Part 106: The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 10The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 10
It was one of those answers that only leads to another question. Kind of a pisser, really.
As nice as it would be to talk to the prostitutes of the Brothel again, I was pretty sure that Annah would've disapproved if I went to chat with a flock of gorgeous young women without any convincing leads. Girl like that sharpens more than her tongue on those she's come to dislike.
A cool breeze tickled my skin as I guzzled my ale. I'd asked a dozen others about Ravel... keeping myself either to men, or older and uglier women who might've known a thing or two. Not particularly exhaustive, but with each scholar and sage it became more apparent that people in the Clerk's Ward are smart enough to not speak of what lurks in the shadows and behind the mirror, or hell, even study this dismal sort of chant.
Unless of course it was to a supple, perfumed prostitute who knew how to coax the most intimate of details from her clients.
Getting a green-eyed glare and a shiv in the stem was a secondary concern though. Memories and pasts are like a braided rope... you can't re-weave it if you've just got one strand. There were too many frayed edges to my mind to make sense of anything from my eyes to my ass.
It was Morte, however, who helped lead me to snag another thread.
An older, somewhat bookish man had been passing by, cup in hand. His clothing and accessories were extremely clean, neat and well cared for, and he often paused to brush some fleck of dust or lint off of them. A symbol resembling a stylized dagger, piercing upwards through a flame, was embroidered upon his tunic. He gave a start at the sight of Morte.
"Oh, I say! Would you look at that! A floating skull!"
Morte turned and looks behind him. "Where?! Where?!"
The man gasped. "By the unjust laws of Tueny the Merciless!"
He suddenly covered his mouth and looked at Fall-From-Grace apologetically. "Sorry, sorry... the man was a horrible tyrant, now long dead. His name should never be spoken so; 'tis rather vulgar. My deepest apologies, Lady Grace. I did not mean to offend."
Grace smiled slightly. "It is no matter, Able. I am certain only Tueny would have been offended by the comment, and as you know, his subjects buried him alive more than three centuries ago."
"Yes, yes, you are probably right."
He turned back to Morte. "But behold! A skull, buoyant, levitating off the ground, cognitive of its environment, and possessing hearing, speaking and seeing capabilities."
"He act-" I started.
He turned to you, as if I were suddenly a confidant. "This is truly one of the reasons that the Planes shall never become dull to me, sir - just when you think you have seen everything, the Planes show you yet another corner to peer around, and..." He raised his hands gloriously. "...suddenly whole new, wondrous vistas are open to you."
"Actually, the talking, floating skull thing is quite common - right up there with self-resurrecting amnesiacs scouring Sigil for their lost identities," I replied dryly.
The man ignored me, looking to Morte instead. "I say, skull..." he began.
Morte gasped. "Look, behind you - another floating skull!"
Meh, he might as well have his fun.
The man seemed to have forgotten me entirely, instead turning in shock to look for this 'other' floating skull. "No! Where? Where!"
"Right where I'm pointing! There!"
"Where? I cannot see it!"
Morte spoke with mock exasperation: "You just missed it! A whole parade of them! Probably never happen again in a million revolutions of the Great Ring!"
The man turned and harumphed. "I sense you also possess a peculiar degree of mockery."
Morte bobbed slightly, as if shrugging. "I prefer to refer to it as keen insights into human nature."
It was when I chuckled that he seemed to notice me for the first time, eyes widening. "By the unjust laws of Tueny the...!" He started, but caught himself with a polite cough. "I say, are you all right? You look..." He fumbled for the words. "...hurt."
"I'm all right."
"Aye, it hurts ta look at 'im, it does," Annah grinned.
"Very amusing, Annah. I some had questions, sir... who are you?"
"Why, my name is Able Ponder-Thought."
"What do you do here?"
"I passed my Administrator exam just recently, and have achieved the status of an 'A9,' a research consultant in the Hall of Records, one of the many aides specializing in Sigil's physical laws and history. I research topics and laws of interest to others. It is quite fascinating, really..."
Pffft. No it's not.
"What's that symbol embroidered on your tunic mean?"
"Why, 'tis the symbol of the Fraternity of Order," he held himself up proudly, "We are responsible for much of the law-making and running the courts here in Sigil. Many judges, advocates and clerks are members of our Order, and we are pleased to be able to help enforce Sigil's laws and keep things orderly. We make a strident effort to learn all laws, whether they pertain to Sigil, the Planes or the multiverse itself."
"What does the Fraternity of Order believe?"
"The Fraternity of Order believes that the multiverse is governed by laws. When one knows all the laws, one will understand the multiverse. That is our goal. By understanding the laws, their limits, we learn to avoid certain laws."
"If you don't mind me asking, what sort of benefits are in the position?"
"Well, our fraternity allows us to read languages quite easily. And we may use some rules of the multiverse on occasion to suit our benefits."
"Languages?" I blinked. Immediately I started sifting for the dodecahedron through my pack. With the same series of twists and turns I unfolded it, revealing the strange pattern of ruins inside, "Can you read this? I think it's a journal of some sort."
He glanced over it, eyebrows raised. "Odd! No, I cannot. Is it a language?"
"I believe so. Can you research it?"
"Yes; I shall look into it. I should have the information in less than a day from now."
Don't think that just because someone else was doing my research for me that this was an excuse to be lazy. Trust me, it was much more comforting knowing that my fate was in my own hands. With someone else taking the reins all I could do was sit in the carriage twitching my leg, blind to the path and hoping I wasn't about to get driven into a ditch.
With that on my mind the world was flowing past me as I wandered down the street. It was only by chance that the old woman caught my attention, if only because something about her pricked a hint of recognition in the back of my mind.
Not a memory... more an echo of what a memory should've been.
The woman examined me closely with her sharp, gray eyes... first my face, then my arms and various tattoos. "Greetings, scarred one. Come to speak with Elobrande, have ye? Come to have yer fortune told, mayhap, for a paltry five coins?"
Well, I was up to my eyes in coppers anyway. I fished a small palmful out of my pouch. "Yes... tell me my fortune..."
Elobrande placed my coins in her belt pouch and took my hands. She quietly studied my palms, frowning deeply and with eyebrows furrowed. At long last, she spoke. "Some rare folk are what's called fateless, ye see. They wander through their lives doing as they see fit, creating their own destinies. Ye have no fortune to tell, scarred one... none at all. I've nothing to tell ye... and so here is yer coin." She returned my five coppers.
I nodded, still suspicious. There was something about her... "Farewell, then."
"Hold ye one moment, scarred one..." Elobrande reached out, touching my arm. "My mother gave me something once, long ago... a scroll, sealed with wax. A hooded man had entrusted it to her, and said that a man such as ye would one day unwittingly come to claim it. Here... I would have ye take it, now."
"What is it?"
Elobrande's shook her head, frowning. "I do not know. She was sworn never to read thing, and I obeyed her request to leave the seal unbroken, myself. The man had paid her handsomely to take the scroll, but warned her of the direst consequences should she open it."
"Thanks, then. Farewell."
I held the scroll carefully. It was old, fading, innocuous-looking parchment, bound with a single red ribbon and smelling faintly of mildew. The ribbon was held in place with a plain wax seal. Decades old, it prickled with that same sense of familiarity. There was a tinge of apprehension to it, but in the back of my mind I knew I was meant to open it up.
Yet another clue to my past...
Careful to preserve as much of the seal as I could, I delicately parted the wax from the parchment with the tip of my dagger and unrolled it. The scroll contained a few lines of shaky calligraphy and a strange rune.
"this may not KILL you but it will SLOW you down I am SURE"
"STOP CHASING ME YOU THIEVING BASTARDS it's MY body MINE MINE MINE "
I blinked. "What the...?"
The rune suddenly throbbed, and the entire scroll dissolved into a stinking, black mess. The fluid seeped directly into the flesh of my hands... shaking off the shock I flung as much of the noxious residue away as I could. Only a few droplets spattered on the ground, and where they splashed they left black stains across the stone. In seconds, the magical hemotoxin began to render my blood into black bile, and dark lines coursed through my veins as they pulsed. For a moment I clutched at myself, howling in agony... and then the pain subsided. I had survived whatever horrible magic was placed upon the scroll.
I stared at the streaks of the remaining poison, expecting the stones to hiss in agony at the touch of it.
"Gods DAMN it."
Ignoring the passerby staring at me and the scene I had made, I circled back around to Elobrande.
"I greet ye once more, scarred one," she said with a polite nod.
"I had some questions, Elobrande..."
"I do not speak of things mundane, scarred one."
"Maybe you'll speak of this, then: I read that scroll, and it was trapped," I held up my hand, traces of the black venom still coursing sluggishly through my veins.
Elobrande looked confused. "I... I don't know what to say to ye, scarred one..."
"You could start by saying how, exactly, you came by the thing."
"As I told ye, scarred one... it was given to me by my mother. A hooded man had given it to her some fifty years past, paying her well but bidding her to never read it, whatever the circumstances." Elobrande sighed, looking away for a moment. "A user of magic, she was, powerful in the Art, but frightened of this man just the same. She had said his eyes - all she could see of him, really - hinted at madness, and that the flesh around them was puckered and gray... like yours. I know nothing more of him."
"That'll have to do, then. Farewell."
Why the hell would one of my past incarnations try to kill me?
Able smiled at my approach. "Ah, good sir, we meet again! You know, I was thinking..." He began talking at length of his work as a research consultant in the Hall of Records, giving sentence-by-sentence descriptions of various 'interesting' conversations he'd had with co-workers that week.
I interrupted him, "Find out anything about the writing in that 'journal' I showed you?"
"Only that the language is a dead one. There was a professor of languages at the Civic Festhall, Finam, whom you may wish to seek out. He might know of this language, should he still be there."
"Could I ask you to research something else for me?"
"I can most certainly try, sir... what is it you seek to know of?"
"I'm looking for information on any deceased person who matches my description."
He seemed puzzled. "An... odd request, sir. Such a man or men would have to have been noteworthy figures for my work to turn up anything of interest. Are you investigating an ancestor of yours, or...?"
"Something like that. Can you check?"
"Yes; I shall look into it. I should have the information in less than a day from now."
I returned to him the next day.
"Find out anything interested about dead men fitting my description?"
"Why, yes, actually. Most curious! I found mention of two different men who matched your description... both of the most despicable sort, I'm afraid. The first man was an utter madman... a berserk, bloodthirsty mercenary and duellist who killed all those who crossed him."
Able Ponder-Thought nodded. "He was finally captured - and subsequently drawn and quartered - by two dozen Mercykillers after a murderous rampage in a Lower Ward pub. His remains were cast beyond the walls of Sigil. This was all some three centuries past."
"And the other man?"
"Little is known of him. My research showed that he was a Sensate who, shortly before his death, destroyed all the dozens of sensory stones that he had recorded experiences into. It was noted as a great loss to the faction, for the man - though he had few friends, lashing out at anyone who approached him too closely - was said to have collected a great many wondrous sensations."
"How did he die?"
He shrugged. "I do not know; the records do not say."
He couldn't have destroyed everything.
If he had, I wouldn't have had all the clues that led me to this point. If he was as great a Sensate as Able described, his recorded experiences wouldn't have been left in the public Sensoriums. I sifted through one sensory stone after another, probing each sensation just long enough to see if it was me. For many it was difficult to sever the connection once I realized I wasn't in the shoes of a heavily scarred immortal. It was like trying to awake in the middle of a compelling reverie, or freeing yourself from a sweet daydream.
But if Deionarra's memories could be found, I was sure I could get more clues into that sociopathic bastard Able described: the one I saw as Deionarra's lover in her fantasies.
The inscription around the base of the next sensory stone I chose indicated that it held the experience "Week-long hunting trek across the forests of Arborea."
My fingers wrapped around the surface, and I let the memory seep along my flesh...
I stand in a circle of white tents deep in the woods, somewhere. The trees around me are, by far, the largest I've ever seen. Suddenly, though, there's an odd prickling sensation at the back of my skull...
My surroundings melted into a colorless smear, then slowly resolved into what looked like the interior of a large, gray sphere. Across from me stood a figure almost identical to myself. His eyes flashed in the half-darkness; a mad smile split his features. "I KNEW you would come..."
"Who are you?"
"Oh, don't you KNOW? Didn't all those FILTHY, LYING, THRICE-BE-DAMNED JOURNALS tell you who I am? Those journals were so conveniently 'left' for me when I awoke... those journals that called me an INCARNATION! Hah! Burned them ALL, I did, all that I FOUND..."
"So... you're one of my earlier incarnations."
He crossed his arms and looked away, "If you put STOCK in such TRASH, yes."
"What did those 'lying' journals say?"
"They spoke LIES, LIES, LIES and nothing more! Filth about a man who forgets himself, other incarnations, of preserving their experiences in writing so later lives could benefit... THIEVES! It's MY life; MINE! YOU ALL WANT TO STEAL MY BODY, AND YOU WON'T HAVE IT!"
Oh god. He was insane. He wasn't the one I saw, wooing Deionarra with that silver tongue of his. Those eyes were wild with the bending and breaking that only a dozen planes of rattling thoughts and shivering marches could bring. "Where am I?"
"Oh, THIS?" He gestured around him, snickering. "Just a little TRAP, is all, I realized that KILLING you BODY THIEVES might not be enough... I might have to TRAP you, ENSNARE you for eternity. You might have realized, by now, that there's no way out of this sensory stone... your mind is locked here. You'll note the rather SPARSE surroundings I've left for you... all to help the MADNESS set in good and QUICK while your flesh rots away." He chuckled evilly.
"I have some questions, then..."
My earlier incarnation crossed his arms and looked away indignantly. Save for a few more tufts of hair on his head, he was identical to me - even his arms had most of the tattoos mine did.
"Did you put those tattoos on?"
"No!" He looked distraught. "That one incarnation, that 'PRACTICAL' one, did. I've tried to burn them off, but the skin REGENERATES with the tattoos still on them! I have tried to TEAR them off, stain them with ACID... I HATE them..."
His eyes flickered uncomfortably. "It is maddening to feel the EYES upon you, reading your BODY like a BOOK..."
"How did you make this trap?"
"Can't tell you that... it'll never be REPLICATED, the magicks used in its creation were LOST, even to me. CLEVER it is, though... one experience HIDDEN under the other, so that no FLESH but my OWN would set it off..."
"But... if your flesh sets it off, wouldn't that mean I'm you? You've trapped yourself. I've trapped myself. Don't you see?"
"But... that's not... you're one of the... I thought I put in SAFEGUARDS! How could YOU... I... be so FOOLISH!" He wrung his hands together, biting his lower lip. "How to get OUT? HOW? I've forgotten... wait: 'I am the only one who can release you, and that I will not do.' If you are I, then you CAN release yourself..."
I willed the trap open.