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For There is a Hole in the Sky


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Shemeska the Marauder's picture

This takes place as an aside to the continuity of my storyhour, largely as an examination of things hinted at but never fully detailed and explored. However you can assume that the events of the story happened within the context of that storyhour's plot. Enjoy.

It was a foolish plan from the beginning. But it was something we had been tasked to do, and woe be it to us to disobey Vorkannis the Ebon. I suspect now that he knew all along what it was he was sending us into. After all, he knew things he shouldn’t. And even his so called betters had a rightly held fear of him. All those darks bottled up behind those eyes of his. Only an Arcanaloth they said about him. Advisor to Mydianchlarus and nothing more. I don’t know, and at this point I begin to not care.


Some doors are best never opened.


My warnings may never reach the planes. They like me, cast adrift in this ocean of nothing and everything. At least the leaching of the Waste is for a rational purpose…


Twenty of us began it all, stepping through a gate conjured forth by Kelvas ap Talreth, the Arcanaloth and nominal leader of our group. He had fallen out of favor within Khin-Oin, and very likely this was either a death sentence for him, and we the sacrificial lambs along with him to be heaped upon the Ebon’s altar, or a method for him to prove his continued worth.


As a Nycaloth I was there to scout ahead for the group, and also to keep a firm grip upon the mortal wizard sent with us. His name wasn’t important. Only that he had been at one point, close to where we had been sent towards. The man was white once we passed through that gate, and his mood grew more nervous and reserved the further we traveled. I should have figured there was a reason for his fears besides the verbal barbs that Kelvas enjoyed whispering into his ears about how he would be killed after we found what he would lead us towards.


Into Pandemonium we had been sent, and the moment we passed through that rip in the planes, that gate, the roar of wind howled through our ears. All around us it roared, like the shriek of some mad mortal, shattered in spirit, or a dying power howling out its last curses at the planes.


But that would have implied a reason and order to the winds of lament. But alas, it was Pandemonium and so close to the root of chaos as it was, sandwiched between the Abyss and Limbo, there was little chance of that.


To the second layer of the plane we had been sent, to Cocytus, to a place called ‘The Harmonica’. I had heard of it, but never more than in rumors. And as always, being only a Nycaloth I was only given information by my so called betters to fill in select portions of the reason we had been sent.


Kelvas knew more, of course he did, or so he claimed. Like all of his caste, he was full of bluster and claimed secrets. He said the layer appeared to have been carved by hand, and indeed as we clambered through the pitch black passages, all worming their way through the rock, the walls did seem to bare the marks of having been worked by tools. But how could that be possible? The planes just were, they weren’t built. And the tunnels were infinite, so how could they have been carved by physical beings?


But it was Pandemonium, so why try to make sense of it. Only Bleakers, Petitioners and Tanar’ri tried that. And all of them went mad or began that way.


Kelvas went on further, standing close to the human as he said this all, enjoying its effect on the wretch. He said that The Harmonica was a massive spherical cavern, some ten miles across and studded with enormous spiral columns all seemingly handcarved and riddled with holes to channel the wind and each produce a single pure note.


Even as he told us this, we could feel the rock beneath us shiver with the howl of that noise that waited for us there at The Harmonica.


It took us weeks to wind our way through the twisted passages of the layer, curling like the innards of some massive tangle of larvae. We toyed with the Howlers of the layer when in hunger they attacked us every few days. We were not mortals or petitioners for them to prey upon. They were sorely outmatched and they paid for their hunger with their lives.


All the while as we grew closer to the end of our task, the roar of the wind grew louder till our heads throbbed and Kelvas began to filter the throbbing with his magic. Bleeding ears and deafened spellcasters would not make our tasks any easier. But even with our heads clear of all but the most mind numbing notes from out of the darkness, we –felt- the sound in the ground and through our very bones.


I shrugged it off, as did Kelvas and the Mezzoloths. The latter were too stupid to care anyways. The human though had begun to cower and tremble in his sleep whenever we stopped to rest and he was allowed to sleep. It only grew worse when the passage began to widen and the noise, magical silence or not, began to resonate within our weapons.


That was when I knew we had nearly arrived at the heart of the winds.


The next day the rush and buffet of wind was enough to nearly knock us off our feet, and the walls around us vanished into the void of a massive cavern. The feeling of space all around us, dwarfing us was humbling after the weeks spent crawling within the tunnels of the plane.


That was when the human first said anything meaningful. He looked resigned and after a moment of contemplation turned to one direction, pointed into the darkness and spoke in barely a whisper that took magic for us to hear, “There. That way. I know which column to climb. It is marked.”


Despite the spells swirling around us, my body ached from the roar and blast of the winds and the sonic agony they carried. Each of them a single note, and while alone they might have had some meaning, all of them together was an incoherent madness. Meaningless, all of it.


The column was almost eight hundred feet across, carved and decorated with an abstract tracery of soaring figures, tiny fiends and celestials swirling around the base. For its skill though, the figures were not fighting and thus it was a joke if nothing else to my mind.


The human pointed to a wind-weathered symbol at the base, nearly polished smooth in the stone. Odd though. It was worn and not the carvings, for it was clearly engraved atop those. Almost like the stone was slowly regenerating itself to its original form.


We would recognize that same symbol later, and while I would not recognize it, Kelvas was to be shaken when he did. But we did not see that till later.


Kelvas prodded our human guide with a poison claw and we began to ascend the column, clambering over steps carved into its spiraling mass nearly double the size comfortable for our height. Even the Mezzoloths with their physical strength found it difficult.


Again, it was only Kelvas’s spells that kept us from being caught by the rumbling, screaming winds and hurled miles through the darkness to be dashed upon the cavern walls and killed. He kept us attracted to the stone, altering the gravity of the local area around us to let us climb.


Climb onwards we did, and the column’s carvings became even more elaborate as we clambered upwards with effort. At times the winds changed directions and pure single notes would erupt from the holes bored through the column, shuddering through the stone like the death throes of a power. The volume increased the higher we traveled, and as we did the mage grew more and more hesitant, a twitch of fear upon his face. The resignation was gone.


Finally, almost five miles up the face of the column, we stopped as the stairs ended and the stone rose up above us, no longer carved with holes but a dancing army of figures carved into the stone, cavorting upwards. And looking at the fringes of my sight, those figures no longer climbed upwards with looks of joy upon their faces, but began to turn as if to flee with looks of horror away from something further above beyond my vision, up there in the howling darkness.


But where the stairs ended, there was an archway carved into the column, with a winding passage climbing higher into the spire above us. Kelvas pushed the human through the door and he sprawled there upon the ground, whimpering and trembling.


I nearly did as well, for as he broke the border of that door I remember distinctly that for the briefest of seconds, the winds paused and it seemed as if every single hole in all of those columns there in The Harmonica at once issued forth their solitary notes simultaneously. I don’t know what it meant, not even now.


Inside the air was warm and the walls smooth and unadorned. I remember thinking then that we were close. I remember Kelvas laughing aloud and dragging the human to his feet, ordering him to lead us forwards. And the human did, his face disturbingly lacking that fear. He knew something. He had to.


We were not the first to trod the path we did. The burnt, melted, and partially fossilized bodies of a dozen or more Baatezu that littered the widening passage bore ample evidence of this fact. All of them died with looks of horror frozen on their faces.


We should have turned back. We should have fled and faced the Ebon’s wrath. It would have been better if we had…




But we didn’t. We didn’t dare to offend Him, our puppet master from Khin-Oin.  And so we continued.


The Mezzoloths took position and flanked Kelvas and I, and then surrounded the human as Kelvas ordered me to examine the corpses of the law tainted.


They had been there for centuries at least, desiccated and shriveled over the long years that they had lain there. They seemed to have been killed in a spell battle, as the blackened, scored wounds on most of them would indicate. Flames, acid, and for at least a quarter of them some manner of petrification magics.


I never thought I’d be standing in the depths of Pandemonium, staring into the blank gaze of a pit fiend turned to stone. Ancient though it was, the stone was pitted in places, and in others worn smooth by the unceasing winds.


I didn’t have much more of a chance to observe them before Kelvas pushed me aside impatiently. He gave them a cursory glance, lingering on the shape, depth and manner of wounds they had succumbed to before glancing back at me.


They hadn’t died from spells he claimed, but rather from ensorcelled weapons, likely swords and spears. All of the wounds were slashes or gouges.


I wasn’t convinced. Baatezu were immune to flames, yet half of them had burns lacing their bodies, but without the bubbling that would accompany acid. What would burn a Baatezu?


It wasn’t just the nature of the wounds; it was the looks upon their faces. None of them had died in a position of offensive combat. They had all died either running away from something, caught unaware, or cowering there against the walls. That pit fiend was himself cowering, locked in stone and torn half apart. What would make a pit fiend cower like an imp before an Abyssal Lord?


Kelvas was bothered, clearly so. He was pacing back and forth around the bodies and casting glances up the passage. The passage for its part was as pitch black as ever, with but a hint of wind blowing down to us. Outside the tumult continued on unabated, howling and screaming its maddening discord.


Kelvas sneered, growing more troubled as far as I could tell. His ears were twitching. They did that when he was nervous or frustrated. An old habit of his that he was never able to really control. He detested it because it gave away his feelings far too often and had relegated him from a deal maker to a scribe, and then here with us, cast away and banished in all likelihood to this gutter of a plane.


I broke the silence, as much as silence was a thing here with the raging winds outside. I asked Kelvas what the problem was, what was nagging him so.


He seemed on the verge of lashing out at me, or more likely the mortal. I’d called his bluff. But he composed himself and replied hesitantly, and mind to mind only, lest the lesser Yugoloths overhear.


Seems he had cast a number of spells upon the bodies. The bodies should rightly have dissolved and sent the essence of the Baatezu flying on wings of thought back to Baator to reform as the least of their kind. But for some reason they hadn’t. Concerned, he had whispered a ‘speak with dead’ incantation, and heard a deafening silence in return. There was nothing to answer him there in those shells of stone and withered flesh. He had then expended a part of himself to risk raising one of the lesser Baatezu, seeking to force it to answer his questions. And the spell had failed. Utterly. Not a sorcerer myself, even I knew that shouldn’t have happened.


Nothing normal had killed those fiends. I looked at Kelvas and replied what I thought. He nodded in return and went back to his thoughts, still staring at those terrified expressions locked into stone.


We stayed there for perhaps an hour or more, examining the bodies and searching for clues to where they had come from and when and for what. Time though had obliterated most of anything they had carried save for a few pitted blades and scraps of heraldry. Nothing to tell us a thing, save one torn bit of cloth half turned to stone along with an amnizu, huddled behind a pair of ravaged Osyluths. Kelvas was convinced the symbol it bore was the old symbol for the Lord of Stygia, the so-called ‘Prince’ Levistus. Except the style of the symbol clearly marked not Levistus as current Lord of the 5th, but the prince before his current internment into the heart of a glacier by the lord of Nessus. Levistus as he was millennia previous to now. Ancient.


Eventually Kelvas exhausted his ideas and search for information from the bodies, and not wishing to exhaust his spells, ordered us forwards once more.


I went on into the darkness with some trepidation, oddly noticing that the human had said nothing all this time. Even now I think he was smirking as I passed him up that damned tunnel. In hindsight, he’d condemned us with his silence.


The passage continued its upward slope, and eventually ended at a crest and leveled out to proceed forwards at a flat grade. Kelvas had paused and was looking at me.


His voice rung inside my mind again, expressing his concern that as far as he could tell from the passage ahead of us, there were no illusions, but that from the dimensions of the spike we had been ascending through all this time, the passage ahead of us couldn’t still be inside that pillar of stone. By all rights at fifty feet ahead the passage should have opened up into the open void of The Harmonica.


My eyes widened as I took note of that fact, and that contrary to it the passage stretched out flat beyond that point, and beyond the range of my own vision.


Self-preservation being at the root of our nature, I sent a trio of Mezzoloths ahead beyond that point. And nothing dire happened. The passage didn’t vanish or swallow them up. They weren’t incinerated by some long hidden spelltrap, nor did they plummet into a raging ebon windstorm. All seemed perfect, if inexplicable.


Some two hundred yards later the passage continued smooth and unmarked, with not a sign of anything odd, except that it yet continued freely without a mark. Then the human pointed us to a mark upon the wall.


Again, I think he had a smirk upon his face as Kelvas brushed past us all to look at the symbol.


The reaction that Kelvas had as he looked at the quickly carved rune upon the wall was disturbing. His features ran the gamut from bizarre curiosity to abject fear. Whatever it was, for I couldn’t see it fully yet, the Arcanaloth was nearly ready to touch it, reaching out his fingers to brush them over the stone before he came to his senses and paused.


I walked to his side, glaring at the human who quickly extinguished his smile as I did. Kelvas was furiously whispering spells and looking at the wall like it was some choice bottled soul of a mortal, ripe for a spell or sale to the other fiends. I asked him to explain, and five minutes of constant casting later he deigned to answer me, breathless with excitement, anticipation, and trepidation.


“Shekelor,” was the only thing he said at first, letting the syllables of the word sink in, but I didn’t recognize the meaning if he had intended for there to be any that I might understand.


Kelvas didn’t seem perturbed and rattled on, his excitement showing, talking to himself more than me it seemed. “He was a human mage of obscene power, leader of a faction in The City of Doors thousands of years ago.”


I nodded and Kelvas continued, “He and his kind devoured magic, fed off of it to sustain themselves, hoarded it and thought it the secret to everything in the multiverse. For mortals, not too terribly wrong.”


“But he grew more headstrong and arrogant even than an Archdevil, and sought to challenge The Lady of Pain Herself. Said he knew of a way to do the deed, an ancient wizard trapped in a great black gem called the Labyrinth Stone. She did nothing to him, and he left Sigil to find it in the depths of Pandemonium where he said he was certain The Lady had hurled the gem, unable to kill that fearsome mage of old.”


Kelvas pointed to the rune on the wall, “This is his mage rune! Shekelor’s personal sigil. Clear as the day he penned in into the wall!”


My eyes grew peery at the tale, and Kelvas smirked knowingly before answering my unasked question.


 “No. Shekelor never found the gem. Maybe two hundred years after he left Sigil, almost forgotten by his own faction, he appeared by way of a never before seen portal into Sigil glowing from within. As the portal closed behind him, he looked around confused and horrified in the middle of a surprised crowd as his skin shed light like a torch hidden inside his body. Screaming in pain he had only the time to bellow, ‘THE SPIDERS!!!’ before his body was consumed by flame from the inside out.”


Kelvas had a gleam in his black eyes as he continued, “None know where he went while he scoured Pandemonium for that gem. It’s a blank spot in arcane lore those centuries. He was powerful, even from my own perspective. Whatever it was that he found, whatever it was that was capable of killing the mortal fool, it would be invaluable.”


“At the least it could restore me to favor in the Tower of the Arcanaloths, or even give me the power to butcher my way back into a position of power.”


Kelvas was consumed by greed, as headstrong and blind as the mage whose rune was emblazoned on the wall. Kelvas didn’t hear the human chuckle to himself.


It all didn’t feel right. That rune was like a carrot dangled before the Arcanaloth’s jackal snout. And he was biting at the proffered prize. I was afraid, both at his ignorant zeal, the uncertainly of what was ahead, and the human’s dark snickering.


Kelvas led the way forwards from then on, with myself a distant second. He wasn’t even bothering to cast some of the appropriate spells to detect for traps or wards that he normally would as second nature. He was ignoring his own caution he usually displayed, casting only half of the spells he might normally use for protection and observation.


Maybe I was expecting more, something grander and more mysterious. Considering the carvings on the outside of the spike of rock we might have been within, or not, the passage was itself barren and devoid of carvings, writing, or any other ornamentation. It still wasn’t right though, and the human was lagging behind me, hiding that insane smile whenever I looked backwards.


Kelvas still strode forwards with the rest of us lagging behind. The Mezzoloths were growing nervous for some reason and I chastised them mentally, looking backwards to snarl at them.


My own feelings of superiority must have gotten the better of me, I assumed the Mezzoloths simply stupid and wary for no reason. A blank tunnel wasn’t a threat after all.


But as I looked back to snarl at them, the sound never cleared my throat because of what I saw. Not a blank tunnel.


For an instant it was there and then gone. But for that split second the tunnel was aglow with a faint, haunting phosphor light shed from the walls, covered, every inch of them, in runes and carvings. Then gone like a candle being snuffed. The Mezzoloths still chattered and droned, they still saw the walls and the carvings upon them. But neither Kelvas nor I did.


The human still smiled and walked forwards.


And then there it was… a room at the end of the passage, suddenly upon us, and I’d barely noticed it on the approach. Roughly circular, the walls and ceiling alike were studded with a few dozen other passageways; all seemingly identical to the one we had entered through.


The heart of the Harmonica, and there we stood within it. Like the center of a giant heart, vessels and arteries pumping the soul of the screaming winds out into the void; or the egg sack of some great beast at the center of a web. The other tunnels branched out randomly in all directions from us.


But those other passages were forgotten in an instant for what stood there suspended in space at the very center of the room. A doorway. A single, blank doorway hovering in open space. And it all felt wrong, except now that feeling was almost palpable.


A swirl of runes and symbols surrounded the door and in a ring surrounding it upon the floor above which it hovered. Those symbols, they hovered in the air, slightly blurred; and to look upon them was to feel your eyes burn if you stared too long. I’d never seen the letters before, nor had Kelvas it seemed. They resembled nothing I had ever seen. Though… perhaps the rebuses of the Dabus of Sigil. But no, that would imply too much…


The door was featureless but for the pale glow of diffuse light streaming out from its margins. But as we stepped forwards it shimmered and words emerged out of its center, engraved in the language of the Yugoloth. (Though the mortal claimed to see the words in his own tongue, for he read them out loud in a soft whisper)


"For there is a hole in the sky, and too long have I gazed."


It was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. That something that had killed the Baatezu, that same thing perhaps that had so terrified Shekelor before it had incinerated him to naught but ashes. That something had been watching us.




We had spread out around the chamber, encircling that doorway which hovered like a natural portal there in the center, but not daring to break the line of runes that ringed it. My worry was that they were wardings to keep out any intruders. Layered spells likely to turn the chamber into a fireball hotter than the furnaces of Gehenna. That was my experience anyways with magical traps. There was no reason to think it any different.


There was never a reason to think those wardings would all be turned and focused not outwards towards us, but inwards towards that door.


Kelvas circled the doorway three times, a look of amazement on his face, and he clearly was dumbfounded by what he was viewing. Not taking eyes off the door and its runes, the mental lance of his telepathy fired into my brain, his excitement overwhelming, “Its not an illusion, nor is it a portal, it simply doesn’t register as either of those. It’s there alright, and those wardings are… they don’t register as magical. I’m not touching them. That’s what the Mezzoloths are here for…”


He took a step forwards and motioned for one of the Mezzoloths. As he did so, while he didn’t cross the border of those runes, the hem of his robe must have lifted and kicked up dust from the floor, or caused the air over them to be disturbed. And they rippled like a skein of oil over a pool of water, flashing and glittering as they bobbed and hovered over the stone.


Kelvas drew back immediately as if he’d touched a scalding hot brand, and managed to lock his gaze with mine before the runes held rigid in place and rotated a quarter circle with a sound like that which proceeds the discharge of a bolt of lightning from a casters hand.


Be it a warning or exultation, I don’t know. But there it was. Whatever it was, it was suddenly upon us with a roar of flames sounding and echoing from every entrance into the chamber.


…"For there is a hole in the sky, and too long have I gazed."…


Without a sound that something simply appeared out of nothing in our midst and Kelvas, still with that look of sudden fear on his face, was sheared cleanly into two halves to sizzle upon the floor.


I’d never seen anything like it, even now it seems… antithetical to what lay beyond that door. It was like an insect or a spider of terrible beauty, of black precise glass or crystal that moved and shifted with every breath and every motion of it and us, like its form could not be fit exactly into the reality we occupied. And it burned with furious black flames licking around and off of its body. Without heat but it seemed to burn the very space it occupied. And I was afraid. I, a greater Yugoloth, I was terrified.


The mortal was screaming and staring aghast at it as I retreated and ordered the Mezzoloths to attack the creature. They would have done so unflinchingly except that the human had begun to glow, his skin casting light like a hundred candles, and his screams had gone from fear to agony.


I stepped back another pace and glanced around for the quickest path of retreat before a rush of light fixed my gaze towards the shrieking human as he burst into flames where he stood, an inferno consuming him from the inside out.


The Mezzoloths, normally headstrong for battle faltered and paused with Kelvas dead. I roared for them to attack the creature, and with a gesture I cloaked myself from sight. Not that it would appear to work.


The crystalline insect shimmered and seemed to partially leap, and partially teleport forwards, crushing the nearest Mezzoloth under its legs, and ripping into its chest as the smell of burning flesh permeated the chamber. The Mezzoloth’s screams, both physical and telepathic ended in seconds as the beast severed his head in a single motion on its glittering, burning mandibles.


The other Mezzoloths blindly attacked it, unwilling to disobey my orders since death would only send them back to Gehenna or the Waste. But to disobey me would mark them for a worse fate indeed. I wish now I could be so certain of that. I don’t think they ever left that chamber…


They stabbed at the spider, for lack of a better word to describe it, but their tridents and spears only passed through the creature like it didn’t exist, or were incinerated when they made actual contact with its frozen, black burning facets.


The sound of motion rang in my ears and looking up I saw a half dozen or more of the things perched within the entrances of the connecting passages; each of them a mirror image of the glittering abomination slaughtering my troops with impunity.


Another mental howl and a brilliant crackle of light turned my eyes back towards my troops. One of them was staggering with an arm sheared off at the elbow, yellow and orange light pouring from out of the segmented joints in its carapace. It screamed as its chest plates melted from the flames within, gouts of fire ripping through and immolating him in seconds.


Another of the Mezzoloths fell to the ground, cleaved into three pieces, the wounds instantly cauterized by the burning claws of the beast gouging out his chest.


"For there is a hole in the sky, and too long have I gazed."


It was over, it was all lost at that point. And the other spiders, like perfect glassy Bebeliths set aflame, they were all staring at me, tracking my movement despite the invisibility.


No exits left, all of them had been blocked. All of them except one. And with the death rattles of my own lesser kin flooding my ears and my brain, and their bodies not dissolving as they should to send their spirits back the planes of our birth, I had no intention of sharing their fate. And so I hurled myself at that door.


"For there is a hole in the sky, and too long have I gazed."


It parted like smoke as I breached the barrier of the runes. Like a portal it turned immaterial the moment I touched it and I was through. Escaped. Gone. Lost.


I cannot describe it in words. I lack the mind to fully comprehend it even as I now stare at the visions around me. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is as it should be.


I don’t feel my body anymore, I’m not even sure its there. Dead and gone like my companions there in the depths of Pandemonium. They at least are granted the oblivion I may never have as I sit and drift in the madness.


Outside. Lock away from anything that makes sense, anything I could rationalize. Order, Chaos, Good, Evil. None of them matter here. The concepts don’t apply. My essence a pocket of sanity, a bubble of meaning lost in the foam of this nothing and everything.


Things, they speak to me. Whispering and begging questions that have no answers, and answers with no question yet imagined to make them hold meaning. Not that it matters, they ignore me, and I am frightened of them. Accept that and don’t ask that I describe them. What they are, and what they aren’t is too terrible to inflict upon the multiverse which sits ignorant upon the threshold of this all. Locked away and protected, given purpose, and sheltered from the storm that rages here, outside.


The doorway is barred to me now, I cannot return try as I might. Watching here from where I am, I catch glimpses and images from places and times that have never been and never will be. Doors opening and slamming shut upon realities that die as soon as they are birthed, aborted for the sake of some nonexistent meaning.


Glimpses of this place seeping through the cracks, insinuating itself into the depths of a hundred thousand worlds and minds before it shrinks away from the light or the dark, before it is sheared off, hacked and gouged to retreat, bleeding, back to this nothingness.


Whoever, wherever I am, whoever wherever you are, beware. Content yourself with the struggles of the planes, things that have meaning, that define themselves and give your reality substance. Some doors are locked with a purpose, barred to keep us safe, vaults sealed to keep us inside sheltered and oblivious. Some doors are best never opened.


If anyone hears me, beware, leave some mysteries unsolved, some doors locked tight. They’ve ignored me too long, and soon they will come to devour what little of me remains. I…


"For there is a hole in the sky, and too long have I gazed."

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