Orphic Phantasia

4: Just Like Old Times

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Mr al-Hakim nodded, encouraging Kaori to continue, which she did. Of the four Daughters of Ernmas, hers was the gift of speech and diplomacy, of soothing words and understanding. She was more like her mother than she realised.

Leira, whose skills lay in Fiannan crystal magic and the best ways to slice a person’s throat, was not so eloquent. “After what I saw in the forest this morning, I’ve a right mind to pin the whole feckin’ thing on those bloody Sophists,” she said, after Kaori finished her piece.

“Understandable,” said the Commander, “but let’s not ruin the surprise for these two, shall we?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Place is full of surprises.”

Leira had remained tight-lipped about her experiences in the forest, which worried Emily. Sure, there was an unwritten Theatre rule about spoiling challenges for those who had yet to take them, but Leira cared for Theatre rules about as much as she cared for male attention and drugs.

“It really is full of surprises,” she added later, after they left Mr al-Hakim with their crystals bearing a full three shards of achievement from his trial.

“Mother always said the Sophists were up to something that night,” said Kaori. “I wouldn’t have thought they would invade the underground, though. I’ve never once seen a peacekeeper so much as look into the catacombs.”

“I never said it were the Sophists,” said Leira. “It just wouldn’t surprise me.”

She shared a knowing look with Emily. Leira knew what went down that night, six years ago. She was the only person Emily trusted enough to confide in.

Play-uh-deez, she mouthed.

“You think it were them?” she asked later, as they waited outside the toilets for Kaori.

Emily nodded. “It was the damage,” she said, keeping her voice low, afraid it might carry through the Theatre’s empty corridors. “Something literally ripped through that transmatter.”

She had only seen them in fleeting flashes of chaos, but the memories had stayed with her, grown through recollection and dreams—nightmares—into living shadows, walls with eyes, teeth like spears. Things inhuman and yet as polite and gentile as the kindest of folks. There were demons of all kinds in the world, from spirits to synthetics, but those—those were the worst.

“Ye looking a little pale,” said Leira. “Just be glad ye won’t be needing to go back underground fer a while.”

“I’d happily trade ‘a while’ for ‘a lifetime’.”

Full of surprises indeed!