28 May Death’s Inkwell
“Death’s Inkwell”Written by Grant Hinton Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 9 minutes
To understand the value of an hour, one must first cherish its passing, and what more profound a way than the slow, inevitable tick of minutes to measure the descent of your demise. To understand why I cherish this hour above all else, I must first take you back to a time when the frailty of my lineage was no more than a figment of chance marked on Death’s chalkboard.
I, Silvan, am the last of a tragic line of accursed men whose span has, parenthetically, lasted until now. My parents I never knew. My mother died during childbirth; a disease of that birth stole her from my life. My father, similarly stolen, died later that very year at the age of twenty-eight by a drunkard with a gun. He was never caught, and as such, my father’s demise never saw justice. My care and education were left to a relic of a man I came to know only as Hakaz. Hakaz’s birthplace was unknown to me, but I judged it to be possibly Middle Eastern by his ebony skin and dark eyes. With his strong but supple hands, and his will as hard as the cane that bore his weight, he took me to a distant land. There, I resided, learning by those leathery hands the ancient language of the alchemists, for Hakaz himself, a highly learned man, sought power over Death.
Hakaz’s estate sat within the depths of a valley where light refrained from venturing; a rank, primordial forest whose evil vines and creeping plants crawled amidst the damp stone walls of my dwelling. Manned by many a whispering servant was I tended. I do not remember my wet nurse, or of anything of my early years; those were told to me, and have formed a somewhat fragmented dream-like reality. Hakaz’s tutelage started the moment I could talk, and I spent my childhood in darkened rooms for hours, absorbing tombs and scripts. The ancient papyrus of Egypt, scrolls of Arabic scholars, and tomes of English gentlemen, preserved from time and light by thin sheets of virgin paper, lent to my obsession with the occult; an infatuation of my mentors that bled over to my young, susceptible mind.
I procured a thirst for the arcane and occult so insatiable that it was many years into my teens until I became aware of the females that inhabited my stone prison. Then it was, by the tongue and bosom of an equally-aged girl called Frida, that I learned of my family’s curse. My lineage was never spoken of to me before or within the whispers of the other servants, although I saw it in their eyes, and when I pushed my mentor too far to hear of my ancestors, pain forced me to stand and lay awkwardly for a few days. I let the questions fade from my mind and allowed the symbols and science of his teaching to fill my adolescent brain.
I know now that his real object was to keep my ears from learning the dread curse upon my family name, but I had already learned it and so sought to correct the impending doom. Upon my twenty-first birthday, Hakaz handed me my legacy, a tarnished and stained parchment of the most startling nature, and its perusal confirmed the gravest of my apprehensions. My bloodline and those that had all died before the age of twenty-eight were within this despicable document, line after line of blackened ink carrying the weight of the curse. I realized something stalked my ancient bloodline, eradicating each of the males. I delved more into the arcane than ever before; science could not answer my questions, and so I thought that the occult could. Time’s irrevocable hand swept the sun and moon on their heavenly journey, bringing my fate closer.
One night, when my studies with Hakaz had finished (for in truth, his pursuit for something he said was nearing his reach never ceased), I took to walking the streets outside his estate. The cobbles below my feet dragged by in the falling gloom of the moon’s light until I found myself outside a dilapidated shop. Beyond the dark gloom of the morbid interior, a single candle burnt on a desk, enticing me inside. The smell of dampness and parchment greeted me like an old friend; one who never left, but just stepped outside. A man, withered like the leather-bound books in abundance around him, glanced at my approach. Without a word, knowing something beyond the realm of mortal men, he stood on crooked legs and searched the tomes in a carved-out hole within the stone walls to his right. I, without a backward glance, came toward the desk, where his ink stained a new leather book the color of crimson fire. I did not know the language despite my studies, but I did know the symbols of an alchemist. The man returned with a single volume cradled in the crook of his armpit.
“This is what you seek.” Without further word, he turned back to his task. I faltered only briefly, for want of asking questions; but knowing that he would not speak again, I exited back to the dark streets.
In my chambers, I perused the text. The writer’s crimson ink suggested that of the withered old man’s hand, but the dates surpassed one of his age back a few hundred years. At this time, my studies had deep-seated me in my belief in the supernatural; else, I would have shunned with malice the incredible narrative unfolding before my eyes. The pages carried me back to the days of the Persian Empire and an ancient man named Zahak whose repute was terrible with the secrets of black magic and alchemy. He had studied beyond the custom of our kind, seeking the supernatural remedies to life’s aviation, such as the Philosopher’s Stone, or the Elixir of Eternal Life, or even grosser still, Death’s own cloak. One, legend said, was to exist and give dominion over the entity.
Zahak, by the surname of Daeva, studied from ancient texts and learned of a secret passage to the dread abode of a race of monsters whose were interred under a lost city, one sunken by the treachery of man and time. At the mouth of a black cave, weathered and fractured by generations of water and sand, he, Zahak, entered, neither turning back nor pondering, such was his desire. Under the cloak of his alchemy (the monsters’ slumber he did not disturb for fear of retribution), the ancient man traversed the cave. Excavated in the back of the rock, a structure nearly invisible and radiating maleficent intent appeared before him. The door, a ponderous and forbidding slab of onyx, hung upon rusted iron hinges.
The winged beasts and horrors that had plagued mankind from the beginning of time awoke and regarded Zahak with equal measures of hatred and surprise at his tenacity to stand before their master’s sanctum. Zahak, seeing this hoard of beasts awaken, ran to the dread portal and squeezed his body through a crack at the foot of the giant door to escape the wrath of the vengeful daemons. His senses, intoxicated with the suffocating and cloying scent of moss, damp rivers of cascading milky walls and the subtly indefinable odors of the soil and rotten vegetation, pushed him onwards between the fissure of sharp rocks.
A single candle, dancing a serpent’s dance to the scratch of quill and parchment, haloed between the jagged shards, lit a cave. A lone specter, of such vast magnitude it seemed shadows and mist, sat hunched over a slab of ancient marble.
Zahak crept upon the fathomless being, his belief intact with every pristine fiber of absolution of the supernatural and demonic mysteries revealed. Death, for that, was whom it was, disappeared, leaving behind his unfinished scroll. Zahak, upon seeing a chance to not only defy Death but become a master of him, stole through Death’s eternal abode. On the cusps of Death’s table, he stood dumbfounded, for he had stumbled on Death’s ledger—a timeless enormity of names ready to be harvested at one’s demise. Using tools of his alchemy, Zahak removed his name from the parchment. Not satisfied that Death wouldn’t find him, he procured glass vials and stole ink, as void as midnight, from the well of the slab. This, he surmised, would keep him alive well beyond his years, for not only would Death not know who Zahak was, but the ink, being of supernatural quality and longevity, would also extend his years.
I mused that Zahak had disappeared from Death’s chambers righteously, for the next story told of him again in another outlandish epic that I will save for another time. Instead, I flicked through the pages, musing that maybe it was more of an order than a singular obsession to record the lineages and deeds of men. I froze upon glancing at the back page, where hitherto were names, some such that their duplicity echoed within my own legacy. Upon the bottom lines were two names; one I knew as my father’s, and below it still, further shocking me into a stupor, was my own, Silvan Daeva, that I dropped the tome.
My fate, inevitably entwined with that of my curse, seemed to have been already recorded. I raced back to the dilapidated shop to find it gone. Not a mere chance of a misplaced foot, but simply and plainly vanished. Vexed that I was a scapegoat to a man which had dominion over the greatest of the gods, for he is terrible and just, I delved deeper than ever before into the ancient tomes at Hakaz’s disposal. I surmised that if Zahak could find Death’s door, one could find it again.
As I drew nearer the age of twenty-eight, with only one waxing moon between us, Hakaz, as happy as I’ve ever seen him, came to me to explain a most peculiar predicament. It seemed that Frida had, in stomach, feet, and heart, swollen beyond the point of deception and could no longer work at her station and that I was the cause. It was with the illest repute, for I planned to end my accursed line with myself, that I sired a doomed offspring. Hakaz, however, after some time, did unburden me with this taxing information, for my mind was wrought with my impending doom, by offering to keep mother and child in-house. Something about the exchange of his words caught me as repugnant, and I delved back in time to my stay at his estate. Was my daughter to be bound in the shackles of his servitude? Or might Hakaz raise up Frida from her lowly station? Curiously I spent nights pondering this, slowly forgetting about the curse, until the night when I knew my assassin would breach the stone walls and collect my ancestral debt.
I woke from our bed and laid bare feet on the floor. Frida, in the throes of a dream, murmured maternal things as I stepped across the floor to my writing desk. I lit a candle with flint and steel; a breeze from the shut window did make the flame dance as I opened the book and gazed upon a strike obliterating my name. Below, in faint red fire, were the forms of indistinguishable words.
A cold hand of the hottest fire clasped my shoulder and dread coursed up my spine, for I heard not a door open.
“If you so know the one who hides from me, your existence can continue.” The figure, shrouded in mist, spoke in a rumbling voice that chilled me through with its hollowness. I shook my head, for I was duped by my wicked ancestor as much as Death himself to knowing the identity of this thief.
I turned to see Frida, awake and staring into the abyss of Death’s eyes, lapsed into a stupor, such was her fright.
Frida, compelled by his voice, clutched the bed sheet so violently that her hands stood white in the dim light. She explained that Hakaz had been the lord of his estate for many years, more than was natural for any man or woman, even with the ancient knowledge of the Alchemists.
“’Tis not right, sir,” she groveled.
“Say his name; to know his name is so he can not hide!” Death boomed.
My heart did swell for her abandonment of fear that she stood up to Death to save the soul of her husband, for that would be what I shall if the doomed curse was not on my head.
“Hakaz Vadea!” she shrieked.
“No,” I whispered, as sudden realization dampened the edges of my fears with cold reason.
“Zahak Daeva is the one you seek, but that name did die centuries ago; Hakaz Vadea is one and the same and that of who you seek.”
Death swirled like mist and disappeared; I sat panting as Frida came to my side. We heard the screams of one who could no longer hide through the stone walls of Hakaz’s ancient home. Such was his scream that I clamped my eyes and ears shut and did not open them again until it had stopped. When I did, with wonder so vast that would dwarf Death himself, I witnessed the strike upon my name removed.
In the glowing light of the fortuitous sun, I ventured to Hazak’s chambers. Stacks of tomes, scroll and parchment that I had never known to exist plundered his room in a dismal light. Curious oddities in glass jars and vials, that of which I had never seen in any botanical or anatomical drawing, or any such place, accompanied them on rows of high shelves. Above a stack of discarded clothing, which I hearkened to be Hazak’s, as I expected such was his howls that I still heard them ghosting in my ears, I saw the most peculiar of them all. Amidst the spine of an ancient Sumerian document, and one of equal repute of Egyptian lore, sat a vial of the blackest night. Its contents only just below that of its lip, I reached to inspect.
Was this the fabled Elixir stolen from Death’s Inkwell?
“Yes.” The hollow voice rumbled through me again like one whose acquaintance had already been met.
I stole around to see the mist swell and form into a void that sucked at my eyes and devoured all light.
“A reward for the one I have search aeons for. I will come for you when it is depleted.” With that, Death vanished.
* * * * * *
Today, this hour is my two-hundredth and first birthday. My lineage is long and without curse, and I greet each hour with the same fragility that I once saw it as. Of the Elixir, I have some still, to see my affairs in order. But this tale is to remind you of your own frailty, because each hour is a gift from one who can take it away as easily as you can squander it.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableGrant Hinton Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A