Beneath the city of Foyer, the roots of the Tree bathe in the Atrament, a still sea of blackest ink.
It is dark, down there, above the ink, the only light provided by boat lanterns and flickering, insubstantial will-o’-the-wisps that dance above the slowly rippling surface. On occasion, one can see a pale glint – the porcelain scales of an enormous creature of the Atrament breaching the surface, sending ripples across the sea’s smooth ink.
If one gets dangerously close to the creatures, there are designs visible across the scales, pale blue lines in patterns, or the shapes of trees and birds, monsters and geometry.
But these are only the sights of the surface. Beneath the gentle waves, the Atrament is sightless, opaque, perfectly dark. Beneath that, beneath the schools of sepia fish, at the very bottom of the inky sea is the saturated bedrock of crumbling inkstone. Creatures that live in this world utterly devoid of light dig long tunnels through the soft stone, and the occasional nets of the trawlers of the surface drag along the bottom, trying to dredge up secrets, forgotten books, clay tablets trapped on the ocean floor, at the deepest solid surface of the Atrament. The abyssal plain is scattered with artifacts such as these, a wondrous bounty sought-after by trawlers and archaeologists alike, slowly being freed from the inkstone by erosion.
But this isn’t some mere forgotten book.
It had been deliberately discarded, dropped overboard a ship in a time long passed by a great warrior seeking to be rid of it.
– – –
<That’s what I said,> Ochre said testily.
“This turned up in your nets?” Zkrithlinos looked sceptical, looking around at the rest of the fisherperson’s ‘FOUND OBJECTS OF THE DEEP ATRAMENT’ stall.
<Where else would I get it from?> the Masquerade demanded. <Ash and Ink, I dredged my own nose up from the bottom of the sea!>
“Hmm.” The tall devil examined the casket again.
She tapped gently on the thick inkstained wood of the coffin and watched faded runes of binding, sealing and stasis flare into life across the surface of the longbox, an angry silver reaction to the intrusion. There were runes all over it, Words beaten into the thick bronze bands holding the container closed, etched into the wood beneath the patina of ink, carefully scratched into the caulking between the planks. Together, they formed a fantastically complicated spell, that she could only speculate at the true purpose of.
“Looks like this is a container for some dangerous entity, by the Words inscribed.”
<Oh,> said Ochre, suddenly nervous, <a dangerous entity? I’m just a fisherperson, I don’t want any trouble.>
“Difficult to say,” Zkrithlinos remarked distractedly as she examined the casket. “These workings are incredibly potent, but they must be thousands of years old. There’s no obvious signature, and whoever it is has utterly failed to comment their runes, so there’s very little further information on what’s going on, or what this was supposed to either contain or grant access to. It could be the protections of a phylactery, but why would you dump a soul container in the Atrament?”
<You gonna take it or not? I’ll reduce the price a bit, it makes me nervous.>
“I appreciate it,” she said, still examining the casket. Her eyes were glowing a dull cherry red, as senses beyond the mundane gently probed the myriad enchantments that surrounded the object.
– – –
She had paid for the coffin with a small stack of Carte Librare, and hired a Bookbinder porter to help her carry it back to her floating junkshop – a wide flat-bottomed barge with a ramshackle shop built on it, moored out at the edge of the Foyan Docks, far away from any prying eyes.
The casket stood on a table at the centre of the shop floor, surrounded by a number of ankh-lanterns whose light glittered on the normally invisible lines of the inwardly-active runes on the wood and bronze. More than three thousand Words were scribed across the surface of the materials, linked with short lines, which guided the linguomantic energies in a manner determined by who or whatever had crafted the spells on the box.
Three hours and two mugs of red coffee later, she had covered twenty-five sheets of paper with thaumatological shorthand, detailing the manner of Words defining the broadest strokes of the enchantment that so thoroughly kept the casket closed. Several Words involved were unknown, either to herself or to any of the books in her personal library.
She finished writing out an assurance of twelve Carte Librare, stapled it to one of her pages of notes, held it in front of her face and whispered a well-travelled incantation. The papers, staple and all, vanished in a flash of fire, wending their way through the orthogonality of thought to the Connective*, where any mage willing to puzzle out the meaning of the Words for pay would be able to find it. She had briefly considered submitting them to the University, or the Linguamantic Society, but she doubted that a millenia-old box would have completely unknown Words on it. She’d be kicking herself later if that turned out to be untrue – unknown Words were very valuable – but she was willing to take that risk in the interest of working out what kind of thing had been hidden in this bizarre container.
“I wonder…” she said, turning back to her bookshelves, selecting some books of history. Maybe there was reference to some bound, lost or hidden thing in them, some clue to this most fascinating mystery.
– – –
Chained with bone,
sealed in olythreme,
closed in copper-banded timber,
bound by Words,
beneath the inky sea.
To one day be free.
Within the casket, a nameless and terrible mystery stirred as it felt light and heat fall on its coffin.