I visited my wrath upon Haplo this day. An unpleasant task. Few would believe me, but it grieved me to do what had to be done. It would have been easier, perhaps, if I did not feel in some part responsible. When it became clear to me that we Patryns were nearing our time, when we were almost strong enough to be able to break out of this heinous prison into which the Sartan hurled us and move once again to take our rightful place as leaders in the universe, I chose one among us to go forth and learn about the new worlds.
I chose Haplo. I chose him for his quickness of mind his independence of thought, his courage, his adaptability to new surroundings. And those, alas, are the very qualities that have led him to rebel against me. Therefore, I reiterate—in this way I am responsible for what has befallen. Independence of thought. Necessary, I deemed, when facing the unknown territories of worlds created by our ancient enemy, the Sartan, and populated with mensch. It was vital that he be able to react to any situation with intelligence and skill, vital that he not reveal to anyone on any of these worlds that we Patryns have broken free of our bonds. He behaved quite splendidly on two of the three worlds he visited, with a few minor lapses. It was on the third that he failed not only me but himself.
I caught him just before he would have left to visit the fourth world, the world of water, Chelestra. He was on board his dragonship, the one he took from Arianus, preparing to set sail for Death’s Gate. He said nothing when he saw me. He did not appear surprised. It was as if he had been expecting me, perhaps even waiting for me, though it seemed, from the disorder on board the ship, that he had been preparing for a hasty departure. Certainly there is much turmoil within him.
Those who know me would call me a hard man, hard and cruel, but I was bred in a place far harder, far crueler. I have in my long life seen too much pain, too much suffering, to be touched by it. But I am not a monster. I am not sadistic. What I did to Haplo, I did out of necessity. I took no pleasure in the doing.
Spare the rod and spoil the child—an old mensch proverb.
Haplo, believe me when I say I grieve for you this night. But it was for your own good, my son.
Your own good.
“Damn it! Get out of the way!” Haplo kicked at the dog. The animal cringed, slunk away, and endeavored to lose itself in the shadows of the hold, hide until its master’s bad mood passed.
Haplo could see the sad eyes, however, watching him from the darkness. He felt guilty, remorseful, and that merely increased his irritation and anger. He glared at the animal, glared at the confusion in the hold. Chests and casks and boxes, coils of rope, and barrels had been tossed in hurriedly, to stand where they landed. It looked like a rat’s nest, but Haplo dared not take time to rearrange them, stack them neatly, stow them away securely, as he had always done before.
He was in haste, desperate to leave the Nexus before his lord caught him. Haplo stared at the mess, ill at ease, his hands itching to sort it out. Turning on his heel, he stalked off, heading back to the bridge. The dog rose silently, padded soft-footed after him.
“Alfred!” He flung the word at the dog. “It’s all Alfred’s fault. That blasted Sartan! I should never have let him go. I should have brought him here, to my lord, let him deal with the miserable wretch. But who’d have guessed the coward would actually have nerve enough to jump ship! I don’t suppose you have any idea how that happened?”
Haplo stopped, glowered suspiciously at the dog. The animal sat back, tilted its head, regarded him with bland innocence, though its tail wagged cheerfully at the sound of Alfred’s name. Grunting, Haplo continued on his way, casting cursory glances to the left and right. He saw—with relief—that his vessel had sustained no lasting damage. The magic of the runes covering the hull had done its job, kept the Dragon Wing safe from the fiery environment of Abarrach and the lethal spells cast by the lazar in their efforts to hijack it. He had only recently come through Death’s Gate and knew that he should not be going back this quickly. He had lost consciousness on the journey from Abarrach. No, lost wasn’t quite the correct term. He’d deliberately cast it aside. The resultant undreaming sleep had restored him completely to health, healed the arrow wound he’d taken in the thigh, removed the last vestiges of the poison given him by the ruler of Kairn Necros. When he awoke, Haplo was well in body, if not in mind. He was almost sorry to have awakened at all. His brain was like the hold. Thoughts and ideas and feelings were in a tangle. Some were thrust away in dark corners, where he could still see them watching him. Others were tossed in any which way. Precariously and carelessly stacked, they would come tumbling down at the slightest provocation. Haplo knew he could organize them, if he took the time, but he didn’t have time, he didn’t want time. He had to escape, get away.
He’d sent his report on Abarrach to the lord via a messenger, giving as his excuse for not coming in person the need to hurry after the escaped Sartan. My Lord, You may remove Abarrach completely from your calculations. I found evidence to indicate that the Sartan and the mensch did once inhabit that hunk of worthless, molten rock. The climate undoubtedly proved too harsh for even their powerful magic to sustain them. They apparently tried to contact the other worlds, but their attempts ended in failure. Their cities have now become their tombs. Abarrach is a dead world.
The report was true. Haplo had said nothing false about Abarrach. But its truth was polished veneer, covering rotten wood beneath. Haplo was almost certain his lord would know his servant had lied; the Lord of the Nexus had a way of knowing everything that went on in a man’s head . . . and his heart. The Lord of the Nexus was the one person Haplo respected and admired. The one person Haplo feared. The lord’s wrath was terrible, it could be deadly. His magic was incredibly powerful. When still a young man, he had been the first to survive and escape the Labyrinth. He was the only Patryn—including Haplo—who had the courage to return to that deadly prison, fight its awful magics, work to free his people.
Haplo grew cold with fear whenever he thought about a possible encounter between his lord and himself. And he thought about it almost constantly. He wasn’t afraid of physical pain or even death. It was the fear of seeing the disappointment in his lord’s eyes, the fear of knowing that he had failed the man who had saved his life, the man who loved him like a son.
“No,” said Haplo to the dog, “better to go on to Chelestra, the next world. Better to go quickly, take my chances. Hopefully, with time, I can sort out this tangle inside me. Then, when I return, I can face my lord with a clear conscience.”
He arrived on the bridge, stood staring down at the steering stone. He’d made his decision. He had only to put his hands on the sigla-covered round stone and his ship would break the magical ties binding it to the ground and sail into the rose-hued twilight of the Nexus. Why did he hesitate?
It was wrong, all wrong. He hadn’t gone over the ship with his usual care. They’d made it safely out of Abarrach and through Death’s Gate, but that didn’t mean they could make another journey.
He’d prepared the ship in a slapdash manner, jury-rigging what he could not take time to carefully repair. He should have strengthened rune structures that almost surely had been weakened by the journey, should have searched for cracks, either in the wood or the sigla, should have replaced frayed cables. He should have, as well, consulted with his lord about this new world. The Sartan had left written lore concerning the four worlds in the Nexus. It would be folly to rush blindly into the world of water, without even the most rudimentary knowledge of what he faced. Previously, he and his lord had met and studied . . .
Xar A Chronicle of Power, vol. 24. The personal daily journal of the Lord of the Nexus. (Xar was not his real name. It is not a Patryn name at all in act, and is undoubtedly one he devised himself, possibly a corruption of the ancient word tsar, derived from Caesar.)
The term used by both Sartan and Patryns to refer to the lesser races—humans, elves, dwarves. It is interesting to note that this word is borrowed from one of the many pre-Sundering human languages (probably German) and means “people.”
References to Haplo’s journeys to the worlds of Arianus, Pryan, and most lately to Abarrach, recorded in previous volumes of The Death Gate Cycle.
Lazar: the terrible necromancers of Abarrach, the Realm of Fire, whose living souls are trapped in dead bodies.