Zerthimon is a mytho-historical character in the Planescape setting of Dungeons & Dragons, revered by the githzerai as their spiritual leader and founder, who fought alongside Gith to free them from the illithids and then spoke up against her tyrannous plans, causing The Sundering Of Two Skies that divided the ancient gith-kin into the modern githzerai and githyanki.
Unusually, Zerthimon's status and to an extent his lore has actually changed in between edition.
When the githzerai were first detailed in the Outer Planes Appendix for the Monstrous Compendium, Zerthimon was actually a mythical figure, said to have perished in battle against Gith and from there ascended to a demigod status. It was believed he was building his strength elsewhere in the planes, and would ultimately return to lead the githzerai to true paradise. This meant that the githzerai Zerths were not only multiclassed fighter/mages, but also acted as priests of Zerthimon. This strange religion was an underground phenomena, as Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith, wizard-king of the githzerai and their equivalent to Vlaakith CLVII, saw it as a potential threat to his authority.
Fate was to intervene when Black Isle created the CRPG Planescape: Torment. In it, they introduced the party member Dak'kon, stoic and grim Zerth, whose crisis of faith lead to the sacking of Shra'kt'lor by the githyanki. He presented Zerthimon not as a myth, but as a matter of fact, and removed all mention of both "The Great Githzerai" and Zerthimon's supposed death & ascension. Dak'kon's huge popularity went on to solidify Zerthimon's presence from mere religious belief to a full-fledged fact of the githzerai existence, especially as the githzerai became more atheistic as editions passed.
4th edition, of course, stuck its oar in, with an extensive writeup of the githzerai in "The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos". Whilst making no mention of the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, which outraged many Planescape grognards, it asserted that Zerthimon was a real figure, who opposed Gith for her ineptitude as treating the gith as anything other than soldiers in her army. They fought, he defeated her, and then led to the githzerai to found their own civilization in the Elemental Chaos. It also presented three common beliefs as to what actually happened to Zerthimon; that he ascended to become a psionic entity analoguous to a god; that he ultimately died, was buried with honors, but then they forgot where; and, interestingly, a new option: that he became a lich to try and guide his people for all eternity, only to flee from them into the depths of the Chaos when he realized what a monster he had become. Amusingly, in-universe, this last option is widely regarded as heresy by githzerai and githyanki, with the latter objecting to the idea that their race's greatest enemy could become immortal, like their own beloved leader.
Fifth edition instead sticks to one answer, that Zerthimon rose in rebellion against Gith, was killed by her, and the heavily-reworked Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith led them into Limbo to escape the wrath of the githyanki. It also goes back to the oldest version of the story, that the githzerai believe that all that died was Zerthimon's body, and, much like Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith exists in a kind of in-between state as a being of immense mystical and psychic power shackled to a decrepit meat-husk, Zerthimon's mind still exists in a transcendent being of pure psionic and magical energy that will one day return and lead his people unto freedom and paradise.
To this end, there is no mention made of conflict between the newer, more-benevolent Menyar-Ag and Zerthimon.
The Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon
Seeing as how Dak'kon is a Zerth, and thusly effectively a priest of Zerthimon, Planescape: Torment introduced us to the priestly teachings of Zerthimon. Known as the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, this is a series of historical lessons and parables that the player can unlock in the game if their Intelligence and Wisdom is sufficiently high.
Befitting Planescape, the Unbroken Circle is a highly contentious bit of lore - not because of its quality, but because at the game's end, if you talk to the Practical Incarnation of the Nameless One, he confesses to having made the Unbroken Circle for Dak'kon. Admittedly, the term is used both for the teachings of Zerthimon and the ever-shifting ring of stone/metal that they're written on. Further, Dak'kon himself refers to the 6th Circle being the one that led to his crisis of faith and the devastation of Shra'kt'lor, and would surely be aware of if it was an outright fake or not, leaving to Planescape fans endlessly debating how much these parables are the "real" ones or not.
But, in the absence of anything else to contradict them, most fans are content to take the Unbroken Circle's parables as factual, and just assume the Practical Incarnation made the physical Unbroken Circle as a token to try and use Dak'kon.
The First Circle
Know that we are the First People. Once all was chaos. The First People were thought drawn from chaos. When the First People came to know themselves, they were chaos no longer, and became flesh.
With their thoughts and knowing of matter, the People shaped the First World and dwelled there with their knowing to sustain them.
Yet the flesh was new to the People and with it, the People came not to know themselves. The flesh gave rise to new thoughts. Greed and hates, pains and joys, jealousies and doubts. All of these fed on each other and the minds of the People were divided. In their division, the People were punished.
The emotions of the flesh were strong. The greed and hates, the pains and joys, the jealousies and doubts, all of these served as a guiding stone to enemies. In becoming flesh, the First People became enslaved to those who knew flesh only as tools for their will. Know these beasts were the illithids.
The illithids were a race that had come not to know themselves. They had learned how to make other races not know themselves.
They were the tentacled ones. They lived in flesh and saw flesh as tools for their will. Their blood was as water and they shaped minds with their thoughts. When the illithids came upon the People, the People were a people no more. The People became slaves.
The illithids took the People from the First World and brought them to the False Worlds. As the People labored upon the False Worlds, the illithids taught them the Way of the Flesh. Through them, the People came to know loss. They came to know suffering. They came to know death, both of the body and mind. They came to know what it is to be the herd of another and have their flesh consumed. They came to know the horror of being made to feel joy in such things.
The Unbroken Circle is the knowing of how the People lost themselves. And how they came to know themselves again.
Parable: Strength lies in knowing oneself. If you do not know yourself, you are lost and will become a tool for others.
It takes the Nameless One 12+ Wisdom to understand this parable.
The Second Circle
Know that flesh cannot mark steel. Know that steel may mark flesh. In knowing this, Zerthimon became free.
Know that the tentacled ones were of flesh. They relied on the flesh and used it as tools for their will. One of the places where flesh served their will were the Fields of Husks on the False Worlds of the illithids.
The Fields were where the bodies of the People were cast after the illithids had consumed their brains. When the brain had been devoured, the husks came to be fertilizer to grow the poison-stemmed grasses of the illithids. Zerthimon worked the Fields with no knowing of himself or what he had become. He was a tool of flesh, and the flesh was content.
It was upon these fields that Zerthimon came to know the scripture of steel. During one of the turnings, as Zerthimon tilled the Fields with his hands, he came across a husk whose brain remained within it. It had not been used as food. Yet it was dead.
The thought that one of the husks had died a death without serving as food for the illithids was a thought Zerthimon had difficulty understanding. From that thought, came a desire to know what had happened to the husk.
Embedded in the skull of the husk was a steel blade. It had pierced the bone. Zerthimon realized that was what had killed the husk. The steel had marked the flesh, but the flesh had not marked the steel.
Zerthimon took the blade and studied its surface. In it, he saw his reflection. It was in the reflection of the steel that Zerthimon first knew himself. Its edge was sharp, its will the wearer's. It was the blade that would come to be raised against Gith when Zerthimon made the Pronouncement of Two Skies.
Zerthimon kept the blade for many turnings, and many were the thoughts he had about it. He used it in the fields to aid his work. In using it, he thought about how it was not used.
The illithids were powerful. Zerthimon had believed that there was nothing that they did not know. Yet the illithids never carried tools of steel. They only used flesh as tools. Everything was done through flesh, for the tentacled ones were made of flesh and they knew' flesh. Yet steel was superior to flesh. When the blade had killed the husk, it was the flesh that had been weaker than the steel.
It was then that Zerthimon came to know that flesh yielded to steel. In knowing that, he came to know that steel was stronger than the illithids.
Steel became the scripture of the People. Know that steel is the scripture by which the People came to know freedom.
Parable: Ignorance is not a weakness, if one remains aware that one is ignorant and embraces the opportunity to learn.
Or, as the Nameless One puts it: "I learned that not knowing something can be a tool, just like flesh and steel, if upon encountering it, you attempt to know its nature and how it came to be."
It takes the Nameless One 12+ Wisdom to understand this parable.
The Third Circle
Zerthimon labored many turnings for the illithid Arlathii Twice-Deceased and his partnership in the cavernous heavens of the False Worlds. His duties would have broken the backs of many others, but Zerthimon labored on, suffering torment and exhaustion.
It came to pass that the illithid Arlathii Twice-Deceased ordered Zerthimon before him in his many-veined galleria. He claimed that Zerthimon had committed slights of obstinance and cowardice against his partnership. The claim had no weight of truth, for Arlathii only wished to know if flames raged within Zerthimon's heart. He wished to know if Zerthimon's heart was one of a slave or of a rebel.
"Zerthimon surrendered to the illithid punishment rather than reveal his new-found strength. He knew that were he to show the hatred in his heart, it would serve nothing, and it would harm others that felt as he. He chose to endure the punishment and was placed within the Pillars of Silence so he might suffer for a turning."
Lashed upon the Pillars, Zerthimon moved his mind to a place where pain could not reach, leaving his body behind. He lasted a turning, and when he was brought before Arlathii Twice-Deceased, he gave gratitude for his punishment to the illithid as was custom. In so doing, he proved himself a slave in the illithid eyes while his heart remained free.
By enduring and quenching the fires of his hatred, he allowed Arlathii Twice-Deceased to think him weak. When the time of the Rising came, Arlathii was the first of the illithid to know death by Zerthimon's hand and die a third death.
Parable: Endure. In enduring, grow strong.
It takes the Nameless One 14+ Wisdom to understand this parable.
The Fourth Circle
Know that the Rising of the People against the illithid was a thing built upon many ten-turnings of labor. Many of the People were gathered and taught in secret the ways of defeating their illithid masters. They were taught to shield their minds, and use them as weapons. They were taught the scripture of steel, and most importantly, they were given the knowing of freedom.
Some of the People learned the nature of freedom and took it into their hearts. The knowing gave them strength. Others feared freedom and kept silent. But there were those that knew freedom and knew slavery, and it was their choice that the People remain chained. One of these was Vilquar.
Vilquar saw no freedom in the Rising, but opportunity. He saw that the illithid had spawned across many of the False Worlds. Their Worlds numbered so many that their vision was turned only outwards, to all they did not already touch. Vilquar's eye saw that much took place that the illithid did not see. To the Rising, the illithid were blinded.
Vilquar came before his master, the illithid Zhijitaris, with the knowing of the Rising. Vilquar added to his chains and offered to be their eyes against the Rising. In exchange, Vilquar asked that he be rewarded for his service. The illithid agreed to his contract.
At the bonding of the contract, a dark time occurred. Many were betrayals Vilquar committed and many were the People that the illithids fed upon to stem the Rising. It seemed that the Rising would die before it could occur, and the illithid were pleased with Vilquar's eye.
It was near the end of this dark time when Zerthimon came to know Vilquar's treacheries. In knowing Vilquar's eye, Zerthimon forced the Rising to silence itself, so that Vilquar might think at last his treacheries had succeeded, and the Rising had fallen. He knew that Vilquar's eye was filled only with the reward he had been promised. He would see what he wished to see.
With greed beating in his heart, Vilquar came upon the illithid Zhijitaris and spoke to his master of his success. He said that the Rising had fallen, and the illithids were safe to turn their eyes outwards once more. He praised their wisdom in using Vilquar's eye, and he asked them for his reward.
In his greed-blindness, Vilquar had forgotten the knowing of why the People had sought freedom. He had lost the knowing of what slavery meant. He had forgotten what his illithid masters saw when they looked upon him. And so Vilquar's betrayal of the People was ended with another betrayal. Vilquar came to know that when Vilquar's eye has nothing left to see, Vilquar's eye is useless.
The illithid gave to Vilquar his reward, opening the cavity of his skull and devouring his brain. Vilquar's corpse was cast upon the Fields of Husks so its blood might water the poison-stemmed grasses.
Parable: If you choose to see only what is before you, then you will only see part of the whole, and that makes you no better than being blind.
It takes the Nameless One 15+ Wisdom to understand this parable.
The Fifth Circle
Zerthimon was the first to know the way of freedom. Yet it was not he that first came to know the way of rebellion.
The knowing of rebellion came to the warrior-queen Gith, one of the People. She had served the illithids upon many of the False Worlds as a soldier, and she had come to know war and carried it in her heart. She had come to know how others might be organized to subjugate others. She knew the paths of power, and she knew the art of taking from the conquerors the weapons by which they could be defeated. Her mind was focused, and both her will and her blade were as one.
The turning in which Zerthimon came to know Gith, Zerthimon ceased to know himself. Her words were as fires lit in the hearts of all who heard her. In hearing her words, he wished to know war. He knew not what afflicted him, but he knew he wished to join his blade to Gith. He wished to give his hate expression and share his pain with the illithids.
Gith was one of the People, but her knowing of herself was greater than any Zerthimon had ever encountered. She knew the ways of flesh, she knew the illithids and in knowing herself, she was to know how to defeat them in battle. The strength of her knowing was so great, that all those that walked her path came to know themselves.
Gith was but one. Her strength was such that it caused others to know their strength. And Zerthimon laid his steel at her feet.
Parable: There is great strength in numbers, but there is great power in one, for the strength of the will of one may gather numbers to it. There is strength not only in knowing the self, but knowing how to bring it forth in others.
It takes the Nameless One 16+ Wisdom to understand this parable.
The Sixth Circle
Upon the Blasted Plains, Zerthimon told Gith there cannot be two skies. In the wake of his words, came war.
So it came to pass that the People had achieved victory over their illithid masters. They knew freedom. Yet before the green fires had died from the battlefield, Gith spoke of continuing the war. Many, still filled with the bloodlust in their hearts, agreed with her. She spoke of not merely defeating the illithids, but destroying all illithids across the Planes. After the illithids had been exterminated, they would bring war to all other races they encountered.
In Gith's heart, fires raged. She lived in war, and in war, she knew herself. All that her eyes saw, she wanted to conquer.
Zerthimon spoke the beginnings of that which was against Gith's will. He spoke that the People already knew freedom. Now they should know themselves again and mend the damage that had been done to the People. Behind his words were many other hearts of the People who were weary of the war against the illithid.
Know that Gith's heart was not Zerthimon's heart on this matter. She said that the war would continue. The illithid would be destroyed. Their flesh would be no more. Then the People would claim the False Worlds as their own. Gith told Zerthimon that they would be under the same sky in this matter. The words were like bared steel.
From Zerthimon came the Pronouncement of Two Skies. In the wake of his words came war.
Parable: Zerthimon's devotion to the People was such that he was willing to protect them from themselves. He knew the illithids had come not to know themselves in their obsession with control and domination. So he chose to stop Gith before she carried the People to their deaths. There must be balance in all things, or else the self will not hold.
It takes the Nameless One 18+ Wisdom to understand this parable.
The Seventh Circle
This Circle is mentioned in PS:T to be a hidden circle; Dak'kon has never seen it before, which only fuels the "how canon is the Unbroken Circle?" debates. To unlock it, the Nameless One needs 16+ Intelligence.
Know that the Rising of the People against the illithid was a thing built upon many turnings. Many were the People who lived and died under time's blade while the Rising was shaped.
The Rising was shaped upon a slow foundation. Steel was gathered so that it might mark illithid flesh. A means of knowing the movements of the illithids were established, at first weak and confused, then stronger, like a child finding its voice. When the movements were known, then the illithids were observed. In observing them, their ways of the mind were known.
When the ways of the illithid were known, many of the People were gathered and taught in secret the means to shield their minds, and the way to harness their will as weapons. They were taught the scripture of steel, and most importantly, they were given the knowing of freedom.
These things were not learned quickly. The knowing of much of the ways was slow, and in all these things, time's weight fell upon all. From the knowing of one's reflection in a steel blade, to the knowing of submerging the will, to the knowing of seeing itself. All of these things and more the People built upon. In time, they came to know the whole.
Parable: Time is your ally, not your enemy. Patience can sharpen even the smallest of efforts into a weapon that can strike the heart of an empire. Your victories may be small, but over time, a greater victory may be achieved.
It takes the Nameless One 19+ Wisdom to understand this parable and convey its teachings to Dak'kon.
The Eighth Circle
This Circle is mentioned in PS:T to be a hidden circle; Dak'kon has never seen it before, which only fuels the "how canon is the Unbroken Circle?" debates. To unlock it, the Nameless One needs 19+ Intelligence.
Know that a mind divided divides the man. The will and the hand must be as one. In knowing the self, one becomes strong.
Know that if you know a course of action to be true in your heart, do not betray it because the path leads to hardship. Know that without suffering, the Rising would have never been, and the People would never have come to know themselves.
Know that there is nothing in all the Worlds that can stand against unity. When all know a single purpose, when all hands are guided by one will, and all act with the same intent, the Planes themselves may be moved.
A divided mind is one that does not know itself. When it is divided, it cleaves the body in two. When one has a single purpose, the body is strengthened. In knowing the self, grow strong.
Parable: Pursue not only knowledge, but focus and discipline; not knowing oneself can physically divide you and bring forth your weakness. If you know yourself, not only can you take strength from that, but your focus can reveal the weakness of others who do not know themselves.
It takes the Nameless One 19+ Wisdom to understand this parable and convey its teachings to Dak'kon.
|The Gith of Dungeons & Dragons|
|Races:||Duthka'gith - Gith - Githyanki - Githzerai|
|Undead:||Kr'y'izoth - Tl'a'ikith|
|Individuals:||Vlaakith CLVII - Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith - Zerthimon|
|Places:||Shra'kt'lor - Tu'narath|
|Miscellaneous:||Crown of Corruption - Gish - Scepter of Ephelomon|
|Adventures:||Incursion - Scales of War|