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She exhaled slowly then sat back with her head resting against the cushions of the settee and watched shadows
flicker and leap across the ceiling. The lateness of the hour, the candlelight and silence all heightened the sense of
unreality. She raised herself up on the cushions and shivered involuntarily. The temperature had dropped, the fire burned
slugglishly and she found herself idly wondering if she had dropped some green logs into the basket by mistake. The flames in the
grate burned a sickly and unnatural blue as though starved of oxygen and about to die. A chill was creeping around the walls and
breathing damp air down the back of her neck. Her head whipped round and she stared wide-eyed into corners that seemed to contain
more than inanimate shadows.
One of the candles flared and spluttered bringing her upright and tense on the settee. Why had this come her way - and what was she
supposed to do about it? Her mind ricocheted from one possibility to another like a ball off the pins of a fruit machine.
Rising she paced the room then sat down again, forcing herself to quell the rise of panic and paranoia. At length the adrenalin
ceased to pump and she sagged with weariness against the cushions, overwhelmed by events and feeling powerless to effectively deal
with them. A migraine threatened and her eyes smarted from smoke and fatigue. Brant was right: this this was not something to
dabble in; from now on these bizarre incidents would not be her concern. In fact it would be a pleasure to be reporting cosy
Council corruption and debunking the myth of Clare Cabbala. Snuffing all but one candle which lit the way up the stairs to bed,
she checked at the bedroom window for any sign of movement in the shrubbery below. Moonlight froze the scene in a still from
another world. A medieval world it seemed with unfurled banners of cloud that trailed ragged ends across a midnight infinity,
and Lady Moon swelled with pride and bestowed upon Earth a smile that was almost sinister. The wash of argent sharpened the
webbed silhouettes of flittering pipistrelle bats and deepened the purple and indigo shadows that shrouded the base of the pines.
If anyone lurked in this fabulous realm they would be well hidden from view.
Darcy was about to twitch the curtain back across the window when a movement caught her eye. Heart thumping in her chest she paused
like that, one hand in the air and her gaze fixed on the shrubbery below. For a second or so impossible images strayed into her
vision: the gleam of armour burnished by moonlight and a white robe with the familiar splash of scarlet. A fantasy as elusive
and fleeting as the dance of the pipistrelle bats, yet one that infused her with guilt. The wordless clamour accused her of
betrayal and the abandonment of a promise made. Her hands shook as she covered her ears to shut it out and alleviate her distress.
"Go away," she whispered distraught, "leave me alone - I cannot help you." A soft moan escaped her lips and she closed
her eyes in despair.
When she dared to open them again only purple shadows inhabited the shrubbery. A white shape sailed past her line of vision,
followed by a spine-tingling shriek. She cried out and shrank from the window before realising it was a barn owl on the hunt.
With all that had happened her nerves were shot. Yet so real had that figure seemed that for one wild instant she suspected
Brant of hiding out in the bushes, wearing a sheet with red painted cross and pulling some cruel and macabre trick to frighten
her off the case. She opened her mouth intending to call out Brant's name but discovered the silence was too profound to be broken.
Besides in her heart she knew it was not Brant...
She yanked the curtain across the glass with a savage movement that caused it to snag and stick, and tears of frustration and reaction
burned her cheeks as she struggled to release it. Whatever the truth her life was a mess and peace of mind a rare luxury.
Weariness overcame her and she collapsed fully clothed onto the bed.
Sleep eventually came but not oblivion. Smoke and the acrid smell of burning stung her nostrils, that and a sweet underlying odour
that defied recognition but made bile scald her throat. Billows of smoke were ushered away by a westerly wind leaving a sight from
Bosch's hell. The fiery pit belched and spewed its flames to stain the morning sky with blood....
(I Dust p269-271)