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“Afternoon,” he says.

“I do not well know your city, but I heard your shop spoke of on the street.”

Are there other patrons inside? Where is the dog relative to the shop owner?

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No customers are visible in the shop.

There is but one other entry point to the L-room, a doorway with a beaded curtain.  Judging from the width of the townhome, it must lead to a tiny room or a staircase.  It sits on the same side of the interior as the pooch.

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He steps forward.

“I came here through the plaza, round the back. You have an admirable yard in these homes. Your dog must adore it.”

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“Oh.  Certainly.  She nearly tunneled the whole lot up.  I don’t chain her inside but in that yard she’ll make no end of mischief.

“This damned latch though.  What's your hankering?”

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“Wouldn’t mind a bit of a wake-up.” 

He positions himself such that the curtain door is between him and the dog. He declines to touch any of the wares, lest it rouse her.

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“I was a seaman, in a past life.  Ran a shipment of uncured tobacco once...  Think it was Bytopian. Crew had three ounces of loose green leaves per man per day as part of the ration. We chewed it, boiled it, weighed it down on the deck under a pudding cloth to dry it enough to take a flame. Our hands shook with the spark of it. The coffee went undrank most days for fear we'd lose hold of the ladder."

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“Something in the smell here brought me back to that. You must find the air of the place quite intoxicating. I imagine your nostrils get so full of it that it's the only thing you ever smell.”

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There is a sound of something heavy being shifted, and then the sound of a laugh.

“More ‘n a little.  But better than-”

A man emerges through the curtain.  He stops cold. 

He has a head of thick gray hair, shooting off in a wild cowlick.  His whiskers flare outwards.  He wears an apron and trousers. 

In a hushed voice he says, “Lord of mercy.  I know you, berk.”

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The dog emits a low rumble at her master's shift in tone.

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“Then you have the advantage of me.”

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“Could be. I awoke in the Mortuary surrounded by corpses.

I've heard you're the one who found me.”

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After squinting hard at The Nameless One for several seconds, he brings a hand to his forehead and wipes back his hair.   

“You’re not a vessel,” he says finally.

He shakes his head.  “Weren’t a breath of life in you neither.  Checked that while I was scrubbing at the blood.”

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“Whatever this devilry is.  I don't want none of it.”

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He glances at the dog. Is he going to have to lose a finger gouging out that thing’s eyes?

This calls for an open bearing, something placating, but not daunted.

He turns both palms upwards, arms staying low at his sides.

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Meanwhile his mind races to piece together a model of this tobacconist that coheres even a little. 1) Gathers corpses off the street and sells them to be raised as slavish automata. 2) Loves his dog. 3) Chatty shopkeeper. 4) Endearingly disheveled appearance… perhaps developed as a strategy to put others at ease and to lower their guard.

He starts with a tone mildly paternalistic. “Believe me when I tell you that I don't want it either.”

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Time’s ticking.  

Start with what won't work: definitely not an appeal to mercy or compassion for a stranger. 

Snippets of language flash across his mental landscape:

  • -- Speaking to you as a man, I tell you that --
  • -- The thing that walked abroad last night and will do so again --
  • -- Picking up even a small trinket from that place, you would be marked for slaughter by a great evil --
  • -- For hive dwellers to walk about unmolested or make a purchase --

 

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“You seem duly shocked to see me alive and walking. Let that proof stand as a measure of the size of the thing into which you have stumbled. 

The reason I have come here is to limit the harm of events already set in motion by my enemies. Those enemies possess a sorcery and power on par with that of The Lady herself.” He speaks the name casually, without the reflexive fearful look about him that he has seen accompany such an invocation by other Sigil dwellers.

“Through no failure of your own you may have already got yourself more deeply tangled up in this matter than you realize. That's what we must determine, now, before the light of peak fades. The task before us is to extricate you as rapidly and safely as we can.”

He'll pause and look for any kind of tell. He doesn't trust this man.

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Something seems to have dropped from the tobacconist's face. The schmaltz is gone.

“What enemies?” he says levelly.

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There are pathways and gambles here.

Task: persuade a man you are expert in a subject where he has firsthand knowledge and you do not.

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“Last night, something powerful waylaid me from the shadows. It struck me with a sufficiently great Art to shatter my mind and destroy the better part of my life's memories.

Because of the higher powers that sponsor me, the attack was not fatal, though it certainly would have been for any mortal man. I have fewer resources now than I would like, and I will take days to fully recover them. Some of the knowledge of the enemy has been lost. What I have retained is that the thing is highly mobile, that it does not hesitate to kill, that it fears no law nor maze nor locked door in Sigil, and that it has the capacity to place a mark on a victim such that it can find them wherever they flee, anywhere across the planes.”

He pauses. “It's possible that acting as you have, you have already been so marked.  I do not begrudge you moving my body, but speaking to you now bluntly, I tell you that the length of your own lifespan may well depend on you communicating to me precisely where you went, what you did, what you touched, and what you saw from the moment you first encountered me.”

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The tobacconist steps to the shop’s window and looks out at the street traffic.

“You a wizard?”

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“I have used the Art in many battles.”

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He does a quick double take at that, evidently finding something off about the answer.

In a more cautious tone, “And this thing has its mark on you?  And it follows you still?”

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“I have been marked, yes. Though I do not expect an encounter in the daylight.”

He pauses.

“It can mark many at once… In the past it has struck down others in between encounters with me.”

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