37: Chasing Emily
Dante was about to turn around and leave when Lance grabbed his arm. “C’mon, dudes,” he said to the judges, “I can vouch for him.”
“Rules are rules,” said the judge. “If we let one slip through then what do we say to all those behind you? Now, Mr Algar, if you would like to move along…”
Lance turned to Dante. “Don’t worry, duder, I’m not leaving you behind. What’s say we head back into town leave all that serious biz to Christof?”
Dante, hands in pockets, shrugged his shoulders and, with a last look at the archway leading into the tower, he started back to Bolventor. It didn’t matter that he wouldn’t be at Emily’s side: she had Chris and Katrina, Mr al-Hakim and Ms Thorbjorn. There was nothing he could offer that they could not.
Lance clapped him on the shoulder. “What have I told you about cheering up, dude?” he said. “C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink and we can shoot some pool, maybe impress a few ladies with our ball skills, you know? Not that there are many around these parts…”
Dante looked up and saw for the first time what he really ought to have noticed the moment he arrived in Bolventor: though the town had plenty of mothers hurrying their children from one place to the next, and even a few greying grandmothers tending the market stalls, he could count the number of women his own age, unattached and childless, on his own fingers. Either they were all so desperate to escape the underground they had surrendered their dignity to the Sultan and his clientele, or they were simply too afraid to walk the streets in case such men forced the issue. No wonder Emily had hurried him from market stall to market stall: a young woman with bright blue hair would stand out in a town like this worse than Joel Gibson at a Sophist congregation.
Much like the woman he spied across the street, in fact, who stood watching him with curious magenta eyes that matched the colour of her long, glittering hair. At first, Dante thought Alonie Kent had undergone a mild makeover—but Alonie Kent wouldn’t be seen dead in a white dress, let alone one that left so much of her skin exposed. He noticed too that the locals were keeping their distance from her, some bowing their heads as if in respect, others hurrying along with eyes cast downwards. Now he thought about it, they had treated Emily in much the same way.
Then the woman looked over her shoulder and motioned a pair of familiar figures out of the crowd. Dante knew who to expect the moment he saw that familiar hat, battered from the wear of adventures past. The instant Byron caught his eyes, he started across the street towards him. His voice lifted about the crowd.
“Orpheus! Where’s Emily?”
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Just the character you need when you want to pad the word count out!