But scrambling to her feet she pressed onwards, swords scraping the floor as she stood and arms flailing as she strove to keep her balance while running before she was fully upright. Telmiquor turned in the archway, his shape framed against the darkness of the next room, and saw her plunge towards him through the tunnel. Raising his hands he fired several wild shots, standing still and trying to aim but still missing wildly. There were flashes, rumblings and crunchings, loud cries. She had reached him, still not quite coordinated on the heaving cavern floor, when the world came crashing down around her.
When En Shevil awoke from her thirty-second blackout she found herself literally in pure darkness. Harmless rubble covered her from head to toe, and as she climbed cautiously to her feet she coughed as flurries of dust filled her nose and mouth. Her throbbing head and shifting eyes would not let her concentrate enough to see; she had to have light. Searching her pockets she found her tinderbox, somewhat battered, and a small candle-like torch she’d picked up somewhere. It did not provide much light, but gave her a fairly good idea of her situation.
Half in the lake, the color of its dark waters guessable but not apparent, lay Telmiquor, quite dead with Oyin through his chest. She stepped forward gingerly and retrieved her weapon, swishing it through the water a few times to clean it. She did not replace it in the scabbard immediately, but set it aside to dry. Sayeto lay where she had fallen, probably having been turned away by that delightful little magic she’d unconsciously worked on it so long ago. She glanced back at Telmiquor again with satisfaction. They had won the battle, then, but what was to become of her? She turned.
The passageway was completely blocked; of this there was no doubt. A draft was coming at her from somewhere among the massive heap of stones that plugged her escape from this hole; the cool air, after the heat of battle, made her skin prickle. If air could get in, perhaps sound could get out. “Elsa?” she called, hoarsely for her volume and not as loudly as she wished. “Toro?”
The rumble of distant rockslide sent tremors through the floor, and she tensed with worry. “Can anyone hear me?” Her shouts sent a flurry of little echoes reeling through the darkness, eerily twisting her voice and throwing her words back to her as a taunt. She sat down.
If Telmiquor was dead, the fight was over. Effectively. But from what she had gathered so far, his men were loyal to an extreme and the battle could well go on for some time. Of course, she had no idea how many might have died in this latest explosion. She was lucky she was still alive.
“What is it?” said a voice from nearby.
En Shevil jumped, heart thumping, to her feet, Sayet at the ready. She nearly dropped her little light.
“It can’t be…” said the voice, which she now recognized as Singing Man’s. Taking relieved steps forward, she held out her candle — and recoiled in horror as she caught sight of him. Half-buried under more rocks than she could ever lift, his broken body was spreading a pool of blood that threatened to trickle down into the lake and join Telmiquor’s. But Singing Man’s eyes were open, his face expressionless. As he turned his head from side to side absently and rambled, delirious with pain, she watched his blank, unseeing eyes with horror. “Tell me? Don’t…” He gave a sudden cry, a gut-wrenching half-scream of pain. “En Shevil?” he gasped, and she fell to her knees at his side.
“I’m here,” she said. He struck out with a hand, blindly hitting her in the face, and she took it in hers. Immediately he applied a painful amount of pressure, his visage contorted with agony, and gasped.
Then the wrinkles smoothed and his look was distant again. “Stefan… I don’t… No!” En Shevil, brows lowered, shook her head in sorrow and growing pain: his nails were digging into her hand. “Cursed… father… …sin?”
What did all this mean? “Singing Man,” she said. “Please don’t do this…”
He snapped out again suddenly with a scream. “In the name of all the gods…” he began, his voice so bestial with suffering that she nearly tried to shake his grip on her hand. But he calmed momentarily, and repeated her name. His calm led to another lapse of clarity. “Must atone… will protect my sister.” He shut his eyes tightly, tears squeezing from them in torrents. “Devote my life…” His voice sank to a whisper. “…she must never know.”
His eyes sprang open, full of pain and awareness once more. For a third time he spoke her name, so softly she had to bend over to hear him. “En Shevil,” he said again, and a fifth time, “En Shevil.” The last syllable was inaudible.
With his last strength his raised his head, his lips meeting hers for one ephemeral moment. Then his eyes went dull, his hand limp; the air was very still, very cold.
It was years before she moved again, as if after having been turned to stone. With solemnity she laid his arm at his side, and very slowly got to her feet. With a jerky sluggishness she turned and took a halting step away from him, her motions belying her inward heart. Torrents of grief, meaningless sorrow in waves, strange abstract misery of a kind she’d never felt before–washing through her like a sudden tide. This was an ocean she did not fear, but drowned in none the less. She suddenly stumbled, falling over something in the darkness and landing in a crumpled ball in the hard floor. She did not get up.
After long moments she drew herself upright again, cold and forlorn, and felt for what she’d fallen over: Singing Man’s pack. Searching for her dropped light she rekindled it and sat there, hugging the bundle to her as tears fell from her eyes in streaks through the blood, dirt, and sweat that grimed her face.
Mechanically she opened the bag, absently reaching into it for no reason her mind could dredge up. To her surprise, she found it mostly full of papers, neatly folded or rolled to create the most possible space. One of these parchments she opened, and at first only stared at it, her mind not registering the symbols before her as letters and words she knew. Finally her brain became unclouded and she read:
Oh, beauty love, I see the stars upon your eyes a-streaming,
And they like emeralds set in gold do blind me with their gleaming.
And so I turn my eyes away, and look not on their light,
For mine, unworthy of your gaze, are only fit for night.
Elsa’s eyes are blue, she thought, though the relevance of that statement she could not tell, for the phrase, ‘only fit for night’ was continually echoing through her head. Shuffling to another paper she frowned as she read:
When dark the morn, from misted cove the jealous foam-tide sliding,
To grasping world to bare the face of emerald pools abiding,
The passage of the salted birds to open sea-bed hiding,
Went, glimm’ring, on the light of starvéd winter sunrise riding.
Asleep within the brilliant shimm’ring light of morning falling,
The music of the heavens far upon her ears recalling,
Removed from whims of tempest-riven songs of ocean squalling,
A maid, a syren, lay in airy, earthly glare appalling.
Awake to find no ocean waves into the tide-pool spilling,
Trapped within the bed of lazy stars and urchins milling,
Malignant wind her salty, sea-soaked tail of azure chilling,
With terror of a brittle, sun-carved death her heart was filling.
Trembling from the lack of that his mortal frame demanded,
His nature sea, his stumbling feet on sunny dull-beach landed,
The vessel of his love and life by treachery disbanded,
A youth for his own self-made fate, survival, was short-handed.
Twixt sea and sand, by no familiar constancy surrounded,
His tortured ears by unheard songs of hunger ever hounded,
Haunted by the vengeful roar of waves that in them sounded,
Across the rock-strewn waste of dueling worlds his pleas resounded.
She did not quite understand it, but shuddered at the vivid oceanic images, so like her fear and her sudden new sorrow. She grieved, though, that he would never finish it. She pulled free another, this one nearly empty:
My fields may not as yet be wide or proud,
My harvest small, though healthy, strong, and fair,
But any lands I have-these I have plowed,
Each furrow deep and cut with greatest care.
She shook her head, turning to look at his cold face not far from her. What did it all mean? She could not tell. Tears were beginning again to brim in her barely-dry eyes–tears of sorrow deeper than those she shed for his death. This man had been great. Could have been great. The strange sadness of his first poem contrasted with the thoughtfulness of this one… I can’t take any more of this. She rose quickly, but her hands still grasped his pack. As papers spilled out, she scrambled to catch them before losing them to the draft and the lake. In doing so she could not keep herself from reading the next poem to cross her eyes:
With solemn haste the agitated painter’s hand
The untouched canvass sweeps with laden brush,
Though eager to be done and farther back to stand,
Aware that nothing good comes out of rush.
The colors swirling from his tools in sweeps of light,
Imagination’s full strength in his grasp,
Meshing as the hoped-for picture comes aright,
Prayed for with his paint-stained hands a-clasp.
In frenzied meditation now the notes are laid,
When in a moment’s triumph they are wrought
And through the blithe composer’s mind are quickly played,
Upon the staff, to writing now from thought.
The music, independent, swiftly glides along
In smoothness to his great felicity.
The oft-imagined sound of his inspired song
At last has from his thoughtful mind come free.
To play but for a moment angels at their toil
Is ever in the thoughts of man on Earth,
Unashamed the treasures of the heart to spoil,
And to astounding works of art give birth.
“Angels at their toil?” she repeated. It seemed to fit him somehow, though again she did not really comprehend the poem’s meaning. She pressed the paper to her heart, tear-filled eyes turned downward. He was so… What was the word she wanted? It did not matter. He was gone.
Eventually, possibly after a hazy, dreamless doze, her common sense returned to her and she remembered the path around the lake to the back entrance. As she was bundling his papers back into his pack, she happened to catch sight of one that was not like the rest. Unrolling it she read what appeared to be a signature:
“Erik Heimst, bastard of baronet Stefan von Spielburg, protector of royalty, poet extraordinaire — Hero of the eastern lands.”
Crumpling the paper in her hand, she nodded as all the pieces fell into place in a mystery she’d never really known existed and didn’t want to think about. “She must never know,” she said, quoting him and understanding the words now. Protector of royalty. She raised her candle-torch and touched it to the paper’s edge, then set the signature down on the floor and watched it burn. The draft blew it suddenly out onto the lake, where the flames died sullenly down and the ash dispersed across the rippling black mirror. With one last forlorn look at him, certainly a hero in her eyes, she left the cavern.
The battle, after Telmiquor’s violent exit, had become early a slaughter. Those men who did not retreat and had not been killed in the various collapses of roof and wall were confused, frightened at the loss of their master and the sudden free will of all their former allies. They were easily defeated.
At last the prisoners were reached, after the seemingly endless few hours of carnage spent to find them. A cheetaur led Elsa and Toro to the barred-off room where a surprisingly calm group of dirty children and one grown man were held. Toro smashed the lock with the butt of his axe, and their quest was completed. As Elsa absently took into her arms a miserable youngster that threw itself at her, she was worrying about En Shevil. She’d come to like the Shapierian woman a great deal, and feared En Shevil might now be dead. She knew the other could take care of herself, but did not think even a warrior of the maruroharyu could survive an avalanche.
“Toro like kids,” Toro said, and Elsa looked down at the wide-eyed rescuees that were beginning to forget their fear in delight at the minotaur: he could lift them with a hand as if they were weightless. One shrieked as Toro effortlessly placed it on his high shoulder. Elsa’s own shoulder was serving at that moment for a nose-wipe, after which the little girl, her tiny hand clenching tightly a lock of Elsa’s newly shorn hair, buried her face in the warrior’s neck with a whimper.
Elsa pursed her lips. “We must bring these children home. If En Shevil is still alive, she will take the passage and meet us in the town.”
“I will show you the way out,” the strange man said. He also had a child in his arms, and others were crowding nervously around his legs. “My name is Jaladior.” He set his burden down and took it by the hand, and led them from the room.
As they went, Elsa firmly took her mind off En Shevil and asked Jaladior if Telmiquor had kept any treasure, other than that of the town, in the vault.
“He’s been gathering money from across Spielburg for a year at least,” Jaladior replied. “This town isn’t his only project. Since his goal was ultimately to rule Spielburg in your father’s place — yes, I recognize you,” he added with a smile — “he sent men and creatures to play this same game in towns all over this southern area. Some were more successful than others.”
“My brother should be warned of this immediately,” Elsa said, brows lowered. Then she looked at Jaladior. “Who are you?”
“I’ve been his prisoner since he came over from Faledioa.”
“Faledioa is across the eastern no-man’s-land,” Elsa said in confusion. “It is days’ travel from Spielburg’s eastern border. Why would a Faldeioan want to rule my father’s kingdom?”
“He always was a greedy child,” Jaladior sighed ruefully. “Ever since his brother was killed trying to pull this same ‘vault’ trick in Fehlover, Telmiquor turned sincerely beastly. More than he was before, of course.”
“But what was his interest in you?”
“I’m an armaments development specialist, trained in Alsioacor.” He looked at her expectantly, but she admitted to never having heard of the profession or the location. “I suppose not. Perhaps you know the name Bindwei?”
Elsa nodded, but their conversation was cut short as a group of men ambushed them. Elsa, putting the girl-child forcefully down and shoving her back, stalled her first attacker with a high kick En Shevil had taught her. As she drew her sword, she heard Jaladior’s urgent shout: “Not in front of the children! Come on, kids!” Elsa changed her tactic and attempted to drive the men into the small room where they’d been hiding. With wide sweeps of her sword she sent them dancing backwards, and Toro’s axe was even speedier.
Once secluded and away from easily-disturbed young eyes, the two rescuers dispatched the new threat with ease. Elsa strangely found herself trying to avoid any more blood on her clothes. She’d never before even considered the effects of bloodshed on innocent minds, and thought back to when she’d been an eight-year-old child in a campful of brigands. She didn’t remember ever having cared, but perhaps that had been one of the side effects of Baba Yaga’s spell. Lack of squeamishness had certainly been a part of it later.
Reunited with the children, who were looking uneasily at the doorway from which the men had come, Elsa tried to remember what she and Jaladior had been talking about. Conversation had never been one of her strong points. But there was no need, for they reached the bottleneck exit of the vault. She and Toro went out first, back to back, to ensure there would be no further ambush. When they were certain, they brought the children out and set off with all haste for the town.
The exuberant, ecstatic and overwhelming response from the townsfolk was rewarding enough, but in that afternoon they were offered the entire town treasury, rulership of Stuartsgeiden, endless free food and lodging at the inn, a festival named in their honor, and any number of other minor treasures from individual parents. But Elsa said, “We do not even know the fate of Telmiquor yet,” and declined all recompense for the more beneficial prize of several hours’ sleep at the inn–in a room for which she’d already paid. But her dreams were contented.
When she awoke, much refreshed, after at least eight hours of untroubled sleep, she found En Shevil sitting silently by a massive fire, perfectly still. Silhouetted against the roaring blaze on the hearth, the wounds and grime that covered her were not visible — only her attitude of deep weariness and sorrow. With a cry Elsa sprang up and ran to the other woman’s side, but the maruroha did not move. “I am glad you are alive,” she said, placing a hand on En Shevil’s chair.
“Yes,” En Shevil said dully. “I’m alive.”
A new thought struck Elsa, who realized at that moment she had not given a thought to their fourth companion. With a concern and sudden fear she’d never thought to feel, she opened her mouth to speak. But she could not find the words, and they went on in silence. Finally she tried again. “Is he…?”
En Shevil nodded. “Singing Man is dead.” She continued to stare into the fire, and Elsa bowed her head. It seemed like hours before either one spoke further.
En Shevil nodded again, wordless.
They slept for several more hours, as it was now the middle of the night, and arose quite prepared to face a grateful populace the next morning. En Shevil seemed out of sorts, but somewhat recovered, and advised them to stay in the inn’s parlor and rest. “If we wait here until about noon, the mayor will show up. We can tell him what he needs to know, and be gone.” They had all agreed, unanimously, to depart as quickly as possible, when their duty was discharged, in order to avoid the embarrassment of a banquet or such nonsense. It turned out they’d all had awkward experiences with banquets.
“How do you know he will come?” Elsa said.
En Shevil shrugged and said nothing, as if she did not care.
They were first joined by Jaladior, who sighed as he sat down at their table. “Well, how am I to thank you for rescuing me?” he asked.
“I will have none of that,” Elsa commanded. “We are sure to receive far too much praise from this little town as it is.”
As if to punctuate her remark, there was a knock at the door, and the friendly innkeeper popped his head through. “A family wishes to visit you and thank you for rescuing their daughter,” he said. “Do you wanna see them?”
Elsa and En Shevil exchanged a look, at which the latter sighed and stared down at the table. “We will see them,” Elsa said.
The meeting with the Nähehälte family was brief and tear-filled, involving much wringing of hands and squeezing of daughter. So were the ensuing meetings with the Eientriff, Pilzefallendorf, and Schau families, although two of these had sons to squeeze instead of daughters.
It was about noon when the mayor showed up.
The innkeeper, by now probably sick to death of announcing their visitors, put his smiling head into the room once again. “The burgomaster is here,” he said a little wearily.
“We will see him,” said Elsa, nodding. She had a little smile on her face at how true En Shevil’s words had been.
The innkeeper’s smile widened. “She’s not a he,” he said. “I’ll show ‘er in.”
The burgomaster was a tall, curvaceous woman with large red lips, long flowing hair, and deep blue eyes. Surprisingly she was alone. She greeted them with a smile so warm it dispelled all their immediate thoughts (that she must have been elected for her looks) “I am burgomaster Dierch,” she said, “but you must indeed call me Scharne.” She took Elsa’s hand, since the latter was the only one standing. “You, of course, are Elsa von Spielburg, but I don’t know your companions.”
Elsa returned the woman’s smile and looked at En Shevil. “This is En Shevil,” she said, “a maruroharyu warrior from Shapier.”
En Shevil unsmilingly stood to shake the mayor’s hand, then returned to her seat.
“And this,” Elsa continued, “is Toro, my bodyguard and faithful companion.”
“My, my,” said Scharne brightly, not hesitating to shake his large hand, “but you are big. I’m pleased to meet you as well.” She turned to Jaladior.
“And I,” he said with a wave of his hand, “am merely a former prisoner of Telmiquor.”
“Congratulations on your escape, then,” said the burgomaster heartily, shaking his hand like the rest of them. Then she turned back to the other three. “And you are the heroes of our town. You’ve saved our children, given us back our vault — they’re up there right now getting our things out; then they’re going to close it up for good — and destroyed our enemy. How can we thank you?”
Elsa could not help continuing to smile, this woman was so open and friendly. “You may thank us by allowing us to depart in peace,” she said. “We were glad to have helped, but we do not wish excessive thanks.”
Scharne opened her mouth to protest, but En Shevil cut her off. “There is one thing you can do for us. There were four of us when we came to this town. You can reward us by burying our friend.”
A silence fell in the room at this somewhat blunt statement, and finally the burgomaster spoke in a hushed tone. “I’ll see to it. Who was it?”
“A man named Erik,” En Shevil said. Elsa looked up at her sharply, surprised that En Shevil knew his real name. “He killed Telmiquor.”
They agreed to stay for his honor-memorial service, to be held tomorrow; they would depart the next day, and Jaladior would go with them.
The whole town had gathered for the service, which was to be conducted by the burgomaster herself. With bowed heads they stood around the grave, where Scharne had promised they would erect a monument to him. When asked if they had anything suitable to put on it, En Shevil had wordlessly made a copy of one of Singing Man’s poems, and written under it his name with the epithet, “Poet extraordinaire, Hero.” The song did not really fit the situation, but somehow it seemed to fit her own personal relationship with him, and its haunting, mysterious tone made her think of him. Now as Scharne spoke, hushed and calm, the words were running through her head.
Under the dog star sail
Over the reefs of moonshine
Under the skies of fall
North, north west, the stones of Faroe
Under the Arctic fire
Over the seas of silence
Hauling on frozen ropes
For all my days remaining
But would north be true?
All colors bleed to red
Asleep on the ocean’s bed
Drifting in empty seas
For all my days remaining
But would north be true?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Dark angels follow me
Over a godless sea
Mountains of endless falling,
For all my days remaining,
What would be true?
Sometimes I see your face,
The stars seem to lose their place
Why must I think of you?
Why must I?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Why would you want me to?
And what would it mean to say,
That, “I loved you in my fashion?”
What would be true?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
“And we will never forget him, nor what he has done for us and for our children.” These were the burgomaster’s last words, and the assembly stood silent for long moments. En Shevil realized she was crying, and Antwerp was forlornly bouncing into her hand, trying to get her attention. She turned away, and Elsa looked at her. “I’ll be back,” she murmured, heading away from the memorial and moving east. She needed to be alone for a while.
She walked for some time, eventually climbing a rocky ridge to stand on a little ledge far from the ground below. She stared out over the forest, thinking wearily over the last day and a half. Somehow she had to come to grips with what had happened: she had gone back, if only for a few moments, to Deathscar. Singing Man had died. Erik had died. Had he died thinking her an inhumane killer? Was she an inhumane killer? She tore her mind from that path, trying not to fall into her loop of Deathscar thoughts. She nodded slowly, though, a resolution forming: she would no longer conceal her identity. She would allow those whom she had hurt to find her, to claim some sort of recompense from her, any sort besides her life. She would push Deathscar so deep within herself that the killer would never emerge again. It was frightening, though — the thought of dropping her disguises and allowing the world to know who and what she was. It was frightening and strange.
Too strange. It was strange in a way that even its strangeness was frightening. There was no way she could possibly get across to herself or anyone else the volume of the strangeness she felt, not even if she mentioned the fireflies.
Fireflies… Where did that come from? Where had she heard that before? She slapped a hand to her mouth abruptly, a violent shudder paralyzing her body. “Sweet sandy mother of Iblis,” she swore between her fingers.
She was going insane. Again.
A tingle ran up and down her spine, and lowering her dark eyebrows she turned. The demoness stood straight from a crouching position — she’d been climbing the rocks — and held out her empty hands. En Shevil pulled her swords free and took a defensive stance.
The demoness sat down on the crag and hung her feet off the edge, swinging her legs. “I don’t suppose you want to give me my sword back,” she said.
En Shevil stared at her suspiciously, slightly surprised. “How do you know I have it?”
“I don’t,” said the other sarcastically. “I’m just making shots in the dark.” She turned and looked at the human. “Who in Hades else would have it?”
“Well, I don’t,” said En Shevil. “I have a silver dagger, though, with the same design on it.” She had been hoping to interest the other woman, and she succeeded.
“You have the dagger of Cvonyet? Let me see it!” She jumped up and faced En Shevil, tail flicking back and forth.
The human backed warily away. “Why do you care?”
The demoness’ face softened slightly. “It was forged by my ancestor, as was my sword.”
“Chollichihua is your ancestor?” laughed En Shevil, congratulating herself on almost saying the name correctly that time.
“Chollichihaua,” said the demoness coldly. “Yes. After she finished forging the weapons for the five nations, she returned to Tejato to…”
“I know that part,” En Shevil interrupted brusquely, wondering why she stood there listening rather than killing the woman again. “She came back to be queen and was killed by your people.”
The demoness raised her eyebrows. “Killed? Is that what you humans think? Typical. Not killed; kidnapped.” En Shevil, still holding her swords, half-folded her arms, face unchanged. “Oxinlingkaeuou, a second in the attacking force, took her as a prize as well as the sword of Unus whom he slew in taking Chollichihaua. But he became enamoured of her and sought for years after a way to return her to her own world. It was this selfless effort that made her begin to care for him. I am of their descendants.”
“And what is your name?”
“And what do you want from me?”
Askgaella smiled. “I only want to possess you, and be free of Hell forever.”
“Forever until I die,” growled En Shevil.
“I can’t…” The demoness turned her head, and then her whole body, away from En Shevil and walked several paces. But the maruroha had caught that look in her face, the tone in her voice. Under the other woman’s sarcasm and self-assurance there was fear, and anguish. She seemed trapped somehow, by something even En Shevil the ultimate prisoner could not understand. She felt a strange stirring of pity inside her, and realized suddenly that without this woman’s intervention she would have been successful in killing herself. Now in her clearer state of mind she realized that that at least deserved some thanks.
“You know me only as Deathscar?” she asked the demoness in a softer tone than she’d used before.
“Deathscar is all that matters to me.”
“Is that true?”
“No, I just said it to mess you up.”
En Shevil had never met someone so sarcastic before. “My name is actually En Shevil.”
“And I care because…?”
“Maybe you don’t have to possess me to be free of Hell.”
“And you’re such an expert on the demon military that you would know, of course.”
“It’s impossible talking to you!” cried the human, brandishing her swords once again. “Why don’t you just leave before I kill you?”
“Fine, but you just look out: you can’t watch for me all the time; I’ll have you and you’ll never get free again. Just like me.” She turned and made as if to walk away, waiting only until En Shevil lowered her guard to fling herself backwards into the unsuspecting human’s chest and throw her to the ground. “I won’t be trapped in Hell,” she growled as they wrestled, Askgaella trying furiously to break the swords from En Shevil’s grasp and En Shevil attempting to wriggle her way out of the demoness’ hold before they both rolled off the rocky cliff.
Scratching and kicking, the two women grappled for mastery of each other until finally En Shevil managed to throw her dark assailant partway off, enough to regain one of her swords and force Askgaella away. Panting, muscles tensed, demoness and human regarded each other. En Shevil bent slowly to retrieve her other sword, then took a step nearer Askgaella menacingly. “Go; leave me and never come to me again,” she commanded.
“You’ll have to kill me,” growled the other.
Askgaella straightened in surprise. “Whyever not?”
“Maybe I’m not as cruel as you are,” En Shevil snapped. “Maybe I don’t want to send you back to Hell.” Maybe I want to thank you for saving my life all those months ago.
Askgaella quickly regained her composure. “I think not,” she taunted. “I think you’re worried about your precious soul. Well, you’ve lost it already, human. No Elysium for you.”
“You fiend!” screamed En Shevil, enraged. “You devil!”
“Demon,” corrected Askgaella coolly. “Will you kill me now?”
“No!” In a fit of anger, En Shevil threw herself over the edge, catching hold of rocks immediately beneath her and clambering down at a dangerous pace. So irate she could barely see, she reached the forest floor before she realized it, and shrank into a tight ball of anger on the mossy ground. “No,” she repeated sulkily. “I’m not going to Tartarus, I’m not.”
On the clifftop, Askgaella stared at the spot where En Shevil had last stood. I don’t believe it, she was thinking. That I could say that and she still wouldn’t kill me. With a slight pang of remorse, she turned and headed back, away from the human forever. She could not bring herself to hurt her now.
Whatever her resolutions, no one else knew of them, and that was her downfall. For at that moment Askgaella was conscious of a great wind all around her, a sudden searing heat at her back as if some huge creature were breathing directly behind her; a massive force slammed her to the side, sending mountains of pain screaming through every limb with the shock that threw her into the rock wall to her right. Her body dissolved before it could slide to the ground, only long red stains remaining on the rock to indicate she had been there. The dragon that had killed her blasted the spot with flames, evaporating the blood and the last trace of Askgaella, then descended towards where the human still crouched on the cold ground.
En Shevil’s head snapped up in shock, and brushing her tears away she stood. “Orono!”
“I have slain thy foe,” the dragon informed her, settling to the ground and wrapping her tail around En Shevil’s leg.
“The demoness? You killed her?” The dragon inclined her great head and brought it down again. “You shouldn’t have.” Even as the maruroha knit her brows, shaking her throbbing head, she felt a certain pang of satisfaction. She pushed it strongly away. “So what are you doing here, anyway?”
“I feel that in thy deserts is an explanation.”
“An explanation of what?”
“Thy state, thy past, and thy future.” En Shevil just shook her head in confusion, so Orono continued. “Bandis was my daughter. She gave to thee her life essence that though mightest live. Why, I know not. But the bond that before her death I shared with her liveth on in thee, for thou carriest now her life force in thy body. Thou art my daughter in her place.” En Shevil was beginning to cry, in sorrow and bafflement at this strange story.
“Why your daughter?”
“I loved my daughter,” said Orono softly. “And though I oft neglected them, I loved those duties that were mine as a parent. I will not so easily let them go.” En Shevil almost laughed through her tears. I’m her daughter because she has to have someone to baby, she thought. “However, that part of Bandis which was dragon and now liveth in thee proveth far too strong for thy mind, and is that which caused your madness.”
En Shevil took a step backwards in sudden shock, forgetting the tail about her ankle and falling to the ground. “You mean…” she faltered. “You mean I went crazy because I’m part dragon?”
Orono nodded slowly. “Thy dragon half hath given thee power and madness: magic thou hast now, that thou hadst not before; but far too strong for a human’s holding is the essence of a dragon. Thy madness, though cured, will after time again return.”
“It already has,” En Shevil said quietly. “I just noticed it today.”
The dragon sent a spiraling thread of magic through the human’s body, so suddenly that En Shevil gasped and sprang to her feet, away from Orono, in startled fear. Orono bobbed her head and said, “Thou art cured, for the time. Take a care that thou killest not too much in anger, for the heating of the blood wilt bring to the surface thy dragon side, which in thy poor frame turneth thee only to ill.”
“But what can I…” En Shevil began, but Orono interrupted her.
“I cannot understand thy speech unless thou usest magic or touchest me. At any rate I must go; thy human friend approacheth, and thou hast now much to think on besides.” She rose into the air with a great beating of wings and stirring of winds.
Hair whipping out behind her, the human stood and reached out her hands. “But Orono, wait!” she cried.
“Find thy true path, and we shall meet again!” the dragon cried, clearing the treetops now and wheeling about to face the south. Her next words brought back sparklingly distant memories of En Shevil’s father: “Live up to thy name, my child!”
“En Shevil?” Elsa said in wonder, gazing up at the receding shape. “What was that?”
“A friend of mine,” the maruroha said softly, eyes upraised until the dragon was out of sight. Then she looked at Elsa. “Shall we go?” The other woman nodded slowly, and together they began the trek back to the other side of the ridge and Stuartsgeiden.
The song En Shevil provides from Erik’s collection is Sting’s Why Should I Cry For You? The rest of Erik’s poetry is stuff I started and never finished.