23: The Night Everything Changed (Part Two)
The front door wasn’t locked. As she stumbled into a wide, open hallway, Dante’s mother croaked a weak “We’re home, Dante.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she collapsed. Dante tried to help her up but, feeling faint himself, all he could do was drag her over to the stairs at the centre of the hall. It was there, in the dim purple ambiance, that he realised what was wrong—what was terribly, terribly wrong.
“It’s … it’s nothing,” his mother groaned. “It’s just a … a scratch. One of those Sophists was—wasn’t…”
It was more than a scratch. Though she was trying her best to hide it, the blood from her wound was seeping through her fingers and trailing down the insides of her cloak to collect in a pool at her feet. Dante stood and scanned his immediate surroundings for something—anything—he could bandage it with, but the house was bare. He started to tug at his own jacket sleeve, willing it to tear free.
His mother chuckled. “It’s … it’s funny, you know? I probably owe my life to a—to that—that bloody gestalt. You hear that, Arided? A bloody…”
Dante was digging his nails into the seams of his sleeve when he realised they were not alone. His eyes trailed up the stairway to the balcony above, where a silhouette slipped out of the darkness and into the light. At first it was her feet, naked and white, shining like the moon in the evening sky, then it was her dress, so black it hid all form and substance, as if her body was a void in reality. A young, slender hand traced its way down the banister with sharp black talons. Then, at last, her face, starting with a smile so like his mother’s it was uncanny, then a face so chiselled to perfection that even the greatest of the Donara could not compare. And then there were her eyes, a shade he had only ever seen in the twilight sky, and her hair, trailing behind her a carpet of liquid platinum. Whether she was young or old, woman or child, Dante could not tell.
“The humour is not lost on me,” she said, and her voice was like nothing he had ever heard before, both soft and powerful, warm yet cold, as if a symphony of angels had learned to speak as one.
Finally, after all these years and all his longing, he was in the presence of true royalty. He was in the presence of the Sidhe.
His mother tried to laugh, but the sound came out a bitter hack of pain.
“You should be careful, Ophelia,” said the newcomer—did his mother call her ‘Arided’?—as she knelt beside them. “You pushed yourself too hard.”
“We’ve got a deal. I don’t break my … my promises.”
“Nor do I.”
His mother’s lips fixed in a hard line of determination. “You took care of them?”
Arided placed her hand on Ophelia’s wound. “Of course,” she said. “I left their ship a smouldering wreckage, and that delusional Kimahian little better.”
“So, they’re safe? The Donara? The forest?”
Arided produced a sliver of silver material from a slight bag at her side and pressed onto Ophelia’s wound. “They are safe,” she said. “As are you.”
Dante’s mother breathed a ragged sigh of relief as the mysterious material bound to her side like a makeshift layer of skin. “Guess it’s time for my side of the bargain,” she said, her voice hoarse and dry, “Dante?”
He clasped her bloodied hand in his own. “Mother?”