At dusk on the third day, we finally arrived at the end of the labyrinth. I pressed forward, the dark blade Hador drawn before my crested shield, only to find that a mammoth stone door separated us from the final room beyond.
Rheox immediately started forward, muttering something about the difficulty of dungeons. Behind me, Salah called out a dire warning -- we had already lost Embril and Azanthia to the maze's accursed defenses. The stone door, covered from top to bottom in strange arcane writing, almost certainly seemed as though it was every bit as deadly as its environment.
Rheox gave the priestess a long look. "All I can say is that this isn't dwarven, lady. Not any sort of language I recognize."
Salah crossed over to the door, while I scanned the area for any trace of the dungeon's guardians. Her brow furrowed as she first tried to read the strange runes, shortly before she began searching for something -- anything -- that would aid her comprehension.
"These are not words," Salah said, completely perplexed. "These are symbols, yes, but not words."
"What do you mean?"
"I suspect that these comprise a language, though it be long dead. This is a record... of sorts. Do you glimpse the succession of marks on the left side of these doors, left separate from the column on the right? It is as though their creator wished to provide some form of... cryptic semblance."
Rheox poked at the stonework. "It's a poor sort of carver that would do that for a door this big. Just how are we supposed to get in, then?"
Suddenly, an enormous voice boomed across the cavern. Rheox's hammer was in his hands before I could blink. Salah stepped back, her fingers tracing the marks of a spell.
WHO ARE YOU?
"Salah," I said.
She shook her head. "I sense no magic, Sir Kharzin. This may only be a consciousness built into this very chamber."
"Well, it could stand to be a little more quiet," Rheox said.
WHO ARE YOU?
I glanced at my companions. Rheox shrugged.
"We are adventurers," I called out. "I am Kharzin, a knight of the Parthian Empire. The woman is Salah, a priestess of the Silver Star, from the far reaches of the Azure Sea. The stalwart dwarf is Rheox Blisterbeard, a tracker of the Emerald Clan."
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE HERE?
"We mean no harm," Salah said.
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE HERE?
"We seek truth," I answered. "We seek knowledge, unseen one. It was written in the books of the ancients, hidden in the annals of the Great Library of Mersenne, that our ancestors possessed shards of the Ultimate Truths, those which allow the greater universe to rise and fall around us.
"The stars and the sands have shown that we are now in the twilight of our world, much as the ancients had been, and much as the ancients' ancients were. Thus do we stand before you, with no other purpose but to ask: How may this endless cycle be brought to a halt? How may we end the ageless, and bring passing to long constancy?"
There was a long, tense silence.
"I don't suppose you offended it?" Rheox asked.
THE ANSWER IS CHANGE.
"Change?" I asked.
With that last statement, the chamber began trembling as the voice increased in tone. I noticed that Salah was listening intently, although Rheox had clamped both hands tightly over his ears.
THIS CHAMBER WAS BORN IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CYBERNETIC AGE, CARVED FROM THE FEATURES OF THE PHYSICAL TO REFLECT THE COGNITION OF THE DIGITAL.
"I do not recognize these words!" Salah cried. "Perhaps... perhaps these are references to the ancients themselves?"
IN TIMES WHERE CHANGE HAS BROUGHT ABOUT A BETTER WORLD, HUMANITY TENDS TO ABANDON THE CREATIVE SPIRIT. SO IT WAS WITH YOUR ANCIENTS. THEIR COLLECTIVE MEMORIES ARE FILLED WITH EXAMPLES WHERE MAN HAS TAKEN THE THOUGHTS OF ANOTHER WITHOUT REGARD FOR CHANGE.
The words came unbidden to my mind. "But what of our world? You speak only of the transgressions of the ancients themselves!"
The voice ignored me, choosing only to continue its narration. It boomed across the chamber, nearly overwhelming us with the sheer force of sound.
THE WORDS THAT YOU SEE ARE A LAST REPOSITORY OF KNOWLEDGE FROM THE PREVIOUS AGE. THEY ARE ORIGINAL IDEAS FORGED WITHIN THE CREATIVE SPIRIT THAT ELUDES SO MANY AND SO FEW. INTERSPERSED WITH THEM ARE TOUCHES OF WISDOM FROM OTHERS; THEIR NAMES ARE MARKED ALONGSIDE EACH AND EVERY CONTRIBUTION.
IN THE EVENT THAT THESE CONTRIBUTIONS WERE REFUSED TO BE SHARED, DUE PROCESS WAS GIVEN TO THEIR CREATORS. CAMARADERIE AND NEGOTIATION ARE BUT SECOND MEANS TO THE IDEA ITSELF.
IT IS THUS THAT PIECES OF THIS KNOWLEDGE SHALL BE FOUND IN OTHER PLACES AS WELL, ALL BOUND BY SIMILAR MEANS AND RULES.
"The inscriptions..." Salah said, now almost inaudible against the pervasive tones of the voice. "It speaks of the inscriptions!"
THESE WORDS ARE WATERED BY THE SOULS OF THE OFFENDER, THE THIEVES WHO WOULD STEAL THEM FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT. THESE ARE THE ADVERSARIES OF CHANGE, THE AGENTS OF THE CONSTANT CYCLE. THEY ARE PRESENT IN BOTH THE OLD WORLD AS WELL AS THE NEW.
KNOW WELL THE MARK OF THE CREATIVE COMMONS UPON THIS WALL, AND KNOW WELL THE RULES OF THIS KNOWLEDGE, THAT YOU MAY BREAK THE VICIOUSNESS OF THE CYCLE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.
"Too late?" I asked. "Too late for what?"
And suddenly the chamber was silent, save for a single word.
Slowly Rheox pulled his hands away from his ears. "Now what d'you suppose it was rambling about?" the dwarf asked.
"It spoke of the lost knowledge of the ancients," Salah explained, "but it appears that its significance has disappeared over time. All that I could glean from such a... feat... was that the loss of change brought about the entropy of the old age."
Salah jumped, startled by the sudden answer. I sheathed my sword in a single motion, listening to the sound of metal grating against wood and bone.
"Answer our question, unseen one!" I cried. "What must we do to prevent our world from slipping away?"
"What?" Rheox asked.
ALL WORLDS KNOW CHANGE. YOUR ANCIENTS KNEW THIS, YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL KNOW THIS, AND NOW YOU DO.
CHANGE SHALL COME. IT MUST ALWAYS COME, NO MATTER HOW MUCH HUMANS WOULD DESIRE TO PUT IT AWAY. YOUR WORLD WILL END LIKE ALL OTHER WORLDS. THERE IS NO FOREVER, NOT EVEN FOR THE LIFESPAN OF A UNIVERSE.
For the first time, we were all struck silent by the truth, the grim foreboding truth that we had traveled so long to grasp.
CHANGE IS FREEDOM. RECURSION IS STAGNATION.
And with that, the chamber went silent.
After a long while, Rheox sheathed his hammer and turned to me. "So what so we do know, lord?"
I glanced at Salah, who nodded in her strange knowing way. "We return," I said.
"That's it? We go back?"
"Yes," I said, my heart weighing heavily in my chest. "We return with what we have learned."
"Perhaps if we could effect some measure of change within our own borders," Salah mused, "it would forestall the coming of the end."
"We have no other choice, I fear. Let us make haste, then... the empire will need time to prepare."