This chapter was to begin with En Shevil accompanying Achim around Silmaria as he looked for balloon components. As you’ll see in the scene below, this plan doesn’t quite fit with what I’d already written, wherein En Shevil seems completely ignorant of and surprised by the completed balloon.
That evening, En Shevil fights Elsa in the arena. Who wins? I really have no idea.
The next day, Achim tests his balloon by visiting Katrina on Zante. In the scene below, there’s some implication that En Shevil is aware of this, but I don’t know how she knows. Meanwhile, En Shevil visits another world through the transporter. This was intended to be a moment of crossover with another QfG fic world I had going way back in the day, but of course that never happened.
Though the scene below claims to be taking place on the same day as Achim’s test run, my timeline had it set for the following day.
“Dazah!” cried Achim cheerfully. Cheerfully, no doubt, because he’s been to see his lady-friend, thought En Shevil grimly, not stopping to remind herself that Achim was almost always cheerful. “Come with me!” He beckoned her over to him, much to the smiles of those around him in the marketplace. Gloomily she trudged down the stairs and walked across the plaza, past the bank and to where Achim stood on the bridge. He spoke quietly to her as he took her arm and walked towards the docks area. “I’m going to Delos,” he said. “I’ve put together a flying machine!”
She shook her head in disbelief.
“No, truly I have! It works, too! I tried it out this morning, but I thought I’d see if you wanted to come with me and hear your future.”
She shook her head emphatically no.
He looked a little crestfallen. “Well, I don’t care if you want to hear your future or not. I’m not too hot on hearing mine, either. But do you at least want to come with me?”
She shrugged, then nodded.
“Great! Come on!” He started to run, so apparently excited was he, and she had no choice but to follow, shaking her head the entire way.
He slowed once he reached the foot of the stairs beside the Dead Parrot Inn, and kept on at a more or less reasonable walk. “The Famous Adventurer also told me there’s a grove full of dryads on Delos. He said something weird about dancing with them and bringing them presents or something, so I picked up some stuff I thought dryads might like and I figure I’ll visit them too.”
En Shevil rolled her eyes under her mask, but kept her head politely still. These Rites of Rulership were getting silly. She noticed they were heading out the north gate, and assumed they must be making for Science Island.
The lengthy process of attaining the latter done with, En Shevil was able to see where Achim’s ‘flying machine’ was standing, on a platform just above them. To avoid being criticized as she had been on a similar Science Island, she levitated them up to their destination. Achim thanked her quickly and pulled her aboard. It was shaped like a small boat, with a strange hexagonal bag of limp cloth attached to it and oar-like contrivances that must be for steering. Still skeptical, she sat down and leaned back against the wall, waiting for this miracle to work. Achim pulled a tinder box from his pack and lit the small brazier that sat in the center of the boat, then sat back himself, apparently waiting as much as she. The brazier, she noticed, sat directly under the opening of the prostrate bag, and as she watched the hot air from the little cooking device began to fill the cloth form and cause it to billow into the air.
At that moment she was frightened — what if this cursed thing should work, and she be carried up into the air with nothing but a piece of wood between her and the deep, terrible ocean? Shuddering, she clenched her hands on the sides and waited, ready to teleport herself anywhere else should the thing actually begin to rise. After a few moments more, she had calmed somewhat, when suddenly the flying machine jerked and jumped into the air. Its ascent after that first lift was surprisingly gentle, and she found herself no longer afraid. In fact, the smooth movement of the gondola as Achim propelled it forward with the wing-like oars was rather soothing, and she even ventured once or twice to look over the side.
“You see?” said the Hero. “Isn’t it great?”
She managed a half-hearted nod, still amazed that the thing worked at all.
“I’m going to win this Rite too.” He sighed suddenly, but did not continue.
She tilted her head in curiosity, but he was not looking her way. Does he think of me or Katrina? she wondered. Is there any hope left for us? She suddenly sat up straight. There’s one way to find out, she thought, and that’s at Delos. She willed the wind to a higher speed.
They floated over Marete without a word, she looking down in amazement at the mouth of Mount Draconis below them. That was a sight she’d never thought to see. “That’s Delos there,” said Achim at last, and began poking at the coals in the brazier, trying to cool them. En Shevil helped with magic, not realizing how she was going to terrify herself when they descended much more rapidly than she could have desired. However, they landed in one piece and secured the gondola, then began tramping through the wild toward a spot Achim had marked on his map but they had not seen from the air.
With every step they took the forest became denser, darkening with thickening foliage and approaching dusk. The temple they reached after a half hour’s walk was shadowed and eerie; the building itself was in ruins, shattered, overgrown, and unreachable, but what was left of the courtyard was relatively free of plant life. Toppled and broken lay most of the pillars, however, save those that had framed a path up a flight of steps to the temple doors. Between the highest two stood the statue of a woman, without detail and with the appearance of great age. Beyond the stairs was a beast-mouthed fountain pouring into a square pool of little depth, silvery and calm.
Together they approached the stairs and the statue, both assuming that this must be the key somehow to gaining an audience with the oracle. But when after several moments nothing had changed, En Shevil began wandering around the small paved area looking at things. She knelt and took a drink from the fountain; its waters were sharp and clean. In the pool floated a large black-purple flower with massive petals and a compelling scent, but she left it alone as it had the feeling of death about it. On the timelessly-preserved floor that lay under the water a few feet down, a number of coins lay shining. She knelt and pulled up her flared sleeve, reaching down into the water; but she was strangely unable to reach the glittering metal.
Achim’s eyes were locked on her, his thoughts singular: that her arm looked like En Shevil’s arm, with the same subtle musculature and slender length, but without the dark tan or the long, thick scar. He sighed, and she looked up at him. He turned away casually.
Retreating from the water’s edge, she continued to look around. On an ornate yet decrepit pillar, standing before the fountain and leaning far to the right, she could make out inscribed words somewhat dulled with age. As she read them, she shivered, for even had they been pleasant words in themselves, they were not associated, in her mind, with pleasant memories.
Paean unto Hades. All waters that flow on the earth flow to Hades. Alas, all life soon flows there too. Where those waters flow, a gate will open. Alas, too soon it opens for you.
Sing unto Hades this sad sorrow’s song. Alas, all life is quickly passed, and the gates of Hades shall open before you. Alas, this song shall be your last.
She slapped her thigh to get Achim’s attention, and when he turned she beckoned. As he read the words he nodded. “F.A. told me he found this here. You should feel lucky you didn’t have to come into Hades with me.”
Lucky… she thought with a sarcastic tone, but stopped, unsure of what exactly she was thinking. A small splash made her turn, and she noticed Achim standing beside the pool. Had he added another coin to the unreachable depth?
Suddenly a voice echoed through the clearing, majestic and elegant: “Any who seeks their destiny must seek alone.”
Achim turned his head to look at En Shevil, who shrugged and headed for the forest. When she was gone, Achim looked around for something to change. Maybe he needed more money. But before his hand was halfway into his belt-purse a soft light began to shine down from the statue between the pillars. He raised his eyes, and saw that the statue had transformed, gaining life and becoming who he guessed must be the Sibyl herself. Once more she spoke, and Achim listened in silence.
“Welcome, rescuer, mourner, Prince, master of the night. I am the Sibyl, who sees what is to come. Hear now the future that fate brings you:
“Your way is darkened with blood and death. The first death that you have confronted yet lives. The second death, Death itself, has already dragged you to its depths, and there is yet more to come. The next death you face is one whose fate crosses yours. That which he cannot own he would destroy. He will seek victory even in his defeat.
“Seven deaths, and the Dragon grows restless in dreamless sleep. Four posts that pinned it to darkness have been broken in blood. Three more shall be shattered in death. The last death shall awaken the Dragon fully. New-awakened, the Dragon is weak, but each feel of fear and pain feeds it. Fix first the pillar or it shall fly free. Death brought the Dragon to life. Only death will defeat it. Through the blood of love and the death of death will the Dragon die. Without sacrifice the Dragon is deathless. The last death you face will be the death of Death.
“Your way is marked with death. Face it gladly and your way is marked with glory. That is the fate that awaits you.” The statue’s green, hooded gown faded once more to the brown-grey of stone.
Achim shook his head. None of that made any sense. The only part he understood was that about Death dragging him to its depths: that must mean the Rite of Courage. And now he had to face more death? Too confusing. And, most disappointing, nothing to clarify his confusion on the matter of women. En Shevil, Katrina, Dazah… too many women in his life, and all the Sibyl could say was something weird about the ‘blood of love.’ Again he shook his head, and turned his steps for the entrance of the clearing.
Dazah was gazing up into a tree, watching a pair of birds singing together. Achim smiled and tried to sneak up on her, but she turned sharply and shook her head at him. Snapping his fingers in disappointment, he said, “Well, I’m done. It didn’t make any sense, what she said. Do you want to try?” Dazah nodded. “I’ll wait here.”
En Shevil made her way back to the Sibyl’s courtyard, fervently hoping that she would understand whatever the oracle had to say. Once there, she pulled a drachma from her pocket and tossed it into the water, watching it sink very slowly to the bottom. When it settled, the light shone on her and the statue moved.
“Welcome, killer, divided, warper of prophecy, mistress of the darker night. I am the Sibyl, who sees what is to come. Hear now the future that fate brings you:
“Your way is torn, and by your choice will you be broken. The choice lies in action or fear, and you will be torn by it. The path of action is dark, filled with death and evil, the evil of the Dragon that you must battle. The path of fear is darker, filled with endless death and boundless evil, the evil of the dragon that you will become.
“Choose the path of action and you will conquer, by your sacrifice and your courage to overcome the three things which you most fear. Glory and honor are yours by this path. You will be broken, but that part which is good shall be the remainder. You shall be torn, but that which you fear shall vanish.
“Choose the path of fear and the dragon will consume you, destroying with your hands all that you love. Destruction and lonely madness are yours by this path. You will be broken, and that part which is good shall be commended to nothingness. You shall be torn, and that which you fear you shall become. Lastly must you be torn by death from that which you love.
“Only by the blood of love shall you find the death of your death, and only by the action of goodness. That is the fate that awaits you.”
En Shevil shook her head. None of that made any sense! The only thing she understood was that she was to have a choice between destroying a dragon and becoming a dragon, which was almost logical when she thought about what she was. But what was this about being broken and torn? She sighed: no mention of Achim at all. What did the Sibyl mean, ‘blood of love?’ Still shaking her head, she retraced her path back to the forest.
They walked in silence through the forest, each thinking of the Sibyl’s words. En Shevil did not even know where they were going. At last they came to a spot where the trees opened into what looked like a hallway with floor of roots and roof of boughs. Stepping carefully through after Achim, En Shevil looked around her in shock at the dryads as she entered the clearing. Seven of them stood in a semicircle around a grassy plot onto which the passageway opened. Tall and stately, they were shaped somewhat like slim, beautiful women with mossy hair of various colors and closed eyes on their delicate faces. A deep aura of nature surrounded them, and a feeling of magic that was familiar (she could not remember whence). Here was wisdom, age, and power along with beauty.
“Julanar gave me these seeds,” Achim said, pulling a small bag from his pack. “I thought the dryads might like them. They’re magical, fast-growing seeds.” He went to the first dryad and bent, scraping a little hole in the ground at her roots. Pressing one seed into it, he covered the hole again. How sweet! thought En Shevil, enraptured. After a moment’s thought, Achin pulled an amphora from his pack and gave the newly-planted seed a small drink. Whether it was the seed, the water, or both, the dryad awoke. She raised her head, hair swinging back, and opened her eyes. They were a watery blue and very bright. The dryad began to sing.
It was an eerie, haunting sound — beautiful and riveting, like the unexpected flowing of river water to an invalid who has been indoors for many months. Achim and En Shevil stood totally transfixed for long moments, listening to the wordless song of the dryad. Then Achim moved on to the next, repeating his planting ceremony.
The second dryad’s voice joined the first in a clear, soft harmony, still in a minor key and frighteningly lovely. Achim continued to the rest of the dryads in the circle, giving each a seed and a drink. As he finished with the last, he returned to En Shevil’s side, in the middle of the clearing, and faced the dyrads to see if anything interesting would happen.
The song was complex, seven voices rising and falling in wonderful patterns, but now more sounds joined them: a beat of the hooves of young bucks, lords of the forest; an undertone of water, the uneasy-peaceful rushing of the sea against the shore; the chirps of nighttime crickets; the calls of many unfamiliar birds: all the marks of nature, over which the dryads ruled, filled the humans’ ears and consumed them. Orbs of sparkling, pastel light flew before their eyes, swirling around them and illuminating the clearing with strange, wild colors. The wind whistled softly as the dryads swayed with their music, and the flowers began to grow.
The seeds Achim had planted sprouted with the magic of the song, and great purple blossoms, magnificently huge, crept their way up and around the trunks of the dryads, giving them robes of brilliant violet and green. With this magic En Shevil could feel some power rising around them, rising within herself, that promised to burst forth any moment and sweep them both away.
Suddenly they were dancing, dancing together in an exotic waltz to the tune of the dryads’ song. But there were no dryads. There was only she and he in each other’s arms, whirling in a mist of light and color, sound and feeling, a oneness with the universe and with nature. They spun from cloud to cloud, the world changing hue as they went. Clasped hands up, they turned out from each other and came back, pirouetting together once again, dizzyingly and so wonderfully. They careened dangerously close to the savage lightning, thunder their drumbeat. Green spheres surrounded and illumed his face as he smiled for the pure joy of living. They flew through a sky of birds and dove, weaving in and out in a dance so complex it could not be. Rays of royal purple colored her hair as it whipped around her face, and she laughed silently. They floated lazily above the mirror-calm lily-water, then raced down with the river to the sea. They swam, both fearlessly, through a silverwhite rush of coruscating fish, twisting around each other to form patterns in the water before they broke the surface and danced back into the sky once more. He sent her out under his arm, crimson lights attaching themselves to her as she spun, and pulled her back to him…
And the music stopped.
Once again in the forest glade, dark now and silent but for the dim, distant sounds of Delos’ animalia, they found themselves standing in the blue-brown shadows of early evening, tightly clasping each other and looking into each other’s faces — one masked, the other with a look of serious joy that was almost frightening.
They each sprang back, mortified, and looked away from the other. The dance had ended; the Rite was done. Still, all through the nearly silent trip back to Silmaria, En Shevil could not help but dwell on those few endless moments where she had felt once more at last his embrace, felt one with him as they danced through the unity of nature. Whatever his new attachments might be, she could never forget that she was in love with him.