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Cogwheel
2010-05-10, 11:41 AM
Just something to hopefully amuse the community with, if only because you get to point and laugh at my absolutely terrible writing :smalltongue:

A name? Pointless, but if you insist.

Mask. Not a taken name. Given. Hardly a name at all, but a description, and an adequate one. Unlike many, if I must be seen, I hide. Behind a mask, a disguise, for my convenience. They called me Merciful Mask, sometimes.

As luck would have it, I received the first call in some time. Longer than I care to remember, but not long enough. Nothing in the world can stop me from answering it – briefly humbling, in a way – but nothing forces me to act in any way once I arrive.

If nothing else, the journey will show me a few unfamiliar stars. I will record anything worth noting – very little indeed – in this “journal”. A strange but interesting practice from one of my recent... visits. “When in Rome”, as the people of that place put it.

-Mask

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As luck would have it, I've been sent. Some village... Crowmeet, was it? Some backwater, anyway.

Oh, if anyone happens to find this journal, do return it to me. You will find my address on the back, and I'm sure some sort of finder's fee can be arranged. Just ask for Gilbert Reed.

Now then, Crowmeet. I can't imagine why a village would be completely unheard from for over a month, but frankly, I care for the reasons as much as my employers do: Very little. Ride in, collect the usual taxes, ride out. A place can be as silent as it wants, as long as it pays up.

Of course, they don't take too kindly to this, often. I've been chased out more times than I care to count, and the same goes for having my horse stolen. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would consider attacking the tax collector a permanent solution, but there you go.

Well, my borrowed horse seems to have recovered – I would have exchanged it for a new one if I were anywhere near civilization – and now I have rain to deal with instead. Never a pleasant moment. At least Crowmeet can't be too far away

-Gilbert

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Crowmeet is odd. Odd, and somewhat unnerving. In a word, it's empty. Utterly empty. Not a single living creature, human or animal, except the occasional crow here and there, staring at me. I suppose I seem out of place to them.

Oddly enough, Crowmeet has an inn. Actual rooms, as if anyone would want to stay here. I have claimed one of the rooms for the moment – someone can be paid as soon as they care to show themselves, I'm sure – and frankly, I need somewhere to stay.

The village is, well... not entirely empty. I think. I've heard a few indistinct sounds here and there, seen a little movement on the edge of my vision. Between the rain and my sleep deprivation, it's not easy to trust anything like this. Still, it wouldn't be the first time I was ambushed. Honestly, I don't see why my job has to be so dangerous.

At any rate, I think I will sleep lightly tonight. I have a sword within reach, if needed. Practically ornamental, unfortunately, since I haven't the slightest idea of how to use it. Still, it should look reasonably intimidating.

On second thought, I think I may help myself to a knife from downstairs. I'm in no hurry to compromise my safety.

I'll leave it at that for now. While the story is complete, I want to know if I should post any more of it this stuff is too terrible for the forums >_> Thoughts?

Normerra
2010-05-10, 01:50 PM
Nice! I think you write in very interesting way. I was little frightened and worried about the Mask when he (she? it? :D) was in that Crowmeet.. And I guess that's how it's supposed to be, eh? How many stories and those kinda stuff have you write? Being you, I'd continue, maybe you'll end up like a famous writer.

this stuff is too terrible for the forums
I don't know what you mean. It's - honestly - great. Go and write another part. I mean it. :D

FoE
2010-05-10, 02:13 PM
It's intriguing. I'm willing to read more if you're willing to post it.

Cogwheel
2010-05-10, 02:16 PM
Nice! I think you write in very interesting way. I was little frightened and worried about the Mask when he (she? it? :D) was in that Crowmeet.. And I guess that's how it's supposed to be, eh? How many stories and those kinda stuff have you write? Being you, I'd continue, maybe you'll end up like a famous writer.

I don't know what you mean. It's - honestly - great. Go and write another part. I mean it. :D

First, Mask is a very different character. And, in case it wasn't clear, currently in space, not Crowmeet.

Second, I write a few, though thus far, I think this is my best, not that that's saying much.

Third, unlikely. Stories are too short and lacking in that "quality" stuff.

Last, thank you, but I can't write another part. I finished the story. Post all the rest, on the other hand...


Incompetence in an enemy is, at times, more infuriating than in anyone else. The one calling me has no more than the faintest grasp of the procedures, even when following instructions, and most likely has even less realization of what exactly they are doing. And yet, they have succeeded in calling me. Irritating.

Having been forced to travel to this world, I have settled into a few activities to fill the moments as they roll past. This journal, stargazing and speculation on this no doubt pointless new world occupies me, at the moment. Strange that I was content to spend every second of freedom doing nothing, and now I find myself scrambling for ways to fill the time while I travel.

I can see it now, still a few days' travel away. A small blue-green dot. Dull, typical, unavoidable.

-Mask

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Another day, another rainy morning. I hate this village already. The inhabitants have yet to show themselves. I would assume that Crowmeet met a recent raid or something similarly unpleasant, but the village as a whole is too... tidy for that to be the answer. Nothing has been disturbed. All of Crowmeet is perfectly untouched and as it should be, but empty.

Somehow, this place is colder than I remember from yesterday. I've helped myself to some of the coal to fuel the fireplace. I have also found that the visions from yesterday, for whatever strange reason, persist. They have been added to as well – I hear sounds now. Growls, whimpers – woodland creatures, no doubt – and snatches of voices every once in a while. Strange.

I no longer trust Crowmeet. I plan to check the village again in a few minutes – the usual procedure of searching, knocking on every door, checking inside one house out of every few, calling out for anyone who may be around, that sort of thing. Perhaps I've missed someone. If no one is here, this entire visit is pointless. Should this be the case, I will be only too glad to leave this place right away.

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It... it's pointless. Pointless to try. No one is here. I tried. I tried to leave, until minutes turned into hours, day to night. Nothing. No matter where I went – along the road, through the woods or anywhere else – the path always took me back to Crowmeet. Always.

That was when I found the note. Hastily scrawled... lost? Discarded? I don't want to speculate. Not in this state. Perhaps the writer attempted to escape too. The handwriting was certainly nervous. Not panicked, no, but nervous. And cryptic.

“It is done. Only three days remain, now. Three days to my atonement. I will pay the price, whatever it might be – the people will return. The past will return with Mask's blessing. Merciful Mask, who will amend my mistakes.”

Merciful Mask, atonement, returning the past... I don't understand a word of it. I no longer want to. Why did I come here? What is Crowmeet?

Why can't I go home?

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My destination is becoming clearer now. Close enough to make out the details. Dull and uninteresting, as ever. I am not sure what to make of the place I am being called to. Some sort of settlement? The size, from the comparisons I can make, seems small. Still, I understand too little of this planet or the ways of its inhabitants to make any real judgments. I do try to study them, on occasion, to learn more. But those are rare moments, when I forget that in the grand scheme of things, these creatures and worlds are pointless. Studying them is, at best, a useless eccentricity.

I may speak to my summoner, this time. They rarely understand, of course, but a shift away from my native language will change that. None of them will understand this “journal”, certainly.

The planet lies ahead, and I had best continue. I admit, finding anything significant to record in this book is becoming difficult.

-Mask

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Little by little, Crowmeet is changing. A mirror that showed my face yesterday now shows stars. Strange stars, none that I have ever seen, dancing in the night sky. My surprise caused me to trip – I tried to steady myself by laying a hand against the glass, but my hand passed through. Seconds later, it appeared from thin air behind me, lifting me into the air with more strength than I ever had. And then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.

Seconds later, I was standing a few steps away from a perfectly normal, intact mirror, with nothing to show for the experience beyond a slight pain in my neck. I thought I saw shards of glass and bleeding on the arm I had put through the mirror, but on a second inspection, it was gone. Was it ever there? Am I going mad?

Will I ever find my way back home? I doubt it. Not unless I somehow discover what exactly is happening here. Discover and deal with it. Why did it have to be me?

Why couldn't it be someone else?

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I don't plan to make the mistake of sleeping. Not any more. I walked into my room to find a bleached wooden mannequin that wasn't there before. Faceless, but talking, somehow, if you can call what it did speech. “Hello,” that was all it said. Over and over. Stumbling towards me like a ragdoll, muttering “hello, hello, hello” while it did its best to pin me to the wall. All the while, its face... changed. Into any number of more familiar pictures – people who couldn't possibly be here.

Speed and luck were all that let me get away from it for long enough to find my borrowed knife. A small cut in the face seemed to deflate the thing – some sort of gas leaked out of the cut, along with a shrill laugh that turned quieter and deeper with every second until it finally stopped. I admit, as soon as it fell away, I closed my eyes. I couldn't bear to look at the doll. When I opened my eyes again, it was gone.

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My influence seems to be causing some changes in the planet below. Unintentional, but I myself am indifferent to it. It is not a matter of ability – while this is a simple side-effect of my presence, there would be no great difficulty in stopping it. The question is an entirely different one – so far, I have seen no reason to make the effort.

My caller is a strange one. Lost in happy self-delusion, for the most part. Much, in fact, like every other summoner I have seen, and a good deal of lesser creatures as a whole. If studying the worlds I visit, even vaguely and in passing, has taught me anything, it is that there is little difference between them.

I have accidentally drifted near this planet's sun for a few hours, practically colliding with it. A minor mistake that cost me a few superficial burns. The diary was recovered by a simple reversal of time, though I do question whether the diary was even worth recovering. I seem to have precious little to say. Perspective can be a poison – sometimes, I envy lesser creatures and their ability to find importance in everything.

-Mask

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The sun was blotted out today. Some massive shape moved in front of it – too irregular to be an eclipse, but I can't begin to imagine what else it might have been. A shadow fell across all of Crowmeet and, I suspect, a great deal more.

The visions are becoming more substantial with every passing moment. One all but robbed me of my consciousness, flooding me with a series of images. A book, with pages carved from hardened tree sap – the amber manuscripts. Somehow, despite never being told the name, I knew it. An indistinct figure, walking, scattering a trail of papers behind him, holding the book. A cave somewhere, most likely a mine, with all manner of strange things scattered about it. Candles and chalks, incense and bonfires.

Then there were stars, and this... thing, flying between them. I saw a flicker of what it might have been, before the vision, in a fit of mercy, showed me something simpler. Something I could understand. A gash, a rip in reality, padded over with a thin veneer of gold leaf. And floating over it, an expressionless, uncaring paper mask. One of these, or possibly all of them, were to blame for whatever happened to Crowmeet. I wish I could think of them as things to avoid and nothing more, but that happy possibility was long gone. If I was ever going to leave this place, I would have to cut a way out myself.

Then came the fifth vision. Doors appearing in thin air, all over Crowmeet, when all this began. Doors opening, hands pulling each and every person through, sparing only one. Doors closing, barred and locked before they vanish entirely. Whatever this thing was, its presence alone all but removed the village's people from this world – I doubt that they were killed, as such, but the difference is, at this point, a technicality.

I encountered new creatures outside, skittering about just out of view, out of reach, and thankfully out of their notice. They... I thought they were spiders, at first. Now, I wish they were. They are much more than that. I can't bring myself to explain this any further.

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My wanderings about the village have brought me to a second note.

“Two more days. In the forest, there are three graves. They watch me. Watch, judge, condemn, blame, as they have every right to. I know they do, just as I know my failure. There was nothing I could have done. There never was. The truth, but weak excuses as well. But now, now I am not helpless. Not any more. Never again. I may not be able to return the past, but Mask can. I have called Him to this place, and He will restore the past. Restore Crowmeet. The people have vanished – a temporary price to pay, and a small one, until the clock is turned back. Mask has almost arrived, to grant me atonement and peace, whatever the price. And yet, one obstacle remains.

And that obstacle, my friend, is you. My invisible follower. The visitor. Like a bloodhound, you follow my every footstep, but only so rarely do you show yourself. Are you like me, hoping Merciful Mask would amend your errors and give you peace? Are you an ally, here to help my cause? Are you another of Mask's angels that fill the village as you read this? Or are you an enemy, here to hinder me for your own selfish goals? I pray for your sake that you are not my enemy.

But enough of talk. Come to the three graves on the morrow, wanderer. Mask will help you to find your way through the forest, I am sure of that. We will determine where you stand once we meet there.

-Nathaniel Weaver”

Do I want to go? No. By the sound of his notes, calling my new correspondent mad would be too charitable. Still, what choice did I have? He had answers. He may have the Amber Manuscripts, and above all I know that I will not be able to leave without the help of that book. I have to meet him. I need to have my answers.



If you are reading this, than here is my answer. I want to go home, no more, no less. Take your cursed village and do as you want with it, but leave me out of your schemes.

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Again, I have been attacked. Again, in my room. A skeleton this time, waxy, half-melted in appearance, dancing around me, not running in circles as much as disappearing and appearing again, moving instantly from spot to spot, moving in rings around me. When I tried to run, so did it, only to shriek and claw at one of the beams. Somehow, the beam snapped in half, toppling over and smashing through the floor, knocking out another support. Within seconds, the whole structure came tumbling down, crushing me under the falling roof. For the second time in as many days, I thought I was dead. Again, my vision, as well as consciousness, left me.

And then I was here again, sitting in my untouched room, staring ahead blankly. Have I gone mad, or is it the world?

I hear more than whispers, now. There is music, wherever it might be coming from. Quiet, tuneless, and not from any instrument I recognize. If anything, it seems to be intentionally played poorly, letting out a scratchy, slow music made to be offensive to the ear.

I have gathered up the few tools I can, using them to board up the window in my room and put a padlock on the door. Security? Not by a long shot, not when the things seem to just materialize in the room. But it will help me to survive until dawn. The scratching, croaking and growling outside is sure to keep me awake. I only wish that the building still contained some food.

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More and more, I think of the inevitable conclusion to my journey. Having seen the same results play out a thousand times gives one a sense of pattern recognition. My caller's intent is to, no doubt, demand some pitiful task of me. The motivations vary, of course, but the goal is the same. The day they learn that such efforts are futile will be a good day – I do not suspect the day will ever come, but it would be a great relief to me. I do not look forward to meeting the inhabitants of this world – I am given to understand that the natural appearance of my kind tends to disturb lesser creatures, sometimes fatally so. The reverse is also true – any difference in results comes from simple mental discipline. While I am not so easily affected, it is an unpleasant experience all the same.

They provide a strange paradox, if nothing else. On one hand, excepting a few more petty ones among my kind, we never intrude on these worlds unless we are called. Our arrival, unfortunately for our arrogant summoners, never ends in their favour. We are called, and on our arrival, the inhabitants of the world will do their best to fight and banish a visitor that they themselves brought. Why? What gives them the right?

And to add insult to injury, even after these experiences, we continue to be summoned with depressing regularity. Is there something here that I have somehow failed to understand?

-Mask

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Leaving the relative safety of the inn showed me a changed view of Crowmeet. The buildings were collapsed and twisted like so many melted candles, and yet they were still the same as ever on the inside, as if time had never passed on the other side of their doors.

The rain was still present, even if it was no longer raining water. Cold blobs of pitch fell around me, turning to liquid as they hit the ground. It was all I could do not to trip and fall into any one of the bubbling rivers around me. The trees, meanwhile, had strange holes in their trunks. It took me a few moments to realize that these were eyes, crying sap, as far as I could tell. I didn't dare move closer to inspect them. The trees leading to my destination were, of course, quite normal.

I noticed that my knife was gone. Then, looking back, I saw. I... don't quite have the words to describe what I found behind me. A terrible, slime-covered monster, part fish, part crab and several parts things that I have no words for, the size of a large dog. My knife was embedded in one of its eyes. Did I kill it without ever realizing what I had done, or did I choose to block out the memory afterwards in self-defense? Was this another of my many hallucinations?

I chose to shake these thoughts aside, retrieve the closest thing I had to a weapon and move on. That was my mistake.

Eventually, I reached a clearing in the forest. It seemed peaceful, in an odd way, as if someone had went to great lengths warding the beasts away and forcefully keeping the peace of this place. I saw three small headstones, hastily carved with a name and nothing more. I was, besides these three, alone. And, predictably, another note waited for me.

“I apologize for not being able to meet here, but there is much that I need to complete in the day to come. Preparations. I came here to discover where your allegiances lie, and now I know I can no longer trust you. I saw you kill one of Mask's angels on your way here. I cannot allow such an act – it shows as plainly as anything you could say that you intend to stop me. But why would you do this? I only mean to make right what is now wrong. To return my past. Who would begrudge that?

And yet, I have already made my mistake once. I cannot fail again. My magic will tear you apart, and that will be the end of it. You will regret your actions, I am sure, and so will I. I am sorry, wanderer, that I am forced to end your path and life here, but we all do what we must. I must allow Mask to arrive and complete His work. I no longer expect to be saved or absolved. I have fallen too far for that. All I want now is for the past to be returned, with or without me. They must live.

Goodbye, wanderer.”

I dropped the note, hands shaking, only to see a door behind me. A door like those I saw in my vision, and yet different. A floating, massive steel door, covered from top bottom in dozens, even hundreds of intricate engravings. Slowly, it swung open.

I tried to back away, but the eye... the massive eye staring at me from the other side froze me in place. Thousands of tooth-lined shadowy arms flooded out, dragging me in, and the door slammed shut. I was surrounded by shadows, clawing, biting, chattering, hissing, laughing, shrieking. My vision and consciousness blurred, but in the distance, I saw something to swim to. A book. A leather-bound collection of impossibly thin tablets, pressed tree sap covered in engraved words, somehow refusing to break in defiance of logic. I seem to remember touching the book. Swimming to it was the work of moments, in theory – it was within arm's reach, the whole time. But moments turned to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days and days to months. Months blended into years and decades, decades flowed into centuries.

When I finally began to fade away, I held the book in one hand. Like smoke, it drifted away from me, showing me a vision. A mine. The Amber Manuscripts, lying on the stones. And then, it all faded.

I woke up in my room. Sunset. Tonight, I would leave the inn and find my way to the mine on the edge of Crowmeet. Tonight, for better or worse, it would end. I had no idea how I came from the makeshift graveyard to my room, and I didn't care to find out. I've seen things in those shadows that I never want to think of again. I looked into the mirror earlier. My stay on the other side of the door has changed me. I aged by... fifty years? Sixty? It's hard to tell. I don't expect to see home again. Not any more. All I want now is peace.

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It's time. I took my knife again – it's served me well enough – but not my sword. I doubt that a weapon would help me in any case. I can only hope that I find the book in those mines. Finding the mine itself is easy. There were footprints leading to it. My friend Nathaniel, no doubt.

For the first time, there is no rain. No sound. For the first time, I am well and truly alone in Crowmeet, with the exception of Nathaniel. The mines... the mines are a different story. I brought an oil lamp from the outside, but this does almost nothing to light the cave, for whatever reason. All around me, the stones were growling and sobbing, shaking, dripping... something on to the floor. I've stepped in several pools of it already. Is it water? God, I hope it's water.

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“It is time.” Nathaniel, in front of me, and yet... not. He looked a good deal more normal than I had ever expected. Translucent, and certainly not here in person, but he looked a great deal like anyone else, if rather disheveled. Black, matted hair and the tattered leftovers of what was probably a suit, once upon a time. A little on the tall side, but not overly so. I expected a nervous, jittery madman. Instead, he was calm. Serene, even. I just... I wish I hadn't looked into his eyes. You don't want to know what I saw in there. I would pity him, honestly, if he wasn't so intent on killing me.

“Mask's arrival is only minutes away. You are too late, my friend. Far too late. I don't pretend to know how you survived yesterday, but it hardly matters now. The hour of change is here. The clock will be turned back at long last. Merciful Mask will bring peace to this place. To me. Whatever your cruel motives, you have failed. I will speak to him now. Goodbye.”

If nothing else, I have the book.

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And finally, I come face to face with my unwise summoner. First, he gave me praise upon praise, apparently thinking that I cared for his situation. And then, he made his request. I will not write the details here – he wished for hope, for absolution, for the righting of wrongs. He wished for forgiveness from others, for help. More than anything else, he wished for the past. At any cost.

I gave him none of these things.

His first mistake was summoning me. His second mistake was presuming that I would act as his servant or even benefactor in this, granting his requests. Always, my summoners see through a thick lens of self-delusion, assuming that the powers they call to want nothing more than to do their work. And always, they find themselves mistaken. Ordinarily, I might have returned to the stars and left it at that, but I thought – most likely mistakenly – that making an example of my former captor might serve as a caution to other summoners and afford him some rest.

Dealing with him will be pitifully easy, after which I will be free to return home.

-Mask

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For minutes on end, almost a full half hour of walking through the mine, I heard sounds guiding me toward what I assume is my destination. Ripping, tearing sounds, thunderous shockwaves that feel as if they might collapse these caves at any moment. Crackling, snapping and hissing. And in it all, not a single human sound.

And then... then Weaver, or whatever he had become, came to explain matters to me. The same translucent figure as before, but so very different. Ripped apart in so many places, bleeding and wheezing, flickering in and out of reality and sight. Some sort of large black spike, to add to everything else, had impaled him, and he still had the strength to contact me.

“I'm sorry. I never meant to leave this to you, but... I was wrong. Terribly wrong – only now do I realize that I was lost in a greater being's game – one which I then lost. Please, you have to...”

Weaver flickered again, rapidly dissolving from the outside, layer by layer, but still managing to talk. With all due respect to the man, I had to look away.

“I was wrong to ever attempt to reach my goals. The book. I pray you have the book, my friend. I am lost. And without it, you are lost. We are all lost. Find the book. Find it and-”

And he was gone, perfectly in line with my luck since entering Crowmeet. I had the book, and began paging through it as I walked on. The manuscripts, at least, were surprisingly easy to navigate. Unfortunately, it was all magic. All of it. Spells of summoning, wards to place, and among everything else, my target – a spell of banishment. Of course, magic is all very well for those used to it, but there would be a price for someone like me. Nathan paid a hundred times over for his attempts. What would my price be? Does it even matter by now?

You might wonder why I still stop to write in my diary. I no longer expect to leave Crowmeet. The least I can do is ensure that this does not go to waste. If nothing else, I can create a record, a warning. And, hopefully, something that will mean I'm not completely forgotten.

I see lights ahead. This may be my final entry.

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The moment I deal with him, an intruder comes. Worse, he has the book that began this ordeal in the first place. While I intend to leave in any case, that will take time. I have been banished before. It is not an experience I care to repeat. This may take caution.

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There is a circle – a simple double circle – drawn in red chalk on the ground. Nathaniel worked with what he had. Candles were everywhere, mostly knocked over by rubble. Small fires dotted the walls and ceiling, when they should have had nothing to burn there. Nathaniel's body was, mercifully, nowhere to be found. In the middle of the room was Mask himself. True to its title, it took the shape I had seen in my visions. An expressionless paper mask. But this was a short-lived disguise. A ripping sound echoed through the room, followed by a long shriek. I put my hands to my ears, only to feel them being stuck there. My ears were bleeding.

I looked up and... the thing that took the paper mask's place defied description. Changing by the second, it was everything at once, and at the same time, nothing at all. I couldn't begin to understand it. How could something like this even exist? I looked away as soon as I could, but the damage was done. It began to send me visions – visions and emotions. Was this its language? I saw Nathaniel, first, and felt its rage. Then there were stars, and an odd sense of longing – I failed to understand this, at the time.

Then, a vision of myself, of Crowmeet, of the world. Revulsion would be the wrong word. A vague annoyance, perhaps, but more than anything, I felt apathy. We were beneath this thing, whatever it might be. It could barely even bring itself to care about anything so insignificant. And yet, in the tide of visions, it let slip one that it had meant to keep to itself. I saw the Manuscripts, saw the shining amber pages, and felt fear. That was my reminder.

I began to recite the banishment, as well as I could. Not quickly. To make a single mistake would cost me far more than time. As much as I wanted to hurry, it would have done no good. The elaborate messages turned into roars and growls, and then...

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“This,” I heard him cough out, “is our world. You are not welcome in our world.” Their world. If there is anything these creatures all have in common, it is ignorance. Blissful ignorance, arrogance and blindness to the world as it is. I envy them, sometimes.

His weapon was a book. Mine was perspective. I showed him a glimpse through my eyes. I had to stop him from completing the spell, but the best option I had to hand, even faster than simply ending his life, was what I myself had. I am adjusted to this perspective, to knowing my place in the world. Few others are. Seconds later, I saw him fall.

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The significance of what Mask showed me is beyond anything I can do justice to with a description. I finally realize why it chooses lies and disguises. The truth is a weapon.

I saw, from another viewpoint, this room. Then, the cave. Then, Crowmeet. After a few seconds, I was seeing the entire nation, then this continent, then the world. And then, the world shrank away, and I saw. World after world after world, swimming in a sea of night and stars. Seen from further away, they were, again, only part of a single spinning arm in a vast disc. And from further away, even that became invisible, to say nothing of the small, blue dot that was the entire world I know and more.

There are things I was never meant to see, and Mask has shown them to me. The shock was too much. I collapsed on the spot, dropping the book and clutching my head. The spell had failed, but it had drained me all the same.

Then I saw more visions, as the creature started to fade away, passing through the ceiling of the mine. Mask, trying to leave, and a feeling of... history. The past. Mask being dragged to this world with a feeling of annoyance, regret. History, again. Mask meaning to leave this planet the moment he had dealt with Nathaniel. The book. Fear. Pain. And then, Mask leaving now, drifting away.

And too late, far too late, I realized that I had changed nothing at all. Mask had always meant to leave and never come back. What did I do? Subject myself to visions I never wanted to see, and drain my life away, first with the door, now with this spell. All for nothing. Strange that in the end, for all our differences, we all had the same goals in mind. Nathaniel was already where he wanted to be, he only wanted the past returned, so that he could be home again, as he remembered it. Mask and I, on the other end, as far apart as two living things can ever be... well, we only ever wanted to go home.

Ironic, really. Now, with the roads from Crowmeet finally open, I'm in no state to leave. Still, at least I can walk out of the village, if not all the way back home. Something has happened to my horse. I don't intend to speculate, but riding back would have been out of the question in any case.

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With the banishment carefully avoided, I am finally free. For now. Free to roam the stars again, unchained by anything or anyone in the universe.

I have, if nothing else, learned one thing from the summoning. This will be my last entry in the diary. I have come to realize that nothing at all is significant enough to commit to these pages. The journal, as such, is worthless. I will discard it and let it float where it may. I only hope that the caution I left in the form of my summoner's fate will, at least, delay the next occasion. But true to my title, I have spared all but my captor. The others? Their planet continues, untouched. The one who attempted to banish me brought the bulk of the harm upon himself. His mind may have cracked under the strain of the visions I showed him, but that is all.

And with that, I break my tie with this diary. A pointless eccentricity, though it did pass the time for a brief while.

-Merciful Mask

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The roads are clear. Finally, the roads are clear. I can leave, and yet...

I sit almost two miles outside the village now. The spell, failure though it might have been, drained me. I'm too weak to continue. Far too weak. It would be better if I could comfort myself with the thought that I accomplished some heroic act here, but in the end, I did nothing. Nathaniel and I both did nothing. Still, I created.. a new headstone, by the other three. There was nothing to bury, but it might bring him some peace, if nothing else. I burned the Amber Manuscripts. It seemed the best thing to do with a book like that.

There are birds circling overhead, watching me. Many birds. I suppose they're right, this time. They can see a future meal, and I'm inclined to agree with them. Crowmeet. I suppose, looking up from where I'm sitting, there must be more to the name than anyone ever expected.

I don't expect to survive the day. If anyone finds this, please, take it back to my home. If nothing else, there are people who deserve to know what happened to me. But please, don't try to look any further into this.

I've learned, in my time here, that we live on a small, fragile island built from what little we know and understand. It's a small island, and nothing is stopping us from striking out on a raft, but we were never meant to move far from it. If we do, we never have long before the storms find us.

I suspect that this will be my last entry. There's a tree to lean against, here. If I can't have survival, at least I will have peace. I feel... tired, after everything that happened. So terribly, terribly tired. It's time I had some sleep. Some rest. Some closure. I would never make it back home anyway.

And this... well, I suppose this is my story. Good night.

-Gilbert Reed



Aaand that's a wrap. Took me three and a half days to hammer that out. Thoughts?

Normerra
2010-05-10, 02:35 PM
There are books that contain only short stories..
And sorry, I didn't know that you already finished it. And if this is your best, I don't agree with you. it has its quality (for sure!).

For the second part of the story - I like it, really. These kind of stories are mostly my faves. (Well, I can't say in some parts I wasn't little..bored..) So, if you're willing to write another one, I'd love to see it here.

Cogwheel
2010-05-10, 02:38 PM
There are books that contain only short stories..
And sorry, I didn't know that you already finished it. And if this is your best, I don't agree with you. it has its quality (for sure!).

For the second part of the story - I like it, really. These kind of stories are mostly my faves. (Well, I can't say in some parts I wasn't little..bored..) So, if you're willing to write another one, I'd love to see it here.

Bored? Around when? Constructive criticism is the best kind, after all, and it'd be good to know.

I'll most likely tone down future stories, though. This one resulted in a large number of people who saw it deciding that I have Serious Issues.

Glad you liked it, anyway. Though I admit, I feel a bit guilty about writing downer endings, and this wasn't exactly happy.

FoE
2010-05-10, 04:12 PM
As I said before, intriguing. I think the concept needs a bit of fleshing out — I'm not sure it works that well as a short story — but it's pretty well-written. A lot of unanswered questions, but I suspect that was deliberate.

The sad ending was appropriate. I didn't think the protagonist would escape whole and sane from his experience, in truth

Cogwheel
2010-05-10, 07:09 PM
As I said before, intriguing. I think the concept needs a bit of fleshing out — I'm not sure it works that well as a short story — but it's pretty well-written. A lot of unanswered questions, but I suspect that was deliberate.

The sad ending was appropriate. I didn't think the protagonist would escape whole and sane from his experience, in truth

What part of the story needed more work/detail? I thought I was stretching it a bit thin as it is. And yes, many questions (like how much of this is a hallucination, though parts were very clearly real) are intentionally left unanswered. That said, if you have questions, ask.

Raroy
2010-05-12, 12:18 PM
Bored? Around when? Constructive criticism is the best kind, after all, and it'd be good to know.

I'll most likely tone down future stories, though. This one resulted in a large number of people who saw it deciding that I have Serious Issues.

Glad you liked it, anyway. Though I admit, I feel a bit guilty about writing downer endings, and this wasn't exactly happy.

Saying that humanity is hopeless and insignificant in the face of the universe may or may not constitute as serious issues.

It was well written enough. I felt that it could have used a bit more description in parts.

I should let you know that I hate these kinds of stories. I still read it all the way through.

Cogwheel
2010-05-12, 12:47 PM
Saying that humanity is hopeless and insignificant in the face of the universe may or may not constitute as serious issues.

No, that's called a staple of the genre :smalltongue:


It was well written enough. I felt that it could have used a bit more description in parts.

I should let you know that I hate these kinds of stories. I still read it all the way through.

Thanks. Really, thanks a lot. I would've ramped up the description, honestly, but I felt like I was slipping into purple prose already, so I stopped short.

Cogwheel
2010-05-12, 01:54 PM
Posted all in one here, for ease of reading.

A name? Pointless, but if you insist.

Mask. Not a taken name. Given. Hardly a name at all, but a description, and an adequate one. Unlike many, if I must be seen, I hide. Behind a mask, a disguise, for my convenience. They called me Merciful Mask, sometimes.

As luck would have it, I received the first call in some time. Longer than I care to remember, but not long enough. Nothing in the world can stop me from answering it – briefly humbling, in a way – but nothing forces me to act in any way once I arrive.

If nothing else, the journey will show me a few unfamiliar stars. I will record anything worth noting – very little indeed – in this “journal”. A strange but interesting practice from one of my recent... visits. “When in Rome”, as the people of that place put it.

-Mask

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As luck would have it, I've been sent. Some village... Crowmeet, was it? Some backwater, anyway.

Oh, if anyone happens to find this journal, do return it to me. You will find my address on the back, and I'm sure some sort of finder's fee can be arranged. Just ask for Gilbert Reed.

Now then, Crowmeet. I can't imagine why a village would be completely unheard from for over a month, but frankly, I care for the reasons as much as my employers do: Very little. Ride in, collect the usual taxes, ride out. A place can be as silent as it wants, as long as it pays up.

Of course, they don't take too kindly to this, often. I've been chased out more times than I care to count, and the same goes for having my horse stolen. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would consider attacking the tax collector a permanent solution, but there you go.

Well, my borrowed horse seems to have recovered – I would have exchanged it for a new one if I were anywhere near civilization – and now I have rain to deal with instead. Never a pleasant moment. At least Crowmeet can't be too far away

-Gilbert

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Crowmeet is odd. Odd, and somewhat unnerving. In a word, it's empty. Utterly empty. Not a single living creature, human or animal, except the occasional crow here and there, staring at me. I suppose I seem out of place to them.

Oddly enough, Crowmeet has an inn. Actual rooms, as if anyone would want to stay here. I have claimed one of the rooms for the moment – someone can be paid as soon as they care to show themselves, I'm sure – and frankly, I need somewhere to stay.

The village is, well... not entirely empty. I think. I've heard a few indistinct sounds here and there, seen a little movement on the edge of my vision. Between the rain and my sleep deprivation, it's not easy to trust anything like this. Still, it wouldn't be the first time I was ambushed. Honestly, I don't see why my job has to be so dangerous.

At any rate, I think I will sleep lightly tonight. I have a sword within reach, if needed. Practically ornamental, unfortunately, since I haven't the slightest idea of how to use it. Still, it should look reasonably intimidating.

On second thought, I think I may help myself to a knife from downstairs. I'm in no hurry to compromise my safety.

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Incompetence in an enemy is, at times, more infuriating than in anyone else. The one calling me has no more than the faintest grasp of the procedures, even when following instructions, and most likely has even less realization of what exactly they are doing. And yet, they have succeeded in calling me. Irritating.

Having been forced to travel to this world, I have settled into a few activities to fill the moments as they roll past. This journal, stargazing and speculation on this no doubt pointless new world occupies me, at the moment. Strange that I was content to spend every second of freedom doing nothing, and now I find myself scrambling for ways to fill the time while I travel.

I can see it now, still a few days' travel away. A small blue-green dot. Dull, typical, unavoidable.

-Mask

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Another day, another rainy morning. I hate this village already. The inhabitants have yet to show themselves. I would assume that Crowmeet met a recent raid or something similarly unpleasant, but the village as a whole is too... tidy for that to be the answer. Nothing has been disturbed. All of Crowmeet is perfectly untouched and as it should be, but empty.

Somehow, this place is colder than I remember from yesterday. I've helped myself to some of the coal to fuel the fireplace. I have also found that the visions from yesterday, for whatever strange reason, persist. They have been added to as well – I hear sounds now. Growls, whimpers – woodland creatures, no doubt – and snatches of voices every once in a while. Strange.

I no longer trust Crowmeet. I plan to check the village again in a few minutes – the usual procedure of searching, knocking on every door, checking inside one house out of every few, calling out for anyone who may be around, that sort of thing. Perhaps I've missed someone. If no one is here, this entire visit is pointless. Should this be the case, I will be only too glad to leave this place right away.

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It... it's pointless. Pointless to try. No one is here. I tried. I tried to leave, until minutes turned into hours, day to night. Nothing. No matter where I went – along the road, through the woods or anywhere else – the path always took me back to Crowmeet. Always.

That was when I found the note. Hastily scrawled... lost? Discarded? I don't want to speculate. Not in this state. Perhaps the writer attempted to escape too. The handwriting was certainly nervous. Not panicked, no, but nervous. And cryptic.

“It is done. Only three days remain, now. Three days to my atonement. I will pay the price, whatever it might be – the people will return. The past will return with Mask's blessing. Merciful Mask, who will amend my mistakes.”

Merciful Mask, atonement, returning the past... I don't understand a word of it. I no longer want to. Why did I come here? What is Crowmeet?

Why can't I go home?

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My destination is becoming clearer now. Close enough to make out the details. Dull and uninteresting, as ever. I am not sure what to make of the place I am being called to. Some sort of settlement? The size, from the comparisons I can make, seems small. Still, I understand too little of this planet or the ways of its inhabitants to make any real judgments. I do try to study them, on occasion, to learn more. But those are rare moments, when I forget that in the grand scheme of things, these creatures and worlds are pointless. Studying them is, at best, a useless eccentricity.

I may speak to my summoner, this time. They rarely understand, of course, but a shift away from my native language will change that. None of them will understand this “journal”, certainly.

The planet lies ahead, and I had best continue. I admit, finding anything significant to record in this book is becoming difficult.

-Mask

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Little by little, Crowmeet is changing. A mirror that showed my face yesterday now shows stars. Strange stars, none that I have ever seen, dancing in the night sky. My surprise caused me to trip – I tried to steady myself by laying a hand against the glass, but my hand passed through. Seconds later, it appeared from thin air behind me, lifting me into the air with more strength than I ever had. And then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.

Seconds later, I was standing a few steps away from a perfectly normal, intact mirror, with nothing to show for the experience beyond a slight pain in my neck. I thought I saw shards of glass and bleeding on the arm I had put through the mirror, but on a second inspection, it was gone. Was it ever there? Am I going mad?

Will I ever find my way back home? I doubt it. Not unless I somehow discover what exactly is happening here. Discover and deal with it. Why did it have to be me?

Why couldn't it be someone else?

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I don't plan to make the mistake of sleeping. Not any more. I walked into my room to find a bleached wooden mannequin that wasn't there before. Faceless, but talking, somehow, if you can call what it did speech. “Hello,” that was all it said. Over and over. Stumbling towards me like a ragdoll, muttering “hello, hello, hello” while it did its best to pin me to the wall. All the while, its face... changed. Into any number of more familiar pictures – people who couldn't possibly be here.

Speed and luck were all that let me get away from it for long enough to find my borrowed knife. A small cut in the face seemed to deflate the thing – some sort of gas leaked out of the cut, along with a shrill laugh that turned quieter and deeper with every second until it finally stopped. I admit, as soon as it fell away, I closed my eyes. I couldn't bear to look at the doll. When I opened my eyes again, it was gone.

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My influence seems to be causing some changes in the planet below. Unintentional, but I myself am indifferent to it. It is not a matter of ability – while this is a simple side-effect of my presence, there would be no great difficulty in stopping it. The question is an entirely different one – so far, I have seen no reason to make the effort.

My caller is a strange one. Lost in happy self-delusion, for the most part. Much, in fact, like every other summoner I have seen, and a good deal of lesser creatures as a whole. If studying the worlds I visit, even vaguely and in passing, has taught me anything, it is that there is little difference between them.

I have accidentally drifted near this planet's sun for a few hours, practically colliding with it. A minor mistake that cost me a few superficial burns. The diary was recovered by a simple reversal of time, though I do question whether the diary was even worth recovering. I seem to have precious little to say. Perspective can be a poison – sometimes, I envy lesser creatures and their ability to find importance in everything.

-Mask

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The sun was blotted out today. Some massive shape moved in front of it – too irregular to be an eclipse, but I can't begin to imagine what else it might have been. A shadow fell across all of Crowmeet and, I suspect, a great deal more.

The visions are becoming more substantial with every passing moment. One all but robbed me of my consciousness, flooding me with a series of images. A book, with pages carved from hardened tree sap – the amber manuscripts. Somehow, despite never being told the name, I knew it. An indistinct figure, walking, scattering a trail of papers behind him, holding the book. A cave somewhere, most likely a mine, with all manner of strange things scattered about it. Candles and chalks, incense and bonfires.

Then there were stars, and this... thing, flying between them. I saw a flicker of what it might have been, before the vision, in a fit of mercy, showed me something simpler. Something I could understand. A gash, a rip in reality, padded over with a thin veneer of gold leaf. And floating over it, an expressionless, uncaring paper mask. One of these, or possibly all of them, were to blame for whatever happened to Crowmeet. I wish I could think of them as things to avoid and nothing more, but that happy possibility was long gone. If I was ever going to leave this place, I would have to cut a way out myself.

Then came the fifth vision. Doors appearing in thin air, all over Crowmeet, when all this began. Doors opening, hands pulling each and every person through, sparing only one. Doors closing, barred and locked before they vanish entirely. Whatever this thing was, its presence alone all but removed the village's people from this world – I doubt that they were killed, as such, but the difference is, at this point, a technicality.

I encountered new creatures outside, skittering about just out of view, out of reach, and thankfully out of their notice. They... I thought they were spiders, at first. Now, I wish they were. They are much more than that. I can't bring myself to explain this any further.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

My wanderings about the village have brought me to a second note.

“Two more days. In the forest, there are three graves. They watch me. Watch, judge, condemn, blame, as they have every right to. I know they do, just as I know my failure. There was nothing I could have done. There never was. The truth, but weak excuses as well. But now, now I am not helpless. Not any more. Never again. I may not be able to return the past, but Mask can. I have called Him to this place, and He will restore the past. Restore Crowmeet. The people have vanished – a temporary price to pay, and a small one, until the clock is turned back. Mask has almost arrived, to grant me atonement and peace, whatever the price. And yet, one obstacle remains.

And that obstacle, my friend, is you. My invisible follower. The visitor. Like a bloodhound, you follow my every footstep, but only so rarely do you show yourself. Are you like me, hoping Merciful Mask would amend your errors and give you peace? Are you an ally, here to help my cause? Are you another of Mask's angels that fill the village as you read this? Or are you an enemy, here to hinder me for your own selfish goals? I pray for your sake that you are not my enemy.

But enough of talk. Come to the three graves on the morrow, wanderer. Mask will help you to find your way through the forest, I am sure of that. We will determine where you stand once we meet there.

-Nathaniel Weaver”

Do I want to go? No. By the sound of his notes, calling my new correspondent mad would be too charitable. Still, what choice did I have? He had answers. He may have the Amber Manuscripts, and above all I know that I will not be able to leave without the help of that book. I have to meet him. I need to have my answers.



If you are reading this, than here is my answer. I want to go home, no more, no less. Take your cursed village and do as you want with it, but leave me out of your schemes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Again, I have been attacked. Again, in my room. A skeleton this time, waxy, half-melted in appearance, dancing around me, not running in circles as much as disappearing and appearing again, moving instantly from spot to spot, moving in rings around me. When I tried to run, so did it, only to shriek and claw at one of the beams. Somehow, the beam snapped in half, toppling over and smashing through the floor, knocking out another support. Within seconds, the whole structure came tumbling down, crushing me under the falling roof. For the second time in as many days, I thought I was dead. Again, my vision, as well as consciousness, left me.

And then I was here again, sitting in my untouched room, staring ahead blankly. Have I gone mad, or is it the world?

I hear more than whispers, now. There is music, wherever it might be coming from. Quiet, tuneless, and not from any instrument I recognize. If anything, it seems to be intentionally played poorly, letting out a scratchy, slow music made to be offensive to the ear.

I have gathered up the few tools I can, using them to board up the window in my room and put a padlock on the door. Security? Not by a long shot, not when the things seem to just materialize in the room. But it will help me to survive until dawn. The scratching, croaking and growling outside is sure to keep me awake. I only wish that the building still contained some food.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

More and more, I think of the inevitable conclusion to my journey. Having seen the same results play out a thousand times gives one a sense of pattern recognition. My caller's intent is to, no doubt, demand some pitiful task of me. The motivations vary, of course, but the goal is the same. The day they learn that such efforts are futile will be a good day – I do not suspect the day will ever come, but it would be a great relief to me. I do not look forward to meeting the inhabitants of this world – I am given to understand that the natural appearance of my kind tends to disturb lesser creatures, sometimes fatally so. The reverse is also true – any difference in results comes from simple mental discipline. While I am not so easily affected, it is an unpleasant experience all the same.

They provide a strange paradox, if nothing else. On one hand, excepting a few more petty ones among my kind, we never intrude on these worlds unless we are called. Our arrival, unfortunately for our arrogant summoners, never ends in their favour. We are called, and on our arrival, the inhabitants of the world will do their best to fight and banish a visitor that they themselves brought. Why? What gives them the right?

And to add insult to injury, even after these experiences, we continue to be summoned with depressing regularity. Is there something here that I have somehow failed to understand?

-Mask

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Leaving the relative safety of the inn showed me a changed view of Crowmeet. The buildings were collapsed and twisted like so many melted candles, and yet they were still the same as ever on the inside, as if time had never passed on the other side of their doors.

The rain was still present, even if it was no longer raining water. Cold blobs of pitch fell around me, turning to liquid as they hit the ground. It was all I could do not to trip and fall into any one of the bubbling rivers around me. The trees, meanwhile, had strange holes in their trunks. It took me a few moments to realize that these were eyes, crying sap, as far as I could tell. I didn't dare move closer to inspect them. The trees leading to my destination were, of course, quite normal.

I noticed that my knife was gone. Then, looking back, I saw. I... don't quite have the words to describe what I found behind me. A terrible, slime-covered monster, part fish, part crab and several parts things that I have no words for, the size of a large dog. My knife was embedded in one of its eyes. Did I kill it without ever realizing what I had done, or did I choose to block out the memory afterwards in self-defense? Was this another of my many hallucinations?

I chose to shake these thoughts aside, retrieve the closest thing I had to a weapon and move on. That was my mistake.

Eventually, I reached a clearing in the forest. It seemed peaceful, in an odd way, as if someone had went to great lengths warding the beasts away and forcefully keeping the peace of this place. I saw three small headstones, hastily carved with a name and nothing more. I was, besides these three, alone. And, predictably, another note waited for me.

“I apologize for not being able to meet here, but there is much that I need to complete in the day to come. Preparations. I came here to discover where your allegiances lie, and now I know I can no longer trust you. I saw you kill one of Mask's angels on your way here. I cannot allow such an act – it shows as plainly as anything you could say that you intend to stop me. But why would you do this? I only mean to make right what is now wrong. To return my past. Who would begrudge that?

And yet, I have already made my mistake once. I cannot fail again. My magic will tear you apart, and that will be the end of it. You will regret your actions, I am sure, and so will I. I am sorry, wanderer, that I am forced to end your path and life here, but we all do what we must. I must allow Mask to arrive and complete His work. I no longer expect to be saved or absolved. I have fallen too far for that. All I want now is for the past to be returned, with or without me. They must live.

Goodbye, wanderer.”

I dropped the note, hands shaking, only to see a door behind me. A door like those I saw in my vision, and yet different. A floating, massive steel door, covered from top bottom in dozens, even hundreds of intricate engravings. Slowly, it swung open.

I tried to back away, but the eye... the massive eye staring at me from the other side froze me in place. Thousands of tooth-lined shadowy arms flooded out, dragging me in, and the door slammed shut. I was surrounded by shadows, clawing, biting, chattering, hissing, laughing, shrieking. My vision and consciousness blurred, but in the distance, I saw something to swim to. A book. A leather-bound collection of impossibly thin tablets, pressed tree sap covered in engraved words, somehow refusing to break in defiance of logic. I seem to remember touching the book. Swimming to it was the work of moments, in theory – it was within arm's reach, the whole time. But moments turned to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days and days to months. Months blended into years and decades, decades flowed into centuries.

When I finally began to fade away, I held the book in one hand. Like smoke, it drifted away from me, showing me a vision. A mine. The Amber Manuscripts, lying on the stones. And then, it all faded.

I woke up in my room. Sunset. Tonight, I would leave the inn and find my way to the mine on the edge of Crowmeet. Tonight, for better or worse, it would end. I had no idea how I came from the makeshift graveyard to my room, and I didn't care to find out. I've seen things in those shadows that I never want to think of again. I looked into the mirror earlier. My stay on the other side of the door has changed me. I aged by... fifty years? Sixty? It's hard to tell. I don't expect to see home again. Not any more. All I want now is peace.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

It's time. I took my knife again – it's served me well enough – but not my sword. I doubt that a weapon would help me in any case. I can only hope that I find the book in those mines. Finding the mine itself is easy. There were footprints leading to it. My friend Nathaniel, no doubt.

For the first time, there is no rain. No sound. For the first time, I am well and truly alone in Crowmeet, with the exception of Nathaniel. The mines... the mines are a different story. I brought an oil lamp from the outside, but this does almost nothing to light the cave, for whatever reason. All around me, the stones were growling and sobbing, shaking, dripping... something on to the floor. I've stepped in several pools of it already. Is it water? God, I hope it's water.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

“It is time.” Nathaniel, in front of me, and yet... not. He looked a good deal more normal than I had ever expected. Translucent, and certainly not here in person, but he looked a great deal like anyone else, if rather disheveled. Black, matted hair and the tattered leftovers of what was probably a suit, once upon a time. A little on the tall side, but not overly so. I expected a nervous, jittery madman. Instead, he was calm. Serene, even. I just... I wish I hadn't looked into his eyes. You don't want to know what I saw in there. I would pity him, honestly, if he wasn't so intent on killing me.

“Mask's arrival is only minutes away. You are too late, my friend. Far too late. I don't pretend to know how you survived yesterday, but it hardly matters now. The hour of change is here. The clock will be turned back at long last. Merciful Mask will bring peace to this place. To me. Whatever your cruel motives, you have failed. I will speak to him now. Goodbye.”

If nothing else, I have the book.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

And finally, I come face to face with my unwise summoner. First, he gave me praise upon praise, apparently thinking that I cared for his situation. And then, he made his request. I will not write the details here – he wished for hope, for absolution, for the righting of wrongs. He wished for forgiveness from others, for help. More than anything else, he wished for the past. At any cost.

I gave him none of these things.

His first mistake was summoning me. His second mistake was presuming that I would act as his servant or even benefactor in this, granting his requests. Always, my summoners see through a thick lens of self-delusion, assuming that the powers they call to want nothing more than to do their work. And always, they find themselves mistaken. Ordinarily, I might have returned to the stars and left it at that, but I thought – most likely mistakenly – that making an example of my former captor might serve as a caution to other summoners and afford him some rest.

Dealing with him will be pitifully easy, after which I will be free to return home.

-Mask

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For minutes on end, almost a full half hour of walking through the mine, I heard sounds guiding me toward what I assume is my destination. Ripping, tearing sounds, thunderous shockwaves that feel as if they might collapse these caves at any moment. Crackling, snapping and hissing. And in it all, not a single human sound.

And then... then Weaver, or whatever he had become, came to explain matters to me. The same translucent figure as before, but so very different. Ripped apart in so many places, bleeding and wheezing, flickering in and out of reality and sight. Some sort of large black spike, to add to everything else, had impaled him, and he still had the strength to contact me.

“I'm sorry. I never meant to leave this to you, but... I was wrong. Terribly wrong – only now do I realize that I was lost in a greater being's game – one which I then lost. Please, you have to...”

Weaver flickered again, rapidly dissolving from the outside, layer by layer, but still managing to talk. With all due respect to the man, I had to look away.

“I was wrong to ever attempt to reach my goals. The book. I pray you have the book, my friend. I am lost. And without it, you are lost. We are all lost. Find the book. Find it and-”

And he was gone, perfectly in line with my luck since entering Crowmeet. I had the book, and began paging through it as I walked on. The manuscripts, at least, were surprisingly easy to navigate. Unfortunately, it was all magic. All of it. Spells of summoning, wards to place, and among everything else, my target – a spell of banishment. Of course, magic is all very well for those used to it, but there would be a price for someone like me. Nathan paid a hundred times over for his attempts. What would my price be? Does it even matter by now?

You might wonder why I still stop to write in my diary. I no longer expect to leave Crowmeet. The least I can do is ensure that this does not go to waste. If nothing else, I can create a record, a warning. And, hopefully, something that will mean I'm not completely forgotten.

I see lights ahead. This may be my final entry.

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The moment I deal with him, an intruder comes. Worse, he has the book that began this ordeal in the first place. While I intend to leave in any case, that will take time. I have been banished before. It is not an experience I care to repeat. This may take caution.

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There is a circle – a simple double circle – drawn in red chalk on the ground. Nathaniel worked with what he had. Candles were everywhere, mostly knocked over by rubble. Small fires dotted the walls and ceiling, when they should have had nothing to burn there. Nathaniel's body was, mercifully, nowhere to be found. In the middle of the room was Mask himself. True to its title, it took the shape I had seen in my visions. An expressionless paper mask. But this was a short-lived disguise. A ripping sound echoed through the room, followed by a long shriek. I put my hands to my ears, only to feel them being stuck there. My ears were bleeding.

I looked up and... the thing that took the paper mask's place defied description. Changing by the second, it was everything at once, and at the same time, nothing at all. I couldn't begin to understand it. How could something like this even exist? I looked away as soon as I could, but the damage was done. It began to send me visions – visions and emotions. Was this its language? I saw Nathaniel, first, and felt its rage. Then there were stars, and an odd sense of longing – I failed to understand this, at the time.

Then, a vision of myself, of Crowmeet, of the world. Revulsion would be the wrong word. A vague annoyance, perhaps, but more than anything, I felt apathy. We were beneath this thing, whatever it might be. It could barely even bring itself to care about anything so insignificant. And yet, in the tide of visions, it let slip one that it had meant to keep to itself. I saw the Manuscripts, saw the shining amber pages, and felt fear. That was my reminder.

I began to recite the banishment, as well as I could. Not quickly. To make a single mistake would cost me far more than time. As much as I wanted to hurry, it would have done no good. The elaborate messages turned into roars and growls, and then...

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“This,” I heard him cough out, “is our world. You are not welcome in our world.” Their world. If there is anything these creatures all have in common, it is ignorance. Blissful ignorance, arrogance and blindness to the world as it is. I envy them, sometimes.

His weapon was a book. Mine was perspective. I showed him a glimpse through my eyes. I had to stop him from completing the spell, but the best option I had to hand, even faster than simply ending his life, was what I myself had. I am adjusted to this perspective, to knowing my place in the world. Few others are. Seconds later, I saw him fall.

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The significance of what Mask showed me is beyond anything I can do justice to with a description. I finally realize why it chooses lies and disguises. The truth is a weapon.

I saw, from another viewpoint, this room. Then, the cave. Then, Crowmeet. After a few seconds, I was seeing the entire nation, then this continent, then the world. And then, the world shrank away, and I saw. World after world after world, swimming in a sea of night and stars. Seen from further away, they were, again, only part of a single spinning arm in a vast disc. And from further away, even that became invisible, to say nothing of the small, blue dot that was the entire world I know and more.

There are things I was never meant to see, and Mask has shown them to me. The shock was too much. I collapsed on the spot, dropping the book and clutching my head. The spell had failed, but it had drained me all the same.

Then I saw more visions, as the creature started to fade away, passing through the ceiling of the mine. Mask, trying to leave, and a feeling of... history. The past. Mask being dragged to this world with a feeling of annoyance, regret. History, again. Mask meaning to leave this planet the moment he had dealt with Nathaniel. The book. Fear. Pain. And then, Mask leaving now, drifting away.

And too late, far too late, I realized that I had changed nothing at all. Mask had always meant to leave and never come back. What did I do? Subject myself to visions I never wanted to see, and drain my life away, first with the door, now with this spell. All for nothing. Strange that in the end, for all our differences, we all had the same goals in mind. Nathaniel was already where he wanted to be, he only wanted the past returned, so that he could be home again, as he remembered it. Mask and I, on the other end, as far apart as two living things can ever be... well, we only ever wanted to go home.

Ironic, really. Now, with the roads from Crowmeet finally open, I'm in no state to leave. Still, at least I can walk out of the village, if not all the way back home. Something has happened to my horse. I don't intend to speculate, but riding back would have been out of the question in any case.

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With the banishment carefully avoided, I am finally free. For now. Free to roam the stars again, unchained by anything or anyone in the universe.

I have, if nothing else, learned one thing from the summoning. This will be my last entry in the diary. I have come to realize that nothing at all is significant enough to commit to these pages. The journal, as such, is worthless. I will discard it and let it float where it may. I only hope that the caution I left in the form of my summoner's fate will, at least, delay the next occasion. But true to my title, I have spared all but my captor. The others? Their planet continues, untouched. The one who attempted to banish me brought the bulk of the harm upon himself. His mind may have cracked under the strain of the visions I showed him, but that is all.

And with that, I break my tie with this diary. A pointless eccentricity, though it did pass the time for a brief while.

-Merciful Mask

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The roads are clear. Finally, the roads are clear. I can leave, and yet...

I sit almost two miles outside the village now. The spell, failure though it might have been, drained me. I'm too weak to continue. Far too weak. It would be better if I could comfort myself with the thought that I accomplished some heroic act here, but in the end, I did nothing. Nathaniel and I both did nothing. Still, I created.. a new headstone, by the other three. There was nothing to bury, but it might bring him some peace, if nothing else. I burned the Amber Manuscripts. It seemed the best thing to do with a book like that.

There are birds circling overhead, watching me. Many birds. I suppose they're right, this time. They can see a future meal, and I'm inclined to agree with them. Crowmeet. I suppose, looking up from where I'm sitting, there must be more to the name than anyone ever expected.

I don't expect to survive the day. If anyone finds this, please, take it back to my home. If nothing else, there are people who deserve to know what happened to me. But please, don't try to look any further into this.

I've learned, in my time here, that we live on a small, fragile island built from what little we know and understand. It's a small island, and nothing is stopping us from striking out on a raft, but we were never meant to move far from it. If we do, we never have long before the storms find us.

I suspect that this will be my last entry. There's a tree to lean against, here. If I can't have survival, at least I will have peace. I feel... tired, after everything that happened. So terribly, terribly tired. It's time I had some sleep. Some rest. Some closure. I would never make it back home anyway.

And this... well, I suppose this is my story. Good night.

-Gilbert Reed

FoE
2010-05-13, 10:46 AM
It was well written enough. I felt that it could have used a bit more description in parts.

My thoughts as well.

Raroy
2010-05-13, 11:28 AM
My thoughts as well.

Did you read his latest rewrite of the story? Or do you want even more?

FoE
2010-05-13, 11:34 AM
Did you read his latest rewrite of the story? Or do you want even more?

I wasn't aware he posted a re-write. I thought he just combined the two parts.

Raroy
2010-05-13, 11:47 AM
Did I imagine he rewrote it? Geez, now I'm hallucinating.

Cogwheel
2010-05-13, 01:35 PM
Did I imagine he rewrote it? Geez, now I'm hallucinating.

Yes. Yes you are.


More detail. I'll think about it. Life's suddenly gone to hell, so I may not do that.

Kiren
2010-05-20, 06:56 PM
I like it alot, great writing style btw.