Chapter 9. Subversion (Part 3)

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"I never asked for a position of power. I was selected to represent Shadow City by the people themselves: your parents and grandparents. Any power I do exercise is merely to manifest the collective will of Ozghard. Through the office of the Wizard, our great nation speaks with one voice."

Adelaide sat on the circular stone platform behind her father, impatiently awaiting the end of his loathsome speech. She wanted to get up from her bronze throne and tell everyone the awful truth of their situation, but she didn't dare move with the Zenith seated right beside her on the throne of gold.

Pierre continued: "Democracy is essential but not in itself sufficient to ensure fair and just governance. There are higher principles which must occasionally trump even the will of the people. This is the sacred purpose of the royal line: to guide and counsel the people, to speak with the infinite wisdom and authority of Alo. The Wizard and the Zenith... On these two legs, United Ozghard stands tall!"

This was the part where the crowd always burst into an unbridled roar of whistled applause. Pierre bowed humbly and returned to his silver throne. Adelaide had assumed the speech would lose its potency after it had been delivered a few times, but the opposite seemed to be true: The more the words were repeated, the easier they were to believe. Those unhappy Shadows milling about in the haze of the City needed something to put their faith in. They adopted the ideals of United Ozghard, and they literally worshipped Azama as a goddess.

But it wasn't the real Azama, and Adelaide knew it.

Later that evening, the Zenith was summoned for an emergency meeting of the War Council, and Adelaide found a rare opportunity to speak with her Da in private. When no guards were looking, she waved for him to follow and led him through her bedroom and out onto a ledge she often used when she wanted to disappear awhile.

"What is it, Addy?" Pierre asked once it was safe to talk.

"It's Azama," Adelaide began gravely. "I've been thinking about this good and hard, and... I don't believe that's really her. Ada would never treat us the way that woman does, all sweet to our faces, but..." She looked out the window, searching in vain for a concrete example of ill treatment. "And that speech she has you giving! It's just— I know Ada's grown and changed and all that, but it just doesn't feel like her."

Pierre took a moment to think. He knew very well the situation they were in; he'd seen through Isala's ruse within the first hour. But for some reason, he'd assumed Adelaide would remain oblivious, waiting on him to find a way out of their predicament. He'd forgotten that she had her own rapidly maturing mind, her own particular drives and abilities. The last time he was being used like this, wasn't it she who had saved him? He'd spent months locked in a mental prison, and then Thrako had drained just about all the life he had left. It was Adelaide who'd come to his rescue.

Staring down at his daughter's naively earnest face, Pierre's eyes welled up with tears. He smiled broadly and turned away, but Adelaide had already seen. In a small voice, she asked, "What's wrong, Da?"

"Nothing, dear," he replied without thinking. "Well... a great deal, actually, but— I was just thinking how marvelous you're turning out to be."

Adelaide grinned and furrowed her brow. She opened her mouth to reply but thought of nothing to say.

"You've been through so much, Addy. We've both been through a lot, but you... You've been yourself the whole time! How did you manage that with Ada hidden away in there?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Da! Ada's not like that. She doesn't just take control of people like they don't matter. She's not like that witch calling herself the Zenith. That's not Ada!"

"I know, child. I know," said Pierre. Adelaide was surprised to hear him agree so readily. "I'm not entirely sure, but to me, but I believe the impostor is Isala. She and I used to be... very close, actually. I thought she was Queen already, but I reckon..."

"Thlowdyn is the true Queen," Adelaide replied brusquely. "And the King is—" Suddenly, she drew a blank. She knew she'd met the King, but for the life of her, she couldn't recall when or where.

"Let's not worry about politics right now," Pierre cut in. "We just need to wait this thing out until the right opportunity presents itself. This precarious situation can't go on much longer. Someone outside the City is bound to see what's happening here and put a stop to it."

"Why can't we put a stop to it?"

"Addy, you've got to be reasonable. Isala is dangerous, and we're prisoners here, like it or not."

Adelaide frowned. "But you're the Wizard. Can't you say something that would—"

"I have no more power that any man on the street!" Pierre insisted, raising his voice a bit higher than he'd intended. "We need to get back inside. Just follow my lead and do as you're told. Understand?" The words sounded more pleading than authoritative. The old man was simply afraid.

"Yes sir," Adelaide answered mechanically. Her father wasn't quite the hero she'd imagined him to be. He knew the Zenith was an evil witch, and he was going to keep right on doing everything she asked. In Adelaide's way of seeing things, every day she didn't expose this pretender to the throne, she was participating in a lie. She was sure her mother would never have gone along with such a cowardly farce.

They stepped back into Adelaide's room, and Pierre shuffled out without another word. He hesitated at the door but could think of nothing to add that wouldn't make matters worse. Once Adelaide was alone, she settled at her writing desk, awaiting inspiration. The message she needed to communicate came to her right away, simple and clear:


Isala's on the throne.

She must be overthrown.


Somehow, it rhymed. It was rather catchy, actually. Adelaide could imagine the lines being shouted by throngs of angry protesters. The problem was that it was in English, and the people of Shadow City spoke mostly Yomba. She'd have to translate:


Itsalda ba se nes.

Ambaso the gales.


Now, wasn't that strange? Just as easily as she'd come up with the English, the Yomba words poured out of her. She was already working out the symbols to write down when she realized how perfectly the couplet fit with her original idea of a protest chant.

Water, wall, basket. House, person, sprout, person... The last word "gales" was the most important: Foot, cane, person. It meant something akin to "overthrow" but with the sense of forcing the ruler out permanently, exiling them from society. It was a strong word, packed with emotion. On a whim, Adelaide drew its symbols larger than the rest, culminating in the stylized representation of a person to represent the "s" sound at the end.

This symbol was ordinarily drawn with both of the figure's arms extended into the air, as if calling for the reader's attention, but Adelaide felt moved to pose it a bit differently: Only the figure's right arm was raised, and its right hand formed a first with the thumb pointing out to one side. It looked like a gesture of defiance, telling Isala to get out of Ozghard and never come back.

Adelaide took just a moment to admire her work before coming to her senses and realizing the danger she'd just put herself in. If she were caught with such a message, the punishment would be severe. She hastily folded the paper into a glider—a trick her mother had shown her back in Whitechapel—and sent it flying out the palace window into the thick evening fog.

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