A laboratory of invention, a home for stream of consciousness scribbles, passages of undetermined length, and discombobulated story fragments.
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The sun beamed off their scales, and brought to light resplendent rainbows of metallic colours. As the cyclopean serpents continued their dance high in the air, charged electric bolts surged between them. The cracking echoes reached us below as the horses galloped through the steppes and carried us with renewed speed. We were in awe of these strange creatures in this alien land, and oblivious to the danger that was about to fall upon us.
King Jules Iver was also known as the Fool King of Valendar. It was said of him that he took splendor to be a weakness, and turned Khalestes from a once proud and thriving capital city into a slum, a haven for degenerates and criminals. He was assassinated less than ten years after his coronation by the very people he helped bring into power. A cautionary tale, of sorts, though kings are not generally known for their caution.
The throne room was bustling with aristocrats, wealthy merchants, high ranked ministry officials, and those with even the faintest hints of royal blood coursing through their veins. They all gathered to see the crowning of their new king. None knew him yet. They knew his name, they knew he was the third son of the great King Harron, but they didn't know the man himself.
The new king marched into the throne room already wearing his crown. He dismissed the prelate who was there to crown him—the poor man was probably the most confused of them all—and proclaimed the dismissal of whole of the King's Counsel. He announced new taxes, severed the autonomy of the ministries, and barred any trade without royal consent. The room erupted in protest. King Jules raised a hand to silence the crowd. He spoke with eloquence, with an air of genuine care for his kingdom, and asked for patience and trust.
The people had little choice.
The giant trees lumbered gently in the wind. We'd entered the forest a day past. The trees grew more breathtaking the deeper we travelled. They towered higher than anything any mortal race had ever built. The trees creaked under their own weight, and the sound was like music, like the forest itself was singing.
A steady haze with a green tint occupied the forest during all but the darkest hours of the night. Above us, the glimmering sky only sometimes shone through the thick canopy. The leaves that fell to the ground were larger than I'd thought possible. Some where so big that we could pick them up, and wrap them around ourselves like a cloak.
The serpentine roots that broke through the surface were large enough to walk on. They twisted around each other and carved through stone. We followed them, and when the roots didn't disappear into the ground, they connected to other trees. Not a single tree there was separate from the others. The forest was one.
We were excited. We'd heard the stories of this forest since we were children. One of the last unexplored wonders of the world. We continued deeper still, eager to find what secrets it kept.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. It was left unsigned, undated. Was it part of a larger work? Were these just musings, with no afterthought? I may never find out.
I once tried to describe a melody
But music is something indescribable
Then I wondered, what else defies the written word?
What wonders are intangible, and can't be transcribed?
I thought of love, but love shaped poetry
I thought of loss, but I could steal my words
There were stars, but they shone bright
There was emptiness, but I could leave an empty page
I came back to music, and thought of expression
Words could be a seed, nurtured and grown
They could be delicate, like a flower bending in the wind
They could spark a storm, and set a soul alight
Maybe there were no words to describe music
But music could describe words
I don't think there was a place called Yonder, the bard was probably just having a bit of fun. Bards are often the travelling type, after all, and yonder is as good a description of a place as any, if you're not planning on staying for very long.
Galldor the Giant! Galldor the Giant!
They all sang of him so!
He was tall as a tree, wide as a river
Friend to all, and to none a foe!
He plowed his fields, he sheered his sheep
He snored at night on his bed of hay
The very ground grumbled beneath his feet
Like thunder on a rainy day!
He laughed a lot and liked to play
His favourite game was hide and seek
He was indeed a tad too big
And had the longest losing streak!
Once a month, without fail
Galldor would wake, and wander away
Where would he go? They decided to follow
And find his secret without delay!
They crossed rivers and valleys
Crept through forest and field
And kept behind cover
So they would not be revealed!
Galldor the Giant! Galldor the Giant!
One night he snuck out of sight
He was heavy and clumsy, but if he wanted to
He could also be nimble and light!
They scratched their heads with baffled looks
The place where he slept lay bare
Then Galldor jumped out from behind a tree
And gave them all a good scare!
Galldor laughed as he liked to do
But the villagers were not impressed
They crossed their arms and said to him
This is not the time for jest!
They followed him for one good reason
Galldor kept secrets and that was wrong!
The giant objected, they had not asked
But they were all welcome to come along!
The villagers agreed, they had no choice
They travelled too far off track
They graciously followed Galldor the Giant
Because they didn't know their way back!
And so they marched another day
Their fate no longer theirs
They had to trust the merry giant
Was kind hearted in his affairs!
They crossed a bridge along the way
Except for one who was afraid
He did not like the dizzying height
So Galldor hurried to his aide!
It was an autumn day in Basilisk Wood. Want that all days were autumn days. The heat of the summer was gone, but the air was still comfortably warm. The trees had began to turn, their leaves changing from green to vivid yellows, oranges, and reds. The colours swirled dizzyingly in the breeze, it was just like looking into a kaleidoscope. Death was never so beautiful.
It was days like this I thought to myself that I had chosen the perfect career. I was a courier. I could've followed in my father's footsteps. He was a longshoreman, as his father had been before him, but I could not stand the smell of fish, and he would always smell of fish. I preferred the freedom that was offered beyond the city walls.
I'd crossed Basilisk Wood many times before, but this was the first time I happen on a camp. People sang, and danced, and ate merry around a campfire. I'd stopped too long, they saw me gawking, and they invited me to join. I couldn't refuse.
Her name was lost to epochal winds, like rivers dried up from the passage of millennia. Rivers that once held the power to shape the land they traversed, that once were called by their own names, yet now were turned to dust, with only imprints left like fossils where once they flowed.
The castle endured, perched upon a cliff by the sea. It shrugged off the passage of time. Its walls stood as strong as the day they were built, its towers still reached for the clouds with berth and arrogance. It was a fierce mark upon the land, yet the halls within lay bare, stripped of all sentiment, stripped of all worth. Only the cold stone skeleton remained.
And below, the sea conspired still, stone by stone. One day, as the grains of sand fall, the ground will give way, the castle walls will crumble into the sea, the towers will follow, and the keep will fall. The castle will be lost, and it won't be only her name that will have been forgotten, her spirit will vanish, her bones will disappear, and there will be no fossil left to say that once, a castle stood upon this place.
We were lost. Two of seven remained. The once Company of the Silver Spear, now just a pair. We were contracted to map the network of caves discovered beneath the city of Kadazhar. They called the serpentine labyrinth the Sunken City. Two companies came before us. They mapped the caves until they ran out of food. Based on their findings and the maps they drew, it was determined the network was too large, too complex to have been a natural occurrence. The arrangement of the tunnels and the larger caverns that connected them resembled too much an artificial structure, like the streets of a city linking together communal squares and other common grounds. Yet, there were no houses. No evidence of any builders.
We were submerged in darkness following the fall. Fortunate, for having suffered no real injury. None of the others answered our calls. Between us we had one half-empty jar of pitch, a pair of striking stones, and three gourds, two of them full, one cracked and empty. No food. No rope. No hope of rescue. There was no passage back whence we came. What were we to do, but press bottomward, deeper into the bowels of Kadazhar.
I was welcomed into the tribe to witness the ritual of ascension. They chose their next ruler, which they called the Ktchel (which translates to the Sovereign, unrelated to the Church of the Sovereign), from a line of those favoured to ascend, as chosen by their shamans. There was one rite to complete. The most favoured member of the tribe had the first chance at the ascension. If they failed, the next would make the attempt, until a new Ktchel ascended.
The ritual took place at noon, when the sun was at its brightest. The ground was marked by ash, where a great celebratory fire burned for twelve days and nights, to mark the passage of the previous Ktchel, and the coming of the next. The first two favoured failed. The first was too afraid to even make a good attempt at the rite. His was exiled from the tribe. The second favoured lasted a full breath, inhale, and exhale, but he fell. The shamans helped him from the ash circle. He would become one of them.
The third favoured looked up, and stared directly at the sun. She clenched her teeth but would not break her gaze. She screamed, but somehow she endured. She forced away her screams. The tribe looked on in awe, in silence. The rite was simple. Look at the sun, without breaking eye contact, for as long as the shamans stayed quiet.
"Ktchel. Ktchel. Ktchel! Ktchel!" they began, and the rest of the tribe soon picked up the chant. The favoured fell on her knees. The shamans dressed her in a thick cloak. The new ruler was chosen. She would be blind, but she had proven that she would endure anything for her tribe, as all Ktchels had before her.
They were the biggest snowflakes I had ever seen, the size of my palms. When I caught them, I felt like I was holding a small piece of art. Every snowflake had its own intricate, distinct pattern, infinitely complex. More beautiful than any painting or any sculpture, and there were hundreds, thousands, just falling from the sky. After a moment, they melted away into the aether, works of art never to be seen again.
The snow continued to fall until the city was buried.
This must refer to the great snow storm of the year 1002. Entire cities were buried and frozen. The snow and ice ravaged the buildings, and by spring, the cities lay in ruin.
What is the threshold of consciousness? A flower is aware of its surroundings. It knows light from dark, and responds accordingly. Yet we would not think of it as conscious. Does rationality play into it? Must one be capable of making rational decisions based on empirical evidence to have consciousness? If so, I would argue that even some people are not really conscious.
What of death? We always speak of the afterlife, but what of the before? Is death the same as what comes before life? Do we return to whence we came, or do we move on to whatever lies ahead? There's a threshold there too, between life and death, and a threshold is a simple thing. It's a line that can be understood and crossed. That means the answers to life and death can be found.
Perhaps I'm wrong on all accounts. Maybe life is but the fleeting thought of a consciousness greater even than our own. We blink into existence, and just as easily we're forgotten.
Seven hundred years, and we're still no closer to having any of these answers.
I found hidden between the shelves this slip of paper. Why not? Where best to hide a branch than amongst the trees? The Scriveners transcribe and keep records for the nobility. Their libraries hold more secrets than our own. This must be relatively recent.
My mother always taught me to keep my head down. We're low class. We fuss not and we work hard. We live honest and wholesome lives. Most importantly, we survive.
I was cleaning the banquet room at the Lyceum, the guild hall of the Scriveners. Spoilt food and spilled drink caked the floors and walls. I don't know who taught them to eat. There was a large painting hanging on the wall of a man I did not recognise, no doubt a famous member. His face was splattered with what looked like gravy; a fitting image of the scriveners. I thought I should clean it. I took the painting down, and from behind the stones I felt a breeze.
I stepped closer to the wall. I could hear a faint whistling. The breeze outlined a doorway. I put my hands against the wall and pushed. The wall slowly swung inwards. There was a dark hallway behind the walls of the banquet room. I could hear my mother's voice inside my head. We only go where we're invited. I put her out of my mind. I grabbed a lantern, and flicked a flame to life.
In the darkness I found dust and cobwebs. I saw little critters with big shadows skittering across the floors. Someone had used this space for storage. There were more paintings here of faces long forgotten by this world. The dust was making my nose itch. I pressed on. This wasn't just a storage space, it was a whole hidden network of passages, a secret way of moving through the guild hall. I was nervous, but also a little envious. I longed for a more exciting life. I dreamt of clandestine operations and subterfuge. I passed the distance of two, maybe three rooms. I knew I should turn around, but I didn't listen to that little voice inside my head.
I have set out on a quest to slay the bear that has been terrorising the countryside. The beast killed Thomston last night on the outskirts of his own farm. It has taken six good people now, including Father. They named him Graveclaws, and there is now a bounty of 50 silver coins for his head.
I know that you've gone into significant debt since Father's death, and that you may need to sell the farm. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help. I ignored your and Father's teachings and instead applied myself to other trades that led me nowhere. Maybe I could have helped salvage this year's harvest if I listened to you and learned the family trade instead.
I know this is a dangerous undertaking. I know I may not find my way back home to you, but I have to be useful to you somehow, and I'm of no use to you here doing nothing. If I come back, I hope that the bounty will help you save the farm. If I don't, at least you won't have to worry about feeding me as well.
I love you.
This is why I'm here. There is knowledge lost here that could be of crucial use. I need to find more of these, find the dates, determine the location of these cities.
The beetles numbered in the millions. Winged terrors that arrived in the night. They choked the streets, even the waters in the port, and they were ravenous. Three residents were known to have survived, from a city of 80,000. This city woke to silence, to streets empty, save for the skeletons of those whose flesh was devoured.
The swarm was never seen again, not by anyone to whom it mattered. Two hundred years later, the ravaging happened again, on that same spot, to a new city whose name was again forgotten.
Near two hundred years have passed again since then. The time again is drawing near and none will listen. I have to find evidence. I have to find their nest.
My happiness was within reach. I could taste it on my lips, but I could not yet take a bite. I had gone as far as my tether would allow. The rope that bound me was stretched tight. I pulled with all of my strength, and I could hear the rope fraying, the individual strands tearing, but I was losing my conviction. The rope tightened its grip, and bore into my skin. There were three possible outcomes: I could give up, the rope could break, or I would. I pulled a little harder.
We stood around the well. The locals called it the Tarnisce. They worshipped it. It was the centrepiece of their church, raised on a mantle. It was nothing but a large granite stone, smooth, and shaped like an oval.
Several of the villagers, including the priest, died protecting it. They died protecting a rock. The captain called them fools and savages. I wasn't so sure, but it was them, or it would be us. We were ordered to toss the stone down the well.
I was the only one who looked down. It was mid day, and the sunlight reached into the depths of the well. The stone glowed in those depths as it sank. I could see runes swimming and rippling in the water. What had we thrown away?
The captain ordered us to regroup, and I rejoined my regiment. The village was burning around us, but our job wasn't done yet.
History is full of war and countless smaller skirmishes. Hundreds, probably thousands of villages and cities have been sacked and burned to the ground in the millennia that have passed since Inception. How much knowledge has been lost? How many secrets are lying buried in rubble, or at the bottom of a dried out well?
On a chair in a room within a house, in a village in a valley beneath a mountain surrounded by woodland, in a province long ago conquered (though few remained who knew that), in a kingdom ruled by a child whose parents were poisoned, and the malefactors hung in a very public display, sat an old man contemplating his past.
He knew little of that world outside his village, but that did not matter. His village was his home. He was the eldest now, his age was celebrated, but a somber thought dawned on him. Being the eldest meant that everyone who was alive on the day he was born was now dead. The entire population of the village had been replaced by... by imposters. Leeches living only by the blood of those that came before them. How did this come to be? He had to stop them. He had to set things right.
The tide turned against us. People started fighting back against our incursions. Regular people. Not soldiers. The old, the young, they all started fighting with everything they could get their hands on. I don't know if what we were doing was right, it might have been, but I do know we made those people suffer. I would've fought back, in their place, or at least, I think I would've fought back. They were brave, or desperate. Maybe there isn't much distinction between the two.
I've been on the run for two days now. I've found a hovel in the woods near Sabbran, it's abandoned. I think I might die here.
This looks like the same handwriting as The Sunken Stone, the curves are the same, but... the letters look frail, tattered. Can you see someone's hunger in the shape of their letters? I'm starting to think some of these people left behind more than just words on these pieces of paper.
We're forging a new meaning. Gone are the old days, but there are still remnants. Like rats fleeing their homes from a flood we will uncloth them, and they will be brought to pasture. The time of war is finished.
This is translated of course, many times I suspect since the year 16, but the meaning appears intact. Some triumphs are greater than others. We're still counting years by the Lashani calendar, but they were wrong. The time of war was not over.
I spent nearly six months at sea. This was my third voyage across the Glimmering Reach. Every time I come, I come back a different man, and when I look back to who I was, I see a naive child, blind to the very nature of the world and those who inhabit it. I wonder, will my next voyage prove as enlightening?
I'm not the only one who's changed. Port Mol has grown, there are more people here than when I left. There is a new shipping company, a very rich one at that, that has moved in and taken over nearly half the port. Moreover, my uncle has passed. We weren't very close, but he was a constant in my life, and would greet me always upon my return. Instead, this time I was greeted by a procurator, holding my uncle's will.
I have been given a letter, sealed with wax, and a small locked chest without a key. I inquired as to my uncle's estate, but all I was told was that it was not bequeathed to me. I have yet to open the letter. I'm not certain that I want to. I was raised in an orphanage, my parents themselves drowned at sea on some doomed mercantile expedition. I've always felt that my uncle only maintained contact due to some sense of obligation to his sister, rather than genuine affection for me. I feel as though the letter will only be disappointing. I think I would rather leave it unopened, and avoid that particular disappointment.
Another mention of Port Mol! Curious how this city has vanished from our maps. Perhaps I can find more passages related to this place, and uncover the city's fate.
I dream of myself sometimes at night, when the world becomes a dark place, but I am detached. The me I know, that I'm familiar with, is an incorporeal entity watching the other me, the one who has use of my body in these dreams.
He looks like me, acts like me, he even sounds like me, but as I watch this version of me in these dreams, I become awash by a sense of unease, of dread and revulsion. This thing I'm looking at has a will of its own, its own ambitions and desires.
When I wake, I shudder at the thought that one day, this other me might take control, and I'll be the one who's nothing but a dream.
I tripped. I expected to wake. I don't know how I knew I was dreaming, but I expected that jolt you feel when you wake and realise you're safe and comfortable in your bed, but that jolt never came. I just kept falling. I fell through the ground into an inky blackness. The ground fell away above me, until there was only me and that eternal, endless dark, together entwined in a tender dance.
I was never afraid of the dark, but the longer I fell, the more trepidation I felt. There had to be something below me, something deeper still. You can't fall unless there's something to fall on, I thought. So I waited, and days passed, maybe weeks, it was hard to tell, and still I continued to fall.
I had trouble remembering, but something kept nagging at me, a voice shouting at me from a distance. Then I remembered. I hadn't tripped. I was passing through a narrow passage on a cliff's edge. What was I doing? I'd forgotten, but I remembered the rock giving way beneath my feet. I remembered that sinking feeling, my heart leaping. I was dead. I fell and I hit the ground. Where am I?
I screamed, and no one answered.
It was under the pale green moonlight pouring in through my window that I penned the letter. I stared at the blank page for far too long, afraid the words were going to come out sounding impudent and childish. I finally pressed the quill down firmly and let the ink pour onto the paper.
It was the hardest letter I had to write. My son was dead, and I had to forfeit my kingdom. I began with the day my brother died. He should have been king, not I. I was the fool, better suited to be the jester. I led us to our ruin, but perhaps there was still one thing that I could salvage.
Could this be part of the infamous lost memoir of King Jules Iver, the Fool King of Valendar? There are some historians that believe he wasn't quite the fool that history has made him out to be. I should look for more of these.
The sky is not often dark, but on this night the moons were waned, and the black tapestry that draped our world glittered with a billion brilliant eternal stars. Every speck of light hung in the sky with purpose, clustered and branched into otherworldly shapes, master strokes from an artist with the finest of brushes, and an imagination no living being could match.
Then one of those stars exploded, and for a time that resulting light shone near as bright as our sun, until it disappeared forever. Chaos and panic came to the world. If perfection can break, if eternity can falter, what place is there left for hope?
I walked at a leisurely pace on a winding path through the woods. It was a brisk, sunny morning. I was alone save for the birds singing aloud signaling this territory high up in the trees is theirs, but still welcoming potential mates.
Below the canopies, there reigned another. I was in search of the great terror of the woods. The morning hours were, supposedly, the safest, for that was when the terror slept after a night spent on the hunt. Yet all the risk was not gone. If the terror had not eaten enough, then it would still be prowling amongst the trees.
I finally found its lair. I stood at the mouth of the great cavern. A sluice of blood seeped out from the darkness within and stained the ground red. I was not brave enough to enter, but that was not my task. I'm a tracker, and the terror has a bounty. My associates can now make a plan, and they can kill the terror, or have their blood join the crimson tide.
Once upon a time, not so long ago really, we laughed and we drank, and we were merry. Then one day, we fought an abominable ogre. He was human, or he was human once. He stole a precious gem from a witch's hut and he was cursed for all his days, for in his careless haste he left behind a drop of blood and a pinch of skin scraped upon a nail that stuck out from a wall.
And he was abominable. He stole and ate the village's sheep and chicken, and little piglets too, feather, fur, bone and all. He broke into inns, and drank all their beer. He lived in filth of his own making, in the woods next door, and scared the children and adults both when he wandered the streets at night, and stared into their windows, reminiscing of his own days past.
So a bounty was raised, as a tax upon the villagers, whom gladly paid. We strode in, fortuitous for all, a company of soldiers without a war, raising swords and casting spells to sate our hungers and quench our thirsts. We met the ogre, in honourable combat, and traded blow for blow, until the final blow was struck.
The ogre fell, and said to us:
"May you never know the pain I felt, when my own family and friends cast me aside for the way I looked when I grew up."
There was no witch, there was no curse, save the curse of human kind.
I found something on the edge of that darkness: light. Why did I wait so long? Fear, and the fear of fear. I was drowning in that darkness, but it was familiar to me, it became comfortable. Once in a while, I took a few steps outwards, away from where I'd made my home. I could see nothing but more darkness, so I always retreated, for what would become of me if I discovered something worse?
One day, for a reason I still don't fully understand, I walked farther than I ever had before. I'd walked too far to turn back, so I walked some more, and I discovered light. There was light in the world! Had I stayed, had I not experienced that mystifying urge to explore beyond my familiar confines, I would have perished in that darkness not knowing the wonders that were within my reach.
This parchment is old, older than it has any right to be. I suppose it has always been this way. People are compelled to choose the familiar and comfortable, even when that comfort is hurting them. Why is taking a risk such a daunting task?
There is so much here, so many disjointed fragments. So many dusty, tattered books, littering the shelves and the floors, around every corner and in every nook, like leaves in a forest in the middle of autumn.
I look at my own little alcove, with the sun shining down on my desk. My little pile is tidy and organised, but it's just a meager few fragments collected and categorised. The task is senseless. How long would it take to sort through all leaves that have fallen in the forest?
And what of my own notes? Am I just doomed to add this eternal collection, to add to the chaos, and leave it to some other poor soul to sort through in another hundred years?
I arrived as always, warmly welcomed, and it baffled me. I thought perhaps this would be the one. This would the first cold reception I would get. After all, my own employer ripped up the trade accords, and the news must have reached them through the back channels prior to my arrival. Perhaps they would even try to kill me, I thought, to send a message. Killing the messenger. What stronger message could there be? Diregarding an age old protection in response to the brazen disregard of a universal agreement that signatures next to written promises mean something.
But they were happy to see me. They're scheming. Everyone is always scheming. The world is built upon schemes, lies and subterfuge. I tire of it so, I have to gently pry the subtext from their words, to find out their true meanings. I think I'll start some scheming of my own. Why not? I'm the only one who's actually talking to these people. If I start injecting some of my own plans into the conversation, who will know?
As far as I could see he was without a hair out of place Lord Eddrund. He had the speech patterns, the mannerisms, and the deceptive timidness that lulled you into a false sense of governance. He was perfect, and the court in their entirety was hornswoggled.
Yet, I'd dined with Lord Eddrund the night before, and I'd played him at his own game. I sold him out to the Paragon. Not my proudest moment, but the point of the matter is that the Paragon dispenses with only one punishment: death.
The questions came to me all at once in confusion. Can there be two Cobbledor Eddrunds? Did I meet with a facsimile, or was this the fake? No, of course there was no replica of Lord Eddrund. That kind of magic doesn't exist. That only leaves the least palpable answer to me. The Paragon released Lord Eddrund, and now I have run.
We arrived to the banquet in the finest of fineries. We'd spent nearly our entire year's earnings on the costumes. I thought it was a little much. My entire life I aimed to blend into my surroundings. It's how I survived. I didn't draw attention to myself, I didn't stand out. I was passed by and overlooked and that's where I was most comfortable.
Now, I was wearing bright, dizzying colours and by the lords, what were all the frills and adornments for? All superfluous style over substance or purpose. I felt like a cake laid out for a great celebration, waiting for the vultures to pounce.
I did it for her. She had a plan, and—though this will most likely lead me to my doom—I've always found it difficult to say to her no. So there we were, playing with fire, playing for investment. Our own names would offer little collateral. Two foreign dignitaries, however, ones not likely to ever truly step foot in our great city, was another matter all together.
Before I fell asleep, I felt a fever coming on. My entire body shivered, but the cold did not come from the outside, it came from within, as if all my bones were turned to ice.
I piled sheets and blankets and animal skins, as many as I could find, onto my bed, and I crawled beneath them. I was cold still, I shivered and my teeth clattered, but the weight of them made me feel safe and comfortable. I fell asleep.
I dreamed of a lake in the middle of a forest, beneath a clouded, ashen night sky. The trees around the lake's shore stood in formation, in vigil, like sentinels, as if they were somehow guarding against the black, viscous water.
I peered into the lake, I leaned over the edge, and reached out to touch the water. I felt nothing, the water was neither cold nor warm, it was as though it wasn't even there. I tried pulling my hand out, but the lake would not release me. I tried to fight it, but the lake pulled with an unnatural strength, and my arm sank beneath the water.
I panicked, I took a deep breath to let out a scream, and I awoke in a pool of my own sweat. I tossed all the sheets and blankets, all the animal skins off my bed. The fever had broken, but still I felt the unmistakable tug of the black lake upon my arm.
What lies beneath our feet? We walk upon the countless dead that lived throughout the ages. We stand upon their shoulders.
I walked through the graveyard and my thoughts joined those below, close to the surface. Tombstones marked the more recent graves, but how many more where there unmarked and forgotten?
They all once had their own memories. Their own stories and ideas, their own secrets. What would the dead say, if they could speak?
There is strength here, too. I can sense it, just by walking upon these grounds. Something unknowable, intangible. There's an army below us that outnumbers the living by an enormous margin. What if death wasn't the end? What if the dead could feel?
What would I feel if I were dead, if I were trapped forever with no hope of escape? I would feel resentment. I would feel envy, towards the living. I would feel anger, I would want retribution, and I would feel hopelessness, because I would have no course of action available to me. I would be driven to madness.
It is a good thing then, I think, that death is the end.
The crew sailed upon the seas for seventeen days and seventeen nights. On the eighteenth day, the captain was hung from the mast for his discovered deception.
The crew of the Horned Boar was lost. The promise a rich new land, unplundered, at the edge of the known map was admitedly no more than wishful thinking of a desperate man seeking new found glory.
On the ninetheeth day, the lookout spotted a small island through his spyglass. Once they were within range of the ship's small boat, the bell was rung again.
There was momentary confusion. While the whole crew was aware of the island they edged towards, unseen to them there stretched an imposing new continent on the distant horizon, shimmering in the light of the sun.
For a moment the crew felt guilt for the murder of their captain, but the thought was fleeting. They were lied to, after all, and the food and water rations were near depletion. There was no time for guilt now, in any case. There was a new land for them to discover.
The clock ticked, tick, tick, as the mechanical gears inside turned, and bit each other with their teeth.
The hands on the clock turned, turn, turn, and pushed aside the minutes without a moment's thought.
The clockmaker watched the clock. Clocks were not tools to measure time, he thought, they were each of them a countdown, count, count, until all of time runs out.
The hunter prowled the dusty plains, hiding behind outcrops and the sparse, weathered trees. There was prey there deadlier than he was, venomous snakes and spiders, hungry scavengers and prowlers, and the occasional nomadic ogre clan, eager to sample a different kind of meat.
It was the hunter's first day in the plains. He was a child, and he was alone. It was his inaugural hunt, the hunter's coming of age. He'd come into the hunt early, eager to prove himself, and his tribe valued bravery, strength, and ambition, even if at the risk of one's own life, yet they laughed. He was too inexperienced, too weak, but they did not stop him.
The hunter had one task: to enrich his tribe. The task was open to interpretation. Most successful hunters returned with a large slain animal, of which the hide, the meat, and the bones all became of use throughout the village as clothing, food, and tools. One hunter returned with knowledge. He noticed the patterns in the animals' movements, and he could predict where they would travel, where they would rest, and where they could be ambushed.
This hunter did not know his prize, he knew little of the plains, and in mere hours was lost. Yet his courage, and determination, could not be denied. He continued to look for prey, but the plains gave him nothing in return. There was not even a snake nor a spider scurrying upon the ground, and back at his home, his people laughed at the fool that took on the hunt too soon, the fool who would likely never return.
The hunter heard voices then, so he slithered himself like a snake, closer to the sound. He peered over the edge of a cliff, or through a copse of trees, wherever he might have been in the plains, somewhere unseen to the brutish beasts. To his surprise, they spoke of his home. They spoke of his people. They spoke of their next meal and their next sport. They spoke of the direction of the village of his tribe.
The hunter had found his prize, and he set off in the direction the ogres had pointed. He was no longer lost. He would enrich his tribe by warning them of the impending attack. He would save them all, and he would earn their respect, yet, in the back of his mind, he could not shake the thought that he would forever feel the fool for having taken such a risk. Perhaps that was the true coming of age.
...it was a travesty! We'll be counting the losses we've incurred from your nephew's baseless accusations for years, if not for the rest of our lives!
You know the nature of this business, the investment we put in is paramount to our long term success, and it's not just monetary. There is an adage that names blood, sweat, and tears, and it's usually meant to be symbolic, but that is not so in our case. I will not name the sacrifices we have made for this endeavour, for it would be a disservice to their families in case this letter found its way into the wrong hands.
There will be ramifications for his actions, and there will be compensation to us from you. You know you have little choice in the matter, and you know what your nephew must now do for us. I do not take pleasure in writing this, or forcing your hand, and I am fully aware that this will further sour our tenuous partnership, but such is the nature of our business.
The beginning and end of this letter is worn. I think that last word is meant to be condolences.
I suppose people have always been manipulative, always been at odds with each other. We cannot survive alone, but we care only for ourselves. What purpose does this serve? Life is meant to cling to existence, yet we'd sooner see ours end, because our foresight does not look past our own immediate, temporary comfort.
I understood, finally, that I didn't really understand anything, and it was a terrifying thought. This was the beggining of my unravelling.
Even the simplest of things which I took for granted, like breathing, eating, and sleeping, were actually a delicate balance of unknown variables beyond my control, but not beyond my ignorant, unintentional influence.
What really underscored my dread was another very simple concept. I was not equipped to comprehend the nature of our being. The nature of our reality. No one was. We could make observations, calculations, we could produce interpretations, but they would always be filtered by our limited perspectives, governed by our biased concepts and faulty, childish misunderstandings. The truth would always remain unreachable.
That was what it boiled down to. We were all of us children. Even if we were learned scholars, we were still all children, naive and simple minded next to the grandeur, brilliance, and complexity of our universe.
I needed to find something else to focus on, before I lost myself in this emptiness completely.
The sky was dark. I ran and I found a wall blocking my way. I turned and ran in the opposite direction. My heart fluttered like the lid on a boiling pot. I found another wall. I looked up. The wall rose high above me, and blended into the night.
I ran along the side of the wall, hoping to find a door, but instead the wall just turned inwards and I circled back to where I started.
That's when I spotted the full moon, a brilliant white beacon, hanging high above me. It hadn't been there before.
Something shifted in that space, in that light, and a great eye appeared and peered down at me through the moon itself, as if it was a gateway to another world. A world full of giants, and I was the ant trapped in the bottle.
This seems rather hastily written down.
There's something intangible that links people together, even across immeasurable distances. Unseen influences, invisible strings that connect us all together. These strings tug at us, and we don't even realise when we're being pulled along by someone else.
If I'm right, then we're a singular organism. A singular organism still in its infancy, learning how to live in a vast, open, mysterious world. An organism entirely alone, with no siblings, no parents.
What of the individual, what of death, in this scenario? We are the skin shed by the snake. The skin is periodically discarded, renewed, but the snake endures.
They came back. They all came back. One hundred soldiers were conscripted to the war from our village, and they, all of them, came back. We were blessed, we thought, to have all of our children return. Our sons, husbands, fathers.
The war was won. The news had reach us the season past. At great cost, the King and his army had repelled the invaders back across Scion's Ridge. A permanent outpost had been established there and work had begun on a great fortress to protect against future incursions.
Then, seven days ago, the soldiers returned, and we celebrated in disbelief.
I catch the soldiers sometimes daydreaming. It is an odd sight. They lose all expression on their face. That in itself is maybe not strange. One would come back a little unwound after seeing the atrocities of war, but I have seen them do this together. A group of six, sitting at a table, not speaking to each other, just staring into nothingness.
They do this sometimes in the streets, too. I once passed by an alleyway and was startled by Endrum. He was just standing there staring at a wall. My skin began to crawl. Something was wrong. I didn't know who came back to us, but I started to believe it wasn't our sons, husbands, and fathers after all.
The dance had not two, but three partners. The two revellers at the centre of the show threw their arms into the air in extravagent, almost melodramatic ways, and their legs leapt, stretched, and landed with a practiced, predicted grace. Their bodies contorted in ways unatural but nonetheless elegant in their unified, effortless rythm.
The third partner danced his dance in the shadows. His pirouettes were silent. His grace unseen. He dipped into pockets, into purses, and came out richer, and the trinity's audience was entertained, but none the wiser.
She sang not with her voice, not even with her heart, but with her eyes. She could be perfectly still, and entirely silent, and her haunting emerald eyes would still enchant and seduce those close to her like a lover's serenade. Such was the Queen of Halundra.
Upon the mountain there was a marker, placed there by persons unknown. It was a mountain in an uninhabited part of the world that reached high up into the sky, higher than any other mountain in the region. From its peak we could see Ellanstrine, the Jewel of the East, the farthest reaching tendril of the Gorrum Dol.
There was little reason to travel beyond Ellanstrine. The city marked the end of the reach of civilisation. Beyond lay barren plains, and desolate, treacherous mountains.
We were the Kallam, seekers, the first explorers, an arm of the Gorrum Dol. We travelled where others couldn't, wouldn't, but there we had not been the first. There upon that nameless peak was a marker, an obelisk, with writing alien to us, worn with the passage of time.
We looked towards the east, where the land stretched to the horizon and beyond. What mysteries lay ahead? I felt a fear of the unknown, and at that moment the world felt a lot bigger than it had been just a moment before.
We set out east again, in search of the new, to spread the reach of the Gorrum Dol.
The snake slithered across the desert without aim. She was waiting for the telltale vibrations of her prey, to point her in the direction of the hunt. The vibration came, but it wasn't what she expected. The vibration was like thunder, like nothing else she'd ever felt before. Not even a stampeding herd of woolly kayats felt that way. Nevertheless, there was something familiar about that vibration.
She straightened and stretched her body upwards as high as she could, and observed. In mere moments she saw them. Millions of snakes writhing across the desert floor, like rats fleeing a flood. They were headed towards her, and towards them. The big ones, the ones that lived on the edge of the desert. The ones that walked on two long, thick limbs. The ones that killed and ate the snakes.
Then she felt something else masked in that vibration, and her instincts kicked in. She joined her brethren, and began to flee as well towards the human city.
The sea was calm, but it had been covered by cloudy skies all week. Nights were strangled by darkness, and even our lanterns could barely pierce that obsidian veil.
The rain began falling on the eighth night. On the horizon, our lookout spotted flashes of light breaking through the darkness. Gentle thunder rolled in moments later.
We watched the lights with a childish fascination. We hoped the storm would pass us by. The ship lurched, and a wave crashed into us and swept the deck. Screams raised those who slept, and we began the battle for our lives.
I would've liked to reach the finish line. I always worked towards something, and I used to think that eventually, I'd get to the end, and everything from there would be... easy. But every time I would reach my goal, I'd find that unbeknowst to me the road ahead of me had changed. The finish line I was sprinting towards was an illusion, like the horizon it was something I could never catch. Ahead of me, in the unreachable distance, was another goal.
As I lie here, taking my last breaths, I still see the next goal ahead of me, only now I don't have time enough left to reach it. Where is the finish line? If there is no finish line, then what is the race for?
The aureate sparrow built her nest in the nook of the bosom of the faceless statue. The statue was situated in the village square, but it had been there before even the founding of the village, and her own story changed with every passing season, from villager to villager.
The sparrow and the statue shared one thing in common: they were both nameless.
The sparrow laid her eggs, and she bid her time. She sat on the eggs, kept them safe from the cold and from the rain, and she watched the villagers go by with part curiosity, and part apprehension.
But it wasn't the villagers she had to worry about, the sparrow knew, but the pets they kept instead. One such creature regularly prowled close by. This one had a name, Tulip. Tulip was a furry, large tabby cat, even by tabby cat standards, but she had not taken notice of the sparrow or nest just yet.
One day, once her eggs had hatched and her fledglings were a few days old, and clamouring for food, Tulip took notice. She sat down in the middle of the square, watched the nest, and the sparrow watched the cat.
Tulip wandered ever closer, looking up towards the nest. The sparrow began to worry, and started chirping in alarm. She had no way of defending herself, or her fledglings, if Tulip found a way up. She shrieked, louder still, but Tulip was undeterred.
Tulip leapt, and landed on the nameless statue's arm. The sparrow tensed, she was brave, and she would protect her nest until the very last moment, but in the end she would flee. She would mourn, and start anew somewhere else. She continued to chirp, more frantically now, for as long as she could.
The cat was ready to pounce.
"Away!" yelled a woman's voice, and an apparition emerged from the statue. Tulip bolted, and the sparrow fluttered away to a nearby tree, overlooking the statue, and her fledglings still crying out in panic.
"Don't be afraid, little one," the apparition said. "I'm sorry I didn't come to your aid sooner. I've been sleeping for so long, it took me a long time to stir myself from slumber, but you persevered with your cries, and guided me back here to you, and I'll protect you from that pesky critter."
The sparrow flew back to her nest, sensing all the danger had gone. The statue remained awake, protecting the sparrow, and her fledglings, until they were all grown, and had all flown away from the nest to find their new home.
What the sparrow hadn't seen, was that the villagers took notice of the sudden statue's awakening too, and they were not too pleased of the haunting.
The first villager to claim he heard the statue speaking was laughed out of the local tavern, but soon, more villager said that they had heard a voice coming from the statue, speaking words of warning.
Other villagers claimed that from the corner of their eyes, they could see the faceless statue's face, as if the nameless woman herself was standing there.
And so, with enough villagers convinced the statue was cursed, a mere few days after the sparrow's fledglings took flight, the villagers tore down the nameless, faceless statue.
When the sparrow next came back, looking to start her next brood, her protector was no longer there.
The scriptures speak of a dance of worlds: our world, an in between, and the eternal. Our world is a simple place made up of mostly physical matter, a place for mortal beings. The in between is a bulwark, it serves to prevent our world from colliding with the eternal. The eternal is a place where ideas, thoughts, feelings, are alive themselves, it is the after life, it's very energy of creation.
These worlds, for the lack of a better term, orbit each other like planets, and in these orbits they resonate, they influence each other periodically. There are intervals where the in between is thinner, where our world grazes closer to the eternal, and in those times, I've recorded a noticeable rise in static electricty, and certain spells become more potent. This resonance lasts 36 minutes every time.
To great cost I've collected a spellbook nearly ten thousand years old. The sorcerer who sold it to me said the spells don't work, that the book is incomplete, or the incatiation were written down wrong, but I have a simpler, demonstrable theory. Some of the incantation work during the resonance. Some are very weak, some are still potent. I can only surmise that the eternal is moving away from us.
I would come forward with this finding, but I will hanged for blasphemy, or worse. I need to measure the length of these resoncances more accurately. If I can prove a measurable decrease in the duration of each resonance, then no one can acuse me of blasphemy! I just need to create a better, more accurate clock.
This was written by Dallion Closh. He was the father of the modern clock. He was a mechanical pioneer in his days, only a few hundred years ago, until he was accused of treason and blasphemy against his faith. He was executed by crushing. Had he found his proof? His blasphemy was never made public. This information, it could be used in many ways to one's advantage. I wonder, are there secrets in this library I'm better off not finding?
The mist came in the morning as I watched from the city walls. It crept out from the woods, from between the trees. It was a thin, thick, white mist that clung close to the ground. A pretty sight, but it hid a grizzly aftermath.
We successfully repelled a third attack from the Vekklen horde last night. Hundreds lied dead at our walls, and more lied scattered across the field. They just kept coming, running past their own dead from the last attack, bellowing their war cries.
Uncivilised, rank barbarians! Animals, uncouth, uncultured brutes!
I saw something. I can't be sure. Maybe I'm just tired, I've not slept in over two days. When the mist cleared, there were fewer of them. Fewer dead. I must be losing my mind, seeing things. I'm not thinking clearly.
I'll sleep soon. My watch is nearly done.
He lost control, and the aspect flooded his body. Steam rose from his skin. It was like a fire had started inside of him, and burned him from the inside out. Within a few agonising moments, he was gone, evaporated.
Something stayed behind in his place. The aspect isn't alive, but it has will, and instinct. As it filled his his body, it mapped every fibre, every nerve, every thought and memory and even the contours of his body, and it shaped itself, and took their place.
What stayed behind was something that wasn't alive, but it had learned new faculties: memory, movement, understanding. It also inherited some of the baser instincts of a living creature: self preservation, and the urge to procreate.
We had no recourse against it. Conventional weapons were useless, and the creature was magic itself, so it simply absorbed anything we threw at it. All we could do was stay out of its way. Thankfully, it seemed to meander without direction, and it walked slowly. We could warn people when it was coming.
What of the poor souls it managed to find? They would burn as the wraith attempted to reproduce its own creation, yet a key ingredient would always be missing, and it would look upon the ashes for a time. The creature had no face, but behind it there was pain, and there was loneliness.
The aspect here is what they once called magic. The aspect is the very source, unbound and unshaped by spells or other means. Does this creature still exist, walking the world, alone?
He looked for signs wherever he could find them. This renowned leader, the greatest commander of his generation, undefeated in a hundred battles, took his queues not from war theory, not from considered strategy, not even from from his advisors, but from abstract signs he perceived in nature.
The Battle of Deghoram was won because of a cloud shaped like a horse. We had no foreknowledge that our enemy possessed any cavalry, yet we prepared traps for them, and though we took great losses, we decimated their charging front lines, and won the battle.
They had all been like that, to a certain extent. Was it sheer luck? Was he truly interpreting signs from the gods? Maybe he was simply a madman, and a genius, all scrambled together.
His was one of the few divisions that grew throughout the war. Soldiers were superstitious, and they trusted his method. I wasn't so sure.
The sickness grew without pause. We noticed the trees dying, rotting from the inside out, and the plague was spreading. We didn't know where, or when, or how it started.
We began felling live, healthy trees, in the hopes that creating some distance between the sickness, and the still healthy weald, would stop the spread. For a time, it seemed to work, but the sickness always took hold again.
It wasn't just the trees that were affected either, every shrub, every plant, the very ground itself seemed to rot.
We were left with only one option. We sent twenty expeditions into the forest, to travel through the plagued land, and find the source of the infection.
I was in one of those groups.
I lost my mind that day. I stood upon the edge of the cliff, after weeks of searching. I crept as close as I dared, until I shivered and I grew tense, and numb from the danger of the precipice that stretched before me.
Below my feet, far, far below, massive waves the colour of night crashed against the rock. Above me, the sky was clear and the colour of a rotting plum. Above and beyond the cliff, far, far beyond, red lightning streaked from clouds the colour of leather.
This was the consequence. The consequence of all we'd done. The world broken. The world empty. I could scream, but I was the last one left. No one would hear me.
We formed a line, and we waited, all of us patiently. We weren't waiting for the end, we were waiting for the beginning.
This was the strange tradition of our peoples. Every thirty seven years, we abandoned what had been our homes. We left our villages, our towns, our cities empty, and we built anew. The cities of our past stayed behind us. They stayed empty and forsaken. Their gates stayed shut.
The prophecy, or scriptures as some called it, said that one day we would find the last city, and there we would live forever, all of us united.
We didn't know what would happen if we stayed longer than thirty seven years. Some said a doom would fall upon us. Others that we would all become barren, and sterile, and that we would turn into rotting, walking corpses. No one really knew, and no one dared to stay. The Tempest Guard ensured strict adherence.
At the front of the line, we were given our charge. Our role for the next settlement, along with provisions. The next few years would be difficult.
...Vorous had capitulated. Three years of negotiations, including threats, blockades, and several unsanctioned skirmishes that threatened to shove all our efforts from the highest cliff into the deepest sea, had come to an unceremonious end. Vorous, the only hold out, had capitulated.
He accepted every consession, and he withdrew his own demands. It came as a complete shock to all of the diplomats. He signed the treaties, and excused himself from the summit. He hasn't been seen since, but all of his ministers received orders to enact the treaties to the letter.
I received my invitation ten days ago, signed by Vorous himself. I thought it fake, at first, but after arriving in Llendenmave, and presenting the invitation at the palace, I was ushered in without protest...
I sat down for tea with my hostess. It was a red tea, made of a dried leaf hitherto unknown to me. She had told me the name, but I had almost as soon forgotten it. That was my curse, I could never remember names. I could remember faces and moments, nearly all of them. I remembered people I met, and things that happened 30, 40 years past as if they had just happened yesterday, but I could not remember names.
The same happened with my hostess. She had a serene name that matched her voice, and if I'd heard someone say her name to me right now, I'd immediately know it was right, but that information was simply not accessible to me on demand. Strange, how the human mind works.
During the course of our imbibement of this red leaf tea, we discussed methods of bringing clean water to the populace, and ways to scale that for larger populations in bigger cities, where... filth is regularly dumped into the water. It wasn't the most pleasant of topics, but she did not seem to mind.
I felt a pang of guilt during this conversation, because I was there simply to distract her, while my compatriots repossessed her fine wares. It all went to plan, and we even parted with a gentle kiss upon the cheek. The cheek of that woman! The wares were all fakes, and when I returned to my warehouse, all of our property had vanished!
I knew immediately that I'd been swindled. I returned to her residence, and found it empty, as I suspected. I was livid, but impressed. It was an easy mark, that, in retrospect, came about a little too fortuitously. I wish, I really wish, that I'd learned her name, but I suspect it was a fake one she'd given me anyway.
That tea, however, I can't step thinking about it. It was delicious! I need to find it again, and then, maybe, I'll look for her as well.
When one passed through the doorway, one's mind would shatter. The single hallway beyond the threshold would become many, branching in endless directions like a spiralling maze.
One would have to navigate these hallways simultaneously. This was where most would fail, and their minds would be lost. The few that were able to keep their bearings continued forward, and backward, turned left, and right, all at the same time.
Most that were able to continue were eventually lost. Their minds broke, and their screams lingered there forever to be heard by any others attempting to pass through.
I made it through. I used the screams to guide me. I found nothing on the other side but one door through which I knew I could go home, and another through which I knew I could continue.
I counted myself lucky, and threw my luck aside there. I was content with my survival, and I chose to go home.
We've created copies of ourselves. Oh, we have our individual thoughts and feelings, and our upbringing can influence our behaviours, but at the most basic level, we're all just copies, clones of our ancestors. What seems to be missing, however, are the memories. Memories are lost with death, and all newborns come into this world needing to learn everything anew.
There's an ingrained and evolved efficiency in survival, and capability of thought in our species, but the lack of inherited knowledge hinders and impedes all of this marvelous potential. Whether it be by design or natural evolution, it is an enormous flaw that threatens our progress.
So, to combat this, we've built an artificial construct to support our evolution, to patch our shortcomings. We've invented writing and reading, and we teach each subsequent generation the things we've learned, but how fragile is this all? We live in a tinderbox of our own making. One spark can ignite and engulf it all in flame, and set back our progress by thousands of years.
It is not a question of if this will happen, it's a question of when. When will our children be forced to learn everything anew, without the benefit of the knowledge of their forebearers? It might have happened already, and we wouldn't even know.
My parents kept the door locked my entire childhood, and forbade me from trying to open it. I had never seen them open it, nor had I ever known them to have gone through to the room on the other side.
I left home when I was twenty two. I joined an expedition to the Lygreine Coast, where a people called the Gorde came in ships once a season to offer trade. It was a succesful mission, and I returned home five weeks later with enough coin to help my family through the coming winter.
My parents weren't home. It was an unusual circumstance for my father had been injured two years prior, and since he couldn't walk very well, he always stayed at home. My mother traded in various preserves at the markets, but she would never leave home, and my father alone, for long.
I knew where my parents kept a spare key hidden in the garden. I dug it up, and slotted it into the door. I turned the key, and pushed the door open.
I thought a saw a shadow dash past the door. I felt a soft rush of air, I caught something dark flicker from the corner of my eye, and I heard a sound like a door softly slamming shut.
I entered the house, and called out for my mother and father. Only silence responded. I walked through the house, looking for my parents, and that was when I spotted it. The door I was always forbidden from going through was left ajar, though only by a crack. Sunlight poured out through that crack, and I thought it odd, for that room didn't have any windows.
I learned to play the lute at an old age. I never became as good as those who started at a younger age. Who started because they had the means to acquire an instrument, and took benefit from the right teacher.
It was the vibrations of the music I enjoyed the most. I got shivers when learned to play the right chords, kept to the right rhythm, and produced what I could soundly say was music, but it was the vibrations of the lute that reached my heart and made it quiver. When I strummed those chords in quick succession and the lute shook as if from pleasure, that flutter, that palpitation, passed onto me.
There is no other feeling like it.
Sweat formed upon my forehead and dripped down my brow. I'd thrown open my windows, and I took to baking bread, as I often do.
I saw it enter from the corner of my eye, and it was like an eclipse of the sun. This was a giant amongst flies, at least three times as big as regular house fly. The God of Flies. Its buzz was a deep, low rumble, and it was heading straight for my dough.
I began swatting at the flying colossus, and it dodged my every blow. I took my apron, started swinging it, and using it like a net hoping it would help me commit deicide, but every time the fly would thread through my attempts.
I went smaller, I grabbed a ladle, and started swinging it fiercely. I just needed one good hit, and the fly would be dead, yet I missed, swing after swing.
I stood there, defeated, my every breath was heavy and laboured. I held the ladle at my side as my eyes traced the fly's path. The creature pirouetted in the air and landed on my ladle.
I screamed in frustration and swung the ladle like a madman, and the fly simply flew up, and out again through the open window.
I stared in disbelief for a moment, as the last hour flashed through my mind. I ran to the window and shut it tight.
I'll endure the heat, I thought, and I was glad no one had witnessed my folly. At the very least, I'd protected my dough. A small victory.
I gasped for air every time I could raise my head above the water. I was a good swimmer, but my strength was failing me.
Hold on, I thought. My ship mates would throw me a line, if they would ever notice I'd been swept overboard.
The ship lurched as a wave turned it sideways, and its hull groaned. The wave raised the vessel, and its port side careened towards me as the ship slid down the mountain of water.
I dived, swam as hard and as deep as I could before I collided with the hull. The barnacles shredded my arm, and all the air got knocked out of my lungs.
This was a fraction of what it felt like to be keel hauled, I thought. I was convinced I was going to die, but I soon emerged on the starboard side of the ship.
That's when I saw the sea sprites, when the lightning flashed. Little human shaped figures made of froth dancing on the water.
The rope splashed down before me and the sprites dissipated. I stared at the rope for a moment in disbelief. It began to float away. I swam up to it, with a moment of frantic panic that I would lose this chance, and grabbed it tight.
He'd confided in me. I wasn't sure why. He barely knew me. I laid the new tiles on the roof of the chapel, and in doing so I fixed a leak that had dripped down through the ceiling and onto the marble pulpit. The water had stained the stone, irreparably.
He stood in front of the crowd, this man with greying hair, and skin wrinkled from old age, and they all stood in awe, in silence, waiting to hear his words.
I probably would've stood there too, like the rest of them, with the same revered expression on my face, had he not approached me, and spoken to me to thank me for my work.
He told me of his fears of failure, and his doubt in his abilities. He told me of his difficulties in making decisions, and how his mind sometimes didn't let him sleep when he went to bed. He told me of his parents, and how they had sometimes beaten him when he was doing poorly in his lessons, but that they'd loved him anyway, and how everything he learned was from people like himself, who were not certain of the truths they preached, but behaved as if they were.
I once thought this man stood above all else. He was revered, praised, and even worshipped. He had an aura of mysticism about him when he spoke to gathered crowds. He was godly, chosen, favoured.
I didn't recognise him at first, when he walked up to me as I was inspecting my work. I realised half way into our conversation, but by then it was too late. The mysticism had gone. This was a man like any other, thrust perhaps into a life few others can empathize with, but a man nonetheless, with the same trepidations as the rest of us. There was nothing special about him. There was nothing better about him. Nothing untouchable. He was human, just like the rest of us. Just like all of us.
Maybe that's what he wanted me to know. I wish he hadn't said anything.
The butterfly's painted wings fluttered and the insect took flight, causing the air currents around its little body to stir. I couldn't see them, of course, but I could deduce the change. The butterfly had to move the air around it in order to fly.
That was the way the world worked. There was no action one could take without there being a consequence for someone, or something. Even the most delicate and harmless butterfly couldn't fly without displacing the air currents around it.
I ordered the attack. The tower had to fall if we were to soar. That day, after our victory, I took the butterfly as my new sigil.
The tavern bustled with the clang of colliding tankards, the roar of cheers and laughter, the melodies of drunken ballads, and the shouting of barmen and barmaids.
In the corner, above in the rafters, there sat a spider on its web watching and listening. The spider couldn't hear, not as we can hear, but it could sense the vibrations in the air brushing against the minute hairs on its body. It could sense its web stretching as the weight of the tavern ebbed and flowed.
The spider marveled at the creatures below. One such creature could feed it, and a thousand others, for the rest of time, if only the prey wasn't so formidable. The spider had to make due with insects, insignificant and mindless. Maybe the spider could work together with its brethren, maybe then. Maybe then, the spider mused.
A fly fell into its web, and the spider pounced.
I wished at that very moment that I could stop everything. Not by the lack of action, not by withholding effort, I wanted everything to stop. I wanted the leaves to stop falling mid air. I wanted the trees to stop growing. I wanted the sun to stop rising. I wanted everyone to stop moving and stop breathing, forever, as if time itself had stopped, such was my anger.
Such was my anger that I didn't simply want things to end. I didn't want the world to fade to darkness, into emptiness and nothingness. I wanted it all to remain. I wanted a tapestry full of wonder and possibility, and I wanted everyone to be witness to that potential knowing that they were powerless to achieve it.
Alas, I cannot stop time. Time flows forward regardless of how hard we fight against its current. Perhaps I will simply let go of my anger, since I will never be able to satiate it. I do find it so intoxicating, however, so maybe for a time I will revel in it.
Eventually I triumphed, but at what cost? I scraped and clawed, I gritted and tensed. I seized every morsel of steadfast will I could muster. I held my breath, and I let out a scream, and that howl somehow helped me find the strength for one more push. I don't know where that strength came from, I was already depleted, but I achieved what I set out to accomplish.
My written exam was complete. I smiled. I thought I'd done well, my answers were sincere, and purposeful. I looked up, and the rest of the class stared at me as if I'd gone mad. I'd actually screamed, I realised. I thought these thoughts were just in my head.
We marched along to the beat. The drums were timed to match a beating heart. Boom boom. Boom boom. They were drums of war. The sound was made to hasten our enemies' hearts. To wash them over with a sense of impending doom.
They weren't the only ones to hear the beat of the drums, however. We heard it too, and I was close enough to feel the reverberations of the skin that was stretched over a crown of bone as it was struck. My heart not only hastened, it also quivered.
There were others too, that heard the drums. The Gods. The drums roared to get their attention, and to try and curry their favour, so that they would skew the outcome of the coming battle. I wasn't sure they cared.
I'm not sure what I did to deserve my fate.
I'd spent two score days inland, in the city of Larktehn. I'd spent my time there in search of knowledge. Larktehn was famous for its countless book shops. Traders came from coast to coast to trade in the written word. They city's lifeblood ran black with ink.
My village, Ygdlei, was exepriencing a renaissance. In the past ten years, we'd invested in our fishing industry. We'd increased our fleets, our yields, and we'd opened new trade routes over land and sea.
The village attracted new settlers, but we struggled with infrastructure. We didn't know how to build two storey homes, we didn't know the cleanest methods of discarding waste, but Larktehn had books on every topic.
On the morning I departed for home, with the knowledge we need stored safely in my pack, the people of Larktehn spoke of a star that fell from the sky in the early twilight hours. Not an uncommon occurence, but it was uncharacteristically bright, they said. As I neared the cliffside that oversaw the coastline where Ygdlei lay, I saw the wave. I can only describe it as an entire mountain range that was stampeding towards the coast.
When it hit, the wave wiped out everything in its path. The water tore out trees by their roots. I was rooted in my vantage point, unable to move. The water continued all the way until the very cliff I stood upon. The wave broke against that cliff, and the water splashed up above it. The sea water soaked me, and I could taste the salt upon my tongue.
I fell to my knees. Everything I knew was gone.
I wondered what the world would look like without us. Would there be any difference? We created boundaries that serve nothing but to divide us. They turn us against them. They ward off encroachment, but they also ward off cooperation, collaboration, camaraderie.
But that's not all there is to it. I've crossed three such boundaries between empires in the last months. There is more to it than an imaginary line drawn across land and sea. I felt it whenever I crossed those borders, that I've stepped somewhere strange to me. Somewhere where the people were truly different, where the beliefs were different, where the gods that judged you were not your own. Where the land itself behaved, somehow, differently.
I don't know how to describe this feeling, I can only say that there is more to the world than we can see.
It was the most stunning bouquet I'd ever seen. Roses, quinces, acacias, and firethorns in volumous numbers, a veritable forest or greens, reds, pinks, and oranges. The bouquet was seductive in its arrangement. The scents were something divine.
But I was unable to touch it. This gift of flowers was a message. The bouquet was a feast for the eyes and the nose, but all the flowers had thorns, and beneath their beauty hid the possibility of terrible pain. I'd been called the Queen of Thorns before, though none would speak it to my face. This was the closest they've come.
The rain came after a week of mourning for the dead, after months of burials, and three waves of plagues that spread from the unburied dead that added more bodies to the graves.
We don't have an official count, the scale of loss was beyond measure. We were all of us, those that remained, assigned to squads responsible for the cleanup of sectors drawn on the maps of the known world. Each group buried a thousand, if not more, dead, and the groups themselves numbered in the thousands.
The world is a quieter place now. There are fewer people in the streets of our cities. There are fewer people on the roads. There's an unspoken understanding now when the living cross paths: we probably came closer to extinction than we'd like to admit.
This was transcribed. Years were never measured in the negatives, -340 is probably an estimate. I wish I could see the original text, although I wouldn't be able to understand the language. This transcription is useless though, without any detail as to what actually happened. What caused this wave of deaths? Mass die offs like this would most likely be due a plague, but as this transcription clearly meantions three subsequent plagues, the initial cause was likely something different. Was it preventable? Could it happen again?
In the darkness it creeps, and makes a sound like a millipede's thousand feet tapping against the floor. I can't see the creature, but I know, I know it's coming for me. It's going to wrap its legs around my body like a cage until I can no longer move.
I can't believe this is real. This creature was never given a name, for naming it would invite its presence, but it was known. It was a tale told around campfires, told at children's bedsides. Its prey were thieves, they were a delicacy. I'm a thief. I've never denied that fact. I'm a thief out of necessity. Better than beggaring on the streets, I say.
The story was meant to deter children from a life of theft. This creature, once it had you pinned, would cover you in its bile to aid it in its digestion. Then, bit by bit, it would slowly devour you, savouring every morsel as it ripped you apart using its mouth and teeth that ran along the entire underside of its long body.
I knew better than to enter this house. I'd not seen it before, even though I'd been to this neighbourhood many times. It looked like an easy mark. Rich, and its occupants missing. I'm better than this. I stake out my marks for days. When I entered this house, I didn't even hear the door behind me shut. Everything simply went dark.
I can hear it coming, but no, that's still a part of its game. It already has me. I already can't move, and I can feel my skin tingling, as if it's just about to start to burn.
There was always music coming from that room, as if someone was softly plucking away at the strings of a lute in some melancholic arrangement.
The music stopped whenever I entered the room to investigate, and all I could hear while stangin there was the hum of silence.
Luckily, I think, I never heard the music at night. The mysterious music only came in the middle of the day, when the sun was at its highest. I felt a twinge of trepidation whenever I awoke at night. I think if I'd heard the music under the cover of darkness, I'd have fled my home long ago.
The house stood upon old farmland. It had been abandoned for two decades prior, when the family that lived there could no longer afford the upkeep.
I cleared out the room in question from all the leftover furniture, in case it was just some trick of the ear. Perhaps the house shifted when the day was at its hottest, I thought, and that movement sounded like music.
For a time, for a few days, the music stopped. Then I awoke in the middle of the night, and the music was louder than I'd ever heard it before. I think I may have disturbed someone, by moving their things about.
The conductor lived a double life. By one hand, the one that held his conducting baton, he commanded the city's finest orchestra. He turned them into a single powerful force, like an ocean with tides and waves that could sweep away entire cities. People from afar knew of his prowess, and travelled to watch him perform.
By his other hand, he slipped into darker attire. This was his lesser known role, but there were rumours. Clemenon Reimont was the leader of the Severed Hand. They were a fair organisation, and they preferred to be called an organisation, and they followed a set of edicts that they plainly made public. The sounds that came from their discipline chambers were rumoured to sometimes rival the sounds of the orchestra itself.
They were just that, however, rumours. Clemenon smiled during our interview. He didn't want to set the story straight. He likened everything to his orchestra, even his rumoured leadership of the Severed Hand. He wanted the stories people told to be like the arrangments of his symphonies. They were all part of the greater show.
I was responsible for bringing the infested apples to my husband's brother's orchard. It was by no accident, I knew what I was doing, and I meant to cause him strife. It my defense, such as I may be allowed to offer, the damage was far greater than I expected.
The crate of apples I bought came from another orchard from the south, known to have been ravagaed by the black moths. They had already shipped out a few crates into the neighbouring cities before the extent of the situation in the orchard was fully understood. The barron ordered that orchar burned when he bit into an infested apple.
I was, quite simply, displeased with Cirrod, my husband's brother. We'd fallen on hard times, my dear husband especially, and we asked him for help. We are family, after all, and his orchard, and prized apples, have given him a comfortable life. He'd declined our request, questioning whether we would ever be able to pay him back.
Well, I paid him back for his slight. I'd nearly been caught, but I travelled under the cover of night and tossed the infected apples in the middle of his orchard. Not three weeks later, news arrived that his entire crop had been infested, and he was battling against the barron, who wanted his orchard burned down next.
I should offer penance for what I've done, but it feels good to see Cirrod struggle, for once. I would hope that he would come to us for help one day, and I would show his backside the underside of my boot, and smile in doing so, but I think that is too much to hope for.
This letter will serve as my penance instead. I have admitted to my wrongdoing by putting it to the letter. I will then destroy this letter, and none living that are mortal will know of my transgression.
There are many ways one can pretend. Lie, in other words. Some are legitimate methods. Mummer can act in a play, they are pretending to be someone else. Everyone knows they are lying. Everyone accepts this.
There are less legitimate methods of pretense, but they are too socially acceptable, when done within reason. Merchants pretend, they lie, about the value of their wares. Everyone knows they are lying. Everyone accepts this. Everyone barters in response.
There is another method that one can pretend. They can mask their true feelings. They can other words that do not represent their true thoughts, their true state of mind, their true preference. They are, in some ways, like mummers. They are putting on a play for everyone else, because of fear, or shame, or other reasons. Everyone knows that people do this. Everyone accepts this.
Then there are those who pretend to benefit themselves, at the expense of others. They lie, they cheat, they steal, the pretend. Everyone knows this. Everyone is guilty of this, on some level, and everyone accepts this, to a degree. If they didn't, society wouldn't function from fear of deception.
Everything is a spectacle. Pretense is engrained in all our beings, all our lives, all our friends and neighbours. Somehow we must navigate this maze, and find the truth buried in all the lies. But is possible? Or is the truth always just another person's deception?
There have been many attempts over the years to find the lost book. My own brother went mad attempting to decipher its location. Within a year of simply finding out about its existence, not even laying his hands on it, he had to be institutionalised.
I had the unfortunate responsibility of manipulating him in order to get him to accompany me to what was quite simply, a trap. He was detained, and he was livid. I had never seen such rage in his eyes, and it destroyed me to know that it was directed at me, and that he would likely never forgive me.
I think I did the right thing, however. He had began to forget the very basic tasks everyone needed to perform in order to survive. He did not eat sometimes for days at a time. He began to waste away, and he began to speak nonsense. His words were riddles no one could decipher. He spoke of voices that were commanding him to perform dark rituals, and I began to fear that he would hurt himself, or, worse still, somebody else.
With him safely entrusted into the wonderful care of the good doctors at the Institute for the Mentally Unwell, I can now breathe a sigh of relief. My competition has been eliminated, and the voices speak to me alone, or at least, I'm the only one who can act upon their will. The voices will guide me to the book, and I will forever be content. Perhaps not happy, but content is the next best thing.
It was with a lot of regret that I pronounced the passing of my dearest brother. Not only was he a better man than I would ever be, and younger than me to boot, but he changed the world, and nobody knows.
He didn't want anyone to know, and while I'd like to be respectful of his wishes, to be frank, he's dead and his wishes no longer matter.
I do feel perhaps a hint of guilt, after all, maybe there is some realm where the dead congregate, and watch over our actions, or are otherwise still affected by them, but since we lack a system of two way communication with those departed, I must assume, by the lack of tangible evidence to the contrary, that the dead have simply ceased to exist and are now dust, lacking in the ability to feel betrayal, or anything else for that matter, for their dying wishes not being executed to their exact specifications.
Therefore, in what is somewhat of a compromise I suppose, I will here now outline how my dearest brother changed the world, for all to know.
The rest of this document is sadly unreadable, as it seems like someone has spilled a dark beverage all over the lower half of the page.
Of paramount importance was making the decision between answering yes or answering no. How does one choose between this seemingly simple, innocent question, when neither answer has a clear benefit over the other?
So there I was, struggling to sleep, dreading every moment of my life as long as this choice loomed in front of me, like the reaper looking upon me from the shadows. Every moment I thought I'd made a decision, my mind would betray me and decide that the other choice was better.
That wasn't even the worst of it. The world conspired again me to prevent me from achieving a resolution. I had made the choice, after a lot of sweat and heart palpitations. The answer was no. The answer was the status quo. Was the end of it? Of course not. The offer was sweetened, like a poisoned flower. Another day of suffering followed, and then I said yes.
The parameters changed again. The offer had been too good, and so the rug was pulled from under my feet. They had hoped I would acquiesce, that I would accept the new terms. Another mental struggle ensued, and I veered back towards my first answer: no. I put that answer out into the world again, and felt relief that my struggle was over.
The next day, they came back again. Like a cough that just won't go away. They offered again what I'd said yes to. "Would you still want to proceed at the previously agreed upon terms?" And again my world spun.
I have yet to make that next choice. Perhaps I've, unbeknownst to me, wound up in purgatory. I will forever, in perpetuity, be trying to make this decision.
At last! I have been hoping for a little excitement to come knocking at my door. Tonight, it arrived wrapped up and with a tidy little bow on top. The adventure? Well, as the saying goes: one person's misery is another's adventure. That is the saying, isn't it?
I've been made aware recently that there is an expedition into the Vale of Mist that is departing tomorrow morning, and as of an hour ago, they have an opening. Their cartographer got drunk, started a fight, and now the outlook is uncertain whether he's ever going to walk again. Apparently, he took a rather violent tumble down some stairs after having a disagreement with a certain lady for hire at the local inn. He got into a tussle with one of her guards, and was shoved down the stairs. It's a shame about his legs, but mine are still in working order!
I have put together my supplies and will shortly go make my case to convince the expedition that I am suitable replacement to the poor fellow, their colleague. If they want detailed, accurate maps of the Vale of Mist, than I am the one for the job! I might not always get along with everyone, I'm like a bitter ale, an acquired taste, I think, but I'm very good at my profession.
The Vale of Mist! Maybe my mind is addled. A few expedition have gone to explore that region over the years, but they have all come back with a fog in their minds. They could speak very little of what they had seen, and none ever remember entering, or even leaving, the vale.
I leave this note here because if anything happens to me, there will be a record of where I've gone, and what my state of mind was before I left. Perhaps I should have appeared less enthused about my predecessor's misfortune. Might not place me in the very best light to anyone who reads this. Surely, I do not wish him, nor anyone, any ill! I am simply excited about the discoveries I'm about to make.
I should go. Adventure awaits!
The world is a deceptive place. When Collenere told me to find myself, I assumed he meant it metaphorically. I was always a little confused, a little lost as to who I was supposed to be, and what it was that was supposed to make me happy.
Then one day, I saw myself walking down the street. It was me, I thought my eyes deceived me at first but it was unmistakable. He was me, down to the mole under his, my left eye.
I tried to find Collenere again, I thought I was losing my mind, but by the time I reach him that day, he was dead. The physician that was called in to examine his body by the local officers announced the death to have been of natural causes. Collenere was 30 years old. How is that natural?
His last words echoed in my mind. Find myself, he said. So that's what I was going to do.
The signs were subtle at first, but noticeable. A sideways glance when in the throes of conversation, meals left uneaten, chores left undone. Gradually, the changes became more obvious. Longer hours slept in the morning, later hours kept at night. Hours spent not at home.
I looked at myself in the mirror, and I hardly recognised myself. I was gradually losing myself. Losing the person I had become. I was turning into someone else, something else, and it was all outside of my control. I was being influenced, I knew, but what was new to me was the knowledge of just how much the people that surrounded me had control over me.
It wasn't direct, or intentional control. I wasn't being manipulated. It was just a natural force, invisible strings, like gravity, that was slowly aligning our habits, and influencing our destinations. Knowing this, maybe I could guide it somewhat, simply by choosing the people that are in my periphery.
It's too easy to lose things. Finding is a challenge. Holding on? That's the hard part. But it takes no skill to lose. You don't need to practice to be able to lose something.
There's no balance in this. Gain and loss, rise and fall, if you're not careful, if you aren't willing to put in effort, loss will come to you as easily as sleep.
"Worry not about the drums!" That's what our general said as he rode on horseback across the front line of the soldiers. I wondered how many could actually hear him. As he rode past me, I caught some of his words, but soon they faded to the wind. I wondered if any of the men farther back could hear him, or if they simply saw him riding back and forth along the ling, mouthing something mysterious.
"They brought pomp to the war, we brought soldiers!" That was a good line, I thought. Maybe his enthusiasm would be enough got the soldiers that couldn't hear his words. They just needed a little courage. I had already resigned to this. The battle was already decided, I knew. The dice were already rolled, we were just there to read the results.
Today I began my research of Cebllera.
Cebllera is a name that appears in a lot of old scrolls, although the last recorded mention was in the year -102, over a thousand years! Those particular glyphs speak of the city's renaissance. Cebllera, according to some of the writings, was a city of nearly 200,000 people. It was the cultural and political centre of the world at the time.
Something happened before the year 0 that wiped that city from memory. There has been no mention of the city in the new age. There is no written word of its location, no map that shows its resting place, nor are there any ruins known to this day that match the city's size, and age.
Cebllera is a ghost of a world long gone. I aim to find its corpse.
There is life beyond you and I that is intangible and indescribable. It lies in the elements. It lies in the unknown. We must learn to know the unknown.
Fire is the fiercest and most versatile of the elements. There lies an entire world hidden in fire, full of vibrancy, and energy. Full of anger, perhaps, or at least an instinctive antagonistic temperament.
The world of water represents the other of the scale: calm, collected restfulness, until it is angered, and it turns into an unstoppable force of destruction.
Harnessing these elements means harnessing life itself. It means harnessing the powers only the beings that created the universe should hold. Fire and water are cracks in our reality that let us escape the rules that were set out for us at the dawn of time. They are mistakes woven into the fabric of our existence, that if taken advantage of, can raise us to hitherto untold, and unexplored heights.
There are certain points in the history of our world where certain individuals have pursued certain ambitions that brought the world to the brink of destruction. There are certain hints, if you read between the lines, between the words themselves, that one such doom happened once already. This little scrawl sounds like the beginning of a such a possible outcome.
I looked at the tree that grew in the centre of town. I did not know its species. I did not know how deep its roots ran. Its bark was thick, its leaves were long and thin.
I did not know its age, or who planted the seed from which it grew, or when it began to tower over the homes of the village that now lied abandoned.
I wondered how many generations the tree had seen pass. I wondered if it would ever see another. I wondered if it cared, in its own way. The way it cares about sunlight and warmth, and water and air.
I wondered if anyone else would ever lay their eyes on it again, or feel it against the palm of their hand, or stand underneath its shadow.
I cast my thoughts aside. It was time to go. We were the last of the refugees heading inland. Should we survive, perhaps I will return, and see if the tree survived where we could not.
I miss the days when I looked into my polished steel mirror and saw myself. I never looked very attractive, and I was content. I had accepted that I looked like a gaunt old man even in my twenties. I came to be comfortable in my reflection, in the contours of my cheeks and nose, my deep set eyes and attenuated eyebrows and receding hairline. Those were the good days, but I didn't consider them so, back then.
I used my prowess and knowledge of alchemy to enact change. I suppose this retelling will be somewhat of a confession. With years of study and experimentation on animals, and admittedly, some people too, by slipping my compounds into their drinks my the local tavern, The Potted Jester, I perfected an antidote to metamorphose ones appearance.
The change is slow, over the course of about a year, but it is permanent. There is no return to one's previous form. The cocktail, however, can be altered, and imbibed many times over. I have changed my appearance seven times now.
Today, when I look into a polished steel mirror, I do recognise the person looking back at me.
We crawled on the ground in the darkness to avoid getting caught. It was the only thing we could do. Mercentile bargains and betrayal come hand in hand. We had our own hand to play, mind you, but like a good game of cards, we lost to better players.
Yogh caught the worst of it. Quite literally, the trap sprung, the crossbow bolt fired and pierced his neck. A high stakes game indeed! Yogh lived, somehow. The bastard has the luck of an alleycat. We left him for dead, of course, and he hasn't let us forget it. His voice is a little hoarse these days, but he's still in the game.
That was two years ago, and our friendly foes have propsered and now run the second largest mercantile company in the region. There isn't a commodity they don't trade in, and that, my friend, their greed, will be the wherefore of their downfall.