49: The Other Side
Ophion passed no comment. He rarely did. Unlike the Princess Phantasia, or that admirable rascal Himeros, he was of the stoic persuasion and had little care for small talk. Judging from his deep tan and navy hair, Byron presumed him a member of the Áes Uisce, the Water Tribe, elementals of Thought and Philosophy, and font to all the world’s wisdoms. He also presumed, based on the richness of his clothing, that his guide was of high standing — not so high as the Princess, perhaps, but certainly plentiful rungs above Himeros. As for his age, Byron was at a loss: much like the citizens of Malkuth and its sextet of sisters, the immaterial entities of the world could easily hide a century’s worth of experience behind the innocent blushings of a babe. For what it was worth, Ophion appeared about his own age, but taller, leaner, his features inhuman and his voice that of an angel — albeit a rather lethargic, disinterested one.
Reaching level ground again, Byron twisted his rope and waited for it to recompile. “Could you at least reveal to me the identity of this fiend whom calls herself Ketos?” he asked. “I have found no trace of her in any of the local records. Perchance she is of your world, hence your involvement in these affairs?”
“You do not need to know.”
Byron sighed. “Yet here I am, scrambling deep into the earthen depths, a poet bequeathed with the piercing of a woman’s heart with my blade — do I not deserve even the slightest slither of insight into the grandiose game in which I have staked my life?”
“Do not overestimate your importance. You are one path. There are others.”
Byron felt a touch of warmth on his skin as the tunnel opened out to a wide crater of a cavern, its basin riddled with circular pits. At its centre, perched atop tall legs and tethered to thick ropes of piping, an alchemium refinery hissed and chugged as its automated systems sucked up the earth and converted its precious minerals into a sludge of synthetic matter.
“And what are these ‘other paths’? No, let me guess, I do not need to know.”
Dante loitered a step beyond the door’s sensor range. Beyond the veil of aethex that formed Avalon’s unblemished skies, the sun had started its ascent towards Theia’s waiting maw. It was almost time.
With a deep breath to calm his nerves, he took a step forward.
“Yo.” The doors opened to the sight of Theseus Armstrong, spider-like automaton scuttling along at his side. “You, eh, here to see the chief?”
Dante couldn’t meet the former-soldier’s eye, not after what he had heard him say the night before. “Something like that.”
“Yeah, she said you were doing some kind of, eh, remote surveillance work?” He was doing his best to sound genuine, but Dante knew what he really thought. “Find anything exciting?”
Dante clenched his fists. After all he’d gone through to get this far, he wasn’t about to let some know-nothing farmhand put him down. Thinking of Emily and all she had sacrificed — of her mother and his mother, and everyone else pulled into this conflict against their will — he looked Theseus square in the eye and said, “I’d tell you, but it’s not like you’d believe me.”
For all of a second, Theseus looked stunned at this sudden and unexpected display of bravado. Then, he laughed. Clapping Dante on the shoulder, he said, with a good-natured grin, “Mate, the way things are going I’m about ready to believe anything. Right now, though, I need a drink.”
Dante watched him stride across the courtyard towards Doyle Kennedy’s apartment, then checked his cell. It was, as he thought, still only 5am. Digging his hands in his pockets and taking another deep breath to calm his nerves, he stepped forward and into the apartment Phoenix Rogan and her little clique had requisitioned as their ‘headquarters’. This was it. This was his moment. This was when he slammed his paintings on the table and told Phoenix and her friends the truth about Ketos and Avalon and the twisted schemes of the Sidhe.
“Ah, Mister Orpheus!” Phoenix’s manic face beamed over the lounge. “Please, take a seat. You’re just in time!”
She gestured to an empty chair. Sitting next to it, looking over her shoulder at him with unblinking eyes, white like the Moon, was the Princess Phantasia Caelestis, of the Court of Queen Thetis Mysticeti.
“Now, Your Highness,” said Phoenix, “if you could tell us your side of the story, please?”
Dante’s satchel fell from his shoulder and hit the carpet with a soft thud.
Chapter 49 End
It’s all happening now. Guess that means that it’s time to save Dionysus!