Epilogue: Sojourns

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Every ending a beginning, and every beginning an ending,
A wandering dance through time and space,
The destination ever changing, the path ever warping,
In this sea of preponderous possibility.

***

An Ajandi sultan knew how to entertain a guest, that much Calcifrax could say.

He reclined on a chair, and sipped the spiced wine that the sultan's serving girl had offered him. It hadn't been hard to pass himself off as nobility, given his abilities, and the sultan treated him like he was an emperor. He brought out the finest vintages, the most sumptuous delicacies, and the most beautiful of women. Doubtless the priesthood of the Ajandi would have frowned on such decadence and hedonism. But Calcifrax didn't care.

He was listening to the sultan —a rather portly man with a well-trimmed beard— talk about his latest exploits when a servant approached him. "Sir." She prostrated herself before him. "There are some women who wish to see you."

"They can wait," the sultan snapped. "Forgive my servants. They can sometimes forget their place."

The servant girl bowed again, making the diaphanous —and revealingly sheer— robe she wore shift in the slight breeze. "They are not your women, sire. They are travelers." She frowned. "A Vesperati and Calixa among them, as they informed me."

Calcifrax started. "Is something the matter?" the sultan asked.

"No. Bring them in, but... lodge them in a different room, if you don't mind." The sultan raised an eyebrow. "They would not approve of the entertainment you had." It was completely untrue, but Calcifrax didn't want to deal with his sister immortals next to a mere provincial governor. "Please, excuse me so I can attend to them."

The sultan nodded. "I guess we shall speak later, prince."

Calcifrax rose and followed the servant girl. She was beautiful, eyes rimmed with kohl, a maiden past twenty, with a mature beauty to her, though still retaining the smoothness of youth. The sultan could afford to keep his harem of such women.

She led him to the entrance of the palace, and open the door. "This way," she said. The four figures, wearing dark robes with mesh to cover their faces (protection from sandstorms) followed her silently, until they reached a small room with a couch and a table. Even before they spoke, Calcifrax knew it was them.

They threw off the robes, and Calcifrax stared at his sisters.

There was Aracedia, her skin dark brown, still resembling smooth bark. She wore clothes that would be considered indecent even to the prostitutes of Ajand, but for the Calixa, who needed as much skin exposed to drink in the nourishing sunlight, was quite modest, and richly adorned. A cloth covered her bosom and half her midriff, decorated with green beads, and a kilt covered up to her knees, ornamented in angular designs.

There was Yazhara, who wore a very utilitarian set of pants that ended halfway down her shins, and a sleeveless vest to let her wings stay exposed. Her ears twitched, and her eyes, seas of blood red, searched the room nervously.

And then there was Ishta'ana. Ravishing, but that was a given with her. She wore what appeared to be lustrous black satin that clung to her shapely form, but Calcifrax expected that it wasn't real cloth. "Ah, brother." She smiled, and a black-gloved hand closed the door. "It's been a while."

The servant girl backed up, against the wall, and as she moved, Calcifrax noticed a woman sitting down. Her hair was snow white, and she looked exceptionally frail. "Who is that? One of your thralls?"

Ishta'ana laughed. "No, no, dearest. I'd introduce you to Colette de Voileaux. A noblewoman caught doing... well, she is on our path, joining us soon, if all goes right."

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