The darkened room blurred as he opened his right eye, clotted blood stopped him opening the other. The place reeked of rotting flesh and the ferric stench of blood, mingled with the rusted scent of the manacles digging painfully into his wrists and ankles. Through the blur, he could just make out a row of tables along the centre of the room, directly in line with thin shafts of light from unreachable slits which passed for windows. Adorning the walls were strange sculptures, or paintings; they were too difficult to make out, whatever they were.
It was supposed to be easy. He simply had to observe, to find out what these savages had done with their hostages, their victims. He was given detailed instructions, but he could not read, as so few could since the war wiped out nearly all of mankind. He suspected that the instructions came from others who could not read either, that he was sent to die. He laid there pathetically; naked, chained, awaiting his end.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of soft footsteps on a cold stone floor, as a blurred shadow drew nearer. The stories of torture, of flayed men, of death flooded his mind, as the warm urine flowed over his thighs and onto the floor.
The shadow came into focus and smiled at him, the smile of a young, attractive woman who looked almost happy to see him. She stood there naked, then lowered herself face down onto the nearest table and looked him in the eyes. A second figure approached, fully clothed in black robes, covered from head to toe but for the hands and eyes, slowly withdrawing a freshly sharpened blade. The woman on the table continued to stare deep into his eyes, piercing him like the blade which was being used to carve into her back. He saw pain and pleasure at once in her eyes, as she let out a slight moan, biting her lip, gripping the table tightly.
As the blade danced across her flesh she began to relax. Speaking softly, she said, “I envy you,” her eyes watering heavily as the knife’s penetration continued. He could not respond, he could not even summon the strength to open his mouth. He sat there, transfixed by the carver’s cryptic calligraphy adorning her back, writing words he could not read. “I am but a single page,” she said, “yet you are to be a book.” He could not understand what she meant, so he wept.
He wanted to sleep, to forget what he was watching, but it was impossible to look away. Hours passed, before the carver finally wiped clean the blade and returned it to its home, hidden beneath blood-stained robes. The page sat up, revealing the careful, bloody script on her back. Fine, red words were written, paragraph after paragraph, from the bottom of her neck to the point where her thighs met her buttocks. She looked back over her shoulder, fire was in her eyes as she smiled at him.
He tried to speak but the words got stuck in his throat, resulting in a feeble croaking sound. He eventually mustered a single word – “what,” – before his voice left him completely. “Are you asking me what it says?” the woman asked him. He nodded timidly in response. “I do not know what these words mean, but they will live on beyond me, as will yours, their perfect forms rendered eternal.”
She ceased talking and began to gaze at the artworks across the walls. He could see much more clearly, the outstretched arms chained up high, marked like the woman’s back. The head slumped downwards, onto the open chest, the skin of the torso stretched out and pinned to the wall. Runes were carved across the ribs, spreading out onto the inner flesh. The internal organs hung down, trailing onto the floor, telling a story with the words engraved across every visible inch. Flies buzzed around the entrails, before long their maggots would consume these cadaverous tomes.
He looked back at the woman, losing himself in the intensity of her eyes as she spoke in hushed tones, “We’re part of a bigger story, we’re the vessels of knowledge and thought passed through the ages, we’re the continuation of one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and you get to be part of that story in the most intimate way.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead, stroked a finger slowly along the blade of a long, thin knife, and caressed his throat with it in one smooth, deliberate motion. He felt the warm blood rush down his body as life left him, never knowing what words would be worked into every part of his corpse. He knew only the passion in her eyes, as the world went black.