A figure walks towards a forest wearing a plain white dress, clutching a child wrapped in red cloth close to her chest. There’s a cape draped around her shoulders. The figure adjusts the bundle in her arms to pull the hood up over her frizzy, messy bun she had put her hair into. Around her, the world is midnight dark and lit by the light of a full moon and the few stars bright enough to burn through the fog and the large oak trees. With an unsteady breath that carries the weight of her decision, the woman stops. She reaches the trees and mumbles an enchantment into the palm of her hand. With defiance to the darkness of the approaching forest, the woman’s hand begins to glow a fierce, bright white light that casts shadows all around her.
She descends into the forest, her light acting as a shield to the demonic and cursed creatures of the night. One hand clutches the child, who sleeps peacefully in her arms, and the other held out in front of her. Inside, her stomach is in knots; with every step, she questions why she is doing this. With every step, she has to ignore the voice inside telling her to turn around, to back out of the forest.
The child stirs, and his eyelids open to reveal two different eyes, one blue, one green. The child yawns then turns his head and looks around with tired eyes. “Momma, where are we?” His voice is a shaking mumble; he knows the answer and doesn’t like it.
“The Forest of Endless Darkness, my child,” his mother answers, not looking down at him. “Now hush, little one. I must be able to concentrate.”
“So, what the rumors said were true. You’re looking for him? For…Ink Man?” The last word of his sentence was barely audible. He knew of the taboo, yet his curiosity got the best of him. The elders of Hut always told him his curiosity would get him in trouble. They would ruffle his black hair, stare into his eyes, and say something like, “there should be enough in this little village to keep your mind occupied.”
But there wasn’t enough in that tiny fishing village to keep him occupied. Aster wanted–craved more adventure, more mystery in his life. So when his mother went off to her job and left a babysitter, Aster snuck out from his bedroom window and ran off to the alleyways of Hut, to the shadows he could disappear into. There, he would sit and listen to the tiny village around him. Even though he couldn’t understand most of what his people said, Aster listened anyway. That was how he found out about the one called Ink Man.
As his mother walked further into the Forest of Endless Darkness, where no light reached the ground and monsters resided, Aster began to remember the story he had heard. One story, heard when he was seven, about a year ago, came to the forefront of his mind.
It was the beginning of magick, and first Energies had just come into being. They called them The Four Magicks. They were named for that which they represented: Light, Dark, Nature, and Nothingness. Light created the Energy which nurtured and powered the beings who would later be created by Nature. Nature was the maker of everything; some even said they were the maker of The Four Magicks. Darkness and Nothingness were opposites of Light and Nature. They were destruction, and yet they were the reasons so much could exist. The beings that Nature created would turn to dust and their Energy would be adsorbed by Nothingness so that it wouldn’t wander for all time, wreaking havoc as it did. When Light found that too much of itself was hurting the beings Nature made, Dark was there to create balance with a time of darkness called night.
But Dark was greedy, and soon, the balance became disrupted. The beings Nature had created were dying too fast; Nothingness couldn’t keep up. Light found itself cutting back the Energy it released to Nature’s beings, to keep the beings from having too much Energy. But this only caused the beings to die quicker.
There was a battle; Light, Nature, and Nothingness against Dark. This was where the one called Ink Man came. He was Dark’s fighter, and he wielded the shadows Light created as if they were weapons. In their eagerness to snuff out Light and Nature, Dark had forgotten about Nothingness. They thought Nothingness was an absorber, not a creator. Little did Dark know that Nothingness could take the Energies it absorbed and form them into a burst of power like no Magick had seen.
It’s this part, Aster knew, where the stories diverged. Some say that Dark was able to overtake the others despite Nothingness’ power. Some say that Nothingness defeated Dark and absorbed them, thus gaining the power of Dark. In both versions of the story, Ink Man was sent to watch over Nature’s creations. In both versions, Ink Man was given the form of a human and his power was taken by either Dark or Nothingness, who feared him using it for his own gain. In both versions, the shadow wielder was the thread left undone—the villains who, due to having the power of The Four Magicks, were too powerful.
The shadow wielder is the one who could bring about the End of Everything.
“Are the stories true? Was Ink Man sent to Earth to watch us and report about us?” Many parents tried to use the threat of Ink Man as a kind of punishment for children. Aster’s mother never told him such things. He learned it all from listening in the shadows, and from learning that his magick must be hidden because so many feared it.
But his mother found out somehow. She must have–otherwise, why else would she be searching for Ink Man?
“It is true, my dear, Ink Man deserted his master and came to Earth. He came to watch us–to observe, but never to report.” His mother stops in what appears to be a small clearing that is bare of any trees or plants. Her light goes out; in the ensuing dark, she sets Aster down and whispers to him, “stay close to me, my child.”
“Is it because of my magick, mother? Is that why you seek the Ink Man?” Aster asks as he places a hand on the side of her leg. He leans against her leg, fearful as sounds of growling come from the darkness. “Will he destroy me, mother?”
“Hush child, I must be able to Cast,” his mother commands and begins to Cast. In his mind’s eye, Aster can see her drawing odd shapes in the air with her fingers. He can see her lips move in a silent chant that grows loud.
“My name is Wisp, and I come into the Forest of Endless Darkness,” his mother says as her body begins to glow. Her blonde hair lifts into the air and floats around her as if in water. Strange symbols appear on her skin. Aster doesn’t move away, only steps closer. “I seek the Ink Man. I seek the father of my child, the bearer of the art of shadow wielding.”
“Father?!” Aster looks up at his mother. “Ink Man…is my father?”
He receives no answer. The shadows Wisp creates with her light all surge and move forward in a great migration of darkness. The shadows begin to take form–the shape of a human with skin the literal color of ink. And, thick arms and legs, a chest of sculpted darkness, and a head of sculpted nightmares. There is nothing to identify the form’s sex, but Aster knows who this is.
Ink Man moves forward, the shadows shifting with him, and takes Wisp in his arms. “You can dim your light, my love,” he says to her, “you and my son are safe from the creatures of my home.”
Wisp’s light goes out, and Aster moves closer to the man called Ink Man. “Father?” His voice takes on a new level of fright.
“It is me, my son,” Ink Man replies as darkness moves over Aster’s body. “I have much to show you.”