9: A Message from the Past
As the three girls discussed their theories, Emily slipped out of the simsuit and stuffed the mesh of adaptive material back into its canister. To think, all that technology compressed into something that fit into the palm of her hand, and with space to spare! The City was capable of many miracles. She wondered if ‘living shadows’ were one of them. She pulled on her slacks, then adjusted her skirt so its pleats obscured the knife hiding underneath. She had carried it since she was a girl, when her mother taught her how to defend herself against the monsters that lived in the shadows. But what good could it do against the monsters that were the shadows?
She remembered her briefest of encounters with them. Her father had told her to go with her uncle Verraden while her mother fled into the depths of the underground, but when her uncle arrived he was delirious, his eyes bulging and his forehead shimmering with sweat. Frightened by his mad ramblings of walls with eyes and shadows with teeth, Emily had turned her back on him and chased after her mother. It was as she lost herself in the catacombs that she spied those horrors for herself, glimpsing for the briefest of moments the living shadows and their polite façade, the man in the smart suit. He had sounded so friendly, so trustworthy as the darkness slipped around a group of her mother’s handmaidens, like a black ink spreading over their flickering torchlight. He only wanted their cooperation, he told them. They didn’t have to die.
Then the light had vanished and their screams drove Emily back into her uncle’s arms.
“Pleiades,” she told him. “Pleiades got them.”
Pleiades; it was such a strange word, she thought, one certain to have its origins in occult practises or Old World mysticism. She only knew how to spell it because her father had spoken it through the aether, thus implanting the idea into her head. Had he mentioned it in person she might well have thought it something like ‘Player Deez’. Even Leira, with her growing collection of archaic books, couldn’t place the term. She figured it was some dodgy subterranean cult and Emily had believed her — until now.
Because she was certain that Pleiades were the ones who had provoked the Sophists into attacking the Donara, and no cult had that kind of influence. There were few things that did, and that frightened her more than anything.
And it was all of it because of her mother.
Because of the Maidenblood.
“Hey, Phoe,” said Kat, “does any of this fit in with, you know, the other stuff?”
“If you’re referring to what I think you’re referring to, do remember we cannot discuss such things in public, please.”
“I know, I just, well…”
“Yes, Katrina, it does. Very much so.”
Emily listened in, hoping for a slither of gossip, a clue — even a name — to unravel the puzzle, but Phoenix changed the subject. As she ranted about her fellow initiates and their handling of the simulation, as gleamed from the scenes Ms Shimomura had shown them, Emily slipped out of her cubicle. She had endured more than enough of the journalist’s insufferable elitism for one day.
Maybe Phoenix heard her, or maybe it was the Fates, but the Veritas girls emerged from the own cubicles just as Emily was about to make her escape.
“Ah, Ms Fomalhaut,” Phoenix called after her, “if you have a moment, please?”
Phoenie’s past: also a long story.