This story is by Graden Trenary and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This world is cursed. I understand now. For as long as I can remember, I have been told that this world is sick, that the god of this world is sick, and that we must hold on until his illness passes. Trillions upon trillions on every inhabited planet long for the evils of the world to leave. They live by prophecies of cleansing, of a paradise beyond our wildest dreams. The divine scriptures preach it so. But I…I have heard enough. I have lived enough. I reject them.
…Are you still here? Why? I have nothing to give.… Do you think by learning my story that you can save me? There is no escape, for any of us. You should leave.… Fine. If you yearn to waste your time with an old man like me, I will oblige you. I have nothing else to do anyway. You will be the last to hear my story, for I feel an emptiness where memories should reside, and the chasm grows ever wider.
I am called the Voidseer. The title is all that remains; the evils I’ve seen might hear my name should I ever speak it again. I was born a human; now I am not so sure. But for many years I lived in that empire called Rukoloth. I worked beside scholars of all species—humans, everfell, gen—to discover the hidden realms beyond our own. I put together a team of explorers to visit these distant worlds and record our findings. Our medic Richard was an adventurous fellow, and William, one of our physicists, was enthralled by even the smallest discoveries. Many had joined the team, but these in particular quickly became two of my best friends. The places we saw were so beautiful, incredible. The shining beacons of Lazulum. The vermillion groves in the Hidden Forest. And where you and I stand now: the endless, peaceful emptiness of Gavormn. Funny.… All my life I wanted to explore these spaces, and now I cannot leave.
This is a warning to you, traveler. The places beyond your home are enchanting, and they long to reveal themselves to mortals. But this world is cursed, and so even the most beautiful spaces cannot help but offer misfortune among their gifts. Even this place.… Gavormn is sick like its master. It wants to give you peace. It wants to relieve you of your sorrows. But if you welcome the abyss, you might forget yourself. It tries too hard to calm your worries, slowly drowning your mind, until all you know and love is the peace of the void.
Hm? Ah, my story. Are you from Rukoloth as well? Then you know of the Whispering Ones, those beings worshiped by the people. The Silken Song, the Sanguine Lattice, and so on. Do you know why they are known by titles instead of names? Because the Whispering Ones hold such power that they might hear even a mention of their true names. Thus those words are kept under lock and key, known only to a chosen few and the most stubborn of scholars, like me. These beings…should not be sought. It will be the last mistake you make. It was mine.
My team went to that deplorable pit of spaces called the Umbrage. It held strange secrets and opportunities that could greatly advance civilization. Indeed, I suspect William’s findings will revolutionize interstellar travel for ages. But it wasn’t until we had descended many of the Umbrage’s accursed spaces that we understood its purpose. It is a prison. I don’t expect you to understand, but the Umbrage was a bizarre discovery from the beginning. When jumping between spaces, you travel along the 4th spatial dimension. But the Umbrage is perpendicular to other spaces, so you must make a “right turn” to see its layers. And once you do that, there is no way to return home but the way you came. At first we thought it was a gold mine of new discoveries, but it was a pit that became ever more dangerous the deeper we descended, a place to hide those spaces where mortal men should never tread.
This is where we found the Crimson Desert, the house of that Whispering One called the Sanguine Lattice. In all directions there were hills and mountains covered in red sand. There was no sky above us, but solid ground. Do not mistake my words. It was not like walking in a cave where stalactites cling to the ceiling. The force of gravity was down to us and up to them. Plants grew, winds blew, and strange creatures walked along the hills above, as though we were the ones upside down. And great pits dotted the lands above and below. I recall feeling in that moment that I was but a gnat inside a giant sponge of rock and sand.
We stayed in the Crimson Desert for many days. We ran tests, made records, and took samples. Stoic as ever, Richard kept up appearances, but I knew even he was growing tired. After many miles of travel, we happened upon a strange biome beneath one of the largest holes in the ceiling. Rather than sand, a sort of mulch covered the ground, from which grew plants akin to bamboo. Each grew like a vine, as though curling around an invisible tree, and it bore a dark red fruit yielding a red paste, thick like blood. Thus we called the biome a blood garden.… We should not have gone there.
We did not recognize it at the time, but something about the Crimson Desert had lulled us into a stupor. One day, we opened our packs to find ourselves short of water. The trek to our main camp was a two-day journey, so Richard took some of the fruit just in case, promising he wouldn’t eat it. For nearly the whole trip, the team and I bore our thirst.
We were mere minutes from camp when Richard succumbed and took a bite.
I don’t know if he was that desperate or just stupid, but consuming that fruit drove him mad in minutes. He collapsed on the sand, screaming that he could see the “end of the palindrome,” and that the “song of the lattice was unbearable.” We tried to drag him to camp but he lashed out. His fingernails had grown and thickened into sharp prongs, and having caught us off guard, his first strike cut open William’s throat. The rest was chaos. Richard began screaming the true names of the Whispering Ones, cursing all of them but the Sanguine Lattice. How he knew the names, I knew not. It took years for me to learn the name of the Silken Song alone. But every time he spoke the crimson name, I felt the air thicken, like I was breathing venom into my lungs, into my blood. Before I knew it, I was flat on my back, Richard atop me, a deformed claw poised to tear out my throat. So I spoke the only true name I knew.
I begged the Silken Song to save us, whatever it took. I cried out for it to push away the madness plaguing Richard. And somewhere far away in Gavormn, it heard me. To speak a true name is a strange science. The call is much stronger when inviting the being willingly. So the Silken Song had sufficient power to reach into the Crimson Desert, into me, and to drown out the song of the Sanguine Lattice. I became a beacon of violet in that desert of red, and my team was washed clean of their wounds and madness. They were safe. They are safe.… And if I may never see them again—If my curse is the price of their lives, then so be it.
…What? How am I cursed you ask? Traveler, I told you. This world is cursed, and so is every creature within it, even those of great power. The Silken Song made me the faucet by which my friends were washed clean of that horrid, blood-red stain. It can’t be undone. So both the power and the curse carried by the Silken Song are mine as well. I am forever chained to this place, and I am compelled to bleach every color, red or otherwise, that would tune out the Silken Song.… You should not return here again. I feel my mind slipping away each day, and one day I will forget.… I will believe that violet alone is good, that every other worldview is wrong. Everyone deserves a choice, even if you would choose to not choose at all. Don’t give me the chance to corrupt you like the fruit did to Richard. Leave me to my solitude, and never come back. The peace of the void is all I need anyway.
This world is cursed. And so am I.