25: The Morning After
Byron screwed his face up in disbelief — a common reaction to Phoenix Rogan’s proclamations of grand conspiracy — while Emily sat in petrified silence, not even daring to breath. Dante gripped his mug, wishing it were hot, steaming coffee instead of cold, sickly medicine.
Phoenix gave them a moment then, with as grave a voice as she could muster, said, “Seelie uses Avalon as a cadet training facility.”
Byron shook his head. “A cadet training facility? But, unless we have all received a sudden and unexpected promotion to the Academy, we are not cadets.”
“I will let you draw your own conclusions,” said Phoenix. “But do remember that, until yesterday, Seelie did not send Second Class initiates into the Scar.”
Dante stared down at the gunk floating around his mug. Images flooded his aching brain, ideas, conclusions, a torrent of voices and recollections: Emily with her faerie prince, Director Guirlande and his concerns, the Duke’s stories of Aliyah Adel, all of them disconnected but for one, terrible truth, a truth that thrust Seelie’s actions into a harsh and blinding light, a truth that cast everything Dante knew and everything Dante believed into a dark and terrifying shadow.
A truth he had run to the end of the world to escape.
The Erebus was real.
With a jolt of panic, Dante threw back Katrina’s concoction as if it were another glass of Tiferetian Elixir, another doorway to a world without thought.
He retched as the gruesome cocktail of raw eggs and spices slithered down his throat and only just managed to hold back the contents of his stomach from refilling his mug. Across the lounge table, Byron rolled his eyes, while Phoenix shook her head and buried her face behind the palm of her hand.
“Really, Mr Orpheus?” she said. “For your own safety, I would seriously advise you stay here and keep Ms Burn company.”
Emily snapped out of her silence with a gasp. “Lira? Lira’s staying here?”
Phoenix frowned. “Indeed. She graced us with her presence when I was presenting to your fellow housemates. She saw the truth of the matter and declared she would have nothing to do with.”
“I cannot blame her,” said Byron. “This Avalon troubles me enough — as one who emerged from Malkuth’s shadow, I am well aware of how the vendor culture stymies the creative muse — yet the implications of our heading there, the price we have to pay…” He shook his head. “Emily, might I suggest we follow in Lira’s example and spare ourselves from a miserable fate? We are not soldiers.”
“I…” Emily grimaced, blinked away what seemed like a flicker of tears, then shook her head. “No, I have to go. We can’t run away from the truth.”
Byron lifted a hand in surrender, “Where you go, I shall follow. I would never forgive myself otherwise. Nor, too, will Lira. Perhaps you should inform her of your decision?” He glanced over at the clock on the wall. It was twenty to six. “Time is not on our side.”
“No,” Emily replied, “it never is.”
Phoenix watched the exchange with a stern, almost disapproving frown, then clipped her baton to her cellular and slipped them into a pocket. “Well then, since you have made your decision in full knowledge of the consequences, I shall be on my way. I will see the two of you in a short while, yes?”
She left without the slightest acknowledgement in Dante’s direction. As Emily shuffled downstairs to find Lira and Byron made to gather the rest of his belongings, he returned to his room.
The question is, does Emily cry as much as Dante seems to suggest, or is he just projecting…?