The mirror led to an unremarkable corridor of stone and mortar. Windows opened on views of foreign planes, some recognizable, some not. At the end of the hall stood another door that opened on what looked very much like the house they’d just left.
“This leads to Dis,” Kal said. “Let’s hurry.” He stepped forward through the door, or tried to, colliding with a seemingly solid wall. “Ow,” he complained.
“Did you wish me to open the mirror?” Mal asked.
“Please!” Kal said. They climbed out on Mal’s bed and down the stairs.
“Let’s go,” Sheen said. “The Jester’s Palace is a good distance from here.”
The street outside was the same as the Smith Street in Sigil, but it was filled with war. Everywhere devils were struggling against demons, surrounded by hordes of panicking petitioners.
“Oo, a party!” Mal announced.
Haden scoped out the street and led them through twisted back alleys. As they traversed the Lady’s Ward they could see that the buildings were incomplete. The building facades were mostly complete, but the back alleys were empty and sterile, unlike the real Sigil. They crept out into Bloodgem Road, across from the temple of Shang-Ti. At the end of the road, near the park, a pit fiend battled with a swarm of familiar-looking four-winged, hawk-headed demons—Aspects of Pazuzu. They hurried across the street, petitioners racing past them. They emerged again near the Prison, where a blind and enraged demon over thirty feet high had smashed a hole in the wall, allowing a horde of petitioners to run free. One of them, a human woman, approached the group and stopped.
“Talan? Is that really you? It’s me . . . it’s Therya.”
“It can’t be,” Talan whispered. “What are you doing here?”
“I knew you’d come. They told me there’d be no one to call on when I was alone and afraid, yet here you are. I was such a fool, Talan, I made so many mistakes.”
“How can you still look at me after what I did?” Talan asked.
“Oh, Talan, I’ve forgiven you for what you did. You have to forgive yourself. I couldn’t ask you to understand anything I did, or why I did it . . .”
“I didn’t know it was you, I swear I didn’t!” Talan cried. Sheen looked around, but fortunately the fiends were too preoccupied to notice.
“I know, Talan. Please, don’t be sad.”
“What were you doing with those raiders!? How could you?!”
“I know you have sorrow and pain and anger, but you have a new life now, that’s all that matters,” Therya said. The building shook as the huge demon flailed against the Tower of the Wyrm. A few moments later an enormous wyvern, perhaps the largest that had ever existed, freed itself from the wreckage.
“We’re a little exposed here,” Haden cautioned nervously.
“Follow me,” Therya said. “I know another way.” She led them toward the prison. “I was infiltrating the raiders, trying to find their base, to find their leader. I should never have taken part in that raid, but I knew they’d turn on me if I didn’t.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? You knew I would be sent after the raiders if they attacked anyone!” Talan cried at her as they raced down the street.
“I felt that there wasn’t time . . . it was a mistake, Talan. I’m sorry that we both paid so dearly for it.”
“I’m so sorry. It was all my fault.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Talan. You couldn’t have known. And you deserve to be happy again. Listen to me, Talan, you don’t have much time. This passage will take you up to the Twelve Factols and the Palace is just across Penate Square. I have a gift for you, it will lead you to the door.”
“Aren’t you coming with us?” Talan asked. “I can help you, I can find a way to help you.”
Therya shook her head. She opened her hand, revealing a tiny iron key tied with a ribbon of red and gold. “Be sure to lock the door behind you.”
“What about you?!” Talan demanded.
“I’m done, Talan. I’ve been waiting for you so I could give you this and say goodbye.”
“NO! NO, you have to listen to me. I can help you! We’ll get you out of here.”
Therya shook her head and pressed her lips to Talan’s cheek, but they were insubstantial as mist.
“Where did you get that key?” Haden asked.
“A gold-skinned man with white wings gave it to me not long after I arrived here. He told me to keep it safe, that Talan would come for it some day.”
Haden smiled. “I thought I’d seen it before. Cerellis will take care of her, Talan.”
“Can’t we resurrect her?” Talan asked hopelessly.
Kal shook his head. “She’s a Petitioner, Talan.”
“You don’t understand!”
“She could save herself. She’s chosen to save you. Don’t waste it.” Therya waved sadly as they dragged Talan away by main force. The tunnel led to the Twelve Factols as explained. A huge automaton stood in Penate square, vomiting fire onto the hyena-headed demon attacking it. Talan seemed to have recovered a bit and led them around the square.
“I’m glad these demons are here,” Sheen muttered. “We’d have no chance otherwise.” They sprinted as a circle of Vrocks took to the sky, dancing their circle of ruin. A balor fell out of the sky like a flaming meteor, landing only a few yards away. Then they were inside the palace. It was oddly quiet, the corridors deserted and silent.
“The key is warm,” Talan said. He waved it through the air, feeling the temperature change slightly.
“I think I know where we should go,” Haden said, and led them deeper into the palace. By the time they reached a massive stone gate with a strangely undersized lock the key was almost too hot to hold. Standing before the door was a tall devil with a fearsome leonine head. The red glow of his eyes fixed on them.
“Had I known you would bring me what I needed, I could have saved myself so much time,” Alocer said. “Instead, I have lost my deceivers. I have lost so much, but I will not lose my Iron Cage. Prepare to die.”
Kal made a desperate gesture and Alocer suddenly flew straight into the air and smashed into the ceiling. “Quickly!” He yelled, shoving Talan forward. The ranger shoved the key in the door and heaved, but it only shifted a fraction of an inch.
“It’s too heavy!” Talan yelled.
“FACE ME, COWARDS!” Alocer babbled, trying to find some way down from the ceiling.
“NO!” Cried another voice. “Face me, instead!” A celestial stepped into the hall, dressed in shining mail. Catriona stood close behind him. “I make lawful challenge, Alocer! You dare not refuse me!”
“Oh, hello, Grandfather,” Haden said. Faodhagen smiled and nodded but did not look away from the devil lord.
“I don’t fear an eladrin milksop!” Alocer bellowed. “I heard about what they did to you in Shendilavri . But I accept your challenge.” He grinned. “But my minons are not bound by that agreement.”
“That’s not fair!” Sheen yelled.
“One does not become a duke of Hell by being fair, stripling,” Alocer growled. Two devils materialized beside him and Sheen charged. Catriona drew a weapon and moved to help her.
Kal applied his shoulder to the door beside Talan and they managed to move it a few inches more. Mal and Haden helped and the heavy weight began to move. The four of them scrambled through and shut it behind them, Haden shooting Sheen a last look before the stone slammed against the stop. They could hear devils hammering at the outside even as the lock caught.
“It’s going to be VERY difficult to get back out of here later,” Haden remarked.
“Yes, well, we’ll get that sorted out later,” Kal said. He pulled the ritual book out of his back along with the Hand while Mal produced the two stones. There was a chuckle from deeper in the room and they all whirled. A tall, slender man stood near the throne. He was wearing an elegant black suit and had dark reddish skin and black hair.
“Don’t mind me,” he said. “I’m just here to observe.”
“Who are you?” Kal demanded.
“No one of consequence,” The man insisted.
“Right.” Kal shook his head as the door boomed heavily. “Mal, give Haden the stones. We have to hurry.” Haden took the stones but felt unable to look away from the unknown man.
“You’re Asmodeus, aren’t you?”
“That is one of my names. One of many.”
I have dreamed of death . . . whispered the Eye in his hand. Haden jumped. I have dreamed of death. Death is the first dance, eternal. Destroy the deceitful Tear if you must, but spare me and you will never die. I am of the Age before Ages; with my brother, I created all that is. You know I speak the truth.
“Once, when the Tear was mine,” Asmodeus said, “I was called Ahriman.”
Inky blackness began to spill from the Tear as Kal chanted. I am the miracle, it said. My dance is the second, without end. Why not spare me, and destroy the sleeping Eye? I shall remake the world in whatever light or shadow you choose, and it will be yours to rule forever. None can deny my power.
Kal reached forward, grabbed Haden’s hands, and began to move the stones together. Their auras merged and blurred, but the stones pushed back and remained separate.
“That felt, odd,” Haden said, wincing. Kal’s voice wavered, but he grit his teeth and resumed the chant. Haden glared at the stones. “Listen to ME,” he said. “We don’t have time for these games. People will die. Do you want to be trapped like this forever?”
Mal added his voice to the chant and placed his hands over Haden’s as well. The stones moved closer together but still resisted. “Talan!” Haden said. The ranger thrust his hands into the tangle, adding his strength. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the stones moved toward each other. With a scream of inhuman pain, they fused. Haden reeled back, leaving the single stone in Kal’s hands.
“So the struggle between the children ends,” Asmodeus commented. Kal transferred the stone to his left hand and drew the Hand. He chanted further words of power and the jewels on the dagger’s hilt flashed.
I am Law, said the Heartstone. My tongue is the Language Primeval; I brought Law from Chaos before I was sundered. Destroy me, and all creation will return to the void. You must not do this.
“Wait,” Haden said. “Seriously?”
“We don’t have time to debate this NOW!” Kal shouted. The Hand became immensely heavy in his grip and he dropped it. Talan grasped the dagger and struggled to raise it from the floor, exerting all of his strength.
I am freedom, said the Hand of Chaos. The dances of death and deceit will win you nothing, but love is the dance of eternity. Spare me, and destroy this feeble tool of Order. Your love will know no end. Chaos existed before Law. I cannot be ruled by any power. Believe me.
Talan nearly dropped the Hand. “Don’t lose it!” Mal cried, eldritch power flaring and encircling Talan’s arms, helping him stand. Talan lifted the blade and struck the stone. The world vanished in a flare of white. After a time, it seemed they could see something, and they realized they were looking at Asmodeus, still standing before them.
“Well done,” he remarked dryly, and snapped his fingers. Instantly, they were standing in the house on Smith Street.
“I’m not sure I should be happy that the Lord of All Hell thinks I did a good job,” Haden said after a while.
“What happened? Sheen asked. Faodhagen and Catriona also stood in the parlor.
“Good work!” Fagan said. “Your father would have been proud of you, Haden. I know I am.”
Mal, Kal, Talan, Sheen and Haden exchanged glances. “So, that’s it then?” Sheen asked.
“It seems to be,” Kal replied. He heard something and turned toward the door. “Festival!” he cried, delighted, and ran out of the room.
“No one will ever know what we’ve done,” Talan said wonderingly.
“Does that really matter?” Hexla asked, entering the room and taking his arm.
“No, I suppose not.”