Haha, thanks! I’m glad it didn’t just sound entirely crazy :D
But, after reading some of the earlier comments, I went back double check Atthis’ original speech in TF because I thought it might contradict the theory…
“Long ago I foresaw that the machines which made the great destructions had not been destroyed. I saw that a second and greater destruction would come to the world, if these machines were used. And despite all the funaga did to bury the past, it was inevitable they would be discovered, unless they were destroyed. That will be no easy matter, for the machines have a kind of intelligence, and will protect themselves. Then I dreamed one would be born among the funaga, a seeker to cross the black wastes in search of the death machines, one who possessed the power to destroy them.”
“If these machines are so far away, might they not be useless by the time anyone found them?”
“The machines have slept without harm for hundreds of lifetimes. The danger of their discovery alone would not be enough to make me act. But I have foreseen that there is another funaga whose destiny is to discover and resurrect the machines. Your paths intersect. If you do not get there first, he will succeed. You are the seeker, the other is the Destroyer. If you do not find the machines first…” (FS, pp. 268-9)
It seems evident that the machines in this passage are INES in that they ‘have a kind of intelligence’
It is also evident that it is a human destined to ‘discover and resurrect’ the machines and that he will succeed Elspeth does not get there first. This would seem to indicate that he cannot be referring to Ariel, as it would reasonable to presume that if Sentinel is in RQL he has already found the machines. BUT as it was pointed out, Ariel wouldn’t get his hands dirty if he could force someone else into a dangerous situation, and thus his reticence could mean that while he has discovered them, he cannot resurrect them without personal interaction.
This theory depends on whether Atthis, when describing the other, is using the term “Destroyer” as synonymous with H’rayka, as she has used the terms interchangeably throughout the books when speaking to Elspeth.
If we delve into the realm of technicality, unless there is a “do not touch me or you will destroy the world” button, the person who reactivates Sentinel/INES does not destroy the world, but brings about the potential for destruction, as the choice (like in the beforetime) rests with INES’ cognitive abilities.
(Though if we want to be absolutely technical… the wording of this passage could imply that there is no destroyer is Elspeth succeeds, because no one will have destroyed the world and therefore “succeeded”)
But, if we assume for a moment that the Destroyer is the one who succeeds at reactivating the machines (but not necessarily causing destruction), which he will succeed at doing if he gets there first, there is no reason why this could not be Ariel. If you think about it, Atthis never directly states here that the Destroyer (or H'rayka, if he is using the term synonymously here) would specifically succeed in destroying the world per se, especially given Cassy’s mothers declaration that the beforetimers relinquished control of the weapons and gave the fate of the world into the hands of a machine.
I kind of imagined a scenario with this theory where the great white could have come about as the result of a simulation in the testing phase, where INES determined that a nuclear holocaust was inevitable and that a pre-emptive strike would prevent total annihilation (quasi-Ultron style). Then the whole system is shut down.
In that way, when she was reactivated, her systems register multiple airstrikes or something to that effect and she simply follows her core programming and 'retaliates', thus, Elspeth has to shut her down before she can launch the weapon machines.
On the other hand, if Atthis is specifically referring to a human Destroyer (as separate from the H’rayka), then the theory cannot work. But, if the success referred to is simply the reactivation of Sentinel/INES, then it does not actually imply that the Destroyer referred to here is more than the ‘one who brings destruction.’
But, If it has to be a human male, and distinct from the H’rayka, then I would have to agree that the evidence does seem to point to Matthew, (or perhaps Dameon seeing as Ariel's MO is to use people that he knows have ties to her, but I'm not sure Dameon would be so easily manipulated now that he knows the stakes)
Daffyd would also seem to be a credible option as he would do whatever it takes to save Gilaine, however if Ariel is the manipulator of the Destroyer, it is unlikely he would break from character and use someone that he did not know to have a strong tie to Elspeth against her.
I don’t think it would be Rushton (I also hope this, as I fear that if the Destroyer is a human male he definitely has a death sentence), as he was not sick at the beginning of TS when Elspeth is first attacked by the mindless entity (or at the end of TSK), so he could not be the same entity that attacks her later on when he is dying. It’s more likely that his role is to be the new Elder than the destroyer, which would also explain why Maruman spent so much strength keeping him alive until Elspeth arrived. Plus, Ariel has already used Rushton against her and intended for him to die in TSK, so his task is already done.
Either way, it was definitely a fun theory to look into as so many of the pieces seemed to fit. But, we know that IC is very clever in weaving subtle hints into her work (which is probably why we've all had so much fun theorising) so can't wait to read TRQ and find out once and for all who it is :)