Let’s get something straight right now—her name at the time, her proper name, was Driana. Not “The Enchantress Sorrowsbane” or “She Who Speaks in Fire” or any of the other garblings this story has apparently accumulated over the last thousand-odd years.
Yes, no doubt she was known by those names too. Most humans can’t seem to avoid becoming something other than what they are, unlike the more sensible demon-kin. Yet it was the beginning you asked about, and at the start of it all she was a twiggy little redheaded bundle of trouble named Driana. I know. I was there.
My name is Sahel.
Yes, you got that wrong as well. Don’t worry. Your conjuration was flawed, but at least you got the Barrier right. It will hold for a while. Lucky you. Hmmm? Oh, I just realized that someone wanted my attention, and I was curious. I’m not used to being summoned like a common variety demon. Frankly, I’m surprised that even a garbled version of my name is known in the world—I’ve tried to be more discreet than that. Oh, well.
So you want to know about Driana? The truth? On your head be it, then. I don’t owe you anything, understand, but I do owe Driana at least that much. What I will tell you now is the truth.
You can trust me that far.
I first met Driana the year after the war between the Twelve Kingdoms and the western barbarians had ended. In the town of Kelan’s Pass in Morushe, a hedge wizard named Ledanthos with delusions of talent was about to charm a love‑amulet for one of his more romantic—and wealthier—customers when he finally noticed the witch‑worm. There was barely an inch of it showing through a crack in the wattling near the floor, and if the one who’d placed it there had used a piece of wood other than freshly-peeled willow, he might not have noticed it at all. Yet he did notice, and that was that.
“Well well,” he said. “It seems there is a thief about.”
I’m not sure what memory has survived of Ledanthos. If justice were served, very little. He was a small man of small vision, yet I will give the miserly old coot his due—he knew opportunity when it arrived. A more self‑important magician might have taken grave offense at the thought of someone tapping into his magic without permission and sent a fatal curse down the witch-worm to end the matter there and then. Not Ledanthos. He spoke charms of binding and summoning and sent those instead.
I’m not sure what he expected, but not half an hour later Driana appeared at his door. She was then as I have said: small, skinny, hair like a burning stack of hay and just about as neat. She wasn’t frightened, as one might expect. She was furious. Her eyes were as wild as a trapped animal’s. She clearly wanted to flee, but the charm that had brought her to Ledanthos’s door held her fast. Even so, she would not enter the shop when bidden, and Ledanthos practically had to drag her in. This raised Ledanthos’s annoyance and my curiosity.
Where was I, you ask?
Where I always was in those days: in the middle of Ledanthos’s workbench, trapped, immobile. There was very little of interest in the old man’s life that didn’t take place in that room, so I missed nothing important.
“You must either pay me for the magic you have stolen, or I may collect in goods and services,” Ledanthos said. “That is the law. This thing—” here he held up the now‑broken pieces of the witch-worm “—is no more, but by my estimate has been in place nearly a week. You owe me seventy-four imperials.”
Seventy‑four gold coins. What complete rubbish. Ledanthos had never learned the true art of tapping power from the world around him. Much of Ledanthos’s magic came from me; his own magic wasn’t worth seventy‑four imperials if stolen his entire life, never mind the minuscule fraction the girl had filched. Yet the law was on Ledanthos’s side, and by the look of both the girl’s clothes and the expression on her face, it might as well have been all the money in Creation.
“I see,” said the old man. “Then you must work for me until the debt is paid. What is your name, girl? Who are your parents?”
“Driana,” she said. “My parents were killed in the war.”
That explained the ragged clothes and the obvious fact that she hadn’t bathed recently. Driana’s mother had been a witch of sorts on the western frontier and had taught the girl a little, but not how to gather her own magic. After the war Driana had moved eastward and survived on odd jobs and theft, including such crude tricks as the witch-worm to siphon off magical energy. Perhaps she would have been reduced to selling her body in another year or two but, judging from what I came to know of her later, I doubt that. More likely she’d have been hanged first. All this, of course, I learned after the fact. At our first encounter, other matters caught my attention.
She saw me.
By that I do not mean she saw what Ledanthos saw: a crudely hewn stone statue sitting in the middle of his workbench. And, by the way, when I say “crude,” I mean it. The carving could have been anything from a demon to an underfed bear.
Ledanthos did not know about me, you see. He thought I was simply an object of magical power, which, you must admit, was more or less true. He siphoned that power in a similar fashion as Driana’s witch-worm to use in his work, yet he only saw the statue form into which I was sealed. Driana saw me. I was certain of it, as she looked warily around Ledanthos’s workshop. Her anger was gone and now she looked resigned, and nervous, but also very curious.
I could see her peering intently at the odd assortment of books, vessels, and bric-a-brac littering the shop as if she were trying to remember everything and sort out what it was for, what it did. When her gaze came to me she stopped, and she stared for so long that Ledanthos finally frowned.
“What are you looking at, girl?” he asked.
“That statue. It’s very strange.”
He grunted. “There is much strangeness in the world, girl; no sense getting caught up in it. So. Your first job is to clean up in here while I run some errands. Touch nothing that you do not understand, which should be almost everything except the charcoal bin and the rat droppings in the corner. Mainly sweep the floor and tidy up. If you do a good job I’ll feed you when I get back. You needn’t bother running away; my binding spell will only bring you back and you’ll find a whip waiting. Do we understand one another?”
The mention of food finally got her attention off of me. “Yes... um, what should I call you?”
“Master, of course.”
“Yes, Master,” she said, as if the words had a poor taste to them. Her disgust wasn’t lost on Ledanthos, who merely grinned.
“You want the merchandise, you pay the price. One way or another. The folly of thieves is that they believe this does not apply to them. I’ll be back soon, so get busy.”
Driana did so, though the only broom available had a cracked handle and moldy straw that, at least at first, left more debris than it removed. It was only when the room was somewhat more presentable that she put the broom aside and looked closely at me again.
“What are you?” she asked aloud.
Now, please bear in mind that this was a new thing. I had been trapped in what looked like a pitiful little statue for the better part of five hundred years, and in all that time no one, even those like Ledanthos who recognized the magic surrounding me, saw my prison for what it was. Driana did. She knew someone alive was trapped there, and she was curious. Frankly I was curious about her as well.
Driana glanced out the window by the door, but there was no sign of Ledanthos. She reached into a pouch on the ragged strip of leather she was using for a belt and pulled out another witch‑worm. I could plainly see the faint glow of magic about it. Now, as you should suspect from your botching of my Summoning, in magic it’s as much how you say a thing as what you say, and when Driana spoke the simple word ‘Reveal,’ it was better than an hour of Ledanthos’s arcane incantations in three forgotten languages. Even the ones he actually got right.
In that instant the crude little statue which was both my home and prison stood unmasked as the portal that it really was; the one that, for five hundred years, I had been unable to cross. Driana’s green eyes went wide in astonishment and wonder.
Don’t say that name.
I didn’t really expect her to hear me, but that simple revealing spell had done far more than simply drop the veil from the statue. My tongue was unbound, and the true appearance of my prison—to the degree it had a true appearance—was uncovered. And all with no more than a bit of borrowed magic and simple intent. Even I was impressed—the urchin clearly had talent.
“Who are you?” she asked.
My name is Sahel. How did you recognize me?
“My mother’s specialty was illusion. She was killed before she could teach me much, but the ability to recognize illusion was among her very first lessons. So what are you? Why are you serving this rag and trick wizard?”
I am demon-kin, and I serve Ledanthos for the same reason you do—I was caught. Though I will say in my defense that it was not Ledanthos who caught me.
She sniffed. “That bloody fool? I’ve been stealing his magic for months; he only caught me because I was beginning to think he was blind as well as stupid. I won’t be so careless next time.”
Why were you stealing magic in the first place?
She shrugged. “To live. I have no source of power of my own, nor yet the skills to make any. I used the stolen magic to charm small trinkets to sell, or to make a baker look one way while his fresh loaves were going another direction; that sort of thing. Simple tricks, though I always wondered how one like Ledanthos could command such a high level of power. Now I know. Does he?”
He knows only what he sees. His curiosity extends no further than that. Frankly, how he became a magician at all baffles me.
“Me, too, yet he is my master now,” she said thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should tell him what he has in you.”
I laughed then, for the first time in several centuries. Perhaps we should just speak plainly to one another. You want something from me. I think perhaps I want something from you. Shall we discuss it?
“I want many things,” Driana said. “My freedom, for a start. What do you want, Sahel?”
Many things as well, but for now I simply want the same thing you do, as I believe you have already guessed. Ledanthos will be back shortly. I suggest you give the floor another pass with that miserable excuse for a broom if you want to eat tonight. We’ll talk later.
‘Later’ proved to be several days away. Ledanthos was very busy at the time, and he kept Driana even busier. I will say in his favor that he fed her little worse than he fed himself—which was to say, miserly—and never actually beat her, though he threatened constantly.
Ah, of course. I thought you might be wondering about that. The answer is ‘no.’ If the old miser had ever lusted for anything other than gold, such urges were long dried up by the time I knew him. Driana, like my own hidden self, was a servant to him and that was all.
Which was probably fortunate on his part—he might not have noticed the wicked‑looking knife she kept concealed, but I certainly did. As for his binding spell, it was powerful enough thanks to me, but like all his work, it was somewhat shoddy. I have no doubt Driana could have broken free in time, with or without my help. Unlike Ledanthos, she had great natural skill and a desire to learn and understand more. I remember wondering at the time what she would be capable of if she lived long enough to master her art. I guess time and history have answered that, yes?
Let’s see... oh, yes. Ledanthos got a summons from a surprisingly wealthy client. It seemed that the potency of his amulets and spells was becoming better known, and he would now get the chance to improve his standing with those who used the services of conjurors such as himself. I almost expected to sense visions of grander quarters and fine clothes about him, but then I remembered that this was Ledanthos, and the only ‘visions’ he had were of more gold that he did not spend, simply piled up higher, faster, and easier, but to no better effect. After all, a pig in a crown is still not a king.
Yes, I know. The expression was old even a thousand years ago. Pardon the digression. So Ledanthos got this summons and of course he had to answer it straight away. I think he considered taking Driana with him since he had gotten used to her help, but she was still wearing the same filthy rags she’d been captured in—I wager it had never occurred to Ledanthos that this was a problem—and there simply wasn’t time to make her more presentable. As it was, Ledanthos’ best robes looked more than a little threadbare as he left us alone once more and locked the door behind him.
Driana didn’t even bother picking up the broom. “How long have you been trapped there, Sahel?” she asked without preamble.
Five hundred years, give or take a bit.
She nodded. “Very well, this is what I propose: I will help free you. In return you will not harm me, and you will serve me gladly for a term of forty years.”
I almost laughed again. Forty years. To little Driana then it must have seemed like all the time in the world. She may have learned better, but never say she always knew better.
No, I said.
She blinked. “No...? Do you want to stay in there forever?”
Hardly. But once I’m out of here I’m going to have my own business to attend to. I can’t very well do so if I’m bound to you for another forty years. Why would I trade one prison for another?
She looked grim. “Forty years is nothing compared to five hundred,” she pointed out. “And I don’t have to help you. You could sit in there for another five hundred years!”
That is true. Now I want you to picture yourself in bondage to that miserable old coot for the same forty years you demanded of me. You know magic will extend his life more than that, even. I’ll weight my time against yours and we’ll see whose is the easier burden.
As I said, I was pretty certain that she could break his magical chains in much less time. She was less certain of that, and of herself. I used that, as I would any tool that suited my purpose.
Driana looked unhappy, but she wasn’t going to give up so easily. “Twenty years,” she said.
One year, I countered.
She sighed deeply. “Seven?”
Must I repeat myself?
“Oh, very well. You will serve me for five years, and swear to bring me to no harm now or later. If you agree, then tell me how to free you.”
Done. And freeing me is simple, if not easy—you have to find me.
She frowned. “I’ve already found you!”
Finding the river is not the same as finding the fish, as any decent fisherman could tell you. You’ll have to cross the portal to where I am.
“Then won’t I be as trapped as you are?”
Trapped? No. However, there is a danger that you can become lost. Yet this is the only way. I cannot come to you, so you must come to me.
“You’re aware of my presence. Can’t you simply guide me to you once I cross over?”
Yes... and no. You’ll understand once you’ve crossed the portal.
If it sounds as if I’m being a little vague, that’s no more than the truth. I was afraid Driana wouldn’t make the attempt if she knew what was waiting for her on the other side. I’m not sure I would have in her place. I can only say in my defense that I did not know Driana quite so well then.
Her reveal spell was still working fine. In the place where my statue sat on Ledanthos’s work table, there was a patch of darkness about five feet high and half again as wide. That was another illusion of sorts, but then normal dimensions of height and width don’t really apply to this particular portal. In symbolic and practical terms, it was a doorway, and that was enough. Driana took one step off Ledanthos’s work stool and passed through the opening.
I can tell you what she saw because it’s what I saw, my first time here. The difference was that there was no portal behind me to return through. There’s a trick to it, of course. As things were, Driana stood in what looked like a short hallway. Beyond that was another door.
“Where am I?” she asked.
There’s a door in front of you, correct?
Open that door and you’ll find out.
She did as I said. “By Sethis....” Her voice trailed off.
I did tell you about saying that name... oh, never mind. What do you see?
“My mother... my father. They’re alive!”
I knew this was going to be a critical point. If Driana could not get past the first door, there was no chance she’d be able to find me. After coming this far, coming so close to freedom, I confess I was a little nervous, and I made a very serious mistake.
It’s just an illusion to distract you. Walk on to the next doorway.
“It’s wrong,” she said. I could tell that she hadn’t moved a single step closer. “They’re not the way I remember them.”
I said it’s an illusion. Keep moving.
“If it’s an illusion, then why aren’t they as I remember? Why do I see them this way?”
“Older. I’m older too. My father is smiling, my mother is crying. Do you know what my mother and I are doing, Sahel?”
That at least was the truth. I could not see what she saw now; this was her lost time, not mine. I could not see her at all, now that she had crossed the doorway. The immediate surroundings of my prison I could see as clear as a cloudless morning. But the place itself? No more than the little in front of me, and for me there were no doors.
“We’re in our home, the one that was burned to the ground the day they died. My mother and I are sewing my wedding dress.”
It’s a trap to snare you, to prevent you from moving forward. Nothing more. Ignore—
“Stop lying to me, Sahel! I told you I know illusion, and this is not an illusion! I’m not merely seeing this, I’m there! I’m myself and yet I am with them. I know what that girl sewing the dress is thinking, I know what she’s feeling. I’m watching it all, yet the thread is in my hand and I feel the sting from the needle’s point! If you don’t tell me what this means right now, our bargain is ended. And I do know the way out.”
She wasn’t bluffing. I’d thought the lie might make things easier, but this was Driana I was dealing with, and let me confess frankly that I was only just then beginning to understand what that meant. I abandoned the lie.
I don’t know the true name of this place, Driana, if it has one. I call it ‘The Manor of Lost Time.’ Humans and demon-kin alike generate a nearly infinite cache of lost possibility for every path not taken. This is the place where all the ‘might have beens’ reside. That is what you’re experiencing now. The potential was there, but it was thwarted, for better or worse. What you’re seeing and feeling now, and knowing now, did not happen. You’re right—it’s not an illusion, but it’s also not real, and never can be real.
“I lost this the day my parents died,” she said simply.
I nodded, forgetting for the moment that she could not see me. Yes, I said.
“What will I see next?”
I truly do not know, Driana. Perhaps something horrible, or something painful and sad, but also perhaps something wonderful, joyous. Whatever it may be, it is something you’ve lost forever. That’s what is waiting behind every door. Fortunately, only a limited number of doors block your path to me, but I do not know exactly how many, or why the ones that appear are the ones that do appear. I’m trapped in a room of my own lost time, and I cannot see my door, or you. You’ll have to cross your own lost time to reach me, and find the door I cannot see.
I’m not sure what I expected then. I halfway expected her to flee from both myself and Ledanthos, binding spell or no. But after a very long silence, I heard her voice again.
“Makan. I was going to marry Makan. I rather suspected that.” Maybe it was my imagination, but I think there was a touch of relief echoed in her words.
He wasn’t your choice?
“He was... Makan. A year older than I was. He was tall and strong and pig-headed, and he cheated at ring-toss. I liked him well enough when I didn’t actually hate him. Yet when I’m sitting with my mother sewing my wedding dress, I love him more than anything. I’ve never been in love or lost a love, but I do know what both feel like, to love and lose in the exact same moment. Thanks to you, Sahel.”
“No you’re not, and you may go to blazes. But not until after you honor our bargain. I see the next door. I’ll open it now,” she said, and that’s what she did.
I’m not going to tell you everything she saw behind every door. Partly because there are some she never spoke of, even to me, but mostly because it’s beside the point. I told you the first because you need to understand what this was costing her. What it would cost anyone. How would you like to see your lost chances and potentials paraded in front of you, forced to live through every single one, the good and the bad, but all never to be? There are few humans who wouldn’t be reduced to a blubbering mess within an hour’s time.
Not Driana, though I’m honestly not certain how many more she could have taken before she finally walked into a bit of lost time that was not her own: an image of a celestial city and a street located just this side of what you might refer to as the Abode of the Gods.
Yes, it was mine.
For creatures with the lifespan of mayflies, relatively speaking, humans have quite a gift for focusing attention on the matter at hand, whatever it may be. It was only when she found my lost time that Driana stopped concentrating on the next door and paused to wonder just what the hell she’d gotten herself into. Fortunately for me.
“What are you, Sahel?”
Demon-kin. I told you that.
“This place belongs to no version of a hell I’ve ever heard of.”
An expert on hells, are you?
“The truth, Sahel. For our bargain to work I need to know I can trust you. Tell me the truth. Who are you? How did you get here in the first place?”
Yes, she did finally ask me that. I do think it would have been wiser on her part if that question had been asked earlier, but I guess it was better the way things were. That’s always a comfort to cling to, when dealing with lost time. I imagine there’s a new room in the Manor now, of what would have happened had she asked those questions earlier. I will avoid it.
Again, yes, I’m going to tell you what I said, else nothing else that follows will make sense to you. And do remember—you asked.
Just over a year ago there was a war on the western border of this country, I said.
“I know, Sahel,” Driana said grimly. “I was there.”
Just over five hundred years ago, there was a war in the Abode of the Gods, and I was there.
Stop saying the wretch’s name. How many times must I repeat that?
“But... the demon-kin are far older than that,” she said in protest. “And long-since banished to infernal planes of existence. Assuming there was such a thing, what business would it be of yours?”
I said I was demon-kin, and so I am. What are demons but gods who have lost their place in the heavens? What makes you think that one war ended all of them?
I knew she was thinking about it, though I still could not see her, nor even the lost time that she moved through now. My lost time. I think it would have been a nice touch if I’d been allowed to see and experience it rather than just knowing it was there. A bit of torture, perhaps. Only that the point had never been to torture me. Or any of us. Maybe Sethis thought that made everything all right.
“You’re saying you were a god?!”
Not ‘were,’ Driana. ‘Am.’
Excuse me, but if your mouth has fallen open in surprise, I do wish you’d close it. I find the thought very distracting. Ummm? Well, I advise you to get over your astonishment. There’s more.
“But once you lost...” Driana began.
I know the rules, Driana. A new born demon, to seed to the Infernal Plane? There’s just one problem with that assessment—I wasn’t on the losing side.
“But... then why are you here?”
Because it was my charge to drive the last four rebels from the Abode of the Gods. Because as I was so doing, Sethis, Lord of the Heavens and Commander of Lightning, lost his divine nerve. He sealed the portal with all five of us inside. The loyal and the traitorous alike.. Neither Heaven nor Hell; simply sealed away. Each of us in our separate houses of lost possibilities, until the end of time... which may come sooner than he thought..
You want to know what she said? She said what you’re obviously thinking. That I was lying.
The thing is, as you may have noticed, I’m not a very good liar. It’s not my nature, but Driana is very good at knowing a lie from the truth. So Driana said that she didn’t believe me, but of course she did. Just as you do. I had to make sure she continued to believe me, so I continued to tell her the truth, just as I’m doing to you now.
You’re standing within my sphere of lost time. I do not know what it shows you, but you know it is none of yours. Isn’t that true?
The answer came softly. If it had been spoken with any less force even I would not have heard it.
You see the doorway that is hidden to me. Is that not also true?
Again the answer came, “Yes.”
Know this, Driana—I will do as I have sworn. I will serve you in all things for a term of five years. You can train your magical skills with a god for a tutor. At the end of that time, I will take my leave of you and use my freedom to track down the four who were imprisoned at the same time I was. When I find them, I will set them free. Together we will storm the Abode of the Gods.
“But if you lose....”
I did not lose before, and I will not lose this time. Lord Sethis, if he is very lucky, will soon reside in a prison of his own lost time, and in his case I will not conceal the door but I will bar it against him, and he will contemplate what will never come to pass for the rest of eternity. I swear that this is so. Do you believe me?
“Yes, Sahel. I believe you.”
You’ve heard my choice, Driana. Now make yours—open the door and free me, or return the way you came, to your master, Ledanthos. You’ll likely be rid of him on your own, sooner or later.
Now then. You must admit that was a very silly question on your part. You know what Driana did, or this conversation would not be happening. You can well imagine Ledanthos’s surprise when she emerged from nothing leading a being of light and fire like a little lost child. The shock killed him, which is a pity—I wanted to do it.
As for me, I’m not quite done with my plans. These things take time. Three of my brothers and sisters are free now. Soon we all will be.
Umm, no, I do not think you will be offering any prayers to Sethis. See, he still doesn’t know. We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, would we? No, no sense in squirming. You did ask. And no, I said your barrier would hold for a while. I think it lasted up until just before the part where Ledanthos left Driana and me alone for the second time. If you’ve got any more questions, I suggest you ask them now.
Am I responsible for Driana’s final disappearance? I did not harm her, if that’s what you mean. I swore not to, and I’m a being of my word. Besides, why should I? She’s been a great help to me over the years. She found two of the other rebels on her own.
Loyalty to her god? What do you know of that? While it’s true Driana swore by Sethis out of habit, in her heart she was furious with him, not the least for letting her parents die. Finding them again in the Manor of Lost Time only made that worse, I’m afraid. Gods often forgive humans, in the stories. There’s no rule that says a human must forgive a god. Just between the two of us, I think she hates him more than I do.
Yes, that’s right. Hates. There are many legends about Driana’s death, and I assume that’s why you asked that silly question. They’re all nonsense, because she hasn’t died. When time came to weigh on her too heavily, she merely returned to the Manor of Lost Time. She lives there now, and acts out her lost potentials. She’s young when she chooses, old when she takes the whim. She marries that lout Makan or doesn’t. She has borne children, fought demons, and even inherited Ledanthos’s amulet business in one well-lost bit of possibility. But mostly I think she spends the lost time with her parents.
I think she regrets losing their potential most of all.
No, I said I will have no prayers, and I meant it. You won’t need them since I’m not going to hurt you. I am, however, going to put you somewhere safe until all this is over. You may thank me later. You’re going in the way I did, my first time, so you won’t be able to find the door. If you have any more questions, you can put them to Driana directly. I’m sure you’ll run into each other sooner or later.
By the way, she won’t show you the way out, and if I were you I wouldn’t try and force her. Even if she’s not in the mood to call down lightning on your head, she still carries that knife of hers and the legends don’t begin to do justice to her famous temper. But ask her politely and she might just show you where to find your own lost time.
Which starts now.