I was awoken by the sound of

I don’t know how long I had been laying on the cold permafrost ground, but as soon as I stood the sky turned magenta and stars fell to the earth. What I did know was that I should walk
, and as soon as I dusted the clinging snowflakes off my dress I did exactly that.

I walked for what felt like the entire night, watching the night sky fill with oddly familiar constellations. Their glimmer and shine lit the frozen earth, guiding me across felled
and broken
I trudged on, fearing that my initial intuition was playing tricks on me.

I had heard once that if humans walked in a deserted landscape long enough, they’d eventually walk in giant circles. Without any sense of cardinal direction on some prominent feature, the body would naturally pull you into a long arc that would bend back toward itself, folding all your sense of progress into one heartbreaking loop.

I tried to expel this thought from my mind as I saw what looked like
soar past me overhead. Tempted to raise my arms and glide my hands through their charged wake, I decided it best to ignore their spectacular lights and instead steer myself against their seemingly uniform stream. Their pulsing bodies swam above me in a rhythmic precession, touching and overlapping at times, weaving themselves between each other. They felt connected, but distinct, almost as if they were carrying forgotten memories of a fallen people; or maybe long-lost wishes from a single hopeful mind.

I never found out what they contained, or the heat of their current, but they all came from a distant yet bright focal point on the
But as I came closer, I saw that the brightness that flooded the sky came from a roaring blaze engulfing a
. As I approached, the air itself felt combustible, since bursts of flame continually sparked from ruined balconies and blistered eaves. The sidewalks and avenues were molten and warped by the heat of the inferno. Barrels of oil and rubbish burned without supervision, and the all the tree’s leaves had been charred into a fine ash that caked the roadside balustrades.

had fallen, that much was sure, but by whose hands remained a mystery. I ran through streets littered with melted carcasses and blackened branches while demonic looking
swooped between blighted buildings. They seemed possessed by the chaos all around me, called there by some unknown force flooding the sky with talons and shrieks and whipping tails. They circled around golden
that eerily hovered via some combination of magic and mechanism. I had never seen anything like these before, but one look at them made me wary of prolonging my visit in this hellish place. I continued to venture
, following a lingering inkling that first spurred me from sleep.

I must’ve suffered from smoke inhalation, because I found myself suddenly at the mouth of a
having not known how I got there. The calm dampness of the dim interior was a welcome respite from the scorching city squares I had narrowly escaped. The cavern inside gleamed with
, twinkling against dull earth, reflecting the dim candlelight that glowed from rusted sconces. Their meager halos lit felled dias and hobbled regal
, almost as if this tunnel contained the discarded effects of the nobles that must’ve fled their burning mansions. As I tumbled onwards, I felt no pity or anguish looking at their moldy trash. I only felt a yearning for needing to know more; wanting to understand what power could turn the decorative and lavish into rubbish and rot.

Deeper into the cave a tingling sensation pulsed over my hands, up my arms, through my spine and into my temples. My body sensed a sudden imminent change and the strength of my legs was starting to give way. I could feel the weight of my journey catching up with me; the chill of the tundra, the fury of the city, the isolation of this cave. All the lingering mysteries from my trek built up in my mind.

I posed rhetorical questions aloud, speaking softly, concealing my voice, keeping hushed, fearing the volume of my words would reach a pitch that could be caught and reflected back against me. I worried I was at the threshold of creating my own echo chamber.

When suddenly I rounded a corner and instantly froze, gripped by a hidden paralytic energy. Writhing against myself, squirming within my skin, cowering and afraid, I noticed in front of me the sudden appearance of a meticulously made high-posted
. The tucked sheets and fluffed pillows gave off an unsettling presence; instead of comfort, the bed radiated terror. The tightly spread quilt seemed like a tourniquet over the mattress; so taughtly creased that one would need a crowbar to get under the covers. This space was not meant for sleeping, not meant for rest. I was looking into a chamber of vulnerability recoiling from my sight.

The longer I stated, the more I was gripped by an inability to move. Other objects appeared alongside the bed, a
, a
, an ornate
; remnants from a place that seemed simultaneously familiar and alienating. As the full scene came into focus the arrangement truly shook me, twisting the hairs on the back of my neck, fraying my nerves like the worn tassels rimming the rug’s fringe. The tension became overwhelming, and I felt myself fading, my skin blurring at the edges, my shoes dissolving through the floor. I closed my eyes in a desperate effort to protect myself, shielding myself as a child would, imagining if I turned my eyes away, the stone-gaze of this room would loosen its grip on my limbs.

Suddenly the cave walls melted into darkness and the outline of a
materialized. The stark highlighted lines tracing where the floor met a new invisible wall guided my eyes towards a safe exit. I unclenched my body reaching toward the newly carved-out space, an escape for further wandering, and felt myself fall into that darkness. I let it envelope me, surrounding the contours of my body, flowing over me like warm ink. The text it wrote against my clothes and skin started uncertain but soon felt soothing and serene.

I didn’t know where I was going, or what was leading me, but I trusted in its gentle guidance as I sank into a seemingly endless maze of