Fable #48 - "City-in-the-Mist"



#48: "City-in-the-Mist"

Once did the builder build a walled city;
a city to each and every among his kind.
"Malice with trials shall it survive"
Its builder said, to his kind waiting at its gate.
"Its lofty spires shall stand the thrust of flood;
"and its low homes the quivering of quakes;
"and when the face of plague arrives;
"with gates shut shall it still survive."

So it was when the wind came,
and yet it was when its lights left,
and when fog cleared after long.
Though its myriad voices were far gone,
its one silence did survive.

It survives still: a city without its voice.
Somewhere it stands still: a city without its soul.

Fable #48 was, like #34 and #19, taken from Solimán Acacio's Collection of Local Stories.1 As with all other material from that manuscript, there is scant detail about its origin and context. All the information included in its bottom-of-page box is as follows:

Told by Nicholas; volcano town.

Though there is little to work with here within the realm of strict empiricism, it leaves a sufficiently large ledge for some speculation to reasonably stand. The tale can be assumed to originate in the Collapsing System, where most of his texts are thought to have been written. The specific space in question can thus be narrowed down to the Vulkan Hole, as the only location that could be described as a "volcano town" in the entire System. It is perfectly possible, however unlikely, that it is referring to a different place that does not currently come to mind.

If we count this assumption as true and my knowledge of that space's inhabitants serves me well, the original language of the fable (likely intended to rhyme, as implied by the placement of line breaks) is possibly Spanish. The name "Nicholas" does throw a wrench into this assumption: it is English rather than Spanish, though it may perhaps be French.2 It is also possible that Nicholas does speak Spanish.

"City-in-the-Mist" is relevant to the purposes of this book almost entirely by merit of aggregation and, quite likely, my own tendency to find my own speculations in disparate places without true connection. However, I have chosen it for inclusion due to certain implications which my editor and friend has found irresistible. Consider what is to follow mere speculation if it is to your interest, and blank pages if it is not.




You see, my friend and I have found the nominal "City-in-the-Mist" to be quite the archetype in spaces (and sometimes individual areas) that are impossibly disparate. Two possible distortions of the fable were heard in opposite sides of the Spiked Fold of the Redwood, several thousands of kilometers apart:3,4

(From a camp on the "peak" of the Spiked Fold, "above" the ground.)

Ulysses once trekked past the insurmountable mist. He saw there a city, which he set to walk across. Once he passed through its wide-open gates, he saw silhouettes moving about its streets, and heard voices chattering to his sides.
Though he and his men were tired and the voices invited them into the city's great diners, they plugged their ears with their fingers: They knew that it was in truth silent.
Though Ulysses saw figures waving through the fog, he only beckoned his men forward: He knew that it was in truth empty.
Though the city was built to stand time and calamity, occupation and vacation, its heart was not: Still it failed to know where it failed.

(From Fort Moonshine, "below" the Spiked Fold.)

Should you come across great hulks and wish to travel them: know not to heed what you hear!
For it is not men what speak, but silence instead.
Know not to seek those you see!
For they are not men that call, but fog instead: voidness that doesn't yet know it is void.
What men can make, time shall always unmake.
Thus, what time cannot unmake: can men have made?

Two common lessons, as well as the general narrative structure, are evidently shared across these two versions. Firstly, the primary advice of both — to distrust the physical senses in favor of common sense — is preserved with remarkable clarity considering the immeasurable distance between both points. Secondly, the physical character of the city (not described as a city, or a precise, unique location in the latter instance) as an "empty" and "silent" place of danger is exactly identical, sans its accentuation as unnatural in the second example.5

One distinction is however apparent: in the first alteration, the City is somewhat anthropomorphized and accused of failure. This is a notable parallel with the original6 text transcribed in this section, whose main theme is the futility of preparation against disaster. Upon first sight, the second alteration seems to lack this theme, but it is present in its last two lines.

Using "City-in-the-Mist" and its two alterations as a base, we have thus constructed a (scant) matrix of correlations to aid in identifying what may be further alterations of the fable, summarized as the following characteristics:

  • Physical, man-made space (the City);
  • Shrouded by fog;
  • With men and sounds being present;
  • Despite this, it is empty;
  • There is a major theme of futility, and unawareness thereof leading to tragedy;
  • Culminating in an unnatural, possibly inhuman object.




With this in mind, we identified an additional 28 potential rough matches and inclusions in other texts, sourced from various books, manuscripts, and oral retellings. Considering the distortions provoked by local idiosyncrasies, this number can be reasonably narrowed down to 8 fairly certain matches/inclusions descending from "City-in-the-Mist" or from which "City-in-the-Mist" might have descended, of which 4 will be included in this chapter to assist in further analysis.

1 Parable of the Future & the Maker7 (Match) Parables of Master Jay (pp. 7) Castle Leviathan
2 Craftsman's Sorrow8 (Match) Translation by friend Unknown: "Pyramid-cave"
3 The Needle of Skuld9(Inclusion) Posthumous transcription of manuscript (pp. 31) "The Apartments"
4 Náströnd & Níðhöggr10 (Inclusion) The Little Book Bound in Black (pp. 302) Ashen Tomb (Collected from Moonlight Vale?)

Parable of the Future & the Maker:

Master, master! I must know something!

What must you know, child?

I must know when rain will come!

Why so?

Oh, master, my house is poor: it is placed on the mud and made of wood.

My house, and your father's, are they not made of wood as well?

And both are perched on trees! My poor house is on the ground;
and the ground is made of mud, and the flood will take the mud with it;
and with the mud, my child will be taken too!

(The master's back crooked as he thought with his hand rubbing his chin. When a ray of evening light pierced the ceiling and laid at his left, he spoke.)

Once, the Maker dreamed a day where there would be light no longer, only fog.
So scared was he of this day, that the dream woke him in dread.
Fearing for those he loved, and those that they loved as well, he cried.
And when dawn came, he cut a lamb and prayed.
The tears dripped into the lamb's gut: moved, the Future himself left the Sea.

At night, he found the Future at the steps to his house, and he kneeled.
"O, hazy one!" — he said — "In my dream, I peeked past today and to the next:
"I saw that someday I will be gone, and those dearest to me will be lost in the fog."
At first, the only sound the Future made was the dripping of blood from his open gut,
yet the Maker cried with such despair that he was moved once again.
"Make for yourself and your dearest ones a great tower, and one for those dearest to them,
"then another for those dearest to the latter, and yet again do this until you have made a city,
"and finally encircle it with a wall, so that the fog may not enter."

Joyful, so did the Maker build his towers and his wall, and, after many years, he rest easy.
Yet one day the Maker was no longer, nor were his dearest ones.
He and his citizens were no longer there, only the great fog.
So quickly was he taken, that he could not despair again: that day, only the city shed a tear.




The Parable of the Future & the Maker is, by far, the clearest overview of the shared narrative (which we will tentatively refer to as "City-in-the-Mist" for clarity).11 Some details, among them the figure of "the Future", may appear only a greater mystery than the original text, but become enlightening when put in proper context.

Both primary characters of the Parable are in fact representations of archetypal figures with disparate origins. The Maker in particular is reminiscent of the hazy nature of the Roman pantheon, having a multiplicity of local interpretations, sometimes in direct conflict with each other, rather than being a unique consistent entity.

To the artisans of the Castle Leviathan,12 where the Parable originates, it is an entirely non-deific character used to embody the faults and virtues of men of the arts. In contrast, some natives of the Domed Meadows view it as a figure akin to Hephaestus, the Greek deity of craftsmen, and thus hold appropriate reverence. This is tempered by an understanding that a craftsman deity must share the various faults and failings of craftsmen.

The Future is entirely distinct. The line "the only sound [he] made was the dripping of blood from his open belly" is a clear reference to a characteristic shared almost uniformly across believers separated by insurmountable distance:13 a horizontal gash from the base of the neck to the bottom of the belly, widened by an "opening" of the ribs — seemingly pulled apart from each other so as to broaden the thoracic cage.14

The archetype of the Future is, as the name suggests, a symbol for foresight. The almost sacrificial physical aspect is coupled with a blindfold covering the face, which couple together to embody a clear lesson: as foresight is blind, pain for its sake is a price paid for no reward.

It should thus not be difficult to arrive at the intended reading of the Parable of the Future & the Maker. It is meant to be not a literal narrative, but an allegory for the worthlessness of over-preparation, thus it being narrated by the Master in response to his disciple's fear of the future. This matches with the theme of futility in "City-in-the-Mist", where the City fails to fulfill its goal despite ample preparation by the Builder.

It may be exceedingly easy to conclude thus that "City-in-the-Mist" is a fable no more true than Red Riding Hood, Iron Hans, Dragonkampf, or the myth of the Sleeping King, whose many versions share similar characters and identical lessons. However, "City-in-the-Mist" is unique in that it possesses a myriad of variations in perspective addressing different elements of its narrative, thus suggesting that each variant is instead a distinct exploration of a singular, coherent story.

The treatment of the Maker/Builder in Craftsman's Sorrow is an excellent example of this.




(Literal translation of Craftsman's Sorrow, or Craftsmen-Tears:)

Just as the true, the unready too.
Like the Craftsman, to us so the rain:
Like his crossing to the Starlit Sea, to us so;
Like the curse of all-Death yet not, perhaps to us so;
Thus his love to his own, and mine to ours;
Tomorrow the embrace upon thee.
Maybe I must bear with trust, and stumble;
But I must like Craftsmen walk.

Fate's tomorrow swings, hammer to my house.
Like a Craftsman and the wraith that troubled him.
But Gray-Kenos, the castle, still upon stone;
And still Moonlight found it empty.
I know truth, and it works above my work.
For the Lamb's Fate cannot linger.

To the Lamb I kneel, and his string binds me.
For the Lamb's Fate is restrained to the kind, through works.
To the Lamb I pray: that Craftsmen-Tears fall not from my cheek.

(Free adaptation:)

Fate befalls both the ready and the unprepared.
As did to a Craftsman once, so shall happen to me:
As he crossed the threshold to view fate, so might I;
As he saw death all-embracing, perhaps so I will;
And as he embraced with love his child and wife;
So shall I one day seek comfort in mine.
Though they will place hope in me, I may waver;
Yet as the Craftsman, so shall I persist.

When fate finally turns its hand, preparation may not suffice.
So did the Craftsman know when the wraith harrowed his house.
Yet did he persevere, and raise from stone a great tower;
And yet did it turn hollow when the Moon rose.
To this truth shall I surrender: sacrifice may not do.
For God weaves fate with a hand that does not stay.

To His will shall I surrender, and to fate will I give myself.
For His hand stays for the faithful alone, by mercy alone.
To Him I pray: so that the Craftsman's Sorrow betides me not.

Craftsman's Sorrow belongs to a faith native to a Lim-space and Lim-system whose documentations elude me. I have repeatedly failed to find any "Pyramid-cave" Lim-space in my terminal's documents, with one potential exception: there is one reference to a "Hearkenback Ziggurath" being accessible at the time the first Dawngazers arrived at the Lone Tower, in the darkened upper floors of the structure, in the Finders' salvaged archives from the moments prior to the Tower's collapse.

I rest this matter at the feet of speculation, but I have one shred of certainty to share: the Ziggurath's placement in the Collapsing System makes its fate far from uncertain.

Interestingly, Craftsman's Sorrow is not a work of fiction, but instead a prayer, featuring the greatest distortions from "City-in-the-Mist" I have been able to find (including a total absence of fog). It is further remarkable in its reduction of the Future to a "wraith" and the City to a "castle", and it seemingly exchanges the singular Builder for multiple "Craftsmen", of which only one was haunted by the wraith and built the futile castle thereafter.

The three parts of this prayer illustrate the story of the Builder in a different way as well. Section 1 shares an implication of futility with other versions, yet describes the Builder's efforts as exemplary, highlighting the love they were borne from over his despair. This is apparent in the greater role played by his family, which serve as a point for the supplicant to relate to, rather than as a device for the Builder's actions.

Section 2 continues this by removing the sense of denial that is explicit in "City-in-the-Mist", instead implying that the Builder is well aware of the futility of his work. Indeed that is the intended lesson to be taken from this section, which encourages acknowledging inevitability as sharing a space with persistence, perhaps implying a duality over a dichotomy.

Section 3 is entirely a supplication, and ceases the parallel between the supplicant and the Builder: the "Craftsman's Sorrow" is acknowledged as a ghastly fate to be avoided, yet unavoidable by anything but divine intervention. It seems that the name "Craftsman's Sorrow" can perhaps refer either to either the finale of the Builder's tale or the burden of knowing an inevitable destiny awaits one.

Without further insight into the authors of this prayer, I cannot make any definitive assessments: I must, however, point to the evident differences between the translation and the free adaptation, which features either major liberties or is adapting certain concepts that are native to the faith that produced it. In this subject, the reader's speculations are equal to mine.




I believe my initial point of significance has now been partially justified, in spite of the admittedly limited quantity of instances available for inclusion — which renders this chapter to speculation, as was earlier discussed. For sufficient discussion of the prevalence of the archetype, further inclusions will be tangential in appearance, yet expository by context.

The first of such inclusions is the following portion:

The Needle of Skuld (Original Excerpt):

God dub Skuld His tailor once, unto thread His Vision draweth.
So Skuld doth Fate dub, her needle unto string weav'd.
Thus doth the needle espy bits, only cloth fore and hind too,
Skuld's sight fix'd, bound; only nigh beheld, not afar.

Forget'st thou one City's doom, agone? Fate guideth he, the maker, too:
Yet the mist prevaileth anon, as God and Skuld desireth.
Omit not the Island's story, also! Fate sung this: it shall thrive.
Yet God's hand turneth anon, zephyr flicker'd, the Island lost.

Thus so with the Red-Leav'd; with the Firehold, its ramparts august.
To ashes both, from jewels; and many of this like.
This the weaver in lithe cedes: the needle not, abase withal ardent.

(Free adaptation:)

God declared Skuld His tailor once, to draw unto thread His Plan.
And so did Skuld declare Fate her needle, to weave it unto string.
The needle can see little, only the cloth right before and in front.
So is Skuld's sight fixed and bound, seeing only what's close, not afar.

Did you forget the doom of one City, not long ago? Fate guided him, its builder:
But the mist prevailed soon, as God and Skuld declared.
And do not omit the tale of the Island, also! Fate sung that it may thrive.
But once God's hand turned, in the flicker of a breeze the Island was lost.

The same was with the Red-leafed; with the Firehold, its walls mighty.
Both turned from jewels to ash; as with many like them.
This the weaver concedes gracefully: yet not the needle, lessened in spite of passion.

The Needle of Skuld appears to be a limited transcription of a religious text, much like Craftsman's Sorrow, and possessed of a similar lesson to the Parable of the Maker & the Future. However, equipped with additional context of its place of origin, we are bestowed with greater capacity to assay the remarkability of its contents: rather than a complement, it is a near counterpart to the Parable.

The writers of The Needle, an especially long-lived sect inhabiting a white-walled sector of the "Apartments",15 are a most curious heresy of Christianity admixed with the before mentioned Court/Council of Gods, that have produced their own set of texts conforming a dubitable third Testament. Most interestingly, the interpretation of this text (and thus Needle of Skuld) is chiefly literal, unlike the Parable.

This is in kind with the greater treatment of the Future as a deific entity. Although we have previously discussed it as a symbol for sacrifice and preparation — which it remains, somewhat counter to intuition —, it has a strange, pervasive quality of presence, perhaps most comparable (equitable, within the context of its heresy) to the crucified Christ. It is especially curious when considering that the goddess Skuld, native to Norse mythology, is cast in her traditional role of fate-weaving above the Christ-like Future, seemingly deprived of a direct connection to God.

Lastly, and perhaps in exception to the expected order of discussions, I wish to speak a little more on the "Apartments" themselves. You may have noticed that nearly every individual Lim-space discussed in this chapter shares an explicit, direct connection with the Collapsing Lim-system, or is a member thereof, or is entirely excluded from any connections to any other Lim-spaces and routes of travel.

This is true even of the "Apartments", which shared in the past a link to a now-destroyed Lim-space named the Dark Corridor — a curved, toroidal hall of metal, rather true to its name. A second connection is implicit in every single variation of "City-in-the-Mist", which includes the afore discussed Future as a primary character, a clear linkage to the Court/Council of Gods.




The picture in question, though fuzzy still, is not a challenge to assemble: I am indeed suggesting that there is an outward spread of the contents of this faith, through "City-in-the-Mist" and similar fables, that well exceeds its known size of believers. In truth, I have been unable to find a singular instance of "City-in-the-Mist" separated more than four Lim-spaces from the Collapsing System.

Allow me to introduce one element disregarded throughout this chapter: dating, or the impossibility thereof.

All sources acquired for the writing of this chapter have been secondary. Transcriptions, translations, and retellings, free of binds to any time or era, possessed of an ethereal, fleeting quality. Their extreme divergence yet uncanny similitudes suggest two things: a singular point of origin, and a great length of time since origin. I dare associate this phenomenon with another I believe is much like it — the Great Flood from our Home.16

I advance now to a precocious, insubstantial, yet fascinating conclusion. That this phenomenon, like the Flood, may harken back to a singular event of great proportion, spread throughout History first as fact, next as a cautionary tale, later fable, and finally, legend.

I need not discuss the implications of The Needle of Skuld when viewed through this lens to conclude that such a line of thought is troubling at the very least. To such implications did I and my friend arrive when first treating "City-in-the-Mist" and its kin, and though the reader most certainly believes them to be no more than amusing, I must request their serious consideration for the following, and final, excerpt.

Náströnd & Níðhöggr:

Though all bricks may one day crumble / and all green may one day wither,
and all streams dry, one cannot / thick as mud, yet quick as sand,
this river flows neath, past Earth / past the quiet seas under,
and delivers unto Náströnd its lumber / that for which this place is named:
the Corpse-Shore, its sands never dry / where all those Lost restless lie.

There the Tower-Tree soars, over stars / by rainbow crowned, all its doors to the North.
And with greater vigor than height / its roots Time cannot bruise, by Mist untouched:
Sky-Bridge, Chained-Isle, Ice-Cavern / Iron-Heart, Tolling-Castle, Ash-Grave,
Pearls to our sands, but dust to the Tower / which saw them grow and spoil,
then to the Corpse-Shore riven arrive / by men peopled, now Lost,
and gods come along, brought to knees / Lost as well, they too glutted.

Níðhöggr perches in that red cusp / by once-white fruit gone black;
The Tree's sides bear its bane, red too / it taints the river, and rises against.
To Níðhöggr the Lost rise, and are gone / to the Red-Maw that never closes,
and this is which the Lost eye / Náströnd's Light: the Ocean erstwhile starlit.
For it is the Hazy One's Doom, too / sour-cross where Fate gutted lies.

This excerpt is sourced from The Little Book Bound in Black. This is — supposedly — one among five books from which the core beliefs regarding the Court/Council of Gods are sourced. I know little regarding this collection other than the name of its purported transcriber, one "B. Thorpes", a self-described (and never-seen) inhabitant of the Moonlit Vale's outer shanty.

Though I leave the matter of authorship close to empty-handed, if we are to assume the text to be legitimate, it provides us with a plentiful bounty of significance to The Needle of Skuld purely by virtue of its affirmation of Norse elements as key to the theological context that produced both texts. In particular, the presence of the titular Náströnd and its treatment as an ultimate fate for gods and men alike is in tune with Norse eschatology, typically positioning gods as far from the omnipotence that the modern conception of the term implies.

This, in turn, grants additional credibility to The Needle of Skuld through the singular mention of the Future in Náströnd & Níðhöggr. Two elements of the former are greatly reinforced by the lingering Christian heretical elements of the latter: Náströnd, a Hell-like realm, is much unlike the ambiguous Norse Hel (with a singular L), and it is believed to originate during the slow Christianization of the Norse peoples. The last line of the text even describes the Future as lying on a sour cross (perhaps unjust or bitter?), harkening back to the equitability of him and Christ described earlier.17




The purpose of my insistent attempts to ascribe legitimacy to this text is to equate its contents to another work by Solimán Acacio: the document transcribed into the archive file of Lost Iumalsk. It is greatly predated by the Little Book Bound in Black (by at least fifty years), and there is no evidence whatsoever that Solimán Acacio ever had access to this, or any document contained in the Archives. Despite this, their contents are distressingly similar at times, especially in reference to the "Tower-Tree:"

A jet-black spire tilted to its side, lit by red light from the sky. It rose above the gray mass, so tall that the clouds ringed it. Like bark, or like shattered metal […] Bright-red things like branches grew all around it, though they also looked much like lightning, as if it had oft struck the spire and frozen in place. They were as the crown of a tree, and they very much made the spire look like one.

An unlikely sight formed: the arc of a rainbow, surrounding the trunk of the tree.

The Little Book's description of the Tree in turn subtly harken back to "City-in-the-Mist":

[…]its roots Time cannot bruise, by Mist untouched[..]

Though all texts appear to disagree as to the nature of this location, sometimes a tree, sometimes a machine, and sometimes a walled city, they share far too much in common to ignore. Two additional pieces of description have piqued my interest, those that forced my hand to write this chapter:

Níðhöggr perches in that red cusp / by once-white fruit gone black

Like bark, or like shattered metal, its outer walls broke open and splintered, spilling its organic insides — or perhaps wires and machines.

With the added context of the latter quote, the former's mention of "once-white fruit" sparked my imagination in a way that is most unreasonable, but appears most undeniable even as I write. Could it be that the fruit in question, when considered as possibly a mechanical component, may instead be great floodlights that are now without power? It is not difficult to imagine the "going-black" of the "fruit" as a process like running out of energy.

And, if we believe this to be true, could it not be, perhaps only in the wildest of speculations, that the descriptions of the City-in-the-Mist, the Tower-Tree, and the darkened spire, all may refer to the singular Lone Tower, once at the center of the Collapsing Lim-system?

The allusions to machinery, great height, a black surface, white lights, being empty, and having been lost to some preternatural force are all shared characteristics whose similarities greatly exceed the bounds of chance, even if the foundational evidence linking all the texts I've discussed with the Collapsing System is not quite solid.

The only matter troubling me in this regard is chronology.

How can the destruction of the Tower and its potential arrival to somewhere else, only recently occurred, be possibly registered in texts greatly predating the actual events?


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