The Message of the Sword (Story)

Igsby Wrinklefoot was sitting in one of the many rooms of his home. It was a comfortable abode that showed off the wealth of his family, as well as the fruits of Igsby’s own labor. The middle-aged man had enjoyed a prosperous career as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Cornerstone. Though his house was full, his life felt empty. There was the persistent feeling of a longing, nagging question; some unsolved issue from his past that he couldn’t remember, yet couldn’t let go, and he didn’t know what to do about it.

It was a windy Tuesday morning. Igsby was hiding inside from the dust when the doorbell chimed. Reluctantly, Igsby rose from his chair and went to the door. When he opened it he was greeted with a gust of dusty wind, a mouthful of dirt, and a package on the doorstep.

There was an I.D. Tag emblazoned on the side and numerous HIGH PRIORITY stickers adorned the package. Igsby could tell the it was a special delivery from the Wrinklefoot estate.

Igsby opened the package and plunged his hands into the small sea of foam pellets. He pulled out a short sword. It was silver and black with precise, angular runes etched into one side.

Long had Igsby Wrinklefoot admired the sword above the family mantle. For as long as he could remember it had been in the Wrinklefoot manor, glinting in the light of the perpetual fire below. Upon seeing the shining blade Igsby’s mind took him back to his childhood. He was reminded of the smell of soot and the sense of wonder as he stared up at the sword. Where had it been? What had it done? Most importantly, what did the runes on the side say?

Of course, no one knew. The only explanations ever offered to Igsby were profoundly unsatisfying. But he knew the runes must mean something. He was certain the sword was important.

A letter arrived with the package.

            Igsby

           As you know, we are in the process of extensive renovations in the manor. We were going to throw this away until we were reminded of how you used to stare at it for hours. Maybe now you can find out what it says, but I’m sure you have better things to do.

            -R.W.

Igsby did have better things to do. They never got done.

Many years, a ruined marriage, and a spent fortune later Igsby was no closer to solving the mystery. Besides the sword, a meager wardrobe, and a few pieces of furniture, his terminal was the only thing left in the house. Everything else had been sold off to fund his obsession.

With ruffled clothes and the stench of desperation he spent his days chasing down leads, and his nights sitting in the soft glow of his terminal screen surrounded by notes, coffee stained bits of paper, and stacks of dirty dishes.

Exhausted of options, Igsby decided to take up one of the advertisements that were always popping up on his machine.

Omni the All-Seeing: Questions Answered. Problems Solved. No More Mysteries! Now Available for Telenet Consultation. Select HERE for details.

It was a gamble. Igsby had spent a lot of money hiring experts who always seemed to provide more invoices than answers. But what did he have to lose?

Igsby confirmed his selection, was greeted with a payment prompt, and sent out the number for one of the family bank accounts. A number he was explicitly told not to use anymore, but what’s a few credits between blood? If the family could afford to refurbish opera houses and build new Net towers, then they could surely afford this one last indulgence for their wayward son.

Within moments the image of Omni appeared on the terminal. His round, bald, and blubbery face took up a full quadrant of Igsby’s screen. There was no audio, and the image quality was a bit choppy, but it would have to do.

Omni nodded in a kind greeting, then beckoned with his fat arms. A signal for Igsby to present his question.

Igsby brought out the sword and held it in front of his terminal, making sure to point out the runes and keep them in a position where Omni could examine them from his side of the connection.

The image of Omni went perfectly still. Igsby thought perhaps there was connection lag. Then Omni’s head turned slightly to one side revealing a braided cable that was plugged in to the back of his neck.

So he was not a prophet after all, but a Netmind posing as one. Igsby supposed the two things were probably equally rare, and for the most part interchangeable.

For several moments Omni seemed detached. His eyes were open, but they were unfocused and flittered about like he was reading an invisible book. Then his eyes readjusted, and his stare returned. He closed both his eyes in a slow and deliberate blink. Igsby’s terminal chimed. It was the signal of an incoming message.

 Ah yes. An interesting piece. My vision is clouded when I look for the meaning of the text. But do not despair! The All-seeing knows there are many paths to single answers.
 I recognize the shape and sheen of the blade. The name of the place it was forged dances on the edge of my sight. If only my connection to the great mind were not so slow. Perhaps then my sight would improve.
 Igsby got the hint. He sent yet another string of numbers to give Omni access to Wrinklefoot bank accounts.

Omni, obviously pleased, flashed his most benevolent smile. There was another chime, and a new message appeared on Igsby’s screen.

 The generosity of the Wrinklefoot family is well-known, even in my distant country. Thank you for your kindness. Now, if I squint my inner eye just so…
 Yes, I can see the place where your mysterious sword was made.
 Y3-37, Second Precinct, Cornerstone, Cosmopolotis
 It looks like it is near your current location. How fortunate for you! Would you like so see other similar places nearby?

Before he could type back a polite, “Thanks, but no Thanks,” Igsby’s screen was flooded with ads for machine shops and various factories. But he hardly noticed them. In fact, Igsby was in such a hurry that he bolted out of his empty house and onto the busy street without even taking a moment to power the terminal down.

The Cornerstone Familial Foundry was an imposing building. It was large and rectangular. The high stone walls sported the adornment of a building that had spent the better part of a century in the industrial core of a bustling city: a healthy layer of grime. The building had more smokestacks than Igsby had fingers or toes. It seemed excessive, but what did he know? Igsby Wrinklefoot was much more accustomed to owning factories than understanding how they work.

Igsby entered the foundry. The whole place smelled of sweat and toil and hard times, with inconsistent lighting that added to the intimidating atmosphere. No one came to assist him. The building appeared to be deserted.

He made his way across the large room and up the metal staircase. His footsteps resounded heavily through the building. At the top of the stairs he stepped through an empty doorframe into what was obviously the foreman’s office.

The foreman was a wispy man. He drank something cloudy from a chipped glass as he sat behind his oversized and cluttered desk.

“We’re closed.” The foreman’s voice betrayed no emotion. He eyes remained firmly locked on some incomplete project that lay in pieces in front of him.

“The door was open, so I let myself in.”

“The door wasn’t open,” the foreman announced in his somber voice. “There is no door.”

Taken aback by this keen observation Igsby wasn’t sure what to say. After a few moments of quiet hesitation he took a few slow, small steps toward the desk. He removed the sword from his bag and laid it on the foreman’s desk.

“I was told this sword was made here. Do you know what the runes say?”

The foreman barely glanced at the sword before answering abruptly.

“Sure was. I haven’t seen one of these in years.” He picked up the sword and turned it over a few times. “Nobles and fancypants and the like used to buy these little swords for their kids. Expensive pieces of work, considering how much they laid down for a piece of steel that can barely hold an edge. Nice thing about rich folks. They’ll pay what you charge.”

“The customers liked to put little personal messages on one side,” the foreman said as he looked at the naked side of the blade. Then he flipped it over, and with the eye of a practiced craftsman examined the mysterious runes.

“On the other side was the standard inscription. Usually some kind of legal thing. When it was made, composition of the steel, that kind of stuff.”

The foreman appeared to enjoy speaking more than his dour demeanor let on. He probably didn’t choose to spend his days in the isolated office of an already abandoned factory.

“It looks like this one was faulty, though. The machine didn’t get all the lines and letters in. Its no wonder you could never figure it out.”

“Is there any chance you remember what the standard inscription said?” Igsby asked, not sure if he really wanted to know the answer anymore.

“Can’t say I remember it myself.” Igsby prepared to turn and leave. Another dead end.

“But,” the foreman said before Igsby could depart, “My old friend Mr. File Cabinet never forgets a thing.”

The foreman wheeled his chair over to the colossal stack of metal drawers in the corner behind his desk. There was some shuffling, and some sorting, and finally a heavy piece of slate covered in words and numbers was placed in front of Igsby.

On the slate was a familiar looking drawing: a representation of the blade Igsby had wondered about his entire life. But the text on the drawing was different. Igsby could actually read it.

Finally, Igsby Wrinklefoot would have his answer to the mystery that had haunted, consumed, and all but ruined his life.

He took a deep breath and read the complete text out loud for the very first time. His voice was strong in the quiet office.

“Always wear eye protection, and other safety equipment.”

Igsby was confused and disappointed. The foreman, seeing his despair, gave a raspy laugh and slapped his bony hand Igsby’s shoulder.

“I take it you were expecting something a little more profound, weren’t you?”

The hollow look in Igsby’s eyes said everything for him. The foreman sadly shook his head, but not without a slight smirk on his face.

“Well, I suppose there are worse things to devote your life to than a misprinted warning label. But not many.”

Not many at all.