I've always enjoyed the idea of crossovers, though I've rarely written them. It is so easy to do with two cartoons, say, or two musicals, but only because they are so similar in style. But what if we took two unlikely enough things and combined those? What if we took, say, a piece of classic literature and mixed it with a video game? It's this thought that gave me the idea to mix one of my favorite Edgar Allen Poe stories, The Cask of Amontillado, with one of my favorite games. This time, however, I gave it a few twists – for one, it is not the Montresor character that is telling the story, but the Fortunato character.
I rarely write for the brothers when I write Myst stories, possibly because I never could get a very good grasp on them - every time I tried, they seemed to weasel their way out of it. When I do have either brother in a story, it is usually for a short time - but I think it's rather cowardly of me to keep them forever as secondary characters simply because I do not feel a connection to them. So, Sirrus is the main character this time, and Achenar... well, you'll see.
So without much else to add, I give you this – a tale of dark vengeance that takes place in an age called Narayan and is lurid enough to make Poe proud. It is a tale of the one thing that I've learned is universal, no matter where you come from – anger and the desire to get even in the worst way possible.
I am not quite sure why I came back here, to Narayan.
I vaguely recall that I had received a package from my father when last he visited me on Spire. It wasn't an entirely extraordinary package, wrapped in rough brown paper and tied with string. Father had said that it was from an old family friend, but I didn't buy it. I assumed at the time that he was hiding the fact that it was from mother, who was too busy to visit, or from Achenar, who was trying to pull some form of sick joke – such is the thing that an older brother would do, however sophomoric the prank itself was.
Indeed, it had seemed to be a joke, for inside of the package I found a wrapped parcel and a letter scrawled in a spidery handwriting that I did not recognize. I remember I had decided to read the letter first, to see if it had any clues as to the origin of the parcel.
To my best student, it read, It is of utmost importance that you come see me in Narayan. The book has been provided for you. I will be waiting by the area where you link in and I will escort you back when you wish to leave. I do hope that you choose to come – it will be well worth your while.
Looking forward to seeing you!
I remember that I wondered what the note meant by 'worth my while', and ripped the paper off of the parcel, revealing a linking book to Narayan, just as the note promised.
I am not certain what came over me then, but I linked. I must not have been thinking clearly, or perhaps I was over-exuberant to escape my rocky prison.
It matters not – I'm here now, for better or for worse.
It was late at night, and I could see millions of stars glittering like crystalline shards, but other than that, there was no light. I was used to the dark, however – Spire is not exactly the sunniest age that one could find themselves stranded on – so I could see fairly well.
It's amazing how quickly one can forget something they've seen before. I only vaguely remember the twining vines, and I have forgotten how to work the currently dormant gondola completely. I barely even recall the little Narani that I had been taught, and so I was at a loss for words when I noticed a man approaching from a few feet away.
As he came closer, he seemed to recognize me, though I do not recall ever meeting him. He was a little shorter than me, with blonde hair that had been braided into several small locks and pulled back into a sort of messy ponytail. His robe was a deep shade of purple, with golden symbols embroidered on it, and he was smiling warmly.
"A-aznai yan," I said shakily. "Good evening to you."
"There is no need for that, my friend," the stranger said, his English far better than my shaky Narani. "And you seem to have forgotten to use the formal 'you'." He smiled thinly and stepped closer. "I see that you got my package."
I recognized his voice, but I couldn't put my finger on the name of the person.
"I am pleased that you could come," he said. "… Sirrus? Am I right? I apologize, I'm afraid I really am no good with names."
"Y-yes," I responded, my puzzlement at how this stranger knew my name fading for the moment. "That is my name."
"Then your brother is Achenar. I thought as much. Come – there is much to discuss."
"Who are you?" I asked, hesitating.
The man smiled ambiguously.
"An old friend of your father's," he replied. "You don't remember me, Sirrus, you were very young at the time – but I certainly remember you."
I was not getting any closer to an answer, so I shrugged it off and changed the subject.
"Why did you call me here," I asked. "Is it something very urgent? And why contact me about it and not my father?"
"Because you are the best one for the job. I require your expertise in machinery – I'm afraid that I lost power to my house a week ago, and I am not very good with electrical equipment at all. I didn't want to ask your father, as I know just how busy he is."
"And why would I help someone I don't know?"
"I will pay you for your services."
"I have very little use for Narayan's resources back on –"
I could not bring myself to call Spire my home, and I stopped abruptly.
The man frowned, as if he was expecting me to say more – and for a brief moment, I thought I saw something, a dark something, flicker across his countenance, but it was gone in an instant.
I didn't like it.
"It's a nice offer," I said, feeling a tad uneasy, "But I'm afraid I simply cannot help you. I mean… I don't know a thing about Narayani technology, I –"
"Ah, but I know that you are more than capable," the man said, grinning widely.
I suddenly discovered that I had instinctively begun to back away, though he had not approached my person. As he watched this, his grin turned suddenly to a frown, as if he were finally accepting a difficult truth.
"If you really don't believe that you have the necessary skill to help me out with this," he said, his voice serious and even, "By all means, leave now – nothing is stopping you. I'll just have to find someone else who is willing to help – someone like your brother, for instance."
Here he smirked, and I got the impression that he was trying to lure me into something. Yet there is something powerful and strange about sibling rivalry that is as intense as it is between Achenar and I – the need to prove yourself better than your older sibling seems to override rational thought. As a result, I blurted out the exact words that the rivalry had me thinking.
"Achenar?" I scoffed. "You believe that he actually can help you with your little wiring issue? Why, the very idea is laughable! He doesn't know a thing about engineering and mechanics. He'd surely cause an explosion before he got your electricity fixed! Besides, I am far more skilled with –"
"Then you'll help me with this?" The man interrupted. His tone was even; his face an emotionless mask.
Something about him still didn't sit well with me, but as I had rashly spoken the words I had intended to hide, I had no choice now but to aid him in his little electrical project.
"Yes," I sighed wearily. "I will help you."
He seemed pleased – a little too pleased – with my answer.
"Good. Come with me, if you would."
We walked through the main room of his home, approaching the hallway to the outdoor veranda. He had explained that a small generator below the roots powered the house and that the only way to get downstairs to it was to go through the house and into the outside basement access. I could not help but notice how very quiet it was, even for the middle of the night, and, concerned by it, I asked my host why it was so.
"My children are both off at friends' houses for the night," he explained, "And my wife is away visiting her deathly ill mother – I'm afraid that I am the only person here for the night. Are you thirsty by any chance?"
He was blatantly changing the subject, and I knew it, but I simply answered him with a nod, as I truly was quite thirsty.
He gave me an odd sort of friendly smirk.
"It is a little-known fact," he said, "That the Narayani make some flavorful wines – flavorful, but potent. I ask because you seem like the type of man who would appreciate a fine wine when you tasted one."
"I have never had the pleasure of tasting Narayani wine," I replied truthfully. It had never struck me to ask about it during my time spent in Narayan almost twenty years prior, but now, in such a laid-back environment, it only seemed natural.
"No? My friend, you do not know what you are missing!"
We sat down and talked a while over glasses of a fruity, slightly dry wine. I am not certain of how many glasses I consumed, but my hosts' words about the drink's potency began to ring true only a few minutes later, after I began to feel a pleasant buzzing in the back of my skull and a slight shift of my perception. A bit after that, my host graciously led me outside and down to the outdoor storage area access.
"This area," he explained, "Is mainly used for storage and the like. It winds through the roots themselves and provides more room. The generator is down here to conserve space above – and because it's a bit noisy."
"Smart idea," I slurred, still feeling tipsy.
Vaguely, I noticed how dark it was down there, and for a moment, I was frightened. Even as a child, I had never liked small, dark spaces, and the small, dark tunnel entrance was not my idea of a pleasant trip.
Yet something pumping through my veins made me feel a bit more courageous – whether it was the alcohol or raw courage, I know not – and made me enter that dark space boldly. My host soon followed.
"It's quite dark," he said. "Do you perhaps have a light?"
"I do," I replied, withdrawing a fire marble and stroking it with my finger to light it. Its pale light wasn't much, but it was just enough to see by. As soon as the light went on, my host began to lead me down into the dark.
The first thing that I noticed was that it was dreadfully cold and damp down there, and often I found myself shivering as tiny drips of water landed on my head. If I set my palm on the tightly-woven lattice vine walls, I felt that they were covered with a slick and slimy film of some sort of mold. Gaps in the vines were rare, but when one did occur, the chilling wind moaned painfully through it as if it were a great and agonizing effort just to squeeze through the opening. I found this all positively eerie, and I can easily say that it was not only the cold that made me shudder.
My companion noticed my uneasy state and turned to face me suddenly.
"What's the matter?" he asked, his tone only slightly mocking, "Are you frightened, Sirrus?"
"No! No, I am not!" I blurted indignantly.
My host gave me another one of his unreadable smirk-smiles.
"So," he said, contemplating. "You are not afraid of the cobwebs that brush against your skin or the clammy vines that close around us? You are not afraid of the dark, or that I somehow mean you ill?"
I swallowed hard, chilled at how he had managed to pinpoint every single one of my fears.
"N-no…" I muttered as calmly as I could. "Not a bit."
My host's smile grew wider.
"Of course not," he said. "Not you, Sirrus. Someone as rational as you wouldn't be frightened of a little decay. But if you happen to be allergic… if that is the issue, I won't resent you for turning back now and leaving. I only hope that Achenar does not share your aversion to mildew…"
"I am not allergic to mold!" I all but shouted, feeling quite irate by now. "I can perfectly solve your problem, but Achenar would destroy your house."
In the fire marble's dim light, I thought I saw him smile again – but this one was not a friendly half-smirk. This one was more of a wry, devious grin disguised as a smile. It was disguised well, but I could sense that there was a deeper meaning to it that lurked just below that superficial smirk…
"Good," he said, and that was all.
We continued onward, and as we went further into the tunnel, it began to get darker and damper. The gaps between the roots were now so thin that even the thinnest ray of light could not get through, not that there was any, save for the eerie, wavering light of the fire marble. This dim light glinted frequently off puddles of stagnant water, fortunately for us.
It had been perhaps ten minutes before I noticed that my host had not spoken for quite some time.
It really is amazing how silence can make a small space seem all the smaller and air choked with humidity all the thicker.
Perhaps my host felt the same way that I did, for he broke the deathly silence by coughing lightly and turning to face me.
"If you don't mind, Sirrus," he said calmly, "I noticed a small ledge in the wall where we might rest a moment."
I nodded in agreement, now noticing just how weary I was from walking so much.
Without another word, he led me to the ledge in question – really just a few vines that jutted from the wall just enough to sit on. My companion sat and gestured for me to do the same, an offer I gratefully accepted.
"Why do you not install lights down here?" I asked in hopes of starting some sort of conversation. "Surely one could more easily see that way."
"We had lights at one point," he replied, eyes scanning the darkness. "Most of them were broken in the War and used as weapons by the refugees who hid down here. It was dreadful – those who sided against the Elders would swarm these tunnels in hordes, hoping to kill those who opposed them. They say that the spirits of the dead still wander these tunnels, hoping to seek revenge on those who killed them… but of course you know that tale… don't you, Sirrus?"
He turned to me, pale blue eyes scrutinizing and face expressionless. Something about his eyes… something about them was especially eerie. Perhaps it was how clear and cold they looked when he was interrogating me or he remembered something painful.
Whatever it was, it frightened me.
He turned and withdrew a small flask from his robe's pocket, and I was thankful to escape that piercing gaze, if only for a moment. He unscrewed the cap and offered the flask to me.
"You look rather tense and a little thirsty," he said. "This should ease both ailments."
Truth be told, I was rather thirsty, so I took the flask and drank. I recognized the liquid as the same sweet wine I had consumed earlier. I liked the flavor of it – exotic and slightly fruity.
"You, my friend, are a most gracious host," I said, taking another sip. "I believe a toast is in order."
My host held up his hands and shook his head slightly, a typical Narayani gesture that meant that he was accepting my praise, but felt my actions weren't really necessary.
"There is no need for that," he replied warmly, "But if you insist…"
He withdrew another flask and raised it in salute.
"To those who fought for the good cause," I proposed, "And lost their lives in the War."
My host's smile faltered a moment, but his expression quickly became blank.
"And to you, Sirrus," he said, gazing intently at me, "We mustn't forget to praise your good judgment. May you live long and well."
We kept our eyes locked as we sipped, in typical Narayani fashion. I began to see doubles. Perhaps I shouldn't drink anymore…
My host dropped his gaze and took the flask from me, then silently slipped both of them back into his pocket.
"Come," he said, standing. "We are nearly there, and time is growing short."
We walked onward, and by now it was so dark that even the small, dim light I held between my fingers wasn't enough. The floor, I sensed, was now far more rough-hewn – I could tell that we now were walking on the bare roots themselves and not soft, woven mats.
I suddenly tripped over a protruding loop of vine, dropping my light in the process. It immediately went out as it hit the floor, and in this pitch darkness it would be near impossible to find.
"Are you okay, Sirrus?" My companion asked. "You are not hurt too badly?"
"I'm fine," I responded, vainly feeling about for the lost fire marble. "I'm afraid that we may have to go back, my friend. We have no light to see by, and the going is getting rather –"
"No!" My host all but shouted as he roughly grabbed my hand – and for a moment, I thought I heard something familiar in his voice...
He had composed himself and loosened his grip before I could discern what it was, however.
"I – I mean, no!" he said, his tone of voice pleasant. "There is no need to return to the surface… I know these tunnels like the back of my hand! Here, I'll guide you. Let me just help you up…"
He pulled me, rather roughly, off of the ground and linked elbows with me, then grasped my hand tightly and lead me forward, his free hand presumably being used to feel his way forward.
He stayed mute the entire time.
"Friend?" I asked, trying to break the silence.
He did not answer.
"Are we close to the generator?"
Still no answer.
"Why are you being so silent?"
His grip on my hand tightened, and his pace quickened.
I swallowed a growing knot of unease in my throat.
"Won't you please answer me?" I asked, heart pounding like a bass drum.
I shivered – his tone had become almost bitter now... almost familiar…
"A-are we near the generator?"
Somewhere in the dark, I sensed those icy eyes burning into me, scrutinizing my every move…
I did not get a chance to respond, for at that moment I felt something hard strike me in the back of the head, and after that, I remembered nothing.
I slowly came around to the sound of creaking lattice vines and shuffling feet. Whoever is making that racket is in close proximity to me, and they're doing something with feverish persistence.
God, my head is killing me…
My eyes are still closed. I feel so tired… I can't lift my arm…
Wait a moment… I really can't lift my arm… there's something winding around it, holding it down. I… I feel it on my other arm as well. And my body… and my legs… Why can't I move?
I open my eyes, and gasp in pain as a blaze of pale blue light floods them, sending waves of pain surging through my head. I squint, wishing that I could block it out, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source.
Just then, I heard a laugh, a harsh wheeze that was nothing more than a hollow shell of mirth. The light moved away from my face, and I blinked in its eerie blue glow, trying to readjust my eyes to the darkness. Of course – it's a fire marble. But who is holding it?
The man. The man in the purple robe. He is standing in front of me, holding the cyan fire marble and grinning, but something about his expression isn'tright. Something about it is decidedly chilling…
"There you are, Sirrus!" he remarked in obviously false surprise. "I was afraid that I had lost you…"
"M-my friend…" I stammer, half-shocked. "Th-the generator?"
He fixed me with an unmistakably wild look, those eyes once again becoming familiar…
"Yes, Sirrus," he said, half-laughing. "Yes… the generator…"
He laughed that painful, cold laugh again, and it frightened me so much that I began to struggle with my bonds.
I was surprised when they tightened.
"What amazes me," the man said, watching my ordeal, "Is that you still insist on struggling when you know perfectly well that only fire can destroy lattice vines… Then again, perhaps you've forgotten."
I felt a sickly wave of fear wash over me then, and I peered down at my bonds to find that he had been telling the truth – I had been bound, from my neck down, to the wall with lattice vines.
I could do nor say nothing in my ensuing shock save for watch in horror as my captor added to the bonds, further enmeshing me in the lattice as he would a spore that he planned to make a house out of.
"Do you see now, Sirrus?" he said finally, eyes glinting madly. "Do you see what your actions have done? Do you finally realize what you've done to Narayan? What you've done to me?"
To say that I was terrified would be a horrible, hideous lie. I was far more frightened than I ever knew was possible, so frightened that I feared that my heart would give out from the terror. I could barely speak – and even the words I could manage to get out were horribly shaky and so soft that they were near a whisper.
"B-but I d-don't even know who y-you are!"
Upon hearing this, the stranger stopped his twisted weaving ritual and fixed me with the coldest glare I had ever seen.
"Clearly," he spat bitterly, never taking his chilling blue eyes off of mine, "You have forgotten. How very convenient for you. Unfortunately, the past does not forget so easily."
He stepped closer, his eyes narrowing.
"You mean to tell me," he said accusingly, "That you don't remember that night? That you don't recall beating me, taunting me… leaving me to die?"
He stepped back.
"Then again, I don't expect you to recognize me with my hair tied back, you intoxicated fool."
Slowly, he undid the fabric tie that held his hair back, and as soon as those sand-colored locks began to frame his face, I knew.
"Yes, Sirrus. It is me."
"B-but th-that's impossible! I – we left you on –"
"I escaped. I was rescued by a girl – your father's friend, I believe."
Her. She was the one who had left me stranded in that insane prison back on Myst, the one who had let father burn the book to my prison – the book that she thought was the only one… But she was a mere child then… how could she actually have outwitted me?
And now… Now I'm trapped again. What a grand scheme…
"What happened, Sirrus?" Saavedro asked, his voice matching the smirk that he hadn't bothered to hide. "Has your mind gone as well? Or are you just too frightened to think?"
I couldn't answer.
"Well, since you really have forgotten everything," he sneered, "I suppose I'll just have to teach it to you – again. For all your genius, you always were the one that required tutoring…"
He crept closer.
"Do you have any idea of just how many people died in the War, Sirrus?"
I shook my head, or at least I think I did – by now, I was so scared that I barely recognized my own actions.
"One thousand one hundred and fifteen," he said, his voice grim. "Over a thousand – dead. And that's only my village."
I shuddered at that. I couldn't help it. I had known that people would die, but… my God, I never expected so many…
Saavedro shuddered, too – but not from fear.
"Twenty… years… Sirrus…" he said, his voice shaking with anger. "You kept me trapped on that miserable little rock that your father called J'nanin for twenty years! Alone. Left with nothing but misery. I lost myself there, Sirrus. The reality of my exile killed me. Inside, something died. It changed me. I have never been the same since – you cannot begin to imagine the thoughts I've had, even now. And the only thing worse than that is the nightmares…"
I struggled again, stupidly, wishing with all my heart for freedom and knowing that it was futile, feeling those cold vines constrict me, slowing my every move until I could no longer move…
Saavedro laughed harshly.
That's another thing about the vines," he said, his grin almost manic. "They are tenacious. The more the object around which they grow moves, the tighter they will bind. And with as much movement as you are making, I wouldn't be surprised if you were dead from constriction within ten minutes!"
He burst out laughing, and I fought the urge to struggle, for I knew that he was right about what could happen to me if I continued.
I felt them loosen, only a bit, but that was all I needed to breathe easily. Saavedro's laughter died down, leaving only echoes that bounced down the tunnel in search of an exit.
"Oh, but of course Achenar didn't know about that," he said, grinning dangerously.
A small spark of hope erupted in my heart. There might just be a chance that I'll get out of this alive…
"A-Achenar?" I muttered. "Where is he? Can I speak to him?"
Saavedro never stopped grinning, not for an instant.
"Why, of course you may speak with your dear brother, Sirrus!" he said. "He's right next to you, right there on your left."
I turned to look – and cried out in horror.
There hung Achenar, bound tightly around his arms, legs, and chest. His throat had been slit along both sides, and the knife that had been used on him had been stabbed through his heart. The vines binding him to the wall were streaked red with blood.
I lost all inhibitions then. I felt the color drain from my face, felt the need to scream well inside of me, felt sheer panic grip me and freeze my ability to think. I panicked, shrieked, thrashed wildly in an effort to escape. The vines grasped me all the tighter, and I struggled to breathe, watched as my vision began to fade…
"Please!" I gasped as the vines around my neck further constricted. "I'm sorry! Let me go, don't do this to me! Please, I'm so sorry…"
Saavedro only grinned, faintly amused at my losing battle.
"I'm sorry, Sirrus, but I'm afraid I must leave you. I really did appreciate the chance to talk with you one last time."
"Goodbye, Sirrus. May the roots uphold you – forever."
I watched, through fading vision, as he put out the fire marble. His footsteps echoed and faded as he left.
My head felt light; my chest vainly heaved as I gasped for air…
I had long ago stopped fighting, but the vines would not loosen their stranglehold. I felt them crushing my lungs; every futile breath was painful; I was fading… fading…
Sirrus woke in a cold sweat, his screams of terror echoing endlessly across the rocky landscape of his prison.
He shivered, but not from the cold – he had long ago gotten used to that.
What he currently felt was hardly better.
What a horrible nightmare…
Suddenly realizing his irrationality, he began to laugh.
"A dream… yes. It was merely a vivid night terror, nothing more! There is nothing to be afraid of…"
He laughed again, relieved.
"Sirrus, you are letting your mind run away with you."
He splashed some cold water from the basin on his face to wake himself up, then walked to the pool to pick breakfast.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful – for the most part, he spent the day tinkering with the spider chair, but that was the extent of his technological work.
He was examining some rock samples when he heard the siren that signaled his father.
The visit was initially pleasant, but Sirrus still felt that Atrus was withholding something. If there was one thing that he couldn't stand, it was not knowing. His father's blatant skirting of the issue was beginning to annoy him, and his patience with father's dull questions about how he was doing all alone on Spire was wearing thin.
Still, being of a scientific and intensely curious mind, he just had to know what his father was smiling about, and so asked one more time.
"I have a package for you," he responded. "It's from an old friend of the family's. He specified that I didn't tell you his name – he'd rather it stayed private."
He placed something, a small parcel wrapped in plain brown paper, in the small basket and flipped it over to Sirrus' side.
"Well, it has been good to see you again, Sirrus, but I'm afraid I must leave."
"Very well, then… Goodbye, father."
The roar of the link sounded and echoed as Sirrus turned away with the bundle and walked back down the stairs.
Upon arriving in his lab, he could no longer contain his curiosity and set the parcel on the desk to examine it. There was no identifying label whatsoever, no name, not even a 'to/from' note hastily scrawled on the paper. Perhaps there was a clue inside…?
He carefully tore the paper from the package.
Sirrus stared in shock at the object that was now sitting in the center of the sheaf of brown paper.
On the cover of the book, clearly embossed into the binding, was the word Narayan.