Alec, the Bleak Pilgrim
And all the woe that moved him so
That he gave that bitter cry,
And the wild regrets, the bloody sweats,
None knew so well as I:
For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.
- Oscar Wilde
Few remember when this spellslinger first found his way onto the Planes. But he's become a veteran planeswalker, noted traveller, and sage-for-hire, thought lost in the Lower Planes for many years and only recently returned to Sigil. It's hard to know what to make of him: on the one hand, he has a reputation as a skilled and knowledgable spellcaster, and one of the Cage's leading charitable organisers. But on the other, sinister stories hang around his name, old and new. The old, unflattering nickname he had in the past has stuck once again - that of the 'Bleak Pilgrim'.
That Which Is Seen
If I am mad, it is mercy! May the gods pity the man who in his callousness can remain sane to the hideous end.
- H. P. Lovecraft
Enough know the chant on this blood to know him by sight. A human, tall, thin, aged, dressed in worn travelling clothes. A sharp, thin face, with a scar across the right cheek and an impressively beaky nose. A broad-brimmed hat, a wooden staff, a patched cloak, and a gloved right hand. But all it takes is a closer look, to know that things aren't quite right with him; not quite normal.
Alec's skin is tinged an unpleasant grey, and he has an underfed, skinny look, almost as if colour and vitality has been half-drained out of him. At times, he'll stare into space, seemingly withdrawing from awareness until startled out of it. Or, he'll mutter soundlessly to himself at random intervals, or glance all around him in confusion, uncertainty or mistrust. The sound of his footfalls might not match his footsteps, or a torch or flame might gutter inexplicably in his presence.
But the most apparent detail is only clear to those versed in magic, or with senses beyond the normal. A touch of chill power hangs around him like a pall of faint mist. Certainly arcane, and tinged with desolate inhumanity. Those who speak to him are often left feeling that the world has grown older around them while they did so, or are left with a sense that the best parts of life - love, laughter, innocence - are slipping unstoppably into the past. The touch of the Grey Waste is unmistakeable.
That Which Is Heard
As a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do...
- Ursula K. Le Guin
Alec seems, in many ways, to be the quintessential Bleaker planeswalker - willing to endure the madness of the cosmos as it comes, rather than make his lot any easier. He'll speak about his Faction's philosophy if pressed, debating those who look for meaning or purpose outside their own minds and hearts. In keeping with Bleaker tradition, he only ever goes by a single, four-letter name, with the rest forgotten as irrelevant and pointless. And now, he wears the badge of a Factor, heading up the Bleak Cabal's work outside the Gatehouse.
Either way, he's had his name attached to some strange stories. From outwitting ancient immortals to fighting in the Blood War, from battling with the spawn of Powers, to somehow winning Cage-wide beauty contests - and from defeating Hive gang-lords and their thug armies, to duelling illithid spelljammers in the Outlands sky. To hear some tell it, Alec even fought the King of the Nine Hells himself to decide the fate of a world. All screed, of course, but there's no denying this mage has a lot of skill, power, and knowledge. It's said he'll greet other wizards of the Planes with camaraderie, from the darkest to the noblest.
Less clear are the stories of his involvement in Sigil's politics. Since he escaped from Hades a year ago, He's been at the forefront of the Cabal's more public-facing efforts, and has overseen the opening of almshouses, clinics, schools and more. He's partnered with other Factions to push charitable work, when he can. But these stories come with a darker side - whispers of a man willing to use other people's secrets to achieve his ends, or of blackmailing others into furthering his work, or who'll commit murder and worse to defend the interests of himself and his Faction.
That Which Is Known
The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.
- C. S. Lewis
Alec is a Factor of the Bleak Cabal, and he's often seen around the Gatehouse, meeting with fellow Bleaker planeswalkers such as the blunt-speaking researcher Zilan, the dream-studying schoolteacher Verity, the tortured necromancer Ellanorr, the sneaky psionicist Aria, the hunter-tracker Thicket, and more.
Beyond the Bleakers, he's befriended fellow arcanists, like Sezela of the Sensates, Luther of the Fated, Nulkra of the Athar and Alda of the Godsmen. And he seems to work well with other Cagers from the Hive and the Market Ward, like Xin and Karala. He seemingly appreciates the antics of Xaositects like Cavi, Zed and Quetzalli. And while it's known Alec and the Doomlord Nullus once fought as adversaries, these days Nullus and his wife Katya seem on cordial terms with the wizard.
But there are other figures of power who treat the mage with a bit more reserve and caution, like the respectable Hyeronimous, the fey-spirited Sensate Factor, Tasha, the Signer Factor Chandra, and the mysterious merchant Ajumat. The Sensate warrior Aesgil reportedly finds the wizard's bleak attitudes contemptible, and the arcanely-inclined Fated Factor Rosaline shows him little but scornful antipathy. Leaders of the goodly-aligned sects, such as Pelinore and Lord Brigur of the Order of the Planes-Militant and Lilia of the Guardians, consider him to be an agent of despair and evil. And ever since they crossed swords in the political arena, he and the Mercykiller captain Sayat have seemingly had nothing but loathing for one another.
However, most baffling to observers is that of his romantic partnership with the Guvner researcher, Nezhara. Despite clear gaps between the two in terms of philosophy, age and style, the two seem affectionate and comfortable with each other's company. It's a relationship that has left many confused as to how it came about, or how it is that it persists - or if it's not some sort of long-term deception from the two wizards, for some unguessable purpose.
But there's one old tale to tell, of an ill-fated voyage into the heart of Darkness aboard the spelljammer, the Freedom's Keel - a journey that saw its captain, Regand the Blue, dead. Alec was among those who survived that journey, alongside the famed Athar Factor, Vincent, and his partner, the gatecrasher and proprietor of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer, Aerin - but they rarely speak of what happened. Almost all the others have disappeared... either on the voyage itself, or in the years to come, fighting in the troubles that followed.
That Which Is Borne
Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves.
- J. R. R. Tolkien
Alec's Hat has been attached to his head for as long as anyone can remember - which is another way of saying that before he found the Hat, no-one could remember much about him. And when not wearing it, Alec seems somehow diminished. Though none know for sure, the stories of how Alec came by such a notable piece of headwear are numerous - a gift by some forgotten Power of Magic, a magical focus crafted from the remains of a broken demi-plane, a sentient piece of headgear containing the souls of a dozen arch-mages, a relic of an ancient civilisation given new, strange form...
Regardless, the wizard is always protective of the Hat, unwilling to let it be worn or even left in the hands of others, especially other arcanists. It certainly seems content to stay there, remaining on the man's head despite wind, rain or worse. If anyone knows what powers it contains, then they aren't talking - but given its continued survival despite being on the head of a man in such a risky and explosive vocation, there must be something to it.
The talk of the Hat, however, pales against stories of the Book chained to Alec's side. On the outside, it seems as shabby and ill-kept as the man himself, a thick, rough-cut grimoire bound with patchwork skin and haphazard stitching, with no dweomer or magical aura that any can notice. Those who have caught a glimpse of its contents tell of page after page covered with red-inked words in many languages, hand-drawn arcane diagrams, and illustrations of unsettling creatures - all laid down in a spidery hand, determined to use every yellowing inch. And yet, sometimes, a page is left completely blank, with no indication of why it was so.
The Book is rarely seen, but it's remembered by the few who have seen it. Old tales persist of Alec confronting beings of monstrous power, or planar breaches of hideous conception, and defeating them with nothing more than the words read from the Book. Some have suggested that the Book is a compendium of secrets that the wizard has found on his Pilgrimage, some lost volume discovered by chance. Others suspect that the Book is something granted by some Fiend-Lord of waste-lore, a mark of some pact of servitude that the wizard is bound to. A few claim they've seen the Book take on the appearance of bone and skin when Alec has read from it, and of the words within dripping blood or ink. They insist that it's not a Book at all, but something more malign.
But one or two speak of another, worse possibility - that he might just have written the Book himself. And if so, that the scope of the work that the Book represents may not even be complete.
That Which Is Spoken
All magicians lie. And this one, more than most.
- Suzannah Clarke
Tales of the Present
- Alec has most recently been made a Factor of the Bleak Cabal, placed in charge of the Cabal's efforts beyond the walls of the Gatehouse. And since then, he's been seen quietly throwing himself into the role, beginning new construction projects in Sigil and elsewhere, and sending messages to Gate-Towns like Bedlam and Hopeless. He seems determined to raise himself and the Bleakers up to a level on a par with some of the other, mightier Factions - and might be meeting with some success.
- Alec was present at the Battle of Curst, that was saw the last of the demonic 'Alliance of Change' defeated and driven off the Outlands. Reportedly, he was among the many who witnessed the death of the mighty Godsman warrior-smith, Saevio Silverbludgeon... but it was Alec who took possession of Saevio's mighty magical hammer, Tribunal. Why? It's not generally known, but the wizard seems to insist on keeping it.
- Despite Alec seemingly opposing the Triad of Order in many things, his romance with the Guvner Nezhara Drallas remains steady. While the two insist it's nothing more complicated than mutual attraction and admiration, some have seen them visiting the courts of nobles on the Planes, and co-operating in potent magical rituals. Words are whispered that the two wizards are in it for the politics, and are amassing power from both their Factions for their own ends.
- He won first place at a Godsman Festival of Innovation for alchemical work into water-cleaning, and was rewarded with an ancient hammer of unearthly, unusual power - Bhalat, the Tempest. Since receiving it, the wizard seems to have done little with it - but rumours continue to insist that the Order of the Planes-Militant would do much to prise it from his grasp.
- The mage is famed for taking the lead on the Bleak Cabal's efforts to combat the recent outbreak of the Black Plague across Sigil and the Outlands, overseeing treatment and delivery of medicine across the entire city. But while most speak of his urgent compassionate work, some whisper of a more ruthless determination at work, one that saw a Hive-gang wiped off the face of the Cage for threatening the Bleakers' plague-treatment efforts.
- Alec's was the voice that called for the end of the Mercykiller Oversight, leading to a dramatic showdown in the Hall of Speakers that saw an agent of the Red Death draw sword against him, and insist he be executed for treason on the spot. Though the Oversight was ended with a near-unanimous vote, some whisper that there must have been more to it, for how could he have mustered the support for such a thing on his own?
- He was arrested for murder and treason at the height of the Mercykiller Oversight, found guilty of killing a Xaositect wanted for the law, and of blaming it on the Mercykillers themselves. However, he notably gave himself up to the law, and was convicted seemingly without much trial, locked away immediately afterward... and he continues to maintain it was a deed done to spare a sick woman a torturous stay in prison, and to keep the Red Death away from the inmates of the Gatehouse. Curiously, his status among the Bleakers or the Xaositects seems not to have suffered much, if any.
- He was allegedly responsible for the Andorian Blizzard, a magical snap of intensely lethal cold that ripped throughout the entire Andorian forest, killing wildlife and travellers alike, and halting an ongoing small war for several days. Though he's said to have worked with the druids of the Andorian to repair the damage, blame for the deed is laid upon his head by most, even if it's unclear how it was he managed to achieve it.
- After the long work of opposing the demonic 'Alliance of Change' alongside the assembled planeswalkers of Sigil, Alec had disappeared, and was thought dead - only for him to stumble to stumble out of a portal into Sigil years later, gasping in relief, and muttering about having been lost in the Lower Planes. Some were seemingly happy to see him, but what his reappearance will mean for the future of the city of Sigil remains to be seen...
Tales of the Past
- Alec was said to be the leader of the Saturnine Eye - a small society, interested in learning about magic and alchemy. Strange screeds and riddles were found around the Cage as a method of recruitment, writings on far-out ideas about the the nature of arcane, divine, druidic, bardic and psionic power, the roots of planar reality, and the power of self-transformation by facing darkness. Though only a few were interested at the time, there's no telling how many may have joined the Eye since.
- The druids and hunters of Faunel are wary of this one, as it's claimed he was responsible for opening a virulent demonic rift in the lands around the Gate-town, resulting in a large stretch of trees being corrupted and warped by the energies of the Abyss. Though it's also said he was responsible for closing that same rift with the magic of his Book, the damage done to the local area will take generations to fully heal.
- He was once arrested by the Order of the Planes-Militant for capital crimes, and though he was seemingly acquitted, the word continues to spread that he was only freed by some act of blackmail or coercion that left even the Tome Archon Council of Mount Celestia unable to act against him. Given the typical response of the Tome Archons is to set wayward planeswalkers to climb the Mount, this must have been an unusual case somehow...
- Others have unfriendly eyes on this one. Some months ago, a cadre of Babau assassins began stalking and attacking the wizard's friends and associates, a spree of terror that ended with him taking a journey into the Abyss. It's rumoured that the sponsor of these assassins was none other than the succubus doyenne, Red Shroud - and that whatever conflict arose between her and the wizard remains unresolved.
- Though some say the wizard's changed in recent times, others'll say he was never as clean as he claimed to be. There are more than a few rumours that Alec's hired mercenaries in the past to take care of some shady Lower Planar jobs, the kind of jobs that some have even refused to take part in. Other disturbing rumours from his former planar activities include making deals with Neogi slavers, working as an enforcer for Hive crime-lords, pledging his soul to a spiteful Power of Chaos in return for her favour, and even being a member of the forbidden sect, the Incantifiers.
- Alec is the wandering avatar of Odin. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But when you read the legends; a wandering traveller with a staff and broad hat, a knowledgable sort with power, being crucified on the Tree of Wisdom... well, it's one theory. Whatever's walking around in his shape these days doesn't feel wholly human, that's for sure...
- He's not known for walking around unclothed, but of those who've seen him without his usual attire, they'll tell of a body dotted with old wounds, rough scars, faded burns and other marks of hostile sorcery and violence all over, too many to come from any single battle. His only other distinguishing feature is that of a tattoo on the bicep of his left arm, a simple numeral made in dark ink: XXVI.
- Before he came to the Planes a handful of years ago, his previous identity is a void. The man gives away only sparse detail, and even powerful divinations struggle to learn anything about him. He's known to return to the Prime Material from time to time, but as to what he's doing there, it's anyone's guess - he's always careful to obscure his travels with magics and misdirection. But among primitive enough primer people, a planar wizard of power could become a king - or more still, be worshipped as a god.
The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman...
- G. K. Chesterton