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A Drop of Life

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Janet, an owl-woman, and Moggin, a briar-troll, brought death to the essence-furnaces on the eve of their daughter's birthday.Moggin, his mule's tail tied in a careful elf-knot, wasn't carrying the death very well. He was keeping it in a large, awkward pot and some of it was spilling over the sides, causing his arms to bleed."Careful," Janet said. "We don't need you hung up in bed all day."--Some excerpts from the Fraternity of Order's Bestiarae Planarae:Owl-women have owl's feet and wings and eyes, and dusky Semitic features. They revere magic and witchcraft, and worship a goddess they made in their own image. They are found in the following places:The Outlands, especially Faunel, Glorium, Torch, Plague-Mort, Bedlam, Hopeless, and EcstasyElysium, near the City of the StarAsgardAlfheimJotunheimThe Gates of the MoonPandemoniumKarasuthraOlympusMalbolgePhlegethos (in Inanna's realm and other protected areas)Minauros (in the vicinity of Aeaea)Pluton--Briar-trolls are, of course, a particularly small, humble breed of fensir. They are completely unimportant, even in their native realm of Jotunheim.--Jan and Mog met in Sigil, where they've both lived all their lives. --To reassure her, Moggin flashed a pointy-toothed smile. "Don't you worry, Jan-my-girl. This pot's as secure as a giant's a -"(Splash)"- Oops."The pot of death splattered across the workshop walls and floor, eating into them slightly."Well, bullcog!" Moggin swore. He smiled again, this time ruefully. "Back to the Dusties, then." He turned to Janet in embarassment. "Come with, honey-pot?""Not if it were the very top of the multiverse, mouse-head." Janet glared at him, the effect somewhat spoiled by the spectacles sliding down her nose. "Which it most assuredly is not.""Fine, fine! Back in not even an hour!"--They got their supply of death from the Mortician’s Guild, a group of cowled and robed acolytes who taught their apprentices that all life was a cruel illusion. They captured the last entropic gasps from fresh corpses, boiled the stuff down into its basic essence, and sold it to those who had use for such things, as the Essence Furnaces surely did.The Essence Furnaces burnt a wide variety of such abstract substances - life, death, joy, misery, mathematics - to create their peculiar wares. Those who had to breathe the smoke the furnaces gave off swore that even coal was preferable, though Management swore the strange, multi-colored vapors were harmless. “They have passed through Fire,” they piously informed their employees. “And are thus made pure.” Management seemed a group of earnest, gray-clad men and women to most eyes, always smelling vaguely of ash. Jan thought they looked like owl-people, while Mog preferred to think of them as briar-trolls. Everyone who had seen their true forms cleaned their heads out with Water of Lethe as soon as possible.Overhead, a spurt of fire melted a cloud, sending a blast of warm rain over the cobblestones. The sky-gates, which appeared erratically in the clouds and smog, provided the city with most of its light, heat, and precipitation.Despite the Essence Furnaces, the Lower Ward was much more breathable since the war. When the portals reopened there were no more doors to the underworld here than anywhere else. There was a growing movement to call it the Common Ward again.The air was still filthy with industry’s exhalations.The Morticians had had to move from their old headquarters in the Hive when the portals there stopped working. One of the strangely shaped dabus towers built in the war’s wake turned out to have a sufficient amount of portals to the planes of garbage and grave, however, so the Morticians soon moved in, selling the old building to a synergistic Pelor/Nerull cult whose high priest was said to be an extremely ancient vampire.Walking back to the Guildhall Ward, where the Morticians were now based, would normally have taken most of the day, but Moggin had recently discovered a shortcut. He skipped through a patch of razorvine, the reflexes his people had honed helping him avoid the deadly leaves. Mog pulled a frog, whose name was Polly, out of his coat pocket and kissed it. A portal exploded into life.Moggin, who had a slightly poetic bent despite all his wife’s attempts to eradicate it, always thought of the swirling planar energies as the essence of pain. Not that walking through portals hurt; Mog imagined the pain was that of the city, weeping at its unexpected new wound. Whispering an apology to the Lady, Moggin stepped through.On the other side was the Nephilim Quarter, where an isolationist community of aasimar lived. They all claimed descent from a single celestial ancestor, though no one family could agree on what his or her name had been. They associated with one another only so to lessen the risk of thinning their hypothetical bloodlines through congress with other races. They organized their own volunteer militias to help keep outsiders from settling there, although they seemed unconcerned with actually fighting crime. As a result, the Nephilim Quarter was a strange, lawless place; a startling monochrome blot in the midst of Sigil’s polychrome diversity. Moggin crossed through it quickly, trying not to make eye contact with the locals. The more fundamentalist ones were veiled in any case, but some walked through the quiet streets with their bone-white faces bare.After a nervous twenty minutes, Moggin came to the next portal. Rummaging through his pouches, he found a few grimy gray feathers and a bit of coal. He threw them in the air.Portal-light spilled into the dim alleyway. Moggin stopped for a moment, backed up a few steps, and ran through.He landed awkwardly on a narrow spiderweb path several hundred feet above the ground. The path had been originally spun by bebeliths some time ago, but local Hivers had been patching it so long that its evil taint had been smothered beneath layers and layers of whatever it was the Xaositects were thinking at the time.This part of the path was bright blue and embedded with polyhedric dice. Moggin got up and began to walk, trying to avoid the points of the four-sided ones.There weren’t very many people on the spiderweb path at this time of day. Moggin saw a green-haired tiefling walking with an ogre; a humanoid made of shadow herded a group of chattering magmin; a gaggle of sneering crowboys jostled one another as they navigated the thinner webs in as unsafe a manner as possible; a group of reptillian creatures with gliding flaps of skin were launching themselves into the air. Some celestial rats skittered out of sight as he came near them, the afterimages from their haloes still hovering in the air.A gigantic eye peered through a gate in the clouds, followed by an equally gigantic pair of fingers. They went away.One last portal. Moggin came to a certain confluence of webs and sang a nursery rhyme to himself.“Death is a magus/"Death is a thief/"Death is the beginning and end of belief.”The portal spiralled open. Mog jumped in.He landed on his feet this time, in full view of the new Mortician’s Guildhall. It was never called the Mortuary, since that name was taken. It sprouted from the ground like a cyclopean mushroom, its doors and windows too large for any normal humanoid, with wings, horns, and spires appended on to it, giving it a patchwork feel. The dabus-built parts were surprisingly bright in color, an only slightly yellowed white, while the garish touches of the Morticians looked doubly out of place for their funeral tone. On the roofs were perched rows of idiot urds and sexless mephits. A gang of smoke mephits began quarreling with a flock of hairy arctic moogles, the loud cries of the moogles indicating who was winning.Mog gave the front door a soft knock.He tapped his foot and tail impatiently while he waited for someone to answer. Those Dusties thought they had all the time there was. Bastards.Finally someone opened the door. Seeing who it was, Moggin narrowed his eyes in suspicion. The human seemed suspiciously plump and healthy for a Dusty."What do you want?" the plump man snapped."I'm fresh out of death," explained Moggin politely. "I need to buy some more."Plumpy the Dusty pursed his lips in annoyance. "Do you want an essence or an assassination?" "Essence," said Mog. "Essence, please."Plumpy sighed heavily. "Come on, then." He opened the door wide enough for Mog to slip through."You've got to be quiet," Plumpy said loudly. "There's a funeral in progress. The spider-women are mourning the ritual sevenyear slaughter of the pigman. Everyone's there, so I'll have to get you your essence myself."The essence-of-death distillery was several basement levels down. A grell with a few tentacles missing was busy poking at corpses with various cups and metal rods with wires on them."A customer after essence," Plumpy told the grell, who apparently didn't count as one of "everyone." "How does the valve work again?"Silently, the grell showed him. "Oh, bugger this," said Plumpy, after several unsuccessful tries. He turned to Moggin. "Just go into the storeroom. Third door on the left."Moggin shrugged and followed the Dusty's instructions. Behind him, Plumpy and the Grell seemed to be having some sort of silent argument.The ceramic jars in the storeroom were unlabeled, so Mog assumed they must all have death in them. He chose one at random and brought it back to where Plumpy was. The path had changed slightly, but after a few panicky entrances into the wrong room he found his way back."That's forty-nine pennies," said Plumpy. Moggin paid him with a tiny piece of frystalline, and Plumpy guided him out. This was something of a relief, because new as it was Moggin feared getting lost in the Mortician's Guild. He was relieved to get back out in the daylight."Don't spill this one, Mog," he told himself as he carried the heavy jar back toward the factory. Because he was carrying something spillable he had to take a slightly roundabout path through the Petrified Wood, the Aspect of Rainbow Shrouds, and the Teardrop Domes, but he still knew enough portals to get back in short order.With luck, he should be able to finish in time to see his daughter slice her cake.Part II: Those Who WaitJeremiah Miles-Xeron Hawksmoor XIV was in a rotten mood. His head was dizzy from formaldehyde fumes, his ears were ringing from the yapping of mimirs, and his stomach was upset from the sight of all the rotting corpses.Officially, the temple wasn’t a mortuary anymore. The faction that had controlled it for uncounted millennia had disbanded, and the few portals left in it led to spots where dead bodies appearing out of nowhere would be awkward, to say the least. That didn’t mean its inhabitants had gotten over their zombi fetish. Sun god, hell. He’d seen more sun in the Lower Ward. Those frescoes they’d put up in front depicting a golden-skinned bearded man having his bowels collected by the Reaper weren’t fooling anyone. The locals knew - they still called the ancient building the Mortuary, and that’s what it was.And the corpses in it were piling up.The “temple priests” refused to give up any of their dead to the new Mortuary. They claimed it was an affront to their religion to let anyone but their gods have their corpses, and if their gods didn’t see fit to make the rotting piles of flesh and bones magically disappear, why, that was the gods’ affair and not that of the new Guilds.None of the strike-breakers and health inspectors dared to try and press the issue. Portals or no, Lady’s Edict or no, this was still the Mortuary and they didn’t want to cross it. The locals were certain the Old Mortuary was sentient. Not alive, of course, but not any more dead than those who worked there, and that didn’t stop them from scaring the pants off everyone. Probably why the Dusties wear robes, thought Jeremiah, not relishing the itchy sackcloth at all.There was a popular story about how a group of Sodkillers had tried to storm the place in the latter days of the war, and the building ate them. It belched out their animated remains and their discorporate souls as seperate squads of guardians, and the Dustmen didn’t even have a factol at the time.They still didn’t, but some of them expected him to come back. That was why the “priests’” real name was Those Who Wait.Those who didn’t expect him back had gone on to found the Mortician’s Guild across town in the Guildhall Ward, incorporating themselves with the Collectors and members of all religions, sects, and former factions who were concerned with preparing meat-cases for the afterlife.Jeremiah still wasn’t sure why he was stuck with Those Who Wait. Yes, he had gotten in a lengthy paternity suit with a medusa clan, but it hadn’t been that costly to buy them out. Yes, he had vomited on the dignitary from the Plane of Ooze, but it wasn’t as if she wasn’t used to grosser things. Yes, he had spilled that wagonload of Abyssal oils on the street, flooding a good portion of the Market Ward and ruining his brother Gilgamesh’s profits for that season, but they couldn’t really have expected anyone to drive a truck full of ichor that foul without a few fortifying drinks.The problem, Jeremiah reflected, was that his father was an anal-retentive control freak. A man that stupid and hide-bound should not be one of the richest men in The Lady’s Ward. It wasn’t good for him, or those who had to be around him. “I need someone to look after Those Who Wait,” said Father, using that Tone of Voice he used to order servants around.So Jeremiah went. It was that or be cut off. As if Father had any more right to their family’s money than any other member of the family.So far he had found sod all. What were Those Who Wait doing with their time? Waiting, and preparing corpses to animate. That was it. Sod it all, and sod Father too.There was a knock on the door of his cell. Probably the coffin caller, ready to give him more orders. Jeremiah got up, reluctantly. "What is it now?" he moaned, turning the knob.The door swung open on its own accord, catching him in the jaw. Before he could do more than cry out, he had been picked up by two gigantic skeletal creatures with tough green hide over their bones. Their touch was icy and draining, their gaze terrifying. Devourers, he thought, appalled."What is this?" he shouted. "What happened? What did I do this time?"His captors didn't answer. They simply carried him down into the darkness, the unlighted areas beneath the workshops. Flight after flight they carried him, seemingly without effort. How far into the Cage did the Mortuary extend? Pretty damned far, it seemed. Jeremiah's arms had long since grown numb, and now he didn't think he could feel his torso either. He didn't think he could feel anything.They took him deeper into the darkness. He passed out.Part Three--Their glow spiralled down to street level. They released voices into it.- DiD yOu tAStE it?- dID yOU SmeLl it?- VastEN It? VaRish it? SkrEn?- iT?--They glided out of the corners of local space. Yes, nodded one.A disturbance, confirmed the other.They glided back to where they rested, to argue.--They stretched their vulture-like necks, awakened from their meditations."Kraa?" one sputtered. She looked around wildly. "Did you feel old times coming back?""Old times don't come back," said her younger sister. "Go back to sleep.""Sleep? Kraaa! I was meditating!""Of course you were, Andromeda. But it was just a portal opening. They disturb you all the time. Return to your meditations.""Kraa," Andromeda said sulkily. Then she drifted off.--Lanky blue-skinned giants turned from their contemplation of the serial helm. "Indeed?" said one."It seems so," another admitted.The first squinted through his jeweled eyepatch, observing worlds beyond the one in which his body resided."There."--"I don't mind telling you, Tone," said Moggin to his friend. "I think she's overreacting."Tone was a red-skinned creature with four arms. She was tall for one of her people, who were called xill."It was your spawn's birth-reenactment, yes?" Tone had trouble with humanoid reproduction. She didn't mind it, but the details of it were hard for her to grasp."Basic'ly," said Moggin. "Basic'ly you're right. An' I was just an ickle bit late, too. Not my fault the invisible stalkers decided to have a parade that day. I got distracted, trying to watch it. Only natural. Quite the challenge.""I imagine so," said Tone, in a slightly bewildered voice."But what'd she call it? An interdiction. Seems overly formal to me. Joe didn't mind.""She is not yet sentient?""Ha! Little Nightdiver? No, she's only a year old. Just a whelp, or a chick, or whatever young owl-trolls are supposed to be called. Pretty little thing.""As you say.""Got her mother's feathers, our Nightdiver. And my mother's face. Only younger, you know.""Younger, yes. That makes sense.""Right! 'Cause she was just born a year ago. Smart thinking."Tone didn’t know what to say to that, so he said: “So what will you do?”“The usual,” said Mog. “Wait for her to cool off. She doesn’t rage long. She tries, but she’s not cut out for it. She’s a good woman, really, it’s just her nerves. Terrible nerves, she has.”“I’ve heard of nerves,” said Tone.“They’ve heard of you, too,” said Moggin, nodding seriously.They both turned their heads as an adolescent xill ran up to them. “Mother!” she cried. “You’ve got to report to the Works! Management is having a dreadful row!”Tone quickly rose to her feet. “What’s the matter?” she asked.“Someone’s messed up the Death Furnace! They’ve burnt something else in them! The whole burning is ruined!”Tone sighed and looked at Moggin. “Do you know anything about this?” she asked.Mog slapped his forehead. “Oh, me,” he said. “I stopped for olives on my way back to work. Must have gotten the jars confused. I hope Nightdiver didn’t want olives on her cake.”Part Three (or four)Jeremiah awoke surrounded by flickering shadows. His heart jumped into his throat, then relaxed when he realized they were cast by ordinary candlelight. Then he realized that some of them weren't, and his nervous heart jumped again. He thought desperately of his son, who was imaginary. That always comforted him.As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, the shadows grew more distinct, which was unfortunate."Where is it?" one hissed. It was one of the devourers."Where is what?" said Jeremiah, a bit too quickly. "The Drop of True Life. What have you done with it?"The devourer's ribs parted, revealing organless shadow inside. The creature caught Jeremiah's look. "Oh, no," it said. "There hasn't been a visitor inside me for ages. Not for ages. I was just airing them out." It looked slightly embarassed."You weren't," rasped its twin. "You looked hungry to me.""Never!" said the other. "Not for ages!"Another figure cleared its throat, or in any case its jawbone. Its garments were appropriately somber and succinct, but of very fine material. That, as much as the glow in its eyes, its aura of terrible cold, and the runes carved on its bones, identified it as a lich.Some of the shadows that weren't created by the candlelight gibbered."Jeremiah Hawksmoor," the lich said very carefully, its incorporeal tongue enunciating each syllable like the words to a particularly delicate spell. “You recently came into posession of something extraordinary. We know this. What did you do with it?”Desperately, Jeremiah tried thinking of his imaginary son, who he secretly wished had been born a girl. That had always disappointed him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he gasped.The lich paused, as if listening to something in the darkness. “Yes,” it said. “Go on.”“I’ve been in Embalming all day. Was it something in one of the corpses? The goo is all still on its way to the Goo Room, unless the zombies have already shoveled it in.”The lich paused again. “No, it wasn’t something in one of the corpses.”Apart from some shadowy gibbering, there was an awkward silence.“I’ve been in Embalming all week! I don’t know how to help you! You can search my cell!”More silence. “You have been in Embalming all week,” the lich repeated. “Something extraordinary came into your posession. It was not in one of the corpses. We have searched your cell. It was not there. You don’t know what we’re talking about.”Another pause, this one filled with muttering, as if all the room’s inhabitants were repeating this information in their own semi-private monologues.“Escort him back to his cell,” said the lich at last. As Jeremiah began to black out again, his last thought was: Why do they always have to use the devourers?Part Five:Janet was in the nest, a cozy little kip woven of wicker and straw set above a paint store in the Lower Ward.She comforted her bawling kid using a simple ventriloquism cantrip. "There, there," said Rasputin the Mouse. Nightdiver liked Rasputin the Mouse."I don't know why you don't just eat him," Sarah griped. The other owl-woman was eying Nightdiver in an uncomfortably hungry way. My daughter is not food, Janet thought angrily. Neither is my husband. Not like that, anyway."He's not like that," said Rasputin the Mouse."Talk to me through your mouth, Janet," Sarah said, her mouth pursing."He's not like that," repeated Janet.“Not like William, you mean.”“We don’t talk about William,” said Rasputin. Nightdiver gurgled.“Never mind,” Sarah sighed. “Let us shriek!”Rasputin the Mouse shrieked.Nightdiver shrieked.Sarah shrieked.They shrieked in harmony, except for Rasputin and Nightdiver, and the strange voices in the air’s shapes and shine.All in all, they were all more concerned with the unexpected voices coming in the air. Except Nightdiver, who was oblivious, and Rasputin, who was just a mouse enspelled with a cantrip. For one thing, the emphases were all wrong.When they couldn’t find what they wanted, the voices tried taking everything away and checking underneath. But that still didn’t work.Part Six:“You’ll never believe what happened at work, kolyarut-of-my-heart,” said Mog as he finally got home. “I accidently put a jar of olives in the death-furnace, and I had to spend hours cleaning it out. Isn’t that funny? Jan? Janet?”There wasn’t any reply. He didn’t even hear the little peeping noises his daughter Nightdiver made.Starting to get concerned, Moggin searched their nest. It was empty. The cake was unsliced.How nice of them to wait for me, Moggin thought. Then he thought: No, I’m being worried. Then he thought: I’m sure they’ve already sliced the cake.“Janet!” he called, frantically. “Nightdiver! Your da’s home!”He checked their sleeping quarters. The straw was carefully woven and completely devoid of feathers or hair. Since they had moved in, this had never happened. He looked in the other rooms, more carefully this time. Everything was perfectly clean, and looked as if it had never been lived in. Even the cracks in the crumbling concrete foundation were gone, and the crumbling foundation was no longer crumbling.“What happened here?” Moggin asked the air.There was a shimmering in the air. Something like voices moved in it.-- YOu haD a jAR eArlEr, they told him. Moggin looked in the jar of olives. It was full of plums. Plums! He thought.-- WHere is tHe JAr? asked the voices.Moggin waved his arms meaninglessly. “Plum seller?” he guessed.Part Seven:Jeremiah was beginning to miss the formaldehyde fumes, and even the zombies. It beat waiting in his cell for Those Who Wait.What had happened back there? And what were they going to do to him?He thought to himself: I hate waiting.He thought: I hate Those Who Wait too.He thought about his imaginary son. His first day at school, going to the Civic Festhall or maybe the Hall of Speakers for classes. The Gymnasium this time. That would be nice. His son could be athletic.Jeremiah began to imagine his athletic son. He would bring home a tiefling playmate, and Jeremiah would smile and not be at all prejudiced. Maybe he would marry a tiefling when he grew up, and there would be a pit fiend at the marriage ceremony, to give the bride away.No. Rewind. Maybe his son would like to take classes at the Great Foundry...Next Part:They stepped through cracks in the dimensions, a great swarm of them. They stretched their wings and hissed.“Give us the Life!” ordered the shift-leader.“It’s no good,” said a blue-skinned giant. He sounded amused. “You’re a bit late.”“Kraa!” screeched a small, stooped, vulture-like humanoid.The shift-leader flapped its wings in concern. “What is this?” it demanded.“Everyone’s already gone,” said the giant. “The object with them. Thoroughly. It’s like nobody’s ever lived here.”“Kraa!” laughed the vulture. “You’re late for the party. Even later than us.”The shift-leader’s eyes widened. Its fellows began flapping their wings wildly. They vanished.The vulture looked at the giant. “I wonder how many others are coming,” she said idly.“I could tell you,” the giant said. “But there’s a price.”“Kra-Kraa-aa!” the vulture laughed. “Typical Arcane! You don’t know anything either.”“Typical?” the giant repeated. “Not me, Andromeda.”Andromeda scrutinized him carefully. “What’s your price, then? You gonna cut me in?” “No,” said the giant. He vanished.“Kraa!” Andromeda shouted at the air. Then she hunched her shoulders and sighed. “Better get crackin’, we’re behind already. The next visitors can figure things out for themselves. I‘ve been laughing at them long enough.”--“What did you do with my family?” Moggin asked the glimmerings as they hurried back to the plum-sellers.-- ThEY hAve bEen uNcreaTed. tHeY wILL be ReCreAted wHeN wE hAvE the JAR.“Oh,” said Moggin, walking faster. “What’s in the jar, if I may ask?”-- sOmEthiNG We haVe NoT CreaTeD.“Do you encounter that sort of thing very often?”-- NO.“Huh. And you’re great friends with the Lady of Pain too, I take it?”There was no reply to that. Moggin felt a small amount of satisfaction.--The drop of life, meanwhile, was sitting quite happily in a jar in the arms of the mortician called Plumpy. He had meant to give it to the briar-troll, but had gotten distracted by one of his episodes. It was as if someone was thinking about him. He opened the jar now, and was quite surprised with the result.--The various players psychically aware enough to notice this began complaining, loudly, at anyone within earshot.--An undead Inquisitor released Jeremiah from his prison. It did not answer his questions, but it led him down to the shadow council of Those Who Wait."We are trying to decide," said the lich, when he got there. "What to do with you.""Probably send me home in disgrace," Jeremiah said hopefully."Life, in this dried up husk of a multiverse, is a rare and valuable thing. It is not to be wasted on trivialities.""I agree," Jeremiah lied."Perhaps it is our fault, for not reading your potential and teaching you to control it, as we have learned to control our own... peculiarities. Until you learn control, you will never reach True Death."Jeremiah nodded disingeniously."If they were not currently so entangled in Ombidias' politics, we would send you to our brethren in the Sign of One. Does it surprise you we had connections with that former faction? We have connections with many things. You must know everything in life, in order to finally realize true Death. At least, so we currently believe. We seek further guidance."Jeremiah continued to bob his head, as if this would make the decrepit thing shut up and let him go."Still, there must be a punishment...""No," said the Arcane, stepping through his dimensional door.Jeremiah cocked his head. "Gil?" he asked."Yes, big brother," said Gilgamesh Hawksmoor. To Those Who Wait he said: "This has gone on far enough. You've lost the game; the prize has gone to another. Let's not be sore losers.""Your brother is an Arcane?" the lich asked in a puzzled tone that completely ruined the serene composure it had been affecting up to now."Half Arcane," Jeremiah explained. "Father commissioned the Arcane to make him an heir. They didn't reveal the details of it.""It wouldn't do for magicians to reveal their secrets," said Gil. "Indeed," said the lich. Behind it, things gibbered incredulously. "Shall I assume you're going, now?""Right," said Gil. "Come on, Jeremiah. You have a surprise waiting for you at home."----- yOu DIdn'T HAVe iT!" the voices in the air shrieked at Moggin.-- YoU wERe mEaNT tO HavE it!"Life can be funny, sometimes," said Mog.In a rage, the voices deleted Moggin from existence. For good measure, they also erased the inhabitants of several city streets.They contemplated their error from a Maze.--"So," said Jeremiah, reclining on a velvet couch in his family's Sunset Room. "You're my imaginary son?""Apparently," said Plumpy. "You're fatter than I imagined. And older.""Your imagination is very... nutritious. So I'm told.""Yes," said Jeremiah. "I have got to work on that." He sighed. "Would you like to go to a ball game or something?""I don't think so," said Plumpy."Yeah," said Jeremiah. "Me neither." He leaned back and sipped his wine."Too much effort," said Plumpy."My thoughts exactly," said Jeremiah.

Nemui's picture
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It took me two full readings to rea ...

So this, at long last, is the story that reveals the ultimate dark of the Cage - why Dusties wear their robes... I knew the truth had to be out there...

I just love how you paint the new Sigil. Cagers, wards, going-ons...
Kolyarut-of-my-heart.
Rasputin the Mouse.
Devourers on diet.
Life can be funny, sometimes.

The sentient Mortuary reminded me of another story ... I know you like China Miéville, so have you read his "Reports of Certain Events in London"? The one about wild sentient streets, Viae Ferae? Not really directly related to this, but sort of Sigilian anyway.

Nemui's picture
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It took me two full readings to rea ...

A couple of questions, though:

Why is it that the drop of True Life was not supposed to exist any more?
Is it because the Dustman credo is theoretically dead these days, or is the drop just one of those Mystical-Stuff-From-Dawn-Of-Time things?

Was Mog's spilling of the first batch of death at the beginning of the story important in some way?

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It took me two full readings to rea ...

'Nemui' wrote:
Why is it that the drop of True Life was not supposed to exist any more?

The Dustman creed is that True Life died, and the current cosmology is the result of that. No one is really alive anymore, so the best that can be hoped for is True Death.

The question is, what would happen if a piece of True Life was found to still exist? Might the Dustmen allow themselves to hope?

We can presume that all the factions involved in the story were, to some extent, Dustmen.

Quote:
Is it because the Dustman credo is theoretically dead these days, or is the drop just one of those Mystical-Stuff-From-Dawn-Of-Time things?

The latter.

Quote:
Was Mog's spilling of the first batch of death at the beginning of the story important in some way?

Only in that it forced him to make a special trip to get another one. If that hadn't happened, he could have used the one that came with the regular shipment (which is handled by people whose job it is to do so, and not the regular factory workers).

And yeah, I've read the China Miéville story. I wrote the first few paragraphs of this story in 2001, around the same time that I was reading Perdidio Street Station. It was intended to be an entry in Planewalker's "After the War Fiction Contest." In 2002 I wrote a new outline for it. I didn't actually finish writing this until early 2004 or so, soon after I forced myself to write detailed bios for all the major characters; I posted it to the Realms of Evil forums in installments.

My Meatwalker's Guild fragment was written after this, and is kind of a sequel.

Anarch's picture
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Joined: 2004-05-19
It took me two full readings to rea ...

Are the variantly-capitalized beasties a specific reference? Or are they just fun (and en-Mazed)?

Nemui's picture
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Joined: 2004-08-30
It took me two full readings to rea ...

'ripvanwormer' wrote:
The question is, what would happen if a piece of True Life was found to still exist? Might the Dustmen allow themselves to hope?

If it still exists, why is it in a jar of death essence?

I was under the impression that the drop was somehow harvested from a corpse, perhaps one that reached TD, and got stored in place of the (normally harvested) death essence.

Oh, and along the lines of Anarch's q. - are the "kraa" people kenku, tengu, aarakocra, or something else?

ripvanwormer's picture
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It took me two full readings to rea ...

The variously-capitalized beings are whichaways, as in my aborted novel attempt archived in the Chronicles section. They appeared in this story first.

They're something like dabus, only for the multiverse as a whole instead of just Sigil.

The "kraa" people are probably nagpas.

It's been a while since I wrote this, but I think the True Life was inadvertantly created by Jeremiah Hawksmoor.

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It took me two full readings to rea ...

It took me two full readings to really start to get what was going on - but it was a pleasure to figure out. You have a wonderfully bizarre narrative style.

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