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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

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BOOK: Ghostlight
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And he wasn't getting
Venus Afflicted
out of her if she had anything to say about it, Truth swore.
Once the definite decision—a vow, nearly—was made, Truth felt a great burden lift from her shoulders, as if Something had been waiting to hear her decision. She was only lucky she hadn't mentioned its presence to Julian when they'd talked; it was easy enough to conceal something that no one was looking for, and she intended to conceal the only copy of Blackburn's spellbook no matter what. The new improved Circle was not going to get its hands on … what?
Well, whatever
Venus Afflicted
was, they weren't getting it.
The relief Truth felt convinced her that this was the right thing to do: She didn't know all the details of how and why and who, but she knew that Julian Pilgrim could not be allowed to get his hands on the final ritual for “opening the way”—whatever it was.
Why not?
a sly inner voice asked.
If it's all nonsense and mummery, what does it matter what mumbo jumbo he does here? You don't even have to give him the original—just take it down to the town and make a copy and give him that. He'd be grateful. He might even be very grateful … .
This sneaky new direction for her thoughts was too much. Truth bounced to her feet and swept up the suitcase, spreading it open on the bed, banishing this particular line of introspection. Her reflection echoed her in the window's glass, and Truth took a moment to pull the shade and draw the long white lace curtains shut, shutting out the twilight.
What could she wear to dinner? She looked at the sensible sweaters, the practical cotton pajamas, the businesslike chinos and blouses and skirts that she'd packed, and sagged despairingly. There was nothing here that would make her fit into Julian's world—even as a guest. Nothing, except—
She picked up the item and shook it out, holding it up high so it wouldn't touch the floor.
She wasn't quite sure why she'd packed it; when she'd made her choices of what to bring she hadn't contemplated any occasion for which it would be suitable. In fact, to be perfectly honest, it wasn't the sort of thing she bought for any occasion; she didn't know why she had it at all.
Bought by my evil twin, obviously
, Truth reflected with an amused quirk to her mouth.
It was a princess-line dinner dress in delicate midnight blue wool jersey, simple, elegant, and regal. With its long sleeves and jewel neck, it was far too fancy and formal for any affair that Truth Jourdemayne, psychic research statistician, would ever attend.
But it was just right for dinner at Shadow's Gate.
A quick sponge bath, a splash of the lavender cologne she favored, and Truth was ready to dress. She pulled the dress on over her head, cursing the long zipper up the back—why weren't women's clothes designed so that women could dress themselves? she wondered for the hundredth time—and regarded herself in the cheval glass.
A stranger stared back, a mocking light of challenge in her dark eyes. Did she, in fact, resemble her mother
that much? Was this what Katherine Jourdemayne had looked like? Truth wondered, though the question probed the psychic sore spot where all Truth's unanswered questions about the mother she had never known had festered. Truth stared at the reflection curiously, willing it to give up the secrets of another woman's past. Katherine Jourdemayne? It was easy enough for Irene Avalon to say so, but Irene hadn't seen Katherine since they were both young women; it would be easy to be carried away by the emotion of the moment.
But Irene Avalon had not been only Katherine's friend. She had been the friend of both Truth's parents, and Truth at last surrendered to the need to know about them—about her mother, and, yes, even about her father. If she did not ask her questions soon, the people she could ask would have passed from the world and left her questions forever unanswered.
She would not let that happen.
Truth inclined her head graciously to the stranger in the mirror, and then slipped her feet into her black pumps. A few quick primpings with her hair and makeup, and she was ready.
Or almost. As it was now, the dress looked almost formidably severe. She needed some jewelry to bring the outfit to life, but Truth didn't have much in the way of trendy, expensive, and frivolous fashion accessories. Other than a few pair of “good” earrings and a short gold chain, Truth owned no jewelry at all.
In her earlier search for something to wear she had nearly emptied her suitcase. All that was left in it now was her bathrobe and the item it was wrapped around—
Venus Afflicted.
Now she turned to the traveling case she had also brought—that squarish boxy article that had once held a lady's elaborate toilette—and in the modern day, proved so useful for the transport of the small yet fragile articles that a woman still traveled with.
She opened it and lifted out the top tray. There, inside,
tucked into a jewelry roll, were the necklace and ring that Aunt Caroline had given her: Thorne Blackburn's necklace and ring. Perhaps … ?
The ring was obviously impossible; it slid off every finger she tried it on, and even if she had been able to make it fit, it would have weighted down her hand as much as if she were carrying a dumbbell. Not the thing for a dinner party. She dropped it back into the little satin pouch and picked up the necklace.
Even such an amateur of gemology as Truth could tell that the amber beads were of a much finer quality than those in Irene's necklace. The necklace rested on her palms, light as a soap bubble. The ancient Greeks had called this substance
electrum
, and said it was no less than fossilized lightning, dropped from heaven by Zeus's careless thunderbolts. The Greeks had called it so because true amber, Truth knew, would hold an electrical charge; properly magnetized, the beads would draw threads and pieces of paper to stick to them, and even give off a weird bluish glow in the dark. As Truth ran the beads through her hands they seemed almost to glow without electricity, gathering all the light in the room to radiate it with an intense citrine radiance.
She dropped the necklace over her head: The ornate enameled golden pendant swung free, then dropped into place below her heart with the soft heavy force of a love-pat. Against the dark fabric, the stones that had once been the life blood of a tree burned with even brighter fire, giving her the look of a warrior priestess readying herself for battle.
No
, Truth decided reluctantly, gazing at her reflection. It was beautiful, but it wouldn't be at all appropriate—not to mention the questions it would raise. With hesitant regret, she removed Blackburn's necklace and stowed it back in the train case with the ring. A long silk scarf, knotted loosely about her throat, provided a poor—but adequate—substitute.
I guess they'll have to take me just as I am.
Truth looked at her watch. Seven o'clock. Half an hour before the time Irene said they would all be gathering for dinner, and in all likelihood the evening would not be over until ten or later. Truth was glad she'd asked Irene to call the Bed-and-Breakfast for her and tell them she was already in town and would be arriving later tonight—she'd hate to get there and find out some stranger had ransomed her bed right out from under her.
Anyway, she might as well go down now.
She took a step toward the door and hesitated, then turned back. She'd left the contents of her suitcase scattered all over her bed—including
Venus Afflicted.
What if someone came in?
She frowned, standing over the suitcase with a handful of sweaters. What if someone
did
come in—not that they ought to—and went through her suitcase, which was far beyond the pale of good manners but might still happen? She didn't have the key to her suitcase, and she supposed the lock wouldn't stop someone who was really determined anyway.
She frowned, considering for a moment, then removed
Venus Afflicted
from inside the bundle of her robe. She should just put it somewhere—for safekeeping.
Where?
After a bit of thought, Truth slid the book between the mattress and the box spring, up near the head of the bed where a certain additional elevation of the mattress wouldn't be noticed on a casual inspection. She smoothed the candlewick cover down again and dumped her clothes loosely back into the suitcase.
In the doorway she stopped and took one last survey of the room. Everything looked perfectly innocent.
Aunt Caroline always used to say: If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Truth smiled, and squared her shoulders, and went down the stairs.
TRUTH AMONG SHADOWS
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
—PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
 
 
 
WHEN SHE REACHED THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, TRUTH saw that Julian was waiting for her on the landing. At the sight of him, Truth was glad she'd yielded to some martial impulse and dressed for dinner; Julian had shed his country-squire tweeds for what looked like an Armani suit in midnight silk. He smiled when he saw her.
“Ah, Truth. I was just coming to see if you were ready. We're assembled in the parlor for preprandial sherry. Not that we're usually so formal—it's in your honor, you might say.”
His gaze rested on her with obvious male approval, and Truth felt the heat rise in her cheeks again. What was it about the master of Shadow's Gate that flustered her so? This wasn't at all like her; she was always so cool and self-possessed, a creature of the mind, ruled by the mind and wary of emotional entrapment. No flighty Gothic heroine she!
She came down the last few steps and Julian offered her his arm. Reluctantly Truth cudgeled her slothful brain into gear.
“Who will I be meeting tonight, Julian?” She heard the faint quiver of nervousness in her voice and winced, but she couldn't help herself. The thought of meeting a large group of people—let alone people who were obsessed with Thorne Blackburn—filled her with reflexive dread.
He offered her his arm and she took it. The faint, elusive scent of male cologne filled her nostrils, and for a moment before she dismissed the frivolous thought Truth fancied she could feel the thrill of some electrical pulse where her fingers rested on the warm solidity of his arm. They started down the rest of the stairs together.
“I won't fling you into the lion's den alone, Truth,” Julian said with lightly mocking reproof. “But you'll be meeting the rest of our Circle this evening, at least those I've been able to gather so far. The Work requires a Circle of thirteen to do it properly, but it can be managed with fewer.”
And are you managing it?
Truth wanted to ask, but they had arrived.
Like most Victorian mansions, Shadow's Gate had a certain bilateral symmetry to it, including matching parlors on either side of the entry hall. Truth had been in one of them—the Blackburn museum—for several hours today. Now she entered its counterpart.
Nothing could have been more different. Though many of the rooms at Shadow's Gate held what must be the original furniture, it was plain that Julian had not in any sense created a museum-mansion where the clock was stopped in 1895. The walls of this parlor were a dark shade of Paris green, a color picked up in the brocade curtains and the exquisite Oriental carpets underfoot. But the long sectional couch was entirely modern, its
sleek Italian lines upholstered in butter-soft oyster-colored leather, and the tables were modern constructions of glass-topped bronze.
Truth was no sheltered simpleton—no one who had any connection with a college's incessant quest for money could be that innocent of how the world worked—and the sheer amount of money a room furnished in this fashion represented was like a warning flag. The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, are different from you and me, and in Truth's experience, that difference meant the ruthless disregard for the consequences to others of one's actions that only the sheer power of wealth could make possible.
She managed to gather a confused impression of half a dozen assorted people standing as if waiting for her before Julian's hand upon her waist propelled her gently into the room.
Thrown to the lions
…
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Julian said. “It is my great honor to present the daughter of Thorne Blackburn—Truth Jourdemayne.”
Truth flushed exasperatedly. Why had Julian … ?
“Should we applaud?” a male voice drawled. Its owner came forward, glass in hand. He wore a dark vest with his tweed jacket and old school tie, and Truth instantly if unconsciously pegged him as a down-at-heel professor—the man had the moon-pale skin and hollow eyes of one who spent his waking hours indoors in dusty archives poring over obscure texts. He seemed to be somewhere in his forties, his hair dark and in need of cutting. His eyes were gray, and he had the look of an irritated falcon.
“No offense, dear lady,” he added, with a mock bow in her direction. Truth found herself smiling in sheer relief at the familiarity—just like any boring faculty tea, at least so far.
“Oh for God's sake, Ellis,” Julian muttered. “Truth, allow me to present Ellis Gardner, much as I'd rather not
at the moment. He isn't usually this bad. Ellis, can't you—”
“My dear Hierodule, it is only the sherry that makes me tolerable at all,” Gardner said mockingly. He took Truth by the hand and drew her away from Julian's side. Though he did smell strongly of sherry, and from Julian's comments probably was a frequent overindulger, both Ellis's speech and gait were steady as he conducted Truth about the room and its inhabitants.
“Allow me to introduce the rest of our merry band of seekers after truth. The founder of the feast you already know”—this with an ironic nod toward Julian, whose face was studiously blank—“and our dear Mrs. Avalon, who deserves better.”
Irene was dazzling in a caftan of bright gold lamé and several additional necklaces and bangle bracelets. Her eyes were heavily made up for evening, painted in a highly theatrical Egyptian style, with long, black tails of kohl wrapping around her temples and the area from lid to brow painted a jewellike turquoise blue. Her face looked like a painted mask, out of which the motherly sensible woman Truth had met this afternoon gazed.
“Ellis, do be a good boy,” she urged.
“And this is Gareth Crowther, of whom you have also had the dubious pleasure. Gareth is our rude mechanical,” Ellis said.
“Knock it off, Ellis,” Gareth said without heat. He was wearing a pearl-buttoned denim shirt and his hands were almost painfully clean after the grease Truth had seen on them at the gatehouse. “Glad you're staying, Truth,” he said.
Truth opened her mouth to correct his misapprehension—hoping Julian did not share it—when Ellis spoke again, turning to gesture at someone on the far side of the room.
“Mr. Crowther worships from afar at
this
shrine,”
Ellis said in the orotund tones of a tour-bus operator, “our
soi-disant
Hierolator, the lovely and attractively packaged Fiona, known as Miss Cabot to her friends—”
Truth's gaze followed Ellis's gesture, to where a young, heavily made-up woman whose flaming red hair cascaded down her back stood within a pool of halogen illumination as if within a theatrical spotlight.
Fiona Cabot wore a long-sleeved dress of tie-dyed panné velvet that was both short and tight, hugging her sleek yet opulent body as snugly as a dancer's leotard. A shadow of lace trim showed at the edge of the low-cut neckline, and she wore a wide black velvet ribbon tied around her throat. She smiled chillily at Truth, the salute of equals across an arena.
“One dares not get too close,” Ellis continued smoothly, “as
Hamadryad orientalis
—the king cobra—can spit poison a distance of several yards.”
Fiona's chin came up sharply and she glared murderously at Ellis momentarily before setting her glass down sharply on the nearest flat surface. She crossed to Julian with quick angry steps, and Truth thought unkindly that if she were really the cat she seemed her tail would be fluffed out and lashing.

Darling
Julian,” Fiona said in gritted-teeth accents, wreathing her arm through his and leaning coquettishly against him. “Do we have to put up with this again?” The stiletto heels she wore made her nearly his height.
Truth felt an unreasonable spasm of jealousy—but on the basis of Ellis's introduction she stole a glance at Gareth's face, and saw her own jealousy refined to fever pitch and blazing nakedly from his eyes.
Gardner's right about one thing: Gareth's in love with Fiona. And I'll bet she knows it, the bitch
, Truth mused to herself. Her distaste for the situation she found herself in increased.
“Ellis, that's enough,” Julian said curtly.
Some power thrilled out across invisible lines of command; Truth felt Ellis resist it for an instant and then succumb.
“Oh, very well,” the older man said. “The rest of our beargarden, then—briefly.” He took a firmer grip on Truth's arm—almost for support, she thought, although he hadn't needed it a moment ago.
“Donner Murray.” A brown-haired, brown-eyed man of about Truth's age, wearing a gray corduroy jacket and no tie. He smiled at Truth—civilly, a little distant—and raised his glass in silent salute.
“Caradoc Buckland.”
“Pleasure to meet you.”
Caradoc had dark brown hair cut fashionably short. A large gold ring glinted in one ear, and he wore a massive gold signet ring on his right hand. He was dressed more fashionably than Donner, in a pale designer suit worn with a dark collarless shirt.
“Hereward Farrar.”
By now Truth's head was spinning with this catalog of peculiar persons to which she must somehow remember to attach the right equally odd names, but Farrar was one she'd have no trouble remembering. His gray eyes were so pale they were nearly silver, and his red hair—darker than Fiona's—was long in the style of a generation before. He smiled his faint wolf-smile at her, as impersonal as a forest predator's. Here was one who stood apart and did not give his fealty lightly. She was conscious of his swift appraisal returning her own before he smiled.
“Ready to run screaming into the night yet, Truth?” Hereward asked.
“Not yet,” Truth answered.
“Your sherry, Truth,” Julian said, stepping away from Fiona and taking back firm control of the situation. He handed Truth the small, delicate-stemmed glass and took the opportunity to detach her from Ellis. Fiona hesitated
and then decided to make the best of it, turning away to engage Donner in conversation.
“I'm afraid that Ellis has a rather difficult sense of humor,” Julian said, drawing Truth to one side. Was it her imagination, or was the smile Julian gave her warmer than the one he reserved for Fiona?
Truth sipped at her drink before replying. It was an excellent sherry; if tastes here ran to blood-sports before dinner, at least there were compensations.
“Oh, I'm hardly made of spun sugar,” she replied. “And none of those witty comments were directed at me, after all.”
“I just don't want you to think badly of us,” Julian said simply. He was about to say more, but Irene interrupted him, crossing to him from the doorway with a look of worry on her face.
“Julian.” Truth remembered that Irene had left the room just after being noted in Ellis's catalog. “Have you seen Light?”
“In her room?” Julian said, half-questioning.
“I've just been; she isn't there. Oh, Julian, if she's wandered off again—”
Watching Irene's face, Truth could see honest concern and worry reflected there. Earlier Irene'd spoken of Light as a full partner in the Blackburn Work, but now she was acting as if Light were a wayward child.
“I'll send someone to look around,” Julian said. “She may have gone outside without anyone seeing. Gareth—?”
“There's no need for that. She's here now,” a deep voice said.
A man and a woman stood in the doorway.
That must be Light
, Truth thought inconsequentially.
The woman was slender, almost frail. She wore a tunic and wide trousers in a silky pale material. Truth was too far away to see her eyes, but the brighter light of the hall haloed the girl's long silver hair with an almost unearthly radiance.
Unearthly. That's for sure. She looks almost like the Hollywood version of a psychic.
Truth's exposure to mediums was fairly limited, as what the Institute jokingly called their care and feeding fell more within Dylan's sphere, or even Professor MacLaren's. What Truth knew was more or less what everyone knew: a medium was a natural psychic, sensitive to the emanations of what some of the more old-fashioned among them still called “The Spirit World”; one who, when in trance, served as a conduit for other entities to communicate with the living world.
Or seemed to
, Truth reminded herself with the habit of a professional skeptic. Dylan's psychics located ghosts for him in the haunted houses that were his pet projects, but Light—an odd name, but no stranger than Truth's, or, in fact, anyone's here—seemed almost to be a spirit herself.
BOOK: Ghostlight
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