16: A Crack in the Mask
Shelley recoiled from the blast of imaginary heat and, when she dared to look back, Alonie burned, specks of fire now a violet inferno, cloaking her like Sophist armour.
“I am not a whore.” She spoke each word slowly, deliberately, each one a blade of hot iron, a flaming fist of declaration. The seer seemed almost a shadow before a star.
“Interesting,” she said. “And unexpected. But you realise this only makes my choice that much easier. I only hope the sight of your bloodied corpse does not condemn that poor boy further.”
The seer braved a step towards the aethereal fire and reached for her sword. As her blade shone free of its scabbard, cold as ice, ready to cut the sun from the skies, Alonie faltered, her cloak diminished, like summer falling into autumn as winter loomed ever closer.
Shelley’s second jump happened in an instant. She knew it was a risk, but the consequences were worse. “Stop!” she cried, as she appeared behind the seer.
The Sophist turned. Her, two jumps deep, she was no longer some faceless fiend in polished armour but a figure bathed in veins of electric blue, each line a dozen words compressed, a prayer to cast back the Dark. She looked down on Shelley’s lacklustre form with a face of chiselled beauty, as if someone had carved the features of an angel from the finest porcelain. Her eyes were like cold stars, terrifying in their strength and irresistible in their allure.
Then she smiled, and she looked just like Emily. And, Shelley thought, just like Alonie, too. Steeling herself against the seer’s power, she clenched her fists.
“Ye better leave my friend alone, or you’ll be sorry,” she said, her voice a pitiful cry against a raging storm.
Behind the seer, Alonie’s flame still flickered, but it was a whimper of its former self. Yet even as her fire dwindled, the light in her eyes remained—her eyes! For as long as Shelley had known her, Alonie Kent had the red eyes of Malkuthian augmentation, but here, now, those eyes were as pale and piercing as the seer’s own—and, as soon as Shelley caught them, those last flames died to an ember, as if in shame.
“Oh, you must be the one I saw earlier,” said the Sophist. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for an amateur like you.”
Shelley felt her resolve crumbling like the Grampian Mountains before the battering walls of Theia’s oceanic rage. How could a miserable little nobody like her ever hope to achieve anything when bathed in the brilliance of so many stars?
Dinnae be stupid, Shell! It was her voice, and Shuck’s voice, and Emily and Alonie’s too. Ye cannae just stand here and let that bitch talk down tae ye like that!
For their sake, she had to make this count.
“I’ll have ye know that I’m nae amateur,” she said. “My name’s Shelley Moira Eoghan, daughter of Endora Eoghan, and if ye mess with me and my friends, then yer messing with her.”
That caught her attention. “Endora Eoghan?” she said. “Aeons be praised, It seems I’m spoilt for choice! Shelley Moira Eoghan, you say?”
Shelley realised then her mistake—her stupid, amateur mistake—but it was too late to correct it; a name heard through the aether was a name known.
“Silly girl,” said the seer as the chains took shape around her prey, “did Seelie never teach you the dangers of declaring yourself to strangers?” She lifted a finger and curled it towards her as if summoning a pet or small child. Shelley felt the chains tighten around her imaginary limbs, then yank her forward at immeasurable speed. If she were dreaming, she would have woken up from the shock.
Why do seers all look so alike?