The foyer was muck like the exterior of the manor, shabby but elegant, a potent echo of a golden age that must have been a sight to behold. Codswallop walked in purposefully, politely clutching his umbrella. “Hello?” he said. “We mean you no harm, master or mistress of this house! We pray you take pity on a pair of poor put-upon travelers and forgive us our trespass, that we might have a bit of shelter for the night.”

“Is it really a good idea to go in shouting?” said Rags.

“If we came quietly, they might think us thieves or worse, cowering behind a door with an axe or a loaded blunderbuss,” said Codswallop. “I’ve always said that, if you’ve intentions, it’s best to announce them unless you’ve a very good reason to do otherwise.”

“A wise counsel, my friends.”

The voice came from atop the grand staircase at the far end of the manor’s foyer, where a lady had appeared. She looked at the low end of middle age but was attired in a grand outfit of lace and spun gold. In that raiment, and clutching an ivory cigarette holder besides, she would have fit in at any grand society ball within the last quarter-century.

“As I said, we apologize for intruding,” said Codswallop. “But I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage.”

The woman began descending the staircase slowly and luxuriantly, each click of heels on marble echoing through the grand hall. “You find yourselves in Exiki Hall, my friends, and I am its lady, Marquess Nyartha Exiki. Formerly of the noble Atege lineage before my marriage to my late husband, keeper of these grounds–such as they are–and sorceress of the fourth order.”

“A sorceress!” Rags said with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

She paused, smiling. “I forsee your questions. Don’t let that sorceress bit alarm you, my friends,” Nyartha added. “As part of the terms of my marriage to Lord Exiki, I agreed to be bound here, unable to exercise my powers if I leave the grounds and unable to affect the wider world thereby.”

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