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They couldn't see her, but she was used to that. Ensuring that she was invisible to the denizens of London Above was second nature, and was the best way to move about above that strange disjoin separating her world from theirs. Usually she would be seen only if she wanted to be, or if she was too tired or weak to be sure that she was not. Today was no different. Today she was nothing more than a shadow.

She had stepped out of the wall, from a place where the currents of the universe had told her that there had once been a door, long ago. Echoes of that other time had floated past her when she had forced her way through; the quiet chinking of crystal glasses, and a murmur of voices in conference. Several voices, in several times, but the conversations had a similarity to them. This was a place of continuity, where things went on the same even as faces and voices changed. She could hear much the same sort of thing now, as she stood quietly, unseen and unknown. Money and rules and the lives of the people of London, weighed on scales of circumstance. It was alien, all of it. Above World people, Above World customs. Money that didn't exist, criss-crossing the world in a web that she could sense but not touch. Leaders who sent others to fight wars, instead of going into battle themselves. Truly London Above was an alien and irregular place.

But she had not come to ponder on the ways of the Above-Worlders. Crossing the room, her path creating a draught that made a scattering of papers flutter and flap on a desk, she went to a very particular bookshelf. Behind her somebody straightened the papers, and made a comment that she barely heard about windows and gusts of wind. The true cause of the disruption, the shaggy, determined young woman standing not six feet to the somebody's left, was too preoccupied to smile.

Papers saved, the conversation turned back to money, and how to make more of it from nothing at all. Door listened with half an ear as she searched the bookshelf. So many books, all wrapped in gilt and leather, some well read, and others not touched for generations. She ran her hands over them, searching, until at last she found what she had come to this room to collect; a small book of maps, detailing the thousand and one secret places of London; the places that Above-Worlders and Below-Worlders alike rarely saw. Like all of the best old cities, London was full of such places. Places seen by birds and rats, by explorers and those with things to hide. Things or, occasionally, people. Very quietly, Door picked up the book, and slipped it into a pocket. It was not really stealing, for the book bore a name that she recognised, and that was a little like ownership. He was a man that her father had known, or perhaps her grandfather. An Above-Worlder long ago vanished into some other place. Heart beating a little faster now, Door once again reached out to open what she alone knew to be closed.

"There's a fearful draught all of a sudden," said a voice, but whether it was in the room with her now, or somewhere back in the past, she didn't know. She didn't care. They were all ghost people to her, ghost people leading strange lives, governing the unfathomable in their unlikely and complicated ways. She had other things to concentrate upon. A book of maps, detailing secret pathways, and ancient, hidden buildings that could be – and probably were – just about anywhere. Above, Below, or the places in between; she would search every one of them; force open doors into every shade of reality, if that was what it took to find her sister. Magic and mystery or blood, sword and fire, it was all the same. She understood such things. Behind her, the door that wasn't there clicked closed.

"Did you hear something?" asked the Prime Minister, from his chair beside the fire. One of his ministers shook his head.

"Not a thing, sir. A bird outside, perhaps?"

"Yes, probably." Turning over one of the pieces of paper in front of him, the Prime Minister eyed a long list of numbers representing money that needed to be spent; or that had already been spent; or that didn't exist in the first place, but would inevitably be spent anyway. He did think, for a moment, that there had been something else in his mind. Something about quests and warriors and secret pathways, but he could see now how foolish that was. He pushed the thought aside, and focused on his money, which wasn't his, and wasn't real anyway. It made much more sense to him than the pictures that he had seen, briefly, through a door that was no longer there.

On the other side of the door stood another kind of Door entirely, her hand closed tightly around the book deep in her pocket. Richard and the Marquis were eyeing her, Richard with curiosity, and the Marquis with a Marquistian impassivity to which she did not think she would ever become accustomed.

"Well?" he asked, but it was to Richard that she spoke first.

"Your world is strange," she told him, and sat down cross-legged before their campfire. Richard, his sword across his lap, and the perfect taste of a wine brewed by rats resting comfortably on his tongue, looked back towards the place where the door had been, and frowned.

"I did warn you," he said, and handed her a plate over the low-lying flames. "Have some alligator curry. It'll help to take the taste away."

"And you should never quest on an empty stomach," said the Marquis, who was cleaning his nails with a tiny, brilliant knife made of obsidian. "We are going on a quest, I take it?"

"At first light," said Door, with new resolve, and the book seemed to crackle with energy beneath her hand. There was electricity in the air, she thought, although she suspected that she alone could feel it. It was the pulse beat of then and now; of there and here. It made the maps beneath her hand trail, snakelike, through her mind. She didn't understand it, but she knew that those of the world above – those men, having their never-ending conversations in a room that reached through time – would never feel its like. She knew that that made their lives much safer than hers, and maybe she should envy them, and their suits and their laws and their arguments that were never going to end. She envied nobody. The power that itched in her fingertips, searching out doors for her to open in the paintings beneath her hand, was not a thing of there or here, but of her. She had already had ample demonstration of its dangers, but if it could help her to find her sister then she would embrace each and every threat along the way. That was her life; and it was more real than any world would ever be.

 

The End