A traveler approaches...

You come to a chasm. Maybe if you wander alongside you'll find a way across.\n\nComing to a heap of rubble you climb up to get an idea of your surroundings. Below: a sheer descent of severed pipes, interrupted sewers, the faint sheen of water at the bottom.\n\n[[Look across|observatory]]
There it is. Across the roof. It's beautiful. To imagine it alongside something like sparrows--clods of dirt to a sparkling gem.\n\nCarefully you tread across the tiles and unstrap the cage from your back.\n\nThe plumage reminds you of clouds reflecting fire.\n\n[[Call to it in the language of birds]]\n\n[[Lure it into the cage with bait]]
You almost slip, but you don't.\n\nAhead--tall, grey buildings with no doors, but many windows.\n\nWas that a white face at one of the windows? You wait, but hear nothing, see nothing.\n\n[[onward|stage]]
The pebble sails silently from your hand and lands in the alley mouth. The hunter rushes at the sound so fast you feel fear at even being covertly connected to the cause of their movements.\n\nYou quietly go the opposite way.
You become part of the city.
<<display "TrueStart">>
You sit and watch a tower for some time.\n\nYou come to trust this tower, for it is broken open and can hold no secrets, but the curves and nooks in it will provide shelter from the weather. As for that, storms seem to stop at the walls of this city.\n\nYou live on bird-eggs filched from high nests and the crustaceans that crawl in the sewers, sewers clean as sparkling brooks because it has been a long time since humans soiled them.\n\nTime to get better.
You've been moving too long to stop now.\n\nYou know you'd grow tired of the drained pallor of these walls. You need bird-song, rustling underbrush, the give of dirt under your feet, the spring of moss, and unexpected air, sometimes blisteringly hot, sometimes dire cold, but always fresh, not endlessly, wearingly circulated through this place that has neither life nor death.\n\nThe wall has broken here, and through the gap, down the mountainside, you see forest without end, smoldering with fog. You wrap your cloak tight and leave the city.
The stones are suspended from the ceiling by slender, almost invisible string.\n\nAs you follow the stones, the walls narrow until you're walking through half-darkness, bumping into rocks, sending them clicking against each other. You can no longer see where you're going.\n\nYou turn around.\n\nSomething fills the light at the [[end|terminate]] of the passage.
Three branches of a superstructure canyon.\n\n[[Pillars|pillars0]] cluster at one mouth, thick as trees.\n\nThe central path drops away into a [[chasm|observatory0]].\n\nThe last street is charred black. The only distinct structure is a huge [[warehouse|warehouse0]], the rest are obliterated, fused together by ancient heat. Across, a heap of bricks slough from the entrance of an [[alleyway|floatingstones0]].
<<if $you eq "bird catcher in search of the most beautiful bird in the world">>You hear bird song. Haunting, lilting, over your head. There. Up on that stately clay mansion.\n\nYou begin to [[climb|bird-climax]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "hotshot cartographer looking for that one big score before you settle down">>Turning the corner you see a spiral tower. This is perfect, you can see everything from [[here|cartographer-climax]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "bounty hunter in pursuit of the notorious Whistling Bandit">>You see a streak of blood on stone. Beyond, a street full of fissures. Someone's been here.\n\nYou walk faster, finger drifting triggerward, down the [[street|bountyhunter-climax]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "homeless wanderer seeking shelter from the rain">>\nYou've been [[wandering|wanderer-climax]] a long time.<<endif>><<if $you eq "bandit panicked, dripping blood, looking for a place to hide, anywhere, anywhere at all">>Lost. There must be some exit from this architectural maze. You climb to the roof of a nearby house, clambering up by way of rubble spilled like geometric guts. Is that city wall you see between those towers?\n\nAgh. Wincing pain. You check your wound for infection. No weird colors--yet.\n\nSomeone's [[coming|bandit-climax]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "desperate graverobber in search of tombs">>You kick a potsherd disconsolately. An entire city, abandoned, with no sign of death. Even streets full of bones would be cheerier than this complete absence of life.\n\nTurning the corner--an expanse of smooth stone with a high, thin tower rising from the center, twisted tightly with narrow steps. A [[vantage point.|graverobber-climax]]<<endif>>
In the distance [[majestic torrents|waterfall0]] tumble from between two headless colossi, falling into a reservoir that feeds the angular ravine of a [[channel|stream0]] carrying water deep into the city, leapt here and there by bridges.\n\n[[Wide streets|spiderpede]], marred with crevices and fallen stones, ramp through neighborhoods of somber grey buildings.\n\nA [[white form|statue0]] under an aged arch. Beyond the arch, high ceilings with geometric excisions for light, a dappled indoor plain.
Something between a spider and a millipede, big as a human on all fours, dragging stones.\n\nScrape scrape down the street.\n\n[[quietly, quickly walk in the other direction|stage]]
You lean back against some rubble and rub your feet through the holes in your shoes.\n\n[[Watch this city to see if it can be lived in]]\n\n[[Find the other side and keep moving]]
You drag yourself through the blood and grab their hair, long hair let loose by the falling of their hood. Their feeble hands cannot stop the sure movement of your arms.\n\nPulling back their neck to expose the jumping apple, you saw away until the last choked spurt of life leaves their body and their voice is a draining gutter.\n\nAs the adrenaline fades you see your legs are broken.\n\nIt takes you a long time to starve.
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By the time you emerge from the mouth of a sewer, night has fallen. By the light of the moon you grab at the little crabs that live in the trickling water and tear off their shells. As you chew at the raw meat, you plan your next movement, predict their egress, ponder what you know of the surrounding countryside, the changes in weather that might help or hinder a fleeing party.\n\nThis chase can't last forever.
<<if $you eq "desperate graverobber in search of tombs">>You grit your teeth. Do they even bury their dead here at all? No tombs, nothing with a skull on it, you've never seen a city where they didn't honor their deceased in some way. At least the sight of a crematorium would be evidence enough to leave this [[place|stage]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "bandit panicked, dripping blood, looking for a place to hide, anywhere, anywhere at all">>You tear a strip from your tunic and wrap it around your arm. The blood suffuses the fabric to rich red, but the flow is slowing down.\n\nGot to keep [[moving|stage]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "bounty hunter in pursuit of the notorious Whistling Bandit">>You think about your daughter. With this bounty, you'll be able to pay for everything she needs, and no one will laugh at her deformity.\n\nYour finger strokes the trigger of your crossbow and your [[steps|stage]] quicken.<<endif>><<if $you eq "bird catcher in search of the most beautiful bird in the world">>Was that the whit of a bird? A breath of wind? A tumbling pebble? The acoustics of this canyonlike city are strange. You stand perfectly still and listen, but nothing. Just your own heartbeat.\n\nYou check the wooden cage, make sure it hasn't been damaged by your travels, then strap it back over your shoulders. [[Onward|stage]].<<endif>><<if $you eq "hotshot cartographer looking for that one big score before you settle down">>Ahhh. For a moment you thought you were lost. But that--over there, that looks familiar. You can't tell anymore. It's all stone without end.\n\nYou find yourself briefly wishing you had a map of this place, then laugh.\n\nThis will be the defining work of your career--this soaring, labyrinthian chaos tamed under the glint of your surveying lense and the whip of your graphite. Measured, plotted, marked, you will name every stone, seal this [[city|stage]] in parchment for all eternity.<<endif>><<if $you eq "homeless wanderer seeking shelter from the rain">>You cough for a long time. Still got that hacking cold. Last folks you passed by, wouldn't even let you sleep in their barn, even though the rain was pouring fit to drown you, and cold as the bottom of the sea. Didn't want their hay getting dirty. Who knows. Maybe they thought you looked dangerous. Dirty, ragged, hard to look presentable when you don't talk to people much. And you don't smile so good, not with the kind of teeth you got.\n\nJust need to get back on your [[feet|stage]]. Need some breathing room.<<endif>>
You wander the forest of pillars. Each is encircled by an ancient script and bears a face on it. No face is alike. The pillars go on much longer than you expected, until you can no longer see the city in any direction.\n\nComing out the other [[side|stage]], you start breathing again.
A huge waterfall rushes silently between the enormous sandaled feet of the colossi. The waters are striking the rocks below from a great height but not a sound is heard, not even your own breath.\n\n[[approach|waterfall]]\n\n[[leave this place|stage]]
The channel cuts deep into the city, passing under squat archways and into the guts of buildings. A massive, graven head has fallen in.\n\nOver time the water has worn away the part of the mouth submerged in the stream until it resembles a lip-curling leer.\n\n[[step across the head to reach the other side|stream]]\n\n[[try another direction|stage]]
Many smiling statues fill this warehouse. At least a dozen are broken, smashed, their limbs and faces beaten apart.\n\nThe row of ruined statues is interrupted by a perfectly whole statue, and beyond that, none have been touched. A sledgehammer lies next to the smiling figure.\n\n[[Pick up the sledgehammer|terminate]]\n\n[[Leave this place|stage]]
From the dark you fire a bolt.\n\nYou wait.\n\nA flurry of rags with a body inside it lands in front of you, followed by the ear-shattering crack of a roof tile that somehow avoids hitting anyone. You stare at the bandit as they gasp and claw at the exposed bone of their sliced-open head, blood spreading toward you as their eyes mutely plead.\n\n[[Staunch their wound with your sleeve]]\n\n[[Take out your dagger and finish that fucker]]
Rubble rains down, splintering on the pavement. You leap into the nearest crevice.\n\nDeeper than you thought.\n\nYou land with an impact that knocks the breath from your lungs, you struggle for air against the swirling dust.\n\nThe fissure narrows to nothing in one direction. In the other, [[darkness]]. Or you could grab for your crossbow and [[take your best shot against the glare of the sky]].
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A white statue standing on a marble block, gently smiling as if possessed of secret knowledge, staring at you with opaque eyes. Braids of stone flow down its back and over its shoulders. There are no genitals.\n\n[[walk past|statue]]\n\n[[flee|stage]]\n<<endif>>
From your vantage point you sketch out the lay of the city. How strange. The distances aren't adding up. You shake your instrument.\n\nAfter some time pouring over your charts, taking and re-taking measurements, you begin to feel this mismeasurement in your own body, a distinct wrongness. The distance between certain limbs, certain features is simply inaccurate.\n\nToo short.
You're a <<print $option1>>[[...|ellipses1]]\n\nYou're a <<print $option2>>[[...|ellipses2]]\n\nYou're a <<print $option3>>[[...|ellipses3]]
A rock explodes just to your side, spraying you with stinging fragments. The bandit stares down, a ragged shadow against the sky.\n\n[[Crawl into the cracks and hide]]\n\n[[Fire a quarrel right up into their face]]
[[The ruins swallow you.|stage]]<<set $you = $option2>>
[[The ruins swallow you.|stage]]<<set $you = $option3>>
[[The ruins swallow you.|stage]]<<set $you = $option1>>
As you approach the falls, the silence disintegrates and you start to hear crashing water.\n\nBut with that sound comes other horrible [[sounds|terminate]].
The [[metrolith]], vast and stony, rises from the mist.\n\n<<display "whycalc">><<display "why">><<set $event = 0>><<set $stage = 0>>
You pass the statue with no sound but the crunch of your footsteps on the grit fallen from its crumbling hair.\n\n[[onward|stage]]
You rummage through your satchel with increasing panic. The bird seed--missing. Even your rations of dried meat--gone. The cloth is torn open on the bottom. Some jagged rock must have caught it.\n\n[[Tear a chunk of your own flesh off and put it at the mouth of the cage.]]
You tilt back and fill their face with bolt. A scream, and they fall in a clatter of tiles, landing with a wet crunch on the street.\n\nTheir bones project at odd angles. You find the tattoo on their arm and slice it off with your dagger. Halfway through the process they regain consciousness.\n\nYou hold their mouth shut with your gloved palm until they stop moving, the unsevered flap of their skin flopping up and down with each spasm.\n\nYou leave the city with a warm, wet tattoo in your pocket.
Pillars glimpsed between pillars glimpsed between pillars, thickening to darkness. Dark corrosion trickles from the height of each column like shadowy vines, but you cannot see from what.\n\n[[enter|pillars]]\n\n[[leave this place|stage]]
You chirp. It perks its head. Its eyes are serpent's eyes.\n\nYou trill. You have the feeling this bird speaks a much older dialect than the one you learned.\n\nThen the bird approaches, picking its way across the tiles with flowing grace. It cradles itself in your arm. It is very warm and soft in this place of hard stones.\n\nYou break the cage and leave the city.
<<set $stage = $stage + 1>><<if $stage eq 1>><<display "city1">><<endif>><<if $stage eq 2>><<display "interlude">><<endif>><<if $stage eq 3>><<display "city2">><<endif>><<if $stage eq 4>><<display "city3">><<endif>>
Across the chasm is an observatory with a shattered eye that will no longer see the stars or moon.\n\nVines have grown up the sides and through the smashed lense of the telescope, leafy cords winding into the darkness.\n\nThere is nothing to be learned. You turn away and find another [[route|stage]].
The [[warehouse]] stands out to you like a good tooth in a rotten mouth, every other structure on this street collapsed, melted. Each step sends puffs of ash into the air.
Your gaze comes to rest on a forest of pillars topped with skeletons, exposed to weather and fowl. None of the skeletons have skulls.\n\nTheir ribs are torn open, the better to bait the air with entrails. You have a sudden vision of bird's nests full of gemstones, bits of gold.\n\nThere are no graves for you here.
Goddamnit.\n\nYou cut off your sleeve and bind their head up. After some time they fall asleep and fevered murmurs fade to heavy breathing.\n\nThe crevice is so narrow, you end up drowsing off close enough to feel the warmth of their body.
You dig your fingernails around a piece of your flesh and twist it free.\n\nThe bird hops closer.\n\nIt likes the taste of flesh.
<<set $rand = Math.round(Math.random() * 1)>><<if $rand eq 0>><<set $option1 = "bandit panicked, dripping blood, looking for a place to hide, anywhere, anywhere at all">><<endif>><<if $rand eq 1>><<set $option1 = "bird catcher in search of the most beautiful bird in the world">><<endif>><<set $rand = Math.round(Math.random() * 1)>><<if $rand eq 0>><<set $option2 = "bounty hunter in pursuit of the notorious Whistling Bandit">><<endif>><<if $rand eq 1>><<set $option2 = "homeless wanderer seeking shelter from the rain">><<endif>><<set $rand = Math.round(Math.random() * 1)>><<if $rand eq 0>><<set $option3 = "hotshot cartographer looking for that one big score before you settle down">><<endif>><<if $rand eq 1>><<set $option3 = "desperate graverobber in search of tombs">><<endif>>
smooth stone sides--something like the exterior of a valley, crater, colosseum, a city of carved cliffs\n\nholes that could be windows, caves, erosion\n\ntowers worn inscrutable by weather\n\na steep ascent of rubble\n\nthe [[metrolith|TrueStart]]
You lift the rock, pain jetting through your arm, and hold it high. Breathing deep, you fling it down and watch the rock's shadow flick across the street like a bird diving after prey.\n\nThe hunter looks up into the rock.\n\nBlood fills the street, disturbingly red against the weathered pale of the stone, bright as hallucination.\n\nBut you live.
The alleyway widens and narrows with each corner. Above, the silvery river of the sky. The alley's windows and doorways have been bricked over, every one of them.\n\nA hallway to your right interrupts the smooth stone and tightly mortared bricks.\n\nBits of stone are floating all the way down the hallway.\n\n[[pass it by|stage]]\n\n[[investigate|floatingstones]]
You crawl across the rooftop and look down. The bounty hunter is creeping below, crossbow held at chest level.\n\n[[Lift a rock and fling it down]]\n\n[[Toss a pebble across the street into the mouth of an alleyway]]