Delrin exhaled into darkness. The air was cold, and despite the dark, she perceived a small cloud of mist expelled from her breath. Her skin glowed slightly in this place, she noticed, a dull illumination against the black.
She heard then too a sound, as if far off. A trickling of water, as in a babbling brook, the sound of soft footsteps becoming nearer. The peal of bells, and drumbeats on crystal overwhelming her senses. In the darkness, the arch of a doorway appeared, first as a crack of light in the stone wall of the cave, widening out to a portal through which a bright white light streamed copiously. And into this positive void stepped the silhouette of a great beast, like unto the form of an elk. Anthuor.
The beast breathed out jets of steam through its great nostrils, and she felt herself fixed under the penetrating stare of its eyes.
“Be at peace, little one,” Anthuor said to her in his deep booming voice, which filled up the emptiness of the chamber.
Delrin bowed her head in reverence, saying nothing.
“I have been with you since before you were born,” Anthuor continued.
“When your father pledged his store-houses to the magician
in exchange for a child,
and the two took a vow on my name,
I was listening.
When you were born,
I inspired you with song.
When you frolicked in the wood as a child with all my creatures,
I was there.
When you left home to find your destiny,
I followed close behind.
When you found your true love in the Great Forest,
I bore silent joyful witness.
And when you slipped and fell from the cliffs into the Weeping Waters,
It is I who caught you up, and brought you to this place.”
“For all these things, and more, I thank you,” Delrin said. “I have, I think, always felt your presence. I submit myself then into your protection in this dark land. For I know not where I am, nor the way forward.”
“This place,” Anthuor began, “is the Cave of Unnaming.”
“It is a… disagreeable name, I fear,” she said.
“For those who come here wrongly, indeed — it may prove their undoing. For those who come with a pure heart, and in the spirit of truth, no harm shall befall them.”
“Would that I may prove to be the latter…” Delrin said, trailing off.
“What must I do to return home?” she said.
“To leave this place,” Anthuor said, “one must be unnamed, or forever dwell in darkness.”
“Then let me be unnamed,” Delrin said without hesitation.
“First, understand the consequence,” Anthuor replied.
“Given that you are here as my invited guest, you may choose to dwell here, intact as you are. With all your memories and emotions, though in darkness. Should you choose to do so, a place has been prepared for you deep in the Hypogeum…”
“And if I choose to leave?”
“Then your name and your history will be stricken from you. In choosing a new name, you will pass out of this place as one new to the world, with no memory or knowledge of your home, your family, or your love…”
Delrin cried out, “I beg your forgiveness for saying so, but it seems an unfair choice: dwell forever in darkness with my misery, apart from the love I have found, or return to the world with everything stripped from me. It is not a beautiful choice.”
Anthuor huffed, “The third option is return to the almost certain death from which I delivered you, as fulfillment of the oath sworn under my antlers by your father and the magician before you were born. You would resume your fall into the Weeping Waters, whereupon you will likely drown and be dashed upon the rocks.”
Delrin wept bitter, silent tears, as she weighed these options.
“Tell me one thing,” she said at length. “Does my love yet live?”
Anthuor answered with a nod, “He does — though he himself has gone to another place out of your reach.”
“Then I am decided. So long as my love lives, I will not sacrifice a chance at being reunited. I found him once, and even if I am caused now to forget him, I know I can find him again. Let me be unnamed, and reborn.”
“So be it,” replied Anthuor. “You are unnamed.”
Though she perceived it not immediately, her memories slipped furtively away from her.
In the darkness of the cave, he revealed to her then his magic sigil floating dimly illumined in the air between them.
“Choose now three emblems from this tree. They will become your new name, and will determine through which door your shall pass.”
Though Delrin recognized not the arcane symbols before her, she chose three without hesitation.
“Fitting choices,” Anthuor explained. “Your heart speaks true. Queen, for your grace and royal bearing. Marsh, for the desolation of your past which is to follow. And Heron, a noble bird well suited to those wastes, and patient, a fisher.”
“I dub thee, Heron,” Anthuor proclaimed. “Pass now through the door, and may your patience be rewarded in the end.”
Anthuor stepped aside from the threshold, through which light poured, and Heron stepped through.