Prologue

Two weeks after the battle with the Dragon of Doom, Silmaria held the coronation ceremony for her new king.

Everyone was invited, including the strange scientist Dr. Pretorius, who was on probation.  By that time, the victims of the assassinís blade and Dr. Pretoriusí drugs had recovered, thanks mostly to Devonís efforts.  Shakra and Erasmus shot the doctor some dirty looks, but said nothing to him.  The doctor seemed to shrink away from the glares, but other than that was fine.  A few doctors had returned to Silmaria since the threat of the Dragon and the Rites of Rulership were over.  With Gortís help they worked on a cure for Dr. Pretoriusí split personalities.

The Hall of Kings was filled with people.  Erasmus and Shakra had summoned some of Devonís friends from the lands he had visited.  Elsaís father and brother came, as well as Yorick, the jester.

An ancient magician transported himself and a young man to the now thriving metropolis.  He named himself as the Merlin of the island of Gramarye, and his companion the bard Toma.  The old man claimed that he wanted to show his apprentice, Toma, how a government works, and that a crowning of a king would be the best place to start.

Everyone was surprised when the Sultan of Shapeir arrived along with the new Emir of Raseir.  It took the combined efforts of Erasmus, Shakra, Katrina, Aziza, and Keapon to transport the gargantuan retinue.  The Sultan was overjoyed to see his Ďsoní alive and well, and re-introduced the Prince of Shapeir to his Ďrelationsí.  Bahman, the true Prince of Shapeir and next to inherit the throne, had only met Devon during the wizardís three month stay in Shapeir before he left for Tarna.  Bahman was a real warrior who had served in the Shapeirian guards for several years until he had to learn how to rule a sultanate.  He was also one of the senior officers of the EOF, and he didnít along too well with his adopted brother, disliking the practice of magic.

Ruzhat was Devonís other sibling.  She was three years younger than her older brother, and only a month older than Devon.  She had been visiting Raseir when Ad Avis took over, and was trapped in the harem there.  She returned to Shapeir soon after Raseir was freed.  Unlike her brother, she was quiet and calculating.  Where her brother would use force, she used her wits.  The Sultan once told Devon that he thought she had changed  since her Ďvacationí in Raseir.

The Sultan had one other child, though he could have had many illegitimate ones.  He wanted to set an example for his citizens, so took no lovers other than his wife.  His first wife, however, had died in childbirth with Ruzhat.  He had taken a new wife who recently gave birth to another son, so they were both at home.

Zayishah, Emir of Raseir, brought her father and her uncle, both former emirs of Raseir.  She also brought her servant Mayzun, and the rest of the freed women from the harem, now also her servants.

Kreesha had arrived with Reeshaka, Uhura and her child Simba, the leaders of the newly combined tribe of Simbani and Leopardmen Johari and Yesufu, and Manu the monkey, who crossed the entire savanna when he was contacted by Kreesha.  The monkey kept jumping up and down saying Devonís name.

The wizards from WIT and all of its members came, hoping for the first member of the institute to become king.

Everyone from Marete and the surrounding islands came escorted by the Sea-People.  Queen Hippolyta and a small guard changed their fins to legs for the first time in decades.

The entire congregation was seated in the bleachers encircling the podium.  Devon and Elsa flanked Logos, the two candidates for the throne.  Katrina was on Devonís right, holding his hand tightly.  Gort, Toro, and Pholus flanked all of them, the slayers of the Dragon of Doom.

Logosí speech rang through the Hall.  "There is one person who has proved himself above all others.  One person who has risked his life countless times for the good of Silmaria.  Prince of Shapeir, will you accept the burden of the throne?"

Katrinaís grip was crushing his hand.  Devon smiled.  "I-

Chapter 1

"Refuse?!"  Katrinaís whisper was harsh in Devonís ear.

Devon squirmed slightly.  "Elsa von Spielburg is more qualified than I.  I think she will make Silmaria a better king than I ever could."  Katrinaís hand lessened her grip.

"Thank you for this honor."  Elsa, who had also clenched her hands tightly, relaxed.

Logos looked surprised.  "Elsa von Spielburg, will you bear the burden of Silmariaís crown?"

"Yes, gladly!  I will be King of Marete!"  The crowd cheered loudly, the loudest of all being Toro and Yorick.  Elsaís father tried to yell, but ended up coughing.  Bernard merely scowled.

Katrina scowled, then spoke up.  "I, Katrina, master of the arcane arts, wish to speak.  I have agreed to marry Devon, Hero of five lands, and one who could have been king.  He has given me life, and taught me to love."  Devon looked at Katrina joyfully, and kissed her on the lips.  The crowd cheered again.

"Congratulations to you both.  Now, as Speaker for Silmaria, I dub thee King Elsa!"  Logos placed a pure gold crown studded with priceless jewels on Elsaís head.

The crowd started chanting, "Long live King Elsa! Long live King Elsa! Long live King Elsa!"  Elsa smiled.  "Thank you all.  I could not have done this without the help of Devon, the Prince of Shapeir.  My thanks to you."  She smiled at him, and Devon sensed Katrina looking daggers at the new king.  "As my first act as King, I welcome you all to a feast!"  The crowd cheered louder than ever.

  *    *    *

A banquet hall was filled with round tables, "so no one is higher than their neighbor," Elsa explained.  Elsa sat at the center table with the guests of greatest honor.  The Sultan of Shapeir and the Emir of Raseir sat on either side of her.  Yesufu and Johari sat together, as did Baron von Spielburg and his father.  Across from the King sat the Princes of Shapeir, Katrina, Queen Hippolyta, and the Princess of Shapeir.  The ex-king of Tarna and his family were next to them.

All leaned in to hear Elsa speak above the din.  "I hope you will all stay as long as you like.  Your suites are agreeable?"  Everyone nodded, though Rakeeshís family was staying with Shakra, and Katrina remained in her castle.  "I hope I will have a chance to talk to each of you later so that I may learn your ways of ruling."  Her face was flushed with excitement.

When the formalities were over, everyone relaxed a bit and talked among themselves.  Elsa caught up with what had happened in Spielburg since she left.  The Sultan and Emir discussed politics, including Bahman on the conversation.  Katrina, Kreesha, Johari, and Hippolyta discussed magic and creative ways to use it.

Rakeesh spoke to Devon.  "I thank you for saving my life, and the life of my son.  And I heard that Erasmus and Ugarte owe you their lives as well?"

Devon smiled.  "Salim and Julanar did most of it."

Reeshaka replied.  "Do not be so modest, Prince of Shapeir.  It would have grieved me much to have lost my father and my brother at the same time.  I am also in your debt."

Devon turned red.  Ruzhat laughed.  "You are making my brother embarrassed!  Let us talk of something else.  Yesufu, how are things going?  I have heard that you and the Leopardmen have combined tribes?"

The man nodded.  "Since the deaths of both of our fathers, my wife and I are the leaders of our tribes.  It made sense to join them together like Johari and I have."

Ruzhat smiled coyly.  "Somehow I do not think that it was as easy as that."

Yesufu laughed.  "Unfortunately, no.  It took much convincing on both sides for a temporary peace.  The only thing our people agree on is not to agree.  Luckily, we have had help.  Reeshaka has been a great aid, speaking for Tarna to soothe things.  Uhura told the people how they had been wrong about her, so maybe they are wrong about being enemies.  The Leopardmen shaman agreed with her."  Yesufu looked at Reeshaka.

Reeshaka continued.  "The people are gradually getting used to it.  Most of them still live in their original places, though a new village is being built between the old ones.  Hopefully Simba will grow up under a new tribe with no hatred in it."  Rakeesh beamed at his daughterís efforts at peace.

As Ruzhat was about to ask Reeshaka a question, Devon intervened by asking the princess what had happened since he left.

Smiling contentedly, Ruzhat answered.  "Well, you know that Zayishah is the new Emir.  The previous two are enjoying the palace life without the burden of responsibility.  Zayishah has already done wonders with the city.  She and Sharaf have started bringing in the old inhabitants to Raseir, and new ones.  The city is almost back to her former splendor.  Khaveen will never see the light of day again, nor will any of the former Raseirian guards.  And I can see that you know Ferrari and his scum left Raseir.  Shapeirís pretty much the same, though with fewer katta.  Most of them left for Raseir.  We have a new Guildmaster.  Her name is Periezade.  She is well liked, or so I have heard."  She paused.  "The only other juicy morsel of gossip you might enjoy is word of another hero.  Aziza met him and sent him to the Paladin Council of Twelve.  I donít know what happened to him, but Aziza seems to think that he is one from prophecy."  She shrugged, apparently not believing in prophecies.

The sound of many conversations going on at once was drowned out by a large explosion on a cleared area near the center table.  A puff of smoke disappeared to reveal a short gnome wearing a jesterís outfit.  "Good evening, ladies and germs.  My name is Punny Bones, and Iíve come to see lovely Silmaria and her new king."  The gnome went on to entertain the crowd until everyone was in tears of laughter.  "Well, itís been swell, folks.  You can see me at Gnome Ann Lands Inn at the West Gate in the evenings.  Thank you!"  In another flash of smoke he was gone.

Punnyís exit seemed to indicate that the party was over.  Everyone lined up to congratulate the new king and go home.  By the time everyone had left, Elsa was exhausted.  She was about to go to her new chambers when a noise stopped her.  The man that accompanied the Merlin, Toma, was behind her.

She turned to regard him.  He was taller than the average person, but not by much.  His shock of rusty red hair was wild and uncombed, though the king suspected that no comb could unsnarl the wild locks.  His face was handsome and wore a constant grin.  Now he was grinning at her.  "Hi.  I didnít get the chance to congratulate you yet.  So, congratulations."  He stood there awkwardly.

She smiled tiredly.  "It seems everyone else on Gloriana has."

The minstrel grinned wider.  "I know how it is to have to deal with large crowds.  Believe me, it gets easier.  You know, you look like you could use a story.  Would you like me to sing one for you?  Itíll be my present to Silmariaís new King."  He half-bowed.

Elsa grimaced.  "I have no time for silly songs!  If you will please excuse me, I have a lot of work to do tomorrow, so I need my sleep."  She left him there, looking up at her from his bow.

ĎWhy did I say that?í she wondered silently.  ĎI must be tired.  Forget about it, Elsa.í  But that night, all she thought about was the manís face grinning at her.

Chapter 2

It was almost evening by the time the boat disembarked onto Silmariaís docks.  A young man with large white wings on his back stepped off the boat and stretched.  It had been a long boat ride, and a longer week-and-a-half in the carriage from Mordavia to a port city that would take him to Silmaria.  It was good to walk again, better than normal due to his frequent walks around Mordavia.  And there had been no reason to walk during the journey, it had been painfully uneventful.

The sailors unloaded the shipís cargo, including several crates marked, ĎFragile Science Equipment.í  Ignoring the labels, the workers dumped the crates on the ground the same as the other cargo.

Azrael winced at the sound of glass breaking.  Frankie didnít seem to notice or care.  The Winged One asked the sailors where the Science Institute was, but they didnít seem to understand his language.  He looked around for someone else he could talk to, but for such a large city, hardly anyone was around.  The shops were all closed though it was still almost two hours until dusk.  A tall building near a gate leading east looked like the only possible place that would be open.  Telling Frankie to watch over the equipment, Azrael knocked on the door, opening it when a voice answered.

The room was filled with books.  On every free chair, all of the bookshelves, even on the floor in piles, books abounded.  Azrael had to wade through the hordes of books to reach the far end of the room.  There, he met an old man with a twinkle in his eyes that indicated he was younger than he looked.  He was seated behind a large desk covered with- more books.  The man looked up from writing something.  "Greetings!  Welcome to Silmaria!  What can I do for you?"  His voice, not tired and feeble like Azrael expected, was strong and vibrated through the room.

"I am Azrael of the Winged Ones on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain in the Land of the Green Isles."  He took a long breath.  "I am undergoing training to become a paladin.  More importantly right now, I am in charge of a-" he faltered, "lady from Mordavia.  She is seeking Silmariaís Academy of Science.  No one seems to be around to show us where that is."

"Ah, the Academy of Science!  Worked there once as a lab assistant.  Dreadfully boring work!  Iíd rather be back with the pygmy cannibals of South Fricana.  Nasty lot, always asking if you had any pygmies with you."

Azrael interrupted the strange old manís ramblings.  "May I ask who you are?"

"Of course!  How rude of me!  Most people here call me Famous Adventurer, but Iíve had many names.  My name is Gilgamesh when I befriend wild man Enkidu.    I fought the Bull of Heaven sent by you-know-who.  I crossed the Waters of Death to find the eternal plant, And ended up giving the boatman a tour of my land!  Speaking of the land, I wonder where everyone in this land went."  The man thought.  "Oh!  I remember!  Todayís the coronation ceremony!  Iím late!  So sorry to rush off, but I wouldnít miss this for the world!  The Academy is through the East Gate!"  Running quickly for an old man, he was soon through the door.

Azrael sighed and looked around the room at the books.  He skimmed some of them, learning about Silmariaís myths and culture.  One was a book on swimming, and taught him some new techniques to use underwater.  He was halfway through a limerick when he remembered Frankie.  He set the book down and walked back outside.

The woman didnít seem to notice his absence or his return.  She was still getting over the shock of her creatorís death by her own hands.  Azrael stepped in front of her and broke the trance.  "Come on, we need to take the equipment to the Academy before dark."  He picked up two of the crates and watched Frankie do the same.

He led her to the gate leading down towards the sea.  Guards in the wall above opened it and they passed underneath.  An island stuck out of the water by the path, but it was an island of science, not nature.  A large landing area held a strange machine Azrael had never seen before.  It appeared to be a gondola with wings and a balloon at the top.  He wondered if it worked.

The path led to a pier with a windmill and a maintenance shed.  A paper tacked to the side of the shed gave instructions on how to operate the elaborate gondola attached to the pier.  The gondola went in a circular track pulled by the windmill.  The windmill was already working, so he released the cableís brake.  The gondola slowly moved towards them and stopped when Azrael reapplied the brake.  He loaded Frankie and the boxes on it and sent them to the island.  Flying back to the docks, he gathered more cargo and unloaded them next to Frankie on the island.  After a few quick trips all the boxes were accounted for.

Walking underneath a giant gear into what Azrael hoped was the entrance, the two squinted their eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior.  The giant room was barely lit by lanterns posted sparsely throughout.  Tables lined the walls, covered in charts and beakers and miniature models.  A larger table near the center of the room was the only occupied.  A graying woman sat straight backed at the edge of her chair.  She had been writing something, but stopped and stared at the newcomers.

"Can I help you?"  Her voice hinted that they could help by turning around and leaving.

The green woman replied, to Azraelís surprise.  "Me Frankie.  Come to be scientist.  Dr. Craniumís former assistant."

The other nodded.  "We have been expecting you two for quite some time."  She looked sternly over her horn-rimmed glasses at Azrael.  "No matter, you are here now.  I am Dr. Pandora, head scientist of the Academy of Science in Silmaria since the unfortunate condition of my colleague Dr. Pretorius has been diagnosed.  We have a room ready for you and your assistant, Dr. Cranium.  Gather your belongings and follow me."

"No!  Iím not Dr., Cranium, I only escorted Frankie here.  My name is-"

The scientist cut him off abruptly.  "If you are not him, where is he?"

Holding his breath for a moment, he went on.  "I am Azrael.  Dr. Cranium had an accident," he kept his eyes away from Frankie, "and is no longer with us.  As aÖ last request I have brought Frankie here by myself.  I will bring in her things and leave you two alone."  So saying, he left the room for the boxes before the woman could say anything more.

After moving Dr. Craniumís possessions to their new home, Azrael left.  Saying a few comforting words to his traveling companion, he flew back to the docks to find an inn.

A sign showed a parrot lying face-up and bearing the words ĎDead Parrot Inní.  It seemed as good a place as any to stay.  A fat man guarded the door.  He grinned at Azrael.  "Dead Parrot is open."  Azrael nodded and went in.

The inn was filled with people relaxing after a hard days work.  The bar was packed, making the overweight bartender scurry back and forth between orders.  Men trying to impress their lady friends threw daggers at a spinning wheel, not noticing the laughs they received.

The upstairs section of the inn wasnít as crowded, but still held people.  Some greasy looking individuals placed bets on a board for the arena.  A smaller stair led to a small room, only housing a table and chair.  A heavyset man gloated at the number of people visiting his establishment.

Seeing the man accompanied only by one other, and appearing to be someone of importance, Azrael decided to walk over to him.  The two men were deep into a conversation and didnít hear Azrael approach.

One, a skinny man with eyes that never stayed still spoke to the other, a rotund man with a grim face.  "Rumor has it, the King has the blackbird.  She brought it with her from Spielburg.  She- Oh!  Hello there!  I didnít notice you sneaking up like that."

The fat man spoke.  "Greetings and welcome to the Dead Parrot Inn and Casino.  The bar is over there and the wheel is there."  He turned back to his companion.

Sighing, Azrael tried to start a conversation.  "Iím new in town and am looking for-"

"Weíre all looking for something."  At the mention of looking for something, the fat man soured up.  "Looking for a very long time."

Azrael could tell that he would need to get the manís attention.  "I am a paladin-in-training on a quest."  He looked at the man hopefully.

To his dismay, the other recoiled in disgust.  "Paladin?  If youíll excuse me."  He lifted his bulk and started down the stairs, followed by the other man.

Azrael muttered to himself angrily, "Great, now Iíll never get a room."

The man stopped and turned around.  "Did I hear correctly?  You need a room?  The Dead Parrot Inn and Casino has the finest rooms available.  What price range are we looking at?  By the way, my name is Ferrari, proprietor of this inn."  Ferrari tried to smile and failed.

Returning the smile thinly, Azrael answered.  "I donít have much money on me right now, but Iím sure I will soon get some."  Most of it had been spent on the coach and boat trip, and supplies along the way.

Returning to his old self, Ferrari walked away.  "Try the Gnomeís Inn.  Maybe she accepts credit."

Disheartened, Azrael left the Dead Parrot Inn and Casino, hoping the other inn would be more hospitable.

Chapter 3

Nawar watched the winged man leave.  He looked like a real hero, someone who wouldnít let her work for the sleaziest man in Silmaria, who could make her dreams come true.

Budar saw her friend stare at the doorway.  "Youíve got to stop daydreaming.  Heís not going to abandon his fiancée and come back for an ex-harem girl.  This is life, so deal with it."  Despite her gruff words, Budar felt sympathy for the woman.  She knew what it was like to be trapped in the harem, and when freed, have nowhere to go.  Luckily for them, Ferrari needed some help for his new project in Silmaria.  ĎOr maybe not so lucky,í she wondered.  At the ceremony she had seen Ruzhat and the others from the harem.  Of course Ruzhat would be living the high life as a princess, but the others seemed to be doing almost as well.  ĎAnd here we are, serving the scum of Silmaria.í  She shook her head.  Ferrari was good to her.  He had lots of money and owned a good portion of the city.

A familiar face appeared through the doorway.  Budar straightened.  "Hey, Nawar!  Itís Ruzhat!"  Nawar turned to face the princess.

Ruzhat smiled.  "So this is where youíve been hiding.  Itís nice."  She looked around the room.  "Very nice.  Whoís the owner?"

Budar pointed at Ferrari.  "Donít tell me youíre already thinking of buying it?"  Ruzhat was always having whims that died the next day.  "I donít think anything in the world can part Ferrari with the Dead Parrot."

Ruzhat smiled even wider.  "Oh, I can think of a few things.  Is he still looking for the blackbird?"  Budar exchanged glances with Nawar.  "Yes, I know where it is and how to get it.  A noble secret, Iíd say."  She smirked at her joke.

Nawar spoke up.  "I donít think heíd give up the Dead Parrot for the blackbird.  Even heís not that dumb."

Ruzhat changed the subject.  "So howíve ya been?  Seems like a nice enough place to work.  Budar, rumor has it that you and the fat man hooked up?  What about you, Nawar?  Any fresh meat?  Iím surprised a girl like you isnít already married to some poor fool."

ĎMe too.í  Out loud she merely said, "I havenít found the right one yet.  Iím still young."

"Well, if my old friend gossip is to be trusted, Abduel has a thing for you.  Is the feeling mutual?"

"Ugh, no!  That fat lout is the last person Iíll even talk to."

"Rumor also says that you were trying to snare one of the competitors for the throne.  Iím sure it wasnít the green guy, heís almost as bad as Abduel.  And since we last talked I hadnít known about your taste for women, so I willing to bet it was Devon.  He is very handsome.  Too bad heís my brother."  She scowled.

Nawar felt her face burning.  "That sorceress enchanted him!  He was this close to giving me the ring!"  She put her index finger and thumb an inch apart.

The Princess of Shapeir smiled again.  "My, my.  We are feeling a bit hot, arenít we?  Donít worry, there are plenty of fish in the sea.  Speaking of which, have you seen the Queen of Atlantisí guards.  I could eat them up!"

The talk went into the night until closing time.  Ruzhat invited the two to meet her and the other ex-harem girls at the Hall of Kings the next day.  Then she left.

Budar patted Nawar on the shoulder.  "Donít sweat it.  Itís just Ruzhat.  Iím sure everything will look better in the morning."  So saying, she went to walk back to Ferrariís house.

Nawar wasnít comforted.  She had no control over her life.  She worked for a man she hated for little money.  But what else could she do?  She had no real skills.  She could dance, but who would want a dancer?  She found herself walking to the location of the old thieves guild, before Devon caught Arestes.

Thinking of the thief, she beamed.  He had always been nice to her, and donated some money to her Chief Thief contest money.  But it hadnít been enough.  Though the contest was technically still on until the blackbird was found, Ferrari had won.  Ugarte had been disqualified during his illness, and she had dropped out.  Her small fund that she had saved up had been depleted, along with her chance to become someone.  Bruno was killed by Devon, and the other mystery candidate had also dropped out.  There were no new thieves to compete with Ferrari for the title.  He needed the blackbird to win, but it didnít really matter.

Thinking of Arestes, she wondered where he was.  After being captured by the Prince of Shapeir, the thief was sent to twenty years of jail time.  Hearing the verdict from Arestes, Devon talked to Logos and convinced him to allow Julanar to heal the manís arm.  Arestes promised to go clean and become a locksmith in his home town.  She missed him, but was glad that he was free.

A voice interrupted her thoughts.  "Excuse me, do you know of an inn in town besides the Dead Parrot?"  She turned around to face the strange winged man she had seen earlier.

"Yes, weíre close to Gnome Annís Land Inn.  Iíll show you."  She walked to a building covered with huge purple flowers and pointed to a sign hanging in front.  "See, Gnome Annís Land Inn, visitors welcome."

The man smiled.  "Thanks, Iíve been looking for a while!"  He hesitated before going on.  "My name is Azrael.  May I ask who you are?"

"I am Nawar.  I work at the Dead Parrot, you know, the place with Ferrari."  She spat her bossí name with venom.  "I saw you try to get a room there.  Donít worry, they arenít that great.  I should know."  She didnít know why she was telling this man these things.  "I have to go."

He stopped her with his hand on her arm.  She shivered.  "Wait, I didnít thank you!  Have you eaten yet?  Iíll pay for your meal.  Iím pretty sure I still have enough money."  He knew he had only enough for one meal.

Nawar studied the man.  Deciding that it was too close to the guard house for the stranger to do anything to her, she agreed.

The inn was a small building with only three rooms.  Like anyplace run by a gnome, colors clashed from the ceiling to the floor.  The room was crowded with tables an people sitting at them.  Nawar guessed that the reason was a jester telling jokes to the crowd from a small stage.  After a few words he would wait for his audience to stop laughing before going on.

The jester was Punny Bones, the one at the coronation ceremony and Annís beau.  Leaving the crowd with one last joke, he hopped off the stage and trotted to the newcomers.  "Howarya, howarya?  Seen my act at the Hall of Kings and had to see more, eh?  Then I guess you know my name, Punny Bones.  Who has the pleasure of addressing me?"  The little man grinned at his own jokes.

Azrael stiffened almost imperceptibly.  "I am Azrael.  This is Nawar.  She aided me and I have promised her dinner."

Punny winked.  "Oh, I get it.  A favor.  No answers given, no questions asked, I always say."  So saying, he walked through a small doorway behind an equally small counter.

Nawar smiled at her Ďescortísí embarrassment.  "Itís all right, Iíve heard worse.  How about that meal?"  She wondered why she was acting strangely to the stranger.

Azrael paid for Nawarís food, insisting that he wasnít hungry.  His hunger lessened when Nawar took a bite of the food and twisted her face.

Having little to say, she left him at the inn and walked home.  Seeing the stage at Annís Inn, she suddenly got an idea.  Smiling, she unlocked her door and went to sleep.

Chapter 4

The island of Delos had visitors.  A flash of light revealed two men, one young, the other ancient.  The old man was hunched over, white beard traveling past his knees.  His companion had bright red hair and a ready smile.  The older spoke first.  "This is the island of Delos, known for the Temple of the Oracle on it.  There is also one of the last dryad groves in the world here.  We go to the Temple first."

The Temple was a ruined structure which at one point in time had been grand.  Twin pools flanked the columns supporting the statue of the Sibyl.  Now, the roof had fallen off of the columns, and only one pool remained.  The statue was still there, undisturbed throughout centuries of chaos.

The young man walked over to a broken pillar with writing on it.  "Whatís this?"  He pointed at the words.

The other shambled over and read the words.  "It appears to be a poem about death.  Hmph."  He moved to the fountain.  "Watch."

The young man read the inscription and turned around.  The sage pulled a gold drachma from his pocket and dropped it into the water.  The Ďstatueí started glowing and turned into a person.

"Greetings, once and future seers.  I am the Sibyl, who sees what is to come.  You will soon part ways, never to see each other again.  You journey to far-off lands to the East and to the clouds.  One of you will help the enemy unwillingly, the other will try to stop the foe at all costs.  First you must go into Deathís arms by the waters of life and restore oneís life who will help you on your journey.  This cannot be done alone, nor can anything you face be accomplished alone.  That is the fate that awaits you."  The woman changed back into a figure of stone.

The men looked at each other.  The old one spoke again.  "The future is not always kind.  Now is not the time to think about that, though.  Now we find you a staff."  He held out an amphorae.

The pair walked out of the Temple and into the Dryad Grove.  After awakening each tree spirit, the young man danced with them and was awarded with a piece of magical wood.  This was turned into a staff by the senior man, who gave the remaining water to his pupil.  "I think you will need this in the future.  Now back to Silmaria."  A bright flash and Delos was silent again.

  *    *    *

Devon got up early, eager to meet his friends.  Leaving his room at the Hall of Kings, he was escorted via servant to the audience chamber where many of his old companions talked amongst themselves.  He couldnít decide which person he wanted to talk to first; luckily, or perhaps unluckily, the guests came to him.  The head wizards of WIT glided over the marble floor, followed by many members of the wizardís association.  Devon smiled and groaned inwardly.  The enchanters would try to persuade him into finishing his years of training.  He wanted to become a true wizard, but there were still so many adventures to face.

Erasmus stepped between the oncoming wizards and their quarry.  "Well, I havenít seen you for a while!  Itís time we talk!"  He grabbed Devonís hand and pulled him into the throng of people.

Devon beamed at his magical mentor.  "Thanks!  I was not in the mood to discuss my entry into," he puffed out his chest and had a serious look on his face, "the Wizardís Institute of Technocery."  He let the air out and laughed.

Erasmus laughed along.  "Oh, theyíre pompous old windbags, but they are correct.  Your potential shouldnít be wasted on frivolous adventures in the countryside.  You need to finish your training.  There is only so much experience earned on quests to save the world."  Devon lost his grin.  "I suggest that you leave as soon as you can for Shapeir.  No time like the present!"  This time Erasmus lost his smile.

Devon followed the older manís gaze and locked eyes with Katrina.  She walked over to them and looked at Erasmus.  "I donít believe we have met.  I am Katrina, engaged to the charming Prince of Shapeir."  She attached herself to Devonís side.  "And you are?"

Erasmus mumbled something in reply and started moving in the opposite direction.  Katrina muttered, "Something about that walk, that faceÖ Yes!  It is him!"  She called out to the retreating wizard.  He started and turned.

The ex-vampire raised her arms in the direction the Erasmus and pointed.  A small bolt of green light crackled between the magicians.  Erasmus yelled and put his hands to his cheeks.  When he removed them, a gasp ran throughout the hall.  His long white beard had vanished.  Even more surprising was the fact that instead of having wrinkled cheeks lined with age, his cheeks were as smooth as any young manís.  Katrina smiled in satisfaction.  "Erasmus, the new initiate who set the West Wing on fire.  I remember you.  Didnít you ask me to the wizardís ball?"

Erasmus shouted in fury, "I didnít ask, it was Keapon!  He framed me so you would reject me in front of everyone!  And do you know how long it took me to grow that thing?"  He pointed at his chin.

Devon intervened.  "I thought you said you were old."

Erasmus looked around guiltily.  "Well for a normal person I am old.  For a wizard Iím quite young."

Katrina smiled.  "And all this time you had people believing that you were Ďthe oldest and most powerful wizard in the worldí.  I must admit it is a very good plan."

Erasmus stared at her.  "Good plan?!  I have no plan now that youíve spoiled my secret!  What do you expect me to do now, be the baby wizard everyone likes but canít respect?"

"I donít look like Iím one hundred, but I still get respect.  Thereís no need to act old."  said Devon.

"Still, it was a mean thing to do."  Erasmus started pouting.  "Iím sorry Devon, but I donít feel like talking anymore today.  Iíll speak to you alone."  He glared at Katrina before teleporting away.

Devon shot a reproachful look at his fiancee.  "Why did you have to do that?"

Katrina looked around innocently.  "Do what?  Expose a fraud?  Consider it my duty to the people of Silmaria."  She walked away.

Devon shook his head.  Someday they would have to have a talk.  Putting the matter out of his mind, he went to congratulate the new King of Silmaria.  "How is the burden of the crown so far?"

The new monarch sighed.  "Itís a lot harder than I thought it would be.  Leading a small group of people in a small valley is one thing, leading an island nation with many people is much more difficult."  Elsa looked as if she hadnít gotten much sleep for a while.  "I am starting to think you were right in turning down the throne."

Devon sympathized with Elsa.  The Sultan had taken his son around his city and explained how rulership worked.  The next day Devon had been in charge of the city.  Luckily the riot ended before it got to the palace.  Trying to divert the stressed leader, he asked her about news from Spielburg.

"Oh, ja.  Everything is the same since I left.  The people arenít thrilled with Bernard as Baron, but they will get used to it.  My father says the brigand fortress has been destroyed so no one will think of it as a base of operations.  Yorick says there is a large population of antwerps in the forest."  She raised her eyebrow at Devon, who pretended not to see it.  "I suppose that is all.  Have you heard anything about the old man and his apprentice.  It is strange that they came here from a distant land to witness a coronation.  You would think that they could have picked somewhere closer.  I wonder what they really want.  Especially Toma..." she stared out at nothing.

Devon didnít know, and said so.  Seeing that she wasnít in the mood for conversation, he excused himself, he found the magician Kreesha walking towards him.  "Devon!  I have wanted to speak with you privately for some time now.  I want to thank you for saving the two most dear men in my life.  However, I also want to speak to you about your future.  I think itís time for you to consider going back to WIT.  I know it seems like it will be a long time, but it wonít, believe me."  She stared him straight in the eyes as she said this.

He sighed.  "Does everyone want me to go away?"

Kreesha looked offended.  "Why would one who has saved so many be unwelcome?  I merely think that this is a good time to consider your options.  Think about it."  She walked away.

Seeing Rakeesh stroll up, the hero relaxed.  At least the paladin wouldnít try to convince him to leave.  "Greetings, Devon.  Kreesha told me about WIT."

Devon bit back a reply and simply walked out of the room.

Chapter 5

Ruzhat waited for her guests to arrive.  Dunya, Layla, Kahla, and Sulayma waited patiently, speaking softly to each other.  A knock on the door announced Mayzunís return.  She came in with the remaining two harem girls, Nawar and Budar.

Ruzhat welcomed them in.  "Ah, so glad you made it!  Zayishah would be here, but she discusses politics with Elsa."  She wrinkled her nose in distaste.  "But no matter.  The rest of us are here and healthy.  That is all that counts.  Now, what have you two done since Raseir?"

Budar answered.  "Ferrari and IÖ knew each other fairly well, so he asked if I would be willing to leave the Ďgreatí city of Raseir for the paradise of Mariana.  Of course I agreed, and brought Nawar with me.  Ferrari built the Dead Parrot and thatís where weíve been ever since."

Layla asked, "Doesnít he also own the Arena and a large house on Nob Hill?"

Ruzhat confirmed Laylaís question.  "Yes.  He is one of the more influential people in Silmaria since Minos died.  He used to own Gnome Annís Inn, and I hear that heís looking to buy Minosí palace."

"Youíve certainly done your research!"  Nawar thought for a moment.  "Last night you told us that you had a plan, and youíre not one to make social visits for no reason.  Whatís your plan?"

The Princess of Shapeir laughed.  "Always to the point, Nawar.  Youíre right, though.  I do have an idea.  Iíve grown very attached to Mariana and its beautiful city.  So attached that it would break my heart to leave it."

Sulayma broke in, "I thought you wanted to get away from Bahman."

Ruzhat smiled thinly.  "Yes, Elsa and I share something: idiot brothers.  So, why not do as the King did and move away from the problem.  And Silmaria has a very nice piece of real estate that would be perfect for me."

Budar guessed.  "Minosí palace."

The princess nodded.  "Silmaria has many nice buildings, including  Minosí palace."

Nawar raised an eyebrow.  "Many nice buildings?"

"Yes.  It would cost more money than I currently have to buy the palace.  I do have enough money to buy a casino, though.  And with a casino I could make enough money to buy the palace and whatever else I want."

"But Ferrari wonít sell the Dead Parrot.  It makes too much money."

"What if he went broke.  Then would he sell the Parrot?  Or what if he got the blackbird?  He would still have the Arena.  But let us not argue.  I have to tell you my plan.  Nawar, you seem tired of working for the man, so why donít you get a job somewhere else?  And if you leave, Ferrari will need someone else to work the Wheel-of-Fortune."

Ruzhat explained her plan to the women, finally ending with, "We start tonight!"

  *    *    *

Azrael left the inn early in the morning.  Remembering an Adventurerís Guild nearby, he walked around until he found a large structure with the words Adventurerís Guild in small lettering above the door.

He entered the Guild and looked around.  Many trophies hung on the walls, mostly fish.  A giant moose-fish head hung above a fireplace.  Standing next to the fireplace was a minotaur.  Azrael screamed.  "The minotaur has been resurrected!  The world is about to end!"  He recalled that he was trying to become a paladin, and that paladins protect people.  So, brandishing his sword, he charged.

Toro barely had enough time to raise his axe before Azrael was on him.  Flailing like a madman, Azrael slashed at the monster.  Not wanting to hurt the strange man, Toro lightly tapped the base of the strangerís skull.

Azrael felt a heavy blow, then nothing.

  *    *    *

"How hard did you hit him, Toro?  I was afraid that his spine was broken for a moment."

"Toro not hit.  Toro tap gently."

"Toro!  Oh well, nothing to be done for it now!  Look, I think heís waking up!"

Azrael opened his eyes to see the face of a young woman and the minotaur.  He screamed.  "The minotaur will devour us all!"  He felt hands push him back onto the bed when he tried to rise.

"Heís obviously insane, poor man."

He tried to warn the woman.  "Heíll eat you too!  Let me kill him!"

"Toro not eat anyone.  Toro eat grass."

A new voice entered the conversation.  "Whoa, itís that hero-guy from Shapeir!  What are you doing here, uh, whatever your name is."

Azrael recognized Salimís voice.  "Salim, youíve got to help me!  The minotaur is going to eat me!  Do something!"

"Whoa, you mean Toro?  Toro wouldnít hurt a fly.  I think you need to chill out a bit.  Here drink this."  A bottle was held to Azraelís lips.

"Whatís in th- in sha- shat shing?"  He was having trouble forming words and complete-.
 

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