Chapter 5

The Eyes of the Forest

Half a kilometre into the forest, they reached their destination.

Azhara’d al-Hakim, Seelie Commander, and teacher of numerous survival and self-defence classes, awaited them. Unlike his brother, Master al-Hakim was a quiet man, broad shouldered and imposing, a mountain given human form. He wore a thigh-length tan jacket over a beige shirt and a brown, double-breasted waistcoat trimmed with gold. His Seelie broach, which he kept pinned to his chest, was a simple metal-grey, with no flourishes of achievement—a strange sight for one of such rank. A wooden sword hung at his side.

Joel Gibson lifted his own ‘weapon’ in greeting. “Master Hackin’,” he said.

The slightest of nods. “Mr Gibson.” A growl, not unpleasant or threatening; the sound of the earth, thick with the accent of Tiferet, the City of Beauty.

Kaori Shimomura presented herself with a curtsy. “Master al-Hakim, please forgive my rather presumptuous boyfriend. We are here to take your challenge, if you would be so kind as to present it us.”

Dante blamed Kaori’s attitude on her parents. She was the daughter of a Seelie Commander, and yet her name only lingered around the middle of the charts. She needed all the extra credits she could get.

If her grovelling bothered him, Master al-Hakim did not show it. “Your task is simple,” he said. “About a mile east of this position you will find a shrine. You are to investigate it. Captain Espinosa shall provide further details upon your arrival.”

Dante pulled up a local map on his cellular and started to scan the area for clues. The Donara liked to surround their sacred places with hawthorn trees. Much to his girlfriend’s chagrin, Joel followed Dante’s example, though the raven’s knowledge of Donaran customs was, Dante suspected, rather limited.

“I would warn you,” said Master al-Hakim, “that this is a test of instinct. Technology will not help you.”

Kaori snatched Joel’s cellular and buried in her satchel with an I-told-you-so look of smugness. With a grumble of discontent, her boyfriend shouldered his guitar and sauntered past the watching Commander, trinkets jangling with every swagger of his bony hips. Kaori scurried after him. Master al-Hakim’s eyes followed, but he said nothing. Birds could nest in his hair and he wouldn’t even flinch.

Dante returned his cellular to his hand, keeping the map of the vicinity on-screen — he would follow blind ‘instinct’ the same day he believed in fairies — and started after the ravens, Emily was a step behind him.

“Not much of a challenge if we can walk there in a straight line, is it?” she said.

“Who said anything about a straight line?” Dante activated his visor and set a checkpoint for the shrine’s rough coordinates. An arrow appeared at the bottom of his vision, pointing the way east. “But heading off in a random direction won’t get us anywhere.”

Kaori glared at him as if he were a Sophist. He wondered how long it would be until she lost her patience with him completely.

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Tiferet is over in the Middle East. However, it is not considered one of the Seven Cities ruled over by the Saptamatrikas. Why? It’s a long story.

(Oh, and Azhara’d means ‘shining thunder’)