Orphic Phantasia

35: A Bold Venture

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Dante glanced outside. Two men were arguing over the result of a card game, one accusing the other of cheating. Behind them, the purple beast juggled something in its whirling tentacles. A person-shaped something, limbs flailing. Then the beast lurched up and caught the hapless victim in its jaws. Dante, feeling his empty stomach churn, turned away, just in time to catch the icy cold eyes of a man in a ragged suit as he strode past the booth.

Dante let the curtain fall closed. It was a cruel death, but machines did not know mercy.

“They import them from the Eighth Circle,” Chris continued, “stick them in the coliseum to build up their reputation, then sell them on to wealthy aristocrats and private militias.”

“And does Seelie know about all this?” asked Emily.

“No idea,” said Chris, “but I have heard that taking charge of this place is a risky proposition. The current sultan has only been in power about six months, and people say that’s an achievement.” He sat back with a hint of a smile. “You ask me, Seelie’s the one stacking the deck to keep them all in line.”

“Let me guess, they bring in their cadets for a holiday, and those cadets just happen to uncover what’s going on and put a stop to it?”

“You know what they say: there’s no better training than real life.”

Dante clenched his jaw. Katrina and her friends had a habit of poking around things that didn’t concern them. They were like curious children, egging each other on to explore forgotten caves in search of treasure. One of these days, they would stumble upon a monster and end up eviscerated without mercy.

He exchanged a worried frown with Emily; she was thinking the same thing.

“I need to find Kat and the others,” she said, turning to Chris. “They’re going to get themselves hurt if they don’t stop playing around.”

Chris raised an eyebrow. “What, you think you can just waltz through the Sultan’s front door when he’s got half his security force out looking for you? Or, at least, someone who looks like you.”

Any lingering trace of the Emily Fomalhaut they knew vanished in that instant. With a cold, calculating glare, her voice low and threatening, channelling the Macha Dante had heard so much about, she asked, “And what would you know about that?”

Chris met her glare with a concerned frown. “Not much,” he replied, “only that they’re looking for a seer with blue hair who answers to the name of Aliza Adel.”

“Then they’ve got the wrong woman,” Emily replied.

“Wrong person or not, the Sultan’s palace is the last place you want to be. Unless, of course, you want to get caught.”

Dante’s insides had become so knotted with anxiety he wasn’t sure if they would ever unravel again. Hearing a rumble of commotion outside the booth, he peered out of the curtains, hoping for a distraction.

All eyes were on the stairs—and a pair of men in khaki uniforms.

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You’ll get to see a bit more of that card game soon enough.