Alathea recognized the marks of greatness that shone among the horde of treasures.
Half-covered among a deluge of gold coins, a harp with seven green strings and one red one. The Lyre of Serpent of Many Hands, won from its venomous grasp by Tarin, servant of the Lord. She reached her hand toward it. She ran a finger up one of the green wires, feeling it tingle and strain to sing.
Peeking out from under a clutch of opal eggs, a silver dish polished so well Alathea saw her reflection. But not her reflection; she was young there, wearing a simple tunic. She had scars on her wrists.
Alathea flung her head away. That’s what she was. The old was gone; the new had come.
They descended deeper into the treasured keep. Jaraeden followed her. He allowed her to linger.
Alathea spoke not a word, though her fingers stretched here and there toward this fabled treasure or that hallowed object. She cast not an eye on the gold, and she disdained the jewels. But those objects that carried stories attracted her like none other.
The Clockwork Hydra.
The Crossbow of Yellow Mist.
The Goblet of Endless Laughter.
She saw and catalogued them all in her heart. The cup she hefted. It felt as heavy as sorrow, but the inside glowed with mirth. She ran her fingers along the outside of the goblet, remembering those who had touched it before.
Finally, she whispered, “How do you not stay here all the time?”
Jaraeden shrugged. “The past does not matter if you have no future.”
Alathea sighed as she set the goblet down. “I’ve told you, I do not know my God’s plans for you. But if I can, I will help you and all the people trapped here escape.” She set her hand on his shoulder.
He offered a sad smile and gestured on.
Down into the deep hold of the ark. Down ladders into rooms ever more radiant in past glory. Past so many stories.
Bread that never molded but could never be eaten.
A staff that flowered with almond blossoms.
A throne for a child made of glowing white stone.
At last, Jaraeden indicated a pile of glass shards heaped up in a corner of a room. Alathea crouched before it. The golden light of her magical orb scattered in the pile.
She slipped on leather gloves from her pouch and sifted through, examining each, letting the light run through it, even smelling them.
Jaraeden watched with detached curiosity. He seated himself on a throne made of ancient leather.
“How many people are down here?” Alathea asked as she set aside a piece of pale green glass.
“Hard to say. The Graveyard circles all creation, and most go mad and fling themselves into the abyss before long. I know of at least three hundred who still survive, though.”
“How do you find food?”
“Ship’s stores. We are able to grow some food by starlight. Not much, but enough.”
Alathea shoved aside several shards too large for her purposes. “I saw a lot of calculations.”
“The Graveyard remains because here the water falling from above finally turns to mist and returns to creation. Here there’s a balance point; the water returning buoys up the Graveyard. But if we ever become too heavy for it…” Jaraeden shrugged. “That’s why I direct the burning of ships. If they serve no purpose, why should they weigh the rest of us down?”
Alathea nodded. “Well. We won’t weigh you down much longer. The shard I search for isn’t here. The Glass Princess shall remain incomplete. My home faces war.” She stood. “Our entire reason for coming here, for searching the Griffon out, is pointless. I’ve brought my people here for nothing.”
Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.