By the time they reached the Ritches Estate, forty minutes later, he was at least semi-coherent. While Shelley astrally scouted the apartment to make sure Katrina wasn’t waiting for them, Emily tried to soothe his troubled spirit.
“They’re—they’re gonna take you away,” he said, eyes half closed, body swaying as she clung on to his hands. “Shouldn’t believe—believe in faeries. Madness. Makes you—madness. They’ll take you away.”
“No one’s taking anyone away,” she reassured him. “Tomorrow, we’re all going on holiday, remember? We’re going to get away from all this and have some fun.”
The lie hurt more than any other she had told — and she had told a lot.
“Don’t want to go … on holiday. Want to—want to go to Malkuth. Got to prove—to prove myself. Save her. Got to save her.” His head lulled and a trickle of pinkish drool dribbled from the corner of his mouth. Emily wiped it away.
“You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone,” she said. “You’re a good enough bloke as it is, no matter what anyone else might tell you.”
She felt Shelley’s spirit wander back from the apartment and return to her body. “Horatio’s there,” she said, “but he’s asleep. Katrina’s out.”
“Probably at Rogan’s,” said Leira. “This day’s probably the highlight of their lives. Best be getting the eejit inside while we’ve got the chance.”
With a little encouragement — “Byron will never let you live it down if he finds you collapsed outside your own front door,” Emily told him — Dante staggered the rest of the way himself and, within five minutes, they had him inside.
“Just make sure he gets plenty of water,” said Leira, before she disappeared into her room. Shelley followed Emily to the second floor apartment — though she kept a cautious distance from Dante, despite the blatant concern on her face — then said her goodbyes and hurried off home.
Dante made it all the way into his room before he collapsed. Emily lifted him into his bed, then went to fetch him a glass of water from his sink. Once she was confident he was asleep, she went to leave.
And there it was, on his desk, sitting next to his abandoned cellular.
The white tablet.
Emily Fomalhaut, however, respected the privacy of others. She didn’t invade their personal space or their private lives for the purposes of espionage. She was a good, decent, moral person.
But a good, decent, moral person would not have put a knife to the throat of a stranger. Back then, in the World’s End, Emily Fomalhaut’s mask had cracked — not in private, but in front of her friends. In front of an audience.
She could no longer deny who she was. All it took was a crack.
She traced a curious finger along the smooth white surface. We have to be sure, she told herself; we have to be certain.
The words blazed to life, black fire against the light.
‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Therefore, a sufficiently advanced society should no longer believe in magic.’
—The Credo of the Saptamatrikas
By the time she locked Dante’s door behind her, sealing the innocent lie she hoped his surrogate sister would believe, she had tears in her eyes. She wiped them away on the corner of her shirt, staining it with sweat-soaked bronze paint that hadn’t had chance to dry.
So, it was as she feared all along: they had gotten to his mother, and they had gotten to him, too. Just like they got to her uncle. History really did repeat, each turn spiralling closer towards its inevitable, cataclysmic clash.
Just like Theia.
She rubbed her shoulder.
No, it wouldn’t repeat. She wouldn’t let it. She would save him, and she would save them all — from Pleiades, from the Erebus, from themselves.
In that dark place, on the shores of that lonely lake where one soul died and another was born, a black-and-blue flame danced, pale of skin but wicked of smile.
Just like old times.
Dante spun through the Dark, his thoughts a jumbled mess of fragmented memories. He tasted the poison, felt the burn as it slipped down his throat. He heard the Duke’s laughter, his tales of maidens fair and maidens doomed. He saw the man with bones around his neck, who asked him questions about his dreams, his nightmares, and…
He could feel the cool touch of her hands, hear her voice calling his name. He thought he saw her smile, her eyes light up in the Dark.
They were coming for her, just like they came for his mother.
His mother, who hung tethered to the Dark, naked and alone, barely a shadow in a world of nothing.
Or, was it Paradise? Was it the garden in the sky?
She promised him. Arided promised him.
That night, six years ago…
Chapter 21 End
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