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.

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