One day, a mapmaker realized that one of his maps had transformed. Where he had painted a continent, a sea began to bleed through from below, although he did not recall painting over anything other than blank paper to begin with. Scandalized, he repainted the newly discovered continent and left the map out to dry. While it was drying, behold, another map was similarly transfigured. This time, an ocean was marred with golden oarfish and black dragons bleeding through the pale blue waves. Infuriated, the cartographer set to work on this new map, washing away every dragon, kraken and oarfish in thick strokes of a deeper blue. When he was finished painting, he left it out to dry, only to discover that the continent he had repainted earlier was already fading, its long discredited sea from obsolete voyages showing through. One by one, he inspected all the maps, and every map showed signs of damage. Clouds, winds, ghosts, angels, demons, saints, mountains, oarfish, trees and rivers, continents and oceans, strange letters from forgotten alphabets and symbols from discardes sciences bled through the new maps. Frantic, the mapmaker spent days trying to repair them, but the enchantment always returned. The mapmaker gathered all the maps and scrolls together and brought them down to the beach to burn them. For one night, at least, the bonfire would be a light for lost sailors, and the maps would not have been made in vain. All night, the maps burned, but at times he thought he saw a golden oarfish or black dragon in the flames, swimming in the blue waves of nonexistent, other seas. In the morning, staring through the smoke, he saw that a chain of gray islands had blossomed off the coast.
There are no empires today. There are corporations and governments, but there are no empires. An empire is a night sea that washes the shores of the bookshelves and polished furniture, its long dark rivers bringing back tea, tobacco, cups and plates, distant poems, contraband, strange inventions, phonographs, words and fragrances, the very ingredients of thought and empire, the very possibility of a world. The night sea is the mirror and the gate. There is no world tonight. The phonographs, ashtrays and pale pages are bone-dry.
The oars licked and splashed, dove and turned, churning the green sea as the clouds raced for dry islands of rare clouds and birds. The amphorae and the grain stores shifted with the motion of the waves and beating drum. The mute slaves rowed as the captain whipped them, speaking of glory and empire. After the shipwreck, one of the few slaves to break free headed through the surf towards the shore where the other slaves awaited, exhausted but thankful that no soldiers had survived to cut them down in the fury of the surf lest they escape. The one slave walked through the shallows and saw an officer lying in the sand, bleeding and on the verge of death. The slave lifted him up and carried him on his back. What is this? the old centurion asked. The glory of the empire, laughed the slave, staring straight ahead, grateful for the brightness of the endless blue sky spreading like an ink stain over the dark world.
The stone-like prince was lost in deep meditation when the warm scented breezes laden with the fragrances of lotus, hibiscus, coconut and plumeria wafted over the river. The saint would have called the earth to witness his inviolate liberty and would have touched the earth when a strange thing happened. The fingers found nothing, and sank like infinite eels into an endless abyss, searching and never finding any form or matter, whether intact or atomized. When the saint looked down, behold, his hand had fallen right off.