Korin walked the familiar battlefield, except this time it was silent. No cries, no screams; no one begged for help or for release.
The people were still there—knights and soldiers, wizards and priests. They still struggled, still pantomimed pain and fear. But there were no voices coming from their mouths, no sound but the wind blowing over the mountainside. Korin shivered, cold and alone.
He walked towards the castle. Always before in his dreams it had stood in the distance, dark and untouchable, as it had been in life. But tonight, tonight he was making his approach.
Castle Ulek, the home of the knights. The oldest fortification on this side of the Great Divide, surpassed in grandeur only by the Royal Palace of Ritalle in the north and Castle Darkivel to the south. Years of war had darkened its battlements, destroyed its gardens, buried much of its beauty beneath soot and ash and blood, but nothing could hide or diminish its size or stature as Korin approached walls that towered so tall above him their shadows stretched over half the battlefield.
Or maybe that was just the dream.
The gates of the outer walls stood open. A lone figure stood between them, hidden by the darkness so Korin couldn’t make it out until he was close enough to hear his voice. This voice, alone of all the people around. “How could you do this?”
Korin looked back behind him, saw the battlefield had become a mess of dark, creeping brambles. Shadowy branches reaching up from the ground to touch—to capture—every person who had fallen. “I didn’t,” Korin whispered. “I didn’t do any of this.”
“You let her in. You let her have me.”
The old man was right. Korin had given him to the knife. He’d opened them both to her power, and the old man had suffered—would suffer for the rest of his life because of Korin’s choice. Because of Korin’s mistake.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” The second part was a lie. Maybe Korin didn’t think about it, but it wasn’t like he didn’t know. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen the knife’s power—in the blight, in the cultists, in his dreams. But he’d been too eager, too desperate. He’d gambled with this man’s life, and this man had paid the price.
What was “I’m sorry” in the face of that truth?
What was he doing here? What was he doing? The knife was inside. Everything terrible was inside. The only reason to go in was for Ádan, but Ádan had left him. Ádan didn’t want him there.
Korin turned, and another voice—a woman’s voice—called out, Wait!
Korin wanted to ignore the call, to keep going, to leave all this behind him. But he could hear the pain, the sadness in her voice, and Korin had never been able to walk away from pain.
The pale woman stood at the gate. You don’t have to go, she whispered.
She might look like a woman, but she was no more human now than she had been before. Korin could feel the power radiating from her—the power that infused every horror, every death, every decay that covered the fields surrounding the castle. “I won’t help you anymore. I shouldn’t have…” Korin looked to the old man who now huddled beside her.
This—Korin realized—this was everything Teriad had warned him about. Unlikely Teriad had known about the knife, but he’d understood the power he saw. Power used by the knights. Power called on and abused by the cultists, and—Korin was coming to see—by his own order. Korin had opened himself to this power when he’d killed those people. In doing so, Korin had become a piece of the cancer. Korin had become a part of this thing that Teriad had spent his whole life fighting against.
If Korin didn’t stop, if he didn’t turn away now, that cancer would only spread and poison everything he did. Everything he was. Until he became no better than Loukanos. Until Korin became no better than the most toxic of the knights.
So he looked the woman in her crystaline, gray eyes and said, “I’m done with you.”
I know he left you, she answered. I know how that tears at you. But that’s no reason to leave me.
Korin’s heart twisted at the thought of Ádan. But he kept his voice steady. “This isn’t about him.”
I want to help him. I want to help both of you. But Ádan—he doesn’t belong to me.
“Neither of us belong to you. I’m not yours. You can’t have me. I won’t have you.”
Her voice rose. He’s in danger. He’s vulnerable and I can’t help him.
“You can’t help anyone. You can only destroy them.”
Korin turned his back on her and began to walk away.
Korin, please. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me here alone. It’s so dark and there’s no one—please, Korin, come back! Her voice became increasingly frantic as he kept going. Please don’t leave me. I can’t bear it.
Korin broke into a run and her cries faded behind him. He ran and ran and ran. Until the dream fell away and he returned to the deeper darkness of sleep.