Orphic Phantasia

6: Voices from the Aether

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His smile carried a threat of amoral mischievousness. She had her morals and the Sidhe had theirs, as twisted as they were. A dozen fears raced into her mind, images of what the Lord Prince might do to ‘help’ Dante, even if those things destroyed everything he was. This wasn’t what she wanted; this wasn’t what she meant.

“Wait!” she cried, before sense could stop her.

The Prince’s scowl was as sharp as his cheekbones. “You would presume to stop me? If you wanted to help the boy, you would have helped him, but instead you chose to appease your own ego, to play the role of the good little girl you wished to be. Ironic, isn’t it? That you would wish to save him from his lies while you surround yourself with so many?”

The flash of mischievousness became a glint of menace. “No, I’m afraid my mind is made up. I shall grant your wish, ‘Emily Fomalhaut’, and then we shall discuss the terms of your repayment. Your debt has grown since last we met.”

Emily reached for her shoulder. It was only a matter of time. It always had been.

Time, and the whim of the Sidhe.

~*~

Dante checked his map a third time. The garbled mess of terrain had grown worse. Forest trails ploughed through houses, roads twisted around tree trunks thrice their possible size, and the Scar’s morbid monochrome exoskeleton had taken up residence three hundred metres to the north. He tilted his cellular forward, and the fragmented world reassembled itself with a silent scream of violent noise.

His visor fared no better.

So, this was what Master al-Hakim had meant when he said they couldn’t rely on technology. Seelie had deployed some kind of cellular disruption program throughout the forest to enforce reliance on more mundane methods of navigation. Maybe they had even used the Aethex to do it.

He slipped his impotent cellular into one cloak pocket, and reached into the other to retrieve his flask of stimulants. After a small gulp to freshen his mind and body, he headed in a southeasterly direction. The ‘hexed’ path had led him to an uneven area thick with beech trees a good twelve metres tall. Every so often he passed what looked like a hunk of stone or the roots of walls long fallen. Hundreds of years ago, before the Donara seeded it with their forests, Theia saw this land flooded. That it was now inhabitable, and the ocean some seventy miles away, locked behind a wall taller than the greatest of trees, was yet another testament to the sufficiently advanced technology of the Saptamatrikas.

“Hey!”

He stopped. It was an unfamiliar voice, both small and distant, yet somehow close by.

“I said ‘Hey’! Ya deaf or something, kid?”

Dante turned, eyes alert, feet ready to spring into action, fingers twitching to pull up his hood and engage his cloak.

Nothing.

“Down ‘ere!” said the voice. Dante lowered his gaze — and found himself staring into a pair of black marble eyes belonging to a familiar metallic-furred creature. The Sciurux cocked its head inquisitively, blinked. “What, ya never seen a talking rat before? Blimey. First time in the forest, kid?”

Don’t you just hate it when your iPad glitches up like a dusty NES game?