(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
Note: I apologize for not being able to give a full and complete chapter for WISB. I have a good reason, and it is this. The chapter is proving to be far longer than I had intended. I could easily put in a chapter break, but I feel that it would take away from the flow of Chapter 13 by calling it 13 and 14, rather than two parts. Right now I am deep into the second half of the chapter which is pushing 7,000 words, which on average is a good 2,500 words more than other chapters. I don’t feel safe pushing to finish it tonight, though I will get as much done as possible. However, I will post part two the following sunday and obviously write chapter 14 for the weekend after that. So really, it’s like you’re getting a triple treat over the next three weeks! In any case, enjoy Ch. 13 Part One!
Night fell like a wave of black for the moon, as it rose, was still a stark gray so dark that only the outline of its shape and the darkest of craters could be seen. Stars glimmered and provided a negligible amount of light, and nothing more. The heavens were fraught with inactivity. No meteors fell, no stars died, and all seemed in a complete standstill as life on Traea moved on as if nothing had ever happened. It was doubtless that the people, creatures, and beasts of Traea were affected; some must have been more than others. James had seen the disturbed faces of the people of Arlin City when the sun forgot to rise, and he knew how disturbed many must have been when all ran in reverse. He had a rudimentary knowledge of physics and the inner workings of the solar system. Planets that rotated developed magnetic fields to protect the surface from radiation. If the world that Traea was forever connected to suddenly stopped, radiation would have pounded every living thing so drastically that he couldn’t imagine anyone surviving for long. To add to the problem, with the air in the atmosphere moving at the same speed as the rest of the planet, a sudden stop would send all that air careening around the planet like a massive elemental hand to smash and suck up anything and everything possible. The idea that the planet could have stopped for any moment was mind boggling to him. It’s impossible. And if the moon stopped moving it would come crashing down. He realized at this point in his journey that if something was impossible, it likely would happen, as if nature in this strange world followed a twisted version of Murphy’s Law.
James decided not to think on it anymore. He hadn’t the knowledge to figure it all out logically, and even if he did he doubted he could make any of it sound remotely logical to an entire world devoted to the works of magic.
The golden path turned out to be less magnificent than he had expected. While the walls were a golden hue, they were faint and unimpressive apart from the fact that they were gold colored in the first place. The path climbed steadily in altitude and slowly melded into the tree like a landscape painting, tall dark brown trunks reaching up with scraggly bark wrinkles and long limbs of green pine needles and prickly pinecones. Soon the rocks faded away into nothing but trees and brush, leaving behind the tall cliffs of gold. James could no longer see anything of the little part of Traea that he knew—Arlin City, the entirety of the Lor Range, nor the great valley floor—that having little to do with the final blow of failing light as the sun disappeared beyond the farthest mountains, though Pea had brought out his torch and set it brilliantly aflame. The valley floor was simply out of sight. It felt as if he was in a new world completely separate from all that was happening below, and in a strange way this was true. James, Pea, and Darl were cut off from the Farthland, at least the civilized portion of it. As far as they knew, nobody else knew where they were, except for a select few who had likely died horribly in battle. James now understood why Arnur could keep him safe. The terrain was well enough for a few passengers, even a light wagon, but not sufficient enough to move an army. He imagined that Arnur had some form of protection, something that a small force would be unlikely to handle. And he wondered what it was. Is Arnur an ancient castle? A sacred fortress of some sort?
Pea’s light shined on the encroaching tree limbs that seemed to reach out like ancient hands. The trees looked old, older than any James had seen back home. And they seemed overly healthy. Nothing that he could see seemed in any way to be dying or losing the brutal battle called life. Yet, at the same time, the forest, for that was all he could call it, was unkempt and untouched. Trees wound into themselves in a mock of natures’ battle to maintain superiority; bushes and thick bulbous mushrooms seized the opportunity to leech from the larger trees, wrapping around like wiry tendons and ending in tiny flowers of virtually every prime color imaginable so that they blended like the colors of a rainbow after a spring shower.
Then Arnur presented itself, and James could only describe it as awe-inspiring. The magnificent structure seemed to appear from nowhere as if waiting patiently for he and his friends’ arrival. Arnur took up the entirety of a wide cliff-face that extended for several hundred feet. Rather than looking like the carved structures of the many Chinese grottoes, Arnur gave the impression that it had been built by the mountain itself rather than by the hands of the living for every manner of carving blended seamlessly into the rock. Wide balconies hung over the one hundred foot tall main tunnel; the tunnel itself was shut off from the world by an equally tall gate carved from the top to bottom in hundreds of figures in motion—riding horses, calling storms from the heavens, dining at long tables. A long stone staircase—in perfect harmony with the mountain—led to a series of stone statues laid out in a wide circular court that extended onto a long platform, which in turn led dead straight to the main tunnel. In the center of the court was a glistening pool of water so clear that if the well it led to reached the other side of the world one would be able to see the sky at that very moment in its early morning motions. Up and down the cliff-face were more balconies and tunnels, all unreachable from the ground; the only entrance into Arnur was through the main tunnel. Above it all, embedded centered and above the main tunnel, was a circular diagram cast in ruby stone of St. Brendan’s Cross. James shivered; his Fearl answered reassuringly.
And, materializing in the torch-lit air at the top of the stairs was the silhouette, standing in such a way that James could only assume that he, or she, was holding his or her hands gently and smiling warmly.
“Welcome my friends,” it said.
“This place must be cursed by ghosts,” came Darl’s response.
James thought better than to insult something that may or may not be alive. After all, with magic so endlessly entwined with everything in Traea, he assumed that even the dead were capable of doing their fair share of damage. Instead he did what any unknowledgeable and ignorantly fearless person might do. “Who are you?” he said. Pea’s response was to take a few steps forward so that any attack that might be made wouldn’t reach James before giving him the time needed to run.
The silhouette shifted. “I am the guardian of Arnur. I mean you no harm. Unless you mean to do harm to the beauty of this place,” it said, gesturing toward Arnur.
“So, you’re a spirit?”
“No, not in the slightest.”
“He’s a…” Pea began, but Darl interrupted.
“He?” Darl gave the same look James had come to understand meant ‘I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about’.
“Well, naturally he’s a he. He’s a Lean after all.”
“What do you mean naturally?”
“If he was a she, she would be a Glean, and you’d know it right away. The rhyme is no mistake. They tend to glean things from their victims.”
“So, what exactly does a Lean do then,” James said.
The Lean took a step down and said, “We lean of course.”
“It’s in your book.” Pea turned towards him.
“Must have missed it.”
Darl grumbled. “As riveting as this conversation has become, I am growing slightly irritated…”
“Slightly?” Pea flashed a wily grin; Darl glared.
“…and would be grateful to enter Arnur and find a soft place to rest. May we enter?”
“I’m afraid not. The Masters have closed for the night. No more visitors may be permitted inside until the morning. Although, I don’t believe we have had many visitors in the last year or so.”
“What about the supply wagons?” James’ interest was peaked. Ammond had made it seem as though supplies were sent via wagon fairly regularly. How could there have been no visitors?
“The wagons have not come here for some time. I’m afraid the supplies are left at the pathways. They stopped waiting for my arrival to tell my riddle some time ago. A few men march down once in a great while to collect what they can. The rest is left to the wild.”
“Did Ammond know of this?” Pea curled his brow.
“I doubt he was told.”
“It’s too late now.” James quivered at the thought of having to explain what had happened, and deep down he hoped the Lean wouldn’t ask. But, his desires were left to wander. He told the Lean what he could and left the rest to Pea. He spoke of Luthien’s strange appearance, the battle that had brought Arlin City to the ground, and the friends he had lost. Then he stopped, unable to speak of it further, and allowed Pea to finish. A few moments later and the Lean, looking as curious as a blank shadow could look, knew all about James’ appearance in the Farthland.
“This is quite disturbing,” the Lean said, taking several gliding steps down.
Darl flung his pack on the ground near the edge of the stone stairs. “I’m afraid I’ve become bored of this conversation. If you don’t mind, I am going to make a fire, get something to eat, and deluge myself in the simple pleasures of sleep.”
James became suddenly aware how strong Darl really was, and not in a physical sense, although by his own accounts he could attest to that too. When Darl said something that generally meant the end of the conversation. The only exception was Pea, who for whatever reason had no qualms about arguing with the aged man. In this particular case, no one argued. The idea of eating and sleeping was one that Pea and James, except the Lean who had no concept of what either of the two actions meant, fervently agreed with. James, exhausted beyond his own understanding, hadn’t slept more than five hours, probably less. He wanted more. In the morning he would ache, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. Everything suddenly revolved around sleeping. That emotion he had come quite accustomed to back home. Saturdays were his days of rest, his religious meditations in the world of sleep—a world entirely detached from reality.
Before long a fire crackled into life and a wobbly orange glow filled a small circle around where Darl intended to camp. The Lean watched, seemingly un-phased and uninterested in anything that was going on. James, on the other hand, had every intention to keep the fire going through the night. He was cold and tired and didn’t want to be either come the following morning. He gathered what branches he could and before long, with the help of Pea, a nice pile of firewood found its home by the fire.
Overcompensating, he thought.
James unraveled his things. Most were still moist from the day before, but he managed to dry them enough by the fire, which now blazed like a mighty gathering of fiery spirits, and created himself a bed in a soft pad of green grass as close to the fire as his skin would allow. Warmth circled through him in soothing waves as he sat before the fire. Occasionally he looked to the Lean, expecting him gone. The Lean simply stood there, observing, and James suddenly felt like the chimpanzees of East Africa—being observed by someone so alien and utterly detached from the world.
Then he recalled that Leans were in his book. While Darl cooked a strange concoction of items James really didn’t want to know about, he opened his book and turned it to the firelight. Nothing new, he noticed. Then he flipped through the pages, moving through history, magic, and geography before reaching a long section he had ignored before: Specterkind. He smirked at the name. It seemed that all classifications of people were dumbed down in such a manner—all little people were Littlekind, all flying creatures were Aviankind. Too simple. He could imagine such classifications causing enormous problems back home, people rioting over being classified as Asian when they were something else. Then again, all sorts of people were called White and Black, Brown and Yellow and every one of them is different.
James sped through the introduction and found the miniscule section on Leans. It was tiny, no more than a short paragraph long, and gave him little to contemplate. He read it again, expecting that perhaps he had missed something, or that by some miracle the little section would be magically updated. But the section remained the same:
Leans are neither living, nor dead. They comprise a select caste of spiritual individuals whose main goal is to guide individuals they deem worthy in the preservation of sacred items or places, or, alternately, to aid in the destruction of said items. Leans, while visible shadow, are not a part of the physical world, and therefore cannot have any physical affect on it. Some believe they are lost souls that hail from a middleland between Lor and the Halls of the Great Fathers. In any case, a Lean’s job is to lean upon the very structure they desire to protect and little more.
He looked up to the Lean. Does he have a name? Did he have a family once? Does he remember it? Then it dawned on him. The Lean had influenced the physical world. They would never have found the path if not for his answering the Leans riddle correctly.
“Pea,” he said. He waited for a look in his direction. “Is this book ever wrong?”
“On rare occasion. Why?”
James glanced at the book. “I think the section on Leans is wrong.”
Pea cocked his head.
“The section says that they can’t affect the physical world, yet that Lean,” James indicated the shadowy figure, now bent between being fixated on Darl’s grumbles and the burning fire, “showed us the correct path by changing it gold.”
“His riddle likely triggered a dormant spell.”
James wasn’t quite certain he could accept that idea. The event seemed too controlled to have been the triggering of some sleeping spell. He peered at the Lean for a brief moment, then left the specter in his peripheral vision.
Still, he didn’t feel like dwelling on the issue further. A musky smell filtered through the air and into his nose. He cringed momentarily and decided that despite being hungry he had no desire to find out what Darl’s so called food tasted like. Rather, he found himself yearning for a long nights rest. He covered himself with a thin blanket, now toasty warm from the fire, and used the tiny form of his emptied pack as a pillow. Then he closed his eyes and drifted to sleep in such a way that had he been awake he would have been surprised at how calmly and smoothly it had all happened.