They took him once again, for the first time in years, and now it has been three weeks since I went into the dormitory and saw him there with the letter clenched in his fist, staring at the wall in his inscrutable way.
He told me that he was being summoned by the College, and at first I thought he meant a temporary internship for the increase of his experience. But the emerald seal on the envelope suggested that this was no regular scholarly correspondence. There were tears in his eyes, too, enough of them that they beaded and rolled down his face. I had never seen him weep before and I never have since. Then he told me that he was being called to the facility for ritual.
I myself had been a successful product in my childhood years. They had even drawn some magick out of me, and for my young self, the celebration that followed had done much for my ego and self-esteem, small blessings in the sea of horrors. Not so with my friend, although his bloodline was prestigious, and his keepers had high hopes for the power that might be awakened in him. He never spoke of it, but I had heard it discussed among the Grandmasters at meetings when they had had a bit much to drink.
But no matter what they did, no magick would arise in him. He was long past the age when these procedures usually stopped. His impotence in this regard brought great shame to his name, even ushering him into the heart of a controversy regarding the authenticity of his birth. This was one of those rare few things that Valdo Glore would not tolerate with a glower and a cold smile. I heard that he executed three of the rabble-rousers and served them to their sympathizers at a feast; I had never known him to respond so strongly to rumor. He asserted that [DATA REMOVED] was most certainly [DATA REMOVED], and perhaps the greatest one of all. Glore truly believed that his charge would become something magnificent, and found the consistent failure of the rituals intriguing, rather than disappointing.
I didn't find them intriguing. I found them horrifying. My friend would return with less and less of himself each time. As I said, he never cried, as surely as he never smiled. But as his suffering went unacknowledged, by himself and everyone around him, the shadows etched themselves into his very soul. I don't know what they did to him and, I am sorry to say, very sorry indeed, that I do not think I want to know, and I am glad that he has never tried to tell me. But perhaps if he had, perhaps if I had asked, some piece of him might have been preserved. And now he is gone again, gone back to that special, secret hell set aside only for him, to which he seems doomed to return over and over.
He told me something once, about the rituals. He said that it is different when you are young, that you are like clay. The trauma of change shapes you, and you conform until there is no resistance, so that the once disparate mechanisms can work together. But when one has grown too old, these can no longer shape you with such ease. They therefore must break you instead, smash and twist you, and the machine that follows is an abomination, its parts crippled, misshapen, ugly. He didn't say it outright but I took his meaning--he was too old for it now, had been for many years. It broke him in new ways I couldn't understand.
At the time, I asked him to elaborate so that I might acquire some insight by which to help him. He began to explain a cancer to me, and at the time I thought he was simply avoiding my question. I realize now that he was answering it.
Last week he made me watch him bind a whore, beat her, gouge out her eye and then [DATA REMOVED] while she screamed and bled, speaking equations like they were poetry. He looked upon the result with some disappointment, and to this day I do not know what he had expected to find in that grotesque union. Afterwards he compelled me to help him remove the body, and asked me never to speak of what I had seen to anyone. Of course, I told him; how could I betray my friend and comrade? Still, I knew then that he was mad.
The next night I heard him pacing in the hallways, reciting the vulgar translation of the Emerald Tablet. Over and over he would say something like, "It must be joined to the eye as seed to ovum," and soon this thought and similar transmutations became a habitual murmuring. I told him once that the eye possesses no reproductive principle, and he looked upon me as if I were the one going mad.
Oh, my dear friend, my brother! I don't know what they have wrought upon your mind and soul. I did nothing to stop them, and I regret it. But what would the cost have been if I had tried? Perhaps neither of us would be alive. But the whore would be, and many others, many others used in twisted experiments I can scarcely stomach to mention. Few men I knew were as brilliant as [DATA REMOVED], and his ruins were as creative as his designs.
Life has been terribly busy and I have had little time to see, let alone write of my friend. But it seems that he had flourished since our parting, and he did me the goodness of coming to visit me last night. He did not say it but I know the reason is because we are both to go to war, commissioned to two separate regiments as medical officers. It is a relatively safe position, so far as battlefield service goes, but one never knows what can happen in combat.
I am giddy and afraid at the prospect. He was neither of those things, as I knew he wouldn't be. He spoke at length of chess, and of military strategy, and brought me a very good wine and absinthe. The latter he had made with botanicals he had grown himself, and even the bottle had been customized to bear his name and sigil. He never used the symbol of his estranged family, but rather built one for himself out of alchemical principles with which he labeled his work and possessions. He had always been a true maker in the old style, a craftsman. I shudder to recall that even the corpses would be carved and signed.
It seems that since graduation he has gone on to become a very successful physician and alchemist, and has already published several books in his field. Perhaps the signs of madness that I had witnessed were the substance of only a short phase, a destabilization in the wake of fresh trauma. I pray that it is so. If he had been summoned again even in manhood for further rituals, he did not say.
Still, I must confess his presence has changed. He has hardened into a cool pillar that fills me with dread. I glimpsed something terrible in his stoic gaze that compelled me to avoid meeting it since. What was it? It was like the fire of a divine purpose, too humbling to behold. I feared his eyes would burn me away.
The College did call him back, this time to award him with a most prestigious position. It is a wonder that the same board that so tormented him would now see fit to present him with a chair among them. Perhaps they have finally awoken in him what they had sought, all of those years.
If that is true, was Valdo Glore correct? These are bleak affairs I would rather never think of again. We go to war, and that is worry enough.
We met again after the war, and it seems that we had both served as physicians in different regiments. We shared stories over wine and absinthe. I showed him my bullet wound and he hummed at my fortune for having survived.
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