47: The Impossible Artist
The unblemished, uncursed blue bored into Dante’s skull, searing his temples with dagger-sharp pain. His body, sprawled across the floor of Shelley’s barren hotel room, refused to move. Were it not for the ragged breaths heaving from his lungs, he would have thought himself trapped in a lifeless corpse.
There was a shuffle nearby, the sound of clothes dragging across carpet, of breaths as weary as his own. Shelley. With all his effort, Dante called out to her. “I can’t move,” he said.
“What—what did you do?” she replied.
“I—” He tried not to picture the thing, but images of living shadows invaded his mind’s eye, of well-spoken men in suits, autonomous machines that could shift and bend their shape at will, black beasts with claws and teeth and voices slick like oil. Nowhere, not even the aether, was safe. It was everywhere. They were everywhere. “I had to save you…”
He heard the door open, then close.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
Dante was halfway down the stairs when Alonie appeared, advancing towards him with eyes gleaming behind a tangle of crimson hair.
“What did you do to Shell?” she asked.
“I—” He struggled to find words. What could he tell her that would even make sense? Unlike her estranged sister, Alonie wouldn’t believe a word he said about astral projections or aethereal otherworlds.
Alonie reached out, grasped his collar, and pulled him within a hair’s breadth of her face. For the first time since they met, he could see the pale blue in her eyes, the proof of her heritage. “Now listen to me, Orpheus,” she growled, “I couldn’t care less about all that psychic crap, but you hurt Shell like that again and I’ll take a trip into that self-absorbed little head of yours and make you wish you’d never been born.”
She shoved him back into the stairs and towered over him, arms crossed, lips curled into a sneer.
“I—I’m sorry!” he blurted.
“Really?” She lifted an eyebrow and, for just a second, it was Emily looking back at him. “Then prove it.”
“Hey, little lady, you look like you could use a good time.”
Shelley glanced up and caught the sparkling eye of an Avalonian native, his smile an impossible shade of white, his bronzed muscles rippling beneath his miniscule excuse for a vest.
Go stick ye pretty wee face in a bonfire, that’ll make me smile.
Scowling, Shelley pushed past him. As she did, he caught her by the arm. “No need to be rude,” he said. “I was just being friendly.”
Had Shelley an ounce of her mother’s talent, she would have whispered a handful of words and speared a searing sword of aethereal flame through the man’s chest. Had she Leira’s edge, Emily’s courage, or even Kaori’s snark, she could have pierced his hopes with a razor-sharp snipe and left him floundering for a retort.
Instead, all she could do was kick back and yank herself free of his grasp the moment her heel caught his shin. By the time she finished running, she was back in Seelie territory and standing by the fountain outside her apartment. Looking up at her from the crystal waters, her reflection glowered at her cowardice.
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Leira’s very stabby edge.