“It’s no normal man who can turn down a du Sade,” said the Duke, as he poured a slither of silver from his flask and pushed it over to Dante. “You got some other young lady on your mind? C’mon, I’ve been around a fair few years, I know that look in your eyes. Who is she?”
Dante studied the drink. The liquid caught the lights from the dance floor and reflected them across the table. He didn’t want to think of Emily. He didn’t want to think of Arachne, either. He wanted to forget.
“That,” said the Duke, gesturing to the drink, “is Tiferetian Elixir. They say it’s the rarest drink in the world.” He leaned in close. Dante tried not to wince at his haggard breath. “If people knew I had that on me, I’d probably be dead,” he said with a grin. “So drink up. You can thank me later.”
It tasted like nothing Dante had ever known, both burning and soothing, sweet and sour, like liquefied pleasure, brewed to perfection. He drained every drop from the glass and regretted it at once. He wanted more.
The Duke grinned and poured him another shot. “To the World’s End,” he said, raising his flask, “and all the lost souls she summons to her cause.”
Dante gulped back the Elixir as if he’d been deprived of water for a week. There was no third serving. The Duke returned the flask into the folds of his jacket.
“The Elixir is a dangerous thing,” he said, settling back into his chair and lighting a cigar. “Once you’ve tasted it you don’t want to go back. Curse of the Cities, ain’t it?”
Dante looked down at his empty glass and tried not to think of his mother in her garden paradise, but the more he struggled, the more the thoughts came to him, as if he were caught in a swamp of his own recollection. As if the alcohol, having unlocked the gates to his carelessness, was now running rampant inside his head, opening every door, releasing every repressed emotion no matter the consequences—and, now he had handed over the keys, there was nothing he could do to stop it.
The Duke blew a ring of smoke across the balcony. “This place used to belong to them, you know? Was part of some experimental facility they built, hundreds of years ago, back before anyone dared live on the surface. Never dawned on them that the people who lived beneath their feet might want a taste of the luxuries they brought with them, though.” He tapped a wad of cigar ash over the crowd below. “And people’ll do some fucked up shit to get themselves a taste of paradise.”
The song rebounding about the converted funnel bled into another. Joel could probably name the troupe and the style and the instruments involved, but they all sounded the same to Dante.
“It was only a matter of time before the rats took over,” the Duke continued. “Those Arcologians think they can live forever. You ever met one of ‘em?” Dante nodded. “Stuffy fuckers, aren’t they? People who live forever forget the pleasures of the moment. That’s how we got ‘em, in the end. A pretty girl here, a handsome bloke there, a tickle and a tease and fuck me they fell apart at the seams. So the story goes, anyway.”
It sounded like the story of the Saptamatrikas and their rise to power, how they cast down the selfish machinations of the Kardashevian patriarchs and brought peace to the Seven Cities. Had Dante known the World’s End would validate the Tablet’s words, he might not have avoided it for so long.
The Duke sat back. Dante couldn’t read his eyes through his dark glasses, but the lines of his face suggested a moment of quiet reminiscence. “They say it were the maidens who did it,” he said. “No man can resist a maiden and, once they’re inside your head, nothing else compares, does it? Not even a horny young du Sade.”
Yellow teeth grinned from beneath the Duke’s moustache as he took Dante’s glass and poured him another shot of Elixir. Dante held the drink a moment from his lips. Was that it? Was that the reason for all of this? Had she gotten into his head and taken over his life? He glanced down at the silvery liquid, the lights inside like captured rainbows.
He flung the glass aside, turning away as it clattered to the floor, spilling its contents across the carpet.
I guess captured rainbows must have struck a nerve!