'ello everyone. This short story takes place in an unspecified area of the Prime, but is set in the Planescape multiverse. Enjoy!
In the only inn this side of nowhere, a haggard dwarf sits at a table near to the fire. Next to him is propped a greataxe, glistening coldly despite the warm light. An old man, covered in a travel-stained cloak and broad-brimmed hat, walks in and sits across from him. The newcomer draws a set of musical pipes from a hip pouch and begins playing softly. As the dwarf stands up to leave, a wrinkled hand falls on his arm.
“Tell me, friend, what is your name?” asks the old man.
“Stígandr,” grunts the dwarf as he begins to turn away.
“An interesting name to be sure, traveler. But not, I think, your true name.” He withdraws his hand and begins to play again.
The dwarf sits back down. “Who are you?” he asks warily, pulling at the hood of his dark cloak.
“Just a teller of tales, on one last journey before these old bones go to rest.” He smiles warmly. “Anything in particular you’d like, friend? I know all the classic stories, and a few you won’t hear nigh anywhere else.”
A muscled hand reaches out and places three bright coins on the table. Underneath them the wood begins to smolder. The old man looks at them, raising his eyes to meet the dwarf’s gaze. “That’s almost enough to retire right now, m’lord. Let me then tell you a tale its taken me seven years and countless miles to learn.”
As he speaks his breath plays over the musical pipes, creating an oddly haunting musical accompaniment. “Like all such tales, this one begins with a wizard. And why not? Mere mortals toying with forces beyond their control, just one lapse in concentration, one syllable misspoken, away from oblivion. So easy to slip up, especially when adventurers have slain your defenders and invaded your sanctum. They know what he’s done, and why the villagers had to die. He knows they won’t show any mercy, even if he was weak enough to surrender. So as the explosion rumbles behind him he shudders, marring the ritual and corrupting the Name he intoned.” The pipes resonate discordantly as the old man speaks, but the dwarf seems lost in memory and doesn’t notice.
“So when the adventurers finally broke down the last door and slew him, they didn’t find the infernal being he intended to call. Instead they found a brass-skinned dwarven child, wreathed in flame and standing alone in a summoning circle. He was crying, and they were not so jaded that they would abandon the boy.” The old man pauses, looking at the dwarf. “Is this a story you wish to hear, m’lord? Is it worth what you’ve paid?”
The dwarf looks hard at the bard, then pulls out a few more smoldering coins. “What I paid you, I think, and more. Continue your tale.”
“Very well.” The pipes begin to play again, keeping rhythm with the man’s words. “The adventurers took the boy, but such a life is no thing for a child. And so they brought him to a human woman, a druid who knew the ways of nature. She saw in him the echoes of a far away place, a realm of everburning fire beyond this world. But she, unlike many, knew that fire was not only a force for destruction. Without fire there would be no light during the dark nights, and no warmth in the cold winter. For life and death, destruction and creation, are but different chords in the great cadence of being. And so she took him in, showing him the beauties of this world and teaching him its mysteries. The boy grew, slowly, into adulthood. But the woman aged too, and mortal lifespans are but the blink of an eye to those from outside this material plane. All too soon she died, journeying to the enchanted realms of Krigala to live in harmony with the wild.”
The dwarf interrupts him at this point in a quavering voice. “I don’t know how you know this, but tell me, please. Is she truly happy, as you claim?”
“She spends the neverending day soaring as a falcon through primal skies, gazing down on a land untouched by mortal hands. She yet retains some memory of her time here, and asked me to convey her love.” The dwarf bows his head and does not answer, so the old man continues his tale.
“After burying her he journeyed out into the world, but the flame-touched dwarf soon found that his appearance was met with fear, and all too often hatred. He learned to avoid the great cities and stay in the wilderness, surviving on the forest’s bounty as his guardian had taught him. One day he found a small keep, whose only inhabitant was an aging warrior. Yet he had once been a great adventurer, and felt no fear at the dwarf’s appearance. Indeed he befriended him and named him Stígandr, or Traveler in his native language. The man taught Stígandr the arts of the forge and battle before he too passed beyond the eternal boundary, leaving to the dwarf his armor and weapon, as well as an enchanted garment to conceal his appearance.”
The old man pauses briefly but the dwarf remains quiet, with his head bowed and hood concealing his face. “And so once again the dwarf went into the world, to seek what he would on the infinite paths of destiny. My tale ends here, in the only inn this side of nowhere. There Stígandr met a fellow traveler, who told him what he had never known before. That he was an Azer of the Elemental Plane of Fire, and that his true name was Mshai.”
The azer raises his head in astonishment, a million questions on the tip of his tongue. But the old man is no longer there, and in his place is a note sealed with the symbol of an orange sun rising against a starlit sky, with a crescent moon in the foreground. Mshai, called Stígandr, reads the note and hurries into the night. But where he went, and what he did there, is a tale for another place and another time.