When Alabrahm fell, there was one word on his lips, Gehenna.
He slammed against the bottom of the ravine and all the air was knocked of his lungs in one powerful exhale. He gasped, sputtered, and coughed, desperate to suck in any air he could, even if it was choking in the dust kicked up by his fall. Pebbles tumbled around him and there was the sudden fear that an avalanche of bigger rocks was soon to follow. The young man threw his arms over his head and braced for the impacts, but he was spared an onslaught. There was nothing more but a few handfuls of gravel that pelted off his chest and stomach. He was lucky, but it proved to be his only bit of luck that day.
In the waning light trickling down from the fissure far overhead he could just make out the tiny ledge that had given away and sent him tumbling. It had been a long fall, and not a clean one by any measure. He vaguely recalled the terror of bouncing and tumbling—ricocheting off one escarpment after another until he finally came crashing down in this wedge of rock.
He had heard both legs snap on the way down, and now, as he tried to flex them, an explosive pain erupted and coursed it way up through his limbs, his spine, turning his stomach over until its contents splashed against the stone next to him. The agony was beyond bearable, but he wasn't going to cry out. He clenched his jaw instead and took it, tasting the sickness that was thick in his mouth. No, he refused to give in now, he was going to be strong, for himself and for the spirit guardians who watched over him. For the love of the Eidolons, who he pledged his faith to; Al fought back the tears and forced himself to look at his wounds.
In the shadows he could see one of his legs jetting off at a ninety degree angle, oddly perpendicular and almost comical if not for the horror that it was his own appendage. The other leg wasn't much better off though it was at least straight. He could plainly see the white sheen of fresh bone pushing out through his pants, a blossom of blood spreading out from the tear. It looked like red wine, like the wine he had shared with Yalanna on that final day on the balcony overlooking the tributary falls of Avalon.
His love hadn't cried when he told her he was leaving, but they had fought bitterly over it. In the end, she imply set down her glass and walked away. And just like that she was gone and all that was left was her glass, drained and perched precariously at the edge of the precipice.
How could she just leave it like that?
In anger Alabrahm had smacked it away, shattered the glass into a hundred shards of prismatic color, which he watched fall away into oblivion knowing full well he could never take any of it back.
As he lay there incapacitated, each dire minute sucking away more of his life-force, he found himself becoming angrier. Growling and yelling he cried out in savage frustration at his predicament; but his own stifled voice screamed back at him in the narrow confines of his stone prison—mocking his brash stupidity, his arrogance. Al couldn't believe his end was to come here; he couldn't come to grips with it—couldn't come to grips with the fact that everyone was right and that he was a fool after all.
Al even went so far as to blame Yalanna in his despair.
After all, he thought bitterly, it was her beliefs that drove me here—her interests in the church of the Sa Du Ti and their ancient legends and bleak prophecies. I was just acting on our dream for a better future. I'm not to blame!
He beat the ground with his fists and even pounded on his own thighs, the impacts sent ripples of pain coursing through his shattered legs and he fell back and howled in anguish.
Why, why, he screamed in his mind. What folly has brought me here?
But he knew the answer already—Gehenna.
Al had never imagined he would have to travel so far north. He expected cold nights on his voyage, but nothing like what he found as he flew towards his inevitable end. The savage winds were cold beyond measure, howling without mercy, pushing and pulling his craft as he struggled to pilot the beleaguered balloon thought a complex tangle of monolithic reefs and their outstretched limbs of volcanic rock. Icy rain mercilessly pelted his frostbitten face and froze over the sails. Even the cold sun offered no comfort but instead had taken on a timeless orbit low on the horizon so that day and night became a single chilling twilight.
Why he had pressed on regardless of the obvious danger mounting around him, the unpredictable weather, the relentless cold, the strangeness that governed the heavens, was an ever present doubt gnawing within him?
Alabrahm had tried to tell himself he was close because as the legends said: Gehenna sits at the source of all reefs. It's what he bet his life on, a scant description which drove him north beyond all reason. Others said he was a fool to follow it, so when he first laid eyes on this formidable landscape of towering reefs he knew vindication was his, that he had found the source—and then it swallowed him whole.
On what would turn out to be his last day sailing, he had fought with everything he had just to keep control of the small airship, but the currents were too ferocious. Finally they grabbed him and flung his balloon helplessly through the skies. He braced himself for the crash as his ship raced past stone cliffs, brushing sharp obsidian overhangs, barrel-rolling and toppling on all three axes through the natural passages.
In that tortured sky, backlit by the dying embers of a feeble midnight sun, his ship careened through the sky to be dashed against a wind blistered island. The crash was horrendous, all twisted metal, shattered wood, and torn canvas, but he crawled away, sought escape in an ice-scoured valley, and found shelter within a fissure in the rock.
In haste, Alabrahm had blundered in, desperate for any shelter from the wind; and with his hands completely numb, and his legs unsteady as they were, he simply couldn't react quickly enough when the ledge inside gave way.
Gehenna—that's how he came to be here, and he was closer than ever.
Time passed without reckoning in the bottom of that pit but when he came around it was with a growing confusion. At some point the sun had given away and now there was only darkness. How long had he been down here? An hour? A day? An eternity? None of those answers would have surprised him, but it didn't matter. Alabrahm was sure each moment was moving quickly towards his last. There was no way he could climb out from this ravine, and his blood loss had reached that critical threshold where a burst of strength just wasn't his to be had.
Nothing mattered but the thirst that had taken root, and he was sure that was the only thing that brought him too. His only desire now, if he were to die, was to do so after tasting fresh cold water, at least once more. In fact, it didn't even have to be cold—it could be stagnant and putrefied for all that it mattered. All he wanted was moisture upon his sandpaper tongue.
And that's when he realized there was light, soft blue, and radiating from behind him. It was faint and even after he managed to roll over it was still just an obscure haze. But it was something. If anything maybe it was the glow of fresh water. So despite the pain, despite his right leg popping back into place, and despite the torturous effort it required to drag himself across that craggy floor, he managed somehow to make it to a small crack in the rock. The light was stronger here, unnatural in its glow, compelling in its tone, and deep within that chasm was the unmistakable dripping of water.
But the crack was so tight, he was sure he could never pull himself through it, and if he did he would never be able to back his way out. But dammit there was light, and he was so thirsty. He was going to meet his end down here; there was no question of that, so why not push himself deeper—if not for that handful of water before death.
Alabrahm squeezed his way into the crack, leaning on one side just to pull himself through. However, halfway in, he realized with horror that he didn't think he could squeeze any further. He struggled, thrashed in panic, but there was no going further, and without the use of his legs, no way to back out.
This was it, he was stuck and now death would come, and slowly at that.
Whether Alabrahm was drifting in and out of consciousness was unknown. There were moments when he was vividly aware of his predicament, trapped and dying, but then it melted, wavered, and washed away and he was free floating in an infinite expanse of space. A figure appeared ahead of him—shadowy before materializing into the likeness of a woman. At first he thought it was his mother, but then he realized it was Yalanna.
"Yalanna," he gasped in confusions.
"You don't belong here, my love," she said softly.
"I know, but I'm stuck," he grumbled. "Don't suppose you could give me a hand here, honey?"
"Oh, my sweet Al, I'm afraid I don't have a hand to give you. What are you doing here?"
"I told you already, honey, I'm looking for Gehenna," he replied softly and now he was standing on that balcony in Avalon. The wind ruffled his hair and brought a cooling spray of mist from the nearby waterfall. It felt good against his parched lips.
"Gehenna," laughed Yalanna as she took a sip of her wine, "Now that's a silly place to go looking for. That's about the most dangerous place on this planet."
"I know." He suddenly found it just as silly as she did.
"Then way, why Gehenna?" Yalanna's voice turned to pleading. The emotions she had bottled up so efficiently on the balcony now seemed to flow freely like a desperate rain from an overburdened cloud. The sky had grown dark, disparagingly, and Al found he couldn't move.
"To find the Leviathan," he responded as he struggled to shake the darkness. He wanted the sun back—he didn't want to cause her anymore pain.
"The Leviathan," she said in a stern rebuke as she discarded her wineglass on the ledge and turned away from him, "Are you absolutely mad? That's what this is all about? That's what you've sacrificed everything for? And what are you going to do against that monster? Oh, you're an elwyn that's for sure, but you have no abilities, none of the ancient splendor of your fine heritage beyond the mundane, so what are you going to do to defeat a devourer of worlds when those more capable than you have given up so long ago?"
Yalanna silhouette had begun to fade away, but Al was desperate to keep her. He tried to reason with her but he had no answers that seemed adequate, and all that came out was, "I…" She was going to leave and there was nothing he could do to stop her. His entire purpose had been to find Gehenna and locate the Leviathan but now none of that seemed to matter.
"Maybe nothing, to tell you the truth," Al said hanging his head in that cold abyss. Maybe I just wanted to simply gaze on the creature and bring back its memory to the other elwyn back in Avalon."
"To terrify them?"
"To show them it does exist. They have forgotten it's still in there—still festering away in the planet; driving us all towards ruin."
"And what good will that do, my love?"
"Maybe those more capable than me can do something about it, honey, maybe together we can figure something out."
"Do you really think so," asked Yalanna with a hopeful glimmer to her voice, she had turned to face him once more, and instead of fading she was growing more radiate.
"Good," she replied confidently, "but Al, you're going to have to crawl now. It will hurt but you have to."
Al did as he was told, and he pulled himself forward. At first there was nothing—no movement, and then a sort of snap and he was free to crawl. He felt the sharp edges of rock cutting into his arms and his sides but he moved on towards the light. It grew brighter. He could feel moisture on his face and on his hands. He stopped only for a moment to lick it off his fingertips before Yalanna urged him on with promises of all the water he could drink at the end of his journey. Not far ahead there was the steady dripping of water; the blue had faded to white, brilliant and terrifying all at once. And then he was sliding with a flow of water that sent him splashing into a pool.
The world had taken on a brilliant shade of white, but he was vaguely aware of the vestiges of a pool standing vertically before him, an impossible site unless gravity had become meaningless. But he suspended disbelief in favor of plunging into the pool, to drink its replenishing waters and find relief from the terrible thirst.
"Alabrahm," whispered Yalanna in his ears. "You have come to the threshold of Gehenna."
But instead of feeling joy at the words she spoke he was suddenly filled with a terrible sadness, and he asked of Yalanna, "I can never go home, can I?"
She looked at him compassionately, her amethyst eyes glimmering with tears. She nodded and replied, "There are simply some quests that cannot be forced, some mysteries that cannot be pierced before their time, and some battles that must be fought by others. I'm sorry my love, but you have come to a place in time that you cannot return."
Al groaned with despair. "I'm sorry, Yalanna. I should never have left you."
Yalanna approached and wrapped him in her arms tenderly. "Sleep, Alabrahm Muldaire," she whispered in his ears. "Sleep and dream of the world that was, and of the world that will be."
And when Alabrahm fell, there was one word on his lips, Yalanna.