Ryan shouldered his way between the two men who stood guard at the doors to the Barracks Auditorium. Glaring, they only offered token resistance before allowing him to pass. Pushing open the thick, iron-braced doors, he found himself the focus of several disapproving stares. The worst came from the stage itself, behind the podium. An imposing seven feet tall, encased in gleaming platemail armor made from red steel, Factol Sarin was nothing if not intimidating.
The Factol waited until Ryan had seated himself among the few hundred other members of the Harmonium before speaking. “Now that we’re all here,” Ryan winced. “We can continue. As I was saying, the last couple of weeks have gone very well, and I fully expect next week to go equally smoothly. In four days the Sensates will be holding their triannual Festival of Sensation, so there will be extra patrols assigned to the Clerk’s Ward area. We usually don’t have much trouble with the festival, so those of you assigned can expect to be running crowd control most of the time. There’re always a few Sensates that shoot for some of the more unlawful sensations though, so keep sharp while you’re there.
“Our second order of business concerns the Fraternity of Order. In order to-“ he paused to shuffle through his notes and scrutinize a thick packet. “’Promote compatibility and order between the three administrations of government and law within the city-state of Sigil, (See Appendix C, clause 27, sub-clause 15)…” He paged quickly to the back of the booklet. There were several smiles and a few low chuckles from the men and women in the audience. “’All matters referring to the city-state of Sigil pertain to the city of Sigil, an autonomous community of individuals residing or traveling within the as of yet undefined limits of the aforementioned city, structures located within the undefined limits of that city, and all other entities and objects not classified by the previous two definitions which can be said to exist within the undefined limits of said city, (see Appendix I, clause 12…” With an over-exaggerated sigh he dropped the packet back to the top of the podium. It landed heavily on the wood and echoed briefly through the large auditorium.
He leaned forward with his elbows on the podium. “The gist of it is that they want to send observers along with our patrols. The Mercykillers received the same booklet as well. Every time the matter was brought up in the Hall of Speakers before now, I’ve been able to put them off. We don’t need a bunch of Guvners wandering underfoot, getting in the way. My excuse has been that it’s too dangerous, but with the way it’s been lately I haven’t had that recourse.
“I’ve been able to argue them down to just four of these observers per ward. You will be told after general patrol assignments are given out whether one of these observers will be going along with you. If you do have to take one on, just let them be and do your job. Try not to get them penned in the dead-book, but a few lumps won’t do them much harm. They’re just an annoyance to be endured until they realize the truth of it. They may conduct the trials, but we enforce the Peace.” There was a murmur of approval from the assembled officers.
Having finished his briefing, Sarin launched into the reading off of the duty roster for the next week. Each officer was assigned to one of the six wards of the city and a superior to report to. After the briefing they would go to receive their individual orders and assignments. Ryan listened absently, noting who had been reassigned and whose patrols remained unchanged. It was a matter of pride among the Harmonium who was assigned to the Hive. If you were assigned to the crime-ridden ward, it meant that the high-ups thought you were up to keeping the Peace in a hostile environment. After the first week, if you were reassigned it meant that you couldn’t handle it. If you were able to keep your assignment though, you and everyone else started keeping track. Every week that passed without reassignment you got a tiny circular steel chit marked with the Harmonium symbol.
Ryan’s personal collection, carried in a pouch at his belt, totaled sixty chits, fifteen months of consecutive duty. His streak had ended with a riot that had sent him to the infirmary with a broken leg and three stab wounds a year ago. The overall record was held by Tonat Shar, Sarin’s second in command: one hundred and fifty-six chits, marking three years of duty in the Hive.
Sarin called Ryan’s name and his ears perked up. “Clerk’s Ward, Commander Wheally.” Ryan grimaced, remembering Sarin’s opening words. Crowd control.
Once the briefing had ended, Ryan made his way through the departing throng of Harmonium officers to the front desk of the Barracks. Diana, the receptionist, wordlessly handed him a slip of paper. He wasn’t surprised to find the penalty for his lateness was guard duty at the front gates of the Barracks.
Commander Wheally was sitting straight-backed behind his desk when Ryan stepped into the open doorway. The man was aged, his white hair almost gone, but he still looked rock hard under his scalemail armor. He put down the report he was reading and looked up. “Come in, Wells,” he said simply. Ryan stepped inside and stood at attention in front of the desk. “Wells, it is not necessary to receive your new orders until tomorrow morning.”
Wheally’s expression did not change. “Why were you late to the briefing this morning?”
“I caught a cutpurse on my way back from night duty and chased him down. After making the arrest it took longer than I thought to return to the Barracks.”
“Keeping the Peace is a viable excuse, Wells.”
Ryan flushed. “It wasn’t keeping the Peace that made me late, Sir. It was poor judgment. I should have run.”
Wheally nodded. “Close the door, Wells.” He waited until Ryan had done so before continuing. “You are a good man, Wells. There are not many officers who would not simply say they were keeping the Peace and leave it at that. In fact, I think that you are Measure material. I know that you are only a Notary Four now, but I can already see that you have a bright future within the Harmonium ranks. If it had not been for that incident in the Hive a few months back, you would have already completed your fourth year. And as a Notary Five, you might have been promoted to Measure One by now.”
Ryan’s swelling chest was deflated by the Mover’s next statement. “That is why you have been assigned one of the Guvner observers.” His distress must have been evident to Wheally, because the man’s voice softened a fraction, if steel could be said to soften, as he went on. “This business with the Fraternity of Order is a touchy one, Wells. We cannot just assign any Hardhead to take care of one of these observers.” Ryan was surprised to hear the Mover’s use of the street term for Harmonium members. It was something that was generally looked down upon within the faction’s ranks.
Wheally picked up a well-worn book from the desktop. Ryan recognized it instantly as the Book of Harmonium. “Every member knows this book by heart and believes in it fully. And that is how it should be. It promotes discipline and order. There are some who understand what is said better than others though. A lot of delicate situations are going to come up through this ‘exchange of ideas,’ as the Guvners call it, and we need people who are going to keep their heads about them when it happens. The only reason this thing went through in the Hall of Speakers is because half of the other factions are just waiting for us to slip up.
“I think that you understand the meaning and intent that the Book of Harmonium represents well enough not to get yourself into trouble when one of those law-mongers pulls out a copy of the Sigil Municipal Code. And I can assure you, they will.”
Ryan nodded, understanding. The Harmonium, the Fraternity of Order, and the Mercykillers made up the three branches of law enforcement in Sigil: The Harmonium made the arrests, the Guvners conducted the trials, and the Mercykillers carried out the punishment. Contrary to outward appearances however, they did not actually work together. It would be more accurate to say that they coexisted peacefully, each doing what they thought was best. If the Guvners started stepping on toes and involving themselves in the affairs of the other two factions, a myriad of problems could arise. Most of them involved the Guvners getting seriously injured.
Wheally continued. “I know the significance given to assignment among Notaries and Measures. In fact I still have my own chit bag from the times when I was assigned to regular patrols through the Cage. I do not want you to think that this assignment is in any way a reprimand. If anything, it is a vote of confidence. Factol Satin puzzled over the assignments for days, and has selected each of you himself.”
The softness left Wheally’s voice, and he was once again all business. “I am placing you in command of Atorre, Siere, Wiles, and Gracin. You are responsible for patrolling Scribe’s Way, Cannis Street, Ferrit Street, and Alchemists’ Square. You will work in concert with Samon’s and Claire’s patrols to handle Alchemists’ Square during the Festival of Sensation. The woman coming from the Fraternity of Order is named Gina Hawpress. She will meet you here tomorrow morning before you set out.”
Perceiving that the meeting was over, Ryan turned to go. Halfway through the door, he hesitated. Wheally had picked up the report and resumed reading. “Yes, Wells?” he asked without looking up.
“How many chits did you have, Sir?”
“Yes Sir.” Ryan shut the door behind him.
The next morning Ryan stood in the inner courtyard of the Barracks. Arms crossed, he leaned against a brick wall and watched a Mover bellowing at a group of trainees as they billeted back and forth across the paved space. The commander yelled at a young woman. “You there! Get back in line! If you want to take up the space of two people, you’d damn well better be ready to take on twice the responsibility! All of you, step lively!”
Ryan’s pride at being hand-picked by Factol Sarin had been short-lived once he realized that the information had not been widely circulated. The few conspiratorial winks he shared with the other officers who had been assigned Guvner observers did little to outweigh the many smirks he felt directed at his back.
A dingy grey cloud drifted overhead in the twilit sky. Ryan shook away the expectation of sunrise. There was no sun in Sigil to explain the regular lightening and darkening of the sky, no East or West for it to travel. The city of Sigil existed alone on the inside of a giant ring, its edges wrapped inward on themselves until the rest of the multiverse was completely cut off. Nothing existed beyond the boundaries of the city’s edge, which was why Sigil was often referred to as the Cage. Ryan had grown up on a ‘normal’ world though, with a sun and two moons, and old memories of his home died hard.
Ryan did not know any of the officers assigned to him personally, but he had heard nothing about them to make him think they would be any trouble. It made sense once he thought about it. If the situation was as volatile as Wheally had made it seem, they were most likely all Notary Ones. Still serving their first year with the Harmonium, the lowest ranking Notary Ones could be counted on to look to Ryan as their guide for behavior. They would not be so completely hammered into the rigid forms of Harmonium thought that they would react without thinking.
A delicate tap on his shoulder pulled Ryan from his musings. Turning, he found himself looking down at a woman fully a foot shorter than he was. Clear blue eyes squinted up at him through a thin pair of silver-framed glasses. “Mister Wells?” she asked.
She held out her hand. “My name is Gina Hawpress. I’ve been assigned as an adjunct to your position for observational and advisory purposes.”
Suddenly very conscious of his six foot height, Ryan took the tiny hand in his own and shook it gently. The woman was barely five feet tall and very slight. Her hair was a brilliant blue, hanging straight down to her mid-back. She wore a light brown, ankle-length soft leather jacket that seemed to be made solely out of pockets sewn together inside and out, even down the sleeves. It was open to reveal a spotless white tunic securely tucked into a belted pair of dark leather breeches. Her black shoes were well polished, and their brass buckles gleamed even in the dim early morning light. Over her shoulder was a strap connected to a pack that bulged in distinctive rectangular outlines, telling Ryan that she had indeed brought along a copy of the Sigil Municipal Code, along with several other books.
“Miss, Hawpress,” Ryan greeted her stiffly. He had not missed the addition of the title ‘advisor,’ or its implications.
“I’m sorry for seeking you out like this, but I wanted to have a chance to talk to you before we set out on the street. I understand that many members of the Harmonium faction might see this as a threat to their authority and I want to assure you that this is not the case. The purpose of my presence as a member of your patrol is not to dictate to you the precepts of the Law, but to observe and learn what kind of methods you employ in carrying out its enforcement.”
“Miss Hawpress, you are not a member of my patrol.”
Gina sniffed. “Of course not officially so. I only meant after a fashion. I won’t be participating in the actual arrests, merely present to observe them.”
Ryan nodded vaguely. “Let’s go, Miss Hawpress. My men are waiting.”
After a brief delay at the front desk, where Gina returned her visitor’s pass and signed out with Diana, they emerged into the street. Ryan instinctively settled into an easy, energy-saving gait that would serve him all day without making him too tired for a fight. Gina, her legs moving quickly to keep up, took a small lead pencil and a notebook from one of her many pockets and started scribbling. Ryan rolled his eyes and increased his speed.
The dirty city streets were frequented by few pedestrians, and they reached Alchemists’ Square quickly. The square was a large promenade, four hundred feet on a side tiled in large squares of dark grey slate. In the very center was a fountain of black marble which sprayed water into the air in glistening fans.
The square’s name originated in a time before the factions, when Sigil had been run primarily by guilds. The Alchemists’ Guild had been small but powerful. Centered in what was then known as the Alchemists’ Quarter, they built up a monopoly of secrets and formulae that made them wealthy, while their skill with chemicals and poisons made them deadly enemies. Eventually they set their sights higher though, seeking the recipe for an elixir which would transform them into gods.
One god with their temperament would have been bad enough, but an entire cadre of gods was something unheard of. They would have been an incredible force in any case, let alone finding themselves in Sigil, the center of the universe. One night an explosion rocked the whole Cage as the Alchemists’ Quarter was incinerated from within. No bodies had ever been found in the wreckage, and the chant had it that the Lady of Pain had mazed the entire guild, banishing them to an extradimensional ‘pocket’ plane of existence forever. Most believed that in order to ensure that nothing of their work survived, the Lady chose a crucial moment in their experiments, causing the explosion.
Afterwards, the Dabus cleared out the wreckage, which by then was little more than ashes and unrecognizable debris, and completely paved over the entire area, creating the square. No one knew where the water of the fountain came from or went to, and most thought that it was a bizarre result of the Alchemists’ experiments and the Dabus had built the fountain up around it. In any case, the water it poured forth was always clear and pure, though it was not advisable to drink from the basin, since many found it an easy way to dispose of undesirable liquids.
Ryan and Gina found the other Harmonium patrol members at a corner, watching the square’s activity impassively. The three men and one woman were huge, each one at least six inches taller than Ryan. It was obvious by the way they held themselves that they were Notary Ones. Accustomed to the restrictive weight of their armor, but not so used to it that it was like a second skin, as it was with Ryan. Rumor had it that Sarin wore his for days at a time without noticing, even sleeping in it. Ryan had heard that one of the man’s children had found him not wearing the distinctive red steel platemail, and had run away screaming that a stranger had broken into their rooms. The large individuals were wise choices for the patrol as well. Eighty percent of preventing trouble in a crowd control situation meant standing still and intimidating people into behaving.
Gina looked up at the giants with wide eyes. Only an instant passed however, before her back straightened and she bravely introduced herself to the Harmonium towering over her. It was evident to Ryan by their unfriendly glares that they had not been party to the importance of this assignment.
Once the introductions were finished, Ryan quickly outlined their patrol routes, splitting the group into two parties. Wiles joined he and Gina, while Siere, Gracen and Atorre made up the second group. Ryan waited with his patrol as the second group set out. After ten minutes had passed they would walk down the street as well, following the same route. It would ensure that they were each within running distance of each other, while allowing them to cover the maximum amount of ground.
Feeling the right amount of time had passed, Ryan assumed the blank, impassive face of patrol and set out, Gina and Wiles following a step behind.
The day was predictably dull. In addition to the Civic Festhall, the Clerk’s Ward was the location of the Hall of Records, a great building where documents of ownership and taxes were housed, and the Hall of Speakers, where all the factions of the city met to argue about law and policy within Sigil. Second only to the Lady’s Ward, which contained the Barracks and the rest of Sigil’s law enforcement, the Clerk’s Ward was a source of little trouble. The lack of activity was emphasized by the way Gina peppered him with tiresome questions as they walked.
“At what point do you authorize the use of force? What about lethal force? If a man is stabbed, do you pursue the culprit or stay to help the man? How do you deal with violations of the Codes of Conduct? What is prescribed in a hostage situation? Do you have a jurisdiction? What are its limits? What warrants a warning as opposed to an arrest? Have you ever had a problem with the apparent conflict between general conduct code eight and the seventeenth sub-clause to clause forty-two of the Civil Liberty laws?”
Ryan nearly let out a sigh of relief when an inhuman screech went up two blocks away on Scribe’s Way. It was followed by the sound of shattering glass and several more human-sounding screams. Before the sound ended, Ryan and Wiles had broken into a run, quickly outdistancing Gina. They arrived at a small, single story establishment Ryan recognized as a spell shop. The front window had been shattered and broken glass lay everywhere on the stone street. Upon the arrival of the two Harmonium officers, several innocent spectators appeared, replacing the prospective looters who had been greedily eyeing the unguarded window a moment before.
The wooden sign hanging above the door was painted with several pictures, indicating the store’s products. A mortar and pestle, a leaf, and a blue star declared that the proprietor sold things which had to do with chemicals, herbs and plants, and spells. Below the pictures, words in gold lettering said,
Zertich’s Arcane Apothecary
Dealer in Services Alchemical, Herbal, and Magical
His hand on the sword at his belt, Wiles quickly encouraged the crowd of spectators to go about their business while taking aside those who had actually seen what had happened. Ryan tried the front door of the shop and found it locked. He was about to kick it in when Gina suddenly appeared, breathing heavily. “Wait!” she shouted. “That’s contaminating the evidence! We have to note everything as it is now.”
“Wiles,” Ryan called to the man.
“Note that we found the door locked.”
Ryan kicked the door. The wood buckled and the lock snapped, sending the door inward to crash against the inner wall. Ignoring Gina’s shocked stammer, he stepped into the darkened interior of the shop. Shelves filled with bottles and jars lined the walls, covering every vertical surface. A long waist-high counter blocked off the rear twenty feet of the room. Occupying the back area were two wide tables, side by side. Each was covered with shattered glass and spilt chemicals. Parchment lay strewn about everywhere.
It was deathly quiet inside, the bustle of the city outside softened to a distant roar. Ryan was familiar with this silence. It was the silence that always followed especially serious crimes. A shocked silence of confusion and attempting to understand what had happened. The Peace had been disturbed, the orderly flow of the universe broken.
“Mister Wells!” Gina said angrily from the doorway behind him. “This is destruction of personal property and trespassing…” She trailed off as she became aware of the oppressive lack of sound.
Ryan drew his long sword and strode forward, vaulting over the counter. Several of the spilt chemicals were giving off noxious fumes and Ryan breathed shallowly, trying to inhale as little of the strange odors as possible. Tiny green sparks raced across the floor as the strange liquids combined. Careful to avoid stepping in any of them, he made his way to the dark silhouette of a doorway in the back wall.
Leaping through the doorway, he shouted, “Harmonium! Don’t move!” Nearly slipping, he barely caught his balance on the slick floor. Seeing what the liquid was, and its source, he sighed and put his sword back into its scabbard.
“Wiles!” he called, stepping back into the outer room. “We’ve got a body!”
Gina still stood at the threshold of the front door. “What do you mean a body? A dead body? Are you saying someone’s been murdered?” Ryan found a section of the counter which was hinged to swing up and allow passage to the front of the shop. He used it and continued toward Gina. “What’s that on your boots? Is that blood?” The woman looked slightly green. She quickly backed out of his way as Ryan exited the shop. He looked expectantly at Wiles, who was standing next to a group of people.
“Seven eye-witnesses, Sir,” the man said. “Two say it was a Baatezu, three say it was an invisible monster, and two more say it was a young man.”
Ryan nodded, thinking. “What about the two who said it was a Baatezu?”
Wiles understood the question. “Husband and wife, Sir.”
“All right. I want to talk to the three who saw the invisible monster.” He paused and rethought the statement. “I want to talk to the three that say it was an invisible monster. Let the rest go.”
“Mister Wells,” a much paler Gina joined them. “Those are eye-witnesses you’re turning away. We need to take down all of their statements.”
Ryan grinned. “All right Miss Hawpress. If you think it’s important, you can interview them.” Wiles was making a brave attempt to hide his own smile.
After speaking with the witnesses, Ryan reconvened with Wiles. The other patrol was in sight by that time, hurrying down the street. “Head for the Barracks,” he told Wiles. “Tell Wheally what happened. I think Zertich summoned up something that got away from him. Nothing human did that to him in there, and there’s a good amount of random destruction as well.” Wiles nodded and immediately struck out in the direction of the Barracks.
Gina looked as if she had finished and was walking towards Ryan. It was obvious she was upset. “How can you hope to ever get anything coherent from these people?” she fumed. “Four supposed eye-witnesses, and yet four different stories!” She shook a handful of notes. “The man and woman who said they saw a Baatezu couldn’t even agree on what color it was. They changed their descriptions in mid-sentence! At least the two who said they saw a young man gave accurate descriptions, but they were of two completely different men!” She threw up her hands in frustration. “What did you get from those three that saw the invisible creature?”
“They each said that they heard a horrible screech, and a moment later the window shattered as if something huge had smashed it. But none of them saw what it was.”
“Gods! That’s even more useless that the others.” She made a visible effort to calm herself. “Okay, what do we do now?”
Ryan looked up at the darkening sky. The lights of the buildings on the other side of the great ring that made up Sigil were already peeking through the intervening air like dim stars. The second group had boarded up the smashed window and broken door and were awaiting orders. “Our shift is over. We’ll go on patrol again tomorrow and try to get in touch with Zertich’s friends and family to find out what he was working on. The night patrol will make sure nothing is disturbed here.” He looked at the others. “Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that has to do with attacks by an invisible monster.” They nodded. “All right, I’ll see you men tomorrow.” He turned and began walking in the direction of the Lady’s Ward.
It took Gina a moment to recover from her shock and catch up with him. “Wait a second! You actually believe the people who didn’t see anything?” Ryan quickened his step, not looking down at her. “Yes.”
Gina did not relent however. “Will you tell me why?”
“Their story is corroborated by all the evidence and there’s more of them.” To Ryan’s relief, the small woman was quiet for the remainder of the walk back to the Barracks. She left Ryan with a short farewell and an ominous promise to meet him again tomorrow morning.
Wheally was ready for him when he entered the office. “Have you learned anything new?” he asked.
Ryan shook his head. “Witnesses heard a horrible shriek and something invisible burst out of the front window. It’s all we could get.”
Wheally sighed. “Whatever it was is running loose in Sigil now, and I don’t think we can rely on the hope that it will just unsummon itself See if you can get in touch with some of Zertich’s acquaintances tomorrow and find out what he was working on and whether or not it will continue to disrupt the Peace. With any luck, it’s just one more irate planar fiend that wasn’t too happy about being yanked from its home plane.”
The old officer glanced at a thick packet of papers that Ryan recognized as the agreement between the Harmonium and the Guvners. “How is it going with the ‘observer?’”
Ryan grimaced. “Not well, Sir.”
“You’re doing better than most. As of today, three of the Guvners are not on speaking terms with the Harmonium patrols they were assigned to. Luckily enough, no fights have broken out yet, but that is not going to last. The only advice I can give you is not to get into an argument with her. Those damned Guvners are too thickheaded to see that we are right, and too good at debating to be convinced otherwise short of hitting them over the head with a club. Stick to keeping the Peace.”
Ryan nodded, calling to mind a passage from the Book of Harmonium.
‘Just because someone knows more and can speak better than you doesn’t mean that they’re right. Knowledge is dangerous. Some of the greatest conflicts and chaos have been spawned by searching for knowledge instead of Peace. And sometimes in the search for Peace, it is necessary for knowledge to be sacrificed.’
Much to his dismay, Ryan found Gina waiting for him outside the Barracks main entrance the next morning. She wore a determined look on her face, and held the same book of notes in her hand she had been scribbling in the day before. It looked much thicker. “Mr. Wells,” she said in greeting.
“Good morning, Miss Hawpress.” Ryan passed her without slowing.
She skipped and fell into step beside him. “You knew that those witnesses’ stories would not be valid,” she accused. “I reviewed the facts last night and came to the same conclusion you did. But you knew without even interviewing them. How?”
Ryan had to concentrate for a moment before he spoke, trying to put into words what had become instinct to him. “Those berks that said it was a man were obviously lying. It wasn’t a man that made that noise we heard, and it wasn’t a man that killed Zertich. Besides, a man who had just killed someone wouldn’t scream and leap through a window into a street full of people. He’d use the door and try to remain unnoticed. Those two probably both described men they had grudges against and wouldn’t mind seeing arrested. I’ll bet they told you exactly where you could find the culprit too.”
Gina’s irritated grimace was answer enough. “What about the couple who saw the Baatezu?”
“They were close to each other. Likely, they discussed what they witnessed and collaborated. That means that their story counts as just one account, making it one against three. It’s more likely that the three accounts which agree both with the evidence and with each other are true.
Gina was silent until they reached the Alchemists’ Square once again. Ryan assigned duties, ordering Atorre to accompany him back to Zertich’s shop. The others were sent on the regular patrol route.
Once they reached the shop, Ryan pried off the boards which had been nailed over the door and stepped inside. The room lay in much the same state that they had left it in. Several dark stains now replaced the puddles of chemicals, and in one case a large portion of the wooden floor had been eaten away, exposing dark stone beneath.
“What are we doing here?” Gina asked, surveying the destruction with a disapproving eye.
“All the evidence suggests that Zertich summoned something that got away from him. We’re here to find out if it’s something that could further threaten the Peace, or just one more fiend walking the streets. Keep an eye out for anything with names on it that could lead us to a friend or business relation who could tell us what he was working on.” Ryan walked across the room to the back room once again.
Inside the small room the odor of decay was heavy, and the wizard’s body still decorated various areas of the floor. Ignoring the smell, Ryan surveyed the space. It was a typical wizard’s laboratory as far as he was concerned. Chalk outlines and diagrams crisscrossed the floor, and parchment containing schematics and unintelligible writings covered the walls. A glimmer caught his eye from the floor and he reached down to pick up a pair of glasses. The lenses were shattered and the frame bent beyond repair.
“Mr. Wells, I think you should look at- ugh!” Gina broke off as she stepped into the room, covering her nose and mouth with her hand. She avoided looking at the carnage on the floor and focused her eyes firmly on Ryan as she continued. “You should see something out here,” she said.
Ryan dropped the ruined spectacles and followed her to the path of destruction that led through the front of the store. She gestured at the mess. “This scene does not fit any pattern that would coincide with an enraged fiend escaping its summoner. The dispersal pattern of both the glass fragments and the contents of the containers suggest that whatever caused this destruction was moving inward, not outward”
Ryan stared at her blankly for a moment as his brain struggled to extract meaning from her statement. Finally he centered on the words ‘inward, not outward,’ and looked again at the destruction. Most of the glass from the front window lay on the floor inside the shop. Although a few bottles looked as if they had been smashed against the side walls, the rest looked to have been thrown against the back wall. What had once been contents of the two tables now occupied the floor farthest from the front window, as if they had been swept off in that direction. Whatever had smashed its way through the shop had come from the street and headed inward toward Zertich, not outward away from him.
Atorre picked up a handful of documents from the floor and said, “Here, Sir. Inventory lists and receipts from suppliers.” Before Ryan could take them, Gina intercepted the man and accepted the papers.
Ryan watched in amazement as the woman scanned through the lists and tables with unbelievable speed. After each sheet was finished it was placed in a neat stack on the table next to her. In less than a minute, she had gone through a pile of at least thirty pages. “Most of these entries are purchases,” she said after putting down the last sheet. “There are two names which appear repeatedly and record deliveries both sent and received. Annli Webspinner, and Thropal Corvex.”
“I know of Annli Webspinner,” Ryan said after a moment. “She’s in charge of registration and faction activities at the Civic Festhall. The Harmonium have been in close contact with her in order to make preparations for the festival.”
The Civic Festhall was a grand affair by the standards of nearly every race that had ever encountered it. Only a visiting group of Kllckjrrrggrl from an unknown prime world had not been impressed. Several dissenters of the Sensates declared that this was proof that they had wasted the near-century of construction time trying to build a structure that would tantalize the senses of all. Although any member of the Society of Sensation would be quick to tell them that it wasn’t faulty design that had produced the lack of interest, but the fact that Kllckjrrrggrl had no eyes, ears, noses, or tongues and couldn’t feel anything fainter than slamming into a stone wall, which they did often.
Even the rigid, order-loving Harmonium had to admit that the structure was a marvel of craftsmanship. Most, like Ryan, found it far too distracting and frivolous as he mounted the steps and entered through the vaulted doors into the main hall. There was always something catching the eye or teasing the ears. A cunning bit of illusionary artwork on the wall, or whispered music filtering down from the vaulted ceilings. It was hard to keep one’s mind on the Peace.
Annli Webspinner was a bauriur, a centaur-like race which had more in common with rams and goats than horses. They found her standing behind a large, semi-circular desk in the center of the central hall of the Civic Festhall. She wore a long-sleeved, black silk shirt which perfectly matched the long black hair of her flanks. Squinting through a pair of glasses which reminded Ryan far too much of Gina, she asked, “What can I do for you?”
“What can you tell me about a wizard named Zertich?” Ryan asked.
The friendly welcoming expression on Annli’s face was quickly replaced by one of guarded caution. “Very little. Why? What’s happened?”
“I’m afraid he’s been murdered. I believe that he summoned a creature that he could not control and it attacked and killed him. Do you know what he was working on?”
“Zertich wasn’t working on any-” she stopped short.
Ryan pressed her. “Yes? Go on, Miss Webspinner.”
“Zertich didn’t summon things. He looked at things. He was a Diviner.”
“Do you know what he was working on?”
She hesitated before answering. “No.”
Ryan nodded briskly. “Very well. Atorre, arrest Miss Webspinner.” Atorre nodded and took a pair of shackles from his belt.
“What?!” both Gina and Annli cried out at the same time.
“It’s against the law to lie to an officer of the Harmonium. Punishable by up to a week in the Prison.”
In the following verbal assault, Ryan had trouble separating what Gina and Annli each said, the two tirades reaching his ears in a jumble of words. “You can’t do that! I have too much planning to do for the festival… must be officially proved to be lying either by a Truth or Detect Lie spell cast by... traders and merchants to deal with, official guests to greet and... incarcerate for a day at most before interrogation by a duly authorized… melon sculptor coming all the way from... Section 12 of the Guerretia Agreement, clauses four through thirteen!”
Through it all, Atorre continued to advance on the bariaur. He was inches away from clamping the shackles around her wrists before she finally gave in. “All right, all right! I’ll tell you. Just get him away from me!”
Waiting until Atorre had retreated and once again affixed the shackles firmly to his belt, she stepped out from behind the desk. “Follow me,” she said, trotting back across the Main Hall to the far end.
Against the far wall was a small raised dais, upon which sat an empty throne. The gilded seat was a remnant from days long ago, when the Society of Sensation’s hierarchy had been slightly different. Now, although the Factol was never seen to have sat in the throne, it was widely believed that it was only because Erin Montgomery, one of the most powerful and influential beings in Sigil, didn’t need to. On either side of the dais was a simple, unimposing door.
Annli approached the left door and knocked softly on the dark wood. A muffled voice said something from within. “Wait here,” she told them as she opened the door and entered. A moment later she reappeared, gesturing for them to come in.
Ryan motioned silently for Atorre to wait outside as he and Gina stepped through the open door. Several swords decorated the walls of the small room, interspersed with paintings and other hanging decorations. Thick red carpet covered the floor, upon which were three cushioned chairs and a pale wooden desk. Reclining in a leather chair behind the desk, beneath a large rendition of the Society of Sensation’s insignia, was Erin Montgomery, Factol of the Sensates.
Ryan’s heart leapt into his throat at the sight of the beautiful woman. Emerald green eyes gazed intently at him from a delicate face, framed by short, auburn hair. He swallowed hard. “Factol Montgomery,” he said in greeting. She nodded in acknowledgement. “Officer Wells and Miss Hawpress. I understand that you have some questions about one of our members?”
“Yes, Factol,” Gina said. “I’m afraid that the wizard known as Zertich has been murdered. We understand that he had quite a few business dealings with Miss Webspinner.”
“That is true,” Erin said. “Annli and Zertich have been working quite closely these past few months in preparation for the festival. Zertich was going to provide us with out main event.”
“What exactly,” Ryan asked. “Was Zertich working on?”
At a nod from Erin, Annli stepped forward. “About a year ago, Zertich approached me, saying that he had something that no one had ever experienced before, something completely and wholly new. He said that he would guarantee that no one in the Society of Sensation would have ever seen anything like it.
“I was skeptical at first, of course. I can’t tell you how many times new members have run in and told me that they’d just experienced something never heard of before, only to find a Memory Stone containing an experience almost exactly the same.” Erin placed a jeweled box, about a foot wide and six inches on a side, on her desk and opened it. From its interior she withdrew a glittering stone sphere the size of her fist. “Zertich told the truth though,” she said. “And he gave us this to prove it.” A flick of her wrist sent it flying towards Ryan, who instinctively caught it. “Use it.”
Ryan looked at the small sphere in his hand distrustfully. It felt heavier than it looked. He had used one of the stones only once before, in order to view the home world of the Harmonium in all its orderly and peaceful glory. Recalling how to use it, Ryan cleared his mind and focused all his attention on the stone. It grew warm in his hand for a moment before the sensation overtook him.
He was standing in the back room of Zertich’s shop again. The mess of smudged chalk diagrams and littered chemicals remained. All that seemed different was the lack of Zertich’s grisly corpse.
A hand that was not Ryan’s moved in a complicated gesture, while an unfamiliar voice chanted mysterious syllables. As the Memory Stone fully asserted itself, the hand became his hand, the voice his voice. There was tension gathering in the air, shaping itself around his hand. As the incantation ended, he pointed down to the floor. There, in a small area of floor unmarked by the rampant chalked runes that filled most of the surface, was a single circular piece of glass, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. Ryan felt the tension travel away from his hand and into the thin glass circle. That finished, he reached down and picked it up.
Holding it up to his face, Ryan closed his left eye and looked through the lens with his right. He was astonished at what he saw. The small corner of his mind which was not immersed in the experience let out a low whistle. No wonder Annli had been slow to reveal any information about this. He doubted seriously that anyone at the festival would be able to say they’d seen the like before.
He could still see the room and its contents, but it was as if space had been added to everything. Highlighted in colors he did not recognize, Ryan could see through the wall into the alley beyond. Rats scurried under the floor boards shining with strange luminescence. Candle flames burned in lamps that were surely in buildings which placed half a dozen layers of wood and stone between them, and punctuating it all were flashes of strange brightness from unknown sources that seemed miles away.
Ryan lifted his free hand and was astonished to see, in addition to its pale, fleshy exterior, the shadowy forms of bones and muscle within. Holding it close, he found he could see veins, pumping blood back and forth from his heart to the tips of his fingers.
Slowly, the vision faded and the experience ended. Ryan looked up at Erin in astonishment, half expecting to be able to see through her as well. In the aftermath of the experience, Ryan felt close to blind. “What was that?”
Annli took the stone back and gave it to Erin, who placed it back in the box before speaking. “I assume you know the founding belief of the Society of Sensation. We believe that in order to understand the universe, we must experience as much of it as possible. We all seek out new experiences in order to bring ourselves closer to that understanding. It only stands to reason that this becomes harder the more one experiences. As time passes, we find ourselves traveling great distances for new experiences. A few are content with exploring the nuances of life, but most search for greater and greater extremes. Zertich was the first to take this idea in a... new direction.
“Many Sensates find that after years of concentrating so hard on the input of our senses, we become more highly attuned. Able to hear better, more distinctly. Taste buds picking out every ingredient of a food and judging the bouquet of each individually. Zertich was intrigued with this idea. I could even go so far as to say he was obsessed by it.
“He studied every spell he could get his hands on that enhanced the senses, focusing primarily on those involving sight. Each one he found to be insufficient for what he sought. So he started experimenting with expanding his senses using spells of his own creation.”
Gina spoke up. “What was insufficient about them?”
“Do you know of the spells which grant infravision?” Gina nodded. “Then you understand how it works.”
“It enchants your eyes so you can ‘see’ heat. It’s very useful for seeing people in the dark.”
“Yes and no," Erin said. “The infravision spell you are familiar with performs that way, after a fashion. You see, humans cannot see in the infrared range of vision. Some creatures can, but most cannot. The spell which you speak of ‘translates’ heat into something you can see. Cast the spell and suddenly bodies are giving off light in a mixture of oranges and yellows. Flames are green and white, cold stone is blue and black. But the spell doesn’t make it so you can actually see heat. It makes it so the heat can be seen by you. If we really could, really could see heat, it wouldn’t look blue, or red, or orange. It would have whole new colors.”
Ryan said, “I saw colors I couldn’t recognize when I used the stone. Were they-?”
“Yes. You were seeing heat, actually seeing it, in addition to various other emanations.”
“You said that he gave that to you over a year ago?”
“Yes. According to Zertich, he had expanded and refined his research since then, exploring realms of sight we never knew existed. It was going to be the main event of the festival. We had planned to enchant several memory stones so that they could be activated all at once and utilized by the entire crowd. An entirely new sensation. Something that nobody had ever experienced before.”
“I’m sorry Factol Montgomery, but it looks like you’re going to need a new main event now. I have one more question to ask. Do you know who Thorpal Corvex is?”
“Yes,” Annli said. “He works at the Foundry. Zertich dealt with him for most of his materials.”
“We should take the Memory Stone as well,” Gina suggested. “For evidence.”
Erin, Annli, and Ryan all shook their heads simultaneously. Erin said, “It won’t be any use to you. Once a memory stone leaves the confines of the Civic Festhall, it becomes inert.”
“How were you going to make these stones available to the public? The festival usually takes up the whole of Alchemists’ Square.”
Annli looked uncomfortable at the question, but Erin answered coolly. “There are ways to extend the range of the stones for a limited time. It’s not something we wish to advertise though.”
Ryan nodded his assent to the indirect request for secrecy. “Thank you for your cooperation, Factol. Miss Webspinner. We can see our own way out.”
Annli’s voice followed them out the door into the hall. “I hope you find whoever did it, Officer Wells. Zertich was a friend of mine.”
Inside the office, Erin carefully closed the lid on the two spheres glittering within the jeweled box.
“Well that’s just wonderful,” Gina said as the three of them exited the Festhall. “Now we have no idea what killed Zertich. If it was some invisible monster, he certainly didn’t summon it.” She crossed out several entries in her notebook.
Ryan stood at the top of the ivory stairway just outside the great doors, looking out into the street. “He still might have summoned it. His search for expansion of the senses may have led him to deal with fiends or other monsters.”
“Just because he was a wizard doesn’t mean that he was above reproach-”
“No, I mean that if he were a Diviner Wizard, then it’s impossible that he would know any summoning spells. Summoning spells occupy a completely different area of magical study from Divination. They’re so dissimilar from each other that any research of Summoning spells would entirely conflict with his work in Divination.”
“How do you know all that?”
“I know a lot about magic, and it has rules just like anything else. Even more so, since breaking those rules can often mean losing your head.”
“You can lose your head breaking other rules too. So you’re a wizard then?”
“Of course not,” Gina scoffed. “I’m a scholar. Magic is just a hobby that I pursue in my spare time.
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Right. My mistake.”
“So now what? Do we go find Corvex?”
“No. It’s off our patrol route. Tonight I’ll talk to Commander Wheally and get a couple more men to take this route tomorrow so we can follow up. Don’t worry, we’ll be back with you the day after. Hopefully with all of this sorted out.”
Gina spun around. “Wait, you don’t think I’m going to stay here, do you? After all this, I want to see this investigation through to the end.”
Ryan shook his head. “That’s out of the question, Miss Hawpress. One of the conditions Factol Sarin agreed to was that you would be out of harm’s way for this little combined effort. The rules are clear.”
Gina’s face hardened, and Ryan instantly knew he had said the wrong thing. “Oh, it’s rules is it? The man who has no regard for personal property, who arrests without due cause wants to follow the rules? Let me tell you something, Mister Wells,” she said, eyes flashing. “I deal with people like you all the time at the Courts. People who think that the Law is only there to obey when it’s convenient. Dozens of beings who stamp in and demand that justice be done, that they’ve been grievously wronged. And when we investigate, we find that they’re just as bad, if not worse, than the very people they complain about!
“It doesn’t work that way. And if you think it does, then you’re sorely mistaken. Rules are not something you can pick up and put down at your leisure. The multiverse runs and operates by rules, and if you continue on as you have been, one of these days you’re going to ignore the wrong rule and find yourself pitted against the planes themselves!”
“If it comes to that, I won’t be alone,” Ryan said ominously.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Atorre said. “That he’ll have the whole of the Harmonium backing him up. Commander Wells wouldn’t do anything that went against what we believe, and if the planes have a problem with what he believes, then it’s got a problem with what we all believe.”
Gina glared at him scathingly. “You’d take on the entire multiverse?”
Ryan realized that his hand had found its way to a sword hilt. He forced it to let go. “We already have. That’s the way it’s been from the beginning. The universe is a violent, unlawful, chaotic place. It needs someone like us.”
“You’re going to tell the universe how it should be? And you expect it to listen to you? Sit up and beg? Roll over?”
“Yes. Whether it wants to or not.”
“And what if it can't? What if the very way the universe is put together means that your brand of order simply doesn’t work?”
“The Universe is what you make it, Miss Hawpress.”
Gina flung her arms out, gesturing to the streets and buildings. “Look around you Mister Wells! The universe has already been made. You can take a steel door, melt it down, pound it out, and make it into the ugliest sculpture in the world. It won’t change the fact that it’s steel.”
Ryan stepped closer to the smaller woman, looming threateningly. “We’re not out to make anything new. We just want to hammer out the dents and scrape off the rust. In the end, it’ll be a better door for it.”
“With all the hammering you’re doing, you’re more likely to shatter it than fix it.”
“Anything that’s broken is better off that way. We won’t need it.”
She let out a short, humorless laugh. “So you’re willing to rip apart the foundations of reality if need be?”
“We’ll build new foundations. Stronger ones.” Ryan towered over Gina now, so close they were almost touching. “We’re late for our patrol, Miss Hawpress.” Before she could reply, he turned his back on her and resolutely stormed down the stairs of the Civic Festhall. His fists were clenched tightly at his sides.
What remained of the day passed like an eternity. For the first time in years Ryan longed for his home world. He missed the passage of the sun to mark time passing. The gradual darkening of Sigil’s grey, sunless skies made the hours pass even more slowly without any way to tell exactly what time it was. He could have asked Gina the time. She must have carried a pocket watch, all Guvners did. But it would have been impossible to be heard over her steady stream of words without shouting. It was only by a narrow margin that Ryan kept his anger in check, and only strict obedience that kept Atorre from letting loose.
It made Ryan long for yesterday, when Gina’s interest in him was merely academic. Now though, she asked questions like a weapons master wielded a sword. She attacked, feinted, dodged and parried with incredible skill. She asked seemingly innocent questions and then pounced on the answer as if it were a fatal flaw in his defense. Above all, she asked questions that made him angry.
“What is your reaction to verbal abuse? What if it’s against your Harmonium? That’s certainly too harsh, don’t you think? How many injuries have you caused in your service to the peace? What were the circumstances? Were you involved in that fiasco some years ago when an entire layer of Arcadia slipped into Mechanus? Do you have any witnesses to that? Do you have any reliable witnesses? What were you thinking when you kicked in that door at Zerich’s? Did it feel good, destroying someone else’s property, bought by hard-earned money? Do you think you’re better than common man just because you wear the badge of the Harmonium?”
Eons later, when they finally reached the Barracks, Ryan did not slow as he approached. He stormed into the halls, pushing past other officers. Gina’s voice drifted shrilly in from the street. “And don’t think you can just pass me off like some second-hand hat! I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow morning!”
Ryan’s strained and frayed temper finally snapped. In a haze of rage, he lashed out, aiming his fist at the wall. He had expected to strike stone, but was surprised to hit wood. Wood that shattered under the force of his blow. What had once been a door was torn from its hinges and fell inward to the floor in pieces.
Commander Wheally looked up from what he was writing. “Ah, Mr. Wells. I assume you’re here to give your report.” He drove his quill home into an inkpot and waited expectantly.
“Er, yes Sir.” Ryan said lamely, nursing his bruised knuckles. He stepped over the mangled wood into the office and cleared his throat embarrassedly. “We’ve eliminated for the most part the possibility that Zertich had summoned up whatever killed him, though I’m not ruling it out. I’d like to investigate further by going down to the Foundry tomorrow. Zertich had dealings there with a man named Thorpal Corvex.”
“Any idea what the culprit is yet?”
Ryan sighed and shook his head. “No, Sir.”
“And how are things with Miss Hawpress progressing?”
“You don’t want to know, Sir.”
“Just by observing the fact that my door is not Miss Hawpress, I will assume that she is not in similar condition.”
“Unfortunately not, Sir.”
“Yes, we’ve had similar reports from the rest of the patrols. And more than innocent doors have suffered for it. There haven’t been any serious injuries, but we’ve lost three of our observers to these ‘differences of opinion.’ I can’t imagine their reports will reflect favorably on their observations.”
“Is there any way I could convince Miss Hawpress to leave for similar reasons?” Ryan asked sullenly.
Wheally stood abruptly. Although Ryan remained at attention, inwardly he shrank away from the fury in the man’s steely glare. “This is not a joking matter, Mr. Wells! Do you know what happened when the Harmonium first discovered other worlds and entire planes of existence beyond its own home world?”
Ryan knew the story. Every Harmonium member did. “Yes, Sir.”
“That is right. They saw universe of chaos and disorder. They already had an entire world pacified and under control, so how much trouble could the rest of existence be? We sent an entire army into the first layer of the Abyss, to spread a little peace and stability. They were slaughtered, Mr. Wells. Barely a platoon made it back through the portal to tell us what happened.
“Since then, we have changed tactics. We have a presence in Sigil, and through the City of Doors, we have gained footholds on dozens of worlds and have even expanded into the Outer Planes.” Wheally circled his desk and stood directly in front of Ryan. “What, Mr. Wells, is the moral of the story?”
Ryan answered immediately. “That a club is not always the most effective weapon. Sometimes a dagger can find the space between armored plates when a club would do no damage. Sometimes a weapon is not necessary at all. Above all, one should know what and where one is attacking.”
Wheally nodded severely. “I would be appalled if you could not have recalled that passage from the Book of Harmonium. Let me tell you what and where we are attacking. We are attacking the multiverse, and we are attacking it here, in Sigil. Sigil is an outpost where we can look out into the rest of the planes of existence. It is a beachhead that allows us to marshal our forces and spread out across reality.
“We have gained much, but do not fool yourself Mr. Wells. Sigil is a cross-section of the rest of the multiverse, and it will be a long time before we have taken enough of the multiverse to think about taking the Cage.
“It is imperative that we do not wield a club in this battle. That is because this is a battle we will lose. The Doomguard control the Armory, the Mercykillers hold the Prison, and the Guvners run the Courts. At the moment our power and influence in Sigil is limited. So we serve the Peace by enforcing the law here, and we use the city as a bridge to the rest of the planes.
“If the Fraternity of Order tries to move in on our jurisdiction, which they may very well be intending to do, we will give then a damn good fight but in the end, we will lose the most important outpost we have in this war. So above all, don’t give them a reason to!”
Ryan straightened. “Yes Sir!”
The next morning, Ryan opened the door to Wheally’s office. Until recently, it had been the door to his own room. Filling the entrance to his room was now a half-shattered slab of wood which hung dangerously askew on bent hinges. “You wanted to see me, Sir?” The requisition for a new door would not likely be answered for at least a week.
“Yes, Mr. Wells. Early this morning I was delivered this packet.” The commander held up a stack of paper half an inch thick. “It is the agreement the Harmonium entered into with the Fraternity of Order for this observer ordeal. Several sections have been underlined, particularly those involving ongoing investigations.” He turned to a marked page and read aloud, “‘Afore mentioned observers are to observe the actions and doings of specific patrols and individuals in order to help understand the decision making process and procedures followed by those individuals. Hence, observers must remain with those who they are assigned to observe. In the event of the death of the subject of observation, the observer is expected to be assigned to those officers investigating the death of the subject...’ etcetera, etcetera.
“There are a few dozen more, but that is the most important bit. It all amounts to one thing, and I believe you know what that is.”
“Miss Hawpress will be accompanying me to the Foundry,” Ryan said resignedly.
“That is right, Mr. Wells. She is waiting at the front gates now. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Sir.” Ryan turned to leave. Facing the door, he was surprised to see a copy of Tunnoc's Utility Calendars hanging on the interior surface. This month’s diagram was of the new Mancatcher design, which sported a collapsible shaft that allowed for a hip sheath for faster retrieval, rather than the normal sheath that fitted on an officer’s back. The calendar looked incredibly familiar, right down to the note scrawled in next week to report for guard duty at the front gates of the Barracks. “Sir, isn’t that-”
“Dismissed, Mr. Wells,” Wheally said behind him.
“Yes, Sir.” Ryan opened the door and with one last mournful look at the calendar which had cost him three gold commons, exited the office.
Ryan had asked Gracin to meet him in the inner courtyard before leaving for the Foundry. The Notary One was less than enthusiastic about the Guvner representative joining them.
“It’s too dangerous Sir,” he said darkly. “She might slip and fall into a furnace.” He grinned dangerously. “Or stumble into a kettle of liquid iron. Or accidentally get her head cut off by a swinging sword.”
Ryan spared him a small smile. The image certainly was enjoyable to contemplate. But it was only an instant before he was all business again. “No, none of that is going to happen.”
“With all due respect, Sir, why not?”
“Firstly, because it would do more harm than good. Secondly and more importantly, because those are our orders! Are you going to disobey them?”
Gracin snapped to attention.. “No, Sir!
“You’ve been through intensive training on Arcadia and have fought deadly Tanar’ri with nothing but a thin piece of metal between its teeth and your heart! Are you going to let yourself be intimidated by a glorified scribe?”
“Right! Move out!“
Marching briskly, they moved out of the inner courtyard and through the front gates of the Barracks. Gina stood across the street, arms crossed, leaning with her back against the wall behind her, standing guard to prevent any escape from the Barracks. Her blue hair was now pulled and tied at the nape of her neck with a leather thong. She still wore her long jacket, but underneath it a dark brown leather jerkin replaced her white shirt. Laced tightly up the front, it hugged her torso in a way that emphasized the subtle curves of her small form. Her polished black shoes were now boots, silver buckled up to her calves to disappear into her leather breeches. On her hands were a pair of black leather gloves. Her glare seemed all the sharper through the lenses of her glasses.
Gracin leaned down slightly behind Ryan and whispered, “I’m not so sure that she’s not worse than the Tanar’ri, Sir.”
Ryan was inclined to agree. “Courage, soldier,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. Firmly setting his face into what he hoped was a calm expression, he strode forward toward the waiting woman.
“Good morning, Miss Hawpress,” he said neutrally.
“You’re ten minutes late Mister Wells,” she accused.
The calm facade cracked slightly. “I had a meeting with my commanding officer,” he said.
“Well, it’s nice to know you at least spend some time doing more than breaking things. Let's go.” She turned abruptly and walked in the direction of the Lower Ward.
“Liquid iron,” Gracin muttered suggestively.
“Pike it,” Ryan said through clenched teeth. He set out after Gina, his eyes boring balefully into her back.
As they made their way through the ever more-crowded streets, the air quality diminished steadily. A yellow-grey haze appeared and thickened in the air around them, giving everything a sickly sheen. It wasn’t long before they could see the dark silhouettes of the Foundry’s smoke stacks, the upward curve of Sigil’s ring making the spires seem to tilt forward towards them. Oily black smoke belched forth from their tops, so thick that it only traveled for a short way into the air before drifting back down to settle on the surrounding streets and buildings.
Ryan hated the Lower Ward. At least the Hive was only dirty and filled with crime. In the Lower Ward the dirt was more subtle. It was all-pervasive, assailed his senses until he no longer noticed it. Then it crept into his hair and clothes, clung to his armor like rust. There was crime here too, but it was equally subtle. There was a feeling that something was wrong but Ryan could never put his finger on it.
The great iron-wrought gates of the Foundry were a mass of spikes and sharp curls, rising up between them and the structure. It was nearly impossible to see where they opened. Just inside, wearing the uniform of the Godsmen, was a guard. He looked at the Harmonium soldiers suspiciously as they approached. “Yes?”
“We want to speak with Thorpal Corvex,” Ryan said, stopping opposite the iron fencing from the guard.
“Do you have an appointment?”
Ryan was about to say that they didn't need one when Gina cut in. “Yes, we do. My name is Gina Hawpress.”
The guard looked down at her. “Ah, Miss Hawpress. I was told to expect you.” He reached up and pulled something in the grillwork. There were several metallic clangs and the huge metal doors swung ponderously inward, their hinges screeching.
“When did you make an appointment?” Ryan asked as they stepped inside the front yard. There were stacks and piles everywhere of raw ore, as well as finished products in the forms of metal bars and ingots.
“Last night,” Gina said without looking at him. “I’m surprised you didn’t think to. The Foundry works day and night non-stop. Forge work is a very precise science and requires a great deal of timing. If I hadn’t, we might have had to wait for hours.” She spared him a sidelong glare. “Certainly a waste of the city’s time and money, wouldn’t you agree?”
Ryan clenched his teeth and bit back a response. A young man wearing soot-stained clothes met them at the main doors to the Foundry proper. “Please follow me,” he said, opening the doors.
As they followed him inside, Ryan was hit by a wave of dry heat. His armor soaked up the arid atmosphere instantly and became altogether too confining.
The interior of the building was dominated by a huge room two hundred feet across with walls stretching up to a vaulted ceiling blackened with the smoke and soot of centuries, lit by an orange-red glow emanating from the great vats containing molten metals in the center of the area. The dull, heavy roar of the flames beneath the vats filled their ears, punctuated by the clang of metal against metal as three score smiths did their work both at the huge kettles and in the smaller workrooms that lined the walls in small alcoves. The Believers of the Source, or Godsmen, believed that all life in the multiverse existed as a huge ladder. Live a good life, and when you died you were promoted to a higher being in your next life. Live a poor life, and you were knocked down a few rungs. According to them, the ladder even extended up to the gods themselves, and beyond. To them, the mutiverse was a forge in which life was refined and purified until it reached its final perfection. It was for that reason that the faction’s headquarters in Sigil was the Great Foundry. Working to burn away impurities and fashion metal into tools and useful items was a living example of their belief.
The young man led them past numerous work stations where smiths fashioned iron into simple items such as hinges, spades, and even plates and bars. At the rear of the large room, he opened a large door, revealing a stone ramp that curled downward into darkness, wide enough to wheel a cart through. As they descended, the sounds of the smiths faded and the roar subsided into a vibration that thrummed up their legs through the floor.
“This is where our members pursue more specialized crafts,” the young Godsman said as he led them down past several large iron doorways before stopping at one which seemed no different from the rest. Grasping the handle, he pushed down and pulled the door open. The heat, which had diminished as they put distance between themselves and the forge above, hit them again from inside the room. The roar once again reasserted itself as well.
“I’ll leave you to him,” the young man said. “You may find your own way out.”
Ryan thanked the man and entered the room. Five furnaces of varying sizes were situated against the left wall. Each one held a small pair of doors at waist height with a circular hole in the center, through which a bright orange glow emanated. Taking up most of the opposite wall was a huge rectangular oven. The walls themselves seemed a jumbled mass of pipes and valves that disappeared into the stone above, below and behind. Occupying the space in the center of the room were four metal benches. Two of them were occupied.
“Miss Hawpress, is it?” a voice came from the right. It belonged to a bearded man wearing a sweat-soaked white shirt, dotted with numerous scorch marks. He was fairly large around the middle and the top of his head was bare, glistening with sweat. He held a waterskin in his hands.
“Mister Corvex?” Gina asked, holding out her hand.
The man took it. “Guilty. What can I do for you?”
Ryan cleared his throat loudly. “We want to know what kind of relations you had with a man named Zertich.”
“Zertich? Yes, I’ve had many dealings with him. Quite a few special orders. Why, what’s he done?”
“He hasn’t done anything, I’m afraid he’s dead. We’re investigating his murder.”
“Well I certainly didn't do it! I’ve been working round the clock to fill those orders of his, and I’ve been paid well for it. That wizard’s been my best customer over the past two years, and I’m sorry to hear he’s gone.”
Ryan waved aside the claims of innocence. “We know you didn’t do it. What were these special orders?”
Thorpal gestured them to follow him as he walked toward the back of the room. “I just sent the last box out yesterday, but I’ve still got a few pieces lying around.”
As they passed them, Ryan saw that the men sitting at the benches were working with long pipes, on the end of which were strange honey colored bubbles that the apprentices were prodding at with strange tools. “What is it that you do here?” he asked.
“I work with glass,” he said as he led them to the far wall. “Blow it, shape it, mold it, you name it.” He opened a door similar to the one which they used to enter the studio and led them into a smaller room. Glass sheets of all shapes leaned against the walls and were stacked a large table to the right, along with a few vases and sculptures. Another door stood open at the far end, leading to what looked like a large storage room. Hanging from the walls were dozens of iron files, blades, hammers and other tools not as readily identifiable. “My cold-working room,” Thorpal said, gesturing vaguely at their surroundings.
He walked to a relatively unoccupied area of the long table and picked up a circular lens, nearly a foot in diameter. It was rimmed in brass and connected at opposite poles to a crescent of metal, which fastened to a heavy-looking stand. “It’s my habit to always save one of what I’m working on for myself,” Thorpal said. “It helps the memory if I ever need to make one again, plus it’s something to show potential customers. Tends to impress them more than the notes and sketches in my log books.”
Thorpal eyed the piece critically. “Zertich said that he had to enchant ‘em after I was finished with ‘em, so I s’pose his look work a bit differently.” He set the piece on the table in front of them and demonstrated how the fixtures allowed the large lens to pivot to different angles. “Hold on a sec, I’ll find my notes.” As Thorpal disappeared into the storage room, Ryan picked up the piece and looked through the lens. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the thin, disc of glass. He had half expected it to act like a magnifying glass, but nothing seen through it looked any different.
He held it up and looked at Gracin and was surprised to see the large man’s form lined in streaking rainbows of scintillating colors. Although they were not the same unfamiliar colors he had seen while using the Memory Stone, the effect was still impressive. The shaft of the Mancatcher, visible above Gracin’s shoulder, shined brilliantly purple. Ryan squinted as the glow grew brighter, filling up the lens. In a final burst of light, the glass went dark.
“Impressive, eh?” Thorpal was standing next to him again, holding a stack of papers thick enough to be a book. “I’ll be blasted if I know why it does that, but I figure it might be worth something to a wizard some day. If nothin’ else, it seems to work like a pretty good magic detector.”
Blinking the spots from his eyes, Ryan looked through the lens again. The rainbows had returned, but the Mancatcher now appeared completely black. He put the lens back down on the table. “Was that what was wrong with this piece, that Zertich didn’t want it?”
“Yep. Said something ‘bout magic stuff not bein’ compatible with it or something like that. Said he didn’t need it. Still paid for it, so I didn’t mind.” He held up the sheaf of papers. “Here’s my notes, if they’ll do you any good.”
Ryan took the pile and paged through it briefly. Lines of writing covered the sheets, surrounding several unintelligible drawings. “I appreciate it Mr. Corvex, but-”
“Thank you Mister Corvex,” Gina interrupted, taking the papers from Ryan’s hands. “I’m sure that they will be very useful.” She gave Ryan a condescending glare as she set down the stack and began going through them.
“Those Sensates must be well funded, I can tell you that much,” Thorpal went on. “I don’t let just anyone play around in my studio. But Zerich was in here with me for days at a time runnin’ his experiments and such. Never saw so much messing with formulas for glass composition and makeup and whatever else. It was lucky enough he wasn’t one o’ them idiots that come in and seem to think I’m the all-powerful God of Glass and they can order whatever they want and somehow I’ll just be able to whip it out for them.” He flashed them a covert smile. “Not that there’s any man who could do better in Sigil, mind you.”
“Mr. Corvex, what are these here?” Gina held up several sheets of paper. “They aren’t in the same handwriting as the rest.”
“Oh, there’s some of Zertich’ s notes mixed up in there too. We were workin’ together quite a bit and sometimes on them late nights stuff gets mixed together. I sometimes thought we were partners, we spent so much time in here together. Not that those scribbles would’ve done him any good. No order at all to ‘em, and he usually lost ‘em soon as his pen left the paper.” He brightened up. “Hey, you wanna see something?”
He picked up the large lens and walked back to the outer room. “I was thinkin’ of asking Zertich to help me with a special project to get a window put into the studio here.” He stopped at the doorway. The two men were still working at the benches, rolling the long pipes back and forth on the rails provided by the benches. One of them looked up at the small audience. Thorpal scowled at him. “Pay attention to what yer doin’ Reinhart!”
The man looked to the glowing bubble on the end of the pipe and yelped as he saw it drooping toward the ground. In his distraction, he had stopped the constant rotating of the rod and allowed gravity to take effect on the soft glass. Quickly resuming the back and forth spinning and regained control.
Thorpal grunted. Holding up the lens in front of Ryan, he said, “Take a look.”
Ryan took the lens and looked through it into the room. The scene was amazing. Not only were the two men outlined in the same colors Gracin had been, but so was everything else. The honey-like glass on the poles had rainbows of orange and yellow drifting off of them, soaking into the tools that manipulated them. The bubbles themselves glowed a yellowish-green. As he watched, one of the men stood and walked to a small door in the great oven, set at waist height. Holding the rod in one hand, he used the other to grasp a wooden handle and open the door. White and green poured into the air from within as the man stuck the rod into the space. Upon pulling it out, the rod was suffused with color, and the molten glass on the end had swollen. Ryan realized that the huge oven must be filled with molten glass, keeping it heated and accessible.
“Thought it would be a great advertisement,” Thorpal said. “Customers come by to see what I do and see somethin’ like that. Had a feeling it’d go a ways toward sellin’ ‘em.”
The scene Ryan saw through the lens flickered briefly and the colors it added to the room shifted slightly, seeming to bend. A vague silhouette appeared in the streaming rainbows, moving across the room from the furnaces. The absence of colors drifted across the floor and through one of the working apprentices, who did not appear to notice. Ryan held up the lens so that Thorpal could see through it as well. He pointed at the silhouette. “What’s that?”
Thorpal peered through the glass curiously. The shape had passed the benches. “I don’t rightly know. Never seen anything like that happen before. It’s probably just a draft of air or-” He stopped short as the silhouette ceased its motion. Ryan had an uncanny feeling that it was looking at them. “How-”
The sound they heard was the same screech that had come from Zertich’s shop two days ago. Only this was not from a distance, separated from them by intervening buildings and pedestrians. It was up close and personal, ripping off the walls and shaking Ryan’s teeth inside his skull. It grated off his nerves like an iron file.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw the silhouette move toward the oven. With a shriek of twisting metal, the small door seemed to tear itself from its fixtures before flying straight at them. Ryan grabbed Thorpal and dropped, pulling the craftsman to the ground with him. The steel rectangle flew over their heads and into the room beyond. Glass shattered behind them and Ryan had to force Thorpal back down as the man gave an anguished cry and tried to go back into the storage room.
Ryan shoved the lens into Gina’s hands and drew his sword, running into the studio. He swung at the air where the silhouette had been, but his sword found no resistance. With the door completely gone, heat poured into the studio from inside the oven. Ryan watched in astonishment as several of the bricks lining the open space ripped themselves from the rest of the oven and leapt toward him. He ducked again, this time swinging his sword as he went down, aiming where the thing must have been. Once again though, the blade cut only air.
An yell of pain came from behind him. Ryan looked and saw that one of the two apprentices who had been working had been hit by the flying bricks. His arm was black and bleeding not only from the impact of the stone, but the heat it had carried with it from the furnace oven. White-faced, the man gripped his shoulder above the wound, knowing from experience not to touch the serious burn.
“Gracin!” Ryan called to the large man, who stood protectively in front of Gina and Thorpal with his sword drawn. “Mancatcher!”
Gracin shoved his blade back into its scabbard and in one swift motion, grasped the polearm over his shoulder, pulling it free from its straps. He ran forward with the iron weapon in both hands.
The Harmonium Mancatcher was a simple spring-loaded vise on the end of a six-foot pole. Metal spikes ran along the interior of the trap. What was special about the weapon was the fact that it was enchanted. There were many denizens of the planes, and hence denizens of Sigil, which possessed armor, or even skin, that was so tough that it could only be penetrated by magically enchanted weapons. This often came along with other, more offensively designed attributes, and the Harmoniun often found the Mancatcher essential to dealing with these creatures. The Mancatcher was designed to catch and hold disrupters of the Peace in circumstances where it was preferable not to kill the offenders. Another valuable ability of the Mancatcher was its stopping effect on teleportation, planeshifting, and similar magical abilities which would allow a prisoner to escape more mundane confinements.
Gracin came forward, and as another cluster of bricks became missiles aimed at Ryan, shoved the open weapon into a likely space for the creature to occupy. With a turn of his wrists he released the catch and caused the iron jaws to snap shut. They hit each other with a clang, snaring nothing. Ryan skipped back from the liquid glass now flowing from the widening hole. It dribbled to the stone floor and quickly lost their orange glow, cooling into hard lumps of clear glass as the heat was absorbed by the rock.
Ryan dodged again as more bricks flew at him. This time however, several globules of molten glass came with them. One hit his shoulder and burned through the cloth to his chainmail. Another larger drop landed on his back. Both quickly heated the metal beneath them, which in turn seared Ryan’s skin. Grimacing in pain, he batted the glass off with his sword.
The two workers were still standing at the far side of the room, looking on in horror as their own forge rebelled against them. Ryan shouted at them. “Get out of here!” The two men did not move, paralyzed with fear. Summoning every ounce of commanding authority he could muster, Ryan bellowed, “Move!!” Responding to the order almost without thinking, the two men stumbled out the open door into the passage beyond.
Suddenly something large and sharp hit Ryan in the chest, bowling him backwards through the benches to land dangerously close to the furnaces lining the wall opposite the oven. A moment later, he was joined by Gracin as the big man was also thrown through the air. Grunting in pain, Ryan struggled to his feet. He swung his sword back and forth in front of him, though he knew it was useless.
Through the roar of the furnaces came a faint sound. It took a moment for him to realize that Gina had yelled something at him. He looked to where she and Thorpal still stood at the inner door. Thorpal was holding the lens in front of her while she looked through it at him. Her hands moved back and forth in complicated patterns. In the same instant he realized that she was casting a spell, he finally comprehended her shout. “Look out!”
Too late, he tried to dive to the floor as something caught him around the neck. It didn’t even have a texture to it as whatever it was that held him squeezed harder, lifting him until his feet left the ground. It was as if the air itself was strangling him. He struggled for breath, tearing at his throat and trying to kick whatever held him, but there was nothing there. As blackness closed in at the edges of his vision, he was vaguely aware that Gracin was swinging the Mancatcher through the air front of him, trying to hit the thing holding him.
Something whirred past from the direction of Gina, into the collected furnaces. Ryan felt himself losing consciousness, drifting away from awareness. Gracin’s angry shouts faded. He couldn’t feel the pressure on his neck anymore, but he didn’t care because he didn’t feel the need to breathe anymore either.
Abruptly, the sensation ended and Ryan was thrust back into a world of sound, light, heat, and pain. Lots of pain. The pressure around his neck was gone and the room spun crazily around him. Then the spinning stopped very suddenly as he slammed into something hard and unyielding. He slid limply down the wall and landed on the floor in a dazed heap. The room was spinning in a whole new way now, and Ryan thought it best to wait before trying to get up.
“You didn’t tell me you was going to shoot acid at it! I thought you was just going to blast it with fire or somethin’!” Ryan didn’t quite recognize the voice, but he thought it might be Thorpal.
“Oh yes, fire would have obviously hurt it!” He immediately recognized the second voice as Gina. “You could tell it was really being burned when it picked up those three-thousand degree bricks!”
“Do you know how much it cost me to have all that build exactly right? Not to mention how hard it was to convince the other smiths to even let me set up a studio in the main Foundry? Half of them don’t think working glass is even real smithing. Gorvan’s been eying this space for years for his Mithril workin’. You can bet he’s already trying to convince the Factol that I’m just a fool who doesn’t know a crucible from a cast-mold.”
“What the hell just happened!” Ryan shouted. He had climbed his way to a more or less standing position against the wall. Most of his clothes had been charred, his armor was incredibly hot, and he was covered in fine white ash. Thorpal recovered from his shock first, though his first statement did little to soothe Ryan’s anger. “You’re still alive?” the craftsman asked incredulously.
Gina spoke up next. “I shot an acid arrow at it. It was all I could think of.”
Thorpal’s anger overtook his astonishment and he turned on the smaller woman. “All you could think of? Shooting acid into a delicate mechanism? You have no idea how much that cost me! Your little Fraternity of Order is going to be receiving a bill, from me you-”
“Shut up!” Ryan ordered. “What happened?”
"The acid didn’t hit it. It went right though it and into the pipes and all that behind those furnaces. I must have hit something vital, because after a moment, the whole thing exploded. You were thrown in here.” She hesitated before continuing. “I don’t think Gracin made it.”
Ryan looked around himself for the first time. He was in the cold-working room again. Beyond, the studio had been transformed into a raging inferno. Gouts of orange and yellow flame spewed forth from both walls where the oven and furnaces had once been. He couldn’t even see the far door in the glare. The glass which had spilled to the floor was reheated by the rampant flame and added to by the contents of the demolished furnace. It was slowly inching its way across the floor.
“Can you turn all that off?” he asked.
Thorpal shook his head. “It’s all connected to the same enchantments that power the main forge above us. We’ll have to wait for the men on the other side to shut everything down.” A worried look crossed his face. “Shut it down... oh Gods! They’ll have to shut down the whole forge to get us out! There’ll be unbelievable amounts of work lost! Not to mention the time needed to start everythin’ up again.” He buried his face in his hands. “I’ll never be allowed to work in the main Foundry again. I’ll be lucky to get a space inside of Sigil after this.”
Ryan was still watching the spreading pool of molten glass. It was nearing the doorway to their room. “Corvex, how much glass was in there?”
“Only about fifty gallons." He looked at the spreading pool. “Of course, we might be seeing considerably more than that.”
Thorpal ran a hand over his bald plate worriedly. “Well, see Zertich needed to have as much time as possible to run his experiments, and I have to charge the oven every night. Dump in raw sand and a few other ingredients, then wait around while it all melted and mixed together with the old stuff.
“So Zertich comes up with the bright idea of getting a few imps to do the job for us. The little demons’re immune to the heat, so they can go right into the oven and mix the stuff up.”
“I thought Zertich couldn’t summon things,” Ryan said.
Thorpal shook his head. “Oh, he didn’t summon ‘em. He went out and hired ‘em right off the street. Payed ‘em twenty-five gold commons a week to keep the oven full, night and day. Even got ‘em to crawl in through the smoke stacks to do it so they wouldn’t disturb him in here.”
“What’s the catch?” Gina asked, though it sounded like she had already guessed the answer.
Thorpal sighed. “They’re paid through the end of the week.”
Ryan looked from one to the other. “So?”
“There’s a very old story that almost all wizards know,” Gina said. “About a lazy sorcerer’s apprentice who summoned an imp to do his chores for him while his master was away. He handed the imp a bucket and told it to take water from a nearby spring to the well in his master’s home in the mountains. Then the lazy apprentice fell asleep.
“The sorcerer came back that night to find his cellar completely underwater, the imp still carrying buckets of water down into the depths to ‘dump’ them into the submerged well.”
Ryan looked out into the inferno again. “What exactly did you instruct the imps to do?” he asked Thorpal.
“Keep the glass up to a certain level in the oven. But with the glass spilling out like that…”
“It won’t reach that level inside until it reaches it out here,” Ryan finished for him. The craftsman nodded solemnly. “Can you just yell at them to stop?”
“No, they’re evil little bastards. If I shouted at ‘em, they’d just say they were fulfilling their contract and go right on filling it.”
Ryan reached up and closed the door to the studio, cutting off the waves of heat from the inferno. “How long before they can shut all that off and get to us?”
Thorpal shook his head. “Not for several hours at least. And that’s if they aren’t working on anything too important. It could be longer if they are. Maybe a full day.”
Ryan eyed the metal door. “Something tells me it’s going to get hot in here soon.” He led them back into the storage room and closed that door as well.
Sitting against the wall, Ryan threw his chit and watched it sail through the air to land in the large blue vase across the room with a plink. The next three followed. He had started with the vase ten feet away. Once he successfully thrown every chit into it in a row he moved it back to fifteen feet. Then twenty. Now, with his back against the wall and the vase against the opposite wall, it was fifty feet away.
The thin metal shelves that filled the room looked more like display cases in an art show, filled with all manner of glass vessels and sculpture. The blue vase Ryan had selected sat on a wide base with a twisting, fluted neck.
He sighed and looked to where Gina and Thropal were hunched over a table, now covered with Thorpal’s notes. They had been stuck in the storage room for the last five hours. Gina had quickly become absorbed in the notes and material on Zertich’s and Thorpal’s experiments and asked numerous questions. Ryan was surprised that Thorpal readily supplied her with answers. Most craftsmen in the Lower Ward guarded their secrets jealously. The artist seemed to be glad for such an eager student though, and was a font of information. Ryan had quickly become lost in their technical dialogue.
“I still don’t understand why the lenses need to be circular,” Gina was saying. “From the rest of these calculations, it seems that the glass could be any shape.”
“Zertich said that too,” Thropal said. “Let’s see here,” he rifled through the now completely randomized piles of paper. “Here it is.” Pulling out several sheets he pointed to a drawing. “Seems it’s a... natural property of the multiverse or somesuch. Basically boils down to the fact that a circle’s the only shape that can handle all the...” He looked at another sheet. “Super… sensory emanations.”
Gina nodded sagely. “Yes, it’s the Unity of Rings. Things like that go hand in hand with the Rule of Threes. Now, what about this refractory value here...”
Ryan sighed again and started looking for a smaller vase. He was interrupted by the sound of glass breaking from the cold-working room. Immediately standing, he ran to the door and opened it to be blasted by a wave of heat. Molten glass covered most of the floor, giving the room a dull orange lighting effect. As he watched, the spreading pool reached another of the large panes of glass leaning against the wall. Unable to withstand the heat, the glass cracked and shattered.
Looking to the door across the room, Ryan saw that it was red-hot. The lower edge had been bent outward by the pressure of the glass on the other side and the thick liquid was now spreading quickly across the floor toward him. Grimacing, Ryan shut the door again.
Thorpal and Gina stood behind him. “What is it?" Gina asked.
“The glass is coming under the door. I don’t suppose this one is any stronger?” Thorpal shook his head. “In that case we’ve only got a few hours before it makes its way into here. Something tells me that they aren’t going to get to us by then.”
Gina was quiet for a moment. “How far apart are these rooms down here?”
“Not far,” Thorpal said. “A foot of stone or so. Why?”
“Because I do have another spell in my repertoire that might help us. I could disintegrate a section of wall and we could just walk right through into the next room.”
Ryan stared at her incredulously. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place? We could have been out of here hours ago!”
She gave him a baleful glare. “I don’t destroy things at the drop of a hat, Mister Wells. If possible, I prefer to keep things around me in an intact state. However, it appears we have no other choice. Mister Corvex, with your permission?”
Thorpal was adamantly shaking his head back and forth. “No, that’s impossible, Miss Hawpress. There’s all kinds of piping and things I don’t begin to understand runnin’ through these walls. It’s more convenient bein’ down here, ‘cause we can hook up to the main forge. That way we don’t have to bother with runnin’ each of our own individual ones. You go around disintegrating chunks of that stone and there’s no telling what‘ll come spewing out.
Gina sighed in disappointment.
A tiny candle of inspiration lit inside Ryan’s brain. “Miss Hawpress, how much have you learned from Zertich’s notes?”
“Quite a bit actually. Although Zertich was awful at keeping notes, Mister Corvex here is quite astute about it. Zertich seemed to write things down only when he happened to have a quill in his hand. Even then it’s not much more than a reminder. ‘One part diamond dust, three parts quartz,’ or ‘No more copper in frames.’ That sort of thing. But if I supplement them with Mr. Corvex’s writings, I can understand most of them. His Theories are quite fascinating. He really was a visionary, if you’ll pardon the pun, in the realm of sight. There are so many?”
“Yes, yes.” Ryan waved his hand to bring her back to him. “But could you duplicate his spell?”
Gina stopped short. “What? That's absurd. Magic isn’t like that, Mr. Wells. I can’t just read how to do it and then do it myself. It takes experiments and meditating on magical energies and patterns. Days of work and study.”
Ryan reached up and felt the iron door. It was already uncomfortably warm to the touch. “You’ve got about five hours or so. If you can manage to enchant one of those left-over pieces that Thorpal has, I might be able to use it to get us out of here.” He took her by the arm and propelled her back toward the table.
“How?” she asked, already searching through the documents.
“When I used that Memory Stone in the Civic Festhall, I experienced a memory of Zertich’s. He cast a spell on a pair of glasses and put them on, Looking through them, I could see through the walls in his workroom. If you can enchant one of these lenses here, then I might be able to use it to show you where on the wall to cast that spell.”
Gina looked at him in silence for a moment. It was almost as if Ryan could see the gears turning in her head, methodically working through the possibilities. Finally, she nodded. “All right. I can try.”
The next few hours were a flurry of activity as Gina sorted through the mismatched notes, drawing out anything written by Zertich. Before, it had been interested reading, but now she was studying in earnest. Producing a quill pen and inkwell of her own, as well as several sheets of parchment from her pack, she quickly catalogued them into an itemized list. After that she delved into the writings of Thorpal and separated them by date, subject, and relevance. Within the space of an hour she had completely transformed the random pile into several neat stacks. After that, the work truly began. Gina’s pen was a blur across the page as she took entries from the notes and compiled it into specific information. Thorpal was soon scrambling to find her more paper as she ran out, in addition to answering very technical questions. Luckily, Zertich had done a great deal of his experimentation in the studio and Thorpal had been witness to most of it.
Ryan was meanwhile occupied looking for a suitable lens to use. The larger one had been lost in the explosion of the forge, though the early prototype would likely have been useless. To add to the problems, Thorpal was not nearly as ordered with his actual pieces as he was with his notes. It seemed that he took the actual creation process as being more important than the end result, and once he was finished with the work, it was more or less stored away and forgotten in favor of a new project. Ryan searched the storage room and found assorted lenses lying everywhere. More often than not, he would present the craftsman with a circle of glass only to be told that Zertich had deemed it unusable.
Finally, after three hours worth of searching, he presented Thorpal with a lens two inches in diameter. He had found it inside a sparkling green goblet with a stem shaped like a quasit, holding the bowl on its shoulders. Unlike most of the others he found, which had been simple circles of glass, this one had been rimmed in polished iron. Thorpal nodded eagerly, taking the disc from Ryan’s hand. “Aye, this’ll do nicely. It was part of a larger batch that all worked out well. It ought to still be usable.”
Ryan looked to the iron door. The lower edge was glowing a ruddy red, and the temperature had been increasing steadily in the room for the last half hour. The small passages leading to the giant main chimneys in the stone above them did not provide enough ventilation, and the air could not expel the excess heat it was gaining from the door. It seemed likely they would be suffocated by it before the glass inched its way across the floor to reach them.
Another hour passed. The bottom edge of the door was glowing brightly now, and Ryan could see a thin glowing line of orange beneath it. He had suggested to Thorpal that they might take apart one of the metal shelves and brace it against the floor to block the glass, but Thorpal had told him sadly that the shelves were not nearly as high quality as the doors, and wouldn’t last more than a few minutes under the heat of the melted glass.
Ryan looked to where Gina was hunched over the table. She had taken off her jacket in the now oppressive heat and hung it on the corner of one of the cases. Her hair was frazzled, several strands had escaped the knot at her neck and hung loose around her face. Sweat glistened on her exposed shoulders and dripped off her perspiring face. She was now writing on the backs of Thorpal’s other notes and instructions, having run out of blank pages.
“How’s it coming?” he asked, glancing at the ever-widening line of orange underneath the door.
“Not good,” she replied without looking up. Her quill continued to scratch along the paper even as she spoke. “Zertich was dealing with things that no one had ever seen before, whole new sensations. Since no one had ever seen them before, we didn’t have any words for them in our language. He had no way to describe them. It would be like trying to describe the color red in terms of blue. So he made up his own words to describe them with. Unfortunately, he didn’t write down anything that shows how these words relate to each other.” She placed the page of notes she was copying from in one of the neat stacks of paper, took a sheet from another pile and resumed writing.
“I thought that Guvners could read any language, since they were so good at finding patterns and whatever else,” Ryan said.
“That is true, but the main reason for that is that eighty-two percent of almost all languages describe the same things. Every language has a word for big, a word for small. Once you understand that, it’s only a matter puzzling it out by using the relationships between those things. The only time that a language won’t have a word for something is if the people who use it have never encountered it before. The desert elves of Gharrtak, for instance, have no word in their language for lake, or ocean. That’s because Gharrtak is an entire world of deserts, without a single body of water larger than a small pond. They’ve never seen an ocean before, so why would they have a word for it?
“These things Zertich talks about though.” She paused in her writing to glance at another sheet. “Eckses and Gamas, among others. No one has ever seen them. There have never been words applied to them before, and that means that I have no frame of reference whatsoever.” She stopped writing and stood up straight.
“I think I have enough information to try to scribe a spell,” she said, moving all the notes but hers to the far edge of the table. “I don’t have the proper materials to create a scroll, so after I write it all out, I still need to actually go through the process of committing the magical pathways and energies to my mind before casting it.” She cast a worried glance at the glowing door. “I’m not sure if I can do it in time.” Ryan nodded. “Do your best.”
Ignoring Thorpal’s protests, Ryan pushed over one of the metal shelves. Vases and sculptures of all shapes and sizes shattered on the floor, punctuating Thorpal’s anguished cries. Bracing his booted foot against it, Ryan pushed the metal across the stone floor and up against the door. It would only buy them a few minutes, but he was willing to take what he could get. True to Thorpal’s word, the thin metal quickly surrendered to the onslaught of heat and crumpled around the oncoming glass.
It became hard to breathe in the confined room. As the temperature rose, several of the glass works began to crack and even shatter as the heat became too much for them. Ryan finally took his armor off before it cooked him alive, silently vowing not to leave it behind. He and Thorpal looked on silently as Gina scribbled furiously. The glass was a third across the room when she declared that she had finished writing.
As the spreading pool came closer, the case of notes Thorpal kept burst into flames. The heat pouring forth from the glass was intense when Gina turned from the table and said she was ready. Ryan handed her the lens quickly, looking at the burning papers in anxiety. Black smoke rose into the air from the shelf. They wouldn’t have much time left before they couldn’t breathe at all.
Gina took the lens and set it on the floor just as the glasses had been in the vision Ryan had seen through the Memory Stone. As he watched her chant the arcane words and gesture toward the glass, he was struck with a strange feeling of familiarity. Finally the chant rose to a crescendo and ended with Gina pointing at the glass circle.
Knowing that the spell was over, Ryan quickly bent down and picked up the lens. Holding it up to his eye, he looked through it and was relieved to see the same astonishing scene he had seen through the glass in the memory stone. Most readily evident were the dull, heavy colors which streamed forth from the liquid glass. It bathed them all, overpowering the auras Ryan now understood to be the heat of their own bodies. It was as if all the normal colors which he had seen before still existed, but had now been added to and increased tenfold. He raised his hand and once again saw through it to the bones and muscle hidden within.
“Did it work?” Gina asked desperately.
Ryan turned to answer, but his words died in his throat. He could still see what he had come to accept as ‘Gina,’ but he could also see a great deal more. A dozen auras of different size and color surrounded her body. A dagger, concealed in her boot shined and sparkled in bright unfamiliar colors. A ring contained in her left hip pocket shone with equal intensity. He could see through her body to her bones and organs and was shocked to witness her heart, beating swiftly inside her chest. What took him most by surprise though, was that although he could see through her clothes and skin, he could still see her skin. She might as well have been standing naked before him.
“Did it work?” she asked again.
Blinking hard, Ryan spun away from her. “Yes, it worked,” he forced out. This time, Ryan concentrated very hard on surveying the walls of the room. Thorpal had been right. There were dozens of pipes and lines running through the stone. Most glowed with heat, but others emitted different colors he had not yet learned to recognize. One even sparkled with the same strange energy that Gina’s ring and dagger had. They crisscrossed through the wall like the web of an insane spider.
Scanning the chaos, Ryan searched for a space large enough for them to crawl through. Finally he spotted an opening, perhaps two feet by three, about five feet from the floor. Beyond it was a store room similar to the one they were in, minus the creeping pool of deadly glass. The shelves seemed to be stocked with jewelry and ornamentation. He walked to the spot and pointed. “Here. It leads into another store room.” Gina rushed to her jacket and produced a piece of chalk, which he used to outline the section of stone.
The smoke was a heavy pall in the air now, combining with the heat to make the air nearly unbearable. Ryan tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and used it to cover his mouth and nose. Gina was wheezing heavily, but would not do the same, needing to be able to enunciate clearly to cast the spell. Thorpal breathed shallowly and did not seem to be as badly affected by the horrid air.
Raising her hands, she began chanting again, her eyes fixed on the spot Ryan had outlined on the wall. Her breath came in short gasps between the arcane words, but she pressed on resolutely. Ryan winced as her voice cracked once. Finally she finished, and the wall exploded outward in a cloud of dust from the space shown by the chalk. Gina bent over double, coughing and choking on the poisonous air.
Thorpal was already at the opening, clambering up into the next room. Ryan grabbed Gina's leather jacket where she had hung it in one hand and physically picked up the woman herself in the other. He carried her to the opening and lifted her up where, still coughing badly, she managed to grasp Thorpal’s outstretched hand. After the craftsman had hauled her up and out, Ryan wadded up the jacket and threw it through as well. He then retrieved his armor along with her pack and, pushing them ahead of him, crawled out of the deadly room.
Thorpal was gently but firmly guiding the weakened woman out of the room while she feebly protested. “The notes!” she said between coughs. “We can’t… just leave them… there!”
“It’s too late,” Ryan said, juggling his hot armor from one hand to the other. “I saw them already smoldering when I climbed out.” Gina’s groan of morning for the lost knowledge ended in another fit of coughing.
They exited the storage room and entered another forge, although it was almost completely different in design from Thorpal’s studio. Kettles and molds decorated the walls, and only a single small furnace stood up against one wall. An old man looked up from working on a bejeweled amulet.
“Thorpal!” he shouted in astonishment. “What in the Nine Hells are you doing in my storage room? You’re supposed to be roasting alive in you studio!”
“Quite a bit of touching sentiment there Haelicus!” Thorpal retorted. “Pardon me while I dry my eyes! Where is everyone?”
Haelicus looked at the large man blankly. “Everyone who?”
“Everyone who’s supposed to be saving me from a fiery death!”
Haelicus shrugged. “Oh, them. Well there’s that big order from the Mercykillers to think about, retiling the roof of the Prison and all. And this is the busiest time of year for us. The high-ups voted on it and decided that the most convenient time to shut down the furnaces and handle the problem would be about… three months from now.”
“Three months!” Ryan stooped and caught Gina as Thorpal let go of her in his anger. “They could have scraped us off the wall by then!”
“They agreed you would be happier in your next life. Especially when they found out where all that fire was coming from.” Thorpal paled considerably. “You know we’re only supposed to tap the secondary furnaces, Thorpal. That inferno in your studio is coming directly from the main forge.”
Ryan looked at the larger man accusingly. “You told us that it was standard procedure to connect to the main forges.”
Haelicus nodded absently, his attention once again on his work. “It is, but only very important, or high priority projects will get a craftsman the privilege to tap those fires.” He placed a pick on one of the jewels in the amulet and rapped lightly on the other end with a small hammer. “And then there’s also the fee. A little too steep for you, eh Thorpal?”
Thorpal groaned. “I needed the extra power! Zertich’s experiments were too much for the secondary furnaces. Gods, I wish I’d stayed in the studio. The high-ups’ll cast me in iron and then melt me into slag.”
Ryan helped Gina stagger past the arguing craftsmen and into the hallway. Several feet down the slope, a pair of men were working to lay bricks down in front of the door leading to what once was Thorpal’s studio. The door they were covering glowed orange with the heat behind it. It looked like the makeshift wall was intended to last longer than three months.
As the two emerged from the hall into the main forge room, Ryan heard familiar shouting. Siere loomed over a smaller man in a leather apron. She had her hand on her sword.
“I don’t care how inconvenient it is! You said you would be able to have that blasted furnace shut down by now. Now I get back and you’re telling me that you’re not going to shut it off at all? What about Officer Wells?” She picked up the man by his collar with one hand. “You shut down that fire now, or by the Lady I’ll come back here with a hundred Harmonium men and women and a hundred hammers and chisels and we’ll get him out of there ourselves! And don’t you think we can’t, because there’s a Guvner in there too. We’ll get ourselves a piece of paper that says we can do whatever we want to your little foundry!”
“Stand down, soldier,” Ryan said.
Siere dropped the smith in surprise. “Sir? Is that you?” The smaller man scurried away in the moment of distraction.
“Of course it’s me. Why wouldn’t-” Ryan realized that he was still in his underclothes, dragging his armor behind him in one hand and supporting Gina in the other. His face was probably still covered in soot and ash from the exploding forge. He wondered how much hair he had left. “We escaped,” he said simply.
He looked out through the main doors, where a team of horses were dragging in a cart of unrefined ore to be smelted. The sky was dark outside. “Our shift’s over,” he said wearily. “Let's go report in.”
Siere nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
Gina had recovered her strength enough to accompany them back into the crowded Sigilian streets without support. Once they had escaped the oven-like atmosphere of the Foundry, Ryan shrugged back into his armor. Gina also put back on her own jacket. She checked her pockets and cried out in alarm. “Half my things are ruined!” She hastily pulled out several half-melted candles and other heat-sensitive items from various pockets before they could harden completely and become forever stuck to the insides of her jacket.
The Barracks loomed imposingly against the dim night sky. The dark silhouette was a block of pitch against the charcoal sky. Ryan bid Gina a tired goodnight and walked through the main gates.
Inside, Ryan filled out a brief report, detailing the facts of what had happened at the Foundry. He knew that he would be explaining the particulars of it to Wheally tomorrow morning.
Finally, he slumped through the destroyed door to his room. He washed his face in the basin and looked at himself in the small mirror he used to shave. His eyebrows were gone for the most part, but his actual hair seemed to have escaped the fire with only minor singeing and was perhaps a half-inch shorter.
Knowing that he would have to get up early tomorrow to brush the ash and soot out of his chainmail armor, he left a note tacked to the outside of his door to be woken at four hours past anti-peak. The guards who constantly patrolled the Barracks’ interior would knock on his door to wake him as they passed at the appropriate time. As a result of their rigorous training, it was a rarity that any member of the Harmonium overslept. Ryan could regularly wake at six hours past anti-peak, but going to sleep with a specific time in mind and then waking at that time was a skill which he had never mastered.
Although he was bone-weary, Ryan found he could not sleep once he had laid down in his cot. He stared at the ceiling, his mind abuzz with thoughts. An invisible, intangible creature. It was incredulous to him that such a thing could exist, or that the Lady of Pain would allow it to do so inside Sigil. Even fiends like the Tanar’ri and Baatezu were allowed to enter only on their best behavior. Ryan checked the thought and amended it. Everybody was allowed to enter only on their best behavior. If a demon started ripping things and people apart, it wouldn’t last long. And in just the same manner, if a Deva or some other celestial being began smiting all the evil he saw around him, he would be taken care of by the Lady of Pain long before his task was completed.
Maybe the Lady of Pain couldn’t see it either? No, that was absurd. The Lady kept even the powers out of Sigil, and you didn’t get much more omnipotent than a god. Sigil was connected to every corner of the multiverse, although that corner was usually the shadowed, cobweb-shrouded corner that never got swept out and you usually expected something poisonous and with lots of legs to be lurking there. If any one god managed to get into the City of Doors, that power could reach into innumerable worlds and planes. It worked out for the best, most agreed. Because although most priests would love to have their patron deity put the multiverse under a thumb and be able to say ‘I was a worshiper before he reshaped the planes in his image,’ they were all far more afraid of some one else’s god doing it first.
Well, it wasn’t as if they’d actually killed anybody before now. Ryan was pretty sure that there wasn’t any record of one committing any crime for that matter. Perhaps the reason the Lady of Pain let them exist in Sigil was because they didn’t really bother anybody. Until now.
A thought struck him just before he drifted into sleep that made him sit straight up. What if it wasn’t murder? What if Zertich had only been killed?
Ryan shouldered back into his clothes and grabbed the lens Gina had enchanted. The lights of torches and candles stood out clearly above in the night sky like a strip of yellow stars as Ryan rushed out into the street. Reaching the center of the street, he stopped and placed the glass over his eye. Slowly, he turned in a complete circle. There! Two blocks down, something large walked through a shop wall and into the street.
As if he were on patrol, Ryan walked toward the thing. He donned the impassive face essential to the practice, looking straight ahead, but still seeing his surroundings. As soon as a criminal realized you were looking at him, he’d stop whatever he was doing before you saw. The best way to catch them was to appear not to notice them.
Eyes locked on the street ahead, Ryan approached the creature as it lumbered through the street. His hand ached to snatch the hilt of his sword, but he forced it to remain casually at his side as he came near the thing. It continued walking, appearing to be oblivious to Ryan's presence.
The eight-foot tall creature lumbered along on two great legs that looked like tree trunks, right down to roots at the bottom, which slithered and snaked into the ground each time it took a step. From the enormous chest came two arms that seemed to hinge in strange ways as they swung back and forth while it walked. They each ended in a three-fingered hand, tipped with wicked talons. Its head was a strange diamond shape tipped with a snout that reminded Ryan of an anteater. The thing’s mouth gaped open, seeming to split the strange head in half, setting Ryan’s mind to rest as to whether or not it could have made that awful screech. Two rows of serrated teeth lined the interior.
Ryan was so intent on the creature that he did not pay attention to where he was walking. With a sudden shock he realized that their paths were going to cross. He couldn’t change course to avoid it without alerting the thing that he knew it was there. Gritting his teeth, Ryan walked on, staring straight ahead. The vision through the lens swam as the creature passed through him. It was incredibly unnerving for the fact that he didn’t feel it at all. Not even a breeze. Then it was gone and he was walking alone through the darkened street, not daring to look back.
Wheally was not in his office the next morning. When Ryan thought about it, it wasn’t surprising. The Mover was in command over those Harmonium who were on duty at the Festival. He was probably already at the Alchemists’ Square, making sure things were progressing in an orderly fashion.
Gina stood waiting for him outside, wearing the same outfit she had yesterday. It looked as if it had been washed vigorously. “Good morning, Mr. Wells,” She said, smiling.
Ryan missed a step when he heard the friendly greeting. He recovered quickly though. “Good morning, Miss Hawpress,” he said uncertainly.
The Guvner representative fell into step next to him as they headed in the direction of the Alchemists’ Square. As they approached, the streets were even more crowded than usual, thronged with men, women and otherwise. Ryan noted that most displayed the symbol of the Society of Sensation somewhere on their person.
Reaching the square, they found that it had been completely transformed. What had once been an open space had been sectioned off into a twisting chaos of narrow aisles walled by hundreds of makeshift stalls and tents, each one professing to have some of the most amazing sensations available for experiencing. Banners and flags hung everywhere, whipping in the cool wind.
A large platform had been constructed at the far end, closest to the Civic Festhall. Ryan could see the Sensate Factol Erin Montgomery, along with Annli Webspinner and a few others whom he did not recognize, but assumed were also important somehow. There was a steady flow of Sensates past the platform, to and from the Civic Festhall, which stood a block down the street. He assumed that they were recording their experiences on the Memory Stones. The main reason for the Festival was in fact to draw Sensates back to Sigil who had ventured out into the far reaches of the Planes. They would spend weeks sorting through the hundreds of recorded experiences for those that were actually unique and could be kept in the Sensation Library.
Ryan met Wheally on the fringes of the square. He was briskly given his instructions along with Samon and Claire before the commander rushed off to something else. Ryan relayed them to Siere, Atorre, and Wiles. With Gracin’s death, he and Gina would walk alone, staying in the confines of the square. The morning was uneventful for the most part. Gina was surprisingly docile as they walked the booths and vendors. At one point Ryan was forced to break up a fight at a stand over the last mug of something the vendor called Lotus Nectar. Other than that however, the Harmonium’s presence alone went a long way in discouraging law-breakers.
At peak, they found a small make-shift cafe to stop for lunch. There was a long line to sit at one of the tables within the tent, but Ryan pushed past the waiting creatures and took up a post at the back wall, training his glare on the room in general. Animate conversation began to lose momentum as the occupants became aware of the Harmonium dominating the establishment. Gina watched quizzically as he remained immobile. After another five minutes passed, a trio of tieflings which had been getting more and more uneasy, stood from forgotten food and left. Quick and determined, Ryan sprang into action and sat down at the table.
Gina joined him a moment later, trying to scowl at him for a blatant flaunting of authority. “You cut in line,” she said. The twitching corners of her mouth betrayed her amusement.
Ryan appeared to be taken aback. “I didn’t think anyone wanted this table,” he said innocently. He turned in his seat to face the angry faces of those still in line, his face transforming as he did so, becoming an expression of threatening menace. “Does anybody want to sit here?” he barked. Anyone who looked like they might have objected quickly closed their mouth as they met his glare. He faced Gina again, all trace of hostility gone. “See?”
Gina finally allowed her smile to reveal itself. “You might have made a good member of the Fraternity of Order, Mr. Wells. That’s an amazing use of Bergal’s Social Response Theorem.”
Ryan waved his hand dismissively at the term. “It’s just an old Harmonium trick.”
It took some time to convince the server that they did not want the most spectacular and unique food on the menu. When he finally brought them two plates of sandwiches, not to be discouraged, he guaranteed under his breath that the bread was made with the grains of a unique plant found only in certain areas of Arborea. Ryan thought it tasted good enough.
As Gina finished her meal, she spoke finally. “All right,” she said. “I’ve been patient. It’s obvious that you’ve solved the mystery. When are you going to let me in on it?”
Ryan set down his sandwich. “On the world I grew up on there was a snake called a Melbrok. It was poisonous as anything. One bite and you were dead within the hour. It had amazing camouflage too, green as the grass and most of the time you couldn’t even see it if you looked for it. The thing you always had to remember though was not to look for it.
“The Melbrok only struck if it felt threatened. The best way to threaten it was to look straight at it. Make eye contact. I guess its reasoning was that if you were looking at it, then you could kill it. I’d even heard that a man stepped on one and it didn’t do anything. It just wriggled away.”
Gina looked at him in silence for a moment. “You think that those things that killed Zertich and attacked us only did it because we could see them?”
“They’ve never caused any trouble before. We can’t see them. When someone does find a way to see them, they attack and kill him. I saw that thing in the foundry walk through a wall, a furnace, and one of the workers. Then I pointed at it and it stopped and attacked us.”
“You think there’s more than one?"
“They’re all over the place. I went out last night and looked for myself.” With regret, Ryan remembered arriving back at his room just as the man on patrol knocked on his door to wake him. He stifled a yawn.
Gina stiffened and looked covertly around her. “What, you’ve seen them?”
Ryan took the lens from his pocket. It glittered in the light and he caught a glimpse of the strange colors beyond. He lifted it to his eye and fixed his face into the same blank stare he had last night. Carefully, he turned his head and scanned the room and the street outside. He didn’t let his eyes linger on anything, but glided his gaze across the scene. When he was done, he put the lens back in his pocket.
“There’s one a few shops down,” he said. “And another behind me.” As Gina’s eyes widened in fear, Ryan said quickly, “Don’t look! It might think you can see it." She locked her eyes on his face.
“But those things are dangerous! We have to do something!”
“Dangerous to who? Nobody can see them or even touch them. The only person who could is dead and all of his notes were destroyed in that fire.”
“But they’ve killed people!”
“Would you incarcerate a snake for biting someone? These things aren’t intelligent. I agree with you that they’re dangerous, but what can be done? I can count on one hand the amount of creatures that a Mancatcher can’t contain. We can’t hurt them, contain them, or even touch them. We have to be satisfied with the fact that right now they aren’t a danger to anyone.
“We have to pick our battles, Miss Hawpress. Maybe with some very careful research and study we can eventually find some way to affect them,” he held up the lens again. “But if you start walking around with this thing in front of you, yelling and attacking every time you see one of those monsters, all you will accomplish is sending them into a berserk rage and getting more people killed.”
Gina didn’t speak as she let this sink in. “I suppose you’re right,” she said finally. “But that doesn’t remove the fact that someone has been murdered. The laws are clear on the subject. Whoever or whatever committed the crime must be apprehended.”
Ryan was ready for this however. He had spent much of the morning rehearsing how to phrase it as he brushed his armor. “Not if it isn’t really murder,” he said. “These things aren’t intelligent. They’re just dangerous animals.” Gina had pulled the well-worn book from her pack, labeled clearly, Sigil Civic Code, in silver letters. She paged through it to what Ryan assumed would be the section dealing with deaths.
“Yes, you’re right. Clause five of Sigilian Law two dictates that the term ‘murder’ shall only be applied to those creatures of enough intelligence to understand and obey said Law.” She skipped her finger to the bottom of the page. “Sub-clause one states that creatures which do not possess enough intelligence must be referred to Law 24, dealing with deaths by animals or natural circumstances.”
Ryan smirked. Leave it to the Guvners to find laws for common sense. He finished his meal as Gina continued to read through the huge tome. Finally, she closed the book with finality.
“That’s it,” she said, thumping the cover of the book. “It’s all in there. Since it isn’t really murder that the creature committed, we aren’t responsible for apprehending it. Normally such a dangerous creature would of course have to be put to death. However, since there isn’t any readily apparent way to do that, we must merely do our best to make sure that circumstances do not arise in which another death may occur. Since Zertich is gone and all his notes are destroyed, there is very little chance that another situation could occur similar to that which killed Zertich and Gracin.” She smiled triumphantly. “You see, Mr. Wells? It’s all in the Laws, you just have to look for them.”
Ryan stared at her incredulously. She was talking as if it had been her idea! As if she had just proven without a doubt that she was right and he was wrong. He shook his head in disbelief. He was prevented from saying anything however, by a voice from outside.
“Fellow Sensates and other participants! I welcome you to the twenty-first tri-annual Festival of Sensation!” The voice was, Ryan assumed, magically enhanced so that it could be heard across the Promenade. It was met by many cheers from the assembled participants. “I would like to assure you that tonight’s main event will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before! In fact, it will be something that none of you have experienced, period!” There were several murmurs from the crowd, showing a great deal of doubt, but they weren’t about to let it dampen their spirits. The murmurs quickly rose in volume to more cheers.
Ryan looked at Gina and could see the same thoughts running through her head. “They sure whipped together another main event quickly,” he said carefully. “One with such a grand statement preceding it?” Gina shook her head. “That’s the same event.”
As they left their seats, the server yelled at them, forcing Gina to stop in order to pay the man.
“How could they know how to do it?” Gina asked as she walked quickly along side him toward the stage.
Ryan shook his head. “Maybe Zertich was more forthcoming with his research than we thought.”
The crowd parted and Ryan stopped in front of the erected stage. Spotting the stairs, he climbed them quickly, brushing aside a man who tried to stand in his way. Once on top of the wooden structure, he saw Erin Montgomery standing off to the side talking to Annli Webspinner. The Factol was wearing a stunning blue dress that glittered yellow whenever she moved.
He stepped up to them officially as he could. “Miss Webspinner, we need to talk.”
“Of course,” the Bauriur woman said. “Excuse me, Factol,” she said to Erin, who nodded her head and walked back toward the others seated on the platform. “What can I do for you, Officer Wells?”
“We want to know more about your main exhibit,” Gina said. “You led us to believe that your contact with the wizard Zertich was ended.”
“It was,” Annli confirmed. “Luckily for us, our business had been concluded that morning, before he was killed. Speaking of which, did you ever find who had killed him?”
“He found something that didn’t like being found,” Ryan said. “What is your main event?”
Annli took him to the edge of the stage and pointed. At the tops of the flagpoles he could just barely see a glimmer at the top of the pole. It was a Memory Stone. He looked to the other flagpoles and could see the same spherical stones on top of them.
“What are they doing up there?” Ryan asked.
Annli took them back to a more secluded part of the stage. “They’re the stones that we told you of before.”
"I thought you were just going to make copies of that one or something,” Ryan said.
Annli lowered her voice even more. “They’re special stones. The original stone will be activated and the experience will be duplicated in these stones out here.
Gina peered up at the stones. They were at least twenty feet off the ground. “How? No one will be able to reach them all the way up there.”
Annli glanced around nervously. Ryan stepped forward. “Miss Webspinner, if it makes you feel better, I can assure you that neither Gina nor I will repeat any of the information you give us. The Harmonium understands the dangerous possibilities presented by the Memory Stones and it has always been a great comfort to us that they cannot be taken off of the grounds of the Civic Festhall. If it is possible to somehow take them elsewhere, we would not tell anyone about it.”
The woman visibly relaxed. “Thank you Mr. Wells. The Memory Stones are not in and of themselves enchanted. Rather, they are attuned to accept and store memories. There are several complicated spells that go into it, but the end result is that in this specific place, they can accept memories and store them. Once they leave this area, they come out of harmony with the world around them and lose the ability to contain the memories.
“These stones,” she nodded toward the flagpoles. “Have been attuned to the Alchemists’ Square, rather than to the Civic Festhall. They have also been... altered, so that it is not necessary to touch them. When we begin to broadcast, all the people here will have to do is clear their minds to receive the experience.”
“What is this experience that you are planning to ‘broadcast?’”
“One recorded by Zertich before he died. It is similar to the one which you experienced, only intended to be experienced by a large audience. I think Zertich had a speech prepared.” “That speech doesn’t happen to include anything that might tell someone how to duplicate his experiments does it?”
Annli shook her head resolutely. “Definitely not. Zertich may have been a genius and a visionary, but he certainly wasn't opposed to making money off the deal as well. I believe he expected to become the sole supplier of the means to experience the multiverse in entirely new ways.”
“He would have been a very rich man,” Gina agreed. “The demand would have been incredible.”
Ryan thought about all those beings who would want to have the ability to see through clothes and walls, or to see the inner workings of a lock or the contents of a safe. Yes, Zertich couldn’t have made them fast enough.
Gina nodded. “Thank you Miss Webspinner. We’re sorry to have taken you away from your duties. It’s just that Zertich’s experiments turned out to have been very dangerous, and we wanted to make sure that they would not be repeated.”
Annli nodded sadly. “It’s a great loss that he died. I believe that he could have taken us far closer to ultimate understanding of the Multiverse.”
Ryan and Gina left her on the platform and once again descended to the flagstones of the Square.
The grey sky was well on its way to anti-peak when the magically enhanced voice was heard again. The darkness had little effect on the festivities, however, as several torches of varying colors sprang to life all around the Promenade. “Ladies, gentlemen, and otherwise! May I have your attention, please?”
The sounds of the crowd quieted to a murmur, then disappeared completely as all eyes turned to the stage. Ryan and Gina moved to a crossroads in the aisles of shops so that they could get a clear view. He could see Annli standing along side Erin at the front of the stage. She said something to the Factol before turning and trotting across the stage toward the Civic Festhall. Ryan guessed that she was going to activate the Memory Stone herself.
Erin Montgomery continued. “Before we begin, I would like to take a moment to recognize the wizard Zertich, whose studies and research were what made this possible. I’m afraid that he was killed earlier this week from what I am told was a danger of the experiments he conducted. We have lost a great deal with his passing. Fortunately, his efforts were not in vain and we may still benefit from his work.
“Our goal, as you all know, is understanding. Understanding of the world around us and of the multiverse itself. This can only be accomplished by using what has been gifted to us: our senses. The more we experience, the more we know. The more we know, the better our understanding becomes.”
Ryan crossed his arms and leaned back against one of the flagpoles. He had heard this speech a hundred times before, from nearly as many different Sensates. The other assembled people were drinking it in with rapt attention though. Ryan didn’t mind hearing Factol Sarin recite from the Book of Harmonium, or commenting on the particulars of its prescriptions, but this droning on and on about the importance of just looking at things became tiresome quickly.
"Zertich was unsatisfied with what he had been given however,” Erin continued. “Many of us may have had similar feelings, but Zertich was willing to do something about it. His ideas and theories were unheard of. His inspirations astonishing. Through his work, we will be able to understand far more than ever before.” She was met with cheers from the crowd.
“And now, I ask that you all stand still and clear your minds. You are about to be shown the fruits of his labor.”
Ryan looked above him and saw the Memory Stone at the top of the flagpole begin to glow dimly. He could barely make out a few others nearby, far above the street. His vision blurred slightly as the Stones began to take over. Irritated, he mentally shrugged away the invading sensations. Hundreds of people standing still in a daze would be a cut-purse’s dream come true.
The Memory Stones must have been made more powerful to overcome the lack of physical contact though, because he could not fight off the effect. He found himself once again standing in the small workroom behind Zertich’s shop. A mirror was on the wall now, and through it Ryan saw Zertich’s face. As the vision took hold, it became ‘his’ face, though it still looked like Zertich.
He cleared his throat and smiled into the mirror. “Esteemed members of the Society of Sensation. My name is Zertich, member in good standing. I am pleased to tell you that I have recently made a discovery which will forever alter the way we see and understand the multiverse.
“Although we, as Sensates, have honed our senses to what some might call their peak potential, I am sad to say that this is not the case. There is so much more out there than we could have ever known. Spells which enhance our vision and hearing can do nothing to affect this unfortunate fact. It is not sensitivity which we must increase, but range. To this end, I have endeavored for many months to finally create these.” He held up a pair of silver-framed glasses. “These devices expand one’s range of vision far beyond what is normally possible.”
Ryan imagined that he heard a collective cry of amazement as he put on the glasses and once again looked into the mirror. He saw not only his (or rather, Zertich’s) reflection in the mirror, but through it as well, into the front of the store. The colors were just as amazing and unfamiliar as they had been to Ryan before.
“I am proud to say that glasses and similar lenses will be available for you to purchase once this demonstration is complete. With them we will see far more of the multiverse than we ever had before. Before then however, I would like to take this chance to describe to you what you are seeing. Knowing this will prevent confusion as you use your own lenses. I will begin with the most simple colors, those which you see translated into visible color through infravision spells. You can see here...” Zertich’s voice dimmed and the vision faded as anger shot through Ryan’s veins. Running toward the platform, he shook his head, but could still not block out the Memory Stones entirely.
Available for purchase? Those damned Sensates were going to cause a massacre! Zertich droned on vaguely at the edges of his perception, and Ryan had trouble keeping balance as the interior of the wizard’s shop, with all its amazing colors, was superimposed over the crowded Square.
A glimpse of blue hair out of the corner of his eye told him that Gina was also running toward the stage along side him. She didn’t seem to have as much trouble keeping her balance as Ryan. He guessed that her logical, well ordered mind could separate the conflicting sensations more easily.
A pedestrian standing in his way was shoved clumsily to the side. The man regained his balance and almost immediately stood still once again, lost in the vision.
“And now I will cast a spell, in order to show you the amazing spectrum of magical energies that, with these lenses, are now visible to us,” Zertich continued. Ryan recalled how the Mancatcher and other enchanted items had been dazzlingly brilliant in the Foundry. He tried unsuccessfully to shield his eyes from what he knew was coming. A flash and sparkle of swirling lights dazzled his eyes and he flinched away, stumbling into a stall of perfumes and ointments.
The temporary construction of the stall could not withstand the force of Ryan’s speed and bulk. It collapsed around him with the sound of splitting wood and breaking glass. A hundred smells, both sweet and pungent, entered his nostrils and curled his nose hairs. The overwhelming odors served to bring him fully into his own body once again though. He realized that Gina was pulling on his arm, trying to help him to his feet. She held one hand firmly over her nose and mouth.
Ryan climbed to his feet, crushing more bottles under his boots. He and Gina resumed their run to the stage, where he could see that they had erected a long counter against the front. He knew what was behind it.
“I was so stupid!” Gina was saying. “Zirtech was working for months on those experiments of his. Dozens of unacceptable pieces in Corvex’ s studio. But we never saw a single finished piece! It was all there in the invoices I read. Records of regular deliveries to Annli Webspinner, regular deliveries from Corvex. It was all there, right in front of my eyes!”
Ryan privately berated himself as well. Annli had deceived him as easily as a Notary One. She had made him believe that her nervousness came from revealing secrets about the Memory Stones. When he had finally ‘convinced’ her to tell him about them, he had stopped pressuring her for information. She had known all along about the lenses, had been receiving them for months, and had said nothing. He should have known that she wouldn’t have revealed any real darks of the Sensates. All that she told him about the Memory Stones was probably only just true enough to convince them.
When they reached the stage, Gina angled towards the steps which ran up it on either side. Ryan took a more direct route, leaping up straight to the four-foot high platform.
“Mr. Wells. Is there something I can do for you?”
Ryan skidded to a halt on the wood. Standing before him was Factol Erin Montgomery. He was as much shocked to see someone who was not under the influence of the stones as to be suddenly confronted by her beauty.
He saw a faint glimmer in her eyes and realized that she was, in fact, being affected by the stones. He would have bet that she was fully experiencing it too, and not just blocking it out for his benefit.
“You can’t sell those lenses,” Ryan said.
Erin smiled dazzlingly. “On the contrary. I can and most certainly will. These amazing little pieces of glass are going to increase the value of our Memory Library a hundred-fold. The Sensates are going to be brought closer to the Multiverse by leaps and bounds. Every one who owns one of Zertich’s inventions will be taken forward to a whole new level of insight. You will not deny us that.”
Gina arrived at Ryan’s side. “There are creatures out there,” she said, panting. “Creatures that can only be seen with those lenses. As soon as they realize that they can be seen, they’ll kill anyone who has one.”
Erin shrugged, an act which made Ryan’s breath catch. “There are dangerous creatures everywhere. If you look at a Tanar’ri the wrong way, it might kill you just the same. Owners of the lenses will just have to take responsibility for the dangers of using them.”
“These creatures are not intelligent,” Gina said. “They cannot be reasoned with or convinced that those who see them are not a threat. More importantly, they are intangible as well as invisible. They cannot be hurt or contained in order to protect people. You are going to endanger the lives of more than just Sensates by doing this. These monsters don’t just kill the person that sees them. They go berserk. There’s no telling who they might injure or kill in the process of attacking the viewer.”
As Erin was about to reply, Ryan saw the shimmer fade from her eyes. He looked around and saw people coming out of the vision. There was a deafening silence across the Promenade. It was the sound of thousands of people trying to figure out the quickest way to get a lens.
Drawing his sword, Ryan turned from the Factol and jumped to the counter which had been set up in front of the stage. He landed on the wood at the same time that the assembled Sensates saw it and realized what it was for. Ryan was hit by a wall of sound. Every single person there wanted only one thing.
As the first wave came toward him, Ryan swung the sword in a threatening arc in front of him. Those at the front of the crowd stumbled backward into those behind, who were still heading forward. Those who were not knocked to the street were hit and driven down by the third wave, who were then stumbled into by those behind them, and so on.
After the confusion had subsided slightly, and those in front had regained their feet, Ryan found himself looking into several hundred pairs of angry, impatient eyes. Bracing himself, he shouted, “This stall is closed!!” He was answered by a thousand outraged protests. Those behind pushed forward again, and those at the front of the crowd dug in their heels, eyes on Ryan’s still threatening blade.
“You cannot fight them all,” Erin said behind him. Ryan winced. He had been hoping he would have a moment to wait for reinforcements from the other Harmonium patrols before the rest of the crowd figured that out. A murmur went through the crowd, carrying dangerous tones. At the far end of the square, he could see a Harmonium patrol trying to make their way toward him, but they would not make it before Ryan was overwhelmed and dozens of lenses were distributed.
Ryan reached into his pocket and grasped the lens. Endangering the Peace just to see a few new colors was unacceptable. He withdrew the glass disc and looked at it, recalling a passage from the Book of Harmonium.
‘Waging war in the name of Peace seems to most to be a contradiction in terms. If we truly valued Peace above all else, would we not wish to avoid wars and conflict? However, we do not only wish Peace for ourselves, but for everyone and the multiverse itself. The Peace must be protected and ensured above all else.’Ryan lifted the lens to his eye and looked through it. There were three of the invisible monsters, one in the open space near the stage and two others wandering around through the stalls. They walked through the assembled crowd without care, drifting through people as if they weren’t even there.
Ryan took a deep breath and pointed to the nearest one. “Hey, you!” he shouted. Several people in the general area looked around, puzzled. A few answered uncertainly. The creature stopped moving and Ryan felt the same uneasy sensation he had in the Foundry as it turned its attention on him. He jumped up and down on the counter, waving his arm. “Yeah, you! No wonder you’re invisible. I can barely stand to look at you, you're so ugly! I’ve seen dretches with better complexions!”
The creature screamed. Ryan gritted his teeth at the sound. He had thought that the scream was one of rage or fear at having been seen. A battle cry before going berserk. Looking through the lens though, he now realized it was something else entirely. It was a warning.
The other two creatures stopped moving as well and looked at him. They screamed together, the two sounds grating against each other horribly. Ryan went cold. He had only meant to get the attention of one. How was he going to face off against three?
“What are you doing?” Gina yelled from behind him.
“We can’t let these things be distributed,” Ryan said. Men and women were picked up and thrown through the air as the creatures made their way toward him. In the confusion of the crowd, Ryan took advantage of the moment to look around hurriedly. One of the men behind the counter had placed a box on the counter in anticipation of the sales. Ryan kicked it to the street, where it splintered and was broken open.
Several lenses of different sizes and designs tumbled out. Some looked as if they had been designed as magnifying glasses, while others appeared as simple lenses like the one he held. Shoving his own lens into his pocket, Ryan leaped down to the box, deliberately stepping on and shattering any errant pieces. He tipped the box over, dumping the rest of the glass to the street to crack or shatter. Then, seeing what he was searching for, he dropped the box to catch a pair of glasses before they hit the stone street. The box neatly crushed any surviving lenses.
Ryan shoved the glasses on his face with one hand. A few Sensates nearby too intent on acquiring the amazing lenses to be distracted by the chaos behind them, shouted in anger at his destruction of the objects of their desire. They only shouted louder when he put on the glasses, seemingly keeping them for himself. Several blades were drawn.
Drawing his dagger with his other hand, Ryan backed up against the counter as seven figures moved towards him threateningly. Ryan suppressed a grin as he was reminded of the riot two years ago. “By the authority of the Harmonium, you are ordered to disperse peacefully!” he barked at the Sensates. They smiled at him, showing no intention of following his commands. He hadn’t expected them to.
The first attack came from his left, as a bald tattooed woman with a long sword lunged at him. He deflected the blade with his dagger, using the sword in his right hand to knock back another from a man trying to take advantage of the woman’s distraction. A third Sensate, a half-ogre by the look of him, moved in from the front with a long spear. The point of the spear caught him in the chest. Although his chainmail protected him from being run through, the force of the blow drove him backwards to tumble over the counter.
The clerks had already abandoned their posts. Underneath the countertops Ryan saw rows of lenses, ready to be taken out and sold. Standing, he took advantage of his position to kick into the shelves and break several of the pieces. As he came into the view of the assailants once again, he caught three blades on his own, raised to protect his neck while it was at such a convenient level. The half-ogre stood directly in front of him however, ready to thrust his spear through the space left open by his raised swords. With the glasses, Ryan was able to see the attack coming and dodged to the side. A sudden flash of light dazzled his now incredibly enhanced eyes. The half-ogre was thrown back as three bolts of energy sizzled into his chest. Ryan looked up briefly and saw Gina standing on the edge of the stage above him. He then took advantage of the others’ surprise and struck out with his dagger, wounding the woman to his left. She staggered back.
Ryan reached down behind the counter and grabbed another pair of glasses, throwing them up to Gina. “Put them on!” he yelled at her before striking back another seeking sword point. A second sword slipped past his defense and cut through his chainmail into his shoulder. Ryan gritted his teeth against the pain and knocked the blade away.
Lunging out again, Ryan’s sword met with flesh, and he dispatched another opponent. His left arm no longer worked properly however, and another strike found its way through to his side. His chain held better this time, making the potentially lethal blow only very painful as it sliced shallowly into his skin. Ryan staggered back, dropping the dagger in his left hand. He found himself looking up into the shadowed eyes of the half-ogre once again. Although the burns on its chest looked serious, it did not pay them any heed as it took careful aim with its spear.
Suddenly one of the creatures appeared behind it. The huge humanoid found itself being lifted up mysteriously and flung backward into the chaos of the panicked crowd. Ryan would have been happy if the monster hadn’t been looking at him with murder in its strange beady eyes the whole time. He scrambled to the side along the stage base, trying to put distance between it and himself.
A section of the counter was crushed as the monster forced its way through the quickly assembled wood. Ryan noted with satisfaction that many of the lenses were shattered as well. A huge arm lashed out and struck Ryan full in the chest, sending him flying up and over the counter into the open Square again. He landed with a grunt and rolled into a standing position. The creature smashed its way through another section of the woodwork as it pursued him.
“Behind you!” Gina shouted from the stage, wearing the glasses Ryan had thrown her. Instinctively, Ryan spun, swinging his sword at the threatener. He saw too late that it was another one of the creatures. His sword flew through the intangible body before being caught on the other side by one of the three-fingered hands. Already off balance by the swing, Ryan could not hold on to the blade as it was yanked from his grasp. He used the momentum of his fall to continue rolling however, as two huge arms came down to strike the stone where he had stood a moment before.
Pain shot through his shoulder each time it struck the flagstones before he finally came up into a crouching position. He saw with dismay that he was now fifty feet from the half-wrecked counter, two monsters to his left and the third bearing down on him from behind. Gina stood on the stage still, her hands moving in the motions of spellcasting while vivid lights danced around her. The only other figure on the wooden platform was Erin, all the others having retreated to a safe distance. She stood, watching the action with an interested look on her face. Then again, Ryan thought as he half-staggered, half-ran toward the counter, the Sensate Factol probably would have expressed the same amount of an interest in watching paint dry.
The area before the stage was almost completely deserted now. All the Sensates had retreated to a save distance to watch the show. He saw that Gina had finished casting her spell and was looking directly at him, one hand gesturing in his direction and contorted in a complicated gesture. Shimmering ribbons of bright color shot forth soundlessly and enveloped him. Suddenly, Ryan’s legs put on a burst of speed. In shock, he tripped over himself and fell, slamming into the counter head-fist.
Had the monster not already destroyed a third of it, hitting the wood might have knocked him out. As it was though, the weakened wood splintered under the impact and gave way. Bright flashes which had nothing to do with magically enhanced vision appeared in front of his eyes as Ryan struggled to his feet, using the edge of the stage for support. The ground was tilting at a crazy angle as his vision swam.
Gina reached down and grabbed his wrist, pulling up. “Come on!” she said urgently. “They’re almost here!”
“Imcomingimcoming,” Ryan was surprised to hear his voice coming out as a rushed jumble of words. Leaning heavily against the stage, he stumbled to where the counter met the platform. His legs were still moving too fast for him to control and he found himself hitting the counter and bending over it. Somehow he managed to get himself on top of it and then from there to the top of the platform, where Gina and Erin stood.
“I’m so sorry!” Gina was saying as she tried to help him to his feet. “I cast a haste spell so that you could get away from them. I didn’t mean for you to trip like that.”
“Thatsokaywhatwerewedoingagain?” Through the ringing in his ears, Ryan dimly heard the sound of more splintering wood behind them.
“Come on!” Gina shouted, pulling him away from the sound. Ryan tried to follow, but his legs were still moving too fast. He stumbled ahead of the smaller woman and fell to his hands and knees.
“Mylegsdontworkright,” he mumbled, trying to get to his feet.
“Oh Gods, he hit his head too hard,” Gina said, trying to support him.
“Wells! Attenion!!” Ryan snapped to attention, his sudden movement knocking Gina to the ground. “Snap out of it man! You are a Harmonium soldier and you will act like it!”
“Yessir!” Ryan said vaguely. Consciousness rose up from the surrounding daze that filled his mind and forcefully pushed away the fuzziness trying to consume his thoughts. The flashing lights faded and he found himself looking at Erin Montgomery. She was smiling.
“It’s really amazing sometimes what just the right sensation can trigger inside us, don’t you think Mr. Wells?” she said. “Now that you’ve rejoined us perhaps you could help with the matter at hand?” She nodded toward the front of the stage.
Ryan looked and saw the three monsters had mounted the stage and were coming straight toward them. The one in the lead swung a huge arm, forcing them all to duck. “We have to get away from them!” Ryan said as they scrambled backward. “They’ll stop going crazy if they can’t find us. It’s only when they feel threatened that they attack, and we’re the threat.”
“Follow me,” Erin said. She jumped off the back of the stage to the street and led them down the street to the nearby Civic Festhall. Ryan, in his enhanced state of speed, had to concentrate on moving slowly in order to not overtake the Factol as they entered the great doors. If the building had been impressive before, now through the enchanted glasses it was legendary. Everywhere Ryan had looked before, it had been as if he could see through and beyond walls and objects and even people. But here in the Festhall, he only felt as if he were seeing more of what was around him. A marble wall, veined with gold, became a three-dimensional masterpiece as he looked through the stone at the waves and fingers of the gold extending through it. The added colors only heightened the effect.
The Factol ran to a white statue in the far corner of the grand entry hall. It was a man, standing proudly nude and holding a flaming bronze bowl above his head. The fire cast scintillating colors on the nearby walls and floor. She reached up behind the man’s head and felt around. “You’ll have to give me a moment,” she said as she traced her fingers around the ivory curls. “The enchantment is so subtle that I doubt you could even see it with those glasses you’re wearing.” Ryan believed her. He couldn’t see anything particularly special about the statue at all.
Gina grabbed his arm and he turned to see the invisible monsters stalking toward them. It was unnerving how they made no sound as they moved. The hall was completely quiet as the creatures neared them. Any other monster would be growling threateningly or hissing, or making any kind of sound. Somehow, the quiet was far more threatening than any sound they could have made.
Ryan looked back at Erin impatiently. “They’re all most on top of us! How much-” He was cut off as Erin exclaimed in triumph. Vivid colors which Ryan had come to associate with magic flooded in from all directions, blotting out the entry hall. Then they withdrew as suddenly as they had come, revealing a small study. Thick green carpet, similar to that in her office, covered the floor and a large desk dominated the room. It reminded Ryan strangely of Factol Sarin’s quarters, although it was certainly a few dozen levels higher in the opulence scale.
Erin moved behind the desk and sat down leisurely in the leather chair. “I keep a few Teleport spells linked to my personal quarters in various places around the Festhall,” she said. “Just in case.
“Perhaps you should take those off,” she suggested. “You don’t really need them anymore.”
Ryan raised his hand to his face in surprise. He had forgotten that he was wearing the glasses. Taking them off he was shocked to find that he could no longer see through the walls and other objects in the room. He was also slightly disappointed that he could no longer see through cloth.
“Mr. Wells, how long do you suppose that we will have to wait before it is safe to return to the square?” Erin asked. “I only ask because you seem to be bleeding quite a bit.”
Ryan looked down at his shoulder with surprise, having forgotten about the injuries. He inspected the two wounds with a field soldier’s eye and quickly determined that neither one was life-threatening. He supposed that it might be worth going to a priest to have the shoulder healed, otherwise he might suffer in range of movement if it scarred too badly. “I’ll be all right,” he said.
Taking off his shirt and the chainmail underneath, he revealed impressively muscled arms and chest. Tearing few strips from his shirt, he quickly bandaged both wounds. Afterward, he redonned the chainmail shirt and what was left of his outer shirt. Looking up, he was uncomfortably aware of two sets of female eyes on him. “We should be able to go down now,” he said in order to break the silence. “The creatures lose interest after a few minutes, if the one in the Foundry was any clue.”
Gina agreed and they both waited for Erin to stand and open the door. She led them down a winding staircase. They came out into a small hallway which quickly led them to the entry hall once again. Ryan stood at the door and, wearing the glasses, made a quick survey of the large room. There was only one creature there, and it did not seem to be looking for them. Just to be safe, Ryan led the way. Once again, Ryan used the same impassive face, keeping his attention on the creature without actually looking straight at it. It did not appear to take notice of them as they exited the hall and came back out into the street.
The area in front of the stage was still deserted, although it was a much smaller area. The threat of invisible monsters still lingered, in addition to the Harmonium soldiers who ringed the destroyed stage, preventing the crowd from approaching. The three circled the destruction.
They stood in silence, surveying the ruins of splintered wood and broken glass. “Our entire supply was in those boxes,” Erin said sadly.
“There are still a few left that haven’t been broken yet,” Gina noted. Ryan surreptitiously trod on one of those few with a kritch.
“But nowhere near enough to afford selling them to the general populous,” Erin said. “With the designer dead and all of his research lost, these few have just become extremely valuable. So rare that from now on, they will be available to only to a select few. You have done us a great disservice, Mr. Wells.” She turned to glare at the Harmonium soldier.
Ryan returned her glower. “If I hadn’t, your membership would be short by a few hundred. And what happened to this stage would have happened to the entire festival.
Erin nodded grimly. “And it is only because of that I have not ordered your death.” She stepped forward and picked up one of the unbroken lenses. Turning, she looked at Ryan through the glass before sighing and placing it carefully back on the ground. “Perhaps it’s all for the best,” she said finally.
“Did you know that there are Sensates who have never left Sigil? They rely entirely on the Memory Stones in our libraries for new sensations and experiences. The Memory Stones, although invaluable as a tool for many, have become a crutch for them. Who is to say whether or not the same thing might have happened with these lenses?
“I have known jewelers who have lost their sight after years of looking through magnifying glasses. These lenses may have done the same, only serving to dull our senses, rather than enhance them. Some Sensates have honed their senses with such precision that they can actually see a limited ways into what Zertich called the infravision range. But would there have been a need to do so if they could have just lifted a piece of glass to their eye instead?”
The Factol’s heel came down on the lens she had just held, shattering it. “Perhaps your disservice was not so great after all,” she said. “You may have in fact saved us from a great deal of trial.”
She looked to the rest of the wreckage. “We will of course keep the rest of these. There is no doubt that they are a useful tool, if a dangerous one. Thank you, Mr. Wells. Although I would caution you not to make meddling in the affairs of the Society of Sensation a habit.” With that she turned and began giving orders to several of the guards to come down and help gather up the remaining lenses.
Ryan turned and limped with Gina back into the crowd, which quickly parted to let them pass. The other Harmonium soldiers followed.
Factol Sarin cleared his throat as he stood before the assembled Harmonium officers. “Well, the Festival of Sensation appears to have gone very well, with the exception of one major incident, which was contained and handled by Mr. Wells. He was able to prevent a major breach in the Peace.” The Factol’s steely eyes looked down at Ryan where he sat. “Well done Mr. Wells.”
Ryan’s back straightened with pride as the eyes of the entire assembly looked to him with respect. He almost forgot the myriad of odors that still clung to his skin and hair, even after a dozen showers.
“As to the matter with the Guvners,” Sarin continued. “They’ve decided that they agree with me, and declared it too dangerous for observers to accompany our patrols. Granted, it wasn’t quite the danger I’d told them to expect, but the result is the same. It will be a long time before they think about meddling around with keeping the Peace.
“Luckily for those of us who have to deal with them on a regular basis, they’re far more concerned with those observers they sent to the Mercykillers to learn about their techniques in enforcing justice. It seems that every one of them was arrested on various charges, most of them involving interfering with carrying out justice on the prisoners.” Several grins passed through the audience.
The Factol held up what Ryan recognized as the agreement the Fraternity of Order had sent them, the same one Factol Sarin had read from a week ago. Sarin looked at a man standing at the side of the small platform. “Claryok, if you would be so kind?”
The man stepped forward and, spoke a few arcane words. A bolt of fire arced from his outstretched hands and hit the packet, incinerating it. A cheer went up from the audience. Sarin allowed the outburst to continue for a moment before pounding once on the podium with a gauntleted fist. Immediately, the auditorium fell quiet once again.
“Now then,” he said once the echo had faded. “Let’s get down to business.”
“Miss Hawpress, we’d like to thank you,” Kreager said from behind the desk. Gina smiled and nodded to the two men and one woman who sat opposite her in the small room. She had just finished a four-hour interview as the three overseers went through her official report page-by-page and questioned her on specific details. Kreager continued, “I know that we’ve kept you here twice as long as the other observers, but I trust that you understand our reasons for doing so.”
Gina nodded again. Her report was certainly more interesting than the lists of infractions the overseers had received from the other observers. It was also three times as long.
Voodrich folded her hands over the now closed booklet. “It was a great surprise to us when we reached your report. Out of all the observers, you appear to be the only one to have reported favorably on the Harmonium. Why is that?”
“I will not deny that the Officer Wells committed many infractions in his vigorous service to peace, as I am sure you discovered in section two of my report,” Gina said. “However, as I observed the overall result of his actions I came to realize that he was acting out of a desire to better serve the Law.”
She saw the overseers tense and quickly plunged onward. “I am of course in no way condoning such actions. One obviously cannot break the Law in order to serve it.” The overseers relaxed. “However, I do not believe him to be the self-righteous bruiser that many of the other observers described their charges as. To use a cliché, his heart was in the right place.”
Kreager nodded. “Yes, and we certainly cannot deny the evidence of his results. Very well, Miss Hawpress. I believe we have concluded our interview. I cannot fault your reasoning and in fact, I commend you on it. Your Logic is quite clear. Thank you for your time.”
“Thank you sir,” Gina said as she stood and left the small room.
Kreager waited until the she closed the door behind her before speaking a single word. A rune appeared on the door, glowing blue and signifying that the door was now magically sealed. He turned to the other two overseers. “Your thoughts?”
Voodrich pursed her lips and looked at the heavy report. “I believe we may have to reevaluate our plans regarding the Harmonium. Before coming to Miss Hawpress’s report I would have advised moving forward as quickly as possible. The Harmonium seemed even worse than our original projections. Now however, I must admit that they have their uses.”
Lokin nodded his agreement. “It puts me in mind of Dora’s theories on information assimilation. She proposes that there are two forms of knowledge, to which all understanding can be ascribed. The first is direct knowledge, which involves learning by a conscious effort to understand. The second, and I believe the Harmonium fall under this category, is indirect knowledge, which is obtained through experience and heredity to become instinct. The Harmonium, through their service to peace, have gained a great deal of indirect knowledge regarding Law enforcement.”
“We are in agreement then,” Kreager said. “We shall recommend to the board that we postpone our plans in lieu of further inquiry and study. Above all, we must be prepared for what we find before venturing into unfamiliar territory.”
Lokin picked up the pair of spectacles Gina had given them along with her report. “What about this other matter?” he asked.
“I looked up the snake she mentioned in the zoology department of the library,” Voodrich said. “The behavior of the Melbrok is almost identical to that of these invisible creatures. It is completely benign until someone sees it and it feels threatened. With the lenses created by Zertich almost all destroyed, the possibilities of more incidents are remote. I have received reliable information that only two dozen were found intact by the Sensates, making it likely that they will guard the rare instruments jealously.”
Lokin said, “Do you fault her interpretation of the Law in acquiring them?”
“Not at all. According to her report, Factol Montgomery made no move to stop Officer Wells from taking his pair and did not ask for them back after the disruption had ended. Since he also took this pair and then gave them to her, we can assume that they were both gifts to Wells. He merely made a gift of this pair to Miss Hawpress.”
“I recommend that we form a new committee to study these,” Kreager said. “As well as the creatures. The implications are very great.”
“We are in agreement,” Lokin said. “Although I will advise that extreme precautions be taken to prevent any mishaps.”
“Do you agree with her final conclusion?” Voodrich asked.
“Of course,” Kreager said. “As I said, her Logic is quite clear. At no time did Factol Montgomery utilize the lenses, yet she reacted to the creatures as if she could see them just as Officer Wells and Miss Hawpress could. And, had no one ever seen the kinds of things Zertich’s lenses revealed, there would have been no need and no way to hide that spell trigger in the statue from their enhanced range of vision.”
“Amazing,” Lokin mused as they all stood from the table. “That the Factol could have actually fine-tuned her senses to such an extreme that Zertich’s lenses were not necessary.”
“Yes,” Kreager agreed, banishing the rune from the door as they approached it. “Whatever happened to Officer Wells?” he asked as he opened the door.
“He was reassigned,” Voodrich said. “To the Hive.”
Lokin shook his head sadly as they exited the room.
“You’d think they would want to reward such an exemplary man, not sentence
him to work in that cesspit.”
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