15: The Gathering Place
“You hear anything?” whispered Andromeda Blumstein. Katrina Ritches had just joined her morose friend to check up on the Sophists’ activity. They were huddled so close to Shelley that she could have reached out and touched them if she wanted to — well, if she had the skills to actually touch things from the aether. Reading books only taught you so much.
“I think I can hear footsteps,” said Kat. “What I’d give for some augments right now…”
At least Shelley didn’t have to rely on such invasive, unnatural alterations to give her an edge. She met Shuck’s dark eyes and a thought passed between them.
“It seems our friend has returned from his chat with Guirlande,” he said.
The young Sophist peacekeeper emerged from the mists a moment later, his polished armour taking on sharp form as the seer acknowledged his presence. “You took your time,” she said, her voice barely a whisper — too quiet for either Katrina or Andromeda to make out, but not for Shelley, not for the aether. It was weird like that.
“The Director requested a very thorough debriefing.”
“And what did our dear leader have to say?”
“That this house is off-limits and we are to remain guard in case the recruits attempt to leave, at which point we are to escort them to his camp.”
“Because I am sure he has an adequate punishment in mind. Very well, we shall have to take matters into our own hands.”
There was a slight hesitation in the reply. “Are you sure?”
“Mister Grantham, if you wish to exchange that battered suit of recycled junk for something with a little more majesty, you shall have to impress the Founding Father, and what better way than with hard proof of Rembrandt Payne’s unquestionable guilt? Or would you rather the Director take all the credit?”
“Y—yes, ma’am. I understand.”
“Good. Now,”—Shelley felt a slight shiver of apprehension from her mental link with Shuck—“there are four in the basement, three ahead of us, two on the first floor—”
Shelley didn’t wait for the seer’s gaze to reach the rooftop. She flung herself at the stairway and bound down to the floor below, where her physical body waited. Shuck appeared beside her, keeping her pace.
“Shell, ye’ve got tae tell your friends!”
“Not like this.” Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t — and how would she even begin to explain things if she could? Hey there, I’m just a wee ghost, but I’ve got an important message fer ye…
The moment she came face-to-face with herself, sitting cross-legged on the bed, she opened her eyes — even an amateur had no problems returning to consciousness when their projection was in the same room.
“We’ve got tae distract them somehow,” said Shuck. “We cannae let them reach the cellar or else…”
They would find the secret entrance, and probably bring the whole house down to seal it. Shelley jumped up and made a dash for the hallway. She cleared the stairs to the first floor just as the Sophists started pounding on the door. Almost on instinct, Shelley ducked into the shadows.
Down in the hallway, Alonie was barricading the door with a nearby table, while Lance sat on the stairs, watching with droopy eyes of obliviousness, like a drunk slouched in a doorway after a long night’s partying. At the same time, Shelley felt a ripple of movement as an invisible Dante lunged past, making for the second floor — no doubt heading for the roof, where Katrina was. He always wanted to be a hero.
The banging stopped. Shelley turned to Shuck, his dark eyes closed as he relayed information from his friends outside. “Sounds like that young lad’s gonna charge the doors,” he said. “They mightnae hold, Shell.”
Poor Lance. He’s so out of it he can’t even sit and oogle the girls! (Not that Alonie would let him…)