A heavy crack cut his words short. Eyes wide with surprise, he fell backwards, into Alonie’s arms as she dropped the cracked lamp to the cavern floor. Tears rolled down her pale cheeks.
“Father,” she said, “I—I’m sorry. I—” She turned to Aliza, her eyes blazing like fire. “This is all your fault. You—you made me do this! He was going to save us. He was going to take us all to Malkuth, and this, this is how you repay him?” Cradling her uncle’s wheezing body, she lowered her voice to a gentle whisper, “You wanted to save mum, didn’t you? Dad forced her to live down here, but you wanted to save her. All this time.”
Aliza took a step back towards the lake, lips trembling, searching for words. A tear streaked down her cheek. “I—is he?”
“What do you care if he is?” Alonie snapped. “You never gave a damn about us! All you wanted was to live in these damned caves! Well, go on then! Be a whore, if that’s what you want, but don’t you ever speak to me again! I’m not your sister. I’m Alonie Kent, daughter of Aureole Kent, and one day I’ll escape this damned hellhole and earn my place in Malkuth, just like…” She gave her uncle a pitying look. “Just like my father always wanted.”
“He’s not your—”
In a haze of tears, Aliza turned and stumbled into the lake. “Fomalhaut,” she sobbed. “Fomalhaut, please…”
And there he was. As the waters reached her chest, she saw him there in the gloom, a black shape in the shadows, floating on the endless night. As she pulled his body towards her, his eyes blinked open, old, weary eyes ready for sleep.
“Fomalhaut,” she said. “I came back, just like I promised.”
“Y—you…” his voice was thin, weak.
“Yes, it’s me,” she said. “It’s Aliza.”
“A—Aliza?” He sounded confused. “You—you’re not Aliza. I—I saw you. I saw what you did. You cursed him.”
Aliza fought back tears. “He—he deserved it!”
Fomalhaut’s eyelids dropped. “Aliza would never say a thing like that. She was … she was a kind little girl who would never hurt anybody. I … I waited for her. She was the last thing … the last thread I had. Without her, I…”
“No! I’m still here! Fomalhaut! I’m still here! I’m Aliza!”
“You’re … you’re just a … a monster.”
And, with a final, rattling breath, Fomalhaut’s eyes lost their light and the twelve talons of black fire reached up to drag his soul into the Dark.
He once said it was the fate of all Branded to vanish into darkness. The only thing they can do, he said, was delay the inevitable. So long as they had friends, so long as there was somebody to call their name, the Erebus could never claim them.
Aliza returned to the beach cradling Fomalhaut’s lifeless body in her arms. Alonie, and their uncle, had vanished, leaving only Aliza’s broken lamp behind. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she set about digging a shallow grave in the hard dirt. In the end, however, she had little choice but to bury her old friend beneath loose rocks and stones.
She never noticed the figures watching her, the figures who had followed her all this way, watching as the memory played out, unchangeable.
“And that,” said Emily Fomalhaut, “is the day Aliza Adel died.”
Dante watched the young Aliza disappear into the Dark, her shoulder burning with the twelve-winged scar, and, at last, he understood.