Orphic Phantasia

7: A Shrine to the Fallen

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“That,” Phoenix Rogan’s manic voice echoed through the ship’s carcass, “is an excellent deduction!”

Although the Veritas chief was herself out of sight, Katrina Ritches lounged over the ship’s nose, camera in hand, and noticed Dante before he could backtrack.

“You alone?” she asked as he approached.

“Looks like it.” If Kaori had beaten him here, he would have known about it already.

“I guess the forest got them.” Kat reached out to scratch her feline automaton behind its ear as if sniffed at a nearby rose. “I’d say it was magic myself, but you’d probably prefer Annie’s explanation…”

“What’s magic?” At mention of her name, Andromeda Blumstein emerged from inside the ship, a multi-tool in one hand and her cellular in the other. Unlike the fresh-faced—albeit morose—Andromeda who fronted that morning’s news, this one had dirt streaked across her tanned cheeks and foliage clinging to her leather tunic. When she noticed Dante, realisation dawned in her sleepless eyes. “Oh, right, the forest.” She pushed back curls of pink-tipped hair from her face with the tip of her multi-tool. “Yeah. Of course it’s magic. It can’t possibly have anything to do with all that Malkuthian crap floating about the place. Not that you can tell Kat here that.”

Kat grinned. “We’ll see what you say once I have these photos developed.”

“Yeah, magic of the camera.” Andromeda rolled her eyes. “Why do I work with these people?”

Phoenix Rogan piped up from the wreckage, “Because we make an excellent team! Now, who is our guest, please?”

“Dante,” said her friends in unison.

After a brief shuffle, Phoenix popped her head over the ship’s bow. Somehow, crawling around inside the wreckage had done little to blemish her rich complexion. “Ah, Mr Orpheus! I must say, I’m surprised someone of your rating made it this far.”

Though she was the shortest of the three girls, a frail figure with meticulously braided hair who looked like she would break something if she so much as tripped over, Phoenix Rogan had an intensity about her that could break down even the most stalwart of Sophists. Dante felt a shiver of apprehension as she fixed her dark eyes on him.

“It’s just a forest,” he replied with a shrug.

Phoenix pulled herself from out of the wreckage and brushed the dirt from her clothes. “And did you meet Her Royal Highness, Princess Phantasia?” she asked.

He looked away, ruffled his hair. “Something like that,” he said.

Phoenix replied with a suspicious hum and crossed her arms. At times like this, it felt like she was trying to read his thoughts. Knowing Phoenix, she probably thought she could. “Her Highness did say she would be meeting everyone who stepped into the forest,” she said, “so I see no reason to be vague about it. Still, I presume you here to investigate this downed vessel, yes?”

Dante nodded.

“Eeexcellent.” Her nostrils flared. “Annie and I have just been studying the point of impact to judge the angle and velocity of the crash.” She held up her cellular—expanded to full size—and tapped the screen with a silver baton. “If you are truly more accomplished than your rating suggests, could you perhaps provide some commentary on our present findings, please?”

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Phoenix likes her question tags.