Ventus – Day 61 of 135


I opened my eyes on a strange vision. I was at the bottom of a well that was three meters across, its top invisible in darkness. The bottom was curved, of the same slick white substance as above, but soft. Around me on the walls of the tube strange images were appearing and vanishing, like moving frescoes.

I cried and tried not to watch, hiding my face in my hands, but I was afraid of I knew not what. I felt compelled to look around myself, at least to look up in case something came down that well at me. I imagined all kinds of terrors from above–giant pistons, water, or monstrous arms lowering to retrieve me. Nothing occurred, except the ongoing panoply unfolding on the walls around me. I could not for long avoid looking at the moving pictures.

Hypnotized, I watched a pictographic catalogue of the world unfold. Sketchy images of thousands of things rolled forward and back. The images were whirling towards some apocalyptic conclusion. The dizzying motion and flickering lights became too much for me. I thrust out my hand and cried, “Stop!”

My open palm slammed against the wall. Miraculously, the pictographs I had struck froze in place, as if painted. The rest continued to move around this sudden little island.

I snatched my hand back. The pictographs remained motionless.

Had the priestess seen what I was seeing? Perhaps this was how the desal had chosen its ministers in the past. I could well imagine those other women cowering as I did, watching in incomprehension as the pictures flew by–maybe to be ejected later by the desal into the arms of waiting awestruck people. The villagers would have demanded to know what the pictures meant. It would be as if you were given a book in an unknown language, and threatened with death unless you explained its meaning.

Maybe none of those other women had the courage or anger to try to touch the pictures. Then they would never have learned that they could stop them, or as I learned in the next minutes, move them.

First I reached out to tap hesitantly at another pictograph. It stopped instantly. Emboldened, I tried a few more. Soon I had a little set of rocks in a moving stream of imagery. Each one seemed significant–a tree, a cloud, a castle, a house. Most were pictures from nature, but there were men and women too, though these were oddly dressed. How? Well, chiefly as though their clothes had been painted on. Some had sunburst halos around their heads, and packs on their backs. Most such pictographs had a backdrop of blackness and stars.

One image that I tapped seemed to stagger as it stopped. I tapped it again and it jittered in place. I touched my finger to the wall and slowly drew it along. To my amazement the pictograph followed.

It probably wouldn’t be possible for someone in such a position to avoid organizing the pictographs. Even just on the aesthetic level it made sense to group them, so that I could see them all without having to turn around. Soon I had ten or so of the things lined up in front of me. The rest were still whirling around, but they were less fearful now that I knew I could control them.

I immediately made another discovery. If two or more images overlapped they would both flash for a few seconds, then disappear, replaced by new ones.

These new images were the reply of the desal.

You see, when I moved the pictograph fish on top of a snaking river, row after row of fish shapes sprang into being on the wall above me. I recognized a few I had eaten or seen drawn in picture books. When I drew the pictograph of a carp onto that of an eye, I found myself looking at a very detailed drawing of a carp’s eye, complete with little lines of text over and under it, written using our alphabet but in a language I did not recognize.

I became very excited. Quite possibly I would never emerge from this place, but it almost didn’t matter. For long hours, until thirst and exhaustion overwhelmed me, I arranged images and watched as the desal replied.

I awoke half-delirious with thirst. The desire for water consumed me, and for a while I shouted and banged the walls, half-convinced that some human agency waited beyond them. There was no reply.

There were a number of representations of water on the walls. I dragged animal and raindrop together. The pictographs vanished, then reappeared without change. This happened, I had come to believe, when the desal did not understand the question.

I put a skull, a human shape and an image of the sun together. Again, nothing. This went on for quite a while, but I was doggedly determined, since thirst is not a need you can ignore. I can’t remember the exact combination that worked, but suddenly I heard a clanking sound overhead and when I looked up, received a faceful of ice water.

When the downpour stopped I was up to my knees in it. Still, I was grateful. More, I felt a triumphal glow. After all, I had spoken to a Wind, asked a favor of it, and been given it.

The other women were probably ejected after they failed to grasp that the desal wanted to talk. Myself it kept, as several days passed and I became fluent in its strange visual speech. There did not seem to be anything it would not tell me–provided I knew how to ask. That was the most frustrating part, because I wanted to know its history, and that of my people; I wanted to know where the world had come from, and where it was going. My imagination failed utterly when it came to phrasing such questions in stick-figures and glyphs.

But I could make the desal act for me. I insisted on sun until the top of the shaft vanished, and daylight poured down on me. I demanded that my wastes be carried away, and the floor swallowed them as I slept. I requested food, and received fruit and berries.

Two things I learned, that made me the queen of Iapysia. The first was that I could paint my own images and freeze them on the wall. The second thing I discovered was a trove of information about the desals themselves.

This I came upon when I slapped a little whirling globe and it flattened out into a map of the world. The continents were clear, and I soon had my own nation spread before me, with intricate colors and shapes showing landforms and vegetation. I have never since seen anything like it. It was dotted with tiny dome-glyphs, which I at first took to be cities. They were in all the wrong places, though, and eventually I realized they were desals.

They were joined by fine lines, in a kind of spiderweb. The desals are joined by a subterranean highway system, something tradition says is true, but for which we had no proof. Now I could see it. And I could see the road that linked my desal to others on the mainland.

I had painted a portrait of myself, and now an inspiration struck me. I dragged that portrait to the island on the map where I thought I was. The portrait vanished and reappeared in miniature next to the little dome figure there. The desal had told me I was correct. That was the island I was on.

Next I dragged the little portrait of myself onto the line of the highway running under the sea between the island and the mainland. Instantly the portrait slid out from under my fingers, and zipped along the highway to wait flashing at the dome of a mainland desal.

I touched the portrait. It stopped flashing.

And something overhead blocked the sun as a deep rumbling sound began to build around me.

I had time to issue one more detailed command before the floor gave way under my feet and I fell into the dark cyclonic stream of the highway.


I awoke with sunlight heating my face. I heard murmurs of wonder and fear. Opening my eyes, I saw the faces of my own countrymen. They spoke in the accents of the province of Santel, whose city has a desal on the hill above it.

I sat up. I was in a cubic chamber, three meters on a side. A square door opened out on the sunlight; four peasants stared in at me.

They had seen a door open the previous night. The next morning they mustered courage to approach, and the townspeople, alerted, were not far behind. A crowd gathered as I climbed out of this desal, four hundred kilometers from the one I had entered days before, and faced my silent people.

On the walls of the chamber I came from were visions I had crafted with the desal’s help. These indelible frescoes were arranged around the portrait of myself, the state crown of Iapysia afloat above my head. To these the desal had added its own panorama, a kind of procession that led around the entire chamber.

From that moment, when the people saw that the Winds had blessed me as queen, my succession to the throne was guaranteed.

The panorama authored by the desal, however, has a different meaning for me than it does for my people. The people believe it is a chronology of my lineage. To me it shows all the stages of humanity’s development on this planet, for each scene in the panorama shows something from our history, some major turning point: the founding of religions, of dynasties, of laws and philosophies.

To me the silent figures speak of the invention of humanity: of our own creation of the faculties we take as divinely ordered, our reason, our morality, our science, even our world’s purpose. They are all, I believe, of our own generation.

If there is anything I wonder now, it is this: if we are our own creation, whence the Winds? I do not understand them, and they frighten me.

Of all things, they alone frighten me.

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