The Redemption of Erâth: Book Three, Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen: The Loss of Reason

Brandyé awoke to darkness and the muted roar of distant flames. He tried to move, and found his hands were shackled before him. His throat was parched, and he wondered how long he had been kept here, wherever he was. As he lay in the dark, he found he could hear the sounds of many people moving about, and suspected he was in a tent. He wondered that there seemed to be no guard to keep watch, and equally wondered that he seemed alone—what had happened to Athalya, and the Sarâthen?

For some time he remained still, and finally brought himself to sit on the edge of the cot. “Hello?” he called out tentatively. “Can anyone hear me?” He was not in fact certain he wanted anyone to hear him, for fear of what they might do to him, but he also knew he could not remain here forever. The commotion outside did not cease, however, and he was beginning to think he might be left here forever when a sudden light broke upon him, and he saw the entrance to the tent pulled back. A dark figure stepped forward, head stooped to pass under the canvas, and with it came a lantern.

The figure came toward Brandyé, and he saw in the dim light it was a man, large and grizzled, and for a long moment the man stared at him, unblinking. Then the man held a flask out to him, and Brandyé took it and drank greedily. When he had drained the flask he offered it back to the man. “Thank you,” he said.

Then the man pulled two stools from a corner of the tent. On one he placed the lantern, and on the other he sat. Still without speaking, he continued to stare at Brandyé. Brandyé took a moment to assess this man, and from his hard countenance and cold eyes, he guessed he was a high commander of some sort. Not knowing what to do, Brandyé offered an introduction: “I understand I’ve been captured by the forces of Urkûl. I am called Brandyé—please don’t hurt me.”

Finally, the man spoke, his voice hard. “No? That will depend on your cooperation.”

Brandyé swallowed a lump of fear. “I don’t wish to cause any problems.”

The man smiled grimly. “I’m glad to hear it. My commander tells me you have come from the great city. Is this true?”

Brandyé nodded. “It’s taken months to get here. We sought an audience with Dumèn the Great.”

“We?” the man repeated, and inwardly Brandyé cursed himself. “Where are your companions?”

“I don’t know,” Brandyé said honestly. “I was traveling with an Illuèn and a Sarâthen, and a Namirèn, but I have lost them.”

“Or they have lost you. Tell me, what does a man want with such beings?”

For a moment Brandyé considered this question; in his mind, he was beginning to wonder what they had wanted of him. After all, he was no one, with no memory of his past and hardly a name to his own. And after so long traveling, it was difficult to remember what they had set out to do; difficult to remember why they had asked him to accompany them in the first place. He felt it was something to do with his naïveté, and his fallacious hope. Finally, he said what he thought to be true, knowing even as he spoke how ridiculous it must sound. “We sought to find a peace.”

“You’re talking to the wrong man.”

In a sudden burst of desperation, Brandyé said, “Then take me to Dumèn. Let me speak with someone who can grant peace.”

The man narrowed his eyes at Brandyé, and looked at him for a long while. “A captive in battle,” he said slowly, “even one from the Great City, is not one to seek an audience with Dumèn the Great. Who are you, that you think yourself worthy to stand in his presence? Even I have never met him.”

Still clinging to that same desperation, Brandyé said, “If Dumèn doesn’t stop his advances, the Great City will retaliate. Their weapons will destroy him, and all his people. He must listen to reason.”

“What do you know of their weapons?”

And here, Brandyé saw his chance. “Take me to Dumèn, and I will tell him what I know. I will not speak to another.”

The man grunted. “I think you know nothing, and are playing for your life.”

“When your master advances you into Thaeìn, and beyond, and suddenly finds his forces decimated, you’ll remember this conversation. You’ll wish you had listened to me, before you die.” These words were audacious, and Brandyé could scarcely believe he was saying them. But what did he have to lose?

The man curled a lip. “I’ll take your words into consideration,” he said deliberately, “but expect nothing.” He stood, and left the tent.

Brandyé sat back, and considered. He was uncertain this man had taken him seriously, and thought perhaps he had merely achieved a delay before his execution. He did not see why they would want to keep him alive, and had to admit to himself that if he were Dumèn the Great, he would have little interest in a prisoner of war. But there was something in him that refused to abandon their quest, their purpose for being here. If there was even the smallest shard of hope that he could forestall coming war, he knew he had to take that chance.

It was some time before he heard anything from the captain, or anyone else for that matter. He was kept shackled in the dark tent, provided food and water once a day, and left alone. He had much time to think of his fate, and so when the captain finally returned some days later, fear had crept deep into his thoughts. He suspected this was intentional.

But the captain had news that he was simultaneously glad and terrified to hear. “There is a halfway camp on the Bridge of Aélûr, perhaps a hundred miles toward our land,” he spoke when he returned. “Our master has just arrived there, wishing to know the progress of battle. I must send word to him at once of our victory over Hope. And I will be sending another thing to him: you.” He smiled grimly. “I am sending word that a prisoner of the Great City wishes to speak with him. That he knows of our enemy’s forces. And that he is going to gladly divulge that information.” The man leaned down near to Brandyé. “I don’t think you’ll see Dumèn, myself; I think you’ll be tortured for information long before he sets eyes on you. But should you meet him: don’t expect to live to tell anyone about it.”

At these words, the shapeless fear that had been brewing in Brandyé’s chest burst forth, and he wondered why he had ever spoken of their quest at all. He had no desire for torture, and even less for death. Yet something deep within him said that he had weathered such things before, and survived. He wondered if this was a part of his past that was beginning to surface, and found himself hoping it did not—he did not want to remember such terrible things.

Before long, Brandyé found himself taken from the tent, and the desolation that surrounded him rent his heart. As he looked to the east, he could see there was nothing left of Hope at all—the fires had burned the homes to ash and crumbling beams, many of which were still smoldering. He wondered what had become of Athalya, and the Sarâthen; he was certain had they been captured he would have heard of it, yet he could not fathom where they might have gone in this flaming wilderness.

The sky was as dark as it had been before he had been captured, black clouds wreathed with flame and ash. He still could not comprehend their weapon, how it could send fire from the sky, but he was nervous to see it was still aloft, and wondered what their next target would be. He suspected they would stand no better a chance of survival than Hope had.

He was led by soldiers through the encampment, the noise of armies gathering for battle loud around him. Many wore the same masks as had the commander who had captured him, and he began to understand why: the air was thick with dust and ash, and he found it difficult to breathe. Several times he coughed deeply, nearly falling to his knees, but his guard would not stop and merely dragged him onward until he could regain his feet. Eventually, looming in the distance, Brandyé saw another of the great iron beasts that had borne him to Hope, set on rails and facing to the west. Behind it trailed many coaches, most without windows and being loaded with cargo. To these he was taken, and shoved roughly up a short stairway into one of the coaches whose large door stood gaping. There were many boxes within, dirt and dust coating all, and another great door opposite the one he had entered. Great bars blocked it, and he wondered if he was to be left alone among the cargo.

Indeed, once the guards had pushed him into the coach, they pulled shut a great gate across the first entrance, and stood outside, looking at him. He returned their gaze for a moment, confused. Was he to have no guard? He looked at the bars blocking both open doors, and realized that he could probably slip between them should he try hard enough. This hardly seemed secure.

As if to answer his thoughts, one of the guards spoke to him: “We’ll be watching you until you set off; once you do, you’ll think twice of escape.” At these ominous words Brandyé’s heart sank, and he wondered what was to come.

It was not long before he found out. Soon, it seemed, the coaches and carriages were loaded, and a quiet fell over them. Then, from far ahead, Brandyé heard the deafening explosion of steam and smoke from the engine that drove it all, and with a lurch that sent him tumbling the coach was set in motion. Slowly at first, then gradually gaining speed, they set off into the east and toward his fate.

At first Brandyé was uncertain why the guard were so confident that he would not try to escape, but before long he realized that they were gaining speed to a point where he would certainly be killed if he tried to jump from the moving coach. He wondered how long it would take to cover the hundred miles to their destination at such a rate, and suspected it would not be long at all. Eventually, he began to busy himself with studying the surrounding landscape, low green hills and grassy plains passing him by swiftly on either side. If not for the dark and clouded skies, he thought this would be quite a pleasant part of the world to see.

Eventually the hills petered out, and he found they were passing across a wide, flat plain, low grasses scattered sparsely throughout, rock and gravel elsewhere. And in the distance, it seemed, the land was swiftly coming to an end. He began to grow nervous, for it seemed that a colossal cliff was approaching, and he failed to see how they would avoid plunging headlong over its edge. Closer it came, and soon a dark ocean appeared beyond the horizon. Panic overtook him, even though he knew they could not possibly be headed for such certain destruction. It seemed to him almost they they increased their speed, and then they were upon the cliff, and as its edge swept by, they failed to tumble, failed to fall into the sea, but instead carried forward as though supported by nothing at all.

The land dropped away beneath them, the dark waters thrashing below, and for several long minutes he could not comprehend what he was experiencing. Finally, he looked down to the coach’s wheels, and realized they were yet on rails, only these rails were suspended hundreds of feet above the storming ocean. A thin line of stone rushed by, and he realized that they must be on a bridge—one that seemed to cross the very sea itself.

And then he realized that he had been so focused on the drop and ocean beneath that he had failed to look through the other opening of the carriage. He moved to the other side of the coach, and here, it became abundantly clear. While the engine and its coaches were speeding forward on a bridge no wider than they were, some dozen yards to the right was a monumental structure, half a mile wide at least, running in parallel to their own. In fact, it was so wide it hardly registered to Brandyé as a bridge at all, seeming more like a wide, flat peninsula that carried on in unnatural straightness out into the depths of the sea. Dotted along it were small encampments, and he saw that the great bridge must be home to hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers from the west as they passed from Aélûr into Thaeìn.

Here he saw why he was not guarded; not only were they moving at a prodigious pace, but even if he were to slip through the bars he would plummet hundreds of feet into a terrible ocean, killed by the impact or left to drown. So he settled dejectedly to the floor in the dust and dirt, and watched as the dark waters passed by, and the clouds darkened. He was not certain if the sky was growing darker unnaturally, or if they were merely entering night, but either way, his heart sank. He was now not only impossibly far from the Viura Râ, but growing rapidly further from the only people he could call friends, as unaware of their fate as he was of his own. He felt awfully alone, and despair began to claw at his heart. It was a feeling he had not had since awakening in the forests of Golgor, yet it was somehow deeply familiar. Despite the awfulness of the darkness that was now growing in his heart, there was yet something comforting about it—a piece of his mind that told him this was all too normal, that his fate was despair, and it was folly to have ever thought otherwise.

So his journey into the east and into darkness continued, and before long it was full night and he could see nothing at all, save for the gentle crimson glow of the clouds above. He rested against a large box, and fell asleep.

It was still night when he awoke to find they had stopped, and he was being jostled to his feet by several soldiers. There was a great deal of dim light pervading the coach, and as he was led out of it he saw that there were numerous lanterns on high posts surrounding them as far as he could see. Each let out a faint red light, and though one or two would hardly give enough light to see by, in their vast numbers they lit the scene like a dark sunset in winter. He looked about them as he was marched onward, and realized that this was no camp. Homes, barracks, entire buildings were erected all around them, and he wondered how long they had been here. The captain had spoken of it as though it were a temporary war camp, but it seemed to him now that it must have been built many years ago, and was more of a village than anything else.

As they walked on, he saw looming ahead a building that was greater in height and breadth than any other, rising several stories above the flat base of the bridge he saw they were still standing upon. It was a grotesque structure, bristling with black spires and pinnacles and leering gargoyles, and he wondered at its construction. If this was representative of the construction of the people of Aélûr, what did it say about their thoughts, and their minds?

And of course, it was to this building he was taken, still shackled, and weak now from hunger and thirst. As they mounted the steep steps and into the dark belly of the fortress, he wondered if this was not all deliberate—with so little strength left in him, how could he long resist whatever terrible tortures might await him? Through passages and corridors they went, and he thought this place seemed larger yet inside that it had from the outside. Down steps and through stone doorways, and finally he saw the end of their trip: a great cage, set alone in the center of a wide room. Into this he was thrust, and one of the guards stepped in with him. To Brandyé’s surprise, the guard took a set of keys from his pocket and unfastened the shackles, withdrawing them and leaving Brandyé to rub his raw and bleeding wrists. The door to the cage was shut and locked, and then Brandyé was left in silence.

For some hours he was left alone, then, and he could do little but pace the cage or sit upon the floor, for there was no stool, no bed, nor even a blanket or pillow upon which to rest his head. Eventually, with his back to the bars, he dozed in the gloom, his stomach growling and his throat burning.

He woke from his doze quite suddenly, as though by a noise, but upon opening his eyes he could see nothing in the darkness. Peering further, he saw drifting shadows against the black walls, and wondered if someone was in the room with him. If they were, they were as quiet as a ghost. He stood and moved forward, and nearly tripped on a jug that had somehow been placed in the cage with him. He looked down in horror to see it tip, spilling water across the stone floor, and reached down swiftly to right the jug. It was too late, however—not a drop remained in it, and the water was quickly seeping through the cracks in the floor. He knelt down and began to lick at the ground, desperate for moisture, the rough grit scraping his tongue. Among the few drops of water he managed to get, he tasted blood.

The noise of the jug tipping, the rustle of his movements, and the blood in his ears, all were sudden and loud in the silence, and when he stopped, he felt a great unease. Someone was near, he was certain, just out of sight in the shadows.

And indeed, out of the shadows came a sudden voice: low, hard and dark. “What a shame. That was a week’s ration.”

Brandyé turned toward the sound of the voice, but could see nothing. “Please—it was a mistake. Just a cup, I beg!”

“I am not interested in your pleas, or your plight. Tell me, why are you here?”

Brandyé whirled, for the voice seemed now to come from another direction. “I … I was brought, as a prisoner.”

“That is not what I asked.”

Yet again Brandyé turned, still unable to see the speaker. “I’m here to see Dumèn the Great.”

“Dumèn the Great will not be seen.”

“Please—I must speak with him.”

“That is different. What would you say to Dumèn the Great?”

Brandyé paused, his throat itching terribly. “Please—can I have something to drink?”

There was a long, terrible silence, before the voice spoke again: “You may drink.”

At first Brandyé waited, expecting a servant to appear with water. When after a time nothing happened, he turned around to find the jug, mysteriously, had refilled itself. Uncertain and afraid, Brandyé lifted it gently, and tipped a mouthful of water down his throat. He wondered briefly if he was being poisoned, and discarded the thought—there were far easier ways to kill him. The water was warm, but after so long without a drop soothed his burning throat nonetheless. He gently lowered the jug back to the ground. “Thank you,” he uttered.

“Consider that your last kindness,” the voice said. “Now, speak.”

“I must speak directly with Dumèn the Great,” Brandyé said with a false courage. He was afraid that if he divulged anything to anyone less, he would simply be executed directly.

“You will speak to me, or I will have your tongue ripped out of your throat.”

Brandyé swallowed. “Then I won’t be able to speak with anyone.”

“That is not my concern.” The voice grew softer, and harsher. “Speak.”

Brandyé took a moment then, and considered his choice of words. He realized he knew in fact very little that would be useful to to anyone, and as soon as this disembodied voice realized that, it would have him killed. Yet he knew he must to try—against all odds, he was closer to this terrible lord than anyone from the east had ever been, still alive, and, it dawned on him, a last chance at peace was possibly now in his very hands. What could he say that would persuade Dumèn the Great to stand down his weapons and his armies?

He began with a question. “Why does Dumèn the Great seek to destroy the peoples of Erâth?” he asked. “Why does he desire war?”

“Dumèn the Great does not answer to you,” the voice said. “His wishes are not your concern. Divulge your information.”

But Brandyé knew he could not yet answer. “Surely Dumèn the Great must realize that he can’t possibly win. The people of Erâth will unite against him. The more villages he destroys, the more people will rise up to oppose him.”

To Brandyé’s surprise, the voice chucked softly, a sound that chilled Brandyé’s blood. “Dumèn’s victory is not in the surrender of the people of Erâth. Such things are far beneath his concern. Should every last man and woman in this world be destroyed, he would not care.”

“Why? What does Dumèn want, then? Perhaps I can find a way to give it to him!”

At this, the voice laughed outright. “What an interesting thing you are. Dumèn does not need to be given anything. Dumèn will take what he wishes.”

“He has already taken much—does he desire all of Erâth under his command?”

“The command of Erâth is but a stepping stone to what Dumèn will achieve.”

“What more could there be? What more could a single person hope to have?”

“Dumèn the Great is no mere person. He is … Dumèn the Great.”

Brandyé thought this a peculiar statement. “Are you saying Dumèn the Great is many people? That there is no single man known as Dumèn?”

“No.”

Confusion was beginning to take the place of Brandyé’s fear. “Can you explain this to me?”

But the voice said nothing for a moment. “You are delaying me,” it said finally. “You will now say something of interest to Dumèn the Great, or you will die.”

Brandyé bit his lip, and then said with a bravery he did not feel, “If I die, Dumèn will never know what weapons are being designed against him as we speak.”

Then silence fell. Brandyé looked about him again, but still could see no sign of any visitor, or other person in the dark room with him. He did notice, however, that the jug was missing. Perplexed, he looked to see if it was outside the cage, but he could see nothing there, either. He was about to turn around again when suddenly, all lights in the room—dim as they were—went out entirely, and he was left in utter blackness. Yet it was a blackness that seemed somehow even deeper than the absence of light, and he was uneasily reminded of something sinister, though he could not quite remember what. He stumbled and knocked against the cage’s bars, cursing at the pain.

Then, as swiftly as the light had deserted him, it returned. Against the blackness, the dim lanterns were blinding. He looked about him, and noticed something unsettling: the cage appeared considerably smaller than it had been only moments ago. Where before he could have easily taken ten strides across it, he could now almost touch the bars of one side from the other.

“What is this?” he asked aloud. “What’s happening?”

“Speak of these weapons,” the voice came again, “or watch your cage constrict until you are crushed between its bars.”

A great fear then came over Brandyé, for he saw that the voice spoke a truth: if the bars came much closer, they would press him into their unyielding grip, until his bones shattered and his flesh was crushed. He could not afford to upset this voice any further. “Dumèn the Great has many weapons,” he said gingerly. “I have seen them—from killing stones to fire in the sky.”

“He does,” the voice acknowledged.

“Where did he get them? Some seem beyond the powers of mortal men.”

“Indeed.”

Brandyé paused for a moment. “Why is he then afraid of what other men could create?”

The voice grew dangerous. “Dumèn the Great is not afraid of anything. Dumèn the Great is assured of his victory.”

“I am sorry,” Brandyé said. “I meant to say, what is his interest in such petty things?”

“The Great City is capable of many things,” the voice said—with a hint of bitterness, Brandyé thought.

“The men of Viura Râ wish for peace,” Brandyé said, “but they are afraid it is impossible. Will you not give it to them?”

“Peace will be had. If they believe what they say, they will give up their weapons.”

“How can we know Dumèn the Great won’t use them against us?”

“If they resist, he will.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Those who give themselves willingly to Dumèn the Great will not suffer. Then there will be peace.”

To Brandyé this seemed an outright lie; the village of Hope had not resisted, and had been wiped out. “Why did you attack a village that had no defenses? Why did you destroy men, and women, and children who had no quarrel with you?”

Suddenly, Brandyé felt a pressure at his back. He tried to turn, and realized he could not. The bars of the cage were pressing upon him with sudden swiftness, his chest pushed up against the cold iron. “You are delaying again,” the voice said. “I will not give you another chance. Speak of their weapons, or die.”

Struggling to catch a breath, Brandyé realized he had no choice. With a gasp, he said, “They are creating a thing in Viura Râ. I don’t know quite what it is, but it’s said to have the power to control—to bend the will of others to one’s own. They would use it against you and their armies should you continue to devastate the world.”

There was a great silence then, and in it Brandyé could hear his breath, short and rasping, and hoped the cage would expand once more. Finally, the voice said, “This is interesting. Such a device would significantly accelerate our goals. How does it work?”

Brandyé tried to shake his head, but couldn’t. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen it. I only know what I’ve heard others say.”

“Then you have served your purpose.”

Brandyé felt the bars begin to contract again, threatening to break his very ribs, and he gave in to his desperation and fear. “Please—stop! I’ll do anything you ask!”

The bars ceased in their inward motion—but did not release. “What could you do,” the voice asked, “that would interest Dumèn the Great?”

Scarcely able to breath, Brandyé panted, “I’ll … I’ll tell them to stop. I’ll tell them … that you are too powerful.”

“Would you turn this weapon to us?”

Panic threatened to overwhelm Brandyé’s thoughts. The already dim room began to darken once more, only this time he knew it was from his own lack of air. If he did not quell the voice’s anger soon, he would die. Yet he knew he could not deliver such a terrible weapon to Dumèn the Great—it would mark the end of all things in Erâth.

“Very well,” said the voice, and the bars began to constrict once more. Brandyé cried out with the last of his breath, and felt a pop in his chest as one of his ribs cracked. Agony flooded him, and he tried to speak again, nothing but incoherent mumbling escaping him.

“What was that?” the voice said.

“Yes … yes,” Brandyé spat, blood flecking his lips.

The bars stopped again. Brandyé’s vision dimmed entirely, and the room disappeared. He faintly heard the voice again: “Good. Then I will release you, and you will return to Viura Râ. You will tell them this: if this weapon is not delivered to Dumèn the Great by the first day of the seventh month, Aélûr will unleash its full might upon the world—beginning with the Mirèn.” As Brandyé’s thoughts faded entirely, he wondered at this final statement, and why Dumèn the Great would start with the race of Life—and then he thought nothing at all for some time.

When Brandyé next knew the world, all was still dark. The heavy scent of smoke filled his lungs, and he tried to breathe only to feel a searing pain in his chest. The ground beneath him rocked to and fro gently, and he suspected he was once more in a coach, though in which direction they were heading—east or west—he could not tell. He tried to sit, and again the deep pain in his chest prevented him. His hands were not shackled, at least, and for this he was thankful.

After many minutes, he managed to bite his lip and roll to his side, voicing a mumble of pain as he did. He had never felt so terrible in all his memory—though this was still dim and faint. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he had once been subjected to far worse, but he could not recall it. For a long while he remained on his side, and gradually became aware that he could see faint shapes in the darkness—perhaps dawn was coming. He felt the dirt on the floor beneath him, felt the sear of his broken chest, tasted the blood in his mouth. It was fearsomely hot, and sweat dripped down his back.

And then, in the midst of this wave of sensation, he felt something cool envelop him—but it was far from welcoming. It was a chill, a dread cold that spoke to him of decay and death. It passed over and into him, and he shivered in the heat. As he did, he realized that he could no longer feel the pain in his chest—could not longer feel anything, in fact, except for the overwhelming cold.

And then a calm voice spoke from behind him. “You are hurt, Brandyé, but you should sit.” He recognized it, but could not place it. Instead, he did as the voice commanded, surprised to find he could push himself to his knees without pain. He turned to look at the voice, wondering if it, too, would have no body to it.

Instead, he saw a dreadfully familiar figure, and his heart sank yet further. Before him knelt Shaera, her pale visage only just visible in the dim light, the deep black of her robes lost to the darkness around them. “Where am I?” he asked. “How did you get here?”

“We are bound for what remains of Hope,” she said softly. “There we will reunite with our companions—and return. We have been defeated.”

Brandyé shook his head. “What do you mean?”

“You spoke with Dumèn. This alone must be commended, but you did not secure peace. The Duithèn will rise, Dumèn at their side. And with the weapon of Viura Râ, they truly will not be stopped.”

“Surely we won’t actually give it to them, will we?” Brandyé asked incredulously.

“That is not for me to say. But it could mean the end of Life in Erâth—and even as Death, that is something I fear.”

“Then what can we do?” Brandyé exclaimed.

Shaera only looked away. “You must go back now. Return to Viura Râ, and continue to hope.”

For a long moment there was silence between them, and Brandyé felt the familiar gnawing of despair. In his hope to convince Dumèn the Great to consider peace, it seemed he had in fact set the stage for perhaps the most terrible war Erâth had ever seen. He knew that his intentions had been sound, but this brought him little comfort. Had they never set out from Viura Râ at all, Dumèn the Great would not have threatened the extinction of an entire race.

Yet Hope would still have fallen, and Thaeìn would have followed. And what would have come after? War, it seemed, had been inevitable. Even if all their plans had gone well, and Dumèn the Great had been reasoned with, there were still other lands in Erâth bent on the destruction of others. The hate of men, it seemed, had spread far and wide across the world. He wondered if the folk of Golgor, thousands of miles away, had succumbed also. He wondered if Yateley was still alive, and if his thoughts were darkened also. And he wondered what he was to do now.

Finally he turned to Shaera, and said, “Thank you, at least, for healing me.”

“I did not,” she said unreassuringly. “My presence deadens sensation. When I leave, you will once more feel pain.”

“Then please don’t leave.”

She nodded. “I will stay—for now. Once we arrive at the camp near Hope, I must depart, but you will be in friendly company by then.

So they spent the hours of the journey in silence, and as day broke Brandyé saw it remained nearly as dark as night. The vast ocean sped past below them, and there were this time no bars on the carriage doors—they were open to the void, and so Brandyé stayed far from the edge, and close to Shaera. Despite her deathly presence, Brandyé felt a cold kind of comfort near her: almost as though she was something familiar, something to remind him of home. He worried that his true home, wherever it might be, was long-since destroyed.

Finally they came to stop outside the ruins of Hope, and true to her word, Shaera was no longer present. The pain in his chest had returned redoubled, and when the guards grasped him and hauled him from the coach he could scarcely breathe for the agony he felt. They dragged him for what seemed an eternity through the desolate waste of the town, and when the finally released him he realized it was, more or less, precisely where he had been captured. Here they left him, and he collapsed on the blackened earth, unable to stand.

And then a voice came to him, a soothing, calming voice that took away a tiny portion of the pain, and lifted his despair. “Poor Brandyé,” said Athalya. “We’ve been waiting to see if they would return you. Are you hurt?”

Brandyé could barely nod. “They … they tortured me. I said things … I said things I should never have said.”

“Hush,” said Athalya. “No one will blame you.” She stooped, and to Brandyé’s astonishment lifted him effortlessly from the ground. “It is time for our journey to end. We will heal you, and we will return to Viura Râ. I think we must know what they have been doing there.”

As she walked, holding Brandyé tight, he became aware of the Sarâthen beside them. “Please,” he whispered, “I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to face the Council and tell them of our failure.”

The Sarâthen smiled a small smile. “They knew we would fail,” he said, “as did we. We did not come here for success.”

Though Brandyé had known this in his heart, he was nonetheless distraught to hear the words from the Sarâthen. “Then why did we come?” he asked bitterly. “Why waste all this time?”

“No time spent in the company of friends is wasted,” the Sarâthen said, “and we have made friends on our journey.”

“People have also died,” Brandyé pointed out.

“People must die,” the Sarâthen pointed out. “It is only a question of when.”

“And how,” Brandyé returned. “And no one should have to die before their time.”

“Only the Namirèn can know a person’s time,” the Sarâthen said, “so think on that: those who died were fated to.”

But Brandyé knew this was not true. Shaera had told him herself that not all death was of the Namirèn’s doing. She had spoken of the Duithèn bringing wanton death with them. And now, at the hands of Dumèn the Great, that death was upon all the world.

“I told him of the weapon,” he said softly.

“I know,” the Sarâthen said. “Do not worry of it.”

“I must worry!” Brandyé exclaimed. “Because of me, an entire race is threatened with extinction!”

“Do you mean the Mirèn?” the Sarâthen asked gently.

“How do you know?”

“The Mirèn are threatened with extinction by the very presence of men,” he said. “They left the shores of men years ago when men became bitter and full of hate. Their fate was decided long ago, before Dumèn the Great or even the rise of the Duithèn.”

“How can you speak so callously?”

“The Sarâthen allowed the race of men to discover the Mirèn, and the Illuèn, and all the others,” the Sarâthen said softly, and Brandyé heard a deep pang of regret in the old man’s voice. “We foresaw many things, and the destruction of the races of Erâth was one of them.”

Brandyé could not believe what the Sarâthen had just said. “You knew? You knew, and you allowed this to happen?”

“We trusted that the race of men would rise to conquer their fear and hate. We were wrong.”

“Then fix it! Correct your mistake!”

“And so we are trying.”

“How? By making dreadful weapons?”

“We allowed men—”

“Oh, I apologize,” Brandyé said contemptuously. “You allowed men to destroy themselves and the races of power. You allowed men to succumb to the Darkness of the Duithèn. You allowed hate to rule Erâth! And you have done nothing to stop it!”

“We traveled to Aélûr.”

“By your own admission, this was never to amount to anything!”

“Brandyé,” said the Sarâthen, “have you never stopped to wonder why you are here? Why you came to be in a forest in Golgor, with no memory of your past? Have you never stopped to wonder what happened to you—before?”

“Are you saying you know?” Brandyé asked.

“I suspect,” the Sarâthen said, “though I cannot know for certain. And I suspect that you were meant to travel the length of breadth of Erâth. You were meant to encounter the brightest and darkest of this world. And you were meant to learn from it. Tell me—what have you learned?”

“I’ve learned not to trust any race of power!” Brandyé spat. “The Duithèn seek to control all, the Sarâthen bring men to their doom, and the Illuèn—” he stopped for a moment, aware that an Illuèn was carrying him at that very moment “—most of your kin refuse to help! You would all leave men to their fate.”

“You are angry now,” the Sarâthen said, “and bitter. This I understand. But can you look past your fear, and your hate? Can you see what else you have discovered?”

But at that moment, Brandyé could not. He could not see that he had learned of friendship, and kin; he could not see that there were things in the world worth fighting for. All he saw was despair, and death, and destruction. And he knew that whatever the Sarâthen said, the last year of his life had been utterly in vain: he was no one, and had made no difference to the world.

In fact, he had made a difference, he thought. He had given the world the tool it needed to bring itself to its own destruction. He had given it a reason for war. And he despaired.

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