Join Date: Aug 2011
Current Game: Arcanum
I let all of this sink in, and my sense of dread grew by the second. "High Priestess, isn't there anything we can do? I mean, the Exarch is about to send eight more people straight into the Maw of the Faceless, and if everything you say is true, then they're going to dive in willingly!" That brought an urgent question to my mind: "Why have you chosen to help me, and tell me all this? Why not tell the other seven people who volunteered tonight, too?" A tree branch suddenly scraped against one of the windows, clawing it like a gnarled arm. "Won't they believe you?"
"They might, but it's far more likely that they won't. Also, the more people who know this secret, the more dangerous our situation will become. I've chosen to tell you because you have your whole life ahead of you, untainted by rumors of me losing my mind soon after the Exarch was ordained. I swear to you upon my very life that I can hear the Faceless speak, even now when my superior says he has fallen silent! Would you like me to prove it?"
The eight amber candles in the towering windows of the U'um flickered uneasily, as if they were in immediate danger of being extinguished. "How can you? What has he told you lately, besides about these storms and their cure?"
"The Faceless revealed the heresy that condemned your father to the Maw."
I gripped her aged hands so hard she flinched and stepped back. "Tell me!"
She took a deep breath. "No one except the Exarch would tell anyone what it was, and yet he insisted that your father throw himself into our deity's mouth first without anyone else knowing why. For years his death haunted me, until I was lying in bed one night and I could hear the Faceless' voice clearly. All he said, in the ancient tongue of our eldest ancestors, was roughly translated as: 'The blasphemer says I speak to every human heart, and he is right.' I was horrified, because if even the Faceless believed your father's words, then there was no need for us. Think of it! If our god does speak to everyone, then we Masked Ones are irrelevant. I had to guard this revelation with my whole heart, lest the Exarch find out and slay me for revealing it!"
"Or, could it be that you were just too proud to say so? Could it be that you didn't want to be ir-rel-e-vant, so you kept my father's secret to yourself?"
The High Priestess bowed her head. "I believe it's a bit of both, and that's what keeps me up nights when the other seven Masked Ones are asleep. I have been complacent ever since your father died, for eight years, and now it's time to stop. It's time to defeat the Exarch, and put an end to his reign over our city! He has exalted himself, and so now he must be cast down!"
"One more thing: What's 'complacent'? Mother can't explain that very well."
The High Priestess gave me a long look with her eyeless, noseless, faceless face. I could tell that she was coming to the same kind of decision that Mother herself had, right before she told me about Father. "It means you sit back and pretend everything's fine when you know it isn't. It means that in the midst of great evil happening all around you, you shut your eyes and pretend it isn't there. Above all, in my own situation, it means that I've sat on my hands and kept my own mouth closed while fifty-six people hurled themselves to their deaths in the Maw of the Faceless! I could have cried out for justice, but fear and complacency held me back. No more. It's time."
"How are we going to do it?" I asked.
"The Exarch has called upon the machinations of a series of spells that existed long before this city did. Our grandfathers eight generations ago practiced them, before they came to know the Faceless and his omnipotence. We believe that, nevertheless, these spells are imbued with our deity's power. The chief of all the Masked Ones is misusing them. He calls for rain, and yet he does not make it stop because he wants to see us cower in submission! He used one incantation in particular to make himself as magnificent as he is."
"What is it?" I asked meekly.
"It's a spell that exalts its caster above not only the natural world, but above the souls of ordinary men. It is forbidden except in the direst cases, yet the Exarch used it anyway. Thus, he not only gained the power to make it rain. He inspires terror and awe in anyone who comes near him, and to such a degree that they literally lose their minds for as long as he wants them to. Perhaps that is why no one dares murmur against him save every eight years, because that's when the great ritual wears off and he has to cast it again..."
Something odd occurs to me: "Why are we obsessed with the number eight?"
"Eight sides in the Oegon, Eyes of the Faceless, and windows here. Eight years to this cycle of death, and eight people perish each time. Why eight?"
A brief pause. "Turn the number on its side, and you'll understand why."
I didn't understand, but I was far more curious about this spell: "What is it?"
"If I tell you, the Exarch will know that a usurper is trying to take his place. Therefore, I will not, but I shall tell you this: there's a reverse incantation, which I have prayed to learn for decades now. It is almost the exact same as the spell itself, except it's said backwards with a few crucial lines added. Someone must be alive to cast it, and if tomorrow's Opening of the Maw goes as planned, I may not be. That means that you..." Thunder rumbled again.