Sakarn Var Surten was being talked to, and didn’t care for it one bit.
To be honest, it wasn't so much the talking to he minded, it was the fact he didn't understand a word of what the mustachioed agent was saying. That, and the way the man kept pointing his finger at him was vaguely obscene. He was glad the others were not here to see this shameful display.
“Snow, what is he talking about?”
“He is just explaining the terms of our stay here, Lordship.”
Sakarn briefly regretted not bothering to learn the Northworld tongue, but then remembered himself. After all, what were servants for?
“Translate for me.”
“Yes, Lordship. Agent Douglas is saying that according to the contract signed between the IIPES and their Foundation, you are entitled to visit one wing of the location they are referring to as SCP-921. Armed guards will be stationed at the entrances to the wing, but you may access the recorded memories held within it freely. We will stay on-site for two days, under orders from his director and our Superior. He says that even a great fool such as yourself can surely understand such simple procedures.”
“He called me a fool?! The sheer nerve! I’ll have him reported to his superiors! Snow, do it at once.”
“That might be unwise, Lordship. Casual insults such as this are common in the everyday speech of the Northworld. It is considered acceptable in polite conversation. We must always obey propriety, as you often say. ”
“Oh… well then, I suppose that is tolerable. Tell him that I understand, and that his birth-mother’s… cooking was greatly below par.”
The servant relayed Sakarn’s reply to the agent, who nodded and, after murmuring a few words into a mobile communication device hanging from a shoulder strap, led the two inside the great cave complex known as SCP-921. The three made for a strange sight, as they entered the depths of the Museum of Memories: the agent in his tailored suit and shiny leather shoes, muttering under his breath, the slender, four-armed Mender in his magnificent gossamer robes and a look of disdain on his long face, and the short, plainly dressed servant, smiling faintly behind his master’s back.
After a few minutes, they reached a sort of central chamber. Sakarn discerned multiple exits which seemed to lead to various other tunnels much like the one they just left. The agent began speaking again, and his finger resumed its pointing routine.
“He says that this chamber houses the site’s curator, Lordship. It will provide explanations on the various memories stored here. He will now lead us to the Verdant Dome wing, where you will be able to begin your tour in earnest. He also suggests that you should shower more often.”
Now making their way through a different tunnel, the trio soon reached a vast open area, and despite himself, Sakarn was impressed: it was a huge stone amphitheater, at least ten stories high, and completely overgrown with strange and exotic types of flora. The agent began climbing the ancient-looking steps, and motioned the others to follow. He stopped next to a cracked seat about halfway up, and gestured Sakarn to sit, once again wiggling his finger at him and saying something to Snow.
“He said that each seat in the amphitheater accesses a different memory, Lordship. Simply sit on one, and you will experience it. He explained that these memories are all benign, and even a dainty, skinny coward wrapped in a dandy’s robe should not have any difficulty with them.”
“I am beginning to grow very tried with the conversation culture of the Northworld, summerling.”
“I understand your frustration, Lordship, but we must obey propriety. You needn't worry; the agent will now leave you to your own devices, as will I. “
“What? Where do you think you’re going?”
“You will not require my services here, Lordship, and I have official business elsewhere, Superior's orders. I shall be back within the hour.”
Sakarn bent down to the nearest seat, examining the gorgeous, luminescent red vine wrapped tightly around it. "And what, pray tell, orders are tho-“but the servant was already gone, leaving Sakarn alone in that strange hall. Sighing, Sakarn brushed some non-existing dust from the red vine and sat.
Lights, as bright as an autumn day upon the salt flats of his youth. A great man, riding a strange hooved beast, in the midst of a great, cheering crowd. An elder, issuing dire warnings, like arrows from the eyes of the red planet. And elsewhere, a little man smiled, writing.
Sakarn blinked, and slowly got up. He took a careful step away from the stone pew, and almost slipped down the stairs when a voice began to ring, coming somewhere from the ceiling above him.
He comes to bring the old order to its knees, for the sake of well-earned pride, and would not listen to those who seek to warn him. He would soon learn that while pride is a poor quality if one wishes to keep his life, it is a great one for one wishing to keep a legacy.
After a moment of fairly ignoble whimpering, Sakarn remembered the pointing-prone agent said something about a curator providing explanations, and relaxed a bit. For a while, he simply stood there, but eventually curiosity got the better of him and he sat again, this time on the pew adjacent to the first.
Lights again, not nearly as bright this time. An armored man again, but not nearly as great, and his hooved beast is made of… painted wood? An elder with a fake beard, mumbling something, and the small man from before, shouting at both of them.
Even the greatest of legacies fade with time, and soon naught is left but tinder to the minds of others, a spark from which a new sort of greatness may one day emerge.
Sakarn didn't quite know what to make of scene, other than a vague sense of familiarity. Intrigued, he slid to the next seat over, the last in the row.
An overcast day this time. The man from before being stabbed by men in robes as a crowd watches in silence. Later, they cheer, and the stabbed man rises, and takes a bow, hand in hand with his murderers.
And so, something new is born. Not so glorious perhaps, but great nevertheless. There is more than one way to be remembered.
Ah, so this was what that was all about, a play. Sakarn now realized what seemed so familiar about the scene- it bore a close resemblance to the Tragedy of the Halfmoon Empress, which he had seen performed few times, the last being in the Midwinter festival. He remembered Merrella’s wonder at the bright, colorful costumes, her smile as she saw the Empress brought to justice for her crimes, how she cheered at the end…
Sakarn shook himself, and expelled the memory from his mind. It would not do to think of her, not after what happened. He rose from the stone pew, and attempted to regain his composure. Can't let anyone see him like this, can't show weakness, not after last time. Never again.
Over the course of the next hour, Sakarn circled the grand amphitheater, occasionally taking a seat and experiencing a memory. They were all connected to theater, in one way or another, and, while not unpleasant, Sakarn found that they reminded him too much of the past. Of Shifting Snow, there was no sign, and, growing wary of waiting, Sakarn decided to approach one of the guards in order to be let out. That is, until he noticed a light shining from a small corridor to the side of the amphitheater, which he somehow missed until now. Something about the light was… intriguing. The corridor led to a room very different from the vast hall it was connected to. It was an intimate place, a shaded grove hidden within the bowls of the earth. Beneath each neatly lined tree was a round, clear pool of water. Sakarn was reminded of the Hall of Mending back home. Instinctively, he dipped his long, metallic arms into one of the shallow pools, and dashed a sprinkle of icy water onto his face.
A strange man he didn't recognize, in ancient clothes, standing before a vast host of Feastlings, preparing the ritual of Mending. Impossible. The Maws of Eser, opened wider than he ever saw them. Another host, in another place, tearing through the Northworld like a mailed fist. A girl, her face hidden. The smell of tar and rot.
Some things must not be allowed to be forgotten. Others, to be remembered. What was, may be again, will be again. The Maws always hunger for dreams, and through dreams, hunger comes. Be vigilant.
Sakarn slowly pulled his arms out of the pool, and realized they were shaking. The ritual of Mending, performed by a layman, Feastlings in the Northworld. The smell… he didn't understand any of it, and that frightened him. Despite his position in court, Sakarn never forgot that a Mender's first duty was to attend to the Maws, and if this place knew something about them, he had to find out. Reluctantly, he walked to the next pool over, and repeated the gesture.
A robed creature, viscous fluids leaking from burlap sacks and bundles in its hands. The Feastlings, hungrily drinking from the fetid pools it left behind it as it paced along a ruined concrete corridor. No, one of carved stone. Ivory. Oak. Metal. Always moving towards the girl with her face covered, in a hundred different guises.
Some things never change. Others, change too much. The memory of a memory is enough to leave a sea of corpses behind it, and he is nothing so vague. Once the Maws are opened again, there will be no turning back. Be true.
This wasn't enough! He had to get to the bottom of this, even if it would kill him! Another pool, a dip, a flash of consciousness.
Rootrel, just a tiny village now, drowned by a black tide of festering bodies. Another city, its tall steel and glass towers impaled by the thorns of a gargantuan, pulsing plant. The girl, always the girl, where did he know her from? She looked just like…no, she was reading, in a place he visited once before, and a bearded man was smiling, but he had no mouth to smile with. The tar soon swallowed them both.
Some things cannot be changed. Others are still malleable. This memory of a memory is only that, for now. There is still time. Be quick.
He had to go back. It was the girl, the wide-eyed girl, the one who reminded him of her so much that it hurt.
And there was the servant, a strangely gentle expression on his usually passive face.
"We have to go back. She doesn't understand what she's doing! Please, Snow, take me back!"
He expected the servant to argue, in that infuriatingly patient tone of his, that the Superior's orders were for them to stay, that they couldn't possibly leave, but the servant merely nodded.
"This way, Lordship."
Sakarn was so surprised that he found himself arguing for the servant. "But what about our orders? What about propriety?"
And then the servant did something that was very strange even on a day like this. He smiled.
"I suspect that you know best when the time for propriety is over. Let's go."
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