Part 105: The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 9The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 9
"Hey chief, how's it goin'?"
"Mmmh." My fingers ran along the edges of the dodecahedron... the one that had been locked in the cupboard awaiting my return. It was heavy in my hands, about the size of both my fists balled together, and tingled with an inexplicable familiarity. Its texture was cold and smooth, but whether it was metal or stone, I couldn't tell. A certain, almost intangible 'tension' ran over the object, as if it were ready to spring into the air at any moment. I hadn't had time for puzzles, but decked with a new layer of scars from our run through the Modron Cube, a couple days of rest were needed to rejuvinate.
"Chief you gotta help me out, here. That damn polygon is driving me up the wall."
"Uh huh." I'd been examining the dodecahedron for a little while by now, and from what I could tell each side was a plate that could be twisted clockwise or counter-clockwise... a puzzle-box or combination lock. In my head I performed a quick calculation... as each of the pentagonal plates had five possible positions, the dodecahedron had no less than two hundred forty-four million, one hundred forty thousand, six hundred twenty-five 'settings.' Great.
"Are you even listening to me, chief?"
"Uh huh." I continued crunching the numbers as I fiddled with the plates. It would take every second of the next seventy-seven-odd years to hit all the combinations - but then, I might just get lucky and stumble onto a solution in minutes...
"Oh look, it's Annah! Looks like her top's slipped again!"
An old memory writhed at the back of my skull... there were no incoming images or sounds, but rather the memory of a pattern that my fingers had followed once long ago. My hands seemed to move of their own accord, turning the object and spinning its facets with mechanical precision. I'd done this before... I knew the combinations, once... and I knew that there was a certain danger within the object...
In moments, I had what might've been the first four sides locked into their proper places. As I began to twist the fifth side of the dodecahedron, I almost withdrew in mild shock. There was a cunning blade-trap... one that would snap out to lash at a meddler's hands, slashing their wrists and severing fingers. My hands returned to twist the facets, avoiding the trap with the proper number of rotations, certain that I'd made progress in the unraveling of the object's secret.
After avoiding the dodecahedron's springing blades, I slowly puzzled out the next series of facet positions. As I started to turn the ninth side of the dodecahedron, I suddenly remembered a second trap - jets of toxic gas that would've formed a billowing cloud of lethal, corrosive vapor around a curious meddler.
"What the hell is with you and these damn polygons already?"
"They're more personable," I grunted, "And stow it, Morte. The next trap has a pretty nasty poison... I'd rather not get my face dissolved into goo again."
"Trap?! Uh, I'm just gonna float over here, chief."
"You do that."
I circumvented the trap with the correct amount of twists, positive that I'd nearly unlocked the dodecahedron. Now for the final facet positions. The click of the plates sounded another memory, and as I locked the twelfth pentagon into place, I knew of the sorcerous runes hidden within the dodecahedron that would blast the unwitting holder with bolts of magical lightning. After disarming the trap with the correct number of facet rotations, the dodecahedron clicked and began to open in my hands...
Gently like the petals of a flower, the dodecahedron unfolded, splitting once, twice, and eventually opened itself impossibly into a perfectly rectangular tablet the size of a large book. Etched into its surface were a series of bizarre symbols. It looked to be a code or language, and a sense that it should've been familiar pricked at my scalp... but it wasn't. I rolled it in my hands, turning it this way and that and found that, by twisting the pentagonal facets that were upon the underside of the tablet, different 'pages' could be displayed across the tablet's face. It was all too clear, then... that this was a tome or journal of some sort.
"Hmm... until I learn to read this language, I might as well just put it away."
Sensates had a reputation for being fickle, with attentions that ended with one experience and began with the next.
Sometimes I tread down to the sensoriums, drawn along this way or that by alluring scents. Behind me haunting snatches of music flit down the corridors, each tune brushing feather-light against old memories. I place my hand along one wall and feel its texture shift and boil beneath my fingertips as I walk. The air tastes sweet one moment, then bitter as regret the next. Sculptures and paintings line the hall, each dazzling, grotesque, sublime.
The wayward path often leads me back to one place, though.
Deionarra's sensory stone.
I could just visit her, of course. I'd just talk my way past the Dustmen, or even sneak in. Meet with her again to comfort her fragile spirit. She'd paw and weep and lament, professing words of love tinged with prophecy. That much I could handle.
But what I couldn't do was lie through my teeth and act as if I hadn't betrayed her. As if she wasn't dead because I had used her. "Used." Weird how such a simple word could sound so filthy.
Yet can anyone really expect me to come clean?
So I made myself a third path, and on occasion sat next to her sensory stone as if it were a memorial, and the title of "Longing" were her epitaph.
Of course, with Morte chattering in my ear today I felt far from pensive.
"...so that's when the bauriur said, 'That's my wife.' HA! Get it? You don't look like you're getting it, chief."
"I got it the first time you told me, Morte."
He scoffed, "Well I've told that one to each of your pikin' incarnations for years now, how can I keep track of which stories I've told to what lives and which I haven't?"
"Is that story even true?"
"Of course it is. Go back to the bar and you'll see the bloodstain and the dent in the wall. They still call it 'Zeeley's Mark.'"
"Hrmph," I rolled my eyes. In the chamber a gentleman stood, decked in blue with matching cap and a staff of polished silver. He seemed to be lost in a sensation, but without a hand on a sensory stone. I returned to Morte, "How can you know all these stories and not know anything about Ravel?"
"I prefer stories that end up with other people getting killed instead of me."
"And I suppose half those stories involve me?"
"You're selling yourself short, chief."
I sighed, and walked up to the man out of curiosity. He was chewing on something, muttering softly to himself... after a moment, there was a CRACK as he crunched down on the object in his mouth, then swallowed it. His bushy, brassy white eyebrows furrowed for a moment, rose, and then furrowed again. "Hmmm..."
Without so much as looking at me, the man reached into his tunic, pulled out a puce-colored ball, regarded it curiously for a moment, then popped it into his mouth.
"I said, 'greetings...'"
The man frowned and waved me away, then nodded to himself thoughtfully as he savored the flavor of whatever he'd put into his mouth.
"What are you doing here?"
The man smirked, bit his thumb at me, then abruptly paused... his cheeks swelled and, with a violent gag, he spat up a large black fly which began to buzz around the chamber. "Minaurosian candies be damned!" he cried, shaking his fist at the insect. He whirled on me. "What?!"
"I had questions about this place..."
He popped a small red candy into his mouth. "Do you always traipse about molesting puissant mages with your ignorant prattle?! Babbling, blathering, chittering, CHATTERING!" The candy shot from his mouth on 'chattering,' flying in a high arc to land on the floor with a wet plip. He stared at it sadly.
"I'm, uh, sorry about your candy."
"It was so tasty, too..." he mewled. He suddenly looked up, snarling. "SORRY?! As you should be, you piking dung-beetle! Mages deserve respect, and bashers like you should know their proper place!" He began to jump up and down. "Proper place! Proper place!"
Hmm. The thirty-second-rule was definitely in play. Quick as a switch I bent down and snatched up the mage's candy, popping it in my mouth; its taste was sweet and tangy, with an exotic perfumed aroma that shifted from one complex flavor to another.
The mage's jaw dropped. "My... my delectably scrumptious Bytopian Fruit candy!"
"That was good. Can I have another?"
"Another one?! Another one?! Of all the raw, blistering nerve! What makes you think you deserve another candy, you unmannerly, churlish dullard?!"
"I don't deserve one, I want one. Now let's have it."
"How dare you so ungraciously demand candy of me, as if it were some divine right, granted to you by the greatest of Powers! Shall I just kneel to this whim of yours, o Great One? Pass my treasured candies on to your stigmata'd sacredness? Why don't I anoint them with precious oils, have them blessed, first?" He stomped his foot with each word: "No! No! No! I think not!"
"Come on... just give me one."
"I'll give you nothing! And you'll like it." He plopped a candy in his mouth for emphasis. "Mmmmmm. Soooo good." He swirled it in his mouth, his eyes closed as if he were rapt with ecstasy. "Soooooo delicious."
I couldn't tell if this response was hilarious or creepy, but I wasn't going to press matters to find out. "Fine, then. Forget it."
"I shall! Forgotten! Forgotten it is, you scabrous, rot-brained clatter-trap! Now farewell."
"But... you're a mage, correct? I was hoping you could help me..."
"I care NOT, you yeasty, beef-witted pig-nut!" His eyes bulged out he jabbed his finger at me: "Now off with you! OFF! WITH! YOU! And do not return without being prepared to show the proper respect... come bearing tribute - a gift!" He suddenly drew close and whispered from the side of his mouth: "Candies or chocolate would be nice. But nothing common, mind you - bring something exotic. Now begone!"
Exotic? I knew just the place.
I examined the twisted little imp-like creature, sculpted out of pure, milk chocolate. "It looks delicious, does it not?" Vrischika purred, "Imported from the Lower Planes. These are rare, you know, and quite prized by lovers of chocolate and confections. It's a real quasit - a fiendish familiar - polymorphed into chocolate by powerful sorcery. It's only one hundred and ninety-nine coppers."
If I could milk a proper response out of that childish oaf of a mage, it would've been worth it ten times over.
The mage's expression curdled as he spied my approach. "Unbelievable! You've chosen to curse me with your detestable presence once more, you ill-conceived, reeky sod?" He paused his haranguing to eat a small peppermint. "I pray you've learned yourself some manners!"
Reeky? Now that's just low. "I've brought you some imported chocolate, as a gift."
"Oh?" His demeanor changed in an instant. "Very kind of you, very gentlemanly! May I see?"
"Actually, no." If I were a few centuries younger I might've stuck my tongue out.
He reared back, totally flabbergasted. "WHAT?!"
"I really don't think you deserve it. You've been so rude."
"You... you what?" He began hopping about. "Preposterous! Farcical! Ludicrous! RUDE would be polymorphing you into a bowl of Baatorian spice-beans, eating you, and then spreading you about Sigil in foul-smelling little puffs from my bum! THAT would be most rude, I assure you, and I have been nothing of the sort!"
"In any case, you're not getting it until you've apologized."
He immediately became quiet, eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You would let me see this gift, first, at least?"
I opened my pack just enough for him to get a peek.
The man's skullcap shot into the air with a resounding pop, landing straight back on his head. "Oh... oh my. Is that... is that a...?" He licked his lips, reaching gingerly for the chocolate quasit.
"Oh, no. Apology. Now."
He scrunched his face up, biting his lip as he shook his fists silently. Finally, he stopped, brushed off his clothes, and exhaled slowly. "Very well, sir. I apologize." He held one of his hands behind his back.
"Hey, chief - he's got his fingers crossed!"
"Silence, you gibbering... oh! I mean, why, I'm doing nothing of the sort!" The mage smiled innocently at me, presenting his hands for my inspection.
I'd had my fun by then. "Hmm. All right, here: a chocolate quasit."
He took it from my hands. "Oh... quite rare, these are, and most delectable." He bit off a large piece and tucked what was left into his tunic.
"I had some questions..."
He frowned at me, licking the last of the chocolate off his fingers. "Who told you to bother me with inane questions?!" He stared at me accusingly. "Come now... what is it that you wish to bother me with, or begone!" The mage grunted, fished a malt-ball from his sleeve and ate it.
"Who are you?"
"I... am Quell." He held up his hand imperiously, as if to stop me from introducing myself. "...and don't bother to introduce yourself: you must be the most insolent, annoying pest this side of Sigil that I've heard so much about! A true pleasure to meet you, and thank the Powers it couldn't have waited until you had curled up and died, thereby sparing me the pain of being forced to banter words with you! I would gladly trade my formidable sorcerous powers for but a minor enchantment that would pierce your thick skull and introduce at least the idea of 'manners!'"
"Manners? What about that chocolate I brought you?"
He opened his mouth to speak, finger raised, then stopped. "Hmm. You have me there, sir." He shrugged and ate another candy.
"And you mentioned formidable sorcerous powers? Could you teach me?"
"Teach you?! Hah! Are you even a mage?" he sneered, "Well look at you, you brute. Of course you aren't! Oooo, if only I had Bigby's Boot of Righteous Rump-Kicking to throw down upon you! NO!!! I will most certainly not make you a mage, you boil-brained puttock! To do so would be to demean the Art!"
"I am a mage, Quell," I grunted, and brought forth a small cantrip, allowing a single flame to flicker on my fingertip. It danced back and forth in my hand in a complex, ordered motion, and with my mental dexterity proven I allowed it to vanish in a puff of smoke.
"Oh!" his lip curled, "What wonders the multiverse holds for Quell today! Come, let me see your spell-book."
He tore the textbook I made with Mebbeth from my grasp and glared at it furiously. "What is this trash?! I'll tell you: dung! Dung, dung, dung! How do you even pluck the spells from these stained pages... have you been using this book as a bar towel, so soaked in spirits, glue and blood it is! Do you not care for your spell book?! How can I teach someone who does not respect the Art?!"
"It holds my spells. Its appearance is unimportant."
"Ridiculous! Preposterous! I most laughable notion, if I ever heard one! Whoever taught you the Art?"
"A midwife in Ragpicker's Square, Mebbeth."
"Then shamed be her name to be spreading such ineffable twaddle! And look at these spells! What is this addled crap that they have been spilling out, sullying magicks with hoodoo names and mumbo-jumbo wash! Trivial, tiny, flickering candle-like magicks with grandiose names!"
"So why does its appearance matter?"
"Your spell-book's appearance should reflect your respect for the power it holds. That trashy little book of yours is suitable for only the basest of words! True spells should be recorded in rare, precious inks, on sheets of vellum edged with gold leaf! Everything in its proper place, or not at all!" He began to hop about madly. "Proper place! Proper place!"
"I... see. Can you teach me or not?"
He shut his eyes and massaged his temples for a moment. Finally, he spoke in a cold, level tone: "It is obvious I can teach you nothing. I may, however, have some spells you might wish to purchase from me. Would you care to see them? Hmmm?"
"May I have some candy?"
"A candy?! And once more, for good measure: A candy?! What, pray tell, makes you think I'd give a candy to a shirtless, impertinent pumpion such as yourself, hmm?" He tapped his foot, arms crossed, awaiting my answer.
"Would you sell some, then?"
"Now that... that I might. But I would warn you! I sell no ordinary candies, but chocolates... of power!" He drew the last word out, rubbing his hands together greedily...
"Chocolates... of power?"
He nodded. "Indeed. They are not cheap, mind you, so should you find yourself short of jink, I suggest you drop the subject immediately. Would you like to see what I have to offer, hmmm?" He cocked his head, looking at me slyly.
"What do you know of Ravel Puzzelwell?"
At the mention of her name, he swallowed the candy he'd been sucking on with a loud gulp, wincing in pain. "What to tell?! Why tell at all? Such things, such tales are best left in dusty books and in the attics of old men's minds! Evil, evil! Such a name, such a name... and such dark tales swarm about it, like flies on a corpse."
"Just the same, I need you to tell me."
He rolled his eyes, plopping another candy into his mouth. "She's a night hag, my boy, who came to Sigil... all evil and cackles, she was, alive with her shadow-magic, ready to butt heads with the Lady of Pain. Barmy, barmy barmy old hag... only succeeding in getting herself mazed. She's likely dead, by now."
"Yes, yes, yes..." He seemed uneasy about speaking of her. "Ravel dabbled... no, not dabbled, but excelled in all schools of magic. She knew shadow magics, magics of illusion and shadow substance, shadows, residues of dead things."
"How might I find her?"
"How might you WHAT?!" His candy rolled right out of his mouth and onto the tiles. Before I could so much as look at it, he snatched it up and popped it back into his mouth, giving me a dirty look. Gross.
"Why... why would you ask such a thing? Are you MAD? What could you possibly want with such an evil creature?"
"She knows something about my past."
"Doubtful... she was mazed many centuries ago. Gone - penned in the dead-book, she is. And even if she were somewhy, somehow still clutching to life with her blackened, bloody talons, what could she possibly know about you? If she wasn't the spitting image of cackling evil, that is, and was even willing to help you..."
"I'll just have to hope she's alive and will help me."
"By Leshe's six teats and her swollen tummy, what a flickering candle of hope hurled into the howling winds of Pandemonium that is! Flicker-flicker-whooosh! Don't be any more the fool than you need be!"
"I must still seek her out, whether she's dead or alive."
"So if she's dead - as she most likely is - then what is your plan, may I ask? You have everything all figured out, do you? Quell is just blowing words out of his pits, nonsense, nothing! What do you plan to do if she's in the dead-book, eh?"
"I don't know. I'll figure something out."
"My, my, my, that's the best plan I've ever heard! Pure, blinding white genius of an idea! No idea how to get into the maze, no idea how to get out, no idea what to do if she's dead, certainly no idea what to do if she's alive. I might as well be talking to a lemure for all the barmy foolishness you're spouting out!"
"What do you think I should do?"
"The first brilliant question you've asked! Me? I think you should give up this clueless idea of entering mazes and chatting with night hags and lope back into whatever crypt you crawled out of! Makes far more sense than fishing for the Lady's anger, it does."
"Can you tell me how to get to her maze?"
"Lunatic! Madman! Addle-cove! Have you not listened to a word I've said?! She's imprisoned in an inter-dimensional maze for trying to best the LADY OF PAIN! That means she's at least ten times as barmy as you, and at least a hundred times more powerful! She's also most likely dead, dead, dead, thrice-dead and... if by some happenstance she isn't... she'll make you dead!"
"I understand, but I really need your help. Can you tell me how to reach her or not?"
Quell went silent, chewing on his lip. After a moment, he fished around in his tunic for a mint, then plopped it into his mouth. "You're serious? Serious now? Why so serious, so Baator-bent, so mule-stubborn?" He sighed. "Well, born Clueless, die Clueless."
"All mazes have portals; this much I know to be true. A way in, a way out... this is how the Lady fashions them. I do not know the portal - its location, or even its form - but I am told its key... is a piece of Ravel."
"A piece of Ravel? But if Ravel is MAZED, then how am I supposed to..."
"Then you'll have to make do. Find something that has Ravel's taint in it, mayhap... that is all I know! All! Bother me no more about it! If you want to go pestering someone about something like that, go to the Brothel of Slating Intellectual Lust -- one of the ladies there is bound to have met someone or know something that'll help."
"My thanks for your help. Farewell."