In the Maze
Author notes: And here is the fifth chapter of Buffy’s planar adventures. I hope you will enjoy this. 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.
“Hem… Neti?” asked Buffy as they waited for Morgan to return from seeing a contact of hers.
“Is taking notes during a mission briefing that unusual?”
The priestess smiled gently, remembering the surprised gaze Bhima had for the elven girl and Morgan’s arched eyebrow while the former gave them indications regarding the Maze and its entry and exit points. Buffy had been jotting notes in a small notebook during most of the briefing.
“As the descendent of a long line of scribes, most of them also being priests of Thoth, I find it commendable. Bhima would probably have been less surprised if you had been dressed in wizard robes instead of… with your chain shirt, longsword and sylvan elf garb some people will think you’re a ranger.”
“Got it… for a lot of people around here, writing equals bookworm.”
“It varies… Morgan is more of the kind that ‘they can’t steal – at least not easily – what’s only in your memory.”
“I used… a lot of expressions from Earth,” she said with a little smile. “From what I studied about language spells, they can crack replacement codes like a letter for another, but fail against cultural metaphors because they cannot impart knowledge about what is referenced to the user, like a cited character’s background.” Doubt anyone ever heard of Indiana Jones here… given that we’re heading to a potentially trapped place to retrieve an artifact before others do…
“Very good… one of my relatives uses a similar trick. It makes his ‘secret’ letters completely incomprehensible if you’re not an expert on Thebestys’ yearly chess tournaments.”
Buffy smiled. She was not used to be complimented on her smarts. She knew she had them, but before the Slayer, she had seriously downplayed that aspect of herself, preferring to stick to her image of the valley girl/cheerleader/mall princess. After the Slayer started to demolish her life… she had still stuck to what little was left of it, both as a tactical advantage against her enemies, be they vampires or a high school principal, and as a tentative way to keep at least a little of her old life. But now… I have no old life to cling to. Only a new one where I’m free to be what I want.
“I got it,” said Morgan as she exited from an alley of the Bazaar.
“I sense a but,” said Neti.
“I wasn’t the first one. Some Fated asked similar questions very recently.”
Morgan had been seeing a scholar, a graybeard in Sigil’s cant, to find a drawing of Lightbringer after Buffy, remembering a scene of the last Indiana Jones movie, had pointed out that it could very well be hidden among other swords. Seems like we’re not alone on this…
“Then we have to hurry,” said Buffy. “Which direction is the Hive?”
“This way,” said Morgan as they walked just slow enough not to gather too much attention on them.
“As I can see you will soon ask, Buff, the Fated are in charge of the Halls of Records, which means among other things the taxes,” said Neti.
“I suppose we – I mean us Indeps – don’t like them very much?”
“On and off rather. They believe everything must be earned. Many Free Leaguers like them for their self-reliance… personally I think that the nickname of Heartless is appropriate for most of them. They see their self-interest before all.” Reminds me of that book Dad gave me when I went to visit him, after the Master. What was the title? Atlas something by a woman called Rand.
They walked quickly and soon found themselves back in the neat alleys of the Clerk’s Ward. She still took in some sights, like the rather majestic tower complex of the Civic Festhall which doubled as the headquarters of the Society of Sensation, Neti’s and Viviane’s faction.
She wore a little smirk as she remembered what Neti had explained to her about the Sensates. For many people, they were a bunch of hedonists and thrill-seekers that would be right at home in the shallowest part of California. A lot of people who joined were actually convinced of that but they were not true Sensates. Sensates were empiricists. They believed that you could only understand the Multiverse if you experienced it through all senses. So, they tried things, a lot.
They wiggled through the back alleys to avoid the district of the Hall of Records. Soon, the buildings started to become shoddier. In some places, they seemed to barely even hold together. Then, they started to walk along a place where the buildings were not only shoddier, they were ruins. It was like if some battle happened there in the past, wrecked everything and no one bothered to rebuild.
“That’s the Slags,” said Morgan, “the shittiest part of the Hive… let’s just say that you don’t want to go there unless you have a very good reason.”
“The chant says that the Blood War – the Baatezu – Tanar’ri conflict for Evil Supremacy – spilled in Sigil in that place. Now… many evil things live there so goody-two-shoes like us are not really welcome.”
Another neighborhood of the Hive soon replaced the desolation of the Slags. Morgan explained that it was New Tyr, a place where people from a Prime world called Athas had gathered. The place felt harsh to Buffy, with some kind of feeling that reminded her of a trek she did in the Valley of Death, back in California. Another more ‘generic slums’ district followed as they kept to the shadows, taking great care not to bring themselves to the attention of the local criminals. They finally reached the landmark they were looking for: the Roaring Balor Inn.
At first, Buffy had half-expected to see some kind of variant on Willy’s Alibi Room, the demon bar of Sunnydale she was familiar with. She had therefore expected some kind of muted place where everyone looked out for himself. The goat-headed demon that had just been thrown through one of the windows reminded her that Tanar’ri were a rowdier bunch than Sunnydale’s regulars.
She looked with some kind of sick fascination at the being on the other side of the window. She felt a stirring, a need to go and kiss the gorgeous woman that was standing there. The fact she had bat wings and that she was… well she wasn’t so sure she was straight right now, so it probably didn’t matter. She had little doubt of the kind of demon the woman was: succubus. This particular seductress was however wearing some kind of dominatrix garb and holding a cruel-looking barbed whip that she used to bring the goat-headed demon back in the bar, by winding it around his neck. She heard the succubus, that was thankfully not paying attention to her, say something to the fallen body in a strange, tortured language that… just felt inherently evil, before slapping him.
She felt Morgan pulling her into the back alley they had been looking for, Neti being already hiding at the end of it. Yes… Neti’s a priestess of a Celestial Power which means an aura of goodness the demons can feel. Glad I didn’t activate the Celestial bloodline for that too… It would have been the demon magnet all over again.
As they reached the door they were looking for, the priestess took out the key Bhima had given them. Key was one of those words that had a different sense for planars as they considered it in regards of how most portals functioned. Activating a portal required you to do something. It could be as varied a holding a certain item, saying a code word or hopping up and down on your left leg. For planars, that something, whatever it was, was called a key. In their particular case, it was holding a gold-plated rose.
The faint shimmering in the corner of her eye soon became a distorted curtain of the kind she was becoming familiar with. They quickly stepped through as the rose disintegrated.
“Out of curiosity,” said Buffy as she took in the gray stone walls of the maze, “that was a succubus, right? And do you have any idea of what she said?”
“Yes, a succubus,” said Neti. “Buffy, their charms are really dangerous. The other one was a Bulezau, a typical Tanar’ri foot soldier.”
“As for what she said, she accused the Bulezau she was slapping of cheating at some kind of card game. Given that she’s wearing the crest of Graz’zt, she was probably punishing him for having been caught rather than for the cheating itself.”
“Okay… You think we can map it?” she asked while pointing at the maze’s walls with a nod.
“Maybe but it would be too long,” said Neti. “Moreover… I wouldn’t be surprised if dimensions were a bit… wonky here.”
“Neti, you remember what you said what… seven hours ago about dimensions? I think you’re right,” said Buffy while she looked at the sketches in her notebook.
Since they had entered the Maze, they had… wandered. They had found some things, like the room that was the point to start for the way to exit the Maze: a courtyard with a statue of the Lady of Pain. They had also bumped into the cooling corpses of a group of Harmonium bashers. They thought they had entered the maze after them, but had more, or maybe less, luck and met something more than stone halls. They had quickly relieved them of their valuables. Buffy didn’t really know if she should feel worried that her conscience didn’t even bother her a little. In a way, they had been looting a police patrol.
They were now resting a little in a small room that they could easily defend.
“I have a question regarding the Harmonium,” said Buffy. “You said that they ‘wanted everyone to think like them’… how far would they go for that?”
“What’s sure,” said Morgan, “is that they have a tendency to be… overzealous when scragging people. Sure, the Guvners see right through it and voids the case, but… there are rumors that some in the Harmonium are going further, that some of the arrested people never wind up in the Prison but are shipped to camps, somewhere, or ‘killed when resisting arrest’. We Indeps are a choice target for them.”
Buffy winced when she heard the word camp. For a girl from Earth, particularly one whose best friend was Jewish, it was not alarm bells ringing, but air strike sirens.
“There is no proof factol Sarin or the other high-ups of the Harmonium condone this,” said Neti, “but given their structure… Most of the people in the Harmonium are just people who think an orderly society where everyone knows his place and working for the common good is the way to go. It is true that their settlements are peaceful, crime-free…”
“As long as you obey without question,” cut in Morgan. “As an Indep, I have nothing against people wanting that kind of security. They can do what they want on their worlds, I just won’t ever visit. I draw the line when these people start to think their system should be… forced upon others that just want to live another way.”
The tiefling girl got up.
“Buffy, do you have the time?”
“Yes,” she said, concentrating to activate a prestidigitation trick, “almost eight PM… or rather After Peak to use the local time.
One thing she found particularly depressing about Sigil was that even when it wasn’t raining or simply overcast, there was no sun, just a variation of the ambient light dividing the day in roughly twelve hours of light and twelve hours of darkness. Noon was called Peak and corresponded to the moment the bleak light was the brightest, while Antipeak, or midnight, was the darkest moment. I definitely prefer Sylvania even if the shopping is probably better here… speaking of shopping: I will have to think about lighter armor… it’s interfering with my spellslinging.
“You think the Hardheads could have met the guy this Maze was made for?”
“According to history, Timlin was human and… it’s been centuries since Her Serenity sent him here. However… there are tricks allowing one to live as long as he wants, or maybe the Lady made him ageless as long as he’s here,” said Neti.
“So either he’s still alive or they met the Fated or another group after the blade and it turned sour… or there is something else stuck in that maze.”
“Speaking of stuck,” said Morgan, “we still have to find one of those dishes for the exit portal.”
Buffy was doing her best to breathe as lightly as possible while she watched Morgan move with calculated slowness. In the room they had found, a man was sleeping on a cot. A sword matching the drawing they had procured was near his side. Are we just thieves? Sure that guy is a criminal but that does not make it right… according to laws I care less and less about.
Since the incident with the bandits, she knew that a barrier that the Baatezu had been very near tearing apart had finally given way, but with a twist that was certainly not intended by the devils. They had tried to mold her in their image, to make her recognize the laws only for the advantage they could bring her. Following the ‘think by yourself’ advice of Mandor and knowing firsthand how laws could be perverted, she was changing. Pike it, to quote Morgan. If I had hesitated just a little more with the bandits, I would be dead or badly wounded. No more. These guys are not civilians and the planes are not civilized America, even counting Sunnydale’s nightlife. If I want to live here, I have to forget the rules I believed in so far and rebuild myself… Yes, no rules but my own. I like that.
She returned her attention to the job. Morgan was moving as silently as a ghost, taking the sword by its scabbard and moving back to their hall. Finally, Buffy closed the door behind them and they went away, still silent, in the direction of the courtyard.
Buffy pushed delicately on the iron-bound wooden door of the courtyard. Timlin’s room was still near and they did not want to wake him. It was then that she noticed that someone was looking at her, from the other side of the door.
“I see that you have the sword,” said a female voice. “Surrender it gently and no one will be harmed.”
She entered the room, taking in the… competition. They were six, a tiefling woman with patches of black scales who seemed to be the leader, moved with assurance and was wearing chain mail and five others that just screamed ‘minions’ to her. She knew better than to fully dismiss them. She would not have lasted long in Sunnydale if she had done that, but they were not the main danger. Neti and Morgan deployed on both sides. Insignia… woman with a bizarre headdress, that’s the Fated.
“And why should we? We obtained it first… I guess that means we earned it?” asked the former Slayer with a little smile.
“Yes,” replied the Fated, “but now I am offering that you earn your survival by surrendering it. You’re outnumbered.” True… but your goons are a lot less competent than us and I know that none of us will surrender it. So be it. Time to see if I’ve still got the touch…
“And now… we’re hitting a blind? Sorry, I’m still getting the hang of your speakage. We all want the sword and none of us wants to end in the dead-book… unless you have a secret death wish of course. So… how about you let us pass and we don’t hurt you and your goons? Seems like a fair deal to me.” Perfect… one of the goons is losing patience.
She moved slightly to place herself ideally and noticed that Neti had closed the door behind them. Her senses told her that the Fated tiefling had similar experience but if the Viking style of her team’s equipment was any indication, they would be more of the ‘charge blindly’ kind.
“Seems like one of your minions is foaming… you’re sure they had their rabies shots?”
She smirked as said minion charged, invoking Thor’s name. She remembered Giles’ lessons on the Japanese art of Iaijutsu and how Slayers translated it for stake use. Her longsword had already left her scabbard and struck in the same graceful arc. The barbarian she was facing still had enough wits to dodge it… right in the direction she wanted, completely open to Morgan’s daggers.
Buffy felt a sudden boost of confidence as Neti invoked Bast, praying the goddess to give them the fierceness of lionesses. Another step and another barely perceptible wink to Morgan and they continued to dance around the Fated, the elven girl making sure that her tiefling friend had all the opportunities to land devastating blows to their adversaries. Soon, they both faced the chief of the Fated squad. Buffy quickly understood that she had been right: their adversary was good, but had a rather blunt style.
A representation of Ra’s Eye appeared above Neti’s head, sending a ray that burnt another minion. They were now down to four against three while the priestess raised her shield to block a minion’s attack.
Buffy concentrated on her enemy’s moves, synching with them as she called on her magic to coalesce her force shield. She thanked Sehanine that the chain links of her shirt had not made the spell fizzle. She already had received some cuts and bruises from the leader and did not want to have more. Seeing that the tiefling was trying to exit the flanking position in which she and Morgan had forced her, she adjusted her own place so she could take care of the minion trying to flank her while still threatening the leader.
It felt a little strange to her to fight with teammates. It was something she had already done of course, but except for the few times when she had teamed with Angel or her sister Slayer Kendra, it had not felt right. She was always worried about the rookie Xander and Willow, telling them to support and take as little risk as possible.
With Morgan and Neti, it was totally different. They were experienced and coordinating with the tiefling rogue was a real pleasure, while the Egyptian priestess supported them with her spells. Just to confirm that, a wave of light that felt just warm enough to be pleasant washed over them. Suddenly, Buffy’s wounds did not bother her as much, almost half of them closed by the healing energies unleashed by Neti.
She felled another goon, positioning her force shield carefully to block the last one, the one around Neti being occupied fighting a pair of floating ghostly cat paws… and losing. The leader also was seriously slowing down, hampered by the way Morgan had already riddled her with dagger strikes. It was soon over.
A little later, Buffy was standing in the courtyard, trying to feel some kind of conscience attack. Nope… it was regrettable, but it was just business. It could very well have been us lying dead on the floor. Speaking of business…
She activated her magical sight to see what they could have that may be of interest. After all, the Fated would perfectly understand if they looted them. They had earned it. She even smiled as she saw something on the Lady’s statue pedestal: a recently used, plain-looking dish.
“Neti… you’re the historian here. What kind of power is Lightbringer supposed to have?”
Buffy was frowning. While looting the Fated squad, she had taken a look at the ancient sword and something did not feel right.
“According to legends… the sword actually fought for him.”
“Funny. The aura of the sword looks weak. Can enchantments decay?”
“Some… but I don’t think so.”
“I have the trigger,” said Morgan as she manipulated a section of wall in a small dead end. “So…”
Buffy made a zipping gesture on her mouth while the wall started to roll to the side, revealing a room with a portal… and another six-man team. Symbol… some kind of legless dragon.
She tumbled forward to dodge a volley of crossbow bolts and barely managed to keep her footing on the greasy patch that had suddenly materialized under her feet. Okay… wizard here.
“Mercykillers…” said Morgan, jumping past the grease area while Neti said something in Ancient Egyptian from the backline.
Suddenly, one goon that looked slightly dazed attacked his comrade while another babbled incoherently. Buffy remembered reading something about that spell in a book about the school of Enchantment. It literally sowed confusion in the area of effect.
“Morgan, I’ll take down the goons, you get rid of the wizard!” Our luck is that he won’t fireball us while we have the sword.
Buffy moved in position while the priestess continued to call on her most powerful magics. She could only giggle when rainbow-colored, ricocheting blasts of energy filled the room, looking really like a magical girl attack. The chaotic energy was harmless to them given their own inclinations, but it impacted rather harshly the very lawful Mercykillers. One babbling, one barely standing… time to give a little… drat.
The wizard had obviously reevaluated the menace they represented as giant strands of spider web filled the room. Morgan was still moving toward him, but had to sneak through the webs to prevent ending up stuck. Buffy was little better. She gritted her teeth as a glob of acid splashed on her torso and started to burn.
She concentrated, calling on her sorcerous power. Shooting stars soon danced around her, burning the strands that held her. She was a little more singed, but the tradeoff was worth it as Neti unleashed another of her healing waves. It was time to see if she managed to use her second true spell. She took a deep breath. In space nobody can hear you scream… except you, berk!
She screamed silently and she saw the wizard holding his head, blood trickling from his nose and ears as the vibrations she had unleashed played havoc with his internal organs. Just has his attention wavered, one of Morgan’s throwing knifes suddenly appeared on the side of his torso, making him fall.
“Time to get out of here,” said Neti while Buffy used her shooting stars to clear the webs on the way to the portal.
“Yes, I need a bath,” said Buffy, “but first… Morgan?”
“Some more things for Mandor to analyze on that wizard…”
“So… here is Lightbringer,” said Bhima. “It is certainly a nice-looking sword.”
“Bhima,” said Morgan, “to be honest it feels… disappointing.”
“It doesn’t really matter, Morgan. My client paid to have Vartus Timlin’s sword, which you retrieved. Its actual powers are of no concern.”
“I suppose you won’t tell us who asked to retrieve the sword?” asked Buffy.
“Effectively, I won’t. Protecting my client is part of my job. However… as the sword is not as magical as expected, it should lessen your issues about its misuse. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
Buffy looked as Bhima left. On one hand, she had been well paid for a relatively small job. Still…
“So this is Lightbringer…” said a rather disheveled woman with long, raven tresses.
“It is not as magical as Timlin made it look,” said a being that looked like some kind of fiendish dark-skinned elf in spiky, black full plate armor.
The woman smiled. It was not a gentle smile, but a slightly manic grin made all the more disturbing by the casual way she was making a dagger dance on her hand.
“It doesn’t matter, Ely. It has been worn for a long time by the factol of the Expansionists. It is suffused with the power of growth… and therefore perfect. The only thing I regret is that I couldn’t go and fight Timlin myself.”
“I know, Pentar… but we couldn’t risk having the Lady aware of what we are planning.”
The woman nodded while she looked at the gray dust storms that raged outside of the sphere of force protecting the citadel.
“Another thing,” said the cambion called Ely as he finished reading the report, “the Storm Riders have hired someone new: an elf girl called Buffy Summers.”
Pentar scowled. Her own faction had been keeping tabs on that particular adventurer group since it earned its name by derailing one of Set’s countless plots in which she had taken interest for the destruction it could unleash.
“Unusual name for an elf… Prime?”
“Planar. She may be from some backwater community or being raised by Halflings… I’ll find out more.”
Game rule point (you can skip if you’re not interested): The “Slayer’s parting gift” functions as a number of bonus feats. Practiced Spellcaster (Sorcerer) is one of them.