Jarnary 20, 708
This is the bitterest winter I can recall. I fear that I will not be able to make it back through the pass before the snows close it. I can still turn back; Redmont is four days behind me. But if I do, I will not reach Rachel and Abe until the thaw. I have supplies for the journey, and the mule is sturdy. I will press on.
Jarnary 21, 708
The snow has started in earnest. I don’t know if the pass will still be open. It would be incautious to try it at this point. There should be a way to the south, but that passes near an area declared blighted by the Holy Foundation. I don’t always trust them on that sort of thing. Most times I’ve had to ignore their warnings, any peril has long since rusted, decayed, or departed. They are nothing if not cautious. I do not have that luxury. I will take the southern road. I’ve known it to be traveled without incident, but never the mountain road after winter strikes. I’d rather skirt a forgotten and (Jack willing) absent menace than face the certainty of an icy death.
Jarnary 23, 708
The road is in poor condition, but I’m making good time, I think. This takes me between rather than over the mountains. I should have ample supplies, even if the weather does delay me. I should be a three to five day journey from Gargestown, and from there, it’s only the highways back to New Sant.
Jarnary 24, 708
I seem to have entered the region the Foundation Fathers warned of. I am safe, and I see no obvious dangers, but this is a terrible place. There is no life here, nor signs that there ever was. No pikas scurry away as I ride past, no trees jut up from the ground. Even the snow does not cling to the ground here, which is warm to the touch. In the silence, I can hear a distant rumbling noise, and I see an immense shadow looming over the mountains to the east. I do not know what it is, but I will not breathe easy until I pass beyond its still and oppressive presence. Those mountains are similarly scoured of snow and life. To the west and north, the snow fields start again. The road still heads south, and I can only hope I will leave this dead land soon. Should tragedy befall me during the night, and this diary is ever found, then let be known that I loved my dear wife Rachel Arnold and our child Abraham Arnold more than life itself.
Jarnary 25, 708
Last night passed without incident, although also without much sleep. The barrenness grows no less unsettling with continued exposure. Fortunately, I believe I see the reflection of snow in the distance, and I should make it past this blighted land tomorrow. But I found two curious things along the road. Manuscripts: one a single sheet of vellum, the other a bound book written in the language of the ancients. Though the book would likely fetch an impressive price, I left it. I’ve seen enough to know better than to disturb anything in a place like this. I could read the paper, and have here transcribed the message: “Traveler, fear not. Accept salvation, no matter the form. I was once as you are.” A rather ominous message, but it is too late at night, and the mule is too tired, to carry on to the snowline. Once again, I give all my love to Rachel and Abe.
Jarnary 26, 708
The mule is gone. I don’t know what happened, but I woke up and it wasn’t there. I imagine I would have been woken by a struggle. There were patches of fur and and what might have been blood on the ground. I don’t know why I wasn’t taken. Perhaps a mule is meal enough for whatever malevolence dwells here. The supplies were also left untouched. I will proceed on foot for as long as I am able. I am so sorry. I only wanted to see you sooner.
Jarnary 27, 708
I have reached the edge of the snowline and I fear my journey may become somewhat harder now. I had not appreciated the amount of snow that fell during my passage through this cursed land. I will make camp here one final night, then set out for what will likely be the final stage of my journey.
Jarnary 28, 708
O horrors! Whatever the true nature of that place, it was worse than I had feared. The mule returned. I awoke to find a figure near the edge of my camp. It was unmistakably the mule, but terribly, grotesquely altered. It stood on two legs, with cylindrical devices supporting it in a mockery of human stature. Metal bands held its torso in a state that its ribs ought to have rendered impossible. Whatever did this must have removed those ribs, as the hide around the bands looked torn and matted with blood. There was a reddish light glowing from inside its collapsed chest. And its face! The long ears were snipped off, and its muzzle itself had been removed and replaced with a polished metal plate. The thing that had once been my trusty mule was no longer. I ran. Off into the snow, carrying only what I had brought with me. It is cold, and I do not expect to make it, but there are things I fear more than death. Worst of all was the way it looked at me. I expected pain, the pleading gaze animals assume as death becomes a mercy. But it had a tenderness in its eyes like I have only ever seen in yours, Rachel.
Jarnary 29, 708
It is very cold. I do not have much food. I am beyond the reach of that dead and barren land, but I have emerged into another. The snowfields stretch as far the eye can see in all directions. I will travel as far as I can.
Jarnary 29, 708
I have to stop just for a minute. The only thing but snow is my tracks behind me. The world is white and there is no sound.
I can’t feel the cold. Is that bad? It’s gray now. I also can’t smell anything, unless snow smells like nothing. There’s nothing here.
Abe, was that you I saw climbing the mountain in the distance? For shame, boy, not helping your father move faster through the gray land. I will continue as far as I am able. I smell the nothing. It is all around me.
I had to stop again and, I ran into the cold again. I asked it for my eyes back but it said no. I think I didn’t ask it very nicely, because it said it would have my leg too for impudence. I don’t think that’s very fair. I’ve given seeing hearing smelling tasting to the gray nothing. I want feeling for me.
Now cut that out! You know I love you, so accept my help. I've made everything just the way you like it. So come to me, Abe, and I'll keep you safe like any father ought to do. You're a great son, boy. You'll do me proud. If I could walk over to you up in the sky it would be fine. But the nothing tells me I may not walk that path.
I have to stop for just a minute.
I do not know how long I was gone for, nor how close to death I came. I did not escape unscathed — far from it. It is hard to grip the pen, and my right leg does not feel to the touch like a leg should. I have not yet tried to put my weight on it, but I do not have high hopes. The greater issue, however, is what my fate will be. My rescuer was the thing that was once my mule. I have been returned to the blighted land. It stands before me, as horrible as before, looking at me with that same awful kindness. And it appears to be offering me food.
Gruel, but surprisingly appetizing. Or perhaps that is simply hunger speaking. Why was I saved? Was it some lingering loyalty from my pack animal of four years? Or is whatever rules this place saving me for some more sinister agenda? For some reason, my wagon is nearby, standing just inside the snowline. More figures are approaching. I cannot quite tell from this distance, but they do not look human.
One is a butchered elk, resembling the once-mule. Another appears more metal than flesh; I do not know what it once was. The last appears to be a mass of several dozen ground squirrels, grafted together by silvery bands into a crude simulacrum of the human form. It is hard to look at without a wrench of nausea. Between them they bear a palanquin. They stop a short distance away, and my rescuer gestures between the cart and the palanquin, then between the snow fields to the south and the mountains to the east. It is a choice. I can either brave the snowfields once more or allow these things to bear me to their hidden master. Forgive me, Rachel. You cannot imagine what it was like out there. I cannot face the gray nothing again.
We have just reached the summit of this barren mountain, and I can see clearly what loomed over them. It is a tower, a massive, gleaming tower stretching higher than I can believe. Around the base, there is a forge-glow. I do not know what these things intend, but I fear I may have chosen poorly. The palanquin has begun its descent into this hellish valley. If I am able, I will continue to relate what may befall me within.
It is marvelous up here. I can see for miles, and the air is so clear and brisk. And when I have my fill of the vista, I can walk down inside the Tower to join the others of the Honored. No sleep-stalkers, no dybbuks, no fleshsmiths can threaten me here. The cold of this winter can do me no harm. I will not starve, I will not parch, I will not want for anything. There is no trick, there is no hidden peril. Push past the appearance of the Servants. Accept salvation, no matter the form. Come join me, my family. I cast my testament to the winds, in the hopes that it will reach you. I love you, and so does the Tower.