Chapter 14: The Hunting of Beasts
Brandyé could not think for a moment what manner of creature or person could possibly attack and wound a people so skilled in combat, and he broke into a run, following the Illuèn themselves toward Athalya’s home. He saw that Elven was trying to keep pace beside him, but his limp prevented him from running fast. He realized he did not care, for he was desperate to know if Athalya was alive – and if Elỳn was safe.
Before long he drew upon her dwelling, and there was a great crowd of Illuèn there, and much light and commotion. Yet for all of it he heard not the sounds the grief, the crying or screaming he associated with death, and hoped that she was not too gravely wounded. For some time he was unable to penetrate the crowd of Illuèn, and by the time he had forced his way through and into the dwelling, Elven was once more by his side, panting. He slipped between two Illuèn carrying long blades, unheeding, and stared: a shocking scene greeted his eyes.
Athalya was lying on the ground, her head cradled in Elỳn’s lap. There were great splashes of silver across the earth and walls, and with a sick horror Brandyé realized it was her blood. Her robes were rent in many places, and a great wound on her neck spilled ever more of her life onto the ground.
At the sight, Elven pushed forward and knelt on the ground beside Elỳn. “We must close the wound!” he cried, and with no cloth to hand he placed both of his hands over the injury and pressed as hard as he could. Silver blood seeped between his fingers, and though he maintained his pressure Brandyé knew Athalya had not long to live.
Elỳn looked to Elven and then to Brandyé, and he saw great tears in her eyes. Brandyé had no experience with such grave injuries apart from Elven’s in the forest, and felt utterly helpless as he moved forward to Athalya’s side. Beside him knelt several other Illuèn, and though he saw Rỳlan among them, he could not understand why they did nothing. “Will you not help her?” he said desperately.
To his astonishment, it was Athalya herself who answered him, though her voice was weak and suffering. “There is no saving me, Brandyé,” she murmured. “There is no stopping the poison that is now in me.”
“What do you mean?” he cried.
“She has been attacked by more than nature,” Elỳn replied tearfully. “A fierund gave her these wounds.”
Shocked, Brandyé looked once more to Athalya. “How is this possible?”
“We know not,” said Elỳn. “But when we are wounded by Darkness, there is no preventing our death. Were we to heal her wounds in an instant, she would still die.”
Brandyé found tears coming to his eyes. “No – it cannot be! There must be a way!”
And with the last of her strength Athalya turned her attention to Brandyé, and raised a hand to him. He took it, noticing the blood on it and not caring that it spilled onto his own hand. “I have lived long, Brandyé,” she said, “and I have done what I must for this world. I am glad to have met you; I ask only that you also do what you must.”
And those were the last words she spoke, and within minutes her breath had stopped, and Brandyé knew she was gone. He was crying great tears, and when he looked to Elven he saw his friend’s face was wet also, and they wept together. Gently they were taken from Athalya’s side, and Brandyé was sure as he looked his last upon her that the glow that emanated from all Illuèn was gone from her body.
“I do not understand,” Elven said when they were outside, and away from the scene. “Why did no one try to save her? Not even Rỳlan – not even their healers! Her wounds were terrible, but they did not even try!” His voice choked as he spoke, and tears still ran down his face.
“The fierundé are not natural creatures,” Brandyé tried to explain, though he too found it difficult to speak. “It is as though Light and Dark collided – neither can survive.”
It took a moment for the import of this realization to hit either of them, and when it did, Elven shuddered and looked about them. “You say neither can survive – do you mean to say there is a fierund lying dead not far from here?”