Chapter Twenty: The Ending of the World
Those few who were spared in Viura Râ were those who had sought protection under the roots of the high buildings, and Brandyé was among those. With him were Athalya and the Sarâthen, and some few of the Council of Erâth. The protection of Paräth had been paramount to some of these folk, though Brandyé could not understand why; to see such death and destruction wrought over such a thing brought nothing but tragedy to his thoughts, and for weeks he despaired.
As he anxiously awaited the ending of the world, Brandyé would speak to Athalya, or to the Sarâthen, though he avoided the members of the Council whenever he could. It seemed to him that in some ways, they were responsible for the death that had been visited on the entire world—though he could not escape the thought that he was the one who had brought Paräth to Dumèn the Great’s attention. He wondered if he would come face to face with Dumèn again, as the madman led his armies through Viura Râ’s defenses and into the city proper. It seemed only fitting that he would meet his end at Dumèn’s hands.
In the end, of course, this did not come to pass: Dumèn was destroyed, along with Viura Râ and the rest of the world. Instead, he bore out his time waiting in a locked dungeon, breathing precious clean air, and listening to the demise of the city around him. He heard the towers crumble, he heard the wall of water come thundering down, and heard—awfully—the straggling gasps of those who withered under the death of Cathaï’s poison.
Brandyé felt every death deep in his heart, and he felt utter despair steal over him. It was a feeling that was at once novel and familiar; he felt certain that, somewhere in his forgotten past, he had known terrible grief before. Yet he could not imagine that he could have ever known such widespread tragedy as this: to sit by idly as hundreds of thousands of men and women died in flame and poison air. He wished desperately that there was something he could do, but he knew that he had already tried—and failed. His thoughts went out to every person he had met on his voyage across the world: people who were certainly now dead, burned to ash or choked on poison air. He thought of poor Yateley, alone in the forests of Golgor, now likely gone; he thought of old Bill, whose fishing village was certainly destroyed. And often, he wept.
When it was finally over, and the day came that they emerged from their hiding place, Brandyé was reluctant to leave. He had no desire to see the extent of the damage done to Viura Râ, much less the rest of the world. Yet he knew he could not stay forever in the depths of Vuira Râ’s dungeons, and so he tentatively followed Athalya and the Sarâthen up many, many flights of steps, and eventually came a point where the dim glow of the light orbs gave way to the brighter glow of daylight, and soon there was a doorway before him. He passed through it, and the light momentarily blinded him: it was not overly bright at all, but after the underground gloom it was difficult for a moment to make much out.
As his vision slowly returned, Brandyé stared around him in shock. He had anticipated terrible things, but what lay before him was beyond anything he could comprehend. Great puddles of water lay everywhere, remnants of the great wall that had come crashing down upon the city. In them, and around them, and sprawled on the ground and against the sides of buildings were countless corpses, swollen and rotting in the damp warm air. Most were men and women, but here and there Brandyé spotted the leaner, taller body of an Illuèn. Each one had been a person, a life that this awful war had extinguished. And here, he found he could not blame Darkness, or evil, for their deaths: each one of these people had been destroyed by the very defenses they had put in place to protect themselves in the first place. It held little comfort to think that, without those defenses, they would have died all the sooner.
After a while, it dawned on Brandyé why the day seemed so much brighter. Here, on the streets of Viura Râ, he had become accustomed to being perpetually in shadow, the sun hidden from view by the towering buildings and monuments on all sides. Now, he realized, the sun was beating down on him directly. He looked further, and saw there was almost no shadow at all. The sun, hanging low in the east, was able to cast its glow throughout the city, because the great spires that had once blocked it were gone. He looked up, and where the buildings had once towered so high that their highest pinnacles were invisible, they now rose no more than a few stories high, their tops sheared off as they had crumbled to the ground.
To that extent, rubble lay over all, such that the streets themselves were virtually unrecognizable. As Brandyé followed Athalya and the Sarâthen, they climbed a pile of cracked and broken stone, and standing atop it surveyed the city as they could see it. In all directions lay utter destruction, grand buildings brought low and glass towers shattered.
It was slow work, making their way over the heaps of stone and rock strewn in all directions, and for the rest of that day Brandyé followed as they wandered, seemingly aimlessly, throughout the devastation. After many hours Brandyé was sweating in the humidity, and he wondered when night would come.
That was when he realized that, for all their time spent wandering the ruined streets of Viura Râ, the sun had not moved from its position in the sky. After a time they came to a halt under the shade of a low building, and Brandyé asked about this.
“It is the ending of the world,” the Sarâthen said. “Elsewhere the sun may still rise and set, but here it will remain forever twilight. The sun will stay low, hovering over the edge of the world, until such time as the world has healed.”
“When will that be?” Brandyé asked bitterly. “How can the world possibly heal from what has now been done to it?”
The Sarâthen placed a hand on Brandyé’s shoulder for a moment. “It will,” he said quietly. “As terrible as this fate is, and as much as it seems the world of Erâth is gone forever, all is not lost. Throughout the world, there are survivors; they will persevere, I am certain. And so will you.”
Brandyé was far from convinced, though he said nothing to the Sarâthen. He could not see what there was left for him to do in this place, nor anywhere else in the world at all. And he wondered if his past, should he ever remember it, even mattered at all now.
Eventually Brandyé grew tired, though Athalya seemed unaffected by the effort of climbing through endless ruins, and so they stopped for a while. Brandyé supposed it ought to be night, if only the sun would move; but it stubbornly stayed put, and he resigned himself to suffering through endless twilight until he left this place—whenever and however that might come to be.
As they sat in the shade, Brandyé turned to Athayla. “Do you think there are other survivors here?” he asked. They had left the members of the Council behind them, and Brandyé was secretly glad; he had never liked them much at all. Yet he felt that there must surely be others who had managed to escape the destruction of Viura Râ, and it seemed only sensible to him that they try to unite with them if possible.
“I am certain of it,” she replied. “I have been looking for signs as we have progressed for some time. So far I have seen none, but it does not mean we are alone.”
“How will we find them?”
“We must make for the center of the city,” the Sarâthen said.
“Why is that?” Brandyé asked.
“It is where the great statues of the races of Erâth stood,” the Sarâthen said, “and it is one of the most open places in Viura Râ. There, the destruction will have been less; there, we can hope to make a camp, and others may join us.”
So they stayed put for some time, and Brandyé gently dozed. It seemed odd to him to think of sleep in such a time of despair, but unlike the Illuèn who drew their strength from the sun, or the Sarâthen who seemed inexhaustible, Brandyé could only push himself so far before he knew he would collapse under his own weight.
When he finally awoke, it seemed that little time had passed, for the sun remained ever hovering over the eastern horizon; Athalya assured him that it had in fact been many hours. Though now rested, Brandyé found he was hungry, and spoke of this to Athalya and the Sarâthen. “Not just for myself but for the other survivors,” he said, “we need to think of food; we won’t last long without something to eat.”
So their journey onward to the center of Viura Râ was delayed yet again as they foraged amongst the ruins for something that Brandyé could eat, but there was little to be found; the great city had never been one of shops and inns, and what little there was was spoiled, or poisoned beyond edibility. Brandyé had not thought his thoughts could sink any lower, but with the prospect of slow starvation now before him, he began to feel it might have been better to perish under the attacks, rather than face the long, drawn-out fate that now awaited him.
After some time searching in vain, it occurred to Brandyé that he had so far been looking for markets, or bakeries, or other places where food was made; but when he stopped to think on it, he came to the realization that food—at least in Viura Râ—had seemed to more or less appear when needed, and he had never thought to question where it came from. Now the question was burning in his mind, and he had no answer. Finally he came back to Athalya and the Sarâthen, who had been waiting by. “There is no food to be found here,” he said cautiously.
Athalya and the Sarâthen exchanged a brief glance. “There is not,” she said after a moment.
Brandyé shook his head gently. “There will be none found anywhere here, will there,” he said quietly.
“The power of Viura Râ is ended,” the Sarâthen said. “With it, all the comforts it provided.”
“Then we must leave the city!” Brandyé exclaimed. “There is only starvation left here!”
The Sarâthen nodded. “We will. But would you do it alone?”
Brandyé sighed. “I suppose not.” He looked onward, toward their destination. “But I would hurry.”
“So we shall,” said the Sarâthen, and together they began to move on again.
Yet something was bothering Brandyé, a nagging sensation that he could not place. As they progressed slowly over the ruins, it burned in the back of his mind. It was almost as if it was a memory, deep and buried—like a word on the tip of his tongue that he could not recall.
With this in mind, Brandyé found himself paying less attention to their surroundings, and whether minutes or hours passed, he could not tell. All he knew was that they climbed over endless rubble, made their way through great rents in the walls of buildings, and steadily made their way inward to the center of the city. Whether anyone else awaited them there was uncertain, but Brandyé felt keenly that should there be someone or no one, he would not long stay. Their fate in the city was certain; in the sparse fields outside the walls they might stand a chance—though he did not know what that chance was for.
After a while, Brandyé became aware of a distant shape in the sky. At first he was too lost in his own thoughts to pay it heed, and sometimes it would disappear behind the crumbling walls for minutes at a time. But eventually he saw the speck in the distance firmly, and it held his attention. Atop a large pile of rubble—the remains of a collapsed home, he supposed sadly—he stopped to search for it, and then he saw it for what it was: a bird, solitary and circling them slowly.
The bird came closer, and finally settled on the top of a cracked pillar, head cocked and staring intently at him. Brandyé returned its gaze, and a sharp pang of familiarity struck his heart, and with it came an almost unbearable sadness. “What are you?” he whispered—hardly expecting an answer.
The bird let out a cry, flapped its wings once, and settled down again. For a moment it looked away, into the distance, then back at him. It repeated this gesture, and it seemed almost to Brandyé that it was trying to indicate something to him. At the third repetition, Brandyé wondered if it was telling him a direction—a place to which he should go. “What lies that way?” he called to the Sarâthen, pointing in the direction the bird had motioned.
The Sarâthen looked up at him from below, and followed his finger. “That way lies the sea,” he called back, “and beyond that—eternity.”
At first, Brandyé was not certain he had heard the Sarâthen correctly, and scrambled down the pile of crushed masonry until he was beside the old man. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“That way lies the very edge of Erâth,” the Sarâthen replied. “You have seen it, of course—the ending of the world.”
Brandyé recalled how, upon his arrival in Viura Râ, he had stood atop the highest of spires in the city, and looked out upon the white mists that rose eternally over the abyss. Was the bird trying to tell him to go there? Surely nothing could come of such a place. He frowned, and shook his head.
“Why do you ask?” asked Athalya.
“I don’t know,” Brandyé said. “But that bird—” he pointed it out “—I feel it’s trying to tell me something.”
Athalya pursed her lips. “It is only a bird, Brandyé.”
But the Sarâthen said, “All things carry meaning, and now especially, at the ending of this great age, we should be wary of any sign—for good or ill.” He turned to Brandyé. “Let us keep an eye on this friend of ours; if it should follow, then we may wish to consider its judgement.”
Brandyé nodded, thinking that he would really rather have gone with the bird now, but followed Athalya and the Sarâthen anyway. The Sarâthen was right, he supposed (as he always seemed to be); he would see if the bird continued to follow them.
For some time, then, they went on in silence, pausing once more for Brandyé to rest, though he had truthfully no idea how many hours had passed since he had last dozed. When he awoke they carried on, and finally, after what might have been days (for their progress was ever slow), they saw in the distance the central crossroads that the Sarâthen had spoken of.
Brandyé stood then, in awe of the statues that stood before him. They had always seemed large to him, but now, against the background of dust and ruin, they appeared monumental. Somehow they had survived the destruction, and this somehow to Brandyé made them even sadder: totems to a lost age, and a dead people.
And they rang of familiarity, a recognition of them that went back, far beyond his time here in Viura Râ, and spoke of the earliest days of his childhood. Somehow, somewhere, he had seen them before—just as they stood now, surrounded by death and destruction, a lifeless city all around. And he knew, somehow, that when he had been here before, he had left this place and gone on … gone on to the sea, just as the bird had indicated.
The bird who was, he now saw, still circling high above them. As he stood and took in the silent scene, the bird settled atop the head of the tallest statue. It cried out once more, and again tweaked its head to the side—in the same direction it had previously.
“I’ve been here before,” he said softly.
“We’ve walked by here many times,” Athalya agreed, but Brandyé shook his head.
“No—before. I’ve been here, just as it is now. Dead.”
Athalya appeared confused, but the Sarâthen said, “So it might be, Brandyé. Have you never wondered about your appearance in this world, and what you must have been before it? A traveler, from a distant place, perhaps?” Or time?
But to Brandyé these words meant little, and he said nothing. He sat on the edge of the dais upon which were perched the statues, and looked back at the road from which they had come. It was as deserted as everything else in this city, it seemed. He looked about. “There’s no one here,” he said out loud.
“We are here,” came a call from behind him, and he turned swiftly. To his surprise, there seemed to be a family of people across the wide square, tentatively approaching them.
“Who are you?” he called back.
A man in the group motioned for the others to stay back, and stepped forward. “Who are you?” he asked in return.
Brandyé stood, and moved around the statues toward the man. “My name is Brandyé,” he called out. “What is yours?”
The man crossed the distance between them, stopping before Brandyé. He seemed to scrutinize Brandyé for a moment, as though assessing if he might be a threat to his family. “Harathìm,” he said finally. “Are you alone?”
“I’m with a Sarâthen, and an Illuèn,” Brandyé said. “We would do you no harm.”
“We saw you across the great square, but wondered if you were from the enemy.”
Brandyé shook his head. “The enemy did not survive, Harathìm. The war is over.”
Harathìm looked about them, gesturing to the demolished buildings. “It hardly seems we won.”
“I think there were no victors in this war,” Brandyé said.
Harathìm locked eyes with Brandyé’s for a moment. “Indeed,” he said finally. “What brings you here?”
“We thought to seek other survivors,” Brandyé said. “We thought perhaps they would make for this place.”
“As did we,” Harathìm said, “and so it seems we have found each other. Do you think we are the only people, you and my family, left in Viura Râ?”
“We should wait,” said the Sarâthen, who had approached them silently, Athalya in tow. He looked around them. “But not for long.”
So they passed what might have been a day, or two, if only there was a night to tell, in the company of Harathìm and his family—his wife, and their two children. Harathìm, it seemed, had also come to Viura Râ recently, as had Brandyé; seeking a better fortune for his family, he had taken on a position as a guard in one of the great towers in the center of the city. He had been there when the tremors had begun, and abandoned his post to seek shelter with his wife and children, settling eventually in the deepest basement they could find.
“What did you guard?” Brandyé asked him.
“I don’t know,” Harathìm said. “I was never told. It was something dangerous, I gathered; something kept deep in the dark of the city’s dungeons. I never saw the sun when I worked. But nor did I see the thing I was meant to keep safe.”
“I suppose it matters little now,” Brandyé said. “Whatever it was, there’s no one left to take it.”
“I wonder about that,” murmured the Sarâthen. “Tell me, Harathìm—which of these ruins was your place of work?”
Harathìm shrugged. “I could hardly say, now. It was down that road there,” he pointed out, “but I can’t tell how many buildings lie fallen in that direction.”
The Sarâthen breathed in deep. “I see. No matter—no matter. What is done is done.”
“What does that mean?” Brandyé whispered to him.
The Sarâthen leaned in close to him and whispered back, “I would know what this poor man guarded; he has a familiar look, does he not?”
“What should we do?”
The Sarâthen nodded gently, not speaking until Harathìm appeared distracted by one of his children. “I think this man’s place of work bears seeking out. Only to know, you understand; only to know.”
Brandyé did not fully understand what the old man meant, but he felt a shiver down his spine nonetheless; there was something about this that made him dreadfully uneasy. Something deeply wrong. Later, when Harathìm had retired, he and the Sarâthen set out in the direction Harathìm had indicated, stepping gingerly over rubble and debris. After some time, the Sarâthen stopped, and pointed out a building on their left, in somewhat better repair than the others. “I think we should look in here,” he said.
Brandyé wondered how the old man could know which of these buildings might have been Harathìm’s, but did not question. Instead, they approached the building, broken glass providing an easy entrance. Inside, the light was dim, for the orbs that had once illuminated all were shattered and spent. Brandyé carefully picked his way across the floor, and saw at the back of the room a wide flight of stairs, leading—oddly—down, rather than up. He looked back at the Sarâthen, who nodded.
The stairs were solid stone, Brandyé found, and bore his weight easily; he had been afraid they would crumble under his foot. He trepidatiously made his way down, further into the darkness, turning back and under where the stairs bent around a corner. By the time he had reached the bottom, there was nearly no light left at all. “How can we see where to go?” he asked.
The Sarâthen, who had been following him behind, stopped and withdrew from the sleeves of his robe a small orb. He held it out, and it swiftly began to glow, a pale yet comforting light radiating from it and lighting the walls and corridors that branched out from where they now stood. “A gift, from the Illuèn,” he said with a slight smile.
So they continued, the Sarâthen now leading, first down one hall and then another, down further stairs and deeper into the earth. Soon Brandyé was wholly lost, and wondered what the Sarâthen was seeking; he seemed to know exactly where to go, though to Brandyé the dark and the crumbled walls made every wall and ceiling deeply unfamiliar—he could not tell if he had ever been here before.
And finally, they stood before a door. “Here,” the Sarâthen said. “I believe this is where Harathìm once stood guard.”
Indeed, the door was set into a wall, and on either side were booths where a guard might well once have stood. Something was telling Brandyé now that he had been here before, not long ago, though it was still difficult to tell in the gloom. Together they pushed at the door, and Brandyé realized that it was the first time in Viura Râ that he had ever seen a door that needed opening—openings had always been there when needed.
The door was heavy, and as it swung ponderously open Brandyé saw it was over a foot thick. He wondered with great discomfort what was hidden behind it. Inside, the room was dark as pitch, until the Sarâthen stepped in with his glowing orb. It cast a pale glow throughout the room, though it did not penetrate the deepest shadows in the corners. They took a few steps in, and Brandyé took a moment to look around. He wondered if something might be lurking in the shadows, ready to attack him. It felt that something terribly powerful had once been hidden here.
The room itself was unassuming; though he could not see its depths, he saw that it had a series of shallow steps that led down to the center of the room. At their foot was some form of dais or altar—a high slab of stone that looked white in the orb’s light. Yet there was nothing on it, and as he looked around the rest of the room, there appeared to be nothing anywhere else, either.
After a moment, the Sarâthen said quietly, “Tell me, Brandyé—what do you see?”
Confused, Brandyé returned, “I see nothing. Just an empty room.”
The Sarâthen slowly nodded. “Just an empty room. Indeed.”
But the Sarâthen did not answer, instead saying, “Come—let us leave this place. There is nothing left here for us.”
With a last, lingering glance, Brandyé followed the old man out of the room, and back through the labyrinth of corridors and halls, until finally he saw daylight creeping from above. Soon they had mounted the stairs again, and were outside in the dim sunlight. “What was that place?” Brandyé asked. “It felt familiar.”
The Sarâthen smiled slightly. “So it should. A great and terrible thing was kept there, and you have seen it before.”
Suddenly Brandyé thought he knew what the Sarâthen meant, and a shiver raced down his spine. “You don’t mean …”
“Indeed. The great keeper of peace of our time. The object of Dumèn’s conquests. The thing that was meant to hold enemies back, and instead brought them forth.”
Paräth,” Brandyé murmured. Now he knew: this was the building that had once housed the most powerful weapon ever created. A weapon to control. A weapon to terrify. And now it was gone. “Where is it?”
But the Sarâthen said nothing, and Brandyé knew that the old man had no more of an idea than he did. Slowly, they made their way back to the central square, where Athalya and Harathìm’s family were still waiting.
“What did you find?” Harathìm asked as they returned.
“Nothing,” Brandyé said. “Nothing at all.”
“Perhaps that is best.”
Brandyé nodded slowly. “Perhaps.”
So they stayed then for some time, and so the sun refused to move across the sky, and soon their talk turned to thoughts of survival. Harathìm, like Brandyé, thought that their best chance lay outside of the city, where fields grew and they might find some plant or grain that could feed them. But Brandyé found that, deep in his heart, he knew he could not go with them. So as they prepared to leave the city, he took Athalya aside and spoke with her.
“I don’t think my fate is tied to this place,” he said.
“You would go elsewhere?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know where I came from, and I don’t know where to go—but I know I can no longer stay here. This place, this island—it holds nothing but death.” He looked over his shoulder, to where Harathìm was speaking to his family of how they might survive outside of the city. “Those poor people—they won’t long survive this place.” He looked back into Athalya’s eyes. “They’re going to die, Athalya; you know this as well as I do.”
“So do all men,” she said.
“That isn’t what I mean. They don’t deserve to die such a lonely, terrible death.”
She nodded. “I understand. In the end, I cannot stay here either. Nor can the Sarâthen. Soon, Viura Râ will be lifeless, and so it will ever remain.”
“Where will you go?”
“There are still Illuèn across the world; many are in the land of Thaeìn. I think I will make for there.”
“Will you take Harathìm with you?”
“If they will follow, yes. What of you?”
For a long moment then, Brandyé considered. Something called him to go with her, to revisit the lands of Thaeìn … but a deeper calling told him that would be the wrong direction. “I … I can’t go with you,” he said finally.
“You will stay here?”
But Brandyé shook his head. “I can’t do that, either.”
Athalya closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, she seemed to sigh. “Then you know what you must do.”
“I think I do. But I’m afraid. What lies there? What lies … beyond?”
She shook her head. “That is a question no one in this world can answer—not even the Sarâthen. You will be on your own.”
Brandyé took a deep breath. “I think … I think I have always been on my own, somehow. Even when I’m surrounded by friends.” He looked eastward, toward the sun. “Maybe this way I will find my purpose.”
Athalya smiled. “Have you not already found it?”
But Brandyé shook his head. “If I have, I’m not aware of it. I feel like all I’ve done is brought ruin upon this place. Upon the world.”
Athalya lay a hand on Brandyé’s shoulder. “Brandyé … what has happened here is the result of centuries of unrest, of malcontent. The race of men set themselves on this path long before you arrived into this world.”
“Yet I told Dumèn of the weapon.”
“Dumèn was nothing but a pawn of the Duithèn. Had you not said a word, he would have attacked regardless. This is the culmination of a plan set in motion long, long ago.”
“I think,” Brandyé said slowly, “that I do know where I’ve come from. I don’t remember, exactly, but … I know it was from a place far from here. Far from what this place once was. But it was a place where there was yet some hope—hope of rebuilding, of making the world right once more.” He nodded as he spoke. “It’s time for me to return.”
“Then let us say farewell,” Athalya said kindly. “We will go our way, and you shall go yours. Still—I feel we may meet someday again.”
Brandyé smiled. “I wonder if we already have.”
So Brandyé left Athalya, and went next to Harathìm. “I wish I could have known you longer,” he said, “for you seem a kind sort.”
“As do you,” said Harathìm with a bow.
“There is a place I must go to,” Brandyé continued, “and it is a place few have ever ventured before.” He cast an eye to Harathìm’s children. “It isn’t a place for young folk.”
“I can’t say I understand,” said Harathìm, “but of course you must do you feel is right. Will we see you again?”
“No—I don’t think so.”
“Then I wish you well,” said Harathìm.
“As do I,” returned Brandyé.
Then, as Brandyé turned from the family, his eye caught the Sarâthen, who was, oddly, smiling. “Do you know something I don’t?” Brandyé asked.
“I fear, for all the wisdom of the Sarâthen, I know nothing at all,” said the Sarâthen. “I cannot see what will become of this place, nor of you.”
“That’s not very comforting.”
“I believe, however,” continued the Sarâthen, “that you will go on. You are not ended here, though it may seem the world is. There is much yet for you to do, and when you remember where you have come from—you will know what that is.”
“Thank you,” said Brandyé. “Do you think I will see you again?”
“I know you will,” said the Sarâthen with an even broader smile.
And with those words, Brandyé turned and left, and never saw Harathìm or his family again.
He took the east road from the statues, meandering through further wreckage and ruin, away from all he knew. He had the distinct impression that this was not the first time he had done such a thing. As he clambered over stone and steel, his mind wandered back to the earliest thing he could remember: waking up in the forests of Golgor. He wondered what had become of Yateley. Somehow, he thought those forests were a more natural home for him than any part of this city of glass and steel, ruined or not. He longed to return to such a place, to wander the wooded paths and smell the mold and sap.
But to the best reckoning of those who had kept track, the forests of Golgor were now poisoned and destroyed. There was, it seemed, nowhere left in the world for him to go—even Thaeìn seemed less than an appealing destination, burned and devastated as it was by the fires of Aélûr. So he continued east, through the rubble, and finally came upon what he sought.
At the end of the city was a long, thin beach of white sand; at the end of the beach was the sea, and after that was the end of the world. Beyond the white and the blue were the crystal mists that rose ever into the sky from what lay beyond. They seemed to Brandyé calm, resilient; it was as though they were unperturbed by the violence that men had wreaked upon the world. He supposed they would not be; after all, they lay beyond the reach of men, or Illuèn, or any other race of Erâth. They were eternal—truly eternal, as men could never hope to be, would never reach.
And beyond the mists … truly, no one could say. No one had ever ventured there and returned, it was said, and not even the Sarâthen could peer behind the veil of that place. It was everything, and nothing; it was eternal and fleeting, rich and desolate—an utter oblivion from which there could be no return, no redemption.
For an age Brandyé stood there on the shore, the waves lapping at his feet, staring at the edge of the world. More than any other place he could think of, it called to him, spoke to his heart that what he sought—the answers to his past, his history—lay there, if only he could reach it. He looked up and down the beach, but there was nothing but pure, white sand. To the north, the land curved around a short peninsula beyond which he could not see, and so he set out in that direction. The sand dragged at his feet, filling his shoes and weighing him down, but he did not care; nothing mattered, nothing was important, except finding something to carry him away.
He did not know why what he sought would be here, but he knew somehow it would be. And indeed, as he rounded the peninsula, in the far distance he saw a small shape on the sand: a tiny vessel, a boat fit for one. He quickened his pace, crossing the distance in only a few minutes, and it was everything he could have hoped for: hardly more than a canoe, it held in it two short oars. Somehow it had not been destroyed, not been washed out to sea, or sunk; it was here, and he knew it was here for him. Heart racing, he grasped the hull and heaved. It was heavy, but not so heavy that he could not move it, and slowly but surely he dragged it across the sand and toward the open sea.
It took some time, but finally the waves were splashing gently against the hull, and when the boat was floating free he climbed in. He took an oar in each hand, locking them in place, and pulled hard at them. Soon he was drifting across the ocean itself, the beach and the city before it fading rapidly into the distance. He knew there was less than two miles to cover, and suddenly he could not wait: he had to get there, as quickly as he could.
The city itself looked dreadful, even from this distance: no more were the towering buildings and spires, no more were the endless walls of glass. The city was a hulk, a devastated ruin, and he could not wait to turn his back upon it.
After perhaps an hour, he began to hear in the distance a dim, muted roar; a low and fierce sound, reminding him soberly that what he sought might very well be his own destruction. Soon it grew into the calamity of endless fathoms of water spilling over the edge of the world, tumbling into the great and terrible oblivion that waited beyond. And here, he hesitated: was he certain this was what he wanted? Was he certain he would find his fate here?
And then, before he could think more on it, the current of the sea grasped his tiny boat, and with increasing rapidity he found himself drawn relentlessly onward, soon at a pace that he could not hope to battle against. So he gave himself up to the waves, allowed the boat to be drawn forward, and turned to face whatever might come. Closer and closer came the abyss, rushing headlong upon him, and then he was upon it.
And as he felt the ocean fail beneath him, as he felt the weightlessness of falling into nothingness, it returned to him: everything from his past, everything that he had pushed out of his mind and tried desperately to deny: Consolation, Elven, Sonora, the Scythe’s Blood, his exile and salvation with the Cosari … every event, every tiny detail rushed through his mind, and waves of unbearable despair crushed in upon him. All his life, everything he had striven to accomplish, was for nothing, because how could it be when this was what the world had come to? Utter destruction awaited him, he knew now, and awaited the world, even when he returned to whence he had come. It had happened once, and it would happen again. The Duithèn were all and everything, they were too powerful to resist, and they would conquer the world. It was pointless to resist.
But even as this weight settled upon him as he fell; even as the oblivion consumed him, darkening his vision until all was black; even as despair threatened to burn his heart to ash, a name returned to him, and it rang of hope, and of love, and of light.