By Aarron Mondello
Dust and grit fell down on Dorthium as the earth trembled, dusting his long white hair with pepper coloured dirt. He coughed as the cloud settled to the ground around him.
How long had he been here now, trapped in this underground cavern? Hours? Days? There was no way to mark the passing of time in this dim place that would be his tomb. If it wasn’t for the softly glowing sphere resting on his lap he would have been in total darkness.
The Sphere is what brought him here. Rumours of its power to hold a world had intrigued and captivated him for three times the life span of a normal man. Now in his final years he had sought it. Extending all his magic and reputation to pin point its location and now he was paying for his lust.
When he first held aloft the Sphere it had a flashed a brilliant blue and shown in his mind images of open fields dotted with herds of great animals baring sail-like fins down their back. Rolling hills carpeted in softly swaying yellow grass. And trees that waved their branches tipped with purple leaves and bright flowers in a cool breeze.
Far above the landscape dragons tumbled and played in the clouds, long tails reflecting the sun in rainbow coloured flashes.
In the distance a sparkling green ocean stretched to the horizon, calm and inviting.
With a sound like rushing air the light had fled back to the Sphere and the first tremor followed it, collapsing the only entrance to the cave.
A long time he spent trying to free himself from the cavern but try as he might Dorthium was unable to shift the rubble that trapped him, geomancy was never among his strengths and now, as an old mage, all his powers were failing.
He had spent the time that followed employing all the arts known to him in an attempt to awaken the Sphere and allow him to cross into that other world he had glimpsed. Or even to release that world and hopefully have the sudden construction of it burst out of this place and free him.
Finally, exhausted, he had to stop. He could feel his strength failing and knew he would die if he continued to use his magic so recklessly. He didn’t want to die, he wanted to be alive and free.
For a while he could think of nothing else to do but to stare at the Sphere glowing softly with a pale blue light.
He fell asleep at some stage and woke with a jolt, confused and scared, not knowing where he was. Then memory of the Sphere, the world it showed and the tunnel collapsing flooded his mind and momentarily dizzied him.
Thirsty, he rummaged in his pack and bought out a dented flask. Only a small amount remained and panic tinged his thoughts.
He turned back to the Sphere and cast spell after spell upon it.
All manner of spells he cast. Spells to unlock. Spells to persuade, to control. Spells that would allow a barren woman to conceive or a broken manhood to flare again with life.
He even cast a few vile spells that would wake the dead or invade a living mind.
All fell flat on the Sphere. It was as though it wasn’t there.
Hunger gnawed at his belly and he tasted thirst again but he would not stop. He knew now that if he did not gain access to this world he would perish in the cavern and none would ever find his bones. He would turn to dust on the floor.
Better to die trying than to limply await his fate.
His nose started to bleed as he went past the point of exhaustion, past the point where he could heal himself.
He cast a spell that would bring a small patch of infertile ground to life mingled with one that would speed the growth of plants and the Sphere flashed bright.
Dorthium found himself floating bodiless above the ruins of a great castle amidst as lush forest.
The walls about the castle ground choked with Ivy that slowly, relentlessly pulled it down brick by brick.
He tried to move a found he was as a breeze, able to flow effortlessly wherever he pleased.
Down and around the castle he flew. Through an open window staring like a dead eye and down a warped stair case that led into the dank bowels of the castle.
He found a crack in the roof of the dungeon and passed through it as though it were a great doorway opening onto the world.
Up high into the air he went and flew unnoticed with the dragons as they twirled through the clouds.
He laughed in his mind for the freedom he felt.
Then the world shook and rattled and everything fell out of focus. It was as though he was gazing through a dirty looking glass.
Something gripped him then and pulled on him. He was dragged up higher in the air no matter how hard he fought against it.
Up through the atmosphere he sped and with a body jarring jolt he was flung back into himself. The sphere now pulsed, its blue light throbbing from deep within.
The ground under him shook violently and the rock above him groaned.
Blood now poured from his nose in an endless stream. His chest felt like a fire had been kindled over his heart. His stomach clenched painfully and the sick smell of human waste assaulted him as his bowels emptied.
It had cost him too much to remain in that other world for so long. His body was done, shutting down.
The Sphere also seemed displeased for each time the pulsing light grew bright the earth around him rumbled harder.
He curled protectively over the Sphere as chunks of stone as big as his head began to fall around him.
The blood from his nose coated the top of it and turned the calm blue light a sickly purple.
An instant of pain, a bright flash of light. Over before he realised part of the ceiling had let go and smashed his failing body flat.
Groggily Dorthium rolled to his back. His whole body hurt, felt bruised and broken as though he had been trampled by elephants. His head pounded like a bass and he saw floating flecks each time that drum was struck.
It was darkness absolute.
He laid them for a time, mentally taking stock of all the pains his body felt. Nothing too serious, nothing broken, but by the gods he hurt.
A cool, gentle breeze wafted over his face carrying the tang of salt water to him.
Something snuffed close to his head and he felt a soft wet something nudge at the side of his face.
He opened his eyes and looked up into a clear blue sky. A shadow passed over him as a dragon flew overhead turning corkscrews in the air and trumpeting joyfully to its mates.
He rolled onto his side and struggled to his hands and knees startling the creature that was investigating him.
The great dog barked shrilly and jumped back snuffing the air. After a moment it turned and fled along a shore made of smooth white stone.
Dorthium looked up at the vast sparkling emerald waters of a spreading ocean and laughed.
He had made it at the last to the world within.