The product of many mystical labours, each quite different and discrete, Moonhollow Ink was once one of the most prolific examples of how malleable magical practices are.
Where science relies on repeatability and reproducibility to establish its principles and rules, magical praxis seems almost endlessly mutable; with as many paths to any given end as there are unique schools of thought or even individual practitioners who see fit to pursue them. Historically, this has resulted in the parallel evolution of the rites and rituals by which certain magical tools - such as Moonhollow Ink (also known in some circles as Midnight Ink or Liquid Night) - have been created or procured. There are often developments and advancements within each approach, of course, and certain refinements can sometimes be shared between previously distinct methodologies, but multiple distinct practices can nonetheless coexist quite freely in spite of clear contradictions in the thinking behind each.
For all these differences, the underlying associations that inspire the ritual creation of Moonhollow Ink seem to stem from a single desire - the creation of a truly black pigment - that has been thwarted for artists, chemists and colourmen as long as visual art has been part of our species’ means of expression. The arduous and, frequently, bizarre lengths to which people have gone to expand and complete the available and imagined palettes (both naturalistic and fantastical) already borders on the impossible in a number of instances, but a perfect recreation of darkness has remained almost uniquely illusive - except through extraordinary measures. This, despite the universality and ubiquity of referents, must have made the lack of accurate representations a particular frustration.
Every compound and composite attempted, each combination of muddy blues and ashen greys and other, lesser darknesses, they all failed in turn; too dull or too shallow. There was seemingly no way to reproduce the essence of absence through substance or through addition, and no earthly way to take the original source of that essence and fix it within a dye or a paint. There was no shortage of perfect darkness in nature though and, in the almost radiant shadow of the hollow left by a new moon, a deeper and thicker ink than any other - before or since - was waiting to be culled, to be drawn down. As, it becomes apparent, seems to be the case for all magic, it would eventually prove to take only a combination of absolute intent and unshakeable certainty.
The details of the earliest proven creation of Moonhollow Ink are vague; there are no extant writings to accompany the eleven small clay vials - each unwittingly signed by the fingerprints of the ancient artificers who formed and fired them - which contain the oldest surviving samples. Their material composition, along with their condition and the details of their discovery, place the creation of this cache in Azania -specifically in modern-day Kenya - sometime in the second century C.E. Absent additional information, we cannot speak with any surety as to the goals behind this first Moonhollow harvest: Was the intention merely to produce a previously illusive pigment?, or, as part of whatever faith made the ritual possible, was there some general presentiment as to the ink’s more exotic value?
Later, more thoroughly documented examples of the possible rituals indicate that only relatively small amounts of the pigment can be created at a time. Combined with the cost and difficulty of completing the proper preparations for any given version of this practice, it becomes clear that its meaningful value lies in the other properties that it exhibits (no matter the specifics of its cultural or religious provenances): Moonhollow Ink is the lifeblood of nightmares. Typically reserved as an accent colour or for small illustrations on account of its value, the ink imparts some kind of life onto anything drawn with it. The art is given a formless, impressionistic presence by the ink and, though it appears trapped on whatever medium it was set to, this essence can run rampant roughshod through the dreams of nearby victims.
A plague of nightmares might seem a strange tool to cultivate - a hard-to-aim weapon whose effective harm is largely limited to distress and discomfort - but Moonhollow Ink was eventually produced in at least by dozen distinct means across the world. Some indigenous peoples of North America prepared freshly harvested sponges to absorb the new moon’s shadow, later coating the sponges in wax to stop the ink from spoiling or spilling, and a Baltic method (atypically gruesome in this company) involved trapping the ink in the vitreous humours of human eyes. The most recent unique development of this practice was seen in the 1970s during Cairo’s internecine magical conflict (colloquially: The War of the Gutter Magi) and involved the extensive use of Mehmet’s Preparation and an electrified copper athame.
Curiously, the most consistent aspect of the various rituals was the necessity of some material which, while it may be have been plentiful elsewhere, was either difficult, dangerous or expensive to obtain for practitioners of the time. This is even the case where a sensible substitution, one which was proven to have worked in a different version of the rite, would have been readily available. The cost of magic, it seems, sees effort and effect in perfect harmony; an indelible balance to creation that is only later upset by human industry. Despite the previous multiplicity of avenues by which it could be harvested, no ritual to capture Moonhollow Ink has been successful since the closing days of the aforementioned war in Cairo, and its value has risen commensurately with its increasing scarcity.
Since magic offers such variety in the means by which to achieve any given ends, Moonhollow Ink is almost unique in regards to its unavailability. All the known routes to its acquisition were closed simultaneously, deliberately and perhaps forever, in an unceremonious fashion which, no doubt, required a very precise and ceremonious ritual. The action was taken in self-defence (a pragmatic concern, rather than a humanitarian one), apparently adapting and intuiting some fragmentary, almost insignificant aspect of whatever ancient rite created The Olmec Null. A full accounting of what such a feat cost is impossible - not a one of the people involved in the casting are known to have survived its finality - but even the prices being asked for the ever-dwindling supplies of remaining Moonhollow Ink likely pale in comparison.