Orphic Phantasia

14: Shelley Eoghan and the Ruins of Dusk

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Long ago, Shelley had told Shuck about Dante and the way he’d been avoiding her since his mother disappeared, but she had never described him. Nor had she told Shuck his full name.

“Is he a regular too?” she asked.

“Nae, but he looks just like his father, right down tae that cloak.”

That was something he wouldn’t like to hear. If Shelley ever needed strike a nerve, now she had the means — not that she would ever have the guts. “Was his father—”

Before she could continue, a ripple of apprehension ran through Shuck’s fur and his ears pricked up. “Watch out, Shell,” he said, “there are two Sophists just around that corner.”

Shelley noticed the corner in question take on new detail as fresh eyes painted the aether with their observations. As a pair of figures marched into view, their armoured forms pulsating with magical current, she scrambled behind the nearest wall. Something about the way their attention defined the shapes around her — from paths and posts to drains and gutters — made her uneasy; it couldn’t penetrate the fog, but it captured everything else in such vivid detail she could hardly tell the difference between aether and reality. Maybe they could even spot an immaterial projection on another plane.

“Keep calm,” said Shuck, “it’s not you they’re after. Seems they’ve got a friend flanking yours tae drive them out of hiding. I hope those kids are as capable as their parents.”

Before Shelley could ask Shuck how he even knew their parents, the wall opposite her exploded in detail. Shelley felt her immaterial friend tremble beside her and reached out to run a reassuring hand through his fur. His tails swished.

The Sophists moved closer.

“Dammit, Shell,” hissed Shuck through clenched teeth. “That’s nae ordinary Sophist. That’s a seer!”

Shelley had never heard of the Sophists employing seers before, but then, a few hours ago, she had never heard of the Sophists flying ships, either. So much for them being some grassroots, back-to-basics ‘community’ who eschewed machines and magic for a more ‘natural’ lifestyle! She pulled her knees up to her chest and tried her best to ignore the outside world; that was how you hid in the aether. It was weird like that.

“Be careful,” said Shuck, placing a paw on her arm. “Go too far down that path and there’s nae coming back.”

She knew the dangers, but she wasn’t ready to give up on the world quite yet. Not while she still had some friends, at least. So long as she remembered, so long as she wanted to live in their world, she wouldn’t lose herself completely.

The Sophists were a few steps away now, emerging from the fog and into the protective bubble of purple li— No! She had to ignore them. The more she thought about them, the more she acknowledged them, the more likely they were to notice her.

She was a nobody. She had to be a nobody.

“You got something?” asked an unfamiliar voice.

The light began to narrow on the alleyway. “I think so. It’s—”

Just as Shuck looked ready to pounce, the seer’s attention swept away from them — and across the street, to where Emily and the others had made a break from cover.

“What in blazes?” said Shuck. “What’re those bleedin’ idiots doing?”

It was Dante leading the charge — Dante — pushing through the fog towards the purple light. Emily followed closed behind him, then Byron and, finally, Katrina. The latter was calling out “We can’t!”

The two Sophists forgot all about Shelley and moved to intercept, the third member of their team joining them from out of a nearby street. Either his flanking tactic had worked, or someone — maybe Dante — had noticed him. Shelley glanced at her watch and saw her resolve wavering, the hands of time speeding up as her suspension of disbelief reached breaking point. It was one thing to slow time when nothing was happening around you, but another to watch things play out at half speed and to accept it as reality. With each thump of Dante’s flight upon the dusty street, Shelley’s time fled, his speed increased.

He was heading for the house. Her house. The safe house.

I did have material covering this from Dante’s viewpoint, but it ended up cut. Besides, there’s already more than enough of his moping about in this story!