25: The Morning After
As they rounded the corner by Ms Thorbjorn’s cottage, Emily expected to see Director Guirlande waiting for them, as he had been the day before. If there was one person who could put a stop to all this, one person whose words could overpower even the suggestions of the Sidhe, it was him—and yet the street stood empty, the Sophists silent in their protests. There was no escape.
They reached the Theatre with moments to spare. The Seelie citadel stood lifeless, save for a few early morning lights. Even the telescreens, so often looping Veritas reports first thing in the morning, were dead.
“Any idea where we’re supposed to go?” asked Emily. She could have closed her eyes and traced the path of their fellow initiates through the aether, but the longer she could keep a hold of her innocence the better. Sure, the mask had slipped a couple of times of late, but never in front of those who didn’t know better.
A red-faced Kat looked around the Theatre grounds with panicked eyes. “Oh no! We’re twenty seconds too late! They’re left without us!”
There was the slightest of rustles behind them, like the sound of a single leaf falling in an autumn breeze. “I can assure you, that is not the case,” said a stern female voice.
It was Captain Espinosa, her eyes more vivid than Emily had ever known—and green, to boot, not brown. But this was no technological trick, no Malkuthian lens, like the one Alonie wore: this was a sign of the aether, of an intentional, controlled projection. Just like the Sidhe, the Captain Espinosa standing before them was an ideal, an image, a conscious form existing in a realm beyond the physical. Like a description in a book, the details were the same for everybody—the dark, wavy hair; tanned, olive skin; defined cheekbones and a thin frown—but everybody saw something different, something pulled from their own memories, their own expectations.
Katrina, oblivious to the artistry at work, just twisted her lips and asked, “Then where’s the ship?”
Ms Espinosa pointed to the far end of the Theatre’s grounds, where the initiates would usually engage in various open-air sports. “You will understand when you arrive,” she said.
Kat gave the briefest of nods and then she was off, pots clanking and buckles jingling as she jogged across the Theatre grounds like some vagrant merchant trying to catch up with her caravan. Emily wondered what she was expecting to happen once they reached Avalon. It was as if she had prepared for some long-term siege or crippling trek across the uncharted wilderness beyond the Seventh Wall, where monsters unknown stalked lands forgotten to the daily pulse of Theia’s tidal wrath. Such horrors seemed almost preferable to the truth.
Then, a short way across the Theatre football pitch, Kat vanished in a ripple of air.
When they reached the area in question, Byron reached out and poked an invisible field with curious finger. The world seemed to distort around it, as if he were disturbing a liquid suspended in the air. “What say you, Orpheus? You are always so eager to divulge your knowledge of Arcologian marvels.”
Dante traced his own fingertips along the edge of the barrier. “It’s a cloak,” he said. Then, with a furrow of his brow and a shrug of his shoulders, he stepped into the illusion.
Byron turned to Emily. “Where would we be without his observational genius?” he said, then followed after him.
Emily glanced over her shoulder and spied the peak of the Ritches Estate in the distance.
I’ll try not to do anything stupid, Leira.
With a heavy sigh, she stepped beyond the veil.
Chapter 25 End
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Obviously, if you know the person projecting in real life, you have something of basis to work from, to the point that, if you don’t realise that they’re a projection, you would just assume they were there in person (even if there are obvious differences, such as, in Ms Espinosa’s case, their eye colour).