Part 14: Journal of The Nameless One: Part 10Journal of The Nameless One: Part 10
The light was waning as I wandered the streets, the once-golden glow melting into a bleak rust-red. The cooler air took some of the bite out of the smog, and my stomach rumbled a bit. That's the funny thing about sicking up, I suppose. Right before you spill your guts onto the streets the last thing you want to think about is food, but after you clear the bile from your tongue you're hungry as the next hideously scarred amnesiac.
I sifted through the makeshift belt pouch I had made with a rag and some string. A couple coins, some bandages, a few charms and the knife I had recovered from the Mortuary. I suppose I could peddle some of this off for a little money, but was it enough for a room and a meal? Well, the meal I could skip. If I fell asleep in the streets I'd be storing shivs in my kidneys, and if I vomited after reviving like I did the last time... well, that's a waste of a meal.
Those few Hive dwellers that were still about were heading home, and only one or two were kind enough to point me to where I could stay for the night, "Just follow Bedlam Run all the way and they'll care for you, cutter."
A large, roofless tower stood at the end of the street, the lanes peppered with decaying houses and madmen wandering in rags. The sour smell of sweat and unwashed skin thickened the air whenever one of the vagrants walked past.
The Gatehouse, they called it: a semicircular, roofless tower flanked by multiple wings whose entrance was a gaping maw toothed with pillars the thickness of a man's height. No, I corrected myself, not pillars. They were the bars of a gate, each five feet thick. In the back of my mind I mused over what they were trying to keep out with this monstrosity. Some things perhaps are better left unknown, but to someone who didn't have any memories, that was probably a limited category.
I walked between the bars and into the central court, where a few hundred others waited for admittance. There were the young, the old, the weak, the mad, all with the same dullness in their eyes. The flickers of hope had been drained from them, and the best they could wish for now was a bowl of soup and a night's stay here.
They couldn't possibly house everyone in the courtyard, much less feed them. I shifted uneasily, looking over the desperate poor waiting for their chance at entering. Some may have been waiting here for weeks for their turn for a bowl of soup and shelter.
I turned around, "Come on, Morte. We'll just have to sleep in the streets for the night."
He clicked his tongue, "Yeah, not like we could get in anyways."
"You poor sod. What did they do to you?" a gruff voice accompanied a taloned hand on my shoulder.
I turned to face the speaker. His skin was a moldy green, eyes slitted and yellow. The man's features were sharp and distorted, almost monstrous, and the fierce horned helmet was adorned with an array of tribal charms and a small helmeted symbol on the front. Despite this, however, there was a kindness in his eyes, and a hint of the same madness that I had seen in a hundred other faces here.
He eyed my scars, "Come in, fellow. We'll give you a place to sleep and a hot meal. The Bleak Cabal will treat you better than the other denizens of the city have."
I smiled, "Thank you kindly, sir, but I can take care of myself."
The man gave a muted chuckle, but there was no real humor in it, "I know a Clueless when I see one, cutter. And I recognize good men, too. You and your companion can be my guest, even if just for tonight. My name's Lhar, Factol of the Bleak Cabal."
Factol. The word was a title of some sort, probably important, but Lhar tossed it to me as if it were a scrap of a word no different than any other.
"You're a kitten in a den of lions, Clueless," Lhar continued as we walked through the double doors to one of the wings, "most of the people in that courtyard can fend off the dangers of the city at night far better than you can. No offense meant, of course, you look to be someone who's survived his fair share of dangers."
"Not as often as I'd like, I suspect," I added dryly.
"Let me guess. We sit through a one-hour presentation and get a brochure before we get to the grub."
The corners of my lips twitched in a half-smile, "Do you even need to eat, Morte? I mean, well..."
"You sure know how to rub it in, chief."
Lhar chuckled again. It was an empty sound, "Aaah this is a nice change. Most of the charges combined aren't nearly as lively as you two. And no, our faction doesn't usually preach, unless you're willing to listen."
The dining hall was set up with rickety wood tables and benches, and the few people milling about wore aprons and set up piles of bowls and plates, ceramic and metal clinking against each other. The smell of the cooking was greasy and rich, which was appetizing enough for me as hungry as I was.
Dhall's dry lecture on Dustman philosophy came to mind, then. "I've been wandering in this city for a few hours, and I know too much about things philosophical and not enough about things practical."
The bowls were mismatched. Lhar had taken a decent bronze one, and a grumpy-looking elf slopped a ladleful of pasty white gruel for him, then laid a piece of fatty bacon atop. I picked out a small, humble saucer, with enough chips in the edge I could've used it to cut my bacon slab. I wasn't as hungry as I thought.
"Ah, but this is Sigil, my friend," replied as we sat down, "Philosophy is practical. Ideas, thought, even simple belief can shape reality."
"Then what do you believe in?" The pasty white gruel was relatively flavorless, though some roots and tubers had been mashed in. For the benefit of the older, toothless vagrants, I imagine. It was slimy against my tongue.
"Absolutely nothing," Lhar said. There was a tone of finality about it.
"Oy, chief. Trust me. You don't want to talk to a Bleaker. There's a reason they're called the Madmen, you know... er... with all due respect, Factol," Morte gave Lhar a polite nod.
Lhar ignored it, "Think about this, cutter. There's a thousand faiths out there. Ten thousand. Hells, the planes are infinite, there might as well be an infinite number of faiths and beliefs and values. But not a single one has claim to the dark of it all. It's not that people haven't tried, or that people aren't smart enough. Countless have quested for the ultimate meaning behind existence, many of them brilliant, more than a few absolutely barmy."
I nodded, "If the best a thousand of the finest minds can do is bicker over what the true meaning of it all is, what makes us think there IS a true meaning?"
Lhar pressed the bacon slab into his bowl with a spoon, "Exactly. See, we of the Bleak Cabal know the multiverse makes no sense. We accept it. You don't see us running around trying to convert reality to some sort of order like the Guvners, or break it down to chaos like the Sinkers. We don't try to force reality to obey our arbitrary whims like the Sign of One," he snarled as he mentioned that last faction, "Plenty of people try these so-called philosophies, and many see past the words and realize how empty they are, how hollow and self-deluding. The Bleak Cabal is the refuge of the outcast, the sanctum of those the other Factions have failed."
I looked down and was surprised to see the bowl was half empty already. Idly I picked the slab of fatty bacon up with my fingers and began chewing. The salt and the grease were therapeutic. Nourishing. "So you reject all the other factions because you respect the truth behind it all, that there is no meaning to reality."
"And therein lies the risk of madness," Lhar said. He dabbed a piece of bread into the bowl. They served bread? Where did I miss that?
"Then why should I live, then? Why should I die?" The words were still odd on my lips. That I needed to die. "Why do anything if there's no meaning?"
"That's up to you, cutter. It's the burden that we all must carry: that we are responsible for our own fates; that we must struggle with our own madness," he leaned forward, then, a half-smile on his face, one that looked almost genuine, "But you didn't need to chase after some grandiose ideal to turn around and try to walk out of here to give room to someone else, did you? A fancy philosophy didn't compel you pick the smallest bowl so you could leave more for others, either." Gods damn it he made me sound like a sap. A pat on the head and a sweet for being a good boy? I toyed with the idea of socking him in the face.
I licked the last of the gruel from my fingers. It tasted awful, but I was oddly hungry for another bowl, "I suppose not. Then again, a merciless world is what breeds the need for mercy in the first place, and a hopeless city is the perfect font for hope." Ugh. Maybe I should've gotten a crack in the jaw myself. Swallowing a few teeth would be the perfect remedy for the martyr complex these guys seem to spread.
Lhar picked up his own empty bowl and stood, "Look inward for meaning, cutter. It's your only salvation. But until you find it, would you like seconds?"
It wasn't the hard pallet that was set out for me, or the ice-cold sheets against my skin. Hell, I doubt it was even the fact that this was the first time I slept, as far as I could recall.
Running around in the center of the multiverse without any memories drives a bone-deep weariness in you. It's the kind of weariness full of the screams and aches of tired muscles, where a full belly and creaky bed are divine respite from the day's madness. There was enough madness for a lifetime.
Morte snores, by the way. He tried to deny it. After all, he doesn't have lungs or a nose. I have no idea how in the hells he can float, whistle, or even talk, so I have no idea how he could assume snoring was impossible for him. A couple of pillows helped solve that problem, though. He doesn't need to breathe. I think.
Ever since I learned of my immortality I had wondered what I should do now. I'm unnatural, Deionarra had said. I'm an abomination, Dhall had said. The cycle of life and death had been broken, a wrench had been thrown in the machinery of reality by my existence. Yet as far as I could tell, the multiverse churned on just fine without me. Why would I need to die?
No. I just needed to find my journal, talk to Pharod, and I'll decide what to do from there.
When I managed to drift off to sleep, the emptiness was waiting for me. Imagine the dim light of the world slowly receding, the touch of your rough blankets fading, the fitful glow of the blue-violet sky outside growing dimmer. Your senses abandon you bit by bit, until the darkness claims you.
There is nothing.
That black emptiness, infinitely vast, was the gaping maw of raw oblivion yawning before me. It absorbed my mad screams, gave nothing to thrash against. A soft prison, it was, with no walls to pound, no boundaries that would give me at least the hope of breaking free. Was this True Death? Was this the terrible secret hidden in the mind of a Bleaker? No, it was a part of me, I knew. It was that same terrible void that stretched past that rough-edged cut in my essence. It was the darkness that stretched between stars, the black vastness that would exist at the end of time. It was the hollow chasm that I could only caress before recoiling in terror.
If only I could full it with my screams.
When my eyes opened the glorious golden light of day was bleeding through the violet-blue. It turned the sky white with a hint of azure wherever it touched. Morte had somehow rolled out from under the pillows I stuffed him under, snoring away happily. I couldn't have been happier to endure it.
I sat up, disoriented, a little dizzy, but too afraid to go to sleep again. No, I would just write. Detail my journey. It would help take the edge off of that terrible, dreamless void.
A few copper commons had been left for me on a rickety nightstand. I scooped them up. A short conversation with a clerk to tell them the tiny bedroom was now clear for another and I was gone.
The way Sigil curled in on itself no longer caught my eye, nor did the sour smell draw more than passing notice. Odd how quickly one could adapt to even the strangest, most noxious of things.
I had avoided the stranger, less savory characters in the city as of yet. Well, aside from Pox. The Hive dwellers that meandered between tasks had little to say and offer, perhaps the more eclectic figures could offer more. They'd be more likely to deal in the secrets of the city, the "dark" of it as they said here.
The clang of metal on metal, a rhythmic hammering, drew me to one corner of the Hive. It emitted from a tall, twisted metal structure, with no real function that I could perceive. It was scaled with small bronze plates, and twisted black vines curled about it from top to bottom. At the base, however, was a tall creature with a shock of white hair. Its skin had a greenish cast, and a pair of goat horns protruded from its forehead. It was dressed in long flowing robes and appeared to be floating slightly above the ground.
The creature turned to face me and a series of symbols appeared around its head. The symbols had a slight glow about them, and they just... hovered there.
"Oh, for the Powers' sake! Piking dabus," Morte clicked his tongue with annoyance.
"He's a dabus. They 'speak' in rebuses, these annoying word puzzles. If you don't know what he's saying, then we better find a native or some other way to communicate with him... if we want to. An annoying bunch. My bet? They can speak, they just would rather piss everyone else off by trying to puzzle out what they're saying."
"What's a 'dabus?'" I had gotten used to asking questions, and Morte seemed perfectly happy to answer. Funny how he was perfectly patient with me but would lose it at a few word puzzles.
"Chant is they're janitors for the Lady of Pain. They float around breaking, fixing and patching up Sigil according to her whims. They're worse than corpse flies." Morte sighed. "You can't swat 'em though, or the Lady'll get... upset."
"And... who's the Lady of Pain?"
Morte suddenly looked nervous, "Eh... she runs this city. You'll know if you see her: She's got these blades around her face, she's about the size of a giant, and she floats off the ground, just like these guys." Morte nodded at the dabus, who was looking at us both. "Nobody knows much about her... she doesn't speak much. All you need to know is that you don't want to make her angry. If you see her, my advice: run."
The dabus waited patiently, its hands tucked into its sleeves. A series of symbols materialized above its head, then they vanished and a question mark appeared.
I asked the dabus several questions, trying to get a feel for the rebuses that appeared above its head. It was extremely patient throughout our 'discussion,' giving easy sentences to translate. After a few minutes, I started to get the hang of it... it felt like I had done this before.
I tested myself with the basics, "Who are you?"
The dabus inclined his head slightly, and a stream of symbols haloed that white shock of hair. I am a dabus.
"What are you doing?"
A batch of symbols appeared above the dabus' head. I attend to my duties.
"Can you tell me about the Lady of Pain?"
A lone symbol appeared above the dabus' head. This one showed a metallic androgynous mask, with blades coming out of the sides. Just looking at the ghostly image made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it was unwise to ask about her, but I needed whatever knowledge I could.
"Uh... not quite what I expected. Do you happen to know Pharod? The Collector?"
Well that was a wash. At least I can speak dabus now.