My duties were much the same as any day; put a few coppers into the hands of the corpse collectors, then return to the Mortuary and see to the organization and internment of today’s batch of Dead. But that is not where the day carried me.
I had just finished making payment of six coppers, after carefully scouring the collector’s mind for traces of deception, when a sudden and alien throbbing took root in my nape. The origin of this pain was not at all apparent to me. I noted that two others in the area had been similarly afflicted: a street hustling tiefling playing at cards, and a bauriar woman at his table, clad in a ridiculous horned helmet. The headaches affected us all profoundly, and seemed to amplify or diminish based on direction. The bauriar left off towards the Clerk’s Ward, where the throbbing seemed to subside. Alas, my duties took me in the opposite direction.
Such things are to be expected. Death is suffering.
To my surprise, the hustling tiefer took interest in me, and followed along towards Death. I wondered if our affliction, now boiling over from our heads and down into our muscles and joints, had caused him to accept that he is Dead. With my remaining coppers I booked passage to the Mortuary on a collector’s cart. We made for a curious little taxi that must have turned some heads. The tiefer and I lulled in and out of consciousness with each bump and prod in the road. The journey was long and agonizing. Upon arriving at the Mortuary gates the hustler suddenly changed his mind, decided he was not Dead after all, and lurched his way down the street, taking his leave of me. It makes no matter. All roads lead to Death, even the ones trailing away form the Mortuary.
The affliction left me unable to tend my duties, and I was relieved from them to seek a cure. A local Hive priest, with whom I had a passing acquaintance, was unable to help. I therefore resolved to make my way back to the Bazaar. The journey was swift, my pain lessening with each step. Halfway there I witnessed the hustler slumped over in the street. A gaggle of street urchins were emptying his purse. I waited patiently for them to finish, them lifted the tiefer to his feet and dragged him along with me.
By the time we reached the Bazaar, we were both able to walk without staggering. From there we navigated the streets, using our pain as a compass, until we found the point where it disappeared entirely. Standing there, outside of a nondescript and boarded-up shop in the Clerk’s Ward, was the bauriar woman in her helmet, and a small, lumpy Prime-material man whose kind are not common in Sigil. I shall have to remember and research their like.
Our answers seemed to lay inside this shop, and so I set to work prying loose the boards. Inside we were greeted by a small housecat and a talking book, who implored us to open it up to page 37.
The book was more quick with apologies than explanations, but eventually it was understood that the four of us had been summoned here, after a peculiar fashion, to undertake a Quest. The housecat was a petitioner from the Beastlands who, in a lesser stage of Death, had commissioned the construction and sale of this enchanted tome, the better to aid in his facts and figures. He moved towards True Death before making good his debts, however, and now wished to see the book return to the one who had crafted it.
While the others were deliberating the finer points of compensation I asked the cat, as I so often do of learned men, if he had ever seen my like: a man stitched together from the parts of others, quilted together as though out of cloth, and held firm by a single, clear mind. He said he had not, but that the tome’s owner Heiron possibly had.
We packed the book into one of the bauriar’s saddlebags and made for a portal to the Outlands. This Heiron took residence in Automata, gate town to Mechanus. It was the first time since I awoke that I had stepped outside of Sigil.
Automata is a place of rigid firmness, a place where you breathed order instead of air. Every building identical, every road of equal length, a mass of strict regulation the people wore like armor. Attempting to get our bearings by asking question of a guardsman served only to get our little group corralled towards the Ministry of Foreign Entities, where we were made to endure an hours-long presentation about Automata’s laws and issued a 12-hour visitation pass.
The bauriar let slip that we were carrying an enchated book, upon whose account she and the other companions were made to attend a second seminar. I had managed to sufficiently distance myself them at that point; I had no further interest in engaging Automata’s ill humors. In any case I had little interest in the book. I wished only to speak to Heiron himself, and learn what arcane secrets he might know about the nature of my making.
I admit I felt oddly comfortable in that place, a city colorless and bland. The whole place smoothed over. A city constantly and slowly exhaling. Some cities, perhaps, are closer to Death than others. I surmise Automata must be closer than most.
I tracked down Heiron’s shop, only to find it locked. Further inquiry led me to a tavern he was known to frequent, a place built for small Primes half my size. (Though, I think, a different sort of half-size Prime than the lumpy one in our group.) The proprietor there was as cheerful as any face I’d seen in Automata. He was acquainted with Heiron, and informed me he had fallen on the wrong side of a criminal group operating here. More than that he didn’t know. My companions soon found me there; the bauriar treated us all to ale, and I shared with them what I had learned.
We had devised a plan to break into Heiron’s kip and pick up his trail from there. We stayed in line as we crossed town so as not to draw suspicion to ourselves, but we drew suspicion nonetheless: a girl was tailing us. Before we arrived at Heiron’s I put a question to her mind: was she with the criminal group we were seeking? She was shocked that I was able to crawl into her mind in such a manner, but judged us to be allies. She pulled us onto a side street and told us Heiron was in hiding. We could access this place by going through an Automatan courthouse, finding a particular closet, knocking three times at the back, and whistling.
The book, we were made to understand, was more important than we knew.
We debated briefly the merits of entering the court legitimately — no doubt a feat requiring more beaurocracy and another filing fee — or simply bluffing our way in. Our tiefer, as it happened, had access to an arcane ability enabling him to lend weight to his words. That, coupled with my own psionic abilities, was judged to be enough to get into the door. And so it was, for soon we stood within the closet, knocking our password into the back wall.
Heiron was glad to see his book, and welcomed us warmly into the small, lavish prison he had made for himself. We did not have time to chat long; we had been pursued. Within moments a small group of ill-tempered bashers were forcing their way into the closet. The small man — the Prime — made his usefulness known by conjuring the sound of guards tromping up the hall. This scared some of the bashers off, and our tiefer’s knife sent another on to the next stage of Death, but the sorceress that stood at their back was not so impressed with their tricks.
A great commotion interrupted us. Crowds swept through the halls in the most organized mob these eyes had yet seen, and we allowed ourselves to be swept up with them. Our housecat companion, his debt now repaid, took his leave of us. Were we to ever make it back to Sigil, we were welcome to his shop and all his former belongings. Such was the deal the others had forged with him. Heiron was still with us, he and his talking book, and across the way the sorceress fumed.
Everyone else, all the citizens of Automata, were fixated on the grand, looming portal to Mechanus. It had opened unexpectedly, and pouring through it were entire armies of Modrons. Uninvited, unexpected, and utterly off-schedule — all the qualifications one never would typically apply to Modrons.
Heiron ushered us to a nearby portal and we stepped through, seeking a brief respite. Then, answers.