14: Weird Things
“I get the feeling the Fates dinnae want us tae have that chat,” said Shuck.
Shelley glanced at her watch. A minute had passed (all of thirty seconds in the real world). She’d not even had a chance to brief Shuck on the day’s events, let alone share her worries with him. All they had managed to do was sneak out of the house through the unwatched back door and cross over to the other side of the street. Shelley had hoped to spy on the Sophists. Instead, she was spying on her own friends.
“Well, at least these kids appear tae have some brains between them,” said the two-tailed shadow. “Who’s that lass on the right? I think I’ve seen her around here before.”
“That’s Katrina Ritches,” said Shelley. Katrina was crouched behind a wall, peering around the corner at the street ahead. Thanks to the cloud of lost souls that drifted through the streets, her perceptions of the world translated to the aether as vague, unfocused forms, ideas of what she expected to be there. The aether was weird like that.
“Ritches, ye say?” said Shuck. “Aye, that’d make sense. Must come here for her father. It’s good tae know ye’ve got some positive influences around ye.”
There was a Bahadur Ritches listed on the nodal pillars that kept the Scar’s swell of lost souls contained. Shelley wondered if his soul was among them. They kept to themselves and moved as one, so it was impossible to identify individuals, but Shuck had once told her that a loving heart could pull even the loneliest of souls out of the Dark.
Not that Shelley could understand people’s problem with ‘the Dark’. What was wrong with being alone? So many books treated it as a state equal to Hell itself, but not everybody wanted to live in a crowded world of sunlight and laughter. She was one of them.
“I wouldnae get too excited,” she said, “Kat and Emily might know a thing or too, but the others…”
Much like the world around them, people appeared in the aether as reflections of the material world, ideas and observations implanted by those around them. Unlike the world around them, however, people had self-awareness. They knew they were alive—and that meant that their images could shift and change depending on what they thought of themselves, what identity they projected to the world. The aether was weird like that.
Byron d’Arcadie, for example, had enough of an ego that his own self-image—as a roguish but well-dressed minstrel with a handsome face and long locks of silky hair—overrode the perceptions others had of him as a smug, self-important prick. Katrina Ritches, on the other hand, appeared very much as she would in the real world, with no embellishments or exaggerations. Dante, meanwhile, blended in with his surroundings even more so than usual, while Emily… Well, if anyone else could see Emily with aethereal eyes, they might have questioned who it was they were looking at.
But not Shelley; Shelley understood the uneasy shifting between forms, as if there were two very different people standing in the same space at the same time. She recognised both, but one she hadn’t seen in over two years.
Shelley didn’t want to think of that, though, so she tried to distract herself by pointing out Byron to Shuck. “He’s probably the one who sold Vincent and Blake whatever it was they’d been smoking. And that guy you can hardly see is, well…”
“Let me guess: that would be Dante Orpheus.”
The bigger your ego, the brighter your soul! Well, kind of. The aether is weird like that.