Rend knelt in the ruin ahead, unmoving and still. He had his back to them. Imerre and Amaris approached slowly. And Rend turned when he heard their approach at last.
“Brother,” he moaned. “Death seems to be chasing me.”
Imerre frowned deeply. “Then Ketsu is dead,” he remarked expressionlessly.
Rend bowed his head. “And there is more than that. A boy from the village stowed away on our vessel. I left him there while I went to rescue Ketsu… I was too late for both. When I arrived here, Ketsu was already dead. When I went back, so was the boy, and the Pure was destroyed.” He rose, looking around him. “Death is everywhere. The air, the grass. They all stink of death. I don’t know how much longer I have left…”
Amaris remained silent. She’d felt it too, the stench of death in everything around her. Was it only here? No… She’d felt it at the Brave, too. She felt it when they were walking back. She could see it in Rend. Could Rend see it in her?
Walking slowly toward Rend, Imerre clapped him on the shoulder with an armored hand. “You will be alright. We’re here to take you back.”
Rend raised his own hand, and gripped Imerre’s shoulder tightly. They stood like that a moment, then they both turned and walked toward Amaris, making for the path that led back to the Brave and the Honest.
“This place was torched,” Rend noted. “But it was done long before I arrived. Who did this?” Amaris paled, but Rend, it seemed, had asked the question rhetorically, for he continued. “So many did not need to die. Too many have died already. We came to find Prye… we did not come to kill.”
Amaris was glad that he was not looking at her, for he would have seen her begin to tremble, biting her lip to prevent the numberless tears that were ready to fall.
Imerre, however, was looking, and noticed. He gave her a wide-eyed stare, but said nothing.
They reached the ships, and they were off before noon.
Rend joined the crew of the Brave, sailing with Egorias, Imerre, and Tymathaen. Amaris sailed on the Honest, with Evorlette and the all-too-still Karet. Karet hardly moved, and was no aid to the vessel’s voyage whatsoever. Amaris was grateful that the Honest did not require too much effort to sail, short-handed as they were. She did not believe that she’d be much help if she’d had to do any more- it was all she could take to do what she had to without breaking down into an emotional wreck. She could not simply get over what she had done. She felt scarred, impure, in every moment. She felt unworthy of friendship.
She stared out to sea, her eyes blank, in those moments when nothing needed doing.
She had made a pact that she would never fight again, but was that enough? No! She had the blood of countless innocents on her hands! Her soul was black, stained by the ashes of all that she had burned. And when she closed her eyes, she saw that face, that terrible face, of the child who lay still and unmoving in the grass, his mouth open in a soundless scream, his eyes staring blankly into hers, accusingly.
Was anything even worth fighting for? What cause was worth that terrible thing called death? She’d led the charge in her terrible haste and bloodthirstiness. She’d stained her friends. She’d stained herself.
Evorlette came, suddenly, and stood beside her. She whispered. “Did you see Egorias’s wings? They’re black… He says it happened when he flew through the ash cloud to reach us. Imerre was stained, too.”
Amaris said the words before she even thought them, so sudden was her response. She nearly interrupted Evorlette. “We are all stained,” she whispered back.
They were both silent after that. No more words were spoken during that trip- not by anyone.
* * * * * * * * * *
He wouldn’t open his eyes again. This was his final moment- the last remembrance.
Rend, brother of Imerre.
This was the final scene of the tragedy- and, ultimately, the one that had decided it. A final vengeance had been taken, a perfect reflection of all that they had done. They were paid back for what had happened on the mainland- completely.
The “pale ones” of mainland myth were erased from the world, and the only ones that remained hovered uncaring in their shining fortress in the sky. He would lift his hand and smite them for their neglectful abandonment, had he only the power… but he was far too weak, and would be forevermore.
In death, perhaps he could haunt them.