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How the Imaskari Created Sigil

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ripvanwormer's picture

I am a proud citizen of Imaskar, the Empire of Portals. You've neverheard of it, I presume? I thought not, but it was famous once. Listen,please, to my story, a tale of epic foolishness and tragedy.   With our empire so vast, stretching across so many worlds - and it did,from the Elemental Planes to the Outer and across many Primes - itbecame clear that our old capital would no longer suffice. We neededsome place more… centralized; some place designed to handle trafficfrom any number of planes; some place free from any possible influenceof the meddlesome Powers.   It was obvious that only one sitewould do. In the Center of the Center of the Multiversal Tree the AxisMundi stood, the indestructible trunk upon which the Tree hung. Eventhe Powers were helpless before it. No magic could exist there.  Yet the Imaskari, with all our power, would find a way to build in thatplace, in the nothingness above the Axis where matter, energy, space,time, even thought itself become the most absolute void.   Asoft place was found, a place where power could be brought to a placethat could have no power, a paradox at the absolute center of thecenter of the center.   The brilliant engineer Rathecine,assisted by the entirety of the academy of spatio-temporal-planarengineering, constructed the outer shell, a massive shining ring ofspellstrengthened marble. Gravity was bound to its inner edge by theevoker Lyrrish. The workings were complex, far beyond any that had everbeen attempted, but Rathecine worked like a woman inspired, evenpossessed by Forces far beyond anyone’s comprehension, even that of thepetty Powers who claim so many things of their wisdom and might. Yetthe genius was purely of mortal origin, wasn’t it?   Now,after all that has happened, I wonder. What was it about this place inthe Center of All that contaminated the plans of our best andbrightest, the inheritors of the sum total of the knowledge of ourrace? Were the plans ever truly theirs? They were shielded frominterference by the Powers, and the Powers would never have created aplace that they themselves were forbidden from entering - then whatcould it have been?   Was our empire ever anything but a means to an end?  The architecture of our new capital had been meticulously planned,intended as it was to mimic the sigils representing all the planes ofthe multiverse as well as the cycle of the Zodiac, unifying thecosmology as if all the planes fit into the same great hypotheticalWheel. Many portals to the planes the sigils represented were openedalong the length of each structure in order to ease the flow of trafficonto our capital’s broad streets. The city below - the sewers,aqueducts, storage, and maintenance tunnels - perfectly reflected theshapes found in the city above, its own portals providing the capitalwith air, water, and waste disposal. The design was astoundinglycomplex, yet it all fit together in an eye-pleasing way that wasultimately very logical and easy to navigate.   Because ofits design, because of the greater design that it formed and itsessential role completing the design of our empire itself, we called itSigil. We were very proud of it.   When the buildings werefirst set in place, everything seemed as we had imagined it, ourblueprints and conceptual drawings brought to life, heart-wrenchinglybeautiful in marble and precious metals.   Then we started getting lost.  Not just turned around, not just confused by a place we weren’t yetused to. The very people who had designed the city began discoveringdead ends and cul-de-sacs where there shouldn’t have been any, placesthat weren‘t on any of their maps. They discovered entire buildings -entire streets full of buildings, extending much further than shouldhave been possible, further than where Sigil’s boundaries should havebeen, extending further than we could explore deep into an urbanhinterland that couldn’t possibly exist. The size of the city’s marbleshell hadn’t changed, but the size of the area inside it seemed to havegrown geometrically.   From the air, the city’s sigils were no longer perfect and still. Though this wasn’t detectable from the ground, they writhed as if they had a life of their own.  At that time, the new places weren’t populated. At least, not as far aswe knew. The city still belonged solely to Imaskar. The paths the citydescribed was wrong, but the basic design was still ours. We blamed theconfusion on our own people, and we didn’t yet worry that we might havebuilt something we couldn’t control. This was an unexpected feature,but not necessarily a bad one. We could easily turn all the new spaceto our advantage, once we had built facilities to service it. We didn’tyet worry that our new capital might be our doom.   Then webegan to notice anomalies in the portals even in the city’s deliberatesections. The doors were leading places they shouldn’t have led,sometimes places we, in all our empire’s exploration and colonization,didn’t know existed. Places that couldn’t exist, not accordingto everything we thought we knew about the cosmology of the multiverse- places that were widdershins or upside down compared to the planes weknew, where the very stars and celestial orbs were wrong. Those of uswho lived in our new capital began to find it difficult to communicatewith the rest of our empire, or even to find it. Water and aircontinued to flow in and out of the capital, but we know longer knewthe source of these things, or their destination. Other things began toarrive with them, substances that weren’t water or air or anything wecould identify.   This development heralded the beginnings ofthe first mass panic. The city had been meant to allow all parts of ourgreat empire to easily communicate with every other part, but now itseemed to do the opposite, to separate us, to banish us to this strangeplace we no longer were sure we could trust. Instead of a city ofdoors, it began to seem like a cage.   The archbuilders putdown the riots ruthlessly. They repaired the portals’ dweomers andtheir functionality was restored, and along with it, peace.   Foolishly, we let ourselves relax.  Then came the Strangers. Cloaked, cowled figures who might - or mightnot - have been humanoid. They were simply there one morning,everywhere, drifting not walking along the streets and entering andleaving the strange, alien buildings that had sprung up alongside ourown. They never spoke, and nothing we could do would even cause them tonotice us. The temperature of Sigil dropped from the balmy summer wehad designed to a cool autumn. The chills we felt from that were muchmore than physical. There were rumors of one Stranger, larger and morefearsome than the others, its body studded with terrible blades.  We panicked again, and again the riots were ruthlessly put down. TheStrangers weren’t real, the archbuilders assured us. They were a masshallucination, and once we adjusted to the exotic climate of ourcreation they would fade away.   Yet the absurdly tall, spikybuildings that were their homes were solid and real. We could enterthem and observe the spectral Strangers going about their daily lives.Worse, they were old, pitted and stained and repaired as if they hadbeen around for centuries, or longer.   The chill we feltwhen we met the Strangers was nothing compared to how we felt when webegan meeting ourselves. Ourselves and our family, our friends, ourimperial troops and everyone we knew, only decades older, moving andspeaking backwards. As it was with the Strangers, we couldn’t touchthem or communicate with them in any way, although we could enter theirhomes, so much like our homes but more lived-in, more used. It was asif some time in the near future we had stopped moving forward in timeand started moving backwards, passing through ourselves on our way tothe unfathomable past.   Then other versions of ourselvesbegan passing through us: younger versions, older versions, versions ofreversed gender and temperment. We felt like Sigil had become a clouddrifting through many other clouds, changing size and shape, breakingapart and reconfiguring as it flew… but what strange sky had we foundourselves in? What winds buffeted us according to their unknowablewhims?   The authorities ordered us not to panic. We were notallowed to use the portals to leave, though traffic from elsewhere hadslowed to a trickle. The best mages were working on it, we were told.Normality would soon be restored.   The Bugs told usdifferently. The tall chitinous humanoids, looking vaguely likegraceful, serene, reptillian, multi-armed insects in expensive silkenrobes glittering with jewels. Their homes were also jeweled, and as wewatched they had their pets make jewels of our homes as well. Calmly,beatifically, they told us many things about the history and lore ofthe unthinkably ancient city in which they lived, the city we had onlythought was our own. Our imperial troops would have dealt with them,slaughtered them all in a desperate attempt at enforcing the status quothat had never really existed except in the imaginations of ourauthority figures. Their mad dreams… but the troops were gone, thearchbuilders helpless, barricading themselves within their palacesprotected by as many wards as they could muster. They no longer spoketo us, no longer ordered us to do anything, yet the Bugs were anuncannily calming presence. We didn’t know why we trusted them, but wedid.   The Bugs taught us about this Sigil we no longer knew,about its five wards and about the unfamiliar planes beyond the city’sdoors. They taught us about the dabus, the living puzzles whomaintained the City of Doors that strangely enough the Bugs calledSigil too. They told us of Aoskar, a God of Portals whose name mighthave come from our own tongue, though we had never heard of him. Theywarned us about the city’s mysterious guardian, for whom they had noname.   It became more and more common for new species,societies, and sects to appear, teaching us many new ways to cope withthe changes, none of them agreeing with any other. One group insistedthat our experiences were proof of the supremacy of Chaos, anotherinsisted that they were proof of an undeniable Law. One group asked us,their voices pregnant with emotion and madness, how we could stilldoubt that there was no meaning anywhere. Another told us calmly andseverely that our experience had proven we were ghosts, that we hadalways been ghosts, and this was the afterlife.   Imaskarisaw less and less of each other as we found new places for ourselves inour new cosmopolitan existence. We rarely saw the Strangers or theBugs, though both of their building styles now seemed to dominateSigil. A city of blades and jewels, we called it.   Thearchbuilders made one last attempt to regain control. Legion uponlegion moved in through the few portals that still worked the way theyhad been intended, an army of spellcrafters, ur-priests, infantry andcavalry that had never been equaled drawn from every corner of theEmpire. Magics were worked that twisted space and reality, awful spellsthat killed those who spoke them intended to bind the city to the soulof the Imaskari Empire until the end of time. Tens of thousands werekilled, Imaskari and non-Imaskari alike. And finally She appeared.  She seemed like a beautiful woman, though my Bug companion insisted shelooked like a Bug. Swords and knives grew from her flesh, surroundingher head like a crown, like the rays of the sun we could no longerquite remember. She gazed into our souls with her imperious eyes, herbright robes not even rippling, even in the middle of the Imaskarimage-storm. The spells and arrows thrown at her she utterly ignored.Her shadow moved like a scythe, felling vast swathes of the army as ifthey were stalks of grain. When terrified battalions tried to prostratebefore her and worship her - something normally unthinkable to theImaskari, who would never kowtow to the Powers, not even in the face ofdeath - she killed them too. With their riddlesome glyphs, attendantdabus told us that the Lady was never to be worshipped.  Finally the battle was over. There were no warriors or spellcastersleft to fight. To the rest of us, exhausted and covered in blood,Imaskari and non-Imaskari, the Lady merely glared at, her lovely,perfect face utterly calm and serene. The dabus spoke for her, in theirperverse language of sigils, directly to the archbuilders who someforce kept hovering in a circle around their conqueror - probably, fromthe way they thrashed and choked, by their throats - THE CITY NO LONGER TOLERATES YOUR FACTION. ABANDON IT OR DIE.  The archbuilders were dropped to the street. The Lady and her strangehandmaidens drifted away, and were soon gone from our sight.  The city has now been rebuilt, both by its citizens and by theubiquitous dabus who construct tall spiky structures not intended forbeings of human scale, or for those who need stairs. Still, Sigil’sindustrious inhabitants adapt them and soon dwell in them as happily asany other. They hardly seem to realize how bizarre everything is.  I haven’t seen another Imaskari in a long time. The others have fled,or simply become lost among the city’s confounding and illogical twistsand turns, never to find their ways back to their homes again, or theyhave blended with the greater population, adopted truly Sigiliancustoms and dress, and are indistinguishable from any other Cagers. Ithink I may be the last faithful son of our Empire remaining. Just one,left as a witness, or a warning.   The last time I saw one ofmy fellow countrymen, I was given a horrified tale of a plagueradiating from all portals, a deadly contagion against which the spellsof our ur-priests could not avail. Imaskar itself was dying, or so Iwas told. I could not go back to help or even to see if the tale wastrue or merely the ravings of a plane-struck madman. I can no longerfind a portal leading to any place our empire had ever known.  Perhaps I am the last Imaskari living anywhere, the rest of themdestroyed for our nation’s hubris, our absurd confidence in the face ofcosmic mystery we couldn’t begin to really understand. Utterly alone ina city of millions, I am the last legacy of the Imaskari.

sciborg2's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2005-07-26
Re: How the Imaskari Created Sigil

Wow. This is incredible. As it relates to the Lady, mind if we use this in the zine and reference it in an article?

ETA: Meaning if it is okay with you I'd like to submit this to the editor's queue.

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ripvanwormer's picture
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Joined: 2004-10-05
Re: How the Imaskari Created Sigil

I'm glad you like it. It had formatting when I submitted it, but that got lost during one of Planewalker's regenerations. If you think it'd be good in the zine, put it in the zine.

sciborg2's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2005-07-26
Re: How the Imaskari Created Sigil

Thanks!

Hey Rip, there was another story I remember you had, about a multi-agent that I think turns out to be a rilmani or guardinal?

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sciborg2's picture
Offline
Factol
Joined: 2005-07-26
Re: How the Imaskari Created Sigil

Hey Rip, I submitted this to the editors' queue - let me know if there are any problems with how I reformatted it.

thanks,

Sci

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