Author notes: thanks to the reviewers. Please do not hesitate to post if you have something to say. I hope you will enjoy this chapter. For those who would like more info on the subject, this page gives a lexicon of Sigil’s slang. NB: this contains definite spoilers for the scenario ‘The Mazes’ of the Well of Worlds book for Planescape.
Buffy was feeling the magic sing in her blood. This was something that was fully hers, something that owed nothing to the Slayer. In her humble opinion, taking this path had been the best decision of her life.
Mandor had first taught her a bunch of minor effects that the wizard summarized as Prestidigitation. They were small things but often ended up being pretty useful, both as training wheels for young sorcerers and wizards and also as day-to-day applications of magic.
She had quickly realized that these mini-spells would remove a lot of the issues she had with the more or less medieval technology level around here, like the lack of toilet paper. From what she had seen since her reincarnation and by speaking with Talia in Greenbriar, she knew that elves had less hairy problems than humans. Talia had also told her that most elven ethnic groups preferred ‘natural beauty’ so they did not really care about things like shaving or makeup. Buffy knew it would perhaps change in a century or two but she was still enough of a Californian girl to prefer her legs smooth. The fact Prestidigitation tricks allowed her to do that made her learn them at an impressive pace.
Once she had mastered those and digested the basics of magical theory, she had started to learn more powerful effects, like how to detect magic or create illusory sounds. There was also a simple attack, allowing her to send a ray of cold at something like thirty feet. All these effects remained what wizards and sorcerers called cantrips, minor tricks that had the advantage to require so little energy that you could use them at will. She was now working to master her first true spell.
“Kraftschild!” she said while raising her hand in a protection gesture.
She felt the magic coalesce, forming an invisible shield before her. I think I got it down. This is really a nifty trick and with it I don’t have to carry an actual shield.
She had studied all the specifics of the shield spell. It wasn’t that necessary for a sorcerer but Mandor had insisted, telling her that knowing what a spell could and could not do given the present circumstances was often the difference between life and death for a spellslinger. Spellslinger… keeps reminding me of badly shaven, sweaty guys wearing dusters and large brimmed hats… well I cannot expect people from around here to speak typical SoCal slang…
Another gesture and another word conjured her magical sight. She started to examine her spell, looking for defects in the force field structure. She smiled. The shield was perfectly stable.
She turned her head as she heard the laboratory’s door open and Bertuccio got in, holding a tray.
“Buonasera Signora,” said the butler, setting his tray on one of the tables.
“Good evening already?”
She looked at the clock on one side of the laboratory, seeing that it was indeed already nine PM.
“I am sorry to have missed supper, Bertuccio.”
“Signora, I have been at the service of wizards for many years. This is certainly neither the first nor the last light supper I deliver to a laboratory, a study or a library… though the latter did not happen often as the late Baroness was quite adamant regarding any fingerprint on her books.”
She had a little smile. Kriemhilde von Schwanstein, Mandor’s late mother, would probably have liked meeting Giles. She felt a little ping of sorrow as she thought of her former mentor, but it was not the wrecking wave that left her a sobbing mess, not anymore.
In the two weeks she spent studying since her arrival in Sylvania, she had gone through several moods. The first one had been when the awe she felt at being in the planes receded and let her reflect on the fact the torture she had gone through did damage a lot more than her former body. Thankfully, the Storm Riders had helped her, some like Neti or Viviane holding her when she cried or others like Morgan, Bertuccio and Mandor distracting her with things to see, do or study. Even Ergyl, who certainly wasn’t the most tactful of people, had tried to make her see how the experience would forge her into a better person.
She now thought that she had more or less made her peace about the fact Earth was probably gone for her. Even if she managed to go back… what would be left there for her? A mother who banished her from their house and would probably accept her even less now that she didn’t look human anymore? A Watcher whose duty to an organization she liked less and less with every passing day would clash with any affection he could have for her? Friends who would probably be better off with her, given all the pain and misery she had brought to their lives? In the end… perhaps just find a way to tell them I’m all right but that my life is elsewhere now, so that I do not feel like a complete jerk. Speaking of jerks… I have to know, to verify that nagging little doubt…
Bertuccio excused himself and she told him she would bring back the tray to the kitchen a little later. She quickly finished her supper and made sure everything was spotless thanks to another prestidigitation trick. Her magical energy was mostly spent with the day’s training, but she could still do a little light reading before going to bed.
She went to the library adjoining the laboratory, sending a spark of magical energy in the various glass globes adorning the walls to make them light up. She could just as well have touched them in the correct spot, but this was part of her training. All of her cantrips had to become just as natural to her as writing or using a spoon. She took a pair of half-moon glasses in a box on the desk and put them on her nose. I wouldn’t have worn such a fashion disaster back on Earth but what those glasses allow more than offset what they lack in style.
She had a little smile as she went through the shelves, looking at the various volumes. Mandor had hammered quite forcefully in her thick skull that knowledge was power, particularly in the planes. She would perhaps have disregarded the advice as being some kind of Watcher thing if Morgan had not told her some stories where the right information – the right bit of chant to use the cant of her hometown – made the whole difference. And there is Neti… Her nervous twitch when I gave in to my habit of mangling names…
This had earned her a lengthy course on the power of Names, which was one of the cornerstones of the Egyptian priestess’ culture. Coupled with her new, sharper brain, all of this had conspired to make the young elf more of a research girl.
“Let’s see… here, Leabhar na Marbh
by Angus McGregor… in other words: Necromancy for Dummies.”
One of the things she had quickly understood while reading Mandor’s books was that Glantrian wizards had little in common with Earth witches and warlocks. In fact, from what she remembered about European history, the difference was probably similar to the one existing between the philosophers of the Age of Reason and dogmatic priests. From what Mandor told me, they even outlawed religion in Glantri…
She set the heavy black volume on the desk and started to sift through the parchment pages, letting the magical glasses translate the Gaelic text. She would probably lose some nuances, but it should be sufficient for what she needed.
“Here… principles of soul trapping.”
Another point that was decidedly scientist to her in the Glantrian approach to magic was the way they considered that knowledge itself was neither good nor evil. Only the use of knowledge could raise ethic issues. Some magical knowledge was considered secret, but it was more for military or political reasons than moral ones. And I like that way of thinking… it forces people to think rather than blindly following someone saying ‘this good, that bad’.
She read through the text. Even if it had been written by some icky undead wizard, it was a comprehensive study of the principles of necromancy that had become a classic in Glantrian libraries. Contrarily to the often deliberately obscure books of Giles’ collection, this one compiled centuries of experiments in clearly stated laws with reproducible results.
“McGregor?” said Mandor as he entered the library. “Not my favorite book I must say.”
“Neither is it for me, but I’m trying to understand a spell I saw cast on Earth.”
“Can you describe its effects?” he asked while sitting in one of the armchairs.
“You remember what I told you about Angel’s curse?”
“You weren’t very keen on speaking about it in Greenbriar, I must say.”
She sighed, sitting in front of him.
“Here is the story: Angelus, soulless vampire of the kind common on my world committed many murders and one day he killed a gypsy princess… From what you told me about the Glantrian Crafts, they would be the Wokani.”
“Interesting… but please continue.”
“Their witches forced the soul of the human he was before being turned out of afterlife and placed it in the vampire, so that he had a conscience back again and could suffer for all his crimes. The being borne of that process took the name of Angel and fought for good despite his nature. The problem was that the curse had an escape clause. One moment of perfect happiness and Angel lost his soul, becoming Angelus again.”
The wizard looked thoughtful. Of all of the eight schools of magic, Necromancy was one of the two he had neglected when centering his studies on the field of Evocation, direct manipulations of energy.
“Neti would know more than me about this, but a well-known limitation of resurrection or reincarnation spells is that the beneficiary has to be willing. Forcing a soul out of the afterlife can only be done of three ways. The first is to travel physically to the plane where the soul ended and bring it back that way.”
Buffy remembered what Mandor had told her about the category that formed a lot of the inhabitants of the Outer Planes: the petitioners. They often looked normal, but they were actually souls enjoying whatever afterlife they believed in when alive. They rarely adventured out of the domain of their deity, the reason being that if they died in such a place, their soul would shatter and disappear.
“It doesn’t fit in that case. There was only a spell cast by someone on the Prime.”
“Then that leaves us either with Power intervention or a Prime Material Plane with metaphysical laws that do not follow the standard. If my hunch concerning Earth is correct, the latter is doubtful.”
Buffy nodded. It had come when she had pointed that many Glantrian languages sounded European to her. Mandor had then told her that some of Glantri’s noble families notoriously came from another Prime world called Laterre in old records. As ‘La Terre’ meant ‘The Earth’ in French, there was… a possibility.
“I wouldn’t be too surprised of the first. The Powers that Be use Angel as a champion. The problem is that… I messed up. He was my first love and…”
“No need, I can imagine and I don’t want to tear open wounds that only start to heal. You are searching for a way to restore Angel’s soul?”
“No… it’s where the story becomes really tragic and… I need to tell it at least once. Angelus is a sadist. He loves to drive his victims barmy before killing them or turning them into vampires. Because of the link I had with Angel, I waited too long and many suffered for my cowardliness. What’s with the smile, Mandor?”
“I reassure you, it is not about your story, but… it is amusing to see how Viviane’s and Morgan’s vocabularies are starting to color yours.”
She had a small giggle and thought this was just what she needed to break the tension. And it’s true… If I had used a word like cowardliness in Sunnydale…
“Anyway,” she continued, “Miss Calendar, a gypsy witch allied with us reconstituted the ritual but we thought the results lost when Angelus killed her. I had finally gathered enough courage to fight him as he tried to activate a doomsday artifact that… another research subject for some point in the future. He managed to start the activation process, powering it with his life force. He… he regained his soul at that moment and I had to kill him to stop the process.”
She felt Mandor’s hand on her shoulder. She covered it with her own, feeling its nice warmth. She wiped her tears with the handkerchief he gave her.
“You didn’t cast that spell, so who?”
“As Giles, my… former mentor was unable to, that leaves only one person: my friend Willow. She had the necessary arcane knowledge and the recklessness to try something she didn’t fully understand. But she was at the hospital with a concussion at that time.”
“So someone helped her, by bringing the ingredients, drawing the circle and any other necessary thing while she concentrated on the actual casting.”
“And this means Xander… Xander who talked to me just before I went to face Angelus.”
“You think he knew but didn’t say?”
“I’m not sure but… yes, I think so. I know he hates everything demon or rather everything non-human and he barely tolerated Angel because of me. Granted most non-human beings he met tried to kill him but… I’m not sure he cared about what they did. He only saw a non-human face.”
She felt terrible for speaking of him like that and without the recent events, she probably wouldn’t have thought about it. Facing evil of a level she would never had dared to have nightmares about, suffering through tortures whose goal was her total debasement as a prelude to her damnation and then meeting people who thought Arthurian chivalry was a valid way of life… she had been forced to look at a morally bleak twentieth century Earth, at the very acts of the people that surrounded her in Sunnydale, with new eyes.
“Let’s just say I had to evolve recently,” she said.
“Indeed. This Xander might have thought that you would not have the strength to fight Angelus if you thought the spell had a chance to work… which brings us with a choice between hate and a total lack of trust for a friend and sister in arms… I wouldn’t judge him too harshly though. He’s probably just a young sod, making all the mistakes young sods like him do but if he is not forced to reflect about his path, to realize to what evil it could lead him to… he might very well end up in one of the Lower Planes when the time comes.”
She snorted, thinking that Xander’s ‘mistake’ had cost her much more than the usual teen jerk act. However, she knew that he was right. She had forgotten that they were just teenagers.
“You know, since I’m here… I really appreciate that you all allowed me to be seventeen again… I remember seeing some stories about children soldiers in war-torn countries and it’s only now that I realize that I am one of those. Being ‘the little sister’ for a while did me a world of good… kind of a vacation.”
“Seventeen is adult in many countries I visited… though people rarely live above forty in those. I must say that I am glad to see that you are healing and, more than all, taking my advice on the whole ‘thinking by yourself’ concept.”
“I’ve been manipulated all my life, Mandor: never again.”
“Very well… I have then something that may interest you.”
He put something in her hand. It was a golden brooch resembling an alchemical symbol she had sometimes seen in Giles’ books: the Ouroboros. The dragon eating its own tail was heavily stylized with sharp curves reminiscent of neo tribal tattoos. She knew that symbol. Mandor and Morgan were wearing it: the standard of the Free League, of the Indeps. The thing that had amused her was that people who shared similar beliefs existed in America. They were just called libertarians.
She clasped the symbol to her shirt, placing it just below her throat in the manner of a bolo tie.
Buffy was looking at the city. At first glance, it was some kind of Renaissance metropolis, perhaps looking a little like London at the time of Queen Elisabeth the First. This, however, meant that you disregarded a lot of things to concentrate on the average technology level and the stink of too many people living in a too small space.
Morgan and Neti had hauled her out of bed for a little day trip. The idea was to do some shopping and a fine dinner to celebrate the mastery of her second spell. As Mandor had to follow up on an experiment, Viviane had to teach in her ethics class at the Sensate Embassy and Ergyl was his usual grouchy self, it had been only the three of them. The part of the city where they had exited the portal from Sylvania was more or less a middle class neighborhood called Workers’ District, situated in the side of the Clerk’s Ward boarding the Guildhall and Market Ward, their destination.
Buffy thought that it had effectively a little ‘suburbia’ vibe, with neat streets and uniform buildings, a lot of them using crescent spikes ornaments that seemed to be typical of the city’s architectural style. It was then that, her gaze going to one of the tallest buildings in that area, she noticed a thing that made her rub her eyes to check if she was seeing right.
At first, she had just thought that the street was on a kind of gentle upward slope. That’s when she noticed that a tower she guessed perhaps a mile away was definitely not vertical. Her gaze continued to go forward, then up, until she saw another part of the city through the gray mist, right above her, with buildings upside down. Okay… this is a kind of magical space colony station.
Her gaze came down, right on Morgan’s amused face. Buffy thanked the fact she had not freaked out but only looked with round eyes and a slightly agape mouth.
“I suppose I’m looking totally Clueless here?”
“Yep,” replied the smirking tiefling.
“Okay that was fair game… any other surprise in perspective?”
“A few… for today.” Thankfully Neti warned me not to freak out about the crowd…
Saying that the crowd walking the streets of Sigil, the City of Doors, was diverse was kind of an understatement. She thanked the fact she was free of the Slayer. The ‘demon magnet’ thing that came with the package was maybe practical on Earth, but it would have made things difficult in a place where most of the species of the Multiverse coexisted.
A lot of the people in the crowd were similar to those you could see in Sylvania, a mix of Primes and Planars of diverse mortal species. The proportions in the mix were different of course. There were more tieflings here and far less elves. There were also Planebornes – as were collectively known Fiends, Celestials and the other beings that came in-between – of all kinds and she wondered how and why some kind of holy war had not erupted in the city. Probably something about that ‘Lady of Pain’ Morgan told me about, the mysterious entity ruling the place…
She cringed a little when she saw a lesser baatezu of the Spinagon variety hurrying through the street, probably sent on some errand by his master. She wondered shortly if the master was devilish or some wizard who did not mind binding this kind of creature to his service but the fiend soon disappeared in the crowd and she had to hustle to keep up with her two friends.
As they walked the streets, they started to become less ordered, maybe more alive. They soon ran alongside a big building.
“That’s the Great Gymnasium,” said Neti. “Anybody can use their services but it’s also the headquarters of the Transcendental Order.”
From the large courtyard came a sound she knew well: people training in martial arts. Probably the local ‘Shaolin monks’.
“Also called the Ciphers,” said Morgan, “the reason being that… well you’ll understand if you meet one.”
“The Transcendental Order’s core belief is an ‘action without thought’ resulting from ‘harmony with the Cadence of the Planes’,” said Neti. Yep… sounds a lot like a mix of Zen and Taoism… I think I understand why Cipher… they’re probably speaking in old Chinese sayings or something like that.
“Speaking of other factions,” said Morgan, lowering her voice.
“I see them… and it’s our old friend Jergen,” replied the priestess.
Buffy had easily noticed the sarcasm around the word ‘friend’ in Neti’s reply. She looked to the place Morgan had discreetly pointed and saw a group of people in red armors that looked like uniforms, walking in a formation reminding her of a Roman Legion patrol.
The others had not told her much about the various factions of Sigil, only that they assured the various public services and that each had a distinct philosophy. She had already heard Morgan bicker about the one doing police work in the city, however.
“Are they… Hardheads?”
“Yes, official name is the Harmonium,” said Neti. “Let’s get out of here before they find some excuse to scrag us.”
Morgan quickly made them take a small alley and grumbled when, looking behind her, she saw that the patrol was following.
“We’ll lose them in the Bazaar, then,” said softly the tiefling.
They continued to walk, not too fast, as they didn’t want to give the patrol the excuse to arrest them for fleeing a chat with the authorities. Buffy’s mind had already started to analyze the patrol’s way of move to guess their tactics. The conclusion quickly came: predictable, without imagination but also very efficient if they ever let them in a situation against which they were trained. Definitely Roman…
Another turn and they entered another district that she immediately identified as the Bazaar. She could easily imagine some similar places existing in Istanbul or most Arabian cities. It was a maze of tents, stands and permanent shops offering all kind of wares from the whole Multiverse. She had to resist the urge to browse as they passed before some of them, though she had felt glad to know that she still had a liking for shoes.
Five minutes later, she was pretty sure that she was lost, or rather that she would be if she ever lost sight on Morgan, who seemed to know the place by heart.
“I’ll swear that one day you’ll feed the wyrm, Morgan!” yelled a voice from a nearby lane.
She looked at the tiefling, who smirked a little more than usual.
“Nice of him to confirm where he is,” she whispered to Buffy, “though he could be canny enough to have place one of his bashers on another lane to intercept us… which means, this way.”
She followed the tiefling and the priestess through another ten minutes of maze-like walk and finally entered a bar, or rather a pub called the Black Unicorn
that would not have looked that out of place in England.
“I suppose you have some questions,” said Neti while they sat down in a nicely secluded box and Morgan went to fetch something to drink.
“Plenty… scrag is slang for arrest and basher for soldier, right?”
“Rather ‘person who can fight’ than soldier, but yes. Feed the wyrm is an allusion to one of the execution methods used in Sigil’s Prison.”
“Okay… the Harmonium?”
“The faction charged with militia. Their idea is to promote harmony by making everyone think like them. Let’s say that the Free League is definitely not popular with them. Well… I guess some people find it comfortable to just have to follow orders.”
Buffy heard an alarm bell ringing in her mind, coming straight of her history lessons about things that happened on Earth some decades ago.
“And… they’re in charge of the police?”
“Yes but the system works better than it looks, because two other factions are in charge of the Courts and the Prison. For the first, it’s the Fraternity of Order, also known as Guvners. They believe in rules and they’re quite… anal about it,” she said with a little smile.
“And then there are the Mercykillers,” said Morgan while she put three beers on the table. “For them, Justice is everything, particularly the punishment part of justice. If you wonder about the name, it comes from the fact the faction is the merging of two older groups, the Sons of Mercy and the Sodkillers.”
Buffy turned her head as she saw Morgan look at someone who just entered the tavern and was making his way to their table. He was a human man, probably of Indian descent, that wore the sign of the Free League.
“Hello Morgan, Neti, Miss,” said the man, saluting the three of them. “I need some people pronto for a little task.”
“Buffy, please meet our old friend Bhima Sivanathan, occasional job broker”, said Morgan. “What’s the chant, Bhima?”
“Ever heard of Vartus Timlin?”
“The factol of the Expansionists?” asked Neti. “Didn’t the Lady send him in a Maze?” Factol equals chief of faction… Expansionists… charming name,
thought Buffy. I suppose a Maze is a kind of prison.
“Yes. To keep things short, his sword, the fabled Lightbringer… I need someone to get it. We found the way into his Maze and, more importantly, how to get out. Interested?”
Buffy felt the gaze of the two women on her. It seemed as it was up to her. Guess I have to start somewhere…
She nodded slightly.
“We’re in,” said Morgan. “What’s the dark?”