Pride of her Parents chapter 2 – Shapierian No More! (2/2)

“This Achim of yours — you had to leave him because you’re a thief.” En Shevil blushed. She had not mentioned her growing feelings for the Hero, but Thalanna, after all this time, could still see through her. “And he whom I love is also a resistance fighter, and we must wait until Rasier is free to have a proper ceremony.”

“Who is he? And what’s happened to you since you left Shapier?”

“His name is Sharaf. When the Emir vanished and the katta were driven out, my parents, Sashel, and I refused to go. There was no organized resistance then, and they were killed.” Her voice had grown hard, bitter, and En Shevil felt an emotional shock that was unchanged by her logic which had expected this news. She had not known Thalanna’s brother well, he being much closeted in study, but her friend’s parents had been close to hers and like a second family. After a harshly silent moment Thalanna continued. “It was by pure luck that I survived at all. Random chance chose me over them, so now I am here and they are not. Sharaf found me wandering and brought me to the Shelhar. That’s our word for the underground, of course, because it means ‘liberty.’

“Since then we’ve watched our city, the mirror of Shapier, turn into this horror. The fountain had stopped with the Emir gone, and it got worse from there. The guards slowly disappeared to be replaced by Khaveen’s men, who were soon posted everywhere. New laws courtesy of Khaveen were written on the walls. Streets were boarded off for no apparent reason until the entire eastern side of the city became inaccessible. New laws forbade people to walk the streets without a ‘Visa,’ anyone to be out at night, or more than one person to be in company outside their houses. So families were unable to leave the city, and at first those who tried were taken and not seen again. So we created distractions and assassinated guards to help get people out.

“We have spies in the palace and we’ve found that we can buy off the guards for the right price. But we need more money. All we had before was what the individual members brought, and had few channels through which to spend it. Now we are nearly without money all together, and when we have enough to bribe a large number of guards to look away, we’ll attack the palace.”

Throughout Thalanna’s story, a cold suspicion had been crystallizing in En Shevil’s heart. The katta gave her no real information — no names or places — and her tone of voice sounded more like a debriefing than the tale of her adventures told to a friend. “And that’s where I come in, isn’t it?” said the thief heavily, and her words were only half a question.

“I thought you would guess,” said Thalanna quietly. “To tell truth, your arrival was exactly in time. We need good thieves, but all those in the city are much too afraid of one Signor Ferrari, a very influential man who likes to pass himself off as chief thief around here, to help us. So we need you.”

“Those locks — the house and the trapdoor…”

Thalanna looked surprised. “Tests,” she said finally. “I had the keys all along. That I was not supposed to tell you, should you guess, but you are my friend.”

Am I? En Shevil wondered. Would you have rescued me at all if I had been only your friend, with no special talents? She looked away hastily, lest her perceptive friend should detect this question in her eyes, but it was too late, for Thalanna had guessed. She could always guess.

Her voice was unsteady, and miserably apologetic with an undertone of guilt as she hastily plunged on. “Ferarri is a foreigner from who-knows-where, and the only reason he stays in town at all is because he thinks the Blackbird is here.”

En Shevil’s head whipped around. “The Blackbird?

Thalanna nodded. “Not really. We have confirmed that the one he’s got his eye on is one of the fakes. Once we get it stolen, we’re paying a Silmarian collecter to take it, and make it appear that he has the real thing and is headed for home. Hopefully, Ferarri will leave in search of it and the thieves will be bribable again.”

“So where is it?” asked En Shevil coolly. The growing pain in her heart at Thalanna’s treatment of her compelled her to be businesslike. She was no part of their organization; they did her no favors and vise versa. “And how much are you willing to pay?”

Thalanna let out a deep breath, her sorrow tightening into resolve as it always did. She had known En Shevil would understand how it must be, and there was no use for regrets. They had been friends once, but no more. “We will give you fifty dinars. It’s not much, but we can barely afford even that. It’s in Khaveen’s house.”

Khaveen. En Shevil shuddered at the thought and was about to refuse when she remembered the Thalanna of Shapier, her wit and vivacity and her love of pranks and jokes. “I’ll do it,” she said, in tribute to what you once were.

They moved down the passageway to a door that Thalanna opened with a small key. Entering behind her former friend, En Shevil could see another katta waiting for them.

“Here is the thief,” said Thalanna to the man in the darkened room. He nodded, eyes narrow, and remarked that she looked more like a whore. En Shevil opened her mouth for an angry retort, but Thalanna broke in. “I rescued her from the harem, remember?”

“She’s probably a spy, then,” said the man darkly, still speaking to his fellow katta as if En Shevil were not there. A slight snort from Thalanna as they entered the black doorway in the underground passage told the thief all she needed to know. The door closed and a light appeared, blinding her for some time.

When she was able to look around she stared in amazement at the large, neat, full-sized apartment with normal doors heading to other chambers. Not only was it built like a typical above-ground house, it was furnished thus as well. “What is all this?” she asked in bewilderment. Thalanna looked away, apparently not desiring to answer, and the other katta did not seem to understand the question.

“Do you mean the rooms?” asked a human woman who appeared in a doorway. She was a bit past middle-aged with greying hair of dark brown, and very large eyes. “When we started the Shelhar, we found an extensive underground system like the city above. Apparently it had been used for many years as a thieves’ guild, and most citizens had forgotten about it. According to their log book, the thief activity was gradually taken over by crime lords and the small guilds were suffering. Finally these places were abandoned and forgotten. We also learned that such chambers were planned in the original design of both Shapier and Rasier, but the foundations of the first were inadequate. Rasier being settled on flatstone, they were able to build them here.” The woman smiled. “My name is Thaylish.”

At that moment, another human woman entered, opening the door to the hallway into Thalanna’s back. She was dressed in brown and wore a veil. “Rilahr — where is he?” she gasped, leaning against the doorframe.

“Here,” said a voice, and a male katta appeared next to Thaylish. “What is the matter?” The woman in brown looked at En Shevil as, after a moment, did Rilahr.

“She’s all right,” said Thalanna hastily, obviously anxious to hear the woman’s news. En Shevil wondered that Thalanna seemed so sure that she was trustworthy, then realized that the Shelhar would probably not let her out of their sight from that moment on.

“Khaveen is to marry Zayishah. It was just fixed with her father.”

Rilahr looked mildly concerned and said calmly, “We must get her out of the city.”

“Zayishah…” said En Shevil softly, losing track of the further conversation between Rilahr and the brown woman. The name sounded familiar. “Isn’t she…”

“The daughter of Ali Hasan,” supplied Thaylish. “Her mother, Rahn Tehral, died in childbirth when Zayishah was born, and she’s been brought up by Mayzun here,” indicating the brown woman “since her father’s always so busy helping his brother. We’ve been protecting her lately, as much as we can, but we can’t let her into the Shelhar because of who she is. If she were one of us and were caught, it would be disastrous — we can’t endanger the Sultan’s own niece that way. And also, being in the position she is, she would make a perfect spy for Khaveen. No matter how we may trust Mayzun, Zayishah’s another matter.”

En Shevil blinked, and realized suddenly that the room was silent. Mayzun was staring at her, Rilahr was looking her over as if to find something, and En Shevil recognized Thalanna’s carefully averted eyes, the look that stated she knew something which would soon become evident to all.

“I doubt she’s good enough,” said the sour katta whose name she had not yet heard.

Resentment welled up like a sudden windstorm inside her. “Good enough for what?” she snapped.

Mayzun answered in a tone of acid, though her anger was not directed at En Shevil. “To kill Khaveen.”

She was dumbstruck, horrified at the thought. All at once came back to her the image of the EOF warrior, blood gushing from a wound in his side — a wound of her infliction. She recalled the sick, shocked, disgusted feeling that had arisen as everything she was had revolted against what she had done. Could she — was she capable of taking life? She did not believe she could become a murderer and keep her sanity.

Rilahr had apparently interpreted her silence as an invitation to continue, and so he explained. “It would be simple,” he began, and Thalanna turned away with a snort. “When you go to get the Blackbird, take a dagger with you.”

“No,” said En Shevil.

“You’re right, of course. Such method might arouse his guards. We can provide you with a poison, if you’ll give us time.”

No.

“Of course, the method is up to you. We could bribe the guards. It would be expensive, but certainly worth it, and with the Blackbird…”

No!” she almost screamed, remembering the smell of blood, and could say no more.

Finally Thalanna broke in. “She won’t do it,” she said loudly. “She doesn’t kill. She’s just a thief.”

The words of her former friend echoed in her ears: She’s just a thief, she’s just a thief, just a thief. Just a thief. Just…

***

Alone she entered the plaza, unable to risk company. The window gaped in the wall, just as they’d told her, but her attention was dragged to the fountain at which she now had full time to look. Somehow its broken interior and cracked lining touched her, and she stood for a moment silent, gazing down at it while inexplicable tears seeped into her eyes. It was with an effort that she turned away.

Climbing was, of course, one of her primary talents, and with her pin she hypothesized that she would never fall. She pulled herself up onto the doorway, clinging to cracks in the wall, and leapt for Khaveen’s window. She tightened her body as her hands gripped the sill and jerked her up short. Ignoring the pain in her chest and stomach as her weight pressed them in turn against the window frame, she hauled herself up and over in a position like a crawl.

The bed in the chamber’s center immediately caught her attention for its radical proportions. She shuddered with the thought that she could have… and turned her gaze to the rest of the room. The motif seemed to be death, tastefully rendered in the display of causes thereof. Through an arch she saw a guard at attention, and uncomfortably near that same arch was a cabinet with a glass door. Approaching cautiously, she confirmed the bird’s presence. A hand on the hinges told her she would need to open the door exceptionally slowly to avoid noise, as she had no oil. She picked the lock.

The fake Blackbird was fairly heavy, for its size, and gleamed silver as she turned it in her hand. For several moments she crouched silently, staring at the beautiful, nugatory object. Finally she tucked it into the bag she’d brought, slung it over her shoulder, and closed the cabinet door.

On the way to the window she paused, looking through the gauzy, feminine curtains of the bed to where Khaveen lay sleeping. Asleep, he appeared almost appealingly vulnerable, and suddenly a completely alien desire overtook her — a strange urge to pull the dagger free from her ankle and cut the man’s throat. This lust was so strong that she actually took a step closer the bed before she became sick at the thought and dashed for the window. As she dropped to the plaza, the cool air calming her upset stomach, she realized that with practice she probably would be able to kill, just as she could accustom herself to anything else. The bloodthirsty feeling of a few moments before confirmed this. Running light-headed through the streets, she went back to the Shelhar.

***

Yawning, En Shevil pushed back the curtain that served as a door for the tiny room she had been given. She guessed that the underground only fed and housed her because she was Thalanna’s ‘hostage.’ She entered the common chamber of the five-room house, the one adjoining the passageway. Thaylish was just coming in as En Shevil entered and sat down. She stood up immediately she saw the woman’s face. “What’s happened?” she asked anxiously.

“It’s Sharaf,” said Thaylish. “He went to meet Taedocles’ party. Taedocles is that Silmarian collector, of course, and he has his own little caravan of hired guards that…”

En Shevil cut in. “What about Sharaf?” She had met Thalanna’s lover only briefly before she had gone last night to rob Khaveen, but they had not spoken.

“He was taking that Blackbird out to Taedocles and someone must have tipped someone off, for he was taken just as he came back into the city. For once, I don’t suspect Ferrari. My guess would be Taedocles himself, or one of his party. Where is Thalanna?”

“I don’t think she’s here,” murmured En Shevil, tears beginning to fall. “I just got up.” It was a bitter, detached sorrow — a sadness, not for her friend personally, but that such things must occur in the world… for now Sharaf would certainly be put to death. She hardly noticed as Thaylish took her leave to look for the katta.

En Shevil did not see Thalanna throughout the rest of that tedious day, and her dreams were clouded that night. She was a prisoner of war to her own allies, unable to go with or help them, but no more able to leave them or complain. She was better off here than the harem, at any rate.

After a day of complete boredom during which she did not stir from the house and rarely saw anyone, it was an indescribable relief when Thaylish invited the thief to her home for the day. “For,” she said, “the underground is only part of my life — I must take care of my children, too, of course. And I know how dull it can be down here during the day.”

Her dwelling was near Fountain Plaza, and had no connection to the underground passages. The closest house that did was down the street, and they ran from one house to the other. En Shevil had, out of some strange sense of rebellion, decided to keep the bells on her shirt. It may have been that, though her family had been relatively wealthy, she had never possessed any article of clothing so fine and was unwilling to spoil it. At any rate, outside the underground house she kept the cape tied around her midsection to quiet them.

At Thaylish’s dwelling she was introduced to the woman’s three children, playing busily and giving her hardly a glance, rushing about in serious pursuit of their charades as if neither water shortage nor tyranny were prevalent in the city around them. She also met Thaylish’s husband, working at a loom in a chamber almost empty of further thread or yarn for his project. He had a haunted look in his manner that suggested weaving was the only thing that kept his mind from dwelling on the fear that surrounded life in Rasier. En Shevil knew the feeling, but feared that this would be the man’s last rug for some time.

Thaylish said, “I need to make something for the kids, and you shall keep me company.”

“All right,” responded En Shevil, with a backward glance at the weaver as they departed the room. “I’d offer to help, but I’m a terrible cook.”

In the kitchen, Thaylish provided more information, as seemed to be her habit. “My children eat twice a day — breakfast or lunch, depending on when it gets made, and, of course, supper. We have a great deal in storage, but sometimes I still worry.” She shook her head as she unwrapped a loaf of bread and began slicing it. “And sometimes I can’t get Alin to eat at all.” Sighing, she fell silent for a moment. Then she smiled. “I must admit that my true reason for inviting you was somewhat selfish, but I think you’ll forgive me. Before the emir’s disappearance, I knew more about what was going on in this city that anyone. I could have told you each family’s genealogy, everyone’s former and current love interests, what price everyone’s wares were going for, and so on. It’s always been my passion to know exactly what’s going on. Well, I knew so much, and proved so good — forgive me if I brag — so good at finding out more, that the underground actually sought me out when they formed. I’ve been their chief information collector for some time.”

“And how can I help you?” asked En Shevil, puzzled but amused.

“Gossip! I want to hear all the news from Shapier.” Thaylish knew whence the thief had come, but En Shevil had told her little else. She did find her story a bit embarrassing.

She laughed. “Well, I’ll tell you what I can, but I’ve never really gossiped so I can’t claim to be an expert. The biggest news in the Hero, of course.” She related all she could remember of what Achim had told her that first night and the tale of the fire elemental, and answered Thaylish’s occasional questions as best she could.

Meanwhile, the children came in to eat sandwiches. Thaylish offered one to En Shevil, saying, “It’s the last of my pumpkin bread, I’m afraid: Mordavia’s been cut off by the swamp, since it’s rained so much there, and there is no pumpkin bread to match theirs.” En Shevil accepted the saurus cold-cut sandwich, having never tasted pumpkin bread before, and found it remarkably good. “Come tell me more while I do laundry,” said Thaylish as they finished eating, the older woman having devoured a sandwich in a blink.

“Now that I can help you with,” said En Shevil, not partial to laundry but glad of something constructive to do.

A basin full of tepid, greyish water greeted En Shevil’s distasteful look. “We’ve been reusing the same water for quite some time — since the fountain dried, actually, because, of course, you can’t get more. But we found a way to clean the water. We boil it, and let the steam rise into a blanket which we wring out into another basin while we scrub this one — all the dirt is left behind. We lose some water every time, but it works. Few others in the city have clean clothes,” she added proudly. En Shevil smiled.

As they worked, the thief told Thaylish all she could think of about Shapier. Oddly enough, Thaylish seemed less surprised at the news that poet Omar was sultan Harun Al-Rashid than that Dinarzaad and Issur had broken up. She had apparently been tracking their relationship. “So, did you and your Hero make any plans before you skipped out?” asked Thaylish, almost teasingly, as they spoke of the other couple. En Shevil looked shocked. Was she that easily-seen-through, or otherwise how did everyone know she liked Achim? The woman laughed merrily. “My dear, it’s my business to find things out. You do hide it fairly well, but I’m very practiced at that. If it’s meant to be a secret, I certainly won’t tell anyone. I just want to know if you made any plans.”

En Shevil shook her head, looking at the hole in the shirt she held up. “Oh, does that want mending? Put it aside, and I’ll tell Alin later. He does all that sort of thing — I can’t sew a stitch. But do tell me about you and this Achim. I’m so curious. Unless,” she added, “it’s too personal. Hard as it is to believe, I really don’t mean to pry. Will you marry him?”

“Goodness!” exclaimed the thief in response. “I barely know him! It’s rather silly for me to be… attracted to him at all!”

“But you just gave me his life history!”

“But I don’t know him personally. I don’t know his habits and such, I’m not even sure…”

“Then you ought to marry him at once!” said Thaylish decisively.

“What?”

“It’s always best to know as little as possible about the faults of the man you’re going to marry before you marry him. If you always watch, you’ll discover things that will keep you from marrying him, and you’ll eventually die an old maid. Best to get it over with and live with what you learn after the wedding. Anyhow, it worked for me. And about his character — he’s a Hero!”

Almost as if this conversation were a piece of prophecy, it was not long after that a shadow with Thalanna’s voice appeared in the doorway of En Shevil’s little chamber and said, “Achim is here.” The tone was curt. “Thought you might want to know.” She sounded bitter, and this was probably the longest string of words she had spoken to En Shevil since Sharaf’s capture. En Shevil stood slowly and entered the common room. Thalanna sat on a cushion eating dried lamb meat. “You can’t see him, of course,” said the katta softly. En Shevil nodded and accepted the strips of meat the other girl handed her. At times like this she felt an ache for the friendship they had once had, destroyed by the same tragedy that had ruined Thalanna’s life, turned her into a fugitive fighter, and now stolen her only solace in this lonely existence.

En Shevil was still treated like a prisoner here, given only one meal a day, but she understood that the Shelhar could not spare much food to those who were not actually members. “Perhaps he can help–” She cut herself short, unsure as to whether she should say ‘us’ or ‘you.’

“Yes,” said Thalanna absently. Her absence of mind was better than her controlled sorrow. “Our main task now is to get Zayishah out.” So they had not succeeded in that yet. En Shevil was annoyingly uninformed around here, and only the night before had been planning to see if they would allow her to leave with the next caravan. But now, with the news of Achim’s arrival, she knew she could not go until she had seen him.

But a few days later, all chances of that seemed to vanish when Thalanna again awakened her with surprising news from the doorway. “Your man’s been taken,” she said coldly. She and En Shevil had grown even farther apart in the short time the thief had been with the Shelhar. En Shevil sat up, a shiver running through her. Achim, in the hands of Khaveen? Now what? Should she attempt to persuade the underground to rescue him? They had not tried to rescue Sharaf. What about that attack on the palace that Thalanna had mentioned? When was that planned for? She did not know how long she sat there before Thalanna suddenly reappeared. “I’m sorry,” she said, and it was an apology for the katta’s lack of sympathy. “I know how you feel.” En Shevil said nothing and after a moment Thalanna left.

The girl lay in her bed for some time, unwilling to enter the bright, empty common room. The darkness was her consolation, her worries taking less material hold in the shadows. After a while she had an idea. She could not enter any of the other three rooms — Thalanna’s, Sharaf’s, and that shared by Rilahr and the other katta, whose name was Dalhin — so she left the house entirely. The cool, dark passage was an immediate relief. A man standing there, armed — a guard. She was a prisoner, then. She had never left the house alone before, only with Thaylish twice. She sighed as he laid a hand on her shoulder. Better a prisoner of justice than of decadence anyway.

“I only want to sit out here in the dark,” she said, realizing it sounded rather silly.

“I can’t let you be where I can’t see you,” he said. The door shut and she felt his grip tighten as all light disappeared.

“Can’t you see in the dark?” asked En Shevil, pitying him but also rather surprised.

“Most humans can’t,” he replied dryly.

“They could if they knew how,” said the thief. “I can teach you, if you like.”

“I don’t know…” said the guard, sounding a little suspicious.

“Oh, please,” begged En Shevil. “I’m terribly bored, and I need something to take my mind off some problems.”

“All right, then,” he said reluctantly.

The guard proved stubborn and fairly unteachable, and it took the better part of the afternoon to help him learn the technique at all. Then he could barely do it without En Shevil talking him through. So she began helping him hold onto the vision. The task was so grueling that it worked as a very effecting way to take her mind off Achim.

Suddenly, a small form darted past them, flung open the door, and raced into the house. The door bounced closed, evading En Shevil’s grasp as she reached for the handle. She eventually got it open and entered the room. “Sharaf!” she cried numbly. “How…”

“Where is Thalanna?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she began, but the girl in question came in at that moment, rushing to Sharaf and stopping short, only clasping hands with her lover. Knowing the katta aversion to physical displays of affection before others, she walked quickly past them to her bedroom and sat down. Still she could not help but mark a great deal of their rapid, rather broken conversation. She ignored the less interesting bits — the ‘I love you”s and the ‘I was so worried”s, until finally the subject of Sharaf’s escape came up.

“The human Hero was brought to my cell, but he was able to pick the lock with a nail he found. We used the passage to escape.” Silently En Shevil sat beaming, her heart rate increasing until her chest was pounding on the inside of her ears. She should have known there was no need to worry. “Is everything in place for the attack?”

“Yes — I only came back because Thaylish said she saw you.”

This came as a shock to the thief — the attack was underway? She scrambled up and under the door-hanging. “Let me come! I’ve caused you a lot of trouble. Now let me help.” Sharaf nodded shortly and went to the door with the two females behind.

On the way, En Shevil finally got some information. The Shelhar was assembled in the houses nearest the palace, and Thalanna had been on watch until Thaylish’s news. The attack was to commence at dawn. Now both Sharaf and Thalanna were to watch, from the eastern door to the Palace Plaza, as they would not be separated.

“In there,” ordered Thalanna when they got there, pointing to the nearest door. En Shevil nodded, pulling out her lockpick, and wondering at the same time what had possessed her just now. Why had she come? There was sure to be bloodshed, and how could she possibly help? To her right she heard Thalanna gasp in surprise, and turning she followed with her eyes the angle of the katta’s gaze. Sharaf had entered the plaza and stood talking to none other than Achim.

Her heart almost stopped beating. Such a welcome sight was he that she could not look away. Now she was glad she had come. Sharaf returned and spoke to Thalanna in a soft voice, but En Shevil did not listen, for she was too busy watching her Hero. He walked unfalteringly through the shadows to the pillars of the balcony, a rope in his hands.

That was all En Shevil saw, for at that moment something moved in the northern arch of the plaza. She frowned. There was no Shelhar guard there — it must be one of Khaveen’s men. Sharaf and Thalanna, having apparently forgotten her, had entered the house and shut the door. Achim must have requested something — a distraction, perhaps, while he infiltrated the palace? She realized that she would have to deal with whoever it was herself. With a deep breath she ran across the plaza and into the doorway.

It was not one of Khaveen’s men.

En Shevil, flabbergasted at the creature before her, simply stared while the other stared back. It was some time before she could even place the thing zoologically: djinn. She had never seen one, and now she was reluctantly fascinated by it, or, probably more appropriately, her. The djinn had the body of a child that tapered at the waist into a long coiling tail of smoke. Its skin, though, seemed to be covered with reddish scales, and its head bore two long, curving horns of black. It seemed very young, though En Shevil had no idea how djinni aged, and also appeared terrified and confused, its childish face holding a look of such innocent fear that En Shevil pitied it. The djinn murmured something the thief did not catch, and began to move past her towards the plaza. “No!” hissed En Shevil. She did not know what Sharaf was planning or when Achim needed his diversion, but she hypothesized that the arrival of a frightened djinn on the scene would not help either.

“He’s calling my father,” said the djinn in its childish voice. It did not stop moving. En Shevil then did something she had never dreamed she might have occasion to do: she seized upon the djinn’s arms and held it back. “Letgoletgoletgoletgoletgo!” said the child frantically, and of course En Shevil did not obey. She pulled the child closer to her, not knowing exactly what to do. And then, to her horror, her entire weight jerked her arms as they were abruptly airborne. Spinning out of the street and up into the sky above the plaza, the djinn tried to shake the human off, not knowing that it had become a matter of life and death for En Shevil to hold on. They were high above the city now, the djinn turning over and over in the dark sky, crying out in fear. Her exclamations alternated between “let go” and “he’s calling my father.”

En Shevil screamed, gripped by terror. She clutched at the poor child’s arms so tightly her fingers ached, while the djinn struggled beneath her. The devastating logic part of her mind told her calmly that were this a fully developed djinn, it would have been too strong for her. But her emotions only felt sickness and fear as the child twisted and writhed to rid itself of its unwanted passenger.

At first when the djinn turned its back to the ground, En Shevil dangled and usually screamed, but presently she began to be entangled with the creature’s tail, which was solid though it looked like smoke. Either this hampered the child’s ability to fly or it decided to try another tactic, for it suddenly plunged towards the narrow streets of the inner palace below. The wind tore at En Shevil’s face, and she felt sick. The djinn came to earth on the ground, in a lane of the palace between the high-rising expanses of two huge walls. Far above, light flashed. The thief found herself half-lying on the ground, still wrapped in the djinn’s tail, with the creature pulling frantically at her. “He’s calling my father!” Then more quietly, “My mother should help. Let go!”

Looking up into the sky as she was, En Shevil saw him as he fell: a man, his red turban flying off and his blue robes in flames as he plummeted towards them. She could hear his scream of despair as he fell to his death. She pushed at the ground to move away, but her arms did not reach the earth since she and the djinn were still struggling to separate themselves from each other, halfway in the air. Only her feet lightly touched.

Even the djinn screamed as the man landed beside them and there came a flash of darkness, like an implosion where all the light is sucked away; the world went dim with it, the shapes around them only shadows. Raging pain seared through En Shevil, there was a brilliant spark of white light, and it was the last thing she knew.

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