“I-Is this a joke?” Cat asked herself out loud as she stared at the picture. The girl in the picture was a perfect match for Rosa; the red hair tied back in a ponytail, the thin cheeks, the way she leaned over Asha’s shoulders. Everything about her seemed so familiar to Cat!
Christie: Yo, Asha says this is working. You’re this Cat person, huh?
Cat: Yeah, heya! Sorry, I was distracted. I’m Cat.
Christie: So you’re the reason Asha’s been spending all her time in the corner, eh? You should just leave her alone! We’ve got more than enough problems here without outsiders butting in.
Cat: What do you mean outsider?
Christie: Nobody’s leaving the Line, no matter what, so just leave her alone. You hear me?
Cat: I like talking to Asha, and she likes talking to me so I don’t see why it should matter to you.
Christie: Just butt out!
The picture changed as it showed Asha trying to peek over Christie’s shoulder, as the red head seemed to be getting up and moving out of the frame. Her tone, the way she talked, was certainly like Rosa too. Cat was stunned, unable to even pick up her quill. She snapped out of it when she saw the picture change. Asha was alone again.
Asha: Sorry about that, Cat. I got to go now.
Cat: Wait, Asha, what was that about?
Asha: Sorry. Bye.
The book instantly went quiet as Asha’s portrait was empty. Cat sat up in her bed, on high alert. It almost felt like Rosa had somehow crashed her book and taken her friend away! She knew it wasn’t possible for it to actually be Rosa. Perhaps a doppleganger? Or maybe a sister? There had to be some connection.
There was only one person that could possibly answer all the questions she had about the book, and that was the person who had given it to her in the first place! Though she hadn’t actually confirmed it, Cat was pretty sure the only one with the talent to construct something magical like this and the interest in her was Sheh. This twist, with having a Rosa look-alike also seemed like something the mischievous storyteller would construct.
Carrying the book under her arm, Cat headed out from her room, tiptoeing through the hall so as not to attract attention from Hanne or disturb her sister. All the others had long since left after, uselessly in Cat’s opinion, prodding at Hildegard.
Heading downstairs and sneaking out the front door, Cat thought about the most likely place she’d find Sheh. While she could just summon the spirit in front of her, Scheherazade always seemed so put out at being yanked across the city like that.
“I always know when you need me!” She had protested the last time Catarina had tried, “And I’ll be sure to put myself in a place you can find me, if you just come looking.”
So Cat needed to find her. Where would a spirit go when it wasn’t ‘needed’? Scheherazade was a storytelling spirit and the matter was about the book so…
“Of course, she must be in the library!”
Cat pulled the hood up over her cloak as she headed out through the streets of Rome towards her library.
Sheh’s library was, as ever, tucked away in a relatively quiet street disguised as an abandoned building. Though a relatively thin townhouse on the outside, once inside it expanded into a vast space filled with soft amber light, with multiple floors of shelves crammed with books of all origins and ages.
As she slipped into the library, she saw, sitting casually in his seat with a stack of books on either side of her, was Scheherazade, happily reading to her heart’s content, a book in one hand with her long pipe held delicately in the other. “Ah, Catarina! I knew you would come. I’ve been negotiating for some of the books Giovanni and Nora have squirreled away. I wonder what else is still carefully guarded in his Vatican.”
Catarina pulled the book from her bag, holding it up to show it to her “Sheh! Is this book yours? Did you give it to me?”
Scheherazade sighed as she waved her pipe, sending the books back to their shelves. “Catarina, I know you are young, but really, we must work on your etiquette. Now please…take a deep breath and pull up a chair.”
As she spoke, Scheherazade put her palm beneath her lips and blew some air across her hand, creating a golden-winged sparrow that glided across the table, its body dissolving into flakes of white light that reformed into a kit for tea, with the water already hot. “Would you please join me for tea, my dear Catarina? It makes discussions so much more…delightful!”
“Mm, alright…” Cat said as she took a seat across the desk. She knew better than to try to argue with Scheherazade at times like this. The spirit loved playing the noble and expected Cat, whose family was considered nobility among mages, to behave the same. It felt sometimes like she was back in her father’s house, though Sheh was a lot more forgiving. “I would love some tea.”
The spirit smiled as she poured a cup for Cat, who took a sip gratefully before placing it down. Now that she had done that, she would be permitted to ask her question. It was…tiring sometimes, but right now Cat was thankful to Scheherazade for making her slow down. “It was you who made the book, wasn’t it, Sheh?”
“What book is that, dear Catarina?” The spirit said with a smile, taking a sip of tea herself. “There are many attributed to me or that bear my name.”
“I mean this one.” Cat said, taking out the leather-bound book and placing it on the table. “It’s magic. It lets me talk to people somewhere else in the world…some place called the Line!”
“My how wondrous.” The spirit said with a smile. “Though I can’t recall ever seeing it before.”
“Sheh, I’m serious!” Cat said, as emphatically as she could. “Mmm, I’ve met a girl named Asha, and we’ve been talking a lot. She’s been helping me not feel so lonely these days and the only person who knew how lonely I was…was you. So I know you gave it to me, but I need to know more!”
Scheherazade didn’t answer right away, taking the pause to refill the cups with hot tea. After taking a sip, she gracefully placed her cup down on its saucer. “Well, it’s not much of a revelation but yes, it was my gift to you. Though I can’t say it was entirely my creation.”
“Eh? What do you mean?”
“The book I gave you is a powerful magical artifact, Catarina, one to which I gave form, but there is much more to it than a simple enchantment.” Scheherazade said, giving Cat a very pleased smile. “It’s actually a rather impressive feat, if I may say so myself!”
“How does it work then?” Cat asked.
“I do not fully understand it myself.” Sheh said. “It draws much of its magic from the threads of destiny. I created this copy of the book, here, with the goal of finding you someone who needed a friend as much as you did. The other book found its way, following the lines and machinations of fate to the hands of someone who was to meet you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Cat said. She furrowed her brow and pursed her lips as she digested what the other woman had told her. “You mean you don’t even know Asha at all?”
“I’m afraid I don’t…Nor do I know much about this “Line” you mentioned.” Sheh said. “Just that it was no coincidence that she ended up with the book. It was destiny.”
“So this was all just a puppet show?!” Cat couldn’t hide the frustration from her voice. “Who says I was supposed to meet her? And what am I supposed to do now, when she’s being bullied and won’t talk to me and I don’t even know where she is?!”
“But Catara…But Cat…” Scheherazade said, shrinking back a little not out of fear, but out of comfort. “It is the nature of heroes to have great destinies laid out before them, to have paths down which they will walk.”
“So I just have to strut down it like some sort of dog on a leash? Was I supposed to help Vittorio at Sicily too? Do I have any control over any of this at all?! Over what happens to Asha, over this stupid Rosa look-alike, over…over my sister…?”
“Of course you have control, my dear Catarina!” Scheherazade said, pulling the girl into her for a hug. “Your choices are what give you power over your actions. Destiny is shaped by our choices, not our choices by destiny.”
“How does that even work…” Cat mumbled, not pulling away from the hug. She liked how it felt to be held like that.
“We all make choices about whom we wish to be, about what we want to do with our lives. By making those choices, we’ve set a path in Destiny for us to follow. We can follow it, we can stray from it…and sometimes it’s not clear where it will take us, but it’s you who walks down it, who sets it. Now, look into your heart and tell me, what is it you want to be, Catarina?”
“Mmm…” Cat said, looking to the side as she thought. She knew the answer. No matter how she approached it, she always came back to the same conclusion. “I want to be a hero. I want to help people.”
Scheherazade smiled, tilting Cat’s head up to look at her. “In that case, my dear Catarina, my guess is that the book found Asha because while you needed a friend…Asha needs a hero.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=38&sl=349