Chapter 41

Unmasqued

The audience cheered as Byron’s rapier spun end-over-end across the arena, before stabbing the sand a few metres from Dante’s hiding space. The poet had fallen, his last quip little more than stammering denial. With a splash, he tumbled back into the lake, humiliated, hat falling to his side to drift on the water’s surface.

“So much for that sharp wit, ey?” said the octopus. “Serves yer right fer trying to take on the big boys. Now, who’s next?”

Dante wanted to step out from behind his rock and claim Byron’s sword as his own, to challenge the vile beast and its sordid insinuations, to show up its smears on Emily’s character as the lies they were. That was what his mother would have done, or any other officer—hero—of Seelie. No doubt they were watching him now, waiting to see how he reacted. There was, as they said, no better training than real life.

But it was Lance who made the first move. While Dante cowered, the lithe young man darted out of hiding to confront the beast unarmed. “Yo, Charlie!” he shouted. “Maybe you should try picking on someone your own size!”

It was a poor attack, but the creature took the bait. With a roar of “It ain’t Charlie, you little brat!”, it swung a tentacle in Lance’s direction, a low sweep with power enough to break a person’s legs.

But what Lance lacked in wit he made up for in gymnastics. As he ducked wild swings and dived low ones, he drew a snarl of frustration from the monster’s throat.

“Sit still while I beat you to a pulp!” it snapped, as its tentacle slammed into a rock, catching little more than Lance’s shadow.

“C’mon, Charlie, chillax already!”

But Lance, unlike Dante, had failed to notice the creature’s plan. While he was busy dodging its blows it had burrowed one of its tentacles into the sand. Then, as Lance danced around another volley of attacks, the ground beneath him exploded and a purple blur jerked his legs from underneath him. As he tumbled backwards with a warbling cry of surprise, the beast reared up, tentacles quivering, desperate for a kill.

Don’t tease the octopus, kids.