He reached for the bottle of mead and topped up his glass. “It happened about a year or so after I got back. Fuck knows how they managed it, but this bunch of raiders, or slavers, or whatever the fuck they were, found her temple and slaughtered everyone there, eunuchs and servants and clients, the whole lot of ’em.” He studied his glass, lost in a moment, then gulped back a mouthful of mead. “I tried to chase the bastards down, of course, but they were capital ‘p’ professionals. Malkuthians, probably, top terrace shit, you know? Probably figured mankind wasn’t ready for their angels, or some shit like that.” Again, he laughed. “And who am I to argue? Just one night with her and look where it got me! Selling whores to stuck-up immigrants and Sophist philanderers.”
He downed his mead in one shot. Dante did the same, then accepted another refill.
“This shit,” the Duke lifted his glass, “is my only escape. That and death, but I’ll be damned if I end up like one of those fucking Erebus freaks. That”—he jabbed his cigar at Dante—”is why you need to get your damned head together before it’s too late.”
He pushed the bottle of mead over to Dante. “This girl, you fucked her yet?”
“Ssshe’s not like that!” Dante’s mouth moved without thinking, desperate to defend Emily’s honour. His mother’s honour. His words sounded strange, slurred.
The Duke leaned back and puffed on his cigar. His moustache curled with the hint of a smile. “Good,” he said. “That means you might come out of this alive. Mark my words, kid, no maiden lives free for long and, one of these days, someone’ll come after your friend, just like they came for the Adels. Best you’re not around to see it, right?”
He knocked back the rest of his wine and stood up. “The bottle’s yours,” he said. “Drink up and forget about her. Hell, if you’re up for it, I’d say go find that du Sade when you’re done and give her the best fucking night of your life. Sooner you get your cock out of those chains and into a nice young woman like her, the sooner you’ll be free.”
As the Duke swaggered away to rejoin his Donaran companion, Dante eyed the bottle of mead. Maybe … maybe if he drank the rest, he could follow the Duke’s advice—after all, the Duke had his Donaran companion, and from the way she draped herself around his arm he imagined they got up to all sorts of things!
Things he had never done.
Things that might take his mind off everything.
An escape. Just like Joel promised. The reason he was here.
He remembered Arachne telling him to go home. But he wasn’t a child—he was a man! He would prove that to her. He would prove it before Joel or Byron or anyone else stole her away from him.
That made sense, at least until he gulped back another glass of mead.
Then there was nothing but a maelstrom of memories.
Emily had tried to forget, but the sight of the arena and its enchanted crowd brought everything back. Even beneath her thick overcoat and oversized jumper she felt exposed, naked before the eyes of wanton hedonism. Already, people had started to stare.
Leira leaned in, said over the noise, “Ye should’ve worn the feckin’ contacts.”
Emily grumbled under her breath, then cut herself a path through the throng of rats, ravens and everything in between, eyes open for any sign of Dante or Byron, or even Joel. A number of men and women tried to make her acquaintance, some offering drinks, others a dance, but most only interested in making themselves heard. She ignored them all. Leira and Shelley followed in her shadow, unaccosted, invisible.
They made their way to one of the public balconies, where Emily called up her visor and began a sweep of the crowds. She knew Dante was still in here, and Byron too, but picking them out would be difficult. She even tried focusing on the aether, seeing things as a true seer might, but there were so many thoughts around them, so many projected feelings, she could hardly decipher one person from the next.
Her mother would have done so with ease.
I remember, when I was writing the original Phantasia, people kept telling me “Dante needs to get laid”. These chapters exist as something of a counter to that argument.