Archivist Supplement: The Book of the Names of the Dead

The Archivist on December 13, 2007

[symlink from Guest at the Table of Heaven]

In these appendices, I have tried to record first source player experiences of the Archive Materials. I have poured over these ethereal pages, their endless white letters, their constant promise. I have made my additions, my small notations. I have done my best. In my heart of hearts I call these notes daleths: easily carved, easily melted. In the Archive, they are cold, naked commentaries, and surely these wet, impure, sentimental preliminaries will be redacted in the ever-vigilant struggle against Contagion. This is as it should be. For personal reasons, the following is difficult for me to attach to the main entry on The Book, but secrets have earned me little but clay and ash: there is duty, and there is service.

I longed to put my hands into the silver cups of the great and final game from the time I was a child. I suppose you could call this morbid, disturbed, an unstable fixation, but the ways of children have always been morbid, disturbed, unstably fixed. I watched my mother slip her hands into the device before I could write my own name. I watched her pupils dilate; I watched her jaw grow slack. I heard her mumble in her sleep, whisper strange verses about emerald tablets, about scales of bone, about her soul weighed and wanting. I heard the music of her game, slow and sorrowing, violins and something else, something grinding and dissonant. She was beautiful, as she played, paler as the levels passed, and I wanted to play with her: what daughter does not wish to play alongside her mother? But it was a game in which I could never hope to best her score.

I have heard that it was invented by the members of a convent in a distant colony–someplace, in my imagination, full of wide, leafy trees and exotic fruit and hurricanes without eyes. The story goes that an outbreak of malaria brought the nuns low, and the Abbess Eglantyne the Wracked, a saint as uncanonical as it is possible for a saint to be, an initiate of Our Peculiar Mysteries, sought to soothe her sisters’ passage out of their bodies. She made for each of their hands ten silver cups with delicate wires extending outward, so that only the slightest movement of a feverish fingers would be required to play, and upon crystal screens before the beds of the dying awoke avatars with clothes of feathers and eyes of jet, descending into a great hole in the earth, to another world full of terrible battles and terrible triumph. The Abbess herself breathed her last within her office, before a cold, black screen, and the cups had to be cut from her hands. This is what I have been told. This is what my mother told me as she slipped the cups over the pads of her thumbs.

More than this I cannot say–how could I? In the cities of my birth only the dying may touch The Book. It is a rite, a sacrament, and it would be obscene for one as healthy and young as I to come within its presence. The infirm and the diseased take to enormous white beds with beatific smiles, knowing they are about to enter a select fraternity, they are about to know the secrets of a game they have heard only whispers of since they were small, a game forbidden until now, until this moment when nothing at all is forbidden any longer, they are eager, and burning to don their feathers and step into the dark, they are full of joy, and the cups have waited so long, so long until they felt their hearts shudder in premonition of their own last, bloody days.

The player dies as the game completes; the player dies as the game erases itself from the naked crystal. It is a perfect moment, perfect union, perfect expression of victory. I have long suspected that the cups deliver death from machine to flesh as they transmit desire from flesh to machine, but what could I know? There is no research to be done here, I must wait, and wait.

It will be years before I know what the feathers serve, what could be written upon tablets of emerald; it will be years before I will see myself in an orb of crystal, my eyes flashing jet.

Those who keep The Book, who build the devices, who fashion the cups, those acolytes who minister to the sick–should I call them players? The creatures in the crystal leap and jump and cry out in pain; those abed are motionless unless they weep–have no names to write in The Book. They will not be allowed to play when their time comes. There will be no feathers for them, no weighing of their souls. What martyrs are they, sweet and sad, solitary, to pass into death without the comfort of those colors opening up before them, without the warmth of silver on their hands!

They came to the house of my mother and slid the cups to her fingers like wedding bands, and when she was gone they went as quietly. They slapped my hands away; they would not let me see what widened her eyes, what quickened her breath. I only listened to the music, and cried at her closed door.

All my life I have written upon these tablets which are liquid and electricity and not emerald, I have recorded the games like a nun, in a distant place, with wide leafy trees over our peaked roofs and exotic fruits on our plates and yes, hurricanes that last for years with no eye in sight, in hope, in abject servitude. I dream as I have always dreamt, of little more than the small, saintly knock at my door, and a woman in green with a soft smile and ten silver cups gathered in her hands, to take me in her arms and show me the scale of bone, show me the weight of my soul.

But that is a long time yet, and there is work here, and the storm outside blows on.

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