Ancient power, captured and focused into artefacts, appeal most to those least suited to controlling it, but these artefacts’ stories are still entwined with our history.
In the search for the impossible, perhaps the only thing rarer and more valuable than truths and certainties are the artefacts and relics that are said to contain or control esoteric forces and strange arcane powers. As with all antiquities they are increasingly rare, the passage of time being particularly cruel to the things that people will fight to acquire and kill to keep, and most existing examples are locked in the vaults and hoards of rich, private collectors. Some seek such pieces for their historical significance, believing the more outlandish aspects of their legend to be embellishments or metaphor, others seek them out in search of such power - looking to unlock and exploit the might of myth. The most coveted of these artefacts, The Cube of The Infinite, is also said to be the most powerful and even the knowledge of that its last confirmed sighting came in Nagasaki, Japan in early August 1945 has not lessened the fervour of those whose search for it continues.
To the modern eye The Cube of The Infinite is strikingly familiar, it's structure and appearance foreshadowing the most prolific iteration of a puzzle cube - that invented in the 1970s by Ernő Rubik - though the history of the artefact dates back at least to mentions in illuminated manuscripts that date back to fifth century CE. Despite the superficial similarities to the Rubik's Cube it is nonetheless quite different in its construction: each of its twenty-six smaller cubes being independently and inexplicably affixed to an apparently flawless spherical core of some jet-black material around which they can be twisted and rearranged. These smaller cubes are hewn from some dark crystal - though descriptions of the violence they can withstand suggest that this may not quite be the case - a hollow-looking inky blackness shot-through with specks of iridescent blues and silvers. Each face bears a unique mark, a single glyph carved in relief; forty-five in all, denoting a broken, piecemeal alphabet that can be manipulated to spell out any number of impossible effects.
The stories about The Cube of The Infinite detail many of these - producing a spontaneous burst of flame, causing precious stones to appear from nothingness or issuing a blaring clarion which can age a person from youth to parched bones in a matter of moments being just three of the more easily described examples out of the hundreds of known uses. Those with a more specialised knowledge of the occult than mine, such as Painted Lyros (whose armour incorporates elements of The Cube’s markings), hold that it actually only has a single function; opening a portal to another reality or plane of existence, and that all the different configurations of the forty-five glyphs open portals to another, entirely separate world. Per this theory, it is the different physical states and natures of these alternate realities intersecting with our own that causes the observable, spell-like effects; some from the substance of these other worlds spilling into ours and others from the interaction between incompatible sets of natural laws.
Whether this is the case, or even if it is not, there is an accidental and perfunctory poetry to the misnaming of The Cube of The Infinite. Although, hyperbolically, there are innumerable arrangements of the forty-five glyphs, more modern mathematics has enumerated those potentialities to 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (over forty-three and a quarter quintillion). While this is, in practice, nowhere no infinity, it is nonetheless so vast as to be equally abstract to us and, even if The Cube were to be found tomorrow, the work of countless lifetimes to catalogue. That is assuming one were even able to activate it, since although there are plenty of accounts of what The Cube does, details on how to activate it remain relatively scant. We know that it is activated by a wilful intent, a phrase and a purpose that must be called to mind and held whilst the Cube is brandished, but the nature of this silent intent (which, fortunately, appears to be singular) is only hinted at, vaguely, as some ancient and baroquely couched entreaty to unveil The Cube’s secrets.
Though appearing to be more a tool of limitless faculty, rather than a weapon per se, The Cube of The Infinite nonetheless tends to appear in historical records only in times of strife and struggle; typically around the larger-scale armed conflicts. While war is more typically known for pushing forward the frontiers of technology, there have always been those who looked backwards, looked towards sources of power that have been proven. Some, like the Spear of Longinus, are more widely known and are more widely believed to be real, but the potted, intermittent history of The Cube of The Infinite is similarly stained with blood and with betrayal. Most famously it was wielded, then captured and used in retaliation by several commanders during the third crusades, eventually being gifted to An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (more commonly referred to as Saladin in Western histories). Accounts following this tend to be increasing speculative, but we know that The Cube was gradually making its way east, an increasingly obscure curio until it was rediscovered and used in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1899 to 1901.
After this reappearance a renewed interest lead to a glut of facsimiles and forgeries appearing in black market auctions, underhanded sellers playing on the colonial greed and orientalist prejudices of buyers from the west of Europe, and the steady flow of agents and operatives to - and spreading out from - China in search of The Cube of The Infinite continued unabated for years. The machinations and movements that took The Cube from China to Japan are unclear, but in early August 1945 one such operative sent a message that said he had found a street magician working Nagasaki’s Urakami valley who was using it in his performances. Asking for instructions as to how to proceed, this operative never heard back - his message arrived after a nuclear explosion killed tens of thousands of people. Despite some conspiratorial thinking on the part of certain groups, it seems only to have been a terrible coincidence that the Cube was present at the scene of such devastation; its vaunted power ultimately meaning nothing in the face of such macabre technological perversion.