There is fog all around, thick and white, swirling. The ground is dark, hard stone, rough and uneven, with a gradual but perceptible slope; the fog is thinnest upslope, and in that direction a faint shadow is visible in the distance, the only landmark available in an otherwise featureless world.
God, he's tired.
He walks towards it anyway. It seems like less effort than ignoring it.
The fog clears gradually as he ascends. Soon he can see the top of the slope, and the nature of the shadow.
It's an enormous stone ring, divided into four concentric smaller rings, each in turn divided into four subsections. The ring stands on its edge, with its lower part passing through an angular block of stone carved with a set of long shallow steps, so that if one were so inclined one could walk up the steps and into or through the center of the ring. The stairs are white; the ring's various sections are all close to white, but with subtle hints of colour.
Each of the four rings is turning independently, the movement smooth and silent; and each of the sixteen ring sections is carved with a different scene involving a female or androgynous-but-plausibly-female figure. Here, a child with leaves in her hair dances amid budding flowers; there, an old woman rests drowsily next to a fire that is about to go out; over there, just past the top of the outermost ring, a woman spreads her arms and lifts her face to the sky as her cloak and hair and float on the wind; and just coming in to the top spot on the innermost ring, a teenage girl splashes in a swift-flowing river. The carvings don't move, but they are very good at conveying motion.
The river girl reaches the exact top-central spot on the inner ring, and that ring halts abruptly; the lines of the river girl's carving begin to glow a soft blue that brings out the faint blue tint in the stone of her section. Glowing blue mist, faint and translucent, swirls into the space within the ring.
He knows he's dreaming. He knows who the carvings will look like.
He walks up the stone steps for a closer look anyway.
They... don't, actually, have a particular resemblance to any specific person he has met. But there are some interesting correspondences between the carvings.
Four of the sections have a faint yellow tint and a motif of wind and air, and the four figures carved on those sections - child, youth, adult, and elder - resemble each other closely: petite, with delicate wrists and a pointed chin and long wavy hair that echoes the swirling lines of the wind.
Four of the sections have a faint blue tint and a motif of water, and likewise seem to depict the same woman in four different stages of life: tall and broad-shouldered, with a hooked nose and a dancer's strong legs, her hair swept back into long braids.
Four of the sections have a faint green tint and a motif of earth and plants; the green woman's hair is curly and wild, and she has bright eyes and a wide smile in a round soft face.
Four of the sections have a faint red tint and a motif of fire, and the woman they show is long-limbed and active, always in motion except where her elder incarnation rests by a dying fire. Her face is angular, her nose thin and pointed, her hair short and straight.
The outermost ring comes to rest with its blue section in the top-central position. It shows the water woman as an elder, floating underwater with her face turned away from the viewer, her braids streaming up toward the surface like seaweed. Just like the other one, the carving begins to glow. More blue mist issues forth into the central space.
He doesn't have anything better to do than wait for the rings to stop spinning.
Fine. There are worse dreams.
He sits down on the stone and stares blankly into the equally blank distance.
Elsewhere, something is happening.
She's lost. She's looking for something but she can't remember what it was. She's ... wandering through an empty wasteland?
That's ... not what she's looking for.
She heads towards it anyway.
She has the strangest sense of déjà vu.
Closer. Warily. Hand on gun.
She walks warily closer, and puts a hand on the stone of the ring.
"Yes! Who -- what -- ?"
(This is very much the reaction that someone else is having, much more quietly, on the other side of the massive stone ring.)
"...hi, Akaima ... of ... Embers?"
(He would like to say something but that is going to require, first, inhaling...)
"...Arachné," she says, with years of ingrained caution.