The story of a man and a mysterious box he becomes obsessed with.
I was four months into a year long expedition to the exotic Southlands when I found the thing that would forever change my life. I was wandering through one of the ever crowded street markets in the city of Jasser, taking in the exotic sights and sounds of that strange land. I cannot recall if it was the press of humanity or the heat of the day, but something drew me to the open door of a small curiosity shop.
I remember clearly how the rustle of the door's bead curtain announced my entrance, how the cool air of the interior made me acutely aware of the sweat running down my back. I pulled a cloth from my pocket (kept there for just such occasions) and mopped it across my face as I looked around. I saw no other customers, a fact that did not seem so odd at the time, and no proprietor showed himself.
I wandered, looking at the curiosities that the shelves held. There were jars of things I could not identify, baskets full of dried herbs and spices, bones and animal skulls carved with strange symbols, crystals of every color, curious jewelry, ancient books who's titles I could not read, and so much more.
At the far end of the shop was a table with an unorganized pile of things on it. I had seen such piles in other stores, and assumed that this was where the bargains were to be had. One such potential bargain was a stuffed raven, sat upon a perch. I reached out to touch it, but as my fingers neared I found that the raven was very much alive. It cawed annoyedly at me and lept from it's perch in a flurry of feathers and furiously beating wings.
I was so surprised by the development that I stumbled backwards into a shelf, and for a moment I feared I would knock it over. I steadied it until the swaying stopped, heart pounding in my throat, and looked again for the raven. I found that the bird had alighted on the top of a nearby cabinet. It eyed me with suspicion from it's new perch, making small noises of discontent at having been disturbed.
"Hello?" I tried again, hoping to find more company than the raven. As I stepped forward my foot thudded against something. It was an ornately carved box, roughly the length of my hand on a side. I reasoned it must have fallen from the shelf when I bumped into it, and thought it would be right to return it to it's place. The moment my hand touched the box the raven was in flight once more, flapping over my head in agitation.
"Shoo!" I waved it away with my arms. "Get off! I'm not going to steal it," I insisted.
The raven took to it's original perch on the table, a constant stream of low noises issuing forth from it. I imagined the bird was grumbling to itself, or perhaps at me. With the box in hand I turned it over, examining it. There was no readily apparent means of opening it - no lid, no latch, nothing. And yet it was too light to be a solid block of wood. My eyes began following the strange patterns carved into the surface, and soon I was lost in them. They seemed to go on forever, never repeating, never crossing, never coming to and end. It was like staring into eternity.
"Hey," a voice jolted me suddenly from my intense focus. I look my eyes from the box to find an old man standing before me, a curious look on his face as his eyes traveled from my to the box I held and back again. "Where did you get that?" he asked. He spoke in the local trade language, which thankfully I had made a point of learning.
"It was on the floor," I replied in the same language, though with a noticeably heavy accent. "I think it fell."
"Not for sale," the old man informed me. I realized at last that he must be the owner of the curious little shop.
"But it was on the shelf," I said, not understanding.
"Not for sale to you," he clarified, reaching out to snatch the box from my hands. His brusque manner made me suddenly eager to purchase the item, even though I hadn't had any such notion moments earlier.
"Well what is it, anyway?" I asked. "Pretty useless, a box with no lid."
"Puzzle box," the owner told me. "You have to find the right combination."
"Oh. Is there something inside?"
The question earned me a menacing look from the old man. "No," he snapped. "You go now. Box is not for sale."
"Fine," I acquiesced, unsure what I had done to elicit such hostility. Perhaps, I thought, it was because I was a foreigner. In any case I left the shop behind, but as I stepped out into the brutal heat of the day I found my mind dwelling more and more on the puzzle box. The twisting patterns of it's carvings pervaded my thoughts. I found I could remember them in exquisite detail. The further from the shop I walked the more I was certain that I had to return. I had to have the box. Nothing else would do.