Orphic Phantasia

14: Shelley Eoghan and the Ruins of Dusk

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Shuck’s tails whipped from side to side — he’d found Alonie’s unexpected presence bothersome enough as it was. “Rembrandt Payne must be getting desperate,” he said. “Or was he as drunk as these buffoons when he signed them up?”

Maybe, if it was possible to get drunk on tea.

Beside her, Blake managed to pull himself up and flop into her, one arm reaching around her shoulder for support. He stank of alcohol and stale tobacco, and his breath was like some petrifying gas spewed by a mythical cockatrice, freezing Shelley where she sat. Shuck stood, ears erect and eyes narrowed, but it was Alonie who made the first move.

“I think Shell would rather the two of you make fools of yourselves elsewhere,” she said, reaching over to pull Blake off the bed.

“Ah, c’mon, Allie, it’s not our fault,” said Vincent. “No one told us they were gonna have another exam. We thought we could party.”

“Maybe you should have kept on partying,” she replied. Though Shelley could only see half of her face for her hair, she looked angry enough to throw the boys out the nearest window. If it wasn’t for the Sophists, she might have done precisely that.

“We were going to!” Blake protested, resting a hand on Alonie’s hip, then swiping it away a second later when he realised how bad an idea that was. “But there was this dude, right? And he told us we should probably head over here and, well, we couldn’t just say no.

Alonie seized his wandering hand by the wrist. She looked ready to crush it. “What ‘dude’?”

“The stupid sexy dude.”

Vincent raised a limp arm, mumbled “I’d have shagged him, and I’m straight!”

Alonie glared and he fell silent. “Maybe you should fuck off and find him then,” she said, “before Master al-Hakim gets wind of you showing up out of your heads.”

The boys shared a knowing, fearful look. The very thought of the stern Seelie Commander finding out about their antics seemed to neutralise every drop of alcohol in their bodies. Vincent staggered up from his chair.

“Given our options,” he said, “I think we’d be better off quitting while we’re ahead.”

“Good choice,” said Alonie, and showed Blake towards the door. Vincent shuffled after him.

Alonie turned to Shelley. “Want me to send them out the basement way?” she asked.

Shelley caught Shuck’s eye — he had an almost-human wince on his feline lips. The hidden passage that led to the catacombs was supposed to be their little secret. “What choice have we got?” he said. “We throw them back outside and the Sophists’ll have them both fer sure. At least if we show them tae the tunnels there’s a good chance they’re not gonna remember the way come morning.”

With Shelley’s mumbled permission, Alonie hoisted Vincent out of the room by his coat’s collar, then came back for Blake, who made one final grab at Shelley’s affection with a promise to protect her from the Sophists. She could still hear them complaining as Alonie hauled them downstairs.

Shuck paced over to the door and watched them go. “I wonder who it were that convinced those bleedin’ idiots coming here were a good idea?” he said. “There’s nae way Seelie would be that stupid.”

Nor anyone else in Torsten; they all considered the Scar some cursed mausoleum, a ruin drenched in permanent night, where the mad and the broken crawled to die. No one would ever think to encourage two idiot teenagers, high on alcohol and who-knew-what-else to dare challenge its haunted streets. Not even the Sophists (and neither Vincent nor Blake were the type to listen to them, at any rate).

But today was a very strange day.

Stupid sexy dude? I wonder who that could have been…