By the time they reached the Winder pass into Shapier, they were all three outfitted with new fighting gear. Jaladior had at last expounded to them the meaning of his official-sounding professional title: he was a designer of magical armor and weaponry from a famous school in the Faladeioan city of Alsioacor; this was the reason Telmiquor had been holding him, in the hopes that the warlord might get something useful out of his cousin, which Jaladior turned out to be. Now he insisted on journeying with them for a while in order to repay their kindness in rescuing him.
For En Shevil it was a new sword, called a katana, which all through the rest of their journey south she was learning to use. She wanted no more than this — a sword not quite so distinctive as her two unique maruroha blades, with a name not quite so morbid. She called it Sulah, Bringer.
For Toro, Jaladior designed a breechplate and bracers set with matching strap-holsters for his various weapons. Toro certainly did not want to refuse the offer, but also did not need anything particularly fancy.
For Elsa, however, it was an entire set of armor, designed during painstaking, hilarious planning sessions each night over the fire for at least a week. En Shevil was more than amused at the exchanges between the warrior and the designer, which often went something like this:
“But I do not understand why you would make it so bare in this area.”
“It’s not really bare, you see,” Jaladior would respond, quite proud of himself. “The armor’s just invisible there.”
“Invisible? But why invisible armor?”
“Well, it looks better that way.”
“But armor is not to look good. Armor is for protection. Why, if there is armor there, must it be invisible?” Elsa was getting frustrated.
“Because you have a beautiful stomach!” Jaladior would cry, getting frustrated.
Then Elsa would protest the shape of the invisible area, saying it would make her look like something she was not, and Jaladior would say it would look different when she was wearing it.
“And I do not understand why you have used this red here. Is this metal?”
“Yes, dyed steel; very strong, very expensive.”
“Why spare the money?”
“It will look good with the red-brown.”
“But why red-brown at all?”
“It will look nice with your hair.”
“It is armor!”
And by this time En Shevil would be laughing so hard that they would call off their discussion for a later time. But eventually the plans were finished, meeting the demands of both aestheticism and practicality, and all that remained was to construct the outfit.
So when they reached Liegends, the largest southern city west of the mountains, they stopped for a week while Jaladior threw money around in order to attain the rewards he had concocted for his three heroes. Five smiths went to work overtime to put Elsa’s armor together, and two more were hired for the other tasks; meanwhile the travelers relaxed at an inn and repeatedly gaped at how many trips Jaladior made to the money changer. But finally it was all done and the impatient three bade their erstwhile companion a friendly good-bye, with many thanks attached, and continued southward.
Abdallah smiled slightly as a minotaur and two blonde women with the look of Spielburg came over the ridge and began descending the slope towards the city. Maybe tonight wouldn’t be as boring as he’d thought. His eyes lingered on the tall bull-man so long that the women were nearly to the gate before he brought his eyes down and began to welcome them. “Greetings, and welcome to… En Shevil?” Was it possible?
“Hello, Abdallah,” said the first woman quietly. “How have you been?”
“But I thought… I’d heard that…. Never mind. It’s been so long since we’ve seen you here — have you heard what’s happened since you left?”
En Shevil nodded slightly with a smile, wondering at the same time what he had heard. Did he know what she had been? “I know all about Achim — the prince, I mean. In fact, he’s the reason I’m here.”
“He isn’t in the city,” said Abdallah, proud to be able to give some information. “He’s in Tarna.”
“Actually he isn’t,” said En Shevil. “He disappeared thence a while ago, and I’m trying to find him. I thought I’d stop home on my way down there.”
The guard looked thoughtful in a horrified manner, gave a small ‘oh,’ and waved at them as they passed. The others had not yet spoken a word.
Gates Plaza looked the same, warm and blue in the moonlight. The Katta’s Tail Inn, as she caught a glimpse of it behind an exiting customer, looked prosperous. “We will stay here tonight,” Elsa said, and En Shevil could hear how weary she was. She nodded, and her companions left her to walk on alone. As she ambled up the northern street, drawing near to fountain plaza, she could hear the whine of the magical spring as it gave life to the city. Reaching it, she crouched and cupped her hands under the water. Slowly she drank it, remembering how it tasted after almost a year away, noting that Spielburg water was sweeter than that of Shapier. She looked around. The apothecary’s sign was the same, as was that of the magic shop. Through the eastern doorway was home.
She stopped briefly to look up at the palace. It looked so exactly like the one in Rasier that memories converged on her and her eyes filled with inexplicable tears. After a moment she realized that she was weeping for her loss of girlishness. Even in the harem, in danger every moment of great dishonor from the men around her, in her mind there had always been brighter times ahead. And though she had sorrowed for the loss of Thalanna as a friend, it had not consumed her; she’d still had reason to go on living. Now what did she have?
Pushing these dismal thoughts from her mind, she turned and walked the rest of the short distance to her own door. There she hesitated. Her parents were probably yet awake, but how would they receive her? She shook her head, smiling a little at her own foolishness. How else should they receive her but with love and welcome? They did not know the things she had done. She opened the door and stepped inside.
A dagger came at her from nowhere, and instinctively she had her swords out and crossed to knock it away from her face where it would have made quite a mess. The ringing sound muffled the gasp from the thrower, and as En Shevil replaced her weapons she looked her mother in the eye. Not knowing quite what to say, they both stood there for a moment. Then they spoke at once.
“I’m only back for…”
“En Shevil, you’re…”
The warrior dropped to her knees as her mother ran to her, held the katta woman in a tight embrace. Kylur seemed frailer than En Shevil remembered, less filled out and more careworn.
“En Shevil!” came Manta’s voice from the bedroom door, and the girl hugged him in her turn. A hug was great proof of affection from katta, and En Shevil felt at once what it meant to them to have her home.
“The prince said you were dead,” whispered Kylur, brushing a tear from her whisker. En Shevil bowed her head.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I never had a chance yet to come prove him wrong.”
They all went into the kitchen and sat around the table with mugs of Kylur’s not-quite-the-best-in-town coffee. When dawn came they were still talking.
Later that day, En Shevil stood before the weapons shop, wondering… This was difficult and probably futile, but necessary. She took a deep breath and opened the door. She having entered quietly, Issur did not turn from his forge until he heard the door shut behind her. It would probably be best not to let those on the plaza see what went on between them.
The burly man stared at her for a long moment. “I’d like to talk to you,” she said evenly.
“You…” Issur took several steps closer, shaven brows down, still staring at the girl. “How dare you…”
En Shevil’s eyebrows lowered. “How dare I what?”
Issur’s lips curled and he gave a grunt of anger. “I’ll kill you, you dirty little thief!” he roared, and came at her. Grasping his upper arms, she gave him a twist and landed him on the floor.
Stepping back she said quickly, “I don’t want to fight you…” she looked at the anvil and smiled, “unless you’d care to arm wrestle.”
Picking himself up, Issur seemed barely able to restrain himself from jumping at her again. But she had already taught him that she knew something, so he only said, “You’re on.” Moving up to his side of the anvil and resting his elbow on it, he jerked his head at her in challenge. She smirked at him, if only to taunt him, and took his hand. Without warning or countdown, Issur applied pressure, and En Shevil scarcely had time to save herself from being slammed immediately. Slowly she forced his arm back, straining against a man who was about as strong as she was. When his hand was within an inch of the metal, she put on a burst of force and slammed him.
Fluidly she stood up straight and whipped out her katana. Holding it to Issur’s neck she said quietly, “I don’t want you to bother me. I don’t want your friends to bother me. And I never want to hear a word from EOF. You got it?”
Issur’s eyes glittered, and his guttural “got it” showed clearly that he was not cowed; but he took her point. She sheathed the blade and went to the door. With her hand on the knob she turned and looked at Issur. He was still by the anvil, watching her. “Oh — and leave the prince alone, too.” With that she left.
On the plaza, she sighed with relief, and smiled as she looked at the Adventurers’ Guild. Who would be the Guildmaster now that Uhura was gone? She entered and looked around. It had certainly changed; the rugs on the floor had been replaced by a huge bearskin with the head attached. The monster must have been fourteen feet tall when it was alive.
The moosehead with its dopey hat was still on the wall, no longer dusty. The EOF plaque and message board were as they had been, a significantly smaller number of papers on the second. The spears from beside the wall were gone, and in their place a row of swords. The Simbani shields had been replaced with more contemporary versions, and En Shevil thought that she did not like the room as much as she had before.
Near the curtained doorway was a chair in which sat a fat woman with short black hair and a pug nose. She smiled pudgily at En Shevil, but did not rise. “Welcome,” she said, then gave a holler over her shoulder. “Rawn, come out! You’ve got a guest!”
En Shevil smiled slightly as the curtain was drawn back and a young woman entered the main room. She had the older woman’s strong looks but a great deal more beauty and delicacy in her features, from her pointed ears to her small, sharp nose to her fine hands and small feet. She seemed to be part faerie, though the mother, as En Shevil guessed the seated woman to be, was not.
“Hello,” said the girl, and her voice was rather monotone. “I Rawnmé am, Guildmaster here.” Rawnmé’s hair was black and short, with a strange bluish tint to it. She was clad in a loose shirt and leggings, and her feet were bare.
“My name is En Shevil,” said the warrior, placing her hand on her breast and half-bowing. She steeled herself for the rest of her introduction. “I am also known as Deathscar.”
Rawnmé did not move or speak for a moment, but her mother’s eyes grew wide. Finally the girl observed, “Surprised to see you, I am.”
En Shevil nodded minutely. “I only stepped in to see how things had changed; I did not mean to disturb you.” She immediately turned and walked to the log book. She smiled as she saw the last signature: “Achim, Hero of Spielburg.”
As she picked up the pen, she blinked and shook her head, for the words seemed to blow away and shift. Several different names flashed before her eyes, and she looked away for a moment. When she returned her gaze, Achim’s name was again signed with a flourish. But what had she seen? “Red the Dimwitted,” “Karis Rodriguez,” “A Guy Who Happened to be in Town?” There had been more, many claiming to be the Hero of Spielburg, except a smeared entry that said Heroine.
“So,” said Rawnmé softly from close behind her. “Them you see.”
“What does it mean?” asked En Shevil.
“This world where we live many layers has; in each, many the same events take place, only with different results and by different people brought about. Some so different that whole lands and kingdoms that in others exist, here do not.” As she spoke, the warrior quickly signed, “En Shevil, also called Deathscar.”
“Then these are the Heroes of Spielburg from other… layers?” she asked. This concept was wholly new to her.
“Yes, and why one can their names in this book see, I cannot tell. Some magic in the book, I deem.”
En Shevil remembered a time when she had looked at this book years ago. “I’ve never seen them here before.”
Rawnmé shrugged. “Likely, you noticed them not.”
“I would have noticed something like this. Why do I see them now?” The words were swimming over the page again.
“Anyone with clear magic can them see.”
En Shevil snorted. Despite recent revelations, she was still not comfortable with the idea that she possessed magic.
Rawnmé’s eyes narrowed and she looked the warrior up and down. “You an warrior are, and yet strong your power is. Clear magic I know, when it I feel.”
“And, pray, what is the difference between the clear and the normal kinds?” asked En Shevil half-sarcastically, deciding not to argue more.
“What ‘normal’ you call, the type is that by magicians is used,” said the girl, striding around the room. She fingered one of the swords in the holder, then cast herself upon the floor cross-legged. En Shevil walked slowly over to her while she continued. “Upon an fixed, though expandable, reserve of magic points or mana they draw, requiring words and gestures spells to cast. Clear magic with magical species comes, such as djinn and their kind, some types of dragons, pixies, and so forth. Also you, I guess. Their magic power in their life force and energy rests. Small spells will affect you not at all; the greater ones may your strength tax, and if for what is beyond your power you try, you may yourself harm. But you will never an set spell need, magic to work-no words previously written or gestures orchestrated, though I have found that an gesture the will strengthens and the spell eases.”
“You are quite the expert on magic,” said En Shevil, who had taken a seat next to the other girl. She was feeling a little shaky with all this talk of magic, and held her courage fast.
“My father an half-faerie was, and his father an djinn, so I an quarter djinn am, another faerie, and half human. But you fully human seem.” Rawnmé seemed to be lost in a sort of reverie, even with En Shevil sitting there. “Of gifts I have heard — magical creatures turning over part of their life force for the healing of an human friend and thus with magic them imbuing, but so much you have! Multiple gifts, perhaps? What would the chance be, at more than one such gift in a lifetime having? An accident it could have been, of course — an mistaken inheritance of power from an dragon patriarch. She looked to En Shevil for the answer. “I give up.”
“Well…” she began, then looked shrewdly at the faerie-girl. What reason had she to be pouring out her heart to this Rawnmé? She looked around, and observed that the chair by the doorway was empty.
“Oh, please tell,” begged Rawnmé, and a strange girlish look crossed her face that was quite alien to the cold, prideful expression that it had and once again held. Her voice was not quite so monotone then, and En Shevil guessed that this was a display of her human side. She decided she had nothing to lose, and gave her an account of her experience with Bandis and Orono. She was near tears by the end of it, the feelings she had developed in those first few minutes of amnesia still present. Rawnmé’s eyes were shining, her hands clasped.
“Too wonderful that is!” she said, sounding anything but excited: she had slipped back into faerie-mode again. “Not,” she added hastily, “the death or the pain or elsewhat. But when she died, you must have so close been that her life force immediately to you went, which what healed you was. Thus she your life saved, and to you magic gave on top of it.”
En Shevil shuddered, unable to do otherwise. “Words can describe it for me, but wonderful is not one of them. Perhaps weird or terrifying would be nearer the mark. Also sad.”
Rawnmé seemed to draw back slightly, looking at En Shevil with almost unfriendly eyes. “Something against magic you have? I had heard, that the previous Guildmaster here liked it not, but her I never met.”
“My every experience with magic had brought me only pain, and it cannot be denied that it frightens me a great deal.”
Rawnmé no longer looked affronted but sympathetic, her pale green-blue eyes taking on a liquid tone. “You seem the kind not, who easily susceptible to fear is.”
“No. Besides isolated events, such as being tangled with a djinn fifty feet in the air and being ambushed by seven trolls at once, the only things that have ever really frightened me, even the thought of them, were magic and the sea… and myself.” She really had not meant to add this last, but Rawnmé did not seem to pick up on it.
“Oh,” said Rawnmé in a different tone. “I understand. An problem I have with the ocean as well.”
“With the help of a friend, I was able to face the sea and keep a hold on myself, though I should probably die of fright if I were required to swim, or to try. But to magic I fear I will never be reconciled.”
“And what for yourself?” asked the Guildmaster. She had noticed after all. En Shevil looked away. “Your pardon,” said Rawnmé most humbly.
“Oh, no,” said En Shevil. “I need to talk about it more and think about it less. I feared myself for what I had done as Deathscar, for what I was capable of doing. I feared the fact that I could kill and walk away. But I found that I could master my abilities, fight only when I had to and kill only if there was absolutely no other choice. Orono said that as long as I don’t kill in anger I won’t go insane again. And I guess it’s not the skill that’s the problem, anyway — just the evil use of it”
“Insane?” asked Rawnmé with no apparent surprise, then shook her head. “But I shall no more in that direction pry. What now I wonder this is: if your fears you desire to conquer, why not magic try?”
“Oh, no,” said En Shevil, standing up and stepping backwards. “No magic for me. That’s not something I deal with.” She avoided the fact that she’d already used magic twice.
“Your fear unreasonable seems,” said Rawnmé, her emotionless voice beginning to get on En Shevil’s nerves. “Thus, as you I see, you must desire it to conquer.”
“You’re right, but not by making it part of my life.”
Rawnmé forced a smile. “Then your fighting skill allow me to see.”
“In there?” En Shevil indicated the door that had customarily led to the practice room. Rawnmé nodded, and En Shevil entered without another word. Brandishing her katana she took a defensive stance as Rawnmé drew from the air a very long, thin sword of northwestern styling.
“Guildmaster did I not become for magic alone,” Rawnmé said calmly, raising her sword to a dueling position.
En Shevil began the spar with a typical feint of sword and a simultaneous kick at her opponent’s thighs (she would have aimed for the knees, but did not want actually to hurt the other girl). Rawnmé avoided this by simplistically stepping backwards, at the same time sweeping her own sword forward in a seemingly useless blow that fell far short of En Shevil’s body. But in the instant the latter was regaining its balance after the double-footed kick, Rawnmé darted forward and gave her three taps of the sword on the shoulders and chest. Startled, En Shevil waved her katana about for a moment and wished for her own swords. Annoyed, she flipped over the short half-faerie and kicked backwards. But Rawnmé again simply stepped out of the way, turned smoothly, and hit En Shevil’s side with her sword.
Very swiftly En Shevil whirled, katana outflung to drive the other back if she was close. The maruroha’s arm was thrown wide, though, when Rawnmé brought her own sword down strongly on the katana and then quite gracefully stabbed forward into En Shevil’s stomach. The human decided to stop pulling her punches and sprang forward. The hand-blow she aimed at the half-faerie’s shoulder missed as Rawnmé ducked, and the katana strike at the other girl’s back lost half its potency as Rawnmé’s sword poked En Shevil in the knee. More annoyed than ever, En Shevil pushed from her hands, kicking the other with both feet and knocking her over. The human turned to regard her opponent — who was even then upright once again.
“Your sword is dull,” En Shevil remarked as they circled each other.
“Its sharpness I control. To practice its use is better dull.”
En Shevil stepped forward and fell to a crouch, aiming a sword sweep at Rawnmé’s left shoulder. The other girl barely parried, then stepped backwards again before En Shevil could try another kick. That was an aggravating tactic, but impressively effective. Then Rawnmé threw herself forward in a sudden charge that En Shevil dodged, thinking she had gained an advantage. But Rawnmé stopped short when the maruroha stepped aside, and swung her sword heavily over onto En Shevil’s head. The human brought her katana up to block and was forced downward, staggering backward, arms wavering. “Wonderful,” En Shevil grunted, falling backwards into a sitting position and rolling away. “You’re very good.”
Rawnmé bowed her head in acceptance of the compliment. “Finished, are we?” En Shevil nodded.
“You win,” she smiled. “I need to work on my swordplay more. That little ‘stepaway’ move really works, doesn’t it?”
“You, perhaps, might more frequently away jump.”
En Shevil grinned. “I’ve got to go. I hope I see you again sometime, maybe have a rematch?”
“Shapier you depart on this day?”
“Well, tomorrow. But today I’ve got to buy some supplies and things. Thanks for talking with me. And fighting with me.”
“Your time I value.” Rawnmé gave a little bow as they left the room.
En Shevil went to meet Elsa at the Katta’s Tail Inn, where they shared a blissfully Shapierian meal prepared by perhaps the best cook in the world. En Shevil then took her friends out on a brief tour of the Shapierian streets she so much loved. Every step was a joy to her, from the far end of Tarik of the Stars to the dark northwestern corner of Askeri Darb. She paid visits to Harik Attar and some of the guards with whom she used to flirt. She even dropped in on Dinarzaad. Elsa and Toro stood back, amused, at each of these encounters and watched En Shevil’s almost childish delight at seeing her home again. But that evening when they parted company until the next morning, the maruroha seemed sad.
The leave-taking with Manta and Kylur, the next morning, was surprisingly less painful than the one of a little less than a year before. As Elsa had said about her own father, they were content to know that she lived. And that she was still their own En Shevil, despite what she’d gone through. Her greatest fear had been resolved in their wholehearted acceptance of her even after her entire story was told; now she could depart the city knowing she had once again a home there.
Their travels across the desert were unremarkable. They encountered jackalmen constantly, terrorsaurii more infrequently, and the occasional brigand by day. When they reached the town of Laj’ayah, it being little more than a walled group of dome-houses clustered around an oasis with a few saurus yards, they joined a caravan. Thus eventually they reached Rasier.
En Shevil had not been expecting any emotional reaction to this city, and the tears springing in her eyes came as somewhat of a shock to her. The golden glow of the walls, the happy faces of the katta merchants, the singing rush of fountain water on the central plaza — all these contrasted so directly with her memories of this place as to make her almost confused at the changes. In the now-respectable Blue Parrot Inn she learned all she wanted to know. Zayishah was ruling the city and surrounding area (with the help, no doubt, of the ever-vigilante Mayzun), and things could not be better for katta and humans alike. This update left her relatively unprepared for the less pleasant news she received from Thaylish.
The latter En Shevil found by accident, wandering the streets of Rasier and looking absently at its inhabitants. The first topic to come up in their conversation was, naturally, what had happened to En Shevil at the beginning of the battle at the palace. Then, inevitably, they turned to discussing the fate of the various members of the Underground. It was not long before En Shevil learned of Thalanna’s death. Their speech was not far extended past that, though they parted on friendly terms. The news did not really shock her, but she wept a little; it was a mark of some sort.
The party left Rasier the next day; two weeks later they had made their way over the Shalyah pass into Tarna.
It was not so bad as En Shevil had expected: not as dusty as Shapier, though not as pleasantly hot, and actually rather picturesque. With the savanna stretching out flatly before them, here and there a ravine or ridge or cluster of hills to add variety, she felt at once in the open, uncrowded, and yet safely hidden from prying eyes. The wildlife was a fascination to her as well: from the ferocious, excitable rhinoceros and the easily-startled antelope to the calm, ponderous elephant and the aggressive, stupid giant ant; she had heard of it all and seen most of it, but never extensively as she did now.
The city was impressive. Even a long-time citizen of the mighty Shapier, which claimed almost rightly to be the greatest city known to man, had to admit that Tarna, shaped as it was like a giant pyramid, each layer being a ‘plaza’ with a different purpose, was truly grand. Approaching the front they saw first the massive statues of the liontaur gods, some of them shared by the people of Egypt, and then the huge, guarded gates. These were wide-flung and did not seem to be routinely closed. The two liontaurs looked at them with eyes glinting, no trace of friendliness or hostility in their gazes. “Welcome, humans and minotaur, to the city of Tarna,” one of them said. “And so welcome shall you ever be, provided you follow the laws of the land.”
“The greater laws,” said the second guard, “are that none shall practice magic on the streets; that none shall enter the liontaur’s section of the city; that honor shall be the thought in all your dealings.”
“Having heard these laws, enter freely the city of Tarna with the knowledge that justice shall be meted to any who scorns them.”
En Shevil nodded her head to the guards, and stepped up the few stairs with her friends behind her. “We need to find Rakeesh first, I think,” she said uncertainly; she was looking at the impressive corridor just inside the gates: mighty pillars and well-tended shrubbery marked the way to a more imposing edifice ahead, the pyramid that made up the higher part of the city stood before them, its sides stair-stepping up to a great height while a flight of true stairs climbed dizzyingly straight to the door near the summit. Halfway up was a walkway leading left and right, and before the stairs actually began there was another. This they took, randomly choosing left as it looked brighter and more open.
“This Rakeesh — who is he?” Elsa asked as they walked. They found themselves on a small plaza containing a few buildings (all buildings seemed built into the layer above them, making a ‘building’ really only a door into the greater pyramid). The one construction that stood apart from the rest of them was a large rectangular building with two doors (there didn’t seem to be actual doors here, just doorways), looking like it might fall over at any time. As they came out past a large stone plant-repository, they saw to their right a wide flight of stairs leading up to the half-way point up the pyramid. To their left was a pair of similar flights leading down to the next plaza.
People passed them, going across the plaza and up and down the stairs: humans, liontaurs, and others. Some seemed busy, others meandered, but all seemed to have a clear idea of where they were. And they were all polite.
“Rakeesh is…” En Shevil trailed off, looking around and having no idea where to go. Cities needed streets! She shook herself and continued. “Rakeesh was a friend of mine while he was in Shapier. He’s a liontaur. Achim said he was going with him to Tarna.”
“Where we go?” Toro asked, stamping his hooves nervously. A passing canine looked up at him briefly, but did not speak.
“I suggest we try that large building there,” Elsa said, pointing to the unstable rectangle. “We may ask for directions, at least.”
Inside the dark doorway they went, Toro ducking low to pass under and all three standing still for several moments while their eyes adjusted. A woman approached them, looking Egyptian in dress. “Habarishi, Bwana. Nharak sa’id, effendi. Welcome to the Welcome Inn. I am known as the Welcome Woman.”
They all looked around them. There were several tables at which people sat on cushions eating. Stairs led up to a balcony that circled the entire, tall room and was filled with doors. Satisfied that this was the right place to be, Elsa said, “We need two rooms, connected if possible.”
The woman nodded and smiled. “If you will but pay fifteen Royals, you may have two fine rooms for seven days.”
“When we have seen the money changer of your city, we will pay you,” said Elsa as they all realized their error. “For now will you give us directions to the home of…” Her brow furrowed.
“Rakeesh,” En Shevil put in.
“Rakeesh and his lifemate Kreesha live under the sign of the pentagram across the plaza,” said the Welcome Woman. “If you will but pledge to pay when you have seen the money changer, I can situate you in your rooms immediately.”
En Shevil looked over at Elsa with surprise, and found the same emotion on the other’s face. ‘Pledge?’ “Very well,” Elsa said, and the woman gestured them to follow her. With the gaze of most of the inn’s patrons on them (that is, on Toro), they went up the stairs and through a door. The room looked comfortable enough, with two beds and a door standing open to a second room. The welcome woman bowed herself out.
With a sigh En Shevil deposited her pack on the floor and shook out her velvet cloak before putting it back on. “Where to now?” she asked. “The money changer, I assume.”
“I believe I should visit the money changer while you try and find your friend Rakeesh,” Elsa said. “I will take Toro with me.”
En Shevil’s progress was impeded, however, immediately she parted company with her friends outside the inn. A man had been standing beside the doorway, apparently waiting for her.
A long scar ran from the top of his right ear down to his collarbone. His brown eyes were flecked with black and serious, his hair long and of a dark brown-black. He was shorter than she was, rather stocky, and clad in mail. A large sword hung at his side, and a pack was on his back. However, he looked remarkably clean and un-travelworn for an adventurer. He approached her swiftly. “You are the one called Deathscar?”
“Yes, I am.”
He had been joined by another man, a canine, shorter and somewhat fatter though of less initial width. He looked more the adventurer, clad in Punjabi-style travelware that had apparently seen much use. A bow was visible across his back, slung where it could be easily reached and not hindered by the pack/quiver he also wore. He seemed quite agitated, and the expression on his face was one of barely restrained outrage. He did not speak, however, and it took En Shevil a few moments to see the other human’s hand, quite low, in a warding position. This man spoke again. “I charge you, in the name of Honor and for the good of Tarna, to come with me to the Hall of Judgement to stand before the Council of Tarna.”
En Shevil sighed; she’d known this had to come sometime — it was exactly that from which Achim had sought to protect her by bringing her to this very place. Without even bothering to ask the man’s name or business with her, she nodded. “Very well,” she said.
He looked at her curiously, then gestured. Making sure to keep the armored man between the canine and herself, she went with him across the plaza, up the stairs, and to the doorway on the right. A liontaur guard stopped them. “This is she?” the woman asked, gesturing at En Shevil.
“Yes,” the armored man told the liontaur.
The latter turned to the maruroha and nodded her head. “I have been instructed to take your weapons before I allow you to enter.”
This was another not-surprise, and En Shevil unstrapped her two sheaths — katana and maruroha — from her back and handed them to the liontaur without question. Her heart was beating rapidly by now, and she wondered what would be the outcome of this afternoon.
Inside, the chamber was high and wide, ornate and richly-furnished with fine pallets for the liontaurs who sat within. At the far end of the room on a great seat of ivory sat a stately male liontaur with a look of contempt about him, and before him were six women. This was the Council of Tarna, and En Shevil did not like the way they were gazing at her.
The armored man gestured her to stand aside to the left of the walkway running up the middle of the room and dividing the Council into threes. With his companion, the armored man took three steps forward. “Council of Tarna,” he said — “I, Seanque sheah Olio, Paladin of Awehara, stand before you.”
“Seanque sheah Olio, you stand before us in honor.” This was the far liontaur on the left side, wearing a tall orange headdress, gold earrings, and an intricate necklace. She held a staff in her hand.
“I, Todi of Punjabi, stand before you,” said the Paladin’s companion, his hairy fists clenched.
“Todi, you stand before us in honor. Paladin, speak your errand.”
Seanque gestured at Todi. “At the bidding of this man, I have sought and followed the killer Deathscar until I found her in this land. I bring her before you, knowing the honor of the Council of Tarna, that justice may be served.” Seanque looked to En Shevil with a nod, holding out a hand to her. The look on his face was puzzlingly sympathetic.
“The Council of Tarna has heard of the rampage of this so-called killer,” said the liontaur nearest her on the right — she wore feathers of green, pink, and black on a silver headdress with a red gem.
“The Council now calls Deathscar to stand before them,” said the one with the orange headdress.
Reluctantly, En Shevil took several slow steps forward. The other two humans stepped aside, and the maruroha swallowed hard. “Ah… here I am,” she said. “I… stand before you.”
“Deathscar, you are accused of high-degree slaughter in the lands of Punjabi, Avva’rel, and Spielburg. How do you answer?” There was complete silence in the great chamber, every pair of eyes fixed on the maruroha warrior. The liontaurs’ were unblinking, almost impassive; the kings’ were even distant. The humans’ were intense, staring straight through her as if to pierce her soul.
En Shevil took a deep breath and spoke clearly. “I am guilty of the charge.” The liontaurs around her drew back visibly, the looks on their faces taking on a horrified mark. “But when I did those things I was insane. Completely. I had no idea what I was doing other than… responding to a… an instinct, almost, something physical that I could not resist because my mind was not clear.” She had never put this thought into words before. It had not been something she’d liked to think about before. “I have since been cured of my insanity by the wizard Erasmus –” she thought it best not to mention her recent relapse in south Spielburg — “and have striven to atone for my wrongdoings with a life of honor.”
There was much stirring among the council, and the women spoke among themselves. Finally one, the most naked of the six, asked, “Will any speak for the testimony given by this human?”
“I will speak for En Shevil,” came a deep voice from behind her.
Turning with a smile she cried, “Rakeesh!”
“Rakeesh sah Tarna, you stand before us in honor,” said Orange-headdress. “Speak for her, then.”
“I knew En Shevil, that has been called Deathscar, in Shapier for some time. I know what strength she carries within her–more than enough to fight the darkness that has been implanted in her soul. I also know that this darkness is foreign to her, and that her heart is pure. She is not naturally a murderer, and will not become one again.”