Orphic Phantasia

15: The Gathering Place

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“You think it’s okay if I have a look around?” Emily asked Shelley.

“I—I dunno.” Her friend looked away, her lips pursed. “It’s not my house and I, well…”

“Don’t like invading other people’s personal space?” Some things never changed. Shelley nodded an affirmative. “I know how you feel.” Emily would never do that sort of thing. Emily Fomalhaut was a nice girl.

Aliza Adel, however…

And Shelley had known Aliza — or, at least, a facet of her. Emily could see it in her eyes, in that slight twitch of knowing humour on her lips. The person she had known, the one who came before Emily, would have no scruples about invading a person’s privacy. That was how the Macha worked; if it gave her an advantage, something she could use for barter or for blackmail, it was fair game. The Sidhe knew that. That was why they had asked for her help. And, even now, even as she wanted more than anything to find an alternative, a way to placate them that wouldn’t hurt her friends, she found the lines between her past and present selves blurring, the walls between Aliza and Emily and the Macha starting to crack.

“Just…” Shelley glanced to her side, reminding Emily of the Princess Phantasia and her unseen advisor, “try not to disturb anything?”

“The way things are going, I doubt I’ll have the time.”

The way things were going, Emily was starting to regret turning down Lord Freyr’s original proposition. Two years ago, he had offered to make a new person, somebody with a whole other life, a world apart from her past. Instead, she had only asked that he revoke her name, hide her scars behind the illusion of Emily Fomalhaut, while retaining those few friends she held dear. It was a compromise, born of fear, and now it was those same friends who would pay the price, one way or another.

Not that Emily was about to let that happen. Not while she still had a choice.

She started her search with the second floor, but found little besides locked doors and empty rooms. The first floor, however, was a different story. The very first room she entered appeared to be some kind of office, with a quartet of desks organised around a set of revolving resources, which included a shelf of books — real, physical books of the sort Emily and Leira collected, with delicate pages and dog-eared covers. Emily recognised some of them from the Theatre’s own library (‘A History of the Modern Courts’, ‘Societies of the World from Cataclysm to Unity’, ‘Transmutation: Reshaping the World’), and others from her own (‘Inner Worlds’, ‘Synthetics’), but there was one that, the moment she lay eyes upon it, sent an icy chill through every nerve of her body: ‘The Wings of the Erebus’, by Rinoa Hannigan.

With slight hesitation, she picked it up and turned to the first page.

To Cyrus’ read the author’s scrawled handwriting.

Time seemed to stop, as if Emily had cast herself into that safe, eternal moment of a world where the underground lake lapped at her ankles. It was the same book, the one her parents borrowed from their friend, Cyrus — the same Cyrus who had been there that night, six years ago. The night everything changed.

“They got her, Aliana. Pleiades got Ophelia.”

“Ah, Emily!”

Emily almost dropped the book in surprise. Byron stood at the door, scanning the office from beneath the brim of his hat. “It seems you have discovered some kind of classroom,” he said.

“Judging by these books, they were with Seelie,” said Emily, placing the book back on the shelf.

“They also had children,” said Byron, as he stepped into the room. “I spied a room filled with toys while you convened with Shelley. Is she well, by the way?”

“She’s fine. What sort of toys were they?” She wondered how old the children might have been at the time — and how old it would make them now. She had an idea at the back of her mind, and she wasn’t sure she liked it.

‘A History of the Modern Courts’ by a Dr. William Hartland, just so you know.