The chair fell to the floor. Dante paced over to his empty bookshelf, to his bed, back to his desk. He needed an escape.
A glint of light caught his eye — the evening sun, freed from Theia’s eclipse, catching the armour of a Sophist peacekeeper as they patrolled the Scar’s perimeter. At least Dante knew for a fact, thanks to the Director’s admission, that the Sophists were the one who built that hideous thing. He let his mind wander, allowed it to play with all the possibilities. Had the Sophists employed a fog of Aethex to drive people from their homes? Did they use those isolated streets to indoctrinate prisoners into slavery? Was it all part of some decade-long scheme to rid the town of the Donara and Seelie?
Each question led to another, each thread spun a dozen more, until they overwhelmed Dante like some kind of sprawling weed, riddled with implausibilities, contrived coincidences, and enough unanswered questions to keep Veritas in business for centuries to come. It was like something out of Shelley Eoghan’s stories, and if he ever presented such convoluted theories to Rembrandt Payne, the Seelie Chief would laugh him out of his office.
No, there had to be a simpler explanation. ‘Lex parsimoniae’, as Sohrabarak al-Hakim would call it. The fewer assumptions, the better.
But there was only one answer that made sense. A simple answer that would explain the fogs and the need to contain them. A simple answer that would explain the white-haired princess and her strange behaviour. A simple answer that would unravel every assumption.
An answer so simple, Dante was afraid to even think it.
The Erebus was real.
He pictured her pretty face and crescent-moon smile, remembered her promise to help his mother and to heal his mother and to free his mother from the madness that scarred her life, just as the Scar itself blemished Torsten.
Maybe it was all a lie.
Maybe there was no Paradise, no garden in the sky where his mother could live a happy and carefree life beyond the madness of this savage world. Maybe his nightmares were true, and she really was tethered to the Dark, naked and alone, barely a shadow in a world of nothing.
He pulled her cloak around his shoulders and sat on the edge of his bed. His leg started to jitter, then to hammer against the floor like the beat to one of Joel Gibson’s favourite songs. He needed sedatives to clear his head and rid him of the destructive thoughts that lingered just out of sight, waiting for a moment of weakness. He needed an escape.
On his desk, his cellular buzzed. Dante glanced over at the screen. It was Joel Gibson. Dante waited for him to leave a voice message.
“Eh, so yeah, dude? I dunno if you’re, like, awake or whatever, but I thought I’d see if you were ‘cause I were thinking maybe we should, you know, have a bit of a post-exam party? Like, just the two of us, just ladding about, you know? I’ve, eh, got this game that’s well brutal, and, you know, plenty of beers if you need something to take the weight off your shoulders. It’s been a proper rough day, right?”
Five minutes later, Dante stood on his balcony calculating the climb down to Denny Odette’s just below him, and the chances of her spotting the slight ripples of invisibility as he slipped by her window.
He needed an escape.
I’m sure this won’t go horribly wrong.