“Now I know the Elan and remember the man
Who was born out of darkness and light.
Though the elf is a stranger I’ve long watched the ranger
And the cleric devoted to right.
That one loves a fiend with hands incarnadined
Who years to embrace all that’s good,
And yet little I know of poor Tulio
Though his village was close to my wood.
Last comes the soul who I broke to make whole
Whose life is now mine, sworn by pact.
He has called and I’ve come from the world growing numb
To help keep creation intact.”
“I remember now,” Mal said. “I once saw you, all of you, in Baltazo’s cellar. I wasn’t there, but I saw it all the same. You fought the dire lions, the effigies, but you lost. And Haden was killed.”
“Ah, well, no great loss then,” Haden said.
“Oh, but it was,” Mal said. “Without you, the others weren’t able to stop what Fearson had begun, and Plague-Mort fell into the Abyss, taking you with it. It wasn’t a dream or a story, it happened. I saw it all. The Lady knew—she knew you were the only ones who could stop what’s coming. So she sent me—my consciousness, I suppose would be the word for it—back to help you. Back through time. But first she stripped my memories from me.”
“You might have seen one possible outcome,” Sheen said, “but that doesn’t make it the only possible outcome.”
“Perhaps,” Mal replied. “But She believes it. Her reasons are not for me to question.”
“Like hell they aren’t,” Sheen snapped. “We are not pieces in some sort of game!”
Haden cleared his throat loudly. “Yes, but perhaps we should listen to what she has to say now that she’s here?”
“Why did the Lady take your memories?” Talan asked.
“To spare me the pain of the separation,” Mal said. “Stronger men than I have fallen on their swords from the sheer despair of it.” Sheen made a noise. “The problem was that my former consciousness wouldn’t yield, and both of us were confined to one mind. With no memory of why we were brought together, we were forced to rely on a vague sense of what was supposed to happen. I knew I had to call her before it was too late.”
“Too late for what?” Kal asked.
“Whether we are pieces in a game or not, the board is in danger of being tipped over.”
“What exactly do you mean?” Talan asked.
“Now villains you’ve caught, and devils you’ve fought,
But whose hand guides this deadly affair?
Now I must tell of the Lion of Hell,
The Duke known as dread Alocer.”
Kalisa nodded. “It’s true then. Yolette told me that Baltazo summoned a devil called Betzalel. He’s one of Alocer’s minions.”
“Alocer is a Duke under Dispater,” Haden said. “Not a truly major evil, but no joke, either. My infernal grandmother was one of his minions, actually.”
“Alocer’s been working on something for a long, long time. Now he’s racing to get it finished,” Mal said.
“He’s a devil,” Haden said. “They’re always plotting something. Usually several somethings at once.”
“He’s getting desperate now, trying to finish his grand work before he gets cut off.”
“Wonderful!” Kal declared. “I’m sold, what do we do?”
Sheen looked up at the Lady. “If you have some specific information that may help us, spit it out. We can handle things from there.”
The Lady gestured and they found themselves surrounded by dark buildings on an oddly glowing street. Devils and other creatures milled around, passing right through them. The street began to drop away, revealing a dull gray mountain in the distance—a mountain surmounted by a floating ring.
“Sigil?” Kalisa asked.
“The Lion of Hell has fashioned a cell,
An Iron Cage deep in Baator
But that Cage has no portals without an immortal
So the Lion still hungers for more.”
“Alocer is trying to make a Sigil knockoff?” Haden asked.
“Yes,” Mal said. “And has been for some time.”
Kalisa shook her head. “I heard that chant over a century ago, but I was sure it was just hot air.”
“What is he trying to accomplish?” Talan asked.
“And isn’t Alocer an immortal?” Haden asked. “Why can’t he run the place?”
“It makes sense,” Kal said. “From what I understand, Sigil is the key to the planes. To use it now, though, you’d have to fight the Lady of Pain.”
“Once, the baatezu thought that Sigil’s unique properties stemmed from its shape,” Mal explained. “Alocer volunteered to run the project, but now it’s almost finished and there still aren’t any portals. So he started thinking about the other two explanations for Sigil’s portals: its position at the center of the Outlands, and the Lady of Pain. He intended to use Illuminated spies to see if the factions knew the truth of the matter, but you put that fire out quickly enough.”
“So he just decided to gamble that one of the theories was actually correct?” Haden asked, disbelieving.
“Desperation,” Kalenthor said.
“What’s making him so desperate?”
“After all this time with no results,” Mal said, “The Dark Eight and the other lords want to redirect Alocer’s resources back to the Blood War itself.”
“Yeah, because they were getting such great results pouring their efforts into that particular drain,” Haden muttered. Kalisa laughed.
“If the portals are a matter of location, Alocer’s plans are doomed anyway. That’s why he wants to know how the Lady of Pain came into being. So he can become a Lord of Pain.” Mal explained.
“Even if his plans don’t work, that kind of knowledge in the hands of a devil won’t be good,” Haden said. “The Lady’s power comes from her mystery. No one knows how to fight her effectively, so they don’t try. If Alocer learns enough about her, he may not even need his Sigil knockoff.”
“This is true,” Mal affirmed. “That is why he wanted the Eye of the Dawn.”
“What is the Eye?” Sheen asked.
“Truthfully, I don’t really know,” Mal said. “It comes up here and there in the tales of oldest creation, the creation of the planes, the multiverse itself, before gods or immortals or anything else. I believe it’s a focus for bringing order out of chaos, or a reservoir for raw possibility. Or maybe both.”
“Can your Lady tell us anything more about it?” Talan asked hopefully.
“She can . . . but I don’t know that she will.”
Sheen held up a hand. “It doesn’t really matter. Alocer is going to try something else now that his efforts to get the Eye have been blocked. So we should worry about that.”
“Right. That is why I called the Lady here.”
“Alocer thought he won his Sigil a sun
When the Eye of the Dawn was in sight,
But it’s once again mine, so next in his design
Is to hunt for the Tear of the Night.”
“The what?” Joris asked.
“She’s not going to tell us what it is,” Sheen said. “We just need to know where it is.”
“You already know that,” Mal said. “Like me, you’ve merely forgotten.”
Sheen stared at the warlock for some time, perplexed. Then her mouth gradually formed an O of surprise. “That’s what Gyderic was trying to steal from the Elders!”
“Ah, so?” Mal asked.
“Good enough for me!” Kal said. “Let’s go!”
Mal bowed suddenly and stepped over to the Lady’s side. “In any case, I am returning home. Farewell, and good luck to you.” There was a blinding flash and they found themselves standing in Waterdeep’s Market.
“Well, that’s handy,” Kal said after a moment, brushing silvery dust from his robes.
Haden poked Sheen in the shoulder gently. “You’re the native. Where do we go?” Sheen stared around blankly for several moments.
“Kajmalari’s Exotics isn’t far from here,” she said slowly, pointing south down Silver Street.
“Kajmalari’s Exotic what?” Haden asked as they began walking. Sheen didn’t answer. She stoped at an otherwise unremarkable bronze gate in an ugly stucco wall. The only sign was a small, unremarkable placard glued to the stucco. The courtyard beyond the gate looked to have once been a garden, but the plants had gone feral and taken over. At the far end of the courtyard was a towering, ivy-covered building. Enormous diamond-paned windows peered out through the growth.
Sheen opened the gate and walked through, making for a small wooden door inset into larger gates that seemed anchored in place by the ivy. She opened that door as well and went through. Haden started to follow, then stopped short with an alarmed noise. An electric-blue snake as big around as his thigh was hanging from the ceiling just above the entrance.
“Don’t just stand there,” Sheen said, “it’ll thin you’re dinner arriving and drop on you.”
“I am welcoming you to Kajmalari’s Exotics,” a heavily-accented voice said from somewhere in the gloom.”
“Um, thanks,” Kal said, trying to make out who was speaking. “Are you Kajmalari?”
“No, he is being in Chult at the moment. I am being Ulli. Can I be helping you? Are you looking for watchspiders, perhaps? Our trainer has fresh batch ready for saleing.”
Sheen frowned. “We’re looking for a jubjub bird. Or possibly a frumious bandersnatch.”
“How exotic your specious must be, for them to be escaping my knowledges! Kajmalari though, has an EYE for all specious!”
“Look, no messing around,” Sheen growled. “This is important! I know they probably told you to keep me out, but let’s not pretend we don’t understand. I know all about the cellars, so open the door like a nice chap and we won’t bother you any more.”
“I am not knowing what you be meaning, madamy.”
“Now, unless you had your EYE for some animals, please to be leaving.”
“He keeps emphasizing ‘eye’ very strangely,” Kal offered. Sheen crossed her arms and glared. Finally Ulli threw up his hands.
“If they ask, I was powdering my noses,” he said, and pushed aside a cage full f flaming bats, revealing a flight of stone steps. They descended for a surprisingly long time, into a torchlit room. A nine-headed barbed whip dangled from the ceiling above a woman wearing tight black leather and a bored expression. A man wearing a spiked collar crouched at her feet.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Kal glanced at Haden. “What role to do the spikes serve, do you think?” The woman smiled slightly.
“I can show you, if you’d like,” she said, hauling on a chain. The man in the collar winced but did not make any sound.
“This isn’t . . .” Sheen said, startled.
“Are you here for the orgy?” the woman asked. Her smile broadened slightly. “You should have brought pets, we’re not equipped to supply you.”
“What orgy?” Sheen demanded.
“Well, I say orgy, but that’s probably not the term you would use.”
“This is a temple of Loviatar,” Joris whispered. “The goddess of agony. This woman is a priestess.”
“I think I may have made a . . . mistake.” Sheen said slowly. The priestess frowned.
“Have you now?”
“We’ll just be going.”
“As you like,” the priestess said, tugging on the chain again. “The Goddess does not forget. She is . . . patient.”
“So, if not there, where?” Kal asked when they had returned to the street.
“I don’t know,” Sheen said. “The Enclave operates . . . operated several fronts all over the city, but . . .hey!” Everyone jumped as Sheen abruptly rushed into the crowd. The dwarf she shouted at froze in midstep. He was emerging from an armorer’s across the street with a heavy bundle over one shoulder.
“I know you, you’re Riskin Flameback!”
“Sheen? Little Sheen! Moradin’s hammer, look at you!” The dwarf threw his arms around Sheen’s waist and lifted her off the ground. “How’s this blasted city treatin’ you? Hope it’s better than it’s been treatin’ US!!”
“Did something happen?” Sheen forced out, struggling to breathe.
“Oh, aye, Murkstones is in a STATE, girl.”
“Maybe I can help? I’m supposed to find Hoskuld if possible and give him a commission.”
“Maybe. These friends o’ yours?”
“Yes. Haden, Talan, Kalenthor, Joris and Tulio. Where’s Kalisa?”
“I sent her back home,” Joris said. “I figured it was safer.”
“I am Kalenthor Nailo of Silverymoon,” Kal added. “The Flameback work is highly spoken of, even in that far city.”
“My brother Hoskuld taught Sheen here all she knows!”
“Although not without some grumbling,” Sheen said.
“Aye. Yers and his. Anyhow, let’s take a walk. I’ll tell ye about it.” Riskin reclaimed his bundle, pausing in the doorway of the shop to shout, “INGRATES!!”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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