25: The Morning After
Was it really any surprise? Phoenix had high expectations of her fellow initiates and, unlike Byron, Dante could hardly handle a night in a club, let alone the unending nights of Antarctica.
His mother’s face watched him from her photograph. At his age, she had travelled all the way to Ninth Circle, to the literal world’s end, to face impossible odds against an incredible foe. That was what it took to be a hero of Seelie, yet Dante couldn’t even step out of his front door.
Phoenix was right: if he couldn’t last a night at the World’s End, what hope was there for him in Avalon?
“You should go,” said the voice. He turned, expecting to see Katrina, or even Emily, sitting on his bed.
There was no one there.
“I … I should go,” he said, closing his eyes to picture the clear blue skies and crystal towers, the paved streets and sparkling canals, the people smiling and laughing and loving life as no one outside of Paradise ever could. It was the Paradise the Tablet spoke of, the Paradise that Arided promised his mother, the Paradise he always aspired towards. Avalon would prove, without a doubt, that such a place was real, that Arided spoke the truth, that his mother, now gone for six years, was safe and happy and free.
He was packing light — vendors could produce everything he required — when there was a knock at the door. Three-four-seven, Katrina’s code. No doubt she was there to check up on him. She had already bundled his bed sheets into the washing machine and tided his room while he was taking a shower. He trudged over to the door and let her in.
Her face brightened the moment she saw him. “I was afraid you might have done a Lira on us,” she said, bouncing into his room. “I can’t believe she’s going to miss out. Well, I can believe it, but it’s not like any of us could convince her otherwise.”
Her eyes fell on Dante’s satchel and she frowned. “Really, Dante? Don’t tell me you plan to synth on site? We don’t even know we’ll have access to their vendors! That might be part of the test. You should be prepared for anything!”
Dante ruffled his still-damp hair. “Test?”
“You know, like when Master al-Hakim took us camping last winter? Speaking of which…”
Katrina dropped to her hands and knees and fished out a bag from beneath his bed. He’d last used it when Seelie sent the then-Third Class initiates camping for a weekend as part of their midwinter exams. Now that had been a test — a very cold and very wet test. A long week in a Malkuthian holiday resort just wouldn’t compare.
Kat emptied the bag of some old cereal bar wrappers and an old pair of socks, then started rummaging around his drawers for fresh clothes. It was like being eight years old again.
“You know,” she said, plunging a handful of clean socks into the bag, “Theseus and John are taking this very seriously. Last I heard, they were pulling an all-nighter to try and get that robot spider thing of theirs in working condition.”
“That automaton?” asked Dante. John had brought it over to the Ritches Estate for preliminary trials a few weeks ago. It didn’t look much like a spider, aside from its multitude of multi-jointed legs, but it had managed to climb all the way over the manor and back. “What do they want that for?”
Kat pulled some shirts out of his wardrobe and started folding them into the bag. “Theseus thinks he can use it to smuggle weapons past customs. Like I said, you’ve gotta prepare for anything! And on that subject…” She stuck her head into his wardrobe and returned a moment later with his body armour. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said with a scowl, “Theseus said it was a good idea in case things get rough.”
I remember when this scene was, like, chapter two…