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The Long Defeat

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ADDRESSING THE REVEREND LADY HARROWHARK NONAGESIMUS, KNOWN AS THE REVEREND DAUGHTER BY HER OWN DESIRE, NOW HARROWHARK THE FIRST, WRITING AS THE SAME, NOW DEAD.

LETTER #24 OF #24. TO BE READ ONLY IN THE EVENT OF YOUR IMMINENT AND UNAVOIDABLE DEATH.

This marks the end of the work. If there is any remote possibility, however ridiculous, that you might yet be saved, you are forbidden to read further. I conjure you by that which lies insensate beyond the stone: and by that which you have no notion of, which is yet dearer to me and has submitted to die, not at the Emperor's hand, but for my sake.

If you are facing a death which might be averted by the powers of a full Lyctor, you are forbidden to read further. I bid you die in blissful ignorance of what I have done, and be grateful that this last secret remains unrevealed. Disobedience risks the penalty of living the next myriad in an agony that you cannot, in your present state, possibly imagine, as I have removed your ability to comprehend it.

If you are privileged to see your total annihilation descend upon you, with enough time and foresight to recognize it, and without suffering such damage that you are rendered insensible, and only in that case, read on. You will suffer terribly as your brain attempts to digest itself to avoid knowing what I will tell you. But you are already suffering terribly and will soon be dead.

If you are not willing to suffer terribly to learn the secret of your purpose, then you are no longer Harrowhark, and have no rightful claim to what I have left you. In that case I bid you die in ignominy. Read the last section of this letter only, and may you choke on your own blood as the River itself rejects you and the jaws of Hell spit you out as spoiled, leaving you a starving and shiftless ghost until the heat death of the universe.

You have doubtless guessed by now that I have altered your brain. It was an act of desperation to save the soul of my cavalier (not yours: if I have done my work well, if Ianthe has not betrayed me and if God is merciful, she is not yours). She was murdered by a treacherous Lyctor and by my neglect. After our House tried to slaughter her and reviled her for surviving, after I flayed her and humiliated her and trampled her into the dirt of the grave for seventeen years, she gave her heart and life to me, and by those gifts rendered me utterly unworthy of them. I will not attempt to describe her to you. You are almost certainly already experiencing significant intracranial bleeding. You do not need to know the color of her eyes -- I pray to the Tomb and all it contains that you have never seen them, and never will.

The work, all that I have done for you and to you, has been for the single purpose of preserving her soul from perishing in the furnace of my Lyctorhood. It is appalling mutilation and necromantic triumph surpassing any I have known, and it is not enough to repay the debt she left us. It is a gift unworthy of her, as I am unworthy -- as you, now that you are moments from death, will forever prove unworthy. Yet I have written you this letter so that you might do her the only service left in your power, and die with her name on your lips.

Her name is Gideon Nav. I have loved her, however feebly, and died; you who have never loved her, ask her forgiveness now in dying, and be content.

What follows is to be read even though you will not understand it. To be read aloud, if lungs and lips are intact:

Griddle -- I do not know if you can see or hear this. I do not know what I am doing to you. But if you are awake, or aware, even for a moment, then know what I could not tell you at Canaan House: I do not accept your sacrifice. You were right, I can conceive of a universe without you in it, but I do not accept it.  I am undone without you. Beloved, I have wronged you since before I was born, and I have failed you in this at the last. But if you can come to me as you did when I took your soul -- if I can feel for a second, even in hallucination, your arms around me again -- then it will be more than I deserve. You were always kinder than I deserved.

That we are at last one flesh is an abomination and a living death, but this at least will be our end. Of all that I have done wrong and failed to do right, I am most sorry that I could not save you; but most proud that I did not destroy you.

I loved you with my whole rotten, contemptible heart. I dare not hope for your forgiveness, but I pray that when I am gone you will at last be free.

 

Yours irrevocably,

HARROWHARK NONAGESIMUS