Part 89: The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 21The Whisper-Mad Tome of The Nameless One: Part 21
I had often seen the palace of the Society of Sensation, piercing the sky and shimmering with colored glass like a tantalizing beacon across the entire Ward. Its buttresses curled around the towers and shyly linked one pinnacle to another. It was for more than support: they acted like the lace of a woman's gown, or at the cuff of a gentleman's sleeve, accenting and enlarging, making the whole building look all the greater. The barest corner, most hidden-away window, the plainest wall or support beam was more than utilitarian. No, the whole building breathed with art.
"The planning of it took decades," Fall-From-Grace had said, and her words came with a pedagogical tone, "And a century more to build. It took all that time to find the dozens of different kinds of stone, the hundreds of kinds of glass. Just counting all the kinds of cloths and banners would take years, woven by the hands of artisans across so many planes you could string them together like pearls."
If dancers and performers were abundant in the Clerk's Ward, this was where they made kip. Music haunted each corner. The motions of twirling, twisting bodies snagged the eye like a hook. The walls were of so many textures and were carved in so many sultry shapes they begged to be touched. Kiosks and stands were set apart just enough to give the performers plenty of room, and the smells of spiced delicacies made me wish we hadn't just eaten.
"Marinated snails, sir?" a slip of a girl asked me, holding out a tray of them still in their shells, "Fresh from the gardens of Thyrydin and the Kliggan Woods, and buttered with eight herbs from across three planes. Two silver pennies for a taste."
Okay, maybe not.
I was a desert dweller, suddenly and inexplicably terrified by the lushness of the forest, afraid of the rich mysteries cupped in each shadow. But familiarity plucked at my soul and I answered the call, which was the sound of celebration.
The streets and walkways were broad enough, however, to permit the nobles to mingle freely while peddlers (a crude term for people selling such exotic goods) carried trays with samples of food and drink. The gentlemen and noblewomen happily plucked the goods with delicate fingers, dropping coin into open palms without a thought as they chatted.
One man stood out to me, snapping in a deep, sonorous voice some anecdote or another, a staff in one hand and a goblet in the other, "Well I had enough of that and her thrice-damned skim milk. So I cursed the mouthy cow!"
He was tall and thin as a flagpole, dressed in heavy crimson robes, and had sharp, pinched features. There was a perpetual crankiness about his face, as if the creases had been kneaded in with years of sour moods. He paused, arching his heavy eyebrows as he looked me up and down, then bowed regally as I approached him. "I am Salabesh, oft-called Salabesh the Onyx, future mage-tutor for the Civic Festhall. You've business with me, I take it...?"
"No... just some questions..." Fall-From-Grace had been too busy attending to the Brothel to keep up with the Festhall's activities as of late, so this gentleman seemed the next best thing.
"About what, hmmm? Not the Ward and the like, I hope... plenty of more common folk could answer such questions, and I'd just as soon direct you to one of them."
"Why are you called 'the Onyx?'"
"A long tale, which I'll shorten to save my breath. In my youth, I was once called Salabesh the Golden, for I was said to have a heart of gold... small, hard and yellow. Well, I cursed the fool who started that so that he could only speak from his arse and defecate through his mouth. The 'Onyx' appellation - along the same lines as 'the Golden,' though admittedly somewhat less clever - soon followed. In any case, I'm a much kinder fellow now... far less prone to laying curses and the like. I'm not certain if I deserve the name any longer."
"You cursed him so that what?"
"Oh, yes... you heard right." Salabesh sighed happily and chuckled to himself. "That sort of thing is why I'm know as the Master of Curses, you know."
"What did you mean by 'future mage-tutor of the Festhall?"
"It's a prestigious position, to be an official tutor in one the Festhall's training chambers. It's my intention to one day take the position of mages' tutor, but the title's currently in the possession of the Lady Thorncombe. If only I could somehow prove that I'd be a superior tutor..."
Curses, eh? "Do you know of a cursed man called Reekwind?"
"Reek...? Hmmm." Salabesh's eyebrows suddenly darted up. "Oh, yes... Jumble Murdersense cursed that man, if I recall correctly. Why? Seeking to get his curse undone? Good luck... only Jumble can do that, you know."
"Where would I find this Jumble Murdersense?"
"Within the Civic Festhall, I suppose. A short, portly fellow with a leering smile. Never speaks, so you'll be hard pressed to get anything out of him."
It looks like I have business with more than just one person here today.
The inner court of the Civic Festhall was just as resplendent as the outside, if not moreso. Tapestries and banners were dangled from poles, and the floors were tiled with a thousand colors. Servants carried trays of hors d'oeuvres here as well from outside, to keep the rich scent of cooking from tainting the delicate scents of perfume and incense here.
The doorman greeted me with a nod. His golden skin sparkled slightly, almost as if it were metallic - whether it was his actual flesh or merely painted on, I couldn't tell. He regarded us coolly as we approached, giving a respectful bow as I drew near. "Welcome to the Civic Festhall, traveler; We are Splinter, doorman to the Festhall and Priest-King of Ur. How may We help you?" Despite his humble offer of aid, his voice was powerful and commanding, a deep and rumbling sound that resonated throughout the chamber.
"Priest-King of Ur? What are you doing here then?" my query came with a cock of the head.
"There is little to say that We have not told you. We are the Splinter, doorman to the Festhall, demigod son of Isahar and Priest-King of Ur. Planewalkers came to our world and told Us of the Society of Sensation; We were fascinated and returned with them. We left Ur in the capable hands of our queen so that We might come to this place and experience 'servitude' and 'humility' for a time. As time does not pass here as it does in Ur, the century We have spent here will be as a mere several months in our own world. After another decade or so, We imagine We shall be ready to return to Ur and rule it once more."
"How can you help me?"
"We do many things in this fine hall, traveler. We answer questions guests might have regarding it or its inhabitants. We direct both visitors and members of the Society of Sensation alike to the sensoriums or lecture halls. We also accept new members into the Society. Lastly, it is through us that purchases from the Society's vaults are made... spells, items and such."
"Tell me about the Society of Sensation."
"The core of a Sensate's belief is that the multiverse can only be truly known through the senses. If one cannot sense it, then a thing isn't. Only though experience... through experiencing all the sensations to be had... can the full Truth of the multiverse be revealed. The Society of Sensation, then, is where experiences gather and are shared with others, usually via the sensoriums."
"Might I become a Sensate?"
"In order to join the Society of Sensation, one must be willing and prepared to share their own experiences. Five are required - one from each of the senses. Alternately, one may contribute a single experience that has strong elements from all five senses. These must be either new sensations, or improvements upon our current stock. Should We find them acceptable, they will be placed into sensory stones and you, having become a Sensate, will be taught the Sensory Touch. It will allow you to draw other's wounds onto yourself, healing them by accepting their suffering."
"What if I already was a Sensate? I haven't come to this place in a long time, but I assure you... I was a Sensate."
Splinter bent down a ways to examine me more closely. "We do not recognize you... but We see no lies dripping from your tongue. Very well. We shall grant you access to those privileges allowed only to members of the Society of Sensation... if you can show Us what sensations you have gathered recently."
"All right... I'm ready."
"We would ask for five sensations, then, each pertaining to one of the body's senses... or a single experience which has strong elements of all five senses."
I had the perfect one in mind. "I'd have a single experience to contribute, then: I woke up, not knowing where I was, on a cold, blood-slicked iron slab in the bowels of the Mortuary, a place where the Dustmen or the corpses in their care have seen..."
Splinter nodded. "Go on."
"My entire body reeked of embalming fluid, but even the smell of that was not enough to match the coppery scent of gore around me. Dozens of bodies lie on countless bloody slabs like the one I rose from, all in the process of being gutted, flayed, and the like by nightmarish clockwork devices for reasons unknown. The only sounds were the squeals of labored metal and the unsteady tread of undead workers as they pushed the slabs about the Mortuary on rusted iron tracks."
He nodded. "A disturbing experience."
"And I even left out the part about the chattering skull that flew at me as soon as I was upright. Will it suffice, Splinter?"
"Yes. We welcome you back, traveler, and grant you access to those privileges allowed only to members of the Society of Sensation."
Terrific. Now as much as I would've liked to view the goods available to honorary sensates, I had other business to attend to. "There was someone I was looking for, here..."
"Who was it you were seeking, traveler?"
"Montague, a factotum here."
"Montague is a busy young man; he can usually be found moving between this chamber and three that lie along its eastern wall."
Montague was a handsome young man, with a crimson sash draped over one shoulder and a wedding band on the ring of one finger. He seemed lost in thought, his brow furrowed and a slight frown marred his lips.
He nodded, his accent clipped and proper, "And to thee, sir, hail. What dost thou wish of me?"
"Who are you?"
"I am named Montague, factotum of the Sensates."
"What are you doing here?"
"I work as an assistant for one of the faction's administrators. Though, more often now than the past, I find myself perplexed by one of life's strange ways."
"Problems of the feminine variety."
I blinked, "You're a female?"
The young man gave me a long look. "Nay."
"What's the problem, exactly?"
"I don't know what's bothering her. I have tried to cheer her up. I don't know what could be the matter."
"How are things between you two?"
"Other than this bout of discontent and humdrums, everything is splendid! All that orbits around us does so with tranquillity... our families are more than satisfied with our potential union, and her siblings love me. There is nothing wrong," he sighed, "Ah fair Juliette, I know not what to do."
I feigned surprise, "Juliette? What good fortune. I need to speak with you about her."
"Oh?" He gave me a puzzled, slightly suspicious look.
"I demand her love. And I demand that you withdraw your false protestations of love before I mash you into tiny bits."
"Thou love her so that thou wouldst fight me?"
I stood up straight, puffing up proud like a villain from a cheap novel, "No, I don't love her, but I will have her. And if you are foolish enough to fight me, I will pummel you, abscond with your lover, and please her in ways you can't."
He studied me for a moment, eyeing my muscles, examining my scars and my callused fists. With a gesture of spun-glass delicacy he sighed, "Thou art passionate about this matter, I see. Passion stems from love. Thou love her, and I could not deny her a love such as thine. I shall from this moment onward hold no claim on her; thou may do as thou wish."
Ghk- I had not expected that. "Hold a moment... you aren't going to fight her?"
His eyebrows narrowed, and those firm lips pulled back into a frown, "If thou art disappointed that thou will not get the opportunity to fight me, understand that I do so out of honor and respect for thy passion. I am more than capable of defending myself, so think not that I yield out of fear that you might 'pummel me' and 'please her in ways I can't.'"
"No, no, no-" I grumbled, rubbing my forehead, "This was all a ruse."
He looked taken aback, "A ruse? Of what sort?"
"She wanted to provoke you into fighting for her."
"Oh? Did she think my love so boundless that I would engage in fisticuffs with a brutally-scarred man of thy stature? Perhaps she thinks my devotion to her a little high," he sighed, "So... what should be done about this ruse?"
I shrugged, "Turnabout is fair play..."
Morte was more than eager to jump in, "I say ignore the chit... act distant and unconcerned. That'll spice things up considerably!"
"Trust me, kid. Start ignoring her, create some friction, leave 'em wondering, and they'll be clawing all over to discover what the matter is. Right, chief?" he grinned.
"Yes..." I said with a smile, "She'll think something's wrong, and for once, he'll be playing the game rather than being the target."
"Thou art saying that I should feign disinterest so as to peak her interest. Assuredly, that is irony. I shall agree to what thou suggest and observe the results."
"Good luck - I hope it works out. Farewell."
He was a short, balding man, with an orange tunic and rather sizeable gut which gave him the look of a walking pumpkin. He was absent-mindedly patting his large paunch with a slow rhythm, as if it were a drum. The man's odd, crooked smile and a strange gleam in his eyes made him look a bit mad.
The man gave me an exaggerated, flourishing bow, and presented a small card which read only 'Jumble Murdersense - Xaositect Xorceror X-traordinare.' He then snatched the card from my grasp and proceeded to eat it, grinning wildly all the while.
"Somewhere, an asylum is one barmy short," Morte whispered.
"I had some questions, Jumble..."
Jumble yawned and looked away, drumming on his belly with the palms of his hands.
"Jumble? My questions?"
Jumble rolled his eyes. He turned to me, smirked, then bit his thumb.
"Are you mute? Is that why you won't answer me?"
Jumble cocked his head and gave me a stupid grin. Slowly, he shrugged... then shut his eyes and stuck his tongue out at me.
"Fine. But I'd like you to remove Reekwind's curse."
Jumble pretended not to hear me, instead belching loudly and resuming his belly drumming, his eyes wandering around the Festhall.
The frustration steadily crept into my voice, "Is there anything I could do so that you'd remove Reekwind's curse?"
Jumble wouldn't look at me, but shook his head.
That's it. "Remove Reekwind's curse, Jumble, before I'm forced to hurt you."
Jumble raised one eyebrow and took a step back. He opened his mouth abruptly, and - though his lips or throat didn't move to shape any words or sound - a torrent of incomprehensible babbling began to pour forth.
Jumble shut his mouth, and the babbling ceased... he peered at me through narrowed eyes, a self-satisfied smile on his pudgy face. Suddenly, I hiccupped.
And hiccupped. And hiccupped. And hiccupped again.
Jumble Murdersense merely turned his head and waved me away.
"Uh oh... looks like you just got a curse thrown down on you, chief..."
Annah stepped back, drawing a circle over her heart.
"What -hic- have you done to me, Jumble?" I clutched my throat.
Jumble ignored me entirely.
"I'd better find someone who can help me -hic- lose this curse."
"Hmm. Again you stand before me..."
"You mentioned you -hic- were a Master of Curses? Perhaps you could - hiccup! - help me..."
"Help you?" Salabesh sneered. "Doubtful." Before I could respond, he sighed, shaking his head. "Well... perhaps I could. What troubles you, then?"
"Jumble Murdersense cursed me," I spat out the words quickly, and right after I hiccupped once again.
"Jumble Murdersense? Hah! That sputtering mooncalf could never best me! Oh, the battles we used to have, though..." Salabesh frowned. "But I'm past all that, now. No longer my sort of thing, you see. I really don't know what I could do for you... after all, it's his curse. Not the sort you'd find on an item or somesuch, you know, that you could remove with simple magicks... he'll have to remove it, and willingly."
"Well, could you teach me a curse, then, that I could use on him? Maybe that arse-talking thing?" I hiccupped, and I could taste the bile bubbling into the back of my throat.
"Hmm. Well... I don't normally do that. I keep my curses to myself, you know. And besides, even a single curse would take one a long, long while to learn - more time than I'd care to spend on it."
"I could -hic- pay you for your trouble..."
"No, no... I've simply no desire to do it." Salabesh looked directly into my eyes. "Now kindly drop the subject, sirrah, before you begin to annoy me."
I stood, frustrated and forlorn. Morte eyed me, twitched towards Salabesh as if in a gesture, and then it hit me. "Perhaps you're just worried your curses aren't good enough to best him, anymore..."
"You what?! Of all the ridiculous... now look here, you knuckle-dragging sack of scars, Salabesh the Onyx is the MASTER of Curses, and there is no other! Why, I could give you but a single phrase that would render that nincompoop's cursing wholly impotent!"
I pursed my lips and raised an eyebrow, trying to look skeptical. Grace hid a smile behind a lily-white hand.
"That's it! You've made me do it!" Salabesh uttered a short string of impossible syllables... words of power, which I noted mentally for later use against Jumble. "There! See what that does to him, and tell me Salabesh the Onyx isn't the Master of Curses, then!"
"Thanks, Salabesh; I'll do that. Farewell."
Jumble frowned at my appearance, biting his thumb in my direction and waving me away.
"Jumble, I need you to remove the curse you put on me."
His only response was to roll his eyes and yawn pointedly.
"Remove the curse, Jumble, before I'm forced to hurt you."
Jumble Murdersense made a show of examining and cleaning his fingernails, and that was all.
Well, that's that then.
I wasn't about to give him a third chance, and with no small amount of glee I threw the curse Salabesh taught me at him.
Jumble stared at me with a somewhat skeptical expression as I spoke the arcane syllables of Salabesh's curse. The power buzzed over my tongue, and my teeth tingled. After a moment of awkward silence, the Xaositect mage noted that nothing seems to have happened... and an evil grin spread across his face.
He opened his mouth to retaliate with another curse of his own... and his eyes grew wide. Jumble clutched his throat, hips lips writhed. He rocked back and forth, rolling like the big pumpkin he was, and looked up to me, mute as a stone. Salabesh's curse had removed Jumble's ability to speak, and destroyed the Xaositect's ability to curse others. He huffed, not even able to emit strangled gasps. The panic welled up in his eyes.
"Looks like the tables are turned, Jumble. What do you think'll happen when anyone - hiccup! - you've ever cursed finds out you can't speak - or curse - anymore?"
Jumble dropped to his knees, a pleading expression in his eyes. He looked ready to burst into tears.
"Will you - hiccup! - remove the curse you placed on me? And swear never to curse another who didn't mean you harm?"
Jumble placed his hands over his heart and nodded vigorously.
I didn't know if I could trust a Xaositect to be consistent, but I suppose I was going to give him this third chance after all, "Very well. I'll remove the curse, then..."
Jumble sighed with relief as I removed Salabesh's curse from him. He, in turn, removed his own, and my hiccups finally stopped. He then bowed humbly and cast his eyes to the floor.
"I'd like you to take your curse off Reekwind, as well."
Jumble nodded, pouting, and with a wave of his hand, removed Reekwind's curse.
"Thanks. Farewell, Jumble."
The smell of the Hive was foul as ever: hints of sulfur and the rank stench of rotting garbage and the musk of mildew flourishing in every corner. But when I approached Reekwind I was pleasantly surprised. His eyes no longer had their bug-eyed stare, and he was no longer assailed by the twitching spasms from before. The fecal stench was gone, and that alone was like a gust of fresh air. He was smiling, and he looked considerably cleaner than before.
"Greetings, Reekwind," I grinned, "You certainly seem better."
He looked at me, amazed. "It... stopped. It all stopped, just like that." He snapped his fingers, then looked down at himself. "Powers above, I..." He laughs. "I feel clean again."
"Good to hear it. Jumble didn't want to remove the curse, but I got it out of him."
"I thank you, sir. I..." He looked flustered. "I have nothing to pay you with, but you are in my good graces..." He shrugged. "For whatever that is worth." He frowned, then stood straight. "I will tell the story of your kindness to all who will listen."
"Actually, do you have any stories you haven't told me already? That could be payment enough..."
"Of course, of course!" Reekwind looked around... "Though I've had enough of telling tales for a while... do you have something I could write them in?"
"I have a journal here."
Reekwind took the journal. "Ah..." He scribbled for a while, then handed it back. "There you are."
"Eh... if you would never use that name again, I... among others, would be thankful."
I chuckled, "Very well. What should I call you?"
"My name is --" He suddenly caught himself and smiled. "No, perhaps I shall keep that to myself this time." He nodded respectfully to me. "Thank you again, good sir."
The familiar ashen scent of the Smoldering Corpse bar blew past me like a hot wind when I entered. Not a thing was different: the suspicious patrons were hunched over their drinks, and more than one table had planars in cloaks murmuring to one another conducting whatever shady business went on in here. The thugs had learnt their lesson the last time I had been here, and I was able to get through unmolested. But the man that approached me at that moment caught me by surprise, and I almost peppered him with a barrage of magic missiles.
He had large eyes and a thin frame, and was dressed in plain blue and gray. There was something odd about him, though perhaps it was because his face seemed a touch too average and prototypical. He looked around, biting his lip nervously as if confused and frightened by the rest of the bar patrons, but he looked incredibly relieved to see me.
"Greetings?" I asked.
He chuckled lightly and rolled his eyes in a 'you wouldn't believe what happened to me' look that was strangely familiar. "'Bout time, friend! I thought I might be here all day waiting for you."
"Uh... do I know you?"
"Why, yes." He gave me a peery eye. "At least, I think. I... uh... well... can't recall everything about you, but..." He frowned in thought, then shrugged. "...anyway, it's good to see you. I'm Adahn. We're friends, I take it. Excellent! I could use more friends like you, it seems..." He looked around in confusion. "Since I don't appear to know anyone in these parts, much less how I got here."
I took a step back, but only managed to stumble a little. Adahn was only ever someone I made up, an alias I used only when necessary. I was never comfortable with it... going under that name was like peeling off your skin and putting on someone else's, but here it was standing in front of me. In a realm where belief is made manifest... forge an identity well enough and it might come back to haunt you. "Where are you from?"
Adahn seemed surprised, and his confusion resurfaced. "I... hmmnnn." He frowned. "Well, not from around here, I don't believe... or do I? I think I would have recalled such a place. Don't really right recall where I'm from, or where I'm bound..."
"Do you know who I am?"
"An... old friend?" He sounded like he was testing the water. "Aren't you?"
"Yes, yes, I am," I said carefully, "Say, I had some questions for you..."
"Oh, and I had some for you, too..." He frowned. "Except I can't seem to get a handle on 'em. Questions - who needs 'em? All that matters is the answers anyway. I think," he finished with a shrug.
"Well, it's been interesting, Adahn, but I have to leave. Farewell."
"Hey... uh..." His lip curled. "Look, before you up and fly away to wherever abouts you're going, I've something for you... at least I think so..."
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure." He dug in his pockets, and frowned. "Pockets too damned small to keep anything in..." He scratched his head. "Maybe..." He pulled back his sleeves, first the left one, then the right one, scowled, then let both sleeves fall back to full length.
Hmmm. Better test this. "Why don't you check the left sleeve again? I think it might be there."
"Really?" He pulled back the left sleeve again, and this time, there was indeed a package tied to his wrist. He smiled in relief, untied it from his arm, then handed it to me. "For you, friend. From me, for you... a thanks of sorts!" He nodded as I took the item and felt through the brittle wrapping paper - a ring, no doubt enchanted by the feel of it.
"Wasn't there some money to go along with this?" I asked, probing a little further.
He snapped his fingers and agreed with as much ease as I had asked. "Yes, there was, yes there was." He looked down at his belt, where there was now a belt pouch. He untied it and passed it to me. "It's all there. All hundred coppers."
"What about that enchanted item you wanted to give me?" I asked again.
He looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled, as if remembering. "Why, yes, there was one, wasn't there?" He reached into his right sleeve and pulled forth a long, slender dagger. "Here you are."
As I looked up from the gift to thank Adahn, he was gone, vanished like steam curling from the mouth of a kettle. I didn't even hear him leave.
"Uh... farewell, then."
The woman was just as broken as the last time I saw her so long ago. Moreso. Her skin was pale with longing, marred only with black and blue streaks from injuries long ago, likely self-inflicted. Broken wisps of white hair jutted from her crown like bent straws, and not a glimmer of her faded beauty of remained.
"Oh you again. It's been a while. Have you found a way to free Ignus?" she pleaded. She ached for his warmth, craved the heat of his charred glory. I could taste it. "When will you free my love?"
"As soon as I can get this to him. They say this decanter holds an endless supply of water."
Her eyes widened when I showed it to her, the water of a dozen oceans swirling in the crystal, "Yes! Use that on him and he'll be sure to come free! Oh, my Ignus, I await you!" She pauses for a moment, dread in her eyes. "Do you know the command word?"
"Yes, I do."
Her eyes brightened even further, if that was possible. "Then use it! Use it on him now!"
With her urging, I approached the grill, and the man that dared to touch the flames burning above them.
He twisted in the air, ecstasy boiling in his eyes. The flames embraced his flesh when it would've eaten away anything else, and the heat rolled off of him in waves. He may have been angelic once, a deva in the heart of a sun, but what remained was skeletal, scarred with the elements.
I was afraid.
I tilted the decanter over the grill and began to pour. A small stream of ice-blue water poured from the lips of the decanter, and touched the flames of the grill with a violent hissing and a rush of steam... the heavy wisps curled lazily, and then, all of a sudden, as if in response to this challenge the decanter lunged forward, ripping itself free from my grasp.
My hands flung forward, fingertips grazing the glass in a futile attempt to catch it as it fell onto the grill and shattered.
"By the hells... ?!"
Hissing billows of steam and a furious crackling noise rushed from the grill, spilling over me and forcing me to cover my ears and turn away... there was a keening, a cackling, a terrible sound like a hundred buildings burning, people screaming, their cries being cut short by the roar of flame and melting flesh...
As I put my hands over my ears to block out the sound, I met a stickiness on my hands, like hot cheese or candle wax... my ears were bleeding from the sound! I drew my hands back, to see them covered with chunks of melted flesh filled with bloody swirls...
I was vaguely aware of the screams surrounding me, the clatter of chairs and mugs tumbling to the floor. There was the laughter of the fiends in the bar, the terrified groans of the drunkards. In some corner a sod must've soiled himself, and he wasn't even standing in the heart of the firestorm.
I was about to run from the bar, do anything to get away from the sound, when suddenly all fell silent, except for a jagged crackling coming from the warped grill. I turned -- on the grill lay the Decanter of Endless Water, now nothing but shards and steam. Above it was the creature, flames still trailing from its body, floating over the bar's floor. It was staring at me, its eyes flickering like two torches...
"I know you..."
The creature's face split, charred flesh peeling away from its jaw so that it might speak. "Yessss..." Its voice crackled, burned, roared through the creature's chest, and with every word, flakes of cinder and ash spat from its mouth and drifted into the air. I could barely stand to look at the thing - the blazing radiance surrounding it was terrible to behold.
"Yesssss..." The creature floated towards me, the air bending from the thermals surrounding it. "Long have I ssslept... dreamssss of flamesss..." As if in response, flames curled within Ignus' throat, and a tongue of flame streamed from behind his blackened teeth. "I am yourssss... 'til death comessss for ussss both... "
"We shall see..."
Wordlessly Drusilla approached, hands clasped over her breast, her eyes bright and lips trembling. Ignus' eyes flared up, and before I could stop him, he embraced her.
She returned the gesture, arms wrapping around his body, losing herself in his flames. She didn't cry out, didn't make a sound as she curled around her lover, the flames blooming like summer flowers around her body. She had embraced her own funeral pyre.
My last glimpse of her was burned into my memory in that instant: Her eyes were full of fiery passion and all-engulfing love, deeper than the molten core of a planet, higher than the heart of a star. In a flash she was gone, sublimated in a burst of ardor and a wave of heat. Nothing was left of her -- not even ashes.
What have I done?