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Deep within the marble halls of the Palace, where the corridors twist bewitchingly, ouroboros-like and ever changing, ever sliding, there is a short section of curved stone wall that stands still and constant. Embedded in this section of wall is a narrow door made of several heavy planks stood on end and fastened together by three more running horizontally across them at even intervals. The hinges of this door are fanciful swirls of wrought iron, and the matching handle arches, delicately curved yet sturdy, from the surface of the wood. For all the impenetrable look of the door it offers little security; there is no key, no lock, nor even a latch to hold the door closed against draughts.

Visitors, if any were to breach the ever-twisting labyrinth to stand before it, would be somewhat shocked to hear the faintest hum of a breeze across the threshold. Indeed, the door twitches and shudders to itself, creaking slightly in and out on gusts of wind. Opening the door would reveal a sight that on first viewing induces a sort of nauseating vertigo: beyond the threshold is a giant chasm; a vertical shaft stretching up and down into infinity with a softly lit stone pillar standing in its distant center.

Of course, once the initial pangs of panic pass, one notices the tiny viewing platform and spindly safety railing strung between the doorway and an eternity of falling. The braver of these hypothetical visitors might find themselves drawn inexplicably towards the edge. Those who are perhaps downright foolhardy might clutch the railing tightly, and peer over it and down. We shall not meditate on the fate of those unfortunates. To the Shadows who staff the Palace though, this is just another room like all the others; another part of their mistress, another whimsy, another something to be tended to or ignored as per her will.

It is unsurprising then, that when Eddie answers Her call he neither is struck dumb by the vast size of the Axis or the soft glowing beauty of the Heartstone, nor does he flinch and cower away from the edge of the chasm. She is standing by the railing, her face pointed towards the great silvery mass of the pillar, but her thoughts turned quite obviously inward. Without turning from her contemplation she extends one net-gloved hand for the implement Eddie has brought, and he silently places across her palm a glittering silver knife.

With a deep breath and a gesture like the parting of a curtain, she is through the railing and standing now upon open air above an unending drop. Except that she does not fall. A sliver of stone is visible at the edge of her foot, and another hands in midair nearby. One slow, bizarrely floating step at a time, the girl makes her way across the protective nothingness to the Heartstone's side. As she approaches the stone seems to liquefy for a moment, extruding a semicircle of ledge and an alcove for her to stand on, and in. Where she steps from the floating stones to the softly glowing marble, tiny cracks of bright golden light appear, and she gives a soft sigh. With a thought she Calls the very last thing, the thing she had not the power for, to complete her errand.

The lead casket drops to her feet with a hollow thud. The arched lid is decorated with a relief of bodies, stacked like cordwood, arms protectively outstretched so that the effect is of a woven basket of humans. The sides of the casket depict a quiver of arrows and a sickle moon, and the handles that grace the ends are a spidery tracework of something that might be twigs, or possibly veins. There is a moment of silence, broken only by the soft, slippery sound of flesh parting around silver, of leaden hinges creaking, the thud of something soft against scarlet velvet, and the hinges again. There is blood on the knife, blood on her hands, blood on the alabaster of her chest, and a tiny line of angry red traces its way from the hollow of her collarbone and then lower, down beneath the jet-fringed edge of her bodice.

Without pausing she plunges the knife hilt-deep into the side of the pillar, the blood drying instantly and flaking off in a coarse black dust against the glowing marble. Hilt-deep still, she draws the blade downward, then to the right, then up, and to the left. The hole that opens shows a window of brilliance that makes the soft glow around it pale and dim by comparison. But she does not stop to marvel. Instead she drops the knife and hefts the casket to her shoulder, sliding the leaden mass into the fiery square. Having accomplished this she stands back, as much as her short ledge will allow. The marble of the pillar curls at the edges of the cut square, then rolls inward like the living flesh of a tree in fast forward. There is a soft rumble as the last of the brilliant swirling light fades, and she bows her head, picking up the knife again.

"It's of no use to me right now. More a burden. Please keep it safe."
I cannot keep it forever.
"I know. When the time comes, I will return."
How will you know?
She is silent for a long moment.
"I will know, or I will be dead. Either way, it won't be forever."


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May 2009

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