Orphic Phantasia

1: The Girl from the Sky

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“This is what you get for being antisocial,” said Emily with a smirk. “You miss all the drama!”

“I’m not antisocial,” he lied — if people would be idiots, he would ignore them. “I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

“I live in the room beneath yours. I don’t count.”

“I spoke to Joel yesterday.”

“Yeah, but when was the last time you spent time with him outside of the Theatre?”

A while. Years, probably. Not since they finished school. Joel was one of his oldest friends, but his habit for exaggeration and melodrama, not to mention his conviction that his guitar was some kind of legendary weapon, had long ago opened a gulf between them. That he was now dating someone openly obsessed with fairies, who gave Dante the evil eye whenever they crossed paths, hadn’t helped matters.

“See?” said Emily. “You’re antisocial! If you’re not out here training, you’re locked in your room, and if you’re not in your room, you’re on the roof. Alone.”

“As a matter of fact,” he met her eye — he could win this battle, “I sometimes get visitors.”

“Housemates don’t count.”

“She wasn’t.”

He didn’t expect such a sharp intake of breath. Emily shuffled along the bench towards him. “Who?” she whispered.

Dante’s leg started to twitch. Emily was close enough that he could see her eyelashes, the smudge of turquoise makeup around her eyes that matched the colour of her shirt. He felt as if he had fallen into close orbit around the Sun, its gravity pulling all his attention towards it, refusing to let him escape its clutches. She wanted the truth, and he felt compelled to offer it.

“A girl,” he said. Realising the implications too late, he spluttered, “Not a girl girl. Not even a real person girl. An illusion. A—” He really didn’t know how to explain his encounter without it sounding like a fantastical dream.

Much to his own surprise, Emily found the words for him: “A white-haired girl, right? Calling herself a princess and promising to save the world from Theia and—” her smiled faltered “—other things?”

Like the thing he dared not think. “Well, she didn’t call herself a princess,” he said. Maybe that was a part of her test? To see what sort of ludicrous stories people would believe? It seemed a reasonable assumption.

“Well, at least I don’t have to worry about you not believing me then,” said Emily. “Kat said you’d never believe it.”

“You saw her too?” Maybe the avatar meant to test Emily as well. If anyone was worthy of Malkuth, it was the girl whose parents had stolen her away from it.

Emily turned away and waved at Horatio Stark, who had just jogged over from their apartment to begin his morning run of the training course. He acknowledged them both, then sprung into action.

“I was asleep,” she said, as Horatio cleared a climbing wall without once touching the ropes. “Not that it normally keeps them out,” she added, under her breath.

“Avatars?” He figured he might as well be open with her. If anyone would validate his beliefs, it would be the blue-haired girl from the Third Terrace of Malkuth.

Horatio scrambled up the climbing net, vaulted over the top, then jumped the final three metres.

“Avatar?” Emily scrunched up her face, as if Dante had just told her he thought the girl a fairy.

“That’s what I figured.” He tapped beneath the arch of his visor. “This didn’t come up with anything, so she must be pretty advanced.”

Emily shook her head and smiled. “Well, I guess you only see what you expect to see. Byron thought she was some kind of drug-induced hallucination. Which is probably for the best, really. Lira, on the other hand … well, Lira swore a lot when I asked her opinion.”

That didn’t surprise him. Nor did Horatio finishing the course almost as soon as he started it, before launching into a second circuit. “I left her with Lira,” he said, trying to add a hint of humour to his tone. Judging from Emily’s sudden scowl, he failed.

“Not the best idea,” she said. “Lira hates them.”

“Well, she was never one for technology.”

Emily grimaced. “Dante, that girl wasn’t an avatar, or anything else from out of the City…” She bit down on her lip. She sounded pained, like a parent admitting to their child that all those bedtime stories of great quests and legendary heroes were just that — stories. Her eyes turned to Horatio, followed him around the course.

“Dante,” she said at last, “that girl was one of the Sidhe.”

Horatio’s a nice guy.