Yuah stood in the courtyard, idly staring up at the eclipse, and totally unaware that she was being watched from a window on the third floor. Terrence watched her, appraising her in a way that he didn’t bother appraising other women. There was no doubt that she was beautiful. She wore no makeup, had her hair pulled back into a bun wrapped by a maid’s cap, and she wore a simple servant’s dress with minimal bustle and almost no color. And yet she was one of the most beautiful women that he had ever seen. There was no doubt about that. Iolanthe was thought to be a great beauty and with her flawless skin and those striking aquamarine eyes, she was something special. Yuah’s chocolate brown eyes had a tenderness and an innocence in them though that one would never find in his sister’s, and Yuah’s features were perfect. She could have been one of those women that the great sculptors of old used as a model. She was just the right height and she was well proportioned. So what if she was a bit skinny.
Yuah was almost perfect. But Terrence didn’t want an almost perfect woman. He had thrown away any chance at a wife and a family and a home. That was not going to be his future. His future was far away, in another time and another place, on a great field of purple flowers with a woman who was frighteningly perfect. He turned away from the window and climbed back into bed, pulling the box filled with small blue vials from beneath the pillow.
* * * * *
A large square of sunlight filled the center of the cell floor, and sprawled naked in the center of that square, was Zurfina. She lifted her head up just enough to look around and then she slammed it back against the stone floor. Then she lifted it up and slammed it back down again: once, twice, three times, till there was a bloody spot on the floor and a bloody contusion on her forehead. The walls of the cell had all returned to their original stone texture. Not even the arcane bloody scrawling remained.
Schwarztogrube really was proof against magic. She had summoned the most ancient magic in the universe, a feat only possible because of the eclipse, and had used it to release the dead demon-gods that waited beyond the edge of sanity. But even they had not been able to completely pierce the veil. All of that magic was still not enough. Without the power of the eclipse, it was not enough, and the eclipse had not lasted long enough. And it would be a long time before the next full eclipse over Schwarztogrube.
“Eight thousand four hundred thirty-seven days!” Zurfina wailed. “Kafira’s bloody twat!”
She looked up at the ceiling as if she could see the sky beyond it and dared the Zaeri-Kafirite God and his crucified daughter to strike her dead. Could even his magic penetrate this magic-proof hell? Prove it!
* * * * *
“Is it over?” asked Senta.
“Yup.” Maro stood up from the pinhole camera that he had made to watch the eclipse, in actuality nothing but a small pasteboard box with a hole cut in the side. Shining in through the tiny hole, the image of the sun had been visible on the back side, and as the moon had moved across the sun, the small white orb in the box had been covered and then uncovered.
“That was pretty ace, wasn’t it?”
“I guess so,” said Senta. “I wish we could have watched the real thing.”
“You’d be blinded.”
“Yeah. I’m glad you were able to make it with only eight fingers.”
Maro nodded and looked at the three remaining fingers on his right hand.
“Maybe someday you’ll be really rich and you can pay a wizard to regrow your fingers for you,” offered Senta.
“Maybe I’ll get so used to having eight fingers I won’t want my other ones back. I bet pretty soon I’ll be able to do my eight times as good as you can do your tens.”
“What’s seven times eight?”
“Is that right?”
“Wow.” Senta looked impressed and she was. “What are we doing now?”
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m going to play Mirsannan cricket at the park. You can’t go because you’re a girl.”
“Then I’m going to the toy store and buy a doll.”
“You don’t have enough money to buy a doll.”
“Uh-huh. For pretend.”
“You know when you said my mom didn’t want me?”
“I don’t understand it.”
“Well, look at me. I’m just cute.”
* * * * *
“Eight thousand four hundred thirty-seven days,” Zurfina told herself. “I’ll be old. Well, I’ll be older.”
The sorceress was already far older than she appeared. Thanks to magic used long ago, her body was much younger than it should have been. But it was aging now. Here in this place where magic had no hold, it was aging. In eight thousand four hundred thirty-seven days, she would most surely begin to look old—not as old as her true age, but old. Too old. She would have no youth, just as now she had no magic. She couldn’t wait eight thousand four hundred thirty-seven days. She had to get out. But she couldn’t use magic. What could she use? What did she have?
She had her youth… for now. She had her beauty… for now. She had this body, this body that men wanted… for now. She had to use what she had.