Orphic Phantasia

22: The Night Everything Changed (Part One)

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“They have not replied,” said Oihana. “Perhaps you are right, and Seelie wants nothing to do with this, but to think that even the Queens have abandoned us…”

“They haven’t,” said his mother, “and nor have Seelie. It’s me they’re ignoring. They have no other choice. If they do not deny me, everything we have worked for shall be in vain.”

“Dare I ask what could possibly be worth such a high price?”

Dante crept closer to the two women. This was his chance to learn everything. His mother would be proud.

“If I told you, you would become a target, too,” said his mother. “Look what they did to poor Isabel. She … she doesn’t even have a soul left to retrieve.”

Oihana seemed to tremble, as if her image were a reflection in a lake. “Such monsters,” she said. “There must be more to this than we realise. I refuse to believe those impotent beasts have anything approaching that sort of power. They are just men with delusions of their own importance, nothing more.”

“Sometimes delusion is all it takes.”

Oihana clutched the hilt of the sword that hung at her side. “They can be as delusional as they want, but, so long as they bleed, I am not afraid of them. Now, what of your son? If these people can devour a soul just to learn your location, what might they do to force your surrender? There is no guarantee that even the forest can protect him from such a vile evil.”

“Dante is—” his mother turned to see him standing there, halfway across the shrine. If only he had a cloak like hers, he could vanish from sight with a wave of his fingers. “Dante is more persistent than I give him credit for,” she said with a smile. “He has too much of his father in him.”

Oihana snorted. “Let us hope that is as far as the resemblance goes.”

Dante held his chin high. He wasn’t sure what to say to his mother, or what to ask her.

She held out her hand. “Here,” she said. “Before you realise where you are.”

As he took her hand he realised how young she looked, less like his mother and more the hero he saw in her stories and dreams, the woman who travelled to the ends of the Earth to face horrors unimaginable. It wasn’t a great difference, and certainly not one the average person could spot, but to Dante, trained to notice the details, the subtleties of the face, it was like looking at a whole other woman.

But her smile — her smile was the same.

“This isn’t quite a dream,” she said, as they stepped outside, “but…”

Dante felt his stomach lurch as his eyes fell on the twilit forest. It was like something out of a painting, all splashes and streaks of colours — ideas — and the sky was an empty wash of orange and blue. His head swam at the surreality.

“Don’t worry, it’s natural to feel uneasy,” said his mother, her touch sending ripples of reassurance through his body. “Until you learn to accept it, the sheer disbelief at what you’re seeing forces you wake up. Unless, of course, you’ve got someone there who knows what they’re doing,” she added with a grin. “And, fortunately for you, your mother is pretty awesome like that.”

She guided him to a clearing, where she sat down on a carpet of greens, a patch of grass as if seen through the corner of an eye, indistinct but obviously there.

Politics can really fuck you over.