The voice was the most pitiful thing Iricah had ever heard. When she heard it again, and clearly, she stopped dead in her tracks, begging for the voice to come again–to tell her where to look. It had to be the voice of her brother, it had to be. And as she moved towards it and the dreaded knowledge that the voice that she heard was someone beyond saving, she lost her ability to think, and to breathe. She was spinning in the dark.
The next thing she knew she was running through the labyrinthine passage, the others trailing in her wake. She would not be stopped, not now.
And then she saw him. The hair slickened with the rotten and blackened muck, the flesh and bone that should not be instilled with life but was. It wasn’t a man, it was pieces of a man, enmeshed with pieces of other men, and somehow, the parts of that man that could still speak were. Iricah approached the man woven into the wall, stitched in hellish butchery. His head hung limp against the portion of his torso that was still there. A filth was caked over everything, smeared over the surfaces like a gelatin that had set after a stew gone cold.
“Kill meeeeeeeeeeeeee” called the voice once more.
Iricah stopped in front of the figure. She couldn’t breathe. Panting, fingers reaching out, shaking, she reached out for the hair of her brother, and saw that it was topped with a crown of teeth and small bones wired together with metal into a crude crown. She pulled the hair back and stared into the blank eyes of Garondin, the King’s youngest son.
The once proud grin, the once mighty features, the handsome manner gone. It was all now replaced by horror, by sheer and unfathomable pain. There was no semblance of understanding in the face, it was nothing more than the embodiment of once had been this grand officer. The face of a man who had once been a boy, a playmate of hers. A friendly smile in an inhospitable court. The cruel accessory set atop his head was the slightest of insults compared to the anguish set in a tortured face. It took time for the name to come to her mind, for this wasn’t a person. And it didn’t belong to a name. This thing that was no more, this thing that had once been a person, now stripped of all humanity. This had once been Garondin, Genoran’s brother.
“Wait. Wait,” cried Iricah. She said it mostly for herself. “Wait. I can fix this. Actually, I have something for you, here. Here Garondin. I have. I have. Well, yes, I have this ointment, but I think this will. No. Wait. I have…”
Frank came to stand next to her.
“Frank! Do something. He needs help. Can’t you see that? The Flame, Frank. The light is in him still. I know it is. You can.”
“Iricah, I cannot. His light was taken from him long ago. What is left is not what he was. It has been corrupted. I am sorry Iricah. The Garondin we once knew is no more.”
“Now stop that Frank! You know who this is! This is no time for your wit. Garondin is in need, he just spoke, he just called to me! Can you not hear? Is this not a rescue mission?!!” She spun around, her voice choked with emotion, begging the others with her eyes. “We must! We must help him!”
“Iricah, he is gone.” It was Zy’an, he too came to stand near her. His calm voice was as interrupting as any shout.
“The life hassss left thissss man,” said Thrak.
“Now that’s quite enough you lot,” raged Iricah. “Fine, if you won’t try then I will just have to do it myself!” Iricah rummaged through her bags with one hand. With the other she lifted Garondin’s limp, mutilated face. With her arms crossed, she fumbled and jumbled her way around the inside of a bag, then another. Garondin’s eyes stared blankly ahead. For several minutes she rifled through the sacks, trying various ointments and potions and berating the others.
Frank, Thrak and Zy’an watched her. They had each met Garondin, and knew him as a man of moral fiber. He had in fact saved them once in a way. But this was Iricah’s battle to wage. When she had lost, collapsing to the floor, the others, moved to help her up.
“Iricah,” whispered Frank. “We need you now. We must carry on.” He placed his hand on Iricah’s arm and spoke soothing words of a prayer that caused a warmth to envelope her. Iricah’s dread and sorrow did not lessen, but her sense of purpose came back to her. She was able to stand and turn away from her once betrothed little brother, and in so doing, she saw the figure standing behind them.