12: The Fogs of Agnoia
The sound of galloping hooves echoed through the empty ruins, followed by shouts, orders to open the north gate. Vesperia and Astrid broke into a run, Elizabeth catching up when she realised what was happening. They were halfway across the ruins when the first wave of peacekeepers burst through the north gate and made for the sealed doorway hidden among the Scar’s roots. A second wave spread out across the ruins and the third slowed to a trot, dismounted their horses by the gate and left them with their squires. In the middle of it all was a powerful figure in a crimson cape, the golden feathers of his eagle helm catching the crescent sun’s meagre light. He noticed Astrid running towards him and gestured his men to continue onwards while he diverted his attention her way. He called for one of the clergymen, who had ridden in with the third wave, to accompany him.
“Astrid,” Director Rosencrantz Guirlande enveloped her shoulders with his gauntleted hands, “this dust, is it—did the fogs reach you?” She could only see his eyes and they were wide with a fear she did not expect of her father. They flickered to Elizabeth and Vesperia too. “Did they reach any of you?”
“The fogs rose around us,” said Astrid, lifting her chin so she could meet her father’s eyes, “but we fled.”
“And did you hear anything? Any voices?”
Astrid thought of Elizabeth’s brief bout of madness, but was too afraid to admit to it. “W—we encountered Ceres Mendoza,” she said. “She knew her way inside. We can show you—”
“There is no need. I am aware of the cracks and of those who use them. Do you know if the fog affected her? Did she mention it at all?”
Astrid wasn’t sure what to say—was the dust ‘Agnoia’ after all? Was that why her father was so afraid? It wasn’t like him to believe such superstition. Maybe, she reasoned, he was trying to maintain face in front of the clergyman.
“She threatened us,” she said, “but made no mention of the fog.”
“Threatened you why?”
Astrid opened her mouth, spent a moment searching for the words. “We implicated the Donara’s involvement with the spread of Agnoia,” she said, realising now how ignorant it sounded, how disappointed her father would be.
A short grunt of annoyance echoed through the eagle’s beak. “The Donara have no connection to this place. Ceres Mendoza was as much a victim of this as you. Were there any others? Did you see Emily Fomalhaut?”
Astrid almost fumbled her reply in surprise, but managed to tell her father of Lysander and Angelo, how Horatio Stark and his friends had already completed the test, and of the moment when the girls were climbing out and noticed Theseus Armstrong leading a small team through the streets below. “But, no, I saw no sign of Emily Fomalhaut. Is she responsible for all this? I have always had my suspicions—”
“Do not concern yourselves with this affair anymore,” said her father. “There are forces at work here without a care for whether you live or die. That you showed up was irrelevant to them. You were just a…” she could almost see him scowling behind the mask, “…a diversion.”
He motioned to the clergyman. He was a frail old man, his skin like tanned leather. Astrid had seen him accompanying her father on several occasions, but had never made his acquaintance. “I do not think it reached them,” said her father, “but we can never be too sure. Do what you can.” The man bowed his head and ushered Elizabeth and Vesperia aside. The Director looked ready to leave. Astrid reached out, grasping the edge of his gauntlet.
Guirlande has a lot on his mind.