Part 13: Journal of The Nameless One: Part 9Journal of The Nameless One: Part 9
My muscles pumped and my tendons strained as the broken-down buildings flew past me. The woman was experienced in running, I could tell, no matter how hard I laid my boots against the pavement she was still five leaps ahead of me. My lungs were burning already.
Morte didn't have such corporeal limitations.
It was still a little unnerving to see a skull barrel past me, jaws open. Morte's teeth bit into the woman's shoulder and she shrieked, spinning about and stumbling to the ground.
"Don't hurt her!" I tried to yell out, but it came out as a ragged wheeze.
I caught up in a few quick strides and grabbed the woman's wrist. There was no blood along her shoulder, thankfully, just a few teeth marks.
I caught my breath, "Calm down... please."
The woman was tough as nails, her face twisted in a snarl. She was haggard, wrapped in rags. Her hair was disheveled and dirty, and her complexion was extremely dark. Burns covered her arms, and her right hand was a fused lump of flesh... it looked melted, like wax exposed to a great heat.
"What issit y'wanta me? Let go of Ingress! Let go!" The woman's accent was thick, and it was difficult making out what she was saying.
"Do you... do you know me? I noticed-" she was shaking her head.
"Don't know... don't know scarred man..."
I knew then. That familiar gleam in her eyes wasn't recognition. It was something I knew that shined in my own. There was the same confusion, the same fear. I was as lost in this city as she was, a foreign intruder prodded and sliced, burned by the chaos and the dangers of Sigil. My throat still itched.
There was a mad gleam in her eyes, "Y'wanta me t'leave? NOT leaving this city, so I'm not. I can't, tried, it's not a city, it's a prison t'everywhere."
"A prison?" It was beginning to seem like everything I said was a question.
"They also call Sigil 'the Cage,' chief."
"There's Worlds, there's..." the woman's eyes gleamed madly. "...planes that be sinking sands, fields thirsty nettles be, sightless worlds where y'limbs are given life and hate, cities of dust whose people are dust and whisper ash, the house without doors, the Twilit Lands, the singing winds, the singing winds..." she started to sob quietly, but she seemed all out of tears. "And shadows... the terrible shadows there be."
Shadows... a chill ran down my spine.
I let go of her arm. Now that she was talking I knew she wasn't going to run. "Where are these places?"
"Where'z? Where'z them places?" She flung the lump of her right hand in an arc, gesturing at the cityscape. "They'z all HERE be. Doors, doors, here to everywhere."
"Portals..." I whispered, remembering Deionarra's words.
She squinted at me, then nodded. Her teeth started chattering. "Tell you, I will: Beware every space you walk through or touch in this thrice-cursed city... Doors, gates, arches, windows, picture frames, the open mouth of a statue, the spaces 'tween shelves... Beware ANY space bounded on all sides. ALL these're doors t'other places."
She gripped me with her intact hand, fervently warning me, "Every door has a KEY it does, and with this key, they show their true nature... an arch becomes a portal, a picture frame becomes a portal, a window becomes a portal... all eager t'take y'someplace ELSE. They steal you away..." She raised the lump of her right hand, "and sometimes what's on th'other side takes part of you as a TITHE."
"And the keys can be anything, I've heard. An emotion, a piece of wood, a tune you hum..."
She nodded, "The keys, the keys number as many as the doors of this city. Every door, a key, every key, a door." Her teeth started chattering again, as if she was cold. "A key is anything. It may be an emotion, an iron nail held 'tween y'second and fifth fingers, a thought thought three times, then thought once in reverse, or it may be a glass rose. Can't leave... can't leave..."
I held out a hand, tried to comfort her, "How did you get here?"
"From..." She seemed to calm slightly, and her eyes took on a thousand-league stare. "Came from a place else from here, almost a life-ago, hummed a tune by a glade with two dead trees that had fallen together. A brilliant door opened in th'space 'tween the crossed trees, showed me this city on th' other side... I'z stepped through, ended here."
"Can you get back?"
"Tried!" She tried to sob again, but no tears came. "Tried! ALL doors here lead to OTHER places." She shuddered and gripped her melted right hand. "Went through thrice-ten portals, some a-purpose, some a-accident, none a-them right. Can't find way back..."
I glanced at my own scars. Half of them must've come from my own blind explorations into these portals. I suppose I was lucky then, that I was immortal. My flesh healed quickly, the itch was already gone from my throat.
"There must be a portal that can take you back. You can find it if y-"
"Can't even leave here! This square! And there, th'place of death behind th' gate waits for me!" She pointed at the Mortuary behind the gate, then turned back to me, her face desperate. "Can't go anywhere in this city!"
A moment of silence passed between us as I tried to digest what she was saying, "You can't go anywhere? What do you mean?"
"Anythin' could be a door. Any arch there, any door here, could be a portal, don't know the key, could get a-sent t'another horrible place...' Her teeth started chattering again. "...got t'stay way from the closed spaces, all could be doors, could have a key on me, an' I not be knowing it..."
Another short silence, "You... you're afraid to go through ANY door or arch because it might be a portal?"
"How long have you been afraid of this?"
She squinted. "Since the last time I walked through th' last portal, th' place where m'hand..." She stopped. "Since m'tenth Turning... I'm in me fourth tenth Turning that, now." Her teeth begin chattering again.
"Thirty years? You haven't walked through any door for thirty years?" Lost since she was a child, three decades stolen from her. Ingress had left everything behind; her family may even be dead by now, "If you got here, there must be a portal that can take you back. It's only a matter of finding it-"
She smiled. Her teeth weren't chattering because she was cold... they were moving around inside her mouth, her gums twisting as the teeth shifted about. They rose and receded as I watched, chattering as they rattled against each other.
She hissed at me. "Only takes ONE portal you steps through a-accident, t'drive th' FEAR into you. I went through thrice-ten, lost m'hand, burned m'flesh, and lost m'sense." She looked at her feet. "N'more, n'more."
"I'm sorry... if I can find some means to help you, I will. Farewell."
As I walked away, she was still staring off into the distance, thinking about a glade from her childhood where two dead trees had fallen together.