Part 115: The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 16The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 16
"Do you know where I could find a 'piece' of Ravel?"
Annah wrinkled her nose. "A piece of that hag? Nay, I donnae know where yeh'd find such a thing." Annah thought for a moment, her tail waving slowly back and forth, then she smirked. It was a refreshing change: she rarely treated talk of such grim entities so lightly. "A-course, she's probably left enough o' her seed scattered around the Planes that yeh might be able tae ask one o' them."
"'Seed?' What do you mean?"
"Seed, kin, wee ones -- Oul' Ravel's said tae have a mess o' daughters, so the tale-tellers say - or just one, dependin' on which tale-teller yeh ask -- an' whether they're downing bub when yeh talkin' to 'em." Annah's voice dropped to a murmur. "Ravel birthed 'em from some fiend, the tales say."
"Do you think one of these daughters might still be around? They might know something about how to reach her."
Annah shrugged. "I donnae know. I sure as copper wouldn't want tae find one o' em. If they're half as mean as she is..." she trailed off.
The Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts (Music)
Even without the tutelage of Fall-From-Grace, dialogues of the rarest kinds were being freely traded in the Brothel: poetic recitations done forward and backward and with every second word, philosophical debates sharp as a woman's tongue, contests of insults and barbed exchanges that tested the resolve and the wit. Soft, womanly scents bubbled through the air, and the clink of glasses heralded the bounty of tea and bubbly wine.
Nordom tilted his frame, intrigued, "Fall-From-Grace, is it true that 'every woman thinks floating skulls are hot stuff?'"
"Why, whoever told you that, dear Nordom?" she replied with a laugh.
"No one! No one told him that!" Morte said in a panic.
"Morte, is it true that-"
"Oh, shut up, you doddering box of crazy."
"I find you most curmudgeonly," Nordom's monotone quirked in a mechanical sort of huff.
Fall-From-Grace's wings folded back. "Very fitting that your journey brings you back here," she said to me, "I'll prepare some tea for us."
"Mmm. I don't suppose you know of any rumors of Ravel's progeny?"
Grace's lips curved into a mysterious smile, "If I did, would you expect me to deny you the experience of finding out for yourself?"
"Good point." For now, there was only one person I knew of that could know.
Yves smiled pleasantly at my approach. "Greetings, again. Have you come to trade tales?"
"Yes, I have."
Yves nodded. "I would like that very much, yes. What tales will you trade?"
"Nordom: if you have a story to trade, please share it with Yves."
He chirruped, happy to tell his part. "In the 13.7th Revolution, we were required to fix gear and cog sub-set thirty-one in the fifth ring of Mechanus. We removed the obstruction and the gear turned as per its normal speed. Upon completing our task, we were then returned to the Source."
"What in the hells was that, you stupid polygon?! That's the most boring story I ever heard!" Morte snapped.
"It was what took place. With embellishments, of course."
"I thought the return to Source was a particularly fitting image to close the tale."
Yves smiled. "A fine tale, Nordom. And now I've one for you and your companion... 'Flowers and Sensates.'
"There was a man who read much of flowers - essays, treatises, biological texts, poetry - and as such considered himself well-learned in the way of flowers. One day, he came across a half-blind gardener who tended the Sensate gardens. Who was blind in the way of flowers?"
Musing over such questions wasn't what I was here for. "Yves, I was hoping you might have stories about Ravel Puzzlewell."
"The tale of Ravel Puzzlewell, frightener of children, begins and ends with a question: 'What can change the nature of a man?'
"Many were the times she posed this riddle to those who approached her, those who sought to glean from her the strange magics that she alone seemed to possess. All attempted to answer her query, but to no avail... and they found the price of their wrong answer to be some horrible fate, always more terrible than the last victim's. To recount their various torments would be to speak of things that nightmares are woven from.
"The tale strikes me in this way: Ravel herself knew not the answer to this question, but she lusted for such an answer. Only the why of the matter remained in question. Why did the nature of a man matter to one of the Gray Sisters, especially of one of such power as Ravel?
"It is said that she put the question to the Lady of Pain; not directly, but shouted it to Sigil itself, daring for the Lady to answer. When no reply was forthcoming, she wove terrible magics that threatened to open the Cage and let the fury of the Planes roll in like a wave.
"She received no answer other than banishment. To this day, no one knows the answer to Ravel's question... and now there is no one to petition, for Ravel herself is gone, lost to the Planes."
"Hmm... I'd best ask a few others..."
"Wait... there is more. Though my tale ends with Ravel's demise, there are some that claim the hag still lives. There is a silent prostitute here who once talked of such things, but she speaks no longer. If she would speak to you, she might tell you more of Ravel."
"What else can you tell me of this silent prostitute?"
"Ecco?" Yves frowned, thinking. "I once heard a tale of a girl who knew the word that, if spoken, would undo the multiverse. Perhaps this is Ecco. Ask Dolora, though... I understand that she sometimes meets with one who knew Ecco before she stopped speaking."
Dolora's cold, steely eyes flickered over me briefly. "Greetings. In what manner may I serve you?"
"Actually, I just had some questions..."
Dolora cast her eyes to the floor with a sound that might've been a sad sigh. "I am willing to serve you as a patron, but have no wish to answer other questions at this time... my apologies, but I fear you shall simply have to bear with that for the time being."
"What's wrong? Anything I can help you with?"
She looked up from the floor and into my eyes. Once more I was struck by the pale smoothness of her skin, the cold depths of her silvery gaze. "No... no, I fear not. My troubles are a matter of the heart. In time, I think, all things shall be resolved."
"Are you certain there's nothing I could do?"
"Certain?" Dolora paused, as if thinking. "No, I am not. My first love, Merriman, possesses still the keys to my heart. So long as he has them, I shan't be free to love another. This is the cause of my melancholy."
"Why don't you seek him out, speak with him?"
Dolora shook her head. "I may not leave this place. The reasons why are deeply personal, and not to be shared with strangers - even ones who might bestow a kindness upon me - but suffice to say that I cannot seek out Merriman myself."
"Then I'll find this Merriman, and speak to him on your behalf."
Dolora nodded, the slightest hint of a smile appearing on her lips. She bowed her head. "Were you to find and speak with Merriman, I would be most grateful. He is a member of the Society of Sensation, so you may wish to ask for him at the Civic Festhall."
When I asked around about this Merriman, I was given descriptions of a bitter, cantankerous old codger, despite his name. It was easy to find him... few were so jaded and cranky in this hall of delights.
The man's drab gray-white coat matched his frayed silver hair, and wrinkles etched deep crevices into his face. His mouth was twisted into frown that became even more severe as he noticed me coming his way. "Merriman my name may be, but merry I am not! Off with you, young one! No time for the likes of you!" He went into a fit of coughing from the exertion of shooing me away so loudly.
"Wait... Dolora wanted me to speak with you."
Merriman eyed me suspiciously. "That so? About what, eh? Hmm? Well?"
"She says that you're her first love, and that so long as you hold the keys to her heart, she'll never be free to love another."
"She told you that, eh? I'm surprised. Perhaps leaving her in under Mistress Grace's tutelage did what I couldn't... started to develop her feelings. In any case..." He patted a pocket on his tunic. "...I won't just give the keys to you."
"Wait - those are literally 'the keys to her heart?'"
He nodded. "That they are. Dolora's a Construct; didn't you know that? A creature of sorcery and clockwork mechanics she is, and one of my finest creations." Merriman sighed. "But cold, without emotion or character. I brought her to the Brothel and 'set' her so that she could not leave, in the hopes that the constant contact with so many others would begin develop her own personality. The keys are the tools used to 'set' her; she wants them because she feels that they're limiting her personal growth now, I suspect."
"Then why don't you just return them to her?"
Merriman scowled. "Because I've become a cruel and bitter old man, who sees he can get something out of you."
Grace's eyes became coolly disapproving, "Master Merriman, as a Sensate you would deny her the ability to experience the full richness of the Multiverse?"
He harrumphed. "You may be a master of words, Madam Grace, but I've well over a century of stubbornness under my belt. Don't think you can convince me or guilt me out of these keys."
"Go on, then... what do you want?"
"I want... I want to forget. I've lived almost one hundred and fifty years, now, and I've seen every sensory stone I've cared to in this grand hall. I've little time left to live, and am too weak to go out in search of wholly new experiences... so I need to find a way to forget them all. That way, I can start again in my final days..."
"So... do I just wallop you in the back of the head, or what?"
"No, you bloodthirsty lummox! I'll need something... some item, some concoction... that will allow me to forget. Like a draught of the river Styx; something like that."
I knew the answer lay in the art gallery. I'd seen it once before.
Yvana smiled and motioned me towards her. "Greetings, again. Do you have questions regarding one of the pieces?"
"Yes, I do... The Dark Birds of Ocanthus."
"All of them are chipped from the great magical sheet of black, infinite ice that rests in the black belly of the Plane of Ocanthus." Yvana paused, tapping her chin. "It is said that this sheet of ice is the final destination of the River Styx, and that the recollections of all that have plunged into the Styx's memory-destroying waters still lie frozen within the ice."
"If the waters of the Styx destroy one's memories, would this ice from Ocanthus do the same?"
"I could only assume so, yes."
I sat at the bar, pondering over how to snatch a sliver of that ice. Stygian water, much less ice, was dangerous stuff. With its potent memory-obliterating properties, there had been some talk from the Guvners of restricting its trade, not that it was a widespread commodity: the black liquid was tough to transport due to its volatility: without proper containers the stuff would evaporate almost instantly. I would've thought that with its grim origins Vrischika would've carried it.
Th older man next to me was staring into his stein of ale, misery etched into his features. The battered pewter mug was an unusual one, lightly engraved with strange runes and bearded faces, and covered with a coat of thin frost. He looked up as I turned to him. "Greetings... sir..." He slurred.
He sighed, belched into his hand, and nodded as he took another pull of ale. "Aye, something's wrong, all right. I've gone and lost... my apprenticeship. Well hung over, I was, and botched... my mentor's last experiment. All for this damned... drink!" He sneered at the mug in his hand, but in seconds his expression softened and he took another swig. "Ruins everything, it does, this damnable drinking of mine..."
"Why don't you stop drinking, then?"
He shrugged and sighed miserably. "I simply... can not. I want to, but I can not. I just... need to drink. I try and stay away, but desire eventually... overcomes me, and I can not resist. Such a... wreck I've become!" He threw back the last of his ale and called for more.
"I see. What's that mug you've got there?"
"This?" He looked down at the pewter mug. "I won this in a dice game. It's enchanted to... keep whatever's in it freezing cold. In my case... cheap ale." He frowned, rubbed at his eyes, and took another swig of his fresh drink.
"There's someone you should speak to... Unfulfilled-Desire. You can find her in the Civic Festhall. Talk to her of your love for drink... you'll soon find you won't want it any longer."
His eyes brightened. "Truly? I shall go... speak to her now, then. I thank... you, sir." He paused, looking down at his empty mug. "Here... I would have you take this. I need it... no longer." He handed me the rune-covered ale stein.
This might just work.
If I wasn't careful, I could lose a finger.
The Dark Birds of Ocanthus... razor-sharp shards of carved black crystal that were in flight around a pedestal. Their swift, orderly orbits belied the torrent of icy wind that arose from the base of the art piece.
Granted I could've afforded the proper stuff, if I was able to find a vendor. This was just so much easier.
I dipped the mug into the icy wind rising from the pedestal, catching a small shard with a slight clang. Peering into the mug, the Dark Bird glistened and clattered gently with a light shake. Only the mug's magical properties prevented the sliver of black ice from melting away to nothing.
Merriman squinted up at me. "Well? Have you something that will wipe my mind of these accursed memories? I certainly hope you haven't returned without... you'll never get the keys to Dolora's heart, that way."
"Here, take this mug... it holds a Dark Bird of Ocanthus, a sliver of ice from the River Styx. It should wipe your memories clean..."
Merriman took the mug and removed a piece of paper from his pocket. Without a word of regret or a final goodbye, he tilted the mug back and dumped the ice into his mouth... it melted instantly, leaving him with a somewhat startled expression...
Merriman looked at me, confused, then at the paper in his hands. He read aloud: "Congratulations, Merriman: you've begun again. Thank the man in front of you and give him they key in your pocket. Speak to Splinter, the man at the door to this building, for more information." He looked to me again. "Well... it would seem I owe you thanks, good sir. Here... take this key. I'd best find this 'Splinter' fellow and find out what's going on!"
"Thanks, Merriman. Good luck."