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The sanctum was everything Isabella had been told to expect and more. The room was both toplit and bottomlit in ivory white, the former emanating from the vanilla tallow candles in the mandala chandeliers strung from the conically sloping roof. Beneath the floor, lamps powered by The Engine sat in half-moon lightning-glass prisons that one could walk across like bridges from certainty to certainty. The effect of the up-and-down lighting was to parse one's face in the quarters of a saltiric cross, forehead and chin prominent, cheeks and ears in shadow. Five hundred eyes glinted like the teeth of predatory animals.
Below the chandeliers, great corkscrew garlands hung in the shape of dovish birdflocks, echoing the whorl of marble pillars that led down to the central hub of the room, the celestially-inspired mezzanine that was known simply as The Breadth.
At her insistence, Sarasota had already explained the nature of The Breadth to Isabella. The floor was composed of pressed sheets of black calcite overlaid with hardened obsidian which had been fractured with irregular clots of fired opaline cystals. These had been fanned and pressed down to form fragmented, discoloured stars against the nightly backdrop. The passages between the stars were marked out with slender channels of gold paint and powdered cherry garnet; the whole picture that formed was an astrological representation of the titanic, mythical battle between the continent-sized Varkenboor and the Heltenzeer bird that tore the Nebran continent away from the world pangaea so many millennia before.
Many times since then had the sun risen and set. The Ondian Empire had ascended and then fallen back into decline, just as the Yzyrobians had before them. The patch of land remaining to their descendants retained the name of the Empire, but like the language employed in formal situations, everything else had been lost, save in the minds of those who came later. Gods had been cast aside, and production quotas took their place. Now, the whispered words in the street were of rivets, armour plating, tobacco harvests and munitions.
'The Breadth is tremendously beautiful,' Sarasota had told her. 'There's nothing else quite like it in the world. The first time I set foot upon it, I felt like I was desecrating something holy.'
'I rather wish I had seen it being constructed,' Isabella had replied. 'I could have learned much from the processes.'