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Chaos Field. High Flame Field. High Aqua Field.
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High Leaf Field. High Holy Field. High Chaos Field. The curtain swayed in his wake. After a moment, a hand appeared, long and fine, and moved the curtain aside. Crouched on her cot, clutching her small bundle of possessions to her, Jen looked up at him, too numb even for fear.
He looked down on her too, distantly, like a cat. To her dismay, Jen saw one hand untangle itself from her bundle and settle in his. Cool and strong, his fingers closed around hers. He drew her to her feet and through the door curtain.upsorlyndstabet.cf
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The main room opened in a dull orange glare of firelight. The rickety table and stools, the dirty straw on the floor, the crumbling daub of the walls all seemed suddenly dear. He stared at her a moment, then turned away. Her mother sat near the fire with her sewing in her lap, bent low to see in the poor light.
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Her hands shook over jagged stitches. So had her mother borne her other children leaving. The two oldest boys vanished to do whatever boys did when they were grown: join the soldiery or the crew of a ship or a gang of highwaymen. One girl sold—the man had said for guild labor; the other, the prettiest, with her broad hips and hair like a spill of honey down her back, gone to be the wife of a householder—a great triumph. Their mother had kissed that daughter goodbye.
Jen, sold like a heifer at market, like Dee, her next-oldest sister, would get no kisses. But Jen had something the rest did not, what she used to make money. She gave a tiny smile as the stranger pulled the latch and opened the door, bringing her out onto the street, into the night. She could throw a light that would blind him. She could hide behind illusion. She would do those things, and this man would find his fine, cool fingers full of fire or spitting cat. And perhaps, sleep without fear. The man led on, a pillar of shadow, a brush of brocade robe against her arm.
In the dark, her mind danced like the sun on water and magic glanced, gathering. Dreamlike, City streets unrolled before her: houses, lights and people, snorting horses, carriages clattering over stones. She seemed to drift among these things, though she could not say by what means. A gate rose before her, very tall, all curves and scrolls of wrought iron.
Beyond it lay gardens, and a tall door carved with vines. She came to herself with a jolt. The man was leading her across rugs in sea hues, across marble floors, cool under her bare dirty feet. Rich wood paneling and shimmering tapestries covered the walls; flames winked like watching eyes in lamps of brass and blown glass. Somehow she had slipped from the real world of stinking alleys and ragged clothes, and into some opulent Otherworld.
Another tall door opened and the stranger drew her into a single room larger than her whole house. Fear stirred like a sleeping animal, twitching, but she sank into the chair to which he guided her.
He sat in the chair opposite and took her other hand. She would have jerked away, but the impulse died like an ember beneath a smothering blanket. Her heart battered at her ribs, fighting to push its way up her throat, but a strange calm swaddled her. Distantly, she felt a chill sweat crawl across her skin. The rich rugs, the soft chair, the hissing lamp-flames, all faded.
Only those eyes, flashing with uncanny lightning, and the sensation of his fingers encircling hers, remained. The whirlpool of his will drew her down, engulfed her. Jen struggled once, too late, then drowned in a flood of images. The images were from her own life, the thoughts her own. They streamed across the curtain of her mind like a magic lantern show, accompanied by the symphony of thoughts and emotions.
But a gaze watched over her shoulder, a murmuring purl of thought not her own spilled into her mind. She tried to wrench her inner eye around, to confront the watcher, but could not. These shifted to darker scenes: gangs of jeering toughs, shopkeepers wielding sticks.
As if she were dragged down into deep water, the darkness grew. She heard drunken cursing. A woman screaming. Panicking, she fought that darkness, knowing what lay at the bottom, in the oozing muck that invaded her dreams. Inexorable, the unseen watcher still watched. Abruptly, she ceased her struggles and tried to blind those invading eyes with the blaze of her own powers. She filled her thoughts with fire. Fire lit darkness, repelled what struck in the night.