42: The Seer and the Shadow
Ketos, she wished, clutching the Sidhe’s magic crystal, please, grant me this: these people shall not see me! They shall not know that we were ever here!
The instant the words left her heart, another shape crashed down behind her and Aliza spied a hand sweeping through the lake towards her.
It can’t end like this, she thought. It can’t. It can’t!
As the cloaks of both Ketos and Dante failed to hide her from the outside world, Aliza’s final line of defence began its slow creep across her shoulder.
And then, as the seconds seemed ready to freeze into a moment, the two giants rose from the lake and vanished.
Ophion! came Caelia’s voice. Ophion saved us!
As Aliza broke the lake’s surface, gasping for air, she noticed a young man standing in the shadows of the spiral structure’s great gateway, his eyes a piercing blue.
Without a word, he turned and vanished into the shrine.
Aliza watched as a winged shape crossed the lake’s far shore, then rose over the crest of a nearby hill and vanished from sight. “Do you think they’ve figured it out yet?” she asked.
“No,” replied Ophion, his tone flat and uninterested. Were it not for his eyes, gleaming with transcendent knowledge, she would have thought him a soulless machine. “And even were they able to ascertain your presence here, the shrine itself would deter their curiosity.”
Aliza remained hidden beneath Dante’s cloak regardless: for all their power, even the Sidhe could not touch the mind of a machine. It had been mere luck that the beasts who found Aliza had souls—human or not, she did not want to know—and were therefore vulnerable to Ophion’s suggestion that they take their search elsewhere. Had they been an artificial intelligence, as blind to the aether was the aether was immune to their observations, she would have been their prisoner by now.
It was because of that discrepancy, because the virtual and aethereal worlds existed forever apart from one another, that Aliza allowed herself a slither of an opening in the cloak’s hood through which to admire the shrine’s decor. Reaching out, she ran a finger along the spiral design adorning the inner wall, feeling the warmth of silent words beneath her skin, ancient, powerful enchantments woven into the world like threads of a tapestry. What they said she did not know, but their patterns repeated themselves like the verses of a song, always regular but never repetitive.
“Is this place important to your people?” she asked Ophion.
“It has its purpose,” the Sidhe replied.
“You do not need to know.”
It hadn’t taken Aliza long to realise that, unlike Prince Freyr, Ophion was not one for conversation. Judging by his curled blue hair and tanned complexion, she figured him a member of the Áes Uisce, the same as Prince Dionysus, though he had none of the Prince’s considered wisdom about him. If the Sidhe knew such a thing as age, Aliza would have pegged him at seventeen, maybe eighteen, and he dressed smart. Had she not known otherwise, she would have thought him some kind of Malkuthian engineer, a technician who cared more for practicality than personal flair.
“It feels like a palace of some kind,” she lied. “A palace for the Queen of the Áes Uisce, maybe? I mean, it’s in the middle of a lake and all! Your people do live around water, right?”
Ophion is classified as “fourth instar”.