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We retraced our path, headed back to the Buried Village. On the way I stopped to talk to Glyve. The water from the enchanted flask we had found dissipated the dirty taint the ditch water had left, and it succeeded in freeing Glyve from his stony prison. Before he faded entirely, he told me to seek out a woman called Nemelle in Sigil's Clerk's Ward for the command word needed to unlock all of the flask's powers.
Back at the Buried Village I decided to rest for the night, seeing Pharod only when fresh the following morning. One more night waiting for his precious sphere wouldn't hurt him after all this time.
The next day we entered his hall.
"Ah, corpse..." Pharod turned as I approached, his crutch *clacking* on the cobbles of the Court. He licked his lips and smiled expectantly. "Have you brought me what I asked for?"
"The bronze sphere? Here it is." Pharod's eyes gleamed as I handed him the bronze sphere -- he touched it gingerly, almost reverently.
"You..." He chuckled. "Ah, corpse, such a gamble you were, and paid off handsomely, you have..." Pharod studied his reflection in the sphere and *tsked.* "The years have been cruel to me, I see..."
"I did what you asked, Pharod. Now I want some answers." Pharod didn't even look at me as I spoke... his attention was swallowed by the sphere he held.
"Yes, yes, ask your questions..." Pharod turned the sphere in his hands. "Very important, your questions..."
"What do you know about me? Why was I told to seek you out?" Pharod studied me with a critical eye.
"Stay your weapons for what I'm about to say, corpse, for it could be your ears'll take offense..." Pharod smiled wickedly. "My ears no longer care, but yours are still fresh for the burning, it seems." I did not care about Pharod, only the information he held.
"You have my word that I'll stay my hand, Pharod. But I need to know what you know."
"The truth..." Pharod's tone softened, as if cajoling. "The truth was stretched a bit from my mind to my tongue when we first spoke, corpse -- in all terrible honesty, I know little about you." He raised a withered finger. "Yet, hear me out..." I impatiently motioned him to go ahead.
"You're a cutter who plays at being dead, as I see." Pharod squinted at me. "Some time ago, you came to me, like you are now, but not, just strolled right into Ill-Wind Court and said you wanted an 'audience' with me." After pausing a moment, he continued. "Aye, an 'audience.'" Pharod chuckled, like whispering sand. "Like I was royalty..." He seemed amused, but there was an edge in his voice. "You knew the right things to say, you did, oh yes. You spoke the chant like a Guvner, born and true. And I listened."
"But you were royalty... at least a man of position, once, were you not?" I interjected.
"Once." Pharod hissed. "*Once.* Titles, only words, NOTHING in the end..." He lapsed into silence, then *tsked.* "Knew that, too, my history, I think you did..." Pharod gave a mock bow, his crutch creaking as he leaned against it. "'Oh, Pharod, great Collector King,' you said. 'I have come before you to request a boon.' 'A boon?' I said. 'What could I offer a man of such obvious strength?'" Pharod wagged his crooked finger.
"And you asked for a strange thing: You says, 'Lord Pharod, I ask for *courtesy.* Your Collectors roam throughout the Hive. If they should find my body, I want it kept safe. That is all I ask.'" Pharod shrugged. "A simple boon."
I suddenly feel a prickling in my skull as Pharod spoke the word 'boon' and the smell of blood and fear rushed through my nostrils... Pharod was hiding something, something that happened in the past, involving me -- and it scared him. The boon he granted me was no simple matter.
"So you granted my boon just like that? There's nothing to be gained from it, for you. Why did you even agree to do it?" Pharod fell silent for a moment.
"A dead man can keep no promises, and promises to a dead man are easy enough to make, corpse." I could tell he was prevaricating.
"You're a merchant, Pharod, not a Samaritan. There must have been another reason..."
"Aye..." Pharod's face suddenly peeled back in fury, his skin flushing red. "After you'd strung up a score of my blood on the Hive walls t'DIE, I had *enough* reason to promise you the PLANES themselves. Then your butchering self comes to my HOME, my KIP, to DEMAND a 'boon' of me..." Pharod calmed himself, though his face was still flushed. "Aye, I agreed..."
I tried to tell myself that this other incarnation was another person, no relation to me at all. But I still felt shame at this other's actions.
"I'm sorry about your people, Pharod, for what that's worth." Pharod *tsked.*
"No matter, them bodies served me well enough. The Dusties pay the same for fresh deaders as for old..."
"Was that the only reason you agreed to my request?"
"You knew things about me... things only I knew. You knew I was greedy for somethin' beneath Sigil, and you put a name and picture to it: the bronze sphere, you said. I didn't think you would fetch it for me..." He chuckled. "Yet did you? Aye. The Planes turn in strange ways..."
"And that's *all* you know?"
"All I know? Nay... but it's all I know about you, corpse." Pharod replied.
"Fine. Next question... what did you take off my body after I died?"
"I?" Pharod licked his lips. "Why, *I* took nothing, corpse." His face split in a grin. "Then, I wasn't the one that found your body..."
"Who did?" Pharod's smile widened, pulling the pasty folds of flesh back from his face like a curtain.
"My daughter, the rose of my eye, the sweetest of my family, and the sharpest wit of them all..." He licked his dry lips and sighed in mock sadness. "Such a cruel tongue on her..."
"Your *daughter?* Who? "
"My darlin' girl, Annah. She found you, dead as deader can be, in a place where most Collectors wouldn't go for a *mountain* of coppers. Could be she plucked something off you, could be not...?" He leaned in, shaking his head. "You'll have t'ask her, for it's not her Da's place to say." He still was taking me for a fool.
"Don't lie to me, Pharod. You're a merchant, and you always take a cut from your workers. What did Annah give *you* from my body?"
"Ah... yes... my tribute..." Pharod folded his withered hands over his crutch, almost protectively. "There's no telling what was from *you* or not, corpse. Most like, there was nothing." I had had it with his skirting of the truth.
"Pharod, my patience is at an end. If you don't hand over what was stolen from me, I will see to it the Dustmen know where to find you."
Pharod was silent for a moment. He tapped his fingers against his crutch... slowly. I waited, glaring at him.
"Where has the decency of man gone..." Pharod grumbled, shaking his head. "A courtesy I am doing for you, corpse... such a courtesy. Pharod *parting* with anything... it'd be the dead-book for me if anyone heard... wait here, move not a yard. I shall return."
After a long while, Pharod returned, his crutch *clacking* against the flagstones. In his hands, he held a number of items, which he passed off to me.
"You will be *silent* on this and accept the *blessing* that I even remembered..."
Absently, I catalogued what he had given to me out loud. "A few hundred coppers, a scrap of paper, bandages, and a ring? Very well... it was Annah who found me? Where is she?"
"Where's Annah?" Pharod shrugged. "She's hiding in the shadows here, I expect, listening to us trade the chant. I called for her after you went below... had to ask her if you were *really* in the dead book when she found you or not..." He chuckled dryly, then took a deep breath and called out to the darkness. "Annah! Stop mithering in those shadows and come greet our guest!"
I turned to see a striking red-haired girl dressed in leather armor... I hadn't even heard her enter the chamber. Her right arm was covered with a series of interlocking plates that looked as if they were taken from the skin of some creature, and a horned shoulder piece protected her left arm. Oddly enough, she had a tail... that was flicking back and forth as I watched. I instantly recognized the tiefling girl.
"You're Annah? I met you in the Hive - outside the Mortuary, correct?" The girl ignored me and turned to Pharod.
"What's this about, then? I'm not playing the leash-pull with this scarred dog, so I'm not. Get one of your other gullies to do it."
"Annah, rose of my eye - have I not taught you to *respect* the dead?" A thin smile wormed across Pharod's face, and he made a slight bow towards me. "This resourceful corpse needs to know where you found him."
"Eh? What are yeh on about?" She squinted at me. "'Ee's not a deader."
"Ah! Yes, my mistake..." Pharod nodded, then his voice dropped dangerously. "Yet, my darlin' Annah, that still makes it YOUR mistake... for this one only had one foot in the dead book when you brought him to me." He tapped his crutch against the flagstones with a light tap. "He woke up, sought me out - MOST embarrassing."
"So?" Annah glanced at me, then shrugged. "He shouldn't be playing deader on the Hive while I'm about, or he'll wake up in a Dustie's arms, he will." I was still angry at Pharod, and took some of it out on the girl.
"Maybe you could have CHECKED to see if I was alive before dumping me off there."
"Oh, aye, and maybe YEH should have been more careful an' maybe yeh wouldn't have been lying face-down n' stone-still on the alley cobbles like a deader, aye?!" I calmed a bit, realizing the unreasonableness of my complaint.
"Enough of this - where did you find my body?"
"Show him where you found his body, Annah." Pharod tapped his crutch again for emphasis. "Take him to the haunted alley." Pharod studied Annah for a moment, then grinned and turned to me. "If yeh happen to lose my darlin' Annah on the way to the alley, corpse, you come back and see Pharod. I'll guide you..."
"Tchhhh..." Annah sneered at Pharod, then threw a glance at me. "C'mon, then. And keep yer steps quick, jig? I've little time tae waste on the likes of yeh." I indicated that I wasn't ready yet, there were still a few things I wanted to investigate here. Annah would have none of it.
"Oh, aye? Well, then, yeh can sniff out yer grave on yer own, eejit! I'm not wai-"
"Annah..." Pharod's voice was quiet, but it cut through the girl's speech like a knife. "Be his minder. See that he comes to no harm while in the village. Then guide him to where he wishes to go." Annah spat on the ground.
"Pox on yeh both..." However, she came with us docilely enough as we left the hall, where she stopped me.
"I got some things to say ta YEH, I do." I told her to go on.
"I seen the way yeh act, an' yeh need to be told some things if we're going to be travelin' together... first - don't go flapping yer bone-box and locking eyes with everyone yeh meet. That's a sure street to trouble, it is. An' don't be takin' no one's name in vain or yeh'll be attracting the worst sort of attention, and right quick, too."
"An' one last thing. Don't be thinkin' yeh can treat me like a cobblestone, neither - yeh start doin' that, an' I'll take these blades an' carve yeh, I will." I asked her about the blades she carried.
"Me blades? Aye, these dags are mine. I like these punch dags, I do - yeh can keep yer axes n' hammers n' clubs - these dags are more me style. Yeh jest behave yerself, an' yeh won't be wearing 'em, aye?"
There were several items I wanted to check in the Hive before I went with Annah to where she had found me. We left the Buried Village, heading back to Ragpicker's Square. Before we reached the square, I remembered the items Pharod had given me, especially the note. I pulled out the note, and read it.
- Beware SHADows
- Beware places where the night LIVEs.
- They wait
- There is no Natural Darknesss
- Only ShaDOWS
I wondered what it could mean.
Pharod stood and fingered his prize, the bronze sphere, the item that would save him from his fate. He had scarcely noticed when the others left, so intent was he on his find. A motion! He shook his head, it must only be a rat.
He returned to study of the sphere. After all these years, he finally had it. It would take study, but he was certain he could unlock whatever secret the sphere held, the secret that would protect him. Wait, someone was near him. But he had heard nothing. It must be Annah. He would flay her hide, disobeying him
He froze, noticing what was actually nearby. It was as if the
darkness hiding in the corners of his hall had flowed, taken shape
as a dozen humanoid shadows surrounding him. He could not even
make a sound as they closed in, claws rending, and he died.
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