31: Irrefutable Evidence
“You saw him too, right?” she asked as she led him through the forest. Dante nodded. “He’s not the first,” she continued. “The fifth, actually, and second from the people running this place.”
“You didn’t forget about him?” asked Dante.
“Please,” she said with a lopsided smirk. “When you’re as popular as I am, you learn to pay attention to these things. Like how all these creeps are using the same magic, and how they all want me to leave the island in some way or another. Almost worked the first time, too, but now I know what to look for they’re pretty much wasting their time.”
All Dante could think about was the night his mother disappeared, mixed with half-remembered fragments from the Duke’s story of Torsten’s oracle, Aliyah Adel. “People will do some crazy shit for a taste of Paradise.”
“It’s not all bad news, at least” said Emily, still smiling despite her troubles. “Just as there are people who can twist your thoughts on a whim, there are those who can hide whole other worlds.”
And, in the space of a heartbeat, they were standing in a sunlight glade, the forest greens and russet browns of nature as far as the eye could see. Dante glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see silver trunks and turquoise leaves, but there was no sign of them. Even the spires of Avalon had vanished. Dante shook his head. They had exchanged one illusion for another, that was all.
With a gentle tug, Emily teased him into the sunlight. There was a small cottage at the centre of the glade, its stone walls a world away from the smooth transmatter of Avalon. Nearby, a young woman with a patterned headscarf tied around her lime-green hair was fishing water from a shallow stream. When she noticed Emily’s approach, she lay down her bucket and hurried over to greet her, delicate feet dancing across the soft grass. She had a smile on her pale face to match Emily’s, and eyes like a winter’s sky.
“Hello, Emily,” she said, as they embraced in a brief hug. “And who have you brought with you today?”
“This is Dante,” said Emily. “Dante, this is Jasmine.”
Jasmine offered him her hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Dante,” she said. “Emily has told me much about you.”
Dante, cheeks flushed, kept his hands buried inside his cloak pockets.
“Where’s Himeros?” asked Emily. “He’s usually first to greet visitors.”
Jasmine’s smile faltered. “He returned to his own world,” she said. “He seemed rather concerned about something. I couldn’t say when he might be back. You know what the People are like when it comes to time.”
“Yeah,” said Emily. “It’s been, what, four days since they summoned the court? For all we know, it’s only been in session five minutes.”
Dante tried not to think about the things he was hearing, but he knew if he stayed here with Emily he would hear a whole lot more of them. If he was going to escape, now was the time. All he had to do was turn his back on the mysterious glade and flee into the forest, back into the world of silver trunks and turquoise leaves, into a world infused with aethex and enslaved to illusion, a world away from all this talk of magic and faeries and the warping of time. It was all just sufficiently advanced technology, misappropriated technology, technology to fool the ignorant. That was what the Tablet would tell him. That was what Arided would tell him.
I sure hope Himeros found someone responsible to look after this place while he’s gone!