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We headed back to the Buried Village. I wanted to see if I could convince Pharod to remember anything else about myself, and we could rest the night there.
Once more we entered Pharod's hall. At the far end we found Pharod, lying on the floor, dead, worth now only a few coppers to a Dustman.
"Da! What happened? Who *did* this to yeh?!" Annah cried out upon seeing the body.
I took her aside, and asked her, "Annah, do you know how Pharod died? "
"I..." She shook her head. "I *donnae.* No one with half-a-mind would - Pharod got a long shadow, he does. Yeh cross him, an' yeh end up getting th' stick, yeh will."
"You don't have to accompany me anymore, Annah. If you need to stay with the Buried Village, I -"
"Nay..." Annah interrupted me. "I don't need tae be in the Village - an' I was wonderin' what I'd do if Pharod got penned in the dead-book, I was." She snorted. "Oh, well; he's probably mounting someone's wall in the hells, he is."
"But... he's your father. Don't y-"
"Not me *real* Da, he wasn't." Her eyes took on a hard look. "He was greedy, an' he was stupid, an' he was selfish, an' he was weak." She frowned. "An' now 'ee's dead. And that's all." I asked about something else that had puzzled me.
"Annah, when Pharod went to return the tribute he took from my body, he vanished for a while, then came back - but he never left Ill-Wind Court. Do you know where he went?"
"Oh, aye - tae hear tell, ol' stutter-crutch had got a stash pit somewhere close tae him. It's the only reason I can see why he'd set up kip in that filthy, drafty hall, it is. Nothing but stink and shadows."
"Really? And that's where he puts the tribute he gets? But where would he keep it all? If he's been at the Village for as long as he says, he would have amassed quite a collection. "
"Well..." Annah was silent for a moment. "I know he's never left his hall to get his tribute when he needed it."
"He wouldn't want to walk far with that lame leg of his, though."
"Aye, that's true - but only if yeh don't watch him careful. He isn't lame, though he puts on a fair show about bein' weak in the leg."
"So why does he carry that crutch?"
"I donnae." She nodded at me. "Yeh might as well ask why yeh have bones running around your waist, yeh do."
"So that crutch of his... could be a portal key?" Annah frowned in thought for a moment, then slowly nodded her head.
"Aye... there's a thought." She shrugged. "I wouldn't know how yeh'd use it, though. Maybe yeh just need tae *have* it."
Pharod was dead, but there might be information concerning me in his stash. I went to Pharod's body. He still had the bronze sphere, which I took. I also grabbed his crutch, and began walking about the hall.
In one corner the crutch triggered a portal. We passed through, into Pharod's vault.
I was staggered by what we saw. The vault was huge. There were not just a few books. There were shelf upon shelf of volumes, in an order which Pharod had taken with him to his grave. Piles of rubbish, assorted junk. Pharod must have had help creating this storage space I thought I knew what had been the fate of his helpers when he was done.
We searched until late in the night, although we could cover only a tiny portion of what was there. We found mundane treasures, it is true, but nothing that shed light on my past.
While Morte and Dak'kon were searching elsewhere, I took the opportunity to talk to Annah some more. She looked at me questioningly when I indicated I wanted to speak to her.
"Aye? What is it yeh want then?" I asked her to tell me about herself.
"Aye, now what yeh be wanting to know about me for? Are yeh jest bored? It's not some grand tale, it isn't, so if yeh're expecting some epic, yeh'd best go rattle yer bone-box at someone else, jig?" I encouraged her to tell me about her background, which she took to mean her tail.
"I seen the way yeh look at me tail - if it'll keep yer eyes to yerself, then I'll tell yeh where it came from: it's a blessing from me Grand Da... or me Grand Ma, whichever o' them was the fiend. I'm a tiefling, so I am, with just enough of the demon blood in me to sprout this tail outta me back. That blood trickled its way from me Grand Ma n' Grand Da to me... after passing through me own Ma an Da, whoever they were." I asked her to tell me more of Pharod.
"Ol' stutter-crutch? He's me Da... well, not me *real* Da. He found me when I was a wee girl..." Annah shrugged. "'Ee needed a Collector to crawl inta places the rest of his fat gullies couldn't squirm, so he took me under his crutch."
"Don't get him wrong by thinkin' he had a kind bone in his body... he wasn't shedding no tear for me bein' an orphan - he just needed someone to help him scarp deaders off the streets of the Hive, an' I'm small enough so I can get inta places his other boys can't. Plus, most of the gullies in his pack are wee boys with the fear in 'em, so I end up finding most of the deaders in places they're too a-scared to look. The Dusties pay a nice bit of copper for the deaders I bring 'em, and Pharod don't take so much off the top that it leaves me a beggar, so he's not so bad, I s'pose."
"Been at the Village longer than I. Came there a stone's age ago, maybe even *found* the place, some o' the villagers say." Annah frowned. "Pharod's a shrewd one, he is. Has a way of squeezin' more outta copper than most, an' he never was at a lack for jink."
"Was he searching for that bronze sphere all that time?"
"I s'pose." Annah shrugged again. "I don't know why he was all a-fire tae get it, I don't. I could smell it as soon as yeh brought it to him." She wrinkled her nose. "Foul custard smell it had. Still... it must have been something right valuable for him tae carry on about it like he did - almost a half-score o' Collectors got penned in the dead-book tryin' tae fetch it." I knew the reason why he searched for it.
"I think he was searching for it because he thought it would save his life." She blinked, asking what I meant. "Pharod didn't lead a good life, I gather - he was once a 'Guvner' in one of the Upper Wards. He apparently used his position to lie, cheat, and hurt others in the process - so much so he was destined to go to the hells when he died. He thought the bronze sphere would save him somehow - so much so he threw away his title, his wealth, and his position to try and find it."
"Really?" She went silent for a moment, then shook her head. "No accountin' for Pharod's foolishness, there isn't. A trinket won't save yeh from fate's hand. If the stains on yer soul are black enough, no amount o' washing will get 'em out." She paused. "Still, if he thought it could save him, maybe it *was* important somehow... or at least worth a bit o' jink." I considered her, and murmured half to myself an observation.
"I didn't think you and him looked much alike, anyway." Annah's eyes narrowed, and her tail began to lash back and forth.
"And what do yeh mean by *that,* then?" I stumbled in replying.
"I meant that he doesn't look much like a tiefling."
"Aye, he *doesn't*... and if yeh knew one thing about tieflings other than what yeh'd heard from any half-grinnin' Hiver on the street, yeh'd have the sense to know that none of us tieflings look a-like, jig?" She shook her head. "No hope for yeh, that's for dead-sure."
"I didn't mean that as an *insult.* You both look so different. I mean Pharod's... so... *Pharod,* and you're not."
"Oh, now what coulda tipped yeh off to that? My hair? My skin? I can't think of anything else..." Annah slapped herself lightly on the forehead, then sneered sarcastically. "Maybe it was the *tail?* Oh, aye, that might have been it! Yer so much sharper than I am, yeh are. A real gem."
"I meant it's hard to see any resemblance between that ugly, stooped, greedy, smelly gutter-troll and you." Annah's face flushed a deep red.
"Oh, is that *so?* And how do yeh see that?" I could not lie to her; I told her the full truth, which I only knew as true as I said it.
"I mean, have you ever *looked* at yourself? Aside from the way you carry yourself, you're confident, sensible, and graceful. And that doesn't even take into account your obvious good looks: you have that rich, fire-red hair, those sharp green eyes, and that striking profile. "
Annah just stared at me. I wondered what her reaction indicated.
"So that's all I meant when I said you and Pharod look nothing alike."
Annah nodded, still staring at me. She didn't even blink.
"Are you listening to me?"
Annah suddenly leaned in, and she bit me sharply on the neck, giving a soft hiss. Rather than pulling back, she pressed closely into me and whispered into my ear.
"D'yeh fancy yer chances?" Her tail began to lash slowly back and forth, but the rhythm was more hypnotic than angry. I could feel Annah's heart beating fast in her chest, and the color rising into her cheeks. I suddenly became conscious of the fact that Annah's skin was smooth, soft. "I want tae tell yeh something, an' yeh can't poke fun at me."
"All right..." I replied.
"Do yeh know I like the way yeh *smell?* Oh, aye - it drives me barmier than a Chaosman, it does." She sniffed up the side of my cheek, and she gave a low, eager hiss. "I see the way yeh look at me, and I *like* it. Yeh've got hungry *eyes,* yeh do. It makes me a-fire."
"I want tae bite yeh, soft-like around the neck..." She teased the side of my neck with her teeth, never breaking skin, and with every whisper, I could feel her breath along my ear. Her hand slid up around the back of my neck, and tightened, and I could feel her nails digging into my skin. "I want ta drag me nails along the back of yer neck, and force yeh to kiss me."
"Do yeh know I can *smell* yeh from fifty paces, that smell of fermaldyhe pouring offa yeh like one of them dustie shamblers. Maybe if yeh cleaned yerself up some, yeh'd be a right prize." Her eyes flashed. "I'd make passion with yeh so hard yeh'd be knocked off the spire." She stepped back, her tail flicking lightly against my leg, then gave me a hard stare. "So... d'yeh fancy me?"
I didn't reply, but grabbed Annah, and before she could squirm free, I bit her lightly on the neck. As my teeth touched the skin, Annah hissed loudly, clawing like a cat, and tore away from me.
"I was only *teasin'* yeh, yeh scarred vampire! L-l-leave off!" Despite her protestations, however, her face was flushed, and she was breathing heavily. "An' watch yer mitts next time!" She crossed her arms. "Yeh makin' me red, yeh are!"
I stepped back a little as well. Now that I had a moment to think, I worried that I might be taking advantage of her. I wondered how much of her reaction was due to Pharod's death, who despite her words I could tell she had cared for very much.
Unnoticed by us Morte had returned, and for once I was grateful for his barbed wit, which got me out of what had suddenly turned awkward. Morte made one of his usual mordant observations.
"I'd just like to interject here and point out that I'm not going to say anything to spoil the mood, chief. I'll just float here and watch. Don't mind me - just sitting here, floating and watching, that's me."
Annah said, "Stop starin' at me, yeh pikin' skull."
I just announced that it was late and we needed to rest. It might
take a month to see if there was anything of real worth to me
in Pharod's vault, and I didn't want to waste the time. We needed
to move on.
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