17: Fear of the Light
Chris thought that a strange question. Although he wasn’t some lab-grown homunculus, he was still a fair few terraces above the average human and Seelie knew it. “Should there have been?” he asked. “My analysis didn’t suggest any known hallucinogens.”
“It has been known,” the lecturer replied. “That is why we only send First Class initiates into the Scar. They are better prepared.”
“Why the change of plans?”
“Things beyond our control.”
If Chris had spent as much time studying psychology and sociology as he had technology, he might have had the skills to probe the Commander for more details. He always had insisted his sister better suited to this assignment. Instead, she was the one moving up in the world while he was left with babysitting duties. “And in whose control are they?” he asked, willing to take a gamble.
“Our superior officers,” she replied, “and those above them. I am sorry, but I cannot tell you more.”
“Not even a hint?”
She replied with a slow, sad shake of her head.
“Fairies,” said Lance. “It’s gotta be the fairies, dude.”
Lance thought that Phantasia girl a ‘fairy’, but Chris wasn’t so sure. He found that whole business of metaphysical realms populated by imaginary spirits even more unnerving than the telepathic sciences. Not that he didn’t believe in them—science had proven these things real centuries ago—but more that their existence lent credence to the idea of Fate, and Chris did not like the idea of Fate. When Chris rolled the dice, he wanted reassurance that the numbers were down to chance. The House shouldn’t always win.
Right now, however, he had a niggling feeling the odds were stacked, the table rigged, and the House hedging its bets on a preordained outcome.
And he couldn’t have that.
“So, how did it go?” Shuck padded up next to her, then leapt onto the wall, where he stretched out his immaterial body and settled down by her side. “Did everyone get home safe and sound?”
“Aye, I imagine so,” Shelley replied, reaching over to scratch behind his ears. He purred his appreciation. “Allie walked me home, and Chris went tae get Lance checked out with Commander Shimomura.”
“What about that Orpheus lad? Ye heard anything?”
Shelley shook her head. Dante had followed the group beneath his shroud of invisibility, Katrina a few steps ahead and insistent that he had stayed behind to wait for Emily. Shelley had known he was there, though, a dark blot of conflicted introversion on the catacombs’ stale aether.
“I heard whispers he got intae an argument with Guirlande about the nature of…” Shuck paused a moment. “…us. I were a wee bit worried fer the lad.”
Shelley wasn’t—or, at least, she didn’t want to be. “He’s always been like that,” she said. “Well, not always, but, well, ever since that night…”
She noticed movement in the street across from her, new definition coming to the forgotten pathways. It was Commander Thorbjorn of the Theatre. Shelley watched as she walked up to one of the brightest and most defined of the nearby houses and let herself inside.
“Looks like that exam of yours is finally over,” said Shuck. “Still cannae believe Payne let it happen in the first place.”
“Phantasia,” said Shelley, who had no doubts that the strange princess’s appearance had everything to do with the day’s events.
Shuck’s fur rippled at the mention of her name. “Dinnae remind me, lass. I’ve already seen the light at the end of the tunnel once in me life and I’m not ready tae go seeing it again, even if it is wearing a pretty face. It’s nae wonder the others havnae come outta hiding yet.”
Certainly, the Scar did seem rather less clouded since she last set her eyes—aethereal or otherwise—upon it. She could still see Commander Thorbjorn’s path through the streets, for one thing.
“I think she’s okay,” she said. “I mean, I’m just as weirded out as you, but…” She thought back to her first meeting with the Princess in Torhout Forest, when she’d extended her hand in greeting—and the rejection on her face when Alonie snubbed her. “We cannae go hating her just ‘cause she’s different. Besides, I told her we’d be friends.”
“Ye keep some strange company, lass.”
“I’m a strange girl.”
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Alonie really doesn’t like spirits!