12: The Fogs of Agnoia
“And you know what that radiation does to a person, Oscar? Why they call it a curse?” He leaned in close, as if this was the greatest secret of all. “It rots the mind. Makes people believe in things that don’t exist. And people who believe in monsters, well…” He lowered his voice, as if Erlea might hear him from outside the carriage. “People like that will do anything if you promise to save them.” And he chortled, a wicked, delicious chuckle filled with memories of young women falling to their knees for his offers of salvation.
So, that was how he did it. Oscar made a mental note to research the technique himself.
The carriage pulled through the gates to the York estate. Covering some twenty-thousand acres, it was one of the largest in the region. Oscar’s great-grandfather had united the feuding savages over a century ago, back when Torsten was still a fledgling community rifle with internal conflicts. Now the descendants of those savages worked the farmland, alongside those who had accepted Lord York’s offer of salvation through hard work. “Better for them to contribute to society than rot away in their ignorance,” he had once told his son.
Oscar thought of Rembrandt Payne and Theseus Armstrong and Byron d’Arcadie slaving away in the fields, pathetic shadows of their former selves. Then he thought of Astrid Guirlande, torn from the protection of her scheming father and stripped of her ‘privileges’, and Ceres Mendoza, the last princess of the forest, begging for mercy.
And he thought of his father, basking in the glory that should have been his.
The carriage pulled up outside the manor. Lord York slapped his son on the back and smiled as Erlea opened the door. “Just remember, you can believe in whatever gods you want to in this world”—he flashed a knowing smile at the former witch—”but, in the end, it’s always the rich that rule it—and the gods, Oscar? The gods are poor.”
Astrid pulled herself out of the Scar and thanked the gods for fresh air and sunlight—or at least what sunlight was left. A grey twilight had fallen over the town, the sun little more than a crescent, peeking out from behind Theia’s scarred body.
“As if we needed reminding what a dreadful state this world was in,” said Elizabeth. “And just look at my dress! And yours too, Princess.”
Astrid’s clothes had aged a decade, their vibrance lost to a fine layer of dust. Elizabeth swiped at her dress to brush it away, but it wouldn’t budge. Vesperia, however, shrugged it off and began her climb down to the ruins below. Astrid hurried after her. Fashion could wait.
As they were climbing down the rubble piled up beside the border wall, Vesperia raised her hand for silence. “There is somebody coming,” she said. Her voice took on a note of surprise, “Astrid, it is your father.”
Oscar sure has a thing for royalty!