The following letter was found in the quarters of the High Inquisitor after he had taken his life.
We arrived at first light. The courthouse lay in ruins, as was reported. The locals assured us they had not entered the ruins since the fire, and judging from the distance they are keeping from the smoking piles of rubble even now we are inclined to believe them. They warned us that some evil entity resided inside still.
Our scouts found no signs of life, evil or otherwise, at all. We are still identifying the corpses we found within. Some are entirely incinerated, others have barely been touched by the flames. All of them are badly mutilated, as if by large cutting instruments.
One thing we cannot account for at this time is the number of limbs we found. According to copies of court documents, the hearing that morning was closed, so we have a good estimate of the number of people inside the building at the time of the fire: twenty-four. However, we have found only thirteen feet, but, at last count, one hundred and seventy-three hands.
There are no heads at all.
While we have copies of the documents pertinent to the case heard that day, only one document could be retrieved from the ruined building directly. It is surprisingly legible. At a cursory glance, it appears to be a witness testimony prepared by the witness to be read aloud during the trial. I have enclosed the document with this letter.
The Summoner's decapitated body remains in his cell. The warden has asked for further instructions. If your highness desires another trial, maybe an exceptional pardon can be granted to the accused's body so that it may await its verdict in a place where its decomposition does not inconvenience other prisoners.
First Captain Roland of Torrolerial
3rd Light Cavalry Scouts
The enclosed testimonial follows.
The Order has summoned me here as witness for the prosecution because it needs to find my old friend guilty of heresy, of conspiring with demonic entities. Although he lies beheaded in his cell even now, his trial must continue. For propriety's sake. For order's sake. I do not propose to understand this, but I am the Order's humble servant.
My friend, however, would have understood. He believed that knowledge could only be gained by imposing order on observations. He believed in the truth. I live.
I am in a peculiar situation. My heart feels nothing but love for my friend, and nothing but regret for his death, and yet it is that love for him that compels me to speak the truth, even as I know that this truth will help you find him guilty, and that his body will be committed to flames, and that his memory will forever be tainted by the verdict. I do not know what will happen to the books he wrote.
I have been summoned here because the accused can no longer give testimony himself. This, I believe, is as good a place to begin as any.
I have read this court's transcription of the Incident. It is a very detailed and well-observed document. My friend should have
appreciated that his last minutes would be so well documented. The record even shows the sentence he was speaking the moment his head spontaneously separated from his body. I wait.
Certainly you are aware that the peasantry finds great amusement in my friend's demise. They agree with the version proclaimed by town criers insofar as his death must have been punishment from the Heavens. What they do not believe is the spontaneity of the decapitation. A number of jokes currently circulating in the local taverns insinuate that the involvement of a Confessor's ax in the beheading was conveniently omitted from the court documents.
I do not doubt the veracity and completeness of this court's transcripts. Even the sentence on record rings true: "There is no difference between that which you call holy and that which you call unholy."
His next sentence would have been, "They are both adjectives describing powerful meddlesome entities." I know these to be his words for I have heard him pronounce them on various occasions. Worship me.
I do not doubt the words on record. I do not doubt the circumstances or the details of the Incident. I do, however, respectfully disagree with this court's interpretation of the Incident. The honorable High Confessor remarked, as I have read, that the Incident was swift punishment from the Gods for my friend's heresy. My friend would have argued that it was indeed a God who had ended his life, but his meaning would have been different from the court's.
I was brought here to give insight into the moral disposition of the accused and to speak of the nature of his dealings with the arcane. It is not within the power of my rhetoric to do justice in the abstract to so enlightened and complicated a man, but I believe I can explain what happened to him in front of your eyes, and it is my hope that in doing so I may paint a sufficient likeness of my friend and thereby help the court come to its own conclusions. I eat.
When I entered the cellar that housed his laboratory the day he was killed, a heavy wrought iron candelabra took to the air and smashed into a tall mirror across the room. There was no sound. The mirror did not shatter. Immediately after this, the books in the bookshelves lining one wall took to the air and plummeted to the floor. Again, they did so silently. A single book remained in its place.
Having visited him in his laboratory a number of times before, I was used to witnessing small odd things, but nothing of this scale. Before I could get any kind of explanation, my friend rose from his chair and walked calmly across the room, to the bookshelves. He pulled the single book that had remained there from its place and opened it upon the table. It seemed to fall open upon a certain page, as if by its own volition.
"Is this the thing you saw in the mirror?" he asked me, pointing at a sketch in the book.
"How did you know I saw anything in the mirror at all?" I asked, perplexed, for I had indeed seen something terrible out of the corner of my eye.
My friend often amused his visitors by divining small things about them: where they had been recently, what they had eaten, what the conversation at last night's dinner table was about. Having myself dabbled in the arcane arts a little, I remarked to him one day how I could not detect the faintest trace of magic when he performed these little feats. He told me there was no magic to detect. It amused him to divine these things using nothing but the logical facilities of his brain. Sometimes he would share the paths by which he had arrived at his conclusions with me, and they always seemed so obvious afterwards.
I am telling you this to establish that my friend was not a dim-witted dabbler with a talent for the arcane. I believe I have never been in the presence of a more ingenious mind. But I fear the power of my description is insufficient to do justice to his deductions. Fortunately, this part of the narrative affords me a chance to supply you with an example.
"Your eyes followed the candelabra across the room," he began, "and doubtless you saw that the mirror did not break. When the books were torn from their shelves, you focused on the shelves and not the falling books. It is natural for the eyes to follow a moving object, and yet you stared at the shelves. This tells me you had been shocked by something. Finally, when I got up and walked around my table, you initially made eye contact with me but then allowed me to walk out of your field of vision when I walked past the mirror."
He left me to marvel at this path for a moment.
"Also, I saw the thing too. But I must be sure!"
So I looked at the sketch.
Your Honor, the thing I saw in the mirror that day is still chiseled on the insides of my eyelids. Closing my eyes now, I see it. Each spirally appendage, every transparent, vein-lined dome of skin, all its eyes.
The sketch could not have been a more accurate likeness. It was not only the very same creature, it was also in the very same position.
I assured my friend that this was the very same creature, feeling somewhat foolish for dreading it so in the first place. Shackled by the reasonable description of an encyclopedic article, sketched into the confines of a rectangular box, the thing no longer appeared threatening at all. I have seen worlds end.
"Then I am finally ready," he said. His gaze remained fixed upon some distant point beyond the walls of his laboratory for a little while, but then, as if returning from a faraway place, he focused his eyes on me and greeted me.
I was still too dazed by the bewildering array of events that had just occurred to single out one event and question my friend about it. However, I must have looked puzzled enough, as my friend began to explain the occurrences of the last minutes.
Before I can continue, you must know that my friend never summoned creatures for personal gain. He did his duty in war when called upon, and once, when he was but newly arrived in this town and could see no other opportunity to establish himself without undue delay, he summoned a number of amusing trifles for the Lord Mayor's children, but aside from that he only practiced his art toward one aim: the accumulation of knowledge. I sleep.
It was his unshakable conviction that we need not fear what is out there. Yes, terrible entities sleep at the edges of the world, monsters who can tear our arms off as we would tear the wings off a fly, just to see what it will do, but we need not fear them. My friend maintained that we had three weapons more powerful than anything these abominations could hope to conjure: coordinated thought, coordinated action, and a vast repository of recorded knowledge.
When he summoned these demons and conversed with them, he did so not to conspire with them, but to examine them. He considered himself a weaponsmith for a war he thought inevitable.
I propose that the man on trial today was, while he lived, among the bravest men of this land. He knew, perhaps better than anyone else, what terrors lurk in those outer territories, and still he sought them out. He was brave, but he was not a fool. He never called up that which he could not dismiss, and he never summoned a creature unless he was assured of the safety of the endeavor for himself and, more importantly, for others. Only once did he misjudge the danger of a summoning. I will awake.
I trust the court will forgive my digression, but after all, is it not the man's moral disposition that I was asked to give testimony about?
Let us return to the day in question. As we were restoring the laboratory to its previous statereplacing the books on their shelves, dragging, with some effort, the candelabra back to its placehe explained to me as best he could what had transpired in the minutes immediately prior.
There was a certain species, he informed me, which he had always wished to study. It had been the pot of gold at the end of his rainbow. For the first decades of his career in the arts, he was not at all convinced the creature existed at all. Then he discovered mention of a Bestiarium said to contain an article on that creature, and finally he traded an item of great worth to him for the location of the only existent copy of said Bestiarium. The article was sadly unsatisfactory, prompting him to search out any and all secondary literature on the topic. He explained to me that it was this scarcity of information that accounted both for the desirability of summoning and studying this creature and for the danger of doing so.
After years of poring over the same ten page article again and again, he had finally arrived at a theory that seemed to be supported by what he could learn from the secondary literature. But as I said, my friend was not a fool. He did not consider his theory sufficiently provable and decided to wait on more information before attempting that grand conjuration.
The events in the minutes following my entrance to his laboratory were that information.
As we were now finished placing the books in their shelves again, he invited me to take another look at the book that contained the sketch I had used to identify the thing in the mirror. He gave me to understand that that book was the aforementioned Bestiarium, and I looked at it with greater respect now, wondering what possession it had been that he had traded in for the location at which this tome could be found, and if that possession had been physical at all.
The article on the creature in question was written by a woman, which was unlikely enough in itself. This woman had a son who was born without arms and who was generally considered mad. At first, her village was supportive of the poor woman. Then, however, they noticed that she not only believed her son's fantastical stories, but also wrote everything he said down and even spurred him on. The villagers backed away from them, and soon the woman and her son were isolated.
It was at this point that I noticed how much care my friend had invested in researching these biographies. You see, he studied outworldly entities with the dispassionate objectivity of a learned man, neither relishing nor bemoaning their deaths, if their deaths should become necessarybut us mortals! He harbored a deep fascination for each and every one of us. It was not love, but he believed that each one of us was a miracle to be studied, admired, or written about. I beg forgiveness for my repetitive narrative, but I must simply say it again: my friend was not an evil man. He who lies dead in his cell, awaiting your wise and merciful judgment, was a gentle, a good man, and most importantly, he was always on our side. I approach.
To resume, then: there were what my friend referred to as 'sordid rumors' in contemporary correspondence surrounding the poor woman's source of income. She was a widow, and from the day her son turned five, she never again left the house. Food and other necessities were delivered to her doorstep and paid for in foreign coin. Even though there could be no doubt that at this point further research into the mother's biography would not yield anything interesting on the creature, my friend employed all methods at his command, both mundane and arcane, to construct a complete image of the woman's life. Perusing ancient army records he eventually discovered her husband's place of death, and that the good man had acquired some profitable lands during the second Doviello campaign and left a trusted friend in charge of them with instructions to send a percentage of the profits home to his wife.
Before news of her husband's demise had reached the mother, she had sent a number of letters to him, which are to this day preserved in the archives of the war shrine. From these letters my friend learned of the crippled son's dreams. See me.
In his dreams, every night, the boy saw a horrible creature, consisting of translucent domes of skin, long appendages ever-changing in shape and texture, and of a multitude of eyes. Time after time he described that creature to his mother, and it was different each time, yet somehow the same.
All the creature ever did in his dreams was walk toward him with an unsteady, shambling gait. Night after night it would come a little closer.
After eighteen years of this, the boy stopped sleeping. His desperate mother sought the services of a summoner who was prepared to 'summon the creature out of her son's dreams' for an unreasonable fee. The mother gives the summoner's name and place of residence in her article, but as much as my friend searched through the records of the time, no such summoner could be found. She describes how the man arrived at their house and proceeded to summon the creature the mother and her son described. From the details of that summoning my friend quickly concluded that the summoner was a ruthless sort of practitioner, and that the rituals described would have no effect other than to make him a rich and ruthless sort of practitioner, unless there actually lived a creature within the boy's dreams, which any sage well-studied in this area will tell you is a thing of impossibility. Your thoughts are my temple.
Both the mother and my friend came to the conclusion that the ritual was successful. The creature was summoned out of the boy's dreams. The first thing it did was to kill the summoner. Next it turned on the son and with two blade-like appendages severed the young man's non-existent arms. She reports that the creature thrashed about wildly, moving suddenly into random directions. Finally it turned toward the woman and stared at her with a hundred thousand eyes.
At that moment, a cat darted into the house, and the woman swears in her article that the frightened animal's scream formed two human words:
From that day on, she writes, every cat would ever only say these two words to her. Whether the animals were mating, fighting, or begging for food: "Worship me!"
So she did.
Her son died that day. My friend found an undertaker's report, which claims that the arm stumps were unharmed, but that the boy had hemorrhaged into his stumps and died of a loss of blood.
The woman worshiped the thing, as it had asked of her, begging it to return her son to her, and decades later, a week before her death, she saw it again. It appeared to her, turned into a mist, and drove into her stomach.
My friend believed that this was the moment the creature entered her son's dreams.
It is now upon me to describe the most outlandish of attributes this creature possesses, and I have chosen to wait until the court has heard my account of this unfortunate family's fate before attempting to explain what I hardly understand.
My friend had reconstructed this long tale and studied it for more than a decade, until finally he had come to a conclusion that seemed to explain what happened, if the woman is to be believed. My friend believed that the creature's wild thrashing about was indicative of its uncertainty where it was, not just in space, but also in time.
The day it entered the poor woman's womb was the first time it had met that woman. It entered her womb and, decades earlier and yet at the same time, entered her son's dreams. When pulled forcefully out of these dreams, it cut off the boy's arms, but again, did not do so at that time; it cut off the boy's arms before he was ever born.
As for the dishonorable summoner, it must have gone back further. There is no mention of his family in any of the records, nor of the town he supposedly inhabited.
After digesting this theory for the better part of an hour, and asking a dozen questions of my friend, I finally pointed out that this theory explained the incredible circumstances of that family's life rather too completely and conveniently. And my friend agreed, and told me that this was why he had not acted on his theory until that day. Until the candelabra had taken flight and failed to destroy the mirror.
"So you propose to summon this creature?" I asked him.
"With your help," he replied. "If it was within my power to summon it alone, these things would have come to pass before you entered my laboratory."
I should have run. I should have tried to dissuade him from this endeavor. My words are my body.
"We will be safe, never fear," he assured me. He never called up that which he could not dismiss.
I asked if he could unsummon it, and he said that he could, after a fashion. He explained that he believed the creature to be born of a place in which the physical world is not what it is here. The creature may exist in physical form, in reality, but it may just as easily transition into what my friend referred to as conceptuality.
Here he supplied one last story from the unfortunate family's biography: after the son's death, a number of children disappeared from the village. My friend discoveredhow I do not propose to understandthat these children had made songs mocking the armless boy.
It was my friend's theory that after exiting the boy's dreams, the creature sought refuge in the children's songs, and hid there for a few months, before breaking out and devouring those who had sung a new home for it. My friend believed that, if necessary, he could contain the creature in a thought or a poem or a sketch.
So we summoned it. The court will forgive me for withholding the details of the ritual. I believe it too dangerous to be made public, and my friend warned me against narrating the ritual to anyone, lest some aspect of the creature be hiding in the very ritual that summons it.
We summoned it and it came. To be entirely true to the events of that day, it came, and then we summoned it. The moment we had made up our minds to go through with the ritual, the creature appeared. The glass of the windows became murky, as if with frost, and shattered. In its mindless rage, the creature reached for the heavy candelabra and threw it across the room, only of course the candelabra remained in place and instead the mirror shattered, and there was the noise of its shards falling to the floor. Its thrashing limbs ripped the books from their shelves, only that none of the books moved at all, but there it was, the sound of a hundred books falling onto the stone floor.
When the creature had calmed down, we summoned it. My friend insisted that the summoning was still necessary. Your words are my play-things.
As we finished with the ritual, the monster froze. My friend said that it froze in time, but what he meant by that I cannot say. We took a long look at it, but I felt as if I had then already seen it a hundred times, in a hundred mirrors, and I cannot now look into a mirror without seeing its gray, clumpy flesh.
There were small holes all over its body, and many of these held sticks of fragrant incense. The glowing and even the smoke of the incense was frozen, just like the monster. My friend seemed to delight in this fact most of all.
"It confirms my wildest taxonomical speculations!" he said.
It is here that I should skip forward to the thawing of the creature, to how it murdered my friend, and how it finally was caught and caged, not just for the sake of my friend's reputation, but, I fear, also for the sake of my own life. But I have said my goodbyes to my wife and my children, and I have sworn by my friend's life that what he discovered that day shall not be buried with him. I do not wish for the bards to sing of this in the taverns and inns, but I have also made certain precautions to ensure the knowledge will not be buried with me, either.
I asked him what he meant by that remark. He indicated the incense and said a single word that shrunk my stomach and raised my every hair.
His theory was that this creature was a protoplastic deity. He speculated that certain species of birds must have developed out of certain others, and that it was thus with all lifeincluding the gods.
If you do not wish to execute me now, let me conclude my narrative of that day. My hunger, my anger, my hunger!
Eventually, the creature thawed. First the puffs of smoke expanded, as certain liquid dyes will expand in water, then the glowing started changing in intensity, and finally the creature moved again. It seemed calmer now, but no less threatening.
My friend put certain questions to the monster. First he asked its name, then the place it resided and the name of the people that worshiped it. Each time the creature made a number of angry noises but gave no other answer. Later that day, after the creature was put away and my friend had been killed, I asked him what the purpose of those questions was; whether the creature's name could have given him power over it. He answered in the negative. None of the answers the creature could have given would have amounted to anything. My friend's purpose was to create the illusion of a fumbling, unexperienced summoner. The notion of an inexperienced adversary stumbling upon the proper rituals by sheer luck should serve to anger the creature sufficiently so that it may itself fumble and make a mistake.
I must pause here once more and admire the audacity of this man. He summoned creatures powerful enough to remove him from this world, from the history books even, to remove his family untold generations back, and yet he calmly attempted to anger this monster merely to provoke it into making a mistake. He paid for his audacity with his life, but there may now be one threat less out there for us, at the edges of the world.
His stratagem worked. The creature grew angry. A flock of birds flew in through the shattered window and perished in the flames of the fireplace, screaming in what I cannot help but describe as a human language. Next there was a knock at the laboratory door, and my friend's landlady stepped inside, her eyes rolled back far in their sockets. She opened her mouth and screamed at the top of her lungs the following words:
"My hunger, my anger, my death and my birth! Worship me!"
Calmly she stepped out of the room again and closed the door behind herself. To this day she cannot remember doing anything of the sort, but I have noticed that her eyes avoid mirrors as well.
My friend had put up, as precautions, a number of protective spells. They were contained in metal plates, their words etched into the material. One of these plates, on which I could recognize my friend's name, melted all of a sudden.
"It is time for our guest to leave," my friend said, and at that moment, the creature shaped one of its appendages into a blade and sliced clean through my friend's neck. My friend reached for his throat and felt that everything was intact. I could not even make out a scratch. I believe that all he said at the time was "curious."
My friend recited what at first I mistook for a spell. After a few words, I recognized the text. He was intoning the opening paragraphs of Belston's famous book on the laws of motion. To this day I do not fully understand why, but this text seemed to give the creature great discomfort.
It vanished. The smell of incense was gradually replaced by the smell of burnt flesh and burnt feathers, and I felt the chill coming in through the broken windows.
"Where did it go?" I asked my friend, and he pointed at the Bestiarium, still open on his desk. I looked inside.
Even though I had not read the text of the article before, I could immediately tell that it had been altered. Here and there were sentences that made no sense in their context. Simple, assertive statements: "I live" or "I wait".
"Do not read all of it," my friend warned me, "lest it go to your head." For a second I felt like laughing, but my friend's serious face halted my impulse.
"What a most interesting evening," my friend remarked.
"Interesting indeed," I said. "But what have we learned, exactly?"
"I, for one, have learned how I will die," my friend replied, and there was neither terror nor sadness upon his face. "Which leaves only half of the mystery: when."
When my friend was decapitated in court, he was punished by a God, but not in the way the court assumed. He paid the price for a life lived in the service of all mortal creatures.
I wish to close my testimonial by entering into evidence said Bestiarium. I have it here with me. Do not fear, it is perfectly safe. My friend has inscribed the book with a number of seals that are impossible to break from within. This is the creature's final resting place, its eternal prison. Once the book succumbs to the forces of nature and slowly rots, the creature shall rot with it.
Most honorable court, my friend was the bravest men I have ever known. What he did we cannot ever fully understand, but knowing him as I do I solemnly testify that there was no evil in his mind.
Did he summon demonic entities to converse with them? Yes, he did. But did he conspire with them? Was he in allegiance with them? Only as much as the man who has forged your sword is in allegiance with the barbarians who are meant to die by it.