A gap opened up in the yellow-brown haze that hung over the Lower Ward, revealing a brief glimpse of blue sky before a body came hurtling through the hole in time and space. The workers and peddlers who had been milling about in the broad avenue between the foundries, smoking and cursing and sneaking sips from hip flasks, skittered away from the portal. Chloe Windstar plummeted the twenty feet to the cobblestones.
It was a hard landing, and before she could gather herself up, an ogre in a sweat-stained leather apron pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers as though the burly workmen were nothing more than blades of grass. The ogre took a moment to size up the shifter who lay in a heap in the street, and then gave Chloe a vicious kick with one enormous steel-capped boot. “Welcome to Sigil, berk,” he said, and left to go back to work, laughing.
Others were somewhat less brutal in their welcome. As soon as the ogre had passed, shouts rang out from all the corners of the crowd. “You there! Do you believe that you are already dead?” and “The the any are sense Xaositects only with ones; are stupid others the.” and “Surely fate has brought you here today; join with us and follow your true destiny!”
But the voice that found a resonance in Chloe’s ringing skull was the one that asked “Do you want to be a god?” Chloe glanced up to see an attractive human male standing over her, holding out a hand to help her to her feet. She took it. On either side of the man were a solemn-looking dwarf in blue robes emblazoned with golden runes and a hulking bugbear who wore a notched and pitted battle-axe on his back and battle-scars on his face and arms and who seemed perversely out of place in a crowded city.
The smiling human introduced himself as Random the Bard, and his two companions as Angus the Invoker and GirGir the Barbarian. Still reeling, at least as much from the confusion of being torn from her homeworld and thrown into this alien city as from her injuries, Chloe allowed herself to be led to a nearby restaurant where Random promised explanations and a free lunch.
The restaurant turned out to be the Green Mill, which was no misnomer, as a large waterwheel turned in the filthy drainage ditch that ran out back of the establishment. Large windmill sails, their shafts sunk into the front of the tavern, turned slowly in the smoky air and churned the smog into something almost resembling breathable air. The inside of the establishment was even more fantastic than the outside, and Chloe almost felt that she was home again when she stepped into the parlor filled with the sweet smell of cedar and a golden-green light that seemed as though it had passed through forest leaves.
As though it were the most natural thing in the world, Random instantly transformed himself from a human man into an elven maiden with long silver hair and vast blue eyes, and proceeded to led the group to a private booth and ordered four plates of Fhorge loin medallions in a raspberry reduction and four glasses of Celestial water. While waiting for the meal, Random explained that Chloe was in Sigil now, the city at the center of the multiverse, and that he was a member of the Believers of the Source, who held that all individuals are capable of apotheosis. The possibility of perfection through effort appealed to Chloe, who had always struggled become as strong as she could be in spite of the mocking criticisms of her clan. She offered to join the Godsmen on a trial basis. After a meal of exquisitely-arranged food served in very small portions that left GirGir grumbling, the group moved on to the headquarters of the Godsmen: the Great Foundry.
As large as many of the factories and foundries in the Lower Ward were, the Great Foundry dwarfed them all. Its fifty foot high gate could’ve barred the passage of a titan, and it would’ve been possible to stuff several city blocks into the colossal central building that towered over lesser warehouses and workshops and hills of slag that would have otherwise been vast in their own right. Inside the foundry, past the cascades of sparks and through the heat that made the air shiver, at the center of the pools of molten metal and enormous cauldrons filled with liquid steel and the rows of smiths beating steel into shape on black iron anvils, Chloe saw a tall figure with skin like wood and wearing a black tunic, at his ease among all the heat and the clamor as if he had been on a holiday at the beach.
Random introduced Chloe to Ombidias, the master of novices. The giantkin spared the arrival a measured smile. Ombidias sent the others away to engage in their requisite labors and proceeded to show the new Namer a thing or two about the smelting and forging of metals. The work was hot and dirty and exhausting, but after several hours Ombidias congratulated the novice on a job well done, and released her from her duties. Chloe went out to the vast complex of bunkhouses and messhalls behind the Foundry, seeking her acquaintances again. She was eager, in spite of her fatigue, to begin on more high-stakes tests and trials in her ascent to divinity.
Chloe found GirGir and Angus easily enough, both of them filthy from stoking the forges. Random only took a little more finding; he (for he had reverted to human male form) was out back of the foundry, engaged in a heated argument with another Godsmen bard. This bard, who was saddled with the unfortunate name of Hack, was proclaiming how he was close to perfecting 4’33” for solo lute. Random countered by saying that this was no accomplishment; Hack insisted that he only said that because he didn’t know how to listen to silence. The two bards parted, shouting criticisms at each other, and the regrouped party went off to the dining hall and sat on the long steel benches next to other Godsmen, most of whom were still wearing their heavy leather smocks and work gloves and black-tinged goggles, and there the party enjoyed a simple meal of mushroom and barley soup accompanied by small beer. Not surprisingly, all of the table service was steel, and some of the bowls and tankards displayed decorative razor-sharp spikes jutting out of their surfaces at random angles. The party retired to the bunkhouse, and enjoyed a relatively clean and comfortable, if not particularly luxurious, night.
After waking, the heroes sought out Ombidias once again, and asked him how they might accelerate their ascent into godhood. Ombidias suggested that they seek out and consult a factor from each of Sigil’s factions, that they might learn what the Godsmen could not teach them, and also be certain of their commitment to the Source. Alternately, the party might aid the faction by seeking out a portal leading to a land that had been ruled in the past by a terrible dictator who might or might not have achieved deification during his reign. The Godsmen had already sent one of their archaeologists through this portal to a previously unexplored prime material plane, and had been receiving communiques from him on a regular basis until the messages had been inexplicably cut off some ten days previous.
While the heroes saw the value in speaking with members of the other factions, they acceded to the urgency of this second task. Also, the exploration of an alien world and the uncovering of a god-king’s secrets seemed like an excellent test to further their abilities unto ultimate godhood. They asked how they might help. Ombidias told them it would not be easy; the portal to this new world was an intermittent one, blinking open in random places in the city and closing without warning. But the Godsmen diviners had tracked it to the apartment of one Anxos, a tiefling member of the Revolutionary League, who lived in the Sandstone District of the Clerk’s Ward. The Revolutionary League had little love for the Believers of the Source (or for any other faction, for that matter), and Anxos had rejected the envoys that Ombidias had sent him up until now. The new recruits to figure out a way to get at and get through the portal on their own.
Angus, Chloe, GirGir, and Random were all eager to undertake the mission. They set out immediately for the Sandstone District. They found a broad avenue of blood-colored stone that was choked with piles of rotting wood and decaying garbage, and flanked on either side by narrow three- or four-story tenements, many of which leaned out of true and probably would have toppled over but for the thick growth of razorvine which choked every surface and held the bricks and beams barely in place. A small band of naked tiefling children, their eyes burning red and their mouths flashing open in shouts or grins that revealed long needle teeth, chased a rag ball down the filthy street. The party stopped one of the children and asked after Anxos, and learned that he could usually be found at the Styx Oarsman in the nearby juncture with the Lower Ward.
So the party hoofed it over to the tavern, and saw a large black dome like an iron cannonball half-sunk into the street. A tiefling doorman dressed in black leather waited outside, paring his horns into points with a dagger. The party approached, and the doorman asked for a password. Not being in possession of a password, Random suggested that the bag of coins in his hand was password enough. The doorman agreed, but when the party went to enter, the tiefling shook his head and smiled nastily. “I said you could go in, but I didn’t say anything about your friends. The others milled about for a moment, but the impatient tiefling hurried them inside, not wanting to have them hanging about and bothering him while Random went about his business in the bar.
So the party entered the Styx Oarsman, and walked into a black void. The interior of the tavern was lit only by a single candle, some distance away from the door, that barely illuminated a five-foot radius. In the darkness beyond the light, the adventurers could hear the clink of glass and the sounds of movement, and could just barely perceive a number of rasping whispers that skittered about on the very edge of hearing.