“If there’s a blame, find a tiefling, and if the tiefling didn’t do it, he was probably pressed for time.”
-Common Sigilian proverb
It's not easy being a spiv in the nexus of the planes, but I don't complain. ’Course, the word ‘spiv’ is often associated with ‘thief’, and Sigil has more words for thief than anything else: cross-trader, cony-catcher, jink-peeler, cutpurse, knight of the post, peel master. But if you're called a spiv it just means you get by as you need. It shouldn't make a difference in the end. It's more dignifying to call yourself a spiv than a thief, or a whore (a ‘honey-peeler’ if you're both). You bob the gullies when you find ’em, dead-book ’em if you have to, turn stag on your buddies to save yourself, and put out when you have to. There’s more than enough clueless sods in Sigil, and they’ve got more jink than they need. They come and go every day from all over the multiverse, so who knows the difference? They might get penned in the dead-book anyway.
They worry more about pick-pocketing than thuggery or scrubbing in the Clerk’s Ward. Women have it easier there ‘cause most men don’t think they can get bobbed by a lady, and most ladies don’t expect a sister to peel ’em. It's easy to peel a mark if you’re some high-up doxy who can charm gullies with more jink than those bubbers in the Hive, but harder if you're Hive trash yourself. Harder still if you're a tiefling. Not to say that doesn't also have it's pluses. Some gullies that see me are more fascinated than afraid, or simply barmy, so if they've got much jink I play into that. Mayhap they want to know what it's like to bed a woman who has a tail, or they're curious about what type of devil's blood runs through my veins. Or I just beat it out of them instead. Sometimes I'm not very subtle.
The other girls hate me, though, ’cause I'm more straightforward while they're teasers. I kick the shit out of them too. They hate me even more if they're plane-touched like me, ’cause another tiefling makes the competition difficult. Well, usually, anyway. Nherid hated me for a while. ’Course, when she realized now easily I could pen her in the dead-book her she backed off. Then she found out I was a member of her faction, the Xaositects, so she started helping me to learn a thing or two about the cross-trade. And though she's addle-coved and inexperienced, she follows me around and does everything I do. We learned that two tieflings can sometimes pull a better bob than one, so now we share our jink. And men.
Some men are good thieves, too, like Ruzzier. He's smart and calm and stays out of my way, and he's good like that. He was Nherid's lover first, but now we both have him. It works out well for all of us. Nherid gets to be a leech as that's her lot in life, Ruzzier gets to fuck two tieflings instead of one (I’m not into the buggery as much as he is, though), and both of them know I'm in charge. It sure beats a ménage a trois with two men.
And Ruzzier’s well-lanned. He’s got a friend named Geordie who’s better dressed than the rest of us. He can go into the Clerk’s Ward and pretend to be some bureaucrat. We don’t go in there too often, ’cause it’s well guarded, but Geordie’s twigged to the idea of scanning the blocks, finding a rich case, and giving us the directions. Then he sends the real scrubbers in-that’d be me, Valese, and Nherid. We’re tiefling sisters-in- work. And of course Ruzzier’s our sharpshooter. We’ll relieve these sods of their jink. No one expects Hivers to knock you off in the Clerk’s Ward, and no one wants to follow them back to where they came from.
Tonight we stand in front of a tottering sooty wall. It’s called Founder’s Fence. They built it to try and keep the Clerk’s Ward safe from the corrupting influences of the Hive. It’s crumbled in a few places, and Geordie showed us a breach in the wall we can all squeeze through. There are no Hardheads in sight, so we’ll amble through and into the ward. I’m the fastest, so I’m first to bolt through the open streets. The clean streets are wide, their granite cobbles painted bright blue and green, and there’s no traffic. The nearest spikeward street’s even lit by a tall lamppost. I kinda want to smash it too. I don’t need lights to see in the dark. Neither does Nherid. Ruzzier doesn’t see in infra the way we do, so that’d be a mistake. ’Course, I can see lights from all over Sigil in the sky too, ‘cause Sigil’s a big sodding ring.
With no Harmonium officers in sight, I point the way and we sprint quickly and quietly as we can, to the house Geordie found for us. It’s a relatively small kip compared to the towering manses around it, but it has a top-shelf wooden door bronze inlays. I’m hesitant to find a way in just yet, ’cause we can see candlelight inside.
“Geordie said the couple that owns this place’d be gone.” Ruzzier hisses.
Nherid snaps her teeth at him like she’s barmy, then gestures in thieves cant that he shut his fucking bone-box. Motioning for the two of them to stop, I place my long pointed ear against the door and listen. These Cagers are home, alright. I point to the door, then I point to Ruzzier and mouth the phrase “stand guard”. He nods, but first he leans in and gives me a lusty kiss instead of just slapping my arse or uncoiling my tail. His stubble feels like razorvine to me, but I’ve had worse, so I smile back and mouth the word “later” as he assumes his post. If we end up having to bob these sods when they’re home, they won’t expect it from women. Even if these women are tieflings.
I don’t have a wire with me, so I unsheathe my dagger instead. Lockpicking’s easy, even with a dagger. I apply the pressure from my fingers and wrist, not my arm and shoulder. I think about where the tip of the pick is, not the doors handle. I focus, and the lock’s deactivated with a soft click. But we don’t enter yet. I hold the door shut and knock hard. I check the keyhole and see that someone’s coming. I don’t have time to see who, but I hear him say, “Eh? Who’s there?”
I clear my throat and speak in my most saccharine voice. My voice is pretty sweet anyway, but it’s fun to fake accents. I make myself sound like a clueless prime. Or better yet, like one of those pretentious nasal upper- class Cagers.
“Excuse me, sir. I’m afraid I’m lost. I’m trying to find the Hall of Records.”
“Hall of Records? That’d be Crystal Dew Lane, madam. Spikeward of here, you can’t miss it.”
“Can you let me in? I’m not really good with directions.”
“S-sorry madam. Keep going spikeward as I told you miss, and you’ll be fine.”
I hear him turning and walking away, whoever he is. Off to tell the other folks who live in this case. Oh well, I won’t dice this berk’s not telling his friends. I heel-kick the door open and we charge in. Nherid draws her serrated knife, I draw both my chivs at once; my dagger in the right hand, my sword in the left. Ruzzier stands at the doorway aiming his crossbow above both of us. He’s tall and good like that.
This berk’s middle-aged, not quite a graybeard, but he’s frightened enough. He’s rushing toward the door of the main pantry hall but I’m quicker and smack the pommel of my sword into the back of his head. As he falls flat on his face, Nherid opens the door and we burst into the living room of this case. It’s got a fancy rug, bookshelves on each wall, and a fireplace. Cozy-looking, but not really top-shelf. The two sods in here are a couple, the man much older than the woman. They’re both scrambling toward the back door, about to give their own kip the laugh, but we’re faster. The old graybeard looks around near the windows as if he’s expecting some Hardhead patrol to come, but I work him into a corner, then onto the floor with my blades still drawn. Nherid nabs his younger wife (mayhap three decades younger) by her auburn hair before she can reach the door and throws her onto the carpet. She yelps. They both cower there on their carpet, wide-eyed sods. Nherid giggles. I do too. I smile at them. We both smile.
“Where do you keep your jink?” I ask.
“Your jink, sir,” Nherid echoes.
The graybeard looks angry for a moment, but he doesn’t trouble us.
“Behind the washbasin,” he says anxiously. He’s calmer than I’d expect. Maybe he’s smarter than I thought.
Nherid steps into the back hall, near the door the graybeards wife was going to run through, and searches the latrine room. She comes out in a minute with a real top-shelf looking box in her hands. She opens the lid and shows me the contents. Inside’s a small bound bag, and my clawed hands quickly loosen the string and I upturn it to dump out the jink. They’ve got about two dozen gold coins and some silver, but no platinum.
“You’ve got more jink than this,” I say. “You have to.”
“More jink, sir,” Nherid says.
The graybeard shakes his head.
“We don’t have any more. Now take what you want and leave.”
“Yes you do,” I smirk.
I kick him in the ribs. He gnashes his teeth. Then I kick him in the kidney. I tell Ruzzier to go and search the other rooms, and off he goes, turning over furniture, moving shelves, and knocking things off them. He can’t lie to us, the graybeard. Not for long, anyway. He gasps to speak, then yells:
“S-Sod off you cunting tiefling! I said we have nothing more!”
Oh, this is getting interesting. I laugh. So brazen is this graybeard. Nherid and I look at each other, and look at him, incredulous. He looks more angry with each second.
“That’s right,” he says as he slowly pulls himself off the ground, “I’m not afraid of hoodlums like you.”
His wife tugs his other arm, furiously whispering, “Don’t don’t anger the plane-touched...!”
“The plane-touched, sir,” says Nherid.
“I’m not afraid of you!” the graybeard says in disgust, his defiance rising above the sound of Ruzzier’s ransacking, “Not of any of your degenerate kind! I know of your type, I’ve seen your story on the faces of the hanged criminals at Petitioner’s Square. You Xaositects, Anarchists, Doomguard or whatever anti-authority faction you belong to, you’re all alike. You’re the worst types of people. Plane-touched or not, you hide under that culture of victimhood. You’ll survive the worst life could throw at you and you still haven’t learned anything! Take what you want, I don’t care. The Harmonium will scrag you all soon enough!” By now he’s risen to his full height, and his once pallid and pock-marked face is flushed with rage. His wife quivers, and Nherid keeps her laughing grin. I am silent, but Ruzzier steps back into the living room and shakes his head.
“Nothing,” he says.
“Well,” I shrug, “I guess this is for not having much jink.”
I smash my fist into the graybeard’s face, causing his frail body to topple back onto the silk carpet. He clenches his nose, and blood now soils his beard.
“Yeah,” I say as I glance at Nherid, “We’re Xaositects, but it’s funny that you brought up how we’re plane-touched first.”
I kick him in the bollocks, and his faces crumples in pain.
“Also funny you should mention the whole victimhood thing ’cause back when I was little and kids were teasing me about my tail...and eyes....and stuff...”
I grab the greybeard’s lapel and bring him to his feet. I dust him off a little, too. He’s eye-to-eye with me now, and he can see that my eyes are milky white from edge to edge.
“...I promised that when I grew up to be a big nasty thug, I would never...” I pull on his shoulders and knee him in the solar plexus. There is a muffled cry. His mouth is open, but he can’t scream.
As he’s doubled over in pain, I grab the collar of his shirt in one hand and his belt in the other. Then I ram him, brain-box first, into one of the bookshelves. The wooden frame shakes and topples, but I’m standing near the side while I let the books and shelves fall over this berk. He’s still conscious, somewhat pinned, and he’s crawling out from under. I turn to his wife.
I slap her across the face. Hard. She cowers and shrinks away. What, this bitch doesn’t fight back? I guess that’s what happens when prissy Clerk’s Ward types’re married here. They’re just taught to be docile accessories to their husbands. I bet when these two are in the dark together she closes her eyes and pretends she’s in the Market Ward.
“What, aren’t you going to hit me back?” I say, “Hit me.”
I raise my hands. It’d be fun to have a catfight for a change. But this time she not only looks horrified, she looks at me like I’m totally barmy. So I kick her back to the ground. But then we hear someone getting up and running. It’s that berk I thought I’d knocked out in the hallway. I speed past Ruzzier and Nherid fast as I can.
The servant runs down the empty street, horrified as I chase him. He’s fast, but I’m faster. I gain and draw my sword as he reaches the street corner. I kick out his knees from behind, pinning them to the ground, but I grab him by the hair before he falls forward. He struggles, he’s about to shout, but I slice his throat with my sword before he can do anything about it. He gurgles and falls forward, pathetically clutching his throat in one hand as the other holds him off the ground. Frothy blood’s gushing out of his mouth though his face is otherwise white as an eggshell, but I don’t give him time to die. Instead, I grab him by the collar and drag him back to his friends’ case, and he bleeds all over the cobbles of the street as I go. Stupid berk should have known better.
Ruzzier comes along and helps me bring him in, though when he looks back he signals to me that he sees some folks coming. We rest the corpse on the wooden floor and frantically look out the window, stepping over the graybeard and his wife. Sure as Sigil, there’s a Harmonium patrol in sight. Three of ’em. These bloods are dressed in shiny red armor with spiky helms, flaring bladed shoulder guards, and walk around with heavy weapons we’d never use--broadswords, maces, and halberds. One of them has a nasty arbalest that looks like it’d fire two bolts instead of one. I never pass up the opportunity to kill a Hardhead. If it were just one we’d gladly dead-book him. But they tend to travel in threes, and that’s too much trouble for us.
This kip’s too small and the back door only leads into another open street, where I’m sure more Hardheads’ll wait.
“Let’s give this place the laugh.” Ruzzier says, and I agree. The graybeard still lies there on the floor as his wife cradles him, scrubbed and miserable.
“A Harmonium patrol, is it?” he coughs spitefully through his pain, “I knew it! Where to now, you sodding tiefling?”
Nherid and Ruzzier are already on their way, but I kick the graybeard in the ribs before I run out so I can hear his pathetic mewling again. His wife screams for me to stop, but I stomp on his face a few times until he cries blood. But now it’s time to give this place the laugh. I run out and find Ruzzier and Nherid. They’re already ahead of me, but I still catch up to them. We run down the open street, on our way back to Founder’s Fence. I look back, and I can see the hardheads approaching under the shadows, but I don’t think they see us. If we can make the corner before--
Ruzzier howls as two crossbow bolts pierce his chest from behind. I glance back to see him stumble and fall as the Hardhead down the street reloads his crossbow and his buddies give us a chase. But we’re faster than them, ‘cause we don’t wear bulky armor. I pant as I round the corner, I don’t care now if Nherid’s dead-booked; I’ll grab her shoulder and pull myself ahead if I have to.
But it doesn’t come to that. We reach the craggy opening Geordie showed us before, and we slip through with ease. We duck through the shadows, into the darkness and away from the Harmonium. We keep running until we make it to the Hive. They won’t chase us in here unless they’re really barmy. ’Course, they don’t care what Hivers do to each other; they only see to it that we don’t bob the high-ups in the Clerk’s Ward.
We stop and catch our breath. The only thing around us is the ashen malaise of an abandoned alley. The cobbling of the street’s cracked, broken, irregular, and cut in half by huge mud puddles. The empty, three- walled buildings around us are half filled with rubble and refuse, home only to scavengers and dwindling families. The skies above are covered in a greasy smog, the alleys are clogged with brackish pools of garbage. The streets are narrow rows of ramshackle slant-roofed tenements and belching smokestacks. We’re alone. We’re safe here.
“Geordie gave us the wrong case,” I say as I stand up.
“Guess who’s not gettin’ ’is cut, eh?” Nherid rails as she shakes, “ ’E sends us to the wrong place, and now Ruzzier’s dead ’cause o’ ’im. We’re gettin’ even wi’ ’im, aren’t we? We are penin’ ’im in the dead-book, aren’t we, ’cause ’e ain’t gettin’ any o’ ’is bleedin’ jink from us, the pikin’ sodfucker!”
Nherid turns to me now, looking uncertain. Her eyes are a solid black, kinda the opposite of mine, but I can see them moistening a little.
“There’s two of us and one of him,” I say, “but Geordie did say he had connections. Why don’t I deal with him myself? I’ll see if he’s as well-lanned as he says he is. You wanna take the jink and meet me somewhere else?”
“You sure you want to do it that way? I still say we should’ve joined the Anarchists--not that I don’t...trust you or anythin’.”
Nherid adds that last bit like she’s afraid I’ll smack her around. Really, though, sometimes she’s a liability. And I’m sick of working in the Lower Ward with her fuckwitted Anarchist buddies. I only nod.
“I...I guess I’ll be bangin’ ’round the Lower Ward, then,” she says.
I hand her the jink bag. Nherid smiles the way she normally does. She has fat lips like mine. If she worked out a little and had a tail, mayhap we’d be opposite twins, but now she’s a tall string bean. She leans in and lightly kisses me on the cheek. Ruzzier’s gone, so I guess that ends our little ménage a trois, but we were still working together before we met him.
“You know that pub the Ubiquitous Wayfarer?” she says.
I think I do. Well, if I’ve heard of it, I can find it. I nod again.
“That’s where I’ll be,” she says.
“Wait for me and don’t spend any of it,” I say.
She takes the spikeward alley, but I keep to the main street, to where Geordie said he’d meet us. I draw both my chivs before I even get there. I maneuver over the brackish puddles and loose bricks in my path, and there he is at the next corner, as he said he’d be, leaning against a wooden sill. Geordie’s a cocky basher, and he always wears a gold-trimmed leather jerkin and a plucky grin. He trims and greases his red hair and short beard so impeccably you’d never guess he’d been in the Hive. He also speaks in a funny accent (maybe you primes know where it comes from).
“There yeh are, Valese. I see yeh made it out like. I don see Nherid or Ruzzier wi’ yeh. They sackless enough te get penned in the dead-book?”
“Counting worms,” I say.
“They’re dead like? Damn. Don mean te sound the least bit crass, but yeh got me share o’ the jink, pet?”
I shake my head slowly.
“You gave us the wrong fucking case.”
Geordie smacks his head.
“Oh, aye, man,” he says sarcastically, “I must’ve given yeh the wrong address! How could I have been so completely donnered? I guess I’ll forget the whole ride an let yeh keep what yeh earned like. An I won even let the Mercykillers in on yehr whereabouts, aye? I dinna think they’ll pass up a chance to punish a wanton criminal, even if she happens t’be one bonny pet like yehrself. Yeh’re worth quite a bit of jink now, love.”
When he says this last bit he looks directly at me, a single red eyebrow raising haughtily as he grins.
“Oh, did I say that out loud? Shame on me. Come now, Valese, give over. It was yehr mistake and not mine.”
The Harmonium can’t even patrol in the Hive, so why would the Mercykillers waste their time coming through, and why should they believe Geordie? I smile broadly and raise both arms; my dagger pointing forward to parry and my sword in back to stab. My blank white eyes narrow into slits, you know, so I’ll look real evil.
“Come and get it, berk.”
“Oh, tah, very smart Valese,” Geordie says as he rolls his eyes, “’Course, if yeh don pay the music I canna let yeh get off so easy like.”
“Yeah, like you can really get the Mercykillers after me, you fucking leatherhead. What’re you gonna tell ’em you were doing here in the first place?”
“Does it really matter like? They’ll be real chuffed te know which o’ these hacky flats yeh bang around. Yeh think they’ll care a whit fer what I’m doing heah? Yeh think they’ll value the word o’ a tiefling whore? A demon half-breed? So...like I sez, hand o’er the jink.”
I should cut off his bollocks. Or mayhap his ears and nose. Whatever’d make a good trophy. If I were a Mercykiller, I’d swing him on the leafless tree at Petitioner’s Square, tying the noose behind him so he suffocates slower, laughing as the hatch opens beneath his feet, and as his blood sinks to his nether regions, forcing an erection as he suffocates and dies. But I don’t wear my emotions on the sleeve.
“Like I said, Geordie,” I smile, “Come and get it.”
“Aye, play it that way if yeh like.” Geordie snorts, “I tried te reason wi’ yeh and I’ll nay be a part o’ yehr idiocy any longer. Just remember yeh’ve chosen te do this the hard way. Yeh won be smiling so when next we meet.”
And he turns and leaves. He doesn’t even draw his own chiv, the stupid fucking coward. I so wish he did, though. I should probably just kill him now and save myself the trouble. Or mayhap I should follow him to wherever he sets up kip, but he probably doesn’t have any jink if he needed some from me anyway. I should’ve just followed Nherid, but I’m sick of the Lower Ward. It’s too polluted.
I don’t see anyone out now, but I still stop and think about it. I’m not worried, though, ’cause I don’t get worried. I mean, I’ve got nothing to worry about. Geordie couldn’t get a Mercykiller on his side and they wouldn’t find me here if he did. Well, mayhap I should give this side of the ward the laugh. It’s the first place they’d look, since my Xaositect buddies bang around here. Not that they’d find me, but still. Mayhap I should call kip somewhere else then, at least for a while. ’Course, there’s also UnderSigil-the web of sewers and catacombs that’re home to ghouls, were-rats, vargouilles, and even worse things than the surface, but I’m not that desperate.
I sheathe my chivs and continue down the road instead. A thick fog drenches these streets with shadows, and they’re filled with strange sounds that’d spook some folks out of Sigil. Most Hivers don’t come out at night, but the real animals do. Fiends, undead, cross-traders, barmies, you name it. Those who walk the streets at night are either brave, barmy, desperate, or all three. Mostly bubbers and cheap jinkskirts, really. Sometimes the street urchins walk around at night, and if they’re any good they can go at it unnoticed, and mayhap grow up to be good cross-traders or spivs, but they usually either starve to death or turn to prostitution.
As I continue through, I think I know who I’m going to see instead.
Jesper’ll let me in. I know he will. He said he would. I haven’t been back to the Marble District for some time now. I haven’t seen Jesper in a while and he could be in the dead-book for all I know, but it’d be worth it I think.
Jesper’s a nice kid. He’s not from Sigil, though. He’s a clueless prime, so at least I know he won’t try to fuck me over. He’s too innocent. A rube. He’s one of those bookish types who acts like he wants to be a graybeard when he grows up, always reading books and scrolls on cosmology or magic (he calls it ‘thaumaturgy’). I wonder if all that reading makes him feel smart. Priests, wizards, nobles, and clerks aren't the only ones who read. I can read too, but I usually have better things to do. Still, I really don't know what it is he does, except that he rents a room in the nicest part of the Hive--the Marble District.
He usually has an erection whenever I’m around. I mean I know he does. He must. When Nherid and I were banging around in the Marble District, not looking to bob anyone, Jesper would always watch when he’d see me walking up a street, and run as fast as he could to reach the other side of the building I was passing. Then he’d pretend to be banging around there so he could conveniently run into me and try to start up some wigwag. I didn’t mind, really. I think he followed me ’cause he had nowhere else to go. ’Course, he’s the only one addle-coved enough to want to talk to a tiefling, but that’s just as well. He’s real cute, just not my type.
The door’s covered in a decaying layer of chipped green paint. I knock eagerly. C’mon Jesper, please be in tonight. I can hear bubbers shouting at people on the street after they’ve left whatever dive they’ve spent all night in, and I can hear stray dogs barking. I’m tired and I’m not going to fuck some bubber to get a place to call kip for the night. I’m a spiv, not a whore. C’mon Jesper...
The door opens a hair, revealing only a single peery eye, then it opens fully, and there he is. Jesper’s a little shorter than me. Younger too, I think, and his hair is always mussed and greasy. Not too long, though. A pair of silly spectacles with leather straps that loop around his ears mar his boyish face and almost make him look like one of those posturing mages that lecture apprentices in the Guildhall Ward. His tunic is a lousy shade of olive, and stained with something else. ’Course, his innocent silliness is part of his appeal; he carries himself like he’s unaware of how beautiful he is--or could be. When he sees me, though, he blinks like some trapped animal.
“Valese...! You...you’re back.”
“Jesper, sweetie,” I say, laying on the charm, “You still got room in your kip?”
“Will you let me stay here?” I say slowly, using my sweetest voice.
“Sure.” he says quickly--almost too quickly, “I’m almost done with my research so I’ll be leaving in a day or two. They charge six silver pieces a night per tenant, though.”
“That’s fine.” I say with a smile.
Jesper opens the door for me and I muss his hair even more to express my appreciation. Glancing back, he quickly closes the door, like he’s afraid someone will see him. His place only has the bare essentials: a pair of iron cots, a battered oaken desk, a wardrobe, closet, a filthy wool carpet, and a latrine room. He’s got his books everywhere; both thick, thin, spiral-bound and scroll, and many loose sheets of parchment spread around the room in an order only he knows, held down only by the occasional ink vial paper weight. On the desk there’s an empty and rusted lamp, but the room is lit with a single fat candle.
“Oh,” he begins quickly and earnestly, “Sorry about the mess. I’ll get this in just a second.”
Jesper quickly gathers as many pages and quills as he can off the empty cot on the left, clearing it for my use. What a sweetie.
“So where’re you going when you’re done?” I say, “Back to the prime?”
“Yeah.” he says eagerly, “Once I have enough maps I’ll be all set. I’m usually at that bookstore in the Lower Ward. The Parted Veil.”
“What’s your assignment then? Mapping the planes?” I say as I laugh.
“Well...something like that. Look, I’m really not supposed to tell anyone about it.”
“You’re not doing a very good job. And mapping the planes is a waste of time anyway. There’s so much useless screed out there it’d take forever before you’d tumble to any real darks.”
He looks serious for a moment, like I’ve dashed his high hopes.
“Perhaps... I’ve been told I have to go to a seminar somewhere else, though. Do you uh... know where the Civic Festhall is?”
Gods, this kid’s fun. It’d be easy to peel him. Come to think of it, I wonder how he makes it from here to the Lower Ward without getting bobbed. Or penned in the dead-book. He has ‘gully’ written all over him. Mayhap I could steal his jink before he leaves. What’s he going to need it for anyway?
“That’s in the Clerk’s Ward, and I’m not showing you where it is, kid, ‘cause I’m not going back in there.”
He pauses and thinks some, all his loose notes and quills in hand. It looks like he's still trying to tumble to the big dark of multiverse. How cute.
“I really need to find a way to get there somehow. Isn’t the Clerk’s Ward just beyond the slags and the shanty town? How hard is it to get there?”
“Kid, you don’t want to go through the rest of this ward trying to reach it, you won’t come back. Look, maybe I’ll think about showing you the way sometime.”
“That would be great.” Jesper says with a smile, “I’ll still be busy at the library tomorrow, but maybe after that...if you wouldn’t mind...Anyway, I’ve got to retire.
I smile and nod. I haven't been to the Civic Festhall in a while, mayhap it would be good to go. They store people’s memories there, so it's a good place for a prime to learn. I came from the prime once, I think. I left a memory behind.
Jesper busily packs his notes into one huge haversack as I kick off my soft high boots. Then I unbuckle the belt and scabbards and lay them on the floor. My leather bodice is quite stiff, but it doubles as armor. It feels much more comfortable than most leather, but it’s still good to loosen the straps and shoulder guards. I untie the bodice itself, letting my breasts assume their natural shape. I notice Jesper uncomfortably twitches and turns away.
“You can watch, Jesper.” I chuckle, “I don’t mind if you watch.”
“Uh...um...I don’t think I will, thanks.”
I remove the bodice and drop my britches, through which I’ve poked a small hole in the back to allow room for my tail. Then I recline naked against the cot.
“Are you sure, Jesper?” I coo, “I’ve got some tattoos you might like. Planar symbols and all....”
I’m not lying either. I have the great ring of the multiverse all around my navel; arranged in 16 tiny symbols each representing a different plane; from Elysium to Hades, and the Outlands along with Sigil itself in the center. Not that I really give a shit about the planes, but they’re fun to have. Jesper uneasily turns and looks my way as I point to the tattoos on my sinewy abdomen. I give him a coaxing smile as he cautiously approaches. I watch in delight as his curiosity overcomes his fear, and he slowly leans in for a closer view. I love his addle-coved expression.
“That’s...that’s interesting, Valese. I never knew you had the whole cosmology of the planes tattooed on you like that.”
“Learn anything new?” I ask.
“No, not really. I’ve seen it all before, just not so well arranged. But it’s not quite enough of what I’m looking for.”
I watch his wistful eyes travel across the pink canvas of my skin. It’s not a fleshy ivory brown or sickly peach as most humans have, but a rosy pink. ’Course, he doesn’t budge another inch, but he soon finds the tattoo I knew he would; the one four fingers’ width under the bottom of the great ring. Mayhap this is what he’s really looking for.
“W-What’s that tattoo mean?”
“It’s the Venus symbol,” I say.
He nods self-consciously. I keep it conveniently clean-shaven so the tattoo’s always visible, but it’s stylized so it looks like a downward pointing dagger in the shape of the female symbol. I like to imagine it points to where gullies should stick their faces next after they’ve found whatever symbol represents the realm of their afterlife. But not Jesper, it’s just fun to watch his discomfort. In seconds he shrinks away instead of making a prolonged investigation, and then goes back to piling his stuff in a neat little corner. Before he retires onto his cot he stops for another sneaky, tentative glance, but only once.
“Uh...good night, Valese,” he says.
“Good night, Jesper.”
Laughing wickedly, I lick my thumb and index fingers and put out the flame of the candle.
The Hivers roll open the burlap flaps that pretend to be the roofs of their pitiful kips. It’s raining slightly, but keeping the flaps on would be suffocating. Then they’ll scrounge around the boneyards, fight over baubles, and the Dustmen collectors will come by on their carts and grab all the deaders they find on the streets and take them back to the Mortuary. Ravens, the type that normally eat from the hanging corpses at petitioner’s square, squawk as the collectors interrupt them from their meals. The Dustmen drive their carts in their drab cloaks, drawn by spindly haggard horses, and stop at each dismal corner to dispassionately add more corpses to their pile. Lasts night’s deaders vary. Some were bubbed ’til the pitcher was empty and found release in oblivion, some are diseased sods who died quietly in a corner, some are emaciated lost children, some are harlots who were beaten beyond recognition, and some are sods who were torn apart by fiends or ghouls. This is morning in the Hive.
Me, I’m at Allesha’s Pantry. It’s a few hundred yards away from the stretch of sewage and brick piles we call the Slags, mayhap, but the interior looks bright and colorful. Allesha tries to bring some joy to the sods who don’t have much to be happy about. There’s no line, though, ’cause most folks don’t want to be anywhere near me. Allesha’s a good person, but a sap. She may spend too much time on her soapbox against the wealthier factions and how they contribute to the squalor of this ward, but otherwise she doesn’t give a shit about the faction politics, so she lets everyone in. She gives away free meals, even if most of the sods she helps are too weak to bother with and are better off in the dead-book. The merchants say she caters to leeches, and they’re right.
Some berks work in the kitchen to bake bread and prepare tea, and they’re mostly volunteers who’d contribute for a meal or two, so I dart in and nab a few slices of meat, skewering them with my nails while they’re still in the boiling pot. It’s better raw. When Allesha’s somewhere else so they can’t do anything about it, and they’d be too scared to try and stop me anyway.
On my way out, though, I see a little tiefling girl, mayhap eight years old, standing near the benches. I’ve seen her around here before, and other places in this ward. I’ve never seen her with anyone else, though. She’s got long hair a burnished shade of orange and sweeping pointed ears that look a little like mine except they’re longer. Her face is wide-eyed and freckled, and on her forehead are a pair of tiny horns. I wonder if they’ll get longer and sharper as she gets older. She smiles at me.
“You stole those!” she says as she points to the marrow in my hands, though she doesn’t sound scolding so much as enthusiastic.
“Yeah, go steal your own.”
It’s time to find some jink to pay the rent.
This dive’s a low-ceilinged rickety pub. It’s dark in here, and the only light comes from a pair of brass braziers near the stage and bars. Incense is burning here, too. I think it’s to help drown out the other smells. It’s a strip-club with celestials who serve as dancers and sell their negotiable affection. That’s a nice irony, I think, to see these golden-skinned, white-haired aasimar women at the mercy of Hivers who will pay to take them into the back rooms and abuse them. ’Course, no one wants tiefling companionship when they’re around, so they tend to sew up the competition pretty quickly.
Just two today, though, so I’m in luck. I sit back quietly and wait to see who’ll offer to pay for my bub. Most of these berks are pretty angry, though. I see it in their eyes. When a basher feels powerless over women he can pay to have power over one, be she human, aasimar, or tiefling. I just need to put out and get some jink. Doesn’t matter if the john won’t pay much, ‘cause whatever he’s got’ll soon be mine anyway. Just a matter of knowing who’s got the most jink. I scan for gullies who look less wretched than most of these patrons--and interesting--lovesick, unusual, bored, aloof, and curious. They’re the easiest to peel.
I once had a fuck buddy who did the same thing. He was tiefling who looked pretty normal except he had jagged teeth and a forked tongue. He didn’t bite, but the things he could do with that tongue were incredible. I first met him in a dive like this one, sitting at the other end scanning in the same way. He was looking for lonely and open-minded bedmates, not ’cause he cared about what they had to say so much as he enjoyed hearing them talk. He was a Sensate, naturally. Funny thing is, we had almost nothing to say to each other. The sex was terrific but we both preferred humans.
Like the berk who’s sitting down in front of me now. He’s wearing a brass-studded doublet with a black slouch cap. He’s impressive in the sartorial sense, but not a beau-nasty type. He doesn’t look half as wretched as a typical Hiver. His hair is also greased, and he has a clean shave. When he sits himself on the stool, he cockily swerves toward me and smiles. I can already tell he’s confident, but I have the first words: “Hey cutter, wanna buy me a drink?”
“Don’t know...” he says, “I’d pour you some milk if I had a saucer. Unless, of course, you have something else in mind.”
Yeah, pretty fucking funny. I guess I do kind of look like a cat, though. Damn it. I should kick him in the bollocks. No I won’t, I’ll keep calm. I smile.
“Alright, tough guy. Why don’t you show me what you got?”
I like the way this one feels. I like that soft mushy feeling. I like how he feels when I constrict my muscular legs around him, when I grip his back with my sharp nails-but not hard enough to draw blood. Okay, mayhap just a little. Yes, a little blood’s a good thing! I like feeling his weight against me, his sweat, his warmth, his breath, the smoothness of his face. I like controlling him. But all good things come to an end, and soon enough he draws out and rolls over to the side, though I still grip him for a second. He’s exhausted now and doesn’t want me to touch him.
I roll to my side under the coarse blanket and gaze at the unlit fireplace in the room. I think this is my second favorite part. Sometimes I like to imagine what we’d do now if we were a couple. Mayhap we’d hold each other, or he’d say something romantic.
“Damn,” he says panting, “You’re the best piece of arse I’ve had in a long time, and I’ve had a lot.”
Greeeaaat. Go to sleep and stop spoiling the mood. You weren’t that good.
“You know...” he continues, “I never fucked a tiefling before, because I’ve heard stories about how tiefling women are supposed to be really hot inside, like hot enough to burn skin. I guess those rumors were wrong...”
“Yeah,” I chuckle as I momentarily turn back to him, “Human, elf, tiefling, aasimar, githzerai... we all feel the same in the dark, don’t we?”
Now shut the fuck up and go to sleep so I can steal your jink and get out of here!
“Once I took this tiefling girl out to dinner and everything was going well until she grabbed the fork from the table and used it to scratch her back. After that, I pretty much stayed away from the plane-touched. I guess I was I a leatherhead afterall...”
I should just grab one of those sodding pokers from the fireplace and beat this stupid berk with it! Really, I will. But he stops rattling his bone-box so I don’t. It takes a while, but when he finally falls asleep I’m wide awake so I slowly creep out of the bed and around the other side, where find his belt pouch hanging on the rack with his leggings. I gingerly remove and unclamp it, looking in but not pouring any jink out. He’s only got copper commons, mostly, and a few silver. The bastard! I thought he’d have more jink than this. I kinda wish he’d wake up and start talking now so I could bash his face in. But I guess it’s good enough for now. I quietly get dressed and make my way back to the Marble District.
Jesper adjusts the buckles of his cumbersome haversack and lifts it off the ground.
“You have a whole plane in there?” I say.
“No, just all my notes,” Jesper says, “Thanks for doing this, Valese. They all said it’s the one place I have to see if I don’t do anything else in Sigil.”
He pronounces the ‘g’ as a ‘j’. That’ll surely annoy any blood he speaks to.
“The city’s called Sigil, not ‘Sijil’. ’Course, we tend to call it the Cage instead.” “And why is that?”
“’Cause it’s a cage for everyone. Any place that’s full of closed portal’s got to be a cage, geddit?”
Jesper nods eagerly, and I lead him out of the Marble District, past Allesha’s Pantry, past the granite-bricked Weary Spirit Infirmary, and past the squalid kips and pubs. There isn’t much traffic on these streets, but sometimes Jesper stops to look at cutters he sees. He glances at a passing Dustman, and then at this plane-touched woman who walks by us. She’s tall like me but more svelte, and she wears a spiky cockeyed outfit of chain mail and certain greaves and bracers from other armor suits. Her skin’s blue, her hair is bristly, and she has a long tail that sways behind her as she moves. Jesper stops and stares at her for a long time as she passes.
“See something you like, kid?” I say.
“Is she a tiefling?” Jesper says.
“Why don’t you ask her?”
Jeseper blinks. Then he actually starts walking in her direction!
“You stupid berk!”
“What...?” Jesper says as he turns back, “I was only...”
“You’re so cute, Jesper.”
“Wha...really? Oh, thanks. I-I never--“
“I didn’t mean that as a compliment.”
We continue down the street, over cracked cobbles, and pass some Hivers who are collecting the laundry they hung up between narrow alleyways. I notice that little tiefling girl I saw at Allesha’s again, and this time she’s peering into the threshold of one of the homes.
“I was just wondering because all the tieflings I’ve seen look so different...” Jesper says.
“Humans look different too.” I say.
“Yeah, you’re right. I guess I was just wondering about...your tail. That woman’s tail was much longer and--"
“Yeah, I’m real jealous.”
“--and, uh...I was just wondering if your tail actually, you know, does anything.”
This time I stop and laugh.
“What kinda addle-coved question’s that?” I say.
“I mean...what’s it do? Does it, for instance, twitch when you become excited?”
“No, not really. It’s pretty useless.”
“Well, there’s one thing I can use it for but I’ll leave that to your imagination.”
I continue leading Jesper up the street, though this time there are less people around. The streets get craggier too, and the rain puddles remain, even though it’s not raining today. We’re nearing that huge, razorvine-covered wall called Founder’s Fence, but Jesper keeps talking to me the way he would back in the Marble District.
“What about your eyes, then?” Jesper says.
“Oh, you’re interested in my eyes now?”
“I was just wondering...they look sort of like a blind person’s. I don’t think I can see any pupils. Do you see better in the dark?”
“Yeah, kind of. I can see heat waves. Look Jesper, I know you want to fuck me, so you can stop feigning an interest in tiefling deformities. I already know I’m a freak.”
Jesper looks a little alarmed when I say this.
“What, so you’re insulting yourself to force a compliment out of me now?”
“Oh that’s smooth. No, I’m not. I don’t want compliments, praise, or sympathy from anyone. You don't want to flatter me anyway."
"Well I don't mean to be so brash. Why not?" he asks.
"Haven’t you ever heard the adage Cagers use, ‘Don’t make a bet with a tiefling’ or ‘If there’s a blame, find a tiefling?”
“No...you’re saying I shouldn’t trust you?”
“That’s right, you probably shouldn’t. And that saying’s been invented for a reason, you know. We’ve got a reputation for being cross- traders, stag-turners, liars, frauds, and sluts.”
“Is it true?” Jesper says with a chuckle.
“What do you mean, ‘is it true?’ How addle-coved can you get?”
“Well, there’s a difference between stereotypes and reality, isn’t there?”
“Grow up with it and it becomes true. ’Course, when you’ve got nothing left to lose, you lose your fear, and when you fear nothing, everyone else fears you. Anyway, your mother told you not to trade chant with strangers, right? Same rule applies in Sigil, so I don’t want to see you starting wigwag with every basher we come across, plane-touched or not.”
Jesper lowers his gaze. Then, just as quickly, he raises it again.
“And just so you know,” he says, “I’m not staring at your breasts, I’m thinking.”
I laugh. This kid’s adorable. I place my hands over the cleavage at the top of my bodice.
“Am I blocking your ‘thinking’, Jesper?”
“Okay, let’s continue on, then.”
It takes a while of searching, but I find that block of untended razorvine with the craggy pass we crept through two nights ago and lead Jesper through, and after I glance around at the empty streets and make sure no one’s around, I go back inside and bring him into the Clerk’s Ward.
“Alright,” I say, “Hardhead patrols are everywhere and most of ‘em don’t know me by sight anyway, but we’ll still need to be quick. I am not your minder, your tout, your courier, your whore. I’m not making any stops along the way. Jesper?”
When I look back he’s staring up into the sky of Sigil absolutely cage-struck. His jaw’s dropped and his eyes, even behind those super-thick glasses of his, are wide as ever. Oh, I guess I forgot he hasn’t seen this before. The sky’s still kinda foggy, but it’s much clearer than the Hive, so this time he can see the parts of Sigil that lie on the other side of the ring. And when the folks on that side (mayhap in the Lady’s Ward or the Lower Ward miles across) look directly above, they’ll see the streets of the Clerk’s Ward. Yep, you’ll really think you’ve gone barmy when the whole sodding sky is barnacled with buildings, ancient and new! Jesper slowly lowers his gaze, but he’s no less shocked. The buildings are fine cases, home to Sigil’s bureaucracy. The architecture is more elaborate, more beautiful, and more bombastic than anything in the Hive. Iron spires, bladed buttresses, and spiked fences soar into the sky, and the towering walls cut some streets off from daylight. The iron and stone buildings have all kinds of ornamental stone carvings; gargoyles and faces carved into pillars and rainspouts. The streets are made of well-cobbled white granite. The plazas and arcades are spotless, but they’re wide and straight, not narrow and tangled like the Hive. Fact is, a body can see that any direction in Sigil looks ‘uphill’ when you’re in a ward like this.
“You can close your bone-box now, Jesper.”
“This...this is amazing...this place really is a giant ring. I’d only seen diagrams in tomes, but I never...”
“You never believed it?”
“Well I knew it was true, I just had a hard time imagining it.”
I lead him on, past the first lamppost, and up the streets. We pass several cheap but more dignified alehouses-at least more dignified than those in the Hive. These are the sorts of places Nherid and I would bang around in a while back before we met Ruzzier, when we’d come in to find some wealthy basher, get him real drunk, have an orgy with him the whole night, and then steal all his jink. The folks here are dressed better too, and some are pulled by top-shelf sedan chairs. There’s at least a few Hardheads at every corner, but none of them know me. I don’t think, anyway, but I don’t want to find out. I try to hurry Jesper along. I can already see some of the pinnacles of the Festhall over the rooftops, its buttresses and supports. The Civic Festhall looms into sight as we make our way down Crystal Dew Lane. Not that it’s easy to miss. Of all the buildings in Sigil, none are more commanding. It’s a building of towering grace and beauty compared to these other cases, and it's run by the Society of Sensation.
Jesper stares in awe as I lead him inside, but doesn’t stop to talk to anyone, thank the powers. Outside there’s the Amphitheatre and park, and beyond that there’re plenty of independent performers--jugglers, singers, dancers, and some of those annoying silent berks who dress in black and white and pretend they’re climbing walls and stuff. We enter through the narrow 90 foot gates and glittering archways. The inside is distracting enough for Jesper, I’m sure. It's a convoluted interior of theatres, training rooms, and concert halls. Each room is crafted with a special delicacy; the main hall with a façade of undulating walls. Balm and spice fill the air, and each corridor is a different outrageous color, or made of a different material. A body could spend weeks in here and still not experience everything the Sensates have to offer. They have something for every taste. And though we still have to keep on our toes, we can relax here more than anywhere else. There’s no pretense in the Civic Festhall either. Everyone’s welcome here; the Sensates are open-minded and eager to learn.
But Jesper’s distracted, not just by the sights of the Festhall, but by all the strange creatures he’s no doubt never seen. We pass a bariaur in the hall, which looks a lot like a centaur except it’s half ram instead of horse, and Jesper keeps staring at him as he passes by. But at least he doesn’t try to ask him stupid questions.
We hear screed from the lecture halls. In one room, a graybeard explains how every body in the multiverse falls into one of nine categories of moral and social placement of law, chaos, good and evil. In another, a mage lectures on physiognomy and explains how the amount of blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm determines what personality traits you have. I can also hear a woman lecturing on the importance of sheepskin condoms (which I hate) and applying the vinegar and lemon juice. I help Jesper find the lecture hall he wants to attend; about the planes and prime, and he decides to park his ears to hear it. I stay for a few minutes, but it gives me the yawn, so I tell Jesper to stay put. I have something to see here too.
And I know where I’m going. I stop by a crowded dance hall and steel the jink pouch from an unsuspecting harpsichord player. Then I head upstairs into the Sensoriums. The Sensates have thousands of rooms with sensory stones, enchanted through magics that only the Sensates know the dark of, that hold people's memories. It's the single most talked about attraction in the Festhall. You can experience almost anything here without having to do it yourself. Some sods quickly become memory junkies, so the Sensates have to restrict use of the sensoriums to three times a day.
I pay a Sensate clerk for access to a room I’ve been to a few years ago. This room has only a single translucent, glowing orb that rests on an onyx pedestal. It’s a sensory stone. It’s a memory of mine. I don’t remember much about my own past before I came to Sigil, but what I do remember is like a dream. I feel it more than I remember it, and I hold it in my hands long after it’s crumbled into dust. This one contains something I want to re-visit. I close my eyes and place my hands on the globe, and concentrate. Slowly the magic encoded from the stone uncoils, and the room loses all reality, placing me in the engulfing experience of the memory. It’s from an innocent time and place. It’s in the Prime Material Plane.
I’m running in a field of flowers and tall grasses. The sky above me is blue, not a putrid gray like the sky of Sigil. The billowy white clouds make fun shapes and the warm sun comforts my shoulders. I run and giggle, but soon topple ’cause I’m wearing a silly dress much too long for me and 'cause my legs are dumpy and underdeveloped. My hands are soft and delicate; my nails are not yet sharpened. But I'm happy. I stand up and smile. I see tiny creatures with brilliant red and green plumages and beating wings zipping past, and I follow them to see where they go. I think they’re giant insects at first, but when they stop to hover with their capable wings about the flowers and sip the nectar with their long slender bills, I see they’re birds. I smile and want to touch them, but they fly away too quickly. I turn around again, and I see my mother approach. She’s plane-touched. She looks a bit like me except her tail is longer and her skin is ruddier. I know my father is human, but I don’t know what generation of demon blood that’d make me. Mother watches patiently, and I run toward her...
Then I’m back in the Civic Festhall. It’s like waking from a dream. And like most dreams, it’s over too soon.
“It was... amazing,” Jesper says from across the table.
He sips his bub and places it squarely back on the coaster.
“You tend to describe everything that way, Jesper.”
“Yeah, I know," he says, “Sorry. I could only spare enough gold for one sensory stone. One moment I was in the room and the next I was a demon in this grisly battlefield in some blazing wasteland fighting other demons...and the next I was back in the Festhall. It was horrifying. I loved it.”
“Yep. That’s the Blood War between the baatezu and tanar’ri. Fiends hate each other too,” I say.
“Have you ever been to another plane, Valese?”
“Me? Well, I came from the prime like you, but I’ve never been through another portal since coming to the Cage. Damned if you ever get me into one either.”
“Wait, you’re from the Prime Material Plane?” Jesper says, “Which world?”
“I don’t know. There’s more than one prime world?”
“Of course. There are many prime worlds, like Oerth, Krynn, Toril...”
“Which one has the hummingbirds?”
“That could be any prime world, Valese. I take it you can’t get back?”
“No, but a lot of Cagers are hipped here anyway, so that’s nothing unusual.”
“Have you ever looked for a portal?”
“Yeah, like that’s easy.”
“Why shouldn’t it be? I thought Sigil was the city of doors.”
“Look, Jesper, portals may be everywhere, but they aren’t always permanent, and they aren’t always two-way. Furthermore, you need to know exactly what to do to activate a portal when you find it--each one has a special ‘key’. And you never know exactly where a portal leads ‘til you step through it. I’ve seen Hivers peel clueless sods into stepping through portals that lead to the Lower Planes and taking bets on how many pieces they come back in.”
“I can activate mine. It’s a two-way portal,” Jesper states matter-of-factly.
“Hmm...I guess I know why this place is called the Cage.”
Jesper pauses as he sits back and stares at the ceiling, admiring the chandelier. Then he glances back at me and smiles.
“But this city is remarkable. In some places it's an urban hell, and in other places it’s a wonderful renaissance of possibilities. And everyone here is so jaded and cynical.”
I roll my eyes.
“And the factions revolve around philosophy and belief.…” Jesper continues.
“All the factions think they know the big dark of the multiverse. When you do, it’s not hard to justify your actions in the name of your creed. Not to long ago some Hardheads scragged this tiefling they found banging around Crystal Dew Lane,” I say, “They didn’t have a reason, but they didn’t need one. They violated him with broomstick.”
Jesper looks disturbed.
“That’s disgusting. I though the Harmonium were law enforcement. I thought they weren’t supposed--"
“There’s a lot of things the Harmonium aren’t supposed to do. And the Mercykillers. A lot of them used to be criminals you know. When you’re condemned in the Cage, the only way out’s death or recruitment,.”
“What about the Society of Sensation?” Jesper asks, “They seem like open-minded people.”
“Ideally a Sensate's open to experience anything, but a lot of ’em are leering hedonists too. How else do you think this faction became so wealthy?”
“I still love this place," Jesper says, “The Sensoriums, I mean. I wonder how many memories they have here...”
“Yeah, I bet if you had more jink you’d check out all the pornographic sensory stones.”
“Eh, no, not really. I think I’d rather experience that myself for real first...”
“What,” I snort, “you were told to save yourself for whatever missy’d give you a big dowry?”
“No, I really wasn’t,” Jesper says, though when he continues, his voice gets softer, “I’d be pretty eager myself, actually. It’s just that I’d spent so much time at the univ--the headquarters for my organization learning everything I could, and I didn’t really have a chance to...”
“You didn’t get to talk to girls very often, huh?” I laugh, “How old are you anyway?”
“Um...twenty. Why?” he says in a hushed tone.
“And you’re a virgin. How’s that possible? I thought you were younger.”
Once he gets over himself he’ll find seduction’s the one of the easiest things he’ll ever do. Jesper looks slightly irritated now, but he doesn’t raise his voice.
“But you make it sound so easy.” he says, ”Like a matter of choice.”
“I didn’t have a choice to begin with. But all you have to do is want it.”
“You didn’t have a choice?” Jesper says, “What do you mean?”
How can Jesper be so smart and so dumb? Can’t he read between the lines? Do I have to spell everything out?
“I was raped, Jesper. The babysitter took advantage of me when I was little.”
He looks pained when I say this. His features freeze and his voice softens.
“How little... or don’t I want to know?”
How old was I anyway? Seven? Eight? It’s so hard to remember when I don’t know what date I left the prime. And how old would that make me now? Twenty-one? Twenty-two? I remember his name was Spadaro, and he was probably some uncle of mine. I know he was a mercenary who acted as a sort of minder to my parents in the prime. They must have trusted him a lot. I just smile sadly and shake my head.
“You don’t want to know.”
“Did they get the uh...culprit?”
Culprit. What a funny word. How typically naive of Jesper. I heard my parents were killed by Hive thugs; not a planned crime, but random violence. I sort of remember it, but it’s not too painful when I barely remember them anyway. Spadaro would’ve had guardianship over me, but I’d fled into the Hive streets and found a kind Dustman collector that let me ride in his cart pretending to be a deader while he transported me around the Hive and I helped him find more corpses. His name was Zoard. They said he was barmy--a necrophiliac, but he was kind to me so I don’t remember him as an evil person. Last I’d heard of Spadaro, he’d registered for mercenary work in the Blood War, the stupid berk. No mortal gets out of that alive.
“No,” I say in a smarmy soft voice, “but I’m sure he’s dead.”
Jesper looks away sadly for a moment, then back at me.
“I’m sorry I pressed you. I shouldn’t have asked.”
Sweet Jesper. I’ve already stopped letting it affect me now. It’s how I’ve survived.
“That’s all right,” I say, “Everyone asks eventually.”
Jesper nods slowly and still looks on with concern. ’Course, I’d gotten over it years ago. I’d stopped feeling sorry for myself. I did away with the excess bub, I stopped cutting myself with knives, and though I’d always been a little meaty, I trained fervently at the Great Gymnasium in the Guildhall Ward and turned my fat into muscle. I did it by myself, with the aid and approval of no one. I owe the multiverse nothing and it owes nothing to me. The last thing I need now is sympathy from some clueless prime, or his misplaced affection. Especially when he wants to get into my britches. Stupid kid’s got to grow up and learn. Someone’s going to break his heart eventually. He’s already put me on a pedestal. It might as well be me.
“Valese, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say with a glossy smile, “Let’s go.”
All right, Jesper, time to show me what you’ve got. I have complete control over him. I’ll lead him on a leash to where I know he’ll follow, and then he’ll see how pathetic he is. He places his haversack on the floor near his cot and reclines to rest on it, and I rest with him. We didn’t encounter trouble on the way back, but I wanted to return before the night fell. He tells me the portal he’ll take back is somewhere else in this ward, and he’ll most likely leave this evening. He lies on his back, though his glasses are fogged up from the cold. I lean in and remove them, pulling the loop off each ear, and place them on the desk.
“You look so much better without your glasses,” I say.
He doesn’t say anything. Instead, he just looks at me and also remains still as I run my fingers through his hair. He looks on, fascinated but frozen. I sit up and lean in, this time tracing my nails along his chest and shoulders, feeling the contours of his body underneath the tunic. I’m much stronger than him, and I press my nails and fingertips at various points as I run them along his torso, meddling hard. I think I could rip him to pieces if I wanted.
“Are you serious about being a virgin?” I ask.
“Why would I lie if I weren’t?”
“I’m just saying it ‘cause you’re so beautiful. I find it a little difficult to imagine.”
I undo his belt and reach under his tunic so I can feel the real warmth of his skin, his stomach, chest, and heartbeat.
“You think you could handle me, Jesper?”
He hesitates, and his gaze grows distant.
“You want to find out?”
Jesper doesn’t answer me, but he turns his gaze back in my direction. He stares at me wide-eyed, too uncertain to concede, but too immature to resist. I stop and unlace my bodice so he can see my breasts. I open it, but I don’t remove it. I move myself astride him and caress his chest again, though this time I work my way downward. Eventually I reach his trousers and I can see that he has quite a pan-handle under there. He's utterly still as I untie the string to his trousers to confirm that I’ve indeed aroused his lustful interest. As I grab hold of his shaft and happily wax it, he looks on with ambivalent fascination....
...until it all becomes too much for him and he lets everything loose right then and there. I stop and back off slightly. Jesper lies there, staring stupidly at me, his wasted member, and the slimy mess on his stomach, dismayed and confused. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
“Awww, Jesper. You’ll have to last longer than that.”
I backhand him across the face.
Jesper falls back on his cot stunned and waned. Sneering, I get up, lace my bodice, sheathe my chivs, and leave.
The rain is fouler tonight than it was yesterday. I can see that young tiefling girl again, and this time she’s clinging to a rotting wooden rafter to take shelter from the rain. Her white ragged gown is wet and clings to her bulging ribs.
“Kid, are you alright?” I ask.
She doesn’t look at me but nods. I shrug and walk toward the nearby pub. The walls are made of cracked bricks, but I’m sure the roof’s stable enough, if only because of the heat and light that comes from the inside. I can hear lute and mandolin players inside, and smell the burned fat and stale beer when I enter. It looks like they still serve bub. I could use some. Splintered furniture covers the dingy floor and the only extant seats are taken, so I’ll stand. I’ve got more than just a few coppers, so I have the barkeep concoct a mix of bub, broth, oil, sulfur, and firewater. I can drink things humans can’t, and this one’s used to serving the plane- touched, so he helps me out. I like the hot taste in my mouth. It makes most bub seem too mild to touch again.
I get the yawn standing around, so I pull up a wooden chair when some folks leave and order more bub. I’ve got enough jink to spend and things always get more interesting this way. I pour the pitcher into the glass and sample this bub. Hivers don’t know how to make real bub. It’s too mild and bitter, but I’ve got nothing else so I pour some more.
So long as I can stand I’ll be fine. Funny though, ’cause this bub tastes better with each sip.
I sit and stare at my hand. It’s amazing the way I move it palm up and palm down again. Sometimes it kinda leaves an impression of itself in the air when I move it. I’ve never been this fascinated by my hand, I could watch it all day. The rest of me’s pretty fascinating, too. I like the way my Xaositect amulet sits between my breasts when I scrunch down. I love my breasts.
“I love my breasts.” I tell the bubber next to me, “I think I’ll name them. I’ll call them ‘dream’ and ‘destiny’ or mayhap ‘flint’ and ‘steel’ or how ’bout ‘block’ and ‘tackle’? Do you name your breasts?”
Gods, did I say that out loud? Guess I’ve had more bub than I thought. I’m feeling warm inside, and slightly numb. But I can stand and walk. I can definitely do that. Yep, I’m not too fucked up to walk away.
“Sod off you fucking demon bitch!” the berk says.
“That’s not very nice,” I say, and then I cross my arms and draw my chivs. He walks away, but in disgust, not fear. Stupid berk, hold still and fight me... I sit down again. I sheathe my chivs, but at first I have trouble and then realize I’m trying to put each blade in the wrong scabbard. Eh, I feel smart tonight. Mayhap I should head back. Jesper’s gone by now, but I can still pay the rent.
As I get up to leave, though, I feel a massive hand grab my wrist. It’s a hand that wears a gauntlet. I turn and look back to see a tall and muscular basher wearing chain mail. His shoulder guards are flaring and garish, like a Harmonium officer’s, and he wears an ornate open-faced helm with downward curling ram-like horns. On his gorget is the symbol of a screeching wyvern, and in his right hand, he holds a wicked battleaxe. Geordie stands next to him, cocky as ever.
“The eyes of Justice guide me so that I might punish the guilty,” the armored basher says in a gravelly voice, “and your time has come, Valese; plane- touched Xaositect, thief, murderer, and whore.”
I slip my hand out from his grip and laugh.
“Hey Geordie, I like how you’re hiding behind this basher.”
“Hiding?” he says, “Hardly. I didn’t think finding yeh would be this easy like. But I guess yeh’ve proven yehrself t’be more sackless then I thought, aye? This time I think yeh’ll be pay’n the music pet.”
I turn to the Mercykiller.
“So you’re a Mercykiller, huh? As in you kill mercy? Everyone needs their comeuppance, huh? Hey, you’re not that far off. You’re right about the Xaositect part, and the thief part. But you’re wrong about me being a whore. I’m a spiv, you see. Now as for the murderer part...I honestly don’t keep track of all the people I kill, but your faction does, and I love you for it!”
I study his armor for a second.
“Hey, is your tailor a blacksmith?” I say.
The basher gives me a cold stare, then smacks me across the face with his armored hand. I nearly topple, but I don’t yelp as I feel the inside of my cheek grind against my teeth, filling my mouth with the coppery taste of blood. Some barflies stop what they’re doing and watch. Others laugh and jeer. The bartender remains silent.
“Tenet number one,” the Mercykiller barks, “I will uphold Justice above all else, purging the multiverse of those who break the law.”
I spit blood into his face. The Mercykiller answers by punching me in the solar plexus. I’m in so close I don’t have time to block or dodge. I buckle over in pain as I feel my upper abdomen tingling, and my mind rushes to the spot I’ve been hit... Even a little drunk on bub, it hurts enough that my knees begin to bend. I gasp for breath....
The other bubbers start laughing and crowding around, cheering him on. I’ve become their entertainment for the evening. Some mock me for being stupid enough to be found by a Mercykiller, about how it’s good to see someone scrub a tiefling, or they simply stand around to watch and laugh.
“Tenet number two,” the Mercykiller continues stoically, “In all situations I shall weigh the rights and wrongs with a clear and impartial mind.”
I regain my breath and rub my stomach to numb the pain, and as I do so I reach for my chivs--until a sharp blow connects to my brain-box, knocking me back and down. The berks in the bar laugh harder as I fall, and this time I feel nothing at first. I rub my forehead and see thick, tacky blood on my fingertips. Then I look down and see blood droplets falling on the floor. When I realize I’m bleeding, and I suddenly feel sick. Much sicker than I should feel. I can feel the blood leaving my face, making me pale despite my usual rosy pink complexion. I see lights in my head at first, and my hearing nearly mutes. I think I’m about to pass out. I swallow the nausea and feebly get up...
“Tenet number three,” the Mercykiller says, “I shall decide where Justice must fall under the law, and I will mete out that Justice with a firm and unyielding hand.”
He smacks me with the butt of his axe again, and though I don’t fall, I crouch and reach for my chivs, but this time Geordie kicks me in the ribs and knocks me down again. I clutch my side and look up at him with a sneer. Now you’ll try that, cowardly, berk? Bet it felt good for him to knuckle under someone stronger.
“Tenet number four,” chants the Mercykiller, ”I believe in the righteousness of my faction; we alone answer to the higher law of Justice.”
To this the other barflies cheer him on and jeer at me on the ground. Some step in to connect a few kicks of their own, following Geordie’s example, but I cower and turn in to minimize the pain. Their kicks are weak. My head hurts worst of all.
Geordie whispers something to the Mercykiller and I can feel them-- Geordie, the Mercykiller, and the bubbers in the bar-picking me up and dragging me into the back room as I slip in and out of consciousness. I can hear the Mercykiller loud and clear as he grips my right arm:
"Tenet number five: I will not pass judgment on good or evil, only on law-abiding and law-breaking, for therein lies wrongdoing.”
I somehow find myself on my feet again as I’m tossed into a room with only a single wooden table, but I feel Geordie undoing my belt and removing my weapons. I look back and see him tossing them into the corner, and now Geordie’s counting up the jink in my money pouch. I can’t reach my chivs-- more frenzied bubbers pour into the room with him and the Mercykiller. Some pull up chairs to watch. The Mercykiller rests his axe against the wall, and this time he unsheathes a knife. I feel two berks grabbing either of my arms.
“Tenet number six,” the Mercykiller bellows, “I will punish the guilty as the crime demands.”
When he says this everyone cheers in excitement. With his knife, the Mercykiller rips open the lace of my bodice, exposing my bare breasts. The crowd cheers, then he punches me in the face again. I feel the punch of his armored gauntlet connect to my cheek and nose, and I wrinkle my face to allay it, but my hands are held. And the crowd is pleased. Of course they are. Tiefling women are sluts, and sluts are immune to rape. Especially criminal sluts.
The Mercykiller removes his helmet, then he grabs me by the hair and throws me into the corner with the wood table. Grabbing me once more, he slams my face into the table and holds me there. Another berk comes in and grabs hold of my wrists while a third drives his elbow into my back, pinning me face down on the table. The Mercykiller pulls down my britches. With one hand he grabs my tail to hoist my rump into the air, and the other he uses to guide his member into me.
The pain is unbearable, internal. His chaffing thrusts are deep and brutal, and it feels like he’s tearing me up inside. I grit my teeth in rage as the crowd cheers and applauds. He hammers away and stuns me into pained silence but I hear him bark:
“Tenet number seven: I will be diligent in my pursuit of the guilty, and while so engaged I will remain innocent of any wrongdoing in the eyes of others.”
I close my eyes and bite my lip, hoping he’ll stop soon, but I can hear them say things:
“C’mon, save some for me!”
“When’s my turn to bang this slut?”
“Cut off her tail!”
“Fuck her with a sword!”
When he finally pulls out the others let go of me as well, and I slide off the table and collapse to the ground in pain. I pull my britches up again, but I don’t move. I can hear them arguing over who will get to rape me next, but I only pay attention to the ground. My vision blurs, my headache is massive, and blood still runs down my face.
I can see my blades in the corner, but these berks are in front of them. They aren't fighters, only the Mercykiller. I think if he falls the others will too....
“Tenet number eight: I will never release a lawbreaker until the sentence has been carried out.”
It looks like he’s going to get his axe from the wall. What’s he going to do now, behead me the way he’d do at Petitioner’s Square and let the barflies fuck my headless corpse? I won’t find out either way. More bashers are around me, I’m sure. Mayhap they think I’m unconscious, but I focus only on the Mercykiller. I take a deep breath and clench my teeth. I won’t die like this, but he will!
As he re-adjusts the metal cup protecting his groin, he no longer has his weapon to smack me down with. I burst upward and lunge into his face. My hands find his eyes before he can turn away, and I jam them with my thumb claws.
He roars and I can feel other bashers around me. Some are trying to grab me, and pull me off, but I focus my grip on the Mercykiller, pressing my thumbs in and down. I feel at least two bashers trying to pry me off. My head’s spinning but I keep focusing on the Mercykiller as his screeches become inhuman and he feebly tries to push me away.
As I force him onto his knees, the blood is streaming down the sides of his face, and his eyeballs are jelly. I keep pushing until my thumbs are driven as far as they can go into his sockets, until my nails are in his brain.
Then I feel a hard smack as someone breaks a chair over me, and as I double over and yank my blood-caked fingers out from the Mercykillers skull, I feel a clamping pain in my neck as someone else is chocking me from behind. Another berk tries to grab my leg to force me off my feet again. But I back up into the berk who’s chocking me. Instead of peeling his fingers away to cease the pain I duck down, swing my head back, drive my nails into his crotch, and throw him over my shoulder. He knocks two other would-be rapists away, but another comes in and grabs me by the hair. I grab his arm and pull his gut into my boot, then I rake his face with my claws and put him out of commission.
The other berks in this room are starting to run, but some stay put. I want to collapse. I’m pained everywhere, but I ignore it. I’m about to dash forward and grab my chivs, but another bubber comes in swinging a table leg at me as a club. I dash into him as I did the Mercykiller, grab his arm before he can get a good swing, and smash my elbow into his face. Placing my leg behind his, I knee him in the back and stomp his ribs while pulling up on his arm. With a loud crack, his arm is broken by his own weight.
As another berk who was down gets up and flees, I finally grab my chivs from the floor, short sword in the left hand and dagger in the right. Another berk I’d knocked over gets up and lunges at my sword arm, thinking he can disarm me, but I stab him in the chest with my dagger instead, three times. The bubber I’d flipped over tries to grapple me once more, but I rip open his throat with my dagger and speckle myself in his blood. Only two berks are left on the ground. One is clutching his bleeding face, the other has nearly passed out from the shock of a broken arm. I slash an ‘X’ across the chest of the injured-faced berk with my blades, then stab him with each. I walk over to the broken-armed berk and impale him through the gut with my sword, twisting the pommel even after I’m certain the tip of the blade touches the wooden plank, and rip it out as he gurgles.
I turn and see Geordie. He sees me. Valese. Scrubbed. Bloodied. Bruised. Raped. Bodice open. Sword in one hand, dagger in the other. And five deaders on the floor around me. I grin bloodily at him, but there is not a trace of humor in it. Geordie tentatively draws his rapier...
I run and chase him out of the backroom, out of the bar, and into the gloomy rain- swept streets. He’s running for his life, his chiv still in hand, and he desperately takes to a narrow side alley, splashing loudly in ankle-deep rainwater. I dodge barrels of burning trash and leap over empty firkins that block my way. I don’t let him out of my sight. I’m faster than Geordie, and he should know that. And I can see his orange- red figure in the dark; I can see the heat he gives off.
Geordie desperately splashes through the rain-filled alley as I grab hold of the rough cracks in the concrete wall to my right and pull myself onto the roof of this kip. I climb up faster than he can slosh through. Geordie looks back once, mayhap wondering where I might be, but he trips over something in the water and falls into a knee-deep puddle. He frantically gets up and looks in all directions, his hair plastered to his head by the rain, and his sword pointed in front of him. I make my way across the rotted wooden planks that form the roof of this abandoned kip and leap off the ledge, my chivs drawn...
I smash into him as I land, catching him by surprise. I quickly stab his sword arm with my dagger and slash the hilt of his rapier with my short sword, knocking the blade out of his hand and rendering it hopelessly lost to the rainwater. He tries to back up, but I stab him meddling hard in the shoulder with my dagger, and harder in the crotch with my sword. Geordie screams and bends at the knees, clutching his groin and bloodying his fingers, but I sheathe my dagger and grab him by the hair. Raising my sword, I hack off his right ear, and as he howls inhumanly and raises his hands to clutch the remnants of his ear lobe, I switch hands, grab him by the hair again, and slice off his left ear. Pulling his head back, I bring the blade upward and take off a chunk of his nose.
Still clutching Geordie by the hair, I haul him up toward the brick wall and smash his face against it as hard as I can, again and again and again. I smash his face against the wall until his eyes are rolled back into his head, what’s left of his nose is crushed, his teeth are shattered, and his face is covered in red and black gore.
Geordie’s lifeless corpse now lies in the mud and rain, so I’ll leave it for the rats and collectors. I stand up panting hard. My head spins and I’m feeling dizzy. As I trudge out of the alley I lean into the wall, and my vision blurs again. I want to fall down, but I make my way out of the alley, and I can hear two sods arguing. They’re arguing about who has the rights to another deader, and which of them will get to sell the corpse to the Dustmen tomorrow for pittance. When I reach the open streets I can see them a little clearer. One sod is bald, emaciated, half naked, and has a thick, long beard. He holds a half-empty bottle of bub. The other wears a heavy but threadbare cowl and pushes a muddy wheelbarrow that holds two deaders. Their skins are shining a sickly whitish gray from the rain.
“T-this sod d-died on my.....p-p-property. She's mine!” the bubber says through a toothless grimace as he waves his bottle.
“Like I believes ya,” snorts the collector, “I found ’er fair an’ square, berk. Pike off ’fore I gets angry!”
When the collector says this he reaches into his heavy robes and draws a jagged bronze knife. The bubber backs off and runs into the alley, and the collector kneels to claim his newest deader. As he scoops her off the muddy ground and places her on the cart with the others, I can see it's the tiefling girl. The collector continues slogging through the dismal streets, pushing his wheelbarrow of deaders, and when he does that bubber comes running out from the alley again. Brandishing his bottle in anger, he yells to the collector:
“Y-your mother...sucks...t-tanar’ri cocks in the Abyss!!”
As soon as the collector turns the berk darts back into the alley. The collector continues on his way, past me, and I catch another glimpse of the tiefling girl. Her appearance is unmistakable, and her limber body’s as lifeless as the other deaders. She isn’t mangled, though.
“What the fuck’re ya looking at, ain’t’cha seen a wheelbarrow b’fore? Soddin’ Hivers!”
I let the collector pass. The powers only know how she died. Disease? Starvation? All these homeless whelps are thin anyway. I don't think she was killed by violence or an accident, though it doesn't really matter. I mean, she wouldn't be missed in this ward. She'd grow up in a world that'd shun and persecute her for what she is, and what they'd force her to become. Mayhap it's better for her to die, painlessly compared to other ways she could've been dead-booked, than encounter some leering cross-trader who'd exploit her sexuality. Unless, of course, I'm assuming that hadn't happened already.
I suddenly gag and vomit. It's the bub, I'm sure. The burning sour taste lingers in my throat and mouth, and I stand as long as I can, ridding myself of it. My muscles burn and feel like jelly. I turn and stagger back into the flooding alley. I can see the collector examining Geordie’s corpse, and as he’s found something. It’s my jink bag.
“Hey...!” I choke, “That’s my jink!”
“I claims whate’er I find, an I found it fair!” he growls, “Now pike off! Fuck’n Hive guttersnipe...”
I run toward him and try to grab the pouch before he pockets it, but I end up grabbing his arms instead, digging my nails in deep, trying to tear them away.
“GIVE ME MY FUCKING JINK!!!”
He backhands me, the stupid collector. I snarl and crouch to draw my blades, and as I think he’s about to draw his, he kicks me in the stomach instead. I stumble and fall back into the muddy rain puddles. As I cough and buckle where I am, he kicks me again. I vomit once more, and it burns worse than last time.
“Had enough?” the collector sneers.
I quiver as he lumps Gerodie’s body onto the wheelbarrow and leaves. I can barely move. I grit my teeth and cough and fume, the stupid fucking leatherhead is leaving with my jink! I open my mouth to scream.
He’s gone. I scream again and cough. My sounds are muted by the rain. Stupid sodding collector... fuck you and die, I hope a tanar’ri rapes you to death and the Dustmen re-animate you as a zombie...
My eyes are tearing up, but I fight back the tears to push myself off the ground. I slowly slog back through the alley. I take off my clothes and bathe in the rain, but the rainwater is cruddy, brown, and thick, as it tends to be.
I open the chipped and painted door. I still have the key, so I don't have to pick the lock. When I open it I notice the candle is lit and Jesper is still here. He's sitting on his cot paging through some old tome. I remove my belt and collapse on my cot. I turn away. I don't want to look at him.
“What happened...!?” I can hear him say.
I don't answer. I lie there with my back to him, but I can hear him approaching.
“Are you all right? Y-you look...”
“Don't waste your sympathy...” I mutter.
I can feel his weight on the cot as he sits next to me.
“It's mine to give, Valese.”
Is he daft? How come he's still here? Why does he still care? Powers, he's making me cry. I'm trembling now. I'm sure he can see that, if nothing else.
I slowly turn and sit up. I put my arms around him and grip him tight as I can without hurting him. I nearly bite his shoulder, and I'm not just crying now, I'm sobbing pathetically.
“I'm sorry I hit you...!”
My voice is shaky and weak. Jesper lowers his gaze and scratches his chin.
“Well, the, uh...fondling was nice. I didn't really like being smacked in the face, but-“
“I can't believe I did that to you...! I'm so sorry! I-I don't even deserve to be your friend now...!”
“No, that’s all right. I don’t hold grudges.”
I loosen my arms and look at Jesper once more, the tears are still streaming down my face.
“W-what? I can’t believe you’re not mad at me...”
“Well, I guess I could be,” he says wearily, “but what's the point? Hold enough grudges and I’d burn myself out.”
Jesper lays me back down on the cot and lies down beside me. I'm still holding onto him as he runs his fingers through my raven hair and strokes my bruised face. I’ve nearly turned to stone.
“Valese,” he says tenderly, “you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on either side of the portal. When I first saw you I knew I wanted to hold you, I just never thought I’d get the chance.”
I’ve been called ‘creepy’ and ‘sexy’ before, but I think the last person who called me ‘beautiful’ was Spadaro. But that was a different time and place.
“You don’t even know me, Jesper...”
“Perhaps I don't,” he says, “But I've seen the sorts of things you do. I've seen you mugging people on the streets.”
“But who am I to judge?” he continues, “However reprehensible your deeds are you have a courageous tenacity. I don’t think I’d take you home to meet my mom or anything, but I’ve always admired you, at least. There's something about you... I don’t know what it is, but…”
I don’t even know how to react to that. And I’m still crying. I clasp his hand.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Jesper says softly.
I really don’t want to. I hesitate for a long time, resting my head on Jesper's shoulder, gripping him. I try to think about what else is bothering me.
“There was this... wandering tiefling child. I don’t know who she was or where she came from and I barely spoke to her. But... the second time I saw her today she was dead in a collector’s cart. I don’t know how she died, but... I don’t think she did anything to deserve it. At least nothing I know of. I don’t know why I... I mean, life isn’t any cheaper than in the Hive.”
“You wanted to save her?” Jesper says.
“I don’t even know what I’m saying....”
He nods sadly. There is a comfortable silence, and I lean into Jesper and put my arm around him. I rub my foot against his, and gaze into his eyes. I carefully remove his thick glasses again, and place them on the desk. When I snuggle back into a comfortable position, I lock gazes with him.
“Hey, your eyes.” Jesper says.
“What about them?”
“I can see your pupils. They’re real faint, but I can see them. I’ve guess I’ve just never been this close to you before...”
I lean in and kiss him. It's a mild kiss.
“Heh.” Jesper says, “I’ve never done that before...”
“There’s a first for everything.” I say with a weak smile, “Open your mouth a little more.”
I kiss him again before he can say anything, and this time he opens his mouth and lets me sample it to my satisfaction. Afterwards I lie back a bit, still gazing at him. Jesper still looks uncertain, but he puts his arms around me, and lays me down on the cot again. It’s an oddly comforting feeling, I don’t want it to end. Neither one of us says anything for a while. I wonder what we'd do if we were a couple. Or if we were just friends. All I know is I don't want him to leave.
“Are you leaving soon?” I say.
“They wanted me back today, actually.” says Jesper.
“You...you can’t take me with, can you?”
“I’m not supposed to take anyone with, no. I’m only here to do research. But I might be able to return. Maybe.”
“Do you have to go?”
Jesper nods grimly.
“It's not my decision,” he says.
“What’s your world like, you never told me much about it?”
“Well...there’s not much to say, really,” Jesper says uneasily, “It’s not a bad place, the scholars of my city have an interest in the planes and planar magic, but I’ve been... sheltered and isolated most of my life. I think part of the reason I chose to come here was to escape from it. I... I’m not really well adjusted there. I just sort of blend in to the background...”
For a moment, it almost looks like Jesper’s about to cry himself.
“Can you spend the night with me?” I say.
I put my arm around Jesper and rest my head against his shoulder. I fall asleep and dream of hummingbirds.
I wake up a few times early in the morning, and I’m dimly aware Jesper is up gathering things, but I’m so tired I fall asleep again. When I get up he’s gone, but the candle and lamp are still there, and on the desk is a note, a handful of gold coins, and a thick string.
You were sleeping so peacefully it would have been a crime to wake you. I’ve left some money (or is it jink?) behind for you, and I’m on my way back to the Prime. I wish you well with everything. Please don’t think you are unworthy of love, or devoid of responsibility. I think there’s more good in you than you realize. I enjoyed my stay in Sigil, and should I ever return I look forward to meeting you again.
I crumple the letter. So easy for him to say that when he can return to his world at any time and I’m stuck here in the Hive. What kind of daft cunt does he think I am? I don’t even know where his portal is, or the key. It angers me more every second. But... I’d like to think I could change... someday... if things were different, mayhap. I’ll record my memory of Jesper at the Civic Festhall. It’ll still be there whenever I need to return to it. Then I’ll find Nherid in the Lower Ward and we’ll bob some clueless sods. It should be fun.
I pocket the jink, use the string to re-lace my bodice, don my belt, sheathe my chivs, and head out.
E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Main Chamber