Upon our retreat, we quickly realized that we needed all the assistance we could get, so Torsten and I retreated to convince Fijit to join our efforts. It took some convincing, as Silvermane was still not conscious, but we were able to persuade her of the gravity of our mission.
Somewhat healed and ready for the next bout, we rejoined Elynnar and Leetsa, and I sneaked into the next room, getting off a shot at the flood troll in the dark before we squared off, the beast retreating after I landed a few more blows and my companions raced in to join me. The wolves were next to fall, constricted as they were in the doorway, and then I set about sprinting toward our main foe, trusting that my companions would make short work of the troll.
The troll, however, was quick to heal in the water that it had brought into the cavern, and it only fell after dealing a mighty blow to Fiji’s poor owl. Still, I raced on, attempting to leap the chasm between myself and what could only be the awful Skreed, architect of all Trunau’s woes.
To my shame, I failed the jump, it being far wider than any I’d practiced at Brimwill, and I received a grenade dropped upon me for my troubles. Staggered, I attempted to climb up to Skreed, only to be set aflame as I climbed the rope and have the rope burned away. Feeling darkness sting at my eyes, I clung to the cliff, latching onto Skreed’s ankle and yanking him down with me into the water. As he came up, I channeled my last ounce of power into a stunning blow, landing a few more hits before he managed to rouse himself and drop me with another blast. But even as I fell, I knew that my mission was succeeded. Torsten was closing in, having dropped the troll, and the deadly Leetsa was lining up a fatal shot. Skreed would die, and my fate…my fate was in the hands of Apsu.
As I fell back into the water, feeling its cool embrace enclose my battered form, it was as though the central chamber of Brimwill Monastery opened up before me, and I saw the face of Master Hineda as though she were standing right before me. “Young one,” she said, serene as ever, “why do you cry?”
I reached up to my cheek, finding that my face was, indeed, laden with tears. “Because I am afraid,” said I.
“Of death?” she asked, brushing a strand of long white hair from her face.
“Of what other dangers may await my friends,” I replied. “I’ve known them only a few short days, and yet…they have all become dear to me: Elynnar, with his strange ways and stout heart; Leetsa, who attempts to disguise her courage and compassion with her brashness; Torsten, who confronts his fears even just to step beyond the walls of his home, and yet stands tall in the face of overwhelming odds; Fijit, whose quiet love for life and nature are humbling to behold… I fear that they may all meet the same fate as the boy, Zekant, the brave Durmok, and so many others in this awful battle. I fear for all of Trunau, and the darkness that has been awakened here. I fear that I will not be there to stop it.”
Master Hineda nodded, tugging her dark robe more tightly around herself in the chill mountain air as she motioned for me to join her in her walking meditation around the Great Circle of the chamber and the Garden of Life around it. “You don’t think you’ve done enough for them?” she asked calmly as I fell in beside her.
“It’s not a matter of how much I’ve given,” I said, paraphrasing one of the tenants taught at Brimwill. “It’s a matter of giving my all.”
Master Hineda smiled, resting a hand on my shoulder as she looked down at me from her human stature. “And you have, dear one. All that is left to you is to find peace in that knowledge.”
My heart heavy, I bowed my head. “So I am dead, then?”
“And what is that to you, if you truly have given all of yourself?” said Master Hineda. “For now, is not enough simply to walk with me in the garden?”
I smiled sadly, falling in step with her once more. And, as my meditations turned to thoughts of home—Mother, Father, all my siblings…my dear, lost sister, Urthea—and the path I’d walked thus far, I let my body rest in the knowing that I had given my all, and that I had, at least brought one new life into the world amidst all the horror.
Focused on little Sydney Uthra Lampwright’s crying, infant face, I closed my eyes, and let the darkness enfold me.