Ballad of the Daemon Piper

I used to be like you. Well, perhaps not like you exactly, but I used to be a man, talented and beautiful. Since youth I’ve had an uncanny ability with instruments and music. Able to read music from an incredibly early age and handle almost anything that made a sound with sheer elegance. Many said my abilities were a blessing from God himself, some the devil. However, my true gifts hadn’t come to me until much later in life.

My humble beginnings were that of an orphan in the slums of the kingdom of Ulthar. I never knew my human parents, but i would wager they were never well to do given my upbringing. Ulthar had seen war countless times in the previous decades. Orphans were rather commonplace. I spent years running in the streets with packs of other young urchins, picking pockets, eating rats, doing whatever was necessary to survive. It must have become quite a problem for the honest cityfolk because after some time orphanages began scooping children off the streets by the dozen, myself included.

Life in the orphanage wasn’t so bad. It was nice to be warm and eat food you didn’t have to kill for. Miss Dolor was the caretaker, an angel of a woman, always staring down past her hook of a nose with disgust and taking time to beat any child that got out of line, or simply because she felt like it. She always seemed rather irked having to take care of children that weren’t hers. Why she decided to take up such an occupation was beyond me. Perhaps she simply enjoyed hurting children behind closed doors.

My ascent began the day Miss Dolor decided to start a choir to raise money. I never had time for music on the streets, it was never something i thought about, you couldn’t eat music, music couldn’t keep you warm. We all gathered to practice and formed three lines of four children. The first song we ever sang was an old nursery rhyme called “Row Row Row Your Boat”, the first line would sing half the verse and then the next would pick up and the the next. We weren’t great, half the children had terrible colds and some were simply tone-deaf, but I fell in love instantly.

I would bug old Miss Dolor about the next practice til she’d spank me, but I couldn’t get enough. After some time we became rather talented, myself far more than the others. I once stole Miss Dolors songbook to learn on my own, when she found out she used it to knock out some of my baby teeth. We would perform for veterans and receive meager donations to keep food on the table. However Miss Dolor decided it was time to go after bigger prey.

Around the time of the winter solstice there was a ball held in the main plaza. It was always the event of the year and it was regularly attended by Ulthari noblemen, a perfect opportunity to attract some investors. I was taken aback by the revelry, I had always known about the Winter Ball but had only seen it from a distance, street urchins were greatly discouraged from attending. I ate food and drink I once thought were pure fantasy.

The time came for us to perform our number. Many of the children were nervous but I was startled to find I was not, in fact I realized I was thrilled to bits by the audience. We sang our array of old sheet music and my love for music and newfound fascination with performance intermingled to become pure ecstasy. I felt as though I were floating through space with a golden aura rising and falling with my voice, with a million eyes witnessing my splendor.

The next day an old man came to the orphanage. He was dressed in fine silks and jewelry and his bushy gray moustaches were waxed to fine points. A nobleman. He introduced himself as Lord Robette and told Miss Dolor that my performance at the ball attracted his interests and that he had come to adopt me. She seemed absolutely thrilled that her plan had worked and gladly accepted the small bag from the man who was my apparent value in gold.

Lord Robettes estate was quite grand, and he was a very generous master. When he discovered my love for music he bought me countless instruments and songbooks. He seemed taken aback by my natural talents and even breathless when I began reading music like childrens poetry. He would throw countless parties and have me sing and play instruments while his wealthy friends would get drunk and dance and compliment Lord Robette on his “pretty little songbird”. I enjoyed the act of performing so much that I never complained when the parties would end and the silken noblemen and women would take me up to their bedchambers.

The decadent noble lifestyle of fine liquor and fatty meats eventually took its tole on poor Lord Robette and he died of a heart attack when I was a young man. Leaving me to inherit his estate and status. At this time I had become well-known and loved among the wealthy for my talents and decided to promote myself among them. I had organized my own orchestral group of which I was the leading man. We played at countless parties and balls and were always well received.

After years of making a name for myself in the world of music I received my most lavish invitation to play for the king and queen of Ultar in the palace for the Harvest Festival. My head was swimming with excitement. Almost the entire kingdom would attend this ball. In all my years of playing I had never had so grand an audience. Every day of practice with my group was pure pleasure.

When the day finally came I was almost nervous I would make a fool of myself in my excitement, but as always my performance was impeccable. Though I rarely lose focus while I perform a face stood out to me in the crowd. A tall man in dark clothes had his eyes on me in a most peculiar fashion.

The dark man approached me after the show. He shook my hand and introduced himself as Lord Nyar from a kingdom far beyond Ulthar. His hand was neither hot nor cold and had a strange waxiness to it. I was immediately fascinated by the man as I had never met anyone from beyond Ulthar. He told me he found my talent with song fascinating and invited me to join him at his apartments for drinks and talk of music. I gladly accepted.

His housing was the strangest I had ever seen. Decorated with strange artifacts from civilizations I didn’t recognize. Books with strange angular writing and bizarre cyclopean symbols filled his shelves. A most interesting nobleman indeed. He sat me down at a small table and produced a drink before me, he smiled at me, pearl-white teeth shone behind bright red lips.

We talked about music and composition and the like for what seemed like hours. When I told him of my natural talent to pick up and master any instrument his red and white grin almost split his head in two. He told me he had a job for me, perhaps the most important performance I would ever make, but it would require me to travel quite far. I told him I have never turned down an opportunity to be on the stage.

Apparently overjoyed, he began to laugh, an almost musical titter that I couldn’t help but join in on nervously.
“We leave immediately” he said and before I could raise any question I found myself floating above the room, through the roof, and into the night sky. Words cannot describe my shock and when I looked wide-eyed and screaming at Lord Nyar floating next to me he simply threw his head back in that rich laughter.

The journey was strange. An odd gravity seemed to be pulling through time and space and we rapidly picked up speed. All around me I saw oddities that I couldn’t begin to understand. Other times, other worlds, other existences. Countless alternatives to my life and the lives of others. Infinite worlds. Infinite time. In some worlds, on some planets, I watched as civilizations rose and fell like the shallow breath of a dying beast. In many worlds life had never existed at all.

The wonders before me brought me to think back on my own life, my own reality, such a meager thing now. For some reason, perhaps seeking comfort, I thought back on the orphanage, and the first song I ever sang. All the filthy little children lining up and singing.

Row row row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily
Merrily merrily
Life is but a dream.

It was just as I remembered, with the next line of children rebounding halfway through the verse, I couldn’t help but smile.

“We approach” announced my cosmic e****t. The images and lapses stopped entirely, but the music did not, and I was no longer entirely sure if it was in my own memory anymore. We entered a vast ocean of dead space filled with nothing but floating motes of starstuff. I noticed a shape in the distance, as we approached the song in my head grew awful, the song had been rebounded over and over and over to the point that it had become a more of a fierce roar than a song.

The shape grew to the point of becoming all-encompassing, yet it never became more than a shape, almost like a great, deceased starfish, covered in teeth. And yet, it was alive, writhing and curling in an awful fashion. With no real point of reference it was hard to say exactly how large it was, yet somehow I knew I was smaller than a speck of dust by comparison, perhaps a molecule. Small, legless creatures floated around it, playing a bizarre song from strange flute-like proboscis with lanky alien arms.

I was taken aback in horror, the song in my head now overlapped to the point that all that was left in my head was a terrifying inhuman screech. It was a sweet mercy when I finally went deaf, followed immediately by horror when I felt my eyes burst and run warmly down my cheeks.

Despite my being deaf and blind a voice came to me in my mind. “Terribly sorry about that, the frailties of your kind often escape me.” I seemed to wake, yet I did not feel like myself. My body felt different. I opened my eyes. New eyes. A new body. My old body floated before me, ruined. Lord Nyar next to it. We were surrounded by the strange creatures. I was now one of them.

I tried to speak, but my new mouth would only produce that odd wind music. Naturally I picked up the dialect rather quickly and asked Lord Nyar what was happening. He still appeared to be the handsome dark noble he was in Ulthar, but now millions of other shapes and forms seemed to radiate off him like a thousand ghosts in one body. One form seemed more solid than the rest. A horrible thing that seemed to be all tongue-like arms and teeth and eyes.

He smiled that carnivorous grin when he finally spoke. ” I told you I had a job for you and a very important one at that.” he looked at the great wall of living flesh behind him. “This is Azathoth, he lives in eternal slumber and has for all of time, for his constant dream is what makes our reality, if the dream were to end it would mean the end of all life, all worlds” he looked back at me “This is what your kind call God, the creator, the great light!” he threw his head back in mocking laughter.

When he was finished he directed his gaze at the strange pipers. “These pipers have the honor of keeping our lord lulled to sleep with their music. You told me yourself you love a big audience, well, this is a chance for you to play a song for all of reality, for eternity.” There was a strange ball of energy floating near his hand. “Well not exactly for eternity, all things mortal must die, even the soul. As long as you are here your new body is as timeless as Azathoth himself, but a soul can only last so long before returning to the aether.” He let the energy go, and it floated off among the other flecks of starstuff.

“I have put your soul into the shell of the one that has just passed, your natural mastery over music made you an obvious candidate for the position, so tell me, how do you feel?” I was awestruck, Since that fateful day in the orphanage music was the only thing I wanted to do, and now I was to play for “God” for the sake of all reality, had my new body had tear-ducts I would have wept for joy.

Nyar seemed to pick up on my joy none-the-less and clapped his infinite hands together. “We’ll celebrate with a feast!” he brought my former shell of a body down among the circle of pipers. The odd probosci spat gastric juices on the body, melting clothing, flesh, tissue and bone to a gelatinous fluid they all drank eagerly, following the instincts of my new form I quickly joined them. It was delectable.

After the meal, Nyar had left us. We quickly resumed our piping for The Great Daemon Sultan, lest he should wake and cast the world into the void eternally. My work humbles me. I live eternally in the abyssal glow of the great lord, eternally singing the song of my ascent to please him.