Part 78: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 13The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 13
By now I had spoken to nine of the prostitutes. Juliette, the troublesome lover. Vivian, the perfumed beauty. Nenny Nine-Eyes who was so boistrous and keen. The pretty mute girl (who, through some inquiries later, I would learn was named Ecco). There was cruel Marissa, the voluptuous dreamer Kesai-Serris, the scholar Dolora, and Yves the Tale-Chaser and Kimasxi Adder-tongue, neither of which needed further adjectives.
Nine. Morte was all too eager to help hunt down the tenth.
"Yeh could always try the secret door in the back," Annah said with a smirk after the third time we circled around the brothel.
I had seen many wonders in my short time in Sigil, but this left me speechless.
A giant statue towered over us, of a naked woman frozen in the steps of a dance. All about her earthenware pots hung from the ceiling which cradled masses of vines, each decked with leaves and blossoms like emerald and violet gowns. The air was fresh: moist and cool like a forest glade.
A slim little man with owlish eyes looked up at me, nudging his spectacles back to the bridge of his nose. He gestured at me with his watering can, "Greetings, sir. Might I ask how you came to be here?"
"I just came down from those stairs... through that strange door I found."
"I'd best work on concealing it a bit better, then," he shrugged, then smiled at me. "I'm the Brothel's caretaker, by the way. You're not supposed to be down here, really, but it's all right if you look around a bit."
I gazed upwards at the graceful arches of the foliage, "Can you tell me what this place is? It's beautiful."
He smiled, "Why thank you. I do my best, you know. This is the Brothel cellar, where the ladies' sensory stones are kept... they use them as diaries of a sort. You won't be able to use them, if that's what you're thinking... each of them is attuned to one particular student of the Brothel, so that only she may access that stone."
Slim silver rings bound each sensory stone like the fringes of a bodice, accentuating the soft curve of the glass globe within. They hummed with the unwavering gaze of a woman's thoughts and memories, mysterious as her gaze and held in rein only by a slim layer of crystal. I reached out, daring to allow my fingers to hover near the surface of one. It didn't so much as flicker.
Each sensory stone had the name of a prostitute inscribed into its base, nine prostitutes in all.
And one more. Held in the mesh of engraved silver bands, it pulsed with that same soft light as all the others. Something had once been inscribed into its base, but the writing had been scoured away.
Well, I had other things to do anyway.
"Good day to you sir! Oh it's lovely to see you again. Would you like to sit down for a good chat now?" she smiled cheerfully.
"Actually, I was hoping you could help me. I'm trying find Marissa's Crimson Veil... do you know where it might be?"
Nenny's eyes shone bright with recollection. "I'll bet I do! I saw that nasty Kimasxi Addertongue sneaking out of Marissa's room one night. They're both meanies, you know, but Kimasxi's really awful! Anyway, I'd talk to her, first."
I knew that hairy goat-assed hag had something to do with this.
We stood outside. I hummed to myself, trying to drown out the exchange of curses with a lewd drinking song I had picked up in the Smoldering Corpse. Morte pressed his occipital bone to the door, his eyes flicking back and forth as if he were mentally taking notes.
Eventually the door burst open and knocked Morte aside with a yelp, but the man storming out was too red-faced with fury to notice.
"Well," Kimasxi said with a curled lip as I entered, "What was the abishai eating when he squatted in front of my door and squeezed you out?"
"I came here to ask you something Kimasxi."
She rolled her eyes, as if bored if she couldn't get a rise out of me, "Make it quick then, you ugly sod."
"I was told you were seen sneaking away from Marissa's chambers, recently... is that connected with her missing veil, somehow?"
Kimasxi's eyes flashed, and every hair on her puffed out as she flew into a rage: "WHO TOLD YOU THA-" she suddenly fell silent, glaring at me through narrowed eyes. "If I was there, berk, I didn't take her filthy veil... search my room, if you'd like. I catch you sniffing at my britches, though, I'll see to it you're never allowed in here again."
I blinked, "Why would anyone ever sniff at your britches?"
"Beats me. Someone's nicked more than few pair of them, though. My favorite leather brassier, too, with the iron studs." She hmphed angrily.
"Kimasxi said someone's been taking things from her room, too. Have you seen anything odd?"
Nenny's eyes suddenly went wide. "Oh! That's right! You know, once I saw a man sneaking out of Kimasxi's room while she was out talking to a patron... I watched the front doors all that day, but he never, ever left! Isn't that odd? I don't think he could have made it out a window, and so I never figured out where he went. And then I totally forgot about it! Weird, huh?"
Annah flicked her tail and crossed her arms. "Now we do things my way."
"This doesn't seem right..." I grumbled as I pawed through the drawers. Annah pulled the stopper from a bottle of perfume and sniffed. By the look on her face she wasn't too impressed.
"This couldn't seem more right!" Morte countered as he watched me pull out a nice, lacy green gown, "Hey I wonder how Annah'd look in this one..."
"Rattlin' yer bone-box isn't gonna get yeh results," Annah replied, "'Sides, yeh could use a lesson or two in the cunnin' ways."
"Do you think Dak'kon would really follow through with this, chief? I mean, sods that old either love young girls' undergarments or never give 'em a second glance. And he doesn't seem the type to join in on a good old-fashioned panty raid."
I grunted, rifling through the clothes. Who in the planes needed so many clothes? I've only ever had a kilt and a belt made of bones. Toss in a stout pair of boots and that was enough, "Trust me, he'll do whatever I ask of him." And besides, the man had taken wounds and fought in battle for me. Standing guard wasn't exactly out of the question for him.
"Eeeeeh I guess, chief. But if you ask me, I don't trust the gith. Better keep an eye on him."
Don't trust the skull...
As I made to search the armoire in the corner of the room, its handles suddenly yanked out of my grasp and the drawers slammed themselves shut. A disdainful hmph! issued from the cabinet...
I blinked in surprise. "Hello?"
"'Hello,' indeed." The armoire gave another hmph! "So, what have we here? A rogue after some lady's frilly undergarments, hmmmnn?"
"Do I? Why yes, I do." Its voice was slightly pitched and just a touch nasal, but the armoire had an air of well-spoken aristocratic dignity to its voice.
"Who are you?"
"I am Luis. And who are you? Thoughtless, uncouth fellow, rummaging about in other people's things..."
"Never mind that. What are you doing here?"
"Well, sir, if you must know... I am being an armoire."
"But why are you being an armoire in this brothel? Are you a Sensate?"
"I happen to have become an armoire because I want to be an armoire, thank you very much. It's not to watch the ladies undressing, nor to have them place their soft, sweet-smelling undergarments in my drawers where they can rub against my skin. Such accusations are an insult to a practitioner of the magic arts... I am merely soaking in the experience of what it means to be an armoire. The sights, the smells, the sensations..." his hinges rattled with pleasure.
"I like this sod already," Morte sniggered.
Annah crossed her arms across her breasts, "So all th' women know about this, then, aye?"
"Yes! Yes, they do, and they wholeheartedly approve of... well, not with their entire hearts, exactly. And while they have not spoken of their approval in my presence - since they are not exactly aware that I am an armoire - I would not want them to know that I am anything but, and so have not been able to inquire upon the matter."
"Can you return to your normal form at will?"
The armoire seemed to think about this for a moment. "I have no need to share such secrets with the likes of you! And besides, there is no cause to change back at the present moment, since I have not yet experienced the full sensations of being an armoire. It is a complex thing, to hold and sort soft frilly clothes, smelling of wondrous woman-smells." A drawer slid open and closed, the sound mimicking a pleasant sigh.
I raised an eyebrow, "Uh... wow. I'll need something from you to keep quiet about this one."
"Very well! Posh! Open the third drawer, you scalawag." As I reached my hand into the drawer, it slammed shut on my fingers with great force. Searing pain raced through my hand as I withdrew my battered fingers. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out, and tears leaked down my cheeks.
"Ha ha! Cretin! Idiot! 'Open the drawer,' I said, and you reach in--" He slammed his drawer again for emphasis, then began shaking with laughter.
Morte's cackling withered under my piercing glance, "Well, sorry chief. But you gotta admit, he's really pulled one over on you." Even Annah looked like she was swallowing a snicker.
I gave the leg of the armoire a swift kick, "I'm going to chop you up for kindling."
"You'll do nothing of the sort! Why, even the most common of men knows that one can't commit an act of violence within the Brothel... you'll simply be cast out. And even if that were not the case, I assure you my command of the Art is quite impressive."
"Fine, then... I'll just go tell them about you."
Luis barked a laugh, "First, I would tell you this one thing: I have been popping in and out of the Brothel for a good, long time... I'm quite knowledgeable regarding both its occupants and their activities. I assure you that talking about me is utterly worthless; not only will you lose me as a potential source of information, but I'll simply disappear before someone comes to investigate your claims, leaving you looking the fool."
Well for someone who claims to be so competent, he did get seen. "Nenny told me she saw a man leaving Kimasxi Addertongue's room... I think that was you, Luis."
There. Wounding his pride had finally set him off. Like an ember landing on a pile of dry twigs Luis exploded into a full, rabid fury, "You think? THINK?! How could you be so alarmingly rude, so ludicrously presumptuous, as to spout forth such an accusation without being absolutely certain of your charges?! How dare you! Impertinent, brassy cur! Why, I ought to..."
As Luis railed and cursed, his drawers opened and closed... revealing a small bundle of crimson cloth tucked alongside some clothes. The repeated opening and closing of the armoire drawers was going to make it difficult to grab, however.
And with only one good hand left, I hesitated before grabbing the edge of the drawer.
"Wh- stop! You filthy, hideous brute!"
I grunted, planting a foot against the varnished door, "Annah! I could really use some help here!"
An amused grin spread across her face, "Oh no thank yeh, I think I'll just stand back 'ere and watch..."
"Don't look at me, chief. Lack of hands and all that."
I tugged and pulled, my firm little yanks beginning to lose against his. The slim crack of the closing drawer was getting to be almost too narrow for my fingers...
In a flash the door slammed open and Dak'kon leapt into the room, blade drawn. His eyes widened at the sight of me struggling with an armoire as it let loose a girling shriek, but without questioning anything he swung the blade in a full arc, stabbing it into the slit and using the leverage to pry the drawer open. Together we strained, grunted. I cursed under my breath, sweated and pulled. Hinges rattled and the lower drawer shot open, cracking against my shin and bruising the bone. Luis flung everything he had at us... panties, brassieres, small bottles and makeup kits, one of which caught me in my immortal jewels. The pain was numbing, and the flurry of undergarments blinded the both of us as Luis unleashed a bloodcurdling shriek.
"Morte! Think it's wide enough?!"
"I'm on it chief!" and with a giddy shout he dove into the drawer as Dak'kon and I fought to keep it open.
"Mmmph. Stop! Stop, I say! Watch the handles! Don't scratch the finish! Damn you, you prying filth!" The armoire continued with his valiant effort. Morte on the other hand, was taking a little longer than he needed to...
"Gods dammit Morte!"
With that a round, hard skull leapt out of the drawer and caught me in the chest. Dak'kon pulled his blade out of the armoire in that same instant as I fell back and collapsed breathlessly onto the floor. A translucent, crimson veil brushed over my chest, and as one fold fluttered over my face I couldn't help but smell a light, exotic, and most pleasant fragrance wafting from the cloth.
"Sorry, chief. I was just taking a swim."
"Damn it! You rogues! Blackguards! Scoundrels! You give that back this instant! That's not yours! That is an exceedingly personal garment that belongs to a lady of this establishment, and they would not appreciate you fondling their private things!"
I sat up, shaking off the strain and cracking my wrist, "Oh, but it's all right for you, you wooden pervert?"
"I'm not doing anything so criminal and malicious as you are! I am merely soaking in sensations necessary to my growth as an individual."
Luis' quiet griping was at my back when we left, pulling undergarments that had become tangled in our apparel. I unhooked a brassiere that had been caught in a spur of my bone sash, Dak'kon pulled out a frilly pair of panties that had been caught in a chink in his armor.
It was then that I looked up and noticed the small crowd of patrons and prostitutes staring at us covered in an array of undergarments. Morte paused in the middle of tugging a thong from my belt with his teeth.
"Uh... carry on."
Vivian greeted me with a polite half-smile. "Had you any luck in finding my scent, perchance?"
"Yes... I found it in this red veil..."
Vivian's eyes lit up. "Oh, how simply wonderful!" She took the veil from my hands, muttered a few words over it, and returned it to me. She shook out her crimson hair and, in moments, we were surrounded by the most intensely exotic and arousing scent I had ever had the pleasure of smelling.
I swooned, "That smells... great..."
"It does, does it not?" She smiled at me. "And as you have done a favor for me, so I wish to perform one for you. Stand close to me, scarred one..."
I stepped closer to Vivian. She took my hand and, turning it over, took a single cautious sniff of my wrist. "Phew!" She wrinkled her nose. "Vinegar! Or... embalming fluid? Here, I will remove this smell from you..." She muttered a few strange syllables, and a light tingling sensation spread over my skin. In moments, the chemical reek lessened substantially. "There - how is that? People should be less eager to avoid conversation with you, now."
I smiled, "Thanks, Vivian. Farewell."
Marissa's cold, cruel voice hissed from out of the darkness. "It returns! You have a reason for coming this time, I trust? Or just more of your pointless questions?"
"Actually, I've brought your Crimson Veil..."
"Then would you please hand it over?" She didn't sound as pleased as I'd hoped.
"Of course. Here you are..."
I held the Crimson Veil before me, and felt her take it from my hands. "Ah. Yes, much better." Two shining points of red light appeared as she opened her eyes. "So that's what you look like... perhaps I would have been better off with my eyes shut."
I returned to Fall-From-Grace. The lack of a tenth student left a discomforting void in the back of my mind, yet I hoped my answer would suffice, "I spoke to nine of the students, as you asked... but I could not find the tenth."
Her smiled softly, and her tone was coy, "And you could not find the tenth student? How curious."
"I'm thinking the tenth student is me. In which case, I have spoken to all of them."
She nodded. "Very well. And your thoughts?"
"I have learned what it means to aspire to be a Sensate, and that it is better to go in search of experience rather than have it come to you."
Fall-From-Grace nodded again. "Very well. I will travel with you, if you still desire my company."
"Oh mistress high-and mighty will be joinin' us?" Annah grumbled, "Ach, what do we need her for?"
Morte bobbed and clicked his teeth, "You couldn't possibly understand."
"I wish she would fall from a great height... I might even bump her off meself."
Grace smiled and bowed her head, "Well, if you excuse me, I have some arrangements to take care of before we leave."
"While you're at it, you should probably get rid of all the armoires in the Brothel and use them as firewood."
"Ah!" Fall-From-Grace laughed softly, and her eyes sparkled. "A practical thought indeed."
I grunted, "Luis is in serious need of a carpenter to trim that libido of his."
She smiled, "I do believe I will enjoy your company. I'll only be a moment, please have some tea until I return."