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as they often did. "I must let you die. You understand, my son. I know you do.
You will serve me in death, as you did in life. Only better. Only better."
The Lord of the Nexus sighed. "But this is still not easy for me. You
understand that, too, don't you, my son?"
"Yes," Haplo whispered. "I understand."
And so the two remained together in the darkness of the dungeon. It was quiet;
very, very quiet. Xar had ordered all the other Patryns to leave them alone.
The only sounds were Haplo's shuddering breaths; Xar's occasional question;
Haplo's whispered answers.
"Do you mind talking?" Xar asked. "If it pains you, I will not press you."
"No, Lord. I don't feel any pain. Not anymore."
"A sip of water, to ease the dryness."
"Yes, Lord. Thank you."
Xar's touch was cool. His hand smoothed back Haplo's sweat-damp hair from his
feverish forehead. He lifted Haplo's head, held a cup of water to the dying
man's lips. Gently, the lord laid Haplo back down on the stone.
"That city in which I found you, the city of Abri. A city in the Labyrinth.
And I never knew it was there. Not surprising, of course, since it was in the
very heart of the Labyrinth. Abri has been there a long, long time, I assume,
judging by its size."
Haplo nodded. He was very tired, but it was comforting to hear his lord's
voice. Haplo had a dim recollection of being a boy riding on his father's
back. The boy's small arms wrapped around muscular shoulders, small head
drooping. He could hear his father's voice and feel it at the same time, feel
it resonate in his chest. He could hear his lord's voice and feel it at the
same time an odd sensation, as if it were coming to him through the cold hard
stone.
"Our people are not city-builders," Xar commented.
"The Sartan," Haplo whispered.
"Yes, so I judged. The Sartan who, long ago, defied Samah and the Council of
Seven. They were punished for their defiance, sent to the Labyrinth with their
enemies. And we did not turn on them and kill them. I find that strange."
"Not so strange," said Haplo, thinking of Alfred.
Not when two people have to fight to survive in a terrible land that is intent
on destroying them both. He and Alfred had survived only by helping each
other. Now Alfred was in the Labyrinth, in Abri, perhaps helping Haplo's
people to survive.
"This Vasu, the leader of Abri, a Sartan, isn't he?" Xar continued. "Part
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Sartan, at least. Yes, I thought so. I did not meet him, but I saw him on the
fringes of my mind. Very powerful, very capable. A good leader. But ambitious,
certainly. Especially now that he knows the world is not bounded by Abri's
walls. He will want his share, I am afraid. Perhaps the whole of it. That is
the Sartan in him. I can't permit it. He must be eradicated. And there may be
more like him. All those of our people whose blood has been tainted by the
Sartan. I am afraid they will seek to overthrow my rule."
I am afraid . . .
You are wrong, Lord, Haplo said silently. Vasu cares only for his people, not
for power. He is not afraid. He is what you were, Lord. He will not become
what you are afraid. You will rid yourself of Vasu, because you fear him. Then
you will destroy all those Patryns who have Sartan ancestry. Then you will
destroy the Patryns who were friends of those who have been destroyed. And at
the end, there will be no one left but yourself the person you fear most.
"The end is the beginning," Haplo murmured.
"What?" Xar leaned forward, sharp, intent. "What did you say, my son?"
Haplo had no recollection. He was in Chelestra, world of water, drifting in
the seawater, sinking slowly beneath the waves, as he had done once before.
Except that now he was no longer afraid. He was only a little sad, a little
regretful. Leaving matters undone, unfinished.
But others were left to pick up what he had been forced to let fall. Alfred,
bumbling, clumsy . . . golden, soaring dragon. Marit, beloved, strong. Their
child . . . unknown. No, that was not quite true. He knew her. He'd seen her
face . . . faces of his children ... in the Labyrinth. All of these . . .
drifting on the waves.
The wave bore him up, cradled him, rocked him. But he saw it as it had once
been a tidal wave, rising, rising to a fearful promontory, crashing down to
engulf, deluge the world, split it apart.
Samah.
And then the ebb. Debris, wreckage, floating on the water. The survivors
clinging to fragments until they found safe haven on strange shores. They
flourished, for a time. But the wave must correct itself.
Slowly, slowly, the wave built again, in the opposite direction. A vast
mountain of water, threatening to again crash down on and drown the world.
Xar.
Haplo struggled, briefly. It was hard hard to leave. Especially now that he [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]