The Redemption of Erâth: Book 2, Chapter 25

Chapter 25: The Eternal Snows

 

It was soon spring among the Hochträe, and Elven would not delay his leaving any longer. This was not to say that the snows were gone, for they were not; so high in the mountains, the Hochträe’s villages would not be free of ice until well into what would elsewhere be summer. But this did not perturb Elven, for he was anxious to be on his way, and as long as the worst of the storms had abated, he would be fine, he said.

Despite himself, Brandyé did not doubt Elven’s resilience; he knew his friend was strong, and with the aid of the Hochträe he was soon well-prepared, with warm clothing and food to last weeks. The hardest part of his journey, they said, would be the first week, where he would have to contend with valleys of deep snow and lakes of ice, cut through with bottomless crevasses; after that, he would find himself in places where the snow had already melted, and the grass grew green.

Here he would once more be under the clouds, though, they warned, and although they knew not of any creatures of Darkness that dwelt along his proposed path, the dangers of the dark world would nonetheless be present. It was this, more than anything, that gave Brandyé cause for worry, for although he knew Elven was well-trained and strong, he did not have the same sense of Darkness that Brandyé did, and he worried that fierundé or other dreadful creatures might come upon him unawares.

“I still have Kayla’s bow, and her Illuèn arrows,” Elven said when Brandyé spoke to him of his concerns. “And Sonora will keep me alerted of danger.”

Something Brandyé did not speak to Elven of, nor even to Nisha, was his dream. It had frightened him in a way even his disturbing dreams of the past had not. It was not the unsettling premonition of death, for it was hardly the first time he had dreamt of such things. In fact, the absence of figures such as Schaera might have reassured him, except for the sensation that what he had encountered was beyond the realm of of the powers of Erâth, and that it represented a very real danger somewhere in his future. In the past, Death had arrived to rescue him from destruction; this time, there was no such salvation.

For the first time in his life, in fact, it gave him cause to consider his own mortality. At twenty-four, he was still young, and while he had never consciously considered himself above death, nor had he ever truly contemplated its reality. Even when he had been scratching at the earth for bugs to eat by the Black Sea, or in the darkest pits of Abula Kharta’s dungeons, he had never truly believed he might die. In part, he thought, it was Elỳn’s parting words to him, from a dream long-past: You will live, and you will be strong.

In part, though, he came to realize that his youth had blinded him to death’s reality. Despite having witnessed more death in his life than he could ever have wished for, he had always failed to recognize his own frailty, and how easily his own life-force could be snuffed.

And now he was setting out to seek a weapon whose very purpose was the extinguishing of all life in Erâth. He wondered that the voice’s words from his dream were perhaps entirely valid: That answer is not for you to know. To find Namrâth is to find your death. What did the voice know? He feared that he might only too soon find out. And would that discovery claim his life?

He knew why he did not want to broach this subject with Elven; he was afraid it would only lead to further argument, with Elven insisting that the dream was evidence that Brandyé was not meant to go forth on his own, and should return to Vira Weitor with him. He would not risk another argument with his friend, for the time of their parting was drawing rapidly near, and he would have as peaceful a time with him as he could.

But why he was reluctant to speak of it with Nisha was a mystery, for certainly the old man ought to have some wisdom to share with him on its meaning. He felt a vague anxiety when he considered the topic, and wondered if he was afraid of what Nisha would say. For all his stories and wisdom, Nisha was often practical, and his advice was at times less than comforting.

In the end he decided it was merely a personal subject, and dwelt on it in private, the voice’s rumblings filling his ears and the flame filling his sight behind closed doors late at night, when the moon cast brilliant shadows on the floor. He wondered at times if he might not return to that place in his sleep, but for the rest of his time with the Hochträe his rest remained deep and uninterrupted.

When the skies had remained clear for two weeks and crocuses began to peek through the melting snow, Nisha said it was finally time to leave, and early in the morning they left the warm comfort of their dwellings and assembled at the dock of an airship, though it was much smaller than the one that had borne them hither. The balloon that rose above them was large indeed, though it would have bee dwarfed by that of the great ship, which was away on some errand or another. Instead of a vast boat hung what seemed more like a great basket, woven from strong branches and suspended from the balloon by thick cord. It still held a cauldron of hot coals, and Brandyé understood the heat from this somehow kept them aloft.

To him, these flying baskets were miraculous, and since his time among the Hochträe he had but seen them float past, and never had ridden in one (he did not count that which had brought him there, for he had been unconscious). They were to use this one to take them to the village in the valley below, from where Elven would set out; it was faster and safer than the snow-covered path that wound down the mountainside from the Hinari’s homes. Sonora perched on the edge of the basket as they set out, and seemed to think it curious to be flying without using her own wings.

For an hour they drifted onward and down, the cauldron of coals mostly covered so that their weight pulled against the lift of the balloon’s temperate air. During this time Brandyé could but stare out in wonder at the passing mountain rock and snow, and was distracted from the fact that in only a short few minutes he would be saying farewell once more to his life-long friend.

But before long, he began to spy curious black specks against the white snow, dots of ink against the mountain’s paper that seemed almost to be moving of their own accord. He turned to Nisha and said, “What are those objects on the mountainside?” and pointed to them.

Elven followed his finger. “I see nothing,” he said. “Merely shadows.”

“Perhaps they are goats?” suggested Nisha.

But Brandyé looked to the sky, and saw there were no clouds. He could see the shadow of their own balloon against the mountainside, in fact, and these shapes did not line up to any rocks he could see. He continued to watch them, and became uneasy. As they continued to drift lower, the shapes became ever so slowly more resolved, until he could discern them certainly as moving beasts, prowling slowly across the snow. For a while he could not tell their provenance, though they seemed to be moving as a herd, in the direction of the village.

And then, without warning, one of the creatures lifted a head and although the distance was far too great for Brandyé to make out the beast’s features, he nonetheless caught a glimpse of crimson and terror fell upon him like a lead weight. He felt a tightness in his throat, and whispered, “They’re not goats!”

“Moti kuiriko![ Bring us lower!]” Nisha called to the navigator, who in response closed the coals over completely, and the balloon began to plummet. Closer they came to the beasts, and soon Brandyé’s fears were confirmed, and they saw collectively a pack of fierundé making their way stealthily toward the Hochträe’s village. At their pace, Brandyé estimated they would be upon the unsuspecting people in less than ten minutes.

“We must stop them!” he said to Nisha.

Nisha nodded. “Yes; they try to harm you.” His voice was calm.

At these words, Brandyé turned to him, perplexed. “What about your people?”

But Nisha merely raised his eyebrows. “We are safe – they are of Darkness.”

For the first time Brandyé though Nisha was being utterly foolish. “The fierundé don’t care who they slaughter!”

Yet Nisha was placidly adamant: “The Duithèn do not for us, and so we are safe. You are not.”

“I can sight them!” cried Elven. “We are close enough!” And he slung his bow from his back, and began to dig into his back for the bundle of Illuèn arrows that he had ever carried with him.

But apparently Nisha’s order had not merely been to bring them within bow range of the beasts, for they continued to descend, and within moments they were merely feet over their heads. “What are you doing?” cried Brandyé.

And then they had settled upon the snow, the basket making a great trace as it was dragged along by the balloon’s momentum until their navigator flung out a thick pike to which was tied a rope, and they were in an instant anchored to the ground. They had set down in the very midst of the pack of fierundé, and Brandyé was too terrified to speak.

Elven, on the other hand, had finally found his arrows, but just as he was about to bring his bow up to aim, Nisha put a hand on his arm and pushed it down again. “Do not harm them,” he said softly, and stepped from the basket lightly into the snow.

Eyes wide, Brandyé watched as the old man approached the nearest beast, who took a step forward, baring its teeth and growling low in its throat. And then, to his astonishment Nisha held out a hand to the beast, and said, “Vû vèraé na vèra yèt. Yin mèn vèraé na tin. Vayé na tin. Teruthaé Duithèn.”

Brandyé could not understand his words, but knew that Nisha was not speaking his own tongue, but that of the ancients. For a long moment, the fierund seemed to consider his words, and even sat back slightly on its haunches. “What is he doing?” Brandyé whispered to the navigator.

“He calms the beast,” the man said. “They leave.”

But the remainder of the fierundé seemed less than calm, and were slowly circling the balloon; to Brandyé’s eye, they seemed poised to strike.

“Goèd,” Nisha said. “Ruthaé, è gitaé.”

But then the beast looked away from Nisha, and for the briefest of moments Brandyé felt its gaze settle directly upon him. His body froze, and as they crimson eyes stared into him he stared back, and then almost without looking, the fierund raised an enormous, clawed paw and in the blink of an eye crushed Nisha into the ground.

“No!” Brandyé screamed, and in a heartbeat Elven had loosed a glowing arrow upon the demon, and it struck it clean between the eyes. As the fierund fell, Brandyé leapt from the basket himself, dashing across the snow toward Nisha’s fallen form. The snow was powdered and deep, and it seemed to him that he was trudging through a bog as he waded toward the old man. In the meantime, the remainder of the fierundé were howling furiously, and only Elven’s lightning-quick bow was keeping them at bay. They understood, it seemed, that his arrows were not ordinary arrows, and they retreated to a distance at which Elven could less easily score a direct hit, but did not leave.

This gave Brandyé the time he needed, however, to grasp Nisha’s inert form, turn him over, and discover both blood and breath. “He’s not dead!” he cried out, and began to haul with all his might upon Nisha’s body, pulling him back toward the balloon. When he reached it Elven and the navigator helped to pull them both aboard, and in an instant the navigator had opened the coal chamber and they were lifting once more, the fierundé leaping and howling after them.

To his credit, the navigator held them steady, and despite his fear, kept them low to the ground and speeding on their way toward the village.

“Why don’t we return to the Hinari?” Brandyé called to him desperately.

“No healer,” the man said brokenly. “In village, healer.” And Brandyé understood that Nisha was the healer for the Hinari.

In the meantime, Elven had dropped his bow and arrows, and knelt beside Nisha. He had one hand on the old man’s wrist, and the other cupping his face, his eyes searching his body for the source of the blood. “His pulse his strong,” he said, “and it seems the claws missed his arteries.” He looked up at Brandyé. “He is beyond lucky – not only alive, but well. He will heal swiftly.”

“If the fierundé don’t return to finish their job,” Brandyé muttered bitterly. “What was he thinking?”

“Never, this happens,” the navigator said to them. “At peace, we are.”

“No longer,” Brandyé said. “Your peace is gone.”

Before long, they were touching down once more in a snow-filled field outside the Hochträe’s village. At their sighting, many villagers had come to welcome them, and at the news of Nisha’s injury many more arrived as well. Soon Nisha was in the comfort of a healer’s home, and Brandyé and Elven were forbidden from seeing him until he was awake, and speaking.

“What will you do now?” Brandyé asked Elven as they walked slowly through the village. Folk would stare after them often, but Brandyé ignored it.

Elven sighed. “As unfortunate as it is, there is little I can do for Nisha here. He’s in good hands. I must still look to myself.” He turned to look at Brandyé. “As must you.”

“It isn’t safe to go out there into the mountains now!” protested Brandyé.

“It was never safe,” Elven replied, shaking his head. “Whether we see the fierundé or not doesn’t change that they’re there.”

“You won’t reconsider?”

“Will you?” Elven looked at him intently.

And so it dawned on Brandyé the conviction of his friend, that he under any circumstances must return to Erârün, even to the point of risking his life at the claws of the fierundé. And he knew that, in spite of all that had occurred since he had first been reunited with his friend, he could not go with him.

Later, in the evening, they were approached and informed that Nisha was awake, and they hastened to his bedside to speak with him.

“Most strange, this is,” Nisha said to them weakly when they asked after his condition. “I am well, of course, but never am I attacked by them.”

“You’ve met with them before?” Brandyé asked incredulously.

“We avoid them,” Nisha said, “but sometimes this cannot be done. We leave the creatures of Darkness, and they leave us.”

“You should be dead!” exclaimed Elven.

“I am old,” Nisha dismissed him. “No great loss, if I am dead. Learn something, we do.”

“We’ve learned you’re a fool!”

But Brandyé held out a hand to silence Elven. “No, wait – he’s right. He’s saying that they’ve never been attacked by the fierundé before. That they’ve even come across them, and been left in peace. Something is changed!”

“Something is new,” agreed Nisha. “Darkness is rising. The Duithèn become bolder.”

“The fierund attacked after it saw me,” Brandyé said. “It’s me they’re after.”

Elven shook his head. “Nonsense. We’ve seen them attack wantonly. Perhaps it didn’t like how you looked upon it, but it would have struck Nisha all the same.”

“There is risk in the air, now,” Nisha said. “Darkness may come to the Naiya once more; are we ready for it?”

“I would stay and help,” Elven said, “but I still feel my calling is elsewhere.”

Nisha laughed a little. “So it is, young man, so it is! You are not to stay here, no. But you do not leave on your own, either.”

Brandyé shook his head. “I’m not going, Nisha.”

“No, you are not! But we are.”

Both Elven and Brandyé looked at him, confused.

“They tell me you are skilled with a bow,” Nisha said to Elven. “But one bow may not hold back ten enemies at once. We help you with your journey to Erârün. Long it is, since we see the plains. Perhaps it is time to visit our cousins to the south.”

And so, not more than three days after their escape from the fierundé in the balloon, it was finally time for Elven to leave, accompanied this time by a dozen of the Hochträe – some Hinari, some mere villagers. There were donkeys and mules also, and together they were quite a band of folk, well-prepared for the long journey ahead of them. To see his friend so ready to go, so certain of his path, brought tears to Brandyé’s eyes, and he could not find the words to say.

“We will see each other again,” Elven said instead, his own voice choked, as he embraced Brandyé for one final time. “I knew this when we parted the first time, and I know it still now.”

Returning the embrace as hard as he could, Brandyé could but sob gently. Eventually, Elven pulled away, and took Brandyé’s face in his hands. “Do you remember that word you taught me once – Reuel’s word?”

Brandyé nodded gently.

“It is what I feel for Talya, but more so it is what I feel for you. My life is incomplete without you, Brandyé; I ask you one last time, will you not return with me?”

Brandyé’s tears fell down his cheeks and over Elven’s fingers. “I…I can’t. I had a dream, Elven; it spoke to me of things to come. I will not find those things in Erârün.”

“How do you know?”

But Brandyé could only shake his head. “Bear my best to Talya, Elven. And I hope…” he sniffed. “I hope that you will find greatness in your journey. You deserve it.”

“And I hope you find peace,” Elven returned. “You deserve it also.”

And there were no more words to be said, and after an eternity Elven released Brandyé, and after a few backward steps turned, and walked away.

For the remainder of the day Brandyé spent his time in solitude, wandering the outskirts of the village in the snow and weeping, the tears freezing often to his eyelids. He wondered if it behove him to spend so much of his time in tears, but he had truly believed that when he and Elven had been reunited it would be for the remainder of their lives. To be now so torn apart was more than his heart could bear.

Yet he knew, felt it more truthfully than anything he had ever known, that his destiny, his fate, was to find Namrâth. Whether to use it or destroy it he did not know, but he knew that he had to find the blade before the Duithèn did, or the world as he knew it would be ended. Even here, among a people who had for centuries upon centuries shunned Darkness and been left to their own devices for it, were now subject to the fear of the Duithèn’s creatures. If the fierundé would attack one such as Nisha, they would attack anyone, and anything.

As the day wore on and he became cold and tired, he began to realize that the Hochträe must see he and Elven as important figures, or they would not have spent their own resources in sending a force with Elven on his way south to the kingdom of Erârün. He did not know how frequently they had visitors from outside their land, but he suspected it was not often. As such, he began to become afraid that Nisha would insist on sending a force with him also, in his journey north, and that was a thing he knew he could not allow.

Later that evening, when the sun had set and the sky was lit with stars, he sat in the home where Nisha lay still, the walls flickering with firelight and the glorious scent of curries and smoke mixing in the air, and knew in his heart that this was the last time he would see this old man. For a while he stayed by his side and they spoke of trivialities, but eventually Brandyé could not keep his tongue any longer, and asked, “Nisha…what is to the north? What will I find?”

“You are going, then,” the old man sighed.

“I must.”

“It is a dangerous road. There is no road, in fact; you are on nothing but mountain.”

“I am going to set out tomorrow,” Brandyé told him. “Where should I start?”

“Take the valley to the north,” Nisha replied. “It leads to a pass under Kashahi, and from there, to the Yukaino – the Eternal Snows.”

“How far must I travel?”

“I do not know,” Nisha shook his head. “There comes a place where we no longer call the mountains Dragoshi, and they become very unknown. But the Yukaino stretch for many miles, under sun and cloud. A hundred miles? Two hundred?”

“What will I need?”

Nisha curled a lip in a smile. “Our help, I think?”

Brandyé looked down and away. This was what he had been afraid of. “I can’t accept it,” he said. “I would bring many others to their destruction.”

“You bring yourself to yours,” Nisha pointed out. “Why not take protection that offers itself?”

But Brandyé was insistent, and eventually Nisha sighed. “Tomorrow, we discuss. Now is time for sleep. Kesi kasha!” he called out to the attendant in the room, and the fire was soon snuffed, and they were left in quiet darkness.

But Brandyé could not sleep. He knew that if he waited until the morning, Nisha would begin once more to insist that he be accompanied by his own people. Might even force it upon him. He saw in his mind the blood of dozens on the snow, fierundé prowling triumphantly; he saw the dangers of rock and snow claiming lives. More than anything, he saw the cave and the fire, and knew that he could not risk any other’s life in his endeavor.

And so it was that Brandyé quietly left the house that night, taking soft steps through the moonlit snow, and never returned. He stole some bread, wrapped himself in two cloaks and set out in the dark, and by the time the first light of morning began to creep into the valley from the east, he was far into the north valley, nearing the top of the pass that Nisha had spoken of.

The going was difficult, pushing himself step by step through the deep snow, and he soon discovered that as the sun warmed the snow it became soft, and slowed his progress all the more. He began to make his way along the edges of the mountains then, rather than in the depths of the valleys, where the shade kept the snow and ice hard.

He had also stolen a pair of thick woolen gloves, and of these he was most grateful. The rock and ice were dreadfully cold, and once he made the mistake of touching the stone with his bare hand, and left skin behind when he pulled away. The cloaks performed well in keeping his body warmed, and he was soon sweating with effort and exhaustion.

By noontime, however, he had crested the pass, and looking out to the great ranges of mountains beyond, he felt a great sense of peace and beauty come over him. As far as he could see were endless hills and peaks of snow, filled between with vast glaciers and seas of ice, the sun glinting here and there off all of it. It seemed that not a soul had ever been here, and as he took his first step down the opposite side of the col, he thought that the tracks he was leaving were indeed marring the serene perfection of the place. It never occurred to him that those same tracks would make it easy for another to follow him.

By the end of that first day, he estimated he had travelled at least five miles, though if that were the case then by Nisha’s reckoning it would be nearly a month before he saw the end of the Eternal Snows. He sheltered in a tiny cave made by the falling of rocks, and that night he came to realize just how dire his predicament might become. There was no wood and so no fire, and as the air dropped steadily to freezing and below, he began to shiver and the dread came over him that he might very well freeze to death long before seeing grass or earth again.

The cave kept him sheltered from the wind, however, and come the morning he was dreadfully cold but whole and well, and so he continued onward, passing that day onto an enormous glacier. He soon realized the mistake in this as well, for there was here no shelter from the sun, and in its burning reflection off the snow began to cause him to become dizzy, and he realized that in the midst of ice and snow, he could just as easily succumb to heat.

He rested that day in the middle of the glacier, hoods pulled low over his face and eyes closed, and when he awoke at first was unsure if he was looking at snow or sky, so similar had it all become. Only with the reddening of the sky as the sun set did he come to his senses, and set out to pass off the glacier and into the shade of the mountains around it even as the sun sunk and the moon rose.

In fact, he spent the rest of that evening moving, and did not stop for rest again until the morning. The dim, blue light of the moon he found helped him see better, though the shadows were black and motions were blurred, and he decided that it would be better to move by night and rest by day, for fear of the sun’s burning him to death. This helped also with the cold, as he found that by continuing to move, he did not feel it quite so much.

After some days, however, a new fear sunk in, for he realized that the cold was not the only thing he could not feel. He made this revelation one day when, climbing the stone of a short cliff, he dislodged a large rock which fell and bounced hard off his foot. Startled at the lack of sensation, he paused for a moment on a steep patch of gravel and removed his boot.

He was shocked to find his toes as white as the snow around him, a deep cut in his foot that was hardly bleeding at all. He reached out to touch his frozen foot, and found he could feel no sensation at all. Frightened, he took off his other boot as well, terrified to think what might have happened to his body without his knowing it.

Luckily the other foot was in slightly better condition, though he still felt very little when he rubbed his gloved hands against his toes. Quickly, he put his socks and boots on again. As he handled the socks, he realized he could feel ice crystals in the wool. He looked around him, wondering if there was anywhere that would provide enough warmth to warm him, and saw only more rock and snow.

He began moving again, slower this time for fear of injuring his foot yet further, even though he could not feel it; after a great time, he reached the top of the cliff, and looked out on what was beyond: nothing, but more snow. Despair began to creep upon him, and he wondered just how smart he had been to leave in the middle of the night, alone.

Another day came and went, and it seemed to him almost that he was revisiting the same landscapes over and over again, for white became white, and rock became rock, and nothing ever changed. He recalled the strangeness of the forests of the Trestaé and how he had returned upon the same stream three times in a row, and wondered if the same was happening again here.

And then, to worsen matters, the weather turned. It happened slowly, so that he at first did not notice the lessening of the sun, but soon the sky was cloaked in gray, and the wind grew bitter and chill. Before long the first flakes of snow began to fall, and he knew he must find true shelter before long or he would die.

But time went on and he began to grow faint, and there was no sign of a cave or crevasse, or anything that might protect him from the devouring elements. Finally, in desperation as he was wading against the wind up a steep bank of snow, he collapsed to his knees, and felt the wind lessen. Struck by this, he dug out a small hole, and found that the deeper he went, the more protected he felt.

And so he dug a bivouac, and crawled inside, and in the pale gloom of the snow cave, he fell asleep. For hours he remained motionless, and could have been mistaken for dead. But his life was not spent yet, and in the night he awoke in a panic, hitting his head on the low ceiling of his snow cave and causing a flurry of flakes to fall upon his head. He could see nothing at all, except for strange lights that danced across his vision all the same whether his eyes were closed or open. The weight of his solitude bore down upon him, and he began once more to weep.

It was not long before his tears had frozen his eyelids shut, though in the dark he hardly noticed. For a while he drifted once more in and out of sleep, and visions of Dragons, Darkness and Death flooded his waking thoughts.

Eventually the day came, though it was a miserable one, and to Brandyé’s horror he found he still could not see, even after having cleared his eyes and opened them. Instead of a solid black he saw nothing but dull gray, could not even see his own hand held out before his face. He had to touch his own eyes to convince himself they were open.

His hearing, though, was still apt, and he could hear the wind continue to howl outside the tiny, cramped cave. He shuddered, and imagined he heard the howling of fierundé in the distance. He could hear his own breathing, shallow and rapid. He could hear the creak of snow around him as he moved and shifted, becoming colder by the hour.

And finally, after an hour or a day, madness began to take him, and he found himself digging futilely at the snow beneath or above him, or shaking his head to and fro without reason, or talking words that were meaningless to his own ears. In amongst it all, he thought he began to hear his own name being called out, as though someone were searching for him over the wind. Folly, he thought – no one would have followed him here.

But the sensation of being sought after would not leave, and so he finally turned in his cave, and began to crawl mindlessly toward its entrance.

To his dismay, the entrance was not there. Everywhere he touched, he could feel nothing but a wall of snow. Fear, panic, despair…all washed through him with churning stomach and dizzying mind, and he began to flail wildly at the snow, crying out, shouting and cursing. He chose a wall of snow at random and began to dig through it, feeling the closeness of the air and thinking he might suffocate.

By sheer chance, he had chosen to dig in the direction of the free air, though he could not have known it. Within minutes he felt the wind once more on his face, and he cried out in agony and triumph, and realized that even here in the open world he was still blind to all that surrounded him.

It was still blowing, still snowing, and he took one step forward and fell, forgetting the slope that he had dug into. Down, down he tumbled, an avalanche of snow surrounding him, carrying him powerlessly to his unseeable fate. He was dizzy, disorientated, could not tell up from down nor left from right, and by the time he felt he had stopped moving, he realized he could not move himself, for he was trapped and buried in snow.

The air grew cold; the ground grew still. Brandyé’s breath grew short, and he began to whisper in his mind that he was sorry, sorry for all he had done to the world, and that if he was to die, let the world move on in peace without him.

And then, as his mind began to collapse inward upon itself, he thought he could see something far, far in the distance. A tall, black figure approached, and as Brandyé gave in to madness and death, it spoke.

Satis Logo 2014

Thought of the Week: It’s Done

Yesterday, April 27, at about 11:01 PM, I wrote the following words:

 

And then, as his mind began to collapse inward upon itself, he thought he could see something far, far in the distance. A tall, black figure approached, and as Brandyé gave in to madness and death, it spoke.

 

Ironically, they don’t seem all that special to me anymore, although perhaps that’s the exhaustion speaking: these words are the last of the book The Redemption of Erâth: Exile.

What do you think for closing words?

This book was a grueling process, having started in January 2013 and surviving a devastating depression during the winter, but it’s now finally, finally done. Or at least, the first draft is (argh!). Whereas The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation was written in a period of about six months, Exile has taken almost a year and a half. Part of this is that it’s longer; with 6,000-word chapters I just couldn’t keep to the commitment of writing a chapter a week as I had done with the first book. The grand total?

  • 25 chapters
  • 476 pages
  • 143,900 words
  • 3 fictional languages
  • several dozen named characters
  • 1 nearly-broken mind

I had a goal of 5,000 words per chapter, and the vast majority eclipse that greatly, with the longest clocking in at 6,863 words. I didn’t intend for it to grow so much – it kind of just happened. It might pose a publishing difficulty; currently my publisher wants The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation to be under 100,000 words; I don’t see how I could possibly cut ⅓ of the entire manuscript for Exile.

In any case, the book is finished for now, and I’m going to be taking a bit of a rest from writing, I think. I will be posting the final chapter momentarily, and if you’d like a brief synopsis, see below.

Thank you all, for your support!

 

Satis 2014

 

~

 

The Redemption of Erâth: Exile

Brandyé finds himself wandering the desolate lands by the black sea, cast out from his home land of Consolation and forbidden to ever return. Haunted by the ghosts of the past, he is at first delighted to discover that there are folk who live out in the wilderness beyond Consolation – until he becomes their slave. For several years he labors under the harsh lordship of the Cosari, finally finding a home with a kinder master.

Before long, the warlike Cosari take Brandyé on a raid of the shore land, where a terrible storm and dreadful events cast him alone upon the shore. Seizing the opportunity, he sets out into the unknown forests – only to find unexpected company, and long-lost friends. Overjoyed to be reunited with his childhood friend, Elven, the two friends set out on a journey through the woods of the Trestaé Mountains, to uncertain destinations.

Along the way they encounter danger and disaster, and are rescued from a fate worse than death by one of the most mysterious forces Brandyé has ever encountered: the Illuèn. A race of Light, they hold a special power over Darkness, a force of Erâth that has been plaguing Brandyé since his childhood. Together with the guidance of one of the ancient race, Elỳn, the two friends set out to discover the kingdom of Erârün: one of the last true kingdoms in the world of Erâth.

They soon find themselves in the ancient and vast city if Vira Weitor, where Brandyé enlists in the army at Elỳn’s behest. This duty takes him to the far northern outskirts of the kingdom, where the Grim Watch patrol their borders and keep the forces of Darkness at bay. During a vicious and unprecedented attack, Brandyé flees with the local villagers, finding his way into the mountains of the Reinkrag, and from their to the mountain-dwelling Hochträe – the last men of light in Erâth. He learns of enlightenment and the denouncement of Darkness, but can he find it in his soul to let go of his past? Unable to rest, he sets forth once more, into the cold and eternal snows of the Reinkrag…

Satis Logo 2014

The Redemption of Erâth: Book 2, Chapter 24

Chapter 24: A Parting of Ways

 

Brandyé and Elven soon discovered the Hochträe, or Naiya, were a generous people, with food, time and stories. They learned that the majority of their population lived in the highest valleys that existed between the peaks of the Reinkrag, which they called the Dragoshi, which meant Dragon’s Teeth. These valleys were often filled with snow except in the warmest summer months, and he came to understand that they lived in harmony with the weather.

In the peaks, though, lived a much smaller number of their people, and this was where they had been taken when they were rescued. Here, amid impossible structures and high towers, lived those who had chosen to renounce the daily struggles of life, and here they spent their days thinking, meditating and, as far as Brandyé could tell, enjoying life.

There was a certain reverence that seemed to be held for these folk, for every so often people from the valleys would ascend to the high places, and when they did they were treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. The high folk, or Hirani, of course returned this respect and invited them into their lives, to partake in their daily routines of meditation, exercise and rest.

So relaxing was the lifestyle here that Brandyé soon found himself quite at home, despite struggling to understand much of their language. Their speech was so different to either his own or even that of the Cosari that he was just as lost in their conversations as he had been when he had first met Khana, but he found that their manner of speaking was rather poetic, and filled with imagery, when they spoke with him in his own tongue. They continued to refer to him as the ‘gray one’, which he found odd, though not in the least offensive, for indeed his gray hair and eyes were certain justification, although he would have preferred to be known simply as Brandyé.

Elven, on the other hand, seemed less than satisfied among the Hochträe, and grew ever more restless as the days and weeks progressed. He sent Sonora with a letter to Talya, and could be found pacing the stairways and platforms of the Hirani’s abode, wringing his hands and muttering to himself for the days it took for Sonora to return with a reply. Once he had read it he seemed to calm somewhat, though Brandyé could nonetheless tell that he was unsettled here.

It was not long, therefore, before a tension began to grow between Brandyé and Elven – one of whom would have been content to spend the rest of his days here, and the other who had no desire but to return. It became such that the two friends spoke less and less to each other, much as they had done amongst the Illuèn. Brandyé was saddened for this, and knew that sooner or later the subject of their future must be broached, but in the meantime he was enjoying his time with Nisha and the others too much to be overly concerned.

Nisha in particular seemed to be seen as a kind of elder master, and was greatly respected even by the other Hirani. Brandyé felt privileged to have been taken into his home and cared for by him, though the others insisted it could have been no other way – Nisha was recognized as the most accomplished healer they had ever known, and Brandyé could not deny that in the few days he had spent with him, the pain in his chest had all but gone, and his coughs were now few and far between. He wondered sometimes what Elven thought of that, but again felt too good in himself to worry overly about it.

Nisha was full of stories, also, and it was from him that Brandyé learned the history of the Hochträe, and why they, among all the peoples of Erâth, seemed uninfluenced by Darkness.

“The Duithèn come to us,” Nisha said, “but we turn from them. No strength they have, we say.” He smiled. “Angry, they are – one other people only, they cannot turn.”

“When was this?” Brandyé asked. He was perplexed that the Hochträe seemed to have no concept of the past – their speech centered always on the present, and occasionally, on the future.

Nisha shook his head gently, his long beard swaying. “I know not. Many thousands of years.”

“Before the War of Darkness,” Brandyé said to himself.

“War, yes,” Nisha said. “There is war, and death…we do not make war.”

Brandyé was intrigued. “Yet you train yourselves in the arts of battle – I see how strong and powerful your people are.”

“Ah – do not mistake strength for war. Many people believe, if they can fight, then they must. We know that, if you can not fight, then you die.”

And so Brandyé learned that the Hochträe were masters of martial arts, yet chose not to use their skills in battle. This fascinated him, and over time, he came to learn some of their skills, though he was never even close to as adept as the masters of their arts, and Nisha was considered a master among masters.

For a while Brandyé pondered Nisha’s words, and something he had said stayed with him. Once evening, as the sun was setting and the stars to the east were beginning to show, he asked him, “You said the Duithèn tried to turn you – and others, as well. One other, you said, they could not turn. What do you mean?”

“You know the strength of the Duithèn,” Nisha said. Brandyé nodded, for he knew it only too well. “You see the low peoples – Erârün, Kiriün – always in cloud. Never happy, always scared; this is the Duithèn. They make the land dark, and so the people are dark. It is their wish to make Erâth dark, from east to west, and north to south. They are almost finished.”

“They are trying to kill the people of Erârün,” Brandyé said.

“They try to kill the light. If men resist the Duithèn, they must die.”

“Then why do they leave you alone?”

“There are things the Duithèn can not do. They can not turn minds that have no Darkness. We try, every day, to live with no Darkness. Some days, better than others.” Nisha chuckled. “Even I am not perfect.”

“But surely they could kill you?”

“Ah – you see, the Duithèn do not wish to kill. They wish to be masters of Erâth, above all other peoples. When they kill, they hope to frighten. And we are not frightened by them.”

“So your people don’t fear death?”

Nisha shrugged. “Death is part of life, like birth. It happens, and man is fool to think he can stop it.”

“You know Death?” Brandyé asked.

“I know the Namirèn,” Nisha replied. “They visit us, sometimes.”

“Death have visited me, also. And Light. Do your people dream?”

“Ah – a powerful word! Inasa-Hinari, we call it – inner light. We dream, sometimes.”

“I saw Death, in a dream. I have seen many things in a dream.”

“You see the answer to your question, I think,” Nisha suggested.

For a moment, Brandyé was confused, having forgotten his original question. Then he recalled, and said, “I have seen the other people the Duithèn could not influence?”

“You know them well, for you ride on the back of the beast.”

For a moment, Brandyé felt the familiar tingle he would get whenever Ermèn said something about him that he had never revealed. He had himself nearly forgotten the images he had had as a child, of soaring high above plains of battle and death, of speeding downward toward his foe, unleashing great jets of flame and heat…

“The dragons,” he breathed.

Nisha nodded. “Drago, indeed, and the Dragomi – Dragon Lords.”

“I thought they were myth.”

“Brandyé,” Nisha chided, “you should know better. Myth is but fact that becomes story. And stories of the Dragomi, we have many. Even your grandfather tells these stories.”

“How do you know so much about me?” Brandyé asked. “Do you know someone called Ermèn?”

But Nisha shook his head. “I am afraid I do not. You reveal much of yourself, Brandyé; it is easy for an old man to see.”

For a moment Brandyé felt as he had done with Ermèn: transparent, as though every detail of his life was exposed to Nisha without his being aware. It was unsettling, and he wondered what an enemy would make of such obviousness. Then his thoughts turned once more to the Dragon Lords, and he opened his mouth to ask Nisha about them, but almost as if to prove his prior thought, Nisha spoke first.

“You wish to know more of the Dragomi,” he said, and Brandyé could but nod. “Our myth, our monari, says that the Dragomi live far to the north, after the Dragoshi and the dead lands beyond. But they may live no more, for we do not see them for many ages.”

“Have you ever seen a dragon?” Brandyé asked, uncertain how long ‘many ages’ might be, nor quite how old Nisha was himself.

Nisha laughed. “Oh, no – not in my life. Many thousands of years, it is. I am old, but not so old! A dream indeed, to see a drago.”

“What became of the Dragon Lords? What do your stories – your monari – tell?”

“Of their ending, it is not known to us. When the Duithèn fall, the Dragomi return to their home, and there they stay. There they live, there they die – who knows?”

“And now that the Duithèn are returning?”

Nisha shrugged – a common gesture, it seemed. “Perhaps they return, perhaps not. The Dragomi have little interest in Erâth.”

“Yet…they fought. They fought against the forces of Darkness in the great war. They must have some interest.”

“Do you know where the Drago come from?” Nisha asked him. Brandyé shook his head. “Other creatures turn into Drago, formed in Darkness. An old Darkness this is, and not under the power of the Duithèn. Older than the Naiya; older than our monari.”

Brandyé felt a small shiver in him. “They are powerful, the dragons.”

Nisha bobbed his head. “Do you know the tale of Goroth? How it is a Drago that brings him down?”

Brandyé thought back to the record of Daevàr he had read in Vira Weitor. “A dragon and its lord brought Goroth to his knees, so that Daevàr could slay him.”

“Some monari tell of how the Dragomi takes the sword of Goroth, and not Daevàr. Think of such power as is Goroth, and think of what power defeats it!”

“Namrâth,” Brandyé said aloud. “You think the Dragon Lords took it?”

“Where is it?” Nisha pointed out. “Does no one know?”

“They say it fell into the sea.”

Nisha shrugged again. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Who knows? Perhaps it is hidden in a cave of the Dragomi, waiting.”

Brandyé felt another chill. “Waiting? Waiting for what?”

“What every sword waits for: to be wielded.”

For a moment, Brandyé thought long and hard. He tried to recall what he knew of the final battle between Dark and Light; how the dragons had come, how Goroth was brought to his knees and slain with his own dark blade. He recalled Daevàr’s words, that he had awoken in a tent, with no knowledge of the terrible sword’s fate. What if the Dragon Lords had in fact taken the blade with them, hidden it in a place no one would dare to venture? But the Dragon Lords might well be no more, according to Nisha; and then a dreadful thought occurred to him.

“Nisha – what would happen if the Duithèn found Namrâth?”

At this question, Nisha’s expression seemed to sober. “I do not believe the Duithèn can find it,” he said. “It holds their power, yes – but it is a creation of man. Man only can wield the weapon; man only can find it.”

Unbidden, the thought of the black dagger in the marketplace of Daevàr’s Hut came to Brandyé’s mind. He had found that blade instinctively, as though it had called to him to grasp its hilt. The same blade that now stood, alone and abandoned, in the floorboards of Reuel’s old home. He had lost it as easily as he had found it; what if it had not been meant for him? He recalled the knifemonger’s words: That’s a bad blade, son – you’ll not want that. And if it had not been meant for him, who should have found it? Who in Consolation would have been so invested in Darkness that the Duithèn would have wanted them to find the blade?

Slowly, he turned his gaze to Nisha again, his eyes cold and serious. “What would happen if the armies of Darkness should find Namrâth?”

Nisha, however, seemed calm as he said, “It finds its way into the hands of a man, and like Goroth, that man becomes an akushi: a demon.”

“And what if someone else should find it?”

“It is a powerful weapon, against the Duithèn or for them,” Nisha said. “Maybe they can be defeated, even.”

For some days after this conversation, Brandyé considered Nisha’s words. He felt dreadfully unsettled, and wondered at his feeling that he looking for something, though he knew not what. Some small voice in the back of his mind told him that that thing was Namrâth, that somehow he needed to find Goroth’s black blade. He was unsure even what he would do with it if he did find it, and he had not a clue where to begin. But for the first time in many months, Brandyé felt as though he had discovered a genuine purpose, something that he – and he alone – was meant to do. Somehow, he told himself, possessing the great blade of death would help him in his resistance against the Duithèn.

Eventually, he came to discuss his thoughts with Elven, who listened carefully as Brandyé explained the fate of the Dragon Lords, the possibilities of finding Namrâth, and the pull he felt to set out on a new journey, one with a true purpose this time.

And when he was finished, Elven said to him, “Brandyé, you are my friend. You always have been, and you always will be. But you are being a complete fool, to think that you can find some mythical sword that may not even exist.”

Brandyé had not been certain what Elven’s reaction would be, but he was nonetheless hurt to hear such words. “It isn’t a myth, Elven! Namrâth exists, I am certain of it. It wasn’t destroyed during the War of Darkness.”

Elven gazed upon his friend with a look that was almost pitying. “What war, Brandyé? Something that may or may not have occurred some thousands of years ago? What do you know of these things? What you read on a piece of paper?”

Brandyé felt himself beginning to turn red in the face. “It was an account from Daevàr himself, Elven. Daevàr – the same person Daevàr’s Hut is named after. You can’t deny that there is a connection there.”

“It’s myth and legend, Brandyé; these things are not real anymore.”

“How can you say that?” Brandyé protested. “The wolves and beasts we fought in the Rein are not real?”

“But they are!” insisted Elven. “They are real, not some notion of Darkness long past.”

“You told me only too recently that you believed there were powers that influence the world – that there’s an unnatural Darkness settling on Erâth! Were you only placating me?”

Elven looked shocked. “I would never lie to you. I do believe in these forces, these…creatures, the Duithèn. But to hold faith in stories from the past, that some mysterious sword can somehow defeat them…it’s folly, Brandyé! The armies of Darkness don’t care what sword you wield – they’ll kill you all the same. It’s there, in the Rein, in the face of the enemy – that’s where Darkness will be defeated. And all you’re doing is running from it!”

“I can’t go back,” Brandyé said bitterly. “There’s nothing for me there.”

“And I can’t stay here,” Elven replied, shaking his head. “I’ve come this far with you Brandyé, to protect you, to help you; but my calling is behind me, with the people of Erârün. They’re dying, Brandyé – and that is something I can do something about.”

“Your calling is with Talya,” Brandyé spat, knowing even as he said it that it was an unfair thing to say.

“You have no right to speak about her,” Elven said, a sudden danger in his voice. “For months I’ve put up with you and Elỳn—”

“Elỳn is a higher creature than either of us,” Brandyé interrupted. “You owe her your respect. She fought the enemy before you were born – she made it possible for all of this to be at all!” He gestured wildly around him.

“And what if she did?” Elven retorted. “What is she doing now? She courts the politicians and counsellors of the king, while real people are dying! Where was she when your own soldiers were ambushed? Where was she when Talya nearly lost her life?”

“I don’t want to hear about Talya!” Brandyé knew he was succumbing to a fierce jealousy, and found he did not care. “Go, and be with her, if she’s so important!”

“She is important to me,” Elven said, his voice suddenly soft. “But no more important than you, Brandyé. I fear for you. I’m afraid of what will become of you if you insist on chasing old tales of the past.”

Brandyé could feel a wealth of emotion flooding through him: anger, jealously, sadness, regret and guilt. “What else do I have?” he cried. “Everywhere I have gone, I’ve brought death and Darkness. I can’t continue to hurt everyone around me! I won’t bring destruction on an entire kingdom!”

“You give yourself too much credit, I think,” Elven said with a hint of derision. “The armies of Darkness would be prowling the Rein without you.”

“Then why only when I arrive do they mount their first organized assault? Why when I arrive do more people die than in the past hundred years?”

“Listen to me,” said Elven fiercely. “There is no knowing what could have, or would have been. There is only what is. This is something your friends here, the Hochträe, understand instinctively. Have you not noticed? They do not speak of the past!”

“Then what am I to do, when the past consumes me? Why can’t you understand what I need to find?”

“I can’t! I can’t understand why you need to find some stupid sword!”

“It isn’t a sword, Elven – it’s my salvation. If I can find a way to rid this world of Darkness, then maybe…maybe I can find a way to live with what I have done. Maybe I can find redemption!”

“What in Erâth do you need redemption from?”

“Don’t you know?”

“You can’t mean…after all these years? After my forgiveness, and my family’s?”

“Her death haunts me every waking moment of every day!”

“Sonora’s death was not of your doing! We’ve spoken of this!”

“It was my bow! My arrow!” Tears were in Brandyé’s eyes, and they hid the tears in the eyes of his friend. “There are only two ways I can see to right that wrong! Either I must rid the world of Darkness – I, myself – or…”

“Or what?” Elven asked, after Brandyé failed to speak for a moment.

“Or her death must be redeemed by my own.”

“So that’s what this is really about! Your insistence on pushing yourself beyond your own limits, rushing into places that are beyond dangerous…you’re trying to kill yourself!”

Brandyé felt his lip quiver. “What else can I do?”

“You can live! You can come with me, return to Erârün, and fight Darkness in a very real way, in a way that matters!”

But Brandyé shook his head. “I can’t.”

A look of great sadness came over Elven’s face then, and he said, “And I can’t continue with you. I won’t watch as you destroy yourself.”

And then there were no more words to be said, and with a profound sense of loss that mirrored what he felt for his grandfather, Brandyé walked away and spent the rest of the day in solitude. He knew, he was certain, what he could and could not do, and did not know how to convince Elven of this fact. Likewise, Elven seemed just as certain of his own destiny, and it tore at his heart that they did not seem to share the same one. It was only then, at the closing of the day as the sun’s crimson light flooded over him, that he recalled Khana’s words, from what seemed now so long ago: Still… again we may meet, my heart speaks. By no chance it is, that we should have met. By no chance was it that he and Elven should have met again in the forests of the Trestaé, and thus it was by no chance that they now seemed to be parting. He could only hope that it would not be for the last time.

As it happened, they did not part for some time after their argument, for the season was growing cold, and the Hochträe insisted that Elven would not survive a journey alone through the Reinkrag in the snows. For once Elven’s stubbornness was defeated, and for the following months as the days grew short and dark, Elven remained among them, and nonetheless kept Brandyé company. They did not speak of their imminent parting, and took the opportunity rather to speak tenderly as friends, as they had so rarely had the opportunity to do.

Brandyé also spent much time with Nisha, seated near his warm stove on cold nights, sometimes with stars gleaming in the windows and sometimes snow falling fast and furious against the glass, incensed tea and spiced curries filling the air. He was enthralled by Nisha’s stories of things that were, or rather that are, for as Nisha said, “All things are, now and then. Who are we to say what is and what is not?”

It was on one of these evenings that Brandyé had a dream, unlike any that he had had before. Nisha often smoked a heavily-scented pipe in the evenings, and Brandyé had come to share this with him on occasion. The smoke lightened his mind and made him feel quite giddy, and often he would find humor in things that during the day would have passed him by as quite serious, and he and Nisha would laugh together long into the night.

On one particular evening, Brandyé had perhaps partaken more of the weed than usual, and the thought of Elven’s leaving once more entered his thoughts. The worst of the winter had passed, and it was likely that come the end of the current snowfall, Elven would begin his preparations to return to Erârün. They had spoken only briefly about it, but it was the consensus of the Hochträe that Elven ought to take a path due south, that would quickly lead him to lower mountains and eventually into the vicinity of Vira Weitor itself. The journey would be one of several months, but it was suspected that no creatures of Darkness roamed those lands, and that his passage would be quite safe.

His own journey, however, he thought would not be so unchallenged. Brandyé was still uncertain what he was do to from here, his only certainty being that he must find the remains of Namrâth, wherever it might lie. It continued to frustrate him that Elven could not see the importance of this, and he spoke of it to Nisha.

“Every man has a road,” Nisha said in reply, “and you know this. Elven’s road is not yours. Your destination is hidden from him. He sees only his own.”

“And what is that?” Brandyé asked. The room was gently spinning around him, but he relaxed into the stuffed sack that was his chair, for the sensation was not unpleasant.

“Only he knows. And perhaps not even then. Is your destination known to you?”

“I know I must find Namrâth,” Brandyé insisted.

“Ah – Owar-Shi. You are bound to it.”

“It seems to be.”

Nisha made a gesture with his hands, palms open and outward toward Brandyé. Brandyé, in his fluid state of mind, hardly noticed. “But you already have a sword – Fahnat-om. What do you do with another?”

“It isn’t for me,” Brandyé said lazily. “It is for the ending of the Duithèn.”

“But it is not their end you find. End of Eternity, in your tongue; Eternity’s Death, in ours. What does that mean?”

“It had another name, once,” Brandyé said.

Nisha nodded. “Peace, its other name is – Hai. But which will you find?”

This thought struck Brandyé as suddenly profound, and for a moment he lost himself in it – what was the difference, he wondered, between peace and death? And as he began to drift into sleep, it occurred to him that they might in fact be the same thing.

Before long Brandyé was turning gently this way and that, his eyes moving behind closed lids, and deep in his mind he was suddenly in another place, far from the Hochträe and their mountains, far from Elven and his destiny, and in a place that was unlike any other he had known, whether dream or reality.

Around him as far as the eye could see was rock, towering high into great peaks and mountains. Yet they were not the granite of the Reinkrag or the smooth stone of the Trestaé; these rocks were black, and sharp, and even the gravel Brandyé stood upon was as tiny shards of glass. The air was thick and hot, and scented with sulphur, and Brandyé found it difficult to draw breath. The sky was red, thick with black clouds, and here and there ash drifted through the air.

Yet as oppressive as the atmosphere was, as dark as it was, Brandyé did not feel the presence of Darkness itself, of the Duithèn. A different power was here, once he could feel in the air, and it was dark, but not evil.

As he stood and looked about him, he began to feel a draw upon him to move, to climb these sharp rocks and search for something, and he wondered if it might be Namrâth. Unlike the dreams of his youth, Brandyé began almost to feel a sense of excitement, for he had come to recognize his dreams for what they seemed to be: premonitions of things to come. And he wondered what was to come in this dream.

But for a long while, it seemed, nothing at all was coming. For an age he walked among the rocks, climbing up and down then here and there, cutting his hands and fingers on their edges so that they bled openly and hurt terribly, but there seemed to be nothing to find – no sign that he was meant to go in any one direction or another. Unlike the great, abandoned city by the sea, there was no sorrowful statue to tell him which way to go; unlike the dread plains of Darkness, there was no Schaera to guide him.

And so he went on, for hour after hour, until finally, exhausted, he came to rest by the mouth of what seemed to be a shallow cave. The light was poor and the depths of the cave in utter black, but the curve of its walls suggested it did not go deep into the mountain. Brandyé sat with his back to the rock, and gathered his breath, and was perplexed.

Never in one of his dreams had he gone so long with no sign of what he was there for. He was just beginning to think that perhaps this was nothing more than a delusion from Nisha’s pipe-smoke, and that he would return to the Hochträe empty-handed, when out of the silence came a greeting, of sorts.

It was a voice – so much he was certain of. But it was unlike any voice he had ever heard. Out of the silence it came, yet the silence somehow remained unbroken nonetheless. The tones were guttural and savage, and yet Brandyé heard them and knew their meaning as though they were spoken in his own tongue.

What are you, small-one?

Brandyé sat bolt upright and looked about him, but there was nothing to be seen.

I see you move, small-one. Answer to me.

Brandyé began to feel a shiver of fear, for he still could see no speaker, and the voice was not peaceful. “I…I am Brandyé.”

There was silence for a long moment. That is not all.

“Do you mean my name?” Brandyé asked timidly.

That is not all, the voice repeated.

“Brandyé Dui-Erâth is my full name,” Brandyé said, “grandson of Reuel Tolkaï.”

Ah, said the voice. A name of the ancient speech. “THEETAE-TÛ ERÂTHEET?”

The voice roared so loud and so sudden that Brandyé jumped, and let out a small cry of surprise. “I’m sorry?”

Perhaps not. Whence come you, Brandyé Dui-Erâth?

“I…I am from the land of Consolation,” Brandyé replied, uncertain if this was exactly what the disembodied voice meant.

What is Consolation?

“Comfort after sorrow,” Brandyé said, suddenly remembering words from long ago.

Ah! A good answer, said the voice. There has been much sorrow.

This was something Brandyé thought he could agree upon. “Too much,” he said. “I am looking for a means to end it.”

Once again, there was a great silence. You are curious, small-one. This is a world of sorrow. You seek to end the world?

“No,” Brandyé protested. “I seek to put an end to those who insist on its being so.”

Hm. What if I am one of those?

This was a thought that made Brandyé suddenly very nervous, for this voice, as-yet unseen, sounded dreadfully powerful. “Are you?”

I have dwelt in sorrow for longer than you can imagine, small-one. End what you will, this will continue to be a world of sorrow for some.

“Perhaps I misspoke,” Brandyé said hastily. “Do you know of the Duithèn? I am looking to end Darkness in the world.”

Perhaps you do misspeak, the voice said, and there was a dangerous threat in it now. Darkness may not be ended. It is as eternal as Light, Life, Death, Power, and Wisdom.

“You speak of the original powers of Erâth,” Brandyé whispered. “But then you must know that many of those powers are now ended; Darkness, the Duithèn – they triumph over all!”

Then they triumph. It is of little concern to me.

“Why is that?” Brandyé asked, half-afraid of the answer.

Because I am the original Darkness! the voice roared. The Duithèn have no power over me.

Brandyé flinched to hear the fury in the voice’s words, and began to take a step back from the cave.

Why do you flee? the voice said, suddenly soft. There is no escape.

“You are very powerful,” Brandyé said truthfully, “and I’m frightened.”

Brandyé thought he heard a faint laugh. You have some wisdom in you, small-one. Frightened indeed.

“Will you show yourself?” Brandyé asked tentatively.

Then you will be frightened indeed.

“I’ve seen some of the most dreadful creatures this world has to offer,” Brandyé said with false bravery, for he wanted to see this voice despite all. “How bad could you be?”

Then there truly was laughter, an echoing, dismal sound that rang in Brandyé’s mind and caused him to shut his eyes in pain.

You close your eyes at my voice, small-one – how will you see my form?

“I think I know you,” Brandyé said. “I would have my doubts proven.”

Your fate is mine, small-one. I hope you have wisdom enough to see it.

Despite the knowledge that this must only be a dream, a vision, Brandyé nonetheless felt a genuine fear in him at this. He wondered what would happen to him if he were to die in a dream. “If you will not show yourself, will you answer a question?”

Why should I answer any question of yours?

Boldly, Brandyé put forth, “You have not killed me yet – you must have some curiosity. Answer a question of mine, and I will answer any of yours.”

Hm. Wisdom and perception. Perhaps I will only maim you. Speak your question, and we will see.

Taking a deep breath, Brandyé asked, “Do you know where I can find Namrâth?”

For such a long time was there silence that Brandyé thought perhaps the voice had left, unwilling to answer such a question. But finally Brandyé felt a stirring from the cave, and then came: That answer is not for you to know. To find Namrâth is to find your death.

Frustrated, Brandyé insisted, “But do you know?”

Enough! commanded the voice. I will not answer that question. Ask me another.

“That’s the only question I have,” Brandyé said.

Then I will ask one of you. You say you seek to destroy the Duithèn. How do I know you would not restore the black blade to them?

“Ah-ha!” Brandyé cried. “You do care about the fate of Darkness in this world.”

He felt another stirring in the cave. Do not presume to trick me, small-one. I said I do not care, and care I do not. The black blade is lost, and lost it must remain. Any who find it are bound to fall to its power, and so must die. Only a fool or a servant of the Duithèn would seek it. And, despite everything, you do not strike me as a fool.

“Then why does it matter if I find it or not?” Brandyé pressed.

I am not beholden to you to explain, said the voice. But the blade is hidden, and so it shall ever remain.

Brandyé breathed a sigh of frustration. “Then I have nothing left to ask of you. I will leave.”

You will not leave, the voice insisted. Your answer was not satisfactory.

“Nor was yours!”

Silence! I am lord here, and you will never leave this place!

But Brandyé turned, and began to walk away from the cave. Suddenly an enormous roar followed him, and a wave of heat singed his back. YOU WILL NOT TURN YOUR BACK ON ME!

Brandyé turned again, suddenly furious. “Then show yourself!”

Very well. And then, from deep within the cave, there came a rustling, and movement, and then before Brandyé could even move, a fierce, flaming wall of fire was expelled from its depths, and as the giant hove into view, he was consumed.