Talsinew’s mind was full of idle thoughts. But his desk was full of idols.
Scattered across his table were holy symbols and sigils borrowed from his religiously diverse compatriots. It had been surprisingly easy to acquire them — he’d simply gone to each of his companions in turn and asked to borrow a symbol of their religion for a few hours. They trusted him enough at this point to let him borrow one of their tchotchkes. Some maybe even thought this was a step in his religious conversion. There was certainly enough of that going around the group.
Aramil had leant him an aquamine-and-silver twist of coral, sharpened like a dragon’s tooth. It sat next to his brother’s idol: a tiny wrought-iron lantern devoted to Ghynemma, patron of the downtrodden. Errich the cleric laughingly leant him a brass relief of Amarin, the Lady of Healing — she was tenderly caressing a sickle and sheaf — and even threw in a carved ivory shield that he said belonged to Desserae, Lord of Tragedy.
Looming over them all was a symbol of Erys, the Snake of Below. Well, Grök said it was a symbol — the orc had yanked the carved ribcage out of his bag of holding, and presented it with an air of triumph. Talsinew assumed that the carvings were an attempt to inlay it with a sense of authority or religious zealotry. Or perhaps Grök was just bad at carving. At least it was mostly cleaned; he had a sinking suspicion that the bones had originally belonged to one of the pirates from the recent ship fight.
Finally, there was the druid’s sigil. Shenzi had simply plucked a leaf from one of the small orchard trees near Naumkeag’s rebuilt greenhouse and sketched Faraday’s icon, a stylized wolf’s head on it, in matte black ink. To top it off, there was also a small vial of ‘the tears of Faraday’ from Errich, delicate flowers grown from the Sky Temple.
Sin sat turning the idols over and over in his hands. Such small pieces of rock, metal, bone. The craftsmanship ranged from grotesque to elaborate; the symbolization ran the gamut from gentle to grizzly. Such tiny objects.
Such massive power they could channel from their deities. These were the keys his friends used to harness that energy, to reshape the universe with heaven-granted skill and devotion.
It wasn’t as if he couldn’t handle them. They didn’t burn his flesh or wrack his mind with terror. In his hands, they were just matter. Like handling a soup spoon or a fancy hat. Pretty, maybe functional in the right circumstances, but not that important to him.
Sin cleared his throat. He didn’t know how to start. Bards were used to speaking to fuller houses than this, not an empty room in the basement of a manor house.
“Hello. Um, hi. Greetings, your worships. If any of you are listening — I don’t think you are, or should be, at all. These symbols are just… they’re art, to me. They don’t seem like access points or icons or anything other than… statues. Dead. Inert.”
“And none of you are dead. I see you work your magic through my friends. Your magic’s helped me, though I don’t feel like any of you care about me. I’m a non-believer. I’m a harp string that hasn’t been plucked — hasn’t even been tuned to the right key. And you all concern yourselves with your symphonies that are already in motion, I’m sure. Why would you need to play every instrument you can find if it’s just going to be a cacophony?”
“You work for my friends because they believe in what you can do for them. Me, I believe you have power, but it’s not power for me. If I get caught in the healing, or the harming, then that’s fine, but it’s not for me to wield. I have no control over you. You have no control over me.”
“And that’s fine. Except you do have control over me. Something does. It happened again. That maddening voice in my mind, when we were storming Aryss’ keep. A sinking pit in my stomach. A voice in my head whispering to turn back, to find shelter, to stay low. To be far away from what was going to happen. I had snuck into the keep, invisible, to open the front gate. But the voices started, and I remember wandering out past my compatriots in a daze, walking in quiet invisible formation down the slope and to the docks, past the dozens of pirates milling around and extinguishing fires.”
“I must’ve blacked out or something, because the next thing I remember was being curled up inside my cabin of the ship, shivering in a ball, watching as my arm slowly became visible once again. I don’t know how that happened. The ship wasn’t docked in port — we had sent her a league offshore to hide. My clothes were bone-dry. I don’t understand.”
“My companions thought I had vanished in the commotion. Shenzi and Aramil found me when they returned to the ship, surprised and startled at my presence there. And I had missed it, once again — a two-hundred-foot-tall-God, striding through the ocean and hurling a new constellation into the sky.”
“Hell, maybe it was one of you out there on the waves.”
“But this has to stop. This… religious antipathy? Sure, let’s call it that. If I’m to live in this world — and I happen to like living in the world — then I can’t be vanishing every time a whiff’a immortality pokes its head up. I don’t know what’s changed lately, but it’s not sustainable in my line of work. I travel the world. I tell stories. I hear stories. I need to go where the stories happen. I can’t be forced away from divine interventions, especially since all of you are so bloody commonplace with how often you decide to intervene!”
“Why me? What are you tryin’ to say? And which of you is tryin’ to say it?”
Sin’s voice drew silent. He hadn’t realized he’d almost started shouting by the end. Frustrated and upset that his little speech hadn’t accomplished a damn thing, he cast around and saw his music pipes.
With a practiced hand, he drew them up, and sunk into the music, blowing elegantly windy chords that harmonized with his sung voice, as his mind unspooled lyrics from nowhere.
Like a match in the dark
And it’s just trying harder to find me
Well I’m fighting and fleeing,
But what am I seeing
Is it what’s begging deep to remind me
Born of a preacher
This littlefoot creature
Listened so well to his mama’s strong speeches
Child numbered eighth
But I never found faith
So faith never found me in the practice of preaches
And all of my friends and all of my foes
Worship what’s lying right under my nose
I never quite thought I could be one of those
No, just a true deceiver.
Fairy tale stories
Of angels and glories
Are living up large to their label of myth
But I’m not one for praying
Or outward displaying
The name and the sign of the gang that you’re with
But still I collect’em
And last time I checked’em
They don’t tie me down to the tenets of gods
So still I am haunted
By spirits unwanted
To even me out through the evens and odds
And is their belief buried somewhere inside me
Do holy men walk with their footfalls beside me
Or am I just destined to let voices chide me
No just a true deceiver…
Sin stopped singing abruptly, and looked around. The room was ablaze with light.
Silver globes were whisping through the air, thin and ethereal in their passage. As he watched, one of them slowly elongated, almost… growing… almost shaped like… a wolf’s snout…
He whipped his head down to the holy symbol of Faraday on the table, but it was lying dull and dormant. No glowing with inner light the way Errich and Aramil wielded their sigils in the heat of battle.
Cautiously, Sin paid more attention to the globes. There, one shaped like a dragon. A sheaf of wheat. He tried to recall what Erys’ sigil was, and as soon as he thought of snakes, he saw a silver serpent uncoiling through the air.
Yet all the holy relics were silent as the grave.
Wait a moment. Slowly, Sin raised his voice, and spoke a word, paying close attention to the clusters of light.
“Faraday.” And they elongated into wolves.
“Desserae.” Miniature silver swords flew through the air.
“Waro.” And a dozen dragons took flight.
“You’re not Gods,” whispered Sin, gazing around in marvel, “You’re not from Gods. Maybe you come from divine energy, but it’s not specific to any one deity, is it? I’m accessing it somehow. But it’s not taking the spiritual form of any one God, because… because I’m not a believer.”
Sin’s neck itched. He scratched it, then paused. His shoulder was hot. He twisted around to look and… there. The tattoo, the religious sigil of Rewalts on his upper shoulderblade was hot. Was it… glowing? Was that his imagination?
“So I wear someone’s holy symbol on my skin — maybe ‘cause of that, I can access this fragment, or maybe this version of divine energy. A cleric or pally would see these… these spirits as their God’s blessing. But my perception of ‘Gods’ paint them all the same as each other. So you become whatever vague symbol I think about, not anything I believe in! Because I still only believe in me!”
Sin paused for a breath and concentrated on the glowing spirit lights. Upon further inspection, they didn’t seem to illuminate the room itself — they shone with an inner light that seemed to only radiate to his eyes. He wondered if anyone else would be able to see them.
On a whim… “Rewalts.”
The silver spirits became a swarm of roughly hewn arrows, zipping radiantly through the air. Their progress was fast and elegant, and Sin couldn’t help but admire the progress of the bars. Almost stately in their movement — their streaks of light almost looked like musical notation…
He shook his head and the spirits slowed, becoming nebulous globes once again.
“I have you inside of me. I have this power. I don’t understand it, but I wanna use it. Somehow. There’s a whole world out there right now that needs some serious saving. So spirit… things, first you’re gonna protect me from this divine antipathy I got going on. Then you’re gonna teach me how to heal.”
Sin’s fist tightened. His arm was still sore from the crossbow quarrel he’d taken aboard the ship.
“And you’re gonna teach me how to harm.”