16: A Crack in the Mask
“Quaint,” said Chris. “Guess the old stuff has its uses after all.”
“Indeed,” said John. “My father refers to it as ‘lateral thinking with seasoned technology’.”
“Good stuff,” said Theseus, “now, you guys gonna hang around here all day or what? I presume the tin can here is out for the count. Not that there’s much of a tin can left on him.”
Chris looked down at the unconscious peacekeeper. All that remained of his armour was a fine silver dust. The Foundation classified the Sophists as ‘all talk and no threat’, and this fellow had proven it. What that said about the wreckage in the forest, however, was a question for another day.
“Let’s get moving,” said Chris. “A hero’s work is never done!”
Shelley trembled in the shadows. She was no hero. If her mother heard about this, if Endora Eoghan heard that her daughter was too afraid, too weak, too pitiful to stand up against the Sophists, she would disown her. Every thought of failure drove her further into the lonely night.
“Dinnae beat yerself up about it, lass,” said Shuck. “Ain’t nobody expecting ye tae go toe-to-toe with someone like that.”
But she had to do something. She had to. If she didn’t, Alonie would end up a prisoner, or worse. Too afraid to move from her hiding place, Shelley closed her eyes and pictured the scene below her. She was no seer, and nor would she ever be, but she could at least see the basics, the abstraction of ideas imprinted in the aether.
The seer helped. Her gaze had swept over every corner of the hallway, taken in every detail and imposed it upon the immaterial world. Thanks to her, Shelley could see things she never knew existed, trails of character her friends left behind like footprints, some heading towards the cellar, others upstairs. And there, in this midst of this brilliant nebula of details, stood Alonie Kent, a bubbling inferno of barely-suppressed rage tinted with flecks of purple fire. The seer seemed almost a shadow before a star.
“You’re more competent that I expected,” she said to Alonie, her voice filled with a grudging respect. “Proof, if ever we needed it, that our Father has gone too light on you people. This, however, will be the end of that.”
“You won’t get away with this,” said Alonie. “Seelie won’t stand for it.”
The seer laughed, a cruel and haughty sound that reverberated around her winged helmet. “My dear, Seelie doesn’t care what happens to you. They care for their own selfish interests, nothing more. You can trust me on that.”
“I wouldn’t trust you with anything.” Shelley winced at her friend’s flippant attitude. She knew how well the Sophists responded to disrespect — she could still feel her own bruises.
“No, I don’t suppose you Malkuthians would. Our Father has always said that your arrogance would be your downfall. In that way, I guess you are no better than Seelie. I hope, for your sake, you learn to accept his offer of rehabilitation. There is no place in our community for such selfishness.”
“I’d rather be dead than a slave.”
“Either suits me fine,” said the seer. “If we cannot break you, then we will break your boyfriend. Look at the poor thing; he can’t even stand up by himself. The Agnoia has quite the influence on the weak minded.”
So long as Alonie had a hold of Lance, she could not escape, and Shelley knew there was no way she would leave anyone — even someone as annoying as Lance — to the mercy of the Sophists.
“Boyfriend? In his dreams maybe.”
“Oh, come now, the last thing he needs is rejection from the woman he loves. Or do you want the Agnoia to consume him whole? Is that what you do? Seduce these poor young men into your little whore house here, so you can offer them up to—”
Alonie is pretty confident…