What might drive someone to abandon everything they know and cut themselves off from the world so they can amass a private store of secret knowledge and arcane artefacts?
There have been secret collections, archives and repositories of arcane knowledge and occult artefacts as far back as records exist, with some even housing nurseries and menageries or prisons for living specimens of the things that most people will never even know exist. Despite their long and storied history though, few have been as notorious, or as strange, as Breaker’s House; the Edinburgh home of Dr Jonathan Hamish Breaker, a disgraced physician whose ostracism from polite society afforded him the time and privacy to curate a storehouse of some of the most potent and powerful texts and totems ever to be assembled by a single collector.
Born sometime in the 1740s, Breaker’s family were long-established in the city and his upbringing was one of comfort, plenty and privilege. Through into his twenties it seemed he lived a charmed life, one in which even his most painful tragedies - the eventual deaths of his parents from old age - were measured and mundane. Religious, but not zealously so, his friends, peers and colleagues described him as a consummate professional, neither prone to frivolous pursuits nor flights of fancy, perhaps even tending to be somewhat dull. It was then, entirely out of character when he began to treat his patients with alchemy and magic.
At first these treatments were disguised as the general and typical practice of the day, medicines laced with strange and exotic extracts or pills with glyphs carved into them. Even as suspicions and rumours began to spread about Breaker - some of whose patients had developed unusual side-effects or died unexpectedly - he became more brazen in his work; he began to prescribe prayers in ancient, long-dead languages and issued instructions for curative markings to be tattooed onto the terminally ill. Refusing to offer any justifications for his new regimens and rebuffing any suggestions that he had himself become ill, Breaker was dismissed from the hospital.
Whilst the contemporaneous study of sciences was often intertwined with those of fields of a more esoteric and metaphysical bent, Breaker had never expressed anything more than a polite curiosity towards mentions of the occult and - despite the extensive records that accompanied the next decades of his work - he left no diaries or notes that explained an inciting incident or event that might have changed the course of his life so thoroughly. Speculation and theory abound, of course, but most agree that the course of the life of its creator matters very little compared to what Breaker’s House became, and what became of it.
However the collecting began, it was not until Breaker was cut off from his former life that it was begun in earnest: Couriers and merchants travelled to his home from across the world to deliver precious and unique items as the family fortune slowly dwindled and was drained. At first he collected grimoires and manuscripts - recreating the canon, inasmuch as the literature of the occult can be said to have one - The Key of Solomon, Sefer Raziel HaMalakh and The Book of Sorrows among the first that he owned. His library, latterly heavily annotated in Breaker’s hand, grew steadily even as his interests diversified.
Soon the pedestrian magics of his earlier experimentation and the beginnings of the library were not enough to sate Breaker’s growing appetites; he required tactile proof of the things he had read about, things touched by forces beyond even the speculation of the most modern sciences. He acquired a vial of black sand, said to have been scorched in perdition’s endless fire, that gave one visions of unearthly tortures and bought a jade spider which secreted a seemingly endless trickle of drops of a powerful hallucinogenic from its stone fangs. Another delivery brought him an inkless quill, with which one could only write absolute, unforgiving truths.
The house seemed to creak, ready to buckle under the weight of thousands of such items, all variously inexplicable, and the books which described their unusual qualities. Reluctantly, Breaker brought in men to dig the cellar down to the bedrock, to cut tunnels beneath the house so that he would have enough space to keep expanding his collection, and had them working almost around the clock. In the dim light and dust, half-choked and deafened by the sounds of their own tools, the workmen grew increasingly uneasy. The oppression of overlapping auras and magical energies was bleeding into the earth, and they were feeling its effects.
They worked until they could not bear the feeling another moment longer, leaving and never coming back, with only the rough shape of the layout completed. Many were plagued with nightmares for the rest of their lives, terrified of being made to go back, or succumbed to unexplained sicknesses that sapped them of their vitality. Breaker was forced to use itinerant and immigrant labour, workers that no-one would miss or come looking for, to complete the remainder of the renovations and - whilst there were no confirmed deaths or disappearances on the property - word spread around town that Breaker’s House was somewhere to be avoided.
In spite of a reputation so toxic that the local children dared each other to knock at the door and run away as they sang a cautionary nursery rhyme about Breaker’s House, the work inside continued. Breaker added a collection of supplies that were potent ingredients from a dozen schools of magic. These included a Soul-scrap Bezoar - supposedly cut from the five stomachs of an Ageless - and various horticultural samples, including Bearer’s Baneroot, buds from the Grove of Absolution and Jettatura Madder leaves. Each was dangerous in its own right and, despite Breaker’s apparent disinterest in actually utilising his collection, people were taking notice.
The relatively small community of like-minded collectors had been curious when someone new began to share their interests, piqued when any contact not offering a sale had been ignored, and alarmed when the scope and scale of Breaker’s House had become apparent. Concern - they had no proof that Breaker was taking the proper precautions to protect his archives, nor to protect the world from his archives - was tempered with equal parts jealously and snobbery, and steps were put in place to relieve the chaotic pressure that such a hoarding could inadvertently and uncontrollably make manifest on the streets of a suspicious but unprepared city.
Their plan was containment, to defuse the worst excesses of what could go wrong, and a not-insignificant amount of larceny to cover the expense and trouble of their actions. Overtures were made as a matter of course, unanswered, then their agents were set to work. What followed was the subject of much speculation later, but none of those agents ever left Breaker’s House, their reinforcements finding the building and cellars empty except for several ledgers of their former contents. Breaker was never seen again, and the building burnt down a few months later, but items from his collection would eventually resurface around the world, absent provenances.