Part 29: Journal of The Nameless One: Part 24Journal of The Nameless One: Part 24
The cool, dry air was ominous in the tattoo parlor. Beneath the sweetness of the incense smoke, the musty scent of old leather had been intertwined with the slightest sour hint of meat gone bad.
All about the shop, intricate designs had been inked on sheets of leather and parchment. They lay about haphazardly, but by the lack of dust there seemed to be an odd order to it all. It was as if Fell worked in a meticulous but fickle hand.
A dabus stood in the center of the room... but something about it struck me as odd. It had the same shock of white hair, the same greenish cast to its skin, the same pair of goat horns... until I suddenly realized this one was walking on the ground, not floating. For some reason, that made me uneasy.
I blinked, looking to Morte, "Uh... Morte. You said dabus float, right? This one's walking on the ground."
Morte glanced at the dabus, and his eyes widened. "Ah-ha! I knew you goat-heads could walk! I knew it!" Morte turned gleefully back to me. "Ha! This one must not be aloof enough to get off the ground."
The question froze on my lips.
As I was about to ask the dabus as to who he was, I suddenly realized I already know the creature's name -- 'Fell.' It wasn't the sign or the obvious fact that he was acting as a shopkeeper. There was something deeper in his name, and it echoed in my skull. As if in response, the dabus inclined his head slightly, and a lone symbol appeared above its head. It was blurry at first, then resolved into a white oval with a black lightning bolt through it.
"I feel like I know you, Fell," I said, slightly disoriented.
Fell bowed reverently, and a stream of symbols swirled about his head, rotating clockwise, then counterclockwise. It took me a moment to translate: This is the first time and not the first time you have come to this place.
"Do you know who I am?"
Another series of symbols materialized into focus above Fell's head. This time the translation came to me just as quickly and sharply as the symbols themselves... as if I had translated the exact same string many times before. Yes. But I am not permitted to tell your story.
For a moment, there was no response from Fell, then a stream of rebuses appeared, as if trickling out of Fell's mind. My apologies, I cannot. I cannot change the nature of a man.
The last sentence sent a crawling sensation through my skull. The words rattled in my brains, biting deep into my mind like an itch just out of reach. I clawed at the musty spot in the dim fold of my consciousness. It was a flicker in the corner of my eye, gone when I turned to face it.
...change the nature of a man...
I twitched. "'Nature of a man?' What does that mean?"
The symbols that appeared above Fell almost mirrored the previous stream. My apologies. I cannot say.
I grumbled and turned around in a circle, displaying the map of scars and scratches as well as the tapestry of ink on my flesh. "Can you tell me anything about these tattoos on my body?"
Fell studied my body for a moment, walking around me. The soft patter of his heels against the squeaky floorboards made me shudder. There was something wrong about him. Above his head, Fell mirrored each symbol as he examined it, then returned to face me. I know them. None are by my hand.
"Can you tell me about some of them?"
Fell nodded, symbols appearing around him like fireflies. The ones upon your back were scribed with a careful hand and are directions for a mind that forgets itself. The symbol that lies upon your left shoulder is the mark of torment.
I fought the tremble that wanted to shudder through me as I looked down at my arm. The word was like a set of iron claws scraping against polished shale. That wound deep in me throbbed with the word. "Torment?"
The symbol sharpened, gaining edges that were almost painful to my eyes. It is torment. It is that which draws all tormented souls to you. Fell nodded at my left arm, at my shoulder. The flesh knows it suffers even when the mind has forgotten. And so you wear the rune always.
I scratched my shoulder idly. It had suddenly felt very itchy, the mark unwelcome. "You say you've met me before, Fell... do you know how I died?"
For a moment Fell did not respond... then slowly, menacingly, three symbols materialized above his head, each of them casting a long shadow. Shadows.
The three symbols swirled about each other, each leaving a faint black misty trail about them. They took on a ragged edge, like teeth and talons and multiplied... where there were three, there became nine, nine became twenty-seven, until the room was a swarm of shadows. Many shadows. They streamed from the darkness, swarmed you, then left you to die.
Dak'kon touched the hilt of his blade while Morte's teeth chittered.
"Uh- ch-chief? Maybe we should leave..."
I faced Fell. "Why? Why did they kill me?"
The shadowed symbols swirled into one, then dissolved to be replaced with a simple symbol. I do not know.
After we regained our nerves we browsed the store, eyeing scraps of flesh carefully etched with black patterns and symbols. Looking at them with the eye of a mage, I noticed they thrummed with power: a resonance to them that distinguished the symbols from your everyday tattoo. One was the mark of a warrior, granting greater strength. Another was a symbol that granted insight. Yet others told tales as bards would gathered about a fire.
As I explored the store, Fell patiently sorted his parchments, setting them here and there knowingly even if there was no apparent pattern to his actions.
Curious with the enigmatic creature, I took the opportunity to brush past the curtain into the back room.
I wish I hadn't.
Long frames stretched out and laid against the walls adorned the room, with human skins stretched across like leather being tanned. Scrawled across the torn and distended flesh were tattoos, artful designs that seemed to tell a dozen stories of triumph and tragedy. Pain and delight. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to know how Fell had collected these.
He stood calmly, watching me as I stumbled back into the main room.
I coughed, embarrssed. "What are those frames in the back room, Fell?"
A caravan of symbols slowly materialized around Fell, one by one. It is my gallery. Your discarded skins are my canvas. I admire you. I am saddened for you.
I shuddered at the thought of all those pelts. Were they mine or was Fell exaggerating? I didn't want to know. "Saddened for me? Why?"
Another train of symbols formed around Fell, this time forming a circle. The mark of torment lies upon your flesh. Tragedies and loss have built themselves upon it, like stones upon a foundation. You have endured great pain.
"What do you mean?"
A long string of rebuses appeared above Fell's head, then surrounded his arms like manacles. I admire you because you have never surrendered to the weight of these losses, despite the fact their chains hang on you still.
A string of rebuses coalesced yet again, then drifted down, covering the dabus like a cloak. These losses blanket this life and all of your past ones. You shed lives like a molting serpent. You are exploring the infinite paths of life.
More rebuses appeared, then fell suddenly to the floor, streaming out behind him like a shadow. Take with you this warning: each of your lives casts a shadow on existence. You must travel to a place where these shadows have gone mad and regrets have scarred the earth.
Deionarra's words echoed as if they were freshly spoken from her ethereal lips. "You shall come to a prison built of regrets and sorrow, where the shadows themselves have gone mad. There you will be asked to make a terrible sacrifice, my Love. For the matter to be laid to rest, you must destroy that which keeps you alive and be immortal no longer."
"Is there anything else you can tell me?"
A brief series of paper thin rebuses appeared in an orderly row next to Fell, then vanished into glowing motes. Do not sign anything.
I nodded. "Very well."
Another series of rebuses appeared, forming a spiral -- they had the texture of a question about them. Do you feel complete?
I closed my eyes, searching deep inside me, caressing that scar that had been cut deeper than any of the marks that tickled my flesh. "I... don't. In fact, ever since I woke up in the Mortuary, I feel like something's... missing. Something inside."
Fell nodded, and a series of symbols materialized in a halo around him. You are strong. Keep faith, and you shall become whole again.
We poked about his wares a little longer, purchased a few that looked useful, and eagerly left.
"Chief, I say this with all sincerity I can muster, but we really really should leave that goat-faced berk alone." He looked over the fresh tattoos on our arms. "I've never been happier over the fact that I don't have skin."
Dak'kon shook his head as we walked, "This Fell knows you in ways you do not. He would be a most useful ally. His knowing will complete yours."
I looked back over my shoulder. "I have to agree with Dak'kon on this one, Morte. Fell knows something about my past... it's something I need. Maybe if I talk to him I might remember something."
Morte shook his head, muttering. There was almost no humor in his voice. "There's a reason the guy has to open up shop in this dingy corner of the Hive, chief. There's a reason he doesn't float like those other piking hornheads do."
Part of me was surprised we hadn't been accosted by thugs yet again by the time we made it to the arch that Norochj had told us about. I took a deep breath, drew a circle around my heart as he instructed, and with a whoosh of air the space in front of us warped, twisted on itself in a spiral of blue with motes of silver dust. A cold breeze blew from the portal. The other side was dim as a tomb.
I stepped through cautiously even as Morte and Dak'kon comfortably went in. After hearing Ingress' story, I was wary of such doors in space, where shades and fire, frost and teeth could meet me on the other side. The portal snapped shut behind me.
The air inside was stale, the dusty scent of age ripe in the air. Where there should have been an eerie, uncomfortable silence, in the distance there was a rhythmic yet irregular creaking, as if creatures were wandering through this mausoleum with mindless purpose. Ignoring my own heavy breaths and the heavy beating of my heart in my ears, in the darkness I could hear the rattle of bones and the shuffles and scrapes of things dragging against metal.
The dead were walking.
Before we could take another step, a spectral figure materialized from the gloom of the passageway ahead and quickly moved to block our path. It floated before us, its once human features twisted in a mask of rage. "Defilers! Leave this place at once!"
I quelled my shock, and after a moment extended a polite hand. "Greetings."
"Leave now!" Its booming voice echoed down the halls. "This place is forbidden to the living. Leave while you still can."
I looked beyond him into the passage ahead. "I have some questions first..."
Its pale face twisted into a snarl. "Seek your answers elsewhere. This place is a sanctuary for the dead. I shall not permit their slumber to be disturbed by the intrusion of yet another insolent mortal!"
"Another?" This must've been the source of the disturbed dead. "Has someone else been here?"
The spirit grumbled. "If you must know... yes, there is another intruder who, even now, continues to violate the sanctity of these hallowed halls." The anger in the spirit's voice faded. He seemed somewhat saddened by the admission. "The souls of my brothers and sisters cry out for peace."
"Who is this other intruder?"
"He is an evil coward who wields great power over the dead. He seeks something within these halls... what it might be or what his purpose is in seeking it, I cannot say."
I looked the ghost up and down. He was some sort of guardian, after all. "Why don't you drive this intruder away?"
The spectre shook his head. "I cannot. The coward has sealed himself within the inner chamber of the Mausoleum. He has erected powerful wards that bar my entrance into the chamber. It is from there that he calls upon his dark arts to awaken my brethren and bends them to his evil will."
I smirked. "Sounds to me like you need the help of one intruder to get rid of another."
The spirit remained silent for several long moments. I could almost feel the weight of his lifeless gaze upon me. "Yes... you might prevail where I have failed. If you will pledge to rid me of this blackguard, I shall grant you passage. What say you?"
I nodded. "I'll do it."
"So be it." The spirit slowly began to fade, until only the echoing of its disembodied voice remained. "But take heed... tread lightly in these halls, lest you join the others in eternal rest."
The floors and walls of the mausoleum were plated with metal, laid out as if they replaced wooden boards. Subconsciously I stepped firmly on each broad slab, avoiding the cracks that separated one plate from the other. Now and again I felt them shift. They clattered hollowly beneath our boots, when it came to me.
These plates were the covers of metal lockers that held the bodies of the dead. We were walking on their graves.
There was a click, and the panel I stepped on sank half an inch into the floor.
I looked up to see a bright flash of light darting out from the shadows, a scintillating orb of color that spiraled towards me with a whine. It gave off flecks of light as it flew. Bolts of pain lanced through my body when it struck me, electric sparks that set nerves through my belly afire as the chromatic orb's arcane energies were released into my flesh.
I cried out in shock. Morte and Dak'kon paused. When I started breathing again, the halls were eerily silent.
And then the rattling ahead resumed, steadier than before as if those bones now creaked with purpose.
The wandering dead were clumsy, but possessed with a ferocity and stamina that no living creature could match. They creaked and rattled as they fought, my dagger nearly useless against their meatless bones. Morte cracked against their bodies with his own skull, while Dak'kon's zerth blade clashed against the dry skeletons. I grappled when I could, twisted and broke spines. A twist of my wrist snapped the leg bone from a fallen skeleton, and swinging it as a club I helped bring a second death to another.
Blade clashed against bone as we proceeded down the dimly-lit passages, scattering ivory shards that clattered on metal. One by one the undead fell, lifeless once again. I took the front line, soaking the damage like a sponge as their clubs and rusted axes fell while Morte and Dak'kon hacked away. The things were weak, their strikes like drops of water against stone. But still the rain of their clumsy blows wore me down.
Around one corner, though, the clanking of metal heralded a whole new danger.
The giant skeleton lumbered towards us in heavy armor, rusted and yellow with age. The enormous blade it wielded could have come up to my neck if set on its tip. The bones had been warped and lengthened by the necromancer's foul magics, grown to an immense size so that it towered over all of us.
Immediately I thrust my hand outwards, crying out the words of power that triggered the spell I had prepared. An orb of flashing eldritch light, begemmed with all the hues of the rainbow, darted from my fingertips and struck the skeleton. It punched through the armor, searing the creature to its ribs as Dak'kon leapt into the fray and Morte swung around and attacked from behind.
We strode down those halls for hours, bringing final rest to the walking dead. Dak'kon's own sorcery clashed against our foes. With chants in an arcane and alien tongue he unleashed bolts of fury that shattered whatever they struck so that the rain of bone shards had become a familiar patter. Careless footsteps triggered the magical wards that protected the mausoleum. Now and again I had to rest and wait as the wounds knit back together, laying fresh new scars over the old.
Dak'kon was a quiet companion for the most part, but some small talk loosened his tongue while we rested.
"My past is not known to you. It is not my will that you should know it," he had said.
"Know that I bear the scars of one who has travelled the Planes. Know that I have never rested long in any one place. Know that I bear the weight of one who has travelled far to be in this place.
"Know that I am a Githzerai. Know that I am of the people of Zerthimon.
"It was Zerthimon who knew the Githzerai before we knew ourselves. He knew what had to be done to free us. From his knowing, came action. From his knowing, freedom was born. The Githzerai ceased to be slaves and became a people.
"Know that I follow the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon. His words are known to me. His heart is known to me.
"All that remains is that I know myself."
What a sociable guy.
By the time we reached the gates to the heart of the mausoleum, we had downed a good portion of our precious clot charms, the crystallized blood dissolving on our tongues sent chills through us as the magic did its work, stemming the flow of blood in our many wounds and renewing our battered bodies.
In the center of the chamber was a mid-sized man in long robes of deep black. His hair was neatly coifed and an impeccably trimmed goatee complimented his handsome features. Looking up at my arrival, he put down the book he was writing in and strode confidently over to face us, smiling. "Impressive... I must admit, I never thought you would make it this far."
I unsheathed my dagger. At least now there was something I could stab. "I'm glad to have disappointed you... are you the one responsible for all the walking dead?"
He chuckled and waved a hand dismissively. "Who I am is of no consequence to you. What I want is the question that should concern you most." As he spoke, he looked me up and down, as if somehow fascinated.
"Very well... what do you want?"
He took a step back and cocked an eyebrow. "I want... your blood."
I stared for a moment before speaking again. "Is that some kind of threat?"
The man started to answer, but stopped himself abruptly. An evil smile spread across his face and he began to laugh. "Yes... I suppose it is." He continued to laugh even harder at his own private joke. His hands had begun to move at his sides. Slowly, they flitted back and forth, tracing intricate patterns in the air.
Another time I would've been mesmerized by the complexities of the spell he wove, wondering if I could have learned them myself. But instinct spurred me on and with a flick of my fingers and a cry, a chromatic orb bloomed from my fingertips and struck the necromancer in the chest. He stumbled backwards in shock as the skeletons surrounding the room closed in.
"A mageling!" he said, awed, and his hands began to move in greater desperation, not expecting this twist.
"Sorry, Morte!" I cried, and with that I grabbed him and tossed him past the clattering skeletons. He cursed as he flew, cracking against the nercomancer's nose as Dak'kon and I took care of the skeletons with brutish force.
While my body took the blows from the skeletons, Dak'kon sliced apart one skeleton after another. I threw bolts of force at the wizard as Morte buzzed about, nipping and tearing at his black robe, drawing blood with Ingress' fierce, chittering teeth.
One final chromatic orb blew through the wizard's chest just as my magic was running thin, and as he collapsed with a croak, the magics that held together the skeletons surrounding us faded. Bones clattered and rags fluttered as they fell, sending up clouds of ancient dust.
Easier than I expected.
I rifled through the man's body, trying to find some evidence of who he was and what he was doing here. A few trinkets he carried looked useful, brimming with magic. But the musty tome he was writing in chilled my blood.
I would have to be more careful.
As we stepped into the corridor, the guardian spirit materialized before us. Its ghostly countenance regarded us benevolently. "I thank you. You have done me a great service. The spirits of my charges sleep quietly once again. Go in peace... friend." The apparition faded away, leaving us alone in the deserted halls of the Mausoleum.
"All in a day's work."