Planescape: A Turn of the WheelbyThe_Chromatic_One©
Sigil, Hashkar 130
One year before the Lady's Edict
"Evening Fangs, what's the chant?"
I rolled an eye at Karn. I loathed that nickname, but it was stuck to me these days. Not that Karn was one to talk about dental work, the demon-blooded tiefling having a set of pearly-whites that'd make a hellhound jealous.
"It's Jacqueline, Jacqueline D'Aregnor, do try to remember that?" Karn ignored me, no surprises there. "Not much, I just got in from Pandemonium, I think I need a break for a bit. There's such a thing as having too many crazy barmies around."
"I'd have thought you'd like not having to work for your food." I glared at Karn for a few seconds till the black-skinned tiefer shrugged.
"As a matter of fact, the wind was getting on my nerves," I said with a slight edge to my voice. Karn can be interesting, and he's the keeper of the keys here at Fortune's Wheel, at least as far as my employer, the ever-charming and ever-erratic King of the Crosstrade, Shemeska the Marauder, goes, but the tiefling could be a pain sometimes. "Snag me the usual, would you?"
As the overly-dentally-endowed tiefling chatted with the bartender, I took a moment to relax in Dragon Bar. The Fortune's Wheel was one of the premier places for drinking, gambling, and scheming in Sigil, and the Dragon Bar was its pulsing heart. Plots of every variety were hatched here, deals brokered, lives bartered away, and fortunes the size of worlds passed around in dice games. There was the great, animate head of some black dragon behind the bar, and what I'm reasonably sure was a cornugon chatting with a nycaloth over in a corner. Hells alone knew what they were plotting. Factols, Golden Lords, and planars of every description occupied the room, along with entourage like Karn and independent contractors like me.
I liked Sigil. The paradoxical city atop the infinite spire, some called it the center of the multiverse. Whether it was or it wasn't is for people more educated than me to say, but it was probably the most diverse place I'd ever seen. After my unfortunate accident, that was important to me. No asked questions about you here, not even about such niggling little details as what species you were, what you ate, or when was the last time you had a pulse.
"Here you go." Karn passed me the red liquid, the rich froth still on it. I nodded a thank and took a sip.
Face it, if you were a vampire who wasn't big on ancient crypts or terrorizing peasants, Sigil was the best place in the Multiverse for you. Here, I'm just one of a multitude of strange creatures, and they deal with diets far odder than mine. I make sure I stay inside during the hours when it's lightest, have a few contracts with people to supply blood, and generally I'm happy as a clam. Granted, a vampiric, blood-sucking, undead clam, but that was a minor detail.
Instead of the torches and pitchforks I'd have gotten back home, here it was mostly wolf-whistles and side-looks, which I was used to. It was something about the transformation, I decided. I'd looked decent enough when I was alive, a nice slip of a girl, all slim curves and long legs and long raven hair my sisters would die for, but nothing to set the pulse of men to racing. But now, there was a predatory aspect to me that got people's attentions. I was like a lean, hard, wolf, with a scent of danger and sensuality that drew eyes. I was quite glad for it actually; it made my life a Hells of a lot easier. Never ceases to amaze me how many men would let you snack on their arteries if there was a good fucking involved right before.
It might not have been the most elegant existence in the Multiverse, but it beat snacking on garlic and holy water by a long shot.
My unusual abilities let me make a pretty nice living (alright, un-living, happy now?) as a Knight of the Post, even though my dear old mother would die if she ever learned I was a criminal. 'Course, she died at least a century ago, so that works I suppose. But being able to turn into mist or crawl up a sheer wall has certain advantages in the line of separating people from their money or lives. I make no bones about it. I was a thief and assassin as well as a vampire, and I was, pardon the pun, bloody good at what I did. Besides, if there's one thing I can't stand, it's a remorseful undead.
"Hey, Sigil to Fangs, Sigil to Fangs, you're fazing out on us." Karn was snapping his fingers in front of my face. I snapped at them, but he managed to avoid my teeth in time. The black-hided tiefling laughed and I sent him a sour look. I sometimes got overly introspective. Blame it on dealing with jokers like Karn.
"Funny, real funny." Karn grinned again, and I ignored it. Sometimes a girl has to maintain a little dignity, after all. I saw my current employer, Shemeska the Marauder, at her usual table. She was wining and dining some hapless fool, but there was something unusual about the scene.
"Who's the new guy?" I said, jerking my chin towards the unusual face. Karn followed my gaze.
"Oh yeah… you were hunting crazies down in Bedlam when he showed up."
"So who is he?" I'll admit, the new face piqued my interest. He was a species I'd never seen before. Imagine, if you will, a bastard love-child of a hyena and a human, and you won't be too far off the mark. He must've been seven, seven and a half feet tall, fairly lean, but broad-shouldered and looked strong. Covered head to toe in sandy, tan fur, sprinkled with black spots. Legs like a dog, paws really, and he had this slightly darker tail that swished every so often. But most of all I noticed his head. It was like a hyena's, canine, with a short muzzle and large, rounded ears, and orange hunter's eyes. That's what I remember most of him, he had very intelligent eyes.
"Goes by the name of Drachmir, he's Darkwood's newest collector."
"A Fated?" Hmm, so hyena-boy was a tax collector, and a factioneer to boot. This was getting more interesting by the moment. "What's he doing here?"
"Doing a bit of 'debt collection' for Her Highness." Karn licked his lips, relishing his role as dispenser of wisdom, or barring that, week-old news. "Good at what he does too, used to be a secret policeman on some Prime World powers knows where."
"Fascinating." So this Drachmir was an émigré to Sigil too. "Next question: what is he?"
"That's right, they didn't have those on your home-plane." The over-fanged tiefling grinned. "He's a gnoll. Hyena-man basically, they live in tribes I think. Big, strong, dumb. Your type really."
"Watch it…" I murmured, but my heart wasn't in it. The new guy may be big and strong, but something told me he was far from dumb.
And I did think he was kind of cute.
"You're joking." For once, my habitual wariness around my employer dropped. This was unbelievable.
"I never joke, darling." Shemeska preened in front of the mirror as she spoke. In fairness, she was a rather beautiful specimen of fiendishness. A jackal's head atop a human body notwithstanding, she was almost as exquisite as she thought she was.
"But…milady, you just don't steal from the Golden Lords and live."
"Well now, that shouldn't be a problem for you, now should it?" I swallowed my outburst. There were worse ways of dieing then breaking into the homes of the richest and most powerful people in Sigil, and irritating Shemeska lead to many of them. "Now, now, Jacqueline, it won't be quite so bad. I've arranged for Wei Minh Lee to be firmly distracted, and you do have certain talents."
"Yes mistress…" I gave up.
"Oh, and Drachmir will be accompanying you. You two should be fine. And remember, I want the elixirs of longevity by morning. Goodbye darling."
The interview was over as my daemonic employer departed. I cast a surreptitious glance at my new comrade, who was looking almost as dyspeptic about the whole thing as I was. Strangely, this made me feel a bit better. I guess misery really does love company.
"Shall we get to it? It's nearly dusk." I took the floor plans and defense layouts Shemeska had left us. Twelve hours to break into one of the most closely-guarded homes in Sigil. The gods must hate me.
"Good idea." Drachmir offered me his arm, for all the world like I was grand dame at a ball and not a vampire assassin, and he a duke instead of a mercenary. It amused me as I took it. We departed Fortune's Wheel.
I'd been back in Sigil for a couple of months now, had done a few small jobs for the Marauder, but then she came up with this hair-brained scheme to steal elixirs of longevity from a god's proxy here in Sigil.
Wei Minh Lee was a living avatar and emissary of one of the gods of longevity, Shou Hsing. He was also one of the richest men in Sigil, selling potions that increased your lifespan. A single bottle could add twenty years to your life, although only the very, very rich could afford them. And now Shemeska wanted me and Drachmir to steal a half-dozen. And with her an immortal fiend, I could only guess it was a robbery to order. Such fun…
The Golden Lord's home wasn't too far from Fortune's Wheel, so the two of us arrived at the palace fairly soon, arm in arm like a demented artist's dream couple. I could just picture the gossip sheet item: one svelte, pale young woman, with fangs and red eyes, dressed in black leathers and sporting a stylish set of lock picks and daggers, going out with a tall, hyena-headed gnoll, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, clad in a really rather fetching ensemble of leather and chain mail. He also had a sword that was about my size strapped to a sheath on his back.
I admit it, I giggled at the image. Drachmir raised an eyebrow, and then grinned, showing off more teeth than either Karn or I could call ours. After our moment of levity though, we got down to business.
Lee's palace was a huge building, a strange, pagoda like building half-temple, half-residence, and half-market. All those halves made it look pretty overdone, but thankfully, Shemeska's maps told us exactly how to get in. The trick though, was in the execution.
"Our best bet is to go over the roof till we reach the garden where the elixirs are kept, then just go down." I finished consulting the maps. "We'll miss most of the traps and guards that way."
"Good plan." Drachmir seemed to be a man of few words. "How do we get up there?"
Dropping a rope by my feet, I closed my eyes, and changed. There was a moment of disorientation, and when I opened them again, the world was much larger. If you think a seven foot tall gnoll is big, wait till you're looking at him from the perspective of a foot long bat. I picked the rope up again in my mouth, and with a last squeak at a bemused Drachmir, flew into the night.
The rope wasn't too tasty, but it wasn't much worse then when I had a boyfriend with a taste for bondage, so I dealt with it. Worse was that I couldn't squeak my way to the top, so I had to rely on the ambient noise and my own eyes rather than a bats marvelous echolocation. Sigil's perpetual smoky haze did not help. Still I managed to reach the roof I'd chosen without too many contusions, so I suppose I should be happy for small mercies.
Getting the rope to stay still while I changed back to human form was tricky, but I eventually wound it around some old gargoyle a half dozen times before changing back and grabbing it again before it unwound. I took my bearings, and then tossed the rope down to Drachmir. He clambered up pretty quickly, despite the chain-mail, so I guessed he was as strong as he looked. Good to know.
After the gnoll was up here, we clambered over roofs a bit till we reached the covered garden where Wei Minh Lee kept his elixirs of long life. The catch was that the roof was oaken slats at least six inches thick.
"Well, we're here." I gestured to the roof. "Lee's elixirs should be right below us."
Drachmir nodded, and before I could tell him there was no need, gripped one of the wooden slats in both hands, digging his claws into the material. His chain shirt had short sleeves, so even under the sandy-colored fur I could see the muscles bunch and tense. I could've traced every line of his arm. I decided to sit back and enjoy the show.
A few seconds past, I heard the splintering of wood, and Drachmir wrenched the slat away. I clapped politely, causing the gnoll to grin again. He had a very charming grin. Once one slat was gone, the others went in short order.
"You know, I could've just taken mist-form and floated through." I commented archly.
"A gentleman always opens a door for a lady," came the waggish response. I laughed, and dropped through the entryway thus created.
The chamber was empty, although the scent of divine power was overwhelming. Rumor told that Wei Minh Lee got his elixirs by steeping water around one of the apples of the immortality, of the Norse gods. Seemed it was true. All the pulsating, vibrant life was anathema to me, but I choked down the bile and gave the all-clear to Drachmir above. In short order, he shimmied down the rope to join me.
One advantage of having a gnoll and a vampire as thieves is that neither of us needed much light. I could see the apple in its font of life-giving water, and also small vials packaged and ready for sale, sitting atop a simple stone table. They were almost close enough to touch, but I resisted. The chances of the font not being trapped were too low to be considered.
Briefly pondering, and with a quick nod to the gnoll, I took the shape of a bat again. Perhaps, if I can fly across and bring the vials back one by one, we could avoid any pressure plates or trip-wires Lee could've planted. I'll admit I underestimated the canny old bastard. It nearly killed me.
As soon as I picked up the first vial in my little bat-claws, it was too late. Underneath the vials was a tiny arcane glyph. It was a spell-symbol, though not of death or insanity, for which I thanked my lucky stars, but one almost as malevolent. Pain.
Agony like I'd never known in a century of existence wracked my body, a multitude of fiery needles piercing my flesh. It was almost a physical force, rocketing me back, to the floor and to my own, natural form, a number of precious vials breaking in the drop. There was a screaming as I felt worms eat me from the inside out, and I realized it was my voice. A low, mournful howl from behind me told that Drachmir had gotten the full force of the spell-glyph also.
Think. I forced myself to think through the pain. My eyes were beginning to mist over as the vicious pain tore through me. Mist! That might just work. Concentrating, I transformed once more, this time taking the shape of a mist, a dark vapor on the floor. Slowly, the pain faded away. Mist-form is strange. You don't really see, or hear, so much as feel the air. I could sense the thunder of feet. This night was getting worse by the moment. Still, first things first, get rid of the spell-glyph.
It was still pulsing with a malevolent energy as I coalesced around it, thickening and blocking the line of sight between the glyph and Drachmir. The gnoll stopped his howling, and showed enough presence of mind to unsheathe the claymore at his back and bring it down on the spell-glyph. It didn't hurt me in the least, one advantage of being a mist, but it did a number on the stone beneath the glyph.
Abruptly, the pain faded, though a few twinges remained. Unfortunately, the same moment brought a dozen guards through the door, big, tough men with spears and scale mail, not really who we wanted to meet tonight.
"Keep them busy, I'll get the vials." I said to Drachmir. No time to really think, I grabbed as many of the vials of elixir as I could before heading upward.
The guards, meanwhile, were confronted by the unpleasant visage of a seven and a half foot tall gnoll, a demon with the head of a hyena and smiling with enough teeth to chill a dead man. A six foot long sword also helped the image. The paused for a moment, but to be fair, Wei Minh Lee hired good guards, and they attacked.
I didn't really pay attention to the battle that followed, other than to get as many of the vials as I could onto the roof, though I did have to stop once when a guard with a broken spine flew across the room. Pity stirred in my breast for a moment. So much wasted blood…
Finally, all the vials were gone, and I returned to help Drachmir. He was a doughty fighter, nothing can be said otherwise, but he was still not having the best night of his life. About half the guards were dead, bisected by the sword or suffering from broken spines or necks. One sorry soul had his throat torn out. It seemed Drachmir's teeth weren't just for show. Still, he'd been stuck a few times by those spears, and the survivors were keeping a distance.
They weren't, however, prepared for what happened next. I dropped down behind them, an apparition like a sexy goddess, if I do say so myself, pale as moonlight and swift as death. A gaze persuaded one guard to turn on his fellows, and I grabbed another in my hands. I may look all sweet and slender and fragile, but dead muscles have their perks. Besides, I was hungry.
This broke the guards. A ravening engine of hyena-like destruction was one thing, but they weren't being paid enough for beautiful women to start feasting on them. By the time I'd finished my impromptu snack, the room was empty except for me and Drachmir.
"Let's get out of here?" The gnoll asked. I licked the blood from my lips and nodded.
After the spell-glyph and the guards, the rest of the escape was downright anti-climactic. Whatever distraction Shemeska had arranged, it seemed to have occupied most of the guards. Good to know that. In no time at all, we'd left the Lady's Ward and were heading through the back-alleys of the Lower Ward. We were swaying slightly as we walked, drunk on sheer excitement, but not even the craziest cross-trader was willing to risk robbing a giant gnoll and a vampire thief.
"That went well." Drachmir murmured as we walked past the Great Foundry.
"Mmm…. Exciting, we ought to do it again some time." I was pleased with the night. I was fed, I was still alive, relatively speaking, and the visions of Shemeska's pay danced before my eyes.
"I'll tell my clerk." The gnoll joked as I snorted a laugh. I couldn't help it, Drachmir had this trick of saying things with a perfectly straight face that just got to me. Almost as a passing though, he wrapped on of his long arms around my shoulder. I smiled a little to myself as I scooted in to press against Drachmir. He continued talking as he held me close. "That was quick-thinking with the glyph."
"Thanks. You didn't do so bad either, Drach." I tapped my fingernails on his chain mail clad torso, looking at the haze that passes for a Sigilian sky. "You know… Shemeska won't want the elixirs till morning, and its not quite midnight."
Drachmir grinned like a little boy, or at least a little boy who had the teeth of a hyena. He squeezed my shoulders gently. "Care to… relax while we wait?"
"I think I can work with that," I teased. "Your place or mine?"
We settled on his place, it being closer than my little hideaway in the Hive. Besides, a coffin wasn't exactly suitable for what we had in mind. Drachmir lived in a little apartment a smithy in the Lower Ward, a building covered in razorvine and notable for having some very unique tenants. I'm pretty sure we passed a Lamia on the stairwell. His rooms were small, but clean, and there was a faint smell of soap that my sensitive nose picked up. It seemed that like its owner, the room suggested one thing by its exterior, but was considerably more inside.