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wrenched – “Do you see?” – Falling will fall, Fell – up and up and up –

wrenched away from hand and white fur billowing “Jo!” she cries, slap of her bare feet now on tile, click of a ring about her toe. Small white hexagonal tile, lapping a low dais before her, and on the dais a white slipper tub that rests on clawed feet, and a silver bowl on a copper tray, and a slim knife with a blade the color of bone, and she stands beside them, naked, a hand on the curl of the rim of the tub, her black hair glossy swept up, pinned back to fall behind her shoulders in artful tangles.

“Mother?” says Ysabel, clutching her white fur closed.

“Perhaps?” she says, stepping down from the dais. “It’s hard to say, in here, which way you’ve turned.” Holding out a hand. “You, yet to come?” Fingers, brushing white fur, matted there, an ivory stain, sticky, wet. “Oh, my lady,” she says, “my girl,” taking her hand in her hand, turning it over, the ragged gash torn in the edge of it, weeping milky gold. “You’re hurt,” she says, and she presses her lips to the wound, a kiss, and Ysabel with a gasp closes her glimmering eyes. When she lifts her mouth away her hand is whole, the cut a smooth faint line.

“My lady,” says Ysabel, opening her eyes, and “Yes,” she says, her hands on the fur. “Lady,” says Ysabel, “what’s happened? Where are we?”

“Hush,” she says, parting the fur, baring her shoulders, her breast, a hand to her breast, slipped up along her throat to her cheek, the nails of it cut short and painted a creamy honey color.

“Where’s Jo?” says Ysabel, and then she kisses her mouth, lightly, gently, and the slither of that white fur down her arms to crumple about her feet.

Down and down the hill, and as the buildings close about her again they block off the view of the bridges and the river and all but the most immediate towers ahead and about her, but all of it’s touched by that light now, the glare of it in the sky. Another intersection, another traffic light, clicking, and again the lights are blue this way, and white the other. Jo looks up and down the empty streets, the snow about her only marred by the path she’s made.

Up ahead past the next intersection the street climbs, a ramp up onto a bridge over the streets below to the whirl of off-ramps and on-ramps feeding the freeway by the river. She crosses it at an angle, making for the sidewalk, which splits here, one line of it running up along the ramp, the other down, along a narrow branch of street that ducks under the bridge, into the darkness there. At the point of the split, bolted to the guardrail, a warning light, two white lamps set one over the other, blinking, blinking, click and the snow’s a bright white field about her, click and it’s gone, blued shadows steeping into black.

She takes the left fork, up and onto the ramp, up onto the bridge.

The windows now in the towers she’s passing are three and four storeys off the ground, and in each window a light, and the walls through the glass of each are blank and white, no shelves, no art, no photographs or television sets, no cabinets, no shadows. A movement – there? She stops, a silhouetted head, an arm, falling. She waits there, on the sidewalk, but whoever it is doesn’t get back up.

Ahead off to the right an off-ramp from the bridge, feeding into the snarl of freeway to the right, to the north. and there, just before the mouth of it, a staircase leads down to a pedestrian underpass, the steps of it clear of snow except the corners, drifted over. On the other side of the ramp another staircase leads back up to the sidewalk that continues on beyond. She’s standing, one hand on the railing, looking back at the empty streets, ahead, over across the river to those impossible towers, and the glare of the highest of them, burning, a torch.

As she descends the steps a stillness closes over her, there beneath the deck of the ramp, and it’s clear how noisy the quiet had been before. Footsteps somewhere below, the clap of a hand, the crisply snap of a fire burning. At the bottom of the staircase the girders and concrete beams of the bridge and the ramps loom above in the space under the deck. The railing’s a concrete rampart well up above her waist. The underpass itself a narrow span, choked with garbage, snow drifted over a pile of clothing there, filthy sweatpants and a grimy pink T-shirt, food wrappers crusted, a single flip-flop grey in the darkness, one of its plastic straps sprung. The way is mostly blocked by a shopping cart filled with swollen garbage bags and all of it swaddled in a blue plastic tarp. Jo’s leaning up against the rampart, feet still on the last step, to look past the cart, there’s a roll of industrial felt tucked flat against the inner wall of the underpass, a sleeping bag laid out atop it, a ghostly smear of hair, poking from a dark stocking cap.

Jo leans out, looking down through interstices of column and beam and truss to the street below, and train tracks, a bonfire burning under the bridge, red and orange, yellow and white, striking gleams from the polished rails. A handful of figures, someone small there directly before the blaze, a slight silhouette even in a bulky coat, scrape of gravel tock of heel another figure stepping away from something, bulk of white rock shaped a hint of an eye, a beak, a wing fixed, spread in the firelight. That figure’s long coat swings open, head bare, hair a mop of artful tangles, black, bobbing as he lifts a black-gloved hand to forestall anyone from following, he’s looking up, peering up, stopping as he sees her there on the underpass.

She pulls back, against the rampart on the other side of the stairs. The steady crackle of the fire below. She looks over the shopping cart barricade, the makeshift bed, the figure asleep, the garbage, fingertips pressed to the butterfly bandages on her brow. And then stuffing her hand in her pocket she heads back up the stairs, into the drifted snow, the stulted air.

At the sidewalk she looks back the way she’s come, and then she leaps out into the mouth of the on-ramp, plunging across it, kicking up snow, grabbing the railing on the other side to stop herself, swinging about. Shreds of breath flying from her hood.

She trudges across the mouth of the next on-ramp, the one that feeds from the freeway into the city, and up and onto the empty bridge. The snow that swallows her boots is blushing now, pinks and pale gold and then a strident orange chasing the blue into hollows and backsides. She looks up. The tower’s closer, higher, the cauldron of light atop it bubbling over, the air about it hazed, the faces of the buildings about it too bright, all whites and light-struck chromes, the rest of them flung into blackness. Along the river the trees the river itself lit up like day, and each long shadow starkly drawn. She looks back then, there at the top of the arch of the bridge, back past the tangle of freeway ramps, the buildings looming stretching off to the east and the south and the clouds above streaming away, breaking against them, the starless night sky opening up beyond, and there far away to the east at the edge of it all the pale tooth of a mountain, the snow of it mottled only here and there with dark bare rock scraped clean, and the western slopes of it even now warming with sunrise colors, pinks, pale gold, the merest edge of orange, so far away.

She steps back, letting go of Ysabel’s hand. “Do you see?” she says, and wiping her lips with the back of that hand she neither nods nor shakes her head. “Yes?” she says, after a moment.

“Until it’s done, it can’t be spoken of,” she says. “And once it’s done,” a shrug. “Why speak of it?”

“I thought I’d broken!” she cries. “I was told. I’d broke.”

“And you were told you hadn’t. Yet until you knew, how could you know?” She lifts a hand to her cheek, to brush at the tear that trembles at the corner of her eye. She leans back from the hand, blinking, sniffing. “It was so hard,” she says.

“It always is.” She steps back, away, toward the dais, the tub.

“Where’s Jo?” she says.


“Jo. Jo! Don’t pretend you do not know her. She was right beside me, just before I ended up in here.”

She lifts a porcelain lever on the faucet, and water spits and splashes into the tub. “Why,” she says.

“She came back.” Stepping away from the fur, toward the tub. “She was there, on the bridge. She slew the sorcerer. She came back, when everyone else had left, to save me.”

“No one left you, lady,” she says, sitting against the rim of the tub.

“Mother,” she says. “Walked away. When I didn’t turn it quickly enough, she left me to drown.”

“The last thing we could ever do, is drown,” she says.

“The Gammer hurled herself on the nearest blade,” she says, and she says, “She was coming to your” but she’s saying, “just as Father, in his duel, so long ago.”

She snorts. “And what do you care for that vain and jealous man.”

She says, “Lymond left. To go find him.”

“No one left!” she cries, standing, a hand pressed to her belly, and a scowl on her face. “You walked away. You leaped after your doom. You slapped at every offered hand and smiled as you ripped yourself out of the world. And now,” she says, “here,” and she swallows, “we are.”

She says, “Marfisa – ” and she cries, “You – ” but her knees buckle and she falls one arm catching the side of the tub ringing a muffled bell-thump, she heaves, doubled over, retching, a choke and a bolus of slurry slithers glistening from her lips to plop to the tile. She’s coughing, she’s hauling in breath. She’s leaning over her, an arm about her, catching her as she falls back, trembling. Holding her. She’s scooping up a handful of water from the tub, she’s splashing her face, wiping her chest, sluicing away the dregs of muddy gold. She’s relaxing, settling, her breath slowing. Shivering. Reaching up and back, her arms about her, the two of them dark heads together clinging to each other at the foot of the plashing tub.

“Jo,” she says.

“She isn’t here. Look up.”

She does. She closes her eyes. There is no ceiling, no roof above them, and the wheeling sky is full of stars.

She stands as she slumps against the side of the tub, and steps around her to the faucet. “How many rounds of the year,” she says, “have we kept this city, Kingless, balanced between petulant Dukes and senile Counts. Waiting.”

“Father says our brother has returned,” she says, pushing her hair back up out of her face, behind her shoulders.

“Father, brother,” she says, lowering the lever, “husband, son,” shutting off the flow of water. “Our wait is over. The King’s come back. Take up the knife.” And when she does not move, “Pick it up, or I will. Only one of us might leave this place.”

She looks up at that, startled. She’s smiling serenely, sitting on the rim of the tub. “How did you think it all began,” she says, lifting one foot, then the other, over the edge and in. A spark falls, hissing, popping when it strikes the water, blackening, sinking, and another, cracking when it strikes the tile, flaring, skittering away. Chiming pop as a spark hits the copper tray. She picks up the knife, the handle of it polished wood, the blade the color of bone. “I’m dizzy?” she says, standing.

“We fell,” she says, holding out her hand. “We’re falling.” She takes her hand. “We will fall,” she says. The light a steady rain now, pattering, sizzling, flaring in her black hair loose, undone, her black hair pulled back, a tendril of it worked loose, crackling like a fuse. “Tell me this is the end of it,” she says. Light brightly the edge of the blade dapples her arm steadied against the edge of the tub, light splashing to dapple her thighs as she lowers herself into the water, light snuffed to mottle with soggy cinders a-float about them, hunched over knees to her chest at the one end of the tub, the knife in her hands, sitting at the other end leaning forward away from the faucet, legs outstretched, her feet tucked one on either side of her hips. “This doesn’t end,” she says.

“Tell me we will go back,” she says. “Tell me we will be Queen.”

“We were already Queen,” she says. “We can’t go back.”

“We can only go on,” she says, and “I can’t,” she says. Her forehead against her hands about the hilt. “We will,” she says. Water sloshing as she leans close, and a kiss for her fingers. “Look,” she says. “Look at us.” The crackle and hiss of the falling light. The blade lowering, between them now. Hands on her shoulders, foreheads pressed together, green eyes blinking green. “What we do is wrong,” she says.

“Magic, is wrong,” she says, her hands about her hands.

“I’m frightened,” she says, and “I’m terrified,” she says. “Look me in the eye,” she says, “look me in the eye and ask yourself this – ”

“Do you love me?” she says.

And in her hands about her hands about the hilt the knife turns and, pressing together, with a sigh, sinks home.

Down the long mall of a lobby her footsteps echo from empty storefronts to either side, cut metal letters over the doorways spelling out Freddie Browns, Plaza Teriyaki, Players Zone. Pink granite columns under the mezzanine almost brown in this dim light. An enormous poster, a woman akimbo, West Side Athletic Club. The mall opens into a lobby, the hulk there of an abandoned security desk, dark halls beyond leading to the banks of elevators, Floors 18 – 30, Parking, say letters gleaming above each in the polished stone, Floors 30 – ∞, Floors 1 – 17. A television monitor, blankly cerulean, under a sign that says US Bancorp Tower, and a poster beside it, Portland City Grill it says, On the 30th Floor, and the glass over it cracked, trembling. The floor under her boots shivering, a growing hum, a moan, a rising, scraping groan as the building all about her and above begins to thrum, a bell struck, a note plucked from one great steel and granite string, and “Oh, shit,” says Jo, pitching forward scrambling to grab hold of something, the desk, things are falling sparks and pops and the rattle and slither of falling dust as it all slows, it all stops, it all begins to settle. She lets go of the desk.


Light’s moving, shifting, shining the walls and the floor down the hall of the middle bank of elevators, light crawling, falling still as the rumbles die away. She heads across the cracked floor, past a broken plaque popped loose from the wall, US Green Building Council, it says, LEED Silver. A bang and she throws up a hand, a sudden flood of brightness burning down the length of the wall washing all the colors away to white and gold and the shadow of something, a door burst loose, pirouetting, falling as the light shades to orange now, reddens to a sullen glow that steeps the walls, the floor, leaks out over the browned pink granite and Jo there, rusting her black jacket, light spattering from the gaping mouth of that last elevator, flares bouncing, wobbling, pooling on the floor there, formless white and shaded just with yellows, oranges, and gold. She steps into the hall, and shadows shift, take flight about her as more light falls from the shaft to strike the roof of the fallen elevator car, the confusion of cables and wheels, and slops out onto the floor. She kneels there, at the edge of that sluggish lake of light, and the buckles and seams of her boots, the folds of her jacket, the hood lowered over her shoulders, her chin and her nose and those bandages, the wisps and sprigs of her hair, all of her limned in yellow and orange and coruscating red. She holds a gloved hand out over the light and it streams up over her spread fingers, thickening the air, flaring as she lowers it and the shape and shadows of it swallowed in that brightness. A hiss, a sizzle, she gasps, lifts up her hand out of the light to her mouth, and her fingers drip with glitter. “Okay,” she says, lips shining, smiling, “yeah.” She rubs her wet eyes with the grey-gloved heel of her hand, she’s sagging, almost laughing. “Okay,” she says.

Another rumble building, and more light splashes down, in curds, in gobs, dollops plopping audibly into that settling heap of itself, oozing over the wreckage of the elevator car, flowing treacly out over the floor, over her boots, and everything’s gone yellow-white, her hands ripping sharp black shadows as she pulls her hood up, ducking, the brilliance fading, the rumble dying. Boots squelching she steps toward the gaping elevator shaft, ducking her head, peering up. The light surging up over her ankles now. Somewhere far above a speck of what might be an opening. She wobbles, clutching at the warped and broken jamb of the elevator door as with a sucking schlorp of a sound a boot lifts free of the light, then the other, lifting and tipping her forward and over on her side soles shining, blazing as her feet lift up and faster up, “Shit,” she says, and a grunt as her hip hits the top of the elevator doorway her feet swinging up to thunk against the ceiling one hand gripping the frame her feet scrabbling slinging light about, and glitter, “Shit” she says again as she’s slowly rolled, “oh shit stop, stop” one foot kicking bumping down and through the elevator doorway momentum turning her over her other leg swooping faster and through and up in the shaft yanking reaching wildly both hands catching gripping the frame, “Oh, God,” she says, echoing up the shaft, and light still falling behind her from above to below. Her hands straining. Grip shifting grunting and heaving she’s levered a forearm under the top of the frame and there’s her face eyes wild as she pulls herself down her elbow slips, her hand slips, her face is gone again, just the one hand clinging, slipping, “Oh hell,” she says, and she’s gone, up and up, and up.

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