City of the Lost
We broke our chains, and in our wake we left a shattered empire. Behind us were our days in darkness, and ahead of us were the long days of rebuilding, of gaining back what was lost, and finding ourselves again. But there remained one thing for us to do. On the day we won the war, the best and brightest among us, who survived the countless hard-won battles, decided to meet a length hence to take on one last pilgrimage before we started the long work ahead of us.
We followed them through the hills and the plains, across the mighty winding rivers that, seemingly so long ago we forded to escape our captors, and past the still-smoldering ruins that we had left in the wake of our terrible vengeance. We cried and we laughed, for there was so much, even then, to celebrate, and to grieve. For nine days and nights we stopped where the greenery of our homeland gave way to the gray cracked dirt of the Desolation. We sought the guidance of the Stranger, and he pointed us onward.
Setting our sights on the ever-shrouded peaks in the distance, we traversed the barren and hostile landscape. There was little food, if any, to find. Freshwater came only from wells, as the parched earth could not be convinced to give up its precious treasure. What few ponds we found on the surface made men vomit blood, leaving them to suffer in pain without relief until death came for them in a matter of hours.
The journey was long and hard, but it was necessary. Soon, we found ourselves back in a place we had never thought we would see again. Before us stretched a darkened valley caught between two mountains. The clouds dipped between the peaks, splattering the bare stones of the valley with a light drizzle and filling the air with the sweet scent of loss. We had much work ahead of us, but the valley was where it started. It was the least we could do. For those that had long sought the stars and yet had never seen them again.
Di'Cselvë Neloreni (/dɪʔ.ˈtʃɛl.vɛ nɛ.lɔ.ˈrɛ.nɪ/), The City of the Lost in Tretalleri, is one of the most significant cultural and religious sites to the tretâllë. More properly, it is known as D'Cselvë Di'Neloreni, literally the City of Those Whose Light Was Lost. Despite the name, the City of the Lost has no permanent living residents. Instead, it is home to the remains and tombs of the countless tretâllë who lost their lives to their enslavement as miners for the ancestors of the modern elledŷnnë and, later on, to the rebellion that finally broke the chains of their bondage, known collectively to modern tretâllë as Di'Fevwilla Urmerë, the Lost Generation.
To some, however, the City of the Lost is known as D'Cselvë Di'Ellefinttë, the City of the Starseekers. To these individuals, the City of the Lost is less about the lives that were spent wasting away in the darkness beneath the Shrouded Peaks and more about the collective hope of those who lived in the cramped and shadowed tunnels, laboring away their hours in the flickering firelight and choking smoke of torches. To these people, more important than the lives lost are the lives spent wishing to see the stars again and the little contributions that every person, survivor or victim of their enslavement, made to their eventual freedom.
The pilgrimage to the City of the Lost, D'Peledrë Leýfë, the Walk of Hope, is an undertaking that tradition dictates every able-bodied tretâllë should look to accomplish at least once in their lives. Although the Walk of Hope is widely believed to simply be the journey to the City of the Lost, the canon of the Faith of the Nine in fact stipulates that the Walk of Hope is truly a pilgrimage of two parts: the initial journey and a second, later pilgrimage back to the City of the Lost.
While participation in the first leg of the Walk of Hope is expected of tretâllë who have the means to make the journey, the second leg is for those who are able and willing to return. It is no secret that the Walk of Hope is taxing not just physically or mentally, but also emotionally, as the scale of loss that an individual bears witness to upon completing their journey is beyond words. Only those who feel an exceptionally strong connection to their ancestors, or who possess a strong conviction typically have the courage to undertake the pilgrimage a second time.
Traditionally, the pilgrimage was accomplished by crossing the Desolation from any point along its expansive borders and traveling in a straight line toward the City of the Lost. There are still brave souls who attempt to accomplish this feat, but the practice has fallen out of popularity. A standard pilgrimage now starts at D'Cselvë Di'Adeýla Rodë, the City of the Pale River, where pilgrims spend a day of rest before departing to follow the sinuous path of the Kaldritë upstream to the base of the Eternal Fortress.
A Walk With Friends
During the early days of the Walk of Hope, before the Dominion, any tretâllë with the means and the motivation could undertake the journey to the City of the Lost. For a time, pilgrims traveled sensibly, in groups that were able to weather the challenges of the Desolation as the hostile environment is exceedingly difficult to survive alone. Surviving literature from the period makes claims about a series of tragic solitary journeys to the City of the Lost, following the first successful individual pilgrimage, but it is unknown whether there is any truth to these claims, or if they were simply used as a cautionary tale.
Once the pilgrimage was formally codified into the Faith of the Nine by early Dominion clergy, the laissez-faire attitude taken toward it was restricted. Under the new rules, pilgrimages can only be embarked upon by parties of at least three able-bodied tretâllë who can demonstrate a competence for survival skills or are otherwise willing to put themselves through instruction in that area. Upon the introduction of the pilgrimage's two-part nature to the canon, the rules were updated to include a stipulation that at least one of the group must have previously completed a pilgrimage.
As we walked on the well-worn trail by the bank of the Kaldritë, the path pounded flat by millennia of pilgrims who came before us, it was all too easy to forget that we were traveling across lands forsaken by the Stranger, where the earth's thirst cannot be slaked, where water that stands is poison, where life survives by His will alone. A small mound of rocks by the edge of the river, their rough edges made smooth by the relentless passage of time, the grave of an unnamed traveler, was a sobering reminder that the journey we had embarked upon was perilous, even to the most prepared.
We stopped by the grave and offered prayers for the departed, leaving an offering of bread and salt in the hope that if the spirit was yet bound to the grave, the food could give it the strength to find its way back into His arms. We left with grumbling stomachs, our lips cracked and our throats parched from the cold, forlorn wind that swept through the barren earth. As the pile of rocks faded back into the desolate grey landscape, we couldn't help but wonder, should the worst happen, if any travelers would pay our piles of rock the same respect.
The Watcher's Vow
D'Peridë Di'Visserë, the Watcher's Vow in tretalleri, is a custom that dates to the introduction of the bipartite pilgrimage to the canon of the Faith of the Nine and the resulting advent of return journeys to the City of the Lost. According to the custom, a group of pilgrims coming to pay respects to the dead in the City of the Lost must elect at least one of their members (although, customarily, only one is selected), who has been to the valley before, to remain behind in the Eternal Fortress as Di'Vissêrë, the Watchers, while the rest of the pilgrims continue on their journey into the valley beyond.
During this time, the Watcher — or Watchers — is to remain in the empty fortress. The Watcher is also forbidden from crossing Di'Teýre, the Veil, a symbolic doorway that marks where the City of the Lost's border intersects the structure of the fortress, which is named after the sheer white cloth that was traditionally draped across the entrance but has since been removed due to the difficulty of maintaining it. It is by the act of remaining in the fortress and not setting foot in the valley beyond that the Watcher becomes one of the city's guardians.
By standing guard over the fortress while the others traverse the valley beyond, the Watcher symbolically stands with their ancestors and joins their eternal vigil over the resting place of those that lost their lives seeking the stars. Standing watch in the Eternal Fortress is, itself, the vow of the Watcher to ensure that never again will the horrors of the past be repeated, and their customary isolation is meant to serve as a reminder that this promise is the burden of every tretalleri individual who has come to enjoy a life of freedom as a result of the blood shed by those remembered in the valley beyond.
I stood my watch at the Eternal Fortress once before, when I was younger. When it came time to choose our Watcher, the six of us, each having been to the City of the Lost before, decided to draw straws. Luckily, I was given the task of preparing them. I do not know why I did not just tell them that I wished to be the Watcher, but nonetheless I ensured that I would be left with the longest straw.
As the sun rose the next day, we broke bread together for what would be the last time until they returned, and I watched them as they left through the Veil. A part of my soul longed to follow them into the land of our dead, to see the graves of our lost brethren once again, but my heart hungered for something else. In the days that followed, I wandered the deathly-quiet halls and yet, never once, felt as though I was alone. It was as if I could feel the ancestors in that place, keeping to their eternal vigil.
By night, I climbed to the roof and looked up at the stars to marvel at their beauty. They shone so brightly and with such mesmerizing brilliance, that I could not even begin to imagine living in a darkness so deep that the memory of them fades. My heart ached for the lost, and it was then that I made my vow to do what I could to leave the world better than I had found it.
Now I keep my second watch, here only by the kindness of strangers, laying on a sheet of linen wrapped around two saplings as my carers bustle around me. I asked them to take me to the roof, so that I could see the stars as my ancestors saw them once before, and I know that they are watching, and I can only hope that they are proud.
The Nine-Day Fast
Di'Nenjommë Ellattë, the Nine-Day Fast in Tretalleri, takes place in the Black Pit at the far end of the valley. It marks the end of the first leg of the journey to the City of the Lost, and the beginning of the long journey back. During this nine-day period, pilgrims are expected to go as far into the pit as their courage allows them to go, bringing with them only as much food and water as they can carry and nine beeswax candles that burn for at least half a day each.
At the beginning of each day, the pilgrims speak a quiet prayer for the departed and light a candle. For as long as the candle flame burns, the pilgrims are expected to remain in quiet reflection, refraining from eating so much as a crumb of bread, drinking so much as a drop of water, and sleeping for so much as a wink. When the flame sputters out, then and only then are the pilgrims allowed to eat and drink by the cover of darkness. They are expected to sleep right after. Tradition dictates that this is meant to remind the pilgrims of how the ancestors were only allowed food, water, and sleep by darkness.
At the end of the nine days, pilgrims are expected to remain in the pit until such time that the stars are high in the sky, ostensibly in homage to the ancestors' eventual escape to the surface to see the stars once again.
Our strength was waning when we returned to the fortress. My heart was heavy like lead, and my head swam in a sea of profound grief and loss, the sweet smell of the little ghosts doing nothing to help my distress. We had left the pit days ago, and yet it felt like the nine days we had spent in darkness still loomed over me like a shadow.
That night I visited our Watcher. I found her at the roof of the fortress, staring up at the sky, watching the stars as they made their journey across the heavens. Though we had embarked on this pilgrimage together, she was yet a stranger to me. Still, the way that she looked at me as I approached, as though she understood the tumult in my heart, drew me to her.
She held me as I wept. I was inconsolable in my grief, the profundity of the loss that I felt beyond the power of words to describe. By the end of it, I was glad to be returning to a home that was warm, to a family that welcomed me, to a bed that would give me good dreams.
I knew it would take nothing short of the end of the world to convince me to return to the City of the Lost, but all the same, I did not regret the pilgrimage. I am all the better for having been, as the quiet valley had taught me a lesson that no other place could.
Nestled between two of the tallest mountains that comprise the Shrouded Peaks, the City of the Lost comprises the entire area of a darkened valley between the summits. The region sees sporadic rainfall from clouds that are said to "dip between the peaks," and is known for the way that the pitter-patter of raindrops against the bare rocky slopes of the mountains to either side of the valley echoes when it drizzles.
A shallow, fast-flowing river, Di'Rodë Kaldritë, the River Mercy, cuts through the base of the valley. The Kaldritë is one of the few sources of potable freshwater in the entire Desolation, however, contrary to its name, it is hardly a placid river. During times of increased rainfall in the surrounding region, the Kaldritë has been known to swell and overflow its banks with very little warning. These flash floods usually pose very little threat to the prepared traveler as the established trails in the valley are high enough up from the riverbed that those taking them should not have to worry about the river.
The Black Pit
Main Article: The Black Pit
Marked by a stonework gate at the far end of the western trail of the valley, the Black Pit is held, traditionally, as the cave system where the tretâllë spent their days in slavery toiling away under bondage to unearth precious ores and gemstones. The true extent of the cave system is unknown, as some branches have been sealed off since the old days by cave-ins, and others are simply too deep into the mountains to be explored in any practical fashion by pilgrims.
Even so, evidence of the presence of the ancestral tretâllë in the cave system is abundant. The remains of their tools can still be found strewn about in the Black Pit, and the fragments of the rusted chains and manacles that used to bind them together still litter the floor. The marks that their pickaxes made in the stone walls are still stark, even though they have clearly been worn duller by the passage of time.
The Eternal Fortress
Main Article: The Eternal Fortress
A silent sentinel watching over the entrance to the City of the Lost, the Eternal Fortress is a large and ancient stone structure built into the side of the western mountain, said to have been constructed shortly after the ancient tretâllë overthrew their masters. It serves as the western anchor for the wall that stretches across the entrance of the valley, unbroken except for a small canal dug to accommodate the Kaldritë as it flows through.
The Eternal Fortress is empty most of the time. Tretalleri tradition dictates that the valley beyond the fortress is a place for the dead, where the living come only to pay their respects and to remember the sacrifices of the Lost Generation. It is believed that a place so sacred to the dead is a place that should be guarded by the dead, and as such, unless maintenance is necessary or there is a pilgrimage occurring in the valley, the Eternal Fortress sits empty, keeping its endless vigil over the final resting places of all those who had lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom.
Contained with the halls of the Eternal Fortress is the Wall of the Liberated, a nine-sided hollow stone structure built block by block from pieces of stone hewn from the unmarked stone graves that the tretâllë had created for their dead during their time in the Black Pit. The ninth side, which faces the entrance of the room that contains the wall, is left incomplete, to symbolize all those whose remains were not recovered and who remain entombed in the Black Pit, either forgotten or lost to the ravages of time.
Graves of the Lost
Lining the slopes above the trails that straddle the valley from the Eternal Fortress all the way to the entrance of the Black Pit are the graves of the Lost, hewn into the rock. They house the bodies of the Lost, or at least those whose remains were recovered from the pit. As is the tretalleri way, the graves themselves are rather spartan in their construction, but far from crude. They resemble rectangular niches carved into the side of the mountain without any coverings. The bodies of the Lost are laid to rest one to a grave. According to tradition the Lost were laid to rest facing the heavens so that they could, in death, watch the clouds sail across the vast blue of the morning sky, and the stars as they traverse the inky black of night.
Despite the graves being open to the elements, the distinct lack of life in the immediate region ensures that the bones of the departed remain well preserved, but conditions are not perfect. The bones are still subject to weathering and the passage of the seasons. This is most readily apparent in the modern day where, while many of the graves are still seen with remains within them, many more are empty or otherwise filled with dust and bone fragments.
The graves are not typically a part of the pilgrimage, the tretâllë preferring to leave the remains undisturbed, but there are a few who occasionally lay little ghosts in the graves that are close to the trail.
Fauna & Flora
Being at the heart of the Desolation, the City of the Lost has only one permanent native species. Little flowers known as irridiri, literally meaning little ghosts owing to the translucent, pale-grey color of their petals, pepper the slopes of the valley. Most of the time, the flowers are closed, though they open at the slightest hint of rain. It is known that following one of the valley's light drizzles, the little flowers spread their petals, filling the air with a sweet scent that invariably evokes a sense of loss among tretâllë who smell it.
According to tretalleri tradition, the mountains surrounding the City of the Lost, and particularly the Black Pit, are rich in precious ores that bear gold, silver, and platinum, as well as a variety of gemstones. Outside of traditional accounts, there is very little in the way of consensus as to the veracity of these claims, as mining of any sort is forbidden in and around the valley.