Orphic Phantasia

10: Projection

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Emily remained silent. She had her theories, but how could she hope to explain them? “Oh, I’m sorry, Kat, I made a bargain with the Sidhe to hide from my past, and now they’re sending us into the Scar because I’m too scared to return the favour.”

“Maybe they want to fast-track our Academy applications,” she offered, reaching for the obvious assumption. “I mean, Byron said this was something the First Class did at the end of their final exams, right?”

Kat stopped pacing and punched the palm of her hand. Anger and frustration flushed her tawny cheeks red, contorted her face into something quite unlike the cheerful photographer all the orphans saw as their big sister. She looked ready to explode.

And then the rage fled like a summer’s storm, leaving nothing behind but a damp trickle of tears. “This isn’t fair,” she said. “I don’t want to see anybody else die.”

“I don’t think things are quite that bad,” said Emily. The Scar was a frightening place, and the thought of Sophist internment even more so, but neither carried the penalty of death. At least, as far as Emily knew.

“Aren’t they?”

Emily picked Dante’s mug off the lounge floor. The carpet had already cleaned itself of the spillage. That he had even carried it all the way from the kitchen was hard to believe, but today was one of those days. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” she asked Kat.

Kat reached up and twirled a rogue strand of chestnut hair around her finger. “I—I’m not supposed to talk about it,” she said. “Phoe would kill me. We don’t have confirmation on anything. She hates it when we get things wrong.”

“If it’s a matter of life and death, I’d rather know.” Emily placed the mug on the table, next to Byron’s diorama of the Scar, and sat down on the sofa. “I can make my own conclusions.”

Kat sat opposite her. Her brow glistened with sweat. She reached out for her synthetic pet, scratched behind its ears. “Last night, we … we got word that Seelie is sending us to a training facility after our exams are over.”

“A what?” Emily was glad she had sat down.

Kat’s eyes flicked to Byron’s door and she lowered her voice, just in case. “I don’t know the details. Annie’s had her brother looking into it. She’s been awake all night trying to work it out. All we know is that it’s an island called Avalon, somewhere out in the south-west, well beyond the walls.”

It sounded too unreal to be true. “Do you know when this order came in?” she asked.

“Phoe doesn’t think it was long before we heard about it. We didn’t believe it at first, but when Princess Phantasia showed up and the Chief announced our exams for the day and they weren’t what we expected…”

Veritas didn’t like to be wrong, after all, and they had been very wrong about the exams. “Nice of you to share the news,” said Emily, knowing how un-Emily her tone was, but unable to keep it quiet. “This anything to do with Rogan’s interrogation earlier?”

Kat blushed. “About that. It—it’s not Phoe’s fault. She just … she just wanted to be sure of something, that’s all. And she’s worried about, well, all of this. Especially now they’re sending us into the Scar. She thinks they might be preparing for another war.”

That still didn’t explain why Phoenix tried to interrogate her, but it seemed her reasons were a touchy subject. No doubt she figured Emily a key figure in the conspiracies her paranoia cooked up. It wasn’t far from the truth.

Emily rubbed her shoulder. “If they are, I guess it won’t matter how the Sophists react to all this. I doubt Seelie cares much for local politics when there’s some international war to fight.”

Originally, I brought up the holiday shenanigans in the second chapter, but I thought it was one sub-plot too much and my editor agreed. Now, however…