Kolb returned to his soup and picked up the entire bowl, tipping it into his mouth and swallowing it noisily. He dropped the empty bowl back onto the tray with a clatter, wiping his hand across his mouth.
“Theatre, my boy,” he growled, his wide blue eyes flashing as his body began to uncoil like a tiger. “Smoke and mirrors. All of us are playing, and all of us are lying. All the big families in the city, indeed in the country, are lying a constant lie! A lie most beautiful, to curl about their ears and reassure them that the world they live in ticks on–that their clock has not run down and their lives are useful and significant, a towering powerhouse to be respected and admired rather than a fossil, a curio to be mused at and tittered over.”
“There is only one difference between them and us, Master Edmund,” he said, leaning closer, his voice dipping low as his bright blue eyes narrowed. “You and I both know it’s a lie! The world has moved on, leaving the old ways in the dust like a train speeding off into the setting sun. The old families have no place in the new world, and the idea terrifies them! Especially Matron. She’s going to do everything in her power to keep everything the way she likes it, and she’s got a game a mile long–I don’t think any of us have even an inkling of what her endgame might be. You’ve been here… what, a month now?
“And a half,” Edmund corrected, shifting his weight uncomfortably back and forth.
Kolb nodded. “Well, that’s certainly long enough for you to notice she’s not a happy person. She simply cannot accept the future that lies before her, and so she struggles against it like a trussed-up animal, clawing and biting at anyone who tries to help. She hates everything new–even new people, like yourself.
That didn’t sound quite right, Edmund thought. It was true, Matron had never spoken particularly kindly to him, but it seemed she never spoke kindly to anyone. And when he had spoken with her in the rain she made it sound like she was desperate for something new to happen to the family. Edmund decided not to press the point, and instead just nodded.
“Of course, everyone is allowed to like or hate people however they wish,” Kolb waved a hand dismissively, “but it makes it very hard to get in her good graces. She’s hard to get along with, my lad, and easy to anger. Take my advice boy, and come with me to Africa. Get away from all of this, and go where you will be happier.”
“Thank you for the offer,” Edmund tried to smile, “but I don’t think I’d be very happy being a Popomus.” Kolb looked surprised.
“Really?” he sounded disbelieving. “Well, in that case you’re a bit out of luck, aren’t you?”
Kolb strolled around the room, his feet neatly sidestepping the discarded posters and papers that littered the room. After a moment, he clapped his hands, spun about, and pointed a thick finger right between Edmund’s eyes.
“Eureka!” He shouted, a manic grin plastered over his face. “There’s nothing for it, my boy! We must begin your training!”