Orphic Phantasia

17: Fear of the Light

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Phantasia glanced to her side, where her silent, invisible companion whispered secrets of her own. Realisation began to dawn in her starlight eyes. “Ooh,” she said, “I see. But you are wrong. My Lord Dionysus is not using us. He has already told me all there is to know about his purpose here.”

He had promised her as much if she ‘made friends’ with people in the forest, and the Sidhe kept to their promises — even if they had a habit of twisting them. Emily folded her arms. “That’s more than anyone has told me,” she said.

Back in the forest, Lord Freyr had asked her to repay her debts, but, when she asked his reasons, he had avoided her questions like a Sophist politician. She knew little more now than she did back then. Phantasia would change that, though, because Phantasia would always speak the truth.

And, despite silent protests from her invisible companion, she did. “Prince Dionysus is investigating the Erebus,” she said. “If we learn to understand it, we can control it, and if we can control it, we can save the world!”

So obvious an answer, and yet it asked so many more questions Emily didn’t know where to begin. She looked around at the aethereal shadow-world, the imaginary recollection of the rooftop, still vivid with detail, and the blurred impressions that lay beyond. “But what has any of that got to do with us?” she asked, as much to herself as the Princess. What did Byron or Dante, or Shelley and Alonie, or Katrina, Andromeda and Theseus, or any of them have to do with that?

Before Emily could think things through, the words tumbled out of her thoughts, unrestrained, unrepentant: “Why does he want me to scry everyone?

Without realising it, she had grabbed the Princess by the shoulders. Phantasia trembled in fear, a child cowering before an inferno of rage ready to tear her apart for answers. Aliza Adel, oblivious to the consequences, would have done so. The Macha, fully aware of them, would have done worse.

But not Emily Fomalhaut. Not here, not now.

She was better than this. She had to be.

With the aether amplifying her emotions and bringing tears to her immaterial eyes, she let the Princess go and took a step away, frightened of the reflection she saw in those unlying eyes.

“I—I do not know,” said Phantasia.

Maybe it was a subconscious thing on Emily’s part, or maybe it was the sign of something more — another twist of the Fates — but, with her pale complexion, Princess Phantasia looked as much a descendant of the Maidenblood as any Emily had known. Especially now. And, just like those other Maidens, those irresistible sculptures of perfection who could see the things that others could not, she was, in the end, just a tool.

Emily managed a weary smile. “Guess this is our fate, huh?” she said. “Truth is the only commodity left in this world, and we’re the ones who find it. It’s our duty.”

As ever, the subtleties were lost on the Princess. “My duty is to save this world,” she replied, “though I would certainly like to see its secrets come to light. Therefore, I shall make you a promise. You wish to know what part you play in my Lord Dionysus’s investigation, and know it you shall!”

And, somehow, Emily knew it a promise without consequences. A promise without debts.

“My Lord!” the Princess cried across the rooftop, waving her arms like an excitable child trying to get the attention of an older sibling — yet the Prince and Director Guirlande remained sealed in their own world.

Until a moment later, when the air burst from Emily’s lungs and she found herself standing, once more, in the material world. Not a single moment had passed since the Prince made his appearance.

He stood there now, his face a blank mask, unreadable even by a seer.

“It is time for us to depart, Princess,” he said. “The Court demands our attention.”

“But—”

“You will return here when the time is right and you are needed most,” he replied. “But, if it is my secrets you desire, you would do best to follow me. You are not the only one who wishes to scry my heart.”

Oh dear, Phantasia, what have you gone and done this time?