Archive for astronomy

To Catch a Wandering Star

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The first teleportation to another world without a portal was recorded by Anamandas when he came upon the abandoned star tower of the astronomer Ioricus. His tale follows.

Medieval Manuscript Illumination of a Man Studying the Planets From Albertus Magnus' De Natura Rerum

Among the stargazer’s scattered books one sat on a pedestal open to an unfinished page. Anamandas learned that Ioricus had attempted teleporation: he recorded that he was observing the transit of Selmet across the sky. The red planet had always captivated him and he felt drawn to it. Anamandas was acquainted with Ioricus, but did not know if the wizard would choose a celestial ball of light as target for teleportation. They were said to be made of fire. Reading on, though, Anamandas discovered that the abandoned observatory had been found already, by a wizard Laestalon. He had the same idea as Anamandas and had followed Ioricus. And Laestalon swore in scrawled script it was to view Selmet, stating that he knew Ioricus well and that was his destination.

Neither had returned.

So Anamandas first spent three days meditating on the place he was in, from the look of the messy room to its relative location in the world. When he was well acquainted with his orientation on the earth, he then poured over Ioricus’s books to learn the art of far teleportation. Something no one had ever done successfully was not an easy thing to study. It took him months: securing food, fetching water, sleeping, and continuing to practice his location all in addition to studying. This is not to mention having to artfully turn away other curious wizardly visitors. When he was finally ready, he penned a similar final record in the book after Laestalon, not knowning if he would be yet another mysterious entry. He waited till nightfall and gazed up at Selmet in its untwinkling starlight. Fire. How close could he get to it? Would he go to it or stay afar? Laestalon had said that he wished to observe Selmet and he had failed, so Anamandas aimed right for it. It was not like shooting a bow, though, and, his mind consumed with the wandering star’s redness in the sky, all of Ioricus’s longing to be with it, he let himself go from the hold of his well-remembered place on the ground and reached for the heavens.

Pain burst inside his ears, everything went silent, his skin stung, his first breath gave him no air but stole it from him stinging his lungs as well, his eyes dried up like a spilled drop of water in the desert and clouded up like all his water being thrown back at him as a mist he could not drink. In the flash before that blur he saw: One robed skeleton laying in the sand. Red. Red-orange sand. Cinnabar terrain. Rocks. Dust. Whips of it adding to the sting on his skin as he fell to his knees. The air warm, the sun hot on his back. Then that place. Where— what was it? A tow— A rock. Green. Red rock everywhere. His eyes closed. The pain. His whole body was on fire. The desperate need for air. Then air poured into his nose and he felt the wood floor covered in books smack him.

A silent thud. The sting endured all over. His eyes ached and were still foggy. He could hear nothing, but he rolled and flopped over, felt the brush of parchment and the stab of rushes on the floor. It was a welcome sensation that paled in contrast to the pain of the awful place he had visited. Even if he was in a different tower or castle, he didn’t care. He was just glad to have survived the ordeal. He had followed a foolish old man to hell and made it back. He lay there for quite a while before he awoke to being so hungry he couldn’t float an apple to himself—but he could see it.

In the coming days he visited a healer and their first session failed to bring his hearing back. Whatever magic had struck him, he was restored shortly, with the exception of his ears. He recorded everything in detail in Ioricus’s book and then left that place for a while. Though he knew the craving to understand his experience lurked within him, he had to get away from the dusty books and his hall of sickness. When he returned from a satisfying wandering, he faced the question again of where he had teleported to. After scouring Ioricus’s whole library, he was still far from even asking the right question, so he arranged to have the library packed up on carts and he accompanied it to the Council hall of the region, where he had it added to theirs. When he returned one more time to Ioricus’s tower, he would gather the dead wizard’s artifacts and sell the tower. But nestled in the libraries of the Council, he looked again over the details of his other world: red desert rocks, breath-sucking air if not miasma, a scorching sun that burns up its inhabitants, but not before blinding them. He was sure the skeleton he saw was Ioricus, rotted away from the months he had lain there. Laestalon had either had the same experience as Anamandas and fled in horror, not even bothering to record it, or Anamandas figured he could have apparated to a different part of that world and been lying there as dead as Ioricus. That was more likely, but Anamandas would look for him.

Though he kept it out of his report to the Council, the redness of that world was what stood out to Anamandas and he privately believed that he had been right in all his calculation, focus, and preparation and had indeed been the first one to stand on Selmet—not a star but another world. To stand on Selmet, that is, and live to hold on to the tale and tell the world only when his death unlocked his tome, Elennar Attaye, To the Stars and Back.

IDL TIFF file

—Michael Billips