What can I say about my mentor and patron, the great Saint Anselm? A genius? Without doubt. A man of infinite piety? Certainly. The most learned man on the Sword Coast? Quite possibly. A man blessed by both earthly and heavenly inspiration? Obviously so.
No-one suggests these three latter possibilities within the Academy out loud, but who can say in perfect honesty that he has not considered them.
We are all devotees of Azuth, Lord of Spells, god of magical knowledge, whether acolytes acting in an official capacity, or those whose interests align with the church. Every shrine to Azuth is also a library, and every chapel of Azuth is also a school, and in that respect, the Academy of Saint Anselm is no exception. But all of us here have come to the Academy because of that which sets this chapel apart from all others – its leader. Though he is not famous among the common people, no scholar, sage or wizard worth his quill is ignorant of Saint Anselm. Blessed with elvish blood, he has spent more than a century gathering knowledge and conducting research. His library includes priceless parchments from the long dead Netheril empire. His power as a wizard is formidable. His rank as a cleric of Azuth has few peers. Philosophers pour over his many treatises. Sages consult his works as a matter of course. But we – we proud, elite few – we enjoy the benison of his personal tutelage.
‘Personal’ is a strong term. Anselm has many virtues. Warmth is not one of them. And the price we pay for the benefit of his lectures is a life so austere, so bookish, so regimented in duties and menial chores, that the sense of being one of the elite is mixed with the suspicion that we are as much unpaid servants as we are treasured students. And because Anselm believes that in order to be suitably valued, knowledge must be painstakingly earned, his lectures do not consist of the bountiful outpouring of his accumulated wisdom, but dry commentaries on method and epistemology. Therefore, the fact of the matter is, life here is inexpressibly dull.
And then there is the controversy. Fifteen years ago, Anselm fell from grace amongst the faithful of Azuth when he pronounced that he had been the beneficiary of a message from an avatar of Azuth. At first, all were eager to hear what this most august and sainted member of the Church had learned, but when Anselm proclaimed that the message was in fact an enigma whose hidden meaning the Church as a whole had to discover, he found not one sympathetic ear amongst his colleagues and was even branded by some a heretic. Those who came to him to assist him in solving the enigma were likewise shunned – we few have no friends in the wider church. Why such a strong reaction? Azuth, once a mortal human wizard of extraordinary power, extols reason, clarity and dedication to the spread of knowledge by education. He does not deal in mysteries and occult signs or portents. Or so our estranged brothers and sisters insist. They would not hear the message, and Anselm responded by refusing to pronounce it, to chide them for what he regarded as their ingratitude. This was viewed as just more obscurantism, and Anselm found himself isolated completely from his brothers and sisters in the church.
Sisters. That’s the other… difficulty in the Academy. Not one woman. Not even a cleaning woman that might visit. We do all that work. Anselm has been known to speak of women as unclean and ‘irredeemably irrational’. It is odd to hear a man of such intelligence make pronouncements that have such obvious counter-examples in reality.
There are other things that might strike one as odd in a man whose mind is so fastidious. He is an enormous man, and by that I mean through over-indulgence. There is no prohibition in the Church of Azuth against gluttony, but… I mean to say, he is truly enormous. We had to cut a semi-circle at the dining table to accommodate his vast girth. His habits at table would make an ogre blush. The way he spits when he speaks… And there is no end to the mess we must attend to on a daily basis.
But none of that matters today. Today, our toil was rewarded. Today our master selected we few to be privy to the message he received, and not only that, to charge us with a mission to solve the enigma contained within it! At last! We would be free! In the shrine at the top of the tower in which we reside, surrounded by books of power and piety, Saint Anselm himself enjoined us to a most holy quest.
“I have received a message from a member of the Lord’s Alliance in Neverwinter. While I am not a member of that group, their attitudes align with that of Azuth in important ways, videlicet the preservation of order and civilization, without which the pursuit of knowledge is impossible. They are aware of my sympathy with their goals, and have therefore requested my aid. They have come to know of a faction, as yet obscure and nameless, that they believe may be operating in the nearby town of Greenest. They have asked me if I have any knowledge of this faction. At first, the matter held no interest for me. But then by magical sending they showed me the one and only thing they know of this faction – its symbol: an open hand”.
He paused, staring at us as though the significance of this should be obvious. My eyes wandered up to the symbol of Azuth above us on the wall – a hand, the index finger pointing skyward, shrouded in red flame.
“Now hear the message given unto me by the Avatar of Azuth, that I have laboured fifteen years to understand:
‘The fingers on the hand must be one – and only one’.
You shall go to Greenest at once, and you shall discover the identity of this faction. You shall learn the meaning of their ensign, this open hand. I give you but two scrolls of sending. When you learn the identity of this faction, you shall use the first to impart this knowledge to me. When you learn the meaning of their emblem you shall use the second to impart this knowledge to me. Gather what you need and depart within the hour”.
No promise of reward, no thanks for our service hitherto. But a chance to be part of something momentous! If we could solve the enigma, we could heal the schism within our church, exonerate Anselm, and hold our heads high once again among our brothers and sisters, not only by removing the stain of heresy from ourselves, but bringing new enlightenment to the world – becoming blessed of Azuth himself!