My name is Doland Myre, captain of the Crimson Zenith which now lies at the bottom of the hungry sea. We have arrived on the Strataclysm after facing a fractal geyser storm that claimed twenty-five of the forty souls who set out on this rifting expedition. Were it not for a haunting blue light being emitted from the island, we may have never touched dry land again. We are now but fifteen. A majority of our supplies were also lost to the vengeful wind and waves.
The land here is stark and covered in towering mountains that would prove challenging to traverse even in the best conditions. I’ve sent out a small team of three to survey the area as the navigation equipment that survived the journey seems to be working improperly if at all. Given our arduous start - it will no doubt prove difficult for us to learn the secrets of the Formers of the Ground, the ancient psychic terraformers long mythologized to inhabit this forgotten land. I’ve taken stock of our remaining supplies and they are as follows:
4 Barrels of drinking water (just under 80 decaliters)
22 Kilograms of potatoes
2 Kilograms of dried and salted seaweed
11 Kilograms of beef (raw)
4 Kilograms of beef (dried)
8 Bottles of fermented zalg (thank goodness)
3 Tents (4 souls to a tent)
2 Full medical kits
3 Partial sets of climbing gear
1 astral compass (not working)
1 Map of the surrounding ocean and landmasses to the east (useless now)
1 Carrier pigeon
1 Iron ox
I estimate these supplies will last us two months with wise rationing. We’ve set up camp in an enclave of one of the lower mountain clusters. The air here is sharp and drawing a full breath is no easy feat. Tonight we sing for those we have lost. Tomorrow, based on the reports of the survey team, we venture further inland to search for clues of the Formers of the Ground who disappeared here eons ago and whatever else this island has in store for us.
The survey team has not returned though a small signal fire was spotted in the distance, much higher than our elevation, sometime in the dead of night. If they have not returned by daybreak tomorrow, a decision will be made whether or not to send a search party. Something is upsetting the animals. Do they sense something I cannot? Is there something out there in the vast and jagged landscape; lying, waiting, watching? I try to clear my mind of these thoughts, but I trust the instinct of our beastly companions, so I stay alert and try to ease their concerns as best I can with pats and bits of meat not quite turned.
The sun fights to break above the mountain line, but a muted overcast sky makes it hard to decipher the time of day or our placement among the stars of this world. Endrin, the youngest of our group, complained of nightmares wherein the mountains were whispering to him. He awoke with a shadow cast on his mind and dark black circles under his eyes. Our surgeon gave him some valerian root to aid in his sleep.
Sena, one member of the survey team, has returned. When I asked her about the other two she simply said, “they’re gone.” When I pressed the issue she told me they had been trying to find a way down to a cave where they saw a reflection of blue light and thought it might be a source of freshwater. After finding a relatively safe spot to repel, one by one they lowered themselves down, but as a sudden fog appeared, they lost sight of each other. When Sena, the last to repel, reached the mouth of the cave the others were nowhere to be seen. She called out for them as she frantically searched, but they were seemingly plucked out of existence.
Sena confirmed there was a pool of freshwater, but her face turned pale as she explained an unsettling presence in the cave. She spoke of eery faces embedded in the rock wall, but no tool-marks to indicate they had been carved. Sena found these visages in the rock to be ill omens of things to come. Another oddity: Sena’s physical appearance is that of someone extremely malnourished though less than a week has passed and the team had ample food and water supply. Others at the camp, including myself, have begun experiencing a soreness in our joints and minor inflammations of our vital organs. Today we will break camp and head for the shelter and freshwater of the cave. We are now thirteen.
We have made it to the cave, and while it is a relief to have a dependable source of freshwater, I now understand the fear in Sena’s eyes when she spoke of the faces in the rocks. They’re far too recognizable as faces to be a mere coincidental mineral formation, and yet as she said, there are no chisels or markings to be found. They are born from the rock, it seems. Could this be the work of the terraformers from the past?
We had to leave the iron ox as we are low on fuel reserves and it would have never made it over the terrain anyway. We hiked in all the supplies we could carry and set up our new camp in the cold and damp, but protected, cave. We haven’t seen any animals or people since our arrival on the island, but we’ve been hearing a distant bellowing at night. Neither human nor animal, but something else. Something that plots to rip the sanity from our minds. But we won’t let it. We are steadfast explorers with danger running in our very veins.
We lost two more in the night like whispers pulled away by the wind. Though my eyesight is deteriorating I see more clearly than ever that this island is our destiny. I think back to many months ago when a young mapmaker named Barsk told me of the mysterious route to the Strataclysm that was previously thought to be myth. I, however, have always held the belief that this craggy island was real.
Ever since I was a boy, I have heard the stories of the Formers of the Ground and the Strataclysm. Tales of adventure and of mystic restorative treasures buried in the ancient rocks. Mysterious mountains, rumored to hold the secrets of limitless creation. I dreamt of scaling the Strataclysm in search of these treasures, ever since. Those stories were passed down and I held them firmly in my heart, and once our own home world began to succumb to the Grim Splintering, I put all my hope into this expedition. Begging the gods that we may find a way to reverse the destructive effects laying waste to our land, and save our home from ruin.
But before we unlock the divine mysteries of these steppes, it seems we must first prove our worthiness to this place. Even as our bodies grow weaker by the day and our hair rapidly grays, my resolve for answers grows stronger. Fossils have been spotted along the cliff walls near our camp. I’m going to set out with our resident archeologist to study these clues from the past. There are eleven of us left.
Back at camp after a two day exploration mission. Morale is low as food supplies continue to dwindle. Zero sightings of animals means no hunting means no meat and while the little vegetation that grows here is edible, it’s not very nourishing. We have learned some things about the island based on observations from our brief venture out. Distinct layers of rock and fossil tell a story of multiple ages of life here. The more recent layers hold recognizable fossils similar to those of animals we are familiar with, but as you follow the layers back, the fossils take on far stranger forms that feel alien to any world, old or new.
We found signs of a past expedition to this island in the form of a discarded book. A text penned by an Earther, describing the archaeological recovery of an Earth city that was swallowed entirely by ash – burying every person alive. The land crept in and entombed the bodies of an entire city in rock: a city named “Pompeii”. Perusing this text prompts an uneasy question in my mind. Will someone find our expedition embedded in these rock layers a thousand years from now and wonder what became of US? A fog that feels as hard to breathe as water pushes us up the mountain range. We have no choice but to climb higher.
Endrin has been dreaming about the mountains again. Today I found him digging into the rocky soil with bare bloody hands. He says they call to him to join them. He’s begun drawing strange symbols in his sketchbook. He says he sees them in the dreams. Endrin’s hair has turned completely white. He is nineteen years old.
I heard the bellowing again last night. It awoke me from some deep primordial sleep. It sounded closer this time and so I left the tent to take a look around. While it was nearly completely dark I could make out some shapes. What I saw looked like six figures standing around the camp. They were almost completely still, but when I concentrated I could see them move ever so slightly. It felt like they were trying to blend in with the landscape so that they could observe, but not be seen. Or perhaps they were watching us through some thin veil of existence. One of the beings turned towards me. Where its face should have been there was a transfixing and swirling haze. Hypnotic and blinding at once. Like otherworldly lightning flickering and cutting through a cerebral cloud. Blue was the color of this phantasmic gaze, like the light that once called to us from the frigid waves. Could these figures be the Formers of the Ground trying to make contact with us?
Suddenly I was back in the tent and it was morning. I tried to convince myself that I had dreamt it all, but I know in my heart of hearts that this experience was no dream. I decided not to tell the others about this occurrence to avoid sowing panic in the camp. But it’s safe to say that I am shaken, a rare feeling for me, and one I hope abates.
The fog keeps chasing us up the mountain. I’m not sure how long we can last in this atmosphere. The oxygen thins while the temperature drops. The decline in the health of our party can’t be ignored. We’ve used all of our medical kits, but with little effect. Our bones grow brittle as rice crackers. Half of us have suffered breaks or fractures as the climb becomes more treacherous by the day. We sent the carrier pigeon with an SOS message some ten days ago. I’m not sure why we waited so long. Godspeed to its wings, that it might reach someone out there. There are several mountain peaks that can be seen from our current camp. If we can reach one of them we might just gain a vantage point that will illuminate a way off the Strataclysm.
We lost four more today including young Endrin. I’m racked with guilt. I keep revisiting a conversation I had with his mother before the expedition. I told her I would watch after her son like he was my own. I promised her that I would take care of her boy. Stolen of beating hearts, their still bodies decayed in hours in the harsh atmosphere. We covered the bodies with ragged wool blankets as we were too weak to dig graves and watched, with the flickering light of the fire on our faces, as the ground consumed them until the blankets lay flush with the dirt and they were gone.
This island has claimed us for itself, morbidly inviting us to stay forever, to become part of it. Seven of us remain, but I don’t know for how long. We must make it to the peak if only to have a final purpose. Whoever makes it through the night will make for the peak in the morning.
We’re down to our last satchel of dried beef and potatoes: shriveled and rotten. We spent the early morning huddled around a dying fire as sleep is no longer a friend. We can see the peak clearly. Under normal circumstances it would be less than a day's climb, but in our current state, I do not know. I hear something calling us to the peak. A discordant shriek that tears through the open air and lingers long in the psyche. I feel it reverberating in my mind. Echoing through my consciousness. One of our party, a scribe and philosopher, has decoded the symbols Endrin saw in his dreams and drew in his notebook. They appear to be names written in Eemain, an ancient language that Endrin certainly did not know. I don’t know what this means, but it gives me some hope that there is some kind of meaning to all of this suffering.
I dreamt the air was still and warm. I dreamt we had fresh meat and vine-brandy. I dreamt of Matilda’s calming touch. I dreamt of my children playing in the field near our home. This is the dream that keeps me going. Today I leave the rest of the group behind. They are too weak to push on any further. I told them I’d come back for them once I reach the peak, and find a way to save us. We worded our goodbyes in an open ended manner, but we all knew they were likely wrapped in finality. I now embark on the last leg of this journey alone. The peak is within reach. My pack has supplies for no more than four days.
Please let there be a reason for all of this. May we find salvation at the highest point. I looked back once more at my friends, but they were engulfed in the fog. May their transition be peaceful, to wherever they go next.
I’ve reached the summit. The winds are merciless and I’m nearly out of food and water. Upon arriving at the top of the peak I discovered giant egg shaped stones with runes carved into them. The same symbols that Endrin, near his end, was scrawling madly in his notebook. The same writing our scribe deciphered as ancient Eemian names. Has the land been speaking to us with warnings too late? I fear it is so. The tall figures have returned. I feel they’ve been waiting for me, to finish my journey, atop the crag. I’m withered and worn and so very tired. They beckon to me now with the bellows I’ve heard so many times. Are these watchers the Formers of the Ground? Or are these figures more sinister beings of timeless existence? Is this my resting place?
Am I to be consumed into the ageless rock, to be unearthed in a thousand years by another poor soul searching for answers fueled by necessity or hubris? As I write these, my final words, know that we sought the glittery spoils of the unknown, but here we found only our own end. If these pages escape the grasp of this island, look for us not, for all you will find is death and the indifference of time. The figures motion me to join them.
My dearest Matilda,
I write this letter to you while my mind is still sharp. You warned me to abandon this expedition and that warning fell on deaf ears. You were right. The visions you saw in your dreams have come to pass with eerie accuracy. I should have never doubted you and your otherworldly senses and for this I am eternally sorry. I know it’s too late now, but if I could take it all back I would. I would trade everything for one last touch of your face and your warm embrace.
We have suffered catastrophic failure on our expedition and I don’t believe I will ever step foot off the Strataclysm. We have lost many in our search for limitless creation, I fear we will lose all by the end of this cold season.
I need you to know that my love for you has never faltered and I am only the man I am today because of the strength you have inspired in me over our many wonderful years together. Creating a family with you and our dear children has been the greatest joy of my life and I will think of you all until the very end. Shadows overtake my mind. The shapelessness of eternity gazes upon me and I know now that it has come to claim me. Hold tight our children for me. Tell them not to ever search for me, nor this terrible place. Teach them: it is better to fix a breaking world, than to gamble salvation on the hungry unknown.
And know that I have loved you from the moment I first set eyes on you and I will love you long after I am reclaimed by the land. Matilda, you are my heart and my soul.