Orphic Phantasia

16: A Crack in the Mask

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His face was tight, the scars of aging deep, his thin lips set in a stony frown.

The flare of the Macha faded just as quickly as it began. “Y-yes,” she lied. She had to turn away before instinct convinced her otherwise. Her training to recognise the subtleties of human expression made it difficult to see things that were not there.

With a grunt of dismissal, the Director turned his attention to Katrina. “I am surprised Ms Rogan isn’t here. I thought she would jump at the chance to see this sacred place with her own eyes.”

“Phoe? Naw, she was too scared. She wanted us to stage some kind of live feed for her, but I’ve not been able to get a signal.”

“Blame your broken communications on the Erebus,” said the Director, “or at least this manifestation of it. Whether it is by choice, however, I cannot say. The Erebus rarely conveys its intentions. To see it so active, however…”

“It’s alive?” asked Kat. Once again, she was treating the Director as if he were a friend, rather than an enemy who would soon have them thrown to his inquisition in the hopes of slandering Seelie.

And where were Seelie, anyhow? Why hadn’t they stepped in to resolve the situation? Or was it politics again, as it was when the Sophists massacred the Donara? Was Rembrandt Payne really willing to sacrifice his students for—

The Sidhe. It all came back to them, every time. The Sidhe controlled Seelie, and Seelie controlled Rembrandt Payne. They had ordered him to stand his ground six years ago, and they had ordered him to stand his ground today.

And, if this didn’t work, if the Scar didn’t give Prince Dionysus the answers he desired, there was Avalon, the place Katrina had spoken about, the training facility Seelie had suddenly decided to send them to once these exams were over.

Whatever decision Emily made, there was an alternative, and each one was worse than the last. The Sidhe would get their way and her friends would pay the price, one way or another.

With a clatter of metal, the Director paced across the rooftop and looked down into the courtyard below, where the purple obelisk spread its light to combat the fog. “It is not alive,” he said, “nor is it dead. Frankly, we do not know what it is, because even our greatest seers cannot read it. That is why the Sophists call it ‘Agnoia’, which means ‘ignorance’. Only those infected by its … ideas … have any hope of understanding it. That, I believe, is why it is here: it has recognised a kindred spirit and wishes to take them away. Like attracts like.”

Kat acknowledged the Director’s words with a thoughtful hmm, but whether she understood them was another matter. Emily understood, though. Emily understood all too well. Her shoulder burned cold with the knowledge, the insight, the experience.

“Fascinating,” said Byron, without a drop of sarcasm, “and although that indeed answers many a question, it does not answer my most pressing concern.”

“Which is?” asked the Director.

“What, precisely, do you intend to do with us? Am I to believe we are under arrest? This casual banter suggests otherwise.”

Of course they were under arrest! How could Byron be so naive as to think otherwise? The Sophists had wanted an opportunity like this for a long time. Now their only salvation lay in divine intervention — or death. Emily grasped the hilt of her knife. The Director had exposed his face for all to see. It would prove to be a fatal mistake.

“You are not under arrest,” said the Director. “In fact, I had hoped you would escape this place unaccosted. Unfortunately, it would see that some of my people have elected to ignore my orders in the hopes of earning themselves favour with our superiors. I am, however, quietly confident that they shall not succeed.”

~*~

Here’s Emily doing what a seer does best. Well, until her prejudice gets involved…