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by Jeff Hersh (Shilree)
Chapter 1: Ashes to Ashes
Where the former Diari
Tradeswoman leaves behind
her life in the barbarian
lands for an uncertain future.
Not one tear fell from Shilree�s eyes as she wandered the ruin that used to be Trade. The city and its affairs had been the center of her life for the past seven years. Now all of that was gone. A week ago, the entire city was destroyed in order to save the world from the forces of Shadow.
Shilree walked through the wreckage towards what was the Diari sector of the city. All the people she managed to smuggle out of Western Diaria were dead, slaughtered along with the rest of the population during the near invasion of Shadow. After a difficult search, she found the section of rubble that was once her private quarters. Crouching down, Shilree looked around. All was gone.
�Did you really expect to find anything?� a gruff male voice said from behind her.
Shilree jumped and turned around. Knighthawke, looking almost as worn as the surrounding lands, was standing in what once had been her foyer.
�Very sloppy, Shil,� she thought. �He could have killed me before I even could have reacted.�
�Don�t you think it is ironic? All those hours I spent trying to get in here. Who would have thought I would finally succeed in this manner?� Knighthawke said, in an atypically ironic tone.
Shilree didn�t say a word as she looked at the armored figure of the Mithril Dagger Hero. It was amazing that, even in the middle of this ruin, Knighthawke radiated the arrogance he was famous for. There was, however, a hint of something else in his face. If Shilree didn�t know better, she would have sworn it was weariness... and maybe even a tinge of sadness.
�So where will you go now, Diarian? All your great plans lie in ruin. All your schemes are now dust. Where will you go?�
Shilree bit her lip. She hated it when Knighthawke started to sound like Wyvern. One shrink per Sphere was plenty enough for her. She knew Knighthawke was just trying to goad her. It was how their conversations always went. He would try to press her buttons and she his. Eventually one of them would leave in frustration, or else they would reach some agreement. Well, this time it wouldn�t go that way. She had no need to play games with Knighthawke any more. Trade was gone, and with it her position as number two on the Trade Council was gone as well. She knew it was time to move on with her life to something new.
Standing up and brushing the dust and ash off her hands, Shilree looked Knighthawke right in the eyes. She gave him his answer with just one word.
Of course, Shilree lied to Knighthawke. Even though during the years of the Cynystran occupation of Western Diaria she secretly ran the Diarian resistance, Shilree was still an official exile. Over the years, she had returned now and again to Diaria, to take care of business in the resistance. Sneaking while disguised into the cities of Western Diaria to fight the Cynystrans was one thing, actually returning home on a permanent basis was another.
It had been over ten years since she was exiled due to her �unhealthy and dangerous curiosity and preoccupation with the barbarian countries.� That is what Magistrate Umglat said just before he sentenced her to exile. At first she was shocked and frightened by the sentence. The prospect of never seeing the cobbled streets of her home city Tesin or her family ever again filled her with a type of fear and loss she had never felt before.
Shilree, however, was always a practical person. It didn�t take her long to turn her pariah status into an opportunity to learn what no Diarian had dared in millennia. The prospect of being able to go down and live among the kiljhac, the foreign peoples of Ataniel, and learn their ways, quickly converted her fear into excitement. She remembered bragging to her friends at the Diaromyn Academy about the opportunity, just before she left.
�Just think, when I come home they will have to open a new branch at the main library in Ekyarn on what I have seen!� she chortled to her best friend Anjra, as she stuffed clothes into her backpack.
�But, Little One,� Anjra said with sad irony, �you can�t come home.�
Shilree winced at the memory of her naivete in those days. She remembered her youthful eagerness to set out into the barbarian lands. Of course Anjra was right, she couldn�t come home, at least not officially. For all her work, all the knowledge she had gained over the years she was still a bvrin, an outcast, to her people. If she ever made her presence known on Diari soil she could be turned away, sent to prison, or even worse-- have her entire personality telepathically wiped away, to be replaced with a new �well adjusted� one. Even so, she couldn�t stay in Dalencia. Knighthawke would want to shape this corner of the world in his image. As the only surviving Trade Council member, Shilree was an inconvenience to him. After all, she knew many of Knighthawke�s secrets. While she was fairly sure Knighthawke wouldn�t kill her unless she acted against him, she knew that the sooner she left, the more pleasant her life would be.
�At least I don�t have to worry about packing much,� Shilree mused as she left the ruins of Trade. Everything that once existed in the great city had crumbled to ruin and dust when Praxis shattered the Heart of the City, during the final battle with the forces of Shadow. Most of her personal records, maps, and extensive collection of secrets kept on the political figures across Ataniel were gone. All she had was what she carried into the Mithril Dagger six weeks ago, just when the attack by Shadow began in earnest. She took a quick inventory of the items she carried. All that remained of her wardrobe was her traveling clothes, the winter furs she got while traveling through time along the Spiral Path, her leather armor and the red headband she wore at all times. The well polished Diari pistol which hung on her right hip looked out of place against her dirty and scuffed outfit. Slung across her back was the old backpack she had had since she was first exiled. Bulging from it were scroll cases filled with documents, blankets rolled to take up the minimum amount of space, and many other sundry non-precious items that she always took with her while traveling. In her left hand Shilree grasped the Staff of the Walker, one of the Septum Potentis, the legendary artifacts that only appeared when a great evil faced Ataniel. Around her waist was tied her Trade diplomatic pouch, filled with everything else she deemed important enough to not risk by keeping it in her backpack.
Shilree thought it was ironic that one of the only things from Trade to survive was her magical pouch. While it looked as if it could only hold a few items, the pouch could hold as much stuff as there had been in her old quarters. Along with many other things, Shilree kept what she felt were the two most important items she ever possessed in the pouch. The crystalline Hook of Souls in which the spirit of Tiall, the Ti�ar�na, was imprisoned, and a plain looking wooden box with a formidable lock. Within that box was the infamous Gem of Imprisonment. The gem�s current inhabitant was Trillarillia, the Weird Sister who was behind the slaughter of most of the gods of Ataniel, as well as the bitch who made Shilree�s life a living hell over and over again since Shilree first killed her eight years ago in the final battle of the Demon War.
It was a lucky and deadly shot that ended Trillarillia�s life during that battle. Taking aim, Shilree had put an arrow in each of the witch�s eyes. She thought that would be the end of it. It wasn�t until years later, when the attempts on Shilree�s life began, that she began to suspect differently. Each of the assassins� names was etched in Shilree�s mind. Bloodscar, Ric the Blade, Par Tamin, and Sandra LaCrox were just the few that actually came close to killing her. All of them were now dead, most of them by Shilree�s own hand.
During her interrogation of Par, she learned that Trill was behind these attempts and that she now inhabited the body of the fairy Syndriannia. Later this was confirmed when Janther told her about the ceremony that had placed Trill�s soul in the fairy�s body. It was only now, in the aftermath of the Second Coming of Shadow, that Shilree felt resolution. Trill was trapped in the Gem of Imprisonment and the gem was in Shilree�s care. Every now and again she could hear Trill in her mind. The Weird Sister, trying to get Shilree to free her, constantly threatened her with imaginative tortures, cursed at her, and even resorted to begging. Shilree, however, was determined to never let the evil spirit free. What Shilree wanted was Trill�s destruction.
She wondered how long it would take Luthien and the scant few remaining members of Spectral to discover the switch. Luthien insisted on taking the Gem of Imprisonment for himself. She hoped that Luthien would be too preoccupied with Rhynwa and their son Gordon for him to notice the switch right away. He would eventually find out, and she would have to explain herself, but that was an encounter for some time in the future.
Luthien had asked her to give the gem to him for safekeeping, just after their return from the razed city state of Southern Diaria.
�Spectral would be the best guardians for Trill,� he told her.
Shilree knew arguing with him would be futile, so she devised a small deception. Using her skills as an illusionist and a scroll of advanced magic, she made a very convincing replica of the occupied Gem of Imprisonment. It was this fake that she handed over to Luthien.
Deep in her heart, she regretted having to deceive him, but she knew he would not understand. Yes, Spectral might be one of the safer places for the evil spirit, but Trill was her responsibility. She had searched for too long and sacrificed too much to not see it through to the end. Luthien and Spectral could insure Trill�s eternal imprisonment, but she knew of a place where a spirit so evil could be sent and utterly destroyed. A place only a Diarian could go.
Sighing inwardly, Shilree took one final look at the plain where Trade stood. Invoking the power of the Staff of the Walker, Shilree rushed away south in a blur of speed and color.
On to Chapter 2
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