A Web of Memories

Void. It could sense only distant swirling clouds which moved so slow as to be nigh imperceptible, but it was timeless, and could bear witness to their lethargic dance. A sight few beings ever could witness, for in their entire lifespans the dance would move forward by only one step, one small movement of the hip, stretched out over a century. The consciousness had no particular opinions on the dance, for opinion seemed to be beneath it. It wasn't a beauty to the consciousness, nor was it an irritable presence. It simply was, as was the consciousness itself simply extant. It hadn't pondered its existence or purpose, for it knew already what and why it was. It was Ul'jvot, the watcher. The feeler. The archivist. Its entire purpose was to simply be, to listen, to watch, to feel the universe as a bystander, remembering all so that the veritable archive accumulating within it could one day be retrieved by the one who had created it.   Its mind was pulled across many places at once. On one end of the cosmos, it watched the rubble of a great star destroyed by a god's wrath float peacefully in the vacuum. In another, it watched as a god's breath inflated a great and terrible nebula of fear given physical form. Elsewhere, stars danced like twinkling insects, before warping their forms into incomprehensibly small tetrahedrons— as if they were aware they were being watched. Everything, everywhere, was observed by Ul'jvot. Even the smallest breath, the tiniest flicker, was seen and archived. Other beings knew this, and on occasion, even mortals would become aware of Ul'jvot's gaze. Its archive was no secret, it was not locked away nor protected, for none could remove memories from its collection.   Yet those not privy to this would try to sneak inside. Mortals especially, seeking knowledge beyond their means for one reason or another, believing themselves to be clever or masterful practitioners of occult magics. Their intrusions were still seen, however. Commonly, they would bind an object to Ul'jvot's mind, so that they themselves could use it as their own miniature archive— one that their small minds could comprehend and navigate. In this particular case, the chosen object was an obsidian dagger. It was expertly hewn, the back-curved blade had a glossy polish to it, free of the rough cuts and concavities an amateur may leave behind. It was tightly glued and bound with brown-dyed leather strips to a human rib, into which was carved prayers to a forgotten god, in its own forgotten language. A gemstone made of blood, crystallized through eldritch magic, sat firmly at the end of its pommel, which was fashioned into the shape of a diamond from blackened mahogany.   The binding took all of ten days to complete, during which the occultist had tirelessly chanted, growing lightheaded from the ever-burning incense. So much so, that their hands shook as they drew the innumerable forgotten words and runes along their walls. Their vision became filled with nothing but these runes and symbols by the end of the ritual, their sense of self nearly forgotten alongside the purpose of it all— but they continued, having retained the feeling of bloodlust. Within them was a deep yearning to not only cut down their enemies but to feel the life leaving them by accessing the archived senses. This they could do again and again, until they were finally sated. Ul'jvot watched, emotionless, as the mortal gleefully took the blade in hand once it was finished— before shortly thereafter collapsing onto the ground. The small room, lit only by turquoise-tinted candlelight, was quiet except for the blade— which hummed ever so quietly in the occultist's hands. In their sleep they probed into their newly bound archive, searching for what would bring their enemies the most pain. They moved their mind past knowledge of medicine or history, into the archives of their enemies, past their moments of happiness— seeking out their pain, anger, and sadness.   They drank eagerly of these moments. Fear, pain, tears— it was all a delectable wine. Perhaps they could simply stay here forever, drinking from the fountains of torment, becoming fat from overindulgence. One could all too easily lose themselves in the archives this way. Some have, over the aeons, left their lives to forever watch much like Ul'jvot itself, until their very essence became archived as well. The occultist did not know this, however. Their bath in the sorrow of those they despised was occasionally interrupted by happy observances, reminding them of why their hatred had persisted. Of how the occultist lived. Of who they were. Of reality. It sickened them, and filled their floating essence with a black, ethereal smoke. A thought came— what if this happiness could be removed? Only then could they truly float along the ocean of sorrow, only then could they be happy. Complete. Whole.   Black smoke seemed to swirl around their conscious as the idea coagulated, vaguely forming a smile. And so they trailed through their portion of Ul'jvot's archives like a child eagerly browsing the market for sweets. Just where would they start? A particularly saccharine memory floated by as they pondered this— that of the birth of one enemy's child. It was tethered to the archive by a thread of thought, a thin thing that was barely visible in the mind-light— like the fiber of a spider's web. They immediately went for their knife to sever it— only to quickly remember that they were incorporeal, and that there was no knife by the side of their conscious. Neither did they possess teeth with which to bite through the tendril. Their conscious moved around every possible angle of the connection, seeking its weakness. After a while of this, finally, an idea came to them. Their thought-form could, perhaps, push the memory away— stretching and finally breaking the thread connecting it to the archive, allowing it to float into the aether.   And this they willed, and their conscious followed, trailed by a thin black smoke. Upon touching the memory, they could feel everything within it. Their enemy's elation, tears of joy, the feeling of the warm room and their lover's embrace. If the occultist were still in their body, they would have retched. Instead, they channeled this energy into their push. For a brief moment, it seemed that their efforts were to be rewarded— the memory moved within the thought-space slightly towards the desired direction. Joy! But, this joy would not last— almost immediately after this, the memory's form snapped back into place, overcompensating for its displacement so much so that the intruder's form was crushed and assimilated by its sheer mass.   They could still feel it all. The warmth. The joy. They could hear the small child's cries, and the sounds of people outside the window. Tears of happiness had stained their enemy's face that day, and the intruder would feel them for eternity. Even after their body decomposed, their mind would remain within the memory. Long after their home crumbled to dust, and the sands of time ground their culture to nothing but memory— they would remain. Forever trapped within someone else's elation.  
  He inspected the dagger before him, turning it slowly with an outstretched arm held towards the window above. Pozil's mind traced its fingers along the sharp obsidian edge, hesitated upon making contact with the rib-hilt, and shuddered to imagine the profane incantations potentially held within the alien characters upon its surface. It had to have been some cosmic force that led the knife to his hands, having been a gift given by a friend, congratulating him on his return home from the battlefield. When Pozil asked where the knife was found, he was told simply that he did not want to know. He could quite easily guess, however. He couldn't help but lament the loss of whoever had bound the object, he had long dreamed of navigating Ul'Jvot's archives— but lacked the arcane knowledge, coin, and privacy with which to do so. Now, he held the key within his hands, the majority of the work done for him. Oh! If only his kind friend could have known the value of this gift! The man chuckled to himself, in his hands was an ocean of knowledge, of memory— of entertainment and escape.   Battle after battle had sapped his once vibrant smile from him, feeding off its essence to fuel the fight for just another day. He wished to forget what he had seen, the things he had done, those he had lost— and the hundreds of ends he had narrowly avoided. An arid wind blew through his mind, scalding his every waking moment with these memories of pain and loss while carrying away those of happiness now forgotten. It would do so no more, no longer would he endure this torture. The words still rang true in his mind, in preparation for this day he had long ago committed to memory the necessary runes which were now burned for eternity into his mind, in the background of every thought. Thanks to this, he never forgot his hope— allowing him to never fall completely into despair, for there was always a string of shimmering symbols behind each thought. P'riiab, ryjnat, st'a'arool. As clear as when he first read them, they remained ingrained in his memory. As he focused on the words, he felt himself grow lighter, his head drooping towards the ground, and his hands falling to his sides— releasing the knife with a clatter onto the stone floor beneath him.   His conscious spun in a gaseous void. Varied strings tied into knots of memory, and connected to one another in myriad web-like threads. Pozil felt a strange, new sensation here that was akin to smell— but felt without a body, instead through his entire conscious. The feeling was akin to being slowly boiled alive, as if thousands of small bubbles were rising from the core of his conscious at once. Though, this was not an unpleasant sensation— he could not feel pain in this state, and so he likened it to boiling a cloud. Memories of animals surrounded him, of those being hunted, those being born, and of those hunting. This conjured memories of the battlefield— and his conscious recoiled from them, seeking anything else. And so he willed his conscious to spin through the archives in search of more entertaining scenes. Time was lost in this state, it felt both like forever and went by within a blink as hundreds of memories passed by. Finally, he came to the memory of his home— of the land beneath it being cleared, of the foundation being laid, of the first inhabitants, second, third— and their renovations. He found himself lost in these memories, forgetting those of his own that had long plagued him for the first time in years— until the memories finally reached the current day, and Pozil saw himself asleep within. He was reminded of the passage of time, and hours had passed in his absence— a new day had already begun. If his conscious could cry out it would have, but instead the boiling sensation only grew stronger before he pulled himself back to the mortal realm.   Each night he would visit this realm once more, on the fifth he would relive the memories of a wandering merchant who had collected exotic goods from around the world, including instruments from Hanviehl, odd cups carved from mushrooms, a polychromatic dye that changed color from every angle— and more. Through her memories, Pozil travelled to lands he had never dreamed of visiting— some he had never even known of. He came to know her friends as she did, her sorrows, her joys, all experienced through her own memories. He forgot himself once more, lost in a feast of experiences upon which he gorged himself. By the time he had come to witness the merchant's end at the hands of bandits, three days had passed. Pozil awoke to find the local alchemist preparing to pour a noisome liquid down his throat. Seeing Pozil awaken, the elderly alchemist took this as a victory, and left in good spirits.   Pozil ceased his sojourns following this incident, fearing what would happen should he be presumed comatose— he would surely find himself dead soon after. This concern led him to lock the dagger away, in a dark corner of his home. And here it remained for weeks, and Pozil returned to his regular life full of newfound vigor— until word of an enemy army approaching another settlement in the east reached his ears, and he was called upon to serve in the settlement's defense. Despair fell upon him once more. Would this be the battle where he met his end? Who would he lose this time? What if he was unable to save as many innocents as he should? He needed to forget. He would not die at the end of a spear— no, he would choose his own end. The dagger was swiftly released, and the words played in his head once again— finding his conscious once more within the halls of memory.   And here he remained, as the days passed, the invading army broke the city's defenses, and marched forward towards the town in which Pozil lived. Pozil floated through the memories of a fish as his home was looted and burned— he didn't feel the heat nor the flames as his body became no more than ash. There was only the cool lake in which he swam. As the years passed, Pozil found his conscious to move slower and slower between memories— eventually becoming unable to access any on occasion. That ever-present boiling sensation dissipated, and he felt more like steam dissipating into the sky— until he no longer could feel. Nor could he think, move, or access memories— as his conscious was spun into thread, used to connect new memories. Nothing more than a single string within a cosmic tapestry.  
  Sickness had overrun the town of Tokiq, a terrible fever that left many of its inhabitants either bedridden, dead, or afraid. Cikape held the knife close as she returned from the city. Bundled in soft cloth like a newborn babe, the precious obsidian blade she held in her arms, she believed, would save her town. The merchant selling it had clearly not understood the power it contained, of the vast knowledge— forbidden or otherwise— one could glean from those prodigious archives. Cikape's knowledge of the occult was not great, but it was enough to understand this. She hurried to her abode, quickly shoving aside the woven blanket that acted as a door, and walked into the only other room— a small, cramped space meant for storage. This had, instead, been kept as Cikape's occult study. Runes lined the crumbling adobe plaster walls in various paints and pigments, in one corner scrolls containing eldritch secrets toppled over once again with the slight gust brought about by the woman's sudden entrance, and on the other end of the room, an overturned ceramic pot served as a desk.   She gingerly placed the bundled knife atop the pot, and began to carefully unwrap it. She ran her fingers along its lightly chipped surface, admiring the handiwork it must have taken to craft. She gave a quick prayer of thanks for its previous owner, and grasped the handle firmly in her hands. She took a deep breath, and wrote the necessary runes within her mind. P'riiab, ryjnat, st'a'arool. Committing them to memory. P'riiab, ryjnat, st'a'arool. One could never forget the runes. P'riiab, ryjnat, st'a'arool. This must be a long-term memory, one that cannot be forgotten for the remainder of one's life no matter the circumstances— otherwise they will not be granted entry into the archives. This takes great practice, as to hold control over one's own memory is to hold invisible reins. P'riiab, ryjnat, st'a'arool! Her body fell to the floor, asleep, knocking over the pot in the process.   Her conscious floated within a veritable ocean of information. A great nest where each and every fiber was made of thousands of different memories. It was overwhelming, how could she even begin to search for a cure? She could see the entire history of her town, three hundred years of slow progress, laid bare before her in a great thread of interconnected memories. Beside that, she could see the memories of a nearby lake— the rains that filled it, those that visited it, and the variety of life that called it home. She lost herself for a few moments experiencing them. Lapping at the sun upon the lake's shore, the life within it, tasting the now-gone heyday of the town in which she lived. She was not aware of how long she had spent within the memories, and was embarrassed for falling off track upon her exit. Nevertheless, she steeled herself, and went back to her search. She swam through the thought-sea, searching for any hint of the sickness that plagued her people, and a cure. After a period of time that felt like the passing of centuries— yet simultaneously like a brief moment— she finally found it— the memory of a ritual, from a people long forgotten, which brought into existence a cure-all for their kind. It healed even the crippled and the maimed.   The physiology of these predecessors differed from her own, but they possessed much knowledge she did not. So, surely, the same curative would aid her people all the same. She repeated the memory three times— time was short, after all— and began to return her conscious to her body. Thought-clouds sputtered and withered away, slowly but surely, as her awareness of the archives diminished in patches until finally she found herself on the floor. It took a few moments for control to come back to her, and even then, she felt as if she was rowing a boat that was not her own. This feeling persisted for a short while afterwards, but, as the feeling of control began to set in once more— and was greeted as a long-lost friend might have been— she rose to her feet and carefully propped the pot back into place.   The dagger had been damaged in her fall, having been dropped beneath the falling pot, the tip of its blade was broken off. Cikape lamented this loss for a brief moment, before placing it gingerly atop the pot to fix later— after she had prepared and distributed the curative. This required a ritual that, while not entirely above her understanding of eldritch magics, was still on the cusp of her knowledge and practice. This she disregarded, however, and began immediately preparing for what would be an arduous task. First, she needed the very essence of the illness— something that she would have to extract from the sick or recently deceased. She ran the risk of being killed, should her work with eldritch magics be discovered— and so she opted instead for the more unsavory route.   Overhead, the sun still burned down upon the dry landscape below. As urgent as her work was, it could not be jeopardized by her being seen. And so, she waited. She picked up the fallen scrolls in the corner, and prepared the space for the ritual to come— as much as she could without the essence, at least. Incense made from coagulated thoughts was placed on the dusty floor in a zigzag pattern. Small ceramic pots of water were then placed beside these; later, when the incense was needed, it would be placed within these pots and the water within would rise up the twisted sticks to create a gateway on the ceiling above. She dug through her belongings to find a wax idol, which had unfortunately succumbed slightly to the heat so that the creature's head dropped somewhat. It was still in its image, however, and would do its job. She gingerly placed it at the end of the zigzag and knelt over the figure, pressing her forehead to its own— depressing it a little more. It required memories of grief, to show that the illness truly necessitated the ritual. Cikape shut her eyes and turned her thoughts to those she had lost, and to those she feared she would lose— imagining the eventuality of their deaths and the pain they would cause. This took some time, which she had lost track of, but by the end her tears had fallen and the idol was bloated with her memories. She bothered not to wipe the wax from her brow, and went to check on the progress of the sun's journey through the sky. Sunset. This would be the most opportune time for her work, as while she could still see— she could remain hidden from others if she employed caution in her movements.   Quietly, she ventured outside, the dry orange dirt beneath her feet crunching softly with each step. A light breeze came from the west, and with it, she could smell the death and despair within the town. Her immediate neighbors were inside, and she could hear the pained coughs from within, so painful was this sound, that Cikape brought a hand to her chest as if the pain were her own. She tightly gripped her clothing, and sped up her pace. It was not far, she was sure. There was little time to arrange for funerary rites when the number of corpses continued to rise— not to mention the risk of becoming infected when handling the bodies, acting like seeds from which the illness grew. This resulted in not only a communal burial site, but in families keeping the bodies of loved ones close by so that they may bury them later, once the illness had finally lifted itself like a heavy stone from their backs.   Cikape knew of one such family, who, instead of living on to bury their fallen loved ones, joined them shortly after their passing. From her understanding, the body was still within their home— covered only with a woven blanket. She could quietly enter, perform the required rites to extract the illness' essence from the cadaver, and return home to produce the curative without anyone noticing. Perhaps, she thought, she may even be able to avoid seeing the body— the rites could be performed through the blanket. At least, she hoped that they could. It was a quiet walk, as the home in question was only a short distance from her own— even shorter if she had slipped between other homes, but this she was not willing to risk.   The red adobe plaster was saturated further in the receding sunlight, appearing to Cikape as if it had been painted in blood. She scolded herself for the thought, and nearly tripped on the uneven ground before it, catching herself with an outstretched palm along the still warm walls. She hurriedly walked inside, navigating as best she could by the fading light shining through the various high-sitting windows. The corpse found her first, and she let out a startled gasp as her foot connected with its exposed leg. The sounds of nearby rustling put her on further alert— until spotting its source. Rodents had arrived well before she had, which she kicked away while mouthing the words "This one's mine." The creatures quietly skittered away, as if aware of the quiet the woman required.   Cikape readjusted the blanket over the body, though it had been chewed through in places, it would cover enough for her nerves to remain intact. Letting out a sigh of relief, she knelt down, and rested for a short moment before straightening up and beginning the rites. Her hands rested over the corpse's chest, and though the blanket separated them, she could still feel the coldness of its skin, as if the corpse wished to spite the heat that permeated the room around it. She could not blame it, and shuddered lightly before continuing. A new set of runes were drawn in her mind, which she committed to memory— thankfully she needed only recall these for an hour— and she began to hum from the back of her throat. Around her, dust began to kick up into the air and vibrate— a faint, warm, glow emanating from each particle. Her tone varied over the course of fifteen minutes, until her work was done. From the body before her rose a pulsating, gaseous form— what must have been the essence of the illness, should she have performed everything correctly. This she took into her arms gently, and rose from the floor to return home. She stumbled a little in the dark, but made her way back without issue. Excitedly, the gaseous form in her arms was placed at the foot of the zigzag on the floor— opposite the wax idol. Each of the thought-incense sticks was placed carefully in their respective pots, and Cikape kneeled beside the orb. Clasping her hands in front of her, she bowed her head and began to chant.   "Eeg'ixkil, s'mna, s'ligaat, tjshaajarok." Each word was followed by a thunderous sound that somehow emanated from her throat. Water from the pots was already spiraling up towards the ceiling. Cikape continued. "Nee'tla mnas Eeg'ixkil, haaesingot!" A line was being painted upon the ceiling, the water forming a zigzag like that beneath— the line being drawn from each point where it connected to the adobe. "Pii'sh! Pii'sh! Pii'sh ja'lat goaeshnog, yt jikya'la'tik." The ground shook as the lines connected, and the zigzag formed upon the ceiling shone in polychromatic brilliance as it began to grow outwards. A light that was both bright and the very absence of brightness filled the entirety of the room, and even through her eyelids, Cikape could see everything clearly. "Eegixkil tjshaajarok!" She shouted, as various appendages gripped at the gateway's edges. Some resembled human arms but with different colors, joints, and sizes. Others were entirely alien to her, not even resembling those of any animals or monsters she had seen in her life. A form that was simultaneously gaseous, liquid, and solid spiraled from the gateway's center, and deposited a twisted contained upon the floor. It spoke in a tongue Cikape did not know, but somehow understood.   "This is what you seek." Its voice was wet with knowledge, and she instinctively trusted it. Slowly, it retreated back into the gateway, the varied appendages pulled the gateway shut behind it— leaving a thin crack along the ceiling in its wake. She scrambled along the floor towards the container, which undoubtedly, in her mind, contained the cure. Now she need only distribute it— and for that, she need only pour its contents into the communal well. She left immediately to do so.  
. . .
  The illness vanished, this is undeniable— but something else vanished that night, the hitherto inalienable state of humanity experienced by all within the town. In the days following Cikape's actions, the illness vanished— but those who had survived found their appetites withering, their skin drying out, and odd patterns appearing across their bodies. As time went on, the changes became more extreme, their flesh bundled itself into threads that wove themselves into tight patterns. New limbs formed, with a hooked appendage extruding from their foreheads. Their noses and mouths threaded themselves shut, as their stomachs and lungs expanded over a series of days before finally popping and joining the flesh-threads elsewhere. Their feet unraveled and twisted inwards, before their legs were pulled inside-out up to their thighs, finally forming tight balls of woven flesh that undulated around the remaining limbs.   Then, as a final, excruciating transformation, their heads split apart like flowers. The threads stayed connected in woven petals which tied to their necks, leaving the floating masses that were their now threaded brains to float upon a strengthened stem, exposed. The town would be abandoned as they wandered away, fearing that they would be destroyed upon discovery. Few know of their whereabouts since the illness arrived, most simply assume the town of Tokiq to have been wiped out in its wake.

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