The knock on her door boomed in her ear. Sian watched as the chair wedged under the doorknob dug further into the carpet with a smile.

"This is not a time for games, Sian." Melatova's words were calm, in normal voice, tone and volume. They sounded next to her, so close she jumped to look.

No one. She continued to lean on the chair, pressing it against the door, trapped under the ornate knob. The door stopped its rattling.

"You are missing a very good breakfast, Sian. Suit yourself. Lackham?"

"Yes, Miss?"

"Leave her be. She'll come down when she's hungry."

"Yes, Miss."

Sian continued to lean on the chair, then sagged on it, and finally sat on it, the doorknob uncomfortably pressed against her spine. Not once did the door show any sign of interest. Finally, she sat/kneeled beside it, and, draping her arms and head against the red velvet seat cushion, she slept.

.o0o.

When she awoke, the sun hung lower in the window that she expected. Sian smiled bitterly at how it wasted its freedom. Immediately after her quick bath did she examine the windows, but was not surprised to find them sealed shut. At the base of each window was a machined hole about the size of a pencil. She saw circular scratches about it and looked for the mating handle in the drawers, wardrobes and armoires. Naught.

Hence, the petty revolt with the chair, now marred with scratches to its deep hued grain. The eggshell tinted door was likewise spoiled with marks from where the door pressed too hard against it. She stretched, then sought to wake her sand-laden legs, they having fell asleep under her. She staggered upright, steadying herself on door and jamb, shaking out the last vestiges of tingling from her lower extremities.

Awake, refreshed and ready, if a little sore and stiff, she pressed her ear against the door. Nothing. No sign, no sound. She looked at the chair, shook her head, then went to sit on the bed, eyeing the costume they set out for her to wear.

A pleated plaid skirt, black lines on white and blue stripes crossing to from patterns of squares and rectangles, some a dark blue, others light, and still others white. A buttoned white blouse with a rounded collar. Patent-leather Mary-Janes and white socks. A matching plaid band about a foot-and-a-half long completed the ensemble. A schoolgirl uniform.

"What did I get myself into?"

The room did not answer. All she could offer was the sound of Marc screaming, howling, letting life's breath itself fuel that awful cry. That sound, the sight of Melatova's hand at his staff, and the smell of charring flesh and hair. Sian looked at the chair, at the costume. She just wanted that to stop. She didn't care who. She didn't care that it was Marc. She didn't care that he was kind to her. No, she didn't. She shook her head vigorously, her hair splaying out with its force. She just didn't want him to die. She had too much death in her life already.

Yet, here she was, in a dead girl's room. With a sigh, she got up from the down duvet. The room was certainly well-appointed. Richly stained oak, faintly yellow walls with molding and crowns leading up to the slightly rounded ceiling. Linens so fine of weave they felt like silk, pillows and comforters of down, beckoning her for a more comfortable rest. For how many nights? For the previous occupant, long enough to become their host's 'favourite,' evidently. Still, favourite or no, this room was no longer hers.

Sian shook those thoughts out of mind. She stood up and made another round of the room, checking drawers, nooks, cracks for some note, some hint of the girl who lived here before her. Did she know she was going to die? Did she fight? Did she leave behind any hints to survive, or any of her captor's secrets? Valesa. Did she have a last name? Sian's belly felt hollow with a distant grief for someone she never knew, someone who lived here, either knowing it was her last residence, or oblivious to that until the end. Either way, Sian found it sad.

Sian found nothing else, though. Just clothes, and cosmetics. A few books, but no notes fell free from between the pages when she held them upside-down and shook them. No diaries. Pens and paper, but nothing written. Some grooves in the paper when held to the light, but Sian couldn't make out the words. Nothing. After she was gone, there would be no trace. Sian found that even more sad.

She piled a few heavy jackets on the chair to keep it in place, then climbed under the covers and went to sleep.

.o0o.

The sun was setting by the time she awoke. Strange dreams accompanied her from that land to reality. Then again, her recent reality was strange, far stranger that she could have believed if someone had described it to her a week ago. She looked out the window, noted the thickness of the glass. She eyed the chair, testing its strength in her mind. To no one else she said, "Only one way to find out." Then, she put on her shoes and placed a few heavy coats near by.

The chair cracked on first strike, crazing the glass. It broke on the second, spiderwebbing the window, but gaining her naught. She looked around, but the only other furniture were massive armoires and bureaus, too heavy to move. Between the noise and absence of a bar for her door, she had only once choice.

She traced her steps back down the hall, to the second floor landing, then down one of the arching stairs. Heavenly smells mingled with the soft chimes of silverware on china. Her belly gave an answering grumble, protesting it being neglected for too long. With a muttered promise to herself, she stole up to the imposing doors. They reached far higher than her, and their rich grain seemed more a sculpture under glass than shellacked and stained wood.

Half-expecting the latch to be locked, she worked the cool and mirror-polished brass hane. At the rewarding click, she smiled, nudged the door open and slipped into the greying light.

.o0o.

She walked along the road for more than an hour, guided mostly by moonlight's glitter on the highway dots. The night had just stolen in, but the cold preceded it a goodly amount already. On the boat, her anger, her fear kept her warm. Here, fatigue and hunger stole away the same. Her eyes ached from straining to see the faint glint of yellow to guide her. Her legs ached from the mincing, careful steps she took, wary of turning an ankle or straying off the road's shoulder. Tar against dirt, black on black.

A car approached. She tossed herself into the dark, rolling down a grass and dirt hillside, landing in a puddle. In addition to the revulsive slickness and the dank odor of organic decay, the sudden onset of bone-chilling cold caused her to scramble back out, back up toward the road. Only, it wasn't where she left it. Or she wasn't where she thought she was.

Either way, she was in the dark, in the cold, and very, very lost.

End of Book 1