47: The Impossible Artist
It was always so much easier to let loose the other Shelley when everything was happening inside her head, she lamented. If only she had the guts to speak her mind to Dante’s face!
“The Dante I knew would understand,” she continued. Reaching into her coat pocket, she fished out the folded sheet of paper. “He didn’t judge people. He didn’t judge me. And this proves it.”
She showed him the picture of Shuck he had drawn her all those years ago. His face fell in recognition and regret. Emotion. Actual emotion! The real Dante — the current Dante — could never pull that off.
“I—I’m sorry,” he said.
Shelley turned back to the fountain and to her other, more cynical side. “This is where we ask him to prove it and he gets all worked up,” she said.
“You’re right.” His reply caught Shelley by surprise. “I can’t prove anything. I can’t even say sorry outside of my own stupid imagination.”
Shelley felt her cheeks burst into flames before her brain could even process the realisation. Oh, gods! This isn’t—
As she turned to face him, Dante’s projection waivered and vanished.
“Yo, Yoghurt!” It was Lance Algar, striding across the plaza. “Who’re you talking to?”
Face flushed red with embarrassment, Shelley fled.
Dante loitered a step beyond the door’s sensor range. Avalon’s illusionary sun had begun its descent towards its illusionary ocean, both little more than tricks of light dancing around a cloud of aethex at the island’s edge. When he closed his eyes and tried to picture them, all he could see was the faint impression of an idea, barely a whisper upon the winds of aether.
With a deep breath to calm his nerves, he stepped forward and the villa doors opened in welcome. This time, he didn’t need Hermia Adelheid’s help.
Alonie Kent’s eye pierced the gloom, then turned back to the wallscreen, playing out its procedurally generated narrative. As Dante hurried across the kitchen for the stairs, her voice cut across the lounge.
“I wasn’t joking earlier, Orpheus. Hurt her again and you’ll pay for it.”
He found Shelley sitting cross-legged in her empty room, staring at the figurine Emily had bought from the undertown market. She gave Dante the most cursory of glances as he entered. When he dropped his bag of art materials at his feet, that glance turned to wide-eyed surprise.
“I guess I’m not as good at explaining things as you are,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a folded sheet of paper. “You said you couldn’t find Emily because you didn’t know where she was, right?”
He handed her the sketch he had spent the past half hour working on. “Is this good enough?” he asked. “It’s not easy when you only get a half second impression of things.”
It was the first time he had seen Shelley smile in over six years.
“Aye,” she said. “It’s a start.”
Chapter 47 End
It’s only a matter of time before procedurally generated cartoons are an actual thing…