Orphic Phantasia

10: Projection

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The girls looked at one another, shared a shrug, and headed inside. Dante followed.

“I’m glad I’m not the only one willing to face these dangers,” said Byron, as they entered the second floor apartment. “I have heard this is a challenge saved for the First Class during their final exams, as one last hurdle before our captious tutors are willing to provide their sponsorship to the Academy.”

He ushered them into the lounge. As the vague shapes of Dante’s memory condensed into detail, he saw Byron had moulded the tabletop into a replica of the Scar and its surrounding area. He’d even marked out standard Sophist patrol routes. Typical; Byron always had to be one step ahead of him, always had to know everything there was to know. Dante noticed the admiration in Emily’s eyes, the way they brought the poet to vivid life — and the feeling was mutual. When Byron looked at Emily, she sparkled, her hair radiant with colour, her lips full, her—

Dante turned away. He didn’t want to think about Emily in that sort of way. She wasn’t Kaori Shimomura, who fed on the lustful looks of others like some kind of succubus, or she would have dressed the part. Hoping to ignore the projections of Byron’s desires — and his warbling about his grand schemes for infiltrating the Scar — he turned his attention to the kitchen. It might only be a dream, but he could still feel the sedatives weighing down on him, trying to lull him into sleep. Caffeine would put a stop to that — or, at least, the idea of caffeine. Ideas, after all, had power.

Ideas didn’t much help his simple intentions, however. At one point, thanks in part to Katrina’s attention clarifying the details in front of him, he found himself trying to pour water into the idea of a kettle, rather than the actual thing. The real kettle, it turned out, wasn’t where he’d expected it to be. He quickly rectified his mistake. Once he had his coffee, he chanced the lounge again. Byron was still gesticulating away.

“The Sophist presence underground is minimal compared to the surface,” he said. “It really is the best way.”

Katrina shook her head. “We’d get lost without specific directions. We should cross into the Fourth Circle,” she pointed to Byron’s map, where the Scar enveloped a part of the Fourth Wall, which separated the Fourth and Fifth Circles of Malkuth. Torsten itself had started life at the gate between the two — a gate now hidden beneath the Scar’s hideous firmament. “There’s a crack in the south side of the Scar, about ten metres up. It’ll get us inside no problem.”

“We would be frightfully vulnerable whilst climbing,” said Byron, as Dante strode into the circle of seating with his mug of coffee. “My route would give us the greatest chance of entering unseen.”

Kat shrugged. “Then go your way. No one said we had to team up.”

“But my dear Katrina, team work is of the essence when it comes to impressing Seelie! Our skills would be better combined, not torn apart.”

“So, who would you have gone with had we not shown up?” asked Emily.

Byron tugged at a black rose earring. “Why, Orpheus, of course. I assumed him in his room.”

Dante grinned. It wasn’t often he had the chance to speak back to Byron, and doing so in the real world would result in a blistering parry, but here, in dreams, Byron lacked the wit of his real life counterpart. For once, Dante could indulge in his fantasy. “You assumed wrong,” he said, and swigged back a mouthful his coffee. He savoured the taste.

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