Dante paced from one end of his room to the other. The war had driven his mother into madness—he had learned that much from watching her diaries—but what was Emily’s excuse? Ophelia Orpheus turned to fairies and fantasies because the magical worlds inside her head provided refuge from an inhospitable and violent reality, where young adults, barely of age, fought phantoms of despair at the ends of the earth. But Emily Fomalhaut? Emily Fomalhaut lived a simple life in a town far away from war, whose worst enemy was a pompous group of aristocrats with delusions of grandeur. What did she have to drive her into the Dark?
Dante completed another circuit of his room then shook the thoughts from his head. He was overthinking things again. Malkuth was a place for the enlightened, not the inquisitive. He would go there and he would never have to worry again, not about his mother, and not about Emily. If he could, he would take her with him.
He needed to relax, so he lay down on his bed and summoned up his visor. John Smith had provided him with several logic puzzles that, although no substitute for chemical sedatives, provided a useful distraction from troublesome thoughts. He was in the middle of matching coloured shapes when the alert came in.
Seelie’s iridescent butterfly logo hovered in front of his eyes, a centimetre away and yet forever beyond his reach. Half a minute later, Chief Payne appeared, sitting at his desk with the same sombre frown he wore that morning. Thanks to his visor, Dante felt as if he were standing in the room with him, and had to sit up before his brain ached from the contradiction.
“Hello, Second Class,” said the Chief, a hint of cheer creeping onto his lips before vanishing a moment later. “Most of you have finished your tasks for the day, so I figured it time for an announcement.”
Dante wondered what it might be. Maybe he would announce an unexpected raft of promotions to First Class—or even the Academy itself—and so denounce all those Veritas conspiracy theories. With only six shards to the day’s crystal, however, Dante wasn’t expecting a promotion of his own anytime soon.
Chief Payne held the suspense a moment more then, with a deep breath, continued, “We have a final challenge for you. Presently, my staff are depositing the crystals you returned to us at the centre of”—Dante caught the briefest twitch in his expression—“the Scar. All you need to do is retrieve them.”
Even hundreds of years into the future, people can’t resist colour-matching games!