My goodness. My goodness. Oh my.
Rather naively, I believed that Callij was irreparable in this mortal realm of ours. In one sense this is true – nowhere else can the pure excess of Callij be matched. But I believed more than that too. I believed that Callij was an architectural beacon. I believed it was a jewel.
But if Callij is a diamond, then Mallis is a sapphire. And which is more beautiful? It depends on your perspective, surely. This truly is a remarkable place.
A plea to creative readers: as I look upon this, my eyes grow bored by the uniformity! I crave inspirational images, but alas, my hands fail me in that regard. I am not a ruddy artist. Are you? If you are inspired to articulate your (related!) imagination, then please, send it to me, and I will refresh this blot with its vibrancy.
When I set out on this crazy adventure, I had visions of walking into the darkness; roaming around at pace in order to return to my beloved Callij, quick step. But my expectation was flawed, and flawed in two very big ways:
- It is now three quarters of a year since I left, and I have managed just the barest proportion of what I intend to see; and
- I have not stepped into the darkness at all – if anything, I am now blinded by light. There is astonishment with every step of my journey.
Namcalla I expected – it is a recognised astonishment. What I wasn’t expecting was the hardness of that place. A city on a waterfall was a magnificent sight, but the ocean is a cruel mistress, and so are the people that live by her breath. That place which I lusted after left me cold.
And now I am here – at Mallis. I expected something for certain, but it was always supposed to be a shadow of Callij. It was second tier, something to look upon, but something to ultimately fluff up the pride of us Callijians. But this is not second rate by a stretch – it is something else entirely. It is unexpected, and that is delicious.
The city is simple, unadorned, and dominated by the sharp tower of the Mallahn – a simple spear of rebellion against the horizon. The huddle around the tower itself is somewhat cramped and desperate, clinging to the edge of the bluff, looking as though the empty span of plains about the town are made of fire. But the wide plains are not made of fire. There is no need for this city to cling to the bluff like it does, and yet the fact that it does enhances the place. It is rich with intrigue. It is everything I expected, and indeed, so much more.
As I step through the gated wall and into the tight streets themselves, I am conscious of two things. The first is that this place is almost dead; silent and still; maudlin. But we’ll get onto that later, because the second thing I recognised was a yearning to push on – to continue my journey. I know not where it came from, but it was there and it was vivid. But I’ve since thought about it, and now I do know where that sense came from. If this is Mallis, then what were those other places I’d dreamed of going to do to me?
Jalin – the home of the Jinq architects. A city forged from stone, and carved into the very fabric of the Mandari mountains. If anywhere will astonish, then surely it is Jalin.
And Opentilia – the great Mandari harbour; Dara himself standing over the entrance. What must that be like?
Xeidan – the New World. I have heard that the Hânto have done great things with their inheritance. The land is supposed to be criss-crossed with roads, and fields are draped everywhere. It is called a bountiful place, excepting the obvious: the Yellow Shore where the Mallahn were last seen. What will that place offer?
Ahan – the Gate to l’Unna. What will that be like? A place full of wonders no doubt, with Altunia to start: the White Queen’s legacy made great by the architects. Or Jinalas – where Jinal di Jinq broke the new land. Or even Lebenthé, the defensive masterpiece.
And even beyond Society. Perhaps I can even see Maegwyn. Maybe. The place where an Empire died. Wouldn’t that be astonishing.
But I’m getting ahead of myself just a touch! Before any of this, we have Mallis. Apologies for my wandering pen-hand. It is just that with my new boots – which continue to hold up remarkably well – and a rejuvenated eagerness, I want to plan (and plough) ahead. But first things first – accommodation.
I have found a delightful little establishment called the Yellow Mist. Not the most upbeat of names for an inn, but that is hardly surprising in this place. As I said – maudlin. The inn is just off the main artery through town, a quiet place which doesn’t seem flush with business. And yet the patron didn’t seem overly welcoming. Not dismissive, but not the open arms of business well-received that I might expect.
Then again, the rooms are cheap. Very cheap. It seems as though prices have dipped the further I get from Callij – with the obvious exception of Namcalla, of course. But I expected Mallis to hold a certain value. It doesn’t. I briefly wonder if I shouldn’t have ventured deeper and found something a little richer, but when I’m shown to a cosy little room, I decide that this will do fine. I will be content here, if a little low.
But in some ways, that seems just and right. A turned up face in this town just wouldn’t fit. There is much sadness to share in this town, and I am intent on absorbing it.
After a meal of pitiful pie and bland beer, I step back up to my room and compose a letter. Not this blot you’ll understand, but a separate one. I have a mind to request an audience with the famous resident of this town, and the only way to receive rejection is to ask in the first place. I use my finest words, butter them with the tastiest ingredients, but I am not hopeful if I’m honest. When I hand it to the messenger that I’ve arranged, his face tells it all. I am pushing my luck.
But I would be a fool not to try. The Lady Mallahn is something of a legend in Society. Being the last of a dying line that is unhealthily obsessed with purity, she sits on a seat and watches as her great family is taken from the world. Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, most of the Mallahn was destroyed by the Yellow Mist of Oesticalim – where my delightful inn receives its name – but that was hundreds of years ago. Since then, the fragile line has withered and died, tapering to this – a single female member sitting on the family seat. A single woman occupying the Spear of Mallis; a giant of engineering.
So why let this happen? The Lady – or commonly the Grey Lady owing to her prematurely age-bleached hair – is supposed to be a strong woman by all accounts, and a beautiful one too. Any number of suitors would have fallen at her feet, and she also has the authority to keep the Head of the Family role herself (itself remarkable as women don’t sit as Heads anywhere else) until an heir took over. But instead, she sits and watches her legacy die. How I long to ask that question!
I have been told that it is because of line purity – that her prospects were not of the required quality. That seems absurd! There is intrigue layered with intrigue in that story, and I fear I will never quench that thirst. There is no way she will entertain me.
Instead, I will venture into town and see what the place is about.
It’s entirely fair to suggest that Mallis is utterly dominated by the Lady’s Spire. Of course, it wasn’t always called the Lady’s Spire, but that’s what it is now – an uninterrupted sharp spear puncturing the sky. It finishes at a needle point, and seems to shimmer at a polish in the bright midday sun of the late season. There is only one other building that I could compare that skin to – the House of Rha, the astonishing pyramid that dominates Callij – but where the House is commanding, this Spire is proud. Oh how I wish I could go there.
The rest of the town is, to be honest, largely uninteresting, though the tight near-vertical streets do offer a certain charm. The foreboding end of the Mallahn line seems to have drawn a cloud through the place, the end of a thousand-year dynasty looming large, and that is where the maudlin sense comes from. These residents have served the Mallahn for generations, and now all that remains is the uncertainty of transition. Who will take over here? Will anyone take over? Surely someone has to. Damn, I will do it if asked!
I make a note to ask that of the Lady. Ha! She will not entertain me.
As I enter a central square – the Held Square it is called, where the Mallahn held out against the plague that once ruled this land – I get an even better look at the Spire. It truly is astonishing. But my eyes are drawn otherwise, and I see a man outside a tea-trader’s place. He points at me, and following the line of his arms are two guards. Two big guards, and dressed in the sharp white edging of the Mahan family.
They are guards from Callij.
And they are coming after me.
I have never been good at running, and earlier today, I surprised myself. The tight twisty streets helped, and my light clothes gave me an edge over men in heavy chainmail and sheet-steel trimmings. It was almost strange to hear Mallis so alive with activity, the sound of my feet slapping against the tiled ground and echoing off of the steep walls of the houses. Twice they got close enough to swipe at me, and once I even felt a gauntlet brush against my hair, but somehow I came through. Somehow I lost them.
Panting, lost, and with terror thumping in my chest, I wandered the streets cautiously as night came to Mandaria. I think I heard a few more shouts as I stalked my way randomly through Mallis, but I could not tell whether it was my pursuers. I had to get out of there. I really had to get out of there. My first instinct was to grab my things and go, but then weariness crawled up my legs, and I knew I needed to sleep. Eventually, and by pure chance, I found my solemn hole. Thank the Father for that!
But damn! How did they find me?
You see, readers, I must confess that I haven’t been entirely honest with you. I have suggested that I left Callij because of boredom and a desire to see the world, but that is not entirely true. There are darker shades to my past too, and I hoped to leave them behind. But it appears that this will not be possible – who knows how far they will chase me? I may need to rethink my plans.
As I sit at my small desk writing this blot, the patron has come in to me. My pulse races and I’m sure I must have the look of a startled deer. Will he be asking me to leave? Has he brought the soldiers here? Damnit, I assumed I was safe in this house, but fear has followed me. He passes me a letter.
Expecting the worst, I read it. And then I look out of my window, and I smile. The Lady Grey will see me after all!