En Shevil climbed over the gate and made her way into the little town. This valley, compared to all the places she’d been in the last month and a half, was somewhat unpleasant, although she really had no idea where she was other than Somewhere In Mordavia. Before her was a flower-covered, grass-surrounded mound strong with the feeling of Erana. She sighed; Erana was everywhere. She passed the place and came between sets of buildings, eerie in the night. She knocked on the door of what was obviously an inn. It was opened by a large man with a pipe, who ushered her inside without a word. “Good evening,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you so late, but do you have any rooms available?”
“Welcome to the Hotel Mordavia,” he said in return. “We do have one room left; the last door upstairs. It is 15 kopeks for a room; please pay in advance. I am Yuri, the keeper of this inn. My wife, Bella, will provide meals for you included in the cost of your room.”
“I’ll only be staying a few days,” she said with a look around. Three men were at a table across the room, drinking and laughing. There were comfortable noises coming from a doorway she guessed led to the kitchen. “But I am rather hungry.” She looked through the various currencies in her moneybag and managed to locate 15 kopeks.
“Have a seat, and you will be served,” said Yuri. He did not seem very friendly. After a moment a woman whose size matched her husband’s came out of the kitchen with a tray that smelled of garlic. En Shevil pulled her hood from her head and slowly ate, still looking around at the foreign decor of the place. She noticed the drunken men eyeing her approvingly, but not in a way to make her uncomfortable, so she smiled. Desiring some amusement, she rose and went over to their table.
“Good evening,” she said. “My name is En Shevil. Who are you all?”
“I am Hans,” said the first, fat man. “Pleasure’s all yours. I’m a farmer of pumpkins and corn, and a person of great importance here in lovely Mordavia.”
She looked at the next man, who was thin and had bags under his eyes. At that moment the third man interrupted. “Listen, I’m tellin’ you, Igor’s death must be avenged!”
“Shut up, that’s all over now,” said Hans. “Franz was about to introduce himself, dontcha know.”
“That’s right,” said Franz, the thin man. “I am a wealthy garlic grower.”
“I’m Ivan,” said the third, “an elephant herder. Unfortunately, there are no more elephants in Mordavia, so business is kinda fallin’ off a tad.”
“Elephants?” she echoed in surprise. She’d not heard of elephants in these areas.
“Pardon me while I wax eloquent,” began Hans, “but once, many years ago, huge herds of fragrant elephants roamed freely in this particular valley.”
“Oh, yeah,” put in Franz. “In the good old days, peanut farming woulda made you a billionaire!”
“Once,” said Ivan, “long ago I had a successful career. And I was also an elephant herder.”
“You kiddin’?” said Hans. “Everyone used to have a pet elephant.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Franz. “I remember mine: I married her!”
“Yeah,” said Ivan wistfully. “She was great for vacuuming up peanuts from your rugs.”
“Not only that,” said Hans, “but elephants are very clean, and modest as well. They always went bathin’ with their trunks, dontcha know.”
“Heh,” Franz wheezed, “nice thing about elephants: very easy to housebreak, you know. They hardly ever made mistakes, unless they got excited, OK?”
“Unfortunately,” said Ivan, shaking his head, “elephants get excited easily. A lot of houses got broken that way.” His lips trembled and tears welled up in his eyes. “This really brings back sad memories. Let’s talk about something uplifting.”
Not to be deterred, she asked, “But why are there no elephants in Mordavia now?”
Hans sighed, and sat back in his creaking chair. “One dark day, a large, fragrant stranger came to town.”
“Oh, I remember,” said Franz excitedly. He seemed easily excited. “He was dressed in dark clothes, and he wore a hood over his head so we couldn’t quite see his face. I thought it was Tony Fields.”
Ivan scrunched up his face in pain. “He spoke in a deep, sibilant voice reminiscent of Vincent Price, and had a… cruel chuckle.”
Hans continued. “He moseyed up to each and every elephant in Mordavia, and whispered a little somethin’ in its ear.”
“Yeah,” Franz said, “and by the next day, all the elephants had left town.”
Ivan choked suddenly, putting a hand to his pained face. “I just can’t bear this. You gotta tell it.”
Hans continued in a dire tone that broke halfway through his sentence. “After that, only the stranger was left in town.”
Franz continued. “I ran up to him! I said, ‘What have you done? What did you say to all the elephants? My wife left me!’”
“Then,” said Hans, “he just threw off his clothes and cape, exposin’ himself to the whole world, and revealed that he was an elephant!”
“Yeah, he said, ‘Ha ha! You fools! I am an elephant!’”
“Then he just packed up his truck and left forever.”
“But to this day on dark, cold nights, you can still hear the echoes of elephants trumpeting their mournful cries. My wife — how I miss her.”
Ivan raised his head from where he’d had it cushioned in his arms. “And I call out, ‘You forgot to write! Not even a fax!’ But the elephants don’t listen, and they never remember.”
“Well-I-really-must-finish-my-supper,” said En Shevil, desperately seeking any excuse to leave their company so she would not burst out laughing in their faces. “Thank you for the useful information. Good night.”
When she was finished (what terrible food!) she headed up to the door Yuri had indicated. She removed her backpack, cloak, and swords and lay down, falling immediately asleep. But as she did she thought she heard voices. “Odd,” said one, a girl’s. It was familiar to her, but she could not think from where.
“What’s she doing in Mordavia?” A man, and elderly too, but not that she had heard before.
“Still looking for the Prince, no doubt.”
“Perhaps she’d be interested in helping us here.”
That was all she heard, and the next thing she knew it was morning. She left the inn for the dry goods shop next door, hoping to buy some supplies so she could continue on her journey. She wondered, though, about the conversation she had dreamed last night. What had the girl meant, ‘still looking for the Prince?’ Had Achim been here? She entered the shop.
“So you’re the new woman in town,” the shopkeeper greeted her. “I’ve heard all about you already. Rumor has it that you’re a relation of our Hero-Prince.”
“Your what?” she said in a sort of hopeful gasp.
“Our Hero, of course. Achim, Prince of Shapier. If you don’t know him, you must not be related.”
“I do know him. When was he here?”
“He only left a few days ago. He was here for the longest time — months, if it was days — always running about in the middle of the night and getting himself hurt.”
“What did he do?” This was the first news she’d heard of Achim for so long, and she was drinking it like wine.
“At first we didn’t trust him, but after he brought me and my Boris back together I thought he was a good man. And then he started doing things for us. He burned the monastery of the Dark One’s Cult, returned Bella and Yuri’s lost child, and I hear he even reunited old Nikolai with his wife. Though she was dead, of course. Then there was some mystery up at the castle. Seems the master there, a vampire they say, and a wizardess too if rumors can be believed, wanted to summon up the…” She looked around nervously. “…the Dark One from that cave. She and a man with her. Well, our Hero stopped them, and freed Erana to pass on into death or some such thing, from what I hear.”
“All that in so short a time,” En Shevil murmured, tears coming to her eyes. Had she truly left Sechburg to look for Achim when he was but a few short miles to her north? And then missed him here only by a few days? “How did he get here?”
“That, no one knows,” said the woman. “But he left here right after the celebration. Some wizard asked him to go to Silmaria to deal with some problems there. But that’s a Hero — always going where he must.”
En Shevil’s heart fell. “Silmaria?”
“Oh, I don’t know where it is — some far-off place that makes little difference to such as myself. But he went.”
“Do you have any travel rations?” she asked dully.
Not wanting to waste the latter, which were rather dear and not very appetizing to begin with, that evening she sat in the Hotel Mordavia picking at a bowl full of garlic-heavy vegetable stew and feeling depressed. She wasn’t sure why she was still wandering around after her Prince–when she found him, what would she do? She’d thought about this a lot lately, and wondered whether or not she should even let him know she was still alive. Certainly he had more Heroics to do, and would she not get in the way? Her thoughts were interrupted by a call from one of the drunkards (Franz, she thought) for more beer.
“Know what?” came a child’s voice from nearby, and En Shevil looked around for a moment, noting the smile on Yuri’s face, then realized the girl was in the kitchen.
“Tanya! Back to bed with you, babushka!” This was the innkeeper’s wife, who by the sounds was pouring the men more liqueur.
“But I had a dream!” The voice was scratchy, as if from a lengthy sickness, and somewhat grating.
Bella sighed, and along with a clattering of dishes En Shevil heard her say, “Tell me your dream, darling.” The large woman emerged from the kitchen, trailing a chattering, nightgown-clad girl with brown braids. Tanya continued speaking very quickly as Bella brought the men their beer, took their old glasses, and returned to the kitchen.
“Trina… or some lady… lived in the castle in the prettiest room because she was the boyar. But she took red paint an’ painted her room red, an’ so she was sad. So she did servants’ work an’ lived in the servants’ rooms ’cause she thought it was ’cause she was the boyar she was so sad. But it wasn’t, it was that her room was red an’ it hurt her eyes. An’ the servants wanted her to be the boyar again, but she thought that would make her sad so she said no. An’ I dunno if she ever knew that it was ’cause of the red paint, ’cause I woke up.”
“What an odd dreamer you are, Tanya,” said Bella. “But you must be getting back to bed now.” If she said any more, En Shevil did not hear. Noticing that she had finished eating she stood and walked up the stairs with a wave goodnight at the men.
Entering her room, she sat on the bed and removed her boots. Suddenly she felt some magical influence, and stiffened as she attempted to keep her cool. “What is this?” she asked into the air.
“Just a contact.” It was the young woman whom she thought she’d heard in her sleep the night before. “I am sorry, but there is really no other way to talk to you. Do you remember me?”
“I know I’ve heard your voice,” said En Shevil apologetically, beginning to grow used to whatever spell was on her, “but I can’t place it.”
“Perhaps you remember can if I as this speak,” said the invisible girl.
“What do you want?”
“I was wondering if you would like to come to Silmaria.”
En Shevil’s heart gave a sudden flutter at the thought, but she remained calm. “What are you doing there?”
“Magical experiments with a friend of mine. But your Prince is here, and we thought you would like to come see him.”
“I… would… perhaps. Where is Silmaria?”
“I am afraid it is an island,” said Rawnmé, “in the middle of the Med Sea.”
En Shevil sighed. “Well…”
“We can bring you here magically.”
“Wonderful,” she laughed. “I either cross the sea or get zapped by magic. What a choice.”
“Do you want to come? If you like, I can wait until you sleep to transport you.”
“What is it you want my help with?”
“So you heard that, did you? I will tell you of it when you arrive, for it is a complex matter that requires thought on your part.”
“My life seems full of magic.”
“Well, make sure you wait until I’m fully asleep.”
Though this last took her some time, as it always had since the eve of her madness, she eventually drifted out of consciousness. Then as her dreams began she was aware of a change–from the conventional comfort of the Mordavian bed to something soft and light as air. She felt as if she were floating, and when she awoke she found that she was. In a small room she lay in/on a hammock that only lightly responded to her weight. Everything here was floating, and as she attempted to remove herself from the strange bed she found that movement required a great deal of effort. As she pushed herself through the air by waving her arms, she wondered where exactly she was. “Are you awake?” came Rawnmé’s booming voice from all around her, startling her into yelling,
“Beg pardon, I often forget to check my volume. The door is to your left.”
“I’d be awake now anyway.”
She felt strange at the thought of being watched, and turned haphazardly to her left. There was no door, only a blue circle depicting in it some stars. She had a vague feeling of fear that this was a magical portal of some kind, but as this entire place felt like magic she brushed it aside and made her awkward way forward. The circle tingled as she went through it, and she determined as she entered the next room that it definitely was magical.
In this chamber she had her gravity back. Small and octagonal, it had windows that showed her, from where she stood, nothing but clouds. She wondered how high up this building was. In the center of the room was a platform surrounded by lone-standing pillars, and on the far side was a narrow cot. In armchairs to her left, across from each other at a table, sat Rawnmé and an old man. The former looked as she had a few months before, save that she now wore a long white robe over an armless bodysuit of black. The man was clad in a star-covered purple robe that only reached to his thighs, under which he wore short pants cut off at the knobby knees. His pointed hat was also violet in hue with the same cosmic emblems. A large rat sat on a shelf beside the window above the table, wearing a silly blue hat like the man’s. Rawnmé stood up and smiled faintly at En Shevil. “Good morning,” she said. “This is Erasmus.”
En Shevil’s mouth opened, and she put a hand to her face. “You…”
“Yes, I did,” he said jovially. “And a good job of it I did too.”
For a moment she could not speak. Finally she said, “Achim is here?”
“I haven’t told him anything.” How did he know exactly what she was thinking?
“He needs to know,” said Rawnmé. “You cannot let him think forever that you are dead.”
En Shevil shook her head in mild confusion at their information. “I haven’t decided that yet. I’ve been searching for him, but I don’t yet know what I’ll do when I find him.” Then she gave them both a suspicious look. “Why this sudden advice?”
“We’ve been debating the point for some time,” said Erasmus casually. “You and your deeds are quite the topic nowadays in magic-using circles. Of course, you can’t be scried, but there are ways of getting around that. I always found mine to be quite ingenious.”
“What?” said En Shevil, flabbergasted.
“Since you are part dragon, you cannot be scried,” Erasmus explained, “so I sent a spy with you. Would you like to see?” En Shevil, her jaw slack, nodded dumbly. Erasmus turned to the crystal ball that sat between him and Rawnmé on the table. “Korpha delyos.”
En Shevil stepped forward, leaning over and looking into the ball. What she saw made her stand up straight, eyebrows lowered and jaw dropped in sudden surprised comprehension. She was looking at six images of herself, from the back, tinted red. She turned and stared at Antwerp, taken completely by surprise. “I can’t believe it,” she said at last. “You were…” Her loyal pet bounced forward to rub against her leg. “How did you do it?” she asked Erasmus.
“While I prepared the spell to bring you out of insanity, waiting for Achim’s arrival in Spielburg, I perfected a magical compound I’d been working on for years. It was a loyalty powder, which I then fed to your friend here. Then I simply link my crystal ball — or usually my much clearer, technically superior 180” viewscreen — to his eyes, and I could follow your progress.”
“I can’t believe… So you’ve been watching me since I left Spielburg?”
“When Achim told me you’d killed yourself, I quickly checked on you to see what you were up to, and until you reached Sechburg I was mostly watching to make sure you really were cured of insanity and wouldn’t start up with your problems again. Then I was interested, and kept watching you just for my own amusement.”
“And mine!” Fenris added.
“Of course, since Rawn began helping me with my latest teleportation experiment, I haven’t looked in on you much. We were quite surprised to see you’d found your way to Mordavia. Your life has been quite an interesting one, and not only is there much philosophical discussion about your motives and the rights and wrongs of your situation, there is also much speculation on what you will do next. No one seems to be able to justify or condemn anything you do.”
“Isn’t that a surprise,” En Shevil muttered. “So is everyone in the world watching me?”
“Oh no!” Erasmus laughed. “Just bored old wizards like me, and only the ones clever enough to find a way to get past the dragon barrier.”
This was unfathomable, so she decided not to think about it. “Well, could you keep me a secret from Achim? If I do decide to tell him, I’ll do it myself.”
“So what exactly do you want from me here?”
“Rawnmé has told me of your fear of magic, and that you wish to overcome such a fear. Therefore we decided to invite you to be the subject of our newest experiment.” He gestured to the platform.
She stared at them, trying to think of a polite way to ask if they were both insane. Instead she merely asked, “What is it?”
“It is a transporter,” said Rawnmé. “It will, we hope, send someone to other possibilities of this world.”
“I told you of such when you looked at the book in the Shapier Adventurers’ Guild.”
“Other layers, then,” said En Shevil, remembering the word Rawnmé had used then. “Why me?”
“Because,” said Rawnmé slowly, “the only way we have found for the subject to return from these other possibilities is to die.”
Words came back to her then — ‘Can I die a hundred times over?’ This was her chance to perhaps atone somewhat for the deaths she had caused, to truly die for every life she had taken. But would not that still be an easy way out? She was lost in thought for several moments. “Does it actually work?” she asked.
“We do not know yet,” said Rawnmé. “That is one reason we hesitate to enter it ourselves. If it does not work, the subject could be trapped in limbo between existences for all time.
“And you want me to test it for you.”
“Only if you wish. You are under no obligation.”
“To him I am,” she said, pointing at Erasmus. “I owe him everything.”
“I was merely doing what I have sworn to do as an Archmage,” said Erasmus: “aid and protect innocents. You owe me nothing.”
She shook her head, disagreeing but deciding not to argue further. She had no idea what to say next anyway, so she directed her attention to the rat. “And you! Do you have any opinion here?”
“Amazing! Someone who’ll talk directly to me!” squeaked the rat. His voice was rather unpleasant to her ears. “My opinion is that you’re all silly humans and there’s no hope for any of you.”
“Thanks,” she said dryly. “Nice to know I have so much support.”
“You should look around Silmaria for a while,” said Rawnmé. “Think about this.”
“Call me Rawn, please.”
“Rawn, exactly how much magic will this process involve?”
Rawn went to the window on the opposite side of the room. “You would be transported to the other possibilities through this portal here.” She tilted her head towards the platform. “You would, if our theories are correct, remain in that other possibility until you died, during which time you would not age. Then, through the clear-and-spell magic we have painstakingly woven together, you would be returned and your body recreated from the energy produced by your soul’s reentrance into this world.”
“That doesn’t really answer my question.”
“The portal, I am afraid, would have a magical hold on you the entire time you were in the other world. It would be small, though.”
En Shevil stood silently, digesting this. Except for the magic parts, it sounded like… fun? When was the last time she’d truly enjoyed herself? Did she deserve to enjoy herself? She shook these thoughts off. If she did this, it must be in atonement for her crimes. “I’ll think about it.”
“Excellent! For now, take a look around Silmaria; find your man.” Erasmus waved a hand, and the world sucked itself in around her. As shapes in the room distorted, she closed her eyes and held her courage. Upon looking again, she found herself standing in a little gazebo-like structure capped by a strange, huge hat like that Erasmus wore. It was spinning. She shook her head and stepped away from the transporter, as she guessed it to be. She looked around. Pretty, lush foliage of deep green surrounded the many trees–some almost like pines, conical and foresty, others she did not recognize with bending trunks and clusters of large leaves at the very top. Huge rocks masked the view of whatever lay behind, but in front was a large stream blocked off by a stone railing. She crossed the bridge over this and walked on through a myriad of more rocks, trees, and bushes.
Here was a huge round building of finely-textured stone, massive columns supporting an open circle that was not quite a roof, creating quite a striking impression. Between the pillars she could vaguely see rows of seats. The small jutting entrance archway was blocked by a metal grate upon which she could see a sign: “There will be a combat competition tonight at 8:00. General admittance will begin at 6:00.”
Must be an arena, she thought, continuing on her way. Noting the row of fancy-looking houses to her right, she pulled her hood down over her face and checked the clasps of her cloak. After the houses came the emerald grounds of a large palace-like structure, surrounded by a spear-topped fence. The gate was flanked by two guards in strange armor–she’d never seen armor cut short and leave the thighs exposed before (at least, not on men). Their helmets totally concealed their faces, and she did not look at them long. An archway covering the beginning of a flight of stairs seemed to lead to a lower level of the city. Beside it was a large board bearing neat pieces of paper, protected by a cute little roof. She approached this.
The first paper read, “The Rites of Rulership has begun.” En Shevil was no expert, but this seemed grammatically askew to her. She read on. “Contestants: Kokeeno Pookameeso, Guard of Silmaria; Magnum Opus, Gladiator of Nova Roma; Elsa von Spielburg, Heroine of Spielburg; Gort, Graduate of the Science Academy of Silmaria; Achim, Prince of Shapier, Hero of Tarna and Mordavia.”
The second paper said something that did not look interesting about fishing villages. The text on the third proclaimed the beginning of the Rites of Rulership, this one with the verb in the plural. “First Rite: The Rite of Freedom,” it read. “Contestants must free a fishing village from the mercenary Invaders and return with the Sigil of the village.” En Shevil lost interest and did not read the next paper. Instead she went to the stairs.
A figure was emerging from the doorway, large and golden. As the liontaur stepped aside for En Shevil to pass, she suddenly took a closer look at the human. “En Shevil? Deathscar?”
The maruroha winced at the other warrior’s bluntness, turning to face Reeshaka. “Yes,” she said evenly. “Hello, Reeshaka.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Magical stuff with Erasmus.”
“You know your Prince is here?”
En Shevil almost rolled her eyes. Still mistress of the obvious, aren’t you? “Yes, I did know that. What are you doing here?”
“Logos is an old friend of my family, and he asked my father to come and help with the Rites of Rulership. My father invited me to come with him; he wants me to try and take over the EOF chapter here –“ Reeshaka chuckled — “try and bring them some honor. He thinks the problems here may require a lot of warriors eventually.”
“What do you think of this first Rite?”
“We’ve had some terrible weather here lately,” Reeshaka said with a leonine teeth-baring grimace. “Nobody’s left the city yet, as far as I know.”
“Listen, will you not tell Achim about me if you see him?”
“Why?” Reeshaka looked confused.
“I don’t want him to know I’m here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Never mind, just please don’t tell him.”
“All right, if you insist. I promise.”
“Are you planning on fighting in the arena?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ve not been here a day.”
“If you do, we’ll have to see about that rematch.” The other woman’s grin was toothy and shining. En Shevil returned the somewhat feral smile, nodding emphatically. They might never be friends, but they were certainly not enemies.
The stairs turned two corners before reaching ground level in the next plaza of Silmaria. Across the plaza ran the same stream she’d crossed earlier, plunging down to this level by a pretty, musical waterfall and fenced off on both sides by stone railings. It flowed out of the plaza through an arch in some building, and she heard the noise of another, larger waterfall in that direction. To her left was an imposing building of dubious aesthetic value, its doors flanked by massive statues of winged lions. To her right was a narrow walkway, between the stream and the stands of merchants, leading to a doorway beside the stream’s exit-arch. She did not look around any more, for she had noticed that the first merchant, apparently one selling junk or something, was a katta.
En Shevil smiled as she approached the woman. She had not expected something so familiar in this island city; her day had just become much happier on seeing someone from her homeland. But she still kept her hood drawn down. “Good morning,” she greeted the katta in Shapierian.
The katta woman smiled, looking pleasantly surprised. “Good morning, effenda,” she said happily. “It is good to hear my native tongue from the mouth of a stranger. I am Sarra, a merchant of jewelry and gifts. May I ask your name?”
“I am… I am called… Dazah.” This was a last minute decision; why hadn’t she thought about that before?
“Dazah?” repeated the katta curiously. The word meant ‘silence’ in Shapierian. “It is an acceptable name. You are familiar with my homeland?”
“I lived in Shapier for many years, in the city of Shapier.”
“It is good to hear. I lived with my family in Rasier. When the katta were driven out, we came here to Silmaria. We have lived here happily since, but I have heard that a Hero saved our city and our land from destruction. I have also heard that he is in this city even now.”
“I had also heard that,” En Shevil said, “but I have not seen him. He is competing in the Rites of Rulership, isn’t he?”
“Is he? That is excellent news. Such a man as he would make a good king.”
“Thank you for talking with me, but I’m going to explore the city now.”
“May you find whatever your heart seeks,” said Sarra, quoting part of a katta proverb.
En Shevil crossed the little bridge. To her left was the porch of a building apparently carved into the stone of the ridge on which the upper plaza sat. It held a familiar symbol, that of the magician’s eye. En Shevil made a mental note not to try and pick the lock on that building. Before her was another katta, this one a man, but rather than stop to talk she simply murmured, “Nharak sa’id, effendi huldawa.” A third katta, this one barely out of kittenhood, sat on a bench beyond the male katta’s fruit stand. She held in her hands a set of pipes, and beside her stood a tall jar-like amphora that was apparently for coins.
En Shevil was suddenly most desirous to hear this girl’s talents. Unfortunately, she did not yet possess any of the currency of this land. She said as much in Shapieiran, at which the young katta smiled shyly and lifted her pipes to her mouth. The tune was very brief, as befitted a charity playing, but brought tears to En Shevil’s eyes nonetheless: it was a Shapierian children’s song, ageless, innocent and nostalgically evocative. She thanked the girl and moved on.
She walked through the arch in the wall that apparently led to yet another area of the city. This was like Shapier without any streets. The slope on which she now found herself ended at a ramp leading onto the deck of another, opulent-looking building. The deck, after a few turns, landed her on the sand of a beach, the open ocean before her.
As she stared out at it, she had to find her courage center rather quickly. Though an innocent fear, it was certainly a prominent and rather annoying one. Her eyes were locked on the gentle tide, following the ebb and flow of the waters until she thought she must become part of them. At last she shuddered and turned away.
“The Dead Parrot Inn?” She stared at the sign over the rich building’s door, remembering vaguely another establishment of similar name in a somewhat warmer locale. The guard near the door reminded her uncomfortably of a eunuch, but she decided to enter anyway. Inside, it was a pleasant enough place, with tables scattered across the room. Men and women sat, most of them quiet, eating nice-smelling foods and drinking bad-smelling liqueur. She made her way farther into the large room towards a woman in Shapierian dress. As she drew closer she was surprised to find that she recognized the woman’s face, and scrambled for a name. Fortunately, it was the one name she remembered from that time. “Nawar?”
“And do I know you back?” asked the woman curiously.