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Fall-From-Grace pointed out the Civic Festhall ahead of us. I hurried towards the structure, nearly colliding with a woman and her two companions.
The smell of alcohol wafted heavily from the young woman and, despite her dark skin, I could see that her face — beautiful, but cruel-looking — was flushed. She was slender but well-muscled, adorned in exotic jewelry and translucent silk clothing. Numerous scars crisscrossed her thighs and forearms; they looked to be from battle-wounds. A sneer appeared on her face.
“Well, well… what have we here? A little tiefling gutter-queen, come crawling out of the Hive?” The woman pouted, talking as one would to a small child. “Are you lost, little tiefling? Oh, look! It has a tail! How…cute!”
Annah flushed, and with a snarl, blades sprouted from her fists.
“Now, fiend-kin, don’t do that,” The woman seemed unconcerned as Annah drew her weapons, and clucked disapprovingly with her tongue. “Careful now, or I'll remove that tail of yours and feed it to my dogs.”
Fall-From-Grace spoke up. “Young Sarhava? Sarhava Vhjul, could it be you?” The young woman appeared confused for a moment, then recognized Fall-From-Grace. She seemed startled and abashed.
“Mistress Grace! I had not noticed you… only shamefully do I admit this, for your noble appearance would be obvious to even a dullard.” Fall-From-Grace gave the barest of nods.
“Your words are most skillfully chosen, unlike those heard so recently.” Sarhava seemed shamed.
“Yes, Mistress… I regret that such words were spoken in your presence.”
“I regret they were spoken at all.” Her tone barely changed, but the subtle reprimand seemed to crack the young woman’s face like a whip. “It pains to see an old student of mine behaving so…”
Fall-From-Grace continued, “These are my companions that I am traveling with. I would expect the same courtesy given to them as you have given to me. Such is a hallmark and the responsibility of those… noble-born.”
Annah glared at Grace and Sarhava furiously.
Sarhava bowed low. “Then allow me to excuse myself with an apology, Mistress Grace, to you and your companions. My words were ill-chosen. ’Tis the drink that caused me to speak such rubbish, and I am filled with shame for having belittled myself so before my teacher of old.” She turned and left.
No one else standing in front of the Festhall chose to intercept us as we entered the main doors. We were entering a large hall, with doors opening off to our right. Of those moving about the hall a large man directly in front of us dominated it. I moved towards him.
This towering man’s golden skin sparkled slightly, almost as if it were metallic — whether it was his actual flesh or merely painted on, I could not tell. He regarded me coolly as I 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. I asked how he could help.
“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.”
Curious, I asked about him. He replied, “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.”
I asked about the layout of the Festhall. He explained the location of the meeting rooms and training halls, and that he would have to be consulted to take us to a sensorium, to experience recorded sensations. I had recalled something I had heard from Barking-Wilder, about my room in the Festhall. I asked Splinter how I could get a room in the hall. Splinter replied that I had to be a member of the Society of Sensation. But I had just learned I had been a member, once.
“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. 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 just the thing. “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 only the Dustmen or the corpses in their care have seen…”
“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.”
I replied, “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?”
He granted me full access as a member after I shared the experience.
I moved about the rooms off the main hall. I ran into the lover of Juliette from the brothel, and fulfilled her request to make him jealous with a false love letter. At least I tried; he seemed willing to give up the affair at the first hint of trouble. Perhaps they were better matched than I thought.
I was also able to do a service for Dolora as well, obtaining the keys to her heart from Merriman, a bitter, cantankerous old codger. Naturally, I had to do a service for Merriman as well first; after my service I found Merriman a much more likeable fellow, if somewhat confused.
I also ran into Jumble Murdersense, and after some minor difficulties persuaded him to remove the curse he had placed on Reekwind, a story teller I had met in the Hive.
I continued walking, and found an area of guest rooms, on the fall side of the Festhall from where I had entered. I spoke to the room clerk, who startled me by offering me a key to my room. She could only explain that her ledger indicated the key she handed me was for my room, which had been waiting for me for a good, long time.
I entered the room, which seemed neatly kept despite the likely many decades since I had last used it. Among many common items on shelves in the room was one that was different. It was a heavy dodecahedron — about the size of both my fists balled together. It seemed inexplicably familiar to me. Its texture was cold and smooth, but whether it was metal or stone, I could not tell. A certain, almost intangible ‘tension’ ran over the object, as if it were ready to spring into the air at any moment.
Upon closer examination, I realized that each side of the dodecahedron was a plate that could be twisted clockwise or counter-clockwise… it appeared to be a puzzle-box or combination lock. As each of the pentagonal plates had five possible positions, the dodecahedron had no less than two hundred forty-four million, one hundred forty thousand, six hundred twenty-five ‘settings.’ It would take every second of the next seventy-seven-odd years to hit all the combinations — but then, I decided I might just get lucky and stumble onto a solution in minutes…
As I methodically twisted the cold, gray facets of the dodecahedron, a strange sensation formed at the base of my skull. My hands seemed to move of their own accord, turning the object and spinning its facets with mechanical precision. I had done this before… I knew the combinations, once… and I also became aware that there was a certain danger within the object. Whether it was from simple traps or something less mundane, though, I could not recall.
In moments, I had what might be the first four sides locked into their proper places. As I began to twist the fifth side of the dodecahedron, I recalled a cunning blade-trap that would snap out to lash at a meddler’s hands, slashing their wrists and severing fingers. I avoided the trap with the proper number of rotations, certain that I had made progress in the unraveling of the object’s secret.
After avoiding the dodecahedron’s springing blades, I slowly puzzled out the next series of facet positions. As I started to turn the ninth side of the dodecahedron, I suddenly remembered a second trap — jets of toxic gas that would form a billowing cloud of lethal, corrosive vapor around a curious meddler. I circumvented the trap with the correct amount of twists, positive that I had nearly unlocked the dodecahedron.
I began my work on the final facet positions. Just as I was locking the twelfth pentagon into place, I recollected sorcerous runes hidden within the dodecahedron that would blast the unwitting holder with bolts of magical lightning. After disarming the trap with the correct number of facet rotations, the dodecahedron clicked and began to open in my hands…
The dodecahedron split once, twice, and eventually unfolded itself impossibly into a perfectly rectangular tablet the size of a large book. Etched into its surface were a series of bizarre symbols. It looked to be a code or language that I felt should be familiar to me… but it was not. Further examination of the tablet revealed that by twisting the pentagonal facets that were now upon the underside of the tablet, different ‘pages’ could be displayed across the tablet’s face. I finally realized that the dodecahedron was a tome or journal of some sort.
It was frustrating to have these notes by a former incarnation in front of me, but be unable to read it. I uselessly attempted for a while to access the secret of the writings from the depths of my mind. With a grunt of frustration I put the journal away and left the room.
I entered the main area of the Festhall again. A series of lectures was just starting in rooms reserved for their presentations.