Orphic Phantasia

12: The Fogs of Agnoia

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Two dark shapes clamped down on their attacks. Azhara’d al-Hakim stood over them, a shadow of a mountain, and frowned. Without another word, both girls staggered back and bowed with stammered apologies. Astrid, too, lowered her eyes in shame. Only Elizabeth refused to show her respects, but she was too busy clutching Astrid’s shoulder, cowering—the Master had appeared as if out of thin air, and the Founding Fathers believed such talents as much a threat as the Agnoia itself.

Astrid’s father had told her otherwise. He told her that you underestimated Seelie at your peril.

The Master’s expression did not change. “You shame the memory of those who died here,” he said, his low voice almost a growl. “All three of you,” he added, tracing his eyes from Vesperia to Ceres to Elizabeth, hiding in Astrid’s shadow. He turned back to the Donaran. “You are finished here, yes?”

Ceres nodded.

“Then leave.”

With none of her usual confidence, Ceres Mendoza picked up her knife then glanced over her shoulder. On cue, Korrie-Anne Wedekind scuttled out of hiding to take her lover’s arm, her face filled with a pouting pity. No doubt they would tell their friends it was all the Astrid’s fault. They always did. Her father called it the ‘curse of the Guirlandes’, and she endured it for his sake.

For her mother’s.

“Astrid.” Master al-Hakim’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts. “Do not shut yourself off to your surroundings. This place is dangerous, especially for those weak of heart.”

It took her a moment to realise what he meant, but then she caught sight of Elizabeth fleeing the courtyard, her sobs trembling through the stillness. Vesperia gave immediate chase. Astrid turned to thank the Master.

He was gone. As suddenly and silently as he had appeared, Azhara’d al-Hakim had vanished. Pushing the implausibility out of her mind, she chased after her friends. You underestimated Seelie at your peril.

They caught up to Elizabeth just outside the circle of houses and the obelisk’s halo of light. “I’ll kill her!” she mumbled, over and over, as if it were a prayer that could keep her pain at bay. Astrid reached out for her shoulder—

Elizabeth spun, eyes wide with madness, reddened cheeks streaked with tears. Astrid flinched, expecting, for the slightest moment, her friend to lash out at her, mistake her for the forest witch she so despised. Then the madness passed, and she fell into Astrid’s arms, weeping. “I hate it,” she said. “I just want it to go away. All of it.” Astrid held her tight. She knew the pain. She had lived through it just as Elizabeth had. Their mothers had burned together. Orders direct from the Founding Father.

I hate them all. I’d tear down their accursed church and all its lies if I could. I hate them! I hate them!

“Princess!” Vesperia’s voice, distant. Poor Vesperia had never known her real family, never known a mother’s love—I’ll make them pay! They’ll all pay!

“The fogs are moving. Astrid!”

The panic in Vesperia’s voice shook Astrid from her thoughts in time to notice the dark mist churning at their feet, growing in bulk as waves spilled out of the shadows like the Theia-driven tides. When Elizabeth noticed, she screamed.

“It’s the Agnoia!” she said. “I can hear it. It’s calling out to me…” She broke into a sob. “It’s coming for me. It’s coming for everyone!”

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It’s like being stuck in a nightclub with a dodgy smoke machine. A dodgy smoke machine that pumps out FEAR AND TERROR.