A world lost to the unknown.
A Young Girl befriending a Dragon.
A door opening.
Once tsa-Fanu stopped spinning the world around her, it took Quarseta a moment to gain her bearings. Once her mind had cleared a bit, she realized that she was standing outside a very large and old looking house, like one that you might read about in a book, with secret passages and coats of armor and staircases so high that it would take you all of half of an hour to reach the top of them. Feathery gills were forming on Atanti's back to soak in the rain, which was pouring down on them from the dark night sky.
"Atanti, I think something went wrong, this still looks like Earth."
"I'm afraid that it's not quite that simple, my child. Right now, we are not able to return home. That is why I said that these were the first steps. And that is why we are here, for help."
Without another word, her friends led the way into the mansion, somehow fitting through a door which was far too small for them. The halls were far colder than one would expect even for an abandoned house, and there was a suspicious lack of a dusty smell. The deeper they went, the more Quarseta felt that there was something vaguely… ancient in this place, which was saying something given the age of the place itself. Eventually, when Quarseta was just beginning to think that they should have reached the back of the house by now, the turned a corner into a very strange room with a very strange occupant, which would have surprised Quarseta very much if she had not been traveling alongside a giant lizard and a sparkling cloud of bio-matter.
The large room looked at first like a very natural part of the building, but about half way into the room, the wall seemed to shimmer and shift, eventually becoming a room that looked very much like Atanti's old room at the Foundation. Standing in the corner of the room was a rather short, bony man with reddish-brown skin, a large lump of a nose, and a smile that seemed far too wide for his face. The man was hunched over a large tube which was attached to several electrical cables and poured cold, white smoke out of a couple of vents. Smells of metals and old books and cleaning fluid all fought to control her nose at once. A coarse, whistling, wheezing sound filled the room, and it took her a moment to notice it was coming from the man.
"Greetings, rru-Kirg!" Atanti bellowed.
"Ah, Atanti. It's been a while," the strange man wheezed out through his teeth. "And Edrisek too. Can't say I know the human though. Strange, most of them would be running in terror by now."
"Look deeper, Evuruct," Atanti replied.
The man squinted at Quarseta for a moment. "Hm. Most remarkable. Can't quite say I've read of anything like it before. Well, come in, see if you can find a comfortable spot along the clutter."
The three travelers began to navigate through the piles of equipment and books, tsa-Fanu and Atanti seemed to be very focused on not crossing into the second half of the room.
Quarseta decided that the best greating she could give was a compliment. "It's a very nice house, Mr… uhh…"
"Hm? Oh, where are my manners? Evuruct-rru-Kirg, at your service. And yes it is rather nice, isn't it. From what I've learned, this particular kind of house was used to represent wealth and power. Of course, it didn't come with the laboratory, had to add that in myself with an interesting phenomenon known as a Way. Fascinating, the things there are to learn in this world."
Atanti grunted. "Hmf. Still nothing compared to the old meeting halls of Etcopis." At Atanti's statement, tsa-Fanu took on a noticeably more nostalgic curvature.
"Perhaps that's true," Evuruct replied,"but when in Rome, do as the Romans do. That's another piece of knowledge that this place has to offer. Anyway, I presume that you came to inquire what I knew about this child's condition. If that's the case, then I'm afraid that I haven't the slightest clue how her concept of being was able to pass over without physical form."
"That's not why we came, Evuruct," Atanti replied gravely.
"Simply put, we are going to return home, we were hoping that you might have some idea of where we should begin."
Evuruct's smile shrank by a few inches. "I'm afraid that it's not that simple, Atanti."
"Oh? Why not? Surely if there was a gateway leading to this world, there's one leading to ours as well."
Evuruct let out a deep, wheezing sigh. "Atanti, why do you think that I've gone to such lengths to recreate the life I once had here?" Everuct gestured to the cryotube. "Why do you think that I've become so settled into this world, instead of using my resources to get home? I've done the calculations, and we're in exactly the same spot that we would be if we were home. There is no gate, Atanti. The world's changed, and we are the leftover relics."
"No. You must be wrong, Evuruct. This place cannot be home. Our world is still there, and we will find a way back, whether you help us or not."
"You always were stubborn, Atanti. It made you a good protector and traveler, but a poor listener. Very well, go and find this gateway back home, I'll tell you now that it's an unreachable goal. If you need anything later on, you know where to find me."
Atanti nodded his large snout and thanked Evuruct for his openness. For the next several hours, the three elders exchanged stories of the old days; victories, exotic lands, cherished memories. Every now and again, Quarseta would chime in with a story she had read or a piece of trivia that Evuruct found interesting. At the end of the night, the three travelers thanked their host for his hospitality and began to leave.
"Quarseta, would you stay behind a moment? There's something I need to discuss with you personally," Evuruct called after her.
Quarseta looked up at Atanti who, after a moment of deliberation, nodded his consent.
"Quarseta… are you someone who can be trusted?"
"Yes, I believe so."
Evuruct nodded his bulbous head. "Good, good. Atanti can be a bit rash at times. Makes it difficult to talk sense into him. But… he listens to you. Will you at least try to talk some sense into him?"
Quarseta took a moment to think. "No. He's made up his mind, anything I do will only make this trip harder, foolish or not."
Evuruct nodded. "You are a good companion. Well, before you leave, there's one thing that I should still give you."
The old scholar reached for a nearby desk and picked up what looked like a small clockwork egg. He placed it in Quarseta's hand and wrapped her fingers around it. It was cold as ice, but she could still feel small bits of mechanical life whirring and clicking inside it.
"Regardless of the wisdom or lack thereof behind this journey, I can guarantee that it will not be safe. In your time of need, smash this device on the ground."
"What will it do?"
The small man's smile grew wider. "That will depend on the time of need. I will, however, ask that you not tell your new family about this. Now go, they're waiting."
Quarseta hesitated a moment before slipping the Egg in her pocket and running off to join her companions.
"What was that about?"
"rru-Kirg wanted me to try to talk you out of this. I told him no."
"Was that all?"
"Well, then," the dragon smiled, "let's be off!"
A world found, also unknown.
An Old Man with no more tears to cry.
A door closing.