Orphic Phantasia

46: The Reclusive Writer

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For so long, she had feared Shuck nothing more than some trick of her imagination, an immaterial friend she conjured from the aether to keep her company. In all these years, she had never known him to interact with others outside of her presence. Now, at last, she had her validation. Shelley Eoghan wasn’t ‘weird’.

Well, not that weird.

“That there photograph was taken just outside this house,” he said. “They used tae come here all the time tae try and understand the locals. That’s how I got tae know them. Not that I was all that much help, mind, but I liked tae think I did some good, if only a wee bit.”

Shelley ran her fingers along the aethereal image. “I never knew anybody cared,” she said. “I thought they all hated this place.” Her fingers stopped as they reached a figure standing at the edge of the group. Unlike the others, their body was a blur and their face blank, almost as if someone had reached into the aether and snatched the very idea of it away. “Who’s this?” she asked.

A low rumble rose up Shuck’s throat. “Arided,” he said.

“I take it they’re a bad person?”

Shuck paced out of the cramped shrine and settled near a window overlooking the courtyard with its illuminating memorial. His tails waved from one side to the other, a complex, twisting motion that could never work anywhere but the aether. “I promised I’d keep it secret,” he said, “but, if I do that, your friend might suffer fer it, and we cannae be having that now, can we?”

Shelley sat next to him. “Is this something tae do with that night they set the forest on fire?”

“Aye. Soon as ye told me about things happening over where you are, I knew it was happening all over again. It all started with that there Arided, coming in here and winning their trust. Then this other freak of a fella, synthetic as they come, appeared, and that’s what tipped ‘em off that something was up. After that, they went intae hiding, only fer someone tae set those bloody Sophists off after them.”

Shelley pulled her legs up to her chest. “They killed Dante’s mam,” she said.

“Ophelia? Nay, she didnae die, lass.”

Shelley almost jumped back to her body in surprise. “Ye mean she’s still alive?”

“Truth be told, I couldnae tell ye. Sure as I could see, though, she came here and gave herself up tae that Arided witch in exchange for her friends’ lives. From what ye’ve just told me about poor Aliana, though, I’m thinking she didnae keep up her end of the bargain. And now, here we are again.”

He looked to Shelley with a sad frown upon his feline face. “Ye’ve got tae do something, Shell. Anything. If ye don’t, ye gonna regret it forever. Trust me, I know. I saw it all happen before me eyes and I didnae do a thing about it.”

“But—but can I do? Dante’s mam was a hero, and you say she had tae give herself up!” If anything, it had been easier to believe she died fighting impossible odds. “I’m nae hero, I’m just some nobody who writes silly stories.”

“Do what Emily asked ye tae do and talk tae Dante,” said Shuck, as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do. “Ye told me he changed after what happened to his mam, well, now ye know what really happened to her. I bet ye that Arided put some bad ideas in his head that night, and that’s why he’s like he is.”

“Bad ideas?” Shelley squawked. “That’s easy enough for you tae say. I’ve had tae deal with those bad ideas for six bloody years now. He’s nae wee bain anymore, he’s a bastart of a man who dinnae give a damn what anyone else thinks. He’s ain’t nae better than those bloody Sophists, and he can burn in hell with them too, for all I care.”

Half my troubles with this episode basically boiled down to getting Dante and Shelley in the same room…