As we got closer, stepping around and over the irregular chunks of molten-looking glass that littered the desert, a strange feeling came over me. A kind of dislocated feeling, a floating feeling, like my mind was slowly floating further away from the brain that used to imprison it. Of course, I was kind of used to that sensation by now. Ever since childhood, I'd been able to let my mind drift away, and let it see things that my body couldn't. Dremia kept trying to tell me that it's called “astral projection”, but that sounded a bit too scientific for me. I preferred to call it looking-through-sunlight. It made more sense to me, anyway. I didn't think it had anything to do with astrals, whatever they are, and projection is what you do when your hands make shapes in front of a lamp and show up huge on the wall, so I didn't think it should be called that really. All I did was let my mind drift and I could see any of the things that sunlight fell on.
Anyway, this dislocated feeling I was getting wasn't quite like that. It was stronger, a much stronger sense of being pulled away from reality. The glass boulders strewn around slowly began to look insubstantial, somehow at once both there and not.
I tried to walk through one, and ended up with a face full of sand and a complaining ankle. My attempt at saying “ouch” only gained me a mouth and nose full of sand as well.
“You okay?” Tsuki asked, leaning over.
I rolled onto my side, looked up, and accepted his proffered hand as he hauled me to my feet.
“Yeah. Sorry,” I said, and grinned.
We carried on walking, and before long the down-to-earth thoughts that my fall had caused evaporated and my mind began to drift again. This time, at least, I remembered to avoid the glass fragments, even though my brain was insisting that they weren't really there.
Before long, I started to catch glimpses of people, just for fractions of seconds before they blinked out of existence again. Not just people, either. Sometimes there were soldiers, whole groups of them, and sometimes there were big scaly things with huge wings. I'm sure I saw one of them, insubstantial and misty in the distance, descend from the sky and pick something up in its claws before disappearing like all the strange visions did. Somehow, though, they didn't seem scary. In fact, they almost seemed friendly, although in a kind of distant and aloof way. I was so engrossed in looking around me to see if I could find another of the strange creatures that I didn't notice another huge shard of glass in my path. Over I went, again.
I looked up ahead of me, and stopped trying to stand. Right in front of where we stood (or in my case lay), where previously there had been nothing but empty sand and a few insubstantial chunks of glass, there now rose a vast palace. It must have been three or four times the height of any building I'd ever seen, and it stretched for hundreds of yards in each direction. It was huge, beyond my wildest imaginings. The whole thing rose organically from the surrounding sand, as if all the material for miles around had been piled in one spot and somehow turned into a building. Which, when I thought about it, was probably the case. Kyren had said when we first started crossing this debris-strewn desert that you could make glass by making sand really hot, and indeed it was entirely from glass that this palace was made.
I jumped upright and punched the air. “We've found it!” I shouted.
“Found what?” was Rachel's response.
“The palace, of course! The thing we've been looking for!”
“What do you mean? There's nothing here, Caramel.”
“But… I can see…” I began, as Rachel turned and walked away – right through the wall of the palace, which became a little more insubstantial as she did so.
It finally began to dawn on me, then, what it was that I was seeing, and what it was that I was feeling. The view my mind was providing me with wasn't drifting in place, but drifting in time instead. I was seeing flashes and dissolving moments of this place at different points in its history – and perhaps its future, too.
I wondered why. But, when I thought about it for a while, I realised that it had never been certain that I'd always seen the present time when my mind wandered. Who knows what strange and wonderful things could happen out here in the desert, with the blazing sun lighting up every facet of the vast palace that was barely visible now in front of me. I'd always associated my ability with sunlight, and this place practically was sunlight.
I was saddened, I guess, to realise that a building this majestic didn't seem to exist anymore; its sole remains scattered as debris around the desert. What could destroy a place that impressive, I wondered, and what would want to?
And… Could it be rebuilt again?