Perils of the Mapmaker

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Submitted by Finchy, Runner-up in February 2019 cycle themed "Maps".

Carter Eratosthenes scratched his beard to dislodge some of the more stubborn elements of a Cyrenian winter and sighed: He really did have a problem.

Having operated out of a stuffy warehouse by the Lyceum, the business of Carter & Pentathlos had been trying to make the trade of mapmaking turn a profit. It certainly seemed simple enough: People needed direction to get to where they needed to go, his company would provide a vital service.

Unfortunately, there had been several hurdles to overcome. Firstly, they had gone through thirt-six interns. It had turned out that the patient observation and careful traversing of the land in order to correctly describe a location on vellum also meant standing still for long periods of time. This had proven difficult in some cases, such as in the midst of a Manticore nest now decorated with some stunning sketches of the Vashnari mountainline and bits of Kevin, to near impossible as testified by the fact that over a dozen undead conscripts of the Underworld were still wearing C&P uniforms and would beat trespassers to death with rushed drafts of cramped halls and cavernous depths. He never did hear back from the chap they sent to the Erisian Pyramid, aside from the delivery of an animate piece of a map of the Mhojave that promptly bit the receptionist and flew out of the window. It apparently was nesting in the clock tower and had spawned a small library of scrollets admist the machinery.

There too was the idiosyncrasy of his ideal customers: Intrepid explorers and adventurers. While you would expect a map detailing the dangerous and obscure depths where treasure might be found would be an easy sell. It had turned out that half the time a sale would be scuppered by the fact that said Adventurer "would just sort of bumble about a bit between rooms until I work out what I'm looking for" which staggered the mind in lieu of his widower's pension fund. He shuddered reflexively at the mention of "Landmarks" now too. The other kind of adventurer was even worse, for they would not only have produced their own maps and notes, but would have since lovingly crafted it into a bas relief twenty feet high for everyone in their house or clan to see, for free! He still had nightmares about the time he had commissioned a Windcutter to sail the four seas in order to craft a loving map of the coastline, only to discover that some bugger had managed to beat him to it by a good few centuries, including detailing the very chops and eddies. How did they manage that? What is wrong with these people?

Even worse, sales to the average denizen were minimal. It turns out the only people quite insane enough to travel so much as to need maps regularly were aforementioned adventuring-types, the average Delosian shop clerk was quite content to see the horizon and think "No thank you, this street is quite enough".

For now, the problem of the day had taken the form of his exasperated chief artist and scribe.

"We can't paint the rings in" his artist said, giving a pained look a man confronted with the agony of a seemingly simple task handily defeating him, then going around bragging it in the Inn, making rude gestures the next time it saw him.

"What do you mean, can't paint them in? They're rings, its easier than several planets right?"

"Well with planets, y'see you could sort of just paint them to the side, like in the margins, people understood that."

"There you go, just paint some rings to the side, problem sol-"

"No see, because then its just some random colourful circles next to the map, that's not right. Its even worse if I try and put them over the map, because then you can't see half the damn thing under the glitter" he said, in tones of someone who strongly objected to the very concept of sparkles on scroll.

"Alright, leave them out for now, what's the other problem?" Carter asked, looking at his scribe. The beady-eyed wisp of a man before him adjusted his glasses and spoke as if addressing a fundamental flaw in the Weave itself.

"They keep discovering things" He wheedled.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, we keep having to buy more and more parchment and vellum, and making more maps because they keep discovering things!" His scribe dumped an oversized example covered in furious scribbles and pressed on "Look at this, we used to just be able to write "Wall of Power go Ye no Further!" on maps of the north but now its full of damn trees and damn spiders and people riding spiders, when is it going to end? I won't even talk about Meropis, don't get me started on Meropis"

Carter had experienced the Meropis talk before, and agreed. It was enough to make you despair, it really was, there were days he genuinely began to reconsider his cousin's offer to invite him into the journal-making business. Everyone needed journals, nobody turned around and told you they not only had their own journal, but gave free journals away and that theirs filled themselves in as they went along.