Humanity has created some of the most terrible monsters imaginable, our kindest impulses becoming our cruellest punishments, where hubris and the best of intentions meet.
Despite the detailed documentation of the deeds and circumstances by which The Veilwight was created, the exact moment when the results of ritual and prayer birthed its unintended horror is unclear; iterative and accumulative as the accidental genesis of this singular apparition appears to have been. It began in 1508 after a series of unsolved murders shocked and shook the town and townsfolk of Ballyshannon, Ireland, leaving four victims and no suspects. With tensions running high, wild and boundless accusations on the lips of grieving families and those fearful that they might be the killer’s next target, the town turned to a pair of elderly and reclusive twins - Mór and Abban Gooderer - who were known to have an interest in the pre-Christian myths and magic of the land.
This interest had previously marked Mór and her brother as dangerous, perhaps even malign outsiders, and early suspicions had even fallen on them as potential suspects (eventually discounted on the back of an alibi for several of the murders, which was provided by their neighbours). Now though, with fear giving rise to desperation, their counsel was sort out: Did they have, or know of, any secret knowledge that might help expose the murderer in their midst? Feeling compelled to lend their aid, in spite of a lifetime of disregard and cruel comments from those who had considered them ungodly and improper and now approached in desperation, they performed simple rituals of protection and spells that would help others unmask the killer; small magics of limited efficacy even in the most practised of hands.
Nonetheless, there was a brief lull in the murders, although no-one in town came closer to uncovering the killer’s identity, and people were briefly grateful to Mór and Abban. When a fifth person was murdered this goodwill soured as quick as milk, with people demanding that the twins do something, anything, to help. Abban, perhaps the more daring of the two, offered a ritual that he had once used as a child - a spell that could temporarily restore a dead creature to some semblance of life. He had previously performed the magic on dead bird, believing that it would be healed as well as restored, but was horrified to see its head loll about on a broken neck as it screeched in terrified incomprehension until it faded a few minutes later. He had never attempted the spell again.
Abban proposed to the town that he and Mór could resurrect and speak with one of the victims, hoping that they might be abler to identify, or at least describe, their attacker. The admission that this was even possible, let alone within the scope of the powers that he or Mór could bring to bear, was deeply risky; they could have both been put to death. However, since the whole of Ballyshannon was in crisis, it was agreed to let the two attempt the spell. A fear of damnation was strong in the superstitious people of the town, and most of the victims’ families - even those for whom this would not involve exhumation - refused to let their loved ones be the witness whose soul would be drawn back into their body.
In the end it was the mother of the first man murdered who acquiesced, swayed both by pressure from the community and by the idea that the first murder would have been the clumsiest and - henceforth - the most likely to yield inculpatory information. Already buried, and with only a thin wooden coffin to stave off decay, the body of Tadhg Ros was hurriedly uncovered and moved to a nearby barn, candles and oils burning to cover the smell of rot. His mother insisted on being present for the ritual so, seeking to spare her the ghastliest aspect of the decay, Mór fashioned a rough mask from some sackcloth and covered Tadhg’s face. The ritual - the details of which were scored out of the account I was able to access - was begun.
Tadhg’s body did not stir, but after a few minutes those in attendance could hear a rasping beneath the sackcloth mask. His mother spoke his name and the noise stopped for a moment, then he responded. The word “mother” came out weakly, keening, before Abban stepped in to ask Tadhg who had hurt him, who had killed him. He had, or was at least able to impart, very little information through his obvious distress, and after a few minutes he was gone again. His mother, already grieving, was in shock, but the decision to speak to other victims had been made regardless, though without a member of the family present. And so, the investigation, crude and unnatural as it was, pressed ahead over the next few days; with tentative new leads coming with every grim communion.
Although none of the other victims were quite as decayed, a mask became part of the ritual, even when a sixth victim was able to be questioned only hours after her death. The townspeople believed they were close to catching their killer, as must have the murderer, when Mór and Abban took ill, sick with fevers that seemed to broil their brains even as they grew weaker and weaker. It was the start of a plague, and nearly half of the people of Ballyshannon died over the following months, which some believed to be a punishment for invoking magic and witchcraft, for answering the devil with devilry. When Abban died, Mór tried the ritual once more, intending only to say goodbye to a brother she had cared for to the exclusion of the rest of the world.
She had performed the ritual before, but on this last occasion something went desperately wrong. Whether this was because of an error on her part, or the cumulative effect of drawing down souls, we cannot be sure. Perhaps what happened next was fated from the very first? Abban did not awaken, even briefly, and Mór died shortly thereafter, but without further ritual or intervention some of those others taken by the plague did, each of their faces adorned by masks. Those who did were not themselves, though witnesses thought they recognised fragments of the voices and phrases of the murder victims and other recently deceased townspeople in them. Their souls had become a snarl of different wills, a tangle of the people they had been with something else that they had picked up in the dark.
A malicious spirit entity, the sign that this gestalt - which they called The Veilwight - had possessed a corpse was that a mask would appear, from nowhere, on its face. These masks, far more theatrical, ornate and beautiful in design than Mór’s perfunctory efforts, were blisteringly cold, seared into place and impossible to remove. Despite this sudden chill, the words The Veilwight spoke through borrowed lips in stolen voices had no breath behind them, casting no vapour in the air, even as those to whom they speak were shaken to the core. Even though it could only possess a body for a few minutes, The Veilwight seemed to delight in spreading discord and disharmony, telling the secrets of the dead to cause as much upset as possible.
The Veilwight tipped an already strained community over the edge, the deaths had stopped but all the secrets of those who had died in the plague - including the murderer - were too much for many to bear. Those who had family elsewhere moved away, and those who couldn’t rushed to see the dead burnt and buried. Ballyshannon was decimated, but this was far from the last time The Veilwight was seen. Since its creation it has become an occasional and irregular presence across the world, haunting morgues and mortuaries and killing fields as it moves from corpse to corpse on a whim, spilling unwelcome and hurtful secrets to unwilling audiences. We do not know what motivates The Veilwight’s cruelty, what it gains or achieves - if anything - by it, but we can assume that its intent is malignant.