Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(8)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(8)
John Gwynne

‘You have deceived me, all this time.’ Nathair looked first at Calidus, then past him, to Alcyon. The giant dropped his head, not meeting Nathair’s gaze.

‘You would not have understood,’ Calidus said.

Nathair raised his eyebrows at that. ‘Something we agree on. My first-sword Veradis will have your heads for this. Thankfully he is not here to witness how far we have fallen.’

‘Time will be the judge,’ Calidus said with a shrug. ‘But there is still a future for you. For us.’

‘What, this is not to be my execution, then?’ Nathair’s eyes flickered to Alcyon and Uthas behind Calidus, and then further off, to the Benothi guards lurking in shadows.

‘No. I came to talk.’

‘It seems to me the time for that has passed. But go on . . .’

‘You see things as you have been taught. Good, evil; right, wrong. But things are not always as they seem—’

‘No, they are not. You are living proof of that. Claiming to be one of the Ben Elim, yet you are the opposite: Kadoshim, a fallen angel, servant of Asroth.’

‘You speak of things about which you have no understanding,’ Calidus snapped. ‘Kadoshim, Ben-Elim, they are just names given by those too ignorant to comprehend. Remember, history is written by the victors. It is not an unassailable truth, but a twisted, moulded thing, corrupted by the victor’s perspective. Elyon is not good; Asroth is not evil. That is a child’s view. The world is not scribed in black and white, but in shades of grey.’

‘So you would have me believe that Asroth is good? That Elyon is the deceiver?’

‘No, something in the middle of that, perhaps, with both parties capable of both good and evil. Like you. More human, if you like. Would that be so hard to imagine?’

Uthas saw something flicker across Nathair’s face. Doubt?

‘Your histories tell that Asroth would destroy this world of flesh,’ Calidus continued. ‘They claim that was Asroth’s purpose in the War of Treasures. Ask yourself: if that were true, then why is he so desperate to come here, to become flesh?’

‘I would not dare to guess after having been proved so monumentally naive,’ Nathair said with a sour twist of his lips. Something of his earlier rage returned, a vein pulsing in his temple.

‘Don’t be so dramatic,’ Calidus scolded, ‘like a sulking child. I have come to you to speak hard truths and would hear you speak in return as the man you can be, the leader of men, the king. Not as a petulant child.’ He took a moment, waiting, letting the weight of his words subdue Nathair’s anger. ‘Now think on this. Asroth would come here not to destroy, but to rule. He would fashion an empire, just as you have imagined. A new order, one defined by peace, once the dissenters were dealt with. No different from your plans. And you could still be a part of it. Our numbers are too few; we will need someone to rule the Banished Lands. Someone who could unite the realms. I believe that someone is you.’

‘And you think I would believe anything that crosses your lips, now. After this?’ Nathair gestured at the towering bulk of Murias.

‘Yes. I would. Put your anger, your pride and shame aside and think. War has raged in the Otherworld for aeons. It has been bloody and violent and heartbreaking. I have seen my brothers cut down, broken, destroyed. And I have returned the violence upon the Ben-Elim a hundredfold. I did what I had to do. Withholding some of the truth from you was necessary. Difficult decisions must be made in war, for the greater good. You know this.’ Calidus paused, holding Nathair with his gaze.

‘There are some lines that cannot be crossed, regardless of the greater good,’ Nathair spat.

‘You forget, Nathair. I know you. I know what you have done. What lines you have already crossed in the name of the greater good.’

Nathair raised a hand and took a step back, as if warding a blow. His draig stopped crunching bones to cast its baleful glare upon Calidus.

‘I do not say it as a criticism, but as a compliment. Once you are committed to a cause you will do whatever is necessary to see it through. Whatever it takes, regardless of the cost. A rare ability in this world of frailty and weakness. And one that we need. I respect that. So I ask you, Nathair: join us. Commit to our cause and you will gain all you desire, see your dreams come to fruition, your ambition rewarded. And if you think on it, it is not so different from all that you were striving for before the scales fell from your eyes.’

Alcyon shifted from behind Calidus. ‘Someone comes,’ he said, pulling his newly acquired war-hammer from his back.

‘Where?’ Calidus asked, hand on sword hilt, eyes narrowed.

Alcyon pointed south-east, into the moorland. A dark speck solidified, moving at considerable speed.

‘It is one of my brothers,’ Calidus said. ‘One of those that left with Danjal.’

They stood in silence as the figure approached. It covered the ground quickly, running with a loping gait. As it drew near, Uthas saw it was weaving.

And something is wrong with its arm.

It must have seen them standing on the road, for it veered towards them, collapsing before Calidus. Its hand was severed just above the wrist, blood still trickling from the wound. It was pale as milk, veins black within its skin. Nathair’s draig gave a low rumbling growl.

‘I am weak,’ the Kadoshim rasped. ‘This body is failing.’

‘I warned you,’ Calidus said. ‘These bodies are still mortal. Soon it will die from loss of blood.’

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