Authors: James A. West
Tags: #Epic Fantasy Adventure
Leitos felt as if he were floating, until his backside collided with the ground. He sat quietly while the Three looked on him. The enormity of what they had said grew larger by the moment. On the face of it, unmaking him was not his greatest concern, but rather that all those he had loved would also cease to be.... But then, neither would they know pain and loss.
“Is there any chance that I will be born again, one day?”
“There is no way to know,” Hiphkos said, joining her brother’s side. Memokk came next, completing a loose arc around him.
“Once you are gone,” Attandaeus said, “even the memory of you will vanish from us.”
Leitos shook his head. “Then how do you know you won’t make the same mistake? How do you know that the moment Peropis and I are gone, you won’t turn right around and remake her?”
“Because of what you have told us, we have chosen to relinquish the power needed to create beings of spirit alone, those like us and ... Peropis, she who was to be our first of many daughters.”
That eased his mind, but he still had to decide if he could agree to removing all that he knew, even himself, from existence.
Is no life at all better than a life spent under Peropis’s rule?
While he considered, the Three moved to the glimmering figure of his adversary. They formed three points of a triangle around Peropis. When they joined hands, he asked, “Do I have a choice?”
Hiphkos smiled wanly. “Do you really want one?”
Leitos swallowed. “Yes. Of course.”
“Then tell us your will, Leitos Valara,” the Three intoned. “Shall we unmake our daughter, or no?”
In his mind, he saw Belina twining yellowed blades of grass into a thin braid.
Where had that been?
And then he remembered the night Ba’Sel had fled, when it still seemed possible that a few ragged warriors could free the folk of Zuladah and raise an army to defeat Peropis.
Considering it now, he saw that there had never been a chance for creatures of flesh to defeat foes who could pass freely from the world of the dead back into the world of the living. An army such as that could simply die and come back, unceasingly. Over time, they would whittle away humankind, until none remained.
He had only one answer for the Three, but could not speak it aloud. With his eyes and throat burning, he nodded to them, and they turned their attention to the half-made form of Peropis. They said nothing, but Peropis’s pearlescent shape began to fade to dark gray.
Leitos watched and waited, and in his mind he saw Belina smiling at him. And as the world before his eyes took on the same shade of gray as Peropis, he wondered why his last thoughts were for Belina, and not Zera.
The three mercenaries drew rein a league north of Krevar. Distance could not diminish the greatest fortress of Aradan. Each of its four walls measured a mile in length, and stood over a hundred feet above the dusty floor of the Kaliayth Desert. Off to the west, a hazed green line marked the edge of the Qaharadin Marshes.
Hazad gulped a mouthful of
, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “We’ve had some fine adventures, but I’m not so sure about this one.”
Azuri looked up from cleaning his fingernails with the tip of a dagger. “Afraid of a woman, are you?”
Hazad snorted. “She is no mere woman.”
“Coward,” Azuri drawled.
Kian suppressed a smile. As often as the two squabbled, and as different as they looked from one another, they were as close as brothers. The three of them had been together since they were all starving urchins scuttling through the treacherous streets of Marso. A long time ago, that had been, but it seemed like yesterday.
“There’s still time to turn back,” Hazad said to Kian.
Kian gazed at a particular tower rising another hundred feet above the northern wall. Under the early morning sunlight, the Sister’s Tower looked like a pillar of gold, and brought to mind his favorite refrain. “Gold speaks with a powerful voice—too powerful by far to pass up on such an easy task as guarding this woman on her way to the Isle of Rida.”
“Yes, well,” Hazad grumped, “you said much the same last summer, when you almost got us into the service of that crazed princeling.”
Kian winced inwardly at that. A plague of doomsayers had been running all across Aradan then, and most prominent among them were the Madi’yin, the begging brothers who partook huge quantities of
to induce apocalyptic visions of the future. There had been nothing new in the priests’ behavior, but their dire prophecies had seemed to be coming to pass after the three moons joined together in the night sky, forming a strange and baleful eye that cast a pestilent light over the world.
For many weeks, the Three had remained locked together during their nightly journey, and fear had slowly bred panic. So much so, that even highborn had started believing the end was nigh. In Aradan, the most prominent among them had been Prince Varis Kilvar. The foppish princeling had gathered about him a score of high priests, and determined that he and they must venture across the realm to spread word of the impending doom.
“Lowborn are as dumb animals,” Varis had told Kian at their clandestine meeting in the Chalice, his eyes fever-bright with conviction. “It has fallen on me alone to show them their foolishness, and teach them how to spare themselves from the consequences of their blind idiocy.”
As far as Kian was concerned highborn, no matter their upbringing, were often just as witless and easily deceived as lowborn. For himself, gold spoke louder than caution, and if the puffed-up fool of a boy wanted to enrich a mercenary to appease his own deluded vanities, who was Kian Valara to argue?
But then, a few days before Kian was to join Prince Varis on his grand quest, the Three had begun drawing apart, all without any of the begging brothers’ terrible visions coming to pass.
As is often the way of such things, the Madi’yin claimed that some few of their order had misread the signs, and began searching for different truths. The common folk went back to their labors, and to secretly looking for the next calamitous threat to upset their lives.
Prince Varis Kilvar, though, had a harder time letting go of what must have become to him a virtuous and predestined purpose.
For two days and two nights, he strode from one end of Edaer’s Wall to the other, raving ceaselessly at the sentries, who listened only because they had no choice in the matter. Varis told them that while they had escaped one doom, surely worse disasters must soon befall the world of men. And to appease the unknown makers of the next catastrophe he, Prince Varis Kilvar, had determined that all men must make sacrifices.
Neither the manner of those sacrifices, nor their benefit, was ever disclosed, for at dusk of what would have been the third night of Varis’s ranting, he quite suddenly fell into despondency. The guards on duty that evening later claimed the prince had sat himself upon the edge of a parapet, and began softly lamenting that no one was listening to him, and that no one cared enough about their own demise to take the necessary measures to right the uncertain and most assuredly bleak future.
Had he been at the boy’s side, Kian could have told Varis that his misery was unfounded, because he had met plenty of fever-eyed folk who were eager to join the prince’s mad crusade. So ready, in truth, that at his command they would eagerly slaughter every last denier of the truth, if that was what it took to appease the mysterious forces behind the impending, if unknown, cataclysm.
But that evenfall Kian hadn’t been at Prince Varis Kilvar’s side. Instead, he had been carousing with Hazad and Azuri in the Chalice which, admittedly, was a festering privy pit at the edge of Ammathor, a place where the only things more prevalent than wine were whores and urchins, a place where men died appalling deaths every day with the sound of laughter in their ears. Yes, it was a den of debauchery, but at least in the Chalice, misery was real enough to see and touch. That could not be said of the invisible misfortunes created out of nothing by deluded minds.
And so, as darkness fell over the King’s City and Edaer’s Wall, Prince Varis Kilvar had sacrificed himself for the uncaring many.
More than once since then, Kian had wondered if Varis regretted his choice, as he hurtled through three hundred feet of open air before slamming into the ground below. In a way, Kian hoped not. The princeling’s beliefs might have been unfounded, perhaps even insane, but to lose your beliefs at the end of your existence, when there was no chance of turning back, was no small matter.
Of course, the better option was to accept that you had misled yourself and others before it was too late. In regard to Prince Varis, Kian supposed he would never know what answers the princeling had found, if any, before he met his crushing end.
“Well, what is your choice?” Hazad asked impatiently. “Do we turn around, seek out some greedy merchant willing to risk his life for a few extra coppers by crossing a desert plagued by bloodthirsty bands of Bashye, or do we go to Krevar and find this Sister of Najihar, and take her to the Isle of Rida?”
Kian felt as if something were shifting inside him. It was a strange feeling, but not entirely troubling. It seemed not so much that he were turning away from some unfathomable peril, but rather that he was turning toward....
“We’ve not seen the sea for a long time,” Kian said, wondering if some of the prince’s madness had worn off on him. It must have, if he could actually contemplate something as vague as destiny so soon after considering Varis’s selfsame follies.
“So you choose the woman,” Azuri said, looking relieved, as if he, too, had felt that enigmatic shifting inside himself.
Despite all his previous complaining, Hazad abruptly smiled through his wild beard braids and raised his skin of
. “To the sea, then, and to feisty women!”
Laughing, Kian heeled his mount toward Krevar and their waiting charge, Sister Ellonlef Khala. Traveling with a woman, and one he had heard was fair to look upon, would make for a welcome change after so many long and perilous seasons spent wielding a sword. Yes, a welcome change indeed.
So ends the final tale of
Heirs of the Fallen
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For all my current fans, thanks so much for reading, and may all your journeys be exciting!
James A. West is the bestselling author of the epic fantasy series Heirs of the Fallen, and the heroic fantasy series Songs of the Scorpion.
Between gritty quests, he recently decided to dip a toe into the primordial sludge from whence he sprang, and penned the dystopian thriller, Beasts of the Field.
James is a native of the Pacific Northwest, but life is a road of many turns. He served in the US Army, spent a year as a long-haul truck driver with his wife (who also happens to be his high-school sweetheart), and attended the University of Montana.
He lives in Montana with his wife. His bodyguard, a Mini-Schnauzer named Jonesy, is always near to hand. James has been known to work for chips and salsa.
While James spends most of his time navigating alternate realities, he periodically comes up for air at: jamesawest.blogspot.com