7: A Shrine to the Fallen
“You alone?” asked Alonie, surveying the glade with a red-tinted eye. According to Kat, it was some kind of lens or augmentation. It was no secret that Alonie, like most hawks, wanted others to think her a Malkuthian. It made Dante cringe—such status was earned, not imitated.
“I lost the others,” he replied with a shrug.
“That’s what you get for hanging out with freaks,” she said, her scowl never twitching. Dante had never seen her smile. “Since you’re here, you want to lend us a hand? Everyone else just wants to blame this junk on the freaking fairies.”
Like Emily. No wonder the two girls loathed one another: they had always been as opposite as opposites could be, one desperate to deny Malkuth, the other eager to embrace it, and now this. Dante checked to see if his housemate had arrived at the clearing before accepting Alonie’s offer—he’d had enough drama for one day—then let her help him up. As lithe as she was, Alonie had strength to a seasoned warrior. Malkuth did not admit the weak.
One he was on the wing, Alonie led Dante into the ship. Nature had long since claimed the corridor that greeted him. Rainwater from last week’s thunderstorms had collected in a corner, beneath a cobweb whose design Dante had never seen before, its crystalline threads like captured rainbows. Its occupant, a white-bodied spider as big as his hand, watched him pass with three sets of onyx eyes. His cellular identified it as a relatively new species unique to the post-Cataclysm world, though not synthetic, and warned him against disturbing it.
“Some idiots think it can talk,” said Alonie. “People will believe anything these days.”
Like talking squirrels.
Alonie carried on ahead and called for Shelley, who mumbled a reply from what appeared to be the ship’s bridge, barren save for a handful of broken consoles. No doubt vultures had picked it clean years ago and sold the loot for a tidy profit. Shelley herself was hiding in a corner, poking at one of the consoles with a curious finger. Alonie looked over her friend’s shoulder. “You find anything?” she asked.
“Not much.” Shelley’s voice was barely a whisper, a nervous breath. Dante had known her since childhood, but had almost forgotten what she sounded like. “I think there was a fight here, too.”
“Figures,” said Alonie, “The Founding Father wouldn’t have let this thing go without one.”
Dante, who had just turned to his cellular to see if it recognised the design, looked around in surprise. “Founding Father?”
Alonie cocked an eyebrow. “What, you mean you didn’t recognise this thing?”
He looked out of the bridge and down at the long, ivory dagger that stretched to the other end of the clearing, and again pictured the ship in flight over the forest—at which point the similarities were obvious. It looked just like the clawed cross of the Sophist Aristocracy, the design of their ornamental swords.
“But I thought the Sophists didn’t use modern technology?” he said, thinking back to Director Guirlande and his peacekeepers in their horse-drawn carriage.
There’s something of a modern trend for naming subcultures after birds.