From the Journal of Aframos Longjourney, Pilgrim
With notes by Avos Torr, Scholar of Rheve Library
Tresday, Eighteenth Cycle, Seventh Year, 81st Turn
Forty-First Day in the Trees
We have made the descent, and I am glad that we did.
This morning, after I had made from brass a cover for a lantern, one of the large-eyed inhabitants of this place tugged on my sleeve, and led me to a larger building I had not yet entered. I learned that it had very little floor. Only around the edges of the building, in fact. The rest was open to the water. In the water were several metal spheres of varying sizes. I was told they were called "bathyspheres." They were tied to machinery in the ceiling, used to lower and raise them as needed. Torne and I were led into one of the larger spheres, which opened on the side. We entered, and an older man (we learned that the men of these people are the ones with bright spots along their sides, where the females have large eye-shaped spots on their backs) closed the door, which was lined with a soft substance I am told seals away water. Then the descent began.
I felt the downward motion in my stomach, and feared for a moment that I would be sick. However, when I looked out, I forgot all about my digestion.
Out the little window at my side, I saw the water move over the sphere. We were under the water, but true to our hosts' words, we were perfectly safe.
The water was murky, and dim. But today is, I am told, a very clear day in the swamp, and we could see several massive trees. I had not realized just how large these trees are, though I had already known they were giants. They stretched above the surface perhaps four to six times my height, but we learned that the greatest part of the tree is under the water.
In the distance, I saw the dim shapes of our hosts moving about, and a few other, larger shapes. One of them swam close, and I saw that it was a strange creature, as long in body as I am tall. It had a rough hide with sparse bristles. It had two thick, pudgy fins on either side of its body, and at the end of its tail was a single, round fin. Its mouth had a very thick upper lip and whiskers, giving it an almost comic expression1. It stared at us for a moment, and then swam off. Our hosts say that they eat the underwater plantlife. They have to be chased away from the underwater farms, but are useful in keeping other areas clear.
We soon saw lights under us, and then we saw the buildings themselves.
These buildings, we are told, are built from the shells of great creatures that crawl across the bottom of the swamp. When they need a new building, they lure one of these creatures near the town and kill it. They take the meat as a delicacy, and use the shell to make a new building. The shells are huge spiral things. Doors are cut into chambers, which are then used as rooms. If air is needed inside, they bring it down using long tubes and devices that move the air. These machines are, I am told, simple constructs, much like the ones they use in the North, powered by magic words and designs.
But that was not what I saw when I saw the buildings. Instead, I saw light. Light in carefully sculpted patterns, light made almost solid against the clouded water. It was in many colors, all shades of reds, greens, blues, purples. No yellows or oranges, though. Most were made in spirals on the shells, so as to work with the natural shapes there. On the trees, though, were pictures like we have on carpets. They showed heroes and hunters fighting great beasts or enemies. There were also scenes of, I am told, great and famous lovers. Not knowing how these people express romance, I must take their word for it.
The largest building was a great dome. It was not made from a shell, but rather from cement, a living thing they call swamp coral, and many thousands of lights. They were not in the shape of a story, or of abstract shapes. Instead, it showed what I am told is a world2. Their world, before they were forced to leave it. It shows a map covered mostly with water, with islands mark in green or red light. The sea itself was not solid blue or green, but a swirl, with mountains and valleys as on the land. The great building is called the Cathedra Verti, and I could not take my eyes from it. It rested like a great gem, rising from the muck of the swamp.
We were taken to a somewhat larger building, though it was dwarfed by the cathedra. This one was unusual in that, rather than being on the ground, it was actually hanging from the trees like the buildings below. But where they hung down off of the trees, this hung up above the places where it was tied, as though it might fly upwards if those restraints were cut. Several tubes poked out of the entrance, before leading upward.
The sphere stopped alongside this building-shell, near the entrance. We felt it bumped on its side as it was manuevered by those outside so that it was under the entrance, and then lifted up. The door opened, and we found ourselves in a room something like the one in which we had entered the sphere, though much smaller.
We climbed out of the sphere, and swam the short distance to a ledge, where we could climb up into the building proper. There were a great many stairs, for the spiral was vertical, to hold the air in.
We could see that, at least on the inside, these shells are a very soft, slightly pinkish white. It lit by strange lamps on the wall. They produced no smoke, but produced a reasonable light. When I looked more closely, I found that they were filled with water, and contained what looked like glowing gemstones glued to the bottom. Our hosts (who had climbed out of the water when we had) explained that these were actually creatures that produced light3. They were the same things that produced the light patterns on the outside of the shells.
There were also windows. They are made of thick glass, stained in reds, blues, greens and purples. The different panes of glass are held together with a cement, which they also use for sealing off parts of the shells.
The rest of the building was fairly unremarkable. There were a few rooms for those who wished to sleep there, but little else. We took the sphere back up the surface, and I returned to the inn, where Souja jumped on me, and now will not leave my side. She did not seem to like my absence.