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Magic Misused

 

 

 

Magic Misused

 

Abe Jackson

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition

Copyright © 2017 by Abe Jackson

All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 1

 

 

Sasha was a wild girl. Which is why she started playing with swords when she was two. Nobody was watching her; all the teenage girls were off with the teenage boys, and all the adults had meetings. Adult meetings is what they called them. Wasn’t Sasha sufficiently adult? What was wrong? She was three now but she talked like a “normal” three year old in order to get what she wanted: not to get pinched or slapped or bullied, and to get extra lollipops and sweets from the warden. Once she graduated to four years old, she would not have that benefit anymore.

She was playing swords in the yard with one of her friends, a five year old boy named Darryl, when the swordmaster recognized her. Or at least, he recognized her stature. She was a full foot shorter than her playmate. “Who are you?” asked the master, perplexed, as no one smaller than Darryl usually went into the fencing practice area. “Take off your helmet and armor. Now, please, or I shall be forced to call the king.”

“The King” was Sasha’s father. He didn’t like all of Sasha’s eccentricities: beyond being a fine swordswoman, she enjoyed gambling, daring and playing with fire. Playing with fire, incidentally, was not compatible with swordplay, as the sparring grounds were in a courtyard surrounded by hay and wood for the winter. She had learned that when she was one-and-a-half.

“Hark!” shouted the swordsmaster. “This is your last chance!”

“I can’t hear you!” pantomimed Sasha, pointing to her ear. “What did you say?”

The swordsmaster cocked his bow. Sasha saw this and threw off her helmet and armor. “It’s just me!” she said. “Just little Sasha!”

“I already knew you were little, but I didn’t know you liked to hack things up,” said the swordsman.

“What’s that mean?” Sasha pretended not to know.

“I’d better fetch you over to the king. He’ll do the diciplinin’, but of course I know he’s too smitten with you to ever unleash a lashing or a spanking or any kind of physical punishment. He just loves you too much, you’re his only girl.”

“I know that,” she said, and promptly laid a hack to her sparring partner’s arm. Her partner, Jor, a boy from the kitchens, screamed as blood poured from his open wound. Sasha looked at the swordsmaster and giggled, as the swordsmaster himself rushed over and tried to staunch the bleeding.

As soon as he arrived, Sasha said a few incantations and the bleeding stopped. The arm, which was on the ground and bleeding of its own accord, flew up and reattached itself to her sparring partner’s body. “All better!” cooed Sasha, still pretending to be an ignorant toddler.

The swordsmaster was still not happy, so he picked her up and started carrying her to the throne room. Sasha waved to her companion, and as soon as they were out of sight started crying. “Mama!” she gurgled. “Papa! Boobah!” Making up stupid nonsense to cry about was a big reason she got off so many punishments. After all, who could punish such a small child who didn’t even know what she was doing?

“I’m sowwy,” whispered the young Sasha to her father as she sat upon his knee

“Hmmm,” rumbled the king, looking at each of his advisors in turn. “Any ideas? This child, my youngest and most special, has had her third dangerous incident in the same number of days. How am I to rule when my little one wades in such dark waters? I will be the laughingstock of the nation! Other nations will rebel my iron grip because they will have such fodder to feed to their soldiers.”

“Not necessarily,” posed one bold officer. Every head turned to look at him. “In my opinion,” the girl should be allowed to control her own development and test herself as she progresses. For goodness sake, she was able to magically reattach a man’s arm! We have to realize how big of a boon this could be for our kingdom!”

“Don, please stop shouting. Now continue,” said the king.

“My apologies,” whispered the young prince. Everybody laughed, even the guards. “Anyway,” the prince continued, “she will be our fear mongerer among the nations we control, as well as over the ones that we do not. Her reputation shall precede her, and her reputation shall be vicious. She will eat people alive and torture people to death, slowly, so that it lasts days, or even months.”

“I do not want to be used for evil,” Sasha said.

The entire room gasped.

“You… you… you can talk?” asked the king of his daughter.

Sasha wanted to say, Well I’ve been spouting out complex sentences ever since I’ve been six months old, but she controlled herself. This, after all, was the king, and she could not afford embarrassing him more than she already had for her entire lifetime. So she said, “Yes, Papa. I can talk.”

“I knew you were able to make rudimentary sentences, but this is something new,” mused the king. “Tell me about yourself, my dear daughter Sasha. What do you like to do, and what are you capable of doing?”

Sasha hesitated. The king saw this, and whispered in her ear, “If this is too much, you can tell me privately.”

This was all Sasha needed. She raised her voice and spoke:

“I would not like to be part of a fear campaign,” she said, her voice ringing loudly and clearly through the throne room. “I would like to make a positive difference in this world.”

“Heck, woman, you just cut a boy’s arm off! For the gods’ sake!”

“Excuse me,” said the king. “Please listen to my daughter now—I’m sure it is very hard for her to speak to the entire council thusly.”

“Thank you,” Sasha said gracefully. “And to continue what I was saying, I do not want to be an instrument of war. If that is all you councilmen have planned for me, then I will quit this place this very instant; and it will not be very hard for me to do so.”

The room was silent. Sasha rather liked it that way.

“Now,” she continued, “Who would like to see some magic tricks?”

“We came here not for your tricks and witchcraft, woman!” said another man on the council. He had a green hat with the logo of the Falcon Eagle sewn onto it.

“We could do without your input, Lord Caldwell. My daughter knows she is of the female sex. You don’t have to tell her that.”

Lord Caldwell bowed to the king and then to Sasha. “My apologies,” he said.

“I hold no disrespect toward women. I simply wished to assess your physical strength.”

Now that was over, Sasha seized the opportunity to speak again: “If one of you lords would be kind enough to take me in, to have me schooled in magic… then perhaps I could be of benefit to you. More benefit, at least, than chopping my friend’s arm off and reattaching it just so I could reach all twelve of your ears.”

There was a silence, and Sasha wondered if perhaps she had said too much, but eventually someone took the bait: “Could you…perhaps…spy for us? Against other nations?”

“I told you all, I will not be used for violent purposes.”

This made the chamber silent for some time. One of the members coughed, to indicate he was about to speak: “Um, for certain we will use you in the way you requested. Instead of war, you may go out and search the world for new places to settle, places that are beyond even our enemies’ reach. You will then magically relay your

Information back to us for processing.”

There was a stony silence.

Sasha said, “And if I don’t want to?” She was faking being rebellious, because she really wanted to see what lands encompassed the great hand.

“Then we will keep you in this castle the rest of your life,” said the King, gently massaging his chair. “You will marry whomever I choose and you will die of old age and boredom.”

The king clearly knew his daughter’s disposition.

Sasha also knew that he knew. And what they both knew was that Sasha would have to accept.

“I accept,” said Sasha, feigning disappointment. She saw the gleam in her father’s eyes.

Her father bowed, ever so slightly. Sasha stared at him, which was her way of saying ‘thank you.’ Then, without a room, she left the chamber.

“Wait, child!” her father yelled after her. The guards blocked her way. Exasperatingly, Sasha forced herself to a stop.

“You forgot your provisions! And your sword!”

Sasha cursed herself, however futile the attempt. She would not cause bodily harm to herself nor let any malfeasance affect her from other people or even from the gods. She ran, still playing the three-year-old, and hugged her father’s legs, trying not to get impaled by the sharp edges of his metal throne. Her father gave her a pat on the head. The other advisors and lords in the circle looked upon her morosely. They thought the king was sending his daughter to her death just because of a technicality: severing a child’s arm and then magically sewing it back on. But to even this technicality they did not raise a voice in protest: witches were not tolerated in the kingdom. They simply were too powerful to control, and most of them were known to be evil.

The kingdom had just finished a costly war against the Mage and Magess of Ultha. They had had to battle against giants, orcs and all sorts of monsters, and it had given an uneasy feeling to the throne room ever since; the king and his advisors all knew that one of their quiescent neighbors could sack their kingdom with no more than a sneeze.

So it was that when Sasha trudged out of the throne room with all her belongings and even a hawk on a shoulder to help her hunt along the way, she knew that she was one of the last hopes of the kingdom. She knew that they were even trusting her witching powers, which she had discovered when she was very young (even younger than at present) over their queasiness with the higher powers, something that had been amplified with their war with the witching couple.

After wishing the gatekeeper adieu, she set off on the road that started at the gate and ended at the last battlefield of The Witching Couple. Of course, she could have gone other routes, which also branched out from the gate road, but she knew her father wanted her to go to the last stronghold of their recent enemies, to stamp out any remains of their spirits which might have clung to a living body and then forcing its way into their brains. At least, that was the theory from the kingdom’s apothecary.

There was no faking it, though, at least according to Sasha. The kingdom knew they had a witching child when she was born. She had likely been the one who had killed her mother—even early in the pregnancy her mother had experienced bouts of internal bleeding and had started talking in foreign languages.

Sasha started crying once she was out of range of the castle. To the lonely farmers whom she passed, she would be nothing more than a peasant girl on her way back home from the King’s Bazaar. Or, perhaps, a servant from the castle. But never a slave wandering from her master: she made sure of that by putting on her boots with spikes and carrying her sword and her two knives on the outside of her person, able to reflect whatever sinister light came her way.

She was only three, after all. But she looked like a five-year-old. That was a critical difference, Sasha knew. Three year old arms were like twigs—in fencing practice she had to be very careful when around them. But the five year old were much more competent in their swordplay. Sasha has been careless in cutting the boy’s arm off—he could easily have blocked the hack. But he hadn’t, so Marie had been blamed. No matter that she had fixed his arm—her father had been receiving increasing reports of her instability as a witch and despite her love for her was not hesitant about kicking her out of his castle.

It began to rain. The farmsteads became longer and longer until she was walking on the road beside one farmer’s property for almost an hour. She knew she had to find shelter soon or risk hypothermia. That had been drilled into her by her swordmaster, who had eerily prepared her for her future exile.

Sad, she couldn’t even remember his name now. It had been over a year.

“Girl!” shouted a grizzled man at the edge of his property. “Come inside! We will give you food, drink and a place to sleep!”

She knew she was taking a risk, but she knew that the greater risk was staying outside. She smelled a whiff of dirty diapers and the cries of children through the open door. At least she had that to rely on.

“Why aren’t you coming in?” yelled a second voice, the farmer’s wife. “All this food is going to waste if you don’t help us eat it!”

“Thank you,” Sasha lisped as she crossed the front doorway. “I am weary and need to eat.”

“You want it, we got it!” said the owner of the farm, earning him a look from his wife and then a smile.

“My thanks,” whispered Sasha. She expected a trap. The owner was greedily smiling as he shut the door behind her. The wife was nonexistent.

“Ha!” yelled the man, as his children covered their ears. “I gotcha now, gotcha now!”

“Aren’t we supposed to have dinner now?” the weary Sasha asked in a weak voice. She had to make sure the bad man underestimated her.

“You are dinner,” Bad Man said. He laughed a deep, throaty laugh. His children were terrified: all five of them were staring down at their plates.

“Are you magical?” came a tinny voice from the smallest child.

“Of course I’m magical, nitwit,” she ventriloquized to the child. “What does it matter?”

“Kill him!” she squealed, looking straight at The Bad Man. The Bad Man had conjured a kitchen knife and was smiling as he walked across the room to where the little child was sitting. He raised his knife. Sasha could not bear witness to this heinous murder, so she murdered The Bad Man herself: she disarmed him and shoved him against the wall. He tried kicking against her (she was half his height) but she put up a protective bubble spell. He was trapped between that and the wall. His air was slowly running out and it showed. He belched and gasped and looked increasingly like he was about to faint, so Sasha poked a tiny hole in the bubble so The Bad Man could get some air. Of course, the children all protested.

“Even bad men need air,” she intoned.

“He’ll kill us!” said the oldest child. “He put us into slavery, for years!”

“They’re lying!” managed The Bad Man. And of course, since he was the one with the knife, he was the one who needed culling. Sasha put a paralyzing spell on him. He slid down the wall. Sasha removed the bubble-spell.

“Here,” she told the children. “He’s harmless now. Want to come with me? I’ll find you a new home. Having company in the dangerous journey I am taking would be valuable, as well.”

“First look in his pocket!” said the second oldest one, a girl of around eight.

“What’s in his pocket?” Sasha mused. She went up to The Bad Man and removed the knife from his limp hand.

“His control!”

“His device,” said the oldest child, a male about eleven. “He uses it to control us.”

Sasha didn’t have any idea what he meant, but she felt in his right pocket and brought out a device that seemed to have various flashing lights emanating from it. “This…” breathed Marie. “This is an interdimensional gateway!”

“Watch out!” screamed the little one as The Bad Man attacked Sasha. He beat on her mercilessly as Sasha erected another bubble shield between them. Sasha was unharmed but to The Bad Man it must have felt like he was punching and kicking a wall of steel; for Sasha could see shattered bone poking up through the skin. The Bad Man howled in pain.

“Quick, just kill him!” said the youngest child. “Bring an end to our pain!”

“Now, I just don’t kill people like that,” began Sasha. Then she caught a glimpse of one of the windows, and she saw The Bad Man—right behind her! She dove for the knife that was still on the floor and for one brief moment it was a toss-up for which character would win, Sasha or The Bad Man. The moment stretched into eternity, and Sasha was wondering if she’d spend the rest of her existence in this futile pose. But then, slowly, time started up again and Sasha’s hand found the kitchen knife and her hand bored true, deep into his chest. The Bad Man cried out, heaved one last breath, and died. Sasha wanted to make sure there was no trickery in this so she muttered a few incantations to please herself. Suddenly, she turned around and screamed.

There were five adult human beings sitting awkwardly around a wooden table meant for children. One of the chairs broke, but it didn’t matter: all of them were crying.

“Ah, I see now,” said Sasha. “I should have known…”

“Thank you!” whispered the youngest child, clutching at Sasha’s skirts. “Without you, we would have died at his hand.”

“Indeed,” murmured Sasha. Then started the silence, which grew and grew until one of the children couldn’t take it any longer.

“We’d like to come with you,” the child said, still weeping.

“You’re older than I am,” said Sasha. “But that has never stopped me. Fine, you all will come with me. I hope you all are not related, for we will likely be settlers on a distant mountaintop a hundred or a thousand leagues from here, and we will have only each-other for a gene pool.”

Sasha looked at them and saw four bewildered faces and one halfway-resigned one. “My momma taught me about science before this evil man here took me. I have spent over half my life here.” He spat on the floor.

“Come, let us go,” announced Sasha.

“We don’t even have provisions, and our master locked the stockroom,” said one of the former children.

“I will provide for all,” said Sasha, and she led them out the door. They should have realized that she could have easily broken into the stockrooms as well as carry all of their bags as well as her own. But they were not that smart:

Sasha chanted a few incantations, turned toward her five free adults, and whispered the action word. They all slumped against the ground. They wouldn’t wake up for another day or two, Sasha made sure of that. And she couldn’t chaperone people who were twice her size. So, only two hours having passed since her leaving her home, Sasha continued on the moon-lit path. She hoped none of the other farmers were tricksters as this one had been.

Midway into the night she passed a courier. “What is your news, sir?” she yelled up at the man on the horse.

“Word is that the Tuscans and the Tusca Multa have formed an alliance,” the man said breathlessly. “I am to tell the king at once. The Tuscans and the Tusca Multa are preparing to attack at dawn.”

“Then go, good sir,” she said.

“Thank you, m’lady,” said the courier, and spurred his horse forward.

Sasha walked along through the rain. It would have been distasteful to sleep at the house where she had killed one person and put five more to sleep. So she walked until morning at a small pace, that of a three-year-old. Just as she was about to settle down in the woods off the road, a soldier accosted her. “Hark!” he said. “Where is your family? The closest homestead is miles from here!” He had an escort of five other officers on horse. White flaps flied from their banners.

“I must confess, I am an elf,” said Sasha. “Not a real one, mind you, but a small human being. I live up the road and was going to deliver a message to my patron.”

The lead officer eyed her for a bit, then said, “That’s ten miles from here.”

“I already have set up camp!” Sasha protested. “See?” And she gestured toward the woods.

“Fine,” said the captain. “Fine. I will let you go. You must be careful, though—there might be some rogue soldiers who fled from the war, and they are likely to be dangerous.”

Sasha didn’t mention that she was a relatively powerful witch and could take care of herself. This was a wise choice, she thought: otherwise they would probably kill her.

She stepped gingerly to her campsite. Mosquitos and other insects that thrived in hot, wet weather had a feast of her. She didn’t mind, though. All she cared about was finishing her mission: scoping out all of the possible settlement areas and then declaring herself a free soul. She thought harder: then she realized that she was already free! Free from her father, free from everything! Her exile was concocted as a means not to kill her on the spot. She blessed her father to the gods and then blessed all his captains and servants. And she also blessed the Tuscans and the Tusca Multa, for they were the reason there had been a loophole in the first place: a reason for her to go on living. Although she could have obliterated him and all his people in an instant… but that had never occurred to her. She loved her father and his castle and all the servants, townspeople and soldiers. They had all raised her from the time she was a newborn. But…but perhaps it was wise to totally disassociate herself from her family, if she wanted to survive. Yes, that’s what I should do, she thought. I need a cover.

Sasha thought about changing her hair color, but then realized that was a simple diversion for her and wouldn’t disguise her at all; it would merely amplify her presence in a crowd. She could change her face, but she loved her face too much. What she decided to do instead was age herself a bit. She did this slowly, by the side of the road but thirty meters in. It was pitch black but she could visualize herself in her mind. She slowly and carefully aged herself. She grew, grew, and grew some more. Then came the annoying part: she had never before crossed this threshold. She slowly guided herself into becoming a woman, a real woman. She left out some of the annoying parts but she was still a woman. She could hardly wait to see what some townspeople thought of her.

That was a joke.

She had to pass through the enemy state of Tusca Malta in order to reach some of the possible settlement locations. So she braced herself; even though she was confident in her acting skills, she knew she had to pull off her disguise one hundred percent, or else she risked being found. She could always use her powers to hold off an army, but only for a little while. Even her own strength had limits.

So it was that Sasha pulled into the city of Tusca Malta, in reality only a holding with many tributaries, with apprehension. And she had a second dilemma: should she simply pass through the city unmolested, or should she try and change some things so her father would have an easier time with things? Logic suggested that she leave everything the way she found it. But Sasha found that she almost never went with her logical side. She always went with her hunch.

She walked by the side of the road, pretending and succeeding at being a young girl coming back to the city after a short jaunt. She looked ahead and the gates were opening to the stronghold. There were trumpet blasts and she heard the roar of a crowd. Once the gates were fully open, there streamed forth a multitude of soldiers, all with shields and pikes, and flying red and green banners. Sasha had heard of parades before, but she had never seen one in real life, except from listening to them through the stone walls of her keep. This one, however, was in full force. All of the men were shouting war cries and kicking up the dust on the road, so she could hardly see where one man ended and another began. And the stench! The stench was putrefying. At least at her own castle, Castle Smyyguard, the apothecaries was researching an anti-odor solution made from the oils of local plants. This demonstration was nothing more than a celebration of different kinds of putrefaction.

Then the horses came. The two kings, one in a red uniform and one in a yellow tweed jacket, emerged from the din. More trumpets blew and everyone was quiet.

“We have united!” shouted one of the kings, sending all of the soldiers into thralls.

“We are drunk with power!” shouted the second one, once the din had subsided. “We will crush Smyyguard like we did to the others! All shall die! And the women and children we will take as spoils!”

More cheers, this time louder.

“I will not allow that,” said Sasha, almost against her will, as she strode to meet the lead officers as was customary on a battlefield. Only this wasn’t a battlefield; it was a mere parade. Still, though, the kings followed protocol.

“Halt, in the name of our divinely-controlled kingdoms!” shouted one of the kings. He had his crown on, which did its purpose well by obscuring the fact that there was no hair on his head.

His counterpart, however, had a lot of hair. Red hair, in fact. Red hair like the fire that was brightly alight on the top of a pike he carried.

“Behold” he said. “The Pike of Parador! The very one that Parador made, out of the Elvish metal and Dwarvish blade, now about to pierce your heart!”

Sasha had already erected an especially strong shield charm, so she could afford to stand bravely: “Illegitimate kings of illegitimate nations!” she said in a loud voice that reverberated throughout the army and even the city itself. The two kings fought to gain control of their horses, who had started bucking.

“See?” Sasha said. “Your horses know who I am. I am The Vanquisher!”

“She is the vanquisher!” cried one of the kings, and then he threw up his breakfast on the once-clean dusty old road.

“Nonsense! The Vanquisher cannot be a woman! Stop making a mockery of the prophecy!”

Sasha was beginning to wonder, herself, whether she was indeed the promised Vanquisher.

So she jumped into the argument: “Nonsense!” she said. “The prophecy does not specify the sex of The Vanquisher!”

Both kings scratched their beards for a while. One of them shrugged and said, “Kill her,” while the other one drew his own personal bow. Marie simply waited.

The arrow flew with a precise twang and hit the air one feet in front of her breast. “Hmmm,” said the affected king. “What just happened?” He drew another arrow.

Meanwhile, a horde of ten men had rushed at her and now had her surrounded. They came at her hesitantly, having just seen her deflect an arrow without any perceptible effort. The leader then motioned to surround her. She backed up against the stand of trees; now they could only half-surround her. Which meant three men at once. And three men would pose an impediment to each-other.

The leader recognized this and motioned the other soldiers to stay back. He approached Sasha like a beggar, slowly shuffling toward her and making repeated gestures with his hand: a cupped hand begging for mercy. He dragged his sword on the ground behind him, making a furrow for the next farmer to come along and plant in.

“Please,” he said in a contrived croak. “Please have mercy on me, m’lady. I saw how you destroyed that arrow. I know I’d be dead in a second if you so wished it. So please, have mercy on me. I will attempt to strike you, and then please put me in a deep sleep, something they will never catch. I do not want to die.”

Sasha looked at him. He seemed to have an honest face, but he had more than a few battle scars. This one, she thought, knows how to survive. She must not underestimate him.

You will not die, she sent to him in thought-speech. He seemed surprised for a second and blinked his eyes. He stared at her and nodded, a quick nod, to show he understood. He drew his blade. Then he raised it over his head and came, screaming, at Sasha.

He laid his sword into her head. But, of course, there was a shield protecting her. She hadn’t done anything changing the first spell that blocked the arrow. But she decided to put some theatrics into this encounter: as soon as the sword hit her shield she created sparks of burning cinder that were released from the encounter of sword on shield and made to rain down upon the two kings and their troops.

Shouting. Lots of shouting. Retreats. Horses whinnying. All of the horses and men retreated back into the city gate they had come from, and they locked the door behind them. Which took a whole two minutes.

“You really are the vanquisher,” whispered the captain who had ‘attacked’ her.

Sasha shrugged. “No disrespect meant to you, sir, but I’m not sure what I am. I’m pretty new to this sort of thing.”

The captain laughed, a feeble laugh that Sasha knew would soon return to normal.

“We all are. Except for me, I have thirty years on the job.”

Sasha simply stared at him.

“Right,” said the man. “I’m supposed to be dead. I guess I will leave my wife and my children and my holdings and start a new life in another town. Can I come with you wherever you are going?”

Sasha thought of the five people she freed and how she had turned them down.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You don’t have to know,” he said, on his knees this time. “Just take me for a few days and then dump me at some village—I need some distance between me and this place. You killed me! Now you need to let me live.”

A powerful and yet eloquent speech from a high-ranking army officer, thought Sasha. But if he’s this loquacious all the time, he could possibly even become her master…

“No,” she pronounced finally. Then she started walking down the road again.

The man kept pace. “At least protect me,” he said. “I’ll be your travelling mate.”

Sasha had no answer for this, so she just continued walking. Then she said, “They won’t see you. That’s a promise.”

The man smiled his thanks. “Look down,” Marie instructed. The man looked down and screamed.

Thankfully, Sasha had prepared for this, too. The people of the city couldn’t see the man nor hear him. For all they knew, he was still laying there outside the gate. As indeed he was, as his corpse was still feeding flies and other such garbage-collectors and was fully visible over there. Here, though, the officer could not even see his own body.

“I am dead!” he screamed. “I have no body!” He looked down at his feet: “And I have no shadow! Hark, where is the nearest cliff?”

“There are no cliffs around,” said Sasha, leering maleviolently at him. “And besides, I am now doing as you asked. Why do you cower in terror?”

“I have no body…” he mumbled.

“Sir, haven’t you ever seen magic before?” said Sasha. “It is a simple trick, what I am doing. I could even teach you, a common meddler, to perform this act.”

“After a few years of training, no doubt,” said the man. “Oh, my wife, oh my children!”

“Shut your mouth before I shut it for you!” shouted Sasha. “Do you think you’re the only person who has had to lose someone you love?”

Presently there was a turn in the road. Dust was kicked up into the air so that it formed a wall of dirtiness. The man held up a hand. “Looks like we have some robbers here,” he said. “Proceed with caution.”

“You nitwit, we don’t need to proceed with caution!” said Sasha. “We have the same spell that protected me from your king’s arrow and from your sword, and you’re invisible yourself!”

The man looked at Sasha and then back at the dust. “Interesting,” he said. “Fine.”

They continued walking. The robbers tried to penetrate the shield but could not. They were speaking in some foreign language.

“Damn if I don’t know that language,” said the man. “That would be the OtterMeisters. They are crazy and follow this weird god.”

“Yes, I noticed that, too,” said Sasha, declining to mention that she knew their language fluently.

The eight soldiers attacking them spasmed and fell to the ground. “Electric shock,” said Sasha. “Though I doubt you would know what that means.”

“Don’t demean me, lady,” said the man. “What is your name? You are seemingly all-powerful. I am Colonel Baster. I don’t suppose you have a name, as well?”

“I am not as powerful as I seem,” said Sasha carefully. For it was true that her spells costed her energy. She was not drained as of now, but she would need to consume lots of fruits and berries and cooked meat very soon. But the upside was that killing and roasting an animal was a relatively easy task for one gifted such as her. Unless, of course, it was a unicorn.

“You’re plenty powerful, m’lady,” Baster said. “I’ve been in the army thirty years now and I haven’t encountered anyone, witch, wizard or soldier, who can do what you can do.”

Though she didn’t know if he was telling the truth, Sasha did the polite thing and accepted the praise:

“Thank you. I suppose you are a fine soldier, as well.”

“Was, m’lady, was. Not anymore. I’m just a figurehead now.”

Balderdash, Sasha thought to herself. Those big beefy arms wouldn’t have a hard time destroying her small body head to toe.

They came to a fork in the road. “That way is more holdings of my former nation,” said Baster, pointing to the right. To the left was a path that shrinked quickly into the underbrush of a huge forest. “We go left.”

“I know that,” said Sasha. Small talk wasn’t one of her skills.

“I know you know that,” said Baster, kicking some dust up so that it rose above his head. “Aw, it’s in my hair,” he grunted. “I wish I had me a horse. Hey, you couldn’t conjure up a horse for me, could you?”

Sasha ignored him, preferring to focus on the path ahead. To her delight, it wasn’t the least bit dusty; it was rocky and wet, as if some weather god had decided to mark the entrance to his rain forest at this very place.

“I see you’re not going to talk to me, little one,” said Baster. “What’s your name?”

Sasha waited a few moments before answering: “Sasha,” she said.

“Ah, you’re the Sasha that escaped your castle! I have heard rumor of a small girl with witching ability passing through the area…”

“That’s me,” answered Sasha.

“You know, if I killed you I might get some reward. I might get my life back.”

“Try all you want,” said Sasha.

“I won’t let you within ten feet of my sight.”

Baster stuck one foot out, then another. He slowly inched toward the edge of an imaginary, ten-foot circle. Then, he charged, albeit slowly, and rammed into something invisible. “Evil witch,” he muttered.

“Watch yourself, sir,” said Sasha. “This isn’t a spell that makes me tired. It stays there forever and even draws upon your body heat to fuel itself.”

“Anyone know where I can get a good swim?” muttered Basker.

“And I thought you were full of chivalry and goodness,” said Sasha.

Basker shook some of the dust off his clothes and hair. “Okay, we’ll be partners. It’ll pay to have a witch like you at my side. And my family won’t miss me that much. I usually went to the taverns far too often.”

Sasha thought about that for a while. Finally, she said, “You could be lying with every word that comes out of your mouth. I sure hope you are, because that would make you a good person.”

“What? Everybody drinks!” protested Basker.

They were approaching some cow pastures. The road continued through the pastures but there was no wall. This was, of course, to permit wild elk and buffalo to roam the premises without having to jump a fence every time they migrated or simply wanted to drink from the river.

“I bet I could get me one of those cows,” said Basker. “With your permission, of course, m’lady.”

“You may address me as You Grace, Basker,” said Sasha.

“What kind of filth—” Basker started. Then there was a noise. Many noises. Suddenly they were surrounded by farmers. Farmers with pitchforks.

“Let me dispatch them, please, my’lady,” said Basker, moving forward to greet them.

“The last thing we need is angry farmers,” spoke Sasha.

“Oh, look at you!” squealed one of the farmers. “You’re all of five years old, aren’t you? Or maybe six?”

“I am,” Sasha lied.

“Oh, look how cute you are! May I pick you up? My wife hasn’t had a child in years, what fun she will have with this one!”

“Quick, just do a spell and have them forget they saw us!” whispered Basker urgently.

“We can’t do that,” whispered Sasha back.

“What are you saying?” said the farmer. “Are you her father? Who are you?” The other farmers echoed his sentiments.

“My name is Basker Ridge, and I am her servant,” he said, pointing down to Sasha, who smiled prettily. “Um, I used to be an army captain from—oh—Riverdale, um, and she enlisted me to be her escort. To parts unknown.”

“Parts unknown?” frowned the farmer. His five compatriots folded their arms and stared at them.

“I don’t know of any parts unknown. As far as I’m concerned, the world ends right here—and I mean here.” He indicated with his hand. “After this spot, the world drops off, it’s just like a table, the surface is flat but once there’s no more table there’s no more—” and his eyes glinted ominously—”person. Or people. Travellers. Unless you pay the tax.”

“And what would that be?” laughed Basker. “Don’t you know she’s a—”

But they didn’t seem to hear him.

“And we haven’t got a good rain in three fracken weeks!” he yelled, and all other farmers yelled along with him.

“Oh, dear,” whispered Basker to Sasha. “Come on, do something! Do something!”

“You’re the trained soldier!” she spat at him. “You do it!”

The soldier Basker slid his sword out of its saber and shouted his battle-cry, which was in some language Sasha didn’t recognize.

Then he leapt into the three farmers who were nearest him.

Sasha stopped time. Basker hit one of them and bounced to the ground clutching his leg. “Ow!” he screamed. “Wasn’t supposed to be hard as marble! I think I’ve broken my leg! Which I suspect you’ve also got covered.”

Sasha reluctantly said the words and he recovered. “Much better,” he crooned, laying upon the ground like some cow who had discovered how to sit.

They went on their way. Into darker forests, forests that the farmers dared not venture to. Sasha had seen the map. In fact, it was right in her—wait, it was supposed to be there! Now she had only her memory to rely upon.

“I hope we’re not going to die,” suggested Basker.

“Not with such a loyal soldier by my side,” pronounced Sasha. “I can now say I’m happy you saved me from those farmers.”

“It wasn’t much of a save, m’lady,” Basker said, and proffered a deep bow.

“I still don’t trust you,” said Sasha.

There was a snake guarding their path. It was at least twenty feet long and a few feet wide. It was orange with a purple diamond pattern which stretched from his head to the tip of his tail.

“What the—” said Basker.

“I see him too,” said Sasha.

“Why do you come?” asked the snake in a slithering language Sasha’s teachers had forced her to learn as a child. Thank goodness she had a good memory.

“We seek safe passage to unknown lands,” said Basker quickly.

“You weakling,” said the snake. “I know she is the one in control.”

“But traditionally, it is custom to have the male—”

“I’ll cut yours out,” said the snake dismissively. “With one of my fangs.”

“Sir, I apologize,” said Basker, retreating back to Sasha.

“And I’m not a ‘sir,’” said the snake.

“Ma’am, then,” said Basker.

“Madam!” hissed the snake, so venomously that it was like having the soul pulled out of your body through your ear-holes.

“Now, if you don’t mind, I will meet with your mistressssssss.”

Sasha bowed deeply and graciously. “Dearest Queen of Snakes,” she began.

“Yes?” said the snake, fluttering her eyelashes. “What is it?”

“Well, Madam, I was just calling in to request passage through your forest.”

“You do know that my forest leads to the Garden of Eden, little one?”

“I thought that was a myth,” Sasha said, frowning. “Are you telling me it’s true?”

“Many myths that have been recorded eons ago are based on cold, hard factssssss,” slithered the snake. “Facts that sometimes reach the light of the day and find themselves to be true. Like propheciessssss…”

This was bad news for Sasha. The snake was threatening to say Sasha’s true name, as named in the prophecy. She didn’t want Basker, her champion, to know her secrets—then she would have to kill him, and she rather liked Basker. He made her cautious, on her toes. Having as much magical ability as Sasha had was definitely not good for one’s psyche; with that kind of power, one tends to think that one is invincible.

There indeed was a prophecy about someone such as Sasha, but Sasha didn’t like thinking about it. Thinking about something you were supposed to do in the future, whether you intended to or not, usually caused mental illness. It had been well-documented; her kingdom of Smyysgaurd had produced many such prophecies, and every single one of them had come true.

So this is why Sasha had become skeptical of the prophecy concerning her—or at least someone like her. She was skeptical because that was the most probable way of remaining sane.

The prophecy said that a little girl who was ten years old would lead Smyysgard to victory over all of its territorial enemies.

This would come after ten consecutive colossal failures. And indeed, there were actually ten straight failures during the last ten generations. How did the individual would-be-saviors not pick up on this? Well, the full prophecy was only with the king. And so only the king knew who would live or die.

And nine saviors had already tried and died.

One more generation remained.

Basker definitely knew about this prophecy. It was widely known in Smyysgard and all its enemies to the North, South, East and West (the Gordenn people, across the Lake of Prophecies).

The prophecy went as follows: there would be ten champions. Each would have a chance to conquer the surrounding nations and restore Smyysgaurd’s land holdings to the level that they were two-thousand years ago. Each champion would have one chance to restore Smyysgaurd’s holdings; If the champion succeeds then he or she would recieve the honorary title of “Knight Captain” and all of Smyysgaurd’s guardian angels would come down to the Earth and form a “super-army.” This “super army” would ensure that there would be no more war for Smyysgaurd, ever, until the sun turned red expanded and gobbled up the Earth, which would occur in a few billion years. Sasha had always doubted that part of the prophecy, though the rest of it she believed in. Everyone believed in it—it was a necessary part of being a Smyysgaurdian.

Except that the only people who had the full prophecy were Sasha and her father.

Believe me or don’t believe me, there was no-one else who knew it was a little girl who would fulfill the prophecy: the prophecy that the king distributed to his people was that it had to be a grown man: a man passed his thirteenth birthday.

And that each man would die a gruesome death, paving the way for the next champion. Here’s what only Sasha and her father knew, though: that each successive champion would fail, had to fail, in order for the prophecy to be true.

And that the final champion, the only champion, would be a little girl. Not a boy: a girl.

Now, back to the snake: if she (the snake, that is) knew where Eden lay, then she probably knew Sasha’s true name. And her true name was the name inscribed on the prophecy, even the one that every person in the kingdom knew: “Matzila.” Matzila would lead Smyysgaurd to victory where everyone else failed. Now Sasha wondered if the snake knew all this.

“I am waiting,” hissed the snake. Whose name was Myrtha. That it also said in Sasha’s prophecy.

“For what?” said Sasha, ever hopeful that there could be a peaceful resolution to this encounter.

“Don’t play fool with me, young girl,” slithered the snake. “I have been around since when G-d created the world. But we both know what the other wants: you want safe passage to more farmable fields; I want you. With me. In Eden. Nowwwww…” she hissed.

“How about a compromise: fifty years. Then you’ll still be aliiiivveeee when you leave to go to your new landsssss…..”

“How do you know all this?” demanded Sasha.

“I thought you knew…. Don’t play dumb with me…..I told you not to….”

“Apologize, snake, apologize….”

“What! You tell me to apologize? I will crushhhhhh youuuuu…..”

“No, I meant I apologize! Me!”

This didn’t seem to have any effect on the giant snake. She slithered closer to Sasha and Basker, who was tearfully hiding behind Sasha. “You’re the fighter!” he shouted. “I don’t know how to beat this thing. You do it!”

“Just recite a couple of words…” she said. Then the snake bit her.

It was like seeing Sasha being impaled with a sword, only this time she was bitten—with two swords. Or teeth, as you might call them.

She couldn’t even scream. If she had done that, she would have just gurgled more of her own blood out of her wounds.

This is what Basker saw. Sasha, on the other hand, dispatched the snake by building a giant cage around it by using spellwork.

Basker stumbled around, crying “No! No! Please! I’ll be your personal guardian forever! Please!”

Sasha had pity on him and finally lifted the hallucination. Of course, Basker was continuing to cry and shout and run in various directions. “Basker!” she shouted, but she couldn’t get through to him. His own voice was simply too overpowering.

“Basker!” hissed the snake, throwing some of her venom on him in the process. The purple sludge hit Basker on his face and arms, where his skin was exposed. It started to burn and eat through his flesh. Sasha threw some magical water on him so that the acid was diluted.

Basker finally looked around. “You!” he shouted, pointing at Sasha. “And you!” he said, looking at the snake. “You are both evil!”

“Of course we are,” answered Sasha. The snake nodded her acquiescence.

“Hey, at least evil snake lady’s behind bars now,” said Basker. “Hey, do we get to go now?”

“I will be fully autonomous once you leave, little man,” sneered the snake. “And I do know your name. But don’t forget, I’m on your side. I will not fight until the death. I will rather see who is incapacitated first.”

“Same thing!” shouted Basker.

“Only to you, weakling,” said the snake, and smiled, which was the most evil-looking thing in existence.

“Come on, Basker,” said Sasha. “Don’t you want to visit the Garden of Eden before we execute our task?”

“Not really,” said Basker. “Every man I killed is likely to be there, nursing his wounds and plotting vengeance on me. And to have me go right to them? What a farce!”

“Later, then,” shrugged Sasha. “We’ll go to the next nations, then. We will traverse this jungle to Peak’s point and then travel North. Is this acceptable?”

“What choice do I have?” Basker muttered.

“Your insubordination will not be tolerated,” laughed Sasha. The snake, even though she was stuck inside a cage, smiled even wider.

“Goodbye, friend!” shouted Sasha. “Thanks for not giving my true name to Basker here!”

“What, a true name? What is this?” demanded Basker.

Sasha dragged Basker past the snake and hauled him to his feet. “March!” she said, hefting up her own bag, which now felt much lighter. “No more cowardice! Perform your mission! You swore yourself to me!”

“You don’t think I knew you were the embodiment of the prophecy?” he spat, “Fine, fine,” he said, supporting himself by leaning against a tree. “I will grit my teeth and help you finish your mission. And you will give me a hunter’s bounty of gold afterwards.”

“After I’m done with you, that will be but a pittance,” growled Sasha.

Basker grinned.

Chapter 2

 

 

“So we have two options,” said Sasha as she trudged over a fallen log wet with recent rain. “By the way, don’t kill yourself slipping on the log here.”

“It always amazes me how you’re able to climb up a large rock that is twice your height,” said Basker, who was ten paces behind her. “No rope, no boost, no nothing. Where’d you learn that?”

“It would be harder if I floated,” she answered.

“You didn’t answer my question,” said Basker.

It didn’t take long before they realized they were traversing through a tropical ravine. All manner of exotic birds were screeching and some were even beginning to follow them.

“I don’t like the look of this,” said Basker.

“We have no more rations,” said Sasha. “We need to move on.”

“I’m going to eat you before you eat me,” said Basker. Then, he slipped. And fell.

His voice carried well as he fell and fell, all the way into the middle of the Earth. Sasha had known of these “forever-holes” but had neglected to tell the soldier. Why would one appear in a jungle like this?

“This is no ordinary jungle, young girl,” whispered a voice through the trees.

“Show yourself, magic user!” shouted Sasha, which was not a small feat for her, being three feet tall.

Whoever it was decided not to show herself.

“Fine,” said Sasha, and walked forward—into a wall. “Ouch!” she said, acting all of the part of a real-life three year old. “Mama, I’m hungry!” she sang.

She felt the wall: it was invisible but it impeded her path westward for as far as she could measure. She began changing form into a bird. But she couldn’t; there was some kind of damper.

“Fine,” she announced. “I give up.”

Silence.

Finally, a voice, a different one, male this time: “Why do you not mourn your comrade?”

“He can take care of himself,” Sasha said.

“Not by the looks of it,” said the male voice.

“Show yourself,” Sasha commanded.

No answer. There was a fly by her ear, so Sasha smacked it.

“Oh, such a sensitive creature,” mocked the female voice.

“Excellent, the female one came back!” exclaimed Sasha, against like a little child.

“We know you’re smarter than you look,” said the male. “Much smarter.”

Then they appeared: magnificent white robes and pointed ears and jewelry in every orifice possible to install jewlery into.

“Elves,” Sasha sniffed. “Such pompous creatures.”

“How can you know that, given that you have never met one of our kind.”

“Oh, there are stories,” said Sasha. “Bad stories.”

“Those are all made up,” scoffed the male. “Now tell me, why do you appear uninvited in our forest?”

“A new story to tell, consistent with all the others,” Sasha stated.

The female elf stepped forward. “Please don’t.” She extended her hand. Sasha rushed forward to kiss it. “Why are you here?”

So Sasha told them her story of why she had left the castle of her upbringing and come all the way to the Elven Forests. When she was done, the female elf said, “You may pass through our forest. But please don’t eat anything—we need all the food we can muster. You know how to become a tree, don’t you?”

“Of course,” Sasha quickly responded.

“Then do so.” Then they both vanished.

Sasha stared at the trees all around her, wet with recently fallen rain. She looked up through the canopy and decided that there would be no sun today, at least not in the next few hours; it was preparing to rain.

So she sighed and sat down. It’s not like she couldn’t extract the energy stored in the leaves and bugs, it was just that she considered it undignified to slaughter the Earth in that fashion. She preferred to receive all her energy from the sun, in that she was not killing as much as she could have. The sun’s rays, of course, had their own life-force, but they didn’t mind being absorbed by Sasha as much as the leaves and bugs were affronted by dying to serve her hunger.

So in short, Sasha was fine with becoming a tree. More than fine. It was almost an insult to imply that she didn’t want to become a tree, most noble of creations.

So she left the two elves without a word. Immediately after she stepped out of range from the elves, the forest suddenly became darker. There was a sinister laugh echoing above the trees. And a voice: “Did you really think that I would let you besmirch my forest?” Then a loud cackle. Then, “You don’t believe I’m a god. You don’t think I have absolute power. I will show you that I am the last! The Last God!” Sasha quickened her pace but then it began to rain. She quickly started shivering, causing her to walk even faster and then run, miraculously and through magic able to circumvent the hungry vines and the murderous wet logs positioned strategically by the Elf-Queen throughout the forest. Then came the voice again: “You didn’t think you could escape me, did you? I am a goddess!”

Sasha thought The Elf Queen was starting to become repetitive, but she didn’t voice her concerns; she didn’t want to be turned into a toad or something more disgusting. And to match her own power against The Elf Queen’s would be a mad gamble: The Elf Queen had thousands of years more experience than Sasha had. Sasha was a whole three years old. A genius child, albeit, but still only three.

That was how Sasha comforted herself when faced with the prospect of her own death.

Sasha was a walking tree. This may conjure to mind other fairy tales where walking and talking trees have existed throughout eternity: however, this is false. There were never any walking or talking trees. Sasha was doing something new. Or, at least, something new to non-elves.

Sasha was walking for hours when she noticed she was walking in a circle: she kept on passing the same bush every twenty minutes. And even if she made signs for herself, she was unable to escape the trap.

“You will become nothing. You will become as dirt, food for plants, which are then eaten by humans. Horrible creatures, those humans, always chewing, chewing, spitting out the seeds or else it comes out in their excrement.”

“Anything else you want to say?” asked Sasha, pushing back against the spell that left her directionless.

The Elf-Queen laughed and appeared right in front of her, hovering effortlessly in the air and then dropping slowly to the ground.

“Harmless theatrics,” murmured Sasha. “If I wasn’t that young I’d say a three-year-old could do what you’re doing effortlessly.”

“Perhaps even one-year-olds can,” said the Elf-Queen, her eyes glinting with purple lights whose source Sasha could not perceive.

Sasha had saved all her strength for this moment. Instead of the feints she made with only a little bit of energy, she pushed forward this time, hard, channeling all her strength.

The Elf-Queen was pushed into the air, upwards and upwards. She went so fast that she pierced the clouds in a matter of seconds. Sasha wondered if she would keep going and penetrate the void beyond the world that her tutors had spoken of.

Regardless, now was the time to take action. Sasha quickly used all the trees in the world to gather energy, then overturned that energy on itself. On the trees themselves, that is. “I am your mistress now,” she whispered. “Not that evil Elf-Queen. In fact, she is no longer queen—I am.”

She heard the sound of magical portals being opened. There were several hundred of them, and out of each poured dozens of elves. “You can’t do this!” said one.

“Give us our queen back!”

Sasha used some more available power to push the Elf-Queen (former) up further through the stratosphere. “Hmm,” she mused, looking at all the elves amassed around her, “Should we turn her into an asteroid? What kind of orbit will she have? Or shall we make her another moon? I’ve always liked moonlight, it wouldn’t hurt if there was another one.”

“Bring her down!”

“You’re no better than an orc!”

“You shameless woman!”

“I notice that you are all men,” said Sasha.

“Men are better than women!”

“Men are faster and stronger!”

“Shut up!” Sasha screamed, and for once, in was silent. An angry demon seemed to seize her mind and take control. And it went without saying that her eyes turned full red. “Now you will realize what it is like to be ruled by a benevolent god! For once!”

The elves started to chatter and again Sasha had to roar them into silence. “Is there a problem?” she demanded.

“Uh, no problem, my lady,” said one male, stepping forward. “It’s just that most of us here… aren’t benevolent. We simply have fallen into the trap of evil and have no idea how to get out.”

“Don’t any of you have any kids?” asked Sasha.

They chattered amongst themselves again. The same elf came forward again: “Excuse me, madam, we do not understand your meaning. Might you be able to repeat the question?”

“Fine,” Sasha growled, for once intrancident. She pushed away her anger and said, “Do any of you have any children?”

This time the response was completely different: “Yes, of course we have children!” screamed an elf, sporting, somehow, a beard. Another elf male said, “What, do you think us Queers?”

“Um, no disrespect to them,” Sasha murmured, which was caught by her magical intercom and rained down on the elves. A female said, “you think we pretty up our bodies and hair in order for them to simply stare at it?” Another female said, “Back off, false goddess. I would rather worship my little pet bird.” This brought with it laughs from a great segment of the elves. This was the first test.

Sasha went full steam ahead, knowing she couldn’t mess this one up and still retain their respect,. She created two imaginary axes in mid-air, revolving around the leader of the elf rebellion. “Do you know what happens when these blades hit your neck?” Sasha purred. The elf in question stepped back in fear, but as he was standing on a branch before, now he had nowhere to put his feet. He began to fall, but Sasha brought him back up to branch-level. Sasha’s laugh boomed throughout the area, for show of course. Normally Sasha did not enjoy creating such fear in a fellow creature—especially sentient creatures, like the elves.

Then, she struck.

The elfman’s head went flying in an instant, while his body dropped. The whole of Elfdom was silent: not just this gathering. His dying cry reached the ears of all his race, or at least those elves who were on the planet.

Then Sasha did what needed doing, what she also had done with her playmate at school: she brought the arm back to the unfortunate elf’s shoulder and healed all the wounds. “See?” she bellowed with a controlled rage. “You see, I’ve fixed him!”

The elves who hadn’t fled in terror peered at the scene, opening their eyes from their previously scrunched positions. “Um, so everything is fine now?” questioned one, who looked no more than a baby. Sort of like Sasha.

“Everything is fine now,” said Sasha. “I assure everyone that I now have full control over the elf-lands. All of you please appoint a leader who is pleasing in your eyes, and I will be on my way. Through your forests, that is. I did not think I would have to resort to such violence as happened here, but—”

“Dark magic!” pointed one of the elves, this one a senior elf with long blond hair (the more senior ones had more jewelry to symbolize their status).

“No,” Sasha pronounced, and went on her way.

Along her trip through thorny bushes, dangerous snakes and wolves and fire-ants and even leopards, she reflected upon her journey thus far:

Slicing her sparring partner’s arm off and reattaching it just because she could, being exiled, erasing those people’s’ memories, finding and losing Basker, then throwing the same trick she had played on her sparring partner on an elf who opposed her: did all this signify something moral? Was she growing in wisdom or becoming hard-headed?

Was she a pariah or a champion?

She took this all to heart as she walked and walked and kept walking, pulling berries out of bushes as she went and charring a squirrel over a cookfire.

She disliked killing animals but she made an exception for her own survival. And her progeny’s survival, for goodness sake: who would want to marry a skeleton? (Although she had read of how doing so could aid in the production of certain spells)

The bottom line was that she she was exiled in order to fulfill a prophecy that had to be fulfilled—or what? What would happen, Sasha thought, if she did not fulfill the prophecy? Would the prophecy then be false? Nine tenths of the prophecy had already come true! Was that simply random numbers making their way in this far-out universe? And what if the prophecy was true: did Sasha have a choice? Would the god(s) make her fulfill it?

All these questions sent her head spinning, so she decided not to think about them. She would try and fulfill the prophecy, not so much for the sake of Smyysgaurd (she thought war an excursion only bloodthirsty deranged people could make) but for the sake of her father, whom she knew to be far better than the neighboring rulers. Or, at least, that was the propaganda had told her. But based on the performance from the two enemy rulers who had attacked a little girl from Smyysgaurd (Sasha herself, of course) she didn’t have much confidence any other arrangement would be better for anybody.

So she was her father’s girl. Fine. She was to look into foreign lands for them to settle. Fine. She was almost out of the forest. She was by now accustomed to teleporting hungry animals

Over a mile away in hopes that they would not bother her again. But now she had run across something else: a herd of elephants. And they just would not let her pass.

“Hear, proud elephants!” Sasha intoned. There must have been twenty to her estimate. She couldn’t even move one without a substantial effort.

“We hear you,” one of them said in its deeper-than-sound rumble.

Sasha thought she might talk in thought-speech to them, but since this encounter already seemed to be working well, she stuck with her normal voice. “Oh, noble herd,” she continued, “I have no wish except for peace. May I pass?”

“Tell us a story,” said an elephant, motioning with his trunk.

“Will you let me go then?” she addressed the herd-leader.

“Such disrespect I have never seen in a human,” said the herd-leader. “Now kneel, or I shall be forced to crush you.”

Needless to say, Sasha knelt.

“Stay there!” shouted the elephant as she was about to get up. Sasha stayed there, flat on the ground. When and if she ever got out of this, she was going to have to give her cape a good cleaning, because she would be indistinguishable from the mud itself.

The elephant then put his foot on Sasha’s back. “Feel that?” it asked.

“Of course,” said Sasha, this time in thought-speech, because

Moving her head in this position would be difficult. To go from bad to worse, using magic from this position was also nearly impossible. She moved her head but the elephant responded by pushing her deeper into the mud. She could scarcely breathe now and made no opposing move. She felt the elephant ease up a bit, and then speak: “Witch, I’m surprised your kind have burned you alive.”

“Why would you think me a witch?” Sasha said. It was the wrong thing to say.

“Silence!” roared the elephant in the language of which ordinary people could not hear a trace.

Suffice it to say, Sasha was silent.

“Now,” the elephant purred, “prove to me—to us—that you are not a witch.”

“I can’t really prove anything from down here,” said Sasha, feigning a whimper.

The elephant must have detected that, for he pushed her deeper into the mud again. “No lies,” he hissed.

Fine, she thought in thought-speech. I am a witch. What do you propose to do with me?

“Damn, that’s creepy,” said the lead elephant, not yet easing the pressure.

“Did anyone else hear that?”

“Hear what?” responded his mate.

“Never mind,” he said, instead speaking to Marie: “Do you hear me, witch?”

“Yes, I hear you, oh great exalted elephant,” thought-spoke Sasha. She could detect the elephant’s desire to kill her as well as his merciful side trying to hold back. Finally, he released all pressure and Sasha was able to stand up.

She dared not say anything. The elephant said, “You are free to go.”

Sasha didn’t question. She quickly left, putting good speed between her and the elephants. She would have to kneel again at the first sight of any more of them.

She continued in the westerly direction, which was the direction she had been going prior to meeting the elephants and was the direction of the unsettled spaces her father had in mind.

But then she thought she heard something: a bunch of sticks cracking, like someone thrashing through the woods and actually blazing a trail.

It was coming toward her, and fast. But all Sasha could see was the huge yellow snake hanging down from the lower branches of a tree, waiting to cut who or whatever it was off. “Watch out!” she screamed, but so befuddled she was that it came out as thought-speech. She heard someone shout “What the heck?” before colliding with the snake. Then, suddenly, the snake’s head came towards her, revolving like a grindstone mill. She thought both she and the snake would die at that point, so she closed her eyes and prayed to the nine gods that she knew of in order to get contrition.

Then, there was a hum, or maybe one could term it a ‘ring,’ as some metallic weapon was drawn from its holster. There was then a second recurring hum that marked the moment someone (or, something,) swung the weapon through the air. And then suddenly the snake’s head came flying at her.

And instead of doing something smart, like burning it to ash or freezing it in a case of water, Sasha screamed. It was the scream of having too much responsibility, too soon. What normal three year old would have to face all that Sasha had faced? She missed her parents, she missed the fetid odor of the company men and the unbearable odor of freshly slaughtered flesh. She missed her tutors. Now she was her own tutor, and that was unbearable. It was tiring, exhausting.

The snake’s head and the first six feet of its body hit her in the face, like a sword thrown by an enemy across a battlefield in a last ditch effort to kill a general. Sasha could feel the teeth and the venom. One pump, two. Then the head and torso hung limp. And so did Sasha.

The elephants rushed up and Sasha thought she was done for. But they did not stomp on her, as she had anticipated. Two of them extended their trunks and sucked at the wound. Sasha was amazed: her enemies had suddenly turned into friends. Once they were done, though, they left the area and didn’t look back. No “Goodbye, Witch,” and no speech at all.

A man rushed to her. “Are you all right?” he said. It was Basker!

“What—” Sasha started. “You—”

“I’m what? What?” Basker said.

“You’re dead!” Sasha finally put out. “You fell!”

“Fell? What?”

“The Elves! You fell, and—”

“What are you talking about? The elves are my friends!” said Basker. This is where Sasha started suspecting something.

“I don’t like that look you’re giving me!” said Basker. “What’s wrong?”

Sasha started to back away and tread in another direction, hoping to circumvent whomever this person was.

“Goodbye, Basker, whoever you are,” said Sasha.

“What?” protested Basker. “Please? Aren’t you my friend?” This was punctuated with a fireball falling from the sky onto him, instantly burning him alive and shredding him to ash in a matter of moments. She could see his last gesture, a pose of supplication.

“Now that wasn’t too nice, Elves,” said Sasha.

“We didn’t think you’d actually fall for it, but we tried nonetheless.”

“Please,” said Sasha, “show yourselves so I’ll know where to roast you. That was really not nice what you did to Basker, there.”

“He wasn’t a real person,” said an elf, a male one, showing himself and the female beside him. “His life was measured in days and not years.”

“By that logic, you could kill me if you wanted to because my lifespan is eighty years and yours is infinite.”

“Not infinite,” said the female elf, batting her eyelashes. “In a few dozen billion years, the universe will begin to contract upon itself. But that is only a theory.”

“What, one of the gods has not consorted with you to tell you the answer?”

“‘The Gods’ as you know them do not exist,” said the female elf.

“That’s heresy. One of them will destroy you now. They hear everything.”

“Whatever,” the elf said.

“We like to be polite,” said the male. “So we will stop arguing on this matter.”

“Will you let me out of your forest?” said Sasha.

Both elves laughed, hard laughs. “You could destroy us in an instant!” said the male. His wife nodded empathetically.

“I think I could,” said Sasha, “but then I would be destroying much of this blessed woodland in the process. That wouldn’t be too nice for the trees, or the wildlife for that matter.”

“You talk like a princess,” said the male. “Like royalty.” The female nodded again.

“You know everything about me but you act as if you don’t,” said Sasha. “Smart tactics. I respect your minds.”

“Now you’re doing the same thing,” accused the male.

“Fine,” said Sasha. “Just let me out of here. If you don’t, I will kill both you and your forest.”

“You can’t,” said the female elf. Then, six more elves appeared. “We have been tracking you for days and weaving our spell.”

Quiet, now. No one said a word.

“Yes?” prodded Sasha. “And?”

The answer came in form of a net created from nothing but pure air, which was all around her.

“First,” said the male, “we had to decide what spell would be most effective. We, you know, are the eight most decorated spellcasters in the kingdom. And you killed so many of us. We had to get even. That was our mistress’s plan, at least. And the spell took days, we had to work a lot while you were sleeping, and when you were walking we had to thread the ropes of this trap under your legs at the precise moments when neither of your legs were touching the ground, like if you would jump from a taller rock onto soft mud or sand. Even for us, this was hard. And now you will die.”

I’ve heard that too many times, Sasha thought. So she simply uttered a spell of her own.

“What did you do?” asked the male elf.

“You’ll see,” said Sasha. She took a tentative step.

“You know, you can’t get out of here,” warned the female.

Sasha took another step. And then, another. “I’m beginning to doubt you,” Sasha said conversationally. “What will happen when I reach the rope in front of me?”

“Little girl, you cannot defeat us,” snarled a different male elf. “We are the eight best spellcasters in the forest. You will die if you touch that rope.”

“But what if I never touch the rope?” said Sasha.

“What do you—oh…”

All eight of the elves started rising and falling to her footsteps: and Sasha never touched the rope in front of her.

“How did you…” weeped a female elf.

“What, overcome your spell? It took a little thinking,” said Sasha, “but not too much thinking. Not to offend or anything. So I guess you all will be coming with me on the next step of my journey, yes? Am I not correct?”

The elves just pouted, and stared meanly at her.

“Fine,” Sasha said, throwing up her hands. “Eternal damnation.” And she started walking.

The walk was mostly quiet. Not very many birds and animals congregated around them, for good reason: they could see a few birds fluttering inside the spell, unable to get out. Then something occurred to her: “Why aren’t you being disruptive?” she asked them. They replied by merely smiling. Then she sneezed. Her hand came up with blood. “Ah, now I see,” she refrained, causing peals of laughter among the elves.

“Our queen lives,” whispered one of them. The others gave a salute and yelled a slogan in Elvish.

“How long have you practiced that?” Sasha mused. She sneezed again, this time spraying blood on the elves.

“No fair!” said one. He was promptly slapped into submission by his superior officer, though Sasha couldn’t see any insignia on the officer’s uniform; in fact, they were nearly naked.

“This is my forest, intruder,” came the Elf Queen’s voice from everywhere and nowhere: inside Sasha’s head. “You will not destroy my forest in order to make an unholy road for your desperate nation. I will open up a hole in the ground, like I opened one for your stupid companion. He is dead now and I love the smell of it.”

“He is not dead,” said Sasha, her arm beginning to spill blood from thin air.

“You will be the one who is dead soon,” the Elf-Queen cackled, prompting laughs from all the elves. Sasha put them all to sleep.

“See?” said Sasha. “You and I play by different rules.”

“Don’t give me that poor excuse for morality,” said the Elf Queen. “I am the queen of the most powerful species on Earth! I set the rules, you mewling little bug, you.”

“If I’m such a mewling little helpless bug, why don’t you kill me already?” suggested Sasha.

“I had planned on torturing you beforehand for a few days,” the queen murmured, “But I suppose I can just create a copy of you to amuse myself after you are dead. Yes, that is a nice idea: I like it.”

“Do you always take this much time before doing something to talk to yourself?”

“Stupid child, of course not,” snarled the queen. “Here, then: feel my wrath and begone from this world:” and the clouds darkened above Sasha and her elves.

“Hmmm…” said Sasha. “I feel now that I am more than a match for her. Curious: before I left home I thought I was the least powerful person in the whole kingdom…”

“Spare us your blatherings, human girl,” said an elf. “Or, should I say, little baby girl.”

“Three years old is past a baby,” Sasha said. “I’m a toddler.”

“I’m a toddler,” the elf said. “Look at me.”

“You are pretty short, yes,” said Sasha, and she made him even shorter.

“Hey!” said the elf in a tinny voice. “Put me back!”

It started to rain. Sasha used a spell so that she would remain dry. The elves, however…

“Ah, it’s so cold!” yelled one of them.

“See how she doesn’t care about you?” Sasha said.

“She cares about us!” yelled the same elf. “Don’t you, our queen?”

“Like hell I do, you miserable wretch!” she said. “Look at how wet you are!” And she made fire fall from the sky in waves. “Yes,” exulted the queen. “You failed to stop this little child, so you will meet your death now. At least you’ll be dry! Hahaha!”

The loyal elf slit his own throat, while the others started crafting spells to counter the fire-waves. The waves would be on them in seconds…

“No need,” Sasha told the remaining elves. “Just watch.” And she made the clouds rain down on the fire-waves, which sizzled out promptly. “See, it’s tricky to make the rain go faster than the fire waves in order to catch them, but you saw how I did it, right?” She was a little afraid, as she was sharing her secrets with elves, the enemy, so she checked: “You won’t ever go back to this forest, right?” she told the elves.

The elves looked each-other and shrugged. And the she-elves started to cry.

The he-elves, on the other hand, shook their heads and shouted to the negative.

“It is done, then,” said Sasha. “I will settle you in a community of field-elves a few hundred clicks from here.”

“Are you the fulfillment of the prophecy?” said one of the he-elves.

“We shall see,”

“You seem to have a keen special interest in knowing that,” said Sasha.

“Stupid wench,” muttered the he-elf. Sasha pretended not to hear that.

“You know what,” Sasha told them all, after looking at the sky to make sure there were no more spells coming at them (and besides, they were emerging from the forest), “I think I need a new name. ‘Sasha’ just won’t do—it’s too childlike. I think I need to recieve more respect.”

“Become a male,” suggested one of the she-elves.

“I don’t like males,” said Sasha.

“Grow older,” said a male elf.

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Sasha said. And she blossomed into an eighteen-year-old with lightweight metal armor. “Now, instead of everyone thinking I’m cute, people will think I am attractive. They will melt to my will.”

“Everyone except the women.”

“I will make them all see me as a man,” Sasha said.

“But won’t one side figure things out in a matter of minutes?” suggested the elf.

“Don’t I always make things work out?” threatened Sasha.

The elf, not afraid at all, said, “Of course, m’lady. But to trust in yourself too much is to trust in nothing at all.”

Sasha considered this for a moment: “I suppose you’re right,” she said. The elf bowed. “Stop that,” she said. “Regardless of your flattery, though, you make a point. But am I not the most powerful being on this green Earth?”

“There are always the gods,” suggested the elf.

“I had always thought them fictitious,” said Sasha. “Do you know of anyone who has actually seen one?”

“I have,” said the smallest of the males.

“How come you haven’t told the rest of us?” demanded another.

“No one would have believed me,” said the elf.

“Nobody ever does,” said a female.

“So you don’t believe me now,” said the male. “Just as I said.”

“Which god was it?” asked Sasha, eager to test her powers at the next level.

“The rain god,” said the small male. “It was raining outside, very hard, and suddenly he appeared to us as a lost elf begging for shelter. We gave him shelter for three days and healed his wounds and then he left. The moment he left the house it stopped raining, even though the chanters were attempting to make it rain longer.”

“That’s no proof,” said a female.

“Hmmm,” said Sasha. “What is the name of the man who fulfills the prophecy?”

“Faldac,” said the first male. “But I suggest you don’t change into a male human, madam, because you might stay that way and foil my chances in the next mating season. Furthermore, being identified as the savior means you will always be targeted for death from anyone who hates Smyysgaurd, and that means everyone.”

“Nonsense,” said Sasha, morphing into a man before their eyes.

She rose an entire foot and gained fifty pounds of muscle. She felt invincible. At least, more invincible than she had been before, if that was possible. Sasha wasn’t overly proud, or so she thought. She was simply a realist. She had never lost a battle in her life. No battle even came close.

“Where are the gods?” she said, once her transformation was complete.

“M’lady,” said an elf, “the gods are—”

“You will address me as ‘Sir,’” said Sasha. “And my first name, should you ever need to use it in the one measly life your parents and some disgusting fertility god has given you, is Roccar.”

“Faldac,” said the elf.

“Yes, Faldac, of course, he’s the one who fulfills the prophecy. I am now Faldac then.”

“Shall we leave the forest?” said the elf. “Once we are out, the Elf Queen will have no more influence over us. She must be almost done regaining her energy now, and then she will launch another strike.”

“Weakling,” snorted Sasha, trying to imitate the arrogant army chieftains at home.

“Indeed,” said the elf. “Just another half a kilometer, or so.”

Sasha could see the plants and trees at the impending end of the forest, and they were moving. Not just swaying in the wind: they were moving, in a strange formation. “It is the Queen,” said the elf. “She is using her last reserves. She will likely die after giving such an effort, so beware. She might have conserved some inner strength that is more cunning than your mind can handle. If that is even possible, m’lord.”

“I will be careful, henchman,” promised Sasha, turning ahead and walking straight into the formation.

Time seemed to sway back and forth, along with the trees. She suddenly forgot which way was forward, so she started walking in circles. Of course, this didn’t happen on the concious level. Sasha still thought she was moving forward. But the reality was, she was moving in circles.

She thought she heard someone yelling. She changed course and intercepted a small pond, and by it a man who was cooling his feet in the greenish-blue water. As she got closer she realized he was crying. “Good sir, why do you cry so?” she said.

“My dear woman,” he said, and Sasha realized somehow he must have seen through her disguise. But that was not the case: she was a little girl again. Powerful magic, and the kind Sasha was actually afraid of.

So she stood warily by the pond a few meters away from him, and said, “What are you?”

“I could ask the same of you, m’lady,” said the man. “I’ve been trapped here almost as long as I can remember. I used to be a cart-pusher, worked at the market selling my master’s potatoes. It wasn’t an easy life, but it was a good one: I had a wife and children, and my master was a fair man, he took care of us.”

“How long have you been trapped here, goodman?”

“It is really hard to tell,” he said. “I keep coming here every day… ah, here I am, again.”

He was coming toward the small forest they were trapped in, but he was coming from the outside, the side Sasha wanted to get to.

He came in and didn’t seem to see himself. Then the ‘self’ that had been talking to Sasha vanished. “Who are you?” asked the newcomer. “Do you have a mother or father?”

“Of course I do, doesn’t everybody?” said Sasha.

“Clever little girl, aren’t you,” the man said. He sat down in exactly the same place his former self had been sitting in, a few meters away from Sasha. “What are you doing here?”

“I am trying to traverse this forest, same as you,” said Sasha. “What is your name?”

“Basker,” said the man, and instantly Sasha recognized him: but this version was a full two decades younger. “Why are you looking at me that way?” said the man.

“Never mind that, I apologize,” said Sasha.

“You speak well for such a young girl.”

“Your name is Basker, is it not?”

“No,” said Basker. “It is Aaronson.”

“They will call you Basker at your new home, across the forest. Beware the Elf Queen, she kills all in her path. At your new home you will rise to become the chief of the guard, and they will call you Basker.”

“How do you know this?” said Aaronson.

“Better not to tell you, lest you think I’m crazy,” said Sasha. “Suffice it to say, you will meet me at the end of this twenty year period. Tell me nothing of this meeting.”

Aaronson shrugged his shoulders. “Fine by me,” he said.

“Will you tell me how to get out of this place? Even though I’ve only been here a few minutes, it seems like this turn of events has happened before…”

“You must go the uncharted path,” said Sasha. The man looked at her with a querying expression. “What I mean,” Sasha said, “is that you must die.”

The man looked shocked.

“I have encountered such systems,” she said. “And I don’t really mean die, I just mean that you need to enter a situation in which you would normally die.”

The man was staring at the pond. “So I have to drown myself.”

“Or burn. Or fall off a cliff.”

“I think I saw a cliff a few minutes that way,” said the man, pointing.

“Good luck on your journey,” said Aaronson. Or Basker.

“We will meet again,” Sasha said. Aaronson walked off. She waited until she heard a long holler, then resumed walking. The way out for her was much easier than her former/future compatriot. She simply walked through a stand of trees that was existing on top of a particularly sharp incline. Sharp rocks attempted to stab her as she ascended the hill, or at least it seemed that way. She was clear in five seconds. She looked around her and all there was was yellow grass, ahead of a small stand of trees. Apparently, the trees was the entrance to the Elf-Queen’s forest. Because everywhere around that Sasha could see was grassland. Short trees, some elk a few meters off, who stared at her but let her exist by their side. And Sasha, there, frozen not by time but by her mind, which was wondering, how is this possible?

And then the stand of trees disappeared. Now there was only grassland.

Sasha tried the entire of gamut of spells she had in her arsenal: charms and world-breakers of all the four elements and all of their combinations. Then she tried a few of the more complicated spells dealing with time and space, but even those didn’t work.

How did she even get in to the Elven forest in the first place? Did the Elf Queen let her in? If she walked a few days backwards to her previous position, would she encounter the beginning of the forest?

She doubted it, but she thought it was worth a try. She might have told the elves to go for her and see if there was another entrance, but she had brought no elves along: she had foolishly gone by herself into the strange bevy of trees that had brought her here.

And her first priority was food. She had to sustain herself, and there seemed no edible berries, herbs nor bark to her back. Forward loomed towering ice-peaked mountains which promised water and much colder temperatures. Water was essential but actually food was what would provide for her in the coming days and weeks she imagined she would have to sojourn here. She just wished she could hunt some game; that would sustain her for a few days.

Just as she was thinking those morbid thoughts, she looked down at her boots and was shocked by what she saw: the boots were way too long and way too wide. And her legs… disgusting! So much hair and no brushes available, why that was sickening! She quickly restored herself to normal and started walking again. It was summer at the bottom and she was slowly changing her outerwear to the tune of the seasons as she climbed the mountain. Ahead of her she saw, thank the heavens, a brook and a pear tree. It was almost too good to be true. She looked around but declined to even use her magical senses to scout the area because she was so famished. She gobbled up three apples and then drank heavily from the brook.

Did the gods frequent this place, dimension or time? She could not be sure. As detailed earlier, she desired to become a goddess, yet retained her loyalty to her house and home.

After she fulfilled her obligation to her father and fulfilled the prophecy, she would not accept any new duties. She would become a goddess. Why, you ask. She didn’t know why but she knew she loved being powerful, and perhaps, just perhaps, she was right now as powerful as the smallest of the gods. Which happened to be the God of Luck. Feeling emboldened by her full stomach and hydrated veins, she started a summoning.

“God of Luck, whoever you are, whereever you are, whenever you are, and I could go on and on, please reveal yourself to this aspiring goddess. Pretty please. Now!”

She waited a few seconds until it became apparent that the god she was calling for (whose name she had forgotten) either couldn’t hear her or didn’t want to respond to her contrived pleading.

So she tried again: she became a man and started beating her chest while stoking a campfire. She ran around and around the fire and hollered like some demon who was denied a return to his demon kingdom. In between hollers, she recited an epic poem she had learned from one of her tutors. Thank heavens they had forced her to memorize that! It was her only resource when it came to being eloquent.

This time, something did happen.

A swirling in the air occurred about two meters from her brand-new campfire. After it became human-sized, something came out. It was a man who was red, and he had black spots on him. “Excuse me?” he said. “Where am I?”

“I think there’s been a mistake,” said Sasha. “I have been humbly seeking out new lands for my family and I happened to call upon the God of Luck…you wouldn’t happen to know his name, would you?”

The Fire God spat upon the ground. “Even if I did know, lady, which I in fact do, do you think I would give it to the likes of you? You impudent scoundrel, testing my patience by calling forth a minor god and asking me to give directions. Next time I see you, you will be burnt coal. Now farewell.” And he vanished.

All in all, Sasha was quite pleased with herself. She had managed to call forth a god, after all! She no longer had aspirations to be a god. What just happened proved she was even more than a god.

She was shivering now. She stayed at the fall clime zone of the mountain and didn’t tread upward toward the peak because she was totally drained of energy: the fire god had stolen it on his way out. Perhaps, she thought: perhaps I do want to be a god. If they can do that…

She decided she’d try again: Come on, Sasha, you can do this, she told herself. So she said, “God of Luck, I need your puck, because you’re stuck in a truck, and I’m mired in some muck! Well, figuratively speaking…”

She waited and then checked the sun and then waited some more. After it seemed she was about to give up a portal appeared, just like the portal the Fire-God had come through. The Fire God stepped through again and saw her. “I see you’re persistent,” he said. “Since I am not allowed to kill or torture you at this moment, let me see if I can get the God of Luck for you.” He disappeared and Sasha stood there, shocked. There were limits on what a god could do? This was the first time Sasha even considered the question. Now, she really did not want to become a god. If she had a weak spot at all, it was compromise. She would not compromise with anyone in her bid to become invincible. She had been cast out of her own home at age three and told to achieve an impossible task: let everyone else suffer but her! She would wreak vengeance on her father, the gods and the universe. Even though her father kicked her out because he feared for her life… well, he should have gone with her!

She sat down on the muddy, mucky surface of the earth, pine needles disobeying her will and causing her to cry out. Why did it seem like everything and everyone were against her? Everyone, that is, except the fire god, whose name she had forgotten. She wasn’t forced to memorize this information so she could not just spit it out on command.

Even the tutors had been against her. Couldn’t they have seen this very moment, when she would be faced with contacting a god? They left her with no resources, defenseless. Like, how does one defend against the God of Fire? Will elementals work? Will charms work? It was all a shot in the dark to her.

After an hour or so of waiting, when she was about to get up and resume her hike to the mountain peaks (for not really a very good reason) the portal opened again. Out stepped what only could be construed as a green man. There was no way he could have been painted that color, for it was luminescent, sometimes bright and other places dull, beading with sweat on the forehead and yet completely devoid of moisture on his hairless head. It’s not that Sasha meant to scrutinize his appearance so closely; it’s just that he was impossible to ignore. And what kind of man has green skin? Sasha had heard of people with darker skin who dwelled hundreds of miles to the south, and she had even seen one: Brannon, one of the castle guards and a twenty-year veteran, had dark skin. But green?

Sasha was about to open her mouth and ask about it but the green god beat her to it:

“I am the God of the Earth,” he said. “If my color offends you I can change my form. As you wish, m’lady.”

What was this? A god, groveling to her? But Sasha could see through it: if she in any way offended him, she would be toast more quick/. The god was laying out the ground rules: be polite before anything else.

“I am on a mission,” Sasha began.

“What, no proper introduction?” pouted the green god of the earth. “Can’t you reciprocate? What is your name, for instance. And where are you from? Have any allies? Enemies maybe? You see what I am trying to convey?”

“I think so,” said Sasha. She took a deep breath.

“There you go,” said the god. “Easy.”

“My name is Sasha and I would like to become a god. I would like to become a god because I would like to have the power to usher my people into these new, uncharted lands,” she said, gesturing all around her at the foliage and the grassy plains further below.

The god laughed. “You forget, I know more about you than you know about yourself! I have been watching you for some time now. Every time you tread across the ground, you’re touching me. Every time you brush aside my leaves when you plow through the forest it is my tendrils you are damaging. Of course, I know these things are necessary. That is why I am patient. Very patient. But cross my path and I’ll create a cliff for you to fall from. To your death, and then you’ll make some very good fertilizer. Why do they call it that, those brainless farmers?”

He scratched his head. “Hmmm. Anything you have to say to me before you die?”

Sasha had not expected this. “Uh, um,” she stuttered, trying to find the correct words: “At least let me bring my people over here as my father requested, your godliness.”

“Didn’t he also say to you that you’re the fulfillment of some kind of prophecy?” said the god.

“Don’t you know that was the real reason he kicked you out?” Sasha winced at his brutality, and he went on: “The thing about resettling your people was some kind of feint. It didn’t matter, even if your father wanted to move the people to these here lands, he would fail, because so many hostile kingdoms would be in their way.

“So all that talk about relocation was a simple lie to tell the commoners while I secretly go off and become the warrior my father needs? It seems too large to be true,” Marie said.

“And you seem to be too small to construct compound-sentences,” said the green god, “but it is so. The world sometimes is more complicated than we intended.”

“Maybe,” Sasha said, “both are true. Maybe I am finding new lands to move to once we conquer the other nations. We’ll conquer the nations around us and we’ll keep on conquering, all the way to this place! This is what I came here to do, to learn! I will learn how to shift dimensions so that we may conquer indiscriminately and endlessly!”

“You still don’t get it,” said the god. Marie stared at him and he uttered the following syllables: “Nothing’s impossible.”

“Now that’s a little better,” Sasha said, backing down from her stare.

“No, you cannot be a god,” smirked the green god. “You have to finish certain prerequisites.” Sasha stared at him again: this time he stared back, eyes wide with greed. But greed to do what?

Sasha’s question was answered in the next moment: “I want you to come with me to meet the God of Luck,” said the green god.

“I see why you were so patient with me,” said Sasha, reaching for an early-winter snowball to throw at him. It passed through him like he wasn’t even there.

“That’s odd,” Sasha said. “And I thought you were a god.”

“I sent my projection down to meet you from the Heavens,” smirked the god.

“You really can be hurt, then,” said Sasha. “I thought you were part of the universe’s foundation. But all you are is a faker. You ascended to the position on your own.”

“Eh,” said the god, holding up a finger. “Partially right. But partially wrong.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me about that? Am I correct?”

The god simply smirked again. “Come with me and you’ll see.”

So Sasha, curious and unafraid, stepped into the portal with the flimsy hologram of a god, having no idea what she wanted to do but trusting the man (god, rather) who knew the most and seemed to have something to give.

Chapter 3

 

 

There were no words that could be used to describe the sheer totality of what Sasha was experiencing. But I shall endeavor here to try: She was standing in a river filled with light, ranging from red, orange and yellow to dark brown, black, and other colors that she never had realized existed. At least, not in her own realm…

“That is time. And the universe,” came a voice.

If Sasha had legs she would have jumped. She started breathing heavily. She had thought was she was seeing a mere dream, but she had just woken up to the reality. “Universe? What is that?” she breathed.

“There are a great many things you do not know,” said the god. “You didn’t know my name, for instance…”

“I had a bad education!” said Sasha, knowing her life was in the balance.

“You had a very bad education,” agreed the god. “So you messed up things for us. The gods. You are simply too unpredictable. Too powerful. And when you put those two together, it spells trouble.”

“Glad you can spell,” retorted Sasha. “Did they teach you to read as well?”

The green god of the earth simply smiled. And waved his hand to the heavens. Sasha looked and suddenly there appeared countless constellations come to life. The stars had assumed the shapes of the gods, and they all seemed to be laughing at her. “Show yourselves,” she shouted, in a desperate attempt to get them to uncover their disguises. “I know you’re not made of stars!”

Strangely, they accepted the challenge. She watched as the constellations all shifted into portraits of people, then into actual living, breathing flesh and blood. From as far as Marie could tell.

“Look at us, in all our glory!” roared the Fire-God. There was also the Water-God, the Plant-God (the green god’s wife) the Sun-God (it was very hard to look at him) and countless other minor gods. They all numbered more than a hundred. Sasha did another reality-check: she’d better play her hand well. And she was best when she was…wild…

“Did you have a nice time cooking some caveman’s dinner last night?” Sasha screamed at the Fire-God, because he had spoken to her.

“I will drown you,” said the Water-God, coming to his brother’s aid.

The Fire God brushed the comment away. “Thank you, brother, but I think I can handle myself. Now: where shall we battle over my honor? How about in your old castle, little one?” he said, gesturing towards Sasha, who barely topped a meter high.

“You all are stupid cows,” said Sasha.

“Oh, dear, I think we shall all have to gang up on her,” said The Water God.

“No!” roared The Fire God. “We will fight her one-by-one. To the death. And, of course, as gods, we are not able to die….so we will easily defeat this pretender. Here now, child!” he said, addressing Sasha. Sasha moved her eyes slowly, begrudgingly, to meet The Fire God’s.

“Good!” he said, “She’s following directions! Now,” he said, peering closer at her and advancing through the void of space somehow. “You know that we are not really in space, right?” he said, his voice suddenly warm and inviting. Sasha knew not to let her guard down, and readied a few spells. She knew the battle would be quick: he would try burning her like the sun and she would try her mental prowess to reverse his spell on himself: the other spells she was readying were only decoys; a paint bomb, a dust-bomb, a water-bomb (so it would seem like she was serious about the others) and a truth-bomb. Sasha thought the truth bomb might make the whole difference, as it produced a different outcome each time it was used.

The Fire God, naturally, attacked first, as was his nature.

He reared back his arm and let a huge wave of fire roar toward her. Sasha easily sidestepped it, moving through the starry landscape as if it were the back of her hand.

“Very good!” shouted the Fire-God to some applause from some of the other gods. “You can move! But can you stop…this?” And a huge circlet of fire circled around Sasha. She prepared to exit up or down but then the circlet changed into a globe of fire all around her. No escape now: she had to use a spell. Which one, though?

The obvious choice would be the water-bomb, which would easily wipe away this first encounter with fire. But she only had one, and The Fire God, she was sure, had more fire than just this fireworks display (that could still dreadfully dangerous). So she would leave that one for later.

The fire was closing in on her, and she needed to decide: paint, dust or truth? She decided dust and truth at once: she threw the dust bomb and directed it on the fire and on The Fire-God himself.

They both exploded, destroyed. Sasha was pleased by the effectives of the bomb, though it had succeeded way beyond expectations which made her uneasy. Was someone else manipulating this game of death?

Just as the truth bomb exploded, Sasha voiced her question: “Where is the God of Luck?” The question reverberated throughout the cosmos and caused the other gods endless pain, as they vibrated to the tune of the universe whose chord Sasha had just plucked. Then they all launched themselves on her.

“The truth!” Sasha shouted. “What is the truth?”

“There never was a God of Luck,” said The Water God, preparing a huge wave just for Sasha. “We just use that name to see who is trying to interfere.”

All of her remaining spells were useless now. There was no way to stop two dozen gods acting all at once. Even if they came after her one by one, she didn’t have the smallest chance. That was why she wanted to talk to the God of Luck.

She teleported easily away. But that landed her on the same mountain she was on before, in the exact same spot she had stepped through the portal with The Fire God as guide. So she started back up the mountain. She would use her reserves to build a fire. Of course, the gods would follow her here, and she would make a last stand. She expected death; she was no fool.

She built her fire once she reached the peak. A few scrubby trees nearby provided her timber. And as she looked around, she realized: this mountain was similar to a painting she had once seen in her father’s office, a painting the king said was from another planet. The painting was of this landscape, the one she saw right now. It was called “The Mountain of the Gods.” Her father had told her that many other planets also featured similar edifices. Did that mean that every planet had the same gods as every other planet, or were the gods different from world to world? Sasha didn’t much care at this point: she was going to die soon. So she waited.

Once Sasha had waited a few hours and her fire had waned down, She became tired of waiting. “What?” she shouted. “Are you afraid of me? Are you still planning your attack? What’s wrong with you?”

At first, there was no reply from any of them. After a while, though, a portal opened and The Fire-God reappeared. “I enjoyed how you used that dust spell,” he said, eyes narrowed.

“You enjoy?” Sasha spat. “You really want to destroy me, little old powerful me? I’m still only three!”

“Irrelevant attempt at pathos,” said the god. “We all know you belong underground. But as we can’t manage that at the moment—”

“And I thought you were all powerful!” said Sasha.

“You’re all-powerful, we aren’t!”

“Whoa, there, hold your horses,” said Sasha.

“Horses are off the menu,” said The Fire God. “I do not want to offend The Horse God by charring his children to bits just so my cavemen can feast on a delicacy.”

“What I meant was, you don’t bother me and I don’t bother you.”

“You can’t bother us. Unless…”

“Shut up, you imbecile!” came a voice from the heavens.

“You talk too much! Do you want her to know all our secrets?”

“It doesn’t seem like you gods have much to hide in the first place,” observed Sasha. “Other than the fact that you’re not all-powerful.”

“Of course we’re not,” said The Fire God. “But who is?”

“And the fact that there’s no God of Luck,” said Sasha.

“Of course,” said The Fire God and the voice from Heaven together. Then they both laughed.

“You’re just laughing because I didn’t obliterate you up there,” said Sasha.

“Of course,” the heavenly voice and The Fire God said, again.

“I counted you up there. I saw all of you. You were all there. So if I ever want to destroy you, I will go there.”

“Not if we change location,” said The Fire God.

“You won’t change locations; you like the stars too much.”

“We have to stay close to this planet because—”

“Shut UP!” roared the voice from space.

“One of my mentors told me sound can’t travel in space,” said Sasha.

“Unless—”

“Shut UP!” came the heavenly voice again.

“Who is that?” asked Sasha.

“My brother, The Water God. He thinks since he has power over me he can order my every move. Usually I just hide behind The Plant God for protection; my brother can’t come near him.”

“And don’t you forget it!” screamed The Water God from up-on-high. “Also, girl, your spell display was pathetic! A dust bomb? Who could come up with that?”

“It worked,” Sasha said.

“Braggart. Next time we will be ready.”

The Water God’s voice echoed all over the realm. “There are some primitive humans living not two clicks away from you,” he told Sasha. “Go to them and see your fate.”

“What does that mean?”

“You will see,” said The Water God. Sasha looked at The Fire Guard but he shrugged.

“We don’t care about him,” said The Water God. “He has made a fool of himself and must be punished. Therefore, he will go with you wherever you go. He is not to stray ten meters from your side. Such is our decision, and our decision is final.”

“Aaaahhh!” yelled The Fire God. “Why me? Take it out on her! She was the one who made me look foolish!”

There was no answer from the heavens. “Looks like he left,” smirked Sasha. Though she didn’t like the new arrangement, either.

“Come, we must go,” said The Fire God.

“What’s your name?” asked Sasha.

“You know what it is: ‘God of Fire.’”

“Yes, that’s your formal name,” said Sasha. “That’s what you want us humans to call you. But what should I call you? How shall I address you?”

“I suppose ‘Sieur’ would do,” said The Fire God.

“How about ‘Roaster?’”

“I told you, I am not an oven! I am a tool!”

“Then how about ‘Flint?’”

“I’m not really a tool! I’m a god!”

“How about ‘Inferno,’ then?”

“I’m not evil! I just make a lot of mistakes!”

“I’m not your counselor,” said Sasha, “though I can be if you want me to be.”

“Any more ideas?”

“You need to blend in and be a man,” said Sasha. “If people know you’re a god and I’m a powerful witch they will scheme to kill us at the first opportunity. And, I presume, it is very possible for a god to be killed.”

“Water-God won’t like this, but I’ll tell you now: we came from a different planet.”

“One of the celestial bodies? How novel!”

“Yes, and I’m sure Water-God can’t hear what we’re saying right now. Because he’s not listening! We all make a big show that we’re gods and immortal and all that, but the reality is that we’re just a bunch of interstellar aliens wandering the galaxy, and soon hopefully, other galaxies. And we have to charge ourselves up when we’re not doing any physical activity.”

“Why?”

“Because we derive our power from your sun. Acting like we just did, in a duel with you, put us seriously in power-debt.”

“Most of those gods weren’t even doing anything!”

“Just to exist in our godly form requires enormous amounts of energy.”

“You do not make much sense,” said Sasha. “You are a god, why are you telling me this?”

The Fire-God sighed. “I may not be a god for much longer. They didn’t like the way I handled things. Namely, that I lost to you.”

“Anyone would have lost to me,” said Sasha. “Unless all of you worked together.”

“But they needed a scapegoat. More specifically, the Three Ruling Gods needed a scapegoat.”

“Too much politics for me,” yawned Sasha.

“Whatever,” said The Fire God. “By the way, my new name is Alexander.”

“Fine,” said Sasha curtly. “Anyhow, The Water God told me I must find my fate two clicks from here, where there will be a bunch of primitive humans.”

The Fire God looked around. “Did he tell you which direction? Because I’d be loathe to go any further into this mountain chain. All there is is snow and ice.

“What, can’t you burn all the ice away? Here, come rest in my bubble of warmth. You look positively chilled. I hope you’re not frostbitten.”

“I haven’t been this cold for a long time,” The Fire God said, his teeth beginning to chatter. He stepped into Sasha’s bubble. “Ah, thank you,” he said. “Why don’t we keep this bubble around us and you can fly us down to the primitive humans. Here, I’ll show you the way.” And he showed her where to fly them, and they flew down to a spot about a hundred meters from the humans’ encampment. Sasha put a protective shield bubble around her and The Fire God and they walked into the camp.

The humans in the camp weren’t that primitive, as The Water God had indicated. They wore pelts, but pelts were the direct ancestor of modern clothing. The men were dividing up the meat from some boar they had captured.

The women were presumably inside the tents, nursing babies and caring for the young. Sasha didn’t spot anyone less than fifteen in the camp.

Then they spotted her.

Fifteen young males and one elder, presumably the leader, blocked her path. “Halt, in the name of The Water God, who sustains us,” said one of the young males.

“I recognize this,” Sasha whispered to Alexander.

“I know,” said Alexander.

“Why are you talking to each-other? Address me!” said the Elder, stepping forward. He wielded a heavy staff with multiple engravings carved into it. To communicate as well as to kill with their sharp edges…

“I am Sasha,” said Sasha. “This here is my companion Alexander.”

“Why does a little child speak for a man? Or is it a deaf mute?” said the Elder.

“Let me slay them for you, Father,” said one of the young men, pulling back a bow.

“Halt, son,” said The Elder. “If they mean us harm you’ll have your chance. Before that, let me ask: can the man speak?”

“Oh, no, he’s mute,” said Sasha.

“Let him answer for himself!” demanded The Elder.

“I can speak, after a fashion,” said Alexander, pretending to cough every few words he uttered. “But I am recovering from a recent sickness and it would be much to my pleasure if my daughter here spoke for me.”

“You sure cough a lot,” observed The Elder.

“Let me finish him off for you, father,” said the eager young man.

“No!” The Elder barked, slamming his son in the forehead with his stick. “Anyway,” he said, turning back to his honored guests, or at least that’s what his body language said:

“We were told that you might come to us,” said The Elder, his fifteen young charges all beaming up at The Fire God and Sasha. “We were told of a prophecy.”

“A prophecy?” said The Fire God. “Really?”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk,” stated another one of the young men. The Fire God closed his mouth and looked at Sasha.

“Yes,” said Sasha, staring at the youth with disapproval. “Yes, that is true.

We have been informed of that.

“Really?” The Elder spoke up. “By whom?”

“We’re from the future,” said The Fire God quickly.

All the boys erupted in laughter. Even The Elder chuckled. “So,” he said, “do you have any proof?”

“I know the landscape of this area,” Sasha said quickly. “I know where each turret will be, I know where the ground is soft so you can build your dungeons there, I know where the front gate will be, I know which trees will be cut down and which will be spared… I could go on.”

“Show me,” commanded The Elder.

“Fine,” said Sasha, and she led the march up the hill to where the first stones would be laid. “See here,” Sasha said, “is where the front gate will be. Here are the dungeons,” she said, gesticulating, “and here will be the courtyard, where I will play at swording one day. Am I not correct in my assessment?”

“It is impressive what you have done,” said The Elder, stroking his beard. “But how do you know you’re not some sort of conjurer who likes taking memories from unsuspected old men?”

“If I was you would already be dead and I would be fooling these men into thinking I’m you. Must any more proof be presented?”

“No,” admitted The Elder.

“So what now? You will fight against our enemies and be killed. That will be the ‘First Coming.’ Then we will be gradually reduced in number and in holdings for the next ten generations. Then you will come again and save us. That’s what the prophecy says. Is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct and the prophecy is correct as well,” said Sasha.

“So why should I fight a war when I know eventually everything will be lost? I do care about my descendants, you know. Endless war for ten generations doesn’t particularly appeal to me. I think I shall want to skip to the end. Don’t you think?”

“What do you mean?” said Sasha, her voice barely more than a croak.

“I mean that you will take us,” he said, indicating himself and his tribe, “back to your future. And we will fight for you and your father, the king.”

Sasha thought hard. Then she said, “Don’t you realize, that future doesn’t exist anymore! Now that you know of me, of your fate, you will try and take your kingdom halfway across the world in order to break the supposed ‘prophecy.’ In fact, I, by coming to this time, have already broken it!”

“No, you have not,” came a voice from the Heavens.

“Oh, gods, another god?” Sasha complained.

“No, it’s me, dimwit,” said the voice. “Can’t you place me? I saw you yesterday…”

“My Lords,” breathed Sasha. “Elf-Queen?”

“You’ve finally recognized me,” said The Elf Queen.

“Dimwit. Now listen to me: you have to—”

“Show yourself, witch!” demanded Sasha, even though she herself was a witch.

“I can’t,” said The Elf Queen. “You’ll just have to talk to my younger self. I have preserved my own reality in this spell, it will be here forever and ever, so you can eventually come back. If I don’t kill you first,” she said, tittering.

“Lots of talk, not much action,” replied Sasha. “My horse is more honest than you are. And I think I like you, now.”

“Don’t overdo it, honey,” said The Elf Queen, sending a few bursts of water from her perch in orbit, causing it to rain down on Sasha and her companions.

“Very funny,” said Sasha while her companions grumbled. “What do you want us to do for you?”

“The reason I sent you back in time is to prevent much bloodshed,” she said. “You know, I am sure, of the prophecy. As it turns out, you’ve already broken the cycle of causality. Meaning”

I will never exist in this timeline. Except for up in orbit, which I happen to be. Of course, you don’t know what that word means.

“What word?”

“‘Orbit,’” The Elf-Queen replied. “Of course, being so good in combat and stealth as I am, a different Elf-Queen will evolve and look like me. The one existing Elf-Queen is only thirty years old, and—”

“Only thirty years old?”

“I know it is somewhat hard for you to conceptualize someone being ten times as old as you are, my child, but such phenomena do exist.”

“Whatever,” Sasha yawned. “So we’re going to see your younger self, right? And then what?”

“My young, overly naive self,” pronounced The Elf Queen. “You will tell her there is no prophecy—”

“Yes!” proclaimed The King of Smyysgard, to the adulation of his fifteen tribesman. “No fighting! No wars! No prophecy!”

“He is comfortably more intelligent than he’d have us believe,” mused The Elf Queen. “Is that not correct?”

“Why are we going to your younger self?” said Sasha.

“Because we need to tell her not to attack you,” said The Elf Queen from the Heavens.

“Why would she attack us?” said Sasha, to a round of applause from her fifteen tribesmen. “We have no weapons, no numbers: they would obliterate us.”

“That’s if you didn’t help,” said The Elf Queen.

“And she does attack you, losing her only daughter in the process.”

“I deeply apologize for what my future self has done,” said Sasha. “I will commit to having that not happen.”

“I am happy at your enthusiasm,” said The Elf Queen.

“I know now that you have succeeded.”

“So my job’s over? I will go now,” said Sasha, preparing to transform into a bird and scout out a good camping ground.

“Now you have not succeeded,” said The Elf Queen in a panic. “You must go meet my younger self and persuade her to not attack you and your tribe, in order that her—no, my daughter, live.”

“Fine,” said Sasha.

“I’ll be watching,” said the voice from Heaven.

“I hope you continue to be our fearless protector,” said Sasha, eyeing the Heavens so that she could perhaps isolate the origin of the voice.

Sasha waited a few seconds, but the voice didn’t respond. “You are very professional,” Sasha said. Still no response.

“I hope I still remember how to get there,” Sasha said to herself, mostly just out of boredom. The cavemen were really quite trivial: they alternated between offering her food, offering her a mate, and offering to fix her hair for her. Sasha neither wanted nor needed any of the three.

Finally, she was able to reconstruct the route in her head. She went over to the leader of the tribe: her ancestor. “Let’s go,” she said.

The king-to-be looked up from his roast mutton. “It’s almost dark,” he said.

“We’re going now,” Sasha prodded. Even if she had the power to put up a privacy spell, she didn’t want to waste energy when she was about to face the younger Elf-Queen who was about to kill her own daughter in a fit of rage.

Did the Elf-Queen really say that? No; The Elf Queen said she was going to kill her daughter accidentally. Or that her daughter would be killed in the fighting. Sasha somehow doubted these chains of events, for The Elf-Queen was a cruel woman. Or, rather, as The Elf-Queen was not a woman, she was a cruel Queen. There, that sounded better.

The king and his camp of fifteen men and fifteen women and fifty children gathered themselves as a whole and proceeded to follow Sasha. Sasha didn’t know it would be so easy: she had expected the mothers to put up a fight, as their children were all sleeping by this point.

But they didn’t, and that both puzzled and pleased Sasha. Whatever, she thought. Let’s just get ahead of this mission so I can have a nice early retirement. At three years old plus a few days, she had faced more than was her due as a little toddler.

As they closed up camp, Sasha found it in her to help. For her entire life people had done things at her whim, even though she was scarcely a baby. She thought now would be a good time to pay off the favors. She got her hands dirty kicking dirt into the dying embers of their cookfires and helped change the robes of the little ones who did not yet know how to control their own bodies. Sasha had remembered being that way, though most three-year-olds hardly remembered anything.

“Halt!” came the king’s voice just as they were about done with the tasks. “This one is not to work!” he told the woman Sasha was helping.

“M’lord, I thought she was one of the others’ daughters!” said the woman. “Please pardon me!”

“She does look a bit like my daughter Millie,” chimed one of the other women.

Despite the crudeness of the womens’ lives, groveling to their masters who were their husbands, Marie felt a kinship with them. Their hard work would eventually yield Sasha herself about two-hundred years from now.

“Please spare me, my master,” Sasha found herself saying to the chieftain. “I just wanted to fit in.”

The Chieftain’s expression softened a little bit. “We need your powers for the road ahead, woman,” he growled, in what she supposed was an apology. “Let’s go!”

So it was, Sasha’s order for breaking camp at dusk to travel inside the dangerous Elven Forest ultimately came from the men. If the other men didn’t see the orders as coming from the King-To-Be of Smyysgard, they would not move a toe to help her.

“Let’s go!” shouted the King-To-Be/Chieftain to the others, once camp had been thoroughly broken. “Double file, and have a few archers at the end of the line to deter wild animals and thieves!”

“Are we going in the right direction?” he whispered to Sasha after his will had been executed.

“Mostly,” Sasha whispered back, flipping her hair (as much as she had, anyway) back in a show of gratitude.

“Just one more minute of walking…”

In truth they were travelling in the exact opposite direction they should have been going, but Sasha knew when to shut up, especially in the presence of a male. True, in the past she had battled men, but battle is very different from being someone’s guest. Although why The King and his horde of fifteen young men had to accompany her on her task, she had no idea.

Finally, after Sasha had steered them into a few spells of bewilderment, they arrived at their destination, where the stand of trees was in the Elven-Forest. The stand of trees that made her go back in time. Sasha hadn’t encountered its like, but her tutors had, as always, been much more thorough than Sasha desired, though she thanked their spirits silently now that they had covered those benign topics. This spell The Elf-Queen had invoked was obviously a bending of space-time. Sasha’s tutors had claimed that the idea of space-time had come from many generations back, when the first human settlers had set down on their planet that they called Rose. Of course, all of the mighty kings had changed that name to cater to their own desires and predilections. Her own father had called it “The Globe,” and claimed that this was what the original settlers called it. Of course, her father had a predilection toward authenticity, not a bad thing among rulers. He was not a bad man, Sasha knew that.

They advanced upon The Globe until they came to that stand of trees. Or, at least, until the place they would be in the future. If The Elf Queen came into being, that is; because The Elf Queen had created it.

There was a clop of hooves, then a shout. Then silence for a full ten seconds, then another shout.

Men and horses came into view and it was bedlam, Sasha’s own troops challenging the men on the horses and getting their blood drawn. The men had decided not to kill Sasha’s family, and for that she would be forever after grateful.

They could have easily slaughtered them.

“Who is this?” shouted the lead rider.

“We are on a mission,” Sasha began.

The King pushed her to the side. “What this young lady means to say is that we are on a mission to prevent something very bad from happening. Tell me, where is this Elf Queen?”

“How do you know our employer?” growled the man. He dismounted and Sasha could hear the clinking sound of many coins in his pocket as he walked.

The King didn’t respond this time, and this time, Sasha pushed him aside. “M’lord, we have come from a very faraway land to tell your mistress she must not enter this war.”

“How does she know so much?” whispered one of the other horsemen as his leader stared at the heavens, trying to make sense of what he was confronting.

“I will take you to her,” the leader said finally. “She will know what to you with you.”

They followed the horsemen and it was not a ten minute walk until they walked into a canopy of trees that stretched out in both directions as far as the eye could see.

“Funny, this wasn’t here before,” Sasha caught one horseman saying to another. The lead just kept staring stolidly ahead, even when his horse stopped, afraid to enter the enchanted, newly alive stand of woods.

“We are here!” bellowed the lead. “Let us in!”

A few seconds, then: “I see you’ve got some baggage with you. Who are you, intruder?”

It wasn’t a very nice speech, but it was definitely The Elf Queen’s voice. Sasha breathed a sigh of relief.

“Excuse me,” said The Elf Queen, “Could someone please tell me why there is a toddler riding a horse? And why there are prehistoric humans accompanying her?”

Sasha’s face got red but she didn’t say anything. Which turned out to be a bad idea.

“Hello, there,” said the King of the Smyysgards. “I have come from my native lands and have placed myself to serve at your feet.” This earned him a cackle from The Elf Queen, who was using a similar system she used in amplifying her voice from the Heavens.

There came a bolt of lightening from amidst the forest and the King was struck down, a fist-sized hole in his chest that sizzled and crackled like it was being cooked on a char-broiled grill.

“Excuse me!” shouted Sasha, pointing at the forest while enacting a little time-reversal spell she remembered from a book. The lightening bolt appeared again, but this time in reverse, and the King she shuttled to the side and put to sleep so he wouldn’t mess anything else up. It was up to Sasha, and only Sasha, now.

“What a cheap trick,” said The Elf Queen. “Child’s play.”

“I bet you’re sending your servants scurrying at this moment to try and find an antidote to my spell,” said Sasha.

“You obviously know me well,” said The Elf Queen. “Anyone with half a brain could have guessed that. If you think you’re from the future then please, let me hear your proof!”

“Your daughter will be killed in the fighting,”

The Elf Queen exhaled. “Still nothing,” she said. “While no one knows I have a daughter, and I do have one,” she said, looking at her mercenary-men with all seriousness, ““ you have not exactly brought a proof. I will give you one more chance: explain yourself, now, or I will be forced to liquidate you.” She said this as if she was telling a joke: she had seen Sasha’s ability to go back in time for a few seconds, and was wondering how far Sasha’s spell went. Could it do days? Years, even?

“Your daughter’s name is Emerald,” said Sasha.

The Elf Queen appeared. “No one has ever known that,” she said, floating down from one of the canopies to the forest floor where Sasha and her men were situated.

“State your purpose here.”

“Your honor, we wish to stop ten generations of bloodshed that will occur should you go into battle against the other man-tribes at your borders.”

“I’m not planning on doing that!”

“Yes, you are,” said Sasha.

“Fine, I am!” shouted The Elf Queen, and suddenly thousands of elves in battle armor appeared at the edge of the forest behind her. “No, go back!” she said to them. “Back! This was supposed to be a surprise! Idiots,” she said, turning to Sasha.

“Now tell me, how will they kill my daughter?”

“They’ll have these poison-tipped arrows, and they also have these—”

“I see now,” The Elf Queen mused. “Well, I know how to dispatch them now. Everybody, battle formation! March!”

“That’s not it, though,” said Sasha. But The Elf-Queen couldn’t hear her. She had disappeared, along with her men, into thin air.

“Time to use my powers again,” Sasha grumbled. “I hope I don’t get too tired before the end.”

She began chanting the spell to reveal the location of The Elf Queen and her minions. It was hard this time, harder than any spell she had wrought before, because the Queen was also drawing on her own soldiers’ magical cores to aid her. It wasn’t before long that Sasha found herself falling into The Elf-Queens’ trance, lending of her own ample power to enhance the Queen’s own spell. The Chieftain of Smyysgard must have noticed something was wrong, because Sasha woke from the trance with The Chieftain shaking her violently. She realized immediately what had happened and cursed the gods’ will. “All of you lot, come here!” she shouted to everyone in the tribe. “Yes, women and children too! I need your help!”

“But we’re not magical,” said a little boy who must have been twice her age.

“No time to argue!” shouted Sasha. “Just do it!”

They all gathered around her and she used their life-energies to cast a spell. It was much more dangerous to use their life-energies than using their magical cores, but as they didn’t have magical cores, she had to gamble. To much was at stake. She had to stop The Elf Queen from attacking other lands because she was too arrogant for her own good. She thought herself invincible and would end up sacrificing her daughter in the battle unintentionally.

The spell was cast and Sasha rose into the air with the others to form an incredible flying army—or, rather, more of a troupe. They left the women and children behind because they would prove too much of a hindrance; Sasha had already drained them of their energies and they needed to sleep.

“I have to get in between The Queen and the army she’s attacking,” she explained to her troupe.

“I need to go really fast, and I can’t take you. Please let me put you down near this brook of water. You have shade, water, everything you need, while I go and try to force a wedge between The Elf Queen and whichever army she’s attacking.”

“There’s a lot of dust on those battlefields,” said the Cheiftain. “You should take advantage of that.”

“Thank you, Lord Elder, King of Smyysgard,” Sasha called out, and then they were gone.

Soon she saw the battlefield: The Elf-Queen’s troops were forming up behind a line of trees. There were only the few hundred Sasha had counted not minutes earlier. The army they were attacking had barely fifty soldiers, male and female. The Elf Queen could easily eliminate them with a single spell. But then again, she must have used up a lot of energy bringing herself and her army away from Sasha and to this point.

The Elf-Queen’s army advanced. Sasha wasn’t able to see The Elf-Queen’s daughter, but after muttering a spell found her out. Ironically, she had a pink umbrella. She was obviously being protected more than she would have, knowing that her future death would come from a poison-tipped spear. She was hidden in her disguise as a tree and she was encircled by many more trees; to an onlooker she looked like one tree among many. Did the opposing army know any of this? Unlikely, Sasha thought, because they barely had the resources to field a standing army with spears and pitchforks for weaponry.

But then a spear tipped with purple poison flew out from amongst the raggedy men who comprised the opposing army. It spun and dodged every spell The Elf Queen sent at it, and it seemed to be heading directly for her princess daughter. The Elf Queen looked here, and then there, for help but no help seemed to be coming. Then she locked eyes with Sasha’s and her lips uttered one tiny word:

“Please!”

Sasha definitely wasn’t lacking in empathy, so she decided to let The Elf-Queen’s daughter live.

She tried snapping the spear in two. It just wouldn’t go. Then she tried setting it on fire. Still wouldn’t work. This was all in the span of some microseconds, as Sasha had the ability to make time move slower for everyone else but her.

There seemed to be some kind of lubricant—something was making the spear slip through Sasha’s grasp. Something…or someone.

Sasha thought she detected a familiar presence, deep in the opposing army’s ranks. And any attempt to find who is was yielded that odd slippery feeling. Sasha threw up her hands in despair and shouted to the sun and the moon and the stars something that shouldn’t be printed in the accounting of this tale.

Then she saw her arch-enemy: it was a girl, similar to Sasha’s size and form. But she had blond hair and not black like Sasha’s. But… she was definitely Sasha. It was her! She had the same face! How this could be happening Sasha could not know, but she certainly averted tragedy in the nick of time. She erected an impenetrable brick wall around The Elf Princess and the arrow bounced off that and then kept on bouncing, less and less, until it came to a halt: three feet off the ground. Sasha wondered where her other self had learned that spell. She had obviously been around. Where was her other-self from? And how did she get here?

Her “other self” cast a glare at her that she couldn’t return. Sasha could scarcely imagine what fear and hatred her future self possessed. Or was it her past self? Perhaps she had lost her memory at some point?

There was something even curiouser: Why did her future/past self want to kill The Elf Princess? Sasha realized at that moment that she had no idea what the Elf Princess looked like—all she knew was that she was disguised as a tree.

So, while keeping her brick spell in place (she hoped her other self had forgotten/not learned it yet), she investigated it. She pulled back the tree spell and looked underneath, and, it was…herself!

She was so shocked she stopped breathing. Three of her! Words couldn’t suffice!

“Come here, both of you,” she screamed at the top of her lungs, her voice amplified even more by the fact that she put every single decibel of power in her into her volume.

“No, you come here!” retorted The Elf Princess.

“I would tend to agree,” said Sasha with the raggedy army.

“No killing,” Sasha warned. “Alright?”

Both other Sashas agreed. They all flew down to The Elf Princess and each of the other Sashas joined in the time-stoppage spell so that it would last longer and ease the burden upon each of them.

“Firstly,” said Sasha, “why are both of you pretending to be me?”

The other two laughed. The Elf-Princess flipped back her hair and stared at the dirty, dusty version of Sasha, as if asking her to explain.

“Fine,” said Dirty Sasha. “I’ll start first. I was sent to kill The Elf Queen.”

The Elf Queen was surprised. She looked all around her, to the frozen battlefield, the trees no longer swaying, the dust no longer rising. “You could use a bath,” she advised Dusty Sasha.

“You’re telling me?” pronounced Dusty Sasha. “Let me kill you and get this over with.”

“I’m supposed to protect The Elf Queen’s daughter,” Sasha said.

“We know,” both of them said.

“I’m trying to kill her,” Dusty Sasha said, motioning to Princess Sasha.

“I’m supposed to stop you,” said Sasha. “But I never knew I had to stop me as well!”

The other Sashas looked like they were about to go to sleep. “Talk quicker, won’t you?” said Princess Sasha. “I’m about to begin hibernation.” The other one yawned and stared at her spear. Which was tipped with a blue poison this time.

“Why are you trying to kill The Elf Princess?” Sasha asked the dusty version of herself.

“You’re going to be kidnapped by The Elf Queen,” Dusty Sasha informed her. “She will magically transfigure your body into that of her long-lost daughter. You have to die in order for The Elf Queen to build her forest in the first place. You see all these grasslands?” Dusty Sasha gestured.

“They will be transmutated into The Elven Queen’s Enchanted Forest. It will be a project designed to eventually conquer the world: You see, the trees are not normal trees. The animals are not normal animals: each will gain a hectacre or two for the forest each year and cover the entire surface of the planet in not much time.”

Sasha coughed. “So this is not a good thing? I thought it was rather fun trying to outdo the Queen with her own tricks.”

“The Queen doesn’t like being outdone,” said Dusty Sasha.

“She asks like she loves me, though!” protested The Princess.

“She took you so that you could suffer, by never being as good as her own daughter was. Then she tortures you with a multitude of devices before you escape and become me.

“How did you come back to this time?”

“I can’t tell you: you’d tell The Queen and she’ll make sure it never happens!”

“How did I get to become you?” Sasha queried her Elf Princess self.

“Don’t worry, it obviously isn’t intentional,” said Princess Sasha.

“She—we—get hynotized. Both physically and through natural agents. The Elf Queen harvests many plants from her forest.”

“How do I avoid being captured?”

They both turned toward her. “You don’t,” both of them said at once. “You are destined to become us.”

Sasha sighed. “I suppose it’s true, then. She will eventually capture me.”

“Not if I intervene first,” said The Voice from the Sky.

All three Sashas slapped their foreheads with their palms of their hands. “Water God!” they prayed.

“Yes, I hear your prayer, O My Children,” said The Water God.

“But I am powerless to help you. Us gods, you know, we are not very powerful. We have a few cheap tricks. We are in reality aliens from a long-lost galaxy who came here to study emerging sentient species, and—”

“Wait,” Sasha said. “Dusty Sasha, why did you escape the Elf Queen? And why did you go back in time to try and kill yourself?”

“I didn’t want my own chain of events to exist anymore,” she said. “The Elf Queen promised that she’d kill me if I didn’t do horrible things to other elves, like torturing them and breeding them against their will. There were many things—”

“How did you go back in time in the first place?” Sasha demanded. “I used The Elf Queen’s plant. What did you use?”

“What does it matter what I used?” shouted Dusty Sasha, in an unexpected turn of events. “What matters is that I must finish my mission!” And she started an incantation.

Sasha knew she had but seconds to act. She uttered a defensive spell and spread it to cover the Princess. Then everyone started to move again. The battle was on.

Then all was still again. “It’s hard for me to keep this up all by myself,” said The Princess. “Go destroy our future self, if that’s really who she claims to be. I’ll hold this spell as long as I can.”

Then she disappeared and became something else. Something neither Dusty Sasha nor Real Sasha knew, and thus she was undetectable.

“Water God!” shouted Sasha.

“Yes!” he shouted back from The Heavens.

“Any tips on how to defeat this future version of yourself?”

“Other than the fact that she’s older and more experience and probably has more of a will to win I’m not sure.”

“That’s all you have?” shouted Sasha.

“I would suggest that you focus on your differences with this future version of yourself rather than the similarities. You’ll be more confident that way and you’ll have more of a plan.”

“Is there something you’re hiding from me?” demanded Sasha. She sometimes had an intuition about these things.

“Other than the fact that I’m not really a god, which you already know, no,” he said.

Suddenly Sasha was burning alive. She frantically thought of a water spell that might help her and barely stopped her skin from turning into ash. As steam and smoke erupted all around her as a result of her spell, she called out to The Water God again desperately. “Can’t you help me?” she yelled.

“I told you how to win,” he said, “but very well. Here.” And he threw her down something, something black and a foot long and shaped like a mishappen stick but very smooth on top of it all. “What is it?” Sasha shouted.

“Duck!” said The Water God. Sasha ducked.

A ball of what looked like purple sludge sailed past her. It smelled like death and sprayed her inadvertently with foul water. “Ugghhh,” Sasha panted, “What was that?”

“One of the dirty little spells she learned while serving and battling the Elf Queen, no doubt,” answered The Water God. “Doubtless she has more… oh, look out!”

Sasha dove to the side in the nick of time, dirtying her already-dirty robes into magnificent camouflage with the dust around her.

Something that looked brown and smelled disgusting sailed past where she was just standing. “I don’t think I’ll have to ask what that was,” Sasha said, covering her nose and breathing shallowly. If only she had a mask…

“She’s advancing on you! Watch out!”

“Stupid god,” snarled Dusty Sasha, shooting through the air at impossible speed and carrying her army along with her, which Sasha promptly froze in time so they wouldn’t be a threat.

“Thanks,” Sasha breathed to The Water God for giving her an extra dose of energy. “I thought you were powerless here!”

“As did I,” Dusty Sasha growled. “Did you know he’s not even a god? He’s—”

“Watch out!” shouted the god again. Dusty Sasha was preparing a spell with her hands behind her back: if the god hadn’t alerted her Sasha would have been toast.

Sasha teleported to a location she thought Princess Sasha might be hiding. “Are you here?” she whispered furiously.

No response at first. “I know you’re here!” whispered Sasha.

“Where’d you go?” shouted Dusty Sasha, who by now had unfrozen her own soldiers. Sasha imagined that had she been across on the other side of the world she would still be able to hear that shout echoing in her mind.

Sasha directed her small whispering voice to the fern she knew Princess Sasha had changed into. “Listen,” she said, “I know it’s you, sister. You’re the only one who’d make a plant in the shape of a ballroom dress.”

“Not very well, apparently,” said the princess, stepping out from a nearby grove of trees. “When you’ve learned to hide for this long, you know how to make decoys that work. And now…” green tendrils extended from her hands to bind Sasha to the ballroom dress fern she had just discovered.

“Why bind me?” Sasha demanded. “She’s the one who wants to kill you!”

“I just like having power over other beings, other things,” she shrugged, as if to say, “I’ve stopped caring.”

“Listen, Princess Whoever you are,” said Sasha sternly, “Don’t you not want to die? Do you want the future version of your mother the Elf Queen to be good and not evil?”

“I have suffered too much in my life to care,” said Princess Sasha. She lay down on a fern and swayed side to side.

“The Royal Hammock,” Sasha sneered.

This caused signs of life from the princess.

“Who are you to lecture me?” she said, throwing her hair back and standing up in the process.

“I’m much more important than you are.” And then she snorted, throwing her hair back again in the process.

“You’re about to get killed,” said Sasha, giving her a little bait.

Which the princess abjectly refused: “No one can tell me what to do,” she said. “And look, there are so many woods I’ve created around here that it’ll take them hours, or days to find me!”

“Just give me your power so I can destroy them,” Sasha said.

“I won’t have to do anything?” asked the princess. “Really? Fine, you do it! Ah, I’m sleepy now, guard me you stupid earlier version of myself,” she said, and promptly fell asleep. She had forgotten to change herself back into a plant, so this Sasha did for her. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, she thought to herself. It was an ancient saying from another language, said to be older than the spaceships themselves.

 

Maybe that’s why it had survived.

Sasha felt now that she was carrying a balloon. Not one of those tiny balloons they said rich people had at parties, although she couldn’t imagine anyone more rich than her father. The Elf Queen, perhaps? She was only richer than her father in terms of her power and her army, not in her ability to create new crafts like those rumored balloons. But nonetheless, Sasha was not thinking about little balloons. She was thinking about the balloons people used to travel from place to place. They said the outside conditions had to be just right: Not much wind, and that little amount of wind had to be blowing in the direction you wanted to go.

So this is how precarious Sasha felt at this moment. She was carrying two of herself inside one body now. It would be easy to destroy them, her other dusty self included. But wouldn’t that be cruel? Shouldn’t she give them a chance to fight like real men and women? They would have no honor in death. But why did that bother her so?

And in that instant of doubt she did it. She didn’t even have to cast a spell; she sent it out as pure, unfiltered energy. It struck them before they even knew was coming. Then they were gone.

“See how easy that was?” she said, of course not registering in ears of her alternate princess-self. That self was going to be asleep for a long time.

There was one thing that did happen, though. She heard a war-cry from behind and turned quickly to look—only it was too late. Blood was spurting from her arm.

It was Dusty Sasha. “This is my final act,” she sneered. “Finish me off, now, will you?”

Sasha looked and her hand was missing. “Only figures, with what I did to that boy,” she said, and proceeded to blow Dusty Sasha out of existence. But it wasn’t happening that quickly.

“Hah,” sneered Dusty Sasha again. “I thought it would work. And it did!”

“What did?” queried Sasha. She shook her dusty counterpart. “What thing?”

“Hah, losing your temper, are you?” Dusty Sasha said, with bared teeth and upturned ears, to Real Sasha’s surprise.

“Losing your temper means you lose your concentration!” She switched to thought speech as she became a dog, then a cat, then a rabbit. “Come on!” she taunted Sasha. “Time to finish me off, right? Except you will die now.”

Suddenly there were thousands of eagles flooding the air around her.

“How in the Heavens…” Sasha breathed, or at least tried to breathe. The air was moving away from her on all sides due to the flapping of the birds. She felt herself sliding into unconsciousness perturbed by the thought that this would be the first time she was captured. She was afraid what they would do to her. She had a suicide spell but wanted to keep it to the very end—hopefully this wouldn’t be her end….

She awoke with a warm fire behind her. For a moment she thought she was in her tent and someone had brought in a brazier, but such, alas, was not the case. As soon as her eyelids began to flutter open she heard her own voice giving instructions: “There, good, she’s awake. Notice that her hand’s been sewn back on, courtesy of my magic. And we do have the Elf Princess awake as well, don’t we? Why don’t you bring her in? We shall have a nice little tea-party.”

Sasha tried to do a spell, but it was as expected: she was being sucked dry at every instant in time by some sort of elemental force.

“At least you tried, eh?” said Dusty Sasha. “My good old past self. What ever will we do with you?”

Sasha tried to speak but found out she could not. “Ha!” Dusty Sasha sang. “Look at me, and look at you!”

Sasha spat in her face. “Ah!” sang Dusty Sasha again, just like the first time. “Look at my face! My own spit dribbling from my cheeks and eyes, but it’s not mine, is it! It’s from my past! In two ways at once! Haha!”

Dusty Sasha was clearly demented, and Sasha tried not to feel for her future self, but was obliged to shed the obligatory tear or two. Thankfully, Dusty Sasha didn’t notice.

Or maybe she did: “You little baby, you!” Dusty Sasha squealed. “Coming to my moral aid.”

Sasha was able to work around the spell dampers and create a spell directly from her thoughts. Dusty Sasha noticed and tried to shield her face, but it was only a speaking-spell, one of the most elementary and of no threat to Sasha’s dusty self.

“Gotcha,” she managed to say through lips that were still mostly caked shut. “You think I’m you, you think I’m some kind of really bad person who tries to cause others pain. But you’re wrong. Just because you are doesn’t mean I am.”

Dusty Sasha yawned and scratched her head. “Hmmm… who was the last person who tried to kill me?”

“I thought you were dead, you had changed into these small animals,” Sasha tried to recount while feeling the brazier behind her head get hotter and hotter as time went on. “I would have tried and lock you up but that was too dangerous.”

“Too dangerous,” mimed Dusty Sasha. “What a joke. To answer your unasked question, by the way, all fifty of my men sacrificed all their life-energies for that spell. So I could resist a being with twice my power. Wasn’t that nice?”

“You killed them,” said Sasha.

“No: I merely brainwashed them,” Dusty Sasha said.

“Whatever,” said Sasha. “What will you do to me now, torture me?” She noticed her own voice quavering.

“Of course,” said Dusty. “Of course.

Aren’t I the evil one? But as you should know, good and evil are part of the same whole. There would be no evil if there was no good, correct? Our teachers pounded that one into our heads.”

“Isn’t torture evil?” Sasha asked in a rush. “You’d better say yes.”

“You know me too well, my love,” said Dusty. She threw her hair back as if to say, I’m the one who knows the most!

“I’m sorry they tried to torture you, my dear!” cried Sasha, because she knew one of them had to cry for this charade to end.

Dusty this time broke into tears: “Why did the Elf Queen have to be so evil? She sacrificed me for my energy so she could build the forest. She left me for dead, but I was able to hide in a mountain of sand for a few days in a mountain of sand beyond the forest. I had lost much strength from the little I had kept after The Queen sacrificed me. I was able to enter a mode of existence where my mind was separate from my body, so I was able to keep my metabolism in a low state while I waited. Waited for someone to come and rescue me.

“And rescue me they did: a tribe of the Undead came across me as I lay on death’s door. They revived me and cared for me, and I am forever indebted to them. But how long have I yearned to torture The Elf Queen like she tortured me! As I couldn’t find her, I found the next best thing: you.”

“But I don’t understand,” said Sasha, trying to keep calm.

“I don’t understand,” said Sasha. “Why me?”

“Because you exist,” snapped Dusty Sasha, with a bitterness Sasha knew she had intended to keep secret. Now, as both Sasha’s knew, Sasha had the upper hand.

“Why not try on yourself?” said Sasha with the first swing. “You exist.”

Dusty blocked it with, “You’re not me. I’d feel less pain torturing you than torturing myself.”

“How about those Undead people?”

“I owe them my life.”

“So go torture yourself with them watching.”

“They would restrain me from hurting myself.”

“Trick them, then.”

“That wouldn’t be very nice.”

“Same thing with torturing me,” emphasized Sasha. “It’s not a very nice thing to do.”

Dusty sat down on the floor, not easily but violently. “You win. Fine. Tell me what to do. I thought I had evolved since I was you but I was wrong. I have been beaten upon and broken.

 

I do not take responsibility for my actions.”

“That’s a big problem,” said Sasha. “Being responsible is part of being alive. Even the snake cleans up after itself. Who are these undead people you speak of?”

“They live a few clicks that way,” Dusty said and her finger pointed out into the desert. “You’ll know you have their attention when their ropes fall on you. Their traps are virtually undetectable. They—”

Sasha let her ramble on as it seemed to be doing her good.

—died.”

“Hmm, sorry, I missed the last part?” said Sasha.

“You’re not even listening!” snarled Dusty. “I have nowhere to go but back there, back to the undead.”

“Why?”

“They made me go there!”

“Who is that?”

“The Elf Queen and her daughter!”

“Sasha, please,” Sasha said, addressing the Sasha the she knew was still inside Dusty Sasha, “You’re not making any sense. I can cast a spell for that if you want. Please let me help!”

“It was a lie, all of it,” Dusty Sasha breathed, her breaths seemingly coming less and less often.

“Oh, no,” said Sasha, “they poisoned you!”

“Poison? Me?” Dusty let out a shallow cough that turned into a gurgle. She clutched Sasha’s hand tightly: “Listen, Sasha! You and I and the Princess are not really of the same universe! We have different time-signatures! If we were really the…” and she coughed for about thirty seconds. “If we were really the same person, we would have created many singularities. There are no singularities here. The gods…” and there was more coughing—Sasha knew the end was near. “The gods,” Dusty Sasha finally managed, “they are fighting other gods from other solar systems. You remember, they taught us in school.” Sasha nodded as Dusty Sasha hacked what could be her last breath.

“You must go to the undead, they hold the—” and there were more coughs —”they key to ending this. They have technology no one has ever seen before, they can—” more coughing—”end this!” And with that, she died.

Sasha was distraught. Just ten minutes ago she would have been happy to see her counterpart go to the next world, but now she was full of sorrow. Why didn’t you tell me earlier that we were on the same side? Why did all this hardship have to occur?

The answer, of course, lay with the gods. They may have had some sort of silencing hold on Dusty Sasha, something that only weakened when Dusty Sasha was putting her whole focus into speaking, which was right before her death.

Princess! Sasha called, seeking her counterpart’s mind.

Yes, I have registered it too, sister, thought the princess back to her. We are part of a cosmic chess game. Whose side are we on, and who do we want to win? Our own gods, perhaps? Or the other star’s gods? They aren’t even gods, for goodness sake.

I hear you, sister, Sasha sent back.

We were all in the same position. I wondered how much each god bet on each of us. Regardless, we are on the same side, as we always were. Why don’t we take the fight back to them? We’ll obliterate all of the gods from our world and from the other one. Come with me, sister.

Shouldn’t we see those Undead people first? Princess asked.

Yes, I almost forgot, said Sasha. Let us go, then, we have a few days’ journey ahead of us.

You have so much energy inside of you now, sister, said Princess. Why not fly?

Yes, I will fly the two of us, but I doubt if we will get far. If Dusty had a few days’ journey, I suspect it will also take us a while.

Why do you call her ‘Dusty?’

It seemed like an appropriate name. Why?

I just didn’t think it was very polite. She’s dead now and what kind of name does she want to be remembered by?

What should we refer to her as, then?

Not sure. Fine, we’ll call her Dusty.

Glad you made up your mind.

Just curious, in your universe is The Elf Queen evil or good?

Is one person ever just evil or just good?

Stop playing around. You know what I meant.

Princess sighed inside her head. I mean, fine, she’s good. Really good. A bit overprotective, but good.

Considering that her daughter was facing death in another timeline, of course she was worried.

I have been with The Elf Queen now for thirty years, ever since she stole me from my parents in another universe. She is my mother now. It would be self destructive to say I am not hers, as I don’t have the power to leave. I didn’t have the power to leave, that is. But now I that I actually have the chance to escape with you, sister, I rejoice at my lot to escape this evil witch.

May I please kill her?

Sasha gave a mental shrug. Do as you will, she said.

No, said Princess. I will just make it so she will never find me. She will be afraid to challenge the Undead. She will leave me alone.

We should hope.

We should indeed. Now teleport me over to where you are so we can start our journey.

Princess instantly appeared by Sasha’s side.

“We should go quickly now,” said Sasha. “It’s about to be night and we can cover a lot of ground in twelve hours.”

“I hate snakes,” said Princess. “I hear there are many snakes in the desert.”

“There were probably more where you lived the last thirty years, Princess,” Sasha said.

“Nope!” said Princess as they started walking. “No birds, no scorpions, no snakes…”

“No birds?” said Sasha, confused. “How in the —”

“Birds could be spies,” said Princess with an arched eyebrow.

“Very well,” said Sasha, who had not heard of such a concept. “There must be many secrets in your former mother’s court.”

“Don’t call her my mother,” said Princess.

“Now that I have finally attained freedom of speech and freedom of mind, it is a farce to renew false connections. I only called her mother so I could pretend there was nothing wrong.”

They were entering the desert now. “Why is this place so hot?” asked Princess.

“You’ve forgotten not only your heritage, but also basic facts about life on Earth,” said Sasha. Next thing you know we’ll see a cactus—oh, there’s one right there!—and you will utter in disbelief that you have never seen such a plant before.

“I haven’t!” said Princess. “Oh, it’s magnificent!”

“Most cacti are green,” said Sasha.

“Most? All are green,” proclaimed the princess. “It’s all coming back to me now. That is called ‘sand,’” she gestured with her right hand. “Sand can become quite hot in the middle of the day. And my lord, that’s a lizard!” she said, squinting and pointing into the distance.

“I’m not sure that’s a lizard,” Sasha said, also squinting. “Oh, no, it’s them…”

“I thought they would wait until we got three or four days into the desert to reveal themselves,” pondered Sasha.

“You are wrong, woman,” said the man with the spear. He was wearing virtually nothing, causing both versions of Sasha to jump and cover their eyes. “There, ladies,” he said with a fierce smile, “I have enrobed. You need not fear gazing at me now.”

Indeed, he had put on a brown robe. “Makes you camoflauge well with the desert around you.”

The man stooped to kiss the princess’s hand. “You must be the fabled princess. I have heard of your beauty from a messenger who has travelled to your lands.”

“Don’t you know we’re the same person?” asked the princess, confused.

“Of course, but one must not forget court etiquette,” he said. One of the women by his side stooped to pick up the man’s robe and throw it over his shoulder.

“Why are you just standing there?” said Sasha. “Come up and greet us!”

“We abide by the ancient accords,” said the man.

“Really?” said the princess. “What are those?”

The man made a deep bow and his two naked companions giggled. “We do not leave our land. It was a promise made by our ancestors, those that came from the sky.”

“Everyone came from the sky,” the princess said.

“No doubt,” said the man in a singsong voice. “It’s just that we have a direct tradition tracing back to the first man and women on this planet. It is a bountiful and rich tradition that supplies us naked beings with things that are more substantial than just clothes and money and possessions. We study, instead, human nature, and how it relates to the divine.”

Sasha thought she might have caught a hint of condescension in his voice, but she wisely kept her mouth shut.

“See, your friend doubts me,” he told The Princess, which lead Sasha to distrust him even more. “Come, I will show the two of you. But only if you step across our boundary-line.

Sasha shrugged. “Nothing to lose, right?” she said. “Our sister tells us she owes you a great debt.”

“The greatest of debts,” said the man. His women laughed nervously again. This was obviously a “patriarchal” society, Sasha thought. In Sasha’s own kingdom, women were actually allowed to rule. This man clearly had two wives, and who knew how many more lurking behind his sand dunes.

“Come now,” coaxed the man, whose name Sasha didn’t even know. “Come on, don’t you trust your sister? Your sister told you to come here and meet us and live with us.”

“True,” admitted Sasha, “But before that she tried to kill us. And torture us. I had to talk her out of doing those things. Why should we trust you? You were the last people she was in contact with before she began her crusade.”

“Lady, she was delusional!” said the man. “She thought she was a reincarnation of both you and the princess here! Of course she wasn’t, as I tried to explain to her, because there would have been many singularities, but she wouldn’t listen, the stubborn girl.”

“Maybe we are still living inside a singularity, right now,” said one of his wives.

“See why I have to keep them on short leash?” he said, turning himself and his two wives around to reveal leashes literally sewn onto his wives’ bodies.

Sasha’s face blanched: “You disgust me!” she finally uttered, shaking from the shock of seeing two women so badly abused.

The leashes disappeared, as did the women. “Better now?” the man asked in earnest. “I don’t want to offend your societal values or anything. You are guests with us. There, you just crossed our border. Come now, come with me.”

They followed him but suddenly fell what felt like a large distance into a hole. It was dark and it smelled like dead meat. “Hey!” called Sasha, but there was no answer. There was no sign of the man, nor of Princess either.

After a while, there came a voice, heavily muddied by the thick walls of the hole: “You don’t like my societal values? Well I don’t like yours, either. Here it is our custom to have our guests spend some time in a dark pit. By the way, there’s water there if you need it, right there, two meters from your elbow. There you go.”

“Why thank you,” said Sasha with as sarcastic a tone as she could manage.

“You’re most welcome,” mused the voice. “You sound just like a teenage girl. Even though you’re only three. Perhaps you were stunted…”

“I’m three,” said Sasha.

“Are you against disabled people? I thought I felt a tension in your voice.”

“At my castle they used to kill disabled babies right after they were born,” sniffed Sasha.

“What is your name?”

“What, you want to know my name? We’ve hardly started talking. I don’t give up my name that easily. You’ll have to be real nice if you want that from me. And right now, you’re throwing a tantrum.”

“Am not,” said Sasha.

“There you are again,” said the voice. “You see?”

“Were those two women real?” Sasha asked.

“What two women? I don’t see any women, except you.”

“You know what I’m talking about,” Sasha said, exasperated.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll tell you.

They’re holograms.”

Something clicked in Sasha’s mind. “I’ve heard of them,” she said excitedly. “One of my teachers told me it was one of the powers the original settlers of this planet had.”

“Not powers,” said the man. “Technology.”

“Same thing,” argued Sasha. “I’m hungry!”

And with that, there was total darkness. The man must have closed to entrance to the pit.

Sasha took a few deep breaths. She would not cry. No crying. No screaming. She was sure those activities would give her more time in this pit. Even though it was highly doubtful magic would let her out, she tried, but couldn’t levitate more than one meter and couldn’t fashion a ladder out of the sides of the hole.

At least she still had her powers, though, and also some of the power Princess had given her. She pondered for at least three full minutes and came up with a solution: If she couldn’t get out of the hole, why not just dig deeper? She pondered that an extra ten seconds and came away with the conviction that she could even make it to the center of the Earth and back out the other side. From what she knew of magical physics, it was definitely possible. She just had to conserve the energy, letting it out in small portions as she navigated her way through rock and molten lava. She started the incantation: and then realized someone was watching. He was clapping. He was the man, of course, the man who had put her in this hole in the first place. The Undead man.

“You know, when we fell from the sky we had to do many similar things,” he said. “Things similar to what you’re about to do now.”

“Really?” Sasha purred, trying to appear like an ignorant little girl to a man she hoped was in his dotage.

“Of course, my powerful princess,” said the man. “Let me watch you while you toil. Please, try now to burrow through the Earth.”

“Your wish is my command,” Sasha said, gritting her teeth. “Before we proceed, though: how did you know I was a princess?”

“Because your future self turns into a princess, of course! And because I knew your predecessor.”

It was actually her alternate-universe self, but she dared not correct a creature who had her fighting for her life.

She made the incantations. The world began to turn, and soon enough the pit was emptying itself. “Very good!” the man observed, but Sasha ignored him. Three meters, five, ten, twenty. She had to keep a bubble of air around her because she feared being buried alive, and who knew what else this Undead man had up his (figurative) sleeve.

She decided to see if he understood thought-speak. How are you up there? she called out. Anybody home?

Someone is home but that someone doesn’t want to talk to you, said the voice—the man, obviously. Sasha kept on digging deeper. Five meters. Seven. Ten.

I’m losing range, Sasha lied as she let the spell hit deeper and deeper into the earth. It was basically powering itself now, both because Sasha didn’t want to be distracted and also because there was an abundance of nutrients in the soil which her spell could ingest.

Really? I thought you were a lot more powerful than that, said the man.

Sasha’s spell came to a halt. It actually didn’t come to a halt: it screamed to a halt as supernatural forces hit a floor of bedrock. Sasha had thought this over, though, and before long she was cutting through even this unyielding substance. Her secret? Earthquakes.

I don’t think this is such a good idea! yelled the Undead man. “Abort this at once!”

You can’t command me to do anything! Sasha lashed back. “You’re the one who trapped me! You think I have a choice!”

Everyone has a choice, said the man.

Goodbye, Marie said, and shut him out. Thirty meters. Fifty. A hundred meters and still accelerating. Then she somehow began to fall. Blackness enveloped her as she landed on something soft, something very soft and very hot, scalding to the touch. She was too tired to resist, however.

“Look,” came a voice, startling her from her slumber. “Truce now. Alright?”

It was the voice of the man. Sasha fumbled for words as she painfully opened her eyes to the blinding light. Sunlight, she thought at first, but later she would realize that it was a technology in itself.

“Please,” came the voice of Sasha’s other self, the princess. “No more magic. I won’t pull the same tricks if you don’t pull yours.”

Sasha laughed out loud. She had initially believed them (or ‘him,’ or whomever it might have been) but now she was skeptical. She muttered a spell which took all the blinding light away and landed her comfortably in her hole once again. The Undead man would try and have her believe she was living life when in reality she was still stuck inside her hole, one hundredth the way to the other side of the world.

What gave it away? The princess, of course. Sasha knew herself too well, even as a princess, to imagine she would use such abject diction.

“I won’t pull the same tricks if you don’t pull yours?” sounded like a man was pretending to be a princess, not a real princess. Or so Sasha thought.

So Sasha simply concentrated on revealing her true situation, and she was back in her air bubble. The air had almost run itself out while Sasha was having her little conversation with her tormentor. So Sasha quickly refilled her supply and bore deeper into the ground. One mile. Two. She still used the increased temperature of the rock to power her own descent: the rest of the world would probably go through an ice age because of her, but she had no choice but to keep going; she wanted to escape the Undead man’s grasp.

But… wouldn’t he be waiting on the other side? He was a sort of magician, wasn’t he? It was very disappointing to Sasha that her Dusty counterpart recommended.

The Undead as a friend but in reality they were enemies. Could there actually be any good Undeads out there at all? Was the man and his two holograms all there was? That gave Sasha an idea:

What if she were to contact them? But how could she? Did they hear through stone? Would they hear her call? She tried: “Undead,” she intoned, making the rock around her tremble. They would surely hear that.

Suddenly there was light again. She was in the hole again. She shielded her eyes and screamed. But then she realized the truth. The awful truth. But also the not-so-awful truth. “Holograms,” she muttered.

“That’s correct!” beamed the man, sticking his head over the hole so Sasha could see him.

Samantha immediately uttered a few spell-words and even the hole vanished. She saw the man and his two wives. She knew the two wives to be holograms so she obliterated them with the same spell words. The man she believed to be real, but she decided to check, just in case. She said the spell-words and he immediately disappeared, smiling and holding up a hand in salutation.

There was no one left. Except… Sasha whirled around and saw Princess. “Ah, you!” she said. “Were you the one who was controlling my imprisonment?”

Sasha saw shock and dismay cross her sister’s face. “I… I’m not quite sure what you mean, Other-Self. You just made the man and his two wives disappear. Aren’t you the one I should be questioning, and not the other way around?”

This made Sasha pause. Was it really true? That no time had passed? What of the experiences she had, though? “Sister,” she told Princess, “I think someone took control of my mind. He or she implanted memories there to disturb me.”

Her sister The Princess leaned forward and said to her sister, “But didn’t our other self tell us they helped her?”

“She did,” Sasha admitted, “but she was also about to die… I think I can give these people another chance, though. Many chances, in fact. If our dusty and warlike sister was what they trained before, perhaps they expect the same kind of thing this time around.”

“Didn’t Dusty tell us we had to go a few miles inside the desert before we were to encounter them?” said Princess.

“Exactly,” said Sasha. “So we will go. Even though they have already implanted an unpleasant memory in my mind.”

“Sometimes bad things happen,” returned Princess. “It is a fact of life.”

Sasha refrained from insulting her and said, “Let’s go, then.”

They went, and walked half a mile up and down the dusty sand dunes. There was no oasis in sight. And princess was thirsty.

“I think after another half-mile I am going to lay down and die,” Princess said.

“I don’t think they’d like that,” said Sasha.

“Exactly,” The Princess sniffed. “Good strategy. And if you have to carry me out of here, you have my permission to touch my body.”

“You disgusting whore,” Sasha said, earning a laugh and a slap from her sister. “We aren’t so different after all.”

“It’s been a few kilometers so far,” said Sasha. “We have to find these people, we really do need to find them.”

“Only half a kilometer more,” shouted a voice from above.

“Fire God!” cried Sasha. Princess ducked for cover, and since the only cover was Sasha, she ducked underneath her tunic. “Really?” Sasha said. “You’re big now, act like an adult!”

“That wasn’t a very nice thing to say!” sobbed Princess. “I’m scared! What is that?”

“That is The Fire God,” said Sasha, “What?” exclaimed Princess. “Gods? They don’t talk to us! They just exist in stories and when you die!”

“We never die,” announced The Fire God from above. “We are here to guide you through your daily lives. The reason we never die is because we have evolved into higher beings. Once we were like you.”

“Now, you’re not,” said Sasha.

“It’s not polite to interrupt a god,” said The Fire God.

“You’re not really a god, then,” said Princess. “You just said so yourself.”

“We are gods, now,” said The Fire God. “We are immortal and we have powers. Need you any further justification?”

“This conversation is leading nowhere,” said Sasha.

“Just half a kilometer more, you say? Let us walk it out. Left foot, right foot, yes? Come on now, Princess.”

Princess made a show of being a sop. She dragged her legs behind her and started to fake-cry. “I am sooo tired,” she said.

“May I carry you?” The Fire God said, flashing down to Earth in a bevy of flame. “I enjoy playing the gentleman sometimes.”

Princess didn’t seem to mind being courted by a god, as she let him pick her up and walk with her. “I am just a man down here,” said the god. “Even us gods have limitations. It’s not like I could summon a magic carpet. She could, though,” he said, pointing to Sasha.

“I don’t like to be put on the spot,” said Sasha. “And besides, you’re wrong: I have no magic power here.”

“I think you’re mistaken,” said the god.

“Here, look,” said Sasha. She attempted to make a fireball: nothing happened. She then threw the nothingness she had created at the sand dune in front of them. “See how hopeless that was?” she said.

Suddenly, they heard a yell.

“See?” The Fire God said. “I was right.”

The whole landscape changed all around them. The desert dunes slowly became plains and meadows, and the cacti became blooming trees.

There was a man. He looked just like the man who had greeted them and imprisoned Sasha. Sasha bared her teeth and hissed, to her own surprise.

The man was surprised, too: “Greetings. I didn’t know you could produce those facial expressions.”

“You are my enemy now, Undead Man,” said Sasha with conviction.

“A fair assessment,” he said. “I see that you’ve got to meet my twin brother. He’s the one who put those false memories into your head. Although who can say what’s true or false nowadays?”

Sasha and her own twin simply stared at him.

“I’m sorry, I’m really from another world and I got stuck here,” he said. “Sound like someone you know?”

Princess shook her head but Sasha nodded. “The gods,” she said.

“Precisely,” said the man.

“And the man who trapped you in the hole back there was my holographic projection. That’s about as simple as I can come to explaining it, anyway.”

Since Sasha didn’t even know what a holographic projection was, she shrugged it off and listened closer.

“You have come to me now,” continued the man, “just as your sister came: of her own accord, seeking help. Only this time, it is us who seek your help.”

Sasha looked over to her sister the princess. They exchanged shocked expressions.

“Yes, my children,” said the man. Sasha could hear The Fire God laughing from his heavenly post.

“Why are you and The Fire God on the same team?” asked Princess, in a surprisingly acute turn of reasoning.

“You’re getting to it now, my child,” said the man, still sitting cross-legged on the sand.

“That hot sand must hurt you,” said Sasha. “And I thought there were more than one of you?”

The man shrugged. “My life-force has many manifestations.”

“Sometimes I am plural, sometimes one, sometimes fractions. It depends on many factors.”

“Aw, stop playing them,” said the voice of The Fire God from above. “Listen, both of you: my name is Kaukala and his is Waulala. Obviously, our names are from a different language than yours, which might seem a bit odd to you two since on this planet there is only one language that appears in different dialects, mutually understandable to each-other. You understand?”

“You’re from another planet, I already know that,” Sasha said, trying to dig deep into her memory. Someone had told her that, but she forgot whom…

“It was me,” said The Fire God. “I’m the one who told you that.”

“Damn it!” yelled Sasha. “Why is it so goshdarn easy for you to read my facial expressions?”

“Because you are provincial,” said the man, “and because you are royalty. Your counterpart taught me that I can always be one step ahead of her plans simply by looking at her. Dead giveaway,” he said, and laughed.

“She died,” said Sasha.

“Not really,” said the man. The Undead man. “She is still alive, here in the desert. In our desert, when I choose to split myself into multiple forms.”

“Whatever,” said Sasha. “Do you have any water, or food? Both would be nice at this point.”

The man sighed: “Ever the pampered princess, no matter what costume you wear,” he said.

“Come on down, my friend. I am lonely without you, especially with these two pampered princess trying to invade my jungle.”

Sasha realized he was not talking to her when The Fire God zipped down to Earth. He looked like a man aflame. “Do you like it?” he said. “My costume, I mean. My red jacket, striped red-and-black trousers?”

Sasha and Princess just stared at him.

“Look, I can switch my race if you like,” he said. “I was Norwegian, but here I am southern European, Arab, sub-Saharan African, Native American… although to categorize with such broad swipes would normally be criminal. But I am talking to you two, so…” and he sighed again.

“Elaborate,” said Sasha and the Undead man at the same time. She glared at him and he smiled back at her.

“Very well,” The Fire God said. “Here, let me switch my gender: I’ve heard that females can better put other females at ease.” He was now a female, complete with a very revealing costume.

“Have you no shame?” muttered Princess. Clearly she wasn’t used to seeing a female dressed this way. For Sasha, though, it was different: she had had a clear view of all the soldiers’ bedrooms from her viewpoint atop one of the turrets. All it took was a little magnification spell…

“Just stop it,” said Princess. “Assume your normal form.”

“You wish, my command!” chuckled The Fire God. “Or is it the other way around? Oh, no…” he suddenly said and disappeared.

“Good, he’s gone,” said the princess.

“You laugh at my friend’s troubles,” said the Undead man. “If I wasn’t sworn to do no harm I’d simply take one of your time-strands, tie it in a knot and thus purge you from the Earth forever.”

The Fire God suddenly appeared on the sand, laying down with his face exposed to the hot sun. “Hmmm,” said the Undead man. He examined the body: “Not breathing, heart not beating… not too hard to fix.” And then he yelled out a huge roar.

Sasha and princess were not prepared for this, so they both immediately jumped a meter into the air and released whatever spells they were both holding in reserve: for Sasha it was a gigantic water spell in the form of a cloud raining buffalos and apes down on the poor Fire-God. She also was holding her ubiquitous shield, as was Princess: they both decided to fuse theirs together so as to avoid the rain, which was now drenching the Undead man as well as The Fire God, who had regained his life-force and had put up his own shield against the rain.

The FIre-God coughed. “I am alive,” he croaked.

“Not so invincible, now, are you, fiend?” spat the princess.

“You should go take a swim in that sand over there,” he told her. “It has turned into a sinkhole now because of the rain. You can amuse us by futilely attempting to escape your imminent death. Don’t worry, it sort of happened to Sasha already; I bet you could figure it out, too.”

“You have a very ugly soul,” sniffed the princess, looking at the sky as if wondering if there were any other gods who would help her.

“They spit me out,” said The Fire God. “Thanks to my friend The Undead for saving my life, by the way. Please respect him as if he had saved yours.”

The Princess looked away and Sasha nodded her head, approving of The Fire God’s words. “See how far into the stratosphere her brain is?” said the Fire God, removing the protective bubble from himself and letting the soot and the ash and the flame be swallowed up by huge plumes of smoke. “Heck, I could have my own fire-cloud!” he said to himself.

“I’ll make sure you don’t get it, god,” Sasha sneered at him.

 

“Okay,” said the Undead man. “Let’s explain what we’re all here for.”

“You sent Dusty to her death,” accused Sasha.

“I thought we already went over this,” said the man. “Your sister had a mission and she fulfilled it.” Sasha started to cry.

“You want to relax in my spa?” said the man. “We can take a few days to cool off from the battle if it suits you.”

“We can’t—” started The Fire God, but the man cut him off:

“Never mind that fool,” said the Undead man, and The Fire God disappeared. “Let me explain it to you:” and The Fire God came back.

“I was lonely,” said The Fire God.

“So basically, I used to be a god,” said the Undead man. “As you know already, or as you don’t know but are about to know, gods are immortal. Which means we don’t age. We never die. Even if we’re killed, our souls come back in another body, which is then ageless.”

“Where does the original mind of that poor creature go?” said Princess.

“Good question,” said The Fire God.

“The ‘poor creature’ enters a symbiosis with our consciousness,” said the Undead man. “He or she’s mind is absorbed into our own.”

“Pleasant,” said Sasha.

“Indeed,” said the Undead man.

“I’m on my third host now,” said The Fire God.

“Hmmm,” said Sasha.

“That’s the problem,” said the Undead man. “It is immoral. Every creature, every bit of life in this universe, is sacred.”

“Not really,” said Princess.

“Yes, Princess, even you are sacred. Even you are special,” said the Undead man. Princess started to weep and she clutched to the Undead man like a little girl to her father.

“I can’t make this pain go away, my daughter,” said the Undead man. “You will have to live with it. Absorb it into your personality, as it were.”

The princess still clutched to him. “It is time now to go up and fight those other gods,” said the Undead man. The Fire God hesitantly said, “Yes, I agree, brother. We both need to teach the rest of our brethren a lesson.”

“I don’t understand,” said Sasha.

“You weren’t meant to,” said the Undead man. The Fire God let out a booming laugh.

“I don’t understand,” said Sasha pointedly, “how the two of you can fight against so many of your ‘brethren.’ You number only two, and they are far more.”

“Thirteen, to be exact,” supplied the Undead man.

“Unless Myra’s still sleeping,” said The Fire God.

“Why would she be sleeping?” asked Sasha.

“Because she is depressed she’s not on the right side,” said the Undead man. “So is that one:” and he pointed at The Fire God. Suddenly The Fire God was trapped in a makeshift cage made of energy. “Boy, I’ve been saving that spell up for such a long time,” griped the Undead man. “Should last for a year or two.”

“How did you know?” screamed The Fire God.

“Your body language,” said the Undead man. “You’re so scared of me. I detected when I probed Sasha’s mind here that you had a fight with The Water God and the rest of the gods. Symrillians, rather: let’s call ourselves by the correct name.”

“And then?” pressed The Fire God.

“And then”

What?”

What are you going to do, leave me here for two years? Did you make it so I couldn’t send a message out?

“Try it yourself,” said the Undead man with a smirk.

“I won’t because you obviously made that safeguard. Annoying traitor.”

“This demigod here is pointing to the fact that I used to be a god, but escaped their awful rule and games to find a place on this planet among mortals. Would you like to see my true form?”

Sasha shook her head no, but Princess empathetically nodded her head yes.

Sasha looked away and heard Princess shriek, then laugh. It was a laugh that lasted a long time.

“He’s some kind of freak bird,” she explained, still giggling. “Made of light and time and interdimensional. He gave me the ability to see. Oh, Sasha, it’s so wonderful!”

Sasha wasn’t quite sure why she didn’t want to see the Undead man/god’s true form. Maybe she felt he was bragging. But Sasha was pretty as well—was her existence an exercise in boastfulness?

Whatever it was, it was soon over. Even Princess stopped giggling. “Are we going to just leave him here?” Sasha asked.

“He can’t die, I made sure of it,” said the Undead man. “And they can’t come and get him—in fact, they don’t even know he’s incapacitated.”

And he’s a traitor, anyway: who would want to deal with him?”

“Maybe they want to find him?” said Sasha. “To…you know… punish him?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” said the Undead man, tossing a fistful of sand into the air. It floated on the hot wind a few meters and then bumped against an invisible wall, where it stayed. On The Fire God’s prison, of course.

“Come,” he said. “We must go up, into space. We must resist the gods. We must preserve life. Come.”

Something akin to a horse-drawn carriage suddenly appeared not meters from where the Undead man was standing. “Is this not a pretty piece of technology?” he said. “Your counterpart the fighter never got to see this. I told her of it, though. I have also written many scripts—holy writ, now, by some tribespeople to the north.

They are all about me. Isn’t that a funny thing?”

“They are about you and your relationship with the gods you abandoned and the people you helped,” Sasha said.

“Well, obviously—I didn’t want to boast too much.”

“Boasting is boasting,” said Sasha as the spaceship took off. “Ah,” she said to herself more than to anyone else: “so this is what vertigo feels like.” Her stomach prepared itself. To her great fortune the ex-god noticed and made the spaceship opaque. Now all Sasha could see was herself and her two companions. And, oddly, a little lizard, scarcely more than a few centimeters long.

“Who’s that?” she said, pointing.

“My little friend,” he said while scooping up his friend in his hand. “Just a week old. Want to pet him?”

Sasha extended her arm but then she felt herself go weightless. “Oh, my,” she said.

“Like it?” said the god, with an awkward grin. “I never quite could assign myself to it. Maybe that’s why I deserted the others.”

Sasha was sure he was playing with that comment, but she didn’t respond. What she really wanted to do now was listen.

After some time, the former god said, “Ah, there we go: think of this spaceship and everyone in it. Quickly, now.”

Neither Sasha nor the princess questioned him. His tone was urgent so they implemented his command.

After three seconds everyone and everything turned white: the three people, the walls of the ship, even the inside of the people’s eyelids. Then, almost as soon as that began, the world turned dark and Sasha couldn’t see anything. Then, she saw one little glimmer of light a far distance away, and then…

“We have arrived at our destination,” said the Undead man. The god who could fly spaceships.

“Which is?” inquired the princess, looking thoroughly disheveled.

“Radon Four,” the Undead man announced.

“What?” said Sasha. “I thought we were going to get technology and go fight the gods, with gods from other systems on our side…oh…” she said when she realized the implications.

“It’s a long ride,” said the Undead man warmly. “We are going to get to know each-other very, very well.”

“This isn’t what I had in mind,” muttered Sasha.

The Undead man, who must have had the hearing of a cat, responded, “Don’t worry. It’ll only take a minute. I have our armies assembled and ready.”

“Our armies? Your army!” said Sasha. “Oh, dear, look at Princess there, she’s fainted.”

“I just am trying to make the scary things go away,” she said, her eyelids tightly shut.

“They’re gone,” assured the Undead man. “You may look.” Then he opened the windows.

Princess screamed and covered her eyes again.

Sasha saw it. It was big, and it was red. “A star,” she breathed.

“How did you know?” asked the Undead man. “You’ve only seen your own before.”

“It… it has the same feel…” Sasha began.

“Get it away!” screamed Princess. The walls became opaque again.

“Princess has got to go,” Sasha said. Her other self was curled up in a fetal position on the floor.

“We need her,” said the Undead man. “And we need her power. Come on: help me lock her in.”

They locked Princess into her seat and did the same with themselves. Sasha looked at the The Undead man and he smiled at her.

“Who’s going to have to take care of her this entire trip?”

“I have to say, I thought we were going directly into battle. To lengthen things just makes me tired: I can’t stay on-gaurd for that long. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?” Sasha said.

“Give me two hours,” the Undead man promised. He handed Sasha a heavy black rock which had pointed edges. “You can talk to me over this,” he said, “Just in case someone compromises your magic.” He pointed to Princess, still on the floor in a fetal position, and winked. “Two hours,” he said. “See you then.” And then he vanished.

Wherever he went, Sasha had no idea. But she was able to trace his magical signature, so she could follow him, if she wished. And she did wish it. Casting a forlorn look at her biological clone, she vanished too.

And reappeared next to the Undead man. She looked around: all she could see was a sea of red and yellow. It was definitely not another dimension, though, because her senses were working enough to tell her that this was not a sea; it was a multitude of people. Her friend the Undead really was telling the truth. He did have an army.

“We have a duty,” he was saying. “The Gods of Evil like to take control of us, our lands, our wives, children and livestock. They aren’t real gods—they’re fakes. What are we going to do to them?”

“Fight!” the multitude roared back.

“How?” shouted the Undead.

“Rip them apart!”

“How?”

“With our spells! We will rip them apart! With our bare spells!” and they all displayed their hands, with the white spell-energy pulsating in balls in their palms.

Sasha was interested, so she decided she wanted to hear the rest. It’s not like she had much choice, anyhow.

“By their bare spells” meant something, though: that they weren’t going to act with focused blasts. Instead, they would use raw energy, something that Sasha considered reckless and immoral. Why immoral? Because blowing up random plants and animals and people in your path was never good practice. Sasha considered that to be evil.

But what she considered bad was not the same as what the Undead considered bad, obviously: Here he was, encouraging bad practice of magic. Of course, she couldn’t say anything—she would incinerated. Or would she? The Undead had brought her here for a reason, and what reason other than making his own troops moral? There was no other explanation.

So Sasha stepped up to the podium and pushed the Undead aside. He duly stepped back and let her take his position. There was no response from the soldiers (who were some kind of men), but then there was one upstart who shouted: “Why a woman?” Several soldiers around him laughed.

Sasha used her own powers, which were considerable. She isolated and purged the man and put chains on the wrists of the ones who laughed. There were incredulous screams from the previously soldierly soldiers. Now every soldier faced her at attention.

“See what this ‘girl’ did to you? She purged that man,” said the Undead, who assumed a position beside her.

“Do you know what that means?” he shouted, to complete silence from the myriads. “She obliterated him from time. He never existed. Except in your minds, which are now faulty because they contain irrelevant information. He is now a fairy tale—he never existed in the first place. What was his name?”

No one dared respond to such a summons.

There was complete silence.

“Anyone?” continued the Undead. “No, I knew you couldn’t. You already have forgotten his name. The spell is very powerful. So don’t mock our new general. Her name is Queen Sasha.”

Sasha pinched him but he didn’t respond. He continued, “Now you will answer orders from her just as you answer orders from me.”

Sasha stopped time. Just for a minute, though, because the spell took an awful lot of energy.

“I’m not a general,” she whispered, although there was no need.

“Now you are, my Queen,” said the Undead. “In the event that I am incapacitated, you are to rule these troops. And take responsibility for their families too.”

“Are you serious?” hissed Sasha. “I never signed up for this!”

“Yes, but you never didn’t sign up for it, either.”

“I hereby remove myself from the list!”

“Can’t do that, sorry—it already happened. Got to seem strong in their convictions, don’t they? And their convictions start with us. We can’t just flip-flop.”

“I am convinced you plagiarized that saying from another planet,” said Sasha. “You probably plagiarized everything, am I not correct? Nothing you do is yours.”

“Same with you,” he said. “Same with everyone.”

Some of the soldiers started to move. Sasha was resigned to losing the verbal battle: she would win when it counted, though. She would not let those soldiers use those kind of weapons.

“Dusty said you’d have technology, not this!” cried Sasha in a last ditch attempt to convince him before all the soldiers woke up.

He didn’t respond. Somehow, his body had also stopped moving. “It’s just you now,” someone said inside her head. She hoped she was not mentally ill. “It is urgent you show them how to follow you: you will be doing the fighting, not me.”

It was the Undead, somehow talking to her. “You see that facsimile?” he said, referring to his body in the red and yellow uniform of the soldiers.

“That is not my true form. My true form you can not comprehend, because after all you are only human. But you know that the Outsider Gods and I are using you as one of many pawns in our fight against the immoral Gods who currently rule your planet. Now say something, the troops are getting restless.”

“I will see you tomorrow!” she snapped to the soldiers. “I want you all to do two hundred pushups in the next thirty minutes! Whoever loses, I will tear him limb from limb and then I will make sure he never existed in the first place. Pretty sad, no? Now start! I’m watching!” And she vanished.

“You forgot to take me with you,” said the Undead. “But I will do it myself: Farewell, soldiers!” he made his facsimile shout before its own disappearing.

The soldiers immediately took up the task of the punishing pushups. Then Sasha and the Undead both returned to the spaceship.

“Back so quickly?” said Princess with a yawn.

“You can fill in for me on the campaign trail,” muttered Sasha.

“I think I shall,” Princess said, straightening her hair with a magically-produce brush. “Ow. Why does it always hurt?”

“I myself am a woman, or still a girl, yet I do not groom myself in public,” Sasha said. “Now where and when did I acquire such a low-class habit?”

“Hey,” Princess shot back, “I’m not you. You might as well accept that. We come from two different universes: I was pulled out of mine suddenly, kidnapped by some mysterious force, and now you want to get up in arms about how we’re so different? Go shoot yourself!”

“Where are we going now?” asked Sasha of the Undead. Princess turned away, and Sasha could imagine her crying. But Sasha wanted to focus on more important issues.

“You are a dastardly woman,” said the Undead to Sasha. “Know that I have your back, Princess,” he said soothingly to Sasha’s twin. “Don’t listen to her cruelty: she is just venting onto random people.”

“I know,” Princess sniffed. “When do I get my own army?”

Now a wave of beneficence floated its way past Sasha and she felt apologetic: “Yes, sister, that is a great idea! I apologize for my mean comments. I don’t want you to die or go away.”

“Don’t worry,” said Princess. “I got a lot worse from my supposed mother, The Elf Queen. If I can forgive her then I can forgive you. Did I ever tell you how she tortured me?”

“Really?” Sasha said, a grisly image of Princess in shackles in a dirty cell rising up to her consciousness.

“It wasn’t very pleasant,” continued the princess, wiping away tears. “That’s why I’d appreciate it if you had some sympathy. Some empathy, some feelings. I don’t usually talk this much, curse me.”

“No, don’t curse you,” stepped in the Undead. The former god. The benevolent god. The more Sasha thought about it, the more she felt rage at herself for being such a reactionary creature.

“So,” said the Undead. “Sasha will control these spectacularly-colored creatures that you just saw. That Sasha and I just saw, because The Princess, understandably, was too scared to attend, due primarily to her fear of space, which she will have to get used to soon, because she will have her own army and she will thus need to display conviction, for her troops’ sake.”

“Oh, dear,” said The Princess. “My mother was always the one that controlled the troops. How can I step into her place?” She looked at both of them. “Do you really want me to become my mother?”

“No thanks, no thanks,” said Sasha hastily, remembering the evil that was done to her by the queen. “Just be yourself. Now Undead Man, where are my sister’s armies?”

“I might as well tell you my name,” said the Undead, “but you two wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.”

“I bet we’d die instantly if we knew it,” said Sasha sarcastically.

“You would,” said the Undead unapologetically. “For you would have to be in the fifth dimension, where there are no puny three-dimensional creatures like you.”

“How polite,” observed Sasha. Princess laughed.

“But you may call me Ben if you wish,” said the Undead. “Or you may call me ‘Sirs.’ This is because I am able to change myself into multiple persons should I desire it.”

“You really are quite complex, aren’t you?” asked Sasha coyly.

“And you are a three-year-old girl,” said the Undead.

“Not true! Three and a half!” protested Sasha. Princess laughed at this.

“Good, she’s in a good mood now,” said the Undead. “Now we will show her what is hers: namely, her troops.”

“Fine, fine,” said Princess, wiping the happy tears from her face. “Let them come, I am ready for them.”

“And I am ready to impersonate you should you fail miserably,” said Sasha. Princess glared at her.

“What malice do you have toward her?” said the Undead in fake-wonder. “It is simply horrible. It is disgusting.”

He made the windows transparent again. This time there was a white sun. “Don’t freak out,” Sasha prayed, using a phrase she had heard some of her troops use a long time ago.

“Just enjoy your heritage.” And then, to both the Undead’s and Sasha’s merriment, she didn’t get into another fetal position: she instead stood up and drank it all in.

“You see?” said the Undead. “That is your star now. You will lead its troops.”

“Lead? Troops? Okay,” said Princess, apparently remembering what she was supposed to do.

“But there’s one catch,” said the Undead. “You have two planets. The denizens of the third planet are at war with the fourth. Your objective would be to make peace between them and forge them into one united fighting unit in order to battle the pawns that the other gods send against you.”

The Princess threw up her hands. “Fine. I’ll deal with it just as my twin will deal with her army. I just wish she would be a bit less mean and a bit more helpful.”

Sasha sighed. “I’m sorry, sister,” she said. “I need to work myself out. I need to be less mean and more loving. You accept my apology?”

“Of course,” Princess sniffed.

Before anything else could get out of hand, the Undead stepped in to douse the flames. “Each situation is tailored to each of your abilities,” he said.

“You are only given what you can handle. That was one of the sayings on my old world. My first world, I should say, and not the myriad others in this galaxy or others.”

Sasha had the vague intuition that he was bragging about something she knew nothing about.

“So how will both of you train for leading the troops?” said the Undead.

“Wait, I thought we were going to give Princess a view of her troops on both worlds and a peace-plan to boot,” said Sasha.

“We’re almost at the third planet,” said the Undead. “I just wanted to fill the gap with some conversation.”

Sasha watched Princess peel some of the paint off of her chair. If it was even paint at all, she thought. Hopefully this piece of incredible technology had something on what they did on Sasha’s home planet. She had heard that paint was a hazard to one’s lungs if breathed in. But then again, what did anyone on her home-planet know about anything?

The Undead pulled back the blinds. Now, the once-brilliant white sun was in the distance, and the stars could be made out. They weren’t far from their home-planet, Sasha knew: there were most of the same constellations.

The Princess stood up and gazed at the planet. It was blue-green with swatches of brown and white. It looked just like every other habitable planet in the universe: Sasha knew because her teachers had shown her pictures.

“Who is their enemy?” Sasha asked.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself, my young dear,” said the Undead, blowing his nose.

“Why are you blowing your nose?” asked Princess, actually interested.

“To provide both of you with a sense of comfort, a sense of normalcy,” said the Undead.

Sasha and Princess looked at each other and started laughing.

“See? It’s working already!” said the Undead. “Prepare for atmospheric entry.”

“I’ve forgotten what that means,” said Princess.

“It means we’re going down. Buckle up, hon. And did I tell you, I’m actually from this planet?”

“Excuse me?” said Sasha. “You’re what?”

“Buckle up and I’ll tell you more. There you go. You too, Princess. Well, anyway… I’ll tell you when we get down, I don’t want to expend too much magical energy on conversation when in ten minutes we could talk normally… Here we go!”

The cabin became progressively hotter.

Are you sure we’re going to survive? yelled Sasha from her brain. She could see the Undead shrug in response in front of her. Princess looked like she was going to be sick, but she righted herself with a spell.

Then the cabin began to shake. Just some atmosphere, don’t worry, said the Undead with a psychic grin.

Almost there.

He was right. The vibrations soon abated and they were all stuck to their seats as the craft decelerated.

They didn’t even register the landing, it was so soft. “Where are we?” said Princess the moment the Undead told them they were done flying.

“We are in a nation called America,” he said. “We arrive as witches or as gods. Witches are believed to be a relic of the past and gods are believed to be a future evolution of the native humanoid species. Or should I say, a future and past evolution: there are some ancient cultures that believed that gods roamed the world. But without getting too much into that, why don’t both of you choose clothes for your journey? Come, let us depart this ship and purchase some wearables.”

“Ever the polite one,” sneered Sasha. Princess laughed.

“You as well,” returned the Undead. “Now: before we depart we must choose names. My name is not ‘Undead,’ obviously. Here, on this planet, you will refer to me as Matthew. Understood?”

“You don’t have to put in that word at the end,” said Princess, in a surprisingly calm response for a girl of her temperament.

“Ditto,” said Sasha.

“You, Sasha, will be Sasha still. You are the lucky one,” said the Undead. “This is because Sasha is indeed a popular name among the denizens of this planet, so you can keep it. Unfortunately, your twin sister here—” and he indicated Princess, “— is not eligible. She must choose a different name. Or, if she was smart, she’d let me do it for her.” He gazed at Princess.

“Fine,” said Princess with a theatrical wave of her hand. “Do it.”

The Undead smiled. “Your name is Claudia.”

“What?” protested Princess. “That sounds like the clouds!”

“What, don’t you like clouds?” said the Undead.

“They used to say my head was in the clouds,” said Princess, and she started crying again. “The only reason I didn’t kill them is because I’m a good person.”

“I agree,” said Sasha.

“So do I,” said the Undead. He paused. Then he said, “How about

Sally?”

“Might as well say I’m a boat,” sniffed Princess. “I’ve always been sensitive about my large posterior.”

“Whatever, Sally it is,” said the Undead. “Let’s get out of this thing, I’m getting cramped. Low ceiling in here.” He turned toward them: “Cover your eyes,” he said.

Sasha and Princess obliged. The Undead stared at one of the oval-shaped walls and said a phrase. A bright line appeared in the wall which wasn’t there before, or it was hidden by some magic. That’s how Sasha liked to categorize it, anyway.

The wall suddenly disappeared and there was suddenly a cacophony of noises. Many, many birds—more than they had on her home planet, anyhow. Green branches encroached on the ship, which was still hovering two meters above the ground. A few stairs appeared at the door to the ship, complete with rails on either side.

They all dismounted and the ship disappeared. “Easy as pie,” said the Undead. “Hmmm, I haven’t seen very many people lately. The only ones who would remember me would be far into their dotage by now. Be on the lookout for old people using walkers. Anyone who can walk unassisted has definitely not met me.”

They reached a road and started walking on one side of it. A gentle breeze stirred up some leaves: it was late summer and a balmy sixty degrees. “You used to live here?” said Sasha, open-mouthed. “Was this where you were a mortal?”

“Shhh,” said the Undead, even though there was no one around. “It’s something I like to keep very secret. That’s why I haven’t been here for so long. I don’t age. At least, I have discovered the cure to aging. People would see that and wonder if I was my own son or some other nonsense.”

They were walking toward an intersection. There was a car which was speeding toward them. So Sasha fled for the bushes.

“You imbecile,” stated Princess. “It’s only an autonomous vehicle. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Well, not autonomous, really,” started the Undead.

Sasha eyed the contraption, which was emitting a loud sound comparable to an elephant’s trumpet.

“Why’s it angry?” she said.

“‘It’ wants you to move away from the road or it’ll run you over,” said the Undead.

“Why doesn’t it have any tusks?” demanded Princess.

It was a red hulk of a beast. It stood three feet off the ground, and Sasha wondered how anyone would be able to get in or out of it.

It had wheels like a wagon but they were dark in color with some sort of pattern in the middle. It was difficult to see the pattern there because the wheels were moving so very quickly…

The vehicle started emitting a screeching sound and veering sideways. Apparently the driver was drunk or something, Sasha thought, as the road itself started to vibrate.

The Undead shouted something and Princess screeched. Everything seemed to slow down, even though Sasha hardly cast a spell at all. The vehicle careened off the side of the road inches from Sasha and flipped over once, twice, three times, and then settled down to Earth.

Then it creaked back and forth for a while before it found its equilibrium and stood still.

Sasha stood frozen to the same spot she had been frozen to before. Princess and The Undead ran over to the vehicle. Sasha could hear them talking about something in hushed voices, then they walked back to Sasha. Sasha tentatively put one foot in front of the other, but then fell to the ground.

The Undead and Sasha’s sister rushed up to support her. “It’s okay,” said The Undead. “Stay there, rest a bit. No need to walk until we need to.”

They waited for a few minutes. The sun was dipping lower and lower and it was colder. “Okay,” Sasha finally managed. “Let’s go find a place to sleep.”

“Let’s go, then,” said the Undead. “About half a mile. I have a light so I’ll walk in front. Remember, no magic here, or else they will put you in the isolation ward.”

“Is that similar to solitary confinement?” Sasha suggested.

“Yes,” said the Undead.

They were coming upon a building, which was two stories tall and featured a flashing sign saying there was a vacancy.

“Impressive magic trick,” Princess noted. Sasha snorted.

“Not really,” said the Undead. “It’s simple electricity.”

Neither Sasha nor Princess knew about that, so they were both quiet.

They walked inside. There was no one there, so they rang the bell. Or rather, the Undead let Sasha and Princess fight it out for who would be the one to ring the bell. Princess won, of course, as she was the more experienced fighter. So it was Sasha who was sulking on the floor when the man said, “Excuse me.”

“My pardon,” Sasha said politely, getting up and curtsying.

The man eyed her. “You some Amish folk?” he said. “Where you from?”

“I am from Planet Earth,” Princess said proudly. The Undead elbowed her.

“What a cute little girl,” said the man, rubbing his mustache. “What are you, three? Four? Five with really bad genes?”

“Six!” said Sasha. “And I’m seven.”

“They’re so silly, aren’t they?” interjected the Undead. “Tomorrow they’ll see their mother for the first time in three days. She’s recovering over at the hospital.”

The man went away and Sasha and Princess let out huge sighs. “I could have reprogrammed his memory,” said the Undead, as if there needed to be another reminder of how superior he was to them. “Listen to me, don’t talk anymore. I’ll parade you around as deaf mutes if that’s what it takes, but don’t. Talk. anymore.”

“Such advanced grammar you display,” snorted Sasha.

“Okay, no more deaf-mute—just midgets. You’re older than me, now.”

They stayed the night there, and in the morning Undead had a task for them. Not just for Princess.

“So,” said Undead. “Here’s our mission: Sasha will go to college while Princess becomes a pop star.”

“I do not wish to be infused with many metal bits,” Princess shuddered.

“I believe this is called a ‘gun?’”

Sasha and Undead both laughed uproariously at this, and Princess pouted (as she was ought to). “Don’t laugh so loud!” said Princess. “They’ll think we’re ‘weird!’”

“Don’t worry, I’ve put an enchantment on this room,” Undead said, still giggling. “Wow, that was funny. Perhaps you should be a comedienne! Aside from the fact that I’ve already cast you as a singer. An ultra-famous singer, I might add.”

“Will I perform for the King and Queen?” Princess asked hopefully.

“Perhaps,” laughed Undead.

“Stop laughing!”

“Fine,” said Undead. “So you will be a famous singer. But first, not so famous. I’ve booked a few auditions for you over the next few days. Hopefully it won’t take that long. You know how to sing, I trust?”

“I’ve never sung before,” said Princess. “Or, at least, I haven’t sung any more than Sasha here has sung.” And her pout became a smile.

“Oh, no,” said Sasha. “You are not pushing me into being eye-candy.”

“We’re women, that’s what we’re meant for!” protested Princess.

“I have downgraded you,” said Sasha. “You are now a notch below an actual woman.”

“Well I don’t care what you think anyway!” yelled Princess.

“There we are, get it all out,” said Undead. “We can’t be nervous tomorrow.”

They both ignored him and yelled at each-other for a while longer. Then they all went to bed.

 

“‘Complimentary breakfast?’” said Princess. “This is much better fare than I had by The Elf Queen and at my father’s castle.”

“Our father’s castle,” said Sasha. She was the one featuring the pout this time.

“Such fruit!” proclaimed Princess. “Such freshness!”

Undead shrugged. “Yes, I suppose we have had it well. I mean, we still do have it well.”

“How did you become a god, anyway?” accused Princess. The women who was in back of her for the fruit widened her eyes.

“Don’t worry, Ma’am,” said Undead. “We’re just playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons is all.” He winked at her.

Princess was understandably furious.

“I am not a Dungeon Mistress and Dragons are mythology!” she yelled.

All five of the other patrons turned to stare at Princess and her companions. “Pretty good vocabulary for a three-year-old, wouldn’t you think?” Undead said. Everyone guffawed. “Yep,” Undead continued, “We had them educated early, these ones. They’re identical, see? Of course, that one was born first. But they both are pretty much ready to go to college. They often make fools of themselves when they talk openly to other people, however. Understandably, they do not know much of the culture.”

They all had a good laugh at that, and then they went to the car.

“Hopefully, we’ll be twenty minutes early,” said Undead to his two minute passengers in the back. “Sorry you guys can’t sit in the front; the air-bags are way too big for you all.”

“I find that you’re way too full of air as well,” sniffed Princess. Sasha laughed.

“Good, good, you are starting to be friends. Exactly what I wanted.”

“There are many ‘cars,’ Undead,” said Princess. “Is that the vehicle that the peasants travel in?”

“Not exactly,” said Undead. “You see, that is a bus…see that huge yellow vehicle?”

“It looks fit for a princess!” Princess started, but Undead interrupted her.

“No, it’s the vehicle which most of the peasants travel in,” he said.

“But it’s so large!” protested the princess. Several drivers honked at them.

“See, you’re causing me not to concentrate,” laughed Undead. “No more talking.”

They arrived at the university to drop Sasha off.

“Here,” Undead said. “I will make you taller.”

“What? No! I don’t want to be taller!” said Sasha. “Don’t children go to this place? This ‘university?’”

“They are still children inside,” Undead acknowledged, “but you will teach them. You will become a sort of religious figure. They will worship you and you will control them. They will become your army. Just like those humans on the other world are now your army.”

“How about me?” demanded Princess.

“You, my dear, will have a much more powerful army than your sister has,” promised Undead. “In fact, she will be one of your lieutenants.”

Princess sniffed a sniff of victory.

“There!” said Undead, putting the finishing touches on Marie. “You are now eighteen years old. A Freshman. Just say you are from Nevada and that will explain all of the initial kinks they spot in you. Out you go, now! Yes, you may buy your own clothing, I have given you large sums of money, it’s in your pocket. Enjoy! Love you!”

Sasha turned over her shoulder and stuck her tongue out at him.

“Not very polite,” Princess murmured.

“So where did you say I was going?”

“You, my dear baby, are going to be famous.”

“I know that,” said Princess impatiently as they pulled away from the university. “But where?”

“You’ll find out soon enough,” said Undead, chuckling to himself. “Fine, then. I’ll tell you: It’s Disneyland.”

“That sounds like a foreign tongue to me,” said Princess.

“I told you it wouldn’t mean anything.”

They drove in silence with the cars. There were less and less cars, and finally they went on what was called “the freeway.” Princess was extremely scared of all the trees whizzing past her, not to mention the cars doing twice their speed on the other side. So she spent the entirety of the freeway portion of the ride covering her eyes and counting.

She had reached about a thousand once they left the freeway for normal roads again. As she felt the car slowly deccelerating she uncovered her eyes and breathed several sighs of relief.

“Now approaching Disneyland,” said Undead with a smirk. “Remember who you are? Right, I never told you: you are a pop princess.”

Princess preened. “Does that mean I can be big, like Sasha?”

“Exactly!” Undead beamed. “Do you remember your name?”

“Claudia!” she said. “Like the clouds!”

“There you are,” he said. “I am going to be your campaign manager. Well, not really—I’ll just be your manager. How I’ve desired to be a Chief of Staff… maybe that’ll happen when you become president.”

“Become what?” said Princess.

“Here we are,” said Undead. They pulled into a parking lot, which was full. Someone in a yellow uniform directed them to another parking lot, where they were directed to still another parking lot. By that time Princess was sleeping soundly. and Undead was tapping the wheel with impatience. “Stop it!” said Princess, and then she went back to sleep.

They parked. Princess woke up in her delicate little way, yawning a yawn that would last twenty seconds. Undead wondered how she had the breath for that.

But that was irrelevant. “Here you are!” he said out the window to the waiting attendants: there were four of them, two males and two females. “This is my daughter, she speaks some Hungarian, and she will be performing some nice Hungarian songs for you.” He placed a wad of bills into one of the male’s hands

And then said, “Come on, baby. Princess. We have a show to do!”

“What?” said Princess, realizing slowly what had happened to her in the last few seconds. Somehow she could see the top of the car…and her center of gravity was much higher than it was before…she began to feel dizzy.

“Are you okay?” Undead said to her, cradling her head in his arms while holding some smelling-salts to her nose.

She couldn’t talk at first, so she merely nodded.

“Good!” exclaimed Undead. He winked at her. “Go get your army,” he said, looking at her and then at the four workers. Then he drove away.

By this time Princess was on her feet and walking without support. “Claudia, that’s your name?”

“Um, yes,” Princess said, still absorbing her surroundings. It was warm, she knew that. And it was Spring: she could tell by the position of the sun. Or did that only apply to her own planet?

“What kinds of songs do you know?” said one of them, after they had her switch into a nice long dress with flowers on it. They also placed a black circle on her head that seemed to be made of stone yet very light: she had no idea what it was.

“That will help you be heard by the audience,” one of them said. He had recently put on an all-black costume which had a couple of black circlets where his ears were. Princess thought it seemed a little feminine, but then again she had no knowledge of this culture, since she was from…Hungary.

Of course.

They walked a path until they got to the entrance to the park. It was time to perform. But perform what? So she said, “What would you like me to perform?”

“What, you didn’t prepare?” snapped one of the males, who was dressed as some character in all green.

“What are you, a grasshopper?” she returned.

“Very funny. This is Insect-Man. He is a major character in the SuperSpawn series.”

“Like leeches,” said Princess.

“Look,” said the other male, who was wearing the enormous black hat with the ears but had since taken it off his head, “The park opens in fifteen minutes. I guess we’ll just trust that you know some songs.”

“I know some songs in another language,” said Princess. “You wouldn’t know it, it’s not from this planet.”

“Okay, she’s a certifiable,” said the first male, the green one. The two women had not spoken up yet.

“Aw, shut up and let her perform,” said one of them. She was also green like the male.

“Let her prove you wrong,” said the other female. She was scantily dressed and had many jewels and beads dangling from her face, body and clothing. Princess wondered if she was in princess, the one in charge.

Then, in almost no time, the visitors started arriving. “Go, attend them,” said the green male. “We’ll be there momentarily, then you can start to sing.” Then he and the other three vanished into a nice little dwelling with a thatched roof. Princess wondered if that was to be her quarters.

She came to the park visitors. There were two groups: One a young couple with a baby that the mother was wearing: Both had strange little caps they were wearing which seemed to barely suffice in their mission to protect their heads from sunburn. They also were of the same race, being from the Basture Mountain chain in Princess and Sasha’s home world. But of course, these people were not from there, and they didn’t even know Princess was an alien.

The second group was a little more interesting:

They were all white like the Northerners on Princess’s world and featured a husband, a wife and five children, ranging from one almost fully grown (a male) to three sisters who looked like sisters in varying heights, and a six year old boy whose face was red and fresh from crying and which suggested he usually got his way. He smirked at Princess when she turned from the first couple to greet them. “Mommy, is that Pocahontas?” he said curiously.

“Shhh,” she said to him without even looking at him. “That’s impolite.”

“What? She has brown skin! Like Native Americans! I learned about them in school!”

So the fight had begun. Princess didn’t quite know who the Native Americans were, but she could hazard a guess. “So how do you like living on our land?” she asked the boy, sweetly.

The mother glared at her. “Don’t make my little son feel bad. Are you really Native American?”

Princess shrugged. “No. But I’m a princess.”

“Completely off-topic,” said the mother. “But not without merit. Every girl is a princess. Right, girls?”

The girls were all staring in the opposite direction at something. Princess followed their eyes to what looked like a giant white bathtub suspended in the air. And it was moving toward them. “Take cover!” shouted Princess, readying a spell that would banish the huge thing. “I have never seen such magic as this!”

The three girls all turned around. The middle one, who was also the intermediate in height, said, “You sound like you’ve just come out of a fantasy novel. What princess are you? You have to appeared in some film.”

“Um,” said Princess, her mind racing, “I was a toy. A… lego toy!” Her prodigious ability to remember small details finally became useful, and Princess thanked the gods for it: she had seen the toy on a large truck while Undead was driving her here. “You know,” she said, “one of the Lego Technic, I think.”

The boy, the mother and all three of the girls struck the exact same pose: relaxing on their back legs and folding their arms across their chests. “You don’t expect us to believe that,” said the tallest of the girls to some smirks.

“Aw, leave’er alone,” came the voice of the father, who previously had been blocking the sun from his face with some kind of large and reflective precious stone.

“She probably makes eight dollars an hour to strip naked and sing for us.”

“What, you sing?” said the boy.

“Of course, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” asked Princess politely.

At that moment the three remaining workers came back, still dressed in their outrageous uniforms. This prompted all the people now congregated around Princess to start clapping.

I’m a real princess, I deserve the clapping, she thought, but of course did not say this openly. She was smarter than that.

The other workers were all armed with musical instruments, but Princess didn’t need any of them. “If you want, you can play along,” she explained to them. “But Hungarian music is quite complicated, and of a key system not known around here, so don’t feel bad if you can’t.” She smirked at that and began to sing.

A long time ago, When the trees were alone, Without rat nor sheep nor human, There existed a special character…

“Excuse me?” said the little six-year-old, his face no longer ruddy, “What’s that about?”

“Shhh,” proclaimed his mother, her eyes riveted to Princess’s face.

His name was Aroulde, His height was four meters, The gods entrusted him with responsibility over all life, And one day he—

“Holy cow!” screamed the boy. All eyes turned to him. “That’s Elvish! She’s singing in Elvish!”

“Do you need your medicine now, Fred?” said the mother sweetly. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed to everyone else.

“No, I know it, Mom! Remember how I used to watch all those movies again and again?”

“Nerd,” said the youngest gird.

“You have short-shorts on so I can identify a vein and—”

“Let her sing,” said the father, achieving the feat of talking while yawning, though he tried to stifle it.

Princess continued:

He knew no other knowledge but how to destroy, So one day he destroyed all life, And everyone lived happily ever after.

Princess bowed. By now there were twoscore people gathered around her. They all applauded and Princess kept bowing and bowing. One of the musicians came to her ear: “We know the chord sequence now, so we can accompany you.”

“Can you do it again?” asked the little boy shyly.

“How did you know I—I mean, the song, was Elvish?” she asked him.

“One two three four,” counted the green man, and she had to start singing again.

So she sang a different song to the same tune:

I once dreamed I was a hippopotamus, I was king of the pond, All the other hippopotamuses

Had to bow down to me.

Then they dragged me into the swamp

And there I died.

She stopped singing. Everyone was applauding, to her dismay. Well, who said she had a conscience? She drank it in instead. Why not? She was entitled to it.

“That was Hungarian, and it was about how much this boy loves this girl,” said Princess, looking at all of them. “It is said to be based off of a true story. It involves the boy communing with nature, specifically hippopotamuses.”

She looked at her four accompanists: they all smiled back approvingly. Apparently, even a story about a hippopotamus didn’t faze them.

“Run! Run!” somebody was yelling. A huge man with a deep voice was running toward them. “ICE is coming!”

Princess didn’t know that water ice was a threat at this time, though she learned with her tutors about other kinds of ice that formed the poles of other planets in the solar system and their moons…

“Ice is nice,” she said, wondering if the man was going to slow down in the next two sentences before he barrelled into her.

He did. “Anyone around here an illegal immigrant?” he shouted, jumping up and down as he talked. “If you are, hide! They’re coming!”

Princess detected a slight accent in the man’s voice.

“So they are coming for you?” she asked. “You did not commit any crime?”

“My only crime is that I’m not a citizen and I’m late on my papers!” said the man, slowing his legs down and putting his hands on his hips.

“Here,” said the father of four, holding out his wallet. “Take it, it has my license.” He dug into his pocket and retrieved his sunglasses. “I won’t be identifiable.”

“Take them off,” said his wife, snatching them from his face. “That will get you unwanted publicity.”

The sirens began and got louder and louder. The entire group pretended, very awkwardly, to be listening to Princess sing. The song, translated from the Hungarian, said this:

When I am lost in the shadows

And don’t know if I’m coming back

Say a prayer for me

Or I’ll end up in the sack

Quite an appropriate song, Princess thought. So she decided to expound on it: She saw the police officers; there were six of them. They were all running toward her and she wanted to get their attention, so she sang in her mother tongue, which seemed to be the language all people spoke here, on this planet.

She sang, I ain’t hidin’ nobody, As you can plainly see, You think you’ve got your man, But you really just have me!

The officers arrived. “You don’t talk like a white American,” said one, the biggest of them all. “Are you bi-racial?”

Princess had not expected such a scathing remark.

“I am multi-racial,” she said proudly, turning around so they all could see her profile. “I have cousins from the North, the South and from beyond the sea! People always ask me where I’m from, and I say, ‘The North, The South, The East and The West, were there to be a West for the presence of an extremely large sea.’ Then they laugh and don’t believe me. Or they do believe me, depending on which version of the story.”

“Call for an ambulance,” said the lead guy into his talkie. “One of them is extremely dangerous.”

“What! I am unarmed!” Princess exclaimed.

“You are causing these ladies to copy your mannerisms,” said the officer.

“Your opinions,” said a second officer, leering at her from behind black glasses. “That’s what he means.”

“What opinions!” said Princess, exasperated. Though she really did know what the officers were talking about.

A third officer, a little shorter than the first two, spoke: “Look at them,” he said, indicating the two adult women and the three child women. “They are already becoming you. I need to make it sure that this ends badly. You need to come with me.”

“You need to take all of us, then,” said

Princess with a sneer. “Because they will spread it.”

“Spread what?” said one of the women.

“That it’s okay for women to be smart,” said Princess. “That it’s fashionable for women to be smart.”

“She means that it’s cool to be smart,” supplied the youngest girl.

“Whatever your local dialect,” said Princess. “Mine didn’t really split off from yours that long ago, I think.”

“Look at her, she’s crazy,” said one of the woman officers. “Although I can’t help but be entertained.”

“I am indeed from this planet, there is no reason to be alarmed,” said Princess, in what she knew would only dig her deeper into the hole she was in.

“She’s just being in character,” one of her co-workers, in all green, said. “She’s Zorga from Planet Zero, remember?”

“That movie just came out, no one knows it,” said the one with the huge black hat with semicircles coming out of it.

“No one asked you to talk, Minnie,” said the first officers, and everyone, including Minnie, guffawed.

“See?” Princess said after laughing along with them. “That’s the culture. Now if these girls started wearing dresses and thinking of each-other as princesses…”

“Everyone already tried that,” said the oldest daughter.

“Chastity rings? Remember?”

“Yes, of course I remember,” said Princess, her mind racing. “But sometimes it works, right?”

“Most of the time not, though. That’s why the Duggars are on television. Because they’re the exception.”

“But doesn’t everyone want to be like them?” proffered Princess. She knew she had this one nailed.

“Of course. That’s why they’re on TV. It is a vehicle for all the girls in this country to daydream about—the possibility that their lives actually have meaning.”

“Then we are in agreement,” said Princess. “What was this conversation about, anyway? Where did this thread start?”

“Um, we were going to pick up this man, we’re Immigrant Police,” said the ruling officer hesitantly. “You can protest at the Capitol Steps or The Washington Monument if you would like to protest this operation.”

“But he’s our daddy,” proffered the youngest daughter, crying her eyes out. “Won’t anyone help us?”

“I promise to stop twerking, dad!” yelled the oldest one as the officers carted her father away.

“I’ll use our lawyer friends, I promise!” screamed her mother.

“We’ll stop twerking, too!” shouted the two younger girls.

“That’s my girls,” shouted their father before being pushed into the cop car. “That’s my girls.”

They drove out of sight.

“I guess now we know what it’ll take to make girls have chastity rings,” said the mother, wiping away tears. In fact, everyone in the group was wiping away tears.

“I can’t perform in front of you guys,” said Princess, shaking her head, her tears splashing onto the ground.

“Thank you for this bond. Visit me sometime.”

They all parted ways, except for Princess and the four musicians, of course. “Hmmm,” said the Green Girl. “Here’s some more people coming toward us. Let’s put on a show! Let’s do that last song we did, one two three four!”

Princess was caught a bit off-guard, but she did what she was good at: she improvised. She started singing alternate lyrics that she made up and also that she had heard while passing a tavern near her kingdom:

People, people, what kind are you?

Are you the kind that are somewhat blue?

Well, compare yourselves to others, who are not like you, Who roam the streets, hunting trash, for the last night’s brew

I know you don’t mean to oppress them, and in fact you’re not, You’re just minding your business, cleaning the pot

You vote Democrat, you’re okay, You vote Republican, you’re duped, Democrats like charity

And Republicans make you stup’d

They don’t care about saving lives, they only care about their own pockets.

They say this in the name of whatever god they worship, the god of profits, They will never be sated, never ever ever

Expand the military, they’re in a fervor

Fervently worshiping the god that they can never get enough of

The more they worship the more they get stuck-up!

 

Princess bowed.

There were fifty people in front of her, and all of them burst into applause. “Yes,” said The Green Girl. “This is the new princess from Disney, let’s give her another round of applause!”

And the audience obliged.

Sidling up to Princess, The Green Girl said, “Wow, nice singing! What did it mean?”

Princess shrugged her soldiers like she too had no idea. “Something about love and god or something,” she said, imitating the wenches she had heard at the tavern.

With her accent, designed to sound stupid.

“Oh!” sighed The Green Girl. “Maybe you’ll tell me someday.”

“Maybe I will,” Princess smiled.

“Won’t you sing us another song, Daisy?” appealed an overweight man with a cowboy hat, gesturing to the rest of the crowd, who hooted and hollered at his whim.

“We don’t get those in this place very often,” said The Green Girl, whispering in Princess’s ear once again.

“Although they are our neighbors, they seldom get enough cash to pay the entrance fee.”

Princess nodded like she knew what Green Girl was saying already. Smartly, though, she stayed silent.

“This Princess is Princess Esmeralda,” announced Green Girl over the Mic. “And these are our players: Myself and Harry here,” she indicated by pulling on his robe, “Are the Green Grasshoppers. Our movie just came out, did you see it?”

A couple of little children raised their hands and hooted.

“And did you like it?”

“Of course we did,” said their mother. “It was nice to escape life a little and be with ‘em grasshoppers.”

Everyone laughed. “Esmeralda’s movie just came out yesterday,” she said, indicating Princess, “But I assume none of you have had the opportunity to watch it. It’s about, whom else, Esmeralda! And her garden kingdom. Which happens to be called—”

Someone sneezed.

“—gard.”

Princess froze. What had The Green Girl said?

“Excuse me,” Princess interjected, “but could you please repeat the kingdom’s name?”

“Oh, it’s ‘Smyysgard,’” said The Green Girl.

Princess felt like she was about to faint.

Her kingdom!

So she sat down. It was time to re-evaluate things. She sat on the plywood that was their stage and stared out into space, thinking.

“Another song, hon,” said The Green Guy. “Let’s get through it. Then we can rest.”

“My apologies,” Princess said, gracefully pulling herself to her feet and grabbing the mic. “What kind of music would you like me to play?” she said with a silky voice, which she projected into the audience.

“Love songs!” shouted some women.

“So be it,” she said, and started into what would end up being her final song, though she didn’t yet know it.

“So be it,” she sang in what should have been Hungarian. The little boy who knew it was Elvish just stared at her with a lopsided smile.

So be it

This is how people are

They do not respect the young if they have necessary wisdom (and she nodded at the boy, who nodded back somberly)

They do not respect the slave or the servant if they have some disability (She nodded again to the boy, who actually smiled and gave the thumbs up. Everyone looked from him and back to her.)

Instead they

Stare at him or her like a thing, to bring them amusement

When all she wants is to disappear

From this Earth to another

In a flash of fire

She will be home again

Open the portal, gone…

Gone from the gawkers, the people who force me to dress like a whore (the boy blanched when he heard that word)

I am not advocating suicide, But please, please return me to my place, on that Other Earth

“That one didn’t rhyme,” remarked the Mother of Five Children (which made her a goddess in her own respect, according to Princess—she had never seen anyone with more than two).

“It wasn’t meant to,” lied Princess. This was perhaps the first lie she had told in her entire life. “I was waxing poetic about my home country.”

“Ah. You mean Smyysgard,” said the woman.

Princess blanched this time. “Yes, correct. Smyysgard.”

“Don’t you love how she’s so into her character?” said the woman, addressing all the people assembled.

Princess started crying.

“Oh, dearie, she might be having one of those hormonal things,” said the woman. “Anyone a doctor here?”

“No, I am within my emotional boundaries,” stated Princess, staunching the flow of tears and standing up straight.

“End of show,” announced the Green Man, scratching his antennae. “Sorry guys, that was not professional, I profusely apologize,” he said. “Me scratching my antennae, I mean.”

The crowd assured him that it was perfectly fine.

“Thanks, guys. It’s just that sometimes I get a little… nervous. I’m working on that.” He eyed one of the young women in the audience. “I’m definitely working on it.” She smiled back at him.

“I’ll leave you to your own devices, then,” said Princess, exiting the stage. “Time for some sleep. I’m quite flummoxed, as you understand.”

“She is so into character!” gaped one of the males to his girlfriend.

“I know, it’s like she has some kind of tic or something,” said the woman. “Ha.” But Princess was already out of range, she didn’t hear that.

She entered the shack. There was a strange machine whirring on its own beside the entrance, but she ignored it. If it was a weapon which threatened her life then she would have been dead already. The air inside the cabin was unbearably cold. And her face was horribly hot.

Someone came in behind her: “Here, drink this,” she said. It was Green Woman. Princess accepted the water and thanked her before drinking her fill.

“I told everybody you’d be onstage again in two hours,” she said. “Is that okay? And by the way, not that bad of a performance for a greenie! Get it? Cause I’m green?”

Princess fainted.

Chapter 4

 

 

The Undead, her “father,” dropped Sasha off without much fanfare. He helped carry her things into her dorm room and then waved and left. And of course she had his “phone number.” A pity she wasn’t allowed to use magic in this instance: Undead said it was to introduce her to this new technology.

So she dialed the same number again and again until she actually got the details right and it rung. Which sounded oddly like a bird. Was the technology supposed to emulate animal behavior? Was she overanalyzing?

A girl walked into the room. Her roommate. Her name was Dahlia and she was five feet tall. To be generous. But even so, she had three boys following her. The boys sat on her bed in a row while she paced the room in between them and Sasha. Finally she sat down in a chair near the window. The three boys stared at Sasha and so did Dahlia.

“Uh, hello,” said Sasha.

They simply stared at her. Dahlia smirked and the boys all smirked. Then, she said, “Are you Jewish?”

“Excuse me?” said Sasha. She was tempted to say she was from another planet but Undead told her that was a big no-no.

“You should come with us to Hillel this Friday,” said Dahlia. The boys smirked even more.

“I suppose you have an arranged marriage for me, like they had when I was at home, in my castle?”

“Like they always say, a woman’s house is her castle,” smiled Dahlia, but it was a cruel smile. Her boys just smiled even louder.

“Are they mute?” Dahlia said, pointing to each of the three boys.

“No, they just like listening to me talk,” said Dahlia pointedly.

“You can have one of them, if you want.” The boys leered at her.

“They don’t look too nice,” Sasha pointed out.

“I bred them myself,” smirked Dahlia, the first evil smirk Sasha had seen on her face: before this it was only the boys.

“You didn’t breed us,” said the shortest boy. “You conditioned us. Now we follow you around like puppy dogs.”

Dahlia preened and flipped her hair back, somehow sustaining an imaginary wind to keep her hair swept back as she leered at her boys and at Dahlia.

“Well,” said Sasha, pouting a bit, as she was putting on a show so they would hate her less, “I’m off to the library. Any one of you want to come?”

She could tell right off the bat that it was the wrong question.

The boys all turned in different directions and doubled up, making retching sounds. Of course Dahlia smiled widely at this. “Well, maybe later,” she smiled, winking at Sasha and waving her hand. Motioning her out the door. Time to leave.

Sasha didn’t pretend they were on good terms. She merely walked out the door without a word. “Don’t mind if we hang out here every day!” shouted Dahlia, slamming the door. “You’re welcome to not be here!”

“Wow, that was the most nice encounter I’ve ever had,” muttered Sasha as she walked down the long hallway to the stairs. Someone poked her head out of a door and said, “Oh, she’s like that. Don’t take offense. Or do. I’m not one to judge.”

“Thanks,” said Sasha, brightening up a bit. “Sasha, nice to meet you. I’m new.”

“Aren’t we all? I arrived yesterday,” said the girl. “Phoebe, great to meet you. Stop by sometime; I know you’ll need a break if you’re with her.”

“What happened?” asked Sasha.

“Oh, I’ll tell you next time you come around. Something to do with rodents.”

“Ooh, I’m scared,” said Sasha, actually shivering with fear. “Imagine what she’ll do to me.”

“She might just eat you,” said Phoebe. “Oops, I did not mean that.”

Sasha was tired of hearing sexual statements expressed in earnest, so she just brushed off the accidental quip.

“See you tonight, then, I guess,” she said, and opened the huge heavy door. She grunted painfully as she did so.

“Maybe I can help you with that,” rushed Phoebe, who opened her door and came out.

“Thanks,” said Sasha, grateful for the help.

“Where are you going?”

“No!” came Dahlia’s high pitched voice from down the hall. “You are not to have any friends! I hereby decree!”

“Library,” said Sasha. “Want to come?”

“I have to unpack, sorry, so no. Why the library?”

“There’s someone there have to meet,” said Sasha, “and I can’t be late.”

“Ooh, date?” speculated Phoebe.

“No, he’s a professor, actually.”

“But it’s a he!”

“Perhaps where I used to live, that would fly (she had picked up this idiom not an hour ago), but not in this country. Anyway, I’d prefer to be with someone the same age as me.”

“Wouldn’t we all,” said Phoebe. “Where are you from?”

“Pakistan,” Sasha lied. Undead had made her memorize several key facts. “No one knows I’m not a Muslim over there. I’m not sure if I’m anything, although my father (she hiccuped then, as she was about to say “my captor,”) says I am Jewish. I hope you don’t hate me now that I’ve admitted it!”

“No.” said Phoebe, shaking her head. “We’re a very tolerant society. You said you had to go, so go!”

“Bye!” Sasha waved, and then was onto the staircase.

She lived on the second floor, so it was not a long stair-descent. Exiting onto the concrete and then onto the grass “bowl” that was the center of the four buildings in her cluster, she traversed the grass, crossed a street and walked down many more stairs. After a few minutes or so she passed the Dining Commons, and then walked across another street and around the campus pond. A long journey to a valued friend. She wasn’t actually going to the library, of course. She was going to her friend, who happened to live in the tree adjoining the library. Undead said he had brought her in order to provide Sasha with a confidant; Sasha knew though that her friend had come on her own. Quite selfish of Undead for taking all the credit.

She went to the tree, pretending she was examining a set of leaves on one of the branches.

*Careful,* said the bird. *They will think you’re crazy. You must shift positions every now and then. Here, I’ll guide you to a new tree.* And he slipped off, flapped his wings, and was instantly in the neighboring tree.

Sasha moved over to him without attracting much attention, or at least she hoped. “How did you get here?” she said.

*Shhh, better to thought-speak than to talk, Princess,* said the bird.

“I will never be her,” said Sasha. “And besides, I observe these people talking to themselves all the time. See those metal rods they’re wearing? The curved ones.”

“I suppose so,” tweeted the bird after a few seconds of contemplation.

“I have a horrible roommate,” she said to the tree. “And look at all these people, they’ll think I’m being antisocial. They think I’m talking to a tree.”

“They can’t see your face,” the bird pointed out.

“Fine,” said Sasha. “But tell me, then: how did you get here?”

“Hitched a ride inside one of that Undead guy’s suitcases,” he said. “Easy.”

“Easy for you,” Sasha said.

“Nice dress,” pointed out a boy as he walked past.

Sasha and her bird ignored him. Which was the only response, of course. “Listen,” said Sasha finally, “I’d love for you to sit in on all my classes. You can perch on my shoulder. You can be a—” and she noticed a girl and a dog walking past, the dog with a sign on its back which said, “Service dog—Please do not pet!” —”service bird!” she finished.

“They will know I am magic,” said the bird.

“Isn’t everybody magic?” Sasha proffered. “I will need all the support I can get with that acerbic roommate of mine.”

“Don’t you dare say that to her face,” the bird warned. “She will eat you alive.”

“Can it get much worse than it is now?” Sasha mused.

“Your first class starts in ten minutes,” said the bird.

“Fine, Daisy. No, wait—it starts tomorrow! Liar,” she told Daisy.

“I am a male bird,” said Daisy. “And you shouldn’t belittle me by giving me a female’s name.” He fluttered to the next tree.

Sasha followed him.

“Fine,” she said. “How about Rooster?”

“Hmmm,” said Sasha.

“Are you a botanist?” queried a passing male. He had a backwards cap and had the look of a drunk, even though he couldn’t possibly be drunk in the middle of the afternoon. Or so Sasha thought.

“No thanks, no botany for me,” replied Sasha in a deadpan.

“What are you doing, you’ll make him hooked on you!” said Rooster.

“I think I would rather like a tryst,” said Sasha coyly. “All those drunk boys at the saloon, why couldn’t they get drunk on me?”

“Yeah,” said the boy. “Who are you talking to?”

“Myself,” said Sasha quickly.

“You know, you look like you’re pretty young. Are you in high-school? Are you lost?”

“No, I’m perfectly fine, thank you,” Sasha said. This was something new to her: before, when she ventured into the town of Smyysgard, there were always soldiers there to protect her.

“Fine,” the boy said, and started walking away.

“Thank you!” shouted Sasha, somewhat stupidly. He turned to look at her and wave and her heart leapt.

“See you around!” he said and kept on walking. After a few paces he stopped to spit on the ground, and then kept walking.

“Disgusting,” tweeted Rooster. “I hope he’s not the average guy on this campus.”

But of course, Rooster was wrong. Sasha took Rooster and her things into the library where several attendants glowered at the bird on her shoulder but did nothing to stop her. She descended the stairs into the main atrium and approached a librarian, a good, kindly old lady with wrinkles that made her look like she was a thousand years old. “Excuse me,” Sasha told her as the old lady smiled, showing a lifetime of happiness.

“Do you know where this ‘New Freshies’ meetup group is? I have problems with using a computer.”

“Badly phrased,” hissed Rooster.

“How was I supposed to say it?” she asked him.

“What a nice pet you have there,” smiled the old lady, pointing to Rooster.

“You’d be surprised how messy it can become when he needs to defecate,” said Sasha pompously.

“I’ll defecate on your head,” said Rooster.

“No you won’t,” Sasha said.

“Are you actually talking to it?” posed the lady. “Does it actually understand human speech?”

“Of course,” Sasha said, “But my event starts in five minutes. It’s supposed to be in the ‘library courtyard?’”

“I can look it up for you if you want, ma’am,” said the lady, “but you’ll have to be patient.” Sasha stiffened but held her mouth shut. “You look kind of young,” said the old lady. “You have flawless skin. It looks like you haven’t experienced the stresses of young-adulthood.”

How would you know? Sasha wanted to say, but instead she proffered, “I was raised in a remote location, so I never had the pleasure of boys chasing after me until now.” Which was sort of true.

“How do you not know how to use the internet?” said the lady, typing furiously on her keyboard.

“Ah, you know, annoying parents who like to control me,” said Sasha. What else could she say?

“Time for you to respect your elders,” smiled the old lady. A group of ten students had formed in a semicircle around them, and they were staring at the bird.

“Don’t worry, guys,” Sasha said, using another phrase she had picked up in the last hour or so. “He’s not dangerous. Unless you want him to be,” she said, and bared her canine teeth so that she would look more like a monster.

“Very funny,” said one of the males, staring at her. Would it never end?

“Stop staring at me,” she said, causing the entire group of students to move backward. “Never mind, I’m sorry, fine, you can stare at me,” she said, exasperated. She stuck out her hand and shook his. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“No worries,” he said. “Hey, where are you from?”

“Is this the Meetup group that is supposed to congregate in the courtyard?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said, bowing, which infuriated her until she found out what to do in response: she curtseyed and gestured to the rest of the crowd, which had gained five members in the last minute so now it numbered fifteen.

“I think this is sort of like a competition. A game,” said the boy, gesturing to each one of the people in turn. “Who can make the other one more mad.”

“If that’s what you think it will take to get inside my pants,” said Sasha, unwittingly playing the game herself.

 

“I think this meeting was intended to be something more productive.”

“We could make babies,” leered the guy.

“This is disgusting,” said Sasha, and she walked out of the group toward the elevators.

How was she supposed to gather a group of students and form them into an army if they treated her like this? Then, a voice inside of her urged her to go back. “What have you got to lose?” it said. “This is your first test.”

Eventually, Sasha herself agreed with the voice. So she wheeled around and headed back toward the group.

“Welcome back,” said the guy. The others in the group showed nervous smiles.

In a couple of dozen seconds, the group had grown to thirty, with an average of one person joining the group every couple of seconds.

“Let’s all give her a round of applause,” said the boy.

“No,” said Sasha, cutting him off. “No, let’s not. This group was formed—is forming—as a result of a Facebook group, correct? On the internet.”

One of the librarians came over. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You must leave or go into the courtyard.”

“Let’s go into the courtyard, then,” said the guy.

“Let’s go into the courtyard, then,” screamed Sasha, to the detriment of those listening nearby.

They all spilled into the courtyard, which was basically a concrete square where you could look up to the first level. There were a few shrubs here and there, fastened to the mulch that sustained them.

The noise started. First it was a few people screaming, then it was the entire group cavorting. They all walked in a counterclockwise circle. Some of the boys put girls on their shoulders, although Sasha deemed it immodest and had to look away whenever she saw such a scene.

A boy came up to her. “Want to go on my shoulders?” he said.

Sasha stared at him.

“Fine, bitch,” he said. “No happy time for you.” He went back to cavorting in the moving circle of people.

Then, unexpectedly, Sasha saw her roommate, Dahlia. If she had known how to curse she would have done so; regardless, she was alarmed. She moved quickly into the moving, pulsating mob. Bodies pressed against hers from all sides.

It was hot and steamy. Undead didn’t warn her about this. People smelled of sweat and flowers and other, worse things.

She tried not to throw up her breakfast and nearly succeeded: no matter, for the moving mob of feet just gobbled it up. She received another invitation to ride on someone’s shoulders and almost regurgitated again, but the boy was smart enough to leave. The sheer sight of him looking so hungrily at her caused her such anxiety.

And then, as soon as it began, it was finished. The mob went through two open doors into the library itself again and things returned to normal, sort of. There were four people left in the courtyard: Sasha herself and her roommate and her roommate’s two toys.

“Well,” Sasha’s roommate said, “You’re certainly welcome to join me at Hillel tonight for the kick-off barbeque.”

“What are they kicking?” said Sasha, trying to manage a joke.

“Ha!” laughed her roommate. “How provincial. Consider yourself uninvited.” She left with her two boys, and one of them glanced over his shoulder and shrugged at Sasha. Obviously, that was a good sign, but if that’s as good a sign if Sasha ever would receive…then it would still be pointless.

First up was a special class called “Gender, Sexuality, Literature and Culture.” Undead had signed her up for this course. He had said, “If you’re going to be the most quoted person alive, you have to take this class. This is how you are going to gain your followers.” How this was so Sasha didn’t know, so there was a kind of mystery to it all, which Sasha appreciated. She didn’t want her life to be dull, after all…

She entered the building and made a left toward the segment that was further from the campus’s center.

Many students passed her as she walked slowly, counting the numbers until she got to the right room. She entered and took a seat near the back. Most of the students, having pushed her out of the way in order to get to class, were already there. She could feel the energy in the air on the first day of classes.

The class waited about five minutes, then the professor came in. She was nicely attired and looked like one of the peoples indigenous to South America. Of course, it was impolite to say such a thing, as Undead told her. Sasha didn’t have the need to know exactly why social mores came into place; it was just about following the rules and building a following. Sasha was to create a social uproar that would shock the world, and then she would be worshiped as a goddess, practically, for helping the world donate its armies and its weapons to her own cause: fighting against the false gods of her home world. Sasha was thinking about how exactly she would do this when the teacher’s voice came piping out of a speaker. “Girl!” shouted the teacher, pointing at her. “Eyes open, feet together, your eyes are glued to me! And I mean glued!”

Sasha could think of nothing else to do, so she saluted.

“Thank you, soldier!” said the professor.

“Now! Let us examine the course syllabus. You will all be picking a book from this list:” and she numbered out a list of twenty books that was on a white page of paper her attendants were handing out to each row of students.

Among them were “How to Kill a Conservative,” “Israel: why don’t we just nuke them already?” “The Right to Choose: It’s Our Bodies” and “Fifty Years From Now Everybody Will Be Gay And We Will Have To Resort To Artificial Pods To Create More Humans.”

“Don’t worry,” the professor said. “That was just a joke. You’ll be picking up your real syllabi at the end of the class; don’t forget to stop by!” And the class heaved a collective sigh of relief.

“Now!” shouted the teacher, and everybody stiffened. “Just making sure you’re paying attention,” she said, completely calmly. Sasha wondered if Undead made a mistake in signing her up for this class.

“Anyway,” said the professor, shrugging her shoulders several times as if shrugging off an onslaught of uncomfortable thoughts, “that is that. Anyone want to tell me, what is a boy? And what is a girl? And why I am mentioning boys before girls? Anyone?”

After a few seconds, a boy in the front raised his hand. “Because we live in a patriarchy,” he said.

“Of course,” said the professor. “Anyone else?” When no one raised their hand, she said, “Typical college students. Each sex afraid of the other, so much so that they cancel each-other out. No ambition. Just fear.”

She stared at the class for another few seconds, then sighed and finally, unexpectedly, pointed directly at Sasha. “Can you tell us, my dear, why you are wearing a dress?”

Sasha found that she was adapting quite well to cruel talk from roommates and professors. So she uttered a statement just a little bit daringly:

“There are two possible answers to this question,” she said. “Or perhaps three. “

One is that I am capitulating to a male-dominated society and thus surrendering by wearing a garment that can float up in the wind.” The professor nodded approvingly. “Option two is that it is simply hot outside, and since I have the choice of trousers or this dress, I thought my legs and the rest of me would be much more comfortable with a dress that lets the breeze flow about me.”

“And the third reason,” said the Professor.

“Of course,” said Sasha. All the boys in the room hooted, followed by the girls, who made a screeching sound hard to Sasha’s ears.

After all, she still was only three, and though Undead had upgraded her body by speeding ahead fifteen years, she still felt awkward and gangly, and this she felt with regard to the opposite sex as well. She wished to a god, if there was any true one out there, that she be allowed to return to her previous form and live out her childhood in peace.

“Fourth reason?” said the professor into the mic, her voice reverberating off the walls to make it sound like there were many of her.

“To piss you off,” Sasha blurted out to the laughter of everyone in the room, including the professor.

“Good one,” she said, pointing at Sasha.

“I am glad to have a sparring partner. Now, then: did you know that all your answers were wrong?”

The classroom quickly became hushed.

“They are indeed wrong,” said Sasha, “at least, according to you. You need something to teach the class with.”

Everyone hooted to this.

“Now,” said the teacher, and then pointed at a boy.

“I will teach this class,” said the boy.

“Hmmm?” the teacher said looking perplexed. “Well, I’ll give you the last ten minutes. Acceptable?”

“Tolerable,” said the boy. He sat down.

“Now what was that, class?” the professor asked, scouring the room for eyes that would meet hers. There were none, of course, except for Sasha and the boy. The boy turned around to look at Sasha and grinned. Sasha returned the smile somewhat tentatively.

“That,” continued the professor, “was a classic example of male patriarchy trying to exact terrorism on my little seed of hope in a male-dominated universe.” She gestured to the boy: “Charles, isn’t it?” she said, reading his nametag. “My eyes haven’t waned over the years, but even so I got LASIK. From a woman doctor. So there.”

“Sorry I asked,” said Charles.

“Yes, they are a persistent sex,” waxed the professor. “They will always have inferior English skills. Did I tell you that I’m raising my child without a gender? Technically, she’s a ‘she,’ which makes her blessed among mankind (there, I just said one of the patriarchal statements embedded in our language!)”

“So in general, my daughter retains symptoms of both sexes. Although I should only call them ‘symptoms’ if they’re bad. Well, all of you know now that half of the symptoms are bad. That’s how to get an ‘A’ in my class. If you happen to be a female.”

Half the class groaned.

“Fine, males too,” she said, grinding her teeth into the microphone.

The groaning stopped.

“Let’s discuss the syllabus,” said the professor. “As you know, we will be reading ten books.” Groans from both sexes in the audience. “Look, they’re all small books! Tiny! You’ll get through them! And you already know how to get an ‘A!’

So anyway! Can anybody tell me the name of the first book? No? Maybe? No, I guess? No headphones! Get out!” And an unfortunate female left the room.

“Good,” she said. “So we have here, number one, ‘How to Kill a Conservative. And anyone know the answer?’” This time there was silence. “I thought not,” she said. “The answer is, abort all their babies! Wasn’t that funny?”

There were some retching sounds but the professor ignored them.

“That isn’t the entire answer of course,” said the professor. “But it is the simple one. Does anyone have southern or midwestern accents here? I’m currently recruiting.”

Silence. A couple of boys got up and left the room. “Guaranteed ‘A’s!” shouted the professor after them.

“I guess I have to be more serious now,” said the professor. “More real. More serious and more realistic. Anyway, can anyone tell me why we worship a male god?”

“Because of our patriarchal society,” said a girl out in front.

“Good! You are learning,” said the professor. “But more specifically, why?”

“Because god is a man,” said a male.

“A correct male,” she observed. “Quite rare. Usually they have no initiative. Except if you’re at some kind of Ivy League resort, but that’s not this place.” She peered closely at her students:

“Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism: the gods are all male. There is a vicious cycle: girls want to attain godhood but it’s only the province of men. So they have inferiority complexes and thus they continue to be downtrodden. “

Being god can send a powerful message.” She glanced around the room again. “Apparently no one is interested in this. But also apparently nobody is interested in much of anything I have to say. I heard from the other professors in my department that all the students have wireless headphones now. They can be concealed in one’s ear so professors like me don’t know they’re there. So how about I catch some of you? No? Yes? Maybe?”

“What’s the real solution to ‘How to Kill a Conservative?’” said the boy in front.

“Ah, you, but it’s not your turn to speak yet!” she said nagging her forefinger at him.

“But alas I will answer your question: How you kill conservatives is you invade their districts! Look at Bernie Sanders! He’s going in there, those Southern and Mountain states, teaching them that they will receive more after school programs and a higher minimum wage if they vote for him next election! And the only reason Trump won was because voters didn’t want to vote for a woman!

“So even though Bernie is a male, he was our best hope as women! See what a horrible system we have?”

“She sounds sort of like Trump,” said a boy next to Sasha to his friend, who chuckled.

“Okay, what’s the next book?” said the professor. “Ah! ‘Israel: why don’t we just nuke them already?’ By the way, class, that is a rhetorical question. Of course we bomb them! We nuke them! Jews have been at the top of the food chain for thousands of years! Abraham was rich. Noah was rich. Adam, God curse him, was worth countless billions before he fell, and they blame that one on the woman, too! I believe in a female version of Jesus, myself. I like to call her ‘Jesusa.’”

The class chuckled.

“What! What’s so funny?”

It’s like Jessica, isn’t it? Just a little different! You know what, I think you people are an obstinate group of students. But who cares, I can’t do much, can I?

Anyway, on to Israel again: why do they think they can keep territory acquired in a war? I mean, if I was president, I’d give back New Mexico, Arizona, California, and some of those other states, wouldn’t you? And they built the Apartheid Wall. I mean, I think they’re lying when they say they it stops over ninety-five percent of terrorist attacks. What a bunch of Jews. That withdrawal from Gaza was just meant to trick us. I could go on and on.”

A couple of male students left the room.

“Jew-lovers,” she called after them.

“That was actually just an experiment,” she said when the students were gone. “People will believe anything nowadays, won’t they? Including you. So… anyway, what’s next? Oh, you want the mic?” She looked at Sasha, who was trying very hard not to look at the professor: “Here,” the professor said, and tossed the mic.

The microphone travelled in a wide arc before it reached someone two rows in front of Sasha, “I’m not from here,” began Sasha, “but what you just said to this class sounds like the thing the Chief of the Guard would say to his troops when they are inducted into the order: Claptrap. Lies. I don’t know who these Jews are but you seem to be quite keen on demonizing them. Oh, wait,” she said, and she remembered what the computer had told her: “Less than one percent of the world’s population and making one third of the medical and technological advances? It sounds like you should learn from them instead of being jealous of them.”

The professor was silent. Then she said, “I just wanted to know if people would accept my claptrap. And most of the people did. Most all of them did. Only a few people walked out. Nobody raised their hand to object to what I was saying. All of this was a demonstration, a proof that what people like me tell you can be wrong. Not all role models speak truth. And I am here to un-teach the lies and instill you with only the truth.”

“And by the way, you read too many fantasy novels, girl. You should stop pretending to be a princess.”

Sasha’s cheeks burned but she said nothing.

“Anyway,” continued the professor, “Princesses are overrated: they usually are locked up until they get married and then they are raped repeatedly…”

A couple of females exited the room. “Good riddance!” the professor called after them.

“What’s wrong with men?” said Sasha. More people looked at her this time. “Aren’t there any good ones?”

“Depending on your definition of ‘good,’” said the professor, “it could swing either way. I personally have not met many good ones.”

“What exactly is your definition of ‘good?’”

“Little ignorant girl, I will tell you the truth.” Four more people left now; there were currently at least ten empty seats.

“All males do is play video games if they’re on the east or west coasts: if they’re in the midwest or the south all they do is shoot things in their backyard. Rape culture is promoted in the movies with women reduced to simple vaginas who gasp and moan at the mere sight of an erect man. Am I offending you enough for you to fight back now?”

Silence.

“I thought so,” smirked the professor. “The girls won’t talk because they know that it’s true, and the boys won’t talk because they need their girlfriends to have any sort of identity, and also because they know that it’s true. What I’m saying is all true.”

“Even so, just stating the obvious isn’t helping,” said Sasha.

“You know, I think I’m beginning to like you,” said the professor.

“Although why is beyond my comprehension.”

“Obviously,” said Sasha, causing a few students to laugh.

“You sound like a dying pig,” said the professor. Students gasped but did not leave. “Dying pigs are ugly and don’t inspire pity.”

“So you’re saying women shouldn’t be pretty?” said Sasha.

“Females are the new men,” said the professor. “They are the ones who care for their children while their husbands are out at the game; they are the ones cooking and cleaning while their husbands play video-games until exhaustion sets in and they fall asleep on the couch at four o’clock in the morning and need their wives to wake them up if they even have a job at all. The only way men can keep up their mojo is to battle on their computers against their peers, because that is the one thing men are better at than women. How, you ask? Well, if a woman put that many hours a day into such futile pursuits she would probably be better than the men! Am I right?”

The entire class burst into applause.

“Vote for me in four years,” said the professor.

“Anyway. So who wants to change the system? This is a golden opportunity,” she said. “Anyone have a pad of paper? Record your email addresses on it. And by the way, I have Stage four Terminal Cancer. Guess where? The breasts, of course. If there was a male god, he’d obviously want me to die.

So I stick with my female god. For that reason and others I don’t want to remove my breasts. Because my god wouldn’t like it and because the men wouldn’t like it. Hey, when you’re a slave you have to suck up to those in power. If you want to launch an attack you have to keep it secret.

She looked at her watch: “Ah, there’s the bell!” she said, even though it was nowhere near the end of the lecture. “You don’t mind that I’m releasing you all a bit before the final bell, do you? It’s the first day! Go have some fun! Go enjoy the outdoors, and don’t forget to show as much skin as possible if you’re a girl! Also, If you’re a guy, you can also show some skin! This is because males in our society will soon become obsolete! They have already made a baby out of two female eggs. Oh, I love where society is going!”

There was no bell, of course. All the students waited their sweet time to exit the classroom, as there were always twenty seats with an aisle on each side. Sasha hadn’t planned out her day: the Hillel Barbeque was at four in the afternoon, in six hours, so she decided she would explore the campus. No doubt she’s have to ask for directions along the way, but that was part of exploring, was it not?

She ventured outside, squeezed in between two boys in line because that’s how things were here in America, as opposed to her own kingdom, though she assumed that if she was common-born she would receive the same treatment. She counted her lucky stars on that account.

Her major was undecided so she decided she would do a wide loop of everything on the campus. The campus was huge: it would take half an hour to go from one end to the other and it was shaped in a circle, so this was true about all its endpoints.

The library was the closest building to her other than the economics building she had just exited from (and she was definitely not interested in economics) so she decided to go there once more. Previously she had only explored the cavernous basement floor and the courtyard (remember, readers?) so now she set sights on seeing what this university had in its video catalogue.

“We have mysteries, we have thrillers, we have romances—anything you can imagine,” announced the clerk who was standing behind the counter, greedily looking into Sasha’s eyes.

“And, you are wearing a dress. Suitable for a hot day, is it not?”

“Thou art correct,” said Sasha, replying in the same style. “And it keeps everyone from staring at my privates, too.” They both laughed at that.

“So can you get me a romance?” said Sasha.

The clerk coughed. “Um, what kind would you like? We have normal ones, softcore, hardcore, you know, we’ve got everything.”

Since Sasha didn’t know what these terms meant, she simply said, “Everything, please.”

“Are you sure?” he said. “You look like a religious woman, so you might not want…”

“I’m on a mission,” said Sasha distastefully, “and I need to know everything about this society. So all of the titles, if you please.”

“You’re the customer,” the man said, shrugging, as if it was normal ordeal to support someone from outer space. Sasha knew he thought she was out of place, but he was professional and he didn’t point that out. His job was just to provide videos, and he stuck to that.

He gave her six videos, three of each kind, and then she put them in her backpack and walked merrily away. One half hour passed and she was now unsure what to do. She could watch the videos with her “laptop” that Undead purchased for her, or she could walk in aimless circles around the campus, or she could go to Hillel a bit early for the barbeque. Sasha didn’t consider four and a half hours to be too early; perhaps she could help with the preparations. She was told that a “barbeque” was an American word for cooking various kinds of mutton.

So she went: it was only a fifteen minute walk and she had plenty of energy. It was a two-story concrete building in the shape of a circle: she had read that students lived on the second floor. She walked up the steps and knocked on the door, and then tentatively pressed on the buzzer when no one came. She waited another minute and still no one came, so she tried opening the door just a little: it yielded as there was no lock on it and she stepped inside.

She immediately heard people talking so she went in that direction. A few doors down she saw three girls congregated together: “Oh, I don’t like relish,” one of them said, “I think it makes my breath smell like…well…pickles!” This prompted the other two girls to laugh and laugh.

Then Sasha cleared her throat and all three of them looked at her. “Yes?” said one of them.

“Can I help?” she said meekly. “I’m new.”

“Freshman,” one of them observed.

“Yes,” Sasha said, sticking out her hand. The girl reluctantly took it while the other two frowned. “Um,” Sasha said, withdrawing her hand.

“Well there’s nothing you can do here, honey,” said one of them, the blonde one, with poisonous sweetness. Sasha felt like she was about to throw up.

“You should go now,” said one of the brunettes, eyeing her up and down. “You’re not needed here.”

Sasha looked at the others for confirmation, which they gave, and then she slinked away. She sure hoped the students would be nicer. Her roommate was coming, she knew, along with her three male worshipers, so she knew already that four people would be hostile to her at the event.

She only had her hope now. Hope was what caused all life to move forward, she supposed, and then yawned, laying on one of the big couches in the atrium and falling into a drowsy sleep.

The smell of burning meat woke her up. Now there were fifteen people talking animatedly all around her. How much time had passed? Sasha took out her “phone,” and after pressing a button saw that it was three-thirty: the barbeque would start in half an hour. But apparently it had already started?

She got up and joined the circle. A tall blonde woman was talking. She seemed to contain empathy in her voice and not acid. Sasha listened closer:

“Yeah, I’ll teach Hebrew classes and maybe even the occasional Bible one, although I’m not that religious,” she was saying. Everyone seemed hypnotized by her, they were all focused intently on what she was saying.

“Did you go to the army?” said a shorter girl.

“Of course, friend,” said the Israel Fellow (Sasha had read about her but had forgotten her name). “Now,” continued the Israel Fellow, “I see you’ve woken up. I hope we weren’t to loud. You looked like you were tired.”

“Not that tired,” responded Sasha politely. “I just had nothing to do so I went to sleep.”

“Hey I’ve got some pot so we can all smoke it,” said a boy.

The other boys and the rest of the congregants, who were girls, looked around at each-other: “I don’t think…” began one of them, and then they all burst out laughing. Some of them smiled at Sasha and she smiled back: she had made new friends. She would have to bring Phoebe here.

But then the magic ended. The conversation was over because the Israel Fellow had left the room to get some food. Sasha bewilderingly walked outside with some of the other girls; she saw that the boy was behind her and had plans for her, but she didn’t have plans for him. So she shoved through the crowd until he lost her.

Then she saw Dahlia. Dahlia was sitting on a concrete bench in the middle of all the conversations. But even though she was within plain view, no one came and talked to her. Sasha almost felt sorry for her, and knew that Dahlia was about to give everyone their worst nightmares.

Dahlia stood up. There was a boy with a black yarmulke and short sleeves and jeans who was talking to another girl: he laid eyes on Dahlia and she laid eyes on him and then he was giving some hasty apology to the girl he was talking to, he had to go say hi to a friend…or a future friend.

He went right up to her and stared at her. Eye to eye, Sasha could see. Dahlia fluttered her eyelashes a few times and that was when Sasha knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the kid with the yarmulke was Dahlia’s to control.

Forever.

Or at least until he got married. To someone other than Dahlia.

He got her number and moved on. Then Sasha saw someone else approaching Dahlia. He had curly brown hair, just like a few men who were from the southern kingdom who worked as guards in Smyysgard.

He talked to her for a minute or so. Then another boy, this one also sporting a yarmulka, came and talked to them both. And immediately after this, Dahlia moved away herself. Sasha could spy the wicked grin on her face. Dahlia made her way over to the food table and grabbed herself a hotdog with relish and mustard on it.

As she chomped down Sasha scurried toward the male without the curly hair, who carried himself with authority. “Excuse me,” she said, touching him on the arm. He whirled around but then his face softened: “Ah, greetings! Welcome to Hillel,” he said, putting on a wide grin.

“You wear a yarmulke,” said Sasha with admiration. “Not many people here do.”

The boy seemed to shrug. “I guess I do,” he said, as if this was old news to him. Sasha began to turn away but the boy rushed in again: “Sorry to offend you,” he said, “but I get that a lot.”

“No offense taken,” said Sasha, somewhat bewildered but elated in her heart of hearts. This was going to be an interesting year. Or month. Or week, depending on how she, Princess and Undead did in their own acts. The final act would unite them all and hopefully bring all of Earth’s armies to bear in attacking the gods on Sasha’s homeworld. But that was old news, of course. Sasha chuckled at the notion that had her expressing boredom over this place after just a day here. Give it some time, Sash, coerced the bright side of her mind. You will become worshipful and you will also attain the love of that boy…that you didn’t even get the name of!

Sasha cursed her carelessness but then forgot all about it when another big boy-man came lumbering up to her. “Want some beer?” he said to her, sloshing a little of what he was carrying on Sasha’s dress. “Oops, sorry,” he said. “I hope that wasn’t worth too much.”

Sasha laughed it off. Then she saw the boy beginning to repeat the maneuver. She decided to roll off the couch sideways and scramble down the hallway to see what else she could find. Then she saw the stairs. Too curious to bow out of an adventure, she mounted them and ascended to the second floor. The door was locked, so she descended two levels to the basement. She opened the door to the floor and found a vast underground room rich with murals about the Jewish Tradition.

It was empty though, so she went on to the next room. It was twenty degrees lower in this room than it was in the mural room, and a few males and one female were hunched around a pool table, which were very common in Smyysgard for some reason. They were playing two on two. Sasha also saw another kind of table up against the wall. “Lots of diversion here, yes?” she said to them.

One of them turned around. “Eh,” he said, looking her up and down. A second one punched him in the arm and said, “Please excuse me. Welcome to Hillel. You may observe our game of billiards. For no fee. Offer ends Monday.”

“Why thank you,” she said, eying all four of them.

“So you know, my father always said that shiksas were for practice,” said a boy who hadn’t yet laid his eyes on her.

“Oh, cummon,” reacted the girl, laughing hysterically at the boy’s mediocre joke. Sasha had seen the type before: she was all over him. Not much tact at all.

So she left the room.

She went up the stairs to the barbeque once more. Thank goodness the disgusting boy wasn’t there anymore. The crowd had dwindled to about twenty or so. Dahlia was gone too, but Sasha saw one of her deputies hanging around. He was looking at her, in fact, but when Sasha turned to receive the look he had abruptly moved his gaze to another girl.

So she supposed he was powerless without his girl escort. Probably hasn’t talked to a woman in his life. Typical, though.

These opinions kept pouring into Sasha’s mind uninvited. Just a day ago she had been three years old; to walk a mile took more than twice the time it took now. And now she was being the object of affection for not one but two boys. Undead explained it to her just before they separated, and she had told him it was disgusting. Because it was! It really was!

She arrived at her dorm exhausted and feeling down. She didn’t even want to talk to Phoebe; instead she marched into her room and told Dahlia it was time to go to bed. But Dahlia wasn’t there, and Sasha wanted someone to talk to: she went back to Phoebe.

“Hello?” Phoebe said after Sasha knocked. She stuck her head into the opening. “Oh, it’s you!” Phoebe exclaimed. “Come in! Come in!”

It wasn’t until after Sasha entered the room that she knew how much better she suddenly felt. She vowed she would cherish Phoebe as a good friend from now on:

If this was how good she felt every time she saw her, she would never give her up.

“So how was your day?” asked Phoebe when they both sat down on her bed. Phoebe’s roommate looked at them queerly from behind a book and then buried herself deeper in it.

“Uneventful,” said Sasha. You were only supposed to report the good news. That was one of the few things her father had taught her: governing his provinces just took too much time.

Dahlia stuck her head in: “Found you! I just wanted to tell you how much I hated you,” she said.

“Aw, fuck off, bitch,” said Phoebe.

“Language!” squealed Sasha as Dahlia stepped into the room, slammed the door, and then decided to reopen it.

“My manservants,” she said, inviting them all in. “I almost forgot.”

“This is Joshua,” she said, touching him on the shoulder. Sasha could see barely-concealed desire. It was as if the temperature in the room had gone up five degrees.

“This room is at capacity,” complained Phoebe’s roommate as she removed her nose from her little pages.

“Get out! Get a life!” said Dahlia.

“At least I’m not a slut,” Phoebe’s roommate said.

“But you want to be one!” jibed Dahlia. Phoebe motioned her out.

“No, thanks!” said Dahlia. “Sorry! I need to introduce the rest of my crew, first!”

“I thought they were your ‘manservants,’” said Phoebe’s roommate.

“They are, indeed,” confirmed Dahlia. “They have many different names. Like Jethro had in The Bible. Remember, he had so many names? Seven names! Now that’s a lot of names! Jethro, Reuel…”

“I really don’t want to hear this,” Phoebe said. “You insulted my roommate, so get out.”

“Who do you think would win a war of words, huh, bitch?” said Dahlia. “If there is anyone calling the police, it’s going to be me.”

“That’s right,” said her boy toy.

Two more boy toys wiggled their way into the room. “We also are in concurrence,” they said, and then they cracked up.

“Looks like we learned some vocab words today,” said Dahlia, beaming at her three boy toys. She turned to Sasha, Phoebe and Phoebe’s roommate: “Mark my words, this isn’t over. I’ll see you at Hillel tonight.” Then she made a strange gesture where she pointed two fingers of one hand at her own two eyes and then at Sasha’s. She left with her boys.

“Oh, can I come with you to Hillel tonight?” said Phoebe. “Even though I don’t know what Hillel is?”

“Me, too!” said Phoebe’s roommate, rifling through some Pokemon cards. “I need to socialize.”

“I have an idea,” said Sasha. Phoebe and her roommate both leaned in to listen. “My idea is, we all take a nap so that when we wake up it’ll be time to go to Hillel.

“What, no way!” said Phoebe as her roommate said, “Good idea!”

“Why?” Sasha pouted.

“I’ve got class, bitch!” she said. When Sasha didn’t say anything, she said, “Sorry. That’s just how people talk. I’ll modify myself when I’m with you.”

Sasha nodded curtly and went out the door. “I’ll pick you up at quarter of six,” she said to the two of them. “Any by the way, I have class too!”

Phoebe slowly shook her head: “You have to focus on your academic career,” she said.

Sasha merely laughed. “A good idea, if I was going to have one. I hope it is short.”

Phoebe looked like she was about to cut in with another comment but Sasha left the room. “You wouldn’t understand,” Sasha said, calling out to Phoebe in the dorm room. She was sure Phoebe would receive her echo.

 

Sasha’s class was actually entitled “Studies in Modern Fiction.” She was sure that conquering that test would put her on the fast track to becoming the most quoted person in the world, as Undead had set out for her. “Eclipse that toe-rag self-hating Jew Noam Chomsky,” he had said. That was the first mention of Chomsky that Sasha had heard in her short lifespan. But, given that she had learned how to talk at age one, and she had only been alive a little more than three years and never left her father’s castle, she was full of closed-off opinions. She had a lot to learn.

“I hope you all did the required readings,” said the professor, a man bordering on fifty with attractive lightening-bolts of white running up and down his temples. He looked around at the class, eyes piercing almost every students’ and making some look away. “Some tell me I can be intimidating,” stated the professor with a laugh.

No one else joined in. Every student was staring stone-faced at the teacher, except for the ones he had already intimidated.

“Whatever, guys,” he said, his face changing to one of delight. “I was joking about the homework. Sorry. Didn’t mean to piss you guys off. I was at woodstock, by the way. Maybe that’ll make me cool?”

A few girls in the front row cheered.

“Now, now, children,” he said with a sneer. “No alcohol till you’re twenty-one.”

“We are!” said one of the girls.

The professor stroked his chin. “Somehow,” he said, “I’m not very inclined to believe you. Anyway!” The class clapped an ovation for him. He bowed. “Not worthy, not worthy,” he said, adjusting something on his shirt. “There we go,” he said. “Now we can continue. Sooo? Why did you guys take this class?

Anyone?”

“To get to meet you!” said the girl in the front row. All the girls in the room laughed.

Sasha raised her hand. “To pass the course,” she said. “Obviously.”

She guessed that was the wrong thing to say, because only a few guys and the professor himself laughed. “A little cerebral, hmm?” he said, lightly mocking her.

“Anyway,” he said, “I think we’ve just about maxed out the cerebral capacity of this classroom.” Everyone laughed, to Sasha’s relief.

“Anyone know what books we’re reading?” said the professor.

“Billy Budd,” said a guy in the middle of the classroom, really slowly. All the guys in the room laughed.

“Do you know what it’s about?” said the professor.

Silence.

“Well,” said the professor, “It’s about a male’s sexual fantasy about another man. Comments?”

Silence.

“As usual, I guess,” said the professor. “Soon enough, though, I will force you to speak. Every single one of you. It’s a requirement—ten percent of the grade. But of course, I’m the one who gets to decide how much it counts for in the end.”

More silence. Sasha could tell from everyone’s expressions that they were all scared out of their minds.

“Good,” he said. “That means there are no Republicans.” And everybody laughed. It was all better now.

Sasha scrutinized him closely as he worked the class. “Is anyone gay in here?” he said. A few people raised their hands. “Come on,” he said, “you’re not measuring up to statistics yet. There has to be more of you. There’s an eighty-four percent chance of that.”

The gay people laughed.

“Whatever,” said the professor. “Everyone reading the book, however, must experience the visceral experience having desire to a member of the same sex. So at the end of this class—no, at the end of two weeks, you will all have the experience of being gay under your belts. And for the women in this class, we can create an equally offending metaphor if we work together and try hard.”

There was a buzz of conversation from all parts of the room that was slowly getting louder.

“If you want to get an ‘A,’ you will have to stop talking,” said the professor. “There we go. Good. Now. Can we read what’s on the rest of the syllabus? Assuming we know how to read? Come on, what’s the next book?

“ He waited a few seconds before proclaiming, “Good! You got it right!” The class roared with laughter. “Anyway,” he said, “read the syllabus. You’ll be quizzed on it next class. You must know half of the titles with their authors.” To the groaners he said, “groaning will be penalized. And if you don’t know what that word means, ask a friend who doesn’t drink himself into oblivion three times a week.”

“Like you,” said the girl in the front charmingly.

“I do think I’m a bit too old for you, darling, I’m sorry,” said the professor. “Class dismissed. If you have any concerns or questions, I am here at your disposal for the remaining class time.”

Everyone left. Sasha thought herself at a loss at the kinds of classes she was attending. Or, rather, the ones that Undead chose for her.

Perhaps the rest of the classes would be better? Perhaps Hillel would be better than it was at the barbeque? Sasha pondered this and other things as she made the long walk to Hillel. She was going to be half an hour early, but who cared?

She arrived and set her bag down in the atrium. There were the same couches that were there during the barbeque. That didn’t unsettle her, however: she knew there were nicer people out there. There were two boys in the atrium already, talking about a stereo or some such thing, but they didn’t turn their heads to look at her. So she sat down on a couch and picked up a copy of Lilith Magazine. Soon enough, though, people began filtering in, and then the stream turned into a deluge.

Two girls were packed on either side of her. At least this was better than the two classrooms, though—boys seemed to enjoy being in perpetual contact with her.

Sooner or later, though, there walked into the room a “guy,” or rather a boy, who was attracting the tension of everyone… or, at least, of all the girls. All of the girls turned as one being to study and honor this new gentleman, but who knew who he was? Apparently, they all knew. And she could see the guys baring their teeth.

Then she saw Dahlia. None of Dahlia’s three creatures were near her now, and although she spotted one in the corner talking to some girl, the other two were not present. The man who seemed to command every girl’s attention was now talking to two girls. Dahlia joined them now and seemed to be taking control over the conversation. Actually, if Sasha moved closer she would be able to hear…

“Actually, I’m a Junior,” Dahlia was saying.

“Whatever,” the man said.

“Are you a staff member?” asked one of the other girls.

The man smiled at her, which caused Dahlia to jump up and down in impatience. Sasha was tempted to walk over and

“Troll” her, but Sasha also wanted to get in the good graces of the boy, whoever he was. So she stepped up to the conversation and poked her head in:

“I’m from Montana,” confessed one of the girls, who was a beautiful, tall blonde. “I’m sorry, I’m Jessica. What’s your name?”

“Julian,” said the boy. “That’s me!” And he smiled. It looked like Sasha was even more angry now than she was before; her face was red and she was huffing and puffing.

Presently, she exited the building, though Sasha could see she wasn’t going anywhere. She seemed to extend her eyes and gaze at the sky, but then she whirled around and saw Sasha. Sasha turned her gaze but it was too late: Dahlia was baring her teeth at her.

Sensing Dahlia’s discomfort, the boy turned his gaze back to her. Dahlia took a deep breath, smiled, and waited for what he was about to say:

“Where’s the rabbi?” he said.

“He’s away this week, but his wife is coming!” answered Dahlia brightly. Sasha got the feeling that if Dahlia somehow attained this boy she would be much, much nicer to him. And she would also disassociate herself from her three man-friends.

The boy came over to Sasha and she smiled at him. He smiled back, and said, “Now you’re new!” His smile became even wider. “Hey, I noticed you staring at the fire alarm—you know, the one atop the door?”

“Yes, indeed my gaze might have wandered there,” Sasha said, blushing and almost curtsying. She looked over at Dahlia, and Dahlia bared her teeth again and finally looked away

“You’re her roommate, aren’t you?” he said.

“Yes, indeed I am,” she said.

“You talk like nobility,” said the boy. “Hey, I’m Julian, nice to meet you. Is this your first time?”

Sasha stood embarrassed, as she had heard the phrase in one of the dorms she had visited.

“Ah,” said the boy, Julian, himself realizing the implications. “Ah,” he said, shrugging it off. “I was about to make a very vulgar joke about me talking to three girls at once, but now I won’t say it, because you’re so… charming,” and he blushed again.

“I’m only here for one semester,” Sasha lied. “It might be wise to add Dahlia to your list of trophy girlfriends.” She tried to say it as nicely as possible.

Julian looked hurt. “What, you don’t like me?” he said. “Someone wise once told me, first it’s friends and then it’s best friends and then, only then, it’s marriage.” She flushed again.

“Look,” she said, “Dahlia’s my roommate. If you go out with me instead of her she will make my life a living hell.”

“Isn’t it already?” he said, spreading his arms helplessly.

Sasha mulled this. Finally, she said, “I’m actually leaving in one or two weeks. I’m on a secret mission, you might say.” Julian was nodding and laughing. And Dahlia was on her way toward them.

“Oh, no,” said Julian. He ducked away.

“So maybe I’ll be nicer to you now,” Dahlia said. “Just as long as you help me get my baby.”

Sasha didn’t understand. So she said, “You want to have a baby? With him?”

“That, too,” Dahlia conceded.

“But don’t tell anybody. Or else.”

Sasha ignored the threat and said, “I’m leaving in one or two weeks anyway. So it won’t matter.”

“That’s what you told him!” Dahlia accused.

“Yes,” said Sasha.

“He asked you out!”

“In a manner of speaking,” said Sasha.

She shouldn’t have said that.

“Rape!” screamed Dahlia. “This girl tried to rape me! With a dildo!” she said, and giggled.

Five or six boys ran up to her. “Marry me!” said the first.

“No, marry me!” said the second. And so on.

“I know!” said Dahlia. “How about I give you all fake lapdances! Because I can’t touch boys!”

“But are boys allowed to touch you?” said one of the boys.

“Of course not, idiot,” Dahlia said.

“My point is, I only came here to help the community! But now, I’m realizing that I have deluded myself! Rambam a thousand years ago said that it’s forbidden for men and women to congregate together. I mean, we’re not exactly men and women yet, are we? But we’re close enough. But despite that, I still need to go here, in order to keep my sanity. So let’s just forget I said all this, shan’t we?”

Affirmative sounds came from the five boys, who were groveling on the floor next to her and drooling.

“I am so frustrated!” continued Dahlia. “I’m not sure of what I want anymore! Thousands of suitors from past and present habitats, but none suitable, except for this one boy! Julian! I’m very smart, but all anyone ever sees in me is the fact that I’m attractive! I’m this close to committing suicide!”

“That’s a sin,” said Julian awkwardly.

“Don’t tell me what to do, you piece of scum! You’re the only person in the universe who is not in love with me!”

“Wouldn’t that make me higher quality as opposed to—”

“—Shut up,” Dahlia said, and because everyone loved her, everyone shut up. Julian strode across everyone and out the door. “Good riddance!” Dahlia screamed after him. Julian definitely heard that one.

“Cribbage?” Dahlia suggested, in the sweetest voice she could manage.

“It’s dinnertime,” said one of Dahlia’s men. Instantly she reached out to him with one arm

And made a twisting motion. Her lieutenant, not twenty feet away, instantly gasped, and then started to hold his own neck. He fell into a prostrating position at her feet. “Be careful who you’re dealing with,” said Dahlia.

“Yes… Your Grace,” managed the boy.

“So no one speak up in my presence, okay?” said Dahlia, again in the sweetest voice anyone had ever heard.

“Okay,” she continued. “I have an idea! Let’s do the fashion show before dinner, instead of after! It’s not like anyone can stop us! If we all do it, I mean!”

There were raucous cheers. Dahlia turned this way and that, like a fashion model… There began to be a line after Dahlia. There were three other people with bright gold and silver costumes. “As we all know, it’s Star Wars Shabat!”

Sang one of Dahlia’s men. “Which means we have a runway! Everyone please clear this section, yes, like that, thank you. Okay! First up is Dahlia, Queen of The Evil Empire, also crossed with the Princess of Aldaran!”

Dahlia stepped forward and walked up and down the runway proudly. “Form-fitting dress!” commented the host.

Dahlia looked at him and he gulped. “Apologies, Mistress, that was out of line,” he managed.

“No, I actually liked it!” she said. “Please, do make such comments about me in the future!” She grabbed a piece of paper which had holy words written on it, crumpled it up into a ball and threw it at her adversary. “Dinnertime!” she screeched. “Everyone follow me! And I hope you know that I do indeed love form-fitting dresses! Even though I never wear pants and always wear skirts and never, ever touch boys! I might make an exception for trans boys, though.”

Sasha was perplexed by all of this. How could one girl, her very own roommate, be the least religious person in Hillel and at the same time be the most religious person in Hillel? The world had turned upside-down, and Sasha decided that this very night she would escape from campus. She had had enough and there was no place for her in an environment that resembled a whorehouse. The only difference was that whorehouses were more explicit about their wares-Hillel was implicit but it wasn’t hard to guess the function of the place. Just like the rest of college.

She had one weapon: an essay she had written while on break from classes. It had taken her less than an hour and it would prove its worth here, in Hillel, or so Sasha hoped.

She was handing it out as people were choosing their seats at the tables, which were set with disposable plates, cups and silverware. Only one kind of fork… Sasha supposed that was the noble side of her who liked to be all snotty.

She saw the noble man Julian struggling to find a seat: first he looked like he wanted a seat in the corner, next to another guy, but then he shied away for some reason. Then Sasha saw Dahlia, sitting not ten feet away with her three boy toys… she was pointing a finger at the man sitting down next to Julian, and somehow she was causing him not to welcome Julian to his table. Sasha watched this, awestruck. Julian, emotionally exhausted, tried the table on the other side of Dahlia and her cohort, but the end was the same. Finally, he gave up all hope and sat directly across from Dahlia herself.

Dahlia smiled an evil grin and immediately started talking to her boy toy to her right.

“Stop!” cried Sasha, seemingly being activated by a force beyond her own control.

Dahlia’s eyes flashed and she stared at Sasha, causing Sasha to blink and Dahlia to smile. “My little brother here needs a girlfriend,” she chimed in a too-high voice. “Won’t you join us? Just know that Julian is mine.”

“Go off and die somewhere,” Sasha told her. She stomped on the ground a little and also clapped her hands. Slowly all the fifty-or-so people in the room quieted down. When Sasha failed to say something, they started talking again, but Sasha screamed for silence and it worked. Again. “Hear me, oh Hillel!” she shouted. “Are you having the time of your life?”

Everyone hooted and hollered.

“I didn’t hear you!” Sasha said, motioning to her ear. “Can you say that again?”

More hooting and hollering, this time louder, and then some men started chanting. Whatever slogan it was, Sasha didn’t understand its meaning.

Then some woman got on top of some man’s shoulders.

Eventually it quieted down. “Let me read you my essay, please!” she shouted.

“Fine!” screamed a woman from the crowd.

“I am Sasha of Smyysgard!” she said. “And I need an army.”

No one quite knew how to respond to this one. But Sasha was prepared: “Do not think I am an escaped inmate from the insane asylum,” she said. “But I’m from another planet.”

A few of the men laughed. One of them screamed: “Wow, I knew that mali was doing something!” Everyone in the room laughed.

“I shit you not!” said Sasha, again using a phrase she had heard recently. The crowd went quiet. “Have any of you ever felt like college was not an institute of higher education? Rather, that it’s an instance of lower education?”

“What’s going on down below,” a man said, and everyone laughed again.

“Exactly!” said Sasha. “Now what I need now, I need everyone in this room to get up and follow me out the door to a portal I know is going to come into existence at time not far ahead from now.”

“Hmmm?” said a girl. A man started stroking her shoulder.

“I need people who are really estranged from Judaism, as you are,” she said. “I need you all to come after me and strike the enemy berserk.”

“I never learned that word,” said a man, to peals of laughter from his girlfriend.

“Why do you guys come here? To be spiritually uplifted? Can you imagine a place that is less spiritual than this place? No? I thought so!

I even saw a girl here who’s butt says “Insert here!” I mean, aren’t we making babies anymore? It should be vaginal, and not anal!

“I see every man here,” Sasha said, “a cynic. Crushed once, twice, three times by a girlfriend who ‘moves on.’ You separate. You talk softly and not with boldness. Your confidence has been crushed. Love was supposed to be a magical thing, yet it has turned into something quick and dirty. Sure, trust and friendship come soon enough, but there is always caution. Always caution.”

“I’ll join,” said Dahlia. Sasha gulped and then took a deep breath.

“Yes,” Dahlia said. “I don’t want a physical relationship, or at least one that is defined by physicality.”

“Big word,” sneered Sasha with as much hate as she could muster.

“I am not what I appear to be,” said Dahlia. “I am here to stop you, Sasha of Smyysgard, by any means possible.” She was forming some kind of magic with her hands. Sasha saw this and quickly constructed a spell herself. Suddenly there was a huge sound and a flash of light: there was lightening and thunder inside the room itself! And after a couple of seconds, they both released their spells in flashes of green and read. Sasha concentrated, focusing her energy…

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED


Magic Misused

  • Author: Abe Jackson
  • Published: 2017-05-12 20:50:12
  • Words: 53833
Magic Misused Magic Misused