The Let's Play Archive

Planescape: Torment

by Shadow Catboy

Part 77: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 12

The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 12

Fall-From-Grace (music)

Ash-gray skin draped over a firm, voluptuous body. Those rounded curves were held loosely in rein by a scant violet gown... I'd seen more wool wadded up into the top of a pill bottle. A thick mane of wavy, raven-colored hair draped over graceful shoulders. Shimmering, crimson eyes burned like fire-lit rubies. Though she wasn't beautiful in the typical sense of the word, her features were exotic and not altogether unattractive.

"Well hello, miss."

The woman's voice was deep and sensuous: "And my greetings to you, sir." Her burning eyes roamed over me. "I'm Kesai-Serris. So tell me: what might I do for you, hmmm?"

"Anything!" Morte cried. "Do anything you want to me!"

Kesai laughed heartily, revealing canines long enough to be considered fangs. She shook her head and smiled at Morte. "Truly, though, please... what can I do for you?"

"Well, what do you usually do for patrons?"

"Talk, of course! Usually about dreams, often those erotic in nature... but not always!" Kesai winked at me, smiling. "So! Would you like to tell me yours? Don't be shy; I've heard everything, you know. Nothing will shock or surprise me, and I so love to hear people's dreams. We can trade if you'd like, too - but you must go first."

I was suddenly very aware of that half-healed scar within me, like a half-healed wound, "I... don't have dreams, actually."

Kesai arched her eyebrows in surprise. "Truly? How sad! Even fiends and devas dream, you know. Are you certain you don't?"

"Quite certain. No dreams, at all."

"Hmm. Too peculiar! I'm at a loss as to what to say..." she pouted in sympathy.

"I'm trying find Vivian's scent... do you know where it might be?"

"No, I don't." Kesai frowned. "Most of the women will say she's prissy, but she's always been nice enough to me... complimenting me on my eyes... and she smells so good! I hope she finds her own scent again, soon. Try asking Nenny about it; she's everywhere at once and might have seen something."

I smiled, "You do have very lovely eyes, you know."

"Why, thank you! You can see them glowing in the dark, you know... bizarre, no?" she paused to look at me. "You've some nice eyes too... so dark, and mysterious! So full of character."

"Tch." Annah sneered, rolling her eyes. "Idjit."

"Don't be upset, Annah... you're just as lovely," I shot her a cocky smile, laying it on just thick enough without being cloying.

"An' what's that supposed ta mean, yeh pikin' tard?! Didja think me jealous o' this chatty tart? Yeh sod!" Annah spat and looked away from me. The slight blush at her cheeks gave her away.


If there was something that Annah wouldn't have gotten all snippy over, it was this.

The strange, cubic creatures stood calmly beneath a verdant bough at the indoor garden. They seemed to be as much machine as they were organic. As I approached the thing, one of them silently stared at me with wide, unblinking eyes. Its face didn't have the slightest trace of emotion on it.

"C'mon, chief!" Morte groaned, "We're in a building full of the some of sexiest chits this side of the multiverse and you're stopping to talk to modrons?"

"What can you tell me about them, Morte?"

Morte made a noise of utter disgust. "What's there to say? Annoying little clock-work pests... they're always working to impose law and order upon the multiverse. Not good, mind you... just law. Let's just forget about 'em and go chat up the ladies, eh?"

Morte groaned, exasperated, when I approached it.


The modron's voice had a metallic, reverberating quality to it, as if it were more a sound played out on some warped musical instrument than true speech: "Your greeting is returned." There was a soft click as the creature blinked. An awkward silence hung in the air between the two of us.

"I had some questions..."

"Identify yourself to us," it droned.

"I'm... Adahn," I lied.

The creature tilted slightly forward, then back, on its metallic legs - whether the movement was meant to indicate a bow or a nod, I was unsure. "We would identity ourselves as modrons, quadrone type, winged variant, to the subject, Adahn."

"What are you doing here?"

"Our purpose here is observation."

I looked around. There were no busty modron females around, and thank the Powers. The idea was somewhat disturbing, "What are you observing?"

"We are observing one of the establishment's staff."

I blinked, "Who?"

"As previously stated, we are observing one of the establishment's staff."

"Yes, but who exactly are you observing?"

"The object of our scrutiny is named 'Dolora.'"

I hadn't met her yet...

I wasn't disappointed. Dark-haired, pale-skinned, and swishing with a firm, steady stride, Dolora carried a cultured, refined look. As she turned to me, I noted that her eyes - which I had previously thought to be gray - were the color of brushed steel.


Her voice was soft, calm, and without inflection - it had a certain 'far-away' quality, is if somehow not attached to her. "Greetings... I am called Dolora. May I serve you, somehow?"

I leaned forward with a smile, "In what ways can you serve me, Dolora?"

She blinked her eyes, then touched her hand to her heart, bowing her head slightly. "I am able to debate any scholarly or academic matter quite proficiently, if that is your wish. I am also well-versed in various games of strategy, should you wish to play something - though I have the materials for few such games, here."

"Debate, you say?" I smiled. It might be interesting to banter philosophy with someone new for the first time.

Someone lovely.

Dolora nodded. "That is correct. I am neither a tome nor a tutor; I have no desire to educate my patrons. Should you have a matter to discuss, however... the fifteen factions and their effect on Sigilian politics, the most effective battle stratagems for warring in Acheron, the meaning of existence itself... I would be most pleased to choose a counter-point and engage you in debate."

"Sounds fun."

I chose a topic and began... the debate lasted a long time as the two of us exchanged points and counter-points, each attempting to methodically undermine the other's position. In that time Dak'kon sat and listened quietly, Annah sat in the high branch of the tree, swinging her legs and enjoying the shade. In the distance I could hear the yelps of some of the women as Morte tried to sneak little looks under their skirts.

But as I spoke, a strange feeling began to come over me... a memory, trying to surface...

The hollow echo of music through the banquet hall had become a distant hum. The acoustics of the main auditorium of the Hall of Speakers are poor. It is an empty shell compared to what is available at the Civic Festhall, yet such petty details are unimportant for what is happening here.

Well-dressed elites mill about, discussing politics and philosophy over glasses of wine. Across from me is a small, impeccably dressed fellow with a golden medallion glinting on his chest, emblazoned with the strange draconic symbol that is the seal of the Sign of One. The two of us stand in a circle of onlookers who had gathered to listen to our debate.

"But... but that's impossible!" the man says, looking perplexed.

"Oh, but it is." I reply with a knowing smile. "I've made several inarguable points and given you a number of examples. You simply don't exist."

He sobers, the confusion giving away to helpless shock, "But... you can't! Were I to accept that, I'd... I'd..."

"Yes. You'd cease to exist."

And without a flash of light or puff of smoke - with no fanfare of any sort - the man is simply gone.

The onlookers ooh and aah, some begin to clap, until the aristocratic adulation grows into polite applause. I give a flourishing bow, adjust the collar of my velvet coat, and walk away with a small, satisfied smile upon my lips.

I suddenly realized Dolora was watching me closely. "Are you feeling well? We might finish our discussion at another time, should you like..."

"No..." I worked some moisture back into my mouth and licked my lips, "let's continue the debate..."

As hard-pressed as I was to beat Dolora's infallible sense of logic, I eventually won out. She merely nodded in approval. "You are a most skilled debater; this there is no denying. I do feel, though, that had I time to perform some research, you might not have bested me."

I smiled, "Perhaps, perhaps not. I'd consider that an unfair advantage, though."

Dolora nodded. "If you would like, we can debate once more upon the same topic... I could argue your position this time, should you desire it."

"Are you always so ruthless in a debate?"

Dolora nodded. "Mistress Grace instructed me to show no mercy, for another of her students always allows a patron to win after a lengthy debate. It was Mistress Grace's desire that I provide a different sort of experience for the clientele."

"Hmm. Could we play a game, then?"

"Of course. Is there anything in particular you wish to play?"

I shook my head, "No... I don't really remember any games..."

"Here, then - allow me to show you one." Dolora brought out a thin, lacquered box, which unfolded into a small board marked with a grid. The contents of the box proved to be a number of polished stone chips... half of them black, half of them white. "This game goes by many names. Shall I explain the rules to you?"

"Yes, please."

Dolora explained the rules of the game - how the chips are moved, how one bests one's opponent. It seemed, somehow, faintly familiar to me. "The rules are simple, yes? But a great deal of complexity lies within the game, itself. It takes a great deal of time to master. Shall we play?"

"Yes, let's."

As I played, I came to realize that I'd done so before. Varies ploys and strategies came to mind that have won me previous games, and I found myself trying every trick I knew to beat her. Suddenly, a strange feeling came over me... another memory, trying to surface...

A smoke-filled field of battle lays sprawled out before me. Atop a great hill overlooking the fighting I sit, mounted upon a massive, four-legged beast. The braying of horns carries my orders to the troops below.

Even as I watch, my forces divide, fleeing left and right as the foreign army fights its way up the hill to slay the enemy lord - me.

"The fools," I murmur to myself, lips curling into a wicked smile. Soon my knights shall charge down the hillside and stop their advance in an instant... and at that very moment my 'retreating' footmen will fall in to crush their flanks! Ah, yet another victory soon to be mine...

I suddenly realized Dolora was watching me intently. "Are you feeling well? We might take up the game another day, if you so wish..."

"No..." I cleared my throat and shook off the last vestiges of the memory, already gone from me like smoke at my fingertips, "let's continue the game..."

Dolora played excellently, counter-acting all but my most crafty moves, but eventually my feints and calculating maneuvers won over her well-crafted strategies. She nodded approvingly as she began to put the game away. "You are a fine player, perhaps a master. I commend you for your skill."

"Just a fluke, I guess."


"You useless half-wit! Stoneless eunuch!" I stepped back at the snarl that filtered half-muted through the door.

"Y-yes mistress!"

There was the meaty sound of a set of knuckles striking flesh.

"Get down there! Lick it!"

"mmph mmmh-"

"Bah, forget it you pale-bellied hollow-skulled idiot. Get out of my sight!"

The door swung open and a slim little man scurried past. He sported a fine black eye and a trickle of blood ran down his nose, which made the half-smile on his lips all the more out-of-place.

I wasn't going to relish this.

The wild-looking tiefling girl met my gaze with an angry scowl. Her tattooed body was practically naked, covered by only a narrow leather thong, a black cloth brassier and armored shoulder pads that appeared to serve more as decoration rather than actual protection. Her spiked hair - as well as the thin fur that covered her goat-like legs - was brassy white, and numerous silver rings dangled from her ears, nostrils, lips and brow. She wore a leather collar around her throat with the inscription "Kimasxi Addertongue."

Kimasxi bared her teeth at me. "And just what are you looking at, you banged-up sod?"

"My friend thought you were attractive, but whoah! Was he ever horribly mistaken!"

She sneered at Morte, then looked below him, where a body would normally be. "Sharp tongue... for a stemless deader."

"Like I'd let mine anywhere near if I had one! What, did you hear the word 'brothel' and think you could make some jink here, you flea-bitten gutter-whore? Hah! Can't believe they even let you in the door, what with all those ticks hopping off your shaggy legs!"

"Ticks?! The only annoying insect around here is you!" She suddenly turned to me. "Hey! You here to talk to me, or what?"

"'Or what?' What else can I do with you?" I crossed my arms. Some of the patrons might've enjoyed being horsewhipped by a tiefling, but I knew I could dish out as much crap as she could throw.

"What did you have in mind, you sodding jawbox? Go ahead; give me a reason to say 'no' to you."

"The Lady Grace said I was to talk to each of her ten students. Though apparently she needs to raise her standards."

The tiefling rolled her eyes. "And what makes you think I care? Why don't you lick my backside?"

"My tongue's not wide enough... and I don't like hair in my mouth."

"Well, you seem to like the taste of offal in your mouth, you dung-breathed cretin."

"Only because it's like kissing you, you mangy stink-pot," I grinned. Annah hid a chuckle behind her wrist.

"Kiss me?" She made a retching sound. "I'd rather kiss a bloody mass of phlegm than lay my lips on you. No thanks!"

"Don't thank me... thank the Powers someone actually wants to kiss you."

Kimasxi looked at a loss for something to say. For an instant, a smile threatened to crack the grimacing mask of her face - then she became more of a basilisk than ever. "All right, what do you want of me?"

"What do you usually do for patrons?"

"I'm a practitioner of abuse."

"What's that mean?"

"I'll show you." Her hand lashed out to slap my face, but I managed to barely dodge the blow. Kimasxi pouted visibly, then scowled. "Oh, well."

"Say..." I said looking sideways at Morte, "Can you teach my skull friend here to be more abusive?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Now that's an unusual request. I don't know, it seems pretty foul-mouthed already..."

"He! That's 'HE seems pretty foul-mouthed,' Kimasxi 'Bladderdung'... you scruffy, goat-gammed harlot!" Morte snapped.

"You wish you had legs like mine, you pitiful wretch of a bone-box! I can walk, run, dance... what do you do? Bob around wishing you had a pair, goat's or otherwise!"

The two of them laid into one another, exchanging barbed, blistering insults and clashing with razor-edged tongues. More than once I was tempted to cover my ears, and even Annah looked impressed at the battle.

At last the two stopped their bickering, and an eerie silence settled over them as they eyed one another hatefully. Finally, the tiefling made a grudging admission to Morte: "You're not bad, really. Not bad at all."

"Better than you, perhaps?" Morte waggled his eyebrows at her. "Eh? Eh?"

Kimasxi narrowed her eyes at Morte. "Don't push it, skull."

"I won't, tiefling. I will admit I might have learned a thing or two, though... good thinking, chief!"


Clad in an earthen peach-brown gown, the next fetching young woman had a far-away look in her soft, sea-green eyes. Her honey-blond hair was pulled back and coiffed in a high, elegant style and was decked with fine ornaments that served only to frame her lovely face further.


She nodded to me, "Greetings. I am Yves, the Tale-Chaser."

"What a coincidence! I, too, chase tails," Morte chirped.

Yves continued, unperturbed. "Have you come to trade tales?"

"Why are you called the 'Tale-Chaser?'"

She stared past me, and recited a story long-practiced and enchanting, "Once upon a time, a girl came to an oracle who was rumored to know many things and asked of it a boon. Her life was in need of direction, so she asked this oracle as to what would give her purpose...

"Now, the oracle was not evil, but it was vague and tended towards drink, which caused it to be obscure in many matters of judgment and focus. Its only answer to the girl's question was that within one story that she would hear in her lifetime was the truth that she sought. The girl went off and collected stories, which she chases to this day, not knowing which of the thousands hold the truth.

"Such is the danger of a foolish question and the wisdom of an unspoken one."

We traded stories then, one-for-one. I told her of my stint in the Mortuary, of the Alley that gave birth to a new segment of the city. I spoke of Reekwind's odiferous curse, of the guttered segment of the Hive that became the Alley of Dangerous Angles. With a heavy heart I recited the tale of Pharod, whose lies had damned him and who sought salvation in vain, the story of Ignus whose heart burned with the love of flame.

She taught me new stories in turn.

'Chapters of Dust.'

"There are chapters in the Dead Book, the massive tome in which the Dustmen keep that records the passing of all that lives into the Eternal Boundary. In this Book, there are chapters that are naught but dust, and it is believed that the names therein are lost souls who cannot die, but must suffer life eternally until history itself dies and grants them release."

'The Clock and the Quadrone.'

"Once upon a time, there existed a modron. It was newly-created, its logic fresh and untested, and it had come to Sigil, following the commands of its modron superiors.

"It knew of nothing but commands and dictates, of obedience and passing along the orders of its superiors. For you see, modrons are only aware of the commands of their immediate superiors - they have no grasp of a higher authority. Until this one.

"One day it came upon a small shop, within which there was a small clock that could no longer tell time. It was cracked along the edges, the wheels of its hands broken. The modron immediately set itself to work at getting the parts to fix the broken clock.

"It made a new wooden housing for the clock's parts, replaced the bent springs, carefully filed and oiled the clockwork machinery, and carved new hands from the sparse metal available to it. The newly-repaired clock's precise ticking reminded it of the great gears of Mechanus, and it comforted it as much as any thing may comfort a modron.

"And what the modron never came to understand was that it truly *loved* this clock that it had worked on, and for reasons it could not explain, elected to remain in Sigil and be with the clock for the rest of its years."

'The Gilded Tale.'

"Upon the Plane of Ysgard is the Gilded Hall, where those Sensates that seek the pleasure of gullet and loin can be found. They indulge these passions in earnest, never realizing that the doors of the hall never open and that there is no clear path back to the Civic Festhall. They are the unwanted Sensates, the ones that do not truly believe in the faction, but instead seek only pleasure for pleasure's sake. Are prisoners who do not realize they are such truly prisoners?"

'The Lady's Suitor.'

"The tale concerns a suitor of Lady of Pain, one of many over the years. He was a young man who was obsessed with the Mistress of Sigil. He saw her everywhere, in every corner of her city. He would hear the rustling of her robes, the scrape of her blades, and grew infatuated beyond all reason. He hoped that if he worshipped her, that he would at last be able to see her... and so worship her he did.

"He was found dead on the blood-soaked steps of his own home, grievous stab wounds covering the whole of his body... but his eyes were open wide, and upon his lips was a triumphant smile."

'Memories of Beauty'

"Once came a man who had experienced the most beautiful thing in the multiverse. It was his intention to place the experience within one of the Civic Festhall's sensory stones - magical devices which held feelings and memories for an eternity, leaving them for others to partake of.

"But he thought about it: wouldn't its being shared dilute the experience? So he held it to himself, precious thing that it was, and aged with the memory. But as he aged, the memory became tarnished and beaten, and he could no longer recall the glory of the experience."

'The Execution.'

"Once, a murderer roamed Sigil's streets, a black-hearted man by the name of Kossacs. He had been blessed by his Abyssal mother so that no one could strike him with an intent to harm or they themselves would die. He reveled in his blessing, using it to start fights and murder anyone who crossed his path.

"During one of his murderous rages, he was captured by the Harmonium with nets and brought before the Guvners. The trial was short, final, yet Kossacs laughed at the proceedings, knowing that no one among them could harm him without dying horribly. At the final day of his trial, he was proclaimed guilty and sentenced to death.

"Kossacs sentence proclaimed by the Guvners was this: 'Confinement for thrice-thirty days, during which time you shall give up your life, be declared dead, and your body removed when all signs of life cease.' Kossacs laughed and dared any of them to try and harm him, yet the court was silent.

"The Mercykillers led Kossacs to their prison and locked him in a dark, empty cell. There was no cot, no lights, and the only door was a steel grate in the ceiling.

"As they lowered him into the cell, the Mercykiller told him - 'in the corner of your cell will you find a chalice. It holds poison. Your death will be swift.'

"'Aren't you going to execute me?' Kossacs snarled at the guard.

"'No one in Sigil shall lay a hand on you with intent to harm,' came the Mercykiller's reply.

"'Then I spit on your cowardice!' Kossacs laughed, feeling for the chalice in the darkness, then hurling it at the wall and shattering it. Its poison dripped from the walls and dried, until it was no more. 'Come then - you will have to try and kill me now.'

"But there was no response from the grate in the ceiling. It was then that Kossacs noticed the cell had no cot. No lights. And no food and water. All that remained was the shattered chalice, the poison gone. And for the first time, Kossacs knew the icy touch of death's approach.

"In twice-thirty days, the grate opened, and Kossacs' body, now cold, was taken from the cell. It had given up its life, and the execution had been carried out."

Eager for another story, I looked to my companions, "Annah... do you have a story to trade?"

"Aye, I'm a no good at telling such things, I'm not." She frowned, and waved her hands as if trying to shoo away the idea. "Donnae be asking me fer such nonsense, now."

Yves smiled at Annah. "But I would very much like to hear your story..."

"Please share your story, Annah..." I urged.

"C'mon already, fiendling. You already have one tail you won't part with," Morte grumbled.

Annah looked uncomfortable, her tail lashing slowly back and forth. "Well, I know one story..." She suddenly became angry, glaring at Yves. "...but yeh might not like it, yeh won't, so don't be blamin' me fer yer chokin' it outta me!"

"Go ahead, Annah..."

Annah scowled, then finally relented with an exasperated sigh. "I heard a story when I was a wee lass.

"This berk's walkin' home real late, near anti-peak, an' passes an old toothless crone in a dark an' otherwise empty street. 'Where yeh goin'?' she asks him.

"'Home, to me wife an' kip,' he says.

"'Near the Slags?' she asks him.

"'Sure enough,' he says.

"So she asks him a favor... ta take a box she's got ta Deader's Pit an' give it ta the woman there. Now this berk's a real sap, too nice ta say no despite the fact he's sure somethin's not quite right about this old crone, and agrees. 'But what's the woman's name?' he asks. 'Where does she live? Where should I look fer her if she's not by Deader's Pit?'

"The woman hands him the box - a wooden thing, wrapped in colored cloth - an' tells him ta just go, an' she'll be there. Finally, she warns him: 'An' whatever yeh does, do NOT open the box!'

"So he takes it home with him an' hides it in the rafters, thinkin' he'll bring it by Deader's Pit when it's light out. His wife, though, seein' him hidin' the box, gets right jealous thinkin' it's a gift fer a lover or somethin', an' opens it up as soon as he's not lookin'.

"Well, turns out the box was full o' gouged-out eyes an' severed male members with the hair still on 'em. Her scream brought the berk runnin'... he remembered what the crone said, got right scared and wrapped the box back up.

"He went out straight away ta Deader's Pit, an' sure enough there was another old hag waitin' there for him. He hands her the box, an' she says ta him: 'This box has been opened and looked into.'

"The poor berk tries ta deny it, but she gets this dreadful look on her face. 'Ye've done somethin' horrible!' she tells him, then disappears. That done, he hurries back ta his kip.

"He's feelin' ill when he gets back, an' takes ta bed. His wife bitterly regretted openin' the box an' all, but it was too late... the next day he died of a rottin' disease, an' the first things ta go was his eyes an' stem." Annah nodded grimly, her tale complete.

If that was the kind of story Annah grew up around, that explained a few things.

Yves smiled. "That was a wonderful, tale Annah; you should never hesitate to share it. Now I've one for you and your companion - 'The Parched Land.'"

"Once, a large village was struck by a terrible drought. A farmer journeyed to the Worshipping Stone, and again implored it as to the cause of the drought. He asked the Stone why it did nothing when the fields were parched and dying, why the animals and the people suffered while the Stone did not a thing. 'Have we not given enough offerings?' the farmer asked, begging almost upon his hands and needs. But the Stone did not respond; it merely sat, and cast its shadow."

"Dak'kon... do you have a story to trade?"

"Ach! Are yeh some kind o' pikin' tard? Clappin' and squealin' for storytime?"

"Ah, don't listen to her, chief. She's just jealous that her mams aren't as nice as Yves' here," Morte dodged away before Annah could grab him to do something horrid.

Dak'kon nodded solemnly in response. "I shall impart the tale of 'Ach'ali Drowning.'"

Dak'kon told the story of Ach'ali, a foolish githzerai of myth who had become lost in the chaos of limbo. Normally, a single githzerai may use their focus and mental discipline to form the chaos around them into a small, habitable environment. Ach'ali, however, asked so many useless and unfocused questions in her quest to return home that her isle of matter dissolved around her, and she drowned.

Yves smiled. "Fascinating, Dak'kon. Let me share with you and your companion another version of your tale that I have heard..."

Dak'kon looked attentive, and perhaps a little surprised.

Yves continued to tell a different version of Dak'kon's tale, in which Ach'ali was driven from the githzerai city of Shrak'at'lor for her constant, useless prattling...

"One day, she encountered a slaadi on his way to the spawning stone. She hastily erected a wall of chaos matter, which even the ravenous slaadi found difficult to break down. Hungrily, it waited, and spoke to her through the wall. She asked it questions, and as she became more absorbed in her pointless queries and the slaadi's answers, her own wall decayed and collapsed upon her... and thus she drowned in the matter of Limbo."

Dak'kon was silent, mulling those words over carefully.

I grinned at Morte, "Your turn."

"Me?" he groaned, "Why do I have to tell a story?"

I sighed, "Forget it, then."

"No, no, I'll do it... I just thought I'd complain a little out of convention. 'Sides, I love the attention."

I stuck my tongue out, "No way, Morte. I don't want to hear it."

"Please! Come on? Pleeeease? It's a great story! Lots of characters, action, foreshadowing and a startling denouement!"

"What's a denouement?"

"Beats me! But it sure sounds impressive!"

I rolled my eyes, "Fine, go ahead."

He grinned cheerfully, then sank his voice down to sound as serious as he could be, "An elderly man was sitting alone on a dark path, right? He wasn't certain of which direction to go, and he'd forgotten both where he was traveling to and who he was. He'd sat down for a moment to rest his weary legs, and suddenly looked up to see an elderly woman before him. She grinned toothlessly and with a cackle, spoke: 'Now your third wish. What will it be?'

"'Third wish?' The man was baffled. 'How can it be a third wish if I haven't had a first and second wish?'

"'You've had two wishes already,' the hag said, 'but your second wish was for me to return everything to the way it was before you had made your first wish. That's why you remember nothing; because everything is the way it was before you made any wishes.' She cackled at the poor berk. 'So it is that you have one wish left.'

"'All right,' said the man, "I don't believe this, but there's no harm in wishing. I wish to know who I am.'

"'Funny,' said the old woman as she granted his wish and disappeared forever. 'That was your first wish.'"

My blood ran cold.