Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 10

'What is that? Some kind of writing?'

Beyond the untidy kitchen, the warehouse vaults over us, a cathedral's space of wrought iron and plastered brickwork. The light from the thin windows a dozen feet above the floor is dim, hinting at neglect. The floor, too, is a mess of crate-wood and tarpaulins, discrete piles of detritus abandoned by the last occupants – as worthless as much of what passes for art these days.

The marks that have attracted Sam's attention are in a corner furthest from the entrance and the kitchen. By rights Sam should not be able to see them: Boude has rendered her report in energies rather than chemicals. It is something I should worry about, I know, but I don't have time to consider the implications – it's probably a side effect from the spin I've laid across Sam's senses to help him ignore the prone body of his recent lover.

'It's a sort of writing, yes,' I answer.

'It's pretty, like christmas lights.'

'The trick is in knowing how to read them.'

Reading, for me, has always been a tough endeavour; it's not something I was born to do. From what I can work out, the concept of writing arrived in my part of the Outer World a long while after I had left it. For sure, the Kemet folk had been scribbling on plaster and papyrus for centuries, just as the Sangiga folk had been prodding sticks into clay to make their lists, but they were not my people.

When I first arrived in Mescwar I might as well have been a monkey, for all the civilized skills I had. Boude had laughed at me when I admitted my ignorance, and after that the Game had taken over my life just as the Race had consumed me in Fol Huun. All in all, my learning to read had been a slow process.

Which is probably understandable. The writing systems used in my home stone are nothing like the systems developed here in the Outer World. For a start, there's no letters as such, but rather a set of sigils – pen strokes – that capture the essence of the meaning or object, each topped and based with additional marks to show how the words weave with each other, how the concepts play together in the utterance. Learning to read by alphabets, in contrast, was a pleasure – though even now I tend to rely on the host to do the reading, as listening in to the internal narrator is a lot easier. Plus they keep changing the spelling of things, and languages themselves are slippery buggers, always evolving and reverting each time I return here.

'So what does it say?' asks Sam.

It's not so much what the glyphs say, as what they mean. The message that Boude had cast on the wall appears to me as several collections of glyphs, with no order between them. Here, for instance, she's drawn two sigils – five strokes in a glistening bruised-blue forming the essence of a many-handed warrior, atop the silvery outline of a great horse charging towards the centre of the room. Below, almost to the floor and some distance to the left, a second set of glyphs: a skeletonial squiggle stands atop the form of a golden child, duplicated, pulling an egg from between their lifeless forms. Three other clusters form similar struggles – above us, a jester astride a giant who tramples through the scarlet lines of a great hall; lower and to the right, but not as far right as the warrior, armies march upon a mountain.

But it is the central set of glyphs that hold my attention. Within a great circle, Boude had carefully drawn two prone forms – giants, the subglyphs seem to suggest – with the feet of each at the head of the other. Beyond the circle, the lords of wealth and creativity reign; within it, the chaos of nature held secure. The circle is complete, and incomplete, and full-round once more – changing as the seconds flick by. The colours of the whole are heavy, a mutating swirl of ochres and rubies and fecund greens; the more I stare at the patterns, the more Sam's stomach churns, the more his chest tightens as the glands above the kidneys pump adrenaline into his blood.

Suddenly I want to run away, far away, as fast as Sam's thick legs will take me!

'What does it say?'

It takes an effort to draw Sam's eyes away from the pulsing patterns.

'We need to find the girl,' I tell him. 'We need to keep looking.'

'Where? She's not here.'

I ignore Sam's doubts. I know that Boude had been here; Marton had told me he and Mada had spoken to her in this place yesterday afternoon, and the glyphs on the wall still carry her sharp heat.

'We'll look for other messages, yes? That security guard told you nobody else works here, that we wouldn't be disturbed, so we've got plenty of time to search.'

Which reminds me ...

'We'd better go and check on him,' I say.

'Is he still in the kitchen? I'll need to borrow his trousers so I can go get my clothes.'

'Good idea. He'll probably be sleeping still.'

He'll be sleeping for the rest of the morning if our luck holds. Still, I need to leave Falc a message before we go back home. If the man doesn't wake before we depart I'll have to trace out some energy glyphs of my own to tell him where to find me.

Falc owes me some answers.

'You never told me what the pictures said,' says Sam, ever insistent and as forthright as his father, as he heads towards the kitchen.

'As far as I can make out ...'

A sudden reluctance to continue with the sentence washes over me, like an insight or conviction that if I say – even think – the words, they'll come true.

A faint tang of copper slips along the sides of my tongue ...

I will not be broken! As if fighting through syrup, I force the words to align in my mind, push them into Sam's internal babble.

'They all say the same thing, Sam. Boude is telling us that the world is going to die. Sometime soon, everything will end. That's why we need to find her – she forgot to mention how it dies!'

Or, indeed, who kills it.

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