Part 74: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 10The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 10
Old Mebbeth's small collection of charms and spells, once rare valuables, were mere trinkets against the forces I had been facing as of late.
I rolled up a scroll and placed it back on her table. By now such spells were mere cantrips to me.
"Hrmph. Too good enough for ye, child? Was once a time when ye crawled ta Old Mebbeth for aid, there was," she scoffed, handing me another bowl of stew. I sipped it slowly. It was bland and starchy. Rich pleasures weren't for someone with Mebbeth's years.
"You were an excellent teacher, Mebbeth," I blandished, "I wouldn't have survived the trials I went through recently if it weren't for you."
Her pale lips curled into a grimace, "I don't like the trouble ye find yerself in child, I don't. Ye've crept out from under my wing and left the nest for treacherous skies ahead. In the Hive I can protect ye, but out there..."
She shook her head, "I'm sorry, child. I can offer ye nothing, it seems."
"Not true. You can offer me your wisdom, as always."
"Go on n' ask, then."
"Have you ever heard of someone named 'Ravel,' Mebbeth?"
"Pah!" Mebbeth hissed and made a semi-circle over her heart. "What no-sense-nothing ye goin' on about! Sayin' such a name in me presence!" She wagged her finger at me. "Evil, evil, sayin' such a thing brings evil to one's door."
"What do you know about her?"
"Ravel? Pah! Myths and scaredy-tales told ta childrens." Her voice dropped, as if warning me. "Listen, child: NO Ravel was there, not at ALL... and iffen there was, ye got no needin' to be rattlin' that Cage."
"I need to know all you can tell me about her, Mebbeth. It's important."
Mebbeth frowned... she didn't seem to want to meet my gaze. "Bad things... bad things in a name..." She looked back at me. "In Ravel's queer hagheart, many shades of evil and badness, all a-crossin' and a-twistin' like snakes. No more need be said, let be, let be!"
"Do you know where she is, Mebbeth? I have to find her."
"Where does one find a fairy's tale?! Mebbeth doesn't know!" She hissed. "And iffen I did know the knowin', would I tell ye? Nay, ye'd try and dig her up, and I can't have that on me mind, I can't..." She seemed heartbroken. "But, child... if ye need to know, if yer dead certain that it's near to eatin' ye up inside, then... aye, then, I'll tell ye."
"Please... I have to find her, Mebbeth."
"Ravel..." Mebbeth sighed. "Ravel, cruel Ravel, lies in the Lady's keepin', she does, in a prison, a maze... it's said she was put there so long ago, so very long ago... but findin' it? Mebbeth knows not the way." She sighed. "Ask in the Clerk's Ward, mayhap. One of the graybeards there may have the dark of it..."
Annah shuddered and drew a symbol in the air, and set aside her half-finished bowl. Dak'kon sipped his own calmly.
"Do you know anything else about Ravel... something you can tell me before I seek her out?"
"Child..." Mebbeth spoke, but her voice sounded tired and broken. "...if ye seek evil in the Planes... ye need not travel far." She coughed. "Witch knows witch, power knows power, yet there is none who knows all Ravel's branchings and twistings. Learn yer skills well, and keep yer lids open when new sights don't be seeming right. Trust yerself, and do not be a-trustin' her, hear?"
I nodded, "I will. Thanks, Mebbeth."
Mebbeth sighed. "I wish no ills upon others 'cept that one. Glad she's gone, I am, and the Cage is better for it. Again, will I say this, child, let the past rot where it lays. Let lie, let lie."
"Welcome to the Clerk's Ward, chief."
Well-cut paving stones nestled next to each other like scales on a fish. The buildings had been erected with clean-cut stone, colorful and polished. Graceful tiers pierced the arch of the sky, and not a patch of razorvine marred the walls. On the contrary, flowers and vines had been pulled and craft from delicate sheets of bronze, and on some walls the metallic foliage branched upward and outward, as if daring the abyssal weed to compete. Well-dressed men and women would glide past one another like swans on a lake, bedecked with brocade robes of a dozen colors. The air was clean, the colors vibrant. I never knew colors could be so bold without a veil of yellow-brown smog obscuring everything.
There was the smell of sizzling meat wafting from a streetcorner kiosk: real meat, instead of a boiled rat impaled on a stick. In one corner a group of street performers tumbled over one another while the music of flutes and bells played in rhythm with the acrobatics.
Sigil truly was a city of wonders.
An older, stern-looking woman passed by, and with a glance her eyes narrowed. She stopped, studying me with a disapproving, tight-lipped frown. The red-armored guard at her side stepped behind her, crossing his arms across a barrel-thick chest as he stared down at me.
"Good day, milady..." I said with a slight bow. That is what they did here, I assumed: bow to each other.
The woman nodded curtly, speaking in a tone cold as ice. Her voice seemed to cut the air, as if she were accustomed to making speeches or proclaiming edicts. It was cultured, crisp, so unlike the mush-mouthed curdle-tongued brogue I had been subjected to in the Hive.
Annah's tail flicked idly.
Not that there was anything wrong with an accent, though...
"What is your business here? And watch your words, for I am Diligence, Fourth Magistrate of the Ward."
I blinked, and my lip curled in annoyance, "Something troubling about my appearance?"
She huffed, "I should most certainly think so! Should the Apparel Regulation Act be passed, people of your sort won't be permitted to traipse about in such a manner, half-naked and filthy as you are."
"This look is all the rage in the Hive, you know. Perhaps you should try it; it just might suit you."
"Oh definitely," Morte added, "Though you'd better watch out when he's trying to dress casual."
The woman's eyes narrowed even further. "Do not jest with me; I have no patience for it. Now what is it you want?"
I blinked, my good humor gone, "You're quick to judge one by their appearance, aren't you?"
"You would tell me, then, that you are not a wanderer, meandering about the city asking questions of all those you come across, engaging in more than the occasional combat to the death with those who cross you?"
The faintest hint of a sneer appeared on her lips. "I am quick to judge, sir, because I am a magistrate by trade."
"All that aside, madam, I'm quite clean, and... meaning no disrespect...some cultures might find your clothes offensive."
She examined me skeptically for a moment, then nodded. "Your point is well-taken... sir. Still, though, you cannot deny you are a rather rough-looking sort of fellow."
"My appearance is merely a product of my environment, madam, and a difficult life. I shouldn't be held accountable for that."
"Oh, but you should!" her voice took on a tone of pity. There was no arrogance behind it... if anything, she sounded like a mother voicing her disappointment in a child who could've been so much more, "How easy it is for one to blame one's life, one's surroundings for their every failing! I can see by your manner you are well-educated, sir, yet you appear to insist upon a lifestyle of wandering and senseless violence. Why not settle in Sigil, become a contributing citizen, rather than some bloody-handed nomad in its streets?" The guard behind her shifted his weight, as if to remind me that he still stood at her side.
"The choice is out of my hands, I assure you."
"Oh? How so?" Her coldness melted away into a look of curiosity.
"It is difficult to explain..."
"Nonetheless, I would bid you to do so, sir."
And so I told her my story... what I knew of it, at least.
When I was finished, Diligence looked shocked. "That... that is quite a tale, sir."
I sighed, "Were it only a tale, madam. It is my life, and I've the scars to prove it -- as you noted when we first met, I believe."
"Yes, yes... quite so." She smiled slightly... I had begun to wonder if she was even capable of such a thing. "I wish you luck, sir, in your undertakings. May you find yourself once more."
I nodded, "My thanks. Farewell, Lady Diligence."
Annah kept close to me as we walked, tail twitching, "Yeh best watch yerself 'ere now... no trouble. This place is has Harmonium up to yer eyes..."
"So I guess I can count on you not nicking any purses, then."
"Hsst!" she scowled, "Don't yeh be sayin such things aloud."
"She's right, chief," Morte bobbed in front of me, "The Clerk's Ward is a safe place... it's made for all the berks born with silver spoons and gilded knickers. They run the show in Sigil for the most part. Law's pretty strict, but that means they guard the richest fun."
And rare, wild fun it was.
Skewered meat in one hand and a penny ale in the other, we explored the Ward, enjoying the street music, heckling the poets, trying to tip over a performance artist or two. Such mischief wasn't unknown in Sigil, indeed, it was almost expected since our antics had earned us a scolding from a Harmonium officer or two. They growled at us with the poise and preparation that had to have come from dealing with hooligans a dozen times before.
I almost burst into laughter at as Morte hovered right behind a Harmonium officer, accenting the castigation with flicks of the tongue and wild rolls of his eyes.
By the end of the day Annah was hiding a smirk, and even Dak'kon seemed less morose.
"Can we, chief? Oh please can we?" Morte pleaded.
'The Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts,' the sign said.
I gave him a flat look, "Did you even read the entire sign?"
"Do I have to?"
A cool, perfumed breeze trickled over us the moment I opened the door. Lavender, perhaps, with a hint of exotic sweetness that melted the tension from my body. Flowers stood at either side of the second arch, bursts of color in ripe fullness. Though the portal had a distinct feminine touch with its delicate arabesques, the firm curved couches seemed austere in comparison. Each element contrasted the next, accentuating both, and as I entered my eyes were drawn along the transitioning decor.
And then they landed on her.
She was a stunning golden-haired woman, dressed in an azure and violet dress. The cloth was prim, proper, speckled with silver-gray stars. It hid curves that left plenty to the imagination, though it didn't take much to fill in the blanks. While her skin was a fair shade of peach, nothing about her could be considered plain. Those features were flawless, and I was instantly drawn to her azure eyes. So much so that I almost missed the two long, elegant wings draped across her shoulders. She was surveying the room with a slight smile... and she was easily the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
Morte's jaw dropped, and it clattered on the floor.
The sound drew her notice immediately and she turned to look at us, a confident smile on her lips greeting us as if we were old friends.
My guttural voice cracked a bit when I spoke to her, "Gre- ahem... greetings."
The woman turned as I addressed her. She took my measure, then nodded slightly... "Well met, traveler." She reached up to brush back a stray lock of golden hair. "How may I help you?"
"Who are you?"
"I am called Fall-From-Grace." She studied me for a moment. "You are new to Sigil, are you not?"
"No, I suspect I have been here for quite some time, actually."
Fall-From-Grace raised an eyebrow. "Indeed?"
"Yes... but that is a long tale, perhaps longer than I know," I looked around, "I'm more interested in what this place is."
"This is the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts." She studied me for a moment. "I take it by your question that you did not intend to partake of this establishment?"
I licked my lips, not quite knowing how to answer that with anything but a question, "'Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts?' What kind of brothel is this?"
Fall-From-Grace smiled, "I established this brothel to give those lustful fevers that strike the mind more avenues of expression rather than the simply carnal. Much pleasure can be had in conversation and engaging in the verbal arts with others."
"Sounds dull," Morte grunted, testing his reattached mandible with a few quick bites.
She turned to Morte, with that everpresent whisper of a smile and spoke as if unsurprised to be talking to a floating skull, "I assure you, it is not. Tour the brothel, see for yourselves."
"So this is a brothel... where there's no intercourse?"
"Only of a psychological nature. Rest assured, it is still quite stimulating."
Indeed, at that moment a woman approached from around the corner with one hand wrapped around the arm of a middle-aged man. She was beautiful, with skin as pale and cool as marble, but all the man seemed to be engaged in was lively, if friendly debate. "I have to ask: Why did you establish such a place?"
Fall-From-Grace raised an eyebrow. "That is an odd question." She frowned. "I don't think anyone has ever asked me that. At least, directly."
"My apologies, Lady Grace. I didn't mean to be so direct. I was merely curious."
"Oh, no apologies are necessary," her smile returned, "I am more than happy to discuss the reasons with you, if you wish."
"I would like to hear them, yes."
"Part of the answer to your question requires that you know that I am a member of the Society of Sensation. Our faction believes that one should experience as much of the multiverse as possible." The word sent a tingle along my spine.
"And that is why you established this place?"
She nodded, "This brothel is intended to slate the lusts of even the hardened intellectual. It is designed to stimulate the mind, to heighten one's awareness of themselves and others, to create new ways of experiencing another person. It is for those who seek something more than the shallow physical pleasures that fill the Hive and Lower Wards."
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it shallow..." Morte clicked his teeth.
"I see. So this establishment just encourages intellectual fencing rather than, uh, well the other kind of fencing," my eye followed the prostitute as she circled around the other curve of the hall, "The women here must be special, indeed."
Fall-From-Grace nodded with no small amount of pride, "The women here are aspiring Sensates. They have come to me in search of instruction, to prepare themselves to enter the faction. Also, many of them have a natural grasp of language that can shatter the crust of the most hardened individual."
"And the girls here are in training to be Sensates?"
"Yes. I hope that by learning the art of language and its subtleties that the patrons and the students here may learn more about themselves. One is only as limited as their command of the language. To be able to employ language to evoke emotions in others is a tremendous skill."
"Interesting philosophy. Could I join the Sensates?"
She smiled. "To join the Sensates, one needs only be a student of life."
"I meant I was interested in joining their faction." That itch pricked the back of my skull again. Something was hauntingly familiar about the philosophy... taste, touch, smell, hear, feel... if the sensation could trigger a memory, then it made sense that I would have to work my way into the faction somehow.
"Of course... forgive my teasing." Grace nodded. "If you wish to join the Sensates, I would inquire at the Civic Festhall. Someone there should be able to help you."
"If I may ask, Lady Grace, the wings on your back... you are not human, I take it?"
"She's one o' the fiends," Annah spat. I've heard her curse and snap, but never with so much vitriol dripping from her voice, "one o' the succubi, she is. She'll take yer measure, then she'll take yer soul to the Lower Planes, so's she will."
"Your companion is correct. I am a lesser tanar'ri, more specifically, a succubus." Grace gave a soft sigh. "I'm afraid we're a little too common in the Lower Planes and elsewhere for our own good. Most of my race spend their time seducing mortals with various pleasures of the flesh."
Grace's reply was unperturbed, "I'd like to think that I have distanced myself from that... it is ultimately a trivial and non-productive way for one to spend one's time here in the multiverse. There is much more to life, wouldn't you agree?" The soft smile returned.
"Have you ever heard of a night hag named Ravel?"
"I am familiar with the name." Fall-From-Grace paused and thought for a moment. "Rumors cluster thickly about that name, and most tend to discount her as myth, but I suspect that she did exist and that she made quite an impression in the Cage during her stay here. Why do you ask?"
"I intend to seek her out."
She raised an eyebrow. "Truly? I find myself compelled to ask why."
"I need information that she has."
"Is this information available from no one else?"
I nodded soberly. It was such a simple thing to say... but chasing down a myth would be much harder than digging my way into Pharod's nest. "I suspect that only Ravel possesses the knowledge I need."
Fall-From-Grace rested her hand lightly on my arm. "Consider this - if Ravel does indeed exist, then she is extremely powerful and cunning. If a fraction of the stories of her activities are true, then she is a creature that has discovered new meanings of evil. To search for her is not a quest to be undertaken lightly."
"I realize that," I said flippantly, still naive of how black a hag's soul could be, "Do you know anything else about Ravel?"
"She was said to be one of the hags of the Gray Waste, and that she was believed to possess powers and a cunning far beyond those of her sisters. She came to Sigil long ago, and in addition to the evils she committed during her stay, rumor has it that her actions threatened the Cage itself. Now she primarily exists only as fiction, a figure in children's stories." Grace paused. "I imagine the Lady of Pain dealt with her as all threats to Sigil are dealt with."
"What is the Gray Waste?"
"A blighted plane that lies effectively 'between' Baator and the Abyss. It is frequently a battleground in the Blood War," her expression warmed again as she sat down, gesturing for me to do the same. The cushions were firm, a little too much to fall asleep or even nap properly, but the curves were comfortable against my back. "I must say, this is indeed an intruiging conversation," her's lips curved into a rosy smile, "Perhaps you would like some refreshment?"
A small teapot had been propped above a small candle flame on a countertop, keeping the tea warm up until serving. Porcealin clinked as Fall-From-Grace set up the table. Annah snubbed her cup, Morte didn't seem interested, and Dak'kon merely held his cup to warm his hands, but Grace still poured a serving for each of us if only to be polite.
I sipped the amber tea. It was... exotic. Very complex, hot yet cooling on the tongue, with the barest whisper of fruit and sweetness that left me thirsty for more.
"Arborean peach blossoms," she said warmly at my expression, "With white peppermint and a drop of fire blossom honey to accent the flavors."
"It's very good," I chuckled, and nibbled on a biscuit, "Nice job you have here... you get to mix business with pleasure so seamlessly."
She smiled, and peered over the edge of her cup mysteriously, "Sir, pleasure is my business."
Annah's tail flicked as her expression soured. I chuckled, "Well, as wonderful as this is, I came here looking for help. Perhaps you can help me."
Grace blinked, "Help? What kind of help were you looking for?"
"I seem to have lost my memories... in so doing, I've lost myself."
"You have been stricken with amnesia?" she looked pained. She set her teacup down on the saucer, "How terrible! Do you have any idea how it happened?"
I shrugged, "Not really... at least not that I can remember. I woke up on a slab on the Mortuary, and everything before that is black."
"You awoke in the Mortuary?"
"I think the Dustmen mistook me for being dead... or I was dead... or something. All I know is that I regenerate wounds quickly. I could be immortal, but I don't even know that for sure."
Fall-From-Grace seemed to be appraising me with renewed interest. "Those scars on your body." She reached out a hand, as if to touch me. "May I?"
While any other man would've been left blabbling at the request, I merely blinked at the question. I was wearing a bone sash and a kilt of all things... there was no room to be modest. "Uh... sure."
Fall-From-Grace dragged her finger across my chest lightly, tracing the edges of my scars and following the curves where they blended into some of my tattoos. Her touch left a warm, electric trail along my skin, and I trembled a little at the light caress. She seemed fascinated. "These scars do look as if they would have taken several lifetimes to accumulate."
"They certainly do... though some are more recent."
Grace leaned back. "Some of those wounds would have been fatal. To a normal man." She tapped her chin, thinking. "What do you intend to do now?"
"I don't really know. For the moment, I'm just searching for clues to who I am and what happened to me."
Fall-From-Grace was still thinking, her finger tapping on her chin. "I must say, I've never met a man who had lost himself in the literal sense." She raised an eyebrow. "Forgive me, but your condition is intriguing."
I laughed, "It is that."
She nodded. "If it will help, you are welcome to tour the Brothel. Several of our students are well-versed in the verbal arts. Perhaps some of them will be able to re-kindle your memories."
"Would you like to join me on my travels?"
Annah stiffened, then started muttering under her breath. "Who's to say she'll be comin' with us? We donnae need the likes o' her, so's we don't."
"Bar that, fiendling!" Morte clicked his teeth together. "I'm ALL for the succubus coming with us... the Powers know you're about as fun as passing a caltrop through your bowels."
"Ye'd best latch yer bone-box, skull, or I'll rattle yeh so hard they'll be pickin' yer teeth off the spire --!"
"Travel with you?" Grace smiled slightly. She seemed to be ignoring my companions. "That's rather forward of you."
I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks... I had extended the invitation on a whim, blurting it out like an eager-to-please boy. "I'd rather be honest with my intentions. You seem extremely pleasant and well-versed in the ways of the Planes. A companion with that kind of knowledge would be welcome."
"Hey, wait just a minute!" Morte protested, "I'm the one well-versed in the Planes! That's my job, chief!"
I grinned, "Having two people knowledgeable about the Planes in our band seems pretty smart to me. Besides, I said, 'pleasant,' too, Morte."
"Pleasant on the eyes, maybe! Looks to ME like all some chit has to do is show a little skin, and you'll sign her right up!" Morte fell silent. "Not that I mind that really, I just thought I'd mention it."
"Noted, Morte. Look... Lady Grace, excuse me if I'm being too forward, but would you care to travel with us?"
Grace pursed her lips and arched her eyebrows, "I appreciate your candor. I shall counter with some of my own: Why should I travel with you?"
"Lady Grace, I intend to travel to places perhaps no one else has ever been to... or could reach. Would that interest you?"
"That would, indeed." She cupped her chin in her hand and thought for a moment. "Yet..."
I grinned, "You mean you wouldn't be interested in traveling with an immortal amnesiac who is searching the Planes for himself?"
"Oh, I would be extremely interested." She smiled slightly. "Such a suggestion is intriguing, make no mistake about that."
"Then you would like to travel with me, then?"
"If you wish me to, then there is something you must do for me. There are ten students in this establishment. I would like you to speak to all of them, then return to me with your thoughts. Then we shall see if we shall travel together or not."
I nodded, "I will go speak to them, then. I will return when I have spoken to all of them."