*THE LAST MAN *
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
organizations, businesses, places, events and
incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously.
The Last Man Book 2
Copyright © 2016 Tobias Wade
All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any
Edited by Matt Larkin and Brenda J. Pierson
Graphic Design by Juhi Larkin
Incandescent Phoenix Books
_If fear can pass, let it pass. _
_And grow into a fire. _
_If pleasure tempts, it is a mask, _
[_A demon’s claw for hire. _]
_If illusion hides how time flies _
[_Then don’t pretend it’s real _]
_If love and loss are but lies _
_Their wounds will someday heal. _
_If truth is a golden sword _
_It will break when tested _
_If identity is but a mirror _
_It cannot yet be bested _
_But if attachment has been broken _
_And all the world is left behind _
_Then you will have but one token _
_Eternal freedom in your mind _
[*CHAPTER 1: THE FALL *]
_One may learn more about themselves in a moment of _
_chaos than a lifetime of perfect order. If we do not chance the _
[_fall, then how will we ever discover our wings? _]
-Nidhoggdrasil, the world serpent
reen light pulsed from the darkness. First a
Gsp ark, growing by measure of living flame that
fed upon itself. It doubled in size, and then doubled
again, twisting into a tendril of vibrant green malice
that tore through the abyss as silent lightning. A
scream echoed like thunder, and the world slipped
“Pull harder!” Farris shouted, her thin white arms
trembling as they strained against the unrelenting
ropes of the veering ship. The lightning had
devastated the only sail which kept them aloft.
“We can’t stay up!” Sasha shouted back over the
storm of rushing wind.
“Someone get a light. We have to land, now!”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Bahhh!” bleated Bumble with authority, doing
her best to help despite the severe handicap of being a
goat. Vindenri, the airship given to Farris and her
companions to sail down the abyss, plummeted
through the infinite darkness of the pit. Their lanterns
were extinguished from the speed of their fall, and the
only sense which allowed Farris to discern direction
was the clutching, burning panic in her stomach that
crawled its way up her throat. A splintering smash
shook Farris to her bones. The Vindenri bounced off
an unseen wall, tilting back again to scrape along the
[_Stay calm. Don’t panic. Don’t throw up. _] Her words
echoed dully in her mind. Farris summoned the
resolve within her, closed her eyes, and willed the
secret Name of light to awaken.
“I Name thee…” Farris was engulfed with soft
white light, although it would be no use to her
companions as she had entered the Essence World
alone. Her body still fell through the darkness, but her
mind had stepped outside space and time as she
invoked the magic of Naming. She would bring the
light back to them, they would steer to safety, and
everyone would be all right.
Her Guide was here somewhere, she knew. The
ancient soul locked at the center of the earth, either
the beast Nidhoggdrasil or Lolaran the man who
slayed it, had helped her unlock her understanding of
the secret Names. She couldn’t hide here though; her
friends needed her, and the longer she stayed in the
Essence World, the harder it would be to return.
Besides, her Guide had tried to trap her here before,
and she wanted as little to do with the scheming
creature as possible.
“My champion returns to me,” purred the
sonorous voice without sound.
Farris ignored it, already willing herself to return.
She just had to concentrate on her emotional
attachments to her friends, and the perfect tranquility
of this place would release her back to the chaos of
uncertainty that was mortal life.
“Are you so swift to leave Heaven? Don’t tell me
you’re angry I tested you. That is how you grow,
Farris, and I will need you to grow if you are to
survive your journey.”
“This is no Heaven, and I’m traveling to save my
brother, not you,” Farris returned, immediately
scolding herself for even replying. She shouldn’t get
involved. She can’t look for any excuses to stay in the
“You’re right of course, this isn’t Heaven,” the
Guide replied amicably.
Farris concentrated on the return. She thought of
Sasha’s handsome face and strong arms. He had given
everything to chase after her without hesitation. The
moment they’d shared under the falling light of the
Unwaxen Moon … he would never be a stranger to
“There is no pleasure here, only an escape from
pain. Do you want to know where the real Heaven
lies?” _Ignore him. _ Think about Riften, she told herself.
He was a prince of the Paral-Zakdul, and he betrayed
his king and people just so he could help her rescue
her brother. He almost died trying to fight off the
Paral-Zakdul hunters for her. She had to return …
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You should show more respect.” The Guide’s
voice became colder. “You will find Heaven in the
second shell, and you must be prepared for the
We’re heading toward Heaven now? Her curiosity
overwhelmed her caution for the moment. “What’s
dangerous about Heaven?”
“Let me tell you a secret,” her Guide replied with
satisfaction. “Heaven is much more difficult to escape
than Hell, for in Hell you will still be armed with the
desire to escape. Heaven robs you even of that.”
[_If he’s just going to speak in more cryptic nonsense, then _]
_there is no point in listening. _ Farris turned her mind to her
brother, barely thirteen before he was named heir of
an ancient prophecy to open the tomb at the center of
the world. She hated herself for not believing any of it
until he had already been kidnapped. She had to find
him and make things right …
“All desires are granted in Heaven. Do not forget
that your wish to find your brother is simply another
desire. If you do not enter the second shell, you will
never find Tom again.”
Farris was back in the darkness. Her stomach
clutched in a knot of pain and fear. Bile rose in her
throat. Sasha was screaming something—Riften was
“Elestar Porsai.” Farris called upon the secret
name of light. Soft white luminescence enveloped the
falling ship, revealing the twisting pit covered with
jagged stones and the terrible descent below. A
thousand tiny red crystals along the sides of the abyss
caught the light and reflected it like a blanket of
“About time,” Sasha said. “We’ve hit the wall
twice while you were daydreaming. The Vindenri is
The three of them pulled on the ropes attached
to the tattered sail and managed to navigate the vessel
into the center of the abyss. At least they were safe
from the clawing stones out here. The wind still tore
through the hole in the sail in a rushing torrent
however, and they continued to fall at a sickening
rate. “What happened?” Farris asked.
“Something shot at us from one of the ledges,”
Riften replied, remarkably at ease considering their
free-fall. “Maybe a friend was just trying to give us a
“What shot us? I saw a flash of green lightning,
but nothing else,” Sasha said, his fingers white from
their desperate grip on one of the ropes.
“It doesn’t matter, we have to land before the
rest of the sail tears loose,” Riften said. He leaned
casually, his eyes lit with an exhilaration more evident
than any fear. Farris would never understand how the
Paral-Zakdul’s alien mind worked. He never took his
life very seriously.
“We’re going too fast,” Farris yelled over the
wind. “Even if we find a shelf of rock we’ll be
smashed to bits if we hit it.”
The ship shook violently. The rope Farris clung
to fell slack around her. She stared at the thing in her
hand with wide, disbelieving eyes. The white light
enveloping her illuminated the limp rope, broken
roughly at one end. The sail had snapped clean off,
and there was nothing to impede their hurtling free-
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Steer toward the western wall,” Riften
commanded in a tone accustomed to being obeyed.
“With what?” Sasha yelled, throwing his useless
bit of cord to the ground.
“Lean on the western edge! There will be a safe
place to land.”
“How are we supposed to know where west is?”
Farris fought the urge to scream. Her stomach was so
tight she thought she would faint. The dark walls of
the abyss streamed past her in a torrent of glinting red
crystals, which blurred together into a dull, malevolent
hue. Perhaps she should go back to the Essence
World and ask her Guide …
“That way, where the crystals are clustered!”
Riften was already pushing on the side while he
pointed. “They require moisture to grow, which
collects in hollow plains and tunnels. There will be an
opening for us.”
Sasha and Farris ran to the western edge and
heaved with all their might. The Vindenri tilted
suddenly, threatening to capsize and hurl its
passengers into the open air. Farris strayed back from
the edge, but Riften continued pressing his weight and
the vessel swerved through the air in the proper
“What is going on out there?” a sleepy voice
called from Bumble. Gloria, the magical fish Bumble
ate in the first shell, must have finally woken up
“Nice of you to join us. Just in time. Dying with
company is so much more fun,” Riften replied
The ship continued to veer, and the glowing
crystals were getting close enough to illuminate the
full expanse of razor-sharp rocks and piercing
stalagmites that stretched their stony grasp in their
“We can’t get any closer or we’ll hit the wall!”
“Wall?” Gloria snapped to alertness. “How long
have we been falling? Where are you trying to land?”
“Look for the webs!” Riften demanded.
“Webs?” Farris asked, mystified. Riften had
traveled this land before on his ascent to the surface
and she trusted him, but her faith was fleeing with
every passing second. The wall loomed closer and it
was impossible not to imagine the grizzly stones
ripping through the planks of their vessel and piercing
their flesh. She had to trust him though. Even he
couldn’t act so casually if he didn’t know something.
There! Something silver sparkled in the distance
below them. There was hope.
“You can’t land!” Gloria shrieked desperately.
“Not here. Not in the second shell.”
“There’s no other choice,” Riften said. “There
aren’t any other safe places.”
“The Dresdoni Kingdom isn’t safe! Oh no, oh
no—oh no,” Gloria wailed.
As they fell, it became apparent the silver light
shone from a series of large silken strands that
glistened like morning dew on a spider’s web. They
were strung densely on this side of the abyss, clinging
between stalagmites and spurs of rock.
“Is that what we’re aiming for?” Sasha asked,
looking at Riften. Sasha then glanced toward Bumble,
hesitating from pushing against the railing.
“Absolutely not. No one leaves the second shell
of the world,” Gloria said resolutely.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“I have better things to do with my life than
waste it on the prattling of a frightened fish,” Riften
said. He heaved against the side of the ship, but
without Sasha’s strength the vessel barely budged
toward the web.
“Let Farris decide,” Sasha said. “She sees things
the rest of us cannot.”
“We must find another place to land,” Gloria
pleaded. “If you value your journey, you can’t idle
away your time here.”
“We might have already fallen past your
brother,” Riften said. “If you value him, we’ll stop
before we’re a world away.”
Farris nodded at Riften’s words. Nothing else
mattered. If landing here meant finding her brother
sooner, then no danger could possibly dissuade her.
Besides, her Guide had called it Heaven; how bad
could it be?
“We’re going to land here,” Farris said. “I value
your opinion, Gloria, but I know the path I must
Sasha looked into her eyes for a long moment
before nodding. He shifted his weight against the side
of the Vindenri and they maneuvered toward the webs.
They adjusted their descent, speeding toward a very
large web strung between three mighty columns of
stone. Gloria was gloomily silent during the rest of the
The web was even larger than it appeared from a
distance. The silken strands spread several hundred
yards in each direction, and even with their limited
steering it was an easy target to hit. The Vindenri
landed in the center of it, prompting a bone-shaking
shudder as they slammed downward.
The web bent so far—would they burst straight
through? Farris gripped the edge of the vessel with
fingers as tight as a vice. She didn’t know anything
about this place. Why did Sasha put so much faith in
her? Was it a delusion based on his own muddled
feelings, or was she really uncovering some hidden
wisdom about the world as she learned to Name it?
The web whined as it bore the impact. The ship’s
timbers groaned from the strain. Farris’s stomach did
another flip as their acceleration suddenly reversed,
sending them flying back upward. The elastic web
recoiled to its original position, holding firm to the
boat with implacable attachment. They oscillated back
and forth in increasingly smaller increments, until
finally the Vindenri came to rest on the tremulous
“Now you’ve done it,” Gloria mumbled. “Now
we’re stuck here.”
“I’m sorry to have disturbed your nap,” Riften
shot back. “You’re free to leave whenever you want.”
“I believe in this cause,” Gloria huffed. “What
about you, Paral? What’s your ulterior motive?”
“Staying alive isn’t an ulterior motive. It should
always come first.”
“Is that why you betrayed your king? To save
your own skin?” Gloria asked.
Farris turned away from the arguing pair.
Tensions were high, understandably so. She just
hoped she made the right call. They had traveled so
quickly that they must be very close to Tom now.
Then again, if they did somehow become trapped
here, then she might be powerless to find him even if
he passed directly by.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
Farris looked out across the web. The crystals
were much thicker here, although they reflected her
light poorly and she could only see only a small
fraction of the expanse of surrounding web. Sasha
moved to stand beside her, his arm brushing hers. His
warmth brought Farris more comfort then she cared
to admit, and she leaned against him gratefully.
“Don’t worry,” Sasha said. “We’re going to find
Tom. If nothing else, we’ve gained a lot of distance in
the fall and should have caught up with the hunters.”
“I don’t suppose the ship will do us any good
again,” Farris said. “We’ll have to go on by foot now.”
Sasha threw a limp end of rope over the side of
the vessel. He let it dangle onto the web, then pulled
it back. The web clung to the rope briefly before
relinquishing it with a twang.
“It doesn’t seem that sticky,” Sasha said. “And
the strands are so thick and close we shouldn’t have
any trouble walking across them. We can make it to
that ledge by the far wall, and that will bring us
around to meet with the spiral stairway your brother
will have taken.”
“We might have already passed the hunters in
our fall,” Riften said. He ambled in his long-legged
gait to join them, bending his lithe frame to lean
awkwardly on the railing. “Did anyone see a light on
the stair as we fell?”
“Only the green lightning,” Sasha said, shaking
“We were falling so fast, we could have easily
missed them,” Farris added.
“This is what I feared when we failed to catch
them at the opening of the abyss,” Riften sighed.
“Now we don’t know whether to go onward after
them, or camp here and wait once more.”
“We’re at the second shell of the world now,”
Sasha said. “Is this land populated as well? Perhaps
someone will have spotted them.”
“No!” Gloria protested. It was difficult to take
her seriously now, as Bumble the goat was nearly
dancing for joy at their safe stop. “We can’t go into
this world. You have to trust me.”
“When you have a better idea, you let me
know,” Riften replied. “Let’s move to the stone shelf
by the stair for now. I feel too exposed being on this
Sasha nodded and slung a pack of provisions
over his shoulder while Riften relit a lantern. Farris
allowed her own light to fade, not wanting to draw
more attention to them than was necessary. She didn’t
dread entering the Essence World as much as she
once did, and felt confident in her ability to invoke
the power and return without too much delay. Even
sporadic summonings were draining on her though,
and she knew she would diminish her strength quickly
if she relied upon them too heavily. She had no body
when she was in the Essence world, and so the return
always made her extremely conscious of the weariness
of her body and the difficulty of each forced breath.
She took a deep breath now, waiting for the numb
tingling of her body to fade.
Sasha meanwhile vaulted over the side of the
railing to land on the web below. Riften stretched a
long arm to pass the lantern down to him, but Sasha
had already taken several steps onto the web beyond.
His mouth was open in wonder as though something
magical was revealed to him.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Take the light with you!” Riften called. “If you
fall to your death, at least we can see you wave on the
way down.” His face was drawn and anxious despite
his cheerful tone, and Farris wondered whether he
knew more about this place than he was admitting.
“The web is perfectly safe,” Sasha said. “Better
than safe, it feels amazing!” Sasha took the lantern
from Riften and prodded the darkness with its warm
red flare. “It’s so light and springy, I feel like I’m
walking on air.”
Sasha bent down to run his fingers across the
web, and he sighed with pleasure at the touch.
“Don’t go too far,” Farris said. It was hard to
look at Sasha, striding so confidently across the web,
and feel anything but hopeful. Perhaps they had
found a safe place to rest after all.
Sasha knelt on the web, spreading his hands
further across the silk. “It’s so soft too, get down
here. It feels almost like liquid the way it washes over
“If pleasure tempts, it is a mask, a demon’s claw
for hire,” Gloria murmured the verse from Riften’s
song. “You are not safe here, do not lie to
Farris ran her fingers through Bumble’s fur,
gripping it for support. She trusted Gloria, and she
wished she hadn’t been forced to land here. Farris
didn’t know why the decision had to fall on her, and
she didn’t like having to feel responsible for the safety
of her friends. It was one thing to be willing to go
through dangers for her brother, but it was quite
another to force her friends to do the same.
Sasha set his lantern down beside him and
continued to run his hands over the silk, kneeling
deeper until he lay completely outstretched on the
vibrating web. He rocked gently from side to side,
letting the strands caress his body.
“Join me, Riften,” Sasha said, rolling freely. “I’ll
bet it will help with the wound on your head.”
Riften lifted a second pack of supplies and sprang
nimbly onto the web. He looked confused at first, but
he soon broke into a wide grin. “I wish we had
stopped here on my ascent, although I don’t suppose
I would have even felt the webs through those beastly
Byzantian plates. I could have just laid here and
avoided the whole sordid business.”
Riften stretched out and lay beside Sasha now,
touching his head against one of the strands.
Bumble hopped about on the deck of Vindenri.
The goat looked as though she wanted to follow
them, but Gloria seemed to be holding her back.
Gloria wouldn’t be so cautious without reason. Still,
there was no point in hiding forever, and Farris
couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than what
she’d already passed in the first shell. She clambered
over the railing and dropped onto the web a little way
“What are you two doing?” Farris asked,
although she could already feel the gentle pull of the
silk soften against her weight. The web vibrated with
delicious pulses that sent cascades of comfort through
Farris’s body, easing away all of the ache and tension
of their journey. “Oh, it’s wonderful!”
Farris giggled as she watched the indecisive goat,
all her worries washed away by the ebb and flow of
the vibrations. What once looked like mindful caution
now seemed silly and cowardly. Did Bumble really
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
understand Gloria? Living together, they must have
formed a very close bond.
“Don’t you see what you’re doing?” Gloria
called. “If you keep rolling around like that you’ll
wrap yourselves up, and then you’ll never get out.”
“It’s so comfortable,” Sasha said. “We’ve traveled
a long way, and we’ve gained so much distance from
that fall we deserve a rest. We can just sleep here for a
“You can sleep aboard the ship, or the stone
shelf,” Gloria said sternly.
“Just because you’re an old hag who’s forgotten
what pleasure is doesn’t mean you should ruin our
good time,” Riften said.
“What is pleasurable has nothing to do with what
is good,” Gloria said. “Living creatures are designed
to pursue pleasure, and they will look for every excuse
to justify their behavior as rational. First the mind
might tell you to go slowly so as to be careful, all the
while prolonging your time on the web. Then perhaps
it will tell you to stop and look around, and give you
excuses to tarry that still benefit the original quest.
The justifications will say it’s no detraction from your
goal if you rest, and you even convince yourselves you
only do so to be stronger later on. Finally you will
forget your quest altogether, and remember nothing
but the pleasure of those silken strands. If you cannot
break away in this moment, then you may never
Gloria wasn’t wrong. The seductive strands were
already tangling around Sasha’s and Riften’s limbs.
Farris caught herself bending toward the welcoming
bed without even realizing she was doing so. She
forced herself upright, pulling away from its soft
touch. Her friends trusted her to lead them, and she
couldn’t do that by blindly following their example.
Her own Guide had warned her about this place. She
had the responsibility to be more mindful.
“Gloria is right,” Farris said. “Let’s set up camp
on the stone shelf. We can always return here after
we’ve rescued our supplies from the ship and secured
“Not you too, Farris,” Sasha said, easing farther
into his nest. “If you assume everything we encounter
in the world is out to get you then you’re going to be
a nervous wreck long before you find your brother.”
“There are so few opportunities to enjoy
ourselves,” Riften chimed in. “The webs aren’t
dangerous, just relax.”
“It seems to me,” Gloria said slowly, “that
perhaps the webs are indeed safe.”
Farris felt immediate reassurance. She allowed
herself to sink towards the webs again. Just for a little
while … her muscles were being massaged in the
most delightful way …
“But,” Gloria added, “where there are very large
webs, I would not be surprised to find very large
spiders as well.”
As if in answer, a high-pitched screech pierced
the silent darkness. Farris pulled away from the web
once more, but her muscles were so relaxed they
barely registered her command. Sasha and Riften
struggled where they lay, but neither could rise to
“Just a few more moments,” Sasha replied, his
voice drowsy. The screech came again, and this time it
_If a man wishes to be strong he will work, understanding _
_that his weariness will fade. If a man wishes to be wise he will _
_study, knowing his clouded mind will clear. So why does the _
[_man seeking happiness refuse to plant his garden with suffering? _]
[_How can he not see the harvest he will reap? _]
– Nidhoggdrasil, the world serpent
[_ove. Move. Move. Move! _] Farris scolded her body
_M _ for lingering on the suddenly treacherous web.
The sound of scuttling feet sucking and pulling
against the web reached her from just beyond the
edge of lantern light.
“Cut your way out,” Farris shouted. “Quickly.”
“Are you crazy?” Riften asked, his voice an
amiable droll without hint of alarm. “If we cut the
strands we’ll fall straight down the abyss. Just give us
“You don’t have a moment, something is out
there!” Farris cried.
“So what? You’re assuming everything is
dangerous again,” Sasha said. “Just let it come.”
What was going on? Why were they so
complacent? Farris swore to herself, straining against
the compulsion of the web. Her feet were finally
obeying her, separating from the web without any hint
of being trapped. Couldn’t the others pull themselves
free as well?
“Get back to the ship,” Gloria ordered.
“They can’t, they must be stuck,” Farris said.
“I’ve gotten free so I’ll try to help them.”
“If you can get free, so can they,” Gloria said.
“Then why aren’t they?” Farris asked in
exasperation. Farris strode across the web toward
Sasha. She was unhindered by the pulses, although
she could not deny the warm comfort they brought.
Riften and Sasha had been there longer though. Was
something else holding them down?
“You are free now because you believe the web is
a trap. As long as they do not view it as such, they will
not try to escape.”
“Sasha!” Farris reached him and shook his arm.
He pulled away from her, nestling farther into the
web. “Get up right now.”
“Just a few more minutes,” Sasha mumbled.
Another screech sounded from the darkness.
Farris picked up the discarded lantern and waved it in
that direction. She thought she caught a glimpse of
several long, black, hairy legs skittering farther into
“The only way to lead one from pleasure is by
resisting it yourself,” Gloria said. “They are in their
own worlds now, and will not know any other exist
until you show them. They do not know their own
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
weakness until they have seen your strength. Leave
the webs, Farris, and let them lie in their shame.”
Farris picked up the lantern and began walking
toward the stone shelf with resolution. The webs
redoubled their effort to hold her. The spongy step of
each footfall resonated a sublime peace up her legs
and throughout her entire body. The trembling pulses
penetrated deep inside her, and though she did her
best to tell herself the sensation was invasive and
unpleasant, she found herself slowing with every step
just to feel it for a moment longer. It was the most
deliciously intoxicating experience she had ever
encountered, and a voice within her urged her to just
brush the web one last time with her fingers before
she left. After all, her mind reasoned, she had to show
her friends she could feel it fully and still move away
if she was to lead by example.
“Do not pause, do not hesitate!” Gloria’s voice
called from the ship. Bumble peered over the railing
at Farris. “The most difficult temptations to resist are
those you see no harm in.”
“Haven’t you made fools of yourselves enough?
Get up and follow me,” Farris said. Let them feel
ashamed of themselves. She just hoped they couldn’t
tell how badly she wanted to stay on the web as well.
Riften made a pleasurable moan and Farris drew back
in disgust. She scanned the edge of darkness around
her firelight again. She was hesitating, she knew she
was, but surely she had to keep an eye out for the
Bumble leapt from the vessel to land on the web
as well. A look of confused rapture crossed her face,
but the goat seemed unsettled all the same.
“I’m here with you,” Gloria said. “Just keep
Farris steeled herself, and after a terrible
breathless moment when she neither stood still nor
moved, she broke free and took another step. She was
walking now, pushing the orb of her lantern light
farther along the web. Farris only had to take a few
more steps before her light fell upon a grizzly sight: a
graveyard of bones and chitinous plates littered the
web, as well as the strange half-decomposed forms of
giant spiders with shriveled and withered bodies. She
was standing in the middle of a massacre by time.
“Sasha! Riften!” Farris called. “Look at the
victims of the web.” The dread in her voice lent her
power, and she finally captured their attention.
Sasha lifted his head a little from his webbed
cocoon and stared at the corpses. There was a clear
struggle behind his eyes, and he kicked Riften who
raised his head as well.
“Stand up!” Farris demanded, “or I promise I wil
leave you both here until you rot like the rest of
“I was only taking a moment, no harm done.”
Sasha was on his feet, shaking the webs and their
mind-numbing embrace from him. “You’re not going
anywhere without me, Farisky.”
Riften tried to lay his head back again, but Sasha
grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and hauled him
to his feet as well. The sight of the bodies had given
them just enough shock to break free, but Sasha was
already looking at his feet again. His legs buckled
toward the web. Farris walked back toward them and,
handing the lantern to Riften, she grabbed each by the
hand and began sprinting through the webs. Her
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
friends pulled back at first, but she gave them a
deathly glare that even the soothing silk could not
erase, and they meekly followed her through.
The farther they went, the thicker the bodies
were strewn. It wasn’t long before they had to
physically push the long broken spider legs away or
roll aside the emaciated corpses blocking their path.
Bumble bounded swiftly behind them, coaxed onward
by Gloria’s soft voice. Farris didn’t dare let go of their
hands lest they find an excuse to tarry again, and with
Riften holding the lantern, the distasteful job of
pushing aside corpses was given to Sasha.
They were almost at the stone ledge now. Sasha
prodded a small husk of a spider away with his foot,
but jumped as it stirred. It gave a little screech, the
same sound that had haunted them from the
darkness, and scuttled a little distance away. The
spider quickly collapsed upon the web again, seeming
exhausted from its effort.
“It’s alive,” Farris gasped.
“Barely,” Sasha agreed.
The companions drew a pace back and stared at
the small hairy creature warily. It wasn’t the
threatening kind of spider Farris sometimes found
menacing the closets at home. It looked for all the
world like a stuffed animal parody of a spider: too-
short legs and too-fluffy tufts of hair decorated its
thick little body, and its face was smooth with only a
single pair of disturbingly human eyes.
“Now I’ve caught you,” it squeaked meekly in a
high-pitched voice. It was clearly attempting to sound
threatening, although it was impossible not to
associate the sound with a self-conscious mouse.
“You’re in my world now, within the timeless abyss.”
“You’re not scaring anybody,” Farris responded.
“Who are you?”
“Not even a little? Hold on a moment.” The
spider lowered its voice half an octave and spoke
again. “You are in the presence of Skavash, Lord of
the Eternal Void.”
“Stop that,” Sasha interrupted. “You’re not lord
of anything, are you? You’re caught in your own
“Caught in my own— how dare you,” Skavash
squeaked, its voice returning to a higher pitch. “I am
the herald of destruction, the shadow of the abyss,
“We don’t believe it,” Farris cut in, smiling.
“You’re too cute to be a Lord of the Eternal Void.”
“How do you know? Have you ever seen one?”
sniffed the spider. “I’ll have you know the
resemblance is uncanny.”
“I know the name Skavash,” Riften mused, “but
it belongs to the beast of the Southron Abyss, and he
has never come this far surface-ward.”
“Well, my mother had high hopes for me, but I
suppose you can call me Skavy if you prefer.
Everyone else does,” Skavy said, shuffling its long legs
“Would you like some help, Mister Skavy?” Sasha
asked, reaching his free hand down to untangle the
piteous creature from its web.
“No help,” Skavy whined, leaning away from the
hand. “I’m all settled in, and it feels so pleasant here.
I’m never going to leave.”
“Look at all the bodies around you!” Farris cried.
“Don’t you suppose they settled in just as you are?”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“I won’t stay as long as them. In fact I’m only
resting a moment,” Skavy replied. “I can leave
whenever I like.”
“I’m sure they all thought the same thing,” Gloria
said, “but this moment is all there is. If you can’t get
up now, then you can’t ever get up, because it will feel
just as good a year from now. Help him, Sasha.”
Sasha obliged, lifting the creature cleanly out of its
nest of webbing.
Skavy flailed his little legs in the air, fluffy and
stumpy as they were, and cried out in its spidery
tongue. Farris could not understand the words, but
they certainly bore the unmistakable tone of swearing.
If Farris hadn’t come along, then the poor creature
would have doubtlessly joined the countless dead
here. This at least gave her more resolve about her
decision to land.
What possible purpose could these webs serve
though? There couldn’t be that many things to catch
falling down the abyss, and if the spiders trapped
themselves in them they seemed to do more harm
than good. What would her brother Tom do if he was
caught? Probably stay put until he died—he was
stubborn enough. How long would it be until she saw
him again? She clenched her jaw, willing herself to
focus on the task at hand. Until they got out of this
web, everything else was just a potentially dangerous
“How long have you really been here?” Sasha
asked Skavy, ruffling its fur affectionately.
“About ten changing of the palace guard, I
suppose,” Skavy replied, melting a little under the
petting. The spider seemed to remember his fearsome
self however, and pulled away to bare his tiny fangs.
Sasha picked him up anyway to hold him at arm’s
length, and the troop pulled away from the vibrating
silk for a final time before clambering onto the stone
“How long is that?” Sasha asked.
“Three sleeps? How do you tell time where
you’re from?” Skavy asked.
“You’ve been here three days?” Farris asked in
alarm. “Your family must be worried to death about
you.” “Skavash doesn’t have to obey his family,” Skavy
“Then he will obey me,” Farris said sternly. “We
are sending you home right away, and you will
apologize for going out alone.”
“Don’t tell my mother I was on the web?” Skavy
pled, his human eyes damp with tears.
“As long as you promise never to walk on these
wretched webs again,” Farris said.
Sasha sat Skavy down on the stone. The delicious
vibrations faded from Farris’s limbs quickly, and a
weariness twice as profound as she’d felt before
enveloped her. Bumble sniffed Skavy inquisitively,
and Farris smiled to think what Bumble must think of
all this. It must be quite over her head, but her loyalty
always overwhelmed any sense of fear or doubt.
Riften lingered on the web for a final moment, and he
almost stooped to brush it with his fingers again when
Sasha grabbed him by the collar of his tunic and
pulled him onto the rock.
“You can’t really intend to babysit this creature,”
Riften said. “We’ve freed it already; its fate is in its
own hands now.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You know full well if we leave him he will get
right back on that nasty web and rot there,” Farris
said, standing in front of Skavy. It would be like
leaving a puppy alone in the woods, albeit an eight-
legged, monstrous puppy.
“We can’t get distracted,” Sasha agreed. “If we
hadn’t been helping the Darkness when Tom passed
by the first time—”
“If we didn’t help the Darkness it never would
have let us reach the abyss in the first place,” Farris
said. “And what do you propose we do? We don’t
even know if we’ve passed Tom in the descent. If we
wait, he could be getting farther away with every
passing moment, and if we press on we could descend
through the whole world in front of him. We need
Sasha nodded slowly, but Farris felt like there
was something he wasn’t saying. She made sense,
didn’t she? It wasn’t just an excuse; she wanted to find
Tom more than anyone. It didn’t matter that he was
named heir of the prophecy and she was forgotten. It
didn’t matter how hard it would be to admit to him
she had been wrong about everything, and how it was
her fault he had been taken without a proper fight. It
didn’t even matter that her Guide had told her to stop
here. But what if she did find him, and he wanted to
keep going to fulfill the prophecy? What if he didn’t
want her to come, what if he could never forgive her?
Farris shook these awful thoughts from her head. She
did want to find him, and he did want to be found. She
wasn’t wasting time.
“My mother would know! She knows
everything,” Skavy piped up.
“All mothers do, until you’re old enough to know
better,” Riften said.
“I know the Lady would help.”
“You call your mother the Lady?” Farris asked.
“Everyone calls her the Lady,” Skavy replied.
“She watches the stair into her domain; she watches
most everything. She will be able to tell you where
Farris nodded, casting a glance at Bumble who
had apparently accepted that Skavy wasn’t a threat to
their safety or her role as the group pet. Gloria was
very quiet inside. What would she think about moving
deeper into the second shell? But her companions had
trusted Farris to lead, and she needed to show she was
more confident than she felt. She nodded again, more
assertively, and smiled away the gnawing fear.
“Then we will go to the Lady for help,” Farris
At Skavy’s instruction, the group moved along a
nearly invisible path cut into the wall face. This
staggered sharply downward following the curvature
of the abyss, and although the footing was hazardous,
it quickly opened up into a second ledge that lay
below the webs. This revealed a tunnel winding into
the new world. A soft green light, not unlike that seen
the moment before the Vindenri began to plummet,
shone through the mouth of the tunnel.
“Open ye gates of heaven,” Gloria murmured.
“To the world of flesh and sin.”
[*CHAPTER 3: HEAVEN’S *]
_I touch the world, and feel that it is real. I see the world, _
and smell the world, and hear the world, and [_taste the world; I _]
_tell myself it is real. Now I put my mind to thought, and feel no _
_sense but my own mind, _ [_and for the first time I am unsure. I _]
_trust the uncertainty of my mind over the certainty of my body, _
and [_am confident in my own unknowing. _]
-Javel of Omar, the First Man
iften’s body was tense. The green light seemed
R welcome in the dismal darkness, but the memory
of their fall was etched too freshly in his memory to
discount the danger. They hesitated outside of the
tunnel entrance. Was the thing that shot them down
in that tunnel? If it could burn through their sail at
such huge range, what would happen if it launched at
Riften watched Sasha and Farris press their
bodies to the stone wall, exchanging glances. They’d
been doing that more often since they returned from
the Unwaxen Moon together. Riften had rather
enjoyed Farris dismissing Sasha at the beginning—if
they were all strangers, then he wouldn’t seem so
mysterious. How quickly man looks to his own for
comfort, even if his brother is a stranger to his own
soul. If they learned to rely on each other too much,
then their fondness could well complicate his work.
_Here goes nothing, _ Riften thought. _Time to take charge. _
Riften moved past the lip of the tunnel entrance,
striding confidently forward into the green light. A
smile broke his thin lips, genuine this time, not the
giant façade he perpetually wore for show. The light
was only a multitude of softly luminescent
mushrooms that lined the walls and ceilings.
“Come on then, you silly humans,” Riften called
back. “Don’t let your fear of pleasure spoil its taste.”
Skavy came into view next, then Farris and Sasha
rounded the corner with Bumble at their heels.
Riften’s eyes lingered on Bumble, looking for any hint
of communication from her mysterious passenger.
Gloria was another wild card in his game. How much
did she really know about the world outside her
secluded pond? Another puzzle for another time.
Riften turned back down the passage, scouting ahead
for the party.
The tunnel was clearly manufactured with its
perfectly circular shape and spiral grooves that ran
from floor to ceiling. These grooves served as a
resting place for the evenly separated and well-
cultivated glowing mushrooms. It was so artificially
circular, in fact, that Sasha and Farris had to walk in
single file behind Riften to avoid treading on the walls
that sloped sharply upward.
Skavy was already lagging behind. He staggered,
his eight legs scrambling to keep himself upright. He
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
must have been weakened from his long stay upon
the web. Riften allowed himself a grim smile: the Lady
was even worse to her children than his own father
was to him. Sasha picked Skavy up and carried him
once more. They walked no more than half a mile
when Skavy demanded to be put back down. The
passageway ahead bent out of view. Riften’s long
hand flexed a practiced flick that could transport his
dagger into his hand and continued his march. _Show no _
_hesitation, show no weakness, _ as his master at the
university would say. [_If you are afraid, your enemy won’t be. _]
Around the turn a large circular door of steel
filled the entirety of the passage so perfectly that not
even the green light could sneak around the edges.
Two massive spiders stood in front of it, standing
almost as tall as Riften himself. They had the same
smooth skin and human eyes of Skavy, but their
bodies were long and muscular, sprouting crooked
dangly legs lined with razor hairs. Their black
carapaces were sleek and polished, reflecting the green
light in such a way as to bathe themselves in its aura.
They held no weapons, although their bodies seemed
sufficient substitutes. All they carried were long silken
bundles wrapped around their necks.
“Welcome to Heaven’s Gate!” called the first
“Why are they welcome?” asked the second with
Riften’s fingers twitched in anticipation. The
carapace looked as though it locked their orientation
in a single direction, and the armor seemed weakest
around the neck to allow it to pivot. They would be
slow to maneuver. Their tactics would likely revolve
around getting their victim beneath them to bring all
eight legs and their jaws into placement. Considering
how they stood, Riften could predict their
movements, tracing their fighting style in his mind.
He rested his weight on the balls of his feet, ready to
dance death around them at a moment’s notice.
“Well, are we welcome or not?” Farris demanded
from behind. “We’ve had a rough enough trip already,
so if you don’t want to roll out the red carpet then at
least step aside. I am in no mood to be judged by an
Riften smiled to himself. Without turning he
could hear the shuffle of fabric that indicated Farris
crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“Is your queen always like this?” Skavy asked
“Our queen … has her moments,” Sasha replied.
“Skavy? Is that you?” the first spider asked. Skavy
was dangling playfully from a wall now, scurrying
amongst the mushrooms. Riften knew he wasn’t
faking his weariness earlier, so perhaps he too had
been taught not to show weakness.
“What are you doing, little one?” the second
guard asked. “Come here at once.”
“You can’t order me around!”
“Have you been out on the web again?” the first
guard asked sternly. Skavy looked abashed, his little
head falling. “You know it is unsafe. The Lady will
hear of this.”
“It’s only unsafe because I prowl it!” Skavy
“Of course, little one,” the second guard cooed.
“You are a true terror. I’m sure the Lady will be
pleased to see her hatchling safe, thank you travelers.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
Skavy reluctantly dropped away from the wall
and trod over to the guards, his head hanging low in
much the same way as a guilty puppy.
“Of course you are welcome, small wanderers,”
the second guard added amiably. Their voices spoke
so smoothly, one following the next, that they almost
seemed like a single mind split between two bodies.
Was that a measure of their discipline, or were there
unseen strings attached? Riften did not allow himself
to relax yet.
“Is that all you have to say to him?” Farris asked.
“He could have died out there! There were bodies all
over the web. He’s been gone three days, hasn’t
anyone even looked for him?”
“What are days?” the first guard asked. “Don’t be
silly, he could have returned home whenever he
“But they don’t return, do they? They sit out
there until they starve to death,” Farris protested.
“What a wonderful way to go,” the second guard
replied dreamily. “Come along then, in you go.”
The second guard turned and lifted two of its
crooked legs to manipulate a hidden panel beside the
door, prompting it to slide into the ceiling with a
“Um, question,” Sasha asked. “Is the Lady a
spider as well? I mean, you’re all spiders here?”
“Spider? What a funny word. We are the
Dresdoni, servants of the Lady. If you don’t know
that, then you are a long way from home indeed.”
“What, like the Dresdoni Desert?” Sasha asked.
“I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anything like you out
“The desert has not seen us for a very long while.
You are surface dwellers then? Most peculiar indeed.
I’m sure the Lady will want to hear all about it.”
The first Dresdoni guard pivoted sharply and
marched through the open door at a rapid trot. The
tunnel beyond continued just as it had before the
door. Riften moved through with the others behind,
his eyes tracing the movements of the creatures. _Never _
let your guard down, his master had told him. _There is no _
_blade sharper than misplaced trust. _ The Dresdoni seemed
friendly enough, but there was something dismissive
about the way they handled the dangers of the web.
_Think twice about trusting your life to those who do not value _
their own. Could Riften have escaped the web without
Farris? His jaw tightened at the thought. Of course he
thought so, but so did all who fell victim to its
Riften wished he had more information about
what lay beyond, but even the University Fantasia
contained nothing pertinent. The webs were apparent
enough from their location in the abyss, but he knew
of no stories told from those who had visited the
second shell and returned. Whether that was simply a
matter of the great distance between here and his
home in the fifth shell, or spoke of some unknown
danger, it was impossible to tell. _Trust no one in this _
_place, not even yourself, _ Riften thought, and he followed
the Dresdoni guard with caution. _ _
“What is your name, Dresdoni?” Farris asked.
The creature did not pay her any attention. Farris
quickened her pace to catch up with the spider and
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“My name is Farris, and this is Sasha and Riften.
Oh, and that’s Bumble the goat, with Gloria inside
The Dresdoni continued to march swiftly, not
turning its head or acknowledging her in the slightest.
“Excuse me? Hello?” Farris prompted, reaching
out to touch the creature’s long leg between its razor
hairs. The Dresdoni recoiled as though struck and
staggered to catch itself.
“Farris, be careful!” Sasha pulled Farris away
from the creature. It slowly regained its footing and
turned its entire body to face Farris. Farris stubbornly
took another step toward the creature.
“If we’re going to travel with you, then you can
at least tell us how far we have to go,” Farris said.
“We are in a hurry, so if the Lady is a long way from
here perhaps someone else can help.”
The Dresdoni stared at her for a long while until
it was apparently satisfied that it would not be left
alone without an answer. “I am not of the Lady, so I
was not honored with my own name. Perhaps our
time together will be more pleasant if I play for you
The spider lifted its front two legs and bent them
with great delicacy to draw the silken bundle from
around its neck. A silver flute lay underneath, much
too small and dainty for such a monstrous thing to
use. Riften marveled at how dexterous the legs were
as the creature lifted the flute to its mouth. There
were more joints than he was expecting. If it came to
a fight, he would need to be careful not to move
within their arc. Small hairs bent as subtly as reeds in
the wind, and a song began to play that warped reality
around its notes. The Guard continued to walk while
he played, and Riften fell into a locked step behind it
as his attention was diverted by the song.
He had to stay focused. Was this another snare
upon their senses? The notes rose and fell as lightly as
a bird across snow, and Riften felt his bones resonate
in harmony with the bones of the earth. Riften turned
to Farris who walked as though through a dream:
wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Riften’s own mouth
was open, but words would not form in his mind.
Only a murmuring echo of the melody that engulfed
them escaped his lips. The music of the flute was so
pure it was impossible to maintain any evil thoughts
against it, and Riften contented himself to listen.
The flute played a single melody, but its peculiar
haunting echo gave voice to a thousand harmonics
intertwining with intricate grace. There was a whisper
behind the strongest note and a shout beneath the
softest, singing of far-off places in long forgotten
times. The notes were not accompanied by words, but
images of ancient pride, noble heritage, and castles
rearing up from the sand formed in Riften’s mind. He
watched the pictures play, only vaguely able to
wonder whether the music created these images or it
was his mind responding to it.
This was the song that would be played at the
birth of a nation, full of hope and promise for better
days ahead. This was the song of the end of days
when all love and longing was lost beyond recall or
desire. Riften could imagine this song being played as
he was crowned, or at his own funeral, a herald of
both joy and sorrow. He heard himself laugh and felt
tears well in his eyes. [_What is happening? Am I in danger? _]
How could a mind capable of perceiving this infinite
beauty sully itself with such a vulgar thought? The
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
sound was euphoria, and Riften shivered with
Farris and Sasha’s eyes sparkled with silent
jubilation. Skavy had stopped crawling along the walls
and fell into a steady step beside them, each
movement in perfect beat with the rhythm of the
music. Only Bumble seemed unaffected by the
melody, and she continued trotting to and fro
restlessly as she sniffed the mushrooms within her
reach. Riften didn’t know how far they traveled like
this, each step unique in time and yet inseparable
from the innumerable before.
At last the Dresdoni lowered his flute, although
the evanescent notes still hung in the air for a long
while afterwards. Each of the companions stood in
stunned silence as they readjusted to an unfiltered
reality. The fog in Riften’s mind slowly began to lift,
and he became aware they must have traveled many
miles, cutting deeply into the second shell of the
world. They had exited the tunnels some time ago,
standing now in a truly cavernous room so massive
no walls or ceiling was visible in the shadowed vaults
of distance. Under their feet glowed a fluorescent
cobbled road paved entirely with the heads of
luminescent mushrooms, giving the entire thing an
appearance of a neon green ribbon that wandered off
into the darkness.
The vibrant green light made the land look
surreal, and the sudden silence after the song was
brooding. A forest of mushrooms as tall as trees lined
either side of the road, or at least Riften named them
so because he could find no better word for them.
The plants had a powerful trunk and an arching
dome, but they were so knotted with growths and
gutted by disease their bulks were warped and twisted
into piteous tangles. A powerful odor of must and
decay permeated the air, wafting in great clouds of
golden-brown spores from the forest. Riften gagged
from the smell, and Farris hacked and coughed as the
odor overpowered the last of her trance. Sasha
seemed peculiarly unaffected however, though even
Skavy and the Dresdoni guard seemed to wilt from
the noxious presence.
“What is that terrible smell?” Farris asked. “Is
something wrong with the forest?”
“Nothing is wrong!” the Dresdoni shouted with
an almost desperate emphasis. “That is, nothing is
ever wrong in the Lady’s land, for all is exactly as she
intends it to be. The Nimbledo trees have been
cultivated to grow as such so that the smell of the
Lady’s garden appears all the sweeter. Hurry along
now, little ones. You don’t want to be here longer
than you must.”
“But where is here?” Sasha asked. “How far have
you taken us?”
“The road to the Lady is not measured in
distance,” the Dresdoni said. “The space is that
between Heaven and Earth, infinite and inseparable.”
“Yes, but how long have we been walking?”
Farris seemed alarmed, perhaps also becoming
cognizant of the journey’s duration. “We can’t be
wasting so much time. My brother will certainly have
passed us by now.”
“The only thing as great as the abyss is the
wisdom of the Lady. You will not find him without
her help. Come, follow me.”
The Dresdoni bent its long legs and began a
rapid trot down the green ribbon road. Farris nodded
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
slowly as though trying to reassure herself. She looked
at Sasha, then at Riften. How much could that girl
really see? Riften met her gaze, smiling broadly. _She _
_will see nothing but reassurance from me, _ Riften thought. _ I _
[_won’t give her any reason to add doubt to her already cloudy _]
“I will follow you anywhere,” Riften said to
Farris, bowing low to the ground. “The question is:
do we waste time now so as to avoid wasting more
“Ever since Tom slipped below the first shell we
knew our chase would be long,” Farris said. “We had
best prepare ourselves as much as we can while we
have the chance. Let us go to the Lady.”
Did she truly believe that, or was she making
excuses? It almost seemed to Riften that she wanted
to extend the journey. Perhaps things were more
complicated between Tom and her than she gave
credit to. Riften studied her as she straightened her
back, lifted her head, and tossed her tangled yellow
hair behind her. She had assumed the position of
leadership without complaint, but such moves seemed
a show of confidence that betrayed doubt within her
mind. She wanted the freedom of leadership without
its responsibility. When it was Riften’s time to lead,
she would be happy to follow him so long as he made
it appear as though it were her decision to do so.
Sasha glanced at Riften, his brow furrowed. Had
Riften hesitated too long? He grinned and threw an
arm around Sasha’s shoulders as they followed Farris
and the Dresdoni.
“Don’t look so glum, Sasha,” Riften said. “Can’t
you be more confident like your girlfriend?”
Sasha tensed beneath Riften’s arm. Fascinating
creature, afraid of his pleasure even more than his
fear. Riften laughed.
“I don’t know whether your stupidity is
intentional or just an act,” Sasha grumbled. “But
there’s definitely something wrong with this place.”
“Of course there is,” Riften replied. “But if it
was our job to save every land we wander through
then we should be getting paid. We just need to get
our information and get out as quickly as possible.”
Riften let go of Sasha and strode ahead, keeping
pace with Farris.
“But what if we can’t get out?” Sasha called in a
loud whisper from behind.
Riften threw his arms wide and his head back as
though welcoming a downpour of rain. “Then let us
at least die happy.”
Sasha laughed, and Riften’s face tightened in
pain. If only his mission was complete and he could
die here. Perhaps then he truly could find peace. _ _
[*CHAPTER 4: GARDEN OF *]
[_Beware the closed fist; the broken body has no strength to _]
[_dance. Beware the open hand; the complacent spirit has no need _]
_to dance. _
[_And finally beware the dancer; for the awakened need no _]
– Javel of Omar, the First Man _ _
he green ribbon road grew wider and branched
Tou t to spread crooked through the tangled
Nimbledo trees. Other Dresdoni began to appear,
staggering beneath massive sacks made from coarse
cloth which looked nothing like the delicate silk
bundle their guard carried. Some of the creatures
regarded the company with curiosity, but Riften
noticed that a single glance from the guard
accompanying them would prompt the other
Dresdoni to slump toward the ground and scurry
about their work.
Soon the road had grown into a massive river of
light, straightening its ambling route to strike boldly
off into the darkness. The light was so strong here
that the wafting spores of the Nimbledo trees became
visible as streaks of golden dust swirling through the
air. Huddled houses could be seen now, carved
directly into the trunks of the twisted trees. The
dwellings were ramshackle and small even by Paral-
Zakdul standards, and Riften’s kind were much
thinner than the unwieldly spiders. The inhabitants
looked reserved and weak, and the powerful odor
gave the town an oppressive atmosphere where
sounds were muffled and eyes were inexorably drawn
The guard led them through the houses without
distraction. If any Dresdoni happened to block the
companions’ way upon the road, their guard would
put his silver flute to his mouth and blow a short,
ferocious string of evanescent notes. Without fail, the
offender would stiffen as though electrocuted before
falling prostrate to the ground, staying down until the
companions had passed. _Do not feel for them, _ Riften told
himself. _The Lady may oppress her people, but any who bow _
_before such a tyrant deserve their fate. _
Between the houses a network of spider-silk
joined each dwelling by a single glimmering thread
which united with clusters of other strands all running
in the same direction. These pulsed with regular
vibrations that ran along the length. Riften reached
out to one that hung near the road, catching himself
just in time. Was he that weak in the face of
temptation? His fingers trembled, and he cast a glance
at the others to see if they’d noticed. Sasha was
walking protectively behind Farris, while she marveled
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
at the scene around her with a look of tortured
sympathy. What was the harm if he felt the vibrations
one more time? He wouldn’t let it slow their journey,
and even a short respite would …
Riften’s fist closed around the web. It
immediately began to hum, vibrating so swiftly in his
hand that it grew warm. Just enough to take away the
weariness from the journey … but this didn’t feel the
same as the other web. The hum grew louder, and the
strand moved faster, and it became so hot he was
forced to let go before it burned him. Riften could see
a pattern of vibrating pulses shoot off along the
network. This web wasn’t here for the people’s
pleasure. It was spying on them, communicating
everything it touched to some secret lair. _Do not trust _
_anything. Do not trust yourself. _ Riften nursed his hand and
hurried to catch up with his companions.
Beyond the village, a massive black wall loomed
like solidified darkness. Jet-black slabs of marble fit
cleanly together, held firm by a mortar that must have
been made by the luminescent mushrooms as green
veins twisted through the stone in a dizzying pattern
of soft light. Where the road ran through the wall
there was a massive portcullis of black iron that was
currently open, and a bustling crowd of Dresdoni
scurried in and out without respite. Invariably the
ones entering the palace would be laden with goods
and bundles and baskets, while the ones exiting were
bare. Two more Dresdoni guards stood vigilant on
either side of the gate, identified by their silver pipes,
fuller abdomens, and straighter shoulders that rose
well above the bent workers.
Riften’s eyes danced a practiced pattern of
locating possible escape routes, vulnerabilities, and
tools for a hundred possible scenarios. There was no
gate but the one, however, and the black marble was
too smooth to climb. He caught a glimpse of the
shiny black carapace of guards who marched thickly
within the walls, and with each of them carrying an
enchanting flute, Riften did not like their chances of
escape. Once they entered this place, there would be
no returning without the Lady’s permission.
The guard accompanying them led the party up
to the gate and saluted the other guards rigidly.
“Guests for the Lady,” he said.
One of the gate guards bent low over Farris, who
stood unflinchingly before it. Even she couldn’t
remain unmoved when it began to sniff her though.
She took a step backwards and put her hands on her
hips. “Is that how you treat your guests?” Farris asked.
“Send them to the feasting hall,” the gate guard
replied dismissively. He produced an iron badge and
offered it to them.
“That sounds more like it!” Riften smiled,
although there was something foreboding in the
guard’s tone that belied the innocent words.
“[_Special _] guests,” their guide emphasized, pushing
aside the iron badge. “They have brought Skavash
back from the abyss and the Lady will want to thank
them in person.”
“Give them a tour of the gardens while I bring
word to the Lady.” The gate guard nodded. He
pushed the iron badge back onto their guard. “You
may exchange this at the next checkpoint.”
Their guard turned and marched into the recesses
of the castle, beckoning the guests to follow.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“But I don’t want to go to the gardens,” Skavy
said, poking his head around Sasha’s leg where he was
cowering. Was he trembling? Perhaps it was Riften’s
imagination. He shouldn’t read so much into
everything, and besides, Skavy was weak from being
on the web for so long. Still, Riften couldn’t shake the
feeling that Skavy was putting on a defiant demeanor
in the face of some secret dread in store for him.
Don’t all children fear disappointing their parents
though? Riften allowed himself a grim smirk.
“Gardens and a feasting hall? I think we’ve made
the right stop,” Riften said, forcing his smile to widen
into a beaming grin.
“The Lady treats her subjects lavishly,” their
guard said. “You will be well taken care of here.”
“Some more lavishly than others it seems,” Farris
prompted, glancing back at the hunched workers
hurrying about their tasks. “The other Dresdoni look
so small and thin compared to the guards.”
“They keep themselves by their choice,” the
guard replied smoothly. “For their health.”
“Well I think my health would be better served at
the feasting hall,” Riften said.
“Just don’t forget why you’re here,” Farris
reminded him. “We can’t stay long— only until we
discover information about Tom’s path.”
“You can’t be worried all the time,” Sasha said.
“Being anxious won’t let us find him any quicker. It
sounds like we’re going to be heroes for saving Skavy,
so we might as well enjoy ourselves.”
“I think we’ve enjoyed ourselves on the web too
much already,” Farris said warily. She ruffled
Bumble’s head, although Gloria remained silent.
“I just mean it’s nice traveling with you like this,”
Sasha said to Farris. “If the situation was different,
this could have been a wonderful vacation together.”
He reached out and squeezed her hand, and she
smiled at him, but her mind was obviously elsewhere.
Sasha quickly retreated, evidently conscious of how
his words might seem. “But until Tom is safe, nothing
Riften chuckled. How transparent humans were.
They hide their emotions in plain sight upon their
faces and think themselves hidden by a thin layer of
words. Every reminder of Tom would make Farris
drop everything at once though, so it was easy to
manipulate her thoughts. This would undoubtedly
prove useful in the journey ahead.
The companions followed their Dresdoni guard
deeper into the walled complex. They approached a
central tower of pure glassy emerald. It was lit red by
rows of real flame lanterns, the only Riften had seen
here so far, which reflected inside the stone to give
the appearance of blood coursing beneath transparent
skin. Carved into the flesh of the building were a
myriad of ornamental sculptures with depictions of
ancient battles and carnage. The most striking image
was the emerald statue of a massive serpent which
wrapped around the building seven times before
entering at the base. The serpent’s head exited from
the top of the tower, whereupon the statue separated
completely from the building to rise above it with
open jaws as though prepared to swallow the tower
whole. A second wall of the same black marble with
green veins surrounded the tower, and they
approached a silvered-steel gate leading onward.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
Riften couldn’t help but be reminded of the
serpent Nidhoggdrasil. Were they worshipers here?
Or did they merely respect his power? Either way, it
seemed important for them to not learn the truth
about Farris and Tom and their place within the
prophecy. The last thing Riften needed was another
mad tyrant attempting to use the unsealing for their
own personal gain.
Outside of the inner walls a multitude of
complex buildings were constructed from light marble
flecked with jade. Each had small towers that were
obvious imitations of the main building, although they
lacked the same quality and craftsmanship. Their
entrances were ostentatiously lined with decorative
columns and figurines depicting all manner of
creatures locked in a variety of mock-activities, many
of whom were depraved far beyond the standards of
“Are those statues—” Sasha gasped.
“It’s disgusting. Don’t stare.” Farris pulled Sasha
At the silvered gate another set of Dresdoni
waited. Their guard spoke with them, and exchanged
their iron badge for one of pure glassy emerald before
“Here lies the garden of the Lady,” the Dresdoni
said to them, entering first. Farris followed directly
behind him, stopping dead with a look of rapturous
wonder upon her face.
Rows of Nimbledo trees lined the green ribbon
path, but they were hardly recognizable from their
tortured brethren beyond the walls. These were clean
and polished, and their trunks were straight and
whole. Small delicate trees lined them on either side,
with larger ones beyond that and so on, cultivated in
such a way that their heights were staggered into
perfectly level tiers as they approached the tower—a
living staircase. The wide dome of each Nimbledo cap
was dedicated to a unique and vibrant garden, bearing
many strange flowers of every size, shape, and color.
The ribbon of light that served as their path climbed
the trunk of the first trees before shattering into a
thousand walkways throughout the garden like light
fractured from a prism.
“The smell!” Farris breathed in deeply. “It’s
nothing like the trees outside.”
As they walked up the first steps an almost sickly-
sweet scent pervaded the air. Riften gulped down
several gasps as he purged the stinking odors from his
lungs. The air was so heavy from the flowers it felt
almost tangible as they walked, each breath nourishing
like food even though Riften had to keep gasping to
extract enough oxygen from the thick atmosphere.
“The Lady has exquisite taste,” their guard said.
“The Lady is still preparing your welcome, so please
take your time.”
The guard led them up through the layered
gardens, and it wasn’t until they climbed each set of
living stairs that Riften was able to fully appreciate the
splendor. Nothing like this grew in the fifth shell
where Riften had come from, and he could tell by
Sasha and Farris’s face that they had never seen
anything like it either. There were flowers the size of a
man and the color of the setting sun. There were great
bell-shaped petals that could be rung to produce real
music, and the sound was as sweet as the smell. Tiny
sprinkles of white blossoms shone like diamonds, and
others were translucent and so light they floated
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
unsupported in the open air. There were blossoms of
gold that made the metal look dull and lifeless, and
those of blue that could not be rivaled by the richest
depth of any sea.
Many of the plants glowed like the mushrooms,
and the lights wove together into delicate tapestries of
breathing worlds. The same silken webs were spun
across the gardens as well, networked together with a
long bundle of strands stretching up the flank of the
tower. These webs were hung with flowering vines,
and as the silk was too thin to see from a distance, it
appeared as though the entire garden had thrown its
tendrils into the air in a perpetual celebration of its
own glory. All the while they climbed, the air growing
thicker and each breath becoming more labored,
although Riften was so enamored by the spectacle
that he pressed his body onward in eager anticipation
for each new treasure. [_This is how a queen should live! _] No
gold or metalcraft his people could have wrought
could possibly rival these royal jewels.
Riften, in his eager bounding, reached the top
layer before any of his companions. The emerald
tower lay directly before them, and there were no
guards or excessive decorations such as might be
found blazoned through the rest of the palace. An
ordered row of torches surrounded the base, and a
simple golden outline of a double door was only
barely visible in the otherwise unmarred wall. The
pure green emerald reflected the movement of the
flickering flames this close, and the blood seemed to
flow within the stone as the light danced.
“The entire garden was built in dedication to a
single flower,” the Dresdoni guide said, reaching the
top layer. With a wave of his leg he drew Riften’s
attention to a small room mounted on a pedestal of
simple white marble like a shrine. The marble was cut
so thin that it was almost completely invisible except
for a white hue left hanging in the air. A web of metal
tubing connected this room with an adjacent room of
similarly transparent material. In the second room, a
small marble pedestal stood with a red velvet cloth
which supported a lotus flower with petals of perfect
blackness, so dark they weren’t even there. Its center
was the color of fire with oranges and reds and
yellows that flickered between each other as real flame
“If you will all follow me, it would be my
privilege to show you the star of our kingdom.”
Riften noticed Sasha gripping his neck where his
own flower hung. Its simple beauty remained stark in
the face of the opulence of the Lady’s power. Curious
that it remained living after the fire of life had been
extinguished. There must still be a spark burning
somewhere deep within it.
“I don’t want to sniff the smelly flower,” Skavy
“That is very well,” the Dresdoni guard said with
a haughty drawl, “as its privilege is reserved for those
who have earned it. You may go onto the Lady and
recount your expeditions to her.”
“I don’t want to do that either!” Skavy grumbled,
turning his back on them. Riften paid close attention
to his movements, looking for a sign of what lay
before them. Was it the terror of oppressive authority
or simply the shame of a spoiled child? Would the
Lady scold him, or was her temperament inclined
towards more creative torment? Skavy made no
attempt to escape, although that didn’t prove whether
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
he was afraid of his fate or he viewed it as an
The guard shook his head and knocked three
times upon the golden outline of the tower door. It
slid upward at once and a Dresdoni guard exited.
“Take Skavash to see the Lady,” their guard said.
“And ensure he is truthful in his tale. He has spent
the last three sleeps upon the webbed abyss.”
The guard nodded curtly and Skavy allowed
himself to be led inside.
“Be safe!” Farris called after Skavy.
As the emerald door slid back into place, Skavy
peeked below it one last time.
“Don’t give her what she wants,” Skavy
squeaked. The emerald door slammed back to the
ground. A loud squeal echoed from behind the door,
and then the muffled, haunting notes of a silver flute
began to play from the other side.
“Silly little one,” their guard said. “Do not worry
on his account. The Lady is kind to all of us. Now if
you please, direct your attention to the flower inside
the viewing chamber.”
Riften’s heart was pounding. That wasn’t the
disobedience of a wayward child. Skavy’s words held a
terror too great for one of his age. They were selfless
words of warning. They were words of one who is
already damned and only wishes to spare others the
same fate. What could the Lady want from them?
They were already in the throes of her power, and
there was only one way to find out.
Sasha and Farris had already followed the
Dresdoni into the first transparent room. Bumble
hesitated outside, looking back at Riften.
“You feel it too,” Riften whispered.
“I have felt it since before the first strand of
web,” Gloria replied softly. “The Lady is not to be
“Who in this great world is?” Riften asked back, a
wry smile playing upon his lips. Riften held onto
Bumble’s fur as they entered the chamber together.
The Dresdoni guard was already speaking.
“We stand in the presence of Elestarphagia, the
fire eater. Star of the heavens, jewel of the gardens,
this treasure is blessed by the essence of our Lady. Its
exquisite beauty has been immortalized by centuries
of longing hearts and exalting quills.”
“Why are there two rooms?” Sasha asked. It had
become quite cramped after Riften and Bumble
entered, the space evidently designed for one or two
Dresdoni at the most.
“So as to better appreciate the sublime aroma of
the Elestarphagia, you must first erase all the worldly
traces from your body.” The Dresdoni manipulated
another panel similar to that which opened the
Heaven’s Gate and a mesh of tubes above wriggled to
life. Cold clean air sprayed from open ends to wash
over the companions. Riften found himself gasping
greedily at the air, unaware how starved for it he was
after the heavy atmosphere in the garden. Bumble
leaped into the air to snap at the gusts of wind,
although the tubes soon hissed to a close. Nothing
could be smelled anymore, not the garden, nor their
travel-wearied bodies, or even their own breath. The
second marble door slid up from the ground, and the
Dresdoni ushered them inside.
“Inhale her tender breath; the hymn of the
flower,” the Dresdoni chanted in a sing-song voice
that rose and fell like a religious sermon. He had
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
entered the chamber himself, so it must be safe.
Riften allowed himself to breathe deeply as he
approached the flower, although he couldn’t detect
the faintest smell. The Dresdoni’s rhyme was the only
thing to reach his senses, so Riften contented himself
_There was a light, beyond the light, _
_A wind beyond the wall. _
_There was a sight, a terrible sight, _
_That before it we did crawl. _
_Rishta, oh goddess, on emerald throne, _
[_How we’ve suffered, let it be known! _]
Farris, obviously unable to smell it as well,
stooped directly over the flower to inhale. She rose
with a sigh of ecstasy, and Sasha quickly joined her
with similar results. Farris turned to Riften and
smiled, nodding her head encouragingly. Riften
looked between the Dresdoni and the flower. What
queen would lay a trap inside her own garden? Unable
to resist any longer, he bent to bury his face in the
_Save us from light, lead us to mirth, _
[_Lady of Veils, webs you’ve spun. _]
_Pluck the darkness from the earth, _
_And throw it across the sun. _
_Rishta, oh goddess, on emerald throne, _
[_Send the raven on dark wings flown! _]
The odor was so subtle that it barely tickled his
nose, but in the absence of all other smells Riften was
able to feel it clearly. It burned softly and tingled in
his nostrils, and he felt suddenly thrilled and
energized. He could only compare the sensation to
eating very spicy food which cleared his head when he
hadn’t even realized he had been congested before. It
was intoxicating in a way, and yet he had never
thought more clearly.
Riften took another deep breath, and his mind
was crystal. In that moment he understood his
differences with his father and his brother. The
teachings of his master became so intuitive that he
knew he could instruct the entire University Fantasia.
He forgave those whom he hated, seeing their minds
as clearly as his own, and forgave himself for his own
failings as part of a path to a larger image of his
_Bless the cool, the still, the quiet, _
_Bless the darkened sky. _
_Bless the word, the deed done by it, _
_Bless your answers to our cry. _
_Rishta, oh goddess, on emerald throne, _
[_In greatness and kindness you are shown! _]
The scent did not fade, as odors normally do
when grown accustomed to, but instead grew stronger
as Riften continued to breathe. The itching burn that
had entered his nose spread through his entire body.
His ears now popped as well, and he could hear more
clearly than before. The air before them sharpened
into focus as though he had put on a new pair of
spectacles. The black lines of the world grew bolder,
while the red flames of the flower grew brighter and
swirled as though reveling in their own splendor.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
_Curse the stars, holes in your veil, _
_Curse the tattered moon. _
_Curse the prayer, the verse, our jail, _
_Curse the weaver at her loom. _
_Rishta, oh goddess, on emerald throne, _
[_Take us away, under rock and stone! _]
The burning continued to intensify. Farris
shouted and pulled away from the flower. The sound
hung in the air as though frozen before shattering into
a multitude of broken echoes. Riften tried to
straighten his back, but his entire body was so
sensitive that the smallest movement felt like his
joints were tearing apart. Even his clothes felt like
steel mesh that dragged across his skin with the
slightest adjustment. Riften wanted to shout a
warning, but the feeling of air entering his lungs
intensified into a buffeting wind and it was impossible
to make a sound while swallowing such a hurricane.
He managed to turn his head to look at the Dresdoni,
but even this small gesture made his eyes feel as
though they were about to burst. The Dresdoni was
watching them, a silken mask covering his face.
[_He isn’t breathing it. _] But the thought made no
sense inside Riften’s addled skull. His mind had
become so clear, so distant from himself, that he
could no longer see any importance in saving himself.
His flesh was an insignificant smear in the universe,
and his death would do nothing to interrupt the
eternal harmony of existence. [_Is it over? _]
Bumble danced frantically outside the chamber as
she watched helplessly. Sasha dropped to his knees,
clutching at his throat. Farris fell onto her face.
Riften’s heart accelerated. Why did her pain hurt him
more than his own? _Do I really care for her, or is that just a _
[_trick of a dying mind? _] The beating of his heart and the
pounding of blood as it poured through his veins was
so powerful he couldn’t tell whether it was inside him
or not. The floor was getting closer. Was he falling?
He felt so heavy, would he break when he hit?
The words of the final verse rose in pitch and
volume, or so it seemed to his overwhelmed senses,
and the last words penetrated through Riften in
_Petal from the web, fabric of night, _
_Plant it where we go. _
[_Fire from the sun, our body’s sight, _]
_To remind us of our woe. _
_Rishta, oh goddess, on emerald throne, _
_Elestarphagia, the flame, the sins atoned. _
The rhyme faded and the world was on fire. As
consciousness fled Riften’s screaming mind, he was
assaulted by speech like hammer-falls upon his ear
“It seems our honored guests will require rest
now. Let me take you to your chambers.”
Riften was flat against the floor. His vision swam
red, and in a burning gasp the light grew so intensely
bright that it turned once more to darkness. All the
clarity of his mind focused on a single point. _Death wil _
_wait until I am ready. _
[*CHAPTER 5: PAFADILLY *]
_There are those who view perfection as the end of a road, _
_and yet they find the farther they go the farther they are from _
_their ideal. To be perfect is to be at peace, to be at peace is to _
_find balance. Go both ways along the Way, and I shall meet _
_you in the middle. _
-Lolaran Malhalion, the Last Man
asha woke. He lay for a moment with closed eyes,
S basking in the blissful comfort of a brain which
still clung to sleep. His hands stretched luxuriously
across his wide bed.
“I had the strangest dream,” he murmured.
Sasha’s fingers groped the empty air. His eyes
flew open. The garden. The flower. The burning
pain—where was Farris? Where was he? Sasha lay on
a bed of fine-spun silken sheets, and they had lost
none of their soothing virtue. The chamber had
emerald walls—obviously inside the tower
somewhere. The place was so overladen with marble
carvings and golden tassels it looked like the designer
didn’t care what was in the room, just so long as it
cost a lot. A large fireplace stacked with Nimbledo
logs filled the corner of the room. If he was a
prisoner, then it certainly didn’t feel like it.
Sasha sat up in bed, feeling his head clear quickly
as a pleasant scent tickled his nose. He looked down
and saw his living-wooden Pafadilly flower strung
about his neck. Its smell had also banished much of
the Nimbledo rot earlier. The spark from the
Unwaxen moon must have enchanted it with some
sort of cleansing scent. Would Farris awaken all right
without it? There was no reason to think she wasn’t
being treated to the same luxury in her own room,
although he hadn’t let reason dictate his actions ever
since he had met her. He had to find her to make
sure. Sasha pulled away from the vibrating silk and let
his bare feet slip to the cold black marble floor. He
stared at his naked legs in disbelief. Why was he
naked? Was Farris also … naked? If the Pafadilly
flower woke him early, then he could find her while
she was … He took a deep breath, immensely glad no
one was around to see his flushed face.
Sasha quickly dressed himself in fine silken
garments laid on a stool beside the door. As he was
dressing himself he heard Dresdoni voices from the
“How long do we have to stand here?” asked the
“Another two hours at least. The Elestarphagia
brings great peace.”
Sasha pressed his ear to the door, listening
intently. He still didn’t know whether to trust these
creatures, and he wasn’t about to let them know he
was awake. Being enchanted and drugged seemed
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
almost like a cultural difference than a purposeful
attack by how nonchalantly the Dresdoni handled it,
and they had treated the companions very well. Still, it
was hard to side with creatures who took their own
personal freedoms so lightly.
“I wish I’d have a turn with the flower,” the first
voice muttered. “Two dirty foreigners allowed in, and
her own guard never even invited? That sound fair to
“Don’t question the will of the Lady,” growled
the second voice.
“All I’m saying is I could use a rest too. I already
took my shift, and here is another thrown on top just
because of the intruders. By all rights I should be at
the feasting hall right now.”
“We have our orders, don’t complain,” the
second voice said in a clipped tone, although it
sounded weary as well.
Feasting hall? Sasha’s stomach grumbled. And
the Elestarphagia sounded like a gift if the guard
wanted it. He never would have been so wary of those
treating him so kindly back home, but the terror of
their journey jaded him towards believing anything.
Besides, what did Skavy say when he left? Don’t give
her what she wants? What did the Lady even want,
and why shouldn’t they give it to her if she was so
welcoming to them?
“What’s she going to do with them anyway?” the
first voice asked. Sasha tensed in anticipation.
“Feed them if they’re hungry.”
Sasha smiled. He’d been overthinking everything.
The soft vibrations from his silken clothes made it
difficult to analyze the situation further, but he wasn’t
about to walk around the palace naked. There was
only one way to find out more for sure. His hand
strayed toward the door handle.
“And if they’re not?”
“Then the Lady is always hungry.”
Sasha froze, his hand on the door. He silently
pulled it away. That couldn’t be right. This was far too
much trouble to go through just to eat them. No one
gives their dinner a tour of the gardens. It might have
been a bad joke, but his sense of urgency in finding
Farris doubled. There was no way out of the room
but this door. What was he going to do? Sasha
pressed his ear against the door again, listening for
“Seems silly, doesn’t it? Guarding a man who
won’t even be awake for hours and hours. Why, we
could get down for a bite and be back long before he
“Two hours isn’t so long,” the second said.
“Well, what if it’s more? Look how frail those
little humans were. The fire could be burning in them
for many shifts to come, and we’d have to stand here
without a break the whole time. Then if we stayed too
long, we might fall asleep by the time he actually did
“I suppose it would be more responsible to rest
while there is no chance of him waking, so we might
be more vigilant when he does awaken,” conceded the
“Exactly!” the first cried. “That’s all I’m saying.
Resting now while he’s asleep is the best thing we can
do for our post, and the best we can do by our Lady.
Come along now, we’ll be back before you know it.”
“Very well, I will just check on him one more
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
There was a shuffling outside the door. [_They’re _]
_coming in. _ Sasha flew across the room and dove into
the bed once more. He flung the silk covers over
himself up to the neck and clenched his eyes shut. He
heard the Dresdoni enter the room, and felt the air
stir as it loomed over his face to breathe hot upon his
neck. If he just held perfectly still …
But the clothes. He was concealed by the silk
sheets, but what if they noticed they weren’t on the
stool any longer? They’d know he was faking. They
wouldn’t leave their post. He’d never get the chance
to find Farris. Sasha took slow, even breaths while his
“He’s asleep, sure as sure. Hurry on now, we’ll be
The presence lingered over Sasha. Then it was
gone. More shuffling, and then the sound of the door
closing. He counted ten more seconds before finally
opening his eyes. They were gone.
Sasha crept back to the door and heard the
voices fade in the distance. He opened the door as
quietly as he could, swinging smoothly without
resistance. They must have been so confident in the
Elestarphagia they didn’t need to lock their rooms.
Then again, he still wasn’t sure whether or not he was
a prisoner. They did treat their Lady with an almost
religious reverence that reminded Sasha of the sects
of Sumpta at home. It was one thing to pray to the
sun, but treating a living creature that way seemed
Beyond his door stretched a long hallway made
from the same dark emerald with black marble floors.
More tapestries and figurines lined the walls depicting
the most depraved sexual acts Sasha could imagine
between all manner of creatures. A number of doors
identical to the one he exited also lined the hall, and
Sasha checked them one by one only to find equally
lavish but empty bedrooms. If guards were posted
next to his, then it was likely the others would be
guarded as well. Seeing no guards here made it seem
unlikely Farris shared the floor.
Sasha followed the corridor until he reached a
sitting room placed at an intersection. There was a
large overstuffed couch, a cold fireplace, and no hint
at which direction to go. He didn’t have time to think,
however, for voices were already approaching from
around a corner on the left side. He couldn’t go
back—he’d be trapped. There wasn’t space in the
alcoves, or under the couch. The voices were getting
closer. What would they do if he was caught? He
didn’t want to find out. He pushed aside the grate in
the fireplace and slid into the chimney. He dropped
out of sight just as the voices became clear overhead.
“What is being served tonight?”
“I don’t remember. Just as long as I can get three
or four courses in before the guests awake.”
“By Rishta, only three or four? I’m sure I can eat
a half-dozen before she is through with them.”
The voices faded down the hallway. Sasha had
slid down the shaft almost ten feet to land in a
perfectly square iron passage. It was dark and sooty,
but there was green light glowing from where the iron
plates were cemented together. He might as well
travel along here. There were fireplaces in each of the
rooms, so he might be able to access the others
without exposing himself in the hallways.
Sasha made his way along the horizontal passage,
stooped double to fit beneath the low ceiling. He
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
coughed, hacking out the thick black soot which
rained from above. Was there smoke coming down
the hallway? If the fires were lit, this path wouldn’t do
any good. He began to turn around, but the iron felt
warm beneath his feet. Someone must have just lit a
fire behind him. He redoubled his staggering pace, but
the way he had come had already become scalding.
The skin of his bare feet sizzled and it was all he
could do not to cry out. He couldn’t go back that way.
There was only one way on, and he had to hope there
wasn’t a fire there too.
Sasha moved as quickly as he could through the
iron passage. A fresh wave of burning ash drifted
toward him, siphoned off by various upward shafts he
intersected along the way. The floor here was getting
warm too, but he spotted a point of natural light in
the near distance which must be an exit. He rolled the
ends of his silk pants over his feet to offer at least
token protection, and scurried toward it as quickly as
he could. The air swam with heat, and he could barely
see through the waves of smoke rolling toward him.
Where did the light go? The iron was too hot to stop,
and he forced himself to plow through the oppressive
soot. There! A descending shaft opened to a cold
fireplace, and he wasted no time in diving away from
the searing metal. A rush of cool air washed over him
where he sat on the floor, but he didn’t have time to
enjoy it because he was already on his feet, alert for
danger. As the smoke cleared from his eyes and lungs
he discovered an empty room made entirely of glass
besides for the fireplace and the iron shaft above it.
Empty! Sasha didn’t know how he would have
explained himself if he had landed in the middle of
the Dresdoni or worse, in front of the Lady herself.
The room was a pentagon shape, and through
the glass floors Sasha could see five broad rooms
divided into triangular shapes. At the center of the
pentagon was a crooked emerald column covered
with scales which rose from the floor to the ceiling,
positioned so each of the five rooms had a facet of it
in their corner. That must be where the serpent statue
rose inside the tower, which means he must be at the
very center now. Five crossbeams joined at the center
of the glass room where the five rooms below
intersected, and he positioned himself above one of
these so he could not be seen. Sasha laid flat on his
stomach to observe the teeming crowds of Dresdoni
below him, attending giant feasting tables.
In the first room, each who entered displayed an
iron badge to the guards who were positioned there.
They were admitted one by one, whereupon they were
directed to sit at one of three long tables that lined the
triangular room. A bonfire flared in the center of each
triangle, and an iron shaft positioned above allowed
the smoke into the passage Sasha had climbed
through. Torrents of smoke billowed from each fire
now; if he had stayed any longer he would have
suffocated for sure. He hoped he was doing the right
thing by sneaking out. For the first time he wondered
if his disappearance would make the Dresdoni think
Farris was a spy too. Would they punish her when
they found he had escaped? All the more reason to
find out the truth of this place as quickly as possible.
Once the guests had finished eating, they would
either leave or reveal a silver, gold, or emerald badge
and go into the second. There were three more tables
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
here, and the feasting would begin again at once.
Again the guests divided afterwards, some exiting
while others showed either a gold or emerald badge
and entered the third room. Although there were
fewer Dresdoni in each progressing room, the amount
of food on the tables only became more abundant
and extravagant. Mountains of spiced meats, wheels
of cheese, chains of smoked sausage that wrapped
around the entire room, puddings and gelatins and
cakes and things Sasha would never have recognized
as food if they weren’t being shoveled into the
corpulent bodies of the third’s patrons. The Dresdoni
here looked sickly in their excess, sweating profusely
and heaving to breathe as they crammed more food
into their swollen faces.
This process would be repeated one last time
where an emerald badge, like what was given to Sasha
and his companions, was displayed. Sasha almost
vomited at the sight. The fourth room was a
slaughterhouse. All who entered were seized and slain
by a swarm of small Dresdoni who could be no more
than children. They quickly and efficiently prepared
the bodies and shipped them on to the fifth room,
which was a kitchen. The bodies were then cooked
and sent out to the other rooms in turn. The
Dresdoni really did intend to eat them. But why were
they being treated like kings? And how could these
monsters eat their own? Did they not know about
their macabre fate, or were they so disconnected from
their own lives that they viewed this as the natural
order of things? Sasha’s eyes lingered on the grisly
scene for a long moment before horror overcame him
and forced his gaze away. His eyes lifted to see five
Dresdoni in brightly colored silken garments standing
“It seems,” said one of the creatures, “our guest
is so eager to attend the feast he could not wait his
Sasha was surrounded. He tried to leap to his
feet, but he didn’t make it past his knees before
several powerful forelimbs clamped onto his
shoulders and forced him down. The razor hairs tore
through his delicate silk garments and pierced his
skin. [_Don’t scream. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Don’t _]
_lose focus. _
“Where is Farris? What have you done with her?”
Sasha asked through gritted teeth.
“Nothing yet,” the Dresdoni replied. “But she
will join you after the Lady has had her fun.” The
Dresdoni turned to its companions, bobbing its head
aggressively. “Give him the full menu.”
The four other creatures stepped forward in turn,
pinning four badges of iron, silver, gold, and emerald
onto Sasha’s shirt. He struggled to his feet again, but
every movement only made the razor hairs dig deeper
into his skin.
“I acted alone,” Sasha yelled. “This isn’t Farris’s
fault. Let her go.”
“Make sure he is washed before he completes the
circuit,” the Dresdoni continued dispassionately.
“That soot is most distasteful.”
“Let me talk to the Lady. Let me see my friends.
I’m not your enemy,” Sasha blurted. He had to buy
time. Maybe when his friends woke up …
“If you eat quickly,” the Dresdoni said, “you
might be able to greet your friends by the time they sit
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
down to eat. What greater honor could you do them
than nourish their bodies with your life?”
Sasha lurched away. He made it to his feet this
time. One step, two, three toward the shaft. If he
could make it inside they would never be able to fit
A heavy blow glanced off the side of Sasha’s
head. The world spun. Four steps. Five. A thousand
little spines dragged down his leg, spinning him to the
floor. He could almost touch the iron fireplace … but
what felt like a hundred spindly legs were engulfing
him now. A thin layer of unyielding silk netted his
body in an instant. He had never felt a more revolting
pleasure than the soothing vibrations that ensnared
him as he was lifted and carried away to the chambers
[*CHAPTER 6: THE HALL OF *]
*THE BEAST *
_Thought is the vehicle for change, and change is necessary _
_to achieve happiness. Once happiness has been achieved, there is _
_no more reason for change. Once happiness has been achieved, _
_there is no more reason to think. Give me a mind of steel and _
_daggers, I shall not drink bliss from your cup. _
– Lolaran Malhalion, the Last Man
arris was dreaming. She knew it because she had a
F vague awareness of lying on silken sheets which
clung damply to her body. Did she have a fever?
Where was she? Where were her parents? It was
impossible to form a thought or dream without fire
eroding it from every side. If she thought of herself,
she was disoriented with the fire of Elestarphagia. Her
home was engulfed in flames. Her brother was being
dragged into Neera’s hell across burning coals. The
center of the Earth where her Guide waited was a sea
of magma running like a river. The fire would
consume each dream until a new image formed, only
to burn once more with the toxic scent of the lotus
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
flower. The fire was spreading more quickly now. The
instant a new image formed it would be engulfed in
fresh flame. Finally the fire outpaced her thought and
nothing existed but the eternal burning of
Farris woke with a gasp. Every inch of her skin
felt tender and raw, but also fresh and new as though
she had just stepped from a boiling hot spring. She
pulled back the silken sheets of her bed, the vibrating
embrace unpleasant against her sensitive skin.
Farris jolted. A Dresdoni was waiting in the
room, watching her. “Please adorn yourself in the
fresh garments we have provided and follow me. The
Lady is ready to receive you now.”
Farris looked down at her clean, naked body,
then back at the Dresdoni. She supposed she should
feel self-conscious, but the creature was so alien to
her she barely minded. All she could think was these
were the same two legs that chased Bumble through
the fields not so long ago. A little thinner now, more
muscular from the long walks and whiter from being
hidden from the sun. But these were the same hands
that collected eggs, and picked apples, and held her
family. How could the world have changed so swiftly
around her while she remained the same at its center?
“The fire…” Farris murmured. Had she been
tricked? Had she given in or failed at something? She
was here to see the Lady, and that was what lay ahead.
The road was never sure, but as long as she knew
where she was heading, nothing else mattered.
“The Elestarphagia has purged your sins, my little
dear,” the Dresdoni cooed. “You are a fresh soul
ready to enter the inner sanctum of Heaven.”
“And my friends?” Farris asked. She stood, her
bare feet welcoming the cool marble. She began to
“Already awake and getting ready. If you will
follow me, we shall meet them in her presence, and
then go together to the feast.”
“Thank you,” Farris replied. “I feel like
everything I’ve ever eaten has burned away from me.”
“We don’t know what humans prefer to eat, but
there are many delicacies to choose from and we are
sure you will find something familiar upon the table,”
the Dresdoni said, putting a peculiar emphasis on the
The silken touch of her clothes purred against
Farris, but she was able to endure it. If she had the
strength to tear herself from the web, and walk
through fire, surely a silken robe wasn’t going to slow
her down. The clothes fit loosely and were so light
she had to keep checking to make sure they hadn’t
fallen off without her notice. The silk was bright red
with golden trim along the pant legs and cuffs, and
she felt truly royal wearing them. Farris allowed
herself to be led from the room by the Dresdoni and
down the winding emerald halls.
“How did you have clothes to fit me?” Farris
asked. A sudden alarm gripped her. “You didn’t make
them while I was asleep, did you? How long have I
“Not long, my dear,” the Dresdoni said. “The
Lady has been expecting you for some time.”
Farris wanted to ask more, but the creature was
quick and it was all she could do to force her tender
body to keep pace. Hadn’t Skavy mentioned
something about the Lady watching everything? Farris
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
felt she should be afraid of such a claim, but the hope
at gathering information about her brother
outweighed that for now. She followed the Dresdoni
which led her expertly through the hallways and
intersections until they reached a great spiral stair of
white marble that soared several flights upward. There
were windows of the same nearly transparent marble
that had encased the Elestarphagia, and Farris could
see the whole pyramidal gardens stretching below her
as they climbed. The sight from above was even more
breathtaking: each miniature garden on each
Nimbledo tree was woven together with the others in
an exquisite symphony of color and light.
The spiral stair terminated before two large black
marble doors at the very top of the tower. Bumble
and Riften were already waiting there. Riften sat
cross-legged on the ground, at ease in his silks, and
Farris laughed to see Bumble wrapped in her own red
silken robe perfectly fitted to her shape. There was
even a little indenture at the chest where her goatly
beard was able to hang freely. The animal jumped
with excitement to see her, strutting back and forth
proudly to show off its new look.
“Oh good!” Riften beamed. “I was afraid I’d
have to entertain the Lady myself.”
“Hello, Riften. Where’s Sasha?” Farris asked.
“Sasha woke earlier and has already gone to the
feast,” the Dresdoni said. “Do not worry, the Lady
does not have any questions for him. She is waiting
for you, Farris Darkspeaker.”
“How does she know about that?” Farris asked.
The Dresdoni only smiled with its too-human
eyes and opened the marble doors a sliver before
bowing and standing back.
“Then you’ll find me at the feast as well,” Riften
“Enter, Riften Ranagan of the Brass City,” the
Dresdoni replied smoothly. “The Lady is waiting.”
Riften shuddered slightly, nodding. Farris moved
to open the doors the rest of the way.
“Farris, are you all right?” Gloria whispered
urgently from Bumble. “Careful now, don’t let them
know I’m here.” Farris paused, pretending to study
the workmanship of the door.
“Of course I am,” Farris whispered out of the
side of her mouth. “The flower was a shock, but I feel
better for it now.”
“No, Farris,” Gloria replied. “This place is more
evil than I could have imagined. You must not speak
with the Lady. Find Sasha and get out of here
“What are you talking about? They’ve been
perfectly courteous to me,” Farris said.
“Is there a problem?” the Dresdoni asked. “You
may enter now.”
“I did not recognize the flower from in here until
it was too late to warn you,” Gloria said. “Those
petals are made from the sky above the world, and the
Lady is none other than Rishta the goddess herself.
She is a betrayer and a scoundrel!”
“My, what beautiful craftsmanship,” Riften spoke
loudly, catching onto Farris’s delay. “My people are
workers of metal, but we have much to learn from
you about the molding of stone.”
“I’m sure the Lady would love to hear about such
an exchange of ideas,” the Dresdoni replied
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“How do you know her?” Farris asked. Her mind
raced. Rishta sounded familiar. Wasn’t she mentioned
in Grandmother’s story?
“Never mind how,” Gloria snapped. “She is the
same witch from the last age who corrupted the
summoning of Nidhoggdrasil. Her insatiable love of
power brought the world to ruin when it should have
stood tall. You must not let her speak or you will
already be in her snares!”
“Have my guests arrived? I am not accustomed
to being kept waiting,” a soft voice called through the
crack in the doorway.
“I can’t turn back now,” Farris whispered
quickly. “Without her help we’ll never find Tom.”
There was a little sigh like indigestion from
within Bumble before Gloria spoke on more evenly.
“You have walked the icy river and looked left and
right. The wise man will think on which way to go,
while the common man will choose at random. If you
go on, you’ll be jumping right in the middle and
hoping for the best, which is no solution at all. Her
words are poison!”
“You’re underestimating me,” Farris said. “If I
could pass through fear then I shouldn’t think passing
by pleasure is any trouble at all.”
Farris opened the door fully and walked through,
although her attention was on the goat now. Bumble
bounded to stay close by her side. Riften walked in
slowly, looking prepared to jump at the slightest
movement. His eyes darted all about him restlessly.
“My guests, at last. Please, do come in,” purred
the Lady from the far end of the hall.
It was very hard not to notice her the instant the
marble doors were opened. In fact, it was difficult to
notice anything besides her as she filled the entire
floor of the tower by herself. Her expansive body was
bloated far out of proportion to her spindly legs. A
tiny portion of her bulk was grotesquely stuffed into a
small golden throne while the rest of her spilled out
over her raised marble dais and onto the floor. Her
seven legs spread out to touch every wall of the room,
and she must have been there a long while as there
was no possible way she could fit through the marble
doors. A conspicuous empty socket gaped from
where her eighth leg should be, and oozing green pus
dribbled from it onto the marble below. Her face was
smooth like the others, and her eyes were huge pools
of dark light that glinted when she spoke.
Farris was stunned. What could she possibly say
to that immense beast? At last common courtesy
“It is an honor, my Lady. Are you feeling well?
Your leg, I mean—are you hurt?”
Riften jabbed her with his bony elbow, which
was at the level of her shoulder. “Mind your tongue
before the Lady! Don’t ask such things.”
The Lady chuckled, the motion causing ripples
through her entire form. She waved one of her long
“You are a foreigner here and may be excused of
your ignorance. I do love my subjects, but at times I
grow weary of worship. It is so nice to have a casual
little chat such as this. Eight legs are necessary to rule
the seven worlds below the earth and the surface
above, but I have long since forsaken the topmost
star. When I led my people underground I renounced
my claim on the Heavens and the eighth leg was
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
forfeit. Power, as I’m sure you know, will always have
Was she referring to the magic of Naming? How
much did Rishta know about her? Farris remembered
calling to Elestar while the Vindenri fell. The Wyrd
Sisters and her Guide had alluded to the price of
power, although she hadn’t noticed anything besides
the difficulty in leaving the Essence World and the
weariness she felt upon her return. It was clear that
the Lady knew much, however, and Farris had to be
“Allow me to thank you,” Rishta continued to
drawl, “for bringing my child back to me. Little
Skavash has grand designs and the intolerable desire
to act upon them.”
“Our pleasure,” Riften said. “I hope he wasn’t
punished too severely.”
“Do not worry, Skavash receives no more than
he deserves,” Rishta said, a hint of bridled anger in
her words which melted back into their soft flow. “He
simply has to work in the kitchens to pay his debt, but
I’m sure that’s not the only reason you’re here.”
“Your servant called me Darkspeaker,” Farris
said, “although I’ve not mentioned my time in the
first shell. You must already know why I’m here.”
“I like you, girl.” Rishta’s black eyes gleamed.
“You do not hide behind your words. Your brother is
well. You were right to seek my help, as he and his
captors have turned away from the spiral stair.”
“How do you know so much?” Riften asked.
“Where is he?” Farris blurted. Her eagerness
must have seemed like weakness in the face of poised
royalty, but she didn’t care. There was no point in
playing games. It didn’t matter what Rishta wanted, so
long as Farris found Tom again.
“My webs span the world, little travelers.
Nothing is unseen by me. But you have traveled so far
already,” Rishta said, trailing her long forelimbs in the
air in slow sinuous patterns. “Why don’t you rest in
my care and let me fetch him for you?”
“Could you really?” Farris’s head raced. Rishta
was powerful. She had a whole kingdom. It would be
no trouble for her to bring Tom back, and she was
already indebted to them for saving Skavy. Even
better, they could rest in this incredible palace instead
of tracking through the endless dark. This was all
happening so perfectly, it was no wonder this place
was called Heaven. Riften beside her looked
concerned though. Farris smiled at him for
encouragement, but his brow only furrowed deeper.
“Your Skavash was on the webs when we found
him,” Riften said, his diplomatic voice hardening into
an accusation, “so you must have known where he
was. You left him there on purpose.”
The Lady’s waving legs dropped to the floor one
by one like slowly strumming fingers. She dragged her
bulk a little closer to them, her eyes piercing like black
stars. “How I conduct my house is of no concern to
you, Ranagan. I do not need to remind you at the
disorder in your own. My business is with Farris.”
“What did I tell you?” Gloria whispered. “Rishta
is pure evil. She must have stranded her own son out
there to lure us in.”
“What is our business?” Farris asked, measuring
her words. “If you brought Tom to me, what would
you wish in return?” Whatever her friends said, she
still had to hear the Lady out. Farris would never
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
forgive herself if she came this close to finding her
brother and didn’t do all she could.
Riften wrapped an arm around Farris’s shoulder
and bent down to her ear. “I’m not supposed to be
the reasonable one. Being reasonable is no fun! You
can’t be considering this. What about the green light?
What if she shot us down in the first place?”
He was right, of course. The Lady was a tyrant to
her people. She manipulated Farris into coming here.
They should never make a deal with such a monster.
And yet, wasn’t it because Farris got involved with the
turmoil between the Gracken and the Darkness that
she lost her brother the first time? It wasn’t her job to
save the world. She just had to get her brother and get
out, and the whole vile nest of these creatures could
stew and brood in their cave for the rest of time.
Farris stepped closer to the Lady, letting Riften’s arm
slide from her shoulders.
“First I would have you tell me of my old
friend,” Rishta said. “How has the Darkness above
treated you? He would be a valued ally if he awoke
within these halls.”
The Lady’s eyes continued to smile, and Farris
had the unnerving sensation that the Lady was reading
a script and knew exactly what Farris would think and
“It is at peace. The light of life no longer burns,”
Farris said. Maybe Rishta didn’t know everything. So
why did she feel like the spider was playing with its
“Such a pity,” Rishta sighed. “There is no power
in peace. And tell me of the Wyrd Sisters; are they still
the dithering old preachers I knew? They must have
shared many secrets with you.”
Riften was pacing in agitation, but stopped as
Rishta said these words. He lifted his head to stare at
the looming creature. “So that is your game,” he said
aloud. “You want to learn the magic of Naming.”
“I’ll confess it is an art that has always escaped
me,” Rishta purred. Her legs struggled to drag her
across the immense hall. “And I don’t mind admitting
that very little eludes me for long, little ones.”
“What could you possibly need more power
for?” Farris asked. “You’re already worshiped like a
“The great do not become so by chance,” Rishta
said. “I have a thriving little kingdom, but I can only
rise so far with slavish devotion alone. I have studied
those who have felt the world move to their whim:
Javel of Omar, the First Man. Yonda Sahra, the Witch
in the Trees. Queen Velume, Queen of the Dead.
Even the Wyrd Sisters, although they never fully
explored the limits of their strength. All those whom I
admire have Named the world to serve them. How
fortunate am I to have the next prophet of the Way at
my doorstep seeking shelter?”
The lady gave a short, cold laugh. Farris felt
damp clamminess on her skin. Riften gazed at her
with beseeching eyes. Her heart throbbed, knowing
the choice she must make. To side with Rishta would
be to unleash a terrible power upon the world, and yet
to turn away might mean losing her brother. She
closed her eyes and swallowed hard.
“I’m sorry,” Farris said. “I do not have the skill
to teach you of the Way, and even if I had, I would
tell you nothing. In my short time here I can already
see your people suffering, and I fear the pain greater
power might bring.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You are mistaken,” Rishta’s voice was deadly
calm. “There is no greater happiness than within the
gates of Heaven. I give the lowest of my servants
pleasures kings dare not dream of. Their worship is
proof of their love.”
“I have seen it as well,” Riften said. “Pleasure and
happiness are not the same. You cannot say the
starving creatures stranded upon your webs are happy,
nor those who serve you blindly under the
enchantment of your music.”
“Insolent brats,” the Lady said low. “Do not
think you are greater than me because of your words.
I have learned to bend the senses to my will in more
ways than one, and there is more power at sleep
within the Earth than the Naming of a dead tongue.”
“I’m sorry we are not able to be more help to
each other,” Farris bowed. “I do not expect you to
retrieve Tom for me, but if you could just tell us—”
“What of you then, Ranagan?” Rishta
interrupted. She pivoted sharply, all of her legs
slamming into the ground before Riften’s feet. “If you
wish to lecture me, why don’t you tell me what has
gotten into your father’s head? Is he looking for the
Brass Orb once more? Great wonders could be done
with that, if there were a great doer behind it. If he
only seeks wealth, then he has but to name his price.”
“The tomb shall not be opened, and the Orb
shall not be removed,” Riften said calmly, stepping
back from the Lady. “It seems we have nothing more
“What a waste, what a pity,” Rishta rolled back
onto her considerable backside, stirring the air
thoughtfully with her legs. “I see why Rastar is so
ashamed of his sons, betraying him as you have.”
“I think we’ve heard enough,” Farris said. She
glanced at the black marble door, still open behind
her. There hadn’t been any open threats, but walking
out of here uncontested seemed unlikely. Why had
Sasha gone onto the feast alone? It will be difficult
trying to find him now, especially if the Lady turned
hostile. Farris had to try to be more diplomatic.
“Having Skavy safe again is reward enough for our
efforts. You have been a very hospitable host, but if
you are not willing to help us find Tom, then it is time
“Nonsense, you must not be so rude.” Rishta
scuttled forward with seemingly impossible speed,
resting directly before Farris once more. “Don’t
confuse a business negotiation for any ill feelings. Stay
for a meal at least, you cannot find my company so
displeasing as that.”
Farris wanted nothing more than to tell Rishta
she was the most disgusting, vile creature she had ever
laid eyes on, and it was no easy feat to continue the
flattery. “I wish that I could,” Farris said, bowing to
hide her clenched teeth. “Your silk is surely a
comfort, and your songs are the most beautiful I have
heard. Your palace is a gem, and your gardens are
intoxicating, but all the wonders in the world cannot
replace my brother. I hope you understand.”
Rishta purred happily, evidently fawning over the
compliments. Farris bowed one last time for good
measure and turned for the door. Of course it
probably wasn’t good manners to leave a queen
before being dismissed, but she had to get out before
it was too late. Bumble was at her side, and Riften at
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Quick quick quick,” Riften murmured. “Sorry
for speaking out, I know I only made it worse.”
“If you hadn’t I would have,” Farris said.
“But there is one more wonder left to try,” the
Lady insisted. “Do not leave yet.”
Either by some unseen servant or a spell, the
black marble doors slammed shut. Farris slowly
turned, half expecting a host of guards to already be
bearing down upon them. Instead she saw two
previously hidden doors on either side of the Lady
had opened to emit a single Dresdoni servant from
each. One was clad all in white, and in his grasp were
the companions’ old clothing and traveling gear they
had arrived with. The other servant was clad all in red,
and he bore a silver platter filled with all manner of
small pastries and appetizers which sizzled
“If you wish to leave,” Rishta continued, “after
trying all I have to offer, then I wish you the best. I
shall even tell you where to find your brother and give
you fresh supplies for the journey.”
“What do you have to gain?” Farris asked. This
had to be another trap, but didn’t she have to explore
every option that brought her closer to Tom?
“No more business. I simply cannot stand you
honorable travelers thinking so unfavorably of me. I
seek one last chance to prove that I only use my
power to create things of beauty and virtue, that is
all.” Farris and Riften exchanged glances. Riften
“What if it’s poison?” Farris whispered.
The two servants approached. “Do not be
afraid.” The Lady’s voice was soft. Farris tensed. Had
she been able to hear them whispering the whole
time? “If I wish you killed, that would be well within
my power without trickery. It is my honest desire for
you to think well of me, so that perhaps you may
someday change your mind. If you taste my food but
refuse to even attend the banquet, I will accept your
decision without question.”
“I accept your hospitality,” Farris said, reaching
out her hands to the servant in red, “and hope you
wish me a speedy journey.” And truly the food did
smell delicious. She had been starving ever since she
woke up. Farris just had to trust herself. She’d been
able to pull away from the silk, hadn’t she? Just as
there was nothing she was afraid to approach, there
should be nothing she couldn’t walk away from. She
was special, after all. Her path was true. Whatever
enchantment was laid upon that food, she could beat
it and walk away.
Both Farris and Riften were given a small puff
pastry each. One bite, one chew, one swallow; it was
swiftly disposed of, but the flavor did not fade.
Farris’s mind blossomed with energy, and she was
elevated to a new plane of sensation. The food from
the Lady was not only tasted, but experienced in every
facet of her being as warmth and serenity stole over
her. Every good memory from Farris’s life was
instantly brought to mind, and even the possibility of
unhappiness seemed ludicrous. It was bewildering,
but as hard as she tried, it was impossible to
remember any suffering in her entire life.
Farris tried to think of forcing through the thick
snow in the coldest winters of her youth, but a blazing
sun that couldn’t have existed pushed through her
thoughts and devoured the storm. She remembered
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
when she had dug up her mother’s flower bed, but
instead of being scolded she now remembered only
praise and love as her mother sat down beside her and
tore up the rest of the flowers. Farris’s knew this
wasn’t what really happened, but she couldn’t recall
the truth as every shame and hurt she ever endured
rewrote itself into a perfect scenario. She knew in this
moment with the pastry in her mouth that she had
done no wrong and received nothing but adoration
her entire life. All of this passed in the span of a
second, and then the taste was completely gone from
The pain rushed back all at once. How freezing
she had been during that winter storm. How her
mother had cried at her ruined garden and hurled
clods of dirt at Farris. How her brother was being
dragged through hell because she’d been too selfish to
believe him. Even the good memories became tainted.
Was her family really mourning, or were they glad to
be rid of her and finally have the peace and quiet they
always demanded? Did she ever play a game with her
brother that wasn’t laced with the bitter tension of
sibling rivalry and jealous hatred?
Farris looked down at her fingers. They were
shaking. Riften was already reaching for a second
pastry. Farris’s own hand shot out to stop him, but
she watched with surprise as she seized another one
as well. And why shouldn’t she? Gloria had said the
Lady could offer only pleasure, not happiness, but she
was wrong. Farris had never experienced a joy more
pure or bliss more rewarding than the taste of the
Lady’s food. When she ate she was emotionally
happy, feeling loved and adored, as well as spiritually
happy as the world fell away into perfect harmony.
She was physically happy from the indulgence of
pleasure, and no boundary existed between this
moment of ecstasy and the most prized memories of
her life. Why should she bother struggling for security
when every happiness that could ever exist played out
in that moment of euphoria? Why bother chasing
dreams when every dream came true the moment she
took a bite?
Farris shoveled another one into her mouth, and
the feeling enveloped her just as sweetly as before.
The Lady smiled broadly, her rows of needle-like
teeth contorting. With a tap of a long forelimb, the
Lady prompted the servants to dump the enchanted
food onto the ground, crushing it beneath their feet.
Farris didn’t hesitate. She was on her knees, reaching
for the mashed and broken pieces. It didn’t matter.
They would still taste the same. They would still make
her feel …
The Lady laughed. “There is no need for that,”
she said. “The door is open to you, Farris
Darkspeaker and Riften Ranagan. I will not stop you
from leaving. Follow the servant dressed in white, and
he will lead you to freedom.”
Farris knew at some level that if she could only
form the thought to walk through that door, she
could do it. The thought was gone as soon as it had
formed however. There was nothing for her outside
that was not magnified a hundred times here.
Everything she had ever wanted was in that moment
of bliss. Farris tried to scrape the crumbs off the floor
into her hand but they kept falling through her
fingers. This was pathetic. As soon as she got one
more taste she would leave. Farris bent down and
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
licked the greasy floor. There it was—her mind
exploded again. At last, she was free.
“Or,” the Lady drawled, “if you prefer, you may
follow my servant dressed in red to the feasting hall
where your every desire shall be sated. You will spend
the rest of your life here, my child, walking my
gardens and listening to my songs while you feast
upon the happiness only I can give. I cannot force
you to teach me of the Names, but I hope as the years
of your life are spent within my halls you will learn to
worship me for the gift I have bestowed. I have
waited a thousand years to learn how to Name the
world, what is one more life of man?”
Farris said nothing. There was a voice shouting
its warning somewhere deep within her, but it was so
faint, like an echo in a deeply buried cave. The servant
dressed in white turned and slowly walked from the
room. She watched it go with relief. Two options was
overwhelming. All that mattered was the red servant
and where he would lead her.
“You have to deny it, Farris!” Gloria shouted,
revealing herself at last from within Bumble. “You
can walk away right now. Just walk away.”
“The goat can speak?” The first show of surprise
flitted across the Lady’s face. “How rude of me for
not offering you one as well. I have already disposed
of my supply here, but you will follow the others to
the banquet hall and eat your fill.”
The servant in red paced slowly from the room.
Farris was sure Gloria was shouting something, but
the words were lost. Farris was concentrating so hard
on trying to remember that heavenly taste that all else
faded into the background. Farris’s vision blurred, and
she wiped her eyes. Why was she crying? Riften wiped
his eyes as well, falling into an automatic step beside
her, a stupid empty grin spread wide over his face.
“I am so pleased,” the servant in red said, “you
have decided to join us in Heaven.”
[*CHAPTER 7: THE FEAST *]
[_Freedom is not the absence of control; freedom is being the _]
_one in control. Those who are slaves to their every temptation _
_have no mastery of their fate. Discipline does not restrict _
_freedom, it embraces it. _
-Nidhoggdrasil, the World Serpent _ _
top eating!” Sasha screamed. “You’re eating
“S each other, and you’ll be next!”
A few glassy eyes wrenched away from their
grizzly banquet. Sasha struggled where he was bound
in the spider silk, its haunting allure a mockery of his
panic. The Dresdoni guards carrying him through the
banquet hall sneered in response, but made no
attempt to cover his mouth. Didn’t they care he was
trying to warn the other patrons? Surely after they saw
how he was being treated they would …
_Guzzle. Smack. Belch. _ Sasha stared with disbelief.
They continued eating, not giving their food a second
glance. Not one of them seemed repulsed in the least.
They must have heard him. How could he make them
believe what he had seen? Sasha squirmed, earning
himself a rough smack from one of the guards, its
razor hairs cutting a ragged swathe down Sasha’s
cheek. The guards dragged him relentlessly through
“There’s a slaughterhouse behind this door!”
Sasha insisted loudly. “They’re going to kill and eat
every one of you.”
They did understand him, didn’t they? However
absurd it may sound, if someone had run into Sasha’s
house screaming warnings about the food he would at
least pause. Why weren’t they … but the impossible
realization began to dawn on Sasha. However strongly
they disbelieved it, his performance should warrant
some reaction. There was only one possible
explanation for their complacency.
“They know,” one of the guards spoke Sasha’s
fear aloud. “They knew the moment they sat down to
Sasha stopped struggling. Blind, hopeless terror
drained the blood from his skin. They were demons,
all of them. Of course they looked like monsters from
the start, but Sasha had kept telling himself that as
long as they were able to converse intelligently they
must possess some internal reason and common
ground. There was nothing human about these things.
No empathy, no self-preservation, no desire for
freedom. There was no way out.
“You’ll understand when you try the food,” the
second guard added wistfully. “And when your
friends sit down beside your body, you’ll know the
pleasure you have brought them and your soul will
glow with pride.”
Sasha heard a door swing open, but he was
unable to turn in the silk bindings to see what was
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
inside. He didn’t need to though. He’d looked into
that sea of blood and scattered carcasses. He pictured
the meat hooks that would pierce his spine at any
moment, where he would hang until his shriveled
body was ready to be cooked. Would there be any
redemption if Farris were the one to eat him? Sasha
almost vomited at the thought. The door closed
behind him, and the oppressive stench of death
“Fresh meat here,” the first guard called. “This
one might be a squirmer, so get him bled right away.”
“Leave him there, I’ll handle him.”
Sasha was dropped roughly onto the sticky stone
floor. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see what
happened next. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
They were going to find Tom, and Farris would be so
thankful for everything Sasha had done she would
never let him go. Sasha could picture catching Farris’s
eye twenty years from now and seeing her smile,
sharing the secret acknowledgement of their quest
together. There wouldn’t have to be words. There
would never be any doubt about his devotion to her.
And her breath could come fast again like it used to,
and he would know she felt the same way. If she
made it out of here, would she still remember him like
that? But if she was forced to eat him, how could she
ever think of him again without revulsion?
Sasha couldn’t let his memory be robbed from
her, not again. He could accept death, but he wouldn’t
go that way. He heard a hundred little footsteps
scuttling toward him. The Dresdoni children would
swarm him soon, flinging him upon the iron hook.
Sasha tensed his muscles. As long as he was bound
like this he would never get away. He had to wait until
the hook was almost piercing his flesh, then twist
away and use the hook to cut through the silk. And
then what? He was still surrounded. He was still going
to die. Maybe he could at least hurl himself into the
furnaces and spare Farris from finding him on the
A dozen little hands grabbed Sasha. One last
chance. Wait for it …
“I’ll get this one ready,” a high voice said. “You
lot start washing the floor.”
That one sounded familiar, but Sasha couldn’t
allow himself to look. He had to pretend to have
given up and take them by surprise.
“No way you’re lifting that one by yourself,”
chirped a second voice.
“Insults!” squealed the high voice. “Do you want
me to tell the Lady what you said?”
“But the guard said—”
“And now you refuse to call me by my title? How
Sasha grinned. There was only one Dresdoni he’d
met who could be so sanctimonious.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Lord Skavash. You’re right,
you can handle him yourself.” A scuffle of feet, and
then a single thin arm rested on Sasha’s shoulder.
“Skavy,” Sasha whispered. “What are you doing
“I volunteered to work here as punishment for
misbehaving.” Skavy scuttled around Sasha, making
swift cuts with his razor hairs. The pressure of Sasha’s
bonds relaxed as the strands were expertly unwoven.
“Then you knew we would be sent here.” Sasha
scowled. “Why didn’t you warn us?”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“One does not speak out against the Lady here,”
“But you’re a lord.”
“Lady doesn’t care. Lady has lot of lords. Careful
now, if they notice what I’m doing we’ll both be
fried.” The last of the silk bonds fell away and Sasha
began to stretch. “Lie still, silly! Play dead. I’ll handle
things from here.”
“Thank you,” Sasha said, lying still upon the
ground. He flinched when cold wet blood began to
dribble down his neck, but forced himself to endure
it. Skavy was dressing him up to appear dead, and he
wouldn’t let a little discomfort jeopardize his one
“No. Thank you, surface dwellers,” Skavy replied.
“The Lady’s word has always been the only word. The
pleasure she offered was the only joy. Seeing you all
fighting so hard for something you weren’t ordered to
do is a blessing. When I grow up, I will be my own
Sasha was soon drenched in cold blood. He
allowed his body to go limp, and felt himself be
dragged from the room. A door opened, and the air
became much warmer. He must be in the cooking
“Get me close to a furnace,” Sasha whispered.
“I’m not going to let myself be eaten.”
“No orders,” Skavy snapped. “I am not doing so
much just to see you be cooked anyway. Keep
fighting, Sasha. Don’t stop till you’re dead.”
Sasha wanted to question him, but a large bag of
flour was dumped onto his face. He was moved again
and lain onto something cold and hard.
“Back of the line, this one’s still raw,” a harsh,
deep voice said.
“Course it is, this is how humans are served. It’s
“Ah, delicious.” The deep voice softened. “Looks
tender. All right, ship it out. Let’s keep it moving here.
We’ve got three more on the way.”
Three more? Farris, Riften, and Bumble? Sasha
wanted to leap up right there and go back for them. If
he revealed himself now, though, little Skavy would
be caught and punished. He had to wait a little longer
until he could locate them. Sasha felt himself being
carried for a ways, and then another door opened. A
roar of chewing, guzzling, and smacking washed over
him from all sides. He must be in the feasting hall
now. If they had meant for Farris to eat him, then this
is where she must be.
Sasha allowed his eyes to open a sliver and
furtively scan the room. He was being carried by a
fully grown Dresdoni. A massive bonfire flared in the
center of the room, and gluttonous guests crowded
the benches. Sasha was set down upon one of the
three long tables. His disguise was working flawlessly;
no one suspected he was alive. Then his heart really
did stop for a second. Farris was sitting directly beside
him. Her pale face was drawn, and her sharp eyes
were dull and glassy. He was too late. She’d already
eaten, but as long as she was there, Sasha would find a
way out. He couldn’t blow his cover yet, not until he
had a plan.
Farris sat between two bloated Dresdoni with
Riften nearby. Great steaming piles were drowned in
sauces of every possible color. Huge loaves of porous
bread crawled with maggots and worms. Meats sat in
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
vats of melted grease and fat which had congealed
into solid blocks. Sasha watched with horror as Farris
grabbed an indiscriminate handful of food and stuffed
it into her mouth. Her eyes flashed dully, and she
trembled with ecstasy as a sloppy grin contorted her
Sasha couldn’t watch. He glanced upward at the
glass room he had snuck into before. The Dresdoni in
brightly colored silks were performing on an
arrangement of flutes and complex harps with their
eight legs. So that’s what the room had been for! The
sound wafted through clearly, but it was not the sweet
pure music the guard has played before. A tumultuous
cascade of frenzied notes beat upon his eardrums,
setting pace for the guests who gorged themselves to
its rhythm. Whatever couldn’t be choked down was
thrown into the central bonfire which billowed with
greasy black smoke. The whole room stank as badly
as the slaughterhouse.
Sasha looked back to Farris. He flinched every
time she grasped another handful of bone and fat and
gagged it down. Some of the food was arranged
beautifully, while others still twitched in the last
throes of life. She didn’t seem to have the slightest
preference for one over the other. Riften was moving
more slowly, although his hands still traced an
uninterrupted loop between the plates and his mouth.
His eyes looked different than Farris’s though:
somehow his same old cunning spark endured the
enchantment of this place. If Sasha was going to find
a way out, he needed help.
“Riften,” Sasha whispered, his voice swallowed
by the wave of sound. Riften nodded subtly without
making eye contact. He understood. Farris reached
obliviously past Sasha, grabbing a fistful of chips
beside his face. Her fingers brushed his skin and
froze. She must be aware too! Her fingers trembled
slightly, touching his skin again. Her glassy eyes
“I’m all right,” Sasha mouthed, barely audible.
“We have to get out of here though. Once the guests
leave the feast, they’re brought to the kitchens and
“Farris won’t be able to,” Riften replied from the
side of his mouth without turning his head. “The
food is enchanted. She won’t be able to stop eating.”
“How did you break free?” Sasha asked. As he
watched, Riften palmed a small tart and mimed eating
before slipping the untasted morsel under the table.
“My strength lies in knowing which battles I
Farris pulled her fingers away from Sasha. She
clutched at the plate of pastries, crushing several of
them between her fingers so thick gravy ran over her
hands. She pressed the entire cluster into her face and
sighed with content.
“Farris!” Sasha spoke as loudly as he dared. It
didn’t matter though. Everyone was much too
absorbed in their own meals to pay him any attention.
There were still guards standing around the entrance
though. If they saw Sasha was alive he would either be
sent back to the slaughterhouse or forced to eat the
food himself. What was the point in saving himself if
he couldn’t reach Farris? He had to try harder.
“Wake up, Farris.” It was as though he were a
stranger speaking a foreign language. She didn’t even
glance at him. What was going on in her mind? How
could she forget everything with one bite? Then again,
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
how could she have forgotten everything about him
already? Sasha would never have imagined the mind
to be so fragile before he began this journey, but in
the face of such powerful spells and enchantments,
what was he supposed to do?
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Riften said.
“I can’t. The guards will catch us.”
“Let me worry about the guards,” Riften said.
“She’s closer to you than she is to me. If you can’t
give her a reason to live, no one can.”
“But I don’t know what to do,” Sasha said. If he
couldn’t reach her, was that proof of how little she
cared about him? If he really meant so much, why
wouldn’t she listen?
There was no time for doubt. Riften had already
thrown off his guise of enchantment and leapt upon
his chair. His considerable height rose almost to the
ceiling of the high-vaulted chamber, and all eyes
glanced in his direction. Riften picked up a great
platter of diced vegetables and began pelting them
across the room in all directions. It was disgusting to
see the food hit some of the guests square in the face,
only to see them stoop and slurp it from the ground.
The guards were after Riften now, but the Paral-
Zakdul nimbly rolled between a sea of grasping limbs
and leapt straight onto the banquet table.
“Dance, dance, dance.” Farris giggled. Did she
think this was all a game? Sasha thought he could
glimpse the struggle behind her eyes, but perhaps it
was just his hope that blinded him. No, the real Farris
had to be in there somewhere. Sasha just had to
connect with her again. But how could he make her
remember who she was when she seemed so alien to
him now? She was reaching toward the food again,
her laughter replaced by stern concentration. It
seemed as though the enchantment of the food was
strongest right after she had eaten, so first Sasha had
to prevent her from getting more.
Farris’s hand grasped at the pastries, but Sasha
intercepted it and held it fast. His fingers clasped
around hers, and he felt her cold hand tremble with
the effort of pushing past him. Her glassy eyes traced
up in his arm to land on his face, staring at him
“I’m here, Farris.” Sasha fumbled for words. Her
eyes held no recognition or warmth. He was just an
obstacle to her. Maybe he had no right to interfere at
all. Hadn’t she made her own choice to eat the food?
Wasn’t she happy while she was eating it? Even if
Sasha could force her kicking and screaming from the
table, what dark road or nameless terror waited for
them ahead? If she could just be happy here, maybe
he could be happy too. As long as they were together
… Farris pulled her hand free. She turned away
from him and knelt on the floor, scraping up the
spilled food there. Sasha looked helplessly to Riften.
How much time did he have?
Riften was running down the length of the long
table, kicking wildly as he went to send as much food
flying as possible. The enchanted diners mindlessly
followed their meal, tipping over the benches and
crawling upon the floor. The guards were in hot
pursuit of Riften, but they struggled to get through
the teeming bodies fighting for spilled scraps. A large
bowl of mysterious meat rolled into the bonfire,
followed by a terrible scream as several of the
Dresdoni crawled straight into the flames to retrieve
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
it. Even as they were being cooked alive, other guests
wasted no time reaching into the fire after them to
feast upon their still-living comrades.
Riften ended his dance with a wild leap to the
next table and repeated the process. All the while he
sang any word that came into his head at the top of
his lungs. The room had erupted into chaos. Screams
of pain and anger, as well as commands from the
bellowing guards accompanied his song. The frenzied
music above only grew louder to compete with the
racket, and the fire leapt high as though dancing in
tune with each new offering of food and flesh.
Riften was much too quick to be caught. Sasha
turned back to Farris, kneeling beside her on the
floor. She sucked on her fingers, covered in grease
and filth, glaring at him suspiciously as he
approached. This wasn’t Farris anymore. This was a
frightened animal backed into a corner. Sasha opened
his mouth, closing it helplessly without saying
anything. She turned away from him, rummaging
along the floor for more discarded food.
Sasha grabbed her, wrapping his arms around her
waist. At least this way he didn’t have to look at her
wild face. She was limp in his arms, the entire length
of her body pressed against his. She wasn’t fighting!
She must feel something—some comfort, some
familiarity, some security. Sasha’s heart was beating so
fast, she must at least feel that. Sasha slowly turned
her around to face him, desperate to see her yet afraid
of how she would see him. There were tears in her
shrouded dark eyes. Her lips were pressed firmly
together, quivering slightly. Her cheeks were hollow
and dead. It wasn’t her hope that made her stop
resisting. She had given up.
“I’m sorry,” Farris murmured. It was barely
audible amidst the uproar, but Sasha could hear
nothing else. “I thought I was better than this, but
I’ve seen who I really am here. Tell Tom I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Sasha said,
holding her tight. “We’re not leaving without you.”
“You’re not real, Sasha.” She tried to pull away
from him, but he held firm. “The food is everything I
need. I feel every happy moment I’ve ever felt or ever
could feel, and the moment I stop it’s gone. I’m not
real without it, Sasha, nothing is.”
“You can beat this,” Sasha insisted. “I’ve seen
what you can do. Nothing can stop you.”
“If nothing can stop me, then why are you trying?
The stronger my will, the more impossible it is to
overturn once it has chosen to disobey me. This is
what I have chosen, Sasha. Please leave me.”
She was struggling harder now. Sasha could feel
her skin become damp where she was pressed against
him. Her limbs were beginning to convulse. There
was too much Sasha didn’t know—he was always so
lost. What if he was killing her by forcing her away?
He couldn’t trust anything. Her body spasmed against
him. The only thing he knew for sure was how he felt
about her. As long as he held her, somehow
everything would be all right. Sasha held her as tightly
as he could, feeling each spasm through her body as
though it was in his own.
“You don’t need it,” Sasha said, doubting his
own words even as he said them. “You can be happy
without it. You were happy with me once, I know it.”
“You know I wouldn’t remember, even without
the food,” Farris said. “There isn’t anything outside
this room except when I’m eating.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You need to hold onto a real memory here. You
have to find a way to be happy in this moment
without the food. You have to know it’s possible,”
Sasha begged. “Look at Riften. He’s singing and
dancing on the tables. Can’t you at least smile at
“How can I be happy?” Farris asked, her words
interspaced by heaving sobs. “Not in this monstrous
hell. I’ve become one of them, Sasha. I’ll never see my
brother again; I’ll never see my family. I’ll never see
the sky again, but I see it while I’m eating. I’ll never
feel the breeze, or the rain against my skin, or know
whether it’s night or day or spring or fall. One more
bite, and all the glory of life will exist at once and I’ll
never forget again. I don’t care if it’s real, I have to
hold onto something.”
“But I’m real,” Sasha said quietly. “Can’t you
hold onto me?”
She stopped shaking for a moment. Sasha lifted
her from the floor and placed her on top of the table.
All that storm of flame and noise raged around them,
and in the still heart of turmoil Sasha kissed her hard
upon the mouth. He didn’t know whether he was
trying to give her hope or saying goodbye, but even if
she couldn’t feel anything, he had to try. Her eyes
opened wide with surprise. Something stumbled and
faltered within Sasha, and he hoped against hope that
she could feel it too. If she could just find one
glimmer of happiness in this churning world, one
fleeting moment to hold onto.
Farris laughed, throwing her arms around Sasha
in return. The sound was pure and clean. She was
here. Please let her be here with him.
“Don’t let go,” Farris begged.
Farris willed the sliver of broken time to endure,
but she could feel the pull of the enchantment on her
once more. While they danced through the maelstrom
of senses, Farris seized control of her own will and
yelled with all her might.
“I Name thee…!” Her mind was gone. Her body
was gone. The room was gone. The noise was gone.
Nothing but soft white light and the rolling laughter
of her Guide existed now.
“Stop laughing!” Farris was furious. She had
never maintained such anger in the Essence World.
She held onto it as though sheltering a precious flame,
afraid to lose any part of herself anymore. “You have
no idea how close I was to not coming back!”
“Of course I do,” the Guide said. “You wouldn’t
have learned anything if it had been easy.”
“The only thing you ever teach me is not to trust
you,” Farris said. “Every time I listen to you I end up
almost dead. I never should have come here.”
“Everything worth learning is taught on the brink
of death,” the Guide said. “You learned that the
bravest man might succumb to pleasure, for he
embraces life as it is; while the most cowardly might
pass it by, as he knows how to turn away. You learned
that pleasure is illusory and shallow, and that it is up
to your conscious will to decide what is real and what
Farris was quiet, hating the Guide for speaking
her inner thoughts so plainly. “I don’t need your
lecture. I’m going back to put an end to this.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“With what weapon?” the Guide asked. “You
cannot wield the same flame that banished life from
“Not the same,” Farris said. She was aware that
she was being led to the answer like a school child,
but she needed to speak her thoughts aloud to
organize them all the same. “I can’t deny the senses
brought me pleasure any more than I could name the
light as merely a negation of the darkness. Fear and
pleasure aren’t opposites at all: they’re the same. Just
as attraction and repulsion are the same force applied
in different directions, fear and pleasure are the same
force. If I had to control the fire of life to dispel fear,
I must now move the other way to dispel pleasure.”
Farris didn’t want to stay any longer than she had
to. Her thoughts returned to her friends, and Sasha
especially. Nothing would ever be able to replace the
moment they shared in the midst of that wild battle.
“You aren’t going to leave me yet,” the Guide
said, the authority of its presence dominating the
“I have everything I need to break free,” Farris
said. “Surely my savior isn’t as short-sighted as that,”
the Guide said. “Do you plan to use your new power
to torture the Lady into submission?”
“I don’t care about the Lady,” Farris said,
confused. Her mind raced in the clarity of thought
that the Essence World facilitated. “You mean she
hasn’t told me about Tom.”
“Nor will she in the pride of her defeat,” the
Guide purred. “Such a shame that your expedition
was a waste.”
“You knew!” Farris declared, her mind hot with
accusation. “You knew she wouldn’t tell me anything.
You knew where Tom was the whole time. You only
sent me here as some sort of perverted test.”
“That is no way to speak to your master,” the
Guide growled, “especially if you come seeking
“What do you expect?” Farris asked. “For me to
thank you for tricking me?”
“A little gratitude would have been nice,
considering how much effort I am expending into
leading you along the Way. How are you supposed to
wield the strength to open my tomb if you lack the
discipline of study on the journey?”
Farris fumed. She felt the infinite expanse of the
Essence World pressing upon her, willing away all
substance and emotion, but she flared against it with
“I am not here for you. You are not my master.
You are not my friend. As I see it, I’m the only thing
between you and a mindless eternity of solitude.
When I leave this place, I’m never coming back, and
I’m never speaking to you again.”
Sasha. Riften. Home. Farris focused her wild
thoughts into the return.
“Wait!” Her Guide’s voice broke with
desperation. “Tom is in the third shell. That’s why
you didn’t pass him on the stair in your descent.”
Farris hesitated. “Why should I trust you now?”
“Pistal, leader of the Paral-Zakdul hunters, is
afraid of his elder brother Riften. Pistal has diverted
his course to lose you. Touch the Yonda-Sahra tree in
the third shell and you shall find them there,
replenishing their supplies with its fruit.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“It’s another trick. You want to test me in
“No more games,” the Guide said. “You will be
tested wherever you go, but I will prepare you with all
the strength I have to give.”
“This doesn’t mean that I will help you,” Farris
said. “This isn’t enough to earn your freedom after
how you’ve treated me.”
“You are my freedom, Farris,” the Guide
whispered. “As long as you are here with me, I won’t
“But you are alone,” Farris said. She reveled in
the shifting of power in their relationship. She could
feel the Guide’s mind somewhere in this empty
expanse pressing upon her, but it did so as a
frightened animal huddling for warmth, not as an
oppressing force. Maybe she would be kinder to it if it
really had changed, but after everything she had been
through she didn’t care anymore. She only cared
about her friends, and how much they had endured to
accompany her. She wanted to be back. She wanted to
hold Sasha again, and tell him how much he meant to
her. She wanted to find the path to her brother.
Sound crashed into her from all sides. She was
sitting on the table again. Sasha was holding her, his
face buried in her neck. Riften danced through a sea
of waving limbs and splashing fire. The last of his
taunting words rang clearly, and she smiled to know
that her mind was her own again and nothing could
harm her any longer.
_ Sniff, smack, bones go crack, _
_Dining on such dainties. _
_Jump, walk, no time to talk, _
_Eat until the pain cedes. _
[_Hope you don’t, find it rude, _]
[_That I’m dancing on the tables. _]
_Lighten up, you bunch of prudes, _
_And listen to this fable. _
_ The fat old Lady wanted more, _
_But found she was unable. _
_She cannot fit, through the door, _
[_So we’ll have to use a cable. _]
_The cable breaks, and down she fal s, _
_To crush the little towney. _
_I hope that all these great high walls, _
[_Can contain her fat old crowney! _]
As the last words of Riften’s song died, Farris
stood upon the table. Sasha looked up at her with
rapturous wonder. He wasn’t the only one. Farris
knew what a spectacle she must appear, breaking the
enchantment before the hopeless and the damned.
She spoke resolutely, and before her presence the
whole room fell still to listen. “I Name thee, Sagari
the ocean. Awaken us and tear down this hall of the
Farris had the oddest sensation that she was back
in the Essence World for a moment. There were
other words besides her own that shouted in unison
within her mind. It felt as though she had risen from
a dream only to hear the last words of the dream still
sound in the waking world. The bonfire in the center
of the room roared to the ceiling, and all near it fell
back in terror. The flames burned so hot they turned
white, then intensified into sapphire blue. The greasy
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
black smoke was dispelled into the vents with a final
burst like a dying gasp.
Radiant blue sparks sprayed across the room and
the patrons screamed as they were doused in their
brilliance. Shouts of disbelief followed as they
discovered they were not burned, for all that fell
about them were soft droplets of water. Before their
eyes the blue flame turned into a rushing wave that
poured into the statue-column of the emerald serpent
in the corner of the room. No one moved. All eyes
were on Farris, waiting for what, they did not know.
Then the shouting returned all at once. The emerald
coils of the statue began to writhe over one another.
The spell of the enchanted food was suspended by
the show of her brilliant defiance, and the glassy eyes
of the assembly sparked with renewed spirit. Farris
had breathed life into the tower as she Named the
waters of life.
The emerald serpent’s muscles tightened around
the tower before breaking free in an explosive burst.
Millions of tiny emerald shards lanced through the air,
winking in the light like a blizzard of green eyes. The
guests screamed and fled from the hall, leaving their
food behind. Farris grabbed hold of Sasha’s hand and
leapt for the door. The glass room above them
shattered, but Sasha held her close and shielded her
from the raining blades. Riften swept Bumble up
from the floor where she was threatened to be
trampled, and together they leapt from table to table
in the mad escape. The displacement of the serpent
had stirred the other bonfires to rage through the
tower. Marble cracked and split, rich tapestries were
woven with flame, and the entire palace imploded
inward as the inhabitants sprinted through the
Shoved, pushed, and trampled, the mass of
guests poured out of the dying building and into the
garden. Riften vanished somewhere into the crowd,
continuing to run wildly even after they had escaped
the structure. Farris turned to see the entire serpent
sculpture rear above the tower. A deafening hiss
issued from its belly that reverberated like light within
a crystal prism, and the serpent lunged. One massive
bite and the entire top floor of the tower was
devoured. A loud scream split the noise, and as one
the Dresdoni shuddered at the sound.
The Lady’s bloated body was revealed for a
moment amidst the ruined floor. Seven legs tore at
the sky in an anguished prayer. The serpent struck
again. Half of the queen remained, tumbling lifelessly
to impact in a gruesome explosion amidst her
precious garden. The serpent’s coils constricted
relentlessly around the palace, which shattered around
her body like so much glass. The massive serpent
swam gracefully through the air, suspended by its own
unliving muscles as it lowered its gargantuan body to
encircle the survivors in a ten foot wall of emerald.
The guests continued to clamor over one another in a
desperate bid to escape, although there was no way
around the statue’s coils.
Farris didn’t run. She faced the head of the beast,
waiting for it to lower to her level. Sasha shouted
something beside her, but upon seeing her calm he
quieted as well. Riften was soon standing beside them,
and one by one the assembly noticed the circle of
confidence and allowed themselves to be drawn into
it like moths to a flame. By the time the serpent’s
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
head rested on the ground before Farris, the whole
crowd was silently watching her. Anticipation like
lightning swept through them. Farris couldn’t look
away from her own creation. The eyes of the emerald
serpent were deeply set rubies which flashed with life.
She stared into them, and with a tread slowed from
wonder rather than fear, Farris approached the living
[*CHAPTER 8: THE EMERALD *]
_Life begets thought, such is the will of the Universe. My _
_thought begets life, such is my will. It is only our lack of _
_understanding the natural laws which forces us to obey them. To _
[_see the truth is to not understand it; it is to create it. _]
-Javel of Omar, the First Man
ll attention was on Farris and the emerald
A e rpent, staring into each other’s eyes. _Now is my _
_chance, _ Riften thought. He crept backward until his
back was pressed against the wall of the serpent’s
coils. No one was watching him. Riften spun and
grabbed onto the jutting scales of the creature and, as
lightly as an acrobat, he sprang up the creature’s side.
Leaping from scale to scale, he soon clambered all the
way up the emerald wall. He pressed himself flat so as
not to be seen, and looked back at the scene below.
Farris and the serpent seemed to be sharing some
understanding without words. Farris turned away
from the creature and now addressed the assembly.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“The Lady is dead,” Farris shouted in a clear,
authoritative voice. A murmur raced across the crowd
like a thousand falling leaves. “Her tyranny is over.”
Just as Riften thought. Some dull speech about
how life would be better now and the wealth would
be shared evenly throughout the land. Riften moved
to slide down the other side of the coiled serpent. He
had something more important in mind. It seemed
ludicrous that they could all allow their attention to be
captured so easily. How could the true treasure of the
Dresdoni already be forgotten?
“There will never again be a fear so terrible or a
pleasure so great as to rule your own lives,” Farris’s
voice drifted from behind. “You will each be masters
of your own way, neither taking from others what is
not yours, nor giving to others what they do not
deserve. You will find harmony within yourself and
your neighbors to rebuild your kingdom.”
Riften dashed across the garden. _Such a fragile _
[_prize, please don’t let it be ruined by this horrible mess. _] His
eyes traced the garden, trying to compare his memory
with the crushed and burned vegetation around him.
They should have entered the tower just over there,
so the treasure must be … Riften’s heart sank. The
translucent housing of the fire eater lotus had
shattered from the explosion. The little shrine was
devastated. Of all the destruction, it was the greatest
shame that such a sublime power should be wasted.
But wait, what was that?
A flicker of red graced the darkness before him.
Riften approached reverently to see the Elestarphagia
flower hovering in the air, suspended by waves of
heat and smoke that billowed up from the ground. Its
black petals melded perfectly with the darkness, and it
would have been completely invisible had its red heart
not bled light. Riften could still feel the burning
presence pause his heart, and it felt as though time
had stopped to take a breath of its fragrance before
allowing his blood to flow once more. The red velvet
which had concealed its scent lay discarded on the
ground below. This would no doubt be an invaluable
tool in the days ahead. When the time came for Riften
to do what he feared, this flower would save him
from that awful burden. His deft hands folded the red
velvet around the blossom to suppress its scent,
cupping it more carefully than any mother has held
her child. He tucked the flower within an empty
flagon he had stolen from the banquet, using the
velvet to seal the opening and stifle the magical odor.
By the time Riften had climbed back over the
emerald wall and slipped back within the crowd,
Farris had turned away from the people and faced the
serpent once more. Skavy stood beside her, his pose
triumphant as he rallied the Dresdoni around him.
The serpent lay motionless, its head on the ground
like an obedient dog. Riften quietly rejoined the
companions, making no mention of his return as
though he had been there all the while. Farris had
been busy admiring her creation and the people she
had addressed. Sasha was holding their old traveling
sacks and supplies, evidently returned by one of the
Dresdoni. His eyes were only for Farris anyway. No
one would have noticed what he was doing.
“I name thee, Sagari the Ocean,” Farris said to
the serpent, “to be my vessel onward.”
The ruby eyes flashed. Was it angry at her
impudence? Grateful for her gift? Did the primitive
creature even possess living thought or was it a
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
mindless golem? It was impossible to read the
emerald beast. The monstrous sculpture began to
rumble. Its jaws opened wide. Riften’s eyes mapped
all possible escapes. There was no tension in the rest
of the creature’s body however, so it did not appear
prepared to spring. Riften still might have been
tempted to cower before so immense an adversary if
it weren’t for the perfect confidence Farris carried.
She lived so brilliantly in her nerves in this moment it
was impossible not to borrow some of her power.
Her face was open and playful as though she had just
figured out how to work a marvelous toy.
Farris walked calmly inside the jaws of the
serpent. She passed through a row of softly glowing
ruby fangs that hung like stalactites and entered the
pure emerald corridor of the creature’s body. Sasha
glanced at Riften, his brow furrowed.
“Do you think it’s safe?” he asked.
“Not in the least. I think it’s possessed by an
overwhelming power that it does not itself
understand,” Riften said. “It’s irrational, and
pigheaded, and the very idea of disappointing her
makes my knees shake.”
“I’m not talking about Farris, you idiot.” Sasha’s
face creased with the hint of a smile.
“Oh,” Riften grinned. “Well, besides her,
anything else can’t intimidate me in the least.”
Riften entered the emerald serpent, Sasha and
Bumble beside him. Gloria had been silent for a long
while. Was she simply sulking that no one listened to
her about entering the second shell, or was there
something else diverting her attention? Riften was
sure by now that she must have some way of sensing
the outside world.
Inside the serpent was an empty corridor that
curved as the body of the beast. The walls and ceiling
writhed and breathed as a living creature, although
they were still built from the purest green emerald
with bright veins shining throughout. Curved pillars
that resembled ribs marched into the darkness. The
fire from the devastated palace outside could be seen
as a dull red reflection within, making it look as
though blood ran beneath the skin. Farris was
standing inside, looking around her with awe.
“Don’t go any farther in,” Sasha warned.
“Remember this place was still built by the Lady. We
don’t know what kind of vile trap she may have
“I know what I’m doing,” Farris said.
Riften watched Sasha stop a few feet away from
Farris. His hand was outstretched as though to hold
her back, but his feet were rooted in place. Riften had
only been joking, but there really was a certain fear
Sasha held for Farris. It was more than the self-
conscious doubt that pervaded every romantic ideal;
he was genuinely afraid of what she was becoming.
Riften had taken for granted that he could always
influence Farris’s behavior with the correct use of her
brother as motivation, but after witnessing the terrible
destruction her creation had caused, it was hard not to
have his own doubts. There was no denying her
power aided in his own journey, but if she were to
become a liability …
“There is no stopping her,” Gloria said softly.
Riften jumped in surprise.
“Why would I want to stop her?” Riften asked.
Was Gloria speaking to her own fears, or had she
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“This journey isn’t about her brother anymore,”
Gloria said. “It’s not about you, or Sasha, or anyone
but her. The second she stepped into this shell of the
world she turned from everything but Javel’s Way.”
“Farris doesn’t care about overcoming the test of
each kingdom,” Riften said. “She’ll skip straight to the
end if it means finding her brother sooner.”
“That’s what Javel thought too, at first. But even
when he was given chances to turn back, he
continued his Way. Farris won’t be descending down
the abyss, you’ll see. She’ll head straight for the third
“You speak too little for one who knows so
much,” Riften said.
“I can say quite the opposite of you,” Gloria
replied. Riften laughed.
“Farris,” Riften called. “Can you command this
“I think so,” Farris said. “But I don’t feel the
same torrent of energy as during its summoning.”
Bumble nuzzled Farris, trying to get her
attention. “There was another voice besides yours.
Was someone else aiding the spell?” Gloria asked.
Riften hadn’t heard anything else, although he
had been quite distracted at the time with his own
song. Farris had a far-off dreamy look as though she
were trying to remember something that may not
have even happened at all. At last she shook her head.
“I was the one to Name the waters of life. I can’t
take all the credit though,” she said. “I know I
couldn’t have done it alone, not without the three of
you. I was a fool for thinking I was stronger than the
witch’s magic. Gloria, you gave me guidance, and
Riften bought me time. Sasha …” Her eyes darted to
him and then looked away quickly. “Thank you for
that,” she added, smiling sheepishly.
Sasha looked as though he wanted to say
something, but he only nodded sharply and looked
away. Farris quickly found a new fascination in the
“What sort of voice did you hear?” Riften asked
“I have begun to suspect that Farris has not been
following the Way of Javel alone,” Gloria said.
“Although she has never admitted anything to me.”
Farris looked around as though lost in thought.
She began to slowly stride down the emerald corridor.
Riften hadn’t understood how she could learn the
secret Names just by traveling the lands when he
himself, with years of study at the University Fantasia,
had never discovered a single word. The Wyrd Sisters
may have some link with her. They were powerful
followers of the Way, and the Third obviously had
invested an interest in the girl. Was it simply a matter
of pride that stopped her from admitting that, or was
there something more sinister about the nature of her
“Where are you going?” Sasha asked Farris. “We
can’t reach your brother by walking now. You have to
command the serpent to return to the abyss.”
“Why do you think he’s there?” Farris asked.
“He must be,” Sasha said. “Whether or not we
passed him in the descent, he’s surely ahead of us by
“Sasha is right,” Gloria said. “The Paral-Zakdul
wouldn’t have had any reason to go into the second
shell. They would have simply continued, like I said
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
we should have done from the beginning. If only
anyone had listened to me.”
Farris nodded. “All right then, I’ll try to
command the golem. I Name thee …”
As she always did when she was working her
magic, her words trailed off as she reached for the
word of power. Her eyes closed, and her face became
peaceful as though in repose. It must be some form
of meditation, although it absorbed her attention so
completely she lost all awareness of her body. Riften
remembered being shocked to watch the fire burn her
skin without her even noticing in the first shell.
The University Fantasia had speculated on the
existence of an Essence World, a state of perfect
peace where the enlightened mind may travel to
harness power. If she did communicate with a secret
teacher, then that was where it must hide. What
Riften wouldn’t give for a glimpse of that world … he
sighed and turned away, sitting on the floor to wait
for her contemplation to finish.
Would he have chosen a different path if his own
mentor had accompanied him? In all things Riften
did, he asked himself what his teacher Kanal Fantinel
would have done. Most often the answer would be:
hide your true self, observe your target, and learn their
ways. Riften must remain vigilant and not allow
himself to become jealous of Farris’s power. Even
without being able to understand the secret Names,
he still had much to learn.
“…Sagari the Ocean, waters of life. Take us to
the root of Yonda Sahra’s tree,” Farris completed.
She wasn’t working alone! The softest hiss
accompanied her words, although perhaps that could
have been an echo from their peculiar room.
“What did I tell you?” Gloria asked Riften. “She
is following the Way, not her brother.”
There was no time to argue. As soon as Farris
finished her command, the corridor lurched as the
serpent raised its head.
“Find something to hold onto!” Farris shouted.
The hallway reached a sharp diagonal and was tilting
farther with each passing second. The ribbed columns
seemed like the only option, and Riften latched onto
one at once. Sasha managed to grab hold of Bumble
with one arm while holding on himself, and Farris
pressed herself against the wall.
“What did you tell it?” Sasha demanded. “Why
aren’t we going to the abyss?”
The corridor twisted back and forth as the
serpent sped away. It was impossible to tell how fast
they were traveling, but it felt much swifter than
walking. They slowly began to level out, and Riften
allowed himself to loosen his grip.
“My brother isn’t at the abyss,” Farris said. “I just
The room halted for a gut-wrenching second.
Then the angle of the floor reversed and everyone
was flung along the floor. A booming crash sounded
outside and a spray of gravel shot through the
serpent’s closed teeth. They were burrowing into the
ground. Riften had to press himself against the floor
to keep from sliding down the length of the serpent,
but he managed to grab hold of his column once
more. At last the room settled into a comfortable
downward slope and everyone was able to collect
“You just know? What are you talking about?”
Sasha asked, bruised and bitter. “We’re already far
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
behind because of how much time we wasted in the
“Yes, I just know,” Farris said hotly. “I
understand things. That’s what I do. If I didn’t, I
never would have been able to animate the serpent.
That was me, only me, and I choose where it goes!
You have to trust me.”
“Why are you angry? We’re only trying to
understand,” Sasha said, taking a step back. There it
was again, Riften noted. He was afraid of her.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Farris said. “You’re always
trying to understand, but you never do. You all just
follow me around and let me suffer through each trial
until I find a way through. Well, you can keep
following if you like, because I know where we’re
going. We will reach the Yonda Sahra tree in a few
Farris flung herself into a corner between a
ribbed column and the wall. Sasha looked at Riften
with helpless confusion. Riften shrugged, but he
thought he was beginning to make sense of it. This
supported his theory about Farris’s teacher in the
Essence World. In the time she’d been contemplating,
she had changed the direction of their course and
become angry. She must have been arguing with her
teacher. Would she have fought with the Wyrd Sisters,
or was this an indication that it was someone else?
Not enough information yet.
Sasha sat on the opposite end of the hallway and
crossed his arms, brooding. As cryptic as Farris was
being, it was true that she saw things Riften did not.
He contented himself to sit and wait. They had
already slept long from the purging Elestarphagia,
however, and Riften was unable to find sleep. None
of them had dared to take the Lady’s enchanted food
with them, so with any luck the journey wouldn’t take
too long. Riften’s hand strayed to the lotus flower he
had hidden beneath his silks. The time would come
when sleep was sweeter than death, and he would be
In time Farris rose and returned to them,
apologizing for her outburst. She did not explain
further, and they did not press her. Gloria helped pass
the time with the story of the Yonda Sahra they now
“Yonda Sahra was the first tree in all the world. It
was nurtured by the child of the sun Sumpta, and it
grew mighty in girth and so tremendous in height that
it scraped the sky. It was worshipped and praised as
the greatest living thing in all the world. They said it
held up the very heavens, and that without it those
heavens would come crashing down on their heads.
“Sumpta was not content even with such praise,
however, and he fed it until its branches were so wide
and so tall that they consumed the length and breadth
of the sky. Barely any light filtered through after that,
but it kept growing until it pressed right against the
ceiling of the world, tearing a thousand holes in the
fabric of the sky with its many pointed branches. The
world grew dark and chill, and the land descended
into an eternal winter. No blade could touch the tree,
and no soul could climb it.
“The people begged Sumpta to tear down his
creation, but his love for the tree surpassed even his
love for his people. It was not until a sorceress
overcame him in battle that the tree was able to be
burned to let the sun return. The ashes rained from
the inferno for a week straight, falling so thickly as to
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
create the vast Dresdoni Desert. A thousand holes
remained ripped in the sky from its probing branches,
and those on the surface can still see the light beyond
leaking through as a blanket of stars.”
“I never knew why we burned the Yonda tree at
home every winter,” Farris said wistfully. “I wonder if
I’ll even be home again by next year to see it done.”
“How are we going to the tree now if it was
already burned down?” Sasha asked.
“The trunk and boughs were burned, but the
living roots that run through all the world still
remain,” Gloria replied. “The third shell in particular
is dominated by the roots which form a mighty
The companions lapsed into silent anticipation
until at last the hallway became completely level and
the serpent shuddered and stilled.
“Have we arrived?” Sasha asked. He glanced at
Farris. She was calm now and smiled encouragingly at
him. As if in answer, the glowing ruby fangs of the
serpent parted. Proper light, rosy red like a dying
ember, pushed through the crack. It washed over the
teeth and brought out the richness of their inner
color. The mouth continued to open, and Riften
could tell the serpent was resting lengthwise on a sea
of thickly matted roots. About a hundred yards
beyond the mouth of the serpent rose a forest wall
built from many hundreds of massive, white-barked
trees. “We must have lost time by our detour on the
second shell,” Gloria said, “but we may have regained
it by the serpent. That was a very swift descent if we
are indeed in the third shell already.”
“It doesn’t matter either way,” Farris replied.
“What do you mean?” Sasha asked. “If we don’t
know then we’ll come across the same problem as
before, unsure whether to continue or wait for them.”
“No,” Farris insisted, stepping into the jaws of
the serpent. “There is infinite distance in a step here,
and an infinite duration in each moment. Whether
they have arrived first or after means nothing; they
will be here now.”
Sasha and Riften exchanged perplexed glances. If
she was going to be so cryptic, then Riften couldn’t
see any point in trying to get more out of her. Sasha
must have decided the same as he simply turned to
“Do you know what she’s talking about?” Riften
“Legend has it that time does not exist before the
Yonda Sahra,” Gloria said. “That is why it was so
difficult to cut down. Do you see it now?”
“I can’t make it out from the rest of the forest
yet,” Sasha said.
“That is no forest,” Gloria replied. “You are
looking at the roots of Yonda Sahra, mightiest living
thing in all the world. Each trunk is but a tendril of
the world tree, and however massive it may appear,
you are only seeing the small fraction that fills the
third shell. The roots run from the surface to the very
heart of the planet where it draws life.”
Farris had stepped into the serpent’s mouth to
marvel at the view. When Riften joined her, he was
able to see the true enormity for what it was. Each
colossal trunk, fifty or more feet across, was woven
together to meet ground and sky. They all joined into
one truly gigantic stem near the roof of this world,
whereupon they continued upward into unseen shells
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
above. The great trunks diverged near the ground and
spread out until the whole horizon was nothing but a
solid forest. Between the roots a soft blue light could
be seen sneaking through. Great tendrils of wood
took the place of root-hairs, and beams as wide as any
tree rained in front of the white-barked pillars to sink
into the rich dark soil. The roots were alive with
pulsing activity, swimming through the ground like so
many snakes. A multitude of plump red fruits the size
of Riften’s head glowed with the red light they had
seen earlier, making the entire skyline look as though
it burned. .
“It goes on forever,” Sasha marveled. “How are
we going to find your brother?”
“I can hear him,” Farris said as though in a
trance. “He’s calling for me.”
[*CHAPTER 9: THE YONDA *]
_Life is both the perceiver and the creator of time. _
_Something as weak as an insect may live in the sliver of a _
_second, while a man may comprehend the complexities of years. _
_Eternity is wrapped around the Yonda Sahra, and my journey _
_through it has made it my own. _
– Javel of Omar, the First Man
f the Paral-Zakdul did stop here,” Gloria said,
“I “it would be to gather the fruit, as we should do
as well. The hunters didn’t have a chance to stop at
the lake in the first shell, nor venture into the second
for provisions. Their supplies must be running short.”
Gloria was still talking, but Farris wasn’t really
listening. She hadn’t wanted to rely on her Guide after
he had tricked her into entering the second shell, but
she couldn’t see any other option. The abyss was too
vast to wander aimlessly, and her Guide really had
helped her by lending some of his power during the
animation of the serpent. He told her that his
influence would continue to increase as she drew
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
closer to him. If he really was her ally, then he could
be a great help as she continued to descend.
Farris watched the thick roots squirm across the
ground beyond the mouth of the emerald serpent. If
only his advice wasn’t always so cryptic. An infinite
distance in each step? How was that supposed to help
her? Farris idly kicked at one of the ruby fangs of the
serpent, watching its red hue wash over her delicate
silk leggings. The vibrations imbued within the clothes
faded after the Lady’s death, but they had lost none of
their wondrous smoothness and brought some small
comfort to this alien land. One step at a time. First
she had to figure out how to safely cross the ground.
The roots swam through the earth and wrestled
around each other ceaselessly. The entire stretch of
horizon was engaged in silent turmoil. The thick
wooden columns fought to strangle or uproot one
another as they pushed their way before the soft blue
light that shone beyond the forest of knotted wood.
“How can this be a single living being if it is at
war with itself?” Farris asked.
“All life is at war against itself,” Gloria replied.
“The Yonda Sahra is simply honest about its
“I don’t have any demons,” Farris said. She knew
Gloria hadn’t intended an insult, but it was impossible
not to think of her Guide’s voice which haunted her.
Farris had been tempted a dozen times to simply tell
her companions about the voice, but she was afraid
they would stop trusting her if they knew the real
source of her direction. Besides, her Guide played
with her so cruelly she was beginning to suspect it
really was the evil serpent Nidhoggdrasil. What would
her friends think of her if they knew she was learning
from that devil? She couldn’t stop now though. She
needed its power to find her brother, so she would
continue to listen.
“The Yonda’s demon,” Gloria continued, “is the
Orosh Sea, which you can spot through the wall.”
“You said it drank from the heart of the world,”
Farris said with a hint of accusation. Gloria had never
led her wrong, but she was just another mysterious
voice. Perhaps it was the guilt of her secret, but Farris
found herself growing tense with frustration every
time the fish lectured her. None of them had any idea
how much more Farris knew than the rest of them.
Her Guide was right in that regard: she was different,
she was special. If the price of her power was solitude,
then she would suffer it and a hundred times worse to
find her brother again.
“All trees, even the World Tree, need both water
and light to live,” Riften cut in. “The Yonda draws
water from the Eternal Pools at the heart of the
world, but the Orosh Sea is an ocean of light. Legend
has it that once the World Tree was burned from the
surface, its tendrils swam through the underground
and trapped the Orosh Sea behind its roots to feed
upon. The light resists its imprisonment, however,
and its endless attempts to escape drive the great tree
mad. That is why the Yonda Sahra is at war with
Riften folded his hands behind his back as he
recited the next words, assuming the stance of a
school boy giving his lesson:
_Bole and bough were burned away, and the sunny day now _
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
_Deep and down the roots will stay, to keep the ocean _
_If you should see, down in the deep, that pale blue lighted _
_Then touch it not, unless you sought, to let the madness in. _
“The Paral hunters need to touch it in order to
harvest the fruit though,” Farris said. She had to find
an excuse to get close to the main trunks. When she
summoned the waters of life her Guide had told her
she would find her brother only by touching the white
bark. That’s where the blue light shone strongest, but
Farris couldn’t let herself be deterred.
“The tendrils where the fruits grow are far
enough from the Orosh Sea,” Riften said, “but
touching the main trunks is forbidden.”
Farris’s mind traced the Guide’s words endlessly.
She caught herself murmuring to herself and looked
around quickly. Sasha and Riften were always
watching her; Riften inscrutable, Sasha fearfully. She
never had any privacy. Sasha hadn’t said a word about
what happened in the feasting hall, and she wasn’t
going to be the first. Ever since then he’d kept his
distance from her. He would even step away if she
drew close. Fine, he could be that way, she didn’t care.
Farris had more important things to worry about than
the way he thought about her. Or the way his mouth
had felt against hers. Or how he smiled when she
looked at him, or … Farris took a deep breath and
looked back to the sea of roots.
While they had spoken, Bumble had stepped
from the mouth of the serpent and had begun to sniff
along the rich soil for something to eat. No living
thing could be seen besides the Yonda, not a blade of
grass or the smallest of crawling insects. Riften and
Sasha stepped onto the soil to collect some of the
fruit that dangled from nearby roots.
“You will not touch the white bark,” Gloria
echoed Riften’s warning. “Those who first came to
this land did so, and they were driven to madness by
the trapped waters. The people of the Lathering
descended here once, led by King Mater. They built a
prosperous town, but the king could not be at peace
until he understood the mystery of the blue light. He
managed to get close, but unwittingly unleashed it to
haunt his people. They were driven mad by voices and
bowed beneath unseen weights until one by one they
threw themselves into the abyss. The Yonda Sahra has
since recaptured its light, but I pity any who curse
themselves with such idle curiosity again.”
“Javel touched the white bark though, didn’t he?”
Farris asked. “It seems right that it be part of my
journey as well.” Could that be the only reason her
Guide had lured her here? What if her brother wasn’t
here at all, and she was being tricked again to follow
the Way of Javel? There was nothing more frustrating
than having to trust a liar.
“You are not arrogant enough to compare
yourself to the First Man, are you?” Gloria’s voice was
harsh. “And you cannot say that even he was
unharmed, as he ended himself soon after.”
“He didn’t end himself,” Farris argued. “He
“It’s the same thing to everyone he left behind,”
A pitiful bleating broke the conversation. Bumble
had been nibbling on one of the roots, and it had
responded by pulling itself straight from the ground
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
and seizing the surprised goat. The root secured itself
around her midsection and constricted relentlessly.
Bumble’s eyes bulged as she fought against the
incredible force the root seemed to exude.
“She’s not a root! Let go of her!” Sasha ran to the
goat and pounded his fists uselessly against the
Farris made a step towards Bumble but stopped.
Riften leapt past her to join Sasha in the struggle. It
hurt to watch Bumble in pain, but her friends would
get her out. This was her one chance while they were
distracted. They would never let her go to the white
bark, but she knew what she must do.
Sasha and Riften both had their backs turned. A
multitude of roots swam along the ground in the
direction of the conflict, leaving a bare space of soil
that led directly to the white-barked trunks. [_No! This is _]
[_wrong! _] Bumble was suffering, but she had to trust her
friends. She had to trust herself. Her brother was
here, and she alone had the power to end this whole
awful journey right now.
“Stop it, you’re hurting her!” Gloria cried to the
Farris walked quickly. A few of the roots trailed
after her, but she leapt past them without hesitation.
Now she was running. Farris brushed aside the low-
hanging fruit. The ground was bare now, although
there was still another fifty or so yards before the first
trunks. She took another step forward, and all sound
behind her suddenly ceased. What happened? Was
Bumble all right?
Farris turned to see the root still gripping
Bumble, although the goat had stopped struggling.
Sasha was heaving upon the loop, contorted and static
in an unbalanced struggle. Riften was leading a second
root to intercept the first, but he had stopped with his
leg outstretched toward it. They were all as still as
rocks and as quiet as death, as though time had
completely halted. _There would be an infinite duration in _
_each moment, _ her Guide had said.
Farris walked past the last of the hanging fruits,
although the white-barked trunks didn’t appear to
grow any closer. She looked behind her again and saw
the hanging fruit dangling just behind her head. Either
she hadn’t seen these ones, or somehow she hadn’t
moved forward at all. She furrowed her brow and
took a step backward while facing the fruit. The
distance between her and the fruit increased as it
should. She walked several steps backward now,
seeming to grow farther and farther away from them.
Satisfied with her progress, she turned to look back at
the white Yonda Sahra trunks only to see them exactly
as far away as before. Farris spun around again, only
to brush against the hanging fruit directly behind her
Sasha and Riften were still frozen in exactly the
same place. She could go back for them, but if she
couldn’t figure out how to move forward then there
was no way her friends could manage. After all, she
alone understood the Names and heard the voice of
her Guide. She considered asking his advice, but that
seemed like a failure already. What had he told her?
Time did not exist before the Yonda Sahra. But what
did that mean?
Farris faced the Yonda Sahra again, looking at
the ground that she could not cross. Perhaps if she
thought in terms of distance instead of time. She
measured the way in her mind, and envisioned every
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
footfall bringing her closer. She counted the steps it
should take: a hundred at least. Then she closed her
eyes and walked one hundred steps forward, counting
them off in her mind. She reached out her hand,
hoping to feel the rough bark under her fingers. Her
hands groped empty air. Okay, the estimate could
have been off. She counted another twenty forward
before finally opening one eye to peek out. Farris
stood exactly the same distance away with the fruit
hanging directly behind her head.
Frustration was tainted with fear. What if it was
the same in trying to leave? What if time really was so
broken here that she couldn’t ever get out? Being
proud wasn’t going to solve anything. If she was
going to save her brother she couldn’t be afraid to ask
someone who understood her problem. Besides, she
couldn’t let her friends know how lost she was or they
would never trust her to lead again. Closing her eyes
once more, Farris began to Name her fire to bring her
mind to the Essence World.
“I Name thee …” Farris saw soft white light. If
anywhere was safe to leave her body unattended, it
would be here where time did not exist.
“I’ve been expecting you.” Her Guide’s voice
“Of course you have,” Farris said, unable to keep
the bitterness from her thoughts. “You lured me into
the second shell, you helped me bring the serpent
golem to life, and you’ve all but forced me here. What
is going on?”
“Nothing at all,” her Guide said.
“Do you mean to say ‘nothing at all’, as in
everything is frozen, or does ‘nothing at all’ mean
everything is normal?”
“Why should it be one or the other?” Her Guide
laughed. “Your friends are moving and fighting, and
they are standing still. If you wish to see your brother,
you must see reality for what it is and pass through
every illusion. Time is the greatest illusion this world
plays upon us, and here beside the Yonda Sahra that
mask is broken. If you can break time and not be
broken in turn, then you will pierce the bark and find
“How am I to fix time and move forward?”
“As long as you ask such a question, you will
never reach the tree,” her Guide said. “It is not a
matter of fixing time, but accepting your conception
of it as being broken. As long as you continue to
think in terms of time, you will never reach the tree.”
“I’ve already tried thinking of it as distance
instead,” Farris said. “What other way is there to look
“Distance is a function of size; size is a function
of perspective; perspective is a function of the
perceiver, and the perceiver is a function of time. You
may live in spite of these illusions elsewhere, but not
by Yonda Sahra’s tree. It is more ancient than time,
and larger than the world it sits within.”
“You’re no help at all,” Farris replied. Whether
or not time existed here, it was impossible to ignore
the feeling that it was being wasted. Farris still didn’t
trust her Guide, and there was no way of knowing
whether this was another trap. What if the Yonda
Sahra was another trick to keep her with him forever?
“This is what drove the people of the Lathering
mad,” her Guide said. “Although King Mater’s body
was pulled from the Yonda Sahra swiftly, his mind
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
had already torn itself apart through an eternity of
“Stop pressuring me,” Farris said. “I will make it
“Even if you were to fail, you will never suffer as
King Mater did. Even an eternity passes more swiftly
with company, and you will always have me.”
It was a thought Farris couldn’t bear to endure.
She was already thinking her way back. Poor Bumble
in the root, and Riften and Sasha …
The white-barked wall of the Yonda Sahra filled
her vision once more. For the first time when
returning from the Essence World, however, the
words of Naming died on her lips. She wasn’t any
closer to understanding the meaning. She did have
time, if nothing else, and with considerable difficulty
she forced herself to clear her mind and sit lotus-style
upon the ground.
A second and forever passed, and Farris still sat.
The air did not stir, and the only sound she heard was
that of her own slow breathing. She simply could not
wrap her mind around the concept. How could
anything be outside of time? There must be some
trick of movement or thought that would close the
distance. She tried imagining herself flying there, she
did cartwheels, spun in circles, and a thousand other
futile efforts, but the distance between her and the
Yonda Sahra never shortened. From behind, the
forms of Farris’s companions stood in perpetual
battle with the root. A constant reminder of her
How long had she been trying? Of course the
question was meaningless. The light never changed,
and she did not grow hungry or weary. Farris tried
counting breaths in her head to calm herself, but by
the time she got to three hundred she was fuming. As
much as she hated herself for it, there was nothing
she could do but travel to the Essence World once
“I Name thee …”
Blackness. Where was her guide? It was more
than blackness. Farris felt a void so empty of
everything that every inch of her soul was being
pulled into it. Her mind screamed, and each thought
shattered into a thousand meaningless fragments to
be devoured by the dark.
“I am the power you seek.” The voice did not
come from her Guide. It sounded as cold as starlight
with the absence of all sound. It reminded Farris how
she could cut designs in paper and see shapes from
where the paper was not, except this design was in the
absence of reality.
[_The light. Where was the light? _] There was a spark
somewhere, so far removed from her it was like
grasping at a star. It smoldered and burned, eating the
emptiness like a hungry flame.
Suddenly the soft white light of the Essence
World was everywhere and everything. It was as
though she had never left. Her span in the broken
time before the tree was so disorienting it felt as
though Farris had spent her entire life here already.
The terrible void was like a nightmare that began to
fade so quickly Farris couldn’t be sure it had
happened at all.
“I’m back,” Farris said. She had the unnerving
feeling she had just forgotten something. She was by
the tree, and then she began to work the Naming
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
magic … and now she was here. What else could
there have been?
“You never left,” her Guide purred.
“Yes I did,” Farris insisted. “I was gone for …
well, I tried again and I couldn’t get closer. I need
“Calling the Names twice with no span of time
between them?” For the first time she could
remember, her Guide seemed genuinely surprised.
“You are a reckless girl.”
“I warned you not to call upon your Names so
often!” Her Guide roared, the weight of his anger
dimming the light. “You have abused your power!”
“Nothing happened,” Farris said. “I won’t do it
again, all right? What are you afraid of?”
“Your fame is already growing in the world
around you. Each drop of power you summon creates
a ripple in the ocean. If you use too much power, or
too often, the ripple will be seen. He will find you,
Farris, and not even I can save you then.”
“But no one found me,” Farris said. She had
come straight here, hadn’t she? The fading memory
of the terrible blackness lingered in the back of her
mind but that had to have been a dream. “Who is out
“All power has its price,” her Guide replied. “Do
not spend longer here than you must. Find your
answer and return to the Yonda Sahra. It is no longer
His voice sounded urgent. Her Guide had always
tried to get her to stay longer before. He had even
tried to trap her here forever. Farris could tell by now
when he was unwilling to answer a question, and
there was no point wasting time trying. She had to
focus on the Yonda Sahra and let this blackness be a
puzzle for another time.
“Javel touched the tree first, didn’t he?” Farris
asked. “How did he manage it?”
“He touched it first, which is to say that no one
before him had touched it. Asking how someone did
it before you is already taking a different path than
he,” the voice replied.
“Who was Yonda Sahra then? I sometimes hear
the tree called that, and sometimes I hear it called
Yonda Sahra’s tree.”
“Will knowing help you reach the tree?” the
Guide asked. “You are thinking too slowly, girl.”
“I don’t know, but not knowing has not helped
me at all.”
“Yonda Sahra was the woman who burned down
the portion of it above the world,” her Guide
“How did Yonda Sahra approach the tree to burn
it?” “She walked through broken time, as Javel did
before her, and as you must do now.”
“Why haven’t I ever heard of Yonda Sahra
before?” Farris asked. “Javel changed the world with
his power, and if Yonda Sahra walked the same Way
then she must have been just as strong.”
“She was as wise, but not as strong. She had the
wits to see the truth of the world, but not the will to
accept it. Her mind was torn, and her form was lost.”
“What about me?” Farris asked. “Am I strong
enough to walk this path to its completion?”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You are as strong, but not as wise,” her Guide
said. “How lost you would be without me, my child.
There it was. Farris felt like grinning, although of
course her body hadn’t followed her into the Essence
World. “Thank you. I really do believe you are trying
to help me this time, although you never do answer
“Have you discovered how to approach the
“Yes, I think, and if I am right then you must call
me wise as well. I have been trying to figure out Javel,
and Yonda Sahra managed it, but there is too much
that I don’t know about them. I cannot possibly know
what was going on in their heads when they passed
through time, and I don’t even know if they broke the
illusion the same way! But I do understand something
else that has touched the tree, and I can do it the same
way that it did,” Farris said.
“No one besides those two has ever touched the
tree,” the Guide said in confusion.
“Of course it did, you said so yourself. The tree
burned, and so fire must have touched it. I may not
understand the path the others took, but I do
She didn’t need another word. Before her Guide
could speak, she was already back at the tree. The
nagging feeling that she was forgetting something
completely vanished from her mind.
“I Name thee Elestar Pon Sinn, fire of my mind.
At the first thought her mind was wreathed in
flames, and as she said the words she became that fire.
She stepped outside of time, as fire cannot perceive its
passing. She stepped through the distance as lightly as
light shines through air, and she stepped through
space as heat spreads through a surface without
motion. Now she clearly saw both ends of time and
the eternal moment between. It was not a matter of
crossing the distance or the time. It was her fate to
touch the tree, and in accepting that she would touch
it she knew she already had.
When the flames cleared Farris’s vision, she
stood directly in front of the Yonda Sahra with her
hand upon its trunk. The white bark peeled back from
her skin as though scorched. Suddenly noise returned
to the world, and she heard the fearful bleating of a
goat behind her. She turned to see her companions
still struggling against the roots, moving and pulling
and fighting. Time flowed once more.
Farris heard Sasha call her name, realizing at last
where she had gone. They couldn’t stop her now.
Farris had already turned back to the blue light. With
her hand upon the white trunk, she peered through
the crack between two mighty columns and saw the
swirling sea of blue mist that was trapped behind the
Yonda Sahra. Staring back at her from the mist was
the frightened face of her brother Tom.
[*CHAPTER 10: THE *]
*MADDING MIST *
_It is a small scratch when you accuse others of what you _
hate about them, but a vicious cut that accuses [_others of what _]
_they hate about themselves. If you wish to praise or humble _
someone, then see them [_through their own eyes. _]
-Nidhoggdrasil, the World Serpent
asha had to stop her. He had to bring her back.
S Why wasn’t she listening? Why did she never
Sasha had let go of the roots which moved
indomitably against his efforts. Bumble was suffering,
and it was her fault for running off. The second root
which Riften had lured into the arena had successfully
snagged the first and was crushing the life from its
brethren. Sasha hadn’t noticed when Farris first
slipped away, but it couldn’t have been more than a
minute ago. He saw her now, staring between two
white trunks into the blue mist. A minute was more
than enough to find danger here.
“Farris! You can’t touch the—” Sasha began.
“Tom!” Farris shouted. A pale hand as
insubstantial as mist reached through the cracks in the
trunk. Sasha choked on his words. Was it possible?
Had they really found him? Was this nightmare over
Sasha ran toward her. The Paral-Zakdul hunters
weren’t here. There was madness hidden behind the
Yonda Sahra. Something wasn’t right.
Riften grabbed hold of Sasha’s arm, spinning him
with such force that Sasha tumbled to the ground.
The roots immediately began to converge on him.
“Don’t you dare move,” Riften’s voice was steel,
a world apart from his usual bubbling mirth. The
Paral-Zakdul loomed over Sasha, his fingers flexing
against the handle of a knife that hadn’t been there a
moment before. What was going on? Didn’t Riften
want Tom to be saved? Riften had been the only one
to see Tom when he passed through the first shell.
Had something along the journey changed his mind,
or had he never intended to save Tom from the start?
Riften’s long arm reached down toward Sasha,
who tensed and pushed himself away. The hand
grabbed Sasha by the forearm and pulled him to his
feet, just before a rush of roots fell upon the ground
where Sasha had lain. Bumble was bounding freely
from root to root now, having escaped the deadly grip
which had left a rather unfortunate indent in her fluff.
“Only Farris could have approached the Yonda
Sahra,” Riften continued. “We don’t stand a chance.”
Sasha couldn’t be imagining the threat of
betrayal, not entirely. Riften’s eyes were so cold and
dark, as though he alone saw the end to their journey.
He’d hesitated when he reached to help Sasha up,
almost as though he couldn’t decide whether to offer
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
the open hand or the knife. Sasha prayed that it was
only the dangers of the journey that made him so
suspicious of his friends. He couldn’t watch Riften all
the time, and right now it was Farris who needed him.
Sasha turned back to Farris, who was staring into
her brother’s eyes. This was Tom, half visible through
the sealed trunks. Even from here Sasha could see his
bright eyes filled with tortured hope looking back at
Farris. Tom wore the same clothes Sasha had seen
him last in: coarse brown linen pants tied with a bow
string and a sky-blue shirt open around the throat,
revealing the dull metal key which dangled there.
“Come back, Farris!” Gloria shouted. “I don’t
know what you think you see, but that isn’t your
“I knew you’d find me,” Tom said, his voice clear
and happy. His hand stretched farther until it was only
inches from Farris’s face. She wasn’t more than a
hundred feet away from Sasha. He could reach her.
He could hold her and keep her safe … but he
couldn’t even do that when she was right next to him.
Everything below the earth was so far beyond Sasha’s
understanding, it was impossible to act without being
filled with doubt. He had no right to interfere in what
could be Farris’s only chance to save her brother.
Sasha took a step back towards the emerald
serpent. Whatever Farris decided, it was her choice to
She didn’t even hesitate. Her fingers were already
twining around the outstretched hand of her brother.
Tom flashed a bittersweet smile.
“Don’t ever stop looking for me,” he said. Farris
lurched backwards. Tom was gone—dissolved into a
gentle blue mist the moment she touched him. The
trunks of the Yonda Sahra groaned so low that Sasha
felt the sound before he heard it. The two columns
Farris stood before leaned apart, and from the crack a
torrent of blue mist billowed into the open air.
“Run, Farris!” Gloria cried. “Don’t trust the
voices in the mist.”
Farris stood in dumb confusion as the mist
poured around her. Sasha was running again, leaping
over roots, dodging their thrusting grasp. Farris had
her chance. Now it was his turn, and nothing real or
otherwise was going to keep him away from her.
Farris turned and ran toward Sasha. Her eyes
were huge and wild, darting everywhere in desperation
before landing on his face. She looked as though she
were about to cry. The mist was swiftly encompassing
her. She started to open her mouth, but paused. Sasha
stopped too. Tom, clear and corporeal as Sasha’s own
hand, sprinted through the mist.
“They’re here, Farris. Run!” Tom yelled.
Three Paral-Zakdul, fully clad in Byzantian Brass,
churned through the ground after Tom. Their
armored legs smashed straight through the twisted
roots with a mechanical whine. Farris was already in
hot pursuit, her path taking her straight past Sasha.
What was she thinking? Was this even real? There was
only one thing Sasha was sure of: Farris was in
danger, and there was no time to lose.
The moment Farris passed the line of hanging
fruits, Sasha seized her and held firm. She beat him
with her fists and stomped on his foot, but he
wouldn’t let go.
“It’s Tom! They have Tom,” Farris wailed.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You’ll only get yourself killed,” Sasha said. “Get
back to the emerald serpent. We can’t defeat them by
“Stop this, both of you,” Gloria said. “This is a
trick of the mist you set free. What were you thinking,
you silly girl?”
“He’s my brother,” Farris screamed, struggling
against Sasha. “You don’t see anything, you stupid
fish. I touched his hand. He needs me.”
Sasha’s hand was locked against his forearm in
front of Farris’s stomach. He couldn’t drag her, not
with the constant threat of roots snagging her legs.
Sasha put one hand beneath Farris’s legs and heaved
her into the air. _Safety first, then we can make a plan. And _
[_if she never forgives me for losing this chance? It’s not as bad as _]
_never forgiving myself for losing her. _ Farris kicked and
screamed in the air, but Sasha was resolute. He carried
her swiftly back toward the emerald serpent.
“Enough!” Farris yelled. “I Name thee Sagari the
Ocean. Follow them. Follow my brother!”
There was almost no delay between when Farris
began the Naming and completed it, as there usually
was. Her body went limp, but only for the briefest
flash. Whatever spirit world she went to must have
had no power compared to her brother’s cry. The
ponderous emerald statue turned its head and began
to swim through the sea of roots, slicing through
them cleanly to forge a wide switchback path. Sasha
set her down, and she roughly pulled away from him.
“Don’t be angry …” Sasha stopped. She wasn’t
angry. Something was wrong. Her eyes looked
hollower than a moment before, as though she had
seen her own death. Her body trembled. “What was
it? What happened?”
“The blackness saw me,” Farris said, her voice
cracking. “I saw … I heard … someone will betray
me.” She shook her head rapidly and clenched her
trembling fist. “I can’t use the power right now. It
doesn’t matter. We have to find Tom.”
“There’s nothing to find,” Gloria insisted.
“You’re only hearing the voices of the madding mists.
Do not listen if they speak. Do not follow their call.
And whatever happens, whatever you see, do not
“Farris already touched Tom’s hand,” Sasha said.
“What will happen?”
“You will become a voice in the mist,” Riften
said, appearing suddenly from a cloud. “I saw them
too. Pistal is with them. Keep pace with the serpent.”
Sasha, Farris, and Riften all ran. There was no
time to figure out what had scared Farris, although
Sasha guessed it was probably an aftereffect of
touching the mist. They couldn’t match the serpent’s
speed, but there was always another link in the endless
coils to follow.
“Can’t we get inside?” Sasha asked. “Tell it to
“The mist has already flooded in through the
open mouth,” Riften said. “If it’s as dangerous as the
legends say, we need to keep away from it.”
The pale blue mist was thick behind them as it
continued to billow from between the trunks. The
clouds rolled in thick waves like liquid, without wind
to diffuse them. The rosy red light from the fruits was
completely smothered now, and the only illumination
shone from the ghostly blue shadows that pursued
them. As long as they were running they could stay
ahead of the clouds, but they couldn’t run forever.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“I see them ahead,” Farris shouted from the lead.
“They’ve caught Tom. One of them is carrying him.”
Sasha’s breath came sharp, and his legs burned.
How was she so fast? Riften was far ahead now too,
although his people were always swift. They had both
slept the entire duration of the purifying Elestarphagia
while Sasha had roused early. That must have given
them some strength he had been deprived of. It was
no excuse though. Even Bumble was beginning to
race far ahead. Sasha couldn’t let Farris out of his
sight. His side split as though subject to a knife. He
could feel his heart pounding so fast it seemed to skip
beats. Just when Sasha thought he couldn’t take
another step without falling, Riften glanced back and
“You have to wait, Farris,” Riften called. Sasha
took a huge breath and struggled to keep his legs
underneath him. He couldn’t be the one to hold her
back anymore, but there was nothing he could do to
outrun the clouds. The blue mist swirled around him
and penetrated his gasping lungs with their cold, wet
Farris slowed and turned. Her blue eyes shone
even brighter in her flushed face. They condemned
Sasha with their scrutiny. Riften collapsed to the
ground in an exaggerated motion, flailing his long
limbs in the air like an upturned turtle. There was no
escaping it anymore.
“I can’t,” Riften wheezed. Farris looked at him,
then nodded reluctantly. Sasha allowed his knees to
give way and he fell to the ground. Riften threw Sasha
a wink. Smug bastard. At least Farris didn’t think it
was Sasha holding them back.
“Life of my ocean, wait for us,” Farris
commanded in a weak voice. The statue shuddered
and slowed, but did not stop. “I said stop!”
The statue did not obey. The thick blue clouds
were fully upon them now. The Yonda Sahra was
completely obscured. The mist was everywhere and
everything, and even the massive serpent only a short
distance away dissolved into a silhouette.
“Why isn’t it listening?” Riften asked. “If it
turned around we might as well ride in it now. We’re
stuck in the mist no matter what we do.”
The flush left Farris’s face, replaced by an ashen
pale. She slowly sat on the ground and drew her knees
to her chest.
“Are you all right? What’s going on?” Sasha
forced himself upright and moved toward her. Farris
gave him another wild look and pushed herself farther
away. She looked like a feral creature: unpredictable
“I already used the Names too often to approach
the Yonda Sahra,” Farris said in a low voice. She
would not look at any of them. Bumble nuzzled her,
and Sasha could see Farris tense against even this
“Are they losing power? Do you need time to
rest?” Riften asked.
Farris shook her head and trembled. “I’ve been
speaking them too often,” she repeated. “I’m making
“What is? What did you find?” Gloria pressed,
but Farris would only shake her head.
“The serpent isn’t moving fast now,” Sasha said.
“We can take a short rest and there will still be plenty
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
of its length to follow. If Tom is really out there,
we’re going to find him.”
Farris finally looked at Sasha and gave him a
shallow smile. The stitch in his side was beginning to
fade, but seeing Farris so defeated hurt Sasha far
worse. As infuriating as her growing arrogance had
been, at least this power beyond his understanding
was working for them. Now it seemed like she was as
lost as him and there was nothing to rely on.
“Well, look on the bright side,” Riften said. “At
least the mist is glowing, so we won’t be running in
A smooth voice echoed in reply, and Sasha knew
at once it couldn’t have come from anything but the
madding mist itself.
“Always the cheerful one, my Riften. Always
“I do try,” Riften replied amiably, his face
beaming in an unrelenting grin. “But if you know my
name then you have me at a disadvantage.”
“You do, you try so very hard,” spoke the ghost
of a voice. “Was it for your mother? Poor Samasa. It
must have been so difficult to live a life of metal and
chain. Was she the one you tried to stay cheerful for?
I can sympathize, of course, being trapped behind
that horrible tree for so long.”
Riften’s smile tensed. His eyes narrowed. The
smile faded slowly, and Riften opened his mouth.
Sasha elbowed him hard in the ribs. Riften winced
and closed his mouth again.
“Don’t talk back to the voices,” Sasha said.
“Everyone up. We have to keep moving.”
Sasha helped Riften to his feet, and Farris rose
with a hand upon Bumble. The goat was shaking
badly in the warm air. The mist was cool and
refreshing after their long run. Only fear could make
the animal shake like that.
“Your father Rastar is not so kind, is he?” the
voice continued. “Keeping her all alone like that, poor
thing. You must have heard her crying.”
“Shut up,” Riften quietly replied. “You know
nothing about her.”
They walked in the direction of the serpent, but
there was no end to the blue-tinted mist. There was
no escape from the taunting voice.
“Oh but we do, we do, the poor bird. At least she
had you, little Riften. Even when your brother refused
her, she still had you. She would tell you such stories,
wouldn’t she? Oh, but you never listened. You ran
away every chance you got, burying yourself in that
university of yours to escape her lamentations. Do
you even care how much it hurt her every time you
The voice came from everywhere and nowhere.
Brief flickers of faces would emerge from the mist
like a face struggling to breathe through heavy cloth.
They looked so substantial they might become real if
they could only press themselves through, but
inevitably they dissolved back into the mist before
they could do so.
Riften gritted his teeth, his jaw clenched tight.
Sasha marveled to see him restrain himself in the face
of such poignant words. The mist had to know about
him, but how? Did the voices know as much about
the rest of them? If all that about Riften’s mother was
true, then at least that would explain why he hated h is
father so much. Riften had always been true to his
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
word and helped them even while carrying that secret
pain. Sasha felt guilty for ever doubting him.
“I’m sorry,” Farris murmured, eyes downcast. “I
didn’t mean to let this happen. Please don’t talk back
to them.” Their silence did nothing to dissuade the
voices. One of the faces maintained stability longer
than the others and continued speaking.
“Yes, Riften, just ignore us. You’re very good at
ignoring things too, aren’t you? Your father must hate
you even more than your mother for how you’ve
ignored his orders. Oh, how your friends would hate
you too, if they only knew the real you. Never trust
the smiling monster. Should I tell them how you—”
“You know nothing about me,” Riften snapped.
He sprang forward to strike at the face that spoke. It
broke into a hundred smaller faces, all burbling with
quiet laughter before they dissipated back into the
“Riften, stop!” Farris protested.
“Tell me then, if I know so little,” spoke a new
face in the mist. “Has she killed herself yet? Did you
even try to stop her, or were your nights awake spent
wishing she wouldn’t wait so long? No doubt you told
yourself it was for her own good, but you cannot hide
how relieved you were when you no longer had to
visit her house of chain.”
Sasha had never seen Riften like this. His jaw was
clenched so tightly that veins in his forehead etched
themselves against his pale skin. Eyes like black fire
sparked a hatred so palpable Sasha could almost feel
the heat. Riften lunged forward to throw himself at
every silhouette and shadow that leered from the mist.
Farris sprang forward to stop him, but she could not
keep pace with his furious rampage. Sasha walked
briskly, allowing himself a chance to catch his breath.
Some fury could not be contained.
Riften leapt to and fro with wild swings that
swept each laughing face clear. The form he struck
would vanish at once and reform elsewhere, no visible
damage dealt. The only victim of his assault appeared
to be Riften himself, who staggered after each attack
as though the blow was struck against his own body.
“Tell me,” cackled the mist, “why didn’t your
father just kill you too? Or is that why he sent you
here in the first place? Why not lie down and rest,
Crown Prince? No torches are lit in the windows, no
sleep lost in worry. Your people will care nothing if
you do not return, and even less if you do.”
By the time Farris and Sasha caught up with
Riften he had already struck his way through a dozen
of the ghostly shapes. He had fallen to one knee,
heaving for breath, looking as though he bore the
weight of the world upon his shoulders.
“You have to stop,” Farris begged, wrapping her
arms around Riften’s neck. Why did she have to do
that? Of course Riften was a friend, of course they
needed to help him. It shouldn’t hurt to see Farris
comforting him. She would comfort Sasha too, if only
he let his pain show like a wild animal. Sasha turned
away, gazing into the mist.
“Go on, strike us again,” the mist laughed. “For a
boy so young, you carry so many enemies on your
shoulders. You feel it, don’t you? The weight of your
hatred. Strike us again, and add to the burden you
In grim defiance Riften struck his fist through the
face that jeered these last words: an elderly visage with
cold dead eyes. The face shattered into a small rain of
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
blue water. The weight of this blow fell upon Riften at
once, forcing him to pitch forward onto his face.
“What were you thinking?” Farris asked,
desperately rolling him over to check for wounds.
“Gloria said not to touch them! Now look what
“She also said not to touch the Yonda Sahra,”
Riften spoke through a mirthless grin. “We are but
vessels for the storm inside of us, and sometimes we
all must break.”
“Oh Farris,” cooed an old woman in the mist.
“Always more worried about others than yourself. It
is so sweet to see such naïve innocence.”
“Why are you doing this?” Farris asked the open
air. “Don’t you dare look down on me,” the mist
said. “The Yonda Sahra has drained me for countless
years. Don’t I too deserve a chance to feed?”
“You feed by torturing us?” Farris asked, her face
flushed red. “You deserve to be locked up.”
“I deserve freedom,” the mist said. “And I shall
take it from you.”
“Not you too,” Sasha said to Farris. “Not a word.
Help me get Riften out of here. You take the right
arm, I’ll get the left.”
Sasha knelt beside Farris and helped drag Riften
to his feet. It was difficult to balance him along with
the sacks, but at least the large Yonda fruit were light.
The Paral’s eyes were closed and his breath came
shallow. If the mist was switching targets to Farris
then there was no time for delay. As much as Sasha
trusted Farris’s strength, her flaring temper could
easily goad her into the same mistake Riften made.
Besides, there was something terribly wrong about
hearing her most private thoughts voiced aloud. _Where _
[_was Gloria? Shouldn’t she be lecturing us on how to escape? _]
Sasha looked quickly around him. He hadn’t
noticed Bumble falling behind during the wild run,
but she was nowhere to be seen now. How long had
she been missing? Sasha noticed Farris watching him
search and met her eyes. She realized it too.
“We can’t go back, not yet,” Farris whispered,
her words catching in her throat. “Bumble can take
care of herself, but we’re running out of time to find
“You always were so good of taking care of
others.” A disembodied face like Farris’s mother,
Leslie, appeared. She smiled comfortingly, her eyes
filled with compassion. “Well, not all of us, not your
brother. Didn’t he warn you about the monsters? Had
your trusting little brother ever lied to you before? But
no, you’d rather send him through hell than face your
“That wasn’t her fault!” Sasha answered for her.
Farris gave him a grateful look mixed with annoyance.
It didn’t matter. Sasha wouldn’t give in. As long as he
could protect Farris from speaking, nothing else
“And leaving me, your dear sweet mother.”
Leslie’s face ignored Sasha and continued to address
Farris. “Didn’t you hear me screaming when you left
me in that burning house? You could have saved me
too, if you weren’t so obsessed with your own
“It’s lying,” Sasha said quickly, seeing Farris’s
shock and anger. “I spoke to your mother before we
left. She was perfectly fine. Just keep moving, the mist
can’t stretch forever.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“You ungrateful child!” the mist howled.
“Answer your mother when I’m speaking to you.”
Farris wrapped her fingers around Sasha’s hand.
All the cold mists in the world couldn’t compare to
the warmth of that small gesture. Sasha felt strength
pour into his blood and, hoisting the full weight of
Riften’s body upon his shoulders, he began a
The taunts continued for some time, but the
group held strong and refused to answer it any more.
At last the faces dissolved with a sigh to leave the
blank blue clouds devoid of life. The serpent moved
slowly as though its energy were beginning to fade,
although the static length of its body would still
provide a clear path to follow. The air had been still
for many minutes before a pure voice penetrated the
mists, unlike the cold echoed words that had haunted
“Farris!” it shouted. “Farris, where are you?”
Sasha looked at the others and saw Riften rouse
slightly from his overbearing stupor. This voice rang
truer and reverberated less than those from the mist.
Tom had to be close now. The quiet resolve on
Farris’s face broke.
“We’re here, Tom! We’re coming!” She wouldn’t
wait. Before Sasha could stop her, Farris sprinted
directly into the thick cloud of mist.
[*CHAPTER 11: THE VOICES *]
[_There are two halves to reality: that which is there, and _]
_that which we wish was there. We must accept the first to create _
_the second. _
– Lolaran of Omar, the Last Man
asha’s heart was pounding. He couldn’t find Tom
S in the great empty clouds. He couldn’t carry the
weight of Riften and keep up with Farris, who was
even now fading into the mist. He couldn’t leave
Riften behind to be consumed by his hatred and the
taunting voices. He couldn’t help anyone.
“Don’t move away from the statue!” Sasha yelled
“Stay with Riften,” she ordered. Almost
everything she said to Sasha was an order now. He
hated that he couldn’t do anything but obey.
“You’ll never find your way back,” Sasha called.
“I am the Way back,” Farris replied testily. “As
long as you stay put and I don’t go beyond earshot I
won’t lose you.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
[_But what about me losing you? _] Her silhouette
vanished into the mist. Sasha let Riften slump to the
ground and sat with his back against the emerald
serpent. Riften was slipping in and out of
consciousness and mumbled nonsensically beside
him. Sasha was alone. Why hadn’t the mists called to
him? Did they think he was strong enough to resist?
Was his past any less difficult to face?
If Farris completed her journey, she would return
to a happy family. If Riften led his people to victory
over the tyranny of his father, he would become the
next king. If Sasha made it back alive … he didn’t
need the mist to remind him of his fate. Sasha had
thought Farris would remember him as they
continued on their journey, but the farther they went
the less he understood her. How could she, who was
unlocking the secrets of the world, ever respect
someone like him, who could only follow blindly?
The grave of his father, that was the only company
Sasha had waiting for him.
Sasha caught another glimpse of Farris’s
silhouette. At least she was staying close. The mist
seemed to be getting thicker though. Would it ever
disperse, or would it only grow thicker as it poured
from the trunks? It wasn’t natural how it moved
through the air either. The clouds seemed to be
massing with malicious intent.
“Do you see anything?” Sasha called.
The silhouette grew clearer. She couldn’t be more
than a dozen feet away, she had to have heard him.
“We need to stay near the serpent,” Sasha
reminded her. “It won’t do any good to find the
Paral-Zakdul without the golem fighting for us.”
“Is fighting all you do?” Farris asked in a clear
voice. “Just take a rest and let me handle this.”
The silhouette grew bolder. That solid voice had
to be from Farris. Sasha stood again, his body tense.
Why did it feel as though something wasn’t right?
“What are you doing out there?”
The silhouette grew fainter again. “I don’t need
you, Sasha,” Farris said. “Stop bothering me.”
Farris wouldn’t say that. Not the girl he knew.
No matter how much she had changed, she wouldn’t
have said that. If it was the mist talking then it must
have been replying to his secret thoughts. The voices
were still here, and they were getting stronger. Sasha
hoisted Riften, who seemed fast asleep, onto his
shoulders. That meant Tom’s clear voice might have
been a trap too
“Farris!” Sasha bellowed as powerfully as he
could. “You can’t trust any voices, no matter how real
they sound. Come back to the serpent!”
There was no reply. If he left the path he would
be lost for sure, but there was no choice in the matter.
Sasha plunged into the mist in the direction Farris
went. She wasn’t just being arrogant. Farris really was
the Way. The path to her was the only one Sasha
could ever take. The only thing she didn’t realize was
that had nothing to do with her blossoming power.
Sasha spotted two more silhouettes in the mist,
which became more corporal as he pressed on. Farris
knelt beside her brother. Tom panted on the ground,
a great bloody slash across his chest like the talons of
the Byzantian Brass armor. It looked so real that
Sasha could see the glistening drops of blood that
pooled on the dry earth. It wasn’t real, it couldn’t be
real. If this were real then they would already be too
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
late, so there was no choice but to act under the
assumption it was a trap.
“Farris, don’t—” Too late. Farris rested her hand
on her brother’s forehead and the perfect image
shattered into mist. This couldn’t have been the first
time Farris had touched it either. Her already sunken
shoulders gave out and she collapsed on the ground
where Tom had lain a moment before. Sasha set
Riften down and stooped beside her. It didn’t matter
what she said.
“Sorry for running off,” Farris said. “I did see
Tom though. The real one. He’s close.”
“If he is out there somewhere, ’we’ll never find
him if we keep falling for these traps,” Sasha said.
“Come back to the path before we get turned
“I saw him,” Farris said stubbornly. “I told him
I’d bring him home. I made a promise …”
“And we will, of course we will.”
“And you’ll take me home too,” Farris
whispered. “You don’t know how much you mean to
…” Her voice trailed off as she slipped into
This was the Farris Sasha knew. The one who
saw what Sasha was worth when he couldn’t see it
himself. He couldn’t let himself get distracted by all
the lies and doubt below the earth. If he really cared
for her, he had to trust her.
The whispering voices were quiet now, and there
were no shapes beside her. The mist was even
beginning to lift. Sasha could see all the way back to
the serpent. They would be safe, and everything
would be all right.
Sasha gingerly slid his fingers underneath Farris’s
shoulders to lift her upright. There was no warm
reassurance of skin against his. The moment he
touched her, she sat bolt-upright and grinned
unnaturally at him.
“Fooled you,” Farris said in a dull, cold voice.
She vanished into the mist, and Sasha felt a blow
upon his back like a hammer-fall. He’d found his
resolve too late. He never should have let her go. She
was gone, and he was alone. Those sweet words of
reassurance were nothing but a lie. At once all the
voices from the mist descended upon him. A dozen
faces formed and grinned and laughed from all sides.
“Oh, take us home too, won’t you take us?” one
called in a husky voice.
“You wouldn’t leave me, would you my sweet?”
came another voice from the misty face of Farris. It
twisted in a laugh that could never have escaped her
delicate mouth. “Not like I left you anyway. And why
wouldn’t I leave? I don’t even know who you are! Go
home, strange man. Don’t bother me anymore.”
Sasha stood, beads of perspiration mingling with
the mist on his brow. He shouted into the fog and
took several hesitant steps in many different
directions. There was nothing but blank rolling earth
beneath him and the thick banks of blue-tinged mist
which pressed into him.
“There you are,” snapped a voice from behind.
Sasha jumped and spun on the spot, his fists raised
uselessly. Bumble sat beside Riften’s recumbent form.
“Pull yourself together and be still,” Gloria continued.
“There is no demon in that fog that did not first exist
in you. As long as you do not fall for any more of its
tricks, you will make it through.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“If I avoid them, then how can I find Farris?”
Sasha asked, barely checking himself from launching a
fist into a face which breathed cold mist down his
neck. “The images look and sound so real I couldn’t
find Farris even if she were calling me.”
“I said calm,” Gloria commanded, her words
carrying a regal bite that gave Sasha pause. “Haven’t
you noticed how calm I am?”
“Of course you are,” Sasha growled. “You can’t
see them, and they aren’t calling for you. How can
you expect me to be calm when I hear Farris crying
for help from all directions? I never should have let
her stray from the path.”
“When will you learn? It is not yours to ‘let’ her
do anything. But if you still had your wits you might
see some worth in your words. The mist does not call
for me because I cannot see them. The Orosh Sea is a
body of light, so it seems to me that they can only
find you through your open eye.”
“Close my eyes? Here?”
Every fiber in Sasha’s body screamed for him to
stay wary. What if Bumble was another trap? What if
this was false advice meant to lure him into fresh
danger? Riften stirred weakly on the ground, not yet
awake and unable to give any input. It was true that
the mist had ignored him since his collapse.
“You must look for me,” Farris’s voice called
through the mist. “You’ll never find me with your
eyes shut. That’s the coward’s way out, trying to save
yourself while leaving me lost forever.”
In the world Sasha understood, built of sense and
reason, a voice might issue from a figure. But now
shapes were springing from voices in a maddening
reversal. Farris issued forth from her own calling to
stand right beside Sasha. She wasn’t dressed in her
Dresdoni silks any longer. Her clear skin and supple
curves were only barely concealed by a line of thin
white lace which traced her body in haphazard lines.
“I’m so afraid, Sasha,” she said. “Won’t you stay
with me and keep me safe? Don’t you want to be near
me?” The figure stepped so close to Sasha he felt
warm breath upon his face. She looked up at him with
her round blue eyes and they pierced him so
thoroughly he could not turn away. Her hand almost
stretched out to him, grazing the air an inch before his
chest, before drawing back coyly to play with her
bottom lip. She leaned a little closer, and her body
seemed so slight and soft that if he only leaned
forward an inch he could feel …
Sasha’s hands clenched at his side. His jaw
tightened. He closed his eyes.
Farris screamed. It was so terrible and true he
had to throw his hands over his face to keep his eyes
closed. Then there was silence. The air lost its tension
and the mist blew cool and refreshing across his
“You broke the contact,” Gloria said. “Now put
your hand on Bumble’s fur. She will lead you back to
“She said she was afraid,” Sasha said with a grin.
“Farris wouldn’t be afraid of anything.”
The stark silence after the scream allowed a
previously muffled sound to be heard. Sasha allowed
Bumble to lead him to Riften, where he managed to
haul his companion upon his weary shoulders once
more. The goat then led Sasha back to the emerald
serpent, goaded onward by Gloria’s quiet whisperings
of encouragement. The two creatures seemed to have
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
formed an incredible bond, to the extent that they
almost seemed a single entity.
When Sasha’s hand finally touched the emerald
scales again he gave a deep sigh of relief. Lost,
blinded, burdened, and alone; he wasn’t going to give
The serpent had completely stopped, dead stone
once more. As Sasha followed it, the ground sloped
downward and the earth gave way to what felt like a
pebbled road beneath his feet. The air grew warmer
and drier. This must be the end of the mist, he thought for
the hundredth time, although he still didn’t dare open
his eyes again. Even when he stumbled and fell, Sasha
refused to open them in case he saw Farris again: that
which he most wanted and most feared to see.
After walking for many minutes, Sasha did hear
Farris’s voice. His heart froze. His eyes were closed
though. The mist was gone. This had to be her!
“Farris!” Sasha yelled. There was no reply. He
crept closer in the direction of the sound, keeping his
eyes shut so tightly he saw colors. There was her voice
again. She seemed to be talking to herself. “She is
speaking with something, but I don’t hear any voices
from the fog,” Sasha added to Gloria.
“Be careful. Don’t get too close. Let us listen and
see.” Sasha couldn’t wait any longer though. He threw
Riften to the ground alongside his sacks of fruit. He
let go of Bumble’s fur. Farris was out there. He only
needed her voice to guide him onward.
The ground fell steeply away, and Sasha’s feet
began to slide beneath him. Sasha tried to grip the
moving earth with his fingers, but the gravel gave way
and pitched him forward once more. In a panic he
opened his eyes, just in time to see a sturdy red rock
jutting up beside him. He flung his hands around it
and his descent slowed. The earth that had swept him
away tumbled into darkness and a greater darkness
beyond that. Looking down, the mighty abyss yawned
beneath him once more. He had nearly walked
straight into it! Sasha squirmed to pull himself back
onto stable ground with his hold on the …
The ruby fang. Sasha was holding onto the
bottom fang of the emerald serpent, which had
stopped directly before the abyss. With a mighty
heave Sasha pulled himself into the safety of the
serpent’s mouth and pressed himself flat and panting
to the floor.
Only a half-dozen feet away, Farris hung from
the opposite fang of the lower jaw. One of her hands
was flying loose while the other clamped white-
knuckled in a desperate, slipping grip.
“Sasha, help! I can’t hold on,”
He was by her side in a second. Somewhere
within him a voice screamed its warning, but he could
not hear it over his own rushing blood. He extended
his hand and clasped Farris around the wrist. A
wicked grin flashed across her face. Another trick! She
let go and toppled slowly into the abyss, fading into a
gentle blue cloud. The weight of his mistake struck
him at once, and Sasha cursed his own stupidity.
“Please pull me up.” Her cry came again from a
little further down the abyss. Sasha fell to his knees.
The weight was already unbearable. Let the voices
stop! He clenched his eyes shut so tightly they burned.
“I can’t hold on …”
His eyes were shut. Farris, the real Farris! Sasha
opened his eyes once more and leapt from the mouth
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
of the cave. There she was, clinging onto a powerful
stalactite at the edge of the abyss a few dozen feet
from the spiral stairway. Farris’s feet scrambled
desperately in the open air.
“I’m here, dear sister. Just give me your hand.
We’re both safe now.”
Tom stood directly above Farris. He looked just
as he had in the dozens of illusions, but also the same
as the thousands of times Sasha had seen him on the
surface world. But something was different,
something subtle. Was there a sneer in his eyes? A
cockiness in his stance? No, he looked exactly like he
should. Only that wasn’t Tom. There was no mist
here, but the image of Farris had persisted beyond the
clouds. There was no way to know, but Sasha felt in
his gut that the creature standing above the real Farris
was a final illusion.
For that was the real Farris too, although Sasha
couldn’t tell how he knew that either. She looked just
as she always did, without lace or pearls or any
obvious lie. None of them looked quite how she did
now: her hair was greased and wild, her face smudged
and dark, and her royal silks were already spoiled and
ripped in many places. There were bags of weariness
below her eyes, and dirt beneath her nails as she
scrambled on the edge. More than any illusion, she
was the most beautiful thing Sasha had ever seen. And
the moment she touched her brother, the blow would
surely knock her directly into the abyss to be lost
“Just a little farther, that’s it,” Tom coaxed,
stretching out his hand to her. “You’ve done so much
for me, now it’s my turn to save you.”
The blind hope must have flown from Farris
from the blows she had already received. Her open
hand hesitated, although the farther she slid the more
she would be ready to believe. Sasha was running
now, all of his own weight forgotten. He sped right
along the lip of the abyss. One false step and he
would be gone. Broken rocks and gravel slid around
his feet, but he didn’t dare slow for a second.
“Don’t touch it,” Sasha cried desperately. “He
“Quick!’ the figure of Tom demanded. “The mist
is coming, don’t look at it. That isn’t Sasha. Don’t let
him touch you or you’ll be gone.”
Farris looked back and forth between Tom and
Sasha. He could see the struggle in her eyes. _Of course, _
[_how can she even know I’m real? _] There was no gesture so
unique or word so sweet that the mist hadn’t already
plundered from their minds. Blind trust, what an
awful thing to rely upon.
“Or you are both illusions,” Farris said, swinging
her open hand onto the stalactite to prolong her
“Or we are both real,” Tom said earnestly, “and
we’re losing you for nothing. All of this began
because you couldn’t trust me, don’t make the same
mistake twice. This is your chance to make everything
right again. All is forgiven, if you’ll just take my
“No!” Sasha cried, but Farris was giving in. She
threw her hand out to Tom. Sasha was only yards
away now, and he could see the evil grin spreading on
Tom’s face. They were inches from touching. There
was no more time to waste. Sasha lunged, ramming
headlong into Tom. With a roar Sasha hurled the
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
figure into the abyss. The light flickered in Tom’s eyes
and he tumbled into the infinite void.
Sasha didn’t give Farris time to doubt anymore.
He grabbed her by both hands and pulled her up
beside him. Her body was shaking and her grip was
weak, and she did nothing to resist him. Once on
solid ground, they collapsed side by side onto the
“That’s the last of them,” Sasha gasped. He
turned on his side to look at Farris. Why was she still
shaking? Was she crying? Had he done something
Farris sat upright and turned away from him. He
reached out to grab her arm, reassuring her that he
was real. She was gripping something in one of her
hands. Why wouldn’t she look at him?
“You monster,” she whispered, staring down at
“What is that?” Sasha asked. He spotted a dull
metal chain hanging from the corner of her closed
fist. That couldn’t be … Farris opened her hand
slowly, as though the minor movement brought her
agonizing pain. A simple metal key rested in her hand,
the same that Tom had worn around his neck ever
since Grandmother Roschette entrusted it to him.
Sasha had never been more afraid of anything than
looking Farris in the face in that moment. He
continued to stare at the key, not daring to lift his
head. Sasha’s mouth was dry. His hands were numb.
There was a scuffle behind them, and Farris turned.
Riften dragged himself to join them. He must have
woken during the shouting.
“If Tom’s key is here, then…” Sasha couldn’t
finish the thought. After all this journey, Sasha had
thrown Farris’s brother into the abyss. There was no
surviving that fall. They had failed, and it was all his
[*CHAPTER 12: HOPE LOST *]
[_Hope is a candle in the night; illuminating yourself more _]
_than your foe. Who do you fear, the adversary who carries a _
[_light, or the one who has learned to fight in the darkness? _]
– Nidhoggdrasil, the World Serpent
iften’s mind was still shrouded in fog. He’d felt
R each blow when he struck the mist, but he didn’t
care. He hadn’t made a mistake. It was better to bear
the suffering than allow the mists to reveal all of his
secrets. He should have stopped before falling
unconscious, but everything still worked out for the
best. Riften had woken in time to see Sasha,
maddened by the mist no doubt, commit the horrible
deed. Tom was dead, and the prophecy would never
Farris stared into the heart of the abyss. Sasha’s
eyes were downcast. Bumble was nowhere to be seen,
doubtless lost in the mist. The humans would go
home now that they’d failed. It was time for Riften to
return to his people and face the wrath of his father.
The tyrant had been thwarted for now, but the real
battle for sovereignty had yet to begin. Riften checked
his backpack: the fruits of the Yonda Sahra would last
several days. If he climbed down from the third shell,
it should be enough to reach the checkpoint at—
“I’m going on,” Farris said to the abyss.
Riften dropped his sack. She couldn’t mean …
“I’m going to finish what he started,” Farris said.
“I have the key, I’m an heir to Malhalion, and I
understand the Way; there’s nothing to stop me from
going to the tomb.”
“Then I’m coming with you,” Sasha said, finally
looking up at Farris. She ignored him as though he
hadn’t spoken at all.
“Will you go with me, Riften? Your home still
lies below, and I do not wish to travel alone.”
“You won’t be alone,” Sasha said. “I said I’m
coming with you.”
Farris turned on him suddenly. With a savage
growl she slapped him hard across the face. Sasha
staggered farther than the weight of the blow would
suggest, likely more injured by the intention than the
“Not after what you’ve done,” Farris croaked,
her voice strained to the point of tears. “I will never
trust you again for as long as I live. I thought I was
beginning to know you at last, but I was wrong.
You’re just an empty-headed madman who can’t
control himself. He’s dead because of you, and there’s
nothing you can ever do to change that.”
“That wasn’t Tom!” Sasha insisted. “It was the
mist, another trap. You know me, Farris. You know I
would never hurt—”
“I never knew you, Sasha, and now I’m glad I
never will. Let’s go, Riften.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“But what about Bumble?” Riften asked. “And
Gloria, she wouldn’t want—”
“No!” Farris cried with a crazed, desperate
energy. “No more voices. No more lectures. No more
advice. I know what I’m doing. I’m going and that’s
the end of it.”
Riften bowed low. Did she even remember that
Bumble was lost? Whether it was the mists or the pain
at losing her brother, Farris had become unstable. If
he tried to convince her to take a different path, she
would likely become hostile towards him, which
would make subduing her difficult. It was also
impossible to let her continue alone, as that would
increase the danger of the tomb still being opened. He
had no other choice.
“I have sworn my loyalty and my life to you,”
Riften said, rising from his bow. “I blame myself for
what has happened to your brother, and I will not let
his sacrifice be in vain.”
“What would you have me do then?” Sasha
asked, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’m not
going home without you.”
“Don’t you get it?” Farris snapped. “I’m not
going home. Not with you, not ever. There is no
home without Tom. Go back, go home, go anywhere;
you won’t see me again.”
Farris stomped to the mouth of the emerald
serpent. She grabbed hold of one of the ruby fangs
which glowed with its own light, wrenching it free
from the socket with an irresistibly stubborn strength.
She pointed the light around her in the darkness until
the red glow fell upon the circular stair that spiraled
the length of the abyss.
Sasha fell to his knees. He looked at Riften with a
face broken by hopeless misery. Riften held his face
perfectly calm. Do not comfort him. Any mercy towards
Sasha could be seen as a betrayal toward Farris now,
which would compromise his mission. Still, it was
impossible to deny his pity toward this brave man
who gave everything only to be cast aside.
“Please,” Sasha begged, tears in his eyes. “Talk to
her. Don’t let her leave me here.”
“Of all the bodies that must lie in my wake, I
never intended you to be one of them,” Riften said
quietly, averting his eyes. “Do yourself a favor and
learn to forget as she has.”
Farris had already reached the stair. She looked
back, her face glowing by the red glow of the ruby
“Well?” she shouted. “Are you coming or not,
Riften hurried to catch up with Farris, leaving
Sasha where he knelt in the dirt. Her steps were quick
and filled with determination. Just as with her brother,
there was only one way to ensure the prophecy was
never fulfilled. He had to be wary, not understanding
the full extent of her awakening power, but the task
should be easy enough. What he felt didn’t matter.
Personal emotions should never interfere with the
mission, that’s what his master always used to say.
Wait until Farris fell asleep, then a sharp knife across
her throat; the tomb would remain sealed forever.
Sasha roared wordlessly as though his soul were
escaping his body. Riften didn’t look back.
When they had descended a half-turn down the
abyss, Farris glanced over her shoulder. She stared for
a long while at the place she had left Sasha, now
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
obscured by darkness. Her bright blue eyes redefined
the dignity of suffering. Riften thought he could make
out a small shadow still kneeling where Sasha had
once been. He hadn’t followed after all, although how
could you blame him when he was weighed down
with such guilt?
“Do you really think Sasha did it on purpose?”
She fixed her eyes on him. “It doesn’t matter. I
will only surround myself with people I can trust.”
“And you trust me?” Riften asked, careful to
keep his tone dispassionate.
Farris considered for a moment, then shook her
head. “No, but I need you, and you need me.”
“You’re right, of course,” Riften said as they
continued walking, “but I’m curious why you think I
“Because you’re afraid,” Farris said without
turning again. “You’re afraid that nothing you do will
matter. If what the mist said was true, then your
mother won’t come back. Your father probably won’t
pay for his sins. Nothing you did will have helped
anyone at all, but you know I can be that change.”
She knew her own worth. That was a dangerous
attribute. She had shown him kindness, it was true.
She had given him a glimpse of a noble spirit tainted
by the evils of the world. Riften really would miss her
when she was gone, but she was wrong. Riften didn’t
need her. He didn’t need anyone.
“You certainly have changed from the girl I met
not too long ago,” Riften said. “Is there anyone you
do trust? The voice, perhaps?”
Farris stopped and regarded him critically. “You
know about my Guide, don’t you?”
“I know of no students who learn so swiftly
without a master,” Riften shrugged. “Did your voice
say anything about me?”
“He told me I would face one betrayal in my
journey,” Farris said, as though to herself. “Honestly I
imagined it from you before Sasha’s deed. At least I
can put my trust in you now.”
Riften had never suspected her doubt. It stung,
and he fell quiet. She was smarter than he gave her
credit for. She might not be taken unaware at all.
Even if he could surprise her in sleep, would he be
able to live with himself? Such strength and resolve,
he could have followed her even if she were unrelated
to the prophecy. If she received proper instruction
from the University Fantasia there was no knowing
how far her power might bloom. She could even be
their secret weapon in the revolution, overthrowing
his father at last. But she was also becoming jaded and
warped. Dare he risk putting even more power into
her unstable hands?
The winding stair circled round and round the
abyss everlasting. In the quiet of the dark, with no
light besides the glowing ruby, time began to lose its
meaning once more. It was interesting that she went
out of her way to bring the ruby rather than rely upon
her own Elestar for light. Something was going wrong
with the Naming. Was she using it too often? Riften
tried to remember his teachings at the university. All
power has its price. Maybe the time was approaching
where she would be forced to pay hers.
Riften counted the descent by the number of
circuits around the abyss, although after he reached
seventeen he lost count. Peering into the darkness
below there were no more signs of life than in the
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
endless wound torn in the earth above. When they
grew tired they rested and ate from the large fruits
plucked from the Yonda Sahra. The fruit was crushed
and bruised from the bag, but the thick nectar was
deliciously sweet and cooled his dusty throat. Farris
did not rest often though, forcing Riften to be the one
to signal their break. When they did rest she seemed
agitated and impatient. She would wring her hands
endlessly around the metal key which she now wore
around her neck, until her fingers became calloused
Sleep was difficult upon the stair, but
occasionally they crossed a wider ledge like they did
now, which at least allowed them to lie down. Farris
had tossed and turned for a long while, her hands
wrapped tightly around the key. If Farris was to be
allowed to live, there must be some way to deter her
from her path.
While Farris had walked along the stair, she could
distract her thoughts from grief. The fury could not
be denied, however, pounding in with each footfall
and rattling the inside of her skull. She embraced it,
letting herself hate Sasha for his clumsy stupidity. At
least while she was hating him she didn’t have to think
about her brother, or her parents, or her grandmother
whom she would never see again. She couldn’t move
forever though. Now that she lay down in the quiet
and the dark, there was nothing to distract her from
the ravages of her mind.
_Tom is alive somehow, _ she told herself for the
thousandth time. Sasha had been right, and it really
was only an illusion that shattered. Her fingers
gripped more tightly around the key, whose cold
metal bit into her hand with uncompromising proof.
She knew in a place deeper than her conscious mind
that all her hopes betrayed her. The key must have
brought Tom some small comfort throughout his
ordeal. He must have gripped it just as she was doing
now, trying to find some meaning or purpose to the
For the first time Farris could remember she
began to cry. The first sob was so alien to her that it
startled her, and she laughed at herself. What would
Tom have thought if he could see her now? Would he
taunt her and call her childish, as she had done to
him? He would have teased her in the comfort of
home, a freshly cooked meal warming her stomach
and thick blankets piled around, but not here in the
darkness. He would have held her and told her that
everything was all right. He would tell her to be strong
without calling her weak in those calm, measured
words she had failed to find when he needed her.
The tears were running freely now. She didn’t
even care what Riften thought. She opened her hand
and stared at the key. Her tears blurred the ancient
lettering, but she wiped her eyes to read it again.
_Two faces peer into the looking glass, _
_Each gazing to the center. _
[_‘Who is on the other side?’ both ask. _]
_That depends on which will enter. _
“What does it mean?” Riften asked. Farris
jumped, not realizing how close he was. She wiped
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
her eyes with the back of a dirty hand and tucked the
key back under her shirt.
“It’s about the prophecy,” Farris said. “I don’t
know what it means.”
“Why two faces?” Riften asked. “Wasn’t there
only supposed to be one heir to the prophecy?”
“Well, I’m the one carrying it now,” Farris
shrugged. “I am still from the line of Malhalion, after
all.” “Who is on the other side,” Riften mused, “is
different depending on who opens the tomb. That’s
impossible, isn’t it? The final battle between
Nidhoggdrasil and Lolaran should have been decided
“It’s pointless speculation. This was Tom’s quest,
and now it’s mine. I won’t let his death be in vain.”
“His quest?” Riften asked, his perpetual smile
shifting into a sneer. “This was never his quest. He
was a scared boy stolen from his mother in the night.
This was my father’s quest alone from the beginning.”
“What else would you have me do?” Farris asked,
not backing down an inch. “Walk back up to the sun,
look my parents in the eye, and tell them I let him
fall? Tell my grandmother I wasn’t brave enough to
go where he was headed? Tom might not have chosen
how his journey began, but he accepted his fate. I
won’t do any less now.”
Riften was tense, but he nodded and bowed
before Farris. “I offered you my service, my dear,
when the way seemed clear. It would be base of me to
withdraw it now that the road grows long. I will escort
you into my home in the fifth shell at least. Beyond
that I do not know where my path will take me.”
“Thank you,” Farris said. “I don’t think I ever
would have made it this far alone.”
The two of them lay down once more upon the
rock shelf. When weariness finally overpowered the
torrent of thought, Farris was able to find sleep.
Several times she woke to see Riften sitting upright
with his back to the rock wall, watching her. He really
was always there to keep her safe. If only Sasha had
remained as true … was she wrong to discard him so
quickly? No, he was the one to leave; the moment he
did the unthinkable he was gone. But her poor goat
Bumble, and Gloria with her sage advice. Why had
they left her? Why did everyone have to leave? But
her Guide was right. She had been alone from the
moment she had entered the Essence World without
her friends. The sooner she accepted that, the better
off she would be.
When they began again the mood was somewhat
lighter. Riften seemed to have found resolve in his
decision to accompany her, and he spoke more often
as they descended.
“Although the Stair of Eternity spans the whole
length of the abyss,” Riften said, “we can’t follow it
past the fourth shell. My people have set up
numerous guard platforms that we will never be
permitted to pass. You are the only human child so
deep, so it will not be difficult for them to connect
you with the heir of the prophecy.”
“Yes, that is fair,” Farris said. “Although the
tomb must be opened, I will not have the same Paral -
Zakdul who stole my brother plunder it for
themselves. It’s better for them to think the heir has
been lost. What other options do we have?”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“We must enter the fourth world,” Riften said. “I
know of a secret passage there that will descend
directly into the fifth shell and bypass the guards.”
The path persisted for many turns of the abyss.
They were given strength by the fruit of the Yonda,
although surviving on it alone did not so much give
them life as delay death. The walking was endless, and
weariness came again and again. Their travel was
fragmented by fitful sleep, and Farris was filled with
dreams of those left behind and horrible awakenings
which promised a darkness still to come.
Although she hadn’t dared to enter the Essence
World again after the unknown blackness had spotted
her, the voice of her Guide began to enter her dreams
as she descended deeper into the earth. She couldn’t
tell whether this was a creation of her own
imagination, or proof of her Guide’s growing power
as she approached it. She dreamt of Tom falling again
and again, played out in a thousand ways in which she
tried to save him. A thousand hands slipping through
her fingers, each sending him spinning off into the
darkness. Her Guide consoled her after each, and she
found her only comfort in his words. The Guide gave
meaning to Tom’s death, and in her dreams it told her
that it was now her place to give meaning to his life.
When Farris woke, she looked into the perfect
blackness not knowing whether she had slept for
minutes, or hours, or days at a stretch. All she knew
was it was never enough, her every muscle ached, and
the purpose burning inside her made resting again
impossible. She stood now after such a sleep to shake
off the numbing weariness of her limbs. Riften slept
little and was already standing, waiting for her.
“How long have we rested?” Farris asked.
“Longer than your body needed, but too short
for your spirit,” Riften replied tersely. He pulled the
tattered silks of the Dresdoni tighter about him,
although they sagged and drooped around his thin
frame again when he let go. Riften handed Farris
another of the Yonda fruits.
“We should have enough to last. Look below,
we’ve already reached my people’s watch by the cliff
of Fandir. There will be many crevices that lead into
the fourth shell nearby.”
Farris nodded in silence, biting into the fruit. It
had begun to grow mushy in the bag, but the juice
was refreshing and coated the inside of her throat
with a sticky warmth that did marvels against the dry
air of the pit. She had already noticed the sparks
burning in the distance below them. They appeared to
glow brighter while she ate.
“They’re moving,” Farris said.
“It must be a patrol,” Riften replied. “Cover your
light and move slowly along the wall.”
Farris put the glowing ruby beneath her shirt and
they continued their descent. Not long had passed
before the cliff face grew uneven with jutting rocks
and deep cubbies. Some of these spurs nearly blocked
the entire stairway, and the two travelers had to
carefully clamber over them to continue. The cracks
in the wall grew broader until they were large enough
for a person to walk comfortably through.
Farris pressed her glowing ruby into one of the
cracks. The light cut sharply inside, prompting her to
jump back in surprise. Her ruby fumbled against a
rock, and she dropped it. There had been a large
green eye, much too large to be human, blinking at
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
her sluggishly. By the time she lifted her ruby again,
the eye was gone.
“What lives in there?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Riften replied, raising his eyebrows
curiously. “They’re old trade routes the Moross built,
but they have been deserted for years.”
“Something is in there,” Farris said, trying hard
to keep the trepidation from her voice. Leaders can’t
be afraid, she scolded herself. What was left to fear,
after everything they’d already passed?
“The Moross never come this far towards the
stair. It is patrolled too regularly by my people, and we
do not receive each other warmly.”
The green eye opened again further inside, and
they held Farris’s gaze this time. She couldn’t see the
body in the shadows, but the eyes were immense and
passionate. They were the kind of eyes you would
expect to see in someone who has watched a loved
one die in their arms. Farris wondered if her own eyes
held that expression by now. Riften was beside her
now, peering into the dim crevice.
“Most peculiar,” he added. “The Moross are a
long-suffering people who have the power to build
great cities of life, but the wisdom only to dwell on
death. They have fought my people viciously for
many years, throwing their lives away with abandon at
the slightest provocation. My father has long since
driven them back from these tunnels and deep into
their own land; the Byzantian mail of his soldiers is
unbreachable by the uncivilized creatures.”
“How could you attack them?” Farris asked,
filled with compassion. “Their eyes look so sad and
“Do not accuse me of the deeds of my kind,”
Riften snarled. “I have done no evil by them, nor
would my people, save for on the orders of the king.
They have rich lands which he envies, and honor their
dead with great treasures. In ages past we built tunnels
underneath their cities, breaking into the tombs and
stealing what was buried there. Those are the tunnels
we will use to descend into my home in the fifth shell.
Let us move on, though. We should find an
The light below them on the stair was moving
more swiftly upward now. Had their ruby light been
spotted? The companions approached the next crack
in the cliff face. Farris waved her light and was met by
more blinking pairs of those giant sad eyes. Again
they descended farther, but each tunnel they passed
seemed to be filled with Moross. The patrol of Paral-
Zakdul was getting closer; Farris could make out two
of the tall, thin beings armed with halberds, lanterns
dangling from the end. The light spun across
the polished metal of the blades and their shining
brass armor. Farris and Riften were running out of
time to get off the stairway.
“We’re going to have to move into one of these
caves,” Farris said.
“That’s impossible,” Riften declared. “The
Moross will attack me on sight. We must return later
and search for an empty tunnel when the patrol has
gone. Move back up the stair now, get away from
“I will not!” Farris declared. “They’ve already
spotted us anyway, and this road is too long to be
taking steps backwards. If the Moross really are
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
enemies of the Paral-Zakdul, then maybe they will
help protect us.”
Whatever Riften said, it was impossible to believe
something with such deep intelligent eyes could be
dangerous. Besides, if Farris was honest with herself,
she had something to prove. If she couldn’t rely too
heavily upon her Names, she had to learn how to
navigate the lands on her wits alone. It was thrilling to
have the crowd of Dresdoni gathering to hear her
speak. If she could carry herself with the same dignity
and confidence now as when she wielded her power,
then she couldn’t imagine any creature not being
moved by her words.
Before Riften could stop her, Farris darted inside
the largest crack within reach. She heard a cry from
the guards outside. They must have noticed her light
disappear. She had to keep moving.
“Foolish girl!” Riften snapped, ducking in behind
her. “They can figure out which tunnel we entered by
where the light went out. We must at least discard the
ruby and choose a different one.”
Farris heard him, but she could not turn away
from the strange sight inside the cave. Once within
the crack, her ruby light fell upon the great faces of
the Moross. Below their large eyes, long thin noses
drooped the length of their faces. The mouth was
wide and gaping: a toothless thing with a giant lolling
tongue which moved randomly as though it did not
know it was connected to a creature. Their faces were
on the back of large shells, and the creatures
themselves resembled turtles who walked on their
hind legs. They waddled about backwards, swaying
heavily from side to side as their stubby legs propelled
them away from her inquisitive light.
Two dozen eyes glinted from a dozen faces.
Farris was overwhelmed by pity for the creatures,
although she couldn’t tell exactly why. Leaving them
now would be like leaving a group of lost children out
in the woods.
“Get out of here.” Riften pulled on Farris’s arm.
“The Paral-Zakdul will find us.”
Farris wrenched away from Riften and took a
step towards the huddled group of Moross.
[*CHAPTER 13: THE MOROSS *]
[_Pity is a self-contradicting term. The weak do not deserve _]
_pity, for it is their own failure which has caused their condition. _
_The great do not deserve pity, for their quality leaves nothing to _
_look down upon. _
– Nidhoggdrasil, the World Serpent
aral-Zakdul!” the Moross in front murmured.
“PTh eir voice was pitted with melancholy and
fear. The sight of their ancient enemy made the dozen
creatures huddle together even more tightly, climbing
over one another in directionless confusion.
“Paral-Zakdul!” echoed farther into the cave.
“We aren’t going to hurt anyone!” Farris insisted,
holding up both hands in a gesture of peace. The ruby
she clung to washed over them and they flinched at
the light. _Poor frightened creatures. They must have been _
_hiding here for a long time. _ Their shells seemed filthy and
smudged, and their cracked leather skin hung in loose
folds around their bones. Of course she couldn’t tell
what a healthy Moross was supposed to look like, but
they seemed to her as though they must have been
starving in the dark for a long while.
“Oh, the end,” said the first Moross. “That’s it,
that’s done. It’s over. We’re all dead now.”
“Dead now, dead now,” echoed back. “It had to
come, we do not mind. It is time to be dead now.”
Farris lowered her ruby to the floor. She had to
appear as non-threatening as possible. If they were
going to shelter her from the Paral-Zakdul patrol, she
would need to move fast. After seeing how timid they
were, however, she was beginning to regret her plan.
Was it too late to go back out onto the stairway? She
turned to see the glow of firelight. The Paral-Zakdul
“She speaks the truth!” Riften said, hurrying to
join her. The Moross only cowered further at his
voice. “There are Paral chasing us. They are our
“If they fear you as much as this,” Farris said to
Riften, “then you must have treated them even more
poorly than you hinted at.”
“Again, you confuse me with my people. Their
crimes are not my own,” Riften growled softly back.
Farris knew it was unfair of her even as she said it, but
her sympathy towards the creatures was turning into
hot anger. Maybe they shouldn’t run at all. Maybe
they should fight off the Paral-Zakdul patrol and
protect the Moross.
The huddled creatures seemed hesitant to address
the outsiders directly, and continued waddling
backwards as fast as their stubby legs could go. This
shuffle seemed natural to them although Farris didn’t
understand how they could see where they were going
with their large eyes fixed upon her and Riften.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
As the Moross moved deeper into the tunnel, the
path expanded into a wide cave. The ground was
smooth and polished, and though the walls and roof
seemed natural, there were cuttings in the rock and
along the ceiling in some places that showed where
the way was mined.
Farris took a few steps after them. She stopped,
hearing footfalls at the mouth of the tunnel. The
patrol was here.
“Get rid of the light!” Riften ordered.
Farris pushed the ruby fang into a pile of rocks
and masked its glow with a pile of soft soil. The two
were engulfed in blackness for a moment, but then
light flared up again with the red-orange fire of
lanterns. The Paral-Zakdul were inside the cave. Farris
pressed herself to a wall and held her breath. Maybe
the Paral-Zakdul lost track of exactly where they had
entered. If they weren’t spotted, they might continue
their search in the nearby tunnels and pass them by.
The two Paral-Zakdul stood in the cave entrance,
illuminated by their lanterns. Their brass plates
covered their chest and shoulders, unlike the
Byzantian mail which had completely encompassed
the hunters who stole Tom. The blades of their
halberds were attached to sturdy wooden staves which
pounded upon the ground, making no attempt to hide
their presence. The light reflected upon the large eyes
of the Moross who did nothing to hide themselves.
What were the idiots thinking? Why didn’t they keep
moving back? Farris swore under her breath.
“So it was you scum again?” spat one of the
Paral-Zakdul. He unhooked his lantern from his
weapon and set it upon the floor, brandishing the
halberd with both hands. “Where’d you get the light,
huh? Get in line then, let’s have done with it.”
The Moross lowered their eyes and obediently
formed a line in front of the two guards. Farris and
Riften remained perfectly still, watching. If the
Moross were cooperating so readily, then perhaps the
Paral-Zakdul didn’t have any violent intentions in
mind. Maybe the patrols were only there to keep track
of the Moross? It’s not like these pitiful creatures had
anything to steal. Farris glanced at Riften, looking for
some indication as to what would come. Riften’s skin
was pale and tight. His eyes were narrowed, focusing
their hatred on the Paral-Zakdul guards. Farris
couldn’t tell whether it was a sign of some evil to
come or simply Riften’s feud with his father, but a
fury that deep couldn’t possibly be contained for long.
There was going to be blood.
One of the Moross, the creature who had first
croaked about its dismal demise, waddled directly in
front of the Paral-Zakdul with the halberd.
“Yes, yes. That’s why we’re here. Let’s get this
over with,” the Moross said. It turned around so its
shell was facing the back of the cave, leaving its
exposed leathery body open to the guard.
“It’s hard to imagine anything more pathetic,”
the Paral said, probing the Moross with its weapon.
The creature winced but did not move. Farris could
see its fearful watering eyes pointed back in her
direction. They fixed on her for a moment before
they closed in agonizing anticipation. They couldn’t
just be waiting to die, could they? There had to be
something else going on here. It made no sense to
sacrifice themselves like that. Farris held herself in
check, watching with morbid fascination.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Yes, pathetic indeed, yes we are,” echoed back
amongst the others in line. One by one they turned
around to show their leathery bellies to the Paral-
The guard brought his halberd back in a vicious
arc. He was really going to execute the creatures, just
like that! Farris shouted an involuntary warning. She
couldn’t get there in time. She never should have
waited. The situation was simply so unbelievable—it
hadn’t occurred to her they would actually …
The guard looked at her mid-swing. She leapt
away from the wall to try to catch the shaft of the
deadly polearm before it landed. Too late. The metal
met with a dull thud as it penetrated the face of the
Moross. With a long sigh of contentment and release,
the sad figure slumped to the ground and was still. It
was dead. He’d killed it. They must have known what
would happen; what were the Moross thinking?
The next Moross in line was already stepping
forward to take the creature’s place. Its eyes were
downcast and its feet shuffled as though obeying an
inconvenient chore. The Paral-Zakdul ignored it.
Their eyes were fixed on Farris now.
“A h-human child …?”
“Could that be you, Lord Riften?” asked the
guard. Riften had pushed himself away from the wall
to stand beside her. The patrol looked clearly shaken
as their eyes darted around the room. They looked
like uneasy school children who had just been tested
with a problem they had never covered in class.
The two guards pounded the butts of their
halberds into the ground in synchronized movement
and raised their free hand to the air in a surprised
salute. Riften was gliding towards them now, treading
slowly like a cat stalking its prey.
“I will be handling things from here,” Riften said
in a measured and imperious voice. “Continue your
The two guards held their salute but said nothing.
They glanced at one another, an unspoken question
on their faces.
Riften stepped closer. The rigidity of the guard’s
posture became so severe they were practically
bending backwards to keep their distance with Riften.
“Have I been gone so long that you have
forgotten how to obey your prince?” Riften asked.
“That was an order, soldiers.”
The guards looked terrified, but still said nothing.
One nodded subtly. Riften took another step closer.
The guard with the bloody halberd lowered his
saluting hand to grip his weapon. He slashed the
blade towards Riften in a vicious chop. Riften leapt
back gracefully, but the second guard was already
advancing toward him with his blade leveled.
“How dare you,” Riften snarled. “My father
“Your father will reward us for your death,” the
second guard interrupted. “The words of your
treachery have moved faster than you. Now that you
have joined forces with the low creatures of this
world, it is only fitting that you should die as one of
Before the guard could raise the halberd again,
Riften was flying back towards them. His bone-
handled knife flicked into his hand and sped in a
flashing arc. The clumsy halberd of the first guard was
batted aside. He took a few stumbling steps to regain
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
his distance from the prince, but Riften closed the gap
with predatory grace. Before the halberd could be
brought back into a defensive position, Riften had
already slit the throat of the guard and leapt over him
towards the second. This halberd dove towards
Riften’s torso, but he checked his charge mid-step.
Using his left heel as an axis, Riften spun a complete
circle around the thrusting blade and planted his right
foot square into the guard’s kneecap. There was a
sickening crunch and he fell.
“Stop it!” Farris screamed. “You don’t need to
kill them.” She had never seen Riften act so ruthlessly.
She could tell by the way he had looked at them there
would be violence; she should have intervened
“It is too late for you!” the remaining guard said,
his hands raised in front of his face in a futile defense.
“Pistal has told us everything. Our king has ordered
you killed on sight if you ever try to return home.”
“Our king? He is neither king nor father to me,”
Riften said, stepping back from the fallen figure. “It is
you who will be crawling back to him, begging
forgiveness. Tell him the reckoning has come.”
The Paral guard turned on the ground with an
animal snarl, fitting the state he had been reduced to,
and pulled himself out of the tunnel on all fours.
What would Farris have done if Riften had decided to
execute him too? Was it even her place to get
involved? Riften had supported her through war. Did
that make it her obligation to join him in the violence?
As appalled as she was by watching the Paral killed in
front of her, she couldn’t deny a certain grim
satisfaction in seeing the smug killer held accountable.
If she met with the same hunters who had taken Tom
from her, would she act with any more mercy?
The Moross stayed in the line they had formed,
staring with dumb wonder at Riften. They had
remained silent and motionless during the battle, not
making the least attempt to escape.
“It is my turn now,” the next Moross in line said.
“Your turn for what?” Riften asked, cleaning off
his dagger on the fallen guard.
“I’m the next to die. I have been waiting. “
“Don’t worry, you’re safe now,” Farris said. “I
am sorry for how the Paral-Zakdul have treated you,
but the one beside me is not like the others. He has
helped me on my journey, and if we are good to you,
then perhaps you would be able to help us as well. We
are trying to find our way to your homes on the
“Fourth shell, fourth shell,” echoed the voices
around her as the Moross looked at one another.
“That is not our home anymore. We live out here in
the thick rock, thick rock. No place for us left in the
shell, no place.”
Their voices chirped all about like birds, and they
often repeated fragments of sentences that other
Moross had begun. Once the echo was taken up by
one, it would run up and down the line as all repeated
it before the original speaker would continue.
“What has driven you here?” Riften asked. “As I
remember it, the fourth shell had fertile lands and rich
metals. In my land there are legends of your people’s
wealth and prosperity. We’ve heard your dead have
bigger houses than our living.”
“Riches, yes riches,” they said. “But those are not
meant for us. To our fathers we give what is ours, as
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
one day we too will be rewarded. All hail Ni Sansa, to
the land of our fathers he goes!” shouted the speaker.
“All hail, all hail!” echoed back and forth across
the line. Several of them stooped now to touch the
fallen Moross, touching him in reverence and lifting
him carefully upon their shoulders.
“My name is Meer Kato,” said the Moross they
were addressing. “And yes, we have come from the
fourth shell, that has been our home, the fourth shell.
But there are many of us and our fathers live on in
great tracts of land. Some of us must go, until it is our
time to rule. I have not eaten in four revolutions of
the world. My time will come soon too, and I will
earn my place on the throne.”
“Then you must be a prince, Meer Kato, if you
take the throne soon. But how can a prince have been
banished and starving?” Farris asked.
“We are all princes,” Meer Kato replied, and this
was echoed by ‘All princes,’ and ‘All to be kings’.
“What a strange government,” Riften marveled,
“where each has their own throne.”
“Will you let us accompany you back to the land
of your fathers?” Farris asked.
“To our fathers, yes, our fathers. It has been a
hungry watch while waiting here. We must bring Ni
Sansa to his throne, so you may come with us.
Perhaps it is not yet time for me to rule, me to rule.”
The Moross clustered around the body of Ni
Sansa, and they reached out their stubby arms to
touch him as he was passed between them. When all
had touched the corpse as though it were a holy relic,
they packed closely together to allow as many to carry
him as possible. Without further explanation, they
began to walk deeper into the cave. The way was split
into a myriad of side passages and Farris and Riften
had to stay close to the procession to avoid getting
lost in the maze.
The walls became steadily smoother and more
carefully maintained as they went, and the bedrock
gradually grew into an artificial tunnel. Farris could
see many stalactites hanging from the ceiling, and
these glowed with a soft white radiance that lit the
way. As they went, Meer Kato spoke with them in his
“We didn’t always sit in the tunnels,” Meer Kato
said. “All of us once lived in a village called Perpasai.
Then came awful battles with the Paral-Zakdul, and
more fathers had taken their thrones.”
That must mean many of them died, Farris
thought. Their worship of the dead seemed peculiar
to say the least, but perhaps it was respectful to revere
the ancestors so much. In her village, the dead would
be honored for their deeds in life, but she supposed
the Moross were doing the same thing in their own
“The village had to be removed to make a place
for our fathers’ palaces. I voted for the removal of the
village myself, so as to better honor our fathers. Some
Moross who were displaced joined to fight the war,
and others simply moved to the outer tunnels to wait
their turn to sit upon the throne.”
“That’s terrible,” Farris said, all respect for their
reverence gone in an instant. “I can’t imagine your
fathers would want you to throw your lives away for
“It is all right, all right,” Meer Kato reassured her.
“We too will become fathers when our time has
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
come. We look forward to the day when we receive
such respect ourselves, respect ourselves. When we
are fathers we will rule in wealth and happiness for a
thousand years until the ending of the world, when
the serpent rises from the ground and consumes us
all. Do not pity us for our suffering in this life, but
rather envy us for our eternal bliss ahead.”
“How do you know what is waiting for you after
death?” Riften asked.
“Queen Velume has shown us the truth,” Meer
Kato replied. “She is the bridge between worlds.”
“Where have I heard that name before?” Farris
whispered to Riften. He looked disconcerted, his lips
pressed into a thin, bloodless line.
“Rishta spoke of her,” Riften replied. “The witch
named her as one of this world’s masters of the Way.
It is the first I have heard of her though. I’ve never
heard her name mentioned at my University Fantasia,
and I know of no stories of her power.”
“You will meet her,” Meer Kato said. “She
welcomes all who come to rule. And if you are very
lucky, perhaps she will even see you to your own
throne, your own throne.”
Farris swallowed hard. The Moross seemed kind,
but if they were so misguided that death was mistaken
for a blessing, they could be heading into grave
“We shall be there soon,” Meer Kato said.
“Open your eyes and hail our fathers. The way that
we walk is dull, but the ending is beautiful to behold.”
“To the ending we go, we go,” echoed the other
Moross. What other choice did they have? Farris and
Riften could never navigate these twisting passages
alone. Riften rested his hand upon Farris’s shoulder
for reassurance, and they followed the Moross into
the fourth shell of the world.
[*CHAPTER 14: CITY OF THE *]
[_‘Do you believe the afterlife will be better?’ asks the _]
[_‘I believe I can make this life better,’ replies the teacher. _]
[_‘But don’t you wish to be reborn?’ _]
[_‘Yes, and this is how it is done.’ _]
-Javel of Omar, the First Man
ail!” a voice at the front of the line rang out.
“H“H ail the victorious dead! They march to war
“And they return in gold,” shouted Meer and the
procession of Moross. Riften was much taller than the
creatures, but the line was rounding a turn in the
tunnel and he could not see what was going on. It
sounded like they had encountered more of the
creatures. Would their fear of him be advantageous or
not? Best to let the others go first.
A gong rang from around the bend. With military
precision, the Moross marching with them cried out
with one voice: “Hail! Hail the throne of the dead!”
Farris and Riften reached the corner. Bright
orange light blazed to life before them, as bright as a
forge’s heart after their long span in the dark cave.
The route widened to reveal two great basins of fire
on either side of the path. A Moross guard in full iron
mail waited beside each of them. Their faces were
entirely covered but for their large eyes and a thick
shirt of steel rings covering the shell. Their stubby
arms were bent around long metal maces that looked
as though they would be as adept at smashing heads
as they were at ringing gongs. They sounded the note
again, and the ringing magnified to a thunderclap as it
resonated in the enclosed space.
“Hail! Hail the lost and saved,” the guards
“Hail!” replied the procession as one. “Hail the
dead and gone.”
“Hail! Hail those who must wait no more.”
“Hail! Hail those who must wait on.”
The gong was rung again, and the body of Ni
Sansa was lifted high above the bearers’ heads as they
marched. The wound had bled dry during the trek,
and many of the bearers were covered in blood. The
body was beginning to stink as well, but the Moross
paid it no heed. The guards nodded to each as the
Riften couldn’t help but compare the scene to
when he had seen his own soldiers fall. The Paral-
Zakdul were honored in life, but they were swiftly
forgotten the moment they died. The bodies would be
thrown into incinerators which burned so intensely
everything but the metal they wore was disintegrated.
The molten liquid would be recast into new arms, and
all sign that a Paral once wielded them would vanish.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
_Those who served bravely should be remembered, _ Riften
thought. When he was king, he might borrow from
When Farris and Riften began to approach, the
guards turned towards them with leveled maces. They
looked at them sternly, saying nothing. These
muscular creatures clad in iron seemed nothing like
the starving procession they had encountered in the
caves. These were the creatures Riften was more
familiar with: berserkers who would throw their lives
away, but only after causing reckless carnage in their
wild disregard for life. It was time for the greatest tact.
“We are here to pay respects to the dead,” Riften
said, sweeping his practiced bow so low his face
brushed the cave floor.
“A Paral-Zakdul? This is most irregular,” the
guard said, eyeing him suspiciously.
“I know you must think me evil—” Riften began.
“Evil? Of course not. We thank you, brother.”
To Riften’s amazement, the guards bowed low. “We
thank the slayer of our kin.”
“You misunderstand!” Farris said. “He has
“Hail!” shouted the first guard. Farris and Riften
jumped back in surprise.
“Hail the ship that sends our brothers home!”
cried the second.
The guards both stood straight once more and
turned away to watch the procession enter the shell.
Riften stood in abject confusion, and Farris had to
grab his arm to drag him onward. Past the bonfires
the tunnel opened into the fourth shell. Riften
watched the procession move down a much-trodden
dirt path with the body they carried, seemingly
forgetting about Farris and Riften. The companions
followed tentatively, and as the guards made no move
to stop them, they exited the tunnel into the open
Huge monuments of stone decorated the
landscape as far as Riften could see. There were
mausoleums built into great complexes, massive
statues of Moross in triumphant poses, and fields
upon fields of tombstones, and figurines, and shrines,
and temples of every size and shape and design
imaginable. Each of the temples and statues wore a
flaming crown of wood that smoldered without
smoke and lit the whole land in a red halo. The path
sloped downward before them, and from their
vantage at the cave mouth it seemed that the whole
world was on fire.
The procession of Moross was moving towards
the greatest monument of them all, which loomed
nearby. It rose as a giant tiered pyramid crafted from
gargantuan blocks of stone so massive that it must
have been carved directly out of a mountain. On its
tip stood a towering statue of a Moross figure, its face
split wide open and its hands lifted to the heavens in
open suffering. Around the mountainous base were
meager fields and ramshackle houses, utterly dwarfed
by the immensity of the structure.
“There must be a gigantic population living here
to build such cities,” Farris commented as they
followed the procession toward the pyramid.
“Any city would be great if its dead were counted
among the living,” Riften replied. “Our people know
of the great pyramids where they store the wealth of
their civilization in heaping piles around the dead. If
we can get inside, we will be able to find the tunnels
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
leading down and bypass the Paral-Zakdul guard
“It seems like such an awful waste to have the
dead be more comfortable than the living,” Farris
said. “What could they possibly do with all that
wealth? I suppose it isn’t any of our business what
they believe, though.”
“Exactly what my people thought,” Riften
grinned. “Might as well put the wealth to good use.”
“A good use? Such as building armies and
sending soldiers through the lands?”
“Well, put to _a _ use at least,” Riften said, forcing
his smile to remain. “Anyway, we have to figure out a
way inside. I can’t imagine they will let anyone walk
into their holy places and high thrones. It seems as
though people are waiting their entire lives, quite
literally, to be received there.”
“We shall have to see for ourselves then,” Farris
replied. The procession was approaching the massive
pyramid now, with Farris and Riften not far behind.
“I’ve never seen a group so eager to enter a
tomb,” Riften grumbled.
“Do you believe there really is something after
death?” Farris asked.
“Yes,” Riften replied. “Usually more death, at
least in war.”
“I’m being serious,” she said, turning her wide
blue eyes on him. Riften stopped for a moment to
return her gaze. Had her eyes been changing over the
course of their journey? They seemed flecked with
light, as though a microcosm of the universe was
hidden in the blue. He shook his head. Just his
imagination. He was giving this lucky girl too much
credit. She might have seen some greater truth out
there by chance, but she was still only human after all.
“I hope not,” Riften said very seriously. “If there
is any justice is the universe, then there will be a time
to rest when all deeds are done.”
“But if there really is a paradise out there,
wouldn’t the course of the Moross make sense?
Maybe they know something we don’t.”
“If there is a paradise, they wouldn’t let me in,”
Riften grinned. Farris laughed and continued walking.
Riften held the grin until she looked away. If only she
knew how honest Riften was being in that moment.
[_No! _] Riften made a fist, digging his nails into his palm
as though to punish himself for the evil thought. _You _
must not give into self-pity, he told himself. This is the
decision he had chosen, and nothing could shake his
The view ahead was nothing but fire and tombs.
The burning light of the crowns threw leering
shadows of the statues about them, and an ancient
musk of decomposing corpses added to the uneasy
feeling. When the procession of Moross began a low
chant of undecipherable words, it felt to Riften as
though haunting ghosts and evil spirits might be
expelled from every breath of air; every blinking eye
promised to reveal some strange horror. Farris’s pace
was steady, however, and Riften would permit no less
of himself. The shadow of the pyramid soon engulfed
them utterly. They had arrived.
The procession stopped directly before the
doorway into the structure, which was blocked with a
massive bronze statue of a blindfolded bull wearing a
burning crown. The metal flowed over itself in a
constant ripple, distorting and reforming as disturbed
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
water. The color was wrong for bronze too. The light
from the flame seemed to absorb light rather than
reflecting it. Riften swallowed hard, sweat beading on
his forehead. He couldn’t let show how much his
carefully maintained poise was breaking.
That wasn’t bronze. He had never seen so much
Byzantian Brass in one place. But only the Paral-
Zakdul created Byzantian Brass, didn’t they? How
could the Moross have gotten their hands on so much
of it? And to waste it on a statue, no less. If they had
used the metal in that bull alone they could have
equipped half their army with impenetrable armor.
The statue’s legs were shackled to one another
with chains of thick silver steel. Riften watched
curiously as the dead body of Ni Sansa was lifted
under the bronze bull’s nose. Was this all simply
ritual, or were they really expecting the statue to bend
down and smell it? The body was then passed to the
Moross standing directly behind the bearers, and the
first few who were relieved of the burden entered the
pyramid. As this process continued, Farris and Riften
quietly stepped into line at the back and waited for
their turn to hold the body and enter. The body was
passed from one hand to the next, until the Moross
directly in front of Farris and Riften were bearing it
above their heads. Farris stretched her hands up in
anticipation to receive it next, but without even
glancing behind, the last Moross bore the body swiftly
into the tomb.
The two companions stood at a loss for a
moment. No time to waste. Riften hurriedly followed
the last of the procession. He stepped past the bull,
but instantly the looming statue came to life. It
pounded its powerful manacled hooves into the earth.
Riften jumped backwards, barely avoiding being
trampled beneath the sudden ferocity. His dagger flew
into his hand out of reflex, but he quickly sheathed it
again. How futile it would be against such an
adversary! The statue turned its massive blindfolded
head towards the two companions. The liquid
muscles tensed as it reared into the air, stretching
nearly three times the height of Riften’s lengthy form.
The bull’s hide boiled and churned, and the faintest
flashes of faces appeared just below its skin.
“Peasants are not permitted into the palace.
Return to me when you have brought a king or a
queen in your company,” the metal bull said. Its voice
was death. The Byzantian armor the Paral-Zakdul
wore always filtered the voices of their wearer, but
Riften had never experienced something like this. It
was so cold it felt as though the marrow in his bones
turned to ice water. His extremities were numb and
limp. He glanced at Farris, crouched and huddled on
the ground, and he could tell she felt the same.
“I’ve heard that voice,” Farris said with a faraway
look. “In a dream, I think. Do I know you?”
“I know you, Farris Malhalion. Who in this wide
world does not know of the youngest prophet of the
“I may not be a king or a queen, but I am a
prince in my land,” Riften said. “I would expect that
to afford me at least some right to—”
“And I know you, Riften Ranagan,” the statue
said. “Even your father, for the height of his throne
and the breadth of his hoard, would stand before me
as a commoner.”
“You don’t mean a king of this world at all, do
you?” Farris’s eyes widened. “You mean a king of the
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
next. The Moross told us we all have a chance to rule
in the next world after we die.”
“How are we supposed to enter if we’re dead,
then?” Riften asked. _Lead her until she thinks she found the _
_answer herself. _ He would never make any progress by
forcing matters here. Nothing could make Farris do
something she didn’t want to, but so could nothing
stop Farris from doing something she thought she
did. “Just like the Moross did,” Farris replied. Riften
smiled. “We can’t enter unless we bear with us one
who is dead. Isn’t that right?”
“There must be at least one king or queen to
escort the living party through,” agreed the statue in
its voice of ice.
“We were with the Moross though!” Riften
argued, a mask of desperation on his face. “Why
didn’t you let us through with them?”
“The dead Ni Sansa was not a king or a queen to
you,” the statue replied. “He does not now rule for
you, and you do not now serve him on his throne.”
“Is there any other way to enter then?” Farris
asked. “I have a brother. He was dearer to me than
any friend, and though I did not see it while he lived, I
viewed him higher than any king. He is lost now, but
if you were to let us enter then we would do honor by
Riften hadn’t thought of that. He held his breath,
hoping the statue wouldn’t permit such a blatant
circumvention of the rules.
“There is a throne waiting for him, but it is not
one of mine,” the statue said.
“What throne belongs to him then?” Farris
In lieu of words, the statue’s face broke into a
wide and eerily human smile. It held it there for a long
while before returning to its blank shape.
“He will have my allegiance before the end,” the
statue said without moving its mouth.
“What do you mean before the end?” Farris
snapped, her calm breaking at last. “He is already dead
and gone. That’s it. That’s the end. He doesn’t have
his throne yet. And even if he did, what good would
your allegiance do him if you won’t even honor it and
let us past?”
“If he doesn’t have his throne yet,” the statue
said slowly, “then you can be sure it is not the end.”
Farris opened her mouth to speak, but before she
could question further, a chill moan escaped from the
statue. It was so low Riften’s body vibrated before the
sound had even reached his ears. He gasped for
breath. His heart stopped. His head reeled and his
vision spun. When next he knew what was going on,
he found himself keeling before the statue. His
shaken heart sputtered back to life, stinging with
numbness as though it were frozen solid and
beginning to thaw. The low tone of the statue had
turned into a grim song.
_Small the man who seeks his wealth, _
_And small the iron throne. _
_How weak the fortitude, the health, _
_how weak the flesh and bone. _
_Everlasting are the dead and gone, _
_a perfect throne for kings. _
_No more the suffering, the wrong, _
_no more the puppets on their strings. _
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
_I do not understand the living, _
_but the dead I keep until the end. _
_All of life is changing, giving, _
_illusions of free will and then, _
_They wake from their dreaming slumber, _
_in deathly throes their spirits free. _
_Let it end, so her screaming numbs her, _
_Find her freedom in death, in me. _
[_ Breathe out the air that’s tainted you, _]
_spit out the food that weighs you down. _
_Close your eyes, be acquainted to _
[_your glorious new body’s gown. _]
[_I offer you what you’ve sought in life, _]
[_and all those you’ve ever lost. _]
_What cannot be bought tips on a knife, _
[_one slip and you’ve paid the cost. _]
Whether it was the words themselves or the chill
calm in which they had been sung, Riften found
himself unable to rise from his knees. He felt as
fragile as ice, and there was pressure inside him as
though he wanted to cry, but dared not unless the
tears froze his eyes. He spared a glance toward Farris.
She was kneeling as well, her face still bearing that lost
faraway countenance as though she couldn’t quite
decide whether or not she was dreaming, or whether
she had dreamed all of this before. The confusion was
beginning to give way to quiet resolve. It was time to
“Your offer does not fall on deaf ears, and we
embrace its wisdom,” Riften said in a monotone,
raising his head to stare the statue in the face. “We
will return to you shortly, and when we do, one of us
will be the dead vessel to carry the other onward.”
“Yes,” the bull replied, the slightest touch of
warmth in its voice at last, like the fleeting rays of sun
through the crystal air of winter. “You shall have your
Riften put his hands beneath Farris’s arms and
guided her to stand. She did not resist when he led
her a few paces back up the road and away from the
statue. They walked together in silence. Farris closed
her eyes and leaned on Riften as he led the way.
Perhaps she was imagining what death would be like.
After everything she had been through in this journey,
to sleep might not seem such an evil now. Or was that
simply Riften trying to alleviate his guilt for what must
“What a fool that statue is,” laughed Riften.
Lighten the mood. Turn away from the offer. Let her
find her way back herself.
The sound seemed to startle Farris. She opened
her eyes and leaned away from him. The entrance of
the tomb was a fair way behind them, and the statue
was long out of earshot.
“Then perhaps we are both fools,” Farris replied.
“You for suggesting one of us die, and I for
“I call the child a fool who plays his game poorly,
and then throws the pieces onto the floor to proclaim
himself the winner,” Riften said.
“Life is not a game,” Farris replied sternly.
“Life is the best game there is! All of your
intelligence and skill and hard work load every die that
is cast. And yes, sometimes you will do everything
right and make all the proper preparations, and
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
chance will still rear its head and dash you to pieces.
But that doesn’t mean you lose the game. You can roll
as many times as you are strong enough to. In fact,
there is only one way to lose this game, and it is to
stop playing. Everything else is winning.”
“But we can’t just turn back.” Farris stamped her
foot. “Aren’t there any other ways inside?”
“Not without digging through an entire
mountainside of rock,” Riften said.
“Or overcoming the guardian?”
“Byzantian Brass is indestructible,” Riften
replied. She was almost there.
“Or sneaking past, even?” Farris asked.
Riften allowed his face to light up as though he
had made a sudden revelation. He grinned, and from
his sack he produced a flagon. He pulled the red
velvet from its opening and carefully withdrew a black
flower so dark it wasn’t even there.
“The Elestarphagia! Why would you take that
cursed thing with us?” Farris asked in horror,
covering her nose at once to prevent the tingling fire
from engulfing her.
“No object is evil save for the hand that wields
it,” Riften replied. “A sword that slays a good man
might just as easily be turned against the tyrant. This
is a powerful weapon, and I trust it in my hands more
than anyone else’s.”
“I’m surprised it hasn’t already burned us alive or
killed us in our sleep,” Farris said. Riften had known
she wouldn’t want to resort to it, but perhaps now she
would see it as her own idea.
“There is nothing to rival the deep sleep this
scent might cast over us. Death will look at the
enchanted and recognize its own.”
“The statue will be fooled.” Her voice rose with
“One will simply smell the flower and feign
death, while the other brings them into the tomb with
lamentation and show. Once inside we shall simply
wait to awaken naturally and take the tunnels into the
“I’ll do it. I’ll be the one to breathe it in,” Farris
“I would never ask that of you,” Riften replied
smoothly. “Let me take the enchantment.”
“Think about it,” Farris said. “You can carry me
much more easily than I can carry you. You’re also
more familiar with the area inside the pyramid and
can find the tunnels.”
Riften’s brow furrowed with the pretense of
concentration. “Not to mention that the statue has
likely had more experience with my people, who live
so close, than humans on the surface. It would be
more difficult for it to realize the disguise in you. But
no, I couldn’t bear to have you suffer through that
“No more discussion, I’ve made up my mind,”
Farris said. “Give me the flower and let us begin.”
Riften pressed the flower to Farris’s face with
incredible alacrity. She instinctively moved backwards,
but nodded and smiled at Riften. Her eyes closed and
she inhaled. Riften covered his face with the red
velvet cloth, watching intently as her body stiffened
and her face became pale. There was no turning back
now. Why did it hurt so much to do the right thing?
Without quite knowing why, Riften leaned close to
Farris and kissed her softly upon the forehead. The
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
small movement was magnified by her amplified
senses, and her eyes bulged with confusion.
“What was—” Farris mumbled, although her
distorted reality was already so overwhelmed she
couldn’t force the thought out.
“Goodbye, Farris,” Riften whispered, knowing
even a soft sound would encompass her utterly.
“Good—” Farris struggled to pull away,
furrowing her brow. Did she understand what was
going on? Her body began to tip towards the ground,
but Riften caught her to slow her descent.
“You will never awaken from this sleep,” Riften
said, his voice catching. What was wrong with him?
Why did his heart burn like this? He shouldn’t tell her
anything, but there was something inside of him that
begged for forgiveness he could never receive. He had
to tell her the truth. “I need you to know this is not a
betrayal. This is the greatest mercy I could spare upon
you,” Riften added.
Farris struggled to move her head away from the
flower, but Riften pressed it tightly against her nose
and mouth. Her body was beginning to convulse, and
he held her tightly to him. Each tremble of her body
sent a stab through Riften’s conscience.
“Were I stronger, or were I wiser, perhaps I
should have killed you the moment I recognized your
potential to be the next heir. I should have killed you
the moment you spoke the first words of power, but
it would have been a very dark journey without you
beside me. I told myself that if your brother were to
die then you would turn back, and that even if you
could you would never finish the quest which has
claimed his life. The tomb must remain shut, Farris,
and I see in your indomitable will that you would have
walked to the very ends of the world.”
He couldn’t tell if she could still hear him. Her
head lolled back and her eyes closed. Her breathing
came so slowly Riften couldn’t feel her breath an inch
from her face. But her lips were moving. What was
she trying to say?
“I Name thee …” Farris mumbled.
Riften tensed. He couldn’t let her use her powers!
He pressed the flower tighter to her face, and her
words trailed off into a deep sigh. Her skin was
growing cold and damp. She must be unconscious
now. Riften pulled the flower away, but continued to
talk for his own sake.
“And yet even now I cannot bring myself to
harm you. If you do chance to wake a thousand years
from now, I hope you shall enter a world that
deserves you. For my part I promise I shall carry you
with me through all the journeys of my life. Know I
do not walk in triumph or glory, but it is to my own
funeral which I carry you. In this last march with me
you will be carried with more honor than I shall ever
find for myself. Goodnight, Heir of Malhalion.”
Cradling her gently, Riften walked back along
the path towards the statue guardian. Holding her to
him, he carried her with more genuine grief than any
of his masks could ever rival. There was none who
could look upon that scene and see anything but the
veil of death.
[*CHAPTER 15: ETERNAL *]
_An hour is a state of measurement. An eternity is a state _
_of mind. When the sun has grown cold and the Earth is barren, _
_I shall still be one instant away from the divine. _
– Nidhoggdrasil, the World Serpent
arris was engulfed in the darkness of the void.
F Her mind felt hollow and impotent. Was she
dreaming? Or had she managed to begin the Naming
and escape before her mind was overcome with
Elestarphagia’s spell? How could she tell? It didn’t
even matter. If Riften was to leave the flower on her
while she slept, the scent would continue and she
would remain asleep forever. If she encountered the
unknown voice in the Essence World, she might well
be trapped in its void. There was no escape for her.
“You have returned in homage to death.” There
was no mistaking the voice. It was the void, the
unknown passenger. The thing even her Guide could
not save her from. She really had used her powers too
recklessly. It had found her. “Wear your crown,
wayward soul. You will be no stranger to these
But wait, the crown? And the halls. The
realization finally dawned on Farris. The statue of the
bull was the same voice which had found her in
darkness in the Essence World. She’d forgotten how
cold the voice was, she’d forgotten almost everything
about it when she returned to reality. But what was
this creature that existed in both planes? What was it
that even her Guide feared?
“I have not been called by that name in a very
long while,” the voice continued.
It must not be talking to her at all. But who could
it be addressing? Riften. It had to be. He must be
carrying her body even now, trying to use her to enter
the tomb. Farris’s mind was hot with anger. Everyone
she trusted abandoned her. They served themselves
and that was all. No one was on her side.
“That is right, they once called me Mal, a Beast
As long as it was speaking with Riften, she coul d
hear it. There must be some clue to escape. Farris
considered alerting the statue that she was still alive
and ruining Riften’s plan, but then it would be able to
find her. She had to keep still and play along.
“I do not serve the Moross,” the cold voice
chuckled. “Do you think gods serve their worshipers?
I am death, and they are my subjects. Even those on
their highest throne grovel at my feet.”
Farris waited, listening. She had no body to feel,
but the presence of this place felt as though she was
losing a part of herself. It was as though her
significance was shrinking in the face of an infinite
field. It was becoming difficult to even think of
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
herself as an individual at all. She couldn’t wait
“What could be a grander kingdom than the
void? Nothing is all there was at the beginning, and
nothing is all that will remain after life has spun its
fragile course. There is nothing as powerful, nothing
as permanent, nothing as sure, as nothing itself.”
Death. Nothingness. The void. The God Mal.
Beast of Byzantia. Whatever this thing was, it could
still be tricked. If she could use her Naming from here
she might be able to enter the Essence World. From
there she could at least speak with her Guide and find
“I am sure of that as well, little Ranagan,” the
statue replied. “Say hello to my brother for me in the
labyrinth, if that is the path you have chosen.”
Farris was nothing. She was a speck of dust
floating in the infinite cosmos. If she didn’t act now,
there would be no more chances. “I Name thee …”
Soft white light was everywhere. The void was
gone. The voice was gone. Farris was herself again.
Her body must still be trapped within the spell of the
flower, but at least her mind was free.
“Foolish girl,” snapped her Guide at once. “You
have been seen. You are not welcome here.”
“I trusted you!” Farris screamed in her mind. “I
trusted Sasha, and Gloria, and Riften, I trusted
everyone and they left me!”
“I never left you, my champion.” The Guide’s
voice calmed. “He doesn’t know, does he? He thinks
“Then prove your loyalty,” Farris said. “Get me
out of here. Wake me up. I’ve done everything you’ve
told me to. If I’m to trust you, then it’s your turn to
“To put your trust in another is to admit a lack of
trust in yourself,” the Guide replied. “You have
offered Riften complete power over you, so do not be
surprised he has made use of it.”
“Is that it?” Farris screamed. “An ‘I told you so’?
You’ve been nothing but a nuisance on this journey.”
“A nuisance?” The Guide’s voice was taut as a
bowstring. “I am the Way. I am the journey.”
“Well, there isn’t any making it anymore, is
there?” Farris asked bitterly. “Riften will be inside the
tomb now. He’s going to leave that flower on me and
I’ll never wake up again. Congratulations, you got
your wish. I’m stuck here with you.”
“Do not say such cold words,” said the voice,
sounding genuinely hurt. “It isn’t my fault. Last we
spoke I warned you of the coming betrayal. Haven’t
you learned anything from my wisdom?”
“That I was a fool for trusting anyone,” Farris
sighed, but then stopped. “That your prophecy was
directed at Riften, and not Sasha at all. But he
betrayed me too, so you were wrong. There were two
betrayals when you saw one.”
“I am not wrong, although I do not choose to
gloat on that fact either. There was always one
“But that can only mean … Sasha did not betray
me? Oh, Sasha, is he still out there? Has he turned
back? And my brother, is my brother still alive?”
Farris begged, unable to hide the desperation from
“One of them lives, though the other will die,”
her Guide replied slowly.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“When can you learn to speak directly?” Farris
sighed. “If Tom is alive, he could still be falling down
that eternal pit, with his fate only to die once he
reaches the bottom. Or if he is safe, then it could be
Sasha who is to fall. You’ve told me nothing.”
“If you knew too much about the future, I fear
you would fail to appreciate the significance of the
present,” the voice said. “And I do wish for you to
enjoy our time together, whether it be for a day or the
rest of time. Then again, an eternity may have already
passed. It is so hard to tell when one is asleep.”
“You’re wrong!” Farris insisted. “If I knew the
future for certain I could put my mind at ease. It is
the uncertainty of it which keeps me turning around.
If you really wish me to enjoy my time with you, you
will tell me the truth at once.”
“You are a stubborn child,” growled her Guide.
“And you are an egotistical jerk,” Farris replied.
“Very well, as the lady wishes. Sasha will come
and free you from your tomb. I will even speak to
him and ensure it. But do not think it is because I pity
you, or because you deserve to be rescued as a damsel
in distress. I seek only to hold you to your quest, and
bring you ever closer to me.”
“If Sasha will come and save me, then he must
still be safe. Does that mean my brother is still
“You ask too many questions.” The Guide
seemed to be growing impatient. But there was still so
much she needed to know! What was the most
important to know?
“One more,” Farris begged. “And I promise I
will trust you again.”
“You are hardly in the position to negotiate,” the
“What is the statue? The voice? What does it
want with me?”
“I fear my expertise only deals with what is,” her
Guide replied apprehensively. “All I know is the art of
Naming the world is separating that which exists from
that which does not. Once separated, both are given
“What does it want?” Farris asked.
“Let us hope we never find out,” her Guide
replied. “Come now, such thoughts are pointless. Let
us turn our mind to Sasha and test the limits that love
mist had diffused and only pooled on the ground in
swirling eddies. The soft rosy light was visible once
more from the distant Yonda fruit, but it brought him
no comfort. Sasha was trapped in the pit of his own
How dare Farris leave him here after everything
he’d done for her? How dare he presume to know
what was real, throwing away her one chance at
happiness? He knew nothing about this world. He
never should have trusted himself. He couldn’t follow
her now, not after what he’d done. He couldn’t go
home, not without her. There was nothing left but to
sit and listen the madding mists until he became one
of them and found freedom from himself.
“Ghosts!” Sasha called into the edges of the pale
blue mist on the ground. The mist stirred at his voice.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Ghosts and demons!” he called again. “Why do you
hide from me now? You’ve already taken everything
from me. Why not come back and finish the job?”
“Oh, have you given up so soon?” spoke a small,
clear voice. The mist rose and contorted. Tom was
suddenly sitting cross-legged in front of Sasha. “You
must feel awful, but there’s no one to blame but
“Why him? Take another form!”
“If you like,” Tom said. The mist swirled and
Farris was now sitting beside him, her hair braided
neatly down her back and her old sundress casually
draping her thin body. “Why would you let me keep
descending? You’ve killed my brother. There is
nothing but death and darkness left for me.”
Sasha allowed a dry laugh. “Is that the best you
can do? I’ve saved her life and she can’t even look at
me. It’s time I let her go.”
“Better you throw yourself over the edge and be
done with it,” Farris replied. “Better you had not
come at all, you know you don’t belong here. You’ve
tried to keep a steady hand to show off, but you hide
nothing from me. I knew how afraid you were with
the Vaziers whirling around your head. You would
have sold your own soul to get away from it all. And
then when you saw how well the Dresdoni lived,
didn’t you wish you could stay there forever and let
Farris continue alone? Even here you were unable to
do any good, chasing ghosts while Farris suffered.
You’re a pitiful farm boy.”
Sasha could not argue. He lay down and put his
hands behind his head, breathing deeply. “Then this
really is what I deserve.”
The soft face and large round eyes of Farris were
looming over him now. He looked up into the clear
blue. Her eyes were better than seeing the sky again.
“Yes,” Farris said sadly. “This is the end. But it is
some comfort, I hope, that you will spend it with
She reached her hand for him to take, and he did
so with only the slightest hesitation. Why not?
“Yes, it is some comfort,” Sasha said as Farris
drifted into mist. The weight of the touch pressed
heavily upon the length of his body. It didn’t even
hurt anymore. The weariness just brought him closer
The mist came together again and Farris was
bending over him once more. Sasha took her hand,
repeating this again and again until the weight upon
him was so great he could hardly breathe. When he
no longer had the strength to lift his hand, he closed
his eyes. The pain would stop. If he could just fall
Sasha felt something warm and wet pressing
against his forehead. He tried to rise, but the pressure
from the mist was so intense he could barely open his
eyes. The shaggy head of Bumble looked down at him
in concern. She licked him again, straight across the
face. “What are you doing, sleeping like an oaf?”
“Where have you been?” Sasha asked. Had he
been asleep? Did it matter?
“I’ve been lost for at least two days, and thank
you for looking,” snapped Gloria. “The moment you
let go of Bumble to run after Farris, this damned goat
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
decided to go back to where the grass was thicker.
Where has Farris gone? Where is Riften?”
“Down,” Sasha croaked. His throat was dry and
parched. His stomach was a knot of pain. He’d slept
for two days? If only it had been longer.
“Down? Did they climb or did they fall?” Gloria
asked, her voice distraught.
“I didn’t let her fall,” Sasha managed. “Tom did
though. It was my fault …”
“There was no Tom, idiot,” Gloria said. “I
warned you about the mist playing tricks.”
“Farris found his key,” Sasha insisted. “It was
real, straight from his neck. There’s no trick about it.”
“You slow-witted fool!” Gloria shouted.
“Don’t you think I know it without you chiming
in?” Sasha moaned. He rubbed his eyes slowly, trying
to sit up. He could move, but it wasn’t easy. The
weight of the mist was beginning to slip from him.
“Not properly, or you wouldn’t still be sitting
here like a pile of broken plates. If you were Tom and
you knew your sister was chasing you, what would
“Try to escape,” Sasha replied. His head was
clearing, but was still confused about what Gloria was
trying to say.
“And if you couldn’t?”
Sasha had to think for a moment. “Leave a trail
for her to find me.”
“So you found the key, the one sure symbol that
Tom had passed this point. That is not the same as
finding a body at all. Did you ever think he might
have thrown it there so Farris would know she was on
the right trail?”
“But I felt something solid!” Sasha was on his
feet now. His mind scrambled. What did he
remember? How much of it was real? What could
Gloria possibly know about what happened when she
was lost in the mist herself? “Why do you even care
about Farris or her brother?”
Sasha couldn’t tell whether it was just his
imagination or the severe tone in which Gloria spoke,
but it seemed as though Bumble the goat gave Sasha a
very serious look in reply.
“They are the children of my children, along the
line of an age. It is not chance which led me to find
you by the shore, nor is it chance now which tells me
they both live. There is a bond holding me to them
still. You must trust me.”
“What are you talking about? You’re a fish!”
“The form matters very little when weighed
against the heart,” Gloria replied. “I stood on the
brink like you do now, only it was a thousand years
ago. My husband was dead, my son lost to me; do you
think I don’t understand? I stood on the ledge and I
chose to leap, just as you must have thought yourself.
I wanted to drown myself and feel nothing, because
even nothing would be a relief after all my pain. I
dove into the Osdillion when it was still on the
surface of the world, filled with the energies of the
sunken Brass Orb. By some unknown intention, I was
changed into a fish that day and my life was spared. It
is never too late to start again.”
“But the story said that his mother jumped into
… You cannot tell me, you cannot be—” Sasha’s
mouth hung wide in amazement. “Javel was your
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“And Lolaran Malhalion his, and all through the
line of men to Farris and Tom Malhalion now. I lost
my son once a thousand years ago, and I will not lose
him a second time. Now will you trust me when I tell
you I feel the life in them yet?”
Like a lifting veil, dark thoughts flew from
Sasha’s mind. If Tom was alive, she would forgive
him. If Farris was alone, she would need him. It
wasn’t too late. He couldn’t die here.
“I don’t know how fast I can move,” Sasha said,
shaking the numbness from his arms and legs. “I’m so
sorry, Gloria. I never should have given up.”
“Farris has a long head start on us, but not one
we cannot close. What a curse it is to be trapped in
this goat, surrounded by fools and clods. Do not
despair, Sasha. We will find her yet.”
Sasha reclaimed his sack filled with the fruit of
the Yonda tree, which he had discarded to carry
Riften through the mists. Finding new strength in its
nourishment, he banished the last of his demons and
[*CHAPTER 16: LOVE’S *]
_All men run from pain. All men hide from sorrow. All _
_men embrace their love. _
_But who among them can accept what is without fear, and _
[_accept what is not without want? _]
_Thus do I stand alone. _
– Javel of Omar, the First Man
he soft white light of the Essence World was
T rris’s home. The cold voice of the void hadn’t
found her. Her guise of death must have thrown it off
her course. She was outside of space and time, and for
once in her journey there was no danger threatening
her. She could take her time and learn from her
Guide. Beyond her despair, she found confidence that
somehow she would find her way out and wake again.
“In order for Sasha to find you, to find us, I will
have to visit his mind and lead him. You have no
doubt felt my strength grow as you approached me,
but we were always linked by your destiny. To be
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
freed from your mind so I may visit his, there must be
a very strong link between the two of you as well.”
“There is!” Farris said. A pang of guilt stung her
when she thought of everything she and Sasha had
been through together. Would he even want to save
her now? Could he ever forgive her for leaving him?
The things he has said to her, the moments they
shared, would that be enough to survive the way she
had treated him? “Of course there is a link. We have
traveled together all this time, and if you are right in
thinking he did not betray me, then I have done
something terrible to him. Can shame and guilt link as
strongly as admiration and friendship?”
“Yes, but you are still holding him away from
your mind,” her Guide said. “There is a barrier within
you which prevents you from understanding your true
history together. With your assistance, I may be able
to remove this barrier and allow the connection to
grow stronger still.”
“Anything I can do, I will. I am open to you,”
Farris said. “Do you mean he was telling the truth
when we first met? Did he really know me on the
surface? How were my memories lost?”
“The simple creature doesn’t know any better
than to tell the truth,” her Guide replied. “Memories
of him were the price you paid to the Wyrd Sisters for
their services. You will find those offering one hand
to help often take with the other.”
“The sisters!” Farris exclaimed. “I remember
them mentioning a price, but I couldn’t remember
what for the life of me. What kind of memories were
“Sasha was someone you loved, though it was
taken from you. If you are able to love him again, the
thoughts you have will join with those lost and the
blocked memories will return. I need you to love
Sasha from the bottom of your dreaming heart.”
“What? That’s nonsense!” Farris replied, feeling
rather silly even talking about it. “You can’t just love
someone by willing it. I am thankful for what he has
done for me, and I feel bitter about how I treated
him. And there was the moment at the banquet where
he … no, there must have been many moments when
I have looked at him like that. But that’s all
understandable: a girl my age all alone with nothing
familiar to lean upon. I’m sure it wasn’t love.”
“To say you do not love him is to neither
understand him nor love,” the Guide replied. “Love is
not an attribute of the person. It is an attribute of
yourself. To love is to create a part of yourself which
is capable of the action. If you are able to master this
part of the Way, then you must know there is nothing
required to love except the lover. You can fall as
deeply in love with a person who does not exist as
you can with your closest friend. So when I ask you to
love him, it is not him but you who must be worthy.”
“I understand what you’re saying, but it is still
impossible,” Farris argued. “I cannot choose to love
him any more than I can choose to love dark places
or spiders. It is nothing against the spider or the dark
place, and I’m sure there are many who do love them,
but I am simply not one.”
“Then you still do not understand. Tell me, what
do you love?” the voice asked.
“I love my brother,” Farris said without
hesitation. “I’ve hated him a thousand times and for a
thousand reasons, but I would not be on this journey
at all if I did not love him. I love him until the ends of
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
the earth, quite literally, and will do anything to bring
“That’s good. You know you are capable of love.
Concentrate on that feeling. Concentrate on that link.
What did it feel like when you saw him taken? What
does it feel like when he annoys you? When you play
together? When you hold him close or see him falling
beyond your reach? What does it feel like to be that
close and lose him? Tell me, Farris, what is it like to
There was an honest curiosity in the voice, as
though it were asking for its own sake and not hers.
The way her Guide talked made Farris think how she
might speak about a far-off country which she had
studied in books, but never visited herself. It was as
though he were trying to live vicariously through her.
For the first time she felt profoundly sorry for the
mysterious creature locked alone in its tomb, as
familiar as her own mind yet as alien as the world’s
end. “I don’t know if I can describe it,” she replied. “I
understand the feeling, but there are no words to do it
“If you cannot put it into words then you do not
understand. When you are able to put the abstraction
into concrete terms you are not only communicating
it to me, but unraveling the mystery for yourself.”
The silence of this place gave Farris no hints to
draw from. She steadied herself and turned her
thoughts inward as she gave words to a feeling she
barely allowed herself to even think before.
“I suppose it feels like he is a part of me,” Farris
said. “To love someone is to have an extension of
yourself. If he is hurt, then I feel pain. If he is happy,
it brings me joy. When we are fighting, it feels as
though I am at war with myself, and when he pulls
away it feels as though I am not complete. To love is
to be part of someone else, and have part of
themselves be you.”
“That is very interesting,” the voice said
thoughtfully. “Perhaps I too have loved then, but that
is no matter. Now you must realize you are one with
everything that you love. Take that oneness you feel
for your brother, and visualize it as a red string which
connects the two of you. The same string exists
between you and everything, even if you cannot see it.
You are one with the stone around you, to Riften who
betrayed you, and to Sasha who still wishes to find
you if only he can find the way. The string already
exists, but I need you to find it.”
“That is not helping!” Farris said. Everything
with the Guide was cryptic riddles. “I can imagine the
string, but I don’t feel it. Maybe I am connected to all
the universe, but I don’t feel a thing. I can’t choose to
“You know the feeling, and you know that the
connection exists. If you want to escape from here,
then you must expand your awareness of the
“I can’t! It’s impossible to—” Farris began.
“I can concentrate as much as I want, but I’ll still
never be able to force myself to—”
“I am showing you the Way, if you will just
listen,” her Guide snapped.
“You can’t show me how to do the impossible.”
“Insolent brat!” boomed the voice. “Worlds have
trembled at my words. Kings have bowed before me,
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
and empires have crumbled. You dare to confront me
with such feeble objections? I am your everything
now. Obey me, or I will take your mind from you and
break free myself.”
Was that an idle threat or an actual possibility?
Farris was too angry to care.
“I don’t care who you are or who bowed, you
have never met someone like me,” Farris shot back.
“If you’re going to resort to threats because you don’t
know how to teach something, then I won’t even
Farris wouldn’t back down. She knew her own
worth. She knew the power her voice had too, if not
in its volume, then in its surety and edge. She wasn’t
going to let anyone lecture her like that.
“I do not make threats,” the voice snarled, “I
make promises. Either do what I say, or the world wil
burn when I am free.”
This wasn’t doing any good. She was better than
this. She could keep her calm. Farris forced the next
words to come more evenly.
“If I am ‘destined’ to free you, then it is from my
own choice and not because of a compulsion. Now
you listen to me. For all the power struggles in this
world, there are many times more wonderful things
which you don’t understand. If in all your anger and
bitterness you bruise one blade of grass or knock one
butterfly from its flight, then I shall make sure of it
you never learn what freedom is. For all its pain, the
world is a beautiful place, and I will never work with
someone who talks that way.”
The weight of its earlier words finally began to
sink in. Compared to her Guide, she really did feel
powerless here in the Essence World. What if he
could take her mind from her? What if he used her
body to bring Sasha here and free himself? What if
she was really speaking to the serpent Nidhoggdrasil?
These wouldn’t be idle threats. From the stories, it
sounded as though the serpent really could bring the
world to ruin. Not just her brother, but everything she
had ever known and loved could be destroyed
because of her.
“What does it mean to love the whole world?”
asked the voice, now hushed to a whisper.
_That was it. _ That was the secret. In that moment
the wall inside Farris fell away. Her unwavering love
of life blossomed at the thought of defending it from
her Guide. She saw the red lines which connected her
to everything. In the insubstantial space of the
Essence World she truly felt a part of world, feeling
everything it did. The rivers were her blood, and the
tides pulsed with her heartbeat. The mountains were
her bones, and she could see through every star like a
shining eye. In the web of red lines that connected
everything to her, she saw Sasha’s life as clearly as he
did. All the memories of her time with Sasha began to
flood back to her now. Every moment of watching
him from her window, of the feeling when his hand
brushed hers, of the flower he had carved for her, of
their long talks with the grass below them and the
whole vault of stars overhead. Every moment was
revealed to her in understanding and love, and her
mind was wracked with guilt at the injustice she had
been too blind to see.
“I love him,” Farris managed in the silence of her
mind. “I love him, and that’s why I had to leave the
memory of him behind. I could not ask him to give
his own life for my journey, but he still gave it
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
willingly. I could never have left behind a love, so I
chose to leave a stranger instead. I love him for what
he has given up to find me, and for continuing on
after I have destroyed his hope. I love him for how he
remembers when I have forgotten, and for loving me
back when he has no reason to. Do you see the red
string, Guide? Did you do this on purpose? There are
millions of them tying me to everything, but in this
moment there is none so bright as his.”
“And I love you, Farris,” her Guide laughed. “I
see him now. You will never disappoint me.”
Suddenly Farris was alone. Her Guide’s presence
lifted from the Essence World for the first time.
There was nothing but Farris, the soft white light, and
her memories of Sasha. _Find him, _ she prayed. _Bring him _
_back to me. _
emerald serpent in his hands. The flickering light sent
shadows dancing across the walls of the pit. They
looked like moving mouths and the laughing figures
of a thousand whispering demons. Once around the
pit he marched, and then twice, and on in never
changing scenes until he had lost count of everything
but his downward climb. His body was heavy but his
pace remained relentless. He slept little, unable to find
rest while Farris was lost. He ate while he moved,
although he granted the pleasure to himself sparingly
as he could not tell how far he must travel. He would
not have cared to stop at all if Bumble wasn’t beside
him, bleating pitifully for rest. Never again would he
leave one of his comrades behind.
They had traveled through the other sections of
the abyss through alternate means, whether it be the
magic of the Wyrd Sisters, the sailing airship Vindenri,
or the emerald statue in the Lady’s court; this was his
first real taste at the true magnitude of the pit. Sasha
looked up and saw the abyss as a black tower with its
ceiling lost far above the feeble light of the ruby fang.
He flinched to imagine anything dropping from above
and plummeting through it like a meteor.
Gloria spoke seldom, and though Sasha was
curious about her secret identity, his thoughts were
too distracted to press her. The oppressive silence did
not enjoy being disturbed. On a few occasions, Sasha
saw eyes peering at him from the darkness, but they
were small and unthreatening and more curious about
the light than they were eager to show real intentions.
The fruit from the Yonda tree began to grow rotten
and bitter, although Bumble didn’t seem to mind, and
Sasha counted five of the meals before he became
violently ill from the running mush in his pack. He
discarded the rest over the ledge and plodded on
relentlessly. Nothing would make him turn around
Was it his enduring hope for Farris that kept him
going? Or was there still some voice within him
looking forward to his end? When his foot slid on
loose soil, he would briefly fantasize about falling,
thinking this preferable to the ever lonesome dark.
Always his thoughts of Farris would keep him
moving, and it was not long into his hunger when he
saw lights shining through the darkness below.
Knowing his own light would be visible a long way
off, he removed his shirt and wrapped it tightly
around the fang. The light barely escaped it, and he
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
was forced to crawl along the ground to see the
stairway beneath him.
Upon drawing closer to the other lights, Sasha
spotted two Paral-Zakdul sitting across from one
another on a large wooden platform which had been
constructed to block the stair and hang over the pit.
One of the guards was peering into the darkness, the
other flipping through a book that lay open before
him. Their garments were richly colored in reds and
blues, and they wore shining breastplates of brass
over their long torsos. At their sides there glittered the
cold light of fire on naked steel: long polearms leaned
against a small wooden building. Sasha whispered
what he saw, and upon Gloria’s urgent request, he
stowed his light completely in the folds of his pack.
Sasha crept on slowly now, moving by feel alone
as he approached the light. Could he charge onto the
platform by surprise? He might be able to steal one of
the polearms before they noticed him, although it
seemed a gamble against the two. He counted his own
strength as favorable against the thin creatures even in
his weakened state, although their long reach and
speed would prove more valuable than force on such
a precarious battleground overhanging the abyss.
Instead, he sat in a whispered conversation beyond
the edge of light, speaking his plan to Gloria.
“Don’t even think about it,” Gloria whispered.
“Do you even know how to use one of those
weapons? They are trained soldiers and will not be
“I don’t need to beat them,” Sasha replied softly.
“Look where they stand. I just have to grab the
weapon and push them from the platform.”
“Or they could push you off just as easily. We
don’t even know Farris went through here,” Gloria
“She must have,” Sasha said. “It’s the only path I
saw, and Riften is one of their people. With him
beside her she could have been granted safe passage.
Or perhaps they seized her here and have taken her
The guards abruptly stopped their conversation.
The one staring into the dark raised his hand. He was
looking in Sasha’s direction.
“Quiet. You hear something?” the Paral-Zakdul
called to his comrade.
“What kind of a something?” replied the other
“Hisses and whispers, I think. Just there, ‘bout a
quarter turn up the pit.”
“Scrapings and scuttling, more likely. Just the
mog-rats going about their ghastly lives. Or some of
the Moross leaping to their deaths again.”
“Don’t discount it so quickly. Just the other day
Marson and Vindel almost caught something on their
patrol,” replied the first guard. “Marson was sent off
to the hospital ward, and Vindel never came back at
all!” “Well, almost catching something is nothing to
brag about. What was it?”
“One of us, I heard, a Paral with a human girl.
Report said they scuttled off like mog-rats though.”
“What do you mean, scuttled off? There ain’t no
place to scuttle off to, not unless they went over the
edge,” the second guard said, flipping another page in
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Sure there is, you idiot. Cracks all over the place
up there, some big enough to slip through.”
“The Moross live in those, so don’t go calling me
an idiot. I heard if you reach a hand in they’ll bite it
right off. There ain’t no way they hid in a crack.
Anyway, we’re still a mile above the mountain tops, so
if they did find a passage then they must be flying.”
“Dust-lickin’ numbskull,” spat the first guard.
“Morsan and Vindel were up higher than this if they
were on patrol. Some of those cracks go clear through
to the fourth shell. They must have run and hid there.
I bet the Paral was part of the damned university,
sneaking away from a patrol like that. Scum like them
are afraid of the king’s men.”
“Well, nothing will get past me, don’t you
worry,” the sitting guard replied, flipping another
“Put that book away, you ninny, or a whole herd
of marmothills could charge by without you noticing.”
Sasha had already turned back. He’d heard
enough to guess where Farris had gone.
As his right foot moved around, it strayed over
the edge in the dark. A moment of panic shot through
his veins as he felt the abyss seduce his weary feet.
For a terrifying instant he found himself leaning
farther off the cliff, so eager was he to end his
journey. Sasha caught himself just in time, and jerking
his leg in hard he scrambled on hands and knees away
from the ledge. The sound of his fall was loud and
clear though, and the thud echoed up and down the
stairway. A shout rang out from the guards below,
and by the time Sasha had stood they were already on
their feet and brandishing polearms. The guards
swiftly buckled lanterns to the ends of the blades and,
raising these beacons high above their heads, they
began to climb the steps toward where Sasha knelt.
Sasha staggered to his feet and leapt away, but he
could not move quickly by feel alone. The circle of
light was quickly closing on his heels. If he was
already spotted, he might as well use his ruby light
again. He drew it from his sack, its flickering red light
clearly illuminating the treacherous path and where he
“You there, halt!” came the cry, but Sasha was
moving upwards at a great pace with the aid of the
“They’ve spotted my light,” Sasha said. “I have to
“Put it out, fool,” Gloria cried from Bumble,
who had already bounded farther up the stair. There
was nothing on the land or under it that could move
swifter than a goat across uneven terrain, and she had
outpaced him easily when the chase began.
“Too late! We have to find the passages!” Sasha
“Stop and answer!” cried the guards.
Even with the light aiding Sasha’s haste, the
guards were still gaining on him. They were less than
an eighth of a turn of the spiral stair from him, and a
straight line of steps separated them. The Paral-
Zakdul had very long legs, and they were well-rested
and fed while Sasha was not. He could not outpace
them in a direct flight. He desperately began to pass
the red light over the cliff walls as he searched for the
cracks they had mentioned.
Sasha could hear the footsteps falling lightly, but
growing louder. Pit pat, patter stamp. The orange fire
blazed from their weapons. There had to be a passage
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
somewhere! But perhaps he was in the wrong spot.
They would catch him soon. His attention was
diverted from the search by his wavering glance. His
eyes kept straying to check the progress of the
advancing duo. They were no more than a few
hundred yards away when a mysterious voice filled
[*CHAPTER 17: THE TOMB *]
_Lolaran Malhalion sacrificed himself so the world may _
_live in peace. If his life were of greater value than the peace, then _
_he would have robbed the world with his death. If his life were _
_equal, then nothing was gained. Only by his own life being _
_small would the world profit. Why praise this man who is either _
[_petty or a thief by the necessity of his deed? _][* *]
-Nidhoggdrasil, the world serpent[* *]
even steps to your right. Crouch down. There
“S is room for you,” the voice said.
Sasha was beginning to panic. He didn’t have
time to question where the voice was coming from.
He dove to the spot he was directed to. There was
indeed a large crack in the wall that Sasha could just
“Here!” Sasha called to Bumble, who was already
hopping down the steps toward him.
“Now throw your light farther up the stair, and
enter,” the voice ordered Sasha.
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
Again Sasha did so without thinking. The guards
would have seen where the red light disappeared at
the location of the hole if he had entered with it, and
the Paral-Zakdul were easily thin enough to follow
him like a mongoose diving down a serpent’s burrow.
By the time the guards had reached the light he had
thrown however, he and Bumble would already be
Sasha fell to his stomach and crawled through the
crack with Bumble close behind. They were in utter
darkness once more. He could hear the rushing feet
of the guards outside, only a half dozen paces away
from the hole. Now they passed, racing on after the
ruby fang. Sasha’s sprinting blood was just beginning
to slow when the voice spoke from within him once
“It’s so nice to find an obedient disciple for a
change,” the voice said.
It felt more like his own thought than a sound.
Sasha strained his eyes in the darkness, barely drawing
breath as he listened. Bumble sat panting behind him,
oblivious to his new visitor. Should he speak to it? Or
think back at it? What was going on?
“I am sorry you have been left behind,” the voice
said, “but do not think fate has punished you without
reason. Yes, you were scorned for your highest
virtues: left behind for your courage and loyalty,
spurned for your love, discarded for your strength.
But so too were you held back by your deepest sins:
for pride and self-loathing have joined their chains
around your neck. You should never have let Farris
run so far ahead.”
“What do you know about Farris? Is she all
right?” Sasha asked aloud, forgetting his own fear at
the first mention of her name.
“Quiet down!” Gloria said. “We will make sure
the girl is all right as soon as we’ve done the same for
“Her body is safe and at peace,” the Guide said.
“As for her spirit, I cannot say, and her heart … well,
you would know better than I.”
“I don’t think there is anyone who knows her
heart less than I,” Sasha grunted. The flash of fire
appeared behind as the guards moved back down the
stair. Sasha felt his way deeper into the crack. “Who
are you though? Show yourself.”
“I am the part of Farris that has no limits,” the
Guide replied. “There is no need to show myself
when you have already done just that. Your voices
will have been heard by a shelled creature called the
Moross. They will be here presently. If you do as I
say, they will lead you directly to the girl.”
“What are you saying, Sasha?” Gloria asked
suspiciously, her voice ringing with a touch of the old
majesty she must have once been accustomed to.
“Say you are a dead man walking the path of the
living, searching for your home,” the Guide’s voice
“What does that mean?” Sasha asked.
“They will understand you.” The Guide’s hiss
faded. “They are here already. Come, my boy, let
them take you home.”
True to its word, the voice was replaced by the
murmuring of Moross mere moments later. Great
luminescent eyes lit up the darkness, staring and
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
blinking at one another sadly. Sasha pushed his way
onward until the crack opened enough for him to
stand. There was more light here, glowing from
stalactites that lined the cavern. A cluster of Moross
pressed themselves against the far wall, eyeing him
“What carries death, carries death?” they cooed.
“Who comes to save us?”
“If there are Moross here, we must be in the
fourth shell,” Gloria said. “That is good. They are a
kind people, as I recall. We should be safe here until
we can find our way onward.”
The voice said there was a crack and there was.
He told Sasha the creatures would help him, and
Gloria said they were good. Whatever strange magic
was now at play, it was the clearest path Sasha could
see. “I am a dead man walking the path of the living,
searching for my home,” Sasha said to the Moross.
The creatures crept away from the wall,
apparently gaining confidence from his words. Their
large eyes sparkled with relief, and several of them
“A just path,” one said.
“How fortunate for you,” others agreed.
“Fortunate for you.”
“How do you know it is time to go home?” asked
a third. “I have waited all my life, and though I’ve
always known I had to get there, I have never known
how or when.”
“Home to me is where Farris is,” Sasha replied.
“I don’t even know who I am without her. I suppose
when you are so lost that all roads seem dark save
one, then that one will lead you home.”
“Perhaps I am not ready yet,” replied the creature
thoughtfully. “The path even to my home seems dark,
though I know the way beyond is bright. Come
though, let us celebrate your time.”
“Come though, come though,” echoed the
others. “Let us bring you home.”
“What is going on here? What am I missing?”
Gloria asked. “Haven’t you learned by now, Sasha?
Nothing is this easy.”
“But it should be,” the Guide’s voice laughed. “If
nothing else, love should be easy.”
“I hear a voice,” Sasha said. He didn’t know
anyone as wise as Gloria, he should tell her
everything. “Something told me where to find safety
and how to speak with the Moross.”
“I don’t like voices,” Gloria mumbled. “They’re
never just a ‘how do you do, have a nice day’. Don’t
let your guard down. Tell me everything it says, and
we will get through this together.”
Sasha nodded. He rested his hand on the goat,
and the pair allowed themselves to be led by the
procession of Moross. The mysterious voice remained
silent, and on their journey the creatures spoke so
cheerfully about crowning Sasha and bringing him
wealth that it was hard to feel apprehensive. They
traveled through a network of caves like this, and
Sasha was beginning at last to feel confident in his
course when they reached a final bend in the passage.
The glow of red fires shone from farther on, and
Sasha set himself on guard once more.
“Thank them for their worship,” the Guide’s
voice spoke once more. “Then bow before the
guards. When you hear the gong sound, stand tall and
shout: ‘hail the victorious dead’.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
Sasha did as he was bidden, and as soon as he
saw the armored shells and the narrowed eyes staring
at him, he dropped into a low bow. The other Moross
continued walking on without him. One of the guards
raised the gong, and before even the Moross could
shout out their tribute, Sasha stood tall once more
and bellowed proudly.
“Hail the victorious dead!” Sasha said.
This seemed to put the guards’ suspicions at ease.
They gave him a smart salute and lowered their maces
“You respect our ways, traveler, and so you
respect us,” said the first guard.
“Where do you travel within our land?” asked the
“Repeat what I had told you from the start,” the
“I’m a dead man walking the path of the living so
I might find my way home.”
“The home of all dead, both men and otherwise,
rests here,” the first guard said. “Go now with our
brothers who have brought you this far.”
The second guard shifted from one foot to the
other, seeming less sure than his comrade. “We honor
the path you have chosen,” he said, “but I have not
seen a living man so confident in his transcendence
before. Are you sure you are ready for death?”
“Death?” Sasha furrowed his brow. Were they
threatening him? Just a moment ago they had seemed
so welcoming. Sasha took a step back warily.
“Your death, your crown. Your glory, your rise,”
the guards echoed.
“His rise?” Gloria exclaimed. “I have seen
enough death in my time to know no rise will come of
it. There is no rapture in the eyes of the fallen. Only
fear and sickness and remorse. If this is the game
you’re playing, then we want no part in it.”
“Fallen, little goat?” one of the guards asked,
showing no surprise at Gloria’s speech. “There is no
higher honor than to rest in that palace and be served
by all who have yet to come.”
“Tell them you accept the honor,” the Guide said
sternly. “There is no other way into this land where
Farris now waits for you. Do not worry, I am here to
keep you safe.”
“I accept the honor,” Sasha said automatically.
He didn’t know what was going on, but for now he
just had to keep getting closer to Farris. If he could
find her again, everything else would make sense. She
would be able to lead him, and he would never turn
The Moross who had led Sasha here were already
waiting along the path. They were vigorously nodding
their heads with enthusiasm and respect.
“There is no honor in being served at all,” Gloria
grumbled. “And even less when those served are
“What would you know of honor, you filthy
creature?” the second guard spat. “How else should
our ancestors be praised?”
“Only in memory,” Gloria said. “What became
of this place? How could you let King Nippol be
disgraced like this? I knew the sage well. He loved life
and would never glorify its ending like this.”
“All hail the victorious dead!” both guards
stamped to attention at the name of their fallen king.
“Hail Queen Velume, Queen of the dead.”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Does she still live, that old bag?” Gloria asked.
“If only she had gone and her husband lingered
instead, your people would not be forced to live for
Sasha put his hand on Bumble’s fur and pulled
her away from the guards. “Stop antagonizing them,”
he whispered. “It doesn’t matter what they believe, as
long as we are allowed through.”
Bumble pulled away from Sasha, sharing the
stubbornness of the old fish.
“You don’t understand,” Gloria said. “I was
there when the Moross were lovers of the light. I
heard the beautiful poetry they sung, and the dances
they would celebrate first spring with. I saw King
Nippol walk through the streets in parades of falling
flowers. Traveling through this land of death, it’s too
much. I can’t say nothing.”
The guards were scowling heavily. This wasn’t
going well. This wasn’t what the voice had told him to
do. Sasha bodily lifted Bumble and hurried along the
path after the procession, who had stopped to listen
to Gloria speak.
“Why do you speak of our gods as though you
know them, know them?” one of the traveling
Moross asked. “Surely this is blasphemy.”
“Don’t listen to her,” Sasha protested. “She just
talks, don’t mind it.”
“They were not gods until you made them
such,” Gloria replied stiffly. “Let me tell you about
the Moross I knew. King Nippol was revered and
praised when he was alive. His only tragedy was in
marrying the witch Velume who, though beautiful,
could skin an animal just by looking at it. One night
the king fell suddenly with a terrible illness. His wife
Velume had disguised its symptoms for a long time to
preserve the power of the throne, but she had done
nothing to treat its cause. She hid his sickness so long
that by the time it was discovered, it had become too
late to cure. The poor king wasted away to
nothingness, and before he was even at peace, the
queen had stolen his power.
After that I did not meet her, but I have heard
rumors before all fell to the chaos of Nidhoggdrasil. It
was said she worked the Moross to death and praised
them only after they had given into it. In memory of
her husband, she built a massive burial house and
declared that he ruled from the grave in order to give
authority to her own commands. I have not heard
anything of your people since, but it seems the glory
of death has extended well past its shameful
beginnings. I see a thousand mausoleums which
would put the king’s own burial chamber to shame. I
see the huddled lands of the slaves the Moross people
have descended into. Do not speak to me of
blasphemy, for there are no gods to blaspheme here.
Only a good king who suffered from love and a
wicked woman who loved his power.”
The procession of Moross looked fearful. They
whispered to one another, their wide eyes darting
wildly around them.
“You can’t speak about her that way,” one of
“She will hear you, hear you,” said another.
“Let her hear!” Gloria protested. “I wouldn’t
mind speaking with the woman who has let this land
“All hail the victorious dead!” one shouted, the
conviction in its voice cracking. “All hail, all hail!”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“Are you happy now?” Sasha gripped his head
roughly between his hands, unable to contain his
frustration. “We need these people to find Farris and
you’re turning them against us.”
“On the contrary,” the Guide’s voice told Sasha.
“It is Queen Velume who will bring you to Farris.”
“You’re right,” Gloria sighed. “The clock cannot
be rewound. We must live for tomorrow. I’m sorry,
all of you. It wasn’t my place to bring any of that up.”
The Moross hung their heads in silent prayer.
The soft sound of stamping feet could be heard in the
sudden silence. The Moross jumped around, startled.
They began to wail and lament, praising the thrones
and crowns and everything that came to their minds.
Something was coming.
Sasha spotted a carriage being pulled by four
armored Moross approaching from one of the mighty
funeral pyres. The vehicle was drawn on wheels made
of Moross shells. The rest of the carriage was
constructed of bleached white bone with long flaps of
tanned leather hide over the door and windows.
Moross skulls gilded with gold lined the top, and the
stench of death grew stronger as it approached.
“A wicked woman indeed,” an amused voice
came from within the carriage.
“She comes, she comes,” wailed the Moross.
“Celebrate, for the queen has heard your summons.”
There was no point in resisting it, Sasha thought.
Once more he became aware how little he knew of
the place, and he began to feel small and helpless once
more. Who was he next to all these ancient lords and
powerful spells? Who was he to know who to fight
for, or against, or whether to fight at all? There was so
much he didn’t know he didn’t dare to act on his own
anymore, in case somehow he unwittingly ruined
countless years of carefully laid plans. The voice in his
head was leading him, and it said the queen would
help him find Farris. That was all he could hold onto.
He closed his ears to the wailing Moross, and waited
patiently until the carriage of death pulled to a stop
Two of the guards accompanying the carriage
unfurled the hide doorway into a royal carpet. Rich
perfume wafted from the opening, completely
masking the deathly stench of the carriage. A very
thin, very tall Moross stepped lightly onto the carpet.
She was clad in tight leather and painted with gold leaf
and ornaments of small bones. The guards saluted in
“Glory to the Queen! Lord of the Dead,”
She walked straight past them without any
indication of having heard them. While the other
Moross rose barely to Sasha’s chest, this one was at
least a head taller than him. She seemed as though she
were about to walk directly through him. Sasha took
several stumbling steps backward as she approached,
but she didn’t seem to notice. Her thin-lipped mouth
was pressed firm, and her huge eyes were narrowed to
slits, their focus unwavering from Bumble. The
Queen stopped before the goat, who was eyeing her
warily. Sasha couldn’t believe what happened next: the
lady of gilded gold and finery, the queen of her land
and goddess to her people, knelt before the goat and
pressed her face into the earth.
“Hail Gloria of Omar, empress of the seven
lands,” the Queen said. Her voice was soft and
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
melodious, and so sincerely humble Sasha felt the
instinct to help her stand again.
The guards around their queen seemed uncertain,
but they too prostrated themselves before the goat.
Bumble looked considerably pleased by this, and
bleated upon the fact warmly. Gloria was silent
however, perhaps finally at a loss for words.
“Although I must admit your old carriage suited
you better,” Queen Velume added with gentle mirth.
“Queen Velume, a pleasure,” Gloria responded
curtly. “I see you have not aged, although I wish I
could say the same for your kingdom.”
“The same to your empire,” the Queen laughed
again, rising to stand tall above the goat. “But I’m glad
you still made it here. The Caged One has told me
you would come.”
“The Caged One?” Gloria asked. “Do you mean
he is in the tomb?”
“I was as surprised as anyone to hear from him,”
the Queen said. “Although I can’t say I was
disappointed. I confess that I have longed to hear
word from that dead giant for many years.”
“If he is speaking, then he is not dead,” Gloria
“You are speaking, but that does not guarantee
life,” the Queen said, leaving the thought to darken
the air for a moment before she laughed again with
good nature. “I do not know any living being with
such a power. The dead are far more capable than you
give them credit for.”
“And the living far less than you do,” Gloria
“I know what the living are capable of as well,”
the Queen smiled, waving her hand behind her. “They
have built all the grandeur beyond you.”
“The tomb of a dead city, nothing more,” Gloria
shot back. “But what did you learn, Velume? You
must tell me. Who does the voice belong to?”
“Ah ah ah.” The Queen waggled her long finger
back and forth, as though scolding a naughty boy.
“You know it’s all the same to me. Once they’re dead,
they’re mine.” She spread her thin arms expansively,
the pale skin glowing from the thousand burning
crowns behind her.
“They aren’t all dead though!” Sasha insisted, his
frustration growing while the ladies prattled.
The Queen turned to Sasha, seeming to notice
him for the first time.
“Farris is still in there, and I intend to find her.
So unless you would be gracious enough to tell me
where she is hidden, I will be on my way so you two
can catch up on old times.”
“Oh yes, the girl,” Queen Velume mumbled.
“The Caged One did mention something about that. I
believe he even asked me to take you there. Very well,
into the carriage. We shall chat along the way.”
“This is more important.” Gloria’s voice was a
blade. “You can’t play with fate like that, Velume. If
you know something about the voice, you must tell
“Last I checked, the Empress of Omar does not
command anyone anymore,” Queen Velume said.
Turning, the Queen stepped gracefully back
inside the corpse carriage. Sasha approached it at
once, but up close the perfume failed to conceal the
stench of decay. He almost retched as he climbed
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
inside, but he did his best to hold his composure. As
far as Sasha could tell, matters like who the voice
belonged to were in the realm of philosophy. It didn’t
have any practical implication to finding Farris.
“Come on then, Bumble, in you go,” Gloria
Sasha turned to see Bumble stubbornly rooted to
the ground. She sniffed the carriage again and took a
step backward, her eyes wide with terror.
“Inside, now!” Gloria demanded.
Bumble whimpered and lay upon the ground.
“It is good to see the extent of the empress’s
authority now,” Queen Velume laughed again. “Do
not worry, we don’t have far to go. Follow us if you
like, I will enjoy this chance to speak with a man who
still bears his own form.”
“Hold on, wait,” Gloria protested. “Velume, you
can’t act so callously. If you ever had any respect for
Omar I demand you—”
Queen Velume snapped her fingers. The guards
rolled the door back up, closing Sasha inside with the
Queen. Should he do something? Gloria only seemed
to be making trouble now, and the voice had said to
trust the Queen. If it really was only a short ride, there
couldn’t be any harm in it. He needed her help, so
now was not the time to show any disrespect. Sasha
forced a smile at the Queen, who blinked her large
alien eyes in reply. The carriage jolted to life, and he
heard the rattle of shells rolling along the road. Sasha
was suddenly very aware that he sat upon the dead
remains of her own people.
“What is your name, little man?” Queen Velume
asked in a singsong voice generally reserved for pets
“Sasha,” he replied tersely, looking out the
window. They were heading towards a giant pyramid.
Was Farris inside? There was a moment of silence.
Sasha glanced back to the Queen. Her large eyes did
not move from his face. He shuddered. “Did you see
Farris when she entered your land?”
“No, but the Caged One told me of her passing.
She is dead now, Sasha, resting inside the grand
chamber of the tomb palace.”
“Dead?” Sasha shouted, losing his own heart for
a moment. The voice had said—but he had come
after her—this wasn’t happening. This wasn’t real.
This was another one of the thousand tricks this evil
world played, and he wasn’t going to believe it for a
minute. The stench around him seemed to grow more
oppressive, and he found himself gulping for air.
“You don’t mean dead,” Sasha spluttered. “You mean
she has a crown. That she’s in the palace. That she’s
being held with the highest honors. You can’t mean—
” “Dead,” replied the Queen. “Her heart doesn’t
beat. Her lungs draw no breath. Her mind holds no
thoughts. Dead. What were you expecting, little man?
She is in the tomb, after all. A place in the grand
chamber is a very high honor however, so you should
be pleased for her.”
“There must be a mistake,” Sasha said frantically.
“I spoke with the voice too. He said she was safe and
“She is safe and at peace. Nothing will hurt her
anymore, I promise,” the Queen replied sweetly. “But
how interesting that the Caged One called for you as
well. What else did he say?”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“But you haven’t seen her so you don’t know!”
Sasha insisted. “She might have snuck into the tomb,
or broken in, or been let through by the guards.”
“That’s impossible,” the Queen dismissed.
“There is only one guard, and the beasts of Byzantia
can smell death.”
“But visitors must be allowed in!” Sasha begged.
[_You can’t believe her, _] he screamed at himself. _You _
[_promised you wouldn’t give up. You’re not giving up. _]
“Visitors do come, but only when they bring the
dead body with them. She had a companion, I was
told, a tall thin fellow. One of the Paral-Zakdul. He
carried her inside and left her within the tomb.”
“I do not have a body with me,” Sasha said in
frustration, “but you are bringing me to her.
Obviously the rule is not absolute.”
“Of course you don’t have a body with you,” the
Queen laughed. “You are the body being brought in,
silly man. Did you not enter my land by saying you
were dead returning home? You’re home now,
Sasha’s skin was cold. Sweat beaded on his brow.
Tears welled in his eyes. His blood burned. Not now.
Not after everything. There’s another way. There’s
always another way.
“It’s true that I would die to see her again, but if
I’m dead how can that be?”
“Hush, little man,” the Queen said. “Do not
pretend to understand death. You have already died a
thousand times in your life without knowing it, and
you still see me, do you not? You still love the girl, I
“What do you mean I have already died?” Sasha
asked. His heart skipped. [_You see? _] He told himself.
This wasn’t real death. This was a spell, or a
metaphor, or a ritual. Something. Anything but losing
her. “Each of us is born with a hundred selves inside
of us, and all of them are sleeping,” the Queen said.
“As we grow older, they start to wake up. Only a few
in childhood, and they are still sleepy and groggy. As
we age, more of them will wake up, and the first ones
will grow older and die. By the time you have lived on
this earth for twenty years or so, as I would guess you
have, you have already seen dozens of your selves die.
Do you still love the sticks you turned to swords? Do
you remember the joy of each fresh snowfall on the
surface? You cannot tell me that the same boy with
wonder in his eyes is still alive today.”
Sasha nodded slowly. He had changed over time,
that was true. But wasn’t he still himself? Could dying
really be that simple, to have passed without him
“If you do not realize it,” the Queen continued,
“then that simply shows you how innocent a thing
death is, and how much more there is yet to come.”
“But if my body were to die, then that would be
the end of my selves,” Sasha protested. Why was he
even arguing? He wanted to believe her words so
badly; they felt like some holy gospel showing him
“It would only be the end of those who are
awake now,” the Queen said. “The Caged One told
me another thing about Farris. He said she loves you
very much, and that she has remembered all of you
that she once forgot. The part of her which loved you
was sleeping while she was alive, but the moment she
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
died it woke and lives again. Can you hear her calling
for you? Can you feel her love?”
Sasha closed his eyes. There was pressure
building behind them, and he no longer wished to see.
His breath refused to come evenly, but he forced it to
as well as he could. Could he feel her now? In this
moment, the enormity of what he felt for her could
not possibly stem from one heart alone. Some of it
must come from her as well.
Sasha opened his eyes slowly, finding them wet.
“Yes,” he said in a voice that was not his own. “I can
feel it from her.”
“Could she love you if all of her selves were
dead?” the Queen asked, her voice silk with sympathy.
“No,” Sasha said, his voice sounding hollow and
foreign in his own ears. His chest hurt so badly. He
felt the urge to dig his fingers into it and rip the skin.
He wanted to squeeze his own heart in his hand until
it stopped. He wanted it to be over.
“Would it be such a terrible thing to rest beside
her? To let all of this noise in your head sleep while
new parts of yourself woke? You could be with her
forever, if you wished. She would remember you as
you wanted, and you could see her as she always was.
Would you like to be with her, Sasha?”
“Yes,” Sasha said. And why not? If the Queen
was right, then he would find her again. If she was
wrong, then the pain would be over and he could
sleep. There were no other options.
Sasha could see the Queen reach a hand into the
folds of her leather and pull out a long straight knife.
She held it out, and Sasha was surprised to see his
own body reaching to take it. The metal was so cool
against his heated skin. The carriage was slowing
down. He thought he could hear Gloria grumbling
about something outside. The sounds were muffled
though, and Sasha had never felt any sensation so real
as the chill of the knife.
There was only one other person he could trust.
One last chance.
“Caged One,” Sasha asked aloud. “If that is your
name, please do not forsake me. Tell me if Farris is
“It is true. Farris is dead,” replied the voice
within him sadly. “And with her your part in this tale
has ended. It is time to go home.”
“Is it true?” Sasha asked again. “Did she
remember me after she died? Is there someone
waiting on the other side?”
“It is true,” the Guide replied, “but you will find
The carriage doors opened, and Gloria waited
“Can you believe the disrespect I received out
here?” Gloria complained. “The guards laughed at me
for being inside a goat. When I was an empress, my
carriage was the size of a two story house being pulled
by elephants. Their own queen bowed to me, but they
are laughing at me.”
“But she loves me, and so that is all right,” Sasha
said to himself, stepping onto the skull stairs and the
grass below. He stood before the great tomb with the
towering statue of the bull above him.
“What are you talking about?” Gloria asked, her
voice flooded with concern. “What has the queen
been telling you in there?”
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
“And I love her, and so it is all right,” Sasha said
to himself. Why was he crying? He was going to see
Farris again. There wasn’t any reason to cry.
“Velume, you witch, what have you done to
him?” Gloria shouted.
The queen stepped from the carriage beside
“You will take me to her?” Sasha said.
“Yes, and you shall be with her for all eternity on
the highest throne,” the queen replied.
Queen Velume’s fingers closed around Sasha’s
hand and tightened his grip on the knife.
“And I will be laid to rest beside her?”
“What evil is this? Sasha, listen to me! We can
still find Farris! It’s not too late—”
At a nod from the queen, one of the guards
seized Bumble and dragged her away. The goat
struggled to break free, kicking and biting uselessly
against the armored embrace.
Sasha turned to Gloria and Bumble, shaking his
“I’m sorry, Gloria. There isn’t any other way.”
The cool blade felt more alive than he did as he
gripped it in his fingers. Slowly Sasha walked towards
the giant statue that loomed before the doors. What
would Farris have done when she was here? How
would she have gone into the unknown? There was
only one answer of course. She would have had a
song on her lips, and she would have been brave.
Sasha opened his mouth, singing everything that came
to his mind.
_You remembered me in morning, _
[_before we’d even met. _]
_First glance was forewarning, _
_To the last time our sun would set. _
[_ You’ve forgotten me in daylight, _]
_but never could I forget you. _
[_I told you I’d stay fighting, _]
[_in this quest I’d follow through. _]
[_Though I’ve failed you in the afternoon, _]
_and empty miles consumed me, _
[_You’ll still find us carved in runes, _]
_Our names at home in every tree. _
_ You walked alone in nightfal, _
_Without me by your side. _
_Veil of shadow, light the shawl, _
_Covers you when you have died. _
_But if you finally had the power, _
[_To break your memory’s spell, _]
_Then deep into this midnight hour, _
[_I’ll follow you to hell. _]
Gloria was released, but it was too late. The cool
dagger was refreshing as it pierced through Sasha’s
heart. His blood soaked his shirt and fell at the feet of
the massive statue.
“You see, Gloria,” Queen Velume said. “I always
get what I want. Now it is time for us to have our
arris woke from her heavy slumber. The burning
F fire of Elestarphagia was gone. There was a sweet
scent in her nostrils. Her right hand was being licked
by something warm and familiar. She lay atop a stone
slab, Bumble at her side. She reached down and
ruffled her head with affection, but there was a depth
in the goat’s eyes that she was not accustomed to. She
looked about her, and saw Sasha lying on her other
side. Farris quickly turned her eyes away from Sasha,
looking down at her hands.
“I suppose my Guide has told you everything,”
Farris said, looking away in embarrassment.
He did not reply.
“Well, it’s not like it means anything, I was just
He was silent.
“I’m sorry, all right? And thank you. But if you’re
gloating over there, you idiot—”
“I only said that I loved—”
Farris sat up and looked into his pale face. At his
thin tunic of spider silk stained deeply with blood. At
the Paffadilly flower lying gracefully curled, its sweet
scent concealing the first rot in his body. That’s what
had woken her up. He had died to bring her this
“I only said that I—” Farris whispered.
She kissed the petals of the flower, and then
kissed him, and kneeling over him, she wept.
“He never stopped loving you, Farris.” Gloria
said. “He betrayed me.”
“He didn’t! Your brother is still out there—”
“Not Sasha,” Farris snarled, cradling his head.
“Riften. My Guide. You. Sasha was the only one who
had been true, and I couldn’t see it.”
“You abandoned me,” Farris interrupted. “I
don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. If my brother is
still out there, then I’m going to find him alone.”
Farris gently rested Sasha back upon the stone
and stood, her back turned to Gloria. The Pafadilly
remained clutched to her chest.
“You’re talking nonsense. If Riften left you in
here then you need allies more than ever. He’ll be
returning to his people, and he’ll tell them everything
about you and your quest.”
“Riften left me for dead,” Farris replied. She
measured her steps carefully, approaching the open
stairway that the Paral-Zakdul must have taken
downward. Her blood was pounding so ferociously
she couldn’t think straight. She could barely walk. The
fire still burned inside her veins, but she knew that
wasn’t from the Elestarphagia. It wasn’t her fault
THE LAST MAN BOOK 2
Sasha died. It was her Guide. He would pay for his
lies. “Farris, I’m your friend,” Gloria begged. Farris
turned and looked at Bumble. The one familiar thing
left in this alien world. She was the one constant
companion who would never have ulterior motives,
or secrets. She doesn’t have the capacity for anything
but love. Isn’t that what Farris had aspired to? She
had just understood love for the first time in her life.
Why was hate all she could feel? Why did it feel so
good to have an outlet for her pain?
Sasha wouldn’t have wanted her to do this. He
wanted nothing but for her to live in peace with him
and be happy.
“I’m going with you, Farris,” Gloria continued,
her voice soothing. “This is my quest too, and I’m
going to see it through. Take time if you need it, but
all of this happened because you were unable to
control your anger.”
Farris took a deep breath. “I don’t need time,”
Farris said softly.
“You’ve just escaped the brink of death. You’ve
lost someone you’ve loved. You’re still human, Farris.
You can’t pretend these things don’t affect you.”
Farris moved slowly as though it was a dream.
She heard Gloria’s words, but they were nothing but a
spark compared to the inferno in her head.
“Come if you want then,” Farris said without
turning. “Just don’t tell me what to do. No one is
going to do that ever again.”
“You’re going to look for your brother again?”
Gloria’s voice filled with hope.
“I’ve promised to bring Tom home. That’s what
I’m going to do,” Farris said, her voice flat and dead
in her ears.
“I knew you would be reasonable.” Gloria sighed
with relief. “I was afraid your Guide had poisoned
you against reason when you left, but you haven’t
forgotten yourself. Let your knowledge of the world
help you act upon your convictions, not change
“I’m going to bring Tom home,” Farris repeated.
“And burn every last one of them who gets in my
[*DID YOU LIKE THIS? *]
This book was published by Incandescent Phoenix
Books, a small press. Without reviews, small presses
like us cannot market their books. Leaving any review
is a huge boon to the author—and it takes only a
single line or two to make that difference. Telling
others what you liked helps the author write more of
Most readers don’t leave reviews. If you do so, it
would mean more than we can say.
Incandescent Phoenix Books
[*WANT MORE? *]
Did you like this? Sign up for Tobias’s New Release
mailing list and find out when more books are ready.
*ABOUT THE AUTHOR *
As a child I constructed a spaceship capable of
superluminal speeds powered by a fusion core reactor.
The submission was denied by NASA on the grounds
that it was made entirely of legos. In high school I was
told that I could do anything I wanted in life, while
only being taught everything that I didn’t want to be. I
probably deserved the detentions I received. In
college I completed two bachelors of science in
psychology and physiology and worked as a
During my psychological studies it struck me as
odd that I could learn so much about why humans
behave without really understanding the intricacies of
human nature. It occurred to me that I had learned
more about the depths of human experience from
reading Dostoyevsky than I ever had from my text
books, and I was inspired to write professionally.
In my stories, scripts, and books I create surreal
worlds which utilize abstract scenarios to illustrate my
values. I am drawn to themes of individuality,
personal enlightenment, and the subjective quest of
defining our purpose. I glorify man’s will to overcome
all obstacles within himself and the ability to find
beauty in tragedy.
The fantasy story of enlightenment follows Farris as she travels through seven surreal worlds representing: fear, pleasure, illusion, death, truth, identity, and attachments. She is pursuing her younger brother Tom who was captured by monsters in order to fufill an ancient prophecy, and she must battle against fantastical monsters and overcome a tear a hole in reality itself to save him. Unlikely companions join her, from her faithful goat Bumble to Gloria the magical fish, a seemingly trustworthy dweller of the Brass City, and Sasha … a man who knows far more about her than he should. THE LAST MAN is the first volume in a trilogy of young adult fantasy adventures sure to delight fans of C.S. Lewis and Phillip Pullman.