Orphic Phantasia

49: The Other Side

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Dante shook his head. This wasn’t good enough. Starting to pace along the edge of his so-called limits, he poured over the possible reasons for his weakness, calculated the rough distance between his consciousness and his body. “Ten seconds,” he said. “It would take ten seconds to get back to where we started.” A lot could happen in ten seconds.

Shelley crossed her arms. “Which is why you’re at your limit.”

Dante stopped pacing and scratched his stubble. “If that’s the case, doesn’t that imply that Emily is somewhere nearby?” he said, thinking aloud. “No, that can’t be right. I jumped to Katrina from the hospital and she was at least two-hundred metres away.”

“Is this what it’s like inside your head?” asked Shelley. “The answer is simple, though. When you jumped to Kat’s location, you used her as a sort of—of doorway, her heart to yours. The closer you are to a person, the easier it is. It also helps if you know where they are, so you can picture their surroundings, but you don’t seem to have that problem…”

No doubt he had his mother to thank for that, and all the subtle lessons she had taught him through their shared dreams. “So, all I have to do is think about where Emily is…”

He caught the first syllable of Shelley’s cry, but he was already there, standing in the hall of giants — only now, the walls were awash with veins of bloodlike blue laced with cobalt eyes, fixated on a rend in the world, a hole of infinite black with twelve tentative wings.

Then the eyes turned on him and Dante, acting on instinct, pulled up his cloak and escaped into the dark.

A whisper of a word followed after him.

Another?

~*~

Dante stared up at Avalon’s starless sky. His body, sprawled across the synthetic grass, refused to move. At least this time he understood why. Split-second visions of the three titans, the watching walls, and the cursed rift of the Erebus lingered in the back of his mind’s eye.

There was a shuffle of clothes next to him, then Shelley’s face loomed overhead, eyes wide with panic. “What in blazes d’ya think ye were doing, ye bloody idiot?” she asked. “Ye cannae project while ye’re already projecting! It’s bloody dangerous!”

“I—I tried to…”

With a sigh, Shelley regained her composure. “You tried to find Emily, right?”

“Eyes,” he said. “In the walls. And”—he blinked back an afterimage of the twelve-winged void—”the Erebus. I think—I think Emily’s inside some kind of—of shell?”

“Can hardly blame her if the walls are covered in eyes,” replied Shelley. “Did they notice you?”

Dante pulled himself into a sitting position. “I don’t think so,” he said. Another? Another what? Another visitor? “I doubt I was there for more than a second.”

“Yeah, but time doesn’t mean much in the aether,” said Shelley. “At any rate, you should probably take a wee break. You might not think it, what with all the sitting around, but this sort of thing can really take it out of you.”

Dante spent the next twenty minutes sketching out memories of his brief experience while Shelley procured tea and biscuits from Denny. Apparently, tea was good for recovering stamina, though Dante himself would have preferred a strong cup of coffee.

“Is that what I think it is?” Shelley asked, looking down at his illustration and the frenzied mass of scribbles that represented the Erebus.

“I don’t think there’s a colour black enough for it,” he replied.

Shelley sat down opposite him, notebook in hand. “You realise it only looks like that because Emily is rejecting the aether, right?” she said, waving a biscuit at the illustration. “She just wants some privacy. I think that’s where the whole idea came from, really: people getting fed up of everyone and everything trying to get inside their head. The whole world used to be like this bloody place, you know?” She scratched the back of her neck and scowled. “They say modern technology brings us closer together. I say it drives us apart. I’d rather live in my own world than anything those Cities have to offer.”

Even vantablack wouldn’t be dark enough!