“Seelie were never worth shite anyway,” said Leira over the rim of her mug. “Ye tell any of that stuff to Payne?”
“I told him that the Sophists faked evidence to suggest the Donara were harbouring Branded, and that he did as best he could, given his own orders. You?”
“Like I’d tell Seelie anything,” Leira said with a sneer. “I said it were probably some fecked up conspiracy and I had better things to be doing with me time. Which is true.” She gulped back a mouthful of tea. “Takes ye back, don’t it?” she added with a wry smile. “If we’d been in business at the time, we’d’ve had those feckers by the balls, Sophists and you-know-who. And Seelie too, for feckin’ around when they should’ve been helping.”
Yeah, it was just like old times. Too much like old times. Emily Fomalhaut would have never sat down and thought through all these details; she would have smiled and played innocent, lived a happy, carefree life…
“Everything that’s happened today, you know it’s not a coincidence, right?” If there was one person she could trust with all this, it was Leira. She was the only one who knew the real face behind all the lies. “It’s a message.”
Leira arched her eyebrow.
“Payne wanted everyone to know how far some people will go to get their hands on—” She almost said ‘somebody like me’. “On somebody important.” Somebody like Ophelia Orpheus. Somebody like Aliana Adel. She sipped at her tea; it wasn’t helping. “It’s happening again,” she said.
“Like I told ye, it ain’t gonna be no feckin’ adventure.”
The rush of cold water kept Emily’s mind on edge, her thoughts from lulling off into some other, hidden world, where night and day were one and the same and yet neither. A world filled with whispers. A world surrounded by song.
Twelve notes, repeating; twelve notes for twelve wings.
Emily sang to herself as she massaged a honey-smelling soap through her hair. She sang the songs that Leira wrote, filled with violence and hate; she sang Ms Shimomura’s melodies, kind and gentle, always smiling; she even sang her mother’s lullabies, dreams of a world that could not be—anything to overwhelm the whisper in her ear, the mournful adagio that called for the world’s end.
With each tune, the layers of illusion fell away, mingling at her feet in a swirl of blue and bronze. Cheap undertown shit didn’t last long under pressure, but it was the best she could get hold of without arousing suspicion. Once she’d scrubbed the last of it clean, she thumped the shower controls and clenched her fists tight as blasts of warm air swept up and down her body, whipping her hair into a storm of liquid platinum. She imagined this was what it felt like to stand atop a City, on the edge of its highest terrace, where the so-called Saptamatrikas were said to dwell.
The Saptamatrikas. The Seven Mothers. The ones in whose image she was made.
As she stepped out of the shower, Emily glimpsed her reflection in the bathroom mirror and scowled, not at herself but at the Cities’ concept of the Ideal Woman, the Perfect Woman. People wasted their lives chasing that ideal, desperate to see that pale, silver-haired reflection looking back at them. Some would even come close but, for all of their efforts, for all the money and resources, the kudos and the karma they sacrificed, none of them would ever have the same allure, the same sparkle in their eyes, the same soul.
And, because of that soul, because of that allure, because of that Ideal the Cities planted in the minds of millions all the world over, no one could resist a Maiden. That was their ‘blessing’.
Or, rather, their curse.
This is all a bit Emiliza of the Sorrows.