12: The Fogs of Agnoia
Two dark shapes clamped down on their attacks. Azhara’d al-Hakim stood over them, a shadow of a mountain, and frowned. Without another word, both girls staggered back and bowed with stammered apologies. Astrid, too, lowered her eyes in shame. Only Elizabeth refused to show her respects, but she was too busy trembling behind Astrid with fear — the Master had appeared as if out of thin air, and the Church had little positive to say about such talents. They believed them as much a threat as the Agnoia itself.
Astrid’s father had told her otherwise. He told her that you underestimated Seelie at your peril.
The Master’s expression did not change. “You shame the memory of those who died here,” he said, his low voice almost a growl. “All three of you,” he added, tracing his eyes from Vesperia to Ceres to Elizabeth, hiding in Astrid’s shadow. He turned back to the Donaran. “You are finished here, yes?”
With none of her usual confidence, Ceres Mendoza picked up her knife then glanced over her shoulder. On cue, Korrie Wedekind scuttled out of hiding to take her lover’s arm, her face filled with a pouting pity. No doubt they would tell their friends it was all the Astrid’s fault. They always did. Her father called it the ‘curse of the Guirlandes’, and she endured it for his sake.
For her mother’s.
“Astrid.” Master al-Hakim’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts. “Do not shut yourself off to your surroundings. This place is dangerous, especially for those weak of heart.”
It took her a moment to realise what he meant, but then she caught sight of Elizabeth fleeing the courtyard, her sobs trembling through the stillness. Vesperia gave immediate chase. Astrid turned to thank the Master.
He was gone. As suddenly and silently as he had appeared, Azhara’d al-Hakim had returned to the shadows. Pushing the implausibility out of her mind, she chased after her friends. You underestimated Seelie at your peril.
They caught up to Elizabeth just outside the circle of houses and the obelisk’s halo of light. “I’ll kill her!” she mumbled, over and over, as if it were a prayer that could keep her pain at bay. Astrid reached out for her shoulder—
Elizabeth spun, eyes wide with madness, reddened cheeks streaked with tears. Astrid flinched, expecting, for the slightest moment, her friend to lash out at her, mistake her for the forest witch she so despised. Then the madness passed, and she fell into Astrid’s arms, weeping. “I hate it,” she said. “I just want it to go away. All of it.” Astrid held her tight. She knew the pain. She had lived through it just as Elizabeth had. Their mothers had burned together. Orders direct from the Founding Father.
And, in their shared grief, they forgot themselves, their surroundings. If it hadn’t been for Vesperia, whose family died before she could remember, they might never have noticed it.
“The fogs are moving,” she said, tugging as Astrid’s sleeve. “Astrid!”
It was rare to hear a note of panic in Vesperia’s voice, but Astrid quickly learned its reason: a dark mist churned at their feet, growing in bulk as waves spilled out of the shadows like the Theia-driven tides. When Elizabeth noticed, she screamed.
“It’s the Agnoia!” she said. “I can hear it. It’s calling out to me…” She broke into a sob. “It’s coming for me. It’s coming for everyone!”
It’s like being stuck in a nightclub with a dodgy smoke machine. A dodgy smoke machine that pumps out FEAR AND TERROR.