|Ãëàâíàÿ Ñëó÷àéíàÿ ñòðàíèöà
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Yves The Tale-Chaser
I entered another room, the last in the circuit I had made about the brothel. Inside was a fetching young woman with a far-away look in her soft, sea-green eyes.
She responded to my entry by speaking, “Greetings. I am Yves, the Tale-Chaser.”
Morte snidely commented, “What a coincidence! I, too, chase tails.”
Yves continued, unperturbed, “Have you come to trade tales?”
I had some questions, first, such as how she got her name.
“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.”
I wondered if she knew any tales about the brothel, asking, “Can you tell me about this place?”
“That is part of Mistress Grace’s story, which is not mine to tell. She has said that when she nears the end of her years, she shall tell me… and only if I pledge never to share it with another.”
“She hopes that she will never need to tell me her tale, for she hopes I will find my own story before that time and leave this place. I think she fears my life will be squandered in searching for this tale, and not acting upon what I already know.” Yves sighed softly. “But it cannot be helped.”
I asked about the scent and the veil, but she had nothing to add. She did know, however, a tale concerning Marissa.
“Once upon a time in a world of heroes and a time of petty, childish gods, there were three sisters. Cursed with a hideous appearance, they were considered demons by the people of the land and forever shunned. One missed her sisters terribly, yet left that world with its shame behind… but exchanged the pettiness of a pantheon for the pettiness of self.”
Impressed by her knowledge, I also asked for a tale of Ravel, the night hag. She had one ready.
“The tale of Ravel Puzzlewell, frightener of children, begins and ends with a question: ‘What can change the nature of a man?’ ”
“Many were the times she posed this riddle to those who approached her, those who sought to glean from her the strange magics that she alone seemed to possess. All attempted to answer her query, but to no avail… and they found the price of their wrong answer to be some horrible fate, always more terrible than the last victim's. To recount their various torments would be to speak of things that nightmares are woven from.”
“The tale strikes me in this way: Ravel herself knew not the answer to this question, but she lusted for such an answer. Only the why of the matter remained in question. Why did the nature of a man matter to one of the Gray Sisters, especially of one of such power as Ravel?”
“It is said that she put the question to the Lady of Pain; not directly, but shouted it to Sigil itself, daring for the Lady to answer. When no reply was forthcoming, she wove terrible magics that threatened to open the Cage and let the fury of the Planes roll in like a wave.”
“She received no answer other than banishment. To this day, no one knows the answer to Ravel’s question… and now there is no one to petition, for Ravel herself is gone, lost to the Planes.” I started to ask another question, but she interrupted.
“Wait… there is more. Though my tale ends with Ravel’s demise, there are some that claim the hag still lives. There is a silent prostitute here who once talked of such things, but she speaks no longer. If she would speak to you, she might tell you more of Ravel.” I asked what else she knew of the silent prostitute.
“Ecco?” Yves frowned, thinking. “I once heard a tale of a girl who knew the word that, if spoken, would undo the multiverse. Perhaps this is Ecco. Ask Dolora, though… I understand that she sometimes meets with one who knew Ecco before she stopped speaking.” I requested she tell me more specifically what she did in the Brothel.
“I collect tales, and trade them with others who've tales of their own.”
I was ready to trade tales with her, and I started with my first fresh memory. Yves leaned forward as I told the tale of my wakening in the Dustmen’s Mortuary… she seemed to devour my every word. As I finished, she smiled at me. “I shall remember this tale. I, too, will tell a tell of the Dustmen — ‘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.”
I had another tale ready for her, of the Alley giving birth. As I finished, she said, “I shall remember this tale. And now, I have one for you. Before I begin I must ask: do you know what a modron is?”
To my affirmative reply, she continued, “Then I shall tell you the tale of ‘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.”
I traded the rest of the tales of my adventuring, and she recounted the following tales in exchange.
‘The Petitioner at the Gate.’
“It was far after peak when the distant pounding was heard at the gates of the Prison.”
“Carus — the oldest Mercykiller known to the faction — dragged himself from his post, making his way down the hall to the great gates that separated the punished from the outside world. The pounding did not fade as he reached the gate and spoke to it.”
“He called out and received no answer. He opened the gate, far from feeling caution, but a strange, compelling sensation.”
“A haggard figure was on bent knees just beyond the door. Her hands were bloody from where they had been pounding against the gate, and her breath came in labored gasps. As the flickering light from the interior prison chamber poured across the cobbles, she glanced up at the Mercykiller who stood framed in the doorway, and began to sob with relief.”
“He felt himself mirrored in all but his gender as he stared at the woman, and he was stirred by her presence. Carus found himself unsure of what to say, so he simply waited for the woman to provide an explanation.”
“She did. It was a simple statement, but of utmost importance, and it made Carus… whose knees ached painfully with every movement… bend down and help the woman to her feet. He brought her in from the outside, guiding her gently into the passage beyond.”
“She had said that an injustice had been done. And that was all that Carus needed to hear.”
“In the end, it came to pass that she could not fulfill her duty as a Fury, for a man guilty of a blood crime had died unpunished. She begged Carus and the Mercykillers for aid… and so they executed her. She had failed in her charge.”
‘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.”
An untitled tale.
“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.”
“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 lead 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.”
I was out of stories, but asked Morte if he had a story to trade.
He replied, “Me? Why do I have to tell a story?”
I told him to just tell a story, to which he complied.
“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.’ ”
Yves responded with ‘The Fiend’s Game.’
“A fiend sometimes wandered the wilderness of a certain Prime world in the guise of a friendly old man. One day, he came upon some hunters in the wood.”
“ ‘What are you doing?’ The fiend asked. The hunters told him, and the fiend nodded. ‘I have never been on a hunt before. ‘ ”
“The hunters invited the old man to come along, and the group eventually came upon a glade where several deer were grazing. The hunters carried crossbows, but did not fire, and the fiend asked them why.”
“ ‘They are unarmed,’ the hunters chuckled, patting their crossbows. ‘We hunt nothing that does not have the ability to defend itself. After all, where is the sport in that?’ ”
“The fiend nodded at this, and promptly gated in three of his fellows. The hunters led them on a merry chase, but eventually they were caught and eaten.”
I asked Dak'kon to share a tale. Dak'kon nodded solemnly. “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 companions another version of your tale that I have heard…”
Dak'kon looked attentive, and perhaps a little surprised.
“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.”
I finally asked Annah if she would trade a tale. Her answer indicated she seemed to have gotten over her anger at me.
“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…” I added my voice.
“Please share your story, Annah…” Mort couldn’t resist his own addition.
“C’mon already, fiendling. You already have one tail you won’t part with.”
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…” I encouraged her. 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.
Yves smiled. “That was a wonderful, tale Annah; you should never hesitate to share it. Now I've one for you and your companions — ‘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.”
I had found only nine students of Lady Fall-From-Grace, not ten. I looked again through the rooms which were empty the first time I passed, but found no other student. I did encounter a talking armoire, which claimed to be a mage transformed. In one of its drawers was the missing veil, perfumed with the missing scent.
I confirmed my suspicion regarding the missing student when I looked at the basement of the brothel. Ten stones were set to catch the experiences of the students in the ten rooms above, but only nine were actively in use. I returned to the mistress of the establishment. Fall-From-Grace turned as I approached and smiled slightly.
“How may I help you?”
“I spoke to nine of the students, as you asked… but I could not find the tenth.”
“And you could not find the tenth student? How curious,” she replied
“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?”
“You and I should leave this place and explore the Planes. There is nothing more for either one of us to experience here.” Fall-From-Grace nodded again.
“Very well. I will travel with you, if you still desire my company.”
Annah commented in a loud voice, “Oh, mistress ‘igh and mighty will be joining us? What do we need her fer?”
Morte replied, “You couldn’t possibly understand.”
Annah told him, “I wish yeh'd fall from a great height. I might even bump yeh off me'self.”
I told the others I would meet them outside in a moment, but that first I needed to talk to Annah. I asked if she was all right.
She just glared at me.
When I asked if I could ask her some questions, she replied, “Why don’t yeh ask the stuck-up-ubus yer questions, then?” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Why are we even traveling with her? We don’t need her, we don’t.”
Although I wanted Fall-From-Grace to travel with us, partly for the reasons which I am sure Annah resented, such as her charm, knowledge and sophistication, I still wanted Annah along as much as ever. More, Annah had joined me first, so I said, “Annah, I want you with me — not her. If she bothers you, I'll ask her to leave.”
“Do it, then!” Annah glared at me. “I'm bettin’ yeh won’t — if yeh do, then we'll be better off for it, if not, then we'll be havin’ this talk again, we will.” I did still however hope that I might be able to convince Annah to declare a truce.
“Annah, please. You’re very important to me, and I need your help.”
“Oh, aye, and why is that then? This should be rich, it should. Yeh pity me, is that it? Yeh think I slow yeh down? Go on, say it!”
“I don’t pity you, and you don’t slow me down — you’re quick, you’re skilled, and I really need all the help I can get.” Annah frowned, her tail flicking back and forth.
“Aye… well… know I'll gut her if she starts sizing us up for a feast, I will.” She glared at me. “And don’t get any ideas I'm staying cause yeh want me to — I'm just helpin’ yeh out, I am.”