1: The Girl from the Sky
Dante backed away as far as the parapet would allow. Somehow, he knew that if he gave her the slightest opening, she would dive inside his head and excavate anything and everything she wanted, no matter how obscure or repressed. More Malkuthian trickery, he reasoned. It was the logical explanation. She could access his thoughts the same way a simulator could manipulate them. He rubbed the back of his neck, just to make sure she hadn’t planted a temporary link without him knowing, but there was nothing there.
The girl hovered there for a moment more, eyes screwed up in focused concentration, then withdrew with a sad sigh. “There is no need to be so unfriendly,” she said. Her eyes skimmed to her right. “I am not overstaying my welcome!”
She really was.
“You should be honoured by my presence!”
He checked his neck a second time.
The girl pursed her lips. “I only wish to help you,” she said, her earnest tone and pleading eyes almost breaking Dante’s resilience. Before she could take advantage of that tiny crack in his conviction, a harsh voice ripped through the morning air.
“Dammit, Orpheus,” cried Lira Burn from somewhere inside the rooftop garden, “what have I told ye about leaving the feckin’ shed door open? Ye’ll be getting me tools nicked!”
With a look of delighted surprise, the mysterious girl pirouetted, and then she was gone.
Lira’s voice soon followed. “Oh gods, what the feck’re you after?”
Before the stranger could ask Dante for help dealing with his abrasive housemate, he pulled his cloak around him and vanished from sight. Yet even hidden beneath a veil of technology he felt exposed, as if those brilliant starlight eyes could pierce even the most advanced of Malkuthian tricks.
Of course, if she was a Malkuthian trick herself, as he theorised, it at least made sense. A whisper in the back of his mind suggested otherwise, but Dante had learned to ignore such things. Logic always trumped fantasy.
If only people would listen.
‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Therefore, a sufficiently advanced society should no longer believe in magic.’
—The Credo of the Saptamatrikas
Dante sat at his desk, pondering the Tablet’s words, a black blemish of truth on a smooth white surface. There was no place for silly superstitions in the mountainous arcology of Malkuth, no time for uninformed fears of falling moons or childish fantasies of supernatural spirits. Its people used technology to further their understanding of the world, not enslave others in ignorance.
And, one day, once he had proven himself worthy, Dante would join them—them, and his mother, in that place where there was no darkness.
A place so unlike his hometown as to be another world.
Dante’s view of Torsten was not a pleasant one. His window looked south, towards the distant City, but before that, much closer to home, lay a labyrinth of derelict streets and rubble, a moat of neglect encircling the twisted fortress the townsfolk called ‘the Scar’. An intimidating charcoal carapace a good fifty metres tall, the Scar encased a slice of the town in permanent twilight, serving as a constant reminder of the lunacy that gripped the outside world. Just as people thought Theia about to fall on their heads, so too did they believe the Scar some cursed, haunted tomb, left there by some wicked power or demonic influence.
Dante reasoned otherwise. How could he not? Compared to Malkuth, a pyramid so vast it reached into the clouds, the Scar was a trivial feat of engineering barely worth acknowledging. All it required was for some sufficiently advanced technology to fall into the wrong hands—and there were plenty of wrong hands out here in the Fifth Circle, four walls removed from the City’s sanctuary.
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How many fingers am I holding up, Dante?