Kickoff written by Joanna Michal Hoyt

The Liberator?

Substance and Seeming

Leuthra squinted through the settling merel-dust at the last seven stairs above her, at the open doorway. The next-to-last doorway, if the proclamation had ben true, before she would meet the queen she’d come to challenge. She hadn’t expected to get this far; she’d thought there would be guards, monsters, poison in the air… but so far it seemed the queen might mean to keep her word: the one brave enough to challenge her alone would meet her alone. Certainly she’d kept her word about the speed and thoroughness with which any larger rebellion would be crushed. Leuthra wasn’t fool enough to trust her, for all that--hence
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the merel-dust pouch at her belt.

The handful of dust she’d thrown lay still and gray on the stone steps, on the threshold; at this height she couldn’t see the floor of the chamber inside. No glimmer of purple in the dust betrayed spellwork laid on the steps to suck her in or to turn her into a stone or a sigh. The only ominous thing was the dustlessness of the third and fourth stairs above her. Clearly they were seemings, not true steps. It seemed a feeble protection--even if she’d stepped out onto emptiness she might well have been able to clutch at the steps above and pull herself back up. Of course, there was
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no knowing what might wait to emerge from the gap as she crossed it.

Leuthra shrugged, set her left hand to her sword-hilt and her right to the nearly empty dust-pouch, and stepped onto the sixth stair. Nothing happened. The fifth. Nothing. She bit her lip and lunged up onto the second stair, throwing out another pinch of dust as she crossed the gap.

When the shadow-beast swooped through the open door she almost recoiled, heedless of the gulf under her. Almost, not quite; even as fear seared her brain she noticed that its body and wings were dustless as the missing stairs. It was illusion, then. She
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fell forward through it, feeling the air throb around her.

She landed awkwardly on her knees on the topmost stair, banging her ribs with the sword-hilt. When she felt the cold wind at her back she threw herself forward, pulling her legs clear just before the smooth wall of shining metal, glimmering with purple dust, fell into the gap where the missing stairs had been.

No going back, then, and no time to look back either. She shoved herself upright and strode across the threshold of the seemingly empty room ahead of her. Then she froze, staring at the one thing she’d never thought to fear.
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