Prologue: Hope Fails

"No . . ." The whisper echoed throughout the stale air inside the Ocean Palace. Magus dropped to his knees beside the remains of his sister, paying homage to the grisly, lonely alter, and bowed his head. "Schala . . ."

The dusty pile of purple rags and bones did not answer, but his red-violet eyes caught a twinkle from beneath one of her robes. Her Dreamstone pendant, not dulled in all the years it had slept, sparkled briefly as he snatched it from the place where her neck must have been. Or perhaps she had taken the pendant off? Magus couldn't tell, her bones were in jumble, probably the result of underwater earthquakes. Lavos was still just getting back to sleep, in this time period.

With a face that barely registered the grief that ate away ate his mind, Magus twisted his body around, refusing to look at the last remnants of not just a beloved sibling, but a culture, a race, a way of life . . . and of Janus.

'If only I had found you sooner.' He thought. 'Then, maybe, you would have lived.' Something in the back of his mind chided him hotly. Dimwit, she had been dead too long. Even in the residue of magick that surrounds this place, a body could not decay that fast. 'Couldn't it?' He retorted. 'The Enlightened never kept around the dead long enough to find out, did they? Face it, you fool, you failed her, she died because you didn't have the will to kill Lavos the first time, and you know it.' No tears fell from his eyes, and Magus suddenly felt a force of pure self-loathing invade his soul. 'You really didn't care, did you, Magus? Damn you! This is your sister. Your sister! And you still won't let yourself care, show weakness.' The air was suffocating him.

The mage had completed his quest. But no old wounds had closed, and had, in fact opened wider. And slowly, but ever so surely, he was bleeding to death

. * * * * *

A girl whispered things into the darkness of her bedroom obliviously. Mutters of things, snippets of dreams. Dreams of past ventures, dreams of her mother, and her father, and victory. Confused images danced a erratic waltz through her mind, drifting through an inky, oozing blackness without a horizon. She floated along, following . . . following what? Someone up ahead laughed, and began to sing a childhood lullaby in an oily, mocking voice. The girl listened, not afraid, as it sang the same verse over and over.

Sing, sing, sweet daughter,
mother's coming home.
And she will have her basket,
in which she keeps the moon.

The life form was dropping clues behind, like Cinderella's lost slipper. She followed the shards of suggestion, picking them up one by one. They were being dropped by the voice, up ahead. Crooning at her, dancing just out of sight in the black fog. Yes, the key, *that* was the key, the gate key, I mean. Old friends, new times. Wouldn't that be fun, child? You want to have fun, right, child? Yes. Of course you do, grew up too fast, huh? Never had time to play like we will. Oh, what fun we will have. And where they abandoned you, you can find others, always others. Come back to us, use the key anew, old roads still wind through, come, child, find us. We are waiting, the knight is waiting. Please?

Lucca smiled in her sleep, and giggled. Yes. I'll come and find you .

Promise? Cross your heart and hope to die?

Stick a needle in my eye.

A snicker. Silence, the mind fog thickened, darkened. Then: