Part 158: EpilogueEpilogue:
Tavern of Broken Dreams (music)
The Keeper-of-Forgotten-Thoughts lowers his empty vial and looks out among the crowd. The tavern has fallen silent, and the crowd stares: numb and mute at the ending of the long tale. Shara Six-Blades closes her eyes. Oudilin's harp rests on his lap. Scii-Tavakis' spear has fallen to her side. Epetrius bows his head, Xoraskavitt silent on his shoulder.
Lying on the table Jeanette Dovelle Four-Winds has passed out in a heap, and Ileron of Sen-Tau smiles enigmatically, his eyes cold and cruel.
There is no applause. There are no cheers.
It is over.
It is a sober morning that the tavern patrons stumble out into, vanishing one by one into the pale light of the dawn. They bleed out into the streets: stumbling half-drunk or half-asleep to angry wives or stores that will be left untended for the day.
A hundred tongues will wag from here, clumsily attempting to retell the tale. A thousand variations will exist with each retelling. In the years to come, some will claim that Ignus followed the Nameless One to his end, or that Vhailor survived and slew him. Some will say that the Blade of the Immortal was left intact and that the Nameless One slit his own throat before his mortality. Others will forget one of the Nameless One's friends or another, while others will embellish with little details of their own. In one telling the Nameless One is a madman prowling with the Xaositects, while in another he was as wicked and cruel as his past incarnation. In a lifetime from now, shrines will be built in his image and a minor cult will pray for his salvation. Fifteen years after that, the cult will fall to assassins to prevent his rise to godhood, that he might one day return to Sigil and tell of his deeds.
For now, though, you step out of the Tavern of Broken Dreams with the crowd, letting your cloak hang loosely about you to hide the bulges in your pockets. The Nameless One's eye squirms in your belt pouch, and the Chaos-Mad Tome whispers and gibbers and gives off odd smells, but none seem to notice. Even the empty vial may be of some use. The city-man was the main worry... who could know what powers such a creature possessed? Fortunately however it seemed that paradise knew nothing of pickpockets.
You wrinkle your nose as you stroll through the fetid stink of the Hive. Shopkeepers are only just now setting up for the day, and already the stench of the Ward is rising to putrid levels. An old friend had bidden you to come and visit, and he had never shown up at the designated time. Shaking your head and grumbling with frustration, you are about to turn down a crossing to ask for the nearest portal out of here.
"Hey!" a familiar voice cries out.
Annah spins about, letting the hood of her cloak drop at the shout. There, floating down the street happy as a clam is Morte. At his side three modrons clop down.
"Where've yeh been?!" she snaps, "Yer a day late!"
If Morte had eyelids he would be blinking, and he pauses in surprise. "Late? Uh, you're a day early, fiendling."
"What are yeh talkin' about? I checked me timepiece three times a'fore I took th' string o' portals this way!"
Morte's eyes flick down to Nordom. The modron Director has seen better days, and two of its limbs are discolored and ill-fitting. Doubtless they were scavenged from the modrons that had tried to kill it and return it to the Source.
"You have not heard, Annah?" Nordom clicks, "Apologies, but we are not to blame. Rumor has it that an obstruction was discovered in one of the peripheral cogs of Mechanus a short time ago, and that as a result the Planes have been running a bit oddly ever since. I am certain that the error will be corrected in due time."
Annah bites her tongue and remains silent, but nods. She has tried to correct her temper over the many years, but old habits die hard.
"Annah?" Nordom continues, "May I introduce you once again to KlikKlik and Whrrrr. They wish to accompany us in our quest again this time."
"Yeh, I remember them." Barmy the both of them are, but reliable fighters for modrons.
"I helped name them myself," Nordom declares proudly.
"Yeh, I remember that, too," Annah rolls her eyes, "'Ow is Rubikon these days?"
"Unfortunately two of our number have returned to the Source in the recent Great Modron March," Nordom gives a whistle that might be interpreted as a sigh, "It shall not happen again."
"You aren't gonna ask about me, fiendling?" Morte asks sweetly.
"Ach I know what yeh've been up to," she chuckles, "Up to yer eyeballs in mams, I'd say. Wot was th' name of that last chit? Lizzie was it?"
"The 'Limpin' Lady of Gloucster?' Eh, that was only her stage name," Morte grins.
"Aye? I thought ye'd be travelin' with these three clickboxes, eh? Anythin' o' interest with that?"
"Eeeh..." Morte seems to shrug, "Nothing of consequence."
Annah certainly didn't believe that.
"But really, I've been hunting rumors. I think I finally pinned down where the chief is. Well, at least the layer he's on..." Morte blinks suddenly, and eyes Annah up and down as if for the first time, "You look terrible by the way."
Annah squelches the urge to bat at him, and pulls her hood up to hide the wings of white in her rust-red hair. Her years are stretching thin. She had turned to potions and elixers, bartered years from the young for several fortunes she'd liberated from her heists. She had discovered bubbles of time on the Astral plane and lifted artifacts of longevity from the lich-queen of the githyanki herself. She is still strong, quick, and clever enough for these once-a-decade ventures, but in the back of her mind she knows all too soon that this would change.
"Still no word on Dak'kon?" she murmurs quietly.
"Nothing since he disappeared into the mists of Limbo," Morte shakes his head, "I can't believe you still have to ask after all this time."
"Aye well, we still need someone who knows the Art," she grumbles, "It's been so much harder without him."
"We could always ask Grace..." Nordom offers. It is still strange to Annah's ears, hearing the modron speak without that stuttering drone. The years have smoothed out his speech mannerisms.
"Yeh know I hate hearin' that name," she hisses.
"The stupid box has a point, Annah. She's been skimming the Abyss all this time on her own, and she knows the territory. Heck, she may have even found him by now..."
Annah trembles in fury as she turns, "We'll talk about that later. Come along now."
Annah leads the five of them as they walk down the streets. The lanes have changed and many of the new alleys and crossroads are unfamiliar. But a turn here, a turn there, and Annah recognizes the shell of what used to be the Smoldering Corpse. It would be close by now.
"They say th' Blood War's been quietin' down," Annah murmurs, "That someone's overthrown th' Overlord o' th' Abyss, or wotever it is."
"Just last week they say the Archduke Carrax of Baator was assassinated by the same sod," Morte chuckles, "I wouldn't pay too much attention to rumors."
A smile cracks on Annah's lips anyway, "Mebbe that's true too."
Cynic as he is, Morte shakes his head, "We all know the Blood War is too big for anyone to change. Powers above, even the gods themselves can't end the Blood War. I mean don't get me wrong, I love the chief and I know he can lay waste to any sod in front of him, but he's no god."
"Nay, he's better than that." The smile doesn't leave Annah's lips.
"Look, I've lived a lot longer than you, Annah," Morte sighs, "And trust me. You might look at these streets all shifting about and think the big things will be different someday, but nothing in the Planes really change. Not in the ways that matter. Not Sigil, not the Great Wheel, not the Blood War. Especially not the blood war. So don't get your hopes up."
"I've changed," Annah murmurs.
Morte laughs at that, "Fiendling, deep down you're still the same black-tongued bitch I've known all these years. And I love you for it, even if your mams are sagging like old tree sap."
Again Annah bites her tongue and suppresses the urge to stab him. She refuses to prove the damn skull right.
Finally they arrive.
It is a large park, at the heart of the Hive itself. A miracle, for a park of all things to be at the heart of the stinking Hive. Stepping through the arch Annah can finally breathe deeply. The air is sweet. The wind is clean, filtered by the lush foliage that hangs down. There is soil here... real soil, with plants brought in from the Beastlands and trees of every sort imported from Arborea. They pass a faded plaque as they walk through the gardens, well-tended by the druids here.
For the one that Mourns No Longer, it says. Few know the meaning of the plaque these days, but Annah and Dak'kon were there when the memorial stone had been erected so long ago. She allows her fingers to brush over the tarnished inscription.
Annah looks up at the sound of chirping.
Birds. The druids have introduced birds into the glade.
"So where do we go from here, then?" Morte asks as Annah sits down on a stone bench. It is smooth beneath her skin, and like a cool pond the surface seems to draw the hot aches from her bones.
"We'll talk about it soon," she sighs, stretching out onto the seat, tail flicking like an old cat's, "I found some old things that'd help us find 'im."
"Really?" Morte grins eagerly, "What?"
"Quit rattlin' yer bone-box and lemme rest me eyes," Annah yawns. She really is tired, but she smiles as she lies down, "Jes some old knicknacks. Ole bastard's gonna have some sharp words from me once we save 'im. Snappin' that portal shut in me face like that."
She'd forgiven him long ago, but the man still deserves a good punch in the ribs, "Jes guard me as I sleep. I'll tell yeh all about it after a wee nap."
For a few minutes longer she lets the light that filters through the branches bathe her face. The air is cool against her skin, sweet and refreshing. It had been a long night, and a long story to relive. With a smile she pulls the hood over her eyes. Maybe the idjit can't end the Blood War... she muses to herself.
But she chooses to believe.
~*~*~*~*~* END CREDITS! *~*~*~*~*~