42: The Seer and the Shadow
The feigned ignorance was enough to elicit the slightest of glares from the corner of Ophion’s eye. “Only because you expect it of us,” he replied.
“That must be pretty frustrating, having to live up to people’s expectations all the time.”
“Your world is one frustration after another. Now, if you would cease your incessant chatter, your benefactor awaits.”
The shrine’s single spiralling corridor—as tall as its entrance, but not nearly as wide—had brought Aliza to a rotunda about three hundred feet above the surface of the lake. Leaking through a dozen archways, the dull light of the storm-swept moors fell across a single, circular dais at the chamber’s centre, its surface teeming with potent patterns of magical power. Opening her eyes to the aether, Aliza saw behind it a twist in the world, a gateway to a realm of floating islands and waterfalls vast as oceans, sparkling beneath a brilliant cerulean sun.
And there at the centre of the dais, a silhouette before the vision of the world’s other side, sat the frail form of a woman, her skin aged and hair like tangled seaweed. The glint of a Maiden’s pale eyes spied Aliza from the dark depths of sunken sockets and Caelia’s thin lips creased into a smile.
Aliza, forgetting she was looking upon an immaterial spirit and not some emaciated junkie left forgotten in the catacombs, burst forward and fell to her side, taking Caelia’s hand in her own. It was cold as death.
“I shouldn’t have left them behind,” said Caelia. “My children need me. But I left them behind.”
Aliza turned to Ophion, watching her from the edge of the room. “Why is she like this?” she asked. “What happened to her?”
“I would have thought one so valued for her insight would have insight enough to answer that question.”
As much as his attitude irked her, he did have a point. Biting back a retort, Aliza returned her attention to Caelia, sitting broken beneath a summer-blue sky, mouthing mumbled pleas from a life long since past. The answer was so obvious she had dismissed it as mere metaphor.
“You were forgotten,” she said, seeing again the sullen face of a drug addict, of a girl left to die in the catacombs after she had outlived her usefulness. The Macha had come across enough of them in the underground to recognise the symptoms of a broken, schizophrenic mind, the patterns of a soul shattered like glass, memories and emotions with edges so sharp they would cut anyone who dared grasp them. And in the aether, fragments like that, fragments that rejected the life they once came from and filled in the gaps with lies and delusions and false memories, could take on a life of their own.
“She’s a part of Ketos,” she said, looking to Ophion for acknowledgement. “That’s why she could speak to me through her crystal, and that’s why Phantasia promised to make her whole again. She was part of Ketos, but Ketos rejected her.”
The shrine serves much the same purpose as the one Dante visited in chapter 22.