The Significance of Masks
Inspired by Skypti's githyanki lexicon and the additional work of the Planewalker community, the Author humbly dedicates this to the players of Blades of Git'riban.
“Eee-kith. Rhishee-chawl. Riaw-kohl—” a breathy, soft voice whispered in the shadowy corner of Madgery's Orphanage Asylum, drawing out the syllables in a reverent manner. The matrons had not bothered to check the root cellar, nor was there any need to do so. Their elusive ward sat on a few moth-eaten cushions piled in a large, overturned crate, her natural darkvision enabling her to continue scribing the runic letters with the stick of chalk gripped in tiny fingers once the lantern's light sputtered out. Her charcoal-grey eyes narrowed in the universal grimace of annoyance shared by all six-year-olds when asked to complete an unwelcome assignment.
“Were you asleep when I spoke last of pronunciations and inflections, girl?” The sharp, low hiss of an adult male voice lacking the butchered accent of Sigil's lower classes inquired with the air of a Mercykiller on the prowl.
“I'm speaking right!” The child whined, rubbing the broken piece of slate clean using a grimy palm, her thin lips set in a pout.
“We will start again with words beginning in the letter 'g'. Now, repeat after me: Gak, ghaik, gisir, graith....”
“Graith's a bad word! Samir'a said it's a bad word!”
The tutor leveled a glare at his pupil, his transparent form seated in a cross-legged position. For once in her brief existence, she was not certain what to think of the mysterious ghost-companion the fates have bestowed on her. His attire was far more ornate than other giths she has observed in the Hive. A crimson robe embroidered in silver threads, beadwork and a jeweled brooch pin concealed equally magnificent leather armor. Even the arrangement of his hair is noticeably elaborate, a waist-length cascade of tightly-braided ebony locks secured by a silver clasp attached to the matching circlet resembling woven razorvine resting on his brow, offsetting his onyx irises.
“It is a term for those who are not of the People......and what have I told you about Samir'a?”
“She's a gith too!” protested the child indignantly, clutching the lengthy cloak draped around her shoulders as though it were a holy relic shielding her from his anger.
“Samir'a is gutter-trash. You will die here if you fail your lessons, do you understand? You will die here and I will not be able to save you when the Dustmen turn you into a mindless little thrall.” snapped the spirit, coldly ignoring the primal horror he had induced in his terrified pupil, who began to cry.
Endure. The tutor repeated the singular mantra in his thoughts, fighting the urge to scold the child for her tears. It has kept him sane when weaker wills would have shattered, calming and sustaining him through all tribulations. His pupil shall recite it by heart one day, though not tonight. There could be no kind words for her at this time, no thrilling tales of sundered kin and brain-eating monsters. She must learn, she must rise above the filth and mediocrity surrounding her, she must embrace suffering to thrive.
“Quiet! Finish the recitation.” he barked.
“Gak, ghaik, gisir, graith.”
“Recite the Planes we learned last week.”
The child resumed sobbing.
“Yes you can. You know them as well as you know your letters and simple mathematics. Think!”
“Where am I from?”
He rewarded the child with a genuine grin, crouching to ruffle her own black hair affectionately.
“Very good! You may put your slate and chalk away.”
She tucked the items into a patched pillow case, re-arranging the cushions to serve as a makeshift mattress and swathed the cloak around her body for use as a blanket. She pushed the oversized pair of gold-rimmed spectacles to the bridge of her nose, the dark red lenses reflecting the faint glow emitted by the ghost.
“Can we stay friends forever even after I go on my rrakkma?”
“Of course. I’ve been your friend since you were a hatchling, have I not?”
“I wish everybody could see you! Then we could be a family and then I’d get to grow up and take care of you all the time.”
“I’m already dead, little one.”
“But I heard magics stuff can make you alive again!”
“Well…….that sort of magic is…..hard to find.”
“But what if I found it?”
A harsh laugh echoed in the child’s ears.
“It’s not funny! I really, really mean it!” she grumbled.
The other gith sighed, rubbing his forehead. Children were one area of expertise he had not excelled in while among the living, regardless of the fact he fathered but one. The mother’s culture espoused certain practices that made it impossible to develop such a dangerous bond between parents and their offspring. Not for the first time regret invaded the ghost’s logic as he observed the little girl beaming happily from the interior of the crate, filled by wandering thoughts he sequestered quickly. He grew increasingly vexed by his moment of weak sentimentality. The very existence of his child was a monstrosity, a perversion, that which should never have been. What sick turn of fortune’s wheel permitted the creation of such a blasphemous individual? The mother was inculpable. She did not know she allowed an enemy to share her bed, nor would she ever. It was his fault entirely. Had the egg even hatched at all?
“Tell me a story!” chirped his pupil sleepily. “I wanna hear about Gith and Zerthimon and the War!”
“You cried the last time I told you that one.”
“I cried because it’s so sad! They were best friends like us…weren’t they?”
“I suppose they were, for a time.”
“If I was Gith, I would’ve listened to Zerthimon but told him he needs to fight the illa…ill—”
“—illithids first, then all the people on all the worlds with illithids would be free and happy because their brains won’t get eated!”
“Enough talk of such things.” The spirit closed his eyes, shaking his head. “Both are long since released from the confines of this life.”
“Tell me a story about where you come from!”
“It is not my will.”
“Well, it is my will that I know a story about your kip or somebody from it!” She pulled her face by the cheeks and made her eyes cross, sticking out her tongue before blowing air through her mouth.
The faintest hint of a smile threatened to crack the ghost’s stern expression at her amusing attempt at reverse arguments. If he continued to foster her wit and nurture her natural desire to increase her range of knowledge, perhaps she could be of some use to him in the years to come.
“This is a story no one else has heard.” he began, lowering his voice to a dry whisper. “It is the tale of a very foolish gith who met a sad fate. Long ago, a young gith warlock burned with hatred in his heart for those of the People who had made a mockery of the race. He thought himself highly clever and sought out those of his elders who were experienced planewalkers who spied on the False People by masquerading as their comrades. In time the warlock was trained well in the arts of deception, his pleased teachers placing him within the very heart of the city of the False People with others of his ilk. He was so skilled that none could see behind his lies, though he avoided the psions and rish-i-chal by proving himself more valuable on Prime incursions and rrakkma than training arcane-minded hatchlings.
Careful years were spent cultivating and perfecting his false role, his mask. He even took a woman of the False People as a lover, though she too was blind to his lies. In his foolishness he continued this path until he became lost. He had lived his lies so well that they were Truth. The mask was now his face and he wore it forever after. He forgot it was a mask, forgot his place and burned with a new hatred. He turned his hate towards his fellow spies, sent them in cursed chains bound screaming for the palace of the queen of the False People......and her generals were pleased. Up through the ranks the warlock rose, more accolades, more praise, more power. Soon, he would be knighted. He planned to rise further still, yet here his tale ends. One whom he had betrayed, his own cousin, tortured nearly unto death exposed his name and the name of his mask to the False People. They did not believe him, all except eleven warriors who lured him away from his kip and his lover.....and so he died, killed by his foolishness. Be wary of the masks you choose and do not think yourself too clever to be caught wearing one.”
The child nodded solemnly.
“I won't. Thank you for the story.”
She burrowed under the cloak, yawning softly.
Something akin to melancholia flared in his being as he felt himself being pulled back into the body of his unknowing host. Nestled within her mind once more, the symbiotic spirit offered his reply, as he always did every night from the moment of her hatching.
“Lady’s Grace, Azthri’Zhan’kel.”