Looking wearily around the observatory I sigh. After everything I’ve been through, the weaponmachines are here; back almost at the start of my journey. Only this time I am alone in truth; not even Maruman is here, though he promised to be with me to the end. I shake my head, pushing away the thoughts and despair. They belong to Elspeth; Innel has a job to do. Everything is as it was before, but this time the memory of my dream guides me unerringly to a corner of the room where I push aside the disguising shelving. Behind it is the final door. Pulling out the little plast access key, my eyes suddenly fill with tears; Maruman was supposed to be with me for this. Resolutely, I once again force the feelings away. He is not here, and I can only hope that what I have discovered since is true and only the one voice is needed to use it. Pushing the key into a slot beside the door I take a deep breath and speak. “My name is Elspeth Gordie. I am the Seeker.”
After a heart-stopping moment the door glides open, pale lights coming on to reveal a featureless stairwell; leading down. Walking through the door, I think briefly about closing it, but there seems little point, and my mind is focused on the weapon machines which are surely waiting below. As I descend, my footsteps echo loudly against the smooth walls, the stairs distorting them so that at times it sounds as though there are two sets of footsteps, or three, or a hundred.
Finally the stairs come to an end. With a strange sense of detachment, I walk through the doorway and look around at this, the final destination of my quest. The room is unfamiliar, yet I recognise it from my earliest dreams. My gaze is drawn like a magnet towards a bench at the side of the room and I move towards it, my footsteps silent on the carpeted floor. Halfway there I pause; if the carpet muffles my steps, why can I still hear their echoes?
Then the echoes stop, and a cold clear voice speaks behind me. “Why, thankyou... Seeker.”
With a chill sense of foreboding, I turn to face the figure standing in the doorway, his long pale hair glowing strangely in the dim lighting.
“Ariel. I knew you were the Destroyer.” I had never said it in as many words, but it felt right. He had been haunting my dreams for years, and somewhere in my subconsciousness I had known.
“Oh no, dear Elspeth, you are quite mistaken. I am not the Destroyer; I am H’rayka, He Who Brings Destruction.”
He raises his voice, his chill smile widening. “So come here, my little Destroyer; come here, my wolf.”
My mind is racing. What does he mean he is not the Destroyer? It was always supposed to be him. Then my mind skips to the last thing he said. He can’t mean a real wolf, can he? But the only human I have ever heard called one... by Ariel... it can’t be... Desperately hoping, pleading with whatever powers might be listening, I turn my attention to the figure coming reluctantly through the doorway. Unkempt brown hair obscures his face and for a moment I think I might be wrong, it might not be him. Then he raises his head, his tortured green eyes meeting mine and my heart contracts in a spasm of love and fear.
From where I wait in the stairwell I can hear their voices. His, smug and gloating, sending chills down my spine. And hers’; the voice I would have given my life to hear any time but here and now. Then his voice raises, “Come here, my little Destroyer, come here, my wolf.” His mind tightens on mine and, feet dragging, I am drawn into the room.
My eyes go immediately to Elspeth where she stands, staring at me in horrified recognition. Calling my name, she steps towards me, reaching out. A familiar spear of pain lances through my mind, and I double over, clutching my head. Dimly, I hear Elspeth’s horrified gasp and Ariel’s calm response.
“I would advise you not to come any closer. It would be ... unpleasant ... for your dear Rushton.”
Hastily she steps back again and a small sigh of relief escapes me as the pain fades. Ariel gives a satisfied smile, obviously enjoying how his power over me gives him power over her.
“I must say, I’m impressed by how you well you fixed him after last time. To get him here, I had the pleasure of breaking him all over again. Not that it was really any challenge. Poor Rushton, still so unsure, still can’t believe that you really love him. After all, you never told him your big secret, did you? Never told him that after few short years together, you would be leaving him for this oh-so-important quest. You could even say that you are as responsible for what he will do as I am.”
I let his voice fade from my attention. Everything he has said is painfully true, yet something in it strikes a dissonance. Focusing on it I find myself drawn down through the layers of my mind to the final cavern of my Talent. There I see an unsettlingly familiar brown bear, weighed down with black chains. I look into its green eyes, identical to my own, and the chains melt, the bear fading away. A dark, alien power floods through my mind, giving me the strength to break his command of silence.
Ariel breaks off what he is saying and turns to face me, his gloating smile fading as he takes in my expression. “What did you just say?”
Freed suddenly from his restriction, the words pour out, bringing with them the memories that she had hidden inside me. “You lie. Elspeth loves me and she told me about the quest. You couldn’t get deep enough this time to find it, but she showed me everything.”
Ariel’s eyes widen slightly as he reads all this from my mind, then narrow again. “Enough of this. You are the Destroyer and you have a task to fulfil.”
Then I am walking forwards, Ariel’s grip on my mind forcing me towards one of the benches. I try to resist, but his grip is too strong and I stumble on. I can feel Elspeth beating at the surface of my mind, unable to get past the barriers he has placed. The bench is before me now, the surface dominated by two buttons, one white and one green. Somehow, I recognise them; one to save and one to kill. Yet the choice of which to use has been taken from me and inexorably, my hand rises above the white button. Three sets of breathing echoing loudly in the final seconds of the world.
Suddenly, another memory fills my mind, borne on a tide of golden warmth. We are linked, whether together or apart. Draw on that link and its strength will save you. I fill myself with the strength of the golden link, feeding on memories of Obernewtyn and friends... and Elspeth. My hand stops, trembling, as I struggle for control of my mind, body and destiny. Words force themselves from my lips.
“I Am The Destroyer!”
Then my hand comes down, pressing the button flat to the bench; and the lights go black.
In the dark, there is the soft thump of a body hitting the ground. Fearfully, a quiet voice calls out, “Rushton?”
Searching hands meet and then they cling to each other, laughing and crying and kissing. Pulling back slightly,
Elspeth looks at Rushton, invisible in the darkness.
“We did it, Rushton, you destroyed the weaponmachines.”