Part 87: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 19The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 19
Keldor's eyes stared into mine, "Well? Have you found a culprit for this heinous crime? Do you have evidence?"
"Thildon did it. He had personal problems with Avildon, and he was trying to frame Saros for the crime. Execute him."
He shook his head. There was never any satisfaction in condemning one of your own, "I would never have believed it of Thildon. I trust your investigation was thorough... and I trust you. Allow me to summon the guards."
"Take your time."
Keldor's face was dry and heavy when he returned, and for the first time since I met him he showed the weight of age. "It is done. My thanks for resolving the investigation. You have but one task remaining to you. Sandoz, father of Sarossa and Saros, one of our more vital members, has returned from a harrowing journey. He has locked himself in his tower room and is threatening to kill himself. Speak to him. Stop him."
Despite the expert craftsmanship of the furniture, there was a marked austerity to the sitting room. Deep and elaborate vines were carved into the wood, and the shelves were lined with odd knicknacks and gleaming treasures... a fiend's paw, an ornate bronze dagger. It was decorated by a man who went through the motions of the high life, a dry and hollow attempt to appear stoic rather than a mark of pride.
Two guards flanked the solid wood door, and they greeted me with a salute.
"Greetings, sir. Did Keldor send you? Sandoz came up here and he's been raving and muttering behind the door all day. I hope you can do something for him."
"We'll see about that." I called through the door, "Sandoz! I need to talk to you!"
A muffled voice came out from the bedroom, shrill with a choked sob. "Go away!"
"Are you Sandoz?"
The voice snapped, "Who else would I be? These are my rooms, this is my faction." It laughed bitterly. "This is where I'm going to die."
"Tell me about yourself, Sandoz."
"You want to talk? Is that what you want? How about you listen?" The voice paused, and then gathered steam. "What's the point of it, that's what I want to know. Why do we do the things we do? What's the thing that keeps us driving, hm?"
"I don't know, what?"
"Pride! Pride and ego! We keep telling ourselves that we can be something, that we mean something, that there's a reason we're here, but in the end... in the end it's all just blackness. I've seen that final blackness and there's no reason to deny it. Yet we keep pushing on out of foolish pride. There's no reason to it."
It was like balancing a glass globe on the tip of a spear, trying to be delicate yet not patronizing, firm yet not scolding. Any moment he could hang himself, and I needed to keep him talking, "Look, I'm here to help. I'm here to listen."
"I see... send a concerned stranger to talk me out of it, eh? Ha!" The voice dropped to a conspiratorial tone. "Did they tell you could join 'em if you just came to talk to me? Did they think it would make you care more? If you had seen half the things I'd seen... just half the things I'd seen..."
"What have you seen?"
"I have seen horrors beyond imagining. I have seen a twisted, tortured god, bound by laughing fiends. I have seen a layer of the Abyss distill itself into the essence of a single individual... I have seen all the laws of nature perverted and I have seen all the truths of man turned upside-down. None of it makes sense to me anymore, and I cannot bear it any longer! What's the point, I ask you, what's the point?"
I tried to smooth my voice, make it softer than the normal low, guttural growl, "You have no idea what I have seen, Sandoz. I've lain in the sands of the Silent Shore, felt the icy waves of the River Styx lapping at my cold flesh. I've seen the darkness at the end of every nightmare, felt the hollow where a man's essence should rest. You don't see me threatening to kill myself."
There is a short, sharp breath from behind the door, and then a low, unamused chuckle. "You're not much on tact, are you? What if I told you I had my head in a noose right this instant?"
"I'd tell you that if it's done wrong, it's a particularly uncomfortable way to go. Trust me, I know from experience," granted, I hadn't quite died by hanging yet, but I've had my neck snapped enough times to know, "So why don't we just talk?"
His voice was low and quiet, "About what?"
"Did you ever consider that you became a Godsman for a reason?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why did you join the Godsmen?"
His voice strained as he searched for an answer. That's what this whole ordeal was, a quest for an answer, "Because I thought there was meaning. I was wrong. There is no meaning. Love, family, wealth, accomplishment... it all means nothing."
"All of it? Is there anything that could prove you wrong?"
"Find someone who can persuade me otherwise, someone who can tell me differently. You can't, it seems... find someone who can." the floorboards creaked as he walked away from the door.
Sarossa gazed at me with those soulful eyes, her chalk-white face smooth and still, "Greetings, wounded man. What do you need of me?"
"I need to speak to you about your father."
"What of him?"
"He has locked himself into his tower, and is threatening to kill himself. What can you tell me of him that will allow me to keep him from doing so?"
Her eyebrows furrowed and her lips twisted into a sneer. Even in a fury she was elegant, terrifying like a storm. "You lie! My father is traveling! He is not expected back for days, at least!"
I almost took a step back, "Even so. Speak to Keldor if you don't believe me. I require your assistance if your father is to live."
"I will, you can be sure." She paused and stared at me - hard. There was a sensation of something caressing my soul, delicate like the brush of a finger, "You speak the truth, don't you? I see no deception in your heart on this matter. Very well. This is what I wish you to tell my father: All life is a test. One cannot expect to skip to the end directly. That is not the answer. Only the Doomguard and the Dustmen believe in utter decay - and you have always held them in contempt. Remember this."
"Sandoz! We've got to talk!"
Sandoz' voice was muffled by the thick door. "What do you want?" The voice sounded desperate and lonely.
"I'm here to tell you what your daughter said."
There was a pause. The voice came, more brittle than before. "You talked to my daughter?"
"Yes. This is what she said: 'All life is a test. One cannot expect to skip to the end directly. That is not the answer. Only the Doomguard and the Dustmen believe in utter decay - and you have always held them in contempt. Remember this.'"
He laughed, hollowly. "She said all that, did she? Give me a minute."
"Take all the time you need."
When Sandoz spoke again, he sounded a little more balanced. "Go down and tell Keldor you've talked some sense into me. I'll want to see him eventually... but you've done your job. Go on now."
I wasn't one for ceremony.
Take a vow, wrap it up in pretty words, and repeat it before an approving crowd and that was all. It was worth little to me and, I suspect, less for any other initiate, but the Factors flanked me, heads held high with pride as I approached the podium. The incense stung my eyes, and the sight of my companions sitting at the benches was blurred as I teared up.
Dak'kon gazed at me with a plain, level look. Annah's tail flickered in boredom, and Morte looked back and forth, restless, while Fall-From-Grace smiled, as if hiding something behind those rosebud lips.
Sometimes I really did wonder what went on in that woman's mind.
"Ahem," Keldor coughed, "The vow?"
I blinked, somewhat embarrassed that at my distraction, and raised one hand, repeathing the oath from memory, "Life's tribulations are tests. There is nothing I encounter that is not a lesson. Pain is the multiverse's way of reinforcing a lesson. What I hate most in others is a reflection of what I hate most in myself. I will act to activate my potential, and to aid others in achieving their goals. I will remember that divinity's spark is present in everything. I swear fealty to the Believers of the Source and their goals, never to forsake them."
Keldor smiled. "Welcome to the Godsmen, lad."
The small audience applauded as I left, reaching out to brush my bare arms in lukewarm, token affection. Saros shook my hand, whispering his gratitude in my ear for letting him off the hook.
"Hmrph," Morte grunted, "That ceremony was a wash. They could've at least included some paddles or a goat or something."
"What is that supposed to m-" I started, but at that moment Sarossa approached me.
"My father lives again thanks to you, and my brother walks free."
I nodded, somehow thankful she didn't feel the need to reach out and shake my hand, "It was nothing, Sarossa. Your brother is impulsive, but young. He only wishes to go his own way. As for your father... I understand how difficult things can be for him."
"Indeed," she said, and by her tone she seemed to be in full agreement, "But for your aid I would offer you my gratitude, if you would accept it."
"Of course," I paused, remembering that eerie gaze of hers, "Is this something to do with your gift?"
"Yes," she said plainly, "I know not how I came by it. It seems something that has always been a part of me. I can only surmise that my past lives and my beliefs in this one have given me a special insight into mortal nature. I am gifted with the ability to see a piece of the potential within every being. By reading the true name graven on that mortal's very being, and by slightly mispronouncing that word, I am able to change the nature of that potential, thus changing the nature of its bearer."
"So... you can you change me?"
She nodded, "I can change you, but I cannot teach you - it is like teaching color to a blind man, or sound to a deaf man. And I will change you, if the price be right."
"What is the price?"
"Tell me. Do you truly subscribe to the philosophy of the Godsmen?"
"Then I feel no qualms in sharing my gift with you." She spoke an arcane syllable, one that shook me to my very foundation. My soul flashed like fire, beamed like the sun for a single moment. In a moment of pure ecstasy my being rang like a glass struck by a silver spoon.
The world seemed different to my senses now, more open and crisp.
"Thank you, Sarossa. I wish you well."
For a couple of good weeks I worked at the Foundry, crafting one masterwork after another. My palms grew hard and callused from hammering at the forge. My body grew fitter and my already heavy physique became ever more densely layered with muscle. Annah, normally restless, didn't seem to mind watching me work occasionally. Dak'kon sat in meditation in the austere quarters that had been set aside for us, and Fall-From-Grace seemed content observe, supping on the experience of what it meant to be a Godsman.
With the stipend I made selling my work, I was able to supply us with better goods, and even picked up a minor Godsman relic. Through it all Morte whined about loaning him some cash for a visit to a proper mammy shack.
Life was good... until one day I met a most unusual woman while browsing the Clerk's Ward.