…a light in the distance that only she could see, whose name was perhaps death, perhaps happiness…

A simple Shapierian thief finds herself become something she never wanted to be, and must embark on her own quest across Glorianna to redeem herself and reunite with the Hero she loves.


Unique to this story: spectacular Mary-Sue



1
Chapter 1 - A Mistake
2
Chapter 2 - Shapierian No More!
3-4
Chapter 3 - Itsumo Kawai
Chapter 4 - Nightfall
5-6
Chapter 5 - Demons and Darkness
Chapter 6 - Mirror, Mirror
7
Chapter 7 - Sechburg
8
Chapter 8 - Magic and Mayhem
9
Chapter 9 - On the Road
10
Chapter 10 - Trouble in South Spielburg
11
Chapter 11 - New Quests
12
Chapter 12 - Silmaria
Chapter 13 - Looking Forward
Chapter 14 - Various Ends
Chapter 15 - Forms of Hell
Chapter 16 - Horror and Heartache
Chapter 17 - Dance of Destinies
Chapter 18
Chapter 19 - Blood of Love, Death of Death
About the sequels


Chapter 5 – Demons and Darkness

“Rakeesh, you know I’d love to see your homeland, but I can’t leave right now.”

“I feel strangely worried about Tarna,” the liontaur remarked, “though I have no particular cause for worry. I am rather anxious to see my mate and daughter. But I wait upon your convenience.”

The prince nodded, still gazing out the narrow window onto the desert. “Where in Shapier could she be?” he said softly, fingernails tapping nervously on the sill. “I’ve searched Rasier twice, sent messengers to Darun and all the other stupid towns, and checked all the caravans.”

Rakeesh stood and came to the prince’s side. “My friend,” he said, laying a hand on Achim’s shoulder, “is it possible that she does not wish to be found?”

“Oh, why would she do that?” the Hero replied impatiently, pulling away and striding about the small lounge. He finally came to rest against a pillar on the open side of the room that looked out onto a courtyard.

“It may be that she fears you, as any thief would fear the prince of her country.”

“But that’s ridiculously stupid,” said Achim loudly. “I’m still… I would never… She’s my…” He grunted his frustration with the idea and began pacing again.

“This obsessing is not healthy,” said Rakeesh. “You need to take your mind off of this matter. Though I shall not pressure you to accept my invitation, I think a trip to Tarna would be for your good.”

“I can’t leave here for anything less than an emergency when there’s a chance she might come back.” But just to make sure (his heroic side slightly worried), he asked, “There’s no major problems in Tarna, is there?”

“There are not,” said Rakeesh, correcting his grammar, “any of which I am aware, and yet I sense…” The Paladin trailed off, shaking his head.

“Then I can’t go,” the prince said decisively.

“Of course,” said Rakeesh graciously, though disappointed. He knew this eager, fresh-faced Hero would amuse his mate, and was anxious to show him to her.

“Your highness,” called a voice from across the courtyard, a guard striding towards them. He was followed by a chestnut centaur.

“Heinrich!” cried Achim, his face brightening somewhat.

“Your highness,” said the centaur with a bow. Rakeesh could sense the man’s agitation, and see it as his tail flicked nervously from side to side. “I am come at the baron’s bidding to request your aid as Hero of Spielburg.”

Achim settled down. “What’s happened?” he asked.

“A killer, sent perhaps from Hell itself, is wreaking havoc on the southern countries and moving north. He has already taken uncountable lives, and many say he is mad. But he is also deadly, and the baron fears for his people. It will not be long before he reaches the Spielburg valley, and the baron requests that you stop him before he does.”

The human and the liontaur exchanged looks. “I think this is the distraction you were recommending,” he said with a protracted sigh.

***

Everyone was blonde, and wasn’t that hilarious? It made her so angry… Thus she simply put her swords through him and walked on, thinking that the doors of a hall could not open if there were trees in the way. That rush, that wild and indescribable joy of death pressed on her, blowing like a hot wind over the ocean, ruffling the frothy foam-tipped water of brilliant blue-green — a good, bright way to be agitated! There was no danger from angry, crushing waves when the wind would bear her up!

The gravel crunched beneath her feet, reminding her of ugly jewelry; the ocean was so evil, but that was over. There was no carpet, actually, but there was a town. Here she had an emptiness, annoyingly. It was gnawing at her, eating the insides of her being; it hurt, despair — it told her to fill it. No, the mud did not sing. Villagers worked and ran and walked and laughed and lived. They had no emptiness, but they would fill hers. She grinned and drew her swords.

Scream, bleed, and everything else delightful, fueling the wonderful rush that consumed her and beat back the hollowness. She laughed. But her face! The extra mansukos around her waist were for her head so she wrapped it. Hadn’t her hair been long once? She hated them and laughed. “Death!” she said experimentally, running a finger over her broken lips before she covered them. “Deathscar.” She laughed again. Move now, she must, purple or no.

Did such a remote location really export? The banners weren’t right. Hours; it was getting colder and darker and blacker and greyer, and here was a horseman. “Hi!” she called. “Ho there! Warn them Deathscar’s coming!” He reined up, gave her a strange look, and rode on. “Warn them!” she shrieked after. And then it was gone. The fullness that had been ebbing drained fully and spirally, and what was this new delinquency? She clenched her muscles and shouted as the wave of ravenous emptiness struck her, sickening her. People would die for this; it was worse than before. People would die.

***

The man’s face crinkled into a mask of grief and despair. “You come too late, Hero,” he snarled. “Deathscar has come and gone.”

“Deathscar? Is that what he’s called?”

“He went north; go find him and rescue some other town; fifteen lie in the ground since his passing here.”

Achim looked at him in horror. “Fifteen?” The man nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“So are we,” he replied bitterly, and walked away.

The demon wizard laughed as the image faded. If that girl were in Tarna, it would make his task pathetically simple; as it was, he had spent the last three months slowly coaxing the tear in space open, feeding the gate orb with the low-power essences of ape-men and the occasional leopardman. And still the rip was small, because he dared not steal too many lives lest the people of Tarna become aware of it. But soon he would begin his master’s plan and the savanna would flow with blood.

Now, if he had that girl here…

But the girl was also playing a part, keeping the mighty Hero far from Tarna and its dealings. He could not scry her, but he could follow Achim’s progress in tracking her. He only wished he could be there to taste the deaths she was so rampantly causing.

***

The smell of steel and blood and then she killed her. It felt so pulling and ivory. Shoving her swords back into the sheath, she walked on through the silent town echoing with the sound of her voice screaming out her new name.

A larger road joined the smaller one just after this, giving her more victims. But soon they were all gone and Deathscar was full and energetic once again. Happily, there was no bread involved with the finches. Those were annoying. Brilliant yellow; no, it was an orange-yellow, darker than lemon but brighter than a peach. Here — it was a huge city on which she looked down like the heartless eagle bending upon the hapless dove. The road became cobbled beneath her feet as she descended towards the death, smiling to show her perfect teeth. Her teeth were beautiful. That was because she was hungry.

What did she want? Meat, of course, but it must be burned. It had to be black; that was the only way she would like it. Too much blue was in the world already. But in the city was sure to be a butcher’s shop; there had been one in the last city she’d passed. It was too cold. She wanted it burnt. This was silly. The place was so busy, but she did not kill them yet; she could restrain herself until she’d been filled with food and then they would all die.

They all stared at her. “Don’t stare,” she told someone as he passed. He laughed. This was fraying the short thread of her temper. Buildings, flanks of wood and stone, and the dark of alleys and covered side-streets. Too many people, all alive, all happy, all full of energy and happiness and food. Her hands were clenched and then she smelled the bakery.

Running in, she pulled her swords out and said, “I want food.”

The muttering idiot screamed, fatly and so annoying. “Help help! Help help!” Deathscar vaulted the counter and stabbed her. A strange colored echo and image came to her then, warning her; they were coming now because of the fat woman’s scream. She gathered up the bread that she wanted and raced for the back door. This felt more right, killing and then stealing; how delicious this was!

In the alley behind there were some beggars; she killed them. There were cries behind her now, and people getting in the way. That was fine; she could kill two at once because she had two swords. The street opened and there was a river. She ran over the bridge and into a quieter place where the buildings were smaller and had flowers. She liked flowers as long as they didn’t crawl into her head at night.

There was mud. She jumped into it and splashed it all over the man near her. Then she killed him too. This was so much fun. She could do this forever. Adrenaline and blessed fullness pumping through her blood, she continued on through the city.

***

“So you’re saying Deathscar’s a woman?”

“I don’t want… oh!” The elderly man turned away, his face twisted with anguish, and hobbled towards his home.

“She came through,” said another man, shaking his head. “She was screaming the whole time, and we couldn’t take our eyes away from our windowpanes as she cut down everyone who happened to be outside.” Tears came to his eyes, and his voice was choked with pain and sorrow. “She kept saying, ‘Deathscar is come. Don’t forget her.'”

“This has to stop,” said Achim. “This woman is an utter lunatic, obviously.”

“I suggest we move more quickly, your highness,” said Heinrich quietly.

“I would have to agree,” said the prince, and the demon wizard laughed again. What a complete idiot! His agony when he discovered the true identity of she whom he pursued would be absolutely delightful! The wizard himself had only just found out, through spare-time back-spelling, who exactly Deathscar was, as well as her previous relationship to the prince of Shapier. The whole situation stuck him as remarkably ironic, amusing to say the least.

He would have liked to see Achim’s climactic meeting with his former love. But there was still the girl’s strange quality of scry-repelling, and this was a mystery he could not outpuzzle. When he asked for images of her past, which should not have appeared given this aforementioned quality, he saw her whole life before him, up to a point. After she had reached the palace of Rasier and run away from her friends across the plaza, all was yet grey, even as it was when he tried to bring up current pictures of her. Why had it changed? And how in the name of Hades had she gotten where she was now?

But this was all irrelevant, and he let the image sink into the sand as he heard the voice of his master calling him. He had more important matters to think on.

***

Here was resistance, but it was almost comical. All these trees and bushes and they thought they could hide from her. But Deathscar knew. She would always know through the bright shadows of color that tasted so acridly silver. They would spring out and attempt her destruction, but they would fail because she… sensed them. She laughed. Approaching the spot, she readied her twitching hands for the attack. What kind of a bell was that?

It gave five — not enough, but they trusted in their surprise and that they had her surrounded. At the moment she sensed it to be right she drew and met them — two left, three right, like a tooled bit of leather. She twisted away from the one who jumped on her back; somehow she knew he had a knife. Then she kneed the woman before her in the stomach, flipped partially (there were too many hands clutching at her for a full jump) and rammed someone’s side.

Then there was pain, and there was blood, and she was angry. Let them all be consumed, then! The emptiness would eat them slowly as it ate her, its alkalinity corroding them as it did the newly-opened wound in her back, bleeding. It poured, wandering around her for victims darkly and all she wished was for their pain and death; she willed it with the image of a floating, twisted piece of iron.

Now was there a new darkness that her swords bore, flaming black with the power of her desire for suffering, causing her cream-colored bands to glow in contrast. She whirled, sending her deadlier blades through someone, maybe two. He stabbed her again, and she drove her right sword into his neck. Something — she knew it was coming, but to dodge was to put herself in the way of the woman’s obviously practiced kick to her head. She opted for the latter, seizing the foot before it could draw back from the dizzying blow it had scored. Deathscar reeled, and the woman thrust her to the ground as the last remaining man flung himself at her with his dead comrade’s dagger.

But like a fallen bear she still held one of her impossibly flaming swords, and threw his cooling shape away before he could inflict any damage. She stumbled as she climbed to her feet, still stunned by the woman’s vicious kick. She knew that her other sword was in her enemy’s hands, no longer burning, and that the woman had raised it high for a killing sweep against her.

Throwing herself sideways, she twisted around and brought her foot to the base of the other warrior’s skull as the sword descended into air. The woman shouted and fell, drying finally as Deathscar employed her dark weapons.

Staggering, she walked off, groggy but energetic, contemplating. The glare of a crystal goblet would please her, but how could she ensure that her Maruroha swords were never again used except in her favor? She held them in her two hands, looking at their hot and dripping lengths now devoid of fire. Her hidden face broke into a feral grin. Unwrapping the mansukos on her forearms, she drew the right blade across her skin, cutting a red line into the exposed flesh. “Sayeto,” she said to the sword. Repeating the ritual with her left sword and right arm, she dubbed the former Oyin and commanded them. “By this blood you shall never turn on me again.”

She needed water.

***

Achim turned away from the bodies with distaste. Unlike their find of the previous day, which had been one woman and four men, these were all male, bearing the marks of Deathscar’s passing: sword-wounds with which he was becoming all too familiar. At least now he had a coherent description of what the killer looked like–that is, what she wore, for apparently her eyes were her only visible feature.

“Your highness,” said Heinrich, still looking at the victims, “these are recent killings — I would say less than a day old.

Achim turned with surprise to look at the gory scene again, and the demon wizard shook his head. Disappointingly, the prince of Shapier would be upon her within hours, so quickly he’d been moving now, and then he would be within Deathscar’s anti-scrying range. The wizard regretted it because this was his chief source of diversion.

“What do you watch?” asked his master unexpectedly from the rip, which was now wide enough for their plans to move forward. The wizard waved his hand, making his view visible to his master. Briefly he related the story and his own opinions on it. “Very amusing,” said the demon king. “She may well be useful.” His visage was removed from the swirling green vortex, and the wizard gestured the scrying field away, wondering what his master intended.

A moment later a spiny, red-black demoness forced her way painfully through the gap, relying heavily on the energy of the gate orb. She bowed low to the wizard and spoke. “My lord tells me there is a mortal whom I may possess.”

***

There was too much, and she was hungry again. Strangely, she wanted to remember and could not. Only here, only now, and the past was hardly. She knew by the wounds and the bond that her weapons were with her strongly, but the image of what she’d done, the feeling, the glory, were gone — swallowed in the emptiness that made war with itself inside her. Too much. The grey-blue was rounded, with lines of white at the curves where light hit it, and scrabbling grey where the color had been rubbed. Also the scattered misty doors of lead, but of course she blinked.

The mouse, the flower, the sand, and all with a lizard sardonically collected. There were too many spiders anyway, so she did not really care. She was Deathscar, and royal in her talent; withstanding was a merit of little value.

The fullness was like a budding rose in the choice, and she imagined the sled flying. She startled a fox that was eating a rabbit. Looking at it, she smiled. Oh, that was waggish; that was one of the truly funny things of the universe. As a shadow passed over her she laughed, throwing her head back and screaming.

That will be sufficient.

She stumbled backwards, knocked down by the power of the command blasting from before her. As she climbed to her feet she saw, settling to the ground in a gust of wing-beaten wind, a dragon. “Thou hast sinned against me for long enough,” said Orono, reaching out a giant clawed hand, clasping the human firmly, and drawing her in.

Orono was red with purple and yellow stripes down her snake-like body. She had large golden eyes and a fringe of something wispy and hair-like around her head like a mane. Her wings long and black, bat-like, and her massive claws the same color, her eyes glowing with fire and her long tail lashing, it was obvious to the trembling Deathscar that she was overcome. “A time it took for me to find the fate of my true daughter and awaken sufficient to know thee as her replacement,” said the dragon, the strength of her voice alone weakening Deathscar’s knees and making her head spin. “And now to find thee, my surrogate child, taking such unnecessary toll on thine own people. I weep for thee.”

Deathscar swore at her faintly, having little breath in her body; her arms were falling asleep. Then Orono turned her mighty flame-eyed gaze away from the human to a point past her in the trees. “Thou, perhaps, knowest these dealings better than I,” she said. Whom was she addressing? “I give her to thee.” The dragon squeezed her, and with radiant multicolored flowers blossoming in the edges of her vision she blacked out.

As the great beast bobbed its head and let the woman fall, Heinrich entered the clearing and swore, rearing up in surprise and fear. But the dragon rose gracefully away, sweeping the treetops aside as it left them with the deadliest killer in the history of the continent.

“Thanks, I guess,” said Achim, shaking his head as the gusts of wind blew his mid-length hair around his face. After a moment he went forward and knelt at her side, his ears still ringing from what he assumed must have been the dragon’s speech. He felt a strange tingling in his palms as he rolled her onto her back, as if there was something more to this situation than there seemed. “Heinrich, do we have any…”

He stopped abruptly, and the centaur looked away from where he had been following the dragon’s path through the sky. All he saw was the human’s back as the prince crouched before Deathscar’s unconscious form. The prince was motionless. “Have any…?” repeated Heinrich approaching.

But the Hero, who had uncovered the killer’s face, did not seem to be listening.

***

“En Shevil?”

Stars swam in her eyes before she came fully to her senses, but those words she heard. Fully aware of the biting cords securing her ankles and wrists, she sat up and stared at him with a look haunted by hollow ferocity. The emptiness was there again, overpowering and tearing her, but something had changed, for what was this horrible brightness in her mind?

“En Shevil is dead,” she spat, “and so shall you be. I hate you.” She saw a pine tree crashing into the ivory palace and shedding sap all over the furniture. Oh, she’d gotten him with that one. Now, now she knew. She knew! She knew she had known more people once — Manta, Kylur, Rakeesh, Thalanna — but she despised them all. She laughed. Somehow this had lessened her hatred of Tsukishiro and Tekawaya.

“I’m going to help you,” he said at last. “I love you.”

“Ha! Love!” She gave her obscene opinion on the subject. And what about the boxes holding all the glass shards? Those were nice too.

His face twisted in pain and he looked away from her. At his first sight of her face he had felt nothing — no shock, no sorrow, no surprise even. The realization that En Shevil, of all possible people on the face of the planet, was Deathscar simply did not register. The knowledge flew above the surface of his thoughts, visible but not penetrating or affecting. And then the shock had come — creeping up on him so gradually that he had not realized he’d almost passed out from it until Heinrich’s distant voice had recalled him to the world.

Even now he could hardly believe it, tried to tell himself it was some terrible mistake — a lookalike, a twin. She did not know who her parents were, after all. But all justifications of his incredulity were empty. Cold and numb, he’d let her fall back into the mud and stood, walking away from the sight he could not remove from his mind. He did not know how he’d spent that night, wandering in circles around the clearing, listening to her breathing as she slept, his heart and mind seemingly tied by the same ropes he’d put on her. He was exhaustively dumbfounded as to how any of this could have happened.

“Are you hungry?” he asked her at last.

“Yes,” she replied. Then he realized he had no safe and dignified way to feed her, so he just shrugged. The pain was building, each new biting question or idea thrown atop the previous unresolved conflict until a mountain of leering, hazy thought towered above him. Where had she gone? How had she lost her senses so completely? Who had taught her to fight in so short a time? What was to be done? Bitter, frustrated tears came to his eyes as he thought about how he remembered her — this was not the same girl he’d fallen in love with. And yet there she was before him, En Shevil and no other.

“My lord, what shall we do with her?” asked Heinrich.

“I don’t know. I’d say…” he choked, but resumed after a moment. “I’d say she needs to pay for her crimes, but you can see she’s… not herself.” The centaur nodded silently.

“I hate you!” she shouted at him. “You should die!”

“Erasmus!” Heinrich suggested. Achim nodded quickly, drawing a hand over his face.

“That’s right,” he said at last, standing up. “I’m sure he can help. How far are we from Spielburg?”

“If we seek the road again, I’d say five days’ march, barring snowstorms in the pass.”

Achim forced himself to look down at their struggling prisoner, her wild eyes seeking refuge anywhere but on his face. He glanced at the scabbard he’d taken from her back, now hanging at his belt. “How do we get her there?” he asked, his voice for the first time relatively even.

“I hate to suggest it, but she can ride on me,” sighed the centaur, “if you gag her.”

“We’ll have to tie her on,” the prince said. “I don’t see any other way.”

“You put more ropes on me and I kill you,” she growled. “I hate you.”

“Yes, you’ve said that already,” said Achim, exasperated even through his anguish. But his annoyance concerned Deathscar alone; for her true self he felt only pity.

Their trip to Spielburg was not remotely pleasant. With a thief and a murderer slung over Heinrich’s lower back and secured with ropes, her oaths were muffled but still audible. They found they could not feed her, for she tried to bite them like a cornered animal, then made overly-vocal complaints on the starvation. She never tried to escape, however; it was as if En Shevil had gained some victory over Deathscar and would not allow the killer to hinder her resurrection. At night she often screamed or wept in her sleep and kept them awake. It was after sunset eight days later that they stumbled, weary and more than depressed, into the valley and made their way towards Zauberberg with a hunger-weakened, unconscious patient for the wizard.

***

En Shevil awoke and knew something immediately.

While she had been Deathscar she had possessed no recollection of past events, merely drawing on her ‘memory’ like a logbook — she knew what had happened, vaguely, factually, but could not recall the associated sensations.

It was different now.

Every face turned towards her in terror, every cry of every victim, every body in the dust, rose up before her, in number not a few. Each fruitless show of courage at her coming, each miniature army sent against her, each new price on her head, the smell of blood, the taste of fear, the powerful energy of death — all, all was here and now, clearly replaying itself, like magic, inexorably before her unwilling eyes. She felt her hands committing murder, heard her voice laughing, saw hatred and alarm in the eyes of ones she did not even know.

Every solitary event, each fragmented emotion of the past depravity, the outline of every crime — in one agonizing moment it came down on her, an avalanche where every boulder alone was deadly, but whose combined strength was immeasurable. She gasped violently under its weight, struggling with something she did not recognize, and yet knew as well as herself.

Then she began to scream, and could not stop.

***

Askgaella felt another tremor through the web of power that held her on this plane: another of her people had crossed. When her master conquered this world, she assumed he would diffuse it into his own, making the two planes one. Until then, the essence-powered gate orb held open the rift between them, and every demon on this side would feel its gains and losses. It was annoying, but sufferable for the cause of her brilliant master. She smirked; the glory of her king in his bloody war meant little to her, though she chided herself because of it.

Being a low-level demoness, she was forced to the degradation of walking (or flying, since she’d reached seventh class and earned her wings), physically, to her less-than-urgent assignment. Having experienced teleportation when she’d been partnered with Gorllex, who was fourth-class, she could attest to this method’s inconvenience, but having also no desire to participate in the long-awaited war on Sehkmet, she did not complain. Once she possessed this killer, she would be happy, and might someday be promoted for it. Then she’d only need one more advancement to be magically endowed.

Hades knew she’d been long enough without promotion. It was her family, of course: no seed of Chekghaera could make much of themselves in the service where an Ingk was their thirder, and it had taken all of Gorllex’s pull to get her in at all. What she’d really wanted for some time was a nice possession to take her away from the demon plane and Ogo Ingk, and it had been out of pure luck that she’d been immediately available when his amazingness the king had needed a possessor.

So here she was walking through a pathetically boring desert at a pace so slow a bird might have thought her human. It was a long way to Spielburg. She sighed, and was answered by a strange rattling from behind her. She took to the air as the deadly tail of a massive blue-black scorpion flashed across the space where she’d been. With a grin she pulled free her sword Blackblood, which had been passed down through generations of Chekghaeras since its forging at the human hands of Chollichihaua. For a seventh-class thrall there was no killing to be done in the demon world, and she’d not shed blood in far too long. She descended on the beast.

***

Achim dozed, sitting on a rug in the corner with a wooly brown blanket pulled up to his chin. He had been thus most of the night, waiting for En Shevil’s reawakening. After they had brought her to Erasmus, who’d been expecting them, the wizard had transported to the inn, now the Horse’s Tail, where by prior arrangement with Hilde, the new owner, a room was ready for the ‘invalid.’ Achim had been astounded at how prepared Erasmus had been for the situation, and slightly resentful that the wizard, having known so much about what was going on, had done nothing but wait for the Hero. However, the spell had apparently worked, so perhaps Erasmus had been perfecting it during the painful time Achim had spent trekking the countryside.

Somehow her first awakening had been perversely relieving: to know that someone felt worse about this than he did had lessened his own sorrow considerably; perhaps the thought that she might need his comfort and support had drawn him back to lucidity as well. Still, her scream had been disturbing, and had been followed by a rapid speech in some language he did not know, while En Shevil cast her eyes about the room but seemed to see nothing. Then she’d turned her face towards the wall and fallen silent, unconscious again by some cause or other. Erasmus had gone home, and besides Heinrich’s looking in once, briefly, the prince of Shapier had been contemplatively alone since then.

Arousing from a sad dream that hadn’t quite reached the happy ending he knew was coming, he was not at first sure what had brought him from his inadvertent slumber. Out the window the stars were dim, resting in the face of impending dawn, but that light had not yet reached the sky. All was silent and peaceful, still under the calm Erana had so long ago lain. All aspects of his situation seemed so neutral, it was as if time had stopped. Then the silence was again broken, furtively, by what had first disturbed him: quiet, breathy sobs, almost harsh in the placid darkness. He rose and felt his way to the bed, the sound of his bare feet drowning out her nearly inaudible crying. He could see her now, sitting with her knees drawn up and the blanket pulled around her. Standing motionless before her, he said nothing. Her face buried, she did not acknowledge him. What to do?

Hesitantly, he put his hand out and touched her hair. It was so short! She gave an anguished cry and turned her head away from him. It was heart-wrenching to see her thus, and with a half-sigh he dropped his hand. As it slapped against his thigh she whispered something he did not hear. After a moment she repeated herself: “Even you.” He had no reply. Presently he sat down beside her and put his arms around her. She sank limply up against him and whispered, “I threatened you,” accenting each word as if she did not know which of three connected ideas most to stress.

He leaned back against the wall, still holding her. All the exhaustion of his pursuit was for some reason converging on him now, and though he was ashamed to admit it in the face of what she was going through, he felt he could sleep as he had not since leaving Shapier. There was now no chance of his losing her, no need for rapid continuance of his quest. Though he struggled to keep his eyes open and his ears attentive for anything beyond her quiet grief, he drifted without realizing it and slept.


Chapter 6 – Mirror, Mirror

En Shevil stood at the window, staring out into a chicken yard full of babbling hens and one very vocal rooster. It was late in the morning, and the sun was in the upper right-hand corner of her vision. She must have at some moment left the bed and walked to the window, but she did not know it. Or maybe this had not happened and she had been standing beside the window for all time. She was the window-goddess. Or devil, rather. And who was she? Perhaps she always had been that happy, nameless girl on Nagokama, and what she remembered as her life had all been a hoax. Or were both En Shevil and her Kawaian counterpart mistaken about themselves, neither her true identity? Perhaps she’d been found at last and the key to her true past would walk through that unfamiliar door behind her. Perhaps she was Deathscar all through, and every other side of her consciousness only a dream.

This seemed more likely than anything else. Deathscar lived on, whatever else she was. She leaned her head on the windowsill, though her tears were all spent. How could she have done what she had? What lived inside her that delighted so in the destruction of the irreplaceable? What creature from some unseen world had seized upon her and wrought such mischief with her hands? Whose malicious will had been at her back, the cause of each depravity along the way? She shook her head minutely. No desire but her own, no monster but herself, and the will was hers. She held her hands up and stared at them.

Inside her was an inward-pressing sphere of misery, sucking and pulling ever smaller until she was all heart, conscious of nothing else. It drew on everything around it, gaining density and roots until she was motionless, grounded, stifled by it, unable to move or breathe with its horrible mass eating at her. She stared at her hands, the hands that killed. She wanted to look around the room, but it took great effort of will to move her neck and tear her eyes from the blank palms in the air before her.

Achim sat slouched against the wall on the bed, the way he’d been since she’d left his arms… how many yearlong hours ago? His boots, cape, vest, and belt lay on a rug in the corner. Something called to her and after a moment she held it, without recognition of such trivia as taking steps, bending, or clenching her hand around the sheath.

That swishing half-ring was so loud in the still chamber. She winced. The smell of old blood greeted her from the scabbard, though the clear picture that arose of caked blood falling in flakes as she drew did not correspond with the shining silver blades before her. Somewhere in her mind registered vaguely the thought that Achim must have washed them, and wasn’t that sweet? Considerate of him to leave them thus, that her blood could stain them freshly. She gripped them with their points lightly on her stomach and applied all the force she could.

Her hands were wrenched under and out, the swords springing violently away from her grip to land loudly on the floor. She fell to her knees with a gasp, rubbing her tingling forearms, the barely-healed scars that itched so fiercely. She’d felt this sensation once before.

Achim snatched her weapons up and stared at her, a mixture of anger, fear, and sorrow on his face. But he did not know what to say. It was actually En Shevil who spoke first. “It’s no use. They won’t hurt me. I put some kind of charm on them because a woman tried to use them against me. Before I killed her.” She gestured. “I put those through her heart. And she had a mother and a father. Maybe a husband and children. Probably friends. And she’d worked to become what she was, learned to fight. I killed all that. I destroyed the life she’d worked so hard to create.” As she spoke, Achim had tossed the swords away behind him and crouched to look her in the eyes. He took her wrists, forcing her eyes away from her hands.

“And now,” he murmured, “you want to destroy your own life?”

She wrenched her hands away and slapped him, and then was back at the window, gazing at her clenched fist. Yes, Deathscar was still there, and not even deeply buried; see how her arms had moved, so smoothly in accordance with her brief anger, the kind of impulse she used to kill. She should apologize for that blow. But that brought her too close to the idea of amends, and there was simply no way… She squeezed her eyes shut and rested her forehead on the wall. The world was empty. As she had gone killing men she had inadvertently killed everything else as well.

“You must be hungry,” he said.

“Why — are you?” No answer. “Go eat. I won’t hurt myself.” She was suddenly terribly angry at herself for assuring him that, for what right had he to know what she was or was not planning? The next moment she was all remorse, and wished he would say something protectively comforting. But there was no comfort for her lost soul, and he only nodded before leaving the room.

She was cold, and realized for the first time what she wore: only her leotard of mansukos, which was rather dirty. Her shoulders still bore the fading tan of the desert sun to which they had been, only months before, customarily exposed. She could yet see the lines her wide shirt-straps had left white. It was almost fascinating, these innocent marks of a past life.

Her mind was caught in an exhausting circle of thought — first the horror-fueled memories of things she had done made her wonder how she could have committed such barbarities. This would cause her to attempt introspection to understand the hazy motives and emotions of Deathscar. Then she would ponder her own identity, trying to discover her place in her mind and the world. This always gave rise to reflections on her past, where every remembrance was painful because to reach it she must pass through her dark period. She recalled friends and family, faceless, and knew that the dead she’d left along her way, whose every feature was perfect in her brain, had these things too. Then pictures would begin appearing once again, and it would all restart. It never ended, and the process was so tiring that in the early afternoon she was on the bed to rest. Half-asleep yet still plagued by the cycle she could not halt, she remained thus for some time, and when she again opened her eyes it was to darkness.

She had been smelling meat and potatoes for ages, it seemed, before she woke fully, but knew it was not so, since the door was just closing as she sat up. A centaur stood at the small table in the corner by that particular orifice. She held a tray, and draped over her back were En Shevil’s Maruroha garments. She leaned down to settle the tray, and without turning took the clothes and, folding what she could, placed it all in a heap beside the table’s one carved leg. She moved with a slow caution of whose motive En Shevil was not quite sure. The human shifted, and then understood. The centaur, at the sound of rustling bedclothes, gave a little gasp and a jump, whirling on slightly crouched legs to face En Shevil. The latter knew then that the other’s quiet was not due to politeness. Some emotions, she reflected, might go unnoticed in a face before her, but she could never mistake nor fail to immediately recognize the marks of fear.

“Hello,” she said quietly.

“Eh-excuse me,” the girl stammered, and, after backing loudly into the wall she hastily exited the room. Heart trying to break free of her ribcage, En Shevil took a great sighing breath and bowed her head. Her logic had known it was coming, but her emotions had not expected it so soon or so vivid. Now all eyes would be turned towards her in consternation and enmity, even loathing, for what she had done. And there was no thought within the deepest confines of her most perverse reserves of self-preservation that dared say she was not entitled to it.

Eventually she found her way over to the table, where she stood staring at the cooling, chunky broth whose scent did not even tempt her. There was bread, and a pitcher of water with a mug. She knelt and looked at her clothes. Yards of mansukos twisted around each other, and she set to untangling them, eventually shifting to a seated position when her ankles began to hurt. She had not the faintest idea why she went about this useless pastime, only that she wanted something methodical to do with her hands.

When she had got them all laid out in appropriate piles, she held up the oron and looked it over. The embroidered, rich Maruroharyuu logo, formerly pink and burgundy, was stained a uniform red-brown, and she closed her eyes slowly as she reflected what must have made the mark. She needed to dress herself, but how could she wear these again? She remembered, as if for the first time, what she’d done to Tsukishiro in those first hours of outright madness. She began to cry.

The next morning, when Achim entered a short time after knocking, he found En Shevil dressed and standing by the window, nibbling vacantly on obviously stale bread. This was good; she must have won some mental battle in order to convince herself to eat at all. Just as before, she did not look at him.

“I want to show you the valley,” he said. At first she did not react. Then, finally, she turned slowly and stared at him with a blank expression for several moments.

“Why?” she asked at length.

“It’s part of my home,” replied the prince, not telling her that he actually wanted to get her mind off whatever she was thinking.

Her logic said she should go, and so after a moment she was following him. It was the first time she’d been out of her bedroom. There was a greater room, where some people sat before a fire; they stared at her, and she looked away. She followed him soundlessly, her mind at the same time blank and whirling with thought, her heart breaking. The cold struck her, like the blow she deserved from nature, but Achim did not seem to notice. She gave little heed to the nearly vacant and noiseless town. Into the forest they went, he pointing things out and she nodding dumbly at him. Could he not see what was going on?

For some time after that they walked in silence, he having taken her hand. But his eyes were more often on his surroundings than on her, for he seemed to be mildly ecstatic at his return to Spielburg. “Here’s my favorite place,” he said.

Before them was a garden, oddly placed as snow-covered slopes rose up on all sides but the one by which they entered. In the center grew a small tree bearing glowing fruit of many brilliant colors. The flowers too were of all hues, and as they walked forward gave up a sweet scent that was almost sickening to the girl. Achim sighed. “This is Erana’s Peace,” he said.

The place also reeked of magic, which managed to penetrate her thick wrappings of sorrow and despair enough to terrify her. But what did it matter what she found disturbing? Did she not now merit whatever should befall her? Whatsoever the world decided to give her she would accept, and that was only in passive remorse. But far away in the back of her mind something registered Erana. Why did those words echo in her head — ‘An Erana of the night?’ She must say something. “It’s beautiful.” It was an automatic response based on the rational knowledge that she would once have found it so. There was no beauty around her; she drove it away.

Neither one spoke for some time, she gazing out over the snowy mountains before her and he enjoying the garden as he had not done for many months. Finally he took her hand again, forcing her to look at him. “Please, En Shevil,” he said. “I love you. Come to Tarna with me.”

“Tarna?”

“Erasmus said Aziza says I’m needed immediately to go to Tarna to stop a war.”

She pulled away from him and walked to the edge of the meadow, wishing she could bury herself in the snow and die. His words tore at her, the joy they should have brought completely buried in the pain associated with them. “No,” she said.

“What!? Why?”

How could he not comprehend? His voice was so confused, and she did not know if she could explain. “I’m not what I used to be.”

“So?”

“How can I… say that I love you when I hate myself?” She turned to look at him, beginning to cry. “Achim, don’t you understand what I’ve done? How can you even love me? I’ve killed so many people.” She looked at her hands and clenched them in sudden anger. “I’ll never… I can’t… I’m a monster, Achim. I wish I could die.”

“Don’t say that! Just because you’ve done wrong doesn’t mean you can’t do right in the future!”

“But there’s no way to make up for the deaths I’ve caused! Can I die a hundred times over?”

“No one wants you to,” he said soothingly.

“I’m sure there are families and friends who would disagree with you,” she snorted. They fell silent, neither one having anything to say to this. “And there’s more,” she finally continued. “While I was… There was a power I had. It was so evil, and I felt it whenever I killed, added to the usual rush. I used it to…” she shuddered as she reached back into the dun, rimy wasteland of her Deathscar memories. “I used it… to make my swords… worse. They glowed, but not with light. And I could see things before they happened, in a shadowy way. I knew when a man was going to throw a dagger at me; I knew where there were groups of people too big for me to handle. I also sometimes had… a shield, of darkness.”

Achim’s eyes narrowed as he looked at her. “It sounds,” he said slowly, “like a Paladin’s powers in reverse.”

“You’re right,” she said with a shadowy flash of revelation. “You see how bad I’ve become?”

“But you’re not like that anymore!” he protested. “Don’t you understand? You were crazy! How can you possibly be held responsible for what you were doing?”

“Oh, wouldn’t I like to escape it that way,” she said, unreasonably angry at him for not seeing how she felt. “I can’t dodge responsibility for the lives of so many. If I don’t atone, who will?”

“But as you said, you can’t make up for it! A lifetime of remorse won’t help, so…” He trailed off, not wanting to complete the thought. But the words were already spoken in both their minds: ‘why bother?’ She rose and ran from him into the forest.

Until last night she’d had no inclination to cry, the shock of her sorrow still too near. As she jogged through the forest, so nervous she could not slow, tears washed her cheeks. She, a killer, could not go to Tarna, could not accompany a Hero on his quest to help save lives. The warrior stop war? Death’s champion, a herald of peace? It was almost laughable. And yet she wanted it. How easy to cast aside her Maruroha things as if renouncing Deathscar with them, go with Achim as En Shevil and lose her destructive past forever! She tugged meaninglessly at the front of her oron.

It was an idle, almost lazy sort of desire, logic combining with feeling to tell her that if she made one decisive movement (which she wouldn’t), she could have what she wanted. Just a few words (forever unspoken) to Achim and her future would be settled. How she was tempted, and the strangest part of all was that there was nothing coherent, substantial, holding her back. It was an invisible restraint that would not allow her the will of her heart. Her logic told her it would be wise, her emotions sought rest from their turmoil in the proposed forgetfulness, and yet there was no way she could follow these compulsions. The one benefit of the situation was that it gave her something else to think about besides the usual routine of the past few days.

She was falling from the height of misery to which she had ascended; she could not deny it, though a part of her ached for the blinding sorrow that had been somewhat of an escape, the circle of thought notwithstanding. She would never be free of her pain, and yet she was forced back into the world of cooperative thoughts and actions. She did not like it, for she felt now familiar things returning in the midst of her tears: the recognition of good hiding places along her way, the sudden wish to climb something (she had not climbed anything since she’d robbed Khaveen in Rasier!) and the realization that she was terribly hungry. But she did not want these things; they were signs of her innocent past, and she only wanted, quite perversely she knew, to sink into her maddening despair and forget them. Could she be En Shevil the Shapierian thief as well as a rebounding Deathscar, warrior of the Maruroharyuu? She shook her head — she did not want it at any rate.

But still, to go to Tarna…

She skidded on moss and stared, startled, at the circle of mushrooms growing in the sudden clearing. This valley was simply alive with magic, wasn’t it? She shuddered and skirted the nasty place. There was more magic to her right, however, and she continued walking forward. She wondered what had happened in Rasier after she’d gone — what had Achim done to defeat Khaveen? How had the Shelhar managed their attack? She supposed that Thalanna and Sharaf were now happily married in a large house with a hidden trapdoor to the underground. But she did not really want to know about all that — it was still too distant.

Something struck her leg, causing her to stumble. She looked and saw, to her astonishment, a baby antwerp bouncing rapidly behind her, looking quite earnest like a child trying to be taken seriously. Kneeling, she stared at it, unable to comprehend where the little thing’s limitless energy came from. It just kept bouncing, half its body-height to a spring, returning her gaze for gaze. She rubbed her salty eyes, which ached as they dried, and put out her hand. The creature made a move towards her and she jerked her arm back. The antwerp bounded onto her knee and she started, barely checking the impulse to rise. It tickled, almost, to have it jumping and jumping and jumping on her thigh. She held out her hand once again, and the baby hopped on.

She liked it; here was a creature that did not fear or hate her, was willing to touch that hand which she could hardly bear to see. However, she had to hold her arm minutely steady and employ a fair amount of muscle to support the creature, and after a moment she tipped him off onto the ground. He returned to her leg. “You don’t hate me,” she said to him (an arbitrary decision, his sex), but he did not respond, only kept bouncing. “Please get off my leg,” she said. He did not obey, so she shoveled him gently to the mossy forest floor and stood. Turning, she took a step forward and he followed. She sighed. “How did I know?” she thought aloud. The antwerp made her want to talk.

Thus, as she walked on through the woods, the baby keeping step with her, she told him everything she’d been feeling and thinking, occasionally looking at him to see if he should respond, which he never did. Eventually they found their way back to the Spielburg gates, where Achim was waiting, if only for one of them.

“En Shevil,” he began, then did a double-take. “Is that an antwerp?” She nodded, becoming taciturn immediately once again. She was walking swiftly, and he fell into step beside her. “You’ve got to come to Tarna,” he said without preamble. “If not, I’m fairly sure the baron will imprison you and bring you to trial. He doesn’t realize exactly what’s going on with you.”

Neither do you, she thought. Achim put his hand on the latch of the inn’s door.

“If you’re under my… protection, no one will think twice about letting you go. They trust me, but they don’t trust you.” She was beginning to cry again, and her antwerp decided Achim’s leg needed ramming just then. “Ow!” He turned to look at her new pet, and she went before him through the door.

Only the centaur was present in the room, and she gave a little gasp as En Shevil walked in. But the human, full of an energy whose origin she did not know, went swiftly through the building and into her bedroom, not closing the door behind her as she knew Achim would have more to say. “You have an antwerp,” he said as he entered, not far behind.

She looked down at the bouncing creature beside her and remarked placidly, “Yes.”

“Look, you need to come to Tarna for your own safety.”

“And what if I don’t want to be safe?”

He gave a sigh of frustration. “I don’t want to hear about you being executed for things you did when you weren’t sane. If you don’t come with me, they’ll kill you; I know it.”

“Fine. I’ll come.” Now she’d said it, and there was no turning back. But at the same moment a black rebellious anger stole over her like ice, saying, You’ll die before you try to live a lie. What a stupid-sounding phrase; it was nice to know that life wasn’t always smoothly dramatic.

He was hugging her now, but her mind was elsewhere. “I’m glad,” he said. “I’m going to try and make you happy.” This registered, and her head snapped up.

“There is no way you can do that,” she said, turning her back to him.

“No way I can try?” He did not let her answer. “Anyhow, we need to leave tomorrow.”

“All right,” she said detachedly. “Goodbye.”

Taking that as the dismissal it was, Achim left the room, though he would have liked to stay longer. At least she seemed a bit more lucid now than she had earlier.
En Shevil reclaimed her place by the window and wept. She wanted sleep, she wanted action, she wanted something she did not recognize. She wanted comfort, but that she forbade herself, even should there be someone in the world with enough empathy and charisma to provide it. She began to pace the floor, followed at every stride by a baby antwerp.

The late dusty glow of sunset was sending rays of half-hearted light from the left slanting through her window as she made her decision. The first time had been impulsive, based on emotion. But over this she had been thinking all day, with a clearer mind than before, and it was pure logic. The world, and particularly Achim, would be better off without her. She had always known that, but had up until this point balanced it against her desire to live. Now that she had so little, it was not a difficult choice. Something had been arguing against it all day, however, and only now did she manage to quell it with the thought, I can be a thief for the last time.

She stole from her chamber, listening first for even a breath of anything living in the common room. Was Achim to be tied down to a murderer for the rest of time? To hold her in custody forever because he was the only one on the planet who trusted her? She could not destroy his life as she had that of so many others. The room was shadowed, the fading fire illuminating little. Already through the frosty panes the outside seemed dark, blue and cold. She had her plan in mind, knew exactly how long it would take, what she must do. Combining everything she was or had been, she would make a fitting end. She reveled in the thought as she slipped almost without noise through the door, the only eye following her progress a wooden one.

It was an unmerited joy to climb again, clambering easily up the stony wall and dropping to the soft bed of weeds on the other side. She glanced around her, seeing the patchwork shadows of the sparse trees before her, lining the road to the pass, and the deeper shades of night to her right where the forest began in earnest. This direction she took, listening to the promising roar of the waterfall as it called her to her death. Yes, her death — finally she could feel that which she had brought to so many. She shuddered with inadvertent fear, but it was irrelevant to her plans and she kept moving.

Antwerp was behind her, she realized. She turned and whispered, “Go away. I’m going to die,” but did not give him any more directions. Having so little to go on, he could not be expected not to follow.

The falls were majestic in the darkness, unlit even by the moon, the shimmer on their foamy height the last remains of the abruptly-vanished daylight. She gazed up at them and her face broke slowly into a smile. Perhaps her body would never be found, and Achim would not even know what she had done. A murmur of doubt crept into her convictions, then: what if he thought she had run away, and went after her? Would that not be just as destructive as if she remained with him? She had to tell him somehow. She looked about herself, and knew at once what to do. Quickly removing the katta pin from her oron, she held it up to share or steal that last glimmer before setting it on the ground. The ornament which had won her titles of thief and Maruroha would bear witness to her death for all the world to hear.

She scaled the first small cliff easily, stood before a stone door looking down at Antwerp who bounced forlornly next to a blue-chested griffin of gold. Then she turned and made her way up to the head of the falls. It was colder here, on the valley’s lip, mist from the plunging river enveloping her as she gazed down the ponderous length to the rocks below. She had no time for thought; she flung herself off the edge towards her doom. A thousand thoughts flashed through her mind as she fell, all tempered with a wild joy in the realization that now she could lay down her grief and be free.

But for that destiny she was not made.

Arms encircled her waist and she bit her tongue as she was jerked upwards, rising into the air and coming gracefully down again beside the place chosen as her final resting spot. She struggled, beating backwards against whatever it was that had taken from her the one thing she truly wanted. The second her weight was on the ground she threw her deliverer over her head and flashed her swords out in front of her. Antwerp bounced, rubbing against her leg, and she fancied he was happy. An accusatory remark sprang to her lips — and died there as her eyes came to rest on the object of her sudden rage.

The woman, her skin a blackish burgundy, wore only a loincloth and halter top. Horns of sable hue protruded from her left cheekbone and right brow, as well as from both sides of her head, her shoulders, hips, and ankles. Her great dark wings spread behind her like a cloak blown high in the wind, and the first light of the rising moon glistened off her shaven black hair. Was that a tail behind her? She was beautiful, so much that En Shevil’s blood began to pulse in her ears with the hatred of her. “What are you doing, fool?” hissed the winged woman. En Shevil did not respond, but dove at her, swords ready to run her through.

Askgaella was rather surprised at this sudden attack, but not unprepared. Blackblood appeared at her call and met Oyin with a scrape-clang that rang through her mind like a song. At the same time she twisted out of reach of the other blade. This was going to be difficult: she was a talented swordswoman, but nothing out of the ordinary, and her opponent had two blades. She spun, wishing, not for the first time, that demons did not lose the poison in their tails at eighth class. Still, she imagined it hurt as she slammed her caudal appendage into Deathscar’s legs and sent the human flying away from her. She sprang forward; if she could only get hold of the woman’s shoulders and look her in the eye, the fight would be at an end.

En Shevil, sick with anger, waited for her strange attacker to approach, then pushed herself up and forward, ramming the other woman’s stomach with her head. At the same time she swept Oyin around with all her strength (Sayeto had flown from her hand when her enemy had knocked her down) into the woman’s ribs. The stranger gave a cry of pain, and brought them to a standstill with her wings before she could be hurled into the rock. En Shevil fell, dragging her down by the knees. The woman twisted and put both hands on the Maruroha’s shoulders, but En Shevil wormed her way out of the grasp and found herself behind the aerial figure, still with one blade. She drove the latter through the other woman’s back, and watched as the body fell limply to the water’s edge, where it draped over rocks and one arm fell into the pool. Extracting her sword, En Shevil began to shake violently, and leaned back against the cliffside. As she watched, the corpse hissed, and soon faded into smoke that was drowned in the spray of the roaring falls. The only signs of its former presence were the dark bloodstains on the rocks, which were slowly seeping into the foam, threading it with the color of death.

***

“She’s dead,” he murmured. He knelt in the mist of flying water, his left hand holding a pin that he knew for hers, his right laid on the bloody glistening rock beside the scene of her destruction. “She’s dead.” The morning was chilly, autumn hastening recklessly towards winter, unable to match the chill of his bones or the winter of his heart. He rose and walked silently, numbly, toward Zauberberg and a wizard who could send him away from Spielburg.

***

“You are a fool,” spat Ogo, giving her his shockingly handsome profile in order to defile the floor. “Why did you not let her die? How could she have defeated you?” Trying to answer these two intelligently-coupled questions at once was futile, so Askgaella said nothing.

But Gorllex spoke up for her. “The woman’s a trained killer.”

“You demean your lover,” said Ogo sharply, “by suggesting that she is not equal to a human killer. Though of course we have seen that she is not.” He looked at her smugly and continued with the most ardent of sympathy. “But it is through no fault of her own.”

And here we go with the ‘human-blood’ thing again, thought Askgaella with a mental sigh. Ogo, with his spectacular, superior Ingk vision, must have seen it in her eyes, read it from her soul, smelled it on her breath — wait, that was going too far. At any rate, he smiled acidly. What so-called inborn talent could an Ingk not turn to another’s torment?

“Yes, we all know why you are not equal to a human killer, so I will not go into that. But for failure to fulfill your duty, and for being killed on assignment, I demote you to eighth class.” He put his hand over her face and clenched it; she screamed as her wings were sucked away, tearing at her bones and sending smoke through her lungs.

“Give me another chance,” she gasped when she could speak other than into his palm, surprising herself and Gorllex. Askgaella rarely asked others for anything, and nothing from Ogo Ingk.

“Ha!” said Ogo, turning away. The next moment, they were all on bended knee as the king himself entered the room.

“What goes on in here?” he asked irritably, obviously referring to her shout.

“A demotion, your majesty,” Ogo explained obsequiously. The king eyed them all with distaste, unused to dealing directly with anyone below second class or his private counselors.

“Why?”

“Failure to fulfill duty, death during assignment,” said Askgaella quickly, before the benevolent Ogo could accidentally make her sound worse than she was. The king stared for some time, his unpleasant visage wrinkled with slight, unconcerned confusion, before showing any signs of recognition, and her neck was becoming tired.

“You failed to possess the human?” he asked at last.

“I would like another chance,” she answered carefully.

A few minutes later she was again on her way to Spielburg.

***

En Shevil pulled her hood down farther over her face, her gaze directed at the ground. It was not so cold as she had expected in the mountain pass, and with the cloak she had stolen from the dry goods shop in Spielburg she was almost externally warm. Antwerp bounced happily behind her, leaving funny little round marks in the snow. Did the thing ever get cold? He looked so jellyish, she wondered he did not freeze solid.

Achim would assume she had carried out the plan that had been thwarted by the hellishly beautiful woman. The latter, to whom En Shevil had eventually, tentatively given the tag demoness, would probably be on her trail again soon, though she could be wrong — was it demons or devils that were immortal? She did not care; let her come or not as she would. En Shevil was a killer and would always be, and what frightened her beyond expression was that she still enjoyed it. The rush she’d craved as Deathscar was still there, enticing and intoxicating. She had to escape herself; there was no other path to follow. The only choice remaining now was to go into seclusion, prevent her hands from working more evil and causing more death. This included her own. Little as she fancied the thought, she must continue until something else brought about her end. She had realized that her death could no more be a lie than her life, so she lifted her heavy feet high through the early winter snowdrifts as she walked northward from Spielburg, steering towards some unknown destination and some uncertain future.


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