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Outtake: Rediscovery of the Necronomicon

Once men were wicked. They cared only for wealth and status. With their hearts darkened by sin, they fell to a great plague that swallowed all the lands like a flood.

Or so the story goes.

Half the population of Europe fell to the Black Death. For a period of seven years, from 1346 to 1353, one out of every two humans on the continent lost their lives, along with countless animals and livestock. In their desperation to find a cure, an escape from a slaughter that took king and peasant alike, noblemen from Moscow to Lisbon ordered their physicians to scour every text, every manuscript, every scroll in their libraries.

It was a painstaking enterprise. Every known volume in Europe had to be inspected one page at a time. Books then were copied by hand, and space was used as available. It was not uncommon that two texts, squeezed into the same binding, may have nothing to do with one another. The 12th century Codex Gigas, for example, contains a Vulgate Bible and several works by the Jewish historian Josephus along with ancient Greek medical treatises by Hippocrates, Theophilus, and others. Those texts weren’t appended to the end, as one might expect, but were bound chronologically between the Old and New Testaments.

Monks and scribes also added commentaries in the margins of some works that contained additional information, including quotes from or references to texts presumed lost. They also erased entire texts outright. Vellum and parchment were expensive, so manuscripts of marginal value were occasionally bleached and copied over, creating a palimpsest.

That’s how its existence, long a rumor, was first confirmed to the modern world.

In a dairy, penned during the Black Death, a sorcerer and court physician in the Kingdom of Hungary, detailed his examination of every written document in his lord’s possession. He was looking for ancient knowledge, facts or theories that might help him combat the contagion that then threatened to erase civilization. In the lower stacks of an unnamed library, he came across a tenth-century copy of several ancient Greek works of geography—including one by Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle. At the bottom of each page, the unknown copyist, whom the sorcerer called “the meister of Zakynthos,” whimsically recorded how long it took to complete both the lettering and geographical illuminations and under what conditions—hot or cold weather, suffering or free of rheumatism, with full stomach or empty.

It’s here that the unnamed meister makes casual reference to a manuscript he had meticulously scraped clean in order to find enough vellum to appease his Abbott—his order having already slaughtered the last of the donkeys that winter for food. It was, he described, “a work of gibberish,” whose symbols “conformed to no alphabet known to the learned ancients nor to any high man of Christendom.” His only knowledge of it came from the accompanying illuminations, which were “abominable,” and full of “the surest marks of Satan upon the earth.”

He should’ve burned it. But the simple man from a tiny island in the Ionian wanted his daily ration, which required continual copying and preserving to appease the head of his order.

After the sorcerer’s vital clue was unearthed in the 17th century, men the world over began searching for the missing “Zakynthite Atlas," upon whose pages was hidden something far older still.

Being a palimpsest, it could never be found by simple visual examination. Special equipment was needed, which is why it wasn’t discovered for several centuries. Scholars at the University of Leipzig, using the newly developed technology of photography, put the pages of Theophrastian atlas, found in a tomb in Syria, under “differential illumination,” and living men once again laid eyes on the ancient and arcane gibberish, shining through the overlaid ink in a dark and surreal glow.

It’s been called many things. The Book of Shadows. The Devil’s Bible. The Necronomicon. All we know for certain is that its discovery started a war—and ended it, too, when the only known copy was finally destroyed in the middle of the 20th century.

The world rejoiced. Without their fabled tome, it was assumed the seekers of the dark, scattered and ruined, would simply fade into anachronism, like the plague. But it was not to be. For evil exists in all of us, and with every generation it springs anew…