14: Weird Things
“Shuck,” began Shelley, the slither of a thought coming to her, “have you ever heard of a Prince Frayer? Frayer Venris, I think it was.”
“Prince Freyr?” Shuck’s aethereal acknowledgement implanted the name’s true form in her head. The aether was weird like that. “Aye, though only in passing. Are ye trying tae tell me the Sidhe are behind all this?”
Before she had a chance to answer, Alonie returned. “I gave them directions to get out of here,” she said, “though I don’t know if they’re in any state to follow them. Who knows, maybe they’ll—”
A flurry of knocks echoed through the house.
“Here we go again,” said Shuck.
This time, Shelley followed Alonie, at least as far as the second floor balcony, where she ducked into the plentiful shadows while her friend headed for the hallway below. Her vantage point gave her a full view of the front doors and the shadows behind their frosted windows. As Alonie reached for the handle, she threw her friend an apologetic frown. Shelley hunkered down, breath caught in the moment, her every nerve tingling as the doors opened.
Theseus Armstrong was first inside, almost knocking Alonie off her feet as he carried a limp Lance Algar over to the stairway and sat him down. John Smith followed after him, then Doyle Kennedy, Amanda Hartell and Andromeda Blumstein. Last of all came Chris Shaw, pointing his magic wand at every corner of the room. Even in the dim light, he looked somehow duller than the rest, his Malkuthian cloak a dark grey, rather than black, his feathered hair twenty years older than it should have been. He moved over to Lance just as his friend seemed to snap back to consciousness with a cough so violent, Shelley was afraid his lungs might end up decorating the hallway. John then produced something from his mechanical backpack and pressed it against Lance’s neck.
Alonie hovered nearby, casting the briefest of looks Shelley’s way, as if to further apologise for the intrusion. Theseus moved over to her, rubbed the back of his head with a leather-gloved hand.
“Yeah, so we found these idiots blundering through that iron fog,” he explained. “Algar here got a lungful.”
Shuck groaned. “I want tae feel sorry fer the poor lad, but at this rate we’re gonna have yer entire class popping round for an evening snack. There’s nae way the Sophists’ll ignore that.”
Unlike Vincent and Blake, however, Theseus and his team knew what they were doing. While Theseus and Doyle checked that the doorways were sealed and their presence untraced, Andromeda headed for the roof to scout for Sophist patrols and John made for the basement. Alonie, meanwhile, opted to stay downstairs, where she could keep an eye on Chris and Lance—and the front door.
“Maybe Payne wasnae as drunk as I thought,” said Shuck, as Shelley returned to the abandoned bedroom, out of everybody’s way. They would simply assume she was hiding, that she wanted to be as far away from the crowd as possible.
And that was okay with Shelley because she hated crowds. That was why she preferred the aether, and why she had spent so much effort in learning how to reach it. And, within thirty seconds of controlled breathing, she was there.
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Unfortunately, Chris and Lance rolled a critical fumble.