Transcript – Buried Secrets

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Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Thirteen: Buried Secrets

[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]

This is the memory of Ellas Krin. Raekn, aged forty-three, identified as male. Memory regards his experiences during the repair of a section of the Elalton sewage system, and was donated on the fifth of Sunsheight, in the year 711. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the second of Sunsfall, 729.

We Begin.

You want to get the jokes out of the way now? Don’t worry, I’ve heard them all before. Hardly surprising, is it? When you’re one of my folk and you get into this line of work, the whole sewer rat comparison is pretty much expected.

I’ve heard every possible variation of the joke, all from thick necked idiots who all seem to think they’re the most original funny guy in the world.

It’s gotten to the point now where it doesn’t even make me angry anymore. It’s just boring.

Yes, my people have a resemblance to rats, yes, I work in the sewers, very clever.

Can’t say stuff like that though. I come back at the smirking gits with that attitude and suddenly the smiles all vanish and it’s me with the attitude problem. I’m the one who needs to “calm down” and remember it’s “just jokes.”

Sorry, I’m waffling on. You might be able to tell it’s a bit of a sore subject, I’m sorry for starting like this. Let me start over.

I work for the department of water and sanitation in Elalton, have done for near enough twenty years. It’s good paying work, as long as you don’t mind the obvious downsides, and you do eventually get used to the smell.

One thing I’ve always had going for me is I’m good at fixing things. Ever since I was a lad, I was obsessed with finding broken things and putting them back together. I loved tinkering and finding out how things worked because then I would know better how to fix them. This got me in a fair amount of trouble in my younger days. I remember one time my parents discovered me with my sisters’ dolls that I had disemboweled so I could get at the voice box inside.

They assumed I was trying to torment my sisters but it wasn’t like that. I just wanted to find out how those things worked, how they fit together into something that could talk.

When I got older, plumbing seemed the sensible option for me to get into.

I was never really one for books or history or any of that stuff. I preferred things that were real and solid, things that were useful. Pipes are things that everyone uses, that folks need and they’re things that need fixing. So, when I got to the right age, I apprenticed with a small local company while I got myself certified, and then when I could, I went straight to the Department’s main office here in Elalton and signed up there.

I quickly got a reputation as someone who liked the difficult jobs. I mean, going out and fixing valves and faucets is fine but it’s stuff that I can do without thinking now. I like the jobs that present a challenge, where there’s a puzzle that needs solving.

So, when the department was asking for volunteers to figure out a problem going on with one of the city’s main sewage pipes, I signed up right away.

You might not remember this, I know you folks are a bit removed from the main city, but a few months back there was a whole ward of the city complaining of bad smells and water not coming through properly.

Now, one house complains about this, you know it’s a fairly simple problem. A street, slightly harder but will still just be a matter of switching the water off for a day or two to get at the issue. A whole ward, though, that’s something serious has gone wrong there and the department heads were on our backs to get the problem figured out and sorted as quick as possible. A house or a street of people can deal without water for a day or so, but a whole neighbourhood? When you’re dealing with that many people, frustration can turn to anger much quicker and we didn’t want to have to deal with that.

So, we went in. Turned off the water to the neighbourhood and started going down to investigate. We needed to find out if the blockages were being caused by a lot of small faults or if there was one big fault in one of the main pipes that was leading out to the others.

Now, I know I get touchy on the subject, but the fair fact is that raekn are smaller and quicker than most other peoples, especially in tight spaces. So, I was given a wider area to cover than my colleagues. I was connected to a line, so I wouldn’t get lost down there, but otherwise I was left to do my own business. They all knew that none of them would be able to keep up and would be more a hindrance than a help.

So, down I went, into the tunnels.

I’d only been down into the main sewers once or twice before, and then only when I needed to help fix one of those smaller issues I mentioned earlier. I’d never had the chance to explore properly. But even on those short visits, I got this feeling down there, this sensation of… comfort.

The air down there is close but not quite stifling and the stone walls give this feeling of sturdiness and protection. As I began moving through those tunnels, I felt more and more that I was safe down there. Every footfall assuring me that I was alone.

I know a lot of people might find that eerie or off-putting, but to me it was oddly comforting knowing that above me was the whole world, everything stretching out overhead, full of people who would never know I walked beneath them. I could be aware of them but they’d have no idea about me. Down there I was closed off from it all, safe and sheltered. I don’t know, maybe I am a bit of a sewer rat after all.

I kept moving through the tunnels, looking for any sign of blockage, flooding or pollution, anything that might give some clue as to what was going on.

I’m not sure how long it took, exactly. Being down there, alone, away from any and all natural light, it kind of messes with your perception of time. It was me who found the first blockage though. Or rather, I found where it was. At the time I thought there had been some sort of cave in somewhere further up and the stones had been carried along the stream until they had gradually built up. But whatever had happened, there was a blockage, a significantly sized one that was causing one nasty buildup. And this was not something I would be able to fix by myself, not that I would want to.

Protocol in that kind of situation is to return to the surface to report in, and I turned to do just that, but that was when it caught my eye.

A glint of something metallic. I thought it was a coin or something at first, you’d be amazed how much I sometimes find in loose change that’s just been lost down there.

But, as I got closer, I realised it couldn’t be a coin at all, or at least not one that someone had just dropped and had been carried along by the sewer. This thing, catching the light of my lantern, was embedded in the wall. I tried to get a closer look at it, it looked like nothing I’d ever seen before, a strange shape like… like someone had taken small silver bars and twisted them all together.

Some of it was covered in brick dust so I leaned forward to brush it aside. As soon as the tip of my glove made contact, I was carried away. I wasn’t myself anymore. I couldn’t remember anything about myself, or my life. I was somebody else, with their memories and their thoughts.

I was still in the sewer, in the same place, but I was slightly taller than usual. I don’t remember what my name was, or what I thought my name was, or who or what I was, but I was filled with this… certainty. I knew there was somewhere I had to be. I knew something, something that needed to be told to someone. It was all so clear in that moment. A junction. I had to get to the junction.

And then, suddenly, it was over.

All those thoughts and memories that had just filled my head were just gone, and I was me again, with all my own memories returned. I forgot everything except what I just told you. I knew that I had known something important, but could not remember what it was. And I knew that I had wanted to go to a junction.

What’s strange is, I have at no point thought it was just a hallucination or that I imagined the whole thing. I know what happened, that what I saw was as real as I am now. I know that I saw through the eyes of a real person and had that person’s thoughts and memories in my head. And, for some reason, none of that scared me. Which, now I say it aloud, seems odd.

I simply told myself it was none of my business. Whatever it had meant, whatever junction I had been thinking of, I didn’t need to worry about it and I shouldn’t. I decided to take that strange metal thing out of the wall, though. I thought I could send it to the university, maybe they’d know what it was. But when I went to take it, I saw it had gone.

I later found out from my manager, when I came back above ground, that I had been down there for six hours.

Now I know I said you lose track of time in the tunnels, but there’s no way I was down there for even half that time.

I went home. Poured myself a drink, tried not to think about what had happened. It had nothing to do with me. Even if I wanted to find out more, which I didn’t… n-not then, there was no way I could find out anything. I hadn’t seen much and I couldn’t remember anything important.

I went to bed. I don’t remember my dreams that night, not exactly. But I know I woke up twice in a cold sweat, and had to stop myself, both times, from getting dressed and going back down into the sewer.

As the days went by, it did get easier and easier to forget about what I had seen. My team found all the problems causing the blockage, including a massive fatberg that had clogged up one of the main tunnels which had backed up all the pipes.

It took us the better part of a week to clear that out. Then we had to evaluate all the connecting pipes for ruptures and structural damage.

That was my main job during that process, and that’s how I found the next symbol.

It was one of the smaller pipes that led into the main sewer. I was following it back, making sure it hadn’t been affected by the blockage. It all seemed fine, no cracks or leaks or anything like that. Then I reached a place where the line split, with one pipe continuing on along the wall of the tunnel and another leading upwards, through the ceiling. A double socket junction.

As soon as I thought that, I saw the glint. It was almost identical to the first I had seen.

I had no intention of touching it. In fact, the last thought I remember having was that I was going to leave it alone, go and alert my supervisor, or at least ignore the thing, pretend I’d never seen it.

The next thing I knew, I was directly beneath it. It was high up in the wall, right next to the junction, too high for me to reach. I thought for a minute that would mean I’d be spared. But then I blinked and, once again, I was someone else.

I was the same person as before. It was the same day as it had been in that first vision. I knew all that as certain as I know who I am. And, again, I knew what it was that I had to pass along. The great secret. It was… it was… ah, it’s gone from me now. I’m sorry. All I can tell you is that it was important, the sort of thing that people kill for. I know that it was about someone being alive. Someone who… wasn’t supposed to be alive. They’d put a lot of effort into making people think they were dead but they were in hiding, waiting for the right time.

I had found this out… No, no, someone had passed me the information. I was a link in a long chain, a hidden chain that winds through all things.

And I had to pass the information to the next link. That was my job. It is the duty of a Child to pass news to their elders.

I don’t know what that means, by the way. It sounds odd, I know, but that was something I remember thinking in that… vision.

I was moving through the sewer, quickly, but not running. I was being careful, making sure my footsteps didn’t echo. My boots were soft leather, I made hardly a sound.

I turned a corner, carried on up a smaller tunnel. I had to crouch slightly to fit through. I stopped suddenly. There was nothing there, just a blank stretch of wall.

I was tense, nervous, glancing around, making sure I was definitely alone. Up and down the tunnel, I looked both ways, but there was nobody there.

I touched my fingers against a brick that looked exactly the same as all the others. It slid inward and made a soft clicking sound. Then all the bricks around it slid back by themselves, and all the ones around those, and all the ones around those, it looked like a rippling wave spreading out from that one spot.

They didn’t all slide back; it wasn’t the whole wall that did it. Only enough of them to make the shape of a door, about as wide and tall as I am, or was in the vision I should say.

I didn’t hesitate. I knew that this was supposed to happen. I pushed on those bricks, the ones that had slid back. It was a door. They all moved together, swinging back on a hinge, revealing this long hallway behind it.

I took a step forward. And then, well, then I was myself again.

But I wasn’t by the junction. I… Somehow, I was there, in that tunnel, the one with the hidden door, facing the wall I had just seen open. I knew exactly which brick I’d have to press to make it open. And I wanted to.

It was just because of the vision. It’s not like I care about what the big secret was. Why would I? It was just some leftover feeling from whoever it was in the vision.

But I did reach out to that wall, just for a minute, before I pulled myself away and made my way back to the surface.

It wasn’t so easy to forget this time. And I tried, believe me I did. I tried to focus on other things, staying longer after hours at work, spending more time in the pub, anything to get my mind off of it.

But nothing worked. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that corridor stretching off in front of me and I was filled with this… hunger, this overwhelming want to know what was at the end.

It got so bad that I started to avoid sleep as much as I could because I knew as soon as I drifted off, I would be back there, in front of that door, staring down that corridor, my feet almost pulling me by themselves into taking that first step.

That lasted for less than a week. I was so tired. My work had been suffering and people were giving me these looks. I remember walking home feeling as if I was dead. I probably looked dead too by that point.

I remember opening the door to my home and then I must have fallen asleep because, the next thing I knew, I was in front of that door again. But it was stronger that time. I was more present than I had been in any of the other dreams. It was like the visions but I didn’t think I was someone else this time.

I still knew that I was me, but the part that didn’t want to go in, that wanted to leave it alone, that had been shunted away into a deeper place in my mind so all that was left was the curiosity.

I stepped forward into the corridor.

Each step felt heavy, like I was trying to wade through deep water. It was slow and difficult but I kept pushing forward. I had to know what was at the other end, and never mind the small voice at the back of my head telling me to stop, to turn around, to go back, that this could be dangerous and I should leave it alone.

The corridor seemed to warp and stretch out as I walked, elongating with every step, as if it too wanted me to give up on this.

But then I saw the door. The door at the other end of the corridor. I hadn’t seen it before, the corridor had always been too dark, both in the vision and in my dreams. And, while the corridor continued stretching away, the door was getting closer.

I know that doesn’t make sense; I mean, this was a dream. But even then, I don’t know how I could have imagined that. But that’s what I saw. It was like… the corridor wanted me to give up, but the door wanted to be opened. Heh, I know. Crazy, right?

The first door, the one I had entered through, closed behind me, plunging me into darkness.

Only for a moment though. Torches lined the sides of the walls. They hadn’t been lit but, as soon as the door closed, they ignited, filling the room with this pale blue light. I could hear the noises they made. And that was the oddest part, much more bizarre than them coming alight all by themselves.

They didn’t crackle or make any of the sounds fire usually makes. Instead, I could have sworn they were whispering. I couldn’t make it out, I think it was another language. But whatever it was followed me down the corridor, it was like I was surrounded by people talking about me behind their hands, thinking I couldn’t hear.

I reached the door. It wasn’t anything particularly special. It just looked like an ordinary wooden door. But there was no doorknob or handle or anything. It was completely plain. I knew then that it had to be opened from the other side.

I reached out a hand to knock. The part of me that didn’t want to do this was going crazy at the back of my head, I could practically hear myself screaming. But I rapped on the door, three times.

I half expected a small window to slide aside and a voice ask me for the password. But there wasn’t even a voice coming from behind the door, demanding who it was. The door just opened.

It opened slowly and, as it did so, it let out this blinding light. Something behind that door was shining as bright as the sun. When the door fully opened, I was dazzled, I couldn’t see what it was.

And that was when I woke up. I was lying on the worn-out sofa in my living room, right where I’d collapsed.

That was it, I decided. Enough was enough. Whatever all this was about, it was going to keep haunting me until I found out what was going on.

I grabbed some essentials, some money, a long knife, some matches, a rope, a lantern, some oil for it and, for if that ran out, the green glass candle my sister had bought me for my last birthday. I knew how pricey they were so I made sure only to use it when necessary and this seemed necessary.

It was the middle of the night and the moon was shining dimly. Fortunately, us raekn see better in the dark than most so I was able to make my way back to the right sewer entrance without needing to rely on my lantern.

I opened the grate and went inside. I needed my lantern then as the sewer was in nearly total darkness by that time. As I made my way through, I could hear skittering and squeaks from the real sewer rats that would have come out to find food.

It didn’t take me long to find the wall. I’d been there enough times in my dreams. I hesitated for a moment but then steeled myself and pushed on the brick.

Just like it had done in the vision, the brick slid back followed by the others, forming the shape of a door which then swung inwards. I saw the corridor. I stepped inside.

Just like in the dream, as soon as I stepped inside, the torches that lined the walls burst into flame and the door swung shut behind me. My lantern extinguished, leaving me lit only by that eerie blue glow from the torches. I tried relighting the lantern, the torchlight gave me the creeps, but none of the matches I struck would light. A thought suddenly crossed my mind out of nowhere that they weren’t allowed to light. Which is silly, I know. I put the matches back in my pocket.

I was feeling scared now, thinking I’d made a mistake. Then I remembered the candle. I fished it out of my pocket, the glass cool against my palm. I lit it and was immediately bathed in soft green light. Not as good as lantern light, perhaps, but it was more comforting than those creepy torches.

I moved slowly up the corridor. It didn’t warp or change like it had in my dream. But still, there was this strange feeling in the place. Like it wanted me to leave. The door drew me to it, though. The door had a secret that it wanted to share. I reached out to knock on the door.

Before I could though, out of nowhere, a hand grabbed my wrist.

I turned to see who had grabbed me but I couldn’t see them. For some reason the light didn’t fall on them, not the blue torch light or my candlelight. It was as if they were cloaked in shadow.

Fear had been bubbling at the back of my head since I went down into the sewer but now it all came out. I began struggling, trying to pull away from the hand that I couldn’t see but was gripping my wrist so tightly. I was about to cry out, for all the good that would do, when the stranger spoke.

They only said one word. They told me to leave.

In that moment, all trace of that burning curiosity, that had all but consumed me for the past few days, fled me completely. I don’t know if that fear took over, if the stranger did something to me or if my own common sense had kicked in, but I finally saw how stupid I had been in coming here.

I fled. Running back the way I came, back to the surface. And I never once looked back.

Final Notes. An interesting one here. Not only because of this hidden tunnel down in the sewers, though I’m sure the Department of Water and Sanitation was interested to learn about it. It does actually exist; an investigation team went down, following the directions in Mr. Krin’s account and did find the hidden door, though apparently what lay beyond was rather underwhelming. There was nothing there. I suppose if there ever was a clandestine group meeting down there, they have since vacated the premises.

Despite the empty secret tunnel, its existence does lend some credence to Mr. Krin’s story. There are known kismotic items that can store memories, though they are generally only usable by the owner, hence why we don’t use them here at the Tower, so I am unable to explain how Mr Krin was able to access the memories stored in these silver objects he mentioned.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to ask him. And here is the reason for my interest in this memory. According to the DWS, the repairs on the main pipeline for Riverside, Willowbank and Slowood in the Anviton Ward took place in the month of Riverfill with Mr Krin coming in to donate this memory two months later. Now in and of itself, there is nothing unusual about this, in fact it’s very rare for people to come straight here with their donations. What does concern me is the fact that Mr. Krin was reported as missing on the 29th of Riverfill and, according the Lawkeepers Department, this is the only known sighting of him since that date. I have to wonder whether Mr. Krin really did lose that sense of curiosity, whether he found something after all, or… if something found him.

Inscription Complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]