0003 – Gareth: Captivity, Part 2

Gareth laid the quill to rest, the ink-soaked point draining itself into the blackening paper of the blotter. He exhaled in relief, flexing his cramped fingers. It wasn’t his best work, but it didn’t have to be. It simply had to convey the concept of “escape”, if he understood correctly. That, and it had to be at least a thousand words.

Four sheets of lined writing paper had been consumed in the attempt. It should suffice, he thought, wafting the last of the pages in the air to help the ink dry. Now, to bind it.

This time, his search of the small, cosy study was conducted at a far more relaxed pace. Unfortunately, it proved disappointingly devoid of anything that could have been used to bind the sheets of paper together. Cursing under his breath, he strode downstairs to the kitchen, checking the cabinets and drawers in turn.

A few minutes later, after some clumsy improvisation with a thin meat skewer and two short pieces of knotted string, Gareth held five loosely bound pages in his hand, having had the foresight to add a blank cover sheet to the front of the flimsy, pathetic volume.

He remembered seeing some red ink in the study. Having observed Karl at his craft on a few occasions, Gareth knew that he would at least need some of that. This next part, though, was rather more complex, and it would have to be performed with some guesswork, from far hazier memories.

The hastily-scrawled story embodied a concept. It was all about an escape – a complete and total escape – from a comprehensive confinement. The theme was so simple, so pervasive, so straightforward, that there was no way it could possibly be interpreted by a reader as anything but “Escape”. This had been Gareth’s intention. However, in order to claim the power inherent in this, he would first have to Name the book. Any combination of syllables would do, providing it was unique, unused.

He had rinsed the quill thoroughly now. The blank cover sheet lay before him as he meticulously uncorked the slim vial of red ink. It was time to put his calligraphy to good use. If something was worth doing, he reasoned, it was worth doing properly.

The irony of having decided this directly after writing a slapdash story in under half an hour, and then binding it with knotted string, was entirely lost on him.

Gareth’s brain calmed into complete dedication to the task at hand. Aloud, he mouthed the syllables he intended on, before finally putting pen to paper.

Slowly and meticulously, he wrote the word:

BA’LIEL

He held his breath.

Absolutely nothing happened.

Gareth cursed, louder this time, throwing the dripping quill at the wall in rage, red ink staining the cream wallpaper like blood. What had he done wrong? His mind reeled. He closed his eyes, trying to recall the handful of times that Karl had seen fit to share some knowledge of the Craft with him.

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“And the word doesn’t matter? You can make up whatever you like?”

Karl didn’t turn around. His arrogant, beautiful face remained composed in neutrality, his sharp blue eyes focused on his own meticulous writing. For a moment, something about his posture seemed to Gareth as though he may be about to offer a legitimate explanation, to show his apprentice some respect for once.

Instead, Karl simply answered with “Sure.”

Silence filled the impressive library. The two men were virtually motionless, Gareth’s gaze fixated on Karl’s hand as the younger man worked fine detail in red ink onto the blank cover sheet. Their grandiose surroundings were rendered, momentarily, irrelevant. This was the most important thing in the world.

Karl had written:

O HLAALU NAMIEX’T

“Why three words, then?” Gareth asked. He hated suffering Karl’s attitude when it came to the Craft, but it was important that he understood as much about it as possible.

“Because,” Karl began, putting the finishing touches on the monochrome illumination, before finally laying his pen to rest, slackening his posture, and suddenly standing up. “It has to be unique.”

“Unique?” Gareth raised an eyebrow. “No Sermomancer can ever have used that combination of syllables before?”

“Correct.” Karl stated.

“But how do you know?”

“I know.”

Gareth rolled his eyes. Sometimes, he really did want to punch Karl in the face. Thankfully, Karl didn’t see.

“So what do these words mean, then? You’re the one who made them up.”

It was one of those rare moments when Karl deigned to make eye contact with his apprentice. Gareth had never seen Karl show fear, or even apprehension, but there was something special about the joyful frankness with which he looked into Gareth’s eyes now.

“It means: A house with no exit.

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The mere memory of it made Gareth thump the desk in anger. Twice. The second time, the weak hinges on the small lamp took this as a cue to awkwardly lower its head to touch the desktop, shining uselessly half an inch from the surface.

What a complete and utter fool he had been. He should have asked WHY Karl would need such a Name, but he had been so preoccupied with the HOW of the Craft that he had, inwardly, delegated the concern to the back of his mind. He was certainly paying the price for that now.

A year as Karl’s “apprentice” had taught Gareth to think through the fog of anger. How had Karl known that the Name he had picked was unique?

Because he didn’t just “make it up”, he realised.

Sure enough, when Gareth detached the cover sheet and replaced it with a blank, fresh one, he could not think of a single Name to give it but BA’LIEL. The story refused, adamantly, to be Named anything but that.

His mind raced through myriad possibilities. One question consumed him now. Where did these names come from, if Sermomancers did not choose them?

“They divine them.” Gareth realised aloud. This had implications of its own.

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