Part the fifteenth: Wherein a world of talking bears and walking machines begins to make sense
After they had gone through their morning routines they met in the common room of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer to eat and discuss what to do next. Sigil was a strange place to be sure, and they really needed the chance to take in as much as they could, but they all shared a feeling of urgency. At least they had somewhere to start, and were thankful that they hadn't just been thrown into the city without any idea of how to proceed. As they ate what they all agreed was a delicious broth with black, grainy bread and red yolked eggs, they decided not to waste time exploring the city. After all it was clearly huge, perhaps as much as twenty times the size of Berdusk or Iriaebor, and with no idea of how to proceed it would be easy to get lost and waste a great deal of time. With Fallon's advice clearly in their minds the decision was made to seek out Tripicus at the Hall of Speakers, and see what information he could give them. Fallon seemed convinced he would be able to help them with their questions, and, for the inevitable downtime, he had also hinted that Tripicus may be able to give them some work - whatever that meant.
With the decision made, Shadow Flame approached the barkeep for the Ubiquitous Wayfarer, a burly human with long plaited hair and swirling blue facial tattoos, whom they had learnt was named Girrion.
"Girrion my friend," began Shadow Flame, "I am wondering if you could help me out." The barkeep put down the mug he was cleaning and raised his eyebrows, indicating that the tiefling should ask his question. "We have need to meet with someone who works, or resides at the Hall of Speakers, and, being new to Sigil, we do not know how to find this place. Could you give us directions?"
"Ay basher, that's an easy one," the burly man answered in his easy tone, "the Hall is the Headquarters for the Sign of One and open to all. It's just down the ways as a matter o' fact. Why, I've got a portal on the second floor that will drop ya right across the road from it. You could use it, for a small fee o' course."
Shadow Flame thought for a second before declining the barkeeps offer. "Since we're new I think it might be better if we start trying to learn our way around town. If this Hall is just down the way, as you say, I think I'd prefer to walk."
Girrion snorted, "typical clueless," he said without a trace of intended insult. Pulling a pencil from his apron he began searching around for a piece of paper. After a moment he pulled a crumpled piece of parchment from under the bar, which appeared to have a recipe for something called "mephit cheese bread" on it. Flipping it over he began drawing a crude map, marking in a couple of landmarks as he lead Shadow Flame through the route.
"So, I take it you'll be staying a few days then?" he asked as he handed the parchment of to the tiefling.
Shadow Flame smirked as he caught the meaning behind the man's words, and handed him a gold piece for his trouble. "That we will my friend, but I think for the moment we had best pay from day to day - never know what might happen here" he said,rolling up the parchment that contained his map.
The party hit the streets of Sigil, and though it appeared to be still quite early, the ward was full of folk going about their business. The sky, such as it was, was filled with an approximation of morning twilight, and most street lamps were still on. Looking up the party could see what looked like stars twinkling above them as if a false dawn was breaking across the horizon. It took them only a minute to realise that what they were seeing weren't stars, but street lamps, their regular spacing and straight lined patterns putting paid to the illusion of the night sky. Looking at each other they silently shared the same thought on the alien nature of the city, before Shadow Flame unrolled their map and indicated the direction they should travel in.
As they moved through the traffic made up of merchants, both human and otherwise, guard patrols of red armoured warriors, and clerks and messengers, they noticed in particular the strange sight of what appeared to be the cities utility workers. The strange floating creatures with their shocks of white hair, and flowing robes, went about the tasks of trimming the rampant limbs of thorned thickets. Each of them came to the conclusion that these creature must be the Dabus Dianna had told them about, and as forewarned as they were, the sight of these unusual beings made them walk a little slower out of curiosity. Everyone gave the Dabus a wide berth so as not to interfere with their work, and for their part the Dabus ignored them in turn as they simply went about the business of cutting back the razorvine. As they watched however, a small boy ran up to the Dabus and said something they didn't quite catch. One of them stopped what it was doing and faced the him, a series of small pictographs rising rapidly from it's head and fading away as they floated into the air. The little boy laughed and ran away, the Dabus going back to it's work. It seemed that while the Dabus were the caretakers of Sigil they were not unapproachable. There was the matter of being able to understand what the pictograms meant, but the party at least realised they could speak with them if the need be.
They continued on their way, passing the makeshift stall of an old hag loudly hocking her wares - a cart full of wriggling, biting, cursing larvae. As they passed her, a small group of the red armoured guards began harassing her, pointing out the she shouldn't be trying to open a stall on the streets of the Clerk's Ward like that. The party did not stop to try and work out what exactly was said, they simply marveled at the fact the only issue they had with the old woman selling the larvae was the location she had chosen to do it from.
A Hound Archon
"Greetings friends, you look like a likely bunch of cutters. Spare a minute to help an old hound out?" he asked in a melodious tone. Shadow Flame looked at the others, a wry smile on his face, and seeing no reason not to, took the creatures hairy hand and shook it.
The creature wore a suit of heavy full plate armour with a large two handed sword strapped to it back. It was impeccably kept with clean, well groomed tawny fur. Something about the creatures manner or presence put the party at ease, and they instantly liked this dog headed being, even though they had exchanged hardly more than a few words.
"I'll not take up much of your time cutters. First off, an introduction. My name is Telef Shel Cedek..." he let his name hang in the air awaiting Shadow Flame to do the same. Realisation spurred Shadow Flame to quickly introduce himself, and he waited until the others had done the same. In a strange way it was like introducing themselves to an old friend or trusted confidant.
"Wonderful to meet you all," the hound said, smiling broadly. "Now, the reason I've stopped you in the middle of the street is to ask if you've seen some folk I'm looking for," he said, producing a roll of parchment from his belt and unrolling it. The party looked as he held it out for them to see, and found themselves looking at 3 very well detailed sketches of what they recognised as Githyanki. None of the faces were familiar to them and they let Telef know so apologetically.
"No need to apologise good folk, you are certainly not the first I've asked who did not recognise the currs." Rolling the parchment up he began to bow to the party, but Shadow Flame stopped him - he had a question or two.
"Before you leave Telef, would you mind if I asked you a question?"
Telef stopped his bow half way through and looked at Shadow Flame, a smile on his face. "Of course not, it would seem only fair wouldn't you say?"
Nodding, Shadow Flame asked his question. "We are new to...all this...Sigil, the planes. If it is not being rude I would like to know what manner of being you are?"
Telef puffed out his chest in pride as he answered, "I am Telef Shel Cedek, Hound Archon of the 3rd Mount, Commander of the 7th League of Argos."
"Hound Archon?" Shadow Flame repeated.
"That's correct friend," smiled Telef, seemingly pleased that the tiefling was taking an interest.
Shadow Flame had never heard of a Hound Archon before but rather than pressing the point he focused upon the Githyanki in the sketches Telef had shown them. "What of these Gith? I assume you are not intending to give them a reward?"
"Hardly!" laughed the Archon. "They are betrayers of the worst kind. Their names are Nak'Falthak, Imrelthur and Faz'Mal, fiends the three of them. I hunt these wretches as recently a friend of mine was tracking a group of Tanar'ri through the prison plane of Carceri. They had taken several Archons prisoner, and my friend awaited his opportunity to strike and gain the freedom of our brothers. These Gith exposed my friend to the Tanar'ri ensuring his capture. I cannot fathom their reasons for doing so - normally the Gith are solitary creatures, but something prompted these to ally with the fiends. I intend to find out what before I kill them."
The Archons story had raised as many questions as it had answered, but Shadow Flame was starting to realise that would probably be the case for some time, at least until they gained some bearings and started to learn about the vastness of the planes.
"I wish you luck on your quest good Archon," Shadow Flame said instead. "I wish only that I could have been of some help to you."
The rest of the party echoed his sentiments, they were all quite drawn to the Hound Archons charisma. Telef shook hands with each of them before taking his leave with a bow. They watched him go off, approaching another group of travelers to ask them the same question.
It wasn't long before the crowds became increasingly dense, with clerks dashing about, young children running around carrying messages, retinues for some important looking folk moving stately along, several more of those carriages carried by four men, and an increase in the number of guards, heralded to the party that they were nearing their destination. The general hub-bub of the crowd also increased, with people standing in small groups talking, and other folk moving about, either selling goods or services. They saw the spire of the Hall of Speakers before they saw the Hall itself, stretching several hundred feet into the sky like the horn of a unicorn. Various lodgings and domiciles filled the large plaza surrounding the Hall, which was dominated by a huge iron statue, a good fifty feet tall, of a woman holding an entire world in her hands. A plaque at the base of the statue read "The Power of One", a succinct summation of the Sign of One's philosophy. The Hall itself was a huge oval shaped, domed building that must have covered many hundreds of square feet. A grand staircase lead up to the main entrance of the building, and it was as crowded as the rest of the plaza - everyone wanted to make sure they got seats to the more popular debates and meetings, or wanted to ensure they could secure private meetings rooms where required.
The party found themselves standing in a pocket of relative calm within the mass of people moving about, unsure of exactly what they should do. None of them had expected the Hall to be quite so big, or quite so busy. It had taken them a good hour to walk to the Hall, but it was still quite early (as best they could gather) - it seemed that Sigil awoke early. Unagi was just about ready to start grabbing people and shaking information from them when Silvara, pointed across to a wall containing several posters advertising upcoming events at the Hall. Amoung these posters was one declaring that the great Ursinal scholar Tripicus would be giving a lecture on "the hierarchical nature of government in the southern provinces of the prime world of Aerbyrnis" that very morning, starting at four before peak. They realised that the lecture was due to begin in any minute, and with a hurried step the ascended the great stairway and managed to enter the Hall.
Once inside, the crowd shifted from the general throng surrounding the Hall to a steady stream of folk going about their business. It was nowhere near as crowded, and the party could move freely. But move where? The domed ceiling loomed far overhead, the windows letting in the waxing morning light of Sigil, creating a checkerboard of light and shadow upon the floor. They stood and studied their surrounds for several minutes before Shadow Flame spied a large table piled with fliers and posters that seemed to be attended - an information booth, he realised. As one they moved across the floor, weaving in and out of the lines of people going to their various events. As there were few people actually seeking help they did not have to wait long to be approached. A severe looking woman, a githzerai, in a voluminous red gown addressed them.
"Greetings to you travelers, may I be of some assistance?" her voice was warm and her tone informal.
"Please," responded Shadow Flame, "we have come to attend the lecture being given by Tripicus this morning."
The Gith smiled, "a popular event. It has already started so you'd best be quick, the lecture theater is on the second floor along the left wall. Uh, my left I mean. Here, let me show you." She cleared several small stack of fliers of the table revealing a large floor plan of the Hall. The layout was surprisingly easy to grasp, and the party knew where they needed to go in no time. Thanking the Gith they quickly left and made their way to the theater.
The Hall of Speakers
The party settled in and began to listen. It became quickly apparent that the subject matter was very dry, and as entertaining speaker as Tripicus was, he was also very business-like. With no clear idea of how long the lecture was scheduled, all they could do was sit it out and approach him once the talk had finished.
Two hours later Tripicus ended the lecture to thunderous applause. His audience slowly began to disperse, quite a few of them going to the front in the hope of having a personal word with the Ursinal. Tripicus was the ultimate host, attending to those who waited in line. Shadow Flame was in no mood to wait in line, and to the encouragement of the rest of the party, he simply called out.
"Tripicus, we are friends of Fallon of Faerun, and have urgent need of your counsel," he called out, ignoring the warty tiefling currently talking with Tripicus.
Looking up from his conversation Tripicus spied Shadow Flame and simply indicated a nearby seat that the tiefling could sit and wait in. None of the party were happy with the response, but recognising they had little prior claim to the scholars time, they went and sat, waiting for him to get to them.
They did not have to wait long. Not half an hour had passed when Tripicus spoke loudly over the remaining attendees.
"My friends, it is as heartening as ever to have so many sharing their words with me, but the booking for the theater has passed and I fear I must call an end to the morning proceedings. Those wishing to make personal appointments may do so in the usual manner. I thank you again for your interest and hope to see you soon, if not personally, then at my next presentation."
Several groans of disappointment rose from the crowd but they all respected the big bear-like fellow enough to do as he asked. As the last of them began moving toward the exit, Tripicus approached the party, a glimmer of mischief in his eye.
"So," he began, "who is so important that they cannot wait for me to finish my business hey?"
Looking a little sheepish the party rose to greet the Ursinal, each of them introducing themselves and taking Tripicus' huge, yet soft hand. He stood a good four feet taller than even Unagi, and even given his gentle nature he was still an imposing presence. With the introduction done he took a seat beside Jean and turned to them all.
"So my old friend Fallon is sending me clueless now is he?" he asked jovially.
"Well, it would seem so," answered Shadow Flame, "but I don...."
"Don't concern yourself friend, I was only joking. I have spoken to Fallon recently; he suggested I might be getting a visit from what he called 'some interesting primes'."
"He has had occasion to refer to us as such," Jean said with a smirk. Her words drew the Ursinal's gaze to her, and then, after a moment, to the staff.
"I assume that is the cause of your journey to the planes? Fallon said you were interested in learning more about it?"
They all nodded in response, "but we would prefer not to discuss it in so public a forum," said Jean, "we have learnt the hard way just how popular this thing is."
"Fair as fair can be," replied Tripicus.
"I've got a question," Shadow Flame spoke, before Tripicus could say anything else, the big bear closing his half open mouth to allow the tiefling to continue. "On our way here we met an odd creature, claimed to be a Hound Archon with the name...Jean?"
Jean thought for a moment, "Telef Shel Cedek...I think?"
"Yeah, that's right, Telef Shel Cedek. Do you know anything about this fellow?" Shadow Flame asked.
Tripicus looked momentarily confused as to why they would ask him if he knew a random person from the streets of Sigil, but then clicked as to what Shadow Flame was really asking. "Of course! I see what you mean. Yes, Hound Archons, I have met a few in my time. Generally likable folk, if somewhat stiff and formal. Let me see...how to put it....like the Yugoloths, the exemplars of the Grey Waste, or the Tanar'ri, exemplars of the Abyss," he paused to gage the parties familiarity with these creatures, and seeing their understanding, continued, "the Archons are the exemplars of Mount Celestia, called The Seven Heavens on many prime worlds. They are beings of law and good, and often share the same goals as the Guardinals." The Ursinal was really reaching his stride as a teacher, and continued without concern for his audience, "now, let me see...if my memory serves me correctly, Telef Shel Cedek translates into something like 'Paws of Justice' in the common tongue, and judging by that name, I would guess this fellow was a paladin or holy warrior of some sort. Most of them are."
Tripicus paused there for a moment to regard the party who were happily nodding, listening intently to the old bear, when a voice came from the back of the theater.
"Tripicus, every time I have to come in here and shoo you out after one of your talks, you're worse than an old woman!" A tall elven looking woman in the same voluminous red robes as the Gith from the front desk was looking down from the entrance, a cheeky smile on her face.
Tripicus rolled his eyes, "aasimar," he winked at the party. "We had best get going," he said, raising his voice so the woman could hear him, "if I tarry too much longer one of these Signers will just imagine me out of existence."
"And very well we might Guardinal," the woman replied across the theater, "we'd be able to make twice as much from this hall if we didn't have to wait around for you to leave."
"Yes, yes Milandra, I'm going. Important business don't you know," he said, cocking his head toward the party. "Come friends, I have a private room here at the Hall, we'll retire there and you can tell me what I can do for you."
Tripicus smiled and waved to the aasimar Milandra as they left the theater and walked to his private room.
Tripicus' rooms was just as they had imagined it would be - a scholarly office filled to the roof with books and files, scrolls and parchments, statues, stones, jars and other assorted trinkets. A large black board was set upon the wall behind a large wooden desk that was similarly stacked with scrolls and tomes. Several chairs were spread about the room, and as they entered, Tripicus motion for them to grab a chair and take seats around his huge desk. The Ursinal himself went around to sit in a large, plush leather chair, well worn from the many hours he must have sat there. Once they were all seated comfortably he started the conversation off.
"So it seems you are in need of answers. Hopefully Fallon hasn't raised your hopes too much. In a way we are opposites; myself, a planar with a keen interest in the prime worlds, and him a clueless sod obsessed with the planes. I'll tell you what I can, but be warned, I will likely not possess the lore you seek off the top of my ample head."
Seeing no reason in waiting, Jean dove straight in. "What can you tell us about this staff then Tripicus? Fallon gave us the impression you would be able to help with some information?"
"Ah lass," Tripicus replied, "I'm afraid I'll be disappointing you on your first question. Until I spoke with Fallon I had no idea this staff even existed. It is a fairly obscure object from what Fallon has told me. He is no slouch when it comes to lost or hidden lore, and the fact he has turned up little of worth speaks strongly to the rare nature of this artifact."
Jean was clearly disappointed, and the rest of them echoed her feeling with the expression on their faces. "Have we come all this way for nothing then?" she asked.
"Oh goodness no!" exclaimed Tripicus, trying to push that thought from her mind, "you are in exactly the correct place. While I might not be of much help to you on this, I know many folk who specialise in all manner of obscure histories and lore. With your permission I will begin making some discrete inquiries to try and find out what I can. While the lore of magic from the planes is not my specialty, or really my interest, I do so love a challenge," he smiled at Jean.
Somewhat bouyed by the Ursinal's words Jean smiled back, "so there is nothing you can tell us?"
"I'm afraid I know as much as Fallon was able to tell me, which as you know is not a good deal. I know a little of it's history, but nothing you don't already know."
"We have been keeping it covered," Jean offered, "trying to keep it out of sight of those who might be interested."
"The staff radiates strong magic my dear, I can see it plain as the hair on your head, and no doubt most of the kinds of folk you want to keep it hidden from will be able to do the same," the disappointment on Jean's face, and concern on those of the rest of the party made the Ursinal try and be conciliatory, "but I guess it can't hurt, as a basic measure," he finished, aware his words weren't much comfort. They all sat is silence for a moment as they thought over the bad news.
"I have of course heard the rumours of his return from obscurity," answered Tripicus, hopeful that he might be able to tell them something useful. "The rumours have been floating around for a while now, started by the Yugoloths as best I can gather. Typically I wouldn't trust the currs as far as I could spit them, but I see no reason for them to lie about this."
"We have been given some news of Anthraxus," said Shadow Flame, "anything further you could offer would be appreciated."
"Fact is, most of it is still rumour. I do know he has returned and has put out the word that he intends to take the Siege Malicious back," he paused to gauge the parties familiarity with the term, and happy they were still with him, continued, "and is trying to mass an army. Perhaps not the wisest way to go about it, but I'd guess he needs to gather forces quickly. Anyone interested is being told to go to the City at the Centre and let their wish to join be known. A lot of folk have been heading that way, the promised jink is hard to ignore. I have heard recently that Anthraxus has disappeared once again, but the war effort continues, and his generals are still accepting anyone who will join..."
"Wait, wait," interrupted Shadow Flame, "a couple things here need some explanation. City at the Centre of what exactly?"
Tripicus chuckled, "indeed," he said, "my apologies. Time for a brief geography lesson. The Grey Waste you are at least familiar with, and the fact it has 3 layers?" The party shared some uncertain looks between them - it sounded familiar, but, "maybe a lengthier refresher?" offered the Ursinal. They all nodded. "The Glooms of the Grey Waste are three in number, infinite layers within an infinite plane. In fact, most planes are made of multiple 'layers' as they are called. Baator has nine, Celestia has seven, Pandemonium has four, the Abyss has an unknown number but there are currently over six hundred cataloged by the Guvners, and the Grey Waste has three; Oinos, with which you are familiar, Niflheim, and Plutos. Normally, travel between the layers must be accomplished in the same manner as travel between planes, via portals, conduits or magic. However, the City at the Centre is an exception; it is a city in the Grey Waste that simultaneously touches all three layers, allowing travel between them simply by walking. Clearly this makes it an excellent staging ground for any large army, but traditionally, the ruler of Centre, a tiefling known as Dandy Will, forbids such things, otherwise his city would be overrun by the armies of the Blood War. Obviously Anthraxus has some arrangement with this Dandy Will, because the recruitment seems to be going on with his blessing."
Here Tripicus paused, unsure of exactly how much detail the party was after. They did seem to be happy with his answer so he sat quietly and awaited their next question.
"How does a tiefling hold a city in the Grey Waste and forbid armies making use of it?" asked Unagi incredulously.
"That my friend, is a question I cannot answer, but it does set the mind to thinking doesn't it?" winked Tripicus. Shadow Flame too seemed interested in the answer to that question, but as none was forthcoming, he had another question of his own.
"You say Anthraxus has disappeared again? What are the rumours of that? Seems a strange thing to do..."
"Most certainly it does," Tripicus nodded, "one to whom I spoke on this subject had their own theory on this. I will not pretend to be an authority, but I do love to gossip. My friend believes that the Decayed's absence is related to the reason he went missing in the first place. Seems that when you are the most powerful of your race, yet are able to be dethroned by a single whispered secret, that the most sensible course of action is to seek answers. My friend believes this is the reason that Anthraxus sent several aspects into the multiverse - to seek answers. Both I and Fallon believe you met one of these aspects, your benefactor perhaps?"
None of them were sure whether the last comment was meant as a joke or not, for the Ursinal continued without pause. "Perhaps it did not find the answers it sought, perhaps it had searched long enough. Perhaps it searches still while it waits until it feels it has the strength to challenge the Oinoloth. Either way, I suspect that soon the Yugoloths will be very busy, if indeed they ever rest."
"What have we got ourselves into here?" Jean wondered aloud, echoing the thoughts of the party.
"Now, now" laughed Tripicus, "let's not get all worried so early in the day. There is a chance the answer to your question is 'nothing'. Perhaps the fact Anthraxus, and not some other 'loth, gifted you the staff is of little importance? Perhaps it is fate, or some similarly nebulous concept. Do not concern yourself too much until we know more."
Jean nodded, "you are right Tripicus, it's just it can get a little overwhelming at times. All this larger than life figures knowing my name, this staff, the creatures who seek it or have interest in it. If I had known what came along with the staff I would have left it behind."
Tripicus raised an eyebrow at her comment, and Shadow Flame agreed with him. "No you wouldn't have Jean," he said for everyone, "and I don't think any of us would change it either."
Silvara remained quiet after Shadow Flames words, but Unagi nodded his agreement. Jean smiled, a tired look in her eye, "I guess you are right Flame. Perhaps a change of subject?"
Unagi sat up quickly and smiled, "I think I can help with that," he said as he began to remove the greave from his leg. Putting the armour piece to one side he placed his leg up on Tripicus' desk and asked, "what do you make of that?"
"Of course," mused Tripicus, "you are the one with no memory, Fallon mentioned you, asking me if I knew anything of this." He leant closer to the black gem embedded in Unagi's leg, pushing it and rubbing it. "Hmmm...it's definitely quite cold to the touch. Does it hurt?"
Unagi shrugged, "not really. I can always feel it there, but it doesn't ache."
"Well," the Ursinal returned to his seat, "I think it is best if you keep it covered. Not that I have any reason for thinking that, but, it'd make me feel better I think."
Unagi shrugged again and strapped the greave back over the gem.
"So you retain no memory at all?" prodded Tripicus. Unagi related all that had happened that he could remember; it was not very much he reflected after the two or three minutes it took for him to recount his memories.
Shadow Flame was focused on a part of the gladiator's story. "Tripicus, do you think the Three Wheels were involved in this? The creatures, probably an Arcanaloth, used the phrase wheels within wheels..."
"It is possible I suppose," he pondered, "but it does not really sound like their way, a little too subtle for Silas and his cronies. Also, I would say that the one who spoke the words was an Ultroloth rather than an Arcanaloth. It may be important. Lastly I would say the fact that it used the phrase 'wheel with wheels' is of little significance; it is a common phrase amoung the Yugoloths who like to consider themselves manipulators - I think it makes them feel like they are in charge, weaving lies into truths and such. Just more bluff and bluster from the masters of such things."
"Have you ever seen anything like it?" asked Unagi.
"I really cannot say. Gems are often the focus of enchantments and I have seen many of them that serve many different purposes. Your tale of Yugoloths and repressed memories leads me to believe that it is not good, but otherwise I can only speculate. It radiates strong magic, but of no particular type - it's as though it radiates all types, or a new type I have not seen, although that does seem very unlikely."
"Feel free to speculate," suggested Shadow Flame, keen for some insight no matter how shaky.
"Well....please don't take alarm at this, but it could be a weapon, or it could allow you to be controlled from a distance. It could be a scrying focus, but there are simpler, less intrusive ways of accomplishing that. It could also be used to gift you with magic, but again, given the nature of how you got it, if that were the case, it probably won't be good either. I must say, I do not see any helpful use for it," his expression was sympathetic.
"So we could just cut his leg off," said Shadow Flame, not for the first time.
"Cut your own leg off!" exclaimed Unagi, trying to keep it clean in front of the Ursinal.
"Well that we could," answered Tripicus, "but I wouldn't like to speculate upon what might happen if you did. I have to say, if I was going to do such a thing, I'd do my best to make sure it wasn't that easy to foil..." He let his words sink in for a moment, and then, when he was sure the import of his words had been impressed upon the party, he said, "I will look into it for you. I am curious, and besides, any chance I get to get up the snout of an Arcanaloth, well, I'm going to take it."
The party chuckled softly, but were far from happy with the Ursinal's words. They realised he was right, cutting Unagi's leg off may very well make their situation even worse. They sat for a short while mulling over what Tripicus had just said, no one saying anything.
Shadow Flame broke the silence. "What of Fallon? You said you had spoken to him recently?"
"Indeed I have," replied Tripicus, thankful for the silence to be ended. "He is moving to Sigil, already has a case in fact, here in the Clerk's Ward, just a block from the Hall of Records - costing him a pretty penny that place is let me tell you."
"So he's in Sigil?" asked Jean.
"No he is out of touch currently," he replied, and, not seeing the glimmer of understanding in her eye, he elaborated; "it's a phrase used in Sigil to indicate someone is on another plane. When one says that someone is out of town, they mean they are in the Outlands, or a gate-town. Out of touch means they are on another plane altogether."
"So he is back on Faerun?"
"Indeed lass he is, tying up some final business before the move."
"How can he afford such a place?" asked Shadow Flame.
"My friend," said Tripicus, his voice raising in volume, "Fallon has quite the reputation amoung scholarly circles. Do you think that tower in Berdusk was cheap? He could only afford that because of the work he did for your Harpers. Besides, he has picked up some rather affluent clients just recently. In fact Jeremo the Natterer, Sigil's wealthiest man often brings Fallon work. He will be fine."
"OK, OK, didn't mean anything by it..."
Tripicus smiled, "not at all my tiefling friend, but don't underestimate our Fallon, he has a surprise or two up his sleeve I am sure."
"Indeed he does," replied Shadow Flame, "sometimes he is not quite himself..."
Tripicus narrowed his eyes for a second before understanding what the tiefling was saying, "ah yes, your mysterious benefactor. Seems you have attracted your share of them." Shadow Flame smiled a tired smile. "You want to know what I think of it?" asked Tripicus before answering the question without waiting for a response, "well I don't like it, of course. Fallon has talked about with me, and is gravely concerned. We are looking into the Bleaker named Solace-in-Emptiness, seeing what we can find out."
"What have you found out then?" Shadow Flame pressed.
"Little so far, which is quite remarkable in itself. Typically a Bleakers an open book - when there's no point in the multiverse then there's little point in covering your steps. But this Solace has been in the ear of a few people of late. Oh he's easy enough to find, works most days out of the Gatehouse in the Hive Ward, unless of course he's got wind that you're looking for him, then no one's seen him anywhere."
"Shocking..." Shadow Flame said to himself.
"Now, now, Sigil's a big place in case you hadn't noticed. If one wants to go into hiding it's not that hard for them to do so. Anyway, I do suspect this one will be fairly easy to find the answer to, especially since you benefactor will likely wish to speak with you again at some stage. In the meantime Fallon has acquired an item designed to prevent such magics from taking hold of him in the future - we shall see how effective they are. If nothing else I would like to put an end to any speculation that Fallon might be somehow involved in what is happening around you. I have known him for some time, much better than you, and if my word is worth anything to you then I freely give it when I say he is not involved."
Everyone except Shadow Flame seemed to be consoled by the Ursinal's words, but none of them said anything else on the subject.
It was now Tripicus' turn to lean forward in his chair, a smile coming across his mouth. "Do you have any other questions at the moment?" he asked, keeping his grin. The party looked at each other, curiosity written across their faces. They all shook their heads, eager to hear what the Ursinal would say.
"In that case," he said, "I'd like to ask you some questions..."
"Of course," said Silvara - she had taken quite a shine to Tripicus, and was enjoying listening to him talk very much.
"Well, as you all know, I am keenly interested in the prime material plance, and I thought, well, since you were from one, that I could, perhaps, pick your brains for a while? I won't keep you long!"
Fallon had prepared them for this, and since the Ursinal had been so patient with them, and provided what small information he could, they were all happy to answer his questions.
"Very well then," Tripicus began, "I am very interested in hearing about..."
Six hours and two meal breaks later, Tripicus room was lit largely by candles, the waning light of Sigil providing only enough to make out the skyline through the window. Realising the time for the first time since he began talking to them, Tripicus stopped his barrage of questions.
"Oh my," he said, "it seems to be getting on. I really didn't intend on keeping you so long, it's just that I kept asking and well, you kept answering," he smiled at Silvara who had answered most of the Ursinal's questions.
"Not at all Tripicus, it was an enjoyable afternoon," replied Jean, stifling a yawn.
"But now you would all like to get back to your Inn I take it?"
They nodded in unison.
"Where are you staying?"
"The...Ubiquitous Wayfarer?" Silvara asked the party as she answered. They confirmed the Inns name for her.
"A fine establishment," Tripicus smiled, "they do a wonderful Bytopian grain bread, goes wonderfully with roast cockatrice. Listen, before you go, are you interested in some work?"
The party eagerly agreed they were.
"Well, in that case, I have a minor errand I need performed. It's not glamorous work by any stretch of the imagination, a simple delivery task in reality. But I can't just go and start giving you important tasks until I've had a chance to gage your abilities not can I?"
"That's fine, we understand," replied Shadow Flame, "it'll be good just to have something else to focus on for a while."
"Great!" beamed Tripicus. "Once this job is complete, I'll have more for you - my work is never done, and people are always asking me for favours. I can never say no to them, but it does get me into a bother sometimes."
By this stage they were all smiling indulgently at the Ursinal, and he stopped as he recognised they were doing so.
"Sorry to ramble on, I've worn you all out this afternoon. I shan't keep you much longer. I have a friend, goes by the name of Ydemi Jysson, good fellow, easy to get a long with. He's got something he needs a little help with, an item he needs to return to it's rightful owner or some such. The details escape me right now, but I think it shouldn't be too much trouble. It'll get you out, see some of the planes maybe. Anyway, Ydemi can be found at Jysson's Accountancy, a small building on Torchmouth Lane in Clerk's Ward. It's easy enough to find, in the opposite direction to the Hall from the Wayfarer. Just tell him I sent you and he'll know why you're there."
With that done the party took their leave of Tripicus and the Hall of Speakers, which was quieter now than when they had arrived, and headed back to the Ubiquitous Wayfarer for the evening.
Unagi interrupted their silence, "check this out," he said to them quietly, pointing as a creature approached them with a piece of paper in it's claw.
"Yeah I see it Nug," replied Shadow Flame, "be ready."
Walking toward them was a red scaly fiend, it's leathery wings close to it's back. It walked with what they assumed was the fiendish equivalent of a welcoming smile, but it came off as nothing other than unsettling.
"Looks like the creature I saw in the alley in Hopeless," said Unagi, "um, except red of course."
The fiend was close enough to engage them now, and holding out a multicoloured flier greeted them in a hoarse voice. "Greetings bashers, might a lowly Abishai take a minute of yer time?"
"Sure," Shadow Flame replied as Jean took the flier from the fiend.
"Great!" said the Abishai, "names Cuthleshug, and I'm here to make you an offer of a life time." Jean and Unagi were looking at the flier and whispering between themselves. "Have you cutters ever dreamed of a life of adventure and excitement? Of wealth and power? Of having hundreds, no thousands, at your command?"
"Yes, yes I have," said Unagi smiling broadly, ignoring Jean's laugh as she pointed at the flier and said "see the Lower Planes!"
Cuthleshug ignored her laugh and continued with his pitch, "well 'av you ever thought o' joinin' the glorious Baatezu army? You get to travel the planes an' see strange an' wonderful lands. The Baatezu army recognises canny bashers, and there's guaranteed promotions. You get to command legions of Baator's finest warriors to crush and kill your enemies, the hated Tanar'ri, scourge o' the planes! All meals are provided an' we got very competitive pay! You'll be buyin' an' sellin' berks like they was a herd o' bariaur!"
"Yes," exclaimed Jean, "I desire the respect of my peers! How does one go about joining your illustrious organisation?"
"I'm glad you asked lady, it's right easy to do. We're always open! You just got ta find yer way to the Styx Oarsman and ask for a blood called Retaphis, he'll be able ta sort ya out. You'll be armed and killin' before ya know it!"
"That's great," replied Jean, clearly having fun. "Friend, I'd like to thank you for this great opportunity."
"No worries, that's what ol' Cuthleshug's 'ere for. Just remember, when yer talkin' to Retaphis to mention my name. I get a cut of every sod I send 'is way."
"I will," said Jean, "and thanks again!"
Cuthleshug walked off, appearing quite happy with himself, and approached another group of folk. They looked like quite a wealthy trio, out for a night on the town, and Jean burst out laughing at the expression of horror on their faces as they realised the Abishai was approaching them.
"OK, Jean, you've had your fun," smiled Shadow Flame, "let's get going"
"See the Lower Planes," Jean laughed to herself, "competitive pay!"
"Come on you Baatezu warrior," said Unagi laughing as he gave Jean a gentle shove in the back.
Silvara simply shook her head at the mage as they wondered down the road, a broad smile on her face.
They arrived at the address Tripicus had given them early that morning, the waxing light of Sigil seemingly beating down on them like a summer sun. It was an odd sensation Sigil's heat, it felt more like standing near a large oven than under a warming sun, but it was the sanest way to rationalise the heat.
The unassuming wooden door of Jysson's Accountantcy proclaimed it to be building 1973/2311, but the fact that the door of the adjacent house was 901/1975 made them wonder what kind of insane mailman must own the route these places were part of. Shadow Flame walked up the half dozen stairs and knocked on the door. After a minute or so, with no answer, he knocked again, a fair bit louder this time. Immediately a voice called out for them to enter. They did so and found themselves in a tiny room, around fifteen square feet with a narrow staircase at the rear by a closed door. A large plain wooden table sat toward the rear of the room, and all manner of paper and files filled the floor and bookshelves that surrounded the room. A thick layer of dust had settled across everything and they could see the room was thick with floating dust as it reflected the light streaming in the rooms only window.
"Uh, hello?" called Shadow Flame, looking around the otherwise empty room. He turned to look at the rest of them, with his only answer being a shrug from Unagi. Shadow Flame stepped forward with an eye towards looking around. As he took his first step a black streak raced down the stairway and lept smoothly up onto the table. A small black cat with a streak of white over it's nose sat there regarding them curiously. The party looked back expectantly, but the cat simply began licking it's paw.
"HELLO?" Shadow Flame called louder, "we went asked to come here by Tripicus..."
"Well greeting to you all then," a voice answered them, deep and warm.
Shadow Flame looked about again, but nothing had changed, he saw no one. Turning back to the party he saw Jean motion slightly, pointing to the cat. Shadow Flame furrowed his brow for a moment before turning back to fact the table.
"Was that, uh, was that you who spoke?" he asked the cat, feeling slightly foolish.
"Indeed it was," replied the cat, "sorry if I appeared rude, it's just that, well, I've been a cat for a while now. Old habits and all that. I'm Ydemi Jysson, you say that Tripicus sent you?"
Jean and Silvara both laughed. Shadow Flame shot them a quick glance before realising they were just laughing at the situation and not him. Unagi, for the second time that morning, just shrugged.
"Yes, he did," Shadow Flame answered the cat, "he said you had some work for us?"
"Yes we do," said another voice, slightly muffled.
This was just getting weirder thought Shadow Flame before asking, "is there someone else in here?"
A large tome sitting upon the desk flipped open, and the same voice, this time a little clearer answered, "yes, there is."
"Oh yes," said Jysson, "that's The Book, the reason you are here."
"Rightio then," said Shadow Flame, playing along as best he could. "Perhaps you could tell us what you need?"
"Of course, sorry again..."
"Yes, you've been a cat for some time it seems..." Shadow Flame said, with Unagi joining in the quiet laughter of Jean and Silvara behind him.
"That's true," replied Jysson without a trace of irony. "I'll tell you the story from my point of view shall I?"
"Please do," said Jean, clearly having fun.
"OK. It all started about a month ago. There I was, in a forest on the Beastlands, stalking a particularly tasty looking grouse, when the Cat Lord snuck up behind me and bit my tail. Well, I just about lost an eyeball in fright, and, what with the screaming and jumping, that grouse got away. Hopefully I'll spot him again one day...but yes, the Cat Lord. Seems she had an urgent message she needed me to deliver to someone here is Sigil. I wasn't real happy about it, let me tell you, but, when you're a cat, you kind of have to do what the Cat Lord tells you to do, whether you want to or not. So I take the message and jump the closest portal to Sigil I can find." They were all laughing quite a bit by this stage, all of them very much amused by this small black cat, who continued his tale like a master story teller. "Now, delivering a message isn't a particularly difficult job, and I got it done pretty quick. I was going to head back to the Beastlands straight after, but, have you seen the rats they have here in Sigil? I couldn't let an opportunity like that slip by, so I went hunting. Was doing pretty well too I might add. Could have made a fair living here in this town. But anyway, one day I'm stalking that particularly tasty looking rat...come to think of it, it was about the same size as that grouse...and right, I'm about to pounce on it when I hear this voice in my head..."
"My voice..." interrupted The Book.
"Yeah, his voice," continued Jysson. "The book starts calling me Ydemi Jysson, which is my name, and telling me I've got some unfinished business here in Sigil. I start following where this book is telling me to go, and I end up here, on this table, having a conversation with a book. The Book tells me, that when I was alive I owned this office, and the book. Apparently it knows this because, when I bought The Book, I was tied to it by magic in some way, so it knows I'm the same Ydemi Jysson that used to own it. Oddly enough, I knew it was telling the truth, besides, why would a book lie about such a thing I asked. It tells me that I got it from a blood by the name of Heiron Lifegiver, a top-shelf spellslinger from Automata. Thing is, when I died, I did so still owing a fair bit of jink on the book. So, since I'm not exactly earning a living anymore I thought, hey, why I don't I take the book back to this Heiron fellow? He'd probably be pretty happy to see it. Of course, the problem then was, how am I, a cat, going to cart this great heavy book about? Well, the book tells me I should go and talk with this Tripicus fellow, one thing lead to another, and here we are. How about that?"
They all just stood there for a few seconds, taking the cats tale in before Shadow Flame turned to the party and said, "hey, I like this little guy!"
The rest of them laughed while Jysson sat there, a mildly amused kind of expression on his face.
"So you want us to take the book and give it back to this Heiron Lifegiver fellow?" asked Jean.
"Yes," both the cat and The Book answered at the same time. "To sweeten the deal," Jysson continued, " I know that I had some jink stashed here before I died..."
"Two hundred and seventy seven pieces of gold," interrupted The Book.
"There you go, two hundred and seventy seven gold," Jysson repeated. "Also, since I've got no use for this place anymore, once you get back yoou can have it. Sound alright?"
The party exchanged surprised glances before Shadow Flame quickly agreed. "Sounds fair my feline friend. When would you like to do this?"
"Well, as soon as possible," replied Jysson. "As much as I like the hunting here I'm bored, the game is so much better at home."
"Let's not waste time sitting around then," said Jean, a big smile on her face, "let's get going."
"Wait a second," interrupted Silvara, "how are we going to get there, to...Automata was it?"
"Never fear my dear, I've taken care of that," answered Jysson, "I haven't been sitting around doing nothing these past weeks. I have found a portal to Automata, and acquired a key we can use. Well, you'll have to make it, but it's easy. You just need to write two letters, E's, on a piece of paper, one forwards and one backwards, so they face opposite directions. Once we get to the portal you just rip it in half so that each half has an E, and the portal will open."
"Great!" exclaimed Jean as Silvara went to the table and did as instructed.
"And might I say," said Jysson in a jovial tone of voice, "that I couldn't be happier with the way this all worked out!"
Shadow Flame chuckled again before saying, "hey, I really like this little guy."
They stepped out of the portal and shook off that little chill that always seemed to accompany a journey through a planar jump. Before them stretched a boulevard about one hundred and fifty feet wide, one end stretching out to what could only be the edge of the town, with the other end running into the town centre. They had come into Automata under an ornate stone arch at the mouth of a narrow alleyway between two large, squat grey buildings. It took little time for them to realise that squat grey buildings were the norm in Automata as every building they could see was two to four stories of unform grey stone blocks trimmed with a red clay roof and guttering, with shingles and frames painted the same colour. The boulevard was not overly busy, with several merchant caravans trundling slowly into town, a detachment of heavily armed and armoured guards, and other townsfolk going about their business. The majority of people were dressed in grey robes of plain make tied off with a dull red belt or sash, but there were other travellers as well, and their cosmopolitan dress marked them as out of towners. The party stepped into the boulevard to get a good look at the town, and were immediately greeted by a gruff voice.
"Hey, you lot, what do you think you're doin'?"
Turning toward the sound of the voice they saw a small detachment of guards gathering themselves and walking toward the party. They all looked human and wore heavy field armour with broadswords at their sides and javelins in hand. The party waited for them to get closer, keeping an eye on their surrounds just in case.
"Greetings friend," beamed Shadow Flame, "we are newly arrived in town. Have we done something wrong?"
A burly guard stepped forward, a gold trim on his drab armour identifying him as a sargeant or some similarly ranked man. "Not that we've seen traveler, but there's some rules ya should know."
Shadow Flame thought he heard Jysson's eyes' roll.
"All visitors need ta register at the Visitor's Centre to get a pass to walk around in Automata," the guard continued. "Failure to do that carries a ten gold fine so ya should make it ya first stop 'fore someone else pulls ya up."
"Thanks for the tip friend, we'll make our way there immediately. Would you perhaps point us to this Visitor's Centre?"
The guard grunted and raised his arm to point in toward the centre of town, "it's that big buildin' right behind the Gate."
After voicing their thanks to the guard the party moved off towards the centre of town at a laconic visitors pace. Once they were out of earshot of the guards Jysson jumped up into Shadow Flames arms, and after a momentary surprise the tiefling caught him smoothly.
"I'd like to recommend against bothering with the visitors pass, we'll be running around in circles all day if we do that."
Shadow Flame smiled and winked at the cat, "yeah, we weren't going to do that anyway." Jysson yawned and licked his lips in that manner of satisfaction that cats sometimes have.
A Modron Monodrone
The cat looked back at them and shrugged as best as a cat can shrug. "Modrons" he said simply, as if that was all the explanation that needed to be made. They each nodded and filed the word away with the dozens of others they had encountered since they left Faerun.
At the end of the boulevard stood the gate to Mechanus, the Plane of ultimate law. It was an imposing structure, fully fifteen feet round and fashioned in the shape of a giant gear. An equally large gear lay upon the ground and a ninety degree angle, its teeth interlocked with those of the upright one, and hundreds of other gears of all sizes were set upon both of those giant wheels, whirring and clicking into each other. These smaller gears seemed to drive the big ones with their small precise movements slowing and speeding the movements of the large ones to some perfect, yet indiscernible timetable. There was a short line of folk standing and waiting for the gears, paperwork in hand as a small contingent of guards watched over a severe looking half-elf and several small whirring and creaking monodrones. A hefty human woman of middle years stepped forward to the half-elf, a retainer of three impsih looking children carrying her travelling chests. After presenting her documents to the half-elf the monodrones begin subtly tweaking the gears via several small levers, stopping after several moments to await the ponderous gear to roll around the edge of the flat one before finally clicking into place. After a further brief wait the giant gear groaned and slowed, a burst of radiant yellow light burst from its centre as it stopped at the required place. The woman and her small retinue quickly stepped through the gate and disappeared in an even brighter flash.
Accepting what he had just seen with little surprise Unagi asked, "where are we supposed to be going?" to no one in particular.
Silvara had been carrying The Book in her arms and at the question it hurrumphed into life.
"Scholar's Row milady," it answered in its dusty voice, "to the left and three blocks."
With The Book to guide them they soon found themselves standing at the entrance to a lane that seemed to be home to several shops dedicated to various foodstuffs. Following the directions of The Book they all found themselves standing before another in a long lined of grey stone houses with that red clay outlining the window and door frames. A large sign hung beside the door proclaiming the shop to be "Thandol's Smoked Meats", and the spicy aroma drifting from the open window indicated that they would likely find exactly that inside.
"Welcome friends," proclaimed an elderly man with whispy white hair as the party entered the store. He wore a simple smock of dark grey overlaid by an orangey apron. He seemed a bit more lively than the majority of townsfolk the party had passed as they walked the streets of Automata. "My name is Thandol, proprietor of this shop. How may I serve you today?"
Shadow Flame smiled as he walked up to the counter. "Greetings Thandol, we are actually looking for someone."
The old man's face fell slightly, "no one here but me and the wife," he answered tersely.
Unagi had been looking about the store his hunger stirred by the scent of spices and smoked flesh. Spying a side of bacon he pointed and said, "friend, I'd like that slab there."
The old man nodded happily at the big fellow and began preparing the packaging for the meat. Jean gave Unagi an amused looked, the corner of her mouth curling in a half smile.
"Everyone likes bacon," he explained with a shrug.
As he handed over the coppers, Shadow Flame gave him a subtle nod of thanks and turned to Thandol, "do you know of Heiron Lifegiver? We were told we could find him here."
Putting away Unagi's coin the old man considered for a moment. "Heiron? Yes, I bought the place from him, but that was some years ago now. He had a workshop in Scholar's Quarter until a few months ago."
"Yes," Thandol nodded, "he kind of disappeared. Left town maybe. I don't know either way, but he hasn't been seen since."
Shadow Flame's brow furrowed, "do you know why he left? It might give a clue about where he went."
"Can't say as I do," he replied, shrugging apologetically. He looked briefly out the window of his shop and then leaned forward slightly. Shadow Flame leant in as well. "Word is that Heiron wasn't exactly on the up and up, if you take my meaning. Trouble with the council perhaps."
Shadow Flame nodded and thanked the old man. As they started filing out of the shop he muttered a mild exclamation and said, "you might try The Divine Machine, a tavern on on Brewer's Way. Heiron used to drink there. Someone might know something."
The party repeated their thanks and left the shop.
"I'm really terribly sorry," Tourlac said to Unagi for the third time as he seated the party at the tiny table. The Diving Machine was a well attended and clearly popular tavern, even built as it was, with Halflings in mind. Smiling at the Halfling proprietor blandly, Unagi squatted awkwardly down onto the chair that was set only two or so feet from the ground. The others were not really much better off, but Unagi's height and huge frame looked particularly ungainly on the tiny furniture. Tourlac took their order and, smiling another apology at the big man, quickly walked off to see to their drinks.
Unagi just shrugged at the amused grins the rest of the party was wearing. "It's better than the ground. Just."
They sat and scanned the main taproom as they ate and drank, looking for what, they didn't know, but something might come up.
"Seems like we have little choice but to start asking questions," suggested Shadow Flame. It wasn't their preferred approach, but it had reached the point where they had little choice. The Book was no help. Having spent the last few decades in Sigil it had no idea what had transpired in Automata or with Heiron, and anything that involved some kind of insight or free thinking was beyond it. Similarly, given that he had been dead for a few years, Jysson was equally unhelpful. So, with little choice, the party began to spread out into the taproom and question the patrons on whether anyone knew what had happened to Heiron.
After about half an hour of questioning, and getting increasingly annoyed responses, Jean found an old tiefling, his jet black hair falling forward over his stubby goat horns and ruddy eyes who was willing to share the chant with her. After Tourlac had brought the drinks Jean ordered, he sat back on his tiny chair and started to talk.
"Chant is lady, that ol' Heiron is gone into hidin'. Sold 'is shop and scarpered. None knows the dark o' that."
A derisive "humph" came from the next table across. "Wasted yer jink on ol' Gabber ya did lady, the ol' fool don't know 'is arse from 'is elbow," said a gaunt man with greying hair to general laughter from all nearby. Jean turned and smiled at the man, waiting for him to continue. "Heiron did sell 'is shop a few months back, that much is right, but he did it because he crossed the Council, and rather than pay the music he got outta town."
Jean went to sit next to the man and placed her drink, untouched, in front of him. The old fellow smiled and took a deep swig. "Dunno what it was exactly, but Heiron was always a bit on the shifty side, workin' the Councils against each other. Was only a matter o' time 'til he run afoul o' one of 'em. Hasn't been seen since. Reckon he's gone, outta town. Maybe outta touch." Jean's face fell at the news - finding a wizard of Heiron's abilities would be impossible if he didn't want to be found. By this stage the rest of the party had made their way over to the table Jean and her new friends were seated at, and stood around listening intently.
"Yer both a pair o' barmy sods," spoke a third man. Wearing leather pants and a grey shirt under a heavy leather apron, the man was much bigger than anyone else in the tavern, save Unagi. "The wizard is still in town, no doubts there - he never leaves. Got too much invested."
Shadow Flame signalled Tourlac over, but the big fellow stopped him. "Save yer coin tiefer, I don't need libatin' to spill the chant, I got ta get back to the forge. Fact is, the wizard is still in town somewhere, went into hidin' after Jezrene found out about a bunch of fake spells he sold 'er, or somethin' like that. Good luck finding the ol' cutter though. Heiron might not be the best businessman I knew, but he's paranoid enough to be hidin' pretty good."
With that the big smith stood and drained his own mug before walking out of the tavern without another word to anyone. The party looked around at the folk gathered around them, but none of them seemed inclined to keep talking. The smith had quietly put them all in their place it seemed.
They left The Divine Machine and stood in the street with no idea what to do next. What had seemed like a very straight forward task had turned into a tedious investigation. Before they could really start to discuss what they might do next Jysson cleared his throat with an odd cough, and when Shadow Flame looked down at his he inclined his head in an eerily human manner, indicating to his left. Shadow Flame looked up. Approaching the party calmly but warily was a young teifling woman, her pale blue skin wrapped in body hugging leather armour and firey hair tied back severely past oddly curling horns.
"What do you intend to do with the book?" she asked directly, looking at Silvara.
"Ahh, nothing. I, uhh, just bought it not long ago in Sigil..." Silvara started, looking a bit flustered at having to come up with a lie on the spot.
Shadow Flame stepped forward and smiled at the tiefling through slightly narrow eyes that lingered only briefly on her lithe body, letting her know he had noticed her beauty. "My lady, we are newly arrived in Sigil on business, and seek an old friend. The Book is not important, just something my friend carries with her on business. What brings you to ask?"
The tiefling looked back at Shadow Flame, her eyes hard, and after only a moment she shrugged and simply walked off.
Shadow Flame watched after her for a second before turning to the party a look of mild confusion is his eyes.
"Go after her you fool," Jean said quietly, "she probably knows something. Just tell her the truth."
Shadow Flame nodded, and turned to call out. The tiefling stopped and turned as the party quickly followed after Shadow Flame.
"Look, sorry about that," he apologised, "I was being over cautious."
The tiefling just looked at them all through guarded eyes, but she waited for him to continue. As quickly as he could Shadow Flame explained what they were doing in Automata, about Jysson and The Book, letting the story trail away when he got to the end. As he finished his story she smiled and perked up a little, warming to them.
"My name is Muenscaal, and I know Heiron. You might say we are friends. Since you seem to telling the truth, and your story makes sense I should be able to...." her voice trailed off as she looked over Shadow Flames shoulder. She frowned and looked at the party, "idiots! You're being followed."
They all whipped around quickly, Unagi and Shadow Flame both instinctively reaching for their weapons when every thing went dark in front of them.
"Quickly, that way" Muenscaal said, pointing toward a small alleyway between buildings. "Tiefling, use your darkness to cover the way once you are all in."
Shadow Flame nodded his understanding as they quickly ran across the street, shielded from prying eyes by the darkness spell Muenscaal had placed behind them. They dashed quickly across the way into the alley, and Shadow Flame used the darkness spell that most tieflings were able to produce to cover their movements. Muenscaal lead them up the alleyway, and out again across a wider lane. Moving through another alleyway on the opposite side of the lane, she stopped and turned to them.
"That will buy us a few minutes, which is long enough because I won't be hanging around."
"Who is supposed to be following us?" asked Shadow Flame.
"The Council of Chaos, probably been tailing you since you got into town. The Book is very easily recognisable as the work of Heiron to anyone that knows him. Look, I know where Heiron is, and I'll tell you, but you have to first promise that you'll keep an eye out and don't lead the Council to where he's hiding."
They all nodded their agreement.
"In the Council of Order building, past the public desk there is a hallway. Turn left from the desk and Heiron is in the fifth door. Knock three times, pause, knock two times, pause and then give a sharp whistle. He will open the door." The party nodded once again. "Good. Now, you go to the right, and I'll go to the left, and we won't be seeing each other again any time soon."
The Council of Order building, they soon found, was a large squat building placed just behind the Gate to Mechanus - the same Visitor's Centre the guards had pointed them to. A steady stream of townsfolk, visitors and a few modrons poured in and out of the building, going about the business of law. The party walked in through the main entrance of the building and found themselves standing in a large room. A long desk was set in the centre neatly dividing the room into two halves - one half was filled with small desks at which sat those in the employ of the Council, some of whom also manned the desk. The other half had several narrow desks set along the walls under the windows, and various people, human, tiefling, dwarf, githzerai or aasimar, stood filling out forms before joining the end of several long lines that snaked through the middle of the visitors half of the room. Not knowing exactly which line they needed to be in they joined the one that lead to the section marked as "Visitors".
A Modron Tridrone
Foregoing formalities, Shadow Flame answered, "we have business in the Council of Order building."
"Present your visitors passes."
"We do not have visitors passes."
The modron produced a stack of papers from under the desk and pushed them toward the party. "Fill out these forms."
Shadow Flame began to ask a question but was sharply cut off by the modron calling out "NEXT!"
Gathering up the papers Shadow Flame and the party returned to the rear of the room. There was four copies of the same pile of forms, each neatly bound to keep the 48 pages together. Sighing loudly, each party member began the laborious process of filling out the forms. They went into incredible detail, requiring information about residence, job, family history, and similar things.
It took them about 20 minutes to fill the forms out, none of them answering at all truthfully, and they returned to the end of the line for the Visitors section. After a similar wait they were once again before the Tridrone clerk. It looked briefly at the forms the party had presented and said, "these forms must be witnessed and verified. You must proceed to the Verification Hall and get them signed by a witness."
Shadow Flame narrowed his eyes, "which line leads to this hall?"
"You must go to the Verification Hall in the Sundry Building. Two blocks on the left, four buildings back."
Snatching the papers from the desk, Shadow Flame turned and left without any further word, the party following on with sour expressions on their faces.
The Sundry Building was also easy to find - it seemed everything was easy to find in Automata - except of course the wizard they were looking for. The line to the witness booth was mercifully short, but they soon found that the process of getting a witness to verify their documents was itself a time consuming process. After being questioned on the contents of their visitors forms, they were each charged 10 gold pieces before their witness finally signed their passes.
"So now we are supposed to go back to the Council of Order building to get our passes right?" Shadow Flame asked the dour man who had signed his form.
"Of course not," the man replied, his tone suggesting that he had just been asked the stupidest possible question. "You must proceed to the Office of Seals and Signs to have your papers stamped."
His patience growing thin, Shadow Flame managed to get directions from their witness, and the party stormed out of the Verification Hall and made their way to the Office of Seals and Sigils. A further half hour wait ensured that each party member was at the end of their patience. The bland woman who took their 5 gold piece fee and stamped their forms indicated that they should return to the Council of Order building to receive their passes.
"Will that allow us to go into the Council building and conduct the business we are in town to do?" asked Jean, hoping to maybe get some information about what might happen next out of the woman.
"Business? Why no, you'll need to lodge an intent to undertake business matters within Automata and get a permit. But you can't do that without a Visitors pass, so the fact you have the pre-requisites for that should help. The business permit usually takes three to five days to be approved."
"THREE TO FIVE DAYS?" Unagi cried loudly enough to cause everyone on the floor to look over at the party. They began muttering to each other, and the woman who had stamped their forms signalled a guard from across the room.
Jean put her hand on Unagi's forearm, and, thanking the woman, quickly lead him and the rest of the party back out to the street. It was late afternoon at this stage, and the party's nerves were frazzled. They began walking slowly back to the Council of Order building.
"We can't waste anymore time going back and forth, paying levies and fees and stamping forms..." Shadow Flame said, mostly to himself.
"Agreed," replied Jean, "we need to just slip into the building,and get out of here."
Shadow Flame stopped. "Slip into..." he smiled.
Jean raised an eyebrow.
"Why don't you just turn invisible and walk in through the front door?" Unagi asked distractedly.
Shadow Flame looked at the big fellow, then at Jean, and said "why indeed?" as he started walking toward a nearby lane.
"Jean, do you have an invisibility spell in memory?"
She nodded quickly.
"OK. Nug, you and Silvara go into the building and wait in line. Maybe a bit of a distraction? Then Jean and I can just sneak on in, give the wizard back his damned book and we can be done with this idiocy."
It was a simple plan, but they all agreed it would be effective.
"Well, we should slip back into this alley so that no one sees us cast the spells, and then we'll follow you both to the building."
"No need for that," said Silvara. They all looked at her expectantly. "What if we are being watched anyway? If this Council of Chaos spots us turning invisible they might warn ahead of us."
Shadow Flame shrugged, "I don't see as we have a choice. We'll take that chance."
Silvara smiled. "Where are we? The Outer Planes, full of creatures that can teleport and jump about via magic. It must be reasonably common for these creatures to simply teleport into and out of places. And, when you teleport, the end result is much the same effect as turning invisible..."
Shadow Flame nodded and smiled back at her, "...so all we have to do is make a bit of a song and dance about how we are going to teleport back home before casting the spell..."
They laughed quietly among themselves. It was a good plan.
Unagi and Silvara walked back into the Council of Order building and rejoined the line to the Visitors section. Once they had done their time in the line they stood before a trim and proper man, his thinning grey hair contrasting with his thick black beard. Unagi slid his and Silvara's documentation across to him, and after a brief inspection the man produced the official visitors passes they had laboured so long to get. Unagi began to explain that they were in town on business and thus required business permits. When the man told them there was a waiting period of three to five days, Unagi again raised his voice, and began raving about how their business could not wait that long, and how they were only in town for the day. Everyone in the room turned their attention to the big man, and several clerks rushed over to see if they could help. No one noticed the front door open, nor did they notice the door at the back of the room open a moment later as Shadow Flame and Jean crept into the back halls of the Council of Order building.
The hallway was deserted, and without a word they both moved swiftly down toward the door where Muenscaal told them Heiron could be found. Shadow Flame raised his hand and knocked three times, paused, knocked twice, paused and them whistled as quietly as he could. Looking down the hall in both directions, he was pleased that no one seemed to hear him. The door however, remained shut.
"Try it again," whispered Jean.
Shadow Flame nodded invisibly and repeated the knock sequence, wincing again as he whistled. Again, nothing happened. Shadow Flame tried the door handle. It turned easily in his hand so he walked in. Jean followed, closing the door behind herself.
"Stupid," Jean said to herself as much as to Shadow Flame, "we're invisible." Shadow Flame groaned that groan that often accompanies the recognition of the obvious, and they both dispelled their invisibility magics.
After the brief scene that they had caused, Unagi and Silvara had taken the forms to file for business permits and returned to the back of the room to fill them out on the desks. After a couple of minutes the front door opened and a group of well armed and armoured men walked through. Unagi counted ten. They were lead by a well muscled woman, her short sleeve robed tied off with a belt upon which hung both long sword and several daggers. She walked past the large desk in the centre of the room and proceeded to the rear toward the door that Shadow Flame and Jean had snuck through not ten minutes before. After producing some papers and showing them to one of the clerks they walked through the door without further issue. Unagi and Silvara moved slowly toward the desk in the centre of the room.
The door swung open a second time in response to Shadow Flame using the secret knock. This time the severe face that looked out saw them, it's expression to shifting to one mild annoyance.
"Heiron Lifegiver I pre..."
"Ahh my Book," the wizard interrupted as he saw the tome that Jean was grasping in her arms. "Give it to me."
They both looked a little taken aback at Heiron's abruptness. Shadow Flame simply shrugged at Jean who smiled at the wizard as she held The Book out to him. The wizard knelt on the threshold of his flotaing door and reached his hands out. A loud thud from behind startled all three of them and Heiron looked up sharply in surprise as the door to the small storage room shuddered under the weight of what must have been a large hammer, or perhaps a heavy shoulder. Heiron snatched The Book from Jean as a second crash resounded through the room.
"You have my thanks," he said hastily as he rose and backed into the room.
"Wait!" Shadow Flame called out, but the wizard had already begun to close the door. Moving quickly, the tiefling leapt forward, using a nearby crate for extra height, he vaulted to the stoop of the door way and placed himself between the door and the frame. Heiron tumbled backwards as Shadow Flames shoulder connected with the door, and, with Jean pulling herself up after him, Shadow Flame pulled himself up and into the room beyond that magical doorway. Once Jean was inside Shadow Flame quickly closed the door as a big man in platemail armour kicked the door to the storage room in, and moved in, drawing a long sword from his belt.
Heiron picked himself up off the floor and gave them a stern look. "You must leave," he said tersely.
"What?" Shadow Flame was incredulous. "We just returned your book, and with the door being kicked down behind us you want us to leave? Some thanks..."
"I did thank you."
For a moment he was speechless. "And now you would just leave us to defend ourselves against whoever is waiting out there? We have come at the request of...", he looked around for Jysson, but the cat was nowhere to be seen.
"It is not my concern. I'm sure you were paid to return my Book to me, you don't seem the type to go about doing favours for free."
Shadow Flame was suddenly very angry with this rude little man. "We aren't asking for reward or payment, all that we...."
Everything went black.
Unagi and Silvara both heard the crash of the door being kicked down, and so it seemed, did everyone else. The room went quiet for a second, then the second charge at the door resounded down the corridor and into the room. Unagi vaulted over the desk with Silvara at his heels and they moved quickly toward the rear door. All the clerks simply stood stupidly, their mouths agape as the gladiator opened the door and walked through, the priestess of Selune at his back. He looked down the corridor just as the door to the storage closet collapsed in. They did not waste their time, Unagi drawing his sword and setting his shield and Silvara taking her mace from her belt. With slightly less grace than Silvara, Unagi charged down the corridor, very happy to have someone to hurt. The woman ordered the rear guards to turn and deal with the approaching gladiator before she walked into the storage closet. It was only a second or two before they heard her voice echo down the corridor intoning the words to a spell.
They found themselves sitting on the floor, stars dancing before their eyes as they looked around the storage closet.
"Greeting Heiron," spoke the woman leading the guards. The sounds of battle came into the room accompanied by Unagi's voice as he laughed at and taunted his foes.
"Jezrene," the wizard replied courteously, "took you long enough."
"It'll be over soon," she replied, signalling two guards who had followed in the draw their blades. "Take the old man," she ordered, then, looking at Jean and Shadow Flame for the first time, "kill the others."
They did not need any further motivation. Shadow Flame leapt to his feet and drew his weapons. He knew he would need to protect Jean and Heiron from the steel of the guards so they could use their magic. All three of the mages began intoning arcane words, the guards lunging forward, trying to push past Shadow Flame and strike at Jean and Heiron. He deftly pushed aside their clumsy strokes. It was not just the close quarters of their battleground for Shadow Flame recognised immediately that he outmatched these swordsman, and that they would be no match for him. He smiled grimly as he thought of what Unagi must be doing to them in that hallway. Jezrene was faster than the others, and the air rippled as she unleashed her spell. Shadow Flame felt the magic surge past him, but he was not the intended target. Heiron paused in his casting briefly, but shrugged the effects of the spell aside and continued his intonation. Jean was not as able, and Shadow Flame turned at her gasp, receiving a minor wound on his arm in the process. Jean slumped unmoving to the ground, breathing shallowly and staring into the corner. Heiron smiled to himself, his spell unleashed, sheathing him within stone. He would be protected from the guards blades, free to concentrate his efforts on attack now. Shadow Flame staggered the guard before him with two precise blows, his dagger piercing the man's chest through the join of two metal plates. The guard grimaced and dropped his shield defense as he stepped back awkwardly. The other guard turned his attention to Shadow Flame, but was unable to breach the tieflings defenses.
Unagi stood uninjured over the bodies of two guardsmen as he turned aside the attacks of one that had stepped forward to take the place of the fallen. Laughing, he punched the man in the face before sweeping aside the mans shield and kicking him in the stomach. Even through his plate armour the guard lost his breath, and momentarily defenseless he fell gasping as the gladiators sword sliced into his chest. Silvara was not having as easy a time of the fight, and while she was uninjured she had been forced to fall back several steps behind Unagi in defense. The guard before her was favouring his shield arm strongly as her mace had badly damaged his sword arm, and though the melee was in her favour she could not get past his shield.
As the two wizards furiously incanted it was Heiron this time who was the quicker. A dull green ray arced from his fingers and struck Jezrene in the chest. It was not a physical blow, but a subtler magic, and while she did not give any reaction to it, it was enough to disrupt her own casting. Shadow Flame stepped over the gasping form of the guard who had fallen from his wound and pressed the other with a lightning display of dexterity. In the close quarters there was no room for the guard to present his shield and Shadow Flame was two fast for his sword, driving his dagger into the guards side. He did not taunt the man as he fell to one knee, the dagger wrenched from his grasp, but only did what was required and cut the guards throat with a shallow swing of his long blade. Missiles of magical force screeched through the air from Jezrene's fingers, striking Heiron savagely as his own spell was unleashed, a black crackling bolt that struck Jezrene and forced her back several steps. Two guards stepped through the doorway passed Jezrene, the way cleared for them by Heiron's spell, but the bodies of their companions slowed their egress enough for Shadow Flame to chance his own spell. Again the intonations of three mages filled the air. The room was two small for any of them to use large scale offensive magics so they made do with lesser spells designed to weaken adversaries as powerful as Heiron or Jezrene. Shadow Flame concentrated his efforts in Jean's direction, and, recognising that she was enspelled, set his efforts to remove the effects. Again Jezrene unleashed her screeching missiles at Heiron, and this time he was foiled in his casting. Cursing loudly he did not waste time beginning the words of another spell.
Blood sprayed across the walls of the hallway as Silvara finally ended her opponents life. She had managed to drop his shield defense with an overhead swing of her mace, and then bring it to bear across his head before he could recover. Unagi continued to crush all in his path. The third soldier lay dead behind him as he pulled his blade free from the chest of the fourth. There remained two other guards in the hallway, and, after watching the others dispatched so summarily, they were not keen to take their place. Feeling little more than annoyance at the battering his shield and armour had taken, Unagi smiled coldly and advanced slowly upon them.
Jean's eyes came back to focus with an almost audible snap. Without pause she nodded quickly her thanks to Shadow Flame and produced the wand of missiles from her belt. Aiming it calmly she spoke the word to unleash its power, and two golden streaks of light sped forth to strike Jezrene forcefully. They did little damage to the mage, but it was enough to interfere with her own spell and draw her attention away long enough for Heiron's own spell to strike. A brilliant green arrow streaked from his hand and splashed upon Jezrene's chest. This time she did scream as the acid of the spell ate through her robe and into the flesh below. That was the spell that would decide the fight in Heiron's favour, for the acid would last long enough to prevent her concentrating on spell casting for several minutes. He smiled a cold smile at her as he began the words of another spell. She had little recourse now but to draw her sword. It slid easily from its sheath, the blade shimmering coldly with blue light as she advanced on the old mage.
The sound of a dull explosion echoed down the hall forcefully enough to capture the attention of all within the storage room. They paused momentarily, standing poised and ready, but overcome with curiosity. Then the ground started to shake, rumbling as if under the effect of a stampede of elephants. The sound of glass breaking could be heard along with cries of surprise and terror from outside the Council of Order building. Then they each heard a voice yell from the outside:
"The modrons are marching!"
Jezrene's eyes widened and she began to back from the room.
"Leave. Now!" she commanded to the two guards who both moved into place to cover her retreat. Shadow Flame and Jean simply watched her leave as the ground continued to shake. Shadow Flame turned to Heiron, a question dying upon his lips as the mage completed the words of a spell and disappeared from the room.
Unagi momentarily continued the attack on the remaining guards as they stumbled backward, trying to make sense of what was happening outside. Silvara saw Jezrene emerge from the storage closet with the guards covering her retreat and placed her hand on Unagi's arm.
"Let them go Nug, there's something going on here."
Unagi stopped his attack and let the men go. There was no threat. They ran to the closet door to be met by Jean and Shadow Flame. Wordlessly they all turned and ran from the building.
Outside the sounds of marching were almost deafeningly loud. Some of the townsfolk ran curiously toward the source of that sound, while a seemingly equal number fled in the opposite direction. Their curiosity raging, the party turned as one and moved quickly in the direction of the commotion - Modron Way. The sight that greeted them when they got there was an absurdity they could not have prepared for. Even in the surreality of the Outer Planes, the sight of hundreds of modrons pouring from the gate to Mechanus was not something they could easily get their heads around. Each modron marched in step with its brothers, their single eyes gawking about like those of a dazed child as they marched along at the pace of a slow walk. Through the dust the party could see the faces of the townsfolk, and while the tumult of the modrons and gate energies were too much for speech to be heard, their worried expressions told the party all they needed to know.
With few options available, they began walking along Modron Way, loosely following the modrons in their inexorable march from the gate. They were not slowing, and more and more of the creatures marched from that gate, with the column already stretching out past the end of Automata and into the Outlands. As they moved further down the boulevard, away from the Gate, the sound diminished enough that they could hear each other speak.
"Well...how about that then?" asked Shadow Flame in a somewhat bewildered tone of voice.
The rest of them echoed his sentiment with a nod.
"What are we doing now?" asked Unagi, his eyes not moving from the unending procession of modrons not 50 feet away from him.
"I guess we need to go back to Sigil," said Shadow Flame. "Jysson seems to have disappeared once we found Heiron, and I doubt he'll be sticking around to watch the show...."
"So Heiron got his Book then?" asked Silvara.
Jean and Shadow Flame simply nodded. There didn't seem much point talking about it right now.
"Hey! You! Tiefling."
They all turned to toward the building behind them. Leaning out from a narrow alleyway was a githzerai man, his long black hair pulled up in a top-knot that flowed back down over his pointed ears. He motioned for them to come over to him. They looked at each other briefly and, with hands on weapons, moved toward the gith in unspoken accord.
The gith smiled at them like a merchant hawking his wares. "Well done friends. Jezrene'll be in for a bad night I'd say. Look, I'll tell ya what. Gettin' out of town right now ain't goin' ta be easy. If ya like, I know a way ya can get out o' Automata and maybe pick yerself up some supplies at the sametime."
Shadow Flame laughed, "and why would you do that friend?"
"Look, whether ya know it or not, what ya did back there...you know...stoppin' Jezrene from grabbin' the wizard? That was great. Did me a big favour. Now the guards are goin' to be all up in arms at this unexpected march, haulin' in folk from out of town, you know, folk they don't recognise, as well as probably some they do, and bringing 'em in for questions. I'm thinkin' you probably want to avoid that sort of trouble."
"That we most certainly would," said Unagi, a little too eagerly for Shadow Flames liking.
The gith nodded at the gladiator, "I can get you out of town, right quick at that. Come on!"
Shadow Flame hesitated. The others looked at him questioningly.
"Look tiefer, I got no argue with you lot. True to the gods you did me a big favour back there. I got no love for Jezrene and her cronies, and the fact that you lot, a bunch of out of towners, managed to show 'er up, well, that's just great!" He smiled widely at Shadow Flame, trying his best to convince him.
"Come on Flame," Jeaned coaxed the tiefling, clearly sold on the gith's words.
Shadow Flame simply rolled his eyes and said resignedly, "alright. Get on with it."