Chapter 42

The Seer and the Shadow

The skies aflame with a violent spread of lightning, Aliza threw herself into the nook beneath the tree’s exposed roots and pressed her face against the mud. Holding her breath tight in her lungs, she willed the silent magic of Ketos to hide her from inquisitive eyes.

With a roar to silence the thunder, a dark shape swept over the treetops, startling the moor’s denizens into a wild panic. Ignoring the family of rodents scurrying over her body in search of safety, Aliza watched the hunter angle its wings and turn towards the mountain of Avalon. Whether it was animal or machine, she did not know. Giving it more than the slightest of curiosities would threaten the layers of ignorance she used to cloak herself. All she knew was that the moment it found her, it was all over.

Silently, she started to count. One, two, three…

And so it had been for the past hour, ever since she escaped the walls of Avalon and started on the road to Dozmary. The patrols were regular now, one every five minutes, but, thanks to the skills she learned whilst masquerading as the Macha, Aliza had so far managed to avoid detection. Leira would be proud.

Leira… How could Aliza ever explain things to her? How could she ever explain her actions to anybody?

Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five…

No. There was no point worrying about the past. She had to let it go. Her friends and colleagues back in Avalon knew the truth, now. They knew that Emily Fomalhaut was a lie. And, unlike Dante, they would never understand why Aliza deceived them. How could they? If people could understand, she would have never needed Prince Freyr’s help in the first place.

Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty…

Her only hope now was to find Celia and strike back at Ketos. If she could at least save Prince Dionysus, if she could prevent this plot to bring down Seelie, then her sacrifices would not be in vain — and maybe, just maybe, she would have the chance to live a normal life…

Fifty-nine, sixty.

As another clap of thunder rolled overhead, Aliza pulled herself out from the tangle of roots. The storm was getting worse, the skies darker. Out here, in the Eighth Circle, beyond the walls of Malkuth and Avalon, the world was as it really was, a harsh and inhospitable hell churning beneath Theia’s watchful gaze. Just the thought of that scarred sphere looming overhead, waiting for the clouds to pass, was enough to tease the fires slumbering within Aliza’s shoulder and lift a silent whisper of a song to her ears.

She clutched Mireille’s crystal and cast her thoughts towards the lake of Dozmary. So, how did you meet Princess Phantasia? she asked.

Although Celia’s voice had grown clearer since Aliza left Avalon, the same could not be said for her answers. She came to help me, she replied, vague as ever. She promised to make me whole!

Oh hai! That break was longer than expected. Hopefully it shows; I spent the last two months shaving about 10,000 words off this episode!