Black Lodge No. 19: Dreams and Mysterium
Part III of the Black Lodge Series. For previous in the series:
Black was the night as Professor Costain walked down Mill Lane. The grey brick building jutted out of the inky blackness of the witching hour. A large raven squawked down from the gate of 10 Mill Lane at him, beady black eyes staring down from over grotesque images. It was here where he first pierced the veil of the common world and saw Magic first hand. A fiend of the pit and a connecting gate to be exact. Here was where he must study the craft. Perfect it, make it his own. Cold dead eyes looked back onto him from the gate, they were his own eyes; pale and frosted. The raven cawed into the night as it flew, "Too soon. Too soon."
Costain woke with a fright, he had fallen asleep in the library at 10 Mill Lane, the former Hellfire Lodge 19. He looked out into the moon light. Night through these windows seemed somehow darker, eerie.
The wall creaked, a long drawn out sound like wood screaming either against the wind or in memoriam of its former life.
Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to linger here. Wait.... Windows.... there aren't windows in the library...
He regarded the emerald green curtains, thick and heavy woolen things, drawn over three alcoves in what was before a wall of books floor to, well before the arch of the endless void that Costain regarded as a substitute for a ceiling.
This place is not to be taken lightly.
Knox had postulated that there was some way of controlling the ever shifting structure of the rooms. The front entry had always stayed the same, never changing its look nor nature. Nor did the front parlor. Everything else had shifted on multiple occasions. But this was the first the library had changed. It was nearly constantly a dully lit place stacked full of books with shadows clinging to the corners. Now it had three windowed alcoves jutting out the back wall, each with three panes angled in a trapezoidal manner. This had the shadows that usually dominated the corners retreating to the other wall and into the very highest point in the vaulted ceiling. Costain could now make out the paintings on the ceiling. A scene of bearded men in black seated at a table. On which laid a most strange feast the center of which was a flayed man. It made him queasy to look at for too long. He blinked and the bearded men changed to grotesque forms, with filed teeth and glowing eyes. Is the house trying to tell me something?
Then there was the manner of the doorways. Not the regular sort that stood in the walls, although several of them were likely irregular as well. The doors themselves acted as passageways across the world, and likely several other realms. Knox and he had spent the better part of the last two days bracing and securing doors, with heavy silvered chains and strong well made locks. Mr. Reed was indispensible at helping with the sealing of these.
What exactly that other side was neither Knox nor Costain wanted to postulate on. Mr. Reed the caretaker of this place summed it up well enough. "Some damned hellhole or 'nother."
That worked for the moment, it was also what Costain was trying to puzzle. This place had countless non-sensitizes in it, as he termed them. Ceilings that opened up into a voluminous black space beyond, doors that could appear to places not connected to this house, and infrequently noises that couldn't be explained. Demonic entities would spring out from time to time, destined to either be bound back behind whichever door from whence they came, shot full of silver until their burning ichor ran out, or in the particular case of one of them, to hide in a coatroom and speak backwards insults at whomever tried to use it.
Rekuf the Imp still has its greedy little claws on my hat.
Costain was not sure why he was bothered with all this. Had he not receive that letter he would presumably be in his home on Andrew's Street, some rough five blocks away, presumably sleeping, God how he missed sleep. The last two days that sweet quietness eluded him until exhausting had caught up with him.
There was a knocking on the double door to the Library.
"Who knocks?" asked Costain
The door opened. Not again. Costain reflexively grabbed the pistol Knox had lent him off the table and lowered it towards the door.
To his surprise and unwitting relief it was not one of those aforementioned demons here to cause him grief, it was the aforementioned Mr. Reed lumbering towards the lowered pistol.
"Oh, Master Cozs-tahn my 'pologies sah just looking tah see if you was still in?"
"Do I want to know the hour?" Costain asked.
"Tah crier only called three sah, it's better than last night sah," Reed stammered " 'Bout tah give that old clock a right winding." He gestured to the grandfather clock behind the long table at the back of the room.
The clock face showed a moon in three phases, waning, full, and waxing, next to each other overlaid in brass was a centralized pentacle and odd numerals at the places for the time. Alongside this were a series of dials and faces with hands turning too quickly to be time of any kind. Others were unmoving. What was that a barometer?
What was equally confounding is that Costain had no noticed this here before. Not that this was particularly surprising for this place, but a clock of this nature does not simply get up and move, and it was not in this places nature to move items in rooms, merely scramble the walls and rooms themselves.
"Where's tah latch on this bugger."
Mr. Reed had already gone to the piece and rotated it. Costain gave it no great mind, the hour was late and he better head home, before either someone noticed him leave this place or his class started, oh God that's only five hours from now...
Heading out the door Costain noticed the back of the clock had neither seems nor latch nor any break in the lacquered black surface.
"Mr. Reed I do not believe that the back opens."
"What do yah mean not open, me hands in the bugger." Grunted a pained Mr. Reed.
Costain paused took a breath and determined if Reed could figure a clock out and he could not, what use did old man Knox have to him. He turned on his heels and re-entered the room. As he walked towards the clock his vision was clearly impaired as all around him was blackness for an instant followed by the room.
He stopped in his tracks. He could swear he heard the same raven caw. The only sound at all in the darkness.
He stepped forward. Reed was fiddling with the clock again, his massive forearm obscured inside the clock. "Mr. Reed I suggest desisting from tinkering with that." It was silence, either the man had become deaf or everything was somehow obscured.
Stranger still we go.
He stepped forward again, a raven screamed into the darkness again. This time the bird remained on the window, now opened.
"Who enters the night?" A voice echoed across the room resonating from nowhere.
What madness is this?
"You, I have seen you before, yes a dreamer enters." said the voice again.
"A dreamer?" Costain was confounded by this, none of his sporadic readings had covered anything related to the night, mad ravens or 'dreamers'.
"Yes, you are a dreamer, one who peers into the void between..." said the voice, dripping off whatever esoteric ending it was pontificating.
"What, that does not even make sense?"
"Too soon then, the one that digs inside me, he means to remove our tether."
Does it mean the clock. Or is it the clock?
"I'm sure he has no idea what he's doing..... wait us?" Costain had had it with this voice.
"I am what we are." The clockwork chimed.
"You are no clock."
"Glad we are, glad that one so young could notice. Let us take a look at... You!" The room spun as the clock face began to turn in its mounting. No it had to be a play of the light. Then the face glowed as if there were a flame behind it, though not of an ordinary hue the flame was green. The room faded and Costain found himself shrouded in blackness and a mess of cogs, gears and pistons.
The dissonant voice spoke again, "You are one with potential upon the waves of Fate... Interesting times await your decisions," the gears clicked and whirled. "Or is it your decisions that will envelope interesting times."
What madness is this?
"You are the Costain and you are the Focal. The Dreamer awoken indeed."
"Too soon" cawed the raven.
Then it stopped, the room returned, the clock was gone Mr. Reed was standing by the door. Costain looked about the room the clock was gone, but the room was still windowed.
"Wait how did you get there?" asked a paler than usual Costain.
"I walked that's what I did, done put me feet in front of eacho'er. Why someting wrong, sah?" the large man cocked his head.
"Nothing" Clearly I need rest, lots of it and probably a stiff drink.
Costain looked out the center window into the night. The raven nested upon it ruffling its inky black feathers. Costain closed the window sending the bird cawing off into the night.
The next day Costain entered his office, the handle of the door felt warm to the touch. He sighed, Knox is here.
He opened the door to find his colleague inside smoking a pipe and distracted by an odd newspaper its title illegible in some script Costain did not recognize.
Costain coughed lightly.
"Ah, excuse me where are my manners, brandy?" Knox offered standing and folding the strange newsprint into a square.
"Too early for that is it not?" asked Costain, "Why the office call?"
Knox puffed, "Mr. Reed says you were at 19 late last night, anything interesting?"
Costain went pale, nothing interesting just ravens and impending madness.
"I would have told you if there was." The old man laughed. Then stared an icy look over Costain's left shoulder.
"I'm sure you would," Knox blinked, probably for the second time ever, "Now then, how goes the reading?"
"Valentinus' Latin is interesting. As for the rest, you do know that Aramaic is a dead language, right?"
"Dead things are often hiding the most useful knowledge." the old man's face was dour, even by its normal standards.
"Then how would you suggest learning it?"
"Come with me." grumbled Knox.
Many hours later the two were pouring over duty tomes and scrolls. They were cluttering the center table in the library at 19 Mill Lane. The clock was missing, though Costain felt as though he was being watch by, something, something in the dark. He looked hesitantly into the darkened alcove in the upper ceiling, glowing eyes small and unblinking stared back at him, some ten or more pairs. They were yellow and more relaxed than those that would worry him. Those of the demons. Should I mention it to... No knowing Knox this is all part of the test.
After hours more at the work, the glyphs began to make more sense. Costain was puzzled as to how the older man learned all this himself. He was sure to have had some form of mentorship himself. The thought was disconcerting, either magic had not truly faded or there was a quiet few that clung onto forbidden knowledge. The material too showed something similar to this. Heretics and isolated peoples seeking forbidden knowledge stumbling on rites that appeared to still hold power. Though most of the works talked of theory more than practices. how the practice was to be, not how to perform it.
It's as if Knox wants me to know what it means study magic and how it should work but not how to actually do it. Magic was in effect a method of pooling power, either from 'liberating potential' in sacrifice, compiling components and material with powers imbued, or mixing the right substances. There seemed to be several different methods of practicing the craft. The works of mad monks and heretical mystics theorized how the mystical world was structured. Alchemists claimed that the great age of sorcerers was dead, gone with the remnants of the Ancient world. Or was it the fall of the Tower of Babel. It was unsure when exactly it the age of sorcerer-priests ended.
A Gnostic priest had theorized that the heavenly creation was a complicated construction of several different realms, the usual Heaven and Hell, the usual place we know, and then other pieces. Then there was the Kabbalah, the ancient backbones of Hermeticism and Alchemy. Joined at the hip in old Jewish traditions. It spoke of much, in riddles and confusions of being. If there were a cipher to it, Costain, and hopefully by some extension Knox, was not aware of it. However in the copy in the Library there was a red scrawled script in the margins. Annotating the mysteries and
Such is the issue of the gentleman practitioner, we must shift through the issues of the backlog and of fakes to find the truth, then decipher the language, then the cipher, and then... finally, we may see the truth. Occultism is a difficult pastime in that deciphering rites and strange practices is a duly confounding process.. It is a wonder if we can ascertain anything practical from this.
After the hours of pouring over their craft, split over the course of several days. Knox had reached a determination."It is time."
"For what, sir?" asked a hesitant and confused Costain.
"You might be ready to try your hand." Costain's heart skipped a beat or two. Was he ready for this. He steeled himself in the best method he knew. Brandy existed for a reason after all. With the fiery sweet taste upon his tongue he follow the older man out the side door from which the demon had rushed them earlier. They walked down the dark hall for past three doors, all locked and sealed in prodigious fashion. Then Knox opened the next door slowly, in a sort of methodical way. Costain had taken the source material he needed with him. He knew this was a measure being taken to remove risk from the collection. Technically if they want to fully remove the risk they would do this elsewhere. But elsewhere had the greater risk; exposure, or worse blowing a whole in Queen's College. not exactly something I wish to have as my last memory, nor as my lasting remembrance in the place.
They entered the room. It was dark light by a single candle on a small table with two leather backed armchairs. The floor was an odd black tile, almost like soapstone. They were to attempt something that had not been recorded in Britain for centuries.
That which they needed was carried by Knox in a small black box, made from something reminiscent of stone, but light. It was a ponderous thing to consider, when the lid was closed the surface was smooth and felt oddly oily. Knox had found it in Egypt, or was it Greece? Somewhere in his voyages. He insists it can contain most magic... That remains to be seen of course. Hopefully we will not have need of the other constraints. They were careful in their selection of what to perform. They were to attempt to contact something... whatever had its hold on this house namely. Knox had theorized that the place had to be capable of being tamed. It just needed the right amount of convincing.
Costain readied himself with a quick thought to the consequences and the buzzing reminder of the brandy previously consumed. This in conjunction with the human drive to reckless abandon propelled him to motion to Knox.
"Yes, it is time to see what we are up against." Knox whispered as he opened the chest.
The air inside smelt of crushed palm leaves and incense of some sort. It probably was Egypt. From inside Knox drew out several of the needed tools of the craft. A plumb bob, the stone the same ink blackness that surrounded it in the chest, only polished and shining. Then came the cup, a simple pewter thing, the blade, silvered and sharpened to a ridiculous edge. It was some thirteen inches long from handle to tip, triangular bladed, guard-less with a slight curve to the hilt. Then there were a pair of gemstones, rubies to precise, faceted in a spherical manner.
They laid these items upon the table in the order they were mentioned. Each man grabbed for one of the rubies brought it over their left eye, in order to peer through it. How else is one to look beyond what one can normally see? Knox took the plumb bob holding its cord and balancing it over the cup. Costain took the knife in his right hand. I hope this is worth it and we are not just a pair of fools.
They looked to each other nodded and begun to speak. The words were in a language long thought lost. The tongue had old Aramaic roots, favored by the strangest of priests and alchemists alike. They spoke out into the darkness of the room. After three or so verses of what was hopefully not gibberish, Costain pricked his left thumb and let three drops of his blood make a crimson stain in the cup. They called out to the darkness to come and drink its fill.
Either by dumb luck or actually getting it right the darkness came forth. As such, the shadows in the room rose out of the corners and took the form of a man, similar in visage and height to Costain, whose blood they were drawn to. The shadowy man looked at the other two, as the color drained from their faces. It had worked.
Costain stood open mouthed as the man from shadow took the chalice in its grasp and drank from a filled cup. Curiously, the man was only visible through the ruby. The cup splashed crimson on the man's black mouth as he hungrily lapped at its content. Then it spoke in a voice collected from many.
"Who is it that seeks to bind me?"
Costain looked to Knox, who stared down the apparition.
"Two sons of man." said Knox.
The creature laughed looking up from the cup to Costain. "I can taste that much. Tell me then, oh good doctor, how do you like my demesne?"
Knox furrowed his brow. "Clearly those that came before us were not so ready."
"They tasted less potent. Aged and flat, not the sort of thing something like me should make a habit of consuming."
Costain paled. Being the preferred meal of that which dwelled here was not the plan.
Knox stifled a smirk, then went back to his usual dour manner. "Yes, but that was needed to entice you into the open. What are you creature, name yourself!"
"I have many names, I am watcher, I am listener, I am feaster."
"Answer him straightforwardly creature." Costain charged it.
The creature glanced between them breathed in deeply, then discharged a guttural mixture of staggered pieces of broken language. Knox winced almost as if he had been punched.
"Trying to curse us in that foul tongue of yours ill suits you." Knox pulled his pistol and placed it upon the table. "Now do you really want to spend the rest of however long you last with a hole in your essence?"
The shadow hissed. "Son of man, you surely are lost for what to call me are you not?" It breathed in again and sipped from the cup, as it drank the shadows that made you its visage solidified. "I shaped this place into my own hallow. Drank the souls from the miserable fools that inhabited it. Let loose the gates that were herein already apparent. From within I called to my kin. We will hold our hallow."
Knox pulled the hammer back on the pistol, cocked and ready he aimed it at the creature.
Costain cleared his throat and said, "My friend here has had it with cleaning up your mess creature. Answer him or I swear by all that which I can I will see you bound here."
A low creaking noise emanated from the room followed by scuttling sounds. The shadowy tiles seemed to shift and swirl below the shadowy man.
"I am Xyreoryth, summon me by it and I shall hang you from your guts."
"Then tell us Xyreoryth, what are you? Less we start the unnecessary un-pleasantries of binding." questioned Costain.
The shadowy figure hissed. "Questions, I will only answer questions, three in number. Three the number shall be."
"Answer us then." spat Knox.
"I am of the shadow and the voidal, your kind knows us by many names Demon is just the most recent."
"Why are you here?" asked Knox.
The thing laughed, "I am here because I was invited by those too foolish to take precautions."
Dodging questions... of course it is the snaked tongued bugger.
Costain started to ask, "What brings you to this..."
Knox interrupted, "What do you want?"
The shadowy man glared at them. "I want blood, blood and souls to sustain myself here. I need more to feast upon more to feed my hunger."
The apparition went back to drinking from the cup. It had become more substantial since this process began almost as if it were gaining flesh.
Costain looked to Knox half expecting him to try and puzzle together a more straightforward question. Then a thought occurred to him.
"What is the void?" asked Costain
The demon stopped its swilling of the cup. Licked its shadow bound lips with its forked tongue.
"The void is the places between and outside of the tree of worlds. That which comes from it has no substance, no being. Thus we must hunt to fuel ourselves upon the physical worlds. We bleed in-between the spaces and hunt in darkness, hoping for an errant fool to come across us."
Then the cup was emptied all of its fill was consumed. The shadow turned man locked eyes with Knox and muttered something less than coherent. Something about a tomb and river and an old man seeking to overcome death.
Knox went from displeased to livid as the shadowy man laughed in multiple.
A shot rang out through the confines of the room.
The shadowy man was gone but the darkness still hung low. It was not dead, that would have a more spectacular resultant. But perhaps it was contained.
Knox glanced over across the table. ”We got what we came for my boy. Are you alright?"
Why is he asking I feel fine. Then he looked down. His finger was black to the palm of his hand. He touched his thumb to it, it was cold to the touch but still moved to his command. He rapped his fingers on the table. Good it still feels. "I am fine, I guess it appears to be superficial."
"I'll take your word for it for now," Knox breathed in a heavy sigh, "Let us be gone from this place, I suspect our host is going to be less than hospitable."
So they left the black room, taking with them that which came from the chest in the vessel it belonged in. The door knob was cold to the touch as if it was carved from ice. Pain shot through Costain's arm as he opened it onto... onto the front room.
Great, Xyreoyth has shown us the door it seems.
"Keep to the plan?" Costain asked Knox.
"I'll look into a place for the ritual, Xyreoyth, needs to be removed." Knox muttered, "Along with the 'rekcuf' in the coat room."
 Do not think of this as one of the modern tool think more of the barometer of Torricelli, a suspension of mercury.
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-John G. Sterritt
Image source (pre-modification): https://mesozord.deviantart.com/art/Raven-o-Clock-478956433