Korrie-Anne Wedekind danced from one stranger to the next, her hair a twisting river of sunshine to match the golden tiles beneath her toes. Were they aware of any local spirits, she would ask them with a smile; did they know where she might find Himeros?
Himeros. Emily played the name around in her head. The Sidhe liked meaningful names, especially those with ancient and powerful histories. ‘Freyr’, for example, was the name of an old fertility god dating back thousands of years. Leira had whole tomes filled with lists and descriptions of such deities. Were she able to, Emily would have asked her for help, but their cellulars had lost contact with the outside world around the same time they reached the island.
Two men, their tight muscles bronzed from long days spent lounging beneath the sun, shook their heads at Korrie’s questioning. They had never heard of a ‘Himeros’. They did, however, know of a nice little retreat where no one would bother them, and she was welcome to join them there.
Their ivory gleam of intent was enough to send Korrie scuttling back to Ceres’s side. The men laughed. Her friend was welcome to join them, they said.
Then they noticed Emily and their fantasies, so loud and so vibrant that even a seer trying her best to hide from her powers could see them staining the world, dissolved beneath a curtain of furrowed concern. They learned in to one another, exchanged a hushed whisper. Was she the one the Oracle mentioned? It wasn’t worth the risk, either way.
With a grimace of disappointment, the men made their excuses and continued on their way. Plenty of fish in the sea.
Ceres watched them leave with a curious eyebrow. “Must know they’re out of their league,” she said, taking Emily’s arm in hers and flashing a knowing smirk.
Emily blushed. It was what Ceres expected of her, of the shy young woman uncomfortable with her own beauty and the effect it had on others. Little did she realise that Emily Fomalhaut was as much a lie as Avalon itself.
And what a lie that was! Everywhere Emily looked there were signs of the synthetic, from rolling fields of wild turquoise dotted with ‘herbal baths’ and ‘relaxation pools’, to thick groves of cerulean and silver, pumping copious amounts of aethex into the atmosphere, where it could shape whatever reality its overseers desired. Between that and the implant in the back of her neck, Emily had little choice but to keep her third eye open, to peer into this world’s twisted and amorphous shadow, just so she could tell which parts of it were real and which the product of some digital datastream working to keep her in the dark.
In hindsight, throwing the initiates into the depths of Torhout Forest and asking them to engage in a virtual simulation had been a clever move on Rembrandt Payne’s part. Hopefully, it had been enough to open their eyes to the truth.
Emily wondered how Dante was taking it.
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Ironically, there aren’t that many fish in the sea.