Epilogue

"Will this do?"

And suddenly, there they were, standing on a jutting promontory at the very edge of a steep cliff. The drop to the valley floor below was at least five hundred feet, and the cliff face and promontory perilously exposed to midair were composed of plain granite.

"This'll do fine," Presto assessed, glancing at Hank for confirmation.

"It's perfect," Hank agreed.

"Very well, then. This spot leads to "

"Don't tell us!" Hank interrupted. "We don't want to know. The only reason Venger found the Gem on Earth is because he knew where it went, or at least had a pretty good idea to begin with. If no one knows where it is, then if we're lucky, no one will ever have a clue where to start looking for it again."

"Are you sure that is necessary? If, as you say, water and life have returned to the City of the Dead, it is possible that the Veil has closed forever. I know some small bit about prophecies, and how important the wording can be. In this case, the Prophecy did not say that the Veil would reopen every five thousand years."

"Well, that's true," Diana agreed. "But we don't want to take any chances."

"As you wish, my friends." There was a click, followed by a slight creak. "You may throw it in, now, Thief."

"And good riddance!" Sheila said, tossing the Gem of Shahvin into the dark, square hole at the bottom of the open treasure chest. "Thanks, Zandora," she said as the diminutive sorceress closed her Box. "I feel better already."

"Which means there's just one thing left to do," Hank added as he and Rob helped Zandora push the Box to away from the edge, back towards where the others stood. "Rahmoud, will you do us the honors?" he asked with a gesture towards the now-bare promontory.

"It will be my pleasure, my son," Rahmoud answered as he stepped towards the edge. He too had come along as Zandora had brought them here, in search of the perfect place to dispose of the Gem of Shahvin. Now that the Gem was locked and sealed in another dimension through Zandora's Box, they were going to take all the steps necessary to make sure that it could not return the same way. "So it was that my great ancestor, Hadarif the Steadfast, found the Gem and brought it into this world, so I, King Rahmoud, now banish it."

Drawing his Scimitar and holding it up for a moment to shine in the glinting light of the suns, Rahmoud struck it hard on the rocky ground beneath his feet. As the blade began to sing with magical soundwaves, he drove the point deep into the ground where the Box had sat moments before. The cliff trembled as the waves loosened fissures and aggravated tiny cracks in the granite. Soon, a wide crack opened up, splitting in two directions from Rahmoud's Scimitar. When he saw this fissure growing rapidly, the tremors now perpetuating themselves and intensifying as the rocks gave way, he withdrew the blade and hurried back to safety where the others stood. The edge of the precipice continued to crumble, shifting and lurching until, with a mighty roar, the entire promontory where the Box had opened a portal now collapsed to the valley floor.

"And that, as they say, is that!" Eric smiled, dusting off his hands as if he'd just done all the work himself.

"Indeed, it is," Zandora agreed. With that rocky outcropping destroyed, there would be no reaching the Gem through her Box any more, and the location she had chosen to send it would be quite inaccessible to Venger or any of his successors through any other means. "And now that you have accomplished this, what are your plans, my friends?"

"Well, the first thing we're going to do is get Caitlin off my leg!" Sheila said through gritted teeth. The collapse of the cliff face had so frightened the little girl that she had latched on to her mother's leg in terror, and was not about to let go. "I think she's cutting of my circulation! I can't feel my foot!"

As Hank and Diana bent down to pry Caitlin off, Presto answered Zandora, "Well, we're going to take a little trip and see if we can find ... a, um, friend of mine, Varla, and see if she wants to come back to Khadish with us. Then on the way back we're going to take a detour and go visit the Valley of the Unicorns. And then we heard that Dekkion is trying to rebuild the Order of the Celestial Knights, so we might try to find the Tower again just to, y'know, see how he's doing. Dungeon Master said he'd go on ahead and drop some hints to everyone that we're coming. After that, I dunno." He shrugged helplessly. In the rush to rescue Caitlin, there simply had not been a moment's thought given to the future, or the consequences they would have to face in willingly returning to the Realm. "I don't think we can manage full time adventuring and trying to find a way home like we used to before. We'll probably settle down in Khadish if it doesn't look like we're going to find a nice and easy way home while we're out on this trip."

Which, the Magician did not admit, was exactly what he was planning to do if there was any chance that Varla would return to Khadish with him. Whether his friends found that portal back to Earth didn't even matter, he was staying with Varla. It was what he now knew that he should have done all along.

"As you well know, I cannot help you now with finding a way back to your world," Zandora answered with a shake of her head. "The most I can do is return you to Khadish so you can prepare for your journey. Let us go now."

"We gonna go for another trip?" Caitlin suddenly squealed in excitement, bouncing up and down and clapping her little hands, her pigtails swinging in delight. How quickly she'd gotten over her fright when she realized they were going to go on another cool ride like they had when the funny lady brought them here.

"Yes, my dear, we are," Zandora answered with a smile, raising her old but nimble hands above her head. "Are you ready? Here we go!"

A silvery flash of magical energy engulfed them all. When it passed, the cliff stood empty, save for the tufts of grass and rock cress that blew gently in the soft breeze.

Flying in the distance, a curious bronze dragon saw the flash, but found nothing when she soared over to investigate. Those who had stood there moments ago had already rematerialized far away, in the exquisite palace of an exotic land they would all soon come to call home.

~Fin~