Part 66: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 5The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 5
He was a feral-looking man, ill-mannered and draped in shoddy clothes. Mousey eyes darted about, scanning his surroundings as he slunk through the alleyways. Sigilian life had compounded the burden of time's cruel weight... while his face seemed that of a twenty-year-old lad, his hazel eyes ached from having seen too much.
I rounded the corner to face him, and in an instant his hand twitched, as if he were hiding something.
"Greetings. You must be Lenny."
He looked me up and down, then glanced about. Returning his attention to me, he gave me a wicked grin. "You'd best have a good reason for disturbing me, berk." An undercurrent of trepidation trickled through his voice.
"I have some questions..."
He laughed. "I ain't no tout. If you've got questions, go find one. You'd best push off before I have to bleed you."
"What if I told you Byron Pikit sent me?" My lips pulled back in a cold smile. Posturing. It was as easy as putting on a second skin.
He stopped smiling and examined me for a while. His eyes lingered on my scars, and he swallowed slightly. "Pikit... sent you? Why?"
"He said you could answer some questions..."
Lenny frowned and backed off, stiff-shouldered. A muscle twitched in his cheek and his hand ducked casually into his pockets. I nearly missed the ruffle of cloth as something slipped from his palm. "What questions..."
"I'm not interested in stray coppers that've been clinging to your fingers, Lenny. No, I want to ask you about the papers you stole from Trist."
He swallowed hard and those hazel eyes were locked onto mine. Lenny put one hand on his hip in a nonchalant manner, but by his posture he was wound tight as a spring. "I don't know what you're talking about, berk. You'd best be off."
I smiled wickedly, "You know what I'm talking about, Lenny. Byron had you steal some papers from Trist. I'm here to collect them."
He swallowed hard and the corner of one eye started to twitch. He glanced again at the scars patterning my body, a tapestry of flesh that screamed pain enough for a hundred lifetimes. His lips trembled, and desperately he tried to meet my gaze. His neck was stiff as it craned back, and his eyes crawled up along my flesh, but that was all. The alley rat couldn't even look me in the eye
"Collect them... I... I destroyed the papers after I nicked them, just like Byron told me to."
"Really?" I sneered, stepping towards him, one hand on my knife. Even if he wasn't hunched over I would've stood more than a head taller than him, "Then why are you so nervous, Lenny? Let me guess: Byron thinks you destroyed the papers but maybe you didn't. Maybe you kept them. A little blackmail material, perhaps?"
He stared at me for just a moment, then suddenly turned to run.
"Oh son of a-"
Just as he was about to bolt I leapt forward to grab him. He deftly slid out of my reach and began to side step me, trying to slip past a sliver of space in the narrow confines of the alley. Seeing my quarry about to escape I made another, more desperate lunge. I wasn't the most agile of creatures, but I bumped him, hard.
Off-balance, Lenny stumbled forward as Dak'kon burst from around the other corner, striking Lenny in the chest with an open palm. The rogue was slung backwards, boots-over-brainbox, and by the time he landed two punch-daggers were wrapped tenderly around his throat.
"Hairy little rat, aye? I can give yeh a nice, close shave fer two coppers."
He yelped as the blades dug into his throat, "All right, I didn't destroy them! I'll give them to you, just let me go."
"Ease up, Annah."
"Nay, I think a little off th' top would suffice for putting Trist through tha..." she hissed.
"I said ease up. Give him the chance to speak."
Annah pursed her lips, then sighed as she slid the blades back into her cuffs.
Lenny felt along his neck as I spoke, "Why did you keep them, Lenny? Blackmail, I assume."
Regaining his composure, he snorted and gave me a defiant look. "I kept them so I could turn stag on your boss Pikit and keep Trist off the block!" He shook his head. "Blackmail my arse..."
I blinked, "Why turn stag on him?"
He looked at me with some pride. "I may be a thief, but I do have some standards. I won't kill some poor sod, and I won't do what Pikit did to Trist and her husband." He shook his head and looked away. "I told your boss that what he was doing was wrong, and he laughed at me."
"So there is honor among thieves after all..." I scratched my chin, "Well, you'll be happy to know that Pikit is not my boss."
He stared at me in disbelief. "You serious? I thought... but you said..." He watched closely for a moment and then laughed. "You gave me the peel so I'd spill the chant to you!" He shook his head and looked at me with respect. "Good job, cutter."
I smiled, "Let's go get the papers, Lenny."
He shook his head sadly. "We can't, they're in the warehouse and they're not open for business right now. Rumor has it there's some sort of management change going on... but I don't know if that's true. In any case, I can't get the papers." He looked at me sheepishly. "That's why I haven't helped Trist myself, cutter. I can't get the sodding papers."
"I'll look into this and get the papers myself then." Dak'kon nodded in approval and Annah hissed impatiently.
Lenny smiled. "Go to the warehouse and tell the clerk 'I'm here for a loan' and he'll give you Trist's papers. If you then tell him 'I gave Pikit the laugh' he'll give you a bonus... "
He laughed. "Evidence, cutter. It'll take Pikit off the streets for a long, long time if you give it to the right person. If there's someone in the Harmonium you think you can trust, give it to them."
"Welcome to the Vaults of the Ninth World! How may I serve you on this fine day, Sigilian?" the voice boomed. The large stone head floated behind the counter, horns jutting from its temples and eyes lit with a pale light.
"Uh, what is this place?" The warehouse was piled high with boxes. Crates lined the walls, metal lockers were squeezed into whatever corner would afford it, and even then the crevices seemed strained with the load. Winged imps across the room checking inventory, writing records on scrolls that looked to be too large for them to carry. The flap of wings set a droning sound through the air, but the Voice of the Ninth World was deafening above all else.
"The Vaults of the Ninth World is pleased to serve as a warehouse for the Lower Ward and all the sentients of Sigil! Our motto is: 'When one world just isn't big enough!' We provide storage space for those that have little to spare. Our prices are competitive! Our service exemplary! And our courtesy to customers is known throughout the planes!" there was a grin in its voice.
"Is this place really as big as a world?" I asked. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a milk-white tail flick as Annah rifled through some of the nearby crates.
"No, it's just a marketing exaggeration. There's a lot of space here, but not that much."
"How much to store some goods?"
"I'm sorry! We seem to be full up at the moment! Can I do anything else for you?"
I looked around and furrowed my eyebrows, "I thought this was supposed to be a huge storehouse."
"Well... yes." The head sounded a little embarrassed. "Only we ran out of space and there's something a little fishy going on around here and I don't know what. The gist of the matter is this: We don't really accept items for storage anymore."
It came as it always did: a distant hum that seemed so familiar, an itch at the back of my skull, a flicker at the very edge of my vision. Occasionally these little annoyances occurred when I was simply walking down the streets or even lying awake at night, too terrified of the yawning void to sleep. But they came, always, like the pressing urge before a sneeze.
It wouldn't fade away and leave me wanting this time. I seized the echo, and with will alone began to bind the nostalgia and made it mine.
"I'd... like to claim something."
"And what was it you were looking for, exactly?"
"I was looking for a large bag of coins."
"We have a bag of coins like the one you describe, sir! I'll just need to find out one thing from you: How much was in it?"
My cheek twitched as I unraveled the memory. There were no shapes, sounds, or visions to it, but rather a vague intuition. Somehow, the guess felt right. "1,123 coins."
With a clink of copper an imp dropped the bag on the counter. "Here you go, sir! Thanks for storing your goods at Vault of the Ninth World! Can I get you anything else?"
I smiled. Well... now that it looks like I could withdraw things after all... "I was told to tell you that I'm here for a loan."
The head sounded immensely cheered, "Ooh! One of my secret passwords! Here are the papers you want, sir! Thank you! What else can I do for you?"
With that another imp flew by, dropping a scroll on the counter as I rifled through the coins.
Dak'kon unraveled it for me and read. "This..." he sounded satisfied, "is an invoice that confirms Trist's tale... the loan was paid in full."
Annah snatched it from Dak'kon's slim hands, "Aye? Aye, 'tis! Ach, we need ta get this t' the auction quick as can be."
I nodded then turned to the head, "But first, I was also told to tell you that I gave Pikit the laugh."
"I certainly hope so, sir, whatever that means! I'm just a big dumb rock head! Here are your papers, sir, and here! Thank you! What can I do for you?"
I looked the floating head up and down, rubbing my chin in consideration. "I don't suppose you'd be interested in joining our merry band?"
Deran's eyes flitted across the page. After a moment he sighed, then folded the document and put it inside his shirt. He turned to Trist, who had been nibbling on her fingernails the whole time. "It seems the courts owe you an apology, Lady Trist. From this moment you are free and I will make all the arrangements to have your status and property returned."
"Thank you, Deran."
"No, thank you," he smiled at me, "It's a rare individual who will do what you have done. Now excuse me, I must speak with the magistrates. Farewell."
With one delicate hand on her breast Trist sighed. Her eyes were dewy as she took my hand, "You are my savior, cutter. I will forever be in your debt."
"I was happy to help you, Trist."
"Thank you all," Trist took a step as if she were about to embrace Annah, but the rogue's stern countenance dissuaded her. Trist nodded, her happiness sobered. Whatever they had once held between them had been lost in the gulf of years. She faced me again, "You have saved me from certain death, cutter. A slow, painful death... Please wait here, I shall return shortly."
When she returned she was draped in fine silks and her face had been washed and powdered. Her hair was still in disarray, but a few pins had tamed it somewhat. She wore the garb of a merchant taking her first step back into comfort and wealth. "This is not much, but it is a well-deserved reward for what you have done." She handed me a purse.
"Thank you, Trist," I replied. I resisted the urge to squeeze the bag, but the weight already told me it meant a month of good living.
"No, I thank you. Farewell, cutter," Trist smiled and turned to Annah, "I hope you stay with this one. He has a good heart... maybe the Planes can change after all."
Corvus stood at his usual station in the marketplace, the memory of a smile on his lips. Though most drew a wide swath between themselves and the Harmonium, many seemed a little less wary around him. With his head in the clouds, the Harmonium officer seemed a little unfocused on his job.
"Good day, Corvus. How are you and Karina doing?"
He smiled broadly. "We are doing well, thank you. I owe you for your kindness, friend."
"Do you know someone named Byron Pikit?"
At the sound of the name Corvus frowned, and warily he nodded his head. "Yes, I am familiar with Byron."
"What can you tell me about him?"
"Officially, nothing." He paused for a moment before answering. "Unofficially, he is suspected of being behind most of the criminal activity here at the market. We believe him to be responsible for the murder of a merchant named Zac. His list of suspected crimes is quite long."
"Well, you'll be happy to know this then: I have evidence that proves he is involved in criminal acts here in Sigil." I handed him the papers in question.
He examined the papers thoroughly, lips thinning and eyes widening more with each page. When he finished he folded them and tapped the shoulder of another officer standing next to him. They spoke quickly, in low voices, to keep word of the evidence from spreading and alerting the moneylender.
When they were finished the other officer left with creaks and clanks of armor.
"Excellent work, citizen," Corvus said with a satisfied nod, "These documents are quite detailed in their content. I personally will see to it that Byron Pikit is taken before the courts."
"Never thought I'd be happy t' hear tha from a Hardhead," Annah smirked as we left.
Dak'kon faced me as we left. "You mentioned that you know of an attack on a Githzerai Fortress. Now that this duty is done, I would implore you to warn our people."
"Just what I was thinking, Dak'kon. Do you have any contacts among the Githzerai? Any old allies?"
A shadow crossed his face when I spoke, and his eyes dulled, and when he replied it was in a low voice, creaking with age, "I... would have you speak to one on my behalf."
I nodded, not ready to question him just yet, "All right. If that's what you wish."
"There are forms that must be followed... you must learn the ways of the People. Know that the speech of the People has its foundation in history. All things are as story to us; metaphor is a tool, and an inspiration to the strength. Know when we speak of Toryg's table, we remember that Toryg was noted for his hospitality and good will. When we speak of Selqant's heart, we recall the lecherous and cruel nature of Selqant."
"I understand. Will you teach me?"
Dak'kon quickly taught me some of the common forms of speech as Annah scouted for a Gith: A wise man was said to have "wrote the book of the Anarchs," while to accuse another of treason was to remember "Vilquar's Eye." It was said of generous people that their "cupboards are bare." Common greetings included "Hail, sword-ringer," and "Zerchai's kin bow to you" - to which one should respond, "And the traveler is pleased." Dak'kon was a skilled teacher; and by the time Annah returned, I felt capable of exchanging proper greetings with other githzerai.
"Ach, I found one o' yer leather-skinned kin around th' way," she pursed her lips. The girl seemed much more agreeable with helping me ever since we rescued Trist, "Has a blade all fancy-like like Dak'kon's."
"All right. Come with me, Dak'kon. You'll be able to help translate if necessary."
Dak'kon gripped my arm. "I would have you hear me."
I blinked, "What is it, Dak'kon?"
"It is my will that we not speak to this woman."
His coal-black eyes were ever placid and featureless, yet then they flashed with the familiar sharpness of a wounded animal. He always spoke so proudly of his People and their ways, but the moment we came too close to his most deeply-rooted traditions or his past he withdrew as if from the prick of a knife, "She is a zerth. Our wills are crossed blades. We have no common ground."
"We have no choice, Dak'kon. If she is a zerth she is our best bet to get a warning to Vristigor."
He nodded, and trudged behind me slowly down the street.
The woman had the same yellow cast to her skin and severe features. Tattoos covered her body, and she wore a long blade at her side. Her eyes were like two small black pearls. As I approached her, they followed Dak'kon's movements and ignored mine entirely. Dak'kon gave her a slight bow, which she dismissed as well.
Her voice cracked like a whip as she snapped at Dak'kon, the words of the githzerai tongue piercing like a dozen daggers. "Why do you insult the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon by continuing to wear it against your heart? You are not numbered among the People, betrayer of Shrak'at'lor! The Anarchs and the zerths have spoken and their words shall be obeyed. You are not to speak your mind to me... or to any zerth."
Dak'kon bowed his head when he spoke, "Will you hear this human when he speaks?"
Her nose wrinkled with her annoyed grimace, "His words carry the weight of yours and have the shape of Limbo's form. I will not hear you, Dak'kon."
"He travels with me, Kii'na, disciple of Zerthimon. He comes to you to hear the words of Zerthimon which you as a zerth must impart. Will you hear him?" he pressed.
"The words of Zerthimon are not for the ears of a hu-man to be heard," Kii'na snapped, "Their minds are not as one, and they bring division wherever they travel. This one wears a shirt of scars and blood, and he travels with a traitor. Vilquar's heart beats within your chest if you ask if I will hear him."
My eyes widened. Vilquar's Eye? Dak'kon?
"Will you close your mind to his words? Know your words before you speak your mind, Kii'na, zerth of Zerthimon."
"I will not hear him. He will hear me."
"That is sufficient." Dak'kon bowed.
The gith woman turned to me, her black pearl eyes glinted dangerously. "You are not known to me, but your trappings speak ill of you, human. Your body is a book written in scars and blood, and you walk in the shadow of a pariah that claims to speak for Zerthimon himself. Speak your mind!"
I ignored the castigation and bowed in the hopes that I might calm her, "Greetings, sword-ringer."
She hissed in irritation. "Your pleasantries are as dust. The sign of mourning draws near - time is short, human. I would know your questions, then it is my will you leave."
I gave Dak'kon a quick glance and turned back to her. "What did you mean when you said I walk in the shadow of a pariah?"
"You walk with a pariah and you know not his history? He is quick to speak other words, but of his history he has remained silent? Ask him of Shrak'at'lor, of the fall of a mighty fortress to the githyanki, and see what his divided mind reveals to you. Ask him how he speaks with Zerthimon's words, but his karach is as mist."
Though her eyes met mine Kii'na was speaking past me. Each fierce word was slung like a barbed arrow, and with each successful strike Dak'kon's eyes became more downcast. His skin seemed to pale, and his karach blade became as ash-gray as his eyes. A chill snaked its way along my spine, and my heart seemed to stop. In that instant I could see my eyes mirrored in his own, my deepest wish echoed back in the sigh of his blade wicking the air.
Dak'kon wanted to know himself again... but he also wanted to die.
"It is not Zerthimon's words that lack conviction," his voice was quiet but firm, "It is their echoes that have been distorted."
Kii'na was just as resolute, "There is no doubt in how Zerthimon's mind is spoken. Generations of zerth are as Rrakma's Jewel, of one mind on this matter. Your stance carries with it a divided mind. The doubt is yours, an echo cast from your own faithlessness."
"Your words speak not the mind of Zerthimon. They are shaped of angles and hate, as if molded from Gith's mind itself," Dak'kon murmured. It was a whisper that resonated more than a battle cry, one that bent the ear toward him in its softness.
"You shall lie with the dead of Shrak'at'lor in shifting chaos, for you see all with Vilquar's Eye. Your mind is divided, your karach weak!" Kii'na howled. Like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky both zerth whipped free their blades, each flowing sword keening as they cut the air.
I leapt between the two, "Stop this! This is madness! Are you two going to repeat the Pronouncement of the Two Skies?!"
Dak'kon spoke to me without breaking the gaze he held with Kii'na. "Hold fast, and do not stand in the way of our blades."
"Dak'kon, I order you to stop this."
Dak'kon reluctantly lowered his blade, chastened. Kii'na stared at him incredulously for a moment, and then a sharp grin split her features. "The truth at last. Your mind is not divided. You are... a slave to this human. He speaks with an Anarch's authority to you, and you listen."
"Your mind is cast in Gith's mold, Kii'na," he repeated quietly.
"I will not slay you like the dog you are. No... live, Dak'kon, traitor at Shrak'at'lor. Live like our ancestors did under the heel of the illithid filth. I pity you," she said coldly.
"Oh shut up, Kii'na!" I yelled. Several passerby had crowded around us by now, whispering and eager to see some bloodshed or to witness the Harmonium dragging off a couple of gith and a nameless burn victim, "We came to you with open arms and all you can think of is to thrust a blade between them?! We came to warn you about Vristigor!"
The humor melted from her face immediately, and Kii'na looked at me - hard. "How did you, who walks in the shadow of a pariah, come to know that name?"
"A group of githyanki are planning a raid on the fortress within the sevenday... murmured the plot right over my bleeding body as I lay in the streets when they thought I was dead. They are on their way there even now."
I had never seen such a look of shock on a githzerai's face before. Abashed, a pale orange blush rose to Kii'na's cheeks, and she stepped back, sheathing her blade before she pressed her hands together and bowed deeply. "You... speak the truth. I apologize, humbly, and seek your forgiveness, stranger. Know... know you have my gratitude... you and this zerth. Know this shall not be forgotten." She turned to Dak'kon, and this time regret sheathed that steel-cored spirit of hers. "Know that this will NOT atone for the fall of Shrak'at'lor. The Anarchs' verdict stands still."
She turned and rushed off to relay the message, and slowly Dak'kon slumped to the ground with a deep, tired sigh.