14: Weird Things
Shelley snapped out of her trance just as Alonie burst into the bedroom. Her red eye flared in a breathless panic.
“You heard him, right?” she said. “We have to get out of here!”
Shuck, curled up on the bed beside Shelley, opened an onyx eye. “And I thought she were brave, going off on her own like that,” he said. “So much fer that selfless bravado.”
Shelley held back a smile. As far as Alonie was concerned, her friend had been sitting alone in an abandoned house, too afraid to step out onto the streets. She wouldn’t respond well to the truth, assuming she even believed it. Shelley wasn’t prepared to take that risk. Not anymore.
“I—I’m okay,” she said.
Alonie’s face creased up in disbelief. The light from the courtyard tinted her pale skin purple, so she resembled one of those too-human aliens they always stuck on the front of the monthly periodicals, their flawless complexion and ample chests a desperate bid to attract (male) readers. “Don’t be crazy, Shell,” she said. “If the Sophists find you here, they’ll…” She turned away, hiding her face behind a sweep of crimson hair.
“They won’t find me,” Shelley assured her. “Even the Sophists respect the sanctuary of these houses.”
“And what if they’ve changed their minds? Or they realise this is some kind of exception to that rule, or whatever it is? No exam is worth getting hauled before the Inquisition.”
Shelley shrugged. She was small and there were plenty of places to hide. “Don’t worry about me,” she said.
“If I didn’t, I would never have come here in the first place.” With a frustrated harrumph, the red-haired hawk stomped over to the window and peered through the edge of the curtains. It would have been easier for Shelley if she left, but how could she even begin to explain that to her? “I’m sorry, Allie, but could you leave me here on my own so I can have a chat with my imaginary friend without looking like an idiot?”
Instead, all Shelley could do was sit around and feel useless—but better to be thought of as a useless nobody than some kind of schizophrenic freak.
“You think it was Astrid who sold us out?” asked Alonie, keeping her voice as low as she could.
“Guess so.” Obviously. Shelley’s whole life would have been easier if Astrid Guirlande wasn’t around. If that precious brat of a so-called princess (no, seriously, princess?) wasn’t reporting every little thing to that stone-faced monster of a man she called a father, Shelley could have been a lot more open about things.
Well, some things. She also had to consider the Malkuthians, and those (like Alonie) who dearly wanted to be Malkuthian. Mention the aether to them and they would struggle to contain their laughter. Tell them that one of your best friends was some kind of cat/dog creature with a body of black fire, and they would label you insane. Then it would be a race between the Sophists and the City to see who would haul you in for ‘rehabilitation’ first.
Better a useless nobody than that.
“Why the Theatre keeps that stupid bitch around I don’t know,” said Alonie, returning her attention to the courtyard. “Probably some political thing.”
The Sophists had a lot of nefarious schemes and secrets, it seemed, and Astrid Guirlande was (to steal an Old World idiom) only the tip of the iceberg. Shelley had always suspected as much, but it was only when she saw the crashed ship for herself that she realised how big that proverbial iceberg was. If only she had a chance talk with Shuck, maybe he could help make sense of it all.