In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
Chapter Fifty Five
BY AL BRUNO III
Sunday November 24th 1996
Hao retreated into the antechamber, she pushed the thick stone door to Damiea's Crucible to a close. She was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt that sweat had rendered all but transparent.
The antechamber was dark marble marked with striations of red that almost seemed to slither in the flickering light. Braziers lit the room, they were of polished steel that never needed to be polished and full of glowing embers that never needed to be tended. The sound of windchimes crowded echoed everywhere sounding for all the world like a flock of birds that had gone mad with terror.
“Was it bad?” Jack was leaning against the far wall, he offered her towel and a glass of water. He was dressed in jeans nad had hair tied back; that meant he was up to something, be it yardwork or magic. In truth Laurel House had more than enough of both but she knew he needed to keep busy.
“It's always bad,” she took the towel but waved away the water. Her stomach was still a little too jittery to be trusted. She buried her face in the soft fabric, pressing it against her skin. At moments like this she wondered where the towel had came from, she wondered where it all came from. Were there sundries and bedsheets that simply went missing all across the world? Or were they simply conjured up out of the nothingness?
She knew the why, but not the how; she knew the cost but not the mechanism. Hao looked back to the stone doorway then said, “Lets get out of here.”
“I don't want to say I told you so,” Jack followed her as she began to trudge up the cramped stairwway,“but this isn't something you ever get used to.”
The walls of the stairway were so close they made it practically a tunnel; the black marble pressed in on every side but it was becoming veined with ordinary stone; with each step those veins became thicker and thicker. “Are you checking up on me?” she turned and smiled down at him from her upper step, “Worrying I might crack up?”
Jack didn't smile back, “I trust you but I know from experience that the more... controversial the guest the more the Castellan suffers.”
“Trust me, I can handle this,” her smile was suddenly grim.
The started walking again, and she could feel Jack running his eyes over all the old familiar curves. They had been an item very briefly and now years later Hao still didn't know how she felt about it. Her shirt had stayed on every time they were together; she was willing to share a bed with him but not her scars.
“How big is the Crucible now?” There was a trace of anxiety in his voice.
The stairway was widening out now, the walls were just plain old granite but within a few footsteps they had become ordinary wood. Jack moved up beside her, “Big?”
“What did you expect?” she said with a shrug, “The weird thing is that it's getting bigger and filling in at the same time.”
“Shit,” Jack turned and looked back, “how long can we keep this up?”
“Retirement's made you softhearted.” There was a door at the top of the stairs, she slid the bolt back and opened the way through to Laurel Houe's wine cellar.
Grinning Jack blocked her way with a thickly muscled arm, “And love's made you tougher. You are in love with him aren't you?”
“How could I not? He's so... sweet.” she ducked under his arm. The air was so much colder here. She shivered.
Jack closed the door behind them, “Sweet and mortal.”
“Sweet and vulnerable.” Hao ran her hands along the long rack of tinted bottles.
“Love makes you vulnerable, that's part of the price.”
“Jealous?” she gave him a glance out of the corner of her eye.
“In a way,” Jack put his arm around her, “Want some ice cream?
“I wouldn't say no.”