Part 30: Journal of The Nameless One: Part 25Journal of The Nameless One: Part 25
When I next saw Norochj he was pulling at one of his spikes of hair and using it to scratch a spot on his face. I couldn't help but think he'd look a lot better with dreadlocks.
I tossed the necromancer's journal down on the table. "I found out what was going on in the mausoleum. The dead sleep again."
He flipped through it, scanning the more recent pages momentarily. Norochj's lines of worry smoothed out. "Thanks give I." He reached into his robes and drew forth a small bag, which he handed to me. "Copper coin. Twice a hundred."
I nodded and turned to leave when I spied a young Dustman, hidden in the corner of the bar. There was a bleak expression on his face, something deeper than the grim, mournful gaze that Dustmen wore constantly. The boy seemed on the brink of breaking under the weight of his despair, with stubble on his chin and dark circles beneath his eyes. He stared at the wall with a somber expression.
I walked up to him. "Greetings."
The Dustman didn't look up. He stared straight ahead, as if he was seeing something several leagues beyond the walls of the bar.
"Are you all right?"
The Dustman didn't respond. He simply continued staring into the distance.
"All rightie then..." Morte hissed. "Let's go, chief. This Dustie might as well be fertilizer."
I sighed. "Fair enough. Let's get out of here."
As I turned to leave, the Dustman suddenly spoke, his voice barely a murmur -- I had to strain to hear the words. I thought he'd said something about wanting to die.
"What did you say?"
The boy's expression didn't flicker. "Do you want to die?"
I mulled it over a moment. "No. Do you?"
"Yes..." He studied me. "Why do you want to live?"
"There are certain questions I need answered about my life before I am willing to surrender it. I want to find out who I am."
The Dustman listened silently. After I spoke, he didn't respond, merely watched me. He looked like he was thinking.
I took a chair next to him. "Do you want to die? Is that why you asked?"
His gaze slowly slid over to meet mine. "Yes."
"Why do you want to die?"
"This existence... this existence is a mockery of life. I do not wish to continue the charade any longer." His face wrinkled in disgust. "Why would anyone wish to remain in this foul city in the center of a multiverse that feeds on pain and hatred? Death... is silent... comforting."
Apparently he'd never tried Gar-Bar root. "Then why haven't you killed yourself already?"
"I have been looking for a means to end my life. Will you kill me?"
My eyebrows furrowed. "No. If you lack the conviction to kill yourself, I'm not going to do it for you."
"It is not a matter of conviction..."
In the distance, I noticed Dak'kon had ordered a cup of that horrid, tepid tea. He sipped it thoughtfully. "It must be another matter, then. So I ask you: what is it about living that drives you to hate it? Surely living cannot be as bad as you make it out to be."
"This is living?" The Dustman bared his teeth, and his hands clenched. "This existence... this existence is a mockery of life. I do not wish to continue the charade any longer. Death is silent... comforting."
"Maybe after the first death," I grumbled, but immediately wished I could take it back.
The Dustman blinked, then sneered. "The first death? What, were you resurrected?"
"Resurrected... brought back to life... the magic required is indeed powerful."
My hand twitched. I knew I had the weight of countless deaths pressed upon me, so many that I knew the border between life and death well. I knew how I could cull the slightest spark back into a cold body. I mulled it over. "Who would be capable of such power?"
"A powerful sorcerer or priest... or one of the Powers... but not anyone I know." He frowned and waved a hand dismissively. "And I don't believe you know of anyone of that sort, either."
I scowled. If this whelp was going to waste his life like this- "You don't believe I can die? Try and kill me then. See what happens."
He looked at me skeptically. "Nay, I think not, even if I felt the urge to do so."
I stood up stiffly. "Then I shall force you to watch me: I'll show you what death holds." I placed my hands around my head.
"What... do you mean?" He looked like he wanted to turn away but couldn't. "You can't seriously..."
I barely felt the snap as I broke my own neck.
Quick. Painless. I was glad so many I sent to the black embrace had so easy a trip.
My vision slowly returned... my death felt different this time. As the dull colors of the bar swam in my eyes, I noticed the boy standing above me... he looked horrified and fascinated. He had propped me into the chair, and was looking apprehensively at the other bar patrons... they didn't appear to have noticed or had mistaken me for a drunk.
"Convinced now?" I groaned. Man, that left a real crick in my neck.
"Are..." he swallowed hard, "are you one of the walking dead?"
"No." I rumbled, still dizzy.
"Then what are you?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. But I die and am reborn."
"Yet... you still think, you still feel?"
My breath rattled in my throat as I put a hand against my chest. "Yes, but there... there is a hollowness. Something is missing, and it eats at you, never leaves you at peace." Speaking of it sent chills down my spine.
"To be dead... and still think and feel?! Will misery never leave a body be?" The thought seemed to horrify him. "Even death is no release."
I nodded, then twisted my head back and forth. With a satisfying pop, that annoying pressure in my vertebrae was gone. "Indeed. Perhaps you should not be so quick to abandon this life before knowing what the next life holds for you."
The boy stared at me. "You were speaking truthfully." He looked at me in amazement. "What is there? What did you see on the other side?"
I shivered to think about it. "I will not speak of that place to anyone. I have said too much already."
He grew more insistent. "You must tell me! I must know!"
I stood up, pushing the chair aside. "I will tell you nothing."
"You must tell me!" He clenched his fist. "What would you ask of me?!"
"I would ask you to live."
"You mock me, sir. You make a fool of my questions..." his eyes grew watery, and bitter tears trickled down his worn face.
"You are the fool to want to throw away your life so carelessly. It insults the dead, and it insults the living." Dak'kon was staring now. Perhaps he saw me kill myself for the first time. Ah, well. He had to learn sooner or later. Morte seemed worried.
"Speak what you saw! What is the True Death?! What did you see there?" His voice grew louder and more insistent, so much so that surrounding Dustmen turned their heads. Perhaps there was no ward of silence after all, or that it was limited.
I ignored their piercing stares. "Very well." Reaching into the depths of my memory, I culled the vision of the lands of the dead back into being- the nothing-place that lay between this world and the next. It was like remembering a half-forgotten dream perhaps: faded, obscure. But once I gripped the smallest detail, the rest burst forth in its full horror like the rolling tides. "I lay on an island adrift upon an ocean of great darkness. The island was formed of shadowed stones... but the stones were not stones, for they murmured and whispered to me in a speech I could not understand. There was no silence there, no comfort, and the chill burrows beneath the flesh and sinks into the bone."
"There is no difference..." He looked down at the floor and chewed his lips with a strange expression. "Beyond the shadow of this existence, more misery awaits. There is no oblivion, no cleansing... nothing changes. The Planes rotate... and nothing ever changes."
"Except you. You can still change."
He scoffed. "Nay, I have tried. Repeatedly."
"If you believe that, then it will be true."
"It is more than belief, it is reality." His gaze turned dark. "Have you seen this city? It rots, and everything within it rots with it... there is no hope, nothing to strive for. Everything is stained with darkness and shadow."
I looked around the bar watching everyone else sipping tea or meditating peacefully. "What about your beliefs as a Dustman? Isn't that a worthy enough goal?"
He nodded. "The Dustman philosophy is a worthy goal. Else I would not have become a Dustman."
"Then why not make the beliefs of the Dustmen your focus? Perhaps this is a life of pain and misery, but if you focus on your beliefs and that which is of value to you, they shall help you work past it."
"Perhaps..." He considered what I had said. "Perhaps you are right. But... sometimes it is hard to ignore the pain of this life. How should I deal with it?"
"Simply try to live as best you can. Use this life, no matter how painful, as an opportunity. You are young. Perhaps seeing more of this life will kill your eagerness for death."
The boy fell silent, thinking. Eventually, he turned back up to me. "Your words carry weight, sir... and a fresh perspective. I will do as you have said."
I nodded. "That is all I ask... live, grow old, and learn. Farewell."
With money, spells, and a little more wisdom in the world, I was ready to continue seeking out Pharod. First though, I had to visit a friend.
"One finds your request most intriguing," Dak'kon mused. "Trees, in the Hive? Like cities, in Limbo. They would stand as a testament to the will of the people not to bow to that which would surround and devour them; to take what has been thrust upon them or left behind and make good of it. I, too, will care for these trees."
Gleefully, Mourns-for-Trees put his fingers to his lips to hide his smile. "Look! Oh, look!" He pointed to the branches, "It's so slight you can carely see it, but look: fresh sap, from the trunk, and a handful of new buds. It's only a matter of time, now. Oh, friend, I thank you again for giving me hope once more."
I had grown to know these streets fairly well after a few days of running errands. Every once in a while, I searched Ragpicker's square for some hint of Pharod's whereabouts, spending one day picking garbage from dawn to dusk. There was nothing there as far as I could tell, but perhaps with three pairs of hands... well, two pairs and one annoying skull, the search would be over much quicker.
I was mulling this over as we walked through the Hive, when an agonized wail caught my attention.
Streams of tears had carved channels down the man's dust-covered face. He looked to be a monk or a holy man of some sort, but the dirt covering his body made it nearly impossible to see the man beneath. He was chanting and rolling his head back and forth -- it looked like some sort of ritual.
I approached him, "Are you all right?"
The man stopped his frenzied chanting and glared at me with his tear-rimmed eyes. He opened his parched mouth to speak, but all he could manage was a withered croak.
I searched my pouch. I knew I had a rag in here that could be used for a handkerchief. "What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
"I..." His voice was so hoarse that it sounded like he had been without water for days. As I watched, a tear trickled down his face. "I... am a Crier of Es-Annon."
I tugged out a scrap of cloth, but it was rough and oil-stained. No good. I sighed and looked up at the man. "Es-Annon? Who is that?"
"Wh... Who is Es-Annon?!" The man threw back his head and gave a rasping laugh; it sounded brutal and defeated. "Es-Annon... it is not a man, but a city!"
"Why do you cry for a city?"
His voice was hoarse. "We cry its name because Es-Annon must not be forgotten. All the Criers of Es-Annon carry this burden."
"You mourn a city? Why do you do such a thing?"
"Because its name is all that remains. Its avenues of light, its great spiraling parks... when it was laid waste and reduced to memory, only three-score of its people survived. It was our duty to see that its name was remembered across the Planes. Many Criers of Es-Annon have died for the sake of remembering... many..."
The man was mad with grief. "If it places you and the others at risk, why don't you stop?"
He shook his head, fat tears crawling down his cheeks even as he spoke. "The tears I shed, the dust that cloaks me... these things are as nothing compared to what awaits should I give up my sacred burden. We MUST see to it that its name is remembered. We are living memorials to its passage."
"If that's so, then what happens if you all die?"
A fresh tear sprang to the Crier's eye. Even his dust-caked face couldn't disguise his look of despair. "I do not KNOW. We Criers of Es-Annon cannot mourn it forever... even now, the dust clings to our robes, the spit dries in our mouths, our bodies wither and die."
"Is there any way I could help you?"
"You are kind to ask..." The Crier shook his head. "Unless you can immortalize Es-Annon, there is no help to be had."
The image of a black stone obelisk sprang to mind, and I faced the Crier with the gleam of an idea in my eyes. "Must it be immortalized by a man? Would a tombstone serve?"
The Crier blinked. "Tomb... stone?"
"It's a stone that records a man's name, his life, and a eulogy. If it serves a man, could it not also serve a city that has died?"
He stared at me a moment, awestruck. "Stones may do such things?"
I nodded. "Yes. And their lifetime is much longer than a man's. If its name was carved on stone, would Es-Annon's memory be served?"
The man paused. "Would others see this name?"
I smiled. "Yes. It would be there for all to see, long after you have died."
The man nodded. "If such a thing were possible..." He turned to me. "Where would one find such a stone?"
"I know of one, I could see to it that Es-Annon's name is carved upon it."
"You... you... would do this? I..." The man's eyes watered up again. "You would be setting all the Criers of Es-Annon free. But a score of us remain... the burden of remembering would be over after so MANY years..."
"I would do so. I will return when the name is carved."
"I'd like to bury a name," I said to Death-of-Names.
He nodded, then unfolded his small hand from where it was cradled on his side. I winced at the sight of the atrophied limb. "Costs jink to bury a name. Three coppers, three."
"Hmmmm.... Es-Annon." I fished into my pouch for the coin.
The coppers fell into Death-of-Name's hand, and he tucked his arm back to his side. His eyes, now suddenly alive, rolled to the back of his head, then snapped forward to begin scanning the monolith and walls of the memorial area with that same inhuman speed before.
He caught sight of a spot on the wall and quickly scuttled over to it, hunching down, beginning to chip at the wall. He stopped a few moments later, hopped up, then returned to me. "Buried." The word had a finality about it that was unsettling.
I ran a hand over the tight little corner of the wall. There, the name white and freshly carved against the stone, was "Es-Annon." A humble mark, but one that would hopefully suffice.
When I returned to the Crier of Es-Annon, he was still emitting choked sobs as he chanted the dead city's name. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. "I have seen to it that Es-Annon's name has been remembered. It lies carved upon the black stone monument outside of the Mortuary."
Suddenly, there was a brief whisper in the air, and the man's eyes dried. One of the tears that ran on his cheek simply vanished. "Then Es-Annon is served. I will tell my fellow Criers of the stone you have described. You have my gratitude."
"It was nothing. Farewell... I hope you and your brothers spend the rest of your days peacefully."
"You know, chief, as much as this gives me a nice tingly feeling in places I've missed for longer than I can remember-"
"I know, I know," I cut him off, watching the monk plod away, standing straight. It was as if a world had been lifted from his shoulders. "It's time to find Pharod."