22: The Night Everything Changed (Part One)
With a sudden gasp, she returned. Her breaths came fast and shallow, and tears streamed down her cheeks to splash onto Dante’s hands.
“Mother?” he asked. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t the madness.
“They’re coming,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper from a far away world.
Dante held her hands tight. “I’ll protect you,” he said. “I won’t let anybody hurt you.”
There was a knock at the door. Three-three-four. Lady Mendoza’s code. Ophelia Orpheus jumped to her feet and hurried over to let her inside. By the time Dante caught up to her, she was sobbing into the village chieftain’s shoulder. Dante stepped back as they moved into the lounge. A pair of Donaran warriors followed after them.
“Nahia, Bryony, begin packing,” said Lady Mendoza, voice thick with her tribe’s continental accent. She looked to Dante and he noticed the trace of tears down her cheeks. “It is an ill night, child,” she said, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Do not be afraid.”
That was easy enough for her to say. Dante had never seen Lady Mendoza cry. She was one of the most powerful and commanding women he had ever known, standing six feet tall, with eyes of forest green and burgundy hair down to her waist. Her presence could outshine even the greatest of Seelie heroes.
And she was afraid.
“I must speak with your mother in private,” she said. “You should find your armour and pack your most valuable possessions. We must leave here as soon as possible.”
As she escorted his mother into her bedroom, Dante retreated to his own. Having moved home so many times before, he had little to pack besides a few books and paintings, some photographs of his friends, and a folder containing Shelley Eoghan’s latest story. With everything stashed inside a satchel in record time, he jumped onto his bed and crossed his legs. This wasn’t like the other times. Something was happening — something bad — and he had to know what. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he closed his eyes. All he had to do was imagine…
She was walking with Lady Mendoza through long grass, peppered with wild roses the colour of the chieftain’s hair, speaking of things he could not understand. Then they stopped, and Lady Mendoza turned to Dante with a smile and said, “He may not look it, but the blood runs through him all the same.”
“Yes,” said his mother. “He is special.”
“But,” said Lady Mendoza, “he should not be here.”
All of a sudden, Dante’s head spun with vertigo, as if somebody had removed the ground from beneath his feet — and then he was back in his room, his breaths fast and shallow. Only a few seconds had passed.
He found his armour nestled at the bottom of his wardrobe. It was a form-fitting suit layered with Seelie fibres and Donaran enchantments that covered him neck-to-toes. Once it was secure, he pulled on a dress and grabbed his things.
Nahia and Bryony were busy packing his mother’s paintings into a basket. They placed his still wet rendition of Queen Thetis on top. Nahia complimented him on his skills. “It is important to remember those who are important to you,” she said. “Ophelia is lucky to have such a son.”
All this magic-y, aether-y, dream-y stuff is so much easier when you’re a child who doesn’t grasp the finer details of how the ‘real world’ is supposed to work.
I’m sure nobody has taken advantage of this.