Orphic Phantasia

16: A Crack in the Mask

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It was as if somebody had lit a fire in the middle of the hallway. Shelley recoiled from the imaginary heat and, when she dared to look back, Alonie burned, her hair like fire, the heat cloaking her like Sophist armour.

“I am not a whore.” She spoke each word slowly, deliberately, each one a blade of hot iron, a flaming fist of declaration. Even the seer seemed to cower before her.

“Well, this is interesting,” she said. “No wonder you’re so good at keeping me out. This makes my choice much easier, of course. The boy’s mind shall be easily broken. Maybe the sight of your bloodied corpse will help speed things along.”

The seer braved a step towards the aethereal fire and reached for her sword. As she did, Alonie seemed to falter, as if the seer were some approaching avatar of winter, eating away at her warmth. The blade shone free of its scabbard, cold as ice, ready to cut the sun from the skies.

Thanks to the pressure, the transition to the aether happened in an instant. Shelley knew it was a risk, but the consequences were worse. “Stop!” she cried as she appeared behind the seer.

The Sophist turned. She was no longer some faceless fiend in polished armour, but a figure bathed in veins of electric blue, each line a dozen words compressed, a prayer to cast back the Dark. She looked down on Shelley’s lacklustre projection with a face of chiselled beauty, as if someone had carved the features of an angel from the finest porcelain. Her eyes were like cold stars, terrifying in their strength and irresistible in their allure.

Then she smiled, and she looked just like Emily. And, Shelley thought, just like Alonie, too. Steeling herself against the seer’s power, she clenched her fists — at least in spirit.

“Ye better leave my friend alone, or you’ll be sorry,” she said, her voice a pitiful cries against a raging storm.

Behind the seer, Alonie’s flame still flickered, but it was a whimper of its former self. Yet even as her fire dwindled, the light in her eyes remained — her eyes! For as long as Shelley had known her, Alonie Kent had the red eyes of Malkuthian augmentation, but here, now, from the world of ideas, those eyes were as pale blue and piercing as the seer’s own — and, as soon as Shelley caught them, those last flames died to an ember, as if in shame.

“Oh, you must be the one I saw earlier,” said the Sophist. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for an amateur like you.”

Shelley felt her resolve crumbling like the Grampian Mountains before the battering walls of Theia’s oceanic rage. How could a miserable little nobody like her ever hope to achieve anything when she had so many brilliant stars surrounding her?

Dinnae be stupid, Shell! It was her voice, and Shuck’s voice, and Emily and Alonie’s too. Ye cannae just stand here and let that bitch talk down tae ye like that!

For their sake, she had to make this count.

“I’ll have ye know that I’m nae amateur,” she said. “My name’s Shelley Moira Eoghan, daughter of Endora Eoghan, and if ye mess with me and my friends, then yer messing with her.”

That caught her attention. “Endora Eoghan?” she said. “Aeons be praised, It seems I’m spoilt for choice! Shelley Moira Eoghan, you say?”

Shelley realised then her mistake — her stupid, amateur mistake — but it was too late to correct it; a name heard through the aether was a name known.

“Silly girl,” said the seer as the chains took shape around her prey, “did Seelie never teach you the dangers of declaring yourself to strangers?” She lifted a finger and curled it towards her, as if summoning a pet or small child. Shelley felt the chains tighten around her imaginary limbs, then yank her forward at immeasurable speed. If she were dreaming, she would have woken up from the shock.

Why do seers all look so alike?