23: The Night Everything Changed (Part Two)
She stepped into it without a word, or even a look back at her son, watching from the shadows. As she turned around to settle in place, he noticed the dull expression on her face, the clouded eyes of the madness, eating away at her. Before he could find the strength to run to her side, or even to call her name, the cavity twisted around her and a dozen tentacles reached out to bind her in place. Realising this was his last chance, Dante forced what little strength he had into his legs and burst forward—but it was too late. As the giant’s metallic flesh closed around her, it rose up and turned towards an opening in the Scar’s roof, where the last shards of twilight fled before the night. Then, with a ripple of the world, it vanished, and his mother—Ophelia Orpheus—was gone.
Dante reached her discarded cloak and fell to his knees. All at once, the truth hit him as hard as a falling moon and all he could think about was how to deny it. Maybe, he thought, this was all just a dream, or some kind of test to prove his worthiness before Seelie. Any minute now, his mother would step out of hiding and congratulate him. All he had to do was keep his chin up, hold back the childish tears, and show the world his strength. He had to be brave.
Instead, he clutched at the cloak and cried.
When he felt a light touch on his shoulder and looked up with tear-stained eyes to see a crescent-moon smiling back at him, he really did believe, if only for a moment, that his mother had returned. But Ophelia Orpheus had hair as dark as night and eyes the colour of a winter sky, not hair of gleaming silver and eyes the colour of dusk. Arided, the mysterious girl to whom his mother had made her promise, knelt beside him and reached out to brush the tears from his cheeks.
“Ophelia is safe now,” she said. “I have sent her to the gardens in the sky, where she will be safe from both those who hunt her and the madness that haunts her.”
Dante forced back his tears. “Gardens in the sky?” he asked. He’d never heard of such things. “A—are you one of the Sidhe?”
She laughed, a gentle sound as soft as her touch. “No, Dante, I am an emissary from Malkuth,” she replied. “Your name is Dante, yes?”
Arided reached out to stroke the hair from his face “You have your father’s looks,” she said, with a hint of disappointment.
Dante’s cheeks flush with shame. “I’m nothing like him,” he replied. “I am an Orpheus, like my mother.”
Arided cocked her head and studied him as if meaning to paint his portrait. “And what do you dream about, Dante Orpheus?”
“I dream about—” he stopped himself, suddenly aware of how embarrassing his dreams of Sidhe Queens and magic warriors might sound to somebody from the City. “Adventure.”
“Adventure,” Arided nodded her head approvingly. “And what do people call you in these dreams?”
“Dante,” he said. What else would they call him?
Arided gave another nod. “One more question, if you wouldn’t mind? Do you believe in the Erebus?”
Dante recoiled at the mention of that cursed name. “No! I—I hate it! It ruined my mother’s life! I—I wish it didn’t even exist.” He pulled at his mother’s cloak, as if it would somehow protect him against the curse and the madness that followed.
“Oh, Dante…” With a light chuckle, Arided’s inquisitive expression softened to a smile. “It doesn’t. There’s no such thing as ‘the Erebus’.”
“Wh—what do you mean?”
“It’s just a story, Dante. It’s something people use to try and explain things they don’t understand.”
“B—but—” Dante pictured his mother in their many homes, wrapped in a cloak of her own despair, her skin paler-than-pale, her eyes clouded and distant, and her lips mumbling a simple, twelve-note tune. “Mother, she—she gets in such a state and—and—”