Orphic Phantasia

38: A Game of Chance

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“Looks like Katrina is sitting this one out,” said Chris, as Annie took her place at the table, Amanda hovering over her shoulder. Opposite them, Giovanni Veres welcomed his own, nameless partner, her starlight dress so tight around her waist Emily wondered if she could even breathe. Naturally — and to much delight from the men in front — the camera paid particular attention to her breasts.

“I can’t blame her,” said Emily, scanning the arena stalls for signs of her housemate. Jonas Meeray’s magic might have neutered her aethereal senses, but it did nothing to diminish her Maiden’s eyesight.

At the table below, Veres and Andromeda shuffled each other’s deck of cards. “How they got this far, I’ll never know,” said Chris. “Annie’s deck isn’t even professional standard. I had to teach her the official rules and everything.”

Emily had a feeling they didn’t get this far through skill and cunning. “I still can’t believe they’ve made a spectator’s sport of this,” she said. “It’s just a card game.”

Then Giovanni Veres placed his first card on the table and the arena behind him came to life with a monstrous projection of light — perhaps even Aethex — depicting a humanoid vulture with a crooked beak and oversized mane of feathers. Given the roar of noise around her, Emily figured this a good move. Andromeda replied with a monster of her own, small and kitten-like, the sort of thing Katrina would probably collect in plush toy form. No doubt Seelie already had them on sale in theatres across the world. Well, those theatres that weren’t under Sophist sanctions, at any rate.

“This isn’t a good match-up,” said Chris, leaning forward in his seat, brow furrowed with concentration. “They’re going to need more than a little luck if they want to avoid a bloodbath.”

Emily rolled her eyes. She had better things to do than analyse a children’s card game. She was just that moment about to turn her back on it and start searching for Katrina when she noticed her housemate not ten metres away, dressed in a smart suit and bowtie, wandering down a nearby aisle with a confused look on her face. Calling her name, Emily pushed her way past an unappreciative audience to reach her.

Without so much as a word, Jonas Meeray followed in her shadow.

“Emily!” cried Katrina. “Miss Thorbjorn said you were—” Her eyes fell on Dante’s cloak and her tawny face paled. “W—where’s Dante?”

“Outside with Lance,” said Emily. “He had trouble getting past security. Too young.”

Kat breathed a long sigh of relief. She looked ready to collapse from exhaustion, her usually bright eyes sleepless and dull. “Wait, too old? That’s odd. The age limit is thirteen. Waaait, did Chris give him some dodgy ID as a joke?” She furrowed her brow. Sometimes it was hard to tell when Katrina was faking anger and when she really meant it.

“We didn’t get IDs,” Emily explained. “We, eh, had some help…”

She turned to Meeray, who gave a polite nod as Kat turned her suspicions upon him. “We need to talk,” she said to Emily.

Around them, the crowd cheered.

“Somewhere quiet,” Emily replied.

Kat grinned. “I know just the place.”

Sadly, it isn’t time to duel.