Malina’s feet were tired; her eyes were tired. Her head was tired. Yet she was exploring again.
The inner wall and the outer wall of the castle still appeared intact, at least in this corner. Sand drifted heavily enough in several places that Malina couldn’t see more than 1 or 2 dozen cubits in either direction from the L intersection where she stood, the corner of the castle from which the tower grew.
She was being led by a fishlike sprite that had appeared to her request – no, to her demand.
She had seen stranger things, but then again, she was being followed around an abandoned castle named for her ancestor by a talking cat.
The sprite was taking her away from the entrance she’d come in, down the branch of inner-outer wall space she hadn’t explored yet. This could be a very bad idea – but yet, the cat was following her. It seemed entirely unworried about any of this. Of course, being a cat (although she did not know the rules for sand-cats, she supposed), it would likely seem unworried by anything at all.
The fish-sprite seemed momentarily befuddled by the pile of sand in their way, a pile taller than Malina; it let out a call of some sort, chirps & whistles and hums, surprisingly loud.
The cat chuckled. “Ah, this will be good.”
Malina spared the cat a glance.
The cat did his best to look completely innocent, something that he was not that good at. “Watch,” he ordered.
A dozen, two dozen, three dozen more fish sprites, small ones and big ones and medium ones in brilliant rainbow colors, they all appeared out of nowhere and swarmed the pile of sand.
“Nurse fish,” the cat explained, as the pile of sand seemed to vanish. “They take care of the castle. And its Queen, of course.”
The queen. “Fish.” Malina grabbed on to the safe thing. “Fish swim in water.”
“Some fish do. These are sand fish.”
As Malina watched them, the fish – _sand fish_ – completed removing the blockade of sand. Many of them seemed bigger than they had been before, rounder, as if they had devoured the whole of the pile. They swam off before she could even say thank-you, leaving her one, now-almost-spherical, fish-sprite remaining.
It chirped at her and led the way through the now-clean pavement. Malina’s sandals slapped on brilliantly-colored tiles sparkling with jewels.
“What _was_ this place?” she whispered.
The cat hopped in front of her before turning, tail high, to regard Malina. If cats could smirk, he would be smirking.
“Home,” he told her. “This was the place of home for Dominika, who gave you her name. This was the place of home for the Last Treaty. This was the place of home for the Malina Concordat and she who gave _that_, and you, another of your names. This is the place of your names, Malina Serafina Anastazja Dominika Naveed Jeleń nic Cecília O Alexandre.”
“I never told you-“
The fish-sprite chirped at them. Malina nodded in apology to the thing and let it chirp them to a door, a door which had clearly been recently cleaned, as the filigree all over it shone like the sun above.
“You never told me, no,” the cat agreed. Malina opened the door, finding it moved smoothly and easily on hinges that might have just been oiled. “None of it, that you were Princess, that you were of the Alexandre, that you were from Jeleń and Cecília, Malina and Dominika and all the others.
“You didn’t need to tell me anything, Princess,” the cat continued.
Malina stepped through the doorway to find herself in a small guard-room or foyer, room for two people to stand and perhaps swing a weapon flanking yet another door.
The fish-sprite chirped. She opened the next door.
“Your being told the desert who you were the moment you stepped into the Border-Lands. You were *born* for this, before your name, before your ancestors. You’ve always been born for this.”
There was a hallway.
Malina huffed at the hallway. At the end, it looked like there was another door.
The fish-spirit chirped encouragingly at her.
She took several steps into the hall. The floor here was soft carpet, as untouched as if it had been set down just yesterday. The walls were jasper with bone and mother-of-pearl inlays making a scene of a place teeming with life. The ceilings arched high. Yet the whole hall was not wide enough for her to stretch her arms out fully.
“Born to this. Before I was born?”
“Time is an interesting thing, in the Borderlands. Know this, if you remember nothing else.” The cat stopped in front of her. Tail up, it stared pointedly at her. “The Borderlands know you. This place knows you. The fish, cats, mustangs, they know you. Know that, Princess. Know that, and the rest will come in time.”
The fish-sprite chirped. A door in front of her swung inwards.
Malina took a breath and walked forward. *The rest will come in time*.
Complaining, she supposed, could also wait.Want more?