There was something liberating in being a spirit. One could remove themselves from material form and fly across the wind if they so choose. Some more potent spirits were shapeshifters, able to take one or many more shapes beyond their natural form. However, even without such skills a spirit could still move through the world, an intangible and invisible specter in the aether, bound only by magic and the laws which bound all spirits.
Scheherazade was not particularly potent as spirits went. She wasn’t even a ghost of a real person, merely an archetype with some form of her memories and personality imprinted to give her form. She was a mere shadow of a phantom, a falsehood, and yet she was untroubled simply because she felt so free.
When Vittorio had entered Cat’s chamber, she had taken the opportunity to vanish once more into her ethereal form. She observed Cat for a while longer, smiling as she made her speech to the disenfranchised Sicilians. She truly was proud of Catarina; even at her relatively tender age, she showed a great deal of promise. She was a mage and warrior, and had the potential to be so much more.
After that, she had taken the initiative to leave Syracuse behind. Like a bird, she had moved through the air out over the city and from there traveled northwards. She followed an intuition she possessed, a keen sense for stories that had never failed her. It was the same sense that had drawn her to Catarina when she had first been summoned. From some unknown place beyond reality she had felt the call like an anchor on her spirit. She had formed from the infinite aether not for a mage in need of a servant, but for a hero in need of a storyteller, a new prospect for both of them.
She retook her physical form on a beach overlooking the clear blue waters of the Strait of Messina. Something about the cold blue waters had enraptured her memory and called her to stay a moment.
Memory was an odd thing for a spirit like Scheherazade. She closed her eyes and could see in her mind’s eye the city of Ctesiphon, see its high spires and the twinkling blue of the Tigris River. It was a city in its prime, all white stone and gilded domes, the envy of the world, and she had been its queen.
It all felt so real, the smells of the spice market, the heat of the sun, the sound of the river. She could recall all of them and yet she knew none of it was real. None of these memories were hers, and in truth they might not even be real, in fact likely weren’t real, false memories for a false ghost, altered by human perception.
Yet somehow…she was still at ease. Scheherazade smiled as she indulged in these memories, this phantasmagoria she made for herself. They might not have been true memories, but for her they were real, and she could be content with that. For while they might not have been memories, they were stories, stories of the woman Scheherazade as they may or may not have been. Hers was now the tale of the greatest storyteller in history.
That part she knew was hers, the love of stories. She was, before anything else, a storyteller to her core. Even removed from her identity as Scheherazade, that one truth still prevailed. It was the very core of her being to find and tell stories and it guided everything she did. Everything else may have been simply so much dross.
Of course she was quite fond of this identity as the storyteller Scheherazade. It was the form she chose to take after all. The woman, as she portrayed her, was witty, elegant, and wise; a laugher and a crier and a dreamer; brave to her core, well-read and well-bred. Calling this identity a part to play like an actor was dishonest. She had no other self, no alter ego by which she could be known. This spirit was Scheherazade alone.
With a flick of her fingers she summoned her golden sparrow into being. It was a small creature of light and gold, flitting about her fingers with all the semblance of life. It could be called a lesser spirit or familiar, but it had no substance of its own. Scheherazade was a storyteller; she could make almost anything she desired, though none of it was any realer than a story. The bird that she could feel jumping about her fingers was made of nothing more than dreams.
Of course, the power of dreams and stories was not to be underestimated. Dreams and stories might very well be the most important things in the universe. At least that’s what a storyteller might say.
With another thought she shed her physical form and rushed down the coast like a wind, her golden sparrow flapping in her wake. She had work to do, after all. Catarina might make for a personable master, but Scheherazade was still hers to command and she had made a promise.
The Rangers had thankfully not moved far from the coast. Scheherazade stepped lightly among them as they set up their camp, still invisible as she observed their meager establishment. Their ships were no doubt anchored in a lagoon somewhere, and they were setting up tents and fire pits before beginning their move towards Aetna. No doubt it would have been exciting to sit and watch, chronicling their stalwart march towards the volcano, but Scheherazade had other stories to occupy her time, and she had reassurance to give.
She felt a spot of relief as she saw Hildegard among the rangers working there. That was one person for whom Catarina feared would not be accounted. She was speaking with a young man Scheherazade didn’t recognize. A local perhaps? Her curiosity drew her closer briefly, and she saw the winged horse tethered nearby. Her heart leapt at the beautiful creature. A real breathing Pegasus right here before her! If that stallion did belong to the young man, then there was certainly a story to be told…
No. Were she visible, she would have shaken her head to refocus herself. She had a job to do. She would see that finished first and then she could try to discern more about the Pegasus and its mysterious rider.
Hanne was easy enough to find. The largest tent had been set up as a command area, used to block the sun and wind as Hanne deliberated over a map of Sicily. Scheherazade, however, could see the worry on her face extended further than their expedition.
Scheherazade extended her power into the world, a single well-placed gust of wind to close the tent flap behind her, leaving them alone and casting the room in semi-darkness.
“Captain Hanne.” A smile passed over her newly-formed lips as she stepped once more into physical shape “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last.”
Scheherazade had to hand it to the woman, she was fast. She hadn’t finished speaking by the time Hanne’s hand had drawn her sword and leveled it to Scheherazade’s throat.
“Who are you!?” She demanded. “How did you get here?”
“Walked.” Scheherazade said, raising her hands innocently. “And my name as you might know it best is Sheh.”
“Sheh?” Hanne’s scowl soon mixed freely with confusion. “Wait…Catarina’s tutor, Sheh?”
“The very same.” Scheherazade smiled. “Now about that sword-“
“How are you here?” Hanne’s blade wasn’t going anywhere, keeping it leveled distressingly close to her throat.
“There is more to me than perhaps Catarina let you know.” She said. “I am not human, as you can tell. I am a spirit, summoned by Catarina. A familiar of sorts.”
“Familiar…you’re Catarina’s spirit?” Hanne’s face once more shifted from confusion into alarm. “Catarina! Where is she!? Is she alright!?”
“Calm yourself, Captain.” Scheherazade smiled. “Catarina is quite safe, though she is rather far from here.”
“Where.” It was not so much a question as a demand. “Tell me and I’ll go.”
“Captain, you have Rangers to lead here.” Scheherazade said. “Presently she is caught up in a…situation in Syracuse.”
“The Mage War…” Word seemed to have moved ahead of Scheherazade as Hanne grit her teeth in anger.
“I’m afraid so, though thankfully she has made a few powerful allies.” Scheherazade tried to keep her voice optimistic as Hanne thankfully dropped her sword.
“She’s in over her head…” Hanne muttered. “I need to get her out of there.”
“With all due respect, captain.” Scheherazade said, stepping towards her. “I believe Catarina is quite aware of what she’s involved in, and is resolved to see it through.”
“She could be hurt!” Hanne shot back. “She could be killed!”
“Just as she could with you.” Scheherazade said.
“This doesn’t involve her.” Hanne said. “Why doesn’t she just come back to us? We could use her help.”
“Because that is not who she is.” Scheherazade said, seating herself in an ornate wooden armchair summoned from nothing but her own descriptive mind. “She saw people in need and resolved to help them any way she could.”
“There are people in Rome who are relying on her.” Hanne said. “They’re relying on all of us.”
“That is why you need to keep moving towards Aetna.” Scheherazade replied. “For them.”
“And Catarina needs to be here with us, not off helping Sicilians we’ve never even met in their own civil war.”
“As I said, that is who she is. Like it or not, it is in her character to help those she finds in need.”
Hanne narrowed her eyes as she looked again at Scheherazade. The spirit held her ground.
“You’re not willing to bring her back.”
“I could not if I wanted to.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Scheherazade was half-tempted to smile. She rather liked the Captain. “Catarina could do great things, given time. This could be merely the first step of her journey.”
“That’s not a burden that needs to be forced on her.”
“It is who she is; she would never refuse that task given the choice.”
“…” Hanne’s eyes once more grew wide, though now the alarm had been abandoned for fury. “You put her there.”
“I have no idea what you mean.”
Hanne almost growled as she spoke. “There’s a reason Catarina washed so far down the coast. You were behind it.”
Scheherazade’s face twisted into an ugly frown, so unlike her usual personality. “Careful now, Captain.”
“You could have gotten her killed!”
“I saved her life!”
“So you could put her in danger again!”
“I can make her a hero!” The air in the tent rumbled as Scheherazade drew herself up to her full height.
“You could make her a martyr.” Hanne’s hand went for her sword again.
Instantly Scheherazade quieted herself. “I would never allow it…”
“Take me to her.” Hanne demanded again.
“I can’t…truly I cannot. She’s too far away and it’s beyond my power. The journey would take days.”
“Which we don’t have…We could send Hildegard and Salvatore, the one with Pegasus.”
“That would only make the situation in Syracuse worse, Captain.” Scheherazade’s face fell. “When all of it is done, I can bring her back to you, and I swear I will bring her back safe.”
Hanne took a long sigh, and Scheherazade could see the weariness come over her face. There were few things more painful than knowing someone you were responsible for was taking risks, with you powerless to help them. Scheherazade had meant every word of what she had said, however. Her powers as a storyteller were far from phenomenal, but she would do all she could to keep Catarina safe, so long as she had the chance to prove herself.
“I swear Catarina will be brought back to you safe.” Scheherazade said, merely earning another tired sigh from Hanne.
“Is it worth her safety to you for her to become a hero in your eyes?”
“No.” Scheherazade admitted. “I suppose that I would rather see her safely mundane than a wounded hero. There are other stories that could be told, after all…”
“Then why-” Hanne began, but Scheherazade interrupted her.
“Because it’s not about what I desire. It’s what Catarina wishes to be.”