Part 146: Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 17Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 17
"What do you know about healing memories, Grace?"
She sat next to me on the bed, hands folded on her lap. The tea on the small serving table was beginning to cool beyond what was palatable. Fall-From-Grace knew that I didn't ask her over for a social visit, though she did take a few sips just to be polite. Strange to think how we return so quickly to giving these creature comforts such little regard, after all we had been through.
"You have something on your mind, then?"
"The problem is more that I don't," I fiddled with a biscuit. I seemed to have a habit of busying my hands when things get tense. Usually it'd be a caress of my dagger, today it was picking at my food. Was this something of mine, I wondered? Or a quirk of a past life, floating to the surface like bubbles of decay in a fetid pond? "I want to remember Deionarra."
Grace's gaze wandered from mine, and her eyes traced my scars. A finger brushed my chest, sliding along the contour of my collarbone. She didn't need to ask permission: we had gotten to know one another too well to care for such formalities. Trust was what afforded us such little intimacies. And Grace was a healer, after all.
"Some believe we Sensates live a soft life," Grace said quietly, but her voice was clear as glass and cut the awkward silence, "That we whittle away the days basking in the pleasures provided by our Sensoriums and theatres, or our dining halls. It is true that some do." She gave me a look that told what she thought of that. "But the totality of the multiverse is not measured in contentment."
She took her hand away. "We both know this well. Your experiences have left their mark on you, and the scars run deep. There is only so much that I can heal, but I do not believe that is the question you must ask yourself."
"You think we shouldn't try, then?"
"Some would say that your amnesia is a blessing. That the dead should lie buried."
"I suspect those people aren't Sensates." Or Dustmen, I thought wryly.
"A Sensate knows his limitations," Grace said, then smiled softly, "I will support any endeavor you wish, but this is not something to commit to casually. Even the most committed Sensate would think twice before drinking poison so that he might sample its taste."
We both remembered that night she spent, cradling me as the tears fell one by one. What I saw in Deionarra's sensory stone had nearly broken me, with three strands of consciousness knotted into a ball of need and cruelty, and the helpless, unheard screams of anguish against both.
"Deionarra's name has been carved across your mind," she said, "Deep enough that they scratch against the soul. The wounds still bleed when you hear it spoken."
"We don't have any choice, Grace. There's so little time." Preparations had to be made, final matters wrapped up and training done before we left. A pack of troubles roaming together with such collective ferocity that I found it nearly impossible to pick them off one by one.
"Strange thing to say, for an immortal." Her eyes twinkled, and I almost laughed too.
"Powers above, I don't know what to think anymore. Sometimes I think time is my enemy." It was true. Often I envied the warehouse worker or city guard, who could pare his days into slivers like a loaf of bread. Made for easier swallowing compared to the yawning stretches of delving and searching, the storms of events at which I was too often the center, "If we are to do this we need to do it now, Grace. The Fortress is waiting for me, and everything I delay, everything I don't know could hurt me. I've lost too much knowledge already."
She stared at me for a long moment, then nodded. Grace stood in front of me, placing a hand on each cheek. Her laquered nails were smooth against my puckered skin, and I could smell the spiceapple perfume she had dabbed on her wrists. It was soothing.
"So many fissures," she murmured after a moment, "So much lost in the cracks and crevices."
"Help me find what I can, Grace."
She nodded, and the warmth from her hands sent a tingle through my scalp...
My knifework had been swift and practiced, and only a few spots of blood mar my hands. The bodies lie motionless at my feet: clean kills, merciful really, and nothing brutish about it. Nothing to make her afraid, and no other voices to protest and fuel her doubts. In the dark she wouldn't see the rotted teeth or warty faces of the thugs: no clean Clerk's Ward rogues were these. She flinches when I look at her.
"You are unharmed?" I ask simply.
"Y-yes, sir," she stands and brushes off her skirts, and her voice steadies, "You have my gratitude."
"And not your name?" My voice is hardly rude when I ask... simply flat; teasing in its disinterest.
Her eyes widen slightly, "Deionarra. My name is Deionarra. And yours?"
"I regret that I have no name to give," How cultured I sound, so far in contrast to this attire that could be described as savage, at best.
"I would know the name of my savior, good sir."
"As I said, I have none. I do not remember who I am," I finish cleaning my knife, "I should escort you to your home. No one should be traveling Sigil at this hour," my voice lowers, sounding slightly bitter, "Something I wish I had learned long ago."
"You have amnesia?" She pauses as if embarrassed at such a personal question, then looks to the corpses, "We should wait for the Harmonium. They will require a full investigation into the matter."
I grit my teeth. Just come along you stupid COW! No, no. I must remain patient. She'll be on my leash and lapping from my hand if only I remain calm.
"If you must report to the Hardheads, do so from the safety of your home after I leave. They won't be gentle on you if they believe the two of us are associates," I sigh in a way that seems innocent and dejected, as if I had borne by share of unjust accusations, "And if you must report me, my rooms are at the Nimbic Thrall, in the Hive."
"I would never bring trouble on the head of my savior," Deionarra insists quickly, her fingers brushing my arm. I pull away: not rudely, but flinching as if I can't bear to be touched.
Deionarra murmurs a hasty apology, then looks up to me as we walk. I had found her home weeks ago, and I have to make sure I let her lead. She may be a bit slow of wits, but the blood of an oracle still runs in her veins after all. So many precautions had been taken to not rouse her suspicions...
"Your scars... do they hurt?" she asks softly, shyly.
The question had been asked so many times that I have little patience for it. I swallow the sharp response that wells up by instinct, and allow a long, pregnant pause before I answer. "No. Let us be gone, Deionarra."
The corpses of the thugs cool behind us. Filthy rats they may have been, but Hive rats never suspect betrayal when I flash good coin.
My stomach turns. My chest aches. Was that me, that soulless wight that cloaks himself in the flesh of a man, just feigning vulnerability to lead her on?
The memories came in slivers, bits and pieces that had fallen between the cracks...
"But there must be something. My father is an Advocate... he has friends in high places in the Fraternity of Order. The great libraries of Sigil contain knowledge drawn from all across the planes..."
"No, Deionarra," I say firmly, "Please understand. I know what I am doing."
"I only wish to help," her voice lowers, and her eyes are downcast.
Gently I cup her chin, and she lifts her eyes to meet my gaze. A lily-white hand rests on mine, smooth as cream. I allow it to remain there.
"I have done everything to earn your trust, my love," Deionarra's breath is warm on my wrist, "I remember how you hated being touched when we first met."
It is this way with all women: the need to nurture, that instinct to heal. That desire from the heart to change the nature of a man. How easy it is to fuel those passions with a smile, or a forlorn glance that speaks of hurts still moldering in a shallow grave.
"All right, Deionarra," I sigh, "All right. You can help, but it must be on my terms."
She laughs with relief, a simpering sound.
It disgusts me, but I need her.
I clung to the sensations around me to stay sane: Grace's scent, so sweetly perfumed. The warmth of her hands.
But there was that itch again in the back of my mind, the odd ache of a newly-discovered open sore. I shuddered as I embraced it.
Deionarra spins to face me in shock with I open the door, hands going up to her breast as if wanting to protect herself. Yet she holds herself shyly, trying not to appear defensive lest it stoke my anger again. The bruise marring her cheek is hidden well with makeup... an advocate's daughter is trained to look her best after all. Yet she cannot hide that puffy flesh that forces her to squint from that eye.
"Deionarra? May I come in?" I ask, trying my best to sound chastened.
She shifts ambivalently, trying to formulate an answer.
I turn slowly as if to leave.
"Wait!" she calls out, reaching out with one hand. Her voice is pleading and unsure, but she's wedded her heart to me for so long that she no longer knew how to say no.
"Please... please enter."
I approach her slowly, hunched over and seeming hesitant to meet her gaze. I'd pored through enough of the Sensory Stones to learn what guilt feels like and how to feign it by now. What useful little devices they are.
"Deionarra," I murmur, kneeling at her feet, "Please. I know I am not worthy, but still I beg of you to forgive me. It was wrong to lash out at you. I was brash. I am brash."
I rest my forehead on her knee, and with a casual motion dabbed my fingers beneath my eyes. The fumes from the pepper oil sting, and I begin to tear up.
"I wasn't angry with you, Deionarra. I could never be angry with you. I was angry with myself, with what I am and what I can't find. I've been frustrated and hurt for so many years... until I found you."
I sniff, then rub my eyes with my clean hand, "I've changed, Deionarra. I can change, but only if I'm with you. I will go if you send me away, but please. Please don't condemn me to return to what I once was. Please tell me that we can move past this."
And then I feel it... her hand stroking my dreadlocks, fingers tenderly brushing the woven beads. They click at her passing touch.
"My love," she murmurs, and I can hear her swallowing the tears, "I forgive. I will always forgive."
Striking her had been a calculated risk, one that I only took when I was certain she would cling tighter for it. It wasn't a simple test of loyalty... I knew I already had that from her. No, I needed to see how well she would lie to herself to maintain that loyalty.
Now I know that she would blame herself rather than me when I dash my knuckles against her cheek... and she would do so again with worse.
Another string tied. Another bond woven. She'll follow where I lead now, write off my transgressions as the product of a cruel upbringing, forgive what insults I bear against her. I force a choked sound, let my voice crack. The praises of gratitude spill from my lips like jewels, and I swallow hard so that I might speak.
"I will never hurt you again..."
Of all the lies he'd spoken, the last was the cruelest. Beneath the veil he had terrible plans for her. I wanted to stop, but I pressed Grace's hands to my head tight, urging myself to go on. I knew that if I tried to wipe the wetness from my cheeks that Grace would pull away and try to comfort me, and I wouldn't be able to bear going under again.
"I have never left Sigil before."
I look up at her from our meal, an oyster inches from my lips. "Really? You always struck me as the curious type. Didn't you ever hunger for real experiences outside of the Cage?"
"Of course I did," Deionarra murmurs, drawing a spoon through her soup. She sighs bitterly, "But father has always worried about my constitution. I've told you how often I took ill as a child. Every month he would send for a healer."
She smiles then, "But now I feel... revitalized."
"He's sheltered you for too long, Deionarra. I'm surprised he hadn't had you stuffed and placed on the mantel so he'd know where you were at all times."
"He's been like this ever since mother died. He worked so hard to save her life, to try to change the stars when she first foretold her own death," for a moment she seems sympathetic, "He must feel that I'm all he has left of her."
"Exactly. He doesn't love you for who you are, Deionarra," I say, subtly twisting her words, "When he looks at you he sees only what he's lost. The man is clingy. He's needy. So long as he's got you by the hem of your dress you'll never reach your full potential." I'd already gotten reports of the heated arguments from their household. The words were hers, the sharp accusations, but I'd been planting the ideas in her head for weeks now.
"So tomorrow then, at First Rise?" her words are softer now, dreamier.
I remain silent then, and look at her sadly, "No, Deionarra. You can't come with me."
She blinks in surprise, "But- I had always assumed..."
"I'm sorry. It's much too dangerous to go where I travel. I want you to flourish, Deionarra... but you must do this with a better man than I am," my voice drops, "I've been selfish to want to drag you through razor and fang for the love of you."
"But- I can help!" she presses. Her words falter slightly, "Already I've seen visions, flickers of what lies ahead for you, my love. If you do find your stolen mortality, I see my hand in it. You cannot send me away!"
"My fate may be more fluid than you realize," I say, sipping my wine, "Another thing to learn about me is that sedatives simply don't work on my body. Neither does alcohol, for that matter, or most poisons."
She looks at me in confusion for a moment, then her eyes shift to her wine glass. Horrified realization dawns on her face even as her eyelids begin to droop, "But... my love... I would die for you..."
"I know. And that is why you can never come with me."
I stand, circling over to Deionarra so I can carry her to her bed. My flesh is warm against hers: I want my touch to be the last thing she experiences before she drifts off to sleep. It will be soothing now, but the memory will be sharp and hot, burning into her mind like a brand fresh from the flames, "Become more than what you are, Deionarra. Remember me well and, I pray, forgive me."
I leave her unconscious on her pillows, and smile to myself as I clean up and leave. Everything is in place.
I was close. I could feel it. Even though I knew it wasn't the case, I prayed that Deionarra never left with him. I begged the Powers that she'd never followed...
I turn to the woman standing in the door, still in her silken blue dress, if slightly rumpled. The pack she carries is in stark contrast to her formal wear. The girl must've rushed right out the moment she'd woken up and realized I wasn't there.
I let my eyes widen and my jaw drop, as if she'd caught me in time.
"You... you man!" she hisses, stalking over in a fury, "How dare you dose me! How dare you leave me behind like a sack of unwanted grain!"
"I know what I saw in my visions, my love," a fire is in her now, and she stabs me with the words. It takes some effort to not furrow my eyebrows in frustration... I'll have to break this newfound willfulness from her later, "I saw myself guiding you to your mortality. I saw myself at your side when you died, if you ever die. If your victory is ever to come to pass, you will need me."
My arms wrap around her then, and for a moment Deionarra stiffens. "I had lingered too long. I had clung to the hope that you'd wake and that you would be at my side after all. I had- I had ached thinking I'd lost you forever."
The anger melts from her then, and soon she is the meek, demure girl I'd always known, "You will always have me, my love..."
I sigh, contented, and she takes the cue to return the embrace. It is fortunate that her gift is so limited. If things go according to plan, she would never predict the dagger I would place in her breast. She will see much more clearly once the bonds of mortality have been broken.
Her kisses are hot with passion, and I return the favor knowing that very soon, I would no longer have to put up with her wailing.
By the time Grace pulled away, I was already screaming.
"Iannis," there was always a rumble when I spoke, but today my voice came out in a dry croak, "I discovered what happened to Deionarra."
Iannis didn't seem to have heard me for a moment. When he spoke again, his words came slowly. "Tell me. I must know."
"I am responsible for your daughter's death. I murdered her long ago."
The air seemed to grow stale and empty. A chill pricked at my skin as Iannis stared at me in silence for a moment, until the shock trickled away. Then his voice broke. "How... how could you do such a terrible act?" His hands were outstretched, pleading. The wrinkles about his eyes deepened as his face screwed tight in agony.
"It was not I..." I stepped away from him, swallowing hard, "It was another part of me. My existence until now has been a series of incarnations, some good, some evil. He did it for his own purposes, and I don't know what they were. I am sorry, Iannis."
"You..." Iannis seemed to be trying to make sense of my words. "Why?!"
I shook my head, "I don't know, Iannis, I swear. But her spirit lives on still, trapped along the Eternal Boundary."
"In... in a way. I'd spoken to her when I first awoke in the Mortuary."
"That..." the blood drained from Iannis' face, "She must be set free!"
"I have already sworn that I would try to set her free... or join her there."
"If you have any decency at all, spare my daughter. There is nothing that can be done to change what has happened, so I ask that you allow her soul to rest in peace. I will find some way to forgive what you have done if you do this for me."
"I promise... I vow I shall allow your daughter to rest peacefully."
"Very well, then," Iannis' voice was dry and spent. He leaned over his table, bearing the weight on his hands, no longer having the strength to stand on his own. When he spoke again he stared into the distance coldly, "Now leave. I wish to be alone with my thoughts."