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Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23

I don't know how many of you witnessed this, but a while ago I mentioned writing a Planescape story. It was a long wait for the Muse to decide to allow the story to flourish, but now it has gained a sort of momentum of its own.

Please critique. I am constantly seek improvement.

This topic updates weekly.


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One: Insa Great Field

I will miss the radiant cities that jut from the slope of the great mountain. I will miss the golden skin and feathered wings and kind faces so commonly seen here. Most of all, I will miss you, Teacher.

Now I notice once more how your eyes are distant, your breath soothing, your two-legged gait so limited and yet so sure. Every last detail is swallowed up by my sight and my memory. They seem to believe that I will not see you again. They are making me aware of things I have not noticed since I first met you. This will only make me miss you more.

It is you who taught me the power and beauty of the Word; it is you who is silent now, saying nothing with your tongue or your face or your movements. And my tongue is still too, not because no Word comes to bear but because every Word does. But I can feel sorrow crease my brow and excitement light my eyes. I see none of these written in your expression—I wonder what you are thinking.

Our pace is as usual, even through the shining streets are crowded with bodies. Only you know where we are going, and yet I am the one who is leaving. But neither of us knows what lies ahead.

The ring you gave me rests around my smallest finger. Odd, though, that you gave me an inelegant rusted, iron band. The orange and red patterns seem to drip down to the bottom, curl under, and press and grate against my skin ever so slightly. It does not make me grow warm or cold as I would when you or I would speak The Language. Yes, there is no doubt that it is plain. I still value it simply because it is your last gift to me. It is a silly thought: I know that it will disappear once I step through the whirling, eldritch sea. It is merely the key to the door. And yet I feel there must be some meaning in this simple item that can barely be called jewelry.

I have heard much about the City of Doors—some from you, some from the people of the many places we have visited. All were very different. The only consistent thread I gleaned from these varied accounts was that Sigil is a place of impossibilities. Part of me is eager to see it, just to know exactly what they all meant. The other part is dreading it and the elusive ruler known only by a peculiar title. Regardless of how I feel, it is the best place to start.

The gate is in sight now. It is like the others, stretched between two ivory pillars, with an engraving labeling its destination. Before I enter, I shift my pack and turn to you once more.

I bid you goodbye. There is little else I can say. I hope you can see everything in my eyes, as you usually can.

You meet me with your steady gaze and respond in kind. But I cannot read that strange inflection in your voice and your face is still.
I turn again and step into the gate.


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Two: Lis'ark

I don’t like being peeled.

The pink skin, Sargyn, begged me for more time. More jink. I gave it to him.


Again. Rule of Threes, berk. I don’t follow rules.

“No more.”

Sargyn makes a dry coughing noise. I smell his fear.

“Got it?”

He nods. I let go of his soft neck.

“Tell me what you know.”

His wet eyes look around.

“Can I interest you in—“


He opens his mouth again. Closes it. Again. Again.

“Tell me now.”

“But you have to be prepared!”

“I am.”

The pink skin’s face goes calm. His eyes get canny. I don’t want to put him in the dead-book. But I will. He’s asking for it. I don’t like being peeled. I stop him.

“The truth.” I bristle.

Sargyn sighs. His soft body droops.

“You are barmy,” he says. “Fine. I don’t care. My studies show me that a rift will open up in Olympus soon. If all goes well. Soon being anywhere between three days to three months, that is.”


I leave. The pink skin doesn’t say anything. He got his jink. He got his time.


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Three: Sever Spikesplitter

Above us is the savage, red sky. Below us is the cold, hard ground. Around us are dozens of gray bodies, still and quiet like iron statues.
I can smell the sweet scent of death. It is sweet because it is not my death.

My sword is fast. My armor is light. A great ball of numbness lies in the center of my being.

Foebane is ready too. His axe is familiar in his hands—I can see it. His spikes are stiff. He will be a challenge.

He sees me as an outsider. He thinks my skin is smooth and soft and protected only by metal and chain. He forgets that I have spikes too. He will remember. And then he too will smell death, but for him it will be bitter.

My opponent steps and swings. I step aside. He shifts his grip and slashes fast. I stop him before he can swing again. He steps back. He is testing me.

I have seen my opponent fight before. I know how to respond.

He is done testing. We clash. The ball explodes.

Above us is the savage, red sky. Below us is the cold, hard ground. There is only my opponent and me.

My muscles and tendons stretch and contract. My blood sweeps through my body. My eyes sharpen and my ears are silenced. All are united.

Axe boldly threatens down my ear, shoulder, leg. Sword retorts with a whispered promise across his nose. They shout, together, and quiet. Axe growls above my head. Sword sings under his feet and screeches over his armor. Axe roars down. Sword breathes up, through spike, touching flesh. Axe bellows around, ceaselessly, just beyond my face, chest, legs. Sword and axe scream as they meet and depart.

Our argument continues. Hot, quick breath follows this rhythm of Sword and Axe. Silent words are traded endlessly.

And then, Sword and Axe are flying through the sky, spinning end over end over end, tangled in their clash, barking to each other in small showers of sparks and chips and blood. Forever do they fall.

But it is not forever when they hit the ground. Together they jump, again and again, until they finally settle to the ground.

Sword hisses. But Axe is silent.

I push my opponent’s body off of me, feeling spikes slide from my flesh. Pain seeps from my wounds. The dozens of statues of iron move quickly, becoming people once more and suddenly my legs do not need to work.

Above me is the savage, red sky. Below me is the cold, hard ground. There is only me.


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Four: Insa
It is like walking through a doorway, Teacher. There is no sense of falling or even moving, aside from my deliberate steps—and the freeing of the ring you had just given me. And yet, the moment my hooves touch the cobbles on the other side, the Great Wheel spins around me.

“Watch it, berk!” growls the one upon whom I nearly step.

I lock my hocks and wait a moment for the multiverse to return to its rightful place. As it does, my senses hungrily roam the scene before me.

Hundreds of varying bodies press and flow through the street between buildings as exotic as the people over whom they tower. Vendors shout, shake, grab, and point from underneath canvas and hanging wares that swing pendulum-like from their ropes and strings. My head turns and up and up and up my eyes go, following the streets that shrink and wind ever upwards until I am staring at buildings whose roofs point toward me, attached to a ground just as sturdy as mine. Brimstone, jasmine, smoke, and sage mixed with other, unidentifiable aromas both pleasant and foul; both singeing and tantalizing my nose, collecting at the back of my throat—what a feeling, Teacher! My ears channel snippets of conversation and argument alike. The commotion of the crowd was so great I almost did not hear a voice whisper to me.

“Newcomer?” it rasps, smooth and thick like clay.

Suddenly I feel a solid presence behind me. As I turn I realize it had been there all along, that I was too entrapped in what I had seen and smelled and heard to notice.

The being stands in the doorway, not leaning but still somehow at ease in his posture. He is impossibly thick and covered in facets as if he is made of rock, but his skin is little darker than a dull tan. His face looks like it had been carved, with two small opals in his sockets. Crisscrossing his throat are pale gashes that had long ago healed but look as though they were once fatal—scars so similar to the ones I bear. He wears what would otherwise be a simple green tunic and trousers but for elaborate embroidery. His feet are bare.

“Yes,” I admit.

“Name?” he asks.

“Insa Great Field,” I answer.


“He is my teacher.”

“Come.” A very slight smile stretches his lips.

He turns and trudges inside. I look to the sign above the doorway, painted with artful, sweeping calligraphy which reads, “Shum’s Instruments.” I follow him.

Musical instruments of all sorts covered the walls, some mundane and some with elegantly twisted necks or peculiarly shaped bellies. It is such a collection as I have never seen, Teacher.

“These are incredible,” I cannot help but marvel. “But I fear you are mistaken. I’m no musician.”

I receive no response, so I continue to follow the earth genasi. A young elf girl wearing the same kind of garb as the genasi tries not to stare at me while I pass. The customers browsing the store ignore me. I am led into a room in the back, behind a wall. It is not small nor large but comfortable-looking with many seats and even a table and a lit stove. But it does not look like a place where one could live.

My guide pushes a chair from the table and motions to the ground.

“Sit,” he says—not in command but in offering.

I take a seat by the table.


“That’s kind of you, but may I ask the reason for your hospitality… Shum, is it?”

He nods and then, “Altristus.” His voice wraps around your name warmly and more clearly than any of his sparse words.

Shum fills a teapot with water and puts it on the stove.

“Wait.” The genasi plods out of the room, leaving the teapot to simmer.

I do as he says. Luckily he is not gone long, although when he returns there is a woman beside him. She is tall, taller than Shum, and as slender as he is broad. Her steps seem hardly to touch the carpet, and she moves with such ease as I have never seen in a two-leg—no, not even in you, Teacher! Her flowing garb seems to gently float about her, in tune with her subtle movements. And from here I can smell a number of flowery scents which clean my senses.

“Greetings!” she says, her voice light and airy. A broad smile lights her face. “My husband is quite excited about your presence here.” I look back to Shum, whose mild demeanor has not changed. “He tells me you are Altristus’s student.” Suddenly my eyes are drawn to a small amulet around her neck. She gently grips it between tapered fingertips.

“I am.”

“Wonderful!” she exclaims, her eyes sparkling. She takes a seat across the table from me while Shum sees to the singing teapot. “I am Hessai. I own the soaps shop next door. I’m delighted to meet you.”

“And I am Insa,” I say. “May I ask how you know my teacher?”

“Over a decade ago, Altristus stepped through the portal in Shum’s doorway,” she begins. Shum places steaming teacups before each of us before taking a seat next to his wife. “Shum’s business was doing badly due to... the incident with the vrock. His wounds were healed, but he could no longer speak, a very necessary ability for a merchant. Your teacher found compassion for him and helped him recover his speech. Although Shum will never sing again, we are both very grateful to Altristus for helping him overcome his disability.”

A smile grows across my face. Yes, this is something you would do, Teacher. This is the sort of mercy you showed me. And then some. The tea is sweet and fruity and seems to dry quickly from my tongue.

“No offense meant to you, cutter,” Hessai continues, “but I don’t believe that celestials apprentice many of your kind.”

“They don’t,” I respond. “I was a special case. I was separated from my flock when I was younger.” Discomfort begins to well within.

“Is that why you’re here, then? To return to your flock?”

“To be entirely honest, I’m unsure,” I respond after much thought. “My entire flock may have died, for all I know.” Sorrow had long ago fled from these words. It is you who taught me not to look to the past but to the future.

The air genasi looks at me with compassion molding her face. Her husband gazes at me steadily, his features unreadable as before. Their silence urges me to continue.

“I suppose you could say that I am driven to something whose face I still cannot see.”

“Stay with us,” says Shum, sounding as if his throat were forcing the sounds into words.

Hessai looks to Shum, who returns her gaze. Nothing is said in this brief exchange, but you taught me that there are numerous ways two can communicate. She looks back to me and nods.

“I cannot,” I protest.

“Please, it is the best way for us to show our gratitude,” she insists.

“Thank you, but I don’t wish to stretch your hospitality further.” I stand to make my point.

“Ah.” Hessai’s face brightens with epiphanic delight. “Would you feel better if you earn your keep?”

Words do not come to my tongue. She is right, but I do not think I can admit it.

“You can work for me,” she insists.

Shum’s fixed stare reinforces Hessai’s persuasion.

“Thank you.” For all the words you taught me, those are the only ones that avail me now.

“Thank you,” Shum retorts. “Sit.”


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Five: Lis'ark

Antu approaches. Alone. She’s never alone.

“Ah, Lis’ark. Good to see you again.”

Si’shu growls. Antu ignores her.

“What do you want?”

She stops. I am using our tongue. If we talk, we talk so her tools can’t listen.

“Why so short? I just want to speak to you.”

Antu still uses the Trade tongue. I look around for followers.

“I’ll buy you a drink and we can talk.” She is calm. Not even her tail twitches.


“Ah, Lis’ark. You never could pass on some bub.”

She takes me to Deadfinger’s. Jinkbashers and leatherheads sit and drink. We sit at a table and Antu orders drinks.

The barmaid stares at Si’shu.

“Wolverines ain’t allowed.”

Si’shu bares her teeth. I toss a jinkbag the warm blood’s way. She leaves. Si’shu climbs next to me.
“How is your search going?”


The barmaid brings our drinks. I take a sip. The bub tastes like balor piss.

“Have you got the information you need?”


“Find any useful trinkets, artifacts… maps?”

I look up. She is still calm. But she is mocking me. I begin to bristle. She drinks.

“No.” I take another sip.

“Really? That’s a pity. You melted so much jink on this venture, too.”

I bristle more. She knows. I feel her minders’ eyes on us. I keep drinking.

“I’m sure you nicked your share of pink skins too.”

I say nothing.

“So much energy wasted. That’s too bad.”

Another sip.

“Maybe they have some answers for you at the Gatehouse.”

She’s trying to start a fight. Too cowardly to make the first move. She’d probably hide behind the hardheads again. I scratch behind Si’shu’s ear.

It’s quiet a while. She expected a reaction. I didn’t give her one.

“I hear they are especially knowledgeable when it comes to the type of information you’re looking for.”

She’s frustrated.

“Of course, you could always attack a merchant instead.”

I’m getting tired of this game.

“What do you want, Antu?” Again, I use our tongue.

She bristles.

“What I want is to rip your scales off one-by-one and feed them to you! Sargyn is a very good client of mine, and I can’t have you threatening him! He’s losing confidence in my ability to protect him, and I’m losing good money!” Antu hisses this in our language.

I take a long drink. I hear the click of a crossbow loading. Si’shu growls. I keep my hand on her.

“You don’t need to worry about Sargyn. I’m done with him.”

“It doesn’t matter, Lis’ark. It’s now going around that I’m soft-skinned and let you get away.”

“If you’re so worried, teach me a lesson. That’ll solve your problem.”

“I might take you up on that offer.”

Antu’s tail is thrashing. I drink some more.

“What’s stopping you?”

She doesn’t answer for a long time. She sits there. Her tail hits the table sometimes, the booth others.

“Consider this your warning.”

Antu slams a kris into the table. She gets up and tosses a jinkbag to the bartender. The bashers and leatherheads watch her. Her tail tips over some drinks as she leaves. Her tools will follow her out.

When they do, I finish my bub and take the kris. Si’shu follows me. The bashers and leatherheads don’t watch me go.


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Six: Sever

Sword craves those heady, ruby runnels brought by clash and release and sweet-smelling death. I can feel its need humming through the scabbard, now more keenly than ever. Sword guides me, and I guide Sword. There is only one whose vital ruby runnels I want to see swelling and crawling on the ground. Sword enjoys that of those who get in my way.

I can wait for this pleasure. It is not in vain I have already waited: I can swing and nearly hit my target. Chains bind me still.

Before me are four beings of iron bedecked in spikes and chain links and beady obsidian glares. They are watching and waiting expectantly.

“Find me a mage.”

All of those who were still suddenly move in uneasiness. Colonel Cleave Gutterspit sneers. I may promote him as my adviser. Or else return him to his beloved former Chief General.

“Colonel, I order you to tell me what you’re smiling about.”

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

A challenge shines in his eyes and colors his words. I will not—cannot—refuse.


He does not hesitate.

“You are a coward, Chief General. Magic is a tool of the weak.” His eyes sweep the other officers. The Colonel is certain that he will gain support. I know this attack.

“We are going to face a foe greater than the orcs and goblins combined.”

He does not blink at my parry. Instead, the Colonel tests me.

“Is that so, Chief General? Who?”

“The elves.”

My strike is bold. Gutterspit recovers from his surprise quickly and rallies a defense.

“And how do you propose to lure them to Acheron, sir?”

“I propose no such thing. We will fight them in Arborea.”

Another bold stroke. He defends again and lashes out.

“Are you mad? Fighting our enemy in their own territory?”

“A trifle detail.”

This time the attack I have is too brash. Gutterspit expects it. He takes the invitation.

“You are mad.”

I take the blow, but slip his own words through the defense he built.

“Are you afraid of the cowards who hide behind magic, Colonel?”

“More like the powers behind them.” He is falling back. Now I attack.

“Look around you. Your home is the way it is because of those that live within! You all believe it is supposed to be this way and so it is. The ‘powers’ are no different. They gained power because they made so many bodies believe their sorcery to be miracles. If not for that, what are they? They are little more than those cowards we will destroy. Once every last soldier understands this, we will trap victory.”

He is still sneering. But he is silent. We traded arguments, and I have wounded him more deeply than he did me. I address the others.

“All I ask is for one mage and your obedience.”

“What reason have I to believe this death wish of a plan will work?”

Gutterspit is persistent.

I remove my helm, revealing the spike-less visage that will lend power to my answer. I gaze at him with eyes unblocked by metal. He is smart enough to hear words unspoken. The others are too. I allow my lips to twist. They have forgotten that my spikes must be forged. They have forgotten the true color and shape of my flesh.


“I know their strengths. I know their weaknesses. I know how they think.”

I replace the helm, slowly. No other challenges are issued. I am silent for a moment longer.

“Now: a mage.”

“The orcs have shamans, Chief General.” Captain Notchblade is as steel-faced as the others, but offers his advice with respect.

Sword has tasted the blood of many orcs. Immediately, my hands are ready to guide Sword through the flesh of more. Oh, but what an insult it would be to my foe should an orc be a tool of her demise!

“Good. Send a messenger to the orc chief. Maybe we can make an arrangement.”

“And the plan, sir?” Colonel Gutterspit’s tone is not of challenge.

“The plan can wait until we have a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ Dismissed.”

Those of the obsidian glare salute and leave the canvas to be greeted by the feral sky and its eternal clashing.

I crave the soft resistance of steel cleaving flesh. I crave those heady, vital, ruby runnels. I crave that sweet-smelling death: sweet because it is not my own, but because it is hers.


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Seven: Insa

Still, I feel your hand’s guidance. Is that why you did not say goodbye? Yes, I am sure you said nothing to me because you knew that you would never truly be leaving my side. I have a feeling your actions in the past have assisted me—and will continue to assist me!—far more than I could imagine.

Upon entering the doorway to Shum and Hessai’s home, I was stopped by a mild, flowery aroma with an underlying hint of sweet yet slightly tangy fruit. My chest rose as my nose consumed the scent.

“Like it?” asked Hessai as she passed me into the doorway, a smile on her face.

“Yes!” I breathed.

“Very good. I test new scents in my own home every season. If enough guests comment on it within that season, I sell it.”

I wonder which aroma filled your nose when you stepped through the doorway to their home, whether you commented on it, and if it is in stock now.

Working for Hessai has been quite an education. Her profession is essentially that of an alchemist; she experiments with exotic (and sometimes volatile!) chemicals, mixing and churning and burning for the right mixture. But she creates as an artist does; using accents and complements, very carefully placing more and more detail into her scents.

When I am through helping Hessai close up her shop, I am often too drained to explore this City of Doors. I return with her, and Shum very graciously accompanies us.

Shum and Hessai are incredibly kind. Not only have they invited me into their home, but they insist that I partake in its luxuries. I do not think they understand that simply getting the chance to explore their home is a luxury in itself. There is so much dichotomic ornamentation—the warm, soil-like hues of the rugs and furniture, and light, airy colors painted in swift, dry strokes along the wall accompanied by lacy curtains and drapes.

They have been thoughtful indeed in their accommodations—laying down a bed best fit for me, making a place for me at their dining table, even going so far as to request delicacies from their chef!
After dinner, we often sit before their beautiful fireplace, upon a soft carpet of the most lush of earth tones, where we converse, listen to Shum play the pan pipes, or simply sit in comfortable silence.
Tonight, I am in high spirits. My luck could not improve by much, and your presence in all of this only warms me further.

How ecstatically does the fire dance and flutter, giving off the heat of its exertions so vigorously!

“Insa?” Hessai ventures, smiling softly from her place draped under Shum’s arm. “Whatever you are thinking of must be cheerful indeed.”

“I can’t help but feel that, although I have left my Teacher, he has not truly left me,” I admit. “The thought makes my journey seem that much easier.”

“How did you come to meet Altristus, anyway?” Hessai asks.

I cannot speak for a moment. I suppose I should not be surprised at such a question, but it is something I have not thought about in detail for years.

“Scar?” rumbles Shum, breaking the brief silence.

I can feel myself rolling into a more alert position, covering my belly, which bears the subject of Shum’s question. But I cannot conceal the answer, not when they have given so much of themselves. So I relate to them the events leading to our first meeting.

Still, the details are painted vividly in my mind. I don’t think I will ever be able to escape them.

I had just entered adolescence. Mother—how long has it been since last I used that word?—had not long before introduced me to the secrets of the arcane, and I took to it with the same enthusiasm as I did with the True Word.

Three rogue demons—refugees of their eternal war or scouts, I cannot say which—had found their way to my home.

One was a vulture-like being of leathery blue skin stretched tight against jagged bones. There was an inferno of frenzy in that creature’s hungry, beady eyes. This was the one that struck down my Mother and then my Father, chittering and squawking with what sounded like joy and abandon, despite its numerous oozing wounds.

With desperate and hopeless fury, I summoned as much magic as I could to rend the demon. The spells sloughed off its mottled hide. It turned to me, beak shining wet and red, grinning.

The next eternity was a blur of talon and beak and wing, testing me, teasing me, scoring light but painful wounds on my flesh. Blindly I flung spell after spell where I could, until the fatigue in my mind and the grief in my heart proved too great a barrier to overcome. There was a moment of tense inactivity where I had thought it was through and had left with its fellows someplace far away.

That moment was ended as a claw flashed up in my vision, accompanied by a wet, ripping sound. Suddenly, my knees and my hocks grew weak. I collapsed to the ground, where I saw a most puzzling sight.

Red and pink and gray bulbous tubes were before me, lined with spidery, blue veins. A strange, sweet taste filled my mouth.

Numbly, I realized those were my innards. I gathered them to me, weakly, in an absurd attempt to keep my insides inside.

There was no pain, not that I remember; just an ever-growing exhaustion that claimed me, bit by small bit. Care and concern, fury and fear, sorrow and loss each seeped into blackness. I was the last thing it embraced.

And then I awakened.

You were there, by my side, boiling water upon a campfire. While I lay there, watching you in the few moments it took for me to truly awaken, I knew peace.

And then I ached.

You tended to my wounds carefully. You answered my questions unhesitant. You endured my tears patiently. And, during my recovery, I became your student.

Shum gazes at me steadily. Hessai prudently keeps her eyes on the fire. Silence envelops us—not warm, comfortable silence as usual, but a cold blanket of unasked questions and unsaid statements. I turn to the fire, myself, suddenly overcome with a dark mood and a great many ruthless thoughts.
“I think it is time to retire,” Hessai finally declares. Shum simply makes a thoughtful noise in his throat and lumbers to standing. “Sleep well, Insa.”

I politely bid them good night, but I am too plagued by thoughts to slip into slumber. Perhaps now would be the best time to explore Sigil.

Hessai’s scent fades a few paces from the door to her and her husband’s mansion.


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Eight: Lis'ark
Yol of the Dark eyes me. I sit down next to her. Si’shu sits on my feet. Yol is still calm.

“I don’t have to give you anything, Lis’ark.”

I lean back.

“Tell me where I can find a portal to Arborea.”

“Antu will kill you if you touch a hair on my head.”

“I won’t. I just want the portal.”

“Sod off.”

I pull out the kris and pick my teeth. Yol turns and sees the crest on it. She looks back to the stage. Too quickly. I add something else.

“I have jink.”

“So have I.”

“Answer me, and you won’t see me again.”

The fiendblood stares at the stage some more. She’s taking too long. The play isn’t that exciting. I watch for minders.

“Fine.” She looks at Si’shu. “The Mortuary, the Gatehouse, and the portal make a perfect triangle. The portal is at the northern tip.” Si’shu grins at me. Yol is telling the truth.

“The key?”

“That wasn’t part of our understanding.”

I straighten and put the kris away. Si’shu gets up. Yol doesn’t look.

“The key and I’ll go.”

“Anything else?”


“Fine. You had best leave this time, though.” Her goat eyes tighten and she looks at me. “The key is a prayer to Corellon Larethian, in Elvish.”

“I don’t speak Elvish.”

“Pity. Goodbye, Lis’ark.”

I stand. Si’shu follows me out.

I return to the inn. At the front desk is that pink-skinned berk. He looks triumphant. Si’shu growls. It doesn’t wipe off his smug smile.

“You’re late. Checkout was hours ago. I gave the room to someone else.”

“And my things?”

“Your problem, not mine.”

He isn’t worth my time.

“Si’shu, stay.”

I go upstairs. Si’shu sits and stays down, glaring at the berk. Now his smile is gone.

“What are you doing, you overgrown lizard!? Antu’ll see you in the dead-book! I’ll bring the hardheads down on you!”

Si’shu growls. The berk quiets down. The sods drink and eat and don’t even notice.

I knock. The door opens. A gray-bearded basher looks me up and down. He seems like a lily-type.
“Yes? How can I help you?”

I push past him. His wife stares at me from the bed.

“What are you doing?” The basher is ready to make me black and blue.

My pack and my bow are in the corner. I pick them up.

“These are mine.” I walk out of the room. “Have a good stay.”

Downstairs, the berk’s white faced. Si’shu is closer to him now. She’s grinning.

“Si’shu, come.”

Si’shu looks at me. She glares at the berk again and follows me out the door.

“Antu will find you! You’ll ful pike her off when she hears of this!”

It’s dark now. I walk to the Hive. Quippers beg me for jink. Thugs size me up. Jinkskirts beckon me.

Air brushes my belt. I reach down and pull up a point-eared pup holding my jinkbag. Si’shu grins.

“Yeh d-d-dropped this, c-cutter.”

I take the jinkbag and stare at him. He squirms in my hand.

“You know Elvish?”

“Y-yes, Sir.”

“You can have this if you come with me.”

“Yes, Sir!”

I set him down and start to walk away. I stop. He hasn’t moved.

“All due r’spect, cutter, but times is ‘ard. I’m gonna need a advance. Yeh’re right lucky I’m a nice guy, as’tis.”

I toss a couple coins to him. He follows me this time.

“That’s a fine animal, Sir.”

I say nothing.

“What kind, may’ask?”




“Oh, a girl is it? She’s pretty.”

I say nothing. Si’shu looks pleased. The kid is silent for a while.

“Where we headed, cutter?”

Si’shu’s now at the kid’s side. She lets him pet her.

“A portal.”

“Where’s it go?”


“Pike me! Arborea? Issat why yeh need me? Yeh want a guide!”

I bristle. This kid’s a prod.

“What do you know about Corellon Larethian?”

“’E’s a power, ain’t ‘e?”

“Yes. Of the elves.”

“Issat so? Well, pike me. Why’dyeh ask?”

“Start thinking up a prayer for him.”

“What kinda pra’r? A pra’r fer jink, a pra’r fer power, a pra’r o’ admiration, what?”

I open my mouth to answer. Something like steel wraps around me. Si’shu yowls. I fall backwards.

“Oh, sod, oh, sod, pike me wit’ a balor’s tail!” The kid scrambles away.

I’m on the ground. A leatherhead grins over me.

“You’ve done it now. Antu’s gonna see to you herself.” Others laugh.


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Nine: Sever

Wait Sword must and wait Sword will, resting in leather baldric. My spiked mask lies beside Sword, ever scowling and bristling. Around me are similarly spiked visages, females who clean armor and weapon under canvas. Dagger wields shining razor over my head, shearing short hair closer to skull.

“You used to wear your hair long, Sever?” No blow waits in Dagger’s question, unlike the males’.

“Yes. It once reached the small of my back.”

“And you did not put razors and glass in it?” Rend, across from me, looks up with obsidian eye that shines of interest.

“No. Long hair is beautiful to elves. Most women and many men wore it long.”

“Did it not concern you that any ol’ berk could disable you just by pulling it?”

“In war I always bound it. But I have seen it happen.”

Far above us, a great clash resounds through the air, a clash of conformity and resistance, of millions of swords striking each other all at once. It is a sound that stirs our boiling blood, ever preparing us for battle.

“How sodding foolish! To risk defeat and death for the sake of appearance!” growls Dagger.

A smile slashes across Rend’s face as she swipes a cloth over her hammer.

“No wonder you are so certain we shall win against them,” she mutters.

“Good thing you are one of us now, Sever,” adds Brand, running a finger along my armor’s bladed extremities. “You have so many pretty spikes! You will create so many pretty holes.”

“You should have more,” Ravage states, a feral grin striking her face.

“Yeah, like on your breasts’… plate,” suggests Dagger, slicing the hair from my nape.

All under the canvas erupt into laughter. Humor rips at my own throat, and I indulge.

“A sweet embrace that would make!” Rend declares.

“And jealousy not far in its wake,” Brand agrees.

“Too bad you would hardly be able to hold yourself up should we put on more.” Ravage brushes a hand over her own spikes.

“Don’t let Sever’s slightness peel you,” warns Rend. “She can manage that sword of hers in full armor. We’ve all seen it.”

“True,” Ravage admits. “All the same, more iron would only weigh her down.”

“And iron doesn’t soften or harden at will,” adds Dagger. “She’d just as like nick herself as anyone else.”

Canvas flap aggressively flies up. Wound thrusts herself through the entrance, pointing spiked mace accusingly at those around me.

“Bone-box rattling will help us none in battle.” Her ebony glare traps their attention. “You should all be training. Am I wrong, Chief General?” Cold statue’s eyes dare me.

The sky clashes again and I can see the battle cry whisper through the others—but to me it is a roar, a demand for conflict for conformity, as all else on this plane.

“You’re just sour Sever beat your late husband in one-on-one combat.” Dagger shed her razor and stood beside me. “And that she could probably put you in the dead-book right alongside him.”

Wound’s spikes slowly rise, but her face remains as iron. I can feel Sword call eagerly once more, even though set aside.

“Strength and endurance are important for war, true.” My gaze captures Wound’s. “But strategy is essential as well. I was just speaking of elves’ weaknesses. When I finish, we will train with that in mind. You may join us.”

Wound knows she cannot defeat me with her eyes, as much as she desires it. For a moment she tries, though, sieging me with sharp thought and flaming glare.

“It is your army, Chief General. It is your victory.” She snaps a salute and rips through the exit.

Volleys of chortles fall on those around me again. I allow a small smirk of victory to breach my lips.

“Enough,” I command. They all obey. “I believe we were last speaking of long hair.”

“Permission to enter the women’s tent, Chief General?” asks a voice through the canvas. “I have a message from Mashnak Bladecrusher, the orc chief.”


The messenger enters and salutes. He stares just above my head, at the canvas behind me.

“Well?” My arms cross.

“Chief Mashnak says that he might consider letting you borrow one of his shamans if you prove your strength as a leader.”

“And how does he expect me to do that?”

“One of your champions in single combat with one of his, sir. He says to meet him in a tenday.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, sir.”


Another salute is fired before the messenger leaves.

The crash of the sky accents our heartbeats, uniting them like the drums of war. I replace the spiked visage over my face, matching the females around me. Sword quiets for now, awaiting the swift, susurrant slide through orc flesh.


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Ten: Insa

A thick, coarse thread of curses grinds through my ears. You have taught me that even the meanest of words has value, true, but I cannot help but wince at such harsh syllables spoken in such quick succession and with such vehemence!

The source is even worthier of a wince: as it darts closer, I see a painfully willowy mound of dirt and wretchedness. But under the filth is milky skin and elegant feature accented by long, pointed ears. I am paralyzed at such an unexpected sight and the other is looking alarmedly over his shoulder; I could but move and a collision would be avoided. But I hesitate.

Now it is his turn at surprise, which grows each moment that his eyes travel up my form to my face. His mouth remains open but his tongue is still.

“Ah, miss—! I, err, sor—I mean… yeh can’t prove nothin’!” So quick is his speech and so thick his words I can only barely interpret them.

“Breathe easy,” I respond. “What’s your name?”

The urchin glances around. “Umm… Dirk.”

“I am Insa. What just happened?”

“Errr… Naut, miss.”

“I doubt that very much, Dirk, judging by your… choice words and eagerness to get away.”

“Watsit to yeh?” His eyes suspiciously swivel about.

“Is there anyone in danger?”

“Ain’t a time when there’s not.” When I prove unmoving, Dirk’s countenance wilts with fear. “I’ll be in a snap if yeh don’t let me go! Those berks saw me wit’ that basher in th’ alley, an’ I ain’ ridin’ th’ deader wagon!”

I feel your warnings churn within me: any dealings in an alleyway are bound to be criminal. My eyes seek guards. Some dot the darkness, but would they be able to reach the alley in time?

The True Words spring to my mind, smooth and lilting and sweet even in thought. They want to be spoken, to drift from my lips to the world around them. Perhaps I could use them to buy enough time for a guard to investigate, should there be a crime committed at all.

“These… berks… you were referring to—what did they do, exactly?”

“They strung a web ‘round the basher! They looked ready’a gut ‘im!”

Time is short. If I am to act, I am to act now.

“Go inform the authorities, Dirk. I will do what I can to keep anyone from getting harmed.”

The True Language spills from my mouth, seeming to shape the air used to speak them, warmly pealing up my spine. Vigor infuses my muscles and they pump with rare synchronicity as I rush towards the alleyway, my hooves—now surrounded by an amber glow—clacking with a heartbeat-like rhythm on the cobbles. I feel prepared, thanks to your instruction, ready for anything—even a repeat assault of those three demons.

The tall walls narrow the vision of the buildings pointing at me. A side corridor peels away the wall and within I see five upright forms and one prone one, wrapped in a weave of webbing. Struggling in the grasp of one is a muzzled wolverine whose eyes blaze with cruel intelligence. Towering over him, a single clawed foot pressed against his chest and saber pointed at his throat, is one like him but slighter and duller in hue.

“I warned you not to terrorize my customers, did I not, Lyss’ark?” demands she. “No wonder The Revealed Map abandoned you so readily. Your willful stupidity is a sodding crick in the tail.”

I cease in my path. Pale straits wind along the prone one’s—Lyss’ark’s, I’m assuming—face and torso, reporting tales of fights long ago. Teeth glare from a mouth peeled back. Forethought collides with me as I halt.

Eyes turn to me. A brief, stunned silence stretches between us.

“A witness! Get her!” hisses the smaller khaasta. A small crossbow appears to leap into her off hand.

Again I speak the True Words. They sear towards Lyss’ark. His tattooed arms tear through the web. The triumphant one quickly steps back and takes bead. A bolt whizzes into the air. The wolverine wriggles free. Lyss’ark sweeps the mage’s legs out from underneath. The mage collides with the smaller khaasta. Movement above catches my eye. There are dozens more pointing crossbows and bows at us.

I chill. The buzz and whisper of plane-stuff crescendos and warps. Air shimmers like a thin, lacy curtain where there was once a dead end.

Lyss’ark’s fist knocks one assaulter aside. His foot slams the mage’s head into the cobbles. The smaller khaasta struggles and twists and fires. The bolt slaps into Lyss’ark’s shoulder. I hear the collective click of impending mechanical death. I gather and bunch my muscles and then let them explode. They carry me to the smaller khaasta and I clack onto the ground once more. Scant bolts and arrows slap on others’ flesh and click on stone. Lyss’ark dives into the drape of plane-matter. The wolverine follows.

“Don’t hit me, you berks!” the smaller khaasta growls.

The archers hesitate and then jump to the next roof to gain a better bead. The smaller khaasta pushes off the mage and faces me. One more compression and burst of sinew and I am nearly to the portal. I prepare for one more leap.

In mid-flight, I hear the sizzle of an arrow and feel the explosive agony of its sudden stop in my flank. I writhe but still I fall.

“After them!” cries the smaller khaasta, just before I pass through the doorway.

My legs collapse all at once against the ground. Fire sears my leg. Again the Great Wheel spins. Urgency directs my vision. Closer and faster moves a great wall with no beginning nor end, marked with great fissures and deep pores. As it draws closer, I can see dents and scratches. An overwhelming metallic scent sweeps by my nose.

One of the assaulters springs from the doorway, which closes sharply behind him. My breath catches. Surreal warmth blooms up my neck and in the back of my skull. I think I catch an image of you out of the corner of my eye. I look and see a round hole nearby. I stand. Pain flares in my leg and I stumble. More desperately I weave and push myself into the hole, feeling the proximity of the wall clip my tail.

A great clash of steel on steel screeches through my ears. The tunnel shakes violently and I tumble down the steep slope, head-over-hoof. The arrow snaps, sending torment singing through my bones. My vision whitens. My body meets with a pillar of flesh encased in scale which topples under the impact and hits the ground with a grunt, followed by a yelp from a different source.

With effort I roll off the pile. No sooner do I see the ceiling of the tunnel than does a flurry of teeth attack me. My arms instinctively receive the thrashing.

“Si’shu! Off!” sharply calls a rasping voice. The teeth cease. The wedge-shaped, scar-marked face of Lyss’ark enters my vision. “You’re not one of Antu’s minders. You’re the ‘witness.’”

My jaws feel locked so I nod my head. Cold, yellow eyes stare at me.

“Come, Si’shu,” he says finally.

Suddenly I remember the last entrant and I roll to standing, favoring my wounded leg and cradling my savaged arm.

“Wait!” I exclaim. “There was another behind us--”

“Did he get in the tunnel?”

“Not as far as I could tell.”

“Then he’s dead.”

My tongue feels like it can form no other word than, “Truly?”

“Not many survive that.”

I recall the speeding wall of what seemed to be iron and imagine the brackish red smear that poor fellow would leave behind, flecked with pink and white and gray. A shudder bolts up my spine.

“Where are we?” I ask, wondering at the foreign nature of hurtling walls.

“Acheron.” At my stunned silence, he begins to walk away.

“Wait! I am wounded. Can I tend to myself for a moment?”

“Go ahead.” He continues on into the tunnel, his form slowly fading into darkness.

“Wait, Lyss’ark!”

He turns suddenly and I can feel his yellow eyes bore into my face. The wolverine beside him—Si’shu, if I heard him right—growls.

“I’m not your friend. You can follow. I’ll not wait for you.”

Sudden, irrational surprise constricts my vocal cords. Lyss’ark turns again to leave, and the wolverine snorts and strides off after him. I dumbly stand, hocks bound and hooves rooted to the ground. Moments shamble by, and I doubt that your hand, the hand of compassion, will stay him. Illness wells in the bottom of my stomach, moistening my eyes.

“You’re wounded too,” I call out just before he disappears. “I know how to heal.”

There is no response, but he has stopped just on the verge of envelopment.

“All I ask is to travel with you until we reach somewhere safe.”

After a long silence, his words finally echo down the tunnel to me.

“Fine. Hurry up.”

Relief sighs through my body, seeming to drain all my strength as well as tension. As I slowly limp to him, his full form returns in my vision, scales and scars and inks and scowls. My gratitude dies on my tongue and we continue onward.

Our steps are strangely muffled against the hard, metallic ground. Only silence fills the great, winding corridors, the kind that presses on me like a blanket. It is familiar, but I do not feel very comforted as I would on the shining mountain full of reverential peace in which no words need saying. I feel that, should I try to speak, it would stay my tongue, oppressively keeping the silence at all costs.

I wish you were beside me again, speaking to me of the True Names of all things. Your presence would remind me that I am more than a little doeling, traversing a multiverse that is far too unkind. I begin to think I made a mistake in leaving the regal, stately peak of our home.

The wolverine’s weasel-like sneer glitters affirmatively.


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Eleven: Lis'ark

I sodding hate this plane. I stretch here but never as much as I can. As if there’s no room for that. There’s sodding infinity but no room to stretch. What a load of barkle.

The doe doesn’t talk much. She seems like the type to. But she sits and mends well and keeps her bone-box shut. Pretty canny of her. Too bad she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The fire stains the tunnel wall black. It’s warming up.

Si’shu glares at the doe. Si’shu’s fur hasn’t settled since we made camp.

A little blood seeps through the bandage wrapped around the doe’s arm. She removes another crossbow bolt. Her hands are sure.

“What’s your name?”

The doe stops for a moment. Then she speaks.

“Insa Great Field.”

“You a healer?”

She hesitates. “I have experience. My teacher taught me that among many things.”

“What are you then?”

“A learner of the True Language.”

The doe stares at me. She’s waiting for me to ask. I know better. Si’shu glares. The mending continues. Another couple of bolts clink to the ground.

“What about you?” she asks after a while.


The doe twists around and extracts another bolt. I see an old scar on her stomach. It was a deep wound. Disembowelment. But she isn’t a deader. Si’shu growls softly. She’s making the doe uneasy.

“It won’t… while I’m sleeping… ?” Her wet eyes dart to Si’shu.

I try not to smile. “I can’t speak for her.”

The doe keeps going. The last bolt stings no more than the others. Brave girl. Steady hands.

“Calm down, Si’shu.”

Si’shu grumbles and quiets. The doe relaxes.

She speaks some language I don’t know. Green light bursts in my vision. I feel the bolt holes begin to close. My eyes fix to the dark again. Green light bursts again. My wounds close more. And again. And no more. Sodding Rule of Three.

“Handy. But easy to see.”

“I apologize. I can’t change that.”

The fire pops and spits. Si’shu’s fur flattens. She’s getting tired. I shrug a shoulder. New skin stretches and pulls. I set myself against the hot wall.

“Am I to take first watch?” The doe looks eager to make herself useful.


She pauses. “When should I wake you?”


The doe looks puzzled.

“Are you implying that we shouldn’t keep watch?”

I close my eyes. “You can. I don’t.”

“What about—“

“Si’shu’ll smell them. Or I’ll feel them.” Si’shu rests against me.

“Altristus taught me—“

I open my eyes. “Scrip it, doeling. I don’t keep watch. You can if it makes your ‘jammer fly.”

She’s doubtful. But quiet. She settles down across from me. I close my eyes again.

I wake when the wall’s cold. When I move, Si’shu wakes too. I shake the doe. She sits up. The walls buzz. Another cube’s hit.

I pull out the holecloth. I unfold it and put it on the ground. I reach in and pull out some meat. I toss it to Si’shu. I dip in again and grab rations. The doe reeks of curiosity.

“Want some?”

She nods. I give her some bread and cheese.

“That is quite an artifact.”

I nod and eat. Insa bites into the loaf. I reach in again and pull out my compass. I fold the holecloth and put it back. She watches me. I direct the compass. I look at where it’s pointing.

“You ready?”

“Where are we going?”

“The Abyss.” Si’shu grins. The doe eyes me skeptically. “Safe enough for you?”

She’s waiting for me to cop. I don’t.


“Too bad.”

We leave. She lags a little for a while. It’s quiet again. I want to stretch more. I want to shout. I want to hear an echo. The air won’t let me. Good thing I’m not staying long.

Finally the doe talks. “You aren’t serious about the Abyss.” Not a question. Like what she says will make me change my mind, as if I wanted to go there in the first place.

“You got me.”

“Where are we headed, then?”

“Why do you care?”

“I want to know--”

Si’shu growls. The walls and ground vibrate. I quiet the doe. She doesn’t object. She turns her ear down the tunnel.

Someone’s coming. I turn to leave.

“Halt!” The voice echoes. It sounds like metal. “Surrender or stand and fight!”

Sodding berk. Si’shu snorts.

The doe puts her hand on my shoulder.

“Hold, Lis’ark. Your compass points that way.”

“There are other ways.”

“Perhaps he can be reasoned with.”

“You reason. I’m leaving.”

“If not, we can subdue him, should the need arise. There appears to be only one.”

“There’s more where he came from.”

Insa’s face speaks doubt.

“Believe me or don’t, doeling: I’m gone.”

She follows me after a few paces. Like a dog.

I ignore some passageways and turn into some. They are organized. They want me to follow its pattern. I just want a portal. I sodding hate this plane.

Finally, my scales tingle. A portal. It’s nearby, open. Don’t care what plane it leads to. Anywhere but here.

“Do you know where it leads?”

Insa is uneasy.



I pretend not to hear her and step through.


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Twelve: Sever

Piggish eyes in a flat-nosed face stir the old flame of righteous battle within me. The memories of cutting down these grotesque parodies of existence assail me heavily, filling my limbs with strength and hatred and Sword sings in its sheath. I force it to quell for the task ahead. The iron statues that flank me take no notice.

This “chief” greets me with a grunt and pounds his fists together. I return the gesture and my gauntlets clang and screech as they collide, like the cubes all around us.

“Welcome, honored leader.” His deep-timbred words charge brokenly through his tusks. “This is good day for battle.”

I allow myself a smirk.

“Every day is a good day for battle.”

A hideous smile fights at the corners of the chief’s mouth. Tusks are pushed upward in contemptible triumph. He motions to the large, warready orc beside him.

“This is Sok Bathed-In-Red. He crushed many enemies while holding his guts. My champion.” The chief looks around me and sees no one. “Where is yours?”

“I am my champion.”

Great, rasping laughter rips from his gaping gash of a mouth.

“Ah, great warrior you must be! You will die with honor. But your people will need chief. Maybe I will be new chief.”

“You may speak all you like, honored leader. I prefer to fight.”

“Aha! This will be good battle. I can see already. But first, first we must feast and then you will rest. Is tradition. Tomorrow you fight my champion.”

Sword pulses impatiently. I tire of these traditions.

Before long I am flanked by dozens of grotesqueries, all tusks and coarse hair and belches assailing me endlessly. Oily feathers and vomit-colored beads seize my vision off to one side. It is my prize, the shaman. It is just a face in the formless mass of putrid gray flesh, openmouthed, a guttural bark of a laugh fraying its throat, looking as if magic did not engulf it but rejected it like all its fellows.

Dagger sits on one side of me, decimating ugly ale slowly but surely. Sullenly Wound sits, attacking the ugly plates of ugly food before her with a disgusted glare. Gutterspit fires off volleys of angry boasts to the ugly ones around him, declining the refuse before him. Iron statues dot the festhall.

“Eat!” The chief’s voice and hot breath assaults my ear, doubled, tripled, quadrupled off the walls of my helm. “Or you are dainty like elf?”

My fist curls. I want the give of flesh and crunch of bone against mine. Sword calls from outside, yearning. But I eat. The iron statues eat.

The chief speaks again, in the blunt, severed words of his language this time. Silence conquers the laughs and the boasts and the feasting.

“Bring out the sport!”

An army of cheers make up for the lack the silence had wrought. And then his voice defiles the air again, rank breath hissing like arrows against my ear.

“You are lucky, honored leader. We do not keep prisoners. But we did this time for sport. Watch and be merry, yes?”

A patch of floor drives back crude boots. From the formless gray flesh emerges a girl on a steed—no, she is the steed, and it is not a steed’s legs but a goat’s. Her mouth is bound tight by filthy cloth. On the other side comes a hulking, scaled and scarred beast of a man-lizard.

“Doeling is mage so we tie her mouth and break her fingers. Khaasta’s tail we break too. Want fair fight, yes?” The chief launches his order curtly to the prisoners. “You fight. One wins, one dies. You do not fight, two die. Now go!”

Desperate savageness fuels every whispered stroke and every shouting blow. The doeling strikes and retreats, strikes and retreats, each time, wincing as if hitting him hurts her. She does not know how to fight. The man-lizard, though, beats where he can, no pattern to his furious swipes as if they had just occurred to him. He sways like a drunkard, crooked tail swinging. He staggers her, he dazes her, he sets her running. She rears—on her stomach a single, long scar—and stomps, missing his tail. He jumps upon her and wraps iron-corded arms around her neck. That sweet aroma gently wafts into my senses. The resignation softens her eyelids, her twisted-fingered grip, her limbs. She sags under the man-lizard. His broken tail swipes her scar.

And suddenly a fog descends over her eyes, sweeping away the sweet smell. She is here but is not here. Chin dives into crook of elbow. Up and down they leap and land, tearing around the ring. And he is off, catapulted into the formless gray, collapsing orc after orc. The doeling does not stop, rage and fear warring on her contorted face. She, too, launches herself at the crowd. Some fall under her hooves before chanting rends the air and she crumples. The shaman stands now, tall and stern-faced.

The prisoners disappear as quickly as they had emerged. Silence once again reigns.

“Ah, no one dead today. Too bad. Both will die tomorrow, after big fight, yes?”

A cheer from ugly mouths surges in the hall. The feast ends. One day is conquered by the next.

Bruise blue stains the blood sky. My legion of iron statues sits vigil by fires and in tents. Sword lies across my lap, impatiently grinding the whetstone. Ice rests in my belly, ready to shatter. Around me are steel blurs, preparing.

“Those orcs are sods! Did they not realize you were wearing the helm the entire time?” Dagger’s voice scores the air over the others.

“Sodding orcs,” Brand delights, a grin sliced along her lips. “Sodding berks.”

“They know something,” Wound counters. “Chief General, a different champion would be better.”

“No.” My voice hammers through the preparations. “They would think me a coward. Besides, my helm is less likely to be noticed on the battlefield than next to the orc chief.”

Disarmed, she silences. The preparations continue.

Gutterspit breaches the tent.

“Chief General, the orcs are waiting.” His sharp words are flung carelessly at me, in a half-hope of finding a target.

I rise. They follow.

It is too soon when I see the chief’s mockery of a smile. Beside him towers the mismatched mass of muscle, hair, and yellowed teeth known as Sok Bathed-In-Red. Morningstar burns with eagerness in his hands.

“You are ready, yes?”

I catch the sweet scent of death. It is strong. My smile answers.

The chief returns to those who mirror my iron statues but for being crafted of bronze. Among them stand the shifting figure of the man-lizard and the stiff figure of the doeling, both bound. The man-lizard searches carefully with his eyes. The doeling simply stares.

The champion readies. One breath cleaves through the air and the ice shatters.

It is only us and the sky and the ground.

Morningstar turns to face Sword. Silence builds. Morningstar and Sword circle, round and round. And then Morningstar greets, driving into the ground. Sword murmurs by flesh, and both spin away. Sword returns first, crying out against Morningstar’s interruption. Morningstar whistles and Sword sings through soft flesh. Morningstar shouts against nothing.

My breath hissing inside my helmet, my blood sighing through my limbs, my will infusing Sword—all are together. All are one. Effortlessly. And I can see it escaping Sok’s throat, shifting under Sok’s skin, trailing Morningstar.

Sword roars up and growls down. Morningstar shrieks against resistance. Sword warns and lies, neither hitting home. Morningstar bursts into a spinning tirade. Sword rejoinders from underneath. Morningstar bellows.

Sword and Morningstar argue and respond, argue and respond, parting flesh or crunching bone. Patterns are made and broken. Morningstar challenges Sword’s many falsehoods and Sword turns away.

Finally, Sword palters once more and Morningstar howls next to my ear. Sword clangs dully against the ground.

My vision fights back white. Morningstar is ready to bid farewell. I roll towards Sword but Morningstar suddenly blocks the way. Sword is just out of reach.

But Morninstar remains still. Sword and I become one again and Sword breathes through Sok.
On his face is astonishment. The bronze statues materialize once more, all echoing this last, lingering moment of surprise.

And I see.

Lying on the ground is a hollow metal bowl, riddled with spikes, and shaped for a head—my head—but for a dent.

“Kill the elf!” orders the chief. “Kill the elf!”


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Thirteen: Insa

Blood everywhere—in the sky, on the ground, staining all. Death descends, sweeping through the chaos like wildfire, and one after another after another drops, thudding against the merciless, metallic ground. And those words ring still in my mind, bouncing and rolling through my skull: “Kill the elf! Kill the elf!”

Immediately the army of iron-skinned, spiked soldiers had surged as if a command had been spoken. With no pause, the dusk-skinned elf swung a gauntleted hand to the empty, jagged bowl that had been knocked off her head by the orc’s blow. But before she could shove it over her face once more, the orc army had rallied and flooded to meet the onslaught of their foe.

And, as effortlessly as she had with two, the elf swung her sword with a single hand. It eagerly lapped at metal and flesh and bone; it danced past raised weapons and shields delightedly; it pulsed as if alive. Where her sword did not strike, her spiked helm did, bludgeoning foes, biting deep into skin and muscle.

Where endless forms swarmed to her like a beacon, so too did endless bodies drop away, life suddenly taken from them.

But instead of cutting through to her legion, she cut away, farther and farther, gaining ground toward some goal that only she could see. Her face held deep concentration, defying the conflict around her. She did not seem to mind that the soldiers behind her were blocked by a dense wall of opposition.

The chill of magic charged the air and fire burst in the midst of the elf’s soldiers. Oily smoke and caustic smell spewed into the sky as bodies crisped. And again. And again. Among the flooding orcs stood a solitary figure, tusks bobbing as words shaped her lips. And then the path the elf was cutting drew itself before the next swing of her sword.

Others seeped protectively before the shaman. The elf’s untiring strokes and still-nimble thrusts felled them as quickly as they appeared. Even so, she was encapsulated, with foes closing in from all sides. Glowing globs of force smashed into her, staggering her strikes. She disappeared in the tides of the orcs.

And then a sound cleaved the air, a sound terrible and frightening because it was out of place.


Perhaps it was once pure, like the tolling of deep, throaty chimes. But then it was tainted by blood and death, by metal and war, by… something deeper than all of that.

It lingered as a fog would, suffusing all those who were battle-stained, bringing pause, hesitation. And among that stillness was movement. The shaman was trembling, her beads jittering. But there was a doll-like quality to her movement. Two spiked gauntlets were pressed against her back, as if in an embrace.

The laughter and shaking ceased.

And then the gauntlets released the shaman. It fell, limp. Above her stood the elf, spiked armor coated in black liquid and gore. With one hand she forced the helm into place as if the battle had just begun. As the metal covered her face, all saw that she was no mere elf. She blazed with the energy of all the fighting and the fallen. She bore all the wounds and all the strength. She was the battle itself.

From her legion rose a great, savage yell.


And the slaughter had begun.

I stand, helpless, watching limbs and heads go flying; watching blood spilling, dripping, spurting. Its liquid metal scent covers me like an oppressive blanket. Again the horror has reached me, twofold—no, tenfold—raising gorge from my hollow stomach, locking my weak, watery hocks. Again all I can do is wait, wait for the scar to find me, another pale, jagged brand of my uselessness.

Again she cuts through the sea of orcs, but now she is slowed by nothing, not even the density of the horde around her. The iron-skinned people behind her fight with new vitality, each stroke from each weapon a sure statement of the victory that they know they will have.

Likewise, the orcs fall all around them as if unable to deny their defeat any longer. But still they attack, goaded by the frantic roars of their chief. He sees the juggernaut plowing to him.

And yet he stands his ground, double-axe in hand, visage stony with determination. Even as his troops drop around him and the barrier of bodies thins, he does not move. Nor will he meet the charge.

It isn’t long before he faces the not-elf. Without another breath, they clash. But already all can see the outcome. His muscles and movements are tense with the deep, primal need that comes even before procreation; and her limbs and blows are at ease as if she were holding a conversation.

And then the chief kneels to the not-elf’s blade, his head wrapped in hair tacky with blood as it rolls on the ground.

The fighting stops. For a moment all is still once more, iron-skinned monuments among bronze-skinned statues. And then an orc flees. The floodgates open and the entire horde of orcs sweeps away slowly, wildly.

“Seize them all!” commands the not-elf. “They will be fodder for our next battle!”

I comply with the hot hands that fall on me, urging me towards their camp. I have no choice. Dirty cloth cuts into my wrists and my cheeks. My limbs tremble with fatigue and starvation. There is no escape for me here. Only battle awaits, a hopeless battle in which both sides are against me.

Will you be there when my blood is gathering underneath me, when I am resting on my cooling innards, when I am fading into the desolated comfort of blackness?

No. I don’t believe you will. Not this time.

Several times I stagger and weave and I am prodded into lurching movement by blade or spike. My head suddenly grows heavy and my neck weak. Hooves rise and fall of a separate accord, like a slumbering chest that fills and empties of breath. The sounds of creaking leather and clanking metal punctuates the dormant rhythm and the cold ground beneath passes in a crawl of grooves and bumps.

And then I can feel resistance, the strong press of fingers against my flesh, halting me and quickly turning me in another direction.

My heavy head raises and balances tenuously. Before me is the not-elf, a veritable moving fortress of metal. The iron mask gazes at me sternly, a permanent scowl carved into its blood-spattered visage.

“You will give me answers. If not, you will be thrown with the other prisoners. Do you understand?”

The harsh words cut through the haze. I nod slowly.

“Are you from Acheron?”

I shake my head.

“Do you know the way to Arborea?”

I shake my head.

“Are you a mage?”

Familiar thoughts wend through my sluggish mind. The True Word is not necessarily magic—it is simply an ancient language of names to which all things are bound. But one who studies the True Word could be considered a mage in the loosest sense—

“Are you a mage?” the not-elf repeats, slowly and emphatically.

I nod.

“Good.” The not-elf looks up to the ones around me. “Give her food and water. Clean her up. When she is presentable, bring her to my tent.”

A gauntlet swings up and tosses a signal to the ones around me before the not-elf turns and disappears through the milling crowd. Cold iron slides up the back of my head, sending a shiver down my spine. But when it lifts with a soft, metallic slice, I am freed. One more such stroke and I can clutch my chafing wrists and swollen, aching fingers.

“Try a spell and you will die.”

The statement is cold—spoken as a fact more than a threat. I nod.

Before the stiff fare offered to me settles and just after my throat is cooled by drink, I am escorted to a small tent and stripped of filth-caked clothing. Cold water splashes over me, sending a jolt up and down my body, making my vision go white and then pulse painfully back to normal. Anonymous hands bearing stiff-wire brushes scrub me immodestly, indifferently. More liquid cold is dumped on my head and I am holding myself, shivering. The anonymous hands return to chase the moisture away and a simple cloth shirt is pulled forcefully over my head.

“Lie down,” I am commanded. Again, I comply, and collective strength pins me to the ground.

Burning agony sweeps through my arms as my fingers are forcefully drawn from their haven, pressed and examined, and finally snapped into place, one by one. Stifled groans tear up my throat and blackness dips its fingers into my vision. My body tenses but is held down until warm, numbing salve slathers and bandages tightly bind.

When I am guided to the commander’s tent, the haze is gone. I see clusters of the not-elf’s legion, gathered around fires and tents, many sparring vigorously despite the battle just won. The salty smell of dried meat and the heat of cookfires permeate the air.

I soon pass through the threshold and am faced with the not-elf. With a wave of her gauntlet, she dismisses those around her. Upon the last one’s exit, she motions for me to sit at the table in the center of the tent. Without a word, I do so. She turns and pulls the scowling helm from her head and takes a seat across from me.

Her features are smooth and unmarred, fine bones curving gracefully under her late-dusk-tinted skin. Ears sweep up like air and end in flesh-soft points. Only her black hair seems to speak of her warriorhood, clipped a thumb’s length from her skull.

“Tell me your name,” she says.

“Insa Great Field,” I reply, half-surprised to hear my voice working.

“I am Chief General Sever Spikesplitter. You said you were a mage.” At her name, I remember the war cry. A chill crawls through my neck.



“I… I study the True Names of all things.”

“Are you able to break a spell?”

“Maybe.” The Chief General’s suddenly feverish eyes urge me to continue. “I-it depends on the spell. If I study it enough, I could find its True Name… and dispel it that way.”

“How long will it take?”

“I don’t know. What sort of spell is it?”

“One denying me passage out of Acheron.”

My mind, working at its normal pace now, quickly skims through estimates.

“Several days… a few weeks… maybe three months at most.”

The Chief General eases back in her chair, eyes and smile narrow with catlike satisfaction.

“Good. Once you do that, you will be released.”

Relief rushes through me all at once and the cliff-like feeling fades, unnoticed until it was gone. The carpet hisses as my entire body involuntarily relaxes.

Guilt overcomes me as I recall my travel companion and see his refuse-laden and broken form in my mind’s eye. The thoughts in my head turn quickly in search of a path to save him from the fate that awaited. And then I had it.

“You mentioned something about Arborea. You asked me if I knew the way.”

“And you said you did not.”

“I know someone who can take you there—a planewalker. He was a prisoner along with me. His name is Lyss’ark.”


Click here to expand or collapse this section
Fourteen: Lis'ark

She thinks she’s done me a favor. No, she thinks she’s saved me. Freed me. She’s only put me closer to the jailer.

There’s no difference. Except now the jailer has spikes, not tusks. And she’s not wearing Si’shu’s skin.
From one birdcage to the next.

The cubes are crashing again. I sodding hate this plane.

The doeling sits in the tent corner. The elf’s hand is in hers. She’s mutters something and sparks shoot. The elf’s minders look tense. The elf doesn’t care. The doeling writes something down. Looks like her fingers aren’t broken anymore.

I already know what the elf wants.

“When will we reach the portal?”

The elf’s palm turns up.

“When we get there.”

She smiles like Si’shu. Her hand becomes a fist.

“How close are we?”

“It’s a demiplane.”

Her face becomes hard. That smile is still there.

“Which plane are you taking us to?”

“What do you sodding think?”

Her fist comes up and two minders grab me. The doeling stops writing and watches. Her eyes are wide. Another searches me and pulls out my holecloth. She reaches inside and pulls out my compass. It goes flying to the elf.

“You can at least take something useful,” I say.

I bristle. The minders are strong. I can’t break free.

The elf looks at the compass for a while. Then she comes closer to me. The compass is shoved in my face.

“You do see where it’s pointing, right?”

“I’m not a berk.”

“Neither am I. I know a planar compass when I see one. And I can see that it’s pointing the way we just came.”

The compass moves away from my face.

“Since you’re not a berk, I’m sure you have a reason why I shouldn’t put you in the dead-book right now.”

“You need the key.”

“And it is not among your other possessions.” Her hand passes over the black hole.

“Could be.”

“You are not making a good case for yourself.”

“I can find it.”

“And nobody else can.”

“Not like me.”

“Oh? What makes you different?”

“I’m a planewalker.”

The elf waves a hand. Her minders let me go and leave the tent. She gets really close. Her head doesn’t even reach my shoulder. But the way she looks at me, I’m smaller. She circles around me. Her smile is gone.

“I don’t care what you do to get us through that portal. But stand between me and Arborea again and I will kill you.”

Her metal boot clanks. My tail snaps. Everything goes white.

“This is your first and last warning.”

She shoves the compass and the holecloth back in my hands and calls her minders.

“Take him back to his tent. And do not set his tail this time. Bring him to me tomorrow at dawn.”

They drag me away and dump me on my bedroll. One kicks me in the leg. Spikes sink in.

I don’t sleep. I sit. I pace. I stand.

A minder lets the doeling in. She looks tired.

“Be seated, please.”

I cross my arms.



“Please. I mean well.”

I sit.

The doeling looks to the minder. “I will be using the True Language. When I am done, there should be a pulsing green glow. It is harmless and it will disappear shortly.”

“What will it do?”

“As I said, it is harmless.”

“But what does it do?”

“I can’t explain it to you. It will help, though.”

The minder says nothing. The doeling speaks, but in that True Language.

I feel my tail bones shifting. My skin pulls and stretches.

It doesn’t last long. My tail is healed.

“I’d like to urge you to cooperate. If you do, this won’t happen again.” Her hand waves at my tail. “Besides, the sooner we get to Arborea, the sooner we’ll be freed.”

“I’m not going to be freed.” My tail curls. “Neither are you.”

“If you’re done here, don’t waste time rattling your bone-box.” The minder steps to us.

The doeling looks up. “One last thing.” The minder doesn’t move. “Lis’ark, I know you said before you’re not my friend. But thank you anyway.”

I say nothing. Insa turns and leaves.


Click here to expand or collapse this section
Fifteen: Sever

Trees. Water. Animal sounds.

There is no more clash in the sky. There is no more ground of metal. There are no more jagged remnants of armies.

I am home. This knowledge charges up my limbs, filling me with something familiar, something I once needed.

But now I am something greater.

Sword burns bright and hot against my back, beating the feeling off. We are close, so close to her and her end. I can nearly smell the heady sweetness of the death we have been waiting for. Sword hums more violently than ever, unable to remain swathed in leather. I rip Sword from its sheath. The ring of steel echoes in my ears.

“Chief General.” Lieutenant General Gutterspit’s words screech and clang like the cubes, stopping my stride.

I turn to him, jaw tight. He stops too, as if struck by a shield. But his voice continues.

“We can’t just march through. This isn’t our realm. We must proceed with caution.”

“Surely you aren’t afraid of a few trees, Cleave.” Dagger steps in, calm, with a gaze like blades.

“Watch out, they might strike!” Brand snaps by Gutterspit’s ear. He narrows his eyes.

“No, I’m more concerned about the powers. They won’t like us barging in.”

“Powers?” Rend asks, a blow hidden behind her words. “Oh, I see. I suppose we should worry about those.”

“You’ve seen Sever put a whole horde of orcs in the dead-book and come out with just a few small injuries. Why are you worried?” Dagger asks.

“A horde of orcs is different than a god.” Gutterspit is surrounded and he knows it. A smile rips across my face.

“I don’t see how.” Dagger swipes her hand through the air. “Orcs can be killed, powers can be killed. It’s just a little harder to kill a power.”

“A little.”

I have had enough of the clash.

“Enough!” My voice slices through theirs. “If we follow my plan, then we won’t have to worry about powers. Questions?”

There is no response.

“Good. We march.”

I turn once again and Sword’s strengthening pulse throbs in my hand. Through all the trees and over all the hills I can feel her, a similar pulse beating at her neck and wrists. But a stone awaits me still, shattering my focus.

“Chief General, what should we do about the mage and the planewalker?” Gutterspit is the slinger.

Sword nearly swings to and through Gutterspit.

“I suggest they be executed.” Dagger juts into the question, a smile slashed across her face. “You merely said you would free them—you did not mention how, after all.”

The images of the mage and the planewalker invade my mind like the buzzing of a mayfly. My fist tightens around Sword.

“Lieutenant General Gutterspit, do as you wish. But do it quickly. We must march.”

“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant general fires a salute and leaves.

The slinger gone, I turn to Dagger and give the order to prepare to march. She carries it onward. A ripple surges through the legion. To see this flood of iron sweep to and through fortress walls, clearing the way so I could reach her…

Something separates the flood. It rushes for me, growing faster and faster until it finally breaks through and I can see its face. It is Lieutenant Gutterspit again, with an urgent look blasting his features. Two others trail behind him.

“Chief General! The mage and planewalker have escaped!”

Two less mayflies buzzing at my ear. But this one is making up for it.

“Then they are dealt with.” Sword hums irritably.

“But Chief General, according to these two, who were charged with watching over them, they simply disappeared, right before their eyes.”

My gaze rips to the two others. They flinch. They expect me to punish them. Sword sings for blood.

“Is this true?”

They nod.

“You’re lucky. We have a more important mission. You may yet redeem yourselves. Dismissed.”

The two snap a salute. But Gutterspit remains.

“Chief General, you aren’t looking at what this means!”

My teeth grind. Now is not the time for a siege. Sword grows restless.

“Enlighten me.”

“Bodies don’t simply disappear unless there are gods involved.”

The first volley is fired.

“Either those two were lying or the mage cast a spell. That does not mean the gods were a part of it.”

It clacks against walls, useless.

“But the mage hadn’t opened her mouth. The guards would have killed her instantly if she had.”

The second volley is slung.

“There are more ways than one to cheat a ‘loth.”

The walls repel. Gutterspit bristles.

“Sever!” His lips unsheathe his teeth. “This is a suicide mission! We will be cut down before we can fire our first shot!”

The third volley descends. Dagger returns.

“The troops are prepared to march, Chief General.”

I turn from the lieutenant general.

“Good. Let’s go. You are dismissed, Lieutenant General.”

Dagger turns to give the order. Gutterspit directs his fire to her.

“Belay that order, Major General.”

Dagger stops and turns, confusion twisting her expression. She slows, each small movement fighting its way through the thick wall of moments. Gutterspit’s shoulders rise with a breath to his lungs. As they fall, a sweet wind washes over me, but not as sweet—never as sweet—as her death will be. Sword drinks it in while sighing through air and bone.

Time returns to normal as head and body part ways. Dagger’s face hardens into a warrior’s mask. Head and body return to the ground.

“This is your promotion.” Sword sweeps over inert flesh. “Now, give the order to march.”

“Yes, sir.”

Center of All's picture
Joined: 2004-05-11
Re: Three: A Planescape Journey

Not a whole lot to say yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing more. What is the relationship between the protagonist and the "teacher?" Does the ring signify romance or is it some other bond between a teacher and student? The protagonist notes a two-legged gait, so I wonder if the protagonist is a bariaur or something similar.

I look forward to seeing if these questions (and more!) get answered in later installments.


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Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three: A Planescape Journey

The main topic has been updated.

Center of All: Most (if not all) of your questions will be answered when next you see Insa. If they aren't, let me know.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three: A Planescape Journey


And so the first cycle is complete.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three: A Planescape Journey


Insa finally experiences the City of Doors firsthand.

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Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three: A Planescape Journey


Lis'ark chats with an old acquaintance.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three: A Planescape Journey


Sever reveals the shadow of her plans to an unwilling Heirarchy.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three


Insa faces her past once again.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three


Lis'ark gets the information he needs.

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Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three


Sever discusses strategy with the women.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three


Insa gets herself into trouble.

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Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three


Lis'ark seeks a way out of the cube with Insa in tow.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three

Sorry about the impromptu hiatus, folks.

Finally updated.

Sever proves her worth to the orc chief.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three


Insa finds hope of freedom.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three

I apologize. It's a little late.


Lis'ark is caught in a lie.

Ddraig Maharishi's picture
Joined: 2006-10-23
Re: Three

Sorry, late again. Please bear with me: there are only three more chapters to go.


Sever grows closer to her goal.

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