Orphic Phantasia

46: The Reclusive Writer

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With a deep breath, Shelley chanced a second dive into the clamour. The more attention something received, the more detailed its aethereal shadow and the stronger its soul—and here, where paintings and photographs covered the walls from top to bottom, there was detail down to the finest of lines and soul enough to rival the glowing monuments scattered about the Scar. And, much like those monuments, like the purple obelisk sitting in the courtyard outside and its multiple siblings, the walls here carried with them dozens upon dozens of names—Esteban Mendoza, Ruby Thorbjorn, Bahadur Ritches, Lucretia and Endora Eoghan, her father, Cailean…

“It’s a shrine,” said Shelley as Shuck padded over to her. “No, it’s more than that. A lot of these people aren’t—” She didn’t know what word to use, given the circumstances. “Chief Payne and Commander Thorbjorn, they’re still with us,” she said. “Others, too. Ms Ritches, me mam…”

“It’s not just tae remember those who fell,” said Shuck. “It’s tae remember everybody who stood together the day the darkness fell on Torsten. Without ‘em, there wouldnae be much of a town left fer ye tae call home. But I didnae bring ye here tae talk about all that.” He gestured to the end of the room, where one photograph shone brighter than all the others.

Shelley didn’t need the aether’s help to recognise its most prominent figure. “This is Dante’s mother,” she said. “And this is his father?”

Cyrus Aides bore enough of a resemblance to Dante that there was no question of that. His hair was longer and his skin darker, but he had those same, sleepless eyes, the same dirty stubble, the same frown that said he wanted to be someplace—anyplace—else.

There were others, too, including a pair of men—Sitar and Verraden Sepulturero—Shelley assumed brothers, but one name caught her eye and wouldn’t let go:

Aliana Adel.

“Emily’s mother.”

“Aye, I thought as much,” said Shuck. “It seems bad luck runs in the family.”

That was putting it mildly. Shelley had met Emily’s mother once, though briefly and not in pleasant circumstances. This was not the same woman she saw that night, however, at least if her smile was anything to go by. Here, dressed simply and with loose waves of platinum hair, she bore an undeniable resemblance to her daughters. She looked about their age, too, despite (assuming Shelley’s calculations were correct—maths wasn’t her strongest of subjects) being in her mid-twenties at the very least.

“She died about two and half years ago,” she said. “Some bastart cult did a right number on her, tried tae have her kill Emily for this horse-headed freak of a thing. Last I saw of her, she…”

Shelley slammed the door on those memories before they could escape into the aether, but the mournful expression on Shuck’s face seemed to suggest he understood what had happened.

“Poor lass,” he said. “When I knew her, her daughters were the only thing she ever talked about. They were the light that kept her going, Alonie and,” he fixed an eye on Shelley, “Aliza.”

“I figured as mu—wait!” Shelley couldn’t contain her surprise. “You knew her?”

Not literally horse-headed.