Athal’s last entry –well, the first part of it, because it’s another long one and I know that at least three people are waiting to read it– because we’re back in Valdyas and I’ve taken over the campaign again. I’m unlikely to stop posting roleplaying writeups, my own and others’, but this story arc is finished.
Negotiations went on for the greater part of that night. At some point Dushtan sent me to bed, reminding me of my promise to meet Mernath in the Temple of Anshen an hour after sunrise. Raisse was up so late that she’d hardly slept when we had to get up again.
Rhanion met us at the gate of the Order house; the Order was in a state of vigilance. I’d promised him earthquake-proof seals and put one on the perimeter wall right away. When I tried to seal the temple itself, with Mernath and Maile and Raisse and myself in it, I faltered– impatient, probably, unfocused, because after I had prayed to Anshen for wisdom, courage, insight and, yes, a bit of luck, the seal went up and stayed up, properly earthquake-proof.
Maile was very worried about Mernath: he had not been himself, she said, since their flight to the palace and everything that had happened there, getting steadily worse. Her worry was for good reason: he was a hollowed-out shell of a man, hardly anything left of his anie, making us fear for his life whatever would happen. “I wish he hadn’t become a master,” Maile said, then stopped, because this was one of the things the servants of the Nameless don’t talk about with outsiders and hardly at all among themselves. I made it clear to her that I knew about the master’s ribbon, and she continued, “We don’t know where it is, and there’s a lot of him in it.” It was likely to have been lost in the uprising; his own master must either still have it or have been killed with it.
We groped around for a way to help Mernath, when Raisse suddenly spotted something that looked like a line of silver light going out of Mernath. Anea was trickling out of him, and we could follow it until the line seemed to disappear into thin air about ten feet out from him. It made me very angry –someone is keeping Mernath on a leash inside my seal!– and I tried to break it with my hands, but it only cut into the hands of my anie and hurt Mernath so much that he screamed. I thought for a moment that if I were an Iss-Peranian, I’d kill Mernath immediately because he was already doomed, and it would thwart whoever was on the other side sucking his life-force away. I shook that thought off– even if Mernath were to die, his life belonged to himself, not to me.
Again, we were at a loss. I had already called Dushtan to stand by in case Mernath or indeed anybody needed her, but this didn’t look like something that a doctor, however good, could do anything about. Eventually Raisse went out of her body to look closer, and saw that it was in fact a very thin thread of anea that something was sucking out of Mernath, ending at my earthquake-proof seal as if it couldn’t go through. A blob of the silvery light was building up at the edge of the seal, and where it was pinched off the thread was black and shrivelled. I thought that it would die off by itself, and that at least Mernath would be free of the parasite, but he’d lost so much to it already that he probably wouldn’t survive. If someone was stealing his anea, they ought to be made to give it back. I made a hole in the seal, as thick as my little finger, for the thread to go through, and Raisse followed it. It was easier now, because she could clearly see the blob travelling along.
She followed it –and I followed her, still concentrating on the seal and Mernath so I couldn’t see everything– to a place where she found a man in a squalid room, lying on a couple of bales. The thread went right to the man’s body, ending in a mass of opaque white light that could only be Mernath’s stolen anea— not that it seemed to do the man much good. Raisse tried to push it back in Mernath’s direction, but the strand was too thin for that. She put a seal on something to make her mark and came back to her body, shaken and disgusted.
When we looked for the seal it turned out to be not all that far away. We took two of Rhanion’s people as a guard, let Dushtan into the temple to watch Mernath and keep Maile safe and followed the trail. It led through some poky streets to a back alley, where we found a sealed door– the door Raisse had sealed to make her mark. It was locked, too, but the lock was so simple that I could easily open it with my mind. I made a light, too, because the room was completely dark, looking for a candle or a lamp but there was none. Nothing, in fact, except the man on the bales and a few rats.
From close up the sight was even more disgusting. The stolen anea lay on the man’s chest like an enormous egg, enveloped by what must be part of his own anie. He didn’t seem to be conscious. The guards went to get a stretcher at the Order house –it was less than half a mile– and carried him back there. I made another hole in the seal, wondering whether being in the presence of Anshen would kill the man, but he only moaned a bit. Closer to Mernath, the stream of anea was much thicker, as thick as a wrist, but we still couldn’t stop the sucking or push it back. I came to the chilling realisation that we would probably have to kill the man, and I wasn’t sure whether that wouldn’t also kill Mernath. According to Raisse, Anshen wouldn’t want life-force belonging to someone to go to waste, and I thought that if Mernath had to die, he ought to die a whole man.
I couldn’t do it. I stood there thinking I was trying to decide how, but it became more and more clear to me that I just couldn’t set myself to killing a defenceless man in the temple of Anshen. “It is for me to do,” I said, and when Raisse asked why, “because Mernath named me his master”. Then Maile tugged on my sleeve and asked “may I give Mernath his life back?” I nodded, relieved as well as ashamed. She went up to the man, tore the covering of anea apart and lifted the mass that was Mernath’s life. A thin strip of fabric that could only be Mernath’s master’s ribbon attached it to the supine man’s chest. Without thinking I stretched out my hand and detached the ribbon, leaving it hanging at the bottom of what Maile held in her arms. She put it on top of Mernath, where it lay for a few moments while all of us held our breath; then it seemed to sink into Mernath’s chest and spread through his body. Immediately, he started to breathe more easily. The ribbon lay on his chest, no power at all in it any more.
The other man gave a strange sound, as if he wanted to cry out but didn’t have the strength, and died.
I took down the seal on the temple completely. No earthquakes were likely to be forthcoming. Raisse sent someone to get the priestess of Naigha, while Dushtan revived Maile who had fainted, and I went to see what all this had done to Mernath. He was whole –no hollow place inside him any more– but badly wounded, much scarred, weak and still terrified. He sat up weakly and let me help him to the side of Maile, who was kneeling at the fire praying. To Anshen, of course, and definitely a master now. He knelt too and joined her, a hand on her shoulder.
Mernath was still a master, in the Guild of Anshen now, but he looked as if he would never do anything with his gifts any more. Perhaps Leva would be able to do something for him, as she’d done for Riei and her husband; we’d take them to Turenay with us.
Rhanion had breakfast set out for us –bread, cheese, watered wine– and as we were eating that, Mernath and Maile came out of the temple, hand in hand, to join us. “You’re a smith by trade, aren’t you?” I asked Mernath, and he said yes, but he wasn’t sure if he could ever work as a smith again, he was as weak as a kitten. I told him I expected him to gain at least the strength of his body back, working on a ship for six weeks. But perhaps he’d have to learn to work completely differently– perhaps he’d done part of the smith-work by semsin.