Part 62: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 2The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 2
Dak'kon's Theme (Music)
It was something every githzerai lived with, what every Zerth stood against. Roiling, formless matter without, steel-cored essence within. United yet sovereign, ordered in the heart of disorder... paradox was the bread and water of the githzerai. Yet the alien angles and alleys of Sigil held a madness of their own, one that Dak'kon had yet to become accustomed to.
It had been so long since he set out on his own that he had nearly forgotten the unbearable weight of his burden, and for a while the clanging iron bands of a long-forgotten vow were a dim whisper in the back of his mind. How things had changed... how old aches returned fresh and burning anew.
Dak'kon looked down at his hands: they were wrinkled and worn rough by the sands of time, but already he could feel new blood pulse through his veins. Something was different about this life. Something different about this Nameless One.
Dak'kon looked up, surprised at where his footsteps had taken him. "Pawnshop," the sign said, scrawled in a desperate hand. The wood was weathered and pitted with age, uncared for and forgotten.
This was troubling. The last time he had allowed his mind to wander so it had led to disaster.
Yet with a heavy sigh the old Zerth entered, a speck swept by the currents of Limbo. He would save his strength to fight its shifting pull elsewhere.
The shop was haphazardly arranged. Useless trinkets and esoteric goods weighed the shelves down until they creaked. While they had been dusted and cleaned with a meticulous hand, the items sat inert on the shelves. Only one bored patron browsed the merchandise, and merely with a casual eye. Without him, the shop would've seemed fully becalmed.
A rotund woman, complete with shrewish eyes and a nasal voice brayed out as Dak'kon entered, "Now what have we here? A customer? Do mine eyes spy a customer?" Her voice was pitched and needy, and Dak'kon suppressed the sudden urge to step back lest she start pinching his armor and dragging him deeper into the shop in a desperate attempt to make a sale.
A diminutive man grumbled, poking his head out from the back room, "Of course your eyes spy a customer! They see a customer all the time... customers on the STREET! We have no customers, we will never have customers, it is useless and forlorn to hope for- POWERS BE! Miccah! We have a customer!" he eyes sat alight and excited on the old gith.
"That's what I've been saying to you!" She lowered her voice and turned to Dak'kon. "What can we do for you?"
Dak'kon clasped his hands and bowed politely, "I see you, shopmistress, and would know who you are." It was said that outsiders make such introductions upon meeting.
Miccah spat bitterly, hands on her hips, "I? I am chained to this anchor of a pawnshop with a husband who doesn't appreciate me enough..."
Brokah interjected with heavy irony. "And I ask you, how could I not appreciate the mouth and figure of a creature as beauteous as this? Truly without discernment and taste am I..."
"Something I thought marriage could cure and which hope was entirely in vain. Ach!" she pursed her lips, "That fat and lazy sod is Brokah. He is my husband of twenty-some years, though his inconstant nature makes it hard to believe he has not strayed in that time..."
"It certainly does make it hard to believe!" Brokah shouted back, "All those chances, thrown away, when I could have been having the time of my life!"
"To be sure, the goats on the farm must miss your tender ministrations..." Brokah purpled and the two of them fell into what sounded like the latest in a long, long series of arguments. Their attentions were entirely devoted to each other. Dak'kon stood, flummoxed, not quite knowing what should be done.
Chaos. It was ever the fate of a githzerai to stand resolute in the eye of the storm.
A charred metal tang curled my tongue with each breath I took. I coughed... it seemed as if the filth in the air tested even my endless constitution.
While the folk were better-dressed than the poor sods in the Hive and real money clinked in none-too-limp purses, a dreary air still hung over the populace. Every other Sigilian's hands were rough and scraped, their skin was sickly. It was a choice between poverty and a short, sickly, and marginally prosperous life.
For some reason, I found myself thinking back to how good the soup was in the Gatehouse of the Bleak Cabal.
A merchant strode past, his horse trotting behind him pulling a cart laden with baskets of fruit. An artisan on the corner coughed into a rag and spat a thick wad into the street. An older man, decked in elegant robes blinked at me, his eyes bright and smile warm. He bowed slightly, and I approached.
"Good day, cutter. I am Sebastion, how may I serve you?"
I shook his hand, "Greetings."
"Greetings to you as well, cutter..." He seemed distracted as he looked over my scars. His eyes traveled along them and his eyebrows arched in surprise. He returned his gaze to me. "I was about to ask what I could do for you, but there is no need. I think I see why you came to see me, cutter."
"So you're the man who healed Cinder. Can help me with these scars also?"
He smiled at me and shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps, cutter, perhaps." He leaned forward and began to examine my scars carefully. He ran a finger along several of them, mumbling to himself. Finally he looked up at me. "Yes, cutter, I can help you. I cannot cure you, but I can alleviate the worst of your... condition."
"And your price?"
"Ah, yes... the price." He began stroking his chin and stared at me. I got the impression I are being weighed somehow, like a slab of meat. "I have a job that I think you could perform."
I nodded, "Go on."
"I have signed a contract with a certain creature. I am no longer able to fulfill the agreement; it is... beyond my abilities. However, the creature will not release me from our deal. Instead it has threatened me with death unless I fulfill the contract."
"Let me guess: You want me to solve this problem for you."
He sighed. "Yes. I cannot do it myself. My reputation demands that I fulfill the contract or face the consequences. I am at your mercy in this regard. Will you help me?"
With the multitude of demons, devas, and the whole bizarre assortment of other planars, I had to consider things carefully, "What kind of creature are we talking about?"
"An abishai named Grosuk, cutter." He paused to gauge my reaction. "I know this is a difficult task, but one I think you can handle. Also, the reward I offer you is great." He gestured at my scars.
"What were you contracted to do?"
Sebastion shook his head. "I cannot reveal that information, cutter. I am magically bound not to. That is why people come to me. They know that if I accept a contract, it will be handled with discretion."
I hmm'ed and rubbed my chin. "I see, an interesting proposal."
He looked at you hopefully. "Will you do it, cutter?"
Oh well. How bad could an abishai be? "Yes, give me the details."
He smiled at me and gave a sigh of relief. "Thank you, cutter. You will need a magic weapon to cause an abishai any harm, so check with some of the shops if you do not own one. A spell caster can harm it as well. Grosuk can be found to the east, beyond the siege tower."
"Siege tower?" I followed his gesture. Given the mash of architecture in Sigil it hadn't seemed out of place before, but the moment Sebastion pointed it out the tower in the distance took on a mystic, sinister air. It oppressed the buildings around it, seemed to crack the air and grind at the mortar with its ominous presence. No one seemed to pay it any mind.
"Yes, over beyond the market. Damned thing just appeared one day, several years back. No one knows why and no one seems able to get inside it to find out."
"I see. Well... I had been hoping you could answer a question of mine..."
His smile broadened. "Ask away, cutter."
"I had a talking skull and he was kidnapped. Can you help me?"
He stared at me for some time before answering. There was an edge in his voice, serrated and sharp with fear, "A skull... well, if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that your skull is now in the possession of the Master of the Bones. Which means you should get yourself another skull, cutter."
I could feel the tension strung between our words at the mention of the name. 'Master of Bones.' It was its own siege tower in the midst of a conversation. "What can you tell me about the Master of the Bones?"
He frowned and glanced about for a moment. "His name is Lothar, and he does not appreciate the attention of others. I know nothing of him and can answer no questions about him."
"Where can I find this Master of the Bones?"
He fidgeted nervously. "A ruined house somewhere in this ward leads to his demesne. I know nothing more." I could actually see a hint of fear in his eyes. "Let us speak of another subject, cutter."
I turned away from him, "That's all right. I was just leaving." Grosuk the abishai, eh? Well... I had a dagger honed by sorcery and a noggin full of the most powerful spells money could buy. How bad could it be?
Annah's Theme (Music)
"Jes get it done wit, and yeh don't have to put up wit 'is ugly hide any more..." Annah growled under her breath. Playing nursemaid for a clueless was hardly a good way to spend her time.
If Annah had learned anything in Sigil, it was that there was no mercy in the Planes. A sod could be cut open and left bleeding in the street without anyone batting an eye. Children could be left to prowl hungry and alone, living only by what they could scrounge or steal. Those brave, daft, or desperate enough made their jink on their backs, smiling against the stink of sweat and unwashed sheets.
Aye, kindness was a rarity in the Planes... the Mercykillers saw to that for those who escaped the relentless grinding of sorrow's millstone. If the fear of death didn't teach this piking bright-eyed sod that, there were plenty of other harsh lessons for him to face.
A snip of a string and a patron's purse fell into her palm. The marks were fatter here, though with the prowling Harmonium the dangers were greater. Still, Annah knew a good opportunity when she saw one, and the crowd was too preoccupied with the slave auction to really notice her slinking about. Might as well pull some coin while she gathered information.
The tiefling spun around at the sound of her name. Her tail flicked, and in a foolish instant she had nearly reached for her punch-daggers when she recognized the voice.
"...Trist? Is that yeh?" Annah's heart skipped a beat at the sound of clinking chains.
The young woman nodded, dew-eyed and cheeks pink with shame as she looked down at her old friend.
"Yeh stupid girl!" Annah hissed, "What've yeh done now? Yeh were supposed to escape this sort 'o life!"
Her old childhood friend glanced at the guards, and seeing them nod their assent she knelt on the edge of the podium, "It wasn't my fault, Annah! I did everything right- everything! I married, we had a home and enough money to buy our way into the upper wards. I swear, Annah... it was a fine life!"
"Then what are yeh doin here?" Annah's fists tightened. The memories were dim, nearly forgotten over the years. They were smudged by the dragging of countless corpses, scarred by the many slit purses and stained with the blood of rivals. A bag of coin, scrounged, stolen, and saved up so that one of them could escape the poverty of the Hive. Pharod had not been happy when he realized how much had been taken from him.
"I- I was never as brave as you, Annah. I wasn't as clever or quick..." Trist was, however, kind and pretty, soft enough that she would've withered to nothing with another few years of that life, "But my husband... oh! Please, you must help me..."
A meaty hand gripped her wrist. "Come, girl. The auction is about to start. Let the patrons examine the wares up for bid. And sway yer hips a little... the bigger a price ye fetch the more it'll go to pay for your debt."
"Please, Annah!" Trist cried as she was led away, "Help me!"
Too shaken to soft-step her way through the alleys, Annah ran. The pavement pounded beneath the tiefling's boots, Annah's eyes searching for that one who was mad, determined, and naive enough to lend a hand. Kindness had long since been slain and left bleeding into the cobblestones, but for the first time Annah hoped she was wrong.
My neck hurt.
Standing at the base of the siege tower, I arched back to take in a good view of the squatting monstrosity. Its walls were scarred and pitted with the wounds of countless wars (and looking at my own scars now, I must say I felt a bit of sympathy), and on each of the four walls rusted blades protruded. Each knife was tarnished, its edges snaggle-toothed like the fangs of a morbid beast. The shadows of those blades seemed to cut into the ground where they were cast, and even I was a little careful in stepping between them.
Circling around, I found my target.
Next to the chain of a drawbridge hunched a reptilian creature with a snake like-body, four clawed feet, leathery wings, and a draconian head. The scales covering its body were a vile shade of green. The abishai stands upright on its hind legs, balancing with its prehensile tail. As I approached its eyes narrowed to slits and it begins to hiss.
"Greetings," I offered.
The air around the creature began to radiate heat and its scales took on a pale sheen. It gave me a hungry look and appeared ready to strike. Suddenly it released a flurry of hisses and relaxed its stance a bit. "Sssssss! Go. Grossssuk no talk, told wait... Ssssssss..." It glared at me as its tail lashed back and forth.
"What kind of creature are you?"
Every muscle on the creature seemed to tense as it released a storm of snarls. It started to reach for my scarred flesh, then stopped. Hate dripped from its eyes when it spoke. "Grosssuk no talk. Sssssssssss. You lucky human. You go while ssstill lucky. You ssstay, Grosssuk ssshred!"
"Uh, Sebastion sent me."
The creature relaxed quite a bit and the air grew cooler. It held out a clawed hand to me. "Ssssss. Give Grosssuk information." He looked at me expectantly.
Oh crap. I needed to stall. "What information?"
It was hard to read facial expressions on a reptile, but I was certain that Grosuk was rather annoyed with me. His tail began to lash furiously and the air grew warm again. "No quessssstion. Give Grosssuk information or die. Grosssuk then take information from body."
"I need to know which piece of information is for you. I run errands intended for several people, you understand."
He glared at me for a moment while he thought. Finally he gestured at the nearby tower. "Sssiege tower. Ssssss. How get inssside. Sssebastion say he divine way..." Grosuk took a step toward me and held out his hand. "Now give!"
Maybe I could just back away... "Oh, that information. I'm sorry, Sebastion wanted to deliver that one in person. He'll be along soon."
The air around Grosuk began to radiate heat and his scales took on a pale sheen. He gave me a hungry look and appeared ready to strike. Grosuk opened his mouth to reveal several rows of razor sharp teeth. "No... Grosssuk think you lie! Give information now Grosssuk kill quick, not ssssslow. Not give, Grosssuk take time. Remove you insssidesss. Let you watch!"
I was probably going to need a lot of burn ointment after this encounter. Wryly I wondered if Sebastion's offer of healing would at least counteract the wounds I would be recieving. "Fine, Sebastion sent me to kill you anyway," I grunted, and brought a finger to my lips as I began an incantation...