"It stood at the corner with its cart, waving a gloved hand at the passers-by, seemingly untroubled by the biting winter wind, which was cold enough to freeze the blood in the veins. Not like it had much in the way of blood, anyways. 'Abstractions, abstractions,' it trilled, as it pushed its clattering cart across the street. 'Troubled with memories you'd rather be without? Unwanted emotions getting you down? Just come on over, and I can both help you and pay you for it!' I kept my head down and hurried past. My da always told me not to trust those things, and I have to say that I agree with him."
— From the journal of a Boston resident
One would be hard-pressed to find a people as enigmatic as the Hollow Men, the blank-faced merchants which preside over the thought-trade, buying and selling thoughts and feelings as casually as one does grain or wool. At least one can be found in every major city, pushing along its porcelain-laden cart, pots and urns clinking and clattering. They inhabit an odd niche in society's social ladder. No one can quite claim to be a Hollow Man's friend, yet neither can anyone claim to be one's enemy. They find customers among the rich and the wealthy as often as they deal with the poor and needy, and while the general consensus is that they are sneaky creatures, not to be trusted — despite the fact that it is common practice for them to extract their own lies and display them publicly — few would ever expect one to go against its word or raise a hand against it.
Certainly many things are rather off with the Hollow Men. They possess an unusually calm demeanor, rarely varying their tone or volume, always speaking at the same steady pace. Perhaps it is the stench of powerful Abstraction that follows them and their carts around, a subtle maelstrom of raw emotion that constantly flows from them, causing Emotion Sickness for the more sensitive or those who spend too much time around them and their work. Perhaps it is the fact that none ever offer their names, even to their most loyal customers, and even nicknames seem to slide off of them like water on a duck's back, swiftly becoming forgotten.
But above all else, their most disconcerting feature must be their appearance. Their bodies are not made of flesh or bone or any other material typical of living things, but instead are composed of unfeeling, unmoving porcelain. Their faces are blank, painted things, their fingers cold and hard. And behind those faces, through those empty eyeholes, they are true to their name. There is nothing within, just stale air and a heavy, crushing emptiness. It's said that you should never look a Hollow Man in the "eyes," because that emptiness will take your soul right out of you and gobble it up.
In fact, there's a lot that's said about Hollow Men. That every word they speak once belonged to someone else. That they store all their wealth inside of their bodies, and if you break them open you can claim it for yourself. That if they catch one of your breaths in one of their little porcelain jars they can steal a fifth of every subsequent breath you take for themselves. That they can smell your thoughts. That if you ever anger one it'll break your head open like a pot and steal every other thought you've ever had. And that you should never, ever, under any circumstances, tell one your name. These are all complete poppycock, of course. Well, most of them, at the very least.
Merchants of the Mind
Despite the stories, legends, and cautionary tales that surround Hollow Men, they do not allow such things to deter them from plying their trade. All Hollow Men are incredibly talented Abstractors, their skills far exceeding those of most modern humans. As such, they have dominated the thought-trade, extracting, buying and selling Logoi, Pathoi, and Ethoi, though they are incredibly possessive of their Pathoi for some reason, and rarely sell them, and the trade of Ethoi is highly restricted due to the potency of such abstractions.
As mentioned before, the Hollow Men do as much commerce among the rich and powerful as they do among the poor and wretched. Those of high society have much use for the secrets and forbidden knowledge the Hollow Men deal in, and certain approved Ethoi, even in modest amounts, can be incredibly advantageous (and lucrative for the Hollow Man that sells one). At the same time, Hollow Men serve as a sort of alternative to a moneylender for many of those in need of some coin. If a person ever finds themself needing money, rather than binding themself into an agreement that could end up harming them more than it helps, they can simply seek out a humble Hollow Man and offer up a part of their psyche.
The Logoi of the poor are rarely particularly desired, though in bulk they can still fetch some money, and their Ethoi, or at least the ones buyers would be interested in, while more potent than their Logoi are still likewise not very valuable. Because of this, they are often forced to give up their Pathoi, which often leave those who visit the Hollow Man feeling somewhat empty for the rest of their lives. Perhaps even a little... hollow.
It may appear, to the uninformed individual, that the Hollow Men are easy pickings for a robbery. They are unarmed, physically unimposing, and not even protected by a roof and walls as they shuffle along with their colorful carts. And besides, even if one does put up a fight, they're made of porcelain, which isn't known for being the sturdiest material. But anyone who attempts to rob a Hollow Man is in for quite a nasty surprise. If threatened, they are typically actually rather accommodating, and will hand over all the money the robber wants. Of course, it's rather dangerous to handle anything that belongs to a Hollow Man, for the Pathomantic defenses on them are truly terrifying. Merely touching the porcelain urn inflicts intense, soul-crushing despair on the thief. Breaking it (for it must be broken, since the top cannot be removed without breaking it) will almost instantly cause the would-be robber to collapse to the ground dad, clutching their broken heart. Physical assaults on Hollow Men have equally disastrous results, for the aura of Abstraction that hangs over them at all times is strong enough while contained. If a Hollow Man's body is cracked, the resulting maelstrom of raw emotion is likely to kill a person outright; if they're lucky they may only be irreversibly maddened by it.
The origins of Hollow Men are rather mysterious, and the creatures are certainly not helpful in that respect. In fact, many have speculated that they themselves do not know the exact specifics of their origins. Most people don't know anything of their origins, and quite frankly do not care, but some more devoted historians have set about trying to reconstruct their history, and though they have been largely unsuccessful, a basic picture has been painstakingly developed.
For the most part, the Hollow Men likely originate from ancient China, and the first record of them was during the Qin dynasty, though their form seems to have changed over the years, changing from terracotta to porcelain after its invention during the Tang dynasty. There are a few records of similar creatures from older civilizations, such as the in ancient Greece or even in ancient Mesopotamia, but there is no concrete evidence of their existence and they seem to have no relation to the current Hollow Men.
As for the method by which they obtained their rather... unique forms, it is clear that Abstraction was the root cause of it. It seems that many, many hundreds of years ago, they fashioned these artificial bodies for themselves. Then, they began the process of transferring over every single bit of themselves over. Every abstraction, every Logos, every Pathos, every Ethos, until their original bodies were left with but one thing: their names. As names cannot by affected by the Art of Abstraction, they had to be left behind in their original bodies. This lack of a name is what causes them to defy even nicknames, and seemingly is the cause for their effective immortality. As for why they hoard Pathoi, some theorize that without a name, such things begin leaking out of them like water through a sieve, and thus they must ingest a regular supply to replace their own. It is not an unsubstantiated claim, as similar effects are seen in the Creed-wracked
, who eventually lose everything but their rage and hate.
This lack of a name, however, is exactly what spurs many to protest against the Hollow Men. Many believe that a name is what makes a person a person, that the name is what protects the human soul from the evils of the world. Some even believe that a person's soul is stored within their name, or is their name itself. And without a name, these people argue, the Hollow Men cannot be considered people. It's one thing to be a creepy, utterly inorganic, forever smiling porcelain abomination. It is entirely another to lack a name. Again, the Creed-wracked, those raging beasts, come to mind. Some groups, such as the Sledge League
, even sometimes become violent with their protests, attacking and attempting to shatter Hollow Men. They are yet to be successful, however, and the Porcelain Man's Pathomantic defenses typically send the attackers packing, weeping, laughing, or screaming all the way.
Quite a fascinating creature and trade. One could literally go about trading secrets. Spooky, interesting and mysterious.