Orphic Phantasia

5: The Eyes of the Forest

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Lysander walked over to admire his handiwork. “It’s not as good as one made from alchemium, but it’s good enough to fool an idiot. Or a pair of them. Not that I’m calling the two of you idiots, I mean, you know—”

“Get rid of it.”

Emily was looking away from the avatar, face obscured behind a loose fringe of sky-blue hair. She dug her nails into Dante’s arm.

Please, Lysander.”

Dante had never known Lysander to regret one of his pranks—but then the boy had likely never seen Emily Fomalhaut angry before.

“S—sure,” With a glance towards the tree, he said, “Cut it off, Merope.”

“Both of them,” said Emily, her voice a low rumble.

“You heard the good lady, Merry.”

As Alonie’s simulacrum dissipated into the aethex, Angelo retrieved his friend’s cellular and slipped it into his hand. “I believe it time we take our leave,” he said.

Lysander nodded his agreement, and the two boys shuffled out of the glade, casting the occasional nervous glance back in Emily’s direction. She didn’t speak again until they had left.

“I—I’m sorry,” she said, “I just…”

Realised the truth, Dante wanted to say. “It was a little unnerving,” he said.


He stood there in awkward silence, staring at the giant silver tree, the heart of the local aethex and his direct connection to its collective knowledge. He could access it, just as Lysander had, and bring up views on any area of the forest he pleased, build a map pinpointing their destination, even shape an avatar of his own to guide them there. And yet he wasn’t sure that he could, if he even had the heart.

With a deep breath, Emily looked up. “You came here to do something, right?” She let go of his arm. “You don’t want Kaori and Joel to beat us to it, do you? You’ll never live it down.” She was trying to smile, but the corners of her lips refused to comply. She looked away. He thought he caught the specks of tears in her eyes, crystals glimmering under the synthetic lights.

Without a word, he moved over to the tree and placed his cellular on its silver trunk. With a few simple commands, he could have given the server form, summoned its avatar in the illusionary flesh—a female figure with silvery skin, violet hair, and the designation ‘Torhout Merope A42’—but it seemed pointless now. Instead, he limited his dialogue to his cellular and requested local geographic data and information on all shrines in a five-kilometre radius.

“I’m sorry,” said the avatar, “but we are prohibited from analysing areas of religious worship.” She flashed an apologetic smile—a crescent-moon smile that sent a shock racing up Dante’s shrine. Had her eyes been a pale blue, rather than a violet to match her hair…

At least she could provide him with a map of the area the aethex covered. He noted the various blank spots of ignorance and found one in the location Master al-Hakim had specified. As the owner of an invisibility cloak, Dante knew that nothing was truly invisible if you knew what to look for.

He turned, ready to head back to Emily and show off his results, and found her looking over his shoulder, a determined frown on her face. He waved his cellular at her.

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Don’t worry; they’ll be back.