Tambul – The Archives
The austerity of this building’s exterior does not mislead: as without, so within. Before her is a single great hall, nearly unadorned and filled solely with shelves of tomes and rows of copying desks—all filled with scholarly rumps. While the vaulted ceiling is impressive, no intricate designs detail its supports.
Yet even in spite of its aesthetic dearth, the pearly, glowing tree at the archives’ center shrouds the room in a dreamlike haze. A bark of marble white covers its thick limbs—limbs which creep about the entirety of the archives, stretching out like some sylvan giant just waking from a lengthy slumber. From cracks in its aged hide, bulbous crystalline protrusions pulse with a pale, white incandescence, casting rays of light about the structure.
It’s like the one in the Sanctuary… but alive.
The handful of individuals reading or copying texts are dwarfed by the arboreal behemoth, and rendered seemingly insignificant in contrast.
Eidos lazily strolls around the archives, from shelf to shelf and tome to tome. Yet, with so much of the space occupied by the tree, it seems as though there is a relative poverty of written resources in this place. Many of the shelves lie empty and Eidos estimates that only roughly half the space is being filled with tomes.
During her exploration, she also finds hints of a storied past when the archives were alive with decorations. The now all but barren walls, were clearly once painted with murals that have faded with the passage of time. Large swathes have been completely erased, but here and there a splash of color or a fleck of gilding betrays their former glory.
Wait, is that a…
Her eyes lock onto one of the more intact murals. At first, it appears to be a stylistic representation of the massive tree dominating this very hall. Yet, there are a great number of differences both subtle and profane. In the faded fresco, the tree’s roots are visible, seeming to sprout from the body of a woman buried beneath the tree. Red veins run through the roots, up the trunk, and blossom forth from the branches as crimson leaves. These stand in contrast to the silvered foliage of the archives’ own tree.
It looks a lot like the mural in the Sanctuary, what with the woman under the tree and all that nonsense.
Parsing and surmising from nearly invisible outlines, Eidos sees—or imagines—two crows: one near the roots, pecking at the corpse, and another perched high in the uppermost branches, staring at the viewer with its coal-black eyes. Above the lofty crow is a white circle, like a bleached halo beaming light down upon the scene, the faded memory of an indecipherable Glyph lurking within.
How many of these things are there, anyway? So far I’ve seen Farcaster, Eidos, Fenrir, Luin—does that one count?—, Discipline, Wulfias, and the Occult… so seven plus this one. At least eight. This one’s different. Wonder what it does… Maybe Fenrir will give it to me next time.
Soon turning her attention from the walls to the shelves, Eidos scrutinizes the tomes, both covers and bindings. She stares, perplexed, at the leatherbound volumes, much as a beast may gaze upon masterworks of art. And as these would be impossible to appreciate to the beast, likewise are the tomes indecipherable to her.
Can read some, but not others… What am I missing? Not that being able to read them would help anyway.
Soon, she has completed her rounds and returned to the entrance. Yawning, she considers exiting in search of green pastures.
Body, didn’t you come here to talk to Kaleki?
Eyes search for her original purpose, finally landing on a rather grim-looking woman pacing the area with the bearing of authority.
Yeah, I bet that’s her.
Feet move in pursuit. The pacing woman stops dead in her tracks once she notices Eidos’ approach, a look of recognition on her face. She stands there, waiting for the visitor to come to her.
Eidos simply continues her shuffle towards who she thinks must be Kaleki.
The woman soon confirms all suspicions, saying, “Biracul guide you, Eidos. I’m Kaleki, Librarian of Tambul.”
“You know my name?”
“Pakahron informed me you might be paying the archives a visit. How may I serve you?”
“Not sure.” You moron! Ask about the memory issue and Neverborn mind structure or whatever it was! “Or… uh, on second thought… What exactly is wrong with my brain?” For the love of…
A smile soon threatens to ruin Kaleki’s perfect mask of indifference. Smothering the amusement with a practiced discipline, she offers, “Ah, yes, about the memory issue, right? Well, your case is without precedent, honestly. Obviously, humans are born bereft of memories as infants, but the general consensus is that it’s because there were none there to begin with. Being born an adult with no memories, well this is only seen among the Neverborn.”
“Born a Neverborn? You make no sense. I thought people like you were supposed to make sense.”
Annoyance tugs a subtle snarl into her otherwise flat lips. “I think you misunderstood me, Eidos.” Now completely regaining her composure, she continues, “Neverborn are Vanquished automata used for different tasks, ranging from protection to manipulation of dangerous physical objects. Think of them as soul-less but thinking beings.”
The sentry… and maybe those different statues in the Wellspring… and maybe the big blue creatures I saw, too(?). Vanquished automata, huh? Then who were the Vanquished?
Despite seeing the vacant expression on Eidos’ face, Kaleki proceeds undeterred, “You clearly have a soul, and as such, we can assume you’re not a Neverborn. But, not even the Emerald Architect himself was capable of creating a homunculus let alone a human—that’s still firmly in the realm of fantasy.
“Consequently, I have no clue as to ‘what’ you are… But rest assured I will scour the archives for an answer. It may take several weeks, though. But these things take time…”
“Forget it. Bye then.” That’s rude…
Stunned by the rather abrupt farewell, an awkward silence ensues.
Eidos shrugs and walks away.
A look of utter confusion—incredulity and wrath’s bastard child—prompts Kaleki to give chase and ask, “Don’t you want to know who you are?!”
“Not really,” Eidos says without turning around.
Clearly flabbergasted at this point, the slighted Librarian’s voice teases a volume inappropriate for an archives. “Then why even bother asking in the first place?!”
“Not sure; just sorta did it; that happens to me a lot,” comes her reply as she exits, leaving a seething Kaleki in a past this Eidos will soon forget.
This me sure knows how to make friends and influence people…
Tambul – The Moon Tower
Neither knowing nor caring where she heads, Eidos finds herself entering a keep surrounding the giant silver spire she saw upon exiting the Sanctuary.
The Moon Tower, according to Heyar… I wonder… if he’s still alive—he must be. Maybe my idiot body will go to the Dawn Fortress and find out.
From this vantage point, it is difficult to tell how this structure was built. By all appearances, it is composed of a number of interlocking plates, though there are no signs of rivets or welds—it seems the seams are more aesthetic choice than pragmatic necessity.
This brilliant spire stands in stark contrast to the fortification that surrounds it. Blocks of sandstone form a modest keep around the tower, with walls both thick and high. The gates leading from the residential area and into the keep stand open, implying all have access to it.
We could take a look from the ramparts. Should be able to see the Dawn Fortress and the canyon from there—and who knows what else?
Walking through the keep structure, searching for a way up to the top of the walls, Eidos finally comes to see the base of the tower. Up close, the staggering size of the tower is more evident than ever. So unfathomably wide that its circular base seems to draw a straight line in either direction. So unreasonably tall that it never seems to taper as it climbs skyward and disappears into the distance.
The tower, however, is less inviting than the keep, as its front door is closed and flanked by guards. Eidos sees no way to access the bridge from here, but soon spies what appears to be a path leading around to the back of the tower.
Circumnavigating the base for several minutes, she notes the third or fourth stories begin to sprout hundreds of windows, giving it the unsettling semblance of a metallic honeycomb. Within the span of a hundred paces, she stumbles upon a narrow stairway leading up.
That’ll likely get us to the top.
She climbs and climbs until she reaches a landing atop the walls, and the vistas it affords.
Casting her gaze out over the canyon, she absorbs the wonders of the landscape both natural and artificial. To the east, a sprawling fortress stands between her and a black point melting into the horizon. To the north of the inky dot is a sea of sparkling white. To the south, nothing but dust and sand.
Huh, I can’t really see the Obsidian Ruin from here… I wonder if it would still freak me out as much as it did last time.
Then turning to survey the western vistas, she sees nothing resembling life beyond city walls. They are locked in an ocean of sandy desolation. Far to the north, beyond the desert, appears to be far off hills, or unreachably distant mountains. To the south, nothing but endless dust and sand.
A gentle breeze blows in from the west, rounding the tower and cooling her sun-baked skin. It carries with it the desert’s lifeless scent.
The tower is blocking both Dazir and the Sanctuary… must be further east of Tambul than I thought. Nothing north or south, though… This is it.
Disrupting the serenity of the scene is the sound of somewhat muffled, scratching footsteps.
Doesn’t concern me.
Eidos lazily hunts for the source to the left and then the right, spotting nothing, as the wind howls by mockingly.
“Stupid wind. Making me hear things.”
Her natural state of boredom soon regained, she yawns widely, craning her neck. Only then does she notice that a rope dangles down from an opened window, wagging its tail excitedly as a man climbs towards the opening.
I suppose I could climb it.
She stares vacantly at the rope.
…perhaps in another lifetime.
Time passes. How long? Too long. Eidos has already forgotten what she was looking at or even why she is here in the first place.
Motion sparks a thought in her, the man she once watched now emerges and slides down his rope, right in front of Eidos. With only the slightest bit of surprise detectable upon his face, he regards her.
But she finds interpreting facial expressions too taxing an activity and thus just replies with a dumb but genuine smile.
“Lovely weather we’ve been having…” the man says, breaking the silence.
“Sure. You can go now,” she replies, not wanting the exertion of a conversation at the moment.
Taken aback, the man eyes her with suspicion before nodding his unspoken thanks. In a flash, the man slips away over the edge of the landing, leaving nothing behind but an open window and a mystery.
This body doesn’t care, and honestly, it doesn’t much matter… Let’s just leave and do something else.
Eidos sits down, leaning against the wall and staring out across the walls and the empty expanse beyond them. Were it not directly in her line of sight, she would have missed a covered portion on the ramparts, standing in stark contrast to its naked neighbors.
Why does that part have a roof? Is it a garrison… a guardhouse, maybe?
As this thought fades into memory, she hears the tolling of a thick bell. Once. Twice. And on the third ring, a body, stiff as a corpse, appears to fly out from the covered area and into the canyon below. The ghastly sight sears itself into her retinas, leaving a temporary, flashing impression replaying itself over and over in her until it too fades.
Let’s go check it out, body. Better than staying here and roasting in the sun. Meaningless or not, I prefer going somewhere—anywhere—to doing nothing.
Reluctantly, her body rises from its resting position and walks the length of the walls to the covered section at the far end of the battlements.
Tambul – The Mortuary
In the shade stands a man, decked out in a heavy leather apron and matching leather gloves, both with dark stains splattered all over. At the center is a blanketed object resting upon a table. The man, walks over towards the table and begins to peel off the covering, revealing a rather grim sight.
The bloated corpse of a dead man lies there, wan and motionless. Though miraculously the stench of death is absent. Hung upon the walls are numerous concoctions, some bubbling absent fire, others constantly shifting color, but not a single unremarkable one among them.
The man attending the body is in his middle years. Heavyset and mustachioed, he looks more butcher than mortician. He performs his chores with the utmost precision and detachment, cleaning the cadaver and then rubbing ointments all over it.
Large gashes made in the neck indicate the body has been drained of blood prior to this treatment ritual. Several corpses strung upside down over a vat at the far end of the area serve to confirm this suspicion.
Finally noticing her presence, the mortician wipes the sweat off his brow and gives Eidos a quizzical glance.
Eidos replies with her characteristic blank stare.
The man laughs a hearty laugh and shouts, “Well don’t be shy! They don’t bite, kid!” He waves her over.
So you go when a random stranger beckons, but not when I ask you to? No, don’t let this bother you; you can’t let it bother you because there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
“Now, what in the name of the Obsidian Jinn’s black arse are you doin’ up here, outlander? You some kind of necrophile? That means death-lover, in case you’re as dumb as you look.”
“Just kind of ended up here,” she says poking at some of the hanging corpses.
Can you please not do that.
“Mind not touchin’ the merchandise, sweetcheeks?”
She gives it one last poke before moving away towards a large opening in the wall.
“Whoa there, kid! Not even Ark survived that fall!” he warns, soon walking over to pull her back.
Before he reaches her, Eidos peeks over the edge. These walls overlook yet another ghastly sight, for in the canyon, far below, lies a veritable mountain of bones. She can just barely make out a pair of minuscule, fuzzy points near the pile and another one next to the grisly mound.
“Biracul’s balls, you’re worse than a child,” he says, pulling her over to stool and sitting her down. “Careful your curiosity doesn’t send you fallin’ over the ramparts into the canyon, or you’ll find yourself becomin’ personally acquainted with the bones. And worse yet, I’d have to explain to Pakahron how I let a clueless visitor kill her own fool self!”
“Doesn’t much matter; we all gotta die sometime,” she says growing bored with sitting.
“That’s some dark shit, kid—and that’s comin’ from me, a jinncursed mortician!”
“Well, nice havin’ a chat, but maybe you should run along. I’m sure you got places to be!”
“Not really. I don’t really know where to go.”
“Well, then let me be your jinnlickin’ tour guide—it’s not like I have a job or anythin’! Right, so that big metal thin’ is the Moon Tower, the main attraction of Tambul. And Tambul itself is the greatest and oldest of Kaban settlements, the very center of culture, life and prosperity in the Kabu region.
“Outside of these walls are the followin’: sand, dust, more sand, truth-blind savages, sand, arrogant savages… sand, rocks, mountains, dry riverbeds, and, you guessed it, plenty of sunshine! However, Tambul is my homeland so, maybe I’m a little biased. And maybe you’d like slummin’ it somewhere else.”
Eidos simply stares at the man only half focused, her maximum effort though it may be.
“Biracul’s balls! You’re as stubborn as a Suyuti in hot pursuit of a goat! What is it you want, outlander? Don’t tell me you need some company from old Boz?”
“Why throw the bodies into the canyon?” she asks, ignorant of his annoyance.
“Why do Kabans do it or why do I do it?”
“To remember Ark’s fall into the canyon.”
“Because reverence towards the dead is a mistake made by heathens and superstitious fools. Else, it’s just an affectation by the educated to exploit those superstitious fools. Why, I myself prepared Kambesh’s body when folk demanded he be buried as one of them—a testament to how well he controlled the hearts and minds of the truth-blind flock.”
“Okay,” she says, rising to leave.
“Ah, you leavin’ so soon? And here I thought we were bondin’!”
“I don’t mind stayin’ either; no difference to me.”
“No! Jinns take you, kid! I’m up to my balls in corpses these days.”
“Why so many recently?”
“…I guess you haven’t met this fellow’s former co-worker,” he says slapping the body on the chest. “A Daziran named Reba, works in the Hydroponics farm, generally heard before seen, voice only half as annoying as the words it forms…” He shivers. “Thank Biracul—and all the Jinns in the Graylands!—that she didn’t choose to apprentice here, else I’d be the one flyin’ into the canyon—well, either me or her, ha!”
“Okay. I’ve lost interest.” Rude as always, body.
Eidos begins to walk down the nearby stairs, as Boz looks on in stunned silence.
Halfway down the stairs she hears a raucous laughter echoing after her, followed by the words, “You win this one, kid! Ha! Biracul guide you!”
But she barely registers them and simply continues her descent.
Tambul – The Gate of Celestial Judgment
The stairs end and Eidos enters a courtyard. The shimmering, doorless gate here permits a limited view of the canyon. While the sight of this deep scar in the earth’s skin is truly breath-taking, it is eclipsed by the feat of unfathomable engineering spanning it—Heaven’s Bridge.
Likely wrought by the same hands responsible for the Moon Tower, this bridge too consists of perfectly interlocking metallic pieces, like scales on an impossibly large serpent. Stretching out across the chasm, it slithers through the air absent any support structures and yet miraculously remains solid and unmoving.
The sight is made even stranger by virtue of the massive archway hanging over the bridge entrance. There is some kind of visual distortion bending light at the threshold, as if a thin film of superheated air hung suspended between the metal pillars.
That’s probably the bridge to the Dawn Fortress… might make for a more comfortable journey than a torrent of poisoned water.
Nearby she hears a familiar voice yet cannot quite match it to a name or face.
“‘Fairer than a polished gem,
“More robust than an egg-laying hen…’
“Hmm… needs more vivid imagery… I got it!
“‘Love deeper than a Suyuti's for their goat,
“Want to memorize your every bit by rote!’
“No! This is garbage, refuse, junk, rubbish, waste, dregs, dross, slag, and trash! All is trash compared to the wonder that is my wonderful Bootia!”
Oh no… body, hide. For the love of all that’s sacred, hide. It’s better for all parties involved.
Rarely shying away from an opportunity to rest, Eidos steps back into the stairwell and sits down, away from admiring eyes.
The voice continues, “‘More idle than the unemployed,
“Hotter than an asteroid…’
“...Or perhaps ‘Closer to me than my hemorrhoid,’ instead..?
“Gah! I need the brutal cruelty of the Dawn Fortress to move my pen beyond this writer’s block! Yes! Only by submerging my seed into manure can it blossom into the most beautiful stalk of grain!
“When next we meet, you will have been immortalized in song, my sweet!”
He begins to hum loudly, sharing his joy with an uncaring world. The poet’s off-key humming grows quieter and quieter as he moves toward the Residence District, presumably to pack up his belongings for his next great excursion.
Now, I’m not so sure about going to the Dawn Fortress…
Eidos rises from her stony seat and moves toward the doorless gate.
Well, as long as we avoid that guy, I guess it’ll be fine.
Two guards stand chatting near the archway, oblivious to her approach.
What’s the point of having guards if they’re not going to watch what they’re guarding?
She continues her approach, aiming to walk through the transparent distortion in the gateway. Suddenly, one of the guards frantically scrambles to get her attention, grabbing her by the arm and firmly yanking her away from the gate.
He begins his violent reproach, “Biracul’s balls! You almost got yourself dissolved, lady!”
The guard quickly searches the ground for a loose stone and picks it up, only to then ceremoniously cast it through the distortion.
It connects with the shimmering air, causing a violent reaction to take place. The rock dissolves from within, leaving not a single trace the thing had ever existed.
“Get it now?! That could’ve been you!” he says pointing to, well nothing, now that the stone has dissolved.
Doesn’t matter. Death doesn’t affect me.
“Look,” he continues, his tone softening, “I don’t know where you came from, but it’s obvious you’re not from around Kabu, at least. So lemme explain two things to you.
“Number one. The Tacribians on the other side of the bridge’re on the brink of committing a Daziran genocide, something to do with a water dispute—but I don’t know, nor do I care to find out the details of their conflict…
“Which brings me to number two. If you wanna cross, oh we’ll lower the barrier for you, but I’m afraid you won’t be coming back in after that. Pakahron made it abundantly clear to us that, even if Biracul himself came a-knocking, nothing gets in from the other side.
“So with that in mind, it’s your call, lady.” He stares at her impatiently.
“Not sure. Maybe you can tell me what to do,” she replies.
An incredulous guffaw from the guards has them in stitches. “Did you hear that, Brus? She wants me to tell her what she should do!
“Well, Let’s see, do we have a simpleton who’ll follow any orders? Dawn Fortress! Or is she just lazy? Dazir! Ha!”
The other guard chimes in, “Hold up there, Arkal! The draug raids ended with Rikharr, didn’t they?”
Arkal picks up the flow, “Meaning the Tacribs have just been sitting on their arses doing nothing anyway.”
“Exactly!” Brus agrees. “So, follower or lazy, either way the Fort’s the place for this one. Ha!”
“Sitting and doing nothing? You mean… paradise?” Eidos asks in earnest.
The guards stare at each other and then laugh so hard they fall to the floor. “I can’t take it! She’s killing me!”
“Biracul’s balls, she’d be a perfect match for Akkeber!”
Eidos smiles dumbly, naturally happy at others’ happiness.
My body may be stupid, but at least it’s happy, I guess.
The two stand up, chuckles still tugging at their guts.
“All right, lady, as you wish. The door to paradise is about to open!” he says as he pulls a small crystal from its casing.
The shimmer vanishes. The path is revealed.
She crosses the threshold, and no sooner is she passed the archway’s pillars than does the shimmer return. Though a one-way trip it may be, perhaps it will be worth the journey.
The guards laugh their farewells as she moves steadily across the bridge.