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CHAPTER 36

Elienne's eyes flew open, yet still it was utterly dark. She blinked frantically; the blackness remained. There was no light, none. Even a cat would be blind here.

She thrust her hand out. It touched on the burnt-out torch. Without a flint it was useless to her, yet she clung to it desperately. The blackness was as thick, as cloying, as a shroud, and she couldn't seem to catch her breath in the heavy, dank air. It was as if she were buried alive, sealed in a tomb. She wanted to scream.

She was afraid to move; she was blind. And yet she could see too much, could not blind herself to the vision of Gabriel's face, the strong, good face that was now a mask, of the calm, gray eyes that no longer mirrored his soul.

A sob escaped her lips. What had she done? She had wanted to heal his pain. Only that. "The gods grant forgiveness to all who seek it," she whispered desperately into the blackness. But would they forgive she who was to be the Intercessor, she who had presumed to abuse the power they had granted her? She had opened a door to the secret place where no one, save a man himself and the gods, should be admitted, and had looked into his raw, naked soul.

And there she had seen and heard and touched and tasted his agony. "Forgive me, gods," she moaned. She had only wanted to heal his pain; through her arrogance, she had robbed him of his self. She had not even permitted him the solace of his strength. The strength with which the good, simple man who had been Gabriel of Morevale had borne his secret pain, would always have borne it.

Where was he now? Who was he? She lay on the cold stone, shivering, and wept. "Gabriel," she cried into the darkness, though she knew he would not, could not answer. He was no longer there.

She was alone. Suddenly, the blackness seemed thicker, the air heavier. The sounds of dripping water, of things scuttling in the darkness, grew louder. No, she was not alone: somewhere in this dark place the heretic still lived.

Elienne wiped her eyes. Grasping her holy symbol, she prayed. She prayed that the gods would bring Gabriel back to her. She prayed that she might see his serene gray eyes look upon her once more, and know her. She prayed that she would be given the wisdom to undo what she had done.

Breathing deeply, slowly, Elienne felt her strength building. She could move. She could stand. She could walk. She struggled to her feet. Without her eyes, she seemed to have lost her balance, but she stretched her arms out before her, took a halting step forward, then another.

The gods would guide her, she knew. But toward what, she could not know. She and Gabriel had been sent here for a purpose. He could not fulfill the task. She must.