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Humakt and the Secret
by Reinier Dobbelmann

As told by Grimbeak Deathblade

This is a story about Humakt told to me by a devotee of Yan Starcere the Protector. It is different from most of the stories we tell in the Marshes, but it holds many truths. Listen carefully, then decide for yourselves.

Once there was a warrior named Humakt who carried a secret in the shape of a sword. He was proud and tall and terrible: a veteran of many battles. He wanted to keep this secret for himself, for he knew it was powerful. He was proud, but he was also honorable because he promised he would never misuse it. And so it was also to protect others that he kept the secret in the shape of a sword.

One day his younger brother Orlanth came, and asked him for a favor. "Lend me your sword," he said, "for I am in a contest with Yelm. I need it to show the Bright Shining Lie that I am better - WE are better! We - the Wind People are the true masters of the sky!" Orlanth was already a powerful storm god and he was very clever; he knew how to say things so that others had to agree with him. But Humakt knew a secret; when he looked at Orlanth he saw a warrior even prouder than he was, and when he heard Orlanth's words he heard the Lie of the Leader, the lie that said "we" but meant "me".

Humakt looked at Orlanth coldly and said, "My secret is not something to be used in games; it changes things so that they can never be the same again."

"You should always help your kin when they fight outsiders," Orlanth said.

"You are my kin but what is mine is not yours," Humakt replied.

"All the tribe will know you are a bad brother." Orlanth warned.

"No one can make me do anything," Humakt glowered.

"Violence is always ... an ... ... option," Orlanth began, but as he challenged Humakt with his eyes his voice faltered and he had to turn away. Furious, he sulked back to his longhouse, where he brooded until he found a new plan: he told his servant Eurmal to steal Humakt's secret. Humakt knew many people wanted his secret, and he took many precautions to protect it. Somehow Eurmal stole it from him anyway. The warrior god was very angry when he discovered the theft, and also ashamed that he wasn't strong enough to keep his secret. In a rage, he scoured the world looking for his prized posession.

Soon enough, Orlanth killed Yelm with Humakt's sword. When this happened, Humakt felt it. He felt Orlanth's pride and jealousy wielding the blade, and worst of all, he felt the blade chip as it bit the sun. He knew then that it was wrong to kill out of pride, for a little piece of Death had broken off from the sword. Humakt then swore never to kill out of pride.

Humakt went looking for Orlanth, but his sword was already gone. "Thief!" he yelled. "Because of your treachery I have lost my sword!" Orlanth laughed at him, "Serves you right! You should always share with your kin!" But then Humakt took a dagger from his sleeve and cut out his navel, and said "You are not my brother anymore; you are a thief and a murderer. Your pride made the sun fall out of the sky. I will find my sword and I will make you pay!" And even though Humakt had lost his sword he still knew The Secret: the air between him and his brother went still and cold. Orlanth recoiled in terror.

Humakt searched for his sword for a long, long time. He fought many foes, and he saw many deaths. He was present every time that Death struck someone. Every time it happened, a little piece of Death broke off because none of the other gods who wielded it could do so properly; none of them respected its secret. And each time that another piece broke off, Humakt learned something about the difference between Right and Wrong. Whenever something is separated, a truth is made - like when a child is born from its mother.

Humakt knew to look for truth in the shards of Death because of his lessons from Kargan Tor. The First War God had broken Humakt many times, and in finding and putting himself together again Humakt had discovered this. Now, the lessons were different.

Orlanth's folly had taught him it was wrong to kill out of pride. Later, an evil troll god called Zorak Zoran used Death as a club to kill Ernalda, the earth godess. We know he didn't succeed, for his hate and rage caused Death to strike back at him in the shape of Babeester Gor, the Earth Avenger.

Ikadz the Torturer used Death in the shape of a barbed, rusty dagger hoping to inflict infinite torment on his victims. The Torturer is repulsive but also sad because many of his targets were monsters who had hurt him before he hurt them. His failure is that he could not let his victims go; his Death brought no separation, and so he ended up becoming part of his victims. This showed that it was wrong to kill only for revenge.

Malia was a fertility goddess who perverted her own powers to make others sick. Hers is a slow lingering Death that kills even itself, because no disease can live when its victims are gone. Her example taught Humakt that it was wrong to kill out of spite.

Vivamort was worse than all the others, for his actions are the root of many other evils. Subere charged him to guard Death, but he helped Eurmal steal it so that he could feed off the souls of those who died. When his hunger brought him close to the Void, he quailed in fear. He became its willing servant, losing his own life force but continuing an undead existence by leeching the souls of others. He embodies the Lie, and is an enemy of Truth as well as Death. His crime is most foul, because he annihilates that which is most precious and unique in other beings to slake his own thirsts. He is the enslaver of souls. Because of his great evil, Vivamort is uniquely vulnerable to Death, and cannot even bear its sight.

Humakt saw the perversions of Death committed by the other gods, and learned from their mistakes. Then he defeated those gods and took Death away from them. Humakt cut away his own emotions, so that his motives were pure. Gradually, he didn't have any emotions at all. And his sword was very sharp and very hard.

Then one day Humakt came to the Victim Place. This was a town where poor, helpless farmers were always fighting against bandits who stole their food and raped, tortured and killed them for pleasure. It had started out as a small village, but more and more reavers came until they occupied a whole land and the Victim Place was still growing. Humakt was already famous then; when he approached the farmers praised his prowess and sang songs of glory. But he had cut away his pride, so none of the words moved him. The farmer children begged him for scraps of food, but he had hardened himself against pity. When the occupying bandits saw Humakt, some of them yelled insults and others spat to challenge him, but he had cleansed himself of anger and kept walking. This encouraged the reavers, so five of them surrounded him. "Give us that pack on your back! We need food and you are only one man - and a pale sickly one at that!" Humakt kept walking. One of the bandits held a blade to his neck so that it pricked the skin. Still Humakt didn't respond, and blood ran down the edge of the knife. He watched it drip to the ground and soak into the dirt. "That sword is too good for you!" one of the thugs said as he reached for Humakt's sword. And Humakt remembered his sacred task - to protect Death. He let himself fall away from the blade at his neck, rolled into a little ball, and escaped between the legs of his attackers so that he was outside their circle. Before they could turn to face him, he had already cut two of them down; by the time the others reacted, two more were missing their heads. "Here is my sword then," Humakt said to the last one.

These events puzzled Humakt, and he went to a quiet place to think about them. One day an old man came to him. "You look hungry," he said, and offered Humakt some food. Humakt realized he had forgotten to eat. Shocked, he told the old man his story. "I must protect Death from my own emotions," he said, "but without emotions it is hard to keep living."

"This is so," the old man replied. "Do you remember why you took up Death in the first place?"

"I ... I'm not sure," Humakt said, "if it was pride ... or something else."

"What is the gift of Grandfather Mortal?" the old man asked.

Humakt looked at the old man in surprise, for Grandfather Mortal had given him no gift. But he remembered the moment when he struck the old god, and the look of pain and horror on his face. He remembered now how many times he had come across Grandfather Mortal during his travels, wandering bewildered and aimlessly through the lands. These memories found a small sliver of pity in Humakt's heart, and he spat it out in disgust. Underneath he found compassion.

"Grandfather Mortal had taught me that any god can be a victim." Humakt replied. "There must be no more victims - starting with me." That decision - the decision to take responsibility for Death, both inflicting and withholding it - was what allowed Humakt to keep Death pure, and to learn its deepest mysteries. It also gave him a reason to stay alive.

"What is the gift of Grandfather Mortal?" the old man asked again.

Humakt smiled, for he understood now. "It is the second gift, which is separate from the first like the right side of an edge is to its left side. Death is not pain and horror, but separation and transition. Sometimes this change brings pain, but it was my mistake to think it was always so. Grandfather Mortal was the First Example, but only the first. Each death is unique; each death must be clean-shaped by its wielder and embraced by its target to be a good death."

"It was also my mistake to try to keep death for myself, for it is The Secret That Wants to Be Known. How else could I have taken it from Subere?" Humakt laughed now. "Death wants to know all life, and I was wrong to hold it back, so it escaped from me. Others wielded it even more poorly than I did, so eventually Death broke into little pieces until it was everywhere. That is close to being nowhere, which is almost like being nothing. So then I gathered many of the pieces and put them together again to make this sword. It is the clean Death, for it does not make victims. It brings no pain and fear of its own - although some who die bring their own fear and pain. This death I wield is no longer the only death, but it is the best one and the strongest one."

The old man chuckled, and asked Humakt, "What ... is your favorite color?"

"Black!" exclaimed the warrior. "I can feel pride and anger now, but they no longer control me. And so my aim is always true, my sword grows sharper with every cut, its edge grows harder with every strike."

"It is time to leave," the old man said finally. "Which path will you take?"

"Compassion," said Humakt. "When Grandfather Mortal became a victim, we all became victims; what happened to him could happen to all of us."

"Yes," said the old man. "The weak attract predators,for theirs is The Hunger That Cannot Be Slaked. The poor farmers attracted bandits, and the bandits are always looking for more prey. Because you didn't defend the farmers, the bandits came after you. It is always so. Those who take from others begin by taking here, soon start taking there, and end by taking everywhere, and that is like taking everything. When everything is taken, nothing is left. That is the end of the world. The Hunger must be stopped. It is not enough to kill the predators; you must help the weak become strong. This is compassion."

"And that is the secret of the sword," said Humakt. "I lost it when Eurmal stole it from me, but now I have found it again."

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