Orphic Phantasia

34: Beneath the Surface

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They were moving alongside the second shuttle in the queue when Emily stopped and dragged him into the shadows. Ahead of them, two figures emerged from the front shuttle, a floating cargo crate between them. The lead figure, a short and podgy man with thinning hair and a gaudy, oversized coat lined with caramel fur, waved the crate onto the platform. “Come on, Dave, we ain’t got all day!” he said, his accent unplaceable and strangely melodic, with a touch of frantic impatience.

The other figure, tall and lanky, with a mop of light hair and a suit that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Sophist lawyer, grumbled. “It ain’t my fault they’re slower than a snail, Trev.”

Emily bit down on her lip. “I think they might be thieves,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “Could be a good source of intel.”

Before Dante could stop her, she strode out into the light, back straight and head held high. Dave, the thief in the suit, was the first to notice her. His mouth flapped open, twisting in search of words as she climbed up onto the platform. At last, he managed a whimpered, “T—Trev, I—I think we’ve got company.”

Trev, who had disappeared into a nearby door with the crate, called out, “Who’s it this time? Not another one of those bloody Seelie kids, is it?”

“Trev, it’s—it’s—it’s…” He gulped, his face pale as a rat’s. “Y—you should come out here, Trev.”

Trev poked his head out onto the platform and caught sight of Emily. “Gordon Bennett, Dave, you could’ve at least told me she was a seer!” Brushing back his wisps of hair, he waddled out onto the platform and, with a tug of his jacket and a wonky smile, he bowed his head in Emily’s direction. “Greetings, mademoiselle. And to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”

“I was just in the area,” Emily replied. “I noticed there was a holdup and thought I’d investigate. Is everything okay?”

“Of course. Of course.” Trev grinned. “We got wind of a faulty batch of Alchemium doing the rounds, you see. The Sultan sent us to sort it out. Dodgy stuff, that Alchemium.” He turned to his associate. “You heard the lady, Dave. Get those trains up and running before the Sultan tans our hides!”

As Dave climbed down into the tunnel, Emily started towards the room Trev had just emerged from. Trev, flustered, stepped into her path and tried to take her arm as best he could without actually laying a finger on her. “You know, since you’re down here, maybe we could discuss a little business…” he said, trying to usher her away from the door.

Emily disarmed him with little more than a smile, then continued on her way. Dave, climbing back onto the platform with what looked like a sandbag, glared at Trev with slack-jawed disbelief. Behind him, the shuttles resumed their journey.

Dante, who felt more invisible now than he had even done while wearing his cloak, paced across the platform after Emily. Trev and Dave were too busy arguing to notice him. Emily, at least, cast a half-smile his way as he entered the room they would have rather have kept secret.

“It’s not exactly earth-shattering stuff,” she said.

It appeared to be some kind of storeroom, packed with crates not unlike the one from the shuttle. A scattered series of tubes connected some to a pedestal in the centre of the room. On closer inspection, it had the porous surface of a vendor. A wired cellular provided access to its controls. As the two thieves shuffled into their secret layer, all bashful smiles and nervous laughter, Emily picked up the cellular and tapped at its screen.

“This is an interesting piece of technology you have here,” she said.

There was this one time Trev and Dave dressed up as Batman and Robin. It was hilarious!