Part 63: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 3The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 3
I could feel my face shattering as I slammed against the wall. Broken shards of bone scraped against one another, setting bolts of pain lancing through my head. I felt a gush deep inside, and something salty trickled into my mouth. My lips had been shorn off in the fight, and my grunts of pain wheezed through chipped teeth.
Despite the horrific injuries, the battle wasn't as bad as I'd expected. I'd seared Grosuk with bolts of Elysium's fires and scuttled under his claws when he slashed. Though my dagger's enchantment was sufficient to pierce his hide, melee would've been a poor, stupid, horrible strategy.
Grosuk's serpentine tail twined about my ankle, and he unceremoniously dragged me towards him as I stabbed uselessly at the flicking appendage.
Like I said, stupid.
One claw clutched me around the throat, and Grosuk dragged me up to look me in the eye. His breath reeked of rotting flesh.
"Grosssuk kill manling slow, eat flesh!" he snarled, "Shit out remains across Gray Waste!"
"What manling say?" Grosuk snarled. His claws, already stained black by the blood of his prey, dug into my throat.
"'agic 'issle." I pressed my fingers against his jaw.
The resulting blast knocked us away from each other, though his talons drew ragged wounds along my neck as we flew apart. The burst of sulfurous blood clouded my vision, and when I leaped to my feet and wiped my eyes there was Grosuk, howling as the scraps of what remained of his jawbone clicked uselessly.
Disoriented he clambered after me, but I was quicker. I rounded about him, leapt aside when he swiped. If he were wiser and calmer, he might've surrendered and promised to leave Sebastion alone. No, a fiend is a vengeful creature, else he wouldn't have threatened the mage in the first place.
He got a few good scrapes in despite my dodging, and when he fell I could feel my life hanging by a thread.
All this had better be worth it.
Sebastion smiled at my approach, though his lips immediately curdled at the sight of my ruined face. "Good day, cutter. I presume you have completed your quest?"
"Yesh, and I'h cong hor haht is due 'e."
"One moment please, cutter." Sebastion reached into his robe and removed a small crystal ball. He gazed into it for a moment before returning his attention to me. "I cannot thank you enough, cutter. I shall live up to my part of the bargain. Are you ready?"
I nodded, "Yesh."
Plucking a vial from his belt, Sebastion poured a viscous purple liquid into his palm. Murmuring a complex chant, he drew an arcane sigil in the puddle. Where his finger traced the liquid the pool began to glow, bubbling bright and violet. With a burst the magic was released, and traces of the stuff flooded into my flesh. My skin bubbled, and a hot burning itch flowed through my body as I felt wounds knit shut and my scars recede. I gasped, licked my newly-regrown lips.
"It is done, cutter. Once again I thank you." Sebastion bowed deeply to me.
I looked at my body in wonder. The gray pallor remained, but many of the puckers of twisted flesh had receded, if they hadn't disappeared entirely. "Thank you and farewell, Sebastion."
The ladle clacked against the walls of the cauldron as it stirred the plague-yellow broth. It was thick and opaque, a diseased green with nary a single bubble marring its surface.
"See how easily the flesh falls from the bone?" the old man rasped. His fingernails were long and white, and delicately gripped the handle of the ladle. Pulling it up, he scooped out a freshly-cleaned skull. The last traces of once-petrified meat sloughed off, dribbling back into the vile brew like melting butter.
Morte whimpered and shivered in his cage.
"Most of my prized pieces do not need eyes to see, nor a tongue to speak with. Can I say the same of you?"
"P-p-please... just let me go." Morte braced himself for the pain, like that bolt of blinding agony that left him spinning on the ground and screaming until the world went black. It was the first and last time he mouthed off here. Yet the old man barely raised his head as he touched the skull with the tip of one talon.
"Awaken, skull, for you now bear my mark now and forevermore. Speak, else I will call upon the Whispering Chorus and the Rattling Legion to whip your shade until the Planes grind to dust..."
The skull wheezed, as if taking its first breath. Age-yellowed teeth clacked. Its voice was honey-sweet, effeminate and soft as down. It was frightened.
"Who... oh light of Atun! This is not the River of Golden Reeds!" she moaned. "Why am I here? I have laid sacrifices thrice a year, sent gifts of incense to the Alabaster Temple! My body was embalmed with resin, myrrh, and packed with natron in the manner of the Old Ways. My lover placed a coin upon my tongue as was the custom of his lands. Why do I not rest with him in the afterlife?!"
"Silence now, until I bid you speak!" the elderly sage snapped. He plucked a mummified head from the shelf by the ragged remains of its linen wrappings. Its shrunken eyes had been pressed flat into their sockets by two coins clinging as if glued to the dry flesh. Its lips were curled into a grimace. Gold glinted past one chipped tooth. The sage dropped the grim parcel into the brew with a splash.
"Your lover will join you soon enough."
The female skull was muted by Lothar's command, but Morte's shrieks echoing against the walls were enough for both of them.
I whistled a merry tune as I waited for Annah and Dak'kon, happy to be whole again, lips and all.
Sebastion's healing was astounding. My skin lost many of the subtle itches and tugs I had never known existed, and ancient aches in battle-scarred bones were gone. I had lived with them as long as I could remember (though granted my memory only stretched back a few weeks) and to have them gone... well, best I could describe it was that it was refreshing since I have nothing else to compare it to.
"Fine day, isn't it?" I said cheerfully to a passerby.
"Pike it, Clueless."
A slim, bony finger tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned to face a man with rough, leathery skin with the same pale yellow cast as Dak'kon and other githzerai I had seen. Yet his features were more gaunt, skeletal, as if his skull had been drawn downwards. His face was angular, his nose small and highly placed, and his ears tapered to points and slashed as if by a ritual knife. A tracery of tattoos and scars covered his body. While Dak'kon's manner of dress was more austere, this one was dressed in strange, gaudy leathers that look more ornamental than combat-ready. His eyes were like two small black stones and they pierced me with their unwavering gaze. "You are the human seeking memories," he said, flatly. "I can help you."
"Who and what are you, stranger?" He seemed githzerai, but lord he was ugly.
"I am Yi'minn. I am a githyanki angler. My people are the undisputed masters of the Astral Plane, where the gods go to die and the memories of the dead float like leaves in a pool. My duty is in retrieving the memory cores of the dead and gleaning them for information. I can locate your memories. You have only to pay the price."
"What price would that be?"
"It is a matter of a mere few coins. The price is negotiable. I ask for two hundred. You will determine the value of the memories I find and pay accordingly."
After splurging on spells and items my coin pouch might've been a touch too light for his request, but the githyanki seemed quite generous with his terms. "Sounds good. What do I have to do?"
His beady eyes glanced side to side a moment, "If I am to bait my hook for your memories, I will need some of the memories you currently possess. I also require a place of concentration and quiet. If you will follow me, we will journey to one such place and I will make you whole once again. We go alone, with no companions."
I nodded cheerfully, "I suppose they can wait for me to return. Lead the way."
The streets were cobbled in what once might have been luxurious blue stone. Patches of polished azure still glinted, though they lay like scattered puddles on the bottom of a riverbed. The bare red clay had been revealed by years of acidic rain and heavy footsteps. While this ward may have been luxurious once, it, too lay in disrepair and ruin.
"So... what can you tell me about the githyanki? I've never heard of them before. Are you bretheren to the githzerai?"
Yi'minn paused a moment, glancing back to me out of the corner of his eye. The air was pregnant with an awkward tension, and my mouth dried a little. "In... a manner of speaking..." his lip curled into a half-grimace.
I sighed in relief. "So... where are we headed? If there's a bar nearby perhaps I could buy you a drink."
Yi'minn shook his head, "No. Such business is best done away from prying eyes and ears. After, perhaps, or when I return with our catch."
I remained silent the rest of the way. We passed a couple of buildings, down one block, and turned into a dim corner of the ward. Yi'minn turned to face me as we stood near a collection of ancient barrels, shaded by the tight confines.
To my right, another gaunt, yellow-faced githzerai stepped from the shadows, clad in garish orange and clinking with chains and jewels.
To my left, another stood. In his hand he held an unsheathed dagger, its blade gnarled and twisted. No doubt the wounds that weapon caused would be grievous indeed.
Slowly more of Yi'minn's companions filtered in, long-fanged and garishly clad. They held themselves with a warrior's confidence, eyes narrowed to slits and slitlike noses curled as if something malodorous stood beneath them.
As for Yi'minn... the githyanki's mood had turned into something much more ugly than its previous arrogance. "Now, human, drop your painted shield and tell us what you have said and done for the githzerai dogs within Sigil's walls."
I looked at the small crowd surrounding me. These weren't the average Hive alley rats that I had disposed of so easily. Their stances were heavy with the weight of decades, razor-honed with practice. Silently I cursed myself for my naivete. "Weren't... weren't we going to go look for my memories?"
"The only way you shall travel to the Astral Plane is in chains, human," one behind me hissed in disgust, "You have one more chance to tell us what you have said and done for the githzerai within Sigil's walls."
"I- we merely relieved a githzerai's woman's pain."
Yi'minn's voice was cold and iron-hard. "You lie like a githzerai dog, human. You are their quisling and their leech. We will do you a favor by killing you." He drew his weapon.
Well, I could've used a little rest.
Yi'minn's blade slashed across my throat and I fell to the ground bleeding. My tongue writhed as I tried to gag, each pulse flooding the cobblestones with another spurt of blood. I lay there, mouth working like that of a dying fish's, and as my twitchings slowed the gang stood over me and began to speak again. "Did he truly know nothing, Al-midil?"
"His words were those of an enemy of the people. Even were that not true, we have cauterized his ignorance with death's iron."
My eyes rolled upwards to gaze at a githyanki female who nodded in agreement, "Let us leave him here for the Collectors to scavenge. We have gathered enough information on the githzerai dogs for this trip. They shall lose another fortress before the sevenday is out."
Yi'minn spoke again, his tone final, "The walls of Vristigor shall fall."
"If you believe our knowledge is sufficient, then we shall go. Gather our warriors and let us join our war party in Limbo."
That was the last I heard before the darkness took me in once again.