42: The Seer and the Shadow
Phantasia promises a lot of things, Aliza replied. She had promised her answers. Maybe, if she had lived up to that promise, Emily might still be with her friends and not trudging through the miserable bogs of Bodmin Island in chase of a shadow.
Ahead, the road to Dozmary rose towards the naked crest of a nearby hill. Aliza waited in the shadows for the next patrol to pass, then made her way towards it. So long as the path was clear, she would have enough time to reach the shores of the lake and throw herself into its depths before her pursuers returned.
When she reached the top of the hill, her heart sank. Dozmary lay beyond a wide thicket of overgrown foliage. With a crash that sprung every nerve in her body, lightning streaked across the sky and down towards the spiral structure in the middle of the lake. This close, it looked like the shell of some titanic mollusc, its arched entryway large enough to accommodate beings tall as a house.
Hurry! said Caelia. You must hurry! We have to stop her!
Aliza took a deep breath and let the world around her slow to a crawl. There was something moving amongst the weeds, she noticed, and a gleam of movement on the horizon. Falling deeper into the moment, until she felt the cool waters of Fomalhaut’s lake between her toes, she let her fears and worries drift away into the darkness, then opened her eyes to the waiting world and surrendered her body to instinct.
The thicket bowed to her whim, its thorns failing to find grip in Dante’s cloak as she powered through, knife in hand. When a silvery shape the size of a large dog leapt from its midst, she twisted her body and dragged her blade along the beast’s length, spraying a stream of oily black blood across her invisible form. A second accosted her near the thicket’s edge and met with a similar fate.
Half a mile away, Aliza’s hunter turned her way. The last stretch of land ahead of her, she ploughed all her strength and all her will into her legs. Out here, in the Eighth Circle, she didn’t have to worry about appearances. Out here, alone, she could be herself. She could be a Maiden without consequence.
Water splashing beneath her feet, she flung herself into the lake.
Except it wasn’t so much a lake as it was a pool, no more than six foot deep at best. With Dante’s cloak now a victim to its whims, Aliza pulled herself into the water until she felt mud and stone seep between her fingers.
The ocean! cried Caelia. My sisters will save us!
Closing her eyes, immersing herself in the gloom, Aliza started to count. One, two, three…
As she hit twenty-eight, the waters ahead of her exploded. Through the water’s murk she saw what looked like a pair of legs, thick as tree trunks.
They had found her.
I had to rewrite most of this scene when I realised the Dozmary in my head didn’t quite match reality.