Part 48: Puzzle-Box of The Nameless One: Part 10Puzzle-Box of The Nameless One: Part 10
The chill air of this chamber pricked my skin. It wasn't merely the way the massive crypt seemed to draw the heat from my flesh, sucking the warmth from my bones. Nor was it merely the blue tiles that cracked like ice under my step. It was something the soulless chill of things best left forgotten, ancient secrets buried away because they were too grim or mad to behold. Across the way and through the arch was a central chamber with a blocky gray sarcophagus at its heart. This was a tomb, for who or what I felt like I should've known.
I gulped upon seeing the skeleton at the side of the entrance. Apparently very few make it very far.
Each sound I made echoed through the vast chamber, rippling the air in razor-edged crescendos that signaled how utterly huge this place was. It was as if a worm had hollowed out a space in the core of Sigil itself, and left it empty when it died.
But most eerie of all was the giant rune gilded into the center of the floor in an unfamiliar, silvery metal. It was the same rune I bore on my shoulder... knife-edged and barbed inward and out as if it were pain betraying itself.
The Rune of Torment.
I explored the gallery, and with my careless steps a bolt of blue light shot out from a corner, cracking against my shoulder and sending me spinning.
Damn. The place was trapped.
Well, it's not like this place could kill me.
A sheet of leather hung from a wall, bat-winged as if it were freshly stripped from a body, head, arms, legs, and tail. The scratchy runes were a little faded with age, but the chill, dry air seemed to have preserved it over the ages.
At last I have you. Never again will you torment me, for no mortal man can escape these walls. Seek the keys and embrace death with each that you find. Only then shall you be free.
Well that's reassuring.
Intending to progress to the next room I headed towards the passage down. Yet foolishly I had stepped onto the seal that was the symbol of my curse, the black mark I was fated to carry with me.
So when it glowed I stood stock-still, paralyzed with the flash. The bolt of lightning cracked down through me like a white-hot whip, frying every muscle and nerve along my spine into a useless puddle of molten flesh. I collapsed, twitching a moment, before the darkness claimed me.
Shifting, I groaned, arching my back to work the kinks out. The renewed flesh itched, and my nerves weren't in proper working order just yet. My whole body was numb and my movements were clumsy, but with a few minutes rest the paralysis faded and I stumbled to my feet.
Best not do that again.
Circling around the rune I continued down the passage.
A simple, straightforward process to get to the next Gods-damned room, so imagine my confusion when the air rippled in front of me. There was no chance to step back, no warning when reality about me seemed to tug at my being and tear me away. I cried out in shock as space itself twisted around me, and I was drawn unwillingly into a portal...
And into another side chamber.
There was only one thing of interest here: the grim sarcophagus of gray stone and copper finishing. Even if each side was a foot thick it was still huge enough to fit two or three bodies within. Barring the Silent King's sanction against graverobbing, part of me didn't relish the thought of cracking open the seals and exposing whatever monstrosity lay within.
By now, however, I was getting over the mortal squeamishness towards pain and death. Looking around I was surrounded by bleak cobbled walls, the only path no doubt another portal.
Seek the keys and embrace death with each that you find. Only then shall you be free...
I pushed the coffin lid aside.
Though thick and heavy, it was lighter than I expected. While I strained and sweated, grunting with each shove the lid steadily moved aside when I threw my weight against it. Stone scraped against stone, and by the time I was left resting at the base of the sarcophagus panting with exhaustion, there was a space wide enough for me to fit an arm through.
Biting my lip, I slid my hand into the darkness.
To my surprise I reached down all the way to meet bare stone. Groping around a little I still felt only empty air. I stood up on my toes, leaning further in to explore deeper.
Finally my fingers bumped against a slim bar of metal, and my fingers curled around it. Pulling it from the stone sarcophagus it looked like a key, but without door or lock in sight I couldn't find much utility for it.
I sighed. I suppose I would have to trust the inscription. If no mortal man could escape, then my immortality must be the way out.
I stepped onto the seal.
As expected, the lightning shot through my body, searing through flesh and bone so that I felt as if I were being split in half.
Yet when I twitched back to wakefulness, I found myself still sprawled over that seal... I was only half-dead from the blow, and the agony and was unbearable.
The smoky smell of my own burnt flesh swirled among the tendrils of smoke, savory enough to make my mouth water, acrid that it made my eyes well up with tears. The foamy bile met my lips before the wave of nausea hit a split-second later and I choked as every nerve along my body burst as if they were afire.
Almost fully paralyzed, I couldn't crawl off the seal. Instead, I slapped the silver-gilded seal weakly, crying out in a hoarse voice.
"Take- me..." I croaked, "Take me!"
And mercifully, the powers above granted my plea and ended my suffering.
When I came to, I was at the entrance once again. In my hand I still gripped the key. Bits of my burnt flesh had been welded to the metal surface.
I rolled it over in my hand as I shook off the residual light-headed feeling of my previous death.
The key seemed vaguely familiar somehow... as I held it I suddenly knew its purpose. Like the keys of Sigil's portals this would allow me to teleport to one of the other inner chambers of the tomb-- but only if used at the entrance corridor.
And the only way to return to the entrance was by the trapped seals. I shelved away the question of how the damn thing worked... dimensional lightning, imps that dragged my corpse back to the entrance, who knew. All I needed right now was to get into the tomb.
I circled around the seal and stepped through the portal.
Once again I was teleported into another room. The key had worked, altering the path of the portal so that I wound up in a new chamber.
I got to work quick. Throwing my weight against the sarcophagus there I sweated, grunted, and urged the lid aside so that I could reach the second key. I was thankful for the respite of my death, though tired as I was by the time I plucked the key from the lightless depths I was not too eager for another.
I sighed and stepped away from the sarcophagus.
Well, we all have to sleep sometime.
It was a mercifully clean death, in that my eyeballs weren't bursting with vitreous humors melting from my sockets. The ache along my spine stiffened my back, and the migraine led me to feel along my head to check if the blast had cracked my skull.
I sat up and stumbled around the seal. Each progressive death in such quick succession left me feeling drained: whether it was my body meeting its limit or the mental fatigue of the task.
I passed through the portal once more, entering what I hoped would be the final room.
Another bout of pushing, grunting, and the lid edged aside. I sat next to the sarcophagus, wondering what Dak'kon and Morte were doing now. They were a mismatch if I ever saw one (and in all honesty, to my memory I hadn't). How long had I been down here and how long had I left them waiting? Morte would be zipping around Dak'kon trying to pester him with one of his well-honed insults as the gith meditated.
The sooner I got this over with, the sooner I could rescue them from each other.
I scrounged the key from the sarcophagus and trudged to the seal and into my fate.
Spreading my arms like a hawk about to take flight, I embraced the spear of light as it sliced through my body.
I stumbled weakly towards the entrance.
Tendrils of smoke curled from my flesh, the only hint of warmth in this cold tomb. My limbs were rubbery. My muscles were weak. The strength was flowing back into my body in a sluggish trickle, and the keys clinked in my loose grip.
I almost didn't notice that I had passed the arch without being teleported once again.
Collapsing on my back I began to laugh. Victory was mine and I was too weak to fully claim it. The chuckles echoed cold and hollow against the walls, taunting me in yet another bitter twist of irony.
Eventually the nausea trickled away and the weakness crumbled from my body. My stomach began to growl and I thought back to the last time I had food... a half-cooked cranium rat and a crust of bread that could've been used to cobble the floors. Softening the damn thing in mildewed water had improved it little.
Strange how you suddenly think of the little things when you're inches from your greatest goal.
I stood over the grand sarcophagus. The workmanship was rigid and alien, and gripped with multiple bronze fingers. There was no moisture to tarnish the metal, but mere age had begun to turn the edges green. The slab covering it was carved with a rigid, utilitarian pattern, and the pedestal the whole thing rested on was inlaid with more bronze and gray-brown stone.
I strained trying to open the sarcophagus lid, but my efforts were in vain. It was locked firmly in place.
With a sigh I leaned against the slab momentarily, when a thought struck me. I leapt to my feet.
The Runes of Torment. The strange feeling that I knew this place and its workings.
This was my own tomb, built by my own hand.
Memories of Torment (Music)
I looked around.
Hung along the walls were slabs of stone, white underneath but rust-stained as if they were ancient blood-soaked shrouds. The inscriptions were written in a style identical to my own hand, but the words were foreign. The runes inscribed were calm and determined in some places, frantically scrawled in others, like the words of a madman who knew not who he was and whose moods were as mercurial as his memories.
Was this… my original journal?
I began to read.
There is nothing that can be done. Memories are gone, perhaps never to return. With every death I lose a part of me.
How can one be immortal and still die?
He told me that my mind is weakening with every death. I asked him how this could be, but he could not answer. He was of no use. I butchered him so that no other incarnation would ever benefit from his uselessness.
I ran my hand over the inscription. The runes were mine, but the brutality behind the words wasn't in my own heart. Who was I? Who am I?
Upon closer inspection though I believed the panel could recess into the wall. I pushed it, and the panel glided into the wall. A click emanated from the sarcophagus behind me.
I have lost lifetimes because of my killer. I cannot deceive him, so I must kill him. I tried to throw him off the scent. I left false bodies, tailored in such a way to placate him. I roamed the most outer planes, hoping to use distance as a shield. I built this tomb filled with traps to try and kill the killer. I hid.
All I bought was time. The attacks inevitably begin again, with more fury than before. Deceptions are useless. Somehow, the killer always knows that I live. And no matter where on the planes I hide, he finds me... eventually.
Another inscription, another panel. It slid smoothly into the wall.
So they said - You have been divided. You are one of many men. You bear many names, and each has left their scars on your flesh.
LOST ONE... IMMORTAL ONE... INCARNATION'S END... MAN OF A THOUSAND DEATHS... THE ONE DOOMED TO LIFE... RESTLESS ONE... ONE OF MANY... THE ONE WHOM LIFE HOLDS PRISONER... THE BRINGER OF SHADOWS... THE WOUNDED ONE... MISERY-BRINGER... YEMETH...
I grow weary.
Fear names. Names have power in identity. Others can use names as weapons. Names are a hook that can be used to track you across the planes. Remain nameless, and you shall be safe.
I am the Nameless One.
The panel was beautifully constructed, and slid without a whisper of a sound, save for the lock opening on the sarcophagus behind me.
What little life there is in the world is draining out this hole in my body. The world can burn, the planes can burn, just give me life! I will destroy this life so badly, break it, smash it, and stain it in blood and feces, so you cannot live it either! Let all creation burn for I cannot die!
I pushed the panel.
It is extremely important to record your journeys so that you might learn from them. The greater need, however, is that the sources of information you use to uncover this mystery need to be protected when they are found. If key figures, documents or oracles are somehow removed, either by death or destruction, then you will never know who or what you are or how you came to be this way.
The craftsmanship of the panel was exquisite, inset with the precision that only a master could achieve.
I suspect that we will continue to die and be reborn until we finally get our life right. I do not know what we have to do to bring that about, though. And therein lies the frustration.
Is it some sort of karmic cycle? As I gather, some incarnations have committed terrible crimes but also there have been a number of incarnations where we have labored to do nothing but good. Are these incarnations intended as punishment? I don't know. And that is the only real truth I can offer in these carvings: I do not know.
At what point does the I get separated from the we? At what point am I freed of the shackles of the actions of these other incarnations? At what point am I allowed to be *me,* without the weight of these past lives?
The final inscription looked like the directions on my back that Morte read to me in the Mortuary. While I thought I gleaned all I needed to know, I looked it over to refresh my memory. Perhaps more can be gleaned from a direct reading.
I know you feel like you've been drinking a few kegs of Styx wash, but you need to CENTER yourself. Among your possessions is a JOURNAL that'll shed some light on the dark of the matter. PHAROD can fill you in on the rest of the chant, if he's not in the dead-book already.
Don't lose the journal or we'll be up the Styx again. And whatever you do, DO NOT tell anyone WHO you are or WHAT happens to you, or they'll put you on a quick pilgrimage to the crematorium. Do what I tell you: READ the journal, then FIND Pharod.
To my surprise, there was one more line - one that Morte didn't read to me in the Mortuary:
'Don't trust the skull.'
I stood, my head spinning, made worse by the residual headache from so many deaths.
"Hey, chief. You okay? You playing corpse or you putting the blinds on the Dusties? I thought you were a deader for sure."
"Eeeeh... I don't trust the gith. We should leave him behind."
"What's eating you, chief?"
"You and me, chief. You and me."
Reaching around, I ran a finger along my back where the inscription probably was. I had to fight down the sudden urge to take a dagger and slice off my skin in sheets so I could see for myself. In my fury and confusion I snarled, punching the panel so it withdrew.
I had more important things to focus on, I thought. I could deal with such problems later. For now, I needed to focus on what was in front of me. I needed to see what I had to die three times for.
Don't trust the skull.
The sarcophagus lid slid open with ease, unlike the others... I discovered only a single key lying within: no body, nothing of worth.
"Well that's damn disappointing," I grumbled and snatched it up.
Walking through the arch once again I wasn't surprised when the key thrummed in my hand and I was warped to one final chamber. A large square chest stood in the center of the small room, and opening it I finally found a worthy stash of goods, no doubt sequestered here by a past incarnation waiting for a new one who needed these tools.
Finally. I happily helped myself.
When I was done looting a final portal opened up. Deep down I knew this would take me back to the catacombs where Morte and Dak'kon were hopefully still waiting. I would come back richer in supplies, seared with a few new scars, and troubled by the dark revelations of my tomb.
Dak'kon turned as I approached, his eyes like polished coal. "It was known to me you would return. Is it your will that our two paths become one?"
"Yes. I need your aid, Dak'kon. I hope I didn't keep you guys waiting too long."
He shook his head, "Your path is mine."
Morte chirped, glad to see me again, "Whew. I was worried, but I knew you'd be back, chief! Finally realized you needed me, huh?"
"Yeah... let's go."
"I tell ya, chief. I'm not letting you go this alone anymore. I mean let's be honest, without a mimir like me around to give you the dark of things you would've been dead ten times over. I'll be hanging around until you learn to live off of the apron strings, but until then we're stuck skull-to-skill. Bestest buddies we are, Morte and... well, we'll call you something eventually. After all, big scary place like this it's just about impossible to find real friends..."