Icx, First Rotation, 5099
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Chronicle of Ulak the Drifter

Annotated by Shahrazad Keret

Icx, First Rotation, 5099

As soon as the sun1 rose over the horizon, I left my chamber on Tamerlane's Palace. My day would be fully occupied. I ate breakfast at Khibatir Market2 and headed towards the Sacred Library of Idhai. After a quick trip on the city’s public transportation system, I found myself walking into the Imperial Garden. It was so early in the morning that the place was devoid of any visitors.

Alone, surrounded by utmost tranquility, I quickly lost myself in the Garden's beauty. The sky above me was a blue that reminded me of the one above Earth, a planet on which I spent nearly a century. Around me, plants from every Imperial world bloomed, as if reflecting the Empire's prosperity. Dozens of fountains filled the air with the calming sound of their flowing waters. Atop them, the statues of gods and heroes, notable sorcerers and scientists, great beasts and noble spirits, hosted a variety of small, winged creatures from every corner of the Universe.

To my left was the Temple of Knowledge,3 a cathedral the size of a small mountain, built from ancient stone and decorated with the effigies of all gods of wisdom and the sciences. Behind me, the colossal spires and towers of the Imperial Academy of Higher Arcana4 glistened with morning dew, surrounded by a light fog that added to its aura of mysticism and cryptic power. And at the Garden’s very center, the Imperial Palace shone like the crown jewel of what is considered the greatest hub of culture and knowledge in the known Universe: the city-planet of Idhai, capital of the Immortal Empire.

With great effort, I ripped my sight from such beauty and continued to walk towards the Library. There it was, behind the statue that represented Heval, the legendary dragon scholar.5 It had been nearly two years since I had last laid eyes on its magnificence. Nearly two kilometers in width and twenty stories in height, the venerable building was filled to the brim with books from every age and place in history, a collection overshadowed only by that of the Wanderers' Library. Its marble façade, magically shielded against corrosion and decay, was adorned with glyphs and symbols from a trillion languages, representing knowledge from across Creation. And right above the powerful and ancient wooden doors of its entrance, a golden inscription in the Imperial Common Language: “For those who thirst knowledge, let this be their home.”

I stood in awe, contemplating the Library as if I saw it for the first time. In the warm light of Vok, it truly felt as if I was entering the most beautiful of afterlives. I inhaled as if I wanted to absorb the Library’s very essence and, with a determined expression, I crossed the umbral. Inside, a warm atmosphere welcomed me. After a few gazes at the magnificent vestibule, filled with busts and portraits of the Library’s most notable patrons and donators, I directed my steps towards my favorite reading place, the Verne Hall on the first floor.6

A welcoming fire burned within the room’s enormous chimney. Around it, dozens of comfortable couches, chairs and rugs of all shape and sizes, made with materials ranging from ebony to Vixo Silk,7 hosted a conclave of readers that, like me, had come at an early hour to avoid the crowds that would eventually gather within the Library. I saw a young Huxae8 working on the translation of a novel in her native language to Imperial Common. A large Jao’Ner9 enthusiastically scanned the pages of a book on Nurag art. Floating over my head, an ifrit10 studied a scroll filled with symbols as red as his skin. And next to the chimney, a pack of orcs sat around a table filled with books and essays on modern melee weapons and discussed the comparative advantages they had over traditional steel blades.

I walked towards the left side of the Hall. There, beneath the bust of Jules Verne, was the book I sought. Atlas of Midgard, by Hiram Ibn Muhammad, rested wide open, its long, tall pages displayed for the curious eye. The book, a mixture of exceptional traditional craftsmanship and adventurous techno-sorcery, displayed enchanted pages with moving images, as if it were a holographic map, rather than a book. Within the huge pages of the atlas, numerous points of interest were highlighted. Every magical hotspot, every historic site and place of note was brightly displayed within the frontiers of the empires that governed the known Universe. I, however, was not interested in that part of the map.

As I passed the pages, I strayed further away from the areas dominated by the Galactic Triumvirate. They had already shown me all that I needed to know and experience. I continued turning the pages until I had passed the territories of the Alliance of Free Worlds and the Coalition of Merchant Kingdoms. Beyond them, only the unknown remained.

I gazed at those uncharted, mysterious territories. As if surrounded by fog, they were away from the ever-growing hunger of the empires. One could only wonder what horrors or marvels crept on those places, what mighty civilizations or brutal savages might have evolved without anyone defying them before. In my head, I could almost feel them calling to me, pulling me from my chair in this zenith of civilization and dragging me into their embrace.

And then I saw it.

There, on a star system called Kluav, at the site of a terrible battle between the members of the now defunct League of Ten Kingdoms and the Invaders, was a minuscule world, scorched by the fury of the binary stars it orbited.

The world was marked with a multitude of symbols that indicated its characteristics. Its atmosphere was breathable for most species, and gravity was within acceptable margins. I soon found, however, that the world was also marked as nearly uninhabitable for any civilized species, as its climatological conditions were extraordinarily hostile. The native fauna was beyond aggressive, its sentient species cruel and barbaric. Water was scarce and plant-life was nearly nonexistent.

Nonetheless, its inhabitants, despite being primitive, knew of life outside their world, which meant I could visit it without significantly altering the evolution of their civilizations.11 What little was known about them came from the mouth of castaways and survivors that had somehow managed to escape the cruel hellscape. They spoke of wild tribes, monstrous beasts and treacherous mirages. The planet itself was a deathtrap to be avoided at all costs.

It was all there. The mystery, the peril, the thirst for discovery. I felt my hearts beat loudly. I had found my next and last destination before I left Midgard. It was a world ignored by the empires, but most desirable for an adventurer, a world left behind by the grace of the Demiurge: a world called Amvat.

In pure ecstasy at my discovery, I sought assistance from the chief librarian, an elderly Hevnau12 named Jhutla. In past visits, her expertise as a xenoanthropologist and cultural historian had proved to be an invaluable asset for me, as I never went unprepared for my travels. However, despite having spent nearly a millennium at her post, the venerable scholar told me that the Library had little to offer in respect to Amvat.

“A most shameful thing that the Empire and its intellectuals have become so obfuscated by their own achievements that they seek not to explore that which lies beneath the fog of the unknown regions, damik13 Ulak,” she said apologetically.

She explained that what little books and scrolls she could provide me with were all inconsistent in its descriptions of Amvat and its inhabitants. It was not often that someone dares to venture so far out from the known areas of Midgard, and survivors were mostly delusional wrecks, unable to give an accurate account of their experiences. Not even Hiram Ibn Muhammad, himself an explorer and traveler of strange planes, was able to fully research Amvat for his atlas. Even the existence of life on the surface of Amvat is unconfirmed, because most survivors are unable to leave the wreckage of their spacecraft for fear of being incinerated by the suns' light.

This is most troubling. For all the Triumvirate knows, the planet is as barren as the surface of Yuffasse.14 To make matters worse, the area on which Amvat is located lies outside the jurisdiction of any faction on Midgard, serving as a buffer zone for the Galactic Triumvirate. Transportation there is nearly impossible by legal means, and only pirates, smugglers and gangsters dare defy the law. Thus, Amvat, like many other worlds in the uncharted regions, has been left to legend and superstition.

I was in the dark. Jhutla apologized once more, for she could not provide me with the answers I desired. She suggested that I find another destination, or that I try digging further into the shelves of the Library. She then took her leave from me, and I sat down to think.

Now, as I sit in my room, with the night looming on the horizon, I am at a crossroads. I could forget my finding and search for another destination, or I could venture into the unknown completely unprepared. I am no stranger to near-death peril or to the horrors of the Multiverse, but my prime is long past. I cannot go more than a pair of weeks without eating. My thirst is not so easily quenched. My strength has waned with age. Facing danger with the necessary precautions is different than charging into its maw virtually naked. How can I risk my life when all I have in exchange are but rumors and tall tales? How can I venture with so little knowledge of my destination when even reaching it seemed like a challenge?

Tonight I will ponder. I must make a choice, and I must not be hasty with it. May the gods illuminate my path, for I feel truly lost.

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