9.2 – Of Brute and Brand

„I can’t“ he breathes. „I won’t.“

She knows better than to say anything against him. So she remains silent. Bridge loses interest in the scene and trots off. Her attention is fixed on Brand. Just wait for the dam to break. Just like that time, in another life, in another world, close, just a bit further down the mountain slope. When Scourge was approaching and she was ready to let the waters loose. Any moment now.

A whimper and a slight lip curl. And an inhalation. There.

„The bull of fire. That was the first thing I saw after…you had fallen. Into the depths. I shouted my voice raw. Bridge was squealing. I ran over to the edge, my own words echoing back at me, as if to mock me. Brittle, Brittle, Brittle. I didn’t hear anything, no thud, no scream of surprise, but I saw a glow. Far below. In the shape of a gargantuan flaming bull. ’What is this!?“ I shouted. And the echo came back at me again, but the words were twisted. ‘Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?’ Like a simple child just obeying commands from his parents, I immediately responded with ’Brand!’. And the echo tore up my words and stitched them back together. Do you know what it said?“

She does.

„’Brute’“ He coughs, as if the name itself is a burr stuck in his throat. „This time not repeated, just a short, curt statement. A word in the shape of a dart, or a…spear, piercing me right through. And as the word cut me open, I knew. And then, I, I found myself in front of the bull, but no longer in the cave, now I was fully gone to dream, or to a memory previously lost to oblivion, to obliteration. It was a cave, of sorts, but gleaming with some kind of inbuilt fire, hewn walls, a great hall, but everything was glowing. In an oppressive, almost maniacal way, as if a spirit of the flame was caught in all the matter surrounding me, and struggling to get out. And the bull, the statue of the bull in front of me was bursting with this horrible light, more so than anything else. And, and, its empty fiery eyes looked straight at me, and its mouth creaked open, and out this viscous liquid came, dripping, burning hot, I touched it by mistake, a blister formed instantly on my finger, then popped. My finger was on the rim of the bowl I was holding. The liquid ran into the bowl. I was dressed in baleful black metal. And all I was was Anger. Anger, I’ve never been prone to anger, Brittle.“ He looks up at her, new tears already forming under his eyes. „I’ve only remotely been angry with you, and just because I…“ He looks away, unable to bear her gaze for long. „This liquid, this juice, it pulsated in the bowl, matching my own vigourous heart beat. I had to drink it, even though it scorched my throat and made me want to howl with pain, but it was better, I felt better, because it filled this unbearable hole in my belly, like molten gold. It gave me purpose. I saw my reflection in the shiny surface of the bull, I saw the scar upon my face, the memory within the memory of you lashing out to make this mark, and all I was was Hate. And it felt glorious. Then, a bite, on my hand, no, my finger, where the skin had popped. It was Grandmother. And that’s when I realised that this was not now, just another distorted echo of what took place long ago. She spoke to me in the soothing voice of my own grandmother, the soft croak of Bramble, it filled the room, the hall, it calmed the fire whose name I knew was Scourge. ’Grandson. Remember.’ And then, and then…I was floating above this enormous intricate cobweb, Grandmother’s Weave. And I could see and know it all in an instant, I saw how sparks sink into and re-emerge from dream, I saw my own lives as Brute, like drops of dew hanging from the gossamer threads of the Weave, two, no, three in all, one faint, before the Great Forgetting, I don’t know how I knew, I just knew, one close to the shimmering life of Bray, and one last one, before a break in the thread, a splintering, and then, further on, eight lives as Brand. And then I saw your lives, too. Three in all. I didn’t know what to do, so Grandmother hurtled me towards the last drop before the break, and as I hit it, and it burst, I saw it all before me, played out in a thousand lesser drops of water, how I hurled rocks at you when you arrived with tails of wood growing from your back, how I killed that creature…“

„Cutting,“ she says, not with malice.

„…and how my very essence was ripped away in front of what remained of it, before the tree, how it and the fire that had transformed it ran throughout my body, through the sword and into the roots, and how nothing remained. And yet, there at the end, when Brute was ripped to pieces, and Brand was yet to be born, Grandmother pulled at me again, and opened up for me a burrow in the ground, she made me small, and both of us we wandered down in earthy tunnels, past the earthworms and the beetles of the soil, until we came upon a hollow where I saw one of the great roots of the tree above, and saw it glow. And I knew then, that I was there. That what once was Brute in me, his anger and despair, was there. Slowly being melded, molded, worked upon. But what is me and what is not? I feel guilt, remorse for actions that I have not done, that were stripped from me, yet now I know. And it was me somehow. I…I…can’t contain this. I know it is not fantasy, all of my being knows. But now the hole, that void of Brute has come back, that hollow, hollow feeling. I’ve never felt that! Always been at peace. Oblivious. Naïve. And I don’t want, I don’t want him to come back, to take over, I fear that might happen, to fill this void I will turn to that fire again, to fill me, to set aflame. No!“

Brand gets up with a wild shuffle of arms and legs, and halfway steps, halfway slides through the snow towards the edge. „I must end it!“ he shouts.

Brittle stretches out her hand in an instinctive, but futile, attempt to reach him. She is about to cry out, but is interrupted by a loud bray. Bridge? The sound stops Brand in his tracks, and they both look up. Bridge is there, but standing next to him is a much larger stag of the mountain. He harrumphs in a way that reminds her of her father.

„Brother!“ she gasps.

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