Motionless clouds mirrored the greyness of the asphalt. Amorphous reflections hid in the unapproachable windows of the office buildings that lined the street. Dampness filled the air and left a thin film on the skin of a woman who had just exited a skyscraper on the corner of an intersection. In her slender hand she carried a leather-bound book whose spine bore indecipherable letters. Her pace was fast, her head held high, her gaze steady. Vehicles rushed noisily past her, stirred the air for a few moments before it coagulated again in the heat of an August sun that hadn’t yet reached its zenith. The sidewalk was barren, stained with the dirt and dust of a rainless July. Warm droplets of sweat formed on her brow. After a while she turned left into a narrow alleyway. The tall flanks of the buildings warded off the griseous sunlight and cast stygian shadows onto each other. Suddenly she came to a stop. Her chest was rising and falling rapidly. Hot breath spilled from her lips. She closed her eyes, rubbed her nose bridge, adjusted the hematite ring on her little finger, then opened her eyes again a few minutes later. Sweat had dropped on her book. She dried it with a handkerchief and opened it. The paper was yellowed and thin, the letters deeply black but malformed and interspersed with cryptic symbols and rows of numbers. She widened her stance, straightened her back and bit the tip of her thumb. Blood seeped out. Her eyelids fluttered. For a moment she stood still, then she drew an arc in the air and added dozens of smaller and bigger glyphs. Faint traces of blood floated in front of her. She took a handful of fine, flavescent powder from a satchel and puffed it into the air. The blood soaked up the powder and began to flicker. It flickered faster and faster until it turned into a steady glow. She relaxed her body and took a step forward. A few drops of sweat fell from her arms and legs onto the pavement. Her thumb had stopped bleeding, silvery-brown crusts now covered its tip. She clapped. Once, twice, thrice. A perfectly black rift opened in the air in front of her. She pushed both hands into it and pressed against its icily flowing membranes. The rift slowly widened and the darkness inside faded. As soon as its bottom reached the ground she wedged her tilted foot into it, then her ankle, then her knee and finally, turning her whole body sideways, her hips and her shoulders. Then she was completely inside it and, with a hard push and a slight stumble, she was on the other side.

Green light stung her eyes. Fragrant air whirled around her nose. She turned her head and saw the rift close and dissolve behind her. Ancient trees towered above her. Leaves rustled in a south-easterly breeze. The forest floor, unscarred by roads or dirt tracks, was soft and warm. She slipped off her shoes and socks and began to walk. Birdsong accompanied her. The perspiration evaporated and only a few traces of salt remained on her skin. Shadows gathered around her ankles and a chill sank into her lower legs. Then the canopy broke apart and golden light flooded her lungs. She tilted her head and stared at the sun. It was now halfway between zenith and horizon. Her gaze dropped and fell on the ornate wrought-iron fence that encircled the glade. She took a key from her skirt’s pocket and unlocked the gate. She pushed it open and stepped onto a slightly damp gravel path that led her around heavily laden raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, lingonberry, gooseberry, and red and black currant bushes, through shadows of honey-sweet buddleja and butterfly swarms, to an oaken door shrouded by strands of ivy. She opened it and entered a windowless corridor. Recesses about two spans wide and two spans high were set in the walls in an irregular pattern. Milky lights floated in the hollows. They trembled as she passed. The wooden floor was smooth and cold under the soft soles of her feet. She put her socks back on and walked deeper into the house, letting her fingertips glide over the walls. She turned around a corner and stepped into a photonic cataract that poured out of a large Gothic rose window. The sky was writhing outside, blueness entwining blueness. Fractals of light spread over her cheekbones, slid under her fingernails, curled around her calves, filled her eyeballs, enveloped her tongue. She set her book on the low, delicate table that stood in the middle of the room. Then she strolled to the large storage rack that filled the back wall. It was overflowing with heavy books, glittering complicated mechanisms, souvenirs from lost cities and sunken continents and a few sprawling potted plants. Her gaze slid over the shelves, over the nacreously purple blossoms of an orchid, over the black heart of an ancient automaton, over frail Merovingian scrolls, over untouched fragments of the Cultes des Goules, over pastel coloured leaflets reporting on the progress of the Zhou Texts’ restoration. She shook her head and went into an adjacent room. It was small and bare and contained a wicker basket with a few utensils in it and a waist-high chest on which fern frost grew. She put on a pair of heavy gloves and opened the chest. Gelid mist billowed out. She pushed her hands into a compartment in the chest and pulled out a globe that was slightly smaller than her head. With an elbow she shoved the chest’s lid shut. Her fingers sank into the thick misty layer of photons that coated the sphere. She carried it into the sun room where she sat down in a corner and peeled the orb. She tore off white layers and threw them on the floor where they slowly disintegrated. Soon she reached the abyssally black skin below the photonic fleece. It was smooth but tough and elastic underneath her fingernails. She lay down on the fluffy, arcanely patterned carpet and put her cheek against the sphere. Her skin tingled where photons oozed from the globe that began to rebuild the fleece. She stretched languorously and curled up around the orb. Her pale ears twitched for a few moments, then settled down and a smile parted her lustrously hyacinthine lips.