Enderal:The Butcher of Ark, Volume 10: The Fall
For a moment I saw nothing. Then my view cleared up and I felt how the fire filled my veins. With one eye I saw reality, how I sat at the edge of the bed, the bloodstained dagger still sticking in the body of my victim, weakly twitching in death agony. His vision was blurred and limited, equal to that of a man peeking through a keyhole into another room. Yet what I saw with the other eye was clearer. His thoughts. His memories.
I saw a corridor which was covered with red carpets. It was the corridor I had just passed to get to Mitumial's room. From his room I heard sobs. I took a step toward him and heard a voice from nowhere. It was hard, cold, and without love.
“You are useless.” I felt that it belonged to Mitumial's father who had just died a short while ago.
I went along. The sobs grew louder and mingled with screams.
A jolt went through the spectral version of myself and threw me into another memory. I saw him, seventeen winters old, sitting at a large table covered with all sorts of dishes. He had lowered his head. At the other end of the table sat his father, whose face seemed familiar to me. A woman was sitting at his side whose eyes looked dreamily and impassively into the void.
“This world is no place for weaklings. Why don't you understand?”
“I do, father.” Mitumial's voice was monotonous.
“Apparently you don't, or you would not behave like a damn fishwife.”
The image turned black, and I was back in the hallway. The cries now began to multiply. I took one more step toward his room. One more. And another one. Then: a new memory. This time I saw Mitumial standing at a door, with his back turned toward it. He seemed to be listening. A man and a woman were shouting at each other behind the door, the man furiously and the woman pleadingly. The male voice belonged to Mitumial's father. Again and again the dull sound of an impact could be heard. I did not need to see the scene in order to understand it, and neither did Mitumial. His face was a grimace of disgust and anger. He despised him for what he did to his mother. He despised him for his deeds. I was back in the corridor, having arrived at the door to Mitumial's room. The fire burned greedily and glaringly in me, but the intoxicating feeling that it sent through my veins felt wrong. I was supposed to feel triumphant, but instead I felt … guilty. Empty. “No”, I whispered. He had killed. He had allowed the demons to enter him, and this was going to be his rightful punishment.
The door in Mitumial's memory swung open and I entered. The room was similarly devastated as the one in which my actual self was standing at his dying body, but this time the scattered sheets and books and the overturned table were the silent witnesses of an outburst of fury. Anger. Or despair? Mitumial was crouching on his bed, beardless and clean, completely unlike the man in whose throat I had just driven a dagger. Tears dried on his cheeks, tears — I knew it — that his father had despised him for, calling him a girl. Now his eyes were dried and reddened, and they seemed to stare into nothingness. He was broken. Why do I see this? I understood nothing of what was happening around me. What I was supposed to see were his sins, the moments in which he had allowed the demons to enter. The moments in which he was weak and had chosen sin and greed instead of fortitude and virtue. The moments that had made him the monster that he was! Determinedly I walked toward him. A lightning struck with a crash, illuminating the image. Then it returned to normal, and nothing had changed.
Almost nothing. I was still in Mitumial's room, and in his head. But neither had the shelves been knocked over nor was he crouching on the bed. An open book lay on it. I knelt down and read. The ink on the first page was still fresh.
15th day of the Kraken, 6098 a. St.
Father says there is no place in the world for weaklings. But he is wrong. It took me a long time to realize this. But I feel the truth in my words while I write them down. First I hated him for his bad deeds; his shady dealings, his “trips” to the Undercity, the things he did to mother that without any doubt had contributed to her death. Why he only had injured me verbally instead of beating me is beyond me. Maybe because I was his son after all? I don't know.
What he was unable to understand though is this simple truth: He is the true weakling. Despite wealth, status and the honor of his Path he is not much more than a desperate child inside, trying to use his power in order to gain acceptance and esteem. How easy it is to fall for this kind of pattern when we are not aware of it. I am ashamed at the thought of the things I've done. Little things they were, my mind tries to justify, but only now I realized how close I was to get into the very same cycle of violence and self-loathing as my father. Why did I beat up the noble boy? Back then I said to myself: Because he had treated me disrespectfully. Today I know that I only wanted to prove to my father that I'm actually a strong man. And I'm sure — if I had not realized it, one thing would have led to another, and harmless bullying would have led to much worse behavior. Quickly I would have been exactly what I feared.
My mind is made up: I will change. And once I am the upright person I am striving to be, my father will realize the perfidy of his deeds.
I have it in me … and he has it as well. I believe it from the bottom of my heart.
Stunned, I stared at the open book in front of me.
He wanted to change.
Was it really possible? Were his intentions so noble? But how?, I thought. He was obsessed! And once the demons have lived inside a human for too long, there was no turning back. A luring uneasiness rose inside of me, and with horror I realized that it was familiar to me. It was the feeling of being misguided which led me to leave Fogville, to betray my Path, and to join the Black Libra. And now it was back again.
I heard a dull sound behind me, like a body bag falling to the ground. It was Mitumial Dal'Joul. An older man who I identified as a servant of the house was standing in the doorway. Mitumial had fallen to the ground and had his face buried in his hands. The fire was raging wildly inside of me, but this time its intoxicating effect felt out of place, like an intruder.
“We came too late”, I heard the servant say. He avoided the gaze of his master. “I am sorry.” When he got no response, he turned around and left.
I felt how a jolt shot through my body. The fire had fed, it had seen the sins. Mitumial Dal'Joul was dying. The spectral world around me began to fade, slowly but consistently, like the ink on a letter in the rain. Irritated, I looked at the diary on the bed and then to the memory of the man whom I had judged. The man who had murdered three innocent people. The man who had given in to sin.
He had despised his father's actions. He wanted to change himself and his father.
Yet he had become a murderer. Why? What was the message brought to him by the servant?
A weak light began to glow inside of me, a shimmer of understanding. Who knows how things would have turned out if I had just closed my eyes in the last moment I had been in Mitumial's memory. But I watched. With a torturing slowness my eyes wandered from the clean marble floor to the shelves filled with ancient knowledge, and stopped above the opulent door frame which I had crossed to enter the room a few moments ago. A round shield in a golden frame was attached to the wall, painted with a crest. It showed a bear.
My memories of the moments after I woke up are as pale and blurry as those of my escape from Fogville. I clearly remember, however, that I stood up from the bed with slow, calm movements which an outside observer may have misunderstood as a sign of serenity, or, in light of the act I just had committed, as a sign of cold-bloodedness. Mitumial Dal'Joul was dead; I did not have to look at him anymore to know it. My heart pounded wildly in my chest, intoxicated by the nectar of his sins. Yet I felt cold. I do not remember my escape from the building anymore. When I approached the city gate, I could still smell the smoke of the fire I had set. The gate was closed, but there was light in the guardhouse. I had no idea how to explain to the guards why I wanted to leave the city at such a late hour, but I did not have to. In case of necessity, if it were the only way to gain distance, I would simply turn the gate and all guards into ash. Again I felt this paralyzing fear in my stomach. Only this time, there was no way out. I had been following a lie, from the beginning to the end. There were no demons taking possession of people. There were no sins, no corruption.
There were only cause and effect.
I myself had sealed young Dal'Joul's fate by killing his father. He wanted to change. My eyes were burning, my limbs were hurting. My thoughts were not in harmony with the Fire anymore. It felt the dissonance and punished me for it. Go back, I heard its voice speaking to me from the blaze, go back and do what you are meant to do. Yet I ignored it. My fist was firmly clenched around my dagger as I walked toward the gatehouse. I saw the shadow of a man flicker. The small building was separated from outsiders by bars. I swallowed, prepared myself for speaking. And I halted.
I knew the face that looked at me through the window, and I knew the smile luring on the lips. The man leaned back in the chair, he had his legs crossed and his arms behind his head.
“Where are you bound?”, Qalian asked. He spoke like a man who runs into a good friend after a long night in the taverns. I did not need the Fire to realize what was going on inside my mentor's head. He can feel it.
I remained silent, unable to respond. The situation reminded me of my old self: secluded, with a heavy tongue and no life experience. Qalian also decided to remain silent so that we only looked at each other for a while. His body seemed to cast no shadow despite the bright candlelight in front of him, but maybe it was only a figment of my imagination.
Finally he broke the silence.
“I will not stop you. But they will come to get you.”
I remained silent.
“We all were where you are now.”
I was filled with a dull rage. “Were you?”
“Yes, my friend.” He let his gaze wander, as in many of our conversations before. “We were.”
“It is our fault, Qalian. It is not the fault of demons or sins. It is only our fault.” A word was formed on my tongue. First there was a tickle, then there was a clear shape, and before I knew, I had spoken it.
“It is a cycle.”
Qalian smiled like a master smiles at his student when he came to an understandable, but naïve conclusion. Then he shook his head.
“I will not stop you”, he repeated.
One day you will make a decision. And I hope it will be the right one.
My hands were shaking, and my fear was overwhelming. I felt tears tickling behind my eyes. It was all in vain. I had believed to be special, to make the world better with my deeds, to find my destiny. But I had not found anything. I had joined a group of lunatics who made themselves judge over life and death with wild magic and unholy rituals.
“Open the gate.” My voice was merely a whisper.
Qalian nodded, with a hinge of regret. He had expected my answer. Three draws of breath later the machinery of the gate began to move and it rattled upward. I turned around and left without looking at Qalian again.
“No one leaves the Black Libra”, I heard his voice behind me. It was neither angry nor malicious, only sad.
I disappeared into the dark of night.
My hand hurts. I feel that they come closer.
I want to end it myself. I would like to claim that my reasons are emotions like guilt or a sense of honor, but it is a lie. Pure fear is driving me. Fear of what the Black Libra does to traitors.
The place where I began writing this transcript will be the place where I will leave this world. Was it fate that my life was going to end here? The fact that I am hiding in an old, abandoned trading post in the middle of a forest makes this conclusion likely. I was not aware of the irony of my fate before I woke up between these cold stone walls yesterday morning. I had wandered all night, and I remember the strange figure walking thirty arms lengths in front of me all time. I followed it. Shortly before I found the clearing, she turned toward me a last time and smiled at me. The adornment in her hair sounded like wind chimes from Kilé. Then she disappeared like she had never been there.
I wish I had more meaningful words to end this transcript. But I don't. As I have mentioned before, it is meant to be an account, nothing more. An account of what made Jaél Tanner's Son, the nameless one, the Butcher of Ark.
I am so tired that my eyes are filled with tears, and my hands are shaking in anticipation of what I am about to do. Several dozen people died by my blade, yet I am too cowardly when it comes to taking my own life.
I have a final plea to you. To find simple explanations, my story will not only be twisted by the heralds and the Order, but also by the Black Libra. It was born in the shadows, and there it will remain. Nowhere will you find traces of its deeds, and with artfulness and perfidy it will cover the traces I am going to leave behind. Besides simple explanations — I was straying from my Path, I was a monster — there will be other assertions which will satisfy scholars and philosophers. Do not listen to them.
They are nothing but lies.
I had to chuckle upon reading your latest letter. No, the Black Libra does not exist, and yes, I do consider your research on its machinations a waste of time.
Why, you ask me? It is very simple.
Jaél Tanner's Son was stark raving mad, up to the last sensible corner of his brain. He suffered from horrid delusions and nearly everything you have read on the previous pages is nonsense. Now I am well aware that this claim fits the book's closing statement only too well. But allow me to shed light on the life and deeds of the Butcher of Ark — on what truly happened — and you will see how what I say is infinitely more sensible than Tanner's Son's metaphysical ramblings on demons, the Black Libra and the fire.
Jaél Tanner's Son was born to a common carpenter and his companion in the year 6056 a. St. in a small village going by the name Northwind. Therefore, his true age at the beginning of the chronicle was thirty and two instead of twenty-eight. This also increases the age at which he was abandoned from two to four. Being of frail stature and small body size, his age seems to simply have been underestimated.
His natural father went by the name Samaél Chipblade and was an utterly violent and mentally challenged man. Both of these streaks — it pains me to say — have to be attributed to his deep-rooted religiousness. Obsessively punctual, he visited the local temple several times each day to pray, never missed even a single mass or sermon, and was able to recite all of the Path's 101 verses in their full length. Nothing was more important to him than to abide by the path and to love our lord; and these were his exact expectations from his fellow villagers — which, as you might be able to guess led to him living a very isolated life.
Though he usually followed the priest's sermons, he often thought their contents too shallow and Northwind's handling of pathlessness too lenient. When he did not pray, he worked, denying himself desires such as love-making, alcohol or even music. And so the village was surprised when rumors that Samaél would become a father began to circulate. Though he denied it, everyone knew who the mother was: a young wandering whore, often seen at his house in the past weeks. The public knowledge of the pregnancy put Samaél in a difficult situation — abandoning a pregnant woman and thus committing murder on babe and woman both, was a grave sin even if the woman concerned was of low status or a whore — but more importantly, it did not in the least fit self-perception. So he picked the only option available to him: He married the woman — not older than twenty winters at the time — and five months later the young Jaél was born.
As one might imagine, he was not born under a lucky star. Though Samaél had always been slyly aggressive and quick-tempered according to the priest I interrogated, this aggression only increased with parenthood. The fear and horror recognizable in Chipblade's young companion had been almost graspable during the three-day-mass, he confessed. So things took their course and — as if he had not already done so — Samaél sealed himself and his “family” increasingly off from the outside world. By now you will have guessed what happened, dear Turas, so I will keep things short: Samaél Chipblade abused both his companion and his young son. What began with scolding looks and curses slowly turned to regular beatings with a birch.
This he of course merely did to “protect” his loved ones, as he confessed to the priest once. Both his companion and his boy were befallen by “demons”, horrible demons whose only purpose it was to drive them from the right path, to taint them. “One cannot purge them forever”, he had said to the priest, his voice shaking, “Because they always return, no matter what you do.” No matter how devoted the prayers or how chaste one's thoughts. “They always return.”
Why the priest didn't intervene? He did not fully suspect how bad things truly were. Corporal punishment for children and women is not unheard of, especially not among the rural populace, and the truth only dawned on him as, one morning, he watched the young woman go to the village's well. A gust of wind freed her from her veil and revealed an abundance of cuts, bumps and broken bones. Do you remember the Butcher's crow-like nose? It is a remnant of such an "exorcism".
There is little more to say of this sad period of his life, except for its tragic end. In an act of despair, Jaél's mother took her life, but only after she had crushed her husband's skull with a heavy hammer. The starved boy was found five days later in his parent's bed chamber, the empty eyes focused on the bloody altar of Malphas. To this day I do not know whether he had been present during the horrible deed or whether he had entered the room when both parents were already dead. He did not cry, spoke no word and his eyes had nothing in common with those of a four-year-old anymore.
When I asked why the boy had not been given to a family from the village, and with lowered eyes the priest confessed that no one was willing to take him in. A child that had already seen murder and violence at such a young age would undoubtedly bring misfortune on those near it, people said. And besides, times were hard and wheat rare. In the end, Jaél was dressed in a woolen blanket and the priest travelled with him to the Fog road and deposited him before a shrine — in the hopes that someone would take pity on the young boy. You already know of Gilmon, the tanner who would later raise him. He shared neither Samaél Chipblade's religious fervor nor his brutality, but, as you certainly concluded from the Butcher's writings, he gave everything to the boy except for an environment in which his scarred soul could heal.
As he turned eleven winters old, he began an apprenticeship with the local priest and came to oversee the temple of Fogville five years later. The villagers saw him as a silent, dutiful man with constantly uneasy expression; and it did indeed take three days before his disappearance following the Star Summer Night's feast was noted.
In the third chapter of his account, Jaél finally tells us of the events that transpired at the “Red Ox”, a small tavern not far from Ark where an essentially harmless act of revenge escalated into his first killing. In incredible detail he recounts the inebriating feelings that took hold of him during the murder, then turning his attention to his first encounter with Qalian, who accompanied him as a mentor and friend during the following moons and winters. Here, however, fact and fiction, truth and phantasy, begin to mix for the first time. The innkeeper of the Red Ox might still remember a sad-looking, thin man being humiliated who then, together with the two riders, had disappeared early in the next morning. A man such as Qalian, however, had never been seen at the tavern. Now while this inconsistency might be attributed to the countless faces the innkeeper must have encountered since, the fact that both giants — Naratil and Jorah Dal'Karek, who indeed are quite nasty fellows — have been seen in Ark a few days later, both in perfect health, makes opposition pointless. No, you have not misread, Turas — both men who, according to the Butcher, died a bloody death that night are in fact well and alive and I have actually spoken to them during my inquiries.
I don't know what truly happened at the Red Ox, but I strongly suspect that at that evening, Jaél's inner need to take revenge for his humiliation caused his insanity to take root for the first time. He felt weak, and the violence he was subjected to unconsciously reminded him of the situations his father used to put him in.
But at the same time he was obviously lacking the power to do something against this — and at this point his imagination gained the upper hand and he conjured up a variant of the events that simply was never true. He then fled head over heels to the forest.
Now you may say that my claim — that the murders were a mere product of his imagination — is nothing more than conjecture. But let me first continue with my account and explain my underlying thesis later.
About six moons before the murders with a proven connection to Jaél Tanner's Son began, he claimed to have arrived in Ark. He posits to have found refuge in a tavern together with his mentor and his companions only to wipe out a sort of “child's brothel” in the Undercity the following day, together with Qalian. Again: The innkeeper of the “Dancing Nomad” recognized Jaél on a drawing, but was unable to remember a person fitting the description of Qalian. Even the brothel I mentioned had never existed in the form described, as my contacts in the Undercity have assured me of. “But is secrecy and covertness not the whole point of such an institution?” you might ask me now. Yes, dear Turas, it is, but such an establishment could only exist under the protection of a large organization such as the Rhalâta. And under these circumstances you can be assured that the destruction of such a — it pains me to say — profitable source of income would not have been tolerated by the Rhalâta. No… Both of us know what that organization is capable of, and what they do with those acting against their authority. But what actually happened was that more and more homeless and sick people were found murdered in the Undercity's alleys, all of them barely recognizable from myriads of stabbing wounds — Tanner's Son's thumbprint.
The first moments of both Jaél's narrative and the truth aligning occurred three months later and coincide with the passing of the so-called “exam”. Back then, the first corpses were discovered, and here we begin to talk of the “Butcher of Ark” due to the brutal manner of the victim's death. The following year, during which Jaél caused havoc in Ark, managing to escape first the guard and later the holy order itself due to his perfidious intelligence, a total of two dozen murders were committed where the Butcher's involvement is beyond doubt; and another dozen where it cannot be ruled out. A second person was never involved, and not all of his victims had been guilty of crimes.
You probably ask yourself the same question as in the beginning of this letter: Why the deviations? Why invent a mysterious secret society with the aim to keep evil in check? Why the talk of a “nectar of sin” enabling the murderer to enter the memories of his victim to be rewarded with sexual ecstasy?
I for my part have found a solution to this riddle, and it rests on my conviction that very few of this world's murderers and criminals view themselves as bad, instead believing to do the right thing. We are so good at creating models of thought that help us in reconciling our deeds with our self-perception. This was no different with Jaél Tanner's Son, and the essence of what caused him to commit his crimes is deeply rooted in his childhood.
You can surely imagine that his childhood had profound effects on Jaél Tanner's Son. I am certain that, on an unconscious level, Jaél knew what his father did unto him, and that he hated him with passion. You also know that children cannot yet distinguish between themselves and their environment, especially in early years. I suspect that this was the case with Jaé, too. The more he hated his father, the more he hated himself, blamed himself for the pain endured by his mother and him. Father had said it, hadn't he? “I only want to protect you. It's the demons, always the demons; you always allow them back into your hearts.” Again and again the boy failed in this, again and again. And again and again he and his mother had to pay dearly for it. How he wished for peace, his father's love, for harmony. But he would never receive it, for when the demons possessed his mother one last time, they robbed him of the only two people he had ever known.
Unable to even try to process his experiences, the horrible images, the raw hate, the guilt and a biting accusation, a deep-rooted realization were confined in a mental casket that his child's mind buried deep in his subconscious, so he would feel nothing but a diffuse, omnipresent fear that kept him from ever experiencing something like true happiness.
Until the day of his trauma, when he was confronted with his repressed memories for the first time by seeing his own corpse. I am sure that finding his own rotting corpse represented the part of him that had been repressed and locked away, sleeping all these years. Now, however, it's burdening presence had become too strong to ignore any longer. He would die if he did not learn to understand, calm or heal it; and so he fled head over heels out of his life, his only compass being an impalpable feeling that would lead to his death, much like the flame is to the moth. It punished him with an insufferable fear when he acted against it; and it rewarded him with maniacal ecstasis when he did something “right”. Without that feeling, he would have never left his village, never began to kill for his imaginary construct of the “Black Libra”, indeed, without it he would have never become the “Butcher of Ark”, instead ending his peaceful if a bit sad existence as priest of Fogville. He dubbed this feeling “fire”. I call it searching for forgiveness.
With every decision, with every murder, every step he took, he wanted only one thing: to triumph where he failed before. To finally achieve the peace he had always hoped for. He wanted to cleanse the world of the demons that had caused so much suffering for his family — his father had, after all, had only wanted to protect his family of them. Can you follow? The demons, the Fire, the Black Libra — it was all nothing more than his subconscious desire for absolution! Absolution for a crime he never committed! The demons Jaél saw in his victims were nothing more than projections of the guilt he felt for the deaths of his parents, and by murdering he tried to atone for it.
Maybe my thesis seems absurd to you at first glance — but think of all the parallels between Jaél's account and his past! The likely most obvious would be his choice of words — “sinner”, “demon” and “soul cleanser”. Humanity is weak and rotten, but there is a hidden order protecting it from its downfall. What could this be, if not a reconstruction of his familial background! It continues with the imaginary person of “Qalian”. Is he not an idealized incarnation of what Jaél would have wanted to be? Strong, lawless, full of desire to life and absolutely devoted to the Black Libra, without the doubts Jaél had until the end and that would ultimately be the cause of the last parallel to his childhood — his failure. Though dozens had to give their life because of Tanner's Son's mad quest for forgiveness it ended with the same cognition it had ended for the small boy in the past. But no matter the self-sacrifice — at the end he had been too weak. His will, his scrupulousness, his belief in the correctness of his cause — it was to no avail. He had failed — and left this world as a broken man.
You seem dear Turas: The parallels are too obvious to be merely accidental. I have been unable decipher merely two symbols in his story: The veiled woman appearing in his vision and the admission ritual. I do have my theories, but they are vague still.
You can calmly lean backwards, though: The day a wild mage enters your room to kill you and then digest your sins — I am sure they are countless! — will not arrive. The Black Libra does not exist, and neither does the fire or “Qalian”.
To me the story of the “Butcher of Ark” is primarily the sad testimony of a man who took countless innocent lives on his quest for forgiveness. Who, in the end, is to blame? He? His father? And if you chose the latter, how can you know whether Samaél Chipblade with his sick religiosity and his "purges", too, has been merely trying to heal a scar on his soul, a scar on his soul he also had no fault in creating?
Here, Jaél Tanner's Son was right: It is an eternal chain of cause and effect. A cycle.
And nowhere in it will you find someone to blame.
Carolyl Dal'Gamar, Arcanist of the Third Sigil and Chronicler of the Holy Order