“Is this quest enough to sustain you? Is this accumulation of curses really worthwhile? Has everything progressed perfectly, with no loss or sorrow?”
Not so, for me.
– Creepypasta, “The Holder of Remorse”
I’M ALMOST THERE.
I’m so close I could taste it. I hold 518 of 538 Objects.
Every runner quickens their pace when the end is in sight. Every Seeker quickens their heartbeat with every Object they find. Which one will end their quest alive?
I’ve asked myself this, time and again. The answer has always been the same.
As I open the door to a mental institution in Wales, I’m suddenly not so sure.
The location looks and smells like all the others: gray, imposing, damp, reeking of despair. This isn’t a place that well-meaning friends and family members visit, bearing bouquets and greeting cards. Once you’re locked up here, you’re forgotten. Will I be erased in the same manner? Only time and my contact will tell.
I warily approach the desk, manned by a warier receptionist. None of them greet you with a grin. I used to think they wore masks of professional prudence, but such veils have been torn asunder with each of my visits. They’re incapable of smiling.
Closing my eyes and clearing my throat, I attempt my best Welsh:
“Rwy’n ceisio Deiliad Edifeirwch.” I seek the Holder of Remorse.
The receptionist pours himself a glass of water from a pitcher on the desk. I hear the gurgling in his throat, see his Adam’s apple bob up and down. How long has it been since he’s taken a drink? I suspect he hasn’t quenched his thirst since the last Seeker made the same request. Impossible? No. Here, all things may come to pass.
He finishes and checks to make sure no one else is around. Then he shows me what he holds in his ever-busy hands: an ever-turning prayer wheel, crafted of ruby.
What’s a Buddhist artifact doing in Welsh territory? I want to ask, but my mouth won’t move. I realize this question is as foolish as the one that began my journey:
What happens when they all come together?
Struggling to keep myself from remembering the answer, I wait for the Holder’s.
“Mae’r ddau ohonom yn ei wybod.” I shake my head, not understanding. “We both know it,” he says, but his lips don’t move. He makes no sound. This, of course, is only natural.
They can all read minds. What surprises me is this one’s gentleness, his cautious care. Most of the Holders I’ve met and defeated – bamboozled, beaten, cajoled, inveigled, and tricked – have been indifferent at best, hostile at worst. This man, spinning the wheel at a fixed pace in a clockwise direction, is circumspect.
“Why do you seek the Objects?” he asks me.
“For knowledge, because knowledge is power.”
The Holder smiles. I slap my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming.
“And what has it cost you?”
“Everything, like the old stories say. No. More than that.” I shudder as I recall the bodies I’ve broken, the minds I’ve shattered, and the souls I’ve damned. “In my quest to reunite the Five Hundred and Thirty-Eight, I’ve doomed hundreds and thousands more. Saul and King David have nothing on a Seeker.”
“You sound proud of that. Are you?”
I consider my answer. The lobby of the institution, already chilly, drops to cold.
“I’m proud I’ve come this far. I try not to think about what I’ve done to reach you.”
“Yet you do.”
There’s no use denying it.
“You survive on no food, water, air or sleep. In fact, you don’t need them anymore. Because of the Objects, which siphon your humanity little by little, you have become as they are. Not completely – there are still twenty to be found – but you’re far enough along to consider humanity beneath you. Am I right?”
I don’t even think about lying to the Holder. I simply nod.
“From the moment they wake to the moment they fall asleep, most humans boldly do what you secretly hate yourself for doing. They lie. They cheat. They steal and kill. They stamp others’ faces beneath their boots because others stand in their way. Their desires are less grand than yours, but not by much. They seek only one Object – fame, fortune, knowledge, personal power, even love – but the means they use to achieve their ends are the same. Not all of them are murderers, but. . .”
“Ultimately, that doesn’t make much difference.” The Holder nods. “Why?”
“As Christians say, sin is sin. As I say, death is death, of the body or the soul.”
“What about the spirit?”
“Ah.” The Holder smiles again, and it freezes my blood. “That’s what’s really being siphoned. Explain to me, if you will, the difference between the soul and the spirit.”
“The soul is the part of you that loves its creator, whom we call god, and wants to reunite with him – just like the 538 Objects seek to be reunited.” I shudder. “The spirit, on the other hand, is the part of you that’s – well, you. Separate and unique. It doesn’t want to reunite with god, whether the creator or any other deity. It seeks godhood in its own right, to live forever as a master of the transcended universe.”
“And you say the Objects are siphoning my spirit? The part that’s ME?”
“That makes no sense. Why wouldn’t they want to drain my creator’s energy?”
“Because, believe it or not, you are stronger.”
“Stronger than god?” Despite myself, I laugh out loud. “That’s absurd. I’m only a mortal.”
“Indeed. At the moment you reunite the 538, you’ll be immortal.”
Something clicks. “With no body, soul or spirit? That makes no sense.”
“Your soul will remain intact, groaning under the weight of your sins for eternity. Remember, it loves god and wishes to be absorbed within him. Once you yourself become a god, you become his eternal enemy, which he cannot defeat. I don’t have enough time to tell you why he can’t, for my own hour draws near.”
“Fine.” I stretch out my hand. “May I see the prayer wheel, please? It’s exquisite.”
“Before I surrender it, I’ll make my counterproposal. I offer you a choice. Either you take the wheel, add it to your treasure trove, and continue your mission, or I make you its next Holder. If you choose the former, you might die and be damned. If you choose the latter, your hands will become cleansed of death, your mind free of all torment, your soul revived and your spirit restored. The Objects shall release it.”
“Wait. If the Objects are vampiric and contain bits and pieces of my spirit, why wouldn’t I get it back once I reunite Them? Unless. . .I myself become an Object.”
“Precisely. An idol, not made of gold or stone, but a cruel conglomerate of what you have collected. You’ll be worshiped by the multitudes perishing under your omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent gaze. Notice I didn’t say omni-benevolent. You’ll be omni-malevolent. All that humanity knows of evil will be embodied by you. You’ll teach them to save and damn themselves at the same time. That’s the price of the power you seek.”
“But I’m already evil. I’ve forsaken the path of goodness five hundred and eighteen times. How and why should I quit now? That’s like signing the devil’s contract and leaving the last letter off your name. A mere technicality. Why shouldn’t I finish what I’ve started?”
The Holder, while spinning the wheel with one hand, lays his other one upon mine.
“That last letter is the difference between repentance and not being able to repent. The turning and the tipping point. Yes, you’ve come this far, but what has your journey given you? Strength, wisdom and knowledge beyond measure. What has it taken from you? Everything else. Everything that made you strong, wise, and knowledgeable in a human sense. Don’t underestimate the power of your kind.
“For every evil deed someone does, someone else does good. For every murder, theft, betrayal of love and honor, there is a life saved, a possession returned to its rightful owner, a vow and a lover sustained, and an obligation fulfilled. That is the duty I hold and the balance I uphold. Every time I turn the wheel, I right a wrong.”
“But the balance is tipping in evil’s favor.”
I can now see my breath in the foyer of the institution. Its temperature is dropping fast.
“That’s why I must turn it ever-so-steadily. One rotation per second. No more, no less.”
“What if you turn it faster?”
“Then evil will match and eventually surpass the pace.”
I swallow hard. “Let’s return to the issue at hand. Why would I forfeit my chance to become a god? An evil one, sure, but with more power than the creator himself! You said I’d become an Object, but at least I’d be a sentient Object. Right?” The Holder nods.
“Okay. I won’t be the gorgeous goddess I’ve dreamed of being ever since I was a child. Instead, I’ll be this hideous mishmash of everything that I’ve collected so far. The idea repulses me, but what do appearances matter if you’re a deity? Even if I don’t and can’t shapeshift, I’ll still hold every single iota of power in every single universe. That’s the truth about these Objects, isn’t it? I’m the only one from this universe, or at least I will be. The other ones are from parallel universes. Aren’t they?” Another nod.
“If they want to reunite, then that means they want to reach a singularity through me.”
“Yes. And if they do?”
The air freezes in my throat. I cough. “Then all the horrors I witnessed at the start of my mission will come to pass, but I don’t know how or why. Can you tell me?”
The Holder coughs as well. “I’m afraid. . .only the Holder of the Journey. . .knows.”
The last one. If I beat them, take their Object, make it mine, then – victory at last.
“Is it?” The Holder at the reception desk offers me the ruby wheel. “Heed my words, my prayers. I will retire to eternal rest or eternal anguish. It’s up to you. Will you sacrifice the last shred of yourself to turn into what you already know will destroy you? Will you become proud of what causes good people to take their own lives in guilt and shame? I am no preacher, no wise man. I am only what I say I am.”
Is that a frost crystal on my cheek? Are more forming as I weep?
“Our time. . .is running short. Within thirty seconds, we’ll freeze. . .to death.”
Words fly out of my constricting mouth before my brain registers their meaning.
“I want what the Objects can give me. I’m proud and wicked. Still, I want – I need – ”
“Redemption. Yet if I find it, I’ll lose all the power I’ve gained.”
The Holder is weeping, too. “Choose. . .wisely.”
How sweet it would be to make amends, to wash the slate clean, to turn the wheel! Yet how much sweeter would it be to usurp and kill the god who created me? To be the real lord of lords among all universes?
“Such power has called to us both. I beg you. . .to resist. Twenty seconds.”
“I become an idol, the Object of all Objects. I destroy the demiurge. What then?”
A vision. The 538 finally fusing, and – shattering apart, flying to the countless corners of existence?
No. It can’t be.
“Everything that is. . .has been. All that will be. . .shall be again, if They – ”
I fall to the floor, my muscles stiff as boards. With the last of my strength, I cry:
“I’ll hold it – I’ll hold – I’ll hold – ”
My mentor presses his prayer wheel into my frozen hand and squeezes it.
Warmth returns to the room, flooding us. The Holder sublimates into vapor, rising and floating out the only window in the room, rising up to the stars.
A voice in my mind: Cynnal y cyflymder. Diolch yn fawr, ffrind.
Maintain the pace. Thank you, friend.
One rotation per second. To aid me in my new duty, I recite my new name.
“Tenet. . .Tenet. . .Tenet. . .”
As I hold the wheel, it holds me.
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