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Crowsinger

  • 2022-04-28 13:35

Chapter 22

 

From the journal of Kaolyen Greyborne, Faerthale, 486 IH

 

There is a tension in your arms, your shoulders, your soul, when you wait for the axe to fall, for the predator to strike. You can be on guard for so long that this tension becomes a part of you. You realize it is no longer preparation, but acceptance. You are long-packed for a journey that does not come, and as life goes on you find yourself unpacking so that you can just live. The endless wait takes its toll, so that when the axe truly does fall, you are shocked that your fears are real at last.

It happened two years ago.

* * * * *

 

Irilanssa, late winter 484 IH

 

In lands to the west, in the silent steppes of old Irilanssa, a dead city moldered under the sun. Caught in a moment of rage and a thirst for power and cruelty, the mage-priests of Nenufarn had shuttered their city with darkest magic brought from the spaces beyond the stars. Now ghosts drifted through broken streets, clinging still to the hates they had hurled against one another in their last moments.

In the lair of a dead dragon, Sandoval opened his eyes.

He called himself Sandoval, though the Ginto Remnant had called him “a man asleep”. He passed his days in practice and meditation, though he was aware of the conflict that had already consumed peoples and cultures and hopes. At times he wondered if he should leave his refuge and lend his assistance, his power, against the coming of the night—but something kept him in these dark halls under the mountain.

Until one day he felt the stirring of anticipation, as if a storm that had built silently in the clouds above prepared to roar in thunder and fury at last.

He awoke, and remembered his True Name.

His time had come.

 

* * * * *

Eastern Watchtower Near Havensong, late winter 484 IH

 

The morning sun always seems to light the Plains on fire, thought Danindal.

He had long cursed his misfortunate at being assigned to this, the easternmost of the watchtowers. The city itself was a line of sunlit white walls in the distance behind him. Clouds were moving in from the Roans to the north, but in the east: fire.

He spooned another bite of eggs from his bowl. Though he squinted against the sun, he could see nothing in the east that he had not seen the past five hundred mornings. What made it worse was the cold north wind. Once a late winter wind reached the Plains, it picked up speed and also—Danindal was almost certain—needles along the way. He looked forward to another spring, and maybe even reassignment.

Surely this year, he thought.

There was a sound behind him as Amran reached the top of the ladder and stepped onto the deck.

“I thought you might have gone back to sleep,” said Danindal.

The younger man pulled furs closer around him and shivered. “Just wanted to sit by the fire a bit longer. The way the wind blows—”

“I’ve been up here for three watches, kid. If anyone needs to sit by that fire, it’s me.”

“Yes, sir.”

Danindal lifted the plate and spooned another bite of eggs. The spoon paused near his mouth when he saw the look on Amran’s face.

“What…” Danindal turned and squinted once more toward the rising sun. It took him a long moment to figure out what he was looking at. It was as if the Plains themselves were moving behind the glare.

Amran leaned upon the railing. “Something’s coming this way, sir.”

The plate dropped from Danindal’s hand and fell all the way to the base of the watchtower. What had seemed indistinct now resolved into a long line of shapes moving toward them.

“Saddle up,” he said roughly. “Saddle up now.”

Amran was all the way down the ladder before Danindal turned away. He had seen enough.

The enemy had come at last.

* * * * *

 

The Human City of Havensong

 

General Hugreth awoke from a short sleep. He seldom slept anymore. The last word from Whitethaw was that Archai and Dwarves were fleeing to the Frozen Sanctum. Since then, silence. Ogres were believed to have entered their own Sanctum in Reignfall. The faraway world had gone to ground, but here? Waiting.

Where was Ossari’s army? For a couple of years now they had appeared from time to time, then disappeared again. Cities, kingdoms, whole tribes and nations had fallen as they swept across the land. But never did they stray toward Havensong.

As he strode up the steps to the city wall, he took another sip of rustweed tea, a horrible drink that nonetheless helped him feel more alert.

Does this world have nothing palatable to drink?

He didn’t know what led his feet to the eastern wall. The enemy seemed to have no pattern. Sometimes the army would appear in the south of a city, or storm in from the north. Yet he found himself walking along the eastern wall, exchanging words with guards who were changing watches for the morning.

The city walls were not complete, even after 25 years on Terminus. For nine years humans had raised a city from the empty steppe, until the Council of Vesu changed everything. After all this time, stone and sweat still built the Sanctum upon a colossal face of rock, and what resources remained had gone toward the walls around Havensong.

Some of the buildings within those walls were yet made of lesser things: some of clay and some of long-hauled wood, and here and there whole neighborhoods of yurts, the same in which the people lived in early days on Terminus.

Yet the king insisted they build the wall, that chance may come when they could make a stand upon their own ground and not flee to a hold in the mountains. And some buildings were of stone: the palace, the wizard’s hall, the temples to what gods had not deserted them.

Lost within these thoughts, he continued his walk along the wall until horns sounded in the east.

Hugreth and two warriors looked out over the land and saw two riders galloping toward the city. With them came the sound of their horns: four quick blasts, then silence, and then four again.

That was the signal. Ossari was coming.

By the time those upon the wall could see their enemy within the rising sun, word had rushed across the city. Bells rung within the walls. Warriors and great weapons moved into position, and the population threw belongings into packs and waited for some sign of what they should do.

Hugreth turned his head from left to right, his mind reeling. It was difficult to take in the scale, the breadth of that army. They moved steadily across the plain, but it wasn’t until they drew closer that the line resolved into individual groups of Revenant. They crawled and ran, climbed over one another, locusts swarming over a field.

A messenger ran up to Hugreth along the rampart. “Message from the south wall,” he said, breathless.

“Speak,” said Hugreth.

“Army moving in from the south. It looks big.”

“Of that I have no doubt. I want a report from every side.”

“Yes, sir.”

The messenger ran toward the north.

Our turn has come at last, he thought. About time.

* * * * *

 

Faerthale

 

It began in the twilight before dawn as a nightwatcher saw fire in the distance. As the flames spread through Faerthale Forest and into Redgrove, the tolling of bells spread through Faerthale City. Riders in the streets blew horns.

Awake! Flee!

Warleader Ilonwen led soldiers through the gates, where they took up positions around the walls. Many settled into concentric entrenchments dug around the City. Above them, archers spread across the rampart, and ballistae were readied. Behind the wall, elves climbed up to catapults and checked their readiness.

Within the City, Warleader Ingirien sent squads into every direction to move people toward the path whence they would make their escape.

Thousands of elves had already migrated to the Sanctum, yet most of their species remained in their homelands. Those now awakened blinked the night from tired eyes and listened to the horns outside.

Awake! Flee!

There was no time. They threw clothes and other necessities into sacks and ran out of houses. Some tried to take more, but found that they would be traveling through the deep woods upon paths no wagon would go.

Riders flew toward villages across Faerthale bringing word to elves in the countryside. Some never returned.

A crowd gathered at the Lucent. Some held weapons, while others merely clutched copies of Sepher S’iolaen to their chests as if that alone would protect them. In the light of the tree they sang songs of the old world, songs of their people.

An abatis of felled and sharpened tree trunks pointed outward in a long row, and another behind it. Warriors readied spears and shields.

Naftali found Sharowsul Iskosia near the Lucent. The former councilor wore deep brown robes with muted green patterns woven into the cloth, and a jade symbol of the Tree as a pendant. Like everyone else who gathered here, his face was heavy with ash.

“What are you doing here?” asked Naftali. “We must flee to the Sanctum.”

You must flee,” said Sharowsul. “Someone must stay and protect the Lucent.”

“This is madness. There must be forty elves here, and soldiers.”

“And more will come.”

“And you will protect the Tree from an army?”

“We will do what we must.”

“You cannot. Our only hope as a people—“

“This is all that is left!” shouted Sharowsul. He swept his arm toward the Tree. “Our gods have left us here with this, their last gift. The symbol of the elves as a people.” Sharowsul shook his head. “No, my friend, you must go with our people. Watch over them. Bring them back to our lands alive. Those of us who remain will make our stand here. If the gods are kind, they will help us.”

Naftali tried to speak, but nothing remained to say.

* * * * *

 

In the Roan Mountains

 

Elves moved by the thousands through hidden paths in the mountains, and they were watched by the eyes of those who dwell in the ever twilight of the deepest woods. They were watched by pallet of moss and draping vine, by little things that clung to branch and bole, and by the wind which followed them through the twisting folds of gully and dark ravine. They were watched by the eyes of gods who strove in vain against the tightening shards of the Border Between.

There were dragons who watched while brethren slumbered, and wolves and hawks paused in their winter hunt to see the exodus of the stonekeepers, the bringers of song and sword to the quiet glens.

Snow drifted down through the fog of a thousand breaths and lay upon the ground they walked, then covered their tracks when they were gone.

And even in these secret dells the banners flew, the sigil of the elves of S’iolaen who had made their home beneath strange moons.

The people walked with precious few belongings, and as they day went on they shuffled wearily and glanced back along the path to home. Warriors gleamed within the lines of elves and eyed the trees to either side, though of the thousand eyes who watched they saw no sign.

Among those eyes were other elves, rangers in the wood who watched and waited for signs of danger. As yet no sign had come, and the elf migration moved in peace.

Thousands passed and thousands more, until the day the enemy found them.

Revenant flew down a ravine wall ahead of a caravan, and they shrieked and laughed in slavering joy.

Warriors set their spears, and cavalry blew horns of warning.

Then fire from the trees, arrows arcing through the air and trailing flame and smoke behind them.

The Revenant cowered and watched the treeline warily. More arrows flew down from above to pierce and burn.

Now angered, they ran into the trees to deal with this threat.

And the warriors led their people on.

In the woods a game was played as rangers led their foe upon a chase. The Revenant had no order and few tactics, so they were easily led astray. An arrow from the right, a Revenant falls, and its neighbor runs toward the right growling. An arrow from the left, and the pack becomes thinner still.

A long time after, when Revenant found their way back to the ravine, they saw nothing but the snow upon the ground.

* * * * *

 

Havensong

 

An army like the stalks of grass in an endless steppe, like the stars in the sky. So the songs would tell in later times. They churned and seethed, a mass of Revenant and other species shouting insults in a dozen languages, and here and there a screaming cloud of fog pooled in their midst.

After three weeks of siege, food was becoming scarce, yet those who awaited word of flight heard only that the king had plans to save them.

The Army of Night and Rage did not completely surround the city, and captains along the wall noted gaps that they might use when the time came to lead their people to the Sanctum.

If indeed, some wondered, that time had not already passed.

It was late in the afternoon of the 22nd day of the siege when runners swept across the battlements of Havensong, spreading word that the king himself had gone out the east gate to meet with the erstwhile god.

The king took with him his elf-forged sword Rei Sulatho, called Godfall in the human tongue, whence some said fell whispers sounded on moonless nights. Whatever ensued was hidden from most of the city, but everyone heard the roaring, and the sounds of fire and rock and dark energies. Strange lights flashed in the sky above the battle, and at times the ground shook beneath the young streets of the city, and people hid in fear from the sky.

Until at last the fallen god roared with victory over the remains of Amensol son of Avendun son of Amendin.

And soon they heard the horns. Survivors of humanity began their slow march north behind the shields of warriors, following their king toward the high mountains. If some wondered why the Revenant held back and watched them go, they asked no questions.

Ossari was not done with their city.

* * * * *

The Silent Sanctum, early spring 484 IH

 

The Council of Nine Branches arrived at the Sanctum one and two at a time for safety. From tall windows they watched their people arrive in large and weary groups. Then guardian warriors would return along those paths to look for stragglers, for trouble, for the enemy.

Week followed week and winter passed into early spring, though patches of snow lay still upon the mountain paths.

Even from this distance, Isek could look through the choke point in the mountains and see the army besieging Havensong. Like a swarm of insects feeding upon a wounded animal, a milling cloud upon the plain, it surrounded the city.

“How will they make it to us?” asked Kaolyen.

Isek shook his head. “If the demigod himself is there, I do not know.”

The councilors turned as a messenger burst into the room. “Councilors, I bring word from the latest train of refugees.”

“What do you have, Eskrin?” asked Kaolyen.

The messenger paused to catch her breath.

“Take a moment if you need,” said Naftali.

The woman shook her head. “There has been fighting along the paths. Revenant are streaming over the foothills looking for elves fleeing Faerthale.”

“Are the soldiers holding them off?” asked Kaolyen.

“The captain of this group said that flaming arrows came out of the trees and drew the Revenant away. The refugees fled the area.”

Isek turned and walked over to an eastern window. Behind him, Naftali said, “Some of your Ardrian Rangers, Isek?”

In a small voice, Isek said, “Probably.”

* * * * *

 

In the Roan Mountains, early spring 484 IH

 

The warriors were holding off the first wave, but more Revenant were streaming down the southern slope. The lines of elves they protected drew weapons of their own, but they were not warriors. Few wore more than light leather armor, and many had fled the city in whatever clothes they could reach for quickly.

The warriors cheered as flaming arrows flew out of the woods to the north, followed by a spinning blade of violet mana. Three elves ran through the trees and jeered at their enemy, taunting them in the Ginto language.

The new group of Revenant screeched and turned to chase down these newcomers. Just before the Revenant reached them, the elves vanished into a portal and reappeared deeper in the woods.

When the battle around the refugees was over, the warriors’ captain gazed into the forest where two score Revenant had disappeared. She looked but a moment, then led her people on toward the Sanctum.

* * * * *

 

Slumber ran through leaf and branch and vine, and ferns brushed his face as he passed. He could hear Kymeret and Isonis just behind him.

Farther behind, the Revenant growled and giggled and sang songs of blood and murder as they loped up the hill after the elves.

They were many. And they were closing.

“Keep running,” said Isonis, and then he turned.

Slumber barely had time to see that Isonis was moving to the right and shouting at their pursuers to follow him, mocking them with arms spread. A number of Revenant took off after Isonis, who turned to lead them on a chase.

Slumber and Kymeret continued north with all their speed. Kymeret’s fury turned back into the pursuing Revenant to slow them down with walls of fire.

The elves ran.

* * * * *

 

Isonis considered himself a good runner, capable of great speed in time of need. But something pushed the Revenant faster, whether hunger for flesh or hunger for killing, some vicious eagerness to pull down their prey.

If Crowdancer were here…

He shut down that thought quickly. Grief and anger would not grant him greater speed.

Not far ahead was a large tree root concealing an underground cache and hiding place. Yet it would do him no good if his pursuers saw him enter.

I wasn’t expecting quite this many to chase us into the forest, thought Isonis. But a large number of Revenant had ignored the caravan to chase the three elves who had angered them.

Seven. There were seven Revenant behind him. He felt confident that he could kill three swiftly, but he wasn’t sure about seven.

We have become careless, he thought. Too long in waiting, too long with nothing happening, our guard has fallen.

Isonis led his enemy deeper into the wood.

* * * * *

 

Arebon chewed a stick of dried venison. After so many years in the wilderness, he was pretty good at making it. He knew nothing of the diet of a scholar of Faerthale, but of trail food he knew much. They had experienced meals high and low from all over this continent, but that was another time. Another life.

“Maybe not Faerthale City,” said Sairi.

“Mmm?”

“I want to live in a village somewhere. Someplace quiet.”

Arebon nodded. “That sounds good.”

“What do you want?”

Arebon closed his eyes and felt an early spring breeze on his face. “To live brilliantly, in every moment. And feel the wind on my face.” He turned and looked at her. “Someplace quiet does appeal to me.”

The trilling of a bird sounded to the southwest. A bird song they had only heard in South Saol.

Arebon spit out his venison and began to rise. “Something’s up.”

They readied their bows. When he spotted the Revenant, he whispered, “Though I spend my last breath, you will never find the elves you hunt. My mercy too has fled.”

“Here they come,” said Sairi quietly.

Arebon nocked an arrow as Sairi did the same, and sighted through the trees where a large group of Revenant was chasing Slumber and Kymeret. The elves loosed at the same time, arrow after arrow, shouting as the arrows flew.

A number of Slumber’s pursuers turned to run toward this new threat. The elves continued to fire until the creatures were twenty yards away, and then they dropped their bows and ran.

“Yonai will come,” said Sairi as they ran.

“I hope they will come soon.”

As he ran, he whistled a bird song from far away.

* * * * *

 

Yonai and Aovyn stepped through the trees to hail the elves making their way toward the Sanctum. Warriors tensed and began to raise weapons until they saw that the newcomers were elves.

“Any trouble along the road?” asked Yonai.

From atop a richly caparisoned elk, their captain nodded. “Revenant attacked us about a hundred yards back,” she said. “We were handling them until more showed up. Then elves shot arrows out of the forest and got their attention. Some forty Revenant pursued those elves to the north.”

Yonai cursed and turned, dragging Aovyn along with her. Together with Aovyn’s wolf, they sprinted to northwest.

* * * * *

 

Isonis was tiring. Ahead was a place where he might lose his pursuers.

He found the entrance behind a rock, a hole sealed with a section of tree roots. He leapt over the rock and down, tore away the roots, then dropped down into the hole revealed.

He crawled some distance through the narrow passage, disturbing a snake that had found its way down. He grabbed the snake by the head and tossed it behind him, then kept moving.

Sounds of snuffling and growls urged him onward. Had all seven followed him into the tunnel?

When he emerged from the other end of the passage forty yards later, he pushed a nearby stone into the hole. Then another. Soon he had blocked this end of the tunnel.

He began to run again.

* * * * *

 

Slumber turned and pushed Kymeret ahead of him. They had almost lost their pursuers twice in the woods, but eight still followed. He brandished his spear and roared a wordless challenge.

Two Revenant charged toward him. He swept the blade of his shortspear across their necks, then turned to block the fall of an axe from another. He swept the axe aside, then kicked the creature away from him and turned again.

Kymeret’s titan kept two more at bay. His undine floated next to him, drops of water falling onto old leaves upon the ground.

Slumber turned left just in time to see two more Revenant stepping over the bodies of their fallen. Both gripped their sword hilts tightly.

He swept both blades aside, then kicked off one of the Revenant, vaulting backwards toward Kymeret.

As his enemies ran toward where he landed, he leapt toward the bough of a tree to his left, then kicked off, knocked the creature’s blade aside once more, and kicked through the creature’s shoulder. When it landed on its back, Slumber drove his blade through its chest, landed in a crouch, then shoved the long wooden handle of the spear backward toward the second Revenant.

He turned back to look—then swiftly rolled to one side as its sword came down. This one was good. Perhaps it had been a trained warrior in its former life as a Ginto.

As he began to stand, a blade from behind fell across his arm, slicing into the leather. He ducked and rolled away to see his assailants.

The Warrior Revenant moved to flank him, fast.

Now Slumber was battling for his life, trying to hold off two while the Warrior swung against his defenses.

Until at last he finally slumped toward the ground gripping the handle of his spear in both hands, the blade holding the Warrior to the ground. It hissed at him one more time, then faded from its miserable existence.

Slumber did not know how much time had passed during his fight. When he stood up, he saw the bodies of Revenant upon the ground. One was crawling toward a sword. He stepped forward and killed it quickly, then looked around for Kymeret and the titan.

He did not see them.

* * * * *

 

Arebon knew the moment the blade sliced into his chest armor. Sharp and swift, but he felt no pain until the cold air found his wound.

He stumbled, leaning on his sword, then looked up as the Revenant brought the axe down toward him.

Then Sairi’s blade passed through the back of the creature’s neck, and it fell to one side.

Arebon’s grip on his sword hilt faltered, and he fell back against a tree and sank to the ground.

Sairi was still fighting to keep their enemies off of him, but he could tell her strength was nearly gone as well. She screamed and fell upon another creature, slashing it across the neck, then stabbing downward with her sword again and again.

Then she was struck by a blow from a great axe and fell onto Arebon.

She turned to cover him with her body.

“No,” Arebon managed to say. “You…”

Suddenly an elf fell upon the axe-wielding Revenant with a yell and sliced the creature’s head from its shoulders. A wavy blade of several colors…

Isonis. He dispatched the two that remained, then knelt beside Arebon and Sairi.

Arebon didn’t need to reach down to know that Sairi’s blood was mingling with his own. She wasn’t moving. He called her name in what voice remained to him, but received no answer.

Isonis gently rolled Sairi off of Arebon. Her eyes held no life in them.

Arebon howled and closed his eyes against the world. When he opened his eyes again, he saw Isonis looking down at his stomach.

Arebon tried to reach up and pull Isonis closer, but Isonis understood and lowered his head.

“Aovyn?” asked Arebon.

“I don’t know,” said Isonis. “He was with Yonai, but I don’t know where they are.”

“Find…” Arebon coughed.

Isonis squeezed his shoulder. “I shall find him, brother, even if a god stands between us.”

Arebon heard Isonis running away. He closed his eyes again, and tears fell unnoticed. A spring breeze passed across his face to dry them.

* * * * *

 

All her life she had loved battle. The movement, the dance, the thrill of facing death and finding herself alive at the end of the fight. She had lost herself in humming songs while leaping around a field of battle and knowing that no one could catch her.

Somewhere along the way this fervor had dimmed. It was all the same, battle, always the same dance. Before, she had trusted that her companions would win their own dances, and she would find them waiting for her at the end.

But all of that had changed. And now they had sworn an oath to keep Revenant away from the fleeing refugees.

She didn’t know if she would survive. Worse, she didn’t know if her family would survive. Now the frenzy of the dance was fear, a fear of loss and grief.

There must be more than this, she thought as twin swords swung around again.

Now and then she felt the healing splash of Aovyn’s magic. His wolf protected him while Yonai danced.

And then she heard him shout. She spun around, one last blow to fell her latest enemy, and saw a Revenant standing over him, the wolf tearing at its arm.

Both her swords pierced the creature’s tattered armor, pinning it to the tree. She pulled the blades free and kicked its dying body to the ground.

Aovyn was bleeding from many wounds, and his mace lay near his hand upon the ground.

“Heal yourself,” she began… but the healing magic did not appear on Aovyn. Instead it pulsed across the fur of his wolf.

“What are you doing?”

“Dying,” he whispered.

“But you—“

“I have nothing left. No power. No magic. I am but an elf, dying.”

The wolf was licking her elf’s wounds while Yonai tried to stop the bleeding. But it was too much.

The sounds of the forest returned while Aovyn faded: birds calling from every direction, the wings of tiny things flitting through ferns, and the soughing of the wind. The wind had never ceased, but only in the wake of battle could she hear it again.

“I’m tired,” she said, but only the wolf could hear.

She took a long breath, then picked up Aovyn’s pack.

The wolf began to howl.

* * * * *

 

Slumber ran about the glade, tripping over Revenant bodies in his haste to find Kymeret. At last he found him lying in his own blood, rent by many slashes from dull blades. Something—an axe, perhaps—had nearly severed his lower right arm. A pool of water, all that remained of his undine, flowed into the blood.

Kymeret looked up and saw Slumber. He coughed blood and smiled.

“Good,” he rasped.

Slumber fell upon him and held his hands against the wounds, trying to staunch the flow of blood.

Nnno,” said Slumber. The word was torn from him. “No,” he said again and again. “No.”

“First time,” whispered Kymeret, “you ever said a word to me. I wish… you had spoken more… friend Slumber.”

He coughed blood again, and then was still.

And then Slumber heard a howling to the east, and he knew that it was Wolf. He had never heard that voice from Wolf before, so riven with pain and grief. Did Wolf know? Or did Wolf scream her own loss to the mountains? Slumber began to howl along with Wolf, in time, in pain, in the loss of everything.

The howling drew near until Slumber looked up through tears to see Wolf and Yonai running to him.

Wolf looked down and sniffed Kymeret, then sat beside Slumber as they cried out together until the Roans echoed with their voices.

For a long time he knew nothing more. Then footsteps from the west, and Slumber turned to see Isonis coming to them.

Isonis’ face was blank as he stared down at Kymeret. “Aovyn?” he whispered.

“Gone,” said Yonai.

His shoulders slumped. “Then the others are gone. It is only us now.” He looked up, and his face held resolve. “There are still Revenant in this forest. And more come, I think, from the south. They will have heard. We must get to safety.”

“No,” said Slumber again. Isonis and Yonai looked at him in surprise.

Then Wolf was pulling on Slumber, pulling on his sleeve. And Slumber heard in his mind a voice that held no words, but he knew the voice was Wolf’s. He lowered his forehead and touched Wolf’s with his own, felt her thoughts.

I will come with you, he thought, and allowed Wolf to pull him up.

* * * * *

 

Eastward they ran as silently as rangers of the Roans could travel. Now and then they heard the familiar sounds of Revenant on the hunt, but they never slowed.

When the nights came they went to ground in cache holes under tree roots, binding each other’s wounds, eating what food they had, and getting what sleep they could.

Slumber and Wolf were inseparable, running and scouting together, and curled together in fitful sleep until the dawn.

The day came when they found an overlook from which they could see the human city of Havensong. From there they stared open-mouthed at the force that surrounded the city.

“Hundreds of thousands?” muttered Yonai. “Millions?”

“I cannot count them,” said Isonis.

Yet many in that army were involved in some activity they could not at first discern. Heavy wagons drawn by giants moved from the city southward, then returned empty. Within the wagons…

“The city,” said Isonis. “They are tearing apart the city stone by stone and hauling it away.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I do not understand the ways of gods.”

They set up camp upon the overlook, intending to move on in the morning and try to find a way down to the path toward the Sanctum.

But soon they heard the growls and screeches of Revenant tumbling through the forest, and turned to meet their enemy.

Weary beyond thought, Isonis readied his sword Drinker of Night’s Breath and stood back to back with Yonai. Slumber planted the base of his spear in the ground and waited next to Wolf. The Revenant emerged from the trees and saw that their quarry was near a cliff’s edge with nowhere to go. They laughed like jackals and readied weapons, clawed hands, whatever they had.

Isonis took a deep breath, but he called to no god, for no god had helped him thus far. He had only those companions who remained, and for them he would die fighting.

Then the Revenant screamed as liquid silver swept across and through them. They fell gurgling, melting into the ground in silver pools.

A silver glow against the trees. Isonis turned and beheld a man floating in the air nearby. His staff was raised in one hand, glowing and topped with liquid silver.

“Sandoval?” whispered Isonis.

And it was Sandoval, but… changed. He bore a look of readiness without tension, peace without surrender, and he wore a breastplate of shining silver.

“I saw you,” said Sandoval. “You fought hard to defend people you did not know, elves who thought poorly of you.”

“You too thought poorly of us,” said Isonis. “Why would you save us now?”

“Because you fought hard to defend people you did not know. You gave everything.”

“We lost everything! All of our brothers and sisters. We are all that remain.”

“So it is with war.” Sandoval continued. Then a light appeared around his staff, and he said, “I have shielded you from the Corrupted Ones. They will not find you in this place.”

Then he turned to gaze upon the scene around Havensong, the only human city in the world and the target of Ossari’s uttermost rage. “I have awakened from my sleep, and remembered my True Name. I am still awakening. I become what I was meant to be.”

“And what is that?”

Sandoval—whatever his True Name—began to rise into the air, higher above them. As he turned toward the city, he could be heard to say, “A Sun.”