5: The Eyes of the Forest
A hundred-fifty-seven metres later, according to his visor. A wall of thorns blocked the way forward, forcing the group to choose between a sunny path north, curving gently to the east, and a trail south, which vanished into a darkened thicket. While the girls contemplated the choice based on their gut instincts, Dante scanned the surroundings with his cellular.
Joel peered over his shoulder. “What’ve you got?”
The truth was ‘very little’. The Seelie-provided cellulars, though not lacking in applications, paled next to the miracles of Malkuth, which could have mapped the forest down to a blade of grass. Thankfully, those miracles were not so far away. All Dante had to do was find a server and download the details he required—and there were plenty of servers in Torhout Forest.
The silver trunks and turquoise leaves first appeared about six months after the fires. They were a gift of the City, a synthetic alternative to nature’s slow growth that could perform all of her tasks and more. One such task was the production of aethex, itself as vital to synthetic life as oxygen was to organic. Just as the molecular machines that formed alchemium could adapt their shape and properties to imitate innumerous items, so too could the molecular machines of aethex read and gather data about the world around them. That was why Torsten council barred their presence from the town—and that was why aethex was the key to proving that fairies did not exist.
“This way will be easier,” said Dante, gesturing to the north. There was a sliver of silver between the trees about a hundred metres away. It was off the path, but Dante already had his excuses planned. He started off before the girls could inevitably decide to head south. Joel followed.
“Don’t you dare, Joel Gibson!” Kaori’s voice cut through the forest, sending a shockwave of startled life through the trees.
“Whoa, babe, what’s up? Dant says this is the best way.”
Kaori stood, hands on hips, scowl on face, glaring at them with narrowed eyes. “Does he now? And would that be his expert opinion, or the City’s?”
“Both?” offered Joel with a nervous glance in Dante’s direction, a grimace of apology for his girlfriend’s attitude.
Kaori crossed her arms. “We’re not going that way. You are not going that way.”
“Scared we’ll beat you again?” It wasn’t often that Joel Gibson stood up to his partner, but it wasn’t often that he anything to stand on.
“I’m sorry, dear, but you never beat us the first time. Emily and Lira and I reached the ruins, discovered their secret surveillance facilities and used them to watch your blundering as it happened.”
Joel shifted, scuffed in boots on the dirt track. “That’s—that’s bollocks,” he mumbled.
“Should I ask Oscar Whittlesey to confirm your story of shape-shifting automatons?” Kaori knew she had him; her anger had melted to a purple-painted smile. “Now, unless you want to bring further shame upon me and my family, I suggest you follow my advice.”
Dante would have never let someone control his life so decisively, so easily—but Dante was not Joel, and Joel Gibson was a slave to the flesh, a slave to the lust, a slave to the corseted bosom Kaori framed with her crossed arms. With a quiet grumble, he stomped over to his girlfriend’s side.
It’s an unwritten law that synthetic life should be easily discernible from natural life. This is achieved by making synthetic life look so much cooler than everything else, and by adding a random ‘x’ to the name.