Orphic Phantasia

18: Reflection

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Emily turned away. She didn’t need a reflection to comb and bunch her hair, and she could put on her makeup through touch and instinct alone — the less she had to look at that thing in the mirror the better. Too many beautiful people out there went ignored because of that ‘ideal’ — really beautiful people. People like Shelley, who went ignored because she looked ‘too much like a boy’, or Kaori who, despite her exotic Akaishian features and voluptuous curves, didn’t have the right eyes or the right hair or the right thighs or whatever else was so ‘perfect’ about Emily. Perfection she never asked for. Perfection she did nothing to maintain. Perfection granted from birth for seemingly no other reason than to appease others.

Once she had tied up and pinned back her hair, she pulled on an oversized t-shirt emblazoned with one of Kaori’s designs. Kaori, who sketched her own tattoos and hemmed her own dresses. What, exactly, could Emily do that compared? What could she create? Kaori had her fashion, Leira her music, Shelley her writing, but Emily? She wasn’t born to create — she was born to seduce and to scry and to control. She couldn’t even have children because seers, unlike oracles, were infertile. That was how they controlled their population, how they ensured the ‘ideal’ remained limited, a rare commodity for the unwashed savages to worship like the embodiment of some ancient mother goddess.

She grabbed a bottle of hair dye — cheap shit from the undertown market, thick and greasy like bad paint, but the best thing she could get a hold of without arousing suspicion — and tossed it towards her bag. A bottle for her skin followed. Maintaining the illusion was an effort, but one she had to undertake. A disguised Maiden stood out from the crowd at the best of times, one who walked the world outside her temple without so much as a mask was doomed to drag all the world’s attention towards her.

Not that the disguise would last. Once their holiday was over, everybody would know Emily’s true face, and it would be a face that stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Those who didn’t come home hating her would come home obsessed, longing for a return to that one, perfect moment with that one, perfect woman. That was the power of a Maiden. That was their blessing.

That was their curse.

That was why she needed an alternative. Her alternative. One that wouldn’t harm her friends, that wouldn’t leave them as scarred as Torsten itself.

“You asked for an alternative, and we have shown you one.” His voice. Freyr’s voice. Emily could hear the sounds of the forest around her, feel the gentle breeze on her half-naked skin, even as she stood sealed away in her room. She reached for the bed sheets and pulled them around her.

“Sending everyone into the Scar so you could have Princess Phantasia study them wasn’t what I had in mind,” she said. “And this Avalon thing?”

“Ah, yes. Avalon.” She caught a glint of emerald in the bathroom mirror, but the moment she tried to focus on it, it vanished. “I can assure you that your upcoming adventure is not our doing, although I can also assure you that we will be taking full advantage of the opportunities it presents. I would suggest you do the same.”

Time for some exposition!