Looking around at the hall inside, it was just as she remembered it from her rare visits with her father. Grey stone, rough-worked to provide traction for boot soles. Nothing breaking the endless grey but the seams of the rock, no tapestries, no paintings -- no distractions. A piece of carpet had been laid down at the entrance to catch mud and snowmelt, but the color, if any, had faded into the dull no-color of dirt, blending into the stone. Lights came from boxes in the ceiling, a chilly winter light, as if lit by the sun buried deep in cloud cover. The shadows cast by the light were surprisingly faint and fuzzed out. It's as if I'm somehow less solid, here. Less real.
Tock waved them ahead, taking up the rear. They walked down the narrow hall, passing metal doors with gray paint that blended them into the walls. The handles were brass, as were the number plates on each door. Metal doors, wondered Spike. What goes on here that oak isn't enough? Then she thought about it again, and shivered. Maybe this was a mistake . . . But she couldn't turn around, not with her Hounds around her, flanking her and bringing up the rear, not with Tock behind them. Stopping would cause a pileup, and explaining that she had-- What? Simply lost her nerve? Over nothing more than fantods brought on by closed doors? And what about her plans for next term? She bit her lip. No. Tough it out.
The hall ended in a vestibule before a door with a metal wheel in place of a simple latch, and Tock glided through the crowd like a shark through water. He spun the wheel this way and that, and when a heavy clack sounded, he pulled the door open. He held up a single finger for them to wait, then slipped in, a piece of paper vanishing through the crack.
Spike folded her arms, tucking her hands into her armpits. She was cold in more than flesh. Totenberg laid a hand on her shoulder. "Is it . . . what you remembered? Is it coming home for you?"
He bared his teeth, half-sneer, half-snarl, but made no reply. Sascha answered for him.
"In a way." He was whispering, as if afraid of being overheard. "In the worst way. Wouldn't be here but for you."