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<img style="max-width:100%;" src="night.png" alt="A winged insect on a misty background"><h1 class="main-title">The Door of This Night is Open</h1>//Information//.
[[Credits]]Written by Cameron Higby-Naquin
Cover illustration by Marcelo Gallegos
Made with <a href="https://twinery.org/">Twine</a> and <a href="https://www.motoslave.net/tweego/">Tweego</a>.
[[Back|Start]]<<set $sleep = 0>>It is night, and you are in your bed. The bed is stiff, cold, off-balance. The contours of the mattress prod you at odd angles. You can't [[relax]].
Coming through the window is a distracting silvery light that reminds you of the moon.<<set $sleep = $sleep + 1>>It is night, and you are in your bed. The bed is stiff, cold, off-balance. The contours of the mattress prod you at odd angles. You can't <<if $sleep lt 7>>[[relax]]<<else>>relax<</if>>.
<<if $sleep is 1>>
Your eyes are closed. The weird fires play in the grey-black. You empty your head of every thought except the one that empties thought.
<<elseif $sleep is 2>>
Your bed feels like it is vibrating, minutely, infinitesimally. The tremor of an ant's footfalls.
<<elseif $sleep is 3>>
Your body starts to feel hot and uncomfortable. Your skin is sweating. The sheets of the bed are hot and jagged sandpaper. You fidget, trying but unable to rid yourself of the feeling creeping over your body.
<<elseif $sleep is 4>>
The floorboards are moaning. You detest the sound of your own breath. Your pillow feels like a dried-out sponge. There is a faint, arhythmic tapping from somewhere in the room.
<<elseif $sleep is 5>>
The muscles of your jaw ache slightly, but your bones feel warm. There is an itching sensation beneath the skin of your face that you are unable to scratch.
The tapping continues.
<<elseif $sleep is 6>>
Even though your eyes are closed, it begins to feel darker. Illusory [[shapes]] gather on your unvisioned stage.
You remain thus for a long time. You count to yourself: <<timed 1500ms>>one <<next>>two <<next>>three <<next>>four <<next 1200ms>>five <<next>>six <<next>>seven <<next 1000ms>>eight <<next>>nine <<next>>ten <<next>>eleven <<next 500ms>>twelve <<next>>thirteen <<next>>fourteen <<next 1500ms>>but become [[bored]].<</timed>>
<</if>>There appears to be a flying insect, no larger than the length of your knuckle, meandering around the airspace of your bedroom. From time to time it takes notice of the window, or perhaps something behind the window, and flies toward it at full speed, only to ricochet into disoriented circles.
It's a pitiable sight, and you wonder how it got in.
The rest of the room is lightless and soundless, as though veiled by a [[curtain]].The curtain is a lacework of total shadow. It slowly sways against the influence of an unseen force. You press your hand against it and it [[feels like]]<span style="opacity: 0;">The curtain is a lacework of total shadow. It slowly sways against the influence of an unseen force. You press your hand against it and it</span> [[nothing]]The curtain is a lacework of total shadow. It slowly sways against the influence of an unseen force. You press your hand against it and it feels like a porous, dry membrane through which beam motes of light that are a color it hurts to look at, an absence of color, a stinging void.
Obscure shapes stir in the far off dark. Inks swirl within ink, and a force like the tide presses against the curtain. Are those [[faces]] you see, or are they your [[imagination]]?At first they appear to be very small, or very far away, though true perspective through the curtain is impossible to discern. But they are not a trick, or like the faces seen in clouds. Clustered together very close they shimmer in a colder, bluer blackness. They are wrinkled, bloated, agape. Squinting you can see their vacant eyes, black irises swollen and staring.
From this mass of conjoined beings, or once-beings, emerges a [[mask]].Surely there is nothing there, or it is just your room overcome with an odd angle of absent light. Surely your mind only seeks to fill the abhorrent absence with something familiar. And there is nothing more familiar than the human face.
Perhaps that is why you noticed the [[mask]].A shape of a silhouette, it appears white against the intensity of the blackness, save for two holes that would be, or would hold, eyes. You cannot look directly at it. You cannot tell how far away it is, if it an arm's length beyond the curtain or if it looms colossally in the fathomless distance.
A hoarse voice speaks, very close.
<q>You -- all of this because of you.</q>
The curtain surges forward, knocking you down. For a moment your whole vision is filled with the non-color of the stinging void. Then it is gone, the afterimage a blinding, bleaching stain.
[[Blink]].[[Blink|blink2]].You lie in a pool of [[greenish light]] that streams through the window.It fades to [[dark|dark1]].[[Only shadows|dark2]].[[The tremulous, scurrying texture of night|dark3]].[[Notions of dawn|greenish light 2]] stirring in the foam of vision.You lie in a pool of greenish light that streams [[through the window]].No. The light is coming from the insect: a firefly! It is a pale green, tinged with blue. A viridian light, a tidal light, light of a flooded sun, of a world untouched by night. You feel it prickle against your skin, casting inverted shadows on it, like inkblot tattoos drawn underneath your flesh.
<span id="shadow">A curtainlike dark sways at the light's perimeter.</span>
<span id="window">The window is closed.</span>
<<replace "#light" t8n>>The light of the firefly is fading. It flies against the window.<</replace>>
<<replace "#window" t8n>>The window is closed, [[open it to let the firefly escape|Let firefly escape]].<</replace>>
<<next 5s>><<replace "#shadow" t8n>>Shapes churn in the grainy shadows.<</replace>>
<<replace "#light" t8n>>The light of the firefly is a fading, meager afterimage.<</replace>>
<<replace "#window" t8n>>The window is closed, [[open it to find new light|Let firefly escape]].<</replace>>
<<next 5s>><<replace "#shadow" t8n>>The tangled dark is like the folds of an inhuman brain with sparks of alien thought scuttling through it.<</replace>>
<<replace "#light" t8n>>The light of the firefly is gone.<</replace>>
<<replace "#window" t8n>>The window is closed, [[open it to escape the dark|Let firefly escape]].<</replace>>
<<next 5s>><<replace "#shadow" t8n>>Your vision crawls with living gray. Is this a consequence of your eye's anatomy, a trick of flesh's architecture?<</replace>>
<<next 10s>><<goto "gloom">>
<</timed>>A green disc, orange bands, a pale purple ring. These unbidden shapes still linger, phantomlike, when you [[open your eyes|bored]].Your skull feels like an oystershell closed around your brain. The bed is a dishevelment of rags and shadows. There is a [[glass of water]] somewhere, and a [[pile of books]] on the floor. Beside your bed is [[a lamp]]. An insect is flying near your window.
Everything else in the room is dark, invisible in the night, as thought a curtain of darkness has been drawn across it.You pull the topmost book off and open it. The words appear as grainy inkblots against a dim whiteness. You wonder if the [[lamp|a lamp]] will help.The lamp doesn't turn on when you click the switch. Its cord leads back into the part of the room that is completely dark. Wind whips against the window when you fiddle with the switch, but no light comes.
The lamp is on a nightstand next to a [[glass of water]].The water tastes like warm dust, seeming to parch your throat further and spread rivulets of dryness through you.
You consider leaving, going out of this room to get something fresher, but you cannot see the door in the darkness.
Something taps against your window. It's [[the insect|tapping]].You open the window. The wind from the night rises, filling the tiny wings of the firefly, whose abdomen swells again with the viridian light. It departs from you, its glow seeming to trail behind it like a comet.
Space overlaps with itself beyond. Something collects and stirs minutely in that shadow engulfing your room. You are poised here, watching, waiting to [[enter the night|firefly heath]].The night hangs over the saltflats, a tattered ghost. The texture of the ground is like a crocodile's skin awash in chalk and shadow. The breeze is moderate and cold.
<span class="non-progressive"><<linkreplace "You search for the firefly.">>Did it become lost on the way here, or did you?<</linkreplace>></span> Flecks of salt patter against you like <span class="non-progressive"><<linkreplace "drizzle">>gnats, or comets diving headlong into blazing suns, tails fanning<</linkreplace>></span>.
The flats [[stretch onward in all directions|salt flat 2]]You walk through this deserted place, footsteps crunching the grainy earth beneath. The sky is a haze of indistinct weather, though a light something like the moon, globular and pale, shines through it.
In the distance there is a <span class="non-progressive"><<linkreplace "looming presence">>spire made of salt<</linkreplace>></span>. You [[approach it|salt flat 3]].The closer you get to it, the more distinct it becomes. It is a spire, at least four times your height, made of dingy, red-tinged salt. The wind is growing strong, biting deeper with its hail of minute crystals, pieces of the spire flecking off in grains.
The [[spire's surface]] is uneven and coarse. The saltflats [[waver in the wind|salt flat wind]].Protrusions resembling human faces cover the spire. Their features are indistinct and eroded, anonymized and grim. The wind is tearing them away slowly, but you watch for some time and see the outer layers blown and peeled off. An hourglass eaten down from the outside in.
The grains of rust-colored salt flit upon the wind, swirling, appearing to glow with their own light. The spire repulses you, but you must [[follow its cast-off body|The Quarry]].The salt is making your eyes water. The air is becoming very cold.
The grains of salt that the wind grabs from the spire flit on the wind, swirling, almost glowing, with a clarity that the rest of the landscape is rapidly losing. You blink and blink. Soon, only the [[rust-colored glimmers on the air|The Quarry]] are all you can see.Rain falls in sheets of darkness. It is difficult to maintain your footing on flooded, uneven rocks and gravel.
<span class="non-progressive"><<linkreplace "Could the firefly be here?">>Could such a tiny creature survive this downpour?<</linkreplace>> You are becoming soaked. The sound of rain is all-encompassing.</span>
<span class="non-progressive" id="lightning">
<<link "Lightning pulses above">>
<<link "Lightning pulses above">>
<<link "Lightning pulses above">>
<<link "A double-pulse of lightning splits the sky">>
<<link "Lightning pulses above">>
Lightning pulses above.
An uneven, jutting mass of ledges, <<link "overhangs and caves">>
Lightning pulses above. An uneven, jutting mass of ledges, overhangs and caves.
You make your way as quickly as you can to the shelter of the rocks. Water runs in thick ribbons over the opening of a small, cavelike recess. [[You scurry through|thunderstorm cave]].
<span id="flash">A toppled statue of a colossal stone animal.</span>
<<timed 3000ms>><<replace "#flash" t8n>>The half-collapsed wreck of cyclopean spires.<</replace>><<next>><<replace "#flash" t8n>><</replace>><</timed>>
It's a hill, a lopsided concretion of boulders jutting out of the land.
The flash illuminates something in the distance.. a rock formation?
A brilliant cold-white flash. Thunder follows immediately. Afterimages of scrub and rocks and cascading torrents of floodwaters sting your eyes.
<span id="cave"></span>The walls of the cave are made of rust-colored stone, faintly glowing. It's a long, narrow, circular tunnel leading back and further back into the rock. You follow [[the tunnel|thunderstorm tunnel]].The sound of crashing rain upon thousands of stones above you reverberates in the air of the tunnel. Water drips from you. In the rusty glow of the rocks, it looks like blood.
The further you walk, the more distant the sound of rain becomes, and the rocks of the tunnel walls seem to become smoother, as though polished by centuries in the ocean. Their light becomes brighter and begins to flicker, firelike.
You follow [[the tunnel|tunnel 3]] further.Cracks in the walls and floor widen, spilling a dark void into the heart-veins of the mountain. The rocks around you detach from each other, coalescing into free-floating globules, like metal-red comets, whirling, glowing, [[cutting the void|The Quarry]] with their light.The sky is a gray smoothness. Cold water sloshes around your ankles, and mud pulls at your toes. Listing wooden poles surround you in rows, overgrown with leaves that glow with a blue light. It reminds you of the light of a neon sign struggling to remain alive, to keep its own flame burning. <<linkreplace "You wonder where the firefly is.">>Is it lost? Is it safe?<</linkreplace>> A fragrant wind stirs the waters, rustles the [[vines|vineyard 2]].As you walk on, the vines become more abundant. They criss-cross between the rows of poles, and beneath your feet, tracing phantoms with their branching arms in the deepening water.
The rows end at a [[dilapidated farmhouse|vineyard 3]]. The light from the vines, though inconstant like a wavering candle, is bright enough to cast the shadow of the ruin across the rippling waters, which stretch farther back and away into complete darkness.You enter the structure. Inside, the water is up to your waist, still cold. A rusting pile of disused farm eqiupment forms an island in the center of the barnlike area, and emerging from this is the trunk of an enormous tree, gnarled and knobby. Its leafless branches protrude through the shattered roof of the barn and out into the night.
Perching on one of the lower branches is a [[bird|birdsong]], small and dark brown with an orange-streaked breast, some kind of night-jar.The air drones with the music of many wings, the scraping of chitin. The discarded shells of cicadas litter the ground. When you walk, they crackle under your bare feet. The sky is lit by a moonlike presence veiled behind a turmoil of fog. Trees surround you, their wide, thin leaves splayed like webbed fingers, branches laden with buzzing insects.
Is your firefly among them? Perhaps it has joined their chorus, exchanging its lantern for a sinuous alto drone, a drop in this sea of sound. You wander among the trunks and leaves, thinking you see a glimmer of that greenish light, but each time it is only a trick of the moonlight against glossy leaves, or unfurled wings.
As you proceed, the trees [[begin to thin|cicada grove 2]].The trees are becoming scarcer. Ahead is the brink of a wide, dark pit. You stand at its edge. Above you, the fog has cleared, revealing that the source of light is not the moon but a knotted tangle of filaments twisted into two winglike lobes, faintly twinkling. Its light reminds you of algae.
At the center of the pit is a leafless, pock-marked, half-eaten tree. Its surface crawls with silent, wingless insects. They are tearing at each other, biting, piercing, overwhelming, devouring. The earth has been completely removed from the tree's root structure, which is fully visible in the excavated part of the pit. They look like dried-out nerves.
Perching on one of the closer branches is a [[bird|birdsong]], small and dark brown with an orange-streaked breast, some kind of night-jar.You are standing on the edge of a sheer cliff. The ground below, if there is any ground, is obscured in shadow. No ground, no light, no horizon, only void. Bulbous stars gleam overhead, behind tatters of cloud streaking by in the wind.
The wind is phenomenal. Raking, panting, surging, speaking softly. Warm like from the depths of some sensual cave, cold like breath from a cruel mouth. The wind is filled with dust and particles torn from the barren rocks around you. Your eyes water.
Behind you, opposite the cliff edge, rises another cliff, its face stark in the dim starlight. It looks like in some distant past it was an entirely smooth, unbroken plane of rock, now utterly scarred with innumerable abrasions, the eon-long vengeance of the elements.
A [[rust-colored glow|windy cliff 2]] is visible emanating from a deep-cut crack in the rock.You scramble up the cliff a little and squeeze into the face of the rock. The crevasse opens into cavernous vault, within which is a pool of water that radiates a soft light the color of a rusting sunset. Its waters are [[absolutely still|windy cliff 3]].You stare into the pool. It does not appear to have a bottom, only an infinite night dotted with shimmering, rust-colored globules. An immaculate void. An aperture for wind, caustic breath of night, sower of pain. Your bones ache now, they were told to ache by the wind. You watch the wind, follow it back to its source, beyond the cave-wall, the canopy of the sky, beyond a forest that clatters endlessly with chains, beyond the silence of the far-outside. The bones inside you, they are not yours, porous morsels, knives inflict their points upon them. Whence this pain, this wind?
[[Escape into the pool|The Quarry]].You are at the banks of a fast-running river. The sky is dark except for a crescent moon. In the distance is the [[wreckage of what may have been a bridge|rushing river 2]], vast and silent, its debris sharp islands in the currents.
You begin to miss the firefly, and wonder where it has gone. Perhaps it has fluttered on to a different future, a different night under a different moon?The river is too wide and fast to cross. You walk along the edge, occasionally pausing to stare out at the water and watch the waves. They crest and fall, becoming visible and invisible in less than the space between your breaths.
You begin to see faint stars overhead. In time, you arrive at [[the bridge|rushing river 3]].A ruin of what was once a suspension bridge. All that remains is a tower and the jutting, broken-off beginning of the bridge road. The structure is of a dark gray stone, an almost-blue sheen reflecting the moonlight. Carved on the bricks are human faces, though their expressions have been eroded away.
The sky gleams with stars.
The shattered bridge seems to [[point out over the river|rushing river 4a]]. A road also leads in the other direction, away from the water and [[into the darkness of the landscape|rushing river 4b]].The bridge-stones are also carved with faces. You feel them protruding under your feet. The bridge terminates in a jagged edge.
The water glimmers past the end, an inverted sky. The stars above you are rust-colored, swelling and globular. The void beyond is windless.
You are [[restless|rushing river restless]]. You are [[calm|rushing river calm]].The empty space before you disquiets, unnerves. The feeling of stone shifting under your feet, of ancient discords now sealed over by rock, by an artist's hand, by time, by the dark of night.
The starlight bleeds into the void. You step from the end of the bridge. The stars are growing larger and brighter, the atmosphere tinged the color of metal mauled by time and water. The river's reflection of the night above is clearer than the sky itself. The air welcomes you, and you cannot determine if you are falling or walking into the silence of [[rust-colored globules|The Quarry]].You breathe deeply. The stars, brightening, globular points, twinkle in time with your exhalations.
The stellar peace pervades the chasm before you. As the light from the stars increases, the landscape becomes less visible to you. Soon the rust-colored globules are all you can see, and you step forward from [[nothing into nothing|The Quarry]].The broken bridge recedes behind you. Your pulse relaxes as your distance to it increases.
The sky is immense, the road is dim and winding.
Some of the stars, tremulous and molten, appear to detach from their spaces and glide towards each other, towards some centroid. They are increasing in brightness, becoming redder. As they gleam brighter, the landscape around you becomes dimmer. Soon, there is nothing visible except for meandering [[rust-colored globules|The Quarry]], slowly converging.The humidity is a near-overpowering wave. The night has hung only a few stars over this weedy morass of pools and vegetation, but some of the trees here are heavy with pinkish flowers that seem to possess an inherent light, pulsing like a sleeper's breath.
The waters ripple with unseen movement. The air is fragrant with diverse scents: birth, regeneration, honey, meat, salt, ripening fruit, decaying fruit.
You wade through the shallow swamp. Dampness and darkness lead you through groves and past waterfalls. The firefly is nowhere to be found, perhaps it has found its home here with the rest of the night-dwelling creatures.
At a certain point, the waters start to [[become colder|humid swamp 2]].You stumble upon an area of swamp where the currents run cold against your ankles. One of the pink-flower, more vast and gnarled than the rest, emerges from a reservoir of this cold water. Its light is extinguished, barren.
Perching on one of the lower branches is a [[bird|birdsong]], small and dark brown with an orange-streaked breast, some kind of night-jar.Pine branches jut into your back and sides, brush against the top of your head. You are surrounded by very closely packed trees. There is hardly enough space to turn around without running into one. The sky is visible in patches above the branches: a dark, dark azure as though the sun has just set on the outside of this forest. There is no sign of the firefly.
You squeeze through the branches and trunks. The needles scratch and prod, and you become sticky with sap. You can barely see in front of you.
Eventually you come to [[a small clearing|dense pinetrees 2]].You squint into the darkness of the clearing. An immense pine tree has cracked and toppled over. Its splintered [[wound|dense pinetrees 3b]] is splayed like a jawless skull, woody and gleaming dimly with [[sap|dense pinetrees 3a]].Total darkness is overtaking the forest rapidly.
The sap is blurry, orange-brown, like rust. A distortion of vision seeping out of the cracked carcass of the tree. In each glistening drop a starscape, its own atom of golden night, [[dripping lifeblood|dense pinetrees 4a]] containing whirling constellations.The sap, the sap. A windless void. Only night here. The sap drips upward, outward. The sap is [[the color of rust|The Quarry]].Total darkness is overtaking the forest rapidly.
The tree is pulled and splayed like ribs each ending in a protrusion of knives. The blade-ends of the cracked body's woody mass point in all directions, outward, upward, inward. The points sharp and heavy enough to cut sections from the night, flay the skin from the night and hold it up, translucent and warm, to the moonlight and through this aperture [[foresee the motion of rust-colored globules in the suspension of light and air we call "night."|The Quarry]]Fog seems to roll out of the ground, slowly billowing upward and outward, a swirl of phantoms over a rocky, barren landscape. Columnar silhouettes of stone rise in the distance, remnants of some vast erosion.
The only light in the sky is from a pair of moonlike globules: hazy and yellow and irregular. You survey the sky and ground for the firefly, but you do not see it. Perhaps it is resting its light, after such a journey to this place of night and fog.
The wind rises, pulling misty carpet toward a spot somewhere behind you.
Go [[with the wind|fog desert 2a]]. Go [[against the wind|fog desert 2b]].The low-lying fog draws you outward, like the tide from invisible shores. As you plod along, the unseen ground beneath you seems to stick more, to pull at your feet. A red-brown light, like a rusting sunrise, seems to burn through the mist in the distance.
Further on, your feet and legs are sticking deep in some substrate that clutches like cold, soggy tar. You cannot [[go on or turn back|fog desert 3a]].The landscape beneath the fog pulls you under. A vast whirlpooling expanse of clouds obscures all vision. You are not sure if you are falling or floating or standing. Rust-colored flares burn brighter than stars around you, drawing in the mist like iron filings to a magnet, coagulating, inhaling, sucking in the shapeless clouds until there is nothing left but [[red-brown motes in the blackness|The Quarry]].You brace yourself against the strengthening wind, like the breath of stars. As you trudge forward, the ground beneath your feet feels less and less solid.
By the time you reach the edge of the ground-covering fog, a cliff's edge, you are up to your knees in it. The night's void howls with wind over the edge of the cliff. Rust-colored globules twinkle in clusters in the sky.
The fog behind you shapes itself into strange, almost-featureless agonized faces. Their mouths cry out, then they are submerged and unmade by the wind's roiling breath on the endless mist-sea.
[[The rust-colored globules beckon you|The Quarry]] beyond the cliff. [[The sea of mist and faces churns|fog desert 3a]] behind you.You stand amidst a wide expanse of grass beneath a starry sky. Directly overhead is a pale moon, slightly waning from full. Its ashy light falls upon hundreds and hundreds of flowers, endless in shape and variety, all black. Some barely peek their faces above the short grass that covers the ground, their tiny petals spreading like an inkstain. Some peer from the length of sinuous vines that crawl the length of the field, their orchidesque petals twitching like spider's legs. Some rise high, like sunflowers in eclipse. Some cluster like a murder of ravens spreading their wings.
You wander in the ocean of shapes and scents. There is a peace in the mildness of the smell of the fields: fog and water, cut wood and wax, and a person. A person you cannot remember. The imagination of a touch runs along your spine. There is no sign of the firefly.
In your wanderings you find a [[ruined tower|field of black flowers 2]], top lopped by some massive exercise of force, almost totally overgrown with plants.The stone steps to the entrance of the tower are chipped and covered in vines. An archway leads to a vestibule of white tiles, through the floor of which has burst an enormous tree, gnarled and knobby. Its trunk and branches claw upward through the hollowed-out mass of the tower. The tree is barren of leaves.
Perching on one of the lower branches is a [[bird|birdsong]], small and dark brown with an orange-streaked breast, some kind of night-jar.You sitting against the wall at the bottom of a deep, circular hole. A white glow akin to moonlight glimmers down from above. The entire surface of the pit is coated in white mud. The other side is too distant to see clearly in the dimness, but in the center there appears to be a [[an enormous, decrepit tree|pit of white mud 2]].You pull yourself from the mud. It smells like wet ashes. As you make your way to the center of the pit the only sound is that of your feet sucking in and out of the deep, viscous earth.
The tree is immense, knobby and bent like the curled-over hand of a titan. Its great branches brush the mud like fingers.
Perching on one of the lower branches is a [[bird|birdsong]], small and dark brown with an orange-streaked breast, some kind of night-jar.The sky is devoid of light save for a helical twisting of purple mist that crosses from horizon to horizon like the veins of a vast constellation. It shimmers inconstantly upon a dead forest, scraps of trunks askew and stumps gnawed away at by a thousand minute incisors. The smell of rot is nauseating. Trails of dried slime, black in purplish light, criss-cross the earth. The air is chittering with unseen movement.
Between the dead trees you wander, stepping over mounds of empty shells, fleshless bodies of birds, pits of worms eating one another. You wonder if the firefly is here somewhere, shedding its light on the same creatures.
Your wanderings bring you to a [[rocky hill|rotten stump graveyard 2]].At the top of the hill is a circle of stumps that protrude from piles of dead insects, dried-out snakelike tendrils of flesh, and chips of bones. In the center of the circle is a sapling, not much taller than you are, whose striped bark resembles a gauze-wrapped limb in the dimness. From its thin branches grow small bladelike flowers, that shed an orange-brown light, like rust. Looking at one for too long makes your breath grow short, and you double over, heaving.
The flowers [[begin to sway|rotten stump graveyard 3]].The rusting light from the flowers begins to drift off in globules, like pollen, swirling on the dead air under their own power of motion. You are gasping for breath. All you can see are the drifting globules, the rest of the world fades away, a forgotten darkness. They beckon you, and you are [[helpless but to follow|The Quarry]].The sky above is resplendent with starry patterns. A trail proceeds behind you, winding around and upward to some mountainous summit. From this overlook you see a landscape, lit by starlight, of trees and hills and grassy fields. There is no sign of habitation.
But the stars, how they glimmer above, how they fall into strange patterns before your eyes.
* <<cyclinglink "Mirrorfen" "Eldurun" "The Scar" "Cel Mata">>, a <<cyclinglink "worm" "snake" "tongue" "jellyfish" "vine">> that <<cyclinglink "coils around" "devours" "befriended">> <<cyclinglink "the world" "sin" "itself" "the night">>.
* <<cyclinglink "The Harpy" "The Nurn" "Old Yrel" "Altaira" "Timu">>, whose <<cyclinglink "wings" "many blades" "flaming hair and eyes" "wreaths of flowers" "scars" "tales and songs">> <<cyclinglink "illuminate" "terrify" "give hope to" "charm" "liberate">> <<cyclinglink "a lost soul" "the wasteland" "an invisible city" "empresses and queens" "the night">>.
* <<cyclinglink "Tulwar" "Nihila" "Arkingway" "Coalzar">> of the <<cyclinglink "House" "League" "Sect" "Society" "Throne" "Senate">> of <<cyclinglink "Magenta" "Skulls" "Parting" "Birds" "the Night" "Burdens" "the Numinous" "Freedom" "Contortions" "Ruins">>, <<cyclinglink "Keeper" "Pardoner" "Teller" "Binder" "Oiler" "Builder" "Inventor" "Fulfiller" "Breaker">> of <<cyclinglink "Polarity" "Lies" "Order" "Ascension" "Opposites" "Silent Joy" "Amphibians" "Joyous Silence" "Agony" "Gloating" "Fog" "Contracts" "The Sky">>.
[[Finish stargazing|constellation overlook 2]].You stroll along the mountain path. Where did the firefly end up? Is it here, or beneath some other sky, with some other set of whirling constellations?
You look towards the sky again. The stars are becoming redder and redder, colored like rusting, unrecognizable slabs and ribs of metal. They begin to move, distorting the constellations, then clustering together unrecognizably into [[bright globules|The Quarry]] that pull you along with them into the night.This light comforts you, but also feels distant, alien. It shimmers as different parts of the swarm light themselves. Even the tiny lamps of insects seem to shine with unexpected intensity in the gloom of this night.
You follow the points of [[grassy light]] with unfocused eyes.[[Dry, warm, thin]] light.[[Like a mantis's cast-off shell]] shedding a pellucid glow, a chitin ember.The strange moonlight mottles the ground, mixing with the greenish firefly shimmers. All is dark beyond.
No, there's [[something else]].A difference stands out, now, a rising flare over the heath. A viridian pulse. A firefly is casting the same light that stirred the shadows of your bedroom. It is like the others but bewitchingly askew, like a mote of green aurora against the background of starry light from its companions in the swarm. Yet now you've seen it and fixate upon this firefly and this light.
When it glows, the moonlit arid terrain recoils and the outlines of a wholly different landscape -- a strange meadow of overgrown grasses, twisting shrubs, dark-leaved trees -- appears overlaid upon it.
It [[leads you onward]] in its thrall.Where it flies, you follow. It passes near to another firefly that vanishes when the pulse of viridian light falls upon it, reappearing when the glow fades. You can feel the wet grass on your legs when the glow reveals it.
The firefly, your firefly, turns toward the empty darkness. You watch it pass across the threshold without slowing, its beaming light piercingly bright against the utter void. The outlines of the strange meadow are stark, sculptures of light and silhouette.
You [[follow the firefly into the empty dark]] before it strays to far from the edge.Your guide is as a viridian moon. When it waxes you stride through a spotlit fragment of a field of dew-coated, knee-high grasses. When it wanes, you drift weightless in an empty night.
Gradually, a new sky cracks the dark. It is the texture of rubble, meager light peeking through a gray obscurity. The strange meadow emerges from the void in totality: the dark-leaved trees, the overgrown grasses, the twisted shrubs, the firefly, and you.
Night [[presses down on all|The Field]].You find yourself on a narrow heath, where in the darkness between moonbeams a swarm of fireflies swerves in the ink-light. The swarm seems to respire light, light that is perhaps the color of the flesh of a lime, a mild greenness.
The ground is dry and dry shrubs protrude from it. It proceeds in a narrow strip, not much wider than your room, and beyond the ground appears to simply end, falling off to empty darkness.
The fireflies all look alike in the swarm. Is the one that was in your room here, with its friends or its family? Does it have a [[name you can call]]?The firefly you are seeking does not have a name.
It cannot be called to, cannot be addressed, cannot be commanded in this manner you are used to.
The firefly, and its light, must be [[sought|wander heath]] or [[waited for]].You pause and allow the glowing insects to fly through the air around you. One lands on your shoulder but you feel no kinship towards it.
The swarm starts to diffuse out over the strip of heath. They seem to wander on uncertain paths, or as though adrift, only taking definite direction if their meanderings bring them too close to the dark edge of the landscape, which they swerve to avoid.
You [[continue waiting|waited for 2]].Most of the fireflies have moved away from you.
There is a slight wind that stirs the shrubs at your feet. Apart from this the night is silent.
You [[continue waiting|waited for 3]].The fireflies have moved away, their glimmerings almost too faint to make out.
The wind is dry. You [[shiver|waited for 4]].You have not moved. There are no fireflies in sight. Yet the empty darkness at the edge of the land feels closer to you than it was, the narrow heath now perhaps only as wide as your outstretched arms. Beyond there is nothing: no light, no motion, only void. The threshold rumbles and churns in your mind like a wind from nowhere, but in the night it is silent.
You look away from it, [[your hands shaking|waited for 5]].The night stirs. Around you is a diffuse cluster of fireflies, swerving in the ink-light.
Their light is akin to [[unripe fruit, a mild greenness]].You begin to wander the heath. Bristly, stunted vegetation is everywhere.
The swarm of fireflies becomes diffuse, spreading out over the elongated, pathlike strip of dried earth. The insects avoid the dark edges of the land, swerving back abruptly if their meanderings should bring them too close.
[[Continue wandering|wander heath 2]].Most of the fireflies are behind you, now.
The half-shadowed land seems to [[rise in the distance|wander heath 3a]]. A curious [[path in the shrubs|wander heath 3b]] veers off to your left.The fireflies are behind you, a dim glimmer.
[[The slope continues upward|wander heath 4a]]. The ground is becoming rocky and more barren.You are at the summit of a hill. Dry grass bends in the wind, touching your ankles. The empty darkness feels closer than it was, the moonlit hilltop barely wider than your outstretched arms. Beyond is nothing: no light, no wind, only void. The threshold rumbles in your mind like a devouring tide, but in the night it is silent.
The landscape slopes down ahead of you. In the distance something [[shimmers faintly|wander heath 5a]].Ahead of you is a diffuse cluster of fireflies, swerving in the ink-light.
Their light is akin to [[unripe fruit, a mild greenness]].The path quickly leads into the [[empty darkness|wander heath 4b]], ending like an illustration torn in half.No light, no wind, only void. You are afraid to put your hand beyond where the moonlight ends.
You examine the threshold. Minutely, infinitesimally, the darkness crawls inward, overtaking the land grain-by-grain, shred-by-shred.
You look away. Better to [[follow the path back|wander heath 5b]].The path seems to extend farther in the other direction than it did when you first found it. Dry earth and reedy grasses. Still shrubs and thistles. Weren't you at the foot of a hill? The ground is flat in either direction.
In the distance something [[shimmers faintly|wander heath 5a]].<<timed 2s t8n>>Nothing can be seen here, the night is so complete.<<next 5s>>
You feel a mild rain upon your skin<<next 3s>>, and wet, thick soil under your feet.<<next 5s>> You feel as though you are deep underground, far from the sky and the sun and any light, but here there is wind and rain and earth.<<next 7s>>
Forms dance in your unlit eyes. Where do these come from? You wonder if the firefly is here, if its light could guide you in this dark. The rain is calm. You remain still in it, and its calmness seeps into you, too.
<<next>>[[Something else stirs ahead of you|totally dark void 2]].<</timed>><<timed 2s t8n>>Dark moves within dark.<<next>> It is very close to you, to your left.<<next 3s>> A fluttering, then a haunted murmur.
<<next 5s>>There is a white light now. It is cold and sterile. It is coming from a tree-shape to your left, blurry, indistinct. The light is coming from a bird, its plumage like the setting sun, perching in the tree's branches.
<<next>>Your eyes are adjusting. The [[bird|birdsong]] is dark brown with a streaked-orange breast, some kind of night-jar. The tree's branches are bare, its trunk thick and scarred by deep gashes at its base.
<</timed>>You say: <q>the painless.</q> The figure's breathing becomes louder. Its mask pulses like a boil, blank-eyed and discolored. The figure raises its left hand, its fingers agitating. Then, the hand is gone. Dissolved into a whitish vapor that vanishes into the night. There is a hole at the end of the limb, from which a shimmering gaslike void billows. The figure steps forward and seems to merge with the substance, [[becoming indistinct|The Painless 2]].The air has become silent. Void has closed over the space around you. The figure's outline is now like the reflection on a lake, just as the wind begins to rise. You hesitate to move. The masked figure's form further deteriorates into structureless color and shape, an image blown by strange breezes.
[[And then|The Painless 3]][[it is|The Painless 4]][[gone|totally dark void]]You say: <q>truth.</q> The figure slowly raises its right hand, palm upward, fingers trembling. The darkness constricts around you, a blindfold pulled tighter and tighter, a cold chain tied over your face through which you can only see the tremor of this hand: the hand that slows the pulse, the hand that has bound your head and eyes in wires that cut deeper and deeper into the skin until the darkness floods in and //into// you like the flood through cracked ice.
The figure lets its hand fall limp, and [[the feeling passes|Truth 2]].The air has become silent. Void has closed over the space around you. The figure's outline is now like the reflection on a lake, just as the wind begins to rise. You hesitate to move. The masked figure's form further deteriorates into structureless color and shape, an image blown by [[strange breezes|vineyard]].You say: <q>vulnerability.</q> The figure lowers its head into its hands and its fingers scrabble at the edges of the mask. The night thickens like wool in the lungs, its tendrils erratically lashing and constricting. You find it difficult [[to breathe|Vulnerability 2]].The air has become silent. Void has closed over the space around you. The figure's outline is now like the reflection on a lake, just as the wind begins to rise. You hesitate to move. The masked figure's form further deteriorates into structureless color and shape, an image blown by strange breezes from [[a flooded thicket, ghostly and deep with mossy shadows and shrub-choked pools|humid swamp]].You say: <q>justice.</q> The figure raises a hand to its face and presses its palm over one of the eyeholes in its mask. As it does this, you feel short of breath, as though your chest and neck were constricted by a vast weight. The figure shakes as it raises the other hand. The air feels saturated with motes of dark, gaseous gleaming. The figure appears to struggle, straining against something to raise its other hand toward the gaping eyehole.
You shudder and stagger backwards and the [[dark motes become denser|Justice 2]].The air has become silent. Void has closed over the space around you. The figure's outline is now like the reflection on a lake, just as the wind begins to rise. You hesitate to move. The masked figure's form further deteriorates into structureless color and shape, an image blown by strange breezes from the mouth of [[a deep pit, sides slick with wet leaves, swamped with white mud|pit of white mud]].You say: <q>a striving.</q> The figure raises its hand, slowly, to your face. You do not move. The rags on its hand smell of rust and tears. It lightly strokes your cheek while its masked, empty eyes fix on yours. When its hand leaves your skin, you step backwards, nearly tripping. The figure is [[growing dim|A Striving 2]].The air has become silent. Void has closed over the space around you. The figure's outline is now like the reflection on a lake, just as the wind begins to rise. You hesitate to move. The masked figure's form further deteriorates into structureless color and shape, an image blown by strange breezes from a [[field of black flowers]].You say: <q>acceptance.</q> The figure extends its index finger and places it before its mask where you imagine its mouth might be. In your throat you feel a catch, a coiling sensation somewhere between liquid and gas, a chaotic pushing as though you have swallowed a viscous smoke that is winding its way up and down the maze of your biology. You close your eyes and cough. The sensation ripples downward, leaving your throat and rushing out over your chest and limbs and fingers and pulling away, like a bird taking flight. The figure's finger remains as it was, though now the figure itself appears [[dimmer and more obscure|Acceptance 2]] than before.The air has become silent. Void has closed over the space around you. The figure's outline is now like the reflection on a lake, just as the wind begins to rise. You hesitate to move. The masked figure's form further deteriorates into structureless color and shape, an image blown by strange breezes from a [[a grove of vine-wrapped trees|cicada grove]]. That breeze thrums with the undulating wings and legs of dark-loving insects.The rust-colored globules lead you on through a gray-black void. As they travel they divide and grow, splitting and re-splitting until the cluster becomes a multitude, until the multitude becomes a swarm. You continue following. Some of the globules begin to harden into a rocklike substance and fall, coming to rest on the same [[invisible terrain|Quarry 2]] your feet also tread on.The globules continue to split and harden, clattering over one another into a haphazard rubble. In time, the fallen rocks become more and more numerous until they carpet the void, forming a hilly topography of piled stone fragments. The sky is a blank gray-black void, while the stones beneath and around you radiate with some risidual, rusting-brown shimmer. The sound of [[rock falling on rock|Quarry 3]] echoes across the night.Clattering and clattering. You have lost sight of the glowing globules, but its noise is all around you, like hailstones beating the earth in the distance. A [[hill of stones]] looms before you, amid a [[rocky basin]].The sound of falling rocks is becoming quieter. You begin ascending the hill, scrambling up over easily-dislodged stones. The way down crumbles away behind you, the sloping path toppling to sheer cliff, forcing you [[onward and upward]].By the time you reach the top, the hill has become more of a wide, squat dome. A landscape of dimly shimmering fragments stretches out in all directions, forming a chaotic horizon that encircles you. It has become almost silent, as though the rocks have finally stopped falling, or continue only very far from you.
Crowning the uneven summit is a jutting pillar of stone slabs. They are darker, bluer than the surrounding landscape, the color of deep, starless twilight. Carved upon it, up and down its towering height, their features gnawed away by time, are human faces. Their skin shudders minutely, their mouths seem to whisper, faint as the absence of light.
On a nearby outcropping, a firefly has alighted. You feel its insect eyes examining you. Periodically it glows with a pale green, viridian light. When it does, the shadows on the rocks appear as the tendrils of lichen, tree roots, slime cascading into still water. The light does not reach the pillar.
* Go to the [[pillar|quarry pillar]].
* Go to the [[firefly|quarry firefly]].The sound of falling rocks is gradually becoming softer. A flat plain of tumbled and piled stones slopes downward, around the hill. You continue forward, and as you walk stones tumble behind you, forming a [[jagged trench]] in your wake.The basin crumbles downward around you, the stony ground falling downward into more stone. Without intending to, you find yourself surrounded by walls of these unstable fragments, faintly glowing. It looks dangerous to climb out. It becomes quite silent once the rocks settle.
At the floor of the trench is a jutting pillar of stone slabs. They are darker, bluer than the surrounding landscape, the color of deep, starless twilight. Carved upon it, up and down its towering height, their features gnawed away by time, are human faces. Their skin shudders minutely, their mouths seem to whisper, faint as the absence of light.
On a nearby outcropping, a firefly has alighted. You feel its insect eyes examining you. Periodically it glows with a pale green, viridian light. When it does, the falls of rock appear as the boles of lichen-wrapped trees, or cascades of slime into still water. This light does not reach the pillar.
* Go to the [[pillar|quarry pillar]].
* Go to the [[firefly|quarry firefly]].The air crackles in the viridian light. The firefly's wings begun to beat in the otherwise noiseless air. It rises into the night, the light tracing patterns and shapes on your arms and face, and it does not feel like light, but like the touch of an ethereal, lurking intelligence.
You sense the pillar behind you, and icy, trembling finger of stone.
Where the firefly's light falls, the landscape of stones seems to lose its primacy and substance and is overlaid with the grasses and rills of a [[moonlit meadow]].The world around you slowly transforms, like an hourglass filling with sand. The sky above is held by a canopy of leaves through which a faint moonlike light filters, tinted emerald.
The firefly's viridian light intensifies as you follow it, the pulses becoming a constant glow. The air the light touches feels warmer, a calm embrace.
Your eyes refuse to leave the firefly's slow wanderings for long. It seems like you might be able to [[catch|moonlit meadow 2]] it.The insect's pattern shifts as it senses you are pursing it. It moves wisplike over the ground, leading you on a merry chase, always disappearing behind trees or swerving chaotically, looping acrobatically before [[darting off|moonlit meadow 3]].As the chase draws on and on, and you notice the ground is slicker, your footfalls splashier, the firefly more anxious in its flitting. It leads you to the edge of a murky mire. Strange ripples criss-cross the surface, between night-lit ferns and mossy heaps that might have been trees once. The firefly drifts out over the water and begins pulsing at you from the swamp, waiting.
* [[Follow the firefly into the mire]]
* [[Turn back]]Behind you is only unlit void. There is nothing there. Your path here has ceased to be.
[[The mire awaits|Follow the firefly into the mire]]Water sloshes around you, <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "submerging">>slurping<<becomes>>entwining<</replacelink>></span> your feet and ankles, slowly your shins as you splash forward. The mire is <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "colder">>more numbing<<becomes>>more prickling and tingling<</replacelink>></span> than you expected. It pulses and beats against your body, minutely, as though guiding a fragile vessel through treacherous seas with immense fingers. The viridian wisp-light ripples in the water around you.
You reach a half-submerged tree and rest on its <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "slimy trunk">>decomposing trunk<<becomes>>trunk half-transformed by minuscule mouths<</replacelink>></span>, breathing heavily. The firefly begins wandering further away, towards a [[far island]]. But there is another light, [[immersed in the mire]] and glowing faintly blue beneath the surface.The island is deep within the swamp. The water becomes thicker and browner, its pulsations more insistent. It is up to your arms, wrapping you like an eyelid, waves breaking on every hair's breadth of your skin. You move without thinking, guided by <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "currents">>inaudible whispers<<becomes>>the voice of a thousand caresses<</replacelink>></span>.
As you go, the vegetation becomes denser. You navigate through fronds that brush the swamp from unseen stems, through mounds of steaming slime that become steadily larger as you near your goal. After a time, you can no longer see where they stop, their summits lost in darkness above. Occasionally, a low call, as though from a bird, disturbs the silence of [[the swamp|far island 2]].After a time, you are on the island's threshhold. It is more of a upthrust rock, jutting sheerly from the mire. It is hardly more than a five paces across, a bubble of earth from below. The firefly floats calmly. Beyond, in the distance, you see slow-moving whirlpools and jutting, spiny hulks that look like bones.
You are waist-deep in the water. You are about [[pull yourself up onto the island]] when you feel a [[gentle yet emphatic tugging]], as though many voices were murmuring <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "a warning">>your name<<gains>>, which you are not sure of,<<becomes>>a funeral hymn<<becomes>>your new name<</replacelink>></span> in a hundred languages you don't understand.You realize the island is not a landform at all, but <<replacelink "rotted wood">>a slimy mass of shells<<becomes>>the hull of an ancient ship<</replacelink>>. The firefly, your firefly, has been joined by several others. Their light is pale and orange. They are hovering in a ring around a lumpy pile the color of mildew and decay. A wind blows from them, <<replacelink "whipping at">>nipping at<<becomes>>[[inviting|island 2]]<</replacelink>> you. Water drips softly off of your body.The fireflies make no effort to avoid you as you near them. In their center is a heap of skulls, no higher than your waist. It lists slightly, many eyes blackly staring in all directions. Your fingers twitch.
You pass through the ring of insects in utter calmness, their light dancing on you from all sides. Your skin drinks in the starry radiance, viridian light mingled with the rest, and in the ever-shifting patterns you begin to feel the judgment of <<replacelink "eyes">>minds<<becomes>>nights<</replacelink>> unlike your own, and you shiver. You close your eyes and the whorling, silent <<replacelink "shimmerings">>beams<<becomes>>voices<</replacelink>> of the light speaks to you of a place beyond the doors of the world, a smooth crevice between two great luminosities: one hot, one cold. Gritty, fibrous fire and prickly, silken ice conspire in prominences that twist into a great helix between them, wrapping a sharp column of <<replacelink "sky">>twilight<<becomes>>consciousness<<becomes>>dreams<<becomes>>electricity<</replacelink>> stretches from horizon to horizon. The light intensifies. A jolt shakes through the stasis, an oily sun into the sea of night. [[You open your eyes|Figure Second Encounter]].You trudge onward, <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "pulled">>lulled<<becomes>>accompanied<</replacelink>></span> past the island. The firefly remains, gradually receding, along with all light, into the distance. The water swirls around you, rising higher and higher, clutching you tighter. You begin for forget about the viridian light you followed into this dark mire. You follow another light now, that <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "laps against you">>you see with more than your eyes<<becomes>>overwhelms your senses<</replacelink>></span>. In time, you go [[completely under]].The swamp <<replacelink "swallows">>engulfs<<becomes>>embraces<</replacelink>> you. The bog is deeper than you expected. You sink down and down, until your breath expires and you open your mouth and lungs to the waters, which <<replacelink "invade">>inundate<<becomes>>occupy<<becomes>>comfort<</replacelink>> your insides as completely as they have your outside. Still you progress downward. Soon, you hear nothing but <<replacelink "harsh, indistinct noise">>the churning of current upon current<<becomes>>a manifold strumming that plucks the ocean like a string<<becomes>>a supreme inner calmness<</replacelink>>, see nothing but <<replacelink "green lights in the black">>eyes of fire in the void<<becomes>>the outlines of immense hooks and jagged points, shattered hulks, dim crevasses<</replacelink>>, taste nothing but <<replacelink "muck">>[[voices|completely under 2]]<</replacelink>>.The speaker wears a [[mask|Figure Second Encounter]], perhaps once white, stained with streaks of brown.You dive into the mire. It fills your ears, mouth, and nose, saturates your skin and eyes. A rhythm, slow as the breath of seasons, wild as an unrestrained beast, rumbles through you. Deep blue lights shine in the gloom beneath. Bubbles flow from them, <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "bursting">>exploding<<becomes>>calling to you<</replacelink>></span> as they pass by. They sparkle like stars who knew their true home is the darkness below and forsook the night sky. You swim down, kicking against the water, which seems to <span class="non-progressive"><<replacelink "constrain">>hold<<becomes>>implore<</replacelink>></span> you for a time, but as you approach the lights you feel freer, as though you swim through air. And it might even be air, for when your lungs burn for release you gasp and find yourself [[replenished|immersed in the mire 2]].The lights emanate from half-blurred wisps, drifting slowly like wary predators. You extend you hand to touch one, the longed-for sensation intensifies tenfold. Time crawls. The heat of the wisp, like an ancient furnace kept alight by strange fuels against all entropy, strokes your fingertips, sluices through your bones as inevitably as mountains turned to magma in a vast, unforeseeable upheaval. You shudder, in this dim envelope of light under the crushing mire, your world constricting to these bright points, this heat, this //anticipation// that stretches this single moment into an [[aching eternity]].From this blurring of wisp-light emerges a [[mask|Figure Second Encounter]].The air is noiseless. You approach the pillar of dark stone slabs, its faces writhing like the slow respiring of worms.
The firefly glides closer. It releases one more viridian bloom, death-light of pale comets snuffed by the heat of ghostly starlight, hearts of ice that flew too close to their lovers. The surface of the pillar changes under these beams, oblong slabs of stone appearing as wedged limbs, immovable stone taking on the suppleness of cold flesh. It is gone when the firefly departs, its glow winking out.
The faces remain, their mouths [[whispering|Quarry 4]].You put your ear next to the pillar. Sound emerges from the mouths of the faces, but it is not speech. It is the sound of blood flow, infinitesimally slow, pulsing with a deep thuh-thump, thuh-thump, like cavernous ventricles compressing and releasing to propel plutonic ichors through unknowable substrates of the [[under-earth|Quarry 5]].You place your ear closer, over the forehead of a carven face.
Within the thumps, you now discern subtler harmonics, echoes of fading echoes out-of-phase, overlapping and distorting like ripples in the slow moving sea of the earth beneath the stones, beneath the night. It reminds you of the churning of a great cauldron aboil with hexes and witchcraft, heated by fires that burn forever in layers yet deeper. You can almost [[hear the fires crackle|Quarry 6]].You close your eyes and simply listen.
Under this further scrutiny, fainter sounds emerge from the thrumming pulses. You hear the hustle and bustle of underground cities, ever-twilit by glowing mold. A cave night that mirrors the one above. You hear the slithering of its people, hear their forges that burn with the deep rock's hidden fires and coax iron to shapes of fury, hear their voices like the trickle of slime over shattered porphyry that speak of long-held grudges. You hear [[wheels grinding|Quarry 7]], grinding at stone, turned by pseudopods and cilia, cold diamond drills turning the barriers between their world and ours to dust over the long centuries.You put your ear almost flush against the stone.
The longer you listen, the more a low groaning sound begins to domainate your hearing. It waxes and wanes in its own pattern, apart from all the other sounds that seem to come from above it. But now you start to believe that this resonant, booming groan may in truth set the rhythm for all the other deep rumblings you hear. If that is true, perhaps it is the bell of some gyral core, the nucleus of iron that binds the deep night with its song of spin and vibration. You wonder what inscrutable forces are responsible for this [[unignorable toll|Quarry 8]].You continue listening.
For a time the regular peal of the core-bell is soothing: like the heartbeat of a lover. Then you begin to hear other tones marring its perfect symmetry. Disharmonies of a surface riven with clawmarks and scars, boils and cracks that were once whole but now are caulked with the repellent ash. You hear fires within the core whose fuel is malice, and the soft scrabbling of fingers that seek freedom. And, so faint you are [[not sure you hear it|Quarry 9]], a steady gnawing?You continue listening
You focus on the gnawing, on the mouth behind the gnawing, on the teeth that chew from the supreme center, the deepest remote. You hear its progress, its shaving away the walls of the heart of the night. The longer you listen the more confused you become. Is that.. two mouths? Is that [[a voice|Quarry 10]]?The sounds continue, slowly becoming clearer, acquiring pitch and timbre and resonance and ever-so-gradually an articulation into speech as you strain and strain your hearing to its uttermost limit and there amid the continuous oration you discern a single word: <<cyclinglink 'Night' 'Child' ' Accidie' "your own name">>.
You turn [[away from the pillar|Figure Second Encounter]].The rag-covered being is here. Its mask is pock-marked and streaked with stains the color of rotted and dried vegetation, most intensely around the utterly dark and empty eye holes. The rags it wears are caked with dirt and grim, loosely wrapped around a skeletal frame, bands of grey, scabby flesh visible beneath.
It speaks again, its voice a saw on stone: <q>What will you find here, in this place?</q>
* [[The Painless]]
* [[A Striving]]
* [[Acceptance]]Your firefly floats over the field with no clear direction. It seems like you might be able to [[catch]] it.The insect leads you in small circles, hovering only an arm's length above the wet grass of the field. Its glow waxes to a viridian nucleus and wanes to blackness, then reappears again some distance away. Again and again. You become greedy for this light, its warm color, its pleasing flicker. You will retrieve it, claim it, use it as a lantern in the domain of the night.
Your fingers encircle the small creature. It continues to glow within your grasp, like a furnace roaring and coughing behind iron bars. It does not feel warm, nor does possessing it please you. You feel [[tiny feet]] skittering unseen within your clutches.Your hands open. The firefly rests on your palm, its wings folded. You consider [[touching the insect]], or perhaps you should [[say something to it]].You stroke the creature's back with your forefinger. Its light flutters delicately, a silent calmness.
The firefly soon spreads its wings and resumes its flying. You could [[follow it]] and see where it leads you, or explore a nearby [[grove of wildflowers]].<q>Sorry about the attempted abduction, friend. Seems like we're in this together,</q> you say. The firefly doesn't say anything back, but glows politely.
It soon spreads its wings and resumes its flying. You could [[follow it]] and see where it leads you, or explore a nearby [[grove of wildflowers]].You follow the firefly, keeping your distance but also keeping your eyes fixed on it as it wanders the field and mingles with its kin. Some time passes, and the orange mote drifts its strange drifting pattern. Its warmth relaxes you. You realize you've been holding your entire body tense for a while.
The firefly leads you in <<cyclinglink "a zigzagging line" "an expanding figure-eight" "a perfect circle" "a contracting spiral" "a damped sinusoid">>, playfully bringing you to a number of curiosities: a weeping willow tree, a small pond, a grove of sweet-smelling fruit trees, a dusty cairn, and eventually to [[a path of carved stepping stones|The Path]].You approach an area populated with cuplike flowers whose colors are pale and washed-out in the dimness of the field. Their smell is unremarkable, but you persist in sniffing at many of them. The act comforts you.
You notice that the firefly has wandered over. The tiny insect alights on the crest of one of the flowers and places its light within. When it glows the light is marvelously pinkened by the petals, a moment of brightness in the gloom of the field.
The firefly moves on to a second flower, which you predict will have
* [[green petals]]
* [[pink petals]]
* [[purple petals]]A green flower would delight you, perhaps, but it is not to be. The petals tint the firefly's light a light purple, color of inks and the far edge of the rainbow.
The brief burst of light does illuminate a path you didn't see before: [[a trail of carved stepping stones|The Path]] curving among the grasses and flowers of the field.Diversity reigns: this second flower is not pink. The petals tint the firefly's light a light purple, color of inks and the far edge of the rainbow.
The brief burst of light does illuminate a path you didn't see before: [[a trail of carved stepping stones|The Path]] curving among the grasses and flowers of the field.The firefly glows and to your delight it is a light, almost carefree shade of purple that tints the light of the tiny insect. This reminds you of <<cyclinglink "the cover of a journal you used to write in" "the sunset on the sea near the town where you were born" "a drawing of a horse given to you by your friend when you both were children" "a postcard you thought about buying on a trip, but decided not to" "the carpet of at a dentist's office you attented more times than you would have wished">>.
But [[the memory passes]].The brief burst of light does illuminate a path you didn't see before: [[a trail of carved stepping stones|The Path]] curving among the grasses and flowers of the field.The path winds through towards the shadowed edge of the field, past rocks that glow with phosphorescent moss, a deep and rich green that reminds you of the smell of growth and unity with all things. After a while, the grass becomes more sporadic and seems to be leading you in one direction, meandering but always circling back. It is dark here, and the sky's light seems to have become weaker since you arrived. The glow of the firefly, though not strong, is the best source of light you have.
The path seems to run [[downhill|Forest of Chains]].Further down the hill, the field ends in what looks like an immensely high wall, but as you get closer you see that it is a forestlike curtain of chains, loosely dangling down from [[beyond the limits of your sight]]. The firefly hovers before the edge, its light throbbing.
The chains sway slightly in a [[breeze that smells of rust]]. There must be thousands of them, from strandlike to colossal, all dark and rusting iron, [[clattering against each other]], stretching back and back and over the land out.The chains reach up and up, into the night. You cannot see their ends in the weak light. But you notice that you cannot see the other ends, either. They do not drape against the ground, they sink down into it, tautly impaling the earth like the heads of thrown javelins.
As you look, though, in the dim candle of the firefly's light, you realize that they are <i>emerging</i> from the ground. Link by link, the chains are extending slowly, up and up, into the night.
The tiny insect begins meandering [[into the chains]].The slow air is laden with jealousy: the ash of green fires, blackened and indurate crucibles. Clean and fresh, but not pure. Purified. Breath of disdain, breath of the one who twists the wires. Skittish wind, wind that sears, wind that troubles the night.
Then you realize the wind is slowly growing faster, more intense. Since you have lingered here, it has increased infinitesimally, but you feel it.
The tiny insect begins meandering [[into the chains]].Clattering, clattering, clattering, metal against metal against wind and earth.
Soon the sounds of the field fade, the churning of your mind dies away, and you hear only the chains. Hear the faintest susurrus of flames licking egos, axon-worms gnawing in blighted and charred realms, elegy-songs of whales beneath greenlit seas that slowly boil, and a repeated word at the center of it all, too faint for even you to hear.
But it's getting louder. Slowly, oh-so-slowly the sound of the voice and the word is waxing. Only a little while longer, maybe, and you can understand it. Maybe.
The tiny insect begins meandering [[into the chains]].You could [[reach for the firefly]] before it gets too far away, or [[call to it]].Though the firefly has no name, you will call to it anyway. You open your mouth, but as you speak the words, you sense them being pulled from your tongue like a scab from a wound. Something about the chains covets them, craves them, gropes at your voice like the cutpurse at scattered coins. Your mouth closes, full of the toxic bitterness of char and iron, of dreams strapped to tables, of the eyes of jealous djinns.
The firefly pauses, hovering, its glow casting shadows through chainlinks, then continues on, deeper into the chains until it is at [[the edge of your sight]].Cold. Dark. The clattering of chains. A distant green throb.
A voice speaks: <q>[[Illusions surround you]].</q>You grasp after the tiny insect as it weaves between the chains. It lands on one just long enough that you think you can reach it and pull it back to the outside. But it takes off before you can, and your hand closes around the chain.
Your fingers tingle as your [[blood stiffens and recedes]]. The chain is dry, achingly dry, the dry of the [[abandoned forge]], the grit of rubble. Your shoulder aches, as when the [[hand of a friend]] lifts from it for the last time. Your breath is cold and parched.A numbness comes over your hand, squirming like a living thing. Like the moss that grows on stone eyes. It pierces you with a deep longing, a memory of something you think you saw once, of a time before this field, these chains, and this night. You shudder.
A voice speaks: <q>[[Illusions surround you]].</q>The firefly, is it your friend? What is a friend that never speaks? That you have never spoken to. You wish you could have said something more meaningful to it, but now it seems gone admist the chains. Your throat is dry as a smoking crater.
A voice speaks: <q>[[Illusions surround you]].</q>Your thoughts are an extinguished fire. The only light is that of the receding firefly's greenish throb. Gradually the pulses of color and light slow and as they do, so does the beating of your heart. You feel like a great amount of time has passed as the space between the pulses stretches into infinity.
A voice speaks: <q>[[Illusions surround you]].</q><q>Illusions surround you.</q>
You twitch. The dim light of the sky through chains has reasserted itself, falling upon a [[hunched figure]] wearing dirty rags and a stained white mask.The figure is swathed in ancient-looking rags caked and gritty with dark stains. It is hunched over and wringing its clothbound hands slowly. Its face its hidden by a featureless mask that may have once been white, but now is splotched and worn to a grimy grey-green, a coppery rust color. There is nothing visible in the eye-holes.
It speaks again, its voice a crumbling thing: <q>Madness. Your senses are your enemy.</q>
The figure fixes you with its eyeless gaze. <q>Tell me, what illusion hides your despair?</q>
* [[Pain]]You say: <q>benevolence.</q>
A deep, half-growling moan wells up from behind the figure's mask. This persists for a while, then it speaks: <q>Futility incarnate. Your impulse to do good is the scratching of two sodden sticks at the nadir of darkness.</q>
[[Deny this|Benevolence 2a]] or [[remain silent|Benevolence 2b]].This creature is wrong. It's wrong. It lies. But it turns abruptly, faster than you can speak, and the night has closed over your mouth.
The chains around you shudder and pull. The figure is receding. [[The ground lurches|Benevolence 3]].You are silent. The night air between you and the figure crackles with dull static.
The figure turns abruptly. Your pulse quickens, you feel as though dark coils tighten around your limbs and throat. The figure is receding, shuffling away. The chains around you shudder and pull, and [[the ground lurches|Benevolence 3]] at their strength.The figure is gone. The night opens. Towering clouds obscure the sky, though thunderous flashes give glimpses of [[waterlogged rocks|thunderstorm]].You say: <q>wisdom.</q>
It twitches, its rag-wrapped fingers taking on painful-looking contortions. <q>Your wisdom is but the false color you paint upon world with the dying candlelight of consciousness. An obscurant to more visceral, true perceptions.</q>
[[Deny this|Wisdom 2a]] or [[close your eyes, silently|Wisdom 2b]].This creature is wrong, it speaks a lie. But it turns abruptly, faster than you can speak, and then the night has closed over your mouth.
The forest of chains shudders and pulls, tearing the shuddering ground. The figure recedes, shuffling away. [[The ground lurches|Wisdom 3]].You are silent. The night pulses against your closed eyes. The static air crackles, whisperlike.
The figure turns abruptly. Your pulse quickens, you feel as though dark fingers press against the backs of your eyes. A shuffling sound and the rumbling of chains pulling and tearing at the earth fills your ears. The ground lurches. [[You open your eyes|Wisdom 3]].The figure is gone. Before you now is [[a river|rushing river]], its waters darker than the sky, flecked with ever-changing rapids that twinkle and gurgle snakelike along it.You say: <q>freedom.</q>
The figure does not move or speak, remaining frozen and hunched for a long time, until it barks: <q>Freedom is its own destroyer. Unchecked minds devour themselves.</q>
[[Turn and leave|Freedom 2a]] or [[laugh|Freedom 2b]].You turn your back on the figure.
The landscape has utterly changed. Gone are the chains, the field, everything. You stand in a [[dried, flat expanse|salt flat]], with a salt-laden wind gusting white in the moonlight.You laugh at the figure.
The chains around you shudder and pull at the earth. The night closes over your mouth and the sound of laughter ceases. The figure turns away from you.
[[The night opens|Freedom 3b]].The landscape has utterly changed. Gone are the chains, the field, everything. You stand in a [[dried, flat expanse|salt flat]], with a salt-laden wind gusting white in the moonlight.You say: <q>chance.</q>
The figure awkwardly traces lines in the cold ground with its foot, then shudders and speaks: <q>A fantasy. To perceive the random is but to squint at destiny, which is itself trap set by consciousness.</q>
A mistlike vapor rises from the spot touched by the figure, a spreading, ghostly fumarole. The figure's masked form and the chains surrounding it dissipate into translucent vapor, leaving behind a [[vista of barren rocks|fog desert]] and tongues of fog licking between, a rolling carpet of dark, emphemeral shapes.You say: <q>depravity.</q>
The figure raises its hands to its masked face and scratches furiously, but makes no mark on the tainted surface. When it is through, its voice creaks from behind: <q>To cast off one's shackles is forgivable. To chase novelty in a finite world is to chase dust. One's true shackles are unbreakable.</q>
[[Attack the figure|Depravity 2a]] or [[laugh|Depravity 2b]].You lunge at the figure, but it vanishes into a thick smoke smelling of grisly, putrid meat.
The landscape has utterly changed. Gone are the chains, the field, everything. You stand in [[what was once a forest|rotten stump graveyard]], now a graveyard of stumps eaten over by tiny creatures and leeching tendrils.You laugh at the figure.
The chains around you shudder and pull at the earth. The night closes over your mouth and the sound of laughter ceases. The figure turns away from you.
[[The night opens|Depravity 3b]].The landscape has utterly changed. Gone are the chains, the field, everything. You stand in [[what was once a forest|rotten stump graveyard]], now a graveyard of stumps eaten over by tiny creatures and leeching tendrils.You say: <q>domination.</q>
The figure gesticulates strangely, looking like it is trying to make a fist, but fails to do so. It speaks disdainfully: <q>The infinite night can never be ruled. Always there is movement in the distance, unconquered in your name.</q>
[[Deny this|Domination 2a]], or [[attack the figure|Domination 2b]].This creature is wrong, it speaks a lie. But it turns abruptly, faster than you can speak, and then the night has closed over your mouth.
The forest of chains shudders and pulls, tearing the shuddering ground. The figure recedes, shuffling away. [[The ground lurches|Domination 3a]].The landscape has utterly changed. Gone are the chains, the field, everything. You stand in [[densely crowded pine trees|dense pinetrees]], branches scraping against one another, barely enough space to squeeze in.You lunge at the figure, but it vanishes into a thick smoke smelling of grisly, putrid meat.
The landscape has utterly changed. Gone are the chains, the field, everything. You stand in [[densely crowded pine trees|dense pinetrees]], branches scraping against one another, barely enough space to squeeze in.You say: <q>fate.</q>
The figure replies from behind the grimy mask: <q>To search for meaning amid the incomprehensible movers of the universe is to search for madness. The inevitable is merely the true, not the fated.</q> It points to the ground with a trembling, rag-wrapped finger.
A curling darkness rises from the spot pointed at the figure, a spreading, light-drinking fumarole. The figure's masked form and the chains surrounding it fade into shadow, leaving behind [[a calm bend in a mountain trail|constellation overlook]], where the trees part and the eyes of the night sky open in their full depth.You say: <q>pain.</q>
The figure raises itself up, turns its head rapidly up and down as though surveying you. It says: <q>An impulse that mistakes the smashing of mirrors for self-annihilation. Pain is the final, most hollow illusion of all.</q>
A sharp agony grips you, a splintering, cutting blindness spreads from behind your eyes, across your head and neck, like knives groping blindly within, lodging finally somewhere in the base of your skull. Your vision is whiteness. Your skull feels as though it is being carved away from behind.
[[Emerge|Pain 2]].Your eyes open. The aftershocks rattle your skeleton, but you no longer feel the pain.
You stand before [[a scarred cliff-face|windy cliff]] that cries out with the wind's caressing gale beneath fleeting clouds.The bird begins [[singing|birdsong 2]].Its song is enthralling. It is as though the guardians of the night, onyx giants who hoist night's palanquin on shoulders of starry muscle, laid aside their burden for a moment to play upon moon-strung lyres melodies of deeds done in darkness, and of nebula-winged specters from before the birth of Day. As the bird sings, others gather. The rustling of their feathers is like <<replacelink "a wind in the branches">>glaciers grinding underwater<<becomes>>insects devouring mountains<<becomes>>a wind in the branches<</replacelink>>.
When the song ends, many dark and feathered shapes eye you from above. Shadows crawl across the night, their clawmarks evidence that [[others passed and will pass this way]]. Your heart is deluged and fluttering, carrying light of [[a color that cannot be seen]]. Your bed, your room, phantom amnion, locus of [[sacred whirlpools]]. And here, beneath the tree, the [[memory of dreams is on your tongue]].The tangible silence will not last a long time.
Three birds begin to sing a rhythmic dance tune.
In your voice, there are a thousand other voices.
While the sound of wind resonates in the night,
A mire made of feathers shakes the branches
And talons tap in time to the beating sound.
There is a thrumming at the heart of the sound,
Yet your fingers cannot mark its time.
The shuffling and fluttering of birds in branches
As the birds dance to the little tune
fills your ears, your lungs, your mouth, the night.
Your flesh gooseprickly with their voices.
In their song, ten thousand voices
Overlap like frothy waves to assemble a sound
As subtle and grim as the heartbeat of the night
Space overlaps with itself beyond time
Your feet cannot make themselves dance to this tune
That winds its way between the branches
Of that decrepit and ancient tree whose branches
Resonate like organ pipes blown by the voices
of three birds singing a rhythmic dance tune.
There is a thrumming at the heart of the sound,
which will be known to you in time,
whose cadence blooms at night and only night.
As subtle and grim as the heartbeat of the night,
To the gnarled coclear cilia of the branches,
A whirlpool made holy by the embrace of time
Voices upon voices upon voices upon voices
Overlap like frothy waves to assemble a sound
As the nightjars dance to the little tune.
Your feet cannot make themselves dance to this tune
while the sound of wind resonates. In the night
There is a thrumming at the heart of the sound
A mire made, feathers shake the branches
of your flesh, gooseprickly with their voices.
You ask for a song of the embrace of whirlpools in time.
Ever that tune, from within those twitching branches
to the neverending night, a hundred-thousand voices
striving to sound the [[perilous deeps of time|Figure Third Encounter]].Two birds raise their voices in a <<if $hearing eq 1>><<replacelink "high">>piercing<<becomes>>magmatic<</replacelink>><<else>>high<</if>> and <<if $hearing eq 1>><<replacelink "bright">>solar<<becomes>>sun-scorched<</replacelink>><<else>>bright<</if>> duet, singing a theme that is so clear and pure and true that it burns its notes into your ears. Their voices cry together in perfection. The theme concludes, and there is <<if $hearing eq 1>><<replacelink "silence">>the soft shuddering of feathers<<becomes>>the beating of a hundred hearts<<becomes>>a single, ragged breath<</replacelink>><<else>>silence<</if>>.
Four birds sing this time, and you recognize the original theme. The new birds sing a playful and ornamented variant of the same, laughter in their voices. You feel calm. The melody repeats back on itself, and two more birds join in. Their theme is rich and rhythmic, something a bird might dance to on a cloudy day far from its nest. You still sense the original theme in it, and where it overlaps the other birds their song is strengthened. You almost feel your body moving of its own accord.
A fourth pair of birds joins the song, taking the lowest notes of the original theme and stretching them into a shadowy path that runs through rotted trees and over creeks turned to slime. Their voices belie their small bodies, and in spite of what your eyes tell you, seem to come from other creatures altogether. Their duet resonates with the surrounding night, and the rest of the song dims in that cold chanting.
The fifth pair of birds seize the theme in the grip of arms long lain under ice, and pull it slowly along a glacier's track to a fire that remains forever in the distance. The sixth pair disagree on how to harmonize, and the notes pull one another like a faun with two hearts. The seventh pair sing as one born upon the back of an owl whose left wing touches the pentad moons of Vymor and whose right wing tickles the space between your hip and your ribs. You close your eyes, trying to take it all in. The eighth pair dreamt of one another in a past life, and now upon meeting for the first time immediately begin singing the these notes exactly in unison. You struggle to hear the first pair. Are they still singing the original theme? Is it there? It must be.
The ninth pair are, you think, singing the second theme and the sixth theme at the same time and backwards, but you have to hear it again to be sure. They are changing. They are all changing. You step backwards, trying to grasp it all. Grasp it all. Somewhere, somewhere is that original music, sweet and calm. Like a cold hand upon a feverish brow. Yes, like that.
You draw your mind away from the individual singing birds, from minute attention on each note and its overlappings with so many others. Taken together, you realize you do know this song. It is, amid utter discord, the song you taught yourself day you were born.
You smile, and [[re-enter this memory|Figure Third Encounter]].A single bird begins to chirp and twitter in the branches. Its voice twists around you, naming the colors of moonlight on oily quicksand and of vials of firefly blood strung above a hag's cauldron. It names the color of dusk poured into dawn, the color of the sun seen through seven miles of water, the color of a king's skeleton bleached by runes of a crypt worm, the color refracted by a diamond crown as it is incinerated by the heat of three souls in love. Then it stops, and you feel the tree and its denizens holding their breath. The moment lingers.
The bird's beak opens, and from it comes a single, cold note. It strikes the night like a glass cathedral shattering all at once. Your shoulders twitch. But the sound does not end, it goes on as though some force has punctured the bottom of the ocean, and the sound of its draining now reaches you far, far above. It is a rumble, it is a sprouting, it is a voice.
You find it harder and harder to make out the birds in the tree, but you can hear them shifting, talons latching and unlatching on bark. You hold your hand in front of your face, and it is like looking through fog. The sound of the song has not died, and you cannot tell if what is beginning to fill your ears, building and building flood-like, is the echo of that one staggering and violent sound, or if this tugging and pulling noise is yet another <<replacelink "movement">>tale<<becomes>>emotion<</replacelink>> of this song.
It is now utterly dark. The sound has <<replacelink "changed">>inverted<</replacelink>> into a kind of cave within sound. Black and sharp is its mouth. Howling and hollow. It inhales the voices of the night, the whispers of the wind in the trees, the voices of the birds. You [[walk towards it|Figure Third Encounter]], and it swallows the sound of your footsteps.An ominous chittering consumes the tree, low and supple. You feel your bones tremble. The murmurs rumble forth from many beaks, imitating a flippant conversation between whales who trawl the skies for krill the size of nebulae. Your lungs constrict, absorbing the gray rumble through the column of air in your throat. The sound surrounds you, infiltrates you.
The birds flutter minutely, their feathers signaling to one another. Their voices continue to lower in pitch. Your skin trembles, crawls with invisible insects, roils and crests, becomes an ocean. You stagger, jawbone thudding. The song is low beyond all reason. The night jars, in creating this, being drooping. Their heads nod, wings twitch, eyes bulge with effort. The song begins to flag and waver violently where once there was perfect unison.
Yet, in an instant, the grim nadir of pitch drops vastly further. Your bones liquefy. The birds glance around. The source of the new sound is not them. They cannot hear its origin, but you do. From far off, beings whose tongues lap at the ash of gods and whose membranous bite is like the collapse of dimensions have heard this call and now open ten thousand cilial throats to [[make reply|Figure Third Encounter]].The song of the night jars ends.
The night's dim starscape floods and erases the terrain, like tongues of black fire unbound by gravity until the lightless horizon fully encompasses you, like hands cupping an insect. The tree seems to extend forever downwards and upwards, an infinite axis of sooty, blue-black bark, a gnarled mosaic of twisted faces. Its branches teem with the silhouettes of birds, expectant.
From the trunk of the tree emerges the torso-shape of a man, wrapped in peeling and ragged strips of bark, face obscured by a stained white mask.
<q>[[Beckon the insect]],</q> it says, voice like the dying stellar wind.Your head nods, and the birds begin to take flight.
At first one-by-one, then in groups and flocks, the birds depart the tree and begin to flood the spherical sky, the wind of their wings caressing you, the blackness of their bodies invisible save for their occlusion of the stars. Their voices are silent as they fly, circling in faster and closer gyres, momentum pulling at you, the tree, the heavenly orb, until it feels as though fundamental forces are on the verge of cracking the glass of space and time itself and pulling another epoch through the tightening maelstrom of dark feathers.
The bird-swarm collapses, nova-like, into a point of brilliant viridian light emanating from the tail of a [[firefly|Beckon 2]], which alights upon your outstretched hand.<q>Give it to me,</q> says the masked figure.
* [[Relinquish the firefly]]
* [[Absorb the firefly]]When the firefly leaves your hand for the twitching fingers of the masked figure, its light goes out and does not return. The figure immediately brings its other hand down upon the insect and there is a sound like a dry, falling leaf underfoot. It grind its palms together, mask shaking, the shadow behind the mask shaking. The scent of smoke rising from low tide burns the air.
The figure leans toward its own upraised hand, the colossal tree bending like a sapling with a sound like dried flesh cracking, like joints pulled backwards. Its empty eye-caverns peer into the ruin of the insect while its other hand gingerly extracts a pale nodule, then flicks the crushed, ichorous remains into the void.
It regards you again. The hollow-eyed, stained mask seems as though it belongs to a child, no, an orphan, shivering in the wreckage of some great happiness. It extends the roundish nodule. <q>A seed,</q> it says, voice clotted with wounds. Its hand trembles, and your own fingers unconsciously do the same. Its eyes do not leave yours. They seem to open onto new vistas of night deeper and stranger than the one through which you wander: libraries where the faceted eyes of prisoners read elegies tattooed on titanic hanging bodies, an ocean dammed by the labyrinthine calculus of bleached regret, flakes of rust falling upward from a mass grave where minds are piled like frozen knots of worms.
With a great upwelling of pity, you take the seed. Grime from its fingers stings your skin. Mist flows outward from the tree, from the mask, in clouds that almost look like people you used to know. It swirls lazily through matter, leaving void behind. One passes through your other hand, numbly dissolving it. Perhaps you are supposed to feel something about this.
You envision a clean sward of green grass, lit by a pristine full moon. You reach your other hand and plant the seed in a shallow hole there, patting the soil as you fill it in. The mist is rising more intently now. Your body enters non-being with the ease of shutting eyelids that have long sought slumber.
In time, a tree has grown from the spot you chose. It is wide and tall, towering over the surrounding land. Its bark is knobby and gnarled. Its branches do not have leaves or greenery of any kind. It only grows at night, and it does not ever [[die|end]].You clutch the firefly to your palm, a latent violence squeezing your hand around it, pressing pressing pressing. Its fragile body does not resist. The viridian light waxes, beaming brilliantly through the unmortared cracks between your fingers. One beam, the color of sunlight that has passed through a planet-deep ocean undimmed, falls across the mask of the tree-figure, and for an instant, like pareidolic lurkers-between-constellations, its eyeholes are not empty: pale green, half-lidded, reddening, lost, childlike. It shifts minutely, and the vision is gone.
As the light in your hand expires, a rapt, mild feeling floods the veiny meatness that is your body. The satiation of a permanent longing. Of a carnivorous amaranth. Of the water that turns the wheel of the night sky. You churn within, luxurious plutonism grinding ventricle, passageway, nephridium, cartilage into unknown, light-weaving structures. An elucubration of the self.
Your radiant vision transfixes the tree and its masked keeper, behemoth made of those drowned in light, whose faces hide from the light, who have put out their eyes rather than further behold it. Its breath hisses unmaking. Vaster by far than your vision, than the night, than imagination; fractal of bruised flesh, all faces who wear that mask; disclaiming birth, abandoning its own eternity.
The light coming from the underside of your skin breaches it, a molten daybreak. Your take your face in your hand. It is a castoff dust mote. Turning, you boil the void into undreamt-of terrain, moving in your new splendor like a scar across the [[night|end]].The End
The Door of This Night is Open by Cameron Higby-Naquin
Explore more strange realms at <a href="https://patreon.com/nintharchive">The Ninth Archive</a><a href="http://chigby.org">Cameron Higby-Naquin</a><div id="interface">
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