This is possibly the most uncanny of realms, for it contains within it copies of the entire multiverse, including itself, shorn of the concept of time and encumbered by implacable hazards. Somewhere within this realm every separate instant of the entire multiverse is replicated at full scale, animate and inanimate laid out in complete detail with all the lifelessness of a chess set. Should you chance a visit, you must take extraordinary precautions even to survive.
You may find here the scene of your own birth, any fraction of an instant of it, and from that moment explore outwards through your world, encountering it as it were frozen at that point in time. Or you may find the scene of your death (as this visitor’s compatriot was incomprehensibly cursed to witness) or perhaps the lair of your enemy, the workshop of a future inventor, a key scene in your past or future with infinite leisure to explore and learn. But, infinitely more likely, your visits to this lamina will land you in only the most random and irrelevant of slices of space and time.
Although the overworked and over-inspired will dream of the ability to stop time, and a handful claim to have attained this control, the passage of time is so deeply rooted in the experiences of sentient things that a world without time feels broken; the cold silence of things that should be breathing is unnerving. And despite a superficial appearance of normality, it is deathly dangerous here. Light, sound, warmth, and even breath do not follow their normal patterns, and many visitors lose their grasp and remain forever as frozen additions to the display.
The Cartography is unfathomably vast, and navigating it is both very straightforward and quite impossible. From within a given replica of a moment in time and space, known as a tableau, you may explore the geography of the world as normal: everything is laid out at one-to-one scale. But there is no obvious way to remain in the same location and move forwards or backwards in time, nor does there seem to be any way to move to a drastically different location while remaining at the same moment in time. Apertures from outside the laminaAfterworlds that are each aligned with a particular set of facets. The twenty-seven laminae are layered on top of our reality and interact with it in myriad ways. connect to a range of tableau of course, and methods are known to attempt travel to a desired tableau, with terrible risk and unpredictability. Most journeys here lead to tableau that are useless except for curiosity or perhaps meditation, and most often of all you will arrive in what appears to be an infinite primordial darkness.
It is not a pleasant place to linger. The first thing you will notice is that this realm is devastatingly cold. Unprotected, you will succumb in minutes from a cold shock worse than being plunged into an icy lake: rapid breathing, panic, muscle incapacitation, and failure of the heart. Touching an object with bare skin will result immediate frostbite. Encumbrous physical protection will work for a time, but more exotic approaches are needed.
Beyond the cold there are several other unusual properties here. There is no sound possible at all except for the faintest of mufflings audible with your ear pressed against something. Even shouting in another’s ear only generates a drawn-out murmur. Scents, too, are faint, and frozen in the air: you may just barely smell the smoke of a newly lit fire when next to the fire itself, but it will not travel far, unless the fire was lit sufficiently long ago that the smell would have already traveled that distance.
More unsettlingly, the movement of light itself slows to a crawl. When holding your arm out, there is about a second’s delay before your eyes detect any movements your hand makes, but of course the part of your arm closer to you appears to move more quickly, so the result of sweeping your arm to the side is a distorted gradual motion from your shoulder outwards. Of course, since nothing in the environment moves this only mildly disorienting when alone, but in the presence of other visitors, this effect combines with the absence of sound to sculpt a claustrophobic experience where you can never trust your senses.1
The sense of touch is unusual too, and even more so the inertia of all matter. Everything in the environment of any substance at all is firm as diamond, completely immovable and invulnerable. You cannot kick so much as a pebble, and water is solid as metal. Lighter objects yield just barely: you can, with enough force to bend metal, nudge a feather that was floating in the air, and wherever you managed to move it to, it would continue to remain suspended there. If you succeeded in moving the feather to inside your pocket, it would be very hard to walk away, as it would tear the pocket loose from your clothing and remain where it was in space.
Though clear air and gaseous forms don’t resist movement, clear air is rare. A dusty room must be waded through as if through a sea of floating needlepoints. That dust, as well as water droplets from fog or even pollen, all accumulate on clothing and hair and in the lungs and will increasingly bog you down. This can be fatal!
A peculiar inversion results here. Water, quicksand, and lava alike are gracious, harmless terra firma, while grass is a nightmarish field of metal thorns, snapping and knifing underfoot. Worse yet, a splinter of grass lodged in boot or flesh maintains its impossible inertia, practically trapping itself there. An unlucky configuration of three such splinters buried deep out of sight in this visitor’s left foot nearly caused her to spend much longer than she would have preferred in an otherwise pastoral mountaintop tableau.
The greatest hazard of all is cumulative: each of these physical constraints—the cold, the muffle of sound and scent, the slow movement of light, the weight of all substance—slowly worsens the longer you spend in the Cartography. Though the exact parameters are unclear, to a newly-arrived visitor another visitor already there for only hours may appear to be moving with twice the difficulty and be even slower to react to change. Attempts to aid someone in that state must overpower the increased resistance the victim is facing. Of course, remain for long enough and the tourist becomes a permanent resident, as immobile as the rest of the scene.
Visitors sealed into a tableau, artifacts left behind, or any successful attempts to move or bend lighter objects are the only known scenarios in which the state of things in this lamina may not be true to the outside multiverse. Though it is an unlikely scenario given the infinite spread of space and time represented here, this fact provides a tiny seed of doubt behind the assumption that a tableau accurately reflects a real happening.
Lastly, you have read that this realm contains even itself. What does that mean? This has been experimentally proven: tableau have been found depicting the Cartography, that is to say, tableau of explorers visiting a tableau, and even, in one tragic recorded case, tableau of an explorer finding a tableau of explorers visiting a tableau, which will be discussed shortly.
Unique among all of the laminae , there appear to be no petitionersSouls of the dead that have re-manifested on the most well-suited lamina, where they perfect and reshape themselves while carrying out pursuits in accordance with that lamina's principles. who make the Cartography their final residence. Visitors have reported beings sighted from a distance: slender: humanoid creatures with iridescent flesh wrapped in cloaks, carefully inspecting some detail of a tableau. Apparently unencumbered by the oppressive nature of the lamina, they are swifter than any visitor and gently depart when sighted. Whether they are native laminalsRelating to, stemming from, or residing on the laminae. Can also be used to refer to creatures that natively reside on the laminae but which are not manifestations of mortal souls. or simply frequent guests is unknown.
Among those few scholars, mercenaries, and obsessives familiar with this lamina, however, a small and wildly dangerous cottage industry has sprung up, accompanied by a certain camaraderie. The Cartography is something of a holy grail that, if tamed, would hold untold promise. It is reminiscent of that fable of the near-infinite library that contains all possible books of a certain size, which are mostly indecipherable but must by necessity have among their member all past and future books, some of great knowledge and power.
The case of the Cartography, however, is more tantalizing, since some methods hold promise of guiding you closer to a desired moment. Once the desired tableau has been reached, especially if this was achieved with a permanent aperture that lets visitors come and go as they please to avoid the gradual burden of the place, it can be explored with none of the hazards of the original location. Enemy defenses or the location of powerful relics in a hostile environment could be explored and mapped out at leisure. One can also travel to places normally inaccessible. With a suit fashioned from lotus leaves or shark skin adventurers have found ways to swim through fog, and with a large kind of solid snowshoe you can walk on clouds if you keep moving. Lava is lukewarm to the touch and completely solid, traps are never sprung, defenses hang helplessly in the air, and treacherous paths never crumble.
[This chapter has not yet been fully translated. Please turn to the Inevitability, the Bloom, or the Unfolding for completed chapters.]
The full effect of this deserves to be laid out in detail. Light appears to travel at about one yard every second, which the average person can easily outrun. Imagine your companion stands ten yards away from you. It will take them no more than five seconds to reach you, at which point you can still see them as they were standing ten yards away ten seconds ago. The first sign that you would have that they reached you would be them suddenly appearing directly in front of you, after which their motion towards you is slowly revealed in a reverse blur. Eyeball-to-eyeball you see them, one second after that you can see them when they were still one yard away from you running towards you, then two seconds after that you can see them as they were two seconds prior, until eventually the image of them standing ten yards ago fades. And were you to attempt to reach out to your companion, they may no longer be in the location you reach for.↩︎