23: The Night Everything Changed (Part Two)
Arided placed her hands on his shoulders and his anxiety fled like night from the dawning sun. “Ophelia is ill,” she said. “Her mind is broken. People out here don’t understand these things as we do, so they blame them on the Erebus, or demons, or faeries.” She didn’t form the warding gesture his mother used. “And sometimes other people take advantage of that ignorance. They use it to control people, to make them behave in a certain way. It’s like…” She bit her lip. “It’s like when I was a little girl, parents would tell their children that a jolly fat man in a red suit would fly around the world at the end of the year and deliver presents to all the children who had behaved themselves. But you don’t believe he was actually real, do you, Dante?”
He pictured a plump man in red, flying through the clouds. He sounded like a hero of Seelie, or even one of the Sidhe themselves. Anything was possible, so long as you believed.
Arided pouted. “You’re actually considering it, aren’t you?”
He blushed. “Well, you know, Seelie can do all sorts of things,” he said.
“Yes, but they don’t use magic, Dante, they use technology. It might look like magic to you, but I can assure you it has a rational explanation. I mean, what did you think when you saw Vahana Hamsa a few minutes ago? Did you think she was some kind of demon, maybe?”
Dante pictured the white giant that swallowed his mother and blushed.
“And what about this?” Arided stood up, took a step back and stretched out her arms. Suddenly, her dress exploded into prismatic dust. Dante, who spent so much of his life among the proud Donara, averted his eyes. When he dared to look back, she was wearing a second skin not unlike his own armour. “Would you think that magic?” she asked.
Cheeks burning, he nodded.
“But it’s not, Dante. This is technology. There is no such thing as magic, just as there is no such thing as the Erebus.” She knelt down again, and took Dante’s hands in her own. “Where I come from, we call that kind of delusion ‘religion’, and the world is better off without it.”
Dante didn’t understand. He knew of a number of religions, chief among them the Sidhe-worship of the Donara. Did that mean that all their stories were lies? That there was no such thing as the Sidhe? After all, he had never actually met one. What if his mother had only told him those stories to encourage him, so he would join Seelie and make her proud? What if all she ever wanted was to protect him from the madness with her stories of light and hope?
Arided stood and offered him her hand. At the same time, her second skin turned again to rainbow dust and swam about her in streams and ribbons of light — and, this time, Dante could hardly turn his eyes away. “But I am real, aren’t I, Dante?” she said. “Will you believe in me?”
He reached out for her, for the woman who looked so much like his mother that she could perhaps even replace her in his heart…
And stopped just short of taking her hand. His head bowed in shame. “I—I can’t,” he said. He couldn’t betray his mother.
“I see,” she said, hand slipping to her side. “Ophelia is very important to you, isn’t she?”
“Then take this.”
He looked up. Arided was holding a flat, white object, about the size of a book.
“Consider this a gift,” she said, and traced a circle onto its surface with her finger. Words appeared, letters writing themselves in black fire:
‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Therefore, a sufficiently advanced society should no longer believe in magic.’
—The Credo of the Saptamatrikas