Sitting alone in his tower, the greatest sorcerer in all the land surveyed the disaster that was his desk. He had scrolls strewn everywhere, some rolled up tightly and tied with string, others partially unrolled and weighted open with heavy glass objects, others rolled but loosely, as though they were waiting either to be reread or tightened and tied and replaced on the shelf. There were also books of every description, pristine slim volumes that looked like they had never been opened, their bindings still squeaky new, and dog-eared, stained pages in tomes that looked like they were ready for the midden.
Of course, the sorcerer never discarded anything, much to his housekeeper’s annoyance. She complained regularly of the accumulating mess, the books, the scrolls, the talismans and curios, the jars of homonculi and the stuffed birds and dreamcatchers. Yet, with all her grousing, the place was always spick and span; she continually managed to dust around all his objets d’art and never put anything out of place.
At the moment, the sorcerer was working with quill on parchment, the roll held open at each corner by curious objects: an egg-shaped piece of granite, the flecks of quartz glinting in the light cast by the flame of a fat tallow, its skull-shaped dish holding down another corner, a small brass statuette of a gryphon, and a large frog carved out of gleaming jade. He was creating a map detailing his most recent journey into the tunnels beneath the mountain beside which he had built his tower.
Rumour had it that the tunnels were the work of a vanished race, but he suspected that they were naturally formed in aeons past by subterranean rivers and seepage of rainwater through limestone, washing the softer rock out of the harder. There was no doubt they had once been inhabited and he had found much evidence pointing to this fact: pottery shards, cold hearths, cooked animal bones and amazing paintings on the walls.
It was the paintings which fascinated the sorcerer most. Unlike other caves where the walls depicted bison and deer, hunters and hunted, these paintings showed nothing like them. They were landscapes of impossible vistas, the colours all wrong, the orientation strange, showing constellations he had never seen in the heavens above. There were what he assumed to be buildings and people that looked nothing like anything he knew, and he had travelled far and seen much.
What artifacts he had gleaned from the cave floors were mundane, evidence of campers or older, human, inhabitants, and it seemed that there hadn’t been a continuous habitation, only short period usage, almost as though people were afraid to stay there for very long. He had to admit that the paintings had made him feel distinctly uncomfortable, almost as though he were intruding. It was very strange.
The sorcerer uttered an incantation, dipped the nib in the inkpot, closed his eyes, and let the quill pull his hand across the page, drawing the memory of his journey perfectly of its own accord. Every detail appeared on the parchment, every turn of the path, every dead end. Occasionally he would have to load up on more ink, but the pen always knew where to pick up from and where to proceed.
At length the map was as complete as the sorcerer was able to make it. There was yet more to explore, but that would have to wait for another trip. He put down his quill and caressed the jade frog, which opened both eyes, croaked, and hopped into his lap.
“Come, Greeper,” the greatest sorcerer in all the land crooned to the frog, “time for bed.” He cradled his familiar gently in his hands and blew out the guttering candle. He had no problem seeing in the dark as he made his way from the cluttered workroom to his equally cluttered sleeping quarters. He placed Greeper gently in a glass terrarium on the table next to his bed, removed his round glasses from where they perched on his long nose, yawned, stretched, and climbed into bed, asleep before his head hit the pillow.
As he slept, he dreamed lucidly, sending his mind forth from his tower, into the moonless night. He was drawn to the entrance to the tunnels at the base of the mountain, moving silently as air down the passages where he had already been physically earlier that day. His essence sped down the passages he had already traversed, following the route his quill had sketched on the parchment scroll still lying on the great oak desk in his study, until it came to where he had stopped, where the narrow tunnel was blocked by a fall of rubble.
Whereas there was no way he could have gone any further in his physical body, the sorcerer’s roving spirit had no trouble slipping through the narrow spaces between the tumble of rocks and eventually worked its way through the obstacle to the other side, where his magesight was greeted by the most incredible thing he had seen yet on his journey.
The passage opened out into a huge chamber, the size of a cathedral sanctuary, the vaulted roof hung with stalactites of sparkling calcite, dripping with mineral-rich ground water, being built up in infinitesimal layers from tiny nubbins to huge dragon teeth, or ribbons of limestone hanging from walls and ceiling. In the middle, coated with a layer of calcite, was a machine. The sorcerer had no idea how long it could have been there, but judging from the thickness of the minerals on it, it had been a very, very long time. The machine was unlike anything he had seen in his travels or that he knew of from his studies, but it bore an uncanny resemblance to something depicted in the wall paintings he had studied so carefully that afternoon.
It was circular, domed, set on legs that appeared jointed but were now forever immobilized by the accretion of minerals. While it was not enormous compared to the space around it, it was definitely large enough to accommodate three or four people inside, and the sorcerer surmised from the placement of windows (they were round, like ships’ portholes) that it was either a place of abode or a conveyance. If it were a shelter, why would it be inside a mountain? he wondered. No, more likely it was a means of traveling from place to place, but then, however could the pilot thereof had entered this cave with it, considering the narrowness of the passageways? He looked towards the cave roof and would have, if he had been in corporeal form, gotten limestone-heav
Without a body, the sorcerer had no way of investigating further. He would need to come here in the daytime with the means for moving the scree from the passageway so he could squeeze through to this chamber and use either magic or mundane means to discover what was in the domed conveyance. It would have to wait for now. His astral projection retraversed the barrier and began the trek back out through the tunnels, lingering for a moment to gaze at some of the paintings that had so fascinated him earlier.
Sure enough, there was an identical drawing on the rock to the object in the chamber behind him. Only according to the scale, the graphic representation seemed larger, much larger. Whereas the vehicle he had seen was small enough for only a few people to use at once, this one, with many, many “portholes” looked like it could carry thousands of people. He stroked his insubstantial beard, a habit even in this form, and pondered the artwork and the riddles it posed and the possible answers it suggested.