It's almost too dark to see. What little light there is comes from the small lump in my
hand: a mixture of dirt, rags, sweat, a trace of hoarded magic. It's a little less than I need to see by, but the time is rushing by, every second counts for something. What I hear outside is nothing I could ever put a name to, sounds that have no description in human speech – both huge and tiny, the bellowing of whales, mixed trumpets; and that only describes a tenth part of their call.
The walls shake. They make it hard for me to write. They make it hard to think. I have these scraps of cloth, the remnants of a shirt, this nub of charcoal, a light that I've put my blood into, and still I can hardly keep it functioning.
And these: guarded letters.
There are only a few left.
Most of what I need to say could be written in ordinary script, things that any man might
pick up and read. Other words need stronger letters. But I don't know how many may be compromised by now, so I have to choose carefully. And I know: there's only a leaf's chance in the wind that you might find this, that you'll know.
If some other Tomrias finds this, he won't understand, he'll wonder what these scrawled letters mean, smudged with soot and blood. But last names can hardly be risked, I know you understand that.
“THE ATTACK CAME AT DAYBREAK. FEW LEFT. # IS DEAD.....”
A name. Too few letters that can be trusted any longer.
How many of us are there left? Enough? Please, enough.
“GO TO R###GG####”
All that can be trusted.
“SPEAK THE WORD.”
The word is full of letters that have spilled from the mouths of other men and women. It must be. It's the first thing they would have asked. Asked, in voices that are alone enough to sear into the flesh, finding their hot, barbed way beneath the skull, and clinging to the brain, sinking in.....
I've only heard it from afar. The unwordable sounds, and then the screams that are totally human, far too comprehensible, which flow into the silence when the sounds rest. I want to find a way to describe the sounds, make them real, make them bearable. Surrounding them, are the grumblings of the earth, its creaking as it struggles against being torn apart; there are sometimes running footsteps, sometimes a scatter of words – terrible sounds of hope.
But Tomrias, there is no hope here, none at all. They breached the walls, both physical and magical, and when they poured in there was nothing that could stand in their way. I tell you, there is nothing left of Pashriecke now, the city is irretrievably fallen, with just the bloodwork and the breaking left to do.
I wish that I could tell you all these things in truth, in my own voice, and touch you again, hear you speaking back to me. I want that. But we'll never meet again. And the words I could say to you,
the letters comprising them, have let their guard down. I'm not sure how many can ever be used again. If I could fill this note with the letters of the High Speech, with all their richness of meaning, all
their colour, I would have done it.
That era is closed.
They're closer than ever now. I think they can smell the magic.
I'm sorry. I had to. I had to. If nobody reaches the tower, if the word is never said..... Better that one city, and one guardian, should fall, than that all of civilisation should come streaming apart in our hands.
This makeshift pen wears thin, the magic I'm using for it eats into me. In this dark space between walls, I only have the illusion of being alone. They're nearby, tracking the magic, and everyone who has every known me is telling them everything they can, pouring out every thought, memory, fact that their minds can conjure, that might spare them a fraction of the pain. And how can I blame them: I know I'll do the same to you.
If I could say this to you I would: in a different life, in a different world, of course we would have been together, we are two parts of one colour, the melody and the harmony, Of course we should have blended our lives, and our bodies as faultless poetry. Of course we should have bred children and knitted ourselves together an unparalleled life. I should have left you with a lifetime of memories instead of a note scrawled so badly, in such poor light that I don't even know if you'll be able to read it, even if you do find it.
You'll walk through the graveyard that this city is due to become, guessing that I'm amongst the dead. If you stumble on this letter by chance, or if a person who knows you does..... Such a chance.........
And now they're here.
The smell is hot iron. Not smelt with the flesh, but with a trembling soul: a whiff of sulphur, acid on the tongue. And suddenly their faces are imprinted on the inside wall, in the moments before they'll tear it open: long faces, with eyes jabbing out of them, tiny and pointed, with stripes like oozing black wounds on each cheek – a wolf's face, mangled into the semblance of a hard, coal lump; and
teeth seething out of a pinched mouth: curved, hair-thin, hook-shaped. Psychic force hones in, clamps down like a vice....
These unguarded letters, these last words: “I LOVE YOU. I ALWAYS HAVE.”