Old Business
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Try and think back to a world so new, so fresh and young, that it extends at most 50 miles from a small circle of firelight. A world where the horizon is the end of the universe, and where, if you're persistent and more than a little lucky, you might catch a glimpse of another cluster of flames before you shuffle off into oblivion. A world where life is short and vicious and reality is small and dense, compressed and stifled by your own limitations.

Recall to your mind the fact that, in this world, there are workers. People who create. A few are even worthy of the title craftsmen, chiselling jewellery and weaving cloth, taking nature and bending it, breaking it, in order to give it worth. They are hampered by their tools, but in this world, creation is the greatest task there is. And at the end of the universe, these craftsmen know, there exists the greatest of all. A man, a beast, a god — a thing dwelling at the edge of the firelight's circle, dancing in the shadows and producing works unparalleled.

And they know that it is the purpose of this thing, this being, to bring light and joy wherever it goes. And also to drag behind it the darkness, and to punish those who stray too far from the fire. It is a thing of beauty, and of terror. An entity embodying fascination, predation, and ruthless, unending creation. A fabulous thing to behold. A boundless source of joy and pain.

The Wondermaker.

The thing exits its cave, and yawns. It's not a real cave, of course — or, rather, it might be more accurate to call it the most real cave. It's not a hollow in rock any more than a story is ink on paper; it is a place a little way from civilisation, abandoned but not forgotten, talked about in hushed whispers and only ever by firelight. It's this way for everyone. Wherever people gather in camps or villages, the thing's cave is skulking just beyond the tents and livestock. Deep, dank, and dark, and just far enough removed from silence to remind you of what you leave behind as you enter.

It is, for want of a better description, the cave you would see in your dreams.

The thing stretches, and adjusts its headdress, enjoying the feeling of sunlight on its bare chest. It walks a little way, through a gap in the trees, and down a wooded dirt path to a beach. Not a beach with any distinguishing features. Just the sort of beach that could be the shingled border to any river in the world. The perfect kind of place, really. Nobody could disturb the thing here. And so, crouched on all fours, with sunken eyes boring into the stones, the Wondermaker begins its work.

The process is highly involved, and lasts for several hours; with intense, furtive motions, the Wondermaker examines each stone in turn, throwing it over its shoulder with some force. Even before it lands on the other bank, the craftsman has already turned to the next, examining its cracks and crevices, feeling the weight of the stone in its palm. Each is deemed unsatisfactory, but it doesn't matter all that much. The Wondermaker is patient. And so it goes on, a flurry of gravel passing from one side of the river to the next, as the half-naked figure of a man scrabbles through the dirt.

As the day goes on, and the sun crests on a wave of cloud, the Wondermaker's mind… wanders. It's filled with visions of, among other things, the future. Not just any future, but its future. Its mind's eye unfocuses, and it imagines…

People, living instead of simply subsisting. Forming groups, larger and larger. Walls rising and falling, pushing boundaries outward.

Spindles, arms, sweeping over the land, funnelling gravel and grain through chutes and belts. Great torrents of materials pouring into carts.

Pigments and dyes in unimaginable shades. The pure blue of the summer sky, pinned down. A rainbow to rival the heavens, bursting with shades they could not dream of.

Fires larger than mountains, belching smoke into the sky. People trading at their bases, handing over possessions and gathering more. A few skilled men rising to be praised as gods.

Trilogies of spectra, veins coursing with information, dancing in chorus as the world watches with wide-open eyes. Ever-new, ever-hungry eyes. Eyes that could so easily be filled with oh-so-many other things.

Creation itself burgeoning, lifting, and swelling in a wonderful crescendo. Production, endless production. An inexhaustable, exponential rise. And, at the head of the curve, in finery beyond imagining, clad in robes that twist and bend the eye and demand supplication…

…Hah. Yes, well. That's enough daydreaming for one day.

The Wondermaker clambers to its feet, examining its prize with a well-trained eye. It's a stone, of course — moderately large and moderately grey. It's not perfect, but it will suffice.

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