Object 334

The Holder of the Beholden

In any city, in any country in the world, go to any mental institution or halfway house you can enter. Hand the first caretaker who sees you any small object with a face on it. The face can be anyone, the item can be anything.

They will silently write a room number on your outstretched hand. Though they will use only one pen, each digit will be a different color.

By the time you reach the room, the numbers will have faded from your flesh.

Though the house may be high-security, this room will not be locked and you can easily enter. Once you do, no door will exist behind you. If you cannot answer the Holder's challenge, you will never leave this place again.

Along the walls, hundreds of alcoves have been carved. Each one is filled with a small ivory bust of a man or woman, each tiny base engraved with a word or two in a strange, unknowable language. All across the floor, a layer of white dust can be seen. The dust is piled in waves, disturbed only by your footprints.

Sitting at a small table in the middle of the room is a strange sight: a genderless figure with absolutely no face at all. In gnarled, scarred hands as flawed as its visage is featureless, the Holder grasps a sharp piece of stone.

One minute after you enter the room, the figure will leap from the table and plunge the shard into your throat. If, before this time elapses, you take the stone and drive its point into your own palm, you may survive. The stone carries a terrible wasting plague, one that will painfully wither you until all that remains are bones: fresh ivory for the Holder to carve.

Living through the disease requires asking the question "How will we know Their faces?" before five drops of blood fall from your palm; if you do, the Holder will sigh and dissolve into dust, jointing the teeming sea of white at your feet.

The piece of jagged rock has now become a simple sculptor's chisel with an unmarred silver shank and a bone handle. With it, you can carve anything you can imagine from any material softer than steel.

The first thing you should carve is a door so that you can leave the room.

The bone-handled chisel is Object 334 of 2538. Now you know the shape of things to come.