It had been… approaching a week? Something like that, since she’d bought the casket.
Apart from being a robust and ancient construction, the artifact had no obvious maker’s mark, was built in what could be any number of styles, some of which were as old as the Age of Flame. Which narrowed down the age of the thing to… probably not older than recorded history.
Great. Just… great. She’d found some kind of interface, under the first few layers of protective Words, but it was written in a language she didn’t recognise, and neither did any of the people she asked via the Connective – while its orthography bore some resemblance to the early elven languages, it was so different from all possible related languages that very little actual information could be extracted from it. Along with cryptic writing, there were a series of simplistic diagrams of something – again, unrecognisable.
The bindings on it, however, were definitely more comprehensible, and seemingly eroding with age. While it seemed solid enough, the very fact that some ancient mage had sealed this container quite so thoroughly gave her some fairly alarming thoughts about what was contained. So, before turning in for the Withering, she laid a few bindings of her own over the casket, along with a couple of contingency alarms for good measure. If anyone or anything so much as breathed wrong in her box’s presence, she’d instantly know, and probably flee out the nearest window. It sounded, in her somewhat tired state, like a solid plan, so she retired to her favourite beanbag, curled up and went to sleep.
Three hours later, the box sitting in the middle of her parlour floor trembled. The wood, hewn from the timbers of a young Great Tree, creaked, thick flakes of caulk falling out from between the planks as they warped.
An iridescence flared over the surface of the casket, as symbols and wards that Zkri hadn’t yet discovered burst into life, spreading across the surface in a mother-of-pearl sheen and then constricting. Another quiet creak, and the box warped back into its original shape in a shower of dislodged sealant.
The wards flashed as they sealed again, an action which tripped at least five of the alarms that had been placed around or nearby.
Zkrithlinos was jolted from sleep by the strangled screech of the alarm tripwires she’d set up around her potentially lethal cargo, and had barely finished recognising the sound before she was diving out the nearest window, landing in the Atrament beside her houseboat.
Several more thoughts and one unreasonably cold dip in an inken sea later, a somewhat damper Zkri tentatively glanced round the door of her living room in an attempt to discern what was going on.
“Hmm.” She dripped thoughtfully on her second-worst carpet. “It wasn’t doing that before.”
The entire surface of the casket was flickering as different Words briefly flared with light, at random. Or was it random? Every Word had a name, a meaning, irrespective of language used to describe them. It wasn’t unheard of for information to be communicated like this.
It was hard to keep up with, but…
“Omen,” She read as the Words flickered across the box. “Omen – don’t know that one – Fluoresce, Indication, Shroud, er, Transmute, Contain, Omen again, Omen-”
With a crash that set the boat rocking, the entire casket leapt nearly a foot in the air as something hit it from inside with the force of a steam hammer. The bindings on its surface blazed, fully half of them burning out – leaving smoking scorch marks on the wood and bronze. With a fizz, the silvery sheen on the casket faded, leaving the air heavy with the scentless smells, the non-scents of burnt magic.
“That can’t be g-”
A second impact rattled the room, and she could see as the normally impenetrable Great Tree timbers bent and splintered, cracking, grinding and creaking like the ghost of an angry hinge factory.
“Right, leaving now,” she said, ducking belatedly out the door and making a break for the nearest station of the Foyan Order Of Troubleshooters. Behind her, there was a crash, as the box finally gave up and exploded, ancient wardings and tremendous materials shattered by the inexorable pressure from the forgotten thing within.
She didn’t see it ooze from the box, a grey liquid whose surface bubbled with dark eyes. It twitched and spasmed into random geometric forms, textures crawling haphazardly across its surface, before it folded up and solidified. It sprouted a carpet of thin tendrils and with them slowly dragged itself free of the gently smoking wreck of what had contained it for so very long. Like strange creatures from the deep, shapes rose from its surface, a scaffold of bone precipitating out of the formless goop, muscles weaving themselves around them as the grayish protoplasm solidified into a facsimile of flesh.
It took mere seconds for the thing to once more stand upright, for what must have been the first time in eight thousand years. Faintly humanoid, pallid grey-green flesh settled oddly on its frame, like soft wax. Dark eyes opened across its face, and it looked around, taking in the interior of Zkri’s houseboat and the shattered remains of its ancient prison. It raised an arm, its forearm elongating, swelling, encrusting with spikes of horn and bone into a club that came down on the broken casket with a force that split the floor of the boat. Again and again, the club came down, until the ink started to flood in, the boat beginning to list slightly as it sank.
It stepped unhurriedly up onto the jetty of the Foyan Atrament Port, looking around at the collected inkcraft and occasional startled fisherperson. At the end of the jetty, a devil stood with a Bookbinder, watching it with a mixture of shock and horror.
“Did you sink my boat?” asked Zkri. “Hec- um, hell, what were you doing in that box?”
Its eyes blinked, out of synchronisation, and Zkri was about to repeat her question when it started to move towards them. With each step, it grew taller, bones popping and flesh creaking. Its malformed fingers grew longer and sharper, and blades unsheathed themselves from flesh across its torso with a series of soft, wet noises.