She sat in the wing backed chair and shifted her weight, moved the large leather-bound book from one leg to another, and read the passage again. She’d done this ritual before, but now the steps seemed wrong, somehow. But then again everything seemed slightly wrong these days. She glanced about the room, took in the books flickering in the candlelight, and blinked, as if that would make her surroundings make more sense. It did not.
She gazed out the window, into the blue haze that surround the Spiral Tower. She could still smell it, of course, even as it was locked safely beyond the leaded glass window, because the entire Tower smelt of ginger. At least, to her it did. Everyone seemed to smell it differently, but to her it was and would always be ginger. In this she was luckier than most.
And in other ways, too. She had found her way to the Tower quite by accident, quite alone, and in quite a state. She’d wandered for Gods-knows-how-long in the mist after she’d escaped the Catacomb: she’d slept innumerable times, and fought dozens of skirmishes with various monstrosities that leapt, appeared, or congealed out of the haze. When she finally saw the Tower in the distance, it took her what seemed like years of slow approach to find the base. The march around the base to find the Opal Doorway included dozens of sunsets and sunrises. But when she arrived, the Doorman was expecting her, and knew her name. He welcomed her in, fed her and clothed her, and showed her to her chambers. Her classes, he had said, were to begin the following day.
Of course, she began immediately to plan an escape, but as she gathered the supplies in “her” chambers she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, and the face that looked back, aghast, proved that the many days of walking were not an illusion: she had indeed been out there for years. Later that night, the Matron had found her, sword in hand and mirror shattered on the floor, and helped her to come to terms with this new reality: “Sometimes,” the Matron had said, “we pay greatly to escape that which binds us. And sometimes we pay greatly for the power to rise again. If we are very lucky, we can pay for both at once.”
Leeloo went back to her book. She agreed with the Matron, to a point. The down payment on the Rise had been made at the same time, but learning this ritual was the next payment, and it was due tomorrow morning.