OF GODS AND MEN
Chapter 40: To Thine Own Name Be True
“We get to name a magic sword,” the phantom Finnian was ebullient. The halo of light surrounding him gleamed so bright with his glee, that had a pair of mortal eyes been able to see him, he would have blinded them instantly.
“Not magic…” the stern voice of Cecily’s ghost lectured, “…divine. Tarsus’s divinity fuels the sword. Brings it to life…just as it keeps us alive in him.”
“Either way, we get to name it,” Finnian pressed on, undeterred.
The phantom Cecily let out an audible sigh.
“Can you tell her I heard that?” Finnian posed to Tarsus.
“This is not some imaginary story where a blade needs only a formidable name to make it important,” Cecily droned. “The sword is as much a part of you, Tarsus Cole, as we are. Unlike us, however, it is the symbol of your power that others get to see. It will stand for whatever you stand for…”
“This is just a name…” Finnian interrupted in Tarsus’s mind, “…it’s not as serious as she’s making it out to be.”
“A name is serious,” Cecily defended. “It is who you are…how you are known to all the world. You are a god now. Your name will precede you, and become what you represent to mankind. Malthus is dead…his sword, broken. Their names must die along with them, and so you are right to choose new names for you and your weapon. But I ask you…beg you….to choose carefully.”
The ghost of Finnian exhaled, and Tarsus looked over to see his friend’s shade shaking its head while a pale hand rested on its brow. “This is going to take all night, isn’t it?” Finnian asked.
“Probably,” Tarsus said out loud, the large grin on his face shrinking to a more humble smile.
“This just stopped being fun,” Finnian declared. “Tell her that. Tell her she just stopped this from being fun.”
“She heard you,” Tarsus said assuredly. He turned back to the ghost of Cecily, and the shadow of doubt quickly flitted across his face, “Right?”
“I did,” Cecily replied, her harsh scowl softening into a relieved smile of her own.
“I knew you did. I mean, you both have been hearing the other thus far. But the rules of all this…I admit, they still perplex me at times,” Tarsus said.
“Don’t worry, she’ll always be here to remind you,” Finnian jeered.
“So where do we begin?” Tarsus pressed on.
“She said it,” Finnian sniped. “You have to choose what you want to represent to mortals. Which is?”
“That seems…” Tarsus tarried in his speech, searching for the right words to say in answer to a question he had never fathomed could be one that applied to him, “…too big a question.”
“It is not,” Cecily pronounced. “The old gods personified the worship they demanded from their disciples. Adulatio chose adulation, while Proprio set himself as the god of prayer, and so on. The younger gods forsook such ethereal qualities, instead seeking tangible and material manifestations of their power on Arden. They became godkings and queens, battling fiercely to carve up the land and lay claim to as much of it as they could. Malthus and Malthanon, Malmira and Malmot…and so forth. The choice before you seems clear; will you take over Malthanon as GodKing, and rename it as you rename yourself? Or will you follow the way of the old gods, and personify a quality in men that you most wish to bring out in them?”
As Cecily spoke, Tarsus’s eyes had slowly grown wider. When she finished, she looked up to find him stupefied and mute: the image of an overwhelmed child, who had just been told he had to clean up a mess he had spent months in the making.
“Does she understand that there is such a thing as the wrong thing to say?” Finnian posed.
Tarsus did not spare Finnian a glance. His gaze was fixed on Cecily’s incandescent shape as she rose up to meet the taller Sunsword’s eyes. “This is the way of the gods,” she proclaimed. “I am sorry Tarsus, but from this moment on…there is nothing that can be too big for you.”
“Well…” Finnian sighed resignedly, “…there it is.”
Tarsus’s body remained still, even as his stomach reeled with a thousand feelings bubbling inside him all at once. He was well aware that Cecily and Finnian were watching him closely. They would know what he was feeling, of course, but he couldn’t be bothered with worrying over that now. An image had suddenly sprung to life in his mind: he was standing alone against a black sky, while approaching him fast, and growing ever larger as it did, was a tidal wave. It would engulf him in an instant, drowning him in its voluminous mass and washing him away along with his future legacy.
But he was a god now. He felt the divine energy in the pit of his stomach radiate, and the anxieties of his doubts were suddenly quelled. Another image came to life before him: the tidal wave was upon him, about to fall, when he simply stepped through it. On the other side, he found he was not even wet. Instead, a clear and unimpeded horizon greeted him. He walked on, striding the water’s surface as easily as if it were a city road.
“I know my name,” Tarsus declared.
“Strange that I do not,” Cecily intoned concernedly.
“I don’t either,” Finnian added, the childlike excitement rising in his voice. “What is it?” he asked impishly.
“And how are you keeping it from us?” Cecily posited with unabashed bewilderment.
“I don’t know,” Tarsus answered earnestly. “It just came to me…and it feels right.”
He felt the specters’ eyes upon him as he took a moment to collect his thoughts. They still didn’t know his newly chosen name. How could this be kept from them when it was all he could think of? When it was writ so large in his mind that he could almost see it with his waking eyes?
“My godhood won’t be marked by debts or domains,” Tarsus went on. “I know my way now…the point where lies my purpose. I shall be a guardian to mankind: bringing them peace and freedom, no matter the cost. No longer shall I be known as Malthus, though I bear his power. No more am I Tarsus Cole, though his heart beats inside me. I am reborn. Henceforth, I shall be called Shepherd.
Tarsus looked up to the clear, blue sky. In the center, shining bright at its zenith, the face of the sun warmed him atop his tower. The young god raised his sword, as if in salute. The blade caught the sun’s rays, flashing brilliantly as sunlight kissed divine steel. “I name this my chosen weapon. Extension of my flesh, and instrument of my will. Its strength shall be derived from the purity of its purpose, and woe to those who try to use it for selfish gains. With it, I shall leave my mark upon the world…my Brand. And thus it shall be known.”
Tarsus lowered his head and his sword. He looked at the ghosts that dwelt inside him, shifting his eye from one to the other. Cecily and Finnian looked back at him with reverent awe.
“Come my friends,” Tarsus said, allowing a coy smile to spread. “Now we start our quest. I made a promise that will take a long time to see fulfilled. Best to get started.”