Chapter Eighteen: The Death of Life
Brandyé spent the following weeks in gloom and despair, hardly registering what he was doing. No word had been heard from Narün whatsoever, and the clouds continued to grow thick and black. The seas rose high, and vessels stopped arriving from other lands in the port of Viura Râ. A storm was coming, some said, but to Brandyé it had already arrived.
Athalya continued to receive reports from the lands of Golgor, where, it seemed, the clouds had blotted the sun as well. Thaeìn was lost, it seemed—the armies of Dumèn had crossed the mountains central to that land and arrived in the port of Griefenthrall. Some had escaped by sea, others fleeing into the hills and mountains, but by all accounts the land was taken. Those in Viura Râ whose origins traced back to Golgor grew bitter and angry, and fierce: their armies would arrive in Thaeìn before the month was out, they said, and then they would show Dumèn how great they were. But Brandyé despaired nonetheless; this was nothing less than war, and it meant the coming deaths of untold thousands. Battle had already broken out, it seemed, in the lands of Cathaï; the ships of Golgor had launched their first waves of soldiers upon their beaches, and the people of Cathaï had retaliated in kind—poisons in the wind decimated hundreds of soldiers before they even landed.
As if to make matters worse, the Sarâthen, whose company Brandyé had become accustomed to, disappeared. He was nowhere to be found, and some of the people that Brandyé passed by throughout the day said he had given in to despair, and fled—as should they all. After all, Dumèn was coming for Paräth, and would stop at nothing to get it, they said; no one wanted to be near this city when that happened. But there was nowhere to flee, for the seas were too stormy for ships to navigate, and none would come from other lands.
Then one day, as Brandyé was walking the empty city streets (for few now dared to leave their buildings for fear of the poison rain), Athalya came running toward him, seemingly in distress. Brandyé was alarmed, for he had never seen the Illuèn appear so before. She came to a halt before him, and said swiftly, “A ship has landed—a small vessel from the west. They say it has come from Narün!”
Brandyé had been looking upon the statues that stood tall at the center of the city, and it seemed to him that even their stone visages were dim and filled with grief. Instinctively he looked to the west, in the direction that the figure of the Namirèn was pointing, but of course saw nothing but wet city roads. “Where is this ship?”
“Word came from the port, but it seems the ship did not land there. It foundered near the western shores of Oríthiae, and the ship’s captain nearly drowned. My report tells me he’s being tended to at a safehouse in the dockyards.”
Brandyé felt a momentary surge of excitement. “We must go—what if it is the Mirèn?”
Athalya nodded, and together they took rapidly to the path that would lead them to the docks. Brandyé felt fortunate that it was not, in fact, raining, but looked to the skies nonetheless—it seemed these days it might start at any moment. Before long they had passed by the city’s great gates (no longer guarded, but locked nonetheless—they passed through a small portal to the side) and found themselves before a low building built almost directly onto the pier. The wind was fierce here, and the sea lashed them and the building with spray. Athalya pushed open the door and ushered Brandyé inside.
The interior was dim, and Brandyé could hear the wind howling outside. It was nonetheless warm, and he saw a fire roaring in a hearth across the room. It struck him as odd; he hadn’t seen a fire used for warmth in all his time in these lands—even in Taureth, in the cold wastes of Narün, they had used steam pipes throughout their homes. Beside the fire sat a man, though from a distance Brandyé could not tell his age; wild hair grew long and matted his face, and his beard fell past his neck. He was slumped in the chair as though he had no strength left in him, and Brandyé thought this was perhaps entirely true. He had been wrapped in blankets, and Brandyé saw him shiver in spite of their warmth.
“Ah,” came a rough voice from beside them, and Brandyé turned to see another man, older and cleaner, though with rough hands, standing beside them. “I see our guest has attracted the attention of the mighty. Funny how word gets around. He isn’t well, I’ll have you know.”
“I wish only to speak with him,” Athalya said gently. “He is the first person to have arrived from Narün since …” she trailed off, and Brandyé was surprised; he had not considered that even the Illuèn would find it difficult to speak of the Mirèn’s demise.
“Since war broke out,” the man grunted. “That’s fair. I don’t know how much he’ll be able to tell you, though. He’s hardly spoke a word to me, even though I’ve been keeping him warm and fed.”
Athalya nodded, and stepped to the hearth. Brandyé followed. There were several large chairs surrounding the fire, and Athalya took one, while Brandyé took another. Closer, now, he could see this man was not old; perhaps no older than himself. His eyes stared emptily into the fire, and Brandyé felt a deep pity in his breast.
“Friend,” Athalya began. “Can you hear me?”
The man did not change his gaze, but grunted, “Yes.”
“What is your name?”
“Where have you come from?”
Brandyé wondered how much they might learn if the man only spoke in single words. “Where is that?” he whispered to Athalya.
“Brithèdel is a coastal town on the Galaecian peninsula,” Athalya said. “Not far from Taureth.”
At the mention of the town in which they had spent the past winter, Brandyé felt a surge of excitement. Would this man know the fate of Bill? “What became of your town?” he asked.
“Gone,” said Peter.
“Gone,” he repeated.
“What of the other towns? Do you know what happened to Taureth?”
Finally, the man looked up at Brandyé, though his eyes remained as dead as before. “They’re all gone. Dead. All of them.” He looked back to the fire.
Brandyé looked to Athalya, who returned his gaze for a moment. “Can you tell us of the Mirèn?” she asked gently.
“Can I tell you of the Mirèn?” Peter repeated. “Perhaps you would like to hear of the death and destruction that has be wrought upon my own people too, before you hear of the Mirèn. Or do the lives of men not matter to you Illuèn?”
Athalya bowed her head. “I apologize. I did not mean offense. I would wish to hear anything you can tell us—of men and others.”
Peter sighed. “It’s been a hard year, this. It started in the winter—it was the coldest winter that we’ve ever seen in Galaecia.”
Brandyé nodded. “We were there. On our travels.”
“Then you know that when winter subsided, and spring came upon us, it was a dismal and dreary spring. Storms blustered from across the oceans, sinking many ships. There were few who dared to venture out, and of those that did, fewer still returned. Those who survived spoke of great, dark shapes in the water—not living, but not dead. Darkness, some called it; the will of powers greater than men.”
“We suffered through such a storm,” Brandyé recalled. “It nearly destroyed us.”
“Perhaps better it had,” Peter said dismally, “for it would have spared you what was to come.”
“What do you mean?”
“We should have known,” continued Peter. “It was a sign of the terror to come. It was more than natural, though I wouldn’t have said so at the time.” He laughed bitterly. “I used to think that men controlled their own destiny. That the powers of Erâth were no more. I used to believe …” He paused, then sighed. “It doesn’t matter what I used to believe. It didn’t change a thing.
“What happened?” Brandyé persisted. “What happened after the storms came?”
“There was no ‘after’. The storms never left. For months into what should have been spring, the skies darkened, the winds howled, the seas churned … and the people of my village suffered. Some died of hunger; others were swept into the sea. Our lighthouse was carried away by a wave twice its height.
“Then the frosts returned. It should have been summer—it should have been warm, hardly any ice on the water, our ships free to leave port—but it was not. It was winter, all over again. In what should have been the warmest months of the season, it was as cold as the bitterest, darkest day of winter. The sea froze over once more, and our ships could not leave. We were stranded.
“Some of us thought to seek out nearby towns. Your Taureth was not far—perhaps a week’s walk in the high season. But in the driving snow and wind, it would take twice that at least, and we hadn’t the supplies to last us. We began to starve.”
Brandyé was horrified. “If we had known …”
Peter grimaced. “You’d’ve done nothing. There was nothing that could be done—we were unreachable. Even the great icebreakers wouldn’t have made it into the gulf of Galaecia; I think the ice grew down to the ocean floor itself.”
“What of the Mirèn?” Brandyé asked. “Couldn’t they have helped?”
“Perhaps,” said Peter, “if they had known. But how could they? Wherever they lived, it was far enough from us that we never came across them. They kept to themselves, and so did we. But even had we not, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I remember when we first realized what was upon us: I had gone out to fish on the ice with two companions. That was the day I knew we would starve. You see, you can usually drill through the ice, four or five feet, and drop a line down. There are still creatures that thrive beneath the ice, though I haven’t a clue how they don’t freeze to death.
“Well, that day we’d drilled until our drill was broken, and with a hole eight feet deep there was still no sign of the bottom. And almost as fast as we drilled, snow would pile up and threaten to fill it in again. We knew we were going home empty-handed that night, and our wives would beat us and say we hadn’t tried hard enough, but really they knew as well as we did that our doom was upon us.
“And then, just as we were turning to head home, my friend Halleth cried out. ‘See in the distance!’ he said, and we all looked. At first I couldn’t see a thing through the wind and snow, but then I thought I knew what he meant. Far, far in the distance was a light, a glow—some terrible red light that soaked through the snow and was turning it to blood.
“Now, it was faint of course, and I thought maybe I was imagining it. ‘I’m hallucinating,’ I told myself. ‘It’s the lack of food.’ But then it occurred to me that Halleth had first pointed it out, and so the two of us were imagining the same thing. And that got me scared, so we turned and left, leaving the light to our backs.”
“What was the light?” Brandyé asked, fearing he already knew the answer.
“Fire ships from the west,” Peter said. “They’d rounded the Cape of Horne and come into the gulf of Galaecia, and we’re now up one our villages.”
“I thought you said the oceans were frozen,” Brandyé said. “How could they have navigated so far in the ice?”
“Did you not hear me?” snapped Peter. “They were fire ships, no ordinary sea vessels.”
“I’m sorry,” said Brandyé. “What are fire ships?”
“They are a construction of Aélûr,” said Athalya grimly. “The kingdoms of Aélûr have become masters of fire and flame, as we saw by their weapon in Hope. When they set out to sea, they sought to find a way to bring their flame with them. The result of their ingenuity was the fire ships—sea vessels, as large as any you’ve ever seen, whose hulls burn with a flame that water cannot extinguish, hotter than the belly of a steamer. I imagine they would have little difficulty melting a path through the ice.”
Peter nodded. “So it was. Come the next morning, their fire ships had burned a path through the ice to our very doorstep. I remember feeling the heat from my door as I stepped outside that morning. It was a dark, gray morning, as they all are these days, but here in the bay sat five ships of a size I had never seen in my life. They burned still with their searing flame, though I could see that they were simmering it—for though their ships contain such fire, their men cannot.
“I knew these were war vessels from the west, but I didn’t know yet what they planned. Ours was a tiny village—I doubt they even knew it was there. I suspect now that they were planning on landing in Narün with no one being the wiser. Instead, they found us—and destroyed us.”
“You couldn’t have stood a chance,” Brandyé said.
Peter shook his head. “We didn’t. At first some of us tried to venture out to the fire ships as their flames died down; we were going to offer their men what little we had in exchange for peace.”
“That wouldn’t have worked,” Brandyé said.
“So we discovered,” said Peter. “Halleth was one of those to venture out; I stayed behind, thinking he was a fool. It turns out I was right: no sooner had they come with a hundred yards of their ship when—bright as the sun on Erâth—a flame from their hull struck them down in the blink of an eye. It whipped out, set them alight, and was gone almost before I could see it. When I was able to see again, there were only flames—they had been killed instantly.”
Brandyé shuddered at the image in his mind of those poor men, set alight, burning alive and unable to even scream as they were charred and destroyed. “What did you do then?” he whispered.
“What could we do?” Peter answered quietly. “I turned, dashed into my house, and told my wife, ‘We must flee—now! There are men out there who will kill us!’ We gathered what warmth we could, bundled our daughter—”
“You had a child?” Brandyé asked, shocked. “Where is she?”
“You will hear the end of this sad tale,” Peter said, “and you will know. So we slipped out into the cold, and trudged through the snow as fast as our legs could carry us. As we crested the hill behind our village we turned to look back—it was alight. It was all alight. Our house, which we had awoken in merely hours ago, was in flames, and so was every other home in the village. I could see a few folk trying to run through the snow, but by then the soldiers of the west were among them, and I saw them fall to flame and stone. I wanted to cry, but my wife said, ‘We must not linger—they will see us!’ So we descended the hill, and I have not seen my village since, save behind closed eyes.
“For days then we marched, struggling to make a few miles a day, over hills and across glaciers, not knowing where we went but trying only to put as much distance between us and the terror behind us as possible. I suppose I knew our travel was futile, but I fooled myself into thinking that we might find somewhere where the snow was less, and the season was turned as it should have been, and then we could create a shelter, and live out our lives alone.
“I was foolish. I didn’t know then what I know now: Narün will be forever in winter, from now until the ending of Erâth. There is nothing there that lives—the west has seen to that.”
“Surely there must be something,” Brandyé protested. “Some animal, or blade of grass …”
“Nothing,” Peter affirmed vehemently. “But hear me out, for I’m not done. You asked to hear this tale—so you shall hear it before I go.”
Brandyé thought this an odd statement, but dismissed it in favor of listening further to Peter.
“We marched for days, and soon my wife was too exhausted to carry on. She collapsed in the snow, and—I curse myself to this day—I didn’t realize for nearly an hour. I was carrying Bénithia, our daughter, and I was so determined to carry forward that it wasn’t until she asked me where her mother was that I realized she was no longer behind me!
“I turned back, of course, but by the time I found her …” Peter trailed off for a moment, and choked a sob. “She had died from the cold.”
Athalya reached out a hand and laid it upon his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“As was I,” Peter said. “But I will see them again soon.”
“Them?” Brandyé asked, feeling sick. He knew perfectly well what must be coming—the man’s daughter was nowhere to be seen.
“I kept my daughter well wrapped, and told her that her mother was sleeping. She asked why we couldn’t stay until she awoke, and … I didn’t know what to say to her. So I said nothing and left, with Bénithia screaming for her mother. I continued to carry her, but soon enough I could go no further either.”
“Yet somehow you survived.” Brandyé was afraid to know what was to come, even though he knew the ultimate outcome of this tale.
“Not by my own doing,” Peter said. “As I lay in the snow and cold, clutching my daughter and waiting to die, I felt a warmth come over me. I could still feel the cold of the snow beneath me, the numbness of my feet, yet somehow it was warm anyway, and I was not bothered by the frost.”
“It was the Mirèn,” Brandyé said.
Peter nodded. “I don’t remember well what happened at that point, but I remember waking up on a bed of ice, yet feeling happily warm. And the strength of Life that flowed through that place was remarkable—I thought perhaps the world was not ending after all.
“My hosts—of which there were many—healed my frostbite, and my daughter and I stayed with them. The clouds remained dark overhead, and the snow continued to pour down, but there was no sign of red light in the sky, and I thought perhaps we would yet escape the wrath of the soldiers of the west.”
“Could they not heal your wife?” Brandyé asked sadly.
“I asked them,” Peter nodded. “But they told me that once touched by Death, Life can no longer exist. So my wife was gone.”
“What happened after that?” Athalya asked. “What brought you here?”
“I suspect the next part of my story will interest you, Illuèn,” Peter said, “for it does not come from me.”
“What do you mean?” asked Brandyé.
But Peter had fixed Athalya with a sturdy gaze. “The Mirèn and I both knew I could not live forever among them; there was little to sustain myself on, and my daughter was growing daily. So we decided that I would travel away from Narün, find a ship and make my way to Viura Râ, where I might be able to give warning. I was told to relate their fate to you, and so I will. The Mirèn told me this:
“‘We have come now to the end of our race,’ they said. ‘The soldiers of Aélûr will soon be upon all the world, and we would have the world know the power they will now have to contend with. The Duithèn have become stronger than any other race of power, and they have channeled their strength into the will of Dumèn the Great, who sends his forces to Narün first, for the race of Life stands first and foremost in his way. After all, he could destroy all the lands of Erâth, but with our presence it could regrow. He will eradicate the Mirèn first, and the rest of Erâth second.
“‘But we believe that the world can endure. That Dumèn the Great can be defeated. He may be defeated yet by mortal means, for he is yet mortal. If he were to possess Paräth, however, this would greatly change things: he would become greater than a man, and would have the strength to truly cover the world in Darkness and shadow, where no thing can survive.
“‘This cannot be allowed to happen. Paräth must be protected at all costs—or destroyed. Put it out of Dumèn’s reach, and the world may yet right itself. Allow him to grasp it, and we will have died in vain.
“‘For dying we are. The soldiers of Aélûr are ravaging the countryside of Narün, turning it to a blackened waste. Fire from the sky precedes them, melting snow and ice, scorching earth and decimating all things that live there. We do not believe Dumèn will cease his onslaught of Narün until every last living thing in this land is gone and dead. Many of our number are gone already, and those who survive have retreated to the Galaecian peninsula, if only to find one who can pass this message on.’” Peter paused, and there was silence for a great while. “I committed their tale to memory,” Peter said softly after some time. “I owed it to them.”
“If the soldiers of Aélûr were advancing throughout the lands of Narün, how did you escape?” Brandyé asked. “How could you have possibly survived?”
“I’m not certain I did,” said Peter. “My life was my wife, and my daughter, and they are gone.”
“Finish your tale,” Athalya said gently. “We will listen.”
“After some time with the Mirèn,” Peter went on, “we saw the skies grow ever darker, and I knew the soldiers were coming closer. Soon the sky turned crimson, and I hastened to the Mirèn and told them, ‘You must help me flee. I cannot go on foot, and there is a sea to cross before I can reach Viura Râ. I will not have my daughter die here.’
“They agreed, and that very night took us to the highest tower of their palace, which they told me had been constructed in a matter of days when they had arrived in Galaecia. I asked how we were to flee from so high, and they told me, ‘You have not been high enough!’ At first I didn’t understand, until I saw their beast—a bird, a creature the size of a house, that could carry folk on its very back! It landed atop a neighboring spire, and so my daughter and I climbed aboard. I turned back to the Mirèn and asked them to come, but they said, ‘No—it is our place to remain here.’
“‘You’ll die!’ I told them, but they would not listen. Before I could argue further, the bird-beast launched itself into the air, and with its powerful wings took flight away from the Mirèn. Almost as soon as we had left, I felt the cold renew itself, biting at my face and hands.
“But the cold didn’t last long. As we rose toward the clouds, I could see the shimmering light of fire among them, and suddenly a terrible burst of heat split the sky. Flame poured down from the clouds, and the palace beneath us was demolished in a matter of seconds. Then I truly wept, for I knew the Mirèn within were gone. More than this, I felt it, deep inside my bones. I felt the bird shudder and catch itself falling, and knew that Life was gone from Erâth. I hadn’t realized until that moment that what I had just witnessed was the final extinction of the Mirèn—those I had been staying with were all that were left in all the world.
“I turned to my daughter and told her, ‘You and I must live. It is ours to survive where Life has failed, and we must carry on.’ I’m sure she didn’t know what I meant, but she smiled at me anyway. It was one of the last smiles I was ever to see.
“For some hours then, we carried on through the night. Have you ever seen the desolation of fire across hundreds of miles of wilderness? Have you ever seen an entire land ravaged by flame and destruction? Have you watched as animals, tiny as ants from above, try to flee only to be caught and seared alive? I have—and I will see it until the moment I die.”
Brandyé could scarcely imagine the horrors this man was describing, and yet knew somehow that yet worse was to come: if what had happened in Narün was a token of what the forces of Aélûr were capable of, then he feared the world of Erâth itself would fall to their power. What chance did they stand?
“Yet you arrived here in a ship,” Athalya pointed out. “Why did the bird not fly you here directly?”
Peter took a deep breath. “The bird would not fly into the clouds, for fear of their fire; it kept low to the ground, and this was our undoing. As we approached the eastern coast of Narün, I saw below us the fires of an encampment—smaller, and less bright than the fires of the wild. And I tried to tell our bird to veer away, but it either didn’t understand me or hear me, for it kept going—and then, quite suddenly, we fell from the sky. The bird … I could see in its empty eyes that it was dead, at the hands of a soldier and their killing stone. I could only be grateful it hadn’t struck us directly, even as we plummeted into the snow. I was thrown far from the beast’s back, and so was my daughter—I tried to grasp her, but I failed.
“When I awoke, I was half-buried in snow, and my daughter—she was nowhere to be found. I searched for hours, crying her name to the wind, all around the downed beast, knowing all the while that the soldiers of the enemy would be upon us at any moment. And after a time, I ceased to care; I knew that if I didn’t find her soon, she would have frozen to death, just as her mother had.
“And I was right. Come the morning and the awful daylight, I saw a tiny hand sticking out of the snow, blue and frozen.” Here, Peter stopped, and a tear fell from his eye. “I had failed them both.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Athalya said. “You did everything you could to ensure their survival.”
“Yet it wasn’t enough, was it? All that I lived for is gone. And now so am I.”
“How did you get here at all, then?” Brandyé asked, thinking he might distract Peter from his grief.
Peter shrugged. “That part was rather simple, actually. The enemy encampment was just outside a small town on the eastern coast; I don’t know what its name was. The sea ice wasn’t as thick here, and there were still ships in port. The town itself was alight, but they had left the boats untouched. I walked far around the encampment, through the burning village, and onto a ship. I doubt they ever noticed me leave.”
“That was very brave of you to continue here,” Athalya said, “especially after your losses. I am sorry.”
Peter waved her concerns away. “Without my wife and daughter, I had only one mission in life.”
“What was that?” Brandyé asked.
“To deliver the Mirèn’s message to the folk of Viura Râ. This I have done.”
“So you have,” Athalya said. She turned to Brandyé. “Come,” she said quietly. “I must speak with you.”
Together they left Peter and made their way to another corner of the room, far from the fire where it was much colder. Brandyé rubbed his shoulders and shivered. “What is it?” he asked.
“It is as I feared,” she said softly. “The worst has come to pass—the Mirèn are no more. There is no force of Life in this world any longer—the powers of Erâth are unbalanced.”
Brandyé shook his head in confusion. “What does that mean?”
“The powers of Erâth have always beenin balance,” Athalya said. “Darkness against Light, Death against Life; now that there is no Life, there is no counter to Death. The Namirèn will side with the Duithèn, and together they will be a nearly unstoppable force.”
“Then I don’t see any choice,” Brandyé said. “We will have to use Paräth.”
“We cannot,” Athalya said.
“Would you?” Athalya asked pointedly. “Would you wield a weapon whose strength is gathered from death?”
“Surely there is someone—” Brandyé began.
“And would you trust such a weapon to another?” Athalya continued. “Who would you have bear such a terrible force against your enemies? Knowing that to lay it down when they were done would destroy them?”
“Then what are we to do?” Brandyé asked desperately. “We can’t simply watch the world burn!”
“The world is already burning, Brandyé.”
“It doesn’t have to end this way!”
“I believe you were sent here for a purpose, Brandyé,” Athalya said firmly. “I do not know what that purpose is, but I know that you are not destined to die in this war. Above all others, you will survive—I feel this in my heart.”
“I feel nothing but dread in mine,” Brandyé said bitterly.
“Then trust me,” Athalya said.
Brandyé was about to say that he didn’t know if he could, when there was a sudden noise of wind, and the door banged open. He and Athalya turned to see Peter, now standing, leaning heavily on the open door and swaying in the gusts.
“What do you think you’re doing?” called the safehouse owner—whom Brandyé had forgotten about unto this point.
But Peter gave no answer, and disappeared into the storm. Brandyé looked anxiously at Athalya, and together they made to follow him. The storm had grown in might since they had been listening to Peter’s tale, and it was all Brandyé could do to keep his feet as they stepped out onto the pier, wind and spray lashing at him dreadfully, threatening to drown him in the very air.
At first Brandyé could not see where Peter had gone, but suddenly Athalya cried out, and he saw that the man had fled down the length of the pier, away from land and toward the open sea. His hair flew wild, and as Brandyé watched a great wind tore the blankets from his shoulders, leaving him bare in a tunic and undergarments.
“Peter!” Brandyé called as loud as he could, but the wind carried his words off almost as soon as they passed his lips. “Stop!”
But Peter did not stop; he continued along the pier, now stumbling, now dropping to his knees, and now righting himself. Brandyé could not understand what he was hoping to achieve—the pier led to nowhere at all.
A great wave swelled beside them, and in a moment Brandyé was soaked through as it crashed down upon the pier. It nearly knocked him off his feet, and only Athalya’s strong grip prevented him from being thrown bodily into the heaving sea. He choked salt water, sputtering as the wave passed by. Clearing his eyes, Brandyé looked once more to see Peter. The man was now at the very end of the pier, standing with arms wide, and Brandyé had the distinct impression he was shouting, though he could not hear a word.
The ocean was reaching a crescendo, waves now rising higher than the buildings around them, then plummeting down so that the seaweed at the bottom of the bay swirled in their wake. And then, as the swell reached its peak, Brandyé saw a wave begin to swell near the end of the Pier. He cried out Peter’s name again, but it was in vain—the water crashed down upon the man, engulfing him, and when it had passed, Peter was no more.
“Come!” Athalya cried. “We cannot remain here!”
Brandyé was transfixed in horror, however, and felt his feet could scarcely move. This man, to whom so much tragedy had happened, had seemingly just taken his own life. Was this what the world had come to? He felt a great heave on his collar, and allowed himself to be dragged backward by Athalya and once more into the safehouse, which fortunately was sturdily built and could withstand the storm.
“What was that?” Brandyé gasped as the door was slammed shut again.
Athalya led Brandyé once more to the hearth, where together they sat, Brandyé grateful for the warmth. “It was the end of all hope,” she said grimly.
“I don’t understand,” Brandyé said. “He survived so much.”
“Too much,” Athayla replied. “All his purpose in life had been taken from him. The Mirèn had given him a new one, but it was short-lived. He had nothing in all of Erâth left to live for.”
Brandyé shuddered. “I’m afraid the same fate will soon befall all the world,” he said softly. “What hope is there?”
“War has indeed come,” Athalya said. “The hope of peace is gone. But the hope of survival—it will remain, down to the last man in Erâth. It must remain, else everything we have struggled and fought for will have been for nothing.” She looked at him deeply, piercing his eyes. “Everything you will continue to fight for, Brandyé.”
But Brandyé could not see what was left to fight for. He could not see the hope Athalya spoke of. Destruction was upon them, and upon the world; it was only a matter of time.
So war came upon Erâth, and it was the greatest war to mar the world, more terrible than any in Erâth’s past, and far worse than any that was to come. Forests were burned, mountains leveled, cities poisoned; men beyond count perished at the hands of other men, and even the races of power could not endure. The Portèn were nearly destroyed by the burning of the land; the Illuèn by the overwhelming Darkness that covered all the world. The Duithèn came to rule supreme, and the Namirèn followed in their wake. And even the Sarâthen could but stand by and grieve for the destruction of the world, for they had not foreseen it.
But by far the greatest loss of this greatest of wars was the extinction of the Mirèn, who had never harmed anyone in all the world, and brought so much joy and Life to so many. The lands of Narün were left scorched and blackened, what trees once grew there dead and burned, bare branches clawing at the ever-clouded skies. All Life in Narün was gone, and when the soldiers of Aélûr departed, not a thing breathed in all the land. From trees and grass to the smallest of insects, the land was left barren, and in all the remaining Ages of Erâth, not a thing returned.