compelled him back into the passage to open the door across the hall in the
same manner as he had the first, revealing a second cell as he suspected. This
one was smaller and contained a single individual, a man twisted sideways in
his shackles as though he had strained against them, fighting to reach the
others until his breath and heart gave out. The residue of power was strongest
here, absorbed into the walls, into the floor, as if the captive had used what
he had in a vain attempt to escape.
It was this man Kavan chose to touch, a man of enough import to imprison alone, a man whose long hair, now the color of his emaciated skin, hung in a queue over his shoulder, bound by a faded metallic thread. A man whose facial features were forever twisted in an agonized visage of despair.
Kavan gently pressed his fingertips to the man’s forehead, a touch meant to be much longer but which ended abruptly as he was thrown against the opposite wall by unseen hands. Raebhá ran to his side and knelt there, the crack as he impacted the wall frightening her.
The shackled corpse crumbled and fell in a shower of dust the color of dried mushrooms onto the floor. The power that held him upright was released by Kavan’s touch, expended to force away someone the captive had likely anticipated being his jailors. A final, desperate attempt at freedom or revenge that had ended in neither.
“Cliáth.” The name echoed in his head, into his bones, filling him with a dread and wonder that had no voice, only a long, low, “Gaed.”
She had said that name before.
Raebhá shook her head as if it would cleanse the name from her ears, as if it would erase the revelations that erupted with its utterance. The stories, the legends, the myths. The records of history the márbhyndhánis taught every generation of children, portraying Gaed Cliáth and his companions as heretics and traitors, claiming they had been banished on a ship of outcasts, expelled from the land, from history, as nothing but blemishes, minute dark stains on the glorious history of the dhóbhaen.
Not just Gaed, but his family. His sister, his mother, his sons, all sent away, never heard from again. Friends and compatriots. Fellow believers. Only his wife was spared, allowed to remain behind for reasons never revealed in any history Raebhá had been taught.
Had Gaed come back for his wife? Was he not placed on a ship but sent to languish here, to suffer and die in the dark? Perhaps he and those like him, Dhedec and Zythán and all of the others had been walled up in these rooms and any beyond the collapse in the hall, to endure agonizing deaths at the hands of those forbidden to kill?
If so, how had there come to be Cliáths, MacLyrs, Bhíncáris or Curnydhás from whom Kavan, Kóráhm, and others had sprung, in the lands of the west?
Why was this man here?
Who were the others?
With a groan, Raebhá sat with defeat and buried her face against Kavan’s shoulder. “What does this mean?” she whispered, her voice cracking and raw. He was battling his own demons, his own questions, but it did not prevent her from voicing hers.
What he did know was that, except for those whose throats had been slit, the others had died at this man’s hand, or rather, died at the mercy of his mind, an eruption of power thrust out with enough force to kill them instantly, a mercy killing intended to spare further agony. sídysá, that self-defense ability that Kavan carried without the need of training in its use, had stopped their hearts. The power of the act, amplified by the cavern’s natural energy, explained the residual power here, explained the agony the man had shouldered in that final act, the responsibility for so many lives that he could not save and had been forced to extinguish instead.
Had he died then, or had he lingered long after beneath the weight of what he had done? If he could do all of this, why had he not freed them rather than take their lives?
Why? How? Kavan did not think he could ever know.
There was nothing left of the man except dust and fragments of bone scattered beneath the manacles. Perhaps Kavan could learn something from the stone, from the bindings, or from the power that clung to the walls and floor around them. Perhaps he could learn more from the dead across the hall. But the heaviness in his head, in his chest, combined with Raebhá’s disjointed sobbing against his neck, left Kavan too weak-willed to pursue answers.