The Places You're Not Supposed to Visit - Chapter I

I

 

Have you ever walked through a quiet set of rooms and wondered why you seemingly took longer than usual to get out of that space? Did you ever feel lost as you traversed an empty hallway albeit you could see its end? Have you ever come upon a house late at night and felt as if something wasn't quite right only for that emotion to fade away after you had a look around? Or perhaps you got the impression of being weirdly "trapped" in a vacant alleyway. If so, this is no mere coincidence. This is exactly what happened.

 

Maybe you remember a distinct noise when you think of situations such as these. Something unique and bizarre, yet barely audible. A peculiar sound in the background that creeps inside the back of your head and works on an almost instinctive, primal level to instill a sense of considerable discomfort that is seldom felt. It is not unusual to feel somber at such reminiscence. Indeed, an uneasiness is highly likely when a memory like this occurs. Not unlike a nightmare that takes place when you sleep.

 

When it happens it is truly hard to notice for the event horizons of the different layers of reality are blending together seamlessly and, from time to time, we can experience this in the world. It is most notable in empty areas for the magickal energy and presence of vivid vitality are significantly lower than, say, on a bustling marketplace or a raging battlefield. A key ingredient is the absence of life, as life grants stability. Without it, the layers will twist and turn randomly. And whenever it happens to you it is of the importance not to panic should you notice it. Because if you do, you might lose yourself in a place you weren't supposed to visit.

 

My name is Robert Gautier, of the Bretic Gautier lineage, alchemist, potion brewer and poison mixer by trade and sole scholar of what I've come to call the Arcana Obscuris, the studies pertaining to queer and strange, magickal phenomena as well as the deepening of our understanding thereof in an effort to make this knowledge usable to future generations. While my family name holds no significance in other provinces, it is well recognised on the streets of North Point in High Rock for my noble bloodline largely consists of beneficiaries to the temples, shrines and chapels to the Divines. Devout and wealthy, they saw their chance to provide blessings to the meek and destitute by means of generous donations of septims towards the local clergy, enabling them to, in turn, provide warm meals and cosy beds to those who were too indigent to afford this luxury.

 

I, however, saw that my calling lay elsewhere. Early in life I discovered my natural talent for magic. This is nothing out of the ordinary in High Rock, of course. But apart from my inherited, magickal acumen I also harboured a peculiar, mental acuity as was noted by my grandfather as an "unusual sharpness of the eyes". When I began to read books when others of similar age would still learn how to spell properly, my family would seize this opportunity and send me to Agea Relle, more commonly known as the Crypt of Hearts.

 

In the past a place of learning, but several calamities left the crypt in a sorry state. That was until a knightly order, The Order of the Crypt, took up residence and cleansed the grounds under an oath to protect the mausoleum from evil as well the hearts of men from corruption. 

In the fourth Era, after the Dragon Crisis of Skyrim, that also had its effect on the Crypt as one of its entrances lies inside Skyrim's borders, was resolved, the Order of the Crypt decided it was time to repurpose the giant, antediluvian network of caves, tunnels, staircases and overground towers into a magickal institute once more. Under the guidance of famous Knight Captain Pierre du Bois, himself an excellent sorcerer and destruction mage who had once led the assault on the dragons during the crisis a few years prior to defend the Crypt from the fearsome Dov, the knights of the order sought out the help of scholars, architects and field workers and granted them great compensation to refurbish the area and make it accessible to the would-be wizards, witches and mages of High Rock and Skyrim. And I was one of them.

 

However, while the newly founded Institute of the Water's Wisdom, referring to the first ever conceived name, Agea Relle, was now home to many a scholar under the protection of the knights who made it their home long ago, there would still exist parts of the caverns on the deepest levels of the structure that were off-limits. The latent threat of evil that had yet to be vanquished lingered in and around these parts and soldiers were sent there to deal with what creatures still lurked in the shadows. Some of whom never returned. And yet, my adventurous mind would at some point lead me into the darkest nooks. I was always a scholar at heart, after all.

 

I have spent many years of my life in that institution and I pride myself on knowing most of its convoluted layout better than the back of my own hand. Even though I was still lacking the knowledge of its deepest parts for none were permitted entry past a certain depth. At one point I even suspected that there lay secrets in those depths, hidden away from prying eyes to prevent theft and unauthorised acquisition of power. I didn't know that I was wrong. 

When I entered adolescence I began to really take note of the true extent of the subterranean spaces below. The headmaster however, an eccentric Dunmer by the name of Alven Flendel, placed certain restrictions on where we may or may not go and posted armed guards along the entrances to the aforementioned deeper levels of the structure. 

 

In retrospect it would probably have been wiser to listen to the more experienced mages of the Institute. But if I did, would I have made these awe-inspiring discoveries? I suppose not. 

 

II

 

"Liminal" is a term used to refer to bordering areas of transit, so to speak. In arcane terms, it usually refers to the magickal border between Mundus and Oblivion that exists here on Nirn. The volume titled "Liminal Bridges" by Camilonwe of Alinor, a brilliant Altmer tutor whom I met during the Conference of Theoretical and Applied Arcane Technologies years later, dwells on this subject and goes on to explain the exact processes and delicate methodologies with which a sigil stone, a Daedric artifact of staggering might that is a conductor for interdimensional travel, is created and how it is used. With it, a portal to Oblivion can be opened and, depending on its power, and that of its wielder, can be held open for longer or shorter periods of time, albeit the process to do it is quite complicated and involves commerce with a Daedric prince, the construction of a dedicated chamber and some knowledge of conjurational invocations.

 

Some theories state that the Mundus is not only surrounded but also engulfed by and saturated with Oblivion and its energies. "Liminal Bridges" proves this as it doesn't say that there are areas in and around Tamriel from which a portal to a specific part of Oblivion couldn't be opened. In this sense, one could get the impression that both dimensions overlap. In places, at least. What makes all of this so significant to me will become apparent later in this report. What's important right now is that "Liminal Bridges" was the first book I immersed myself in during my intense magickal studies at the Institute. The knowledge contained therein not only shaped the general wisdom I hungered to procure. It also shaped the path whither I would tread to attain such wisdom.

 

As one might probably at this point suspect, I thoroughly disrespected the laws and rules of the Institute as imposed by Headmaster Flendel and snuck out of my living quarters late at night. I had read much about the different planes of existence, the dimensions and magickal theory of four-dimensional spaces contained in arcane formulæ that nobody knew how to use. In the spirit of discovery, I fancied that there might lie a great secret at the bottom of this barrel that was the lowest level of the age old catacombs that were said to still be haunted by ghastly terrors. 

 

Naïve as I was, I didn't believe a word of this. No, I made it my mission to go there - with or without permission. So I watched as the last sliver of moonlight from the celestial crescent was swallowed by the clouds from the window of my chamber in one of the many towers that occupied this obscure plot of land. When the darkness fell I cast a quick invisibility spell and shuffled out of the tower, down the spiralling staircase and towards the malodorous entombments that were so fabled and myth-enshrouded. 

The pitch blackness helped me greatly in retaining my inconspicuousness forwhy the illusory spell that I used to conceal my presence was weak and I could see myself being translucent rather than completely hidden whenever I gazed down to view my hands and reaffirm that the spell was still active.

 

After several minutes of skulking amidst the shadows I could finally see the guards that have been posted at one of the entrances to the forbidden parts of Water's Wisdom. I timed my arrival expertly as I witnessed the shift changeover. The torches illuminated the immediate area but a looming void behind them would give me enough cover so that I could slip by unnoticed. I went for it as soon as the changeover took place. All was fine until I heard a voice from behind.

 

"What was that?"

 

Footsteps in my direction. I struggled to control my breath but was paralysed at the same time. I couldn't move and only hoped that my spell wouldn't suddenly wear off. 

 

"Hmpf. Must have been the wind", the guard, noticeably annoyed, then proclaimed as I could hear the armoured boots clatter away from me. My still furiously pumping heart commanded me to move into the unknown to get away from the threat of discovery. Mere seconds thereafter, the invisibility wore off but I was out of line of sight. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I made it past the threshold at last. Now is the time to explore I thought to myself with a broad smile on my face. And deeper past the threshold I went.

 

Now, it is important to note that one should bear an understanding of the general concept of liminal bridges and of its implications as well as the implications of the hypotheses that have been constructed around the arcane science of this subject matter in order to grasp the full extent of the experience I will relay to you shortly. As it is, planes of existence can be accessed by advanced, arcane means and for some reason only by going through a complicated process. However, what follows is of a similar nature but at its core, it is an anomaly of a most curious kind that, given the research, could perhaps be harnessed if handled correctly. 

 

The most immediately perceptible feature of this new area was its eerie vacancy and the total lack of light sources. No torches, magickal stones or gems or even glowing wisps could be found in this place. And yet, the clear marks of preceding use by our collective forefathers were distinctly visible after my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. 

 

I conjured up a little orb of light to keep me company and bathe me in radiance. What good was spelunking without vision, after all?  In its lustre I beheld what looked like ruins of a bygone Era and the several facets of its various purposes were tantalising, fascinating. The murals on the walls that depicted arcane symbols that I recognised as Altmeri and Dwemeri script from the books I've plowed through stood in stark contrast to the crumbling sarcophagi embedded into these same walls. Little spires of chiseled stone were aligned around the sarcophagi in decorative fashion and the individual stone caskets were separated by beautiful buttresses of female appearance that held books, talismans or phials in their hands.

 

To an unsuspecting onlooker, this alien mixture of different, architectural designs, motifs and areas of use will look confusing. In fact, if I didn't know better I would have taken this chamber for a necromancer's lair. Old desks and bookshelves were situated opposite of urns of various shapes and sizes, bones and dust strewn about them haphazardly and gently getting carried away by a slight breeze that was prominent inside these cavernous expanses. The silent flutter of leftover papers echoed throughout the dank halls and the smell of death permeated every aspect of my surroundings. I caught myself flinching at some of the broken lids of the last resting places of some of the dead. I had never seen a corpse before, after all. Much less a skeleton.

 

I was utterly filled with awe and delight following this grand discovery on my part. Not a second did I waste on any worries or concerns. Instead I examined each pertan of this enclosed space fastidiously to not miss any important details. Little engravings over some dusty tables that were too worn to make out probably served to designate each arrangement of furniture a specific use. Cabinets and drawers filled with pages that fell to dust as I opened the creaking containers told of incredible, magickal developments I will most likely never get to witness. And above all else there loomed this sense of timeless antiquity that saturated the stale air with an unmistakable importance that I can but scarcely describe.

 

My zealous research led me ever deeper into the unknown. Before I knew it I found myself in an unfamiliar maze of rooms, corridors and winding hallways. For every secret uncovered there were three new, previously unseen rooms until I lost my path completely and struggled to remember whence I came. In the beginning I told myself that it didn't matter as I would most likely loop back in the end. An illusion of comfort I was giving myself all too willingly. The truth was that all sense of direction forsook me and disorientation took its place instead. I suppose one could argue that this little adventure of mine spiralled out of control. It wasn't long before gnawing hunger and fatigue would claim their due.

 

Confused, I wandered aimlessly in what felt like an infinitely expanding set of rooms, halls and chambers that appeared to never truly terminate in one direction. But perhaps I was just walking in circles without me noticing it. In time, however, an unprecedented noise made sure I forgot my worries for the moment as a sense of dread began to fill my heart. Around a corner, just a few meters away, I espied a few greyish, famished creatures that looked uncannily humanoid overall but were so very different once I took a closer look.

They were naked, grey with dark hands and feet. They sported talons instead of fingers and their mouth was horribly twisted into a circular shape underneath black eyes of what was otherwise a sterile face. No hair covered their thin skin that was partly transparent to allow me to spot a few here and there.

 

I was paralysed in shock at these alien creatures. Somewhere in the back of my mind there were stowed-away memories of these things as I could tell that they were Daedric in nature. Just what they were I failed to put my finger on. 

In a moment of terror their inhuman faces turned towards me and an ear-splitting screech announced their awareness of my presence. Judging from the moving teeth that were arranged around the outer and various inner rings of the cylindrical tube that were their mouths I instinctively fancied that they sought to relinquish their ravenous state of body by ways of dining on my flesh or blood.

 

The spell of paralysis was broken and I turned to run away. The things behind me gave chase and my haste would lead me even deeper into this endless, cavernous maze. 

I could hear their naked feet as they scurried along on the stone floor, relentlessly engaged in pursuit. For all I knew, I could have been their only prey in days, if not weeks or months. Intermingled with these noises was the reverberating sound of my boots as they kicked away the dust and dirt that covered a fair bit of the intricate, tiled surface I had walked on since I snuck past the guards. My cumbersome breathing lent credence to my wimpy endurance and bodily constitution. 

 

My lungs burned, my sides were in pain. I groaned as I fell to the floor after what felt like an eternity of running away. But to my surprise, as I lay there without any ability to defend myself, fused with the floor, the horrible feet that so eagerly pursued me seemed to vanish. Their noise ceased and after a moment of caution I presumed the threat gone. I could breathe soundly again and I was determined to make my way back to the surface. 

 

In time, I noticed a few curious developments, however. For one, the already stale air cooled off considerably as soon as the creatures stopped chasing me. I attributed this to the deep layer that I was situated in but I would soon find that, even after moving elsewhere, that this temperature remained. My forehead wrinkled as I saw that the dust, that had been afore carried by the continuously flowing air current, settled. Only my feet moved it around whenever my steps connected to the ground. 

The sense of something being off grew more prevalent as I involuntarily focused my mind on my footsteps. I had always done this whenever my mind got upset or whenever I lost my way. But it turned out to do more harm than good in this instance.

 

It became oppressively apparent that the echo that my feet had hitherto produced was missing. So was the sound of wind, the creaking of old, wooden constructs. I realised that I found myself in total silence. In an unnatural silence that gave off the impression of weighing heavily on my shoulders. Nothing moved, nothing made any noise. All was still and lifeless. I felt lost before, but the all-consuming sound of perfect stillness droned out my senses and an increasing sentiment of indescribable urgency surfaced shortly thereafter. For some reason I just had to get out. Being in this space didn't feel right. My intuition clearly told me that I was not supposed to be there. Wherever "there" was.

 

After seeing what looked like the same mural over and over as I tried to find an exit out of this convoluted set of corridors with this urn that had a small crack in its side from which poured bone dust onto the floor, after viewing the same, old table with exactly three scratch marks on its left most corner again and again, I figured that I was walking in circles. Clearly I did. But as much as I tried to only move forward, to never turn a corner, somehow I would always end up in the same room with that same mural, that same urn and that same table. 

After what felt like hours I witnessed a first change when I traversed a narrow passage that connected two different sets of rooms. A breath of fresh air at last. But still, the further I went the more off all of it appeared to me.

 

It was there that I took note of a presence in my vicinity. The overpowering silence was finally broken by… something. There were no footsteps or any recognisable noise that could have identified its source as being of animal, human or merish origin. It was as if sin was given a voice, for the wholly alien music that reverberated off the walls talked to me in a strange language I never heard before. It whispered things that I somehow understood on the most basic level. It whispered of impending disaster and a festering fear unlike any other seized me, held me in its ethereal grasp of otherworldly terror.

 

I was unable to see it, but some entity made its way to where I stood. I can't tell why or how but I knew that it could feel me as I could feel it. And it came for me. To do what, I was uncertain. I didn't have any guesses as to its motives and the ultimate goal it tried to achieve. If it even had any goals in the first place. But it made me uncomfortable enough to promote immediate flight on my part. I started running, running for my life, and I didn't even know what I was running from. I cast a quick gaze behind to see an empty, impenetrable, black void encroaching, consuming the world around it. My bewildered eyes widened and my furiously beating heart drove me to go beyond my limits and keep on running.

 

The apparent sentience of the black mist frightened me to a soul crushing degree and my ability to formulate clearly articulated thoughts in my mind faded away. I knew only the burning of my feet and legs, the searing pain in my chest and the pulsating arteries in my throat. 

I looked behind me one last time and saw that formless menace devour everything. To my surprise, when I looked forward again, I saw torches, posted guards and the entrance I snuck through once more as it all appeared out of nowhere, right before my eyes, and whatever that thing was dissipated ad hoc. 

I couldn't stop nor control my momentum and crashed into the armoured guards at full speed, bringing them down with me. And as the three of us slid through the dust on the stone floor, a thoroughly angered soldier looked me right in my unsuspecting eyes. I was in trouble.

 

III

 

"What, by the House of Troubles, were you doing down there? I've restricted access to the lower levels for a reason!"

 

This was the first thing Headmaster Flendel said to me after the knights of the Order would bring me into his quarters in the highest tower of the magnificent architecture. Ever since the Order of the Crypt worked closely together with the mages, they became their guards, in a sense. The Institute was big enough to accommodate for the living space of over three hundred people and was more like a small town than a regular arcane university. And over time, the Headmaster Alven Flendel became its president while the knights of the Order became the Institute's own, private militia and law enforcement agency. And Flendel's word was the law. 

 

As such, when I got seated on the wooden chair that stood opposite his great desk behind which he was sitting rather comfortably, I spoke to the supreme authority inside those halls. 

His long, flowing robes of blue silk accentuated his silver hair that rested on the shoulders. The belt that held the mer's grimoire securely fastened to his right hip was of ornamental, Dunmeri design, outfitted with several, Daedric runes and magickal seals along its edges. His gloved hands, an intricate embroidery upon their backs, pressed down on the desk as he pushed himself up to look down at me with his crimson irises that were so unlike those of man. 

 

"What were you doing down there anyway? The guards reported that you were in a hurry and told me of your horrified expression. Did you see anything we ought to know of?"

 

I began speaking as prompted and told him of my harrowing experience in as much detail as I could remember at the time. How I snuck in and suddenly ended up being chased by strange creatures (which were apparently called "hungers" as Flendel would educate me) and how they inexplicably vanished in favour of a much greater horror. I relayed to him my journey and what I discovered, but also how I was at one point trapped and pursued by something. 

For the length of my report, Flendel would stand there in quiet acknowledgement of my tale. He would occasionally nod and seemed to, at times, be absorbed in thought when I mentioned specific things like the repetition of certain spaces, the sudden lack of sound or environmental response to my presence or the way I resurfaced rather abruptly before I ran into the armed guards.

 

He tapped his bearded chin gently as he attempted to fit the loosely connected pieces of my experience together to form a coherent account that could be worked with. And although he did fail, he was too preoccupied with contemplating the events I had gotten myself into to enforce any kind of punishment greater than an admonishing finger and an appeal to the cautionary tale that was my story. To warn me of the dangers that crept in the darkest nooks and corners of this world. Then, he let me off and ordered the knights outside to escort me to my quarters. 

 

When the knights shut the heavy, wooden door behind me, I found myself in my study once more. A soothing sensation swept over me to behold familiar grounds. My personal notes, collection of books and alchemical laboratory were all situated neatly inside the small space I called home for the duration of my stay at Water's Wisdom. 

As worn out and exhausted as I was from my most recent adventure, I couldn't stop thinking about what happened. Logic guided me towards knowing that it was completely impossible to continuously happen upon the exact same, environmental features although moving down a straight corridor. Or, in other words: To logically explain what I saw it would have been necessary for me to run in circles. But I did not.

 

Instead, the same chamber, or set of chambers, would repeat. Over and over. Until something broke this curious spell and let me escape. Curiosity kept me wide awake and I began to search for clues in several different volumes and scientific pamphlets, looking for an answer to the question of what exactly happened to me. After perusal of several specimens I was about to give in to my growing fatigue when a book, well known to me, emerged from underneath the wild pile of scriptures that I had been working my way through. "Liminal Bridges".

 

The title alone told me everything I needed to know to understand the basics of what took place in those eerie depths. At some point during my exploration I must have somehow slipped through the cracks of space and ended up in some form of alternate reality or pocket dimension. At least this is what I believed. This explained how the location I was in managed to trap me in the way it did and the way I suddenly appeared before the guards when I did. I was absolutely certain of this. Just on what laws it operated I could not, for the life of me, tell. 

Theoretical and applied arcane sciences teach us that, in order to cross any trans-dimensional threshold, a staggering amount of effort is required to even construct a liminal bridge, let alone cross the gaps between dimensions safely and arrive at the intended destination alive, well and in one piece. However, notwithstanding the colossal prerequisites to travel in betwixt planes of existence, I seemed to have smoothly slithered into a foreign space. This should have been impossible. 

 

That same night I already made copious amounts of notes on the subject and filled page after page with theories, speculation, equations and arcane diagrams in an effort to get to the bottom of a phenomenon that defied the laws of magic so bluntly. 

Before long, my consciousness phased in and out and I caught myself occasionally dozing off in the middle of a paragraph I intended to write. I had grown extraordinarily tired and, well, needed some rest. A good night's sleep should bring my mind back on track. But as I went to bed, one resolution etched itself into my heart: I had to go down there again. I had experiments to conduct.

 

The next day I was awoken by the commotion from outside the door to my personal living space. A peek through the keyhole revealed that groups of experienced mages and wizards, accompanied by armed escorts composed of the knights of the Order, traversed the halls and staircases. Among them I heard the voice of Headmaster Flendel shouting muffled commands at his underlings. But a few words I could make out, all of which pointed me towards the fact that my recent "accident" in the depths gave reason to investigate these subterranean spaces. 

 

I poked my head out of the door frame to observe the disordered chaos of robes, books and lights that flew by. My gaze wasn't focused yet, so early in the morning, and I saw mostly smears and smudges of movement before my eyes finally regained their proper sight. Of course I had to follow the mass of mages to their destination. I put on clothes, gathered a few items of importance and made my way to the depths once more. This time, concealed within a congregation of wizards so there was no need of sneaking about. 

 

Torches and magickal orbs of light guided my way. I finally had a chance to explore the areas below under the protection of the teachers and knights so long as no one realised that I probably shouldn't have been there.

While all the other mages and knights poured into the dank depths of the catacombs and the labyrinthine corridors I tried to find yet another one of those anomalies from a day before. And while I waited for something to happen to me I scanned my surroundings thoroughly and dived back into this antique realm of forgotten magic. But in the end, I was not graced with such disturbances another time.

 

Instead I heard the clank of metal and the visceral cries of fierce warriors who partook in gruesome combat against the monsters that still dwelt within the abysses of what was once Agea Relle. The sounds of war, the shrieks of beasts. Soon enough, the band of explorers felt overwhelmed by the looming creatures that stalked the shadows and Headmaster Flendel beckoned them to retreat.

I, however, saw my chance and stayed behind. I knew of the atrocities that I may or may not cross paths with. But I had come prepared with clever means of evasion. Certain, alchemical mixtures designed to obscure one's presence, a few distracting bundles of foul herbs emitting mephitic vapours as well as a silver dagger coated with a potent, paralyzing poison as a last resort defence should the worst come to pass.

 

Once more should I stalk the underground structures and maze like hallways, albeit with a care I had not exhibited before. I knew that I trod on hazardous grounds and any misstep could lead to my demise or, at the very least, to grievous injury. As prepared as I was for hiding and running, I was problematically ill equipped to appropriately handle the beasts of these caverns. I did possess some knowledge of destruction spells but I was in doubt in regards to their effectiveness against larger hordes of adversaries. Simple fireballs and ice needles were barely enough to defend oneself against the common brigand or thief, much less the undead or even the dæmoniac Daedra. 

 

The majority of the arcane knowledge within my repertoire was of highly theoretical nature and concerned itself with dimensions and travel betwixt them, with hypotheses on the nature of magicka and the interior of soul gems or how magicka was flowing along the horizontal, diagonal and vertical axis in a three-dimensional space and how it would, in theory, be possible to observe its flow into higher dimensions. In short, my field of expertise was, and still is, not combat oriented. It should come as no surprise, then, that I preferred to evade potential foes as much as possible. My small library of offensive spells and that poisoned dagger were more peace of mind than anything.

 

And yet, I entered the serene entombments with bravery in my heart. I imagined I knew what I was getting myself into, after all.

While I waited for something to happen I recorded as many oddities and salient features of the vast array of possible objects of adoration as I could. Every now and then I had to hide from vicious creatures and temporarily pause exploration. Much of what I found would later help me understand the inner workings of the strange phenomenon I was about to encounter that afternoon, if much later. Suffice it to say that I stumbled upon various remnants of magickal stones, gems and crystals amidst the terrifying sarcophagi of those that dwelt here before. I also found singular growths atop some, but not all, graves that possessed some inherent luminosity which led me to believe that some remnants of a powerful kind of magic must still linger. 

 

By the time I finalized my notes on the exact composition of a glowing, crystalline shard my stomach began churning and I laid down the specimen to grab some of my provisions that I had wisely brought along. I began biting into a grilled venison chop and commenced chewing. The meat was succulent, tasty overall and appeared to have just the right amount of salt poured over it. 

Halfway through that piece of meat, however, I noted a striking difference in flavour. A second ago I could taste every angaid of flesh as the individual strands separated on my tongue. But shortly after, all flavour vanished, the other half of the venison completely devoid of it. As if my taste buds had stopped working. Then, it got cold, and I listened closely.

 

Nothing. 

 

It had happened again. 

 

I scanned my surroundings and found that the glow from the crystal shard had faded. What notes I still had on me were curiously illegible. It was weird, really. I looked at the papers but the writing was alien. I always felt that I could almost recognise what was written but not quite. The resulting ambiguity disturbed me greatly and I opted to stash away my recordings for the time being.

I now consciously knew that I was in a different place than I had been a few seconds ago. Again I had slipped into what I at the time used to call an "intermediate space pocket" for I theorized that such a place bridged some gap between one instance of a place and another. Simply put, I believed that at least two variants of the same, worldly space existed at the same time in any given location and that there was an intermediate space that connected both to form one, coherent space that we could call part of our reality. Granted, I realised some time later that this was utter nonsense. 

 

Perhaps the most interesting circumstance was that the "symptoms" of this spatial anomaly were the same as before. The repetition in events is a sign of a pattern that, if true, will enable me to, at length, at least semi-reliably reproduce this effect. However, I still had no idea as to its creation. 

In my head, there was this notion of somber solitude in conjunction with a prescience of faded memories of the Crypt of Hearts and its depths. Call it a premonition if you will but I was overcome with a sort of presentiment towards the idea that, perhaps, the history of the place had a thing or two to do with what was happening. 

 

In the bleak stillness of this otherworldly, yet strangely nostalgic space I could sometimes feel a trickling sensation on my skin. Other times I saw the objects around me in a different light with bright, blue-ish outlines. And there was this music. I can not place it. It was beautiful and terrifying. Full of life and yet empty as the abyss my soul seemed to dangle over as I traversed the dead corridors. It wasn't music in the traditional sense, mind you. It was, and continues to be, indescribable with the words of mortals. The only sound that my human organs can produce with which I could adequately express this thought is… Fthnsthul.

 

This is the only thing that came to mind. And as it did, it did so intuitively. As if it had always existed in my brain, waiting to be drawn out by the music that so naturally resonates with it as a bell does with its chime. 

I quickly grabbed my foreign-looking notes and scribbled the word down under the existing paragraphs as it came to me. Fthnsthul.

But it sounded differently than one may think when viewing this transcript. It was much more like a deep, long, vibrating drone than a real voice or melody. 

 

I proceeded to put away the jumbled glyphs that were my words in another dimension and began to wander consciously through this underground wasteland of tunnels and malign brickwork. For reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, the strange music got louder the more elderly I studied these semi-familiar structures. The more fastidious I examined each bit, the louder and faster it became. 

It eventually climaxed when before me, the black mist from the night before materialised itself out of thin air. All of a sudden it struck me: This was the source of the noise.

 

The tantalising thing remained at about forty pertans of distance. I tried to glimpse a form, a shape, anything that could describe it beyond being a formless nothing but the harder I looked the more anxious I got. An unrelenting repulsion inhibited my senses and permitted no further exposure to such disturbing visuals. 

It seemed to be in constant flux. If there was any solid matter at all it built itself up and immediately broke down again to give the impression of an undulating, black mass. But I could very clearly feel how it observed me. How it sensed each and every heartbeat that emanated from my chest. I opened my heavy lids once more to take a last look at the thing. I fancied I glimpsed an eye of some capacity but my frayed nerves could take it no longer and the world around me diluted into melting scraps of coarse fabric. 

 

IV

 

I drifted softly through an endless sea of thick fluid. My limbs outstretched, I felt every ounce of the substance flow in betwixt my fingers. I drifted in this viscous void. And a void it was, for I saw nothing at all. I attempted to speak but I was mute. Moving my body turned out to be exceptionally difficult in this stuff but I managed to twist and turn ever so slightly to observe the nothingness from a few different angles. I closed my eyes and had the sudden urge to dream of my home whence I had left behind in favour of research. I flung open my eyelids again as I felt something seize my leg. A brutal tugging ripped me right out of the numbing blackness. 

 

When I came to, I found myself in my bed. Drenched in sweat, exhausted beyond previously established limits. What happened to me? This was the only question that presently occupied my mind. My gaze wandered about the room where I spotted two figures. I blinked a few times to make the blurriness of my vision disappear. As the image became clearer, I saw that Headmaster Flendel and an unknown female of probably Nordic origin stood next to my bed.

 

"Mr. Gautier". The harsh voice of the Headmaster chastisingly greeted me. "I understand Sila here has found you lying unconscious on the stairs that lead to the depths. I will not assume anything that has to do with your undertakings. However…".

He motioned the Nordic woman, whose name evidently was Sila, to retrieve something. A set of notes that looked very acquainted. Aside from a small detail.

 

"Among your belongings that were strewn about the staircase, she found a paper that contains this".

Sila held up my notes and I knew without guessing what Flendel was referring to. Below my notes there was a single string of wholly unrecognisable glyphs that I had never seen before.

"Can you tell me what this is?".

His inquiry sounded more pressing now. I had some recollection of scribbling a single word where those glyphs now were. And in my mind, I pieced together what it was that I wrote there. I had some trouble remembering its exact sound when pronounced but seemed to be able to distinctly recall that the entirety of my notes used to look like this when that hungering space ensnared my body and spirit.

 

A second of silence followed my unexpected revelation. Mouths agape, the two of them stared at me in confusion. 

"What… did you just say?". What did I say? What did I say? Even now I have a hard time remembering. Fthnsthul. A word, not intended to be spoken by mortals. But where it came from puzzled me as much as how the anomaly worked that I had been researching. 

I had no real explanation for my sudden ability to pronounce foreign tongues that were otherwise unknown to me. 

"I'm afraid your notes have to be confiscated. I am truly sorry for your lost work, however.", Flendel callously stated before taking the paper away. "We will examine this… word more thoroughly. In the meantime", he paused and took a deep breath, "Don't go scrounging around in those depths anymore. There might not always be someone there to save you".

 

The following weeks I kept away from the depths of the Institute and instead focused on learning more about theoretical concepts and arcane techniques as well as improve my alchemical skills in ways that would permit me to stay hidden for extended periods of time, even in broad daylight. But even though I was determined to let the matter rest, I couldn't. During every magic lesson my thoughts would drift away. During breaks I would catch myself imagining how my floating in between spaces might have looked from the outside. Even as I slept did I dream of the word, the thing, the place.

Finally, resigned to the lure of discovery, I gathered all my old notes together and tried to make sense of them. I was sure that I had to do more testing in the future but I restrained myself for as long as I would still partake in the studies at Water's Wisdom. I already ran the risk of getting expelled by repeatedly disobeying the Headmaster. I didn't want to press my luck even further.

 

Instead, I poured my attention into the hypothetical side of things. I wrote paper after paper on what I thought could be the answers to my question. I wrote down my cogitations in order to review and rearrange them later. To see whence each thread went and how my knowledge could combine to perhaps form a solid conclusion. 

After days of dabbling on the subject, I could finally say that I had a solid theory in hand.

 

"The presence of magickal remnants and their oscillatory dissonance in conjunction with the total absence of active, arcane energy conductors and vitality of living beings, mortal or immortal, in light of the bygone presence of an extraordinary amount of arcane energies, Nirnic, Daedric or otherwise, is to be held responsible for the instability of local space and its decay, resulting in the overlapping, and partial, temporary bridging of, heretofore inaccessible layers of planes of existence into accessible pockets, presenting a causality betwixt great amounts of magic and the lack of living things to conduct and/or harness/control it to achieve an anomaly not otherwise replicable without these special conditions".

 

In other words: The presence of great amounts of unused, arcane energy as a result of the history of the Crypt of Hearts and the lack of physical bodies to give stability to these energies is the reason for this strange occurrence. And I just needed to prove it.

To substantiate my claim was no easy feat as should turn out. I was forbidden entrance into the depths and even if I was to go there again, by what means should I bring my theory to proof? I couldn't just occlude my body from the room and hope anything happens, much less take anyone with me who could witness the event. According to my preliminary findings at the time, the effect could only be achieved with the absence of life - a troubling prospect that made it quite difficult to be witnessed by eyes other than the one conducting the experiment. 

However, that day, the Headmaster would again knock on my door to present me with a promising proposition. 

 

V

 

Looking back, the things that I found during my time at the Institute of the Water's Wisdom should probably have remained hidden. My research inspired a few students to sneak out of their quarters at night and see for themselves as to whether or not the rumours pertaining to my claims as to the distorted nature of the place were true. And, to their collective misfortune, they were. As was evidenced by a very concerned Alven Flendel who continuously walked in circles within my tiny abode among the towers.

 

"We have to find them!" he muttered intermittently in between sighs and barely audible groans of mental exertion. "If they don't resurface soon, the magistrate is going to investigate. The lives of these students and the Institute as a whole are at stake, Gautier!".

He looked at me expectantly. After all, I had been the only one to ever go to these transliminal places and return to tell the tale. I had a measure of experience under my belt no-one else had. And this made me the only person Flendel wanted to discuss the problem with. Even before he spelled out his plea for assistance, I could tell that he needed me and my expertise on the field of theoretical magic. The challenge now was to transform this theoretical magic into something that could be applied to the world in some way. To make it tangible. And that was just the trouble. 

 

"You have to help us, Gautier. You are the only student with enough experience to handle this situation appropriately. Besides, your misdemeanor to intrude upon forbidden grounds has gotten us into this mess in the first place. If not for penitence, at least heed my call out of duty to relinquish your misdeeds".

I loathed to admit it but he was right. I was the cause for all of this. But I didn't lend him my hand out of either remorse nor sense of obligation. No. Forwhy yet again, I got another chance at bringing my plans to fruition. This time around, it was my official task to find a way to force the phenomenon into existence. 

I will not bother you with the exact intricacies of our agreement but I acquiesced. Suffice it to say that I, for the duration of my mission, gained certain freedoms that would grant me access to whatever resources I needed. 

 

The sight of the barricades at the entrance to the depths filled me with a respect I have yet to experience another time. The securely fastened wood planks that closed off the aperture towards the bowels of Water's Wisdom were discretely compromised on the left hand side as to remain inconspicuous even at close proximity. My sharp eyes however easily spotted the damage those dim-witted knights needed days to discover. 

I inserted my flat hand into the perpendicular opening and lifted my arm up from the wall. The leverage was enough to make the planks come off to reveal the passage that the students must have taken. 

 

Maybe they've just lost their way, I thought. After all, I have observed the anomaly in question only by myself and not with multiple people around. But perhaps the group of three was just small enough to vanish elsewhere. In the event that they had actually walked into a trap I prognosticated their deaths in my mind. Of course, I couldn't tell the knights or the Headmaster. 

I squeezed inside under a few, short moans and emerged into familiar terrain. The winding hallways and empty corridors of this mausoleum began to etch themselves into my mind. 

 

Here it was. That groaning of silence in blackness. 

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