Part 51: Puzzle-Box of The Nameless One: Part 12Puzzle-Box of the Nameless One: Part 12
"So... Annah. I've been thinking-"
She scoffed, "There's a first."
"I'm just saying we got off on the wrong foot. I mean, if we're to be traveling together we might as well try to get al-"
"I'm not interested in gettin' along wit ye. Or travelin'. Or Powers-know-what a clueless berk like ye would want t' do. I've got deaders t' nick ye... wait, wot's yer name again?"
"Er... I don't know. All I know is that I woke up on a slab in the Mortuary... thanks, by the way... and that I can't die."
Annah gave me a cockeyed look, those dark lips curling into a sneer. She spat then muttered to herself, "Daft, this is."
Dak'kon gave Annah a cold glance, sure and straight as steel, while Morte bobbed up and down, eyeing her from every flattering angle he could think of, "Say, Annah... does that tail go all the way up?"
"Oh, aye... up yer bone-box to rip out yer brains."
Morte ceased his bouncing, "Uh- I think I'm going to hang next to the chief now."
We took the wooden stairs up and out of the Buried Village, and at the entrance was another tall, broad-shouldered thug. He might've been handsome once, but birthright had not been kind to him. His face and arms were relatively clean of scars, and that meant that he was either new or he was a more formidable fighter than the rest.
As I entered the room he got up from his chair and approached me. "'LO there! Name's Bish. Who might ya be?"
"My name is 'Adahn,'" I lied. Having a false name might've been less off-putting than having none, and it would be best to not stir trouble just as I was leaving.
"Adh-what?" Bish stared blankly at me then shook his head violently. "I never seen ya comin' in and Pharod didn't tell me about no 'Adahn' comin' around." I noticed his hand moving slowly towards his weapon. "Ya best be tellin' me what yer doin' here, berk."
"I've got nothing to hide, and I don't want to cause any trouble. I just want to pass through."
Bish paused, as if considering what to do.
"Ach, just let us past, ye eedjit!" Annah snapped stepping out from behind me.
Bish's head snapped to meet he gaze, and a shorter, one-eyed thug grinned, "Oh so yer travelin' with Pharod's favorite, eh? I do wonder how she gets that much jink just dealin' with deaders. Did Pharod hire her out ta be yer escort or..." he snickered, "an escort?" The gang cackled, and I glanced down to see Annah slip one hand gracefully behind her, fingers curling around a hidden dagger.
"Oi! None of that, ye scum-brained sod!" Bish turned and frowned at me. "Alright, if yer travelin' wit her it should be fine. Ya can go on. But know this, berk. Ya go causing trouble for the lass, I go crushin' yer skull if I see ya again."
I nodded, and just as I left the one-eyed villain moved past Bish and leaned in for a whisper, "If ye do happen ya tame the lady and lift her tail, be sure to give the rest a taste, ya jig?" We left with their raucous laughter burning in my ears.
"So where to now?" Annah asked smoothly. Too smoothly, as if she were forcing her calm. Funny... Annah didn't seem the type to rein in her anger.
"I don't suppose you like Gar-Bar root?"
We sat on the curb enjoying our feast.
With plenty of gold from the sold spoils for food, Morte and I tore into our repast with gusto. The pears were crisp, firm, and sweet. The spiced nut-bread was aromatic and flavored with of carrots and almond, slightly sweet and light and leaving me hungry for more. The sea plums were an odd blue-green color, with a rind slightly bitter and extremely sour. It was enough to make me grimace and shudder as I bit into it, but the fruit's meat was remarkably sweet... a wonderful complement.
"I haven't had these since I was a wee one," Annah murmured, spitting out the pit of an Arborean fire-seed so that it clattered halfway across the street, "Had ta nick 'em o' course. Along with a fat purse or two from the crowd."
"What's this now?" I asked, opening a small paper packet.
Dak'kon looked up from the skewer of spiced meat he had been sampling, "Shiftspice from the Planes of Limbo. The spice may taste of whatever one would like. It is little more than a matter of concentration and willpower to bends its flavor to one's whim."
I wet my finger and dug in, licking the powder from the tip. Indeed, I finished off the packet in a matter of nine or ten licks, and as promised each taste provided a different flavor.
"Ah, I always liked lapping up lines of the stuff from a harlot's stomach," Morte sighed, "Hey, I don't suppose you have an extra fifty gold to spare?"
"You need to learn that no means no, Morte."
Dusting of my hands off I stood, and my companions followed suit.
We spent a good couple of hours shopping for new spells and tools, and it was fortunate that we did so when we came across a familiar face... and a familiar stench. The meal was past the point of no return by the time we came across Reekwind once again, picking a crust of filth from one ear as he belched in unison with a wet pooting sound.
"Ah, ye comes back to old Reekwind, cutter?" he greeted me with a moldy grin.
"Phaugh! Away wit ye, ye foul little beast!" Annah snarled.
"Hey hold on," I nudged Annah aside, and with the look she shot me I swore she would've stuck one of those daggers in my back if I let her. My pouch was feeling a little heavy after all, and the poor man could've used some charity, "I suppose we have time for a story." Any knowledge could've been helpful.
The coppers clinked into Reekwind's palm and he tucked them away. With a few taps of his chin his eyes brightened, and he backed off, taking a stance as he began to weave his tale.
"A sorcerer there was, no simple hedge wizard this, but a mage of power." Reekwind brought his hands together reverently, then smiled evilly. "He burned with the Art, and the Art burned him."
"The name given him was Ignus, a name respected, then feared, then hated, then punished." Reekwind gave a rattling wheeze, then clawed the air and hissed, apparently imitating 'Ignus.'
Ignus... the face of a cackling fiend came to mind, his flesh black as coal and breath thick with ash. I could feel the heat on my face... hear the metal squealing as it melted under him. That fiend in the Burning Corpse tavern... the memory sent a shudder down my spine.
"Taught by one of the last great magi Ignus was, and as an apprentice, Ignus learned much, much... and nothing at the same time." Reekwind shook his head sadly. "In his heart, his coal-black heart, a fire blazed. It burned, it burned, and it hungered." Reekwind clawed at his chest, as if in pain. "As it hungered, Ignus hungered. It was his wish to see the Planes burn."
"In the night..." Reekwind hunched down and began to slowly stalk in the direction of the alley, a mad grin on his face. "Ignus came to the Alley that was to be the Alley of Angles, and the fire in his eyes, the fire in his heart, both he let out." Reekwind pointed at the Alley, then flung his arms in the air, silently screaming and laughing at the same time.
"Flesh ran like wax, people like candles, and Ignus laughed, laughed..." Reekwind crumpled to the ground, his body wracked with imagined pain. "An evil, an evil was done, and forgotten not, forgotten not." He stood up, then hunched over, looking left, looking right, then started mumbling, as if secretly in a conference with someone. "Something was to be done, be done..."
He stood up, stiffly, his face resolute. "A punishment was decided, all the hedge wizards, midwives, rune-tellers, copper-pinching witches, all manner of magelings... they came, all, even those with the smallest trace of the Art, to punish Ignus. Separately, they were flies..." He made a buzzing noise between his rotten gums. "Together, dangerous, dangerous."
Reekwind hummed, then raised his palms... "Caught Ignus, granted his wish..." He swirled his hands, as if casting a spell. "He wished to burn, they granted it, using his own desire to fuel the casting. They made his body a door to the Plane of Fire -- they intended to kill him, kill him..."
"Failed, failed..." Reekwind broke wind again, as if to accentuate the failure of the wizards. "Ignus lived, Ignus lived, only slept, blanket of flames, flames, turned in his sleep as he burned, never happier, never happier..." He shut his eyes, wrapped his arms around himself and turned slowly. "Burning... ever-burning..." His eyes suddenly snapped open. "One day he will wake, and then, then the Planes shall burn!"
I rubbed my chin, pondering a moment before I spoke. "I want to hear the story of the man who came to this city without name or memory and spoke with the cursed story-teller who warned him of the danger of names."
Reekwind stopped twitching and scratching for a moment, and stared at me. "That tale... that tale costs nothing, for it is worth nothing, and it is worth noting that it would be a sad tale indeed."
"Nevertheless, I would hear it."
"Where would such a tale begin...?" Reekwind grunted, then gave a reeking wheeze that made my eyes tear up. He seemed to be thinking.
"Phaugh!" Annah choked, taking a few steps back, "An' I never thought the air o' this city could get any fouler!"
I crossed my arms, gave Annah a glance, and turned back to Reekwind, "It would begin with a man waking up in the Mortuary, believed dead, but in truth, only his memories are dead."
Reekwind nodded, then studied me and started scratching himself violently, as if to give himself scars. "Dead, but not dead... no memories, no memories, no name..."
"He escapes the Mortuary, enters the Hive, and speaks to a man who let his true name slip once and has regretted it."
Reekwind seemed hypnotized by my words. "Yes, yes, much danger in naming... perhaps..." He paused. "Perhaps the man to whom the nameless one speaks is a warning to the danger of names." He seemed to chew this over. "Perhaps he who has forgotten his name is better off...?"
"Is he?" I glanced at Dak'kon, and he shook his head solemnly. Morte cocked as if in a shrug, and Annah rolled here eyes with a lily-white hand over her nose as if to ward off the stench, "Is it better to suffer the truth with all its consequences or is it better to remain ignorant? Which of the two men is better off?"
Reekwind gave a hacking cough, spat, the spittle green and wet, and then turned back to me. "It is your question, your tale..." He spoke slowly. "It is you who must answer it."
I looked to Reekwind, then to Dak'kon, and back to the malodorous little man, "Perhaps the man who has forgotten his true name is better off, for he is protected against those that would do him harm, including himself. Where a named man moves, he is followed. When a nameless one moves, his name leaves no trail..."
Reekwind nodded as if in agreement, as I continued,
"But... the man who knows his true name is better off, for he knows himself and is stronger person for it. Some choose to merely survive... others seek salvation."
Reekwind mulled this over, licking his lips. He began to nod slowly, then mumbled under his breath, as if debating with himself. Eventually, he turned back to me. "That is a tale, a tale with a moral that tells the teller's morals..." He coughed and spat another phlegmy glob onto the cobblestones. "A tale that will answer itself, in time, in time...?"
"It must have an answer, and every tale has an ending. I will refuse to accept it any other way."
Reekwind scratched himself for a moment, nodding, then reached into the folds of his robe and flicked me a coin. "For such a tale: a clipped copper." He sneered. "No more, for the tale's not finished."
"Thanks, Reekwind. Good luck to you."
The sky was bleeding into a dim orange, and soon night would've been upon us. Even as well armed as we were I didn't trust the streets of the Hive to not throw any more fangs or blades my way.
"So, do you know of any place we could rest, Annah? Any good inns around?"
"We've got enough jink to settle someplace nice. No more sleeping in the streets... no more gruel and hard beds at the Gatehouse..." Morte sighed wistfully.
"Aye..." Annah murmured, "There be a kip just around th' bend iffn ye don't mind rats an' roaches."
I gave the coin bag a good squeeze, the pleasant clack of coins reassuring. We'd have enough coin for a few good supplies, and a few weeks at an inn if we were careful. A couple days of rest wouldn't do much harm... it's not like the trail could get any colder after the weeks I crawled around in alleys and the guts of Sigil. Good food, a warm bed, and answers just around the corner. Life was good.
As we rounded the bend, though, a grating little voice whispered to us from the shadows.
"Psst! Hey you! Wanna earn some jink?"
My first impression of little man was that he needed a long bath, preferably away from any creature that has any sense of smell. While not nearly as terrible as Reekwind's foul miasma, I could almost see the stench waft from his body in sinister yellow tendrils. He motioned towards us frantically in an effort to get us to come over and talk to him.
"Ach! Just ignore th' sod," Annah grunted, tugging my arm.
"Please-" the man whispered, edging towards me just a bit as I stared, "I need help." There was desperation in his eyes, and his face was pale as if he were being slowly strangled by his ordeal.
"It- couldn't hurt to listen."
Annah cocked an eye at me then, but grunted and looked away when she saw that I wouldn't be shaken.
A look of excitement crossed the man's face as I approached. "Thank ye fer stoppin'. Me name is Mar, and I've a fav'r to ask of ye."
"'Tis a matter of life or death! I must be deliver'n this 'ere box or it'd be me head fer sure! 'Tis me bad luck that I twisted me leg something fierce. So will ye help me out by deliver'n this 'ere box fer me?" I looked down, and while I wasn't completely sure the limp he sported seemed a bit exaggerated.
I shrugged, "Just a delivery, then?"
Mar nodded, "Aye. Just hand it off to some sod."
I held out my hand, "All right. I'll deliver the box for you."
Mar slowly took out a small box from within the recesses of his ragged clothing. For the briefest of moments, there was a look of regret crossing his face... and then it was gone, as he looked at me and handed over the box. A slight shimmer surrounded the box as both Mar and I touched it. Mar sighed with relief as he released the box into my care.
I gulped. Something funny was definitely going on, "What now?"
"This be need'n to be deliver'd to Ku'atraa. He can usually be found somewheres down in the southeastern section of the Hive. Oh, and lest ye try to say I didn't warn ye: whatever happens, DON'T OPEN THE BOX! And don't leave the Hive with the box. Now be off with ye!"
With that, Mar scuttled off, his limp gone.
Somehow, I felt like I was up to my eyeballs in abishai dung.