July 2021: Ivy Hall Review Features Elisa Villegas Cascardo

Born and raised in Colombia, Elisa Villegas Cascardo is a Sequential Art major who loves to tell stories through comics and occasionally writing. Elisa is inspired by tales of magical realism from Latin-American literature, as well as the storytelling and visual style of Japanese comics. She likes to explore themes related to the supernatural and the unknown, and hopes to create strange concepts, worlds, and characters that intrigue and bring wonder to others.

A Sea of Ink

Anima buried his head into the open book before him. A futile attempt to drown out the dreadful noise that came from below. A deep and poisonous gurgling boomed through the floor with the intensity of a terrifying storm. The constant vibrations under his feet made him question how much longer it would be before the floor finally gave way and collapsed. He slowly tilted his head upwards, trying to escape from it. The radiant golden dome above provided no comfort; it only amplified the sound. He turned his head to look elsewhere. Anima thought he saw books sink further into their wooden bookshelves, as if to hide away. The dark columns besides the shelves, with intricately carved images of creatures long forgotten by the human mind, throbbed in unison with the sound. Everything in his library, he thought, seemed to be haunted by this terrible sound. No matter how many times it surfaced, Anima just couldn’t grow used to it. Every time it did, he had to wrestle between two options. Going insane or going deaf. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t think. Anima sighed in defeat and gently moved aside the book before him. He stood up and adjusted his white coat. It had wave patterns that had been drawn on a whim. They matched the designs of the twisting scrolls that hung from the ceiling. The vibrations from the floor made it hard to walk, but Anima managed to arrive at a set of bookshelves cast in ominous shadow. Between the shelves was a large wooden staircase that would lead him underground, to the source of the sound. A dark corridor awaited. He reached a hand towards the shelves, sensing the fear from the books. They didn’t want to be there. They too knew what lurked at the end of the staircase, but Anima had no other space for them. He reluctantly looked away from the shelves and took the first step. The stairs would normally creak under his weight, but every other sound was currently drowned out by the impatient roaring. This made him feel as if he were somehow hollow. As if he were a spirit. As if the sound from below were robbing him of his presence. The more steps Anima descended, the less books the surrounding shelves had. Anima had memorized the number of steps. He stopped right before reaching the end and sat down on the cold wood. He knew a few books would be scattered near him, and he picked up one of them. He ran his hand through the pages, wrinkly and stiff. It was dark, but he knew the pages, once adorned with captivating stories—and now empty. They had ended up that way in an act of carelessness. Or perhaps selfishness. Anima let the book rest on his lap as he impatiently waited for his eyes to grow used to the darkness of the corridor. The sound was unbearable. There was movement in the darkness. Anima saw dark swaying curves. They bent. They looped. They arched. They spiraled. Slowly, the swaying curves started morphing into crashing waves. A sea as dark as ink danced with madness in the darkness. The thundering boom from the waves grew dull as it acknowledged Anima’s presence, but the sickening gurgling remained. For the first time in days he was able to hear another sound besides that of the wretched sea that lived below his library.

The book dropped from his lap, its dry thud echoing throughout the dark corridor, bringing instant relief to Anima. However, this moment of peace wouldn’t last long if he didn’t meet the sea’s demands. He would. Of course he would. It was either obey its greedy will or put up with the nightmare of sound it produced. Anima hopelessly held his head in his hands and recalled the time he had visited the sea. The real one. The one of a deep noble blue that reflected the sky. Its beautiful foamy waves made a sound like rain. He had heard nothing when he had dived below those waves, and wondered if the same would apply for the dark twin currently before him. He shot up and reached for the shelves, overcome by a sudden nausea. How could he consider such thoughts? He didn’t want to be anywhere near that terrifying swaying darkness. The waves of the inky sea momentarily rippled as if to mock him. The fiend! Anima thought as he started climbing back up the stairs, keeping a hand on the shelves to support himself. When he stepped out of the corridor, the shadows seemed to have retreated from the bookshelves. Or maybe he was imagining it? He had been in the dark for too long. He took a moment to catch his breath, still leaning against one of the shelves. How much he had wished for it to be quiet, and now that it was, Anima couldn’t help but tremble. The books, on the other hand, rejoiced in the silence despite their many siblings lying dead in the hallway, their words lost to an unknown depth of ink. Anima wondered if he’d be able to cope with yet another loss of his beloved stories.

He heard a door handle rattling. Anima took a deep breath and straightened out his posture. His worry about the books and the sea would have to wait, since he had a guest to welcome. Anima’s library had countless doors. If opened, they would connect his library to small bookshops across the world he had previously visited. This one, if he recalled correctly, was linked to a very charming shop in some tropical country. It featured local authors and had good coffee. A warm breeze blew into the library as the door opened. Behind the door, a man stood, frozen in place, his black eyes wide with fear. Anima saw a few streaks of white hair flicker as the man quickly glanced over his shoulder to look at the tiny tropical bookshop behind the door. Crumbling books were arranged in wicker bookshelves, some of which had rods sticking out and paint peeling away. Buzzing fans made some of the pages flutter. Anima thought he heard the chatter and traffic of a noisy street. The man turned back to look at Anima. His eyes quickly examined the intricate wooden bookshelves and glanced down to the red carpeted floor. He started closing the door.

“No, no,” Anima said, gently pulling the door back open, “you’re looking for a book, yes?” Ordinary people couldn’t open the connecting doors of his library. Anima knew it all too well. Only those who were desperate and curious enough to find a specific book could. “The front desk said you didn’t have it,” responded the man, his voice dry and firm. This was good. It seemed like the man had assumed Anima’s library was an extension of the small bookshop he was coming from. There were times where he had to make up excuses for visitors to ignore the sudden architectural change. This made things way easier for him. “The front desk said we didn’t have it…” Anima repeated slowly. “And yet you’ve come all the way to the back to check for yourself?” He knew these types of people. Countless of them had once opened these doors, looking for something. “No one is better at finding books than I am,” Anima insisted, forcing a smile. “Do tell me what you’re looking for.” “It’s pretty old.” The man was still clinging to the door handle. That was a problem. At this rate, Anima wouldn’t manage to get the man inside the library. He needed something to lure him in. What could he say that could win him over? The man was looking for something old… “No matter,” Anima insisted. “There are all kinds of rare manuscripts here.” The man let the door handle go. Anima thought the man’s dark eyes resembled the inky color of the evil sea below their feet. It made him shiver. At least his jet-black hair had a few white hairs, otherwise Anima feared he wouldn’t be able to look at him. “Bestia Astra by Marco Arche?” asked the man with a sigh. An astronomer? How wonderful! He would do nicely. Anima closed his eyes. He couldn’t possibly recall the names of all the books in his possession. They weren’t organized in alphabetical order either, so he couldn’t just stroll around and find it. The way he organized his books changed by the day. Sometimes it was by color, others it would be the date of publication, and others it would be by how much he had liked to read them. Anima searched in the darkness, calling out to the book in hopes it would answer. Anima opened his eyes. “I have it.” “No way.” “An astronomical text from the fifteenth century, yes?” “Yes! Yes!” “Come in, come in,” Anima said, gesturing. “Man, you’ve got no idea how much I’ve looked for that thing!” The man closed the door behind him. They walked together through the halls of the grand library. “Is it new? This section of the building, I mean,” asked the man, following Anima closely. “Brand new!” Anima lied. Anima followed the faint call of the book through the twisting hallways. They both came to stand before a shelf full of very thin manuscripts, most of them old and fragile. Anima’s eyes flew from one side of the shelf to another. He felt a sting. That one. Anima reached his hand out for a pale booklet, its cover a faded blue color with deep black letters that read Bestia Astra. He offered it to the man. The man’s hands shakingly received the text. “Thank you.” “I must ask you to review it inside though,” said Anima. “Of course, of course.” The man glanced around, possibly looking for a table to sit at. “Oh, where are my manners?” He extended a hand towards Anima. “I’m Sol.”  

Sol had been sitting at one of the red wooden tables for hours. Anima guessed he had read that little booklet over fifty times by now. He didn’t mind his presence though. He had greatly enjoyed the silence that had befallen the library just before Sol had arrived. The sea of ink would not dare to make a sound while a guest was over. Anima quietly walked over to him and peered over his shoulder. “Why do they have mouths?” Anima asked. Sol jumped from his seat and nearly fell. “Pretty spooky, right?” Sol cleared his throat and accommodated himself back on the seat. “We tend to associate comets with wishes in modern times, but hundreds of years ago they were considered bad omens. Famine, disease, the death of a sovereign, any major catastrophe, really.” Sol tapped the page. “It’s not surprising people back then depicted them as monsters.” Anima looked down at the manuscript. He saw delicate black writing that contrasted against the pale yellow tint of the page. He didn’t know the language, but the looping curves of the words reminded him of the ominous waves of the sea of ink. Above the ornate writing was an illustration of fiery tailed comets with open mouths and sinister scowls flying over an obscured city. “I think I’ve seen this before,” Anima pondered. Sol laughed. “Arche’s manuscript is famous for being the only one to depict comets in this way.”

Anima walked away from the table. “All the books here are new additions, so I can’t be too sure, but I’m certain I saw others with similar depictions of comets. They all came in a set, you see.” Sol left the manuscript wide open and stood up from the chair, his dull footsteps hitting the carpeted floor. “Can you find them?” Anima looked away. Sol’s voice was shaky, it was clear he was trying his best to hide his enthusiasm. It was only to be expected though. Anima had suggested the existence of something that could become the highlight of Sol’s career. It hurt having to lie like this. There were no such books in his library. “I believe they haven’t been sorted out yet, so they must be over there.” Anima pointed to a set of shadowed bookshelves with a wooden staircase in between. “Will you be able to find them in this darkness?” Anima and Sol’s footsteps echoed throughout the dark hallway. Anima could hear how Sol’s hand dragged along the bookshelves as they walked. “It won’t be a problem. There aren’t many books down here anyway.” “I really appreciate the help.” Sol had spoken so quietly that Anima had nearly missed it. “The renovations are truly fantastic! It feels like I’m in a secret passageway of a fancy university. I’ll have to tell my colleagues about this bookshop.” Anima stopped walking. “Is this the place? Are the manuscripts here?” Sol asked excitedly. A faint whooshing sound made Anima guess Sol was swinging his head from side to side. Anima tried to hold back a weak laugh. It wasn’t like Sol could see in this darkness. Anima swallowed and grabbed on tightly to one of the bookshelves. “Yeah, it’s here.” The trembling came first. It could have easily been mistaken for an earthquake. The bookshelves rattled and the wooden steps creaked. Then came the stormy rumbling of the inky waves. They flooded the corridor in an instant. Out of instinct, Anima slid his hand across the shelf, grabbing a single shriveled book. He held it close as the waves slithered across the roof and wall to avoid Anima. Instead, the flood targeted and swallowed Sol. A series of heavy thuds echoed through the steps as the waves receded, the sounds of a falling body. Anima heard no screams. Anima let go of the bookshelf and kneeled down on the wooden steps. He had grown used to the darkness by now, and could see thin strings of black inky liquid flow down the staircase like a cascade. The sea went silent. It was a different kind of silence from the one that had befallen the library before Sol had arrived. That had been a type of silence built on tension. The sea didn’t want to scare off its prey, so it stayed quiet. Anima saw how the waves slowly disappeared, making the sea’s surface still and uniform. The waves had no need to roar or scream or thunder. Right now, they were satisfied, savoring the years of study and knowledge of their prey. It was the price the sea of ink demanded for Anima and his library to have a brief true and peaceful silence for a few weeks or even months. The minds of academics, scholars, and great thinkers.

Anima tried to stand up, but his legs were shaking, and his coat felt heavy. Black droplets dripped from it. He slowly looked over to the piles of empty books scattered throughout the staircase. He thought of their pages, wrinkly and stiff. Before demanding Anima feed it the wisdom of visitors, the sea had swallowed the words of these books. Hundreds of them had been robbed of their ink on times when Anima had been absent from the library. That was until Anima proposed an agreement. Human knowledge is unreliable, but the written knowledge of books is absolute. If the sea must consume knowledge, Anima made it clear his beloved books were off limits. Anima thought back to the painting Sol had shown him in Bestia Astra of the monster comets and their open mouths. He started making his way up the staircase to change his clothes and return Bestia Astra to its bookshelf.

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