6: Voices from the Aether
The click of the girl’s immaterial fingers pulled him out of his thoughts. “Tycho Wedekind?” she said.
The sciurux stood to attention like an obedient soldier. “Your Highness?”
“Take Dante Orpheus to Captain Natalia Espinosa.”
The sciurux bowed. “Right away, Your Highness.”
The girl returned her attention to Dante. “You shall thank me later,” she said, “but for now I must build a bridge of friendship with Kaori Shimomura and Joel Gibson.”
Dante already knew how that would go. “Good luck,” he said.
“Thank you,” said the girl. Going by her smile, she didn’t notice his snark. “Until we meet again, Dante Orpheus, Tycho Wedekind.”
“Your Highness,” the sciurux bowed again, “Lady Faye.”
And, in a movement Dante’s brain could hardly translate except as the most insane and physics-bending display of gymnastics this side of a simulation, the girl from a place beyond space and time flung herself into the forest and vanished from sight.
“Well kid,” the sciurux ambled over to him, “looks like the People have decided to go easy on ya. Better remember that the next time ya meet or…” It whistled, as best such a creature could. “So, ya gonna listen to me this time, or what?”
Thrusting his hands into his pockets, Dante turned and walked away. He had something to prove, after all, and listening to strangers put there to deceive him would do him no favours.
“Eh, kid?” The sciurux wasn’t following him this time, wasn’t tied to his shadow. “Ya might wanna go that way?”
Dante glanced over his shoulder. The creature was jabbing its paw towards a wall of hawthorn trees about forty metres to the northeast.
“Trust me, kid, I live here.”
He wasn’t sure what surprised him more: that he failed to spot such an obvious clue, or that he had already reached his destination, as if by inst—
Trying his best to make it look like he wasn’t following the sciurux’s advice, he changed direction.
“Hold up, kid! Ya can’t go that—”
Dante started awake. His wooden canteen dropped with a thud to the forest floor, empty. In front of him, a squirrel with black marble eyes cocked its head, then scarpered off into the underbrush.
“Just another stupid dream,” he muttered.
Picking himself up, he headed towards the hawthorns.
Emily watched Dante stumble through the last of the hexes. Had it not been for Princess Phantasia, he would surely have remained lost to the Donaran magics. Or maybe it was Prince Freyr’s doing. Maybe the anarchic wind spirit had decided to show his victim a little mercy.
“Or perhaps the real world holds horrors greater than any I could conjure,” said the Prince, as the image of Dante’s journey dissolved into the aether. The Cities had named their synthetic copy well. “Unfortunately, we do not have time to stand here and watch his delusions unravel, as enthralling as such a show might be.”
If she could, Emily would have raced to her friend’s side—but she was still where he left her, her body in an oblivious trance as her consciousness stood elsewhere. The Sidhe had a habit of twisting the time of those who dealt with them. Strange, then, that Prince Freyr would seem in such a hurry.
“I thought your kind didn’t care much for time?” she said.
Prince Freyr frowned. “Unfortunately, were that the case, I would not be here right now. You see, time is very much not on our side—and if it is not on our side, it is most certainly not on yours.”
Chapter 6 End
So, how much of this chapter was actually real, I wonder…