Devon sat there on the floor for what seemed like hours, waiting for another exe to fall; something—anything, really—to happen. But no one moved. Selenay sat in her chair like a statue, Talia equally as stiff beside her, but looking as if she were having a rather hard time distancing herself.  Everyone else in the room was staring at her as if she'd gone mad, with the exception for two people; Firesong and Silverfox. Silverfox seemed to be having the same problem as Talia, and Firesong seemed to be working himself into a rage.

            "You were asked a question, by the Queen of Valdemar herself. Will you deny her an answer? Stop this show and get on with your explanation!" Firesong shouted, jumping to his feet and pounding his fist on the table reflexively. Devon was too stunned by this to do much but sit and blink at him; he'd stopped even her tears with his demand. Then, as if she were giving herself up, Devon felt the shields she'd thrown clumsily around herself in a desperate effort to lock everything away come crashing down around her in a million jagged shards. Silverfox rocked backward in his chair as if pushed by someone, grabbing for Firesong's arm to steady himself, but Talia actually fell off her chair onto the ground, the barrage of desperate emotions too much for her Empathy.

            Devon dimly noticed the Queen jump to her feet and shout orders, but she was far beyond the point of caring. She let it all wash over her in waves, including the thoughts of the Guards outside the door. It seemed as if there were hundreds of voices in her head, but the Guards outside—and she was sure it was them—their thoughts were most prominent, almost as if they were shouting in her ear.

            I wonder if they're gonna sentence her?

            What did she do to the other three?

            What kind of monster have the Heralds taken in now?

            Devon took all this in while barely noticing it, but one thing about the fourth guard caught her attention, even through the despair and self loathing that she couldn't do what she was sent for she felt; she couldn't sense him at all. Her shields were completely gone, and she could not even sense that the man was there, though she could tell by the other guards' thought patterns that they were, indeed, holding a four-way conversation amongst themselves. They were talking about who had what shift the next day.

            As she opened her mouth to say something, she realized that no one in that room would believe her anyway, and sank again into such a deep despair that she didn't even hear the commotion at the door until she felt a warm touch on her shoulder. She raised her head wearily to look into Arden's brilliant blue eyes. She realized, dimly that there were two other Companions behind him, and that the room was completely silent, save for Lyra speaking softly to Talia, who was still flat on her back. Arden lay down behind Devon, and as soon as he was settled, with her leaning against him, she felt a thick, sturdy wall slide up between her and the rest of the world. Then, as if by magic, she felt a second, and third wall slide up between her mind—and her emotions. The Companions behind Arden were setting up a kind of emotion block so she could endure what needed to be said—and done.

Devon raised dead eyes to look at Selenay, who was staring at her wide-eyed, then she let her gaze travel slowly around the table. It was quite crowded in the room with the three Companions, but in the silence, they moved around so they were placed against the walls, as much out of the way as possible. Devon saw Elspeth glare at one of them, and Talia staring at the other.

"Well, it seems we have all of the Grove Born Companions in residence.  Maybe now you'll believe me. Shall we start?" Devon asked softly, her voice devoid of emotion. She felt Arden's soothing presence at the back of her mind, trying to ease what little emotion was leaking through.

"It seems you've gathered the attention of the Companions, and now I want to know that as well. But first, I want to know more about this painting…" Selenay said, recovering her composure. Talia, with Lyra's assistance, was sitting in her chair again, wearing a slightly dazed expression, and Silverfox was staring at her with a strange, unreadable expression.

"Those are not paintings, at least not any kind like you've ever seen, nor will again." Devon began, nodding at the photographs. "You may want to truth spell me, though. That way you can be sure I'm telling you the truth. It would be better if it were the second stage so I would have to tell the truth. I might not know how to answer some of your questions." Elspeth nodded faintly and motioned that she would do it. Devon didn't feel any different, but then again, with so many shields on her, it was surprising she could feel her body, let alone anything in her head—that might have to do with emotion. Elspeth nodded at her mother, and the questioning began. The questions came so quickly, one right after another that Devon never even knew who asked them, her mind too numb to even care.

"What is your name?"

"Devon Tiara Laureate."

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen."

"What are these paintings?"

"They are not paintings. They are photographs. Images of people or events captured on camera and put automatically on film—that's what you hold in your hand—so the memories can be remembered forever simply by looking at the picture." There was a brief silence, and then Karal spoke up.

"Who are the people in the picture?"

"Myself, my very best friend Greg, and our other best friends Dina and Rob."

"Greg is the one whose arm you are on?"

"Yes."

"So that is not Kris?"

"Not at all. I did not even know Kris personally when that was taken."

"What do you mean personally?"

"I'd heard of him, but I hadn't known him myself." Well, that is the truth. Wow, it's possible to suspend the truth even under Truth Spell.

"Where are you from?"

"You've never heard of it." That response brought a chorus of murmurs, most of them incredulous; no one had ever answered like that under the second stage of the Truth Spell.

"What town are you from?"

"North Haven."

"North of Haven or Northern Haven?"

"Neither."

"What is the exact location of where you are from?"

"I am from the town of North Haven located in the State of Connecticut in the country the United Stated of America—in the New England section on the Eastern half of the country—on the continent of North America, on the third planet from the sun, called Earth." A few deep moments of silence followed this statement, during which Devon caught Kris looking at her oddly, almost as if he were discovering a new bone. She wasn't sure she liked it, and it hurt her to think he could look at her like that.

"How did you come to Valdemar?" The soft question was asked by Talia. She was watching Devon for a reaction, but as soon as the question reached her ears, Devon felt the shields around her—all three of them—snap up even higher and become thicker than before, so not even an ounce of emotion reached her. Now, Devon felt hesitation.

"I'm…not sure I understand what you mean." She was honestly puzzled. Did they mean exactly how she got here, or the story behind it? "Valdemar, Rethwallen, Hardorn, Karse, Iftel—everything you people know—was a series of books for me, fantasy. I read all the ones the author had produced right up until the point where I entered Valdemar." Now, Devon was feeling strain, not only her own, but that of the two Companions holding her away from the pain.

"But how did you get here?" Talia repeated softly. Devon took a deep breath, then looked at Rolan and Gwena. They were both watching her, and now, at her unspoken signal, she felt their shields slowly begin to come down. Arden was a pillar for her to hold onto, and she grasped that pillar with all her might, digging in her metaphorical teeth and nails, so this time, Talia was not flattened.

"I died." Devon felt tears streaming silently down her face, but made no move to stop them. "Look, I'm sorry, I know you don't trust me, but can you let down your shields—all of you? It will be easier on us all if I can simply show you what happened, rather than speaking of it. I already know I can project thoughts since I speak with Arden. It should not be that much harder to send images, and my shields are completely gone anyway." There was another brief, thoughtful silence before the Queen nodded her agreement—after a glance at Talia, who nodded almost imperceptivity—and Devon felt an almost overwhelming pressure of minds on her. She caught a handful of Arden's mane and clenched her fist around it, barely feeling his velvety nose nuzzle her cheek.

Devon let herself fall back into her memories, starting in her room that night. She went through the scene with Greg, throwing the images outside herself at the occupants of the room with such accuracy that she found herself reliving that night as if it were that very moment. It was rather strange to be able to look out her eyes and hear everything again, but not able to do anything besides watch and listen.  She did, however, feel the puzzlement and awe of the minds she was linked to as they saw the television set, stereo and lights in her room—but as Greg complimented her on how beautiful she looked, she felt a sharp stab of jealousy not her own. She shrugged it off as unimportant, and they didn't ask any questions, but then they were probably as caught up in the images as she was.

She sat back and watched with a kind of detached depression as she and Greg met up with Dina and Rob and they all left for the party. She felt tears in her eyes as she ran through the entire party, smiling at all the friends she knew she would never see again.  The party itself passed by almost in a blur—it wasn't really important, nothing noteworthy had happened—but it slowed down again as she got to the part where it was announced that they were the winners. Then, it seemed to Devon as if everything went into slow motion. She sat in a kind of stupor as she told Dina they would meet her outside. As Roger grabbed her, Devon felt a sense of impeding doom.

What could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this? I thought I was nice to everyone, but I must not have been. No---Roger was drunk. He didn't know what he was saying. She knew the others were hearing her thoughts, but at this point, she didn't care about much. She felt her entire being ice up from the inside out, trying to shut out every last emotion—and, thankfully, it worked. Devon felt shock after shock, all not her own, but the others sharing her experience's, as she was shoved into the middle of the street and the car was rushing up to meet her. She heard the sickening crunch again, then the scene went black. Before Devon could pull back—she didn't remember much more—the Shadow Lover's face popped up in her "vision," and he proclaimed that she had a choice, because it was not her time to de, to go to Valdemar and to help. Devon heard her own voice accept, only after making sure she would be a help and not a hindrance, and felt a stillness in the minds around her.

Then the scene faded, like the end of a movie, and with a great wrench, Devon tore herself away from the other minds. When she came back to herself, she was slumped against Arden and the other occupants of the room were half-sprawled on the table, as if they'd all suddenly fallen asleep. Most of them had straightened themselves, but Kris was already at her side, telling her she had been lost in her memories longer than most of the rest of them. He slipped his arm under her neck and cradled her head against his shoulder, tears in his own eyes as he brushed her hair back from her face. Devon gently pushed him away, looking away from Lyra, lest she think she was trying to seduce Kris again, and trying to ignore the stab of pain that pushing him away cost her. She could feel his own stab of pain as she pulled away before his shields snapped back up, and that made tears leak down her face again. She felt Arden buffering her mind with his own, shielding her, though not nearly as strongly as she had been before.

"Well," Said Selenay as she cleared her throat softly. "I think we all know what happened now. Elspeth, if you would take the spell off her…" Elspeth seemed to snap back to herself and suddenly, Devon felt what she hadn't felt before, a slight release, and it was then she realized that the other two Companions were both gone, probably let out by guards who suddenly had the strong impulse to open the door. She would have to remember to thank them later.

Talia turned to Devon, her expression unbelievably sad. "I wonder that you live with the knowledge you possess. It's a wonder you kept your wits about you for this long. Would you mind terribly a few more questions before I get several mind healers to attend you?" Devon mutely shook her head no and stood up, the ghost of her old self surfacing; if she was going to be questioned by these people, she wasn't going to do so with her head lower than theirs. She took a few steps forward, then leaped up onto the table, landing neatly on the edge and dropping easily into Indian style; she was now higher than all the rest seated around her. She felt Arden's cool approval as he, too, stood, then quietly stepped out of the room, the door opening to reveal puzzled guards, the closing behind the Companion.

:Thank you, Arden.:

:Anytime, Love.:

She wiped her face off with her sleeve, already feeling the skin tight across her cheeks from her tears. She had an idea of what was to come; the look on Talia's face gave her away. Sure enough, Talia's next words rang true to what she'd through she'd hear.

"You mentioned before that Valdemar was a story series where you are from. Were we characters in those books?"