27: Nothing But Blue Skies
So it came as something of a surprise when the Great Cliff gave way not to surging tides, to tsunami and tsukinami with power enough to end civilisation, but to a gentle blue expanse shimmering with sunlight. Gone was the hellish Malebolge of late-night stories, riddled with the rubble of ages past, its desolate wasteland inhospitable to all but the most indescribable of beasts. Instead, there was only calm. Only the lie. The innocent, blue lie.
Others had noticed it too, of course. The way Phoenix Rogan was flaunting the truth, anyone would have thought she alone had discovered it, while John Smith, attention still locked to his various screens, was cheerfully pointing out the mathematics involved and how the tides wouldn’t be in for another two hours.
Behind the gossiping initiates, Sohrabarak al-Hakim grinned. Emily wondered if this was the reason he brought them outside. Catching her eye, he started towards her.
“I imagine you figured it out a while back,” he said. His smile gleamed white against his dark skin as threads of thick, black hair danced around his face. He was a slight man compared to his brother, but no less powerful. While the older al-Hakim found his strength in muscle, in discipline and focus, Sohrabarak had charm and wit and cunning. His weathered trenchcoat flapped in the breeze as he stepped up to the railing and cast his eyes across the Malkuthian panorama diminishing into the distance.
“Why would you want to hide the truth?” asked Emily. For once, she had a chance for some straight, honest answers.
“It’s as my dear brother always says: there’s no better training than real life!”
Emily lent on the railing next to him. Dante was still there, an arm’s length away, as silent and unmoving as Mr al-Hakim’s older brother. “Is that what yesterday was all about?” she asked. “All that throwing us into the forest and the catacombs and the Scar?”
Mr al-Hakim smirked. “I can’t say I was expecting something so … blunt. I am used to more subtle methods in your training. Perhaps a little too subtle, I might add, but you can never be too careful with that accursed Aristocracy breathing down your neck.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine they’ll be too happy with you when we get back.”
“I’m willing to believe that, by the time we get back, they will have”—he grimaced—“resolved those issues.”
No doubt a certain emerald-eyed prince would assist them in that. Emily brushed the hair from her face and steeled herself for her next question. It was a rather forward—perhaps even dangerous—one, but Sohrabarak al-Hakim was an archaeologist, a truth-seeker, a man who valued facts over duty, and here, away from the prying eyes of the Sophists, he had no reason to deceive her. “Do you know who they were after that night?” she asked.
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Good Guy Sohrabarak.