Part 64: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 4The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 4
"-up, yeh bag of bones an' ugly!" The words flitted on the edges of my consciousness, like a moth batting against the dimly-lit glass of a lantern, "Wake up, I said!"
There was a sharp ache in my side that hadn't been there before, and when the firm toe of a boot cracked against my ribs again the ache flared anew.
"I'm awake," I groaned, pushing myself off of a congealed puddle of my own blood. I felt my throat for the wound that the githyanki had made. All that was left was an itching scar, and even that seemed to be healing over nicely. Even with Annah's sunny voice ringing in my ears, this was possibly the best out of all the times I'd resurrected.
"Ach, I leave yeh alone for two hours and yeh just get yerself killed agin. Lucky I have a knack fer squeezin' in places most o' Pharod's other sods ignore, or I'd never have found yeh stashed here."
I took in my surroundings. By the look of it I had been flung behind the barrels in this musty old alley and left to rot in the forgotten shade. Good thing, too... I didn't relish another trip to the Mortuary or having to explain myself to a Collector if I awoke in transit. Annah stood above me, panting as if she'd run around half the Ward looking for me.
"Are you all right Annah?"
She paused a moment, crouching down but taking care not to let her tail drag in my blood. It flicked a little, betraying the stern countenance she slid on. Annah was nervous.
"I... need yer help."
"I'd hate to keep Dak'kon waiting," I mused as we strode down the street.
"Ach, th' pasty-faced gith can take care o' himself."
I nodded. That was true enough, "Annah, I'm curious. I know you've seen worse in Sigil than slave trade... what makes this one so important?"
"I already told yeh what ye need t' know," she muttered, "Jes go with it."
"Is it something personal?"
Annah bristled at that, and added an edge to her walk like a cat stalking its prey, "Ach. I wish that ol' mold-skinned gith were here ta bind yeh in his chatter."
"Dak'kon doesn't talk much."
"No," came the hoary voice from behind us, "But I hear your words."
I was surprised that Annah didn't draw her blades. Turning around I froze. A well-formed bruise around Dak'kon's eye had just begun turning green at the edges, and a small cut on his cheek was beginning to dry and scab over. He stood stiffly however, arms crossed in meditative calm.
"You... got in a fight?"
Dak'kon set his coal-black gaze upon me, rigid and keen as steel, "A... dispute. It would be wise to know that words may set motion to blades, but it is the blades themselves that do the harm."
"Are those pottery shards caught in your armor?"
"We will speak no more of it."
I shrugged, and flicked a clot charm to him, "In any case, we're off to free a slave."
There was no mistaking the throng on the podium for anything but slaves. They were glassy-eyed, outcasts of a city that heaved a fatigued sigh at the sight of poverty and lazily brushed them into a corner. As they swayed on aching legs and bent with slumped shoulders, a boisterous auctioneer stood out in front of them. He was very animated and did a lot of shouting, yelling, and stomping, carrying a flair for melodrama like a medal-lined sash and curled his cheeks into many strange facial expressions.
He glanced at me and motioned to the crowd that he was taking a break. "Well, a thousand greetings do I bestow on you, sir!" He winced at the sight of my scars. "You know, I take one look at you with my discerning eye, and I see a man in the market for some healing charms."
Granted, we were a bit low on them, but other matters needed tending, "Who are you?"
"Deran's the name, friend! Can it be you have not heard of me? I'm wounded, verily I am!" He smiled wider at the feigned wound. "No one finer or more well-known for bringing people who want people a little closer together." He pointed to the rear of the auction block where the group shuffled in their chains. "Do you be wanting someone, friend?"
"Hrmn. I heard you sold slaves."
He shook his head. "No, sir! These are indentured servants, not slaves. For the most part they are guilty of minor crimes. The proceeds from their sale go toward paying their debt to the city. After their term of servitude, they will be free citizens once again."
"You bandy words and toy with semantics," Dak'kon murmured coldly. His voice was like an ice-cold river trickling over rough stone, "Such a thing is the definition of slavery."
Deran gave him a bright smile. "I don't concern myself with such thoughts. My task is to sell their contracts as given by the courts of Sigil." He lowered his voice as he leaned in closer to me. "And collect a percentage for my efforts, you understand." He straightened.
"You said they were guilty of crimes, what crimes did they commit?"
He shrugged his shoulders in an exaggerated way. "I don't know for certain, but I would guess theft, assault or not being able to pay their debts. Those are the most common transgressions."
"I would like to look over your slaves, then."
Deran's lips pressed tight and bowed with a flourish, "Well, look if you wish, but the auction will take place quite soon."
"This way," Annah said, leading me by the arm.
The woman we spoke to wore shoddy clothes but her demeanor was one of elegance, unlike that of the people who surrounded her. Her skin was clean and smooth, lacking the yellow tint of the inhabitants of this ward. Her face was awash in relief when we approached, and she smiled at Annah.
"I thank the powers that you returned, Annah," she sighed and looked to me, "My name is Trist, and I am in need of the services of a mercenary..." She paused and examined me more carefully. "If appearances are any indication, you would seem to be such an individual."
I nodded. The title was somewhat militant, but it would suffice, "What exactly is it that you want of me?"
"The heart of the matter is that I am to be sold into slavery for a crime I did not commit. I am in need of a champion, someone who will help me prove my innocence and free me from this fate..." She paused and looked at me expectantly.
"Tell me exactly what's going on."
Trist sighed as she began her tale. "My husband died recently and left me his business. I am not business-oriented so I decided to sell. Not long afterward I was contacted by a lender saying a loan on the business had not been paid..."
"I examined all the documents my husband kept and found that there had indeed been a loan taken, but it had just recently been paid in full. I explained this to the lender and, a few days later, he asked for a copy of the document... It was nowhere to be found." She looked concerned and paused to think.
"Well, when I could not prove that the loan was paid, the lender took me before the court. My monies were taken and applied to the balance owed. Since it did not pay off the loan, I am to be sold on the block to try and recover the remaining amount due." She gave me a forlorn look.
"I don't understand, why sell you into slavery?" Dak'kon scowled at the mention of the word, and Annah's lips pursed.
She shrugged. "It serves many purposes. First, it keeps the prisons relatively clear of all but the vilest criminals. Second, the sale of the convicted is used to pay for any damages, costs, or fees involved in the case. Finally, the convicted still serves a sentence from which they are eventually released... supposedly as better citizens."
I was in over my head. She was talking to someone who woke up in a Mortuary and slept in the gutters for the good part of two weeks. I was no lawyer, and if she expected me to navigate through red tape and paperwork... "This is all fascinating, but I don't see how I can help you."
"I... I need someone to find the missing document, the one that proves the loan was paid. Or if you could purchase my contract, I could pay you back..." She gave me a pleading look. "I can't spend the next five years of my life in this ward, cutter. It will kill me! Surely you've noticed the illness shared by all who live here?"
"Yes, the yellow skin and coughing..."
Trist nodded her head. "Yes, cutter. Please, can you find it in your heart to help me..." She glanced at Annah, then looked at me nervously. "Please..."
I placed one hand on her arm to soothe her, "Yes, I'll help you. I have some questions though... could you have misplaced the loan document?"
She shakes her head. "No, cutter. I am a very meticulous person. I kept the document in a lock-box in my husband's study. It never left that room..."
"Do you think the loan document could have been stolen?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Why would anyone steal that, yet leave other valuables be? It makes little sense to me."
"Well..." my voice took on a suspicious edge, "Maybe the lender stole the document so that you'd pay for the loan twice..."
She looked at me in shock. "That... that is a terrible thought!" She hesitated and then began to tap her chin with a finger as she thought. "But also a most ingenious one, cutter. This Byron Pikit does strike me as a knight of the post."
Annah sighed, "A thief or a cheat. Yeh know, knights o' the post. Who practice th' cross-trade."
One of these days someone should compile a book of this Sigilian slang, "So this lender is Byron Pikit?"
"Aye, I know his name well, cutter. After all I have been through, I will not likely forget it..." her eyes took on a far-away look and then she shuddered for a moment. She paused for a moment. "And his associate may be someone named Lenny."
"Who is this Lenny?"
She thought for a moment. "There was a small, feral-looking man who came to court a few times. He would sit behind Pikit and whisper to him occasionally. I remember him because he always seemed to be uncomfortable in his clothes. He would pick at them as if they were new, as if he were not used to wearing them." She paused again. "On one such occasion Pikit told him to sit still and stop fidgeting. He called him Lenny."
"Where can I find Lenny?"
"Ach, I ken find the sod," Annah said, "Yeh learn to notice the signs of a thief's passin' with enough experience."
"I'll trust that, then," I turned to Trist, "Where can I find Byron?"
She thought for a moment. "I think he can be found in or around the open-air market. Forgive me, but I am not certain."
The name of Byron Pikit was well-known in the market. An old woman bent over a tray of withered figs spat in disgust, as if the name was rancid on her tongue. A plump merchant selling brass cookware turned pale and shooed us away.
But eventually we found him.
We approached a well-dressed, middle-aged man browsing the wares, only half-interested. When he looked up his eyes seemed to be scanning the crowd with a practiced eye, and his robes were neat and well-trimmed azure. Despite his clean-cut appearance he was slightly plump around the middle, and his demeanor was... oily somehow, as if his personality exuded grease. I needed to wash my hands.
He gave me a slick smile and a a barely perceptible nod. "I am Byron Pikit, moneylender. May I help you?"
He nodded again. "Yes, I cater to the needs of merchants. Want to start a business? Keep one afloat that's down on its luck? Or perhaps expand a business? In either case, you come to me for the funds." He looked me up and down. "I doubt that you are a merchant, sir, so what can I do for you?"
"I'm a merchant," I lied.
He smiled and looked away for a moment. "A merchant of death, maybe, but not the kind I do business with." He frowned. "If you insist on monopolizing my time, please come to the point of this visit."
Out of the conrer of my eye, I could see Annah sneaking behind the moneylender. I needed to keep him talking, "Can you tell me about your business?"
He frowned and shook his head. "No, I see no reason to..." He looked me up and down. "You are obviously not someone I conduct business with. I think you should leave."
"Wait, I have some questions..."
He sighed just as Annah began rifling through his pockets. "Very well, make it quick."
"I want to talk to you about Trist."
"Ah, Trist..." He frowned and looked away. After a moment he looked at me and raised his eyebrows. "What about her?"
"I'm trying to find a missing document for her."
He sighed and shook his head. "There is no missing document. That was a ruse instigated by Trist to cast doubt on her debt. This matter has been thoroughly investigated by the Mercykillers, and they found no evidence of any such document."
"The Mercykillers?" Annah withdrew her alabaster hands, finding nothing. She did, however, snip his purse-strings for good measure.
"Yes, a faction of fanatics dedicated to uncovering the truth in criminal cases and handing out justice. They are often used as investigators by the courts of Sigil. They are quite thorough, and they found nothing..." He glared at me.
"They could have missed something."
"That is a possibility, but not very likely. You obviously are not familiar with the Mercykillers or their methods for you to make such a statement. If they could not find the document, then it does not exist." He sniffed.
A muscle in my cheek twitched, "Someone could have stolen the document and then destroyed it. That way the loan would be paid twice..."
For a moment he looked as if he was about to be furious with me. His eyes widened, his lips twitched, and then a gloating smile crossed his face. "What a terrible thought... pity there is no proof of any such activity..." He continued to smile at me.
"Yes... a pity. So tell me, why have Trist sold into slavery? Couldn't she pay you your money in the form of a loan?" Even though Annah stepped back I could see the cold fury burning at her cheeks. His backside must've been a tempting target.
"Yes she could, and I did make that offer to her." He looked at me sternly. "However, she turned me down. I don't allow second chances. No one turns me down without suffering the consequences. No one..."
He waved me off, "I have had enough of you to last a lifetime. I will answer no more of your questions. Now, pike it sod." He turned away.
"Did you find anything?" I asked as Annah stepped to my side.
"Nothin'. The snake had only a wee touch o' coin on him. 'E must keep 'is papers elsewhere," she glanced around, "Somewhere safe."
"Lenny, then. We'll get our answers from him."
"What do you know of Vristigor, Dak'kon?"
My friend and mentor down to me as I squatted at the street corner resting my legs. His blade flickered when I uttered the name, bright like a bolt of recognition.
"How... did you come to know that name?"
My throat itched at the memory of a jagged silver-edged sword tearing through cartilage and meat, spilling a crimson tide that flowed across the cobblestones. I flicked my fingers and conjured a few sparks of flame... a cantrip or two would ease my mind, "A githyanki mentioned it to his comrades as he stood over my body. They thought I was dead."
The blade flickered again, black and serrated. For a moment Dak'kon pondered in silence and scarlet swirls bled along the karach, as if it were eager to dip into the belly of a foe. Dak'kon's face was calm as stone.
Silently he took the Circle of Zerthimon in hand, running shriveled yellow fingers along its edges. The plates clicked slowly as he worked the pattern. I waved away the flicker of flame dancing at my fingertip. Five times already I'd seen him unlock the Circles of Zerthimon, and five times I was eager to learn the truth. But the air carried a black omen now, and my throat was dry when he handed the Circle to me.
"Upon the Blasted Plains, Zerthimon told Gith there cannot be two skies. In the wake of his words, came war."
"Upon the Blasted Plains, the People had achieved victory over their illithid masters. They knew freedom."
"Yet before the green fires had died from the battlefield, Gith spoke of continuing the war. Many, still filled with the bloodlust in their hearts, agreed with her. She spoke of not merely defeating the illithids, but destroying all illithids across the Planes. After the illithids had been exterminated, they would bring war to all other races they encountered."
"In Gith's heart, fires raged. She lived in war, and in war, she knew herself. All that her eyes saw, she wanted to conquer."
"Zerthimon spoke the beginnings of that which was against Gith's will. He spoke that the People already knew freedom. Now they should know themselves again and mend the damage that had been done to the People. Behind his words were many other hearts of the People who were weary of the war against the illithid."
"Know that Gith's heart was not Zerthimon's heart on this matter. She said that the war would continue. The illithid would be destroyed. Their flesh would be no more. Then the People would claim the False Worlds as their own. Gith told Zerthimon that they would be under the same sky in this matter. The words were like bared steel."
"From Zerthimon came the Pronouncement of Two Skies. In the wake of his words came war."
I folded the plates shut as Dak'kon waited for my answer, "I know that Zerthimon's devotion to the People was such that he was willing to protect them from themselves. He knew the illithids had come not to know themselves in their obsession with control and domination. So he chose to stop Gith before she carried the People to their deaths. There must be balance in all things, or else the self will not hold."
"You have seen the words and know them." Dak'kon's voice slowed, and his hands gripped the edges of the Unbroken Circle. He twisted it clockwise, and there was a click as two plates slid forth. Dak'kon stared at the two plates in his hand - he made no move to hand them to me.
"Dak'kon... is that second plate for you?"
Dak'kon remained silent. His blade has ceased shimmering, the film freezing upon its surface. He was staring at the second plate, paralyzed.
"Do you know the Sixth Circle?"
Dak'kon looked up, but his coal-black eyes didn't meet your gaze. "know there is nothing more I may teach you. You know the Way as the People know it, and it shall give you the direction by which you may know yourself."
"That's not what I asked. Do you know the Sixth Circle or not?"
Dak'kon was silent for a moment, then spoke, his voice slow and careful. "It has come to pass that I do not know the Sixth Circle of Zerthimon. Once, I knew it, but I know now I only saw the words." Dak'kon's eyes stared through me. They ached with ancient memory, of nostalgia unfulfilled. "That is all. It is my path that I no longer know the Way of Zerthimon."
I thought carefully back to the First circle, the Second... all the pieces began to come together, snapping one by one like links in a chain. "Dak'kon... there is one other thing I would know. Why is Vilquar's Eye in the Circle of Zerthimon? It seems strange. It tells of how the People benefited from a treachery from their own. It seems... "
Dak'kon's eyes flashed. "I have told you it is part of the telling of how the People came to know freedom. Do you not listen?" His voice flattened, as if he was reciting a passage from memory. "It tells the People that even in the greatest treachery, a greater knowing may be achieved."
"It doesn't sound to me like you believe that. I think there's another reason Vilquar's Eye is in the Circle of Zerthimon. It is set there because of the Sixth Circle and the Pronouncement of Two Skies. It's there to justify Zerthimon's treachery to the People upon the Blasted Plains."
Dak'kon was silent, and his blade bled into a dead-black, teeth rippling along the edge.
"He divided the People upon the Blasted Plains, Dak'kon. He divided your race, when they were on the path of victory. I would like to believe that it was because he wished to save the People from themselves - but I don't think you believe that."
Dak'kon was silent for a moment, then he spoke, slowly. "I... do not know the Sixth Circle as it is known to others. I fear that the Third Circle, the Fourth Circle and the Sixth Circle are more closely linked than many know. It is in that knowing that I have lost myself."
"In the Third Circle, Zerthimon submerged his will to deceive the illithids, then in the Fourth Circle, it speaks of the benefits of treachery. Then in the Sixth Circle, Zerthimon divides his people before they exterminate the illithids. Do you think Zerthimon's words may not have been his own?"
"know my words, and know the wound that lies upon my heart: I fear that when Zerthimon was upon the Pillars of Silence, he did not submerge his will. I fear his will was taken from him by the illithids. And when he spoke upon the Blasted Plains, it was their words he spoke. I fear that what he did was not for the People's sake, but for our former masters."
"It's possible, but know it doesn't necessarily mean that h..."
Dak'kon's sudden fury was the rumble and crack of a glacier splitting in two, his voice like a knife. "Then know this and speak of it NO MORE. Know that I shall never know the TRUTH. There is NO resolution to this matter, for I shall NEVER know Zerthimon's heart upon the Blasted Plains." His coal black eyes glared at the stone circle in his hand. "And so I do not know myself because of the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon."
"Dak'kon-" I started, but the slim figure of a flame-haired rogue slid into view from around the corner.
"Ach, I'd hate t' split whate'er lover's spat there is between yeh two, but I found him."
I stood as Dak'kon's face smoothed to stillness, silent waters covering the churning storm beneath. He tucked the Circle away.
"All right, let's see what we can beat out of this Lenny."