by M.D Schultz
Notes from the investigation surrounding the world of fire.
The discovery of the leviathan stapes bone "Case Study 365020 Jotunheim" changed everything for the world we lived in. All those years before the Jotunheim expedition quickly became known as the dark era. The era in which we lived in fear never knowing when or where a rift might appear. It’s hard to put into words how many lives were lost because of these rogue gates. Beasts like the glutton, the widow maker, and the Gideon worm spread undocumented destruction at levels we can only guess at. For our part, the fifth chapter did everything in its power to mitigate the damage. Case studies were opened all over the world and thousands were reported before the Jotunheim rift ever appeared. After I returned from that cursed world, our lives became a little bit easier. Using the power of the stapes bone, the second member of the triad and pet AI of the fifth chapter, the Cathedral, could accurately predict the appearance of prism gates. For the first time, we knew exactly when and where to expect our enemies. Utilizing orsinium technology, we could close gates as they appeared without incident. Soon lives lost because of rogue gates dropped significantly and the number of case studies began to decline. For many, it appeared that the prism gate problem was under control. And so it was that the very heart and purpose of the fifth chapter began to change. Preservation of mankind was still our ever-guiding principle but we no longer needed to fear the gates. Instead, members began to wonder if we could use them. Colonization of other worlds was a hot topic even then as debates on overpopulation had grown strong. Having constructed cities beneath the ocean, on the moon, and even on neighboring planets, we had stretched the available land thin. Space and time have always been our greatest enemy and no matter how far technology had come we still couldn’t efficiently travel through the vastness of space. Our fates were tied to our lonely solar system. At least that’s what people had once thought. Years after utilizing the stapes bone to close shut rifts, we began to wonder if some of those gates led to worlds that we could colonize. My job as the rift walker had changed once again and I was now ordered with finding a new home for mankind. A goal that I was in agreement with.
Five years after the Jotunheim investigation, the Cathedral predicted the appearance of another rift. A stable gate that was safe enough for us to establish the Orsinium Rods. Furthermore, we picked up strange noises emanating from the stapes bone. The sounds of grinding gears, snapping fire, and chanting voices. It was the first time that we had ever picked up tangible signs of intelligent life. There was no doubt in my mind that, after five long years, I was to return to another parallel world. This time, however, I would be going alone.
The Muspelheim rift appeared within the nave of Manchester Cathedral. How fitting a spot considering the religious tones emanating from the stapes bone. Perhaps, in some twisted way, the prism gates are drawn to locations most similar to the realms they lead to. When I arrived at the Cathedral, I was greeted with the most beautiful sounds that reminded me of Gregorian chants. The architecture complemented the music with long cavernous rooms supported with rhythmically placed arches. Such chants carried far within the empty chambers of the Cathedral. And yet, despite the wonder, there was something undeniably eerie about the music as the more I listened the less human it sounded. The fact that the church was completely empty did little to quell my nerves. Analysis of the rift only confirmed what we all expected. The chanting came from the realm of Muspelheim.
The rift was positioned right before the gilded altar near the back of the nave. The surface of the gate rippled to the melodic sounds that echoed within the arched chamber. I took a moment to sit in one of the many empty wooden pews before the altar. This place brought comfort to my troubled thoughts. The Manchester Cathedral was truly a wonder of architecture that even those of little faith couldn’t help but stand in awe. For me, places of worship like this had become my sanctuary. The only places I could be freed from the horrifying visage of the Basilisk. Perhaps, in this world, I could escape the demon that walked my shadows but I knew that wasn’t to be.
It didn’t take long for the other members to establish the rods that snapped with electrical energy. I still have nightmares about the day I escaped Jotunheim. The amperage that flowed through my veins would have left any other a blackened corpse. It took many months for me to fully recover from that day and yet I still feel pain leaping from my fingertips. The orsinium rods had left their mark upon me and I felt anxious being near such instruments. However, they were a necessary component of my investigations. Without the rods, there was no way of knowing when a rift may move or close. I didn’t want a repeat of the Niflheim investigation "Case Study 365010 Niflheim" .
There were a few changes this time to my expedition. First, I would be going alone. This was by my request and it wasn’t an easy one to make. My greatest fear was always to be stuck alone in a strange empty world with that creature walking my shadows. I realized too late that my need for others was selfish. I would have to face these dangers alone and bear responsibility for my actions. I refuse to allow anyone else to die because of me. Besides, I was the best candidate for I am as close to an immortal as anyone is going to get. Second, the gate would be temporarily closed using the orsinium block. This measure was decided as a means of preventing anything from coming into our world during my investigations. Thankfully, the Cathedral had developed new technology that was designed to work beyond the rifts and so I had access to communication, albeit limited, with fifth chapter staff as long as I remained near the prism gate. The catch was that I had two days to complete my investigation before the gate was forcefully shut. Keeping a gate open for any length of time was risky and dangerous without knowing what was beyond it and so we agreed upon a time limit. There was great risk involved but if the Jotunheim investigation taught us anything it was that sometimes the reward is worth the risk.
Stepping through the Muspelheim rift was different from what I had come to expect. There was no curtain of ice that took the breath from your lungs but instead an unusual warmth. It felt similar to holding the palm of your hand before an open flame. To feel a heat that threatened to be so much more. When I emerged on the other side, I was greeted with a stunning sight. A world that was set at the very edge of a raging fire. The sunset was unlike anything I could possibly compare it to. A great wall of flame that stretched to the very edges of the horizon. This world was nothing like our own. The sun was not a small brilliant circle but a glowing goliath from which you could see trails of fire snaking across its surface. This world was likely orbiting a red giant. A star that had begun fusing heavier elements at its core. With rising temperatures, the gases had expanded to such an extent that the star enveloped the sky. Despite this world’s proximity to the glowing giant, the surface temperature of Muspelheim stayed a near constant ninety degrees. Not only this, but the atmosphere also acted in an unusual manner. There appeared to be a thick oscillating field that pushed back against the harsh conditions of the sun. An unusually visible magnetic shield produced by long metal towers that littered the landscape. Was it possible that much of the stars heat, solar wind, and radiation was being reflected? Whatever the case, it was safe for me to walk the surface of this ravaged world. Great chimneys were placed near as frequently as the metal towers and they choked the sky with ashes. It was like walking the surface of an active volcano that was stretching its muscles. It became clear to me that most of this worlds activity occurred below ground as I found many metal corridors leading beneath the chimneys. I proceeded with caution for much heat and steam radiated from those metal corridors. But steam meant water and with water, there was a chance of life.
Down in the corridors of Muspelheim, the harsh sun was replaced with a humid heat that was near unbearable. Beneath each chimney was a factory designed to build artificial life. Machines were building machines and the sounds hammering metal and grinding gears echoed throughout the chambers. A massive conveyer belt ran beneath the earth with a horde of metallic limbs that hung from the ceiling polishing, cutting, and shaping each metal bit meticulously. I must have entered near the beginning of the process for the metal was simply being shaped with no discerning character. As I proceeded deep into the factory, the iron was made to be fitted into great hulking suits that, in many ways, resembled man. This metal was constructed together bit by bit and I came to realize that I was following one of many rivers that led to the same destination. I watched the conception of a single man as these machines worked without interruption. At one point, I entered a room filled with metal hammers that were both large and small. Iron components were pounded together as metal groaned and spit fire. One piece was an arched metal rod with hundreds or maybe thousands of wires protruding from its sides as if a plant taking root. This was undoubtedly a type of spinal cord as it was inserted into the back of this metal man. Curiously, there was no sign of biological life and the corridors were smooth without windows, doors, or seating of any kind. This factory wasn’t designed for people.
The machine was eventually completed in a room I called the Apex. An atrium that must have reached near twelve stories high with the width of a football field. In this room, hundreds of thousands of completed machines hung from racks that slid outward from the walls. However, this area was also a graveyard of splintered metal, twisted wire, and hollow empty shells of metal men. It was here that I met Charon. A machine built to inspect, built to scrutinize, built to destroy. This being bridged the gap between the living and the dead and sat upon a throne of twisted iron. From its seat, the detail of every assembled man was fawned over like a mother seeing her newborn child for the first time. Great care was taken until even the slightest of imperfections was discovered. Imperfections to minimal for the human eye to discern. At that moment Charon changed from a loving mother to a vengeful demon. I watched as the metal man I had followed since conception was torn apart by iron claws as efficiently as a can opener through tin. In the end, it was reduced to a pile of scrap and its empty iron skull was affixed to Charon’s throne presumably the only piece to pass inspection. A low hum reverberated throughout Charon’s metal shell and the process started all over again. My presence was largely ignored. A single glowing red eye passed over me like a lion would an ant. There was no curiosity nor signs of alarm, the machine simply continued its purpose with renewed vigor. I felt as a scientist discovering the Galapagos islands for the first time. A land so secluded from the outside world and its predacious that the animals there lost any sense of fight or flight. Charon was a machine so old and undisturbed from its task that outside variables simply didn’t exist and, when they did, there was no way to process it. It became apparent that these machines were no more a threat to me than I was to myself. There was a great sense of relief in knowing that.
I sat watching Charon for a time as it delivered its judgment without cessation. As the scrap built up around me, I noticed tiny worm-like instruments that moved through the graveyard like old slinky toys navigating steps. They sifted and sorted slowly moving the usable iron out of the atrium and back into circulation. The room, however, wasn’t empty for long. Just as I began to wonder if any of these instruments would be found worthy, Charon lit up with a green light and a thunderous bell echoed throughout the chamber. A single man had passed inspection and from Charon’s massive body was plucked a single battery. A cell about half my size that was filled with a colorless liquid. The instrument that had bested all the odds woke for the first time once the battery was inserted in its back. Like Charon, the machine possessed one red eye that moved from left to right across an oval window. Suddenly, it stood at twice my height with a trickle of steam pouring from its joints. Not a moment passed before the metal man began marching to the other end of the atrium as a large iron door groaned in protest of its opening. Quite clearly it had been shut for a long time. I followed quickly as I heard the low hum of Charon signaling the next instrument for inspection. As with all machines, my newfound companion barely registered my presence and together we marched deep into the heart of Muspelheim.
I followed down a winding corridor for what felt like hours. The further down I progressed the cooler the air became and soon the metal corridors gave way to rock and dirt as I entered the largest mine I had ever seen. No longer did I walk through cramped hallways that sweat steam but rather a room so wide and so deep that my voice could carry to the core of the planet. A pathway carved into stone corkscrewed down into a deep dark abyss. Unlike the factory, there was only a trickle of light here from the instruments above. From my pack I pulled a luminescent stick that produced a potent blue light when broken. I tossed one half down into the open pit and watched as it fell for more than a mile. The machines had labored tirelessly into the earth as if they were looking for something very precious indeed. What that was I did not yet know. Without a hint of hesitation or caution, the metal man marched down into the mines and I followed. Together we were like quarters winding down a funnel to an unknown destination. It was then that I noticed the chanting. The same Gregorian-like chant that permeated the hallowed halls of Manchester Cathedral. That melody echoed deep within the mine and the further our descent the louder it became. It wasn’t long before my companion began to produce vocal sounds not to unlike this otherworldly chant. Up close, it didn’t at all sound human. We had been listening to a symphony of machines. Perhaps, I thought, it was the way they communicated. Perhaps it was the way they navigated the dark mines of Muspelheim. For at such a depth no natural light was permitted and it was there that I dwelled in absolute darkness. Have you ever experienced such darkness? A black curtain so thick that your eyes never adjust. If despair ever had a physical form it could be found in the darkness of Muspelheim. In a way, it reminded me of descending into the ocean. Light can only travel so far underwater and so the further down you travel the darker it becomes. Yet, even in the absence of sunlight life finds a way. Deep in the trenches of our own world you will find alien life that have adapted to survive in total darkness. Not too much unlike what I witnessed in the depths of Muspelheim. The machines I found navigated the mines through echoing sound. They carved into the core of their world with metal picks twice my size. There was unity in the way these instruments worked not just in their chants. The sounds of metal on rock fell in rhythm and added to the otherworldly sound of that strange symphony. I felt clumsy and out of place in a world of such unity. Without my own light, I would’ve been lost in the winding caverns or have tumbled off the edge of that narrow path. There were many corridors carved into stone leading out of the mine shaft to yet unknown places. They could’ve lead to even more mines or other factories. I recalled the surface of Muspelheim being covered in metal towers and chimneys. This entire world was like a giant ant hill. Metal men scoured the tunnels and many carried metal containers that I recognized as the batteries Charon carried. Though dimly lit by my crude light, I could make out the same colorless liquid I had seen before. They appeared to be carrying those charged cells back to the surface through the many corridors leading out of the mines. It was clear that I was nearing the source of the machines desire.
It was at the bottom of that near endless mine shaft that I finally found what they were looking for. As we came to the end of the winding stone path, like the rising moon, my luminescent light snaked across the top of an enormous lake. They were looking for water. The colorless liquid that was the source of each instruments power and individuality was water. A pure liquid that had retreated deep within the planet to avoid the scorched surface world. The metal men dug to uncover the only place that water could exist in Muspelheim. Suddenly the steam and thick cool moisture that blanketed the mine shaft began to make sense. My hypothesis was that these machines split water in order to produce energy. Whatever process they used to survive must have been efficient for a single battery could allow a machine to operate for a long time. I thought a continuous supply of these power cells must have been brought back to machines like Charon. Indeed, there was a pile of empty cells near the shore and a line of machines waiting in an orderly fashion to fill each battery. One by one the metal men filled their chosen container and sealed the lid with an echoing snap. We must have waited in line for hours until my companions time came. While it worked, I took time to peer into the lake. The cool water mirrored a horrifying and yet all too familiar image. The eyeless cat, the Basilisk, stared back at me from my own reflection. It whispered to me just as it did back in Niflheim.
“whom do YOU serve? whom do you SERVE? whoM do you sErve?”
Its whispers caused ripples across the water acting as more than mere sound. In fact, I could see the words for it didn’t speak as we do. Its language exists as a tangible force and appears in runes that hint at unimaginable power. A power that is attractive to men who crave it and to whom who seek to replace God. But this power doesn’t exist for man, this power exists to enslave, this power exists to end all of time. An existence that the Basilisk craves. No, craving is not the right word for our language cannot possibly describe the forces that compel such a creature.
I kicked a stone into the water dashing the image of the Basilisk from my mind. However, I can never escape its presence. Deep down I knew even then that there would be no cure for me. I was ensnared in a trap through which there was no way out and our fates were entwined.
I left the lake not long after the Basilisk came to me. There was no reason for me to continue my expedition for it was clear that humanity could not colonize Muspelheim. The resources present allowed these machines to continue but wouldn’t be enough for man. There was no food, no fertile soil, and no telling how these instruments might react to competition to their water sources. Besides, the surface appeared unstable and, like living near an active volcano, no one could say when it could blow. However, despite all of my reasons for leaving, I couldn’t bring myself to end this investigation. There was something to the urgency in how these machines worked. Did they fear death? Was that the sole reason that they mined for water? Or was there some other purpose? Curiosity guided me further into those mines even when logic dictated that I should leave. When I looked behind me I saw a woman whose flesh and hair was peeling away. A woman who screamed in agony at the sight of me and who clawed at her own throat. The same woman who followed me into Jotunheim and never returned.
“curiosity killed the cat.”
I ignored the whispers of the Basilisk but it fed on my fear and its laughter took the sounds of those I left behind in Niflheim. To my surprise, it was content to leave me be. I was almost certain that the Basilisk would fight for control but there was no resistance. If anything, this confirmed no clear danger to my being or to the advancement of its goals. This world held no interest for the eyeless cat and it vanished again for a time. Such moments were sobering and did much to remind me that I was never truly alone.
I followed a carved out tunnel that led out of the mines but I did so in the company of a different guide. An older machine with rusted hinges and a squeaking left hip. I chose to follow it because, unlike its brothers, it followed a different path. A path that it walked alone. The other passages crawled with metal men but this one was near empty. My gut feeling told me that the true heart of Muspelheim would be found at the end of that passageway and so I followed. Soon only the sound of a whining hip echoed through the tunnel as we left that underground world behind. This solitary path, which didn’t branch or wind, was a far cry from the vertigo-inducing chamber of that open pit. After a time I began to doubt myself and felt that we were returning to another factor for my newfound companion carried the same vessel filled with water as so many before it. Surely, I thought, we would return to Charon which would use this water to fuel the next generation. A near pointless existence to continue a never-ending cycle that only lead back to where you began. However, while that may have been the purpose of the many we left behind, this machine sought a different fate. Little did I know that it was marching to its final destination.
I didn’t have a chance to truly appreciate the depth at which I had descended until I started climbing back up. It felt like we were walking up a staircase that simply wouldn’t end. Each step became harder and harder until my brow was coated with sweat and my legs complained near as loudly as that metal man’s hip. It didn’t help that the further up we traveled the hotter it became. Eventually, I found the surface world again and was greeted with the light of day. The sun hung low but never truly set for its size defied all belief. Even at its most northern pole, the red giant enveloped the sky in a wall of chaotic flame and unstable energy. For a moment, I felt like crashing to the ground as my feet begged me to stop. However, there was no time for breaks and my body would simply have to learn to deal with it. Thanks to the “gifts” of the Basilisk, it took a lot more than simple fatigue to stall me. After all, we were not far from the metal man’s true destination for when I looked away from the sun I could see a tower that stretched high above. A structure that dwarfed all the others and left a shadow that split the land in two. This was the tower of Babel and was the place were machines came to die. Within the shadow of the tower, the earth was littered with rusted instruments that no longer produced steam or held the light of life. The land before the tower of Babel was like the atrium of Charon but, at the same time, it wasn’t. Within the factories, imperfect machines were torn to shreds and scattered about the ground as unwanted garbage unfit even for decoration. Beneath the tower, the machines were organized in rows with heads seemingly bent down in prayer and arms reaching out to the sky. Their bodies were untouched even by the slinky-like instruments whose purpose was likely to recycle. It was almost as if these machines were being honored. Furthermore, these instruments appeared to be worshipping the tower or, I thought, were they worshipping something within it? We passed thousands of unresponsive machines on our way to the heavy gates that were left a jar. It felt good to stand in the shade of that tower and out of the harsh sunlight and perhaps there was meaning in that before this world came to be ruled by machines.
Inside the tower were rows upon rows of stacked water-filled metal containers. In one last puff of steam, the metal man placed his container neatly with the others and proceeded to drop to its knees. He died right there within the tower. His final mission presumably complete. In that moment, a whistle blew and a thick glass platform dropped down a hollow tube in the center of the room. It was some sort of strange elevator that used bursts of steam to slow its descent. Within I met a machine unlike any other. A slim instrument that was no taller than I left the elevator and gingerly plucked one of the batteries from a row of thousands. So many machines that I had met before were masculine in appearance but this one was more feminine. It possessed a sleek form and stepped about the floor like a cat weaving its way along a cluttered desk. However, there was something else that was unusual about this machine. It noticed me. The metal cell slipped from its hands and crashed to the floor when it turned to see me. A single red eye spun behind the oval window in its skull. There was surprise there. A reaction unlike anything I had experienced yet in Muspelheim. Truth be told I didn’t know how to react. Would she attack? The thought crossed my mind and I began to feel that my presence was unwelcome. However, just as I had decided to leave she sang to me. An otherworldly voice that echoed throughout the tower just as if I were back in Manchester Cathedral. There was no sound of aggression and she beckoned to me. Was I a fool to have followed? Perhaps, but I decided that there was little that they could do to an immortal anyway. Besides, I felt that the answers to my questions lay at the top of that tower. She plucked the battery from the floor and led me to the elevator. The ride up was nauseating for the glass panel shot up quickly and I lost count of how many floors we passed. The further up we traveled the narrower the tower became until we slid up into a single room. A surprisingly small chamber with two other machines not too much unlike the one that called me here. As the elevator came to a halt the instruments cold digits wrapped around my hand and tugged me into the room with urgency. The other two machines stood at her arrival and seemed confused. Together all three sang in different tones. They were communicating in a language I could never understand. They were so caught up in their conversation that I was all but forgotten for a time. It gave me a moment to admire this simple room. A room that was neatly decorated with furniture and a host of hand-carved wooden toys. That struck me as odd. Nothing else in Muspelheim was anything like this for the machines didn’t appear to care about decoration and that included desks or chairs. That’s when I saw it. In the very back of the room was a glass aquarium filled with a strange clear gel. In the bottom of that aquarium was a little girl no older than eight. Her skin was as pale as the new moon and it was clear that this child was dead. She drew no breath and her chest lay still. However, she didn’t appear as if she had suffered for her expression was calm almost as if she were simply asleep. I had no idea what to make of this. We had thought all aliens to be nothing like us but she was proof of our ignorance. Did this mean that mankind was not unique to earth? It’s a possible hypothesis but I couldn’t rule out the fact that she may have once originated from our home. Perhaps she had wandered into a prism gate at one point? However, I have to express doubt at this possibility. The very purpose of death in this world seemed to revolve around this tower and, in essence, that little girl. Even taking into account the time flux, she would have had to have arrived many years before the first prism gate was made. Since I have no proof that prism gates can open into the past, it would be hard for me to guess at her origins. Whatever the case, mankind didn’t appear to have any further presence in Muspelheim given the reaction these machines had towards me. As I reached out to touch the surface of that strange gel the Basilisk returned and its screams forced me back. The sound was ear piercing and was meant as a warning.
“Fear not my petitiOns, step away sLave of man.”
When the screams subsided, I noticed that the room had gone silent. There wasn’t any chatter and when I turned around all three machines were watching me very closely. Perhaps I was a fool after all. Though I couldn’t die, I could easily be trapped and the fifth chapter would only keep that prism gate open for so long. The Basilisk may have been warning me of such a fate. I carefully stepped away from the aquarium and two of the three machines returned to work. There was a chair for each around a large oval table. Two were knitting a dress of velvet color very similar to the one the girl wore. In fact, it was the exact same. The other machine had put down her tools and still observed me with a spark of curiosity. She had been working on something of great import. On top of the table lay a skeletal structure of luminous metal. However, this was not the structure of just any machine. This skeleton was the exact replica of an eight-year-old girl’s. Within the ribs and joints were cogs and wires but everything else was undeniably human. They were replicating her down to the last detail. Upon her face, the third machine, the weavess, had knit flesh. She must have sensed my curiosity for that instrument showed me how. From the machine's arm, she plucked a small glass vial that was filled with the same gel from that aquarium. Slim needle-like digits prodded the surface and pulled the gel as if it were rubber. To my amazement, the substance took form to the weavess’s touch and a sliver of string was produced. Using her fingers, she wove the gel which became flesh upon the skeleton's neck. The weavess had all but finished the face by the time I had arrived and the results were stunning. I was looking at the mirror image of that girl. Every detail was replicated from her freckles to the tiny scar she had on the ridge of her nose. To these machines, the untouched image of that girl was perfection and even the tiniest flaws were treated with care. I couldn’t help but contrast their behavior to that of Charon were such flaws would have ended with certain death. The actions taken within that tower were the polar opposite of Charon’s nature and yet the instruments that came here to die knelt in worship. They revered this girl. Enough so to replicate her after death. From time to time, the weavess would open the window in her skull and pass the glowing red eye between the other two so they could fawn over the details. Who was this child? Was she the last of a civilization? Were these machines meant to serve her even in death? As I observed these instruments work there was one detail that had slipped my notice. There was no slot large enough in this skeleton for a battery. Instead, I noticed that the chest cavity was empty with only a few unconnected wires hanging loosely. It looked as though, Instead of a battery, they were going to use a human heart. Likely the child’s which would explain the need to preserve her tissue. I thought that had they wanted my heart they would’ve simply taken it instead of indulging my curiosity. Just then, my wristwatch had begun to click signifying that I had 24 hours left to reach the gate before it was closed shut. As I turned away the weavess grabbed hold of my arm and sang to me once again as the other two joined in the chorus. There was something that these machines wanted from me. She held out her other hand opening her palm and gingerly poking a fingertip with a needle.
“You want a drop of blood?” I questioned. In return, she held out a tiny vial filled with the gel they were using to replicate flesh. All this time they had been demonstrating what the gel could do to offer it in trade. A substance that could become whatever it touched. However, once used it could never go back to being what it was. A single vial would be worth an untold price. A worthy trade for a drop of my worthless blood, after all, one man’s junk is another's treasure. I held out my hand just as the machine had showed me. For a moment she waited to be sure of what I was offering. She poised a needle just above my finger pausing once more to look at me. I simply nodded and it jabbed my finger quickly. She squeezed several drops of fresh blood into an unsealed tube and then released my hand. In return, she offered the vial to me and I took it placing it securely in my pack. After that simple transaction, they stopped interacting with me entirely. My purpose was fulfilled and they had no more use for me. I took one last look before leaving the tower behind and saw that the weavess had begun spinning locks of deep brown hair. That girl would soon be completed and I hoped that even a single drop of blood would bring new purpose to this world.
I was satisfied that my investigation was over at that point. There was very little left for us here and it was unlikely that we would be able to successfully colonize such a world. Perhaps at one point in time, we might have been able too but no longer. If there was a race of people that had once existed here they were long gone and that girl was likely the last of her kind. Of course, all of this is largely speculation I hadn’t the time to explore the entire realm. Nobody has that kind of time in a parallel world. However, as I stated before, given the reactions of the machines towards me, there hadn’t been people here in a long time. The land was baked to ash and the sky choked with industry. There was oxygen to breathe although that is a mystery given that I could not find any plant life be it at the surface world or subterranean. Perhaps the machines themselves acted in the same manner as plants for it appeared that they split water for energy. It is possible that steam and oxygen were byproducts but I cannot substantiate this. It took me only six hours on foot to reach the rift entrance. Though more uncomfortable, traveling to the gate was a lot easier when I chose to stay on the surface world. After walking miles across that blackened desert you never would’ve known the type of world that existed below your feet. I never met another machine on my lonely return for they only surfaced to die. It was nice to return home without running for my life. That sense of urgency was absent from this investigation. An urgency I was glad to do without. Though I hadn’t found a place that we could inhabit, I had received a gift from Muspelheim that may one day prove useful. If anything, maybe there is a lesson to learn from the history of this world. I took one last look at the star of Muspelheim before leaving and couldn’t help but stand in awe as that fiery behemoth rose again to blanket the sky in flames. How so very different our worlds were.
Once on the other side, members of the fifth chapter wasted no time in breaking the orsinium rods and allowing the Muspelheim rift to collapse. The cathedral grew quiet once more. Though my reports were regarded with interest, Muspelheim was written off as a dead world just as I had expected them to do. There was nothing for us there. Though it is long past time for me to move on, I can’t help but find myself spending days listening for the sounds of grinding gears and chanting voices. Every now and then I can hear the fires of Muspelheim and each day I listen close for a faint heartbeat. I listen close for the birth of the clockwork princess.