7: A Shrine to the Fallen
Mistaking projections of Aethex for mythical beings was one thing, but seeing things that did not exist? That was the first step, the first sign, the sign he’d seen before. He clutched the Tablet in his pocket and knew now, without a doubt, that the madness had its claws in her, just as it had once taken root in his mother. And, if that was the case, he was the only one who could save her.
Shelley Eoghan, however, either believed Emily’s delusions or humoured them, as she bowed her head in respect of the supposed royalty standing at her friend’s side. Maybe, he thought — feared — the madness had her, too.
“Dante?” said Emily. Shelley turned to him too, her face paler than ever, eyes as wide as he’d ever seen them, her lips trembling with an unknown fear.
Alonie Kent’s voice shouted from the path ahead. “Leave that freak alone already, Shell. She’s away with the fairies again.”
Emily and Shelley both made the gesture in an instant, and Emily turned to the void beside her. “Please,” she said, her voice shaking with a sudden, heart-rending fear, “she didn’t mean it! Please, My Lord! Don’t!”
She reached out, grasped for something that was not there. Then, with tears streaking down her cheeks, Emily Fomalhaut fell to her knees and begged. Dante turned away, grasped the Tablet so hard he thought his knuckles might split. He hoped they would — the pain would be a release.
The wind smiled, and Dante ran. He ran, even as Emily’s voice cried after him. He ran, even as Emily begged him not to go, begged him not to ignore her imaginary friend.
He ran because, for one moment — for just one fraction of a moment — he believed.
Through tear-stained eyes, Emily watched Dante flee into the forest, grasping a thin, white object in one hand. Anything but that, she thought. Anything but that.
The Lord Prince looked down on her with a raised eyebrow, a devilish smile; he enjoyed this far too much. If it would protect her friends from his wrath, however, she would give him the world. Emily Fomalhaut would not see someone she cared about suffer, no matter the cost.
“They didn’t mean—” she began.
“Offence?” He let out a short, hard laugh. “That boy offends me with his very attitude. And as for your sister? Why you would beg me to show her mercy after all she has done to you I do not know. Her words towards me are tame in comparison.” He turned to Shelley Eoghan, fear — or was it awe? — still rooting her to the spot. “Poor girl,” he said, “and in so many ways. Run along home, now.”
And she did, chasing after Alonie Kent — Alonie Adel — as if the wind itself had her back. Emily wiped away her tears, thankful that at least Shelley had the sense to acknowledge the Lord Prince. She only hoped the others would learn their lesson before the Sidhe lost their patience with them.
“It will never happen again,” she said. “I said I would show Dante the truth, and I will.” Determination forced her to her feet. She wouldn’t give up, not after all she had learned, not now she understood his pain, his fears.
“The truth?” The Lord Prince sounded unimpressed. “You, of all people, stand before me and speak of truth? Or have you changed your mind so quickly? Have you finally decided to give the boy what he—”