I have arrived once again at Aescalon, the city of peace and of gates. And I could not be more grateful to have a place where everything is always exactly as I know it to be. The streets and buildings of this city are such a comfort and relief to me, echoing my own passage along them as I look from one side to the other, winding through the narrow alleys that lead deep into the central spire, wondering as I go how many years I’ve walked these streets, or what the future holds for me on whatever world I find myself a visitor.
Aescalon is a gate city, vaulted and fortress-like, a bastion against the ravages of time and the fraying of the weave. Within its streets and buildings there is peace, and sanctuary. Gemstones embedded in the basalt walls glow softly with a purified light. The voices travel on the wind bear the songs of the local dialects and are sometimes diluted by fading tongues from other worlds of distant threads, where variation is great and can sometimes be utterly incomprehensible.
It is so good to be home.
I have been here many times, Aescalon. This city is the beating heart of the Weave, and the ocean of time quietly laps the shores of the eternal realm.
It is the city of gates, a nexus of many disparate threads in the tapestry of time and space. It is a hub for exploration, a place to surface, rest, and take a breath before plunging into the unknown once more. If a place can be somewhere we return to again and again and never leave, if a place can be the site of a precipice over eternity, then Aescalon is such, even though it is rooted firmly atop the basalt shelf a mile above the titanic waves of the ocean of time.
As the time before and the time before that, I was received into the city in the Library of Aescalon by the Silent Servants, incomprehensible beings whose bodies and faces are ultimately a mystery to me; for all multiversal travellers are given free room and board there. Well, nearly free: the price of admittance is one more piece of knowledge to be added to the library which, appropriately, is the largest of its kind in existence. And, for the time I stay within their walls and am under their protection, I am an honored guest.
I descend from the Library’s height on broad stairways set into deep recesses and into ever more inhabited regions of the city. Wide public squares are studded with ancient stone pillars with broad, rectangular bases. I weave through the ornate alleys, the sound of voices rising about me becoming clearer as my ears adjust.
I pass coffee houses and markets, sets of food stalls and brightly colored sheets and awnings of canvas, the smell of herbs and spices and cooking meats pervading the air with the occasional waft of some exotic smell - presumably from some far place and time - causing me to raise my nose from its normal state to take it in. Veritable lifeblood of the multiverse thrums in the arteries of Aescalon. As a wanderer of the Weave you cannot help but be revitalized by the sight. Even though you’ve been there many times before and will return many more times, it is wonderfully reassuring.
I pause. I always do.
Before me are lined up many stalls, each holding fruits and vegetables – multicolored, multi-domed – and sold by people whose appearance is equally heterogeneous. I lift a large red fruit to my face. I smell its rich aromas.
The stallholder grins. “Try it!”
I take a bite, and it bursts sweet and exotic in my mouth. Its fleshy seeds disintegrate between my teeth. I chew, and it tastes like the air from a spring day in North Amer. I swallow and smile back.
“Good,” I tell the stallholder, who asks me where I am from. I tell him/her/it that I am Benalian and the stallholder nods, then says half-joking with a wink, “Liar.” We discuss the black arts of exotic fruit, the regularity of its migration through the city, across years and worlds, until I continue through the market with a smile and a wave.
The shops I pass are varied, more so every time I return to this place: gemstone sellers, armorers and metalsmiths, curry and levianthus vendors; hastily hand-painted signs for the restaurants scattered about, and the patrons of each are usually stranger than the last, wearing multicolored, matted, discolored, dusty or extravagant attire, or simply headscarves in bright wools; from all times, from many worlds. And all of them, from here and from elsewhere, from now and from then, the speakers of many tongues who, in this place and only this place, do not seem strange, or estranged. They are not masters of strangeness because none are strangers anymore.
To the side of gates, and between them, quieter places surround the citadel. Places to eat and drink, places to meander, places to talk and laugh without the hustle and bustle and noise of the central area. I pass between certain gates and at certain points slow my stride and pause, at last making my way to the edge of the bastion and sit upon it, ankles dangling. From up here, beside the ocean of time, it is as if Aescalon itself extends infinitely below, growing white and shimmering as it descends.
I inhale deeply.
I awake to the quiet sounds of conversation, and the patio outside my suite slowly and comfortably creeps into focus. For a moment I have a sense of familiarity, of time and space such that someone I know and have known for years is standing over by the balcony. Someone who, perhaps, I’ve known for years and years and with whom I have traveled to Aescalon and out again many, many times. Haven’t we hidden out together here before, sitting on the dark marble floor in low light, in order to trade tales of our first expeditions with each other across the breadth of known worlds? To discuss the stranger physics and simulacra of stranger worlds with each other, of the metacosmologies that define us and the histories and mythologies that build the foundations under our feet? Haven’t we?
She smiles, and turns away.
All thoughts scatter and the patio slowly returns to a lack of focus as I fall back into deep and peaceful sleep. I roll over, sigh, and slip back under space and time once more, but this time with an enticing bittersweet aftertaste as the world dissolves again around me.
[Recognizer: Data-media unavailable; encrypted.]
[Decrypted data begin] “It is thus that worlds are hidden in plain sight.”, she says. “And you are an inheritor of those words, a weaver, one who is bound to consciousness of whole vistas and landscapes hidden in the tangles of threads and worlds, a traveller who arcs across the tapestry of fragments, folds, and creases. Only one who lingers will glimpse worlds hidden in plain sight.” [Decrypted data end]
After a long visit I prepare to set out again, travelling between worlds, between cities, arcing across the tapestry of the folds and fragments and threads of time and space. The sound of strangeness lures us, the calls to distant threads. The calling from unknown lands, and from times are that are there and then, or were and were not, and beckon and urge us to wander. To explore, to visit, and all unknown to us.
I walk down some narrow dark alleyways alongside rickety, crumbling half-buildings in the old city, and skulk around the corners as ever on the lookout for signs of disturbance and discord, for glimpses of antiquity left to themselves. Some are such, and I take my leave through well-trod gateways or familiar alleyways so as not to disturb any denizens who prefer to be left alone.
Then, around a particular corner on one such occasion, I do not see the tell-tale glowing from a tear’s light. I trip, and fall, through a rent in the weft of space-time. I let out a short, sharp cry.
I land spread-eagled on a hard, cold surface. I sit up and look around. I am in a square room. It is filled with at least two dozen dust-covered tables, each scattered with papers and covered with reference books and holo-tablets and printouts and scrolls, some of them from entirely different civilisations.
I have passed through a distortion. It should not happen in Aescalon. It cannot happen in Aescalon. Aescalon’s gates are the sole routes in and out of the city, the key-holes of reality through which multiversal travelers appear and disappear. They are definitely not rips to be tripped over in dark alleyways. And yet here I am.
I stand up and brush myself down. The room is grey and dim, lit by an overhead diffuse light. The air smells of dry dust and disuse. I examine some of the papers on the nearest table, examining the discs, holo-tablets and what look like ancient scrolls. On some of them I cannot make heads or tails of the glyphs, pictographs and ideographs. Their very substance speak of alien kinds, alienities. The other, more familiar, seem as though they were discarded and placed in this foreign holding place to be studied at leisure at some point. It bears the marks of endless excavation and reinvention, like any place buried millions of years beneath the mercurial sand of time.
This place is a mess of scraps and scraps of scraps, with no correlation to the careful and meticulous records kept by the Library of Aescalon, and those other dusty and forgotten archives nationwide, scattered around the worlds. Which suggests to me that this strange foreplace is bound not to any particular continuum; it could not be pinned to any particular thread and this could be anywhere in the multiverse. What I need is data and evidence, fragmentary and obscure as it may be, to locate a distortion through which I may return to Aescalon.
I cannot and will not try to describe the hundreds of archival rat-runs, soiled and darkened hallways, stalagmite-covered-stalactite-strewn chambers or miles of catacombs-like tunnels to which I descended. Or, the artifacts of a myriad worlds which I glimpsed and surveyed. Fragile beings unable to pass through a gate looked at me from within their secure protective cases; amidst delicate, alien herbariums and crystalline structures, many of which held precious instruments - a polyhedral multiscalar anomaly of enormous geometric size, hung on slow rotation between two [redacted] lattices at one point in the descent, another object appeared to be a singularity in a box.
Or, the coded sheets of incomprehensible logic-threads, impossibly complicated cellular automata and emergent pseudogravitic orders. Their like were symbols I only read and which I had only previously thought to encounter within a particular context or bias of interpretation, in a particular pattern of behaviour which obsessed the inner minds of a particular people or polity.
But, bound as I was to a place, they were isolated and isolated out of context; their heart and their meaning were left as dust and faded and hidden from me. Should I have chosen a different path, such that I might discover the keys to vast, hermetic libraries?
Perhaps. For all I know I have picked only scraps and scraps of scraps, and left for other souls older and wiser than I entire cosmologies which could fall out of what are now only fragments and tatters.
I was dreaming, in the rats-nest I had made for myself out of a multitude of pillows and bits of long-forgotten garments, of that someone. She was smiling at me, in the pause and mezzanine between two streets, a doorway with which to pass through if and between. I rose quickly, but didn’t step forward. The glowing colors and fractal occluding perimeter towers moved this way and that, higher and higher against the horizon amidst distant arpeggios of misty stars. Running notes into harmonies, the probability flow built and built until the pulsing highway to another time, another place, gathered itself, adjusting with a shimmer and sheen and, with it, I departed.
The last image which floated in the silence of Aescalon’s wake was of her, my eternal companion and friend, halting momentarily and extending a hand to touch my face on the flowing, shimmering neon of an alleyway.
[Recognizer: Data medium unavailable; encrypted.]
[Decrypted data begin] MDS: “Sixth Fragment,” Nenebra Chasms; 01.01.0549: Darkness surrounded him, brought by arms and wings. Earth flowed about his feet, the sand and shining stones. Darkness that reminded him and mimicked the creation and slow flow of art beneath the last embers of a dying p_l_a_n_e_t. Darkness plastered over scars, over the stones broken by f_i_r_e and l_o_n_g_f_o_r_g_o_t_t_e_n m_e_m_o_r_i_e_s that rose like spectres by his side, the ghosts of unfinished and the unfulfilled. Fire erupted in flights of blazing birds, the light blinding. At the core of the conflagration, at last the faintest glimmer of hope now returned. [Decrypted data end]
I ascend through labyrinthine passages, chamber after chamber, and vista after vista; diverse artifacts and alien sculptures - erotic, allegorical, historical. Animals and beasts rendered in stone, fabricated in crystal and metal, and frozen in time. Spongiform clusters of wormhole-singularities hung by fine wires, generating one flux dimension in amber glass after the next. Breaking inertia and pulling us disoriented through the entire multiverse.
I move with purpose, for I have found a map: a triptych-cube, each concave side inlaid with a fragmentary codex displaying coordinates, a hundred or more depth cues behind crystal and glass. The overall map provides approximately the absolute relationships of any given detail to any other, and shows index-entries which detail additional maps, data sets and travel-targets on rotation within a single universe, space-time fragment or epoch.
I am leaving.
There are temporal shrouds and frozen relics around me, in this archive. Time’s tide has already eroded the meaning and relevance of many. But, these are the records of awakenings, the structures and mechanisms of self-realisation. Of first steps into a whole ocean.
I continue up, through vast archives and epigraphs etched meters deep in opaque glass, to locations where light once fell but now voids stretch from horizon to horizon, bearing the marks of time-entropy, the corrosion of cosmic rays, once a base of civilisation, now but a ruin. The fraying of threads and holes in the canvas of time.
I look at ideograms and glyphs whose only message is the origin and route of their previous voyage, from deeper within the fractal rending. I pass mechanical listings of reports and witness statements regarding stability and resiliency on the boundaries of the map, the map which is the territory, whose recording and crossing were one and two acts in the same. I continue my ascent, with the map drawing carefully balanced constellations of my journey.
Finally I reach the new distortion. And at last … I depart this place.
I stagger out, at last, and seal the portal. Behind me, a trail of ragged, disputed, fractal-riven regions and spaces, like a great highway of danger and uncertainty that begins and ends undefined, and I leave it behind. I have returned to Aescalon itself. On all sides I see familiar streets and buildings. And I greet each with a fondness I haven’t known before.
But not forever … soon I will follow that siren song and make the pilgrimage again into the Weave. For the Weave is where the Promise lies, luminous and wild and the gift of eternity in the fire of the spheres, in worlds and times yet to be visited. The road of the wilds, to others and elsewhere.
[Recognizer: Data medium unavailable; encrypted.]
[Decrypted data begin]
++Temporal gradient exceeded, 02.02.0839.++
++GRADIENT EXCEEDED ERROR, BREAKKNOWN”DEEP TRACK”++ on the winding bays of wind travel, past the ancient cemeteries of frozen memory, between the grey permassive bridges and across the r_a_n_d_o_m_Ising flows
“The nodes remain, but they no longer seek to engage.”
“So, the epistemological tension of interest remains…”
“Exactly. The mysteries remain and even deepen. The shifting p_l_a_n_e_s split-realities or prism universes emit emissaries drawn to seek out s_t_a_b_i_l_i_t_y _&_c_a_u_s_a_l_i_t_y, as stories of search and journeys into the wilds of danger. So many exiles. So many untold stories, of places and worlds glimpsed and left behind.”
“[DATA-LOST]; [REPORT-LINK]: Time-Independent Reality Desynchronization. Mainstream conclusions include temporal ossification theories, differential and inhibitory hyperentanglement, heterochronological diffusion, weakening or dissolving of fabric membranes and data-seeding.” [Decrypted data end]