11: For a Father’s Approval
“It looks like a monument,” said Vesperia, as the girls regrouped.
“Oh no.” Elizabeth’s dug her nails into Astrid’s skin. “This must be where they pray to the Agnoia. Those filthy rats sneak in beneath our noses and use this place to—to summon their evil gods! We should go somewhere else. Anywhere else.”
Her theory certainly fit with the Aristocracy’s teachings, or at least what little the girls’ rating of Second Emanation disclosed, but Astrid knew there was more to it than that. Her father had told her so much, in his usual vague and indirect way. If it wasn’t for her fear of exposing him as a heretic — at least as far as the Founding Fathers were concerned — she would have shared his wisdom with Elizabeth. Instead, all she could do to comfort her friend was to keep a hold of her, to be there at her side.
As Vesperia scouted out the courtyard, they took shelter in a nearby porch. Astrid tested the door handle, but it was locked.
“I bet they still live here,” whispered Elizabeth. “We’d do well to raze this thing to the ground.”
“With what?” asked Astrid.
Vesperia returned with news that the courtyard was clear, but there was no sign of their crystals. “However, I do think you should take a look at the monument,” she said. “I do not think it an altar to any god.”
Despite Elizabeth’s apprehensions, Astrid decided to indulge her friend. The obelisk looked smaller up close than it did from a distance, its light seeming to dim the closer they got, never too bright to blind them but always enough to illuminate the immediate surroundings. Astrid figured it made from some kind of synthetic, bioluminescent stone. A list of names adorned all four sides. Some of them Astrid recognised — Armstrong, Eoghan, Ritches, Thorbjorn. Seelie names. The names of the dead.
“No doubt they were fools who sacrificed themselves to the Agnoia,” said Elizabeth. “Just like those Donaran witches.”
“Is that so?”
The girls turned in unison. There stood Ceres Mendoza, appearing as if from nowhere, her scowl one of utter contempt. She held a knife in her hand.
“Would you like to say that to my face, Lizzie?”
Director Guirlande sat back and closed his eyes. His weathered features, cracked and worn like the cover of an old tome, betrayed no hint of what he saw in Rembrandt Payne’s message. He almost looked as if he had fallen into an afternoon snooze — but then his eyes snapped open, a pair of ice-blue daggers that fixed upon Lord York with unnerving intensity. Oscar trembled.
“And you would have me take action, I presume?” said the Director. He had a low, gravelly voice with pitch-perfect enunciation, yet his lips hardly seemed to move.
“Of course I would!” Lord York spluttered in disbelief. “This proves Seelie is as wretched and corrupt as the Donara, just as we always knew they were.”
Oscar kept to his father’s shadow. He felt more like an aide — like the turquoise-haired Donaran boy stood at the Director’s side — than the noble who had delivered the means of Seelie’s destruction. Just as his father hoarded the young and pretty servants while fostering the old and infirm upon his son, so too had he taken Oscar’s greatest accomplishment for his own. Was it any wonder Alexis abandoned them?
“The Donara harboured renegades,” said the Director. He was too calm, too sure of himself. Oscar’s eyes twitched from one corner of the office to other, expecting to find Astrid Guirlande mocking smirk looking back at him, but, other than the Director’s aide, they were alone.
The Founding Fathers decided that Truth was too dangerous for the peons, so you had better earn your right to know it!