A strange scent slowly wafted through Nocri. Mangler didn’t like it, but neither could he place it. It was sour and bitter, like blood, but Mangler knew very well that it was not the smell of blood.
No matter where he went in Nocri, the green moon was visible through the broken ceiling. If not for tiny details every so often—a change in a window placement, the lack of a vine, a missing tile—he would have said he had yet to leave the first hallway, no matter how many stairs he went up and down. Every staircase was odd. They all had the peculiar spiderweb feeling to them as he moved along the steps, a stretching in the very air trying to hold him back. And every time the air snapped, he was somewhere new, yet nearly identical to the first hall he’d entered.
Mangler kept walking, cautious and tense. He encountered no one and nothing. How was this the undertakers’ secret city? What was worth keeping secret here? Not even Masuta would covet the knowledge of this place. It held none. And yet, he sensed the secrets, weaving through the shadows, following him.
Mangler felt a ripple run down his spine, abruptly turned and realized that it was not secrets following him; it was a woman. She was completely obscured by a tattered grey veil that draped over her thin, uneven form. Her head was bowed, her arms limply outstretched.
“Unwelcome,” she rasped in a tired, dried out voice, like a young one turned old too quickly.
“Who are you?” Mangler asked.
“You came for answers to questions already answered,” she said. “And you weren’t answered.”
“I haven’t asked any questions.”
“You did. You will.” She raised her head and an indistinct breeze moved the veil around a tatter, revealing nothing on the other side of it except bones.
“Are you the Oracle’s Corpse?” he asked.
“Human before, human no more, the side you fight for, what is their war?”
Mangler wasn't particularly sure who she was talking about, him or herself. “The war yes. What was the war about? The war that restarted history.”
“Death and death and death again. Death against death.” Softly rattling, she pointed a hand toward him. “Why do you ask questions to answers you have, son of Wayde?”
Mangler stepped back quickly, eyes wide. For a second, he was afraid.
The woman brushed her arm across the ashen vines and they crumpled before reforming into a round disk hovering over the woman’s veil covered hand. Even comprised of ash, Mangler recognized it—he’d stared at it often enough—it was the pendant Murderous had recovered from the old man. Now though as he stared at the ethereal image of it, the nonsense words around it began to grow.
Zofina is a Nicomus, a Dottir of Thanos, the Knowledge of the Lock, the Bearer of the Secret—
“What are you doing here? Who are you?” a new voice shouted.
Mangler looked up, the ash pendant disintegrating to the floor, the Oracle’s Corpse sliding against the wall and then vanishing with a chuckle. Behind where she had stood was the undertaker Mangler had followed in, the woman with white hair. Instinctively, Mangler loosened the knife hidden up his sleeve, letting it drop into his palm, then retracted it, spun on one heel and ran.
The woman watched him go, then bit the tip of both thumbs hard, breaking the skin. Blood welled up and she smeared the blood onto her palms, a different symbol on each hand. Then she pressed her palms together, eyes fixed on Mangler’s retreating form.
“Rest this dead,” she whispered into her hands.
Blood dripped down between palms, dropping to the floor and then slithering after Mangler like living things, black in the green moonlight. The white haired woman slowly lowered her hands.
“Nothing lives forever, Immortal.”