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The Dream at Illmoor


by herdygerdy

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I did not perform exceedingly well in my final Neoschool examinations. I suppose, you might say, that was the cause of it. The reason that I was drawn to that dreadful place all those years ago. It does little good to dwell on the possibilities of what could have been, but I find in those quiet, empty moments of twilight, my mind will think of nothing else. The dream of that awful, haunted night will stay with me forever. Perhaps by relating my account, I might be free of such thoughts, but I have little hope of that after so long.

     With little prospects in Neopia Central and parents who were judgmental in that gentle, unassuming way about my academic failure, I took whatever opportunity to get out of that stinking, polluted city that I could. It was a fashion in those days for young folk to take roles in companies as door to door salesmen. It was a time before Neovision had properly taken hold in the populace, and lies - or rather, exaggerations - about a product’s virtues were easily sold on the doorstep. Neopia Central had only just opened its borders to the boundless lands that lay beyond. The entire globe was an unbridled frontier of opportunities. I gained employment as such a salesman for Fawcett Manufacturing, the company that makes the patented E-Z Brand of consumable goods.

     For about six months I peddled the goods across the length and breadth of Neopia. I sold in the Lost Desert, on Mystery Island, Terror Mountain, and even aboard the Virtupets Space Station. I saw people and places that I had never dreamed of in my formative years, and I am not afraid to say that I lived in the intoxicating ignorance of youth, little knowing the threats the open world might pose a naive young Nimmo, and the darker shades that lurk in the Neopian night.

     It was on Mystery Island that I first heard the dark whispers of the isolated town on a far-flung island off the coast of where Altador had once stood. It was long before the fabled city returned, and the area was hard to navigate to. The prospect of a completely new market piqued my interest, and young and self-assured as I was, I determined to reach the fishing port of Illmoor and continue my work there. The fishermen of Mystery Island attempted to dissuade me from this endeavour, citing strange rumours about the townsfolk who lived there.

     There was something indeterminately odd about the people of Illmoor, I was informed. Not just their pale colours and sunken eyes, but in their curiously unnerving gait. They had a strange accent that made one think of certain Maraquan dialects that even the underwater kingdom talked poorly of. Illmoor itself was said to be a grey and oppressive place. The buildings kept in a state of perpetual damp and disrepair. The entire town might have collapsed in on itself were it not for the fishing trade that kept the place afloat. Maraquans were said to avoid the seabed around the harbour, and pirates out of Krawk Island found the waters not to their liking. As a result, the waters of Illmoor were abundant with fish. The Mystery Island sailors confided that their hauls were the only reason they visited, and even then only once a day. People rarely stayed over in the town, and there were whispers about disappearances among those who did.

     Such talk I, of course, dismissed as the gossip of poorly educated locals. Such was the confidence of my youth. Despite the warnings, I resolved to book passage upon the next boat to head out that way.

     

***

     Illmoor seemed blanketed in a dull, thin veil of drizzle when the fishing trawler made port. The stench of the docks assaulted my senses, and I must admit the smell of fish to this day brings back unpleasant memories of my time in that strange, unknown town. The fishermen did not linger on the docks. Once they had loaded the catch from the waiting locals, and exchanged the Neopoints to pay for them, the anchor was drawn up and the ship sailed off into the murky afternoon air.

     The locals, for their part, looked quietly unnerving, in a way that quite disturbed me but at the time, I found unable to pin down to any specific characteristics. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, and the many nights spent wringing over my memories, I can say that there was something wrong about their appearance. They were pale, all of them. Their eyes sunken and blackened, but strangely large and glassy in appearance. It put one in mind of the fishfolk of Maraqua, but in a vacant, monstrous way. Their hands, I saw as they loaded the fish, were stained black in some way, and the skin appeared to crack. I wondered, even then, what terrible work they must have undertaken that the skin under their furs would be stained black in such a way, but my naive mind attributed it to some artefact of the fishing trade.

     They stared at me for some time when I intimated my desire to stay at the local hotel for the night, before one of them directed me to a building in the town square. His voice, I can still recall, had an oddly warbling tone to it that put me in mind of something half-remembered, a darkness hidden somewhere deep in my hindbrain but unable to give solid wording to. It was, I understood, a marker that there was something deeply backwards about these people.

     Illmoor itself was a decaying place. Many of the buildings were reduced to varying states of dilapidation, with roofs giving way to rain and wind. Some houses were boarded up, and the streets seemed peculiarly devoid of life. The town square was dominated by a large building I took to be the town hall, or perhaps some form of outlandish temple. It was crowned by hideous gargoyles of types that would offend even the most enthusiastic proponent of the gothic style. The creatures they depicted were not those I recognised, being forms of tentacled and draconic beasts, but all of them chilled me deeply to the bone.

     At the heart of the town square was an ornate tiered fountain crowned by a trio of the same grotesque statues. The water it spewed was green and the pool was filled with algae from lack of upkeep. The hotel the fisherman had pointed me to stood on the opposite side of the square to the strange town hall. It looked like it leaned at a disturbing angle, in as bad a state as the rest of the town.

     The lobby was in a loathsome state of dampness, rising through the walls by the looks of it. The unpleasant odour of the port somehow still permeated the place despite the distance. There was a disquieting ticking of a clock hung on the wall. I couldn’t be sure at the time, but I felt sure the rhythm of it was ever so slightly off. The place looked like it had been decorated in the last century and not touched since.

     A ring of the bell at the counter summoned the concierge from the backroom. He looked much like the fishermen on the quay, and it unnerved me to see the same blackened marks on the Grarrl’s claws. Whatever caused the cracks clearly did not relate to the local trade, and seemed more a characteristic of this peculiar ‘Illmoor look’ that the Mystery Islanders spoke of. He garbled a response to my inquiry of a room in that same strange accent that seemed to bubble up from his pale throat more than be spoken, and to my ears he seemed more affronted at the idea of a customer than anything else.

     Reluctantly, I received my key and checked my luggage, keeping the briefcase filled with the E-Z Brand samples I hoped to sell in the town. Then, I set off into Illmoor proper to try and ply my trade. I met not a single person walking the eerie streets of the place, though I still remain certain I heard voices in the strange half-aquatic dialect whispering in alleyways as I passed. My sales were quite simply nonexistent. The first few houses I tried, I was greeted by equally pale-looking locals who stared at me with those wide, sunken eyes. My sales pitch fell on deaf ears. They stared at me, unblinking, not offering a single question. The first two then firmly shook their heads and bid me farewell. The third slammed the door in my face.

     And after that, the doors were not even opened. Shutters were pulled across. Lights extinguished. Despite the lack of any obvious forerunner, word appeared to be spreading of my arrival and the locals were most certainly not in the mood to entertain visitors. Darkly, I began to imagine that there must be passages below street level where the townsfolk lurked and mingled, and all of this surface architecture was nothing but a facade.

     The further out from the town square I went, the more dilapidated the buildings became, until eventually there was nothing that could be considered habitable, and I decided to return to the hotel fruitless in my labours. My initial enthusiasm for the adventure had now fully evaporated and such was the disquiet the town had placed within me that I dared not think of seeking out a restaurant. I had a few snacks in my luggage that would have to serve me till the morning.

     The concierge at the hotel gave me the same suspicious look as I reclaimed my luggage and made my way up to my room.

     It was a bleak place. A single iron-framed bed with linens that smelt more of mothballs than anything else, and a dresser for my luggage. It unnerved me to find the internal lock to the room in a poor state of upkeep, such that I felt it might sheer off if any real pressure was applied from the outside, offering no real security at all. The sheer hostility with which I had been greeted, and the rumours of disappearances the sailors had plied me made me deeply concerned for my safety, so I left the key in the door so as to block any attempt from outside, and with considerable effort moved the dresser to block the doorway completely.

     I had my meagre dinner from my travel supplies, and then retired to bed, in the hopes that sleep would convey me to the morning and my escape from that terrible place all the quicker. The darkness of the room proved little comfort, serving only to make me strain my ears for sounds beyond those four walls. I was sure I could hear people moving on the street below, now free to move around the town after I was no longer prowling. Even the footsteps seemed odd, with a shambling quality to them that sent shivers down my spine.

     There were drips in far off rooms that seemed to echo and amplify. And, as I drifted off to sleep, I remember hearing from a room that must have been on the same floor whispers in the strange watery accent. At the time, I thought them nonsense words, the incoherent mumblings of someone taken ill in their room. Only since have I researched the words, and discovered the terrible, ancient things they referred to. Had I known then what I know now, I would have fled from that awful place at once.

     Drevni, Florthu, and worst of all, that cursed name, Bal’Gammaron.

     

***

     The dream was vivid. Even all these years later, I remember each detail. It began with me in that same hotel bed, shivering with something that I distinctly recall was not the cold. The dresser had moved from the door, which now lay open like the gaping maw of some eldritch monster. From the nameless dark beyond the threshold pale townsfolk emerged, rushing towards the bed and clawing at me with their blackened, cracked hands. There was a terrible, occult air in the room and I knew that I had to escape.

     I fought off the pale Neopets and dashed for the door, taking the stairs down to the lobby two at a time. I emerged into the oppressive night outside, to find other Neopets blocking the streets heading to the port. The doors to the large temple building opposite were thrown wide open, with some arcane ceremony seeming to take place inside. There was a Gelert on the steps dressed in a curious and unsettling robe, who smiled and nodded in a sinister way as he banged a ceremonial drum.

     The Neopets from the hotel had caught up with me, and I stumbled forward into the town square, the ring of these horrid cultists closing in on me, forcing me towards the fountain with the ill-looking water.

     Only, as I drew nearer, the fountain seemed to melt into the cobblestones of the square, the water giving way to a deep precipice that the oncoming crowd of pursuers forced me to stand atop. I looked down into that foetid abyss and I felt, with some sense of abject terror, that the abyss was staring back. The water flowed away into nothingness. The drumming of the robed man thumped in my head like the pounding of a second heart, and my boots slipped on the current of the inverted fountain.

     I plunged into the endless abyss, spinning in infinity beyond notions of time and space. I felt stretched and condensed at once, as if I was being forced through the eye of a needle by being reduced to a string of ethereal atoms.

     And then, there was light.

     A disgusting, repulsive green light that reminded me of the briny depths and the strange aquatic tone in the voices of those with the Illmoor look. I was flying - or falling, as I had no real sense of orientation - between two parallel seas of some putrid green liquid that flowed at an impossible rate. There was no breeze, and though I tried I found myself unable to affect any change in direction, as if I was being drawn by some inescapable force to a point that still resided in the darkness beyond me.

     Shapes and visions assaulted me. Impossible constructs, with too many or too few dimensions. Triangles comprised of cubes that did not equate to a true triangular form when examined. Tesseracts, mobius strips, and objects to which even now I cannot lend a name that science would recognise rushed past me. Visions of creatures that broiled in the twin seas, mirrored above and below. Strange great black Blobikins that shrieked and moved in the dark and put me in mind of the terrible cracked skin on the Illmoor folk’s extremities. A giant Globilol with a terrible eye that looked upon me as a boot must look upon a Mootix as it swings down to crush it. The tentacled appendages reaching far and wide, carving windows into worlds I cannot even fathom let alone describe. A cruel looking Faerie dressed in grey, wielding a scimitar that could slice between realities, admonished me for stepping beyond my assigned dimensions. She held out a hand to offer a way back, but I slipped through her fingers and on into the point in the abyss.

     I found myself then standing on the sands of a fractal shore, stretching on into infinity, with each grain of sand collapsing in on itself recursively. The sky was black but the beach shone bright white, illuminated by the impossible geometry of the place refracting primordial light from a time before the birth of the first stars.

     I bent down to pick up a seashell with a fractal point, and pricked my finger. I recoiled and examined the wound, which bled three drops onto the pristine beach and ruined it eternally. The act prompted a reaction from the ocean, where a great temple rose from the depths, carved from a black stone that seemed to assault all senses of decency. The shrieks of the terrible black Blobikins echoed in my ears, and I sensed that more of them lurked within in the indeterminable depths. The doors to the great temple opened and from it emerged a beast that was silhouetted against the sky, such was its formidable size.

     It had two great leathery wings, and a face with tentacles that moved in strange dimensions. A forked tail hung between hoofed feet. The thing filled me with such abject terror that I dared not even scream, but as it fixed me with its terrible visage I felt so infinitesimally small in its presence. It was beyond me, in the most literal of senses. How could I possibly understand even an iota of the thoughts that crossed through such a colossal and, yes, ancient mind? This thing, I knew, somehow, had stridden universes when Neopia was but a speck. It neither cared about nor acknowledged me, such was my insignificance. But I knew in that instant that when the time came for it to stride again, everything would burn.

     The beast moved in the ocean and the waves crashed upon that fractal shore, breaking it into crystal shards like a shattered mirror, through which I fell back into the acrid green double ocean, but now falling at twice the speed. The sensation put pressure in my head that became insufferable, and I would have vomited had I control of my own faculties. The cruel Faerie was there again, and she took my hand, admonishing me for the things I had woken. From the wound on my hand, drips of blood spiralled off into the infinite void, and I was lost. So helplessly lost.

     

***

     I woke with a start to the dim light of another misty morning shining through the curtains, and the chatter of seabirds at the port. I was back in the bed at the run down hotel, my bedsheets thrashed around as if I had been experiencing a terrible dream.

     And that, at first, was what the arrogance of my youth dismissed the strange visions as. A fancy brought on by the strange behaviour of the townsfolk the previous day. The fantastical images in my head were clear, yet seemed doubly impossible by the standards of daylight. A thumping headache was developing that put me in mind of the thumping sensation of pressure I had felt as I fled the monster on the fractal shore, and as I put my hands to my head to cushion the feeling, I noticed the fresh wound on one of my fingers. It had stopped bleeding, but the memory of pricking it on the shell was too fresh to ignore.

     I looked with some horror to the room’s door. The dresser was moved aside, as it had been during the dream. It was most certainly not where I had left it before retiring for the night.

     I had an awful sickly feeling about me. There was a darkness about this town that went deep, far beyond the standoffish nature of the locals. The dream - if, indeed, it had been a dream - spoke of nightmares beyond my imagination lying in wait beneath. I knew I had to get out of Illmoor as soon as possible.

     I packed my things in a rush, and did not stop to speak with the concierge at the front desk, only slamming my key down on the desk as I passed. The streets outside were still deserted, but the fountain was back in place. Gone was the void into which I increasingly thought I may genuinely have tumbled the previous night.

     I made for the port and did not look back. The Mystery Island boat was in, collecting the day’s haul. The sailors greeted me, the two Illmoor fishermen on the quay did not. I rushed onboard and did not answer the the inquiries of the Mystery Islanders who hailed me. They exchanged a brief look and did not try and speak to me again for the entirety of the voyage back to their home port. They had seen this before, I understood. The terror that a night in Illmoor could elicit. They knew I would need time to process my thoughts, or in the best cases, forget them entirely.

     That, I could not do. My dream haunted me. The things I had seen in the darkness opened a window that could not be closed. I returned to Neopia Central and resigned my position at the company. I consulted scholars belonging to the Seekers on the nature of the things I claimed to have seen. They dismissed them as maddened rambling. I consulted doctors of the mind on the question of my sanity, hoping that I had become divorced from reality that fateful night. They found me quite sane, though could not account for anything I had seen.

     Years have now passed since my night in Illmoor. Yet, I tell you this plain, the wound on my finger has never healed. It baffles the doctors I have consulted. But not me. I know, the shell I touched was sharper than sharpness. It was less a wound than a point, connecting me back to that terrible shore and the beast in the ocean. The skin around the cut has turned black and cracked, and my eyes are sunken through lack of sleep. When I look in the mirror, I no longer recognise the face that stares back. But I do see what he resembles. I have that cursed Illmoor Look.

     The locals on the island must have undergone the same dread journey. Ventured to the same infinite shore. And pledged their devotion to the same eldritch beast. A beast I know now, deep in my belly, is Bal’Gammaron. I hear him calling me back there, to the island. And I know, in time, I will return to the eerie town of Illmoor, and pledge myself to his service as countless others have before me.

     I am lost. So hopelessly lost.

     The End.

 
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