Chapter 37

Chasing Emily

In the confines of Bolventor’s cavernous home, the tower of Avalon—which the locals referred to as ‘the Sultan’s palace’—appeared less a shard of mirrored crystal and more a pillar, thick and stout, supporting the island above. At its base, where the old roads of Bolventor cracked and the earth gave way to its invading crystal blade, a line of eager rats queued for their chance to ascend the stairway to Paradise.

Two figures approaching that stairway stood out from the rest. It was something about the way they carried themselves, how comfortable they looked in their clothes, stylish and modern, while those around them fiddled with their buttons and bow-ties as if a slight tweak here or a flash of flesh there might convince the judges that they were more than mere rats masquerading in counterfeit clothing.

“Dude,” said Lance, “is that Mr Hakim?”

Sohrabarak al-Hakim had forsaken his usual vibrant hues for a dark suit with neon blue trimmings, and his hair, thick and long, hung in a ponytail much like his elder brother’s. Next to him, her arm in his, Ms Thorbjorn wore a dress of starlight sequins, its low-cut back exposing an elaborate tattoo that ran down her spine. Seeming to notice the two initiates staring at her, even as far away as they were, she glanced over her shoulder and threw them a smile.

Lance leaned in close to Dante and covered his mouth as if to whisper some great secret. “No one told me Ms T was such a babe! Mr Hakim’s one lucky dude.”

But Dante knew their appearance was just a ruse. They were there for Emily’s sake. As he watched them skip the queue and pass the panel of judges with nary a hitch, he felt his heart beat a little slower. Unlike his mother six years ago, Emily was not alone.

Dante and Lance, however, could not just waltz into the tower as their lecturers had. As they approached, a gruff security guard near pushed them into the long queue of rats waiting for evaluation. Many of them did not pass the test, returning along the length of the queue with dejected faces and passive-aggressive mumbles at those still in with a chance of success. As he neared the checkpoint, Dante overheard some of the more desperate pleas for acceptance. One man even offered to trade his house and home for a single shot at the jackpot. He left with a black eye and bloody nose.

“That was harsh,” said Lance. “Dude just wanted a chance.”

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Like Joel, Lance believes the ‘al’ part of ‘al-Hakim’ is a middle name…