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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
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Quincunx

Appellation

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Bent, weary as donkeys, grunting out agreements around luggage straps clenched in the teeth, a cable stay reaching up and back against each body's load, the refugees queued before the portal. It reflected identical landscapes on either side, yet on this side, when the refugees' boots scuffed against the carpets, dust only rose a few inches before dropping back to earth, not swirling on any current. Caryatids loomed on all sides, the marble as lustreless as wind-worn quartz. Tzimfemme, one of the few not buckling under a mass of possessions, spun her head around to take in a last look of the lobby. "Rydia," she remarked to the elf just ahead of her in the line, "I will not be displeased to leave."

 

Rydia squeaked agreement around her luggage strap (green leather, studded with seed pearls and one faux emerald, princess-cut) and amplified the statement with her ears, but the naked mage would not have understood even had Rydia's pile of coordinating luggage not blocked the view. The elf resumed her chat with a slight young ranger just ahead of her in the queue, whose gnome-made headband sported wide-angle mirrors to spot attacks from the rear, or earspeak from a bored and luggage-muted bard. Meanwhile Tzimfemme stared through the coils of the crowd, seeing nothing. The line doubled back on itself many times and people's outlines should have flickered, were the portal emitting light. This was not the wastelands, and yet. . .

 

The naked mage was no nearer to an answer for that resonance by the time she and the elves stood before the portal. The other side was chaotic where this one was orderly, people scurrying to and fro, knotting in embraces, hands and ears and mouths fluttering. The elf ranger stepped through and immediately staggered sideways out of sight under the impact of something small and purplish. Minta skittered sideways back into view, eyes locked on the portal as her latest skellie pet shambled into the frame. Rydia's ears straightened just enough for the tips to clear the luggage pile and she reached up to grasp the luggage strap with both hands, spitting the end free. "I'm Rydia!" she declared to the portal's face, and stepped through. Minta sprang up into the air, landed, hopskipped in place, pointed at her pet and Rydia's impedimenta, and skipped several circuits of bard and skellie as the pet unloaded the bard and staggered away with a bony tail held stiffly backwards for balance; Tzimfemme blessed the portal's lack of energy transmissions extending to sonic energy.

 

"I am Tzimfemme," she affirmed, and stepped forward.

 

Two things seared. First, she was not truly Tzimfemme, and the thing that was not Tzimfemme seared--second, someone else -was-. I am Tzimfemme, in one ear, and I am Tzimfemme, in the other, Lobotomy the flail burning in her hand--she stepped forward again and the sensory overload fell back to the levels of normal life. Yes, after the dying world, it was searing, and maybe moreso for Minta's life and enthusiasm shining again, after the time of separation. Why, then, the after-images of white light moving across the field of vision when she turned her head? Why the prickling pain of blood returning to one hand's grip on the flail and not the other?

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La! If you listened to Tzimfemme, you'd think I overpacked for the trip, which was completely not true. It wasn't all my stuff! Minta was supposed to take care of Rosemary's possessions, the way those two had their arrangement back on Terra, but did you think she remembered to do that when she took the early shot at the portal, no she did not. So. At least I don't have to feel guilty about cramming it in the bottom of the pack where everything's going to get rumpled and wrinkled and possibly broken. Also it made a fine cushion for my instruments--try cramming five of those in one backpack without breaking them, if you feel like a luggage challenge some day--and her valuable stuff was all jewels and jewelry which never goes in the luggage. My luggage set didn't start off jeweled, you know, and the portal magic's never fine enough to ask. While you're at it, ask Tzimfemme why her braids were styled up today, wrapped around a "bun netting"!

 

Anyway, I got to the head of the line -finally- --so maybe it wasn't the best idea to let those people cut in front of me, but they were from the allied guild and that makes them as good as allies I knew--and got out of there. The new world, it was SHINY. Those gems just seemed to pop out from the luggage, and the luggage leather got glossy like wet lacquer, and oh my gods I do not know how we kept putting one foot in front of the other in the old world. Not that I did a great job of it then, la, until Minta's little helper boosted the backpacks up and off. Ow, the shoulder pain! I could barely bend my arms back to let them go. I'm going to have strap marks for weeks.

 

So Minta's skeleton was a good little porter and carried my luggage straightaway to the new guild hall before I even got my key, and of course she was wound up with all of us in that horrendous long line coming in, running here and there and everywhere and completely uncatchable. Things were just a little bit hectic, so I was way surprised when things just--caught for a moment. It was Tzimfemme -of- course, causing some portal feedback. I swear, she actually bought her holy faithstone just for the bonus gating function to cover up that she can't even cast gate reliably. It's only like the simplest magic to do--ok, -if- you cast magic. I can't do it with my instruments. Song only has the range of sound and magic is worldwide. Should've gone to druid school here instead even though song is shinier. Whatever. I looked back and sure enough she's pulled her hair down and taken out the faithstone. Now what I want to know is when did she re-cut the black sapphires on it? I saw her use that long after Rosemary was gone and the black sapphires still looked all dull. Now they're sparkling. This new world -is- shiny.

 

She spent a good half a minute getting the statuette to work, and then doesn't gate, and gets a look on her face like she stepped in orc poo. Now those two, Minta and Tzimfemme, they've told me what that temple is like and "orc poo" is about the least of it. They chose to build it under the human city, in the sewers! Oh my gods, ew! Minta tried to get me to visit after I learned the song of invulnerability, but does it make my nose invulnerable, no it does not. I don't see why she would be making a face if -she's- so used to it. But then. . .she cackled. Vicious laughter. Worse than usual. Now I'm almost used to her being crazy--why do you think I went to another server altogether in the first place! not that she ever left me alone afterwards--but there was no crazy in this at all, and I was there and my instruments to play a silencing song were not, and how I wish they had been!

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By the spume-caked gods--alive, alive, alive! No fog, no filth, no filter between me and my world!

 

That's the drawback of the cocoon of blood, o book of my indiscretions. One can still function within it, yet without an emergent shock, one does not fully re-engage with the world. It is the Armageddon and the rebirth made mundane, and Sossity--she the golem which precipitated my last cocooning--was nothing if not mundane. How long have I been walking asleep, not reborn? No matter. The portal and its appellation awoke me--not the passage into the new world. It rent the caul of Sossity which hung upon me. All the same, this world assailed my senses; my eyes sparked and my ears hummed, my hand pricked with pins and needles, and I wished to collect myself in the quieter atmosphere of the temple of Bertoxxulous.

 

Strange, that. Leave aside for the moment that I should have chosen the godless song-magic, not Rydia, and examine the fact that I broke with the preferred worship of the Legion of the White Rose after taking Minta's advice on the matters of alternative deities. Minta! The unholy child only offered to align me with the gnomes' god of necromancy. What principles of the Corrupted God can they worship, that she and I share the worship so comfortably? We share gender, talent, and some history--not temperament. That neglected child ought to be, if anything, committed to the Neglected God. (She tells me that during the time of separation, she has seen the Neglected God and spoken his frankly unpronounceable name, but that one must entrust oneself to a gnomish time-and-spaceship of sorts in order to 'visit' him. I'll pass. I like my internal organs well enough where they are.)

 

The faithstone is not at fault. Its artisan required nothing imbued and made sacred to the god. At the time, I assumed that instead it drew upon the cleric's own fervor, and now I am certain. If anything can be said to be at fault, say that the portal was--but it woke me, purified me, stripped away fog and filth and filter! How can that be a fault?

 

Let me be plain. I was not riven. The laws of magic are a body not easily broken, here. A spell of gating moves one from a single origin to a single destination, otherwise the request goes unfulfilled. It is as impossible as I would find it, were this in the Pen Keep, to speak two names at once with my singular mouth. Yet the faithstone attempted to send me to two destinations at once, and being a magic slow to activate, was slow to realize its impossibility and negate the flow. Thus I had time to look at the superimposed destinations and to know. There was the warm stench and humidity of the aqueducts and the temple of Bertoxxulous, god of all filth, conduit between my filthy mind and the Norrathian body of magic--there was a mist of cut lemons and fainter scent of rosewater, marble slabs polished to a mirrored sheen, and mistake upon mistake. What idiot magic further obliterates my face, that it should appear so in the reflection--?

 

Black sapphires, diamond-cut. Rosemary's face nestled in my braids, in the walls of the Temple of Marr. No sound, though that was the fault of the spell overloading itself--all the same, it helped, o book of my indiscretions, for Rosemary's wisps of recollection were easier to hear with my own self muted. She erred. I erred. She erred worse. . .Grasp names, woman. I bit my tongue and held it, held onto myself and let the foreign thoughts pass through me, as she, Rosemary, should have done.

 

Her foreign thoughts: three times she had erred, overreaching the limits of those madness-powers and leaving a bit of herself caught in the soul of another. One of those, she and I (I and she) had reclaimed it, together, brutally, at the shores of the lake of Nim. Two, she did not--but wait, that's not true is it? She didn't, but I took back one, with mutual consent in the midst of the Pen carnival. That leaves one. . .

 

His foreign thoughts: How can I keep her? Then: I will imbue armor for her, and then she'll take over this name. Then: Why doesn't she like this better body? Then: How -dare- she. Then, in the armory: Burn, Tzimfemme! Burn her weapon, burn her memory, burn it all! Flames failing to catch around my flail, my Lobotomy, yet doing merry disintegration against the weapon rack, the heraldic hangings, the walls themselves. . .

 

So -that- was why no one in the old, dulled world would call me by my proper title! I am half-alive when not the Tzimfemme, o book of my indiscretions, but the portal restored that to me! What's more, it overcompensated when it merged our flesh of divergent worship! HA! I can see the lights, I can hear the verses, I can speak the names!

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