9: A Message from the Past
“Oh-six-thirty, January twenty-seventh,” she said, struggling to keep a straight face, “Ninety-five, Unified Era.” A glint of light caught her pale eyes as she brushed away a rogue strand of raven-black hair. “Day seven of the expedition.”
A man’s voice grumbled from behind the camera. This was supposed to be serious business. It was the worst thing he could have said. With a splutter of giggling, Ophelia Orpheus smiled a crescent moon.
“It’s just a diary,” she said, her eyes fixated on the unseen figure. “Why do you have to take it so seriously?”
“Because,” he said, “this could well be the last the outside world hears from you, or I, or any of us. This isn’t a holiday, Ophelia. We’re not children anymore.”
She placed her hands on her hips, admonished him with a raised eyebrow of disbelief. “Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve every intention of coming back alive.” She turned back to her audience — back to Dante, watching the recording play out across his wall, “So don’t you folks back home start worrying about me, you hear? This idiot”—she jabbed her finger towards the other—”doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so just ignore him.”
Advice Dante had long taken to heart.
“So, where were we?”
“The date,” grumbled the off-screen voice, earning him a stern glare.
“Well then.” A touch of pink blossomed on her porcelain cheeks. “Hello everyone, and welcome to another of our ’war diaries’. As you can see, we’re now only a day’s trek away from the Transantarctic Mountains.”
She gestured to the scene behind her where, beyond the small camp and its protective shield, a wall of irregular peaks loomed out of the twilight. Behind them, Theia grinned, guiding the way to the world’s end.
But those were better days, before the madness took hold of her. Here she could still smile, still talk of the troupe’s preparations for the inevitable battle ahead with cheer in her voice and hope in her heart. Dante mouthed the words with her. He knew them better than he did the Tablet’s. By the end of the day — not that the sky would shift from its perpetual night — the troupe would begin its trek through the mountains, where their reports would grow sporadic. After the mountains, they would reach the plains and the final gauntlet before their destination. Ophelia Orpheus spoke of the war awaiting them as if it were just another adventure, a challenge she would pass with flying colours and full acknowledgements.
But then she was only fifteen.
“I’m getting bored of rations,” she told her audience, twisting her lips in disgust. “Seelie imported them from Gevurah. Nasty things, loaded with supplements and rubbish. I can’t wait to get home and have a nice roast dinner. Grandmama, I promised Cyrus you’d cook him one. He told me they eat too many berries in the forest.”
The man behind the camera cleared his throat.
“It’d be nice to have a proper sleep, too,” she continued, ignoring him. “Every day we get closer to the pole is a day we get closer to…” Her voice trailed off and she wrapped her arms around her, as if the Antarctic chill had suddenly invaded Seelie’s shelter. For that moment, for that long, lingering second, Dante saw the first flicker of doubt in her bright eyes, the first grey cloud to foretell the coming storm. Then, just as soon as it appeared, it was gone, a gleaming glow of youthful optimism swooping down to replace it, like dawn chasing away the night. “It will all be over soon, I promise,” said Ophelia, her jaw clenched with determination. “We’re only days away from the final battle, and this time it really will be final. We have the whole world on our side, everyone from the Seven to the Four. This will be the end of it. This will be the end of the Erebus.”
Fifteen might sound young to you or I, but in this time period it’s the equivalent to a twenty-something.