It was then that Mina spied what seemed impossible. The broken demon familiar, his claws still clutching a worn book, fluttered by.  The same small demon that the Enhathladi had summoned.

A shock of surprised sped up her heart – Mina no longer believed in coincidence in this world.  She immediately began to follow the demon…back into the Center City.

It was where she had needed to go, nonetheless. Since that morning, the pull towards the Center City had been symbolic, but it had been just as obvious as the pull on her arm had been in the past. The morning’s experience came back to her…

…Nurianna had pulled aside her cloak, revealing two scimitars where none had been.  The sound of a strong prairie wind rose in Mina’s ears, and the air around her became very cold.  The hair on the back of her neck had risen as her mind returned to her discussion with the Enhathladi in H’arun, when they had given the small book to the demon.

The sound and the chill faded only when Mina had looked away.  I must look at those scimitars later she had thought to herself.

Now, Mina was trailing that same demon. He had to know she was there, as she was not hiding herself. It could only mean that she was meant to follow him.

His path was rather direct, yet oddly unnoticed by anyone walking the streets of the Center. He flew to a back alley that seemed to have a glamour about it, stretching longer than it appeared to be.  The row of shopkeepers there were quiet, not in a trance, but also not entirely…there.  Mina felt as if she were straddling the line between dream and reality, perhaps even another plane… just not wholly in Mamban anymore.

Or perhaps, more in the ancient city of Mamban than she had been previously.

Mina watched the small demon deliver the book to a shopkeeper, who –in return- gave the demon a feather and a bone. The half-broken beast fluttered awkwardly for a moment before rising over the rooftops, where Mina could not follow. She miserably attempted to climb after it, and then realized how futile trying to follow something with wings would be.

In the alleyway, she paused, considering her next action – talk to the shopkeeper? Go back to the hold? Mina surveyed the merchants in their small shops, looking for inspiration.

Instead, she received a sign.  The symbols from the morning reappeared, heading further down the alleyway.  It was enough – Mina followed them as she had this morning:  the wasp with three stingers hovering and then disappearing through the western wall of the room where the three of them spoke.  Had Nurianna and Bardas thought her mad when she walked to the wall, feeling it with a sense of desperation?

Even moreso, when a black widow spider crawled towards the same western wall, disappearing just as in Choban-La,  Mina had insisted on leaving for the city as soon as possible.

Now, she was following a growing conglomeration of the symbols, moving swiftly through the alleys and streets of the Center City – if that was indeed where she was. There was a moment when Mina realized she was crossing a threshold of choice – either she continued to follow, with little hope of finding her way back, or she returned now.

The symbols had coalesced into a twisting yarn through the streets. Briefly, Mina glanced back towards the hold…and then continued to follow the symbols. I can do this on my own, and I will accept the consequences of that.

Once she decided, the path became more convoluted, more dream-like in its weaving through the streets of the Center City.  There was no way to discern a pattern or even think anything but Follow.  To consider lefts or rights, to wonder where it was all leading would distract her and she would lose the path that was winding before her.

How long was she running after it? A few minutes? Hours?

The river of symbols lead into a circle where a fountain stood, and Mina skidded to a stop, her heart pounding from the chase.  It was old, statues of the gods lining its walls, with five empty spots.  The words of the innkeeper from this morning –  that Mina had only barely listened to –  now came back to her.   A fountain that no one can find.

Before Mina could determine anything of the fountain, or the gods missing from the statues, a tall figure in white stepped towards her.  She turned to the figure with a start, backing up a little. He glowed in a burnished luminescence, similar to that which surrounded Nurianna earlier in the day.  Its features were hazy and hard to discern, but Mina caught glimpses of almost exaggerated elven-like framing, including slender long-pointed ears.

It spoke, a voice that could have belonged to man or woman. “Ah, so you are here.” It raised its sword as it continued to speak. “I grant you the greatest boon there is; the boon of Mamban. I grant you your freedom.”

Mina suddenly became aware of a tether, a glowing golden braid that was attached to her, leading off into the darkness. As she marveled at the revelation of such a link, the voice spoke again, “This will cause you great pain,” and the luminescent being sliced through the golden braid with the white hot blade.

The blade may have well split Mina’s spine. Sound could not escape as she collapsed in torment, her eyes wide as the shock was replaced with agony.  Rising panic filled her mouth with a bitter taste, and she wanted to cry out, but it was as if her muscles were locked in grief, staring upward at the sky. 

Uncontrollable thoughts speared through her mind with a razor sharp clarity, as if summoned through the pain. Too much, she thought wildly, I will die. They have cut my spirit from me. Mina wished to see the moon or the stars once more before she died, but the blanket of darkness occluded that last request. Instead, she began to pull inside of herself, trying to separate from the unfathomable experience of her body.

Then…a voice, ancient in its depths, spoke, “What have you done?” A visage appeared in her view – was that the avatar of Erastil?  Another voice from the other side – familiar.  Ketephys.  She vibrated with pain, even as she tried to tell her body to reach out to them.

Ketephys said, “It was not her time! This was not to be!”

The white being replied, “Well then why was she sent to me, if it was not her time? I do not decide when it is time. I only grant freedom.”

The thought… the sting of trickery… passed like an insect across Mina’s mind, fighting through the fog of torment.

Erastil looked down at Mina and said, “She is still awake – she must be in great pain.” His hand came down over her face, and Mina cried out inside, No, wait… as the darkness from above closed in.