Chapter 35

A Bold Venture

Bolventor’s market was a parade of colour, a midday bustle vivid beneath the vast banks of artificial sunlight that hung from the cavern’s ceiling. Stalls and stores of every description sold items in kind, from battered-but-home-grown fruits and vegetables to handmade clothes and carved furnishings. Emily even found a book of poetry with pages so fragile to the touch that it might well have survived since the lost days of the Old World.

Not that it surprised her; Bolventor was a town unlike any she had seen outside of books and faded pictures. While other towns sought to emulate what came before, to recreate from the ruins a vision of the world that the tides had swept away, this was the genuine article. From its cracked roads to its humble houses to its tiny grey cottage of a church, walking the streets of Bolventor was like stepping into another time, another, more innocent era, devoid of Theia’s curse.

At least, that was, until you turned and saw the presence of the Fortunate Isles looming over the town. It was the same tower that rose over Avalon, a faceted crystal shard that pierced through the centre of the cavern on its journey towards the supposed paradise above. Just the sight of it was enough to make Emily scratch at the back of her neck, at the scar their little implant had left. After her encounter with the synthetics in the tunnels above, she had no doubts that the Fortunate Isles were tracking her every movement. Catching sight of a man in a khaki uniform surveying the area ahead of them, she clasped Dante’s hand and pulled him over to the nearest stall.

“Here,” she said, grabbing an apple and thrusting it into his hands. “It might not look it, but this stuff is better than anything they feed you up there.” She fished around in her pocket for the handful of battered coins she had brought with her, then slipped a couple into the stall-owner’s hands, despite his attempts at protest. “You poured your life and soul into this,” she told him. “It’s the least I can offer.”

Dante studied the apple as if he was a scientist investigating a suspicious artefact or newly discovered life form, then took a tentative bite. If he had any opinions, however, he did not share them, not even with a smile of delight or frown of distaste. He continued to nibble as she led him away to the next stall.

Even had she avoided Avalon’s implant, her pursuers would have tracked her down eventually: Maidens stood out by their very nature, and the people of Bolventor seemed to hold them in particularly high esteem. As she scoured the market for another distraction, another excuse to hide her eyes, she spied a stall selling crystal trinkets and, deciding it an excellent place to find Leira a birthday present, started towards it. The crowd, in turn, parted to accommodate her, a sea of respectful nods and admiring faces—but not one, she noticed, her own age, her own gender.

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Here’s a photo of Bolventor’s church as it stands now. The hamlet itself grew quite a bit after people starting moving to the moors to escape the rising tides.