Kate Novak, Jeff Grubb
Ye wouldn't appreciate the poetry of the tale, or the subplots of the opera, would ye? I'll cut to the heart of the matter.
To the Sensates of Sigil, new experiences were everything. Like children hungering for knowledge of the multiverse, they streamed into the Civic Festhall, eager to perceive with every sense they possessed, impressing on their minds and bodies the bounty of life. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Sensates visited the private sensoriums every day, so that the arrival of guests to a certain private party attracted no special attention. Yet the private party in question would be very special. Tonight, fifty-seven Sensates in good standing and of considerable discretion had been invited to share an experience both rare and risky. Tonight these select few would spy on the gods.
The chosen audience took their seats in one of the largest sensoriums and began to look around with excitement. The leader of the Sensates, Factol Erin Darkflame Montgomery herself, was their hostess. The lovely, sinuous woman moved from guest to guest with a private greeting for each. Cuatha Da'nanin, Montgomery's handsome half-elven consort moved alongside her, handing each guest a small rounded stone, glittering with semiprecious minerals.
In the front of the room sat a lone woman, small and slender, with blue skin. She was a genasi, meaning someone in her ancestry was from the elemental plane of air. She, like the rest of the guests, held one of the small rounded stones. An orange-sized sphere of smoky gray crystal lay on a pillow in her lap.
Montgomery, having greeted the last of her guests, stepped to the front of the room to stand beside the blue-skinned woman. 'I'd like all of you to meet my guest of honor, Ayryn Farlight,' the factol said, motioning to the' woman beside her. 'Ayryn is a gifted sorceress with a few unusual abilities that make this evening possible. Something rather unusual happened when Ayryn joined our faction and attempted to make her first recording.' Montgomery held up one of the glittering stones.
The members of the audience listened with breathless, attention. The stones were known as recorders, and they could magically encode the full force of any experience and then 'play' the scene back for anyone to experience anew. Recorders were one of the Sensates' most important tools in enticing people into the Society of Sensation. Each Sensate was required to record several stones as part of his initiation. The recorded stones became part of a vast library of sensations.
Montgomery continued her explanation. 'Ayryn's sensations seem to be more incorporeal in nature than most, so much so that the instant they enter a recorder they waft back out again. Consequently, if Ayryn holds a recording stone in her hand, we can experience her sensations moments after she does, but only then. Her experiences cannot be stored… unless we do it for her.'
The members of the audience nodded with understanding.
'Ayryn's gift of scrying is unparalleled,' Montgomery continued. 'She has cast her eyes where few would dare, yet her intrusions have gone, for the most part, unnoticed. Tonight, for our enlightenment, she will seek out and view what few mortals have witnessed-the gods themselves.'
The members of the audience applauded with appreciation and excitement.
'As a security precaution, we ask that no one speak the names of any of the gods this evening, since we would prefer that no notice is drawn to these proceedings. Ayryn will not remain focused on any one god for longer than a few minutes at a time. You should also understand that there may be occasions when she attempts to view a god and something or someone else entirely different will appear due to some misdirection spell that god may have placed on his or her person or realm. To begin, we will be viewing the gods of Faerun, which is a fairly large continent on a world called Toril, set in a prime sphere known as Realmspace. Ayryn has cast a spell so you can comprehend whatever language they might speak.' Montgomery flung wide her arms and announced, 'Let the experience begin!'
There were a few moments of silence while the factol took her seat beside Da'nanin and Ayryn focused her attention on the crystal ball in her lap.
From his position slightly behind and to one side of Ayryn, Bors Sunseed, a paladin, studied the faces of each member of the audience. Bors was the only participant who remained standing and who did not hold a recording stone. He was also one of only four people who had been allowed to carry a weapon into the room. There were certain people who might consider spying on the gods as a highly blasphemous activity and who would consider Ayryn the primary offender. Bors's job was to see that Ayryn came to no harm. None of the guests looked in the least bit displeased with what was to come. They had been carefully chosen, and Montgomery and Da'nanin had done their best to ascertain that none were impostors, but there was always the possibility of error.
There was also the possibility that one of the gods would detect the intrusion upon his or her privacy, resent it, and send a retributory strike. While it was impossible for any god to enter the city of Sigil, one of them might send a powerful proxy, or several proxies, to let his or her displeasure be known.
There was a collective gasp among the crowd, and Bors took an instinctive step backward as a goddess towered over the assemblage. According to folklore, which Bors knew to be true, entire cities could be, and often were, built on the corpses of dead gods. So Ayryn's projection of this goddess was by no means life-size, yet it was large enough to cause a sensation among the Sensates. If the goddess reached upward, her hands would appear to brush the ceiling of the sensorium, some fifty feet overhead.
The goddess was notable for more than her size, of course. She was lovely to behold. Her glistening white hair, worn in a long braid wrapped about her head, suggested a woman of great age, yet her pleasing features, the texture of her brown skin, the firm tone of her muscles, all suggested a mortal in her middle years. Her figure was strong and womanly. 'A rose in full bloom' was the phrase that Bors's people might have used to describe her. She wore a short tunic of unbleached linen and her feet were bare. Her only adornments were the ivy and wildflowers entwined in her hair and a girdle embroidered with all manner of fruits.
Bors, who had been fully briefed on which gods Ayryn would attempt to scry, recognized the goddess before him as Chauntea, the Great Mother, patroness of agriculture, symbol of Toril's fertility. Ayryn's projection included the goddess's surroundings. Fittingly, Chauntea stood in the midst of a recently plowed field. Insects and earthworms on the surface wriggled and scrambled to bury themselves beneath the dirt furrows before they were eaten by the flock of robins that bobbed along behind the goddess, chirping excitedly. Chauntea walked along the furrows, sprinkling tiny yellow seeds onto the ground from a green cloth pouch and nudging the dirt with her toes so that each seed was covered. She worked with the speed and grace of a practiced farmer. An unseen but undoubtedly bright sun glittered in the sheen of perspiration that covered her bare skin. Mud and dust covered her feet and ankles and even her calves. Her lips curled up in a tiny smile as she attended to her task. If she noticed she was being scried, she gave no indication.
Chauntea turned about to plant another furrow. Bors wondered idly just how long Ayryn would keep her eyes upon this goddess. While spying upon any goddess was a new sensation for him, he wasn't a gardener. His interest in Chauntea's activity was somewhat limited, and the field she was sowing appeared to be rather large.
Someone in the audience pointed to a spot behind Bors. The paladin turned halfway about. Another figure had appeared over the horizon of Chauntea's realm. As the figure approached Chauntea, Bors recognized it as that of Lathander Morninglord, another god of Toril and reportedly Chauntea's current lover.