11: For a Father’s Approval
Astrid took her friend’s trembling hand. The Founding Fathers’ indoctrination burned deep. “We’ll be all right, Lizzie,” she said, forcing a hopeful smile.
Vesperia gestured for silence. A moment later, a high-pitched squeal echoed through the streets below.
“Cerie! Cerie! Look what I found!” said Korrie-Anne Wedekind, her grating voice like that of a petulant child. The Donaran’s voice mumbled a reply. “But I want to keep it,” replied her partner. “Let me keep it, Cerie, pleeease?”
Elizabeth snuck closer to Astrid, her whole body shaking, her jaw clenched tight with anger, frustration towards the two hedonistic hylics. Astrid clenched her hand, for what little good it would do.
Vesperia, meanwhile, was already scouting the way ahead. Astrid often wondered if she was afraid of anything.
“There is a stairway about thirty feet away,” she said, returning a moment later.
The same path the witches took, no doubt. Astrid felt Elizabeth tense up at the implication. At least, she reasoned, they could keep their distance, hide in the plentiful shadows—just as Seelie would expect of them, as ironic a twist as it was. And maybe, while they were there, they could watch Ceres and Korrie-Anne trigger the Founding Father’s trap.
Assuming, of course, there was such a thing.
It was as they set foot in the alleyway below the wall that Astrid began to doubt her decision. There was something in the air, a cold, deathly feeling that prickled her skin, and a layer of dust seemed to coat everything in sight like some kind of ashen frost. Elizabeth, clinging now to Astrid’s waist, brushed her fingertip across a window, then swallowed back a squeal as the dirt raced to fill the gap like a thousand tiny insects. Vesperia threw her a disappointed frown.
“Why are we even here, Princess?” Elizabeth whispered. “It’s cold and its dark, my knees are bleeding and my feet hurt and—” she stifled a sob, “I—I’m scared.”
“We need to know what’s going on,” said Astrid, as much for her own sake as Elizabeth’s. She could feel her father’s hand on her shoulder, encouraging her. Stay strong, it said; do not feed the shadows with your fears. He would—no, he did understand why she was doing this, and he had every faith in her success. “We need to know the truth.”
After a short while sneaking through dark alleyways, the girls came within sight of the houses Vesperia had spotted from atop the wall. The haze of blue light illuminated a stirring mist that played about the streets. After a quick scan to make sure that no one was waiting to ambush them, Vesperia urged her friends onwards.
“Rembrandt Payne did not disclose the location of our crystals,” she said. “We must scour every possible location.”
“I didn’t come here to impress Seelie,” said Elizabeth.
“But what if they’re up to no good?” said Astrid. Seelie, she thought, or the Aristocracy. “Isn’t that worth the risk?”
“Maybe,” she mumbled. “But please, let’s make it quick. I’d rather spend a night in the catacombs than another ten minutes in this place.”
Vesperia darted ahead to take cover behind the walls surrounding the little estate. The houses themselves were of modern design, each one three storeys high and detached from its neighbours. Astrid reckoned there was probably eight or nine of them in the circle. As she slipped from shadow to shadow, she glimpsed a courtyard at their centre. The blue light appeared to be emanating from some kind of obelisk, about seven or eight feet tall.
Everyone has their own ideas for what makes the ideal town. While the Aristocracy prefers traditional streets and roads, the Donara favoured petal-like formations of houses around a central, communal courtyard, as demonstrated here.