Chapter 16

A Crack in the Mask

The Erebus. Emily wrapped her arms around her body — just the utterance of that name drained the Scar of what little heat it had left. Unlike the Sophists, she did not have the luxury of enchanted armour to keep out the cold.

Neither did Byron, but at least he had his wit to shield him. “It seems our definitions of music must differ,” he said.

The Director snorted in response. His mask distorted his voice, gave it an almost inhuman, mechanical quality. “Then you are fortunate, Mr d’Arcadie. And what of the rest of you?” He turned his eyes on Emily. “Ms Fomalhaut?”

Two more Sophists swept out of the fog, landing gracefully at the far end of the roof and rushing to either corner, where they turned on the fog with palms outstretched. If she closed her eyes, Emily could see their will reinforcing the purple light, holding back the wall of darkness as it struggled against its invisible bonds. First technology, now magic — the Sophists’ public face was as much a facade as Emily’s own.

She wondered if hers was as obvious. She slipped a hand beneath her skirt and found her knife. Even after moving to the surface she could never give it up. Right now, she wanted to wield it again, just as she had done in the past. The Macha would not hesitate to find a chink in the Director’s armour and finish the task her uncle so hopelessly failed. It wouldn’t fix her life, but at least she could go down fighting. It was how Leira always imagined they would go. Maybe it was that thought of her friend, of their time together in the underground, when they called themselves ‘the Daughters of Ernmas’, that drew the vitriol from deep inside, brought it forth like magma bursting free of the shell called ‘Emily Fomalhaut’.

“The only song I can hear,” she said, “is the one that tells me to wipe that smug look off of your face.”

They all wore it, all Sophists, even behind their masks. She’d seen it enough in her life to know it was permanent. Even their so-called Founding Father couldn’t help but grin when her uncle tried to assassinate him.

And the fact that she felt any sympathy at all for her father’s repulsive brother spoke volumes of her hatred for the Sophists.

“Smug?” asked the Director, and reached up to remove his mask. “Is that how you see me?”

One day you will hear about the adventures of Macha and Badb.