Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad

BOOK: Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad
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Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad

Troy Denning

 

It depends on me, of course. Everything does.

Who shall live. Who shall die. What is, what shall be.

Imagine I am watching from above, hovering in the sky as mortals are wont to think we gods do. The vast sea lies below, forever slapping at the rocky shore of the Sword Coast, where Candlekeep’s towers of profane ignorance sit upon the pedestal of a black basalt tor. With a breath, I could blast that bastion of falsity down, powder the mortar between its stones and send its high walls crashing into the sea, scatter its twisted tomes to the bubbling mires and the deep, stinking oceans in the far corners of the world.

Now imagine I am standing. The sea hangs upright before me, a sparkling green tapestry stretched across the endless expanse of the heavens, its white-capped waves spilling down again and again to taunt the shore below. The world has turned on end, and Candlekeep’s towers hang upon that basalt tor like warts upon the tip of a black, cragged nose. With a thought, I could release the fullness of the sea to swallow that citadel of corruption, to scour that library of lies from the face of the world, to wash its books of deceit into oblivion and rinse from Toril even the memory of their false pages.

It all depends on me, you see. Nothing is certain until I have beheld it and set it in place, until I have placed myself above it or below, before it or after. Let them keep their temple to Oghma the Unknowing, their shrines to Deneir the Prattler and Gond of the Forgestinking Breath, and even to Milil, Lord of Screeching Racket! Let them scorn me if they dare. I am the One, the All, the Face Behind the Mask. I am the Everything.

 

Thus spoke Cyric the All on the Night of Despair, and in my anguish, I could not understand. I was as a child; I heard with a child’s ears and saw with a child’s eyes, and I understood with a child’s mind. I despaired and I lost faith, and for that I suffered most horribly, as you shall see. But know also that the One found me when I was lost, that he returned me to the Way of Belief, that he burned my eyes with the Flames of Glory and Truth until I saw all that occurred in the world and in the heavens, and that he did all this so that in the account that follows, I might set down all the things done by men and by gods in complete accuracy and perfect truth.

I am the spy Malik el Sami yn Nasser, a famed merchant of Calimshan and a welcome attendant to the royal house of Najron, and this is my tale, in which I relate the events that befell me and a thousand others during the Search for the Holy Cyrinishad, the most Sacred and Divine of all books, and tell of my faithful service to Cyric the All in the boundless lands of Faerun, and reveal the Great Reward bestowed on me for my Valiant Labors and my many Terrible Sufferings.

Praise be to Cyric the All, Most Mighty, Highest of the High, the Dark Sun, the Black Sun, the Lord of Three Crowns, and the Prince of Lies. All Blessings and Strength upon his Church and his Servants, who alone shall rule over the Kingdom of Mortals and Dwell Forever in the Palace of Eternity in the time beyond the Year of Carnage! Look kindly upon this Humble Account, O God of Gods, though no passage can measure the expanse of your Might, nor all the words in all the tongues of men describe the Splendor of your Presence!

Prologue

In the City of Brilliance lived a young prince, handsome in all manners, but lacking in the virtues of restraint and good judgment. While I was out on business one day, the Caliph sent this prince to my home with a letter to be presented to none but me. My servants bade the prince wait in the shade of the anteroom, and my wife, being a gracious and most cordial hostess, brought him many refreshments and sat with him to keep him entertained. It was there that I found them when I returned.

Now it is true that no person of modesty would go about the streets dressed as were my wife and the prince when I returned. But, as they were not in the streets, I merely remarked upon the heat and adjusted my own dress to accommodate theirs. My informal manner was a great comfort to the prince, who had at first seemed flustered and unsettled. He presented his letter, and I invited him to take some refreshments while I read.

The letter was a trivial thing requesting some tariff I had forgotten to pay. As I composed a reply, we had quite a pleasant talk, which I am certain won me no small favor at court, the prince being the eldest son to the Caliph’s first wife. After that day, I received many letters from the royal house, all delivered in person by the first prince. If I found it wise to knock upon my own door before entering the antechamber of my own home, it was a small price to pay for the esteem brought by the prince’s frequent visits, and for the great honor with which he was to later repay my hospitality.

The day came when the Caliph received a letter telling events in Zhentil Keep, once a great stronghold of Our Lord Cyric in the distant kingdoms of the barbarians. According to the letter, the Dark Sun himself had composed a sacred history of his rise to godhood, the Cyrinishad. So beautiful and brilliant were the words of the Cyrinishad that anyone reading them saw at once the truth and magnificence of all they proclaimed. In this great book lay the power to convert all the heathens of Faerun to the True Faith-to drive all the pretender gods from the world and make Cyric the One True Divinity!

The Caliph’s excitement was great, for it offended him that others failed to believe as he did, and he was always eager to guide them to the Path of Faith. Indeed, he ran about waving the letter and singing the glory of Cyric’s victory for nearly an hour before his chamberlain could catch him and continue reading. I saw this myself, as I was a visitor to the palace that day.

The second page of the letter explained how Mystra (the harlot Goddess of Magic) and Oghma (the thieving God of Wisdom) feared the Cyrinishad’s power and plotted against Cyric. At the Cyrinishad’s first public reading, Oghma replaced the holy tome with a book of slander, and all who heard its lies lost their faith and turned from the Dark Sun. In that moment, Kelemvor Lyonsbane-a vile traitor whom Cyric had slain years before-escaped from his prison in the City of the Dead to lead a rebellion and steal the Throne of Death from Our Dark Lord!

Upon hearing these words, the Caliph grew so distraught that he drew his dagger and flung himself upon his chamberlain and cut out the poor man’s tongue. There was so much blood the chamberlain’s replacement could not continue reading until the royal priest made the words legible again.

The third page of the letter said Cyric’s power was so great that even Oghma and Mystra together could not destroy the Cyrinishad. Oghma gave the tome to a mortal and bade her travel forth and hide, blessing her with a diamond amulet that would conceal her from all the gods of Faerun. Oghma denied even himself knowledge of her whereabouts, for such was his fear of the One’s cunning that he knew Cyric would trick him into revealing her location.

The last page of the letter asked the Caliph to send his most loyal spies to watch the temples of Oghma and all his servant gods, Gond and Deneir and Milil, and also the temples of Kelemvor and Mystra and her servant gods, Azuth and Savras and Velsharoon. He asked as well that the Caliph send spies to the places where the Harpers make their secret havens, and to the places where the dead are left for Kelemvor, and to all other places where the servant of thieving Oghma might seek refuge. All this the Caliph did, and more besides, sending word to even his most distant cousins to aid in the great vigil. He drew up long lists so they would waste no effort watching the same places. He said also that if their spies found the book, they should send word to him and not attempt to recover it themselves. This, he did not expect them to do, for any mortal who recovered the Cyrinishad would win great favor in the eyes of the One and All, but the Caliph did not wish to appear forgetful by neglecting the demand.

So it was that the Caliph summoned his loyal spies to his chambers. It was to the hospitality of my house that I owed the honor of being among them, for the prince suggested I be given the honor of a distant post, where I might endure the great hardships of my mission in the guise of a beggar. At first I was too humble to accept, protesting that my business and my family required my presence in the City of Brilliance. The kind prince replied that he would handle my affairs while I was away, and ensure that no harm came to my business or my wife. Seeing the high regard in which his son held me, the Caliph declared I would watch over the most important and dangerous of all the posts, the great library at Candlekeep.

At once, I knew I had been blessed. Was Candlekeep not Faerun’s mightiest bastion of learning, much beloved of envious Oghma and jealous Mystra? And was the Cyrinishad not Faerun’s greatest work of history, able to make even gods worship the One and All? The Fates themselves had decreed the Cyrinishad would come to Candlekeep-and when it did, I would be waiting.

Thus assured of my success, and confident that afterward I would be in a position to repay the kindness of the prince, I changed my merchant’s silks for the flaxen rags of a beggar. I hacked all trace of grooming from my hair and dark beard, then smeared my face with mud and in great haste traveled north to the plain outside Candlekeep. There I lurked for years, filthy and unkempt, babbling like a madman and begging food and news from the monks who watched the gate.

Nor did I seek comfort from Our Dark Lord. The monks kept a temple to Oghma in their citadel, and I feared the Wise God would hear my devotions and have me chased off. So I closed my eyes to my master and lord and lived utterly alone year upon year. I prayed for no refuge from my hunger. I called down no curses upon those who pelted me with stones. I made no appeal, even in my thoughts, to the hallowed name of Cyric the All. I passed seasons huddled in the shelter of the Low Gate’s archway, and pled alms from all who entered, and humbled myself before those who imagined themselves my betters.

And one evening when the patter of a gentle rain filled my ears with a sound so constant I feared I would go truly mad, there came two strangers splashing up the road, a warrior and a woman. Their tongues wagged in the accent of a barbarian land, and their packhorse snorted beneath a great iron lockbox all bound in chains. I went to beg a coin for my dinner, and the armored warrior gave me a copper to hold their horses. He spoke to the gate monks of close fights and hard rides and enemies left dead upon the road. The woman talked of dark nights and lonely journeys and aid from all who revered Oghma, and she opened her cloak to show a diamond amulet in the shape of Oghma’s scroll.

Even had I not been watching for that unholy amulet, I would have known! I could feel the darkness welling up inside that iron lockbox and smell the musty fetor of human parchment and hear the whisper of dark truths rustling across holy pages. The Cyrinishad was reaching out to touch my mind and my body, and my ears filled with such a rushing I was seized by a fever!

At once, I could think of nothing but the book, of how Oghma’s thieves stood facing the other way, of how I held the reins to their horses, of how the Cyrinishad lay within my grasp after so many endless months of waiting. With not a thought for my own safety, I slipped my foot into the stirrup of the warrior’s horse, hoisted myself into his saddle, and jerked the reins around.

Had my father taught me more about turning horses than gold, my account would have ended here, with me earning Cyric’s eternal favor and returning home to repay tenfold the prince’s great kindnesses in looking after my wife and my fortune.

But this was not to be.

The war-horse would not turn. The harder I jerked his reins, the more he pulled back. When I thought to force the stupid beast by lashing him between the ears, he protested with a whinny so shrill it nearly burst my eardrums. In an instant, the warrior’s swordtip was pressed beneath my chin. I could do nothing but tumble from the saddle and throw myself into the mud and beg his mercy, and still he spared my life only because a gate monk interposed himself and uttered many stern warnings against the killing of halfwit beggars.

It was nearly five minutes before the man sheathed his sword and kicked me away, and five more before his wretched companion finished assailing me with sharp words about taking the property of others. (And this from a servant of thieving Oghma!)

When at last the woman grew tired of her own voice, the monks opened the gate and led her and the warrior inside. I left that very minute to rush to Beregost and send word to the Caliph. As soon as he spread word of my great discovery, I knew that Cyric’s Faithful would rush north to recover the Cyrinishad and punish the infidels for stealing it.

Surely, my days as a spy were done! The Caliph would call me home and bestow on me a reward fitting for all I had endured, and I would be hailed throughout Calimshan and the world as the Finder of the Book. My name would be honored in temples from Athkatla to Escalaunt, and at last I would be in a position to repay the prince for the many kind attentions he had shown my household and my wife!

But mine was to be a different story.

 

One

 

On the morning of the storming of Candlekeep, I was given the honor of joining the command party atop a knoll some distance from the citadel. The Caliph had appointed me, as Finder of the Book, to stand in his place while his best swordsmen joined the Faithful on the plain below. These warriors formed but a fraction of the forces amassed in the name of Cyric, the One and All.

To my left stood Most High Haroun with his horde of black-armored bodyguards. He was a tall and hulking man in jingling chain mail, who commanded a great following of Faithful Warriors called the Black Helms. On my right stood His Deadliness Jabbar, with his own throng of bodyguards. His Deadliness was a pale man, shunning noisy armor in favor of a soft-swishing priest’s robe. He commanded the Purple Lancers, a following of Faithful Warriors equal in size to that of Most High Haroun. Together, their troops were called the Company of the Ebon Spur. The warriors of the Ebon Spur were Cyric’s shock riders, an elite cavalry from Amn who plunged into battle mounted on war bulls. And their leaders, Jabbar and Haroun, were known as the Dark Lords.

BOOK: Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad
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