If there was a thing I always had been thoroughly bad at, notwithstanding my research into planes of existence that enabled me to utterly vanish as soon as I managed to access them, it was concealment. In conversations I was usually able to hide my plans and intentions - I was a good liar. If I wasn't, many of the students I entertained during my time would have surely gone insane. However, my greatest fault was undeniable: I had trouble not getting followed if I attracted attention.
Whenever someone was on my trail because they suspected something frivolous in one way or another, I never managed to quite lose them. Usually due to my very own flaws in thinking, of course. I rarely ever took every little detail into account when I tried to hide myself and so, I got into trouble far more frequently than I needed to. I remember a particulately embarrassing day out on the ice fields of Northern Skyrim. I was out on an expedition (many years after I got to that snowy province for the first time) to retrieve an artifact of importance - a scroll that supposedly contained details in respect to the creation and destruction of interdimensional portals with a method that bypassed the requirement to engage in commerce with a Daedric lord. In fact, said method went over the planes of Oblivion completely and built a "tunnel" (for lack of a better word to describe the metaphysical concept I'm trying to relay here) around Oblivion (again, simplifying the concept for easier understanding) to the desired destination.
As you can imagine, I was very much interested in this scroll and I managed to trace it back all the way to the icy plains where only three things threatened to put a sudden halt to my ambitions: The cold, wolf packs and ice wraiths. At the time, I was well prepared for all of these. An experienced mage such as myself, who spent his first years after his education in Skyrim, knows of enough pyromancies to have an easy time scaring off predators or melting ice wraiths. Staving off the hypothermia was no trouble at all when you walked through a blizzard coated in flames.
My research to find the object led me to an inn not far from the site I traveled to but the equipment I displayed in the tavern to extrapolate the probable position of the scroll attracted some attention. I did notice a person following me shortly after I made for the ice fields and prepared myself to evade capture. When I was out of line of sight and shortly disappeared behind a small snow dune, I cast an invisibility spell (I had, by that time, learned the ways of the school of illusion) believing myself to be perfectly obscured.
Can you imagine my surprise when I got attacked regardless?
I was invisible and undetectable even in a blizzard. But I failed to take into account the snow beneath my feet. I foolishly kept moving, so my attacker had an easy time tracing my footsteps in the snow and struck. I did fend him off in the end, however. A well-placed bolt of lightning to his chest stopped his heart and my attacker was out cold in a second.
What this little anecdote is meant to showcase is my inability to keep possible pursuers off me. Back then it was even worse, so when I reached the ruins of Labyrinthian, a figure placed itself behind me and I only took note of them because of the unmistakable crunching sound the freshly fallen masses of snow made once stepped on. Conveniently, the sneak noticed this as well and stopped moving immediately. A familiar voice then boomed from behind my back.
"Halt, wizard!". The Redguard woman from the inn down in Morthal had followed me all the way up here. She must have seen through my masquerade that I tried to vehemently portray when I got asked about the ruins and why I demanded such specific information on the topic. Perhaps it was this - or the fact that I inadvertently burned down part of her property and now she intended to collect this debt her own way.
"You've been quite careless. And a liar to boot! I will kill you and rob your corpse to pay for the renovation of my inn."
Make no mistake, I was a wizard - just not a particularly proficient one. My defensive skills were mostly limited to simple, magickal wards that could barely defend against weak fireballs. The same kind of fireballs I was able to cast myself. But in a blizzard, they will be extinguished. I had no defensive spells in store that could save me from physical harm. As such, the iron dagger in the woman's hand was seriously threatening to me.
My specialty was theoretical and metaphysical magick for ethereal concepts and bridging gaps through, and in, space. It wasn't offensive magick or anything of the sort. And I want to emphasise that I made an effort to repel the female attacker but my meek flames were easily deflected and in but a few snow-crunching steps, I was held at dagger's point. The blood in my arteries froze and I felt as much fear as I felt when I got chased by the hungers in the depths of the Institute. The Redguard woman didn't demur and the cold blade burrowed itself into my throat. She was fairly quick to retrieve it and I felt the hot blood pour like heavy rain over me. My robe was stained with crimson and the iron stench would have had me gagging or even vomiting if not for the dyspnoea I experienced as a result of my grievous injuries.
Red snow beneath my feet. An icy cold ran through my brain. Naked fear gripped my heart as the black vignette around my vision grew. For a moment, a split second, I stood at the very precipice of oblivion. The realm between life and death, the moment just before the soul leaves the body but not quite. Time seemed to stop in this instance and within this most glacial of planes, I could see a strange space of crystalline structures superimposed on the reality I was being ripped from. A faint glimmer of purple in the corner of my eye snuck around the inner edge of the all-consuming vignette.
I remember my near death experience well for two reasons. Firstly: because I almost died. Secondly, however, because I experienced it twice. The first time, I felt the sensation of approaching death's door as one normally would with a slit throat (provided you possess any solid means of somehow experiencing this without dying). But just as I could see the vitreous spires take hold in my reality, writhing and winding themselves into my field of view to erase all traces of the normal world I used to know, time seemed to run backwards and I experienced the entire ordeal again - only in reverse.
The crystal structures vanished from sight, the purple light faded, the darkening outline around my field of vision began to clear up. I witnessed as my blood rose up from the stained snow in a queer, upwardly rain and comfortably nestled itself back into my arteries. The iron blade exited my flesh and healed it on its way out. Time resumed its normal course as the Redguard woman stood before me again.
Her utterly devastated expression was absolutely priceless. "What sorcery is this?!", I remember her screaming. She was outraged because she didn't understand what had happened. I, on the other hand, knew exactly what I just bore witness to. For I was educated in the field of obscure arcane sciences and could tell that this was the work of a very skilled chronomancer.
The innkeeper was still utterly shaken in light of the most recent developments, namely, the reversal of time for both me and her and everything that had to do with my murder. The care with which the two of us were put back in our original starting positions was remarkable. Even for an experienced chronomancer, quite a feat to accomplish without endangering local time and space.
The woman and I stood just past the entrance to Labyrinthian. I already looked for the mage in question who had gone into hiding no doubt while the Redguard was too busy making sense of it all. She probably didn't know chronomancy existed. Truth be told I believe she was more surprised at how well I've taken the situation than at what had happened to her. I turned my head to examine my surroundings when I heard the floor crack and then crash noisily. I looked back at the woman whose expression looked even more aghast than before.
A quick look to her feet and her neck revealed that out of nowhere, a gigantic ice spike must've shot right out of the ground. It impaled her, bored itself through her abdomen, piercing the heart and and lungs, punctuating the right carotid artery. For a few seconds, her body hung there, suspended in the air, squirming just a little bit while the hot blood started to melt the magickally conjured ice. Just then, somewhat of a see-through, blurry bubble formed around her. I could only tell by the undulating outline of it. And inside that field, time slowly began to halt. Even the snow flakes hovered without ever touching anything. Thereafter, I bore witness to a most grotesque spectacle.
Time rewound, the ice spike retracted and became one with the gelid floor again. Pure fear manifested itself as time was moved forward again and the ginormous ice spike impaled her another time. The splattering blood scattered about just as before, paused in the air, and the ordeal was undone once more. Meanwhile, her mental condition worsened as she got impaled again and again, repeatedly thrown to the front of death's door to eternally dangle over the pit. Continously at the very edge of existence.
I stopped counting past a certain point but after a while, the torture ceased and the time bubble burst, leaving a thoroughly harrowed and perturbed female quivering in the snow. She stood there in fright for a moment and fled the premises shortly after, too terrified to scream.
I, on the other hand, waited expectantly for the time fiend to reveal themselves. I had a mission and whoever reversed my deathly fate surely had a good reason to spare me. I told myself that I had nothing to fear for the wizard had left me alive despite his might. Perhaps a foolish mechanism to deny the true gravity of the situation, the sheer and utter hopelessness of being at the mercy of someone many orders of magnitude more powerful than oneself. But there was no way out regardless and it was more shock and mental paralysis that kept me from running away screaming. And, of course, my experiences with beings of some other purport. Besides, I had nowhere else to go. The people in Morthal would probably by dusk believe I was a vile warlock of immeasurable power, psychotic and mentally rotten. Worse, they'll perhaps even grab their pitchforks and torches to come look for me. At least, that's what I thought. Needless to say, never did anyone speak to me of that occurrence after that day.
But I still needed to know who it was that I was dealing with.
Chronomancy, the art of magickally influencing the flow and the effects of time, is one of the rarest kinds of magick in existence. It is also one of the sub-schools of magick that doesn't get taught - partly because teaching chronomancy is outlawed by the Magistrate but mostly because there don't exist any teachers since the last known users of chronomancy were the Dov and their priests way back when Labyrinthian was a city of dragon worshippers. There is a total of four magickal schools and sub-schools that the Magistrate declared illegal as a result of scientific research that indicated a terribly high threat potential from them. In an official document, it says:
"By order of the Magistrate:
For their inherent dangers to the people and society as a whole, are the following four schools and sub-schools of magic declared illegal practices and possession, acquisition as well as distribution of knowledge, in written or spoken form, hereby declared forbidden and punishable by law:
- Necromancy; the art of raising the dead, includes, but is not limited to:
- raising fully or partly decomposed corpses and/or skeletons, mummies or other, bodily expired entities as a work force, for protection, experimentation or other purposes
- conjuring ghosts, wraiths or any other undead and/or ectoplasmic entity for any purpose at all
Excluded is the traditional practice of Dunmeri ancestral worship that requires communion with deceased kin and/or relatives through conjuration
- vampirism; the act of becoming a vampire (i.e. contracting porphyric hæmophilia on purpose or accident and/or failing to initiate countermeasures in time before the transformation completes) and acting in accordance to or with vampiric behaviour (i.e. drinking blood which results in less than one casualties (theft and personal injury) or more than zero casualties (murder) as well as the use of any vampiric, magical powers such as Life Drain among others)
- lichdom; the act of becoming a lich and using necromantic, magical powers
- the performance of outlawed, black rituals such as the Black Sacrament, rituals to achieve lichdom, voluntary infection with porphyric hæmophilia, the Necromancer's Moon ritual as well as other rites that stand in direct or indirect connexion to, or require practices of, necromancy
- the extraction and transfer of black souls via soul trapping and/or murder with an accordingly enchanted weapon and the resulting capture of black souls and their energy within black soul gems as well as the destruction of black souls via use in enchanting rituals and replenishment of magical energy of an enchanted or otherwise magically charged item
- the creation and manufacture of black soul gems (via the outlawed necromancer's moon ritual or otherwise) as well as their distribution and use
- the use, acquisition, possession or distribution of necromantically relevant artifacts such as the Necromancer's Amulet, the Black Star, the Staff of Worms or others, and the concealment thereof from authoritative agencies including the Magistrate, the local Mage's Guild or an analogous institution and the local, governmental representatives
- Hæmomancy; the art of manipulating blood and its contents through magic, includes, but is not limited to:
- the infliction or botening of injuries using hæmomantic practices
- the extraction of blood of any man, mer or an equally treated representative of any given race in part (theft) or in full (murder) and its manipulation, use or distribution
- vampirism; especially the contraction and spreading of porphyric hæmophilia; other prohibitions apply (see "vampirism" under "Necromancy")
- the creation, possession, distribution or use of artifacts or items created for or with hæmomancy, such as bloodcursed arrows, tainted skooma, the Bloodstone Chalice, the Rings of Blood Magic, blood seals, blood runes and others of either vampiric, Daedric or Nirnic origin and concealment thereof from authoritative agencies including the Magistrate, the local Mage's Guild or an analogous institution and the local, governmental representatives
- the commissioning and use of structures designed to aid in hæmomantic practices such as bloodforges, bloodsprings, blood fountains and others of either vampiric, Daedric or Nirnic origin and concealment thereof from authoritative agencies including the Magistrate, the local Mage's Guild or an analogous institution and the local governmental representatives
- communion and/or commerce with deific entities, Daedric or otherwise, that require blood sacrifice or other rituals that require the use of blood in some capacity and/or stand in direct connexion to hæmomancy or vampirism
- the creation and keeping of entities of any form through the use of blood and blood magic
- Animancy; the art of transmogrifying oneself into a beast, animal or other creature, includes, but is not limited to:
- transformation into elk, deer, rabbits or other prey animal, also in context of local wildlife
- transformation into sabre cats, lions, wolves or other predatory animals, also in context of local wildlife
- transformation into insects, vermin or other inconspicuous pests
- transformation into magical, Daedric or otherwise legendary creatures and beasts
- lycanthropy; the act of becoming a lycanthrope as well as the act of transformation into a werewolf (extends to werebears and other such creatures)
- taking actions to confuse, deceive or harm a person while transformed
- taking actions to steal, damage or alter private and public property in any way, shape or form while transformed
- Chronomancy; the art of manipulating the flow and behaviour of time, includes, but is not limited to:
- changing the directional flow of time, either forwards or backwards, outside the wielder, even in miniscule amounts
- manipulating single individuals or groups of individuals forwards or backwards in time, even in miniscule amounts
- manipulating oneself or others to be faster or slower, manipulating corporeal age or speed of the metabolism
- traveling forwards or backwards in time, includes traveling to other eras
- stopping time
- manipulating the time and age of specific objects, areas, creatures or items, includes plant life
- acquisition, possession and distribution of knowledge in respect to chronomancy techniques, artifacts or items of importance and concealment thereof from authoritative agencies including the Magistrate, the local Mage's Guild or an analogous institution and the local, governmental representatives
Any violations will be punished depending on the severity of the case and in accordance with local customs and usual, jurisdictional modus operandi. Furthermore are any violators to be reported to either the Magistrate, the local Mage's Guild or an analogous institution or the local authoritative agencies. Failure to report suspicious activity and/or the act of hiding suspects and violators will be punished."
With all the prohibitions in place it's a miracle that I can practice freely, although I'd wager it's only a matter of time until I'll get in trouble for crossing gaps in between dimensions. Curiously, they never added tonal architecture, or "Kagromancy", as I call it, to that list. Probably because there's no one left alive who knows how this magic works. Not that they know of, at least.
However, what the document above says is that chronomancy is outlawed - mostly because it isn't well understood (otherwise the Magistrate would have listed a few more problem-causing side effects to chronomancy such as ripping and tearing of the space around the caster should they travel forwards or backwards in time and a resulting, temporary, spatial instability that could lead to a reality collapse in an area of about 1.000 square pertans if left unchecked. This could then lead to a liminal space that acts as a portal between way too many planes of existence, endangering the world at large (I also theorise that this is what happened to Winterhold)).
It is also outlawed because the little of it that is indeed understood is incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. Magic that could mock Akatosh himself if one were to transcend Munduoic boundaries of traditional magick is not to be trifled with.
Also of note is that the Magistrate failed to include the Psijic order of monks as an exception to practitioners of chronomancy. They either didn't know the Psijics could do that or they chose to purposely exclude them so that the general public doesn't know they can cast chronomancy. But I was engaged in experiencing chronomancy first hand up at Labyrinthian. And as any chronomancer knows, it doesn't matter if the art is frowned upon because you can undo most things for nobody to notice you even cast a spell. My point, however, is that the Redguard woman and I happened upon a particularly adept mage who knows his craft well. So well, in fact, it could only be called extraordinary - even for chronomancer standards.
"You are more mentally resilient than I thought.", an elderly voice behind me said. I turned around but there was nobody there. In fact, it seemed as if that voice had been but a delusion for there were no footprints in the snow at all. Then, from further off the same voice boomed: "You are brave to have witnessed such an atrocity and stay. You must need something of this place". A silhouette stood by the house with the makeshift door that I noticed earlier. Its shape suggested a long, hooded robe of some kind but before I could take a closer look it was gone yet again, leaving no trace of itself.
"I sense a strong will.", the old wizard then said from a place I couldn't locate - it was as if it came from all directions at once. "And the research you carry might be of use to me."
Out of nowhere appeared before me an old wizard. He just, well, materialised, "popped" into existence all at once right in front of my face. He was clad in an opulent, embellished grey and brown robe. The oversized belt buckle shewed a strange emblem I didn't recognise. However, the ornately decorated lower part of the robe told of high status and wealth. His wrinkled face made a stern expression which in turn enabled his well kempt, full beard to be in perfect condition for public presentation. The large hood hid his hair but a part of me suspected a respectable mane lay beneath that cover. Perhaps the most noticeable feature was his staff. An impaled, horned animal skull sitting on top of what looks like a very finely cut gem. A staff unlike any other I've seen. So unique one could almost suspect it be of Daedric origin, perhaps an artifact of grandiose value and might.
"You're in luck. In my experience, great minds are easier to work with when alive and your research suggests that I need your expertise in a very special field of magick". He motioned towards the small house I espied earlier. "Please, go inside so we might discuss. I believe we can further each other's goals", he then said and beckoned me to go. I didn't really possess any other options aside from infallible compliance towards my unexpected host if I intended to stay alive and live to tell the tale. Once inside, the warm crackle of a lit fireplace welcomed me and my strained nerves began to relax somewhat. I took a seat by the comfortably radiating fire and watched my host pick a seat for himself as well.
He had a bronze pot sitting above the flames, gently rattling with something cooking inside. "Venison stew", he told me, lifting the hot lid to release a pleasantly smelling steam from the pot into the air. It smelled of tasty meat and promised ample succour to nurture my aching body. And as we had ourselves a bowl of hot soup, the mage went into detail about his endeavour.
"You've no doubt seen my talent as a chronomancer, I presume. It is a craft I've learned to harness and control only recently. If the time span I am talking about can be called that, at least. I've returned to Skyrim in hopes of finding a long lost abode of mine, believing chronomancy to be the answer. It is my burden to retrieve something but in order to do that I need to go back in time." He paused for a moment to breathe a few, deep breaths.
"It turned out that it wasn't this simple, however. A Daedric lord has stolen from me a most prized possession, a fortress, and inside lies something of importance to me. But with your research and knowledge we can reach it."
The old wizard must have noticed my partly confused face as he told me this. He sighed and resigned to clearer explanations so that I might support him in this undertaking.
"I need to invade a fortress within the clutches of a rather unwelcoming lord of Oblivion. I had hoped to find answers here, in the old labyrinth, but nothing is left." And suddenly, I knew what he would need me for.
Traveling past the obscurity that is the veil between the Mundus and Oblivion - or any other external place - requires tremendous effort. To even hope to land somewhere in the lands of the immortal demons that are the Daedra, one needs to follow precise instructions with difficult steps to accomplish in between. And this wizard wanted me to find a way into a Daedric fortress, from what I understood, that was in Oblivion proper. But without all the hassle surrounding the acquisition of rare items and commerce with a Daedric Prince or architectural undertakings that a normal citizen doesn't have the funds for.
"You don't really have anything to bargain with so unless you help me I'm afraid I can't let you go. And believe me when I tell you that we have all the time in the world." A light snicker escaped his brittle lips. "But don't tell Akatosh", he then whispered quizzaciously.
I had no choice but to help him in his quest. This was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate my mastery of the obscure arcana, however. And so I acquiesced and got to work. The old man had already, with his time-altering powers, spied into my documents and notes and had a vague idea what kind of magick I sought to invoke and how to provoke the effects to happen. "Based on your notes", he said, "Labyrinthian is the perfect location to experiment with these dimensional shifts that you described in your hypotheses. We are above magickally soaked soil and the shadows of the past dwell in here. I know this for a few reasons. But now, we need to devise a method on creating a fissure in space through which we can access a specific plane of Oblivion directly. Can you arrange this?"
I didn't know. By the Divines, I barely knew enough about that phenomenon to call it forth at will in specific places with a few conditions met to a large enough scale as to be noticeable. But in my head I was already hard at work to imagine what would happen to such a fissure if we could apply chronomancy to it. Could we change the fissure's contents? The time that it contained?
"That's impossible to say but I have a few theoretical ideas on how we could make this work" I proclaimed and lost myself thereafter in wild scribblings of letters, glyphs, equations. I knew that the old wizard was playing with the thought of quickening my thoughts and writing artificially through his time magick but something stopped him from doing that. He was probably aware of the side effects of this technique.
Instead, he did the opposite of what I expected of him.
"You should rest your thoughts for today. There's a crude bed in the other room where you can lie down. If you need to, you can brood over your theories there. As I said, I have all the time in the world."
I thanked the old wizard and promised to go to sleep whence he had pointed me to as soon as I felt it was time.
That evening I was largely left alone by him so that I was free to sit in the room with the desk and read, write, think. I didn't have any auxiliary structure like a large school to support my efforts if I made a mistake. I didn't even have a real home. Instead, I was at the whim of a man who probably had the power of wiping out entire villages looking to burglarise a Daedric prince's lot. And I was his accomplice in a crime I couldn't possibly know the ramifications of.
I sought to eliminate the seething disquiet in my mind by burying myself under my papers and writing utensils. For a time, I even managed to stave off the fatigue that plagued me.
But soon enough my eyelids grew heavier and heavier until, at last, they seemed sealed shut with no way to open them ever again.
There was this ill wind I heard when next I opened my eyes with considerably less effort than before. A shortness of breath came over me as I breathed in stale, humid air unfit for breathing. Swept away by panic I turned and twisted in the darkness, yet again imprisoned in the impenetrable void that threatened to consume last night's dream. I felt around me and realised soon, however, that I was in a small, enclosed space made of a coarse stone material as opposed to the great room that had entertained me before. The small space was only marginally bigger in size than I. But whatever I undertook, from pushing the ceiling to hammering my fists in the sides, nothing would permit me freedom. Soon enough I kicked the end of my containment with my feet to discover that I could make that container move forward. And each kick brought me closer to my goal of escape.
I kept kicking and moving until I was levitating for a moment. Then came the landing. I crashed down onto a rocky floor. Parts of the coffin that held me captive would slide away whereas others kept still as a testament to my freedom. I lifted my head in response to the change of scenery and found myself in a man-made cave of sorts. Or a crypt. And the container I escaped out of was no ordinary coffin but nothing less than a rock-hewn sarcophagus with finely cut features that resembled me so perfectly that an ice cold breath ran down my spine as soon as I beheld it. The lid was still largely intact so I could spy with what intricate detail the mason in question had woven the stone so that I got the impression that, whoever did this, knew me a lot better than I knew them. Or myself.
I strained my stiff muscles, feeling as if I hadn't moved them in years, and pushed myself up until I stood on my own two feet again. To my surprise the average temperature in that chamber was about half that of a normal human body and I failed to notice the familiar scent of burning candles and fresh snow. I wasn't in Labyrinthian anymore. My inquest as to the nature of my current accommodation commenced at once.
My ghastly prison must have fallen from somewhere, I thought, so instinctively, I turned and let my gaze wander about the place. To my astonishment I beheld a great, cyclopean wall that stretched upwards and to either side farther than my eyes could see. At its outermost edges, a damp darkness obscured it. But what lay in my field of view, the one fraction of the wall that I was permitted to see, unsettled me deeply. Rows upon rows of indentations in the wall, mostly filled with sarcophagi of the same ilk as the one of my own, presented themselves to me. I attempted to make out the features of some of them but ultimately failed to procure a hint at the probable contents of the great coffins. Perhaps, I thought, this was for the better.
I turned again and saw a seamless dark loom before me. I had no clue as to where I was but the cogitation quickly struck me that this might be a dream. I remembered having fallen asleep in the old wizard's dwelling. So vividly in fact, it was as if I was still there. Yet, I found myself in an alien place so unlike all that I've read about the plains of Oblivion. The longer I pondered my actual whereabouts the more… torn I felt. My soul was stretching longer and longer so that I experienced utmost discomfort and concern. The sensation is impossible to describe to those who haven't felt it before.
I fought against it and tried to concentrate myself. I needed to discover what place lay before me and I could not afford such distractions.
The less I thought about my soul being ripped apart, the less uncomfortable I was. So I made my first steps into this wholly unfamiliar land of darkness and stone, wondering how I should return.
My steps produced no echo in spite of my initial assumption to have been sent into a cave. Immediately I got reminded of my delvings into the Institute's depths but the air was different. Less gelid and stale, instead of such neutral quality to be unremarkable to an extent at which it becomes curious. I barely noticed I was breathing at all and as soon as I went away from the wall of the coffins, the temperature ceased to exist, exhibiting no force upon my body. If a corporeal form it truly was, for I wasn't sure what part of me wandered this neutral void.
For the most part, excluding the great wall and seemingly infinite floor, the area was devoid of structures based on my preliminary findings. It was also devoid of living organisms or anything else besides an abundance of shadow. There was some light there which allowed me to view my feet and the ground they stood upon but its source I was unable to pinpoint.
An empty world, hidden from sight. I still thought that this was a strange dream, then. A sudden flash of light disturbed the silence and my eyes followed a white wisp fly its course somewhere. It dissipated shortly thereafter and left no trace of itself. I chose to wander continuously in the direction of the wisp's flight path in hopes of some greater discovery.
After a while, a shape rose from the ubiquitous shadows. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a smoothly arching bridge with a few segments missing in between. But not for decay - by design. From its looks it was constructed from the same material as the stone floor to my feet. However, the ground's composition changed into a light brown hue of freshly dug up earth, if incredibly dry.
Another flash of light, several times faster than the first wisp, cut through the stillness. This beam of energy brought noise for the fraction of a second. I closed some distance and stood at the precipice of the bridge. It was here that a few more flashes of light occurred. More and more beams could be seen but their pace was slow. I went against my better judgment and began to cross the bridge.
The gaps in between the floating parts of it could be crossed by jumping. I wasn't particularly athletic or acrobatic but I was somehow lighter than in the real world and jumps were easier. During that time, several beams of light passed through me as they appeared and disappeared above the bridge.
As I left the structure, nothing changed at first. Another wasteland of nothing stretched before me. As I looked over the empty plains, I felt a slight tug at the back of my head. I didn't know what it was but it intruded upon my experience suddenly and harshly. And then there it was again, the sensation of a beginning separation of body and soul. I quelled the feeling as best I could and tried to concentrate myself on something else. But there was nothing to catch my attention, dooming me to walk in inner contention for the time being.
That was until I saw the monolith.
Off in the distance there loomed a horizon-devouring, megalithic yet finely cut and angularly shaped pillar of phantastical scale. Its outer walls were traversed by solemn, magickal veins and arteries upon its smooth, black surface. I was unable to view what sat at the top, for it stretched too high into the featureless sky to see it. All I saw was a tremendous glow where I speculated its top to be. The magic veins and arteries that ran across its impossibly smooth surface were pulsating and radiating their energy off of the gargantuan object into the empty air around it. I could only wonder at what this was or what it's purpose could be. But I needed to reach it. As far as the eye could see there was nothing and in the middle of it all there was this… thing.
As I made my way towards the object of my pursuit I began to notice all too quickly just how far away it must've been and, by extension, how mockingly large. No matter how far I traveled, it appeared I never got closer to the structure. It was always out of reach as part of the scenery but it never appeared as if it could be reached. It simply didn't want me to. In time I came to the conclusion that it was so large that a good portion of it was still waiting for discovery behind the horizon as I saw a few lights suddenly appear on it that weren't there before when I moved in its direction. The sheer size it must have had dwarfs my mind to this day. I cannot grasp its true dimensions, nor can I ever hope to one day have the strength of mind to understand it. And during those moments its magnitude frightened me deeply. It still does.
Moments later, I felt that annoying tugging again.
I awoke, shocked and confused, in the seat that I have taken prior to my nap. My face was warm and probably also slightly red from the continuous pressure the many books and papers had exhibited upon my cheek. I shoved away the documents and massaged my throbbing forehead. Still not truly able to handle the most recent delusions, my mind was slow to accommodate for the sudden change of place. It felt as if it took a few moments for my soul to go from an agitated state into its usual resting position, if this particular, metamedical phenomenon can be described as such.
A familiar voice behind me welcomed me back to the land of the living and the awake.
"Where have you been to, hm? Are we a little sleepyhead, yes? Perhaps you should rest in a bed and shut down that infernal thought machine of yours. Sleeping on science doesn't get any problems solved, after all. I have limitless time at my disposal and as long as we're working together, so do you. Just tell me this: Did you, by any chance, encounter any strange dreams?"
I thought it quite odd that the wizard, whose name I had yet to learn, would ask me this specific question, had I the most intense, incorporeal experience behind me mere moments ago, yes, still recovering from it, even. "Indeed", I remember replying, "I had a queer voyage into the lands of slumber. I awoke in a broken coffin within a place of darkness with nothing in it besides flashes of light, a bridge or arch whereupon aforementioned flashes would gather and a giant, inaccessible structure far, far off in the distance. With black sky and anthracite floor made from rock. It was a silent place with no remarkablefeatures to speak of. A blank world, so to speak.".
This answer appeared to be satisfactory to the old man albeit he came off as profoundly cognizant of certain facts I may lack the knowledge of. Something stirred inside him but he would not show it neither tell of any significant details that held some importance to him.
"A strange occurrence indeed. Come, we should head to your quarters for the night. It's already quite late in the evening and I firmly believe that you need a break from all of your papers and notes. It was a busy day for you as well, after all."
He gently patted me on the shoulder and together, we went through his surprisingly large hut, past a stove and a desk and into a small bedroom, no more than a slightly bigger hole in the wall that provided enough space to fit a bed inside.
I laid down upon the cloth and the wizard turned to leave.
"I'm terribly sorry for my manners", I interrupted him, "but I believe I failed to properly introduce myself. Now that we are working together I deem it appropriate to tell you who I am. My name is Robert Gautier and I studied at the Institute of the Water's Wisdom. And you are…?"
The wizard stopped, turned his head and said: