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, hyperactive appearance. “Do not fear for the safety of your friends, for I have already saved them.”

Tall, tanned and toned, Theseus couldn’t have looked more out of place if he strode into the World’s End. “Well, eh, thanks, 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.”

“As I was going to say before I was interrupted,” said the Director, “I would advise that you take your leave through the basement passageway.”

“I thought that was secret?”

“It is.”

Theseus shrugged. “And can I look forward to a visit from your solicitors sometime soon?”

“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.”

Who did he think he was? A Seelie officer?

“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 not 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 felt no response; his heart lay locked behind a shell thicker than any Scar. Emily bit down on her lip. She knew where he was, and she knew what he was feeling, but getting through to him — well, Emily had been there herself, and it had taken the offer of a new life to release her, and that was a debt Dante did not need.

A debt Emily carried to this day.

Princess Phantasia followed Katrina and Dante as they headed indoors, offering advice and promises of her own. She would save him, she said, as she would save them all. Emily wondered what her price would be.

“A deal with the Sidhe is a dangerous thing,” said the Director, and she realised his eyes were upon her, not the Princess. “Tell me, Ms Fomalhaut,” the tone of his voice told Emily he knew her name a fake, “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 that wasn’t how the world worked. Her mother had taught her that — and that it was a seer’s duty to see through those lies. Her duty.

“So now you’re trying to make up for it,” she said, 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?!