3: Torsten Underground
Joel Gibson waved a skeletal hand at the group of spellbound Third Class girls loitering around the Theatre’s foyer and flashed them a smile, earning himself a swift elbow to the stomach from his girlfriend, Kaori Shimomura.
Dante winced in empathy.
“C’mon, Kao, it were just a smile!”
She might have been a head shorter than him, even with her oversized mane of jet-black, red-streaked hair, but Kaori Shimomura could still look down on her boyfriend with a haughty arrogance on par with anything the Sophists could muster. “I know what your smiles are like,” she replied. “Now, what were you saying about that drone guarding those ruins?”
Joel puffed up his chest, giving the world a detailed look at his ribcage. “You oughta seen it, babe, it were a proper nightmare, like, twice the size of Azrad Hackin’ and he’s built like a fookin’ minotaur!” He glanced at Dante. “Ain’t that right, Dant?”
This was the first he’d heard of it. He mumbled his agreement.
“It’s a good thing I brought RagnaRock,” the raven continued as they left the foyer and turned towards the south tower. “That thing were like a proper demon, all horns and teeth and”—he punctuated his story with wild gestures no doubt learned from watching Byron’s own performances—“these eyes, like the blazing fires of Hell. Byron were proper pissing himself.”
“Byron?” said Emily, a note of disbelief in her voice that had Dante wondering if she had seen through his friend’s tall tale.
“Yeah, right lost for words he was.” If Joel’s grin got much bigger, it would slice his head in two. “Thought he were gonna faint on us, didn’t we, Dant?”
Another mumble of agreement. No doubt Byron would have his revenge at a later date, and so the cycle would continue.
Kaori laughed. “Imagine that, Emily. Byron d’Arcadie, lost for words! If only we’d followed you boys from the start, we would have seen it all.”
“And passed our test!” added Emily. “We didn’t even earn a single shard.”
Dante tried not to grimace. It wasn’t as if he had done any better—Joel’s lies had not fooled Sohrabarak al-Hakim as they did the girls.
They passed by the south tower, with its winding cerulean patterns and translucent blue windows spiralling towards a sapphire crown, and started towards Torhout Forest. Kaori strode ahead, eager to find Azhara’d al-Hakim and begin his challenge. Any excuse to visit the forest. She was the sort of person who believed that the fairies lived there.
Dante remembered how that felt. He’d been such a child it embarrassed him to this day — but now he knew the truth. And, eventually, so would Kaori. If she accepted it was another matter, but that time was coming.
As was Emily’s. The forest had all the proof he needed. He could spy the hints of synthetic turquoise between the crowd of greens, and where there was synthetic life, there was aethex.
And where there was aethex, there were avatars.
Maybe even the one who started all this. The girl from the heavens, here to judge Dante’s right to enter Malkuth. Perhaps, even, to judge them all.
“So,” said Joel, “where’d you babes get lost?”
Emily smiled her crescent-moon smile. “Oh, you know, around.”
The raven’s teeth gleamed yellow in the midday sun. He wouldn’t let them forget this. For once, he had come out on top. “I bet,” he said, “it were that wall.”
Chapter 3 End
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So many lies…
(and no, Joel can’t pronounce Azhara’d al-Hakim’s name right — and he thinks the ‘al’ is his middle name…)