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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.