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Author: Tim Lebbon
Publisher: Spectra, 2009
Series: Tales of Noreela: Book 3

1. Dusk
2. Dawn
3. Fallen
4. The Island

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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To the unknown corners of Noreela, the Voyagers have traveled, returning with fantastic tales of their journeys and discoveries. But no one has ever returned from the Great a sheer cliff soaring miles above the clouds and rumored to be the end of the world. Until now.

Voyagers Nomi Hyden and Ramus Rheel would be mortal enemies if their lives and fates weren't so closely entwined. But now the unlikely pair are brought together for what will be their greatest -- and perhaps final -- journey. When a grim wanderer named Ten arrives with an ancient parchment he claims to have brought back from the Divide, its arcane glyphs hint at the existence of a realm most consider a myth... and at something amazing sleeping there.

Accompanied by the warrior Beko and his band of armed Serians, Nomi and Ramus set out to discover the truth behind the legends. But soon ambition drives them apart, this epic Voyage becomes a race... and each Voyager is faced with a choice that may alter the history of Noreela forever.


Chapter One

RAMUS RHEEL HATED the moment between sleeping and waking. It was a strange place, haunted by recent dreams and the ghosts of those long since passed, and he loathed it even more when one of the fading dreams was a good one. This latest had been about a voyage, though one he had not yet made. Dreams about voyages he had made were more usually nightmares.

He sat up and held his head as the dizziness filtered away and real life forced itself in. He was forty-four years old. He could recall a dream he'd had when he was six--sailing west from the shores of Noreela and finding the edge of the world--but he had already forgotten the one he'd just had. He wondered whether this was peculiar to him.

Yet what had woken him? It was not yet dawn, and the streets were quiet. A dog whimpered somewhere and surreptitious footsteps echoed, but Long Marrakash was still largely asleep. And so should he be, if he knew what was best for him.

Something banged in the room next door. It was the main room in his home and contained the only door onto the street.

He froze, listening hard. Another knock, wood against wood. That was my chair being nudged into the table, Ramus thought. He stood quickly, wincing as his knees popped, and reached back across his bed. He kept his leather weapon roll on a shelf above where he slept, but it had not been used for a while. He grabbed one trailing strap, pulled, and the roll unraveled onto the bed.

Something scraped across the floor, and he heard a muttered curse.

Ramus's heart was thumping. He'd had occasion to fight several times on his voyages, but he had never thought himself a fighting man. He had no grace of movement and his reaction speed was slow, and he had scars that bore testament to that.

He drew a short knife from the roll and knelt beside the bed, losing himself in deeper shadows.

"Ramus?" The voice was low and uncertain.

Ramus half stood, then thought better of it. Just because they know my name doesn't mean they're here for anything good.

"Ramus, are you--?" Whoever had broken into his home tripped as they reached for his sleeproom door. They grunted, fell into the door and knocked it open.

Ramus pressed his knife to the invader's throat.

"Ramus, by all the gods, it's me!"

"Nomi?" Ramus fell back and dropped his knife, appalled. Was I really going to slice her throat? Maybe, maybe not. Like his dreams, his true intentions already seemed to be fading away, and for that he was glad.

"I think I've broken my wrist."

"You scared the shit out of me, Nomi!"

"Can we have some light in here? I need to see if the bone's sticking out."

"If the bone were sticking out you'd be doing more than whimpering about it." Ramus stood and went to the window. He drew the curtain aside to let in death-moonlight, its pale yellow glow revealing more of the room's shape and depth.

Nomi was still sitting on the floor by the open door, nursing her left arm. "Don't you have a lamp?"

"Running low on oil."

"I'll give you some money for oil, Ramus."

Ramus sparked his lamp and turned it up. He sheathed the knife and retied the weapon roll. Nomi mumbled something and Ramus looked at the back of her head. She seemed bedraggled and flustered, which was rare for her. Not good for her image.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Came to see you." Nomi held her hand up, flexed her fingers and sighed, seemingly happy that her wrist was not shattered.

"I doubt it'll even bruise," Ramus said. "Nomi, it's obvious that you've come to see me. But why break in? And why sneak around in my rooms like a thief?"

She stood and brushed herself down, smiling contritely. "I suppose I look like a fool. But I came to tell you something. Ask you something." She sighed, sitting on the bed and brushing loose hair back from her face.

"Spit it out," Ramus said. Nomi had been to his home a hundred times before, but this was the first time she had been in his sleep-room. It made him uncomfortable.

"I'm not thinking straight," she said. "Give me a beat. Something like this doesn't happen every night."

"You got humped!" Ramus said, mock-elated. He threw his hands in the air and reached for a bottle of wine on a shelf.

"Ramus, this is important!"

He popped the cork with his teeth and sat on a chair. "Fine," he said, taking a swig of wine. It was good--a gift from Nomi following her latest importation of Ventgorian grapes--but the first taste always made him cringe. He offered her the bottle and she accepted, taking a long draught herself. "So tell me."

"I met someone," she said. "Last night, just before midnight in the First Heart Wine Rooms. He looked exhausted, like he'd been walking forever. I knew he was a wanderer--there was a distance in his eyes, as though he'd seen things no one else could imagine. He looked around, then approached the bar and asked if they had root wine."

"So, a wanderer ordered a drink. Are you going to get to the point?"

"Ramus, you have to meet him!" She stood and paced the small room, nervous and excited. "I've arranged to meet for breakfast, down by the river. He has something he wants to sell, and I think we need to buy."

" 'We'? You know I don't have two pieces to rub together."

Nomi waved at the air and shook her head, as though impatient. "No, no, I'll pay. But you and I need to enter into this together."

"Enter into what?"

"An agreement." She sat again, never taking her eyes from Ramus. I could get lost in that gaze, he thought. He shoved the notion aside. He and Nomi had met ten years ago, and they were the most friendly enemies he had ever known. Competitors, jealous Voyagers, and so dissimilar that he sometimes wondered how they even spoke the same language. Yet he harbored emotions for her, keeping them so deep that even he was not certain of them, and sometimes he saw confused thoughts in her eyes. But he feared that they were merely reflections of his own.

"You're a mess," he said. "Look at you. Your trousers don't even match your jacket."

"I got dressed quickly. Went home, couldn't sleep, then knew I had to come to see you."

"Why? What has this wanderer got?"

Nomi's eyes burned, her cheeks flushed and her lips pursed. A smile spread across her face. "I won't tell you," she said at last, the words bursting from her. "But we need to agree--"

"Nothing, until I know what this is all about. How much money is involved?"

She shook her head and swigged from the wine bottle again. "That's not important."

Ramus pretended to collapse against the wall. "Now you truly have me worried!"

"You'll see." She stood and clunked the bottle back onto its shelf. "You'll see, Ramus. Meet me at Naru May's for breakfast. You must hear what this wanderer has to say, and see what he has to show."

"I do?"

"If you want to change your life, yes." She glanced around the room, and for a second Ramus hated her; the look of disgust was bad enough, but the vague contempt in her voice was cutting.

Nomi left without another word, and Ramus was glad to see her go.

RAMUS HAD NEVER thought of Nomi Hyden as a real Voyager. To him voyaging was a way of life, not a means to an end, and the wealth Nomi had gathered during and after her two voyages to Ventgoria had bought off whatever spirit she'd had to begin with. She was rich in coin but poor in heart, and that had always been a barrier between them. Ramus had little but knew much, and he strove to know more.

It had been over a year since he returned from his last voyage, bringing back maps, charts, plant samples, three books and a collection of myths from the Widow in the mountains. The mountains had no name, and neither did the woman, but she claimed to be adept at magichala--rich in the knowledge of the plants, animals and seasons of her land--and he was beginning to believe her claim. He had made three voyages into her mountains, and each time she showed him more.

He craved to go farther. He had voyaged across the north of Noreela: the Cantrassan coast, the Pengulfin Woods, two sea journeys out to some of the unnamed islands of The Spine. And though his real vision took him elsewhere--past the mountains, past the Pavissia Steppes and into the uncharted areas to the south--he had no money to hire Serians to guard his way, and the Guild of Voyagers would not aid him. Most of them thought he was a minor Voyager given to mad dreams.

But he wanted to be the best.

And because he was filled with thwarted desires, Nomi angered him. Her money could take her anywhere, yet she had only ever been to Ventgoria: the first time, he still believed, with a true sense of discovery; the second, simply to establish a continuing exportation of finest Ventgorian fruits, which now flavored the wine that had made her name. She lived well on the proceeds.

Yet now, this. He was intrigued. He would not be able to sleep again that night, so he made himself some red root tea, took out some books--his own treasures--and began to read.

IT WAS A mile down to the river. Ramus gave himself plenty of time.

He always enjoyed watching the city come awake. As the sun peered around the shoulders of the mountains to the east it seemed to cast life upon Long Marrakash, sending away the night things--and there were some, though most people did their best to ignore them--and giving the city back to the day. There was always a sense of enthusiasm about daybreak. Most people attributed this to the potential in the time to come, though some claimed it was thanks for the days gone by. A few, if questioned in one of the Wine Rooms after a few cups of root wine, would claim that it was gratitude for surviving the night.

She came to me in the night, he thought. That troubled him. Whatever it is that's excited her, she came through the dangerous dark to invite me down here. There were night blights that lived in shadows, and grew and shrank with them. There were the Stalkers, who slept by the day and made the darkness their time; normal people with abnormal desires, though many sought to make monsters of them. And there were other things: the wraiths of those long gone, and truer shadows that had a semblance of life. Long Marrakash was the heart of Marrakash, and Marrakash was the heart of Noreela, yet even here people vanished into the darkness and were never seen again.

But day was good, and dawn was the hour of worship, especially for those who worshipped commerce: traders and dealers rushing this way and that to reach their shops; Cantrassan street vendors shouting at their slaves as they pushed loaded wagons to market; egg sellers shrilling at their flocks as they wheeled extravagant perches through the crowds; wholesalers flitting from one shop to another as they muttered orders under their breath; and people sitting along the streets taking breakfast before a full day of buying and selling, trading and dealing, loaning and hiring.

There were also those who chose to give dawn's hour to their own particular gods. Ramus passed by several groups chanting and running their fingers over runes carved into the foundations of ancient buildings. Some claimed to understand what the runes meant, but Ramus knew that they were all but unreadable, the forgotten language of a vanished civilization. Perhaps if the giant stones had been brought here in order and assembled in the correct sequence, they may have retained their meaning. But all across Long Marrakash, similar blocks were incorporated into buildings upside down and back to front. Most were badly weathered, and Ramus could not help looking down on those who worshipped them. The runes were the history of a long-dead people, their story spread across the city like crumbs from broken bread. Paying homage to such a tale was like worshipping dust.

Others crowded into temples built to the moon gods, or gathered around shamans in the street. Some of these shamans could read, and they held books as examples of their power. A few used such knowledge to twist the histories they read, telling stories to give themselves honored backgrounds or imaginary ancestors, and Ramus despised such perversions of knowledge. But he reserved greater hatred for those taken in by it.

Halfway to the river he passed a relatively new building--perhaps only five generations old--that housed a shrine to the Sleeping Gods. It was a simple stone structure without windows, a variety of symbols carved on the outside, a glow emanating through the door from the hundreds of candles burning inside, and once again Ramus felt its draw. I have my own beliefs, he would tell himself and anyone interested enough to listen. The god of knowledge and the power of the land. Nobody tells me what to think.

Still, sometimes he considered going inside. The Sleeping Gods had long been a fascination for the Voyagers, ever since the first Voyager, Sordon Perlenni, had set out to discover their legend one hundred and forty-three years before. He had returned again and again, from different parts of Noreela, but all he had ever brought back were more scraps of campfire myth. Some said those benevolent gods were Noreela's first, its founders and shapers, and that they had gone down to sleep--and left Noreela open and available--when the humans arrived.

Perlenni had vanished over a century before, and some believed he had found what he was seeking. Others suspected he had simply been swallowed into the distant parts of Noreela like so many Voyagers since.

A distant bell rang, and Ramus realized he would be late for his meeting with Nomi.

NARU MAY'S WAS an expensive eatery built on a heavy timber deck over the River Kash, and Ramus only ever ate here with Nomi. He much preferred the food from street vendors back in The Heights--it was fresher, cooked better and a tenth of the price--but the valley was where the wealth congregated. He didn't mind venturing down here on occasion, so long as Nomi paid.

He paused a hundred steps from the wooden bridge leading out to the deck, taking in the scenery.

The riverside was bustling. Fishing sloops bobbed on the waves, nets cast, and a few had already off-loaded their morning's catch. The scent of fresh fish filled the air, and impromptu auctions had started.

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Lebbon


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