For two days I walked among the dead.
Their city had no name, though there are several districts. Woe, Wailing, Fire, were the more palatable labels; Aaru and Duat being names with which I was unfamiliar. They were deserted places, though comprised of distinct cultures and architectures. Some were classical structures, other more elaborate and baroque; some utilize straight lines, others domes. These districts were vast and seemingly endless.
I spent some time in the district of Woe, where there seemed, ironically, to be large numbers of healthy specimens of the dead. Ragged clothes were washed and strung up to dry, draped over lines that extended betwixt high, grey-stone walls – it appeared that even the dead had codes of etiquette and cleanliness. There were crude irens that traded in colourless gemstones, faded metals and dreary items of Art; though I had not found anything that resembled a market in food, a common centre-point of surface world cities, and there were no bistros either. Thus the dead congregated around places of entertainment: crude board games, or impromptu poetry recitals.
Experimentally, I tried summoning Frater Mercury just the once down there, but was unsuccessful. The necessary elements in the text, or possibly even speech, simply did not work. As I suspected, in my very last transmission to him, in the real world, I must raise the other copy of the book to the surface, and there I shall continue my rituals.
What might I unleash when I summon him here? I often wonder. Still, if indeed creations are spilling into our own world, then it can only be a good thing to bring him back for our defence. I can see evidence in everything else he has done or said, enough to allow me to have faith in the things I cannot see.
The underworld beneath Villjamur does indeed fit with Jorsalir descriptions, what little there is, though the state of one’s soul after death is a complex business. There are hell realms, of course, where we are said to go if our lives have been conducted in an unfulfilling manner. There are realms of gods and demigods, who are said to bicker and fight constantly over status, wealth and power. But the dead here were in limbo, so it is said, souls who were trapped. Yet, they were not in stasis.
For instance, they were very helpful in my search. It seemed that several of them were utterly bored and my predicament gave meaning to their lives, a way to spend their endless days. I was, I suspected, of great amusement to them.
Whenever I managed to communicate with Frater Mercury, and I sought the precise location of the tome, he spoke only of the ‘House of the Dead’ and ‘artificial realities’ and up until now I thought that it meant the underworld, where the dead roam free, but what if he meant something else: a specific location. A house, indeed, within the house.
I spoke to some of the locals about this ‘House of the Dead’. I questioned them, but was met only with silence, faces that responded as if I was barely even there – as if I was the ghost.
Perhaps, I thought to myself, libraries were houses of the dead, with voices speaking from beyond the grave, throughout the centuries. I, too, know that when I am gone these words will linger.
Aker has enlisted Pana and Ran, two frail-looking fellows with strange gaits, and who seemed more insane than useful, to help my search. They sauntered off throughout the Unnamed City to locate any libraries in which the other copy of The Book of Transformations may reside.
But there were great challenges. We knew that there are obstacles, buildings in which there are traps that even the dead fear. Why? I did not know – they seemed ethereal things that could even ensnare spirits. The dead did not fear dying – they feared only an eternity of nothingness.
I felt certain that the agents of the church could not hunt me down. They did not know what I was doing, but were merely trying to stop my knowledge from reaching far places, though of course it was too late. The church had propped up their own myths and I could wait no longer.
Back in Villjamur, it was still daylight and I breathed the air of the living. Only when I returned did I realize how oppressive it is to walk among them, the countless faces that have died through the ages. I became mindful of life. Even in a troubled city such as Villjamur, I realized there was much to be appreciated.
Stand still and look around. Be conscious of one’s breathing. Come back to oneself and new worlds are revealed: the smile on a young child as it picked up a tundra flower growing between two cobbles; two old men contentedly watching the world go by; a girl handing her lover a cake she had just purchased from the bakery.
Sometimes I felt I was ignoring real beauty.
My room had been ransacked! What little belongings I carried were cast about the floor. Lanterns lay on their sides, books sat open on the bed – clearly someone had been reading these, though there was nothing too sacred. After a quick analysis, nothing of value had been taken.
By the door were two scratches in the wood, not caused by a sword, nor as a result of the door being kicked open. Creatures had clearly found my whereabouts.
Was I being watched still? I will need the investigator’s protection more than I thou—