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We spent the night at the inn, sharing a common room with a Bariaur, a centaur-like creature, and a crazed man who kept muttering about his fork.
Early next morning I set out for Ragpicker's Square, where I thought for sure I would find some word of Pharod. A miserable place it was, full of piles of trash, and broken down buildings that looked as though they would soon collapse and add new piles.
As I entered the square, I noticed several figures draped in filthy, tattered brown robes, a long hood concealing most of the face from view. This costume I had learned to associate with collectors. I approached one. I saw his eyes narrow beneath his hood, and he took a step back.
"What do ye want?"
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm lookin' for some damned bodies is what I'm tryin' ta do, but ye'd think the Dead Powers had packed up their kip an' left the Planes, the way people are stayin' healthy an' all." There was a sudden gleam in his eye: "We had a pox last month, an' it was a glorious time, it was... bodies stinkin' ta the high heavens, an' plenty of jink ta be had, too."
"Why are you looking for bodies?" He looked surprised.
"Well, y'haul the blighters ta the Mortuary. There, ya talk ta the Dusties, haggle a little, an' get a few bits of jink. The Dustmen, they gather the dead... it's their job. They pay us ta cover more area an' bring any bodies we find ta 'em. Then they make sure that the blighter's body goes ta its proper place or gets cremated. They're all serious about it, their barmy philosophy, but it just means more jink for me." He winked.
"I'm looking for a man named Pharod." I knew what his next question was going to be, and before he could ask I threw him several coppers. He narrowed his eyes suddenly.
"Pharod... what about 'im?" Despite the jink, he still seemed hesitant.
"You seem suddenly wary... why?"
"Pharod, hmph!" He spat, sneering contemptuously. "Ragpicker's Square is Sharegrave's -- me boss' -- territory, ye see. Pharod an' his dogs came in a whiles back an' tried ta oust us. We fought 'em off, we did, so's they're all in hidin' somewhere, now. We still catch one a' his lads now an' then 'round the Square. Usually we turn 'em inta a quick spot a' jink at the Mortuary, the pikin' sods."
"Tell me about Sharegrave."
"He's me boss... casts his shadow o'er a whole mess a' Collectors, he does. I'd stay away from him unless ye gots *right* good cause ta talk ta the man... I've never spoken with him personally, meself."
"Do you know where Pharod is?"
"I know where the rat-bastard isn't... he ain't where most a' the Collectors call kip, in Ragpicker's Square, but that he's close by there somewhere's the chant." Perhaps this Sharegrave could help me, assuming he was easier to find than Pharod. As I moved off the collector called out.
"Well, keep yerself safe, cutter. If I find ye on the streets, I'll be kind ta yer corpse."
A weasely-looking fellow was skulking about the garbage like a tattered shadow. Seeing me and Morte, he beckoned to me.
"Hsssssst... ey! Th'skull. Where ye get the skull, ey? Me skull, it is! Give it backta me." Morte turned to the Hiver.
"Pike off." I was more curious about this fellow.
"Who are you?" He ignored me, still staring at Morte.
"Skull's mine, mine, ey! Give it ta me, I'll forgit ye stole it." He mumbled, his narrowed eyes darting. I was getting rather annoyed with this fellow, and decided to let him find out for himself.
"Go on, take the skull." As if there was any chance he would be able to.
He chuckled dryly and smiled. As he reached for Morte, there was a *snap!* and the man's hand whipped back. The man began screaming. "Aiggghhhh! Aighhh!!! I'll *kill* ye! *Kill* ye!" Morte was holding one of the man's fingers between his teeth like some macabre cigar. He spoke around the finger.
"Touch me again, and yer hand's gonna join yer finger, berk."
"Morte! Give the man back his finger." Morte spat the finger at the man. It bounced off his chest and fell to the ground. No need to waste any more time here.
"That's a hard lesson learned. Farewell." The man, biting his lip from the pain, glared at me. Suddenly, he attacked! He was no match for Morte and myself, and folded almost immediately with a wound from my knife in his belly. I noticed Dak'kon, who had been silently watching, had joined in my defense.
I considered asking Dak'kon what he thought of my actions, but I was apprehensive that I might find he did not approve. I noted for later consideration that his mere presence seemed to be having an effect on me.
Another man had been watching the fight. He was now whistling a cheerful tune and playing with a well-kept fighting knife. As I approached him, he stopped whistling and gave me a curious look.
"Hm? Wot ye want?" He continued, "Me name's Ratbone, cutter. I'm a thief-fer-hire in the employ o' Sharegrave, the boss o' the Collectors ye see 'round this square. He pays me mostly ta learn his lads ta be real quiet-like, an' how ta fight if they runs inta a spot o' trouble. That's likely the only questions I'll answer fer ye, cutter." He sniffed and shrugged.
"Where's this Sharegrave fellow?" He nodded towards the large, dilapidated house beside him.
"Careful though, cutter. He don't like visitors. He's right suspicious o' everyone. Sharegrave's not even his real name... just what me and some o' the others calls him."
"I'm looking for a man named Pharod. Do you know where he is?" Ratbone shook his head.
"Nay, I don't. Hear he's nearby, though. Some o' his lads come runnin' though at times, makin' fer some hidey-hole that's who-knows-where. Somewhere up around those elevated platforms, I'll bet, but it's none o' me business." He shrugged and spat on the ground. "Live an' let live, says Ratbone."
I waited a moment, since I thought he might have more to say, but he remained silent. I decided I might as well go in and visit his boss, and see what he had to say.
There were three men in the main room of the house as I entered. Two were obviously low level collectors, in dirty robes. The third was different. Tall and lanky, this pale, grim-looking man exuded authority despite his gangly and somewhat awkward frame. A good portion of his left ear was missing; what little that was left was a ragged mess of scar tissue, as if the ear was bitten off, rather than cut. His narrow, shifting eyes - almost mere slits - looked clever... and dangerous. This must be Sharegrave. I greeted him. He spat out a reply.
"I don't know you, berk." He glared at me. "What do you want? Answer quick, before I call in some men to make quick work of you." I suspected he did not suffer fools easily, and I had had enough of appearing foolish yesterday. I got right to the point.
"I'm looking for a man named Pharod." The tension in the room suddenly rose.
"Now, what a funny thing to be asking about. What do you want to know about old blood Pharod for?" I knew better than to appear friendly with Pharod.
"He has some things of mine, and I want them back." The man was silent for a moment, then cracked a smile.
"He steals from us all, doesn't he, whether we're living or dead?" He chuckled.
"What do you mean?"
"Our main source of... living... around here is the dead. You follow?"
"You're a Collector."
"Aye, that's right." He looked at me as if he was considering something. "Now, there's only so many deaders at any one time. My bloods and I can only gather so many. If somebody else is gathering deaders, that's that much less jink that goes into our pockets."
"Pharod is taking bodies, too?"
"Aye. The rub is that that he's found a *mother-lode* of them. Now, I haven't heard of any massacres in Sigil." He frowned, tapping at his chin. "So I'm quite interested in knowing where all the deaders are coming from."
"I could find out for you, if you'd like."
"Oh, aye? And how would you do that?"
"All I need to do is find him. Let me worry about the rest." I left unstated that, if I found Pharod, I would be the one determining when and how I would fulfill this promise.
"Hmm. Heh. You got it; I'll even give you one hundred copper commons for your trouble. Go up on the platforms, follow them to the North and West, and you'll come to a gate that leads to Pharod's bolt-hole. Getting in and getting the information is your deal. And if anyone asks, you don't know me, and we never had this talk, hear?"
I left Sharegrave disgruntled. I still had no clear idea of how to get to Pharod. I might as well inspect the area of the Square that had been described to me, but I still kept an eye out for anyone else who might be questioned.
I ignored the collectors about the square. It was doubtful they knew anything more than their boss. There was, however, a wooden hut ahead. It didn't look as far gone as most of the other wooden structures about, so I determined to see if anyone was inside.
There was one occupant. The squat old woman looked like she had had all the color bled out of her -- everything from her hair, to her shawl, to her robe - all were shades of gray. The only splotches of color on her came from several strange herbs, which were tied to her belt by their stalks. The herbs made a strange *swsshhh* when she moved, like a broom.
The elderly woman turned and stared at me... and I noticed the gray shades blanketing her body extended to her features as well. Her hair was a wispy gray, and her eyes were like chips of granite. She frowned when she saw me.
"And who might ye be, hmmmn?" Once again caught by the embarrassment of not having a name, I fell back on my all-purpose lie.
"The name's Adahn. Who are you?" With a sly cackle, she wagged her eyebrows.
"Have ye not heard of Ol' Mebbeth then, the midwife of the Square? Have ye not now?" She narrowed her eyes, and her voice dropped. "Well, now ye have, fer *I* be Mebbeth."
"You're a midwife? What do you do?"
"I set bones right, drive the cough outta the sick, yank out squealing, stubborn babes, mend cloaks or a rag or two, make cures and herbs and other such." She squinted at me, studying my scars. "Be needin' a cure or three, do ye then?"
"Aye, ye be needin' some cures ta lookatcha. D'ye want ta buy some, do ye...?" She glanced at the scars covering my body again, then shrugged. "Too late ta be askin' for them, I think."
"Do you know someone named Pharod?"
"Pharod?! That - that - pah!" I watched as Mebbeth spat once... twice... three times, then followed it by making a semi-circle over her heart. "That gull tird! Whatcha be wantin' with the likes of him?"
"I need to find him. Do you know where he is?"
"He's not *in* Ragpicker's Square, that much I ken tell ye... ye need ta find a way *under* the Square ta get ta that tird spider's kip." She spat again. "Even talkin' 'bout him leaves a foul taste, it does."
"He's under the Square?"
She jabbed her finger at the floor. "Aye, he's buried beneath these piles of trash, him and his boys, and a tough time ye'd have diggin' him out of his nest." She shook her head. "Let be, let be, child."
"I need to find him. How do I get down there?" Mebbeth frowned, then sighed.
"Hear tell, Pharod's got a gate that leads to his nest somewhere here in the Square... it's jist a matter of findin' it. Ye might want to ask some of the others, some who travel a bit more than Ol' Mebbeth."
I had a curious impression looking at Mebbeth. I thought I could see a faint glow about her body. I had a feeling I should know what that meant. More, I had a feeling it was something I could once do - and needed to do again. I tried to empty my mind, to somehow reach what I couldn't consciously remember. To my surprise, it worked. Out of the darkness popped a question.
"Are you a witch, Mebbeth?" Mebbeth scrutinized me.
"I say naught as to what I am and isn't, but whatcha be wantin' ta know so fool bad for that ye hound an' ol' woman, barkin' and sniffin' fer a juicy bit of gossip?" Of course, that was where I was headed - magic.
"I want to learn about magic. Could you teach me?" Mebbeth laughed.
"Pah! I'm no teacher, no school-mistress all set up ta teach like them in the big Festhall! There's others somewhere I'm sure that'd spill the dark of it... ye'd be wastin' yer time with ol' Mebbeth, so ye would."
"I don't agree. I think you'd have a lot to teach." Mebbeth looked at me intently.
"Oh, aye? *Why* do ye want to learn such things?"
"Because I may need it to solve the mystery of who I am." After a moment, Mebbeth nodded.
"The Art may help, it may not, and ye must not rely on it ta solve all o' yer problems." She sighed. "Child, it's most like only going to add another chip to yer pile o' questions..."
"I understand. Will you teach me?"
"Pah!" Mebbeth shook her head. "One should make songs rather than make magick. Songs have more beauty. Magick's been made dull, common-place, soiled by the mob of people that have tromped through it... hmpppph." She squinted at me. "I'll teach ye... but first ye'll need to do some things for *me,* ye hear?"
Mebbeth set me a series of tasks before she would tell me any more. I eagerly rushed to fulfill them, the urge to find Pharod temporarily forgotten. I vaguely recognized the tasks set me as tedious jobs often given to test the dedication of someone just apprenticing in the art.
I spent the rest of the day running about the Hive, mostly going between Mebbeth's and the market. From my errands she ended up with a crude frame made from a barbed plant, over-starched rags and a container of fish ink. She spoke to me when all was done.
"Ye've done well, child. All I've asked. Now, I ask ye again: after all ye've seen, do ye still want to learn the art?"
"Yes. After all, the guiding goal of your errands was to test my persistence, was it not?" Mebbeth smiled, then nodded.
"Yes... mayhap, child, mayhap."
"And that's not all; you knew who I had to see to accomplish each errand, didn't you?" Mebbeth nodded again, slower this time.
"Mayhap, child, mayhap... iffen so, what did yer senses tell ye about them?" I reflected on what I had learned from those I had talked to while running my errands.
"Mourns-for-Trees showed me that my beliefs affect the world around me, Giscorl taught me that ritual is a wasted effort if the purpose of the ritual is ignored, Meir'am taught me that no matter how much I think I know, there is still much I can learn from another's eyes."
Mebbeth was silent for a moment, then she walked slowly over to me and touched me on the cheek. "Oh, child..." She sighed. "Ye will be a master sorcerer one day, ye will. Ye have the knowin' of it, yet... ye've come to Ol' Mebbeth for help, ye have. What could a midwife teach such a one?"
"Much, Mebbeth. I want to learn all you have to teach."
"So ye'll walk the path then..." Mebbeth paused. "Well, first things firstly: jest havin' the knack for the Art isn't enough. Ye need some means of givin' it focus: usually 'spells.' The spells are usually in a book. So the Art demands ye have a spell book or its like a-fore ye ken cast spells. Ken ye read?"
"Yes." I had no trouble reading inscriptions when I was in the Mortuary.
"Then let's test it, ken ye read this?" Mebbeth drew forth a small tattered card... it looked like a recipe.
I examined it. The writing on the recipe swam before my eyes, each symbol twisting out of focus whenever I tried to read it. Almost instinctively, I relaxed my eyes, allowing them to take in the page all at once... and the symbols suddenly bled together: the recipe listed measurements, ingredients... it appeared to be some minor divination.
"This is a minor divination, isn't it? It looks like it's a spell that allows the user to see the 'nature' of an item... to see whether it's enchanted or not." Mebbeth's eyes widened.
"Who are ye to test Ol' Mebbeth so?! Are ye some fiend?"
"No... well, not to my knowledge. What's wrong?"
"Well... not expectin' it, was I..." She nodded at the recipe, then plucked it out of my hand. "What ye see, it's written in the language of the *Art.* If ye're not a mageling yet, it should be all-a-swirl-jumble of mish-mash." She snapped her finger. "Yet, clear as crystal, ye pluck the sense of it right up. Mayhap ye tell Ol' Mebbeth why that is?"
"I think I may have known once, but forgot... seeing the symbols just jarred my memory."
"Or else a natural gift, ye may have... no matter, no matter, ye've just shaved seasons off of yer learning, ye have." Mebbeth *harumphed.* "An I'd been lookin' fer someone to handle the chores around here, I had..."
"If you need help with anything around here, you can still ask... it's the least I can do in exchange for you teaching me." I cursed my run away mouth. I still wasn't sure why I reacted so favorably to Mebbeth, but I couldn't afford to waste too much time here. Fortunately, her answer allayed my concern.
"No, no, don't worry yerself about that..." She frowned. "Well, ye ken read spells well enough, but spells are no good to ye without a book to put them in..."
"Do you have one?"
Mebbeth glanced around the hut, and then she caught sight of the black-barbed picture frame I made. She picked it up carefully and studied it. "This'll do."
"That thing? It's just a frame."
"Ah, but so are ye, child..." Still holding the frame, she picked up one of the starched rags I got from Giscorl. With a yank, she pulled off the greenish starched-surface film; it fluttered in the air like a wispy bit of cloth. "Whatever Giscorl uses in the wash, it works better than curing, stretchin' and stonin' does on a normal rag. Can't afford parchment, I can't..."
She took the starchy film and pulled it over the black-barbed frame, latching the rag's edges onto the hooks around the frame until it looked like a small greenish-black painter's canvas. "It's missin' something..."
"It needs something written on it..." She took the tankard of ink I had given her and set it down next to her. She dipped one of her fingernails into the tankard, then drew it out, mumbling to herself. She began to scratch symbols onto the frame, one by one, still mumbling to herself. Some time passed, before Mebbeth looked up at me.
"All's done." She stood, drying her ink-stained fingernail on her robe. She tilted her head, regarding the strange, framed page in front of her. "A page fer yer spell book, it is." She indicated I should pick it up.
I realized I was familiar with the purpose of a spell book. I could copy spells into it in from scrolls I might come across, and then memorize and cast those spells drawing on my own control of magical forces. I could feel my knowledge of these magical forces strengthening, and knew I would be able to learn in days what would take others years of study to master. I could see that Mebbeth knew I didn't need her help any longer.
"All right child -- don't tarry here any longer. One such as ye has other ways to spend one's time rather than hang around Ol' Mebbeth."
"You're not so old."
"Pah, ye flatterer! Yer tongue is so lined with silver it'd shame a Baatezu! Get ye hince!"
"Thanks for everything, Mebbeth."
"Pah! Ye ken thank me by not playin' the addle-cove with what've learned. The Art's damned many a fool who sought to bend it in ways the Art weren't meant to bend. Now get along with ye!"
The was still enough time in the day to investigate the entrance to Pharod's Lair. I found a wooden walkway leading in the general direction I had been told of, and followed it, careful to avoid the planks that looked too rotted.
The causeway ended in an archway, which led only inches into a small building before becoming blocked by a solid wall of refuse. The rubbish was packed so tightly it may as well have been stones and mortar. Morte was staring at something.
"Hold up, chief... look at this." Peering down, I noticed a number of dirty footprints that led into the archway... and did not turn around. "There must be a portal through here or something."
"A portal? How do we open it?"
"Haven't the slightest, chief. It's got to be a common key, though - look at all the traffic that's gone through! Maybe one of the low-lives around here will know..."
"I'll ask around, then. Let's go." I remembered earlier when I thought Ratbone might have something more to say. I returned to him, to question him further.
"Do you know how to get through that trash-packed archway northwest of here?"
"Eh? Nay, I don't. Say... ye could ask Creeden, the Rat-Catcher. Sometimes he goes pokin' about up there an' disappears for an odd while. Creeden's usually in the Hive, right outside the Office o' Vermin and' Disease Control."
I thanked him, and hurried back into the hive near the market where I had met Creeden before. He was still there, selling his ratsies. I asked him about the archway in Ragpicker's Square. He thought for a moment.
"Aye, I know wot ye're speakin' of. There was a lass, name o' Nalls, who I saw walk through there, once, while I was lookin' fer rats. Don't know how she did it, though. Ye can prob'ly find her northeast a' here, rootin' around a pile o' lumber for nails an' the like."
My questioning of Hive inhabitants was paying off, since I knew just where she was as well. I thanked Creeden and went off in search of her. She, too, was where I had seen her last, pulling nails from old timbers. I asked about the archway. Nalls nodded slowly.
"It's a portal, ye know. Stumbled on it quite by chance, I did... alls ye need ta do is have a handful o' junk on ye when ye walks up ta it, an' ye'll be able ta pass right through. There's a small open space past the portal, an' a gate leadin' underground, but I figured no sense in askin' fer trouble so's I just turned around an' went right back. Here..." She handed me a handful of junk. "Use this, if ye likes. I was gonna toss it away, anyhow."
I thanked her, and since it was rather late headed for the
same inn to spend another night.
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