49: The Other Side
Fear of the Cities and their culture of openness did little to explain the yearning song that prayed for Theia’s apocalyptic descent, however. Nor did it explain the associated illness, the mumbled, detached madness, the way his mother’s eyes would gloss over as she hummed that cursed tune, lost in a world of her—
Dante shook his head and threw down his pencil. “None of this makes sense,” he said. “How are we supposed to know what’s real when nobody can agree on anything?”
Shelley glanced out the window towards the bright lights of Avalon’s Recreational District and shrugged. “Guess we just have to trust our instincts,” she said.
Dante ploughed his fingers into his hair. Instinct was telling him there was something wrong with the illustration in front of him. Something missing. Then he realised how obvious it was. “Wait, why didn’t I see Emily?” he asked himself aloud. “Every other time I’ve done this … whatever it is, the person I was thinking about was there.” Emily, Katrina, Byron, his mother…
“I told you: Emily was rejecting the outside world.”
“Then how did I even arrive there?” And why was he stunned when he snapped back? He’d seen visions of people before with no physical consequences. Was it just this whole ‘double-jump’ thing Shelley had warned him about? Because he had dived too deep into the aether? No, it was more than that. It was something obvious, something staring him in the face. Something like the complete lack of Emily in his—
“I wasn’t thinking about Emily!” he declared. “I was thinking about where I last saw her.” The surroundings he had sketched out, committed to memory. “Then, if I try to picture Emily herself…”
Shelley clutched her notebook to her chest. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” she said. “Emily’s in her own world right now. Y—you can’t just go invading somebody’s personal space like that.”
“But I’ve done it before. My mother used to let me into her dreams. All I had to do was close my eyes and imagine where she was.” Tethered to the Dark, naked and alone, a shadow in a world of nothing…
“That’s different! Your mother would have invited you. She would have wanted you there.”
“But who’s to say Emily doesn’t want to see us? I mean, she wouldn’t have told me to ask for your help if she didn’t want me to find her. What if she’s waiting for us? What if she’s been waiting there all this time?”
Shelley bit down on her lip, just as Emily herself would have done. “It’s not that simple,” she said. “There’s—there’s time to worry about! It’s one thing to wander around up here, but when you go into a place like that, you have no idea how much time might pass. We could spend five minutes in there, only to come back and find five hours have passed!”
“You don’t have to come with me.”
“No, and I’d rather I didn’t! But…”
She knew as well as he did that, without her, his visions would be fleeting and, five minutes or five hours later, whichever it was, he would struggle to believe them anything more than a dream.
“But what? What have you got to be afraid of?” he asked.
“You don’t understand.” Shelley pulled her knees up to her chest. “Emily thinks I’m some kind of expert at this whole projection thing, but the truth is I cannae do anything special. A—and if she realises that, then she—she might…”
Seeing the look of panic in her eyes—and realising how much he was to blame for her insecurities—Dante reached for the first words that came to mind. “You got me this far,” he said. “I’d say that makes you pretty special.”
It took a moment for his words to register, then Shelley’s face contorted through a whole range of emotions in the space of a second, before settling on a bemused, almost pitying grimace. “Gods, and I thought I wrote bad dialogue,” she said. “Okay, you win. Just dinnae big me up or anything. Last thing I need is Em thinking I can turn the world upside down and reorder time like I’m some kind of Sidhe prince.”
Dante held out his hands. “So, I just have to picture her surroundings, right?”
“Aye,” said Shelley. “Paint away.”
Together, their breaths falling into identical rhythm, they sunk into the unknown.
I don’t think Dante’s the sole – or even main – cause of Shelley’s insecurities TBH.