The Architect's Essence, The Diary of Sunrise

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Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T

I have begun this entry in my usual fashion, stating that the events I am about to relate to you occurred upon an unknown date in the year 2479 A.R.T. I must admit however that I am not sure that this is entirely accurate. For one, as I am unsure as to how long I was unconscious for and so it is disputable as to whether these events occurred on a separate day from those recorded in my last entry. I am also uncertain as to whether or not the world into which I awoke was at all governed by the rules of passing time and whether a calendar date (even an inaccurate one,) can be placed to any measure of its existence.

I had been awoken by the sensation of water splashing silently against my left cheek, soaking into the leather of my mask. I had therefore returned to consciousness with the notion, ’that lake wasn’t nearly as wet as I thought it would be.’ I had opened my eyes to find that the world beyond my goggles was pitch black and, as I’d righted myself into a sitting position the sensation of water dripping down my face and back had continued. The surrounding darkness had not been the murky gloom of the bottom of a lake or even the velvety dusk of twilight, it had been an absolute darkness, a darkness which had never been touched by sunlight. Suddenly, I had understood what Darkness had meant when he’d written, Blindness is true darkness and it is not a darkness you have ever experienced. True darkness is not the absence of sunlight it is the knowledge that sunrise will never come. The darkness had been enhanced by the fact that there had been no sound whatsoever. I had felt my brethren moving around me and I had recognised their touch but I had heard nothing as much as the whisper of a footfall or the slightest creak of leather and to my horror I had realised that I had become deaf.

Despite my growing dread and panic the dripping water had brought a sudden wave of invigoration with it, each droplet revitalizing me in both mind and body. I had suddenly realised that the source of the dripping water had been the continual tears of the creature and I had reached up above my head to feel its cold, iron mask hanging in the murk above me.

Someone had taken my hand and I had been so accustomed to its shape and grip that I had instantly recognised it as the hand of Cloud. Cloud had helped me to my feet and he had begun to lead me through my sensory depraved world. The ground had felt oddly soft beneath my feet and I had imagined him guiding me through the leaflitter of a brightly lit forest or the lush grass of a prairie.

We had journeyed on our way for some time, the continuing dripping of the creature’s tears telling me that despite its injuries, it was managing to keep up with us. On a couple of occasions, I had found forward momentum to be quite difficult and it had seemed to me that the density of the surrounding atmosphere was fluctuating, at times becoming became so thick that I had felt as though I were walking though custard, treacle, honey or some other type of viscous foodstuff which would better illustrate the sensation. Shred-less marmalade perhaps.

All of a sudden there had been a painful popping sensation in my head and to my surprise and relief I had heard the sound of rushing water emanating from somewhere in the surrounding darkness, a sound which had carried a strange lingering echo with it, giving me the impression that, rather than a forest or prairie, I stood instead within an immense cave. For a few moments I had dared to hope that I had somehow awoken within the caverns of our own mountain and that at any moment I would be greeted and led into the light by my brethren. This hope had soon been quashed however by a duo of horrendous, gargling roars which had reverberated around me. A calming hand had immediately fallen upon my shoulder and nine separate jingles had greeted me, informing me that, to my great relief, I was not alone in that place and that the other members of my fellowship were safe. Reaching into Script’s satchel I had retrieved my own jingle nut from its bed of alfalfa and had shook it in response, adding my own beat to the rhythm.

I had assumed quite correctly that the surface of the lake we had tumbled into had in actual fact been another portal in reality similar to the one which had led us to Gonastrey. My earlier hopes of reaching our distant mountain had been ravaged on the spot and despair had gripped me, causing me to sink back to my knees. I had noted that the ground had a strange warmth to it and something upon its surface had burst beneath me with a soft click, releasing an horrendous stench.

For a moment I had listened to the strange clicking purr of the creature and the distant rumble of the water and I had wallowed in my desolation, feeling quite sure that I had doomed us all and that we would never again see our mountain home. Another hand had fallen onto my shoulder and, in the gloom, I’d felt sure that I could see stars, tiny pricks of light in the umbra. I’d recalled Horizon’s stargazing lesson and something he’d said had stood out to me. Not everything here is completely alien anyway. I recognise the stars. They’re the same stars that I see from our mountain, though they’re in a different part of the sky here. That in itself had given me hope and, with Cloud’s hand in mine, I had once again stood, Horizon’s words once again cutting through my dismay. ’There’s no doubt in any of our minds that you’ll be the one to lead us home again. We would follow you the ends of the Expanse Sunrise, if such a place exists.’ They had all placed their faith in me and I was not prepared to let them down. Though the odds had seemed staggering I had vowed there and then that one way or another I would see my brethren and the creature back to the safety of our mountain.

Well, I’d thought, squinting at the distant stars. If there is an end to the Expanse, I think I may have found it.

Suddenly the ‘stars’ had streaked through the darkness and had converged in the air above us to form an odd ball of light which, though blindingly radiant to behold, seemingly had cast no light upon the surrounding terrain, leaving us swaddled in darkness. Its radiance had caused me to avert my eyes and I had experienced a sharp pain in my temple which, (if memory serves,) was not dissimilar to the discomfort one might experience when eating copious amounts of ice-cream.

A voice had begun to emanate from the ball of light, jabbering nonsensically in a foreign tongue. At first it had been nothing more than a whisper but it had steadily grown in sureness and volume until it had boomed through the air, forcing us to cover our ears against the din. The voice had cycled through what had appeared to be several different languages before it had begun to speak words which I recognised.

“You came through the patch of weeds!” It had rumbled. “You have fallen from creation.”

Though I had retrieved my spoon from its pouch and had held it poised above my slate I had found myself unable to respond to the voice, the pitch darkness preventing any attempt at communication.

Once again, the voice had cycled through a plethora of foreign languages before returning to words I understood. “This is the voice you comprehend,” it had said. “I can tell that much.”

Though I do not know if the gesture was seen or understood, I had nodded in response, glancing up at the ball of light which was addressing us. Again, I had averted my eyes, the ice-cream pain returning.

“I must implore you not to try to look upon me as I fear the sight of me may be quite harmful to your vision and could potentially leave you with some lasting psychological problems,” the voice had said. “You have fallen from creation. You are beyond the realm of sleep, far from the land of Djinnestan, in a place where even the laws of the elemental realms are not enforced. Welcome to the Foundations.

I had desperately wished to ask the ball of light to lower its voice, my ears ringing from its ear-splitting welcome. I also wished to question it on what exactly the Foundations were and how we could go about exiting them. I was highly curious of what the owner of the voice actually was, its appearance being unlike anything I had ever seen before. Rather fortuitously the disembodied voice had seemingly had rather a lot to say and it had rambled on for some time, answering most of my questions for me.

“This area of the Foundations is known as the Pits. It is the scrap heap of creation, the rubbish dump of the Architect. It is where He discarded all of His failed creations. All of the broken rules, the malformed laws, the flawed creatures and the faulty truths, they are all here, discarded in the darkness and paved over by your reality.”

To my relief the voice had grown softer as it had spoken, a tint of sadness touching its words.

“I am sure you are wondering what I am,” the voice had said.

Again, I had nodded.

“I am known as the Lost Vision,” the voice had said. “I was born of a seed of the Creation Tree long before the City of Zorrogon was chiselled from its heart, back when its wood was supple and green. The Architect brought me into being to govern certain aspects of light, shadow and reflection but my effect on His newly constructed reality had become an inconvenience when He had designed the eye. Apparently, my optical influence greatly hampered its function and so I was banished to this place, no longer welcome in reality.”

I remember feeling an immense sympathy for the Lost Vision and I had found myself appalled by the injustices which the Architect had inflicted upon it, heartlessly banishing His creation for a fault in His own design.

“Myself and the other members of the Discarded, have pieced together the refuse from reality’s creation to form a world for ourselves,” the voice had said, its melancholy remaining. “Have you too been discarded? I can see the Architect’s tool marks on you but you are unlike anything I have seen Him create before. You appear to have been fully refurbished and you have been reassembled in a most curious way. Bespoke, limited edition designs I expect. He appears to have put a great deal of work into you, though I must admit you are not without your flaws. Nine right and eleven left feet between you, a varying number of fingers and not a single tongue. Yet I see you have an overabundance of heart and compassion. A very curious design indeed.”

I had found it ironic that the floating, headache inducing ball of light had considered us to be oddly designed and I had wondered if the other members of the Discarded, which I had supposed to be a society of superfluous deities, had the same radiant appearance as the Lost Vision. I had also been highly curious that the Lost Vision had counted eleven left feet between us and though I have never questioned Butter on the matter I speculate that she is the owner of the extra left foot, a possible cause of her constant instability. I am a strong believer however that it is most impolite to question a lady on the orientation of her appendages and so I have never been able to clarify my suspicions. I believe only Skull knows the truth of Butter’s feet and I know he would never divulge her secrets.

“And this one is very special,” the Lost Vision had gone on to say. It’s light, which previously hadn’t offered any illumination at all, had fallen onto the mask of the creature. “Yes, very special indeed. Assembled in a different part of creation and with a different date of manufacture to the rest of you. A design which it seems He has imbued with some of His own unique gifts. I do not believe that He would intentionally discard such unique creations into the Foundations this long after creation and though I feel no loyalty to Him I shall endeavour to return you to reality. If there is one thing, He gave to all of us, it’s the ability to suffer. Suffering is a most cruel and needless addition to creation and I do not wish you to suffer needlessly here when I can help you.”

The light had faded from the tear-steaked mask of the creature leaving me to ponder what ‘gifts’ the Lost Vision spoke of and how it planned to help us.

“Oh, I am sorry,” the Lost Vision had said. “You all possess eyes don’t you. “Most of the beings down here were created in the post-eye era of creation so we do not require light, but for our honoured guests I shall endeavour to awaken the sun-sweat, though it’s not been active for many spans of timeless eternity.”

A soft note had sounded in the darkness, a sound akin to that produced by a violin when its stings are plucked by gentle fingers. The sound had heralded what I can only describe as a flood of illumination. A strange wave of scintillating light had illuminated what I’d supposed to be a distant hill, as bright and as blinding as sunlight itself. The light had spilled out in all directions, flowing from some unknown spring and cascading over a bizarre and alien landscape the likes of which I had never seen before had have never seen the likes of since. The wave of light had churned and tumbled over the land, hurtling towards us like a tsunami of illumination which had crashed and flowed around us, leaving us waist deep in a tide of warm sunlight. Though the land had been illuminated, the space above it, which I would ordinarily refer to as the sky, had remained dark and vacant, hanging heavily above our heads. I had stooped to investigate the origins of the light and I had found that it emanated from tiny droplets of moisture, each of which glowed with a radiance similar to that produced by a syphon orb. I had touched the sun-sweat and had found that it clung to my fingertips, making then glow with sunlight. Oddly, upon closer inspection I had found the luminous moisture to carry a strangely musky odour.

In the far distance the blank void of the ‘sky’ had met the land but there had been no clear definition of where the sky ended and the land began. Instead there had been an odd sort of blur, the land and heavens bleeding into one another as if the horizon were an unfinished surrealist painting which had accidentally been doused with water. The ground had not been made of rock or soil or ice or any other form of terrain I had ever encountered before. It had been smooth and soft with patches of tiny furrows and wrinkles. The patch of ground beneath our feet had been a rich dark brown but the distant hills had differed in colour from a creamy white to a soft peach, an olive yellow, to a coffee and even an attractive shade of blue, all of them flowing seamlessly together. Certain areas had sported masses of black grass-like growths which I recall had a most repellent, oily funk about them and in places the ground had also been covered in strange, smooth little mounds which, regardless of the tone of the ground beneath them, had been bright red with a sickly yellow pinnacle.

A soft thump had told me that Butter had been overwhelmed by the surreal landscape and that she’d had her first accident upon its surface. I had turned to see Skull helping her back to her feet. Butter had been aglow from head to toe with the sun-sweat, the brim of her hat and the tip of her beaked mask glowing. I’m so pretty! she’d written, admiring her luminous arms. Don’t you think so Skull?

Skull had been quite flustered by the question and had fumbled with his writing stone, dropping it several times as he’d tried to reply. Are you okay? he’d eventually written, apparently deciding it best to avoid her question.

Oh yes, I’m fine, Butter had written, a little deflated. The ground’s very soft here. I like it. I could fall on it all day without any ouches.

Taking in Butter’s words I had admired the smooth, soft, obstacle-free landscape and I had mused that it was an ideal environment to allow my little toes to swing freely without fear of being stubbed. The only potential hazard I’d seen were the strange red and yellow mounds but even they looked soft and toe-friendly. I had experimentally nudged one of the mounds with my foot to test its density but to my horror the yellow cap that topped it had erupted quite violently at my touch, splattering me from my ankles to goggles with foul-smelling yellow puss. Much panic and arm flailing had followed.

What is this? I’d written in distress, wiping a glob of puss from my goggles.

“As I said, it is called sun-sweat,” the Lost Vision had said. “The Architect created it to coat the ground of His creation and provide it with light. The problem was that He then went on to create a version of plant life which He bayed to always grow towards the light. Unfortunately this caused his prototype trees and shrubs to grow downwards and flatten themselves against the ground, a habit which He found undesirable and so to remedy the problem He took a ball of sun-sweat and suspended it in the heavens, a move which caused his plant life to grow tall and erect as he’d intended. The rest of the sun-sweat was deposited down here.

He wasn’t asking about the plegging sun-sweat! Taboo had written, stepping to my side. He was asking what this putrid puss is which he’s got all over himself!

“It’s exactly that,” the Lost Vision had said. “It is puss. I’m afraid that this section of the Pits has recently become pubescent so I advise you watch your step and avoid the floor acne.”

Pleg me! Taboo had written, recoiling from me. That is plegging foul Sunrise! You’re covered in zit juice! You look like a teenager’s mirror!

Naturally, upon hearing the Lost Vision’s explanation, I had become quite hysterical, wiping madly at the puss which splattered my suit like demonic custard. I had wiped a large glob of the offending substance from my mask as a terrifying realisation had settled over me. It’s flesh! I’d written, looking around at the landscape. The ground here is made of flesh! I had looked at the terrain with new eyes and had realised that the furrows in the ground were in fact wrinkles and the clumps of black grass were colossal tufts of hair. I had jumped to the conclusion that the portal we’d jumped into back at the lake had not only transported us but also shrunk us to the size of fleas, depositing us on the back of some unknown creature. What creature are we standing on? I’d written.

The disembodied voice of the Lost Vision had sighed heavily. “You are not on any creature,” it had said. “As I have already told you, you are in a region of the Foundations known as The Pits.”

I’m sorry, Pulida had written, but how can the ground possibly be flesh and the sun be made of sweat?

“It is not ground as you understand it,” the Lost Vision had said, its tone condescending. “When the Architect set out to renovate reality and create something upon the Expanse, He spent a great deal of time experimenting with different building materials. One of His earliest creations was flesh and He had planned to build the terrain from it, arranging elaborate formations of bone to form mountains and developing special glands such as tear ducts to be the source of rivers. In the end however The Architect had decided that coating the entire Expanse in flesh was far too laborious and He had opted to pave it in stone, sand, soil and water instead. He had revisited ‘flesh’ however when He’d come to design his various forms of life and He had found it an excellent material from which to craft his creatures. The flesh terrain idea however was completely abandoned and so it was deposited here in the Foundations along with all of the Architect’s other mistakes and unwanted creations.”

I had looked out at the varying skin tones of the distant fleshy hills and I had imagined the colossal hand of the Architect coming down from the darkness above to cut all manner of life from the flesh of the land in much the same way that a baker might cut a cookie from a sheet of dough. However, unlike many of the sentient beings of the Expanse, I have never seen cookies persecute one another based on the portion of the dough they are cut from.

Very well, I shall accept your words as truth for now, Pulida had written, but I must ask how we have come to be here. Did you bring us to this place?

“I most certainly did not,” the Lost Vision had said. “I am assuming that you have arrived here by accident. You most likely fell through a patch of threadbare reality left behind by that detestable spectral creeper. It’s taken root from here to Djinnestan and I’ve heard it has even spread to the Passages of Time.”

Are you talking about that strange ghostly bramble? Oats had written, his interest piqued. How exactly does it grow?

“It roots itself into the very fabric of reality,” the Lost Vision had said. “It feeds on it and drains it of all substance until it begins to crumble. All it takes is a thunderstorm or an earthquake near one of these weak spots to tear a gash in reality. Parts of creation that were never meant to meet fall through these gashes to collide and erupt into one another, crashing through the breeches.”

Would an erupting volcano be enough to tear open one of these ‘weak spots’? Pulida had written.

“Yes, any violent natural cataclysm will do,” The Lost Vision had said. “I fear that if the spread of the creeper is not curbed then the whole of creation could implode upon itself and fall into the Foundations with little more than a misplaced rumble of thunder to trigger it.

Pulida had turned to me and I nodded my understanding, realising that it had been the eruption of our own mountain which had caused the forest’s sudden appearance.

But why would The Architect want to create something which could potentially destroy everything He’s created? I’d written.

“The creeper is not a creation of the Architect,” The Lost Vision had said. “Nor is it a creation of Atropa or of the Absence.”

Then where did it come from? Cloud had written, holding his slate up to the empty air.

“It originates from here,” the Lost Vision had said. “It was created by Demon. I believe she is planning to use the creeper to weaken the walls between the realms enough to claw her way back into the Expanse. As you’ve managed to find your way down here, I fear she may accomplish that goal.”

A demon? Pulida had written. But I thought all of Atropa’s demons were sealed away in the Shadow Ark?

“Not a demon. Demon is her name. She is the original demon, the demon which gave demons their name and she was not created by Atropa,” The Lost Vision had said. “She was created by The Architect and The Architect sealed her away down here not because she was unwanted but because He feared her.”

But the Ochre Chronicles say nothing of The Architect creating a demon, Pulida had reasoned. They state, and I quote: Atropa, sick with vengeance, travelled the breadth of the Architect’s creation, distorting all life that strayed into his midst. Using an hourglass fashioned from rage and a scythe forged of vengeance, he enslaved the souls of the living, twisting them into his own design. His demonic creations stalked the Expanse, leaving living-death, suffering, and conflict in their wake.

“The Ochre Chronicles are nothing but pro-Architect propaganda pamphlets which He had his prophets wrote in order to rally devotion amongst his more self-aware creations,” The Lost Vision had said. “It shines a positive light on every move the Architect made during his creation of the Expanse but it omits any mention of the pain and suffering The Architect’s creations suffered at His own divine hand. Look around you if you don’t believe me. The Foundations are littered with creatures which The Architect gave life to only to cruelly seal away down here, forgotten and unwanted in the darkness.”

I had been surprised and impressed that Pulida had known and had been able to recite such a long passage of the Ochre Chronicles and I recall wondering if he had spent a portion of his previous life as an Architect priest. This theory had been reinforced by Pulida’s reaction to The Lost Vision’s damning assessment of The Architect’s ethics. I had never known him swear before and I have never known it since but that day Pulida had given The Lost Vision a quite lengthy answer which had earned him a pat on the back from Taboo.

In short, what my good friend Pulida is trying to say, Taboo had written, is that you can stick your blasphemous views of The Architect up your imperceptible wazoo!

“The Architect did not gift me with a wazoo,” The Lost Vision had said huffily. “You’re rather rude creatures aren’t you!”

Damn fudging right we’re rude! Taboo had written, draping his arm around Pulida’s shoulders.

Can you please help us find our way back to reality? I’d written, hoping Pulida’s outburst hadn’t offended the Lost Vision.

“The only being down here in the Foundations who may have the power to return you from whence you came is the being who caused you to be here in the first place,” the Lost Vision had said. “If you wish to go then I will gladly lead you to Demon’s lair at the Spine.”

Unnerved by the use of the term lair but seeing no other option, I had taken the Lost Vision up on its offer and I had kindly requested that it led us to the Spine.

The Lost Vision had warned us that the journey would not be without its dangers and it had told us that we must do exactly as it instructed if we wished to leave the Foundations with our body parts and minds intact, two aspects which I’d had to agree I did not wish to lose. The Lost Vision had led us across the bizarre fleshy landscape of the Pits, informing us that we would have to first visit somewhere called the Sweet Sea in order to gain passage to Demon’s lair. On several occasions Horizon had procured his celestial compass from his pocket to consult it on the direction in which we were traveling but oddly the compass needle had seemed disordered and agitated, spinning and tapping on its glass dome in confusion. No amount of encouragement and reassurance had seemed to help the compass regain its composure and Horizon had returned it to his pocket in disgust, telling it that he would have to reconsider its position if its performance didn’t improve.

“There is no point chastising your inanimate device,” the Lost Vision had said. “You will find no direction down here. There is no direction, very little distance and only a few isolated pockets of something akin to time. The rules of the world you knew before have very little meaning down here.”

But if there is no distance or direction then how can you possibly be leading us anywhere? Horizon had written. He had experimentally placed his befuddled compass on the ground and had taken ten paces towards the Lost Vision. He had then turned around to find that, though the scenery had shifted around him, the compass still lay at his feet, it positioning just a little to the left of where he’d set it down. This place is impossible. How can you hope to navigate us through it?

“It is not a case of navigation,” the Lost Vision had said. “It is more a case of directing your will towards your goal then mislaying yourself until at last you rediscover yourself in exactly the place where you wanted to be.”

Horizon had given a confused shrug and had collected his compass, informing it that, due to circumstances which were clearly beyond its control he would forgive its recent incompetency. Okay then, he’d written, holding his slate out toward the Lost Vision, lead the way. If that is the correct expression?

“I’m afraid it isn’t,” the Lost Vision had said. “There is no way down here.” It had bid us to once again follow and myself and Skull had hoisted the masked creature onto our shoulders. As we had trailed behind the Lost Vision, the reason for the name The Pits had become clear to us. The landscape had undulated with uniform hills and hollows. The hills had been rounded and smooth and had reminded me of a human knee or shoulder. The hollows however had undoubtedly been the topographic feature which had inspired The Architect to create armpits. Thick clumps of coarse hair had sprouted in great tufts from the base of each hollow and due to the season of pubescence in which we had arrived many of them had carried an almost overpowering stench of BO. I had found the general malodour of The Pits quite off-putting and I had longed for the solid terra firma and fresh air of The Expanse.

Butter had not fared well in the perspiring hollows and on several occasions, we’d had to disentangle her from sweaty locks of armpit hair. The sweat had given her a musky, masculine aroma and had coated her suit in a foul, oily film. Still pretty? she had written, directing the question towards Skull.

Once again Skull had fumbled with his writing stone, giving Taboo the opportunity to tactlessly answer her question for him. Butter my dear I think I speak for all present when I say that you look truly awful, he had written. You currently resemble a fomorian’s gym towel and you smell just as fudging bad.

Naturally Butter had been quite distraught by this assessment of her looks and odor and it had taken quite some time and many reassuring compliments from Skull to stop her crying and get her moving again. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, he had written, finally gaining purchase on his writing stone. This comment had placated Butter and she had gripped Skull’s arm tightly, resting her head on his shoulder as we’d continued.

One or two of the hollows had seemed older than those surrounding them, their hair greying and their coating of flesh wrinkled and flaking, I had found these pits just as unsettling as the pubescent ones as, though they were not as pungent, the hair at their base had been choked with large flakes of dandruff which had clung to the sweat on our suits and goggles. It had taken us quite some time to traverse the Pits and the undulating nature of the path we had made through them had left me with a nausea not unlike seasickness.

For want of a better term, we had continued onwards in this fashion for some time until, quite inexplicably, we had found ourselves at the edge of a deathly calm sea fringed with a shore of lilac sand which had seemingly sat atop the flesh of the ground. The patches of flesh closest to the sand had been red and inflamed and covered it hideous, weeping sores and thick, bloody scabs.

The ground here looks so sore, Bubbles had written, carefully stepping around a large, red welt. What’s wrong with it?

“This area is known as the Itchy Coast,” the Lost Vision had said. “I’m afraid the flesh is extremely allergic to the lavender sands that border the Sweet Sea. The flesh became so swollen around the coasts during the ’flesh landscape’ period of creation that the Architect was forced to reformulate its composition and so the lavender sand ended up down here. Unfortunately, as you know, the flesh terrain was also eventually banished to the Foundations and it is now perpetually irritated by the sands.”

The poor, poor ground, Bubbles had written, stroking the inflamed flesh at her feet. Can nothing be done to help it?

“The Architect did try to help it in fairness,” the Lost Vision had said. “He created a creature called a choom-choom which laid eggs with anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, the choom-chooms were unable to produce enough eggs to sooth the flesh, and by a terrible design flaw, they were also unsuitable for costal habitats. Whether or not the Architect included them in the final version of reality I do not know, but I certainly have never encountered one down here.”

They did make it, I’d written, remembering Phlegm’s desire to own a clutch of choom-chooms. We use their eggs to make a medicated balm called sloof ointment.

I had considered asking the Lost Vision if there was any way in which I could apply to have little toes banished into the Foundations, appendages which should never have made it off the Architect’s drawing board. The thought of inflicting them upon the already suffering creatures of the Foundations had deterred me however. Things were bad enough down there without introducing such a dastardly, floor-based digit.

Have you or any other members of the Discarded ever attempted to escape the Foundations and enter the Expanse? Pulida had written. We managed to get in through these voids you say this Demon creature is creating so why can’t you get out of here in the same manner?

“The Abstract Sentinels would never allow us to leave. They see everything,” the Lost Vision had said. “Some of the Discarded, myself included, have tried to leave but all have ultimately failed. The Sentinels wield the powers of fate and our fate is to be here. Also, some of the beings down here would cause untold suffering and pain to the inhabitancy of the Expanse if they entered reality and so they choose to stay here.”

You’re a prisoner here? I had written, Is, there no chance of you escaping at all?

“I have longed since my inception to exist amongst the Architect’s finished creation but unfortunately I never shall,” the Lost Vision had said forlornly. “The only way I could safely leave the Foundations would be for me to inhabit some reflective surface and conceal myself in its optics. It is the only way I could fool the Abstract Sentinels and slip past them.”

Why not inhabit one on my cooking pots or our jingle nuts? Blancmange had offered. They’re very reflective and highly polished. That way we could sneak you back to reality with us.

It’s very bad luck to smuggle deities, Omen had written, stroking one of his talismans.

Shut the narf up Omen, Taboo had written.

“It is a kind offer,” the Lost Vision had said, but I am afraid your pots give far too much of an accurate reflection. I would require a reflective surface that distorts what it mirrors so that I might conceal myself in its misrepresentation. Also, upon escaping the Foundations I would wish to make the object my permanent residence and I think cooking pots may get a little too hot for my liking.”

Oh, I see, Blancmange had written, a little deflated.

And these Abstract Sentinels you speak of, Pulida had written. They will allow us to leave?

“You do not belong here,” the Lost Vision had said. “The Sentinels have no jurisdiction over you. It is not your fate to be trapped down here. They will not bother you.”

The head of the masked creature had rested upon my shoulder, tears still streaming from the rusted eyeholes of its mask. I had noted that the sore flesh which the tears had dripped upon had instantly became less inflamed and I’d remembered the Lost Vision’s assessment of the creature, This one is very special,” it had said. “He has imbued it with some of His own unique gifts.” I had recalled the wave of invigoration I had experienced as the creature’s tears had dripped onto me and I had begun to suspect that the tears may have some fey properties, a probably reason for the Doll-Faced Riders pursuit.

We had travelled around the Itchy Coast in our strange, distance-less manner for an immeasurable amount of time and, after an eternity which had seemingly passed in a few short seconds, we had happened across a creature sitting in a patch of hair at the edge of the lavender sand. It remains one of the strangest and, barring the vegetable lamb, the most tragic creatures I have ever encountered. The creature was dog-like and of a size comparable to a pile of dirty laundry generated by around twenty-five people in the space of around a week. It had possessed four legs, a long whip-like tail and two heads, each of which had two sets of jaws and wore expressions of woe upon their equine-like features. The upper muzzle of the right head had been coated with blood and gore and it had been gnawing at a bloody wound in the floor at its feet, ripping off chunks of flesh and swallowing them down.

Sunrise I feel sick, Cloud had written, nauseated by the spectacle.

Don’t look at it, I’d advised. Though I’d felt certain it was not possible for us to actually be sick I too had experienced a wave of nausea but I had found myself unable to follow my own advice, my eyes fixed upon the strange creature and the bleeding wound it had torn into the flesh.

Does it hurt do you think? Bubbles had written. The flesh-terrain, do you think it feels pain?

The idea that the ground was silently screaming in agony beneath our feet as the creature feasted upon it had served to aggravate my nausea and I had decided to take a seat until it passed. I had gently lowered the masked creature to the ground and had perched myself upon the first of a line of large bony protrusions which had risen from the ground like a line of knuckles. Cloud had seated himself on the knuckle to my left and as we’d watched, the head of the creature which was not eating had violently vomited into a thick, greasy-looking clump of hair, its bottom set of jaws wrenching and heaving up chunks of chewed flesh. It had seemed that it was as sickened by the eating behaviours of its fellow head as we were, turning away from its blood-stained counterpart.

What is that? I had written, pointing toward the creature.

“It is the What Could Have Been,” the Lost Vision had said. “All I know is that it is the Architect’s prototype omnivore. After He had perfected his designs for herbivores and carnivores, He had then decided to create a creature that was capable of eating both vegetation and flesh. This was the result.”

But what’s wrong with it? I had written. Why is it being ill?

“The Architect gave the head on the left an appetite for vegetation,” The Lost Vision had explained, “and He gave the head on the right an appetite for flesh but unfortunately he only gave it one digestive system.”

And that’s a problem? Pulida had written, stepping to my side.

“For that poor creature it is a big problem,” the Lost Vision had replied. “You see the problem is that the ingestion of vegetation causes the carnivorous head to vomit and the ingestion of meat causes the herbivorous head to vomit so I’m afraid that between them they are unable to keep a meal down. One head eats its desired meal and the other head brings it back up. It constantly feels hunger and nausea and it has not been satisfied or content since the day it was created. The Architect added the lower jaws to the creature at a later date hoping that it would rectify His design flaw. The upper jaws are for eating and the lower jaws were installed purely for vomiting.”

And this creature has lived like this since before the creation? Pulida had written. Is it immortal?

“No, it was not designed to be immortal,” the Lost Vision had said. “It would have died of old age long ago if it were subject to the laws of the Passages of Time but as I’ve said, the Foundations only has a few isolate pockets of anything akin to time and thusly the creatures which are forced to dwell here are timeless and un-aging.”

Pulida had merely shook his head in response, his outrage at the Architects neglect evident in his demeanour.

Why is it the Sweet Sea? Cloud had written, changing the subject.

“It is called the Sweet Sea because it is sweet,” the Lost Vision had said, its tone condescending. “I thought that was evident from the name?”

It’s sweet instead of salty? Cloud had written, standing. I like sweet. Sometimes, in the before time I used to go to the circus with a nice man. He used to buy me popcorn and I’d always pick the sweet because I didn’t like the salty. He had suddenly seemed melancholy and I had taken his hand, hoping to reassure him. I used to enjoy the circus. It was fun.

To this day Cloud has never again mentioned his trips to the circus with the nice man or his love of popcorn, but in the intervening years myself and Horizon have made a point to take Cloud to every circus that performs within walking distance of Mount Bedlam, purchasing him an extra large tub of sweet popcorn upon each visit, a treat which he claims to very much enjoy.

But why did it matter that the sea was sweet? Bubbles had written. Why did the Architect choose to create salty seas instead?

“Because the creatures He created all had a sweet tooth and they wouldn’t leave the sea. They became addicted and drank seawater all day, becoming fat and unhealthy on the high sugar content and so He poured the Sweet Sea into the foundations and replaced it with a much less palatable body of water.”

The Lost Vision had seemed to be enjoying its roll of tour guide and it had told us that at one point The Architect had intended to decorate the heavens in a stripy pattern of colours which He had named the spectrum. In the end however He had decided against it and had chosen a more minimalist approach to the sky, tinting it with his favourite shade of blue. Not wanting to waste the spectrum pattern He had created however The Architect had cut it into thin ribbons which he had invisibly weaved between the raindrops and the sunlight to create rainbows, adornments which He’d intended to brighten stormy skies, an aspect of the heavens which He’d deemed necessary but not aesthetically pleasing.

One instance had seen us encounter an odd, invisible obstruction which had blocked our path and had forced the Lost Vision to misplace us down a completely differing path. Butter had been the first to strike with the obstacle, a collision which had bent the beak of her mask at a most alarming angle and had sent her sprawling into a clump of auburn hair. Luckily Skull had quickly helped her back to her feet and had deftly tweaked her beak back into postion.

Beyond the bizarre, indiscernible blockade I had spied an enormous mound of flesh and tissue which was steadily expanding and contracting, a large gaping maw encompassing the front of its shapeless body. When I had commented on the bizarre creature and had enquired about the barrier that had halted our progress the Lost Vision had informed us that, forgetting the relative mass of our bodies, it had tried to lead us through a region of the Foundations called The Thickening Pasture. It had explained that, after the Architect had abandoned the flesh terrain in favour of rock, sand and soil He had experimented with varying atmospheric densities, testing out several differing atmospheres before making up His mind. The atmosphere which had filled the Thickening Pasture was one of the Architect’s first atmospheric experiments, an air so dense that myself and my companions found ourselves unable to walk through it, its constitution more akin to rock than to air. The Lost Vision had gone on to explain that the creature I had spotted living within the rock-hard air was know as the Deep Breath and that it had been the only creature the Architect had created which could survive within such a dense atmosphere, its entire form consisting of little more than a gigantic, muscular lung.

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