This entry was written by Terrence van Ettinger, for the May Contest: Anachronisms. He can also be found on twitter under @LandrasGembar.
It was a hot day in the midst of high summer. Garya's face was streaked with sweat as she trudged along the road that led from Greenvale to Ventar. Her endurance for such things was being pushed to its limits, and she feared she might be in danger of passing out at any moment. This summer was, without a doubt, the most brutal she had ever faced, unnaturally hot and extremely dry. Gilleth, learned in matters of weather, had expressed concern that it might indeed be the result of something beyond normal influences.
It was while she was contemplating this situation that Garya caught sight of something--a large, bright yellow something--just sitting at the side of the road. It looked, for all the world, like some sort of odd carriage, but with no horses, and no apparent way to hitch them up to it. The wheels appeared to be made from some strange material, and most of the carriage was metal, not wooden.
"Look at this, will you?" she said, addressing her traveling companions. "I've never seen anything like it!"
"It looks like it should be movable," Quaraz observed, his large Gnomish eyes taking in the sight with undisguised curiosity. "But if it's some sort of carriage--it seems to have no way to hitch it up." He walked directly up to the contraption and began examining it more closely.
"Quaraz, look!" exclaimed Sheliya, who had come up beside him. "It's got these handles on the side!" So saying, Sheliya reached out a slender hand and pulled up on the handle, marveling as a catch thunked from inside the thing, and what was now clearly a door opened up. Six pairs of eyes peered into the thing's interior, with its plentiful seating, made from fabrics none of them had ever seen before, and, inthe front, its massive wheel which reminded Gilleth of a sort of modified ship's wheel.
"Let me ensure that there aren't any traps on this," Sheliya proposed. “If not--at the very least it could perhaps provide us some shade for a moment. It looks like there'd be plenty of room for all of us."
"But wait," broke in Sivenna, her learned cleric's eye catching sight of some writing on the inside of the door. "There's some writing here--Quaraz, can you make sense of it?"
As Sheliya began her investigation of the structure for any sort of traps, Quaraz set to work casting the ritual that would allow him to make sense of the writing. It didn't take long for Sheliya to declare the vehicle safe to enter, and while everyone else piled into it, Quaraz completed his ritual.
"These letters here," he explained. "seem to translate to--” here his eyebrow raised in puzzlement. "Dodge. But why someone would write that on the inside of the door, I can't figure out for the life anymore than I know why the wind blows."
"What about this panel?" asked Garya. In her years growing up in the caverns, and in the time she'd been adventuring, she'd never seen anything that remotely compared with it. "Seems there's writing here too."
Quaraz and Sheliya both moved to examine what the stocky warrior woman was referring to. While the elf's lithe frame allowed her to examine the panel easily while sitting in the seat in front of it, it was necessary for Quaraz to stand to his full height in order to gain access to all the various dials, switches, and other bits that covered one side of the panel.
"What are these vents for?" Sheliya asked him. "If I had to guess, I'd say they had something to do with air flow for some reason. Perhaps that's how it runs?"
"Let me see," Quaraz replied, casting his bright blue-eyed gaze upon the area to which the rogue was pointing. By this time the others had all gathered themselves and their gear inside and had closed the door. Sevenna, who normally stood six foot nine, was forced to hunch over significantly in order to fit, but she vowed that the shade was well worth the extra effort. Especially when Quaraz suddenly flipped a small lever on the panel--and to everyone's amazement, cool air began to blow from the many different vents, not just up in the front, but all along the sides as well.
"What manner of strange magic is this?" Gilleth mused, half to himself and half to the rest of the group. "Well, it seems harmless enough." Just about that moment, a loud honking noise came from the vicinity of what they had decided must be the driver's area. Everyone jumped in surprise as the sound took them completely off-guard.
"Um, I believe that's my fault," Quaraz confessed. "There was a big pushable piece here," (he gestured to center of the large driving wheel.) "And I think we now know what that does."
"Quaz, what've I told you about doing things like that?" Fiarak admonished, calmly yet with a slightly stern edge to his voice. "You've been lucky so far--but one of these days--”
"Aye I know, Fiarak," Quaraz answered the red-haired, leather-clad ranger. "But I just had to know."
"You Gnomes and your inquisitiveness," the Eladrin muttered. All through this conversation, Sheliya was still examining the panel, and now returned to the compartment she'd seen when she first went over the carriage before. Taking another look at the actual contents, she came across a ring of keys.
The six of them continued to investigate the various parts of the strange carriage for a while longer, and eventually, between Sheliaya's defts, Quaraz's Gnomish fascination and his skill in understanding how things were put together, they eventually figured out just how to control the thing. They found that, even without draft animals to pull it, the thing could, in fact, move. It took some trial and error, but with experimentation and suggestions from Quaraz, Sheliya began to figure out just how to control the thing's movements, which were far faster than any carriage they'd ever seen. It was clear that, if they could keep it going, they could bein the next town far ahead of schedule, and avoid much of the brutal heat that had oppressed them thus far. Quaraz, reading through some documents he'd located, came to learn that this fast-moving, self-propelling carriage was known as a bus in the language of the strange writing, but one thing was certain: it sure made travel much more bearable.