1. There is still dust on Esher's hands.
Unpolished stone still weighs and scratches him, sanding away all traces of the ink that once veined his fingertips. Foreign symbols are now carved on his hands instead, bahro symbols crawling like insects from the slates into the hollow places under his skin. He has carried rocks for too long.
The path he has walked changes a man: the reactions this 'quest' ignites have a chemical quality to them, as what lies outside gets dissipated desecrated distillated leaving a bare interior. Esher feels tired today. Eroded.
But now, now he is carrying gold. It already shines with the skies of four Ages, under the creatures' sickening bubble. Esher looks into the depths of its carvings and sees all the leaves of the Tree.
Thanks to the new master of the Tablet, D'ni once again gains a blinding shiny focus. Thanks to him, D'ni will once again be the bright core of a million worlds.
The rest is just dead layers, husks that will be blown away. For a new beginning.
2. “I can see your layers surround you. The barks of trees have a voice.”
Two sharp breaths of judgement. Yeesha the observer has nothing more to add.
They let silence grow between them, lately. He is out of faults to dispense to deaf ears, she has no words beyond her symbols, not even to explain them, not even to herself. But this is the end, and the end, it seems, requires more empty symbols on her part. So be it. It does not mean that he has to listen: those words must be a test, as everything is with her, but Esher has no interest in deciphering it, let alone passing it.
The scathing sun of the surface has long burned whatever promises the girl could nest upon.
“Keep your darkness close”, she warns again. “It's slipping.”
He will: her blood left him no other choice, he cannot forget one moment of the bleak void that was cast on these halls. He wears that memory tight.
It will make the lights of home all the sweeter.
3. The girl does not matter.
Let Yeesha think what Yeesha wants (if only because there is no other option). Other eyes seek him across the darkened lake. It's every wall in the City. It's the streets. The stones are watching, through the cracks that opened three hundred years ago and were left staring at death and nothingness. This is their hope. D'ni wants him to succeed.
Esher is aware that they are not looking at him, but at the artifact he holds in his hands: he is but an agent.
As long as he can feel this pressure. As long as the Tablet's light is bright enough for him to bask in.
Story of his life. Good enough for him.
4. “Remember Ri'neref.”
Yeesha's voice is firm. She is reaching back throughout history to build one last bridge to him and she cannot afford to crumble.
Back past Ti'ana and Kadish and Ahlsendar and the Watcher, it takes almost ten millennia to find common ground. Let it serve as a hint, child of the surface, he would say. But she did good: she bowed down to her roots to approach him, she talked his language. Remember the humble King, Esher reads effortlessly between her words. Remember how one begins, in this time of changes.
“Trust me, I do”, he then says instead. He does not take his eyes off the metal in his hands.
Esher remembers that it took the greatest Writer in recorded history to begin anew, with a flock of willing followers. Esher has no talent in his words, great and small, and his voice gets lost in the noise of a crowd.
He works with the tools he is given.
5. So in this moment at the center of worlds and stories and stones, with the eyes of all broken walls upon him, Esher places one palm on the Tablet and
it slips through his calloused fingers; he is grasping at air.
Yeesha laughs in defeat.
Shrieks echo from one end of the Cavern to its deepest tunnels.
What remains is dead layers. The last one sheds. Esher is alone.