The four men ran into a cave to take shelter from the storm. First, Serses entered, followed closely behind by Ashtior. Pourglut practically had to drag Hilturb in, for the young man struggled to stay out in the dangerous, open plain. "Nilesta is still out there!" he screamed while his friends attempted to subdue him. "We can't leave her alone to face the storm!"
"We won't be able to do her much good if we stay out there to get killed," Ashtior snapped in reply. Nilesta is a smart girl; she'll find shelter just as easily as we did. For now, we have to wait out the storm." While he spoke, Serses did his best to start a fire. It was difficult, for there was no wood to be found in the cave, and no one dared venture back into the storm. Somehow, he managed to find some.
"We can't!" Hilturb declared, although he'd stopped fighting. He sank to his knees and sobbed loudly. Normally, the other men would have scolded him for the show of weakness, but they were all thinking the same thing. Perhaps Nilesta wasn't as wise as they'd all once thought. After all, she'd heedless come to this forsaken place, throwing herself into unnecessary danger, when they all knew none of them could do any good.
Thunder crashed, and lightning briefly illuminated the plain outside. From deep within the cave, Pourglut said, "You should all come back here. I don't think we're alone in this cave."
The others, even Hilturb, crept further into the cave to see what had caused Pourglut to reach this conclusion. It was rather dark, but Ashtior, who had always been the reasonable one, traveled back to the front of the cave, where Serses's fire was sputtering. He returned to where the others were gathered.
That someone else had taken shelter here was obvious, but the evidence was also several days old. A pit that had been used for a fire sat on the floor just beyond the light of Serses's fire, and the stub of a candle sat upon a rock. It had nearly been entirely burned away.
Pourglut, while investigating near this rock, found something that looked even more out-of-place than the other items. The letter was sealed with wax from the candle, and the front was addressed with Hilturb's name. "She was here," he said before handing the letter to his friend.
Hilturb broke the letter open, dreading what he would find inside.
If there is only one thing you should know about me before I die, it is that I love you. I only want you to know that, and never doubt the truth of this statement. I think there are things that I should tell you, things I feared to tell you while I thought I would live, but that you need to know once I am truly dead. I've lied to you in the past, lies I regretted, but which were necessary. I've done things that will look like betrayal, but what you must know is that I never wanted to hurt you. Please believe me, and remember that I love you.
This having been said, I have decided to write to you, and tell you the story of my life. Hopefully, once you have the truth, you will understand why I had to do what I've done, and you will not hate me for my past. I suppose, however, that if you do, it is the price I must pay for what I've done. I've accepted the possibility that you might hate me- I accepted it the first day I realized I love you, I accepted it when I decided to lie to you, and I accepted it when I left the palace four days and a lifetime ago. When I stole these sheets of paper on which to put down the story of my life, I knew that I might only be ending your love, but I did it anyway, because I couldn't bring myself to lie in my death as I had in my life.
As I write, lights play across the desert. I had a friend once, who was more of a teacher. His name was Gethluthan, and I will describe him more in detail when the time comes. For now, suffice it to say that once, he told me lights such as these exist in the northern lands. There, they are called the aurora borealis, and it dances over the frozen snow and ice, just as now it plays over the desert. I wonder if, in the north, it serves such a purpose as it does here, and if it is as beautiful. I wonder if a thing can be beautiful without being evil.
What am I saying? You are not evil, and for that, I love you. What you must understand is that all my life, I have been surrounded by the vile, the corrupt, all those things that you are not. You must understand that living such a life tends to taint the vision of those like me, and perhaps you should excuse me for such thoughtless remarks as those above. Or perhaps, it won't matter, because in the end you will hate me anyway. It is good that I will be dead in a matter of days.
No more delaying. I don't want to do this, but I must, and now, I will begin the hardest task of my life. I will tell you my story.