Excerpts from a journal
I‘m so nervous, Tyle will tease me for my worry but I am just afraid something will happen to him. I cannot believe it has been twelve migrations since my Rhyle was born. It seems like just yesterday I was up with him, all hours of the night, while Tyle slept oblivious in his silence bubble. Tomorrow is the big day, he is going up to see the wasteland of the surface. I have warned him it could be dangerous, but he ignores my fears. He just tells me it's been decades since anyone failed to return from a Harrowing.
He does not know that I was on that Harrowing.
My sister Ellie. I still miss her.
She was so excited to see the surface, she talked of nothing else for the weeks leading up to it. When all the children soon to come of age gathered in the square to prepare for the teleportation, I could feel her shaking in excited anticipation. Our parents watched with open joy on their faces. Soon their daughters would be of age, able to begin the study of any art, magical or mundane.
I should feel the same for Rhyle, but I'm too worried.
The Master Magus gathered us into a circle and instructed us to hold hands in preparation for the trip to the surface. In less than a moment I felt reality shift, like waking up and not knowing where you were. We were gone from the square and in an endless expanse of blowing ash, safe in a protective bubble held by the Magus. In the distance through the bubble a volcano erupted, glowing violently through the hazy ash filled skies. The ground we were above was deep with ash, and we stood on a floating disk of magical force above it. I remember stomping my foot on it, and hearing the dull thud of a wood floor and thinking it strange.
Then the screaming began.
I heard Ellie scream at my side, and felt her pull hard at my arm. Suddenly, we were no longer in the wasteland, but our ring of children stood in a room surrounded by books. In the center of our group sat a giant black egg, as wide around as a barrell. Calling it black is wrong, colors cannot describe the thing. It was as if it were a hole in reality. I couldn’t look at it for more than a moment before terror set in.
I still see it in my nightmares and wake in a cold sweat. I thought the egg was the source of Ellie's fears, but then I saw the man in front of us. Where the Magus had stood, now walked some... creature. The same height as the Magus, holding his staff, this... thing had the pale white skin of a bloated dead fish—at least where there was skin to see. Most of its exposed flesh was covered in an oozing black sludge that seemed to drink in the light just as the egg did. Its head was featureless with lumps giving the suggestion of human features. As if it had once been a head, but was slowly turning into a featureless orb. As horrible as the visage was, it was nothing compared to the dread I felt on viewing that egg. I froze, silent in my terror. To my lasting shame, I stood there as Ellie screamed, and begged me for help.
We were only there for a brief moment and as suddenly as I appeared in that room, I was back in the wasteland. Everyone turned to look at Ellie and I, confused at the screaming. The Magus, for it was once more the elderly figure of the Magus, explained, "She has seen the Beast!" and pointed out into the ash. My eyes darted back and forth from The Magus and the barrier, not sure where to look for this Beast. Outside the barrier, I saw it. Out in the distance, roamed a towering pillar of fire. The Avatar of Faust. It was so bright it shone through the ash like the Great Light of the Dome
The Magus shouted "It has seen us, we must flee!"
I turned to Ellie, and with horror, saw her let go of my hand, and step out of the barrier and into the haze of ash and fire. It was then I finally found my voice. I screamed, falling to my knees calling for her to come back. And then we were back in the square. I collapsed and sobbed.
I never told anyone about the room, the egg, or that creature. Everyone tried to console me, to tell me that the Harrowing can be brutal and that some people’s minds cannot always handle it. That we were unlucky to have surfaced near the Avatar. But I knew the truth. The Avatar, if it was even real, did not kill my sister. It had been that egg, and its monstrous servant.
I never spoke about it. This is the first time I have even dared write it. I tried to tell myself it was just a dream, or a nightmare, but no part of my mind could fabricate the fear I felt that night.
I am being paranoid. Rhyle and Tyle are certainly right. No one has been lost in a Harrowing since Ellie.
All will be well.
Tyle and Rhyle were right, there was nothing to worry about. Rhyle’s Harrowing went fine, no one was lost. They didn’t even see a creature of the wasteland, let alone the Avatar. But still, I feel like he is changed by the experience. I brought my concerns to Tyle and he told me “That’s the point, is it not?”
I don’t know. I have seen people changed by witnessing the remnant of the world, but Rhyle just seems... different. Like he has forgotten things, minor things, but forgotten all the same. Today, while helping me with my carpentry, he could not find any of the tools I asked for. When I had him help with the work, it was as if he had never held a chisel before in his life. His work was terrible, but he went at it with such confidence.
Tyle says that the experience has just shaken him and to give him time. He is probably right. He usually is, though I won’t tell him.
I feel as if I’m losing my mind. Today in the market, I bumped into a man. Or at least I thought I had. When I turned to apologize, there was nothing there but an enchanted broom cleaning the streets. I could have sworn I felt a person when I hit it. When I turned back to Rhyle, he was gone. I panicked, running through the market screaming his name. Some child I had never seen before kept insisting he was right there. I ignored him and ran to the fountain in the center of town, where Rhyle and I always meet when I let him wander. When I got there I turned, and there he was, running behind me, as if he had chased me the whole way. How did I not hear him? How did I lose him?
That is NOT my son! Who is this boy in my house? He is not Rhyle! Why does everyone keep calling him Rhyle? I asked Tyle where our son was, he just pointed to this stranger like I was mad. I must go find him.
What do I do? What should I do? Who should I go to? Why does no one see it? Am I insane? I went all over town looking for Rhyle, but I could not find him in his usual haunts. The town looks different, I feel as if I might be losing my mind, but that child is NOT Rhyle. The city, it is infested with these strangers with dead eyes. They move about cleaning, collecting refuse, moving about doing who knows what. Some of them look familiar, but I cannot place them. I cannot be here. The buildings look... different. Where before they were immaculate, they now seem ramshackle and mismatched. I passed a building I had personally done the repair work on and it looked terrible. I remember making the door myself from some fresh sawn oak boards, but it looked to be made of reused planks from some sea going ship out of legend. All of it. The whole city. It's made of trash. The last bastion of men, a cobbled together heap of cast off debris.
Oak. Where would I have gotten fresh sawn oak? We have but a handful of trees and no one has ever dared cut one down. How have I never considered this before?
Why am I still writing in this journal? I guess it's the only thing that will listen. Reading these entries at least proves my mind hasn’t completely left me.
I must leave this house. I cannot be under the same room as that stranger while my son is missing.
I found him! I have my boy!
But something is wrong with him. He is like those with the dead eyes. I was wandering the streets and I came upon him in an alley, scrubbing a wall. His fingers were bleeding, but he kept at it, staring into nothingness as he worked. I took him, I had to hide him. He didn't want to follow but eventually I was able to herd him. We went into the sewers. I used to play there with Ellie as a child. We’d discovered a cave deep in them, and I'm here now.
I don’t know what to do. Who can I go to? I KNOW I am not crazy, but am I the only one who can see the truth? What does this all mean?
Someone, please, help me.