21st Day; 7th MoonEdit
The mountains and their numbing chill are behind us. So, too, is the cracked, jigsaw surface of the Hiram basin, hot and dry as a funeral pyre. For days we walked and wondered: did we survive the frozen peaks just to be smothered by heat?
Over time, dunes gave way to soil, then to forests of wild growth. Strange (breathing?) plants seemed to mark our passing. Some lashed at our weapons and limbs, taking flesh and blood before the oddling – of all people! – found a way to staunch their thirst.
At last the air grew thick with magic, and we followed it to its source: the yawning maw of a vast crater – the birthplace of the world. Its bottomless darkness swallowed the torch we threw down, and a strange fog howled in its depths.
It was no matter. We knew the legend, knew where to find the ancient, crumbling stairway circling the crater’s walls. In high spirits, blind with elation and wonder, we began our descent.
Days passed. The walls of the pit grew treacherous, shot-through with gnarled roots. We cut and burned our way forward, always deeper, always down.
Slowly, the roots were replaced by a dark, resinous surface that glittered as if lit from within. Before long, the stairs had flattened into solid ground … and we were received by the remnants of those who’d come before.
What’s left of them is nearly unfit to tell, a patchwork of feed-lot splinters and stains. As we sought to identify the source of these horrors, the few of us with more to lose urged – to no avail – for a considered retreat.
Instead, we wade onward, in twos, through waist-high heaps of human bones – each pair giving rise to a unique rhythm of cracking ribs and shifting skulls.
Orchidna, lighter than I, shuffles ahead in the wreckage, holding a lantern for me to follow. She reminds me, more often than I’d like, that the world’s birthplace may be our deathplace, too.