We reached the top of the waterfall and I thought that our transport would stop there to allow us to change vehicles, but I was wrong. Without a bobble the car floated over the edge of the cliff and kept going- following the ground. From the window that had been facing the mountainside I could now see that the rails extended into the far distance like a roadway or train track. We began to move faster, still without any sense of motion, as I saw the countryside begin to blur from our speed. I did a few rough calculations in my head, timing the landmarks as they passed, and started being even more impressed with our hosts. From what I could tell we were now reaching speeds in excess of three hundred miles an hour! I still couldn't feel any motion, but I was glad that none of the windows were open!
The countryside looked sculpted, as if generations of workers had labored to move hills and fill valleys in order to landscape the whole kingdom into a beautiful garden. I wondered if anyone had really broken a sweat carrying hods of earth from place to place or if the whole thing had been done by magic.
Magic. I'd seen the Collector use forces and equipment to work wonders in the Museum. Doing and making things that would have gotten him burned at the stake on some planets. This was different. The Collector used engineering, machinery- far in advance of anything I'd seen on my own world, but still devices all the same. But if what I'd been told were true, the people of Tulag used magic- the power of their minds, the power of words- to manipulate their environment, to mold it closer to their hearts desire. No machinery, no nuclear reactors, no bulldozers, just their minds and words. I knew that some savage would think that simple engineering was magic if he saw things far in advance of his spear-thrower or plow, but I was no savage. Would I find that the magic of Tulag was just high science? Or would I be like that savage and see things that I couldn't fit into my world-view? Better men than I had been driven mad pondering such questions. Actually, I didn't want to peer behind the curtain to see what the wizard was really doing. Dorothy and Toto lost a sense of wonder in Oz, but gained a different sense of wonder from that loss. I resolved to just let things happen here, and remember what I saw.
Our guides, Tandalo and Enture they said their names were, muttered something under their breath and gestured at the center of the car. A table loaded with food appeared. It just sort of faded into reality. Was it a teleport? Was it magic? Who cares? The food was excellent- I stuffed my face alongside my companions. Even Blackfur was able to eat. My medi-kit had accelerated his healing abilities, but that process ate calories like kids eat candy. I hoped that the kit had gotten all of the spores from the sawtooth vine out of his wound. Otherwise he'd soon be dead and be eaten by the plant.
I know I'm not repeating the conversations that took place on our trip, but they seemed so ordinary at the time. In fact, I hardly paid attention to anything but the trip itself. In any case, when we reached Tulag's capital city and the Tower of Lutay most of the trip seemed trivial. There were wonders there that would take a poet or bard to put into words that captured their essence. I'm no poet, all I can tell you is what I saw- and half of that I'm sure I didn't understand.
We passed by three cities on the way to the Wizard-King's tower. The buildings varied in form and shape. I saw slim spires, like mosques or minarets carved from single gemstones or alabaster. I saw squat cubes, pyramids, and domes. Buildings like columned temples, their columns made of smoke- or of fire. There were lights, colors, shapes I'd never even dreamed of existing. And everywhere traveled vehicles like giant soap-bubbles, floating as if on the wind. The people were fair, beautiful, even ethereal at times. I saw no squalor, no slums, no careworn peasant laborers. Everyone seemed like royalty- kind, gentle, and powerful. The children stood transfixed, staring out of our vehicle's windows. Tinhil seemed awed, on the verge of some sort of rapture. The Reever's face was calm and distant, as if he were lost in memories of his earlier visits here. Blackfur kept dozing off, the medicines and food making him somewhat groggy as his body fought to heal itself.
And so we came at last to the Tower of the Wizard-King.
"Besides our lives?" quipped Seline, "Not a lot. We bagged up a few pounds of gemstones, some gold and silver bars, and half a dozen bags of loose coins."
"Not a big haul," said Resthal, "but at least we got away. That robot saved our butts, you know. I'm glad you decided to heist him from that museum, Beloq."
"I'm so very glad that my decisions meet with your approval," Beloq replied, frowning at the little thief. "You'll be sure to let me know when you've decided to assume the leadership of our little band, eh Resthal?"
"Well," the thief sighed, "that's gratitude for you. You never could take a compliment."
"What's that robo-thing doing?" asked Gryphon. "He's just been standing there by that panel of lights since we got back in here."
"PXR5 is attempting to determine the next landing point of the vehicle's course."
"The vehicle's control systems will not respond to PXR5's queries."
"In other words, you don't know where we're going, you don't know how long it'll take to get there, and you have no idea what we'll find when we arrive," said Beloq angrily.
"That is correct," replied the robot.
"Swell," sighed Resthal.
"Maybe we should look for something to eat?" asked Gryphon.
"You take the cake, big boy," laughed Seline.
"As long as we get to eat it too," Gryphon replied.
Beloq snorted with amusement. "PXR5? Is there a stock of food aboard? My philosophical man-mountain here needs sustenance- preferably before he gets hungry enough to begin snacking on one of us."
"Food is available in the other chamber," said the robot.
"Good," said Resthal, "Gryphon's been looking at me like I was a leg of lamb or something."
"Chicken, is more like it," Beloq replied with a frown.
Bethdish is a world circling a star, called Antuth by the natives (who named the star after the chief deity in their pantheon), presently some 65 lightyears from Earth. Rumor has it that the entire solar system had earlier been located in the Andromeda Galaxy, but was moved by some mysterious force to its new location in our own Milky Way Galaxy. The surviving written history of Bethdish covers some 12,000 years, (with the afore-mentioned displacement to the Milky Way occuring in their year 6055 -- circa 3140 AD, Terran Calendar) but the records of the Immortals reportedly go back roughly a billion years and relate the rise and fall of several civilized eras of non-immortal natives before the present recorded history begins.
The Immortals claim to have been directly created by the Gods of Bethdish, while the diverse non-immortal species are said to have evolved naturally. The several alien colonies now present are, of course, immigrants. One Xenoarcheologist of note, Professor Eustas Gray of the Emperor Norton University of San Francisco, has published several monographs on the subject of excavations on Bethdish that purport to uphold the Immortal's beliefs. Other experts in the field dispute his findings, but all the evidence is not yet in.
Further records of the history of Bethdish are forthcoming from this Author, while previous excerpts are available in your local information network.
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