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Chapter 1 - Chapter 2

Falls the Shadow

orning would not dawn for many hours, and black glittering rain fell endlessly from the night sky. There should have been a storm. There should have been lightning, thunder; dramatic, lashing the sky like a serpent's tongue, but there was only the constant slow rain, pattering across the rooves of the houses as if a thousand little feet were marching. There was the slow ticking of a clock, steady and gradual, shaving away little slices of time in the darkness, there was the hiss of water on windowpanes, hidden behind curtains so that no light at all could fall through them to betray the existence of an outer world. There was the bulk of a bed, a table, the shadows of chairs, their skeletal backs a little lighter, or a little darker, than the darkness about them. There was, perhaps, the occasional creak of a board, or a wall, or a roofing timber settling itself a little more somewhere else, or maybe it was the skitter of a mouse, a long time indoors out of the rain, but not yet asleep. There was a crack of light under a door, falling across a floor, and there was a dream.

In the dream was space, void and limitless and dark. It was not sticky this darkness, not enclosing or stifling, but vast and open, like the interior of a room without windows, hidden from the sun by corridors and galleries down which the wind was quietly drifting. There was a certain chill to the air, as if from bare stone, or an unheated house, and there was an occasional whisper of sound, something stirring the stones perhaps. All around her there was a low murmur of sound, distant voices, and a kind of throbbing that felt like heat somewhere else. She looked around her and caught a glimpse of light, one of the flashes that sometimes appear in the eye in darkness, especially when you have been asleep and have just awoken. She moved towards it and saw a crack of light shining from under a door, falling across the floor. The crack swelled like an opening door, and a space blazed beyond it.

The sun in the sky was fire, beating down upon the dark glass. The air was heavy, almost unable to lift itself from the floor, hot and unbreathable. A dusty rectangle of light, drawn over the end of the corridor, pulsed angrily under the sunlight like a membrane. The floor shook with a steady beat, as if of some huge gear jerking its way against the teeth of a cogwheel. There was the tumbling sound of faster wheels and bars, of vast apparatus measuring out some quantity. She felt that she was inside a massive clock, whose irresistible tick carved up reality into chunks of substance and dream.

The sunlight was so fierce that she felt herself melting under it. Her flesh glowed like heated glass, impossible. She burst into flame, she blazed, she was made of fire, of molten metal, of gold. She was a statue, the colossus of Rhodes, set into the sky like the eyes of God, surveying the curve of the world with blazing eyes. Beyond the corridor was a city rising impossibly above a purple plain as huge as a mountain, its golden walls throwing back the sun's rays as a mirror. From her vantage point she saw it all spread out below her feet, as if she was standing on the very topmost spire of a cathedral, with a precipice falling away on every side.

The light from the buildings shone up into the sky and formed patterns there, figures and beasts circling the horizon in procession, Lion, Tiger, Bull. Behind them came a man, a pair of dice rolling in the clouds, all following a shining path along the course of the glittering river. Then the shapes shifted, the clouds scudding across the sky as if time had been speeded up. The world spun, the horizons circled the city, but the sun never moved. Now shadows fought across the sky, light and dark clouds dyed gold by the city. She felt that she was ten miles high, an eternal figure of gold above the city, and her head was raised into the middle of this battle. The clouds rumbled with angry thunder, the lights brandished their lightning strokes, shaking them into the air like spears. On the western horizon figures had gathered in the uneasy light, like stone statues crouched on the mountains there. In the east too dim shapes were dancing, like ghosts, the two groups facing each other across the mirror-like plain. The figures in the west boomed back the thunder, and the shadows in the east lashed the sky with lightning.

She felt the air shake around her, and black glittering rain began to fall, drumming over the rooves of the golden city, pouring down into the streets and cascading into the river below. Then a shadow fell over her, and she looked up. Blackness drew itself across the heavens like a ragged cloak trailing from an arm, or tangled hair shaken into the sky. Cold blackness fell across the city, and the figures on each horizon fell away. She felt as if a cold hand had closed upon the world, and the world was nothing but a glass sphere, one of the little toys you shook to see the snow and rain crash down within them. The darkness flowed up the curve of the sky and across the face of the sun, 'til the entire world was covered by shadow.

With the darkness came silence. The gears did not turn, the voices were gone, the thunder was silent. The flames had gone out, and she was cold and unsteady on the pinnacle. She didn't feel wonderful any more, rather she was scared. Grey cold fear seeped down from the sky where the rain had been, and bled into her. She listened for any sign of life, and heard something behind her. Somewhere in the dark corridor footsteps were moving. They dragged across the stone like a man with a limp drags his footsteps, but they were slow, dead, and ominous. They were as steady as a heartbeat, as if they stalked her across the cold stone floors, knowing that she had nowhere to run. She could visualise the figure stopping in the darkness, a robe highlighted by the flaring light of two or three candles, looking silently at where she stood. She couldn't see the face, she couldn't see the eyes that she knew must be there, but she felt as if she was fading away into the shadows, losing form and definition, becoming... nothing. The drop below her was a terrifying well of blackness, vertiginous and waiting, like a pit into which her soul might vanish, irrecoverable. The sky was a hood of darkness, the buildings were cold needles and daggers in the night, waiting like teeth to catch her.

She curled up within herself, foetal, trying to imitate the safe feeling of a child waiting to be born, knowing nothing of itself, and she thought she heard cold laughter, like the scrape of a branch upon a windowpane. Then the black figure opened its arms and a wind tore out through the cold corridors, threw open the doors, smashed free of the windows, and tore her from the pinnacle of the city.

She felt herself cast down into an all consuming blackness, a vast and endless space through which she plunged helpless. Somewhere about her there was the impression of formless shapes, dimensionless volumes, massless things beyond imagination, that radiated a sense of raging heat and roiling blackness, great cunning devils in the void.

"Plucked from dream to dream, reality to nothing, the Magician's Sending will be of no threat to us."

"Desire, in time, rules all. Who can face the secrets of their heart unaided?"

Voices made themselves known and were gone, leaving only the knowledge of something still vaster above the darkness, cold and pure like the stars, intricate like a gemstone, and then... nothing.