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Rated: E · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2190662

What Light Remains

Do not go gentle into that good night.

In the very first times there was no light in the world. Everything was in darkness, the lands could not be seen, and the animals could not be seen. […] This is the way they lived in the very earliest times, times that no one can understand now, times when magic words were made.

Shamans, Healers, and Medicine Men

The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there... and still on your feet.

The Stand

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“Welcome home, my prince.”

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From atop a wooden ridge overlooking the Pendragon Coast, Zarponda’s Galway Bay shimmered through a cover of fog that shifted like ragged wraiths. Seen only in glimpses, it was a sight Jace knew would be beautiful, if only he could reach it— and here it seemed so close he could touch it.

From the bottom of the slope, it was only a mile across the plain; but to look at the Outrider, the hillside may well have been a labyrinth of razor-wire. His face had not been shaven in months. His clothes were muddy and torn, and his sweat-soaked skin deeply tanned.

The port city hovered like a mirage at the edge of his watery vision, in a chill darkness that swept back and forth by the breath of the wind and the pull of the tide. After what felt like a moment, but could have been any length of time, the fog broke for the first time he could remember. A smile broke across his face, and it made him look like nothing so much as a faded, weathered statue on which the ages made their final play.

Then just like such a statue, he collapsed and went tumbling down the hill.

The groan of the gates froze Jace before he could even imagine standing. They were massive and distant, and yet the mechanisms were so intricate and clever, that what must have been a thousand tons of steel and stone slipped away as easily as the fog. It was something he knew Relic would appreciate, but his lips had frozen and would not permit another smile.

It was only through some semblance of pride that he forced himself to stand. But he also thought he had to do so or else he might just be run over, as the grinding of gears had been replaced by a frantic pounding of hooves. He raised his hand to shield his eyes, squinting through cold sunlight at the metallic form that raced toward him, bright sparks twirling across its armor. All he could do was wait.

And out of habit, he ran the odds.

Killed without a word?

Jace found his attention drawn to the sun, burning like a bright, joyless eye.

60/40 in favor.

The animal skidded to a stop. Its breath spurted beside him.

Make it past five, fearless leader, and we’ll both be rich.

“I told you, didn’t I, Dorse? For your mistakes ... all of them ... at long last, you will die.

Jace saw nothing but blotchy shadows towering over him, painting the world with a different shade of cold. But the voice was crystal clear, and he recognized it immediately.

“Ah. Flashback humor. Good for you,” Jace said, and he almost stopped there, but some shift within the rider prompted him to go on. “I thought you idiots occupied all of Sindell. I’ve been wandering these god damned dustlands for ...” He swept his grimy hair back from his face with one hand. “Hell, I don’t even know.” His gaze flicked down, then back up: “By the way, you look good in that armor, Tri. Nice job selling your soul.”

Jace’s vision cleared, and he saw that Treinen wasn’t wearing a helmet. His weapons rested at his sides, undrawn. Dabriel’s appearance was enough to give even this sworn enemy pause. He could hear it in Treinen’s voice when he spoke again, just as sure as the sternness that had been there.

“Welcome home, my prince.”

There was an undercurrent of anger beneath the sarcastic tone.


“I wonder, old friend, if you’ve any concept of how famous you’ve become.”

“You’re exaggerating.” Jace squinted up again. “’We were never friends.”

Treinen nodded, smirked, then motioned to the ground.

“If you would ...” he said, waiting for the clank of Jace’s crossbows on the ground. The Outrider surrendered the weapons without hesitation.

“You confronted the old man in the tunnels, is that right? That’s how you got ...” His horse’s tail flicked as he concluded: “Here?”



“I’m still pretending not to know what you’re talking about. So no.”

The rider nodded. “Was it worth it? Killing Kerrick. Becoming a traitor. Now, at the end, at least answer me that. Was it worth it ... Jace?”

​Dabriel raised his eyebrows thoughtfully at the lack of malice.

“Ask me again when this is over.”

“You know when we were kids I wanted to be you?” the rider continued.

“I do,” Jace said, and then without thinking, slapped at his neck—where a bluish insect met an untimely end with an ugly squishing noise. He rubbed his abused palm against his pants to no avail. “Donovan always said it was your greatest flaw.”

Treinen chuckled.

“Don’t try to get in my head, Dorsey, you’re humiliated enough as it is. Champion of Veil’driel, Hero of Fairlawn ... what a joke. The bastard son of a king and a gypsy harlot.” Looking Jace up and down, Treinen smiled widely. “At the end of the day, that’s all you are.”

“Yeah, well, this day ain’t over yet,” Jace said. “And also you’re right on the verge of pissing me off.”

“Well ... we wouldn’t want that.”

Jace slapped his neck again as some compatriot of the blue beetle sought to avenge it.

“No—” Splat! “— you wouldn’t.”

“Its funny. Even now. In this state. I would have still half-expected to see you come charging over that ridge.” He gestured with an open palm toward the ridge at Jace’s back. “But, you know ...” He shrugged. “Tumbling’s kinda cool too, I guess.”

No sooner were his words on the air than Treinen drew one of his crossbows and fired a warning shot inches over Jace’s shoulder. He was definitely fast. Not Isabelle Talabray fast, but fast. Jace collapsed to the ground— pinned there by the weight of a memory fallen out of the sky. The memory of being shot in that exact shoulder on that night in Westwood Forest, which he had no doubt, had been the intention.

“I don’t understand, Champion of Veil’driel ...” The voice was distant and hard. “Did you, like, ... forget Sindell is a nation of airships in your self-imposed, treasonous exile?” He crossed his arms, crossbows still in hand. “Or are you just stupid?”

Jace shrugged. “Just forgot about the importance of roads, I guess.”

“Do they not teach land navigation courses to all you heroes and legends and such?”

“No, they do,” Jace said as he rose again. He brushed dead crabgrass from his knees.

“Then how do you explain this?”

“Maybe I was sick that day ...” Jace said in a drawl.

Treinen laughed long and loud, until the sound of it echoed back from The Greywall— the disproportionate reaction itself seeming like an insult. When at last he was finished, he nodded and refastened the crossbows to his belt. “There’s the confident hero,” he said approvingly. “Short swords too, hero.” Jace slid the blades from their sheaths and flipped them, point-down, into the earth. “You said you don’t know how long it’s been? Three months, almost to the day. Three months since you and the others decided destroying Lornda Manor would be a real heroic way to go out.” He snapped his fingers. “Three, like the number of Outriders you thought would be coming home with you. You know— since Cedwyn got shot a lot of times.”

“Got it,” Jace said evenly.

“Good. So you mind telling me what you did for food and water out here?”

“What does it matter?”

“It matters,” Treinen said.

The Outrider sighed.

“Like Donovan always said: What this land lacks in roads, it makes up for in rivers and streams.”

“Nearly all of which are saltwater.”

Jace withdrew a small, teardrop-shaped aquamarine from his pocket and tossed it up to Treinen in the span of a blink. He caught it, but the speed threw a shadow over his face even as a caravan of clouds began their slow march across the sun.

“Don’t do that again,” he warned.

“Converts saltwater to—“

“I know what it does,” Treinen said. “I was born here, too. But where did you get it?”

“That place on the Veil’driel coast you were talking about. Pretty nice, before my boy blew it up.” Treinen nodded distractedly, joggling the stone from one palm to another as he looked at it.
“Oh. Sorry. Heroically blew up,” Jace said.


“The one who got shot a lot of times.”

“Got it,” Treinen said, tossing the stone back. “And for food?”

“Hunting ...”

“Game out here’s a bit big for hand-held crossbows.”

“Compared to minotaurs, everything goes down easy.”

“You must be quite the shot.”

Jace scratched the back of his head.

“I’m okay.”

“As good as they say?” the golden rider pressed.

“Nobody’s that good, brother,” Jace said.

They fell into a long silence, the lull opening a void filled only by wind and the lapping sea. Somewhere, far off, seagulls sounded their calls.

“Sometimes I wish I were one of those birds, you know?” Treinen took a moment to stare toward the distant noises before suddenly digging into his saddlebags. “Does that sound stupid to you?”

“No,” Jace said.

Treinen withdrew a set of irons and tossed them at Jace’s feet.

“I shouldn’t have said what I did about Cedwyn. In many ways, he understood what we’re trying to accomplish here. He deserves respect, and I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well.” Jace locked the first ring around his left wrist. “I’m still glad he blew up Lornda Manor, so ... whatever.” He followed with the right, and when the deed was done, the enemies laughed together.

“You’re famous, you know.”

“So I’ve heard’”

Treinen nodded.

“Dorsey Trent, also known as Jace Dabriel in the Republic of Veil’driel,” Desmond proclaimed. “By the sacred authority of Illumanar Artemus Ward, Paladin of Ciridian, you are hereby made a prisoner of war with the protections and responsibilities thereof. Do you s—“ Treinen’s brow wrinkled as a hawk dove low, circling shady halos over them both. “Do you hereby submit to these terms?”

Jace’s chains jangled like heavy wind chimes as he tried to shield his face from the sun. Now, and for the first time, it beat down hot on his face, and shackles jingled again as he scratched his forehead.

Treinen’s expression remained unchanged.

Something shifted in Jace like a tide, and his voice was low when he declared: “I submit.”

Treinen bowed his head in a final show of respect between former countrymen and assassins in the Adamant Gaze. But after starting towards the gates of Zarponda, they weren’t five steps from where they’d begun before Jace first heard the jeers and taunts from Treinen’s new comrades on The Greywall— and he knew that the end was beginning.

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The Greywall swept onto the plain from two stretches of coast. It wrapped around the face of Zarponda, ran to the Bryce Mountain foothills to the north, and created a fortified niche around Galway Bay. Once, the edge of that bay had been dotted with statues and tombs of the founding-kings— many of them now half-submerged. It was a glimpse into Sindell’s bygone naval era, an ancient time when these ramparts had looked out upon the conflicts of legend instead of the vast, empty expanse of passing centuries.

What little remained was steeped in the shadows of slow decay: On their approach, Jace saw the crooked body and outstretched arm of a monumental, half-submerged statue that had simply been left to crumble, as if the plains were further away than the ocean floor. Whatever grandeur its posture had one day evinced, now it was impossible to tell whether it was waving to the sky or saluting the earthworms. For it, the end had come and gone and come again.

And it was quite the same for Jace.

None of the riders or their Tear compatriots stood along the plain; their legions of illusion were more than enough. By the time the long shadows of Greywall Tower loomed over prisoner and captor, the iron jaws of the gate had been thrown open wide to accept them. Although that vision was not a familiar one, it reminded him of his childhood, memories at the edge of his thoughts that had been there all along. They drifted to him like a dream, like statues sculpted by the hand of a single artist.

And then he was struck by something else—

The heel of a heavy boot crashing into his back.

The Outrider’s elbows and wrists crashed onto the courtyard, bound arms and knees protecting him just barely as he found himself eye-to-ankle with a pair of golden shin plates, each one polished to a sheen. Arcing his head in a rush, Jace found a featureless female silhouette looking down at him against the glare of that damnable sun. An inch further and it might have been a corona of pristine light— for now, though, he saw only shadows.

That didn’t matter, though. He knew who she was.

“Sorry about that, Jace,” said Hazel Lien, her voice oddly sincere. But then it took on an edge as she went on: “My guards were instructed not to touch you, but I suppose some of them couldn’t resist.” When Jace glanced back, the first thing he saw was Treinen, a disapproving scowl on his face. The second was the guard, a far younger man, who had kicked him.

“Not a problem,” Jace said, getting up. “I wasn’t expecting the warmest wel—“

Hazel stepped to the side, letting a full blast of the sun blind Jace to what happened next. His vision melted into coruscating light as she landed a blow to the back of his head, dropping to a knee in the motion despite the heft of her armor. He sank toward unconsciousness, but wasn’t quite there before a new, searing pain bloomed in his brain and he was yanked back sharply by his hair.

Jace faced the woman through streaming eyes, her breath playing on his face.

“My father warned you not to use the tunnels, didn’t he?” She released him and stood, her body dissolving into sunlight far too bright for Dabriel to face. Then she kicked him viciously in the stomach, driving him onto his back amidst the cheers of a gathering throng of dark Tears and bright riders. She made to kick him again, he thought, but held back when she saw him flinch. Perhaps that was enough— at least for now. “This time there was no parade waiting when you charged down that hill.”

Her disdain cut through the air, clear to all the others. But none of them risked saying anything at first. For several moments, she gazed down silently at Jace. As his wildly arcing mind came to rest within his center of gravity again, there was something terribly familiar about her. But more than that; there was something deeply personal here.

But there was no time to reflect; the others had gathered their nerve. “What’re ya gonna do with him, captain?”

Hazel’s eyes never left the Outrider; she acknowledged the question with an upraised finger.

“Interesting question, isn’t it? What should I do with you, Jace?” She turned around, arms spreading as if to call upon the full imagination of the crowd. The smoldering anger Jace had seen eye-to-eye was gone, or at least hidden for the moment. “Anyone have any ... suggestions? Now’s the time, boys— don’t be shy!” She waited another second or two for their laughter to subside before she stopped full: Hazel saw, like a hawk gliding above the fray, that Jace had slowly raised his hand a few inches, never abandoning his position on his back.

For an instant, there was a kind of amusement on her face, but it was not the same smile she had favored her own men with. Her eyes were cold and hard, something unnatural and grotesque on a face of such captivating beauty. Her voice held a cold and foreboding hatred, and he knew that he was the only one who could witness this side of Hazel. For, all around them both, thousands looked on upon her in open adoration. Jace slowly lowered his hand, and before he could think to speak, her boot crashed anew into his chest.

She held the posture, and Jace thought she might use that leverage to crush the breath out of him and kill him. It made the moment feel like it lasted forever, but it must have gone on in the space of a heartbeat or so, for nobody made any reaction ... either to cheer or object or restrain her passions. As she loosened the pressure the smallest bit.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Let me go?” Jace suggested.

Hazel giggled, and somewhere in his half-delirium Jace recognized something distinctly sexy about that sound. There was something about her he could like in a different world ... a fairer world. His mind grasped at it, but everything beyond the most pressing danger was a void; the beating so far had been light compared to what a minotaur could have done, but it had undammed countless memories of exhaustion and starvation. Her voice was above him again, echoing like a herald of the angels: Like the horn that would blow and break the world. Jace groaned as he forced himself to focus, to look up.

He was going mad, he thought— he was sure he could smell rose oil ...

“The Champion of Veil’driel suggests letting him go!”

The troops around them whooped and hollered their disapproval, their cries mingling together in one formless mass. Before Jace knew it, Hazel was looking back down at him again; leaning down into his face by bending the leg she was using to pin him. “Uh-oh, handsome,” she said, ticking her head to the side as she made a disappointed cluck in the back of her throat. “Don’t think you’re gonna get the votes on that one.”

As her face came closer to his, he didn’t dare speak— couldn’t ... Now he was sure of that smell ... the fringes of light glinting off a jade necklace that hung over her armor, painting her into a mirror image of—

“I know who you’re thinking of right now,” Hazel said, and the words froze Jace to the core. Again, she saw his reaction, but this time she didn’t relent. “Do you know why I remind you of her? No. No, of course not. Well, maybe the rose oil was a little bit much ... I thought it might be, but then ... what’s life without a little risk, right hero?

Jace’s mouth opened and closed uselessly, dry as a desiccated sea.

“I had a vision, you know?” she went on. “I knew you were coming— that as soon as father told you not to go through the tunnels, that’s the first thing you would do. He probably knew it, too, whether he’d admit it or not, but I sensed it ... I felt that you were out there, from the moment you set foot under the open sky again. You don’t know what’s in that tunnel, you stupid fool. There are things in there that can swallow you up and make it so you never even existed. He was trying to protect you from that, believe it or not ... but he failed, and so did you.

Hazel pulled her boot from his chest and he knew: All along, he’d been holding his breath. He gasped for air, but nothing he could do would drown out her next whispered words: “Isabelle is dead, Jace.” There was anger in Jace’s eyes— anger that flashed like lightning. He was helpless to stop them from watering up in that instant, and he hated himself for it. He was paralyzed now, as helpless with this woman as he had once been with Isabelle. “Yes, she’s dead, but I promise her suffering has only begun,” Hazel whispered. “After you and your ignorant band murdered Charles, and the other innocents at Lornda Manor, she and Relic got into the stables and rode hard for Veil’driel. But they were caught near Mirror Lake ... its physical incarnation that is, when they started to feel just what it was they stirred up down there in the tunnels. What they meddled with in Sandia. They couldn’t handle it, Jace, just as you won’t be able to handle it. They made mistakes ... that Forerunner, Lucas Reese, he got away. So did Relic. But Isabelle ... the power down there killed her, ate her up, and the Illumanar caught on to her because she was screaming. Haven’t you felt it yet? If you haven’t ... you will.”

Jace didn’t know— wouldn’t accept —what it was, what the power was Hazel spoke of. It didn’t matter to him. The words were trapped in his mind, the images clear as could be: First of Isabelle’s pain and her suffering, then of her lonesome last moments because he abandoned her.

When Jace finally spoke, he was not the broken man Hazel expected; from the corner of his eye, he saw her run her tongue over her teeth, not her lips, but what she saw was the maddeningly familiar, cocky smile that had returned to the Outrider’s face. It was as if there was some inside joke the two of them shared ... something that was so unexpected even Treinen’s stone-faced gaze shifted at once, and he leaned forward in the effort to hear.

“The bar maid at The Faraway Cry,” Jace whispered, and it was so low Hazel wasn’t sure she had heard it. “If Cedwyn knew I let you make me feel guilty over his death, or believed anything else you say ... he’d find a way to come back and kick my ass.” She didn’t know how to respond, but her mouth closed with a click, her urges unsated. She didn’t react at all as Jace grunted with effort, forcing his way ponderously into a sitting position with his bound arms draped over his knees. One gold-clad guard stepped forward, but she raised a hand to still him. The chatter around them died instantly. Something was wrong, but none of the troops, in their splendor, dared say so or even speculate.

The sun fell behind an errant cloud ...

Hazel sighed, as she knew in that moment this situation was not what it seemed. Nor had Jace been wandering aimlessly for the last three months since Lornda Manor.

“So tell me, Dabriel,” she said. “How is my mother?”

The Outrider’s expression was one of shock, and a feeble attempt at reply died on his lips as an ear-splitting cacophony of whistles rained down upon the square. It was a familiar melody of dread for the enemy that set their teeth on edge. But for Jace, it was the first faint strains of his own salvation.

Divider (2)
Chapter Two  (E)
Operation Sea-Fever
#2190663 by Dan Hiestand
Divider (2)
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