Photo by Michael Bracco.

Dear Young Traveler,

I write to alert you to the lore about a cruel being known as the Old One. I hope that this information will guide you in your journey. It is all too easy to be taken in by the Old One’s promises of security and happiness. You do not want these things on the terms on which they are offered, for such are negligence, myopia, and the absence of politics. The Old One will try and seduce you into an unfulfilling, two-dimensional life, or else seek your annihilation.

A recklessly powerful creature, this once-charming seeker of new worlds is now blinded to their own condition by years of accolades earned for unbridled mediocrity. Once, they gazed upon the magnificent life before them and saw opportunity, wonder, and curiosity. But with each new laurel lowered upon them, that view became dimmer and smaller, like the pinhole of an ancient camera obscura. The body of the Old One is now encrusted in a protective layer of gnarled tree bark, diminishing its movements to barely a crawl. They no longer grow, and seldom do they feel.

This repugnant being is most dangerous in groups, for there are many Old Ones. Perhaps even more alarming is that they reproduce themselves, seducing and entrapping still-naïve souls, grooming them for yet another generation of grotesque acts. Indeed, this is just how these Old Ones became Old Ones in the first place, a feat that they can still accomplish from the afterlife!

Confronting even a solitary Old One can be a horrifying experience, but together, the strength of their will is exponentially reinforced, very nearly indomitable. They form a sort of intractable, thorny barrier those who resist assimilation, restricting their forward progress.

The Old One is a tortured, enigmatic soul, replete with contradictions. It is unable to have what it desires most. O, how it yearns for youth! But take heed: you should never offer an Old One youth’s essence, for they will rain down an unholy destruction upon it. It is not just anyone’s youth that they want, but their own. Curiously, it is a youth that never existed, drawn from a false nostalgia for a world they think they knew better than anyone. This is why they would rather feel their way around in the dark or rely on the tactile responses of each other’s gray whiskers to maneuver than open their eyes to a strange, foreign present and allow us to guide them. (Herein lies yet another contradiction: experiencing the strange and foreign is precisely what the Old One, when young, was trained to do.)

A horde of Old Ones is a difficult, if not insurmountable, challenge to confront. To overcome such a horde, those equipped with great reserves of youth’s essence would do well to seize upon the strategies of their foes: bind together in large groups (especially with other, more experienced travelers who have not succumbed to the horde’s grooming) and enlist fellow travelers in the cause. (The horde is particularly susceptible to those it does not recognize, but it is for them who we must fight.)

One means of dispatching such a horde is to split them into segments and outnumber them. Be forewarned! The Old One, when threatened, can be a slimy and slippery beast; they are difficult to trap or corner and highly unlikely to admit defeat. They may not fall, but instead retreat and regroup. Do not take their slumber as time to get complacent. This is part of their strategy!

The most effective way to confront a horde, though it’s not always possible, is simply to detour one’s path around them. This may upset them, but they are slow to respond (and may not even notice). Beyond that, young traveler, focus on merely surviving these harrowing encounters. For lo! This creature will not be around forever.