The Redemption of Erâth: Book 2, Chapter 22

Chapter 22: Above the Clouds

It took only a few minutes for Brandyé to learn what Elven had done, and why. The Reinsfolk’s hidden fortress, it transpired, was in this same valley under the Pass of Duwoèm, on the other side and closer to the mountain. Had Brandyé been climbing deeper under the mountain’s shadow, he would have fallen into its entrance directly.

Elven had received Brandyé’s message from Sonora the night before last, and had decided in the moment that he would not let his friend pass him by unheeded.

“I said I would be going alone!” protested Brandyé. “How did you know I would even pass this way, and not by some other route?”

“I didn’t,” said Elven simply. “It was a risk.”

Every night since, it seemed, Elven had sat outside the entrance to the fortress, much to the displeasure of the village folk who wanted to barricade the entrance at once.  “They said I was foolish, that it would be better to grieve for your loss than to hope for your salvation. They said if you survived the battle through flight, you’d be hunted as a traitor.”

“They’re not wrong,” Brandyé sighed. “If Tharom ever sees me again I’ll be arrested, if not slain on the spot.” A shadow darker than the night passed across Brandyé’s face then as he thought of the battle, and Elven had the sense to let it pass.

“I saw you climbing this evening from my lookout,” Elven said when the moment had passed. “It was near dark, and so I fetched a torch to find you.”

“And I wish you hadn’t – did you not see the army in the valley?”

In the dim torchlight, Brandyé thought he saw his friend’s face go pale, and with a swift motion he snuffed the torch among the stones. “How?”

Brandyé looked at the smoldering torch, knowing it made little difference now. “I don’t know, Elven. They might have tracked me, but I never saw anything around me, and was careful to leave as few signs as possible.”

“It’s as though they know where we have fled to!”

But Brandyé shook his head, and revealed his thoughts to his friend. “It’s as though they know where I am. Do you think it’s a coincidence that within weeks of my arrival here the largest assault on the Rein should occur? A coincidence that the fierundé should attack Paräwo upon my arrival after so many centuries of peace?”

“Brandyé…” said Elven. “You can’t blame yourself for what Darkness are doing—”

“A coincidence,” Brandyé went on furiously, “that at my very birth, Darkness should descend upon Consolation – a place that has never known Darkness before?”

Elven said nothing.

“I’ve brought death and destruction with me wherever I’ve gone! I killed my parents the night I was born! I’ve killed countless numbers with the weapons I built for the Cosari! I killed Athalya by bringing the fierundé to their home!”

“You’ve killed no one,” Elven protested. “These things happened…perhaps they happened because you or I brought them upon people, but perhaps they would have happened nonetheless! Elỳn said the fierundé were growing in number in the Trestaé long before we ever arrived there. Athalya’s death might have occurred without us – who’s to say?”

“I killed your sister,” Brandyé muttered miserably.

There was a long silence, and then Elven reached out and took Brandyé’s hand. “Sonora’s death was not your fault.”

But Brandyé withdrew his hands as though Elven’s touch was poison. “How can you say that? It was my arrow – my bow! My shot!” And suddenly the weight of a lifetime of Darkness and death fell upon him, and he wept openly. “I’ve never wanted to harm anyone,” he choked between sobs. “I never meant for anyone to die!”

Though he could not have seen it in the dark, Elven’s eyes were tearing as well, and he said, “I have seen more in my time with you than I could ever have imagined. I believe now that there are forces beyond us, and I see that Darkness can influence the world. I see its influence on you.”

Brandyé sniffed. “That’s hardly comforting, you know.”

“It serves only to show your strength,” Elven insisted. “You have resisted Darkness with every breath, so long as I have ever known you.”

“I’m tired of resisting, Elven. I’m tired of fighting for my life. Do you know how tempting it is to give myself to Darkness, this very moment? To flee down the mountain, and join the ranks of those who would destroy us all? It’s powerful, Darkness; too powerful for this world to resist.”

“You won’t,” said Elven emphatically. “I know you – you’re stronger than the Darkness. You’re stronger than you know.”

Brandyé shook his head. “You don’t know. You can’t know. My greatest fear is not succumbing to Darkness – it’s that I want to. And the power I would have to destroy would be terrible.” He looked out, and saw that the faintest dim light of day was beginning to penetrate the shadows of the rocky valley. “This is why I must flee. I can’t afford to be close to Darkness any longer; I can’t afford to jeopardize the lives of those…those I love.” And he looked at Elven directly, for the first time that night. “I’ve already lost too many.”

“You don’t need to lose any more,” Elven said softly.

“You can’t come with me.”

“That’s not up to you.” Elven sounded quite adamant.

“I’ll destroy you.” Brandyé was becoming fearful now, for he could not bear the thought of Elven coming with him, only to find his own destruction. “One day I will succumb to Darkness, and you won’t want to be there when I do.”

“I’ll want to be there, to stop you,” said Elven. “Please – stop refusing help from those who would give it.”

“What about Talya?” Brandyé asked, trying a different tack. “You would have to leave her behind.”

“She knows my feelings, and she understands how I’m bound to you. Besides – I have Sonora to carry messages between us, as she did once for you and me.”

By now the light was growing less weak, and Brandyé could see the determination in his friend’s eyes, and knew that it was useless to argue further. “Your mind is set,” he said instead. And Elven nodded, and together they sat in silence and waited for the dawn.

It was not long in coming, and soon the shadows of the valley’s far side could be discerned. As the light of day filled the air, Brandyé began to imagine he saw shapes moving here and there among the rocks, though at first they were too ill-defined for him to be certain. As the moments wore on, however, he began ever more certain, and creeped forward from his shelter to see better.

The rain had ceased since Elven had found him, though the rocks were still wet, and Brandyé saw now, far down in the valley but coming slowly closer, slipping here and there, a host of men climbing over the rocks on their way up the valley. Fear struck him, for he saw now that in the dim light of the morning as he and Elven had been speaking, the enemy had begun to sneak upon them from below, and were now no more than fifteen minutes behind them at best. They were for the most part on the wrong side of the valley, however, and this did not escape Elven’s notice.

“Brandyé!” he whispered. “They are approaching the entrance to the fortress, and it isn’t yet sealed! We must stop them!”

“How?” returned Brandyé, but in his gut he already knew the answer.

“I will distract them,” said Elven resolutely, and started to move out from their boulders. Brandyé held him back for a moment.

“We will go together,” he said. For a moment their eyes locked, and a silent knowing passed between them in an instant: they were indeed together, for better or for worse.

And so in a flash they burst together from their hiding spot, Elven tossing the spent torch in the direction of the enemy and crying, “Over here – follow us!”

Brandyé almost smiled to hear his friend’s ridiculous words, but he could not deny their effect: within moments, the swarming men on the mountain ceased their progress and stared in their direction. One of them pointed and shouted something to the others, and in an instant every man crawling the rocks was making for them, across the valley and up the hill.

“Hurry!” Brandyé urged, and followed swiftly in Elven’s footsteps as they began their own ascent, now desperately trying to stay ahead of their pursuers. The rocks were slippery, and several times both he and Elven nearly lost their grip and went tumbling down the mountain. Brandyé was soon struggling for every breath, but looking down he saw the men Darkness approaching even faster, and forced himself onward.

Not far above them, the head of the valley disappeared into a great slope of scree, leading some several hundred feet up to the col that was itself the Pass of Duwoèm. “If we can make the pass,” Brandyé panted, “we might be able to hide on the other side as they run past us!”

Elven made no reply, but merely shifted his direction slightly to make for the pass by the shortest route, and soon they had passed directly onto the scree. Here, their progress was greatly slowed, for it felt that for every step they took up the mountain they slipped half a step back in the loose gravel and stones. Climbing directly behind Elven, Brandyé’s ankles and legs were soon bruised and bleeding from the rolling stones, and he moved to one side, leaving behind him a small trail of tumbling rocks himself.

And before long, he could hear far below them the rockfalls of their pursuers as they made their own way up the steep slope. He could hear the calls and the jeers, and despite the burning in his lungs and the pain of his feet and the fear in his heart, he found himself wondering at their harsh and alien language, unlike the Cosari tongue, the ancient speech or anything else he had heard in all his life.

The top of the col seemed to remain ever just out of reach, and several times Brandyé felt himself slip, and begin to give up – they could never reach the top before they were captured. Only Elven’s unrelenting progress above him kept him going, if for no other reason than he could not bear to let his friend down so soon after speaking of continuing on.

But as Brandyé bent his head and looked only at the rocks beneath his feet, he found he was suddenly level with a large boulder he had seen from underneath, and knew he was near the top. Here he paused for a moment, finally utterly out of breath, and after a moment called to Elven.

“Elven – help me!”

Elven looked down, panic on his face. “What is it?”

“I have an idea to slow their progress! Come and help me dislodge this rock!”

In a flash Elven understood, and came crashing down toward Brandyé. Together they began to heave mightily on the enormous boulder, and incredibly, under their combined force it began ponderously to move.

“Keep pushing!” Brandyé cried, and as he heaved he could feel the boulder’s center of gravity begin to shift, until it was balanced on the very edge of a single small stone beneath it. And still, red in the face and cursing, Elven continued to push, and crying from the strain Brandyé continued to push – and then the boulder was moving of its own accord, and as they hauled themselves back toward the slope against the own momentum it began to slowly slide, a great cascade of smaller stones preceding it. Ever so slowly it gathered speed, until with a great roar of falling rocks it started to roll, and below and around it started sliding almost every stone on the mountainside.

The men of Darkness were caught in the avalanche without any chance of escape. A great cloud of dust rose from the drier rocks underneath, and as the cries and screams floated up the slope, Brandyé turned to Elven and said, “We mustn’t delay – this may be our only chance to hide!”

And so, as their enemy was crushed and smitten beneath them, they ascended the final yards, climbing near vertical rock at the very end, until they stood upon the very summit of the Pass of Duwoèm, and looked down into the valley on the other side.

Where the side they had climbed afforded a view of ever-expanding plains and moorland, here there was nothing visible except range upon range of mountains, each taller and rockier than the last. From their feet stretched a wide valley of rock, a stream erupting partway down and tumbling over rocks and boulders until there finally came a sparse floor of grass, through which it continued to flow away and down the mountain. Far, far in the distance and below were trees, but at the height they now stood there was nothing but stone, as far as the eye could see.

“I don’t see anywhere to hide,” Brandyé commented.

Even looked back at where they had come from, and at the ever-rising cloud of dust. “I don’t think we’re going to need to,” he muttered.

For a time then, the two sat and rested, regathering their breath and their strength. It was cold and windy atop the pass, and so they descended a few feet on the opposite side where they found the air quite sheltered, and by comparison almost pleasant. Here they began to discuss where they would go from here, with Brandyé of the opinion that they should preserve altitude as much as they could, for reascending would cost them much more energy than descending would.

“There will be no food, no water here,” protested Elven.

“I have some with me,” Brandyé countered, “and I am happy to go with little for now. The most important thing is to put distance between us and the army of Darkness. We can progress easily and quickly across the rock – see the ridge there, perhaps a mile away? We can reach that almost without descending at all.”

And so, after they had eaten a small bite, they set out, this time at a much more relaxed pace, though still with the nervous thought of pursuit somewhere behind them. The path onward here was treacherous, traversing across steep rocks and scree slopes, the enormous mass of the mountain looming high above them and towering toward the clouds. It was here that Brandyé led the way, carefully picking his way from rock to rock, always testing the footing before putting his weight on it. Every so often he would glance behind him, both to see that Elven was still with him, and that no one else had crossed the Pass of Duwoèm.

Before long the pass was far behind them, and they had reached a long ridge that led ever upward toward the summit of a mountain, here nearly lost in the clouds. It was tempting to Brandyé to ascend, to see what the view would be from such height, but practically he knew there was little to be gained, for there would be no food there, no animals or vegetation, and it was cold – bitterly so, and only his onward movement kept him from shivering under his still wet cloak. Now that danger had begun to pass, his headache was returning, and he could feel his skin flush with fever. When they paused for rest some time later, Elven noticed, and asked him about it.

“I’m fine,” Brandyé said, though he had only once in his life felt so ill. He wondered if dreams would come to him, as they had done then.

“Your cloak is drenched!” Elven exclaimed when he touched him.

“It will dry,” Brandyé muttered.

“Not here,” protested Elven. “Remove it at once!”

Too tired to argue, Brandyé shrugged the cloak from his body, and felt once the biting chill of the high winds. He was not cold for long  though, as momentarily Elven had wrapped around him his own cloak, dry and warm. Despite the guilt he felt at taking his friend’s cover, he was nonetheless grateful and glad. Shrinking into the new warmth, he settled back into the rocks and tried to shelter himself from the wind.

For his part, Elven had already several layers of clothing beneath his cloak, and when he donned Brandyé’s wet one he felt, if not warmer, slightly more sheltered. “We can’t remain here,” he said. “You’ll catch your death of cold.” He looked out, surveying the landscape. Stretched out before them were endless mountains and valleys, and down a steep slope below them was a small vale of moss and grass, strewn here and there with great boulders that had rolled down the mountainside in ages past. Between then trickled a small stream, and he knew well that water, above all else, meant their survival.

After a further rest, during which time Brandyé very nearly fell asleep, Elven suggested they make their way toward the stream below, and so they began to carefully pick their way down the slope. It took quite some time, for the rocks were loose, and Brandyé’s footing was becoming steadily less certain. Every so often he would stop and listen, still expecting the sounds of an army behind them, but there was no sound bar the crunch of rock underfoot and Sonora’s calling from above, undoubtedly complaining about the high winds and cold air. Finally they reached the place where the grass and moss began to grow, and here the footing was less treacherous. Soon they were seated under the shade of a giant boulder, hidden from the ridge above, sheltered from the wind around them and drinking water from the stream that was as cold as ice.

After they had eaten what little bread and bacon Brandyé still had with him, Brandyé lay back against the rocks to rest, and Elven set out in search of firewood. At first this seemed like a hopeless endeavor, for there was not a tree to be seen, but as he followed the stream down the valley, he came upon a place where a patch of tall reeds grew, dried and brittle at the outer edges of the clump. As he started breaking off stems it occurred to him that not so long ago their positions had been reversed, and it was Brandyé who had been in search of fire and food while he had lain, feverish and incontinent. He still had no recollection of the fierundé attack and their rescue by the Illuèn, but Brandyé had certainly spoken to him of it. Unsettled, he hurried about his business, unwilling to leave Brandyé for longer than needed.

To his relief, Brandyé was still and asleep when he returned, and soon he had a small, miserable fire going before them as the skies began to darken. He took off the still damp cloak, surprised to find it stiff from the cold, and with great care managed to dry it somewhat over the flames. It seemed to him that staying warm was going to be imperative at these high altitudes, and he looked to the sky, as though expecting to see rain begin to fall at the very thought.

No rain fell, though, and for a while Elven sat in silence, contemplating their situation. It was near dark by the time Brandyé awoke, by which point the fire had dwindled to mere embers. In a hollow gesture, Elven placed the last few branches of reed over the low flames, and was rewarded with a few more minutes of light and warmth.

“I’m sorry, Elven,” Brandyé said as he opened his eyes. “I seem to have come down with something of a cold.”

“You’ll be well soon,” Elven reassured him. “We need to find food and wood, and we’ll manage just fine.”

There was a deeper apology in Brandyé also, but he held his tongue; something told him Elven would not appreciate it. Instead, he said, “It seems peaceful enough here, but there is something about these mountains that bodes ill for me. I would not venture into the valleys more than we absolutely must.”

“We won’t find much food up here,” Elven pointed out.

Reluctantly, Brandyé nodded. “Let us follow the stream here until we find a place to hunt, and we can rest there for a while. When we have good stock, though, I would like to return to the mountains. There is something about the heights that calls to me…”

Elven was uncertain what Brandyé meant by this, and wondered if it was the fever speaking. “We’ll see what we can do. I’ll not have you climbing all over these mountains in a fever, though.”

So began a series of days in which they would spend some time deeper in the lowlands, hunting small marmots and hares and gathering firewood, and then reascending to the ridges and cols that led from one towering peak to another. As they ventured deeper into the mountains, the higher everything became, and so the further they had to travel to find food and water. All the while Brandyé’s headache persisted, and his nose ran, and his skin burned to the touch. Still he persisted, for a great unease was gnawing at him. For over a week there had now been no sign of their enemy, or indeed other men at all, yet something was unsettling him all the same, and he was certain it was more than just fever. Brandyé knew he was looking for something, but he knew not what.

As they went on and the land became ever higher, the air became also ever colder. To their fortune it did not rain again for some time, for it would almost certainly have turned to snow if it had. As it was, small patches of snow began to appear in the shadows, and Elven began to rule fear for Brandyé’s health. Ever since they had been reunited he had had this cold, and he showed no signs of improving. Often throughout the day he would beg to stop for rest, and though he rarely said anything, Elven could tell his suffering from his pale face and gnawed lips.

Brandyé would not have Elven worry, though, and refused to relent, pushing himself onward one step at a time. Often he felt that he might collapse under his own weight, and asked Elven if he might carry their things, which he did willingly. He felt an ever growing guilt at this, magnifying what he felt already for having put Elven in a situation that led him away from Talya, and into unknown danger. Worse was the fact that he was secretly and selfishly glad to have Elven with him, for he knew not how far he might have made it on his own.

So it went on until one day they came across a thing that took even Brandyé’s ailing breath away and caused him to straighten in wonder. Always he had been looking for something unusual, something to soothe the unsettling feeling in his thoughts, and though in his heart he knew this was not it, he could not deny the magnificence of what they saw now before them. Stretching out vast, wide and smooth, toned in hues of white and blue, was an immense lake of ice. It was easily ten miles across, and Brandyé and Elven could barely see the mountain tops on its far side.

“Oh…” murmured Elven, and Brandyé quietly agreed that he was just as speechless.

Immediately before them was a great drop, an enormous crevasse whose depths were shadowed in black. Beyond that were a series of ridges, deep cracks hundreds of feet deep in the ice, before the vast empty plains of the glacier itself. There was clearly no way they would be able to mount the ice lake and traverse it, and so Brandyé looked to the south end near which they were, and saw endlessly high cliffs, broken rock towering above them for hundreds of feet. “We must go there,” he said.

Elven shook his head vehemently. “No. It’s too dangerous, especially in your condition.”

“I’m fine, Elven,” Brandyé insisted.

Instead of replying, Elven reached out and grabbed Brandyé’s arm, resting his fingers on the inside of his wrist. “Your heart is racing,” he said, “and your fever has not abated. You are ill, Brandyé, and you will only worsen if we don’t leave this place soon.”

“There is a thing here,” Brandyé insisted stubbornly. “Something I must find. I don’t know where this thought has come from, but I’ve had it for a long time now. I was ignoring it, thought perhaps it was a sense of usefulness, but I haven’t felt close, even when I was training with the soldiers.”

“It’s Elỳn, isn’t it?” Elven muttered. “You say she gave you purpose, but it seems to me you’ve been sent on an impossible mission.”

“You don’t understand how Darkness has eaten away at my heart!” Brandyé shouted, suddenly furious. “I need to be rid of it, and rid the world of it!”

“How?” Elven shouted back. “By abandoning everyone you know and wandering off into the middle of nowhere? Look around you!” He gestured to the mountains around them. “There’s nothing here!”

“You don’t understand!” said Brandyé, suddenly feeling like a child. “Darkness surrounds me! Look at the clouds!” He pointed to the sky, where the cloud were indeed low and dark, threatening the air with mist and rain. “Would you have me bring that done upon everyone I know?”

“You brought it on me, and I’m still here – what does that tell you?”

And then Brandyé bit his tongue, for the reply that came to his mind was, You’re a fool. “I’m sorry,” he said instead. “You are still here, and I appreciate it – I’m glad to have you.”

Elven sniffed, and then nodded. “I’m sorry also. You want to head up the ridge to the south? Fine. But once we come down again, you’re to listen to me, and we’re descending where it’s warmer until you recover from your fever.”

Then the argument was over, and they rested for a while. As they did, faint tendrils of mist began slowly to creep over the ground, and Elven said, “This weather will make our progress difficult. Are you certain you wish to continue?”

“We can’t stay here,” Brandyé pointed out. “Come – let’s go.”

And so they began to move onward once more, Brandyé leading the way through the chilling mist, and slowly again they began to rise, ascending a long ridge that seemed to disappear into the clouds above. Soon they came to a place where the ridge turned to a sheer cliff, and so they began to traverse along its base, always in an easterly direction. Below, through the thin mist, Brandyé could see the lake of ice spread out before them, and it seemed it was almost reflecting the gray of the clouds above, which seemed nearer then ever.

Their footing became gradually more treacherous, also, and soon they were clinging to the rock with both hands, hundreds of feet of sheer cliff above them, and a vertical drop below. Brandyé’s head began to swim, and he knew that a single misstep would spell the end of his adventure, and his life. Behind him, Elven’s knuckles where white as they grasped the rock, his breathing rapid and shallow. Occasionally Brandyé could hear curses, and they echoed the thoughts in his own mind. He wondered if he had been foolish to pick this route.

Eventually they came to a place where there was a great, vertical crack in the rock face, and within it was a small ledge on which they could comfortably sit side by side. Here they rested again for a moment, and Elven kept his eyes shut against the precipitous view while Brandyé kept his own shut out of exhaustion. As they sat, the clouds descended yet further, until they were entirely surrounded by mist. The valley, the glacier, the view of the other mountains – all were gone behind a veil of gray shadow. After a while, the view was so close that it almost felt that they were not hundreds of feet above the ground, and Elven began to look around them: back, whence they had come, and forward, whence they might go. “Brandyé…” he said.

Without opening his eyes, Brandyé murmured, “Yes?”

“There’s nowhere to go from here.”

“What do you mean?”

Elven turned back to him. “There’s no further path – no footing. The cliff is smooth. We can go no further.”

Brandyé huddled under his cloak, not wanting to hear what Elven had to say. “We haven’t come this far for nothing,” he said. “There must be a way.”

Elven crept to the edge of their ledge and looked out. To the west was the broken and jagged rock cliff they had been climbing across for the past many hours; to the east was a smooth, unbroken wall of nearly vertical rock, and indeed there appeared to be no footholds or handholds anywhere on its surface. “Brandyé, please come and look!” he pleaded. “This is impossible!”

With a frustrated sigh, Brandyé opened his eyes, but for a while did not move. Instead, he stared up above him, into the highest reaches of the crevice that was sheltering them from the worst of the weather. Finally, he said, “You say we can’t go any further across the cliff.”

“Yes. Even Sonora could not land on that cliff.” He looked down at the bird, who had come to rest with them, regarding them curiously as if to ask what they were doing so high.

“What about up?”

Elven frowned at him. “How could we climb the cliff up, if we can’t even cross it?”

“Not the cliff,” said Brandyé. “This crack. Look.” And he pointed above his head. Indeed, the crevice climbed upward for what seemed to be hundreds of feet, perhaps even scaling the full hight of the cliff, though its height was shrouded in cloud. But it climbed at an angle, though steep, and was lined with dozens of pits and cracks and small ledges that would provide ample footholds. To Brandyé it looked like a giant, uneven staircase. “This, we can climb – it’s no harder than what we scaled with Elỳn in the Trestaé.”

And though Elven protested, climb it they did. The rock was cold and hard, but with every step upward there seemed to be a hold just in the right place. Upward and into the clouds they climbed, and Brandyé was filled with the thrill of height – his palms dry, his stomach churning, chills running down his arms and to his legs. As he climbed he began to sweat, and before long he had almost forgotten the fever that plagued him, and excitement began to grow in him. This felt right – almost like he was meant to be here, at this moment, climbing this very mountain.

And as they ascended slowly, pausing every now and then to rest, a curious thing began to happen. The clouds that surrounded them began to become thinner, and the air around them began to brighten. The change was subtle and slow, and at first neither Brandyé nor Elven noticed, until Brandyé saw that the rock under his hand was darker than the rock around him – he had a shadow.

It took a long time for the significance of this to truly come to him; he had not seen his shadow in almost ten years, and had indeed forgotten what it meant. Then the truth slowly dawned on him, and he was filled with a burning excitement that drowned out all ailments and headaches, and pushed him to climb at a frenzied pace so that Elven was left calling worriedly below him.

“Come!” Brandyé cried. “Climb faster – climb higher! There is something we must see!”

And as he went on, suddenly the crevice in which they had been climbing opened out, turned into a steep slope of loose rock. Here he paused for a moment so that he did not dislodge stones down upon Elven, but when Elven came abreast of him, he began climbing again, crawling up the slope on hands and feet, digging into the loose rock. Here and there were patches of snow, and Brandyé marched through these heedless, and Elven could do little but keep up.

All the while the clouds were growing bare, and the light was now bright, casting shadows on the stones all around them. And finally, as Brandyé burst to the top of the mountain and stood atop its very peak, the clouds parted entirely, and the sun, in all its glory, burned down upon him and lifted him such that he felt that he was flying above the very world. All around them was a vast, endless sea of cloud, white and soft, and through it grew tall the mountains of the Reinkrag, becoming ever higher to the east so that entire valleys and ridges could be seen above the sea of clouds.

Brandyé was speechless, and and Elven arrived, together they stood and marveled for an age. “I’d forgotten the sun,” Brandyé said finally, and Elven murmured an agreement.

When they had seen their fill – and it was a long time, indeed – they sat down to eat just below the summit where the wind was weaker. They had to find a place that was free of snow, and as such they were in the shade of the mountain, without the sun on them, but Brandyé thought that he would rather be in the natural shadow of a mountain, knowing that the sun was behind them, than the dreadful shade of eternal clouds brought on by Darkness.

Finally, it came time for them to move, although secretly Brandyé would have liked to have stayed on the summit for the sunset, which he was now desperate to see. But he realized that to do so would be to invite freezing temperatures and high winds, and they likely would not survive the night. So it was they began to descend into the clouds once more, but before they lost sight of the sun entirely, Brandyé looked to the sky once more and vowed that he would not rest until he reached a place where the sun could be seen all day without fear of Darkness.

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