Artifact Stories

The si

by Dan'l Danehy-Oakes

A long time ago... (No, no, no. I heard what you're thinking. No, I mean a long time ago. Much longer than that. Yes, that's more like it.) ...before Ancardia was even created, the young Lords of Chaos and Order were having lunch. You may think this is odd, since you've always been taught that Chaos and Order are eternally locked in a struggle for dominance and all that, but in fact they are not eternally locked in anything. It's Ancardia that's eternally locked in a struggle between Chaos and Order; but the Lords of Chaos and Order aren't particularly concerned with that. The Lords of Chaos and Order are not gods. Not even ultimate gods. They're Lords, who have seen many gods come and go, never even aware of their existence. They created T'omas of Order and BzZzZkHuP of Chaos; and T'omas/BzZzZkHuP in his/their turn created Ancardia, including its gods. You should also understand that we're not talking about the Lords of Chaos and the Lords of Order. We're talking about the Lords of Chaos and Order, one group of Lords. (Or ladies. It really doesn't matter; the Lords are far beyond such matters. When they get together, they don't have male-ness and female-ness; they have sex. All of it.)

So there they were, eating their M'rune and Ort Cheesecake -- the Lords mostly eat dessert, because nobody ever told them to eat their veggies -- and Mofa, the Third Lord, said, "Let's make something."
Zhimba, the Seventh Lord, shrugged. "We made something last time, a universe, as I recall, and look how that turned out."
Mofa sighed. "Well, you're the one who insisted on making everything out of mathematics. Quantums and quarks and I don't know what-all else." This was a bit of a lie, because Mofa, like all the Lords, remembers everything, even things that never happened and never will, but we need not dwell on the morals of the Lords, who are far above those far above the gods. Mofa meant well.
"I wonder," said Klur (who has no number at all, but is Uncountable), "what if we tried making something out of magic?"
Zhimba and Mofa stared at Klur in horror. "Make something out of magic?" whispered Mofa. "You don't make things out of magic. You change things with magic. Or destroy them. Magic is even more unstable than quantums."
"Nonetheless," said Klur. But the others -- all thirteen of them -- shouted Klur down.

Simbus had been travelling some time when she found the strange cavern in the mountainside. Just inside its mouth (Which, by the way, was surprisingly dry and well-lit. Caverns in Ancardia appear to be lit by some source unknown to man, elf, troll, or god; the occasional room in which this lighting is absent is conspicuous by that very fact. In fact, the word "appear" is exactly correct. Most cavern rooms are in fact quite dark, but an illusion of light pervades the underground. This illusion is so convincing that adventurers and monsters alike think they can see by it, and so they go through life slaughtering each other, picking up objects, and not bumping into walls just as if they actually could see.) was a stairway leading down into a roughly-hewn room. Two goblins woke up when she entered and moved to attack. The high-elven paladin dispatched them quickly and paused to breathe and get her bearings. "This must be the place the old human spoke of," she said. "The Caverns of Chaos." (Of course, the graffiti on the wall saying D:1 was a big hint.) She opened the room's only door and began exploring, looking for the stairs that she knew would take her deeper into the heart of the mountains.

It was some amount of eternity later. The Lords had recently -- recently by their standards, that is -- made T'omas/BzZzZkHuP, and watched as t/he/y made Ancardia to play with. They were well pleased with this, and declared a time of rest and play. Mofa and Zhimba were bowling with planets when Klur came by.
"One word for you," said Klur. "Magic."
"I don't want to hear about it!" said Zhimba, but Mofa said nothing and went on lining up a shot. S/he had a good chance of knocking Zhimba's gas giant right out of orbit, which would make it almost impossible for Zhimba to win the game. Zhimba watched nervously as s/he drew back one hand, flicked a thumb, and....
"No, really, it'll be great," said Klur, and Mofa's asteroid flew wildly across the system, entering a cometary orbit that wouldn't make it playable again until long after the game ended.
Mofa stood, angrily, and used an orbital mechanic's pliers to grab Klur by the nose. "You -- You -- Aaaaargh! Why, I oughtta -- " s/he said, and pulled Klur's nose until he cried out in pain.
Zhimba whacked them both upside the head. "Knock it off, knuckleheads. Let's give Klur's idea a chance. At least maybe s/he'll shut up for a while."
So they began to mould magic.

Simbus recoiled in horror. This room was huge, with no walls, no doors -- and the white worms had, apparently, been breeding since before she had arrived. She killed one after another, but they reproduced faster than she could get to them, and there was nowhere to go where they couldn't get behind her. (Not that they were particularly trying to get behind her. Worms, as a rule, have very little sense of strategy.) In desperation she tried zapping the wand she'd found near that strange arena. Suddenly she found she could release a ball of fire. It didn't kill all the worms, not nearly, but it gave her a moment's respite, during which she saw the stairs heading down. She broke and ran for them, and only one worm followed. She slaughtered it efficiently and treated her wounds. God help her, she thought, if she ever had to return through that level.

"What a mess," said Mofa.
The -- thing -- they'd created sat in a heap before them, defiantly unwilling to accept even a rudimentary shape. It was no mere hybrid of Law and Chaos, like most things the Lords made; it contained both Law and Chaos in their pure states, mingled but unmixed. It seemed to want to fly apart, but it drew itself together even more powerfully. It hurt the eyes to look straight at it, yet when one looked away, one's gaze was drawn, almost irresistably, back to it.
"That's gross," agreed Zhimba.
Klur nodded sadly. "Let's get rid of it." S/he took it to the edge of the Lords' dwelling place and dropped it off.

At first, Simbus thought that this thing was the secret these caves guarded. It had lain on the floor, apparently unguarded, but when she had bent to pick it up a stream of powerful acid had dissolved a part of her face. "Clearly," she thought, "this is not the secret of Chaos. After all, there are those stairs I found. There are deeper levels." She knew she had to press on, but this -- item -- fascinated her as nothing she had thus found on her quest. It was clearly full of power; it practically pulsed with it. It seemed almost alive, but her ability to Know Alignment told her nothing -- rather, it told her too much. It was terribly chaotic and terribly lawful. It was a paradox brought into being. All that power -- and what was it good for?

Morgle, the Pi'th Lord of Chaos and Order, had watched in secret as the younger Lords moulded magic like so much Pla-Doh. S/he knew s/he ought to stop them, but by the nature of Pi, Morgle was a bit irrational and didn't always do what s/he knew s/he ought to. Now s/he watched the thing they had created drifting, not between worlds, but where no place had yet been created at all. Morgle found this amusing, and decided to add one final touch to the object. S/he reached out into the no-space and grasped it -- then recoiled. What had they done? It was worse than evil; it was -- Morgle passed out.

Simbus reached into her backpack. There were a few things she wanted in this shop, and Waldenbrook seemed to have a dwarf's usual prejudice toward elves, so she needed more cash. What could she spare, what could she sell? Her hand fell upon the object she had found a few floors up, and she pulled it out. Waldenbrook offered her far more than she thought he would; clearly the item did indeed have some function. Surely he wasn't buying it for its aesthetic value! But, strapped for cash and desperately needing that scroll of uncursing, she accepted his offer. As she rummaged in her backpack for more to sell, her hand fell upon ...another item? This was strange. She was sure she'd only put one in. But she'd sold it, and there it was on the dwarf's shelves; and yet there was another -- no -- three more! -- in her backpack. Her eyes lit up. Perhaps she could turn this to her advantage.

When Morgle awoke, thirteen faces were gazing down.
"Are you all right?" asked one -- it was Nmubu, the Minus-First Lord of Chaos and Order. S/he clearly expected a negative answer, but Morgle answered positively.
"Yes, I'm all right. Just --" S/he looked at his/her hand. It grasped two objects. They were identical. Which was the original? S/he had no way of telling.
"Just what?" asked Klur, clearly frightened.
"Just trying to decide what to do with these. I found one, and picked it up and look, now there are two." S/he gave no indication of what it was or where it had come from.
Klur sighed in obvious relief. "Let's give it to T'omas/BzZzZkHuP," s/he suggested. "T/he/y seem to like weird stuff like that. Remember what t/he/y did with that silly karma stuff Vuda made?"
Nmubu seemed to be pondering this. "I don't think so," s/he said. "We need to know where it came from."
"I made it," said Mofa. Klur looked at him/her, startled; s/he nodded. "Me. By myself. I wondered whether Klur was right about making things from magic, so I put this together. But I realized pretty quickly that it was a bad idea, so I decided to get rid of it, and dumped it off the edge. I have no idea how Morgle found it. It should have just drifted into nowhere."
Morgle shrugged. "I was watching, to make sure you" s/he gave an odd intonation to this word "didn't get hurt. When you dumped it over the edge, I decided to look at it more closely... oh, look... Now there are three."
Nmubu took the three items and forced them together. They joined with a small popping noise, and there was one again. "This does not belong here," s/he said, and nodded at Klur. "We will put it in that world T'omas/BzZzZkHuP has made. Perhaps t/he/y will find something to do with it. And children --" his/her gaze took in all three of the youngsters -- "do not play with magic again. You might hurt someone's world."

Simbus didn't think much more about the strange item until she was deep in the seemingly-endless dungeon, seeking the bard Filk. Here, she encountered an ancient red wyrm, who burned away her gloves of carrying and her girdle of giant strength with a single breath. Simbus herself was immune to the fire, but she was crushed by 817 of the strange items. The last thing to pass through her mind was a simple feeling of frustration. She never had figured out what the damned thing was good for.

Updated January 25th, 2003
© Copyright by the authors and Andrew Williams 2000-2003