A Little Knowledge

There is an old saying that “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. This aphorism has often been misconstrued to mean that all knowledge can lead to danger. This however, is not the true message of the adage. The real idea that this pithy little apophthegm is meant to convey is that it is often dangerous to attempt to undertake certain operations when one has access to very limited knowledge regarding the process.

The truth of this statement has been demonstrated most poignantly in the field of the arcane arts. Many are the tales of the would-be sorcerers who attempt to conjure great and powerful entities only to summon up their own doom.

There are several reasons for this theme to be so recurring in the practice of the dark arts. I have always felt that one of the major attributing factors is that most arcane knowledge is fragmentary and poorly understood, at best. After all, the very meaning of the word “arcane” is basically hidden or secret.

This nebulous body of knowledge, combined with the potent and capricious nature of the energies with which the knowledge deals, tends to make for a rather hazardous hobby. Despite this fact, there seems to be no shortage of individuals who are exceeding overconfident, disdainfully vainglorious, and desperate enough for power to attempt to make use of sorcerous lore.

I, myself, could easily be accused of being such a person, for I have always been a student of the arcane. I have never hesitated to take advantage of an opportunity to study some ancient tome or pour over an archaic grimoire. I have always found great pleasure in such tasks as the translation of antediluvian scrolls penned in long dead languages that had faded from all living minds long ages past. It’s not a popular pastime, but then I have never considered myself to be an ordinary man-on-the-street type.

On the other hand, I have also never considered myself to be foolhardy. I have always been careful to fully research any magickal operation before undertaking its performance. I have made it a rule that, if I am not fully confidant that I have a complete and thorough understanding of the task, I simply will not do it. This self-imposed limitation has often resulted in my abstaining from experimentation with intriguing bits of Arcanum. The temptation has often been great to just go ahead and execute some ceremony despite the fact that I would have to guess at the pronunciation of several of the phrases, or substitute a known substance for some essence named in the text which is of dubious definition.

One acquaintance of mine, who shared similar interests, but dissimilar inhibitions, was Vernon Angstmoore. Vernon was a genius. In fact, it was probably the fact that he was so fully aware of his uncommon brilliance that led to his untimely demise.

Approximately 17 years ago, Vernon Angstmoore and I were in fairly constant correspondence. We both found that our interaction produced an extremely valuable synergy. I must admit that I have long missed that camaraderie.

In one of Vernon’s missives, he intimated that he had come across a manuscript that contained a reproduction of the notoriously elusive Pnakotic Fragments. He was beside himself with delight at his incredible acquisition. Vernon described to me in great detail such contents as the secrets of Yibb-Tstll, hints to the true location of lost Xiurhn, and the rituals pertaining to the ancient and horrible Rhan-Tegoth of Lothar. He was nearly delirious at having the knowledge of the pre-human Great Race of Yith within his own library.

He made it quite plain that he fully intended to begin experimentation with the incantations contained within this incredible work. I immediately wrote back to my friend with words of stern caution. I pointed out that the Pnakotic text was referred to as “fragments” for very good reasons. I laboriously endeavored to convey that attempting practical applications of such fragmentary wisdom was inherently precarious. His communiqué had obviously been penned in a fit of pitched fervor and I truly feared for his safety.

I was relieved to receive an answer to my exhortation, for I had been worried that he may have begun his experimentation immediately and that my warnings would have been sent far too late. He indicated that he had been carefully researching the text and had not yet attempted to work any rituals contained therein. He also declared that he was planning on sending me a great and valuable prize. As he studied the Fragments, he was making careful and detailed copies of them. He stated that he intended to send me this copy so that I might be able to aid him in his researches.

I was, of course, delighted at the news. A copy of the Pnakotic Fragments was a mere fantastic dream for one such as I. I never would have anticipated possessing such a rarity.

The truly bizarre twist to my fortunes at that time was that I soon after stumbled upon another unthinkably rare find. During a sojourn to Marseilles I happened to be browsing through some third-rate, flea-ridden bookshops, and, to my great shock, came across a tome that contained a reproduction of the legendary Eltdown Shards.

I was dumbfounded to find such a priceless work in such a trash-infested hole. But then, if the work had been in the possession of a more competent bookseller, it never would have been available to someone of my limited means.

I immediately wrote Vernon and informed him of my fortuitous find. I told him that, seeing as how he was undertaking the great effort of copying the Pnakotic Fragments for me, I would reciprocate and begin the task of duplicating the Eltdown Shards for him.

Copying the Shards was, in truth, a labor of love for me. I felt that I was doing a great service to all of humanity by propagating such incredibly ancient knowledge. The opportunity to do work such as this was something that I felt was a gift from the gods.

The reproduction of the Eltdown Shards was no easy task, however. The script was ancient, difficult to discern, and horribly ambiguous. I did my best to accurately transcribe each pen stroke in exact detail. However, as I was working from a copy, and not from the original, there was no way that I could be sure that the producer of the work that I possessed had been as diligent. This was a constant doubt that haunted my efforts. Was I truly producing an accurate duplicate of the pre-historic work, or was I merely replicating the slipshod and maladroit work of some inept amateur?

I possessed so few texts that were of a comparative nature that I found it impossible to ascertain the quality of the script I was painstakingly copying. However, despite this frustration, I carefully continued the effort.

Finally, the day came when Vernon and I had each completed our labors and we were ready to exchange our precious gifts. We decided to actually meet in person for the transaction. As Vernon was some years my junior, he did me the favor of making the journey to my abode. I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to welcome my friend to my home.

Upon his arrival, we found that, due to a mutual excitement over the acquisition of the tomes, we had no desire to delve into minor pleasantries. Instead, we immediately dove into the study of the works that we had exchanged. The anticipation we each felt for the opportunity to finally gaze upon the priceless characters that adorned the parchments was nearly painful in its intensity.

We were both surprised and delighted when we found that there seemed to be some inter-relation between the Shards and the Fragments. There were sigils that held distinct similarities. Certain passages seemed to have been written in slightly differing dialects of the same archaic tongues. We quickly came to agreement on the fact that the two works were of a complimentary nature. The good fortune of acquiring both texts at the same time seemed to be beyond mere happenstance. Vernon became unshakably convinced that providence was at work.

My friend seemed to become almost obsessed with the idea that the gods themselves had ordained that these secrets be revealed unto us so that we might undertake some great enterprise. However, he was not quite clear on exactly what that enterprise was supposed to be.

I was a bit skeptical about his revelation. As I studied and compared the two texts I became increasingly unsure as to how the minor deviations in similar passages should be reconciled. The sigils and glyphs were too often heteroclite. The inconsistencies were of so sporadic a nature that it seemed impossible to piece them together in any form that could be reliably put to any use.

However, as my doubts grew, his assuredness in the workings of fate grew. He was adamant in the belief that it was ordained that great things would be accomplished due to this conjunction of the two arcane works. He seemed to be convinced that the uncertainties would be glossed over with the aid of the powers from beyond who had so obviously blessed us with these tomes.

As he worked himself into a fervor, I did my very best to dissuade him from such treacherous beliefs. I insisted that, if some greater powers indeed wished us to attempt any of the workings contained in the texts, they should have been a bit more careful to make the texts more fully in agreement.

Eventually, much to my dismay, he denounced me as a faithless pyrrhonist and a mere cynical naysayer who was unworthy of such favor as the gods had seen fit to bestow upon us. He took his copies of the works and quit my presence in a great temper.

I knew that my friend was now a lost cause. In his fervor there was obviously naught that could be done to persuade him to follow a more prudent course. As I knew that I was powerless to prevent his attempting whatever acts he decided the gods had decreed he should undertake, I simply hoped for the best.

Although the copy of the Pnakotic Fragments he had delivered to me was a constant reminder of the peril of my associate, I could not keep myself from studying them. Despite the fact that I felt the two works could not actually be employed together to safely perform any of the ancient conjurations they contained, I was still fascinated by their contents.

It was during this study that I made something of a breakthrough. I found that one section of the Eltdown Shards was actually an encoded copy of a section of the Pnakotic Fragments. The two sections were, at first appearance, so dissimilar that both Vernon and I had totally failed to recognize any correlation between the two passages.

The clarifications provided by this find aided me greatly in my interpretations of other important sections of the texts. By no means did I feel that the new findings actually made the operations in the works more usable, but some of the dangers inherent in the rituals were made much plainer. It became obvious that there were crucial preparations that had to be undertaken prior to the workings of some of the seemingly most understandable ceremonies. These preparations were somewhat hinted at in the text, but without my most recent insights, their nature was extremely unclear.

I immediately wrote to Vernon to warn him of my latest findings. It appeared that the rituals he would be most likely to perform were the very ones that would produce the direst consequences without the proper precautions.

Alas, I received no reply. I was beside myself with fear for my associate. Despite the unpleasant nature of his departure, I still held hope that we would be reconciled and, once more, be able to aid each other in our studies. Therefore, I decided to make the arduous journey to his homestead.

It was an expensive and exhausting effort. The trip required transportation by rail, ship, and carriage. Nevertheless, nearly a month after I had begun the foray, I reached my destination.

The Angstmoore villa was a rather impressive structure. It was old family castle. It was extremely small castle, almost more of a hold, but it still greatly out shone my humble cottage.

The Angstmoore fortunes had been in decline for several generations. This apparently had resulted in Vernon’s complete lack of domestic help. There were obviously no servants available to answer my insistent knocking upon the portal of the domicile. It also appeared that Vernon was either unwilling or unable to personally respond.

Finally, due to my grave concerns for his safety, I decided to forego the niceties of lawful behavior and simply break into the manor. As the home was something of a castle, this was no easy task. The door was extremely thick, stout wood, reinforced with strong metal bands. All of the windows were no lower than the third story. Moreover, most of the windows were mere arrow slits to which glass casings had been added as an afterthought by later generations.

After circling the small holding several times and examining all the possibilities, I finally determined that my only hope of gaining access would be to climb a large oak which had been allowed to spread its branches over the ramparts of the castle during the later, and more peaceful, ages of the manor’s existence.

I was, even seventeen years ago, no spry youngster by any stretch of the imagination. Clambering up that hoary oak was no easy task. I suspect that the only reason I was able to succeed was that there were prodigious growths of mistletoe sprouting from the great tree. These vines made the navigation of those heights a bit more possible.

Frankly, I was shocked when I finally managed to drop onto the walkway that topped the castle. There were many points during the climb when I began to think that my careful approach to my studies would be made inconsequential by my foolhardy approach to breaking and entering.

I was relieved when I found that Vernon had apparently thought it unnecessary to secure the doors that led out onto the crenellated walls that crowned his home. I swear I would have had a nervous breakdown if I had found that I had made that harrowing climb only to find myself just as denied entry from above as I had been from below.

Having finally gained access to my associate’s abode, I began to search for any signs of my friend. I wasn’t long in my search before I became aware of certain peculiar noises that indicated the existence of some living being within those walls.

Listening carefully, I made my way towards the source of those sounds. As I approached the originator of the noise, I began to feel a bit of apprehension. For as I drew closer, the noises began to resolve themselves into an extremely strange and unpleasant sonance. I could not identify what I was hearing, but still, I found it extremely disquieting.

The noise seemed to be some sort of combination of sucking, gurgling, and wet flopping. This was interspersed with what seemed to be inarticulate snippets of speech and something that vaguely resembled laughter.

Finally, I reached a door to a room that seemed to contain the origin of the sounds. As I listened through the door, I thought I recognized the short bits of speech-like noises as possibly being voiced by Vernon. However, if he was indeed speaking, he didn’t seem to be saying anything that was intelligible.

With great consternation, I slowly opened the door a bit and stuck my head into the room. The sight that lay within battered at my sensibilities. Lying upon the floor of the room was a strange seething mass of flesh and hair, from which protruded bits and pieces of clothing that seemed to have somehow become integrated into the mass.

Towards the middle of the blob was something that somewhat resembled a human face. Actually, it didn’t really resemble a human face at all, but there were two eyes and a mouth there, albeit arranged in a most peculiar pattern.

The thing was flopping about on the floor, waving strange appendages. One of the appendages bore a slight resemblance to a human arm and hand, but it was very slight. The other appendages defied comparison to any limb that I have ever learned of. As the thing flopped and waved, strange juices and globules oozed from various orifices that were distributed about its malformed surface.

Most horrible of all, there were four small beings that were hopping or lying about upon the fleshy mass. These creatures were no more than several inches in height. They were all silvery in color except for portions of their anatomy that seemed to serve as their heads. The head-like protrusions were a putrescent shade of green. They each had innumerable limbs, all of which seemed to terminate in an extremity that was completely random in structure. No two of the things that were attached to the end of their limbs seemed to be alike.

These little beings seemed to be feeding off the horrendous effluents that oozed and squirted from the mass of flesh. The small bits of speech and laughter that I had heard were apparently coming from the mouth of the fleshy mass. It seemed to be speaking with the diminutive monsters that sat and fed upon it.

As I stood in the doorway, stunned by horror, the eyes of the flesh-blob rotated in my direction and seemed to actually see me. The mouth of the thing slowly began to form words.

“Mmmmyyy frrriennnn. Sssshhhssseeeee wwwwwoooooot yooooo deshpeeeshed. Looohooook oooppooooon mmmmyyyyyyhh sssshhhoookkksssshhhhesssshhh. Sssshhhssseeeeee wwwwwooooot yyyooooo ddoooottt,” the thing torturously mouthed.

The voice bore a horrible resemblance to that of Vernon. The clothing imbedded in the fleshy mass also bore a horrible resemblance to the type of clothing that he favored.

“V-ver-vernon?” I managed to gasp.

“Yyyyyeeeeesssshhhh” replied the horrific blob.

“I-I-I came to warn you of some dangers that I discovered in some sections that I recently deciphered…” I whispered weakly.

“Nnnnnoooooo nnnneeeeeeed,” the thing gurgled, “Mmmmmyyyhyyyy sssshhhssssooookkkksssshhssseeeesshhsss wwwooossshssss toootooolll…”

The nightmarish globule of once human flesh then began to cackle insanely.

As near as I could discern from the barely intelligible phrases the thing that used to be Vernon was managing to croak, it appeared that he somehow thought that his experiments had been successful. It was obvious that whatever remained of his brain within that mass was as completely misshapen as his body had become.

One of the little multi-appendaged things suddenly hopped off of the fleshy mass and began to move towards me at great speed. I immediately panicked. I attempted to slam the door shut before the thing could reach me.

Fortunately, I was quick enough to keep the creature at bay by slamming the door hard upon the thing, as it was halfway through. There was a sickening crunching followed by an ear-splitting screeching.

I immediately began to half stumble, half run away from the door, heading down a hallway towards unknown portions of the home.

Upon reaching the corner of the hall, I dared to glance back and was relieved to see that the thing had not pursued me. It appeared that it had managed to free itself of the door and had fled back into the room. I could still hear its cacophonous shrieking and other sounds that seemed to indicate that it was wildly thrashing about within that room.

As I listened, I heard a tearing sound, as if the small thing had somehow managed to bring down one of the many tapestries that decorated the walls of this stone structure. A short moment later, I heard a multitude of such shrieks, as if all of the little creatures were screaming. I also began to notice sounds that might be caused by the eruption of a great fire.

The voice of that fleshy blob then began to give forth a hysterical, continuous screaming laughter. As I stood frozen to the spot, I saw that large billows of smoke were beginning to roll out of the room.

I wasn’t sure how it had happened, but the wildly screaming and careening creature had somehow managed to start a fire. Perhaps a tapestry had fell upon one of the large oil lamps within the room.

I stood rooted to the spot for several more moments, my mind reeling and aghast at the abominable sights I had witnessed. Finally, my trance was broken by a fit of coughing as the thick smoke began to billow around me.

I am quite convinced that providence had not intended for Vernon to undertake whatever ill-worked ritual he had attempted, but it seemed that providence was favoring me that day. I stumbled through that large structure, blinded and choking on thick smoke, but somehow still managed to make my way to the door. I can’t say if the gods favored me or if I just had some store of dumb luck that saw me through, but I survived the conflagration and escaped with my life.

And so, I’m sure that you can understand my contention that there is untold wisdom in that phrase which speaks of “a little knowledge”. That incident cemented within my somewhat damaged mind the belief that attempting any dangerous task without a complete and utter understanding of all facets of the work is pure folly. My studies have convinced me that such an understanding is nearly impossible to gain in the field of the dark arts.

These beliefs will, undoubtedly, prevent me from ever gaining any of the potential power that my great store of knowledge could provide. However, I would much rather that I err on the side of prudence and resist the temptation to wield those powers which man can never fully comprehend.

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