Chapter 33

Three Eyes Open

The gondola drifted through the Avalonian skies. Slave to a predetermined path, the floating carriage offered a view of the island unrivalled by all but the decks of its central tower. From here, Dante could see how the streets of Avalon formed a symmetrical pattern around the island, exact in its measurements, a complex web of intelligent design without a single structure out of place. Even the synthetic forests contributed to the overall balance.

“It’s all too perfect, isn’t it?” said Emily. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was a simulation.”

Dante rubbed the back of his neck. He knew now that it wasn’t itching because of an insect bite, but an Alchemium implant. They all had them. From the moment they stepped through that veil of Aethex and entered Avalon, they had surrendered control of their senses to the Fortunate Isles, and all for the privilege of using their facilities. Through that implant, the island’s oversees could influence their very perceptions, just as a computer simulation could convince them they were stalking the halls of a monster-infested mansion. That was why the sun, fake as it was, appeared no different to the real thing. And the only way to see through the lies was to accept what Dante had spent so many years trying to deny: that, beyond the material world, there was another, aethereal realm, a world of shadows and souls, its shallows a mirror of fleeting observations, its depths a repository of ideals as old as civilisation itself.

“No poverty, no disease, no suffering,” Emily continued. “It’s no wonder it draws people in. Imagine a life where you never had to see Theia again.”

“But it’s still out there,” Dante reminded her. According to his cell, it was now waning somewhere beneath the horizon, reminding another country, another people of the doom that hung over their heads. Later that week, it would devour the sun entirely, and yet Avalon would continue on unabated, skies as blue as ever.

“In the meantime,” Emily reached over and took his hands in hers, “you ready for some practise?”

Dante tried not to grimace at the thought. Now he was free of the Saptamatrikas, Emily figured he should learn to utilise what she considered latent talents in astral projection. What she called latent talents, however, he considered accidental incidents, brought about by misused drugs and his desperate attempts to escape bad dreams. Not that such reasoning convinced Emily.

“You’re an artist,” she had told him the night before. “My mother always told me that artists made the best magicians.”

He looked down at the island below. “If you think it will help…”

“It’s a start,” she said.

Welcome to Episode Five! I hope you enjoy the ride.