"The hand that rattles the Cage is the hand that rules the world..."
-- Cager proverb

Copyright 1999 by Jon Winter, art by Karl Mikalsen


( Prime / male aasimar [couatl] / HD 9 / Harmonium / LG )

Spot this brightly adorned, rainbow-hued 'aasimar' gentleman on the streets of Sigil, and you'd be forgiven for thinking he was the brother of the Peacock Lord himself. In fact, he's called Malkalotl, and he's a Hardhead Mover Three; a high-up in the faction indeed! The cutter's eyes are of an ever-changing colour, and he's nearly always wearing a cloak which has a similar tendency to adopt different shades reflecting his mood, the weather, and the time of day.

Though few cutters outside his faction realise it, Malkalotl is actually a couatl, a near-legendary winged snake of great beauty and goodness. 'Course, in Sigil is doesn't often pay to make one's true nature too obvious, and the radiance of the couatl's true form is such that it'd only attract unwanted attention. So for informal occasions or when working the streets as a Hardhead, Malkalotl adopts his colourful aasimar form using a natural ability to polymorph.

Malkalotl's a prime who's made a new life out on the planes. He first came to Sigil after his mate and young child were slain in a Blood War battle that spilled out of the Lower Planes and into the Aztec prime world of Maztica he called home. Without a family (for once a couatl mates, it is for life), Malkalotl thought himself worthless, and was guilt-ridden that he had been away when the fiends had appeared. For a lesser mortal the guilt might've been unreasonable, but for couatl, who are considered living gods by some civilisations, the unexpected should always be anticipated.



Cage Rattlers:--
Berchta, Garroth the Blinded, Ireeze, Tang Kii-Chow, Kilhans, Peacock Lord, Laurelli Tantarella, Christopher Verdue.
Uncaged: Faces of Sigil:--
Djhek'nlarr (p.24), Zadara (p.118).
Dungeon Magazine 55:--
Durkayle is detailed in the adventure Umbra (p.32-39).


Feeling dejected and worthless (a sick state indeed for a proud couatl), Malkalotl wandered the planes until he appeared in Sigil, following the nycaloth who he's branded as the culprit; he'd heard the sod boasting about how good his choice of battleground had been as the straggling yugoloth mercenary survivors limped their way back to the Lower Planes.

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Too wise to simply slay fiends in retaliation, Malkalotl joined the Harmonium, and works tirelessly in the faction to promote Good. In this respect he's trying to put the squeeze on Factol Sarin to push the baatezu out of the faction altogether. 'Course, this brings the couatl directly into conflict with another Harmonium high-up, Mover Four Durkayle. This blood employs more baatezu in his staff than a member of the Dark Eight, the chant goes, and he ain't one bit keen on the couatl and his meddling ways.

With powerful enemies, one needs powerful allies, and fortunately Malkalotl has 'em by the score. His main compatriot opposing the fiends is Christopher Verdue, the faction's star psychic detective. The prime psionicist also has a healthy dislike of fiends; tanar'ri in his case, but as they say, 'a yugoloth's as good as a tanar'ri to a Cager'. It was Malkalotl himself who introduced Verdue to the faction after catching him clueless in the Cage, trying to wipe out the tanar'ri race single-handedly. Well, after suggesting Verdue get a grip on reality, the pair have become firm friends.

The psionicist has also been able to confirm Malkalotl's suspicions that the nycaloth Garroth the Blinded was indeed responsible for the massacre in Maztica. Ever since then, Malkalotl's been watching the nycaloth like a hawk lord; any evidence of wrongdoing and the couatl'd jump on him like a lurker. Frustratingly, the yugoloth's been keeping his hands clean of late, though Malkalotl suspects he's up to something really big and treasonous...anyone who associates with the githyanki Djhek'nlarr has got to be two modrons short of a Great March. Despite his best efforts, however, he's not been able to catch the yugoloth at anything nefarious, and not been able to catch the githyanki at all! Sometimes the couatl wonders if there's some stag-turner in the faction tipping the pair off...

Until he has some solid evidence that the Guvners can use to convict the yugoloth, however, Malkalotl is restricted to plotting his terrible revenge, and trying to hold himself back from carrying it out in cold blood (which surely wouldn't do his standing as an officer of the law much good). For a justifiably angry couatl, self-restraint can be a difficult thing to maintain.

Another cutter that Malkalotl's concerned about is Berchta. The couatl's suspicious of her actions, and believes she might be up to something illegal, though he has no more than his instincts to back this up...could be something to do with the way the yikara looks at him whenever they meet by chance in the street -- a kind of 'I know something you don't, and I'm not telling' look which chills the couatl to his core.

Yet another of Malkalotl's sworn foes is the crimelord Tang Kii-Chow, who's the head of many of Sigil's most notorious gangs. The couatl recently stated he'd put the basher down or die trying, but Tang's as slippery as an Abyssal slug and twice as good at covering his tracks.

Most recently of all, however, Malkalotl got himself into a fight with a goristro who'd gone barmy in the Lady's Ward and started smashing buildings and Cagers down. Malkalotl and his entire entourage of Hardheads (while Malkalotl's too high up for watch patrol, he still conducts official business in Sigil's streets) was slain by the furious fiend, and when the dead couatl reverted to his natural form the goristro carried his corpse off, doubtless intrigued by its pretty colours.

Furious at the loss of one of their high-ups, the Harmonium combed the Cage to no avail; Malkalotl's body had well and truly vanished. Imagine their surprise then, a week later, after a ceremony of honour in his memory, when Malkalotl returned to the Cage, healthy and very much alive, accompanied by the SoulUsher Laurelli Tantarella. First thing he did was look for the blood who'd resurrected him, but of course the faction didn't have his corpse so it can't have been them.

This in turn sparked a rather bizarre turn of events. Usually when a cutter's murdered the Hardheads are charged with finding out who did it, but this time they sodding well knew who did the killing (the goristro was banished from Sigil for 1001 years) and were rather trying to work out who did the resurrecting. So far, there's not a scrap of evidence to point to any one priest. The temples all deny it, and since resurrection ain't a cheap proposal at the best of times, it's completely dark which bigwig with jink could've funded it...

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( Prime / asexual cloaker /
Priest 16 / Revolutionary League / CN )

Whatever shape he's adopted, Malkalotl is rarely seen without his multi-coloured cloak. The chant goes that it has strange and powerful magics weaved into it, though it apparently doesn't radiate magic. The truth of the matter is that Malkalotl himself doesn't know what the cloak is. Apparently it just turned up one day in the wardrobe of his tower, with a note attached saying it was from "a secret admirer".

Drawn to bright things, Malkalotl fell in love with it at once, and is rarely parted from it. Of course, before he decided to wear it he checked it for magical dweomers, curses and psionic enchantments, but it turned up negative on all counts. Satisfied that nobody was trying to harm him [Caruther discovered to his amusement that Malkalotl reckon's the cloak's a peace offering from the titan Zadara, with whom the couatl's crossed swords before], the couatl donned the cloak and now wears it most days, whether in aasimar or couatl form. And though neither Malkalotl nor the rest of the Harmonium know it, that cloak is responsible for many of the mysteries that surround the couatl.

To start with, nobody realises that the cape is very much alive. In fact, it's one of those curious beasts from the prime known as a 'cloaker', and it calls itself Caruther. There's more: not only is the cloak alive, but it's also a powerful cleric of some power of deception (those trickster gods never do reveal their real names). It could be Loki, or Leira (if she ain't dead yet), or anyone really. 'Course, you're ahead of me here; it's Malkalotl's anonymous cloaker friend who was responsible for his resurrection. But why? A strange bond between wearer and clothing? Not at fact, the real reason's much darker.

See, Caruther is an anarchist. Not just any old anarchist, one of the anarchists...a cutter from the near-legendary Omar's cell, no less. If your history's failing you, you'll doubtless be glad of the reminded that Omar was a cutter from the Revolutionary League who joined the Harmonium and made his way up to the position if Factol himself! In fact, he'd have remained unnoticed had it not been for his bizarre decree to dismantle the faction...even then, some of the Hardheads fell for the ploy, the chant goes.

'Course, he was punished and punished harshly, but the rest of the cell escaped. Recent reports in S.I.G.I.S. suggested that the remainder of Omar's cell was captured, some 50 years on, but what the Harmonium don't realise is that they missed one cutter, and that's Caruther. Better still, the cloaker's found its way into the faction on the back of Malkalotl, one of the most trusted bashers of Sarin himself.

Enjoying his privileged position, Caruther listens and watches and learns the darks of the faction, and relays them to his contacts in the Revolutionary League. 'Course, this has to be done in the strictest secrecy, so the cloaker waits until Malkalotl decided not to wear him for a day (this happens maybe every week or so), and when the couatl's left his home, the cloaker comes out of the closet, flaps over to the window of the tower, and issues a shrill keen, out of the range of normal hearing. This summons Ireeze, the air grue, and his entourage. High above the streets of the Cage the cloaker shares the darks that he has learned with the grue, and when he's done he returns to his coathanger and waits for Malkalotl to return.

Caruther hasn't been detected by Malkalotl because cloakers are natural (if bizarre) rather than magical, are neither good nor evil, and their thoughts are too alien to be easily spotted by the likes of Christopher Verdue. For Caruther, it's a perfect way to infiltrate the faction; after passing numerous detect lie tests and psychic screenings Malkalotl is now so trusted that has access to all sorts of darks. The cloaker knows, for example, all about the recent troubles on Arcadia and exactly what caused them, and why the faction recently bought a picture from the artist Kilhans for thousands of merts; when the next raid on an anarchist stronghold is due; and all manner of other sensitive issues with which Sarin has consulted the couatl. The cloaker doesn't share all of them immediately with Ireeze; it's best to keep something in reserve just in case a bargaining chip is needed. The Harmonium realise that they have a stag-turning spy in their ranks (too many anarchists have been forewarned of raids to be a coincidence, they reckon), but they have no idea who it might be.

While Malkalotl'd wear Caruther just for his colours alone, the cloaker also uses some of its own magical powers to aid the couatl. It can create mirror images of itself and Malkalotl, or bend shadows to improve the couatl's armour behaving as a mere magical cape, the cloaker's managed to become the latest spy in one of Sigil's most secretive factions, and he's done it with real style. 

Cage Rattlers
Consult the Mimir Again