the scenario and shows the madman at work before an old stone altar.

Byakhee illustration by John T Snyder taken from Call of Cthulhu scenario - A Happy Famliy - published by Chaosium

Byakhee illustration by John T Snyder

What I like is that it shows the Byakhee as a capable malefactor, a malign entity that can be just as crafty as any bad “man”.  When it came to the characters dealing with the threat, they initially underestimated what they were up against and paid horribly.  As did the main NPC in the scenario. (See below)

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Consequence of being in thrall to a Byakhee  illustration by John T Snyder taken from Call of Cthulhu scenario - A Happy Famliy - published by Chaosium

Consequence of being in thrall to a Byakhee illustration by John T Snyder

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The scenario “A Happy Family” can be found inside the equally brilliant collection of scenarios called “Adventures in Arkham Country” – published by Chaosium.

Cover of Adventures in Arkham Country - a Call of Cthulhu scenario book published by Chaosium - painting by Stephen King

Cover of Adventures in Arkham Country – painting by Stephen King

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Byakhee “bloodline” –  their connection to the Changed (Orcs) in Yellow Dawn

The Changed – also known as “Orcs” – are mutated humans, victims of the first wave pathogen that swept across Earth during the cataclysmic event known as Yellow Dawn. They’re survivors left altered at the molecular level.

Yellow Dawn - The Age of Hastur - a roleplaying game RPG written by sci-fi and dark fantasy author David J Rodger placing Cthulhu Mythos in post-apocalyptic setting

The Changed are covered in more detail in the new version of Yellow Dawn – due to be released Winter 2011

The Changed  are commonly called ‘Orcs’ because of the association between their mutated appearance and the humanoid creatures of Fantasy Fiction.  Adjusted personality syndrome makes them more feral and leaves them operating on simple emotional planes.  Enhanced physical strength and constitution; able to cope with cold and wet weather and shrug off exposure when out in the wilderness.

They thrive in outdoor environments, and their settlements tend to resemble shanty-towns, with a preponderance of scrap metal.  They often trade in bulk quantities of material taken from dead cities and sold to them by small-time rubble monkeys (scavengers).

The Changed share genetic material with Byakhee, inserted by the 1st pathogen; this is the essence of their change and why the pathogen was so fatal, the majority of human organisms simply collapsed under the strain of the genetic mutation being wrangled into them.

Some of the Changed (Orcs) experience a subconscious calling to create temples to Hastur and develop into a meta class known as Star Whisperers, or Warrior Orcs.

Star Whisperers

A few Orc Settlements have them; afflicted Changed who’ve chosen not to seek out a clan… just yet.  They remain in place and adopt a role similar to the Shaman of Native American Indians.

Whether they choose to leave or not – most Changed communities recognise the symptoms when one of their own begin the path.  The path sees an individual become a Star Whisperer and then eventually leave the community where they later transform into the murderous creatures we know as Warrior Orcs.

Although many Changed see Warrior Orcs as a curse – none discuss this outside the Changed community.  Meanwhile, those who begin the path to become a Star Whisperer are considered reverent and sacred by most Changed within that locale.  This has a lot to do with the ‘hive’ mentality wired into the genetic re-coding that took place as a result of the 1st pathogen.  Rational thoughts and personal beliefs are mainly subsumed by the powerful genetic influence: those who are gifted with the status of becoming a Star Whisperer are blessed and important, regardless of what monster they may become later in the process.

For the individual becoming a Star Whisperer a compulsion begins to form.  There are fragmentary and fleeting glimpses of a recurring vision.  At first it is impossible to decipher yet alone describe to anybody else.  There is a sense of perceptions becoming different, an evolving sense of purpose – no longer a victim but something important, beyond the context of being a human.  The night sky starts to hold a special significance.  The individual begins to spend a lot of time contemplating the darkness above and often goes into fever-like trances, where they commune with ‘something’ else and perceive a new understanding of the cosmos, and their place within it.

Eventually however, even the strongest willed individuals will succumb to the urge to leave, abandoning everything and everyone to seek out the purpose they feel is their destiny.

This becomes a long journey of discovery – solitary, surviving on their wits – following a compulsion to find a place they know exists, somewhere, where they will find the answers – or so they feel.

It is a period of intense isolation and personal fear.  They experience intense fevers and mind-jarring visions.
In their dreams – or in phased periods of disturbed wakefulness – they are visited by monstrous, insect-like creatures that float down on membranous wings fresh from the frozen depths of hard space.  They are prodded, probed, fed vile fluids and rotten, spongy and glistening solids.  The Star Whisperer grows in physical size and strength – and as they evolve, so the visions mutate and intensify.

And they begin to worship some Outer Being.  Some concept that is so vast, so alien to the human remnants of their brains, that their worship is more impulse than reason.  They scratch half-recalled symbols onto special rocks – metallic ore – and carry them on their seemingly endless journey.

Finally – the Star Whisperer will encounter others just like them, out there and alone in the Wilderness.  It is an aspect of the distended hive-pack.  The ability to bond  and find each other over great distances.

These Star Whisperers come together and begin a process of profound transformation together.

Then the Byakhee come – and so a strange union between things that were once men and monsters from the Outer Void takes place within the remote shadows of Earth.

Arterial Wormhole Network & Borgendrill Corporation

These are notes taken from my science fiction & dark fantasy novels, and include the period set before and after the apocalyptic event known as Yellow Dawn.

It possible that the Byakhee or some distant predecessor of their race were the architects and creators of the arterial wormhole network.  It is this network that is utilised by the enigmatic deep space corporation, Borgendrill.

Dante's Fool - a science fiction and dark fantasy novel by cyberpunk horror author David J Rodger

Borgendrill is covered in the action-packed occult thriller, Dante’s Fool

Originally established for deep space mining operations using hives of autonomous machine colonies, they became the focus of what’s known as the Borgendrill Enigma, when the corporate computer system evolved into a true Artificial Intelligence.  Since then Borgendrill have released a raft of new technologies that have enhanced the quality of space propulsion and development and extended the reach of Humanity off-world.

Borgendrill discovered – and exploited –  the arterial wormhole network.  Needle-craft carried people and machines through to far flung places.  New lives on new and bigger Habitats.  Very few ever make the journey back.

Out there, in the distant nebulae of alien galaxies it is a different kind of life– one with very little relation to Earth other than the genetic audit trail of evolution.  New technology such as Dark Energy Drives, Nanomech and NUPs.  Some of it washes back, seeps into the Solar System and percolates through the Orbital Colonies, but not much. Very little of this advanced technology ever makes it down to Earth – but when it does, eyebrows typically raise.

However there is an unaccounted cost to all the expansion.  Borgendrill are sharing a network used by an ancient and ferocious race.  Consequences to this should be expected.

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Related Articles – if you like Byakhee  you might like these:

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Byakhee used as malefactors in Yellow Dawn novel, The Black Lake

The Black Lake is a novel written in summer of 2012. It is set in the post-apocalyptic Earth setting of Yellow Dawn (RPG) and charts a small scientific expedition that sets out to the remote islands of Scotland. What appears to be a case of supernatural haunting rapidly develops into the full blown horror of the Cthulhu Mythos – specifically through Hastur and the minions that worship this infectious entity, the Byakhee.

 

the-black-lake-a-ghost-story-within-the-cthulhu-mythos-by-british-sci-fi-dark-fantasy-author-david-j-rodger

Available in paperback or Amazon Kindle

Paperback: LULU & Amazon Kindle US ($), UK (£), DE (Euro), FR (Euro)

THE BLACK LAKE: The Earth has been ravaged by an event known as Yellow Dawn. Ten years later, survivors are putting lives back together and probing the frontiers of a new Wilderness; whilst overhead the orbital colonies slide across the sky, removed and unaffected. Five men leave the fortress island of Malta on an expedition to the sub-Arctic waters above Scotland. They intend to undertake scientific observations of an alien meteorological phenomenon that has followed the apocalyptic event. What they find is a cosmic horror that seethes amongst the shadows of a shattered Earth. It is a story of escape and wonder, of madness and terror. David J Rodger’s trademark unforgiving rendering of harsh reality, and relentless narrative pace, are here in palm-sweating abundance, delivered in a novel that tears open a rent in the boundary of reality, providing a nerve-jarring glimpse of the Outer Chaos and the horrors that lurk just beyond the threshold of our fragile, human existence.

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David J Rodger – DATA

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