The Stone Light

The Stone Light

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Deadly magic and malice threaten Merle and Serafin in this breathtaking sequel to The Water Mirror.

Merle -- carrying the mysterious Flowing Queen within her -- and Vermithrax, the winged stone lion, are flying into Hell. They are looking for help in freeing Venice from the invading Egyptian pharaoh and his mummy warriors. But some truly nightmarish surprises await them as they travel to the center of Hell and encounter its sinister ruler -- Lord Light.

Serafin remains in Venice, where the gorgeous sphinx Lalapeya recruits him into a plot to assassinate the pharaoh. But does Lalapeya really believe a small group of boys can outwit the cunning sphinx commanders and kill the most powerful man on earth? Betrayal lurks in unexpected places, and startling revelations occur as Merle and Serafin learn that evil takes many shapes in the astonishing world of Dark Reflections.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439108789
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 06/25/2008
Series: The Dark Reflections Trilogy , #2
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Kai Meyer is the author of many highly acclaimed and popular books for adults and young adults in his native Germany. Pirate Curse, the first book in the Wave Walkers trilogy, was praised by Booklist as "a fast-paced fantasy featuring plenty of action and suspense." The Water Mirror, the first book in the Dark Reflections Trilogy, was named a School Library Journal Best Book, a Locus Magazine Recommended Read, a Book Sense Children's Pick, and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. It received starred reviews in both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. School Library Journal has called Meyer "an expert at creating fantastical worlds filled with unusual and exotic elements." For more information please visit his website at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Son of Horus

Far below, the landscape, looking like a sea of ashes, steadily passed beneath the wings of the obsidian lion. Vermithrax's pitch-black stone body glided along under the thick cloud cover, almost weightless. The girl on his back had the feeling that if she simply stretched out her arm, she could touch the puffy undersides of the clouds.

Merle was clutching the flying lion's mane with both hands. Vermithrax's long coat was of stone, like his entire body, but for some reason Merle didn't understand, his fur felt soft and flexible -- only one of the countless marvels the stone lion concealed in his mighty obsidian body.

The wind at this height was bitterly cold and cutting. It effortlessly penetrated Merle's coarse, calf-length dress. The skirt had hiked up and uncovered her knees, so her legs were exposed to the wind. The goose bumps on her legs had come to seem just as matter of course as her growling stomach and the earaches she was having from the height and the cold air. At least her heavy leather shoes protected her feet from the cold, a feeble consolation considering their desperate situation and the empty countryside that was moving along a hundred yards below them.

Two days had passed since Merle had escaped from her native city of Venice on Vermithrax's back. Together they'd broken through the Empire's siege ring and were flying north. Since then they'd seen nothing beneath them but ravaged wilderness. Empty, ruined cities of jagged remnants of burned-out walls; abandoned farms, many burned down or ground to dust under the heels of the Egyptian army; villages in which only stray cats and dogs were still alive; and, of course, those places where the soil looked as if it were turned inside out, churned up, and devastated by powers that were a thousand times greater than any ox-drawn plow.

Only Nature resisted the brutal power of the Empire, and so it happened that many fields were sparkling with springtime green, blooming lilac bushes rose over the deserted walls, and trees wore dense, succulent foliage. The strength and life in all these plants stood in mocking contrast to the abandoned farms and settlements.

"How much farther?" Merle asked glumly.

Vermithrax's voice was deep as a well shaft. "Before another full day passes."

She said nothing in reply but waited for the ghostlike voice inside her to make itself known, as it usually did when Merle needed comfort or just a few cheering words.

But the Flowing Queen was silent.

"Queen?" she asked boldly. Vermithrax had long ago gotten used to the fact that Merle occasionally spoke with someone he could neither see nor hear. He could easily tell when her words weren't addressed to him.

"Did she answer?" he asked after a while.

"She's thinking," came out of Merle's mouth, but it wasn't she who spoke the words. The Flowing Queen had once again made use of Merle's voice for herself. For the time being, Merle tolerated this rudeness, even though she was silently angry about it. At the moment she was glad that the Queen was at least showing a sign of life.

"What are you thinking about?" Merle asked.

"About you humans," the Queen said and then changed into her mind-voice, which only Merle could hear. "How it could come to this. And what would bring a man like the Pharaoh something like this." She didn't have a hand of her own to gesture toward the wasteland on the ground, but Merle knew very well what she meant.

"Is he one, then? A human being, I mean? After all, he was dead until the priests brought him to life again."

"The mere fact that a man rises from the dead still need not mean that he engulfs all the countries in a war such as the world has not seen for a long time."

"For a long time?" Merle mused. "Was there ever a war in which someone succeeded in conquering the entire world?" Except for Venice, whose hours were numbered, only the Czarist kingdom had withstood the attacks of the Empire for three decades. All other countries had long since been overrun by mummy armies and scarab swarms.

"People tried. But that was thousands of years ago, in the time of the suboceanic cultures."

The suboceanic cultures. The words resounded in Merle's ears long after the Queen's voice was silent. After she'd freed the Flowing Queen from the hands of an Egyptian spy, she'd first assumed that the strange being was a survivor of the suboceanic kingdoms, which, according to the stories, had once been inconceivably powerful. But the Queen had denied that, and Merle believed her. It would have been too simple.

No one was able to see through a being like her completely, not even Merle, who was closer to the Queen than anyone else since their joint flight from Venice.

Merle snatched herself from her thoughts. Thinking about Venice meant thinking about Serafin, and right now that simply hurt too much.

She peered out over Vermithrax's black mane. Before them rose the rocky crags of high mountains. The landscape had been hilly for some time, and now it was rising ever more steeply. Soon they would reach the mountains. Supposedly their destination lay only a little bit beyond them.

"There's snow down there!"

"What did you expect?" asked the obsidian lion with amusement. "Look how high we are here. It's going to be quite a bit colder before we get to the other side."

"I've never seen snow," Merle said thoughtfully. "People say there hasn't been any real winter for decades. And no summer. Spring and fall just melt into one another somehow."

"Apparently nothing changed at all while I was locked up in the Campanile." Vermithrax laughed. "The humans are still always complaining from morning till night about the weather. How can so many heads busy themselves with so many thoughts about something they can't influence at all?"

Merle couldn't think of an answer. Again the Queen made use of her voice. "Vermithrax! Back there, at the foot of this mountain...what is that?"

Merle swallowed, as if she could just choke down the unwelcome influence that was controlling her tongue. She immediately felt the Queen withdraw from her mouth, a feeling as if, for the blink of an eye, all the blood left her tongue and her cheeks.

"I see it too," she said. "A flock of birds?"

The lion growled. "Quite large for a flock of birds. And much too massive."

The dark shadow floating like a cloud over part of the mountain's flank was sharply outlined. It might be several thousand yards away yet, and in comparison to the huge rock giant in the background, the thing darkly silhouetted against the slope didn't seem particularly impressive. But even now she suspected that this impression would change if they were to come nearer to it. Or if the thing came to them.

"Hang on!" cried Vermithrax.

He lost altitude so abruptly that Merle felt as if her insides were being expelled through her ears. For a moment she felt like throwing up. She was about to snarl at the obsidian lion when she saw what had prompted him to undertake the maneuver.

A handful of tiny dots were whizzing around the large silhouette, bright spots that glowed in the light of the setting sun as if someone had sprinkled gold dust over a landscape painting.

"Sunbarks," said the Queen in Merle's mind.

Now they've got us, Merle thought. They've blocked our way. Who would have guessed we're still so important to them? Granted, she was the bearer of the Flowing Queen, the protecting spirit who lived in the waters of the lagoon and who saved Venice from the Egyptian conquerors. But that was past now. The city was irrevocably in the tyrants' power.

"It must be coincidence that we are meeting them," said the mind-voice of the Flowing Queen. "It does not look as though they have noticed us."

Merle had to agree she was right. The Egyptians couldn't have overtaken them so quickly. And even if they'd succeeded in alerting a part of their armed forces, they certainly wouldn't have been waiting for the fugitives so very visibly on the snow field of a glacier. "What are they doing here?" Merle asked.

"The big thing must be a collector. One of their flying mummy factories."

Vermithrax now shot away over the top of a dense forest. Occasionally he had to avoid towering firs and spruces. But otherwise he was heading straight toward their adversary.

"Perhaps we should avoid it," Merle said, trying not to sound too anxious. But in truth her heart was racing. Her legs felt as if they belonged to a rag doll.

So that was a collector. A real, actual collector. She hadn't ever seen one of the Egyptian airships with her own eyes, and she would gladly have missed out on the experience. She knew what the collectors did, even how they did it, and she was only too painfully aware that each collector was under the command of one of the dreaded sphinx commandants of the Pharaoh.

Quite a dark outlook.

And yet it got worse.

"That is really a crowd of sunbarks flying around it," said Vermithrax tonelessly.

Merle, too, could now make out that the golden dots were nothing other than the smallest flying units of the imperial fleet. Each of the sickle-shaped sunbarks had places for a troop of mummy soldiers, besides the high priest whose magic held the bark in the air and in motion. If the Egyptians should become aware of Vermithrax and his rider, the setting of the sun would be their only chance: The darker it grew, the clumsier the barks became until, at night, they finally became completely unusable.

But the side of the mountain was still flooded with bloody red; in the west, the sun was only half sunk behind the peak.

"Avoid it," said Merle again, this time more urgently. "Why aren't we making a wide arc around it?"

"If I am not mistaken," said the Queen through Merle's mouth, for the words were also addressed to the lion, "this collector is on the way to Venice, to take part in the great battle."

"Assuming there is one," said Merle.

"They will give up," said Vermithrax. "The Venetians were never especially courageous. Present company excepted."

"Thank you very much."

"Vermithrax is right. There will probably not be any fighting at all. But who knows how the armies of the Empire will fall on the city and its inhabitants? Venice has led the Pharaoh around by the nose for more than thirty years, after all."

"But that was you!"

"To save you."

They had now come to within just a few hundred yards of the collector. The sunbarks were patrolling at a great height over them. The barks glowed red as the light of the sinking sun caught their golden armor. Merle's only hope was that from above, the obsidian lion was invisible in the shadows among the treetops.

The collector was massive. It was in the form of a pyramid whose top point was cut off. Framed by a crenellated battlement, there was an extensive observation platform with several superstructures, which were arranged so that they were higher toward the middle and created a kind of point. Merle made out tiny figures behind the battlement.

The forest grew thinner as the land rose slightly. Now they could make out deep furrows in the forest floor, a labyrinth of protective trenches, which still, after all the years, had not been completely grown over. At one time a bitter battle had raged in this place.

"Here men are buried," said the Queen suddenly.


"The land over which the collector hovers -- there must have been a large number of dead buried there during the war. Otherwise it would not be hovering so steadily in one place."

In fact, the massive body of the mummy factory was hanging completely motionless over a meadow on which the high grass bent in the evening wind. In another time, this could have been an idyllic picture, a place of rest and peace. But today the collector cast its threatening shadow over it. It floated just high enough over the meadow for a Venetian palazzo to have found room under it.

"I'm going to land," said Vermithrax. "They'll see us without the tree cover."

No one contradicted him. The obsidian lion set himself down at the edge of the forest. Merle felt a hard jolt as his paws touched the ground. Now for the first time she became conscious of how very much her backside hurt from the long ride on the stone lion's back. She tried to move, but it was almost impossible.

"Do not dismount," said the Queen. "We might have to take off again in a hurry."

Lovely prospect, Merle thought.

"It is beginning."

"Yes...I see that."

Vermithrax, who knew no more about the Empire and its methods than what Merle and the Queen had told him after they freed him from his tower prison in the middle of the Piazza San Marco, let out a deep snarl. His mane stiffened. His whiskers suddenly stood out as straight as if they'd been drawn with a ruler.

It began with the leaves of the trees around them withering so fast that it seemed as if the autumn had decided to carry out its work a few months too early and within a few minutes. The foliage turned brown, curled, and gently fell from the branches. The fir tree under which they'd taken shelter lost all its needles, and from one moment to the next, Vermithrax and Merle were covered with a brown mantle.

Merle shook herself and blinked up toward the collector. They weren't directly beneath it, Heaven forbid, but they were near enough to be able to see its entire underside.

The gigantic surface was suddenly covered with a network of crisscrossing dark yellow glowing stripes, with multifold angles and following no recognizable pattern. A round area in the center, half as large as the Piazza San Marco, was all that remained dark. Merle had to clutch Vermithrax's obsidian mane more tightly when suddenly the ground trembled, as in a strong earthquake. Very close by, several trees were uprooted and tipped over, tearing out other trees as they fell and crashing to the ground in the midst of a thick cloud of flying dirt and needles. The air was so filled with dry splinters and bits of the withered foliage that, for a moment, Merle found it hard to breathe. When her eyes stopped tearing, she saw what had happened.

The field over which the mummy factory hovered was gone. The soil was churned up as if by an army of invisible giant moles. The glowing net was no longer attached to the underside of the collector, but was unraveled into an immense number of glittering ropes of light and hooks, no one formed like the next. They were all aimed downward, approaching the ravaged ground and pulling something out of it.

Bodies. Gray, fallen-in corpses.

"So that's how they get their mummy soldiers," whispered Vermithrax, and his voice was faint with the horror of it.

Merle pulled at his mane. She had averted her eyes, could no longer look at what was taking place before her. "Let's get out of here!"

"No!" said the Flowing Queen.

But Vermithrax had the same feelings as Merle. Just get away from there. Away from the suction of the collector before they themselves ended on one of the glittering hooks and were pulled up into the mummy factory, where slaves and machines would turn them into something that was satisfied by a different kind of life, of submissiveness and obedience and the will to kill.

"Hold on!" he roared. The Queen objected loudly in Merle's voice, but the obsidian lion paid no attention to her. In no time his wings raised them into the air. In a daring stratagem, he turned to the east, against the fast-approaching darkness. At the same time he shot forward, careless of all the sunbarks and high priests who might become aware of them at this moment.

Merle clung so tightly to Vermithrax's coat that her arms vanished up to the elbows in his mane. She bent deep over his neck, to offer less wind resistance, but also to avoid the shots of the Egyptians. She hardly dared look up, but when she finally did, she saw that half a dozen sunbarks had detached from their formation around the collector and taken up the chase.

Vermithrax's plan was as simple as it was suicidal. He had surmised that in the massive body of the collector there must be weapons that could easily shoot a flying lion from the sky. But if he got close to the vicinity of the sunbarks, the commanders on board the collector would perhaps think twice about shooting at a target in the midst of their own people.

It wouldn't work, Merle thought. Vermithrax's plan would have been a good one if they were dealing with ordinary opponents like the ones the winged lion knew from his own times, when he was not yet a prisoner of the Venetian City Guard. But the sunbarks were occupied by mummy soldiers, each of them only too easily replaced, and they would even sacrifice one or two priests.

Vermithrax cursed when he came to the same conclusion. Only a little way ahead of them, a wooden bolt the length of a man whizzed through the air past them, fired from one of the ports in the collector body. The mummy factory itself was too cumbersome for a pursuit, but its weapons were vicious and long-range.

Merle felt sick, worse than ever as Vermithrax kept doubling back and maneuvering turns that she would not have believed possible for his heavy stone body. Up and down, often in such quick succession that Merle soon lost any feeling for over and under. Even the Queen was silent with concern.

Once, Merle looked back. They were now almost at the level of the observation platform. Several figures stood behind the battlement. Merle could see their robes and their grim faces. High priests, she guessed.

Among them was one who caught her eye especially. He was a good head taller than the others and wore a ballooning cloak that looked as if it were woven of pure gold. His hairless skull was covered with a network of gold-colored filaments, like a jeweler's engraving on a brooch.

"The Pharaoh's vizier," whispered the Flowing Queen in her head. "His name is Seth. He is the highest priest of the cult of Horus."

"Seth? Isn't that the name of an Egyptian god?"

"The priests of Horus have never been known for their humility."

Merle had the feeling that the eyes of the man were boring into her forehead across the distance. For a heartbeat it seemed to her that the Queen groaned in pain inside her.

"Everything all right?" she asked.

"Look away! Please...not into his eyes."

At the same moment a whole swarm of bolts rushed over their heads. Two of them struck sunbarks that were quite close to the lion. Smoke billowed from one as it went down in a tailspin of jerky spirals. The other fell like a stone and smashed on the ground in showers of steel splinters. The rest of the sunbarks pulled back a little so as not to be caught in the hail of shots from the collector.

This was the chance Vermithrax had been waiting for.

With a wild cry he plunged down. On his back, Merle screeched as the ground shot up toward them. She already saw them lying smashed beside the debris of the bark.

But a few yards over the rocks, Vermithrax pulled out of the dive, swept across the ground and the edge of a wall of rock, then sank down deep again, behind the wall and out of the collector's line of fire. Now they had to deal only with the four remaining barks, which would follow them over the rock wall at any moment.

The Flowing Queen had recovered from the penetrating eyes of the vizier. "I know now why I chose Vermithrax for our flight."

"Because you had no other choice." Merle hardly heard her own words; the headwind tore them from her lips like scraps of paper.

The Queen laughed in her mind, which was a strange feeling, for it seemed to Merle as though she herself was laughing, entirely without her own effort.

The lion flew across a labyrinth of ravines before he discovered one that was broad enough to hide in. Shots were striking to the right and left of them, steel bullets this time, fired from barrels in the noses of the sunbarks. But none came close enough to them to be dangerous. Stone fragments were raining on them from all sides. Sparks flew when ricocheting shots skidded over the rock walls and ate furrows in the stone.

The ravine was not deep, with hardly more than twenty feet or so to the surface level. It narrowed as they went farther into it, the walls just far enough apart so that Vermithrax could fly through at a lower height. Two sunbarks had followed them into the rocky labyrinth, while the other two were gliding over the maze of ravines and lurking, in case the obsidian lion surfaced again. It wasn't difficult for Vermithrax to fly around sharp corners and curves, while the long sunbarks had to slow down before each bend in order not to crash against the rocks.

Beneath them the gorge filled with water, the blind arm of a brook or mountain lake. Vermithrax followed its course, and soon they were racing over the surface of a river. The rock walls were farther apart now, offering the sunbarks enough room to maneuver. But Vermithrax's lead was still too big, and the two barks overhead had not yet discovered the ravine.

"We cannot keep flying so low if we want to get to the other side of the mountain."

"We have to survive first, don't we?"

"I am only trying to plan things, Merle. Nothing else."

It was hard for Merle to concentrate. Not at this speed, not with death hanging over her. They might have escaped the collector, but the sunbarks were still after them.

"Vermithrax!" She bent toward the lion's ear and tried to talk over the noise of the wind. "What do you have in mind now?"

"Sundown," he replied shortly. His tone revealed that he was more exhausted than she'd realized. In fact, it hadn't occurred to her at all that a creature like Vermithrax could also just run out of breath.

The river under them grew faster. Merle saw that the water no longer glowed red, as it had a few minutes before, but only reflected the shadowy rock walls. Also, the sky had lost its glow and changed to violet blue.

She felt like screaming with relief. Vermithrax was right, his plan had worked. He'd outsmarted the Egyptians. The sunbarks had vanished. Merle imagined the sickle-shaped flying ships going back to the collector at a creeping pace, crippled by the failing daylight, as useless as pieces of iron salvage.

The stream became faster, wilder, and above all louder, and soon a crown of white foam rose up before them, spreading across the entire span of the water. Behind it there was nothing but darkness.

With a jubilant cry, Vermithrax raced out over the waterfall, which crashed to the ground about a hundred yards below. The obsidian lion maintained his level so that Merle could look out over the country at the foot of the mountain, over forests and fields slumbering in the darkness of the falling night. The lion slowed his wing beats, but he continued flying forward unswervingly. Merle stared silently at the landscape passing below for a long time before she again addressed the Queen.

"What do you know about this Seth?"

"Not much. Followers of the cult of Horus recalled the Pharaoh to life over thirty years ago. Since then they appoint the high priests of the Empire. That means that Seth has been their leader since then."

"He didn't look that old."

"No. But what difference does that make?"

Merle thought about how she could make clear to someone who was timeless like the Queen that a human being's exterior should give information about his age. When it didn't, it could mean two things: Either the person was not showing his true face or, though he might look like a human, in reality he was not one. At least not a mortal.

When Merle showed no sign of answering the question, the Queen went on: "The Horus priests have much power. In truth, they are the ones who steer the fortunes of the Empire. The Pharaoh is only their puppet."

"That would mean that Seth, if he is the leader of the priests of Horus and in addition the vizier of the Pharaoh, that he also -- "

"Is the true ruler of Egypt. Indeed."

"And the world."


"Do you think we'll meet him again?"

"You should pray that it does not happen."

"Pray to the Flowing Queen? The way all Venice is probably doing right now?" She was immediately sorry for the words, but it was already too late.

In the hours that followed, the Queen was silent and withdrew herself into the farthest corner of Merle's consciousness, wound into a cocoon of her cool, alien, godly thoughts.

They crossed the mountains a little bit farther to the east without meeting an adversary again.

At some point, it must have been after midnight, they saw the other side before them in the gray icy light of the stars, and now finally Vermithrax allowed himself a stop to rest. He landed at the top of an unapproachable needle of rock, just wide enough for him to lie down and for Merle to climb from his back.

She ached all over. For a while she despaired of ever being able to walk again at all without every step, every bone, every muscle hurting.

In the darkness she kept looking for signs of pursuers, but she could discover nothing suspicious. Only a predatory bird circled in the distance, a falcon or a hawk.

No sound came from the broad lands at the foot of the mountain, not once the cry of an animal or the fluttering of the wings of birds. Her heart shrank, and apprehensive-ness overwhelmed her. With alarming certainty she realized that there was nothing alive down there anymore. No human beings, no animals. The Egyptians had even abducted the dead, to man their galleys, sunbarks, and war machines.

She lowered herself down at the edge of the tiny plateau and stared out into the night, lost in thought. "Do you think Lord Light will help us?" It was the first time in hours that she'd addressed the Queen. She didn't really expect an answer.

"I do not know. The Venetians treated his messenger badly."

"But they didn't know what they were doing."

"Do you think that makes a difference?"

"No," said Merle dejectedly. "Not really."


"All the same, Lord Light did offer to support Venice in the fight against the Empire."

"That was before the Body Guard killed his messenger. Besides, it is not in the nature of humans to enter into a pact with Hell."

Merle grinned mirthlessly. "I've heard entirely different stories about that. You really don't know much about us humans."

She leaned back and closed her eyes.

In the year 1833, the English explorer Charles Burbridge had discovered that Hell was anything but an old wives' tale. It existed as a real, subterranean place in the center of the earth, and Burbridge had led a series of expeditions there. He was the only one to return from the last one. Many of the things he saw and experienced were documented and, up to the beginning of the great war, were taught in school. But there was no doubt that this was only a fragment of his actual discoveries. According to the rumors, the remainder were too dreadful, too shocking, for him to reveal them in public. Therefore, after Burbridge's last expedition, no one else had dared the descent. Only since the outbreak of the war had new signs of life come up from below, which finally climaxed with Lord Light, the storied ruler of Hell, offering the Venetians his support in the battle against the Pharaoh. But the City Council, in its arrogance and self-satisfaction, refused his help. Merle herself had become a witness when Lord Light's messenger was murdered in the Piazza San Marco.

And now Merle, the Flowing Queen, and Vermithrax were on their way to ask Lord Light personally for help, in the name of the people of Venice, not its city councillors. But it was questionable whether -- even if their mission were successful -- they'd be in time. And who could say anyway that Lord Light wouldn't do exactly the same to them as had been done to his messenger in Venice?

But the worst thing was that there was nothing else left for them to try except to climb down into the abyss on Burbridge's trail. And none of them, not even the Queen, had any idea of what they would find down there.

Merle opened her eyes and blinked over at the sleeping Vermithrax. She was dog tired herself, but she was still too excited to be able to rest.

"Why is he helping us?" she whispered thoughtfully. "I mean, you're the Flowing Queen and somehow a part of Venice -- or the other way around. You want to protect what belongs to you. But why Vermithrax? He could simply fly back to his relatives in Africa."

"Assuming he would still find them there. The Empire has not only spread to the north."

"Do you think the other talking lions are dead?"

"I do not know," said the Queen sadly. "Perhaps. Possibly they have just moved farther on, so far away that the Egyptians will not find them for the time being."

"And Vermithrax knows that?"

"Perhaps he surmises it."

"Then we're all he has, right? His only friends." Merle stretched out a hand and gently stroked one of the lion's stone paws. Vermithrax purred gently, turned on his side, and stretched all four feet toward her. His jowls fluttered each time he took a breath, and Merle could see that his eyes were twitching under the lids. He was dreaming.

She pulled her dress more closely around her body to protect her from the cool wind, then snuggled up close to Vermithrax. Again he purred blissfully and began to snore softly.

The Queen is here, she thought, because she and Venice belong together in some sort of way. One can't exist without the other. But what about me? Really, what am I doing here?

Her closest friends, Junipa and Serafin, her master Arcimboldo, and the mermaid Eft, they were all still in Venice, where they were exposed to the dangers of the Egyptian invasion. Merle herself was an orphan. She'd been found in a basket on the canals as an infant and had grown up in an orphanage. Today the thought that she had no parents who might have been concerned about her was, for once, a comforting one.

Still, it wasn't that simple. Sometime she'd find out what sort of people her mother and her father had been. Sometime, most certainly.

Lost in thought, she pulled the magic hand mirror from her pocket. The surface consisted of water that could never leave the mirror, no matter how she held it. Sometimes, when Merle thrust her arm inside it, she could feel her fingers enclosed by those of a gentle, warm hand. The water mirror had lain beside her in the basket when she'd been found. It was the only thing that bound her to her parents. The only clue.

There was something else in the mirror: a milky veil, which constantly flitted over the surface. The phantom had escaped from one of Arcimboldo's magic mirrors and settled itself in the small hand mirror. Merle would have been glad to establish contact with it. She only wondered how. Serafin had told her that the phantoms in Arcimboldo's mirrors were humans from another world who'd succeeded in crossing to this one -- without, however, realizing that they appeared here only as phantoms, blurry hazes trapped inside mirrors.

Serafin...Merle sighed inaudibly.

She'd hardly begun to know him and then they were separated by the Body Guard of the city councillors. They'd spent only a few hours together, wearing, dangerous hours, in which they'd snatched the crystal vial with the essence of the Flowing Queen from the Egyptian spy. And although they knew so little of each other, she missed him.

She fell asleep with the thought of his smile, of the roguishness in his eyes.

In her dreams it seemed to her that she heard the scream of a falcon. She was awakened briefly by a gentle draft of air on her face, the scent of feathers, but there was nothing anywhere near them, and if there had been, it concealed itself in the darkness again.

English language translation copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth D. Crawford

Das Steinerne Licht text copyright © 2001 by Kai Meyer

Original German edition © 2002 by Loewe Verlag GmbH, Bindlach

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