Part 122: InterludeInterlude:
The Tavern of Broken Dreams (Music)
"Well I suppose that's the end of that!" Jeanette Dovelle Four-Winds barks out a laugh, "Ho, Shara! Ye've got a reputation for treating your storytellers well! Where can a salty ole lass wet her lips around here?"
"A round for you, girl," Shara snaps, "But your crew will have to flash copper before they see a drink."
"By buccaneer's beard and the honor of the Astral pirates, I wouldn't think otherwise! Ye still take qualia in exchange? Ah there we go lass, a good immaterial sensation for a physical one. Fair trade and all!" she says, hopping down from the stage and snatching up a mug.
Immediately in a blur of color, a figure backflips through the crowd. There is a strange suppleness to his limbs, an odd snap of bone and joint that belies what seems to be more a mimicry of human form than true anatomy. The man snaps his head back, standing with a thin-pressed smile and arched eyes. A shock of fiery red hair sprouts from his head, and though his baggy coat is ill-fitting he doesn't seek to adjust it.
The colors he wears are eye-wrenching: mustard yellow breeches against a purple waistband, both slashed in black and wrapped in a coat of firey orange. His shirt is black as sin and embroidered with blood-red flames. The only thing even somewhat dull about his appearance is his overly large brown boots, and even those he wears without a concern for fit or comfort.
You've seen many Planars in your life, and from the narrow gaze on that bony face you know there's something sinister behind those eyes.
"Well la! Just in time, then!" Jeanette kicks back a seat and props her boots on a table, hoisting up her mug.
The man gives a smooth bow, though one that seems more mocking than anything, "I've listened well and eagerly, o sailor of the Silver Sea. You have a compelling story to tell, and a tale I'll not forget. But I'm certain I will beat you by far, in tales of how we acquired our journals."
"A challenge! Well met, good sir. But rather unfair to declare yourself the victor when the defender has left the field of battle!"
"Calm yourself, Jeanette," Oudilin says smoothly, strumming his harp with one hand, "What is your name, good sir, and where do you hail from?"
"My name? Where do I hail from? Such odd questions, for the answer to both are one in the same: Ileron of Sen-Tau."
Epetrius blinks, cocking his head, "Surely you jest."
"Nay. That is who and where I am."
The Guvner shakes his head, and makes a show of wiping a particle of dust from his spectacles, "Ileron, if that is your name, is a myth. I myself visited the Prime World of Sen-Tau in an archaeological expedition twelve years ago, and all anyone could find resembling civilization was some crude ruins of sun-baked clay brick," he scoffs, "Even the Sen-Tau Wanderers that call themselves the People of Ileron will admit it, as much as they like to claim that they dream of a city of gold and crystal. If you claim to come from the mythical paradise of Ileron, much less the world of Sen-Tau, then you're twice as barmy as the pirate."
"I have heard of Sen-Tau," Scii-Tavakis murmurs, gazing into the obsidian point of her spear, "A desert world, so barren that it would make Athas look like a lush paradise."
"But I am Ileron," the man's lips peel back into a cold grin, "For I was once the city itself."
A stubborn denial seems to form on Epetrius' lips, but he merely resigns himself to shaking his head.
Ileron nods in approval at the silence, and begins.
"Lo, I have had many names across the ages: Shangri-La, El-Dorado, Es-Annon, Tir Na nOg... but the oldest and truest of them all is Ileron, for even though I no longer stand on the world of Sen-Tau how could humanity not dream of the Palace of Ten Thousand Suns? The Arch of Crystal Dreams? Who could forget the Coullan Wings that swam through the skies, ferrying people along avenues of pure hope?
"At dawn the morning winds would blow through the Spires of Harmony, and I sang my denizens to wakefulness. At dusk the kiss of twilight would fall upon the Silvered Quarters and I lay my people to rest. Sweetwater flowed free through the aqueducts and they were my veins. Polished golden marble shone by day and glowed by night, and the walls and buildings were my bones. Every hour the Citadels rang their bells and the priests sang paeans of joy over their lives, and the resonance of their prayers was the beating of my heart. The gods themselves smiled on my libraries and temples, blessed the smallest inn and dimmest alley, for all Ileron was utopia. It was the city of dreams.
"Can you imagine, then, the sheer boredom that a city such as I would suffer? To be the shell of such rejoicing, but never partake? To be the boundary and border, but never to know the adventure of crossing one? I was both prison and prisoner, paradise and purgatory.
"For millenia I lay in languor, feeling the millions of footsteps across my walkways, listening to the mind-numbing murmurs of joy and wishes of good fortune and prosperity. Until one day, long ago, it was time for the Festival.
"They came from distant lands: magicians from Yudanii, whose coats held nine hundred folds and just as many secrets; alchemists from Braen Woods, who carried the Elixer of Truth; long-haired dancers of the Star People, wearing gowns of spun moonlight; shirtless men of the Takka spinning fire-staves and sweating with celebration. Each delegation came bearing gifts, thanking Ileron and its people for the gift of happiness, and for allowing them to see the dream of paradise fulfilled. They laid their gifts at the Celestial Court at the Palace of Ten Thousand Suns, each more lavish than the last, until finally, a young boy came to place his offering on the altar.
"He was small, and young, and terribly malnourished, but he came because Ileron barred no one from its pleasures. In a small box of pressed paper was a crystal sphere banded with silver, pulsing with a sickly gray light. It was a sensory stone, and it contained the memories of who you call the Nameless One.
"I was intrigued, and for the first time I learned firsthand what it was like to explore planes beyond my own. No dry books or texts on the Outer Planes were these, no, but experience, rare and new.
"And so inspired I picked myself up from the world of Sen-Tau, taking my veins which once fed the people sweet nectar, my bones which once housed men and memory, the beating of my heart which once kept faith and joy and hope. I took the history of Ileron with me, leaving behind only the people and the memory of what once was, fading like a fecund dream as if the city never existed.
"For many years I fled and the Gods of Sen-Tau chased after me. Many times they tried to slay me and lay me back to rest on the world which I once called my home... where I once was home. But the people of Sen-Tau are scattered, wandering the planes and weeping with lament over losing what they never knew. Each year that passes more of the People die, and each year the power of the Gods fades.
"And so I hid myself here in Sigil, the City of Doors. Oh such wonder to stand in a city, where no longer am I a border, but a man who has infinite borders at my fingertips! Endless possibilities and places to travel, no longer a place, but an individual! No longer am I imprisoned by duty: here I shall wait and bide my time. No Gods can enter Sigil... and so I am safe from their blades of starfire and opalescent fury. And when the final Wanderer dies, when the Gods breathe their last and are interred in the Astral, I shall be free. Free to cavort across the Planes! Free to sing and revel and explore, crossing borders, walking roads, passing through gate and door and threshhold! I shall dance forever, and never die."
He digs around in his coat. "Pockets!" he grins, "Truly a wonderful thing of mortals. If you kept your hopes in pockets rather than temples, you'd never lose them. Ah!" Ileron pulls free a small sphere, the size of a peach and banded with silver. It pulses weakly with a gray light, like a mournful fog.
With that in one hand he pulls his shirt open with the other, and where there should be a wedge of bare chest there is instead a flash of light, and a series of silver-gray arches flanked by lush green leaves. Down through his heart is a gilded path, as if inviting you to in. The smell of fresh, clean air washes away the rankness of the bar, and down the road you see a circular glass. Behind that window, in contrast to the greenery surrounding it, a desert land of cracked clay terrain and wind-borne sand sprawls across your vision.
"Come now," Ileron murmurs, "and walk with me through my gardens, which were once paradise..."