Orphic Phantasia

8: Emily and Truth

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And that was how they parted, the Princess dancing off to meet the latest batch of initiates to enter the forest. Emily wanted to laugh at the prospect of someone like Theseus Armstrong trying to handle the Princess and her manic enthusiasm, but there was always a thought at the back of her head, a niggling question that demanded an answer: why?

“We have asked much of you,” Prince Freyr had told her, “and we understand if you might be a little — how should we put this? — apprehensive. For that reason, we have prepared … alternative arrangements, should you reject our proposal.”

As Emily watched the pale Princess swim through the trees, she wondered if she was one of those ‘alternatives’ — the girl with the diamond-white eyes, who abhorred lies and demanded all secrets revealed.

That was what the princes were after: secrets. How they obtained them wasn’t important. Sidhe morality rarely aligned with that of humans, and Prince Freyr’s request proved that.

No, she thought, there had to be another way, a way that left everybody happy and free of scars. That was what Emily Fomalhaut would do.

Once she was away from the forest and its disruptive Aethex, her cellular sprung to life with half a dozen messages, most of them from Leira, demanding to know where she was and why she was taking so long.

She checked the time. It was gone three-thirty already. Typical Sidhe, twisting her place in time without a second thought.

Leira’s last message, which she had sent about ten minutes previous, informed her that, much to her annoyance, she had to take Ms Shimomura’s trial alongside Kaori and Joel. She didn’t mention Dante. Emily tried to contact him, but there was no reply. Were it not for another message from Shelley, informing her that she had seen him heading back to his apartment, she might have feared him lost to the forest — or Prince Freyr’s trickery — and returned to search for him.

Instead, she headed for the Theatre and the last of the day’s trials.

Ms Shimomura’s exam was located in the Theatre’s second basement, which Emily wasn’t even aware existed until the elevator opened its doors. A uniformed young woman — a Seelie cadet, judging by her butterfly pin — greeted her from behind a reception desk.

“You’ll need to change into this,” she said, handing Emily a silver canister.

Leira had mentioned that they had to don simsuits, but Emily could hardly believe it until she held one in her own hands. She had heard all about simulated realities from her uncle’s collection of Malkuthian propaganda, but she’d never thought she would get to experience one — and especially not here at the Theatre, thanks to the Sophists’ sanctions on what they called ‘outer-reality education’.

With a false smile, she slipped the canister into her bag and made for the changing rooms. Locking herself inside one of the vacant cubicles, she stripped down to her underwear and then, reluctantly, prised that off too. The City did not do modesty.

The Theatre runs deep.