WARNING! The following page contains spoilers for the lore and story of Worlds Adrift
I scratch this dark wall panel with a piece of Atlas (call it a lucky charm). Jaz, who is a ruffian, finds this odd, but is happy to see a fool like me occupied and out of the way, and while it hurts to commit our recent history here, I feel there is no other place to begin.
If you are reading this now, I am delighted for you. Firstly, because you can clearly still read, and have therefore been schooled formally or informally. Secondly, because you are about to revel in our terrible past, all its happenings and disasters, without ever having to experience the horror firsthand. I hope you find some way of appreciating your good fortune in that regard.
Our waterways became our skyways, and our ships, skyships. In many ways we are the same people we were thousands of years ago. Then Atlas happened, and many said it was a terrible thing. I tend to disagree, I say we ourselves are to blame, but I am hardly surprised that's what they said. Atlas was, after all, the beginning of the end for the old world.
Ah, the old world - it seems strange to baptise it thus. Though it has been months, it feels a matter of hours since Foundation was below us, all around us. The seething stinkpots that were Darat and Drissa, the sweet smell of Mellifluan goat musk, children playing by the impossible fountains of Ten-Rui. I wonder if those fountains are still out there somewhere, who knows?
I should say, as I chew on its softened blubber, that we didn't go hunting for the skywhale. It just happened out of the clouds and nearly split the deck in two. ITs slimeshell weeped blackly right where the harpoon pierced it. Jaz says it was only young. He is a canny lad, and always has a harpoon ready. Sometimes, I wonder if he needs to clean and oil it as much as he does, but what do I know?
I long for a mug of good hot vittle, not this slop we have. I only visited the Korchis mountains once, but they brewed it so well. Chado nut-vittles, sweet yet bitter, dark and indulgent. Smokiness too. But heavens, i must stop drooling.
Jaz came in, but he's gone now. He was gruff with me, when they're like that i feel so alone. These aren't really my people, but what can i do? i hope they can't read what I've written, it might make things worse. I've had some bad moments, and Jaz is the only one speaking to me;
"I said, "Jaz, what have i done?"
"He said, "You're too noisy.“
"You eat too much."
"But we've a whole whale strapped across deck, and the ship struggles to stay afloat!"
"We might never snare another," he said.
I think I'm beginning to get it. It's not because I overeat, or am too noisy. It's not the difference in status between us - which has no significance in the frame of this new world. It is that they ear death, and I do not. They merely want to survive, but I want to live. Give me pleasure, let me love and let me dance! Though I have no legs, I still have feeling in my two arms. Let us not drift in this black turmoil having no fun at all!
The storms are terrible, and we are trapped down in the hold, where the stench of whale oil makes me gag. I'm feeling well enough to write, since the others keep our spirits up. Jaz and Nomusa had a good laugh at my Pinnish hat, and I laughed along too. They were being cruel, but at least they are no longer ignoring me.
I had no choice when it came to a ship. Ten-Rui was chaos when the rumbles burst the earth, and we pushed and shoved our way to the pierpoints like a warlock's rats (Oh, how I long to have the space and legs to run again). I took refuge in the first skyship I could, this tiny but robust wonder on which we now drift.
The captain, Joson, immediately complained of my presence. Joson said I was, "the kind of useless buffoon that got us into this mess". I panicked and said I would make a fine addition to their crew, being a respected aviation scholar, and that they would be wise to extend an expert pilot a welcoming hand.
Then Joson and Jaz had a discussion in Pin, a language i do not profess to understand - something about a debt. As the skyship made away, the pair decided to continue this discussion above deck. An hour passed, after which only Jaz returned. l think Joson may somehow have perished, but Jaz has not spoken of it since.
My lies caught up with me. When pressed by Jaz, who it seems has now inherited the captaincy, I was forced to admit that my competence in practical aviation was rather overshadowed by my knowledge of historic naval battles, specifically the feats of commander Alkabar of the Bandini. Jaz's disappointment manifested suddenly and painfully with a bop to my nose.
Jaz's fury cooled, and my nose recovered. I had hoped that with my secret out, they might come to accept me for who I was. As it is, we've traveled together for some time since, enduring many hardships, and yet I still feel that unless I find a way of contributing substantially, I shall suffer the same fate as poor Joson.
Without the use of my legs, I despair. I have lost track of what's happening outside; all I need remember is that it is a place of darkness and violence. I feel discouraged by the way things have gone. Preserve, destroy, create, the Mellifluans call this chaos "limbo". Whatever it is, our tiny craft is at its mercy.
My perception of time seems to have inverted. I once heard a story about the Mellifluan many-gendered god Baliandri. The Mellifluans say Baliandri straddles the great beetle Motus, who faces the future, and puts his abdomen to the past. As mortals, we are the opposite. We do not know what lies ahead, we can only know what has been and gone.
My own past is like the foreboding entrance to a hedge maze. Its entrance pillars are aflame, and fire convulses over the threshold. Rajas circle ominously, waiting to strike. But courage flushes me, for I know what lies at the centre of the maze. A beautiful ornament. It is the eternal spring of life. A memory of the old world, and my sole companion in this, the new.
The sky seems lighter today.
Jaz just came in, and he thinks I might finally be of some use to them. We have discovered land - I can see it through a porthole. There is a beautiful copse of autumnal trees, like a tine piece of Karem floating on air. Nomusa, it seems, is nervous about what we might find. Being the most "widely-traveled" of the group, he hopes I can provide some sort of insight where they cannot.
"Well perhaps we can find fresh water there?" I say.
"We have the rain-collector, we don't need water," Nomusa replies like a dictator. You know the type, one minute they look like they want to throw you overboard, the next you feel trapped.
"But I haven't had a good long slug in two years!" I say. You see, we only ever collect enough to get by.
"Fine, but food is more important. Don't go roving about, old man."
Nomusa is something of a navigator, and as long as the ship can be safely maneuvered, he is content. He obsesses over the ship, and we are all glad of that, but there's no enthusiasm saved for anything else. I have on many occasions, tried to stir up memories of their old lives and to hear their stories, but it is as though they have already forgotten them. Is it that these present hardships are no worse than the lives they already knew?
We thought the terrors had passed, and perhaps they have.
But foreboding omens still remain. I woke sharply around midnight. The ship was dark, but I heard a commotion up on deck. Jaz swayed as he held a lantern and yelled into the storm. The portholes swung open and shut on their hinges.
My senses did not quicken to the trouble until I looked to the cloud. It plumed to the heavens like a great green bust. From beyond it came a dark speck; a ship, and lightning flanked her, as she sailed towards us. Jaz managed to get a burst from the engines, and we pillowed upward, no longer obstructing her path, as she skirred mournfully, and in silence, beneath us. Something about the galleon caught in my throat. I threw myself up the forecastle stairs, and clawed open the door into the howl, before knuckling across the deck on my stumps, hoping to catch another glimpse.
Sure enough she loomed up; her blackened hull and rotten sails. No crew could have lifted such a curse as she'd invoked. Her twisted bony beams, creaking and straining. Swirls of darkness in her wake, like the bloom of poison ink. Then the ship folded in on itself before my very eyes. Vanished, I swear. I'd say she was a dream, or mirage, but for the sickly smog of snuffed incense that lingered long after.
Together, we survived another attack. I am told it was the helmsman's fault, and that out of curiosity he had steered us towards a flight of birds. Drawing near, we saw not birds, but beetles. Their vibrant elytra were a warning, like Godhand livery at the gates of Momoros. they hubbubbed and flickered at us, and we were obliged to beat them away with sticks, until we could manoeuvre clear.
If only, in those first few days, we'd been able to outrun the Gizzard so easily, I'd still have me legs. Those brigands toyed with me as I hung from the mizzenmast. All my juices drained into my stockings, and the days came in and out of view with thirst. It was not before time that Jaz broke us free, and singing an old warlock's song, set the knaves asleep. He took possession of their engines, and left them to drift, and we were all the better for it. My legs suffered some horrible putrefaction, and heavily medicated, Nomusa swiped them off with a blade. I suppose the misfortune of losing my legs is offset against the good fortune of still being alive. Gods bless Jaz and his crew for their resourcefulness, I hope I can repay them.
I sat with Jaz and the others at the captain's table. We had some good crab. I have now been given an official title - I shall be Bo'son. I believe, however, that this is wit on the part of my fellow skyfarers, given that no such position is required on a ship without sails. Still it is their way of including me, and I am glad. Imagine two bulls, churning the mud. They fight at the expense of all else, eyes crazed, their bodies rent and broken. Yet they are perfectly matched, and neither will back down over the heifer they most desire. That is how it was at the end. That is how the Foundation fell.
lf you want to lay blame at a door, it must be at Sabor's. I remember Redusa before the end of the second millennium, it was dazzling, perfect, untroubled. But as the floor rocked, others were made to suffer to keep that bubble from bursting. They wanted Atlas, but from where? First Bandinia, then Melliflua. If the Saborians had known the way it would end, would they have stopped sooner, before it was too late? How a peoples can be both so selfless and so selfish, we may never know.
But my people played their part, there's no doubt. They had peace, but wouldn't take it. The Empress was rational in her madness, and at her shoulder, was Gloam, mad in his rationale.
I hereby ascribe the year I commenced writing these histories the "new days". We begin, not at the old beginning, but the new one. A new beginning.
Today is the first day the skies have been clear in seven years. We hoped and hoped, and now we rejoice. That terrible empurpled hole, the belly of a beast, is satisfied, and the creature retires to its cave to brood.
I am on the lower deck, and am blissfully nibbling chunks of stewed skywhale. It is from here that I can look comfortably out throught the portholes of this heroic ship. Oh how I love it! How I love its crew tenderly. This is a love expressed by our very survival, by us withstanding so many tribulations. Yet here we all still are, and as I watch pink clouds wisp by, I take pleasure in every second, that I, Tomalayo, am able to continue my life.
I have finally gotten hold of pen and linen! Not since my days at the court! In time I hope to transfer these ramblings from the wall, for whomever might find them - to be kept in a museum perhaps, when the new days rebuild us. But every minute, every hour, every day, takes us further away from what we were. Like a boat heading out to sea, we might one day look back, and seeing no shoreline, forget ourselves. I feel it is my duty, in these notes, to recount the world as it once was.
You know, these whales are strange, but they don't scare me. Dad used to trap them when I was a boy, before we moved away from Tarrery. Very cold, was Tarrery, and yet we never wore many clothes! No, these whales don't scare me. Not if you know how it was in Ten-Rui when the towers fell.
If I squint at this beautiful sunset - a forgotten pleasure - do not take it for granted! - then I still see its black silhouette. The spry, arched back. The weave of arcane sinew. A barnacled hoop of encrustation, and the very same the Pekoe said would come. Hatep, come to gather his children. A demon or a god, I'm sure of it. Jaz denies these memories exist. He says we saw many queer things, and have no marker for what was and wasn't real.
He brings me a jug of water. A whole jug! Jaz is smiling. Through a porthole, I can see the ripple of the lake from which it was drawn. Nomusa meanwhile, has been lancing crustacea all day. He prowls, and I can see him asking the others to get back aboard in order for us to leave. Now I'm not for a moment suggesting we spend our whole lives on this tiny isle, but can we at least investigate a little? If they could lift me, I could move around on my hands and stumps. Looking for some good bits of pegwood to remedy my situation.
They say Telemon had no friends, but nor did he have enemies. His charm and bluster saw to that. I heard, whenever the Assembly met at the Stalk, he threw lavish suppers garnished with gold leaf and powdered Atlas. What an ungodly hypocrite, but the wheels were slipping by then.
Near the end, it was rumoured he had a tumpkin like a ship's hull, and had lost all the hair on his head. Of course he couldn't let them see him like that. The public speeches had to stop, and he spoke over the radio instead.
Many islands we've encountered have been green, but drearily small and unremarkable. The latest, however, was different. I found a largely intact ruin of Panyana University. The cobbles and the arches mind, no books, no students.
I've no doubt they thought it'd last forever. Maybe it will in some form. But they can't have imagined vines creeping the pews, and lectures led by beetles and flies. Time and nature persist even if we are broken. Us, scattered like fragments of a jar, whose oil has spilled through cracks in the floor.
The Gall were the subtle menace, like a leaf blowing in the wind, to whichever oppurtunity paid dividend. It is unfortunate no-one could decrypt their Rebus, else the black isle might have fallen, and the full catalogue of their knowledge have been freely available to all. Or would that have made things worse? I don't suppose it matters anymore.
If you are reading this, perhaps I have found a wife, and you are my kin. Foundation is no more, yet this skyblown archipelago demands a fresh start of us. There are few of us left, and we must endeavour to bring it dignity.
I am laying my pen to rest, for there is work to be done. I am helping to build a small fixed house, where myself, Jaz and Nomusa can live. Yes, I know, unlikely bedfellows we may seem, but I have garnered some respect when it comes to practical things.
I tire of the endless search, and wish to take to the air when I please, not by necessity. We have found a large and fine island. Let us hope no other terrors await us there.
We men shall then raise a great beacon, like mythical sirens, so that passing beauties can be lured into our trap.