Chapter 49

The Other Side

Dante felt his insides twist at the sight of his own body, sitting cross-legged in the garden outside Shelley’s holiday apartment. Before instinct forced him back into its comfortable ignorance, Shelley clasped his wrist.

“You’ll get used to it,” she said, unfazed by the sight of her own material form sitting opposite his, eyes closed tight in sleep-like trance. “We’ve only been at this a couple of hours. It took me months to get this far.”

“We don’t have months,” said Dante. Even a couple of hours was pushing it — that was all it took for Emily to go from teaching him about the basics of astral projection to fleeing the island with the secrets of its overseers.

“Well, if you’ve finished staring at yourself, maybe we could get on with things?” Shelley tugged at the sleeve of his cloak — somehow, imagining his mother’s heirloom draped around his shoulders helped to bolster his confidence in this strange and disorienting otherworld — and drew his attention to the view behind them.

Had she not been there to anchor his aethereal avatar in place, it would have dissipated like dust before a breeze, depositing his consciousness back into the blissful world of material ignorance.

“Sure beats an empty room, huh?” she said.

An hour previous, Dante had opened his eyes to the aether and found everything in Shelley’s hotel room, from the walls to the curtains to Emily’s figurine, sitting in front of him, exactly as he’d left it. Exactly as he imagined it.

“What were you expecting?” Shelley had asked him.

Something more than the room they left behind, he thought. Emily had tracked Katrina across Avalon just by closing her eyes, after all. “Hidden messages,” he replied with a shrug. “Things we wouldn’t normally see.” Traces of thoughts and feelings, memories. Another, invisible side to the world.

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” said Shelley. “This is just the surface. It’s a reflection of what people see. Well, not so much a reflection as an impression, like … like a communal painting everyone has built up inside their heads! Only it’s not a painting because it’s three-dimensional. Actually, make that four-dimensional.”

“Four-dimensional?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Shelley, her wide eyes gleaming from the shadows of her hood, illuminating the pale face hiding within. “It’s a bit like archaeology. Or should that be geology?” She twisted her lips in search of the right word, then shrugged it away. This was first-draft Shelley, an excitable, babbling Shelley more interested in ideas and concepts than lexical accuracy. “Whichever it is, what we’re seeing is the now, and beneath that is yesterday, then the day before that and so on. And the deeper you go, the more those ideas start tae merge together until, eventually, after you’ve passed beyond the realm of the dead and crossed the rivers of Lethe and Mnemosyne, you arrive on the shores of the Innerworld, where all our ideas and all our stories from across all the millennia have come together, a grand, collective dream of the human spirit.”

A moment later, Shelley’s cheeks flushed a brilliant pink and she turned away, stammering apologies. Dante shrugged them aside. Right now, he needed something more concrete than metaphors, something tangible, irrefutable that he could use to prove he wasn’t caught inside some shared hallucination or reconstructed memory.

He reached for the figurine sitting between them. He reasoned that, if he could move an object here and see the results replicated when he returned to his body, it would prove the two sides connected. It would also invalidate countless laws of physics, but he figured those research papers Chris Shaw mentioned would be more than happy to elaborate on the how and the why.

Shelley watched him with a suspicious eye. “So, astral projection isn’t enough and you want to learn telekinesis now?”

“Emily saw me trying to make a cup of coffee,” he explained as he placed the figurine down at his side, “so it’s not impossible.”

This chapter was a little late because I kept revising everything. And I’m still not happy with it! But that’s what I get for writing a long chapter filled with exposition…