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The next morning, I wandered about the Lower Ward. I came to a coffin maker's shop (this was obvious, since the shop was shaped like a coffin). The motto 'Engineered for Eternity' was above the door. Something familiar about that motto prompted me to enter.
I saw a rugged looking, square jawed man. He turned to me with a wide smile.
"How are you, cutter, good day to you, good day indeed." He squinted at me for a second, then jutted his hand out to shake mine. Another man who stood there, who I took to be a customer, did not say a word, only silently looked at me. As I shook his hand, he continued speaking.
"Hamrys at your service, member of the Harmonium and the fashioner of fine coffins for the recently departed. I think I know you, do I not...? Let me see if I can place it..." He paused to think a moment. "Sharp with names I was in the Harmonium, let me tell you. Knew everyone on the entire Ward..." My all purpose lie slipped out without my consciously considering what I would tell him.
"My name is Adahn."
He snapped his fingers. "Of course! Adahn! I knew I recognized you. Anyway, you require my services?" He studied me, then smiled, seeing the opportunity for a joke at my expense. "It seems to me, sir, that you are one in desperate need of a coffin, and soon." He seemed pleased with his wit.
I had trouble getting Hamrys to listen to anything I said. He seemed to enjoy hearing his own voice, and I eventually just silently stood, letting him ramble, experiencing a new feeling, that of boredom. After covering several topics in excruciating detail, he began to talk about his journal.
"I like to keep notes and reflections on record, and it makes fascinating reading, looking back on one's thoughts a month to a half-month later." He nodded at me, as if I understood exactly what he was talking about, then he continued droning on.
"I've talked to several of the printers in the Clerk's Ward about possibly getting them printed. I've been told that they are quite insightful about various aspects of city life that I have observed in my tour of duty with the Harmonium. Even with no formal training, many have agreed that my writing style is quite striking... but enough about that. It would be far easier to let you listen for yourself: I could read for you some of my more insightful passages..."
Hamrys read several passages in his monotonous journals to me, all of them boring to some degree. I was finally about to find some way to escape, when he mentioned something about the disappearance of his father that I didn't quite catch. For some reason, it tugged at me. I tried to stop him.
"Wait, you said your father disappeared?" Hamrys held up his hand to stop my interruption until he finished the next paragraph in one of his dull journals.
"So what do you think so far? Surprisingly more insightful than one might expect from a simple member of the Harmonium, no?" He smiled. He seemed to have ignored my interruption. I tried again with my question.
"Yes, very insightful. Did you say your father disappeared?" He nodded.
"Oh, yes. Many, many years ago. My father was a talented stonemason, and he did not only construct sarcophagi, but he was also quite skilled in tomb design. People from across Sigil..."
The room began to fade around me as a memory tugged at my consciousness...
I found myself standing in this very shop, talking with an older man while a child sat in the corner and played. On the counter between me and the shopkeeper was a set of plans. He seemed to be explaining some intricacies with the construction of a tomb. My vision faded as I tried to examine the details of the plans.
When my sight returned I was standing in a cavern in front of a tomb. Above the entry I saw the slogan: Engineered for Eternity, clearly carved in the stone. The shopkeeper was standing next to me, a broad smile on his face. He gestured to me and began to walk into the tomb. I quickly matched his pace from behind and drew my blade...
I found myself back in Hamrys' shop. I now knew who had built the tomb I found in the Drowned Nations catacombs, and that I, or at least a previous incarnation, had murdered the builder to keep its secrets. Hamrys apparently hadn't noticed I wasn't paying attention. The next time he stopped to take a breath, I asked another question.
"Tell me what happened to your father."
"He simply vanished one day, leaving most of his commissions unfinished. Most embarrassing; took a long while to get out of the debt caused by his disappearance, and to an extent, I am still settling various accounts. Still, I have a certain aptitude for the work, and..." He sighed lightly and got a far-away look in his eyes.
He shrugged. "Sorry, I was just thinking... My father's disappearance was the reason I joined the Harmonium, and left it later on. At first I had a burning desire to find out what happened to him, later I felt a certain obligation to continue his life's work." He sighed. "I never found the answers I sought. It was quite the mystery as to what happened..." His voice faded to silence. I took advantage of this break to quickly exit his shop.
After leaving the shop, we continued walking. I saw a githzerai in the crowd, and curious, approached her. The woman had a yellow cast to her skin and severe features. Tattoos covered her body, and she wore a long blade at her side. Her eyes were like two small black pearls. As I approached her, they followed Dak'kon's movements. Before I reached her, Dak'kon broke in.
"I would have you hear me."
"What is it, Dak'kon?"
"It is my will that we not speak to this woman."
"She is a *zerth.* Our wills are crossed blades. We have no common ground."
I was more interested than ever to speak to her. Besides, a zerth if anyone should be able to understand what Dak'kon was going through. I temporized in my reply.
"Then do not speak to her." The githzerai, who had watched our approach, chose this moment to speak.
"Why do you insult the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon by continuing to wear it against your heart? You are not numbered among the People, betrayer of Shra'kt'lor! The Anarchs and the *zerths* have spoken and their words shall be obeyed. You are not to speak your mind to me... or to any *zerth.*" Dak'kon replied to her.
"Will you hear this human when he speaks? "
"His words carry the weight of yours and have the shape of Limbo's form. I will not hear you, Dak'kon."
"He travels with me, Kii'na, disciple of Zerthimon. He comes to you to hear the words of Zerthimon which you as a *zerth* must impart. Will you hear him?" Dak'kon continued.
"The words of Zerthimon are not for the ears of a hu-man to be heard. Their minds are not as one, and they bring division wherever they travel. This one wears a shirt of scars and blood, and he travels with a traitor. Vilquar's heart beats within your chest if you ask if I will hear him." Dak'kon tried to reach her again.
"Will you close your mind to his words? *Know* your words before you speak your mind, Kii'na, *zerth* of Zerthimon."
"I will not hear him. He will hear me," she replied.
"That is sufficient." Dak'kon turned to me, and spoke in my language. "She will teach you."
The gith woman turned to me. Her black pearl eyes glinted dangerously.
"You are not *known* to me, but your trappings speak ill of you, human. Your body is a book written in scars and blood, and you walk in the shadow of a pariah that claims to speak for Zerthimon himself. Speak your mind!"
"Greetings, sword-ringer." I had decided to show I at least knew the proper greeting, but she only hissed in irritation.
"Your pleasantries are as dust. The sign of mourning draws near - time is short, human. I would *know* your questions, then it is my will you leave." Very well, I would forgo politeness.
"Can you teach me of the difference between githzerai and githyanki?" She looked at Dak'kon *hard* for a moment.
"Gith was a great warrior who freed our people from captivity under the *illithid* slavelords. Zerthimon was her lieutenant. When the two had freed our people, Gith turned upon Zerthimon on the Blasted Plains. Words were spoken, steel was bared - and one people became two. Those who remained with the bitch-queen took the name Githyanki. Those of us who traveled Zerthimon's path remained true to the People took the name Githzerai. Our rage lies in Gith's betrayal."
"And that's why you hate each other so much? "
"Both our people are like the mule of Penansk - stubborn, blind, and bothersome. The githyanki add cruelty to that list. They hate us for our growth into realms they cannot understand." I decided to move on to a new topic.
"Can you teach me the Way of Zerthimon?" Her eyes hardened at my words.
"You travel with one who calls himself a *zerth* and lectures me on my morality, and yet you ask if I can teach you the Way? Ask *him* to teach you, for I will not!"
So much for my idea of learning more of Zerthimon by talking to a different zerth. I decided to address the animosity between her and Dak'kon.
"What did you mean when you said I walk in the shadow of a pariah?"
"You walk with a pariah and you *know* not his history? He is quick to speak other words, but of his history he has remained silent? Ask him of Shra'kt'lor, of the fall of a mighty fortress to the githyanki, and see what his divided mind reveals to you. Ask him how he speaks with Zerthimon's words, but his *karach* is as mist." Dak'kon broke in.
"It is not Zerthimon's words that lack conviction. It is their echoes that have been distorted. "
"There is no doubt," Kii'na replied, "in how Zerthimon's mind is spoken. Generations of *zerth* are as Rrakma's Jewel, of one mind on this matter. Your stance carries with it a divided mind. The doubt is yours, an echo cast from your own faithlessness." Dak'kon calmly rebutted her assertion.
"Your words speak not the mind of Zerthimon. They are shaped of angles and hate, as if molded from Gith's mind itself. " This enraged Kii'na.
"You shall lie with the dead of Shra'kt'lor in shifting chaos, for you see all with Vilquar's Eye. Your mind is divided, your *karach* weak!"
I started to move to place myself between them. As if sensing my intent, Dak'kon spoke to me without breaking the gaze he held with Kii'na.
"Hold fast, and do not stand in the way of our blades." I *knew* Dak'kon, while Kii'na obviously did not. I was not sure whether Dak'kon sought his own death, or merely was about to make another mistake. In any case, I would not have it.
"Dak'kon, I order you to stop this." Dak'kon reluctantly lowered his blade. Kii'na stared at him incredulously for a moment, and then a sharp grin split her features.
"The truth at last. Your mind is not divided. You are... a *slave* to this human. He speaks with an Anarch's authority to you, and you *listen*." Dak'kon, still calm, replied.
"Your mind is cast in Gith's mold, Kii'na."
"Let's go, Dak'kon."
I questioned several passerbys about the Lower Ward, but learned little, until chancing on someone watching the passers-by. I saw an older man in elegant robes. He had bright eyes and a warm smile. He gave me a slight bow as I approached.
"Good day, cutter. I am Sebastion, how may I serve you?" I greeted him, to which he responded, "Greetings to you as well, cutter..." He stopped in mid sentence as he noticed my scars. I saw his eyes travel along them and his eyebrows arched in surprise. He returned his gaze to me. "I was about to ask what I could do for you, but there is no need. I think I see why you came to see me, cutter." I then asked who he was.
"I am Sebastion, a... mage of sorts. I do contract work for those who can meet my price." I followed up on his implied offer.
"What... are you trying to say you can help me with these scars?" He smiled at me and shrugged his shoulders.
"Perhaps, cutter, perhaps." He leaned forward and began to examine my scars carefully. He ran a finger along several of them, mumbling to himself. Finally he looked up at me. "Yes, cutter, I can help you. I cannot cure you, but I can alleviate the worst of your... condition."
"And your price?"
"Ah, yes... the price." He began stroking his chin and stared at me. I got the impression I was being weighed somehow. He seemed to come to some sort of a decision. "I have a job that I think you could perform."
"I have signed a contract with a certain creature. I am no longer able to fulfill the contract; it is... beyond my abilities. However, the creature will not release me from the contract. Instead it has threatened me with death unless I fulfill the contract."
"Let me guess: You want me to solve this problem for you." He sighed.
"Yes. I cannot do it myself. My reputation demands that I fulfill the contract or face the consequences. I am at your mercy in this regard. Will you help me?"
"What kind of creature are we talking about?"
"An abishai named Grosuk, cutter." He paused to gauge my reaction. "I know this is a difficult task, but one I think you can handle. Also, the reward I offer you is great." He gestured at my scars.
"What were you contracted to do?" He shook his head.
"I cannot reveal that information, cutter. I am magically bound not to. That is why people come to me. They know that if I accept a contract, it will be handled with discretion."
A fiend. It didn't help my opinion of Sebastion that he dealt with such a creature, but I couldn't see letting him die because of it. I agreed to help. He gave me the details.
"Thank you, cutter. You will need a magic weapon to cause it any harm, so check with some of the shops if you do not own one. A spell caster can harm it as well. Grosuk can be found to the east, beyond the siege tower."
"Yes, over beyond the market. Damned thing just appeared one day, several years back. No one knows why and no one seems able to get inside it to find out."
I asked him about the market area we were in.
"This is a common market, cutter. There are many things for sale here. Spells, potions, information, women, men... Just about anything, if you can afford the price."
I then asked about the ward itself.
"This is the Lower Ward, cutter, home of the common people and the industrial side of Sigil. It's not the slums of the Hive, yet it holds no splendor such as the Lady's Ward."
I asked, "Why is it called the Lower Ward?" He let out a short laugh and shrugged his shoulders.
"That depends on your point of view, cutter. The rich say it's because this is the home of the common or *lower* classes. If you ask those who live here it's because of the portals... and the incident."
"The incident?" I echoed.
"Yes..." He frowned as he paused to think. "A long time ago this was known as the Prime Ward. People new to the city were placed here and not allowed access to all of Sigil. There were many other restrictions placed upon them as well... Some berk took offense to that and decided to form a rebellion. It went nowhere, of course, until he made a fascinating discovery..."
"You see, there are a lot of portals in this area of the city and most of them open onto the Lower Planes. Well, that barmy berk found a way to open them all at once. He allowed *anything* that wanted to come through the portals into the city. It became quite bloody; a terrible war ensued. Anyway, that's why this is known as the *lower* ward. Because of the portals."
"Sebastion, how did this person open all the gates?"
"He used an item that he either had commissioned or made himself. What was it called..." He paused to think for a moment. "Ah, I remember, the Shadow-Sorcelled Key..." At the mention of the key I began to feel dizzy, the world around me froze, and everything turned gray. I sensed a past memory trying to force it's way into my consciousness. I relaxed, and let it come.
The world around me faded and I found myself in the darkened streets of Sigil. My heart was pounding, trying to break free from my chest; my breath came in ragged gasps. I had been running for hours it seemed, and yet I could not stop...
I turned a corner and entered an alley, finally slowing my flight. I felt my strength fade as I leaned against a nearby wall and tried to catch my breath. I became aware of something hard pressed into the palm of my hand. Glancing down I opened my clenched fist to stare at the gem embedded in the flesh.
My body sagged toward the wall until my forehead touched its cold, damp surface. My eyes closed and I forced myself to take slow deep breaths. Just as I felt my strength returning I heard a faint noise and instantly snapped to full awareness. I turned to look toward the alley mouth.
At first I saw nothing, just ghost visions caused by the shadows of the night. I was about to turn away when a slight movement caught my eye. Slowly, a female form glided around the corner, paused, and then turned to face me. My eyes travelled from her slender waist toward her full bosom, and then her blade-enshrouded face. Even in the darkness I could see her cold, emotionless eyes...
The memory faded and my normal vision returned. I was standing before Sebastion in the market. He was looking at me with some concern, but this passed when he saw that I was all right. "Thought I lost you for a moment there, cutter."
"What became of this Shadow-Sorcelled Key?"
"No one knows. The key has been lost for some time now. Many believe the Lady of Pain took the key to prevent it ever being used again."
"So, what was the outcome of the rebellion?" He thought for a moment.
"Well... Everyone, except the leader, was given pages in the dead-book. The leader and the creatures just up and vanished one day, surely the Lady's work. The survivors fled the ward. The fumes of the Lower Planes had polluted the air, you see. Anyway, the ward remained deserted until the Foundry was eventually built."
"What can you tell me about the Foundry?" He frowned.
"It is the home of the Godsmen, cutter. If you have any questions regarding them, I suggest you go to the Foundry to ask them."
I decided to see if I could track down Sebastion's fiend, while also seeing some more of the ward.
Part of the market area was indoors, inside a long, open building with a ninety degree bend half way down its length. We walked among the different merchants, and I stopped to talk to a young boy.
He had pale, yellow skin. His clothes were dirty and in need of mending. Currently he was tending a furnace.
"Greetings." He turned and gave a half-smile as he set down his work.
"Hail... do ya need some help?" I replied that I did.
"Aye, aye, I'd be pleased ta help ya if I could..." The boy looked grateful not to be toiling over the furnace. "What is it I can answer fer ye?"
"What is this place? "
"This place?" He glanced around. "It's the Open-Air Market. Lotta buyers and sellers come here ta set up their kip fer the day. I been here fer a good time, I been workin' here fer a while under the eye of me Da." He looked a little distant. "One day I could be runnin' his stall, I could."
"Can you tell me about this ward?" He nodded.
"Oh, aye, this here's the Lower Ward. Common folk live here, like me an me Da." His eyes widened a bit and he looked excited. "Do ya know why it's called the Lower Ward?"
Since he seemed eager to explain, I encouraged him to go on.
"Well, as it's reckoned, the ward's got a mess of portals ta the Lower Planes all riddled through it like cheese, so it does, so I s'pose that that's why the name stuck." He smiled proudly.
"Do any creatures ever come out of these portals?" His eyes grew a little wider.
"Aye, they do. Most of 'em jest stoppin' through..." He swallowed nervously and looked worried.
"You look nervous, you've seen this yourself? "
"Aye, I've seen it..." He paused and swallowed again. "T'was just last week or so, I saw a couple abishai come through a portal. They talked a good bit an' then one of em went back through. The one tha' stayed is still there..." He frowned.
"What were they talking about? "
"I dunno for sure, ta me it was just hissin' an such, but I think they was talkin' about the Tower." He shrugged.
"Aye, tha's one of the strangest sights ta be in the Ward. No one really knows how long that scarred old tower has been around... ye can't get into it, y'know. Bolted up tighter than a chastity belt. I'd be curious ta know what's in there..." He thought for a moment. "The abishai was gesturin' at the Tower an the portal. They was lookin' for the key, I bet."
"The key ta the portal tha' leads ta the Tower. Every portal has a key tha opens it ta somewhere. The key can be a gesture, an item, or even a thought... many 'ave tried hard ta get inta the Tower. No matter how hard ya try, ya fail." I considered, and mumbled a thought.
"Maybe the secret to getting in is to not want to get in " He shrugged.
"I dunno, cutter. May be..."
"Tell me where this portal is located." He stopped to think for a moment.
"There's a drawbridge like contraption back o' the Tower, east o' the market. Tha's where it is..." He got a far away look.
I left him to his daydreams, and continued on, looking at the other merchants' wares.
We left the Open Air market, and were leaving the market area entirely when we passed a fenced in building belching smoke. This must be the great foundry Sebastion had mentioned.
Among the crowds ahead I saw a figure. He looked like a githzerai, but his clothing was much brighter. Even the way he walked was subtly different. If this was who I thought it was, I had better leave Dak'kon behind. I asked the others to go back indoors to the market, that I would follow in a short while.
The figure had rough, leathery skin with a pale yellow cast and gaunt features. His face was angular, his nose was small and highly placed, and his ears tapered to points. A tracery of tattoos and scars covered his body. He was dressed in strange, gaudy leathers that looked more ornamental than combat-ready. His eyes were like two small black stones and they tracked me as I approached.
"You are the human seeking memories," he said, flatly. "I can help you."
"You're a githyanki, aren't you?" I asked.
"I have the pleasure to be of that people." His voice was flat. "Do you wish my aid in recovering your memories?"
"Who and what are you?"
"I am Yi'minn. I am a githyanki angler. My people are the undisputed masters of the Astral Plane, where the gods go to die and the memories of the dead float like leaves in a pool. My duty is in retrieving the memory cores of the dead and gleaning them for information. I can locate your memories. You have only to pay the price."
"What price would that be?"
"It is a matter of a mere few coins. The price is negotiable. I ask for one hundred. You will determine the value of the memories I find and pay accordingly." This githyanki thought me a fool, but I decided to pretend agreement, seeing where he would lead.
"Sounds good. What do I have to do?"
"If I am to bait my hook for your memories, I will need some of the memories you currently possess. I also require a place of concentration and quiet. If you will follow me, we will journey to one such place and I will make you whole once again. We go alone, with no companions."
"Agreed. Let's go."
We walked off, entering an alley. Half a dozen more githyanki surrounded me. Yi'minn's mood had turned into something much more ugly than its previous arrogance.
"Now, human, drop your painted shield and tell us what you have said and done for the githzerai dogs within Sigil's walls."
"Weren't we going to go look for my memories?" I asked, ironically, although I doubt the githyanki understood my tone of voice.
"The only way you shall travel to the Astral Plane is in chains, human. You have one more chance to tell me what you have said and done for the githzerai within Sigil's walls."
"I will not tell you." I said simply.
"Then you shall die." He drew his weapon to attack! I just stood there, and let them kill me. Yi'minn's blade slashed across my throat and I fell to the ground bleeding. They stood over me and began to speak again.
"Did he truly know nothing, Al-midil?" Another voice replied.
"His words were those of an enemy of the people. Even were that not true, we have cauterized his ignorance with death's iron. Let us leave him here for the Collectors to scavenge. We have gathered enough information on the githzerai dogs for this trip. They shall lose another fortress before the sevenday is out. The walls of Vristigor shall fall."
"If you believe our knowledge is sufficient," Yi'minn said, "then we shall go. Gather our warriors and let us join our war party in Limbo."
I could no longer stay the effect of the grievous wounds I had suffered by force of will, and slipped into death.
I awoke a while later in the same alley. Quickly checking, all of my items were present. Evidently the githyanki believed in deceit and murder, but perhaps looting a corpse was beneath their 'honor.'
I returned to the indoor market. My companions understandably wondered what had taken me so long. Morte expressed his impatience in typical fashion.
"Ah, c'mon, lets shake a leg. I mean you shake a leg. "
I didn't inform them what I had done, only asking that they accompany me back to the zerth, Kii'na. We needed to search around a bit, but finally found her. The zerth stared blackly at Dak'kon as he returned with me. She turned her back to me, as if daring Dak'kon to strike the target.
"Cut it out, Kii'na. Are you familiar with the fortress Vristigor?" She looked at me - hard.
"How did you, who walks in the shadow of a pariah, come to *know* that name?"
"A group of githyanki are planning a raid on the fortress within the sevenday. They are on their way there even now."
"*Know*... *know* you have my gratitude... you and this *zerth.* *Know* this shall not be forgotten." She turned to Dak'kon. "*Know* that this will NOT atone for the fall of Shra'kt'lor. The Anarchs' verdict stands still."
What had Kii'in said of the githzerai earlier? Stubborn, blind and bothersome. I stalked off, neither Kii'na or Dak'kon offering a word.
We returned to searching out the fiend. Fewer and fewer people were walking the streets, and I realized why as I saw what loomed ahead. A gigantic siege tower thrust itself up among the surrounding buildings, blocking the way. Its walls were scarred and pitted; it had seen many a battle in its lifetime. A drawbridge on the upper portion of the tower, when lowered, would give attackers access from the siege tower to the walls of a city or keep.
In the shadow of the tower I saw a reptilian creature with a snake like-body, four clawed feet, leathery wings, and a draconian head. The scales covering its body were a vile shade of green. The creature stood upright on its hind legs, balancing with its prehensile tale. As I approached its eyes narrowed to slits and it began to hiss.
The air around the creature began to radiate heat and its scales took on a pale sheen. It gave me a hungry look and appeared ready to strike. Suddenly it released a flurry of hisses and relaxed its stance a bit.
"Sssssss! Go. Grossssuk no talk, told wait... Ssssssss..." It glared at me as its tail lashed back and forth.
"Sebastion sent me. " The creature relaxed quite a bit and the air grew cooler. It held out a clawed hand to me.
"Ssssss. Give Grosssuk information."
"What information?" It was hard to read facial expressions on a reptilian fiend, but I was certain that Grosuk was rather annoyed with me. His tail began to lash furiously and the air grew warm again.
"No quessssstion. Give Grosssuk information or die. Grosssuk then take information from body."
"I need to know which piece of information is for you. I run errands intended for several people, you understand." He glared at me for a moment while he thought. Finally he gestured at the nearby tower.
"Sssiege tower. Ssssss. How get inssside. Sssebastion say he divine way..." Grosuk took a step toward me and held out his hand. "Now give!"
"Actually," I replied, "Sebastion sent us here to kill you."
The creature immediately attacked, but the four of us were able to deal with it without too much trouble.
The end of the day was drawing closer, and I needed to recover
from another 'death.' I decided to rest the night, and talk to
Sebastion in the morning.
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