Tanner and I received a series of messages from Jefferies, who as far as I can tell, was contacting us from inside the elemental. I don't know if I'm allowed to post them, but I don't really care. Not that I could make sense of them, anyway. Command's gone silent, and nobody else will tell me anything.
Here they are:
* * *
I don't know if you guys can see this, or if I'm just typing in the dark, but it says I've still got network access, so ... I'll just assume that these are my last words. I'll keep writing for as long as I can still send these, but I don't expect it to go on for very long. I guess this means that we won. Or at least, I hope we did. Thane, Tanner - I hope you get the chance to read this. I'll miss you guys. I'll miss Barry, and Sprite, and I'd like to think that they're in a better place right now, but I guess anything is better than here.
Don't feel bad about what I did. It had to be done. We saved the universe, and you guys were a part of it, so don't ever feel guilty about what had to happen. Anyway, enough of the sappy shit. I guess I'm on your side of the fence now, Sprite. I can see why you left.
I don't remember as much about this first part. I woke up face-down on the ground, covered in something that looked like blood, but I knew that it wasn't. It smelled like gasoline. I could barely see, and every nerve in my body felt like it was on fire, my ears ringing until everything started to come back to me. When it did, all I could hear was the silence; it was so quiet that I could hear my own heartbeat - every little movement that I made. I was in the place that we saw before the end - the Lunar Fortress, right? I remember the brightness of every surface, like I was stumbling around an occult citadel of the whitest stone I ever saw, these spined arches and pyramidal spires towering into the dark, but every sense I had was so scrambled that all I could do was wander aimlessly, and follow my intuition. I couldn't even think, like I was running on auto-pilot through a horrible fever dream. Looking back on it, I don't think that portal was meant for human beings, and whatever the transference did to me, I can still feel it.
In the flashes, the sky was a void. No stars or anything. I remember finding my way to a beach, where the waves were just as dark, and I just kept my eyes locked on the moon, moving forward and never looking back. I was walking on the water, out onto an ocean of nothing. I don't know how long I was out there for, but eventually, my mind started to come back to me. As soon as I was lucid, I saw a shore of pitch black sand in the distance, and what looked like a forest beyond it.
My boots hit the ground, and the ocean disappeared behind me. I was standing in the middle of the wood. The bark of every tree was like petrified, ebony meat, spongy and caked with dried blood, but still somehow alive. Their roots were everywhere, crowding the earth like fleshy tentacles that twitched whenever I touched them. The sky is just a battlefield of violet clouds, all clashing into each other, like at that town in North Dakota, but so much more vibrant in every way that it shouldn't be. I don't know where the light is coming from, but everything is covered in this purple glow that sticks to your skin even in the shade, like it's some sort of living liquid that doesn't want to let go.
The farther I walk, the less the terrain seems to conform to any sense of logic. I watched what I thought was a tree disassemble itself into thousands of black centipedes, and crawl away into the dark. There are plants that try to stab at you if you get too close - they can't pierce my armor, but they're dripping with venom, and breathe fumes that make me hallucinate. There are three moons that drift through the sky, but in the corners of my vision, I can see them watching me. I think they're following me, and no matter where I hide, they're always waiting on the other side. I'm trying to ignore them while I rest and type this out, but it's difficult, and I'm not falling asleep for even a second in this place. I am starting to get hungry, though, and I don't know what passes for food around here.
I'll write again when I've made more progress, and I'll keep a close watch on the signal. I'm not optimistic that I'll ever see you guys again, but I have to try.
I met a cat. Or at least, I think she's a cat. When I see her in the corner of my eye, her face starts to change into people I've known. I even saw you, Thane. She told me to call her Cleo, and though I'm not entirely convinced that I can trust her, she's the best I've got. We're staying in a place called Bastion, a section of the woods that's been warded with runes that won't let you pass unless you're "on the list," as she says. She gave me a canteen of blood to drink, because pure water no longer exists, and a bunch of cured meat that came from something called a soilbore, which apparently live in all dirt at all times, and will drill through your feet and up into your brain if you don't wear boots or socks.
I'm staying with Cleo in her cave, but we're not alone here. There's a guy that lives in a hut, and carves little statues out of wood all day. He won't tell me his name, or speak to me at all beyond claiming that he's "been here before." There's some kind of merchant that comes through, and sells everything from swords to automatic rifles and plasma guns, but you have to trade him fresh organs if you want anything, and I'm not sure that one of my kidneys is worth a decaying matchlock. Last, but not least, we have Northern Muninn, who lives in a treefort. He looks like what would happen if a human was half-transformed into a raven, crawling around on four unnaturally long, feathered limbs, with a dark beak sticking out of where his lips stretched and his cheeks split open to accommodate it. He uses his tongue like a hand, and wraps it around the branches to hang from the trees for fun, which is how I first met him, and how I first pissed myself. Despite being terrifying to look at, he's a rather nice guy. He says he's a Raven Knight, and follows the teachings of something named Kaylee, but I didn't ask him to elaborate.
Everyone always tells me about some sort of cataclysm that happened over a century ago, that made the world what it is today, and even if the timeframe is way off, the details seem to correspond with the severing of universes that originally ripped the elemental away from us. The only conclusion I can draw is that time flows much differently here. Nobody seems to know what the cataclysm was - only that it's happened before, and will happen again, which matches the life cycle that the Travelers were talking about at HQ.
I told Cleo about my whole situation, and asked her how I could get back to our universe, but she didn't seem to know. She told me that the only thing that might have that power is a tree called the Red Willow. Every time I think of the name, I feel like I'm being watched, and all I can remember are those sigils we kept finding on our ops: the ones that depicted a weeping willow. I tried to ask Cleo what it was, but she couldn't give me a straight answer. I'm going to try and find it, though, wherever it might be. I'll find my way back to you guys, if there's even the slightest chance.
The signal's getting weaker, so I have a feeling that this will be my final entry. Cleo gave me some provisions for the road, and I left Bastion with Muninn, who seemed to want to help me. Or more accurately, he's searching for his fellow Raven Knights, and has no idea where to start, so he figures my direction is better than any. His memory isn't the greatest, but he tells me he was on an expedition to a city called Sonne, and that his party was ambushed by "the fallen ones," who meet the description of the darkling legionnaires. The others were killed, and he survived, but apparently they were only a small group of a greater whole that he hopes to rejoin. Either way, he wears a suit of armor, carries a rapier, and moves faster than anything I've ever seen, so the protection is appreciated given that I don't even have a weapon.
When I told Muninn that I was looking for the Red Willow, something about it seemed to bother him. I asked him if he knew what it was, but he couldn't tell me much more than Cleo. He said that it grew within a place called the Glade, but he wasn't sure how to actually get there - only that I should seriously reconsider finding it. I'm not giving up that easy, though. He says this world has a pull to it, where so long as you're thinking of your destination, you'll eventually find your way there, and now that I know where I'm going, I guess it's only a matter of time.
It's strange, though. Everyone I meet seems so afraid of the darklings, but it's been several days, and I haven't seen a single legionnaire since I got here. I always had the impression that this was their world, but it's almost like they're some sort of half-remembered legend here - a story only told to scare people.
We're resting now, at the top of a tree. The ground isn't safe at night, and there are parasites everywhere that try to crawl into your mouth and take you over - we already had to kill a guy being controlled by them. Muninn told me to stop staring at the moons, which he called apocalypse stars, but I'm not going to seriously use that name. He said it was bad luck to look at them, and that people who do it too much tend to go missing. I asked him what happens to them, and all he told me was that nobody knows.
We haven't seen anything but the forest, and a couple old ruins, but Muninn tells me that the air is changing, and that he smells flesh upon the wind. He doesn't know what that means, but I have a feeling that we're about to find out.
Anyway, if the signal keeps up, I'll send another entry, but I'm not counting on it. I'm hoping I can find my way back to you guys, and I'm hoping that you're all okay, and that I'm not just sending these into space. All I can say is that it's been a ride, and no matter what happens, I love you guys. The sacrifices you made saved more lives than you'll ever know, so never think that it hasn't been worth it.
See you in another life,
* * *
That was the last message we got from him. I hope that means that the elemental is gone for good, but I find it hard to be hopeful, these days.
I was keeping in regular contact with Tanner, who had been living alone in his apartment after the coms line with Jefferies went dead. He was depressed about his legs, but he was coping. Or at least, I thought he was. He started telling me that he was seeing things, something about roots growing beneath the wallpaper, and beneath his floorboards, but whenever he touched them, they felt more real than anything. The air reeked of gasoline, and when he looked out the window, all he saw were violet clouds that warred and clashed across the sky. I don't know what the ascendants did to him, but he was convinced that none of us were actually on Earth. That none of this was real. Personally, I'm not sure what to believe. He was losing himself, and his emails were starting to become incoherent, but he was the last anchor I had left in my life. The last person still keeping me grounded. Then, he stopped writing. A few days later, and I hear that he jumped out a six-story window. Snapped his neck on impact. Everyone ruled it a suicide.
When I was told, it was like the last part of me finally died. The last thing that was keeping me here.
I'm not sure why I'm even writing this. I suppose I feel like I have to, but it doesn't really matter anymore. I woke up in the hospital yesterday. They said it was alcohol poisoning, and I don't even remember how it happened. I just ripped out my IV and walked away when they weren't looking. No sense in wasting other peoples' time when I'm just going to wind up there again; my days just sort of blur into the next, and if I'm not sleeping, I'm drinking, and if I'm not drinking, I'm crying. Sometimes, when I'm alone at night with nothing but the ringing in my ears, all I can think of is what it would be like to shoot myself in the head.
To end this, forever.
I can see the roots beneath the walls. This awful light keeps spilling through the cracks, and all I can smell is fuel. I don't know what's happening to me. I'm at HQ, but the air keeps getting thicker, like I'm breathing molasses.
Nobody else seems to notice.
The only thing I'm certain of is that I don't want to go back to working for BREACH, and I'd rather die than be forced to do so. The one thing that was keeping me sane was taken away from me, and sometimes, I can't help but think that I should've gone with them. Why do I deserve to live? They suffered and died, but I was spared, and I'm not convinced that there's even a point to it.
I got lucky, but I don't feel like it.
I don't know.
I just miss my friends.