Part 125: Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 3Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 3
Kitla sighed sourly when I told her of how I'd resolved the issue. "Thanks for solving this thing, but... look, I have a lot of planning to do. Let me just give you the Key and we'll call it even, all right?"
She concentrated for a moment, and her voice toon on another, deeper tone as she intoned the words: "Here their Prison ordained in utter darkness..." She paused, and spoke normally. "For the third part of the Key, go talk to Nabat over there." She yawned mightily, shooing me off. "I'm exhausted. Take this, and then leave me alone for a time. I need to think about my next step here. Farewell."
Hmm a spell to hurl mine enemies screaming into the Abyss? I'll take it.
Nabat was an angel-faced man, his eyes squinting nearly shut as if unwilling to watch the world's horrors or to let the world see the horrors inside him - and yet his face was creased with smile lines. His voice was friendly and lackadaisical as he greeted us. "Hi. I hear you're looking for a certain Key."
"Let's be quick about this," I grunted. Just a few more to go.
"The caretaker of the town dump is a man named Kyse. Scuttlebutt has it that he's got plenty of gold hidden underneath his floorboards - and that there's a gang of ruffians who're planning to take it from him. I've got my reasons that they don't. Go talk to Kyse and get the story from him. Do it, and I'll give you the Key. And if you're interested, I can show you some tricks of stealth."
"Why is this so important to you?"
"Does it really matter? What if I said he was my grandfather? What if I said I wanted revenge on the people who are going to try to attack him? What if I said that I wanted that money for myself? Does the motivation matter? You're getting what you want - the Key - and I'm getting something out of this for myself."
Odd that I could get nostalgic over a dump like this. With its piles of trash and piled like bricks and mortar with curving paths in between, there was a hominess to it that reminded me of Ragpicker's Square, so long ago when I first awoke in Sigil. The caretaker himself was a scruffy old man who reeked of garbage, bent over with weariness yet somehow more vital than most of the people of this town. His eyes and posture were more vibrant, as if he didn't quite belong here. He looked up at us as we moved between the stained rubble, and straightened his back. "Come to see Kyse? Heard stories of wisdom and righteousness? Examples to be set and lived by?"
"Are you the caretaker?"
"I am Kyse, caretaker of the town's refuse. I tend to their garbage, and in metaphor I have seen a fair number of souls float this way as well. I am the voice that urges them to goodness - and I fear they ignore me."
"You sound like you know more of Curst than its other denizens, old man."
He shook his head in pity, "It is a town that is on the brink of disaster. All manner of evil is being done here, and nothing is as it seems. All is hidden beneath a veneer of civility, but the venom scars those who breathe it in. This is a poisonous town, filled with poisonous people."
He leaned forward conspiratorially then. "I've a secret entrance into the underground here, a secret place almost no one knows. There is a way into the undercity..." He paused. "But I have never used it. Should I go down, I foresee that I could never return. The way down is slippery, and the rubble would collapse behind me. When I'm ready to die, I shall slide down there and let the monsters feast on my bones."
"Well aren't you a sunny one," I glanced back beyond the gates. I couldn't blame him though... every inch of Curst festered with cruelty and selfishness, "I heard that you're having trouble with a group of thugs."
Kyse nodded, "Wernet is the man, a leader of lice, a collector of sins. He tells me I have coin, that I should give it to him, but my wealth lies solely in my heart and my faith. I have told him this. I fear he does not believe. Go, convince him of this. Please. He stands in Inner Curst, on the southern side, near the wagons."
"What does Wernet have against you anyway?"
Kyse sighed, "It escapes my knowledge. Rumor has it that I sit upon a wealth of gold, that great riches had come to me. Untrue, untrue... the only riches I have are those of my faith, which sustains me in a town of deceit. I have tried to pass my wealth along but so few here wish to share it with me."
Dak'kon and Grace nodded respectfully before we left.
Going out into Inner Curst during the day was like pulling the burlap sack off the head of a Hive-born hooker: all the scars and warts and flavors of ugly are there to behold, with a shock that would've given you second thoughts. Worse really, because when it came to Curst I couldn't exactly dim the lights to get through the ordeal.
A ramshackle guillotine had been proudly set up at the town square, blade and basket stained with smears of scarlet. There was a rankness in the air about it between the coppery tang of fresh blood and the scabby must of old, and flies were fattening themselves on the callous justice of the people.
The Gate to Carceri squatted in the middle of the ward like a great four-legged insect, black razorvine twined around the arches. Each one was festooned with various skulls along its length, some spiny, others horned, none of them human. They moaned quietly through their eyesockets in the breeze.
In one alley, a ring of civilians pared away the hours by forming a circle around a pair of trichas that snapped at each other with vicious beaks and clawed with feet bound with plaits of barbed wire. In the corner a pair of bleeding tricha corpses lay, necks slashed open and heads laying at odd angles. More flies danced over their filmed-over eyes and entered and exited their gaping beaks, ghostly silent against the background of cheers and gamblers placing bets. In the evening the dead would be gutted and carved for their meat.
Then there was Wernet.
He was burly, with a bestial strength to him like that of a rabid bear. His face was scarred and creased with countless tales of violence, and his voice came like gravel scraping over a seabed. "Wha' d'ya want, berk?"
"I've come to talk to you about Kyse, the dump caretaker."
"Aww, has the poor li'l man heard we coming for his money?" He scratched himself. "You go back and tell him he's givin' it up or he's a dead man. Go on, now."
You'd think that building a barricade out of garbage would be easy. Without a care for what you're handing it should've been a simple matter to toss heaps of junk into a large pile at the gate of the dump. But too many irregular scraps: half-broken boxes and twisted sheets of metal, left hollows that weakened the mass of garbage that we piled to keep the gang from flooding in. Safe or not though, we were ready.
"Sending others to do your work?" Wernet growled, "Dirty play, old man. You'll pay for that."
Annah's punch-dagger was up to its hilt in scum when she stepped out from behind a thug, a cold look in her eyes
"If we're gonnae play dirty..." she said smoothly, ripping the blade free and pushing the corpse over, "Might as well use all th' tricks we've got."
The upside about a nice fight is that afterward, once you're strutting down the street clothed in blood, no one else wants to raise steel against you. The dregs of the tavern snuck a few quick peeks, but surreptitious glances aside they did the smart thing and ignored us.
Nabat gave a huge smile as I walked in. "I hear you're done. That means you get the third part of the Key." His eyes blazed for just a moment and the verse tolled forth: "'...their portion set...'" When his eyes returned to normal, he shrugged. "Not much of a verse, I'm afraid... but it'll have to do. Thanks for your help. The next portion of the Key is with Dallan. He's the one with the young female friend over there."
"Why did you want me to save the old man? Isn't this supposed to be a town of betrayal?"
He chuckled, "They used to be my gang. Then they ran me out for taking their money - even though I was framed. I planted the rumors about Kyse myself - I knew that they'd fall for it, and either someone'd take them out, or they'd leave evidence that'd bring the guards down on them. Either way, I win."
I was getting quite sick of being bounced between bar patrons like an idiot. What really topped it all off was the fact that this Dallan didn't even seem to be paying attention to me. No, his eyes were on the woman in his arms, with short-cropped hair, bodice and skirt the same drab mustard-yellow. She was pretty enough I suppose, but even as I stood quietly, staring them down until they would look at me, the pair simply stared into each other's eyes and giggled stupidly.
Dallan finally gave me a glance. He had stern blue eyes and shoulder-length black hair. Whatever he looked at seemed to smolder under his gaze. "I'm Dallan. You're looking for a Key," he said with a large smile.
"That's right. What do I have to do for it this time?"
"It's simplicity itself. One of the city leaders is having a bit of... political difficulty, shall we say. One of his enemies on the city council is causing him some trouble. Go talk to him about it and see what you can do to help him out. His name is An'izius - he's a githyanki, and you'll find him near the gate to Carceri in the center of town."
Dak'kon's gaze hardened.
"Is he a friend of yours? Are you looking for a particular outcome to this?"
Dallan's smirk grew wider. "Let's just say that I trust to your discretion. You'll see what I mean."
An'izius circled around the Carceri Gate. He was sallow-skinned, thin of face and mean of eye, stalking deliberately. I could practically smell his rage. "What do you want?" he snarled, looking up to me.
Dak'kon's gaze was hard as steel and twice as sharp, "We are to help a githyanki? What draws him here, away from the song of blood woven by his brothers?"
The githyanki's eyes narrowed. "I have cast aside the hatred I bore for your people. I have risen above the petty feud between our two races. For this they exiled me - but in my heart, I have bested them. Can you say the same?"
"All right, you two... cut it out. I had some questions."
"What are they?"
"A friend told me you were in need of help."
His intensity doubled, and his voice sounded like it could've ground away stone. "What have you heard?"
"Simply that you were having difficulties with a political enemy."
His eyes widened for just a fraction of a second, and narrowed again. "I see. And are you going to help me?"
I shrugged, "It depends on what you need from me."
"It is of a delicate nature. A rival requires education. You won't need to kill her, if this makes you squeamish."
I mulled it over. Not having to kill to get something done for once was rather refreshing, a good stretch and crack of the moral knuckles. "I'll do it, then."
"This is what you must do: The woman, Siabha... she has been selling her influence to the highest bidder, undercutting my position with the Burgher of this town. I wish you to humiliate her. All you need do is tell the Captain of the Guards that she has attempted to hire you to attack me, and you shall be well rewarded. You can find her - if you desire - near the Administration building."
Siabha wore a a haughty expression on her aquiline face, and her contempt for me was obvious as she spoke. "I am a busy woman. Do not detain me long."
"I spoke with An'Izius. He had an... interesting proposition."
Her eyebrows furrowed. Clearly she didn't expect someone as rough-looking as me to be playing it subtle, "He's plotting some sort of defamation of me again, isn't he? What will it take to reverse his latest trick? How about if I double whatever he's paying you?"
Double, eh? "He sent his regards. That's all."
She sneered. "Yes, I'm certain that's all it was. Remember... whatever he offered, I will double. Think on that, stranger."
"Well? What of your progress?" An'Izius whispered.
"Your rival has offered to pay me a large sum to double-cross you."
"What? I'll double it myself!"
I grinned. "You've got a deal."
"Then go! Go! Or I shall have you flayed!"
"He's offered to pay me a large sum to double-cross you."
"Bah! Enough of this! I shall match his promise, but I will not raise it any further." Siabha smiled challengingly at me. "You'll have to make your own decision. But remember... I may be able to offer you a little something more."
It was with great pleasure and satisfaction that I approached the guard. Getting passed back and forth between two clients like a cheap prostitute wasn't exactly the kind of job that would satisfy my pride.
The captain of the guard was a crisp, militarily-efficient man, dressed in the standard rust-brown armor. He turned a contemptuous eye to us. Not that I blamed him... with the coat of scars I definitely look like a troublemaker.
"What do you want?"
"One of the officials of this town has asked me to murder another one of them," I pointed a thumb towards Inner Curst, "I thought I had better warn you."
His eyes sharpened behind his helm. "Give me the name. Who's planning what?"
"An'izius asked me to frame Siabha, who asked me to do the same to An'izius. They're both corrupt."
He nodded, and spoke in a crisp, clipped manner, "Both of them, eh? Good. This should solidify my control in this city. They'll be gone before you know it. My thanks, stranger."
Crap. I think I've just been duped.