She saw a once-elegant sitting room, about thirty feet by thirty feet. Tall windows framed the space on three sides. There was a fireplace in one corner, next to a door. A large round table was surrounded by eight large, stuffed, high-backed chairs that had seen better days. The walls were decorated with old-fashioned patterned wallpaper that had seen better days. A couple of mahogany sideboards were decorated with tarnished silver candlesticks filled with melted candles. Books were stacked on the tables, on the floor, in the corners, all over the place.
It was the house of a hoarder.
A staircase in one corner lead down. On the landing, Dora saw a suit of armor on a stand. It didn’t look like much: sort of old, not well cared-for. But Dora immediately recognized it as the armor she pictures when she casts Mage Armor. And Dora knew exactly where she was: inside Iris Hill.
Outside the nearby window, she observed that the estate consisted of multiple buildings clustered around a dark brick well as a central focal point. Gravel paths lead to a gatehouse, a guest house, a carriage house, and servants’ quarters. With the exception of the gatehouse, the buildings were all two stories tall. The second stories of the buildings had a larger footprint than the ground floors, giving the buildings an appearance like they were looming or leaning.
The grounds were once likely magnificent, but had fallen into neglect. The grass grew tall and yellowed, and weeds choked flowerbeds along the sides of the buildings. A few natty, overgrown bushes once trimmed to look like humans stood in a rough circle around the well in the center of the compound. They looked like green zombies staring mindlessly into the void of the well. And a thick, tall hedge surrounded the estate.
Back in the sitting room, there was a desk in the northeast corner. A woman sat there, busily working. She was gorgeous, elegant, wildly vibrant-seeming—she really stood out against the decay and dust and neglect all around her. She wore an orange and blue dress over a yellow blouse and had a striking bejeweled headband on.
Dora heard a knock and a voice said, “Melisenn?”
Thema entered the room. She was nearly exactly Dora’s current age. This happened very, very recently. She was holding the bone-handled dagger in one hand, and with the other she was almost unconsciously—compulsively—scratching at the back of her neck. Though her neck wasn’t visible, because she wore a hooded cloak that covered everything but her face.
Melisenn set down her pen and turned to Thema with a radiant smile. “Why, Thema! What a pleasure! What can I do for you today?”
“Don’t take that tone with me.”
The vibe here was weird. Number one: Melisenn was putting on a cheery, almost little-girly affect that felt quite off-putting in a 30-something-year-old woman. Also, it was instantaneously crystal clear to Dora that these two women despised each other.
Thema glared at Melisenn for a moment before saying, “So sure of yourself, ain’t you?”
Melisenn blinked innocently. “Whatever do you mean?”
“You’re so used to being in control, ain’t you? You like it. You think you’re good at it.”
“Oh, mistress, I believe I know the full extent of my powers.”
“You are nothing!” Thema growled, completely losing control of her emotions. “You HAVE nothing. You AMOUNT to nothing. You only continue to exist because I allow it!”
There was a pause. It was clear to everyone watching this scene—Melisenn, Thema, and Dora (watching from the future)—that Thema went too far.
Melisenn smiled again, but it was icier this time. “Yet here you stand. About to BEG me for a favor.”
It was true. Dora could see from Thema’s face that it was true. There was something that needed doing and Thema was not able to do it herself.
Thema handed over the dagger, hilt first. It was the first weapon Vatticus let her keep on her possession, all those years ago. The first blade he allowed her to touch. The very weapon he gave her.
“Is Risi coming?” Thema asked.
“Give her this.”
Melisenn smiled again. “Give her this… what?”
“Give her this… please.”
“And what exactly is Risi supposed to do with it?”
“If I don’t make it back,” Thema said, “and Gulliver and Brayden do… I want her to execute both of them. With this blade. Please.”
Melisenn took the blade. “As you command, mistress. Now, that will be all.”
And as Thema left the room… scratching, scratching, scratching at the back of her neck… Melisenn turned the blade over in her hand and giggled.
“Well! How interesting.”
And the vision faded.
First Reference: Chapter 51
Other Notable References: Chapter 62