Landscapes as diverse as the multiverse itself cover islands scattered across the Glass Ocean, teeming with assorted regiments beckoning imagination into structural reality: towers, bridges, monuments, citadels, silos, domes, parapets, temples, amphitheaters, catacombs, highways, bridges, labyrinths, palaces, prisons, and crenellated parliaments soar and plunge, constructed of wood and stone, metal and bone, crystal and coral and mineral. Across the Unfolding they arc and glisten and groan and grow, and upon the enormous central continent of this realm these structures congregate in a dense symphonic metropolis as far as the eyes can see.
The Architects of the Unfolding are ascendant, peerless artists of engineering and construction. They provide their services freely, for the joy of creation and mastery of their work. Partnering with and training teams of mortal outsiders, they work together by first devising and building a full-scale version here, before sending their clients home to build the final version in situ.
Their work cannot be purchased: the Architects only take on projects when convinced of their merit and uniqueness as opportunities to perfect their craft. They are as peculiar and creative as they are diligent and reliable, and are so effective at establishing requirements and marshaling resources and labor that they are able and perfectly happy to work in the service of any power or project, even those of AutonomyAutonomy tends towards freedom, independence, unpredictability, individualism, ad hoc invention, radicalism, dynamism, chaos, and change.Turn to chapter or DissolutionDissolution tends towards finality, rest, release, destruction, nullification, loss, ignorance, waste, death, and certainty.Turn to chapter, for in their eyes no agent or perspective has any moral value; they simply reveal the structure of the multiverse, a structure which fascinates them and upon which they are eager to build.
The Unfolding is covered by the endless Glass Ocean, crystal-clear and bottomless, devoid of life or motion. The immense continent of Axial is regarded as the “center” of the lamina—inasmuch as an infinite ocean can have a center—in the middle of which is the Scaffold, a gleaming, skeletal building home to hundreds of offices and guilds and believed to be the tallest structure in the multiverse. The continent is surrounded by archipelagos thinning out to chains of sparse islands.
New projects are each constructed on (or sometimes above or beneath) an island just large enough to support it, incredibly distant from the mainland. Successful and desirable buildings gradually float on their islands towards the center, merging with others and forming larger and larger land masses, some eventually colliding with Axial. Less populated structures may float in the archipelagos instead of merging fully, or may even break off again and drift back out to sea.
Each island is constructed by teams of eccentric Architects known as PatternersPatterners shape the terrain of the Unfolding itself to produce islands and environments suitable for Architects to build upon.Turn to section, who conjure islands out of the ocean with environments that replicate the desired project site and materials. Since these environments vary wildly, some portions of the mainland contain a surprising patchwork of atmospheric and geographical conditions that influence each other over time, producing unusual backdrops earnestly exploited by Architects for their various competitions and personal works. Inhospitable environments, such as lava fields or tectonic gem caverns, are, where possible, steered towards others of their kind to form smaller uniform land masses.
The Glass Ocean covers the entire realm and lies beneath every surface. This ocean, and the atmosphere above it, have peculiar qualities. The liquid is less buoyant than water (most flotsam sink quickly) and quite cold, but otherwise feels and reacts as water. No waves disturb the surface and nothing lives within it. Significantly, anything left in contact with the liquid, except the land of the realm itself, gradually dissolves into nothing over the course of several hours. This effect extends into the air was well, wherever it is not blocked by land. Objects in the air above the liquid also gradually dissolve, though the effect is slower, taking a day or more.
It is assumed that this dissolution (of unused or recycled materials, daily refuse, lost travelers, and poorly-planned invasions) provides the raw material from which PatternersPatterners shape the terrain of the Unfolding itself to produce islands and environments suitable for Architects to build upon.Turn to section create new islands. Some connection to the ocean would explain why matter conjured by Patterners, when removed from the Unfolding, quickly disintegrates.
One phenomenon of this realm that is partially beyond the control of the Architects is the presence of wind shifters. It is not clear if these gargantuan entities are living creatures or automatons, though most by far presume the latter. They slowly roam across land and atop the ocean without dissolution. The wind shifters are dozens or even hundreds of yards tall, consisting of countless slender, crystalline rods organized with interlocking joints into complex symmetrical and repeating patterns. The soft breeze that blows across the Unfolding causes them to shift and rotate, moving their parts in an orderly succession that results in their “walking” across the lamina. As natural wonders, the wind shifters are treated with a gentle reverence, and their form is a common thread in the visual language of the Architects.
While there is no way to directly control the shifters, the guild of The Eventual Whisper is devoted to analyzing atmospheric conditions and shifter behavior to predict where they will travel with astounding accuracy. This serves two purposes. Firstly, shifters sometimes—though rarely, for most are far out at sea—threaten buildings, and teams known as ChordsTeams who manipulate the environment in order to change wind shifter paths.Turn to section are dispatched to deploy shields and sails to redirect wind patterns to cause them to alter course. In worst-case scenarios, the Architects find it necessary, with melancholy but no reluctance, to obstruct the path of one of these delicate constructs, thereby causing its collapse.
Secondly, harnesses have been constructed for shifters of suitable shape, under which can be slung large palanquins with sails and rudders, and above which can be fastened tethers to tripod archways that anchor the shifter to roam beneath. The resulting assemblage allows the Architects to use them as vehicles for crossing the otherwise impassible ocean. This is made possible by the fact that the presence of shifters appears to mitigate the atmosphere’s dissolving effect, and that they always remain atop the surface of the ocean. They are the only method by which one can safely travel long distances over the waters.
No central authority rules the Unfolding: structure is provided by a network of guilds, each with their own specialties and services. For instance, The Shield of Both Eyes retains defense and fortification strategists, The Multitudes creates hermitages and other places of solitude, while The Silver Thread provides translation, diplomacy, and management expertise for dealing with challenging clients and overseeing laborers. Smaller guilds specialize in, for instance, advising on projects situated in a specific environment (such as underwater domains, magma flows, or particular laminae), while other guilds are sought out for the styles or materials they employ. Newly arrived petitioners tour guild exhibitions at the base of the ScaffoldThe Unfolding is covered by the endless Glass Ocean, crystal-clear and bottomless, devoid of life or motion. The immense continent of Axial is regarded as the “center” of the lamina—inasmuch as an infinite ocean can have a center—in the middle of which is the Scaffold, a gleaming, skeletal building home to hundreds of offices and guilds and believed to be the tallest structure in the multiverse. The continent is surrounded by archipelagos thinning out to chains of sparse islands.Turn to section to determine which best suits their temperament and desires. Guilds are responsible for spearheading projects, and they also perform tasks such as training new petitioners, sending expeditions to other realms for research and inspiration, and organizing symposiums to brainstorm, mingle, and share knowledge with other Architects and visitors.
Architects are famed for irrepressible energy channeled with diligence and purpose. While meticulous, they are far from dull. They are excellent and inquisitive conversationalists, especially on subjects that concern their guild, and are eager to integrate any new information into their encyclopedic repertoire.
A keen—if somewhat literal—sense of humor is also not uncommon. More than once this visitor was excitedly regaled with a story of one design associate who slipped past reviewers a cleverly designed ventilation system: this system would, when the wind was just right, take bird feces bestowed by chance upon a precise spot on the roof of the mountaintop keep of the countess Mayderenne of Fythe, in Cerivalia, and route them to an opening directly above the head of the regnant seated upon her throne. The countess, known as the Lady of Arrows by her subjects, was a proud huntress famed for, of course, her unfailing accuracy at targeting distant birds, and was displeased to be targeted in return.
The associate’s guild intended to reprimand her, but was unable to find any declaration in the project contract that specifically excluded such a feature. Furthermore, several superiors had reviewed and signed off on her designs without having noted the unusual ventilation system. The Unfolding lacks a central constitution; law is defined by precedent and by that which is collectively agreed upon by all relevant parties (a system that relies absolutely, and successfully, on the honesty and consistency of its members). The approval of her supervisors indicated that, by definition, the associate had followed the rules, regardless of the client’s displeasure with the result. “That is how it is built,” an Architect would say of the system that produced this result: there is no judgment to be made, only, perhaps future contracts to update. The associate was found to have committed no wrongdoing, and rose in stature in the guild before eventually parting ways to found the illustrious Quip and Cable, which focuses on intricate, large-scale, cause-and-effect contraptions.
Visiting parties must make a detailed application for services from the appropriate guild. Once approved, the Architects themselves do not perform manual labor on these projects, but their construction projects follow an exacting protocol. Contracting parties provide their own workforce, who are brought in to and temporarily housed on the island created in the Unfolding as a construction site, in order to perfect the construction locally before returning to build the finished product on their own at the desired site. If clients are unable to execute to the Architects’ satisfaction, the project is canceled—a common occurrence.
Although the work involved in building twice is arduous, there are several advantages to the process. Firstly, the Architects wish to have their own copy of the work in perpetuity. Secondly, for both security reasons and the favorable climate and resource availability on the Unfolding, Architects refuse to work outside of their lamina.1 Since these projects are far more ambitious and experimental than clients could arrange on their own, a trial run here is the only way they could successfully execute. Both engineers and laborers from the visiting entourage are trained extensively and work closely with laminal advisers who are far more skilled and knowledgeable than they are.
As a result of this process, the Unfolding is filled with copies of many of the most famous architectural gems in the multiverse. Once a project is completed, interested petitioners take up residence in it, or a guild may adopt and often modify the structure. The Architects are not hoarders, however, and few structures last indefinitely. When a creation falls into disuse, a celebration is held before the structure is dismantled and its materials returned to the ocean. A scale model is then entered alongside research, blueprints, and adjustment metrics in the alcove-lined corridors beneath the Grand Tensile Pavilion.
Of course, the most spectacular, creative, and experimental structures in the Unfolding are created in the service of no client, but instead for the pure joy and challenge of it, often for entry into annual competitions in an ever-changing array of categories. Recent competitions include ones for structures with as little contact with the ground as possible, live adjustments to existing structures while PatternersPatterners shape the terrain of the Unfolding itself to produce islands and environments suitable for Architects to build upon.Turn to section modify the terrain on which they stand, or buildings made from drastically different materials than they appear to be made with. On these internal projects, the Architects do indeed perform the required physical labor. Many are expert artisans in good health, and they often congregate en masse to erect an entire structure in as little as a single day.
Both the environment and culture of the Unfolding are more hospitable to visitors than many laminae. Combined with the fact that the Architects explicitly work with mortals, this results in a large foreign contingent here. When visiting you must register at an imposing and somewhat bureaucratic office at the base of the ScaffoldThe Unfolding is covered by the endless Glass Ocean, crystal-clear and bottomless, devoid of life or motion. The immense continent of Axial is regarded as the “center” of the lamina—inasmuch as an infinite ocean can have a center—in the middle of which is the Scaffold, a gleaming, skeletal building home to hundreds of offices and guilds and believed to be the tallest structure in the multiverse. The continent is surrounded by archipelagos thinning out to chains of sparse islands.Turn to section, and you may then reside temporarily in various taverns and dormitories that will freely cater to your needs. You are welcome to peruse the glories of Axial, but are restricted from viewing any projects under construction, which are anyways safely beyond reach on distant islands. Likewise the laborers arriving with clients for actual construction are quarantined on the island created for their project.
Proposals for projects can be presented at an office at the Scaffold. Those who wish to do so should first review the extensive proposal requirements and consult the guild directory, in order to ascertain the appropriate guild to petition and to seek out relevant Architects for their advice.
AperturesLocations where two realms are joined in such a way that you may slip between them. They appear as uncanny distortions through which passage can be disorienting and dangerous.Turn to chapter to the Unfolding can be found in esteemed engineering and architecture guilds across the multiverse, as well as in the possession of the odd library or patron of the arts. Notably lacking a connection is SobleiAn ancient metropolis suspended in the moment of its apocalypse, Soblei contains thousands of apertures to realms all across the multiverse. Its hurricane winds and blinding light and darkness render it a wildly inhospitable place to pass through even briefly.Turn to chapter; the legend is that before its destruction the ruler of that otherwise famously aperture-laden place was so incensed with consequences stemming from a resident’s commission that any connection between the two realms was severed.
One consistently recurring architectural contest solicits blueprints for building a monument from struts collected from any wind shiftersTowering entities of crystalline rods arranged in complex patterns, wind shifters meander across the Unfolding driven by currents in the wind.Turn to section that collapsed during the previous year. The winner may take one associate with them and spend as much time as required to personally construct their design on the Echo Plateau, an isolated and windswept grassy promontory that is unreachable by wind shifters, so as not to pose them any further collision risk. The contest is held most years, but occasionally a year will pass with no collapses; correspondingly, some years will see the remains of many or unusually large wind shifters, resulting in a very substantial monument. Atop the plateau rest hundreds of monuments, and no other construction is allowed on the land.
Out of respect for the perfection of their original forms, contestants never attempt to incorporate any sort of movement or response to the wind in their creations. What struck this visitor most was the contrast between the inexorable and graceful movements of active wind shifters, and the awful stillness of their constructed echoes on the plateau. This contrast is especially notable given the strong winds across the plain, which would propel active wind shifters vigorously and eloquently.
Shifters are made of a strong, lightweight, opalescent material, affording the opportunity to engineer dynamic and acrobatic structures, though virtually any style may be found among the echoes. In particular there is a divide between artists who choose to complement the geometric exactitude of live shifters, and those who re-interpret their remains in organic or even personified styles. Still others create monuments that resemble shrines, archways, enclosures, optical illusions, plants, and other forms. Most famously, after one year with a record collection of shifter remains, an Architect named Jindarma and his chosen partner (a mortal visitor, a warrior supposedly of some renown in his home world) spent many months erecting a steep, slender, gently curved staircase jutting at an angle off a cliff edge over the Glass Ocean, out and up a hundred yards into the open sky.
The Echo Plateau is a common place of solo pilgrimage for those who have experienced loss, and it is here that a core principle of the Unfolding resonates powerfully: all happenings, irrespective of their emotional or moral content, are opportunities for commemoration, challenge, creation, and beauty.
A slim peninsula forms a long arc off the coast of Axial, and on this strip of land sits the Promenade of Congruities: one long building that follows the land, growing over time, with every section built by different artists. Each new addition extends the original building with a space that simultaneously evokes two contrasting aesthetic properties, one of which is shared with the previous section. Apart from this, the only requirement is that a pedestrian should be able to walk in an uninterrupted path from one end of the promenade to the other.
Reader, the Unfolding is resplendent with masterpieces, but walking the full length of the promenade left this visitor blind with wonder.
A meager summary of the hour’s journey will be attempted here.
The entrance to the promenade is a tall facade the width of the peninsula, built from a rosy warm stone and adorned with pillars and vaulted alcoves. An exterior spiral staircase leads ten yards up to a landing, where an archway passes through the facade to a small balconied corner terrace lush with heavy rugs, darkly patterned bolstered floor cushions, and low tables heaped with lanterns and relics. Silk and gauze canopies flutter from free-standing columns, and ornately carved wooden screens create a maze of niches. The clustered terrace overhangs a vast open courtyard, bounded by white marble walls thirty yards high and angled just slightly outwards. The entire courtyard is completely smooth and empty save for a wide strip of the same rosy stone from the facade running horizontally across the upper part of the walls.
Stairs lead down from the terrace, along the wall to the blank enclosure which continues on for a minute’s walk, footsteps echoing off the walls. The ground is gradually adorned by small tables, stacked with odd collections of objects. As the courtyard continues, large shelves and cabinets accumulate baubles: pottery and glass dishes, brass lamps, figurines and candlesticks, toys, gems, icons, masks, jewelry boxes, bottles, puppets, daggers, tools, and many objects of unknown purpose, until the wide open enclosure bursts wall to towering wall as an orchard overflowing with treasures underneath the clear sky. A narrow path barely meanders its way through the jumble, though nothing rises above head height and so the path and entire courtyard can be surveyed from every point.
The items are not mere knick knacks. Every last object reveals fantastical detail upon inspection: a tiny animal skull carved into a mosaic lattice and bristling with iridescence, a crystalline globe swirling with colors like an underwater world down to a level of detail too small for the naked eye, an elegant glass bowl holding several stone fruit in a sloped curve as if suspending them in the air, an icon of woven red metallic thread spun into a geometric flower, a miniature bookshelf packed with tiny bound books boasting extraordinary artwork, a finely detailed doll of an eccentric neon-bedecked wizard with a bird draped around his neck, one series of cabinets packed with astonishing porcelain, a chain of wooden beads that each open to reveal allegorical carvings at the most minute scale, and literally thousands upon thousands of other sumptuous miracles.
The courtyard ends abruptly outside a square structure of smooth white alabaster into which cuts a square entryway. In the large enclosure inside, thousands of featureless alabaster cubes from as small as a fist to as large as a boulder affix to the floor, walls, ceiling, and each other. They pile irregularly, sometimes stacking towards the vertical middle of the room like stalagmites and stalactites, leaving no path through except to clamber over and around their rectilinear precipices and crevasses.
Each cube presents a slight indentation on one edge, with which that face can be slid aside to reveal an interior overflowing with more artifacts. As varied as those in the courtyard outside, these however are every last one pure white, of the same material as the building and its cubes, without any variation in shade or texture. From this visitor’s brief exploration, the cubes appear to be organized in ways both obvious and obscure. One contained pieces carved into shapes of branches and leaves, while another was full of reliefs showing the portion of the face containing one eye and the small area of brow and cheekbone around it. One especially large cube gathered life-size sculptures that included a hand attached to an arm, a small birch tree, a flower, a scimitar, a spoon, a chess piece, a tied-back curtain, a pipe, and several animal horns, all collected under perhaps no more articulate an organizing principle than the aesthetic of slenderness.
A small square cut-out in one corner, through which one must duck, exits into another sparse, smooth, white room. The space is dimly lit by the sky visible through a series of small, square openings in the ceiling over which a constant wind whips, creating a loud, toneless, hum that also causes the room and everything within it to steadily vibrate. The ceiling itself slopes evenly downwards as one progresses along a narrow path along the right wall, cut out from the chest-height platform that fills the rest of the space. to the left
It is tempting to hurry through this unpleasant place, but lingering as one’s eyes adjust to the monochrome and dim light reveals astonishingly complex geometric patterns detailed on every surface in the faintest pale gray, barely contrasting with the white stone. The patterns themselves are dizzying and difficult to observe, appearing to shift under a moving gaze. Once sighted, these patterns are visible in every direction, yet closing one’s eyes only leads to more keenly sensing the room’s hum and vibration.
Towards the exit the ceiling lowers to a height too low to stand freely.
At about one and a half yards high, the ceiling ceases descending, and the raised platform that fills the whole chamber to the left of the narrow path opens into a placid body of water, held back from the path at the same height by a low wall. Fewer openings in the sky decrease the intensity of the wind’s hum and vibration, and the further dimmed light makes the vertiginous patterns less perceptible. The already-narrow path is reduced by a seating platform running along the right wall, leaving a space too thin to either stand or sit comfortably. One can sit uncomfortably, however, angling the legs to find foot room without treading into the water, obliquely observing the vast, glassy pool. From this lower elevation, the whistling hum of the wind shifts to a just slightly more tolerable tone.
The path leads up a few steps to level with the pool and through a narrow opening mercifully into a gleaming, bright, outdoor space, once again contained by lofty walls sloping outwards, one the same marbled white, the other a sleek black. The water continues, at an angle alongside a checkered black and white plaza, and ending at a crumbling grotto of igneous black rock that rises incongruously from the tiled ground. The water ripples just barely at the edge of the rock. From the overhang of the grotto waves a series of black wind chimes that issue gentle, clodding, flat noises in the breeze.
Two large statues of horses stand knee-deep in the water, one black, one white, each with a flourishing of dozens of smooth globes in the place of a head. The acoustics of the space are such that sounds seem to echo louder and longer than they should, in a strange interval that accelerates before fading. Footsteps on the crisp tiles produce a startling noise, leading one to walk gingerly. By the edge of the water a passage leads darkly through the rock.
The short passage opens up to an immaculate shrine of sleek black. Light trickles down from white frosted windows behind wrought metal skirting the dome that tops the space, and four archways along the perimeter each lead down four steps to a blank wall. In the place of one of these walls is a small window hushed closed with heavy red curtains. A smell like burnt honey hangs with the sunbeams.
Around a central dais ring a congregation of smooth black statues, each a distinct humanoid character but all with pieces missing or forgotten: part of the torso, a hand, an eye, a cheek. Resting on the dais is a small, elongated, hoofed animal in a fetal position, eyes closed, its skin hairless and strangely unwrinkled, faintly revealing some texture beneath. It is unclear whether the motionless creature is delicately, perfectly, softly carved from some milky stone, or if it is something else entirely, and this visitor could not bring herself to step into the circle to find out.
An additional feature decorates this space. Initially one might notice a dab of black streaking across the white floor, then again from another direction, then none for some time. A close inspection finds minuscule holes dotting the creaseless floor. Occasionally, a single drop of black liquid will issue forth and trickle along the floor, a perfect ball of surface tension, until it slips down another hole, at times first merging with one or more other drops to form a streak significant enough to catch the eye from standing. Each drop roams an uncertain path, perhaps by some agency, or somehow by gravity on the unsloped floor, or by some other means.
The room initially presents no exit, and some have apparently turned to backtrack from here. This visitor, however, had traded her hesitance before the central statuette for a sudden curiosity to see outside the velveted window, and found there behind it a small egress through which to climb.
The window opens to the rear altar of a tremendous vaulted cathedral of which the front nave and entrance some hundred yards away is completely shorn off in a burst of crumbled dark gray stone. Daylight streams quietly in from the open space beyond, as it does through the cracked ceiling and fractured remnants of stained glass windows, the bulk of which lies prismatically glittered and ground into the broken tiles and exposed dirt beneath. Shattered pews lie softening in orderly rows alongside pieces of statues, and entire surfaces are pleasant with lichen, scrambling vines, and fungus luminescing in dim corners.
Great streaks of white are painted upon every wall, sweeping and overlapping in concentric ellipticals that cluster complexly nearer the ground but recede to vague gestures towards the cathedral heights. The patterns are both orderly and chaotic; although absent of repetitions or symmetries, the strokes appear elusively coordinated and self-similar.
A fine layer of dust covers the whole space: a combination of dirt, crumbled stone and stained glass, and disintegrating plant matter. Walking and the occasional breeze stir up gentle clouds that coat the walker and drift into sunbeams. Scattered about rest many copies of the same book, a large tome with a deep purple binding edged in metal, whose pages are universally smudged, torn, water stained, and moldy beyond legibility. Each has been carefully placed, whether atop fragmentary piles, in small clearings between the debris, or nestled on beds of lichen-covered rubble.
At the end of the structure, the ground itself crumbles away until only a narrow path of stone leads across a distant pit littered with rubble, walled by the same sloping white from earlier courtyards. The path ends in a wall that holds a narrow door of smoky glass running up its whole height.
The towering door opens to a dim chamber in which the same narrow stone path leads across a deep chasm walled by scratched and frosted glass lit a pale violet. The blurry surface makes it impossible to ascertain the walls’ distance as they recede downwards into darkness. From the ceiling hangs at varying heights just out of reach a dense forest of glowing objects, a wild and motley jumble filling the space above except for a narrow empty channel over the bridge itself.
There are hundreds of lamps and chandeliers, all stained and cracked open, but most still lit by candles and oil wicks. Luminescent flowers and fungi and fruit and feathers grasp and dangle, drooping from small metal frames; gems and statuettes slowly twirl, chipped and marred, gleaming internally. Mirrors and mirrored and metallic objects—platters and goblets, weapons tools coins crowns and candelabras, tarnished and twisted—each catch and fling a legion of glimmers.
The swaying aerial kaleidoscope makes it difficult to focus on the slender pathway, and shattered remnants smolder and twinkle dizzyingly at the edge of sight upon the ground far below. Dull clinks sound, most alone in the silence, but some unpredictably in clusters and cascades.
At the end of the pathway a narrow opening cuts through the height of the space, and stark white light bolts from the hallway beyond.
This section consists solely of a precipitously tall and winding hallway, studded with narrow alcoves ending in featureless, blindingly bright windows that fail to illuminate the pitch-dark and matte material out of which every surface is built, a material which collapses the distinction between wall and empty space, leaving a maze of evasive obtuse and acute corners. There is nowhere one can stand such that anything can be properly seen at all: from all angles intervenes a slender blazing light too large to shield the eyes from, constricting the vision such that nothing can be discerned along the dark hallway which, as a cruel joke, is irregularly interrupted by sudden turns and one or a handful of steps up or down. Perhaps other features lurk in the brilliant shadows, awaiting appreciation by those with especially limber pupils.
The lights dim as the hallway progresses, eventually taking on a warmer tone and growing hot, until the narrow path gives way to a soaring cleft abutting a dark open space. A maze of low piles of smoldering embers forms a vast, circular walking labyrinth. The room is ablaze with the heat of the embers, but their light is too dim to illuminate either any walls or ceiling or even your own body: everything is suspended in blackness. This visitor walked nearly to the point of losing sight of the maze without reaching side walls, even back to the entrance, tracing the dark anterior wall until, after bordering the previous chamber, it turned away from the labyrinth to continue receding.
If you choose not to skirt around it, the labyrinth is both welcoming and challenging. One the one hand, though it wends elaborately towards the center and then out again, it is unicursal, with no branching paths, and the embers burn cleanly, releasing little ash or smoke. On the other hand, the heat is extraordinary, lending an urgency to your passage, and if stepping over the cinders to take a shortcut a visitor should beware the ignition of an errant scrap of clothing. The whole passage, all circular curves and right angles, takes maybe half an hour to traverse and has a peculiar effect on the vision, filled as it is for so long with the darkness and peripheral dance of red streaks in a haze of calidity. This visitor had the powerful sense while walking that she was in fact unmoving, as the great, wavering, manifold disc translated and rotated around her body.
[The next paragraph is too thoroughly smudged with soot to be legible. It appears to describe a thing at the center of the labyrinth, with several usages of a word meaning “pilgrimage” or “sacrifice”.]
There is no indication of the chamber’s egress except to walk straight from the labyrinth’s exit, carefully, until reaching a black wall, following it left or right to adjust for an imprecise gait, until an opening reveals itself. A narrow black hallway turns back and forth upon itself as it progresses towards more light.
The hallway leads to a large square chamber bathed by a rippling pinkish glow. The chamber is a pocket of air surrounded by liquid: the ceiling and walls are formed from a transparent material holding back great depths of water. The room itself is submerged to chest height in water into which the path descends. Rising just above water’s surface stands a grid of sixteen thick pillars of veined marble, each topped by a stupendous bonfire releasing heavy plumes of smoke. Fortunately, the smoke rises straight through circular holes cut out of the watery ceiling above each pillar, a shaft of ashen air encircled by water and leading to open blue sky, leaving your lungs free as you wade through the hot air and cool water, though a potent smell still hangs in the air, of perhaps cedar tinged with unknown spices.
Above one pillared bonfire at the edge of the room, a leak in the ceiling, or perhaps a careful hole, fires a small jet of water onto the flames. Undeterred, the bonfire proceeds apace with hissing and crackling spits of steam and sparks.
After the warmth of the previous room the water is refreshing, but your face remains subject to the prickling heat of the bonfires until steps rise out at the other end of the chamber.
A threshold cuts through the water tank wall, opening into another chamber covered by a continuation of the glass ceiling but empty of water and instead open to the sky. On either side return the outwardly angled white stone walls from earlier in the promenade. The ground here is a smooth but uneven, a dark gray rock, lumpily descending at a gradual slope. Along the bottom edge of the watery wall of the previous space a slight but steady sheet of water slicks onto the rock and down the slope.
This room is blisteringly hot: the transparent ceiling welcomes and then traps the heat of the day, while the wet sheen of the ground gathers in no crevice or pool to provide respite.
Suspended just off the ground in the center of the otherwise empty room is what appears to be a large streak of vivid orange liquid, twice the height of a person, hanging amorphously like a geyser paused mid leap. The undulating surface is smooth and of a color varying with thickness, thinning to translucency at some parts and separating into sprays of thick dangling gobs at others. To this visitor’s touch it felt unyielding and wet, yet left no moisture on the skin.
The slope eventually levels out, and what little water that reaches this far in liquid form drips out of sight into a thin crevice running from one side of the room to the other. The glass ceiling continues and this room is as hot as the last.
A terraced, pillared, white stone ziggurat fills the chamber, rectangular but bordered by star-shaped turrets, bursting from all corners with cacti and succulents and dry fungi, almost entirely in hues of washed-out green dotted scarcely with patches of color: blood red spines, tiny indigo flowers, blue-gray mottled veins, silvery scales. No two plants are alike. They line staircases and overflow from enormous urns and beds filled with white sand; they hang from parapets and sprout horizontally from terrace walls and vertically from beveled overhangs.
The edifice itself is sculpted on all surfaces with low reliefs depicting rituals and gatherings of all kinds: funerals, banquets, processions, harvests, weddings, and scenes that this visitor could not decipher. From the top of the structure tower a series of the most gargantuan sort of aloe, pressing up against the glass ceiling and then draping over the entire space, their smooth gray-green tendrils thicker than tree trunks.
The building continues as the chamber does, but the plants become gradually more wilted, withered, and pale. Deep cracks vein the structure’s carvings and sculptural crumbles litter the floor; dust begins to fill the air and rest on the overflowing and faded flora. No flower or fruit decorate here, and everything has sunk to the same whitish color. The colossal aloe trees that line the topmost tier become sallow like the rest, their massive limbs hollowed out and concave with brittling flesh. White sand overflows and accumulates in heaps. Yet every surface is still packed with vegetation. It is unclear on which side of the cusp of lifelessness they remain.
The higher terraces give way to a long, elevated pool that releases a caustic, pungent, overwhelming odor, stinging the nose and lungs. The roots and stalks of crowded vegetation are absolutely white where they dip into the fluid, and at its bottom a painting depicting in sharp detail an orderly and colorful garden lies visible through the still and clear liquid.
The pool ends in a narrow ledge after which another begins, this one filled with thick, marbled swirls of liquid color. Flora whose roots dip into this pool, and indeed everything in this transformed section of the ziggurat, are plump and vibrant. Broad leaves covered in gaudy dots, stripes, and unusual patterns sprout from trunks and branches that sport glittering whorls, while dangling tendrils of wholly unnatural colors wave stiffly from terraced edges. The plants all respond to the touch with the same odd rigidity.
The building itself continues in identical structure but painted bright colors, and between carvings of gallivanting animals and feasts hang circular windows, some as small as a head and others larger than a person. Each reveals a vivid diorama behind the glass, from miniature to life-size: a stable of fantastical creatures, a library overgrown by trees, a bakery resplendent with ornate confections, a noble receiving an audience in a golden yellow throne room, a huge display of iridescent glassware, a tank of wildly ornamented stationary sea creatures, and myriad interior palatial scenes. Upon the floor of the life-size bakery diorama lies a complete skeleton draped in tattered cloth, alarmingly incongruous with the tidy and coherent productions in every other display, but this visitor could not find a way in to any of the rooms.
The sloping marble-walled chamber continues to contain the bizarre structure, which finally and abruptly ends with a thin elevated pathway that stretches out to a translucent, iridescent barrier that extends across the whole chamber. The glassy barrier glints with a crackled texture: purplish and teal and red depending on the angle of sight to its surface. Where the pathway strikes the wall stands a door, barely delineated by a slim gap, which opens with a gentle push to the next section.
The first thing one sees is the immense expanse of the Glass Ocean and sky: the far side of this chamber is open to the outside world. The Promenade til this point obscures the exterior landscape totally, and easily makes one forget what lies beyond its walls, but in this space the Unfolding comes rushing back in. The walls, ceiling, and floor are glass, revealing beneath and beyond them the grassy dunes and rocky coastline of the peninsula which supported all the previous spaces.
A broad path passes through the middle to the unadorned ledge where the Promenade ends, but a series of translucent internal glass walls maze symmetrically around the rest of the chamber, each wall tinted its own single color such that every line of sight—except the clear path ahead—passes through multiple walls and displays the world in overlapping hues. A variable breeze wends through these pathways, delivering the sharp, clean, unplaceable scent of the Glass Ocean from unexpected angles.
Three large kaleidoscopic “windows” (for they are not really windows, as they obscure the view more than the surrounding glass) unfold on each side wall: dense, chromatic, multifaceted blossoms of gem and crystal that warp and wrap the sights beyond.
To one side in the open central path is a large, eight-sided pillar covered in colorfully mirrored, angled planes. Each side reflects the viewer in a unique way—fractured and disjointed in one, as a stained glass mosaic in another, and on one side reflected by a plain mirror revealing the multicolored shadows cast on the viewer by the surrounding walls.
The very edge is bare, awaiting the structural segue yet-to-be-planned by whichever Architect creates the next section. A slender crystalline ladder descends from this edge to a footpath below, which leads back inland.
It is not clear where to go next. The obvious antonym to “clear” is “opaque”, but the combination is challenging. “Dark” would possibly work, but has been used in the Promenade already. Either combination draws cheerful gags about a chamber that blinds its visitors. Perhaps “mirrored”? Or else more sections added on to the beginning? Ideas will surely come.
This visitor met one excited Architect, preparing a proposal for the Promenade, who had just returned from an expedition to the ReverieA realm for those who spent their lives saying "no", the Reverie is an endless stone plain in which geometric chasms hold solitary Eremites in rest and contemplation.Turn to chapter for the advice of two legendarily astute and immortally bickering Eremite lovers, asking after what could be both both clear and opaque, and receiving the answer “information”.
While in theory every disused or undesired construction is disassembled and reclaimed, in practice some face other fates for a variety of reasons, from the inhospitableness of its terrain or unusually difficult materials used, to simply gaps in bureaucracy. This visitor heard mention of a sizable continent consisting of all the works of a particular disgraced Architect pushed far out at sea, but further details varied: a lingering plague, violent mortal squatters, a demigod’s curse.
Shield of Both Eyes retains genius defensive strategists and fortification virtuosos.
The Multitudes create hermitages and other places of solitude.
Silver Thread provides translation, diplomacy, and management expertise for dealing with challenging clients and overseeing laborers.
The Eventual Whisper analyzes atmospheric conditions and wind shifter dynamics in order to predict their movements, working closely with Chords, the teams who manipulate the environment in order to change wind shifterTowering entities of crystalline rods arranged in complex patterns, wind shifters meander across the Unfolding driven by currents in the wind.Turn to section paths.
Quip and Cable focuses on intricate, large-scale, cause-and-effect contraptions.
Smaller guilds specialize in a wide range of domains, for instance advising on projects situated in a specific environments (such as underwater domains, magma flows, or particular laminae), or providing expertise with specific materials or styles.
Patterners are more a caste than a guild, and can be found in the service of various guilds or in independent groups. Patterners shape the terrain of the Unfolding itself to produce islands and environments suitable for Architects to build upon.
Galabast is a famed mathematician who has attempted to model the form and function of wind shiftersTowering entities of crystalline rods arranged in complex patterns, wind shifters meander across the Unfolding driven by currents in the wind.Turn to section.
Many competitions are held, including one for structures with as little contact with the ground as possible, one involving live modifications of existing structures while Patterners drastically change the terrain on which it stands, and one around buildings made from drastically different materials than they appear to be made with.
Some other notable events include:
Glintings are events large and small held by various guilds or regions, in which apprentices prepare scale models for feedback, alongside demonstrations and brainstorming sessions.
The Chorus of Sails celebrates the magnificent work of ChordsTeams who manipulate the environment in order to change wind shifter paths.Turn to section during The KindlingTurn to section, but has also come to represent Chords in general. Challenges are laid out, demos performed, and awards given. Some use this day to honor the event of The Kindling itself.
The Architects are aware that bringing in a large construction force is a potential security hazard. Riskier projects are situated on islands conjured far from important settlements, and the Glass Ocean and its inhospitable atmosphere take care of visitors who go exploring. At the same time, the Architects seem incapable of ascribing malicious intent, and treat the risks, challenges, and occasional failures of their projects as exercises in understanding and working with the nature of beings with agency.
A catastrophe known as the Unseen Feud, in which complex extralaminal rivalries spilled into the Unfolding, is a notable example in the long history of infrequent disasters that have contributed to the strictness of the Architects’ process. Some lengthy table-setting is required.
A small but venerable community of numenites2 in the Cerivalian mountain range of Mistloss had at the time come under attack from a troupe of harrows3 whose sudden arrival was unexplained. The numenites were far outnumbered, and over years were forced to abandon their ancient mainland cities and retreat to a volcanic island off the coast, covered in one side with dense forest and the other in volcanic rock graced by occasional rivers of lava. The harrows continued to pursue them, and so the numenites came to the Architects for assistance in building and fortifying their new home in unfamiliar territory, one that did justice to their society’s storied past while outfitting the area with defenses that would exploit the coastal and geothermally active terrain.
PatternersPatterners shape the terrain of the Unfolding itself to produce islands and environments suitable for Architects to build upon.Turn to section dutifully recreated the environment, including the deep chambers of magma that would play a key role in defensive plans, that in the Unfolding hung under the ocean like the bulk of a glacier. Joint work began on melding the numenites’ historical rectilinear, minimalist architectural style with the rugged tangle of coast, mountain, jungle, and underground lava tubes that made up their new home. At the same time, magical and mechanical traps were devised, making extensive and careful use of the generous volcanic activity.
As this project was underway, elsewhere in the Unfolding Architects had been working for decades with a court of glyptids4 that had gathered around a glyptarch5 who wished to build an industrial empire atop a ruined world that had tumbled into some blasted OrdialThe membrane that divides laminae from cardinal worlds, a membrane which can be forded by various means.Turn to chapter fold. They sought the Architects’ aid in order to develop technology to mine deep within the [untranslatable, unknown glyph]. This budding kingdom had been orchestrating various manipulations of pawns in the endless struggle between harrows and saraphs,6 as glyptids often did. Unknown to the Architects, one of their schemes included supplying [untranslatable, unknown glyphs] to the harrows who were besieging the numenites. They had encouraged the harrows to build a stronghold on the numenites’ land, since a sealed apertureLocations where two realms are joined in such a way that you may slip between them. They appear as uncanny distortions through which passage can be disorienting and dangerous.Turn to chapter to a vital saraph citadel lied beneath the waters between the numenites’ kingdom and their volcanic retreat. Ostensibly the glyptids promised to help the harrows launch a surprise attack upon their foes the saraphs, but in fact they planned to rip open the aperture at a less opportune moment in order to unleash a war between them that, the glyptids hoped, would cripple both sides. The presence of the numenites was barely known to them.
The numenites became aware of this convoluted plan, and also learned of the glyptids’ cooperation with the Architects: that the Architects’ work indirectly supported the harrows plaguing their society, and furthermore that the leading glyptarch himself frequently visited the lamina to oversee progress.
During the Chorus of Sails festival, when many Architects had returned to the mainland, a team of numenites entered the Unfolding through the temporary aperture which connects every project’s island to its eventual site, overpowered the Architects present on the island, and somehow learned the location of the glyptid project. Using the great drills and valves which had been developed to tap into and control underground magma for defensive purposes, the numenites tore a hole in one edge of the volcano, unleashing a torrent of magma that propelled the entire island towards their target.
The journey took days but was uninterrupted. At the same time, a numenite prince undertook an ultimately fatal quest to slip into the glyptid’s realm, where he was able, once his brethren had the Unfolding’s glyptid island in sight and signaled across the Ordial to him, to seal off the aperture connecting it to the Unfolding, stranding the glyptarch and many of his senior advisors there.
The material which was being mined by glyptids on that dead world had been replicated on the Unfolding, and it was volatile and combustible. The volcanic island, in turn, had by that time been converted into an apocalyptic meteor, rigged with magical wards and flinging geysers of ash and magma and pyroclasts. The resulting collision and detonation shook even the distant ScaffoldThe Unfolding is covered by the endless Glass Ocean, crystal-clear and bottomless, devoid of life or motion. The immense continent of Axial is regarded as the “center” of the lamina—inasmuch as an infinite ocean can have a center—in the middle of which is the Scaffold, a gleaming, skeletal building home to hundreds of offices and guilds and believed to be the tallest structure in the multiverse. The continent is surrounded by archipelagos thinning out to chains of sparse islands.Turn to section in central Axial, and no glyptid nor Architect on the island survived.
Two procedural changes were enacted after this incident. Firstly, when accepting a project, scholars now perform due diligence on new clients to ensure there is no active conflict with any other clients currently working on the lamina. Secondly, they held a competition to devise a suitable self-destruct mechanism that could be built into new islands, such that any situation that got out of hand could be contained.
This visitor was unable to find whether the gambit, in crippling the numenites’ foes’ supply chain, accorded them any respite. A handful of history texts recount the incident, but they focus on the glyptarch’s plans and this catastrophe’s ramifications on his proxies in other wars. The numenites are mentioned without any context, as if they undertook the mission out of altruism (a peculiar assumption to make of a people that, while benevolent, are known to be fickle and independent), while it is only in the archives kept by the Architects that the numenites’ side of the story is explained.
The Architects were keen to understand the circumstances: that understanding was an important part of their collective reckoning with what was, for them, a tragedy not only for the loss of Architects and failure of both projects, but also for their inability to comprehend and preempt the situation. The Architects bore no more ill will to the numenites than one would to the scorpion that stings the foot about to step on it, and only wished to incorporate awareness of their nature into their preparations. Of course the numenites would use any means necessary to thwart their opponents. “That is how they are built,” an Architect would say, adjusting their blueprints accordingly.
“Not since the ScaffoldThe Unfolding is covered by the endless Glass Ocean, crystal-clear and bottomless, devoid of life or motion. The immense continent of Axial is regarded as the “center” of the lamina—inasmuch as an infinite ocean can have a center—in the middle of which is the Scaffold, a gleaming, skeletal building home to hundreds of offices and guilds and believed to be the tallest structure in the multiverse. The continent is surrounded by archipelagos thinning out to chains of sparse islands.Turn to section’s collapse” is a local idiom used to indicate how incredibly long something has carried on for. This visitor was unable to find any particulars about the event however. Asked, Architects assumed that yes, such a thing had happened long ago, and that records in the Scaffold vaults would surely tell more. They did not, only containing the same oblique references except for one cursory timeline of pre-historical events which listed it without a date. Perhaps it originated as tongue in cheek expression—the presently referenced thing ancient enough to have been happening ever since something which never happened—and from here made its way into the historical consciousness.
After an untold number of failed attempts to communicate with or elicit reaction from wind shiftersTowering entities of crystalline rods arranged in complex patterns, wind shifters meander across the Unfolding driven by currents in the wind.Turn to section, it has been assumed that they are inanimate natural constructions. This position is bolstered by the esteemed mathematician GalabastA famed mathematician who has attempted to model the form and function of wind shifters.Turn to section, who was able to replicate their behavior purely from physical principles and produce a mechanical model that functioned on a smaller scale, albeit much more weakly.
Wind shifters function immaculately when undisturbed, but are otherwise precarious. Travel palanquins are carefully fitted to individual shifters so as not to damage them, but miscalculations or even minor brushes with artificial structures generally cause a shifter to buckle and collapse. Once the delicate arrangement of joints is perturbed, the shifter ceases to function entirely (a trait also replicated by Galabast’s models) and its parts are used as materials for monuments on the Echo PlateauTurn to section.
However, some devotees insist that they are sentient, an opinion which relies on an unusual event seen by many but with differing interpretations.
During one year’s GlintingsGlintings are events large and small held by various guilds or regions, in which apprentices prepare scale models for feedback, alongside demonstrations and brainstorming sessions.Turn to section, two shifters were passing through a densely built-up area, one shifter unusually lanky and about one hundred yards tall, and the other smaller but densely intricate. The taller one had already surpassed the previous record for unaided, collision-free journey length across Axial, and forecasters continued to predict no collisions, but had ChordTeams who manipulate the environment in order to change wind shifter paths.Turn to section teams at the ready. When the two shifters were about a mile from each other, however, the larger one altered its path by about 1 degree, an enormous deviation from forecaster predictions, one which put it on a collision course with the other shifter less than a stone’s throw from a plaza in front of the ScaffoldThe Unfolding is covered by the endless Glass Ocean, crystal-clear and bottomless, devoid of life or motion. The immense continent of Axial is regarded as the “center” of the lamina—inasmuch as an infinite ocean can have a center—in the middle of which is the Scaffold, a gleaming, skeletal building home to hundreds of offices and guilds and believed to be the tallest structure in the multiverse. The continent is surrounded by archipelagos thinning out to chains of sparse islands.Turn to section in which a Glinting fair held hundreds of apprentices’ scale models.
In the ten hours of debate and calculation between this shift and the predicted collision, Architects considered whether to intervene or let the Unfolding take its course. The final decision was intervention, but the malfunction of a large sail delayed the effort, and the two shifters collided. In front of thousands of onlookers, all of whom expected a dumb crumpling, the two colliding entities intricately threaded into each other and slowly twirled and merged in place for minutes. At the completion of this serene dance, the two shifters passed through each other on their original courses, while a third shifter emerged traveling in a different direction. The readied Chords, having repaired their tools, had to immediately act to divert this “child” away from the the packed plaza which had in previous calculations been deemed outside the range of possible paths by a wide margin. They were successful, and an annual festival, The Chorus of Sails, was later established to celebrate the Chords’ astonishing feat of intuition, teamwork, and athleticism, performed as it was without forecaster calculations and no advance planning, amidst dozens of buildings and thousands of dispersing bystanders.
The incident itself, dubbed “The Kindling”, remains the only verifiable instance of wind shifter collision. Accounts and interpretations of the event vary. Materialists (those who doubt wind shifter sentience) assert that it simply indicates that shifter complexity had been underestimated. Sentimentalists (who style themselves Realists) argue that there is no accounting for the relatively drastic change in course made by the one shifter, for which random chance is a poor explanation, especially when no atmospheric changes were detected and it set the shifters on a perfect collision course. Additionally, Galabast and his studio have so far been unable to reproduce anything other than total collapse in wind shifter model collisions.
A second disagreement concerns the relative size of the shifters. Precise measurements of the size of the two “parents” had not been taken beforehand. Many onlookers asserted that the two parents emerged smaller, such that the total size of the three shifters was equal to the initial size of the two. Yet other onlookers swore that the two parents remained unchanged in size, indicating that some force or material must remain out of sight within a shifter to afford for a child to be created, further suggesting that there is more to wind shifters than their outward physical form.
The Eventual Whisper guild dispatched a group to follow the child shifter to see if any more unusual events followed. It roamed uneventfully, except that it stayed on dry land for an uncommon length of time. After several months, it headed out to sea. Since its structure would not support a transport palanquin, and no other shifter was heading in a similar enough direction to direct it to follow, the observation was abandoned once the child passed onto the inhospitable waters.
A small group, mostly mortals and deemed fanatics by others, are convinced of the sentience and agency of shifters, and regard The Kindling as a nigh holy event. They have formed a base on a remote island on which to develop techniques that might withstand the dissolving effect of the Unfolding, so that they could freely explore far out into the Glass Ocean, presumed to be the native environment of the shifters and where they are more plentiful, in order to better study them.
A malicious rumor, given little consideration, posits that this devoted band of Sentimentalists are influenced by a destructive ideology anathema to the lamina’s civilization: that the petitioners drawn here as Architects, and the land that they shape, are colonizing intruders who should be destroyed or exiled in order to return the Unfolding to a presumed virgin state: one of uninterrupted glassy waters, endlessly traversed by sentient yet unknowable wind shifters.
This visitor has spoken with some Architects who explain this by referring vaguely to a historical event involving an extralaminal dispute that ended in tragedy for the Architects involved. However, this preference may just as likely be a result of their need for—to put it politely—micromanagement. ↩︎
Translator’s Note: This is an unfamiliar term. It is not a proper noun, and uses an ancient glyph component referring to clouds, with a modifier creating a word meaning something like “clouders”. I have constructed a similar word in our language using a suitably ancient etymology.↩︎
Translator’s Note: This is another unfamiliar term that appears to refer to a group of people or animals, with an additional sense of “those who cause distress”.↩︎
Translator’s Note: Yet another another unfamiliar term referring to a group of people, using obsolete glyphs that impart a sense of either “those who carve [into stone]” or “those who have been carved”.↩︎
Translator’s Note: Perhaps “one who rules over those who carve”.↩︎
Translator’s Note: Roughly “fiery creatures from a distant time or place” and so I use here an old liturgical word that means “burning one” or “serpent”.↩︎