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The light was failing when we left the Curiosity Shop. I returned to the Art and Curio Galleria. It was deserted, except for Yvana. I walked until I stood before the statue of Gangroighydon.
When I saw the gorgon salve in the shop, I had resolved to test if this was really a statue. I was curious to meet this sorcerer, and truthfully I had grown overconfident in my abilities to cheat death. I applied the salve to the statue.
I smeared the foul-smelling ointment over the statue. There was a strange shimmering around the statue, and I watched as the statue took an intake of breath and the eyes of Gangroighydon filled with a blazing, vengeful madness.
I counted on the sudden, to him, change in surroundings to arrest whatever he was about to say. However, I was wrong.
Before I could do a thing, a blazing torrent of words flew from the sorcerer's lips. As he spoke, I felt an agonizing sensation, like a sudden wave of raging heat, pour over me and settle into my skin like a blistering wound. Blindness struck me as my eyes burst, running from their sockets like shattered eggs... I heard someone screaming, and realized it was me...
The last thing I heard, even over my own cries, was Morte shouting..."New taunts, by the Lady's bladed teats, what a-"
I died, a victim of Gangroighydon's Awful Curse.
I awoke the next morning in an inn to which the others had dragged my body. Fortunately, I had been the only one close enough to feel the full effects of the curse.
I left the inn, and continued walking about the Clerk's ward, talking to citizens I met. As I was moving through crowds about an outdoor café, I saw a woman who I recognized from a description given to me. The tall, slender woman occasionally looked up from her cup of wine to scan the surrounding patrons and passers-by. Her facial features were elegantly exotic and her eyes -- a brilliant gold in color -- caught the light, sparkling as she looked about. I caught her attention. She regarded me carefully for a moment before replying. She spoke slowly and carefully, avoiding direct eye contact with me.
"I, Aelwyn, return your greetings." I had met her friend before.
"Aelwyn? Your friend, Nemelle, is looking for you." She began to smile, but then covered her mouth with her hand and looked down at her drink.
"I, Aelwyn, am most pleased to hear of Nemelle. Might I, Aelwyn, persuade you to tell her of this place?"
I readily agreed. She looked at me directly and -- for just the briefest of moments, before she cast her eyes back down to her drink -- my senses were awash with a warm, comfortable feeling: pure happiness. "I, Aelwyn, thank you."
"It's my pleasure. May I ask you about her, though?" To her nod, I said, "The way she speaks, and what her words do... how?"
"I, Aelwyn, can only say that we come from another place, another world. We are not like the people here, whose words, thoughts -- very feelings, even -- affect nothing directly."
"I, Aelwyn, take great care so as to not affect those around me too greatly. Nemelle, she is new here, and cannot do so. It is something she must learn, should she choose to remain here much longer."
"There are many reasons. I, Aelwyn, feel it is not right to impose reality upon those without the ability to impose their own reality upon me, Aelwyn."
"Is there anything you cannot do by simply speaking of it?" She frowned; a strange, unpleasant feeling rose in the pit of my stomach.
"Please... I, Aelwyn, would speak of it no more."
"Just one other question...." I temporized. She looked at me directly, my face reflected in the glittering golden discs of her eyes.
"He would speak of it no more to Aelwyn, and thus would no longer force her to speak in such a way to him." I found myself unable to voice another question... my words caught in my throat as I tried to ask.
Her ability to mold reality, now that I had experienced it, was impressive. I had bent the reality that was Sigil slightly myself, but never as directly as Aelwyn had done. I wondered, however, whether in time I would gain that ability, as I had re-learned so many other abilities since leaving the Mortuary.
A little further along, an old woman examined me closely with her sharp, gray eyes... first my face, then my arms and various tattoos.
"Greetings, scarred one. Come to speak with Elobrande, have ye? Come to have yer fortune told, mayhap, for a paltry five coins?" Smiling, I gave her coins to read my future. Elobrande placed my coins in her belt pouch and took my hands. She quietly studied my palms, frowning deeply. At long last, she spoke.
"Some rare folk are what's called fateless, ye see. They wander through their lives doing as they see fit, creating their own destinies. Ye have no fortune to tell, scarred one... none at all. I've nothing to tell ye... and so here is yer coin." She returned my five coppers.
As I was about to go, she said, "Hold ye one moment, scarred one..." Elobrande reached out, touching my arm. "My mother gave me something once, long ago... a scroll, sealed with wax. A hooded man had entrusted it to her, and said that a man such as ye would one day unwittingly come to claim it. Here... I would have ye take it, now."
"What is it?"
Elobrande's shook her head, frowning. "I do not know. She was sworn never to read it, and I obeyed her request to leave the seal unbroken, myself. The man had paid her handsomely to take the scroll, but warned her of the direst consequences should she open it."
As I walked away, I examined the scroll. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I had a bad feeling about the thing - as if opening and reading the scroll could be somehow dangerous. Curiosity about this message apparently to me won out, however. I broke the seal, and read it.
The scroll contained a few lines of shaky calligraphy and a strange rune. The calligraphy read:
this may not KILL you but it will SLOW
you down I am SURE
STOP CHASING ME YOU THIEVING BASTARDS it's MY body MINE MINE MINE
The rune suddenly throbbed, and the entire scroll began to dissolve into a stinking, black mess. The fluid seeped directly into the flesh of my hands... in seconds, the magical hemotoxin began to render my blood into black bile. For a moment I clutched at myself, howling in agony... and then the pain subsided. I went back to Elobrande, and asked how she came by the scroll.
"As I told ye, scarred one... it was given to me by my mother. A hooded man had given it to her some fifty years past, paying her well but bidding her to never read it, whatever the circumstances." Elobrande sighed, looking away for a moment. "A user of magic, she was, powerful in the Art, but frightened of this man just the same. She had said his eyes - all she could see of him, really - hinted at madness, and that the flesh around them was puckered and gray... like yours. I know nothing more of him."
I decided to catch up on several promises. I traveled back across the ward, and let Nemelle know where her friend Aelwyn was located. I also re-visited the Lower Ward to get from Penn the printer a letter.
I returned to the Clerk's Ward, this time to find the Festhall used by the Sensates. I needed to walk close by where I had seen Aelwyn, so I returned to that spot to see if she was still there. She was, and her friend Nemelle had joined her.
Aelwyn saw me. She clasped her hands together and bowed her head to me in thanks, tears of joy falling from her golden eyes. Just as my own eyes began to water, she wiped away her tears and smiled -- causing a wave of intense pleasure to wash over my entire body.
"Aelwyn *thanked* the stranger! She had been reunited with her dearest friend, Nemelle!"
"It was my pleasure." She nodded, then looked down again, the feelings her smile evoked fading away into pleasant memories.
"I, Aelwyn, would tell you something now, stranger."
"The name I, Aelwyn, chose for you -- 'stranger' -- is not so fitting. You and I, Aelwyn, have met before... in the Festhall. In a place you could not have been were you not a Sensate, yourself. Whether you recall or no, unless you betrayed the Society of Sensation at some point, you are a Sensate."
"I see tell me more."
She nodded. "You and I, Aelwyn, have met on two different occasions. The first was no less than two centuries past, the last more recently. Perhaps no more than fifty years ago."
I was finding information on my past from the most unlikely sources. "That's quite a long time ago "
She nodded again. "My, Aelwyn's, people are extremely long-lived, Forgetful One." She sighed unhappily, causing a chill to descend over me. "You seemed a different man, then... less grim, less scarred. So eager to see all that the multiverse had to offer. You courted me, Aelwyn, then, and was nearly taken as a lover -- but then you disappeared."
"Where did I go?"
"I, Aelwyn, was told you had been slain... murdered." She looked up for a moment to peer curiously into my eyes. "I met you only once more after that."
"Did I remember you then?"
"No." She shook her head sadly, then touched her throat. "No, you did not. You lashed out at me, Aelwyn, made to slay me. Screamed how I, Aelwyn, could not fool you, would not ensnare and murder you..."
"We had met in one of the northern towers of the Festhall, on the seventh floor. Before you could choke the life from me, I, Aelwyn, used my powers to bade you leap from a window to your death. When I, Aelwyn, finally went in search of your broken body, you had already gone..."
"I see " I knew I had traveled many paths in previous incarnations, but I had not considered insanity as one of the branchings.
"That is the whole of my, Aelwyn's, tale for you. We were not strangers, once, but have now become so. Farewell, stranger, and may fortune walk with you in your travels."
"Thanks, Aelwyn. Farewell."
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