Every day (except Wednesday and Thursday, our days off) I get in my little blue pick-up truck, pull out of the driveway, and turn from our street onto a winding mountain pass called Six Mile Canyon. On each side are towering rock formations. One looks like two apes crouched on their hands, shouting down into the road. Another looks like an old man’s open-mouthed face. There is a solitary mountain rising up out of the right side of the road; there are the collapsing walls of an old mill beneath it, running up the spine plates like the back of a stegosaurus, and looking down from the top of the pass it is easy to see the lizard lying all the way across its crest, lazing in the sun.
We live in Al–Akbah, the market at the base of the canyon, renamed Six Sheep Gap and given a good ghost story to explain why. The road itself is the inspiration for The Peaceful, Brave, and Just: again and again I see smashed creatures on it, rabbits and squirrels, even snakes and tarantulas. We built the road, but the creatures were here first, and they run across it all day long, trying to get to the other side. What would happen, I thought, if it was deadly for everyone to touch the roads, and they split the world? That is how the novels were born.
At the top of the mountain lies Virginia City. It was here that the miners withdrew the silver ore that built San Francisco and supplied the Union with ready cash during the Civil War. There are names like the Comstock Mine, the Yellow Jacket Mine, Ophir Mine, Blue Jacket Mine, Scorpion Mine, Monte Cristo Mine. Their tunnels riddle the hills, thousands of feet deep, square timbered, filled in with slag rock and rusted ore carts. Do you think anyone has any idea where all those mines and their branches are anymore? And there’s a city built on top of the whole deal. Kat Prim told me a story one day: she went to school in Virginia City, and there was a rock by the building where they used to go smoke. Then one day they went to the smoking rock and it wasn’t there anymore–it had fallen through the earth and plummeted who knows how far down into the darkness.
What if I put a fortress up there, I thought, on the hill like the Fourth Ward School, and put a giant burning wheel on the side of Mount Davidson, in place of the red “V” for Virginia City, and then filled up the rest of the town with water? What if I put everything underground, in a maze of tunnels that only a few have the courage to explore, and then hide the knowledge of the pallbearers there, in a magic room powered by underground springs, like the hot water Sutro had to pump out from under the town to keep the miners digging deeper?
That’s how Arlat was born. Now, when I drive to work, I see my fantasy world every day.