Orphic Phantasia

2: Of Sophists and Seelie

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The Sophist influence over Seelie’s training program was an unfortunate reality of living in Second Century Torsten. While Seelie promoted itself as a philanthropic organisation, their actions in the Apostle Wars had given them a reputation for stealing away children to fight indescribable horrors at the ends of the earth, and the Sophists, always ready to present themselves as ‘in touch with the common man’, had used that reputation to their advantage. With popular opinion behind them, they could dictate what the Theatre could and could not teach, and if Mr Payne and his staff refused to comply, the town council would strip them of their property and oust them from Torsten for good—just as they had the Donara.

Six years ago. The night the forest burned. That was the start of it all. Now she thought about it, everything really did seem connected, just as Leira said. She reached for her shoulder and shivered, as if the winds of Cocytus had reached across the world to freeze her and her alone. How much of it was their doing? How much of it was his?

“You okay, Em?”

It was Katrina. Emily shook her head; she’d lost herself in a moment, a fragment of time between heartbeats where all the threads around her had woven into a single, terrifying truth. “Just a daydream,” she said. “Wondering what Director Guirlande would say if some monster came from beyond the walls to gatecrash his little commune.”

“Well, now that you mention it…”

It turned out that one such monster had caused a ruckus earlier that morning, out in the northern farmlands along the edge of the Old West River. Katrina was just about to show her housemates some cellular footage that Theseus Armstrong had captured for a Veritas bulletin when she came to an abrupt halt, just outside the Estate’s front gate.

Emily noticed it too: a light trail of equine footprints on the dirt road, aligned with the scars left by four thin wheels. Katrina knelt for a closer look and Dante called on his cellular for analysis, but there was no mistaking the signs of a horse-drawn carriage — and there was only one group in Torsten who would rely on such an archaic means of transport.

Emily bit down on her lip and felt for the reassuring onyx hilt hidden beneath her skirt. The last thing she needed was for the Sophist Aristocracy to fan the fears of conspiracy Leira had already sowed.

“Looks like they were headed north,” said Kat.

“The Theatre?” suggested Dante.

“Seems a little odd, if you ask me,” said Kat, playing with a strand of hair. “The Aristocracy never comes out here unless the Director has business with Seelie, and he never uses a carriage.”

“Maybe he’s gotten lazy,” said Dante.

Kat shook her head and tapped her cellular. “Or maybe he’s in a hurry. Hey, Phoe,” she said, directing her voice at the screen and giving the self-proclaimed ‘Chief Editor’ of Veritas the lowdown on their discovery.

“Then follow that trail and investigate!” came Phoenix’s demanding reply. Kat gave her friends a look of heartfelt apology.

“Leave me out of this,” said Emily, and started ahead.

Unfortunately, following the road to the Theatre meant following the Sophists’ trail as it wound its way around Seelie’s territory. Unlike the clusters of homogenised buildings that made up the rest of the town, a mile to the west, Seelie favoured individual estates of unique design. Rembrandt Payne, head of the Torsten troupe, lived in a small country cottage, whilst his associate, the dashing archaeologist Sohrabarak al-Hakim, preferred a winding oaken tower. Not six months ago Emily had watched one of the newest houses build itself as if from thin air, and in less time than it took a traditional builder to lay a single wall. In comparison, skeletal fingers of construction had blighted the Sophist commune to the northwest for months. What they planned to build, Emily did not know, but she was certain it would pale in comparison to anything Seelie could grow—and especially the Theatre itself.

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The current date is Friday, 14th June 112UE (United Era), hence why this is “Second Century” Torsten.