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Two men are pulling a cart laden with corpses across the courtyard of a massive stone building.  

The cart and its cargo, the bodies of at least half a dozen transients in various states of damage and putrefaction, are heavy enough that the two men move slowly, breathing audibly and not speaking to one another. They draw the cart through an open side door of the building and down a hallway of arched passages.  Near its end, they turn into an alcove with a grated iron floor. The first man spits into his hands before stooping down to grasp a mounted winch.  With jerking, uneven motion, he lowers the platform on which they stand to a deeper basement level.

They emerge from the shaft into a large room, easily fifty paces in either direction.  There are no windows, and what scant light there is comes from hanging lanterns.

The space is studded with flat stone tables placed at regular intervals like the nodes of a grid.  Naked corpses lie supine on three of them. Standing upright before one of the tables is what appears to be a sentient, decomposing female corpse, presently engaged in passing a needle and thread through the abdomen of the body lying before her.  

None of the other bodies, the ones lying on the tables, are moving.  

Cupboards and bookcases line three of the room's exterior walls.  Mounted to the fourth is a thin cage of iron bars running half the length of the room, and contained within it is a hovering, barrel-sized human skull.  The skull emanates a faint, pale light from its surface, and it bobs up and down as it paces - or drifts - back and forth.

None of this seems to surprise the two men.  They avoid gazing at the corpse woman and the skull and they maneuver their cart to the nearest unoccupied slab.  As they unload, they handle the bodies in a manner neither reverent nor malicious.  They ensure that each ends face upwards, but they make no effort to align all the heads in the same direction nor to prevent a limb or two from hanging off the side of a slab.

Near the bottom of the foul smelling pile on their cart, they uncover a body heavier and evidently better fed than the others.  It is a large man, well over six foot and built like a gymnast. His skin has a gray tinge and is thoroughly covered in scars and tattoos.  The extent of the ink is visible on a body naked save for a loincloth fastened with a studded belt.  The largest of the tattoos forms a pattern of what might be stylized chain links or a thicket of brambles, and it wraps his upper back and curves around to the front of his shoulders.

The two cartiers struggle to lift him on their first attempt, but with a few stifled oaths and a repositioning of leg and back, they get him onto a slab. 

After unloading the last of the bodies, they return to the elevator with their cart and depart without speaking.

 

For several minutes the upright female corpse continues to suture clumsily.  A faint wheezing sound emanates from her at intervals, but the room is otherwise silent. 

The skull in the cage continues to pace. The corpse woman finishes her task by tying a knot with a few dozen superfluous loops and then biting off the end of the thread.  She then returns to the side cupboards to retrieve a sharp tool and a basin.  She moves to the next corpse and uses the tool to make a vertical incision from sternum to groin, before reaching her bare hand inside and beginning to methodically tear out the viscera. 

An intense heightening of the room's putrescent odor ensues, for anyone present with functional olfactory senses.

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The gray-skinned man on the slab grimaces and twists his neck back and to the side, wincing and recoiling as if avoiding a blow. He opens his eyes.

He stares vacantly for several seconds, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Then he pushes himself up to a seated position.

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The skull pauses in its motion and regards him.   It moves to the point in its cage nearest to him, about five yards away. 

It makes a scolding, tsk tsk tsk sound before speaking aloud. “And just when you think you’ve finally hit the bottom, you find a trapdoor and discover a whole new layer of hell."

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The man turns abruptly.  By the lantern light of the room, Morte can see his eyes make a rapid succession of movements.  They dart between the talking skull, the length of the bars encasing it, the corpse woman, the doorway to the cargo elevator and another archway leading to a staircase on the opposite wall.

"What is this place?"  His voice is deep and raw sounding, as if it causes him pain to use his vocal chords.

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"Eh.  More or less what it looks like.  It's a morgue."

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He slowly swings his feet off the slab and brings them to the ground. Bracing his palms on the stone surface for support, he stands.

He raises his voice to carry across the room, "You there!  Attendant. Do you speak?"

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For the moment she does not.  Nor does she appear to have heard him.  She is now wiping down the abdominal cavity of the corpse before her with a sponge.

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"Might want to keep your voice down there, chief.   Not that I haven't taken an interest in that sheila myself.  It's the eyes that do it for me.  But if you're brought here, it means the dusties paid good chink for you.  They probably wouldn’t take kindly to one of their vessels up and springing the coop."

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He takes a few preliminary steps, pauses, does a partial squat. His right knee pops audibly.

His body feels stiff but fully functional.

His mind… does not feel right.He has either suffered a head injury or else he’s under some kind of powerful drug or magic spell. His sense of self and of reality is so palpably incomplete. How did he come to be incapacitated?  What is his most recent memory? What day is it? Actually, what year is it, even?

As the seconds pass, he notices an interior mental voice speaking with increasing insistence, making itself heard even as his attention reels from one chain of broken inferences - suddenly hiccuping and stopping- to the next.

WEAPONS, the voice says. 

ALLIES.  EXIT STRATEGY.

He approaches the skull, staying a few paces back from the bars. "You’re being held against your will?"

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"Me?  I can leave any time I want.  Only I think I must've left my keys in my coat pocket.  Ever hear of a Mimir?"

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"Sorry."

He pauses, shakes his head clear.

"Wait a moment.” He gestures to the corpse woman. “Will she sound an alarm if I move about?

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"The sheila? Eh, she may start embalming you if you hold still too long, but I wouldn't exactly call her a threat."

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"Good."

He walks to the wall cupboards and attempts to open them. What does he find?

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Most of them are unlocked. He finds needles and threads and sheets of rough spun cotton.  Some cupboards have vials of aqua fortis and something that might be an embalming fluid.  There are forceps and scalpels and a few handheld bone saws.  There’s one wardrobe full of dark brown robes with attached tasseled sash belts.

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He'll take a scalpel and a robe then. Perhaps he can pass for whatever kind of cultist or medicine man operates this place.

He leaves the belt sash loose, with the robe parting down the middle and exposing his chest.

He returns to the giant skull’s cage. "Forgive me.  What is your name? And what is a mimir?

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"Morte.  Like, uh, Latin, for death.  And, we're Almanacs.   Encyclopedias. You can read me a letter and then ask for it again two weeks from now, or fifty years from now, and I can repeat it exactly. Or else I can describe a map I've seen in perfect detail.  There's a library's worth of books 'twixt these ear holes. 

"Reason I’m here has to do with that.  I was bound to a sorcerer.  Still am.  Came to this place once and I got left behind.  Only, when the dusties realized how valuable I'd be for the recordkeeping they knocked me out cold and put me in here."

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The concept of a mimir doesn’t sound familiar, but it also doesn’t seem entirely implausible or inconsistent with the splintered remnants of his memories.

There are people who can manipulate reality through mental concentration. They are called wizards or sorcerers and they practice the Art.

There are known spell forms that anyone with sufficient intellect and strength of will can memorize and learn to substantiate. Maybe one in thirty men could manage it, if taken as children and raised by wizards.

Strong wizards are exceedingly rare and can do things that might otherwise seem impossible or in violation of natural law. Some such wizard might have the capacity to create an entirely new variety of animal life and to endow it with a fragment copied of their own mind, like a parent to a child but much more rapidly, and much more imperfectly. Some such person created mimirs… probably.

Or else they are natural creatures from some distant corner of reality. But then why do they look exactly like giant human skulls? How do they breed?

"I don't know of such creatures, but I have picked up some scraps of the Art, and I can see that you have the appearance of a wizard’s familiar, but the mind of a man. Though there is a great deal more than that woven around you."

He gazes at Morte intently for a moment.

And then a spark of un-reality flickers through his mental landscape, like the feeling of suddenly realizing that he is dreaming, or that he is watching a play on a stage. Again there is the sensation of an interior voice cresting into his awareness. This one is different, coming with its own personality. The tone is skeptical and cynical, and it repeats a single sentence:

An amnesiac wakes up next to a talking skull that claims to be an encyclopedia.

An amnesiac wakes up next to a talking skull that claims to be an encyclopedia.

Implausible.

"Do you know my name?" he says to Morte

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Morte performs a small tilting gesture, cocking his skull sideways.  "Do I know what the self-proclaimed wizard street brawler calls himself when he isn’t getting picked up for a deader?  Gee.  No. I do not."

“You get a few screws knocked loose upstairs, chief?  You, uh, keep looking off into space.  And I am thoroughly not looking for trouble, mind.  Truly.  But neither of us is rolling in the lap of luxury at the moment, and it'd give me comfort to know you’ll act with a bit of sense.”

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“Possibly.”

“I’ve been damaged in some way, I think, and the damage has a quality that feels… deliberate. I don’t remember my name. There are many blank spaces."

"If you please, then. As a mimir, what have you read of magics or strong medicines that can excise parts of the memory?"

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"Aside from the magic of cheap gin?  I can think of a few more exotic theories, actually.  But maybe we start with the likely ones.  You sure you haven't been drinking? Maybe puffing the pipe of peace with something foul and amber-colored?  Like as not the bodies they bring in here are the ones found in the gutter or in the alleys outside of the Twin Cobras.  What's the last thing you remember?"

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He begins shaking his head to answer the first question in the negative, but then thinks better of it and closes his eyes to concentrate.

He does have some memories, but he can see at a glance that there are far too few. And none have the crispness of recency.

He remembers being an adolescent and serving a cruel master of a blacksmith, spending long hours staring at a particular knot in the wood of a ceiling beam while he lay on his back in pain and exhaustion at day's end. He remembers climbing the rigging of a sailing ship in calm seas, mending some portion of the main mast sail. He remembers swiftly rummaging through crates in a warehouse, and dropping the attending guard to the ground with a wave of his hand and a cast of the spell known as Chromatic Orb. In that memory he thinks he was calm. Bored, even.

A practiced criminal, then? And a wizard.

But he has no memories of parents. Nor of any wife, lover, or child. He remembers meeting many people. But when he pulls on the thread of any one of these memories and interrogates it for the part he knows must be there - the "Mister so-and-so. Charmed to make your acquaintance." - it just isn't there.

And where is his home? He must have traveled the material plane extensively. His breadth of memories readily proclaim that. He thinks of a half a dozen cities where he knows the locations of public houses, of lawyers, of merchants and local lords. Is he the victim of some rival who sought to separate him from his resources? Or did he catch a stray spell in a street gang fight with some kind of powerful mentalist?

"No. Not drink. Something a lot more thorough. My head is like a cheese with holes in it… Only the holes are always in the places I'd look if I wanted to find the people who would know me."

He looks around the room again. 

"Where in the planes are we?”

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“That's a depressing thought.”

Morte's voice does not sound depressed.

“We're in The Hive.  In Sigil.  The city of doors.  The material plane.  The place where the fulcrum balances.  You know it?”

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He nods slowly. His mind’s eye calls up a mental image of a humanoid woman twenty feet tall, her face a mass of sharp knives. A demigod or outsider who holds absolute sway over a city full of portals. A cosmopolitan, chaotic place where sudden planar doors can open in a wall or between two fence posts or inside a cabinet or anywhere, really, without warning. Each requiring a key, either a specific object cast into the rift and thereby expended and lost, or a gesture performed, and invisible unless the key is present.

“Hmm. I know of the Lady of Pain and the rebuses that man the city. I have walked before the siege tower and the market square. That much I can recall.

Tell me everything you know about how I came to be in this room."

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"Sure.  Two men - I don’t know their names but they've come before… four times in the last three months, and in plainclothes, real salt of the earth types, not robes like the one you're wearing - brought you in on a cart less than an hour ago.  

"If I had to bet I’d say you were picked up from somewhere nearby.  There’s a dusty at the gate'll give five silver pence for any corpse that still contains all its inner gooey bits.

"All but the three lying near that sheila are fresh, came in on the cart with you.  You could see if any of them tickle your memory, though, to my eyes they don’t exactly look ‘of a feather’ with you."

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He walks to one of the nearby corpses. A man with a visible club foot and some marks on the arms where crutches had clearly been worn for years.

He does a circuit around the other occupied stone tables. Then he looks off into the distance for the span of a minute, willing his mind to conjure up any memories connected with any of their faces.  

Then he returns to Morte.

“As you say.”

He takes a look at the bars. What are they made of?

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