Irena Spargo let the stylus fall onto the record and the music began to play. Nimrod, by Elgar; music she had listened to countless times since her childhood. She listened to how the combined notes of string instruments rose and fell like a feather in a breeze, the distant moan of horns accenting small crescendos before eroding back into the subdued, almost mournful lull of the piece. The sound seeped through the doors of the office and into the corridors of the old university. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence; she often used the professor’s office to dress for evening events.

In fact, it was almost time.

Her life had changed endlessly since the destruction of London – since the end of the Great War. Years of struggling through a life she was never meant to have but for one fateful day. Years of trying to build a position for herself in a place she never felt was her own. But it wasn’t the path of her life – which was so often thrown to forces she couldn’t control – but the things she had achieved that mattered to her.

And she had achieved so much.

But nobody knew. Nobody might ever know. That was still to be determined. Irena stepped over to the wall mirror squeezed between the wooden shelves which lined the walls – shelves packed with books, models, trinkets, all the miscellanea that a distinguished academic builds up throughout their life. She wore a simple yellow dress over a white shirt; as she turned down the collar her hand was drawn to the unkind scarring on her neck, which continued an unknowable distance below the material. Dismissively, she applied more makeup; she should at least look presentable for the big event.

There would soon be a lot of eyes on her, after all.

The music played on. Glancing across to her bag, she brushed locks of slightly bedraggled brown hair behind her ears and dropped on a matching yellow sunhat. She was running out of time. Taking an empty, unlabelled bottle from the bag she opened the mahogany drinks cabinet – the professor never locked it – and carefully concealed it among the various bottles filled with various quantities of various liquids. Then she took out a stylus – like the one used in the gramophone – and searched the shelves; her eyes flitted about, in concerted search of something she knew should be there. P.’s Correspondence. There it was! She flipped the book off the shelf and open in her hand, before wedging the stylus between the pages.

It was time.

Irena replaced the book and brushed the dust off of her hands. Brushing back the curtains and swinging open the leaded window, she looked down onto the quadrangle below. She smiled as she watched people go about their business as the day came to its close. With its plentiful greenery and wide, paved pathways it was often a place of comfort when times were hard. When she was there, nestled in the embrace of the old redbrick buildings which surrounded the quad, she always knew she could find peace.

Irena was nervous about what was coming, she really was, but it was unavoidable now and she would rather do it on her own terms. Her path through life was so often thrown to forces she couldn’t control, but soon that would change.

One way or another, this was going to happen. This had to happen.

As the movement came to its close, calmly, she unlocked the door and stepped out of the window. A few seconds later, the life of Irena Spargo came to an end.

PROLOGUE 1PROLOGUE 2

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