Why We Wander
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Reclamation Agency Assembly Archived File 1

Transcription of a story, presented by C. L. Atlas, recorded via autonomous pen construct.
Audience: Reclamation Agency assembly.

Recording error - previous text corrupted, continued text represents what was salvaged via reconstructive magic:

It was a while ago. I can't remember how long ago, really. I know it's been years. Time doesn't mean too much to me now, something about the ebb and flow of it within the Library has distorted my senses. What I can remember most was that it was on the night of an eclipse. As I began to ascend that mountain, the sunlight against the snow began to transition into the sort of fiery dark which only can appear during such times. Though the air was electric with energy, the dark began to surround me more and more. I was a novice climber then, and the dark began to worry me. I've always had a bit of an underdeveloped sense of self preservation, though, and continued to climb the mountain. My work certainly could not afford to wait.

I suppose that needs some explanation. The reason I was on the mountain that day, and the reason I am here at all, is that I was following a trail. Not a trail as the sense of passage, but I was following the trail of a missing person. In the village where I was staying, a teenager had gone missing. They had left in the middle of the night, no real traces remaining but footprints towards the mountain, and cold-weather gear taken from the home. I still don't know why they did it. I don't particularly enjoy pondering that- heavy coughing is observed that question. Either way, time was of the essence. Though I was scarcely more than a teenager myself, I was the only one in that place with any mountaineering experience. So they sent me. They gave me what they could spare. Coats, food, fuel, cooking supplies, hooks and crampons.

I can't say I complained, though. Since I was a small child, I was always adventuring in the mountains; they were like my second home. Tracking various animals for fun, finding interesting cliff faces, and perhaps even ancient settlements of cultures long passed on, all of this was nothing new to me. I was young then, much younger than I am now, and as such I naively held out hope that I would find this missing person alive. I had not yet learned of my own strengths in those icy wastelands, and the fragility of any other man.

Heavy coughing observed once more, continuing approximately 30 seconds.

And so I set out immediately. I began to ascend that stone colossus, thoughts of heroism fresh in my mind. There was no fear within me, just eagerness to find and save this missing person. I knew nothing of them, only that they needed my help, and I needed to help them. The trail was easy at first. A little rocky, a little steep, but I held a good pace. The loose rocks and stones which stood in my path posed no real obstacle to me, and my body kept me moving at a rapid pace, my core fighting off the encroaching cold. Though it was freezing out, the wind was quite still. As I ascended the mountain, though, the sun began to dim. The fog seemed to hang less in the air on this mountain. This was also before the fog became as thick as it is now, as well, so the sun shone more brightly than it does today. As the moon moved to occlude the sun, though, and this fiery dark began to surround me and threatened to swallow me whole, I began to feel my first twinge of fear. The seed of the thought that I might not bring the person back from the mountain, and worse, that I may not return, had begun to germinate within my mind. I noticed this fear, recognized it, ignored it, and pressed on.

The wind began to pick up. Slowly at first, the tempest began. A draft of snowflakes blew against me as I ascended through the snowdrifts, tracking the footprints which would soon vanish. Though it was only snowflakes at first, soon the wind began to blow small shards of ice against my frame. I did not lose my footing, though I could tell things would get quite serious soon. The snow was up to my knees by this point. This may not sound like much, but for a person of my stature, this was quite significant. The wind blew, and the ice spalled against my coat and goggles, and I became lost in a sea of ice. There was nothing surrounding me but this alternate world of ice, snow, silence, and deafening noise. I do not know how long I wandered in this miniature world, only that I wandered long enough.

Silence observed for approximately 23 seconds.

I found him in a snowdrift, you know. Buried up to his waist. He looked nearly alive from a distance, and I held out hope until I got close enough to see the icicles hanging from his clothes. He was freezing to the touch. At least he looked like he went in peace. The cold had taken his soul, and in its place, left a shell of a man. Visually perfect, but very much dead. I knew immediately there was no saving him, and sat down in the snow next to his corpse. I was so expended, so overstretched, my provisions had run dry, and my body had run ragged. My lungs burned, my eyes were nearly frozen shut, and I had coughed up a piece of my vocal cords already. I knew I, too, wouldn't make it off this mountain.

I did not pray, for I had no god to pray to. I did not mourn, for what purpose is mourning when none will hear what I have to say? Instead, I saw only one way out. I removed a small leather-bound notebook from my pack, and began to write. I began to write the story which led me to this mountain, the story which had caused the death of the man next to me, the story of the wind and ice and snow, and the story of all of us, culminating in me, here on this mountain. The cold began to immobilize first my fingers, then my hands entirely, until I could no longer hold my pen. When my frozen fingers could no longer wield the instrument of my salvation, it dropped out of my hand, I could no longer keep from weeping. And so I wept.

I wept there, in the snowdrift. I wept for the man next to me, and I wept for all the stories I would not get to experience. I wept until I could feel the cold taking hold of my heart. I felt a kind of exhaustion in my soul I do not believe one can truly experience until the end of their lives. I set my notebook down in the snow, frozen tears holding open my eyes, and whispered to any deity that would listen to keep it safe for those who may come in the future. I forced my eyes shut, and waited for death to take me.

I felt warmth on my face. At first, I thought the warmth might have been from the sun I have so rarely seen, brought into view through some transition to the afterlife. I opened my eyes, in wondrous awe of what might await me. When I began to see, I did not see a sun in front of me; instead I saw rows and rows of books. The warmth of a comfortable summer's day surrounded my frozen body, as I lay on the floor, unable to move. I thanked whomever had seen fit to answer my prayers that day as I contemplated just what I had done to end up here. This bliss upon being saved lasted only a few moments, though.

As the warmth began to heat my body, the thawing of my limbs created within me the greatest agony I had ever, and to this moment, have ever experienced. The ice within my arms and legs tore at me, ripped my vessels and muscles to shreds in its cold, dying anger, enacting the worst torture of which I can conceive. I lay on some abandoned corridor of the library for what felt like hours, until I could no longer scream. I collapsed further onto the floor, my only wish to be free of this torment. Eventually, freedom came. I began to move my weary arms, then my ravaged legs, until finally I was able to hoist myself up onto a bookcase. Finding a nearby couch, I began to administer proper first aid. I picked up a nearby book, and began to read.

And now, I am here. I still spend most of my time in the Lands Unclean, as you know. My fate is not to be here amongst the intellectuals and storytellers amongst the shelves, for I am forever burdened to be one with the hills and the sky. But I return as often as I can, my card in hand, to recount what tales I have gathered for knowledge's sake.

For a story to be read, it must first be found. And that is why I remain. Why we remain. Though we cannot save all who need us, we can save their stories, so they are not forgotten to the cold and uncaring march of time.

This, my fellow explorers of the Reclamation Agency, is why we wander.

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