Disclaimer: Believe it or not, all major characters in this story belong to Saban. Author's Note: This story was inspired in part by a novel called, "The Tangle Box" by Terry Brooks, who is a MUCH better author than me. This story takes place directly after C2D, beginning on the planet of Eltar.

Saffron Golde and Hunter Greene
by SilvorMoon

A man with no name, no home, no family, no past, and no memory woke up in a sunny and cheerful hospital room in an Eltarian city. His rebirth into consciousness was a slow and painful one, as births often are, but he finally managed to order his thoughts and convince himself to join the living rather than the dead. Laboriously, he pulled himself into a sitting position and looked around.

The room was pleasant. His bed was near the one window leading to the outside, and sunlight slid through the branches of a small potted plant on the windowsill before landing on his dusty-colored blankets and making shadow-patterns. There was a table next to his bed, topped with a lamp, pens and paper, and a couple of popular books intended for the entertainment of bedridden patients. The man was not bedridden, he discovered; other than feeling a bit stiff and sore, he didn't seem to be in bad shape. He wondered what had happened. A curious person by nature, he decided to get out of bed and have a look around.

Shoving the blankets and sheets into an untidy heap at the foot of the bed, the man swung his own feet onto the floor. They were encased in brown leather boots, he noticed, with shiny gold buckles. He wondered briefly why he had been sleeping with his boots on. Further inspection revealed that he had been sleeping fully clothed, as well. He wore a pair of dust-brown breeches, a few shades darker than the bedspread, held in place by a brown belt that matched his boots and was adorned with pouches for carrying things. His shirt was a brilliant goldenrod with a deep V-neck, trimmed in white, and loose sleeves with cuffs at the wrists, also trimmed in white. He wanted to see what his face looked like, but he could see no mirrors in the room. He wanted to see what his hair was like, but it was too short for him to look at. He settled for looking at his hands, noticing that he had pale skin and long, graceful fingers. They looked like good hands, he thought. If they belonged to a musician, they would make beautiful music; if to a writer, they would pen fine tales; if to a doctor, they would save lives. However, the palms bore callouses, making him think that they were the hands of someone who worked hard, perhaps a farmer or swordsman.

"Who do they belong to?" he said aloud.

"They belong to you, whoever you are," answered a voice.

Looking across the room, the man saw that he had company. The other side of the room did not have a window, making it look dim to someone sitting in bright sunlight. There was a bed, however, and another man occupying it. This one looked more awake, sitting upright and leaning casually against the bed pillow with his arms folded lazily across his chest. The reason he had not been seen at first was that he was so completely dark colored that he blended into the general dimness. His clothing was in very much the same style as that of the first man, but the hues were black and deep green instead of brown and gold. His skin was dark tan, and his hair was black and glossy, falling in shoulder-length waves that partially concealed his face. The eyes peered out of the darkness, seeming almost to glow, despite the fact that their color was the same dark green as his shirt. Even with his loose clothing, it was easy to see that he was a man of great strength. The man in yellow compared his own build to his roommate's and decided that he never wanted to have to fight this person. The man in yellow was lean and well muscled, but he seemed to be built for quickness and agility. He could never hope to match this dark stranger in raw power.

"They took our weapons," the man in green offered, after a moment of silence had passed.

"They, who?" asked the man in yellow.

"Doctors. Nurses. Something like that," came the laconic reply. "Don't want us hurting each other while we're in the hospital."

"Hospital . . . were we injured?"

"I imagine so. I don't think I'm sick, and that's the only other excuse I can think of for being in a hospital. I've never been sick a day in my life."

"Do you know who I am?" asked the man in yellow.

"Should I?"

"I don't know. I can't remember who I am."

The man in green considered. "Nor can I. That explains why we're here."

"Amnesia," said the man in yellow thoughtfully. "Caused by a traumatic experience, either a blow to the head or severe emotional shock that has to be repressed."

"Whatever you say," said the man in green. "You've been unconscious for most of the day. I've been awake longer than you, and I've heard some of what's been going on. No one knows who we are. For what it's worth, the nurses have been calling you Saffron Golde, I think because of your shirt."

"Saffron." The man in yellow tested the word's taste and feel. "It doesn't sound bad. It almost sounds right for me."

"I think it sounds like a girl's name."

"Oh. Well, what do they call you?"

"Hunter Greene."

"You look like a Hunter," Saffron offered.

"And you look like a Saffron."

"I detect an insult in that."

"Detect all the insults you want," Hunter replied. "I don't particularly care how you feel about me. I'll say what I think. All I want now is for someone to tell me where I came from and what happened, and then to let me out of this hospital."

"I wouldn't mind some answers myself," said Saffron, trying to be agreeable.

Just then, the hospital door swung open, and a doctor paraded in with nurses in attendance, looking like a royal procession.

"Good evening, gentlemen," said the doctor. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, all things considered," Saffron replied.

"Ready to get out of here," said Hunter impatiently.

"All in good time," the doctor assured him. "First, a few questions. What are you names?"

"We don't know," said Saffron.

"I see. Do you remember what happened to you, or where you come from?"

"Not a thing," Saffron replied.

Hunter looked thoughtful. "I . . . I remember a battle. I was fighting someone over something. I don't remember why. He beat me." There was some annoyance in the admission, and Saffron wasn't surprised by it. For someone who was so obviously a great warrior, losing couldn't be a common or pleasant event.

"It was a war," said Saffron softly. "I remember a war."

"There was indeed a war," the doctor agreed. "Though I can't be absolutely certain, I'd say you both fought in it and were injured. You were found on the battlefield, unconscious, and brought here. Your wounds have been tended, but your memories will have to heal or not heal on their own."

"So you can't tell us who we are?" Hunter demanded. "You mean to tell me that we have no homes, nowhere to go?"

The doctor looked a little flustered. "Not necessarily. War is a difficult thing, you understand, and it leaves behind a lot of confusion in its wake. Things are being done for people like you. Now, there are still many who are injured and need hospitalization, so you are going to have to leave here. We-"

"You're going to throw us out," Hunter finished.

"We are going to provide you both with supplies, money, and new identities," said the doctor. "There is a program being set up on one of the other planets for those who were displaced by the war. They will give you homes there. You will have everything you need to start your lives over."

"Charity," muttered Hunter. "I don't want charity. I don't want pity. I want my real name and my old life. I don't want to be someone that you and people like you made up."

"What if we have families?" asked Saffron. "If we leave this place, they might never find us again."

The doctor shook his head. "You must realize that armies have traveled across the universe and back during this war. Your dress and accents are not Eltarian. It is entirely probable that you came from some other world, and that you are already lost. If that is the case, your relatives will be searching for you in the refugee camps, not here."

Saffron nodded at this. It seemed sensible enough to him. If nothing else, it offered some hope that he could make things work out all right. Hunter, however, seemed determined to be discontented.

"Give me what you will, but I will not go to any refugee camps. I am not a beggar. I have nothing left but my pride, and I will not sacrifice that."

"The choice is up to you," said the doctor. "I only wanted you to know what your options are."

"I need to think about it," said Saffron.

"Take your time," said the doctor. "It will take some mental adjusting for both of you, I'm sure. You have until tomorrow afternoon to make up your minds. In the meantime, since you are both in good physical shape, you are free to leave the hospital. You may pick up your belongings in the front office."

"Thank you," said Saffron. Hunter muttered something unintelligible, but everyone ignored him.

"Have a pleasant evening, gentlemen," said the doctor. He and his attendant nurses marched out the door again.

Once the door was shut, Hunter began a tirade.

"Would you listen to him!" he said. "That arrogant, patronizing do-gooder! 'Have a pleasant evening!' Well, yes, HE can talk like that. He, at least, knows who he is and where he is and where he's going, and he doesn't have to depend on the pity of strangers if he wants to eat when he's hungry and not sleep in the rain tonight."

"It doesn't rain much on Eltar," said Saffron. The comment went unnoticed.

"He's treating us like little children. You and I, we're warriors! We can take care of ourselves. We don't need his charity."

"Still, we should take advantage of what we've been offered," said Saffron. "It wouldn't make sense to pass up perfectly good supplies just because it offends your pride."

For the first time, Hunter smiled a little. "I plan to take what they give me, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy complaining about it."

Saffron smiled back. "I think I want to come outside. Care to join me?"

"I think I will," Hunter replied.

They stepped out of their room and wandered through the hallways of the hospital. Through open doors they could see the doctors and nurses hurrying around and working feverishly to save their patients. Even from rooms with closed doors, they could make out the moans of those who were injured the worst.

"War is a terrible thing," Saffron commented.

"If you feel that way, you shouldn't have become a warrior," said Hunter. "War happens. It's part of life. The stronger prey on the weaker, and the weaker either find ways to defend themselves or die."

"How do you know I chose to become a warrior?" asked Saffron, a little irritated. "How do you know I wasn't forced into it? How do you know I'm a warrior at all? I don't even know who I am, so how can you?"

"You were carrying weapons," Hunter replied. "I saw them. You had a vicious sword, I recall, and a cross-bladed dagger. So did I, as a matter of fact. Now, unless your mind is damaged worse than I think it is, you will know that only warriors and killers carry cross-bladed daggers. There is no point in such things except to kill."

"Oh. Well, I didn't know that until you told me," said Saffron, subdued.

"I'll show you firsthand. The doctor did say that we could pick up our weapons," said Hunter. "It's the only good thing he told us."

"Why is it so good that we can pick up our weapons?" Saffron persisted. "Do you love war so much?"

"Love it? I don't know. It's what I do, that's all. I enjoy moving, fighting . . . I suppose I love the competition, but I don't think I love war," said Hunter thoughtfully.

They reached the front office, where a pair of young ladies in blue nurse's uniforms were happy enough to return the men's belongings. Saffron watched peripherally as his companion strapped a scabbard to his belt, and with it, a deadly-looking curved sword. He also accepted the dagger he had spoken of, complete with its peculiarly shaped knife case. Saffron took the various objects that the nurses said were his and hid them away in his empty pouches, and he accepted the sword without too much hesitation, but he balked at the dagger. The way Hunter had talked, carrying that dagger would mark the difference between a man of peace and a man of battle.

*If I'm going to start all over again, I want to make it a GOOD start,* he thought. *I don't want to be a warrior if I can help it.*

"Well?" asked Hunter. "What are you waiting for? It's a knife, not a snake. It's not going to bite you."

"I don't want it," said Saffron.

"Trying to deny your nature, hm?" Hunter asked, raising one eyebrow in an expression very like amusement. "You can't be anything more than what you are. Just take it and don't worry about it."

"You have to take it," one of the helpful nurses piped up. "It's a hospital rule, sir. Anything you bring in, you have to take out, and we don't allow weapons to remain here. You don't have to KEEP it, after all. Just, please, take it with you and save us some trouble."

"Take it," Hunter advised. "You never know when you might need to defend yourself."

"Defense?" Saffron repeated. The idea hadn't occurred to him before. "That's right. War isn't all about killing, is it? War can be for defense, too."

Hunter nodded. "A weapon is only as good or evil as the one who wields it. Take it and use it well."

Saffron nodded. The dagger and its case were clipped to his belt, and he stepped out the front door with the nurse's cheery exhortation to "Have a nice day!" ringing in his ears. Hunter followed him, walking along by his side.

"Do you think this is where we live?" Saffron asked his companion, surveying the city. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny, and the architecture of the buildings was friendly and attractive, but there didn't seem to be many people around.

"No," Hunter replied. "The doctor said that we don't look like Eltarians. We're strangers here."

"That's what I thought. Too bad," said Saffron. "I suppose I'll have to make do with the refugee camp until I can get some idea as to where I came from. Perhaps there will be others of my kind there. What about you, Hunter? What will you do?"

"I'm going with you," said Hunter firmly.

Saffron was surprised. "I thought you didn't want to go to the camp."

"I don't," Hunter replied. "More than anything, I would like to stay away from it. However, I don't really have any other viable options. I have no other home to go to and no other source of basic necessities. Also, you are the only person in this entire universe that I know even a little at the moment. I won't leave you just yet."

"Thank you, Hunter," said Saffron. "I'm touched."

"You shouldn't be," Hunter said. "Once I get myself organized and find enough supplies to sustain me for a while, I'm going out looking."

"Looking for what?"

"My home. My family. My place. My identity," said Hunter. "I don't like not knowing who I am."

"Nor do I, but I don't think it's a good idea to try anything rash," Saffron replied. "The universe is enormous beyond imagination. How do you expect to find your place by just randomly wandering around? It would be safer just to stay in the place where you'll be expected to turn up, and wait for your people to reclaim you."

"I don't want to be safe," Hunter muttered. "I never wanted that. I'll take danger over inactivity any day."

"Don't be foolish," said Saffron. "Such action would be self-defeating. One chance in a billion of finding what you're looking for would be putting the odds too much in your favor. The camp is your only real hope."

"I . . . I suppose you could be right," said Hunter reluctantly. Then, so quietly that Saffron barely heard him, he added, "I'm a little afraid."

"So am I," Saffron admitted.

Hunter shot him a fierce look. "You didn't hear me say that."

"No, of course not," Saffron agreed. "It was only my imagination, of course. Words on the wind."

"Right," said Hunter. "But you know how it feels, don't you?"

"I know. I feel so small. It's eerie, being disconnected like this. As far as I know, I could have just come into being. I can't remember my past at all."

"Nor can I . . . except I know I have people somewhere. Friends or family, something like that. I loved someone, sometime."

Something occurred to Saffron, an ugly thought that hadn't come to him before now.

"What if . . . what if they died in this war?" he asked haltingly. "What if we really are alone?"

"Don't even say it!" Hunter snapped. "Don't say it. That's our only hope, that someone will come for us."

"I know, but we have to be realistic," said Saffron. "Terrible things happen in wars. They could have been killed . . . or maybe they're like we are, unable to remember."

"What's the likelihood of that?" asked Hunter. "How many amnesia cases can there be? For their sake, whoever they are, I'd wish them death rather than oblivion. I'd rather die than live a non-life." He touched the small dagger-case that held the blade that was fashioned for only the intent of killing. "I'd rather die."

Saffron shivered. "Don't talk like that. It won't be so bad."

"That's what you think," Hunter replied. "Or you're only trying to say that to convince yourself of it. How can you live not knowing who you are?"

"I can build myself again. I can make a new life. I can only miss my old life but so much if I can't remember it. It is a chance to start afresh, with no old prejudices to tie me down. There are men who would give a lot for that."

"They can have it," growled Hunter. "I could get annoyed with you, Saffron, and your naive optimism. Why can't you see things realistically?"

"I think you are fortunate that you've lost your memory," said Saffron, giving his companion a thoughtful look. "Your life must have been very terrible to make you so grim."

Hunter opened his mouth to reply to that, and then reconsidered. He sighed.

"Maybe - just maybe - you're right," he said tiredly, "but it was all I had, and all I can remember of it was love. I loved someone, and I feel that I was loved in return. Do you remember anything like that?"

"Yes," said Saffron thoughtfully. "I think I do. There were people, many people. It's like something out of a dream."

"It's a dream worth pursuing," said Hunter, "and I will, to the ends of the universe if I have to."

"I've walked far enough," said Saffron. "Let's go back to the hospital and see about getting our supplies."

"If we must, we must," Hunter replied. "I have a feeling inside that it's time for some meal or another, anyway. Perhaps we can see about getting ourselves fed, if nothing else."

Saffron smiled a little. "That's the first thing you've said all day that I agree with completely. I seem to recall that hospital food is not of the highest quality. Perhaps you might allow me to buy you dinner at one of these establishments?"

"I don't take charity, remember?" asked Hunter. "I'll buy you dinner."

"Fine," said Saffron, "but I'm tipping the waiter."

Hunter gave a grunt that sounded suspiciously like suppressed laugher. "Saffron, you are positively irrepressible. Still, I suppose I could do worse."

"You could do much worse," said Saffron. "You could be all alone, or stuck with . . . oh, a monster or something."

"Monsters," said Hunter, as if it was a foreign word, or as if it had an unexpected flavor to it. "Such strange creatures. But there aren't any more left, are there?" he asked in sudden puzzlement.

"No," said Saffron in the same puzzled tone, "there are no monsters." He brightened a little. "Look, there's a restaurant. It looks pleasant enough. We can eat there."

"Fine. I'm all about famished. I can't remember the last time I had a good meal." He caught the irony in that last remark and laughed at himself. "Well, let's hurry to that infernal hospital and collect our gifts. I'd like to get the whole wretched business over with as soon as possible."

"I'm right behind you," Saffron said.

He was, too, but he followed at a slow and thoughtful pace. The doctors and nurses had informed him that his speech and dress were entirely unlike their own, and even he could hear the difference in his accent, but something about this city felt strangely familiar to him . . .

Even with various charitable organizations working busily to organize everything, it took two weeks by Eltar's calendar before Hunter and Saffron were finally able to set out on their own. For the most part, they stayed together, less out of any genuine liking for each other than because they depended on each other. It was as if they were stranded in a very cold and dark place, and they had to huddle together for mutual warmth. It seemed that they were both loners by temperament, anyway. Saffron spend most of his time reading or walking around or just sitting and meditating quietly. Hunter, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to take out his frustration and impatience by practicing ruthlessly with his sword and dagger. Sometimes Saffron would observe from a distance as his comrade ducked and dodged in the courtyard of the hospital, battling invisible enemies with impressive skill. He struck out with powerful kicks and punches, but he was most formidable with his blades. They flashed in silver arcs in the brilliant sunlight, gleaming like falling stars and singing as they sliced the wind. Sometimes Saffron would practice with him, for he also discovered that he was fairly skilled with a sword, but he did not like the single-minded intensity of the way Hunter fought. Even in a peaceful battle, it felt like Hunter was still fighting to kill, and Saffron always suffered from a faint feeling that he would end up being hurt, either intentionally or because Hunter simply couldn't deny his darker instincts any longer. More often, he practiced alone after dark, as if he were frightened of being caught pursuing such violent pastimes. He grew to enjoy the dancelike feel of swordfighting, but he avoided touching the dagger, and usually left it hidden in a drawer beneath the spare clothing he had been given.

One day, some businesslike people came to their room and asked them some questions. It seemed that part of the program for the war-lost was to provide them with new jobs, so that they could find their way into a new life with some semblance of pride and honor still intact. Hunter was rather pleased with that idea, and grumbled less than usual as the people invited themselves in and started their interrogation. They wanted to know all about what Hunter and Saffron could do and could not do and did not want to do, and what they knew and what they felt like learning, and how well they got on with other people, and many other things besides. Saffron almost enjoyed the inquisition, because it stirred up faint memories of things he hadn't known he'd known. He found himself saying, yes, he had read this, that, or the other scholarly work, and yes, he did know how to read and write and do arithmetic. As a matter of fact, it turned out that he read and wrote in several languages, and could speak several of the most modern fluently. After that, it didn't matter if he was a swordsman or not. He was hired then and there as a clerk for a shipping company that would be based in the camp to provide some form of commerce for what they hoped would someday become a flourishing city. Hunter, though reasonably well-educated, was not so well-read or well-spoken as Saffron, and was considered more valuable for his strength than his mind. Upon discovering that he had no real skills other than fighting and knew no art but that of war, (and because of the fact that he seemed unable to talk to anyone without being surly or downright rude), he was assigned as an apprentice to a blacksmith. Hunter did not care much for that idea, but he certainly looked the part, with his broad shoulders, strong arms, and coal- black hair. He muttered and grumbled and complained that it was a blow to his pride for a man of his age to be forced to work as an apprentice like a young boy just loosed from his mother's apron-strings. The interviewer apologized most humbly but said that was the best that could be done for him if he didn't want to be put to work hauling crates or cutting stone, and promised that he would be paid fairly and given loans to set up his own business as soon as he developed enough skill to be freed from his master's supervision. He said little else after that, but he put on an attitude that would have been called sulky on someone younger.

In the end, they were put in the company of a number of other people like themselves, those who were lost and without homes or families to return to, and they were all sent off to the camp on Triforia. All of them were provided with bundles of clothing designed to stand up to the wear and tear of what might very well prove to be a difficult new life. They were also given enough food and clean water and other basic necessities to last them for a month or more, if they were not wasted, and gold coins to replenish the supply when it did finally run out. So Hunter and Saffron were not that badly off when they arrived in their new location.

"Here we are," said Saffron, as he and his companion carried their heavy loads through the front gates of the camp-town. Hunter, with all his strength, was having an awkward time dealing with his cumbersome bundle, and the less athletically-inclined Saffron was having to drag his heaviest bag across the ground. "Our new home."

"This isn't a home," said Hunter. "This is but a way-station. I'm not staying here any longer than I must, and I certainly don't plan on staying here indefinitely."

"Well, I want to find my way back to my own place as much as you do," Saffron replied, at the same time wondering if that was really true; he did want to know who he was and where he came from, but not with the same desperate intensity that Hunter did. Still, Hunter was intense about everything. "Still," he continued, "this is not such a bad place. I would like to think of it as a home of sorts while I'm here. Bloom where you're planted, they say."

Hunter just snorted derisively. He had long ago given up trying to talk Saffron out of his indomitable optimism, but he had yet to be won over by it.

On the whole, the town was a fairly good place to be. It was obvious that its founders intended it to be fairly permanent, as the houses build of freshly-hewn stone could attest. It had been designed according to the wishes of the Lord of Triforia himself, who was a good and wise man in spite of his youth. It had been erected with remarkable speed, but there was no sign of shoddy workmanship. Everything had a solid and dependable feel to it. There were many houses, but also businesses and markets, and even a small temple tucked unobtrusively in one corner of the town for those who wished to visit it. There was a well at the heart of the town, and also many gardens that were being carefully nurtured by gardeners. There were already many people there, milling around as they tried to get their affairs in order and get their work finished (or started), and there were many more newcomers like Saffron and Hunter busy unpacking supplies or getting extras from the shops. It had the feel of a summer camp that was just beginning, with everyone bustling to get settled in before the events began.

"Do you know where your house is?" asked Saffron. "They told me that mine was number one-eighteen in the Green Quadrant, whatever that means."

"I'm two-thirty-nine, Red Quadrant," Hunter replied, "for your future reference . . . not that I expect you to visit me."

"I'm sure you'd prefer I didn't," Saffron said, "and I'm sure you won't stay there long enough for me to try."

"Quite right," Hunter replied. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I want to go get this accursed junk stowed away and start looking for this wretched blacksmith I'm supposed to be serving so I can get to work on my savings."

"Savings?" asked Saffron.

"For supplies. I'll need money for when I leave."

"Right," Saffron agreed. "I'll see you around, then."

"Maybe," said Hunter, and he turned without even a parting goodbye and vanished almost immediately into the crowds."

"Goodbye and farewell," said Saffron to the retreating warrior, though not very loudly, and he wasn't sure if Hunter heard him. At any rate, he got no answer, so he shrugged and went looking for his own house. He was in agreement with Hunter on one count, at least: he wanted to unload his heavy packs and parcels. Until then, he wouldn't be able to feel at home in any measure.

"Excuse me," he said to a man who stood at the corner, chatting with several other idlers, "but do you know which way the Green Quadrant is?"

The man tipped up the brim of his hat to get a good look at the newcomer asking foolish questions. "The Green Quadrant is to the south, of course," he replied, "and you can find the south by looking up the hill for the witch's house." He held up his hands and made a sign, though Saffron couldn't tell if it was a ward against evil or some sort of curse.

"Witch?" he asked curiously. He had thought that the witches and dark sorcerers and whatnot had gone the way of the monsters - and that was to oblivion, not to refugee camps.

"The White Witch who lives on that hill yonder," the man replied, this time raising his hand to point out the direction. "She's an odd one. Comes into town every once in a while and causes a ruckus. Steer clear of her."

Saffron looked off in the direction that the man was pointing. Sure enough, there was a hill covered in stone and dust, and the town lapped around its edges like ocean waters around a large stone. Partway up the hill, separated from the rest of the buildings, was a white house. It was larger than the others, and built in a different style and from different materials. In the setting sun, it looked rather desolate, despite the fact that it seemed to be new and well-constructed.

"Is she an evil witch, then?" asked Saffron. "Why would you call her a White Witch if she is of darkness?"

"Don't pay any attention to this babbler," said one of his friends. "He's just spinning wild tales. There's a woman who lives up there. Some call her the White Witch, but most of us just call her Queenie. When the town was first built, she came here and set up that house. She doesn't mix with anyone, though there have been a few brave ones who've tried to win favors from her, if you follow my drift. She's beautiful enough, but she's got a temper hot enough you could forge steel with it. No one knows where she came from. She's not a real refugee like the rest of us, just someone who decided to show up one day and stayed. You'll hear plenty of farfetched stories about her, but who knows if they're true? I think they call her the White Witch just because she's strange, and because she's always dressed in white."

"Go see her someday," the first man said, "just to say you have. Don't go to her house, though - they say she's got enchantments up there that would strike a man dead, and even if she hasn't, she'd do some damage to you herself if you were fool enough to try it - but she comes down to the Singing Dragon three times a week so regular you could set your watch by her."

"Enough gossip," said his friend. "Our break is nearly over, and you know the boss will tan our hides if we're late. Sorry to rush away, sir," he said to Saffron, "but we have work to do."

"No apologies necessary," Saffron replied, "and thank you for your help."

As Saffron set out again, he considered what he had just heard about this so-called White Witch. It was possible that she really did have magic of some sort, but it was just as likely that she was as ordinary as he was. Perhaps her old home had been leveled by the war, and she had come here on her own initiative for the same reason that he had been sent. Perhaps she was an outcast, or even a deserter from the armies of darkness who had fled here because she feared to ask for help from her enemies. That would explain why she chose not to socialize with the general populace. Whatever the reason, the fact remained that she was different, and people distrusted anything different. No doubt, the common people had made up some wild stories trying to explain her presence there, most of them without a grain of truth, but enough to make her remain an outsider. Saffron felt a little sorry for her, but he decided not to try anything so foolhardy as going to talk to her or anything like that, not after what he had heard about her temper and the fact that she seemed to "cause a ruckus" on a regular basis.

After a few minutes of walking, Saffron finally found his house. It was just like all the others, just a little boxy building with a bit of a lawn in front and a small porch in back, distinguishable from the others only by a small plaque set over the front door with the number "118" printed on it. Saffron went in and found it to be a small, four-room affair, with a kitchen, a bedroom, bathroom, and one other room that might be used for just about anything. Saffron looked it over and thought longingly of bookshelves and books, and perhaps a small desk. He wondered what kind of wages a clerk would make, and whether or not it would be hard to get what he wanted. He dropped the food supplies he had been given on the kitchen table but put off storing them away until he had taken the chance to explore his new dwelling-place more thoroughly. In the bedroom, he found a small wardrobe and put his bundle of clothes inside. He tested the bed and found it comfortable enough, but though it was getting late in the evening, he had no desire to sleep just yet. There was a dresser of some sort standing against one wall, but, surprisingly, no mirror. It seemed like an odd oversight, but Saffron didn't particularly care about that. He had gotten used to doing without mirrors during his stay in the hospital, and his hair was too short to ever look really disheveled, anyway. By the time it had grown long enough to bother with, he would probably have enough saved up to buy himself a mirror and several other things besides. After he had lain there and thought for a while, he got up again and went to work putting all his things in their proper places. By the time he had everything organized the way he wanted it, night had fallen heavily over the town, and the little house was dark. Saffron tried to remember where he had put the lanterns and the fire-starters, but as he was searching, weariness suddenly fell over him. He went back to his bedroom, took off his boots and belt, crawled beneath his soft blanket, and thought of nothing else until morning.

The very next day, he set out in search of his new job. Along the way, he cut through the marketplace, partly to see what was for sale and partly to check the prices of everything. Saffron was a man of good sense, no matter what Hunter might think of him, and he wanted to see what his living expenses would be before he agreed to any wages. Things still seemed to be in a state of semi-disorganization; many of the stalls were still empty. Basic necessities like food and clothing were available, but even such "luxuries" as books and tablecloths were scarce and expensive. Saffron sighed, staring longingly at the things he would have liked to have for his home but couldn't afford, but he brightened after a moment. He would, after all, be working for the shipping company. Perhaps his employer would be kind enough to let him order a few things for himself if he proved to be a good worker. He made up his mind to do the best job he possibly could.

The site of the company was in a place at the far side of town, where there was room enough for its impressive warehouse and space for cargo ships to land. Saffron paused and inspected his appearance as he stood by the front door, and brushed the dust from his clothes and boots, so as to make the best possible impression on his new employer. Then he went inside, and his entrance triggered the ringing of a small brass bell above the door.

"I'll be right there!" shouted a voice.

There was the sound of an approaching commotion, and then a door leading from the office to the warehouse opened, and a remarkable person came in. Hopped in might be a better phrase; he seemed to have caught his foot on a small empty box and was trying to walk and pull it off at the same time. As he wobbled across the floor, he reached out one hand to steady himself against the wall and inadvertently knocked a broom on to the floor. He immediately tripped over it and fell headlong against a shelf, causing a cascade of papers and packages to fall on top of him. Saffron watched with some concern as the man floundered around, trying desperately to pull himself to his feet.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"No problem," the man assured him from beneath the papers. "Everything's under control. I've just gotten a little tangled up here. You don't suppose you could gimme a hand here, couldja?"

Saffron went to release the stranger from beneath the avalanche, and was surprised to unearth a smiling face. It seemed that the man was not at all bothered by having taken such a trip. He was an awkward, bony looking fellow, seemingly all knees and elbows and shaggy blond hair that fell in his face. His hazel-green eyes sparkled with good humor even as he and Saffron engaged in a ridiculous tug-o'-war as they attempted to remove the box from his foot. They finally managed to accomplish that undignified task and began trying to reorganize the fallen objects as best they could.

"Thanks, buddy. I owe you one," said the smiling man. "My name's Pete. Who are you?"

"Saffron Golde," Saffron replied. "I was told I would be working here as a clerk."

"Pleased to meetcha," said Pete agreeably, taking Saffron's hand and pumping it vigorously. "The boss ain't here yet - overslept again," he added, grinning broadly.

"You work here, too, then?" asked Saffron.

"You bet! The boss made me vice-president in charge of material management," he said proudly.

"What does that mean?" Saffron wondered, trying to imagine this bumbling young man as vice-president of anything.

"That means I get to unpack the crates," Pete replied.

"A difficult task, no doubt."

"Yup! We've got some real doozies back there, but I get 'em all moved."

This enlightened exchange was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell, and the door opened to admit a middle-aged man that Saffron guessed to be the "boss" of which Pete had spoken. He looked friendly enough, but there was a certain shrewdness that showed in his dark eyes that suggested that he was also a hard businessman.

"What is going on here?" he demanded, eyeing the half-cleaned mess and the stranger on the floor. "Pete, what are you doing? I told you to stay out of my office unless I called for you!"

"Well, y'see, boss, I was just, um . . . well, you see, there was this . . ."

"Some papers fell off of the shelf, and he was helping me clean them up," said Saffron quickly. It was the whitest lie he could come up with under the circumstances.

"I see," the boss replied, with a note of skepticism that implied that he guessed that Saffron wasn't telling the whole truth. "And who might you be?"

"This is Saffron," said Pete, eager to be helpful. "He said he's going to be working here with us. Isn't that swell?"

"Ah, yes. You must be the new clerk. You can call me Mr. Edwards," his employer replied. "As long as you're shuffling papers, you might as well go ahead and start filing them. They need to be arranged so I can find them when I need them, and I have too much to do without trying to bother with all that, too. I'll show you how I want it done."

"Thank you, sir. I'm sure that won't be any problem," said Saffron agreeably. "Can you give me some idea of what my wages will be?"

"Well, since you'll be doing intellectual work, and since good intellectual workers are hard to find . . . I'd say two hundred coins a month to start out with, plus fringe benefits. We'll see later on if you're worth more than that."

"That sounds more than fair," said Saffron. "I accept."

"Hey!" Pete protested. "I'm the vice-president, and I'm only making fifty a month! What gives?"

The boss leveled his vice-president a hard look. "I'm giving you free room and board. What else do you want?"

"I want to know why he's making more than me when I'm shoving crates around and all he'll be pushing is papers and pens."

"Because," the boss replied. "He's the president in charge of financial affairs, and presidents always make more money than vice-presidents."

"Oh! Okay. Why didn't you say so?" Pete replied.

"I just did. Now, get back to pushing crates!"

"Okey-dokey, Mr. E," said Pete. Humming cheerfully, Pete retreated to the warehouse, stumbling on the doorstop as he went.

"He's an idiot," the boss said to Saffron, "but at lest he's agreeable. Now, let me show you what you're going to be doing. First, there is all this paperwork that needs to be organized sensibly, and then I'll need someone to inspect the shipments to make sure everything is accounted for, and then . . ."

Saffron listened intently as his duties were outlined for him, taking in every word. Finally, when everything had been explained to him and he was sure he knew what he was doing, Saffron was left at the front desk to look after things. It was still early in the morning, and many of the traders were still asleep or just opening their doors, and very little happened. Saffron managed to arrange all the papers alphabetically and chronologically and file them all away for future reference, and then found himself with nothing to do. He sat for a while, listening to Pete bump around in the back room and occasionally yelping as he tripped or something fell on him. Just to kill time, Saffron dug out a graphite stick and a piece of blank paper and began scribbling his thoughts on it. He was about halfway through describing to himself what it had felt like when he had first awakened in the hospital and realized that he had no idea who or where he was when suddenly, who should appear but . . .

"Hunter!" he exclaimed, sounding pleased. "What brings you here?"

"I'm placing an order. This is the shipping company, after all, and blacksmiths need supplies just like everyone else. And since I'm just a lowly apprentice instead of a master," Hunter added, in his usual complaining tone, "it falls to me to do such menial things as go and fill out forms to order coal and iron."

"Is it that bad?" asked Saffron sympathetically.

"Bad? I suppose that wouldn't be the right word. I could have done worse, I suppose," Hunter replied. "Actually, the smith isn't a bad man. Nobody told me he was a master swordsmith as well as an ironmonger. He's done some work that would impress even a pacifist like you. He's promised to teach me how to make them. He's even promised me one of the better ones as part of my wages."

Saffron smiled, catching the unmistakable look of wistfulness in the warrior's eyes.

"You see? I told you it wouldn't be all that dreadful," he said.

"Humph," muttered Hunter. "All right, maybe you were right about that one thing. So what? It won't hurt to have learned a trade before I leave, or to be properly armed. And," he added, almost smiling, "when I'm gone, you can have my job."

"I'd never make even a halfway-decent smith," Saffron said.

"Of course you would," Hunter replied. "You'd be very good at bending swords into plowshares."

Saffron laughed. "Hunter, I knew you would say something like that. Here, let me get you a form . . . or would you rather I filled it out, being the pencil-pusher I am?"

"Give that here and let me do what I was sent to do," said Hunter, taking the paper from Saffron's hand. "You are a tiresome creature, Saffron. It's amazing that I even bother talking to you."

Saffron waited while Hunter shoved his pen across the paper in rough strokes, filling in the blanks with broad black marks. When he was done, he pushed the paper back to Saffron, who put it away in a folder marked "Things to Do." With the business transaction over, Hunter grunted something that might have been a goodbye, and walked out again. Saffron smiled a little. Hunter, he decided, was all right, even if he was an old grouch.

A few more customers came in later, and Saffron found himself being kept busy. Finally, lunchtime came, and Mr. Edwards emerged from his office to hang an "OUT TO LUNCH" sign on the door.

"You're on break now," he informed Saffron. "You've got an hour to do whatever it is you want to do. However, I'd advise you find yourself something to eat."

"Did I hear someone say something about eating?" piped up a voice from the warehouse. "I'm starved!"

"It's time for lunch, Pete," Saffron informed him.

"All right!" he cheered. He barged out of the warehouse and tripped over the threshold again, narrowly avoiding hitting Saffron's desk and undoing all his hard work. Mr. Edwards stared at the ceiling in exasperation.

"Go get your lunch, Saffron, and take him with you," he said. "I'm going home. If I'm late getting back, hold the fort for me. I trust you will be punctual in your return."

"Yes, sir," said Saffron. After Mr. Edwards had gone, he said to Pete, "Is there anywhere nearby we could get a meal? I don't feel like walking all the way home again."

"Yeah, I know just the place," said Pete, brimming with enthusiasm as always. "C'mon, I'll show you!"

"Lead the way," said Saffron. "Would you like me to pay for lunch? I think I can manage it just this once."

"Gee, thanks! You're the nicest guy I know," Pete replied.

Saffron was feeling fairly cheerful as he left the office. Things were going to be all right, just like he had thought.

Things stayed that way for a while. A few weeks went by, and Saffron's life fell into a comfortable pattern of work and rest. He got to know his co-workers well. Pete was not particularly bright, but he made up for his lack of intelligence with his eternal good cheer, always grinning no matter how difficult his work was or how often his boss scolded him, and Saffron came to like him. Mr. Edwards kept a businesslike distance from his employees and kept his eye on the bottom line, but he was a fair employer and treated Saffron with due regard for his skills. They were never friendly, but they respected each other. Also, Hunter seemed to find reasons to drop in every few days, and Saffron came to look forward to trading barbed comments and bantering insults with the surly swordsmith. It was a good life, and he felt that he should have been content with it, and yet he felt an underlying sense of unease. It didn't come clear until one evening, when his after-dinner dishwashing was interrupted by an impatient pounding on his door.

Thump! Thump! Thump!

"Now, who could that be?" he wondered. He set aside the plate he had been rinsing and went to answer the door.

Upon investigation, it turned out to be Hunter. He was standing impatiently on the doorstep, glaring at Saffron with those fiery green eyes of his. He seemed to have come directly from work; his dark skin was further darkened by smoke and coal dust, and his black hair looked unkempt.

"What a surprise," said Saffron. "What brings you here?"

"Long day," Hunter replied. "Its been one idiot after another coming in an placing orders for things that have to be done NOW. I need someone to take my frustrations out on that knows which end of a sword to hold. Interested?"

Saffron considered. Sparring with Hunter had never been one of his favorite pastimes, even back at the hospital where there had been nothing else to do. Besides, he had gotten out of practice these last few days, busy as he'd been with his job and its increasing responsibilities. On the other hand, he hated to begrudge Hunter such a favor. He must be feeling very bad if he was actually seeking out another's company.

"I suppose that would be all right," he said at length. "I have nothing better to do. I just hope you'll go easy on me. I'm sure I'm getting a bit rusty by now."

"The words 'go easy' aren't in my vocabulary," Hunter replied. "If you've let yourself go soft, that's your fault."

"Come on inside, Hunter," said Saffron. "No point in you standing out here like a beggar. I'm not equipped for a fight at the moment, so I'll need to dig out my weapon. Anyway, it wouldn't do to be fighting out in the street."

"Before you get your old sword, try this." Hunter unslung a gleaming weapon from his belt and handed it to Saffron, who obediently took it and inspected it. He felt a little embarrassed at not having noticed it right off - what kind of warrior neglected to see if his companions were armed? - and he covered up his sheepishness by giving the blade a few practice swings.

"It's good," he said. "Very well made. Is this the sword your master promised you?"

Hunter looked smug. "I made it. The master says I'm a natural. He says he's going to turn over most of the weapon-forging to me by the end of the month."

"I take it you've decided to stay a while longer than you intended?" asked Saffron innocently.

"I might have," Hunter replied, "and I might not have. I haven't made up my mind yet."

They went to the backyard, such as there was, and went through the motions of a battle. Saffron was pleased to see that he could still hold his own against his old rival - at least in this peaceful match. Still, he didn't suffer from any illusions as to who the victor would be if there was a real battle between the two. Hunter was more used to real fighting than simple tests of skill, and Saffron knew he was purposely holding himself back to avoid hurting his opponent. Saffron's instincts were geared more for defense than destruction, which made him naturally more adept in this game. Hunter was the stronger of the two, and Saffron never forgot it. Even in the evening, it was still warm on this planet, and Hunter had cast off his shirt, showing off his powerful muscles. Even though he was much more heavily built than his companion, he still moved with remarkable grace. It was not surprising that Saffron was feeling winded by the time Hunter was ready to call off the battle.

"You need to get more exercise," Hunter said. "You're turning into a feeble bookworm."

"I like to look at it like this," Saffron replied. "You know how to fight. I know how to fight, and have a brain besides."

Hunter laughed a little in reluctant admission that he'd been one-upped. "Keep the sword. I can make another, and you need the practice. I may be back again, and you'll need to be ready."

After Hunter was gone, Saffron went back inside to wash up. After several hours of strike and dodge and retaliate, he felt as dirty as Hunter had looked. He filled a tub with warm water and was just beginning to get undressed when a thought occurred to him. He knew for a fact that every swordsman, no matter how skilled, would be injured sometime, and probably would receive at least one severe blow. He and Hunter were both fighters; therefore, it stood to reason that they, too, had suffered wounds on the field of battle. Yet, strangely enough, Saffron had never noticed any trace of scarring on himself, nothing that would indicate that he had ever been dealt so much as a scratch. Every inch of his own skin was flawless, and judging by what he had seen this evening, Hunter was in similar shape. How could this be? Even powerful healers had difficulty mending such scars, and getting such operations done costed a great deal of money. It didn't stand to reason that both he and hunter had managed to have every wound they had ever received magically healed.

That train of though led to another idea. The doctors in the hospital had told him that he had been injured in the war, which was the reason for why his memory was still so full of blanks. The question was, how had this supposed injury healed so quickly? There had been many others around him severely injured, so it was to be assumed that he had not been out for very long, yet he had felt no pain at all when he had awakened. An interesting question! What could the answer be? Could it be that they were lying to him? Had he ever really been injured, or was that some kind of cover-up for a darker truth? He seemed to remember from some distant part of his mind that there were ways of magically stripping people's minds and filling the blanks with anything . . . or nothing. Was that what they had done to him? To Hunter? To all the others who had come with them? The thoughts left him feeling shaky and chilled despite the heat, and he welcomed the warmth of the hot bath. After he felt clean again, though no more comfortable in his mind, he put on some fresh clothing and crawled into bed. He tossed and turned for quite some time before he was finally able to fall asleep, even though he felt physically exhausted. In his dreams, he found himself trapped somewhere in a cold blue haze, and no matter how much he searched, he could find no escape.

After that, Saffron just couldn't feel completely content with his lifestyle. He was impatient with his job and restless in his spare time, and the eternal optimism that had always annoyed Hunter so much began to flag. Hunter never even got a chance to gloat over that, because he was so wrapped up in his swordsmithing that after a while, he never got a chance to drop by the company and annoy his comrade. This irritated Saffron still further, because in the entire village, Hunter was the only one that he felt he could really trust. His suspicions were like an itch in a place that couldn't be reached, and he began to feel as if eyes were constantly peering over his shoulder and watching what he was doing. He felt that he could have taken some solace in Hunter's rock-solid presence, but Hunter would not come, and so he fidgeted. Surprisingly, Pete was the first person to actually realize that something was wrong with his co-worker.

It was late afternoon, bordering on evening. The day had been a long and busy one, and Saffron's nerves had been wearing thinner and thinner throughout the day until he was jumping at every noise and every perceived flit of motion he caught out of the corner of his eye. Unfortunately, a new shipment had arrived that day, and Pete was busily (and noisily) unpacking the crates and sorting the orders, tripping over things, dropping things, and talking to himself. The door was open to admit a little of the fresher air in the office into the stuffy warehouse, and every noise was clearly audible.

"Would you quit making all that racket?" Saffron demanded irritably. "How am I supposed to concentrate with you making a sound like an avalanche?"

"Gee, I'm sorry, Saffron," he said, sounding genuinely apologetic. "It never bothered you before."

"Well, it bothers me now, all right? Saffron snapped.

"Sheesh! What's your problem? You've been cranky all week long," said Pete. "What did you do, get in a fight or something? When Mr. E argues with his wife, he gets REAL grumpy," he added.

Saffron sighed. "No, I'm all right. I'm just . . . I don't know what's the matter with me. Pete, do you remember where it is you came from?"


Saffron was so surprised at the seriousness contained in that single syllable that he turned around to look in Pete's direction. The young man was standing in the doorway, and for once, he was not smiling.

"I don't know where I came from, either," Saffron said.

"Nobody knows. That's why we're here. Didn't you know that?" asked Pete. "We're the lost ones. The only one here who has a past is Queenie."

The name sparked a memory. "You mean the woman they call the White Witch?" asked Saffron curiously.

"Yeah, she's the one," Pete agreed. "She knows everything about everybody. Up in that creepy house of hers, she's got a magic mirror that can tell the Truth about anything she asks. That's what makes her a witch."

"A magic mirror?" Saffron repeated.

"Yup. That's what some people say, anyway. Other folks say she stole it from a sorceress and tried to use it, but she couldn't handle it. She blew a gasket, and now she goes down to the tavern all the time and tries to forget whatever she saw."

"Hm," said Saffron thoughtfully. It occurred to him that even after all the time he had spent here in the camp, he had yet to pay a visit to the tavern to see the notorious White Witch. "That's very interesting, Pete. Thank you for telling me. You know, its been a hard day for me. I think I'd like to head on home. Do you have any idea where Mr. Edwards is?"

Pete's grin was roguish. "He took off early today. Went home to his wife. Heard him say he had something special planned."

"Oh," said Saffron. "Well, then I suppose he can't blame me too much for wanting to take off a little early myself. And since both of us are gone, there won't be much point in keeping the office open, so whenever you're ready to clock off . . . as far as I know, you quit on time."

"Thanks a lot, Saffron! You're a pal," Pete replied. "You go on. I'll just get the last of these boxes unboxed, and then I'll close up."

Saffron left the office and stepped out into the quiet, shadowy streets. Dusk was falling swiftly, and he could hear night birds calling, and also the sound of merrymakers celebrating the end of the workday. Saffron followed the sounds deeper into the camp until he found the building where the sign of the Singing Dragon swung in the gentle evening breeze. Its picture showed a scaly winged reptile holding a half-empty mug, with its head thrown back and its eyes closed as it happily bellowed out whatever song a dragon might find to sing. The noises coming from inside were the sounds of laughter, happy conversation, and a quieter rattling of glasses and utensils as people prepared or enjoyed evening meals. Saffron checked his pockets and decided that he had enough coins with him to let someone else do the cooking tonight, so he went in. After perusing the menu that was chalked onto a slate board behind the counter, he placed and order and went to sit at one of the booths. There were places available at the bar as well, but the more boisterous customers seemed to have situated themselves up there, and he still felt too much like a newcomer here to trust that he would be welcomed by them, so he tucked himself away in a corner and waited hopefully to see if this would be one of the nights when the infamous White Witch would decide to make an appearance.

He was not disappointed. He had been served his meal and found it to be of good quality (better than he would have had at home; it seemed that he had either never learned to cook very well or had lost all knowledge of it in his amnesia), and no sooner had he finished eating when some shouts began to ring out from the front of the tavern.

"Here she comes!" someone called.

"Let's hear it for Queenie! Long live the queen!"

"Ha! Hail to her majesty, the White Witch!"

"Three cheers for Queenie!"

The exclamations were accompanied by much loud laughter. Saffron immediately felt a little sorry for the woman they were mocking. He turned around to face the front door and see how she was taking it.

What he saw was not quite what he expected. Queenie lived up to her name. She was tall, regal, and fierce-eyed, and Saffron found himself thinking, *No wonder they think she has magic!* Those dark eyes of hers did indeed look like they could pierce men's souls. She wore a white gown and white slippers, but her long fingernails were painted blood red. He long, curly brown hair was tied back elegantly with a golden clasp, and she wore a golden necklace. Though her figure was attractive enough, her face seemed cold and stern, almost angry.

"All right, fellas, quiet down already," she shouted over the hubbub. The decibel level went down a fraction, but the shouts and laughter continued. Undaunted, Queenie sauntered across the floor and took a seat at the bar with practiced grace. The bartender came to her immediately, ignoring all other customers for the moment.

"Will it be the usual, madam?" he asked with surprising politeness.

"Isn't it always?" she replied tiredly. From some hidden pocket of her dress, she produced a small white leather bag, which she shoved across the counter-top to the bartender. He picked it up, but it seemed that the drawstrings were loose, because part of its contents spilled across the counter. The bartender gathered them up immediately, but not before Saffron had time to catch a glimpse of what had been spilled: not gold coins, but red rubies! No wonder the bartender treated her with such respect! He spirited his treasure away quickly, as if afraid that someone might steal it, and began distributing drinks to the customers. That explained the enthusiasm that her arrival had caused. While the other patrons were collecting their drinks, the bartender brought her a crystal goblet, and she set about emptying it. Seeing that everyone was ignoring her for the moment, concentrating on her generous gift instead, Saffron decided that this would be a good time to try to approach the mysterious White Witch. Steeling himself, he got up and walked over to the empty stool next to her.

"Hello," he said. "Are you the one they call Queenie?"

She gave him a look of mild amusement mixed with annoyance, as if it had been a while since she had encountered such an idiot and she was wondering whether he would provide any entertainment.

"You must be new around here," she said. "Everybody knows who I am."

"That, I don't believe, because I've heard at least three different tales about who you are and where you come from," Saffron replied.

"Who I am and where I'm from is none of your business," she said. "Whatever you want from me, you might as well give up now, because I'm not going to give it to you."

"It won't cost you anything," Saffron persisted. "It's just that I've heard one thing in particular about you, and I want to know if it's true. I heard someone say that . . . you know the truth about all of us - who we are. I need to know."

She gave a sigh of exasperation.

"Oh, one of those," she said. She drained her glass as if it contained nothing more than water and scowled at it. "Nobody around here has anything worth drinking. This stuff is worthless." She turned back to Saffron. "Look, maybe you think you want to know, but you don't. You look like a nice kid, and I don't want you to get in trouble, so why don't you just go on home and forget about all that nonsense about the Truth. Or, if you won't go home, you can buy me another drink and talk about something else."

Saffron shrugged and called the bartender. After a quick exchange of words and coins, Queenie's glass had been refilled, but Saffron was not about to give up on his mission.

"I don't care what you say," he replied. "I've just got to know. I've been thinking about it for weeks, and it's driving me crazy. I'll never be content until I know where I came from, and whether or not I have a home to go back to."

Queenie stopped in the middle of raising her glass and set it back on the counter untasted.

"Look," she said. "You see those people over there?"

She pointed, and Saffron looked. Sitting in one of the more secluded booths, a man and a woman were sharing a bottle of wine and gazing amorously into each other's eyes. Saffron quickly looked away again as he recognized the man as his employer.

"What about them?" asked Saffron. "They look happy to me."

"They are," Queenie replied, sounding almost wistful. "Happier than they've ever been, but if they knew the way things really are . . . it would destroy everything for them, the way it destroyed me. Just look at me! Slowly killing myself in a stupid barroom." She ruefully tossed off her second drink.

"Is it that bad?" asked Saffron. "What happened to you, anyway?"

"You just don't give up, do you?" she asked. "You don't want the Truth. You can't handle it. Be content with what you have and don't worry about it."

"I'm far past that stage. I can't be content. I have a friend, Hunter, who is so discontent that he plans to run away from here with only what he can carry and set out to find his people or die trying. Don't you think he deserves to know the Truth?"

Queenie sighed. "All right. I'll tell you a little bit, anyway, if it will get you off my case. Something to start with. Just don't say I didn't warn you if what you find gets you into trouble." She paused as the bartender returned to refill her glass. She indicated that Saffron was to pay for it, and then drank it down quickly before turning back to Saffron and giving him a long, serious look. At last, she asked him, "What color are your eyes?"

Saffron gave her a look of his own, this one of speculation, wondering if whatever she was drinking wasn't as "worthless" as she said it was.

"What kind of a question is that?" he asked. "I can't see my own eyes. You tell me what color they are."

"Don't talk so superior to me," snapped Queenie. "Just answer the question: what color?"

"I don't know," Saffron admitted. "I haven't had a chance to buy a mirror. I've never seen them . . . at least, I can't remember seeing them."

"That's right. You can't remember what color they are, and you aren't going to get a chance to buy a mirror, not if you stay here for centuries and get richer than Midas. Nobody here in this entire camp has ever seen their own eyes. No one but me, because I've got the only mirror, and it's only a piece of one. I have to keep it hidden. Don't tell anyone."

"But . . . why?" asked Saffron, amazed. He realized that she was right; in his entire stay on that world, he had never once encountered a mirror.

"Because," Queenie replied, "mirrors are one of the oldest magical charms there are. They always reveal the truth, and nobody wants us to know the truth about ourselves. That's why we're here. They've put us all together in one place and cut us off from the rest of the universe, because they don't trust us. They think that if they let us know who we really are, we'll rise up against them . . . but they're wrong." Saffron thought he saw a glint of tears in her eyes, but he couldn't be sure, because it was gone in an instant.

"So I was right," he said softly, as his nameless fears suddenly found words to put themselves into, "and Hunter was right. This isn't a real place. All of us are just made up . . . except you."

"Maybe, maybe not," Queenie replied. "I'm starting to fall apart myself. I'll be gone soon." She raised one hand to beckon for the bartender, but Saffron caught it and pulled it back down.

"You shouldn't do that," he said. "This isn't good for you."

"Don't you think I know that?" she replied. "I don't care. Nobody cares about me. I don't care about me. I want to get all of this over with as soon as possible."

"I could care about you," said Saffron.

"No," Queenie replied. "I don't want to be cared about anymore. Anyway, you deserve better than me. You're too good for someone like me. You're clean, innocent, and I'm . . ." she trailed off and shrugged helplessly.

"I think you're being too hard on yourself," said Saffron.

"I think you're getting on my nerves," Queenie replied. "Go on, get out of here. You aren't going to like what's coming next, anyway."

Saffron looked into her fierce eyes and decided that the conversation was definitely drawing to a close. However, as he slid off the barstool and prepared to walk away, he couldn't resist asking one last question.

"Someone I talked to said you know who all of us are," he said. "Do you know who I am? I'm not asking you to tell me. I just need to be sure I came from somewhere."

"There's a grain of truth in what you heard," she said. "I can recognize a lot of you. I don't know who you are, though."

Saffron sighed and walked out of the tavern. As the door closed behind him, he heard Queenie's voice shouting at the bartender for yet another refill, and he was saddened.

*I don't like what she's doing,* he thought. *It's not true what she thinks, that no one could care for her. I could. I think I do. I don't want her to die, not like that. If only I knew how to help her . . .*

Life went on, as it always did, but Saffron had started to see things in a new light, and so his life was not unchanged. He watched the people around him and wondered about them. Did they feel the way Hunter did, filled with the kind of restless yearning for roots that might eventually drive them out of the camp into who-knew-where? Or did it really matter to them all that much? Were they happy enough in this new life that they could forget they'd ever had any other one? Saffron wondered about himself, too, torn between worlds. He wasn't sure which of them he might prefer. Sometimes he thought about Queenie and wished he knew just what had happened to her that would send her into such despair. She had said that knowing the truth would cause the same catastrophic result in anyone. If that was the case, Saffron thought it might be better not knowing, but sometimes his curious nature would resurface and make him wonder anew, just who was he, anyway?

One evening, Saffron was out in his backyard, practicing with his sword. It had been a few days since Hunter had last come to see him, and he thought it wouldn't be long before he'd be back again, looking for a fight. Well, he would surprise him! He had been practicing, not just with the sword, but with that odd little dagger. He had been keeping it in its accustomed place, in the drawer with his clean clothes, and seeing it every morning of every day had made him slowly more accustomed to its presence. He was beginning to believe what Hunter had told him that first day, about how a weapon was only as bad as the man who wielded it. As he had come to trust himself more, Saffron also began to find the dagger less threatening. He was surprised how much skill he had with it, even after not having used it for so long. He tossed it from hand to hand with practiced ease, like a juggler at a festival juggling knives.

His thoughts were interrupted by a distant pounding on the front door. Saffron smiled, thinking to himself that he'd judged the timing perfectly. He was warmed up but not yet winded, ready for anything. He'd show Hunter a thing or two!

However, he was rather surprised when he got to the door. Hunter was there waiting for him, but his expression was surprisingly grim, even for him.

"Hunter," said Saffron, a little concerned. "What brings you here?"

"I'm leaving," Hunter replied.

"Leaving?" asked Saffron, surprised. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. Haven't I been talking about it since the day I got here? I'm leaving the camp. Tonight. Now. I just came to let you know I wouldn't be here anymore." "But, Hunter . . ." Saffron protested. This came as something of a shock. Even after everything Hunter had said, he still had never quite believed that Hunter would actually go through with this.

"Don't try to talk me out of this, Saffron," said Hunter. "My mind is made up. Everything is prepared. I've already sold my house and everything I'm not taking with me. I couldn't stay now, even if I wanted to."

"What about your work?" asked Saffron.

"I've resigned."

"But you can't do that, Hunter. You're the best swordsmith in the city, maybe even beyond it. I heard Mr. Edwards asking your trainer if he would consider exporting some of your work."

"Did you?" asked Hunter, with a flicker of interest. For a moment, it looked like he might change his mind, but then he sighed and shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Let him export something else. I have to leave."

"Why?" asked Saffron.

"You know why. Stop asking crazy questions."

"If you go out there, you'll die. You can't survive just wandering around in the universe. You'll run out of supplies and starve, or die of exposure, or get attacked by bandits or something."

"Don't you think I'm capable of defending myself?" asked Hunter. He was starting to sound angry. The words were true enough, and he knew it, and he didn't like it. "You'd better stop talking. You're wasting you're breath."

"I won't let you go, Hunter," said Saffron firmly. "You're one of the few friends I have. I won't let you go out and be killed for no good reason."

"Then let's see you stop me from going," Hunter replied, drawing his sword. "I'll fight you if that's what it will take to convince you I'm serious."

"I'll do the same if that's what you want," Saffron replied.

For a moment, Hunter stared at Saffron to see if he was serious. Saffron never started fights, and yet here he was with his sword at his side and his hand on the hilt. He honestly did look like he was ready to do battle with Hunter if that's what it would take to make him stay. Hunter felt his resolve falter slightly, but he was too stubborn to give up.

"Have it your way," he said. He unsheathed his sword and slid into a fighting stance, waiting for Saffron to make his move.

Saffron made a quick strike - not one that aimed to do any real damage, but enough drive Hunter back a pace or two and give Saffron some room to maneuver. Slowly, they edged their battle out into the yard, and Saffron thought, *What am I doing?* He knew there was no way he could actually beat Hunter in a fight like this, and he knew also that Hunter was fully capable and probably not unwilling to actually hurt him. He didn't like to think that Hunter would kill him, but he wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't. The combatants circled around the yard in a deadly dance, ducking and striking out at each other. The sun was setting, turning both blades blood red. Neither of them spoke. Suddenly, Hunter swung his sword at Saffron, slicing through the air like a bolt of lightning, and the weapon's blade bit ruthlessly into Saffron's upper arm. Saffron was shocked - at no point in his patchy memory could he remember anything that painful. He dropped his sword and stared at the place where his own red blood was staining his yellow shirt.

"Give up yet?" asked Hunter.

"You're underestimating me," Saffron replied.

To Hunter's amazement, Saffron reached for his dagger and held it ready, looking grim. Hunter hesitated. He had never actually seen him holding the blade like that, never even seen him really touch it. He had to be crazy, thinking he could defend himself against a man with a sword with only such a small weapon. Still, if he really wanted to try . . .

Hunter struck out again, but Saffron was ready for him. By this point, he knew his opponent well enough to predict with some accuracy what he was going to do. Saffron dove, tumbled, and sprang to his feet. He leaped forward like a pouncing cat, and Hunter suddenly found himself on the defensive. He parried the blow and tried to attack, but they were too close together for him to use his sword properly. He made a clumsy attempt anyway, hoping to at least drive Saffron backwards a little. However, instead of being driven off, Saffron moved in and struck. Hunter gasped and staggered backwards in pain and surprise, clutching at his shoulder with blood welling through his fingers. He stared at Saffron for a moment, weighing his options. Then he threw down his sword and ran.

Saffron sprinted after him. The two tore down the streets of town, stirring up clouds of dust as their feet struck the sandy road. Hunter had strength and endurance on his side, but Saffron was built for speed. He quickly caught up to Hunter and began running alongside him. Hunter sped up. So did Saffron. Hunter slowed down again, and Saffron matched him stride for stride. The two of them continued running, whether towards something or away from something they did not know, until they had left the city limits far behind and they were both sweating and gasping for breath. Hunter took a few last exhausted steps before finally stopping to lean against a tree. Saffron came and stood next to him, trying to catch his breath enough to speak again.

"Why are you doing this, anyway?" asked Hunter at last.

"Because," Saffron replied, "you're my friend, maybe the best one I've got. Maybe it's selfish of me, but I depend on you. I don't want anything to happen to you, but even more, I don't want to be left alone."

"I don't want to be alone, either," said Hunter. "That's why I have to leave. I want to find my family, friends, whatever it was I had."

"They might not let you out," Saffron answered slowly. "I talked to Queenie once, the one they call the White Witch. She told me a few things."

"I wouldn't put much faith in the words of that barfly," Hunter replied.

Saffron turned to look at his friend seriously. "Hunter, what color are your eyes?"

"They're . . . I don't know," said Hunter in puzzlement. "Strange. I never thought about it before."

"That's right. None of us here know the answer to that question. There are no mirrors in the whole city," Saffron replied.

"Mirrors show the truth," said Hunter. "I remember that. It's an old charm. You can change your appearance by magic, but it won't fool a mirror."

"Right. Something has been done to us all, and someone doesn't want us to find out about it," said Saffron. "Has it ever occurred to you, Hunter, that its strange that there would be a whole city full of people with no pasts? A handful of cases like this is to be expected in a war, but this many? And notice, not everyone here is a fighter. Why should all of these people, men and women, young and old, be stricken with amnesia? It makes no sense."

"You're right," said Hunter. "There is something wrong about this. But what can we do?"

"At the moment, nothing. Perhaps later, when I've learned more, I can give you a better answer. But someone out there doesn't like us, and I think you would be in grave danger if you were to leave."

"But . . . what am I going to do?" asked Hunter. "I have nowhere at all to go now. My home and all my possessions have been sold."

"For now, stay with me," Saffron replied. "I have a spare room where you can stay . . . and I think I have some medicines that would help your shoulder. I didn't hurt you too badly, did I?"

"No. Did I hurt you?"

"Not much," Saffron replied. "My shirt will never be the same, but I think I'll survive."

Hunter looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, solemnly, he took one hand and gently touched the wound on Saffron's arm. Then, he took one of Saffron's hands and pressed it to his own injury. Finally, he pressed his bloodied hand to Saffron's, locking the fingers together.

"That's another old charm, one that I think anyone would find difficult to break," he said. "Until I find my real home, you can be my family, a blood brother."

Saffron smiled. "Thank you, Hunter. I'm honored."

Hunter smiled back, the first truly happy smile Saffron had ever seen him wear. "You should be."

"Come on," said Saffron, laughing. "Let's go home and get ourselves cleaned up. I hate to think what people must have thought, seeing the two of us all cut apart and running like an army of monsters were after us."

"Let them wonder. It will give them something to think about," Hunter replied. He was silent for a time, as the two of them made their way back into camp. At length, he asked, "What color are my eyes, anyway?"

"Green," Saffron replied. "What about mine?"

"Blue," Hunter replied. "Just like that patch of sky over there."

Saffron looked where Hunter was pointing, seeing where the sky was darkening with the coming of evening. The sky was deep blue, sprinkled with a few stars. The moon had also risen, a cool slice of light that was slowly coming closer to being full. After a time of darkness, light was finally taking over.

Saffron was awakened the next morning by what smelled pleasantly like breakfast being prepared. Hoping his guess was correct, he dressed and washed quickly and wandered into the kitchen. Sure enough, Hunter was already there, frying eggs and bacon over the stove.

"I never would have imagined you as a chef, Hunter," said Saffron.

"Why not? I spend all day heating things over a fire at work, and you think I can't cook," Hunter replied. "If you don't like it, cook your own breakfast."

"Oh, I'm not complaining. Anything I cooked wouldn't taste much better than one of your swords," Saffron replied.

"In that case, we're better off with me doing the cooking," said Hunter. "We both got a taste of steel last night, anyway. How's your arm this morning?"

"It's been better, but I'll manage. Is your shoulder giving you any trouble?"

"I can deal with it. It's uncomfortable, but you were considerate enough to aim for a spot where it wouldn't be too serious. I might have to go easy on swinging the hammer today, though."

"I'm sorry," said Saffron. "I guess I just got a little carried away."

"Don't apologize. I was glad to see you finally showing some nerve."

"Did you sleep all right last night? I was afraid you might be uncomfortable sleeping on the floor." Saffron said.

"I slept fine," he said, sounding a little distant. "I had . . . a very strange dream."

Saffron was surprised. "So did I, come to think of it. I can't remember exactly how it went. I saw people, young men and women. They were my students, and I was teaching them."

"I saw my daughter," said Hunter softly. "She's the one I'm looking for, Saffron. I wish you could have seen her. She was so beautiful . . ."

"Someday," said Saffron. "I'll help you find her."

"How are you going to do that?" asked Hunter skeptically.

"Well, I can start by bothering Queenie for more information. She told me more than she intended to last time, and it shouldn't be too hard to loosen her tongue." He felt a little bad about even thinking that, but this was important. If she was bent on destroying herself, some good should at least come of it."

"Well . . ." said Hunter, "I suppose it couldn't hurt. But remember, you don't know what she can do. If you make her angry and she decides to obliterate you with some spell, don't blame me for it."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Saffron replied.

The day crawled by. Saffron was eager to get away from his job so he could go pay another visit to the White Witch, but there was no getting out of his duties. Fate seemed determined that he would not get what he wanted easily today. A new shipment of goods arrived just at closing time, and Saffron was forced to stay extra hours to take inventory and help Pete get everything moved. It seemed like forever before Mr. Edwards finally gave his helpers permission to leave. Though Saffron ordinarily enjoyed his work, he was sighing with relief when he finally left the office and locked the door behind him.

Upon approaching the Singing Dragon, Saffron was reassured by the sounds of loud hilarity issuing from inside the tavern. He assumed that the noise meant that Queenie had distributed her usual gift and everyone was enjoying her disinterested generosity. However, the scene inside was not what he had expected.

Queenie was there, all right, leaning against the counter-top in an attitude that suggested she was having some difficulty standing up, and she was recklessly waving an empty glass around as if it was a weapon to threaten someone with. Her formerly cold expression had been replaced by one of blazing anger.

"How dare you take that tone of voice with me!" she was shouting at someone. "I am royalty! I ought to have you skinned alive for your insolence!"

"Yeah, you do that, Queenie," one of the men encouraged, laughing. "Show 'em who's boss, your highness."

"Shut your miserable mouth, peasant!" she shouted, turning to him. "That's no way to address a queen! You ought to be bowing down before me!"

*So this is why they call her Queenie,* thought Saffron. He winced, thinking of how casually he had used the name, never knowing what a cruel epithet it was. Watching the tavern patrons as they laughed at her and seeing her eyes flashing in impotent anger, Saffron said to himself, *This has gone far enough.*

Striding boldly into the room, he crossed the floor to pause before Queenie herself. In a motion he had forgotten he knew until now, he made a graceful, sweeping bow that ended with him down on one knee before her with his head bowed in a courtly gesture of humility. The room became instantly silent, and he could feel all of their eyes resting on him. Quietly and with perfect dignity, he said, "Your Majesty, would you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you home?"

For a moment, there was dead silence, and Saffron wondered if he had offended her. Risking a look up, he saw in her eyes only an expression of faint puzzlement.

"Rise," she said, and Saffron stood up, gallantly offering his arm. After a slit-second of hesitation spent deciding if he was serious or not, Queenie rested her hand on his arm, and he led her out into the night. The silence remained unbroken for some time after they were gone.

Outside, Saffron was surprised to find that she was not depending on him for support nearly as much as he thought she would be. Only her fingertips were resting on him, light as a butterfly, and yet she was moving with surprising grace.

"I'm not as drunk as you think I am," she said, as if reading his thoughts.

"Then what was that all about in there?" Saffron asked.

"That? Just an act," she replied. "The first few weeks I was here, I went in and drowned my sorrows till I didn't know which way was up, and they got to expect to see me perform. I told you you wouldn't like it."

"Why do you do it?" asked Saffron. "What could possibly have happened to you to make you punish yourself like that?"

Queenie sighed. "You just don't give up. Well, I admire your tenacity, anyway. What's your name? What do you call yourself?"

"Saffron Golde."

"Golde. Well, it just figures, doesn't it?" she said, more to herself than Saffron. "Well, Mr. Saffron Golde, why should I tell you anything? What does it matter to you if I want to make a fool of myself?"

"Because I want to help you," he said. "No one deserves to suffer the way you're suffering. Don't worry. You can trust me."

"Trust," she repeated thoughtfully. "I hardly know the meaning of the word. All I know is lies and betrayal. Why should you be any different?"

"I never laughed at you, did I? I've never treated disrespectfully, have I?"

"Well, no . . ." she said. She appeared to be thinking hard. "But I don't know. I don't think I want any help."

"Why not? What have you got to lose?" Saffron persisted. "At the rate you're going, you'll destroy yourself soon, anyway. Give me a chance, and maybe I can help you."

Queenie gave a sigh of resignation. "Okay. You win. I'll tell you the whole ugly story. Come up to my house where we can talk privately . . . and don't worry. No matter what anyone tells you, I don't have any killer spells set up there. Any magic I had was lost a long time ago."

They left the town and ascended the hill to the lonely white house. She didn't offer to let him in, and he didn't ask. Instead, he sat down on the front steps, and was surprised when she sat down next to him. For someone who seemed so cold and distant, it was remarkable that she should stay so close to him . . . but, he realized, her life must be terribly lonely. As much as she distrusted people, she would still be aching for companionship. Also, being at his side kept her from having to look him in the eye.

For a while, they were both perfectly silent, just watching the stars peek out of the folds of night one by one. Queenie seemed reluctant to begin speaking, and Saffron didn't want to make her angry by putting any pressure on her, so he waited patiently. At last, she took a deep breath and began to speak.

"It started right after the war. Like everyone else, my memory was lost. I was just so happy to be alive that I didn't care. Everything seemed so perfect that I barely realized that anything was wrong, or even could be wrong. Some scouts found me wandering around in the jungle. I remember them whispering to each other, arguing about what to do with me. Finally, they told me that I had gotten lost somehow, and that they were sending me back home to live with my sister.

"I liked my new home, at first. It was so beautiful, and everyone there was so nice to me. They called me Diana there - you know how I got the name I use now. But as nice as everything was, I still felt like something was wrong. I think you know the feeling. People talked a lot about my sister, idle things about how they remembered when she did this-that-or-the-other. There were pictures of her on the walls. I listened to them talking, but I never heard them say anything about me, and I never saw any pictures. I started wondering if they had ever really known me, wondering what had happened in all those years I couldn't remember.

"You've probably heard the stories about me and the mirror. Some of them are truer than others. My sister really was a great sorceress and a powerful healer. Sometimes I would see her use her magic, especially right after the war when people started bringing the injured to her. She would let me see that, but the room where she kept her most powerful magic was off-limits. After a while, I began thinking that I could find the truth I was looking for if I could just sneak in there.

"It wasn't that hard to get in. The door was never locked, but I think it would have been if they knew I was trying to get inside. Well, I did get in, and that was where I saw the mirror. There was a lot of other stuff in there, too, but the mirror was all I saw, hanging off to one side and covered by a cloth. I went over and pulled the curtain away and looked in."

She was quiet for a moment, her expression distant and almost frightened. At last, she said softly, "I saw myself. I'll never forget it. I saw who I was in truth. Do you know what I saw, Saffron? I saw what an evil creature I used to be, a ruthless killer ruled by greed and hate, and I learned my name. I am a queen, the one they called Divatox." She sighed. "I couldn't stand it. I smashed the mirror to pieces, trying to stop what I was seeing, but I couldn't leave everything behind. I ran away from it all, but I took a piece of the mirror with me."

"I don't understand," said Saffron.

"Let me tell you about the people here. We are monsters in human guise," she said. "We took a step too far and tried to destroy the greatest champion of Good in the universe. He wouldn't allow it, so he spent out his life energy to transform us. If we couldn't be healed, we were burned to ash and rebuilt into what he thought we should be. I think . . . I think he wanted us to be happy this way. He was never intentionally cruel. But other men are not as good as he was. They don't trust us, so they've locked us all away here so we'll never have a chance to be what we once were. They can't forgive us, and they won't accept us. They only fear us. They don't understand. None of us have the heart to be evil anymore. That's what's killing me. When I think of everything I've done . . . I just can't stand it. I can't stand living with this kind of guilt. I wish he had just killed me and been done with it. Maybe this isn't what Zordon wanted, but this is more cruel than anything I ever did to anyone, and I'll never forgive him for this! Any chance I had to be happy is gone, and I'll hate him for it forever!"

And suddenly, she was leaning on Saffron's shoulder and crying as if her heart would break, or had already broken. Saffron gently put his arm around her and tried to comfort her.

"Don't talk like that," he said gently. "It will be all right, you'll see. Everything that happened before, that's all in the past. You're a different person now. Forget what's already been done. That can't be changed, but you can still control your future. At least try to make a start at making up for what you did when you didn't know what you were doing."

"I shouldn't have told you," she said. "Now you have to deal with it, too."

"True, but now neither of us have to be alone in this. I'm not going to abandon you. Like I said, you can trust me."

She took a deep breath, trying to get her crying under control, and said, "Maybe you're right. But what will I do? Where do I start?"

"You can start by staying out of that tavern," said Saffron. "Find something productive to do."

"Like what?"

"I don't know yet, but we'll think of something." He paused for a moment, considering. He almost laughed as he said, "Can you cook?"

"No, not really."

"Neither can I. Perhaps we should learn."

She shook her head and almost smiled. "You're crazy, you know that?"

"It's quite possible. Hunter tells me that at least once a day," Saffron replied. "And speaking of Hunter, I really should be getting home before he starts wondering where I am. Will you be all right alone?"

"I think so," she said. "Saffron?"


"Thank you."

Saffron smiled. "You're very welcome . . . By the way, what should I call you now?"

"Queenie's good enough," she replied. "It's the name I've earned."

"Very well, then. Good night, Queenie. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night, Saffron."

As she watched him go, she was amazed to discover that, for the first time since she had arrived on that world, some of her dark misery was beginning to lift. Perhaps Saffron was right. Perhaps she did need someone to depend on, a friend. She'd never had any friends before, but she couldn't have asked for a better one than Saffron. Maybe there was some hope after all.

Saffron's dreams that night were strange and disturbing. In his dream, he was watching himself, seeing something that had happened a long time ago. It seemed that all the people around him were celebrating something. His dream-self seemed to be happy, too, and greatly relieved about something, even though his real self was conscious of a feeling that something awful was about to happen. He watched helplessly while his dream-self went about his everyday business, never realizing that a calamity was about to fall. Suddenly, there was an explosion! Horrors, monsters, dreadful things were appearing! His dream-self called up magic (magic? Since when did Saffron know any magic?) to defend himself, but it was already too late. A spell of dark magic wrapped around him and pulled him away, and the dream dissolved into blue fog . . .

In the morning, Saffron woke up in a puzzled mood, unable to comprehend what he had been seeing in his dream. Was it a just a pointless vision, some phantasm his restless mind had woven from strands of his conversation of the former night? Or was it a true memory? He debated with himself as he walked to work. The dream had felt so real, in a strange way. He had been seeing double, in a way, detached from the person in his dream and yet able to experience everything he was feeling and seeing. He could still clearly recall the touch of the clothing on his skin, good clothing of the kind he couldn't afford at them moment, something more befitting a nobleman than a clerk. Logical as always, Saffron thought that there must be at least some kind of memory involved there, because he had never been so lucky as to encounter a silk shirt in this life. And yet, if what Queenie had told him was true, then in his past life, he had been . . . he didn't like to finish that thought. Just thinking the word "monster" made him feel a little queasy inside, as if the earth beneath his feet were falling away. Well, all right, so it just didn't make sense that the monsters in his dream would be attacking him - unless Queenie and her magic mirror were wrong, but he rather doubted that. The memories the mirror's magic must have been very real to her to plunge her into such grief and guilt. Thinking harder, Saffron decided that there must be some alternate possibility. He knew, in a vague sort of way, that monsters enjoyed fighting as much among themselves as with their enemies. Perhaps some of his fellows had seen some advantage in attacking him and doing . . . what? The dream hadn't told him that. Another possibility, one he found more appealing, was that he had betrayed them, changed sides, and they had come after him for revenge. He recalled how the people in his dream had been celebrating. Celebrating what? The answer came to him instantly: the end of a war. The war was over, and the side that wasn't monsters had won, and he had been celebrating with them. That was evidence to support his theory, and it made him feel better. He would have liked to believe that there had been some shred of goodness in him before Zordon had gotten to him and done whatever it was he did. Zordon, ugh. That was another name that made him feel a bit shaky. He decided that he didn't want to think any more about monsters or wars or Zordon, so he didn't get around to finding the flaw in his reasoning. If he had, in truth, been helping the people on the side of good, why was he now in the place where those who were deemed untrustworthy were to be kept?

Work was slow that day, and even Pete managed to keep his noise to a minimum, so Saffron had plenty of time to toy with some of the odd notions that had been planted in his mind. Just to give himself something to do, he began trying to imagine what some of his friends and neighbors must have been like in their previous lives. Some of them were difficult to imagine as having ever been monsters, Pete being one of the foremost of those. It was difficult to imagine the smiling, bumbling young man as being a terror of cities. Mr. Edwards was easier - something in the cool glint of his dark eyes suggested that he could have commanded armies or ordered executions easily with just a slight change in mind-set. Hunter, of course, was already a soldier, so it didn't take much of a leap of imagination to picture him on the battlefield. If you took away his good heart and perhaps his sense of humor, he would certainly make a formidable opponent. As for Saffron himself, well . . . he was finally starting to think that there was some truth in Queenie's insistence that he couldn't handle the truth. He really didn't want to know what he had been or what he had done. He was content to leave the magic mirror in whatever dark place it was hidden. He was learning to love this life, and he didn't want it to change. Already, a wish was growing in his heart that things might always go on this way. He had no idea that the day when he might finally have to face his true self was drawing closer with every rising and setting of the moon . . .

The patron's of the Singing Dragon were disappointed when their accustomed benefactor did not make an appearance that night. As a matter of fact, Queenie did not appear the next night, or the night after that, or for the rest of the week. When a second week went by and she still did not appear, the customers were beginning to wonder if they would ever get any more free drinks from her and the bartender was lamenting the loss of the treasures that had been making him a wealthy man. By the third week, however, they had found something new to laugh about, at least: the woman who had formerly inspired fear and hilarity in equal amounts had been seen taking moonlight strolls with the quiet young clerk from the shipping company. The gossipers had a field day with that article of news, but neither Queenie nor Saffron paid any attention to what people said about them.

It was late one night when Queenie closed the door on her vista of the full moon shining down on the peaceful city, smiling with contentment. It was a feeling she had never known in her former life, but one that was becoming increasingly more common in this one. For once in her life, she had real friends, and Saffron was still the foremost of these. He had given her something she had never known she wanted: a sense of peace, a feeling that she needed nothing more than what she had to be safe and content. Saffron never seemed to care if she had made mistakes. For waht it was worth, he was perfectly comfortable with making mistakes himself. Tonight, for example, they had decided that instead of having the talented Hunter prepare their evening meal, and since the tavern had been declared off-limits, they would take a chance at trying to fix dinner themselves. The results had actually been halfway edible, and she couldn't remember the last time she had really laughed so much at anything.

*I'm really starting to believe he cares about me, after all,* she said. She smiled, remembering his clumsy attempts at cracking eggs into a bowl. *I think I care for him, too.*

Irresistibly, he thoughts went back to the little piece of glass, carefully hidden away from sight. It was a Mirror of Truth, and would show her whatever she wanted to know, not just about herself, but anyone she asked to see. She had used it sometimes to identify others, but she had never tried to find out who Saffron had been.

*I think it's time I knew,* she thought.

From the darkest and most distant room in her house, she went and found a small wooden box. It was locked, but the key lay nearby. It was less as if she was trying to keep someone from getting in and more as if she was afraid the contents of the box might escape. With some difficulty, she managed to get the key to turn in the stiff lock and carefully raised the lid. There inside was the shard of the mirror, a bit of broken glass just a little larger than her palm, carefully wrapped in black velvet. She carried it to a nearby table, pulled up a chair, and sat down. The dark cloth was undone and allowed to fall on the tabletop while she lifted the treasure out of its folds, cutting her fingers a bit on its sharp edges. She carefully cradled the glass in her hands, peering into the depths of the mirror. It tried to show her the images of her past life, but she waved them away impatiently, as if they were so many small flies. Instead, she called up a new set of visions.

"Show me Saffron," she commanded.

The mirror obliged. Scene after scene danced across its shiny surface, and she watched them as they replayed the man's life. At first, the pictures were unfamiliar, and she watched them with nothing more than mild curiosity. Then, slowly, realization dawned on her. She felt her breathing constrict, and her blood went cold. The mirror slid from her nervous fingers to fall silently onto the velvet-coated tabletop. As it continued to relentlessly show its images, Queenie pressed her face into her hands in a gesture of horror and defeat.

"No," she whispered. "Please, no . . ."

Saffron was jolted awake by a sudden premonition and opened his eyes to see the moon peering through the window, a perfect circle of cold light. Something bad was happening. He knew it instinctively. Hurriedly, he dressed himself and ran out into the street, dashing at top speed toward Queenie's home.

As he stepped through the front door, his suspicions were confirmed. From somewhere in the deeper parts of the house, he could hear the sound of someone crying - not just the kind of sobs used for venting sorrow or frustration, the kind that could heal, but the wailing of pure hopelessness. He hurried urgently toward the sound and found her in a lightless room, shaking with tears and her face hidden in her arms folded on the table. There was a bit of glass on the table, glinting like a fallen star.

"Queenie? What's wrong?" he asked her.

"Go away," she said mournfully. "This is all wrong. You shouldn't be here."

"I'm not leaving until I know what's the matter," he said. "Why are you crying?"

"Because," she said, "I love you, and I'm afraid you love me, too, and that can't be."

"What do you mean? Is it so terrible that I should love you?"

"I looked in the mirror," she said. "I found out who you really are. I should have let you see it the first time you asked for the truth, and then both of us could have gotten what we deserved. You could have found a great destiny, and I could have died and saved us both some pain."

"What are you talking about?" he asked, a little fearfully.

"See for yourself. You deserve to know," she replied. "There's still hope for you, but for me . . . all is lost."

"I don't believe that," Saffron replied. "Show me."

Blinking back tears, Queenie took the mirror and handed it to him, and he held it up and looked. At first, the mirror seemed confused, as if it were so used to having its owner use it that it was having trouble being used by someone else. However, in a few seconds, it managed to shift its blurry image and show Saffron . . . his own face.

Saffron looked curiously, and saw his own features crease in puzzlement. So, this was what he looked like. It looked like a good face to him, open and honest, kind and intelligent. His hair was short and sandy-blonde, and his eyes were exactly as Hunter had said they were, blue as the evening sky after sunset.

Suddenly, the picture shifted, showing him a new picture. He saw himself sitting under a tree - his mother's tree, the one she had loved so much, the one that she had allowed to dominate her garden even while her husband had complained about it and nagged her to plant vegetables instead. Saffron was sitting in the shade, reading one of the old histories that his teacher had loaned him. Those were such good days for him, studying history and science and magic, and then teaching what he knew to his sister, who longed to be a scholar like him, but their father would not allow it. He remembered - and saw, as the mirror's image changed again - how he had argued with his father and run away. He had eventually joined the army, and from there, he had worked his way through the ranks from a lowly soldier to a high general. In the mirror, he saw his face age and change with the passing of years and the loss of good friends and comrades as they fell in battle. He remembered the joy he had felt when the war was finally over . . .

Then he saw his dream play itself out again, but now he understood what had happened. He had made a deal with the dark side, making them promise to leave his people in peace, but they had betrayed him. They had returned and attacked him, and they had imprisoned him eternally inside a time warp, even as his magic had cast them into the Dumpster.

Oh, no. So that was why Zordon's name struck such fear in his heart. Is was his.

Oh, no.

Dismayed though he was, he could not tear his eyes away from the magic mirror, and it continued to let his life flash before his eyes. Long years of waiting and planning went by in an instant, and then he was seeing himself initiating his first team of Power Rangers. He had been so proud of them. He had loved them all as if they were his own children, and it had hurt him to send them into battle again and again, always knowing that the next battle might be the one they didn't return from. But they survived, and so they battled enemy after enemy under his guidance, right up to the enemy that was now watching him fearfully, the one who had been heartbroken to realize that, no matter what the past might have been, hate had given way to its opposite. Saffron - Zordon continued to watch the pictures flashing by, right up until the point that everything seemed to dissolve into a golden flash . . . and then everything changed.

"Did you watch the mirror right up until the end?" he asked. He was surprised at how calm he sounded . . . but then, he had always been so good at staying calm, even when facing death itself.

"Well, no," she faltered.

"Then look at this."

The mirror was showing some different pictures now. They showed a young man dressed in tan and gold waking up in a hospital, and they followed him as he worked his way into the new society that he had been so instrumental in creating. They showed him working at his desk and laughing at Pete's nonsense, and the night where he had battled someone who had fought him like an enemy and made peace as a brother. They also showed a softly lit picture of a happy young man walking hand in hand with a beautiful woman in the moonlight.

"You see?" he said. "These images are no less true than anything else you saw. Whatever I used to be, I'm now just Saffron Golde, a person who has found a good friend in you. I've lost enough friends in my lifetime already. I will not lose another. I had already forgiven you for what you had done. Can you forgive me for what I did to you?"

"Yes," she said.

"Then there is nothing to worry about," said Saffron. "But . . . this has given me a lot to think about? Will you be all right if I leave you here for a little while? I promise I'll be back."

"You don't have to promise," she said. "Saffron Golde is probably the only one I trust."

"Then wait for me. This shouldn't take very long." So saying, Saffron picked up the bit of broken glass that had caused all the trouble. "I'll get rid of this for you. I don't think we'll be needing it any more."

Queenie nodded silently. As Saffron left, he stopped to kiss her cheek, the first time he had ever done such a thing. She smiled a little, and he smiled back.

"It will be all right, you'll see," he said. And then he was gone.

There was a tree in Saffron's back yard. It seemed like a good place to sit and think for a while, and that was exactly what Saffron needed to do. There was a tangle of thoughts and emotions that needed to be dealt with. Now that he knew who he was, where he had come from, it was also beginning to come clear to him who his companions were as well. Pete was an obvious one. Just thinking about the bony, clumsy, eternally amiable man would eventually suggest to anyone who knew him a none-too-clever skeleton monster with his face fixed in a permanent grin. As for Mr. Edwards, didn't the name give it away? Someone had finally found an underhanded way to get Ed to accept his nickname. And then there was Hunter, the noble warrior who loved his daughter above all else . . .

*We were not so different, really,* Saffron thought. *We were teachers and warriors who loved our adopted children. Ecliptor was admirable, even as a monster, a person of dignity and strength. The only real difference lay in who we were fighting for.*

Thinking of that led him to remember the last battle they had both been in. Just as they had been together in the beginning of this life, they had been together at the end of the old one. Saffron could remember seeing how Ecliptor had spent his last few moments trying to return to the side of his princess, defending her to the very last.

*I meant for him to live. If only the two of them had not been so poisoned with evil, I could have healed them there without having to die. I was supposed to die. By everything I knew, I should have died. Why am I still alive?*

After thinking about it for a long time, he came to a conclusion. He had been spared the fate he had chosen for himself because his work wasn't done yet. He had meant for the healed monsters to be part of the rest of the universe, not hidden away and isolated like this. It wasn't right that they should be kept apart from everyone else because of a past they no longer remembered and didn't have the heart to return to.

And then again . . . maybe he needed a second chance as much as they did. All he had ever wanted was a chance to live in peace. He hadn't wanted to be a war leader and send good men and women off to die, but circumstances had gotten in his way. He liked to think he had made the best of his situation, but if he had been given the choice, he would have preferred a life much like the one he was living now. He had lost much of his knowledge and all but a the tiniest fraction of his former power, but that had ceased to matter. He could have asked no better reward for his service to the cause of goodness than this, to live simply and be surrounded by good friends. But before he was ready to do that, he had one last thing he wanted to do.

Moments later, Hunter felt himself being shaken awake. He opened one eye and stared balefully up at Saffron.

"You maniac," he muttered. "What are you doing up at this time of night."

Saffron almost smiled. "I'm just letting you know I'm leaving."

"What?" Hunter came fully awake and sat up. "What do you mean, leaving?"

"I'm just going somewhere for a little while," Saffron replied, "and I want you to come with me."

"Going? After everything you went through to convince me to stay?"

"Well, if you don't want to see your daughter again . . ."

Hunter stared at Saffron as if he'd seen a ghost . . . or as if he was a ghost, which wasn't too far from the truth.

"You know where she is?" he whispered.

Saffron nodded solemnly. "Queenie let me borrow her magic mirror. It's shown me quite a few things of interest."

"Wait a moment, then, and let me get some decent clothes on. I'm coming."

Saffron waited patiently. He wasn't in nearly as much of a hurry as Hunter was to leave. He needed time to organize his thoughts and get ready for what was coming next. Also, he was only partially sure he knew what he was doing. He was going to have to trust his intuition on this matter. Finally, Hunter was ready to leave. Saffron took a breath to steady his trembling nerves.

"I think I still can do this," he muttered to himself. "Just let me do this one last time."

"What are you whispering about?" demanded Hunter, as much out of anxiety as irritability.

"This," said Saffron, and they were suddenly gone.

The world they reappeared on was also covered in nighttime darkness, but it was not the stifling darkness of midnight. It was the cool, restful darkness of early evening that called those with troubled minds to come out and find peace. Saffron knew, though he could no longer say how he knew, that this was the time and place he needed to find. Hunter looked all around at the unfamiliar trees and grass in vague puzzlement.

"Where are we? How did we get here?" he asked.

"I moved us," Saffron replied. "Don't ask me to explain how - I hardly know myself. We're on KO-35. Does that name sound familiar?"

"Yes," said Hunter slowly. "I think it does. Is this . . . ?"

"Shh! Someone is coming."

Hunter became instantly silent and still. Somewhere close by, he could now make out the soft steps of someone, or perhaps more than one, walking in the soft grass. Saffron beckoned for him to get out of sight, and he obeyed, ducking behind a nearby tree. It wasn't much shelter, but in the dark, it was all that was needed. Protected from intruding eyes, the pair watched to see who was coming. Gradually, the light of the stars and a thin moon revealed a pair of people, a young man and woman, strolling together and talking quietly. Saffron watched his friend's expression and saw it go slowly from confusion to astounded recognition. After a moment or two, the young man left his companion's side and drifted away from her, but she remained where she was, staring up at the stars.

"You remember them, don't you?" asked Saffron.

"I . . ." Hunter seemed to be having trouble finding words. "Yes! I remember now. That's the Red Ranger . . . and Astronema . . ."

"Only as much as you are Ecliptor," Saffron answered gently. "They've both changed, just as we have, only it isn't so much a change you can see. I did think you would want to see her again, though, one last time."

"Yes. Thank you."

"Is there anything you want to say to her?"

Hunter shook his head. "No, not now, but . . . I watched over her for many years. I think I would just like to watch her a little while longer."

"Probably a wise decision," Saffron replied. "But I want to have a few words with her brother, if you don't mind."

Hunter didn't offer any objections, so Saffron wandered away to speak to his former student.

He found Andros sitting on a large rock at the edge of the ocean, watching the waves roll in and out. Saffron picked out a second stone and took a seat nearby.

"Could you stand some company?" he asked.

"Hmm?" Andros glanced up, distracted. "Oh. Go ahead."

"Thank you," Saffron replied. "It's a beautiful night, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess so." The former Ranger's tone confirmed Saffron's suspicions.

"Something is bothering you, isn't it?"

"I don't really want to talk about it," Andros replied.

"I think it might do you some good," Saffron persisted. "You're thinking about Zordon, aren't you?"

Andros looked up in shock. "How did you know?"

Saffron shrugged. "You are a good-hearted person, Andros. You could never harm anyone, especially someone you cared about, and not feel some sense of guilt and loss."

"Yeah, you're right," Andros agreed sadly. "I keep thinking there should have been some other way. I should have been able to do something to keep it from happening."

"But you have to remember, it was his choice, in the end. He was ready to end it all. His life was never an easy one, you know."

"How do you know do you know so much?" asked Andros suspiciously.

Saffron turned and so that he could look Andros in the eye. There was a long pause as the young man stared in surprise.

"Zordon?" he whispered.

Saffron smiled sadly. "What's left of him, anyway. I gave up a lot in that last battle, if not as much as I thought I was going to lose. Nearly all of my power is gone, and I've forgotten much of what I used to know. Now . . . now I'm just an ordinary man."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm perfectly happy this way. All I ever really wanted was to live a peaceful life with people I cared about, and now I'm finally going to get my wish. I am grateful to you, Andros, for being brave enough to help me. The reason I wanted to come back and speak to you tonight was mostly to let you know that you made the right decision, and that all is well with me, but I also wanted to let you know how proud I've always been of you. You've always been a good man and a brave leader." Saffron smiled a little. "You remind me a lot of myself when I was young."

Andros managed to smile back. "That's probably the highest compliment I've ever gotten."

"I am sorry to have to say goodbye," said Saffron, "but we both have our lives to get on with. Take care of yourself, Andros."

"You, too."

Saffron nodded . . . and then he was suddenly gone in a swirl of pale gold lights.

He returned to the tree and found Hunter still standing, just the way Saffron had left him, lost in his thoughts. When his friend arrived, he sighed and turned around.

"Are you ready to go?" Saffron asked.

"Go where?"


Hunter almost smiled. "You mean, back to the camp? Yes, I think so." He turned and took a final look in the direction of the girl he had raised. "She will be safe and happy here. She won't be needing me anymore."

"But I will," Saffron replied. "After all, you're the only one I know who can cook."

"Saffron, you never cease to amaze me," said Hunter.

"Come on. We need to be leaving. It's late, and I have some unfinished business to attend to," said Saffron. There was a lot that needed to be done if he was going to finish the job he had started, but he wouldn't be alone in it this time. He would have his brother to help him this time . . . and Queenie.

"You're right," Hunter replied. "Let's go home."

The End