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A Comedy of Terror


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I have never been interested in Haer'Dalis, until I read a few posts on Haer'Dalis romance forums. At some point it got me thinking about the infamouse "Comedy of Terrors" (I know the title is different, but it will surface in the story) and finally, a Quiz at the Attic put me over the edge and I sat down and started writing this. It proved to be very tough story to piece together. I hope it works, and if it does not, please, do not hesitate to point out where and why. :bday:


Chapter 1. The Cage


The githzerai people are humanoid, with pale yellowish skin and pointed ears. Githzerai eyes are usually yellow or grey, and hair color is almost always black. Unusually tall and thin, githzerai often tend to be a bit more fragile than other races; however, they often live to be over 300 years old. Githzerai clothing tends to be drab, but practical.


Humorless and almost as unfriendly as the githyanki, the githzerai live in specially-constructed cities within the soupy mass of Limbo. Individuals known as Anarchs (not to be confused with the Anarchists) have the gift of being able to shape the formless matter of the plane into landscapes and even buildings; without the Anarchs, the githzerai cities would simply dissolve away into Limbo. Currently, their largest city, Shra'kt'lor, holds over two million people, a gigantic stronghold [...]


[...] Elsewhere, they're found usually as societal outcasts, hunters, or merely explorers.


- Selected Records of Lady's Cage Mush (1)


Black clouds rushed above Rahk’s head. Sometimes, when the veil broke, colored dots of light twinkled almost merrily in the openings. On a rare day when breeze would blow the smog away, the above would be covered with lights, and every time one would look up, one would behold a different sight. These lights were that of the houses on the opposite side of the city of Sigil, and as all inhabitants of the Outer Planes knew, Sigil was shaped as a ring perched atop of the infinite Spire of the Outlands. This ring expanded and contracted at will, just like the houses were destroyed and build at will and the boundaries between the Wards shifted. In Sigil, whether one looked up or down, one saw only Sigil – the impossible city that had an infinite number faces and an infinite number of portals to every place in the Multiverse. Some called Sigil The Cage, and some – the City of Doors. Until recently, Rahk thought it a contradiction. He knew better now. He did not look up, waiting to catch a glimpse of the lights.


Instead, Rahk eyes were fixed on his feet, or, more correctly, on a murky puddle that grew larger and larger around them. The water pooled in a depression cleverly and purposefully made around a sewer drain. The raindrops hurriedly shot through the thick fog and dispersed in it with mournful ploops or bloomps. Apart from the concentric ripples breaking the puddle’s surface after it consumed each acidic tear, the water did not flow. It only expanded outwards, flooding but not flowing. A small ring made of cheap alloy gleamed dimly between Rahk’s feet. Already it was almost obscured by soot floating on the dark water - the soot that covered everything and everyone in the Lower Ward of Sigil and that apparently clogged the drain. Rahk considered plucking the ring out of the water, but changed his mind. It was worth than useless now, this cheap ring, that only a child would consider wearing and for which Rahk had given nearly every piece of jink in his pockets. It was a key, only the portal that used to be here for two hundred years, according to a very well informed tso, was plugged as well as the drain that framed it. For one mad moment he thought of returning the ring to tso for a refund, but the contract said that tso sold him the key and the map to where the portal had been on the certain day of a certain year. It did not specify that the portal would be still in existence when Rahk arrived, and no tso would ever be bound by something that was not stated in the contract. In fact, even if it were in the contract a tso would find a loophole and be very proud of fooling a berk. So the ring could stay where it was, to be buried in soot or to be found by a street urchin.


Rahk hunched his shoulders against the sour-tasting rain. There could be no mistake - if he persisted in trying to find a working portal, The Lady would simply close every gateway to Limbo, his native plain, and he would never get home. With the sophisticated carelessness she picked the githzerai for the task and now she was letting him know that he was to do it, whether he wanted it or not. There were probably dozens of desperate people just like him, wandering the streets of Sigil pondering the same task. Or he might have been the only one. When The Lady appeared before him, he was more concerned about trying to run away from the looming ten-feet figure than about asking questions.


Under his breath Rahk cursed the day he asked the village elders for a quest to earn his silver sword. There was time when he thought it the most important thing in his life, especially since he had failed the first time, after he had come just a hairbreadth short from negotiating the truth with a band of slaadi that harassed his settlement for years. If only that frog-faced youngster did not get distracted by Rahk’s mention of the Spawing Stone in the oath and subsequently did not try to eat him! Well, there was no helping it; not then, and not now. After a year in Sigil, the young githzerai had seen and learned so much, that the promised reward lost almost all of its appeal to him. Of course if somebody would have offered him the silver sword as a gift, he would not have refused it, but to escape this accursed city where The Lady of Pain was omnipresent and omnipotent, Rahk was now ready to forsake his dream forever and admit his defeat for the second and the last time.


He had neither the will, nor indeed the desire to face the githyanki exile. The chant was that he still owned a pin from Zerthimon’s own cloak, stolen from Rahk’s village. Rahk’s thirst for the pin (and the silver sword, he was promised for the return of the pin) dried out the day he had learned that the githyanki was not a haunted wretch and that the Fated not only had taken the outlaw into their fold long before the ill-fated raid, but it seemed that he had been a factolum, and a step away from being promoted to a factor. Once one of the fifteen Factions of Sigil had allowed a berk in, it put its weight behind him. Rahk had no desire to fight a Faction. He had no desire to fight anyone, save saaldi. He wanted to get home, to Limbo, where rules were few, the ruler’s grip was feeble or nonexistent and even the cities where held together only by the magic of Anarchs and not permanently, at that.


Unfortunately, standing in the puddle in the middle of the Lower Ward was helping Rahk to get back as much as the locked portal did, so he started slowly away, recalling solemnly that the Lower Ward was so named, because it was the closest place to the Hells in the City of Doors. A window shutters opened right above him, almost hitting his head and a blast of hot air came out of it. The gust carried a weeping sound. Piteously, Rahk caught the blackened windowsill, pulled himself up and looked into the opened window. The red inferno breathed into his face; Rahk shuddered despite the warmth he would have welcomed a minute ago, and let go of his handhold. Little doubt he had that it was no coincidence that The Lady of Pain showed him a portal to the Abyss. Rahk shook himself and quickened his steps. If he was to please The Lady of Pain and earn his passage, he had to be in the Finite Difference Cafe an hour before the anti-peak. And before that he had to talk to a tiefling named Haer’Dalis.


Rahk spotted Haer’Dalis, who was amusing himself by scowling at a school of the light boys, most of which were, actually, girls. The children glowed with the magic light and only one or two shied away from the blue-haired tiefling. Those were the toughest of the street urchins, and they had long forgotten moms’ tales of the tieflings that would snatch the naughty ones in the dark hours before anti-peak; for them the dark hours were when they would make the most money escorting those lost or drunk to their homes or inns. “They are not afraid of me,†Haer’Dalis said instead of a greeting. “Why would they?†Rahk rejoined, delicately looking away, “you have little enough in your appearance to alert an observant adult, let alone those unfortunate, whose attention is all on either potential clients or their rivals.†Haer’Dalis shuffled his feet. “Hooves?†Rahk wondered, “Or worse?†No tiefling ever seemed to know or care which of his ancestors passed on a tail, claws, hooves, tusks or any other deformity that were a trademark of this strange race. No tiefling was pleased to talk about his years in the Lower Planes before coming to Sigil. This suited Rahk’s reclusive nature just fine.


The githzerai only befriended Haer’Dalis because he had first met him on Limbo, and because Haer’Dalis persistently sought him out again and again. Finally Rahk understood why: Haer’Dalis was enchanted by the theatre, something that Rahk could not comprehend. He was an actor, alright, but only because Miss Realis Shai employed him knowing that he did not belong to any of the Sigil’s Factions. Rahk was a slim, unremarkable man, without beauty or strength. That very ambivalence gave him certain smoothness and allowed to slip into different roles with a remarkable ease. It was a simple way to get jink. Haer’Dalis wanted to act as hotly as Rahk himself wanted to return home. Somehow, the young fiendblood put into his stubborn head that it was how he would prove himself to Sigil, and more importantly, to Miss Raelis Shai. Rahk saw little ability in the man, but the tiefling’s enthusiasm and hard work corrected some mistakes and his handsomeness masked the others. Rahk guided Haer’Dalis carefully to select the pieces that made his weaknesses appear as his strength, and were not spoiled by the youth’s eagerness to act.


“Why did you want to see me tonight, berk?†Haer’Dalis asked after they chatted for a bit. Rahk cringed a little. He did not like Sigil lingo, he did not want to learn it, for he felt that it would be a surrender of sorts, an agreement to stay in The Cage. But he did not berate Haer’Dalis – just like he did not berate his friend for allowing a clever factotum to sway him into one of the Factions (Rahk suspected that it was Doomguard) – Haer’Dalis was making Sigil his home, and Rahk could not bring himself to blame a denizen of the Lower Plains for liking the City of Doors.


“My friend,†Rahk said, “I think you are ready to be presented at the Beakon. There will be an audition for the next season, and –“


“When?†Haer’Dalis face shone with excitement. “Tomorrow,†Rahk replied. Haer’Dalis was immediately in a hurry: he had to select his reading; wash his hear; find a nicer shirt… Rahk smiled despite himself. But when Haer’Dalis left running, githzerai’s gaunt face grew even thinner with sadness. It pained Rahk that when he had finally arranged the audition for the tiefling at the Beakon it was not for the sake of their friendship, that he did it, but as a part of a complex seduction game. Rahk smoothed back his slick black hair and sighed. He lingered over the locked portal too long, and now he had no time to change. He would have to go to the Finite Difference Café in his brown tunic and leggings, and a sodden woolen cloak of an undistinguishable color. So be it. The woman who waited him there might find it fascinating. Or not. She was a woman of changing moods.




1 - Quoted from http://www.mimir.net/psmush/factions.shtml

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Chapter 2. The Tryst


While many of the factions [ of Sigil ] profess to be looking for belief, that is usually not true of some of their members. Power is what they see instead. Power through belief, power over followers, power over the City of Doors. This lust for power leads people to do anything: to give their lives to the faction in the hopes of squeezing out power over their fellow man. This isn't always as cruel as it sounds, and power is only the overt motive of few. For most, it is in the back of their minds, driving them forward under the guise of "bettering Sigil". Luckily for Sigil, these power mongers are in the distinct minority. Unluckily, it is usually these that rise quickly to higher and higher ranks in the faction, as they are the most dedicated and speak in the loudest voice. Sometimes, these power hungry berks somehow manage to worm their way into factor or even, powers forbid, factol standing. This is when the trouble starts, because the most powerful leaders of a faction tend to attract followers, and to condemn a power hungry troublemaker will alienate their followers and cause the faction to begin to split... something that no faction wants to see. Recently, the most influential ones of these seem to be the water genasi Prisine of the Signers and Factol Rowan "Duke" Darkwood of the Fated; it's no secret that these two want power, and lots of it...


- Selected Records of Lady's Cage Mush - 1)


Rahk had both regretted drinking off his razorwine, and had known that he could not have managed to last the night without it. The Café was lit dimly, in a half-hearted effort to stay the almost complete darkness of the approaching peak hour. Raelis was late in coming. A glass of razorwine stood before Rahk on the table, black and glossy, just like the leaves of the voracious vine that the spirit was made of. The first swallow burned his throat, and the second nearly brought up his last meal. Jittery alertness filled the githzerai’s slight body and goose bumps crawled up his spine. This agitation would slowly diminish, Rahk knew, leaving his mind bleak, his eyes bleary and his hands trembling. But it would be later. For now, in his state of heightened awareness, he smelled Raelis’ perfume the very moment that the owner of the Beakon stepped inside the Café. As she looked around, trying to decipher who had sent her the anonymous invitation, Rahk surveyed the tiefling woman from the unadorned hair to the twitching tip of the black leathery tail.


In Rahk’s experience, most Sigilians hid their allegiance with one Faction or another - with a variable degree of success. Raelis Shai was one person who could be nobody but a Sensate. First, there was the beauty. Rakh had heard that many years ago, Realis Shai wore a veil over her features to pass for a human. Not anymore. Hers was the beauty that transcended racial boundaries: Raelis was a unique piece of art, rather than the best copy to come out of the mold. Her face was a pale oval, with a narrow lipless slot for a mouth; her nose was a slight ridge raising from her mouth toward the eyes. And the eyes were what she had tried to hide before, Rahk suspected, and what made her Raelis Shai. They were five, the largest centering above her nose, and a pair of the smaller ones both to its right and its left. Dark-yellow in color, each divided by a narrow black pupil, they semi-circled her forehead, like a living a cornet. Not a wrinkle broke the smooth strip of skin that was her forehead, and her hairline followed the same smooth curve as her eyes did. Second, Miss Realis Shai owned a theater called Beakon... or rather it was the Beakon that owned Raelis Shai. She was an actress, a play-writer, a director, and an impresario... in short, anything that the troupe lacked at any given time. And yet, neither her beauty, not even her profession, betrayed to Rahk that Raelis was a Sensate. For those were mere manifestations of the eagerness, the thirst to feel and experience the whole of the Multiverse. Without it, Realis Shai would have been but a bothersome mutant in a tasteless dress. Rahk counted on her being a Sensate, for it could make her more willing to partake in The Lady of Pain’s mad game. There were rumors about the vicious, if polite, struggle between the Sensates and the Fated in the Hall of the Speakers. Rahk hoped that for once the rumors were true - his return to his home world and maybe his life itself depended on the swirls and underwater stones of the political currents of Sigil. He had previously thought, that the only sure way to secure both was to ignore the Factions and their silent war. Sadly, he had been mistaken.


Instead of breathing in deep before the dive, Rahk smiled. Raelis’ gown was horrid, if daring: the green fabric clung to the tiefling’s neck, arms, breasts and her waist, but where an evening frock cut in that fashion would have had flowing skirts, there was a pair of shorts barely covering the woman’s thighs. And from the way her tail comfortably curled around one leg, Rahk suspected that the tailor’s fancy left all of Raelis Shai’s back bare. So, Miss Raelis Shai decided to treat his invitation as a beginning of a romantic adventure.


The tiefling found Rahk with her eyes and her light steps halted; a forked tongue quickly flashed between her lips. After this tiny delay she crossed the room never taking her eyes off him. "Surprised and delighted," Raelis said, lowering herself on a chair across the table from him. Then she took his glass lazily. Rahk knew that he should say something, but he just sat there and looked at the woman, partly hypnotized by the yellow gaze and partly at a loss of words. Raelis drunk his wine so casually and so deliberately, that she had made it appear as not only right way, but also as the only way for the things to be going. Raelis held her pause, but her tail brushed past his knees. Wake up, it is you who should be a seducer here.


Ignoring the persistent tail, which now advanced past his knees, Rahk said: "Raelis, I have come across an exceptional idea for the next play..." Raelis’ face bore the slightest hint of a disappointment for a fraction of a moment, but Rahk knew he had no reason to fear that his rejection will prejudge Realis against his proposal. Such an adverse reaction always implied a hidden insecurity. Realis Shai did not boast that she could have almost any man she wanted. She could and she often did. And she was confident enough to be content with ‘almost’.


The tail prodded the githzerai, making it clear that at least part of Raelis’ heart was still set on the romantic prelude: “Yes?â€Â

Rahk shifted in his chair and leaned forward; Raelis imitated his move. Their heads were almost touching and Raelis orbs shone brightly above the empty glass.


“Our plays, Raelis, they are all myth, some complex brew having nothing to do with what happening out there in the streets of Sigil. I… I heard this story – a true story of a man who lives among us and which will attract crowds. Imagine a man of a great strength and power, a noble man…â€Â

Raelis chuckled: “Then it is not a play about you and your life, as I feared. Usually, that is what I get when people divulge to me their wonderful ideas. But do continue. So far we have a great hero without reproach…â€Â


“Yes,†Rahk coughed subconsciously, and gathered himself. “Yes, a hero without reproach. He had to sacrifice himself to save those he loves. But it was not the quick death that he got, but the years of torment. The pain and disappointment leached honor out of him, leaving just a skeleton of strength and will. He started his life anew, caring now only for one person’s desires – his own. And emptied now as he was, his only craving was power. He had become at first a messenger and then a secretary of a Factol. Then through lies and intrigues he wrestled from his benefactor both his position and his fortune and enveloped half the city in the tenets of terror…â€Â


“Another tragedy…†Raelis said, getting up abruptly, “I am not interested. Walk me home.â€Â


“Not a tragedy, Raelis,†Rahk said, remaining sited, “A comedy. A comedy of terror, if you wish. Once his black nets are exposed and demystified, people would laugh, like children laugh over the ‘dragon’ in the dark room, that a lamp reveals to be a jacket hanging on the chair. And, to add to the merriment, we can make an ending where the powerful and merciful ruler casts him down. People always laugh the loudest when they see someone greater than them humiliated and revealed to be a common crook.â€Â


“And I thought that you have proudly rejected kriegstanz, Rahk,†Raelis hissed furiously. “Why, you have hurled it at everyone that you do not belong to a Faction, and you were so eager, that some suspect you to be an Anarchist. Then others think you are of Bleak Cabal. Or an Indep. But what you have just offered to me… I think you were telling the truth – you have never belonged to any Faction. Not even as a Namer!†She took in a breath in a trained way of an actress preparing for an important monologue.


“Five hundred years ago, or maybe even more than that, there were fifty, not fifteen Factions of Sigil. And then, one day, The Lady announced that in the fortnight only fifteen would remain. Those who do not belong would die… and many did die. Well, it does not make a sliver of a difference if there are fifteen or fifty Factions: the berks like you, who have no idea of what is going on and what they are getting themselves into, inevitably get themselves killed.â€Â


“Now, Rahk, we are going somewhere safe and you are going to sing me your chant. Then you will sit tight and listen very attentively to what I shall tell you to do. Then you shall do exactly that. Up!†Rahk jumped to his feet, a sick feeling spreading inside him. “Your kin or mine?†Raelis asked, pleased with his eagerness. Rahk blushed. “I rent a room in the Lower Ward,†he said softly. Raelis’ eyeline shot up: “Don’t I pay you well enough?†Rahk bowed: “Miss Shai, my wages are more than adequate. I am simply not as wise as I should be.â€Â


“And that is the truth, he thought bitterly, “Living in a rotten hole and buying portal keys from tso…†at the same time as Raelis snorted, evidently agreeing with his self-assessment. “Why me?†he thought dully for the thousandth time and, later, following Raelis’ indeed bare back out of the Finite Difference Cafe, for the very first time he thought: “Why her?â€Â

By the entrance stood the inevitable light boys, bathed in the soft light spreading from their own bodies. In the full darkness they looked so fragile to Rahk, that in his bleak mood he almost wept with pity. He never noticed it when Raelis’ arm slipped through his and settled confidently on his arm. When he did notice, his first impulse was to pull away; even the shadows dancing and cress-crossing on the pavement showed him as sickly if tall by the side of a woman of plenty and mystery. Apparently, Rahk was not the only one who considered him a poor match for Raelis Shai. When he spilled every coin he had left in his pockets into the light boy’s cupped palms, the brat grinned up at him and said ungratefully: “So that’s how a berk like you and a bubber like her…†The amused grimace on the brat’s well lit, yet unwashed face spoke volumes. Miss Shai leaned over the get and clutched his shoulder mercilessly: “There are some pleasures that yield exactly what you expect. Bedding a man is not one of them. Before you, stands the greatest actor on Sigil.†When Raelis released the boy, he staggered back a step, squinting at Rahk. The githzerai drew away into shadows, uncomfortable as ever of a recognizing stare. Raelis’s tail gave him a gentle push and he walked into the Beakon. Miss Shai’s small apartment occupied half of the second floor, the rest of it given to the theater’s needs. No matter how pressing their conversation had been, Raelis wanted to go past the stage. “I have never came home without stopping by it,†she explained almost apologetically, and Rahk followed her obediently.


At that time of night, the theatre should have been empty, but to Rahk’s surprise someone sat in the middle of the stage, singing, and two listeners lounged lazily in the first row. Evidently, the song did not enchant them, as they turned readily to eye Rahk and Raelis, after hearing the sound of their steps.


Rahk recognized the tiny singer because her face was fully covered by golden locks as she crouched over the lute. It was the Ticket girl, most often called Tick, because the chant was that she blithely sought out actor’s company when they least wanted it. The chant was that she encroached upon couples’ amorous interludes, companionable silence of friends and even miserable lonely drunks. He suspected that her reputation for ‘bad timing’ was explained by one simple thing: nobody really wanted to befriend or take a any interest in her; there was simply no good time to talk to Tick…


Her real name was Glafira, and Rahk had heard her sing before – and just like now, her voice was small and drawling, mocking her own masterful lute melody. No doubt her listeners wanted to rehearse a dancing number and their attention now was a payment for Glafira’s music. Whatever the chant was, Rahk thought that actors used Glafira’s admiration and willing servitude mercilessly. She courted the troupe’s approval so badly and overtly that there was no way that her extra services would ever stop being taken as her due. Rahk suspected that the reason why she let the hair fall over her face was that she had hoped that obscuring her round, plump, pink-cheeked face would make her voice appear womanlier. The hair was of a pretty color, and almost unheard of between the gnomes, but thick and brittle as well. She chose one of the popular ballads, of the sort that had little meaning and weird wording, which led a willing listened to make what he will of it.


I’ve been missing my soul,

Since the day before last

Wait a moment good Sir,

Have you seen it per chance?


Rahk felt his heart go small, as if squeezed by a cruel hand. It was a love song, of course. Rahk did not doubt that all but him in this room had heard it from the ‘real’ bards. But he glided through his life in Sigil as speedily and unobtrusively as he could, and among other things he had never stopped to listen to the bards and their sweet tunes. So, he was not familiar with how it should sound. Glafira’s childish cranky voice made an impossible transformation – she seemed to have almost sung it from experience. As if she indeed knew how it feels to miss a soul. Or was missing it just now. An idea of a soulless being is forever terrifying and Rahk thought it galling that someone would make a song out of it. The scariest part was that he believed that the gnome saw him through her veil of coarse hair and sang to him.


It should look slightly odd

It should bear the marks

Of the painful sort

Have you seen it per chance?


“I should never again touch razorwine,†Rahk thought, taking Raelis’ elbow and urging her onward. It would not do for him to start crying out of pity for the light boys, the Tick, Raelis and most of all for himself. The actors smiled at Raelis and Rahk. His heart left raw by razorwine, it jarred Rahk, that there were no trace of speculation and excitement in their eyes when they saw them together in the middle of the night going to Raelis’ apartments. Clearly, he had become a man that could be caught in a woman’s bed, say that he was rehearsing a scene and nobody would doubt his word.


By the time Rahk stepped into Raelis cozy sitting room, ire rose in him to prove them all wrong. Before he fully realized what he was doing, Rahk was kissing Raelis plaintively. And then, to his surprise, hungrily. Raelis laughed throatily retreating a small step after each of his kiss until they found themselves in her bedchamber. He dug into the lustrous tangle of her hair, releasing a catch on the gown’s collar and it fell off her effortlessly. Raelis’ palms stroke his back as he tried to pull his tunic over his head. “And I thought you wanted to discuss a satire against Duke Darkwood with me,†Raelis whispered amusingly. He continued struggling, trapped in the drab fabric. Raelis’ hands left his waist and magically unraveled him from the folds and sleeves.


“Is it your first time?†She asked tenderly and Rahk said it was without losing a beat. He spread her on the bed, and kneeled by her, when he saw a thick manuscript tied with a string on the vanity table. He froze, gaping at it until Raelis lifted herself on one elbow to discern the reason for the delay.


“Yes, this is my next play, finished and ready for rehearsals. I thought to take a fortnight off before the season this year,†Raelis explained. He said nothing, his eyes fixed on the manuscript. Raelis sighed, rolled away from him, and grabbed the leather folder. “Would you stop thinking of it?†Raelis growled at him, and when he cast his eyes down, away from the pages, she herself looked at the bundle in her hands longingly and then hurled it into the fireplace. Rahk yelped out and jumped after it gingerly. Despite his quickness he was too late. Raelis had aimed well, and the fire burned hot that night in her apartment.


“You do have a copy…†he whispered to her, blowing on his burned fingers. She came from behind him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders: “Of course I don’t, silly boy. Come with me, and let us talk about plays and politics in the morning. Night is for other needs.â€Â


Night was not long enough, Rahk thought, nuzzling sleepily the black stripe that run from Raelis’ tail up her spine to her neck and disappeared under her hair. He belatedly wondered why he had not sought a comfort of a woman’s body against the inhospitable clime of Sigil before. It was so soft, so welcoming, so delicious… He berated himself for a fool. He should have – then perhaps he would have spent the night knowing that Raelis would write the play, the Beakon would play it, the Duke would be mocked to the satisfaction of The Lady of Pain and he, Rahk, would be on his way to Limbo… Instead, he had spent this night entwining himself with the last woman he should have touched.


“Will you… will you write my play?†he asked quietly. “No,†Raelis replied, turning over to lie on her back, “ I admit that a part of me greatly desires to mock Rowan Darkwood and his devices mercilessly, but I want to keep my hide whole.†Rahk licked his lips and rejoined softly: “There are ways to make it safe.†Raelis shook her head firmly: “No. As well to say that one can make strolling through the Demonweb Pits safe.†After a pause she added: “Enough of this foolishness. It is almost time for auditions. You are going to sit through it with me, and after it, I will hear out your chant. You are in a need of a woman to take care of you.†Suddenly distant, Raelis donned a simple dress of black and white and just as simply opened a small drawer of her vanity table. From it she produced a bundle of paper in a leather folder tied with a string.


“You lied about the copy,†Rahk gasped. “It was not your first time either,†Raelis replied in stride, picked up his tunic from the floor and handed it over to him. “Put it on.†He obeyed and then said quietly, defeatedly: “Then let us go and see the auditions.â€Â

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Chapter 3. The Duels


The story that each tiefling could tell is sure to be one of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and greed - and what makes it even more interesting is that it could all just be a lie. Tieflings lie frequently and lie when it suits them to do so. It is their fiendish nature peeking through, tapping them on the shoulders, not letting itself be forgotten. Anger, rage, greed ... are like old friends to the tieflings.


Not all tieflings want this heritage. Most hate it, seeing their fiendish blood something that makes them scorned, untrusted, and hated by normal people. They desire to prove themselves, to show the world that they've risen above the stereotype that it's shown to them. They've survived on their own all their life, and they're not going to turn to other people for help.


... They might be proving themselves to the common folk of Sigil: they are just like them, only with a different heritage and background, only with a different face, but they are able to live among them without fear. They might be proving themselves to the upper class citizens of the Lady's Ward: they are trustworthy and reliable messengers and business partners, they are able to succeed just as the nobles themselves did so long ago. Or they might be proving themselves to the cutthroats of the Hive and beyond, they are ruthless and cold-hearted killings, the greatest murderers that ever existed, the keenest thief, or the best weapons maker.


... They're going to make a name for themselves in something, or they're going to die trying.


- Selected Records of Lady's Cage Mush


"When did I become such a miserable creature?" Rahk wondered twisting a ring on his far too slender index finger, “Did these fingers ever gripped to a hilt of a two-handed sword?†And then, with a chilling certainty: "Maybe I have never been strong. A strong man remains strong no matter where he is. Like Duke Darkwood." The githzerai winced at this new reason to feel shamed. All that Rahk had heard about Duke, before The Lady had impregnated him with the revolting details of the man’s accent among the Fated, spoke of a man he, Rahk, would have wished to call a friend, and not because he would have made too formidable foe. Rowan Darkwood had made his own fortune and adventured far and wide; he married a woman he loved; he had two sons.


Then he was tricked by a demon into surrendering himself in his sons’ stead to the captivity in the Nine Hells. The legends asserted that the Duke was always a man who looked out only for himself, but it rang false. The Duke, who survived the Blaaterzu’s revenge, returned to his home world and found both lands and hearts changed beyond reclaim - and walked away from it... That Duke Darkwood did not sound like a man who’d woven lies thicker than any tiefling and patiently set snares for those who placed their trust in him. He should have not come to Sigil… or at least he should not have aspired to take the Cage over from The Lady of Pain.


"Maybe it was Sigil that broke him, just like it broke me?" It was not a comforting thought. Rahk did not chose his enemy, so there was no aversion to start with, but if he begun seeing similes between the powerful Factol and himself, his game would be lost. Rahk mused on every word that the Lady had said, trying to bring himself to believe that the Duke Rowan Darkwood was a ruthless man who had to fall for the good of Sigil. He could not. And he did not care about Sigil at all.


Panicking, Rahk got up from his seat, intending to stop the whole thing, to find Haer’Dalis, to...


It was too late. His heart pulsing in his throat, Rahk saw Haer’Dlais to walk out on the stage.


Limply, Rahk dropped back into his chair, aware of the interest on Raelis face. She gave him a sliding glance when she motioned for Haer’Dalis to start his piece. Once or twice during his recital she fixed Rahk with her outwardly stare. First, there was fury in her gaze, and then - some sort of detached curiosity. Unsettled by Raelis’ directness, Rahk tried to ignore her and concentrated his attention on his protégé. Haer’Dalis had chosen well, Rahk thought, listening to the piece, and took comfort in the stream of familiar pretty words.


"Enough of this!" Raelis’ voice came as a snap, startling Rahk. But if Rahk was dismayed by Raelis’ command, Haer’Dalis felt it ten-fold. The tiefling on the stage caught his breath laboriously, being interrupted in the middle of a phrase. Raelis leaned herself against the chair in front of her, arms crossed under her breasts. Her amber eyes held the gaze of Haer’Dalis’ blue ones. The untold ‘boy’ or worse hung between them. There could be no mistake - one tiefling had just challenged another. Rahk could sense Raelis’ outrage. She had obviously seen that the understudy with his scarred face was an integral part of the scheme, but the githzerai had never expected cool Miss Shai to explode so suddenly during the auditions. The worst, he thought, would be her ignoring Haer’Dalis and firing him, Rahk. He had miscalculated... And badly.


What was happening between the two tieflings was beyond his understanding or experiences. So he relaxed in his chair, watching Raelis Shai and Haer’Dalis and listening. The trivial everyday noises filled the silence - squeal of a chair as someone shifted his weight, an uncomfortable cough, creaking of the burning lamps, and, somewhere, a little girl’s voice singing a trivial song. Glafira must have been washing the floors. And there was breathing of the two opponents. Raelis’ intakes were sharp but shallow, and the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling was slowing down. Haer’Dalis swallowed rather than breathed, almost biting on air and shoving it down his parched throat. His face was reddening slowly and hands involuntarily balled into fists. Rahk remembered that the man was a fair swordsman, and was quite glad that the hilts of Haer’Dalis’ twin swords did not peek from behind his back as customary.


Finally, Raelis broke the silence by saying with her usual calm: "Try something different. Very different." Haer’Dalis backed away from her lightly, visibly composing himself. He nodded. Rahk licked his lips. Different how? What did she mean?


It was an unrehearsed piece that Haer’Dalis started to read; the one Rahk had never heard him try until then. It was a gambler’s story, of the man who had lost everything in one day. Rahk knew it. By the Lower Planes, everybody knew it! Everybody who tried to read it ended up gesticulating wildly, and almost wailing, intoxicated by the raw feelings exposed by the poem. Haer’Dalis was no exception. He was but a half tone shriller than would be believable when he said that he’d put all I’ve got on one card . He struggled but still he ended up sounding impossibly pretentious when he got to " my card is beaten and so I am lost..."


Raelis’ lips narrowed, as Haer’Dalis staggered closer to the edge of the stage in an uneven gait of an intoxicated man and went down on his knees for the second part of the monologue. Rahk braced himself, preparing to hear out the last part. It was an exposition of disillusionment, when the lyrical hero had seemingly accepted his defeat and humility. It would be inevitably followed by the last verse in which the gamblers jumped up to their feet to go deathly quiet, as Haer’Dalis’s half-mad feverish hero would put a sacred artifact on the card and forsake his soul...


It was the worst part of the monologue, the one that seemed to have been written for one purpose only - to excite the adoration in naive maidens. Rahk wondered if that was the reason why Haer’Dalis knew the blasted poem. But Haer’Dalis spared them the last tragic lines. Instead a single obscene word came out of his mouth. A single word – but it was an embodiment of the sin, filth and unrelieved coarseness of the Hive. And it fit the monologue like a glove; it was perfect after the exaggerated pathos… The whole passage suddenly took on a different meaning. Haer’Dalis previous falseness now sounded quite ingenious. It was exactly what a pompous fool of the first part, who knew not a worry in his prior life, would have said when he saw the end of his good fortune.


It was also directed straight at Raelis Shai. Whatever injury she had caused him, Haer’Dalis just had avenged himself.


Raelis did not blink. She dismissed Haer’Dalis in the same businesslike, impersonal manner as every other actor. The way Haer’Dalis walked away, so straight and stiff, so controlled, made Rahk wonder if he’d repeat his oath once safely out of the earshot. He suddenly felt pity for his tiefling friend.


More understudies came forward; Raelis Shai made notes in her steady angular hand, and Rahk stared at the divine curvature of her elbow and wondered what would they do after the audition would end. One part of him dreaded its ending. Another part was curious to see if he had guessed the internal working of Miss Raelis Shai, if he had won the game.


Raelis but motioned for him to follow after it was over. In silence he trotted after her to the familiar apartments and watch her open the door. His excitement was so strong, that his eyes focused deliriously on the loveseat, the curtains, a vase of half-translucent stone, the warm shade of peach, taking in the smallest details of whatever his gaze fell upon, but failing to see the room. “Who do you think you are?†Raelis rounded at him as soon as the door closed with a loud thud, “How dare you!â€Â


The githzerai did not understand her anger: “It is just a safety net, Raelis. You have seen Haer’Dalis’ face. Nobody would be able to blame it on mischief or intrigue, if I, say, grew ill, my understudy were to take my place, and the sigilians saw allusions in the play that were not there to start with. Haer’Dalis is scarred, Duke Drkwood is scarred… just an unhappy coincidence. An oversight.â€Â


Raelis laughed bitterly: “A safeguard… You have thought about everything, Rahk, have not you?†Rahk kneeled by her and took her hand gently: “I do not want you to take unnecessary risks…â€Â


“Rahk, Rahk…†Raelis shook her head, “I will never understand how a talent so bright and so boundless, was given to a man who neither knows nor cares for the theatre. Here you stand, so sure that you have done good, but what you are telling me is that I have to play my premier with an understudy instead of my lead actor and a mangled understudy at that.â€Â


“Mangled?†Rahk repeated incredulously.


Raelis laughed mirthlessly. “Even you should understand what you have done… No you do not. Rahk, you have taught the boy. Do not try to deny it.â€Â


Rahk shrugged: “Why would I? I showed him a couple of lines, taught him what is expected from an actor.â€Â


Raelis hit her palm on the table producing an unpleasant, reverberating sound and snarled at him: “You made him into a mimic , not an actor, you blithe fool.†She touched his chest, and her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper: “You can polish a piece of granite as much as you like, but it would never become a diamond.â€Â


“The boy has a good memory,†Rahk mumbled, “He will do well…:â€Â


“That’s where it has to come from, Rahk, from within.†Raelis stroked his chest one more time and then took his chin in her hand. She made him look into her eyes: “and gods are my witness, it does when you are on the stage. It is called talent… a gift. The boy you brought in, he did have a gift, not as overwhelming as yours, but sufficient. And you have trampled on it like a blind slaadi, dazed Haer’Dalis with what you can do… It is near impossible to bring him back from the chasm where you have left him to rot. He worships you, he envies you, he almost hates you now… â€Â


Rahk laughed unsteadily: “Raelis, you are surely wrong. Haer’Dalis and I go years back… we lived for a time in the same monastery on Limbo, we fought side by side.â€Â


“That was before he had wanted to become an actor, Rahk. And before he had seen what you can do, and perceived that he would never be able to match it. So he started copying you, and you, in your ignorance accepted it as normal and you even encouraged it. I would have liked to chastise you, to accuse you of rape… But I cannot. When I think of who you are, I understand why you have done it… and why you never though it to be a wrong thing.â€Â


Uncertainly, Rahk smiled: “Then perhaps you could explain it to me? I am utterly confused.â€Â


Raelis chuckled: “You are confused? Of course you are… You are the lucky one who had never known a shade of doubt, a painful uncertainty in your own ability, a heart wrenching suspicion that you were measured and found lacking. For you acting is about memory… because when you stand before the audience, by the irony of gods, whatever words were given to you, whatever role you have rehearsed… it comes out right. O, Rahk if you only knew, what pain it is to get it right for those who are not as gifted as you are. If you only knew what triumph it is to get it right… If you only knew what it means to want this one thing… the full-bodied talent… and be given a meager substitute… an ability , instead.â€Â


Raelis stopped talking and for a while they stood in silence. Then she kissed him and told him in a chill entrepreneurial voice, so different from the trembling and passionate one in which she delivered the preceding speech: “You can understand me no more than a fish could understand a bird’s flight. Is this play that important to you?â€Â


Rahk simply nodded his assent.


“Very well then. I will write it. But I will make you regret a hundred times our deal, because in return I will ask you for two things. You will stay with me and you will act out every line, every role, and every scene as I write… and while we rehearse you will train Haer’Dalis. You will not make him into a mordon who obeys and does as instructed. You will bring out everything you have buried, and you will make him bloom. It is in your own interests, Rahk.â€Â


“You, of course, do not have a clue, but for the rest of the troupe it would be a challenge to change the lead for the premier without notice – and to keep it secret, it will have to be without notice. The better Haer’Dalis would show, the better they would adapt. If he’d just give them a pale copy of your own performance, so theirs would be but a pale copy. And the spectators would not notice the political satire, even if I put Duke Darkwood himself on the stage; all they would see would be a failed play. And people do not forgive failures.â€Â


It was late night again when Rahk got out of Raelis’ apartments. True to her word, Miss Raelis Shai mercilessly used him, but to her credit, she herself worked twice as hard, writing and listening, revising and crumbling paper, feeding him the lines… There was devil at the core of this woman, a restless, eager demon. What stunned Rahk was that she wanted it, wanted that feverish work, the hoarse laughter, the moments of dark brooding over the things that did not quite turn out as well as she thought they should, wanted the sudden bouts of passion when it did go right and was affixed on the paper. She enjoyed that insane, horrendous play that The Lady of Pain had ordered. Rahk had once heard a Bleak Cabal’s factotum speaking of the torments and pains everyone endures. And how meaningless it is… Raelis had chosen hers and she seemed to have a very clear goal in mind, yet, Rahk could not help but to feel bleak.


Before he knew what he was doing he wandered onto the stage. It was but an elevated wooden dais. Being there did not give one any real power or money. It did not make one happy. And yet in the middle of it sat a small gnomish girl, with her hair veiling her face and sang the same silly song, as yesterday. “Glafira,†Rahk said softly, “Why would not you hire out as a musician? Your lute…†Glafira turned toward him: “Because, Rahk, if I hire out as a musician, nobody would ever notice me. Just a lute. They would never let me sing. And I want to sing about… about love.â€Â


She ducked her head and said miserably: “I know that I was not born one of those women who enthrall men by a virtue of simply being hat they are. Nobody would ever follow me as if in a dream, nobody would look at me with his eyes ajar and discover that he has a heart… I know all that. But, surely, I can sing about love.â€Â


Rahk caught himself staring. Glafira scrambled to her feet and pushed her hear away from her beady eyes. Her plump cheeks were blushing. “You… you would not understand, Rahk.†She made a vague gesture, towards Raelis’ apartments (or at least Rahk thought that what it was) and ran away.


Rahk stood in the middle of the stage for a time yet, feeling thirsty and disheveled, before going back to Raelis. His feet felt leaden under him. I am growing tired of being told by women that I do not know what it means to want one thing… just one thing, and to want it more than anything else.

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Chapter 4. The Opening Night


“Everything falls. Raise it all you like, but gravity will pull it down. Build up your house, someone's going to tear it down, and if someone doesn't than time will. Time, the slayer of all things. Look around, the multiverse crumbles no matter how hard you try to stop it. It started crumbling at the beginning, and will continue to spiral down, down, downwards until at the end. We are nothing but ashes. Ashes. That's the Doomguard, we acknowledge that Entropy exists. Some of us want to help it along, some of us want to stop it. Me? I care to stand here, let it crumble without my aid or interference. Anything I do in the end will be pointless anyhow, entropy sets its own pace in destruction as in all things. We are the Doomguard, the Sinkers, and we don't care about what you're doing... because in the end, it all slides away.


- The Selected Record of Lady Mash Cage


Limbo is a swirling soup of chaos and confusion. It is a place where there is no order to it: even the constant of chaos is not there. Limbo is the home of both the Slaad and the Githzerai, mortal enemies (most of the time). The githzerai host a strange group of recluses known as the "Chaos Shapers" who are said to be able to attune the chaos around them to create landscapes and buildings out of sheer thought alone.

They Githzerai are the descendants of a human-like race who escaped illithid slavery millennia ago, led by the great hero Gith. After some time, however, a civil war split the gith race into two factions that have since developed into separate races and cultures: the githyanki and githzerai. These two fight bitterly with one another to this day, but both enjoy killing illithid whenever the opportunity presents itself.


- The Selected Record of Lady Mash Cage , Predaphile’s “On Racesâ€Â2


Rahk passed a hand over his tired eyes, shading it for a moment from the bright light that surrounded Haer’Dalis. It was growing late and he was exhausted; so was Haer’Dalis. Perspiration dotted his temples, and he shuffled his feet at least twice during the short monologue. Now, that it was done, the tiefling sat down casually, crossing his legs under him.


"You are not satisfied," Haer’Dalis observed, throwing Rahk an accusing glance, "What did I do wrong this time?" "If I only knew..." Rahk thought wistfully, but aloud he said nothing for a time. What was it that he did not like? I liked it, but there is this nagging feeling that the performance would not please Raelis. After three weeks closeted with the woman, Rahk could imagine her reaction. She’d shake her head shortly and say dryly: “You did not fool me with this.†Rahk sighed and said touching his chest briefly with weary fingers: “It still does not come from here.â€Â


Haer’Dalis shook his head ruefully: “You sound just like Raelis. “ The edge of hatred that Rahk has heard before in Haer’Dalis’ voice whenever he had mentioned the theater’s owner was gone. Rahk wondered if Haer’Dalis familiarity meant that Raelis had taken personal charge of Haer’Dalis’ education, not trusting him, Rahk, to do it right. Did it include a trip up to her bedroom? The boy was handsome. Haer’Dalis noted the gizherai’s absent stare and added: “Do you even know why she’d torture both of us? If I ever get to play Advisor Gerassimo, they will think me a substitute for the great Rahk and complain over their pickled fish that they got cheated by having to endure my performance instead of yours.†Slowly Rahk raised his eyes and looked into Haer’Dalis’ flushed face. Blood pounded in his ears - he knew with a sudden certainty what had crippled the tiefling’s act.


Jealousy is not a pretty emotion, but it is among the strongest in any sentient being. Especially when one is jealous of something, he desires above all else. For Haer’Dalis it was fame. And, just like with Raelis, who wished to be talented, and Glafira who wanted to be loved, Rahk had what the other desired. At least I can easily grant Haer’Dalis his wish.


“Haer’Dalis,†Rahk said almost gently, “my friend, do not worry about it. I will never play this role before you. You can make it whatever you wish. You will have the premier.†Haer’Dalis shoved hair away irritably out of his eyes: “What?†Rahk smiled: “I fear that I have a bout of stomach sickness coming. It might just unfortunately incapacitate me for the opening night.â€Â


Haer’Dalis crossed the stage in the four graceful strides of a swordsman, jumped off it and threw a hug around Rahk. “Thank you, gith.†Rahk carefully placed his palm on the tiefling’s shoulder and said: “There is another thing. I think you need to deliver to someone but me. If you rest for a moment I will ask someone else to come and sit through the rehearsal.†Haer’Dalis stiffened. “Do not worry,†Rahk said, “she is not an actress, but she has a sensitive heart and expressive face, so you will see if your attempts captivate her, not a mentor’s frown.†“What will you do while I rehearse?†Haer’Dalis asked. “Be your partner,†Rahk shrugged, “gods see, I know every word by heart.â€Â


Rahk felt a pang of guilt for Haer’Dalis’ grateful stare as he went to find Glafira. After all I am giving him the chance to win what he wishes so badly. It is only fair that it also helps me to get what I wish.




The man received Rahk in a large office in the Fated headquarter’s building, sitting behind a massive carved desk. The chair he occupied matched the desk’s style, judging from the part of its high back that Rahk could see above the narrow face of his host. He tried to look away from the man, or at least focus his eyes politely on the man’s forehead, but he could not. Despite himself, he stared challengingly into those tired eyes, sparkling in its deep sockets like gold in a dungeon that had caught a thin ray of sunlight. With his yellowish skin, wispy gray hair and overhanging eyebrows, Rahk’s host might have been his second cousin. Except that he was a githyanki.


Rahk was sure that they both wore the same insuppressible expression of distaste. Long time ago, githyanki and githzerai were one people, but they had parted their ways since and became mortal enemies. Racial hatred felt ridiculously irrelevant here, on Sigil, where everyone was a pretender, a fugitive or an outcast of some sort. The bloodlines did not bond people in the Cage, the teachings did. And yet, Rahk snarled at githyanki, and it was not entirely because the githyanki would have expected him to.


The githyanki tried to turn his snarl into a semblance of a civil smile. The result of his effort was unpleasant.


“So you had come to me to bargain for a pin that I might or might not possess. What do you have to offer?â€Â


Rahk chewed on his lips. Perhaps, if he would name ridiculous price he could get out of this rich house alive, quietly return to the theater and the whole thing would be just an unrealized nightmare. “And you would never have that what you desire most,†a mocking inner voice said, “you, alone, would not get your wish.†The githzerai took a deep breath in and went about selling off his counterparts in a slightly quivering voice.


The githyanki listened with a distracted air of a good card player. He said not a word after Rahk finished. The silence hang and Rahk was suddenly aware that the lines of the poem that Haer’Dalis had recited during the audition were swimming up in his conscience. With a hollowed heart, against his will, Rahk repeated again and again that which Haer’Dalis had replaced - a relic placed on the card, a hall of gamblers growing quiet. His mouth went dry.


“Why,†the githyanki ask suddenly, producing a small wooden box from the drawer of his desk, “should I give you this, if you have already told me everything I needed to know?â€Â


“Because,†Rahk offered hoarsely, “you need the name of the theater. And quickly. They are about to start the Second Act. The Third Act ends with the Queen Supreme casting the manipulative and powerful Advisor down and praising those who defied him. In two hours your Duke will be thoroughly humiliated, and you would have nothing to act upon but rumors. If your Duke does pursue his vengeance - he would appear paranoid and petty. Your only chance to scare is to stop the play from finishing while the Advisor still has power in the end of the Second Act. It will give the audience a different moral lesson than the one intended.â€Â


Githyanki’s fingers groped the box and he threw a cautious look toward burgundy drapes, which decorated the walls of the office. The motion was so small, that if Rahk’s every sense were not sharpened by his nervousness, he would have never noticed it and would have been startled by the sudden presence of another man in the room. He was a tall human in his fifties; he was short of an eye and badly scarred; but it was an air of command and self-assurance that told Rahk that he could be none, but Duke Darkwood himself.


“Give him the pin,†he ordered quietly. “I am buying the name of the theater.â€Â


The githyanki gingerly slid the box across the desk’s polished surface to Rahk. Rahk took his time opening the tiny lock and regarding the long pin made of yellowish metal with a wine-colored plain stone. Zerthimon was a simple man. Duke Darkwood never interrupted Rahk’s communion with the relic until he looked up. Rahk steeled himself before he did, but he found himself little prepared to withstand the piercing gaze of the Duke’s eye. Rahk did not know if every one-eyed man’s glance is more intense; he only knew that the Duke’s was boring into his skull so hard, that he could almost feel pain where it connected.


“The Beakon,†he managed at last through his parched lips, “The Comedy of Terror... Terrors.â€Â


Raelis had insisted on the ‘terrors’, saying that it was a wordplay with the ‘comedy of errors’. She dismissed laughingly his argument that, unlike love, terror has but one face, a single facet. It was on the day they had finished the last scene. “My silly Rahk,†she had said, “everything has a single facet. It is either present or it is not.†She carefully put the corrected pages on her vanity desk, and him, Rahk - on her bed, in not so careful fashion, and tried to prove her point. He had actually agreed with her, for it felt foolish saying ‘no’ between the perfumed sheets and there was no time for longer words.


Can you count the facets of treachery, Raelis?


Rahk felt so sickened as he walked out of the office, that he had to lean against the doors when it closed behind him to quell dizziness. The Duke did not bother to check if he had left. Or he did not care.


“Gather factotums,†the Duke said, “as many as you can round up. Lead them into the theater.†The githyanki asked hesitantly: “Sir, won’t it be better to send someone alone to buy out the troupe?†The Duke gave a dry chuckle. “We are not buying out the troupe. We are pulling down their fake Queen off the stage, and those who rebelled against the Advisor and drag them away. Openly.â€Â


The githyanki laughed along nervously: “Is that wise to defy the Lady so overtly?â€Â


“Yes,†the Duke answered without a moment’s hesitation, “it is wise to make a show of strength when one is in the possession of strength. Make no mistake, Gith, this play is not a random occurrence. The Lady threw a glove into our faces. Two courses are before us: to act as humble servants or interpret it as a challenge. I have no desire to pick it up and return it to the Mistress with a subservient bow. No, I fully intend to fight. †From the sound of his voice, the Duke was both agitated and pleased. The screeching of the chair being pushed away came from the room - the githyanki must have risen off his seat to do the Duke’s bidding. Rahk ran down the hall, afraid to be discovered eavesdropping, but the Duke’s words still reached him, as the two men in the room were walking toward the exit: “A Comedy of Terrors? The playwright had chosen a fitting name. Make sure that he gets acquainted with terrors first-hand... for his errors.†A bout of raucous laughter echoed off the hall’s arched ceiling.


Rahk turned a corner just in time to avoid getting noticed. Another stretch of the hall and he would reach the exit from the building. He jumped when a door opened ajar to the right of him and plastered himself against the wall, praying that he would stay unnoticed. Nobody exited. What’s more, the familiar bubbling and swishing sounds reached the githzerai’s ears. He stepped right in front of the door, already knowing what he would see. The Lady of Pain had opened the portal. He was one step away from Limbo and his hand was still clutching Zerthimon’s pin in his pocket. He was one step away from his home, fame, the silver sword. Nobody would ever know how it was earned. It seemed that hours flew by as the githzerai stood looking at his native plane.


The first step away Rahk made was that of an old man; he dragged his feet and stumbled, his vision temporarily obscured by the shimmer of Limbo. Fighting off the dizziness left by the unfulfilled wish, he pushed himself to walk faster, then to run.


The Beakon was brightly lit and Glafira occupied her usual sit at the doors. She gasped when she saw Rahk and barred his way, her puffy hands balled into a doll’s fists on her hips. “I do not know if I hate you or admire you,†she said petulantly. Rahk stared down at her not understanding. “How full are we?†he tried to ask, but found himself out of breath. He propped himself against the wall and tried to took in a few hard heavy breaths to normalize the flow of air into his lungs. His windpipe was burning. Glafira’s stance changed from infuriated to worried. She clasped her hands together and mumbled: “Are you truly sick, Rahk?â€Â


“No,†Rahk managed, “not sick.†The silly girl confronted him because of the sham they concocted to let Haer’Dalis to play tonight. “Are we full?â€Â


Glafira glared at him indignantly: “If you must know – to the brims. And they keep coming, and coming…†The familiar buzz of voices was coming from behind the wooden doors. “How long till the Third Act?†he asked. Glafira shrugged: “It might take a bit longer tonight with so many spectators taking their seats.†That should be enough time to warn Raelis. If Fated had not already seized her. If they would not try to stop him. So many ifs… In a sudden flash of inspiration Rahk kneeled in front of the gnome, so that their eyes were on the same level.


“Keep this for me,†he said closing her plump fingers over the small wooden box. “This has to be delivered to Limbo, to Torj’lor Monastery.†Glafira did not go pale; Rahk was sure that those cheeks will remain pink no matter what, but she gasped: “Rahk, you said you were not sick –“ He did not let her to continue. “There is no time. Whatever happens, stay out of the harm’s way. Bring this to Limbo. Please.†He made her repeat Torj’lor a couple of times, and ran on. He pushed his way through the crowd in the hall. There were suspiciously many men and women with piercing, cold eyes. Too many.


Raelis sat in her dressing room resplendent in a garment that was supposed to imitate the garb of the nobles from the Prime Material Plane. In front of her stood a large bunch of magic flowers, overpowering the room with both their vivid blue color and aroma.


“Raelis,†Rahk cried out hurriedly, “you have to flee. I have betrayed you.†Perhaps, if he was not so short on time, he would have masked his words, perhaps he would have tried to whitewash himself, but there was no time for anything but simple, ugly truth. “I have betrayed you,†he repeated again, slower and quieter.


“Why?†Raelis asked, lifting all of her five jewel-like eyes at him.


“There is no time to explain! The theatre is teaming with the Fated. Gather everyone. Run!â€Â


“Is that another woman, Rahk?†Raelis mocked his excitement with the impossible coolness of her tone.


“I simply wanted to go home, Raelis,†Rahk admitted, “The Lady of Pain demanded that I’d do it for her or there never will be a portal that would take me to Limbo.â€Â


Raelis threw her head back and laughed. Rahk watched her dark hair uncoil, stupefied by her behavior.


“I was so blind,†she said. “That’s what it always was about, was not it, Rahk? Tell me, are you even a man grown in the years of your people? Why, o why do you need to run back to your home and hide under your mother’s skirts? I knew that you were hateful of the Cage, but I thought… nay, I hoped that you were starting to understand Sigil and accept your destiny here and your talent. Why, you’d even tried to partake in a political intrigue of this mad and beautiful city. But I was mistaken. Sigil, the theatre, the play and Miss Raelis Shai were all empty words for you.â€Â


“I came to warn you,†Rahk groped for words desperately, “please, save yourself. The Third Act – “


“Has already started,†Raelis parried, “and a pathetic little man like you cannot stop it from unfolding.â€Â


Suddenly light came into her eyes, the same way it flashed from their yellow depth when she was reciting a particularly good passage of a drama. “It begins today. This man, the Duke, is going to be pulled down and shattered. If he takes my troupe with him – so be it. The world is spiraling down to its end. What does it matter when and how we meet our death? The important thing is – we are serving the entropy, we are destroying the neat little order that this fastidious man had tried to create.â€Â


Rahk gaped at her, realizing how badly he had misjudged her. Miss Raelis Shai took acute pleasure in every facet of life and lived to the fullest, but not because she was a Sensate. It was because she lived her every day, her every moment as if it were be her last one. How else would the one who believed that the Multiverse is spiraling down towards its ultimate destruction live?


“You are a Sinker…†he said quietly.


“Please,†Miss Raelis Shai rejoined affirmatively, “Doomguard.â€Â


Rahk slouched. “Then you would not stop the play.†Raelis shook her head negatively. “If you ever loved me, your place is in the audience, Rahk. Find a seat and enjoy my triumph.†She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You are the clumsiest berk I have seen, but you gave me this gift, this play. I can die right when the curtain falls, Rahk. I will never write an equal to my “Comedy of Terrors†Go now, Rahk. My entrance is near. I do not wish you to miss it.â€Â


On stiff legs Rahk descended the stairs. He should run, but he could not. Raelis had bound him and she would be looking for him in the audience. He owed her that. He had to see how the Comedy of Terrors ended.


He regretted his rash decision thousands times, but he could not reverse it even if Raelis' eyes were not almost continuously on him. The hall was filling with people steadily and all points of egress were blocked. He was trapped in the Beakon. When he looked at the stage, he saw Haer’Dalis, stunning and unmistakable as Duke Darkwood. O, they called him a different name, but his scars and an eye-patch, the wig of gray hair, and finally a ridiculous mantle sewn with playing cards left no room for doubt. In horrified fascination Rahk watched the audience to take it in, to feed of it. They laughed and gasped, as the intrigue was quickly unfolding to its finale; only few of whom Rahk decided to be chanced spectators looked troubled. The faces of the Fated were grim and dotted with perspiration. Rahk even spotted the familiar face of the githyanki. He was almost sure that the githyanki had noticed him as well.


Finally the curtain fell for a brief moment and rose. The flowers were tossed towards the bowing troupe, and a small boy run up the stage to trust a box heavily decorated with ribbons into Haer’Dalis’ hands. The curtain fell again. As on a cue the Fated rose and moved toward the stage, almost as organized as if it was a military drill.


Rahk closed his eyes. He did not want to see the curtain open again to reveal the last unplanned scene. It was the yelp of surprise from both of his neighbors that made him look.


The curtain was up but the stage was empty, save for the faint bluish glow that dissipated in a split second. Rahk remembered the box that was handed to Haer’Dalis. A key…The Lady of Pain had granted her obedient servants a sanctuary. Relieved, Rahk got up and started navigating his way through the milling crowd. A few of the Fated made it on the stage and were hastily casting the spells trying to determine the troupe’s destination, while the traces of the portal still lingered. It was then, when the honest folk realized that there were powers at play tonight. The crowd pushed for the exits. It suited Rahk just fine.


“Not so fast, githzerai,†a cold voice said over his ear and a masterful squeeze to the back of his neck sent him into unconsciousness. He woke up to the knowledge that he was thoroughly and cruelly beaten. Githyanki’s face loomed over him. “You are coming with us,†the githyanki informed him, as if he did not grasp that yet. Someone has to pay for the Duke’s humiliation, and they elected me by default.


They dragged Rahk away. His mouth was full of blood, and pain shoot through his body mercilessly, but would knock him into unconsciousness. It also prevented him from focusing and forcing himself into blackness. Resolutely, he tried not to think of what lay ahead of him. Not death. Never that easy. They will torture me for eternity. The Baatezu might have tired of tormenting the Duke, but a githyanki will never tire of having a githzerai in his power.


The walk through the hall was endless. A small bundle, thrown out of the way stirred as they approached it. “Glafira,†Rahk thought dimly and almost reflexively he stumbled, lost his footing and leaned heavily on the man who half-carried, half-led him. It earned him a few sharp blows and curses, but the sight of a puffy hand clutching a small wooden box rewarded him for the tearing pain in his stomach and a cracked rib. Glafira’s eyes brightened with recognition and the girl moved. Almost it looked like the ridiculous little creature would sprang at his attackers. Rahk shook his head as vigorously as he dared. “Torj’lor,†Rahk mouthed to her. The gnome sagged back, her lips pinched in one stubborn thin line.


Rahk sighed, almost happily. For that’s how a man feels when he is granted the one thing he wanted above all else. The only thing that marred his triumph was that he would be absent when the relic would be restored to the monastery. Some call Sigil the City of Doors. For me it was always the Cage and it will ever be.


***************************THE END***********************

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