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Before sleeping that night, I saw Dak'kon examining a small round stone. To my surprise, it seemed to be comprised of a number of interlocking circles, cunningly attached to one another so the user could fold them back into a compact shape when done. I wondered if this stone represented to Dak'kon what my spell book did to me, and allowed him to memorize githzerai magic. I asked him if he could teach me this magic.
"*Know,*" He replied, "that the way of the People is not the same as the Art you have come to *know.* It is not the energy that gives strength. It is *knowing* the self that gives strength. The teachings of Zerthimon speak of such things."
"Would you teach me the Way of Zerthimon, Dak'kon?"
"Do you *know* what you have asked?" The texture of Dak'kon's blade flowed, until it became as stone. "To walk the path of Zerthimon you must *know* of the People. The *knowing* of such things by one not of the People is a difficult matter. There are those not of the People who have heard the Way of Zerthimon, but they do not *know* the Way."
I was intrigued by my companion, and by this Zerthimon he had mentioned. I was anxious to learn more about his philosophy, and through it more about Dak'kon.
"Dak'kon, I want to *know* of the People and *know* Zerthimon's teachings. I believe there is wisdom to be learned in such things."
"*Know* that I have heard your words, and I shall test them. To learn, you must *know* the People. To *know* the People, you must *know* the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon." Dak'kon held up the stone disk in his possession and his spider-like fingers hooked into its sides. There was a *click,* and the plates of the Circle slid into a new configuration. He reversed the motion, sealing the stone. "*Know* the First Circle of Zerthimon is open to you. Study it, then I will hear your words."
I took the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon from Dak'kon. I mirrored the motions that Dak'kon made upon the Circle, and the plates gave way at my touch, the rings sliding into a new configuration. Upon the rings were a series of symbols; the script was like no writing I had ever seen: it was a series of interlocking geometries, with circles pre-dominating. Just looking at it, I *knew* the symbols and *knew* I could read them. Once again I had used knowledge I possessed, but could not remember getting. I read the first circle.
"*Know* that we are the First People."
"Once all was chaos. The First People were thought drawn from chaos. When the First People came to *know* themselves, they were chaos no longer, and became flesh."
"With their thoughts and *knowing* of matter, the People shaped the First World and dwelled there with their *knowing* to sustain them."
"Yet the flesh was new to the People and with it, the People came not to *know* themselves. The flesh gave rise to new thoughts. Greed and hates, pains and joys, jealousies and doubts. All of these fed on each other and the minds of the People were divided. In their division, the People were punished."
"The emotions of the flesh were strong. The greed and hates, the pains and joys, the jealousies and doubts, all of these served as a guiding stone to enemies. In becoming flesh, the First People became enslaved to those who *knew* flesh only as tools for their will. *Know* these beasts were the *illithids.*"
"The *illithids* were a race that had come not to *know* themselves. They had learned how to make other races not *know* themselves."
"They were the tentacled ones. They lived in flesh and saw flesh as tools for their will. Their blood was as water and they shaped minds with their thoughts. When the *illithids* came upon the People, the People were a people no more. The People became slaves."
"The *illithids* took the People from the First World and brought them to the False Worlds. As the People labored upon the False Worlds, the *illithids* taught them the Way of the Flesh. Through them, the People came to *know* loss. They came to *know* suffering. They came to *know* death, both of the body and mind. They came to *know* what it is to be the herd of another and have their flesh consumed. They came to *know* the horror of being made to feel joy in such things."
"The Unbroken Circle is the *knowing* of how the People lost themselves. And how they came to *know* themselves again."
I talked to Dak'kon about what I had read. He asked what I had come to *know.* I knew he wasn't referring to the surface story of how the Illithids enslaved his people, but what lay behind it
"Strength lies in knowing oneself. I learned that once someone does not *know* themselves, they are lost. They become tools for others."
"You have come to *know* the First Circle of Zerthimon. You not only see the words of Zerthimon, you have come to *know* them." Dak'kon held up the Circle and hooked his fingers around the edges. There was a *click,* and the plates of the Circle slid into a new configuration. He reversed the motion, sealing the stone. "*Know* the Second Circle of Zerthimon is open to you. Study it, then I will hear your words." I read the second circle.
"*Know* that flesh cannot mark steel.
*Know* that steel may mark flesh. In *knowing* this, Zerthimon
"*Know* that the tentacled ones were of flesh. They relied on the flesh and used it as tools for their will. One of the places where flesh served their will was the Fields of Husks on the False Worlds of the *illithids.*"
"The Fields were where the bodies of the People were cast after the *illithids* had consumed their brains. When the brain had been devoured, the husks came to be fertilizer to grow the poison-stemmed grasses of the *illithids.* Zerthimon worked the Fields with no *knowing* of himself or what he had become. He was a tool of flesh, and the flesh was content."
"It was upon these Fields that Zerthimon came to *know* the scripture of steel. During one of the turnings, as Zerthimon tilled the Fields with his hands, he came across a husk whose brain remained within it. It had not been used as food. Yet it was dead."
"The thought that one of the husks had died a death without serving as food for the *illithids* was a thought Zerthimon had difficulty understanding. From that thought, came a desire to *know* what had happened to the husk."
"Embedded in the skull of the husk was a steel blade. It had pierced the bone. Zerthimon realized that was what had killed the husk. The steel had marked the flesh, but the flesh had not marked the steel."
"Zerthimon took the blade and studied its surface. In it, he saw his reflection. It was in the reflection of the steel that Zerthimon first *knew* himself. Its edge was sharp, its will the wearer's. It was the blade that would come to be raised against Gith when Zerthimon made the Pronouncement of Two Skies."
"Zerthimon kept the blade for many turnings, and many were the thoughts he had about it. He used it in the fields to aid his work. In using it, he thought about how it was not used."
"The *illithids* were powerful. Zerthimon had believed that there was nothing that they did not *know.* Yet the *illithids* never carried tools of steel. They only used flesh as tools. Everything was done through flesh, for the tentacled ones were made of flesh and they *knew* flesh. Yet steel was superior to flesh. When the blade had killed the husk, it was the flesh that had been weaker than the steel."
"It was then that Zerthimon came to *know* that flesh yielded to steel. In *knowing* that, he came to *know* that steel was stronger than the *illithids.*"
"Steel became the scripture of the People. *Know* that steel is the scripture by which the People came to *know* freedom."
Again, when I was done Dak'kon asked me what I had learned.
"I learned that not *knowing* something can be a tool, just like flesh and steel, if upon encountering it, you attempt to *know* its nature and how it came to be."
"You have seen the words and you have seen beyond them. You have come to *know* the Second Circle of Zerthimon." He took the Circle and with a deft motion, he twisted one of the links so one of the plates slid forth - but strangely enough, the stone still appeared intact. He handed the plate to me. "Meditate upon this teaching, and the *knowing* of it shall give you strength. When you have absorbed it, you shall *know* more." I realized he had given me the githzerai equivalent of a scroll, that I would be able to copy into my spell book. He also unlocked the third circle of Zerthimon for me. My fatigue forgotten, I settled down to study it.
"Zerthimon labored many turnings
for the *illithid* Arlathii Twice-Deceased and his partnership
in the cavernous heavens of the False Worlds. His duties would
have broken the backs of many others, but Zerthimon labored on,
suffering torment and exhaustion."
"It came to pass that the *illithid* Arlathii Twice-Deceased ordered Zerthimon before him in his many-veined galleria. He claimed that Zerthimon had committed slights of obstinance and cowardice against his partnership. The claim had no weight of truth, for Arlathii only wished to *know* if flames raged within Zerthimon's heart. He wished to *know* if Zerthimon's heart was one of a slave or of a rebel."
"Zerthimon surrendered to the *illithid* punishment rather than reveal his new-found strength. He *knew* that were he to show the hatred in his heart, it would serve nothing, and it would harm others that felt as he. He chose to endure the punishment and was placed within the Pillars of Silence so he might suffer for a turning."
"Lashed upon the Pillars, Zerthimon moved his mind to a place where pain could not reach, leaving his body behind. He lasted a turning, and when he was brought before Arlathii Twice-Deceased, he gave gratitude for his punishment to the *illithid* as was custom. In so doing, he proved himself a slave in the *illithid* eyes while his heart remained free."
"By enduring and quenching the fires of his hatred, he allowed Arlathii Twice-Deceased to think him weak. When the time of the Rising came, Arlathii was the first of the *illithid* to *know* death by Zerthimon's hand and die a third death."
I considered the message of the third circle for a long while, and realized its essence could be summed up in a saying I had heard Dak'kon use. I told him I had come to *know* the third circle.
"Endure. In enduring, grow strong."
The words I spoke seemed to strike Dak'kon strangely... as I spoke them, his forehead creased, then resettled into its normal passive expression. He gave me another githzerai 'spell,' unlocked somehow from the circle. I wondered if there was more to learn.
"Very well... is there more you can teach me?"
As I asked the words, I suddenly noticed that Dak'kon wasn't looking at me. He was holding the Unbroken Circle in his hands, studying it. His blade had taken on the same texture as the Unbroken Circle... and Dak'kon suddenly seemed *older* somehow.
"Dak'kon?" I asked, concerned.
Dak'kon's black eyes rose from the Circle and looked at me.
"*Know* that I did not believe you would come to *know* the teachings of the Circle. It is... a difficult path you will walk in learning the Way of Zerthimon. Is your mind focused on this matter?"
When I assured him it was, he unlocked the fourth circle for
me. I glanced at what was before me, which concerned a traitor
to their people. But it was late, and I couldn't see what this
traitor's tale had to tell the githzerai. I decided to take up
its study again, later.
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