It was a simple little thing, this wooden puzzle. Three inches squared on end by twelve inches long. I had been toying with it since it was discovered under the ruins of Kemor, looking as though it had just been carved. Various bits would slide, others would spin, and for whatever reason, it grew with each piece I slid in place, revealing more parts.
“By the gods,” Zench said, as he walked into my lab. “Is that the same puzzle?”
I nodded, turning a piece at the bottom. With a small click, a center cutout at the top popped loose. I pinched it and pulled, freeing what appeared to be a gear at the end of a wooden rod.
“Interesting,” I muttered as I examined the gear.
“What do you think it is, Junio?” Zench asked.
“Haven’t the foggiest,” I shrugged, setting the rod on the table next to me as I looked up at him. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh, right! Advisor L’Trug asked me to come to fetch you for him,” Zench replied.
“Fetch me?” I repeated, raising an eyebrow. “I’m the Royal Wizard, not some paltry servant.”
“I know, but I’m repeating the message I was given,” Zench said, shaking his head. “It’s appalling the way some of the members of the court speak to you.”
“It’s only because they haven’t seen what I’m capable of, Zench. The King pays for my research and gives me access to many things I would otherwise not know exists. I see it as the court buying my patience,” I replied. “Would you inform the Advisor that I will visit him this afternoon. I’ve had a breakthrough with this artifact, as you can see, and it will require a little more time while it is fresh in my mind to get the information recorded.”
“Yes, sir,” Zench replied, bowing as he backed from the room.
I turned back to the puzzle, running my fingers across the various pieces that seemed to stick out at odd angles. No more parts seemed to slide, but now the bottom spun, and a hole opened as the wooden pieces spread, revealing a place to receive the gear-key.
I inserted it into the lock and turned. The puzzle clamped down on the key with a louder than expected click, and the room around me vanished. I found myself standing in a curved stone hall, tables lining the walls covered with various knick-knacks. There were beakers, books, idols, keys, and an odd assortment of currency depicting a man’s face I didn’t recognize. Behind me, a door was shut with the puzzle embedded in it, the gear-key jutting out toward me.
“Interesting,” I muttered as I turned back to the hall.
I walked slowly and carefully down the hall. As I stepped past the first table, the wall seemed to slide open, revealing a window that overlooked a valley. Below the window sat a tiny village going about its business. I walked past the next window and saw the scene had changed completely. The village was more extensive, and snow blanketed the valley. Past the following table, there was no village, but rather a large town with a castle overlooking it. It appeared to be some time in summer.
“Wonderful,” I said, growing excited about the next window.
When I reached it, it showed a destroyed valley. The trees were barren of needles and leaves—the castle overlooking the town a cratered husk of its former self. Smoke trailed lazily into the sky over it from the various buildings still burning.
“What happened here?” I muttered.
“The Town Grimstall. Destroyed by Visuc the Risen. Year 1285 Post Reclamation,” the window replied.
“Visuc the Risen?” I asked, looking around the window frame for the source of the voice.
“Visuc the Risen, Lich of unknown origin,” the window replied.
“Interesting,” I muttered, a smile spreading on my face. “Where was Grimstall?”
“Grimstall was located in the Newingroy Valley in central Eviya.”
“What is this place?” I asked.
To my disappointment, the window did not answer. I looked down the hall. There were more windows and tables. Each having a small collection of trinkets. As I progressed down the hall, there were more windows of the valley. It seemed that Grimstall had been reclaimed by nature entirely by the time I had traveled four windows away. The hall straightened and came to an end at an ornately carved door.
Grabbing the latch, I opened the door to reveal what looked like an average stone tower. Nothing adorned the walls or floor—only a set of spiral stairs leading up or down. After a moment, I decided to travel up the stairs first.
After twenty minutes of climbing, with my legs burning, I reached the top of the stairs, where an archway opened into a large circular room. In the center of the floor, a compass rose, unlike anything I had ever seen had been inlaid into the stone. This compass had seventeen points on it, and in each end, an ornate silver word had been placed. I stepped into the center and read the words that looked more like descriptors. Fire, Material, Air, and Steam were the first four. There were several referencing the feywild.
My eyes followed one of the points which read Water to the wall where a small panel with a handle was mounted. I approached the handle and pulled. Behind the panel was another window, but this one was different. It looked out into the plane of Water. A place to which I had traveled occasionally for reagents or rare specimens. Just below the window were three more knobs, each controlling a different aspect of the view from the window. I could fly around, turning, lifting, and diving anywhere I wanted to go. I passed several elemental creatures, as well as massive Kraken as I dove down into the endless ocean of the plane. My heart raced as I shut the door and pulled myself from it, the smile on my face one of pure joy and wonder at this place I had discovered.
“I’ll come back here and explore further planes, but for now, I need to see what else this place has to offer,” I said to myself as I glanced at the compass once more. I felt the pull at the point labeled ‘Ethereal.’ It was one plane in which I was not familiar.
I traveled down the spiral stairs, my heart fluttering in my chest as I descended. I imagined an alchemist lab, or perhaps a spell library complete with circles for safety measures. My mind wandered to the possibility of what I might discover in a library containing generations of research as I reached the bottom where a dark door with inlaid gold awaited me.
I grabbed the handle and pushed the door. It swung open without a sound revealing what appeared to be a sitting room. Candles flared to life, illuminating the finely crafted elven furniture set about the place. I stepped into the center of the room to get a better view, looking through one of the open doorways to see a kitchen. I spun around and looked at another closed door.
“Amazing!” I said as I stepped to the door and pushed it open, revealing a massive library and another entrance to the left. “This is incredible!”
“I’m glad you like it,” a shrill voice replied behind me.
I spun to see a naked man, with long grey-white hair drooping from his face and head. His beard looked as though a lot of food had been lost in it close to his toothless grin. From what I could see of his arms and legs, he was incredibly thin and looked as though he were malnourished.
“I-I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t expect to see anyone in here,” I said bowing.
“One second,” he said, suddenly closing the space between us, so he was right next to me. He was a head shorter than I was and smelled like freshly turned earth. He lifted a shaking hand and gently prodded my arm. “Hot damn! You’re real!”
“Of course I’m real,” I replied, taking a step back.
“Sorry, sorry. I’ve been in here so long alone that I didn’t know if you were another imagined person-but you’re not! You’re REAL!” he bellowed, his voice echoing through the library. “How did you find my key? Where was it? What year is it? Who are you? Do you know magic? Do you have the key on you? Do you-“
“Slow down, please,” I said, putting my hands up. “I can’t answer all those at once. I can do my best, however, one at a time. Let’s begin with introductions. I’m Junio, Royal Wizard to King Tanid of the Tanid Empire. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Right, right, right,” he muttered. “Formalities and all that. Sorry, I forgot. I’m-I’m-I’m-” he paused, scratching his chin. “Who the hell am I? Oh, Right! I’m Ekias, Arch-Wizard of the Far Plane. Wait.” He held up a finger and slowly looked down at himself, jumping when he saw the current state of himself. “This won’t do.” He snapped his fingers, and suddenly he was dressed in beautiful purple robes, his hair well-kempt, and his beard clean-shaven. “Much better.”
“Arch-Wizard of the Far Plane?” I repeated.
“Yes, yes, yes, Arch-Wizard. Highest order and all that. Totally meaningless now, I’m sure. But once, a great organization! Benevolent and honorable until the end. Visuc. Visuc came. He destroyed it all. It was a small miracle that I managed to get in here, but I lost the key on the way in. Couldn’t get the door to open. What year is it?”
“622 SA,” I replied.
“The Second Age,” I clarified.
“Second Age. My era was Post Reclamation. Do you know what that is?” Ekias asked.
“Post Reclamation lasted until the Corruption—approximately 1535 years. The Corruption lasted nearly four-hundred until the First Age when the Corruption vanished. The First Age lasted exactly one-thousand years before the dawn of the Second Age,” I recited from memory.
“2,477 years,” Ekias said, shaking his head. “That’s a long time.”
“Is that how long you’ve been in here?” I asked.
Ekias nodded. “It was when Grimstall was destroyed. There were eight Arch-Wizards there at the time. I don’t know what became of the others. I assume Visuc drained their power to further his own life,” He stopped and looked up at me, his grey eyes appearing to look right through me. “You said the Corruption lasted four-hundred years. Do you know anything about the 250 years between the fall of Grimstall and the beginning of the Corruption?”
“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “Almost nothing has survived since then. Until you. How did you survive?”
“There are many magics that allow the longevity of one’s life. Most of which I won’t share because they are too dangerous,” Ekias replied. “C-Can we leave? C-Can we go? I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to see the world again. See how it’s changed in two and a half millennia.”
“I don’t presume to keep you, prisoner,” I replied. “I didn’t expect you to be here, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t free to do as you will. I do hope, however, that you might let me study this place.”
“We’ll see,” Ekias said, raising an eyebrow. “First, let’s get some fresh air.”