Orphic Phantasia

11: For a Father’s Approval

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“Orders direct from the Founding Father, Ma’am,” said the guard.

Astrid looked to Elizabeth and Vesperia. Their shared bewilderment confirmed she wasn’t hearing things. “Orders from the Founding Father?” she asked. She could hardly believe it herself.

“Yes, Ma’am. Came through an hour ago.”

“And did the orders state why?”

The peacekeeper looked around Astrid’s age. She figured him fresh out of his apprenticeship. They often sent the new recruits to guard the Scar, as few people dared to trouble the desolate ruins and the conditions themselves posed something of an endurance test. Astrid herself felt a constant discomfort just standing in their vicinity, a dryness in the air that itched the back of her throat.

“He believes it a sign of goodwill,” replied the guard. “We need to cooperate with Seelie if Torsten is to prosper.”

The way Elizabeth’s face contorted said it all. “Cooperate with Seelie?” she spluttered. “I think you should reconsider who sent those orders!”

The guard lifted his chin, his eyes staring out into space. “They carried the Father’s seal, Ma’am. I’m just doing my job.”

Astrid clenched a fist in front of her mouth, thought through the things that had led to this strange turn of events. It had been a long day, and her father had warned her to stay on her toes. “Be careful who you trust,” he told her that morning, before she left for the Theatre, “and remember to question everything.”

Question everything, the credo of Hagia Sophia herself.

“Your Highness,” Vesperia’s cool voice cut through her thoughts, “over there.” She gestured toward the Fourth Wall, an aging relic of Malkuthian expansionism. It might have looked impressive centuries ago, as it towered over the simple huts and market stalls of an infant Torsten, but these days it looked akin to a garden fence next to the Scar’s encroaching carapace. The only thing the wall was useful for now was providing a vantage point for the peacekeepers guarding the ruins.

Not that they were doing a very good job of it, as the two girls slipping past them proved. Astrid reached for Elizabeth’s hand, well aware of the outburst to come.

“It—it’s those witches!” she cried, faced flushing with anger as she realised the identity of the two trespassers. She seized the young guard by his wrist. “You’re not going to let them get away with this, are you?”

The peacekeeper cast a lazy glance towards the two girls, now scaling the Scar’s side. From his lack of reaction, Astrid presumed him a conscript — someone with direct ties to the nobility would have baulked, as Elizabeth did, at the sight of a magenta-haired Donaran and her golden-haired lover ignoring Sophist jurisdiction. “Orders direct from the Founding Father, Ma’am,” he reminded her.

Elizabeth turned away, the mere sight of Ceres Mendoza and Korrie Wedekind an offence on her senses. Astrid squeezed her hand for support, then took a step toward the gate.

“I’m going after them,” she announced. It wasn’t what she had planned to do when she first received Rembrandt Payne’s message, but she knew she had to show initiative if she was to earn her father’s approval. Simply reporting every little misdemeanour, as Elizabeth would have her do, achieved nothing.

Question everything.

It didn’t take long for Elizabeth to stammer her protest — it was, after all, her duty. “W—we can’t go in there! It’s forbidden for a reason. It—it could be a trap!” She pawed at Astrid’s arm with her delicate, blue-tipped fingers. “There are—are things in there! Tell her!” she said the guard, as his companion moved to unlock the gate. “Tell Princess Astrid of the things that dwell inside that—that tomb!”

The guard shrugged. “Orders direct from the Founding Father, Ma’am.”

Each wall is about 30-40km beyond the previous. The Seventh Wall is Very Big.