The Warrens

Certain arcane truths bear intrinsic dangers, weight that can warp or distort the world around them and - in so doing - make lies of other, more commonly accepted truths.

Despite the actual location of The Warrens being a secret held so closely and tightly that it risks being lost to the suffocation of absolute security, the evidence of its singular working is - in certain circles and amongst certain professions - quite broadly shared: A visceral and horrifying introduction to the dangers of unguarded immersion in the unvarnished truths of the magical and the esoteric. Conceived of, and constructed, to house the largest private collection of scriptures, grimoires and occult manuals, it is unclear whether its architects had any notion of the potential danger of the endeavour, though it certainly seems that they were quick enough to shutter and seal the archive once it had claimed its first victim.

The recordings from cameras within The Warrens, fitted with the intent of ensuring the security of the collection, documents more than a century of activity (though it was accrued in only a few short years) and is often pared down and edited so that its horrors might be more easily understood and absorbed. The oldest footage shows off the indulgent opulence of the architecture and design: Heavy shelves of books and manuscripts rebound and skinned to uniformity in wine-dark leathers, the walls covered in purloined tablets of intricately detailed marble and crudely scored clays. These are some of oldest known writings from around the world, showing the early evolution and the initial entanglement of language and mysticism.

That the hours of footage vastly outnumber those that have passed since the system was activated is not just an artifact of replication or redundancy. Given that there were nine cameras, it follows that one would expect nine hours of footage for every passing hour, but the actual ratio is somewhere over forty to one (though this varies and fluctuates quite substantially). A failure of the technology, admittedly quite new at the apparent time of its installation, would be the first and most reasonable assumption. Except that The Warrens have been occupied almost from the off, the trap and tomb that ensnared a young archivist and researcher; the aforementioned and unfortunate victim, though perhaps “sacrifice” might be a more appropriate term.

He remains nameless despite his infamy, despite the example set by his suffering, known only by his purpose and his fate. Entering boldly and unafraid (what need or cause would he have to be afraid of the words on a page?) we can watch him cross from shelf to shelf, taking armfuls of books over to a sturdy ironwood table and drawing up a chair. A thoughtful and unassuming figure, serious and studious in his bearing and manner and dressed too formally in a drab, dark suit - styled in a manner not unsuitable for the funeral he would never have. He sits at the table for hours, just reading, and then for days. If it weren’t for the turn of the pages there would hardly be any sign that one was not looking at a still image.

Those days of footage stretch into weeks, their subject absorbed in his work beyond any outward signs or any involuntary tics suggesting hunger or fatigue. The trap was well and truly sprung: The Warrens holding their quarry in a fugue of obsession, ensnared in a tangled mess of time. Those basic needs never abated though, barely lessened, and even the most invasive fixation could not hold such drives at bay forever. It was months before such pains took hold, but the recordings eventually show the researcher beginning to flag and falter. He is able to carry fewer and fewer books back to the table in a single trip until, suddenly so frail that every movement seems to ache with unaddressed agonies, he struggles with a single weighty tome of arcane lore.

No matter how one is shown this decline - whether edited or accelerated - it is discomforting and distressing viewing. The researcher seems insensible to his own physical suffering, but those who bear witness to it often pray for the relief of rescue or the respite of his death. Neither was forthcoming, nor was any other form of release. Instead, as he read more and more of the texts, absorbed more and more of their secrets, he was re-enervated and renewed: He was remade and reborn. His body continued to change, not with the expected degradations of his various privations and the oppressive compression of time, but as an evolutionary metamorphosis, a cascading thaumaturgic mutation that would eventually render him entirely unrecognisable.

Exposure to, and encounters with, the various stresses and strains of the truly and fundamentally esoteric - with ideas and knowledge that are simply too strange or too vast or too alien to be neatly and safely contained within the elevated animality of the human psyche - have long been recognised as having a distorting effect. The mind and body are both more malleable than is sometimes credited and, like feet that have been bound, they are susceptible to permanent contortion under certain, sustained pressures. It seems that there was some as-yet inexplicable interaction between the texts gathered in The Warrens (something crudely equivalent to interference between different electromagnetic fields) which created the opportunity for his prolonged and undisturbed immersion in transformative concepts.

Each book he read added to the cumulative pressure, each demanding psychological and neurological adjustments that eventually began to evince themselves outwardly. Once gaunt from the remnants of starvation (from when he still required mundane sustenances) over the following subjective decades his body cannibalised anything that did not lend itself to the work of gathering and reading his books. It wanted better eyes, limbs that were simultaneously more dextrous and more delicate, but had no immediate use for a mouth or ears. Becoming less and less human - with only a passing resemblance to the constraints of its previous form - it was constantly rebuilding and repairing itself in an attempt to absorb, encompass and encapsulate a breadth and wealth of knowledge that any other body would be too frail to survive.

The function of the form was comprehensive consumption: To take in, understand and retain (certainly there is no evidence of it returning to a text it had already read) every book in The Warrens, though we cannot be sure if this was an end in itself - the creature becoming the foremost living repository of arcane knowledge - or in service of some greater and more mysterious work. The footage cuts off in fits and starts as the cameras failed over the course of a few years, relative to the passage of time inside The Warrens. Until such a day as the site is reopened, either from without or (as many dread) from within, we can only assume that the creature remains there still, surrounded by its books and attended by silence.

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