Once upon a time there was a princess who had been turned out of her kingdom by an evil sorcerer...
But that was another story, now.
"It's likely that if I just waltz into Anduz and dump you on whoever doesn't move fast enough, you'll end up with the Ambassador, so you might want to think about what you'd like to do instead. My family has been rehoming quite a few of the refugees, so much as it pains me to admit it, that might not be your best stop in Anduz. I could, for instance, pack you off to a business venture in Kahraman where it's unlikely you'll run into anyone from the Confederacy.
If nothing immediately comes to mind, I'll head out to sort out contracts with the other refugees, Camilo will make sure you don't end up in the same place as them, and we'll talk about what skills or information you might have to offer when I get back?"
Liliana sighs. "I don't know. I don't know about your country, I don't know what I can do with myself - except sing and play music - and I don't want to hurt more people."
Selma squeezes Liliana's shoulder. "First, you need someone you can talk to. Even about that doom you say you were under."
"Singing and playing music are always welcome talents, I am sure you can find something to do with those.
I'll see if I can find you a sutannir to talk to, we have a couple travelling with us, and I'll be back by lunch time to see how things are going.
A doom does sound a little concerning - I don't have anyone here who can analyse a curse, but I can certainly hire you a coven in Anduz."
Liliana shudders visibly at the mention of the coven.
"Oh - it isn't a curse. Well, at least not the sort of curse you're thinking of. She called it a 'drawback'... And it didn't happen in this world.
"I'm sorry - maybe I should just tell the whole story or not at all. If this's the right time, and if you want to hear. Or maybe that coven really are the appropriate people." She shudders again.
"This sounds like a long story and I really should sort out that refugee camp. Once I'm back, it'll take everyone a while to get ready to move, we can talk this through over lunch?
Or if you're really itching to go for it I can get the sutannir to go talk to the camp, but that normally isn't as successful as when I do it, especially as they already know I'm the one in charge."
Liliana smiles a slight smile. "I can wait. Don't worry. I've waited this long."
Selma puts her hand on Liliana's shoulder. "Don't wait too long. You've been feeling so guilty about this; you really do need to tell someone."
"I told my Achard once... well, part of it. I told it to him as if it was as a story, taken from a dream."
Selma gives her a questioning look.
"He said he wasn't sure whether I was acting stupidly or shrewdly. Didn't even think to ask whether I'd done right."
"Okay, I am now insatiably curious, so you have," she checks a pocket watch, with the trace of a wry smile, "a quarter of an hour to tell me what in the world is going on here, then I'll have to either go fetch you a priest or send them off while I deal with whatever this is."
"So... I'm not from this world, at first. Or, well, part of me is" (she runs her hand down her chest) "but I remember growing up in another world. An evil sorcerer had conquered my country when I was a girl, and we were trying to fight back."
(She doesn't mention how it was "her country" in that she was the queen, spirited away into hiding just after her parents the old king and queen had been killed. That's not part of this story anymore.)
"It was hard since we barely had any magic, and the sorcerer was casting spells on everyone, and the magic we did have - well - it didn't work how we'd hoped.
"So I think I died there."
(Because the magic gem they'd optimistically used had just shown the sorcerer where they were... but she still doesn't like thinking about that too closely. And maybe the magic had just opened a portal out of the world, but narratively speaking it was the same thing as death.)
Liliana pauses, wiping the tears from her eyes with a ragged handkerchief.
"Oookay. Uh. Do you want a clean handkerchief? I'm afraid I am not the best person ever with crying people, but round here we generally take remembering a past life as a good sign?"
Yasmina seems somewhat off balance and not sure if she should keep sitting at her desk or come and pat Liliana on the shoulder or something, but decides Selma seems to have the emotional support role here and goes for attempting an understanding smile, which comes off much more nervous than intended.
Liliana leans forward, trying to blink back her tears. "There're other people who remember past lives? I don't remember choosing that point! Who? And what sort of past lives?"
"Usually it doesn't happen wholesale - some people get dreams and visions. Or there's - a religious ceremony - that can retrieve some memories from anyone. But the ingredients are rare and expensive, so not many people get that.
If you have recall of an entire past life, I'm pretty sure I can deluge you with interested scholars, and the ambassador won't have a hope of getting a word in edgeways. Especially one from outside the Empire!"
She hasn't been thinking about her first life too much... but maybe she should be thinking about it more. Maybe it'd help fight her... curse.
"- But maybe I should first be telling you about what happened next."
"The next thing I knew, I woke up in a whitewashed room cleaner than anything I'd seen. A winged angel greeted me and said I was being given the privilege to choose some aspects of my own reincarnation, because they thought I would make an interesting story. She - the angel - said they were sending me inside a story that was already written, except they were sending me as the villainess - but I could choose to fight fate, fight how the story would naturally go.
"Of course I accepted, because I love stories."
"I definitely think there will be a lot of people who are very excited to talk about both 'creatures you met in the Labyrinth' and 'what exactly is an angel, we haven't got anyone to give us a straight answer and we kind of think they're Heralds but maybe not?'.
That sure does sound like a Labyrinth spirit though, from what I've heard they are nasty pieces of work."
Liliana hasn't heard of the Labyrinth aside from a couple tales about Imperial religion that were probably exaggerated. But she isn't thinking about that now.
"I didn't think she was nasty at the time. She gave me a number of choices about where I wanted to be reborn, and what boons or curses - "advantages" or "drawbacks," she called them - I wanted. I chose my beauty, I chose my noble birth, I chose to be born somewhere that didn't hold with magic.. and several other things, but... You see, she said I'd wake up in my new self one morning right after the plot had started. I still don't know how that worked. Maybe it merged our spirits somehow? Or maybe she was me, just without my memories? But - she - the old Liliana, I mean - was a proud and nasty person. I knew that. She was the villain of the already-written story, after all.
"And I took the curse of a strong urge to stay in-character with how she'd act. It was a story, after all, and I didn't want it to take too abrupt a turn.
"But then I woke up, and I gave in to the curse. I kept giving into it. I won Achard, I won the story, but I humiliated Rosalyn and framed her and had her reduced to slavery and - and -"
She turns to Selma. "And I keep forgetting about you and Maud and Edith and all the other servants around me! I'm surprised you even stay with me after everything I did!"
Selma squeezes Liliana's shoulder. "I hadn't heard your story, but... I saw you were still better than you'd been. Than she was, if it wasn't you -" She waves her other hand in the air. "I knew I couldn't keep up with magic."
(That isn't all her reason, but it's part of it, and she does want to help Liliana so she won't be saying the other parts just yet. For example, she felt safer not being by herself on the roads north. And, she thought that Liliana disappearing north rather than being arrested would make a bigger scandal.)
"I'm... still immensely curious, but totally out of my depth here," replies Yasmina, looking increasingly bemused. "If I was theorising, that makes you sound more like a tulpa or something than an - extra soul?
I think I should fetch Camilo and get him to find the sutannir who can perform Insight. Don't worry - I have no intention of harming you and any sutannir travelling with me is not going to get all exorcism-happy any time soon, nor is anyone going to turn you in for religious crimes unless, I don't know, you suddenly dedicate everyone in the camp to a false virtue or something.
I think it would... be a better outcome... if I could surround you in Anduz with people fascinated by your glimpses into metaphysics, rather than your potential for gossip about politics, from what I've heard so far?"
Liliana shrinks down amid Selma's hug and Yasmina's speculation.
"But tulpas don't have souls... do they? I think I do... I know I did...
"And... is Insight magic? I haven't had a spell cast on me since my old life."
"Tulpas indeed don't have souls as far as we can tell, that's why I'm not very attached to that theory, they don't tend to act much like complete people either.
Insight's not magic; it's a spiritual rite, the sutannir takes liao and they can then see souls and anything attached to those souls. I'd be tempted to detect magic on you as well, tulpas are often more visible to that, but I know Suranni are jumpy about magic and Insight should give us enough to be getting on with."
"Let's do that. I wish we had Gwenn here to look at too - she was reincarnated from my old world too, though she didn't get her memories - but she got fingered in another scandal and I don't even know what happened to her."
"Please don't steal my corsairs for daring rescue missions... normally I'd recommend picking up some corsairs in Anduz for it, but we really, really don't want to go to war with the Iron Confederacy right now, regardless of, well, everything."
Yasmina gets up and pokes her head outside the tent. "Camilo, I'm sure you've been listening because I'm fully aware tents aren't actually soundproof, could you go fetch Alvaro for me?"
She returns to her seat. "Shouldn't be a minute. Handkerchief's still on offer and I still have to head out in, about five minutes. I'll stay for the result and you can discuss it with Alvaro until I get back."
She laughs ruefully.
"Rescue missions? So many people I'd want that for, if we could.
"... but why don't you go to war? Are you afraid of us, like they say?"