1: The Girl from the Sky
She raised her brow, took a deep breath, looked like she was about to hold back her question, then finally let the words tumble out. “When was the last time you picked up a paintbrush?”
That was the last question he’d been expecting, and he answered it without even thinking of the implications. “Six years ago.”
“Why did you stop?”
“I grew up.”
A twitch of humour spread across her lips. “Maybe it’s time you grew down a little, then? Got back in touch with your imagination?”
“Why?” That was the last thing he needed to do if the City was analysing him.
“Because,” she rolled her eyes and let loose a melodramatic sigh, “Dante, you’re on Seelie’s Initiate Program, and if you have any desire whatsoever of getting into the Academy, you ought to know that imagination is a fundamental skill!”
“Who said anything about the Academy?”
“Well, why else would you be at the Theatre? You’re not doing a Lira, are you?”
He shrugged. “Maybe I want to teach,” he offered. “Like Hermia and Denny.”
“You? Teach?” Emily laughed; the lie was that transparent. “I might not be top of the charts, Dante, but I’m not stupid.”
He glanced out the kitchen window towards the southern wilderness. The wild expanse that made up the Fourth Circle of Malkuth would be the first hurdle he faced on his inevitable journey.
Emily hummed. She was studying him with narrowed eyes. “You’re going to leave Torsten.” It wasn’t a question.
He thought of Malkuth. Just reaching its borders would be challenge enough, but then he would have to ascend through the terraces if he ever hoped to reach the gardens in the sky. No, no amount of ‘imagination’ would help him there. He needed strength, intelligence, and to purge his mind of any and all fantasies. He needed to be like Horatio. He needed to be better than Horatio.
He needed to be better than everybody.
“A—any idea where you might go?” asked Emily, taking a cautious step towards him. “It’s a big world!”
He said it without thinking: “Malkuth.”
Dante had never shared his intentions with anyone, not even Katrina, his most trusted friend. He regretted it the moment he saw Emily’s face drop, her imploring look melt into one of realisation—one of sudden, head-shaking, mouth-gaping despair. For a moment, he thought her about to run over and cling to him, to beg him not to go, but then she screwed up her face with intense, brow-furrowing determination of the sort he had never seen—or expected—of her.
“If that’s the case,” she said, “you leave me no other choice. If you’re planning to sell your soul to that place, to throw everything away to become some—some self-absorbed, deluded fool then I will prove to you, once and for all”—she made the warding sign in advance—“that fairies are real. And then, Dante Orpheus,” the anger fled from her face, leaving nothing behind but a crescent moon smile and a pair of pale-winter eyes, “you are going to paint me a picture.”
On today, of all days, when the City’s eyes were upon them. Dante held his head high, met her determination with his own. He knew what happened to people who lost themselves to fantasy, and he refused to lose another to the cursed lunacy they called ‘the Erebus’.
“Prove they’re real, and I’ll paint you a whole gallery.”
Because, he knew, she never could.
Chapter 1 End
Yes, I want to knock some sense into Dante too.