Orphic Phantasia

37: Chasing Emily

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Dante was about to turn around and leave when Lance grabbed him 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, 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 and leave all that serious biz to Christof?”

Dante, hands in pockets, did not disagree. 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…”

It was the sort of thing Dante should have noticed before now, were he doing his job right. Bolventor had plenty of mothers, hurrying their children from one place to the next, and even a few greying grandmothers tending the market stalls, but 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. In hindsight, Emily, with her bright blue hair, must have stood out like a raven at a Sophist congregation.

Much like the woman he spied across the street, watching him with curious magenta eyes that matched the colour of her long, glittering hair. In contrast to the rats hurrying around her — and keeping a safe, cautionary distance, as they had with Emily — she wore a simple, pleated dress of white fabric, draped over a tunic. It had an elegance that few could pull off, not least here in the slums.

Then she 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 moment Byron caught his eye, he started across the street towards him. His voice lifted about the crowd.

“Orpheus! Where’s Emily?”

Just the character you need when you want to pad the word count out!