Dan returned to the land of the living after what seemed like a very long time. The first thing he noticed was that he wasn’t in pain. At least compared to how he had felt. His arms might be sore and aching like they had been sliced open and sewn back together, his head might be throbbing with a headache, and his skin might be itching and tingling, but compared to the mind-numbing agony he had felt, it was nothing. He opened his eyes.
Jaseff was healing his arms, his long hair hiding his face as he bent over Dan.
“What happened?” Dan asked, making Jaseff jump.
“Good morning to you too,” Jaseff said. “It’s over. Utgar’s dead.”
“And the alliance?”
“Gone,” Jaseff said. “Vydar’s the only Valkyrie left. He used Utgar to kill them all, even convincing him to betray Valkrill.”
“Then that means…”
“The war is over.”
Dan sat up. “What about Francois? Caela? The others?”
“Francois’ alive,” Jaseff said. “No thanks to himself. He tried charging one of those demons on his own; woke up here a few days later. I haven’t seen Caela. Gideon and Laelia didn’t make it.”
“I was there,” Dan said, lying back down. He was silent for a moment. “So if Vydar’s won… what does that mean for us? For Valhalla, for that matter?”
“I don’t know,” Jaseff said. “Vydar’s already secured all of the amulets. Apparently he had strike forces just waiting for his command to seize them. They’re being sent to his wellspring as we speak. As far as you and me go… I don’t think he’s planning on executing anyone, not even Utgar’s or Valkrill’s soldiers. But I don’t know exactly what he’s planning.
“However,” Jaseff added, “you’ll have a chance to find out. Vydar said that as soon as you were able, he wants to see you. He didn’t say why,” he added, as Dan opened his mouth.
But… why? Dan wasn’t stupid enough to believe that Vydar would honor his promise to Dan. Dan had betrayed him, and possibly even forced him to act prematurely by saving Gideon and the others. Not to mention that he had killed a lot of his kyrie when they were attacked. No, something else was in store for Dan.
It was two days before Dan was able to move without bursting into pain, and a third before he was finally able to hobble around the great hall of Liesic, which now served as a hospital. On the fifth day, the healers finally agreed that he could leave.
A kyrie of Vydar was waiting for Dan outside the door. The kyrie led him through a maze of halls, through several doors, and finally motioned him to a staircase, which winded tightly upwards.
“Vydar is waiting for you,” he said.
Wondering if his trials were just beginning, Dan ascended the stairs. He finally came to a small landing and a solid-looking wooden door. He gently eased it open, and then paused a moment.
He was on one of the highest walls of Liesic. It was narrow, battlements on both sides, the keep on one side, the city stretching out far below on the other. A haze of smoke still hung in the air, but the city no longer burned, and the sun was no longer red.
Vydar stood on the wall, leaning on the battlements, gazing out over Liesic. Standing next to him, a cowl pulled over her head, was a kyrie woman. Neither one of them had seen Dan.
“I still hear it,” Vydar whispered. “The battle. The rush of fire and clash of weapons still echo in my ears.”
The kyrie woman spoke, and Dan instantly recognized her voice. “It will pass,” Caela said quietly, staring out over Liesic as well.
Vydar turned to her. “How can you be sure?”
Caela turned to face him, and as she did so, saw Dan standing nearby. She looked at him for only a moment, and then turned to Vydar. “Because the war is over,” she said softly. “The time for conflict is over. Now is the time to rebuild what was destroyed, and to rediscover what was lost.”
Dan saw her look at Vydar meaningfully as she said those words, and though Vydar was facing away from him, he felt a change come over the Valkyrie. He was silent.
Caela looked at Vydar steadily, and then gave a slow nod.
Vydar embraced her, and she hugged him warmly, as if they were old friends long parted. Dan didn’t know what to do, so he just stood there, waiting for Vydar to notice him.
“Why?” Vydar whispered as he held Caela close. “Why were you in Hyleran? I could have lost you.”
“I didn’t know what you were planning,” Caela whispered back. “I didn’t know your alliance with Utgar was temporary. I thought you had joined him. My loyalty was to our people, and I knew how Utgar would treat them. So I didn’t join him.”
“I should have told you,” Vydar berated himself. “At least hinted at what was coming. What might have happened in Hyleran…” He held Caela closer.
They eventually pulled apart, and Vydar looked out over Liesic one last time, and beyond, over Valhalla itself. Dan could see his weather-beaten face now, and he saw nothing but happiness, the same happiness he had once seen in Gideon, as he lay next to Laelia in the forest.
“We’ll rebuild,” Vydar said. “One stone at a time, but we’ll fix everything we’ve destroyed.” He glanced at Caela. “Everything,” he promised.
In reply, Caela nodded in Dan’s direction. Vydar turned, saw him, and then beckoned him forwards. Caela took a few steps away. Dan glanced at her, but her face told him nothing. Not knowing what else to do, Dan stepped forward and closed the door.
For a long time they just stood there, Mariedian and Valkyrie, silent, watching each other. Then Vydar spoke.
“What are you thinking, Dan?” he said. “What are your thoughts on all… this?” he gestured to Liesic below them.
Thoughts? He had plenty of thoughts, most of which he wouldn’t say to Vydar if he wanted to stay alive. He said nothing.
“Do you think I’m a monster?” Vydar asked.
“Perhaps,” Dan said. “You have acted as one.”
Vydar sighed. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have. I told myself it was all for a good cause, but even now I doubt my words.”
“A good cause?” Dan echoed. “The conquering of Valhalla? The slaying of its people? What causes are those?”
Vydar slowly shook his head. “No,” he said. “Those are no causes, and they are never ones I would adopt. I fought for only one thing, and I think you know what that is.”
Dan knew. “How can you say you fight for your people, when you have shown so little regard for the lives of others?” A hint of anger at Vydar entered Dan’s voice despite his best attempts.
Vydar looked at him. “Because there was no other way,” he said. “Maybe in a more… civilized world, things would have been different. But in war, especially in a war such as this was… there can be no doubt. There can be no moment of indecision. If you are lenient, if you are compassionate, if you let your fallen foe get back up, he will strike you down without hesitation.”
“And you believe the people you have slain were your enemy?” Dan said venomously.
“Yes,” Vydar said. “At least, in a way. When Ullar threatened my borders, I joined Utgar to drive him out. When Utgar then poisoned my waters, I joined the alliance to stop him. And when my people suffered because of the war, I made a deal with Utgar to end it. Every time, my allies were more than willing to turn on me. I showed them only the same amount of trust they showed me.”
“And that makes what you did right?” Dan said.
“No,” Vydar said quickly. “Nothing could make what I’ve done right. I’ve had to lie, murder, and betray to keep my people safe. I had to hurt many. Was it right? No. Never. But it was necessary. If this war was ever to end, it was necessary. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s done now, and it cannot be undone. You must understand that, Dan.”
Dan was silent. Certainly he understood it. He himself had been willing to go to any lengths to get Heleer back, at least until the moment in Valkrill’s caves. He had found the line he wouldn’t cross. Vydar had found that line, but had crossed it anyway, knowing that not doing so would bring even more suffering on Valhalla. That didn’t make Vydar a good person. But he was, perhaps, at least one Dan could understand.
“I will have to answer for my crimes,” Vydar said, “and I will. But until that time, the least I can do is try to fix some of the damage I have caused, and repair some of the lives I have ruined.”
Vydar took a breath. “I once made you a promise, Dan. You upheld your end of the deal as much as any man could be expected to. It is time I honored mine. Once the amulets are in place, I will summon anyone you wish.”
Dan felt like he should be surprised, but he wasn’t. Somehow, through all of his hatred of Vydar, he had known that he wasn’t the enemy. The enemy was Utgar. It had always been Utgar. Vydar was extreme, possibly even misguided, but he wasn’t selfish. Aviir had been right: he was selfless to the point of doing what no one else could bare to do so that Valhalla would have peace. And he was willing to take the consequences, whatever those were. Now it was Dan’s turn.
“What about Terav?” Dan asked. “He told me the deal was off.”
“Terav doesn’t speak for me,” Vydar said quietly. “I made a promise, and I keep my promises. I promised I would summon the one you wished, and I will.”
Here, at last, on this wall, he could have Heleer. They could have a life together, here in Valhalla, away from the soulborgs, away from Isadora. Somewhere out there, surrounded by nothing but trees and green hills, they could live the rest of their lives. Dan looked out over Liesic, to the rising sun, shining its brilliance on the new Valhalla. He sighed.
“No,” he said.
Vydar looked surprised. “No?”
“No,” Dan repeated. He had found his horizon. At last, in a world he had never wanted to be a part of, he had found it. He knew what it was now. He knew it was his horizon to show others theirs. Well, he had done that. He had helped others find hope and strength in Valhalla, and now the war was over.
Dan remembered when he had escaped from his cell back on Isadora. He remembered the faces he had run past. They hadn’t understood. They hadn’t known what they were looking at. They were blind, lost, prisoners without even knowing it. They had no idea what was beyond their walls, and the soulborgs had made sure that they had no desire to find out. That was where Dan needed to be. Those people needed to glimpse their horizons, even as Dan had glimpsed his. They needed to be fought for, struggled for, and ultimately achieved. Dan looked at Valhalla one last time. His work here was done. He belonged on Isadora now.
“I want to be sent back,” he said. “Send me back to Isadora.”
“I – Are you sure?” Vydar asked, taken aback. “You would have a piece of land here all your own. I could summon anyone you want.”
Dan shook his head. He knew now that Valhalla held no horizon for him. He must always be among the blind and the lost. There was no better place than Isadora. “I’m sure,” Dan said.
He felt a twinge of regret as he said the words, knowing that he could have a life of freedom with Heleer in the new Valhalla. But then he remembered Ana. She had sacrificed her life so that others could live theirs. He understood that now. Well, if she could do it, then so could he.