He woke to more darkness, in agony at either end. His head was throbbing, tender to the touch, but this was nothing compared to the violent pulsing of his smallest toe. He fumbled about in the unrelieved dark, feeling for the pack that held his livelihood, feeling also for the lumen — but he found it neither in his pockets nor in the pouch at his waist.
“I believe I have something that belongs to you,” said a voice.
Light spread slowly through the space, coming from his lumen, which was being twisted in the hands of a gargoyle. The goyle itself appeared just as slowly, as if emerging from a pool of ink. “But of somewhat more interest, you have something that belongs to me.”
Gorlen didn’t know what he might have that a gargoyle would want to claim, and was about to say as much, when he noticed the hand that twisted the lumen’s cap.
Flesh with ragged nails…knobbed, scarred knuckles…fine tapering fingers that once might have moved deftly on the strings of an eduldamer, now chiseled and spadelike, blunted by labor.
It struck him then: The gargoyle’s hand, its right hand, was flesh.
“You,” Gorlen said.
The gargoyle leaned forward. He saw its stubby horns, its long tapering snout blending beak and nose. A face he had never forgotten.
“Well met or ill, my pallid shadow? Gorlen, is it, Fixtinearth?” the gargoyle said.
“Vizenfirthe,” Gorlen corrected, unsure what sort of liberties might be tolerated under these circumstances.
“Spar is my name,” said the gargoyle.
“I never knew that,” Gorlen said.
“Our prior meetings did not induce me to be forthcoming. I had no reason to see you as anything but Nardath’s creature, having only just escaped their sway myself.”
“I owe them nothing,” Gorlen said, “except this.”
He held up his right hand.
Spar sat for a moment regarding the black digits with something like adoration and pity. He reached out first with the white flesh hand, then drew that back and put out his stony left hand to touch its prodigal partner. Gorlen felt the clink as they touched, and found his eyes following the soft right hand which the gargoyle held crabbed and shamefully near his side, as if wishing to keep it hidden. Gorlen recognized the shame, the habitual pose of the freak hiding his deformity. These traits were his own, although he had been forced to make the best of his hand, learning to strum and pluck his eduldamer and play the odd sliding notes that no other bard to his knowledge had ever hit upon. He’d had no choice. To surrender to futility on that account, to give up use of it completely, would have meant starvation at the worst, crippling despair at the best…not that he had avoided despair completely. But he had not allowed himself to wallow in it. Ever the thought of catching up with this — this Spar — had goaded him on. And that pursuit had required all his strength, determination, and continued good spirits.
“Well, and so,” said the goyle. “I see you have taken care of my hand. I had feared to find it chipped, perhaps shattered off completely. You’ll see I have done my best to keep your property as it came to me, although frankly it was not easy and many times I underestimated its fragility.”
“I appreciate that,” said Gorlen.
“It only makes sense, does it not? Surely you have not lost hope that one day we might revert the spell? Might undo the exchange that neither of us wanted?”
“Why do you think I tracked you?”
“Indeed. I thought as much. I only wish the others saw your motivation in coming here as so shallow and naive. They believe you a spy of the flesh, perhaps sent by the so-called sculptors of Dint. They are a paranoid lot, although you’d think them ancient and far enough beyond mortal harm to have learned over the ages to distinguish between imaginary threats and those that truly ought to be feared.”
“What do they intend for me?” Gorlen asked.
“I was sent to determine if you were an immediate threat. They do not suspect this bond between us. They are so fixed on their provincial preoccupations that not a one has made the connection between your black hand and my white.”
“As to that,” said Gorlen, putting aside the fact that Spar had not answered his question, “why did you not….”
“Follow you?” The goyle clacked his thin black lips. “Difficult to explain, unless you believe what these others are reluctant to credit — that I have received prophetic utterances from vents which give voice to the Slumberer, in whose restless dreams the world’s fates is written and foretold.”
“I am no authority in these matters,” said Gorlen, “save only that I have never heard such things myself. But most things in this world remain mysterious to me.”
The goyle sat back on its haunches, curled its wings around its elbows, and regarded him pensively. “I confess, you are not as I remembered you.”
“Nor you,” said Gorlen.
“You did not track me down, then, to render some crude human justice? As if by shattering my entire form you might reclaim the severed part of you?”
“I am a simple musician,” Gorlen said. “What chance have I against a gargoyle in any form of combat? Were I to hit you over the head with my eduldamer, I’d be left to ply my trade with a mass of tangled strings and splinters.”
“It is unfortunate that our final meeting had to be in such circumstances,” Spar said. “My regret is deeper than you can know.”
“Final meeting,” Gorlen echoed.
“What you have seen, what you have yet to see, what you cannot unsee. these things require certain penalties be enacted. When you crossed the dark threshold, when you bore witness to our conference, you set in motion an irreversible procedure. I am afraid I cannot intervene. Our laws are ancient and quite strict in this regard. But I am very glad to have seen my forlorn hand once again. I only regret you had not caught up with me before this day.”
With that, Spar straightened, his wings cracking out, rigid.
“Is there no chance I can speak to the others? Speak for myself, I mean?”
“I will not intervene. Here is your chance if you wish it.”
Gorlen heard hard and heavy steps coming toward them from beyond the lumen’s reach, as the glow kindled and brightened and ran like liquid light across the polished forms of half a dozen goyles.
“It is time, stonesib,” said the nearest, with a slight bow toward Spar.
“He is no threat to you or to any of us,” Spar said. “I have determined him to be unarmed with hammer or chisel. Also, he carries a mere string instrument, which indicates him to be a musical sort. Such creatures are rarely the tools of larger human purpose. I believe idle curiosity drove him here, and no grand design to unfurl our plans.”
“That is reassuring, if true. Still, we must be vigilant. The Soft Ones may be slippery. We will trust him to your particular care.”
“My care?” said Spar, taken aback. “But I am called to the Descent.”
“As are we. It has been decreed that he shall accompany us. We shall ask the Deep One’s will in this matter. Perhaps it will accept the Fleshy One as a sacrifice. We would like to join you, Spar, in your colloquy.”
Spar silently bowed his head, acceding to their wishes.
“Excuse me,” Gorlen said.
They turned to regard him. “What is this?”
“If I might humbly address your worthinesses.. .to say a few words on my own behalf?”
“He chatters,” said one, a squat and diminutive goyle like a pillar that had been stomped down to a third its original size.
“I am told they do that out of terror,” said another.
“Do they not understand me?” Gorlen asked Spar, fighting increasing desperation.
“It would appear he is attempting to communicate with us,” Spar said, ignoring him.
“Does he think we can understand his speech?”
“So it would appear.”
“Mad creature! Soft-headed!”
Their odd chattering laughter was like a rockslide of sharp volcanic shards.
“But surely this makes him even more harmless,” Spar said smoothly. “Whatever he overheard in the convocatium, it would have been incoherent to him.”
“Ah…but that is not the issue. He bore witness — “
“Are you arguing his defense, stone of my stone?”
“Arguing only reason.”
“The only reason we need is that given up to us from below. And by that law, we must now bring him with us.”
Spar fell silent, and Gorlen, seeing the futility of his case, did likewise.
“Can we make him understand that he is to walk?”
“The creature seems comparatively intelligent,” Spar said at last. And with a grand flourish, he bowed and indicated the way that Gorlen was meant to walk, into the dark.
Gorlen rose slowly, but the pain of his first step was crippling. He let out a groan and would have fallen but that Spar was suddenly beside him.
“Lean into me,” the goyle said in a voice almost inaudible.
“What troubles the creature?”
“I believe he suffered injury. But if it is my task to see him down, then I will support him. Do not trouble yourself, brothers, with our progress. Proceed at your own pace, confident that although we follow slowly, we will eventually all arrive at the same edge.”
“Nonsense! We travel together.”