Dante slammed his fist into the shower controls and barely flinched as scalding hot water rained down upon him, swamping the bathroom with a familiar, all-encompassing fog. Droplets of dirt fell from his hair, ran down his face and traced patterns along his muscles, before winding their way down his limbs and into the plughole. How long he stood in that sweltering void he did not know, nor did he care to know. Time was irrelevant. The outside world was irrelevant. He wanted nothing more than to stay locked in this moment forever.
Everything he worked for was now gone, lost in an instant. In that one moment, with the Sophists flanking them and Katrina arguing with Byron over what they should do, he had acted on a whim—on instinct. In that one moment, he had thought he could be a hero. That he could save Emily. That he could be somebody special.
It was a dangerous thing to believe, and he had paid the price for it—in full sight of the Saptamatrikas’ emissary, too. It was surely no coincidence that she appeared just as the Director exposed Dante’s secrets to his gathered friends. Thanks to him, they knew about the Tablet. Thanks to him, they knew his mother was alive. Thanks to him, the promises Dante made that night lay shattered like glass.
He remembered the sympathy in the Director’s voice as he realised Ophelia Orpheus’s fate, the anger in his eyes as his spoke Arided’s name.
A voice, distant and forgotten, rose from the mists. She lied, it said.
Dante hit the shower controls and a blast of warm air stirred the surrounding mist. How could he let a Sophist’s words affect him? Of course the Director would think it terrible that his mother left for the City! The Sophists despised the Seven Cities more than anyone. And his talk about the Erebus? Lies. Lies to manipulate the ignorant, stories to make children behave.
And yet, by letting those words—those lies—affect him, Dante had proven that he was still just a child himself, that he was not ready for the journey south.
Not ready to face his mother.
He reached for his bathrobe. What would his friends think of him now? Katrina had wanted him to speak with Commander Shimomura, but he had refused, insisted he was all right, that he just needed a little rest and a cup of coffee. Kat had replied by stripping his room of drugs. Even the coffee hadn’t escaped her wrath. Instead, she wanted him to drink some of that awful, bitter tea Lira Burn often forced upon them. It would help him sleep, Kat said. They had a big day ahead of them.
But Dante didn’t want sleep. Sleep meant dreams. Dreams meant nightmares. Nightmares meant—
Body trembling, he sat at his desk. The stainless white canvas of Arided’s Tablet stared back at him, almost as if to accuse him of breaking his promise.
Welcome to the part of the story I always show people when they ask what I write!