Part 70: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 7The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 7
Dak'kon's Theme (Music)
"We need to talk."
The words came, unbidden, with the solemn weight behind it heavy on my heart. Dak'kon looked up at me, and caution swam in those coal-black eyes.
"What is it you wish to know?" he murmured, but in those eyes I could see that he already knew the question. It had hung over us for too long, swinging like a sword dangling over the head of a long-forgotten king whose name had been lost to the aeons.
"When Fell was describing the tattoo on my arm, you said you knew the symbols."
He was hesitant when he spoke, "The symbols speak of four you have traveled with in the past."
I nodded. Those words echoed those of that old fish merchant in the Hive, who had seen me once, long ago. "What four are these?" Something sounded in the back of my mind... the murmur was nearly inaudible, but it felt like a dozen flies were crawling in my skull..
"The tattoo speaks of four minds. One was a woman, who loved a man who knew her and knew not love. The other was a blind man, who saw things no mortal eye could see. Another was a familiar, a mage's pet, bought and bound. And the last was a slave."
"What can you tell me of the four?"
Dak'kon's eyes took on a far-away gaze, staring through me and into a life long ago, when another incarnation had walked in my skin. "The woman was young. She worshipped time, for in her blood, she knew of things to come. The archer was a blind man, and he could see things that no other one could see. The path of his arrows always led to the heart of an enemy. The familiar and the slave I know little of."
"See things to come? The woman's name wasn't Deionarra, was it?" The name on my lips brought the memory of her back to me: an azure gown rippled by an unfelt wind, and crystal-blue eyes bright with unshed tears. Her hair was white like the foam of the sea, her pale lips were pursed with the need to whisper my name and trembled with the sorrow of not knowing it.
Dak'kon nodded, "Know that Deionarra was the name she carried."
I felt cold. "What do you know of the archer?"
"I know little of him. I know he was a soldier. I know that alcohol had taken a portion of his life. In blindness, he had come to know a different sight. In knowing this, he had become strong. Yet he did not know his own strength."
"Do you know what his name was?"
Before Dak'kon could respond, I suddenly knew the answer. The crawling sensation in the back of my skull returned, and I felt the name surfacing, as if from beneath a great muddy ocean.
"His name was Xachariah... he was blind, but in blindness, he had gained a second sight that allowed him to see things hidden to others. He was an archer, and where his arrows flew, they found the hearts of their targets."
"Know that Xachariah was the name he carried. And know that his name pierced the heart of many enemies."
"And which one of them was you, Dak'kon? Were you the slave?"
Dak'kon was silent for a moment, and the surface of his blade swims, as if in turmoil. "Know that this one owed you a service. In owing this to you, it became as slavery."
"It was at Shra'kt'lor wasn't it, Dak'kon?" The name was hissed by Kii'na, who spat it out like it would've cursed Dak'kon to the bone.
Dak'kon was silent again, and when he spoke his voice trembled, and old wounds were reopened. "Know it is the place where I died my first death."
"What is that place?"
"It is one of the great homes of the People. It has suffered many wounds in its life. One of its scars is by my hand."
With each mention of the city my scalp crawled. I fought off the urge to run my hands through my hair. "How did this come to be?"
"Know the tale is long. The matter is between me and the other that was once you. know that if you hear it, know it shall be a long tale."
"I would hear it."
Dak'kon sighed, and ran his hand along the wall beside us. His fingers caressed the blue-gray stone, trying to conjure up old memories of his ancient homeland. He spoke, and it came in a quiet intonation. I found myself leaning forward, eager to catch every word. "Upon the rolling Plane of Limbo, the People shape cities from the chaos with their thoughts. Know that there is no place for a divided mind." Dak'kon raised the blade from his shoulder and held it before him. As he stared at it, it sharpened until it was almost as thin as a piece of paper.
"A divided mind is an unfocused mind. A divided mind fractures walls and weakens stone." As Dak'kon spoke, the edges of the blade corroded slightly, the metal misting and melting along the edges. "Many divided minds may destroy a city.
"Long have I known the words of Zerthimon. Through my voice, many have come to know the words of Zerthimon. The zerth protect the community from all threats, whether to the body or the mind. They are the guiding stones in the chaos. So it came to pass that I spoke the words of Zerthimon without knowing the words of Zerthimon. It came to pass that I no longer knew myself."
"So... you doubted the words?"
"No." Dak'kon's voice was edged, and his blade sharpened in response. "I knew the words. Yet it came into my heart that perhaps others did not know the words as Zerthimon knew them. And so division formed. As my mind became as two, as my mind became divided, those that looked to me as a guiding stone became divided. Many scores of githzerai, many hundreds of scores of githzerai... doubted. Shra'kt'lor died that day."
"So... those that followed you came to doubt the words as well, and the city was weakened."
Dak'kon's fingers tightened on the hilt of his blade, and he closed his eyes. "The enemies of Zerthimon came. Know that their hatred of his words and the People lent their blades strength. Know that they sensed the weakened city, and they brought war with them. Many githzerai drowned in the chaos and beneath the blades of our enemies." Small beads of metal appeared on the surface of the blade, as if it was blistering. "Know this happened long ago."
"What happened to you?"
"As I fell from the walls of Shra'kt'lor, know that my self was broken. My blade was mist, my mind divided. I was adrift upon Limbo's seas, and I wished to drown. I died for days, my mind awash in division, when death finally came to me. It wore your skin, and it had your voice."
I blinked, licked my lips. The chill that ran down my spine was a cold prickle born separate from the warm tingle in my scalp. "Me?"
"You asked that I hear you."
As Dak'kon said the words, my vision bled outwards, and the crawling sensation begin to worm its way up through the back of your skull... It was unbearable, too powerful an urge to be denied. I felt nauseous for a moment, and my vision was suddenly as chaos, smeared, twisted, and you are someplace else, someplace in the past...
I surrendered to the memory.
I have to watch my thoughts.
Everything around me is in turmoil - my vision is hazy, swirling, dizzying, all at ONCE... there is mist, pockets of fire, islands of mud, stone, and ice-covered rocks swimming through the Plane like fish, impacting and dissolving, droplets of water arcing through the howling air and lashing my skin like teeth - I choke back my nausea, and I steady myself; this is the Plane of Limbo, all is chaos, nothing is stable...
The battle had waged for days. From my perch I had heard the distant screams, the chorus of metal clashing against metal, silver astral steel against karach. Bodies of warriors had been pinned to walls, which bled and melted in the ensuing dischord until stone became ice, then sublimated into buffets of wind which scattered the corpses like rags before coalescing into raw, crimson magma, wrapping flesh and bone into an ashen caress. Smaller bodies, githzerai children perhaps, had been flung into the misty void, drifting like broken dolls. They had died long before the chaos could've suffocated them. I took small comfort in that.
When the walls of Shra'kt'lor had been breached, when the slim barrier between order and chaos crumbled, it was not only the metaphysical substance of the realm that had flooded in, wild and fey and giddy. No, it was joined by the chaos of war: githyanki came howling with razor-toothed ululating screams, illithids shambled in armed with thoughts that pierced like lances. The slaadi swarmed along the once-pristine walls and formless nimbus screams drove the inhabitants mad with terror, softening them up to be devoured by the ravenous blades and talons of their enemies.
I am silent as I tread along the broken island, two whole blocks of the city that had broken off and had been sent floating into the misty void. Overhead the realm of Limbo plays itself out in pretty random smatterings of transsubstantial matter. Ashen snow flutters down onto the remaining streets, as if some latent psychic residue wept in lament.
There is only the distant roar of the chaos above and the sandy crunch of debris beneath my boots. I walk past the bodies, the blood, the utter and absolute ruin. In a few days the lingering psychic will of the Anarchs will sputter and die out and slowly this islet would dissolve, yielding the corpses to the embrace of mad oblivion.
I stop. There he is.
I focus on the dying man that lies before me. Kneeling, I examine the zerth to see if he still lives.
The survivor (if one can call him that) is a githzerai, his body embedded in an earthen pocket that swirls around him - unconsciously, he has formed a grave from the elements, and though bits of fire and water lick at his face, he does not respond. His hands are ashen, his coal-black eyes focusing on nothing - his emaciated frame speaks of starvation, but I know it is the least of his wounds. It is faith that dealt him the mortal blow.
I look for the blade he carries.
In his limp left hand is a twisted mass of metal, its surface having melted around his hand like a gauntlet. As I watch, it steams and hisses, like a diseased snake. The githzerai does not seem to be aware of it... but it is that weapon that has brought me here.
The memory flares, and I hear my voice echoing across the barrier between life and death, from one incarnation to another.
"Dak'kon, zerth of Shra'kt'lor-Drowning, last wielder of the karach blade, know that I have come to you with the words of Zerthimon, carved not in chaos, but in stone, carved by the will in an Unbroken Circle."
At the word 'Zerthimon,' Dak'kon's eyes roll in their sockets, and they attempt to focus upon me. With effort, he cracks his mouth to speak, but only a dry hiss emerges. I bring forth the stone from my pack and hold it before him so he can see.
"Know that the words of Zerthimon inscribed upon this stone are true, and know that your divided mind need be divided no longer. All you must do is take the stone and you shall know yourself again."
Dak'kon's eyes flicker over the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon.
For a moment, I think that he might be too close to death to recognize it. Then the right hand twitches, and he pulls it slowly from its earthen prison, the clumps of earth streaming off it become water in Limbo's chaotic winds. His skeletal hands clutch the stone, like a drowning man grasping a branch, and his eyes flash.
"Know that I have saved your life, Dak'kon, zerth of Shra'kt'lor."
Dak'kon's eyes turn from the stone and flicker over me, and he hisses again, throat too dry for a moment to muster the words. He blinks, slowly, then speaks, his voice barely above a whisper, but the words are what I wanted to hear. "My... life is yours... until yours is no more..."
I was amazed that I didn't collapse and vomit when I returned to the present.
Dak'kon was silent, contemplative in the silent sseconds when the memory had swept over me. "I heard your words. The chaos in my mind became still. I knew myself again."
I swallowed hard, trying to clear the taste of ash from my mouth. "Tell me about that other 'me'... the incarnation you knew. What was he like?"
Dak'kon's gaze traveled through me, and he fell silent.
"Know that he was different. Know that the differences were not marked on the skin, nor in the Way of the weapon, nor in the attire that cloaked him. Know that he was different in the way of thought and the means he acted upon his thoughts. His WILL became substance. Know that he saw others and did NOT see them. He knew only how they could serve him. His heart was treacherous, and it was cold, and never did its coldness burn him."
My voice was a whisper when I asked. "Did it ever touch you, Dak'kon? Did he betray you?"
Dak'kon's blade began bleeding into a dull, flat black, and I watched as edges, like teeth, began sprouting from the edge of the blade. His face clenched, and he spoke through his teeth. "It is not my will you know of this."
"Tell me, Dak'kon. Did he ever betray you?"
"I surrendered my WORD to him. I surrendered my SELF."
"What are you talking about?"
"The People do not allow themselves to be enslaved to another in deed or chains. If we find ourselves in such a cage, we ACT to free ourselves, even if it means we must endure another cage for a time. You performed a great service for me. In so doing, you enslaved me. I acted to free myself. Know that I surrendered my word and my self to act in your name until your death."
"My... life is yours... until yours is no more..."
The chill at those words needled into my bones, "But... I can't die."
"That was not known to this one. I surrendered my word to him. I surrendered my self. Know that there is now nothing left that I may surrender except my life. Know now that I follow you only so I might die."
"Don't say that, Dak'kon..."
"Is that a command?" he murmured bitterly. Karach rippled and crackled, like bent steel.
"No! I mean- Dak'kon... you got the Circle from me, correct?"
"Yes. In knowing its words, I knew myself."
"But did it save your life, Dak'kon? Or did it divide you further once you studied the Circle?"
Dak'kon was silent for a moment, but his blade writhed, as if in pain. He was slow to speak again, and when he did, his voice was somber. "It divided me."
"Then did I save your life, Dak'kon? Or did I only add to the pain you already felt? Those words... those words of Zerthimon's - they only seem to divide you more. I see it when you pour over the teachings."
Dak'kon was silent.
"I say that I NEVER saved you, Dak'kon... I only raised you from near-death so that you might die again. If you had died at Shra'kt'lor, then you would have known peace."
His blade bled black as night, but was still. The words came with great effort, dry and old. "Your words carry the weight of truth. The death I would have died at Shra'kt'lor - that would have been the last death. Every day I have lived since is a new death."
"You need serve me no more, Dak'kon. I never saved your life; I only killed you twice. You owe me nothing."
"No..." Dak'kon's forehead creased in pain, and his eyes stared through me. "It is not your word that carries the weight, and your word will not free me. The word that chains me is mine. The torment is mine. I know in my heart that the chains remain. Words will not free them."
"Is there any way you can be freed?"
"You must die a final death. Yet your path is not death's path. There is no resolution to this matter."
"I swear I will find one, Dak'kon. I will find one that sets you free. You are my friend, and I this I vow to you for the harm I've done."
Dak'kon's voice became ragged, as if he had suddenly become sick. "Know you have added other words to my words." His expression was pained, and his gaze met mine. "Now you have chained us both."
The two of us glanced up at the sound of soft footsteps and the crack of staff against stone. Hargrimm approached, with Stale Mary shuffling beside him. In her hands she held the head of Soego: the skin had grown puffy and gray with decay, and there was a slight sheen to the skin. His mouth was parted in a post-mortem wail, and his red-glinted eyes had rolled back, staring at nothing. A spider crawled along his cheek, and began binding his lips together with its silk.
"The Triumverate has spoken," Hargimm said grimly, "Take the head of Soego, traitor to our cause, and ye may leave in peace."