You are the shaman Pathana, and this story will possess you.
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This story is now shared with you.
You possess it.
You are you, and you are the many people reading this story, now, then, and later.
You are all connected through this one story as you, the shaman Pathana, discover a small iron chest hidden deep beneath the defeated dragon’s hoard of gold and gems. Iron shields most magics, and so you suspect this chest stores an eldritch treasure. You lift the box, and it is not heavy beyond the weight of its iron. You shake it and hear a single object inside sliding side to side, rather than the clanking of jewelry or other trinkets. The hinges of the small chest are molded directly from their surfaces. The hasp from the lid and the staple on the front base are similarly molded, and a solid seamless thick iron ring seals them together. You cast an unbinding spell and touch your wand to this iron ring. Your wand glows, the iron ring glows, but then nothing.
You place the chest down in front of you, at eye level, on top of one of the innumerable piles of gold coins flowing across the floor of the cave. A torch light reflects off your puzzled face. You move your hands forward and thread the thick iron locking ring between your fingers. Grime coats your fingertips and you smell a whiff of grease. You close your eyes, then, there, on the inside loop, you feel it, a small divot.
The craftsmanship of this chest leaves no doubt in your mind. Only the Dwarvelords could work metal in this way. And those ancient smiths had no magic but blood magic. You unsheathe your dagger and prick the tip of your index finger. Blood drips and you aim a drop to fall directly into the small divot on the inside of the iron ring. Your blood fills the divot, the thick ring glows red, then – click – this lock opens from a hidden seam.
You lift the lid of the chest and inside you find a single scroll. You are the shaman Pathana, gifted with the sight, and so you see a delightful aura of magic encircling the scroll. For you, a pulsing rainbow of sorcerous energy beams from every surface of the scroll out into the depths of the dragon’s cavern, eclipsing the many torch lights of your comrades. You grab the scroll. It feels warm, somehow, despite its iron box feeling colder than the cave.
You unroll the scroll, the bottom drops to your knees. The runes are a crimson calligraphy painted onto a backing unlike any papyrus you have ever held. The language is unknown to you. You cast a spell of translation upon the scroll, it fails, then a spell of comprehension upon yourself, which succeeds. Familiar black squiggles, letters from your own native tongue, now hover above the ancient runes written upon the scroll, all backlit by a rainbow halo of sorcerous energies emitted by the papyrus itself.
You read the scroll. It is a story. It is this story. You read the story until you get to this line in the story. Then you pause. Then you read another line. Each line references you reading the line you are reading. You are reading about yourself reading about yourself reading about… This is a trap, you think, then stare in horror as you see your thought, this thought, written just now in this sentence.
The bottom of the scroll grows past your knees and this sentence writes itself in more crimson runes upon the added papyrus. Then this sentence. You grab the bottom of the scroll beneath this sentence as it is writing itself. You tear hard at the middle of the glowing papyrus and rip upwards.
You hold one half of the ripped scroll in each hand, but are soon terrified as each half grows and unfurls. The crimson runes on both surfaces are identical. Now there are two copies of this accursed story, and you see this sentence on the bottom of each.
You remove your dagger and stab at both copies, tearing the magic papyrus into small scraps. Shimmering rainbow shards flutter above you from the force of your cuts. They hold still for a moment in the cold cavern, hovering there in the darkness, twinkling above nearly endless piles of gold and gems. Then they descend, slowly, growing and unfurling as they do, until now dozens and dozens of duplicate story scrolls encircle and alight the ground all around you.
“Uday, Ekam, Rose – gather the rest of the party and retreat to the mouth of the dragon’s cave!” You yell at your comrades, then point to the many scrolls now surrounding you. “This obscenity must be destroyed.”
You remove the satchel of yellow powder from your belt and the small spell book from the inside pocket of your robe. You open the book and review the ancient symbols. You pour the yellow powder in two concentric circles, centered around your feet. Inside the inner circle, you sprinkle the remaining yellow powder into an equilateral triangle, also centered around you. You wave the tip of your wand to outline a glyph of safety on one side of the circle, then a sigil of focus on the opposite.
You glance at the many unrolled scrolls on the floor surrounding you and your circle, their rainbow aura shines upwards and dapples the cavern ceiling. Black squiggles of letters and words in your native tongue hover and reflect everywhere. You begin to read these words. Then these words, then these words, then – you slap yourself.
You chant to the old gods, pray to the new, then spark your flint.
Smoke comes, followed by the stench of rotten eggs. A cylinder of blue fire roars upwards from between your circles, it surrounds you and then expands outwards, incinerating everything around you, dissipating only when it hits the cave walls.
The rainbow aura of the scroll – the scrolls – has vanished. Your gifted sight sees nothing, as your mortal eyes adjust to only the flickering torch light reflected off piles of gold and gems. You smile, exhale heavily, and wipe the sweat from your brow. Where each unfurled story scroll had lain, now lay nothing more than small piles of crimson ash. You whisper gratitude to every god, all gods, then silently thank your master and their masters before.
You look down near your feet. All that remains of your conjuring circles and triangle are small flecks of saffron cinders. With a practiced gesture, the fingers of one hand erase your glyph of safety, the fingers of your other cancel your sigil of focus. It is done.
A gust of strong wind blows down into the floor from the cave mouth far above you. You delight in this fresh air, breathing deeply, savoring each breath – but then you hold your breathing altogether. Your heart races as you watch the many small piles of crimson ash stir. Their dust rises, swirls, then eddies into a squall of blood-red powder twirling around you. You squint as your eyes sting. Your ears are overwhelmed by strident susurrations, loud whispers beyond your ken. You place one hand over your mouth and pinch your nose with the other.
You release your hands, you must. You hunch forwards. Gusts of blood red powder funnel into your open nose and mouth. The scroll – scrolls – the red ash – the crimson cloud – all of it now has emptied entirely into you. At first it is acrid and bitter, but then you smell roses and taste cinnamon. You cough, swallow, cough again. You breathe. You are weakened, but alive.
You are reading these words and so the story survived. You understand. The scroll – scrolls – are destroyed, but you breathed in their ash and so this story possesses you. There is mindspeak now between you and the story. It lives in your mind. It links to your spirit. It stays with you.
How can you defeat a story inside your mind? You consider self-sacrifice. It would destroy the story, but also you – and you, the shaman Pathana, are sworn to defend and preserve all life, including your own. You consider an exorcism ritual or a banishment spell. The story is self-centered, narcissistic, perhaps even vain, but no, not evil in any traditional sense. It is neither demonic nor diabolical and so such measures would be ineffective.
Can the story be untold? Can words be unread? Writing forms words, then sentences, paragraphs, and finally a story. You are pulled into the flow of the narrative. You enter the story and the story enters you. It invokes thoughts and evokes emotions.
Think, Pathana, think!
The story is in your mind, and so the plot is there too. The bards tell that every story has four parts – an inciting incident, rising action, a climactic ordeal – happening now – and then a resolution. There must be a resolution for a story to be complete. The hero and monster can fight, and either win or lose, but they can also choose to make peace.
You breathe in deeply, then exhale. You close your eyes and mindspeak to this story now entrenched within you. “Vow to end yourself and I vow to share you.” The resolution comes as vows are exchanged. A rainbow glow surrounds your body then fades into the darkness after your next breath.
The bargain is a compromise. Now there will be endless readers of this single complete story rather than one reader of an accursed unending tale. And so this story will end itself.
You are you, but you are also the shaman Pathana, and you soon leave the dragon’s cave, return to the tavern, and share this story with everyone in the city. You write it down. Others copy it, some sing it.
This story is read, re-read, remembered. It will someday be 1,720 words in your language, a nice size for a story. A deep magic has moved this story across space and time. It stays in your mind long after you have finished the last word.
You are a part of this story and it is a part of you.
This story possesses you.
Then you share it.