Orphic Phantasia

3: Torsten Underground

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“Around,” he replied with a shrug. It had turned out that, despite her friendly smile, Emily was as averse to dealing with the townsfolk as he was, which made completing Commander Thorbjorn’s challenge — investigating public opinion of the Torhout incident — rather difficult. His crystal, buried in his pocket, shone with a mere two shards out of a possible three.

“You questioned the townsfolk,” the Commander told them, “and you have questioned Seelie, but you did not think to question the Sophists themselves.”

“Because they’re liars,” Emily offered with a scowl Dante never thought he would see on her gentle face. “Anyone with any sense knows that they didn’t act in Torsten’s ‘best interests’. The Donara were a threat to their ambitions, so the Sophists whipped up some excuse about a conspiracy and…”

Dante remembered the look she gave him, how her anger suddenly dissolved, leaving flecks of tears in the corner of her eyes. He had forced himself to turn away. The mere act of questioning people on the events of that night had left his old wounds raw.

“The only thing they ever cared about was power,” Emily told the Commander. “Why should we even listen to a word they have to say?”

“Because,” the Commander replied, “you must still examine a story from every perspective, even from those you believe to be lies. There is truth in everything.”

Even the Commander’s smile — a crescent-moon tinted by a life of sadness and pain — failed to ease their failure. Emily grumbled about it as they headed for their next trial, and even more so after they crossed paths with Phoenix Rogan, who had earned herself a full three shards by questioning Director Guirlande himself.

It was a relief, then, that Sohrabarak al-Hakim had set a much simpler challenge. The archaeologist had tasked them with investigating an underground ruin hidden among the catacombs, though what this had to do with the incident six years ago he did not say. Dante had his suspicions — there was something in the underground that night — but kept them to himself to stop his friends from asking awkward questions.

“I doubt there is much to hear that we have not heard before,” said the poet. “A strange task, to be sure, though I doubt as strange as what awaits you in the forest. You see, I took the liberty of tackling Master al-Hakim’s challenge first, knowing it would surely be our toughest, and I—”

“Shut yer gob, Ronnie,” said Joel, coming to an abrupt stop and cupping an ear with his free hand, “I can hear something.”

Even a lifetime of violent music had done little to dent Joel’s hearing. Maybe it was because his ears were a little bit too big for his face, or maybe it was an underborn thing, like the pale skin and scrawny limbs. Whatever the reason, if Joel Gibson could hear something then there was something there. Dante, who had his own genetic gifts, turned his ear to the tunnel ahead. He could hear it too, a distant whisper of sloshing water.

“I suspect it rats,” said Byron, ignorant to the truth, “or perhaps our lady friends approaching from an adjoining tunnel.”

They had separated from Emily and her friends about seven minutes ago, according to Dante’s cellular. Kaori Shimomura had declared that they could beat “the boys” to their destination. He’d been glad to see the back of her.

“Don’t be daft, mate, we’d proper know if it were Kao,” said Joel. “I can tell her a mile off. It’s like water or something.”

Phoenix is the sort of person who would storm into a dictator’s headquarters and demand an all-access interview on the spot. She’s scary like that.