Weary from my long journey, I stopped to rest among the winter-bare trees. As I built my campfire, a vast shadow swept across the clearing, and I looked up to see a familiar friend. I waved, and the dragon wheeled in the sky and descended, landing as lightly as the dry leaves shaken loose by the wind from wings the color of finest parchment. The lowering sun gleamed on scales of black and blue and red and countless other shades of ink. “Inspiration! What brings you here to share my fire today?”
“I am seeking a story,” she said, settling her tail around her, its split tip tracing lines in the dirt. “A tale of machines and machinations, of magic and science, of loss and love. Can you help me find it?”
I closed my eyes and drew upon the magic that she and her sister Dedication had long ago granted me. A spark of light floated in the darkness, swelling into a sphere, and when I touched it, images began to unfold within its depths. “Yes,” I said, opening my eyes. “I know just where to begin the search.
For many months I quested, gathering pieces of the story. At times I wandered from the path, pursuing other tasks or lost in trackless wastelands, but at last I had gathered enough pieces to assemble a story. My friend returned to see what I had accomplished, bringing her sister with her. “It is whole, but not complete,” I said, running a hand along the rough construction. “There are pieces that don’t fit as well as I thought they would, and others that I did not know I needed until now. And, of course, the entire thing needs a good polish, once I’ve fixed the structure.”
Inspiration circled my creation, nodding slowly. “Hmm…” she murmured. “It has sound bones, my dear one, but it is good that you are not blind to its flaws.”
Dedication nodded. Her scales were brighter than her sister’s, with red predominating over any other shade, and her wings were iron grey. “I would not care to see it abandoned. Will you commit to repairing those flaws? If so, perhaps we can make use of it.”
“Of course,” I said. “I learned much more from you during my last such quest than I had ever dreamed, and I know just how to begin.”
The dragons gave me matching nods before launching themselves in the air, and I gathered up my things and beckoned my creation to follow me.
I had thought to face an easy road. I was wrong, so very wrong, for I discovered that while the walls of the towers I had scaled before looked much the same, their interiors had been rearranged. This was not such a terrible thing, for my companion would not have fit the corridors I recalled from my last journey, but still I felt my courage falter as I stumbled over unexpected stairs. The seventh tower, in particular, tested my will to the breaking point, for the ascent I had expected to complete in days took several turnings of the moon. But I persevered, and in time found myself at the door of the seventeenth tower.
When last I walked this path, I found the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth towers blocked by a gate that could only be opened with a key found in the lower levels of the twenty-first. On this journey, however, these towers clustered close around the seventeenth, and when I ventured inside I found all four interconnected, though the stairs traced an irregular pattern through them, sometimes spiraling up through several floors of the seventeenth tower before dropping back down to repeat the same ascent through the others. Much relieved, I checked my pack to ensure I had all of the necessary supplies and began my ascent.
At this time, I have reached the twenty-eighth floor of this tower; according to my map there are seventy floors after this. My creature is beginning to look more like the wondrous being I had first glimpsed with my mind’s eye, though I cannot help but wince at how thoroughly the slashes of red and green and black stain her once pristine hide. All will be made well in the twenty-first tower, I remind myself, and though my climb had stalled for quite some time, I am once again ready to continue.