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Dark Trails

You don't belong here. You must have realised by now. This world has no place for your kind. No magic or mystery, no roads that lead into the unknown. Just endless social hierarchies, hollow structures, sucking you in, and yet, with no real place for you. Spending your life chasing made-up goals. Hoping that if you work your hardest, you will find your place and finally fit in a system that deep inside, you wish to see burn. You know it, don't you? There is no place for you here. No matter how hard you try, you will always remain a stranger to this world. Watching this grinding machine, never understanding what it is for, and what your part is in it. But there's no point in weeping over it. Just do your best and deal with the hand you were given. After all, this is the only world you got.

This is where you are wrong. There are others, many others. Worlds full of magic and wonders, with unknown lands shrouded by shadows and mist, where legends and mystery still rule. But they are far far away, and there are no portals, no magic doors leading there. There are only pathways, ancient, crumbling, unmarked, dark and full of danger, and long, so very long. They touch this world, hidden by shadows, in places where eyes rarely look, where the ever-expanding network of cameras has not yet reached. But these places are getting fewer, and so are the places where the trails cross this world. The few that remain are hidden, fading. You will never find them, and even if you do, you will never be able to cross them, not by yourself.

If you wish to find the paths between worlds, you will need a guide, you will need an invitation, and to get one, you will need to give us your name, your true name.

Here is the first problem: you don't know your true name. You don't even know what that means. Let me explain. It is not what people call you. Your true name is a shape, a pattern that represents you, that is unique to you. Like a signature, but more than that. In a way, it is you, kind of like your face. Yet like the face of one who has never seen his reflection, you are blind to it. That is a problem. Without your true name, we will never find you. So this is where you must start. The good news is that you are drawn to it, and can find it little by little, piece by piece. Start by getting a pen, or a marker, one that can write anywhere, and just scribble. Search your mind for patterns and shapes and write. Write everywhere, on papers, on walls where no one is looking, on doors, pools, and boxes, in streets and alleys. Create patterns and experiment. Some will just feel right. Collect those. Combine them. Mutate them. These patterns are the scattered pieces of your true name.

Just writing, however, is not enough. One can never see his real shape just by looking inside. Like your shape, your true name is reflected in the world. It's a fragmented and deformed reflection, as if the world was a twisted mirror, dirty and shattered into a million pieces. Each shard reflects something, a small piece. Of you maybe, maybe not.

Search the world for patterns. Look for shapes in lights and shadows, on trees and bugs, humans and slugs, on stains and marks of decay. Look everywhere. Try to identify those patterns that seem important somehow. Those you must try to imitate, to distil and use. Think of each pattern as a piece in a puzzle. Combine them and break them. It can take time but if you keep observing, keep writing, I promise, you will get closer and closer.

Writing on walls, satisfying as it might be, is not enough. Despite what you might think, we are not looking for you. No one is. We are just weary travellers passing this world on our way to some far destination. If you want us to see your name, you must go where we pass, to the rare places where the trails still intersect this world. These are not the safe comfortable places where the crowds choose to go. No, these are dangerous, decaying places shrouded with shadows, protected from cameras and constantly gazing eyes. Dark alleys, abandoned buildings, ruins and tunnels. Places where the walls of this reality melt and one can still pass unnoticed, appear and disappear without a trace. This is where you must write.

And these are becoming rare. The lights in this world are growing, networks of cameras and eyes, ever-expanding, ever-watching, leaving nothing unseen. Soon, nothing will be hidden and the last trails will disconnect from this world, leaving it isolated, until the darkness rises once more. But for now, some places remain. To find them, you must go where a reasonable person will not. You will recognise these places through a sense of decay and desolation. Avoid places with cameras and watchful eyes. This is where reality solidifies into an unbreakable wall. You will find no passage there.

Have courage, curiosity, and most of all, patience. The trails are rare and those who travel them are few. Even if you leave your name near one of the intersections, it might take a long time before it is noticed. Scatter your writing in as many places as possible and watch for other symbols and names that suggest others might have passed this way. At times you might feel you are being watched. You might notice other figures hidden in the shadows, that disappear when you get near. Don't disturb them. Those who dwell in such places are often dangerous, and those who walk the trails even more.

Once in a while you must go back to places where you wrote, and observe if someone has left a mark next to yours. This is a sign. It means someone has noticed you and taken an interest. It might even be one of us. When this happens, you should return to the area frequently, scatter your marks in the environment, and look for replies. But don't get your hopes up; false signs are common and we are few and scattered across vast expanses.

But if you should not cease searching, maybe one day, in one of these forsaken places, we shall meet. We will not run or hide, rather we will approach, slowly, cautiously, with gestures of peace, yet keeping a fair distance, never letting our guard down, as all approaches must be in places like these. Then we will talk, exchanging stories of the places we have been and the marks we have left, and we shall recognise each other by the names we wrote on so many walls.

This is not the end. This is where it begins. I wish I could tell you more, about the journey and the dangers you'll face, about the trails and the worlds they lead to, about the others who walk the trails, about us. But this is all I can share. Too many will read this, too many who shouldn't know. If you ever find us, we will tell you all you need to know, and if not, it will do you no good anyway.

There are two more pieces of advice I can spare:

The first is to beware. We are not the only ones who travel between worlds. Beware of the others, of the skins they wear, and the games they play. Beware of deceivers who prey on despair. Let them and they will consume you from within until nothing remains but an empty shell. There are many others on the edges of trails: lost, broken, mad, all dangerous in their own way. Where we walk is never safe. Watch yourself.

The second piece of advice is to be persistent. This can take time. A long time. Years, decades, a lifetime. But know that all of this might not be enough. That you might waste your life waiting for an invitation that will never arrive. Know that the little that this world throws your way might be all you ever get. Make the best of it.

But if you never stop searching, never cease exploring, if your courage will not fail, and your mind will not break, if you survive, and if you are lucky, very lucky, then our ways will cross. One of us will see your mark and recognize it for what it is. And after all is done, we will invite you to join us in our travels. Then your time in this world will be over, and your journey will begin.

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