In the fifty-fifth issue of The Sandman, this is like the Inception of storytelling. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
Okay, well this was a difficult read! It was actually kind of fun to keep track of where I was as I read through “Cerements.” Who was telling the story? How was it being framed and by whom? Gaiman isn’t being subtle about his love for stories at this point, and if this all wasn’t so entertaining and fun, I might be annoyed by how repetitious this feels at time. But LITHARGE. Holy crap, there’s an entire world necropolis devoted to the dead? It’s an entire society that celebrates death instead of life. How do they study the various cultures that exist in order to discover different methods of burial? It’s almost like this is a realm related to Death, since they seem to have access to other realms as well. And look, it’s not like all five stories within this story within this issue (THAT’S A MOUTHFUL) aren’t interesting. They are! But suddenly, I want an entire book about Litharge. I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT IT.
So before I freak out more about Litharge, let’s discuss the stories within the story that Petrefax tells (which is within the giant story about Worlds’ End, which gets one HELL of a cliffhanger, but I’ll get to that in a bit). Petrefax’s story is actually unfinished, as Klaproth interrupts him before he can even get to the reason why he was telling it in the first place. AHHHHH, WHAT’S IN THE ROOM BELOW THE CATACOMBS AND WHAT’S THE BOOK, AND WHAT ARE THE CEREMENTS? No, you are cheating. I want to know! Wait, is this going to be answered in the final issue? UNBEARABLE. UNFAIR. Well, I didn’t have to wait a month between issues or anything, so I suppose I should shut my mouth. Still.
Anyway, within Petrefax’s story, I got to experience three more stories told in a very similar manner as the ones in Worlds’ End. Following a specific custom of an air burial, Petrefax watches as three of his masters and fellow apprentices not only complete a ceremony for a recently deceased woman, but honor her with stories. Can y’all do this at my funeral? I would deeply appreciate that. No weepy sadness, just stories.
The first story we get is a rather sad one about a man excused from a death by hanging only as long as he can act as the town’s hangman. He escapes death by becoming death for others, and he takes great care in orchestrating quick deaths for those who go to the gallows. But life is fleeting (AHHH THEMATIC TIES TO BRIEF LIVES AHHHHHH I LOVE THIS), and he must eventually face a death by hanging on the day he can’t hang another. My god, what a fucked up arrangement. I did like that this tale about death was told during a ceremony like this. If the ceremony exists as a ritual to help the living cope with death, then I can’t imagine a more fitting story to tell.
The second story features a rather young version of Destruction and then… wait. What? See, Destruction tells of a time when the original necropolis was destroyed by six strangers. I didn’t understand the importance of this segment until one of those strangers steps forward and revokes the charter of this first necropolis. What the hell, is that Destiny???? I looked at the previous panel, and by gods, the strangers sort of looked like the Endless. Pale, sure, and unsettling. But they looked so human! WHAT IS THIS. WHAT DOES IT MEAN.
The final complete story (since Petrefax’s “story” never gets finished) concerns Mistress Veltis, a powerful and talented master in Litharge who taught Master Hermas and Master Klaproth. Again, I’m left hanging. What the fuck is that book? Why does it talk? Why is the lettering done that way? Why did it take Veltis’s hand? UGH, this is so intriguing to me! It leads perfectly into the end of “Cerements” because so many things are left unanswered. Just as it seems that Petrefax is finally going to get to his own story, Klaproth interrupts him so that he can’t reveal his ~secrets.~ OH, BOO TO YOU. It’s not like any of these beings are going to go back to your realm. They can’t! But Brant takes the opportunity to speak up at this exact point to claim that he’s figured out what Worlds’ End is: they’re all dead!
Except they’re not. (God, I am so glad they’re not. BORING TWIST.) But then some unnamed woman says she does know why they’re there. The next words? TO BE CONCLUDED.
Son of a motherless bee sting. DAMN IT.
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