15: The Gathering Place
And, as she picked out the faces and attached them to the names, both written in ink and etched in aether, everything she thought she knew came into question. There was a young Chief Payne and Commander Thorbjorn, fresh out of the Theatre and ready for the Academy, standing alongside Rosencrantz Guirlande (né Brunhild). In another photo, they stood with Katrina’s parents, Anna and Bahadur, and in a neighbouring picture Chief Payne laughed with a man called Cailean Leamhnachd—the same Cailean Leamhnachd Emily saw holding a baby Shelley, who also appeared in the arms of her mother, Endora Eoghan, and (Emily assumed, based on the resemblance) aunt, Lucretia.
There were other names, too, other faces Emily recognised from the Theatre and beyond, but none of them mattered once she set eyes on the man named Cyrus Aides, whose pointed ears implied a Donaran heritage, and whose white cloak looked so very familiar—because, while wearing it, Cyrus Aides looked uncannily like his son…
Cyrus Aides, the man who came to her parents’ aid that night, six years ago, was Dante’s father, and, in near every photograph Emily could find of him, he stood with his arm around a woman with skin as pale as snow, hair dark as night, and eyes a blue so light, so brilliant, they looked as if they had been plucked from a winter’s day.
The eyes of a seer. The eyes of a Maiden.
And her name was Ophelia Orpheus.
“They got her, Aliana. Pleiades got Ophelia.”
And Emily’s eyes, her own, pale eyes, the eyes of a seer, followed the trail of unseen light, of threaded memories, to a picture at the far end of the shrine where Cyrus Aides and Ophelia Orpheus stood at the head of a small group, just outside a house bathed in purple light. Among that group were Emily’s mother, Aliana, her father Sitar and her uncle Verraden, plus several others she recognised as friends of the family. There was also a figure somebody had tried to erase with thick globs of black paint. Emily tried to peer into the photograph’s memory, but to no avail; it was like the black stain of the Erebus, a rend in reality into which only the cursed could stare.
She reached out to pluck the picture from the wall. It was the proof she needed, not just of Dante’s past, but of her own, and the connection they shared.
The pain they shared.
Byron’s panic tore her out of the moment and back into the cramped cupboard shrine. “It’s the Sophists,” he said, an uncharacteristic panic replacing his usual poetry. “They’re coming.”
She heard a heavy thud from outside, the sound of metal fists pounding against a locked door, and the photograph slipped her mind.
It was happening again. The Sophists were moving.
And, beneath them, Pleiades.
Shelley peered over the edge of the rooftop wall. The storm of lost souls had gathered in strength since she saw it last, and its churning grey mists now reached towards the roof, tendrils clawing at the invisible barrier that kept them at bay. She couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. They weren’t monsters, and they weren’t evil—they were just different.
But people had a habit of hating those that were different to them. Shelley was living proof.
At least Shuck understood. He had once been a part of it, a soul among many, lost in a crowd of solitude, and, in many ways, he still was. He stood within the mists now, almost invisible against the void but for his sharp onyx eyes, which he kept focused on the oblivious seer. She thought she knew everything, and she thought she could see everything, but she was as ignorant as the rest of them. Shelley tried to imagine the look of horror on her face if she ever realised the truth. Not that she could see her face, because the seer seemed content to hide it beneath her jewelled crown of a helmet, even within the aether. Such pride never had a happy ending, and Shelley only hoped she was around to see to the inevitable fall.
For now, however, she could only watch, and she wasn’t alone.
If only Emily didn’t keep making unfounded assumptions…