The Duke pulled another cigar out of a pocket and lit it with a thick flame. He took a drag, then puffed a ring of smoke over the dance floor, where it mingled with the fog of war and rose towards the single eye of sky at the top of the cooling tower. “So, what’s your name?” he asked.
“Dante. Dante Orpheus.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Poetic.”
Just then, Joel returned with his hoard of multicoloured treasures. “Duke, man, you’d better not have been badmouthing me to Dant here,” he said, handing the old man a pint of black ooze topped with a white froth.
“As if I’d do a thing like that.”
Joel split the rest of the drinks between himself and Dante. One glass contained a golden liquid, thick like honey, while another was bright green. The third was layered red and yellow. The Duke smirked, as if they were dealing with a selection of fruit juices, then produced a flask from inside his coat and poured a measure of silver liquid into his drink. “You need an extra kick at my age,” he said to Dante. “Cheers.”
He lifted his glass and downed half the pint in one. Joel, perhaps egged on by the show, threw back the golden drink and spent half a second contemplating its green sibling, before drinking that too.
Dante, on the other hand, found himself caught in a moment of indecisiveness. He knew that, if he followed Joel’s example, he wouldn’t have to worry about reality encroaching on his thoughts for another ten minutes or so. He also knew that, if he took another step into that world, he would have to follow it with another—and he had no idea where that path might lead him.
“Chin up;” said the Duke, “you might be dead by morning.”
“Leave it, man, he’s had a rough day,” said Joel. “Seelie sent him into the Scar.”
“All the more reason to get that shit down you, then. Nothing beats back the Erebus like a bottle of vodka and a dirty whore—and if you’re after the latter then I’ve a couple of girls who might interest you. Or boys, of course. Or both!”
“He don’t need no whores, Duke,” said Joel, patting Dante on the shoulder. “Dant’s getting it on with Arachne du Sade.”
“A du Sade? Well then,” the Duke lifted his drink in toast, “you’d best get that down you. You’re in for a long night.”
Dante clasped the golden drink, watched the lights dance on its surface. What would Emily think of this? Was she just around the corner, waiting for him? Maybe she was already down there, in the crowd, surrounded by a dozen potential suitors, a dozen potential partners who could steal her away from him, just as his mother—
The drink screamed down his throat like a mouthful of acid. He had to throw back the second just to take the taste away. By the time the third was gone, his tongue felt ready to fall out. The lingering cocktail of tastes twisted his lips into an unyielding grimace.
“See,” said Joel, “Dant might take his time, but when he goes in, he goes all in.”
“And therein lies the road to riches,” said the Duke, “or the stairway to Hell. You won’t know which until it’s too late.”
And, with those words of wisdom, the old man finished his drink, excused himself and return to his bare-chested companion. Joel downed the last of his own drinks then ordered some bottles of his father’s beer “for the journey”. Dante drank half of his straight away, hoping to purge the poison wedged in his throat.
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Protip: if you want to stay on the Duke’s good side, don’t mention Hawkwind.