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Of all the astonishing things that had happened to Josie, the statue coming to life as she climbed it was close to the most astonishing. It was strange how she had not been frightened, even at the very first. Tash was so obviously kind and had such a comforting smell. It was vaguely like jasmine, and impossible for Josie to associate with anything bad or dangerous.

She had no real hope that anything good would happen, when she began her desperate climb over the wall. Tash’s arrival had been miraculous; that was the only way to describe it. She could not help laughing for joy when their climb was over.

‘This has to be a dream,’ Josie told herself, as she had told herself so many times since she awoke by the side of the Lion’s Pool. ‘But I feel so very awake.’ She clung tightly to Tash, who had been a statue such a short time before, as he carried her through the forest on long swift legs.

‘Do you think this will do?’ asked Tash. Josie could still clearly hear the tinkling of the stream and the whistles of the night birds, but the air had a more closed-in feeling than it had before. There was a musty, herbal smell of decayed vegetable life.

‘I suppose so,’ she answered, climbing rather stiffly out of Tash’s arms and onto a carpet of dry leaves. ‘What is it like?’

‘A sort of a cave’ said Tash. ‘Just a little one. There are plants in front to make it hard to see.’

‘It doesn’t smell like any animal lives here – nothing large, at any rate – so it ought to do.’ Josie sat down on the leaves, which were soft and comfortable, if noisy whenever she moved a muscle. ‘If the ifrits know it is here, it will be a problem, but they seemed to spend most of their time at the castle, or miles and miles away running errands, so maybe they don’t know.’

‘It is dry,’ Tash said unhappily.

‘Dry is good for me,’ said Josie, and smiled. ‘Is it very wet where you come from?’

‘I think it must be,’ Tash said. ‘All the other places I have been so far seem too dry.’ There was a rush of dusty air, and rustling noise that took a long time to stop as Tash sat down

‘I hope it won’t be too uncomfortable for you,’ said Josie. ‘Maybe you will get used to it.’ Or maybe you will have to spend most of your time in a pond, like a frog, so you won’t dry out, she thought, but didn’t say. ‘Where is your country?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash. ‘I – I came through a hole from a place where the sky is different. Everything is different.’

‘So did I!’ said Josie. ‘I came here from a different world entirely, somehow.’ She shook her head, but grinned with a wild exhilaration that came from she-knew-not-where. ‘It is the kind of thing that only happens in stories.’

‘We do not have any stories about holes into other worlds where I come from,’ said Tash. ‘I did not know of such things until I went through one.’

‘Well, that too,’ said Josie. ‘But what I meant was, there aren’t many people coming into this world from other places, from what the gazelles – from what other people I talked to here – said, so it is amazing that we should meet up with each other. It is the sort of thing that happens in stories, where a man might be walking down the road in a foreign country and rescue a strange woman from danger, and the strange woman turns out to be his long lost sister.’

‘I would have been in very great trouble if I ever lost a sister,’ said Tash gravely.

‘I didn’t mean the man would have been the one who lost his sister, I meant she would have been lost in some other way.’

‘Maybe her parents sent her off to be sacrificed for the greater glory of the Overlord, without telling her brother?’ suggested Tash.

Josie shuddered. ‘Is that- is that the sort of thing that happens in your world?’

Tash said nothing, and Josie guessed he was nodding, or shrugging, or something like that, from the way the dry leaves crunched beneath him.

‘Well, we should be figuring out how we can get away from this evil magician and his servants and find ourselves somewhere safe,’ said Josie. ‘I am sure there will be plenty of time to tell our stories. So. I do know this place is a long long way from any inhabited country, at least from what other people said before I was carried off. I don’t know anything about the country around us. I was carried here through the air, a long way, from the place I arrived in this world. Did you get to see much before you came here? Do you have any idea where we could go?’

‘I did not see anything,’ said Tash, sounding apologetic. A sort of sad uncertainty had come into his voice since the topic of long-lost sisters had come up, and Josie had a powerful urge to pick him up and give him a hug.

‘I was not outside until just now,’ Tash continued. The last thing I remember I was in an inside place, and there were creatures who looked like you, and dressed like you, so I think it was the inside of the same place as we were at. But that is all.’

Josie shuffled herself closer to Tash and reached out to pat one of his hands, in lieu of the impossibility of picking him and giving him a hug.

‘Maybe we should tell each other our stories, then,’ she said. ‘It might be there is something in them that can help us.’

Tash said nothing one way or the other, so after a moment Josie started to tell her story, much as it has been written here: how she was going to England to live with her father, how she was swept overboard, how she wasn’t drowned but ended up in a strange world, and how she had fallen in with the gazelles. It seemed to her that Tash cheered up a little as she told her story.

‘They say there is a lion who pulls people out of other worlds into this world, because there is something important they are supposed to do here. He is kind of like- like a god, I suppose, of this world.’ She said this last bit as if it was something shameful, since it was after all shameful to act as if there were any gods other than the real God.

‘One of the humans said something about a lion, before I was turned to stone,’ said Tash. ‘What is a lion? And a god, what is that?’

Josie explained as best she could.

‘That is what the gazelles told me, at any rate,’ she said, when she was finished. ‘They seemed to think I had been brought here for some particular reason. Which would mean you were, too. And us both being here makes it seem very likely.’

Tash sounded dubious. ‘I was sent out of my world by- by an evil magician. And it was only chance that I got here, instead of somewhere else. I think. So I don’t think that this lion can have brought me here.’

‘They say God works in mysterious ways,’ said Josie, with some bitterness. ‘So I suppose this lion could work in mysterious ways too, if he is a sort of god.’

‘We did not have a God,’ said Tash. ‘Only the Overlord Varkarian. I think her ways were mysterious. But I don’t see how it can be the lion bringing me here, if it was an evil magician, and me deciding to choose to jump one way instead of another.’

‘I guess it really doesn’t matter anyway,’ Josie said. ‘Even if we are supposed to do something in particular, there’s no way we can go out of our way to do it if we don’t know what it is. We will have to figure out what to do without the help of a lion.’

She went on with her story, telling Tash how she had gone along with the plans of the gazelles because they seemed to know what they were doing, and were kind to her.

‘There is only one kind of speaking creature on my world,’ said Tash. ‘All the others are just beasts.’

‘It is the same on mine,’ said Josie. She had never quite gotten around to letting go of Tash’s hand.

‘And it is strange that we all speak the same language, though we come from different worlds.’

‘I thought that was strange, too,’ admitted Josie. ‘It is one of the things that makes me still think this is a dream, though it feels so real.’

‘It feels very real,’ said Tash, and Josie could feel the inhuman shudder that ran through him. ‘I do not want it to end. Though it is too dry.’

‘How could we ever tell that anything is real, really?’ said Josie, squeezing Tash’s hand. He squeezed hers back, and she gave an involuntary cry of pain.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Tash, as Josie retrieved her hand and rubbed it. ‘I am stronger here than I was.’

‘That’s okay,’ said Josie. ‘Ouch.’

She went on to tell Tash how she had been carried off by the ifrits, and what the evil magician said he was going to do to her.

‘That name, Yustus,’ said Tash. ‘The others said that name, just before they turned me to stone. They were turning me to stone until he came back. He was going to get the apples you talked about. I am not sure what apples are.’

‘They are a kind of fruit,’ said Josie. ‘He said he came back with them, and all the others had been turned into beasts by the lion,’ said Josie.

‘Good,’ said Tash.

‘I suppose they deserved it,’ said Josie. It was growing cold, now that the excitement of escape was passing, and she wished she had taken a blanket with her when she escaped from her tower. She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them to make a little ball of Josie-ness.

‘Hang on,’ she said, as she turned the events of her second meeting with the magician over in her mind to see which way they would fit in a story. ‘I remember the magician’s hand was all over rings, and Zardeenah said that rings were used to control the ifrits. Maybe if we took the magician’s rings… somehow… the ifrits wouldn’t be under his control, and would help us?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Tash. It seemed as if his attention had wandered, or he was growing sad again, or both.

‘It is something to try for, anyway, if we get an opportunity,’ said Josie. ‘The kinds of rings an evil magician wears are almost always good to get away from him.’

Tash made the kind of nod or shrug that Josie had noticed him making a couple of times before.

‘Maybe that’s why we got away, even though the ifrits were so close,’ mused Josie. ‘I thought it seemed too easy in the forest, almost as if they didn’t really want to find us. Maybe they can’t do anything directly against their master’s orders, but they’ll do whatever they can to trickily work against him so they can get free –that’s what ifrits would do in the stories on my world. So they’ve let us go, and they’ll let us run free as much as they can get away with, on the off chance that we’ll do something that will set them free.’

‘The stories of your world seem to contain many useful things,’ said Tash. ‘Ours are all about the necessity of obedience to the Overlord.’

‘That’s terrible,’ said Josie.

‘What about the rest of your story?’ she asked after a minute. ‘Why don’t you tell me what happened to you?’

‘I am not very good at recounting events,’ said Tash, taking her question literally. ‘And I feel very confused.’

‘That’s alright,’ said Josie. She shivered. ‘Maybe later is better.’ Outside, she could hear the howls of the wild dogs drawing closer. They did not know what sort of thing Tash was, she thought, so they were being cautious.

‘If the dogs- the animals that make those sounds- come to the edge of the cave, you need to throw something at them hard to make them afraid of us,’ she told Tash. ‘If they think we are dangerous, they will stay away, but if they think they can beat us, they will try to kill us.’

‘I can do that,’ said Tash confidently. ‘I am stronger here.’


It was a pleasant thing for Tash to think about, that he was stronger in this place than he had ever been, and he had thought about it for rather a long time. It seemed all the time he was thinking that Josie was just about to say something more, so that Tash remained quite awake, but she fell asleep instead. She had seemed cold to Tash, and he certainly seemed cold to himself, so when she was asleep he curled up around her. She stirred, but did not wake. Nothing would happen to her as had happened to Nera, Tash promised himself. Never, never, never. The night of the strange world rolled on towards dawn.

Tash was not very tired. He had been resting, after a fashion, for who knows how many years. He was also unused to the uncomfortable prickling dryness, so he woke while Josie still slept even though he had stayed awake very late indeed. The sun was already high in the sky, casting a strange hot yellow light, and the plants at the entrance to the cave made complicated shadows on the floor. The edges of the complicated curling shapes were sharp, but they moved constantly as the plants shifted in the wind, making the floor a seething mass of light and shadow that kept Tash’s attention for a long moment despite the fierce itching that had woken him. He carefully unwrapped himself from around the human and went to bathe in the stream.

In the daylight the sky, where it could be seen between the trees, was painfully blue, brighter than the sky of the world where he had met Nera. The space between the trees was flecked with countless flying things. There were large ones with feathers like his own, dozens of them, in many different kinds; and smaller ones, thousands of them, with fragile wings that were transparent opal or any one of a hundred brightly-coloured patterns.

The stream was deep enough that if he sat in it, it came up to his middle, and he enthusiastically splashed water over the rest of himself. It was very cold, but it made the itchiness disappear at once, and in some curious way it felt more like water than the water of his own world did. This whole place was like that. It felt alive: beautifully and wonderfully alive. For all the dangers here, it was a world that was more alive than his own, and he felt more alive in it.

He would never go back to his own world, he told himself. It was not possible; and if it were possible, he would not do it. Whatever dangers waited for him here, he would never be sacrificed to the Overlord. ‘Sweeter than narbul venom it is-‘ he found himself thinking reflexively, and stopped himself. Then thinking of narbul venom reminded him that it must have been a long time since he ate anything, and he wondered that he did not feel hungrier. Except for the lime ice, he had eaten nothing at all since he had been a prisoner underneath the Procurator’s tower, who knows how many lifetimes ago.

‘And who knows how far away,’ he thought joyously.

Because of the noise of the stream, Tash saw the shadows momentarily dimming the sunlight before he heard the flapping of the great wings of the ifrits. It would have made more sense for him to remain still and quiet, instead of getting up with a great splashing and rushing back to the cave, but as it turned out it would have made no difference. The magician had evidently found where they were hiding by some magic, and arrived outside the cave a few instants after Tash ran rashly into it to wake Josie.

‘Awake!’ he cried, but she was already awake and alert, brushing the crumbs of leaves from her garment. ‘Be brave,’ she told him.

It was easier for Tash to be brave when he saw that the magician was not carrying the wand that had turned him to stone. It was still not easy at all, though, and he fought the impulse to bow his head and let his arms droop in submission. The magician was darker than Josie, though not as dark as Nera had been, and he stood head and shoulders above the girl; in turn he came only up to the chests of the ifrits who stood to either side of him. Their skin was the livid red of boiled mire-beast, their eyes had the cruel glare familiar to Tash from the priests of his own people, and they bore spectacular arching membranous wings, but otherwise they looked much like humans. They were wearing breechclouts and embroidered vests that were too small for them, open in the front, while Yustus wore sombre black robes as evil magicians ought to.

‘You fools are as blind as the child,’ Yustus snapped at his minions. ‘There she is, and there is the fiend that helped her. Tell me, why did I not have it broken into pieces long ago?’

Tash tried to be brave, putting himself between Josie and her enemies, but Josie pushed past to stand at his side.

‘The thrill of the chase is all very well, but the time for games is over,’ said Yustus, relishing the sound of his own words.

‘No,’ said Josie.

‘Yes, child,’ said Yustus. ‘Your eyes are ready. Soon you will see. And soon afterwards-‘ he licked his lips. ‘Come quietly.’

‘No,’ said Josie, with authority. ‘I will not.’

‘It does not matter to me whether you come quietly or not,’ said the magician. ‘Eber, Saleh, seize her.’ The ifrits moved inexorably toward Josie, and Tash again tried to interpose himself, but she angrily batted him aside.

Why would she do that? She knows I am strong, and can fight them off, thought Tash.

Josie sprang, not backward into the cave, but sideways and away, crashing heedlessly through the undergrowth like someone who could see where she was going.

‘Get her!’ cried Yustus, his eyes glistening with excitement, and at a gesture the other two ifrits pounced after Josie. A few wingbeats, and the four ifrits had descended on Josie, bearing her down into a thorny bush. The magician clapped his hands in indecent glee.

His hands! Yes, one was bare, while the other bore six rings, five carved from precious stones, and one of gold. He and his ifrits were watching Josie’s capture, and – she knows I am strong, but they do not know I am strong – thought Tash in an instant. He thinks he is safe that far away.

Tash leapt forward, and in one bound had the magician’s hand in his beak.

‘Aieee!’ cried the magician, ‘Kill him, kill him, kill him!’ Tash’s beak cut through flesh and sinews instantly, but the bones offered more resistance; he levered his jaw back and forth, tasting human blood on his tongue for the first time. The ifrits had dropped Josie, were hurtling towards him in a storm of wings. The blood was hot and metallic and sweeter than narbul venom. One bone parted, than another; the magician’s hand tore free. The headlong rush of the ifrits suddenly slowed to a walk. Tash flicked his head, and sent the magician’s hand flying into the undergrowth.

‘Lion’s arsehole!’ swore the magician, desperately trying to staunch the torrent of blood from his stump with his remaining hand. ‘I will kill you with such tortures…’

‘No you won’t,’ said Tash, taking a few stumbling steps backward.

‘Help me,’ Yustus called to the ifrits. They slowly formed a circle around him, evidently in no hurry to obey his command.

‘You have been a good master to us,’ said the one the magician had called Eber, walking to where Tash had flung the magician’s hand.

‘Damn your balls, I have. Help me, you fools! And kill this monster.’

‘Of course, you could have been a better master,’ said Eber.

‘Damn you, help me.’ The magician was drawing on some hidden power, Tash could tell: although he was pale, he was controlling his pain, and the torrent of blood from his arm had slowed to a steady drip. Tash tried to follow Eber to where the hand lay, but the other ifrits blocked his path.

‘Indeed, I think you were no more than half the master you could have been,’ said Eber, retrieving the ring-encrusted hand. ‘What say you, my brothers?’

‘You speak truth,’ said Jabeth. The other two ifrits murmured their agreement.

‘What is this foolishness?’ cried Yustus. His concentration wavered, and he stumbled to one knee. He began – too late – to recite words that Tash could tell crackled with magic, forcing his good hand to trace letters in the air. ‘Makhr. Shalal. Khash…’

Eber nodded, and his brothers grabbed hold of Yustus by his ankles and his remaining wrist, as swiftly as a mist-stalker seizing a mire beast.

‘He has not been a half bad master to us,’ Eber told his brothers. ‘So take him halfway back to Telmar.’

‘No,’ said Yustus. ‘No!’ The wings of the three ifrits bore him irresistibly up into the painfully blue sky, up, up, and up. Eber followed a second after. A few drops of blood spattered the leaves of the bush where Josie lay, like the first fat drops of a thunderstorm.

The curses of Yustus trailed off in the direction of Telmar, and in a very little while were replaced by a scream, and then a sound of something hitting the ground.