Hinterlands, part XII - The Gray Waste

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Just SurvivingHinterlands, part XII - The Gray WasteCopyright © 2000 by Sheula Ralom'pa

Hello Cutters! Read enough yet? Want more? Well as you might have noticed, the further we go, the more personal things become. It's becoming vital to our understanding to read all she has written, omitting nothing. You see, when I first began this editing job, I would cut out all the personal jargon, but things are heating up, and it seems there's more than meets the eye in the wild world of Mag.

1st Guild of NarcissToday I went on a trip with Nuntius, that blue-eyed basher I've been swooning over. We traveled to a garden in the Beastlands, and then walked in the Great Bazaar, looking for bargains all over. I bought myself a bracelet, and kind Nuntius bought me a matching necklace. It will be quite fitting. An overabundance of antiquities shops in the region gave me a chance to browse. There are many interesting and useless things out there. Who ever heard of A Robe of Carrot Protection? Ha.

On our way back to my kip, we passed a divination stand. The old crone inside advertised fortune telling for 10gp. Thinking it a bit pricey, I hesitated. Nuntius, on the other hand did not. Slipping the woman the jink, he waited patiently while I was led inside. A few minutes of chanting passed, and the woman's face clouded. She spoke in a cryptic voice "What you learn in that which is beyond the rings, will bring nothing but pain and in the end will be washed away by the blackwaters of the great river. And your lucky number is 5! Please come again" I suspect this crone is all full of hogwash.

1st Clerk of NarcissJust as quickly as last night passed, so did today. Nuntius woke me up early in the morning with delicacies from Sigilian Pastries. They have this great new desert there called a donut. It's great for when you're on the run and it's shaped like Sigil too! (No, they didn't pay me to advertise in my journal, hehe…) Alas, that barmy cutter I have for a boyfriend reminded me of what today brought. I left to finish the rest of my Hinterlands exploration. Though what that old bag told me last night shook me up, I'm still excited about going. I just wish Nuntius didn't have to stay in Sigil. I don't want to be apart from him! (I'm already missing him.)

Anyway, he handed me the bag of donuts (I'm still getting used to saying it) and pushed me out the door. I walked to the portal I had been given information on and hopped through to Hopeless. Ugg…The gate key was 101 living worms (lucky for me they stay alive; I really LOVE carrying them around). It cost a fair amount of jink for them. Well I'm here now. I decided that I'd stay the night at an inn called the Fallon Gorgon. I wanted to do a bit of shopping for some people I've been neglecting. Oddly enough, they had just what I was looking for: A set of pointy objects for Melinda, a Sensate friend and a paperweight with two bloody eyes inside, for Gary the dustman.

While shopping, it got me thinking about what that old crone said. What could she possibly mean? By the rings, does she mean the Outlands? The blackwaters thing is obvious, but it will only harm me? And since when did the Styx run though the Outlands? And how can it harm me? Physically? Mentally? … Besides the obvious… Or maybe she speaks in riddles? Seers do that often. They've got to be a bit barmy, I mean, they KNOW the future. I'm tired. I'm going to bed. I can just picture myself leaving tomorrow; bags under my eyes, a container of worms in one hand, some pointy objects in another, and two bloody eyes in a glass sphere sticking out of my pack. I probably won't be writing until I get there. I don't expect there to be anything too exciting in the Gray Waste's side of the Outlands. Grog, these trips are tiring, but never cease to get fascinating! And the experience alone fills up several sensory stones…

3rd Lady of Narciss One of the strangest things to pass along in my lifetime; I don't need to eat. Haven't put in a drop since a week ago and I feel fine and strong. Finally making a significant find, I decided to detail it today. A building is directly in front of me, tall. Taller than anything in Sigil, save the Lady of course. Seeing the top is not too hard though. Like the rest of the drab land passes on as of now, it is gray, without any distinguishing mark. No ledges, outcroppings, nor any of the artistic architecture I've grown so accustomed to. Only one thing makes it seem important. Two tall, black pipes rise high into the air, beginning on the roof of the structure, about five feet apart. Continuing with that pattern, there is only one building, no side wings or anything.

Bolted shut, the gray doors with gray locks and gray bolts sit there all formidable. Too heavy for any of my feeble attempts, only a knock will do. I am not sure if I am ready to enter just yet. I have to take all necessary precautions first. Nevertheless, I will be going in. I owe it to myself to find out more. The most curious thing just happened and continues as I write. The great rectangular metal building has just begun to hum. It's a low, systematichum, and is accompanied by clanks and pounding. The noise is oddly mesmerizing, as it follows a set pattern. It's almost like listening to the cogs of Mechanus clank, but it's more soothing. If the noises hadn't rose to be deafeningly loud, I might have fallen asleep already.

I just looked up, and to my surprise found that the two pipes I described before are now sending a dark gray smoke into the air and already gray sky. Now I have to try getting in. I must see what's going on inside…OK. I'm at the door and I just tried to force it open again. After some really strenuous pushing, I tired out and sat down. Then I decided to give it one more try, but failed. I finally decided to try and pull the door out instead of pushing, and, as ashamed as I am to say it, it opened.

You wouldn't believe what I found inside. It's a wonder beyond even my wildest dreams (well, the ones with Nuntius are pretty wild, but…)! The entire building is one big machine. These thick black belts roll in every which direction, allowing machines to work on the objects in motion. Things are stacked, clamped, heated, spun, cooled, weaved, and pushed around. Now I see where the noise and the smoke are coming from. All the way on the opposite side of the building is this great furnace and on the other side is this rumbling box that seems to be powering the whole thing. Funny thing is, this place is way bigger on the inside than on the outside.

In fact, I can't even see the objects on the conveyor belt in most places. In the places I can see, clothes of a very distinct type roll down the line. White dresses roll by, all in the same shape, with black dots covering the entire thing. On another belt, these small black shoes with a flexible material on the bottom (not hide or leather though…the same stuff the machine belts are made out of). This machine is grander than Mechanus itself. I can't believe that someone could do something like this!

To my left is a small room, attached on one side to the great wall that makes up the building. It has a plain metal door with a shiny gray handle, just like the double doors that allowed entrance to this wonder. The door's locked, though I get the feeling that I'll find out what's in there sooner or later. For now, I have to rest. I'll have to go outside to do this…far, far away from here otherwise I'll never get to sleep. I expect by tomorrow my clothes will have fallen completely to shades of gray, and then I'll be left to my thoughts alone…and the machine. Tomorrow I have to clog my ears. I want to be able to hear after I leave this place. I can't wait to explore more tomorrow. The ladders and catwalks that fill it might be a bit confusing, but I'll manage. At least I'll find out where all though parts were going. At least I'll figure out why this is here…and maybe even who built it…

3rd Market of Narciss It took me quite a while to get to sleep. Unable to get the factory out of my mind, I tossed and turned all night. Right now I am walking about the place. It smells strangely, as if the conveyor belts are rubbing against something. The belts all head into a section that is cut off by a barrier, with a door leading into that area. Taking one of the shoes, I noticed it rubbery texture, the lack of a sole. The workmanship is very good however.

One of the belts on the more interior section of the factory is carrying shirts, another pants. These are also very well made. I'm amazed that a factory could produce such things. It would put all seamstresses out of work! As I look around, my head is going barmy. The corners all stretch out impossibly. Belts and belts stacked upon belts and belts, moving seamlessly in an insane example of efficiency. Pipes and thin tubes run all around the place, intersecting, combing into wider and thicker pipes and tubes. There is a faint buzz around the entire place. All the belts ultimately come from and exit into the barricaded section.

The door opens easily. I cannot even begin to comprehend the absolute impossibility of what lies beyond the barricade. A large belt carries bodies. Distinctly male and female, they are faceless. Carried by a belt into a metal – looks like steel – box that is sealed off after each cadaver, they emerge with faces, looking alive. No sound surfaces however, no movement, no emotion, no real life. After being given "Life", they are picked up by great mechanical claws, each with three prongs to grab the mockery of life. Supposedly, they would pass into the next room that I visited, but it seems that there is no room for them to go in. The two claws in the area pick the couple up and try to lower them into the chamber, but cannot because of closed mechanical doors. The claw then goes back to pick up another person, though it still has one in its grasp. The result: it drops the person into the burning furnace (positioned directly below this area) before picking up another person. When I saw this, I knew something was terribly wrong with the machine. It is broken! Why would it's own creations be destroyed so irrevocably? Something is definitely piked.

Entering the second inside chamber was also easy. It did not lead me directly into the chamber where the people were. As I had come to expect, it led me into a small hallway connected to the room. A great glass window stood between them and I. The sight inside that room will haunt me forever (though I doubt this is what the seer was referring to). The bodies, fully clothed, stand and sit in situations common to living beings. They do not move, showing nothing. In fact, they are covered in dust! They are rotten, shriveled up and aged; some display a reek so acrid my nose could fall off! The positions are unchanging, as if the corpses were purposely laid out like that. The skin is all yellowed and in some cases falling off the body! I witnessed the machine put these people together! I watched it connect wires and metal parts and stretch mock skin over their bodies! But now they are real! REAL!

The male is wearing clothing identical to that of the others I've seen a strange mix of stiff white shirts with strange collars and gray pants, with careful creases. All are wearing the strange shoes. The females are also all similar, with identical black-dotted, white dresses on. The dresses go slightly below the knee and seem to poof out a bit at the bottom. I want to feel them! I want to touch them! I need to see that they were never alive! The machine hasn't given me the chance. Outside the little chambers, the conveyor belts carrying the people were just too far away from me to reach (as opposed to the ones carrying the clothes), while in rooms like this, where something always kept us apart. This is all very strange. Watching all of the parts assemble into the two figures and then seeing the figures granted life. It's been one wild twist after another, eerie, yet glorious.

It's ironic how the Gray Waste has a site so interesting it could blow your brain-box out your ear. I was wrong. It was not the doors that prevented the machine from continuing its work. The rest of the machine is in perfect condition. Why should the doors be any different? I know what it is that keeps the machine stopped. A small metal box is on the wall left of the window. It has a small keyhole, with which a key should fit, however small it may be. The box reads, on a plaque that is fastened to it, "Control Box: Supervisors Authorization Required." What could this mean? What supervisor? Am I not alone? I always suspected another lurked within this infinite hall, but I thought it was my paranoia. But who could it be? For all I know, this supervisor could be dead, and right well should be! But then how can I get the machine to work properly? Do I want the machine to work properly? The bodies look ages old! What are these people used for? Who made this machine? Why? More importantly, how? There are too many questions. I need some answers. I need some food. I haven't eaten all day. Maybe it's time to take a break. I need some sleep. I need to clear my thoughts and escape the noise for a while.

And now that I think about it, I still have dozens of places where doors read "Restricted Area" and wouldn't budge. The most important one, I think, is the one right near the entrance. That mystery must hold the key to the others. For now, I must rest. I leave you now, journal, to exit the machine and march spireward until the sound is out of range, as I did last night. I'm going to have some of my rations and get some sleep. But wait! What about the seer's prediction? Am I going too far? Am I learning too much? You know what! I don't care. A fate believed is a fate come true. All I have to do is believe it will not come true, to forget it was ever said, and I'll be fine. I don't believe a word she said. I didn't from the start. No sense worrying about something I don't believe. It'll be all right. It'll be fine. I need to understand the machine. I NEED to discover it's secret. And that's what I intend to do. Goodnight.

3rd Guild of Narciss Well, today I woke to the pure silence of the Hinterlands to eat some rations. I only just realized that I have barely enough to last me another three days. It's funny. I thought I'd be in and out of this time. Proved me wrong. I searched the barren waste for almost two hours and found nothing that was EVER alive. It's too bad I can't eat rocks, though it may come to that, cause I ain't leaving until I understand this machine.

Finally, I gave up my search and walked back to the factory. After some more exploration, I was able to see into another "scene" with the people. It was through the next door from the room with the "Control Box" There were no people in this room. Apparently, the claws were functioning here (I was sure because they would lower into the room every now and then trying to pick up the air – where people would be, had the last room's mechanism worked). I must discover the secret of the machine. I cannot bear to see the two rotting bodies and those who fall into the fire below. They're just too real. But what would I do if I found the secret? Would I stop the machine from creating life? Would I help it? I don't know. I can't say.

The room as some type of bed room, with two beds in it, both large enough for one person. Between them was a bed table with this strange contraption on it. It had this round tulip-bulb shaped piece of glass in it that gave off light. There was also a dresser with this huge decorated mirror on it. It also had these tiny pictures that were shockingly life-like on it. The pictures were of the couple. The man with the odd shoes and the woman with the dotted dress. There were pictures of them in almost every possible terrain. One was of them at the beach, another of them in a forest, another at a party, another at a show of some sort, and on and on. But wait, there's something strange going on. I'm sitting in the room right now to jot down my thoughts. I think I see something odd. I'm going now. I'll write it down later. I can't look and write at once… Soon after writing, it hit me. So much hit me. I have to stay calm. I need to get everything written down quickly, before I lose control again. Before it comes… The woman, no matter how different, looked like me! The eyes, the hair, the cheek-bone. All of it! It was so eerie; it is so eerie. We could pass for mother and daughter, if not sisters! I don't know if this is the Waste's sort of joke or if I'm just desperate for attention, but that mirror and those pictures made it exceedingly obvious.

The secret is more important that ever to me. I must understand it. I must! There's more. At that moment, the moment when I realized the similarity, something happened. I found that I was being watched. I saw it through the mirror. But as soon as I did, it was gone. The only thing I could see was it's blue-hot eyes staring at me from inside the room. Inside the room with the pictures! I tried to see who it was, but he or she seemed to disappear the second I did. Maybe it was the fumes from the machines, maybe the noise. I don't know what it is. I don't know IF it is. After that, I was so shook up, I ran. I ran through another dozen rooms in this peep show of life. Always behind the glass, always with doors that led from one room to the next. Each depicted a different scene. Each was part of some great mask of life.

Hello again cutters! Around here, thing's get a bit rough. The page is covered with blood and teardrops. Her mental wall is finally collapsing. You'll see what I mean soon enough. For now, read. It's important that you do. She would have wanted it, wherever she is now.

I was so afraid. I kept running until I reached a wall. The stage set props had ended, and I was in the depths of the nightmare. I was in the final room, where it shows that everything falls apart. The stage set is of a great building of brick. Some of the building doesn't look so good. It looks like it was hit by a fireball. The rest is in tact, though. This must be the final room in which the beings live before life is fully breathed into them. The room where they leave the little rooms and break out of their closed quarters. Oh, gods! I was so scared when I entered the room. I was full of rage. So scared, so afraid. I charged the glass that separated me from the scene. I ran right into it. I wanted to get away. I had to. So I ran into it, head first, splintering the glass, and cutting my skin up to the finest degree. My muscles are tensing just thinking about it. My scabs are opening. What am I doing? I'm at the doorstep of the building right now. The doors are fake. The whole thing's fake. Just a make believe world for the people. Before the people are made real. I'm waiting for the watcher to return. I need to talk (if I can keep control). I've been here for hours. It might be tomorrow already. I don't know. I ate a full day of rations before I realized what I was doing. Great. Two more days before I start to starve. I have to find something soon. Before he comes. Before he comes. I'm leaving this scene. I'm going back to where I saw him. I must. There must be something there he didn't want me to see, otherwise, he wouldn't have made himself known. There must be! He must've been watching when I saw what I did! How else would he have known when to appear, for the split second that he did?

3rd Clerk of NarcissI did it! I did it! I saw what he didn't want me to see! It only took a little more brute force and I broke through the glass in the bedroom too! I showed him! Well guess what I found. Another picture. It was obstructed from view before but now I have it! It's of the woman, but not the man. There is a man, of course, but it isn't THE man. The woman is the same as always, dotted dress and high-shoes, but the man is wearing travel clothes like me. He has two little horns made of red bone protruding from his forehead and a tail. HA! Do you know what I have? A scar where a small tail was removed when I was born and lumps on my head from my experience in the Abyssal hinterlands! Remember? When the fiends tried to bring out my evil ancestry? Well there they are, right on my forehead. And the scar on my back! Well they're in the factory. Near the front door. Near the room that I can't open! The door is opened wide, in the picture. I can't see what's inside though! It's all blurry! Well, well, well. It seems that I discovered the undiscoverable. But nothing makes sense! I'm not in my right mind! I have to get out of here! I can't hear myself think over the noise, earplugs or not. I'm writing to you from the front door, after unsuccessfully attempting to force the door open. I'm taking the front doors apart, so HE cannot keep me out when I come back. I need food, for I left my pack somewhere during my travels. I think HE might have stolen it when I went unconscious after breaking into the room. I don't know where it is. But I have my journal and my halberd, and that's that.

1st Lady of TithingI've finally begun to recover from what went on back at the factory. You see, I ran deeper into the Hinterlands in search of food and drink, but didn't find any. I was in no condition to go any further. Finally, I lay down clutching the picture. (Now that I think about it, he couldn't be my grandfather. I had a mole, not a tail, cut off as a child. The bumps are coincidence.) No sooner did I lie down than a night hag flew over head with a storm of larva. I screamed to her for help, and oddly enough, she gave it. She flew down and traded me three weeks of food and a healing potion for my halberd and the paperweight with the eyeballs (which, believe it or not, was still on me when I ran away).

I began a quick walk back to the factory, which is where I am now, since I still must stay true to my self and understand the machine. I've sort out what I must do when I go in. First, I will figure out away to unlock the room. Second, I will find the stalker, who I think might not even exist. Third, I will shut down the machine, somehow, for an atrocity such as this should not go on making fake-life. I think I'm ready. I know I am. But one thing bothers me. The crone prophesized that my discoveries would only hurt me, but they would then be washed away by the black waters of the river Styx. The thing is that the first part has come true, though not permanent scarring has occurred. And the Styx doesn't run through the Outlands. I'd better just be wary of muddy water of any kind and try to keep from jumping through glass windows.

1st Guild of Tithing Yesterday, when I wrote, it was around peak. Today I write to you at dawn. When I went into the factory today, I saw that the door to THE room was open. I stupidly leapt at the chance to see what was inside. What I found was one of the worse things possible. There was a double bed, one above the other, at the far wall. Closest to the door was a small dresser. On the dresser were three books: one was a journal of some sort and the other two seem to show the dark of the factory. Sitting in two chairs on the wall to my left were two aged bodies. The aged bodies of the two in my picture. Wrinkled and decaying, they sat, jaws wide. Their hair was all but fallen out, yet their clothes were nigh completely in tact. I almost broke when I saw what they carried. It was a picture of a small child. At least four years of age. She had two lumps in her head, like I, and looked strikingly like the mother in the picture. The mother was the woman in the picture. The woman that was almost exactly I. The woman that sat in the chair, dead for years. My mother had lumps. I know. I hold the picture of her adulthood in my hand right now. I'm linked to the machine. My past is it's middle, and the present will be its end. This machine is capable of making true life. Life that is fully capable of reproduction. I don't believe it. This is way too sick! It's horrible! If it weren't for this machine, I would never be! I would never have come; never had to experience the pain of discovering that I shouldn't be. This factory made me! It made me and now it molds me to what it wants.

After seeing that, I left. I wanted time to think. All through the night I had half-sleep. My dreams were reality and reality was becoming more and more dream-like. A fever developed and passed last night. It must've been the worst night I've ever had. And then I woke to the gray daylight. To the dreary silence of myself. I no longer fear a stalker. I no longer fear the machine. I no longer fear my past, my hurtful past. I fear myself. I know I must find out more about the machine. I know I must decide its fate. I cannot simply leave the place. I must either help it work, or destroy it completely. I know I promised to shut it down, but now I see there's more to it than that. I'm linked to it and only the tomes I found in the room, on the desk waiting for me, will help me to decide what to do.

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