There is a place waking men can visit under rare conditions – though it calls to all of us in our sleep. When the sea is right, on a moonless night, the Tidal Palace can rise from the glassy water. It can appear anywhere if you are determined to find it.
You must take to the ocean in the oldest boat you can borrow – one with oars, never a motor – and look directly at the shoreline as you row away from the shallows. The exact number of strokes taken, time lapsed, and distance traveled is different for each pilgrim. You may feel bumps beneath the hull, as if you are passing over logs or debris. Stay your course and clear your mind; if you turn around for even an instant before you make landfall, the Tidal Palace will elude you.
Eventually, you will feel your boat bump against the craggy island edge. You won’t be able to travel any further. Only now is it okay to turn. You will find yourself on an island made entirely from glassy obsidian, polished by the gently lapping waves. Crumbling pillars of the black rock reach upward from the ocean surrounding the island you stand on.
The landform itself is not large, roughly half the size of a football field. It swells into a steep hill – black and glossy in the starlight – about as tall as a cathedral steeple.
The palace is built into this rock face. The entrance is a square facade, carved into the bluffs. It stretches roughly twenty feet tall, and is broken up into tiers of obsidian pillars, supporting soaring archways. But the entryway is modest; a man-sized doorway tucked beneath the fanfare.
You will doubtless be tempted to glance back before you enter. And when you do, the shoreline will be gone. Tidal Palace exists in its own realm, carried into our own by a deep power beneath the ocean.
Through the door is the main hall. It is lit by moonlight filtering in through gaps in the ceiling, and lined with corroded iron doors. These are all fused into their frames. Those doors are not for you. As you walk past the doors, you may hear all manner of crying, pleading, or frantic pounding. Ignore these sounds.
At the end of the hall is a stairway, which curves downward.
As you press deeper into the palace you will find that each successive level is more or less the same. The moonlight will be replaced by eerie, blue-flamed gas lamps. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for by the third flood down, you’ll start to notice the toll the sea has taken on the place: murky puddles on the floor, carpets of seaweed, and barnacles clinging to the walls.
If you are truly unlucky, and still carrying on by the fifth level, the gas lamps will be flickering, if they’re still operational at all. There will be slimy sea life growing across every surface, and a fishy odor will rise up from the successive stairwell.
At the tenth floor, the last of the lights will have doubtless been extinguished by the damp air, leaving you to fumble around in the dark.
At the 19th landing, you will be able to go no further. Beyond here – although the palace is said to be bottomless – every last hall and room is flooded and festering.
On your visit, you should be looking for the one door left untouched by the rust and the ravages of the deep sea from whence it came. Each pilgrim has their own door that opens only for them.
For you see, the Tidal Palace is a sinister prison of sorts. No criminals are kept here however. This place holds only regret. A prisoner has been taken from every man on earth. The person kept in each individual’s cell can vary greatly. Inside can be anyone from a lost love, to a feuding family member you could never bring yourself to reconcile with.
The deeper the regret, the deeper the dungeon. Not all can be released.
When you do find your cell – and it will be obvious – open the door but do not cross the threshold. Depending on your relationship and how you left things with this person, they may react differently. Some may run up to you and hug you. Others may hit you. They might even refuse to leave the cell at all.
The differences do not matter. What does is what you say to them. Speak only the words, “You are free to go,” no matter how tempting it may be to apologize, reminisce, or re-acquaint. You also must refrain from offering them passage back to the mainland. If you take them into your boat, you could row for an eternity and never reach the shore. They can find their own way to cross back.
When you do leave, the sea will no longer be calm. The night will be cloudy and dark, lit only by the ocassional bolt of lightning flitting across the sky. Shove off in your row boat, but from the time you first dip your oars back into the water, be sure your eyes are closed tight. Do not open them again until you feel the bow of your boat come to rest in the sand of the beach.
When you reach land and can go no further, you will experience profound closure. The remorse you have been carrying with you will be gone forever. Those who say this is too small a reward for such a journey do not truly understand regret.
For those of you who do, I beg of you – never return to the Tidal Palace. The temptation will be great. That black rock in the ocean will haunt your dreams until your dying day. This is The Warden, trying to lure you back.
It will be on alert now, awaiting your return.