Orphic Phantasia

2: Of Sophists and Seelie

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“I should get going,” said Kat. “Phoe wants a ‘thorough debriefing’”—she made air-quotes with her fingers— “on the situation with the Aristocracy. Guess I’ll catch you guys later. Good luck with the exams!”

As she lumbered off towards the Theatre’s south tower, where her friends made their base of operations, Emily turned to Dante, ready to question him on these latest revelations. She found him scowling at the news: Theseus Armstrong was reporting on the attack Katrina had mentioned earlier.

“Despite its designation,” their classmate assured the camera, “I’ll be leaving the slaying to the experts.”

His footage footage showed the assailant—a three-metre tall beast the ticker dubbed ‘minotaur-class’—crashing through a barn towards a team of militia soldiers, who showered its hide with a hail of gunfire. Then, after a brief wobble of the camera and Theseus’s offscreen cry of “Shit, that’s Master al-Hakim!”, a single figure emerged from the chaos to strike down the beast with a single blow.

“It’s just an automaton,” said Dante, as the militia loaded the creature’s body onto the back of a transport. “People need to stop treating them like monsters.”

“I’d say wrecking mindless havoc is pretty monstrous,” said Emily. “Assuming, of course, that it was mindless.” It was hard to tell on a recording. If she’d been there in person, however… “Come on,” she tugged at Dante’s sleeve, “let’s get this day over with already.”

With the time approaching nine-o’clock, they made their way towards the Theatre’s foyer, where they would collect the crystals that tracked their day’s progress. It was a spacious room with a shimmering silver floor and half a dozen screens across its walls. The receptionists—graduates from the First Class—smiled in greeting.

“Looking forward to your holiday?” asked one, as he handed Emily her crystal.

After their midsummer exams, they had a week’s break from their training. “No doubt it will fly by,” she replied.

“You’d best make the most of it,” said the other, passing a crystal on to Dante. “It only gets worse from here on out.”

Emily slipped her crystal into her satchel. Throughout the day, the Theatre staff would fill it with shards of light as she conquered their various trials. Experience had taught her to aim for six out of the possible twelve if she wanted to keep her position in the Second Class rankings. According to the chart, displayed for all to see on the foyer wall, she was currently eighteenth. Dante, meanwhile, only ranked twenty-fifth, a clear reminder that Seelie rewarded creativity, not sceptical posturing.

Hermia Adelheid and Horatio Stark—ranked second and seventh—stood analysing the lists as Emily and Dante approached. Unlike some, they took the childish acquisition of points with absolute seriousness. Catching sight of her housemates out of the corner of her eye, Hermia pivoted to greet them. “I hope the two of you will try your hardest today,” she said, the looming exams doing little to dent her cheerful disposition. “Lucretia House needs each and every one of us to succeed!”

Hermia had a strange habit of treating their apartment as if it were some kind of troupe. Emily forced a smile and promised to do her best; unlike other Malkuthians, Emily Fomalhaut was not the competitive type. “Blame my parents,” she told people.

“Katrina says we shall be exploring the industrial ruins,” Hermia continued. “Fortunately for us, Horatio knows the area his time in the militia. Is that not right, Horatio?”

He mumbled an awkward “Affirmative.”

Malkuthians were weird.

On a nearby screen, Andromeda reminded viewers to keep an eye out for updates on the situation with the Princess Phantasia—Veritas were hoping for an ‘exclusive interview’—then added, with equal enthusiasm, “And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Torsten Initiate Program Second Class Midsummer Trials Finale. Hurrah.”

At that same moment, the foyer clock ticked to nine.

Nothing happened. The screen lingered on Seelie’s emblem: a stylised butterfly with wings of iridescent light.

A minute passed. Emily wondered what the delay was, and whether it had anything to do with the morning’s drama. Eager to stop herself from overthinking things, she turned her attentions to the Second Class charts. Somehow, Joel Gibson had scored almost seven-thousand points.

After two minutes, Hermia Adelheid pointed out to everyone present that Mr Payne was late with his announcement, and that she was very disappointed in him.

No, really, how did Joel get that many points? That put him above Alonie.

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Seelie sure loves gamification!