39: Scylla and Charybdis
She cast her mind back to her trip in the gondola that morning, back when her only plan for the day had been to tease out Dante’s talents. Looking down on the island now, it was all so obvious. Just as the cult of Alastor had built their temple to cast a single spell, the architects of Avalon had designed their paradise to support the magic that flowed beneath it. Those streets and forests, towers and cathedrals—all of it served a single purpose: to shape a circle of magic, to keep the cycle spinning.
A cycle now infused with the magic of Ketos, amplifying it.
I can see! the unknown voice called from across the moors. I can see it all! Hurry! Escape! She is coming! She is coming!
Aliza wanted nothing more than to heed her advice. While Meeray stood praying at his altar, she could easily escape. There was a door not twenty metres away on the opposite side of the pool, leading out to a docking platform slick with rainwater. If Avalon was the man-made mountain she assumed it was, she could then climb down to the moors, braving the storm to chase after her mysterious benefactor, to leave behind Avalon and Bolventor and all their lies and deceptions.
But she didn’t. She couldn’t. Whether she wanted to or not, she had to face the trial before her. If she didn’t do this, if she didn’t scry the secrets of Jonas Meeray and uncover the schemes of Ketos, she would have to return to Avalon and scry the secrets of her friends. She was, as the saying went, caught between the Erebus and the deep, dark sea.
Dante’s cloak was the first thing to go. The sooner she detached herself from his memory the better. Then she pulled off her belt, her skirt and the knife she hid beneath it. The synthetics, realising what she was doing, tried to help. One brought her a chair so she could unlace her boots. After kicking them free, she pulled off her slacks and unzipped her tunic. The synthetics pawed at her exposed skin, at the places where she never applied her dye. She wondered if they realised who she really was, what she really was.
Meeray, eyes fixed on his altar, clasped his hands in prayer to Ketos or who-knew-what. Maybe he was trying to summon his master. Maybe he thought to end this before temptation got the better of him. Before the mask shattered, and the truth spilled free.
Emily stood—no, not Emily. Not now. Not here. Not like this. Emily Fomalhaut would remain unblemished. Pure.
Kicking her underwear aside, she stepped into the pool. Without so much as a word, the synthetics followed. They would cleanse her as promised. They, of all people, would remove the lie. It was, after all, only cheap shit from an undertown market, nothing fancy, nothing permanent. It was a miracle nobody had even seen through it. Enough of a miracle, perhaps, that she had to wonder if Prince Freyr had woven it into his spell.
But, if they saw her now, if they saw her like this, pale of skin and silver of hair, they would realise Emily Fomalhaut was just a mask, a lie as blatant as the blue skies of Avalon. If they saw her now, if they saw her like this, naked of form and perfect of body, they would realise she was Aliza Adel, and Freyr’s magic, the glamour that obscured her past and the black wings that burned across her shoulder, would shatter, never to be repaired.
She rose from the dye-clouded water to find Jonas Meeray still at his altar, still praying to his divine benefactor, still desperate to maintain his mask, cling to his purity. His words had become a rambling, mumbled plea. Please, save me, Lady Ketos. Not here. Not now.
But he didn’t have a choice. The mask had to break. It had to shatter into a billion fragments so she could reach inside his soul and tear out the truth. There was no other alternative.
With a smile on her face, she started to hum, to sing a wordless song. Around her, the seven girls took her hair as if it were a gown, flowing out behind her. It was like a scene from some old painting, a vision of a goddess, maidens tending to her divine beauty. As her song reached his ears, Meeray twitched. The mask was breaking. The lust was overwhelming.
Emily hated it. She turned her back in disgust and shame. This was not what Fomalhaut would have wanted of her. The Macha fumed. She wanted no part in this. It would have been easier to just kill him. And Aliza? Aliza sobbed. This was the very thing her mother tried to hide from her. This was the world Aliana Adel knew, and the world she had told her daughter was harsh and vicious and cruel.
But none of them mattered now. And, really, was sacrificing a little personal dignity all that much to ask for when the future of the world was at stake?
With her sisters following in her wake, she moved to the edge of the pool, to where Meeray himself was but an arm’s reach away. Drawing notes from the depths of her lungs, she pulled herself out of the water, let it cascade down her body, spill across the floor, reaching towards him, grasping for him, pleading.
Then Jonas Meeray turned, if only to catch her from the corner of his eye, and what little remained of the mask scattered into the winds.
She reached out a hand, an invitation to join her, to surrender himself to her care, his soul to hers.
No one could resist a Maiden.
Such was their purpose.
Such was their reason.
Such was their curse.
Chapter 39 End
“To the Sirens first shalt thou come, who beguile all men whosoever comes to them. Whoso in ignorance draws near to them and hears the Sirens’ voice, he nevermore returns…”
And, a few lines after that, you find this, which is also appropriate (and too long to just quote here!). There are some more Odyssey references coming up, but I’ll leave them for you to pick up on.
But, yeah, that was a long chapter. And also one of the most revised and rewritten. I hope it worked!
Next week will be especially fun, since I’ll be going all anachronistic and surreal on you…