After almost drowning in a freak accident in Tribeca, Daniel Feldman had a vision of holy light and oneness with celestial beings. He was able to recapture it through a series of meditations involving breath-holding and free-association writing about the heavenly visions that followed. Dubbing himself “David the Teacher,” he quickly acctracted acolytes, or “pupils,” who joined him in a small but growing Bronx commune, which raised the ire of local authorities who saw it as a Communist plot. Yet Davis was frustrated that the most persistent of the heavenly beings in his visions refuses to reveal its name, driving him to ever-more-stringent meditations and ever-more-dangerous levels of oxygen starvation.

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“If you’re gonna tell the story, best get it right.”

Emerging from the oil-lamp shadows and parting the hushed crowd, Baha limped over to the table and sat down heavily. Without asking, she took the bottle of hooch from Dickenson and poured herself a double shot in Mariah’s glass, downing it before proceeding.

“I was a young woman,” she said. Then, stabbing a finger in Mariah’s direction: “Scarcely older than this tot.”

“I beg your-” Mariah began.

“My lover was a whaling captain, tall and proud. And even though the men thought a lady terrible bad luck on a ship, my man smuggled me aboard, such was our love for one another.”

Dickenson looked at Baha’s scarred visage and embroidered eyepatch, as well as the silvery barbed claw that took the place of her left hand. “Can’t imagine what that must have been like,” he muttered.

“Believe it,” snapped Baha. “Once upon a time this face lured men like him to their doom. But it was not to be, for this time it was true love torn asunder too soon.”

She slammed her good hand on the table, rattling the others’ drinks. “The whalers attacked an eldritch horror from beyond the stars thinking it was a whale, realizing their mistake only when the unearthly tentacles arose, black and billious, from the waves, driving some mad by the mere sight of them.”

Baha took another drink, this time bypassing Mariah’s glass altogether and simply drinking rum from the bottle. “I took command after my lover was killed,” she said, “as I was the only one with the werewithal to fight back after he was enveloped and consumed by that maw. But it still took every man jack of the crew to the bottom.”

“So you’ve come to kill it, then?” Mariah said. “The lurker at the threshold, the thing on the doorstep, that we’re all here to see put down for good and all?”

“Aye. I call it the ‘weird whale’ and ever since I was hauled aboard a Nantucket square-rig from a whaleboat, I have sailed the seven seas with a new crew in search of the ‘weird whale.’ I mean to avenge myself upon it.”

“Kill that which scarred you physically and emotionally, is that it?” said Dickenson.

“Aye. Finding an equally weird being here…what can it be but the “weird whale” arisen anew, somehow?”

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When they pass, each sage becomes part of a final ritual in which their combined knowledge is crystallized at the moment of their death. These crystals, explosive and extraordinarily unstable, are then cast into the Well of Knowledge in the canter of the deepest inner sanctum of the Sages’ Atelier.

There, the collected information gathered by the most learned sages lies as a concentrated and lambent fluid. It is well-known that the sages do this, and the Well of Knowledge has a potent, almost mystical, reputation. Indeed, those sages who have passed are often simply said to have “gone to the Well.” Requests to draw upon this knowledge have always been denied in living memory, with the reasoning that each age needs its own knowledge and solutions rather than drawing needlessly on the past.

But there is a darker secret, one known only to a select few of the most senior living sages and the caretakers who assist them. No one knows how to extract or access the knowledge contained in the Well.

At the time of its construction, millennia ago, the sages perfected the ritual for crystallizing knowledge and casting it into the Well. But in all the years hence, they have been unable to make use of it. The feeling at the time was that the knowledge would keep until it was accessible, and that certainly seems to be the case; random whispers issue forth from it at times, and those that fall into the Well scream in a cacophony of voices not their own until their hearts give out.

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I see them there, 3000 tiny flags on the lawn
Inside a man makes a bitter remark about refugees
They have stood, 3 letters long, for a century
Without a single member any darker than I am
Perhaps those 3000 flags are seeds sown deep
Waiting for patriots to someday grow forth
Not realizing the salted soil beneath them

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After murdering the abusive, drunken fiancee that had been forced upon her, Cera refused to acquiesce to either the burgermeister or the bishop that offered her protection in exchange for her hand. Instead, she was last seen entering the mires with all her worldly possessions.

They spoke in whispers of how Cera had chosen to forsake her beauty and all of her suitors to enter into the swamp and to live in sorcery therein as the legendary swamp witch. For surely, they thought, no woman of sane mind would flee into such dreadful environs, and only black magic could explain the powerful hold she’d seemed to wield over local men with her intense beauty.

Naturally, in those stories–as is often the case–Cera the swamp witch had to trade her beauty for power, for none can be suffered to have both. They say that her hair grew thick with moss, that mushrooms and other fungi erupted from her fair skin, and that none could see her if she failed to move in her new and native home, so complete was the disguise.

Folks for miles around claimed to have seen her riding at night, seen her lights dancing over the swamps and bogs, and seen a dark and twisted shape casting spells in their dreams. Cera is cited as both a cautionary tale to young brides who would go astray, and as a sign of the strength that a woman can grasp if she has but the hands to hold it.

Cera herself, long dead and mummified in the peat bog where she had lay since the day she had sunk into the muck whilst making her escape, would have been proud of such a legacy.

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Anita cleans homes for a living. She doesn’t take much joy in her job, but she does have pride in her hard work, and how even her increasingly desperate situation has not been able to get her down. In a moment, she will begin cleaning out an old wardrobe, one that has not been touched since the stately home changed hands.

Near the back of the many old and dusty furs, she will find a hidden latch, mistaking it for a splinter to be pulled and reglued. Woodworking and joinery isn’t in her job description, but since the new owners are both asking and paying, there’s a bottle of wood glue in her back pocket.

The back will slide open on hinges still well-oiled, revealing a passage down into darkness. It’s filthy, so does it need to be cleaned too? That will be foremost on Anita’s mind as she enters, cell phone flashlight ablaze.

She has never heard of the Findlay Vault, the legendary trove that Sir Thomas Findlay III supposedly hid on the grounds. Anita has no idea that the room she is cleaning and airing out was the young Master Thomas IV’s room, untouched by his grieving mother who was one Sir Thomas’s young bride, until she died. No one had been in that room, in that wardrobe, in the nearly 70 years since Master Thomas IV had perished and his father had disappeared.

Anita will follow the long, cool stone tunnel, perhaps once used to smuggle Roman Catholic priests. She will follow it to the Findlay Trove, long undisturbed. And the light of her flashlight will play over the mummified remains of Sir Thomas, surrounded by the riches he hoped to take with him into the next world.

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Ellis was eventually caught, of course–even the scion of a rich clan cannot forever kidnap horses from the stables of fellow Social Register families. What was less clear was what he had done with the animals, thoroughbreds all, which could not be found in either the Grissom family stables or anywhere on the black market.

Eventually, the police found a false wall in Ellis Grissom’s private stables, and behind it a hidden room with all the makings of a tannery, with the equipment to skin, tan, and condition leather. In one corner was Ellis’s old wooden rocking horse, his most prized childhood toy and, it was later found, the subject of nearly all of Ellis’s 13,000 journal entries.

The rocking horse was nearly completely covered by leather made from the tanned hides of thoroughbred racers, with only a small patch near the muzzle incomplete.

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