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“Good lord” – the Water’s depth – the Offer on the table – to Have or to Eat – “Everyone is welcome!” –

“Good lord,” says Arnold Becker in that brightly empty room, and only a white leather couch on the white shag, before a sweep of window.

“Yes,” says the Anvil Pyrocles, there by the bare kitchen island.

“You, I, I mean, we?” says Becker, “Live? Here?” Pointing, to the unlit hallway on the other side of the island. “There’s more?”

“Two bedrooms,” says Pyrocles, and then, “I might move my things to the other, if that would,” but Becker’s already heading off, past the island, and Pyrocles follows with a sigh. The cabinet under the sink stands open, and nothing within but a spray-bottle of some cleaning solution.

The narrow hall jogs back past a couple of closed doors to open on another room filled with morning light, a round bed strictly made, crisp linens striped with indigo, and three men, one of them in a simple black suit, and a slender, older man in a chef’s coat, and the third of them seated on the foot of the bed, clean workboots and yellow coveralls unzipped, empty sleeves wound about his waist, head hung low, his shoulders broad, sun-ruddied. “Oh,” says Becker, in his berry-colored plaid.

“This is the room we share,” says Pyrocles. Slipping off his blue suit coat he holds it out, to the man in black. “Though I’d happily sleep in the other, love, if you would be more comfortable.”

Becker says, “But,” in a far-away voice, “this isn’t my room,” and then, louder and more close, “my place – ” He starts off around the bed. The man at the foot of it looks imploringly up to Pyrocles. Somewhere out in the main room a harsh buzz. “How did you know?” says Becker.

“Know what, my love?”

“How did you know?” Becker turns, holding up a book, Parents to Partners, says the cover, in brightly colored letters. Building a Family-Centered Early Childhood Program. “That this, that, if I ever quit my crummy-ass job, that maybe I could,” lowering the book. Setting it back on the nightstand with the others.

“It makes you happy,” says Pyrocles. “And you are so very good with the children.” Something out there buzzes again. The man in the chef’s coat shakes his head, folds his arms. Becker’s pulled a phone from his pocket and hesitantly, tentatively sets it on the charging stand by the books. Starting when it snaps perfectly into place. The screen flashes to life, a snapshot of Becker and Pyrocles side by side in a red leather booth, 09:13, the floating numerals, Sat, April 21.

“Five months,” says Becker, dulled.

“Anvil!” a bellow from the other room. “Present yourself!”

Out in the kitchen Agravante’s by the island, ring of keys in one hand, and his countenance is stern, but Pyrocles looks past him to the two men on the white carpet, the Serpent slender in a suit of blue-black denim, the other in navy, a hand on the Serpent’s hip, and sunlight in the crown of ivory hair. “Your grace,” says Pyrocles with quiet wonder. “I had not looked to see you up and about.”

“It was just a nap,” says the other, with an indulgent smile. “You all make out like I’m back from the dead.”

“You are such a welcome sight, lord,” says Pyrocles. “It almost undoes the misery of the morning. Excellency,” he turns to Agravante, “of course I stand ready, for whatever is required. I ask only that I might – ”

“Ask?” snaps Agravante. “What would you ask, when your King’s gone missing, your Queen’s gone mad, the very spark of us wasted away to ash and you, sir knight, would ask – what? What is it you ask?”

Pyrocles somberly expressionless, the shirt of him strained by the breadth of his shoulders, his strong neck. Silvery close-shorn stubble, his long grey mustaches, and those pewter beads can’t quite catch the light in this dim kitchen. “Her majesty, my lord?” he says.

“Mad as a goddamn hatter,” says the other. “High on her own supply, spouting the most fantastically paranoid bullshit – she had the gall to throw the two of us out on our ears!” The Serpent shakes his head, appalled. “And the court! Indulging her delusions, encouraging them, toward some,” letting go the Serpent’s hip, those pink hands reaching, “ill-gotten gain, in uncertain times. We must save her from herself, and them. We need men, and quickly.”

“Even with our full thirteen, it’s us against a city,” says Agravante. “I mislike the odds.”

“Not the entire city,” scoffs the other. “We don’t need an army. Just enough to handle a handful. More than us two, anyway, and these fine two – you got anyone else stashed away in this tower?”

“What of the Lake Barons?” says the Serpent, a squeak in his voice.

“No,” says Agravante, flatly, but “What about them?” says the other. “Go on.”

“Forgive me, excellency, your grace,” says the Serpent. “But they’re much vexed, over the murther of Medardus, at the hands of Southeast’s hounds. We might, help each other? Press us each our suits?”

“My lord,” says Pyrocles to Agravante, but the other slaps the island countertop, “Ha! I love it! Roll up with the suburbs behind us, go in hard and fast before they know what’s hit ’em, and we take her!”

“My lord!” says Pyrocles, and the other’s antic grin unspreads, tempers itself, “All right, fine, we secure her person, let’s say. How’s that?” Clapping Pyrocles’ shoulder. “Man up, sir knight. There’s work to be done!”

“Pyrocles?” A small voice, off to one side, the dim hallway, Becker, and Pyrocles’ blue suit coat in his hands. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Shortly,” says Agravante, gruffly solicitous, “and not for long. Serpent,” he says, heading toward Becker, “take his grace down to the car. We’ll follow after,” reaching out to take the coat from Becker, “I wish to help the Anvil see that his companion’s cared for.”

“Don’t dawdle,” says the other.

“My lord,” says Pyrocles, when the door has closed. “If any one of them were to discover – ”

“How, discover?” says Agravante. “Discover what?” Turning from Becker, holding the coat out to Pyrocles. “There’s nothing to discover. But still: I think you begin to see how deep the water is, in which we swim.”

Tension holds it, gravid, vaguely sinking, a slick-sealed bolus whitely gold that slowly rolling stretches from curl of dimple down and down, this cyclopean teardrop hung a-float between folded knees, threads caught in languid ripples, swirls unskeining tugging spinning till with a soundless gasp it implodes, swell of it drifting from itself, a creamy cloud thinning to milk in dissipating swirls, a haze that licking gilds her thigh, her belly where the bathwater laps, her elbow and her shin.

“That it?” says Chrissie, crouched on the bathmat by the tub, holding out over the water a plastic bottle empty but for one last clinging drop. Ysabel’s fingers stir the lazily vanished opalescence. “I mean,” says Chrissie, “do I wait? Should I pour some more?” By her feet a thermos, a small clay jug, a pyrex bowl, the bottom of it coated with a viscous milky film, just touched with gold. “I, I don’t know.” Setting the bottle down on the mat. “What I’m doing, here. Ysabel?”

“It will not turn,” murmurs Ysabel.

Up she pushes, water a-slosh, and out she dripping climbs, heedless of Chrissie fallen back on her hands. Across to a counter, the mirror above it, swiping aside her reflection to paw at the medicine cabinet clatter and crash, combs falling, a shaving brush tumbling into the sink, a jar of something purple smashing to the floor. “Ysabel?” says Chrissie, shivering, looking to the scatter of black clothing by the toilet, the white chemise draped over the seat of it. “Can we, can I go?” Ysabel’s found a safety razor. Chrissie snags with a toe a bit of black lace, drags it across the floor, slips it on to pull it up, standing to “Jesus Christ!” see Ysabel slash her palm with the loosened blade and watch, impassively, as the wicked yellow-edged cut oozes not-quite gold.

“I almost thought I’d see red blood,” she says.

Chrissie steps back, knocking the pyrex bowl aside with a ringing slop, “What,” she bumps into the towel rack, “what is that?”

“Chrissie, Christienne, O Sœur Limoges,” stepping close, “you know what I am. You know who I am,” that hand held up between them, and Chrissie shrinking away, “I am the Queen of Heaven, the tear the Sun let fall, and I put the Moon to shame. I am the lure from paradise. I am a wonder, among flowers,” the litany a murmur, and Chrissie squeezes shut her eyes. “I have been in the Llyn, and in Cær Vivien, I have mounted the bridge over the Somme, and lain where warriors fell,” and Chrissie violently starts as that hand’s laid sticky against her cheek, and the milky runnel drips to her breast, her belly. “Roses grow where I set my feet, and a diadem of unworked gold is fitted to my brow, and in my merest spittle,” pressed close, nose by nose, lip to lip, “have you tasted cloud-spun honey,” and a kiss, and Chrissie groans. “Tell me, then,” says Ysabel, a whisper, “sweet mortal, oh my pretty dancing girl,” another long abandoned kiss, broken when Chrissie twists her mouth away to lick at, slurp that wrist, the palm, “tell me,” says Ysabel wincing, “while I yet have this mean power left to me, answer me this: do you, Christina Halliwell, do you,” and again a kiss, “love,” and a kiss, but then a hitch in her breath. Ysabel opens her eyes. Pulls back just enough to see Chrissie against the papered wall, wrists pinned up above her head, eyes closed, lips parted, searching, glisteningly smeared.

Ysabel lets go, steps back. Chrissie lowers her hands. Wipes her mouth. “What just – ”

“Go,” says Ysabel.

“But you’re hurt.” She tries to clasp that shining hand, but Ysabel twists away, “Go,” she says. Chrissie reaches after, catches her wrist, “You need help,” and the sharp pop of a slap, her head rocked. “From you?” says Ysabel, free hand held up, ready. “You tried. You failed. Now go.”

Chrissie blinking rapidly looks down, then kneels, to begin to gather the rest of her clothing.

By the door she stops, looks back, black halter about her neck, tights over an arm, shoes in her hand, and her phone. “So, I mean, uh,” she says. “What do I tell them? I mean, they’re gonna want to know what, what happened?”

The one hand cradled in the other Ysabel takes a deep breath, wavering with the effort of it. “Whatever you like,” she says.

“Quite mad,” says the other, leaned back before the crowded table that nearly fills this cramped room, and shelves to one side stacked with industrial-sized cans of food, Mutti Polpa, say the brightly colored labels, Jay Brand Sliced in Syrup, Swati Green Chili, Freshly Canned. A huddle of yellowed aprons hung in the corner there. “She insists I am not myself, which is absurd: who else could I be?” A downward twist of those lips, an upward eye-rounding cast of brow, a shoulder lifted, a shrug for them all, Agravante and Pyrocles, Serpent and Glaive, Coltello, the Baron Alphons red-faced, black band about one sleeve, and the Earl Alans his eyes alight, reaching for a basket of naan, stone-faced Baron Euric in a vest of green and yellow fleece, and at either corner of the head of the table, short Sigrid in a tight black dress, and the Baroness Clothilde, tall, her leather jacket black. The other leans forward, jostling a dish of rich red chutney, “I don’t mean to make light of this state of affairs. It is distressing. But it could be managed – if it wasn’t for certain opportunistic parties.”

“Rabbits,” says Euric, gruffly, and “The Marquess Helm,” says Alphons. “That Gallowglas,” says Sigrid, arms folded, and Clothilde’s hand upon her elbow. “What?” says Alans, chewing.

Pyrocles says, “My ladies, we do not know of Southeast’s involvement.”

“Nonetheless,” says Agravante, “is she with us, here?” Ignoring Pyrocles’ sudden look.

“If she were,” says Clothilde, “we’d have words.” Sigrid nods. Alphons shakes his head. “I gotta say,” he says, “I don’t see the part we play in this mishegoss. She’s not our Queen.”

“She is, she was, she will be again,” growls the other, waving a hand, but looks are exchanged. “You mean to reopen discussions of Apportionment?” says Sigrid. Alans, reaching for the chutney, says “Oh, not that.”

“Your grace,” says the Glaive, his tin plate empty, but the other swivels about, “Crisis?” glaring at each in turn, “Opportunity. Opportunity? Advancement.” Sitting back. The wall behind covered with posters of richly colored doe-eyed figures drawing swords, bows, holding court, smiling beatifically beneath prismatic sprays. “Do I have to spell it out for you.”

“Wouldn’t hurt,” says Alphons. “If the basic terms haven’t changed, then I think,” looking about, “I can speak for us all when I say: neither has our answer.”

“The rent,” says Euric. “Too damn high,” and Alans says, “We settled this.”

“My lord,” says the Glaive, “if we might focus,” but Sigrid at the head of the table says, “Actually, there is something – ”

“Enough,” snarls the other, and then, in the silence that follows, “Help us; get thanked. That’s the offer on the table. Take it or leave it but do it now, for God’s sake.”

“My lord,” says Pyrocles, quietly, and with some concern.

“Thanked,” says Alans, with elaborate distaste. “How, exactly?” says Alphons.

“In a manner commensurate with your efforts,” says the other, but Euric’s shaking his head, “Terms,” he says. “Conditions. Details,” and “I don’t even unbutton my cuffs without a pre-nup,” says Alphons. “Pay as we go,” says Alans, reaching for the curry. “It works. It’s been working. Why talk about anything else?”

“As my cousin was about to say,” says Clothilde, but plates and glassware ring as the other slams a hand on the table, “This is so desperately simple, people!”

“Perhaps, your grace,” says the Glaive, “if we were to hear them out? Just for the moment? It might possibly speed things along,” and the other waves a dismissive hand, all right.

“Your grace is too kind,” says Clothilde.

“Before we take up new terms,” says Sigrid, “we ought confirm arrangements already made,” but Alphons shakes his head, and Euric grunts, and Alans groans, “Why? We’re good!”

“That arrangement was never arranged,” says Aphons.

“Our offer was accepted,” says Sigrid.

“Unlike yours,” says Clothilde, to Alphons, “or yours,” to Alans, “and yours,” to Euric, “was burnt to ash and ground underfoot.”

“Your Grandfather Baron’s offer,” says Euric, as Agravante’s fist clenches by his plate, “but he’s no longer here. Nor the King, apparently.”

“Yet here we sit,” says Sigrid, “idly to determine the fate of one Queen, and one court. Why not another?”

“Oh!” cries Alans. “Oh, I get it!” but then his look of triumph crumbles. “Wait, you can’t do that. Who’d take her hand? You?” to Clothilde. “It isn’t fair.” Folding his arms. “We have to start over.”

“Much as it pains me to admit,” says the other, “I’ve got no idea what we’re talking about. Another Queen?”

It’s the Glaive who leans forward, looking up the crowded table to him. “Annisa, my lord. Late of the Court of Engines.”

“We met her this morning, at court,” says Agravante.

“I’ve been asleep half the year,” growls the other. “I didn’t know half the people in that damn house.”

“She was sent for, and paid for, at your suggestion, Grandfather,” says Agravante.

“A possible new Bride, my lord,” says the Glaive. “Should the Perry line have proved played out.”

“But it didn’t,” says the other, scowling thoughtfully. “Maybe. So. You might maybe have a spare?” Pyrocles closes his eyes at that. Euric blinks, once. Sigrid shivers and the other looks up and around at them all. “Her brother meant to set himself up as High King, didn’t he,” and then, “my memory is addled,” he growls. “Not my wits.”

“He meant, good sir,” says Alphons, “to endow a second court, here over the hills.”

“A grateful court,” says the other, and Euric snorts.

“Why should we not have a High King?” says Sigrid. “Or Queen,” says Clothilde. “Roses are as worthy as Apples,” says Alans, “or as the Wind, or Gold, Angels – ”

“One thing at a time,” says the other, loudly, standing with the scrape of a chair. “First, we secure the Queen, and this new Bride. Then maybe we see what it takes to restore the,” a wave of one pink hand, “stuff, and when we know what it is that we’ve got, then we sort out who gets which part,” squeezing between chairs and wall toward the door, “but. Make no mistake, gentlemen, ladies,” looking about at them all, “whoever’s in the room when we do that? Is who has a say in how we divide and decide. So talk it out,” rounding the corner, there at the head of the table, “come to whatever arrangements,” a hand on the back of Clothilde’s chair, “we roll in an hour. High noon. I’m just gonna get me some air.”

Out in a narrow hall, door closing click behind, to the left a sparsely peopled dining room, front windows brimming with golden light that gleams the table-tops. To the right an abrupt little kitchen, three men in stained white aprons busy at a stove there, ladling green curry into a dish, scooping spices orange and clayey yellow into dented bowls. The other steps close to the stove, sniffing what simmers in a tall pot, “Hey!” yells the man with the ladle, “vamos! Sal de,” faltering as the other reaches into the pot, wincelessly stirring the thickly orange sauce with pink fingers, dredging up a morsel of something, chicken, popped between pink lips. “Pretty good,” chewing, swallowing, then, with a groan, “I swear to God, if I have to choke down another fucking lump of tofu,” and a shake of that white-crowned head. “Habla Inglés? Anybody?” Licking those fingers clean, and the three of them speechlessly staring. “Enough to get by?” And then, leaning conspiratorially in, “I want to rip their fucking throats out.” Nods, straightens, adjusting the knot of that narrow black tie. “I mean, it’d be like candy floss compared to the real thing, but they will not stop talking, you know? But,” folding those hands before a wolfish grin, “patience has its rewards. I have been turning it over in my head since I woke up, spinning it around: should I have my cake? Or should I eat it?” Those folded hands tip to one side, then the other, “have it, eat it, have it, eat it, what do they go and do?” The hands spread, the grin opens in delight, “Here, Mr. Lier, we’ll give you two pieces of cake!” and a giggle, “Two!” They look to each other. The curry bubbles. The other reaches in for another piece of chicken. “This, this is good. Burn sneaks up on you. God damn, I needed this. So thank you. Thanks.”

“Madre de dios,” says the one of them by the little bowls of spices, when the other’s left. “Qué gilipollas.”

A half-dozen long flat cardboard boxes stacked on the floor, and they stand about, a half-dozen or so, coveralls and tool belts, dungarees, workshirts buttoned to the throat, and Gloria Monday in her laddered tights, squatted by the boxes, slitting packing tape with a butter knife. SVÄRTA, say the simple blocky letters printed at one end. “You don’t need all that,” she’s saying, wrenching the lid of the box up, slicing a last lingering strip of tape, “it’s all, it’s ready to go, you just,” chiming clunk and a rip, she’s prying open a smaller cardboard box tucked within, “put it together, there’s instructions, and all you need is,” holding up a little plastic baggie, and inside bolts and nuts and a couple of Allen wrenches. “And maybe a screwdriver? Phillips head, I think,” getting to her feet. Knuckle of Tit says the handwritten scrawl on her oversized T-shirt. “Okay? So we’re staging the mattresses downstairs when they get here, and the bedding, so, get the frames assembled, and, we’ll start to put it all together!” She tosses the baggie to the woman across from her, who startled catches it, safety glasses pushed up atop her curled black hair. “Maybe, scrape the paint off the windows, too?” says Gloria, headed for the door there, the hall without. “Let a little light in? Get it all, get it looking nice?”

“I hope you know this is a waste of time and money,” says Anna low and close as they head down the hall, her shoes sensible, her skirt windowpane, a yellow scarf about her throat, but “I don’t wanna hear it,” says Gloria, headed past the freshly painted wall a zig-zag of rainbowed angles down a short flight of steps.

“They can sleep,” says Anna, hushed but forcefully, “anywhere,” leaned out over the balustrade.

“That so,” says Gloria Monday, on the landing below.

“A cabinet, a drawer,” Anna coming down the steps toward her, “a box or a crate, any little corner.”

“You have a bed.”

Anna stops so suddenly she almost stumbles, clutching the bannister, “I,” she says, primly regaining her composure, “am not a domestic. Gloria,” her steps stately down to the landing, “I know you think you’re doing them a favor, but honestly. They won’t know what to make of it. It’s just not what they’re used to – a corner, tucked away, out of sight, as they should – ”

“Yeah?” says Gloria Monday, sharply. “And how’s that gonna work if all your magic’s gone?”

She heads down into a foyer crowded with people hauling limply heavy bundles, plastic-wrapped mattresses they stack below the stairs, “They’re early!” says Gloria. “That’s great, yeah, right there,” and then, calling back to Anna, trailing after, “thank God at least the bank still works?” as they pass under a long low arch, “And the internet, and trucks,” out into the cavernous warehouse brightly lit by racks of fluorescent bars, and sunlight streamed through windows high above, the stalls that march up the length of it, hung about with photographs and cartoon-bright paintings, folks in coveralls stood about a sculpture like a varicolored pile of pillows, and more, so many more milling among the long tables set up out on the open floor, laden with jugs of water, urns of coffee and hot water, plastic cups, torn-open boxes that spill forth packets of nuts and chips, raisins, popcorn, protein bars, and also platters of sandwiches, and mounds of paper napkins. “My God,” says Gloria Monday, half to herself, “they just keep coming, where are they coming from?” and Anna looks up and away with a sigh. Gloria in her T-shirt and tights steps into the thick of it, black locks shining loose, her short-trimmed bone-bleached bangs, waving on, urging on, calling out “yes” and “that’s it” and “go on, there’s plenty, and milk, too,” pointing out coolers on the floor there, small red-and-white cartons tucked in shoals of ice, “take what you want, that’s it, yes, go on! We’re working on it,” she says, to the older man wet-eyed beseeching, holding an empty plastic baggie out to her. “Honest,” she says. “Until we do, please. Feel free. You’re welcome, here.”

“Of course, ma’am,” he says, and a brief small smile to answer her wide bright grin, “You’re welcome,” she says, she cries out, “You’re all welcome! Everyone,” she says, turning about, moving on, “is welcome! You’re new.”

The woman before her, red Keds lolling unlaced about her feet, bare legs streaked with filth, yellow hair in tangles lank about her shoulders, pulls from a pocket of her pink and orange parka a crumped sheet of paper, goldenrod, something grimy’s stained a corner, and half the pull-tabs feathering the bottom torn and gone, but splashed across it black ink dancing calligraphic, a figure marked with one green dot of an eye. “Actually,” says Jessie Vitaly, “I think I’m late?” Looking away, over the heads of the crowd, to the stage at the other end of the warehouse, and the canvases displayed there. Over by the big overhead door half uplifted, Ettie holds a hand up against the sun’s glare, “Oh, who is that,” she says, peering across the crowd at the woman in the parka there by Gloria Monday.

“When we danced at Devil’s Point, her name was Rain,” says the Starling close behind her, hood up over her hair.

“Right!” says Ettie. “She left to work for Leo. Okay.”

“You danced at Devil’s Point?” says Anne Thorpe in her long black coat, a box-cutter in one hand, and a half-dozen undone plastic packing straps a-twitch in the other. “Wonders never cease.”

“She does know our lady,” says the Starling, and a nod at Jessie across the room, “but as for the rest, these urisks, clods and hobs?”

“Yeah, this is, this is new,” says Ettie, and then, with a sidelong look, “almost like something’s happened, yeah? Hang on,” turning away, digging a phone out of her back pocket, “oh my God,” she says, “oh my God,” swiping, whipping it up to her ear, “Chrissie? Chrissie, is that you?”

Petra B. slips through the crowd, past Anna, past the overloaded tables, and Gloria Monday taking Jessie’s hands, the last of the stalls there, hung with oblong abstracts steeped in rainy colors. Her T-shirt’s baggy, black, a bit of black lace tied about her throat, and a garbage bag, almost empty but heavily, tightly swaying, the excess plastic of it wound up in a sloppy knot clutched close as she heads from the tables toward the overhead door, the Starling pushing back her hood, looking down as Ettie steps away, “no, don’t go home,” she’s says into her phone, “call an Uber, I’ll tell you where, are you ready?” and Thorpe, waggling her handful of straps, wait, trying to take it all in, “Petra,” she calls, “hey, Petra,” but past them all to the skeletal staircase footsteps clanging up to the walkway, past the painted door to the ladder bolted to the wall feet and one hand leaping, catching, the other careful with that garbage bag, up and struggling up to the planks laid over joists a ceiling rough above her clung there, swaying the weighty bag back and forth to reach it up and over past the ceiling now a floor.

It’s dark, up under the rafters. Petra B. crawls up onto the planks, gets crouching to her feet, stooped under a dark and starless ceiling. Steps out onto the rugs laid before the futon there, against the far wall by a low shelf crammed with books. Sets the garbage bag down. “Marfisa?” she says.

The hunched and mounded quilt on the futon doesn’t stir.

“Marfisa,” says Petra, “I think, there’s something you should see.” Dragging the slithering weight of the bag closer over the rugs. “The first time? The first time, she gave me a kiss for a cup of coffee. I’ve told that story before. But the second time?” Sits tailor-fashion, on the rugs there by the bag. “She was lost, frightened, alone, she needed somewhere to go – ”

“She has never been alone,” the voice a grief-roughed growl.

Petra’s hands settle in the darkness on that garbage bag. “She needed somewhere she could go, so I took her back to my, well, the room I was renting, and we, I mean, I guess we, you know – ”

“You spread yourself beneath her devastating kiss, and licked in turn the dew from her thighs, and cooed and sighed together in exquisite agony,” Marfisa rolls over, sits up in the darkness. “You fucked, coffee-girl.”

“We made love,” says Petra B.

“You’re hardly unique among us in that regard.”

“Yeah, but, this?” undoing the knot in the neck of the bag. “This is what I wanted to show you. This is what happened.” Unwinding the plastic, spreading it open. “It’s still happening,” she says.

Light dapples up, a spill of softly golden morning reflected off calm water, and there’s Marfisa, white hair a cloud about her slackening face. Answering the dawn a pinprick of light struck from the ceiling, and another, cool dim stars of blue, and white, a dozen more, and more, and “Oh,” says Petra B. as red and orange and green now glimmer to life, and gold, so many gold, hundreds that suddenly wink out, snuffed by a crumple of plastic in Marfisa’s hand.

“This,” she says, in the darkness, “is from that night?”

“Yes,” says Petra B.

“And you’ve kept it, all this time? You brought it here?”

“What does it mean?” says Petra B.

“That there’s yet hope,” says Marfisa, quiet, calm, and sure. “Here,” she says, and hands the wadded neck of the bag back to Petra. “You kept the secret this long. Keep it an hour more, or two. I will return, or you will know for certain all is lost.”

In one swift motion she slips away, over the edge of the floor and down.

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