Orphic Phantasia

1: The Girl from the Sky

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He pointed it out. “That crescent shape, just above the horizon.” If only more people could be this ignorant! “It might not look much bigger than your thumb, but that’s because it’s far away.”

Still nothing. Dante grimaced; there was ignorance—the Sophists had it in spades—and then there was this. He cast his thoughts back to his schooling and tried to recall how a teacher might explain the obvious to an oblivious child.

“Look here,” he said, tapping the telescope’s eyepiece.

His telescope was as tall as she was, its body as thick as her shoulders were wide. She studied it with a look of confusion at first, then put her eye to the eyepiece—almost as if the relevant information had just implanted itself into her thoughts—before drawing back, confused once more.

“I see nothing to be afraid of,” she said.

Dante pictured Theia’s weathered surface, cracked with veins of molten blood that pooled into ancient craters. It was easy to see how a simple, impressionable mind might mistake it for some heaven-sent catastrophe, liable to lurch down from the skies at any moment, but people who should have known better believed it too.

“People are weird,” he replied.

“But it is an illusion, trapped inside this telescope.”

“Well, yes, but Theia itself is…” He bit down on his lip. If she could access information on telescopes and understand the principles of reflection, then why did she not understand the concept of a moon? The avatars in the forest had an entire datasphere of knowledge at their command.

Maybe she was some kind of rogue, he reasoned, the result of misappropriated technology designed to gather reconnaissance on Torsten and its people. Theia, certainly, would be at the forefront of many a mind. As blissful as the town might appear on the surface, its underworld teemed with hedonistic cults convinced of their impending doom. For simple synthetic intelligence without access to the Malkuthian datasphere, such a widespread fear would surely warrant investigation.

But then why would she come to him, of all people? Dante Orpheus was nobody important, nobody special; he was nothing more than a struggling initiate of Seelie, hoping to one day graduate their training program so he could make the journey to Malkuth, where his mother was waiting for him.

He realised then, as he studied that immaterial projection of a confused young girl, that portrait of a royal beauty as if plucked from his dreams, what she was—what she had to be.

She was from Malkuth herself, from its highest terraces, where heavenly gardens sat among the clouds and the Mother Merope of the Saptamatrikas watched over the land, ready to judge all those who wished to join her in Paradise. Those like Dante. And this girl, this inhumanly attractive girl with her flowing white hair and inquisitive eyes, was her means of judgement.

And now Dante had to prove himself worthy.

“Theia is a curse,” he said, talking slowly so as not to make a mistake. “People believe it will fall out of its orbit and destroy the world any day now, but it won’t. The laws of physics won’t allow it.”

The girl’s eyes widened, like those of a young Shelley Eoghan whenever Dante had offered to paint her stories. “Destroy the world? Then that is why others fear it so! And, yet, I cannot see it…” She had Shelley’s frown, too. Her eyes flicked to the side. “No, that is not good enough. Lord Dionysus said my eyes could see all things, including those things no others can see, yet if this is not true then how can I possibly save the world from the Erebus?”

Dante grasped the parapet. Just hearing that name—thinking it—was enough to send a shiver of nausea reverberating about his insides.

The girl sprung forward with a startled cry, but he waved her away before she could reach him. “But you are troubled,” she said.

“It’s nothing,” he replied. “Just … bad memories.”

“Then share them with me,” she said, taking another step forward, “and let me ease your suffering.”

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Two pages in and Dante is already overthinking things? Maaan.