Shallice and Morband: Chapter 6

Paltrus now found himself on barren, hard earth, with dead grass in some places and in others trees covered in filth.  To his right was the One, and in front of him was Mr. Why.

“There is more for you to see,” said the One.  “Mr. Why will show this to you.”

“You will not come?” asked Paltrus.

“Yes, I will.  You may make your bed in the Unknown Lands, and I will be there.”

The One then became invisible to Paltrus, but Mr. Why said, “You may not always see Him, but now that you know Him, He is there.  For the moment, I will be speaking on His behalf.  I am imperfect in this, but He will reveal any mistakes that I may make at some point.”

Mr. Why then moved so that Paltrus could see what was in front of him.  The barren earth came to a black shore, meeting an ocean that was perfectly calm, without the tiniest ripple from this shore to the horizon.  It was red and brown, and in it were floating blackened trees and bloated dead bodies of humans and animals.  The humans were wearing clothes that, although were mostly destroyed by now, looked to originally be the clothing of nobility, and the animals included both those that were used as beasts of burden and those used as pets.  There was some filth covering these bodies that Paltrus could not identify.  Even these floating objects were entirely motionless, revolting to passing scavenger birds that dare not approach them.

At some point in the past, an enormous tree had grown out of the ocean.  It was now long dead, and blackened in parts like the trees floating in the ocean, but still standing.  Indeed, it seemed to be quite sturdy, save for some branches that had broken off to become what Paltrus first thought to be the floating trees in the ocean.

The tree was hollowed out, but not by whatever malevolent will brought death to this land.  Instead, this tree seemed to be carved methodically, or possibly grown methodically, into a tower approximately the size of the White Chapel.  There were great windows carved into the tree, and balconies built off of some of these great windows large enough to host dinner parties or moonlit balls.  Paltrus could see what was once a great society through these windows.  Now this society was reduced to broken furniture, torn needlework, stained rugs, broken glass, and an occasional corpse on the ground.  A complete civilization could live in this tower with room for expansion when the tree was alive, but now this world seemed almost frozen in time and death.

One of the branches had grown from the tree to the shore.  It was carved into a passageway, and it became a long and winding bridge leading from the shore to a great gate leading into the tree-city.  Like many of the things Paltrus could see on the balconies, this gate was destroyed.  It did not seem to be destroyed by invaders, though.  The gate had not fallen into the city, but out of it.

“This may not be easy for you to see,” said Mr. Why, “but you must see it.  You will see things that are even more torturous than this before the end, but this is nevertheless very important for you to see.”

Paltrus followed Mr. Why into the tree-city, through the winding bridge and the gate.  Beyond the gate, the ground was covered in dead leaves, dirt, and some kind of sticky moisture, and Paltrus was ankle-deep in them.  Paltrus passed through a dark tunnel in this muck before coming into the center of the tree-city.  Nowhere in the tower was there any built architecture.  Instead, every bridge, every walkway, every arch, every door, everything was carved out of this tree.  The central hall was circular, with a platform along the perimeter for walking, but there was a hole in the middle of the room, and Paltrus could see that there were several hundred stories above him and several dozen beneath him, with platforms just as the one on which he was standing.  Curved paths were carved out of the tree leading from one level to the next over the chasm, so that any level could be reached by scaling these paths.  On some levels there were also curving paths merely leading from one side of the hall to the other, so that someone could cross the chasm by this bridge rather than circling the hall.

Doors, oftentimes broken, oftentimes missing, and in rare occasions seemingly functional, were in the sides of the circular hall.  There were signs above some of these that told that they were stores or meeting halls, but the writing on the signs had worn out long ago.  Around some of the other doors appeared to be decorations as if they were the front door of somebody’s home.

High above, Paltrus could see the gray and cloudless sky above.  Far below, Paltrus could see red and brown water from the ocean collected at the bottom of the chasm, filled with dead leaves and dirt.  Paltrus could also see dead leaves slowly falling below him towards the ground beneath, disturbed by the footsteps of the two intruders that just entered.

Paltrus looked closely at the wall to find that at one time, there were elegant patterns carved into it that have faded.

“Come,” said Mr. Why, “There is another part of the city for you to see.”

Paltrus followed Mr. Why up through the winding paths, and every step they took disturbed the dead leaves, which fell to the pit at the bottom to create the only movement that the city had seen in ages.  Upon reaching the highest level, Paltrus saw a closed door that was entirely unlike the others in the tree.  This one was built of stone.

“This door,” said Mr. Why, “is the first and possibly the most horrible thing built by the hands of man after they touched the Flame.  The tree was once alive, but the stones were always cold and dead.”

“We are to enter?”

“Yes.  But we must be careful.  We can observe and learn, but we must do nothing else for the moment.”

Mr. Why took hold of the door’s handle and pulled, and he opened the door with great difficulty.  A cold air and rancid smell rushed to meet Paltrus, and he believed that he heard the voices of dying men faintly in the distance.  What was beyond the door could not be seen because there was no light in the opposite room.

“This will be quite difficult, and possibly very painful, but you will survive,” said Mr. Why.

Upon saying that, Mr. Why entered the door and dropped, knowing that there was a hole in the ground.  Paltrus walked toward the hole and looked down, seeing nothing.

“Shall I drop now?” he yelled.

Nothing could be heard except the dying voices in the distance.  Paltrus knew that there was nowhere else to go, and he dropped.  The distance was very long, and Paltrus felt that when, or if, he reached the bottom, he would certainly be killed.  A ledge caught his foot and he lost his balance, spinning out of control towards the bottom until he landed on his arm and yelled in pain.

“You will be fine in a minute,” said Mr. Why.

I think it’s broken,” said Paltrus, still in pain.

“I can’t see you well enough to know what you’re talking about, but it probably is.  We just fell more than the height of the tree.  Can you stand?”

“We should be dead if we fell such a distance.”

“Oh, no, this place has less power over us than that now.  Are you still in pain?”

“Yes, but it is lessening.”

“Very well.  Can you stand?”

Paltrus found that he could stand and the pain in his arm was nearly gone.  The place he was in was mostly dark, but he could see a faint light off in the distance, and from that light he could see that he was in a stone hallway, and the light was coming through the door at the end from inside of a room.

“Good,” said Mr. Why.  “Follow me.  This next room is our first destination.”

Paltrus saw the silhouette of Mr. Why going towards the door, and he followed.  He came into a stone throne room, which, like everything else in this place, was dead.  There were torches on the walls giving some inconsistent light, but no windows anywhere for the light of the sun to enter the room.  There were two rows of round columns, one on each side of the path from the door through which they entered to the throne.  The masonry of the columns, floors, and ceilings was poor and very unstable.  There was no royal carpet leading from the main entrance to the large stone throne, and on the throne was a mangled corpse, holding his hands as if grasping something that was not there.

Throughout the room, chains of varying length were suspended from the ceiling.  Some of the chains ended high up in the room and some extended to touch the floor.  There was no pattern in the places that they were set or their lengths.  At the end of the chains were attached objects of many different sorts, including eating utensils, hammers, dead animals, furniture, jewels, and many other seemingly arbitrary objects.

“What are these things?” Paltrus asked.

“The people of this city believed it would make them happy.”

“Why?”

“They did not have a reason.  They had something that they thought was a reason, but I have forgotten what it was.  It was by no means, however, the height of their stupidity.”

As they continued down the room, Paltrus looked at the wall upon the left and noticed a shadow next to the shadow of a column.  It was an image of a powerful man with a large scimitar, hiding and waiting to attack.  Paltrus could not see the man and assumed that he was behind the column, patiently waiting for them to pass so that he may catch them at unawares.  Paltrus was alarmed, as they were unarmed, and he stopped Mr. Why and pointed towards the shadow.

“What can we do?” he said in a whisper.  “We cannot jump up to get away, but we cannot defend ourselves.”

“We could jump if we wanted,” said Mr. Why, making no effort to quiet his voice.  “We could defend ourselves if we wanted.  But do not fear the shadows.  They can do nothing to us.  There is nothing there.”

“Then why is there a shadow if there is nothing to cast it?”

“These torches are mostly the result of the labor of men.  Those men believed that they did it entirely on their own, but they were wrong.  Through much sweat and blood they were able to cast a small amount of light, but what little light there was told both truths and untruths.  In some cases they can help us, but many times they do not.  The shadows are often lies.  Do not let them fool you.”

Mr. Why turned to Paltrus and said, “There is an old proverb, Paltrus.  ‘A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.’  What do you think of it?”

“I would say that that is quite true.  A wise man often perceives things differently.”

“What about this one?  ‘Think in the morning.  Act in the noon.  Eat in the evening.  Sleep in the night’.”

“That seems to be good advice.  One should do things at their appointed time.”

“What about this one.  ‘Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of Genius’.”

Paltrus was surprised at this particular proverb, as it was quite different from the others.

“I suppose there may be some truth to that, but it seems as though it would soon lead to chaos with no room for genius at all.”

“There is one more that I would like to share with you.  ‘A dead body revenges not injuries’.”

Paltrus felt shame upon hearing this proverb, because he realized that it is a belief that he may have held before, though he may not have admitted so at the time.

“Do you know that those proverbs all came from the same place?  And they entered this world through this very room.  The lies from this room are not always lies.  That is what allows them to exist, and that is what is most dangerous about them.  Until you are able to discover what is and what is not, you should probably not look at the shadows in this room at all.”

“You can see that there is no man there?  Even though we cannot see behind the column?”

“Yes, very clearly.”

Paltrus followed Mr. Why towards the throne, and as they passed the column, Paltrus saw that there was nothing behind it but the shadow itself.  The shadow world showed Paltrus that the man jumped from behind the column and killed them both.  There was, however, no man and no attack, and he and Mr. Why were both very much alive.

As the two continued towards the throne, Paltrus remembered Mr. Why’s advice and turned away from the wall.  They approached the dead king, and Mr. Why turned around to face the room.

“Do you recognize this place, Paltrus?”

Paltrus turned and looked and saw nothing that was familiar, yet he knew what city this was.  “This is Arrburdak,” he said.

“That is right,” Mr. Why said.  “The first time you entered the city, with Talius, you only saw New Arrburdak.  This time we entered through Old Arrburdak.  When the Flame of Man was introduced, Old Arrburdak was quickly destroyed and New Arrburdak was created.

“This is the Tower of the World, which you were trying to enter when you were attacked.  In fact, this is the room that you were trying to find.  This king was holding the Pendant of Fire that Polius now holds and believes to be the Flame of Man.  At this moment, he is carrying that Pendant to the Dhelius, with the false news that you were betrayed by Talius.”

“But there should be windows in these walls.  The light from this room should be emanating throughout the city.”

“If you could see out of this room, you would see that the city is not at all as it appeared to be.  There is no light there, but you believed that there was.”

The two were now back in the library, and the One was standing beside Mr. Why.

“I not only took you out of Morband so that you may be brought to Shallice,” said the One.  “I also brought you here so that others may be brought to Shallice.”

Paltrus noticed that there were tears in the eyes of the One.

“There are many that will never be brought to Shallice.  And there are some that you must defeat.  These are men that are trying to prevent the chosen to be taken from their clutches.  They will not succeed, for the chosen are always brought to Shallice.  Sometimes they themselves are chosen.

“In this task, you will be my instrument.  You must show the people of Morband the truth by revealing the Dhelius’ true intentions, first to himself, and then to the people.  But first you must return to the cave.”

Though he did not fully understand why, Paltrus felt a great deal of loyalty to the One, as well as great admiration towards his power.  He knew that he must do whatever the One asked of him, though he had much difficulty with the idea of moving against his homeland.

Paltrus bowed, knowing that he could do nothing else.  “I will do as you say, my Lord.”

“You will not be alone, nor will you be leading your party.  You will be very important very soon, but for now, you will be at Mr. Why’s side.”

“I understand,” said Paltrus.

“Come with me,” said Mr. Why.

Chapter 7

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