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I headed back to the Mortuary, stopping to enter a mausoleum near there that appeared to have had no mourners, or other visitors beyond rats, for ages. When we entered, I turned to Dak'kon, to continue the discussion we had started in Fell's Tattoo Parlor.
"When Fell was describing the tattoo on my arm, you said you knew the symbols, they spoke of four who traveled with me in the past. What can you tell me of the four? "
"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?"
"*Know* that Deionarra was the name she carried."
"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."
I asked Dak'kon what his name was, but before Dak'kon could respond, I suddenly *knew* the answer. There was a crawling sensation in the back of my skull, and I felt the name surfacing, as if from beneath a great muddy ocean.
I said, softly to myself, "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." Dak'kon, meanwhile, replied to my question.
"*Know* that Xachariah was the name he carried. And *know* that his name pierced the heart of many enemies."
"Do you know why I was travelling with these four? "
"The tattoo speaks nothing of their path, only the symbol that bound them. *Know* that the path may have been *known* to only you."
I thought back to the two of the four he had not mentioned, the familiar and the slave. I guessed Morte must be the familiar.
"And which of them was you, Dak'kon? Were you the slave?" Dak'kon was silent for a moment, and the surface of his blade swam, as if in turmoil.
"*Know* that this one owed you a service. In owing this to you, it became as slavery."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"Me?" I asked, wondering how I had been there.
Dak'kon replied, "You asked that I hear you."
As Dak'kon said the words, my vision bled outwards, and a crawling sensation began to worm its way up through the back of my skull... I felt nauseous for a moment, and my vision was suddenly as chaos, smeared, twisted, and I was someplace else, someplace in the *past*... I surrendered to the memory.
Everything around me was in turmoil - my vision was hazy, swirling, dizzying, all at ONCE... there was 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 choked back my nausea, and I steadied myself; this was the Plane of *Limbo,* all was chaos, nothing was stable... I focused on the dying man that lay before me. It was why I had come to this place.
I examined the *zerth,* saw if he still lived. The 'man' was a githzerai, his body embedded in an earthen pocket that swirled around him - unconsciously, he had formed a grave from the elements, and though bits of fire and water licked at his face, he did not respond. His hands were ashen, his coal-black eyes focusing on nothing - his emaciated frame spoke of starvation, but I knew it was the least of his wounds. It was faith that dealt him the mortal blow.
I looked for the blade he carried. In his limp left hand was a twisted mass of metal, its surface having melted around his hand like a gauntlet. As I watched, it steamed and hissed, like a diseased snake. The githzerai did not seem to be aware of it... but it was that weapon that had brought me here.
"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 rolled in their sockets, and they attempted to focus upon me. With effort, he cracked his mouth to speak, but only a dry hiss emerged. I brought forth the stone from my pack and held it before him so he could 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 flickered over the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, and for a moment, I thought he might be too close to death to recognize it. Then the right hand twitched, and he pulled it slowly from its earthen prison, the clumps of earth streaming off it becoming water in Limbo's chaotic winds. His skeletal hands clutched the stone, like a drowning man, and his eyes flashed.
"Know that I have saved your life, Dak'kon, *zerth* of Shra'kt'lor."
Dak'kon's eyes turned from the stone and flickered over me, and he hissed again, too dry for a moment to muster the words. He blinked, slowly, then spoke, his voice barely above a whisper, but the words were what I wanted to hear.
"My... life is yours... until yours is no more..." I closed my eyes, and returned to the present.
"So you got the Circle from me? "
"Yes. In *knowing* its words, I *knew* myself. "
"Tell me about that other 'me'... the incarnation you knew. What was he like?"
Dak'kon's gaze travelled through me, and he fell silent.
"Dak'kon? " I prompted.
"*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."
"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." I felt a sense of horror.
"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." Now I knew why he had been so reluctant to speak of this. I felt compassion for the tormented one in front of me, searched for some way to ease his pain.
"Dak'kon, it doesn't have to be that way... I can release you. I no longer wish you to be a slave - consider the debt paid."
"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 couldn't accept that.
"I swear I will find one, Dak'kon. I will find one that sets you free." 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."
I was sorry to have caused him more pain, but I still meant
to find a way to set him free.
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