Orphic Phantasia

17: Fear of the Light

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But, with Princess Phantasia around, the Director’s advice would have to wait its turn. “Greetings, Theseus Armstrong!” she said, dancing around the newcomer as he struggled to contain his unbridled exasperation at her sudden appearance. “Do not fear for the safety of your friends, for I have already saved them, as is my duty and my purpose.”

Tall, tanned and toned, Theseus couldn’t have looked more out of place if he strode into the World’s End. “Well, eh, cheers, Princess. I guess.” He looked to his Veritas companions, Katrina and Andromeda, the latter breaking a rare smile at his predicament. “Can we go home now? My brain hurts.”

The Director cleared his throat, “As I was about to say, I would advise you take your leave through the basement passageway.”

“En’t that supposed to be a secret?”

“It is.”

Theseus shrugged. “Suppose I can look forward to seeing your solicitors soon, yeah?”

“That will not be the case. I will, however, suggest you visit Commander Shimomura as soon as possible. And that goes for all of you. This place is poisonous to mind and body alike.”

Emily wanted to snark at him for acting like he was a Seelie officer, but then she remembered seeing his youthful face in the memorial shrine below and had to turn away before she saw it again in the man before her.

“We’ll, eh, do that,” said Theseus. He sounded as confused as Emily felt. As Andromeda moved to his side, he turned to Kat. “You coming?”

“I’ll be right behind you,” she said.

Her attentions were on Dante. He hadn’t spoken a word since his rage against the Director. Now he was just standing there, fists clenched at his sides, a thick mop of sweaty hair covering his downcast face.

“He has faced an awful truth,” said the Director. “Ms Ritches, make sure he sees Commander Shimomura as quickly as possible. I doubt he will open up, but we cannot take chances. After that, he should rest.”

Katrina nodded, then put her arm around Dante’s shoulder and guided him towards the stairs. As he passed by, Emily caught the slightest glimpse of his face, his unblinking, tear-stained eyes, his mouth, hung limp in a frozen moment of disbelief. She brushed her fingers along the back of his hand, but his heart lay locked behind a shell thicker than any Scar. Emily bit down on her lip. She knew that place better than anyone, and she knew where it led—and Dante didn’t need that kind of burden. He didn’t need that kind of debt.

Emily watched as Princess Phantasia followed him indoors. She would save him, she said, as she would save them all. Emily wondered what she would ask for in return.

No, Dante didn’t need that kind of debt at all. No one did. It was a fool’s debt.

“A deal with the Sidhe is a dangerous thing,” said the Director, and Emily realised his eyes were upon her, not the Princess. “Tell me, Ms Fomalhaut, how much did you know of Dante’s mother? I sensed your apprehension when I confronted him.”

Emily never thought she would trust a Sophist—and least of all their Director—but something about his tone, the way he actually seemed to care for Dante’s wellbeing…

“I thought she died in the forest,” she replied.

“So did we all.”

“You were after her that night, weren’t you?”

“Among others, yes, but that was not my decision to make. I had already conducted a joint investigation with Rembrandt Payne into the reports of Donaran conspiracy, but the Founding Fathers decided to challenge our inconclusive results.” He sighed; there was a genuine weariness in his aged face, guilt even. “I was a nobody at the time. There was nothing I could do, for Ophelia or for the Donara or for—” He caught her eyes for a moment, then turned away. “For any of them.”

Emily’s clenched her jaw. She wanted to believe the Director a heartless man who only served his own selfish ambitions, like the rest of his Sophist ilk. Things were easier that way. But…

But that wasn’t how the world worked, and it was a seer’s duty to see through those lies. Her duty. Aliza’s duty.

“So now you’re trying to make up for it by letting us go?” she asked, hoping to tease further confessions out of the complex tapestry that was Director Rosencrantz Guirlande.

“No,” he replied. “I came here to seek the truth. Speaking of which…”

Yeah, Guirlande, just who do you think you are?!