Prologue: Rainey

He lives in three tiny rooms, separated from the hallway outside, and thence the rest of the palace, by a door he can lock with his magic. The first room, which is also the largest, would be a living room if it had any furniture. Instead it is an improvised study: the only things here are five or six large, heavy books. All of the books are volumes on chemistry and the art of potion-brewing; they are high-quality tomes, with pages made of paper--not parchment--and leather covers. All of the books have smears and splashes of blood upon them, as if they have been frequently handled by a butcher who forgets to wash his hands. In places there are papers sticking out where a page, ruined by blood, has been painstakingly rewritten on fresh paper and inserted. Many of the bloody smears are partial handprints.

This room, perhaps no more than fifteen feet on a side, reeks. This should be no surprise; the walls are a forensic nightmare, marred by blood in so many overlaid patterns it would take a team of dedicated experts months to separate all the violent acts that have taken place here. On the floor is a sad piece of weaving that might once have been a carpet. It, too, is stained with blood; the stench suggests that other body fluids have been spilled here, as well. The stone beneath is dark with old stains.

Directly across the room from the door that locks is a second door. This door, which is almost always closed, lets into the second room, where he keeps his broken things, sometimes because he hopes to fix them, but mostly because he knows they can never be fixed. Not only does this door not lock, it also does not close flush with the doorway anymore; it has been struck too hard, too many times, and now there is a thin, tapering strip of black at the top of the door, a glimpse into the space behind. Sometimes, when he is lying on the bloody carpet, he concentrates on that tapering darkness, clings to it the way he might a bit of flotsam if he were floating too far out to sea to swim to shore.

The doorway to the third room, at nine o'clock from the lockable entrance, has no door; it is a black rectangle letting in onto some unimportant space. It is ironic to him: that room is the only one which has no door, yet it is the one he most wishes could have, for, just like the reeking central room is where he keeps his books, just like the room with the crooked door is where he stores the broken things his life seems to accumulate, that room is where he has his bed. It does not matter, of course. It is only a wish, and not a very important one at that. If he ever actually got to make a real wish, having a door in that doorway would definitely not be it. Still, he craves even an illusion of safety.

Of all the things in these three rooms, the only ones that mean anything to him anymore are the books. He memorized them a long time ago, and it has been many years since the things they taught him have given him any real pleasure or satisfaction, but he loves them just the same. They are a thin, sheer film of comfort, a reminder that even if the world is just a gray haze of pain and torment, he knows how to make the medicines that ease infection, kill parasites, heal wounds. He cannot bring any color into his world; the drugs do not manufacture happiness, or pleasure that would last. But he can help himself feel a little better when the pain is very bad, and that is more important, anyway. Actually, he is glad the drugs don't take away his troubles. If they did, he would not have been allowed to keep making them, and he isn't sure how long he could make it without them.

He hurts a lot.