Orphic Phantasia

2: Of Sophists and Seelie

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The news switched to the report Theseus Armstrong had put together on the monster attack that morning. He referred to the creature, a giant humanoid beast at least two or three metres tall, as a ‘minotaur class’ and joked that, despite its classification, he would leave the slaying to the experts. Indeed, within a few moments of footage, a team of militia soldiers baited the beast away from the terrified locals, where a giant of a man with a simple wooden sword brought it down in a single stroke.

Master al-Hakim, Seelie Commander and lecturer of initiates, was not someone to take lightly.

“That could be us one day!” said Kat with a genuine grin of hope. “And the way Phoe treats us, you’d think it always was.” She tapped her cellular. “She wants a ‘thorough debriefing’”—she made air-quotes with her fingers—“on the situation with the Aristocracy. Guess I’ll see you guys later. Good luck with the exams if I don’t!”

With a wave, she lumbered off towards the Theatre’s south tower, where her friends made their base of operations.

Dante was still watching Theseus’s report, which showed the militia loading the creature’s body onto the back of a transport. “It’s just an automaton,” he said. “People need to stop treating them like monsters.”

“I’d say wrecking mindless havoc is pretty monstrous,” said Emily. “Assuming, of course, that it was mindless.”

With the time approaching nine-o’clock, they made their way towards the Theatre’s foyer, where they would collect the crystals that tracked their day’s progress. It was a spacious room with a shimmering silver floor and half a dozen screens across its walls. The receptionists — graduates from the First Class — smiled in greeting.

“Looking forward to your holiday?” asked one, as he handed Emily her crystal.

After their Midsummer exams, they had a week’s break from their training — one of only two the Theatre allowed them. “No doubt it will fly by,” she replied.

“You’d best make the most of it,” said the other, passing a crystal on to Dante. “It only gets worse from here on out.”

Emily slipped her crystal into her satchel. Throughout the day, the Theatre staff would fill it with shards of light as she conquered their various trials. She didn’t expect to gather more than six out of the maximum twelve, but then her name wasn’t exactly high up the Second Class chart. Nor was Dante’s for that matter.

The charts themselves adorned the foyer’s far wall, above the archway leading into the Theatre proper. Though Emily thought it somewhat childish, the Theatre awarded points for every little thing its initiates achieved, from exam success right down to showing up for lectures on time, and displayed the results for all to see.

Hermia Adelheid and Horatio Stark — ranked second and seventh respectively — stood analysing the lists as Emily and Dante approached. Hermia greeted them with enough overzealous enthusiasm to counter both Dante and Andromeda’s cynicism combined.

“I hope you will both work your hardest today. Lucretia House must stick together!”

Hermia had a strange habit of treating their apartment as if it were some kind of troupe. Emily promised to do her best with a forced smile, but Emily Fomalhaut was not the competitive type.

“Katrina says we shall be exploring the industrial ruins,” Hermia continued. “Horatio has some experience there from his time in the militia. Is that not right, Horatio?”

He mumbled an awkward “Affirmative.”

Malkuthians were weird.

On a nearby screen, Andromeda Blumstein reminded viewers to keep an eye out for updates on the situation with the Princess Phantasia — Veritas were hoping for an ‘exclusive interview’ — then added, with equal enthusiasm, “And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Torsten Training Program Second Class Midsummer Trials Finale. Hurrah.”

At that exact same moment, the foyer clock ticked to nine.

Nothing happened. The screen lingered on Seelie’s emblem: a stylised butterfly with wings of iridescent light.

A minute passed. Emily wondered what the delay was and if it had anything to do with the Princess Phantasia and the Sidhe. Eager to stop herself from over thinking things, she turned her attentions to the Second Class charts. Somehow, Joel Gibson had managed to score almost seven-thousand points.

After two minutes, Hermia Adelheid pointed out to everyone present that Mr Payne was late with his announcement, and that she was very disappointed in him.

No, really, how did Joel get that many points? That put him above Alonie.

Seelie sure loves gamification!