The Serpent Mage

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Authors: Greg Bear
in the Realm. Just a shadow away, across some sheer membrane… punch a hand through and bring back mystery, wonder… horror.
    On the tenth floor, he felt an even stronger presence, quite different from that of the nearness of other worlds. He frowned, trying to analyze what the sensation was, draw it out from the back of his head and understand what it might mean.
    Imprisoned music. Not The Infinity Concerto but something even stronger.
    How was that possible?
    The sensation suddenly confused him. He temporarily forgot who he was and why he was here. He glanced around the tenth floor landing and walked to the window overlooking the Strip. Wind brushed at him through a broken pane of glass. Somewhere in the building, a rush of air mourned for its freedom. Not remembering was exhilarating. Suddenly he could be anybody: murderer, vagrant, good Samaritan, saint.
    Michael Perrin came back to him in a gentle, nonerosive flood. And with the returning memory, he could feel through his skin, rather than hear, the music that was not The Infinity Concerto. His neck hair stood on end. It was sad, fated, vibrant yet losing energy. It was the sound of a world getting old, and of a world young and full of life, whose situation was growing old and rickety and dangerous. Put them together…
    He climbed the stairs to the eleventh and last floor before the penthouse. Here there were no apartments, but meeting rooms, game rooms, broad empty rooms only lightly littered, slightly decayed.
    In one of these rooms, Michael surmised, the bodies of Lamia and Tristesse had been found. He could not tell which room. If the police had laid down paint or chalk around the bodies, it was no longer evident, at least not in the dimming beam of his flashlight.
    He shook the light and felt a small anxiety at its declining batteries.
    The membrane between himself and the otherness was thinning. Michael was certain that at some time in the recent past, Sidhe had been here. What they had been doing, and with what purpose, he could not tell.
    Someone or something had returned through Clarkham's house, a solitary return, not likely to be repeated because the house had felt inert. The eleventh floor of the Tippett Residential Hotel did not feel inert.
    Sidhe were migrating to Earth. He had seen that much in his "dreams".
    Soon, a gate would open here, and many Sidhe would emigrate through this building, perhaps on this very floor.
    Possibly, at the beginning, Lamia and Tristesse had tried to block passage to the hotel. The Sidhe themselves had cursed them to assume the roles of guardian and gatekeeper, but when they were no longer necessary, in fact an impediment, the sisters — Clarkham's former lovers — might have been killed and cast aside by much stronger forces.
    The door to the staircase going to the penthouse had been propped open with a crumbling rubber doorstop. Michael ascended from the eleventh floor to the twelfth, leaving behind the imprisoned music.
    The penthouse apartment had once been surrounded by broad, floor-to-ceiling windows, fitted with heavy drapes. The drapes were gone, leaving only their broken and despondent fittings, and the glass windows had been shattered. Their shards crunched under his shoes. Wind blew through the empty suite of rooms, whistling but not mourning, for only the skeleton of the building restrained it on this level.
    On the open deck, Michael stood with his hair flicking back and forth, looking out across the hills behind the Strip. Most of the lights in the Hyatt had been turned off. He walked around the deck to the opposite side and stared across the bright lights of downtown Hollywood and Los Angeles beyond. Dawn was the faintest suggestion of a lighter midnight blue in the east. The air smelled sweet and pure after the decay in the enclosed spaces below. He breathed deeply of it and stretched his arms out, jaws gaping wide, neck bones cracking with tension.
    "What a night," he said. His voice was flat and vague in

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