45: The Hardest Word
The cup did not slip from his grasp, nor did the world around him twist and warp. This was reality. Well, either that or somebody had plugged him into the most bizarre virtual simulation ever invented.
The tea tasted bitter, despite the three lumps of sugar. Dante added two more.
“I believe it’s Earl Grey,” said the Chief. “Not a favourite of mine, to be sure, but certainly preferable to anything those vending machines might produce, no? At any rate, now you’re looking more comfortable, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
Still not keen on the tea’s taste, Dante put his cup down.
“It’s about your mother.”
Had he said that a moment sooner, there would have been a crash of china across the table. Feeling his chest contract, Dante collapsed into the nearest chair.
“Don’t worry,” said the Chief, his tone suddenly sombre, his eyes understanding, his frown regretful, “I’ve made arrangements to ensure both this channel and your apartment are secure. Unless you decide otherwise, nothing we say gets in or out of this room.”
Dante’s breaths came a little easier, but only just. “Magic?” he asked, recalling the room where Emily had revealed her past to him. Were she there with him, she could have confirmed it. Were he more capable, maybe he could have done so himself.
“A triple-layered seal, if you must know,” replied the Chief. “You won’t find a stronger barrier outside of the Sidhe Court. It’s a Thorbjorn family specialty. I would have preferred a more direct means of communication, but since I’m stuck here in my office and the aether isn’t an option for you, here we are.”
He straightened his back, clasped his hands in front of him, and met Dante’s eyes from across the three-hundred-odd kilometres between them.
“Dante,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
Silence. A brief, breathless silence. Then, “Last night, Director Guirlande told me what happened to your mother. As her commanding officer, I take full responsibility for her decision. I failed her, and I failed you. For that, I am deeply, truly, eternally sorry.”
Another silence, a thoughtful silence, a silence to let his words sink in. Dante stared into the dark depths of his tea, felt the image of his mother, tethered to the Dark, naked and alone in a world of nothing, gnaw at his insides. Of course it was his fault! It was all their faults! Ophelia Orpheus would never have surrendered herself if they had only reached out to help her! Seelie, the Sidhe, his father…
“It’s not your fault,” Dante mumbled.
Earl Grey didn’t suffer the same fate as Jack Daniels.