I can't do this. I won't!
Just let me jump in the Maw, and--"
"I know you're scared, but I need your help to save us all. If the Exarch isn't vanquished once and for all through this reverse incantation, he'll continue to cling to power long after this. Who knows? He may even learn the secret of immortality, to which even I am not privy! Come to my aid, child, and listen."
Despite sobbing anew, I did, and the High Priestess taught me the words that would save us all. The rain would cease, and so would the Exarch's power...
The next evening, it was time for the Opening of the Maw, the dread and deadly service upon the rim of the Faceless' Mouth. It was pouring harder than ever, and yet everyone in the city braved the drenching torrents. I knew that we were all hoping and praying for the storms to stop, but I and the High Priestess knew something else: mere prayer would not be enough this time. Even though I was but a little child, I had been given the key to unlock the doorway of the Exarch's evil mind. I listened to his words with trepidation:
"My good people in this fair city! It is time for this curse to end. Let our homes be flooded no more, and our crops no more be submerged so they cannot grow. Let the Faceless speak again, and let his pronouncements echo forth from the Maw! In order for that to happen, however, the Virtuous Eight, made holy by the sacred rite of Masking, must present themselves to him."
I was wearing a small mask, along with the other seven volunteers, who wore larger ones. According to the High Priestess, this had melted our faces in the course of twenty-four hours, but she had given me a false mask instead.
the Exarch asked me. "Recite your final prayer to our silent god. Then unmask yourself, and enter the Faceless' Maw!"
I took a deep breath, raised my arms to the sky as the High Priestess had directed me, and shrieked with all my might above the roaring thunder:
"Ch'ya to govruyu i'a, s'ela ve'ya byeslitsi'i! Nichiu v'v'vlast!"
Before the Exarch could react, his feet seemed rooted to the ground, and his body became as stiff as a board. He began to shriek himself, because when I opened my eyes again, I saw his mask had fallen off. He'd kept his face!
Against all the precepts of our faith, and against the sacrifice that the High Priestess herself had made, the Exarch had worn a false mask all these years! Now, however, it was literally liquefying. As the storm continued, his body dissolved, blood and bone running together in a viscous fluid. It was all I could do to kneel on the rim of the Maw and vomit into it while she held me fast to keep me from falling in. When all was said and done, all that was left of the Exarch that had held us in bondage for decades was his stained white tunic.
When even this had tumbled into the Maw, the heavy rain ceased at last.
The other seven volunteers who had agreed to become part of the Virtuous Eight, oddly enough, had worn the masks the Exarch had given them. They were also false! Nevertheless, they knelt before me: "Teach us, child..."
The first thing I taught them to do was to throw their masks into the abyss.
I've been one of the visages of the Faceless for more than a half-century. I was never Masked; rather, I was anointed as a healer and prime warden against any wicked spellcraft that anyone might attempt. The High Priestess taught me everything she knew, and Father's "blasphemy" became one of the new tenets we followed as we sought our deity's face. Mother wept for joy when she realized what I'd done on that fateful night when I was eight, and passed away soon afterward. The grief she'd felt at Father's death had eaten her alive, but peace came to her heart before her eyes closed for the final time. Several of my friends became fellow priests, who helped me visit the bedsides of the sick and the dying. Far from being irrelevant, as the years passed we became more needed. The Faceless may speak to every human heart, but it takes our human souls and bodies to tend to one another...
I'm lying in the U'um
now, tracing the number eight in the air with my bony finger. I am eighty-eight years old myself, and still cannot fathom what the High Priestess meant by telling me to do this "so I'd understand". All I'm doing is forming a symbol that keeps circling around, forever and ever, in a continuous and endless loop. It brings something to mind, and...ah...
The Faceless is calling me. I shall hear his loving voice, throughout infinity.