That evil exists is a demonstrable fact, debated only by the most entrenched Faerunian sophists. But what constitutes evil, and what forms define it is a matter requiring further examination. For in its very definition is the underpinning of power and, as we will see, this can inform our identification to the point that evil becomes a conditioned, invisible norm in all aspects of life.
-First; On Life Worth Living
In looking back at my time in Thay, I realize that my first memory is both my name and an order. “You are first.” That a trainer of gladiators was the beginning to my story is not lost on me; sure that it informs who I have become and how I see Aber-Toril. But it is entirely fitting and, more importantly, true that I lack agency in my origins. This particular trainer was in the employ of Tharchion Vasunir Zaig. Tharchion Zaig was a transmuter, and his major research was transforming living beings into creatures perfect for combat and war. I was one of his “subjects,” and the gladiator trainer Korvu was an extension of his will.
“First, I said!” Korvu used his barbed whip to goad me into the ring. Perhaps it was the pain that makes this memory come to the forefront, though I certainly had experienced pain prior. I already had scars at age five, and I have no doubt my early years – whether I was in the possession of Zaig or a child of my tribes – were replete with injury. I later read Zaig’s notes and discovered he believed the nature of a being could be changed through the application of enough hardship, especially at a very young age, and I cannot say I have found evidence to the contrary. I don’t recall this first combat I was forced into, though I know I won. Losers were always killed in Korvu’s pits. “Mercy is a trait of the weak,” he would always say.
Though Zaig’s notes contained many truths in this world, Korvu’s lessons and by extension Zaig’s lessons were not always so veracious. “Mercy is for the weak,” is the first time that I became aware of the hypocrisy of what was being taught. Day in and day out, month by month, Korvu would tell me “First, first!” and I would comply, annihilating my opponent. Always I was to kill them. But once, when the sting of the whip had irked me I chose not to kill. (I claim no heroism in this moment; Korvu had succeeded in making quite the animal of me, to that point). The punishment I received was exquisite in its agony, and the elf I had spared was brutally executed. And yet afterwards I felt some welling warmth I had not known before. Now I know that feeling to be pride, a close cousin to self-respect.
At the same time, I observed my surroundings. Korvu would take great pleasure in withholding punishments on the other slaves when they had displeased him. This was not out of any actual goodness, I am quite sure, but the ability to provide mercy was demonstrated as the ultimate possession of power over another. He thrilled at the control. Though Zaig disapproved of any dereliction of behavioral correction, even he had his favorites among us, and granted reprieves from time to time. So I learned, despite their best efforts, that mercy is among the greatest strength.
To make the right choice after careful, reasoned thought is a good thing. But this is certainly virtue in its most rudimentary form. Like a child that takes its first steps, tottering along, forced to concentrate on each motion; we do not call this mastery of walking! Only when noble choices are part of the very fabric of a person’s being, the proper course of action as effortless and instantaneous as the moves of a practiced dancer, has true virtue been attained.
-First; On Life Worth Living
As I grew older, more of the hypocrisies of what Korvu and Zaig tried to teach became apparent to me. As such, my discontent and rebelliousness rose. However, those who force power over others, and especially those who claim to own other thinking beings, are masters of hampering free will.
Zaig noted I had developed a level of companionship with another of the slaves. Mirten, as he was known, was not destined for the pits – he was a laborer and craftsman, unsuited for such tasks, but still under the whip of Korvu. I was told by Zaig personally, “Do not become entangled with friendships and personal connections. These are unneeded in war. They are a weakness.” And so I sought where the lie was in this claim. However, as you will see, for a time I did come to believe what Zaig had said.
When Korvu threatened to kill Mirten for no other reason than a mistake at his job, I foolishly spoke up. It was what Korvu had been intending, and he promised to spare him if I was more careful to obey. For a time I am ashamed to admit I did as asked, but as was always the case, I began to rankle again. Matters came to a head, and I was given an ultimatum to kill Mirten or Korvu would do it himself, and take a long time. I could not do it, and Mirten was tortured. For three full days I was allowed to hear the depravities from my cell. My helplessness and anger grew, and I cast myself in futile rage against my cell. In the end, the noise stopped and I knew Mirten was dead.
The next day I was pushed into the pit. Inside was Zaig’s favorite new gladiator, a large ogre that he had captured weeks before. I was still despondent, and did not attack immediately. “Attack!” Korvu demanded. “Always be on the attack, you are an automaton!” His oft repeated orders made me furious, and the whip bit as always. I became furious, and for the first and only time my anger blotted out all reason and memory. When I came to I found my hands around the neck of Mirten, his eyes bugged out and his life gone. Zaig had used some magic on him to create a new body, and I, without thought or patience enough to ignore Korvu, had done exactly as my captors wished. Zaig appeared then, and told me any further defiance would be met on other innocents as it had been here. This was when I questioned the merit of compassion and friendship. I was in checkmate, or so I believed. My kindness had put me there. However, what I did not know then was that this duplicity and my friend’s death had created in me a great font of strength, a desire to see justice done. And my patience, a virtue so derided by Korvu for a creature of death such as myself, had become an indomitable thing. And so, months later, I entered the employ of Zaig as a “loyal” and perfect bodyguard.
Patience would seem to be the enemy of effortless action, but this is not the case. Seeing inaction as the negative of acting is once again creating opposites without understanding empty space as a vital form all its own. Patience is an action as sure as any other, and one that takes the most practice. For in conscientious patience, the mind is constantly choosing. To dive into a stream is to make but one choice. To watch the stream pass by is to be making the same choice as long as you observe.
-First; On Life Worth Living
Yes I was patient. When I was given such terrible orders by Zaig, I carried them out. Only a few truly undeserving fell to my hands and blade. “Good” is something of a rarity in the lands of Thay. In the beginning, Zaig truly had squashed the rebellion in me, but he had miscalculated, and my friend’s death became a clarion call for the individuality within me. I wished to wring the life from Zaig, just as he had made me do to my friend. But he was a Tharchion, a powerful wizard that barely had use for a slave bodyguard except as a trophy. He was near to unassailable, and so I bided my time.
Once, at a meeting of Tharchions, Zaig was attacked by an assassin, blades dancing in a dizzying pattern. A talisman on my master’s neck flared to life, and the attacks were all deflected. I killed the assassin and helped Zaig to his feet. I was patient.
Later still, another wizard cast a great withering spell on Zaig. In a wink, Zaig was teleported back to his study, where he kept potions with which to heal himself. The other wizard greatly regretted his choice, and again I was patient.
Then, I accompanied Zaig to a banquet held by a romantic conquest of his, another Tharchion name Elitza. It was a large gathering, safe and secure, where Zaig felt no danger with all of his protections and my careful watch. But he had violated one of his own rules. He was smitten with Elitza, and I could tell even with my small skill that she despised the man. She had such foul intentions for him that it was a wonder he could not see it himself. I filed this information away, and was patient.
Incidents such as these added up, fortifying my knowledge until I was an expert on every aspect of the wizard. Then one night Zaig informed me he had private business to attend. It had been many years, and I had served my duties in exemplary fashion. I asked him to where he was going at such a late hour, and he informed me that it was to go see Elitza. I told him that I trusted he would be careful, and he assured me he was taking his best wards. Satisfied, he left at midnight. As I always did when he went for private business, I went to the study and waited one step from where his form would materialize in the event of an emergency. I waited for an hour, two, and more without moving, absolutely focused because the life of a Red Wizard is a dangerous thing, and Elitza even more so. I was patient.
My patience was rewarded. Zaig leapt into existence with a characteristic pop of teleportation. His clothing was singed, blood leaking from his nose. Elitza had been close. His protective teleportation had been exhausted for the day. His amulet had warded off countless blades in the past, but had no effect against flesh and muscle. I reached out and wrapped my arm around his neck, pinning it there with my other. In that way of all suffocating men, his muscles went board-stiff, then his limbs all sought their own, uncoordinated escapes from the hold. In a stupid epiphany his hands clutched my arm, and I tightened ever more. There was little noise, just the scuffing of his feet as they danced on the cobble; a few papers fluttering as his arm knocked them from the desk. Even less fanfare as he expired, going limp and empty.
I felt no great joy in seeing him there on the floor. He had been a man who perpetrated the worst evils any creature can against another, but now he was gone. Perhaps he was being tormented in another realm, perhaps rewarded. I am no expert on religion. But at that moment I did realize the last hypocrisy he had tried to foist upon me. My friendship with Mirten, that I believed for so long had resulted in my weakness, in my subjugation to Zaig, had in fact been my strength. It had given me the will and the desire to fight.
Later, just before the sun rose I killed Korvu in his bed. I was apprehended by the Zulkir’s soldiers soon after that.
…With this in mind, those who choose nothing but the acquisition of wealth might, on the surface, seem to be nothing more than lifeless and sorry hollow beings, benefitting none but harming none, as well. However, their avarice is an insidious violence upon others, defined once again by the evil of domination. Wealth for its own sake is sought for power over others; empty baubles like prestige and aggrandizement at best. At worst, an attempt to control and own sentients. Ironically, at the same time, it also makes a slave out of the acquirer, willingly yoking themselves to objects with no intrinsic value, and a network of transactions that deals in the deaths of countless…Yet some might say, “But money can buy food for the poor, or clothe the homeless!” But could not these things be gained with hard work and determination? It is not the wealth that makes these things be. And yet men will sell stranger, friend, and family even, for a gold coin or less.
First; On Life Worth Living
The punishment for killing a Tharchion is only slightly less painful and creative than killing a Zulkir themselves. When I was brought before the Zulkirs to answer for my crimes, I had no illusions I would escape this fate. They took little time to debate. Only three were presiding over “court” this day, perhaps they found entertainment in a crime so rare as a low born killing one of their designated nobility. They disgusted me, and I have no doubt they could sense it. The two doing most of the talking declared my execution, when the third, his name was Tam I believe, held his hand. The other two looked as though they would choke.
“It would be amusing to see what this one does,” he said, in a strange, hollow sort of voice. The other two found their voices, protesting that such a dangerous and treasonous creature couldn’t be permitted to sow insurrection in Thay.
“Then exile him. But he lives.”
My end was stayed on the whims of a fickle wizard. I was cast across the borders of Rashoman, where I had many other journeys. A witching woman gave me knowledge of a storm coming, in the Southwest, and a group of warriors that I should seek. This is how I came to travel with the six Primes, but that is, of course, a story for another day.