Crumbling Desert
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Assembled from the collected writings of the late Solimán Acacio, Great Explorer.

R.I.P.


Difficulty 4/5 The absence of any food or water, plus relatively rare collapses, makes long permanence dangerous.
Entity Count 0/5 No one but other humans.
Chaos Gradient 3/5 Closest to complete disappearance out of any Liminal Space in the Collapsing System.
Basset-Frazier Index 2.333/5 Traversing the Crumbling Desert is heavily unadvised. There are no permanent communities or groups of humans that could provide aid.

OVERVIEW

A ceaseless sea of scorching dunes extends to the horizon, shifting and dancing to the tune of merciless wind — a sight broken only by rusted metal towers that rise in clumps from under the dry ocean. Half-sunken and engraved with peculiar symbols, one familiar sigil stands atop these lost homes: a faded eagle with open wings.

Long-voided, these metallic structures rarely hold anything inside. The widest towers hold only four rooms per floor, each room two meters in height and ten in width, connected vertically by curious shafts that resemble those used by elevators, if devoid of any such mechanism. Although there are window frames on each wall, no glass is ever seen to rest upon them.

Sometimes, the ancient foundations of the towers give and fall, sinking the sand around them: they fall for several dozen meters before crashing with the sonorous clang of metal crushing metal.

Underneath the surface layer of sand, held up by interlocking metal structures, lies another much older layer of abandonment. This is a mass of small cuboidal rooms, extending several hundred meters below ground, at uneven heights and distances from each other.

Each room features naught but a sizable square hole on its ceiling and floor, permitting access and egress. Rooms that are horizontally close connect via smaller holes, uncomfortable for human passage. While upper rooms are often covered in sand, the amount thereof declines with height, only small piles remaining by the last few tens of meters.

Such lower rooms are distinct in that the remains of whatever first populated them are not fully faded: marks in the floor, and very rare splinters of wood hint at the presence of furniture.

The terminus of this layer and surface of the next are separated by a long, impenetrable darkness, bridged by thin towers filled by spiral staircases. Rather than metal, these are made of concrete: a significant rarity. Between four and five rests interrupt the long descent, which some swear to be of several kilometers.

The ensuing layers are far more chaotic and discordant. Numerous architectural styles are built on top of each other, forming a heterogenous mass of undetermined depth and age. Some seem like housing centers, spacious and firm, while other haphazardly-made and small buildings give the impression of a temporary outpost or exploratory mission.

The depth of this continuous mass of ruins, referred to as the Underside, is yet to be determined.

THE UNDERSIDE

In spite of the massive diversity of the Underside's ruins and their universal use of metal as primary (and most often only) material, certain distinct styles of construction remit to unique groups behind them. Distinct groups are more common the closer one is to the surface: as one descends, the density of ruins and increasing pressure blends different buildings and entire layers together, creating more and more cramped spaces.

Scavenger groups are the primary inhabitants of the Underside, quickly assembling to explore the depths and retrieve metallic relics or debris to be later traded. These "relics" are usually the remains of furniture or crude household objects entirely made of metal. They are more abundant below the 2000m range, which suggests that they used to populate the upper layers and were removed or gradually scavenged.

The Underside is organized in layers: proliferous styles of construction are invariably ubiquitous to a certain depth and somewhat clearly separated from their companions, save for certain aberrations and unique buildings that deserve mention.



COLLAPSE STATUS

As any member of the Collapsing Liminal System, the Crumbling Desert suffers from the usual symptoms of collapse, if especially amplified and notable in its particular case.

Blinding flashes of light precede the sudden disappearance of metal, usually leading to the catastrophic structural failure and associated crumbling that give the Space its name. Wisps2 populate the space between the surface and Underside, but can be found anywhere in great amounts.

The sky of the Crumbling Desert is colored gray, as if under cloud cover, but far more uniform in shade. It is rather bright and irradiates great amounts of heat, comparable to the Sun of our reality. Black cracks, akin to those that form in shattering glass, allow to see a starlit night sky beyond. The darkness "leaks" into the Desert at an almost unnoticeable pace, slowly enlarging as if it were a hole in the gray sky. Solid pieces of gray sky have been seen crumbling off, but can never be found when sought.

Entries and exits are distinctly irregular and unpredictable, vanishing and reappearing by the day. These can connect to any member of the Collapsing System, although Vulkan Hole and Wayside Island are preferred. Entry points to the Lone Tower were especially common before its collapse.

A worrying abundance of Deadzones3 suggests that the Crumbling Desert may collapse soon.

THE HOLE

Transcribed verbatim from Soleimán's journal, Book XVI. The structure in question has not been visited by anyone else that we know of.

His backpack with six of his journals was found by an anonymous Wanderer in the Undersurface Layer. The safekeeper of the remaining twenty volumes gifted them to the writer of this document.


I saw a great piece of the sky crumble away earlier. I had heard of this before, but I never had the chance of seeing it myself — it was like a falling star, so close I felt I could have reached out my hands and picked it from the horizon.

An auroral glow formed a halo around the falling piece of sky, leaving a trail of ghostly lights dancing into transparency. It fell right behind a tall médano4 (I do not know the English word for it, need to ask Carlos for the dictionary), sand splashing like the calm sea would when disturbed with a rock.

It fell just over two kilometers away from me, Northwest orientation, and beside a lopsided tower. I must go there, or I will never find it again. I have enough in my backpack for ten more days.

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There is no fallen star. There is no piece of sky, no aurora. There's only a wide hole, darkness inside. Did the fallen piece melt through the sand and metal structures below?

The sand is still falling inside the hole.

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It took me over a day to reach the Underside, but the hole is clearly visible from here. The sun pierces straight through the empty space between the surface and the cavity, greatly illuminating this awful cold cave. Warm wind is flowing everywhere, bringing painful sand with it.

The boundaries of the hole do not display the characteristic warping that heat causes. They are simply bent inward, as if pierced by a speeding projectile. The weight of the sky must be much greater than one would presume.

I can't but deeply thank (name removed) for insisting I bring a rope. This will make the descent so much easier.

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The descent is rather simple, but tiring. Bent pieces of metal abound, and as they are bent downward it is rather easy to bring the rope back to me. Rests are abundant, although I fear I may accidentally roll toward the Hole if I sleep for long.

The ruins around me are alluring in their uniqueness, unlike any I have seen in my travels here. I am tempted to stop and write down my observations, but my time is limited and only God knows how deep the hole is. Besides, the immense weight above them has crushed most potential entries and rendered structures into senseless rubble.

The hole keeps getting colder.

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By now, this place looks like a pile of metal sheets. I can't imagine just how much weight lies above this point, but I can often hear pieces of metal screaming and bending over. Should this not provoke great tremors above? I cannot remember experiencing anything like it.

The darkness is almost impenetrable, and the cold unbearable. I know not how far I've descended, but it must be several thousand meters.

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I've slept fifty-one times so far. I have little food left. Almost certainly too little to make the entire journey back.

I think I've found the bottom. I see a red light below.

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