The Double Shadow
by Clark Ashton Smith

MY NAME is Pharpetron, among those who have known
me in Poseidonis; but even I, the last and most forward
pupil of the wise Avyctes, know not the name of that
which I am fated to become ere to-morrow. There-
fore, by the ebbing silver lamps, in my master's marble
house above the loud, ever-ravening sea, I write this
tale with a hasty hand, scrawling an ink of wizard
virtue on the grey, priceless, antique parchment of
dragons. And having written, I shall enclose the pages
in a sealed cylinder of orichalchum, and shall cast
the cylinder from a high window into the sea, lest that
which I am doomed to become should haply destroy
the writing. And it may be that mariners from Lephara,
passing to Umb and Pneor in their tall triremes, will
find the cylinder; or fishers will draw it from the wave
in their seines of byssus; and having read my story,
men will learn the truth and take warning; and no man's
feet, henceforward, will approach the pale and demon-
haunted house of Avyctes.

For six years, I have dwelt apart with the aged
master, forgetting youth and its wonted desires in
the study of arcanic things. Together, we have delved
more deeply than all others before us in an interdicted
lore; we have solved the keyless hieroglyphs that guard
ante-human formulae; we have talked with the prehis-
toric dead; we have called up the dwellers in sealed
crypts, in fearful abysses beyond space. Few are the
sons of mankind who have cared to seek us out among
the desolate, wind-worn crags; and many, but nameless,
are the visitants who have come to us from further
bourns of place and time.

Stern and white as a tomb, older than the memory
of the dead, and built by men or devils beyond the
recording of myth, is the mansion in which we dwell.
Far below, on black, naked reefs, the northern sea
climbs and roars indomitably, or ebbs with a ceaseless
murmur as of armies of baffled demons; and the house
is filled evermore, like a hollow-sounding sepulcher,
with the drear echo of its tumultuous voices; and the
winds wail in dismal wrath around the high towers,
but shake them not. On the seaward side, the man-
sion rises sheerly from the straight-falling cliff; but on
the other sides there are narrow terraces, grown with
dwarfish, crooked cedars that bow always beneath the
gale. Giant marble monsters guard the landward por-
tals; and huge marble women ward the strait porticoes
above the sea; and mighty statues and mummies stand
everywhere in the chambers and along the halls. But,
saving these, and the spirits we have summoned, there
is none to companion us; and liches and shadows have
been the servitors of our daily needs.

All men have heard the fame of Avyctes, the sole
surviving pupil of that Malygris who tyrannized in
his necromancy over Susran from a tower of sable
stone; Malygris, who lay dead for years while men
believed him living; who, lying thus, still uttered potent
spells and dire oracles with decaying lips. But Avyctes
lusted not for temporal power in the manner of Maly-
gris; and having learned all that the elder sorcerer could
teach him, withdrew from the cities of Poseidonis to seek
another and vaster dominion; and I, the youth
Pharpetron, in the latter years of Avyctes, was per-
mitted to join him in this solitude; and since then, I
have shared his austerities and vigils and evocations
. . . and now, likewise, I must share the weird doom
that has come in answer to his summoning.

Not without terror (since man is but mortal) did
I, the neophyte, behold at first the abhorrent and tre-
mendous faces of them that obeyed Avyctes: the genii
of the sea and earth, of the stars and the heavens,
who passed to and fro in his marmorean halls. I shud-
dered at the black writhing of submundane things
from the many-volumed smoke of the braziers; I
cried in horror at the grey foulnesses, colossal, without
form, that crowded malignly about the drawn circle
of seven colors, threatening unspeakable trespass on us
that stood at the center. Not without revulsion did I
drink wine that was poured by cadavers, and eat bread
that was purveyed by phantoms. But use and custom
dulled the strangeness, destroyed the fear; and in time
I believed implicitly that Avyctes was the lord of all
incantations and exorcisms, with infallible power to
dismiss the beings he evoked.

Well had it had been for Avyctes-- and for me-- if
the master had contented himself with the lore pre-
served from Atlantis and Thule, or brought over from
Mu and Mayapan. Surely this should have been enough:
for in the ivory-sheeted books of Thule there were
blood-writ runes that would call the demons of the
fifth and seventh planets, if spoken aloud at the hour
of their ascent; and the sorcerers of Mu had left record
of a process whereby the doors of far-future time
could be unlocked; and our fathers, the Atlanteans,
had known the road between the atoms and the path
into far stars, and had held speech with the spirits of
the sun. But Avyctes thirsted for a darker knowledge,
a deeper empery; and into his hands, in the third year
of my novitiate, there came the mirror-bright tablet of
the lost serpent-people.

Strange, and apparently fortuitous, was our finding
of the tablet. At certain hours, when the tide had fallen
from the steep rocks, we were wont to descend by
cavern-hidden stairs to a cliff-walled crescent beach be-
hind the promontory on which stood the house of
Avyctes. There, on the dun, wet sands, beyond the
foamy tongues of the surf, would lie the worn and
curious driftage of alien shores, and trove that hur-
ricanes had cast up from unsounded deeps. And there
we had found the purple and sanguine volutes of great
shells, and rude lumps of ambergris, and white flowers
of perpetually blooming coral; and once, the barbaric
idol of green brass that had been the figurehead of a
galley from far hyperboreal isles.

There had been a great storm, such as must have
riven the sea to its nethermost profound; but the tem-
pest had gone by with morning, and the heavens were
cloudless on that fatal day when we found the tablet,
and the demon winds were hushed among the high
crags and chasms; and the sea lisped with a low
whisper, like the rustle of gowns of samite trailed by
fleeing maidens on the sand. And just beyond the
ebbing wave, in a tangle of russet sea-weed, we beheld
a thing that glittered with blinding sun-like brilliance.
And running forward, I plucked it from the wrack
before the wave's return, and bore it to Avyctes.

The tablet was wrought of some nameless metal,
like never-rusting iron, but heavier. It had the form
of a triangle and was broader at the widest than a
man's heart. On one side it was wholly blank; and
Avyctes and I, in turn, beheld our features mirrored
strangely, like the drawn, pallid features of the dead,
in its burnished surface. On the other side many rows
of small crooked ciphers were incised deeply in the
metal, as if by the action of some mordant acid; and
these ciphers were not the pictorial symbols or alpha-
betic characters of any language known to the master
or to me.

Of the tablet's age and origin, likewise, we could
form no conjecture; and our erudition was altogether
baffled. For many days thereafter we studied the writing
and held argument that came to no issue. And night
by night, in a high chamber closed against the perennial
winds, we pondered over the dazzling triangle by the
tall straight flames of silver lamps. For Avyctes deemed
that knowledge of rare value (or haply some secret of
an alien or elder magic) was holden by the clueless
crooked ciphers. Then, since all our scholarship was
in vain, the master sought another divination, and had
recourse to wizardy and necromancy. But at first,
among the devils and phantoms that answered our in-
terrogation, none could tell us aught concerning the
tablet. And any other than Avyctes would have despaired
in the end . . . and well would it have been if he had
despaired, and had sought no longer to decipher the
writing ....

The months and years went by with a slow thunder-
ing of seas on the dark rocks, and a headlong clamor
of winds around the white towers. Still we continued
our delvings and evocations; and further, always fur-
ther we went into lampless realms of space and spirit;
learning, perchance, to unlock the hithermost of the
manifold infinities. And at whiles, Avyctes would
resume his pondering of the sea-found tablet; or would
question some visitant from other spheres of time and
place regarding its interpretation.

At last, by the use of a chance formula, in idle
experiment, he summoned up the dim, tenuous ghost
of a sorcerer from prehistoric years; and the ghost, in
a thin whisper of uncouth, forgotten speech, informed
us that the letters on the tablet were those of a lan-
guage of the serpent-men, whose primordial continent
had sunk aeons before the lifting of Hyperborea from
the ooze. But the ghost could tell us naught of their
significance; for, even in his time, the serpent-people
had become a dubious legend; and their deep, ante-
human lore and sorcery were things irretrievable by

Now, in all the books of conjuration owned by
Avyctes, there was no spell whereby we could call the
lost serpent-men from their fabulous epoch. But there
was an old Lemurian formula, recondite and uncertain,
by which the shadow of a dead man could be sent into
years posterior to those of his own life-time, and could
be recalled after an interim by the wizard. And the
shade, being wholly insubstantial, would suffer no
harm from the temporal transition, and would remem-
ber, for the information of the wizard, that which he
had been instructed to learn during the journey.

So, having catled again the ghost of the prehistoric
sorcerer, wnose name was Ybith, Avyctes made a
singular use of several very ardent gums and com-
bustible fragments of fossil wood; and he and I, re-
citing the responses to the formula, sent the thin spirit
of Ybith into the far ages of the serpent-men. And
after a time which the master deemed sufficient, we
performed the curious rites of incantation that would
recall Ybith from his alienage. And the rites were
successful; and Ybith stood before us again, like a
blown vapor that is nigh to vanishing. And in words
that were faint as the last echo of perishing memories,
the specter told us the key to the meaning of the
letters, which he had learned in the primeval past;
and after this, we questioned Ybith no more, but
suffered him to return unto slumber and oblivion.

Then, knowing the import of the tiny, twisted ciph-
ers, we read the writing on the tablet and made thereof
a transliteration, though not without labor and difficulty,
since the very phonetics of the serpent tongue, and
the symbols and ideas expressed in the writing, were
somewhat alien to those of mankind. And when we
had mastered the inscription, we found that it con-
tained the formula for a certain evocation which, no
doubt, had been used by the serpent sorcerers. But the
object of the evocation was not named; nor was there
any clue to the nature or identity of that which would
come in answer to the rites. And moreover there was
no corresponding rite of exorcism nor spell of dismissal.

Great was the jubilation of Avyctes, deeming that
we had learned a lore beyond the memory or pre-
vision of man. And though I sought to dissuade him,
he resolved to employ the evocation, arguing that our
discovery was no chance thing but was fatefully pre-
destined from the beginning. And he seemed to think
lightly of the menace that might be brought upon us
by the conjuration of things whose nativity and at-
tributes were wholly obscure. "For," said Avyctes, "I
have called up, in all the years of my sorcery, no god
or devil, no demon or lich or shadow, which I could
not control and dismiss at will. And I am loath to
believe that any power or spirit beyond the subversion
of my spells could have been summoned by a race of
serpents, whatever their skill in demonism and necro-

So, seeing that he was obstinate, and aeknowledging
him for my master in all ways, I consented to aid
Avyctes in the experiment, though not without dire
misgivings. And then we gathered together, in the cham-
ber of conjuration, at the specified hour and configura-
tion of the stars, the equivalents of sundry rare materials
that the tablet had instructed us to use in the ritual.

Of much that we did, and of certain agents that
we employed, it were better not to tell; nor shall I
record the shrill, sibilant words, difficult for beings
not born of serpents to articulate, whose intonation
formed a signal part of the ceremony. Toward the last,
we drew a triangle on the marble floor with the fresh
blood of birds; and Avyctes stood at one angle, and
I at another; and the gaunt umber mummy of an
Atlantean warrior, whose name had been Oigos, was
stationed at the third angle. And standing thus, Avyctes
and I held tapers of corpse-tallow in our hands, till
the tapers had burned down between our fingers as into
a socket. And in the outstretched palms of the mummy
of Oigos, as if in shallow thuribles, talc and asbestos
burned, ignited by a strange fire whereof we knew the
secret. At one side we had traced on the floor an in-
frangible ellipse, made by an endless linked repetition
of the twelve unspeakable Signs of Oumor, to which
we could retire if the visitant should prove inimical
or rebellious. We waited while the pole-circling stars
went over, as had been prescribed. Then, when the
tapers had gone out between our seared fingers, and
the talc and asbestos were wholly consumed in the
mummy's eaten palms, Avyctes uttered a single word
whose sense was obscure to us; and Oigos, being ani-
mated by sorcery and subject to our will, repeated the
word after a given interval, in tones that were hollow
as a tomb-born echo; and I in my turn also repeated it.

Now, in the chamber of evocation, before beginning
the ritual, we had opened a small window giving upon
the sea, and had likewise left open a high door on the
hall to landward, lest that which came in answer to
us should require a spatial mode of entrance. And
during the ceremony, the sea became still and there
was no wind, and it seemed that all things were hushed
in awful expectation of the nameless visitor. But after
all was done, and the last word had been repeated by
Oigos and me, we stood and waited vainly for a visible
sign or other manifestation. The lamps burned stilly
in the midnight room; and no shadows fell, other than
were cast by ourselves and Oigos and by the great
marble women along the walls. And in the magic
mirrors we had placed cunningly, to reflect those that
were otherwise unseen, we beheld no breath or trace of
any image.

At this, after a reasonable interim, Avyctes was
sorely disappointed, deeming that the evocation had
failed of its purpose; and I, having the same thought,
was secretly relieved. And we questioned the mummy
of Oigos, to learn if he had perceived in the room, with
such senses as are peculiar to the dead, the sure token
or doubtful proof of a presence undescried by us the
living. And the mummy gave a necromantic answer,
saying that there was nothing.

"Verily," said Avyctes, "it were useless to wait
longer. For surely in some way we have misunderstood
the purport of the writing, or have failed to duplicate
the matters used in the evocation, or the correct in-
tonement of the words. Or it may be that in the lapse
of so many aeons, the thing that was formerly wont
to respond has long ceased to exist, or has altered in
its attributes so that the spell is now void and valueless."
To this I assented readily, hoping that the matter
was at an end. So, after erasing the blood-marked
triangle and the sacred ellipse of the linked Signs of
Oumor, and after dismissing Oigos to his wonted
place among other mummies, we retired to sleep. And
in the days that followed, we resumed our habitual studies,
but made no mention to each other of the strange
triangular tablet or the vain formula.

Even as before, our days went on; and the sea climbed
and roared in white fury on the cliffs, and the winds
wailed by in their unseen, sullen wrath, bowing the
dark cedars as witches are bowed by the breath of
Taaran, god of evil. Almost, in the marvel of new
tests and cantraips, I forgot the ineffectual conjura-
tion, and I deemed that Avyctes had also forgotten it.

All things were as of yore, to our sorcerous per-
ception; and there was naught to trouble us in our
wisdom and power and serenity, which we deemed
secure above the sovereignty of kings. Reading the
horoscopic stars, we found no future ill in their as-
pect; nor was any shadow of bale foreshown to us
through geomancy, or other modes of divination such
as we employed. And our familiars, though grisly and
dreadful to mortal gaze, were wholly obedient to us
the masters.

Then, on a clear summer afternoon, we walked, as
was often our custom, on the marble terrace behind
the house. In robes of ocean-purple, we paced among
the windy trees with their blown, crooked shadows;
and there, following us as we went to and fro, I saw
the blue shadow of Avyctes and my own shadow on
the marble; and between them, an adumbration that
was not wrought by any of the cedars. And I was
greatly startled, but spoke not of the matter to Avyctes,
and observed the unknown shadow with covert care.

I saw that it followed closely the shadow of Avyctes,
keeping ever the same distance. And it fluttered not in
the wind, but moved with a flowing as of some heavy,
thick, putrescent liquid; and its color was not blue nor
purple nor black, nor any other hue to which man's
eyes are habituated, but a hue as of some unearthly
purulence; and its form was altogether monstrous, hav-
ing a squat head and a long, undulant body, without
similitude to beast or devil.

Avyctes heeded not the shadow; and still I feared
to speak, though I thought it an ill thing for the
master to be companioned thus. And I moved closer
to him, in order to detect by touch or other perception
the invisible presence that had cast the adumbration.
But the air was void to sunward of the shadow; and I
found nothing opposite the sun nor in any oblique di-
rection, though I searched closely, knowing that certain
beings cast their shadows thus.

After a while, at the customary hour, we returned
by the coiling stairs and monster-flanked portals into
the high house. And I saw that the strange adumbra-
tion moved ever behind the shadow of Avyctes, falling
horrible and unbroken on the steps and passing clearly
separate and distinct amid the long umbrages of the
towering monsters. And in the dim halls beyond the
sun, where shadows should not have been, I beheld
with terror the distorted loathly blot, having a pestilent,
unnamable hue, that followed Avyctes as if in lieu of
his own extinguished shadow. And all that day, every-
where that we went, at the table served by specters, or
in the mummy-warded room of volumes and books, the
thing pursued Avyctes, clinging to him even as leprosy
to the leper. And still the master had perceived it not;
and still I forbore to warn him, hoping that the visitant
would withdraw in its own time, going obscurely as it
had come.

But at midnight, when we sat together by the silver
lamps, pondering the blood-writ runes of Hyperborea,
I saw that the shadow had drawn closer to the shadow
of Avyctes, towering behind his chair on the wall be-
tween the huge sculptured women and the mummies.
And the thing was a streaming ooze of charnel pollu-
tion, a foulness beyond the black leprosies of hell; and
I could bear it no more; and I cried out in my fear
and loathing, and informed the master of its presence.

Beholding now the shadow, Avyctes considered it
closesly and in silence; and there was neither fear nor
awe nor abhorrence in the deep, graven wrinkles of his
visage. And he said to me at last:

"This thing is a mystery beyond my lore; but never,
in all the practice of my art, has any shadow come to
me unbidden. And since all others of our evocations
have found answer ere this, I must deem that the shad-
ow is a veritable entity, or the sign of an entity, that
has come in belated response to the formula of the
serpent-sorcerers, which we thought powerless and void.
And I think it well that we should now repair to the
chamber of conjuration, and interrogate the shadow in
such manner as we may, to inquire its nativity and

We went forthwith into the chamber of conjuration,
and made such preparations as were both necessary and
possible. And when we were prepared to question it, the
unknown shadow had drawn closer still to the shadow
of Avyctes, so that the clear space between the two was
no wider than the thickness of a necromancer's rod.

Now, in all ways that were feasible, we interrogated
the shadow, speaking through our own lips and the lips
of mummies and statues. But there was no determin-
able answer; and calling certain of the devils and phan-
toms that were our familiars, we made question through
the mouths of these, but without result. And all the
while, our magic mirrors were void of any reflection of
a presence that might have cast the shadow; and they
that had been our spokesmen could detect nothing in
the room. And there was no spell, it seemed, that had
power upon the visitant. So Avyctes became troubled;
and drawing on the floor with blood and ashes the
ellipse of Oumor, wherein no demon nor spirit may
intrude, he retired to its center. But still within the
ellipse, like a flowing taint of liquid corruption, the
shadow followed his shadow; and the space between
the two was no wider than the thickness of a wizard's

Now, on the face of Avyctes, horror had graven new
wrinkles; and his brow was beaded with a deathly
sweat. For he knew, even as I, that this was a thing
beyond all laws, and foreboding naught but disaster
and evil. And he cried to me in a shaken voice, and

"I have no knowledge of this thing nor its intention
toward me, and no power to stay its progress. Go forth
and leave me now; for I would not that any man
should witness the defeat of my sorcery and the doom
that may follow thereupon. Also, it were well to de-
part while there is time, lest you too should become the
quarry of the shadow and be compelled to share its

Though terror had fastened upon my inmost soul, I
was loath to leave Avyctes. But I had sworn to obey
his will at all times and in every respect; and more-
over I knew myself doubly powerless against the adum-
bration, since Avyctes himself was impotent.

So, bidding him farewell, I went forth with trem-
bling limbs from the haunted chamber; and peering
back from the threshold, I saw that the alien umbrage,
creeping like a noisome blotch on the floor, had
touched the shadow of Avyctes. And at that moment
the master shrieked aloud like one in nightmare; and
his face was no longer the face of Avyctes but was
contorted and convulsed like that of some helpless
madman who wrestles with an unseen incubus. And I
looked no more, but fled along the dim outer hall and
through the high portals giving upon the terrace.

A red moon, ominous and gibbous, had declined
above the terrace and the crags; and the shadows of
the cedars were elongated in the moon; and they wa-
vered in the gale like the blown cloaks of enchanters.
And stooping against the gale, I fled across the terrace
toward the outer stairs that led to a steep path in the
riven waste of rocks and chasms behind Avyctes'
house. I neared the terrace edge, running with the speed
of fear; but I could not reach the topmost outer stair;
for at every step the marble flowed beneath me, fleeing
like a pale horizon before the seeker. And though I
raced and panted without pause, I could draw no nearer
to the terrace edge.

At length I desisted, seeing that an unknown spell
had altered the very space about the house of Avyctes,
so that none could escape therefrom to landward. So,
resigning myself in despair to whatever might befall,
I returned toward the house. And climbing the white
stairs in the low, level beams of the crag-caught moon,
I saw a figure that awaited me in the portals. And I
knew by the trailing robe of sea-purple, but by no other
token, that the figure was Avyctes. For the face was no
longer in its entirety the face of man, but was become a
loathly fluid amalgam of human features with a thing
not to be identified on earth. The transfiguration was
ghastlier than death or the changes of decay; and the
face was already hued with the nameless, corrupt and
purulent color of the strange shadow, and had taken on,
in respect to its outlines, a partial likeness to the squat
profile of the shadow. The hands of the figure were not
those of any terrene being; and the shape beneath the
robe had lengthened with a nauseous undulant pliancy;
and the face and fingers seemed to drip in the moon-
light with a deliquescent corruption. And the pursuing
umbrage, like a thickly flowing blight, had corroded
and distorted the very shadow of Avyctes, which was
now double in a manner not to be narrated here.

Fain would I have cried or spoken aloud; but horror
had dried up the fount of speech. And the thing that
had been Avyctes beckoned me in silence, uttering no
word from its living and putrescent lips. And with eyes
that were no longer eyes, but had become an oozing
abomination, it peered steadily upon me. And it
clutched my shoulder closely with the soft leprosy of
its fingers, and led me half-swooning with revulsion
along the hall, and into that room where the mummy of
Oigos, who had assisted us in the threefold incantation
of the serpent-men, was stationed with several of his

By the lamps which illumed the chamber, burning
with pale, still, perpetual flames, I saw that the mum-
mies stood erect along the wall in their exanimate re-
pose, each in his wonted place with his tall shadow
beside him. But the great, gaunt shadow of Oigos on
the marble wall was companioned by an adumbration
similar in all respects to the evil thing that had fol-
lowed the master and was now incorporate with him. I
remembered that Oigos had performed his share of the
ritual, and had repeated an unknown stated word in
turn after Avyctes; and so I knew that the horror had
come to Oigos in turn, and would wreak itself upon
the dead even as on the living. For the foul, anony-
mous thing that we had called in our presumption could
manifest itself to mortal ken in no other way than this.
We had drawn it from unfathomable depths of tim
and space, using ignorantly a dire formula; and the
thing had come at its own chosen hour, to stamp itself
in abomination uttermost on the evocators.

Since then, the night has ebbed away, and a second
day has gone by like a sluggish ooze of horror. . . . I
have seen the complete identification of the shadow
with the flesh and the shadow of Avyctes . . . and also
I have seen the slow encroachment of that other um-
brage, mingling itself with the lank shadow and the
sere, bituminous body of Oigos, and turning them to a
similitude of the thing which Avyctes has become. And
I have heard the mummy cry out like a living man in
great pain and fear, as with the throes of a second
dissolution, at the impingement of the shadow. And
long since it has grown silent, like the other horror, and
I know not its thoughts or its intent. . . . And verily I
know not if the thing that has come to us be one or
several; nor if its avatar will rest complete with the
three that summoned it forth into time, or be extended
to others.

But these things, and much else, I shall soon know;
for now, in turn, there is a shadow that follows mine,
drawing ever closer. The air congeals and curdles with
an unseen fear; and they that were our familiars have
fled from the mansion; and the great marble women
seem to tremble where they stand along the walls. But
the horror that was Avyctes, and the second horror
that was Oigos, have left me not, and neither do they
tremble. And with eyes that are not eyes, they seem
to brood and watch, waiting till I too shall become as
they. And their stillness is more terrible than if they
had rended me limb from limb. And there are strange
voices in the wind, and alien roarings upon the sea;
and the walls quiver like a thin veil in the black breath
of remote abysses.

So, knowing that the time is brief, I have shut my-
self in the room of volumes and books and have
written this account. And I have taken the bright tri-
angular tablet, whose solution was our undoing, and
have cast it from the window into the sea, hoping that
none will find it after us. And now I must make an
end, and enclose this writing in the sealed cylinder of
orichalchum, and fling it forth to drift upon the wave.
For the space between my shadow and the shadow of
the horror is straitened momently. . . . and the space is
no wider than the thickness of a wizard's pen.

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