17: Fear of the Light
Commander Thorbjorn didn’t exit the house. Maybe it had its own secret passage, and that was how Seelie got in and out of the Scar. Maybe there were dozens of them. Even so, Shelley hoped the Sophists would leave hers alone — because it was hers, even if half the Second Class now knew about it.
“So,” said Shuck, “ye were going tae tell me about your day?”
Shelley waited a moment, just in case something decided to interrupt, but, with the Commander gone and the lost souls still in hiding, the Scar was perhaps the quietest she had ever known it.
“Well, it all started with a message from Chief Payne,” she began.
Astrid studied her father’s face as he watched the message on her cellular. This time she was playing it cautious, as she ought to have done when Rembrandt Payne ordered his trainees into the Scar. That she had allowed her desire to impress her father overwhelm her common sense would no doubt frustrate and embarrass her until the day she proved herself above such childish longings.
Her father frowned. “This troubles me,” he said, placing the cellular down on his desk. “After all that has happened, Seelie would try such a thing?”
Recognising it as a rhetorical question, Astrid remained silent.
Her father closed his eyes, slipped into a brief moment of silent contemplation. Astrid looked to his assistant in the hopes of an answer. Apeliotes might have only been a ten-year-old boy — and a Donaran one at that, with a vivid shock of turquoise hair he refused to dye a more respectable colour — but he often seemed to know things even the Director did not. This time, however, he remained as silent as his master, his blue-green eyes staring off into space, as if at things that existed beyond human sight.
“I see,” said her father, emerging from his meditation with that gift of sudden insight that had earned him his place as Director. “Astrid, you will ignore this message and remain here. The same goes for Vesperia and Elizabeth.”
“But, Father!” She couldn’t stop herself. “If there is something going on, we must be there to investigate it. That is why you sent us to Seelie in the first place!”
“While they work in Torsten, yes, but this would put you far beyond my reach, Astrid. I cannot—”
Before he could continue, the doors to his chamber crashed open. “This is an outrage!” cried a red-faced Lord York as he stormed into the room, waving a hexagonal cellular in his hand.
Oscar Whittlesey, of all people, followed in his shadow. Astrid could think of no reason why.
“This!” York slammed the cellular on the desk next to Astrid’s, pushing her aside without the slightest acknowledgement. “This is the final straw, Guirlande.”
Astrid looked to Oscar, then back to York, then Oscar again. She realised then how obvious it was — and how ignorant she had been. The way Oscar held his chin up; those thin lips forced into a frown, but so very desperate to escape into a smug smile; the meticulously groomed facial hair and elaborate clothing, as if to impress a princess — all of it in mimicry of the man who loomed over her father.
“I have had just about enough of Seelie,” said York, “and I have had just about enough of you. Where are the prisoners I demanded?”
“I am afraid that you underestimated Seelie’s tenacity,” replied Astrid’s father. “We searched, but found none. Perhaps they never even entered the Scar, and it was all a ruse to force your hand? Have you considered that?”
York snarled. “You are a liar, Guirlande. I have a woman muttering insanity and a man, barely older than my son, with broken ears. Are you going to tell me these were mere ‘accidents’?”
“The Agnoia has a powerful influence on the weak minded.”
Oscar led a rather secluded life before he signed up for the initiate program, which is why Astrid never recognised him beforehand.