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My pitted skull sees once more, and my bleached jaws crack to tell the secrets of Broken . . .
And so these words have at last risen from the ground in which I will inter them, defying Fate as my homeland of Bro ken never can. The city’s great granite walls will remain shattered, until they again become the shapeless raw stone from which they were fashioned. Do not pretend, scholars unborn, that you know of my kingdom; it is as windblown and forgotten as my own bones. My purpose now is to tell how this tragedy came to pass.
Do you wonder at my saying “tragedy”? How can I say anything else, when I know full well that historians of your day will be unable to state with conviction whether Broken ever existed at all, despite its magnificent accomplishments? When I know that its enemies, as well as some of its most loyal citizens—to say nothing of Nature itself—shall work as hard as they evidently have done to dismantle the great city’s magnificent form? And that I, from whose mind that magnificence sprang, still deem the destruction just . . .
Above all, consider this, before going on: You are embarked on a journey in which every cruelty, every unnatural urge, and every savagery known to men plays a part; yet there is compassion here, too, and also courage, although it is one of the peculiarities of the tale that each of these qualities appears when it is least expected. And so: let strength of heart guide you through each period of confusion to the next point of hope, keeping despair from your soul and allowing you to learn from this history in a manner that my descendants—that I—never could.
Yes, I became utterly lost . . . Do I remain so? My own family whispers that I am mad, just as they did when I first spoke of recording these events with the sole purpose of burying the finished text deep in the Earth. Yet if I am mad, it is because of these visions of Broken’s fate: visions that began unbidden long ago and have never departed, regardless of how desperately I have begged more than one Deity for peace, and no matter what intoxicating potions I have consumed. They weight me down, body and spirit, like a stone-filled sack about the neck, dragging me under the surface of my Moonlit lake, down to those depths that teem with so many other bodies . . .
I see all of them, even those that I never truthfully saw in life. They ought to have faded: it has been more than the span of most men’s lives since I returned from the wars to the south† and the apparitions began, and it has been half again as long since I came back from my voyage to the monks across the Seksent Straits,‡ who revealed to me the meaning of my visions, that I might record all that I know to be true, against the day when someone, when you, would stumble upon my work, and determine if the mind that had created it yet deserves to be called mad.
But there will be time enough for all such deliberations, while there is precious little, now, to explain what you must know about my kingdom before our journey can begin. Yet the monks under whom I studied warned against plain recitation; and so—imagine this:
We tumble together out of the eternal heavens, where all ages are as one and we may meet as fellow travelers, toward the more constrainèd Earth, which is, at the moment of our approach, in an era earlier than your own, yet later than mine. Passing through the mists that envelop a range of mountains more impressive than lofty, more deadly than majestic, we soon come to the highest branches of a perilous expanse of forest. The variety of trees seems nearly impossible, and the whole forms a thick green roof over the wilderness below; a roof that we, in our magical flight, shall penetrate with dreamlike ease, eventually settling on a thick lower limb of one obliging oak. From our perch we are afforded an excellent view of the woodland floor, lush and seemingly gentle; but its wide carpets of moss frequently conceal deadly bogs, and its stands of enormous ferns and thick brambles are capable of cutting and poisoning the toughest human flesh. Even beauty, here, is deadly: for many of the delicate flowers that emerge from the mosses or cling to the trees and rocks offer fragrant elixirs fatal to the greedy. Yet those same extracts, in the hands of the less rapacious, can be made to cure sickness, and ease pain.
Yet what of man, in this place? It was once believed that humans could not survive, here; for we have entered Davon Wood,†† the great forest that the people of Old Broken said was made by all the gods to imprison the worst of demons, in order that they might know the loneliness and suffering that they inflicted upon those creatures that they tormented. The Wood has always provided an impenetrable southern and western frontier for Broken, one whose dangers have been plain even to the wild marauders† that first appeared out of the morning sun generations ago, and that yet ravage neighboring domains. Only a few of these invaders have even attempted to traverse the Wood’s unmeasured expanse, and of that small number even fewer have reemerged, scarred and crazed, to declare the undertaking not only impossible but damned. The citizens of Broken were once content to view the Wood from the safety of the banks of the thundering river called the Cat’s Paw, which provides a perilous break between the wilderness and the richness of Broken’s best farming dales to the north and the east. Yes, once my people were content, with this limitation as with so many;‡ but that was before—
Lo! They arrive ere I can speak their name—look quickly. There—and there! The blur of fur and hide, the glint of furtive eyes, the whole fluid: between, under, and over tree trunks and limbs, around and through nettle bushes and vine tangles. What are they? Look again; try to determine for yourself. Swift? Impossibly swift—they find pathways through the Wood that other animals cannot see, still less negotiate, and they navigate those courses with an agility that makes even the tree rodents stare in envy—
They begin to slow; and perhaps you note that the “hides” of these quick beings are in reality animal skins stitched into garments. Yet not even in Davon Wood do beasts go clothed. Could they perhaps be those cursed demons about which the people of Old Broken told such fearful tales? Certainly, these small ones are damned, in their own way, but as to their being demons—examine their faces more closely. Beneath the soil and sweat, do you not take note of human skin? And so . . .
Neither forest beasts, nor dwarves, nor elves. And not human children, either. Watch a moment more: you must realize that, while these travelers are unusually small for fully grown humans, they are not too small.†† It is something else that disturbs you. Certainly, it is not their agile, even entertaining, movements, for these are as marvelous as any troop of tumblers; no, it is something more obscure that leads to the conviction that they are somehow—wrong . . .
Forgive me if I say that your judgment is not complete. They are not “wrong” of themselves, these little humans. The wrong you sense is the result of the grievous manner in which they have been wronged.
But wronged by whom? In one sense, by myself, in that I gave life to my descendants; but far more by the new “god” of my people, Kafra,† and more still by those people themselves, who despise this small race more than any vermin. Do I confuse you? Good! In this mood, you will raise your eyes up to the heavens and appeal for relief; but you will encounter, instead, only more marvelous sights. First, the sacred Moon,‡ deity of Old Broken, although discarded within my lifetime for that newer and more obliging god; then, lit by the Moon’s sacred radiance, a great range of mountains miles to the south of the peaks that we passed on our journey here, a range known in Broken simply as the Tombs. Further north and east, the shimmering band that you see cutting across the enviable farmlands that are shielded by the mountains (lands that are the kingdom’s chief source of wealth) is the Meloderna River, the teat at which those rich fields suckle, and the kinder sister of the rocky Cat’s Paw.
And in the center of this noble landscape, protected as some royal child by Nature’s powerful guards, stands the lone mountain that is the kingdom’s heart. As torturously forested on its lower slopes as is Davon Wood, yet as barren and deadly as the Tombs above (if more temperate), this is Broken, a summit so frightening that, legend has it, the single great river that burst out of the surrounding mountains at the beginning of time split into many at the mere sight of it. Great and imposing as the mountain is, the greatest sight we shall witness is atop it: the walled wonder—bejeweled, from this distance, by flickering torches—that is both the proverbial heart and the sinful loins of the kingdom. Miraculously carved out of the solid, nearly seamless stone that is the stuff of the mountain’s summit, the city was once the favorite of the Moon, but incurred that Sacred Body’s wrath when it embraced the false god Kafra:
Broken . . .
Yes, we shall go there. But we have not finished with the Wood, yet. For this tale begins with those scurrying little humans below us. Never forget that word: for it is the one supreme fact of this entire history. Those soil-crusted, furtive beings that spark such curiosity in you are human. The people of Broken allowed themselves to forget as much, for centuries; and on tempestuous Moonlit nights below the windswept peak of the terrible mountain, you may yet hear the wail of their condemnèd souls, as they bemoan their most grievous error . . .