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By Lee Arthur Chane

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The hallway outside her ran left and right, turning at either end to form the two wings of the manor house that wrapped the central Great Hall in their embrace. There were broad, curving staircases at either end as well, leading down to the main floor. Doors opened only off the side of the corridor where her room was located. The other side of the hall was punctuated by tall, vertical slits, about two hands’ breadth in width, filled with delicate wooden latticework. As Brenna pulled on her coat, she glanced idly down through one of those slits into the Great Hall, expecting to see it empty and dark.

The Moon Ball? ” The mageservant didn’t say a word. Brenna would have been terrified if it had, since it was essentially a marionette, animated by magic and programmed to perform the same rote tasks day after day. Its round wooden face, on which the magical symbol that enchanted it glowed faintly blue, remained half-turned away. For a moment Brenna considered smashing something on the floor—one of the delicate pieces of glass fruit decorating her mantelpiece, perhaps—just to get its attention and watch it scurry to clean up the mess, but as usual, the impulse passed before she acted on it.

Out she went into the snowy rear courtyard, with its own locked gate to the outside world and other doors leading into the manor, one into the kitchen storeroom, one into the dry goods storeroom, and a third into a central hallway that ran to the back of the Great Hall. Over the course of the winter the swirling wind had pushed the snow into deep drifts, some as high as Brenna’s head, all around the walls, but had left the worn cobblestones in the center exposed, though covered with ice. Sometime since she had looked out through the window of her room the snow had stopped falling.

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