45: The Hardest Word
“No,” replied the Chief, “it was. I stayed my hand when I should have acted, and Ophelia paid the price. Some — including Ophelia herself — would tell me that it was a price worth paying, but I don’t believe that. I never have. Nobody is expendable, Dante. Nobody.”
There was a fierce determination in his eyes, a cerulean blue spark of youth that brought to mind images of a young, idealistic Rembrandt Payne, the figure Dante had seen in various photographs, hero of the darkness-drenched days lost to the Apostle Wars.
“Dante,” he said, “what I’m about to tell you goes beyond classified information. It’s something only a select few know about, and I trust you to keep it that way.”
Dante chanced a sip of tea to soothe his nerves.
“Your mother was investigating the Erebus,” the Chief continued. “In particular, local cults that had sprung up after an unprovoked attack on the town fourteen years ago. The Sophist Aristocracy got wind of this and, hoping they could use it against Seelie, tried to have your mother and her team arrested.”
A team that included Emily’s parents. She was owed as much an apology for all this as Dante. Instead, she was out there continuing her parents’ legacy, carrying their burden on her shoulder. His mother’s burden.
“But there was a problem,” said the Chief. “Your mother’s investigation was off the record, so Seelie believed she had nothing to hide and asked that she surrender herself to the Aristocracy. Obviously, since she did have something to hide, and I couldn’t help her without exposing our entire operation, she fled straight into the hands of—”
“Pleiades,” Dante cut him off.
The Chief’s sombre expression gave way to momentary surprise. “Pleiades? Well, eh, that’s…” He ruffled his hair. “I mean, I’m not denying it, but that’s not what I heard.”
“There was a gestalt,” said Dante. “I saw it, Emily saw it. And it’s here now, looking for her.” Because, like his mother and like her parents, she carried the twelve-winged curse of the Erebus.
“I see.” The Chief took the slightest of sips from his teacup. “It’s quite the mess, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got to save her.”
“Yes,” replied the Chief, “we do. Emily and your mother — although I suspect Cyrus has something of a head start on us all, at least as far as Ophelia is concerned.” He sat back in his chair, a wistful smirk on his face. “He never was one to ask others for help. Speaking of which…”