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Beneath the Palace, beneath even the darkest and lowest of the dank and forgotten wine cellars, lies a system of caverns, catacombs, and grottoes older than even the City itself. A mineral spring bubbles in the center of an otherwise still pool, and there is the very faint murmur of an underground river as it moves its sluggish, cold way through the caverns like the icy blood in a dead body; nowhere important to be, and in no hurry to get there. For all the darkness of the caverns though, the water is sweet and pure, untouched here by the taint and pollution of the City above. Once upon a time, when someone else lived here, the caverns and pools were heated by vented steam from the world's core, but no more. The girl has not yet learned such control over her Element to replicate the steaming soaking pools that the ancient City still murmurs of, and so as she treks to this furthest reach of her Domain, she carries a torch, and wears a warm woolen wrap about her.

The door that she stops in front of is massive and oaken, studded and guarded with iron. A giant ring stands in service as a handle, but only those who know its secret could ever budge the door. The girl sighs resignedly, and spins the ring in its stanchion until she hears a subtle click, at which point she pulls the ring to stand out perpendicular to the door, and rotates the entire ring assembly. The door swings open on silent, greased hinges. Even so far away from her main hallways, the Shadows are attentive to every detail.

The air inside her Armory is softly redolent with leather and polish, and the tang of well oiled steel. She places her torch on a sconce and surveys the room, crammed floor to ceiling with armor and weapons of every make and description - some ancient, some fantastic, some subtle, some wildly futuristic. It will be a difficult decision.

What would a modern day Amazon wear? she wonders lightly to herself. But she is not an Amazon, and so she passses the rack of bows and quivers, and of hardened leather armor. The kevlar vest she selects makes the jet beading on her bodice tinkle discordantly, and with a thought she replaces her gown with black fatigue pants and a black, long sleeved shirt. She looks thoughtfully then around her, shaking her head. Very little of this armament would do; what she was engaged in was a battle of defenses, not offenses. A pair of knee high boots comes next, metal heels gleaming and the wickedly pointed toes hiding a toe cap of forged steel. Her long silver knife, a ceremonial piece for luck more than defense, slides easily home inside her boot top. Next come a pair of hardened leather gauntlets, a fox afire carved and painted on them, and a subtle knife sheathed in each. The last thing she takes, incongruous as it would seem to an onlooker, is a book.

The book's smooth-grained leather binding is stamped in gold letters that twist before her sight. Logos, Veritas, Iustus it reads, glowing softly with a weight and power all it's own. It is the book of the Law, and the girl hopes that she will be able to use it to her advantage in the coming struggle. The Law is friend to some, enemy to others, and a tricky, twisted thing to invoke in any battle. But she will try.

There is one last thing she remembers as her hand reaches for her torch. Turning back into the room, she strides to the very center, crouches, and taps softly on a single tile laid into the living rock. It rises slightly, and she pries it up with her fingernails, quickly reaching below it for the black velvet bag it contains. Replacing the tile, she stands, sliding the softness of velvet over something black and hard and shiny. It is almost rounded, this thing she holds in her hands, and transparent like smoked glass. It is the size and shape of a human heart; hers. Taking a deep breath, she holds the slick, unpleasant looking thing to her chest and pushes, settling her last, and most important, piece of armor into place.

Without a backward glance she takes up her torch and strides out of the Armory and back up the the Palace, ready finally to face her enemy.

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arsenicwaltz

May 2009

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