Chapter 7

A Shrine to the Fallen

The forest opened to the afternoon sky, where Theia’s dying crescent closed in on the midsummer sun. A layer of young rose bushes covered the clearing, their thorny limbs wrapped around bulbous outcroppings of dirty white marble and — Dante screwed his face up in confusion — blood red claws? He looked again at the marble, how its long, dagger-like shape lay lopsided across the clearing, trees crushed beneath its bulk, the way parts of it peeled away to expose an underlying frame.

This was no shrine — it was the wreckage of a crashed ship.

A thought crept into his mind, a voice eager to whisper sudden revelations about Sophists falling from the sky, to proclaim that of course that’s how it was, and how it always had been. They were not alone. Dante blocked them out with logic and reason: the Sophists decried technology, so why would they have a ship?

“Dante?”

Captain Natalia Espinosa had appeared at his side without the slightest sound. Typical Seelie. She looked at him with a mixture of puzzlement and concern. “Are you okay?” she asked. “You look pale.”

Captain Espinosa was a sombre woman with olive skin and black hair that shimmered with the colours of twilight. One of the few survivors of the Donara, her forest-green blazer bore their distinct patterns of interweaving threads, spirals and knots, and her ears tapered to a point.

“I’m okay,” he replied. “Just surprised. I didn’t hear you.”

“You should be more aware of your surroundings. That technology of yours does not see all.” Keep three eyes open, he thought she would say. “I am surprised it brought you this far. Perhaps you have friends in high places.”

He winced, but put it out of his mind — it was just a coincidence. “This is the shrine then?” he said, hoping to distract his thoughts before they ran away with him.

The Captain nodded. “For your exam, you must present me with an explanation of its origins and purpose. You may confer with your peers if you wish, but your conclusions must be your own.”

Dante had pondered the events of that night more than enough, but he also needed those shards of acknowledgement to make up for his previous failures so, with a deep breath, he started into the clearing. As he approached the wrecked hull he noticed a flash of vibrant red hair within its skeleton and a feathery black mess trailing closely behind — Alonie Kent and Shelley Eoghan, he presumed. Hoping to avoid them, he headed for the ship’s pointed bow.

By the time he realised his mistake, it was too late.

The Donara tend to have names originating from Southern Europe. They speak fluent not!English, but with a trace of an accent.