Part 26: Journal of The Nameless One: Part 21Journal of The Nameless One: Part 21
"I'm telling ya, chief. Mammy Marm's is the way to go. The streets changed last time I went there, but I'm sure we can dig a way if we work at it. Marm's got more mams than all the brothels in the city combined."
"I really don't see how that's numerically possible, Morte," I said, keeping an eye out for thugs. While my purse felt terribly empty, the job that Norochj handed me seemed too dangerous for just a mangled amnesiac and a yammering skull.
"Pft. I missed the old chief who only needed to flick a blade to get things done. Now it's all numbers and formulas and you poring over that damn picture frame."
"I got my guts spilled onto the street because all I could do was flick a knife."
"Aaah those are just details. You crawl back after a couple hours, anyway."
I stepped carefully in this corner of the Hive. At every corner there was an unwashed goon with a knife, dressed in patchwork leather and dented armor. Harlots walked the streets freely, a few chatting with thugs to proffer their services. Part of me pitied those women if this was what they had to resort to. A smaller, more cautious part, though, was glad if the whores could help work off some extra energy from those footpads. The more sweat drenched in the sheets was less spilled gearing up to fight me.
And then I bumped into the gang I had been looking for.
It was led by one heavy-set thing swathed in rags, dyed in red and black. He looked like he was made almost purely of muscle, with broad shoulders and a thick, bullish neck. His scalp was speckled and dark by the beating rays of daylight so that his head looked like a large, brown egg. Flanked by two similarly-dressed members of his gang, he glowered as I approached.
I looked him up and down, a little worried. Dying again wasn't the worst part, but it would've made things quite inconvenient. "Greetings."
"An' how ken I help you then, guvner?" The man's face broke into a sneer, "Looks t'me ye needs a healer."
My fingers twitched, instinctively itching for my dagger, "You one of the men who robbed a monk in the Hive? Took his prayer bead necklace?"
His lips twisted and his nose wrinkled in a sneer, "Some sod wit lines scrawled all over 'is face? Claimed he coulda put us all in the dead book, yet let us bob 'im blind?" His thick lips loosened, and spread into a slow, toothless smile, "Never even heard of such a sod, I haven't."
The thug's companions snickered and stroked the knives at their belts.
He casually hefted the huge axe at his side. My mind raced, and quick as a flash I began to lie my way out of this with all the milk-toothed smoothness I had, "That is interesting. The rest of his order is looking for you, the brothers of Errit-Agge seem to know you quite well."
"Eh?" the man's sneer faded, "What're ye on about? Wot brothers? The sod was alone, he was."
I shook my head mournfully, "He's a member of a religious order, you fool. That 'necklace' you stole is their most holy relic. If it isn't returned, the rest of his order'll come looking for you... and they don't have any reservations about killing thieves."
The man's eyes widened, "Eh... now... we was just keepin' the relic for 'im." He reached into the fold of his robe and pulled forth the necklace, which he carefully laid in my open palm. "Here it is, no harm done, eh?"
It was the sting of bitterness of having had to deal with rogues like him that made me press on. After all, things were rolling quite smoothly, "I hope this is enough to call off the rest of his Order. Perhaps a donation to their cause is in order as well. It might help smooth things over and ward off any curses that might come your way."
"Curses?!" The man's eyes bulged as he made a semi-circle over his heart, "Eh, well, now, wouldn't want any o' that..." He reached into a purse at his belt, and handed over several copper coins. "Take it wit me blessing, guvner. Tell 'im no harm was meant."
I bowed my head politely, clasping my hands around the necklace as if in prayer, "Your donation is appreciated. Farewell."
Morte cackled once we were out of earshot, "Oh that was grand, chief! GRAND. I can't believe you milked those idiots out of their-"
"Shhh!" I hushed him. I looked around. While the gang wasn't close enough to hear, a few thugs looked up.
It was probably my imagination when I thought that bone seemed to flush the slightest shade of pink in mortification. "Oh... uh... Uh, sorry chief. That was pretty stupid, huh?"
I furrowed my eyebrows, "Yeah. Yeah it was."
I laid my hand on my belt casually, the metal hilt of my blade cold against my fingertips. This alley was seething with thieves, a cluster of three stood casually around each bend with gazes that weighed your strength as well as your coin. I gulped. Maybe bilking the guy out of his coin wasn't such a great idea after all.
We slipped out of sight of the gangs and hurried into the Smoldering Corpse Bar as quick as we could.
The slow beat of a drum and the whine of a strange brass flute greeted me as I entered. A mournful tune, coarse and grating on the ears.
The Smoldering Corpse Bar (Music)
It was thick and muggy inside, and the harsh miasma of ash and char thickened the air. The scent was heavy and hot, but my lungs quickly adjusted with each breath. In the center of the bar a series of grills gave off heat and light, flooding the room with an orange, ember-bright glow. The steady pulse of light made the shadows twitch and dance against the few bar patrons that slowly milled around, absorbed in their own business.
In one corner I spied a pair of fiends hissing over thick metal tankards and crunching down on raw, reddish meat. Bone snapped under their jaws and the stench of sulfur wafted not so subtly from them. Best not to think about what creature yielded that stringy gristle.
Writhing in the maw of a thousand lapping tongues of flame, a billowing creature twisted slowly above an iron grill upon the floor of the bar. It may have once been human, but now its skin was charred beyond recognition. Streams of fire formed a wreath around the creature's body, and the flames licked at the few remaining pockets of flesh, causing them to bubble and run like wax down the creature's skeletal frame.
The heat surrounding this... creature... was incredible. To my surprise, the iron grill the thing floated above had sagged and bent from the heat. At first I thought the heat came from the grill... but now I realized it emanated from the being wreathed fire. As I watched, flecks of ash drifted from the writhing corpse and floated slowly to the ceiling.
The thing made no response. It writhed slowly within the flames -- it lived, but it didn't seem aware of anything other than the fire that surrounded it. Its skin was flame, its heart was flame, and I knew, within some shadowed corner of my memory, that this thing was dangerous.
Just past the entrance there was a woman with fading bruises on her face and arms and a look of despair in her sunken eyes. She might have been pretty once, but those days were long ago. She turned slowly to face me. Life poured into her features, and the spark of sardonic light that danced in her eyes now made me wonder if my own eyes were deceiving me. "Welcome to the Smoldering Corpse, scarred man. I am Drusilla. And you must be clueless. Don't ask me how I know that. It just shines off you."
I bit back a clever remark. Best to neither confirm nor deny my ignorance, "Who is that burning by the entryway?"
That longing I saw on her face before flitted across it again like a black-winged shadow before she mastered herself. "That's Ignus, one of the greatest wizards ever to come out of this slummy excuse for a cesspool. They caught him and they opened a channel to the plane of Fire through him, and now he's just a doorway for it, keepin' himself alive by force o' will alone. If someone could douse him for a few moments, it'd give him his life back again -- but they don't make enough water to do that."
She sighed, "Fellas eventually built a bar around him. Sods who like to see people in pain come here. Fiends like it. Folks who don't much care for bein' bothered come here too... the name keeps out most of the berks.""
"I don't suppose you could answer some questi-"
"Do I look like a tout?" she snapped, "Waitin' around just in case some scarred man walks into my favorite bar and starts asking 'is barmy questions. Do you annoy everyone you meet? What a fascinating life."
"Far more so than yours, I'd wager," I said dryly.
"Oh, is that so, aye?" her face twisted into a mask of anger, and heat filled her voice, "Have you ever been in love with a living flame? Have you ever wanted to vanish utterly in the arms of another, to lose yourself in the heat of passion? Your eyes tell me that you wish you had, but you've had no luck. Don't talk to me about fascinating. Scars ain't fascinating. Fights ain't fascinating. Tough ain't fascinating. YOU ain't fascinating."
I paused a moment after letting her finish. The silence sank in so that my next words, quiet and smooth, scraped through the air like a dull dagger against old skin, "Where should I start? I'm immortal, I lose my memory every time I die, I have a floating skull for a sidekick, I'm having experiences that would make most mortals scream their souls out through their eyes, and you're telling me that being in love with a fire is fascinating? That's not fascinating - it's just crazy."
"I love you too, chief," Morte quipped.
Drusilla recoiled suddenly, and looked at me more closely. Excitement crept into her voice. "You're him, aren't you? You're him!"
I blinked owlishly, "What do you mean?"
"He said you'd come! He said you're the one who'll set him free! He spoke to me in a dream and told me that you'd come with an ocean of water to balance him, so he could burn across the planes! Free him! Please, save him!" Her voice became frantic and pleading.
I looked towards Ignus, as he writhed in the flames, reveled them, "What's your connection to him?"
Her voice practically throbbed with a deep ache, "I was Ignus' lover and he, my beloved. We both loved the flame, though he loved it more than he did me. And now he has become the flame -- and because I love him, I love the flame. But that's all done with now. Now I wait for him to douse himself. I sell what little I have just so I can be near him, so I can watch his beauty as he writhes in the heart of the fire."
I backed away. The thought of helping that- that thing unlocked a terror within me that I didn't know I had, "You're totally over the edge."
"He said you would save him," she pleaded, "You cannot escape that."
I left her where she stood and meandered to the other side of the bar. Two patrons stood in the shade of a metal pillar, its surface coarse and scratched. Black streaks seared into the dull bronze metal were themselves slashed with deep gouges, the wounds of many bar fights.
"That doesn't make sense," the woman protested, "I mean, the portals. The fact that the gods themselves fight over it. Its placement in-"
The man waved his hand dismissively, "You don't need to be a Bleaker to see how meaningless that all is. There are patterns, but no real designs. Live here for a few years and you'd see the same." The woman scoffed in response and looked up to me.
She had a far-off cast to her face. She was not exactly young, nor was she exactly old. Perhaps it was the expression of slight disbelief sketched across her features, one that said she didn't believe her senses. When she focused on me, she spoke sharply, but not angrily, "Do you need something?"
"I apologize," I bowed my head slightly, "I couldn't help but overhear what you and your friend were discussing. It sounded interesting."
She pursed her lips, "He's not my friend, he's my cousin. He was just telling me that this isn't the center of the multiverse, despite it being located smack in the middle of the Outlands, despite it being the focal point of portals from all over the cosmos -- there isn't a known place with more -- despite all the quarreling gods do over it, despite the sheer variety and concentration of power that accumulates here. There is no place like this in the cosmos, and he's telling me it's nothing special? Ha!"
"That's an interesting perspective. Perhaps you both have elements of truth?"
She brushed the idea off with a wave of her hand, "Perhaps you're correct, but I find that such relativism is often beyond me. Either the place is important, or it is not. Paradox may fuel the planes, but there must be sense to it somehow."
The man shook his head, his hair beginning to surrender to age at the edges of his scalp. He spoke in a staccato voice, rapping out each word distinctly and clearly "Forgive her, cutter. My cousin," he stressed the word, as if to emphasize that he had no choice in his acquaintance, "has recently come here from her backwater prime world. My uncle, a renowned wizard, brought her here to expand her horizons. She labors under the delusion that this is the center of the multiverse, and she thinks it's somehow important. Since I've lived here my whole life, I know otherwise -- it's a place the powers and planeborn overlook, just as humans overlook the squirrels in their city parks. It's not important, and the sooner humans come to realize they're not important, the better off they'll be." He ran a hand through his thinning hair, "Cilaen Irontoes. Before you ask, I got the name because my idiot brother dropped a fifty-pound stone on my feet and crushed my toes. Now I have iron toes. All right?"
The woman raised an eyebrow and looked to me, "I'm Kiarus. Kiarus Thorntongue. I'm afraid I must endure Cilaen's presence because my uncle doesn't want me wandering the Hive on my own. He doesn't seem to think I'm competent, though he may be right. I don't know this city or this plane very well. I'm not from here. I'm from the Prime."
I blinked, "The Prime? What's that?"
She cocked her head and looked at me oddly, "The Prime Material Plane? The place where the belief the Outer Planes are shaped of is born? The world? Stars, moons, and so forth? Belief and reality? I sure hope you know what the Prime is, because it's an essential part of planar knowledge."
"Er- I knew that." I shifted my weight. By the looks in their eyes they weren't buying it. "What are you doing here then?"
Kiarus sighed, "Visiting. Expanding my horizons. The Prime is a fine place to be, but it's a little too... real, I suppose. My uncle gives each of his nieces and nephews a few years in the planes, and allows us to remain here if we so desire. I think I might so desire. I am fascinated and repelled. But then, I suppose that's the nature of the planes, isn't it?"
The man's stern gaze made me a bit uncomfortable, and after exchanging a few pleasantries we parted ways. My ignorance was a little more crippling than I expected. I had to learn a few things if I was to stay here.
A slightly stooped old man waved me over. A full grey beard and a lion's mane of grey hair framed his face, creased with the touch of time. He wore a couple of shoulder guards as armor, and he kept a helmet nearby. Wrinkled, pale fingers reached into a pouch of tobacco around his waist, pulling out a pinch of dried leaf that he added to his pipe. He looked pretty strong, but he was plump and also appeared to have some sort of breathing trouble. The old man puffed away as he spoke, his voice gruff, "Well, now, aren't you a sight, lad! Never have I seen so many scars blanketing a fella - like a scar cloak ye're wearing! Where you been, hanging out in a grain thresher?!" He laughed. "Oh, I'm just jesting with ye, lad, no offense meant and I hope no offense taken. I'm Ebb." He extended his hand.
I took it. He may have looked like nothing more than fat and gristle, but his grip was firm, his bones thick. "Greetings, Ebb."
"Now, I hereby tender my apologies for the unfair jesting, lad. Hope there's no hard feelings; can I buy you a tankard or two of something to smooth any ruffled feathers?"
"That's the spirit, lad! Bide a moment." He rose to his feet and headed to the bar. After a moment, he returned to his seat with a pair of tankards. "Here you go, lad. Drink up!" He took a massive swallow from his own tankard and puffed on his pipe, "What can ol' Ebb do for you on this fine Sigil day?"
I downed a gulp, then coughed. The stuff was strong, and tasted like varnish. The aftertaste was oddly pleasant however: a sweetness past the offensive bite. I coughed. "It's- ahem- quite..."
"Aye, that stuff's got a kick to it, it does. Ebb Creakknees, Third Measure of the Harmonium, now retired and being a tout with one's voice since I don't step as lightly as I might these past two or three decades!" He chuckled.
"Third Measure of the Harmonium?"
Ebb puffed up slightly in pride and a semi-stern look crossed his face. "Aye, Third Measure of the Harmonium..." He relaxed a little. "Though I haven't served a tour of duty in many a decade. Pushing a quill wasn't quite up my alley after all the fights and skirmishes I been in, so I just bide my time keeping tabs on things down here in the Hive and helping out a little where I can. An' you look like someone who might need a hand... are you in some kind of trouble, lad?"
I nodded. "A few troubles: I woke up in the Mortuary and seem to have forgotten who I am."
"Eh?" Ebb blinked, then frowned. "What was that you said, lad? That you woke up in the Mortuary..." Ebb studied me closely. "Oh now, did they mistake you for dead under all them scars mayhap?" Ebb chuckled. "Can't say I would have been any smarter..." He puffed his pipe. "'Specially not after a couple round o' these. Them Dusties..." He caught himself. "I mean, them Dustmen... Dusties being a rude term to refer to them pale-faced fellas, and I don't mean them too much disrespect... they have all the perceptions and friendliness of a gravestone sometimes, eh? Can't say I couldn't see them screwing that up, no, lad."
I looked around the bar. "Odd place, this."
He nodded, "Ye're in the Smoldering Corpse Bar, lad. Not a pretty place as some, but it's got it's own homespun kind of charm."
I gagged down another mouthful. The stuff was beginning to grow on me. I gestured over to Ignus, "So what's his story?"
"Him? Oh, don't be fooled. He's no corpse, lad -- no deader him. Near as we can tell, ol' Ignus is still alive inside that little roastspit. Near as we can figure, anyway." Ebb wrinkled his nose. "He can smell damnably awful sometimes, too. Keeps me on the pipe to make sure it don't worm its way into my nose it does." He chuckled.
After browsing the crematorium at the Mortuary, it wasn't that tough getting used to Ignus, "How did he get there?"
Ebb took a smoke from his pipe for a moment, as if deciding how to phrase his comment. "Well, now lad, Ignus had a smattering of problems and some not-slight wizardly magicks ta boot, and seldom do the two mix well, if you understand me. He liked to..." Ebb puffed on his pipes, and smoke trailed up. "...well, he liked ta burn things, and he started torching places and people, and generally making a bunch of trouble."
"Well, now most of this was going on in the Hive, and I'll be the first to admit that the Hive is not the first place the Harmonium goes to keep Sigil's law... " Ebb looked a little shame-faced. "A failing on our part, since it may be the place where our presence is most needed. So, by the Lady's reckoning, there was a little streetside justice in the wizardly community... a bunch of tea leaf readers, hedge wizards, and midwife witches got together and managed to weave a spell that was kind of poetic justice." Ebb gestured with his pipe at the figure. "So now he sits there and burns. He's still alive, which I don't think they counted on."
We spoke of many things then, the workings of the city, the Lady of Pain, of merchants and thieves (though sometimes the two were interchangeable). Ebb lectured gruffly about the anomalies of the planes, and the structure of the city.
"Whew. Let me wet my tongue." He took a pull from his tankard. "The city floats above an infinitely tall spire -- the Spire. It lies on its side like a discarded wagon wheel, but there's no spokes that connect it to the Spire. It's divided into six wards, each of them with its own function. Right now, you're in the Hive. I think the purpose of the Hive is to be squalor to the rest of the city's grandeur!" He laughed. "Factions -- philosophical clubs, or gangs if you prefer -- divide up the running of the city between 'em."
I was nursing my third mug by then, "And you were in a faction?"
Ebb raised his hand as if to stop me and laughed slightly. "Oh, now, hold on, lad -- I'm no has-been faction member... they say, and they're right, that once ye're one of the Harmonium, ye're a Harmonium for life. We're the bloods that try and make sure Sigil stays outta trouble. No rocking the spire, no folks getting too over-enthusiastic about hurting each other, keeping the city down to a low roar. We try and keep the peace, lad, and mosttimes, we do a decent job."
He continued, "The city's called the crossroads of the planes and the City of Doors and the Cage. It's got portals to all o' creation, they say, and all manner of beasties come through here to trade, call kip, or hop from one place to another. Now, that's just the quick version, lad; you'll have to experience the place for yourself."
It was just a matter of time until his throat was dry and he slumped down, tired, "Whew! Some tout I am. Ach, can't fight, can barely fill the new bloods with the chant."
"Well, it has been a while. Perhaps another time-"
He shook his head, "Nay, ye have questions yet, I gather. Go talk to Candrian there, he's a good sod. Where I can tell ye about the ins and outs 'o Sigil, the man wears the planes themselves like a robe."
He gestured to a soft-looking man with gentle, far-staring eyes. He dressed in supple leather clothing, and carried various implements of use and destruction about his body: ropes, spikes, tinderboxes, and empty vials of air. He looked half-gone - literally. There was an insubstantiality to his existence, as if his essence had been partially leeched away. He focused those eyes on me, and suddenly I found them gripping and determined. "Greetings to you, o seeker."
"Greetings," I said. I looked back at Ebb, who had slumped in his chair and was snoring softly.
Candrian carefully set down the mug he had been holding, and gave me all his attention. "I have seen the far reaches of the multiverse and returned to tell the tale. I have walked upon the bodies of dead gods and spun moonbeams in the Astral ahead of a thousand shrieking githyanki knights. I have passed the edges of existence and watched my essence shiver away before me. What is it I can do for you?"
I scrubbed a hand through my hair, "I'm afraid I've only been in the city, and I know little of its workings." I looked back at the woman across the room still arguing with her cousin, at Drusilla. Clueless? Not for much longer, I hoped.
"It is not merely Sigil, but all the planes that one must know of. Perhaps I have answers for you. Speak, and I shall tell you. I am Candrian Illborne, traveler, dreamer, talespinner, and so forth. At your service."
"I've heard you were a traveler. Tell me of the planes."
He shook his head and sighed wearily, "I am tired, seeker, so tired... I am fresh back from negation. I will answer what I can for you, but I cannot promise that you will find satisfaction in the answers I give. What would you know? Would you hear of the Outer Planes, the Prime Material, or the Inner Planes?"
"What's the difference?"
"The difference is true essence, seeker. The Inner Planes are matter, substance, true physicality. They are the building blocks of the multiverse, for it is from them that all belief in the elements springs. The Inner Planes filter through the Ethereal Plane - the plane of potential, some say, which forms the elements into the worlds of mortals. Once past the Ethereal Plane, one reaches the Prime Material, where exist all manner of mortals and monsters and myths and machines. It is there that belief is born, and there that the spirits that create the Outer Planes are born. When mortals die, they pass through the Astral Plane, a no-place that is thought and mental energy itself. It is in all things, and in none. It is paradox, among other things, and it filters spirits into the Great Ring. Do you comprehend so far?"
I nodded, drinking in his words as quick as I could. Faster than I did this ale, at least. "Tell me of the Inner Planes."
He sighed, as if it reminded him of his bone-deep weariness. "Think of the Inner Planes as a globe. On the top pole, you have the Positive Material Plane. On the bottom, you have the Negative Material." He paused. "Remind me to tell you of the Negative." His eyes turned inward, to some private horror. "From the interaction between the two springs all of the urge for existence and non-existence, death and life, actuality and nothing. From them spring the basic elemental planes - like Fire, Water, Air, and Earth - the para-elemental planes that lie between the four basic elements, and the quasi-elemental planes that come from the interaction of the four elements with the Positive and Negative. The inner planes are the planes of matter and substance, which travel outward through the Ethereal to form the Prime Material."
"You mentioned negation?"
His eyes clouded over. "I went to the Inner Planes to discover my true essence. I made the mistake of visiting the Negative Material Plane in order to understand my body's urge to decay and the cycle of death in life. I thought myself protected against the ill effects of the plane with my magic, but I was wrong. The blackness of infinite nothing pressed on my soul, and I was beset by shadows that sought to snuff out my very soul. I lost my way for a time - for an eternity - and nearly lost my existence. I could feel my essence falling away from me, and am even now half-gone. Never will I return."
I shuddered. His words had touched on that same void in me, that same jagged cut where something had been torn from my essence. "How did you survive?"
"How did I survive?" He smiled tightly. "With a piece of nothing that held back the nothing. Nothing can stop nothing, you know, and so I carried nothing in my hand to protect me. Do you plan to journey to the ultimate negation yourself? You have the smell of desperation about you, and so I make you this gift. Hold it in your hand when the shadows press in, and it should protect you and your friends somewhat, should they remain close to you. Heh." He passed me a small, black token that looked as if it had no dimensionality to it all.
"Thanks for nothing," I said with a grin.
He chuckled, "You're welcome. Now, as for the Prime Material... they are the worlds where mortal men are born. Planets, stars: the worlds of Krynn, Oerth, Khavala, Earendor. From these worlds men think and feel, love and hate. Their beliefs, good and evil, law and chaos, are the stuff that flow through the Astral and form the Outer Planes, just as the Inner Planes provide the substance for the Prime. You want to know of the Prime, visit it. The boundless worlds of that plane have an infinite variety, as do the planes, but I cannot encapsulate them as I have here. Suffice it to say they are the birth of the Outer Planes, the children of the Inner, and they hold limitless potential within their boundaries."
"And the outer?"
"Where should I start? Do you know the cardinal rules of the planes, on which all others are based? Do you know about the composition of the Outer Planes? Do you know of the Great Ring, and its divisions in our hearts? Do you know of the individual planes? Each of these leads to the next, and so it is best to start from the beginning."
I set my empty mug down, "Tell me the cardinal rules."
"There are three rules you must remember. The first is the Rule of Threes: If you see two things, look for a third. The second rule is called The Center of the Multiverse: The cosmos is so big, seeker, that anywhere you stand may as well be considered the center. Some would call Sigil the center, and they're right - but they would also be right to call it a spot in the endless voids of Gehenna. There is no edge to the multiverse, and so there is no center. The third rule is the Unity of Rings: All things come in rings - rings have no beginning and no end: The Great Ring of the Outer Planes, the ring of Sigil's form, the ring of the elemental planes - even the powers think in rings, circles upon circles upon circles."
He formed his fingers into rings, gesturing to push his point. Suddenly aware of the relative silence, the lack of chattering bone, I looked around for Morte. He was nowhere to be found.
I merely leaned back and tapped my heel nervously as Candrian continued.
"The Outer Planes are created of and by belief and thought and faith. They take their imagined form from the Prime Material Plane, shaped into forms that stagger the imagination, built by the accumulation of belief. Belief creates the planes. Belief is power here. Change belief, and you can change the nature of reality. The creatures that are born here - the planeborn, like the fiends and celestials - are truly borne of the thoughts and concepts of mortals. They each express some sort of ideal, and the more powerful the ideal, the more powerful the being - thus, the being that symbolizes love is one of the strongest of all."
"That's why the powers - gods, some call them - live out here. This is where all the faith in them comes - this is where they are at their most pure and most strong. Their realms are extensions of their very beings, manifestations of their godly essence, all of it informed by belief. It is a place where moral alignment is arranged and interacts, rather than matter. At the heart of the Outer Planes is the Outlands, the realm of absolute neutrality. Probably the best place for a body to visit in the Outer Planes, outside of Sigil, if you don't want to have a plane's morality forced into your heart. Everything balances out in the Outlands - as it should be, for the plane that sits at the center of the Outer Planes. Powers' realms are scattered about here, and there are handfuls of 'gate towns' that open into the rest of the Outer Planes. The gate towns usually mirror the philosophy of the plane their gates open on to - and if the balance of belief isn't kept in the town, the town slips into the nearby plane. It's a bad situation for everyone, because few of the folks in the towns really want that change. Encircling the Outlands is the Great Ring: where good and evil, law and chaos stand in opposition instead of water and fire, earth and air."
Candrian's fingers formed a steeple, "And at the center of the Outlands is an infinitely tall spire, and atop that great spike floats Sigil, where we are now."
I chuckled, "You seem very well-traveled, then."
He smiled, "I have mapped many of the portals here, and have traveled through most. If you ever need a guide, you know where to look."
I blinked, "I don't, but someone else does."
Candrian raised an eyebrow, "Oh?"
"I met a woman named Ingress with very bad teeth. She said she had come through a portal from some world that was opened by a tune hummed near two crossed trees. Can you get her home?"
He paused briefly, thinking. "I know the portal of which you speak, though I have not traveled it these thirty years gone. I will take her home, seeker. Go tell her to await my arrival, then meet me back here, and I will tell you if I was successful or not."
I nodded, and strode to the door. It didn't look like Morte was in the bar, and I needed his help to find Ingress, especially if she was going to run like a madwoman as before.
The door suddenly flung open, and a familiar ball of bone and teeth barreled in, "Chief, we've got a problem."
"Morte! Where were you? Candrian was just telling me about-"
"Yeah, I've heard it all before. Great Ring, Law of Three, very nice," his eyes rolled, glancing around nervously."
"No, Candrian's a traveler. If we can find Ingress-"
He cut me off, "Look, there's trouble. I went out to look for a mammy bar..." I buried my face in my hands and groaned as he talked, "...and was scoping out some of the nicer harlots about, and... well. Looks like that big ugly guy you tricked figured it out somehow and wants revenge. He's gathered together a load of the local gangs: the Satch Uglies, the Four-Fingered Hand, the Red-Ebon Fangs... I think they're going to rip you apart, chief."