Sammy woke as Mehrak kicked the stairwell gate closed behind him.
       “You’ve slept in late,” he said as he brought two steaming cups over to the bedside. “It’s nearly lunchtime.”
       The chandelier in the ceiling swung left and right in time to slow beats that reverberated up through the cottage.
       They were on the move.
       Sammy rubbed her eyes with her palms.
       Mehrak held out a cup. “Mushroom tea,” he said.
       Sammy took it. “How long have we been travelling?”
       “I’m not sure exactly. We set off early this morning, so we’ve been going a while.”
       Sammy slid out of bed, cupping her tea carefully. She shuffled to the doorway leading to the front balcony, stopped for a cavernous yawn that made her hands shake and her tea slop, then she pushed forward through the curtains to find –
       “It’s still dark.”
       “It is,” Mehrak said, as he followed her out. “What did you expect?”
       “I thought it would be brighter.” Sammy walked to the railing and leant on it. “Where’s the sun? You said it was morning.”
       “The big yellow ball that floats into the sky when it’s daytime.”
       “I’ve seen paintings of that big yellow ball in museums,” Mehrak said. “I’ve only ever read about daytime in history books, though. A bright glowing sphere in a blue sky. We used to get the


sun, as you call it, a few hundred years ago.” He stopped. “You know, you’re a pretty convincing Mother Worlder.”
       “What’s one of them?”
       “That’s what people from the Mother World are called. The place you say you come from –”
       “Where I do come from. I think. And how come you’ve heard of where I come from? I don’t know anything about this place.” Sammy made a broad gesture with her cup, slopping some of its contents over the railing. “Sorry, Louis,” she called down, hoping she hadn’t spilt any on him. He didn’t flinch so perhaps she’d got away with it.
       She turned to Mehrak. “What is this place?”
       “It’s Perseopia,” he said. “As if you didn’t know.”
       “I don’t, actually.” Then her anger bubble burst. “Perseopia?” she said. “I have heard of Perseopia.”
       “What a surprise.”
       Sammy clenched her teeth and took a long breath. “The old woman that gave me the bracelet with the dial, Esther, she said something about Perseopia. So this world is Perseopia?”
       “It’s more of a realm than a world, but yeah, this place is Perseopia. We used to be part of your world twelve hundred years ago.”
       “So why doesn’t anyone where I come from know about this place, except for that old woman?”
       “Because Perseopia was sealed from the Mother World to keep it perfect.” Mehrak made a gesture that looked like he was tracing the shape of a rainbow in the sky. “A secret paradise away from overpopulation, disease and corruption.”
       “This is the place that was sealed away by that shepherd.”
       “Yeah. His name was Yima and he sealed Perseopia with a golden ring. Information that a Mother Worlder wouldn’t know.”
       “A Mother Worlder like me, you mean?”
       “If you say so.”
       “Esther knew about it.”


       Mehrak shrugged. “But a Mother Worlder wouldn’t.”
       “Says who?”
       “Did she use the word ‘Perseopia’?”
       “Because when Yima sealed the Vara, it hadn’t been named. It was ‘The Vara’ and then it was Panoplia. It wasn’t Perseopia until centuries after the realm had been closed off from the Mother World.” Mehrak shook his head. “Look at me discussing this with you like you’re really from there.”
       Sammy turned away.
       “I’m sorry,” Mehrak said. “I just don’t believe in any of it. All that stuff I told you comes straight out of scripture. I know the stories because I was forced to go to the temple with my parents as a boy. That doesn’t mean I believe it all. The great Ahura Mazda, the Mother World, Yima creating the Vara, they’re just stories.”
       “Fine. You don’t believe in the Mother World. But what’s happened to this place? Esther said it became polluted by a great evil or something.”
       “You really don’t know?”
       “Just tell me.”
       Mehrak exhaled. “It was a paradise for a long time, until the Assault on Aratta a hundred and fifty years ago.”
       “What’s an Assault on Aratta?”
       “The great battle of Aratta, Perseopia’s first capital.” Mehrak stopped.
       Sammy waited for him to go on, but he didn’t. She was about to say something when he spoke.
       “Okay. I’ll tell it,” he said at last. He smiled. “It’s actually a pretty good story; my nephews used to love me telling it. Just remember, though the battle and sequence of events are historically accurate, the rest of the story has been told and retold, and most likely exaggerated over the years.”
       “I’ll bear that in mind.”


       Mehrak rubbed his hands together and his eyes sparkled. “When the realm was created it was called Panoplia and the first sultan was handpicked by the great Ahura Mazda himself. Or so they say.”
       “Ahura’s your god?”
       “The god of the people that believe in him, yeah. He’s supposedly the uncreated creator. Anyway, Ahura picked the first sultan to rule Perseopia – or Panoplia. Then that sultan passed on the throne to his son, who passed it on to his son, and so on through the generations. Over a thousand years passed in relative peace until the last sultan, Sultan Sanjar, became ruler. He was a lazy man with little work ethic, and it wasn’t long before an advisor convinced him to delegate away his duties. This advisor was Moran Razin, and he was appointed to the position of regent so that he could take care of the boring day-to-day running of the realm. And for a time the arrangement worked well. But Razin had ambition. Slowly, he began to take over. He increased taxes, seized land, built his armies. Eventually, he imprisoned the Sultan himself and took over Perseopia entirely.”
       “Didn’t anyone try to stop him?”
       “Razin was too powerful by then. He had command of the Sultan’s armies. People resisted, of course. Small rebel groups formed and skirmishes broke out. Fighting raged on for years until a group began to emerge from the others, a group that grew rapidly and soon became large enough to pose a threat to Razin’s men. That group was the Association of Blue Robes. They unified the other rebel groups and together they plotted to overthrow the regent. Now, one of those rebel groups was the Order of the Black Fist, run by the sorcerer Achaemen Mantis. The Order was more cult than rebel group, but Mantis possessed detailed plans of the Sultan’s palace so they were enlisted. With Mantis and the Order of the Black Fist on board, the Association hatched a plan to gain access to the palace, rescue the Sultan and return power to the throne.”


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