Part 150: The Final Memories: Part 1The Final Memories: Part 1
I pray this thing is recording these final moments, but I don't have much hope that the Powers could hear or answer my pleas.
A cold wind whipped my skin, carrying a chill that drew not just warmth, but the very substance from my flesh. There was an emptiness in the sky, blacker than a starless night or the heart of a fiend. Gazing upwards was tempting madness, staring into a yawning oblivion that threatened to swallow my sanity. Senseless as it was, it seemed that if I dropped my guard I would've been swept from my feet and drawn into bleak eternity. It was a void I was vaguely familiar with... in many ways it seemed to mirror the hollowness at the core of my being where a soul might've rested once, a thousand lifetimes ago.
I had to move, had to recall every ounce of sensation and feeling and warmth to keep the essence of my being from being carried away by that wind like motes of dust.
I clung tight to what I was, wrapping identity around me as a cloak, and strode down the walkway.
The Fortress had been built from regrets: wounds still raw and bleeding, or scars deep and knotted into hard lumps that undulated beneath the flesh. I passed along cobbles craft of sorrow and mortared with tears, fossilized remnants of words unsaid and stillborn dreams. They whispered with each step, eating away at that shroud I tried to keep around myself like maggots.
Should never have...
I felt my jaw drop, saliva ropy and slick between teeth chilled into ice by the wind. The gale swallowed my screams, and the whispers continued to drive me to the edge of my sanity.
Something fluttered in the distance: a gown azure as the sky and gray as mourning clouds.
My pace quickened, lamentations crunching beneath my boots. For a moment the whispers fled, or quieted as I neared the ghostly form. Her spectral gown stirred in some ethereal breeze, her hands remained folded in front of her in her eternal vigil. She stood at the edge of the black stone causeway, staring out into the emptiness of the Plane. She had no fear of losing herself... little else remained that could be taken from her. Now and again her shoulders shook with the quiet weeping that came when no more tears remained. She was so sad. And so beautiful.
She spun to face me, eyes widening in shock. She reached out as if to touch me, but her hand stopped short of my chest and drew back. "My Love! You should not be here! You must leave at once!"
"Deionarra, what is this place? Is this the Fortress?"
"This is the Fortress of Regrets. It is the place that holds the moment of my death prisoner, and I may not stray far from its halls. If you can find a way back to Sigil you must; if you stay here, my Love, you shall die."
My mouth went dry at her dire warning, "What about my immortality? Surely, I'm still immortal, even here...?"
She shook her head. "No, my Love. There is something about this Fortress - the shell that surrounds it cuts it off from the rest of the Planes. It is that shell that acts as a barrier to your immortality."
"How could this shell act as an obstacle? That makes no sense."
"As I have maintained my vigil here in this place, I have come to learn the nature of your immortality, my Love. It is a thing which hungers for the lives of others. At the moment of your death, it claims another living thing in your place, allowing you to live. The soul that dies in your place is brought here, to the Fortress, as a shadow. I believe this shell prevents your immortality from finding another victim."
I swallowed the lump in my throat, "So... when I die, another dies in my place. And if it can't find another living thing to die for me..."
"Then if you die in this place, it is the end, for there is nothing that lives here - so you must be careful. Return back to Sigil and leave this cursed place!"
"But - my allies are here: and that means they are inside this shell. What happens to them if I die?"
"My Love, if you have brought anything that lives with you to this place, then it is in terrible danger - both from the shadows and from you. Should you die here, your immortality will hunt for the closest living thing in the Fortress, and that is the one that shall die in your place. You must leave here, now!"
"I can't go back. So can you tell me anything else that might be helpful? What waits inside the Fortress?"
"There is no natural darkness within the Fortress, my Love, only the shades of those who have died in your place. The energies of this Plane feed them, and their hatred for you is beyond all reason. They will not permit you to leave." She threw a glance at the walls of the Fortress. "Do not enter, I beg you!"
"But - my allies are in there. I cannot leave them. Do you have any idea where they might be?"
"If you brought others, then they were cast from you when you arrived - it is the nature of this place to divide living things... then kill them." She looked distraught, and glanced back to the mass of black spires. She had known its horrors well. "The Fortress is a thing of many miles - finding your friends here will be difficult."
I shook my head, "I have to find them. There is no choice in the matter."
"Very well, my Love... if you intend to go on, you must know this - past the entrance to the Fortress is a great antechamber with countless shadows. You must move swiftly and not let them gather about you, or you shall surely be slain!"
"One thing more..." Deionarra paused, as if trying to catch a fleeting memory. "Within... within the chamber are great clocks..." Her voice became steadier, more certain. "Clocks which you spoke of once as having been the key to you escaping that chamber... when you were trapped there once before." She looked at me. "I know I cannot stay you from your course, my Love -- I shall watch for you, and help you if I can."
I lifted my hand, with the silver wedding ring around my finger, "I brought your ring, Deionarra. I found your legacy to me."
"The ring still holds a part of me within it, my Love. When you carry it, you carry my heart with you." She closed her eyes, and a sudden warmth passed through me. The ring flickered and grew hot as her ghostly hand closed around mine. There was no pain, but instead the searing intensity that still burned in her breast. So alone... so sad... I could never have thought she still felt this way. Deionarra opened her eyes, then smiled. "I knew you would return to me with it in your keeping. Carry it now with my blessing, and keep it close to your heart. Through it, I will defend you."
"You have my thanks, Deionarra. I must go now."
I couldn't leave my friends to the shadows, and with that determination I walked the long, lonely causeway that led to my end. The whispers and sorrows that composed this place had no more power over me.
My hand slipped into my belt pouch, fingers sliding along the edge of that blade.
"You're saying you could forge a weapon to kill an immortal?"
EVERY LIVING THING HAS A WEAPON AGAINST WHICH IT HAS NO DEFENSE. TIME. DISEASE. IRON. GUILT.
"How do you know what weapon to use?"
ONE MUST KNOW THE ENEMY TO FORGE SUCH A WEAPON.
"And how do I do that?"
START WITH A FRAGMENT OF THE ENEMY. A DROP OF BLOOD. A CRYSTALLIZED THOUGHT. ONE OF ITS HOPES. ALL OF THESE THINGS TELL THE WAY IT CAN DIE.
"Hmmmm. Could you forge a weapon that would kill me?"
YES. I WOULD NEED A DROP OF YOUR BLOOD. THAT IS ALL.
Where once it was so dull it could barely cut butter, it seemed keener now as if knowing its purpose. Coaxmetal had done his job well.
THE MAGICKS THAT KEEP YOUR HEART BEATING AND MEND YOUR FLESH ARE STRONG. YOU MUST SINK THE BLADE INTO YOUR BODY ONLY WITHIN A SHELL WHERE YOU ARE CUT OFF FROM THE PLANES.
Soon this edge would carve against my neck, spilling my blood red and hot against the icy cobbles. Soon my time would end. Soon... I would rest.
But not until I saved my friends.
The heavy door, a spiral of metal wedges, was the only entrance I could find. My hands explored its edges, knuckles rapped against the surface seeking the mechanism inside. Annah had given me plenty of pointers on how to break in, but with an unconventional fortress there must've been unconventional locks-
The door clanked.
I stepped back as machinery roared to live, the harsh keening of metal on metal piercing the harsh wind. The wedges clanked against one another, one by one, until they folded fully like the strips of a fan.
Inside, my end waited.
Flecks of ash danced along Ignus' vision as he waited for his Master to return. It would be safe here, in this portion of the Modron Maze Master had assured him quietly one final time before leaving. Patience was something he'd learned well, though in truth it came easily to him ever since he'd been bound.
He still remembered: Countless magelings and hedge wizards stinging at him like wasps with their small magics until he'd been subdued, and the punishment that was glory, the execution that was life. Others perhaps would plead for power from the Gods, or scrape and force what they would. No... now Ignus was the flame, he was both creation and destruction, fire and ash.
Ignus breathed, and a swirl of pretty embers blew from his charred teeth. So lovely. Ignus could be patient.
A clank sounded in the distance.
Ignus' focus snapped away from the raw elemental storm that flowed through him. The walls of this mechanical maze were shifting.
No no no no! The walls bent in on themselves, with the stink of hot grease, the clang of iron, the sharp taste of madness. Gears rolled and plates shifted, drawing closer. Metal screamed as it closed in, folding around Ignus until he'd be crushed...
Betrayed! Ignus wailed, and all became dark.
He shivered then, curled in on himself. Was this death, the cold damp grave devoid of warmth? He hoped it wasn't. Only darkness surrounded him, so deep and thick that even the flames of his body could do nothing to illuminate his way. Ignus floated... or tried to. Was he even moving in this void?
He extended his aura, letting a few flames flicker out from his fingertips. They touched nothing. There was nothing that he could see.
And yet... if he listened quietly, he could feel the hum of the Art ringing through the shadows.
Great power is here... he murmured in wonder. Nothing should've been more powerful than the flames.
A point of movement flicked in the corner of his vision, and he turned. It was moving towards him, a raggedy thing of twisted shapes and warped lines. Yet reality seemed to ripple in its wake, its form screamed with the same sound of the Art that echoed through the void. For the first time in his new existence, Ignus didn't ponder on how well this thing would burn.
I HAVE NEED OF YOU, the creature said, its voice resonating like a gong, THERE ARE CREATURES THAT MUST DIE.
Slowly realization dawned on the mage, and a grin cracked his face. Ignus threw his head back, body rattling in his cloak of fire. His shrieking laughter stabbed through the emptiness.