The Redemption of Erâth: Book Three, Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen: Paräth

After some time, Brandyé realized that he was being carried far into the countryside, away from the ruins of Hope and through the hills. He had grown quiet after the argument with the Sarâthen, and allowed himself to be borne wherever they wished. He was uncertain where they made for, but his chest still pained him greatly, and so he cared little either way. He thought perhaps the pain was receding slightly, or perhaps he was growing accustomed to it, but it seemed to hurt less by the time they stopped that night by a stream.

He had to admit he was mildly astonished at the Illuèn’s seemingly inexhaustible strength, for he knew he was not light to carry for so long and so far. He knew he had treated Athalya and the Sarâthen unfairly, but the world itself seemed less than fair to him at that moment. As they sat in the dark without fire, Brandyé found the courage to speak: “I am sorry,” he said.

“Do not be,” the Sarâthen returned. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“I spoke ill of the Illuèn, and the Sarâthen,” Brandyé pointed out. “I shouldn’t have.”

“I think you should speak so more often,” Athalya said softly. Her gentle glow was the only light in the gloom. “Your passion betrays you, Brandyé—you care for this world more than you wish to admit.”

“What are we to do?” he asked.

“We must heal you,” Athalya said, “but I do not have the ability to do so here. The Mirèn could heal you in an instant, but we are hundreds of miles across the Thawoèm from their realm.”

“I’d like to see the Mirèn,” Brandyé said softly.

“I think you might, sooner than you know,” the Sarâthen suggested.

“What does that mean?” Brandyé asked, but the Sarâthen was not forthcoming.

“For now, you must rest,” Athalya said. “You have eaten nothing for days, and had precious little to drink. I will gather water from the stream, but food will be scarce.”

So Brandyé passed an uncomfortable night in silence, drinking sips of water from the stream as Athalya brought it to him, cupped in her hands. By the time day broke, he was feeling exhausted, weak, and the agony of his chest had renewed. The clouds were dark above, but at least he could see around him, and saw that the countryside, for lack of sun, was in fact rather pleasant. Some few flowers bloomed here and there, and he was reminded that elsewhere in the world, it was spring.

“I can’t walk,” he said to Athalya. “Are you going to be able to carry me forever?”

He was afraid the answer would be no, and indeed, she said, “Without the light of sun, I am growing weaker myself. I cannot carry you another day.”

“Then it seems we are lost,” Brandyé said. “Leave me—it’s better for you and the Sarâthen to return, than for us all to die because of me.”

“Nonsense,” said the Sarâthen. “We must simply wait.”

“Wait for what?” Brandyé asked, but again the old man would say no more.

It seemed to Brandyé the Sarâthen knew something neither he nor Athalya were aware of, but as he often did, he would not reveal what it was. So Brandyé leaned back against the grassy knoll, waiting for he knew not what as the day brightened. It was only after some time that he realized the day was continuing to brighten, well past noontime and beyond, and he wondered that the ever-present clouds did not block more of the sun’s light. He thought perhaps Athalya would regain some strength and be able to carry him once more, when he realized that the growing light was of something beyond the natural light of day. He look around him, but could see no provenance of the illumination; then he looked above, and what he saw took away his already ailing breath.

Although the clouds remained unbroken, a great, wholesome light was beaming through them, and against it was silhouetted what seemed to be an enormous bird, the shape of an eagle but hundreds of times the size. The wings flapped slowly, and with each beat he could hear the air pound in his ears. Around them it circled, and though Brandyé could see nothing but its vague outline, he was not afraid—the light that surrounded this creature was far too beautiful, far too radiant to be anything terrible. So he surrendered to the light, allowed it to flow over him and penetrate him, and he forgot all pain and ailment as the bird drew ever nearer.

With a great rush of wind the gigantic creature lowered itself through the air and came to a landing on the nearest hilltop. Brandyé could still not see its true form, and he realized the radiance that he perceived was not behind, or above the creature, but emanated from it directly. If the Illuèn had to themselves a glow, this creature kept for itself the very sun itself.

“What is it?” he found himself asking gently.

“It is impossible,” Athalya replied, as awestruck as himself.

But the Sarâthen only smiled. “It is our salvation.”

In a delirium of pain and wonder, Brandyé felt himself lifted from the ground once more, this time by many gentle hands. He was carried onward and toward the great bird, and as the light consumed him he gave himself willingly to it. His vision faded to white, and he felt entirely at peace.

When Brandyé awoke, it was to cold air and blue skies. He was lying on a flat surface, hard but somehow comfortable. The floor beneath him rose and fell gently, and he thought perhaps he was on a boat. He raised himself and sat, and it was a moment before he realized that the movement should have brought with it excruciating pain—but he felt nothing. In fact, he felt better, he thought, than he had ever felt in his life.

He stood, and beheld what lay around him. For a moment he could scarcely comprehend it, for he was as far from a boat as he thought possible. He was in a vessel, certainly, but on either side enormous wings pushed steadily at the air, which now that he was standing rushed past him, watering his eyes. Surrounding them was nothing but white, a sea of clouds that floated serenely into the horizon and were lost to sight. He wondered if these were the same clouds that from below were so dark and ominous.

And surrounding him in the vessel were numerous folk, passing here and there, all clad in gowns of gold and white, healthy bronze skin shining with life. If he had known the race of light by their stature and glow, he knew these folk just as readily for what they were: Mirèn.

The vessel they floated on was perched, he could see now, on the back of the giant bird that had landed for them. It carried them effortlessly through the sky, onward to their destination, wherever it might be. And never had he felt so whole, so eager, and so full of life. Truly these were a miraculous folk—how could the race of men have ever discredited them, blamed them for their own failures? He moved forward, and saw in a corner Athalya and the Sarâthen speaking with one of the Mirèn. They saw him approach, and welcomed him.

“Ah!” said the Sarâthen. “It is good to see you awake! Tell me, how are you feeling?”

“Better than I could have imagined,” Brandyé said truthfully. “I feel whole, and well.”

“And so you should,” said Athalya, “for our hosts have healed you well.”

“The Mirèn,” Brandyé nodded.

The Mirèn standing with them nodded in return, and smiled. “We are glad to meet you, Brandyé. We have heard much of you.”

At this, Brandyé frowned slightly. “From whom?”

“One who cannot be with us now,” he returned. “She sent word that you were in need.”

“She? Surely you don’t mean … Shaera?”

“Death and Life cannot be at one in the same place,” the Mirèn said calmly, “but nonetheless Death spoke to us, telling us of your plight. We knew we must come to your aid.”

“You shouldn’t have!” Brandyé exclaimed. “The armies of Aélûr seek your destruction! If they found you …”

“Then we would be destroyed sooner, and not later. After all, Life cannot exist forever.”

“You speak with such certainty,” Brandyé said. “Aren’t you afraid?”

“We do not fear Death,” said the Mirèn, “much as the Illuèn do not fear Darkness. Without Death, we cannot be.”

“But what would the world be without Life?” Brandyé asked.

The Mirèn only nodded. “That will be a conversation for another time. For now, enjoy our journey. We go to visit the lands of Narün—the last free peoples of Erâth!”

So Brandyé came to learn that they were steadily making their way east and to the north, and as the hours progressed the air grew colder, and frost grew around the deck and railings. Yet for all the cold, he did not feel the numbing pain of frostbite, or the sting of ice at his cheeks; it was as though the cold had no effect in the presence of such strength of Life. Soon the clouds faded from below them, and he could see an icy ocean rushing far, far below. In the great distance he could see a shoreline, and he wondered at their speed if they were indeed already approaching the lands of Narün. Hadn’t Athalya said they had been hundreds of miles away?

But soon they passed over the land, and he saw that their vessel, and thus the great bird-creature, was growing ever lower to the snow-covered ground. Before long mountains grew tall in the distance, and among them, he saw firs and pines, and goats and yak and other nameless creatures darting here and there. For such a frosted place, it seemed to teem with life.

Then, between two mountain peaks, he saw crystal pillars reach high toward the sky, and saw this as their destination. It was a great castle made entirely of ice, spires reaching to the clouds and bastions plunging down to the snow below. Before he knew it they had landed, and he was being escorted away from the giant bird vessel and toward this palace, up winding snow-covered steps and through an archway that towered a hundred feet above his head. Into a great hall they went, still entirely built of ice, and to a great table they were led. The table was laden with food, and Brandyé wondered that they had, perhaps, been expected.

At the table sat already many Mirèn, but space was made for Brandyé, Athalya and the Sarâthen, and as they sat they were bade to eat. To Brandyé’s great surprise, there was much meat among the greens and grains, and he turned to the nearest Mirèn to ask about this. “Surely the race of Life wouldn’t kill other animals to survive, would they?”

But the Mirèn only laughed. “Life subsists on Life, friend,” he said. “For one thing to survive, another must die. Such is the balance of Life and Death. Your bread—” he motioned to the loaf Brandyé was gnawing at “—was made from grains—a plant that had to die.”

Brandyé was perplexed. “Then for you, there is no difference between slaughtering a lamb and plucking a blade of grass?”

The Mirèn shrugged. “So long as their death served the life of another, then it is good.”

So long as their death served the life of another. Brandyé mulled this thought over. Did it mean the Mirèn believed that death served as purpose—even their own? And if they were to know that their race was coming to an end … would they sacrifice themselves deliberately for the sake of the lives of all other beings in Erâth?

“There is something I must tell you,” Brandyé began.

“Is it that the armies of Aélûr are plotting to destroy the Mirèn?” the Mirèn asked.

“How do you know?” Brandyé was certain this was not the same Mirèn he had briefly spoken to on the journey here.

The Mirèn merely shrugged. “You have told us.”

“I didn’t tell you all.”

“Then by all means, speak.”

Brandyé took a deep breath. “I was captured by the forces of Aélûr. They tortured me, threatened to kill me. I believe they would have, had I not …” he trailed off, for shame was rising in him. “Had I not offered a bargain for my own life.”

“Do not feel regret,” the Mirèn said gently. “Your life is precious, and your death at their hands would have served no purpose.”

“I told them of the weapon that lies in Viura Râ. They demanded it.”

“That is hardly surprising.”

Athalya, who had been sitting quietly nearby, spoke up: “Under no circumstances can the enemy be allowed to possess this weapon. It would mean the certain spread of Darkness across all of Erâth.”

“They say they will destroy the Mirèn if it isn’t given over to them!” Brandyé protested.

“That is not certain,” said the Sarâthen. “The Mirèn are strong with Life; it would take much to destroy them.”

“Perhaps less than you think,” the Mirèn said in return. “We live from the life of all things around us, and despite our efforts there is little life here in Narün. We are weak.”

“Then we must give them the weapon!” Brandyé cried. “Surely we can’t be considering the extinction of an entire race—”

“I’m afraid I agree—” started the Mirèn.

“Thank you,” Brandyé said.

But the Mirèn was not finished. “I agree with the Illuèn. This terrible weapon of domination that exists in Viura Râ; it should not have been created. And now that it exists, it must not be used—by us, or by the Duithèn. The balance of all things in Erâth depend upon it.”

“Then you’ll be destroyed!” said Brandyé vehemently.

“Then we will be destroyed,” confirmed the Mirèn.

“How can this be your will?”

“Light exists in the absence of Illuèn,” the Mirèn said. “Darkness, in the absence of the Duithèn. So too can Life exist, even without the Mirèn. The world of Erâth will continue—but our time in it is ending.”

Brandyé felt a tear come to his eye. These people were so wholesome, so tranquil and good; he had never felt such peace in his life as he had in their presence. “How can you be so willing to die for this world?” he asked. “How can you know your sacrifice will make any difference? What will we do without you?”

The Mirèn smiled. “The world of men has gone on for some time now without us. It will continue to go on. Their survival is assured.”

“Our survival isn’t deserved,” Brandyé said bitterly.

“Oh, but it is—men, who can love, and laugh, and paint and sing!”

“And kill, and hate, and destroy.”

“It is the balance of they world.”

“You should leave here,” Brandyé insisted. “Go somewhere where you’ll never be found!”

“There is nowhere in Erâth left for us to go,” said the Mirèn gently. “We will be found, wherever we might go.”

“But—”

“Do you think you can win this argument?” the Sarâthen interjected calmly.

“They must listen!”

“The mind of a people is made up.”

“Then we must change it!”

Athalya took Brandyé’s hand and looked into his eyes. “Dumèn the Great has given us less than two months to deliver the weapon to him. This cannot happen. Our focus now must be on preparing for war, for the Mirèn will not be his only target.”

“How can you give up on peace so readily?” Brandyé’s frustration was rising. Would no one listen?

“Peace comes about in one of two ways,” the Sarâthen said. “One is when one side is defeated by the other.”

“That’s what Dumèn said!” Brandyé protested. “He said when the world falls to him, there will be peace.”

“Is a peace under Darkness one you would so willingly accept?”

“Of course not!”

“Then we must prepare men to fight. Fight Dumèn the Great—and fight Darkness, for it will rise.”

“Will no one fight for the Mirèn?”

“We do not wish it,” said the Mirèn to Brandyé. “We would not have men die for Life. Were we protected, Darkness would rise elsewhere. We would have men live for hope.”

Soon the conversation turned to other things, but Brandyé did not participate; despite the feelings of warmth and peace that permeated the air, he was deeply troubled. He could not see how the coming tide of violence could be stemmed, unless a terrible weapon was delivered to one who would readily use it against them. If Dumèn the Great held this weapon, the world would fall. And if he did not—it seemed it would fall nonetheless. Unless … they were to use the weapon first. And that was a thought he could not bear.

The return to Viura Râ was swift, and uneventful. The Mirèn insisted on bearing them on the back of their bird-creature, which they explained was neither living nor machine, yet somehow both as well. Brandyé had never traveled so high and so fast, and he was terrified and awestruck at the same time. The snowy lands of Narün passed by far below, and as they passed it Brandyé could make out the Galaecian peninsula stretching far to the south, and was reminded of Bill. He wondered if the fisherman had ever returned to his home.

Soon they were passing over the vast, empty Ocean of Narün, and steadily they progressed further east, and further north. A day and a night passed, and come the second morning, Brandyé stood to look past the pulsing wings to see a sight that, again, drew away his breath.

He had never considered what Viura Râ might look like from such a height, for they were still far, far above even the highest spire of the city, and it glistened in the early morning sun that shone above the eerily foreshortened horizon. The buildings and pinnacles of Viura Râ were spread along the eastern shore of the great island Oríthiae, but from here he could see all of the island itself, from sandy beaches to small forests that dotted the landscape. And surrounding almost the entire island, bar the southern shore, lay the very edge of Erâth itself. From such a height Brandyé wondered whether they might not see beyond the edge, catching a glimpse of the eternity that lay beyond, but white mists rose even above them, obscuring what view there might have been. Idly, Brandyé wondered what would happen were they to fly across that precipice—would they plummet, like a thrown stone, or sail onward on the winds of nothing into oblivion?

Before long, however, they had descended steeply to make landing in the fields to the west of the great city, and the time came to bid farewell to the Mirèn, who said they could not set foot on Oríthiae’s soil. Brandyé wondered if he would ever see their like again as he watched them take once more to the air, swiftly fading into a pinprick against the deep blue sky above.

“Come,” said the Sarâthen. “We must summon the Council once more, for preparations lie ahead.”

The Council came together not two days later, but to Brandyé’s disappointment, many that had been there before were now missing. The Portèn was not to be seen, nor were any of Shaera’s ilk (though Brandyé was not entirely sad at the absence of Death). The Sarâthen remained, as did the Illuèn, but even amongst the race of men there were now only two—Daníel and Jareth, and Brandyé recalled well their anger, and thought they would be more than willing to fight.

As Brandyé entered the chamber, along with the Sarâthen and Athalya, he felt the eyes of the rest of the Council on him keenly. It seemed only yesterday—yet somehow a lifetime ago—that he had stood amongst them and argued that Dumèn the Great could be reasoned with. Now he would have to face them flush with failure, and somehow convince them not to use their most terrible weapon.

Jareth opened almost as soon as they were seated. “I’m surprised you are back,” he said. “I was counting on your deaths in Aélûr.”

“We were nearly destroyed,” said Athalya calmly. “Brandyé has suffered the most.”

“What a shame,” said Daníel.

Brandyé could not help feeling goaded. “A shame that we suffered, or that we returned?”

Athalya held up a hand. “This is not the time for argument. Let us be open, and clear. Our journey to speak with Dumèn the Great has failed. He will not consider peace, and this we know now as a certainty.”

“Then we must destroy him,” said Jareth. “Send Golgor’s armies across the seas. In three months the largest army in Erâth will be on Dumèn’s doorstep. He would be a fool to resist.”

“Golgor’s armies are indeed vast,” said Athalya, “but so are Aélûr’s. And what is worse, Dumèn is now strengthened by the power of the Duithèn. The very clouds there breathe fire, and I fear they may swiftly spread this destruction across all the lands of Erâth. By the time Golgor’s armies arrive in Aélûr, Golgor itself may be no more than a memory in the soldiers’ eyes.”

“What is Aélûr’s first target?” the Illuèn known as Ruithèn asked. “Where have they threatened to strike first?”

Athalya turned to Brandyé. “Brandyé?”

“When I was captured by the forces of Aélûr, I spoke with someone. I never saw his face, but it might have been Dumèn the Great himself.”

“Or no one,” muttered Daníel. Athalya waved him to silence.

“He told me that … he said that if we did not surrender, they would strike out first at the Mirèn. He said they would destroy the race of Life.”

“Let them,” said Daníel. “What do we care? The Mirèn abandoned us long ago.”

But Jareth said, “If we do not surrender? Surrender what? We are not yet at war.”

Brandyé looked down, and could not face the Council as he said, “Surrender the weapon.”

Daníel looked at him in shock. “You told the enemy of our weapon? Traitor!”

“I wonder,” interjected the Sarâthen, “what you would have said if your very chest was being crushed?”

“I wouldn’t tell them of things that should stay secret,” he muttered, but looked away.

“That’s settled, then,” said Jareth. “We must strike first. Destroy Dumèn now, so that he cannot strike anywhere else.”

“The weapon is yet too weak to have any effect,” said the Illuèn known as Gandalae. “It has not yet seen battle. We would be restricted to sending soldiers from Golgor, which will take too long.”

“What of Cathaï?” said Jareth. “We cannot forget that they are preparing for war also—and they are likely to side with Aélûr.”

“Would you have Golgor invade Cathaï unprovoked?” said Athalya.

“We have been provoked!” exclaimed Jareth. “No peace party sent there in the past five years has returned!”

Daníel nodded. “Send the weapon into battle in Cathaï—allow it to gather strength. Perhaps then we can train it upon Dumèn the Great with better effect.”

Brandyé had been trying to follow this conversation, but was finding himself lost. What was this weapon? What manner of device needed to see battle in order to gain strength?

“The weapon was not intended for use,” said Ruithèn. “Remember this. It was intended to delay, to cast doubt. It is powerful, yes—but it cannot be used.”

Finally, Brandyé could stand it no longer. “Excuse me,” he said, “but what is this weapon? I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.”

The Sarâthen nodded in agreement. “Perhaps it is time we saw this device?”

“I would like that,” said Brandyé.

“You would,” snarled Daníel. “You would take for yourself, no doubt.”

“Hush,” said Athalya, and Brandyé thought it was rather insulting to Daníel. “Brandyé is as loyal as the rest of us, if not more so—his loyalties lie to Life, and peace, rather than to any one realm.” Brandyé thought he saw Daníel roll his eyes. “Take us to see the weapon: take us to see Paräth.”

Brandyé could not understand what he saw, at first. “Is it … is it a killing stone?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yes … and no.”

The weapon, Paräth, sat upon a white pedestal, looking for all the world like a small rock. It was smooth and rounded, oblong in shape, and utterly black. As Brandyé approached, he saw the only thing marring its perfect surface was a marking—the outline of a curved, six-pointed shape. It was perhaps the size of Brandyé’s palm. There were many guards surrounding it, and an elderly man with graying hair was speaking of it.

“What does it do?” Brandyé asked.

“Nothing,” said the old man, “and everything.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Nor do we, entirely,” said Ruithèn. “Some of us believe we have created a weapon that is … beyond our understanding. Beyond our control.”

“If I were to hold it,” Brandyé asked, “what would happen?”

“At first, perhaps nothing,” said the old man. “You would imagine you are holding a stone in your hand.”

“Imagine?”

“It isn’t really a stone,” the old man said. “That’s simply what we chose it to be.”

“Do you mean it can take whatever form the bearer desires?”

“Not quite. I said that at first, you would imagine you were holding a stone. But that would quickly change. This weapon pulls its strength from the bearer, and gives strength back. You and the weapon—you would become as one. In your hand it might become a killing stone, or perhaps a blade; maybe a bow. Perhaps you would see it as a spear, or as something else. If you knew no better, it would remain a stone. But you would feel it; you would feel yourself lost to it.”

A flash of memory surfaced suddenly in Brandyé’s mind—a dagger, dark and black, in his own hand. The same dagger at a man’s throat—and lost, stuck in the floorboards of a long-forgotten house. Had he known this weapon before?

“So it controls the bearer’s thoughts,” he said, still trying to understand.

“In part,” said the old man. “But in giving strength, it gives the power to control it as well.”

“How does it give strength? I heard that it must see battle first.”

For a moment, the old man looked ashamed. “That is perhaps the true horror of this weapon. It gives strength by taking strength. Were you to carry this weapon long enough, it would consume you—it would destroy you. But—if it were to gather that strength from another … it would make you all the stronger.”

“From another? Do you mean to say that in order to control this weapon, you would have to …”

“You would have to kill, yes. With every life it takes, it grows in strength—and passes that strength on to the bearer. So the bearer would grow in might and influence, and so the bearer would be unable to part from the weapon. If you killed a man and then relinquished it, it would cause you a terrible agony. If you killed a hundred—you could never let it go, or be destroyed yourself.”

Brandyé stood, appalled. What manner of vile mind could have created so despicable a device? “This … this was made here, in Viura Râ?”

“Not for use, you understand,” said the old man with a touch of defensiveness. “We only intended to create something that would give the armies of Aélûr and Cathaï pause for thought—something to stay their own weapons.”

“How could you possibly keep this from being used? How will you keep this out of our own hands, never mind the enemy’s?”

“It remains here, in this vault,” said Ruithèn. “Guarded every hour of the day.”

“And if Dumèn the Great succeeds in conquering Thaeìn, and Golgor? What will you do when he comes for it? When he invades Viura Râ?”

“Dumèn will never conquer Golgor,” said Jareth, who had been standing by quietly. “Our armies are too great.”

“You fool!” cried Brandyé. “Dumèn doesn’t care for armies! He has the power of the Duithèn behind him—he will burn Golgor’s forests to the ground before ever setting foot on your land. He will lay his hands on this … this Paräth … and all the world will fall!”

“This weapon is terrible indeed,” said the Sarâthen, who equally had been standing quietly by. “The minds of men did not create this alone, did they?”

A silent hush fell over the room at these words. “What do you mean?” whispered Brandyé. He looked around the room, to Athalya, to Jareth and Daníel, and to Ruithèn—who would not meet his gaze.

“Ruithèn?” said Athalya. “What part in this did the Illuèn play?”

For a long moment the Illuèn did not speak. “We thought it to be the right course.”

Athalya closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. “It is done,” she said finally.

Brandyé looked to Ruithèn, and then to Athalya, in horror. “The race of Light helped create this … this abomination?”

Athalya shook her head. “We must now look to the defense of those who have none,” she said. “We must gather the peoples of Golgor, evacuate those of Thaeìn; we must set in place soldiers who will be able to protect them from assault. And we must look to the mountains and caves, for there might the people of Erâth survive the fires that burn from Aélûr’s skies.”

“We will attack first,” said Jareth vehemently. “I will send word to Golgor to set out immediately for Thaeìn and Aélûr. We will take this Dumèn by surprise.”

“No,” said Athalya, “that would be the worse road. The Duithèn are spreading their influence; Dumèn the Great would know of your coming long before you arrived. You would be slaughtered.”

“You will not tell my people what to do,” spat Jareth.

“I cannot,” Athalya admitted. “I can only hope you will listen to wisdom.”

But wisdom, it seemed, was far from the minds of men that day. The Council dissolved, and did not meet again. Jareth soon returned to Golgor, Daníel traveling with him. Brandyé spent his days in the company of Athalya and the Sarâthen, and never had he felt such a dread, or such anxiety. Debate and negotiation were over, it seemed, and war was imminent. He was afraid, of course—afraid of war, afraid of death. But to wait, powerless, for the race of Life to be extinguished from the world and the lands to fall into shadow—it was a torture far beyond any he had endured, more so even than the cage of Dumèn the Great.

As days turned to weeks, word began to arrive in Viura Râ of the preparations of many lands. Some, it seemed, had taken Athalya’s advice and were hastening their people into what caverns and caves could be found and stocked with food. Even here, though, many folk refused to leave their homes, insisting that war would not touch them. Brandyé thought often of Yateley, and whether he would seek shelter. He worried greatly, for Athalya had said the forests of Golgor would be burned to the ground. He did not doubt it.

Elsewhere, though, the leaders of the people hastened not to shelter, but to war. In Golgor, many realms enforced conscription, and young boys and old men alike found themselves, spear and stone in hand, setting sail for battle. A hundred thousand men on a thousand ships set out across the deep from all the ports of Golgor, crossing first the Woèmíthi to the south of Cathaï, on their passage to Thaeìn and then to Aélûr. Some number of these ships made for Cathaï directly, putting down anchor with the central land of Erâth just on the horizon. Here they maintained watch, for the people of Cathaï were no less dangerous than those of Aélûr, though in different measure. Dark clouds and smoke rose from the shores of Cathaï, passing northward and eastward.

And as the weeks turned and the seventh month approached, Brandyé began to notice a change in the skies even in Viura Râ. Where once there had been only blue skies and clear nights, the city became overcast, and soon the sun failed to shine at all. Rain came down, and it was a vile, poisonous rain that withered the flowers and made sick those whom it touched. Ever thicker the clouds became, until Brandyé was reminded of the terrible Darkness of Aélûr, and wondered if this was not the first sign that Aélûr and Cathaï were preparing their attacks.

Yet still Athalya remained in Viura Râ, and so then did Brandyé. While he trusted the Sarâthen, who had also remained, he felt a strong connection to the Illuèn, a bond that went beyond her rescue of him in Thaeìn. It was almost as if he had known her, he thought, from his time before this—from his past. And with those thoughts came a deep sadness, for he felt his time here was ending. Whether it would end in his death, or in some other manner, he knew not, but he knew his time in this magical world was over.

Tensions rose throughout the city as time passed, and soon even the Illuèn were mistrusted by the men of Viura Râ. The Namirèn, race of Death, had left some time ago, and so Viura Râ became a city of men, and thus became Dark, for without wit men were now under the influence of the Duithèn as well. Soon Brandyé fell witness to bickering amongst folk in the streets, and bitterness overcame the minds of even the most hopeful.

And then, the first day of the seventh month came, and the weapon Paräth remained hidden in its vault. At first, Brandyé thought he would see the fires from afar, but as that day passed into night he saw and heard nothing. The morning broke, dismal as always, on the second day of the month, and still there was no sign. Had Dumèn the Great perhaps failed to follow through with his threats of destruction?

But then, late in the evening of the second day, Brandyé looked to the west, as he often did, and thought he saw something different in the clouds. He was uncertain, but it appeared as though a thin veil of crimson hung over the dark and the gray, a shadow of blood within the bitter darkness. Athalya stood at his side that night, and together they watched as the light faded. Just as night came on entirely, there was a great flash of lightning, and with it came the rain anew, pattering against the glass of the great tower in which they stood. The wind blew from the west, and though they were warm inside, Brandyé knew it was dreadful and cold without.

A second flash of lightning broke the sky, and this time, in the afterglow, Brandyé was certain he saw a dull red glow against the clouds—a deeply wrong color, a color that spoke of Darkness, and of Death. And in that moment, he knew the Mirèn were no more.

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