Emerald Green 16

Away from the press of the crowd, Dido took a delicious breath of cool air.  She’d quickly gotten used to the overlapping perfumes in the main hall, but now that she was free of them, her lungs felt like they could hold twice as much.

She resisted the urge to slink into the shadows and instead put a confused expression on her face.  Sure enough, a guard stepped out of the murk before her eyes had finished adjusting.  The glittering chandeliers were brighter than the sun.  At least brighter than the hazy orb she usually saw through the thick factory smoke.

“Thank goodness.  I’m looking for a bathroom.”  She leaned forward like she was filling the guard in on an important secret.

The guard went from suspicious to totally disarmed before she finished speaking.

“Back the way you came and the last right before you get back to the party.”

“Thanks.  You’re a life saver.”  Dido’s heels clicked loudly as she scampered back the way she’d come.

After a moment, the guard looked back, realizing he could no longer hear the sound of footsteps.  The hall was empty.  He shrugged, figuring she must’ve been moving faster than he’d thought.  But Dido had already ducked soundlessly down another passage and slipped deeper into the museum.

Now that her eyes had properly adjusted to the gloom, she felt at home for the first time since walking through the towering oak doors into the museum.  If she could only get out of this dress.  She had to settle for hiking up her skirt.

Countless hours of sneaking let her quiet her noisy heels without a second thought.  She considered taking them off, but she didn’t need to run and she’d be stuck carrying them.  Stopping for a moment, Dido closed her eyes and let the darkness take her completely.  The floor plan of the museum swam up out of the murk.  She could see it sitting on the rough table in her Dock’s apartment.  Hannibal had made her stare at it until she saw it in her sleep.

Her eyes snapped open.  Her ears caught the distant whispers of the party.  Laughter, the clink of glasses, and the murmur of voices.  Closer, the footfalls of the patrolling guards betrayed their secrets.  Dido passed through the maze of hallways and dark exhibits.  Strange machines and ancient artifacts twisted in shadow.  Someone else might feel fear, but Dido was a ghost.  The shadows were old friends.

In minutes, she was outside the viewing room door.  The only reason it’d taken so long is because she had to circle wide around to avoid the worst of the guard patrols.  Now there was only one guard between her and the door.  But how to get him away long enough to pick the lock?

Dido had just finished concocting an elaborate plan that started with rustling a display of tribal masks when she heard a soft hiss of air.  The guard reached up to grab his neck and then slumped over.  Dido ducked behind the huge wooden masks.  The Collector stepped out into the circle of light given off by the gas lamps around the door.

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