31: Irrefutable Evidence
Once he had finished with the sandwiches, Kat offered him a slice of apple pie. “Have you noticed anything strange about this place?” she asked, watching him eat with a curious intensity.
Dante shrugged. Of course he had.
“Well, if you do notice anything off, let me know about it, okay?” she said, and started to pack her things. “I’d stay and chat all afternoon, but you know what Phoenie is like when it comes to schedules.”
She stood and hoisted her bag onto her shoulders, then moved to brush the grass from her jeans without realising that, since it was synthetic grass, there was nothing there. “Here,” she said, reaching into her coat pocket and producing a weathered paper bag with red-and-white stripes. “They’re sweets,” she said, handing Dante the bag. “I figured you could do with a little sugar.”
With a final wave and a “See you around!”, Kat sauntered off across the fields, autonomous cat trundling along at her side. Dante watched them vanish through the western archway, fading away as if stepping into a thick fog, then popped one of the multicoloured chunks of sugar into his mouth and slipped the bag into his cloak pocket.
His fingers brushed against the Tablet. He had been so focused on his investigation, so focused on jotting down notes and diagrams in his sketchbook, that he had almost forgotten he still carried the collective wisdom of the Saptamatrikas around with him.
Their collective wisdom, or their collective lies.
Dante paced away from the lake, hands thrust into his trouser pockets. Sitting around doing nothing was just asking for those troublesome thoughts to come bubbling back up to the surface. He had better things to do, more important things to focus on.
But all it took was a crack, and one thought led to another until his mind was awash with an avalanche of anxieties, all of them leading back to the same, inevitable conclusion: Arided lied. Dante fled into his cloak, cutting himself off from the outside world, from all those eyes that might see the pain on his face, the fear and the confusion. The denial.
Avalon was a lie, and he knew that not because of gathered evidence, but because of some gut feeling, some invisible instinct. Because, when he closed his eyes and tried to picture the world around him, he saw a vague and ambiguous shadow, a fleeting distortion that could never quite decide on what it was or even if it was.
Without thinking, he had arrived at a balcony overlooking one of the island’s many scattered cafes, where interactive tables served up an endless stream of Ambrosian replications on demand. As Dante scanned the crowd through his cloak’s camera feed, he spied a familiar flash of blue.
Emily was sitting in the middle of the cafe with her back to him. Opposite her, Byron swigged the last drop of liquid from his glass, then dabbed his lips clean with a napkin. His hat sat next to him. Dante, invisibility limiting his senses, could not hear their conversation.
Then Emily struck the table with her fist, drawing a startled looked from a nearby couple. Byron steepled his fingers in front of him. His eyes shifted from one corner of the cafe to the other.
The inside of Dante’s cloak could actually project an image of the outside world if he wanted, but he prefers to limit the feed to his visor, same as his mother.