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

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


Unique to this story: spectacular Mary-Sue



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

Chapter 12 – Silmaria

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.”

“Maybe.”

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.

“Rawnmé?”

“Correct.”

“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.”

“More magic?”

“Yes.”

“My life seems full of magic.”

“Again, yes.”

“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,

“Yes!”

“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.”

“Of course.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Rawnmé…”

“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.”

“Thanks.”

“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.

“Goodbye.”

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.

En Shevil revealed her face. “Hey, you’re that girl from…” said another, fatter woman from behind the bar nearby, also dressed like a harem girl. En Shevil thought she knew this one too.

“Yes! The one who got kidnapped by the Shelhar!” Nawar smiled now. “How nice to see old friends unexpectedly. What brings you to Silmaria?”

“Business with Erasmus,” said En Shevil lightly. “And you?”

“I came with Ferrari, of course,” said Nawar. “Zayishah is ruling Rasier now, and she put an end to the harem, which left most of us girls without positions. Budar and I took Ferrari up on his offer to work for him in his new place up here.” En Shevil nodded.

“Does the Prince of Shapier come in here often?” she asked.

“Mmm, yes,” replied Nawar with a smile. The look on her face was unmistakable, and En Shevil was not surprised.

“Please don’t mention me to him. I don’t want him to know I’m in Silmaria.”

“You don’t?” said Nawar, flabbergasted.

“Well, there he is,” said Budar, pointing across the room to the door. “You come back and tell us why one of these nights and we won’t tell him about you.”

En Shevil sighed, nodded, and left them, reestablishing her hood as she went. Upstairs were more seats, and on the wall she noticed a sectioned board with writing on it. Beside it sat a bored-looking man at a small square table. Approaching she asked, “What’s this?”

“This is the betting board of the arena combatants,” he replied. She looked at the listings, which stated this week’s Champion as the Rites-contender Kokeeno Pookameeso, and several challengers. Their names included Elsa von Spielburg, Magnum Opus, Gort, Toro, Abduel, and Achim Prince of Shapier. She smiled. It was a seven-day week, of course, and there was one slot left for a challenger, empty. Turning to the bookie at his small table she asked, “How do I challenge this… Kokeeno?”

“Kokeeno,” he corrected her emphasis. “It will cost you 100 drachma.”

Her eyes went wide. “Well, I don’t have any… drachma at all right now,” she said. “I just got here today.”

“You’re a smart girl,” he said with a sly look. “Go rob the bank or something.”

“Thanks,” she said dryly. “Maybe I will.” Pulling her hood farther down over face once again, she took a seat at the nearest table, in the most shadowy corner she saw, and waited. Hopefully Achim would leave quickly. She chided herself inside — she had just spent a month and a half searching the mainland for her Hero, and now she was trying to avoid him!

He appeared at the top of the stairs.

She could not help staring at him, such a blessed sight was he. That moment obligingly froze, kindly allowing her to search his face, his frame, memorizing him all over again. Her heart beat faster and tears sprang into her eyes. She had but to pull off her hood and speak his name and he could be hers again. But that would not be fair, so she remained as she was. Still, she had the greatest of trouble not revealing herself when he approached her and said, “Good evening.” She merely nodded at him, her eyes still searching his face. She thought his tone was somewhat sarcastic, and wondered why. “Thanks for your advice,” he said. “Knocking was a great idea.” What was he talking about? She continued to stare at him. Finally he moved off and she breathed more easily, though in sob-like gasps at first. She watched him do some business with the bookie and eventually point himself towards the far-off door. When he was safely gone she rose.

“So, what was that all about?” asked Nawar as En Shevil reached the harem girl’s side.

Instead of answering, En Shevil’s head was turned by the passing of a man who bore what smelled unmistakably like Rasierian coffee. “Is that what I think it is?” she gasped.

Budar turned and filled a mug, setting it down on the counter as En Shevil approached. “Rasierian coffee,” she said, “on the house this once. Don’t tell Ferarri.” With more gratitude than she could express (her mouth being rather busy), En Shevil accepted the drink. “So you’ve been traveling, huh?”

“Quite a bit. I was in Shapier a while ago, but only for a little while.”

“And the prince?” prompted Nawar.

“We had a… relationship,” said En Shevil carefully, “which has since ended. I’d rather not confront him again.”

Nawar nodded sagely. “I know where you’re coming from. Men never know what they want. That one’s better than most, though.”

Don’t I know it. “It’s been wonderful talking to you again. This place is open every night?”

“After sunset, the doors are open till midnight, and you can stick around till dawn.”

“Then I’ll probably come back tomorrow.”

“Good night.”

Where to go now? she wondered. She had been avoiding thought on the subject she most needed to contemplate, and perhaps what would do her the most good was to sit for a while and reflect. In peace, preferably. Cautiously she left the inn and walked up the hill away from the docks. She passed through an archway and stiffened as a small wave crashed against the cliff now to her left, spraying her with saltwater. To her right was a large building with the upper windows lit, and a little way ahead was a bridge over the river that joined with the ocean. Walking to the far edge of the cliff next to the bridge she looked down at the rocks and cattails below, near the waterfall’s great foot. Nodding to herself, she crossed and made her way there. She clambered up onto the rocks before the waterfall, where the spray somewhat concealed her from view, and sat.

The main question was this: could she overcome her fear of magic enough to do what she felt she needed to? It would be easy enough to try, but if she could not conquer that unreasonable disliking she might drive herself crazy, and that was not an experience that it was particularly wise to repeat. She had pushed Deathscar far below the surface, and a return to carnage was not really the most desirable thing in the world.

What about this fear? Could she face it down? She thought about the reasons behind it: she’d been amnesiatic, moving towards insanity, and with a couple of bad personal experiences with magic to color her subconscious. Although, thinking back, she could only remember two: the mishap at Aziza’s door and Bandis’ transportation to Ytsomo Kwai. The former had been unpleasant, surely, but of her own doing. The second had been what had saved her life, as well as the ensuing power exchange from the dragon-djinn to the human. So really, what had she to fear? She knew that it had been the uncertain state of her mind in those first days after her awakening that had made her an enemy of magic. And thus she could certainly master the issue, could she not, by exposing herself to helpful magic and becoming easy with it?

She smiled, feeling suddenly confident. A noise startled her, a grinding sound as of a heavy door swinging open. It was from nearby, and looking around she observed Achim emerging from an opening in the lower foundation of the bridge. Thieves’ Guild, she thought as she watched him glance around and hurry up the hill. Her heart was pounding. If he had turned around, he probably would have seen her, and she’d been half-wishing he would. But he was gone now. She slid from the rock to the next, lower one and picked her way back to shore. She watched him enter the building at the top of the hill, and with a wistful smile went up the hill in the direction (she hoped) of Erasmus’ transporter.

“I need some money,” she said to Rawn as they sat down to breakfast the next day.

“Whatever for?” asked the faery mildly. “You can have what things you need here.”

“I want to fight in the arena — just to keep my skills up, you know — and it costs 100 drachmas.”

“Drachma. I would offer you some, only I have none. The only thing I can think is if you happen to find some on your… travels. Have you decided yet?”

“I have,” said En Shevil with a deep breath. “I’ll do it.” Rawn nodded without a change of facial expression. “The least you could do is act happy!” the other protested. “You don’t know how nervous I am about this.”

Rawn forced a smile. “I am happy.”

“Good. Where’s Erasmus?”

“Downstairs, I think. I will fetch him.” Rawn disappeared, and En Shevil gasped. Well, if she was finally going to face up to this stupid magic business, she might as well get used to it.

A moment later she stiffened as she felt power entwine her and yank her from the room. She found herself for a second time in the octagonal tower room with the transporter. Rawn and Erasmus were just appearing as En Shevil solidified. “I am so excited!” Erasmus said to her at once. “I am highly pleased that you have decided to help us with this.”

“Well…” En Shevil was still too startled by all this magic to say anything more.

Rawn was nodding. “Especially because of the danger,” she added.

“Now, explain that part again,” said En Shevil, recovering quickly.

“Perhaps I should in more detail explain the entire process,” Rawn began.

“Please do.”

“The presence of a body in the transporter should activate magic that will create a tunnel from this plane to another, and you will be sucked through. In that world, you are living a triangle with one point here and an entire line-side there.”

“In other words,” Erasmus interrupted, “your life here is cinched to the point where you enter and exit the other world, but your life in the other world may extend indefinitely.”

En Shevil just stared at them while they looked at her expectantly.

“What they mean –“ this was Fenrus, who had appeared a bit earlier and was standing next to En Shevil — “is that you won’t get any older in the other world, and when you come back it will be only a short time after you left.”

“Oh,” said En Shevil with a nod of understanding, recalling that they had mentioned this before.

“At least, that’s how we hope it will work,” Erasmus added with a chuckle.

“To continue,” Rawn said smoothly, “in the other world you must be killed to return, theoretically, for the magic that holds you the entire time you are there will be released upon your death and will reopen the tunnel — which would never have been truly closed, only set in a sort of stasis so that magic could still pass through it. You will be sucked back here, and the energy of the tunnel’s closing (if our spells work correctly) will be used to reform your body in a living state, at which point your soul will have no reason to leave it and you will live again.”

“Um,” said En Shevil.

“Of course the danger enters the scene at the return,” said Erasmus. “We are fairly certain you will be able to travel to the other worlds — we have, after all, seen them and are confident in our ability to contact them — but your return, and the reformation of your body, worries us.”

“So what might happen?”

“The tunnel might close while you are there,” Rawn speculated, “and you would be trapped in the other layer. Your death there would be just as real as any death here. If that did not happen, even then your death might not cause the tunnel to reopen, only close completely. Or, on your return, the tunnel might close too soon and trap your soul in limbo between worlds. Or, perhaps the energy of the tunnel’s closing might be too little, and your body could be… deformed, perhaps.”

“Fun,” En Shevil murmured. She looked around, not really wanting to think about any of those possibilities. “Well…”

“Do you still want to try it?” Erasmus asked, and the hope in his voice would have been too much for her even if she had not already made up her mind.

“Yes,” she replied. “If anything happens to me in there, will you tell Achim everything?”

“Of course,” they replied.

“No, wait. Don’t do that. Tell him…” Why hadn’t she thought about this earlier? “Well, tell him… Don’t tell him anything, I guess.”

Erasmus and Rawn nodded, but En Shevil sensed the conspiratorial thought between them: the instant they lost hope of her return they would run to Achim like the gossips they were and tell him her life history. She did not know if she minded, and even smiled in small amusement. Magicians were all the same.

“So, what do I do?” she asked. Erasmus practically jumped to her side to guide her to the transporter. She stood before the open spot in the small pillars, ready to step into the unknown. “Wait!” she said, almost frightened. “Do I need to take anything with me?”

Erasmus frowned. “We don’t know yet if things you take with you will appear there at all.”

“You mean I may show up naked?”

“That is a distinct possibility.”

En Shevil shook her head at the strangeness of wizards and said, “Goodbye.”

She had the sensation of stepping forward, and falling, her foot never touching the ground. She dissipated, separating into invisible particles, so tiny they were innumerable, and yet each one held in it a fraction of her consciousness — so that she was aware of being sucked in a stream, like a spray of dust, through some minute pinprick in the world’s fabric, flowing like water to another place. There was no precipitance, no violence; all was calm in her mind with the transition, and even the fearful magic, in embracing her, seemed not so terrible as fascinating and wonderful. The next moment she was materializing again rapidly, and there was an airy rushing in her newly forming ears. Her body felt remarkably clean and pure, like she had been bathed from the inside out with liquid sunshine. She was sensitive to the strength in her bones, the steady pumping of blood through her heart, the muscular impulses that tensed her body as she reformed, the prickling and stretching of her tanned skin–and best of all, the rustling of clothing covering her frame.

She had appeared in Erasmus’ transporter near the arena. Shaking her head briefly in a vain attempt to clear it, she realized that she must, in fact, truly be in another world. At least, that was what she inferred from the strange sense of magic hovering about her. She looked around, as if expecting to see a dark tunnel behind her leading off into a hypothetical distance, and Erasmus and Rawnmé at the end.

“Wonderful,” she muttered. “So where am I supposed to go now?”

Since nobody answered her, she stepped from the transporter and started forward.

The arena appeared the same, as did the fine-looking houses stretching down the lane beside her. The Hall of Kings also bore no visible differences, and En Shevil was beginning to feel she must have been mistaken and she really was back in her own world, when suddenly an unfamiliar voice called out her name from behind. Turning, she saw a city guard approaching, and to her surprise he bowed.

“Your pardon for my familiarity, your highness,” he said; “you did not hear me before.” She simply stared at him, and he hastened, embarrassed, to deliver his message. “Erik sent me to wait for when you had finished your business with Erasmus, and tell you that he will be awaiting you outside the city gates.”

“Erik?” she replied in astonishment, and the guard just gave her a puzzled look. “Thank you.” He bowed and hastened away.

She stood still beside the notice board, trying to digest this. The guard had obviously recognized her, which meant that En Shevil existed in this world as well, and was also in Silmaria. But ‘your highness?’ And Erik? She only knew one Erik in her world. Could it be…? Hoping for some explanation, she turned her face to the notice board, letting her eyes drift across it until something caught her attention.

“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; En Shevil, Princess of Shapier, Heroine of Tarna and Mordavia.”

She stared and stared. How had this happened? “En Shevil, Princess of Shapier,” it said. “Heroine of Tarna and Mordavia.” She could not remove her gaze from the words. It certainly gave her mixed emotions to read them. What were the implications of such a thing? She stood still, puzzling through how this might have come about.

“Excuse me,” said her own voice, and for a moment she thought she was imagining things until it repeated itself. Her hood was not over her face, and she had no choice but to turn and regard the speaker. What she saw was not so very surprising.

This Princess of Shapier was dressed in heavy, Shapierian-style clothing of cream and burgundy, with a great black cape overall. She wore a large, heavy-looking pack, and a long spear, glowing green along its blade, strapped across her back. Her hair, which commanded En Shevil’s attention, was even longer than En Shevil’s had been when it was cut, and was still the bright, rich blonde that it had been in En Shevil’s early teen days. The Princess still had it in a long ponytail. Looking at this woman was one of the oddest experiences of En Shevil’s bizarre life.

The Heroine of Tarna said something very blunt and continued, “Who are you?”

“I’m… you… I guess,” En Shevil replied.

“Ha ha ha,” replied the Princess. “You do look like me, I guess. Who are you really?”

“Ah…” En Shevil wondered how to explain. “There are different worlds that are like this one, and I’m from one of them.”

“What?”

“In the different worlds, the same places and people exist, but they’ve had different lives. In my world, I’m not a princess.”

The Princess gave a disbelieving laugh. “All right,” she said, “tell me about your world.” The next moment she looked around as if remembering something. “Well, tell me about your world on the way. I have to find my friend.”

“Erik?” En Shevil supplied. “He’s waiting for you outside the gates. A guard thought I was you and told me that.”

They set off walking at the Princess’s quick pace, and En Shevil decided hastily which details she should relate about her own world. “In my world, there’s a man called Achim…” she began, but the Princess interrupted her.

“Achim the Hero of Spielburg?”

“Yes, and he came to Shapier to…”

“To try and solve the problems there, of course. But –“ and here the Princess gave a professionally disdainful laugh — “he decided he had to rob Issur’s house for some reason — I think Dinarzaad put him up to it — and they beat him to death. EOF, I mean.”

En Shevil gave a slight gasp, staring at the Princess in horror. “He’s dead?” she asked.

The Princess looked at her curiously. “Well, yes. When someone beats someone to death, they usually die.”

En Shevil looked away, and finally asked, “Did you know him?”

“Well, I saw him once walking Agi’s tightrope, but I never met him.”

“I know the Achim of my world,” En Shevil said. “…very well.”

The Princess recognized the tone in En Shevil’s voice (considering it was the same tone she would have used to speak those words if they’d applied, this was not surprising). “Oh,” she said. “Well, sorry. I hope he’s alive in your world.” It was clear that she still did not fully believe En Shevil’s story.

“He is, though…” En Shevil said.

“Well, you’re lucky you met him in Shapier,” interrupted the Princess with a laugh, waving to the guard as he began to open the main gate for them. “I didn’t find my –“ she giggled — “special friend until I came to Silmaria.”

And there he was, beyond the gate, waiting for them as the guard had said. Dressed nearly exactly as En Shevil remembered him from her own world, and looking every bit as handsome as he had there, Erik Heimst — Singing Man — stood before them. En Shevil stopped and stared, but the Princess went forward towards him. “Are you really the one I should kiss?” he asked jokingly, looking from one En Shevil to the other. He didn’t seem to have any concrete worries, however, and after an overlong kiss he asked, “So who exactly is this?”

“She claims to be me from another world,” the Princess laughed, putting her arm around Erik’s waist and leaning her head on his shoulder as she faced En Shevil. “She seems to have a problem with you, though.”

En Shevil shook her head, fishing for appropriate words. “I’m sorry,” she said; “the Singing–er, Erik of my world died.”

The Princess’s brows lowered. “We’re just opposites, then,” she said, and explained to Erik. “Her boyfriend in her world, she says, is Achim, that Hero who died.” She says–the words were spoken almost mockingly, still obviously disbelieving.

“How sad,” Erik said. “Well, are we going?”

“Yes, of course.” The Princess disentangled herself from Erik’s arms and pulled out her spear. “We’re going exploring,” she said to En Shevil. “Would you like to come along? I’d like to hear more about this world of yours.”

Erik seemed about to protest, but the Princess gave him a hard look that En Shevil did not miss. Humoring the madwoman, En Shevil thought. I can’t blame her.

“Yes, I’ll come. I’d really like to know how you became the Heroine and all that.”

So they started walking again, the Princess and Erik hand in hand. En Shevil wondered what he had actually been planning for this afternoon. “Well, you can start talking any time,” said the Princess with a laugh, and En Shevil was beginning to think that she didn’t much like this version of herself.

“Ah, well… I’m not sure what you want to know,” En Shevil said, a little embarrassed.

“About you, of course! Why is your hair so much darker than mine, and so short? What’s up with that scar on your face? Why aren’t you a princess too?”
“Well…” En Shevil quickly worked through an abridged version of her life history. “I was the one who went to rob Issur, not Achim. Achim went on to become the Prince of Shapier and the Hero of Tarna and Mordavia. I had to leave town.”

“And…?” prompted the Princess impatiently.

“Well, I became a warrior, and I traveled a lot — at first alone, and then for a while with Elsa and Toro and… and Erik.”

The Heroine poked her lover as if she thought that was funny, and he tickled her in response. He seemed to know exactly where she was ticklish. When they were finished, En Shevil continued.

“I came to Silmaria afterwhile to find Achim again, and Erasmus told me about this transporter he’d built with a friend that would take people to other possibilities of the world.”

At that moment they all three tensed, picking out the sounds of large creatures approaching from behind. “Goons, I think,” the Princess whispered. “Let’s take ‘em down.” She turned, with Erik, to face the approaching threat, while En Shevil took a place behind them to watch.

The number of the enemy was three, and it was interesting to watch Erik and the Princess in battle. Neither was very good at it — Erik fighting with the dagger of Cvonyet, the Heroine with a magical spear that was a bit large for her — and they both received a few wounds in short order. “You could join in any time, warrior,” the Princess said crossly to En Shevil.

En Shevil nodded and drew Sulah, launching herself forward towards the third goon that was taking potshots at Erik with a large club. Her triple flip turned into a double, however, and fell short of her mark, for as she pushed herself into the air she felt a strange weariness overcoming her, arising from her very bones. She landed on her feet a bit woozy, and decided to stay grounded throughout the rest of the battle. Driving her sword swiftly and cleanly into the goon’s neck, she killed him without a bit of trouble. Next she dispatched of Erik’s opponent, and turned to see the Princess felling the last goon with a clumsy spear-thrust. Self-taught, En Shevil observed to herself.

“Well, that was fun,” the Princess said, stooping to search one of the goons. En Shevil tentatively took a few steps around, wondering how much energy she had. Surprisingly, the weariness of the battle had fallen from her — perhaps it only applied when she was fighting? That was odd.

“Now,” the Princess said with glee, “let me tell you about here. After Achim died, this fire elemental appeared in Gates Plaza. Somebody had to take care of it, so I thought, why not me?” She laughed. “I figured water was the best way to get rid of it, so I brought a great big bucketful with me. And I thought that of course I couldn’t really destroy it — I’m no magician, after all — so I’d probably need somewhere to trap it when I’d weakened it with the water. So before I even went to the plaza I bought a brass lamp from Tashtari — you know, the brass merchant katta.”

En Shevil rolled her eyes — as if she didn’t know who Tashtari was!

“Then I splashed all this water around the plaza, and put the lamp on the ground, and pretty soon I had my very own Fire Elemental Lamp!” She laughed as if this were a joke.

En Shevil listened with interest to the further accounts of the Princess’s adventures in Shapier, Tarna, and Mordavia, though she soon tired of the Heroine’s attitude: everything she’d done was apparently a stroke of genius, and she never seemed to have made a mistake. “And anyway,” she was finishing up, “I decided to come to Silmaria, when Rakeesh asked me, to go for Queen. Not as if I needed it or anything, but I’m glad I did.” She smiled sweetly up at Erik, who kissed her. “I met Elsa here, and her bodyguards Toro and Erik.”

“It’s getting dark, hon,” the latter said suddenly. “Maybe we better go home.”

“Oh!” the Princess exclaimed, turning to En Shevil. “We can get back to Gnome Ann’s Land with our Mystic Magnets, but you’ll have to walk. Will you be all right?” En Shevil gaped that they would just leave her out in the wild like this, but was preparing to say that she would when the Princess spoke again. “And will you have a place to stay? In Silmaria, I mean? I wouldn’t want you to starve, after all.” She laughed.

“Ah, not really, but I probably won’t…”

“Well, come to Gnome Ann’s Land, or even go to the Dead Parrot — that’s over by the docks,” she added as if En Shevil had never been to Silmaria before. Only further proof that the Princess still did not believe En Shevil’s story.

“All right, thanks,” said En Shevil, feeling annoyed. And at that moment they were attacked again.

Five strange-looking creatures, green-skinned and red-eyed, burst silently from the bushes around them, bearing long scythe-like weapons. “Weirdings!” the Princess cried. “They usually have lots of money.”

Battle ensued, and En Shevil found herself actually having to fight this time — and fight hard — just to stay alive. These creatures were tough, well-organized, and nowhere near as stupid as the goons of earlier. She felt again the strange fatigue she had when fighting the latter, and knew this was a battle she probably could not win. “You two get back to town,” she cried breathlessly to the others. “I’ll be fine!” At least, she hoped she’d be fine — it was time to test Erasmus’ and Rawnmé’s magic.

“We can’t do that!” the Princess gasped, driving her spear through a weirding’s chest and killing it. “We’ll win this battle yet.”

Then En Shevil felt something sharp penetrate her back at an angle, pushing through her spine into her heart. She cried out in pain, and the last thing she heard was the Princess’s gasp of astonishment as En Shevil faded into nothingness and a flash of darkness followed. Disembodiment followed briefly, in which she felt herself, what was truly herself, floating in nonexistence for moments evanescent. Fear sailed with her, fear of being trapped in this nether region forever, but it was fleeting, for she was caught up in thinking of what she had just seen and done. I died, she was saying to herself. I can’t believe I just died. The pain was gone, but the memory of it still remained, and the feeling was beyond odd. But soon her thoughts turned to another, bitterer subject.

The Princess had everything — experience, respect, love, renown as a great Heroine. She had never lost someone close to her, she had never gone on a killing rampage, and she was destined to be either Sultana of Shapier or Queen of Silmaria — perhaps both. And she seemed so happy! Totally at ease with her surroundings, always laughing, even easy in a battle. How could fate be so unfair as to give one life all the benefits, the other all the trials?

But something dogged inside En Shevil was determined to argue, and she recalled the Princess’ demeanor: how rude she had been in constantly interrupting and laughing at En Shevil; how arrogant in all that she said, specifically her accounts of her own heroism; and especially, how childishly she had acted around Erik. The more this stubbornly optimistic side of En Shevil argued with the other, the less envy she felt for the Princess’ situation. At last, just as rushing again filled her ears, and she began to feel physical sensation when her body reformed, she admitted, Maybe my life isn’t so wonderful, but at least I’m worth something.

She stepped from the transporter into the octagonal room, and immediately fell to her knees. Such a wave of exhaustion washed over her then, her eyes closing down on their own, that she could barely stand. Rawnmé was instantly at her side. “It works,” she said softly as she took En Shevil’s arm, and her near-whisper was drowned out by Erasmus’ shout of joy. Rawn helped En Shevil to stand, and guided her over to the cot beside the wall. There, to the fading sounds of the magicians’ delight, En Shevil fell quickly asleep.


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