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Andrei Pambuccian
Old Vault Category: 
Old Vault ID: 

Days had been falling in drops as they vaporized, into weeks carved to nothing distinguished from the humid dungeon fog that served his breath. It was a murder of time itself, the energetic maker's strength sapped by the manacles that kept him from his quill, though he knew that even with the instrument in hand, its point could pierce none of his adversary's shields. Doom was readying its fist for descent to press him into the ground, as the light of his burning flesh shall bless the circle of his followers, lift smoke and screams towards the ravenous hand that would bring down his spirit.

Tomorrow, the final ceremony of his attendance shall take its place within the dust-concealed niches of history, buried together with his beliefs. It will be as plain as any of his own religious rites, a rise of flames on the pyre of a shrine revealed to the god of justice, yet now veiled in the expectation he had never known before, and had assumed as simple as a fear of death. What death itself carried in meaning he never took the interest for, never saw it as the shackle to prevent his own goals from condensing, still only the disturbance of such height as this could ever break him from the loathing of this concept. He could hear a door open across the circle of straw and stone, no doubt the only door out of this tower, though the presence of others, in other forms, was not excluded. A silhouette exposed itself from outside, concealing the light of a torch above the stair - the only torch, almost worthless for the old man's hardened eyes - and pressed each step towards the culprit without a single sound released. Far behind it, the guard thrust his head into the room to thank the figure one last time before closing the door as easily as he opened it. It was obviously a great thing to thank for, since even the minimal bribe would've been the culprit's weight in gold.

No doubt, the culprit had once worn that weight above his shoulders, carelessly amassing until the pressure needed to cause its collapse became no more than a single touch of his subordinate's finger. The finger, then effortlessly pressed against that mass, had now lowered itself to pointing at the culprit, awaiting the denouncement of his guilt, and what was long ago a weight carried with strength and resolution could now be juggled between prison guards and the new subordinates of his replacement. What came of life when the death sentence had already been declared? What had made the rule of years so precious as not to be broken by a single new law of his once-loyal lieutenant, to forfeit all reforms leaned towards improving the justice of his land? It was the greatest disillusion, that as high priest it was his responsibility to oversee all worship, law and justice, which could all be turned in an instant, while those of lesser statuts in the exclusive and repressive theocracy of Tyr, his engineers in infrastructure, agriculture and security, had designed networks so vast and consistent that it would take many years to reverse them, for that would mean to pull every stone from all the highways, greenhouses and forts within his land.

The culprit had certainly been richer than they could ever hope, treading absently across the marble floor and through the golden arches of his balcony - a magnificent view, both within and outside, though he never bothered to look down and see it. Instead, his life had been one of pondering the true and perfect justice, in absolute conflict with his life of an administrator over lands his feet would never find their place upon. He never wished for riches, never acclaim - even though he would gain it through every highway, greenhouse and fort built by engineers with his approval - and never life itself. What he had sought, and through the blindness of his chase found itself gone, was discovering the single code of laws which would replace all in firm dominion: as much as Tyr's was the one true faith, this one would be made its scripture. His edicts were his greatest treasure - to think that they would all be overthrown by his unwanted heir!

"You've come at last!" left the figure's head, now discerned among his grey hood, cape and suit of armor. It was a head like no other, for it was almost no head at all, more a faceted gem than the round, pearl-like shape of skin standing on the culprit's shoulders. "Is it not irony, that before you had never seen me, yet this new dusk has brought you blindness as well as my presence?" Fixed in an aimless stare, the culprit had no reply, nor would he want any. He gathered his strength in a whisper: "Free me, sir."

"Free you? And would you truly expect justice to conform, let itself twisted by your demands? How is it that I should feel, after all the crimes I've been set through?"

At this, the culprit hissed. "I have never committed any crime against you..."

"Have you not? Indeed, not by your laws, yet a single glance from my perspective is enough to change your own forever. You have, though unknowingly, committed murder against me, and that you shall hopefully realize by tomorrow."

"How could I have murdered you, when I know you're standing here, talking to me, breathing in my chin?" protested the culprit, with words lost among the frothing of his disease-weakened lungs. He had, in fact, been diseased since before the insurrection, in times in which the weakening of his voice was yet to be seen for the prophet it was.

"I am not what you mistake me for. Do you think that I would sound like this - like one of your own? Do you truly think I would speak at all? What you hear comes from your own mind, I am a hallucination, your creation, not the other way around. It is, in fact, quite accurate to say that by this time all concerning me has been lowered to a mere hallucination, even if recognized by all men, beasts and the very laws of nature as reality. Do you deny the murder from your child? Seeker of truth, is that what you fancy yourself? Why, then, did you bury the truth under your laws? Was the clot of generations' debates not enough to clothe and drape my own wisdom, was it not a crime, in your dreams of creation, to carry my identity?"

The culprit forced his eyes to a stare in the voice's general direction. He thought that, as eyes would pierce his visitor, so would they the visitor's mercy.

"I had your blessing..."

"You had nothing. That was your blessing and the blessing of ages spent burning the taper upon which I had inscribed the righteous path for you to take. In your careless search for truth, the light began its waning, for there was little more of the taper to burn. Yesterday, before your chains were set, the light had finally lost itself, though surely it is still plain for human sight. Now, what you believe as blessed law is nothing more than ink-painted parchment, for reason of your vanity as much as any other legislator's. You destroyed the sought books in your ignorant rattling of shelves, undone yourself through your belief in the god you never were. That is your crime, as well as punishment."

Listening to this, the culprit felt much weaker than he had been before the figure's coming, still he carried the strength to combat its last statement. "I have done nothing against you" he said. "Every prayer held my lust for that very truth which you say I destroyed. If that is my crime, then indeed, the void echo of my worship should be appropriate punishment."

The figure answered with a scowl. "I said before that I am not as I wish, that thousands of years under your predecessors' quills twisted my texts into your human form. That yours have lost but a drop of ink in this pursuit is irrelevant. Your guilt is measured by the threat your crimes, both current and future, possess to the current legislators and those legislators' intents. Were you in my courthouse, you would've been forgiven and left standing. But, I see you are still high priest by mandate of your god, and with this mandate in hand, the courthouse is yours to champion - at least until tomorrow."

The culprit nodded to himself, forseeing a path of salvation before the black of his eyes. If he could convince this man, using the laws he knew well - for he achieved most of them himself - that justice was in his freedom, none would ever find cause for condemning him. Then, without challenge from any one of his subordinates, he could continue his design of perfect law.

"Sir, if only you'd take a moment to look at the scriptures..." a cough and its child emerged from the culprit's lips as he prepared to unleash the debate. "If you'd take a moment, you would see that the high priest may not be accused of anything - so he can't be put under trial. Also, the high priest remains in station until death, which would mean I'm still high priest. I have to die before being sentenced to death. I can't be convicted of anything, much less treason and blasphemy, since it is the high priest's responsibility to define the principles of loyalty and reverence. I'm not the criminal here, but the victim of my underlings' own crimes. As such, it is your obligation to release and help me in my attempt to bring justice to those that persecuted me."

The figure listened quietly, in astonishment of the culprit's blindness towards the symmetry he had brought to being. In the conclusion of his captive's arguments, he paused for distant minutes before all scents of what was said escaped the tower's walls.

"A moment of mine passes in a lifetime of yours." he said, and his voice slashing silence felt even more imposing. " Yours is moment spent in dreaming the true form to slaughter all sin, yet mine suffers its nightmares with consciousness that everything takes place within reality. You say you are the high priest, I say (and my word weighs far more than yours on this matter) that your right of placing the title is as void as the title itself. You are not, and shall never be a priest of Tyr so long as your blasphemy and treason contest all the god carries as principle of faith."

The culprit, acknowledging his inability to build a key through debate, sought to grovel it out of the figure's mercy.

"Then I won't contest any longer... You have my vow, set me free, and I will be your priest..."

"Would you? Would you pray to me? - beg to me? - chain yourself for freedom? Know that my wraith is grand, that all I request is a single misjudgment on your part to tear the land from earth to sky and discard your precious spots of ink into the ruins of your realm. If a single thought bickers with deed, you will lose more than yourself or your laws. Are you willing to waste so many for your own crimes against me?"

As the figure spoke, across the room a brick fell from the tower's wall, with those encircling it to follow down. Watching a doorway expose itself before him, the culprit felt a beacon emerge from his heart towards skull. It was certainly not hope, for that would stir a shiver in his weakened speech, instead it felt as if a wizard had turned his lungs to iron, a feeling never gained outside the sentiment of confidence.

"I'm not willing to lose anything." he said. "I will act by my judgement, as I have always."

"If you shall do as you have always, perhaps it is best that we proceed to the cataclysm. I can be quite patient, though not when patience means to halt everything in expectation of my own actions."

The culprit began to feel as if bricks were retracting into the wall, despite their waiting for their kin which in that very moment were releasing themselves.

"When have I ever done you wrong? I have always been just, strived for the destruction of evil, protection of those set on the righteous path..."

"Should your victims have endured any punishment at all, when it had been removal of common evil you were striving for, and not destruction of life? Should you have condemned a man to fifteen years of hard labor, when you sought only to eradicate his crimes? Taking the example of tomorrow, one could believe that any carrier is responsible for his disease, hence the burning of whole communities, be they human minds, villages, nations or worlds in the name of justice. Racism is a sin in your scriptures, to perform it yourself is to expose the weakness of your engineering."

"I have indeed a weakness in my engineering, a failure which I blame on my humanity." The culprit's trust shifted from escape to belief in his own texts, for he had now seen the figure's for the absurdities they were. A smirk emerged from his lips, gentle and compassionate, as he prepared to shatter the convictions of one who dared tremble his. "How do you expect me to pluck a crime off someone's head? Flip my fingers and cast a spell? Let's say there were such spell, what would I do then? Let the criminal go free and unharmed, to show everyone else that yes, the priest of Tyr doesn't mind us picking pockets, we can commit as many crimes as we want! Let's go beat up that damn neighbour who's been badmouthing us, kill that insufferable dog of his and burn his house to the ground, the priest will just wipe it away and we'll keep on living our merry lives. No, I have no ways of dealing with crime other than condemning it, that's what justice means.

The figure answered as more stones were being sculpted away from the tower. The wall was lifting not because the culprit had resumed his reckless debate, but by the figure's ever-growing wish to release him.

"Do not think of justice as in treatment of crime. A man may be unjust even without a single society or clergy name his unjustice crime or sin. Is living life for its own sake, as an animal would, in any way correct? No, it is unjust, condemnable, as justice is assault on more things than crime. It is exclusion of all existence not deemed appropriate by a given judge. If that judge is without peers in the universe, given absolute power to choose wrong and destroy it, does that make it any better than the lesser scenario? Petty justice is in denying some imperfection, perfect justice is in denying all of it. That is the object of your search - deprivation, destruction, extermination - that which you had destroyed from the beginning, misplacing it among the evil your laws oppose. Let's say there was such spell as the one you pretend impossible, were you affected by it, set on the true path without loss of life, only convictions - for crime is in their number - would your pursuit not end? Would you not have found the true path within yourself, not have needed any more than a chalice sated with ink to write inherent thoughts upon the walls of this tower? And despite this - even despite this - each of your laws streams from yourself, the imperfect build to waste life rearranging itself in faith that its new form would be in some way greater than the last. You are confined by your own errors, and yet you propagate them in the circle to confine your fellows. And if they fail to conform, you punish them, not through the loss of their divinity, but with a whip to coil across their bodies and pull them back within."

"Loss of divinity!" the culprit rose to combat, almost pulling himself from his manacles. "Loss of divinity, you just let everyone slip into your *imperfection*, do nothing to bring them back, then come here preaching off your insults into the righteous path I have been wasting my years for. I have done everything I could to bring the people back to what I *thought* was truth, and now you come here and tell me that all these years I have been praying to Tyr, the god of ivory indifference who, in his wisdom, has let all justice crumble to a *loss of divinity*?"

The figure shifted to a placid stare. "Yes, loss of divinity. Loss is the most powerful tool to convince oneself and one's fellows of error. What would you consider wrong, if you lost nothing out of it? To prove myself, I offer you the fulfillment of a single wish, be it any one you choose. May it be a wise choice, though know that ignorance shall not obscure it even should it lead you to the Fire."

The culprit, hearing this, understood only the proposal's foremost part. That his wish will come true, that he'll snatch his freedom at last with but a single wording, was beyond any threat the figure could release. His passion of debate, one which a moment ago had been spilling words as plague rats from a burning ship, was now abandoned for the joining of his arms in a cry towards mercy. Even as he knew that groveling was useless at this point and could not bring him more - nothing could bring him more - the gratitude flooding his heart could not unearth itself through any means other than prayer.

"I want you to free me... Free me forever, from all my crimes..." he foamed in an attempt to haste his speech, which would only prolong his damnation for a few, precious moments. "Free me from any crimes that I might ever be accused of... Make me your high priest..."

As he spoke his last sentence, a ray of candid light emerged from where a wall once stood. The culprit, pushing his head from his chained body, made an attempt to peer at it, though he knew his blindness to overpower any star. Instead, the sign revealed itself as the sound of bricks smashing into their brothers on the tower floor. With a stare, the figure shattered his prisoner's chains, which flew about the room at the culprit's own pace. While he pressed his hands against the walls in search of his doorway, the figure watched and spoke to all but the salvation-deafened culprit.

"Is freedom your quest? By all means, take it. Justice, the true path, is exclusion, limitation, it is removal of the filth which breeds inside of you. Leave the path which brought itself to you, leave without a thought of all you lost. When outside the yank of your own noose you showed diligence in its weaving, your only thought now is to escape it, so that you may resume the pattern without fear... Often men wonder at the spiders in a web, their sinking back into the arms and teeth of their hungry spouses when the moment before found them fleeing from their bites and bruises, yet should these spiders be given minds to think, would they not wonder at our own love story?"

Before his last words tapped the dungeon walls, the culprit was already feeling his way across the opening. The figure followed as far as the bricks were torn apart and watched the culprit's dance without astonishment, then brought all bricks into their places as last his voice was heard.The tower, built in the center of a grassy plain, had dispersed all chance of the culprit's to leave with any certainty of his direction. Instead, once outside the dungeon of his justice, he quickly came to know he could follow nothing but his sense of touch, which lead his palms around the tower's endless face in a shiver to reveal his rapidly-evolving desperation. Three times he followed the wall in search of the hole he had left behind, three times to beg the figure's forgiveness and demand restoration of his sight, for only with this blessing could he return to his palace and retake his just position among the clergy of Tyr.

The next day, when his subordinate came to the tower with armed guards to send the culprit towards his execution, they were all surprised to find him lying dead, face-up on the ground, with his hands firmly attached to a stone of familiar origin. Looking up, the new high priest noticed a small niche in the wall thirty feet above the tower's base, a niche which corresponded to the stone in size and shape. Oddly enough, the niche also exposed a kind of mortar on its walls which seemed of different color, less enduring than that fixed to the stones below it. As he set to leave, he gestured with his hand to have the stone put back into its place, then fill that niche from which it fell with new, higher-quality mortar. Before that, however, he ordered one of his guards to bury the culprit and took the stone from his dead hands. He lifted it towards the sky to examine in detail and, indeed, detail had been that which he found. Tiny letters had been carved upon the rock in a language difficult to understand, letters spelling the culprit's name. After their reading, he tossed the stone back to the one guard who had already buried the culprit and left with the rest towards his palace.


Loftless © Andrei Pambuccian

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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