Orphic Phantasia

49: The Other Side

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“I assume Rogan and company are already making plans to bring down the Fortunate Isles?”

“Obviously.”

“Then do whatever you can to help them. The more trouble you cause for the Matriarch, the less I have to worry about. Just don’t get in over your heads, okay? I know what Rogan is like, and this goes way beyond haunted houses.” She looked to Shelley. “You hear me, right? Don’t let this idiot go and do anything stupid. He might try to hide behind a stoic facade, but he can really get lost in the moment at times.”

He couldn’t deny it. He had, after all, harboured implausible dreams of entering Malkuth. This, however, was not the time for dreams or for childish power fantasies — he was an adult now, and a would-be Seelie office. It was time he started acting like one.

“Oh aye, I grew up with him,” said Shelley. “It’s nae like he can go anywhere without me, anyways.” She grabbed his arm, just to drive the point home. Emily laughed, a genuine, warm laughter that almost seemed to reverberate around the aether.

“Then good luck to both of you,” she said. “And I’ll see you on the other side.”

~*~

As the titan’s synthetic flesh closed around her, sealing Aliza inside its claustrophobic chest cavity, its insides sprung to life with a replicated view of the chamber outside, overlaid with system readouts and status reports: power at thirty percent and rising, spirit vacant, synchronisation zero. Aliza settled into her seat and gestured at the view as she would a cellular. It was 5am. Two hours before totality. Two hours to learn how to pilot this monstrosity.

Ten minutes and a jab of alchemium into her neck later, she braved her first step. It was just like a simulation, she told herself. All she had to do was will it, and the system would translate her thoughts into reality.

After half an hour, she reached the doors on the opposite side of the chamber and breathed a sigh of relief. Closing her eyes, she cast her consciousness to the beach that waited for her on the other side of the crystal hanging around her neck.

Celia, sat curled up on the sand, looked up through a curtain of seaweed hair, eyes shimmering with a childlike hope. “Have you found us a body?” she asked.

“I’ve got the drakonic up and working,” replied Aliza, “but…”

There was no easy way to say it, really, but she had kept Celia at arm’s length for long enough. It was time to face reality. Time to face the truth.

“I don’t think you can inhabit the drakonic,” she said. “It already belongs to Galatea, and we don’t have the means to break her hold over it.”

Celia’s eyes dropped with disappointment. Then she started tracing shapes into the sand. “The spear!” she said, drawing what looked like a shaft or tower. “If we reach the summit, we can claim the spear! It’s the only way to stop him!”

Aliza knelt and brushed the hair from Celia’s face. “I don’t know anything about this spear,” she said. “There’s no mention of it in Seelie’s documents. But I did think of an alternative.”

Celia stopped her drawing. “An alternative?”

“There’s still a synthetic out there that you could inhabit. One designed to carry another soul besides its own.”

Waves lapping at her ankles, Aliza Adel, descendant of Alya Adel and sister to her vessel, Alonie Adel, held out her hand to the forgotten remnant of Ketos, whose face, whose eyes, whose life was so very much a mirror to her own.

“Let’s do this together, Celia. Let’s finish this, once and for all.” Let’s stop Ketos, save Dionysus, and bring this cycle to an end.

Tears welling at the corner of her pale eyes, Celia fell into Aliza’s arms and into her heart.

Marina! she cried. I’m sorry, Marina!

~*~

Seeing the passage ahead take a turn for the steep, Byron reached into his satchel and found his shaft of alchemium rope. “And does it not bother you?” he asked, anchoring one end into the rock. “I myself would abhor living a life of such questionless servitude.”

“I know my place,” replied Ophion.

Byron tugged at his rope and, assured of its security, began his descent. “A rather uninspiring view of the world you have there,” he said. “My father was much the same. Had I followed his example, why, I would still be tending the fields and praying for his early retirement.”

Giant synthetic beings aren’t really much use when you’re stuck with manual controls.