Planescape and Dungeons and Dragons are not owned by me. Neither is Ranma. They are owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me.
"Feathers ain't the ONLY thing those pigeons drop in that water."
- a berk refusing Marian's silver ladle
Welcome to the Cage
If one were to picture the Outer Planes as a great wheel, each plane laid out beside the other to form a ring, then the center of this wheel is the Plane of Concordant Opposition, more widely called the Outlands. At the center of this infinite plane, bounded on all sides though it is by the Outer Planes, rises an infinitely tall mountain, sticking up like an axle from the wheel that is the Outer Planes. Atop this infinitely tall mountain, called the Spire, floats a ring, hovering as though to be placed upon the mountain as a nut upon a bolt. This ring, floating unsuspended above the Spire, has built within its inner surface a great city named Sigil, City of Doors.
The City of Doors is so old that its origins are lost to history. In those endless years uncounted masses of people have passed through its many portals, leading as they do all over the multiverse. Heroes, villains, the exalted and the damned, demons, angels, and everything else imaginable has lived in the city at one time or another. Many find adventure, leading some to fame, most to an ignominious death. However, in the countless years that Sigil has stood, few arrived in the city in such as a state as Saotome Ranma.
Recall, if you will, the current condition of the young martial artist. Hours earlier he had been completely soaked in a river of blood, and since had spent his time in the baking heat of Avernus. This means that, when he stepped into the city, he was completely coated in dried, baked on blood. When the orb, a weapon he had carried through designed to destroy the defenses of Sigil, disintegrated, he had been covered in a fine white dust, clinging immediately to his crusty exterior. Those who viewed him had a hard time even determining if he was human, and those that recognized his coating wondered what sort of atrocities he had most likely been committing to gain his covering.
Looking around for a moment Ranma stared incredulously at his surroundings. The city was constructed mostly of stone, squat, ugly buildings pressed up against or even upon one another, like barnacles overlapping to encrust the bottom of a boat. Gargoyles leered from the walls and roofs, and everywhere rusty iron added dull red and black accents in the form of bars and grates over every window, and sharp serrated blades strategically placed to make illicit entrance difficult. Most of the buildings were covered with vines of black, heart shaped leaves, often obviously cultivated to cover the walls of the buildings. Other than those common themes, however, the houses followed no set architectural pattern, instead seeming to be constructed according to the whims of whoever had built them, with no thought to consistency or style.
The air was thin and polluted, reeking of smoke and crude industry, garbage and raw sewage, and over it all the stench of the unclean masses which filled the street that Ranma stood at the edge of. Looking outward into the flow of people, he realized that those before him were a crowd unlike any he had imagined. Most were human, dressed in all manner of styles, with dark cloaks being the most common accoutrement, needed as it was to provide protection from the ash and embers that drifted down like burning snow from the dim, smoky sky. However, there were many other species traversing the streets, most humanoid in form, though some were strangely colored, or of unusual builds. Others had extra limbs, or wings, or even forms that seemed to merge people and animals, the most common being men and women with the lower bodies of goats. Other creatures were harder to define, though sprinkled through the crowd were the occasional fiend, making Ranma pause to wonder if his escape had actually succeeded. All of them, regardless of species, moved quickly, either on foot, or born on litters through the packed, winding streets.
Finally, with a sigh and a shrug, Ranma entered the press. Despite suspicious and disgusted looks, most simply ignored his presence and continued on their business. As he walked he kept his eyes open, the sights, sounds and smells nearly overwhelming. Occasionally the winding, seemingly unplanned streets would narrow, the buildings crowding the street, second floor overhangs sometimes forming virtual tunnels through which the traffic flowed. Other places the streets would widen out into open squares and plazas, which were usually filled with either desperate, squatting beggars, or street vendors loudly hawking wares of every imaginable make and description. Pausing to examine a transaction, most of which seemed to occur in oddly accented Japanese, Ranma saw a tall, stoop shouldered creature with bright orange skin, red eyes, and a bulbous, blue nose purchase what appeared to be a large, deformed rat on a stick, roasted fresh on an open fire, from a green skinned woman with shiny, metallic hair. The transaction was made with small copper coins, which were tested for weight on a small scale before the food was handed over. The orange skinned creature bit into its treat with obvious relish. Across the way a white haired, white skinned woman with a scimitar bought a curved dagger with several small gold coins. Everywhere strange people bought and sold odd items to one another without so much as a single pause.
After walking for well over an hour Ranma was pleased to find the streets widening and becoming cleaner and less packed. The buildings became larger and more imposing as the streets became broader, with the simple iron blades and gargoyles slowly being replaced by far more intricate, if equally grim, sculptures of stone and iron. The air, while still thin, became clearer, the stench of industry and its smoke soon left behind in the previous, obviously poorer, part of town. Eventually, as the air cooled, the falling embers disappeared completely, and Ranma looked up into the clearer sky, taking a deep breath of the moderately clean, if thin, air. As he did so he nearly choked on his own breath. Staring down at him through a clear patch of sky was more city, seemingly built downwards overhead. Slowly craning his neck, Ranma gasped as he realized that the city was built on the inside of a ring, and that he could see the other side miles away. He was relieved when a patch of cloud obscured his view once more.
Eventually Ranma found a large, clear fountain at the center of a broad plaza. The fountain was of elaborate design, showing several dolphins at play, the highest spitting a stream of fresh water from its mouth. The water in the fountain's pool was mostly clear, its only obstructions being a small amount of grayish green feathers. He only hesitated a moment, before deciding that he would rather be in girl form than spend anymore time crusted with blood, and so quickly made his way over to the fountain.
He dipped his hands in and quickly began to scrub away, his splashing causing an almost immediate gender shift, and was relieved to be making some progress in cleaning away the blood, when he suddenly noticed the condition of the fountain. The water, which had been mostly clear before, was quickly turning a foul, murky black color, the effects of the hellish blood on the fountain far out of proportion with the amount that was cleaned off into it. She stared for a moment, dumbfounded, before muttering, "that can't be good."
As if summoned by his words, a high, indignant voice shouted; "You there! Step away from the fountain." Turning around, Ranma blinked in surprise.
The person who shouted stood proudly, chest out, head held high. Well, as high as a three foot tall man can hold their head. He was dressed in heavy armor made from sturdy metal plates, with a large pot helmet. The highly polished plate mail would most likely have been more imposing were it not somewhat too large for its wearer, giving the tiny person the appearance of a kid wearing his parents clothing. In one hand he held a small but stout billy club, and he beat it against his other palm in the age old posture of an irate policeman. His chest prominently displayed a symbol of a sword on top of a shield, though what it represented Ranma did not know.
"Who are you?" Ranma asked, bemused.
His chest somehow thrusting out even further, the small figure proudly declaimed, "I am Wip Wildfang of the Harmonium. You are under arrest for defiling a public fountain!"
Ranma blinked, looking down at the figure. "Whatever kid. You should go on home before your parents worry."
"WHAT! How dare you! I am an officer of the Harmonium! You're under arrest for defiling a public fountain and resisting arrest!"
Ranma patted the man on the head condescendingly, accidentally causing the over sized helm to slip forward, blocking his vision. "Look, kid, the costume is cute and all, but you really shouldn't play games like this with strangers."
Wip pushed the helmet back into place with a growl. "You... you..."
Ranma smirked down at him infuriatingly.
"You addle-coved berk! I'll scrag you, you over sized, ogre fondling strumpet!"
"I have no idea what you just said, short stuff, but I can tell it wasn't nice. If that fountain was cleaner I'd wash your mouth out. Maybe your mommy is around somewhere to do it for you?" Ranma made a great show of looking around the square, which she noticed to her surprise was rapidly emptying of people.
Distracted as she was, she first noticed Wip swinging his billy club when it connected with her shin smartly.
"YOUCH!" she shrieked, hopping up and down on one foot, clutching the rapidly forming bruise.
"Take that you double sized cross trading bint! I'll cut you down to size!"
Wip swung his club at Ranma's other leg, but she hopped back out of reach.
"Get back here you leather headed goblin gargler! I'll saw you off at the knees! The streets'll run red with your diseased blood, you scabrous flea bitten orc layer!" With that he launched himself at Ranma again, shouting an endless line of strange obscenities. While the small man was shockingly quick for someone wearing so much armor, Ranma had both a significant reach advantage and a comfortable edge in speed, and as a major tenet of the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts is to taunt an enemy into losing their temper, she was very used to staying ahead of enraged foes. After a few minutes, and several well placed replies to the stream of invective, Ranma finally stood calmly, her hands crossed behind her head, her opponent gasping, hands on his knees.
"You'd think someone so small would have less trouble keeping up. Must be getting fat for your height. Wouldn't take much."
"I'll... catch you.. yet you... filthy little... kobald flosser..."
"You and what army?"
Ranma froze as she heard a voice loudly clearing its throat. She had been distracted by her fun game of baiting the foul mouthed man, and had lost track of her surroundings. Gathered around the square, easily blocking off all of the exits, were a dozen men in heavy armor. While Wip had looked ridiculous, the newcomers made the plate mail look imposing, helped along by heights that easily towered over Ranma's rather short frame by a margin as great as she towered over Wip. Most of them held billy clubs and were beating them against their hands menacingly, although most also carried swords, and two brandished strange weapons consisting of a half circle of steel with barbed hooks on its inside mounted on a long wooden pole. From the identical sword over shield symbols on each of their breastplates, Ranma decided that this was, indeed, Wip's army.
"Your under arrest. Come quietly or it'll just go worse for you, berk."
Ranma sized up the situation. There were a lot of them, and if they were at least as capable as the little man that she had just annoyed, then with their numbers it could be a difficult fight. Unfortunately, she wasn't sure that fighting was a good idea. After all, if these people were the authorities, then beating them up or running for it would likely just get her in even more trouble, which is definitely not what she needed. As she considered fleeing, she was struck by a sudden realization. Running is what my father would do. Well, running and leaving me in this mess. She sighed and raised her hands. What's the worst that could happen? She tried to ignore the sudden sense of apprehension at her thoughts.
One of the armored men put heavy metal manacles on her wrists. She noticed that they were made of iron and obviously in good repair, with strange writing all over them. "This way," he grunted, tugging on her arm.
Her escorts for the most part returned to their own patrols, with two of the large men on either side of her making sure she didn't try to escape, and Wip Wildfang proudly marching in front of her, chin high. She rolled her eyes and walked easily through the streets. People gave them a wide berth, but mostly pretended that they didn't exist. After about an hour of swift walking, they finally arrived at a large, imposing building.
Despite the chaotic and seemingly unplanned architecture, and its use of gargoyles and metal blades as ornamentation, most of the city, particularly in the area she had been traveling through, had a certain degree of elegance. High, sweeping roofs were common, and occasional exotic twists gave the place a certain visual appeal. The building before her, however, lacked such. It was seven stories tall, its roof line, colored like dried blood, was interrupted by guard towers at regular intervals. The open space around it was constantly cut by bright beams from roving searchlights, pausing briefly to fully illuminate each patrol of armored men, each group of which had large, two headed dogs sniffing the ground before them. The aura of the place spoke of despair, and Ranma nearly tripped when a terrible, desolate cry echoed up from somewhere below the building.
At the large, metal entrance doors to the slate gray building, a group of guards in red plate mail stood. Most of them appeared human, although the closest was very ugly, with heavy brows and strangely grayish skin that made Ranma suspect otherwise. They carried a variety of weapons, and emblazoned on their breastplates was the symbol of a winged serpent creature rearing up to strike. Upon seeing the small man leading them most of them carefully blanked their expressions. The leader sighed long sufferingly and rubbed his nose. "What is it now Wip?"
"Defiling a public fountain and resisting arrest," the small man said proudly.
"Fine, whatever. You, girl. I don't know what you did or didn't do, and I don't care. Save it for the judge. We just hold you till your trial, and punish you afterwards if your convicted. Don't make any trouble for us, and things will go smoothly. Cause problems, and we'll save the Guvner's the trouble of trying you."
Ranma followed a pair of the new guards and was led inside of the large building, though she was quickly surprised to discover that, despite appearances, the inside was actually a large open dirt square with walkways above patrolled by more guards in red armor. She was led across the square and hustled into one of the towers. Inside it was cool and dark, the gray walls providing a bleak tableau. She was processed quickly, her name recorded by a bored looking scribe, and led up to the third floor. Inside were numerous cells, each containing miserable looking prisoners. Only a handful of the cells had windows, and with how dim the light was outside they provided little illumination. Finally, a door was unlocked, her cuffs removed, and she was roughly shoved into a cell. "Get in their, girl."
Rubbing her sore wrists she muttered by reflex, "I'm a guy, damn it."
"Really?" a voice said from further back in the cell. "You don't look much like one, though I guess that doesn't really mean a lot."
Ranma looked around, letting her eyes adjust to the windowless room. The cell was tiny, about five feet wide and ten feet long, undecorated save for four wooden planks on the walls with blankets on them, obviously intended for use as beds, and a chamber pot at the far end of the room. After taking in her grim surroundings she focused on who had spoken.
The woman was strange looking, and obviously not human. Her straight, shoulder length hair was a bright blue color, save for a wide stripe in its center that was inhumanly red. Her pale face was pretty and heart shaped, with full lips, an upturned nose, and large green eyes, but with tiny, white horns at her temples and slightly pointed ears. Her lithe body was covered by tight black leather breeches, a loose white shirt and black leather vest. She lay on her side, her face propped up on one hand, her booted feet crossed, and her long red tail twitching up and down beside her. Ranma blinked at her for moment, before muttering, "well, I'm a girl right now, but I am a guy."
She raised a blue eyebrow at his comment, before grinning mischievously. "That sounds like an interesting story."
Upon seeing Ranma shuffle uneasily, she chuckled. "Perhaps we should start somewhat less interesting. I'm Xaldra Miloni. Do you want to be friends?" she asked, holding out a hand.
"Ranma. Saotome Ranma." She smiled awkwardly, shaking hands with the strange woman. For the first time since the portal, Ranma felt hope. She might have been in a cell, but she had a friend. It made all the difference.
"You do anything interesting to find yourself in here?" Seeing her hesitation, Xaldra continued. "I learned that you shouldn't try and drink a bariaur under the table, or, if you do, don't climb up to the roof of the tavern and dare the Hardheads to come get you. The sods have no sense of humor."
"Sure, the Harmonium." Seeing Ranma's blank look she elaborated. "What, Clueless? The Harmonium supposedly keep the peace here in the Cage, though mostly they scrag anyone who annoys them. If you don't even know that you must be really lost."
"I'm not even sure where I am. My stupid old man pushed me into this room with this big design on the floor, and the next thing I know I'm waking up in hell! Fiends everywhere, and rivers of blood, and raining fire..."
"Ouch. Guess that explains the fashion statement. Most people try to avoid the soaked in blood look, by the by. How'd you get out of that?"
"This woman named Hexla told me where to go to find a Portal, and finally I managed to get out of there. I got past its guardian, and suddenly I'm standing outside of some alley wondering if I've gotten out of hell at all. That was a couple of hours ago, and when I finally found a place I thought I could clean some of this blood off..."
"You get arrested by some pumped up Hardhead. Thats rough."
Ranma sat down with a sigh, putting her face in her hands, wincing slightly as her many injuries slowly began to catch up with her. "What happens now?"
"Well, we're in the Prison. Its run by Mercykillers. They're a cheerful bunch, got a real thing for justice. 'Course, not everyone agrees with their ideas of justice, so its good for all of us that the judges are all Guvners."
"Yeah, members of the Fraternity of Order. Boring bunch, half of 'em wouldn't take a glass of water if they were dying if it wasn't on schedule, but at least they aren't as... eager... to try and punish people as most Hardheads and Mercykillers are. Do you have much jink?"
"You know. Money. Gold, silver, copper. You might be from some backwater Prime world, but surely you use money."
"Um... we have money. But its made of paper."
She snorted. "That's no good then. You aren't going to be able to pay the music with that."
"Look, this place? Its named Sigil, City of Doors. Most people call it the Cage. Its at the heart of everything here on the Outer Planes. It has more Portals than anywhere else in existence, and if you know the right key, you can get anywhere. 'Course, the only place you want to get to at the moment is the state of freedom, but to do that you need the universal key. Money. No matter what, things cost jink in this city. If you don't know who to garnish and how much to give 'em, you'll risk offending them or worse. And for however much the Mercykillers love rattling their bone boxes about Justice most of 'em are perfectly happy to execute people who didn't bribe their Judge the right way."
"What do I do then?"
She looked at Ranma for a moment, considering, before grinning impishly. "Just leave it to me. I've got my own advocate coming for my case, but I know somebody that can argue for you. He owes me a favor, so he'll even do it for free. I think he'll twig to you right quick, too. Don't worry, he's never lost a case."
"Thank you. But... why? I mean, I don't even know you."
"Well, I should think by the time we hit the courts we should know each other fairly well. This isn't exactly a big cell, and we'll be lucky to get on the docket tomorrow. Besides, I may be a Cager, born and bred, but I know what it's like to feel like an outsider, with the whole system against you. Anyway, you seem pretty interesting. I'm still waiting to find out about how your only a girl right now? Pike off the wrong wizard?"
After that Ranma was able to relax somewhat, and soon found herself telling Xaldra about how she had gotten her curse, and was relieved to find her simply amused, and not judging in the least. After that they began to trade stories in earnest, the tension of waiting to learn what would happen to them making them both happy to talk to fill time. Before she knew it Ranma had told Xaldra more about herself that she had told anyone in years, with her father constantly keeping her training and never letting her have time to make friends.
In return Ranma learned quite a bit about her new companion, as well as about Sigil itself. The city was run by fifteen factions, groups of people who joined together because they shared certain philosophies. Most of these factions were charged with operating various parts of the city, which was nominally ruled by the Lady of Pain, who rarely took notice of day to day affairs. Xaldra herself was a member of the Free League, a group that, while it ran the Great Bazaar, claimed not to be a faction, as they didn't tell members what to believe in. Instead, they simply watched each others backs, as they had little legal standing in the city because of their refusal to operate as a typical faction.
They spent the waning hours of that day in the cell together talking, and the whole of the next day as well, before, on the morning of the third day, they were bustled out of their cells following an unappetizing breakfast of bread and porridge and into manacles. They were swiftly lead out into the muddy square, and soon were formed up with a dozen other prisoners.
"All right, bar it you lot." The speaker was a tall man with pale red skin, glowing yellow eyes, and bright red hair that seemed to shift and move on its own as it stood straight up. He had a nasty grin on his face. "Most of you lot will be returning here after your trials. I just thought it would do you some good to see what might be your fate, before you go." So saying he gestured towards a large wooden structure across the field. Standing in a row were several men and women with ropes tied around there necks. Most of them appeared to be pleading with the impassive red garbed people around them. After a moment one of the men in red pulled a lever, and the people fell, hung by their necks. Most died quickly, though one woman kicked for several minutes before finally dying. Ranma felt as though she was going to be sick.
"When we give this the laugh, I'm buying us both first class treatment from Iarmid to recover," Xaldra murmured shakily. For all of her confidence earlier her face was now stark white and her eyes were wild. Ranma nodded dumbly.
They were handed over to a small patrol of Harmonium soldiers in bright armor, who immediately began to hustle them down the street. The closest man, a blond haired human, took a long look at Ranma and gasped. "Forsooth, I have never seen such radiant beauty all but hid under such foul muck. What, pray tell, gentle lady, is thy name?"
Ranma just stared, completely dumbfounded.
"Of course, a lady of your obvious breeding must indeed be overwhelmed when meeting one such as I, so I must introduce myself first to get past such awkwardness. I am Sir Garvin, Paladin of the Harmonium, eternally at your service, my lady. Now that that is done, and I am no longer so strange, might you honor my humble self with your name?"
"Still strange," Xaldra snickered.
"Um... Ranma. Saotome Ranma."
"Indeed. Then I shall pray to my god for your deliverance today from whatever base accusations have forced you to be so unjustly bound."
"...right." Ranma did her best to ignore the man after that, which was easy as they soon entered a large plaza. At its center, fully one hundred feet across, was an enormous pool, with metal basins rising high into the air above it, slowly spilling water downwards. Each splash of the water generated a beautiful tinkling music, which somehow seemed to fill Ranma's heart with hope. Mixing in with the beautiful music of the fountain was a high, clear singing voice, creating perfect harmonies to make the most vibrant sounds Ranma had ever heard. The singer was a beautiful willowy woman, with milky white skin glistening in the spray of the fountain and large dark eyes. Her flaxen hair hung to the middle of her back, and mixed in it were long, grayish green feathers. She wore a simple green dress, and over it was a mantle of the same feathers. She glided about gracefully as she sang, and in her hand was a silver ladle. As they moved past the crowd that had gathered for her performance, she seemed to lock eyes with Ranma for a long moment. As she turned away, he thought he saw her serene face smile slightly.
Past the fountain was an imposing building, its style a mixture of Greek columns and pointed roofs, all decorated with the iron blades common to Sigil. A set of steps led up to the building, and on those steps stood a crowd of men and women dressed in all manner of clothing, though most favored robes in conservative colors. As the crowd of prisoners approached they began to loudly shout offers of their services as advocates, and the prisoners began to dicker with them under the watchful eye of the Harmonium guards.
A young woman with a plain, somewhat horsey face, brown eyes, and brown hair pulled back into a bun approached Xaldra. She was wearing black robes and had a pin on her chest showing a winged serpent in profile, curled up in a fetal position. "Ranma, this is a good friend of mine, Meredith Vilnas. She's an Indep, a member of the Free League, like me. She likes to take cases for Indeps who find themselves persecuted. Meredith, this is Saotome Ranma. Hes a Prime so green you can smell it."
"Nice to meet you, Ranma."
"Meredith, Ranma needs an advocate and doesn't have any money they'd take here. Could you get a message to Sly Nye for me? He owes me a favor, and Ranma needs an advocate."
Meredith sputtered. "Sly Nye! Why do you think he'd even take the case!"
"Don't worry. It'll tickle his fancy. Besides, he owes me."
After a few more minutes all of the prisoners that could get an advocate had one, and they were swiftly hustled inside the court. At the top of the steps, as they were handed over to the Harmonium on duty at the entrance, Sir Garvin approached Ranma once more. "Do not worry thyself overmuch, fair lady. Soon you shall be freed of this unjust imprisonment, and you can come away with me, to celebrate your escape from this place. Forsooth, one so fair as thee could never have committed any crime beyond what can be atoned for with my aid."
Ranma did her best to ignore Xaldra's quiet laughter.
Inside the courthouse they were separated into small groups, and Ranma was very glad to be with Xaldra and Meredith as they were led into their courtroom. It was a large hall, made of marble, with a tall podium on one end, and rows of wooden benches in front of it. Sitting at the podium was an old, hunched human man, wearing plain black robes, with tiny glasses perched on the prominent beak of his nose and a powdered white wig upon his head. Sitting behind a desk beside the podium was a pretty girl with hair a red so dark it seemed almost black in the candle lit room. In her hand was a quill, and before her sat numerous books and scrolls. On the other side of the podium stood a tall man with yellow skin and squinting eyes, and a powdered wig upon his head. "Be seated," he said in a high, reedy voice. "This court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Barker presiding. Be seated."
Everyone quickly sat down on benches, and once everything was still the tall man pulled out a scroll. "First on the docket, the city of Sigil versus Xaldra Miloni. Anton Vell prosecuting."
Xaldra, with one last tremulous smile to Ranma, rose and walked to the front of the room, her advocate beside her. A man, short and round, wearing black robes and a powdered wig, rose from another bench and approached. He grinned like a shark, his beady black eyes running over Xaldra in a way that made Ranma's blood boil for reasons she couldn't quite explain.
"Does anyone speak for the defendant."
"Meredith Vilnas, advocate for the defense, your honor."
The tension Ranma had been under slowly faded into boredom as the case began. Xaldra's drunken antics, while funny when she told them, soon became nothing more than a vehicle for citing laws and debating legal precedent. The judge rarely spoke, but when he did it was decisively, in a quiet voice that spoke of confidence and knowledge of the law. At various points in the case Meredith would approach the Judge, the prosecutor, and various clerks that came and went, ostensibly paying various "fees" and "duties", which Ranma quickly realized were simply a legal fiction for bribes. As Xaldra had said, Sigil ran on bribery.
Finally, after several mind numbing hours, the judge banged his gavel.
"I've heard enough. Xaldra Miloni," here she tensed, "while your behavior was reprehensible, your drunken conduct would not have, by itself, required your appearance before this body. Your behavior to the arresting Harmonium officers is another matter. However, as you did not harm anyone, and the owner of the tavern you climbed has no interest in pressing charges, I'm going to let you go with a warning and fine of fifty gold, standard weight. Case dismissed." As the judge banged his gavel once more, Xaldra relaxed and grinned at Ranma. It only took a few minutes for the case to be sorted out, and Xaldra was given a citation to take to the clerks to pay her fine, before her manacles were removed and her possessions returned, including a long curved sword and a pin similar to the one Meredith was wearing, which she immediately attached to her vest.
"See, told you, nothing to it. When you get off, we're going to go see Iarmid."
Before Ranma could ask what she meant, the tall man began to speak again. "Order in the court. Next on the docket, the city of Sigil versus Saotome Ranma. Anton Vell prosecuting."
Xaldra's encouraging smile did nothing for Ranma's nerves, as she slowly walked to the front of the room, fully aware of how filthy and unkempt she appeared. Ranma ignored the prosecutor's leer to look around the room, wondering where her advocate could be.
"Does anyone speak for the defendant?"
As Ranma stared at him, fear dancing in her eyes, her stomach falling past her knees, a loud bang echoed behind them. Turning quickly, Ranma noticed a strange man striding through the doors which he had unceremoniously thrust open, much to the obvious anger of the Harmonium standing guard outside them. He had strange, vibrantly colored hair sticking up in all directions, somehow standing on end. His pale face was decorated with tattoos of abstract lines and symbols. Long, pointed ears stuck out from his head, and a wide grin spread his lips, revealing long canines. He was dressed in a brightly colored patchwork long coat, its sleeves rolled up nearly to his elbows, revealing unusually long, thin fingers. The most astonishing thing of all, however, were the five brightly colored geometrically shaped stones that orbited his head, like moons around a crazed planet.
"Sly Nye, the defense advocate for, your honor. My pardon lateness, want let to but no to me seemed in one."
Everyone stared at him as he walked to Ranma's side. When he arrived he flashed her a confident grin. Ranma wasn't sure if it was the strange stones, or the insane look in his eyes, or even the scrambled words, but for some reason she was not reassured.
The judge groaned loudly, rubbing his forehead. "I do not need this today. I've got enough of a headache as it is. Just gabberslug her."
Ranma stood confused as the dark red haired clerk quickly wrote something on a piece of parchment, which the judge then signed and handed to a guard. "Don't worry. I've never lost a case."
"What does he mean, gabberslug me?"
Nye grinned with childish glee. "They're sending you to Judge Gabberslug. Don't worry, he knows real justice when he sees it, not like these stiffs." With that they were led out of the room, Xaldra offering a reassuring smile as they did so, though her eyes were worried.
Ranma was quickly hustled through the streets by her escorts who ignored her and her lawyer. Nye responded to every question with confident, if deranged, reassurances, and then returned to his inane humming. Ranma soon returned her attention to the city.
The streets narrowed again as they entered the smoky, densely packed district that Xaldra had called the Lower Ward. The polluted, smoky air was even worse after having breathed the much better air in the Lady's Ward over the past several days, and Ranma found herself coughing occasionally after taking a particularly strong lung full. Eventually, as they left the industrial district that was the Lower Ward, the amount of smoke and pollution reduced, but if anything the smell worsened.
The Hive was the worst part of Sigil, and indeed one of the foulest dens of scum and depravity in all of the Multiverse. The ramshackle hovels that made up the district were made of crumbling stone and rotting wood, and were placed at random as open spots of ground were discovered. The twisting alleys that made up the district's streets were muddy and unpaved, and more often than not were flooded with thick, brownish black rainwater filled with festering garbage and rotting excrement. Stinking, muddy children ran in packs, appearing every bit as feral as the mangy two headed dogs they hunted for food. Drunken, miserable people lay broken down on the sides of streets, occasionally stirring to chase away rats or fellow vagrants who sought to prey upon them in their inebriation. Screams of pain and fear mixed with coarse, ugly laughter echoed from collapsing dens of iniquity. Everywhere starving faces peered fearfully at the Harmonium guards and their prisoner, as though considering whether they were worth eating. Ranma, sickened, began to stare ahead, her eyes unfocused, unwilling to look at the inhuman slum around her.
Finally they arrived at their destination. Sitting in an open square full of filthy, wretched beggars, was a tall, white marble building, its columns, stairs, and elaborate architecture an obvious reflection of the City Court that Ranma had just left. As she climbed the steps Ranma couldn't help but consider the differences between that building, standing proudly in the clean, broad streets of the Lady's Ward, and this one, squatting at the heart of Ragpicker's Square in the festering Hive.
At the top of the steps stood several still figures wearing black, hooded robes. The Harmonium guards handed them over and swiftly left, all but running from the building. Ranma could hardly blame them. The closer she came to the doors the more her danger senses screamed at her to leave. She hadn't felt this way since escaping Baator. "What is this place? Who are they?"
"This is the Court of Woe. Its run by the Dustmen as a favor to the Guvners. Don't worry, I have everything under control. Just follow my lead. I've never lost a case, you know." With those words they stepped through the entrance and into the Court of Woe.
The inside of the Court was enormous, a single, gargantuan room, far too large to have fit within the building that they had walked into. Everything was white, but not the shine of marble, instead a dull, yellowish white, like old bone. The walls were covered with terrible carvings of faces, some leering, other screaming terribly, angered faces, terrified faces, faces of all species and gender, united only in the pervasive horribleness of the display. The room itself was furnished with row after row, ninety nine in all, of splintery wooden benches, upon which sat a court. Some, like Ranma or Nye, seemed to be ordinary people brought for cases. Others seemed like a macabre parody of the City Court. While most wore black robes, many were in fact not living. Undead of every imaginable stripe, rotting creatures, spectral fiends, lifeless abominations beyond all imagining filled the cavernous room. Mummies sat half unwrapped, their bandages being used as scrolls to record notes about the hearings taking place. A withered creature dressed in white funeral garb created sketches on pale white parchment using ash as a medium. Skeletal figures in black armor served as bailiffs. Glowing blue will o' wisps in crystal globes hung from the ceiling to provide light. And, at the front of the room, lay the most terrible creature of all.
An enormous skeleton of a dragon sat, twitching occasionally, at the front of the room, burning with an unnatural green flame. Its jaws were open wide, and burned brighter than the rest, providing eerie back light to a gargantuan throne of bone. Sitting upon this throne was a great bloated figure, its fetid maggot white skin glistening in the spectral light. It was twenty feet tall and nearly as round, with a huge, piggish face dominated by a gaping, fang filled maw and glowing red eyes, which were filled with malice and a cruel cunning. From its back protruded tiny feathered wings, which flapped nervously, picking up when he was excited, and slowing when he was bored. To his right was an enormous basin filled with red slugs longer than Ranma's arm, and at intervals he would grab one of the writhing creatures and throw it living into his drooling maw. Never in her life, even when facing the Guardian of the Portal, had Ranma been so close to such a terrible, evil presence. The sheer power that the thing radiated nearly overwhelmed Ranma's ki senses. To them the creature was like a corrupt volcano, boiling forth with foul power and ever threatening to erupt with a terrible dark might.
"What... what is it?"
"That's Judge Gabberslug. He's a nalfeshnee demon. Powerful one too. Don't worry though, he's not allowed to kill anyone that comes before him. Besides, I never lose a case."
They took seats near the middle of the room, and Ranma watched as the strange court case played out. Standing near the front in manacles was a tall, muscular bald man with a ratlike cast to his features. He sneered at the court around him, acting as though he were above it all; through his act Ranma could see a fear that mirrored Ranma's own, though she wouldn't admit to it either. Between the prisoner and the judge paced an old, wrinkled woman, her bone white skin and stringy white hair being her only features not covered by an elaborate black robe. The woman talked in a creaking monotone, her rasping voice endlessly arguing her case. It took Ranma several minutes to realize that the woman was arguing both sides of the case, prosecution and defense, seamlessly switching from defending the man to condemning him depending upon which direction she paced the court. Though she completely lacked in passion, she argued stringently both ways with equal attention to detail.
Finally, with a great belch, the fiend interrupted the woman. It spoke in a deep, sepulchral voice that echoed through the cold chamber. "I find the defendant... guilty."
"No!" the man shouted. With a snarl he shoved his guards away, and, grabbing a knife from the belt of a nearby robed figure, he hurled it at the judge, who knocked it away with a contemptuous flick of his hand, the huge, bloated arm moving too quickly for even Ranma's experienced eyes to track. The knife, moving at great speed across the room, flew point first towards a robed figure standing next to the bench Ranma sat upon. Without even pausing to think she dove, wrapping her arms around the person, a process made difficult by the manacles, and moved her out of the way, the knife slicing Ranma's shoulder slightly as she barely dodged herself.
Looking down at the person she had rescued, Ranma saw that it was a pretty young woman with light brown skin, almond shaped black eyes, and loose black hair to the small of her back. She was only slightly taller than five feet, with a generous figure that Ranma could feel pressing against her underneath her concealing black robes, bringing a heated flush to Ranma's cheeks. She smiled sheepishly at the woman for a moment as she simply stared into Ranma's eyes, making her feel self conscious. "Are you alright?"
The woman stared for another moment, her pretty face flushing before she looked down, obviously flustered. As she did she noticed Ranma's bleeding shoulder. "You are hurt," she said in a quiet voice.
"Don't worry about it. It's just a scratch."
"Here." The woman placed her hands on Ranma's shoulder and muttered to herself quietly for a moment. The words were strange, in a language Ranma could not understand, though they made her feel strangely uncomfortable. After a moment a warm green light surrounded the woman's hands, spreading first across her injured shoulder, then the rest of her body, glowing brightest where the knife had cut her and where the strange leach-like creature had bitten her several days before. A cool, soothing sensation filled her for a moment, then a strange feeling, like a soft damp cloth moved over her entire body, making a shudder. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the glow faded, and with it her pain. Setting the woman on her feet, Ranma examined her shoulder, and was surprised to find it completely healed, leaving only the faintest mark, as though the injury had healed months before. From the feel of her once battered body, she suspected her other injuries had fared similarly. "Hey, thanks! How did..." before she could continue, they were interrupted by a terrible scream rending the air.
Ranma looked to the front of the room to see that the man who had tried to escape was the source of the terrible sound. The man stood rigidly, staring into the now blazing red eyes of Judge Gabberslug. When the scream reached its peak the man withered away, leaving behind a desiccated husk. All was silent for a moment before the Judge let out a thunderous belch, his face showing great satisfaction, as though he had just eaten a delicious meal. Two black robed forms stepped forward and dragged the stiff, petrified body across the room. As they did so Gabberslug began to emit a deep, thumping sound, like an enormous diesel engine starting up, which echoed hollowly in the massive chamber. It took Ranma a moment to realize that the fiend was chuckling. When the pair found one of the few blank spots on the wall of the cavernous room they took the body and pushed it into the wall. It sunk in, falling within the white stone as though it was made of a thick tar, soon leaving nothing exposed save for the withered, terrified face of the prisoner. As Gabberslug's malicious laughter echoed around the room, Ranma realized that the thousands of grisly sculptures had not been carved into the walls. For a moment her vision tunneling inward, focusing only on the frozen faces leering at her, everything else slowly turning black. She could hear nothing but the raucous laughter of the fiend, and her rapid pulse pounding far too loudly in her own ears.
She was shaken from the moment by the woman that she had saved placing a soft hand on her arm. "Do not worry. Judge Gabberslug is not supposed to harm those who are brought to this court unless they seek to do him harm. He rarely kills those who he is supposed to judge. Factol Skall would be angry if he ate you." Her words were spoken quietly and with little emotion, and were frankly not terribly reassuring to Ranma.
"Don't worry," Sly Nye added. "I've never heard of ol' Gabberslug eating two people in a day. Well, hardly ever. Most likely he won't. Besides, I never lose a case."
Finally the Judge stopped laughing and gestured lazily at one of the black robed men. The man stepped forward, picked up a scroll, and said loudly, "Order in the court. Next petitioner before the Court of Woe, Saotome Ranma. Hearing the case, His Most Odious Gabberslug, Judge of the Court of Woe. Speaking for the Prosecution, Wrinkled Dannoch. Speaking for the Defense..."
Before he could continue Sly Nye stepped forward and said loudly, "Sly Nye, advocate for the Defense."
The old woman glared at Sly Nye, and he just grinned back cheekily. After a long moment she sighed and hung her head, while the Judge watched it all, a terrible grin splitting his corpulent face, his amusement evident. The man cleared his throat and continued, "Speaking for the Defense, Sly Nye. Court is now in session. Saotome Ranma, approach the bench and be Judged."
With a gulp Ranma walked forward, Sly Nye strutting confidently beside her to take his place before the Judge, smirking all the while at the old woman, who looked as though she had bitten into a lemon.
The woman started her case first, explaining in great detail everything that Ranma had done, and exactly which laws that she had violated. During her rare pauses Sly Nye would jump in with his own arguments. Unlike Dannoch, who recited her legal points in a dry, uninflected style, Nye was obviously very excited by the case. He strutted about like a proud rooster, flapping his arms around him, leaping up in his excitement, his high voice rising and falling with every point dramatically, no matter how mundane. Occasionally he would shout out strange words and bright flashes of light would come from the stones circling his head. During one of his key points fireworks exploded behind him, lighting up the room. Sometimes he would babble, his sentences completely out of order, or begin ranting and raving in strange tongues. During one particularly impassioned speech his stones transformed into strange, translucent imp like creatures which capered about the room, causing messes, annoying scribes, smudging the court paintings, and playing basketball with the head of one of the skeletons. It was a scene of complete chaos, but, no matter how bizarre Nye's actions and words, Dannoch didn't even bat an eye, simply picking up her side of the case during the pauses in Nye's speech, and the Judge nodded sagely, as though his antics were very wise points of law.
Finally, so confused she had almost forgotten to be frightened, Ranma jumped when the Judge spoke, his voice slow and deliberate, his red eyes locked hungrily on her form. "Enough. The defendant defiled a public fountain, it is true, with foul baatorian blood, requiring over a day for the Dabus to clean, and the services of several priests to decontaminate. However, no law makes it illegal to clean in a fountain, and the damage has already been reversed. Indeed, the outrage of the High Ups in the Lady's Ward was most amusing, for which I commend you. So, on the first charge, defiling a public fountain, I find the defendant... not guilty.
"For the second charge, resisting arrest, we have an equally complex issue. The taunting of the Harmonium member Wip Wildfang can easily be construed as resisting arrest. Indeed, such actions can undermine law and order in the entire city, and thus must be considered carefully. However, no actual damage was done, and upon being faced with further patrollers, the defendant surrendered and has done nothing to resist justice. Therefore, on the second and final charge, I find the defendant... not guilty."
Ranma sagged in relief, too rung out by everything that had happened that day to even be excited. "See, I told you," Sly Nye whispered. "I never lose a case!"
"Off the record, mortal, I commend you on the chaos you've already brought to this city. However, as I am bound to enforce its laws, I warn you, if you come before my court again I may not be able to show more leniency. Case Dismissed."
Ranma was quickly released from her manacles and led outside of the oppressive court room. When she reached the entrance she finally recovered enough to thank Sly Nye.
"All in a days work, my dear. All in a days work." With that and a wink the strangely dressed man walked away from the Court whistling cheerfully.
"See, I told you he'd get you off," Xaldra grinned.
"What, surprised to see me?"
"Yeah. How'd you get here?"
"I was born not too far from here," she said frowning, looking off into the distance. "If it weren't for some good luck I'd still be here, trying to survive anyway I can." She shook herself, and grinned at Ranma again. "Come on, I promised we would go and see Iarmid if we gave 'em the laugh, and we did. Let's get out of here before some basher decides we look like some gulleys he can bob." With those confusing words she led the way down the street, moving swiftly and confidently in the fading light.
By the time they reached the edge of the hive and entered the Clerk's Ward it was fully dark, and Xaldra paused briefly to hire the services of a light boy. Light boys were enterprising youths who, at some point, got their hands on various objects, generally short shafts of wood, with light spells upon them. Each light boy had a different shade, theirs being a lime green color, and they did a brisk business providing light and guidance for travelers out after dark, which came early in Sigil.
"Always keep a peery eye on light boys," she whispered. "Some of them are little better than knights of the cross trade, but most are honest. Well, honest for the Cage. They say the light boys got started when a bunch of the canny little bashers broke into a wizard's tower, stole the lights he had made, then ran everywhere breaking the cities lights out, forcing berks to hire them. Ruddy clever little sods."
Despite the dim lighting, Ranma was very relieved to be away from the Hive. The air was much cleaner, the crowds much thinner, and the poverty far less crushing. In fact, everything seemed very neat, from the clean lines of the streets, to the sharp designs of the buildings, to the carefully placed cobblestones of the roads, everything in the Clerk's Ward screamed order.
After the long day Ranma was beginning to hit her limits as they passed into the opulent, if somewhat less organized, Guildhall Ward, when finally they reached their destination. Sitting in a square was a sprawling walled compound containing wide open dirt fields and several enormous swimming pools. At the far end of the compound was an impressive marble building, standing proudly against the more modest skyline. "That's the Great Gymnasium," Xaldra said as she paid the light boy several small copper coins. "Its the headquarters of the Cyphers. We're going to the Other Place."
As she said this she led Ranma towards a domed, white marble building across the street from the Gymnasium, which had obviously similar architecture. "The Other Place?"
"Yup. Iarmid, an aasimar, runs it. Its the best bath house and massage parlor in Sigil. Costs a pretty bit of jink, but well worth it. Nothing better to relax after the last few days."
Ranma had been encrusted with dried blood over her entire body for days, and so was very pleased at the thought of visiting a bathhouse, the thought of getting clean trumping even the hope of getting warm water. The inside of the building was a single large, circular room, with a four story high ceiling and a cool, gentle breeze, giving the place an open, airy feeling. At the center of the room was an enormous pool, and around it were an array of large round baths. Standing around them like an outer wheel of buildings encircling the baths were numerous small rooms, inside of which Ranma could see people and creatures of all descritpions getting massages and treatments of every imaginable type.
A tall man walked towards them across the floor with an eerie grace. He had long strawberry-blond hair dancing around his head in the gentle breeze, his handsome features placid. He was dressed in layers of gauzy cloth robes, the multiple pieces of material working together to form a complex pattern that resembled a cloudy sky. The man seemed almost to glow from within and he smiled reassuringly at them as he approached.
"My name is Iarmid, and this is my bathhouse. Its nice to see you again, Xaldra, and who is this that you've brought with you?"
"I'm Saotome Ranma." He looked down at his bloodstained body and scratched his head nervously. "Sorry 'bout this."
"Its an honor to meet you, Saotome Ranma. You look like you could make good use of our services."
"Yeah," Xaldra said. "He's as Clueless as they come, but he's a good sod, and I can tell once he gets lanned he'll be top-shelf. I'm even spottin' him the jink for the works."
"I'm a guy," Ranma grumbled. "Its a curse. I'll turn back with hot water."
"Oh my. You must of really piked-off some fiend if they've done that to you. I would say it will take a very high up priest to cure that. But for now, you can rest. A bath, a massage, some pampering, and you'll feel like a new man."
Ranma was quickly led to a tiny curtained off dressing room, where she changed into a fluffy white robe. A woman with the lower body of a goat, a baurier, led her from there to one of the large baths. Unlike the earlier fountain, the pool Ranma had been led to had been blessed by priests, converting it into an enormous, cool pool of holy water. The hellish blood and other stains were swiftly scrubbed off using rough sponges and porous rocks, and once she was clean she put her robe back on and was led to another large bath.
"Well, Ranma, this I have to see," Xaldra said from where she leaned back comfortably under the water. Ranma blushed slightly, but shrugged it off and climbed in, transforming into his male form. "Not bad." Ranma sunk into the water, letting the heat disguise his blush.
Both of them were tired from their ordeals, and so they sat and rested in the hot water until the attendant returned and led them to chairs where they were giving a variety of strange treatments. Their nails were cleaned, hair washed, skin rubbed with lotions and odd plants, and generally pampered which made Ranma feel equal parts relaxed and uncomfortable, as he had never experienced such things in his life, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. Only the presence of many others of various species and both genders undergoing similar treatments (modified as necessary for scales, claws, wings, or other abnormalities a patron might bring to the table) kept him from being embarrassed by the attention.
Finally Iarmid returned and led Ranma to a heated, padded massage table. "I like to give all first time customers my personal attention. I feel that it is important for ensuring repeat business. Soon you will feel much better." The massage was incredible, and before long Ranma felt himself relax completely under the masterful efforts of the aasimar masseuse. Ranma smiled as he drifted into a doze. He was clean, male, healed, getting the best massage of his life, and he had a real friend. Things were definitely looking up.
Wow, long time no post. A bunch of things came up (I got very ill for a while, and while recovering I was foolish enough to try out the anime One Piece, and catching up on over 500 episodes took even longer, after which I was no longer in a Ranma mindset) and I never continued this. Most of this chapter was actually written immediately after the rest, but I got stalled, and well, many things happened. I'm not completely satisfied with this chapter – I think I'm missing some funny, but I was inspired to finish this chapter up and get it out there before my muse went away again, so here it is.
I was shocked at how many people seemed to like it, and I'll try to respond to a few specific comments now.
Dumbledork: Good point, and your not the last reviewer to call me out on that. I watched Ranma the anime around 2002ish, and read the manga in around 2003. I got into the Ranma fanfic scene starting in 2007, and started writing this 2009. That's a long time to let bad fanon habits creep in.
Vixen2: I am planning on going with Ranma learning to use Ki strikes in the D&D sense, which will let him harm monsters that require magical weapons to hurt.
Vilkath: I acknowledge that some of my knowledge of Ranma has rusted under the weight of fanfic I've read over the years. As for his intelligence, I didn't think I played Ranma as stupid in this. Heck, I had him flip through the journal of a wizard and figure out what was happening, which frankly shouldn't be very easy. As far as reacting instead of thinking... that pretty much describes the situation. I don't care who it is, if you find yourself suddenly dropped literally into Hell, your going to be overwhelmed and not able to think clearly. Give him time to get his bearings. Planescape is weird, but when he figures out the rules, he'll be able to win, just like he always does. As far as his weakness is concerned, if they were in a point based match Ranma completely beat his opponent. He beat him into the ground, and hit him almost at will, and was only hit once. But he literally was unable to inflict any harm, which made winning impossible. He'll get around that problem eventually.
Hitokiri Onib, Paver83: I don't feel that he's ever been trained at this point in the story to actively project Ki in his punches, which he needs to do to harm most fiends. I can see your argument, but I don't quite agree with it, though I certainly wouldn't object to someone who decided otherwise in their own story.
To everyone who said positive things, thank you. It really means a lot. And it makes me feel worse about waiting so long to finish this chapter. The quote at the top came form Uncaged: Faces of Sigil, as did a number of characters from this chapter. Xaldra Miloni is from the Great Modron March.