Zarah grumbles, “It's not that I'm afraid of rifting.” The bookshelves of the library seem to crowd around her from all directions as she perches on the edge of a soft easy chair, a black and red calico cat draped lazily over her shoulder. Marta in her young woman form sits across from Zarah in another chair and nods in understanding. “But I know the truth about it that everyone else pretends not to see.”
“Trust me ma'am, the full truth is always a complex matter. I am something of an expert on the subject.” Marta looks mesmerized by the cat on Zarah's shoulder, she sits on her hands to stop herself from reaching out for it. “You may see a side of the truth that others ignore, but that does not make other sides less true.” Zarah scowls and leans forward to look down between her legs at the bookshelves below. The calico cat scrambles to perch atop her back, then slinks down to lay with its feet up in the air and purring in her lap as Zarah sits up straight again; Marta bites her lip from wanting to gush at the cat's antics.
“Okay, maybe so, but,” Zarah sighs and speaks with force, “I still know my side of the truth matters. It has to fucking matter more, it just has to!” Her hands have clenched into fists on the chair's armrests, she unclenches one to pet the cat in her lap with rough strokes and a desperate fear on her face. The cat doesn't seem to mind at all but Marta looks worried for it.
“Ma'am, please, I believe you will anger Scarfenstein doing that.”
“Scarf and who?”
“Scarfenstein,” Marta says, allowing one hand to escape and point at the cat. Zarah looks aghast at Marta.
“Did you just name my scarf?”
Marta smiles and tucks her free hand underneath herself again, “No ma'am, that is the name you gave to it when you were thirteen. Do you remember, after you first animated it?”
“I don't remember last week,” Zarah says with pride. She looks down at the cat on its back purring in her lap, “So its name is Scarfenstein huh? Hey, so why is it a cat here?”
Marta looks away, embarrassed, “That was the closest mental approximate on short notice.”
“Really? Not a dog or something?” Zarah strokes Scarfenstein's furry belly and it waves its feet in the air, quivering with joy. Marta closes her eyes, her nose up in the air.
“Not even close ma'am!”
“Well, why not just as a scarf then?”
Marta turns back, “That makes no sense ma'am, I would not need to bring a scarf here, a scarf has no sapience.” Zarah only looks confused, and Marta patiently tries again, “A scarf is not alive.”
“Maybe not most of them, but mine is.”
“Scarfenstein is a soul with mental faculties approximate to a cat and bound to a scarf. Unlike you it has no preferred form when temporarily removed from its physical body, thus I had to choose a,” Marta blinks, “My apologies ma'am, your body has been ready for several seconds now. Sending your consciousnesses in three, two, one.” Zarah and the cat disappear, Zarah with a resigned look, and Marta snaps her fingers to make another book appear in her hand. “Are we nearly through all the charges yet?” She opens the book and reads from the first page she finds, then smiles, “I believe she will be glad to hear that.”
Zarah appears behind Jorg, her hands around his waist and her eyes glassy. He was putting on his armor and only jumps a little at her sudden presence, “Babe, perfect timing! Could you get the buckles that run down the side? Those are the worst.” Zarah does not respond, she remains frozen, and Jorg turns his head to look at her, “Babe?”
Zarah's eyes snap into focus and she smiles, “Back!” She lets go of Jorg and turns to the bed, where a limp red scarf springs to life and scurries over to cling to her leg, then climbs her body to encircle her neck. Zarah strokes the scarf, “Scarfenstein is an odd name, but it does fit you.”
“Babe?” Jorg sounds confused and Zarah grins affectionately at him.
“Apparently Scarfenstein was the name I gave it when I was a dumb kid.”
“Oh.” He waits a hair's breadth then asks, “And the buckles? Please?” He points to his armor where a row of leather buckles runs down his side under his arm. Zarah raises her eyebrows at him, then complies.
“Well I only just appeared out of thin air, but sure! I can do up your armor!” She cinches the first buckle as tight as it will go, leaving him gasping for breath, “As your loving wife it is my duty to help you get your armor on Jor - !” Her harassment is cut short as the black feather cloak she is still wearing compresses around her, hardens and becomes a black metal shell of steel armor. She wobbles, panicked, “Fuck, it got heavy, fuck!” Zarah topples and hits the floor with a loud thump, the red scarf around her neck helping cushion her head from the floor.
There is dead silence for the time it takes Jorg to undo his too-tight buckle, then he bursts out laughing as he leans over her, “As your loving husband it is my duty to remind you that you stole that magic cloak. If you had bought it, you would know how it worked.”
She glowers up at him, then joins him in laughter, “Someday it will be my great joy as your loving wife to smother you in your sleep. Now will you help me up?”
“Hmm … try this babe, say armor off.”
She puffs at him in disbelief but tries it, “Armor off.” The black armor softens and loosens to become the black feather cloak and she laughs again. “Pretty clever Jorg.” She takes the hand he offers and uses him to stand, “You might be worth keeping alive for a while longer.”
“Thank you babe.” He starts cinching up the buckles of his armor himself, “Now I really have to hurry, I'm supposed to be on duty by noon and if the rift circle is the least bit busy I'm going to be late. Are you done with this teleportation curse yet?”
Zarah sighs, “I have no idea. For all I know it's going to happen right - .” She stops speaking, then shakes her head. “Huh, I just had the feeling like it was about to happen. Must be my dramatic irony senses.” She shrugs and reaches down to help him with his buckles, then disappears.
Realizing she is gone again, Jorg sighs, “Damn it! I can't be late!” With one last look around the room for personal belongings he jogs for the door, “She'll have to understand.” As the door closes behind him, the red scarf appears in the air where Zarah had been standing and falls lifeless to the ground.
Zarah appears in the library perched on the edge of the easy chair and with a calico cat draped around her neck, “Fuck!”
Still sitting across from her, Marta chides Zarah, “Now calm down ma'am, you might be interested by what I found.” Marta has the book open in front of her and reads from it, “Lovers Escape, a magic device special-made by one Fong Phallen in Eastern Randicoor.” She glances up at the fuming Zarah, “It was a magic item from halfway around the world and you used it to block a force arrow?”
“I didn't know or care where it was from.” Zarah reaches up and picks the cat off from around her neck to place in her lap. “I've never heard of Eastern Randy Cur or any Phong Falin.”
Marta shrugs and continues reading, “When activated, the item teleports the user to the side of the last person that they,” Marta stumbles over the words, “that they had sexual intercourse with.”
Zarah laughs, “I've never heard of him but I like the guy already!”
Marta looks up from the book, “And because the item was destroyed in your hands you were cursed to suffer all the magic that it had left. After some simple calculation on my part, I surmise that there are only six or more charges left by now.” Marta smiles warmly, “Congratulations, these sporadic chats will soon be finished and you won't see me again until the next time you teleport somewhere.”
“The first one was more than I ever wanted.” Zarah relaxes in to the easy chair, “But I suppose it hasn't been terrible. … Wait! Did you say more? How far can I end up going?”
Marta glances back down at the book, “There doesn't seem to be a maximum distance, so if I judge by the skill of the spellcaster,” she flips a few pages, “roughly twice the length of your continent.”
“Fuck! I have to make Jorg late for duty!”
Zarah sighs, “If Jorg walks through the rift gate back to the Rock before the curse ends, I'll end up there along with him. I'll be stuck in that boring military town!”
Marta waits a full pause before asking, “And … to be stuck with your lover would be a bad thing?”
“Of course! I have a life in Goldenburg, an awesome career, a wonderful sword, everything a girl could want! Jorg was the one who left,” Zarah pauses, then shuts her eyes in shame at her selfishness and pounds a fist against the armrest, “he's the one who needs to come back and live with me in Goldenburg!” The cat jumps up from her lap and tries to wrap itself around her head in a fright. Zarah opens her eyes with an angry puff of air and points at Marta, “I need to know exactly how many more times this will happen. I think it's about to, so while I'm gone do some more of those calculations and find out! Got it?” She and the cat disappear as Marta is nodding.
Marta looks surprised, “She could tell when her body arrived and sent herself?” She starts reading the book again with special care, line by line, “Come to think of it, the Psionic Heart would hasten her talent growth. One curse and she nearly has the basics of teleportation learned.”
Zarah appears hand in hand with Jorg running down a dim alleyway, she cracks a smile as she runs alongside him, “I think I'm getting the hang of this!”
“Babe!” He looks happy to see her but doesn't stop running, “You didn't have to come after me, I know you don't - .”
She stops running and yanks on his hand to try and bring him to a halt, “Jorg, if you – fuck!” His momentum is too much and she only manages to stay on her feet with a dancing hop and step as he drags her back into a forced run. “Jorg, stop!”
He doesn't, but he does speak over his shoulder, “What's up babe?”
Zarah releases his hand with a frustrated look, then darts forward and trips him, sending him sprawling on the dirty ground, “Not you!” She takes the opportunity to sit on his back and crosses her arms. “Now this is important Jorg so pay - !”
He bucks her off and continues running, “Not now babe, I told you I'm in a hurry!”
“Jorg, if you love me you will stop running and listen to me!”
He stops, then turns on her with an angry scowl, “Babe, we talked about using that phrase.”
“If I thought you didn't love me Jorg, last night wouldn't have happened.” She walks over to him and pokes him hard in the chest. “But I needed you to stop, and now I need you to know how serious I am. Jorg, if you love me you won't go near that rift circle until I say you can.”
“I can't be late babe.”
She rolls her eyes, “Tell the commander that your wife didn't let you leave in time to make it. They will understand.”
Jorg sighs, “I will need a better explanation.”
“Long story short is that this curse sends me to you, so if you're standing in the circle when I get back … .” She trails off with a fearful shiver, then pokes him assertively again. “And if you're in Foe Hall when I appear, I'll be forced to take the long way home.”
Jorg holds up a hand, “You would teleport to the base? Babe that's wonderful, we'd be together. When or if this war starts you'd be completely safe, there's no place more fortified than Foe Hall.”
“I don't need protection Jorg.” She shakes her head, exasperated, “Look, it's about to happen again so just promise me you won't step in the circle until I say you can.” He says nothing, still angry. “It won't be long, the curse is almost finished.” He takes a deep breath, considering. “Jorg, promise me.”
“Zarah, I - .” But she is gone. He stares at the spot, deciding, then turns and starts running. His many stars, medals and epaulets rustle and jingle with each footfall.
Zarah appears in the library with an extra-loud, “Fuck!”
Marta smiles up at her from the book, “You'll wear out that word ma'am.”
“I have a right to be angry! That fucker didn't promise me, he even sounded glad that I might be dragged along to that pit of boredom! I might have encouraged him to run faster by telling him!”
“Perhaps you did.” Marta stares at Zarah with a knowing look, “Perhaps despite everything you unconsciously wish to be there with him, meaning this is your way of ensuring that future all while telling yourself that you do not want it.”
Zarah raises a finger to point at Marta with a furious look in her eyes, “Fuck you!” She looks at her pointing hand and flexes it, looking like she expects another spectral knife to appear, then sighs, “I'm not that clever. And I don't lie to myself about what I want.”
“You said earlier that you want to live with and beside him.”
“I want to be happy, same as everyone else.”
“If you love him … that's how it works, correct?”
Zarah shakes her head, “No matter how great he is, Jorg isn't my whole life. Nobody should be. People die, or they leave, or they forget you; suddenly they aren't there and you're left with a hole more painful than anything.” Zarah has a far-away look as she speaks in a low monotone. “The most important person in my life is me, and that's exactly the way it should be.”
“Many before you have uttered that phrase, and … let's see,” the book in Marta's hands disappears to be replaced by three others from which she reads in turn, “seventy-nine percent went on to commit unforgivable acts, sixty-five percent were eventually proven wrong and twenty-four percent later admitted such when questioned.” Marta looks up at Zarah over the frames of her glasses, “The odds say that you are wrong, but you will do something terrible because you can't accept it.”
“As long as your odds say I'll get paid to do it,” Zarah shrugs, “You just described the life of a killer for hire exactly.” The two sit and stare at each other until Zarah throws her arms up in exasperation, “So? How long until the curse ends?” Marta smiles and closes the three books with a single thump.
“Luckily for you, this is to be the last one.” Zarah's eyes widen with renewed hope and Marta nods, “You can thank Scafenstein for that, the curse counted it as an additional traveler and so the charges were expended faster that I earlier hypothesized.”
Zarah relaxes back in to her chair with relief, “So I'm staying in Goldenburg! … Wait, where is Scarfenstein?” Zarah feels around her head, while Marta flips open a book with a worried look.
“The spell is for people, not bound souls, and I doubt they would be considered a – ah, here we go.” She looks up at Zarah, “The item's maker did not consider such a scenario important to design for, so those without any previous sexual experience are brought directly back to,” Zarah disappears and Marta frowns, “the point from which the spell originated. Drat. Perhaps I do use too many words.”
Zarah appears in an open-air town square from which she recoils by instinct. A large crystalline slab has been set in to the ground here and surrounded by five giant stone columns covered in glyphs and runes. Heavy chains connect the five pillars and give the space inside a forbidden feel, while only steps outside Zarah and Jorg stand holding hands. Zarah turns and tries to run but Jorg holds her firm.
“Can I go now babe? I can still be on time if I go now.”
“Sure, curse is lifted, go on.” Zarah refuses to look anywhere near the structure behind her, even as Jorg releases her hand and steps under the large chains.
A voice booms out from the five pillars, child-like and warm, “State your destination please.”
Zarah looks up from the ground, “Marta?”
“Foe Hall rift gate.” Jorg turns back and calls out to Zarah from within the circle, “Babe, I love you! Stay safe!” Zarah still will not look at him or the rift gate, and so he speaks again as a halo of golden light rises up around him, “Rift gates are perfectly safe babe. People don't die when they use them. Your mom didn't die, she's probably fighting in some war half way around the world these days.”
Zarah shouts without turning to face him, “I was a stupid kid but I saw what I saw!”
Jorg shrugs, “I'll see you babe. And send word if we're pregnant!” His face and body go slack but he is held up by the golden light as first his feet and then moving upward the rest of him atomize into a fine crystalline powder that drops down to meld in to the large slab below. Zarah shuts her eyes tight but she can't stop the tears from coming, so she wraps the black feather cloak tighter around herself and stumbles away.