It was almost five in the evening when Edmund thought to look for the basement.
He was almost ashamed when he did; he remembered walking up the steps to the front door, and how the dining room was on the ground floor but he walked down a small flight of stairs to the kitchens. Yet it had taken him several hours to wonder if there were any other rooms beneath the ground floor.
His first thought was to try to explore via the kitchens, but when he tried sneaking through the servant’s door in the dining room it was suck fast–locked from the other side. Edmund began searching the ground floor high and low, opening every door he could find, hunting for an elusive set of descending stars.
He finally found what he was looking for in the Great Sitting Room.
The sitting room itself was cluttered; full of furniture and shelves covered with strange metal devices, clay pots, and framed cloth fragments. Heads of various animals hung next to the fireplace, and a small cluster of canes, umbrellas, and rifles sat in a tall basket by the entryway. All of the furniture was heaped in small clusters, as if to facilitate several private conversations, while the two large settees sat at the end of the room facing the empty marble fireplace that dominated the far wall.
The fireplace was massive. At first, Edmund had thought it was another door, the hole was so large. He could have easily walked inside and would have to stand on his own shoulders to reach the top of the mantle. The fireplace itself was shaped like an ornate gateway, with straight sides and a curving top that met at a point in the middle. The gate was covered with thick iron crosspieces that gave it a foreboding and infernal air. The design somehow managed to convey the curious dichotomy of an uncontrollable inferno, and an impassable barrier.
When Edmund stepped closer he could hear the echoing drumming of the rain high up on the chimney, giving the fireplace a low humming that sounded more like a warning growl than anything else.
Around this fiery gate, the sides of the fireplace were sculpted into large tree-like pillars with pointed tops. Two stone ravens perched on these spires, gripping them with their black talons, glaring out at the room. The mantle looked like a rampart, with blocky serrations like a long row of marble teeth. The chimney rose out of the teeth like a mountain, carved with wolves and dragons, sextants and star fields. An ocean full of ships waved from the left, while proud buildings stood firm on the right. Musketeers charged hills while lambs and farmers slept above them. It was a mural of history and myth that covered half the wall, and teased Edmund’s imagination.
He had only just decided that the sitting room was another dead end, when his eye caught a strange irregularity in the ornate chair rail that encircled the room. Slowly, he walked to the far corner where one of the ornate loops that covered the trim was, in fact, sticking out into the room instead of hugging the flat wood.