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A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

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CrimsonLotus's picture

Extracts from the memetic diary of Bryseis, known as “Rysse”, tiefling machinist – published in “Voices from the Hive” Issue 2, Revolution 12, Cycle 4.

Grey Sigil morning. The rain hits the panes like a Stygian drum. I have to start stocking up on food on my day off. The larder is sad and lonely and empty. A sodding void – so I finish off a half-bottle of Dispater-label firewater and pretend it's breakfast.

If I finally decide to buy food, I might as well remember to find a new tint of horn polish. Cocytus Riverbed Maroon is just a touch too dark to go with mauve dye and black fingernails. I'll most likely go for Dao Mahogany next time, though I don't know why I bother anymore. The ash gets everywhere. Not that tiefling women are vain. We're not, far from it. But I've made it my challenge to look presentable, if only because it's a way to tell my job to pike it and sod off.

My bedsit smells of ash, smoke, burnt wood and cheap firewater. Smells like home, if you ask me. The window is just small enough so that the tiniest rays of dull light can flit in. Light plays with the dust and forms subtle shadows. I almost wish I hadn't downed the dregs of the bottle in one go. There's probably some cosmic beauty in there somewhere my mind's too addled to comprehend.

I wash and dress with the resigned sense of foreboding of a prisoner led up to the entrance of the Lady's mazes. I know what comes next. Out from under my doorway a ribbon of light pierces the shadow. It's garish, shimmering with red and gold. The light snakes up into the air, uncoils and flutters like silk in the wind. A wispy message suspended in mid-air, with big, angry logograms on a latticed, ornamental background.

Coward; Traitor,” it reads, sharp like an accusing finger.

A word of advice to my readers, which, I must really emphasise, is a free word of advice from a tiefling, so take note: never get involved with a githyanki. Romantically or otherwise. My mistake was thinking that a tiefling could share anything meaningful with a vrrak knight-errant raised in an Astral barracks-house.

Then again, I'm easily peeled by a good story and a fair dose of flair. Truth be told, she had me by the time she breathed the priceless opener “have you ever ridden into battle astride a red dragon?”. Then when the vorpal silver-sword came out, all gleaming asterite with a brushed palladium guard, I was ready to forget myself and do just about anything for her. And I did.

But I digress. I snap my fingers to dismiss the eldritch missive and move out into the Hive. My work has me at the Brass Dock by the second acclamation of the bells at the azer foundry. It's too early: I'm starving and toying with the idea of stopping to disgorge the firewater that's sitting very uneasily in my belly.

I manage to make it up to the loading dock of the foundry where an ancient hulk, little more than a relic, floats on the spark-filled air. We're not even through the gate to the Boundary and everything is already covered in ash and soot. I can thread the air through my fingers and leave greyish stains on my hands like the war-paint the Sylvan Elves wear at the Lantern District.

I board the hulk with the watchful eye of an efreet overseer following me. My position is in the engine room. I am a navigator by trade. My knowledge of the stars, crystal spheres, dimensions and planes allows me to steer the hulk or any vessel from Sigil to just about anywhere in the Multiverse. Just give me a starchart, an etheroscope, a pathfinder array and some time and I'll figure it out.

Of course, a tiefling, no matter how gifted, starts and, often enough, ends life as a beggar, not a chooser. So I'm stuck with this. The hulk is a third-hand githyanki transport some minor efreet noble bought at a knock-off price. Every day, three dozen azer slaves are loaded into it and we set a route for the Boundary between the Plane of Elemental Fire and Air. In an area where these converge is a huge quantity of ash. Not common ash – but ash from where the leaves of the World Tree are shed into Elemental Fire. This is a potent fertiliser and the base component for a number of luxury eladrin cosmetics.

Blue-grey Fanshaai ink, bioluminescent lihrh-dust - cosmetics that easily retail for a several hundred gold pieces for a hundredthweight. So, Milady Shiere knight, spare a thought for the bronze-chained azer who shift the stuff day in and day out. It's dirty business. But dirty doesn't even begin to describe it.

When the astral hulk lifts off, the planar gate opens a yawning mouth and the bronze rivets, thick with verdigris, groan in the bulkheads. I chart the hulk's course with an old pathfinder relay, lenses and levers creaking with age and dusty with neglect. Each time a wake from streaking githyanki juggernauts crosses my trajectory, the hulk sighs and trembles.

My destination is a massive arc of precious ash, suspended far atop swirling eddies of air and fire. The air is stifling – even for me. The ash is choking, incandescent and gleams like fiery pollen from a colossal tree. Slowly, like explorers touching the first sandbank of a new land, the azer descend onto the ash. The arc's just stable enough to hold their weight.

They work quickly, picking at the soft, compacted ash and loading it onto floating disks. I watch from the loading deck, goggles lowered so I can peek through the scalding smoke. I've given up spending my downtime in floating githyanki dives and festhalls. Too many sods in these parts know me – last thing I need is some keen band of the Unnameable's underlings tracking me down to please their mistress.

She's on record saying she'd mount my horns for a trophy and turn my tail into a belt. That's when I told her things weren't working out. But it's funny how a githyanki can summon a shred of halfway decency from time to time. She never mounted my horns – but I did get seven broken ribs and a bruise on my cheek the size of Oceanus instead.

I should have seen it coming. I know. But it's never that simple. Would you believe that a githyanki knight-errant could be fiercely protective and, at the same time, strangely sweet? Thought not. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Outside, the azer continue their tireless work. The overseer's a foul-tempered efreet. No one on the arc of ash is spared the barbed, flaming whip. The azer grunt, breathe heavily through the choking blackness, curse their existence. On good days, the emir who owns this sodding rig sends his seneschal. That holds the overseer in check. The seneschal's a good sort as efreet go. She sometimes stops to chat and gives me a few handfuls of scarlet drupes. They're sweet and spicy – burning on the tongue, juice hot like scalding oil. Delicious – and better than the charred meat the azer cook brings me on a blackened skewer. If she's in an especially good mood, she gives me an incentive – usually dragonmist seeds or etherised phlogiston. I have the sense to wait till I'm home to spend some relaxing time in the company of either.

I choose not to eat today. Meat with the taste of ash and charcoal. I'm not hungry. I can't even sodding drink – anything I'd consider downing would light up like pitch in Gehenna here. Maybe that's a good thing. I don't know how I managed to crawl back to my kip last night. Still, I'd kill for a bottle of Nessian firewater, but it'll have to wait for the Hexagram. So I just stand on the deck, my dark jerkin coated in powdery ash. The air burns my lungs and the occasional live coal flits against my face. Still, I can stand there for as long as it takes for the overseer to call an end to the day's work on a great brass gong.

Tiefling women are hard. Try living a life in our skin. Just try – the glances, the suspicion, the hatred, the fear, the regular rack-and-ruin that feels like your insides have been shredded by barbed razors and irrigated with thrice-distilled acid. And we endure. The 'Verse can do its worst, but we endure.

Back in the Hive a cold drizzle falls like grey needles and turns the ash on my jerkin into silt. I go home, wash off all the ash I can in the time it takes for a augury stick to burn into blue charcoal and change. Whatever I do, it reeks all the same of acrid ash with the pompous fragrance of the augury stick to dull the smell at the edges.

I still haven't had anything to eat, but I down a glass of tar-black Nessian firewater. It burns my throat like aqua regia stripping etched runes. My crimson lacquer Elysian moss box has a few dregs in it – not nearly enough for a pipe, let alone get the evening started. I decide to replenish my supply at the Hexagram.

I suppose the charm of the Hive has always been that a tiefling never feels unwelcome there. There are places in the Clerks' Quarter where you can't even get a drink – high-up purebreeds won't accept a glass touched by a tiefling. But the Hive buzzes to a different beat. Here, I know my way down wending paths and where hidden portals lead to the Inverted Stairwell – here I can be a queen of sorts.

The Hexagram's busy already with the first stirrings of darkness. You know the Tiefling's Lament – not written by a tiefling, by the way, but by one of those posing romanticist poetry types – about us not having a kip or anyplace where we can find rest? Not entirely true - the Hexagram's a good surrogate. Dense, rich, narcotic smoke; smell of dangerous distillates and otherworldly spirits; an eldritch spark in the air. Any tiefling would be proud to call this home.

Maybe tonight - if I try - will be better than yesterday. Maybe I'll remember a shred of today when I wake up tomorrow morning. Maybe I won't smoke myself into a catatonic stupor and tidy my bedsit because dimming the glowspheres doesn't work and drow can see in the dark. Maybe. Maybe tomorrow.

ripvanwormer's picture
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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

This is really interesting and good. I love the details about planar trade and exotic materials, especially.

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

Thank you for the feedback, ripvanwormer - if time allows, I would like to do more on the social/cultural lives of Sigil's inhabitants.Seeing it through the eyes of an NPC will, hopefully, help put the ideas into context, rather than just describing them.

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

Nice story, I like your style. Smiling
Also, the use of spelljammers/flying ships within Planescape is always quite interesting.

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

You are a very talented writer. Smiling

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

Thanks for the positive and encouraging feedback, Zimrazim and Calmar, although I am somewhat pressed for time these days, I'll keep writing if I get the chance, especially since I think that WotC & co. will continue to starve the Planes of new material for the foreseeable future.

I love tieflings and wanted to give at least one tiefling character a bit more depth than the half-paragraph offered by the 4th Ed. PHB.

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

Do you favor the 4E "descendants of a corrupted empire" - tieflings over the non-uniform "distant relatives of fiendish beings" - tieflings from the earlier editions?

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"La la la, I'm a girl, I'm a pretty little girl!"

--Bel the Pit Fiend, Lord of the First (in a quiet hour of privacy)

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

Frankly, the 4E attempt to homogenise tieflings was something of a failure - it took away the inherent flexibility of having a dubious infernal background. Although I am willing to concede that there may be a "tiefling look" (that is, an appearance to which most tiefling lineages tend to correspond, over time), I very much prefer the idea of tieflings as rootless perpetual outsiders, rather than descendants of an indeterminate empire which may not even be an appropriate plot device for most campaign settings.

In short, a Planescape tiefling can only be a pre-4E tiefling, though that isn't to say that 4E had some interesting points to make.

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

I completely agree with you.

All tieflings should have different appearances (and different abilities as well) and, accordingly, look more or less human.

I can imagine that tieflings would even consider themselves humans, elves, or whichever race their parents belong to (for the fiendish traits don't need to apparent in a tiefling's parents and may manifest themselves generations after the fiendish ancestor), despite any game terms used for them. However, this probably heavily depends upon the tolerance of the parents and the society a tiefling is born into towards such fiendish offspring... Planars might be more open-minded in such matters than the people on some dark-ages Prime world. Smiling

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"La la la, I'm a girl, I'm a pretty little girl!"

--Bel the Pit Fiend, Lord of the First (in a quiet hour of privacy)

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

I agree. If you take the idea that racial politics in Sigil are intrinsically complicated, far more complicated than IRL USA or Brazil, the idea of lumping tieflings into a single block is flawed. This is why I wrote the article (also on Planewalker) re: half-elven culture.

Depending on the individual tiefling, she may or may not identify with a tiefling racial or social identity, may or may not be accepted by her parents etc. The fallen empire idea is only a good match for traditional high fantasy, something that Planescape has both transcended and subverted.

A degree of prejudice towards tieflings is inevitable, though, especially from the "standard" fantasy races (humans, elves etc.), such that tieflings may naturally prefer to associate with githyanki, drow and, especially, fire genasi etc. This softens the one-sided "us vs. them" feel of tiefling identity and raises interesting possibilities regarding the dynamics of marginalised groups in Sigil.

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Re: A Tiefling's Diary (Extract)

I think all in all a person's race is most often of little importance in Sigil and the Outlands. What really matters is her philosophy and belief. Eye-wink

__________________

"La la la, I'm a girl, I'm a pretty little girl!"

--Bel the Pit Fiend, Lord of the First (in a quiet hour of privacy)

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