Lost Iumalsk

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

R.I.P.


Difficulty ?/5
Entity Count ?/5
Chaos Gradient ?/5
Basset-Frazier Index ?/5
This Liminal Space remains unvisited.

THE PLACE


In my time drifting with the winds of wit across the Collapsing System, I have rarely run across a legend as vexing as that of the Grand Haven, Lost Iumalsk. First narrated to me at the entrance to the Moonlight Vale by a lone wanderer, in the same fashion the faithful like to extol the beauty of the gardens in Heaven — winding, spiraling praise bending itself over to reach ever greater heights of panegyric celebration.

What is important to say, and often gets lost when singing its praises, is that Lost Iumalsk is not a plane of paradise. What trickles down to me from the scant people I have met that know anything but its name is that the mythical heights are a fixed place somewhere in the system, of consistent if vague guise.

The story always begins with its gates: somewhere, somehow, one must cross a threshold in the darkness, either in descent or rise, and find oneself between them. Twelve white arcs fence and cover a stone path forward, crossed by northward wind. A look behind reveals a paralyzing sight, the road bending down into a round cliff above a field of cloud-patches cut by sharp mountain ridges. Were one to brave the cliff, they'd find iron chains hanging the great rock of Iumalsk and heading straight below — great and small, thin and thick, all pristine and strong to hold the hovering island.

The gray road cuts straight through the pastured earth, rising through piled mounds until it meets a wide, flat rest, grown by crosses, steles and menhirs. Exactly thirteen crosses, seven to the left and six to the right, cut the path short. In front of the graveyard lies a temple, which some call a church and some a mausoleum, carved in spotless marble and inlaid with gold. Its bell tower seems to call one to climb higher, guiding the eyes to a continuation of the gray road.

It rises and keeps rising, angling and steepening. One short ridge follows another and another, until the path reaches its apex.

Below, a sight of Man. A city of gardens, walled by a single, continuous ridge in the shape of a circle. Some say it was carved down from an alp — that some architect ordered that the rock be cut down and hollowed, then its tougher heart polished by brush and cloth until the city emerged, with its towers and fountains and houses disposed around a black aperture that cuts even further down.

And, the last and greatest sight, men and women that wave from below, warmed by the mellow Sun and cloth from the True Home.1

Now I confess — I dispose of far more lore with regards to Iumalsk than I do of other legends, and that is because I suppose or did suppose (unclear to me quite yet) some of the legend to be true. Perhaps this last sight is to blame: it tempts me to seek it, like most others that have heard of it. Only for so long can one pretend to uphold the explorer's crescent smile and distant curiosity before the stench of loneliness becomes too much to bear.

But, Good Lord — I couldn't help but feel a little bit of warmth when I first heard the tale, cowering from the cold wind with that other man. I cannot recall his name, but I do his face. The fire waved to and fro and the Moon shined above, and the lids of his eyes threatened to shut at any moment, but his smile was wide and tall, sincerely basking on the memory of the sights he'd seen and called home.

But I cannot ever have something as it's given to me, no. I cut that joy short with a question: if it were such a heavenly place, why would he turn his back and depart? And for the dark moonlit vale, environed only by ruins?

He looked, and seemed to weep. Worse even than the haunting image of what he threw away was that he could not say why he'd left.


THE LEGEND


Although the name of Iumalsk appears ever-present, few seem to know more than the gist of the story I've laid out above. The task of finding those people seems herculean — until one realizes the distinct aura that they are draped by, following behind like a hooded cape. Sternness. Aimlessness, drifting. Unable to stick to one place, always seeking, always walking. So potent is this shard of memory, that even men who can't share a word did share this hope.

It is perplexing, really. Among those few, there's even fewer that have a memory of being there, and those are even more lost than the others. And no matter how many I come across — nine or ten, in a few years — the question remains: why did they leave?

There's an outstanding gap in memory between the moment of the departure and their current day. All they seem to remember is leaving the floating island, and the sense of loss that took them thereafter. These things don't follow each other immediately. There's some moment of realization, of crushing melancholy that drives them to seek, but nothing from the time before that. As if one day they were dropped onto the land to pursue the memory.

Even for the others, the weight of remembrance is such that nearly every aspect of Lost Iumalsk becomes a sort of symbol of faith. The thirteen crosses, the graveyard and the church more than any. Some ascribe the crosses much significance — the ominous juxtaposition of number and monument does not seem to escape anyone — as a warning of travails to face the seeker, or a homage to those that could not surpass them.

Others place greater emphasis in the church after the crosses. Golden, white, pointing to the sky, it is interpreted as a sign to continue traveling in spite of all peril to stand before one. The twelve arcs reinforce that notion — they are welcoming, they expect to be tread under, their builders must've awaited someone. Twelve is an auspicious number, the number of chairs in the Circle of Gods Below the Starlit Sea that the wanderers in the system worship.

In the Vale and elsewhere throughout populated ruins I saw the crosses and the bell tower engraved onto the walls as a sign of welcome, long before I knew what they were. Perhaps the symbol of the upward arrow that is used for larger camps descends from that tower as well.

What's curious is how the hole in the middle of the city goes largely ignored. Holes to the dark are universal signs of foreboding, even for the inexperienced. It should not necessitate explaining why its location is alarming from a symbological angle — although it does not matter much, if it is a real place.

I was certain that it was. The precision of the story and consistency of experience between those that left, it tells me that it cannot merely be a legend. Perhaps a collapsed space? I hope otherwise, with all my heart. But there's a doubt I have, one that will not lighten its grasp.


THE MONASTERY


That doubt took root during my only visit to the Ancient City — a fairly desolate space in the general shape of an ancient walled citadel, with towers and battlements and roads reaching to the skyline in every direction, and a sun that is always setting and never moves an inch. The story requires some context, so I plead bear with the disorienting wrinkles of my memory.

There is a unique structure there, shaped like the cusp of a belltower. A fair few fellows had set up shop for a while, and called it their monastery, in which they meditated and perfected themselves, not in service of a God or order but a form of ascension that must've degenerated from Buddhism.

It is not uncommon among wanderers to believe that the systems are a form of purgatory or limbo, some punishment for some ill done. Those pour themselves in search of purification — unaging, wandering, sunken in strange, blissful melancholy, hoping to find themselves somewhere out there, so as to one day return Home.

But the men I speak of had the opposite view. Instead of seeking without, they seek within and abandon everything from the former — even their memories of the True Home. They meditate and talk among each other, they eat only what keeps them from the brink of starvation, and they pray to a deity from the Circle of Gods Below the Starlit Sea. I remain unsure of which one that is, but I remember each of them holding a circle of chains during prayer.

What is curious is that each of these men — quite the company, in fact, as they were eleven — were possessed by the memory of Lost Iumalsk, which they thought to be a shackle to their purgatory and were attempting to somehow abandon through asceticism.

Their monk-leader, the youngest among them, and who must've not been older than twenty, tried to convince me to join them as soon as he heard the lost name from my mouth. He sat me at a table (the only one in the monastery) and demanded that we were served water and bread, both rare requests as the times for feeding and drinking were strict and brief.

Looking at me dead in the eye, the robes he wore seemed much less silly. He did not look at the canteen as it went from the plate to his mouth. Then he told me that once, long ago, they were not eleven, but twelve.

One of the oldest among them, whose name was something like Roger, was haunted by the memory far more than the others. He said Roger could not keep it out of mind even during prayer, and every detail of Lost Iumalsk burned into his eyes as he attempted to meditate. Believing it a mortal chain, he attempted to excise it, but he could not. He was perhaps too old to give that warm company away.

They would try to help him, keep him grounded where he stood, but his mind would before long wander and find itself at the gates of Lost Iumalsk, gazing up to its ridges through the white arcs. It had become like the True Home for him, although he was not born there — an inescapable memory of a better time, though he could not remember anything but that it was good.

This exact detail convinced them that he somehow crazed, and when one day he begged no more, they let him go. Between teary-eyed goodbyes, one of them (Winston was his name, and I believe he hailed from a tundra space) offered to accompany him for a while, to help soften the loss of company.

The monk bade them Hare's pelt be with you,2 and let them go. The loss of a friend hurt, and it hurt more that it brought their number from the sacred twelve of the Gods to a mere eleven. Perhaps that is why they insisted that I join, as unfit as I am for devotion.

What truly caught my attention was what Roger's companion said once he returned.


THE FATE THEY FOUND


Winston came to the table, and he told the story himself. He struggled to find words to speak — evidently not one for chronicles — and the monk had to aid frequently, embellishing and aggrandizing what he saw.

They walked through impossibly many lands of different airs. From barren steppes enshrouded by snowstorm, to gigantic hunks of sizzling metal, to lush forests with only wind to keep them company. One landscape followed another, more beautiful and tragic than the last — the monk took care to ensure he said this, that there were only vast wrecks everywhere they walked.

And yet Winston called them beautiful and tragic, and told me his chest jittered as he looked on. Though Roger did not find their travel so wondrous — he merely walked on, one leg after another after another until rest time came and even then briefly, usually only after they stumbled upon an entrance to another space. Winston would mark these entries in a tiny drawn map, ensuring to keep a path to safely return. He said Roger could not seem to muster any awe whatsoever for the impossible sights he saw. They were only things between him and Heaven.

So much did Winston appreciate Roger, that it took several months (by his own account) to finally decide to return home. But just as he attempted to raise his voice, they found something — a low ridge over a river, with a cave on its side. Something in their hearts bellowed. He described an oily feeling running over his heart, and a familiar smell that emanated from the cave. It felt warm, somehow.

The monk stopped him then. He took some time to explain for Winston that he was not one too haunted by memory or desire, not just from years of meditation but also as a natural inclination against the particular kind of guilt that melancholy inspires. Though he too was haunted by the memory of Iumalsk, he had never paid much mind to it until then. He felt visibly guilty watching the monk talk, rather evidently seeing this as a proof of his own weakness of spirit, inadvertently reinforcing the sensation that this encounter was truly outstanding.

This was all to introduce me to the sheer magnitude of what he felt just then — a torrent of wistfulness and familiarity that washed over them both, inviting them inside the cave. It was overpowering, so much that they rushed inside, hasty torches in hand, barely avoiding the rugged ceiling. Every step of the way, a bright white light seemed to await down below, scurrying farther the more they approached. Roger howled in anticipation, and Winston could not calm his nerves, however much he screamed at himself that something was not right, berating himself for letting go of his heart.

They kept dashing down the cave for what must have been hours, never letting go of the thread of familiarity. The bright light almost faded once, and they almost despaired — but then, it came back. Only its color shifted: from white, to red.

Winston tried to stop himself, though he could not. The gates of Lost Iumalsk awaited him, he felt. But when they finally stepped outside the cave — it was anything but.

They stood on another ridge, indeed circular as the memory promised, but there was no Sun to be seen. A gray shade covered the sky, and what little came through was scarlet red. Gazing for a time, it became identifiable as a skyward dome of something like glass, dripping through many gigantic cracks. Tiny pieces — surely immense from close-by — slowly dissevered from the whole and fell onto a light mat of clouds, then to the landscape below.

Though they looked like ridges at first, they were buildings, of every type and style. Ruined, broken, serried together but their shape preserved. Like drops in a high wave they piled onto each other, protruding from the whole. To their right, there were so many that they had indeed formed the curved shape of a wave and threatened to spill over. Castles and hospitals, tents and towers, skyscrapers and parking lots, all once colorful and perhaps lively, they meshed together into a gray mass, which descended into the shape of a funnel. It led to a bowl-shaped valley below, and at the center something rose again, little blobs of mass washing against it.

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, its outer walls broke open and splintered, spilling its organic insides — or perhaps wires and machines. Its cusp seemed to have splintered off. 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.

Winston gazed, his smile turned to horror. Some myth of his faith spoke of such a thing — a tree of death to rise from the grave of graves. Though it felt dramatic to him back then, it was an understatement to the strange lure of that thing that rose above him, almost indescribable. Rain fell through a great hole above the spire, through which the red sky beamed. An unlikely sight formed: the arc of a rainbow, surrounding the trunk of the tree.

He turned away, to Roger. His visage was cold. Inexpressive. Determined, maybe. Winston urged that they depart, but he only pointed forward, to one particular protrusion from the heap.

The bell-tower of a church, once white and inlaid with gold. Its cusp guided the eyes to the black spire. It seemed to call them to descend further.

Winston begged, and Roger looked at him. He said not a word, and began walking down. Before long, his silhouette disappeared among the heap.

Winston ended his tale then and there, unwilling to say more. The monk looked at me, and opened his mouth to speak. Though something strange happened — so sure he was before, he could not gather any certainty now.

"Ah, I was about to talk now about the danger of seeking that place… But something troubles me, you see." — He said, as if paging through a vision of Lost Iumalsk. — "Remember the flat rest the church lies on? With the graveyard below, and the thirteen crosses?"

I only nodded in response. Winston stood silent. He seemed to know what disturbed the monk.

"I believed that they were thirteen before, but I look back upon the memory…" — He stopped. Winston nodded, and his face paled.

"Yet now, I am certain that I was wrong. Yes, they were fourteen."

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