A Lost Wanderer's Note of Departure
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I was the kind of child who spent their days far away from reality. I could stare up at the blue sky for hours, letting my surroundings disappear into a murky background image as I lost myself in my daydreams.

I would imagine every cloud as being its own world. Each one absolutely unique, yet connected to all others by the same infinitely wide sky. I imagined hundreds, maybe thousands of strange vistas I would never see except in dreams. And in every one of them, I also imagined the people, the inhabitants of each world living their lives with joy. I imagined they must all love their world and hold it dear to their hearts, far more than any other. I imagined I, too, could be as happy as them. If only I drifted to one of those clouds, instead of being stuck on this one.

Adults and children equally found my fantasizing to be pointless. Of what use was dreaming of other worlds when you had already been born into this one? There was always something to do to help the community, and age didn’t matter in the least. If you were capable of working, yet chose to slack off, you were simply a drain to the village.

I did have a friend, though. Someone I considered my only ally in that place. She didn’t understand my mind, either, but she didn’t just put up a wall for me to crash into. She let me flow freely, and didn’t judge me to be useless.

She once said to me that she thought my dreams were fascinating, but also sad. She loved her world, and found beauty in the most mundane things about it. She said she wished I could see that beauty as well.

I asked what was so appealing about this dreary place, and she smiled kindly at me. She said the way the sand was always dully brown and firm in the morning, then gradually dried into sparkling white, ever-shifting particles, made the passage of time feel magical. That the incandescent shimmering the sun caused on every surface was a splendid contrast to the darkness of our nights inside. She even found the black, sand-buffeted and constantly deteriorating vaults we called our homes to be wonderful monuments to our tenacity and grit.

I scoffed when she said there was beauty to the busy sight of all the village’s able bodies scuttling about every day, restlessly giving all their energy to make sure their cursed community could endure another day. I told her there was nothing beautiful about being doomed to live in fear yet continuing to cling to a dying world. She smiled at me, but I’d never seen such a sad expression on anyone, and it made my heart feel painfully cold.

Finally, I asked her if she could find any beauty in the ruins all around us. To me, they were nothing but constant reminders of the lives we’d lost. Seeing what were once luxurious palaces and thriving cities reduced to rubble, eroded by the waves that took away our comfort long before we’d been born, could only ever make me sink into despair.

She confessed that the ruins made her sad. That to her, they stood as proof of our arrogant past, of the greed and pride that were preached as the causes for the ecological nightmare we now dealt with. But she said sadness isn’t an ugly thing. That the world needs a little sadness to make the everyday happiness shine more brilliantly in contrast. I thought to myself that the existence of everyday happiness for her must be what made us so different.

I didn’t ask what she thought of the tide that assaulted us every night. Even I wouldn’t be so cruel. She had lost a large part of her family recently due to it; she knew very well the grief it delivered unto us.

But in that silent moment, she whispered something that flipped my life on its head. She said the most beautiful thing in our world was the sunset. That it set the sky on fire, and nothing was more captivating than that mystical sight.

I didn’t dare ask her how she could know that. In that moment, her gaze was so far away from our reality that I instinctively understood what people saw when they called me strange. I felt the unnerving aura of someone who can see past the world they’re trapped in.

Our conversation ended there. Soon enough, the first signs of the water were spotted by the village’s scouts, the bell was rung, and everyone hurried inside the meticulously shielded dark boxes of our homes.

I didn’t sleep that night. I didn’t sleep the next, either. Whenever I closed my eyes, the awesome image of a sky burning crimson with dancing flames would appear. It was so vivid it left me frozen in fear, and my heart would beat so fast my chest burned. The unrelenting crash of the waves all around us that was normally so easy to ignore felt deafening in my ears. Both nights, I rocked back and forth trying to survive my fear until dawn arrived. Just before the second dawn, I realized it was not fear that I felt, but rather excitement, stronger than any emotion I’d ever known.

Nothing could stop the drive that appeared within me after that. There were many times during that exhausting day when my body was ready to give out and I would close my eyes, and the sight of the burning sky once again sent a jolt of energy coursing through my body. I must have seemed especially strange to everyone that day, because not a single person tried to speak to me once they saw my restless shivering. Nobody except her.

She couldn’t have stopped me either, of course. She seemed to understand perfectly well what was going through my mind the instant she saw me, so she didn't try. Instead she decided to spend the day next to me, likely knowing she wouldn’t get to see me again after that. Her expression was hard to read to my exhausted mind, but now I believe she had accepted her grief ahead of time, as I remember seeing the same expression on her the day after her relatives had been washed away.

I whispered goodbye and slipped away before the bell rang that day. My people were usually too enraptured by the necessary work of each day to notice someone if that person truly wished to hide in solitude. Even so, I made sure not to be too close to the village by the late afternoon, uncertain of whether my family would realize I wasn’t at home and try to find me. I didn’t understand their attachment to each other or myself at the time, and simply didn’t wish for them to keep me from my fate.

I had to see the sunset for myself. My friend had been right; my mind had never known beauty for as long as I had lived in that world. If there was a sight that could make me understand, if the flaming sky that appeared behind my eyelids was real, then surely that could give my life meaning. It could make me understand what everyone around me saw in that dead-end world.

Before the scorching sun was close enough to the horizon for the sky to change color, I saw the first signs of the waves. Mirages were a common sighting in those sands, but this was different. I’d heard the tide before, of course. We all did. It was the lullaby that sent our restless souls to sleep every night. It was part of a never-ending routine, one that you could almost tune out, but whose terror you could never truly escape. But I had never seen it.

Even as far away and small as it seemed at the time, the instant I noticed it my body began shaking, and it never stopped. As the waves gradually grew in size, so did my tremors. I want to say the shaking stopped when the sunset began, but truthfully I have never felt terror sustained for so long.

I was standing on a tall dune, overlooking the space to the west of the village. The dunes and any features of the vast expanse of sand were always shifting, but in between me and the horizon were the structures that had stood firm for over a hundred years. They were all massive, their towering heights being the only hints left of the sprawling empire that once saw glory before being broken, washed away and eroded by the tide that kept us imprisoned.

Broken archways and split off palace towers littered the sand like giant spears left on a titan’s battlefield. The pale yellow bricks that served as their foundation had always felt pitiful to my young mind, but as the sun began its descent beyond the horizon and its light became golden, that pallid feeling was overwritten by something more. Perhaps it was just my exhausted mind playing tricks on me, but in that light I could see clearly the ruins’ radiance as it had once been.

I saw massive aqueducts with splendid arches carrying water from distant places for the ancient capital’s people. There were watchtowers to warn the city of any attacks, and silos containing abundant grain to feed a population of hundreds of thousands. In the center of it all, the lavish palace stood with a size I couldn’t fully comprehend, and its golden glow now seemed unrelated to greed; it was a manifestation of glory itself.

I stood still, overwhelmed by the sight for the minutes it lasted. It felt like an eternity, and at the same time it disappeared too soon. The golden light began to shift, and the visions of past fortune faded away, revealing the pitiful truth that had always been there for me. I truly understood the implicit sadness of those ruins then, and felt tears rolling down my cheek. The waves had been making their way towards me, and there was a small layer of water at the bottom of the eroded structures.

The first signs of fire in the sky took me by surprise. It was like a sudden explosion of color radiating from the descending sun. A world-spanning orange cross spread with that yellow point at its center, and from it a strong pink hue began to take over the sky. I could only stare in awe at the foreign sight as it developed.

It was only when the underside of the clouds began to tint a bright orange-red that I understood what my friend had meant by fire. Those drifting clouds that I took to be worlds just like mine were being scorched by the sun’s flames, and the sight made my universe crumble around me. I had imagined worlds happier than mine, where people could feel the joy and security that I could never feel. But now I saw the flames clearly, and knew that if there was any being free to feel joy, they must be the gods that hated us enough to assault us ruthlessly with water and fire.

Yet in my most hopeless moment, something inside me kept my gaze locked on that scenery. The fading sunlight silhouetted the remains of those beautiful structures I had been mourning, alongside grand dunes that hadn’t been swallowed by the rising tide yet. When the waters stilled for a moment, I could see a pillar of orange light reflected on the surface, subtly broken up by small ripples but still dazzlingly bright.

It was a deeply chaotic landscape; a sky of pink fire and an endless blue sea connected by long protruding shadows and blinding orange light. It was all the sights I’d never got to see, and they represented imminent death for me as well as the many worlds that made up my sky. And yet, in that moment I understood. Finally, as my life was nearing its end, I understood what the people around me had felt, and could only utter a single word.

“Beautiful.”

The moment of calm ended then, and the crashing of waves began again. The sudden explosion of sound jolted me awake from my trance, only to realize it was too late for me. I had been ready for my life to end before. Now I knew this world’s beauty, and for the first time I also knew true fear.

In seconds the waves became an indescribable storm. I tried to run but the tide had reached my waist, and my legs felt immovable. I could feel my heart beating as if trying to break my ribs and escape, but I couldn’t hear it. The sound of waves crashing with enough force to tear weak flesh asunder erupted all around me, and I could have felt blood trickle from my ears if my whole body wasn’t soaked through.

In the space of a second I was carried away by violent currents further than my mind could have been able to process. Then I saw the wave that would swallow me take form in an instant; like a towering wall of dark water that blocked out everything else from my sight. I accepted then that I would die no matter how much I thrashed, but there was no time for my body to understand the same, and the fear of death made me let out a throat-shredding scream. The last thing I felt before losing consciousness was a torrent of water entering my lungs, surely with enough force to tear at my insides.

I can’t say I truly woke up after that. But at least a part of me came back into being, and I was vaguely aware I was no longer inside that ocean. The place around me was either pitch black or I couldn’t see for a different reason. I remember vomiting salt water with tremendous pain, and getting up to move forward in the dark following some sort of primal survival instinct. If I hadn’t, maybe I would have known where I’d entered the Library from. And then again, maybe nobody would have found me in time to save my life.

I don’t remember losing consciousness, I simply awakened weeks later. Everyone involved in my recovery tried to explain how much of a miracle it was that I managed to live. I already knew that from the instant I woke up.

In the process of recovering my bodily functions I learned. I had great teachers with me, both people and books, that taught me everything I would have ever wanted about this world I found myself in and the universe it was a part of. I learned that what I’d dreamed as a child was not as wrong as I’d been told. I learned about the Ways that connected the many worlds I’d dreamed of and more together.

I am eternally grateful for the help I received here. I know I would never have survived if not for the kindness of many. And if I had come here at any other moment, I would have loved nothing more than to dedicate my life to this wonderful place. There are more worlds connected to this library through both fantastic writing and magical Ways than I could ever have imagined. And I know among them there must be worlds whose inhabitants are truly happy the way I envisioned in my childish escapism.

But I must go back home.

It’s not that my way of thinking has completely changed. I still understand perfectly that my home world is one born out of a nightmare, where people hopelessly struggle against an uncaring disaster that will continue to assault their homes long after they’ve all been taken away. To call my people cursed would be an understatement.

I have no expectation for anyone reading this to understand. My circumstances were dire and particular. I doubt most people here would know what it’s like. I have met plenty of travelers who left their homes willingly, and will always have their way back open to them.

I hope none of them ever come to understand what it’s like to lose your way home.

Because no matter how much I think about it, no matter how cursed it may be, it’s still my home. That is what I have come to understand in my years here.

Because every time I dream, every time I wake with sweat on my forehead and fear gripping my heart as the result of a nightmare, I see the wave that could have taken my life. One of innumerable waves that assault my village’s homes every night. But whenever I close my eyes consciously, I don’t dream of other worlds with eternally happy people any more. My daydreams are now full of that burning sunset, of the beauty I saw in my own home.

So this will be the last thing I leave behind here. I don’t know how long it will take me to get back home. I have no clues to go on for locating my Way. I have no guarantee that I will ever find it. But there’s no other choice for me. I must go home, and see that sunset again. I must go home, and let her know she needn’t have mourned for me. And I need to thank her. For showing me the beauty of that dead-end world of ours, despite my unbearable stubbornness.

Thank you for reading one of many wanderers' stories, and goodbye.

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