Orphic Phantasia

32: Acceptance

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She felt his eyes on her shoulder, the warmth of her Brand as it tingled from acknowledgement. She knew what he was thinking. “It was Freyr,” she said. “He offered to hide it in exchange for my”—she grimaced—“services. Not even Seelie can see it. The only way anyone can is if I admit my real name to them, and that’s not something I do very often. You should count yourself lucky!”

She pictured his aura for signs of reaction to mention of Prince Freyr, but it was as dense and unreadable as always.

“Services?” he asked.

“They—” Emily glanced at the door. Despite all Himeros’s reassurances, she still expected to spy those piercing emerald eyes and that wicked, wolfish smile out of the corner of her eye. “They want me to help them investigate the Erebus,” she admitted. “I think they’re searching for Branded…”

She winced, expecting Dante to stand up and accuse her of leading him here just so she could delve into his past—but he remained there on the sofa, dark eyes staring off into some distant, unseen dream.

“So, that’s why they sent us into the Scar,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“They ignored my mother, you know? That night, she called to them, asked them for help, but they ignored her.”

He didn’t say it, but Emily could tell from his tone he held them responsible for what had happened, and she could hardly blame him. If her assumptions were correct, then Ophelia Orpheus and Aliana Adel had their own parts to play in the schemes of Lords Dionysus and Freyr, and neither prince had moved to protect them that night. Either Maidens were expendable in their eyes, or something—someone—had forced their restraint.

And now Dionysus stood accused of treason. Emily wondered if Himeros had returned from the Sidhe realm with news of the Court’s judgement—assuming, that was, they had even begun deliberations.

“I try not to question their motives,” she lied. “They’re … not like us.”

Whilst Emily busied herself with makeup, Dante shuffled into shower, and by the time he re-emerged she was the Emily he remembered. Byron might have implored her to embrace her natural looks, and Kaori would have pestered her to try some different colour dyes, but Dante’s only reaction to Emily’s cracked facade had been a furrowed brow of confusion followed by a shrug. Even that vision of her younger self, when she maintained her platinum hair and pale skin in honour of her departed mother, had done little to phase him. The blessing of growing up with a Maiden for a mother.

Emily watched Dante as he sat down and tied his boot laces with practised precision. The shower had ruffled his hair, leaving it a wild mop of black feathers, and his eyes, a deep, dark brown, saw only the task in front of him, nothing more. It was only his stubble, suggestive of a man five years his senior, his heightened immune system, and his tendency towards considered insights that implied even a trace of the Maidenblood. If Ophelia Orpheus really was his mother—and Emily wasn’t about to question him about it, what with everything else he had to worry about at present—then it went against everything Emily knew of her kind.

But, if he was Maidenblood, then Pleiades had made a mistake in ignoring him—and Emily would make sure they came to regret it.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” she asked, as she gathered her things together.

Dante grunted an affirmative. It was the most she would get out of him. For all he had told her and all he had admitted, he was still the same old Dante. Smiling, she took his hand. The challenge ahead was greater than anything Seelie—even the Sidhe—might ask of them, but the alternative was delusion and denial—and it was time to stop running.

Seelie doesn’t accept Branded onto their Initiate Program. The ideas of the Erebus can be rather … infectious, so they send them for counselling instead.