Sometimes I worry that I'm not the hero everyone thinks I am.
What proof do we have? The words of men long dead, only now deemed divinatory? Even if we accept the prophecies, only tenuous interpretation links them to me. Is my defense of the Summer Hill really the "Burden by which the Hero shall be dubbed"? My several marriages could give me a "Bloodless bond to the world's kings," if you look at it the right way. There are dozens of similar phrases that could refer to events in my life. But, then again, they could all just be coincidences.
The philosophers assure me that this is the time, that the signs have been met. But I still wonder if they have the wrong man. So many people depend on me. They say I will hold the future of the entire world on my arms. What would they think if they knew that their champion — the Hero of Ages, their savior — doubted himself?
Perhaps they wouldn't be shocked at all. In a way, this is what worries me most. Maybe, in their hearts, they wonder — just as I do. When they see me, do they see a liar?
Rashek seems to think so. I know that I shouldn't let a simple packman perturb me. However, he is from Terris, where the prophecies originated. If anyone could spot a fraud, would it not be he?
Nevertheless, I continue my trek, going where the scribbled auguries proclaim that I will meet my destiny — walking, feeling Rashek's eyes on my back. Jealous. Mocking. Hating.
In the end, I worry that my arrogance shall destroy us all.
I consider myself to be a man of principle. But, what man does not? Even the cutthroat, I have noticed, considers his actions "moral" after a fashion.
Perhaps another person, reading of my life, would name me a religious tyrant. He could call me arrogant. What is to make that man's opinions any less valid than my own?
I guess it all comes down to one fact: In the end, I'm the one with the armies.
If men read these words, let them know that power is a heavy burden. Seek not to be bound by its chains. The Terris prophecies say that I will have the power to save the world.
They hint, however, that I will have the power to destroy it as well.
We arrived in Terris earlier this week, and, I have to say, I find the countryside beautiful. The great mountains to the north — with their bald snowcaps and forested mantles — stand like the watchful gods over this land of green fertility. My own lands to the south are mostly flat; I think that they might look less dreary if there were a few mountains to vary the terrain.
The people are mostly herdsmen — though timber harvesters and farmers are not uncommon. It is a pastoral land, certainly. It seems odd that a place so remarkably agrarian could have produced the prophecies and theologies upon which the entire world now relies.
Apparently, the next stage of my quest will take us up into the highlands of Terris. This is said to be a cold, unforgiving place — a land where the mountains themselves are made of ice.
Our normal attendants will not do for such a trip. We should probably hire some Terris packmen to carry our gear.
I don't even understand what I'm supposed to do. The Terris philosophers claim that I'll know my duty when the time comes, but that's a small comfort.
The Deepness must be destroyed, and apparently I'm the only one who can do so. It ravages the world even now. If I don't stop it soon, there will be nothing left of this land but bones and dust.
I never wanted this, true. But somebody has to stop the Deepness. And, apparently, Terris is the only place this can be done.
On this fact, however, I don't have to take the word of the philosophers. I can feel our goal now, can sense it, though the others cannot. It . . . pulses, in my mind, far off in the mountains.
Rashek is a tall man — of course, most of the Terrismen are tall. He is young to receive so much respect from the other packmen. He has charisma, and the women of court would probably describe him as handsome, in a rugged sort of way.
Yet, it amazes me that anyone would give heed to a man who speaks such hatred. He has never seen Khlennium, yet he curses the city. He does not know me, yet I can already see the anger and hostility in his eyes.
"He shall defend their ways, yet shall violate them. He will be their savior, yet they shall call him heretic. His name shall be Discord, yet they shall love him for it."
It amazes me how many nations have united behind our purpose. There are still dissenters, of course — and some kingdoms, regrettably, have fallen to wars that I could not stop.
Still, this general unity is glorious, even humbling, to contemplate. I wish that the nations of mankind hadn't required such a dire threat to make them see the value of peace and cooperation.
It seems Rashek represents a growing faction in Terris culture. A large number of the youths think that their unusual powers should be used for more than just fieldwork, husbandry, and stonecarving. They are rowdy, even violent — far different from the quiet, discerning Terris philosophers and holy men that I have known.
They will have to be watched carefully, there Terrismen. They could be very dangerous, if given the opportunity and the motivation.
What would it be like if every nation — from the isles in the South to the Terris hills in the North — were united under a single government? What wonders could be achieved, what progress could be made, if mankind were to permanently set aside its squabblings and join together?
It is too much, I suppose, to even hope for. A single, unified empire of man? It could never happen.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm going mad.
Perhaps it is due to the pressure of knowing that I must somehow bear the burden of an entire world. Perhaps it is caused by the death I have seen, the friends I have lost. The friends I have been forced to kill.
Either way, I sometimes see shadows following me. Dark creatures that I don't understand, not wish to understand. Are they, perhaps, some figment of my overtaxed mind?
I don't know why Kwaan betrayed me. Even still, this event haunts my thoughts. He was the one who discovered me; he was the Terris philosopher who first called me the Hero of Ages. It seems ironically surreal that now — after his long struggle to convince his colleagues — he is the only major Terris holy man to preach against my reign.
Many think that my journey started in Khlennium, that great city of wonder. They forget that I was no king when my quest began. Far from it.
I think it would do men well to remember that this task was not begun by emperors, priests, prophets, or generals. It didn't start in Khlennium or Kordel, not did it come from the great nations to the east or the fiery empire of the West.
It began in a small, unimportant town whose name would mean nothing to you. It began with a youth, the son of a blacksmith, who was unremarkable in every way — except, perhaps, in his ability to get into trouble.
It began with me.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I'd remained there, in that lazy village of my birth. I'd have become a smith, like my father. Perhaps I'd have a family, sons of my own.
Perhaps someone else would have come to carry this terrible burden. Someone who could bear it far better than I. Someone who deserved to be a hero.
You could say that circumstances forced me to leave my home behind — certainly, if I had stayed, I would now be dead. During those days — running without knowing why, carrying a burden I didn't understand — I assumed that I would lose myself in Khlennium and seek a life of indistinction.
I am slowly coming to understand that anonymity, like so many other things, has already been lost to me forever.
Kwaan and I met by happenstance — though, I suppose, he would use the word "providence."
I have met many other Terris philosophers since that day. They are, every one, men of great wisdom and ponderous sagaciousness. Men with an almost palpable importance.
Not so Kwaan. In a way, he is as unlikely a prophet as I am a hero. He never had an air of ceremonious wisdom — nor was he even a religious scholar. When we first met, he was studying one of his ridiculous interests in the great Khlenni library — I believe he was trying to determine whether or not trees could think.
That he should be the one who finally discovered the great Hero of Terris prophecy is a matter that would cause me to laugh, had events turned out just a little differently.
It isn't a shadow.
This dark thing that follows me, the thing that only I can see — It isn't really a shadow. It's blackish and translucent, but it doesn't have a shadowlike solid outline. It's insubstantial — wispy and formless. Like it's made out of a dark fog.
Or mist, perhaps.
"The Hero of Ages shall be not a man, but a force. No nation may claim him, no woman shall keep him, and no king may slay him. He shall belong to none, not even himself."
At first, there were those who didn't think the Deepness was a serious danger, at least not to them. However, it brought with it a blight that I have seen infect nearly every part of the land. Armies are useless before it. Great cities are laid low by its power. Crops fail, and the land dies.
This is the thing I fight. This is the monster I must defeat. I fear that I have taken too long. Already, so much destruction has occurred that I fear for mankind's survival.
Is this truly the end of the world, as many of the philosophers predict?
I sleep but a few hours each night. We must press forward, traveling as much as we can each day — but when I finally lie down, I find sleep elusive. The same thoughts that trouble me during the day are only compounded by the stillness of night.
And, above all, I hear the thumping sounds from above, the pulsings from the mountains. Drawing me closer with each beat.
In the end, I must trust in myself. I have seen men who have beaten from themselves the ability to recognize truth and goodness, and I do not think I am one of them. I can still see the tears in a young child's eyes and feel pain at his suffering.
If I ever lose this, then I will know that I've passed beyond hope of redemption.
No man dies by my hand or command except that I wish there had been another way. Still, I kill them. Sometimes, I wish that I weren't such a cursed realist.
I am growing so very tired.
I think I've finally discovered why Rashek resents me so very much. He does not believe that an outsider such as myself — a foreigner — could possibly be the Hero of Ages. He believes that I have somehow tricked the philosophers, that I wear the piercings of the Hero unjustly.
According to Rashek, only a Terrisman of pure blood should have been chosen as the Hero. Oddly, I find myself even more determined because of his hatred. I must prove to him that I can perform this task.
Sometimes, my companions claim that I worry and question too much. However, while I may wonder about my stature as the hero, there is one thing that I have never questioned: the ultimate good of our quest.
The Deepness must be destroyed. I have seen it, and I have felt it. This name we give it is too weak a word, I think. Yes, it is deep and unfathomable, but it is also terrible. Many do not realize that it is sentient, but I have sensed its mind, such that it is, the few times I have confronted it directly.
It is a thing of destruction, madness, and corruption. It would destroy this world not out of spite or out of animosity, but simply because that is what it does.
The others all think I should have had Kwaan executed for betraying me. To tell the truth, I'd probably kill him this moment if I knew where he'd gone. At the time, however, I just couldn't do it.
The man had become like a father to me. To this day, I don't know why he suddenly decided that I wasn't the Hero. Why did he turn against me, denouncing me to the entire Conclave of Worldbringers?
Would he rather that the Deepness win? Surely, even if I'm not the right one — as Kwaan now claims — my presence at the Well of Ascension couldn't possibly worse than what will happen if the Deepness continues to destroy the land.
Most of the Terrismen are not as bad as Rashek. However, I can see that they believe him, to an extent. These are simple men, not philosophers or scholars, and they don't understand that their own prophecies say the Hero of Ages will be an outsider. They only see what Rashek points out — that they are an ostensibly superior people, and should be "dominant" rather than subservient.
Before such passion and hatred, even good men can be deceived.
Other men worry whether or not they will be remembered. I have no such fears; even disregarding the Terris prophecies, I have brought such chaos, conflict, and hope to this world that there is little chance that I will be forgotten.
I worry about what they will say of me. Historians can make what they wish of the past. In a thousand year' time, will I be remembered as the man who protected mankind from a powerful evil? Or, will I be remembered as a tyrant who arrogantly tried to make himself a legend?
Though many Terrismen express a resentment of Khlennium, there is also envy. I have heard the packmen speak in wonder of the Khlenni cathedrals, with their amazing stained-glass windows and broad halls. They also seem very fond of our fashion — back in the cities, I saw that many young Terrismen had traded in their furs and skins for well-tailored gentlemen's suits.
We are close now. Oddly, this high in the mountains, we seem to finally be free from the oppressive touch of the Deepness. It has been quite a while since I knew what that was like.
The lake that Fedik discovered is below us now — I can see it from the ledge. It looks even more eerie from up here, with its glassy — almost metallic — sheen. I almost wish I had let him take a sample of its waters.
Perhaps his interest was what angered the mist creature that follows us. Perhaps . . . that was why it decided to attack him, stabbing him with its invisible knife.
Strangely, the attack comforted me. At least I know that since another has seen it. That means I'm not mad.
I never wanted to be feared.
If I regret one thing, it is the fear I have caused. Fear is the tool of tyrants. Unfortunately, when the fate of the world is in question, you use whatever tools are available.
I know what will happen if I make the wrong choice. I must be strong; I must not take the power for myself.
For I have seen what will happen if I do.
I have decided that I am thankful for Rashek's hatred. It does me well to remember that there are those who abhor me. My place is not to seek popularity or love; my place is to ensure mankind's survival.
Is there anything more beautiful than the sun? I often watch it rise, for my restless sleep usually awakens me before dawn.
Each time I see its calm yellow light peeking above the horizon, I grow a little more determined, a little more hopeful. In a way, it is the thing that has kept me going all this time.
Such are my fears as I scribble with an ice-crusted pen on the eve before the world is reborn. Rashek watches. Hating me. The cavern lies above. Pulsing. My fingers quiver. Not from the cold.
Tomorrow it will end.
Oddly, on occasion, I sense a peacefulness within. You would think that after all I have seen — after all that I have suffered — my soul would be a twisted jumble of stress, confusion, and melancholy. Often, it's just that.
But then, there is the peace.
I feel it sometimes, as I do now, staring out over the frozen cliffs and glass mountains in the still of the morning, watching a sunrise that is so majestic that I know that none shall ever be its match.
If there are prophecies, if there is a Hero of Ages, then my mind whispers that there must be something directing my path. Something is watching; something cares. These peaceful whispers tell me a truth I wish very much to believe.
If I fail, another shall come to finish my work.