She wandered through rooms of ruin, her cracked bare feet marking strange time. Had she been here before? She did not know. But it was so familiar, somehow personal, and so she moved through those rooms with a careful confidence. No matter that all she saw flickered at the edges, shifting and changing with each breath. Were they memories? Were they ghosts? For her, were they not the same?
A hauntingly beautiful song was drifting on the dead dry air, the delicate sounds of a violin coming from somewhere deep within this once-fine house. The song, so achingly dulcet that her throat constricted just to hear it, was faint here in the foyer with its tarnished chandelier and pocked parquet floor. She licked her lips, determined to find the source of the song, to bathe in its truth and beauty.
It is not here, a voice lilted, riding the high sweet waves of the song.
Her head came up. Did the music seem to swell as she pivoted toward the left, toward an empty parlor? Here, the windows were boarded up and the heavy damask draperies were dulled by a thick coat of dust. The walls were papered with a curious, interlocking pattern of ravens in flight, torn in places and rippled with errant moisture. Now, this was something, she knew something of ravens.. but before she could think too deeply, the violin's song billowed, beckoned, and she moved on through a crooked, metal-framed door into an overgrown greenhouse paradise.
The lushness was nearly vulgar; how it had grown to such a degree in a house of ruin she could not know. Vines tangled with branches tangled with stalks, strange flowers blooming shamelessly, decay everywhere, but everywhere met with new life. The air was humid, heavy and redolent with an intense blend of floral scents. Through this inner jungle she wandered, ears poised for the ever-faint strain of music, until she came at last to a massive tree lovingly shaped like a bear. A bear? She seemed to remember a bear, but..
It is not here, grumbled the bear topiary - and somehow even that sound seemed to simmer like honey and rise up with the bliss of the violin.
She jumped back from the bear and made for the nearest exit, one that led to a windowless back hall. She was in total darkness, but did not fear for she still heard the lovely song. Perhaps a little louder now? Smiling toothily in the darkness, she held her arms out before her and moved down the hall until she found a very narrow, cramped staircase. It opened onto a slightly wider hall, and this one had humble windows which let in bars of weak white light. She followed along, raising up on her toes in an unconscious bid to get closer to the divine song, finally coming to what appeared to be a main hall. A door on the left creaked open at her approach, and she nosed her way inside.
Although stripped of linens and draperies, this room was clearly intended to be a gentleman's bedroom. The naked bed beneath the room's sole dusty window was firm and unapologetic in its sensible metal frame. A single coin rested on its edge on the modest bedside table, but before she could rush forward to inspect this wonder, the hat-stand near the bureau caught her attention. A right smart hat sat atop the tall, dark wooden pole, tilted at a rather jaunty angle.
I say, it is not here, the hat-stand admonished, its crispness absorbed and lifted up by the voice of the violin, and she knew that she must go on.
Her feet whispered along splintery floors as she searched, now feeling the music course through her veins, nearly consumed by something akin to bloodlust. The song flittered and wailed, it spoke of all things good and evil, it mourned what could never be, it shivered with the promise of what would be. She moved faster now, leaning forward with the need of it.
An arch on her right opened up on a room that was far more furnished than the other room. The walls on both sides were dominated by stuffed bookshelves. A ghostly scent of leather and tobacco hung around the low, scuffed desk. She wandered in, breathing deep, and that was when she saw that the wall behind the desk was covered with an enormous map of the known world, heavily marked with bullet holes that had punched through parchment and plaster and wood, leaving tiny points of light behind. The shape was - something familiar? Was it a shape? Yes, how could it be missed? The belt was the key. Tattooed into the wall was a revered constellation, they had called him the Eternal Hunter, and they had called upon him to bless their-
It ain't here, whispered the constellation, aiming for low notes and flying up to meld with the beautiful music that was even now much louder, vibrating down the halls of ruin.
Every hair on her arms and back and neck stood up; the music may well have been played on the willing instrument of her body. She backed out of the room, hasty now, her eagerness a red raw roaring in her stomach. Onward and onward she moved, stopping at last before a spiral staircase that led to the highest tower in the house. Of course. Of course. She took the stairs by twos, ascending with the music, feeling it exult at her presence, feeling her own surge of joy in response. And she came before a closed door, marked with a raven. Light shone fiercely through the narrow spaces around the door. She did not hesitate. Her hand turned the knob, the door clicked open..
Light was pouring out of the door, drenching her field of vision. Pushing forward, she found herself in a small room with a woman swathed in yards of green and gold silk, a woman drawing a bow across a violin with smooth, precise movements. The woman's elegant back was facing her, her head tilted to help support the exquisite violin on her pretty bare shoulder. The song was overwhelming; she felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks and a tremendous unlocking sensation within.
"You've finally come," lilted the woman in her cultured voice. "I'm ever so pleased." The words were formed around a secret smile. She put the violin down, but somehow the song continued, bright and sweet and sad, silk along the veins, pure and palpable energy. The woman stood, and began to turn around, but the radiance intensified - she never saw the woman's face.
"There's nothing to fear," the woman reassured, but she was holding up a terrifying object none-the-less, the source of the Light, perhaps even the source of the song that continued on in quivering ecstasy. It was a mirror, no, not just a mirror but a Mirror, and it was shaped like a knife. She knew that knife, knew it, but she had no time to think, no time to shout before the woman flowed toward her on shifting silks, holding the knife high.
"You know the way," the woman whispered as she stabbed the Mirror-knife down, directly into the thick scar marring the flesh between her breasts. She exploded in fine white light, and, thrashing in that light for an eternity, she was shown the truth of herself.
She woke up with a harsh gasp, tangled in sweat-soaked blankets and panting.