Temptation of Asphodel
Death has been my constant companion.
My parents died when I was twelve; when I was eighteen I saw thousands die upon the blood-churned fields of my home. Two of my beloved Ka’antira uncles burned upon the great funeral pyres lit under the stars at Asphodel. The child that I should have borne in joy never came to life and I still grieve for this first, lost gift from my marriage. I watched as the traitor Jeshan de Callat vomited away his life to Dis while his blood dripped from my sword.
Yes, death has followed upon my heels. I recognize its finality even as I defy its proximity.
But nothing could prepare me for the sight of Brial, broken and bleeding, on the sands of Ectatte. His death was the one that broke my will and destroyed my defiance. His life was the price required to redeem the race of Elves; how bitter it was to know I had no choice.
I discovered something about death in the moment that changed my determination to succeed at my task. In order to gain victory, you must be prepared to give up the things most important to you. My willingness to accept Brial’s death in the end gave him life. The Huntress returned my beloved to me.
“I do not require everything,” she had said, “only that you are willing to give it.”
Brial lived; as a result so did I.
My other losses fell into perspective and I no longer dwelled on the horrors of death. This was my first triumph over my enemies, the first milestone I passed on the long, bitter road of divine machination.
I had learned acceptance of the inevitable.
I do not like to remember that night in the labyrinth of the gods. Brial has spoken of it only once. We put it from our minds and continued to act on behalf of the goddess in her contest with the Lord of Death.
I cannot help but wonder: if you lose your fear of death, what is left to fear? Is there something worse lurking in the shadows of life than the pain of separation and grief? I dread this knowledge and yet I crave the answer. While we moved through the mountains, following obscure hints laid down within the perimeters of the gods’ game, my mind lingered on this question.
And when I slept, a single image returned to haunt my dreams: a single golden apple, resting on a rough, mildewed table in a dark room, and behind me in the inky shadows a long, echoing, hissing laugh.
It is but a dream, but one of evil portents.
I fear this image more than any other. For some reason, I sense a darker doom creeping up behind me. I don’t dare share this dread. In anticipation, as well as in the reality, I am alone.
Perhaps that isolation is the very fate I fear.