37: Chasing Emily
A man in front of them, his suit jacket straining to contain his girth, looked back and grumbled, “Don’t we all?” Noticing Lance’s Malkuthian coat, he let out a snarl of discontent and turned away. The blond-haired, bronze-skinned initiate was guaranteed entry on looks alone.
So too was any woman below a certain age, regardless of appearance. “Anyone under eighteen is good to go,” explained Lance, watching as a woman with the slightest trace of crows’ feet around her eyes slinked back to Bolventor with a scowl. “Over that and they start asking questions. Like, really kinda harsh ones. Those dudes know what they like.”
Dante recalled Chris’s talk of ‘clientele’. Certainly, it wasn’t unknown for a wealthy man to purchase himself a bride, but the way things were here in Bolventor he half expected to find a market beyond the gates, stalls hawking nubile young women for a few slips of alchemium or a place on the next cruiser to Malkuth.
Ahead of them, the gruff rat and his companions—a pair of young men in patchwork suits—stepped up for their evaluation. A pair of smooth-faced men in crisp velvet suits studied them from a secure booth and gestured their observations onto immaterial screens. There was a shaking of heads. One judge leaned forward to address his microphone.
“I’m afraid today’s stakes are too high for individuals of your standing,” he said, his lip-smacking poise and condescending tone reminding Dante of the conniving Jonas. “Perhaps you could try again tomorrow?”
The men turned away without protest, but the one who had spoken to Lance shot him another snarl as he stomped past on his way back to Bolventor. Once they had left the stage, security gestured the initiates forward. It was their turn for judgement.
Lance strode ahead, chin held high, but Dante found his hands digging for his pockets, searching for the security of his cloak and the cool comfort of the Saptamatrikas’ wisdom. Was this how they judged those who wished to enter Malkuth, with an obnoxious panel of men jeering over pretty girls and brushing aside any who didn’t meet their standards? Was this the truth behind Arided’s lies?
The two men glanced at their panels of information and muttered amongst themselves, then the head judge leaned forward, a glaze of boredom clouding his eyes.
“Lance Algar,” he said, “you are permitted entry, but your friend will have to stay behind. I’m afraid we’ve an age limit of sixteen for today. I’m sure you understand.” Turning his eyes on Dante, he managed a sad smile of commiseration. “Tomorrow, perhaps?”
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Eighteen is the new twenty-five. Twenty is the new thirty-five. Naturally, this doesn’t apply to the men because Society!