Chapter Three

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Jack awoke suddenly.

He'd been dreaming but couldn't remember much of it. All that remained was a lingering sense of loss, like a physical ache. The name William drifted lazily across his memory but was driven away by a pang of hunger.

He got out of bed and walked over to the sink. The small window above it seemed to be fogged up, but when he ran his hand over the glass, he realized it was frost. Curious, he undid the lock on the side and cranked it open. A wintry landscape greeted him, tall pines draped in thick snow under a bleak gray sky. A squirrel was making its way from branch to branch, creating small white explosions and chittering wildly.

Jack didn't remember seeing snow the night before but supposed it could have fallen while he slept. After cranking the window shut, he turned on the gargoyle tap by twisting a wing and ran some water through his hair. There wasn't a towel anywhere so he shook his head like a dog and wiped his hands on his shirt.

In the corner there was a thin door that turned out to be a closet. It had a mirror hanging inside, next to a long coat, and Jack was startled by his reflection. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to look like, but the thin face and bottomless black eyes staring out at him felt entirely unfamiliar. He tried to guess his age, but it was impossible. He wasn't very old or very young; that was certain.

Or maybe not.

It's a bit like Daerk, actually, he thought. He's even stranger, though...

He wasn't sure if Daerk was planning to come get him, but he decided he'd risk trying to find food on his own. Daerk had said there was a dining room somewhere, after all.

He stepped out into the corridor, and the door closed behind him with a snap. It was a long, tall passage, lit dimly by slit windows near the ceiling. Shivering a little, his breath rising in a mist, he opened the door again to fetch the coat he'd seen in the closet. His room had disappeared, replaced by a curving hallway.

"And I'm already lost," he muttered, bemused, though he wasn't entirely surprised. He should have expected the door to change. The passage he was in didn't look promising, so he stepped into the new hallway. After moving around a colossal pillar, which he'd taken to be a wall, he realized he wasn't in a hallway at all. The door had brought him to a great domed atrium.

The floor was a puzzle of inlaid marble, curling and flowering into the distance with geometric designs. Massive black-stone columns, polished to a glossy sheen, loomed darkly around the walls, hiding small niches and secret spaces. In some far-off alcove, a pigeon murmured and flapped, making glassy echoes in the open space. High above, the ceiling curved into an immense dome.

At the distant center of the room, rising from a grassy hill, an old and gnarled maple tree twisted into the air. An oculus lit the tree with dusty rays, leaving the rest of the hall in gray shadow. Twinkling light played on the walls, reflecting from a thin layer of water that covered most of the floor. The reflections moved slowly, tracing the outlines of columns and invading the deep shadows behind them.

Jack walked towards the tree, his feet nudging the leaves dotting the surface of the water. As he passed, they would follow his feet, scattering when he took a step, then drifting back on the ripples like curious fish. His footsteps splashed lightly, the sound magnified in the quiet. The water was barely deep enough to cover the soles of his shoes, but each step echoed endlessly, mingling with that low sound of large enclosed spaces.

He looked up, his eyes pulled towards the tree as it grew closer. The dark stones in the dome behind it melted together and moved out to an impossible distance. The wavering reflections congealed into stars, and the great oculus shone brighter, setting the tree aflame with color. He could almost hear it call to him out of the deep quiet, the dry voice of fall in the wind. An enticing smell swept over him as the breeze played across his face. It was rich and cool, like leaf mold and black dirt or the first frost of winter.

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