Orphic Phantasia

18: Reflection

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“Seelie were never worth shite anyway,” said Leira over the rim of her mug. “Ye tell any of that stuff to Payne?”

“I told him that the Sophists faked evidence to suggest the Donara were harbouring Branded, and that he did as best he could, given his own orders. You?”

“Like I’d tell Seelie anything,” Leira said with a snort. “I said it were probably some fecked up conspiracy and I had better things to be doing with me time. Which is true.” She gulped back a mouthful of tea. “Takes ye back, don’t it?” she added with a wry smile. “If we’d been in business at the time, we’d’ve had those feckers by the balls, Sophists and you-know-who and Seelie too, for feckin’ around when they should’ve been helping out.”

Yeah, it was just like old times. Too much like old times. Emily Fomalhaut would have never sat down and thought through all these details; she would have smiled and played innocent, lived a happy, carefree life…

“Everything that’s happened today, you know it’s not a coincidence, right?” If there was one person she could trust with all this, it was Leira. She was the only one who knew the real face behind all the lies. “It’s a message.”

Leira arched her eyebrow as an indication to continue.

“Mr Payne wanted everyone to know how far some people are willing to go to get their hands on—” She almost said ‘somebody like me’. “On somebody important.” Somebody like Ophelia Orpheus. Somebody like Aliana Adel. She sipped at her tea; it wasn’t helping. “It’s happening again,” she said.

“Like I told ye, it ain’t gonna be no feckin’ adventure.”

~*~

The rush of cold water kept Emily’s mind on edge and prevented her thoughts from lulling off into some other, hidden world, where night and day were one and the same and yet neither. A world filled with whispers. A world surrounded by song.

Twelve notes, repeating; twelve notes for twelve wings.

Emily sang to herself as she massaged a honey-smelling soap through her heavy head of hair. She sang the songs that Leira wrote, filled with violence and hate; she sang Ms Shimomura’s melodies, kind and gentle, always smiling; she even sang her mother’s lullabies, dreams of a world that could not be — anything to overwhelm the whisper in her ear, the mournful adagio that called for the world’s end. With each tune, the layers of illusion fell away, mingled around her feet in a swirl of blue and bronze.

Without looking in the mirror, lest she see the other her looking back, the old her, the one beneath the lie, she reapplied her dyes. But, even then, even with bronzed skin and sky-blue hair, it was hard to escape the truth staring back at her.

“You’re blessed,” her mother once told her. They both were. Maidens were perfect in every way.

‘Perfect’.

It was the Cities who defined ‘perfect’. They showed the rest of the world their ideal, and the rest of the world believed them. People would go to great lengths to emulate that look, and those from the higher terraces might even come close to mimicking it, but they would never have the same allure, the same sparkle in their eyes, the same soul.

And, because of that soul, no one could resist a Maiden. That was their ‘blessing’.

Or, rather, their curse.

This is all a bit Emiliza of the Sorrows.