“I know. I wanted to get this to you right away.” She started to hold out the key, then stopped. “Wait. Do you mean I’m the first? The first to ever find a key?”
Saying nothing, Rowena turned to Pitte. He walked to a carved chest beneath the window, lifted the lid. The blue light that spilled out made Malory’s stomach clutch. But this was different from the mist, she realized. This was deeper, brighter.
Then he lifted from the chest a glass box alive with that light, and her throat filled with tears. “The Box of Souls.”
“You are the first,” Pitte repeated as he set the box on a marble pedestal. “The first mortal to turn the first key.”
He turned, stood beside the box. He was the soldier now, Malory thought, the warrior at guard. Rowena stepped to the other side so they flanked the glass and the swirling blue lights inside it.
“It’s for you to do,” Rowena said quietly. “It was always for you to do.”
Malory clutched the key tighter in her fist. Her chest was so full it hurt and still seemed incapable of containing the galloping racing of her heart. She tried to draw a calming breath, but it came out short and sharp. As she stepped closer, those lights seemed to fill her vision, then the room. Then the world.
Her fingers wanted to tremble, but she bore down. She would not do this thing with a shaking hand.
She slid the key into the first of the three locks worked into the glass. She saw the light spread up the metal and onto her fingers, bright as hope. And she turned the key in the lock.
There was a sound—she thought there was a sound. But it was no more than a quiet sigh. Even as it faded, the key dissolved in her fingers.
The first lock vanished, and there were two.
“It’s gone. Just gone.”
“A symbol again, for us,” Rowena said and laid a hand gently on the box. “For them. Two are left.”
“Do we . . .” They were weeping inside that glass, Dana thought. She could almost hear them, and it ripped at her heart. “Do we pick now, which one of us goes next?”
“Not today. You should rest your minds and hearts.” Rowena turned to Pitte. “There should be champagne in the parlor. Would you see to our guests? I’d like a private word with Malory before we join you.”
She lifted the glass box herself, carefully placed it back in the chest. When she was alone with Malory she turned. “Pitte said we owe you a debt we can never pay. That’s true.”
“I agreed to look for the key, and I was paid,” Malory corrected. She looked at the chest, imagined the box within. “It seems wrong now to have taken the money.”
“The money is nothing to us, I promise you. Others have taken it and done nothing. Others have tried and failed. And you’ve done something brave and interesting with the money.”
She crossed over, took Malory’s hands in hers. “That pleases me. But it isn’t dollars and cents I speak of when I speak of debt. If not for me, there would be no Box of Souls, no keys, no locks. You wouldn’t have had to face what you faced today.”
“You love them.” Malory gestured toward the chest.
“As sisters. Young, sweet sisters. Well . . .” She walked over to look at the portrait. “I have hope to see them like this again. I can give you a gift, Malory. It’s my right to do so. You refused what Kane offered you.”
“It wasn’t real.”
“It can be.” She turned back. “I can make it real. What you felt, what you knew, what you had inside you. I can give you the power you had in his illusion.”
Dizzy, Malory groped for the arm of a chair, then slowly lowered herself into it. “You can give me painting.”
“I understand the need—and the joys and pain of having that beauty inside you, feeling it leap out.” She laughed. “Or fighting to get it out, which is every bit as brilliant. You can have it. My gift to you.”
For a moment, the idea of it swarmed through Malory, intoxicating as wine, seductive as love. And she saw Rowena watching her, so calm, so steady, with a soft smile on her lips.
“You’d give me yours,” Malory realized. “That’s what you mean. You would give me your talent, your skill, your vision.”
“It would be yours.”
“No, it would never be mine. And I would always know it. I . . . painted them because I could see them. Just as I could see them in that first dream. As if I were there, in the painting. And I painted the key. I forged the key, was able to because I loved enough to give it up. I chose the light instead of the shadow. Isn’t that right?”