*chuckle* If they make this a book there'll be several author credits. This whole things is an only slightly modified rendition of the Actual campaign we're in. Shemmies writing - but the characters are owned by real players.
Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)
Nisha snatched the letter out of Clueless’s hands and started reading it, softly muttering, “What to wear, what to wear… and a date, I’ll need a date for this. And hmm… never been to a real party before, unless you count crashing one with a dozen other folks, and that usually doesn’t end happily for us, even if it’s fun.”
Clueless laughed and snatched for the letter, “Hey, I was reading that!”
The tiefling held it up over her head and tried to keep it out of his hands, failing to realize that a game of keepaway tended to work best if you were taller than the other person. She mock pouted for a few seconds before she felt a poke to her back.
“You know, you’ve got one yourself.” Tristol said as he held out a similar letter addressed to her. “No need to crash the party either.”
She handed back the letter and picked up her own with a grin, “Can I pretend I’m crashing it anyways?”
“You can do whatever the heck you want. That’s what you usually do anyways.” Tristol chuckled.
Toras looked over towards them, “I’d put a qualifier on that though. So long as no people get hurt and there’s no major property damage or public scandal you can do whatever you want. How’s that?”
“Workable.” Nisha said with a wink.
Tristol laughed as she got up, snagged the Factol Karan doll and dashed out the door, saying something about ‘dolling herself up’. He looked over to Toras, “This should be interesting…”
“That it will. I have to wonder who else is showing up, for good or for ill.”
“True, it’s probably going to be a pretty big crowd, lots of important people and all that. Just so long as it’s not like one of the social functions my parents always tried to drag me out to, I won’t mind at all. Anything’s better than sitting in a room with a bunch of social climbing, absurdly arrogant wizards, and having to play along with it.” Tristol’s tail spruced out as he recalled his memories of such things in Halaraa, and his mother’s routine insistence that such were for his betterment.
“No. Here we’re likely to get everyone from Rhys, Estevan, the Titan…” Toras said before Clueless interrupted.
“…the b*tch in a razorvine headdress…” Clueless said with a smirk before he muttered to himself, “I swear I’ll have her shaved one of these days…”
“Ok, so there’s one person who’d fit in back home… hopefully we don’t get seated next to her. Still, it sounds pretty large, and it sounds like it’ll have all types there.” Tristol mused.
“It’s something I’m looking forward to, that’s for certain.” Clueless said with a grin.
Fyrehowl drew her blade and bowed to the githzerai monk who stood opposite her, her sparring partner of late. At first she had felt overwhelmed by the quickness and odd fighting style of the other cipher, and because of that initial surprise, she had felt doubt in her own abilities. However, by the end of their first few sessions, she had discovered a number of things that set her own style of fighting apart from Kel’shra’tar’s. First and foremost, she was probably twice as strong as the spindly monk, maybe even more; she was taller than he was by a good foot and a half; and she had her own claws and fangs, that while not commonly regarded as proper weapons for a trained fighter, she was naturally adept with them as extensions of her own body.
She spent the next evening after their last session alone in a chamber in the gymnasium, adjusting her methods of using her sword, experimenting with incorporating her bite or claws as sudden, unexpected, offhanded attacks. A number of wooden practice dummies quickly showed the signs of the unorthodox methods, and by the end of the evening the lupinal was smiling, though at one point she did have to pause to pick a splinter or two from between her teeth.
It was all going much smoother, as if she could feel what to do rather than sit and ponder on style, tactics, and proper movements. It might have just been the extra practice that led to her feeling more confidant and noting a smoother edge to her reflexes, but at the same time she felt oddly similar to how she had in those few spontaneous, reactive moments when she had bested the fallen lupinal, Tarnsilver, there in Belarian.
“We’ll see how this works…” Fyrehowl said, looking down at the splintered remains of the targets with amusement.
She hadn’t told the other cipher about the changes, half expecting the spontaneity of it all to surprise him and give her the upper hand in their next match, and half expecting him to fully anticipate it and react on instinct much like she was beginning to do. Neither of them were Rhys, but compared to Fyrehowl, the gith had trained for much longer. Still, she was improving rapidly and both of them were pleased with her progress.
Near the end of that next match, Kel’shra’tar hastily moved into a defensive position and parried a sudden low strike from Fyrehowl. Repeatedly during their match the taller and stronger lupinal had forced him back and gone on the offensive far more than in previous bouts. He had managed to fend off most of them, but the blocked impacts were jarring at times when they landed solidly, rather than being deflected off to one side, and by themselves it was taking more than a bit out of him. Still, he adjusted and eventually disarmed her, being as much quicker than her as she was stronger than him, but he noticed the improvement in her style, and more importantly in her reflexes.
He was better than her yes, but her rate of improvement was such, that given time she was going to eventually outstrip him in ability, partially from her own racial traits, and partially because of how rapidly she seemed to be adapting to the philosophy that he himself had been taught by Rhys and her factors, and which he was now teaching to her. He didn’t admit all of it to her immediately, but she seemed to sense it anyways, which was an affirmation of the feeling anyways.
“I have a question to ask you.” She said as she rolled backwards and stood up.
“Ask,” he said, handing her back her sword from where it lay on the ground.
She nodded and spoke as they walked out of the training chamber, “One of my companions, a bladesinger and member of the Indeps, Clueless, I think you’ve met him before. I wanted to bring him along the next time we sparred, hopefully so that he and I might coordinate some of our tactics. Would you mind?”
“Not at all, though I may be hard pressed against the both of you. You have improved, and his style is largely unfamiliar to me. I am at a disadvantage, but the challenge is welcome. Ask him and bring him along. Perhaps tommorow?”
She nodded and sheathed her sword, “That sounds good. Again, thank you. And the compliment is well received. See you then.”
“So why am I here again?” Clueless asked as he stood in the center of the Great Gymnasium, looking at the hundred odd persons milling about the central courtyard.
“Spontaneity! Because I asked you to. Is it that bad of an idea?” The grinning lupinal said to the half-fey.
Clueless shrugged and quirked an eyebrow, “Spontaneity isn’t bad, and it’s something your new group embraces from what I know. But isn’t this whole idea of planning and working on coordination of our fighting styles a bit… well… defeating the whole purpose of being spontaneous?”
“Your not a cipher, hence we need to train. Besides, you don’t just wake up one day and hear the heartbeat of the multiverse and know what to do when you need to do it. That takes practice, even if it slowly replaces the need for you to consciously think before acting.” Fyrehowl said with a soft chuckle as she opened the door to the separate courtyard used for swordplay.
“Besides,” She said, brushing an idle speck of dirt off of her otherwise spotless robes, “This gets you out of the Portal Jammer. You’ve been stuck behind the bar, serving drinks for a solid week now. You need to get out more.”
“And you need to be around more, because I’ve only been tending bar for a shift or two at a time. Besides, I rather enjoy it. I get to chat up the regular customers, get to know their faces, and I have the added bonus of making sure that Nisha doesn’t burn the place down by accident.”
“Burn the place down?”
“She swore she only did that to one place, one time, and it wasn’t entirely her fault. Something about dancing Slaadi and large amounts of alcohol. I just keep reminding myself that we don’t have dancing Slaadi.” Clueless said, his wings flushing with a bit of color at the very idea of dancing Slaadi. “Plus, if you must pry, I’ve found that Factol Montgomery is a rather good conversationalist for an animated doll. She’s cute, and she makes fun of Darkwood. And she’s more than a little hot.”
“Still, you can’t just stay bottled up in the bar if your social life revolves around little animated dolls. Even if some of them are amusing, or objects of your weird fantasies” Fyrehowl said, poking Clueless in the shoulder.
“Hey, I’ve got a girlfriend, and I’ve been spending just a tiny little bit of time with her. Let’s just say that we haven’t been spending our hours together playing Arcadian Bridge. She’s a Sensate, I’m half Sidhe, allow your mind to wander from there.”
Fyrehowl shrugged and very nearly said, ‘Is she actually your girlfriend, or do you two just get together to have fun?’ but, in a very uncipher-like fashion, she paused, hesitated and reconsidered.
“I can only imagine.” She said with a hesitant chuckle, hesitating rather than acting, and as funny as some might find it, they’d need to approach the subject eventually, just not at the present. Fyrehowl pushed the idea out of the forefront of her mind.
“So whom are we supposed to be sparring with today? Rhys’s gofor?” Clueless said as he stretched in the center of a marked practice yard.
Fyrehowl chuckled, “I wouldn’t call him that, but that’s him. Kel. He’s pretty damn fast, even if he’s not exceptionally strong. You’re probably stronger than him, but he’s confidant enough to train against us both.”
Clueless raised an eyebrow as he stripped out of his shirt and tossed it to the side. “Yeah, that probably says something. But I still say that we should try out what we talked about earlier.”
The lupinal paused and hesitated before replying, staring overly long at the bladesinger’s chiseled physique and the elaborate knot work tattoo that covered most of his back except for his wings. Clueless was exceptionally fit, and despite his being neither a lupinal, nor any type of celestial in the first place, Fyrehowl found herself admiring what she saw.
“Fyrehowl? About what we talked about earlier?” Clueless prodded her with the question again.
“Oh! I’m sorry, I was thinking about something.” She said with a slight startle.
Clueless grinned, “Isn’t that what you’re not supposed to be doing? The whole cipher thing and all?”
She poked him in the ribs, “Yeah yeah yeah. Hey, it’s better than lingering on other things. I’m doing my best here to not be utterly depressed.”
He nodded, “Actually yeah, you’re right. You’ve been tossing yourself into this, and its been keeping you occupied. I can’t say that’s bad. Anyways I think our sparring partner is here.”
Council Chairwoman Rhys’s assistant and understudy walked onto the sand of the sparring ring and bowed to both Clueless and Fyrehowl. They exchanged greetings and made small talk for several minutes before they took their positions at opposite ends of the ring. The githzerai held up his hand and the metallic bracers that he had been wearing seemed to flow like liquid, pool in his hand, and form an intricate longsword; karach.
Clueless glanced down at his sword, Razor and whispered to it, “Hey now, don’t get jealous. I promise I won’t leave you here and elope with any other swords. I’m more than happy with you, and I think you know that.”
Fyrehowl raised an eyebrow, but otherwise said nothing about Clueless talking to his sword like it was a living thing. “So… like we talked about before?”
Clueless nodded, “That works for me. We’ll see how it works out.”
They walked out of the Great Gymnasium tired but happy, Fyrehowl smiling and flushed, and Clueless stumbling in his walk due the spasms of laughter he was having as they left. His wings were flushed green as he glanced over at the lupinal and began snickering, a tear or two running down his face.
She rolled her eyes and poked him in the ribs, “Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Clueless was still laughing, “Well, that’s rather the point of the group isn’t it? Still…”
“Oh it wasn’t that funny. You’ll make me regret having done that.”
“No, the people who happened to be there at the time who’ll likely tell it to all their friends will. I won’t tell a soul, I swear. I won’t need to.” The bladesinger said, still flushed and laughing.
“Bah. It worked didn’t it? Who cares so long as it did?”
Two hours earlier…
Clueless deflected the gith’s last slash with a backhanded cut of his own sword and then ducked in low, cutting hard and quick and attempting to force the gith to either retreat further or trip. The gith was already stepping to the side however, and his blade was already moving to counter and nullify the tactic. Or at least it would have, had he not suddenly faltered, paused, and been knocked flat to the ground, still staring, not at Clueless, but at Fyrehowl.
The lupinal’s robes were pulled down to her waist, she was bent forwards, and flashing her breasts as the githzerai. It lasted barely a second or two before she covered herself, leapt and pinned the stunned cipher on which the faint trace of a blush was showing under the pale yellow of his cheeks; and Clueless was laughing hysterically.
Several dozen other people in that section of the gymnasium were also staring slack jawed over in their direction, including several ciphers, a bard who had nearly choked on his flute, and one of the hill giants who owned and operated the building. Some distractions affect more than their intended targets, and Fyrehowl’s had done just that.
“I think we just won…” She said with a mixture of embarrassment and satisfaction over towards Clueless as she moved and helped Kel up from the floor.
“…” He said little as he molded the liquid karach of his sword back down into a ring on his dominant hand. He then simply stared over towards the two, and while he said nothing at first, the karach seemed to twitch slightly, almost as if it were laughing for him by proxy in response to his thoughts. A few seconds later he started laughing too.
“I must admit, I wasn’t expecting anything like that.” He said, his cheeks flushed.
“Score one for us then.” Clueless said with a grin.
The githzerai motioned them towards the exit as their session was over, but he lingered just long enough to ask Fyrehowl a question. “Was that planned in advance?”
She shook her head, “No. No, it wasn’t. I needed a distraction and I just did that without thinking, it just felt like it would work and I did it without really considering it.”
Kel smiled and bowed, “Then you’re learning. Very good.”
She smiled back, “Thank you, I’ll see you in a day or two again.”
He bowed once more and she departed, walking out towards the entrance where Clueless seemed on the verge of falling over with laughter. He didn’t seem like he was going to let her hear the end of that little incident.
Back at the Portal Jammer, Skalliska sat at one of the back tables, away from the customers, and poured over a new stack of books fresh from the Great Library. Her reptilian nose twitched in annoyance as, once again, another supposedly comprehensive source of lore relating to her own race left much to be desired.
“F*ck him, and the same to his worshippers.” She muttered harshly in her own native language, referring to the figure pictured on the current page of the tome.
“He’s too damn entrenched, or else I may be looking in the wrong places. One or the other.” Skalliska said in a softer tone as she rubbed a finger along the knobby spine of her familiar. The fire lizard growled softly in support as it nibbled at the end of a bit of meat the kobold had given it to gnaw on as she did her research.
“Son of a…” She cursed again, this time in planar common as she tossed the book off the table in disgust at the content of the chapters relating to religion amongst kobolds. She mentally swore that every damn world that had kobolds, and that was most of them, held Kurtulmak as their patron, himself just an overblown and self-important archfiend.
“Can I help you with something?” She said, trying to regain her composure as she stared at one of the inn’s patrons who had been staring silently at her since she had tossed the book off of her table and tumbling under his.
“Not you…” The bald human said in a surprisingly monotone voice before he went back to sipping at an empty glass.
“Whatever… sorry about the book.” Skalliska replied, but the black clad berk had already turned away to stare off distantly towards the bar. Though not that she could see his eyes, what with them being behind a pair of black metallic goggles.
She shrugged and went back to her reading, leaving the man to stare off into space. Probably a bleaker or a dustie, considering the void that made up his personality, his pale, waxy complexion, and his drab choice of clothing. Still, the bar had seen weirder types…
“Skalliska, what exactly is it that you’re working on? You’ve been at it for a couple days now…” Toras said as he walked over to the table, a curious look on his face. He motioned to the chair across from the kobold.
“Sure, you’ll just need to move the books though… go right ahead.” Skalliska said without looking up. Her familiar puffed a small gout of flames from its nose towards the fighter, acting all the part of a miniature red dragon.
Toras sat down and glanced at the titles of the books that sprawled across the table’s surface. He frowned slightly.
“What?” Skalliska said as she looked up and tilted her hat back to look up at his face.
“I can’t really say I approve really. Kurtulmak isn’t exactly high on my own patron’s list of friendly deities. I can give you some much more pleasant options, so can Florian as well.” Toras said with the tone of a concerned parent who just caught their kid with a hand in the liquor cabinet.
The fire lizard snorted another puff of flame in Toras’s direction. Though it was little more than a matchstick’s worth, it accurately reflected Skalliska’s expression. She groaned and knocked her head against the table with a soft *thunk*.
“What?” Toras said as he reached over to pick up the book and look closer at it. There was a full-page illustration of Kurtulmak, sitting atop the skulls of various humanoids, gnomes primarily. “Nice guy…”
Another snort and a puff of smoke from the familiar as Skalliska glanced up at Toras, her beady eyes peering down the length of her snout unhappily. “Exactly, and that’s my problem.”
She pointed unhappily at the illustration. “Same thing in that book and most all of these others. Same thing over and over for the past week of reading. Kurtulmak, Kurtulmak, Kurtulmak! I’m sick and tired of Kurtulmak!”
“I take back my previous statements.” Toras said with a wide smile. “Doing some soul searching then I take it? Not happy with your race’s standard options?”
Skalliska leaned back in her chair, propping it against the wall on two legs and putting her feet on top of the tome, and the picture of the ubiquitous evil god of kobolds; she seemed far too comfortable in the position.
“Did I ever tell you about the prime world that I originally came from?” She asked as she picked up her familiar.
“No, not really. I always assumed that you were planar, given your profession and all. Do tell.”
“Not much to tell. Or rather, there’s not much left of the place. There was my own race and the Illithids; both of us controlled about half of the sphere. It ended poorly and the world is more or less dead and spinning in the void now. However before it all fell apart, my people, we had our own gods. An entire pantheon of them, and Kurtulmak wasn’t among their number.” She scowled at the mention of that particular power’s name.
Toras nodded, “And once you got out here, all you could find was him, and almost all of your kind tend to worship, or at least revere and respect him.”
“Pretty much how it’s been. After all that happened recently I started to look around for information on if any of the members of my world’s pantheon survived the destruction of our world and the dispersal of our people. F*cking squidheads scoured the surface of the world clean. Think magical sandstorms of white hot glass, constantly, over the entire surface.”
“Not my idea of a fun time, no.” Toras said as he closed the book. “Any luck so far though?”
Skalliska shook her head, “No. At least not yet anyways. I’ve got time, and if worse comes to worse I can always just go to the astral and see who amongst them isn’t there…”
Toras nodded, “It’s an idea. If I can help you, you know, all you need to do is ask.”
The kobold grinned, “I appreciate it, but for the moment this is something that I’d like to do on my own. Spiritual, personal stuff, I think you’ll understand my need to go this alone for now?”
Toras nodded respectfully, “Yeah, I sure can. Anyways, I have to go out and do some shopping for some new clothes for this party that we’re all invited to. It says come as you are, but considering how much jink that Jeremo is supposed to have, I think I’m going to do my best to look good.”
Skalliska chuckled, “I should too at some point actually.”
“Anyways, anything I can get for you before I leave?”
Skalliska motioned her snout over towards the berk at the other table, “Yeah. Get me a drink and get that berk over there to leave? He’s been there staring at the bar for two hours, and he just starting drinking the lamp oil at the table. I think he’s a bleaker or something.”
“Not a problem, I’ll handle it. But anyways, I’ll see you later. Keep an eye out for Nisha when I leave, make sure she doesn’t get into anything she shouldn’t. She’s like everyone’s mischievous but lovable little sister, but three times more innocently destructive…”
Tristol glanced around the shop, a tiny thing about three blocks in the direction of The Lady’s Ward from the Friendly Fiend. He knew that because he had walked from the Portal Jammer to there along with Florian, dropped the cleric off and then gone about looking for any shops that might commission custom articles of clothing.
After all, if he was going to a party, any sort of party, he wanted to look nice for the occasion. Sure, he wasn’t dressing up to impress anyone really besides himself perhaps, it wasn’t like such functions back home, but this would be the first real official function he had attended since he had come to Sigil. He wanted to look nice, even if it wasn’t for anyone but himself.
Florian wasn’t with him as he stepped into the silversmith’s shop a few blocks from the Great Foundry, the stacks still belching their acrid clouds of soot high into the yellow haze of the Ward’s sky. The cleric had insisted on dropping by the Friendly Fiend, saying something about ‘A’kin is such a sweetheart’, or some such. Tristol shook his head in bewilderment. He was a fiend, regardless of the smile, and though he’d always been pleasant, Tristol honestly wasn’t sure what to make of him. Fyrehowl seemed to feel the same way, Toras thought he was what happened when a fiend went barmy, and Nisha seemed to adore him, at least in as much as the ‘loth put up with her random petty theft.
“Can I help you sir?” The shopkeeper inquired with a pleasant tone. He was a gnome, and former member of the Godsmen, apparent by the golden symbol around his neck.
“Yes actually,” Tristol said. “Earlier today I purchased a new staff down in The Lady’s Ward, and while it’s nice, it’s rather plain. I was wondering if I might be able to commission a decorative headpiece for it.”
“Absolutely, it seems a simple enough prospect. What sort of metal might you have in mind? I’m well enough versed in gold, silver, brass, most any base metal, and one or two exotics, though I tend to need advance notice for any of them.”
Tristol held out the staff, a long, smooth, simple shaft of some dark hardwood, stained almost black. “I was thinking silver. It’ll offset the color of the wood nicely I think.”
The craftsman looked at the wood and nodded, “That seems like a decent prospect. What sort of decoration might you be interested in? Either describe something and I can sketch it out, or if you already have a model for me to work from; I can do either.”
“Actually, I have a model for you that I think will work.” Tristol said with a grin as he reached into his robes, and the extradimensional pocket contained within.
The silversmith chuckled, “I think I can work with that. In fact, if you leave him here for a while I can get started on it now and have it finished by the morning.”
Tristol smiled, “I’ll wait if you don’t mind, he doesn’t like to wander.”
“Clueless? Why are you laughing?” Florian said as he walked over to the bar where the half-fey was trying to pour a drink while giggling.
“Oh… nothing….” He replied, obviously failing any attempts at restraint.
“Come on, spill it.” He insisted. “You’ve got me curious.”
Clueless looked around for Fyrehowl then leaned in closely, “Distraction in the middle of a sparring match, Fyrehowl flashed Rhys’s apprentice. Poor berk was too stunned to react and we had him down almost instantly after that. Trouble is, about half the gymnasium may have seen it too. Maybe just the aftermath, but I’m sure it wasn’t just me and Kel.”
Florian started to laugh, “Honestly?!”
“Honestly. And hells, it worked like a charm. The look on his face was priceless, and so was hers after the fact.” Clueless said, still pouring ale into an already full cup as he laughed.
Florian was laughing just as hard before he leaned over the counter, took Clueless by the shoulders, said, “Oh what the hell.” and kissed him full on the lips.
Clueless pulled back with a stupefied look and put down the bottle on the counter. Earning his namesake, he just stared in bewilderment as Florian laughed again, blushed, smiled and walked up to his room.
“What the hell was that about?” He said a few seconds after the cleric had departed. “Not that I minded. Not that he’s a bad kisser, but still…”
Sitting at a table and watching what had just transpired, Nisha began to giggle and said nothing to alleviate Clueless’s utter bewilderment at the situation. She saw no need to ruin a source of amusement.
“What?” Clueless asked her. “Is there something I’m missing here?”
“No, nothing at all. Really.” Nisha said as she drank deeply from her mug, using it to hide her grin. A little white lie never hurt anyone, especially not when keeping it that way made for amusing times.
Fyrehowl stood on the stairwell just above the taproom of the inn, her tail twitching randomly from side to side, curling slightly inwards towards her legs as it did so. She’d been standing there for nearly an hour, running over and over in her mind how she would finally ask Clueless out.
“Oh yeah, you’re doing real well here. You’ve willingly faced a small army of lesser Tanar’ri; you’ve fought an archmage inside one of The Lady’s mazes, and you’ve ventured into every single one of the lower planes. But yet you can’t work up the nerve to ask a friend out on a date.”
Fyrehowl sighed and rubbed a hand over the side of her muzzle, “Now I know what ‘s meant by ‘nothings sadder to see than watching a cipher trip’…”
Another deep breath and she closed her eyes, steeled herself and walked down into the main room of the inn. Clueless sat behind the counter washing several dirty glasses and keeping a loose eye on the patrons. He looked up as the lupinal sat down in the seat in front of him with a smile.
“Hey there, want something to drink?” He asked, putting down the mug and the dishrag he’d been using to clean.
She paused, smiled again and popped the question. “Would you be willing to go out with me at some point? Maybe grab dinner somewhere nice? I know that you’ve got a girlfriend, but from what I gather you and her are pretty much in it for sex and not much else. I’m looking for something possibly leading a bit deeper and meaningful than that.”
Clueless paused and his wings twitched.
“You don’t have to answer now, maybe just think about it.”
Clueless’s mouth hung open awkwardly for a few more moments before he blinked and managed to reply. “Umm… no.”
“No no no,” Clueless shook his head and put a hand over hers. “It’s not that you’re not interesting or that I wouldn’t be interested. I won’t date or have any sort of relationship with anyone within the party, it’s simply something I make off limits. I did in my previous adventuring groups, and I’m keeping that in place now. It keeps tension down and jealousy at a minimum, depending on who all makes up the group.”
Fyrehowl’s sullen frown lessened slightly and she nodded, “Well, that makes some sense I guess. I figure that I should tell Florian too since…since he was interested in you too.”
Clueless’s eyes went wide, “Florian too?! Am I that oblivious to these things? I didn’t really know that either of you had any interest in me whatsoever…”
The lupinal laughed, “Yeah, since almost the first time we met you. Remember when we were working for the mercane and were resting before going out into the ethereal?”
Clueless nodded slowly, “Yeah, and?”
“Well, the two of us were trying to get close to you without trying to look like we were competing with each other to snuggle up closer…”
Clueless put his hands on his hips, “Yeah, I am that oblivious then. I didn’t catch any of that at the time… the namesake fits apparently.”
Fyrehowl laughed genuinely, “Yeah, it does.”
The half-fey gave a bewildered shake of his head, “I hope you’re angry at me. If I’d actually realized this was such a big deal to you both, well, I’d have explained myself earlier.”
She nodded back, “Yeah, I guess I do. I’m sorry for not being as direct as I should have originally.”
“Well no, don’t feel sorry. It’s as much my fault as not, and so long as we understand each other here I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. Sorry if you were hoping to have me as a date for Jeremo’s party though. At this rate I don’t think that any of us are going to have dates. My sensate is in Arborea for the next week or so, so I’ll be doing this alone too.” Clueless said with a shrug as he poured Fyrehowl and himself a drink.
Fyrehowl sat across from Florian in the latter’s room on the second floor of the Portal Jammer and looked at the outfit spread across the cleric’s bed. She nodded her approval.
“Well, I approve. Are you sure that you want to wear it though?” She asked up to Florian.
Florian laughed, “Yeah, I think so. And for two reasons.” He frowned slightly for a moment before sitting up straighter with a look of firm resolution.
The lupinal perked an eyebrow, “Do tell.”
He nodded and pointed a finger at the ceiling, “One: I honestly don’t give a damn if anyone notices and I seriously doubt that anyone is going to recognize me and send work back to my family.”
“Secondly: I just want to see the look on their faces.” Florian said as he gestured at the outfit that he’d had custom tailored the day before to wear to Jeremo’s party.
“Nisha knows.” Fyrehowl said with a chuckle. “Or, rather, I’m pretty sure she knows, but she wouldn’t admit to it.”
“Wouldn’t admit to it?”
“Oh, you know. She knows, or at least I think so, but she was playing clueless and waiting for me to say it myself.” Fyrehowl said.
“Aaaaaand when you admitted anything she was going to act like she didn’t know a thing. Yeah, that sounds like her. Amusing, greatly amusing.” Florian laughed.
“Anyways, speaking of Clueless, you understand what I said before about his reasons for not dating either of us?”
Florian held the outfit up in front of him, posing with it in front of a mirror as he looked back to reply to Fyrehowl’s question. “Yeah, though to tell the truth I’d more or less given up on it. I was going to let you take your chance and not get involved with it unless you broke it off for whatever reason. He’s cute, but he lives up to that name of his…”
“Yeah, he does that sometimes. Though given that he’s seeing a sensate, and from his reactions to things, I really don’t think it mattered to him, all things considered. Him, more than anyone else, I want to see how he reacts to that outfit.”
The cleric unlaced the back of the gold and scarlet bundle of cloth, “Give me a bit to get into this and we’ll see. Besides, the party is tonight so I may as well get dressed now. I’ll meet you downstairs at five past peak, alright?”
Fyrehowl stood up from where she had been sitting, “Works for me. And besides, while my clothes aren’t as elaborate as yours, I need the time to just brush myself out.”
“Never thought about that, but yeah, it makes sense. See you then.” Florian said as he waved to Fyrehowl, closed the door and got dressed.
It was nearly five past peak, only two hours before the Natterer’s party, when the group began to assemble in the back room of the Portal Jammer. Toras was dressed in an elaborate and gilded ornamental breastplate, fine silk trousers and a long red cloak. He smiled as Clueless walked into the room dressed much the way he normally did, though the clothes were new and of a tighter cut than normal.
Tristol showed up several minutes later dressed in a fine orange robe with faded to white in the front and darkened to black at the cuffs and bottom trim. Clearly his inspiration for the color scheme was solidly grounded in his ancestry and even his own appearance. He smiled as he knocked on the inside of the doorframe with the silver head of his new staff, tapping a pattern on the wood with the silver fox that perched atop its tip.
“You look nice,” came Skalliska’s reply as she looked up at him.
“And you look…” Tristol paused and searched for words as he looked down at the very nearly nude kobold.
Skalliska was dressed in almost nothing besides her plumed hat and a cane. Anything socially import was obscured by a swatch of cloth and not much else, though her scales were either painted or somehow tattooed by a swirling, slowly changing pattern of abstract designs and illustrated scenes from their past encounters in the Ethereal, Acheron, and Elysium.
“Ok, that’s impressive. Magical I assume? Who did it?” The mage asked, impressed both at the level of artistry, as where the others in the room, and with whatever technique was used to create them.
“A little tattoo parlor in the Hive, run by a Dabus. Fell. He does good work, even if some people get scared away by what he is.”
“And by the fact that every so often his tattoos come alive and act on their own when he makes them.” Nisha said as she poked her head through the doorway.
“Wow…” Tristol said with a blink as Nisha walked into the room with a soft clip-clop from her hooves.
She blushed and chuckled softly, then stuck her tongue out as she shifted awkwardly in the short, tight, restrictive evening gown she was dressed in.
“You have no idea how awkward this is for me.” The tiefling said as the others looked at her.
Nisha’s dress was a soft green in color, shot through with bits and flashes of scarlet and silver. It was cut around mid-thigh, and was strapless and moderately low cut up top as well. Judging from the girl’s self-consciousness about the attire, she wasn’t used to dressing up in any way.
“Ugg. I don’t look completely out of place do I?” She said as she reached up and poked at the boning in the front of the dress.
“Honestly? You look really nice Nisha.” Tristol said.
“Are you wearing makeup?” Clueless said with a chuckle.
“…I hate to be the one to have to ask, but why is the Factol Karan doll wedged in your cleavage?” Fyrehowl asked as she slipped into the room.
Nisha looked at them oddly like it was a normal, everyday thing and they were the weird ones for asking such a question. She hold up a finger and answered, “One: They don’t make pockets in evening gowns. Two: I don’t have my satchel. Three: It was convenient and he didn’t seem to protest! Besides, I brought him along for the fashion advice! It’s not like I’ve ever dressed up for a night on the town before. We didn’t exactly have high culture in the Hive when I was squatting in the Slags.”
“Eh, true. I’ll grant you that.” The lupinal said.
“Karan gives good fashion advice. You should take his shopping with you more often if this is what he brings back to us.” Tristol said with a wink.
Nisha grinned, crossed her eyes and grabbed Karan, promptly putting her hair up and weaving him into the braid for no reason other than she could. “Just keep telling me that it’s only for one night and that I’ll probably never see half of those people again. This is seriously uncomfortable you guys, I don’t have a clue how certain folks pull this off all the time.”
“Oh, now if you don’t mind, I have something to show you all…” Fyrehowl said as she motioned to someone outside the room.
“What? Your new robes? They look nice.” Toras said.
“I swear, they didn’t make evening gowns for people with tails…” Nisha said, fairly oblivious to anything else.
“Come on in Florian…” Fyrehowl said as she moved out of the way and Florian stepped into the room in her new dress for the evening.
The silence was deafening outside of Nisha’s fussing with putting a hole for her tail in the back of her gown. Florian stepped into the room in a red and gold evening gown, and it fit her without any awkwardness in the least.
“Since when did you have breasts?” Skalliska asked with confusion. “I thought only female humans had them…”
“Well sh*t…” Clueless said, absolutely stupefied.
“Surpriiiiise…” Florian said as she smiled at the largely flabbergasted group.
Tristol blinked, “You’re a woman?!”
“How nice of you to notice.” She replied before patting the wizard on the head.
“…wha…” Toras said, feeling incredibly dense at never having noticed.
“Who knew and didn’t tell me?” Clueless asked.
“I knew fairly early on and she asked me not to tell. And Nisha new, but I don’t know when, or how.”
The tiefling looked up from where she had been magically mending the back of her gown to let her tail through. “Oh, a month or two ago I think. I was climbing around the side of the building and Florian’s window was open. I didn’t look for more than a second, but some things are obvious.”
Clueless looked at her, “I won’t ask why you were doing that.”
“I’ll ask later, this has to be good.” Tristol replied.
“Ok… why?” Clueless asked Florian. “Why pretend to be male for so long and not tell us?”
“Well, for starters, it’s safer when traveling, at least where I’m from. And secondly, I didn’t want to be recognized by anyone and word to be sent back to my family.” Florian said, making a face at the mention of her house. “Suffice to say that my parents have an arranged marriage set up for me, and if I ever go back there, or get forced into going back there, I’ll probably not be able to get out of it. And the guy is a real jerk. Rich yes. Connected yes. Ugly and with the personality of drunken bulezau, most definitely.”
Skalliska shuddered, “I don’t want to see a drunken bulezau, or any other type of Tanar’ri drunk… I’ll take your word for it.”
“I don’t think we can blame you at all, but still, it’s a bit of a shock. So don’t be surprised if you refer to you as a guy for a while still. You look really good though, very nice outfit.” Clueless said.
“Oh, and before we go, we got two letters with offers of employment in the mail today.” Toras said, holding up the two envelopes.
“Oh? Who from, we can deal with them when we get back.” Fyrehowl asked curiously.
“Someone in Sylvania, and someone in Rigus.” Toras replied, looking briefly over the headers of the two offers. “Some Institute in the first gatetown, and the other from a Professor Cilret Leobtav in Rigus. I think the two might be connected, but I didn’t read them fully yet.”
Clueless shrugged, “Eh, something to deal with later if we’re interested and need the money.”
“But now, we have a party to crash, without crashing it, because we’re invited, but because I can still pretend I’m crashing it anyways!” Nisha said with a grin and a pat on Karan’s head.
“And because…” Tristol said.
“And I’m all out of becauses.” The tiefling replied as she ruffled the mage’s tail just because.
Dressed up and smiling, the group of seven walked several blocks from their inn and through a portal that led to the Noble’s District of The Lady’s Ward. From there it was only a short walk towards the northern edge of the Triad District where the massive and sprawling edifice that was the Palace of the Jester rose up across from the Square of the Singing Fountain and the City Courts. In truth, the Palace of the Jester could have comfortably held both of the former, such was the sheer size of the area of land that it occupied.
Already the hazy sky of Sigil was dotted with its own constellations of flickering ‘stars’, the cooking fires, streetlamps, and smokestacks of the opposite side of the city all filtered dimly through the smog and smoke. The darkness of the hour was offset by the rosy glow of newly hung lanterns atop the spires that dotted the exterior retaining walls of the Palace itself. The gates of the Palace were open into the largely empty courtyard that, during the day, would have held a circus-like atmosphere of performers, debates, speakers on varied subjects, and a ripe atmosphere for the more underhanded political intrigues of Sigil.
But, given the hour, the sprawling expanse of the courtyard was empty and deserted, and a trio of armored pikemen and an air genasi dressed in a spangled courtier’s costume flanked the gates. The genasi held a list of names and was admitting those invited guests who arrived by foot, magic, or carriage, while the pikemen turned away those who might attempt to crash the evenings festivities.
Beyond the gates, the lights of the Palace could be seen dimly, and a golden, glittering path meandered through the darkness towards the warm glow of the open entrance. The way was lit by a path of brilliantly glowing, gilded lanterns that hung from etched and inlayed wrought-iron poles set into the ground. Every twenty feet the color of the lanterns changed as their source of fuel shifted by some internal mechanism, either mundane or magical, and the path alternated with bands of rose, blue, golden, and emerald light all the way up to the entrance to the palace proper.
The palace itself was truly grandiose, seeming to be a combination of dozens or more styles of architecture, unified by the common themes of spikes, spires, and bladed ornamental buttresses that seemed ubiquitous within Sigil. But Jeremo’s kip itself was ancient, and even its commonalities to the mansions and chateauxs of the Nobles District were superficial, like they were simply copies, cut from the original mold of the Palace of the Jester.
“And so I told him, that’s what I said the other week!” Came the loud punchline to a joke, followed by a burst of laughter from a group of richly attired nobles and merchants who stood around the first speaker, an even more richly robed, blue-skinned ogre-magi who stood several heads above his cadre of fellow merchants, admirers and toadies.
Clueless smirked as Estevan of the Planar Trade Consortium turned and motioned his fellows through the open entrance and into the warm light that flowed like golden honey out into the sooty air of Sigil.
“Don’t like him?” Florian asked the bladesinger as they slowed their approach so as not to catch up within hearing range of the powerful merchant lord and company.
Clueless made a face, “My inner Indep can’t stand his business practices. He’s corrupt as they come, and he’s been making moves on trade in Tradegate ever since he lost some of his pull in Sigil. Long story there, ask me about it later. The walls here may have ears.”
The cleric nodded back and stepped to one side as another newly arrived guest floated along towards the entrance. A Lilland, one of the natives of Ysgard and the Infinite Staircase, the woman had the lower body of a green and golden serpent, and her upper body was wrapped in a gossamer wrap of lapis silk and minute tassels of orange beads. As she passed the group she greeted them briefly in a fluted dialect of celestial from behind a silver and porcelain harlequins mask she held in front of her face.
“Good evening to you Milori, good to see you invited as well. Perhaps we can talk later if time permits.” Skalliska said up to the floating Lilland.
“We shall see, though I expect I may be busy with prior engagements. But it is good to see you again Skalliska, perhaps you’ll even meet someone this evening.” Milori said with a friendly chuckle as she removed the mask and smiled back to the kobold before floating past and into the palace.
“Worked with her before?” Clueless asked as his eyes followed the drifting coils of the woman’s lower body till she was out of sight.
“Yes, she’s translated some material for me before and she taught me some bits and pieces of Ignan when I was first learned that language. She’s a nice person, if usually extremely busy and in demand for her services. It’s good to see her hear though.” Skalliska replied.
“So, are we going to sit here outside and wait for it to rain, or are we going into the party?” Florian asked.
“Rain would be bad.” Tristol said, “And I for one happen to be curious about this place. I’ve heard of it before, but since I’ve not been in Sigil for very long I’ve never actually been inside.”
“Besides, the longer you wait out here, the more impatient I get, and an impatient Nisha is a Nisha who dashes inside, leaves you behind, and tries to walk out with expensive furniture.” Nisha quipped, motioning towards the warmth of inside with her tail, softly jingling with an attached silver bell as she did so.
Nisha gazed up at the surroundings as they wandered through the corridors of the Palace of the Jester. She seemed to be nearly drooling at the level of wealth that the very architecture itself seemed to insinuate. The walls were a combination of exotic marbles, equally or more exotic woods, and plaster that was decorated in exquisite frescos or mosaics more often than not. All said it was gorgeous and breathtaking, but designed in such a way that it never became ostentatious or overbearing.
“Someone? Please pinch me. I think I’m dreaming, I really do. And I’m probably passed out in the Hive somewhere in a gutter, maybe even drooling all over myself in my sleep.”
“Owwww!” Nisha jumped forward a few steps and nearly blundered into Toras before she rubbed at her tail tip.
Clueless snickered softly when the tiefling glanced back at him and stuck out her tongue.
Tristol leaned over to her and whispered as they walked forwards, “Hey, don’t do that. I have it on good authority from some Halruaan transmuters that if you keep doing that, your face’ll stick that way.”
Fyrehowl repressed a laugh as Nisha only redoubled her efforts at sticking her tongue out, first to Clueless and then at Tristol, adding sound effects when she made faces at the mage. A few moments later and she tired of it all and went back to drooling over the surroundings some more as they passed into a crystal tiled chamber and were directed into a second corridor that branched off to the right.
“They have to be absolutely loaded here. What I wouldn’t give to just hide here and wait till after the party and…” Nisha idly mused.
“I wouldn’t suggest it. Jeremo isn’t loaded for no good reason, and I’d put a wager on this place having more security than the Prison and the Barracks combined.” Toras said preemptively.
“Maybe, I haven’t seen too many guards since we’ve been here though. Still, they’ve closed all the doors into adjoining rooms and closed off most of the other hallways except for the route into where the party is being held.” Fyrehowl said, “And I’d wager that they’re doing so to discourage people from wandering and taken home souvenirs.”
“Than I’ll feel special that they had me in mind when they set everything up tonight, because all of those doors are locked a dozen times over and more. I’ve checked.” Nisha said as her tail flicked happily from side to side while she grinned.
“You checked? When?” Tristol asked.
Nisha looked at him cross-eyed, “When I tried to get in earlier today, that’s when.”
She looked at the blank stares from the others, “What? I was curious. I didn’t take anything, and I barely got a few hundred feet inside. The place is very unfriendly to unannounced guests.”
They continued walking and chatting at a leisurely pace for several more minutes before Tristol paused abruptly in the hallway.
Nisha looked back at him, “I got over ogling the décor Tristol, you can too. Hurry up or we’ll leave you behind and I’ll steal your chair.”
“No… hold on guys, this is just weird.” He said, looking intently at the shut door that would have otherwise led off from the hallway.
“What?” Skalliska asked.
Tristol looked at the doors that branched off of the hallway that they were in and he narrowed his eye as they sparkled with the dim hint of magic. As he examined the doors, the floor, the walls and even the ceiling, the entire structure of the palace seemed nearly alive with magic. The doors were not only locked, if what Nisha had said was true, they appeared to have been mage locked, sealed with walls of force and a number of contingencies seemed veritably layered upon their surfaces, all keyed to activate if the doors were forced open.
“This place is locked down tighter than an archmage’s study or a king’s treasury.” He said with some certainty.
“I told you…” Nisha said as she tried to peer through one of the keyholes unsuccessfully.
“No, but it’s weird. I’d swear that those wards are all pointed in to those rooms, not out into the hallway here.” Tristol said, looking at the doors warily.
“Anyways, someone else is coming down the hall, let’s get going. Maybe Jeremo’ll explain later if we ask him.” Fyrehowl said as her ears swiveled and perked at the sound of approaching footsteps and laughter from another newly arrived reveler.
And so they continued down the marked path, deeper and deeper into the heart of the Palace of the Jester, the single oldest structure in Sigil, heading towards the great banquet hall that the Lady’s Jester had prepared for his guests. Still, something was nagging on their minds as they entered the lush chamber, some incongruity in the event and the level of protection placed upon the palace itself. Tristol was certain it was for the protection of Jeremo’s guests, rather than protecting the Jester’s possessions from any attempts at theft. And considering the sheer level of those protections, frankly it frightened him.
“Wow,” Skalliska said as she looked up into the banquet hall of the palace. A dozen lengthy tables, apparently carved from single pieces of Arcadian hardwood, stood in rows within the chamber. Each of the tables was decorated with exquisite floral decorations and arrangements, gleaming golden tableware and lush padded seats for the guests. Clearly Jeremo was sparing no expense.
“Oh, that’s just cute.” Nisha said as she dashed over to a seat on one of the tables near to the entrance. The chair was taller than she was, and it stood out from all of the others in the room. A small card upon the golden plate set at the spot on the table the chair faced, read “Zadara, the Titan of Potential.”. Clearly the chair was reserved for her, and, looking around, each spot at the various tables was reserved for a specific guest, with the chairs and even the choice of dinnerware being selected and appropriate for the assigned.
“Awww… no silver silverware.” Nisha mock pouted as she pointed to the uniform use of gold.
“I thought you’d be happy with more expensive dishes and utensils?” Tristol said as he poked her in the ribs.
“Well yeah, there is that, but that’d be rude to steal it now. No, what I meant is that we don’t get to watch any fiends light up on fire when they tried to eat dinner with a silver fork.” She winked as she walked back to join the others.
“Honored guests, if I might have your invitation and your names, I’ll direct you to your seats if you wish me to help you. There are several hundred of you here tonight and so the seating arrangement is in a specific order to suit all involved.” One of Jeremo’s servants said to the group as they approached him. The man was dressed in a uniform of black and green with highlights of gold trim, and by the looks of him he was probably some flavor of aasimar.
They handed him their invitations and he escorted them to a group of seven chairs arranged across from one another together on one of the tables along the outside edge of the chamber, facing the rear of the room where Jeremo’s throne sat upon a small dais. Nisha giggled again as she noted that her chair, along with Skalliska’s and Fyrehowl’s all had open backs to accommodate their tails. Additionally, the kobold’s chair was slightly smaller, but raised up to provide her with an equal vantage point for the evening’s festivities.
Toras smiled as he walked over to pull out the chairs for each of the female party members, and they graciously accepted, although Nisha had already jumped over the back of her own chair and taken a seat. Once they were seated, they began to take a look at the names of those that were to be sitting around them for the evening.
Clueless glanced over to his left, reading the name on the card. It read, “Lissandra the Portal Seeker, Guildmistress of the Doorsnoops Guild.” The half-fey smiled puckishly across the table to where Tristol sat. The mage simply chuckled and rolled his eyes as he looked at the nametag next to himself that read, “Alluvius Ruskin, Tivum’s Antiquities.”
On the other side of their group, Nisha was giggling from where she sat between Tristol and Toras on one side of the table.
Toras looked over at her, “What?”
She said nothing but pointed over to the nametag on the plate next to Toras. It read, “Seamusxanthuszemus, Purveyor of Death, Merchant Most Excellent, Slayer of Fiends: ‘Parts and Pieces’.”
“Oh hells no!” Toras said with a string of curses added onto the end of the statement. Nisha was nearly snorting her glass of water as she hysterically laughed at the fighter’s plight of seating partners.
Across from Toras, Fyrehowl warily glanced over at the card next to where she herself sat, hoping to avoid the same plight as Toras. There was no plate at the spot next to her, though there was still a name at the spot that read simply, “Ylem”. The name meant little to her and so she simply shrugged and glanced over sympathetically to Toras.
“There’s no way I’m sitting next to that over glorified dustbunny! I’ll end up stuffing him into his hat by the time the drinks arrive!” Toras said in a harsh whisper.
Next to him, Nisha continued to giggle.
“It can’t be that bad Toras, Florian said from across the table before failing to suppress a chuckle of her own.”
“It is that bad. He’ll probably walk in dressed up in a rotting skull or a dress of cobwebs or something. He’ll stink, regardless of how f*cking annoying he is. I’m not putting up with that for the next couple hours.” Toras replied, getting more and more adamant about it.
“A dress? Do mephits even have proper genders?” Nisha asked, abruptly ending her snicker fit.
Opposite Toras, Fyrehowl’s ears swiveled back towards the entrance and the sound of a high pitched, incessantly annoying voice. “Don’t look now, but I can hear the mephit walking up the hall.”
“And you thought you wouldn’t have a dinner date for this evening…” Clueless said with a snicker over towards the fighter who had started to grit his teeth as he began to hear the mephit’s voice echo up from the entrance hall.
“The hell with that, I’m not sitting next to elemental annoying, someone else will, like it or not.” Toras said as he stood up and grabbed Seamus’s seating card and dashed across the room to the next table and a row of unoccupied seats.
He glanced at the names on the open seats, looking for any that might be less offensive to him to sit next to. “No, not sitting next to the high priest of the Temple of the Abyss, definitely not…”
He continued to muse over the names, before noticing one name in particular. The chair was elegant, high backed, and more well padded than any of the others, and the name tag upon the golden and bejeweled plate that sat in front of it read, “Shemeska the Marauder, King of the Crosstrade”.
Toras grinned evilly as he snatched up the nametag on the chair next to the Marauder’s and replaced it with the dust mephit’s name. “Enjoy your date together sweethearts, I’m sure you’ll make a lovely couple tonight.”
Having exchanged the nametags, he hurried back to his own chair, still snickering with malicious glee, and placed the nametag of his new dinner companion on the spot previously reserved for the mephit. The new nametag read, “Verden, owner and proprieter: Azure Iris Inn, Lady’s Ward.”
Over the next fifteen minutes or so, most of the few hundred invited guests had arrived and taken their seats, slowly filling in the open spaces at the tables, though Toras noted that the Marauder had yet to arrive when Jeremo himself entered the chamber and jumped onto his throne with a startling level of exuberance.
“This is going to be interesting,” He said as he watched Seamusxanthuszemus march up to his assigned seat with his own bit of pomp and circumstance, dragging his hat on the floor behind him, trailing, rather than gather dust the entire time.
The mephit grinned like a fool as he twirled the loose end of his hat in the air like a parade baton and climbed up into his seat. “Let the festivities begin! Seamusxanthuszemus, Merchant Most Excellent has arrived!”
There was a groaned murmur of discontent from those at the same table as the dust mephit, and a few muffled calls of “Pike it!” “Shut it you sodding mephit!” and “If you like death so much, please, go right ahead and take the plunge yourself and save us the misery of your company!”. Seamus, as odd as it might seem, seemed pleased as punch with the reaction as he grabbed a knife and fork in his grubby little hands and stuffed the tablecloth under his collar in preparation for a meal.
From his throne, the Lady’s Jester chuckled from under the rim of his goblet of wine as his eyes focused on the mephit and then moved to mentally catalogue those guests present and those few not.
Toras snickered as he wondered what would happen when the mephit’s honored dinner companion arrived. A moment later, a frizzy haired old tiefling woman, Allusvius Ruskin, “Old ‘Lu”, sat down next to Tristol, bundled up in a dozen layers of scarves, shirts, sweaters and a woolen cloak, even gloves on her hands. She turned and greeted Tristol with a crooked toothed but friendly smile, though a pair of dark spectacles perched on her nose obscured her eyes.
Fyrehowl likewise watched as her own neighbor at the table, Ylem, approached and moved his chair out from under the table. The rogue modron looked nothing so much as a metallic box with spindly arms, legs, and a stubby pair of metal wings. It looked up at the lupinal without any real emotion on its vaguely humanoid face that was dotted with a small, reddish, star-shaped pattern on its forehead.
“Greetings to you berk! Pleased to make kip with you this evening. Hopefully we will tumble to the jink of it together.”
Fyrehowl just sort of stared at the odd looking modron before giving him/her/it a confused but polite smile and a hasty reply of, “Uhh, yes, sure.”
She edged her chair closer to Florian, “Switch seats with me? Please? I’m sitting next to a barmy modron, if that’s possible.”
Florian laughed, “Not a chance!”
Fyrehowl warily glanced back over to the modron that was just staring blankly at her. “Please? Whatever it is, it’s completely daffy!”
“Enjoy.” Florian said with a snicker before turning around to talk to Clueless.
Clueless was meanwhile chatting up a young wizardress garbed in a light purple robe and a silver shawl. Lissandra was chatting the half-fey up quite happily, and Clueless was likewise enjoying their conversation. Soon enough their two person discussion was joined by both Tristol and Old Lu, all of them mages of some sort or another.
Toras abruptly stopped his chuckling at the Dust Mephit’s new seating arrangement when a slim, gorgeous wood elf women dressed in a shimmering blue down stepped up to the table next to him. Verden smiled at the fighter with a face framed by coppery brown hair and glowing with a warm, light brown complexion.
“Good evening to you, let me help you with your chair.” Toras said almost immediately, standing up and moving the elf’s chair out, letting her sit and them pushing her close to the table.
“Thank you, it’s so uncommon to find a gentleman.” She said with a gracious laugh as she extended a hand daintily to Toras. “Too often I have to put up with the worst of high society: rich noblemen on midnight escapades of gambling and other less palatable pursuits, and women of less than noble bearing seeking to snare them after a few too many drinks. It gets to be too much sometimes and it’s a pleasure to have a change from that here tonight. Pleased to meet you.”
Toras took the offered hand and kissed it softly before launching into smalltalk with her. From across the table, Clueless gave an impish thumb up to the fighter, though he didn’t really see it, as entranced as he was with his dinner companion. Florian laughed, Fyrehowl rolled her eyes, and Skalliska and Tristol were too busy chiding Nisha who was biting the golden knife and fork one her plate to test their metal content.
The man known as The Lady’s Jester, owner of the Palace of the Jester, Factol of the Ring-Givers, and one of the richest men upon the planes, Jeremo the Natterer, sat upon his throne and smiled at the assembled crowd. He was dressed in a richly tailored but intentionally mismatched costume of green and gold breeches and a patchwork tunic of cloth from a hundred different worlds and planes. His straw colored hair was short but fussy and almost uncombed by design as he adjusted a tarnished crown atop his head so that it would sit ever so slightly off angle. Even the Jester’s eyes kept the same pattern of designed disorganization, one of them brilliant blue and the other chocolate brown and shimmering with a canny understanding of the people around him.
The notoriously garrulous factol grinned like a little boy with delight as he looked out at the assembled crowd. Jeremo lounged crosswise on his throne, legs over one of the arms of the chair, as informal and at home as an important man of power and prestige might appear, and it seemed to come naturally like he bubbled up charisma from some hidden wellspring deep inside.
He took a sip from a golden chalice in his right hand, pouring the liquid down into his mouth from where he leaned his head backwards over the other arm of his throne, and then without a moments warning he leapt to his feet and placed the cup down. He clapped his hands and immediately gained the attention of the suddenly quiet room, the center of attention for all of Sigil’s rich and powerful, and he smiled.
“Greetings my friends, my fellows, my peers, fiends, celestials, primes, planars… all of you my honored guests, welcome.”
No no keep writing keep writing!!!! How could you leave us right at the beginning of the party!!!!!!
Just so everyone knows, there's about two more months of updates over at ENWorld.
The Factol rubbed his hands together and glanced across the crowd once more, making eye contact with many of those present, and smiling or otherwise giving some cue that he had noticed them. And, once again, he spoke.
“Many of you know me, many of you have worked with me before on various occasions. Some of you may even not like me, and I hope to smooth over any such feelings this evening. However, for a plurality of you here tonight, we don’t much know each other. Perhaps a familiar name on paper but never having spoken; perhaps even less familiarity than that, and for all of those cases I want to get to know you more and I hope to give all of you a better acquaintance with myself. This banquet and all of tonight’s festivities are for you, and for that purpose.”
Jeremo paused as a number of people in the crowd voiced their thanks and support for their invite and his efforts to be social. After the chink of wine glasses had ceased, he continued.
“Now, I’ve been in possession of the Palace of the Jester for some time now, but I’ve always had only a very small hand in its role as a place of commerce, politics and intrigue. I’ve much more recently found myself in command of the Ring-Givers. Some might even call me a factol…” Jeremo intentionally paused at that, letting the disquiet of the room voice itself in mutters and whispers.
As of yet, he had not officially declared himself the Factol of the Ring-Givers, nor the sect an official Faction within Sigil, based in the Palace of the Jester. Whether such a decision and declaration would cross The Lady’s ban upon the factions was an open question, and Jeremo seemed to be riding that line, but not quite crossing it.
“Such a declaration, if I do make it, is not for tonight. We’ll save that for the next time perhaps. You’ll have to wait and see I guess…” He said with a wink and a laugh as the tension and uncertainty in the room faded back to a dull whisper.
“But, for this evening I’ve placed you all in the open arms of my hospitality, and as a good and proper host, I’ve seen to it that you will all be both entertained, well fed, and well watered, be it wine or whatever else you prefer to your tastes. I won’t be too discerning, but you may if that’s your pleasure.” Jeremo bowed with a flourish and tipped his crown to his guests before motioning to a few dozen servants.
“Appetizers?” Fyrehowl asked curiously as two servants approached their table, one with a list and a pen, and the other with a tray of small boxes.
“Drinks?” Clueless said in turn.
“Butternut squash?” Nisha said, breaking the train of thought.
“No, I think… butternut squash?” Tristol said with a weird look over towards the grinning Xaositect.
“Gifts…” Skalliska said, “The whole Ring Giver shtick. You give people presents and it gets you respect, owed favors and eventually the multiverse sees to it that you get paid back ten times over. At least that’s their claim on the matter.”
“So its entirely selfish?” Toras asked.
“Not really. At least according to their philosophy the ‘getting back’ part is incidental, and the giving has to be gracious and honest for it to work.” Skalliska replied.
“So he’s just a nice guy then. I think I like him.” Florian said.
“Heh. That’s the point of this all.” The kobold said a moment before she smiled and accepted the small box handed to her by one of the Natterer’s servants.
And so it went as Jeremo’s servants walked about the room, handing similar small boxes to each of the nearly three hundred guests, and, at the same time, taking requests for drinks. The Jester himself had taken a seat once more upon his throne and was giddy with anticipation while his guests seemed puzzled and curious about what he might have given them.
“Now, as I’m sure some of you may have noticed already, the boxes are locked by magic and won’t open till I’ve given the command word. So be patient, let your assumptions develop, let your imaginations run wild, and we’ll get to that soon enough.” Jeremo said with a grin.
“Awww…” Came a sullen whisper from Nisha.
Tristol looked over at her as she shook the box and seemed on the verge of gnawing on it, “Left the lockpicks at home, right?”
“…yes…” She said before patiently putting it down and staring at it intently.
“Any ideas on what it might be?” The mage asked her.
“Not a clue, and it doesn’t weigh anything at all.” She replied.
“Really?” Tristol said as he lightly hefted hers and compared it to the weight of his own. Sure enough, the tiefling’s was much lighter in weight.
“Maybe he customized it for everyone? Yours feels lighter than mine. Odd.” He said as he handed her back the box.
Jeremo waited a few minutes before continuing, “Before we proceed with anything else, I simply wanted to give a warm welcome to those of you that I know better perhaps than others. There are quite a few of you, so I can’t promise that I’ll say something to all of you. This is just whimsy, and the names that leap to my mind as I’m saying them.”
The next dozen minutes were spent as The Lady’s Jester recited a laundry list of names of Sigil’s elite, wealthy and otherwise influential. Guildmasters, highpriests, former faction highups and more, were among those he mentioned and singled out.
“Sigil’s representative within the Planar Trade Consortium, Estevan, good to see you made it instead of being busy with paperwork all evening as I swear you must too often be. Never do see you out and about; a shame I see you so rarely.” Jeremo said to the blue-skinned ogremagi who occupied a chair at one of the three banquet tables.
“Notice something? Jeremo put Estevan, Zadara and Shemeska at different tables.” Clueless pointed out, “And A’kin is about as far away from the latter as is possible…”
“Good. Otherwise they’d complain about whose chair was better or who got to sit where. It’d be a nightmare.” Skalliska said, obviously having seen such an instance before, if the tone of her voice gave any inference.
“She’d probably try to accidentally spill stuff on A’kin if she was near him. Oh hell, who am I kidding? She’d throw a fit and go after him…” Florian said.
“A’kin doesn’t deserve it either, he’s a nice guy. Say what you will, but I like him.” Nisha said with a grin as she pointed up to the Factol Karan doll in her hair.
Jeremo continued to rattle off names, “My personal thanks Lissandra, to the work of your people as of late. They’ve been a great help in plumbing many of the portals in the upper floors of the Palace that had, till recently, been largely unmapped since the Tempest.”
The young Torillian wizardress seated next to Clueless smiled at the Jester as he called out to her from across the room.
“Ah… my favorite arms dealer in all of Sigil, Spiral Hal’Oight. Tell me, who pays more, the Baatezu? The Tanar’ri? The ‘loths?”
“All of my sales are to legitimate buyers! I don’t sell arms to anyone that doesn’t need them or shouldn’t have them. I don’t honestly know what you’re getting on about Jeremo.” The young Golden Lord shouted back to the Jester.
“Suuuure you don’t. How’s it feel to be a puppet to the ‘loths and the archons both? I’m sure it pays well though.” Jeremo muttered under his breath.
“What’s so great about arms?! I sell ALL the body parts!” Came the sudden and confused shout from Seamusxanthuszemus.
“A’kin, the friendliest fiend I know, and perhaps the better half of Sigil’s pair of resident Yugoloths. You at least know the meaning of punctuality, and I find you much more pleasant to deal with, even if I sodding can’t figure out what’s up with you. You’re always pleasant, I’ll grant you that.” Jeremo said towards where A’kin sat jovially talking in a low voice with the people seated around him. The turquoise, black, and gold velvet robed Friendly Fiend smiled and waved back towards the Jester before going back to his ongoing conversation.
“And we’re still waiting on your bitter half to show up…she’s late…” Jeremo once again muttered.
“My friend Fell, it’s good to see you in attendance this evening.” Jeremo spoke and waved to the fallen Dabus who sat slightly apart from the others at his table, those seated around him having moved as far away as possible.
“Oh, now that’s just cool.” Nisha said as she watched the words that Jeremo spoke to Fell take the form of glowing, dabus-like rebuses above his head, seemingly emerging from his tarnished, off-kilter crown. “Can you make me one of those whatever he has Tristol?”
“Illusions…” Tristol muttered, though he had to admit mentally to himself that it was a rather nifty thing for the Jester to do, considering what Fell was and all. A moment later and the tiefling wasn’t pleading for him to make her a rebus speaking whatever it was that Jeremo had, but rather she was making faces at Ylem the modron who was still blankly staring at Fyrehowl, much to the lupinal’s disquietude.
“Lady’s Grace to you too Fell…” Jeremo said to himself, again in a soft whisper, and making sure than his words did not manifest in rebus above his head. “Lady’s Grace to you, be it a curse or a blessing Fell…”
Over the next few minutes, Jeremo called out and mentioned a dozen or so other persons and bantered with them as his servants brought out any requested drinks to the attendees of the party. As soon as that mundane business had been attended to, he gave his guests several more moments to taste their liquid pleasures and then he spoke again.
“And, on that note, you’ll find that your gifts are open. I hope you enjoy. A few of them are personalized to the receiver, though with the simple amount of people here tonight I could do that for all of you.” Jeremo waved his hands to encourage everyone to open their gift, and his expression was like that of a cat who’d just been given a bowl full of cream; he was enjoying himself greatly.
Almost immediately the room was filled with gasps and commotion as people opened their boxes and discovered what was inside each of them. Collectively, the group looked at one another, shrugged and opened their gifts to much the same response as the rest of the room.
“Oh! Oh my!” Florian said as she held up an emerald the size of a hen’s egg.
“How much money does this guy have?!” Toras exclaimed, hastily adding, “Not that I’m complaining!” He held a yellow topaz of equal or larger size in his own hand.
“YES!!!!” Came Nisha’s response as she grabbed something from her own giftbox before tossing the box aside, jumping up and dancing for a few seconds of glee.
Clueless looked over at her with bemusement as he admired his own reflection in the smooth surface of a polished opal the size of his fist. “Someone’s happy with what they got, eh Nisha?”
“No no no, I didn’t get a gemstone. I got a treasure map of sorts. I get to go find mine and pretend I’m stealing it.” The tiefling was giggling with glee as she handed the tiny, folded map to Factol Karan’s open hands poking up out of her hair.
Tristol laughed, “Well, I think someone noticed your past breaking and entering attempt…”
“Probably. Nothing in this place goes on without him knowing, but honestly, he’s just a genuinely nice person from what I can tell.” She replied, still jubilant and with her tail smacking back and forth against her chair in excitement.
“He must be. He must have just dropped a few million jink on his guests on that alone.” Fyrehowl said with a note of disbelief to her voice.
Jeremo was standing again, seemingly unable to actually sit still for more than a moment. Between that and his penchant for speaking, it wasn’t any surprise that he was known as ‘The Natterer’. He seemed honestly happy at the responses his gifts had garnered, and he humbly brushed off most of the appreciative ‘thank you’s that he received from those in the crowd seated near him.
“I thought that you might appreciate that small gift from me to you. It’s a little thing, both for old friends, new acquaintances, and perhaps a rekindling of relationships gone sour in times past. And so welcome, all of you. And now I…”
Jeremo’s speech and welcome was suddenly and abruptly interrupted by the crash of the banquet hall entrance doors flinging themselves open and slamming into the walls they were hinged to. The assembled crowd turned as one to look at the smug, grinning face of the fiend and her entourage who stood centered in the open doorway, a crackle of dispersing magic still flickering from her single, outstretched hand.
“Starting without me?” The Marauder’s voice was elegant, presumptive and absurdly petulant, as she stood framed by the gilded entryway. She was dressed in a glimmering blue evening gown whose material resembled the scales of a sapphire dragon, and for most appearances it may as well have been something she dipped herself in, such was the snug tightness of the fit. The King of the Crosstrade was also draped in a long golden stole of a loose, silken material that was wrapped about her neck and hung across her shoulders to hang loosely at her sides and trail upon the floor.
“My darling Jeremo, you know you simply cannot have a social event of this size and prestige without me in attendance. But, as we all know, it wouldn’t do with me arriving with everyone else. That would be far too mundane and gauche. So here I am, fashionably late.” Shemeska said, the level of arrogance almost dripping like poison off her tongue.
Somehow Jeremo looked neither upset nor surprised at the fiend’s late arrival, and as she strolled into the room and made for her seat, it was anyone’s best guess if he had been aware of her impending presence before she had kicked the doors in. He managed to remain calm and even pleased that she had arrived, and not a single harsh comment passed his lips. Still, a puckish light seemed to flicker in his eyes like this was all something that he’d frankly hoped for as he ran a hand through his fussy blond hair.
“We’ve all been awaiting your presence with bated breath my darling. But, now that you’re here, my compliments on your attire for the evening.” Jeremo said, putting on at least the polite pretense of cordiality.
“You’re too kind Jeremo. I like you, I really do. Now, be a gracious host to an honored guest and escort me to my seat?” The fiend held out her arm and waited for the Jester to personally lead her to her seat.
Clueless frowned over towards the Marauder’s direction, “And once again everyone just rolls over when she tells them to. Doesn’t anyone in this damn city have a backbone when it comes to that b*tch?”
Lissandra leaned in closer to Clueless, “Don’t worry. If I know Jeremo at all, he’ll see to it that she’s paid back tenfold for embarrassing him at his own celebration.”
“One can only hope…” Clueless said grudgingly.
Jeremo led the Marauder towards her table, pointed out her chair and was abruptly handed her stole. “Anything else Madame?”
“Hmm….” The fiendess pondered for a moment before batting her eyelashes and extending her hand to the Jester’s lips for him to kiss. He politely gave a forced smile and kissed the knuckle on her third finger before walking away and letting her take her seat. About halfway back to his own throne, he handed her gaudy stole to one of his servants to take away till after the party was over.
“A pity. Normally they pay someone to make sure the dogs stay confined to the kennel out back during these things…” The Titan said under her breath as she looked vaguely in Jeremo’s direction. If Shemeska heard it, she made no response as she walked to her chair.
“Oh no! The b*itch and the titan are wearing the same dress! One of them’s gonna have to go home and change now! Byebye shemmy!” Toras muttered in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Oh if only that were the case.” Clueless said to the fighter, noting that while both the fiend and the titan were both wearing some shade of blue, both were wearing entirely unique attires for the evening, and so the normal rules of such things weren’t going to raise their ugly heads for the current event. A pity.
“How does she walk in that dress?” Florian asked. “No, seriously. What mold did they pour her in and then paint that dress on her for tonight.”
“You can’t seriously tell me that you’re jealous.” Skalliska said over to Florian.
“Right right, says the woman without breasts.” Florian replied.
“Mammals…” Skalliska sniped back.
Nisha rolled her eyes and said nothing.
“They’re fake.” Tristol said softly without looking over at the Marauder.
“Excuse me?” Florian asked.
“They’re fake. She’s an arcanaloth. They can shapechange at will into pretty much anything from a flea to a dragon. So, in a manner of speaking, they’re fake.” He clarified, still not willing to look in the ‘loth’s direction when he was talking about her.
Fyrehowl smirked, “I still don’t feel much better. She’s like a walking stereotype of every evil sorceress you’ve ever heard of. Powerful, b*tchy, vain, and with big tits.”
“And judging from that dress, she likes people to look at them.” Clueless said with a smirk. “But, on a more serious note…one word: exemplar. You should know Fyrehowl, you’re one too, just a different flavor entirely. They don’t just reflect a concept, they –are- a concept in a way. So yeah, she pretty much is a mix of every evil sorceress you’ve ever heard of, just maybe more arrogant, and very much in need of a shave. And before I die, I’m going to see her shaved bald.”
“And distribute a sensory stone of it to anyone who wants it.” Florian added.
“I’ll help.” Toras said.
“That’s fine, but I’d like to be the one doing the shaving…” Clueless said with a wicked grin.
As the party chattered amongst themselves, the King of the Crosstrade was busy dismissing her normal entourage of toadies and guards.
“Do be polite and wait outside till the party is over. Trust me dears, I’ll be fine. Jeremo’s a fine gentleman. He won’t try to take advantage of me. Though I can’t say I won’t try the same of him.” Shemeska said with a laugh to her collection of tiefling groomer-guards and they quickly excused themselves and left as she walked to her seat.
“Very nice indeed. You have excellent taste Jeremo, just as I do and… oh you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me…” The Marauder paused and changed her tone of voice abruptly as she looked at who was to be seated next to her: Seamusxanthuszemus.
“I could have saved you jink on the scales for that dress, I’ve got a special on drake hide this week, only slightly moldy!” The Dust Mephit said in a high-pitched voice as he looked up at the fiend, the tablecloth stuffed like a napkin into his shirt’s collar, and holding his oversized silverware in his hands like a kid at the adult table.
“…what the f*ck is this?! Who in the Oinoloth’s name sat this pissant little gutterlicker next to me?!” Shemeska whirled around to face Jeremo, jingling as she did from the veritable jewelers case worth of bracelets, earrings, necklaces and other adornments that she was adorned with.
Jeremo was actually taken aback by the situation, being that he hadn’t actually seated the King of the Crosstrade and the Merchant Most Excellent next to one another. He smiled and motioned her over disarmingly. Softly, the titan snickered, and this time the fiend noticed, glaring daggers back at the other woman.
“I have to wonder what he’s saying to her.” Clueless mused as he and the others at the table glanced towards the Factol and the fiend as they chatted softly.
“Doggie treats, a nice thick T-bone, and a squeaky chewtoy if she behaves at the people table like a good girl.” Toras said
Clueless nearly gagged on his wine as Toras ratcheted up his insults even more, barely hiding that one.
“After the party, ask me about some of the stuff that I’ve seen, and heard, out of that one. I think that you’ll find it amusing.” Verden said softly to Toras with a wink and a chuckle. Toras blushed and took her offered hand.
Jeremo and the Marauder bantered softly back and forth, with the Ring-Giver’s factol seeming to reassure her that the situation was not by design or intention. Fyrehowl perked her ears and tried to listen in on the conversation, though it seemed that they were using some manner of magic to keep their words concealed.
A few moments later Jeremo patted the arcanaloth’s shoulder, they exchanged smiles, and the fiend walked calmly back to her seat. Fyrehowl shrugged, stopped leaning forwards, and sat back down more comfortably in her chair, only to notice uncomfortably that Ylem was still blankly staring at her. She whimpered slightly, “I’d have preferred the Dust Mephit…”
The Marauder smiled at the other gentleman seated next to her, a well-dressed, pale golden skinned aasimar by the name of Spiral Hal’Oight. She cleared her throat and smiled at him again expectantly.
“Ah, my apologies my dear king.” Spiral said awkwardly as he rose to his feet and pulled out Shemeska’s chair for her, waited for her to sit down and then pushed her up to the table. She smiled back at him like she’d just given him a present.
“Hey! Watch where you’re sitting, you’re taking up…” Came the squeaky complaint of the Merchant Most Excellent as the Marauder scooted up to the table and starting moving the mephit’s tableware out of the way to make more room for herself.
The echo of the backhand that the fiend slapped upside the mephit’s head rebounded around the room, drowning out the fiend’s guttural statement in infernal of, “Elemental vermin!”
Seamus picked himself up off the floor and climbed back into his chair, complaining loudly about “overblown, hussy fiends”. The Marauder wasn’t looking at the mephit when she backhanded him again, smacking Seamus off of his chair and onto the wall behind them, some fifteen feet distant; she was looking towards Zadara as she felt the mephit’s face distort from the force of the blow.
The Slayer of Fiends slowly slid down the wall, leaving the onlookers half expecting him to give off a squeak or leave a trail on the paneling as he slowly slumped to the ground.
“Was that really necessary?” The aasimar seated next to the King of the Crosstrade asked with some concern as Seamus staggered to his feet and slowly stumbled back towards his chair.
“Not only necessary my little golden lord, but pleasing. Rarely do the two coincide unless you’re in my line of work.” She said with her fangs slightly bared at the Titan. “Observe.”
Seamus had barely gotten halfway back to the table when the Marauder gently motioned with the fingers of her outstretched hand and an invisible force struck the mephit first in the gut, doubling him over, and then to the head, sending him sailing through the air to smack into the wall once more with an even louder, and wetter, crunch.
Across the room, Zadara snorted and patted the handle of her maul, itself probably double the size of the Marauder. Shemeska simply smiled back at her rival as she dismissed the last flickers of the telekinesis effect she had used to mercilessly pummel her former dinner partner. The mephit was out cold and slumped motionless at the base of the wall where she had hurled him.
“Anytime b*tch.” Shemeska said softly as she continued to glance over towards the Titan, making certain that her lip motions could be clearly read from where Zadara was sitting.
Back with the group, away from the public spectacle that the Marauder and Zadara were working on starting, Nisha was making faces at Ylem. The rogue modron was still blankly staring at Fyrehowl and every so often a new circular eyepiece would rotate out of a slot in its side and slip over its left eye like it was looking at the wayward lupinal like something in a zoo.
“Nisha, stop messing with the modron…” Florian said to the tiefling.
“Aaaaaahhh, blut ith…wait sorry, forgot to put my tongue back in my mouth,” Nisha said with a whine, “Let’s try this again. Awwwww, but its fuuuuun! I promise I won’t steal silverware if you let me!”
“Don’t pick on the modron.” Florian said.
“Go right ahead.” Fyrehowl said as she glanced awkwardly over at the barmy lawful exemplar.
“I swear this is like watching a little kid get told no on something and then going to ask their other parent…” Toras said with a resigned laugh, joined a moment later by the wood elf seated next to him who seemed to have taken a shine to the fighter.
Tristol meanwhile had struck up a fairly involved conversation with the other tiefling seated next to him, Alluvius Ruskin. There was something about the old tiefer that seemed somewhat familiar, though for the life of him, he couldn’t place what it was exactly. But, regardless of that nagging feeling of something familiar about her, they were chatting in fairly complex terms about the operation of portals and gates, and the difference between the two. Almost inevitably, the two of them were joined in the topic by Lissandra, also a mage and as much an expert on such matters as there existed in Sigil.
“So, bets on when the b*tch in a razorvine headdress gets into a fight with the titan?” Skalliska mused.
Clueless shook his head, “Not going to happen. They’re both too smart to do that in public. They’ll just get pissy with one another but it won’t go beyond that.”
“I don’t know, they keep glancing at one another across the room.” Fyrehowl said as she watched the pair shooting hateful stares at each other.
“Flirting.” Clueless said with a laugh.
Fyrehowl made a face like she was going to be sick, “Oh ick… Clueless, that’s just disgusting…”
“What? Shemeska is a yugoloth, and well, you know what they say about them and their gender, right?” Clueless was clearly just picking on the lupinal by that point, but it seemed to be lost on Fyrehowl nonetheless.
“No, I really don’t want to think about that. I seriously don’t want to start up speculation about what is or isn’t under her skirts. Are you honestly trying to make me sick?” Fyrehowl said with a queasy look playing across her muzzle.
“Yes, he is.” Nisha said, breaking from making faces at Ylem for a brief moment.
“Heh.” Fyrehowl said, relieved at least for that, “Still, it’s nasty. Talk about something else.” Clueless only laughed.
Once again, Jeremo seemed to anticipate just when his intervention was needed to restore some semblance of civility to his own party, given the fractious nature of some of the guests with one another. He cleared his throat and addressed the room as his servants began to bring out the first round of food for the evening’s meal.
“Allow me to become the center of attention for a bit as I share with you all another gift. This one is shared freely and carries no expectation of future reciprocation. After all, it’s just information; words really and nothing more. But, I do hope that it might serve to seed your conversations throughout the evenings based on what darks I spill before you.”
“Hmm, this ought to be good.” Clueless said as he turned to listen more closely.
“Better watch out Shemmy, Jeremo might steal your job and then you’ll have to call yourself the Queen of the Crosstrade. Uh oh, he’s even got a nicer crown than you.” Toras jabbed again at the fiend.
Jeremo smiled as he held up a large, flat stone. “Now, as many of you know, the Ring Givers, to whom I belong, recently gifted the city of Skeinheim in Ysgard to the exiled Takers.”
Bryn Ohm, the Guildmaster of the Innkeeper’s Guild snorted softly at the Jester’s mention of that gift. The bariaur had not departed Sigil with many of his former faction members, and many of them who had not departed Sigil for Ysgard felt that it was a slight on them all for their faction to have accepted the charity of others when they settled in Skeinheim.
“Thank you Bryn…” Jeremo said before he continued, “But from a number of the former members of old Rowan’s faction, I managed to find out a number of things regarding the Duke’s involvement in the Faction War. It’s all on here. A record made by Darkwood himself out of simple ego during the full swing of the war.”
A ripple of murmurs and commentary moved around the room before Jeremo activated the stone and let his guests listen to the distinctive and much hated voice of the late Factol of the Takers detail his instigation of almost every stage of the Faction War. While certain members of the audience had likely already been aware of the information, it had never been made public, or in such great and personal detail.
“I’ll be donating the stone to the Civic Festhall at the end of the week if anyone would like to give it a second listen.” Jeremo said as he put the stone down and picked up a large yellow apple.
The Natterer took a large bite out of it, chewed and swallowed as he panned the crowd to focus on one of the lesser Golden Lords, a man by the name of Wei Ming Lee, an apothecary on a grand scale, and a seller of potions he claimed could make the old young again.
“My good acquaintance, the honorable Golden Lord Wei Minh Lee, the master of youth and proxy of the Lord of Longevity, Shou-Hsing… Thor says hello.”
The white bearded and silk robed Golden Lord who sat several chairs down from Estevan nearly choked on his wine and seemed pale at an otherwise puzzling comment from the Jester. Otherwise he made no other reaction one way or the other and didn’t say anything in retort, but his eyes were already glancing over towards the exit.
Jeremo moved on as he finished the apple.
“Now, I heard some other things from the Takers in Ysgard aside from what I’ve already said. One of them in particular had a long and detailed conversation with me a little while ago, a relatively new convert to the factol and a former burgler and forger. A githzerai by the name of Mantello the Jeweler.” Jeremo said in an overly cheerful voice. Almost immediately he had the Marauder’s attention and she was making motions across her throat for him to shut the hell up while he was still ahead. Well, Jeremo saw her and kept right on talking with the same grin plastered across his face.
“Oh, this should be good. I remember Mantello. He and you seemed quite close…” Zadara said openly, just loud enough for her rival to hear. Shemeska snarled back at the titan with a loud hiss.
“Mantello mentioned, oh just a bit, his former business partner, and lover, the King of the Crosstrade. He wondered quite openly how you’ve been passing your time since he left you, and if you’ve spent your nights, and I quote, ‘cold and alone, pining for your former lover to grace your august presence between the sheets.’” Jeremo prattled on while the King of the Crosstrade got up from her chair and waved her arms wildly for him to stop, making cutting motions repeatedly across her throat. At the next table over, Zadara was starting to laugh.
“And then he went on to describe what the two of you did in bed,” Jeremo said with a laugh, raising his eyebrows a few times to insinuate any number of lewd activities without actually listing them. “To start, Mantello said that you particularly liked it when he…”
“SHUT UP!!!! ENOUGH!!” Shemeska was standing on top of the table and screaming at the top of her lungs as she stomped her feet and kicked at the dishes and table decorations.
“Hells does that woman know how to pitch a freaking fit…” Florian said with amusement.
“I didn’t come here to be insulted in front of half of the city, and all of the city than frankly matters. And unless you intend to have your tongue on my plate for a main course you can shut your nattering mouth now Jeremo. Do not splay the details of my love life around in front of your damned guests.” Shemeska snarled at the Jester as she climbed down from the tabletop and retook her seat, though when she put her hands down on the arm rests of the chair, the wood was beginning to blacken and singe.
But, while the Marauder was trying to calm down, Zadara was laughing to the point of having difficultly breathing, “Details were hardly the only thing splayed about apparently!”
“Oh shut up you oversized harpy! Don’t you know when to shut up?! Or has the coin gone to your undersized brain like how we can all tell its gone to your oversized *ss?” The Marauder was back on her feet, flecks of violet flame spurting from the corners of her eyes that were already glowing with rage.
Beside her, Spiral Hal’Oight cringed and said nothing, his own frustration with Jeremo’s rather public nattering having vanished when the fiend seated next to him had begun to snarl, growl, and smell of brimstone.
Zadara calmly smiled with a sense of triumph as her rival made a public fool of herself. She sipped from her goblet of wine and responded mockingly to the fiend, “Bark. Bark. Bark.”
The sound of breaking crystal and splashing wine rang above the clamor of the crowd as the Marauder snarled something in a guttural tongue and shoved a hand in the titan’s direction. Zadara’s goblet exploded in her hand, showering her and those seated around her with wine and broken crystal. She had only the time to register the attack before a second spell was hurled at her, more snarled and spit out than properly intoned and cast. Whatever it was, there was no apparent effect upon the titan aside from a stutter and a cough.
“F*ck this! To hell with you all! Kiss my *ss Zadara!” The Marauder screamed as she bolted for the door and ripped her stole out of the hands of one of Jeremo’s servants on her way. Her shrieks of rage continued to echo down the hall as Zadara came to her senses about the same time that the rest of the room fully registered what had just happened.
“Holy cr*p…” Tristol’s eyes were wide as he whispered the intonations to allow him to view any lingering traces of the spells that had just been cast in the Marauder and Titan’s altercation.
“What? What did she actually cast?” Clueless asked with concern and alarm.
Everyone seemed taken back by the public brawl the two women had just been involved in. Even Ylem seemed shocked and dismayed, and Nisha was no longer making faces at him either.
Tristol blinked in surprise. “She tried to kill her.” He whispered to the others, “She threw some type of death spell at her that I’m not entirely familiar with. Zadara was lucky, that’s all I can say.”
“Well sh*t.” Toras said, realizing just how quickly and how far things were escalating.
“B*tch! How dare you! Get back here!” Zadara bellowed as she stood to her feet and brandished her maul in one smooth motion before she ran for the door, chasing after the Yugoloth.
Jeremo adjusted his crown and looked across the room, his eyes going from Seamusxanthuszemus’s prone and limp body, to the broken fragments of Zadara’s goblet, to where the two powerful women were apparently about to bring their public spat outside. “Well… this wasn’t what I’d been aiming for. So much for well made plans…”
“Everyone remain calm, they’ll work things out and there’s nothing to worry among the rest of us here. My apologies for the rudeness of some people…” Jeremo hastily but genuinely said to his guests before bolting over to confer with his guards away from the party and out of earshot of the crowd.
“Umm… guys. They aren’t going to work anything out, I think someone needs to actually get involved before…” Fyrehowl said before being cut off by the dim echo of an explosion and flash of light from the hallway.
“…as I was saying…” She said as the sound of more spells erupting outside the Palace could be heard.
“We can come back to the party, but they’ll level a block or two if they keep going after each other. And I’ll be damned if I let the Marauder get away with murder.” Clueless said as he made for the exit.
“Come on Zadara!” Toras said jokingly before immediately feeling guilty for saying it, with a half dozen people glaring at him. “Ok, sorry, poor taste…”
The poor tasted jest was forgotten as the group ran for the exit along with perhaps five other concerned persons. A minute or two later they had managed to run through the veritable mazework of passageways leading out of the interior of the Palace of the Jester and into the lantern-lit courtyard.
“Cr*p…” Tristol blurted out as they walked out onto the flame scorched flagstones of the courtyard and saw what was there waiting for them.
That there had been a spellbattle was obvious, and the ground was pitted and scarred by fire and acid while the air was hung with the pungent stench of ozone. The corpse of one of the Marauder’s guards was splayed and broken into pulp near the entrance of the Palace, probably killed by a single blow from the titan’s hammer. But that was not what fixed their attention. Rather, they all stared in numb shock at Zadara’s sprawled and motionless body in the center of the courtyard. Her hammer lay beside her, the head smeared a brilliant scarlet and the Marauder was nowhere to be seen.
Toras’s eyes went wide as they all stopped dead in their tracks near Zadara’s prone form. She wasn’t breathing.
“Oh sh*t she’s dead! Florian can you…” Toras blurted out before being cut off by the cleric.
“She’s not dead.” Florian said as she pointed to Zadara’s eyes.
The titan of potential was motionless and still, but her eyes were open and filled with pools of rage. Whatever spell had felled it, it had simply paralyzed or otherwise immobilized her, not snuffed her life.
“…cr*p…” Tristol muttered again for the second time in as many minutes as there was a sudden flash of light roughly thirty feet from where they stood.
Standing in the fading light of her teleportation spell, the Marauder snarled as she walked closer to Zadara. The King of the Crosstrade’s previously elegant evening gown was disheveled, scorched in several places, and she looked more like a slavering hellhound in a dress that had run headlong through a patch of razorvine than one of Jeremo’s invited guests.
“Ok, whatever the two of you got into, I think that we can all calm down and go our separate ways.” Tristol said hastily, and perhaps a bit overly optimistic in his tone.
Shemeska glanced at the mage briefly, baring her fangs as her eyes leaked scarlet flame, and completely ignored him as she launched into casting another spell.
“Tristol, she’s not listening and I don’t think…” Toras was cut off abruptly as the fiend spat out an intonation in a harsh, guttural language and flicked an obscene gesture at the motionless titan.
Tristol, acting entirely on instinct and shock, did the first thing that sprang to mind: he defended himself. The bubble of antimagic rippled outwards from the mage and enveloped his companions and a solid chunk of the titan where she lay on the ground. Whatever spell the ‘loth had cast was negated wholly and with a scream she hurled a second spell, cast in a more mundane language that Tristol recognized.
“Sh*t!” Tristol cringed as the disjunction erupted around him and evaporated his own antimagic field like a raindrop hurled into a fire. It was unexpected and the Marauder tossed it with more than a comfortable level of ease, and that frightened Tristol. He had always assumed the fiendess to be a sorceress, that much came with being what she was, but he hadn’t thought her to be on the level of an archmage.
However, as surprised as Tristol might have been at the moment, while the fiend’s spell had obliterated his hasty defense, it also dispelled whatever previous magic had ensnared the titan…
Zadara’s eyes widened and she was on her feet and reaching for her hammer in under a second. There was a crackle of spell energy as the Marauder vanished and reappeared a distance away, out of viable range of any immediate attack.
The two women glared murderously at one another as the clatter of armor and steel shod boots heralded the arrival of two-dozen guards, both from inside the palace and from the front gates of the courtyard.
“F*ck…” The King of the Crosstrade snarled as the guards arrived. Witnesses to murder would not be easy to bribe when they worked for someone with more money than some gods of wealth…
Zadara dropped her hammer as the guard’s arrived, though she was still looking like something that would have put a pause in one of the members of the Olympian pantheon if they blundered into her in some dark alley.
“Back to the party then? I’d like to go hear more from the Jester about his story he was telling us before you started barking…” Zadara said mockingly to the hovering fiendess.
“This isn’t over you gold guzzling whore…” The Marauder said as she adjusted the coil of razorvine above her head. “I hope you choke on your wine. But you’ve already spoiled the party for me, and I’ll make that clear when I otherwise praise Jeremo when I talk to him next.”
“Ta-ta…” Shemeska said with a sneer, grabbing herself briefly in an obscene gesture directed towards the Titan, before vanishing in the flash of a teleport.
Zadara glanced at the approaching guards and then at Tristol and the others. “Thank you for the aid. I’ll properly thank you later after I’ve calmed down. I’ll need to speak with these gentlemen first. Go back and enjoy the party…”
“Staring down death at the hands of an angry fiend is not an experience I care to repeat. Remind me never again to want excitement in my life. After tonight, I’ve had all that I can handle for a while.” Tristol said as he tried to calm himself down as they walked down the hallway back towards Jeremo’s party.
“Awwww…” Nisha said, garnering herself a worried stare from several people.
Clueless changed the subject away from whatever it was Nisha had in mind to randomly excite their lives. “Even if we pissed off Shemmy tonight, we’ve got a titan who is pretty damn well pleased with us.”
“It still pisses me off that there won’t be any charges filed on anyone.” Toras complained.
“Yeah, well, nobody actually saw the two of them fight, just the aftermath. Plus, they both probably have witnesses bought and paid for if it ever came to that in the courts. Still, we stopped her from getting away with murder…” Florian said.
“True, and I’m sorry, but Tristol, I’ll take to my grave the look on her face when her spell failed. Good job.” Skalliska said with a toothy grin.
“You’re welcome, but frankly that was just instinct on my part. I wasn’t expecting her to just randomly throw out a 9th sphere spell. I didn’t know that she was that sodding powerful a sorceress.” He said with a shudder.
“Hehe, you said sodding. Sigil cant is rubbing off on you.” Nisha giggled.
“She’s that powerful, she just doesn’t use it that openly, all that often. Plus, her spellcasting isn’t entirely normal.” Clueless muttered.
“The language she was using…” Tristol said.
“Exactly. I’ve heard it before, and while she’s not an expert in it, she learned it from someone who was.” Clueless replied.
Fyrehowl softly growled.
“She has powerful friends. I’m not going to say his name though if you don’t mind.” Clueless said grimly with distaste.
“Hey at least the party was really nice, and profitable, before that all happened, right?” Skalliska said with a grin as she held out the gem that had been her gift from the Jester.
Florian chuckled, “You’d have thought that with security as tight as it was, Jeremo could have made sure that his guests didn’t get into public brawls.”
Tristol stopped and glanced around.
“Hmm?” Fyrehowl asked, motioning the others to stop.
Tristol motioned to one of the locked and magically sealed doors. “Even if he was worried that some of his guests might be lost in this place, which might be easy to do if it wasn’t sealed up more than Nessus, or if he was worried that they might get into a fight with one another, that still doesn’t make a really valid reason for all of this…”
“It is a bit extreme I guess.” Skalliska said as she started to examine the multiple wards on the doorway.
“Extreme is a light way of saying it. And Jeremo doesn’t strike me as the sort who’s just paranoid or fanatical about the security of his home.” Tristol said as he motioned again to the doorway.
“Self assured, yeah. A bit talkative, yeah. But you’re right it does seem extreme. Heck, if we asked him he might tell us what was going on. I’m sure he’s got a valid reason for it.” Florian said jovially.
“Umm… guys…” Fyrehowl said warily.
That was when they saw the creature that was staring at them.
Looking up at them with glassy pink eyes was a small rat, barely the size of one of their hands. The rodent was nestled in a small hole that had seemingly been gnawed out into the hallway from the other side of the wall, and it pushed at a small pile of chipped wood as it emerged out fully into the passageway. The rat’s braincase was fully exposed, enlarged beyond normal, and pulsing with a soft, subdued glow: a cranium rat.
“What the hell…” Nisha said as she stared at the rat, already reaching for something to throw at it. In her hair, Factol Karan ducked down and held on.
“Guys, I really think we should back up away from that thing. If there’s more than one of them anywhere near here, we’re screwed if it decides to mess with us. One cranium rat isn’t an issue, but a dozen or more and you’ve got a serious problem.” Skalliska was similarly reaching for something, anything really, to throw at the vermin should it make a hostile move. But, like Nisha, she was lamenting having worn clothing appropriate for a party, not for hunting psionic vermin…
The rat was suddenly scooped up in a bag by a man dressed in the standard outfits of one of Jeremo’s servants. The rail-thin githzerai seemed bowed and immediately took an apologetic tone. “My apologies. My lord Jeremo has had me scurrying about for the past week trying to catch this little fellow. We’ve been trying to catch him since it wandered into the palace earlier, but he seems to have taken an interest in you just long enough for me to capture him.”
The gith bowed again and smiled, “My apologies lords and ladies. This disruption of the evening’s festivities is uncalled for and I am deeply sorry for the trouble it may have caused. Now, if you will excuse me, the Natterer has other duties for me.”
The servant was gone and down the hallway before they had much of a chance to respond.
“That was odd…” Toras remarked.
“Yeah, especially considering that he ran off for the palace exit. There weren’t any other open doorways down that passage.” Clueless said, looking back down the hallway where the servant had hurriedly vanished off.
“Weird. He was dressed like one of the servants around here. Maybe they have access to doors that we don’t.” Fyrehowl mused.
“Well, it’s something to ask Jeremo about. Whoever he was, I his tone seemed more than a bit suspect. When’s the last time you saw someone catch a cranium rat with a bag and their bare hands?” Skalliska said warily.
They hadn’t noticed the githzerai apologize to the rat after he had passed out of sight and let it out of the bag. The rat crawled up his arm and perched on his shoulder, staring up at his head before he cupped it in one hand and held it before his face like a friend.
“No, of course not. The servant will not be found till after I am gone. It was unwise for You to have made Your presence known to those few. If word of Your activity here grows outside of these walls it may bring unwanted attention, and perhaps even draw the wrath of …” The githzerai paused as the rat began to chitter and its brain began to sparkle with trails of psionic energy.
“Yes, as You wish. My apologies. Though our goals are shared, I am but a servant. And despite my concern, I overstepped my bounds. I am sorry to have doubted You.” Parrak’s face was lined with regret, honest regret as the collective mind lurking behind the eyes of its single representative in his hand whispered a rebuke back to him. This time it did not bring him pain, and it would not unless it was earned on his part. He was loyal and It knew he acted only out of concern, thus he would not be punished.
He spoke to the cranium rat for a few more moments before releasing it back down onto the floor with seeming reverence. The rat vanished through another hole and back into the walls where the others waited.
Jeremo had little need to provoke chit-chat or ladle out topics of conversation after the group got back to his party. The public spat between two of Sigil’s most powerful women had seen to that. Jeremo did however spend his time apologizing to many of his guests in person over the antics and problems of ‘some people’.
But, for all the problems that it might have caused, The Jester seemed to emerge out of it all as clean as could be, and most seemed to take it as a memorable occurrence rather than a sour note on the party. It was a winning situation for the Natterer if he could leave such a positive impression on most of his guests over the course of the evening. It didn’t stop him from getting his hands dirty and talking to most of them personally though.
Still, Jeremo wasn’t the only person making rounds about and amongst the party guests. Giving the Lady’s Jester a rival for most active and apologetic was A’kin. The Friendly Fiend seemed positively mortified by what had happened and he was going table-to-table, guest-to-guest and apologizing ‘on behalf of the entire yugoloth race’ for the ‘dreadful attitude and actions’ that his counterpart that evening had demonstrated.
Sigil’s other resident arcanaloth seemed embarrassed almost to the point of tears by the time he got around to speaking with Tristol and the rest of the group.
“I’m so terribly terribly sorry for what happened outside. I just heard from one of the guards about it all. Please, please let me just express to you how embarrassed I am over this. I try to be nice, I try to be friendly, but sometimes every step I take towards making people realize that not all of us are bloodthirsty fiends out to snag their souls, she just ruins it all…” A’kin ended in sniffles with his head on Florian’s shoulder.
Fyrehowl looked on with a mixed reaction of disbelief and honest sympathy.
“We know you’re not like that A’kin. We like you for who you are, even if she’s in contention for the biggest b*tch in the multiverse award most of the time. You aren’t her, the Foehammer be praised, and whatever she does it doesn’t rub off on you by association. Trust me. People like you.” Florian said as she rubbed the Friendly Fiend’s ears like a sullen puppy-dog.
“It’s ok A’kin, we love you anyways.” Nisha said comfortingly to the ‘loth before adding with a touch of guilt, “And I’ll put the chocolate mephit back in your shop by tomorrow, or I’ll leave the money for it on your desk. Sorry.”
A’kin sniffed and tried to compose himself again, “Thank you Florian. And that’s fine Nisha, just keep him. I can make more. But the sympathy really means a lot. I’ll find a way to make this up to you all. The sentiment is appreciated.”
“Why? Why does she have to pull cr*p like that? All the time.” Fyrehowl asked a weepy-eyed A’kin. “Fake tail, fake boobs, attitude…”
“Compensating for me?” A’kin offered up with a shrug. “Long, complicated story and much to my lament perhaps, it’s not something that’s going to change with her anytime in the foreseeable future. It doesn’t stop me from trying to compensate for her, just as much as she seems to do for me. Again, I really do hope you know how sorry I am over all of that. We’re not all like that.”
“Maybe I’ve read you wrong A’kin. Thanks for not being like her.” Fyrehowl said with a smile.
A’kin smiled graciously, “I’m not much like her except perhaps for shared origin. I’m glad that you don’t think that I’m like her. If I can change your mind, being where you’re from, it gives me some hope for everyone else.”
“Anyways, if you don’t mind, I have to go wake up Seamus and make sure that he’s fine. Everyone seems to have forgotten about him and left him lying there in a dusty little pile of mephit, the poor thing… Maybe I’ll see some of you later.” A’kin said before giving them all a hug and wandering over to where the Merchant Most Excellent was still passed out cold from where Shemeska had belted him against the wall. As far as most of the other guests were concerned, the elemental annoying was better left that way, and he was certainly less of a pain in the *ss in such a state.
Meanwhile, Florian excused herself away from the group and made her way over to where Jeremo was talking to several of his guards about what had gone on outside. It would be curious to see what Jeremo had to say about the oddly spectacular level of warding on the palace, plus about the rat they had seen…
A bright yellow question mark appeared and hovered over Jeremo’s head as Florian approached him. The odd effects of his crown seemed to anticipate his next statement, or it might have simply allowed him to visualize his thoughts. Still, the effect was the same.
“What’s on your mind…” The Natterer asked with a lopsided grin, adding after a moment’s thought, “…Florian?”
The cleric smiled, “Not bad, you remembered my name out of everyone here. I’m impressed.”
Jeremo shrugged, “I try, though for the life of me I was confused earlier on this evening. Everything I’d been told had led me to believe that you were male. My dearest apologies for my confusion.”
Florian chuckled and waved away his concern, “That’s a long story, but not your fault at all.”
“So, what can I do for you?” He asked politely.
“Well, I wanted to ask you about the security of the palace.”
“Oh? I should think that it’s all the better to ensure that my guests are as safe here as they would be in their own homes. Some of you all consider that paramount.” Jeremo said before adding offhandedly, “Some more than others. The Titan wanted a list of who would be invited, especially any clerics or proxies. Noshtoreth wanted to make sure that I wasn’t inviting any full-blooded Baatezu, and tonight’s fuzzy entertainment wanted to know what the decorum would be so she could arrive in something fashionably out of place and clashing.”
“Well, she got the out of place and clashing part down…” Florian coughed softly.
“But it’s impolite of me to speak poorly of my guests and peers in the city. Anything at all else about the security?” Jeremo said deferentially.
“It seems to be a bit much… and it’s all oriented seemingly to prevent something from getting –out- into the palace, not to just prevent the guests from wandering off…” Florian asked skeptically.
Jeremo laughed and waved a hand dismissively, “Not at all the case. Seriously now, I’m just a bit overprotective about my guests and I don’t spare any expense. So if you’ll excuse me, I have some other things I really should attend to.”
Jeremo gave a tip of his crown, turned, and made an attempt to leave. Florian stopped him dead in his tracks with a single statement. “We saw a cranium rat in the palace.”
Jeremo paused and slowly turned around, his previous joking demeanor gone and replaced with a much more serious expression.
“It gnawed its way out from behind one of the walls before one of your servants snagged it.” She added to the now dour and frowning Jester.
Jeremo sighed, “I need to ask you in all honestly to not repeat to anyone else outside of myself and my servants what you saw today. To say that I have a problem is only the least that you could say about it. To an extent, today’s festivities were to put off any rumors that something was amiss in the palace and keeping me from having many visitors.”
“The rumor mill was starting to get you worried about people finding out?” Florian asked.
Jeremo nodded and pursed his lips. “Aye, both the polite and casual mill, and the paid gossip mongers of the city were close to having a field day with the speculations of what they perceived. Incidentally, that was also a reason for one or two of my jabs tonight. She took it harshly… a pity…”
The Jester gave a puckish smirk at his last comment before returning to a more serious tone and affectation.
“Suffice it to say, I have every intention of snuffing the vermin out before they pose a real risk to myself and others. But damn it all, there’s more in the bowels of the palace than I care to speculate on. Whatever it is, they’re less interested in me and my faction is seems, than on the underhalls of my home. Why they’re here or what they’re so keen on finding is an open question.” Jeremo mused, “Either they know something I don’t about the history of the place, or they’re using it to hide from one or two of the other rat hives in the city.”
“There’s more than one hive of those things in Sigil?” Florian asked with some alarm.
“At least two; and from what I understand, one of them has gone rogue on the God Brain. I can’t speak of their squabbles with one another much, but I do know that there’s an established hive or two in the Slags, the two or three ‘Great Minds’, but one of them has done its damnedest trying to move into the Palace of the Jester over the last cycle.”
Florian was about to ask another question except for Jeremo kept right on talking. The Natterer wasn’t a hollow nickname…
“…but did you say a servant of mine found it? Odd. I hadn’t heard about it yet. Who was he?”
Florian replied before Jeremo could launch into babbling any more. “I don’t know his name. Some githzerai.”
Jeremo fixed his different colored eyes on her harshly, “I don’t employ any githzerai…”
Florian found that odd. After all, the fellow had been dressed in one of the Jester’s servants’ uniforms. Still, he had been acting odd.
Jeremo adjusted his crown again, “How would you like to earn some jink or otherwise gain me in your debt?”
“Excuse me?” Florian asked.
Jeremo crossed his hands and grinned like a child with a treasure map. “I have a problem and you and your fellows have seemed resourceful from all that I’ve heard. I have more money than some powers of wealth, and so price isn’t much an issue.”
“Is this an employment offer?” Florian asked with a chuckle.
“Well, I can certainly ask the others if they’re interested.” Florian said.
“Please do, and if you decide to take the offer I’ll be waiting. Let me know in the next several days and I’ll provide you with some more detailed information about the situation I have on my hands. Of course, I’d really appreciate it and suffice it to say that the pay will be commensurate to my means…” Jeremo said with a wink and a nod.
Florian grinned, the image of jink floating about her mind. “I’ll ask them and I’ll let you know what they say. And I swear to you on the Foe Hammer that I won’t mention any of what I’ve seen here to anyone outside of them.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” Jeremo tipped his tarnished crown. “But do go on and enjoy the rest of the evening. I’ll leave you to that, but I have a few things to discuss with the guards now, so if you’ll excuse me. Good evening to you.”
“So, Toras… I was wondering what you have planned for later on this evening?” Verden said seductively into the fighter’s ear as he chuckled in amusement and over consumption of the Jester’s free flowing alcohol.
“Excuse me?” His face was flushed with an equal mixture of gleeful surprise and drunkenness.
“I’ve enjoyed your company here tonight and I’m inviting you back to my place. You can go home in the morning…” Verden said softly as she rubbed a thumb over the back of Toras’s hand.
Toras’s eyes grew wide as he finally realized just how heavily the rather attractive owner of the Azure Iris was coming onto him. She was just as tipsy as he was, and so some small part of his mind was leaning towards saying no just to make sure than neither of them would regret anything in the morning, but that part was losing.
“Well, I’ve enjoyed your company as well. You’re quite attractive and its been a pleasure chatting with you all evening. My apologies for that unpleasantness earlier.” Toras said before she took his face in her hands and kissed him full on the lips with a drunken giggle.
“I promised that I’d tell you about some of the stuff I’ve seen from that one over the years, and you can ask me about that, and most anything else when we’re in bed together.” She was tugging him up from his chair as she winked at him.
Nisha rolled her eyes as Toras and Verden both staggered away from the table and made their way towards the exit.
“See you guys in the morning!” Toras muttered as he and the wood elf left with only a select few things on their minds.
“Oh, this is going to be interesting…” Fyrehowl said as Toras and the elf left.
“Mammals…” Skalliska muttered under her breath.
“Not a chance, I’m already taken.” Came the soft but argent and preemptive reply by Lissandra the Gateseeker to Clueless who was smiling at the young guildmistress as the previous impromptu couple made their way out.
“Damn. Oh well, can’t blame me.” Clueless said to the flattered wizardress.
“I’ll let you know if the situation changes, but it’s not likely.” Lissandra said with amusement as she gave a chuckle at the bladesinger.
Toras never noticed that Verden wasn’t intoxicated in the slightest as he left with her, his mind being run by organs other than his brain, and her own mind being filled with a hunger not of the carnal variety either.
The telepathic web of the hive stretched across miles and among the minds of hundreds upon hundreds of those who had rejected the poisoned succor of the most hated Godbrain. The psionic impulses of thought rocketed from mind to mind and point to point along that web that stretched invisibly through the burrowed tunnels in the Sigilrock of the Great Below and now into the forgotten hallways of the Palace of the Jester.
“The Natterer, he knows that we are not here for him and his own.” A single thought was shared by the many minds of the collective, spread out across the underhalls of the palace and the sewers and forgotten places in between.
“But does he know our purpose here? Does he know what we seek?” The voices asked themselves, pondering the thoughts of the single mind of The Jester above them. His thoughts were locked to them, by spell or by simply titanic force of will. But regardless, they had not managed to divine his own insight into their activities.
“He seals us away from the places he walks and the places he knows. He has made no organized move to seek us out here in the levels below that which he knows.”
The minds of the Us gave thought to what they had found in the labyrinthine network of chambers and forgotten halls below the Jester’s demesne.
“He does not know of what lies below his feet. He knows down to a depth, but nothing beyond it. He is ignorant of the history of his own house beyond a few centuries. Scattered names of former holders of his position perhaps are known to him, but nothing more…”
There was a pause again in the thoughts of the Us; a certain wariness about what it had found there beneath the streets of Sigil.
“There are thoughts here below, strange and distant, stronger as we travel further down and into the past. The walls are alive. We feel it, and whatever is here eludes our touch and evades our sight. It plays with us, prevents us from reaching whatever it covets and hides.”
For a brief moment a touch of fear rose from a minority of the collective, a fear of something that it did not recognize. The Palace of the Jester was Sigil’s oldest extant structure, and its past was shrouded in mystery. The underhalls were unmappable. The walls moved, shifted and changed to prevent any true understanding of its sprawling network of empty catacombs and abandoned chambers. It was Sigils past made manifest, and it was as alive as its present…
“Swalk’kur knew of this. He knew what was here. The visionary also avoided it and his lingering spirit only laughed at us when we found his tomb. It was shallow in this place compared to where we wander now amongst the laughing, watching galleries.”
The undercurrent of fear rose again amongst the component minds of the Us and the bulk of itself suppressed the feelings as best as it could.
“The Dabus are wary here. The Dabus are afraid of this place! But that is foolishness; if anything they avoid the depths simply because of ourself and nothing more. We do not concern ourself with the Dabus, but only with what we may find amid the labyrinth. There is power here…”
Florian had gestured them all together and into the back room almost as soon as they had gotten back from the Jester’s party. Despite having been away from them for a good while, speaking to the Natterer, she hadn’t said a word to the rest of her group during the course of the evening for fear of it being overheard. Besides, she had the nagging suspicion that Jeremo might have had his own people close at hand to let him know if she actually did spread word of what she had seen. The man seemed genuinely amicable, but he didn’t reach his position of power and influence by not knowing how to watch his own affairs and carefully cultivate public opinions, and frankly that was what he had been doing that entire evening: positioning himself in the eyes of his peers.
“So, what exactly is this about?” Skalliska said as she stroked the head of her familiar, whose head was currently flickering a soft halo of orange flames.
“Why not just tell us while we were at the party? Besides, it’s obscenely late.” Tristol yawned.
“Alright, you all saw the cranium rat in the palace, right?” Florian asked rhetorically.
“Sure, they had a few of them and Jeremo had his servants chasing them down. Big deal.” Fyrehowl said with a shrug.
Florian waved her hand in the negative, “Jeremo doesn’t have any gith on his staff…”
There was silence, and even Nisha paused and paid rapt attention.
“Whoever that was, he wasn’t one of Jeremo’s people. And there are more than just a handful of rats in the palace. Jeremo has a serious problem with them; he thinks a hive of them has managed to burrow into the underhalls of the place…” Florian explained to a half dozen open mouths.
“Well sh*t!” Clueless said bluntly.
Tristol nodded, “Damn. That explains all the crazy wards the place had while we were there. Jeremo wasn’t taking any sodding chances with the rats and his guests, considering that most of Sigil’s elite were there tonight.”
“Not that we’d have minded if the rats ever got to one or two of those elite…” Fyrehowl said as she rolled her eyes. “That’s going to come back and bite us you know.”
“What the hell are the rat’s doing there? Trying to influence everyone around the palace? I know that Autochon’s Runner’s Guild operates out of a wing of the palace. Maybe trying to get into the heads of the people in Jeremo’s ‘this is a faction on everything but paper’.” Clueless mused.
“Jeremo isn’t sure, but he’s not taking any chances. From what he’s told me, he’s managed to keep them confined to the lower levels of the palace, and they don’t seem to be at all aggressive about trying to break through into the parts of his property that he’s more or less sealed off from them.” Florian explained, “And that’s what worries him. He’s not certain what they’re doing down there, and he’d like to find out.”
“Do we get to name our own price?!” Nisha said with a glimmer in her eyes as she leapt forward, placed both hands on the table and jingled the silver bell at the end of her tail.
Florian chuckled and Nisha’s belled tail jingled again as Tristol tapped it.
“He made it clear that cost wasn’t much of a concern of his if you’re curious.” She said.
“Has he sent other people down there yet?” Clueless asked while Nisha continued to babble about ‘gods only know what all is down there’.
“I would assume so given what he talked to me about.” Florian said.
“And I think it safe to assume that so far none of them have come back?” Fyrehowl asked.
“Probably a safe bet. Cranium rats aren’t friendly neighbors, and hives of them are territorial.” Skalliska said, “And scary…”
“And tasty if you marinate them in alcohol…” The kobold added.
“Ewwww…” Nisha said with a twisted expression. “I’ve eaten ashes spiced with arsenic just because nominally I can survive on it, but cranium rats? Yuck.”
“Suit yourself, you’re the person who wouldn’t eat fried bugs just…” Skalliska said before being cut off.
“Aaaaaand changing the topic of conversation…” Clueless said abruptly.
“So, I guess the question is are we up for taking Jeremo’s offer?” Fyrehowl said. “Personally I don’t mind going for it. Besides, having Jeremo owing us a favor may just end up helping to shield up from another certain someone’s displeasure in the future, and I don’t think we can put a price tag on that.”
The benefits and dangers of it all went around for some time, with both Nisha and Skalliska giving their previous experience with cranium rats to the group. Eventually though it was decided: they would accept Jeremo’s offer and meet him in the next day or two to find out the full details. Following the decision, they variously went for a bottle or yawned, or both before staggering up to their own rooms.
Clueless sat in his room surrounded by a few dozen random items that he’d managed to collect from the Astral, places around Sigil, and even back on Acheron. For hours upon hours he had sat nearly motionless there, surrounded by the odd and otherwise unremarkable sundry items that he’d assembled, and one at a time he had tapped the small collar around his neck. Each time, the single droplet of golden liquid it contained made contact with his skin, and each time he plucked into his mind the arcane symbols of a single legend lore spell. Despite that he was unable to actually case the spell himself, whatever the liquid that he had found in the Tower Sorcerous actually was, it was providing him a window into the history and background of the items.
Hours had passed as he looked into the background of those items. He watched in his mind as a scrap of the late Factol Alisohn Nilesia’s robe from Acheron blossomed into fragments and snapshots of her time in slavery, and then how her husband, the late Duke Rowan Darkwood, had callously and purposefully sold her into slavery on the plane of war eternal.
He watched as fragments of time from the Incantifers’ genocidal war of self-destruction began and ended in a haze of death, misery, and unintended consequences. He even watched a chronicle of just where a single silver piece had been in the past three weeks before it had first graced his purse. A single coin and it had passed from hand to hand in that time from aasimar to gnome, from archon to succubi, from abishai to mephit, and from a Nycaloth whose hand the silver in the coin had burned, right down to Nisha who the ‘loth had hurled the coin at a minute before she had cut his purse strings and made off with the rest of his jink.
Still, there were events that his magic failed to illuminate. Anything related to his experience in Carceri, or rather, anything surrounding the tower there on Othrys: it was all shrouded in what seemed to manifest as an impenetrable mental fog. The closer that he got to anything even remotely related to the newly ascended Oinoloth, the thicker that the block became.
“Oh you son of a b*tch, how the hell is it that nothing about you has any background? You can’t just have appeared out of sodding nowhere!” Clueless cursed as he concentrated on another question about The Ebon, only to have the magic fail him once more.
The feelings of interference only increased the closer that the bladesinger probed, and only gradually did he recognize a cold malevolence that underpinned the haze that shrouded any of the information that he sought. If it weren’t impossible for something to be aware of the interior of Sigil while not within Sigil itself, Clueless would have sworn that something was aware of his attempts. He ended that train of legend lore attempts abruptly and with a disturbed feeling playing about his mind as he glanced down at the gem in his ankle. He’d sworn that it had been glowing before he had canceled the spell’s effects.
“New subject… definitely a new subject…” Clueless muttered as his wings flickered with traces of faerie-fire that mirrored his discomfort.
Tapping the bubble of golden liquid on his neck, he called once more into his mind the inscrutable symbols and patterns of a legend lore spell, pulled it into his mind and then concentrated on a subject of interest: Bartol Trenevain and his work with the King of the Crosstrade.
Information on the fire genasi evoker wasn’t blocked in any way, and it was apparent from what glimmers of information the spell provided to the half-fey, that Trenevain had indeed been a complete and utter pawn under the clawed thumb of the Marauder. Trenevain was apparently openly loathed by his Nycaloth minders, and at least one of them was eager for the chance to kill the mortal as soon as he had outlived his usefulness to the nycaloth’s mistress.
Clueless snorted, “Figures that you’d break your toys so nobody else could play with them. But this only makes me want to look old Bartol up again and see what he has to say about a few things…”
The bladesinger moved on to other topics, but as soon as he asked a question that directly fell upon the Marauder or actions she had personally taken a part in, he hit a solid wall. The spell didn’t end, but his mind was abruptly filled with an image of a room in the Fortunes Wheel, the same one in which he had signed away his freedom to the gossip monger along with the freedom of another friend and the life of another.
“What the hell…” Clueless said as the image in his mind’s eye focused on the Marauder, sitting and relaxing on a cushioned chair. The fiendess was smirking and her tongue was partially stuck out at an angle, petulantly bitten between her fangs. Her eyes glimmered violet as the image of her shook its head and waved a finger as if to say ‘no’. Questions about her operations within Sigil were warded, and warded well.
Clueless snuffed the effects of the spell and the magic rapidly faded away from his mind, leaving him drained and exhausted from the effort of it all.
“B*tch… figures that you’d pull something like that. Otherwise everyone with money for magic would be divining everything about you and where you’ve got your clawed little hands sunk into the pie.” He sighed, “And you’re immune to mind affecting spells, so I might as well try and get Nisha to act rationale for an hour or two as I might try to pluck details from your twisted little head.”
Clueless paused and winced for a moment.
“What the hell?” He said as he reached up to rub at his neck. His fingers came back dappled in blood.
Clueless launched forwards and went for a mirror, looking at his neck. Where the collar had held the droplet of magical liquid against his neck, the skin was inflamed and there was a small and angry blister at the exact point of contact: the source of the blood on his hand.
“Alright… that’s not good.” He said as he dabbed up the blood from the broken skin. There was a small ring of white, seemingly dead skin that surrounded the blister. Obviously he’d had some sort of reaction to the repeated use of the substance, whatever the hell it was.
“Hmm…” he thought as his wings once again reflected his mood. “Time to lay off using this for a while. At least till I actually know what that stuff is. We’ll have to see what Tristol might know about it, because I’m not going to use it again to find out what it is and where it came from originally if I don’t know if it’ll blow my head apart to use it again.”
Still flushed from the experience of channeling magic beyond his normal means, and intrigued by much of what he’d discovered, Clueless placed the collar and its bubble of golden, and apparently dangerous, liquid in a locked drawer to stay safe for the moment. He rubbed the raw spot on his neck, and he didn’t plan on wearing the collar again for a while, at least until he was a bit more certain about what it was that it contained. He glanced at where he’d placed the collar for a few seconds, and at the globe that contained the bulk of the liquid, and having done that, he wandered downstairs from his room in search of Tristol.
Sitting at a table near the back of the taproom, sat three nearly identical men. They were all bald, dressed in black leather overcoats, and wearing dark glasses or spectacles each. They had walked into the Portal Jammer and sat down without saying a word to anyone, and ignoring the initial drink or food queries from the serving staff as if the employees simply didn’t exist.
After an hour or two of staring off into space, they had apparently noticed that everyone else in the room was drinking or eating, and so one of them asked for “what is normal”. A wary staffer served them ale and a scattered assortment of food, and then watched as the Keepers prodded at the food for nearly twenty minutes before making any attempt to actually eat it. Eventually the odd trio seemed to catch on, and the waitress wandered over to ask them a question.
“So, what plane are you all from? I can’t say that I’ve ever seen your kind around here.”
All three of them stared at her uncomfortably.
“The normal plane where everyone else is from of course. And no, you have never seen us around here before. I repeat, you have never seen us around here before, but not that we are out of place at all. You may be assured of that.”
She raised an eyebrow, “Uhh… yeah. So, uh, what are you here in town for?”
Again they all stared at her in silence before another one replied, in the exact same voice as the first had. “You ask many questions. Asking many questions is not something that you should do.”
The third answered quickly as the waitress wrinkled her forehead, “We are only here to wait for someone else. Nothing to be concerned about at all.”
“No, absolutely nothing to be concerned about at all. Everything is normal and as you might expect.” The first Keeper replied in a blank monotone, despite the awkward smile it tried to make.
“Umm, sure… alright…” The server said awkwardly as she walked away from the three odd and identical gentlemen. One of them was smiling awkwardly at her over a mug of lamp oil while the other two stared off into space as she walked away.
Several minutes later, Clueless walked down and made for the room that Tristol had been converting into an arcane lab for himself. The walk required him to make a quick transit through the common room of the bar, and as he did so, a sextuplet of eyes tracked him. The bladesinger swaggered across the floor towards that particular room where the mage had more or less locked himself away since they had been back in Sigil, identifying the glut of items that they had found previously. As he made for the door, the goggle-hidden eyes of the three men at the back of the room followed him silently. All three Keepers watched him before he was out of their sight.
“Watch him, he is going for the mage. The aasimar will have it undoubtedly for he would have recognized it for what it truly is. A few more cycles of observation before we make ourselves known. Till then, we act as the others do, till more of ourselves enter this place.”
“Agreed. We watch and then take it from the wizard.”
Tristol sat in the dim recesses of the back room that he’d converted into a makeshift arcane laboratory. His eyes were half-lidded from lack of sleep but they remained focused on his tasks of both identifying the host of magical items that they had all recovered in the past while, and to learning from the spellbooks he had taken from the Imshenviir mercane, and from the arcanaloth, Parphinias.
“Tristol? Helloooo….” Florian’s voice broke the mage’s concentration and drew his unhappy gaze.
Tristol sighed and his tail was bottlebrushed behind him. “Yes? I’m rather busy…”
“You need to eat. The last time I was in here you said that you’d take a break and do that.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever.” Tristol said dismissively before turning his eyes back to the spellbook in front of him.
Florian pulled the spellbook away, “You said that seven hours ago…”
The mage’s ears folded back and to the side as he looked up at the cleric, “I’m busy. Send something in if you’re concerned.”
Florian pushed the book back with a sign, “I’ll have the kitchen send something in.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever…”
More time passed and Tristol flipped through a few more pages, arriving at a lovely spell called ‘Parphinias’s Corrupting Touch’. Even if he might not cast it himself, the aasimar was having a grand time just learning magic from a tradition so utterly alien to his own. Still, it was mildly disturbing that the book seemed to be bound in some form of nondescript humanoid flesh, and seemed to move slightly when you didn’t watch it closely.
A pair of slim hands suddenly descended over his eyes.
“Florian I said that…”
“Guess who?” A voice said with a giggle, sounding very much unlike Florian and very much like a certain tiefling.
“Toras.” Tristol answered.
“Toras? Nope.” The unknown person said.
“Judge Gabberslug of the Court of Woe?” Tristol said as he snickered.
“… hey! You’re just being mean now.” One of the fingers thumped him on the forehead.
“Someone who’s going to get bitten if she doesn’t take her hands off my face?” Tristol asked.
“Oh! I know who you are! You’re a wizard with fuzzy ears!” The hands snagged the tips of his ears and wiggled them around.
“… wasn’t I the one asking the questions?” Tristol said as he swatted at the hands on his ears.
“Were you? I dunno.” The tiefling said as she abruptly abandoned his head for another random whimsy.
Nisha took off her hands and abruptly wandered over towards the shelves where Tristol kept a number of spellbooks, research tomes on a hundred or so different topics, and piles of various and sundry arcane scrolls.
Tristol yawned, stretched and immediately went back to his reading. He’d just gotten to the next paragraph, notes that the arcanaloth had written or somehow burnt into the material that the spellbook was penned in, when he was interrupted again. Nisha was humming some random ditty as she thumbed through some of the scrolls.
“Nisha?” Tristol asked with a soft whine.
“That’s ‘great and powerful archmage Nisha’” The tiefling corrected him with a grin and soft jangle of the bell on her tail.
“…” Tristol closed his eyes and breathed in and out a few times. “Great and powerful archmage Nisha?”
“Yeeeeees?” She said, very obviously amused with herself.
“Is there something you want from me, or are you just pretending to be a mephit?” He said in slow, measured tones.
“No, I’m pretending to be an Archmage today. Silly wizard, you’d think that you’d know the different by now.”
Tristol’s ears went down again, “Please… I’m very busy. What do you want?”
The tiefling grinned…
“Anything?” She said as the bell on her tail rattled loudly, perhaps with an ominous foreshadowing.
“Yeah yeah whatever…” Tristol said as he got back into the spellbook.
“Can I have a scroll?” She asked nicely.
“Sure, yeah, whatever…” Tristol replied.
“Can I have a couple of random spell components from the middle shelf?” Nisha added.
“Yeah yeah, whatever…” Tristol replied once more.
“Can I make you my familiar? Being a great archmage and all I need one.” Nisha said without skipping a beat.
Tristol replied once more with the same unconcerned reply in the affirmative.
“Alright!” Nisha chirped.
The room went silent suddenly and it was several more minutes before Tristol heard the door softly close as Nisha left. Something felt wrong since the tiefling had left without actually doing anything insane…
Tristol looked around but didn’t see anything missing except for a scroll of jump and some rather inconsequential spell components. Strange to say the least, but he smiled and returned to his work, happy to finally have some peace and quiet. That respire lasted around ten minutes before Clueless walked in through the door.
“Hey Tristol, I had a few questions for you.”
Tristol banged his head against the spellbook emphatically with a groan.
“I’m just not going to get any work done today. None at all…” Tristol said with a resigned sigh.
Clueless sat down opposite the mage, “Oh, the bell and the bow look cute by the way.”
“Excuse me?” Tristol looked at the half-fey with a confused expression.
“The bell and the bow that you’ve got.” Clueless replied.
Tristol looked perplexed until the bladesinger whispered a phrase and made a motion with his hand. There was suddenly a soft jingling noise from behind the aasimar and Tristol felt a soft tug against the tip of his tail. There was a brilliant pink bow tied to the tip of the mage’s tail and a tiny silver bell as well, just like the one on Nisha.
Tristol smacked his head down against the spellbook once more.
“The dread pirate Nisha strikes again I see.” Clueless said with a smirk.
Tristol whimpered softly as the bladesinger jangled the bell a few more times with his cantrip.
“So, what is it you want?” Tristol muttered from his prone position against the book.
“I was curious if there’s such a thing as liquid magic. Maybe something like stuff in limbo, or stuff in the deep ethereal that just does stuff when you concentrate on it.”
Tristol’s ears perked slightly and he looked up. “What? Like Karach or protomatter? Something like that?”
Clueless shrugged, “Maybe, but those just sort of become what you think about and then go back or collapse if you stop concentrating on them. This stuff didn’t change itself, it just made things happen when you touch it and think about things.”
Tristol sat up with the rapid jingle of the bell, “Why do you ask?”
Clueless shrugged again, “Just curious. Something I was reading about.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of stuff like that, but it’s mostly a legend and no one seems to know how to make it anymore. It was mostly an accident in the first place. Lemme get you a book…”
Tristol got up and walked over to his bookcase and thumbed over a few of the books written in a dialect of Halruaan.
“What color was it, out of curiosity?” Clueless asked.
“It was sort of a syrupy stuff if I remember the stories about it correctly.” Tristol said offhandedly as he pulled out a book titled, ‘Netheril’s Golden Age’.
“Was it gold colored?” Clueless asked again.
Tristol paused and thought, “Yeah, actually it was if I recall it right. Why?”
Clueless held out a small vial of shimmering golden liquid, a portion of the larger store that he had recovered from the Tower Sorcerous. “Like this?”
Tristol dropped the book. “Get it away from me…”
There was a moment of sublime silence as Tristol and Clueless simply stared at one another, then at the sample of golden liquid, and then back at each other once more.
“So…” Clueless said, breaking the silence.
“Keep that away from me.” Tristol said once more.
“Why?” Clueless asked.
“Because the only person I know who was ever capable of creating what I think that is, they nearly killed themselves experimenting with it…” Tristol held open the book and pushed it across the table. He still wasn’t getting near to the bottle however, and as Clueless glanced at the pages the mage was keeping a wary eye on the stuff.
Clueless read over several pages of material that detailed a dead archmage who had been known as Karsus. The mage had created a substance known as ‘Heavy Magic’ by accident really, and had found that it held spells cast into it and functioned almost like a physical expression of magic that could be molded, shaped, or worked like wood or metal would be worked by a sculptor or a craftsman. Karsus had largely abandoned his research after he had nearly obliterated his enclave, some sort of floating city he ruled, by reckless experimentation with the material.
“Where did you get that stuff?” Tristol finally asked.
“I picked it up at random from the material we found on the Incantifer, back in the mazes. I just thought it looked pretty…” Clueless said with a shrug.
“You randomly picked up what was probably the most valuable and most dangerous thing in that entire tower. Mystra forbid…” Tristol was as white as a sheet.
“It’s rather interesting stuff. I’ve been messing around with it and…” Clueless said before the mage interrupted him.
“You’ve what? Messing around with it? You’re crazy…”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Clueless asked.
“I don’t know, and I really don’t want to find out. Listen, the most powerful wizard that my world has ever known abandoned research on that stuff because it was too dangerous for his tastes. And he eventually destroyed his entire culture in another foolhardy experiment that he thought was safer.” Tristol said adamantly.
“When did Karsus make his version of this?”
“About two thousand years ago…” Tristol answered.
“Then he didn’t make this, because unless he was inside that maze, it’s been around for longer than that.” Clueless said as he looked at the bottle of golden liquid.
Tristol put his hands over his ears, “Then one of them figured out how to make it than probably. It might even be different from what Karsus made. Please promise me than you’ll hold off on it for a while before I can do some more reading on it?”
Clueless frowned, “I won’t do anything more than I already have.”
“I hesitate to ask what exactly you have done. But please?” Tristol asked plaintively.
“Alright, I’ll be careful, I promise.”
Tristol looked at the vial and then back at Clueless. “Just keep it away from me.”
They chatted about the liquid for another twenty or so minutes before Clueless gathered his things and left. He never mentioned the raw spot on his neck, mostly because he didn’t want to worry his friend, nor did he want for Tristol to demand that he dispose of the heavy magic or give it into the safekeeping of someone more magically adept than either of them.
“Things have changed.” One of the Keepers said as it looked across at the door to Tristol’s lab.
“Something has happened.” Another of the beings said.
“Perhaps he is aware that we are here.” The third Keeper said as lamp oil dribbled out of his open mouth.
“We will move preemptively now, even if others have not arrived. Now.”
Tristol walked out of the door from his lab, still looking nervous from what Clueless had shown to him. He was so taken back from it that he hadn’t bothered to remove the florid bow and silver bell from the tip of his tail. He’d gotten perhaps ten feet from the door when he was surrounded by the three identical looking men, all wearing dark goggles, all of them bald, all of them dressed in rubbery black clothing and having stark white skin.
“Umm… can I help you gentlemen?” Tristol said wearily. “I swear, everyone’s been asking for stuff today and I only want to sit down and study…”
“Give us the Orb.” Came the monotone request from the first Keeper.
Tristol blinked, “Excuse me? The what?”
“The Orb. Give it to us.” The second Keeper asked in the same voice as the first.
Tristol looked up uneasily at the close proximity and blank expressions of the three men. “I don’t know you’re talking about. Now if you’ll please move out of my way…”
They didn’t budge an inch.
“Tell us where you have put the orb. Bring us to it and give it to us and we will leave you unharmed.” There was an implied threat to the Keeper’s voice even if its tone hadn’t changed.
“I don’t have any idea what the hell you’re talking about. Now get out of my way and get out of my inn!” Tristol’s ears lay flat against his head as he lost his temper for the odd and stubborn questioning.
“Do not lie to us wizard. You would have it or know where it is. Tell us and speak of it to no one and we will not harm you.”
“Toras! Fyrehowl!” Tristol shouted out into the taproom as he brought the words of a spell to mind.
Halfway up the stairs going back to his room, Clueless paused and turned back when he heard Tristol’s shouting. Toras and Fyrehowl both looked up from their own table near the door where they’d been serving as relaxed quality control on who entered the inn and in what condition they left.
Tristol called into his mind the words of a petrification spell as he ducked out from under the circle of three Keepers as a stern looking Toras and Fyrehowl approached. One of the Keepers turned to face Tristol, one turned to face the fighter and lupinal, and a third turned outwards to address the entire room and its occupants.
“There is no scuffle or untoward activity occurring in the slightest! Nothing at all! All of you would be best served by returning to your normal activities. Forget that we are here. Everything is normal!”
One of the other Keepers was about to speak as well, but that was before Toras threw it halfway across the room.
“I think you’ve had a little too much lamp oil sir.” Toras said with a smile on his face as he walked over to the sprawled form on the floor.
Fyrehowl drew her sword as the other two Keepers smiled and held up their arms. She backed up slightly and took a defensive posture as their flesh seemed to ripple from the inside, shift, and reform into flesh-colored, rubbery hammers at the ends of their arms.
“Oh to hell with that!” Clueless shouted out as one of the Keepers swung at the lupinal and the other made ready to do the same. Calling to mind a spell that he wasn’t able to cast, but had called into being in his mind earlier in the day from the heavy magic, he hurled it at one of the two keepers.
A cylindrical column of force sprung into being around one of the two Keepers near Fyrehowl, penning it in and separating it from her. Clueless shouted in triumph, but a moment later his grin vanished as the Keeper paused and then seemed to melt through the wall of force like it wasn’t there.
“Oh hells! That’s just not fair!” Clueless shouted again as he drew his sword.
Toras walked over to where the Keeper that he’d thrown now lay sprawled on the floor. He stood over the body and then stumbled back as it seemed to ripple like it was of liquid and abruptly invert itself from being facedown on the floor to looking back up at him.
Flat against one of the exterior walls, Tristol watched as Fyrehowl slashed at one of the Keepers with her blade. Whatever the thing was, it didn’t bleed, and she might as well have been fighting an animated hunk of putty. It didn’t seen to register pain either, though the damage did seem to be slowing it.
Tristol continued to watch as Toras picked up the one on the floor and began smacking it around like an abusing child with a rag doll.
“Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!” Toras shouted with a laugh as he smacked the Keeper in the face with its own fist several times over. Toras stopped abruptly when the Keeper’s black goggles flew off of its face and landed on the floor. There were no eyes on the thing’s head beneath them, only blank, pasty skin.
Tristol saw it as well and hurled his spell at the second Keeper that Fyrehowl was fending off. The being hesitated, stopped, and began to change color as the spell took effect to transmute it to rock. All three Keeper’s began to laugh in a single voice as they turned to look at the mage. A split second later, the petrifying Keeper collapsed into a puddle of oily muck and resin, apparently ending its own life rather than be held captive by the spell.
“Nisha! Hit the fire portal!” Toras shouted as he tried to hold the one Keeper as far away from himself as possible, ignoring its heavy smacks against his arm and shoulder as best he could.
The tiefling dashed over to grab a bent copper key and then thrust it into a framed portion of the back wall. The moment she did the wall vanished and a glimmering scene appeared in its place: the elemental plane of fire. Waves of undulating lava and sheets of flaming wind rushed past the other side of the portal as Nisha moved out of the way.
“Enjoy!” Toras said as he shoved the Keeper through the portal and followed it up a moment later with the other one. The two beings vanished through the portal, but before it closed itself, he could see one of them bobbing in the flaming ocean, blankly staring back at them like a eerie, possibly retarded, fire mephit.
There was a small amount of scattered applause from the patrons of the inn who hadn’t bolted at the first signs of a fight. Toras bowed and Nisha claimed the vanished Keeper’s drinks. Tristol however glanced down at the puddle that was all that remained of the Keeper that he’d attempted to turn to stone, and then up at Clueless.
“Clueless, do you have any idea what in Mystra’s name that was?” Tristol said as he tried to wave away the smell from the dissolved Keeper.
Clueless blinked, “Nothing at all. Those guys have been here around the inn for a few days and they’ve just sat there drinking weird things that even Nisha said were weird.”
Nisha grinned as she sniffed idly at one of the mugs of lamp oil.
“Alright that was weird…” Toras said as he looked at the puddle on the floor. “If anyone asks… Skalliska had an accident. Something strange and female kobold related. Alright?”
Fyrehowl raised an eyebrow at Toras, “Works for me. Let’s all just watch out for any more of those… whatever they are, alright?”
They all nodded in agreement, though Clueless had already picked up and pocketed the pair of goggles that had fallen off of one of the Keepers. At some point he had the intention of attempting to use some divinations on them, if only because he was almost certain that they’d been looking for the golden globe of heavy magic that he had sitting in his room… not that he was going to volunteer that information to anyone else presently.
The vast psionic intelligence of the Us was uncertain. Several of its component minds stood over the edge of a stairwell that coiled downwards into the rock and spiraled down into cool darkness.
“This place is no longer within Sigil. Something is different here, even stranger than the labyrinth. And portions of it felt the same as we made our way through its corridors…”
The air was silent and chill as several dozen cranium rats peered down over the edge and into the abyss below. The hive was not only uncertain, it was frightened, and it had been for some time whether it wished to admit it to itself or not.
“The walls continue to mock us, as does that which walks within them, watching us scramble about blindly.” The rats that sprawled across the warren of ancient passages there beneath the Palace of the Jester, they all peered about with uncertainty.
“The presence that we feel, it has still refused to show itself, but not out of fear. It knows this place, but the stairwell is separate from it. The depths below are something else. This is malign, but below is…”
A ripple of fear crossed the gestalt mind of the Us. It was at a loss to describe what it felt, only cold, ancient, and alien. There was power there in the forgotten places of the Great Below, power that reminded hidden, but there was more there than what they had originally thought to find in the depths of the Palace. Something else indeed.
“The door to the upper layers has been opened. The Natterer is sending others down to hunt us. The depths can wait for now.”
The appointed time came, and the group stood in one of the nonpublic regions of the Palace of the Jester, accompanied by Jeremo the Natterer and several of his guards and faction members. He had escorted them all through the sprawling corridors of the street level area of the palace and down a long flight of stairs into the first subterranean level, one of many as he explained it. At the bottom of the stairs was a barred and warded set of double doors. The magical protections on the portal were even stronger than the other warded doorways that Tristol had seen within the palace to that point entirely.
“If you’ll take a look at the map that I’ve provided you.” Jeremo said with a grin as his words crystallized in pictures above the tarnished crown atop his head.
Florian held up the first page in the series of oilcloth maps that Jeremo had provided them with.
“I’ve had this door marked off on your map, and each sheet details one of the sublevels of the palace, all the way down to the third. The routes to the staircases down to the next floor are marked for the quickest routes, and the stairwells themselves are circled. There shouldn’t be much of a problem on those floors at all… excepting the bloody rats of course.” Jeremo said.
Fyrehowl held up a hand, “Jeremo, if I can call you Jeremo…?”
The Natterer brushed away a stray lock of blond hair from his face, “Please do. And yes?”
The lupinal nodded and continued, “The maps cover the first three levels of the underhalls, but there’s a stairwell marked as going down to the fourth level. Is that in error, are we missing a map, or do you not have it mapped?”
Jeremo snapped his fingers and chuckled, “A map of the fourth level and further down would be useless. Hence you don’t have a map of it. But oh there’s floors below that point, and I can’t tell you how many.”
“Why will it be useless?” Skalliska asked.
Jeremo answered with a wistful smirk, “Because the walls move and rearrange. It’s impossible to map since it all changes. Believe me, we’ve tried it more times than you can imagine.”
Clueless spoke up, “We’re not the first people to go down here are we?”
Another chuckle from the Jester, “To explore it, or for this latest… problem?”
“Yes.” Came a chorus of answers.
“Obviously I’m curious about the building given its history, size, etc etc etc.” Jeremo said as he scratched at his chin, “I’ve been down there myself and eventually I gave up with trying to map it all. Plus it gets dangerous further down, all I can really say. Malevolent? Perhaps, it just doesn’t feel friendly down there. As far as the rats though, yes, you’re not the first.”
“What did they find?” Fyrehowl asked cautiously.
“Beats the hell out of me. They never came back…” Jeremo gave a nervous chuckle. “If you find any of them down there I’ll pay you extra for dragging them, or a piece of them, back so I can have them raised. Same extends to you all obviously as well.”
“Wonderful…” Tristol muttered.
“Don’t worry Tristol. You’ve got the great and powerful archmage Nisha here to protect you from big-brained rats!” Nisha chirped and Tristol felt something being deftly and quickly attached to the tip of his tail.
“I have to seal the doors after you go down there, and communication won’t pass through the wards, just to make sure that the rat’s can’t influence my people from under the floors and through the walls where we can’t see them.” Jeremo continued, trying not to stare at the bright red bow and glittering silver bell that dangled from the end of the wizard’s tail.
“Sounds fair enough.” Toras said.
“If I don’t see you for a week I’ll consider you dead and I’ll be sending others, just so you know.” Jeremo added.
“That shouldn’t be necessary, but we’ll see you when we see you.” Florian said with a nod to the Jester.
“Then so I shall. Good luck and my pre-emptive thanks.” Jeremo’s head was a whirl of symbols and animate pictures, reading off his last words of luck and encouragement to the group before he signaled to have the doors closed after them all.
The doors sealed with a heavy and hollow boom that echoed down the empty corridors of the Palace. A thin layer of dust caked the floor, but it was disturbed by a series of footprints that led down the passage in the exact same way that they themselves were preparing to head.
Skalliska glanced down at the dust and then back up at the others. “There were eight of them; more than us. And one of them tramples over the original tracks, coming back in this direction before they just end.”
“Rats?” Fyrehowl asked.
Skalliska chuckled grimly, “Tracks all over the place…”
Clueless asked the unsettling question that lingered on all of their minds as Nisha glanced back at the very much sealed exit: “If someone came running back here, where’s the body?”
Ten minutes previous, they had all been walking alongside Jeremo the Natterer and a flock of his attendants, guards and servants. Jeremo had never seemed to actually look where he was going, and simply turned at the last minute before walking into a wall or going down the wrong hallway, never pausing or even slowing down when he did. The factol in all but name just kept chatting them all up as they kept up with him and his staff.
“And so this little bauble is going to be key to your fun,” The Jester had said as he held up a ring in the palm of his hand. It was carved from ivory and inlayed with silver, the gilded head decorated with the symbol of the Ring-Givers.
“More presents?” Florian had asked him as she accepted it.
Jeremo had shaken his head, “Sort of, and frankly if you make it back you can keep the rings. There’s one for each of you.”
Somewhere near the rear of the party, Nisha had squealed with glee when Jeremo had mentioned that little fact.
“As you’ve noticed, everything is warded around here, and you’d just as soon ruffle Her Serenity’s skirts than try to break your way through some of these that I’ve had set up. Thus keys are a bit impractical in the sense of such things, and as always a bit gauche on the less practical side of things.” Jeremo had said as he held up one of the rings before handing it to Tristol.
“The rings are a way around the wards without being flash fried, immolated, melted, turned to stone, or any one of a dozen other things I saw to be woven into them like a particularly expensive and prickly coat of paint on the walls.” Jeremo had said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Just concentrate on the ring and think of being back outside of this place. There’s a contingent teleport on the rings that is keyed to you and only you. Activate it thusly and you’ll immediately return to the room at the end of our little walk without whatever monstrosity or psionic, cheese eating, rodent menace might have been chasing you.”
“They actually eat cheese?” Nisha’s voice had said, piping up at the back of the group again. Skalliska had then muttered something under her breath and Fyrehowl had chuckled.
Now, solidly back in the present moment, Fyrehowl wasn’t chuckling as she and the others stood on the other side of those very same wards. Skalliska and Nisha were both tracing the patterns and trails of rat tracks that patterned the dust and tracked tiny footprints of bright crimson in their wake from the trail of blood that lead away and out of the chamber through the northern corridor.
“Skalliska? How many rats were here? Can you tell?” Florian asked.
Nisha looked over at Fyrehowl, “Hey Fyrehowl.” The lupinal was batting at her muzzle in irritation, probably from the dust that they were all kicking up into the air.
The kobold looked back at her, “At least forty. Maybe more.”
Nisha tried to get the lupinals attention again, but once more Fyrehowl was trying to hold back a fit of sneezing from the omnipresent dust.
“How bad can forty of them be?” Toras asked tentatively.
Florian looked around at the trail of blood and then back up at Toras, “Apparently bad enough for some poor berk.”
Toras nodded to the cleric, “Point taken.”
Nisha finally glanced over at Fyrehowl, “Hey, bignosed goodie goodie with a tail.”
Fyrehowl glanced up with an odd expression, “Goodie goodie?”
“Oh sure, take offense at that and not the nose comment. Anyway, can you actually get any idea of how many people were down here and maybe how many of them got into trouble in the immediate area? Or is the dust too much?” Nisha said as she tapped the lupinal’s nose.
“Well I do have a big nose, comparatively speaking. And no, I really can’t tell other than there isn’t much blood on the ground outside of that smear.” Fyrehowl shrugged as she moved out of the room in the direction of the trail of blood, and the route towards the next stairwell down.
The blood traced a series of crimson lines through the dust for about another forty feet or so before turning into a smaller passage off from their mapped route. They didn’t have to look hard to find the corpse though, and there was no doubt as to how it had died. The body of a human, probably a swordsman, was sprawled against the side of the adjacent passage surrounded by a spattered circle of bloody rat tracks.
“Rough way to go…” Skalliska said as she approached the body. The kobold whispered a cantrip to make sure that the body wasn’t trapped by any spells, and then she crouched over it for a closer inspection.
“Nibbled to death.” Toras said with faint amusement.
“Eaten by food.” Skalliska said as Nisha made a face at the very idea of considering cranium rats to be worthy of snackage.
The corpse was desiccated from the exposure to the dry, overly dusty and stagnant air of the sealed off underhalls of the palace. But more so it was almost entirely drained of blood from a thousand tiny slashes and bites that covered every exposed portion of its flesh from the face down to the frayed fingertips. The rats had bled it dry in what had to have been a very lingering and painful death.
“So, who wants to raise him back to life?” Clueless asked.
Florian shook her head, “Not me. We’ll bring his body back with us on our way out, assuming we have better luck than him. I’m not wasting the spell now when he’s got it coming to him from Jeremo eventually.”
Skalliska held out a ring that was clutched in the hands of the corpse. It was nearly identical to the ring that each of them had been given by Jeremo, though apparently the poor fool hadn’t had the chance to use it before the rats had killed him.
“Either he couldn’t concentrate, or the rats blocked it from working because the charge is still there latent on the ring.”
Skalliska then paused for a moment and glanced around cautiously.
“Something wrong there?” Fyrehowl asked the mage as he continued to glance around.
“Maybe. Felt like I had something reach out and touch my mind, almost like a wizard or a squidhead tried to probe my thoughts. It wasn’t a spell.” She said with a soft snarl.
Clueless swore, “Cr*p… they know that we’re here…”
“That’s what I’m worried about. Though it seemed more curious than angry.” Skalliska said with a nervous shrug.
“Alright. Then let’s get moving towards the spot on the map before they take a less friendly look at us.” Florian said as she motioned them away from the corpse and back to their original path.
“They are disturbed by the corpse. No matter, he was one of the Natterer’s hired killers and deserved no mercy. We offered him much and he declined, thus sealing his fate. We will extent the same to these others.”
Several members of the hivemind crept through the burrowed tunnels that honeycombed the walls of the upper layers of the labyrinth, the only place they could since the walls below not only healed but reacted… negatively… to their attempts.
“The kobold, the one that we touched, she has killed one of the slaves of the Godbrain before. She enjoyed the act, it shows like flame upon her mind. She may serve even if the others will die. We will follow and observe before acting…”
Over the next fifteen minutes the group passed though one empty hallway, chamber, and gallery after another. Everything was cold, dark and empty, but with a lingering atmosphere of forgotten grandeur. While dust seemed to cake the floors and festoon itself from the moldings and archways like ancient decorations for one of the Jester’s parties, it still retained an aura of prestige and beauty.
Whoever built this place had style, that’s for certain.” Florian remarked as they passed beneath an archway carved to resemble two asuras with their flaming wings touching at the keystone. Carnelian and stained glass sparkled along the length of the sculptures.
“Damn, same here.” Clueless added as he looked back at it from the next room over, noting that from the other side, the asuras were replaced with erinyes, and each feather in the fiends’ wings seemed to have been carved from ivory, frosted glass or some feathery crystalline mineral.
“And don’t look at me, I’m just as impressed as you are and I’m not even pondering snagging any souvenirs.” Nisha said preemptively as they passed into another long corridor of clear glass floors suspended above what might have been the layer below them.
“Still too dusty…” Fyrehowl said with a soft sneeze. “But it’s still damn pretty.”
They continued on without any sign of the rats, though Fyrehowl did stop several times and glance around with a preternatural sense that they were not alone in the halls. But each time there was nothing there to be seen or heard, and strangely enough none of their attempts at scrying or divination worked: they simply failed without comment.
Several moments later they stood on the staircase down to the next level of the underhalls and glanced down the wide, spiraling length of stairs. They seemed worn smooth by the passage of the years, though by the dust that covered their wide, shallow steps, they had not seen active use in centuries at the very least. Railings of darker stone curved down to follow the stairs, and carved scenes of wild game, stags and pursuing hounds decorated it from top to bottom along its length.
They slowly walked down the flight of stairs, though Nisha insisted on sliding down the banister. Her soft cry of “wheeee!” echoed up from the bottom and then it ended sharply.
“Nisha?” Tristol shouted down to her.
“Yeah I’m fine, just… just come down here…” Came the tiefling’s reply.
They quickly followed, if without her initial exuberance, and quickly discovered what had gotten her attention. The dust, or rather the complete lack of dust. The floors and walls were spotless as they emerged into a wide chamber of wooden walls, studded with mirrors and amber mosaics that seemed to glow of their own accord, reflecting back the magical illumination that Toras and Tristol had been providing.
“Alright that’s just strange.” Clueless said as he looked at Tristol. “Spells on the area to keep it clean?”
Tristol shook his head. “Spotless. There isn’t any magic on the walls that I can see.”
Fyrehowl furrowed her brows as she glanced at the mirrors. “The reflections are wrong.”
“Huh?” Florian asked as she walked over to where the lupinal was glancing into a series of the mirror panels between two scenes in amber that depicted a golden portrait of woodlands and a great manor house that seemed to be a stylized depiction of the Palace itself.
Fyrehowl pointed into the mirror, “That’s not the reflection that should be showing in the mirror. It’s showing a reflection from about thirty degrees off from where it should.”
The effect was subtle, but every one of the mirrored panels showed a reflection that was off from what they should have been showing. There was even one of the smaller panels that seemed to display an image as if it were positioned behind the person, showing them from behind on the far side of the room, looking into one of the mirrors there.
“Weird.” Florian said.
“Not weird. Awesome.” Nisha pointed out as she goofed around with the mirrors. Tristol however was simply unnerved by it all, given the lack of obvious magic.
Eventually they passed out of the chamber, off towards the stairwell marked on their map that would lead down to the next level. As they walked under the archway out of the room and down a long corridor to the south, they never noticed that in the amber mosaics one of the tiny, depicted figures turned and watched them leave…
The hallway traveled perhaps a hundred feet or so before Clueless looked over at the map in confusion. “There’re connecting hallways here that aren’t on our map.”
“Then I suggest we don’t take them.” Skalliska added bluntly, glancing around in seeming irritation.
“Well no, the main corridors and chambers we’ve seen down here have all been clearly marked on the map, but the fine details are starting to go the way of the factions…” Clueless replied.
“Skalliska? Are you alright?” Tristol asked as his tail swished idly.
“Someone’s reading my thoughts…” The kobold said through gritted teeth, “And given my past history with Illithids I don’t take kindly to the attempts whoever the hell you are!”
Clueless glanced around, “Not appreciated!”
Tristol’s tail suddenly bottlebrushed as he too felt something rustle around in the contents of his mind and then vanish back into the woodwork, probably just as literally as figuratively.
“At least they haven’t gone after us.” Florian said.
“Yet.” Toras added. “They haven’t gone after us yet.”
“Or stolen our cheese.” Nisha said as she did her best imitation of a squinted up rodent’s face.
“Come on, let’s get moving…” Skalliska said as she concentrated on keeping out any untoward visitors in her head.
The passage continued southerly and ran directly under the hallway in the level above where they had seen a glass floor. The current hallway at about the halfway mark had an arched glass ceiling that seemed to have either been cast in place or cut from a solid block of the material.
“I want to live here. I really do.” Nisha said as she looked up through the glass.
“What the hell?” Fyrehowl said as she did the same.
Above them, rather than seeing the hallway in the floor above them, they saw nothing of the sort. Through the thick glass was a perfect, inverted representation of the hallway they were currently in, rather than what should have been above them given the map and what they had seen earlier.
“This place is like a funhouse…” Clueless said.
“No, the architect was huffing opium…” Toras said as he tried to make relative sense at the warped layout of the passages that increasingly had begun to deviate from the map.
“The Natterer sent you. The direct and disembodied voice abruptly echoed in all of their minds.
The group looked around hastily, trying to find the location of the speaker.
“We have done nothing to him. He is a fool, ignorant of what he sits atop, and we have greater need for it. Purer, more just purpose to put it to our use. We would ignore him if he did not sent murderers down to seek us.”
“You killed one of his servants.” Clueless said bluntly.
“They were a hindrance and so we removed it like you would pluck a splinter from your finger. In the grand scheme of thing they were nothing and do not matter.”
Fyrehowl quickly motioned them all towards a ragged spot in the carved molding at the base of the western wall. A small hole was burrowed into the stone and in it was nestled a single cranium rat. The vermin’s exposed braincase glowed with a pale green radiance as it twitched its whiskers and glanced at them with black, distant eyes and a mind that was very much more than the sum of its parts.
“So why have you been snooping around in our minds?” Tristol asked as he drew a series of spells into the forefront of his mind in case things escalated.
“To determine if we should kill you immediately, or give you the opportunity to serve us.” The telepathic whisper of the Us had not a shred of pity or compassion.
“Some choice…” Clueless said with irritation.
“How about we let the kobold eat you.” Toras said to the rat just as bluntly as the hive had spoken to them.
Skalliska glanced back angrily at Toras, “Not now…”
“You have killed Illithids before. You agree with us on what must be done. Serve us and you will achieve that goal. You would be valued.”
“No thank you. I’d be valuable perhaps, but I wouldn’t be valued.” Skalliska said as she too drew a spell into her immediate memory.
“Rethink your rash statements. Your bodies would never be recovered down here. Consider our offer and reply within the next two minutes.”
“Not going to change.” The kobold replied immediately.
Clueless was about to comment when he felt a sudden chill race over his mind like something had just opened his skull like a jar and dipped fingers of ice into the interior. Something wrapped around his thoughts, and for a moment he felt as if he was on the verge of losing control over his actions before the influence slipped, snarled and fell away.
“Now that was just f*cking uncalled for!” Clueless said with a shout as he turned about to glance at the offending cranium rat that watched them from the hole in the wall. Then, purely out of instinct, he hurled a spell at the rat, beyond it, and back into the spaces behind the wall: a spell that he shouldn’t have been able to cast by any stretch of the imagination, but one that had been nestled uncomfortably in his mind since his first experiments with heavy magic…
The spell raced out of his mind and enveloped the rat with a dull halo of black, expanding light before. A split second later the hallway was transfixed in a chaos of telepathic shrieks of agony for a brief, flickering moment before the wall detonated outwards in a wash of pure retaliatory hatred.
When the dust settled out of the air, their vision cleared, and the ringing in their ears ended, they all looked up. A ragged hole was punched in the wall from whatever force the rats had launched outwards in desperate, reflexive rage. Dozens of their corpses lay lifeless on the ground, in the rubble, and still plugging a network of burrowed holes deeper in the wall.
Pain! How dare you harm us! Reduce us, make us fewer, and make us weaker! Death!
The shrill psionic screams of the collective burned out on the ether and into the still recovering minds of their foes. Tristol glanced over at Clueless.
“… you said you’d hold off on using that stuff!”
Clueless leapt to his feet with a flick of his wings, “I didn’t! Sorta… Complain later because they’re pissed.”
“No sh*t.” Florian said as she looked at the hole in the wall.
The group regained their footing and stood back up as the seething anger that seemed to reverberate all around them began to pump and pulse like a living thing. Fyrehowl’s ears were flat against her head and Skalliska and Nisha were glancing nervously at the ground where the dust, gravel, and flakes of ragged stone were beginning to dance from an unseen force building up below them all and growing stronger by the second.
“Guys, we need to move. Now!” Fyrehowl shouted a split second after her feet were already bursting into motion and carrying here out of the way. The warning was not unfounded, and a moment after they all dashed from the immediate area and down the hallway, the floor where they had been standing erupted in a fiery glaze of green and white liquid flames.
Not even Nisha glanced back for more than a moment at the lapping, sloshing flames that roared out of nothingness to flood the hallway. They bolted, weapons drawn and spells in mind as they turned a random corner, forgetting for the moment any pretense of following the directions from Jeremo’s map. Turn after turn down the mazework of ancient, elegant corridors, and they were thoroughly lost. But still, they continued to run.
“Guys? I think we’ve lost them for the moment.” Florian said as she glanced behind them.
Fyrehowl chuckled, “Lost them? Too quiet for that.”
Spoken like a true Cipher apparently, as a moment later they turned a blind corner and came face to face with a dozen rats in the center of the hallway, staring intently at them with unblinking eyes and lightning crackles of energy flashing in concert between and amongst their exposed brains. Then there was suddenly something else.
Toras flew backward with a cry as a semisolid, vaguely humanoid being of glowing, writhing ectoplasm manifested out of thin air and charged him, standing between them all and the circle of concentrating cranium rats who had formed it out of sheer force of will.
Clueless, Fyrehowl and Florian didn’t stop their charge either, but slammed into the astral construct nearly as hard as it had slammed into Toras. They drove it back with a number of blows, leaving splatters of ectoplasmic goo to splash across the hallway and quickly evaporate into nothing. However it soon recovered from their attacks as the rats only continued to blankly stare while mental energies danced between their heads with an intensity to rival the white knuckled hatred in their pink, glistening eyes.
Another series of blows to the conjured beast and it was starting to falter, but at the same time it had dealt a series of blows to its attackers. Toras steadied himself and rejoined the conflict, but the moment he struck a final blow to the creature, making it erupt into steaming fragments of semisolid jelly, the rats were gone, scampering down the hall with some form of warding that deflected Skalliska’s crossbow bolts and a flurry of magical bolts from Nisha’s wand.
“Oh, hell no. You’re not getting away that easily.” Toras said as he dashed off in pursuit of the rats.
Another blind corner turned and the fighter realized how poor an idea that was as he ran into the same group of rats, as well as two more of the conjured astral constructs and the glistening shockwave of a bolt of concussive force that slammed into him solidly in the chest.
The others turned the corner as well a split second later and barely had time to fend off to two smaller, but much quicker, glowing attackers as the rats seemed to ready themselves to launch another mental detonation. Tristol had other idea however.
“Someone hit the damn rats or else we’ll be doing this over again like a bunch of…” Nisha didn’t finish the sentence before the rat’s hurled another bolt of glistening, rippling force at her.
Tristol hurled a bolt of lightning into their midst a moment later and it detonated with a thunderous crack and the harsh stench of ozone. Half of the rats were dead, roasted and turned to cinders, but where the others had stood there was the telltale trace and flickers of teleportation magic. The rats were gone.
“Oh hell with that! They hurt Nisha!” Clueless shouted as he flicked a bolt of lightning from the end of his sword and into the chest of one of the two lingering constructs.
As the bladesinger’s spell detonated on one of the two, Fyrehowl was all but dancing around the other. The lupinal was making it seem slow by comparison as she darted and weaved out of the way of its blows and left gouges and slashes across its weak side every time it tried to strike at her.
By the time Toras had helped Nisha up to her feet, Florian had caved in the translucent skull of one of the constructs and Tristol had turned another to stone.
The mage brushed down the fur on his tail as he looked over to the tiefling, “It’s not going anywhere soon Nisha. It’s all yours for the taking if you want to break it apart into as many pieces as you like.”
Nisha looked at him like he had a hole in his head.
“No? Seeing as how the rats took off to regroup, you’ve got your chance to break something of theirs while you have it still.”
Nisha just held up her rapier. “Sneak sneak, poke poke. That’s what I do. I don’t have the habit of going around up to things twice my size and going, ‘RAAARRRR! Me Toras! Me smash! RAAAAAARRRR! And me give presents and candy to orphans and small children in general! RAAAARRRR!’”
She smiled over at Toras who only raised an eyebrow as he stood with his sword slung over his shoulder.
“Can I have candy?” Clueless asked hopefully.
“I’ll break it for you, but I’m not saying that when I do it.” He said, more than slightly bemused. “And what’s wrong with that at all? I think that’s a perfectly reasonable way to go about life.”
“Awww…” She said halfheartedly before she stepped to the side to let Toras shatter the transmuted construct with a few solidly placed blows.
Skalliska, with a more serious tone, glanced over at Fyrehowl. “Anything you can sense around here? I can’t see any traces of them in the area, but your nose is better than mine.”
Fyrehowl shook her head, “No. They took off when the first few times didn’t kill us immediately.”
“They’re smarter than that.” Tristol said.
Clueless nodded, “Yep. They’ve got an idea of what we’re capable of, and they’ll probably just wait and either let us find them and maybe get ourselves killed in the process as the pull more stunts like that on us.”
“Plus, we’re lost.” Skalliska said with a sigh.
“…yeah. That too.” Clueless said as he glanced around at the marble columns that supported a crystal dome overhead. The dome was studded with flickering beljurils, each of them a tiny star in a series of constellations inset into the artificial night ‘sky’.
“As much as I’d love to make some wishes on some falling, pried out stars from up over top of us, let’s try to find our way back onto that map.” Nisha said as she stared up at the flickering gemstones in the ceiling of the chamber.
Forty minutes later they had managed to do just that, and without any interference from the cranium rats. In fact there had been a disturbing silence from the rats since their last attack, though they did feel keenly aware that –something- was watching them. The feeling only increased as they made their way to the stairwell down to the next level and to the point at which, according to what Jeremo had told them, the map would cease to be of use.
“That’s a long staircase…” Fyrehowl said as she glanced down the shaft that the spiral staircase descended down into.
The stairs actually seemed to vanish after a point, curving out of sight and into darkness. Tristol shook his head as far as portals or magical traps were concerned, but nonetheless, Skalliska found herself being volunteered to check the stairs for any surprises left by the psionic vermin who where still lurking out there in the walls, waiting and regrouping.
“Fine fine, I’ll go first.” Skalliska said as she tapped a sunrod on the ground and held it aloft to light her way down the stairs.
“Set off any traps!” Nisha shouted after her.
“Surely you mean disarm them. Right?” Skalliska responded quickly.
“Same thing in the end!” Nisha shouted back down.
An uncomfortable amount of time passed, and Skalliska’s glow passed out of immediate view as she descended. Eventually, the others became worried and called out after her.
“Everything alright down there?” Florian shouted.
“… yes. Just come down here. I think you’ll want to see this…” Skalliska replied with a sense of awe.
The others followed and as they wandered into range of the kobold’s light, they too were struck by what she had seen. Florian immediately whispered a prayer to Tempus and conjured a brilliant flare of daylight to banish the shadows that cloaked the shaft that surrounded the stairs. What she revealed even more of was amazing.
While the stairs they stood upon wrapped around and meandered about the shaft, eventually going down, there were other stairwells that did the same. Some of them passed back up the shaft along the walls, some of them sideways, some of them upside down, etc. It was a massive recreation of perhaps fifty landings on the Infinite Staircase; all of them pulled out of some mad, genius architect’s grandest dreaming.
“Who in the hell built this place?” Clueless asked as he flicked his wings and darted over to another of the stairways. Gravity immediately reoriented itself as he touched down, the same way as it would have on the actual Infinite Staircase.
Tristol chuckled, “Whoever it was, they certainly had a sense of imagination.”
“Or a sense of the crazies.” Nisha replied. “And I don’t say that as a bad thing…”
Fyrehowl glanced over to one of the landings that seemed to stand out more than the others. In fact, it wasn’t a true landing at all, but rather a doorway that simply hovered in space, surrounded by a tangle of staircases that weaved around it as they meandered through the shaft like spider webs.
“Tristol or Skalliska? Take a look at that doorway over there.” The lupinal said as she pointed towards the door.
They both looked over towards the closed doorway that simply hovered in the void and they looked puzzled and intrigued at the same time. A moment and a whispered spell later they were both staring more intently at the bound space contained within the doorframe.
“That’s a portal.” They both said at the same time.
“Where to?” Clueless shouted over from the adjacent staircase.
“If there’s portals down here, maybe that’s how the rats got in.” Toras mused as Tristol whispered a few phrases in draconic and then began to float off the ground.
“Be back in a minute, I just want to check something out…” The aasimar said as he drifted quickly over towards the doorway, opened it and peered through.
Tristol laughed with glee as he stared through to the other side and then vanished through it. A few moments later his head reappeared through the doorframe and he was smiling.
“Amusing architecture on this side or not, it’s an actual door onto the Infinite Staircase. Give me a minute here. Be back in a second.”
Tristol dashed back through the door and paused on the other side, looking up at the disorienting but awe-inspiring sight on the other side. Out into a featureless void spun the stairs and landings of the Infinite Staircase off and out of sight in every direction, each of its landings holding a single door that led off to places of inspiration, culture, art, creativity, and passion. And he had just found such a doorway leading into a very mysterious place, and he wanted a way to find it again without having to beg Jeremo for permission to walk around without an escort.
“Can’t turn this opportunity down. Lady of Mysteries be praised, but certainly won’t be me to let this slip by.” Tristol said with a giddy grin as he whispered a few words and inscribed his personal arcane mark into the corner of the doorframe.
“There. Now you’ll be easier to find later from this side of things and spare me from red tape and favors.”
That said, Tristol stepped back through and hovered in midair in the open void of the replica Staircase in the depths of the Jester’s Palace.
“Well,” He said to the others, “If we need another way out of here, there’s our ticket.”
Clueless nodded, “Damn good idea.”
Tristol only smiled at his good fortune and wondered idly what the information might be valued by certain persons in Sigil if he ever needed some information from them, or a spell, or some arcane knowledge they might be willing to trade.
And so as he continued to smile inwardly to himself, they slowly made their way down the stairs and onto the next level of the underhalls. As they stepped out from the stairs, they emerged into a circular chamber of wood and rose colored marble, the walls adorned with tapestries that still glimmered with magically preserved images of wild beasts and scenes from the legends of a dozen worlds.
Fyrehowl’s ears immediately perked, and Tristol’s did as well a split second later.
“What?” Florian asked with some alarm as she handled her holy symbol gingerly, half expecting a swarm of rats to burst into the room.
“… music. I hear music.” Fyrehowl said with slight confusion.
Tristol nodded as well, “Same here. Down the larger hallway.”
Florian glanced at Skalliska, “So, which way now? You’ve got the map.”
Skalliska tossed the map to Nisha who then tossed it over to Clueless.
“Hell if I know. The map doesn’t have anything on this level. I shows this room yes, but it shows it as having four exits, not three like we’ve got now. We’re on our own at this point.” The kobold replied.
Clueless pocketed the map and looked over to Fyrehowl and her perked, attentive ears.
“Alright, the music is coming from,” Fyrehowl pointed down one of the passages, “That direction.”
“Cranium rats don’t play music do they?” Nisha asked randomly.
“Not to my knowledge, no.” Skalliska replied as she glanced down the hallway in that direction.
“Because if they do, well, they’ve really been practicing.” Nisha said, continuing to ramble about cheese and musical instruments for rodents.
“Please tell me that whatever is making the music is magical? Because frankly I don’t treasure the idea of someone else down here practicing their musical skills in a warren of forgotten tunnels and chambers. That’s just not healthy.” Toras said as they all started to walk towards the source of the sounds.
“Not healthy at all. Besides, that’s not one instrument I can hear. That’s a full orchestra, or at least most of one.” Fyrehowl said as her ears continued to twitch as she began to distinguish between flutes, horns, and a variety of stringed instruments.
“That sounds almost like music that you’d play at an overly fancy party…” Florian said as she strained to listen to the song as it filtered through the otherwise deathly silent, walnut paneled corridor.
Toras snickered, “Someone needs to tell the Marauder that there’s a secret party down here and that she wasn’t invited by the cranium rats. She’ll go berserk and solve the problem for us….”
Clueless chuckled, “I’d put my money, and my satisfaction, on the rats frankly… I’m going to shave that b*tch one of these days…”
“Heh. There’s an idea…” Nisha said with a grin. The moment that she did, Tristol’s tail reflexively curled out of sight under his robes and Fyrehowl started putting some distance between herself and the tiefling.
Ten minutes later they emerged out of the hallway and into a larger chamber with a tiled mosaic on the floor that depicted the Lady’s Ward in Sigil as seen from the Palace of the Jester, though not one of the buildings seemed even remarkably familiar with the exception of the singing fountain.
A series of smaller passages led off from the chamber, with the sounds of music leading off from one of the halls to the right. Suddenly, Fyrehowl’s ears perked and swiveled to the opposite direction.
“Guys, get ready, there’s something coming this way.” She said as she drew her sword.
Expecting a tide of hive minded rats to swarm at them from the tunnels, they were shocked when the last thing they expected appeared out of the passage and into the radius of their lights: a Dabus.
“What the hell?” Fyrehowl said as she immediately lowered her sword and stepped to the side.
The Dabus was carrying a trowel and a bucket of crushed morter as it drifted silently out of the passage and into the room, simply passing through as if it were just crossing the street in the Lower Ward to patch a pothole in the cobblestones. It barely regarded the group’s presence as it passed by them, though it did slow down when Nisha waved hello.
As it slowed down, a symbol of a (stone Well), (-W), (+ O) appeared over its head, and then it simply passed by, ignoring them and going about whatever business it had. The group was left in puzzled silence as they watched it depart back the way that they had entered the room.
“It said hello!” Nisha chirped with glee as everyone else was largely disturbed to see a Dabus so far below ground.
“Why would a Dabus be underground?” Clueless openly asked.
Skalliska shrugged, “Popular rumor is that the Dabus live in hidden warrens underneath the streets and emerge every day to do what work they need to do. Nobody has ever found one of the places, or managed to follow one of them back there, but they do seem to all emerge up out of the Great Below and then return there at times. Maybe there’s a larger connection between the labyrinth here and the sewers and tunnels of UnderSigil?”
“So where now?” Toras asked, “Eventually we’ll wander into those rats again, but frankly I’m curious now what all is down here that got their attention in the first place.”
“Same here.” Clueless replied.
The entryways to the passages that branched out from the room all seemed to have labels over them, either a symbol or a set or words. Among them was a symbol of musical instruments, another had an open book and the draconic word for ‘history’, and several other similarly vague descriptors.
The ‘history’ label immediately appealed to Clueless, Skalliska, and Tristol, and so because of that, and the eerie undertone to the music filtering down the other passage, they entered its corresponding entryway instead. The walls were largely blank and the passage thin, but soon it opened up into a long, wide chamber.
The room was simple enough, a short gallery with another exit on the far end that seemed to lead into another chamber of similar construction. Along the walls, in regular spacing, were elaborate mosaics that depicted the symbols of the old factions at the time of the Faction War. All of them glowed faintly, though all of them seemed to have had the color leached out of them except for the symbol of the Transcendent Order and to a lesser degree, the Bleak Cabal. The symbols of the Harmonium and the rest of the factions were a shade of gray.
“The ones that were killed, the ones that lived, and the ones that got mazed I guess.” Toras said as he looked at the mosaics.
“Is anyone else disturbed by the fact that these are the contemporary factions, and this place down here was built probably several thousands of years ago? Some of these factions didn’t exist that far back. The Harmonium is fairly recent even…” Clueless asked with an odd expression.
“And yeah, of all of them, Rhys is still alive. But it’s like you think Toras, why is the Bleak Cabal not darkened out?” Fyrehowl mused.
“Not true.” Skalliska said as she pointed at the symbol for the Bleak Cabal. “Factol Lahar went completely insane the week before the Faction War, the ‘Grim Retreat’ as they would have called it. They stuck him into the asylum and he didn’t get mazed. Rather, his replacement did. Poor guy.”
“Lahar the barmy, or his replacement?” Nisha asked.
“I meant his replacement that got mazed, but might as well apply to both of them. They’ve got two other former factols of theirs bottled up in the Gatehouse as well: Esmus and Tollysalmon, and they’re even crazier. Apparently the Bleakers, or rather the former Bleakers, don’t like to talk about it.” Skalliska said with a shrug.
Clueless looked at the faction symbols again, trying to puzzle out the meaning. “Alright, the ones that are normal colored are the ones with living factols. And actually, the others aren’t all the same color.”
Sure enough, the symbols for the Harmonium and Fraternity of Order were a darker shade of gray than the others. Sarin had been killed by an arrow, and Hashkar had been stabbed to death the same week. They were very much dead. The other faction symbols seemed to represent those factols who had been mazed, or rather had been acted upon by The Lady. The lot of them had been mazed, except for Nilesia who had been flayed at a later period, and then Darkwood whose fate was… complex.
“Weird that they have Nilesia and the others in the same category. They got mazed and she was flayed.” Fyrehowl said with a shrug.
“It still creeps me out that stuff from the present, more or less, is here down in a place that predates all of them…” Clueless said with a shiver.
“It might just be that those are the ones that all fell afoul of The Lady.” Toras suggested.
Florian nodded, “Seems to be the case.”
Tristol was staring intently at the symbols of the old factions. The patterns of magic woven into them were extraordinarily powerful, and seeming to shift and change by the second as if they were nearly alive with active spells.
“I’m not entirely sure what they are, but they’re seriously magical, and active. So I wouldn’t suggest touching them. Odd though, it almost reminds me of sensory stones in a way.”
“So what happens if I touch one?” Nisha asked with a jingle of the bell on her tail.
“I’m not entirely sure what happen. Why?” Tristol replied.
“Because I just did.” Came her reply as they all stared at the symbol of the Athar.
The odd, abstract symbol of the Lost swirled with a halo of colors and a figure seemed to form in the center of the room, flickering into existence from the light shed by the faction symbol.
The figure nodded sagely to them as he took on more and more solidity by the second. He was dressed in the robes of a high ranking member of the Athar, his head was nearly bald, but his face was calm and soothing, like the look of a man who had lost his way utterly and then found it again.
And then Terrence spoke, “Blessings of the Great Unknown to you all. Welcome to this place, a moment in time snatched from the jaws of oblivion and penned down for posterity. I am what was and what is, here even when I am no more. Ask of me what you wish and learn what you will of what I am willing to give.”
Seven heads immediately turned to stare slack-jawed at the former factol of the Athar. The aging apostate of Mishakal, the former shepherd of The Lost, was solid and seemed real enough as he stood and examined his guests. He was dressed as a priest, though he lacked a holy symbol, and a gossamer trail of white light seemed to tether his body to the symbol of the Athar that hung upon the wall.
“Who are you?” Florian asked with uncertainty.
“You seem to already know the answer my child. But,” He smiled and paused for a moment, “You would know me as Terrence, factol of the Athar.”
“How’s the maze thing working out for you?” Toras said with a grin.
Nisha kicked Toras in the leg while Clueless gave the fighter a stern look.
Terrence took the mocking question in stride, “That’s one of the things that I find myself unable, or unwilling to speak of. Her Serenity put me there for a purpose, and I suppose that I may one day fully understand it. But till then, and till I am free of my sentence, I will not speak of it.”
“Won’t or can’t?” Fyrehowl questioned.
“Wait,” Clueless asked, “Are you actually Terrence, or not?”
“That’s a complex question on both accounts.” Terrence said with a sigh. “I am all that Terrence was and is. What I… what Terrence thinks and knows, so do I. For all purposes, and from my perspective, he and I are both the same; different aspects of a single person. If you had to define in strict terms like Hashkar would, you might think of me as a magical construct somewhat akin to a sentient mimir or sensory stone, linked somehow to the mind of a living person.”
“Not much difference between you and him then.” Skalliska said respectfully.
“Indeed.” The factol said with a smile as he began to pace the room.
“And so it is the same with all of my fellow factols, though Rhys and Lahar are both free of our sentence, and Sarin and others have passed beyond the veil and into the embrace of the Great Unknown.”
Florian rolled her eyes.
“Think me a fool if you wish. But I’ve stood where you are now, cleric if Tempus. I’ve had my faith broken and destroyed, only to find it again. Sooner or later you may come to the same conclusions.” Terrence said with a mixture of sympathy and candor to the cleric.
“Not likely.” Florian replied.
“That was what I thought at the time too.”
“Anyways…” Clueless said, breaking up the argument that was brewing between the chief priest of the Lost and their own cleric of Tempus.
“Surely you have questions for me? Otherwise I would seek to return to my penance.” Terrence said with a tired sigh.
“Who else is here? What is the purpose of this place?” Tristol asked, his ears perked and his mind hungry for the knowledge.
“All of us that have been from time to time. The factions put in place following the Great Upheaval, and others that have come and gone. Those of us who are dead will be more frank in our responses since we no longer care for the most part, and those among us who are still alive will be more selective in what they are willing to answer.
And as for this place’s purpose? Well, it’s a repository of knowledge. Sigil has a tendency to swallow its past and wholly digest it, leaving nothing behind for scholars to examine. Whether this is by design, or simply happenstance over the past three millennia, I cannot say, but this place was designed to remember all that has passed, and remember it through the eyes and voices of those who made this history; those who made this city what it is.”
Tristol’s ears were fully perked as he mentally absorbed what Terrence had said, and Clueless seemed just as raptly at attention as well. Nisha on the other hand had summoned forth a copy of the mazed Xaositect Factol, the githzerai Karan, and was engaged in a nearly incomprehensible babble of scramblespeak with him.
Clueless licked his lips and asked a question, “Do you know what was asked of you when an elf cleric spoke to you inside the mazes recently? He was sent there by a yugoloth, controlled and forced into it all. What would he have been looking for from you? Because after we managed to free him from the ‘loths’ control, he said that you had refused to answer their questions adamantly.”
“Nisha, stop making faces at Factol Karan.” Toras said halfheartedly while the tiefling was busy standing on her head and giving the githzerai factol a series of loud raspberries.
“I can’t wholly answer that, things being what they are you understand…” Terrence furrowed his brow. “But I can guess what they would have been curious about. They’d probably have tried to find Factol Ambar to ask him the same question. He wouldn’t tell them either if I know him at all. Nor will I answer that question now, you’re not ready for it, and I won’t risk the knowledge spreading from you to those who would abuse it.”
“Damn…” Clueless said.
“But yugoloths you say? That’s worrisome. They hold the gods in contempt, so why…” Terrence shook his head. “I’ve said enough of nothing. This topic won’t go any further than this. They may have threatened my life in the maze, but they didn’t get a word from me. Kill me and I simply go to a better place than what awaits them beyond the veil.”
“That’s fine sir. Thank you for talking to us anyway.” Tristol said with a courteous smile.
“Would you too terribly mind if we ever came back and talked to you about other things?” Clueless asked.
Terrence smiled like a kindly grandfather being visited by his relatives, “Not at all. Till that time…”
And with that the form of the factol shimmered and withdrew back into the symbol on the wall. Ten minutes after that, Nisha had her fill of babbling with her old factol and picking on Sarin and Hashkar. The group let her have her fun, and the tiefling was positively bubbly as they walked towards the next chamber.
“I keep forgetting just how much fun that guy was when he was still around. Except of course when he quit being factol because we were all ‘too crazy’ or ‘not crazy enough’. Ahhh… nostalgia.” Nisha reminisced with a grin.
“Alright, I’m curious about what other factions Terrence seemed to suggest that this place had information about.” Tristol said with a knowledge hungry gleam in his eyes.
“Ooooh… maybe I can pick on the Sodkillers!” Nisha said with just as hungry a gleam in her own eyes.
They chuckled and strode towards the door and into a gallery almost identical to the first. Lining the walls were still the symbols of the factions, but some of them were gone and replaced with others. The Harmonium was missing, as were the Mercykillers. The latter was replaced by the Sodkillers and the Sons of the Mercy: once and future factions.
“Do you guys recognize these?” Fyrehowl asked as she pointed at two unfamiliar symbols.
Skalliska squinted her eyes and looked at them. “The Communals and the Expansionists.”
“… why does it show the expansionist factol as still being alive?” Fyrehowl said with curiosity.
“I’ve heard this one.” Tristol said. “Vartus Timlin, their factol started the faction and made it the most powerful in the city in a very short period of time.”
“Sounds like Darkwood.”
Tristol chuckled, “Almost. Well, eventually the other factions got together and agreed that something needed to be done about him and his faction. So they supposedly petitioned The Lady to do something about him since they considered Timlin and his faction a threat to Sigil, and more importantly to them, a threat to themselves.”
“Petition The Lady?” Nisha perked an eyebrow and giggled.
Florian raised a finger, “The Twelve Factols. That inn in the Lady’s Ward. The statues they have are about the meeting of the other factols regarding Timlin.”
“Exactly.” Skalliska said.
“Well, whatever came of that, Timlin announced in the next week his intention to take down The Lady. How he intended to do so was an open question for history, but one evening he said that he was going to take a walk to clear his mind. Well, he never returned and rumor was that he’d been mazed.” Tristol said as he motioned towards the symbol on the wall.
“And?” Clueless asked.
“Well he apparently was because the Takers and the Mercykillers broke into his maze about six years ago with the intention of stealing the nigh legendary sword Timlin was said to possess. They went in with the knowledge of the maze’s exit and never came back out. Timlin popped out into Sigil not a day older than when he first entered the maze and he left by the first portal he found and could activate.”
“How long was he in there?” Florian asked.
“About two thousand years…” Skalliska said to a chorus of winces and slow whistles.
“What about the other group over there? The Communals?” Fyrehowl asked the aasimar.
“I’m not familiar with them,” Tristol said with a twitch of his ears, “Skalliska?”
“About the same here. I just know that they believed in sharing… everything. And eventually they demanded that The Lady share control of Sigil with them. A day later they and their entire faction headquarters were mazed.”
They nodded to the kobold as she finished.
Tristol motioned to the symbols on the wall, “And of course, the Dusties are still here the same as ever.”
“They’re supposedly the oldest of the modern factions. How old, I can’t really say. But apparently as old as Timlin’s bunch.” Skalliska said as they continued walking.
The next chamber in, the floor was dusted with a carpet of swirling fog, almost like the metaphorical mists of time swallowing up history. Of the symbols on the walls, the only one that was truly recognizable outside of what seemed to be an earlier incarnation of the Fraternity of Order, was that of the Dustmen, with Skall’s faction symbol glowing with the soft indication of his status of having been mazed. Of the others, all of them were dead or mazed.
“Wait…” Clueless said as he recognized one of the symbols. “Well there’s the Incanterium. I wonder if Shekelor might have something to say.”
“You sure it’s a good idea?” Fyrehowl asked.
“Since when has that stopped him?” Tristol deadpanned.
“He’s crazy I tell you.” Nisha whispered conspiratorially in Tristol’s ear.
“Haha. But seriously, I have a few questions for him if he’s willing to talk.” The bladesinger said as he approached the symbol of the ancient faction.
Meanwhile Nisha had ruffled through Tristol’s spell components and pulled out a small glass vial with a live spider dancing around inside. And so while Clueless walked up to speak with Shekelor, the Xaositect rattled the vial around while softly mock shouting, ‘The SPIDERS!!! AAHHHH!!!’
A soft chorus of laughter echoed around Clueless as he touched the symbol of the Incanterium. He ignored it and thought back to his reasons he had for asking the Magicians’ factol a question. It had been nearly a week previous and he had been randomly musing over the golden heavy magic that he had recovered from the Tower Sorcerous. He had very nearly used some of it on the magical tattoo on his back, and on his sword as well, but he’d hesitated at the last moment and decided to hold off till he knew a little more about the material and its history. That the Keepers were interested in it made him even more wary, and more interested as well.
And so, given the thoughts in his head at the time, he had used a legend-lore spell to divine information on the nigh unbreakable globe that had contained the heavy magic itself. Normally such visions gave a random glimmer of disjointed scenes and impressions surrounding a topic. But this time it had given almost a stereo playback of two scenes with the old Factol at stage center.
The first of the scenes had been from Shekelor’s point of view. He had been inside a dust caked ruin or cave. Examining some unknown script that ran in circles around a series of pillars, he brushed off the top of a cask or vessel of some sorts. It might have even been some sort of canopic jar, given the surroundings, but when he disintegrated the stone lid there was a familiar looking globe of golden liquid contained inside.
Shekelor had removed the globe and seemed surprised at it; openly wondering about what it was. He hadn’t been looking for it and seemed to have found it by chance and considered it an oddity.
The next scene showed the mage, obviously years later, sitting in his study within the heights of the Tower Sorcerous. His desk had been covered in various tomes and manuscripts, and the globe and its golden interior had taken a prominent place at the center of that organized chaos.
Open and showing the signs of frequent use was a book titled, ‘Laws, Order, and the Utilization of the Sublime Loopholes Therein – Darius Garmundi, 1st factor of the Brotherhood of Order.’
“Not bad. The concept is similar to what I’ve been plumbing here in my spare time. Still, it’s not much more than a curiosity as far as I’m concerned. You pull your things out of raw probability from places that don’t exist till you make them so, and I create things de novo from the raw magic that permeates this world. It’ll be the death of you one of these days for certain…”
Shekelor pushed aside the book and looked at his reflection swirling in the golden depths of the orb in the center of his desk.
“But I have my eyes set on larger prizes. I’ll see the bladed whore on her knees before this is over. She has a weakness. Otherwise why would she have simply imprisoned my predecessor rather than killing him? I’ll find out when I find him. And I’ve got a damn fine idea where you are…”
The image of the Incantifers’ symbol pulsed with magic and a moment afterwards a seemingly living Shekelor stood before them. The mage was dressed in robes of black and gold but otherwise simple in their decoration. The man had no need of pretension or elaboration of his person, his power spoke for itself and it had been unquestioned during his centuries long life.
Shekelor looked at the group that had summoned him into existence with an amused scowl on his face. The look and demeanor he conveyed wouldn’t have looked out of place on the muzzle of the Oinoloth.
“So…” He said calmly as he stroked a finger over his closely cropped beard and turned his dark eyes towards Clueless. “You expect me to answer your questions like a mimir of sorts, or perhaps sit and passively tell stories like Swalk’kur?”
“Well, I had a question for you, yes. We’ve been inside the maze that the rest of your faction was consigned to.”
Shekelor chuckled, “Have my two foremost puppets killed each other yet? I was always waiting for one of them to take the initiative.”
“Well, yes actually.” Clueless answered.
“Which one? The corpse or the whore? Mewling children, both of them…”
“The lich. We helped him.”
Shekelor nodded to himself, “Not bad. She’d have killed you. So would I, but she’d have done so just to feed. I’d have enjoyed it.”
“So kind of you…” Clueless said as he rolled his eyes.
The mage grinned like a fiend.
“An orb. Full of golden liquid. Heavy magic. We found it and I have it.”
Shekelor chuckled, “Found it did you? They ransacked my chambers like fiends in an orphanage of angels a few years after I went looking for the Labyrinth stone. Never found it, but…”
“Where did you find it? And what all can I do with it besides the obvious?” Clueless asked.
The wizard scoffed, “Find that out yourself whelp. I won’t coddle anyone. Not in life and not in death. You want power you go find it your own damn self because I’ve always been too busy looking for the same to help the competition.”
“So what did you find down there in Pandemonium?” The bladesinger asked, changing the topic of conversation.
Shekelor paused and seemed struck by a terrible recollection of something in his memory. He visibly shook for a brief moment.
“Something else. Pain. Horror. Death. Wonder. Majesty. Glory. Take your pick and go look for yourself, obviously my end was somewhat ignonymous in Sigil’s annals of deaths of the powerful. And to think, my entry didn’t end with my being flayed by Her Serenity. Irony if there ever was such a thing.”
Clueless glared back at him. “The orb though. You didn’t make it. You found it. Did you figure out what it was?”
“Enough that others were jealous. I figure you’ve met them as well if you’ve been using it.” The mage said with a sneer, “And I’m right aren’t I? Your reaction says it all. They won’t stop you know. They’ll hunt you down and they’ll find you till they have what they want. They don’t sleep. Of course, neither did I, and they were nothing more than an annoyance to me. I guess you’ll find out if you’re up to it, and you aren’t anywhere close to where I was.”
Clueless didn’t get a chance to respond as Shekelor’s simulacrum vanished in a flash of light, banished by itself apparently.
“Ass of the highest order.” Clueless deadpanned.
“What is it with super powerful wizards and arrogance?” Toras asked.
“Don’t look at me!” Tristol said defensively.
“You’re a super powerful wizard with a tail, I don’t think you count.” Nisha said as she tapped the bell on its tip.
Clueless sighed in frustration as he stared at the Incantifer’s symbol. The mage wasn’t going to be of any help to him if that was any indication of the man’s personality.
“Guys. As interesting as this place is, I really think that we need to get moving.” Florian said.
Clueless and Tristol both cast sullen glances at the cleric.
“I take it you’re grumpy over Terrence? We can wait here if he and you want to kiss and make up.” Nisha said with perfect innocence, punctuated by a jingle of the bell on her tail.
“Haha. Hardly,” Florian said with a genuine chuckle. “Terrence isn’t bad. He’s just wrong.”
“But yeah, she’s right guys. The rats won’t just sit around forever and wait for us to find them. If we sit here and talk to the dead for hours on end they’ll come hunting us down after they regroup.” Toras said with a nod of his head towards the door at the far end of the gallery.
“Alright…” Both Clueless and Tristol said as they cast forlorn glances at the collective knowledge contained within the walls.
Something watched and smiled, footsteps echoing down the forgotten hallways as an echo of the past. Actions were taken by malign, methodical intention, but as yet only by instinct. The weight of the years was long and heavy, and what was observed was yet as if though but a dream.
The rats were changing that and the actions were becoming more overt and planned. The intelligence behind them was stirring from slumber and half formed ideas were lurking in its mind, none of them pleasant for those who had invaded its somnolent exile.
In the darkness, something stirred, and it acted.
Where are they?! The Us wondered openly as the psionic trail of their hunters and soon to be victims simply ended at a blank wall. There had been a trio of passages there moments before but they had seen nothing.
It mocks us. Behind and in the walls it is watching us and laughing…
The walls gave no reply to the fury of the rats at being denied their prizes.
Irregardless, they will emerge eventually. We will meet them below and kill them when they find their way down to that place… whatever it is…
There was uncertainty in the voice of the collective as they pondered what they had found in the depths as they swarmed like a tide of bodies over the lip of the crevice and down the miles below to the vaults.
The gallery was followed by another that was mostly nondescript. Vague patterns in darkness and light upon the walls seemed to suggest another set of even older factions, or perhaps their identity was known to whoever built the history chambers but never integrated into the spells that gave it life. Another possibility was that the chamber was destined to contain details on whatever factions arose –after- the modern factions were all relegated to the dust of another era.
Several twists and turns of the corridors and they found themselves walking through a massive banquet hall decorated with the trappings of opulence. The room would not have looked out of place in the mansions of the Golden Lords of Sigil even in its dust-shrouded state. The tables were still set for a meal with unlit candles, the dust of what had once been flowers and fruit displays, and place settings of silverware and napkins still covering them.
“Well at least there’s no vampires or yugoloths down here!” Nisha said as she was pocketing the silverware on the table.
“Are you sure you should be pilfering the place randomly?” Skalliska asked.
“They’re dead. They don’t care.”
“That’s not always the case Nisha…” Tristol said as he tapped the bell on her tail.
The tiefling didn’t respond but instead starting making faces and a soft, ‘Woooooooooo….’ noise like the groaning of a ghost or specter.
Toras glanced over to Florian, “You can turn undead right?”
“Hmm?” She replied.
“In case Nisha actually pisses some of them off down here?”
“Yeah, not a problem…”
Tristol and Clueless just looked at each other and chuckled as Nisha pocketed a few ivory napkin rings.
Outside of the faded opulence of the banquet room, there was little of interest and they simply took one of the hallways branching off from it and kept on walking. Fifteen minutes later however the corridors seemed increasingly familiar and they had yet to encounter any further actual rooms.
“Guys? We’ve been this way before.” Fyrehowl said with a glance over towards Skalliska.
The kobold looked around, “You’re right. We just came through this way a minute ago.”
“There wasn’t any turn in the hallway though.” Nisha said.
“Yeah, I know.” The kobold said as she tried to get her bearings set again.
“And the last time there wasn’t a room at the end of the hallway.” Fyrehowl said as she peered ahead.
The walls were reorganizing themselves silently as they continued walking.
“Ok, nobody touch anything.” Florian said.
“Sorry I took your silverware…” Nisha said plaintively.
“Sh*t…” Clueless said bluntly as they walked into the room that stood at the intersection of eight different corridors all identical to the one they had been walking through. The floor of the intersection was paved with a glittering mosaic of the placid, serene face of The Lady of Pain.
“I’m not touching anything…” Nisha said as she moved behind Tristol and Clueless.
“Umm… one second. I want to try something.” Clueless said as he warily edged around the edge of the mosaic of Her Serenity, careful not to touch it.
Once on the other side of the mosaic, the bladesinger spread his wings and darted down the passage with a shout of “Be right back!”
“Geez I hope so.” Fyrehowl said warily.
“…” Clueless stared blankly as he suddenly emerged from another of the intersecting passages.
“Space isn’t supposed to work that way Clueless.” Skalliska said as she looked at where he had gone compared to where he had returned.
“I didn’t turn at all. I just went along in a straight line. Wonderful…” He muttered as he darted off down another passage.
A minute later he was back in much the same fashion as before. All of the corridors led back to the same room. They were trapped.
Tristol whispered the words to a spell and examined the latent dweomers within the room. Nothing made sense. The mosaic was … different…
“You alright there Tristol?” Florian asked.
The mage shrugged with confusion, “I’m fine. But there are colors I don’t recognize covering that mosaic. It’s bizarre. The magic is just all wrong.”
“That isn’t good.” Skalliska said.
“Clueless! Something dangerous and stupid for you to do! Go for it!” Nisha shouted.
Clueless smirked, though he was already moving towards the mosaic.
Nisha made no further comment except for a puckish grin.
“In case something happens, you might want to step back.” The half-fey said as he prepared to step onto the mosaic’s surface.
“Huh?” was his only comment as the eyes of The Lady opened with a blinding flash of white light and enveloped him.
The others slowly recovered and blinked their eyes, focusing on where Clueless had been standing just moments before. He was gone and the eyelids of The Lady still glimmered with a trickle of light from where they had opened. Clueless was nowhere to be seen.
Fyrehowl’s eyes were wide as she gazed at the fading nimbus of light that surrounded the face of The Lady.
“What she said…” Nisha said without her usual flippancy.
“Don’t look at me,” Tristol said nervously, “I don’t have any better of an idea of what happened than you do.”
“Not like we have any other way out of here…” Skalliska muttered under her breath before switching into an obscure kobold dialect and adding some additional, and very colorful, thoughts on the matter that included numerous references to ‘I’m not getting paid enough for this’ and ‘Dammit I can’t make fun of Her’.
“So. Who wants to go first and join Clueless?” Toras asked, very obviously not taking a step forward.
Florian sighed. “Fine…”
The cleric edged towards the mosaic with a plaintive look, clearly dreading touching it. For all she and the others knew, it was simply a death trap and nothing more. But otherwise it was a likely death by dehydration or starvation, given that the halls wrapped back on themselves.
“Hmm… doesn’t look like anything is happening.” Florian said as she stepped out onto the tiles of the mosaic.
“There’s…” Florian’s voice was suddenly snuffed as she vanished in a burst of white light as the eyes of The Lady opened and shut without comment.
“Oh hell, we all have to do this now don’t we?” Toras asked rhetorically.
Meanwhile Skalliska was still softly cursing in a variant of undercommon.
“Me next!” Nisha said as she jumped headfirst towards the mosaic.
“Gaaah!” Tristol exclaimed as the tiefling vanished an inch before she would have hit the ground face first.
And still Skalliska cursed softly in undercommon, only now she was kicking the wall with her foot. It ended when Toras shoved her onto the mosaic.
“That really wasn’t needed you know.” Tristol said to the fighter.
“No, but it sure as hell was fun. And dammit, if I’m about to be incinerated, mazed, or killed by something creepy, I’m having fun before I go out.” Toras said with a laugh, right before he stepped into a flash of light from The Lady’s eyes.
Tristol and Fyrehowl glanced at each other.
“So the cadence telling you this is a piss poor idea?” Tristol asked the cipher.
“It’s not saying jack. I’m scared sh*tless for reasons all my own. Some things you don’t need to be able to feel the inner workings of the planes to know that they’re a bad idea.”
“Aaaand this would be one of them right?”
“Yeah. Pretty much, yeah.” Fyrehowl replied. “You or me?”
Tristol shrugged and stepped forward, vanishing in a flash of light like all the others.
Fyrehowl sighed, glanced around and then down at the serene, emotionless face on the mosaic. “Oh hells…”
And then she was gone. The mosaic of Her Serenity was unchanged and placid, with only the eyes slowly closing and sealing off their inner light. And then, it too was gone.
“If this is death, or if I just got mazed with all of you berks, I’m going to be really bored and unhappy.” Skalliska said as he picked herself up off of the floor and glanced back at Toras.
Toras just grinned puckishly as he and the others glanced at their surroundings.
They stood in another room, the walls made of dressed and fitted stone. A single passage stretched out as the only exit and a pale light suffused the area from no specific location. It was cold but the air was still and unmoving, at least till a voice rang out in their minds.
“Welcome to the Maze of the Jester. There is but one exit from this place. Find it or perish.”
“Maze of the Jester?” Skalliska asked openly.
“That wasn’t Jeremo’s voice…” Fyrehowl said.
“Jeremo didn’t have that title before he took over the Palace of the Jester did he?” Clueless mused.
“Just a guess, but whoever built this little funhouse was probably one of Jeremo’s predecessors.” Florian said, hazarding a guess.
“I’m not getting paid enough for this.” Skalliska said as she started to walk off down the passage. “But I’m not getting paid at all unless we get out of here. Come on.”
The others glanced around, shrugged, and having no other recourse they followed after the kobold down the passage. A short time later, the hall eventually reached a fork.
“Alright, I say we go right.” Nisha said with a chuckle.
The others followed her gaze to the left passage where a massive block of rusted iron blocked most of the passage. Several skeletal limbs jutted out awkwardly from under the iron.
“Funhouse…” The kobold muttered as they glanced at the bodies, at least two or three, whose desiccated remains lay crushed by the several tons of metal.
“Well, at least we know to expect traps…” Nisha said as she started paying more attention to where she was walking.
“Anyone have any way to get through that block in the other hallway? Otherwise we’re pretty much stuck going the way Nisha suggests.” Skalliska asked.
“Because Nisha is always right.” Clueless said.
“Except when she’s not.” Tristol commented.
“Now you’re catching on.” The tiefling said with a chuckle.
The kobold considered just how impossible it would be to move the rusted block. Honestly it looked like it hadn’t been moved in centuries. All that remained were bones and dried flecks of blood spattered on the stone.
“Alright, we go to the right.”
“We may have blundered into a broken down funhouse guys. That trap didn’t reset after the last time it killed whoever those poor berks were. Stuff may not work or it may just be automated by magic. Hopefully there’s still a viable way out. That’s all I’m hoping for.” Skalliska mused with a worry. “Definitely did not get offered enough jink for this.”
As they progressed down the open passage, the hallway turned to the right abruptly and opened into a small chamber. A single monstrous figure dominated a platform in the center of the room. Its appearance generated a flurry of startled shouts and a number of blades being drawn before they realized that it was inanimate.
“Not enough jink indeed…” Clueless speculated as he gazed up at the statue.
Life sized and intricately carved, looking half alive as if it might animate at any second, the statue was a model in steel and gold of a Bebelith. The demon spider and hunter of Tanar’ri glared down at them from eyes fashioned in chips of crystal set in sockets of gleaming gold. Its mandibles were wide as if about to devour its prey, and its legs were spread as if it might suddenly leap up off of the platform it was nestled upon.
“Wow…” Skalliska said as she mentally began to appraise the worth of even a fraction of the statue.
“Hey Tristol? There’s something written on the base of the dais here, can you translate it?” Toras said as he pointed to a series of verses written beneath the golden fangs of the leering monstrosity.
“Nobody touch it, alright? I just have a bad feeling about this…” Fyrehowl said as she cradled her sword in her arms.
Tristol walked over to the statue and examined the verses, all of it written in a dialect of Abyssal. He translated: Long we live, and long we weave. Till we have filled this space. Then, as before, we will leave. To hunt another place. Our task ends when the weak are gone. Then fill new spaces with our spawn.
“Yeah, not touching it…” Tristol said as he finished reading the poem.
“Neither am I actually. I can’t find any traps, nor is it magical as far as I can tell, but… no.” Skalliska said with regret as she turned away from the hulking, elegantly grotesque statue.
As they walked away and further down the hallway, the crystalline eyes of the fiend glittered in the light and somewhere, something smiled and the walls moved in accordance.
Thirty feet further, the hallway opened to another room.
“Do. Not. Touch.” Florian said as they gazed inside.
Within, the chamber was supported by three columns, each decorated with carved scenes of war, strife and death. Each bore the image of the Reaper, astride a nightmare or skeletal horse collecting its allotment of the fallen and ushering their souls to torment or paradise. Bas-reliefs of battles, executions, plague and famine decorated the corners of the chamber drawing a macabre appreciation. But there in the center of the chamber, lying prone atop a slab of cold black marble lay the broken form of a Marut. Its armor was broken and battered, covered in furious gouges and slashes that sunk deep into its metallic skin. Likewise pitting by acid and flame, it lay in state. The severed head of the Inevitable lay next to the body, ripped and twisted free rather than cleanly cut. Carved in a variant of draconic and infernal, a single, ironic refrain was repeated on the slab and on each of the three columns:
“Whether by age, plague, war, or the hangman’s noose, the inevitability of death waits for none.”
“Don’t touch anything…” Florian said, directing her statement to Nisha, Clueless, and Skalliska.
“Hey, they killed a marut, I can’t exactly complain about whoever built this place.” Nisha said as she did a quick impression of an inevitable, and then an inevitable keeling over dead.
“What exactly did Maruts enforce?” Toras asked the others as he examined the jagged, rent metal at the point where the marut’s neck had been. “I know that inevitables are pretty much mindless constructs who go out with specific orders in order to punish people who break specific universal laws.”
Nisha stuck out her tongue.
“Death.” Tristol said. “Everything is supposed to die eventually. That’s a natural thing and people who cheat death for any reason risk a marut coming after them to remedy the situation. This one failed…”
“I’d say so.” Clueless said as he moved around the room to avoid the dead construct.
“The delicious oh irony.” Nisha quipped in scramblespeak right into the marut’s insensate ear.
“Don’t taunt the dead Nisha,” Florian said.
“For the second time in a day or so: He’s dead, he doesn’t care. And if he gets back up, the manifest irony will kill me anyways.”
“Anyway, there’s nothing else here, and I can’t find any traps or passages. So let’s go ahead and move.” Skalliska said to the others.
Clueless was bothered though, “If maruts are supposed to make sure people die when they should, might it be safe to assume that its target might still be walking around somewhere? Down here?”
Florian glanced at her holy symbol, “Let’s not think about that too much.”
Fyrehowl and Tristol both stood looking into the next room, or what they could see of it through a short, connecting hallway. Fyrehowl was tensed and Tristol’s tail was bottlebrushed.
“…what?” Clueless asked warily.
“It’s not too late to turn back is it?” Tristol asked.
As they gazed into the next room, nearly thirty statues of Dabus stared back at them. Each was carved in immaculate detail, but each in a different shade of stone. Only a thin border of stone surrounded the field of statues.
“And we find a pattern: don’t touch anything.” Florian said with a poke into Nisha’s ribs.
“No such thing as patterns.” Nisha added defiantly.
Florian chuckled, “Ok, patterns or not, we all scoot around the edge of the room and nobody touches and of Fell’s petrified, retarded cousins. Deal?”
None of them disagreed in the slightest. And so, one by one, they slowly worked their way around the room and to the single exit on the other side. Once they were all collected together at the exit they gave one last disturbed glance at the Dabus collection and then continued on.
As they turned the corner, the hallway opened into a small, featureless white chamber with only two objects in view: a single chair and a hovering chessboard complete with all the pieces for a new game.
“Told you so.” Nisha said with a smirk. “So much for don’t touch anything.”
“No exit.” Skalliska quipped.
“Who can play chess?” Toras asked as he indicated with a face that his own skill might not be up to snuff.
“I can play wizards chess, but it’s not completely the same game.” Tristol ventured.
The others glanced around and shook their heads.
“Better than the rest of us.” Clueless said as he pulled out the chair for Tristol to sit down on.
Tristol raised his eyebrows and took a deep breath before he sat down on the chair. As he did so the board slowly turned to orient itself with the white pieces facing him.
“Alright, white is mine. Guess I’ll be going first.” The aasimar said as he reached out with his index finger paused above one of his queen’s pawns.
He moved the pawn forward and immediately one of the black pawns slid silently across the board to block and oppose his move. Tristol furrowed his eyebrows and considered his next move. It was a slightly different game than he was used to playing, but it was still chess at its most basic and he knew how to play. However he was out of practice and it was really going to depend on how good the unseen other player was.
Tristol brought a knight into play and a black bishop slid across the board in turn. Another pause and then he moved his queen out, followed several turns later by a king’s rook. Pieces were traded in turn largely for no advantage but then the mage managed to capture one of the white bishops without losing a piece or compromising his position.
“Looks like you’ve got an opening there Tristol.” Florian said.
The aasimar nodded sagely, but his ears twitched with nervousness and his tail was tapping against one of the legs of his chair. Clearly he was still worried despite his momentary gain against his opponent.
“So I do. I still don’t know what happens if I lose though…”
Florian paused and looked concerned, “Sh*t. Yeah you’re right.”
Meanwhile Skalliska was suddenly looking up towards the ceiling for any traps. There were none, but it didn’t wholly alleviate her nerves.
“Check.” Tristol said as he threatened the black king with a bishop.
The black king saved itself by moving a pawn to block the way. However Tristol’s next move removed one of its knights from play. From that point on the game was largely over. Tristol lost a rook but took the black queen in the process and slowly ground the other side down to little more than a surrounded king when he finally called out, “Checkmate.”
As soon as Tristol finished the game the board drew back several inches and a doorway appeared in the far wall opposite them where none had previously stood. Tristol had won and so they had their way forward; hopefully they had their way out.
The next chamber was dark and cavernous, home to a giant planar orrery and models of the various planes of existence. The only illumination came from the glowing crystalline details of each of the planes, and each seemed to rotate in turn, allowing them to gaze at them in a slow progression of details. However as they gazed at the crystal, steel and bejeweled representations of the planes and their layers, something wasn’t quite normal about it.
“Arcadia still has three layers up there.” Skalliska stated, pointing at the layer which had in the past decade been sent hurtling into Mechanus by the misguided actions of the Harmonium.
“That’s not the only one. Some of them have layers missing, or extra layers. Some of the layers of planes are given slightly different names even. This thing is sodding old…” Fyrehowl said with admiration.
Clueless was staring at the mist filled interior of a globe that represented the trackless sea of the ethereal. Deep within its depths, jewels hovered and danced, representations of the demiplanes that dotted the ethereal depths like foam upon an endless ocean shore. And then two of the demiplanes moved, drawing close to the surface and then retreating: One of them was black and shadowy with tendrils of black mist trailing like tendrils across the space to the globe that represented the prime material. A sense of dream emanated from it and skeletal faces seemed to press and strain against its glassy surface.
The other was glimmering and double sided, one luminous and golden, the other dim and silvered. Clueless grinned as he looked into that particular globe and felt a sensation of fey laughter echo from within, at once both alluring and whimsical and also bitter and contemptuous: home.
“Well, at least nothing is leaping out to kill us.” Florian said as she glanced at the door on the other side of the chamber.
Tristol nodded, “Aye. And as much as I might love to just sit here and scribble down some notes on the differences between this and the planes as they are now, we don’t have the time to spare really. A shame.”
As they left the dimly lit chamber and its model of the planes, the exit led them to an intersection of two hallways. They glanced down each of the three possible exits but they snaked out of sight and no real detail could be garnered without actually venturing down them. Nisha glanced at Fyrehowl, wondering if the lupinal had any feelings one way or the other about the choices.
“Not a clue. Do your thing and pick randomly. That’s probably about the best we can do.” The cipher replied with a shrug.
“We go right!” The Xaositect said as she went to the left.
Clueless chuckled as he and the others followed her down the corridor. They didn’t walk far however as the hallway ended at a sealed doorway less than fifty feet later.
The door was made of gilded wood and carved with an ornate passage. Several glyphs were also cut into the surface at seemingly random points along with faded paintings of ashen men and women who all seemed to be asleep. Skalliska walked up to the door and narrowed her eyes, glaring down her snout at the symbols.
“Ok, I recognize them. But damn they’re old.” She said without touching the door.
“What’s it say?” Tristol said, equally recognizing the singularly antique quality of the dialect of draconic used in the passage.
Skalliska paused and read over it once more, then spoke the passage to the others aloud, “Sleep long and sleep silently Brothers of the Dreaming, lest you awaken and tempt the Bladed One to end your immortal days.”
A silence descended over the group and Toras was already backing away from the door. The mention of ‘Bladed One’ in the context of their current location was simply too much to expect any of them to actually venture past the door, whatever was behind it. Quickly, and without a glance back, they all walked back to the intersection and took one of the other routes.
Tristol glanced at Skalliska, “Any idea of who or what a ‘Brother of the Dreaming’ is or was?”
The kobold shook her head, “Not a clue. Sure I’m curious, but given what the door said I’m not willing to break it down just to satisfy my curiosity.”
“Effective warning then…” Florian said with a chuckle. “Just add that on your tomb if you’re buried in Sigil and you can be sure that no berk is going to break into it.”
“I don’t plan on dying of old age in Sigil.” Toras said with a pat of his hand on his sword.
“I don’t plan on dying of old age anywhere. I can’t.” Fyrehowl said.
“I don’t plan on dying at all!” Clueless said.
A minute later they all ascended a staircase and emerged into the very center of a much larger room; and it was far from empty. Radiating outwards from them in a pattern seemingly modeled after the Great Wheel were statues, nearly a hundred in all, each in perfect, lifelike detail. Archons, guardinals, eladrin, modron, slaadi, and all of the fiends and the lesser examples of the natives of the planes all stood in stony glory within the vaulted chamber, all staring at them.
“Creepy…” Florian said.
“Wow. I don’t recognize all of these even.” Tristol added.
Toras and Clueless drew their swords. “Not taking chances on if any of these are alive…”
And indeed, most of the figures seemed to have been carved in poses most befitting their nature, some even as if they might have been caught and transmuted to stone or metal. And then Florian touched a statue of a vrock…
“Sh*t!” She screamed as the fiend was immediately enveloped in a flash of light, burst into motion and lunged at her with a murderous shriek.
Heads snapped and weapons were suddenly drawn as the Tanar’ri howled in rage and raked its claws across the cleric’s midsection. Far from a statue, the thing had either been turned to stone or simply been held in some form of temporal stasis, preserved like an insect in amber through the long years.
Rising up with a crimson swath spattered across its wings, the fiend was enveloped in a cone of bitter cold from Fyrehowl’s outstretched hand and ragged beam of energy from Tristol. It screamed in mindless pain and rage as the spells blasted it free from its bloody quarry and dashed it across the floor. When it died it did not revert to stone; it was an actual vrock.
“Holy breasts of Sharess! What in the name of Tempus was that for?!” Florian bellowed out from the floor, looking at the battered corpse of the fiend. “No! Seriously! That was a sodding statue!”
Toras helped her up from the floor and healed most of the wound across her torso. Florian whispered an incensed prayer to Tempus and finished the job as she glanced in irritation, and then wariness at the multitude of statues that dotted the chamber. The others immediately jumped to the same unhealthy conclusion.
“Oh hells…” Clueless said as he stepped back from a perfect representation of a Glabrezu.
“Every sodding one of these. Cr*p…” Skalliska whispered with wide eyes as she glanced at the cold marble form of a Gelugon that towered over her less than two feet away.
Nisha shook her head, “Not all of them.”
“Why do you say that?” Tristol asked.
“Because nothing happened when I threw myself into the arms of the incubi statue over there. Hey, forbidden love and all, and it’s not like I’m crazy enough to try the real ones. Too deadly, and they’re the type of guys who never go for second dates.” Nisha said with a pout as she gave the seductive looking statue a smack on its rear.
Toras blinked, speechless.
“There’s protection for that sort of thing you know.” Clueless said abruptly.
Toras blinked again.
“…or so some Sensates have told me.” The half-fey added quickly.
Fyrehowl snickered as she glanced at the various celestials and fiends, half tempted to touch the guardinals. However she held back, unsure as she was as to if they might be controlled by magic even if they were actual members of her race held in stasis.
“Ok. So some of them are real and some of them are just statues. Some of them are made of gold, silver and other valuables. Thief bait and curiosity killers… cute.” Florian said with a shake of her head.
“Yeah yeah yeah… don’t touch anything…” Nisha said with a pout.
Meanwhile, Tristol was glancing at the fiend statues with a perplexed look on his face. “I don’t really recognize all of them though. There are some of the statues on the Baatezu side that aren’t actual fiends that I know of. There’s a nupperibo, and then one of them with tentacles, and one larger than that with… spikes… sprouting out of its back.”
The mage motioned to the bloated forms of those fiends, and how the Baatezu near to them seemed antagonistic in pose and expression. The archons cattycorner to them also seemed posed defensively; it all made little sense.
Clueless was glancing at the gleaming metallic forms of the various Rilmani, largely at the golden face of the aurumach and the silver of the argenach.
“Heh. Never seen any of them before. Heard of them, but never seen them.”
Skalliska glanced up at them, “You probably won’t either. Argenachs are supposed to always go around in disguise, and most Rilmani will probably never see an aurumach. That’s what the golden ones are called.”
And then the curious silence was broken by a sudden, “What the hell?…”
All eyes suddenly focused on Fyrehowl.
“What the hell is that –thing-?” Fyrehowl asked as she pointed to a looming figure that stood mostly in shadow behind the collected figures of each of the yugoloth subtypes.
It was carved of sickly gray marble that was streaked with imperfections, spots and minute flaws that gave it a tired, aged, decrepit appearance. It had a smug grin across its skeletal, vaguely reptilian or goat-like muzzle, and sunken, dead white eyes. Its arms were raised dramatically, and given the source of illumination in the chamber, the light streaming down through the dusty air gave it the appearance of holding puppet strings that trailed down to the yugoloths that stood in front of it.
“What kind of yugoloth is –that-?” The lupinal asked.
If a fiend could look old, ancient by comparison to the others, this one did. It was carved in a marble whose patina of spots and inclusions seemed like age spots and open sores across its sallow, parchment thin hide. Standing, cloaking in shadow as it was, it was heads above the other ‘loths and exuded a palpable menace simply by its posturing.
“For the love of Tempus himself, don’t touch it.” Florian said as they gathered around the base of the figure and examined a phrase carved into the marble base that it stood upon.
And do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
“Tempus doesn’t need to worry because I’m not going near that thing…” Nisha said as she backed away from the statue of the Baernaloth.
Clueless glanced at Tristol and then Tristol glanced at Fyrehowl, but none of them had any knowledge of what type of yugoloth the statue was meant to represent. But even without that knowledge, the thing gave them a cold feeling.
“It isn’t a real one, there’s no dweomer on it.” Tristol said as he peered at the largest of the yugoloth statues with relief in his voice. “That ones just a statue.”
“Still doesn’t answer what it actually is though. One of the unique ‘loths? A former Oinoloth maybe? I guess it kind of looks like Anthraxus…” Florian mused.
“Not sure, but that little refrain does seem to summarize their nature… rotten hearted little bastards…” Clueless stated.
“I don’t recognize some of the … things… mixed in with the Baatezu either. And I don’t have any intention of touching them to find out anything.” Tristol said.
“Alright…” Skalliska said as she glanced at the exit, “Shall we forgo any mammalian curiosity to do something dangerous and dumb and perhaps start moving again?”
Toras smiled and patted the kobold on the head as he walked past her to the exit. She nipped her teeth at the air.
As they walked into the next chamber their sense of dread vanished and was replaced with an equal amount of amazement and wonder. The ‘room’ was a corridor, really a walkway, which hung suspended through the center of a massive model of the torus of Sigil itself. Each of the streets, all of the buildings and even the razorvine was modeled down to the last cobblestone. And the model was slowly rotating to give those standing on the walkway a chance to examine every one of the wards in turn.
“Whoa…” Clueless said with a giddy grin.
They all stared transfixed with the level of detail on the diorama, and then they noticed suddenly that the city was crawling with illusory figures of the inhabitants: tieflings, humans, fiends, celestials, rogue modrons, and all the others right down to the dabus patching holes in the roads. Enraptured by the tiny moving figures making their way through the city they realized that it was a living model of Sigil as it currently existed. The illusory people were doing the same things that their real counterparts were doing in the actual City of Doors.
“Oh cool! There’s Kylie the Tout!” Nisha said with a giggle as she pointed to the ubiquitous guildmistress of the Tout’s guild as she strolled through the Lower Ward.
“Hmm…” Clueless said as he pointed up towards the tiny sign outside A’kin’s shop several streets over. “I wonder if you can see inside the shop and find out what he’s really up to?”
Florian laughed, “Yeah just pop the roof off and look in. Probably catch A’kin taking a bath or feeding starving kittens or something amusing like that. He’s a nice guy.”
Fyrehowl gave a wry grin, “He’s different. I’ll grant him that.”
They chuckled some and continued to glance around at the various wards of the city, every so often managing to pick out notable individuals of the city. However they did notice two things: there was no figure of The Lady present at all regardless of how many times the city rotated around them. They passed it off as probably a good thing. And then there was the fact that the Dabus seemed to look up at them as they watched them working…
Nervous glances were exchanged.
“Maybe it’s just something enchanted into the magic of the model?” Clueless mused nervously.
“Creepy. Very.” Florian said.
Nisha squealed and pointed at the tiny illusory figure of Factol Rhys as she walked out of a building in The Lady’s Ward. The tiefling waved at the factol with a giggle, and then the tiny figure of Rhys paused and looked around as if she had noticed or felt that she was being observed. Nisha immediately stopped and looked over to Fyrehowl.
Fyrehowl smiled and had a similar look of amazement in her expression as she answered, “I wouldn’t put it past her to have noticed that. The last time someone tried to assassinate her she acted to stop it before the berk had released the arrow from his bow. She just stepped out of the way of one, caught another and kept right on talking to the people she was with. She doesn’t think about it, she just acts instinctively, and she feels that all the time. You’ve seen me go into a trance. Rhys never leaves that state of mind.”
Nisha nodded, but the idea that the model might have some actual connection to the city and its inhabitants had made them wary of looking at it too closely. After a few more minutes of looking and then gleefully finding their own inn and the spelljammer sticking out of its roof they smiled proudly and passed through the model and out the exit.
Ahead, the passage branched in two directions, and much to Nisha’s content the group chose one of them at random to proceed down. Moments later they discovered that the other passage sealed itself off the moment they had made their choice.
“Lovely. So much for going back if we don’t like this one.” Skalliska muttered as they continued.
They walked for several more minutes and noticed a slight dip in the ambient temperature, and then a slight trace of moisture on the floor as they approached a larger room at the corridor’s end.
“Fog?” Toras asked with a perplexed expression.
“The hell with the fog. I smell trees…” Fyrehowl said with a sniff at the air. “Evergreens.”
And sure enough, the corridor opened into a massive, dimly lit natural cavern that resembled nothing so much as a forest plucked up from a prime world and deposited inside an underground labyrinth. The ground was no longer stone but thick, moist, dark soil. Mist cloaked the ground and the thick verdant treetops rose out of sight above them. The air was moist and fresh but cold, and outside of the trees there were no other signs of life. A true forest would have contained the sounds of small animals, birds, insects and the like, but all was silence as cold as the fog that shrouded the trees up to knee height.
Clueless was grinning like a fool. “Well damn, this is just impressive. Whoever set this up, I mean, they had to provide for actual water down here and I’ll presume that there’s a day/night cycle in here as well.”
“It’s trees. Nothing special, they’ve got some stunted ones in the elf ghetto in Sigil. Big deal.” Skalliska said with a bored tone to her voice.
“Actually, yes it is special.” Clueless quipped back as he walked over to the nearest stand of massive pines. “Because if you’ll excuse me for a few minutes, I’m going to talk to the trees.”
“Talk to the trees? Huh?” The kobold said with confusion.
Tristol chuckled, “He’s part fey.”
The grinning half-fey walked over to a cluster of trees and sat down next to them, looking up into their branches. Since he had lost his memories to the yugoloths he hadn’t had the opportunity to use his innate ability to converse with trees till now.
“Hello there.” Clueless said as he called out to the pines with his mind, making the connection with them as he laid his hands on the trunk of the closest tree.
“Hello.” The trees answered back collectively.
“I didn’t expect to find a forest down here, it’s very nice. I was wondering if you knew anything about this place or what things you might have seen before down here.” Clueless asked them.
“It has been a long time since anyone came through here except for the two. You are the first in a very long time. It is good to see you here. Welcome.” The trees responded back.
“Two? Who are they?” He asked curiously.
“The tall one, the Holder of the Keys. And the little one, his servant, the one who tends to us, takes care of us, brings us those who come here.”
“Food. Sustenance. Richness of the soil.”
“Hmm? What was that?” Clueless asked them back.
“Those who have passed through here before. They come back to us. The little one brings them back. They nourish our roots.”
Clueless paused suddenly, a cold feeling rising at the edges of his mind as he pondered what the trees were telling him.
“Show me if you can.” Clueless said to the trees, half wanting to know and half dreading the answer.
A series of sensations flooded into his mind from the trees. The disjointed memories and sensations were slowly filtered into images by his mind and he watched from the perspective of the trees as something approached them out of the fog. It was small, perhaps half the height of a human and dressed in a hooded robe under which no details could be seen. And it was dragging something behind it, something the trees were happy to have delivered to them. The small figure seemed to slither across the ground without any motion under the robes to suggest walking, and it began to bury what it had carried: an elf, its face frozen in a look of horror in death, mangled almost beyond recognition.
Clueless jumped at the images as the tiny figure pushed the corpse down into the earth, feeding the trees nourishment that was otherwise absent in their isolated ecosystem. Its long, heavy sleeves gave no indication of arms or a distinct form. It was almost fluid in how it moved…
As the images faded from his mind, Clueless looked down at where he was sitting. The soil was thick and rich with organic material, and what he had originally taken to be stick, cones or pebbles in the soil were in fact bones, hundreds of them. The ground was littered with them including a series of phalanges sticking up out of the earth where the hand of some previous unfortunate had been buried to nourish the trees.
“We’re leaving. Now!” Clueless jumped up from where he was sitting and gave a worried look at the mounds of earth that surrounded each of the trees in the forest whose purpose and origin he knew all too well.
“What?” Florian asked as the others gave worried glances at the bladesinger’s sudden change in attitude and expression.
“Don’t ask. You don’t want to know. This place was designed as a deathtrap.”
Clueless pointed to the bones scattered within the soil of the forest and then without comment made for the exit door at the far end of the cavern. The others noticed with obvious discontent and quickly followed as fast as they were able.
“The trees were hoping that we were going to be more fertilizer.” The half fey said while they proceeded up the passage and left the cold chill of the wood behind them.
“Evil trees?” Nisha asked with a weird expression.
Clueless shook his head, “No, just pragmatic. There’s no real ecology down here, so whatever poor berks died down here in the past ended up getting buried for mulch in there to keep the forest alive; creepy but practical. Whoever made this place though…”
Ahead of them again the passage branched and they took the left fork. Several hundred feet later it ended abruptly at a set of polished wooden doors. Muffled sounds of laughter and revelry could be heard through them. Confused glances were exchanged.
Nisha flicked her tail side to side and mused, “And now is when Jeremo pops out and goes, ‘Haha! It was aaaallll a joke! Hehehe!’ ?
“Oh if only…” Clueless said with a hopeful grin.
“I’d kill him.” Toras stated with a chuckle.
“Remind me never to play any jokes on Toras from now on.” Nisha whispered to Fyrehowl.
“You just don’t take jokes that well.” Florian said to the fighter. “Lighten up some.”
“Oh I’d laugh at it yes. But I’d also be hacking him apart at the same time. Jokes don’t include rats trying to fry my brain like a cracked egg.” Toras said with a firm smile as he opened the doors.
Beyond the doors was no dungeon, no passage, no trapped chambers of death and dismemberment. Beyond the doors was a massive grand ballroom decorated in an antique style that would have put to shame the chamber that Jeremo had held his own party within.
“What the hell?” Florian said as she looked at the figures within.
Nearly a hundred semi translucent people cavorted across the floor. Dancing in joyous revelry to put a Bacchanal to shame, they were dressed in rich but ancient and outdated clothing, easily centuries or more out of fashion for Sigil’s elite. They danced in rapture to the sounds of a translucent orchestra and they seemed to be aware of the entrance of guests.
One of the translucent figures broke away from the dance and approached the group with a radiant expression. She twirled one and inhaled deeply from exhaustion as she strode up to Clueless.
“More guests for the Jester’s high revelry. Welcome, all of you are welcome. The players are struck, the cups are a’high and we’ll not stop till the moon is broken ‘neath the bends.”
Clueless smiled back at the woman who seemed to be some manner of aasimar. Her accent was old and her version of Sigil’s cant was equally antique. Still, there was something about her that struck the half-fey as attractive.
“Greetings m’lady. I would be pleased.”
Fyrehowl protested as the bladesinger took the woman’s hand and began to dance with her to the tune of the translucent players. Other dancers called out to them to join in the dance but they resisted as best they could.
“This isn’t right, whatever it is.” Fyrehowl said in muted tones to the others. “We need to get Clueless out of there and leave. This doesn’t feel right at all.”
Clueless smiled at the woman as he took her hand and began to dance with her. Still, as much as he was enjoying himself he wasn’t sure why he did so so readily. It was as if he was watching himself laugh and chuckle and enjoy himself without actually being a part of it. And then he began to notice himself starting to fade into the consistency of the other dancers.
The half-fey winced and tried to divorce himself from the sounds of the music, the laughter of his dance partner, and the shuffle of his feat to the spectral players. It was beguiling and it was seductive, but it wasn’t right. As he fought the effects of the dancers around him he became aware of the shouts of warning from his companions and then the trance was broken.
“No! Come dance with us! Dance with us forever!”
Clueless ignored the woman and stumbled back to his fellows as they made for the door on the other side of the spectral revelers. Clueless was nearly transparent but as they closed the door behind themselves and shut out the sounds of the music and laughter, he slowly regained his consistency.
“You alright?” Florian asked Clueless.
“Just too many weird things happening down here. I don’t like this place anymore.” He said as he shook with a cold feeling.
“Heh. I could have told you that an hour ago.” Skalliska said with a frown.
The air grew warmer as they left behind the spectral dancers and their grand high revelry while Clueless regained his color and healthy pallor. They continued and eventually the passage branched into several other directions that they took at random. Very quickly they noticed that the quality of the stone was becoming more and more elaborate and the passages wider at the same time. Fyrehowl was also glancing over her shoulder at the oddest moments.
“What is it?” Clueless asked her.
“Just the weirdest sensation that something is following us…” The cipher replied.
Clueless shrugged as they turned another corner, and then he saw it. A tiny robed figure that turned its hooded face in their direction for a split second before it vanished around the bend in the passage. It was the same thing that he had seen in the memories of the trees.
“What in the bloody hell was that?” Florian said as she held up her holy symbol, thinking it a wraith or specter of some manner.
Clueless was about to explain what he had seen in the visions from the trees, but then he saw it again as it peered out from an intersecting corridor at them. Where its hand should have been on the wall, there was only its heavy sleeve and a mass of wriggling tentacles. The half-fey coughed, startled by the thing’s appearance and paled as it then walked, almost slithered, with unnatural speed across the corridor to vanish out of sight.
“Run. Run now.”
If I was in the party when they found the 'illusion' of Sigil, I would have looked for Shemeska the Marauder's image. Then I would of shot her.
*flutters eyelashes* "Poor little innocent me?"
"Oh I wouldn't ever hurt a single little creature."
*tieflings snicker more*
"Who'd ever want to hurt me? I'm Sigil's sweetheart!"
*backhands one of the tieflings and snarls*
"Who'd want to hurt you? - well... me."
"It's love. Trust me. You're just confused and not wanting to admit it and so you're lashing out with these wonderful violent tendencies. Trust me here, it's really love, we 'loths know all about these things."
"Love eh? Is this something like what you and the Friendly one share?"
Ah, excellent! I see the updates are streaming in =D
*exits topic posthaste*
When're you updating this thing?
I know Shemmy was updating the story at EN Worlds for a while. Any chance of there being an update there?