As an artist I have an appreciation for the small things. I see tiny details and expand them into bigger pictures, and that helps me focus my perception to a fine point, much like a pen. It was an affinity for those shiny tools that brought me within the realm of interest regarding William’s field of study, an esoteric industriousness that defied all logical convention.
It was a few weeks after our first meeting in the mansion library, sometime in March I think: an interval before one of the first hellish treks into interdimensional madness. At the time, my parents were still convinced I was going to a biweekly art student program on my campus, and Will helped me forge the papers needed to convince them that at minimum, this was a good thing for me. I mean, I wasn’t exactly about to tell them I was working with a creature with paper skin who lived on a floating island within a void. I doubt they would have questioned it much anyway if I stayed out for longer than necessary: for a while during high school and college, I shut myself inside and dealt with my own demons using my own methods. Obviously, this was before I faced the ones under William’s library.
I remember him actually contacting me via written letter, despite the fact we initially talked via email. That’s how eclectic the man can be. Same as last time I followed the directions to the Estate without actually paying attention to my physical surroundings, which was a prerequisite to find it. I guess the idea was that somehow the place materialized in your peripherals when you were only vaguely aware of it, and that was ‘how the Abyss worked’ to a degree. Everything about how it functions mechanically is “vague” in some way. Somehow I found myself back at those decrepit gates, with a massive and mysterious curtain of black closing off the boundaries of the property. Stone fences half-heartedly propped up like crooked teeth for the first few feet towards the main entrance, and then dissipated. I opened the massive mahogany doors and stepped inside. It took me at least 15 minutes to navigate the twisting, reddish hallways of the mansion and eventually find the one lit room bright enough to let me see my own fingers. Will was working with steadfast attention at a table hidden away in an obscure corner of his fortress.
He was bent over a table, tinkering with a strange assortment of shiny and dull objects alike. There were sheets with circular symbols and rune-like images plastered on the sepia walls and a single lamp illuminating the entire room, casting ambiguous shadows everywhere. Without turning around Will spoke, “Hello Jacob. I’m working on something you might like.”
“Are you one of those dudes who approaches people at parties and tries to relate with their really boring profession?” I asked. He turned and raised a brow at me. “Kidding,” I added hastily. “What’re you working on?”
He moved aside and revealed a swath of implements of various sizes, ranging around three inches to the size of a ruler. They all appeared to be thin, blackish-purplish rods with deceptively rigid bodies. One of them was adorned with smaller, engraved versions of the runes I saw on the wall.
“This is hepatizon. It's an ancient alloy that used to be sought after in classic antiquity,” he said, holding up one of the rods. It glinted with dull purple strokes. “Humans have always put much monetary emphasis on certain alloys and materials throughout history. Ironically this material turned out to be one of the most invaluable utility metals to ever slip unnoticed into the 21st century.”
He picked up a diamond-shaped sliver of goldish-brownish metal. The tip was sharp and had a hollow channel leading to the center. “Bronze and gold, roughly 94 percent - 5 percent ratio. When screwed into the handle, it creates not only a fine piece of artisanal sculpture, but one of the most powerful tools unknown to mankind.”
He held up the finished product and smiled. I looked him dead in the eye and said “Will, I know you know I like art supplies, but what you’re showing me is essentially an over sized pen.”
“I haven’t even added the Wraith blood yet,” he chirped.
“...Aaand now you’re showing me alchemy or something. You realize this is an affront to my good ol’ American God, right?”
I did a double-take as he suddenly jabbed the sharp tip into the palm of his pallid hand, and withdrew it in a smooth arc. For a second I looked at him like he was holding a loaded gun to me - for all intents and purposes, he might as well have at the time. In his palm a small lake of black ink had formed: his blood. “Once my blood enters the channel and pools at the hollow end of the rod, it starts a reaction that connects it into the Abyss. I’ve essentially created a stave with its own supply of ink, handy for all sorts of things.” The blood in his hand evaporated into mist as I watched. To my astonishment, he began tracing the air with the pen, sigils of indescribable mass appearing midair and swirling in shadowy circles.
You know how some 3D games have sprites that always face the camera? I think they’re called boards. It kind of looked like that but in real life. I’m not even sure if ‘high definition visuals’ is the right way to describe it, since this is real life we’re talking about. All of it appeared to have the consistency of normal ink, but somehow with ‘solid’ mass. And dare I say, a sense of intelligence even.
“That’s...that’s insane. How long have you been practicing this?” I said without taking my eyes off him, the pen drifting cryptic shapes across the room.
“At least four years. My body and mind seem naturally inclined towards Abyssomancy, probably because that's where I was born,” he replied. “This thing is so strong, it can puncture a hole into the next galaxy over if I wanted it to.”
“Could we visit deep space?”
“Yes. Though I don’t much prefer it, a lot of it is rather boring compared to what lies below the perceivable universe.”
He looked like he was having a blast, lifting objects with the shadowy discharge and shooting clouds of intensely-geometric needles at a board on the wall. For a moment I lost my senses, dazzled by the luster of the tool. It was calling my name from somewhere far away. I needed it.
Ignoring the bladed edge. I reached out my hand in a haze and tried to grab it from Will’s hand. He reacted too slowly, and as the sharpened tip sliced into my finger I had a spasmodic reaction. Not physical, but mental. A slew of images flew past my eyes at the speed of thought. I saw what looked like myself, weeping in a black puddle. My body twitched and geysers erupted from my eyes and mouth. I saw pale figures, figures clad in black and white, dancing madly like fireflies and drifting down from the sky. Laughter. Screaming. Silent weeping. I fell at blistering speeds into a chasm wider than my vision, slamming face first into what I thought was the ground as I woke up.
Will was staring at me, not with his human-mask, but the large circular discs associated with his kind. They were wide with concern, intrigue...intellectual hunger even. He was holding the pen close to his body, inspecting the bloodied tip before carefully placing it on the table. “Are you alright?” he asked. “Sit down for a moment, no not - yeah, there.” I hunched over in a stool in the corner, the images still replaying in my head. “You look like you’ve seen ghosts, friendo,” he said with reserve.
I looked up at him, feeling my index finger throb with dull pain. “I think I did, honestly. I saw a bunch of...nobles? Aristocrats.” I searched. “They were being gifted something. It was hard to tell, but some floating, pale people came from the sky and handed them….something…and then it felt like Hell broke loose. Did I just have a trip?” I grabbed myself nervously, making sure I was corporeal again. “I’m still here, right?”
He stared at me again and then sat down across from me, handing me a kerchief from his breast pocket. “You already know quite a bit about who and what I am, don’t you?”
“Yuh. Ghost boy from the reaches of outer outer space, that’s you. Sss, ow…”
“Then you should know it wasn’t me who invented these pens. They weren’t called that back then either, but the concept was the same. There were others before me, going way way back through the annals of history. I didn’t know them personally - most of what I know is second hand knowledge and vestiges of the past. But the point is, there were more of us.”
“Story time,” Will confirmed. “Try to pay attention, this is the abbreviated version.”
The pain was subsiding, so I sat back and listened as Will told me about the Wraiths and how they invaded our world.
“It was between the 18th and 19th century, the last few ages of traditional British royalty. Couldn’t tell you the precise land they lay in, as there are only snippets of information laying about that vaguely hint at the location of their estate. There was a nobility that was generally reclusive, having been stripped of their official power by their neighboring cities, but still subsiding on the inheritance of their forefathers accumulated since before the Revolution. This clan was led by the young matriarch, one Lady Aniloss, a beautiful dark-haired thing who was as outwardly care-free and seductive as she was inwardly guileful and capricious. Her whole family, consisting of a few older generations and mainly cousins and siblings, were as hedonistic in personality as Aniloss was herself. As such the inner cities maintained distance and silent disdain for the jubilous parties the family became known for, in an effort to develop into a further political independence.
“It was around this time the Wraiths began resurfacing, coming out of hibernation since the last great purge that resulted in many of their kind vanished. I think they were confused, perhaps, mistaking the pale-skinned clan for one of their own that had managed to successfully adopt a decadent human lifestyle. Or perhaps the rapturous activities of the Aniloss brood sparked a sense of camaraderie within the misguided souls. Either way, they revealed themselves to the matriarch one day as specters of Fortune. The family, not unknown to certain elements of the supernatural and perhaps even excited by the prospect, welcomed the Wraiths into their home. It was there that the Wraiths revealed their intentions and mark of goodwill: they brought a Fountain with them.
“It was not just an art piece, but one of the most potent relics in all of history. Excelling in function, form and divinity unlike no other fabled object. My studies dictate that perhaps, the Wraiths saw this as an opportunity to develop inter-species sciences and magicks, using the nobility as a means to that transcendent goal.
“So they handed the tool over to the Aniloss family, and instructed them on how to use it. It was not a pretty procedure, relatively painless but still quite shocking to human sensibilities. The Lady Aniloss wasted not a single moment and plunged the thing into her crown, unleashing the first wave of human-focused Abyssal magic into the world. The Wraiths brought several more lesser Fountains as a further gesture of goodwill, and do you know what the poor fools were rewarded with? Good old human blasphemy.
“The family abused the power of the staves, using its capabilities to ascend their self-indulgent ways into abstract forms of pleasure. It became even worse when they showed intent to kidnap passing townsfolk and perform obscene experiments of the flesh and mind on the ignorant saps. Actions and thoughts so gruesomely unthinkable, there are no human words to describe them; they were corrupted with tenebrism. The Wraiths, appalled by the lack of grace and wisdom therein, stole into the household to reclaim the Fountains. What they found instead were the desiccated remains of the Aniloss brood, violently warping and dancing uncontrollably to a circadian rhythm within the black ink. Aniloss herself became a sickening center to the Abyssal flow, standing in the middle of the foyer and screaming for help from any gods who would hear their pleas. Humans apparently aren’t equipped to handle divinity of any sort, and this was the natural course for a family such as this. As the wraiths watched in melancholy, the mansion walls were inwardly thrashed and grabbed upon by the unheralded tendrils of the Abyss, pulling down the entire thing in one great inhaling motion.
“The remains of the family were never found and vanished into historical obscurity. And I can only estimate the first Wraiths simply believed the family to have destroyed themselves completely along with the Fountains. I mean, there was no reason not to assume this. The Abyss is capable of dissolving anything that isn’t protected by charms into molecules of pure thought. And thus it has been that wraiths no longer share their insight with humans. At least, until now.”
Will finished his story and gestured vaguely at my hand. “It would seem that some vestige of that obsession lies naturally in all humans, manifested as a magnetic pull towards the arcane. To obtain the purity of the unknown, to tap into that well of knowledge is dangerous. So I apologize for immediately thrusting you towards it without going through the proper channels.”
I looked back at him, my hand and head still throbbing. Not with pain, but anxiety. I was in over my head, diving into something as insane as magic and the supernatural at the time. But my life had been leading up to this moment for so long, a moment to grasp a sense of purpose and objectivity in my short and miserable life. So I ran to grab it with open hands of course, and for that I only have myself to blame.
“Wow,” was all I could say at length. “I can’t believe this stuff’s played such an important role in your, uh, species’ history. I’m even more shocked no other humans have been privy to this information.”
“You of all people should not be surprised at humanity’s ability to forget the most heinous of crimes,” Will responded, looking at me gravely. “The only way those vestiges are remembered is through the arts, through spoken word and performance.”
We both looked at the pen laying on the workbench. It seemed to pulse with ominous energy, although that detail may have been my overheated brain perceiving it that way. I still felt that primal tug at the back of my head, and upon Will’s suggestion decided it’d be best to return home for the day. We could continue discussing Ink magic another time.
Later that day after I left, he would receive a message of sorts, one that apparently flitted through the dark horizon like a bird and landed on his doorstep. Always the curious one, Will later recounted that he had taken the small book inside to examine.
He couldn’t have foreseen it coming, even with his supernaturally-powerful sight. He was still preoccupied with the recent and sudden shifting of the atmosphere within his bubble, a stutter that was rippling through the Abyss with more and more frequency as he minded his studies. It was a mere symptom at the time rather than a full blown ailment.
As he opened the book in the safety of his home, he had but a single moment to react. I was told later as well that it technically might not have killed him, since wraiths are more durable against attacks of arcane nature. However that was a chance none of his kind were dumb enough to take. In an instant, hundreds of thin, blade-like appendages shot out from inside the pages as if they were liquefied shrapnel. Had William not rolled out of the way defensively, a larger blade would have pierced the center of his head. Instead it punctured the bookshelf behind him, throwing down a portion of his collection into a messy heap.
He looked at the book. It was a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He gingerly picked the book apart from the now solidified spikes holding it in midair and brought it to his upstairs lab.
Will would later relate the contents of the book, how it tipped him off that something was wrong. He didn’t know how or why it came to the Estate, perhaps it was connected to my earlier fumble. A magnetism caused by the sudden surge in Abyssal magic. Or maybe just the universe throwing down the signs.
Either way, what he read inside was still the general plot line of Salinger’s infamous work, with the same characters and locales. The key difference was that the contents themselves were horrid in theme and details: it was a tale of murders, treachery, acts of depravity and unutterable sins. A sadist’s interpretation of an otherwise harmless novel.
What William found in there was the first clue that something major was happening in this purple ocean of his. Something corrupting the literature of the world and warping its innards to an unrecognizable state. Later during that week, he’d tell me how he’s never seen anything like it and that it was up to us to investigate.
There was indeed a tenebristic and unclear path laid before us, one inlaid with bloody traps and dangers threatening to spear us through the forehead with their unconscious plans. My life would be consumed by this path for a long time to come.
The next time I’d meet Will, he would be sunken into his armchair, eyes dark and spinning with thoughts too recondite to relay in full.
“...There’s no way they’re back. It’s literally impossible...” he muttered to himself over and over. He didn’t even seem to notice I was there when I entered his living room. “That black magic hasn’t been practiced in several millennia….the wench should be dead!”
That was the first time I saw genuine fear in his eyes.
As recorded within The Estate