Mirrored from Sythyry.
Every civilized world has a waiting room built like a fortress and a half at the places where the worldways are tied. This is an axiom of the multiverse! Every inter-world travel guide explains it in detail! The reasons are obvious: each world must protect itself against invasions from other worlds, or perhaps world-pirates, or, at the very least, impolite and odiferous tourists.
Evidently Ixange is not civilized, much to my surprise. World-ships pop out of the nothing-at-all and flop into a shallow pool of warm water. A truly massive and extortionately excessive pool; it comes up to my ankles.
As a swamp dragon, I have no fear of such things. It reminds me of home.
This makes me sad. If I had wanted to be at home, I would have stayed at home.
We had to wade a quarter of a mile to the nearest solidity. The second-nearest solidity is, according to the map posted at the landing pond, about five hundred miles away.
If we did feel like walking there, we wouldn’t get lost. The two land masses are massive pylons, supporting a rather large bridge. The pylons and bridge both glow with a soft light, looking much like your basic glowing gemstones in every world, except much much much larger. And taller. The first arch of the bridge was half a mile up — or a whole mile? Two? Anyways, the whole bottom of the first arch is all lit up with crystals too, making a knitted band of soft glow across the half-dark sky.
Above that band, the whole sky is covered with a messy, meshy net of lights. Ixange is bridges bridging between bridges, and all of them glowing. None of them go anywhere save other bridges, because there is nowhere on Ixange other than bridges to go to. Nor are there sun, moon, lumules, stars, on Ixange.
Furthermore, there is a wonderful invention, which in all the wide worlds has neither peer nor equal. It is a box, a small room, of metal and glass, ensconced in a tube of metal and glass wherein it may slide freely up and down. The touch of a button will summon it — not instantly — not in the awe-granting style of a magical summoning — but the button will glow with a pleasing and perpetual light to inform you that it has been touched and the room summoned. In time, the metal doors will open on their own, revealing the room that has been summoned. Within, a pointer-adorned wheel lets you choose another location, and, upon turning it, the room will whisk you away to that place.
Eric says that they are called “elevators”, and they are supremely common on his world. Hditr said that they are called “elevators” and that most worlds with useful technology have them. I say that I am a naïve little lizard. Vong said that he would revel in the swamp for a while rather than endure our company a moment longer. I am a swamp creature too, but preferred not to revel with Vong.
At length the elevator doors opened up, and we carried our small and damp luggage up to, oh yes, an entrance fortification.
The entrance fortification peered down at me. Its eyes were the size of badgers, and its fangs the length of worldship cabins, and its tongue forked five ways when it spoke. “Are you a severely deformed midget with two extra heads and a half-flayed back, or are you an infant of those inferior and annoying half-sized species who have taken the word ‘dragon’ for themselves despite being small, weak, and winged, or are you not a dragon at all?”
I peered up at the fortress, spreading my left and right heads as wide as they would go. The fortification was a big scaly creature, four-legged, wingless, single-headed, and all over spikes. It was very, very big. It was two wings short, but, for balance, it was also two heads short. In no other respect was it short. It was very tall. It was otherwise generally shaped like a dragon.
“I’m from Yirien,” I said.
“Ah, I believe that I have read about the discovery a world called Yirien, whereupon some of the natives were multi-headed, and, now that I think of it, some of them were ophidian. I trust that you make neither claim nor pretension of being a real dragon?” said the fortress.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” I said. I presume that there’s some sort of Grand Registry Of All The Dragons, and to join it, one must fill out immense paperwork. I don’t just mean “a lot of paperwork.” I mean that each form has got to be five or six yards on a side, or else the full-sized dragons will have trouble writing on it. Oversized creatures, those dragons!
“Then I shall regard you as simply a lizard whose shape, while overly ornate by some measures, is not altogether displeasing, in a childlike sort of way,” said the fortress. “And with this proviso firmly in mind, I am pleased to welcome you to Norshub. Indeed, I — Xshaothshash Shuutsu Vrisoash — appoint myself your protector for the duration of your stay in Norshub!”
“Thank you! … but what is Norshub? I thought we were on Ixange,” I said. Hditr snickered.
“Norshub and its sister pillar Sothshub are the foundation and basis of all Ixange! A vast myriad of bridges sprout upon Ixange, right to left, east to west, hither to yon — but ultimately all of them rest upon Norshub and Sothshub, and the great bridge so eloquently named Greatbridge between them!”
Xshaothshash stepped ponderously aside and waved a massive foreleg. Greatbridge was indeed a very big bridge — I would guess a mile wide — and stretched from Norshub off a very long way, presumably towards Sothshub. It was a bridge connecting nothing to nothing, though, for there was nothing beyond Norshub. People of a dozen species promenaded this way and that on Greatbridge, browsing at hundreds of boutiques and bodegas scattered haphazardly along the bridge. At times they waited for elevators — always to higher bridges, never down to the swampy surface of Isange. The air tasted heavy with perfume, sweat, boiled eggs and the spices sprinkled on them, old mold and the spiky bleach used to scrub it off, the stink of garbage flung from bridges above Greatbridge that landed here rather than the swamp, fresh bread, the ashes of burnt wooden crowns.