23: The Night Everything Changed (Part Two)
A symbol appeared beneath them, showing two birds with outspread wings and long necks that joined into the shape of a heart. Inside the heart, there were seven stars. Dante took the slab in both his hands, accepting it as if he were receiving a blessing from the Sidhe themselves.
“This tablet,” said Arided, “will be your guide to overcoming the madness that has consumed this world. Study it well and prove yourself worthy, and we may even allow you to join us — to join your beloved Ophelia — in Malkuth.”
Dante’s eyes felt like they might pop out of their sockets. He clutched the tablet to his chest, to his frantically beating heart — he would see his mother again, and sooner than she ever expected. He would make her proud.
“But”—Arided’s smile turned to a serious frown—“you must promise to never share this knowledge with anyone else, or even speak of our meeting here. There are many who would struggle to accept the truth, and others who would not take kindly to you exposing the lies they use to control those people.”
“What about my friends?” Dante asked. “Can’t I help them see the truth too?” He thought Katy Ritches might take it a little hard, and Shelley too, but it would surely impress Byron d’Arcadie and Denny Odette, the orphans who had recently arrived from the south.
But Arided shook her head. “Use its lessons to teach others, if you must, but never let them know where you gained your knowledge. They might seek to steal it, or even to destroy it. Yes, Dante, even your friends. So keep it secret — keep it sacred — and you shall be safe.”
He looked at the tablet in his hands, felt the cool truth beneath his fingers, the responsibility. He could do it. He would do it. He had to. As a child, all he could do was cling to his mother and call her name, but as a man he could stand by her side, fight her battles, protect her when her strength faltered. He could be the man his father never was. He was Dante Orpheus, and he was special.
Maybe she read something in his face, or maybe she could read his thoughts, just like his mother could, because Arided said, with a solemn frown, “Do not think you are special, just because you have this blessing, Dante. Never forget that you are just the average son of an average man. Those who believe they are special, that they have some great purpose in this world, are the ones most vulnerable to its lies and delusions. Accept that you will never be great and embrace the love we offer you. Share in our greatness and let our light be your paradise.”
In the gloom of the Scar, her moonlight skin and silver hair made her appear as if an angel from some other world. Even if he couldn’t take her hand, Dante would take her words to heart. She had made a promise to keep his mother safe, and he would believe her. Anything to shorten the time before he could see his mother again.
“And that, I’m afraid, is the last thing I have time to teach you,” she said. “There are others out there like Ophelia who need my help and you have seen the monsters who hunt them. Do not become one of them. Study hard, learn the ways of the Saptamatrikas, and perhaps we can meet again, in a place where there is no darkness.”
Arided flashed him one last, crescent-moon smile, then vaulted off the roof with a grace to match his mother in his most vivid of dreams — a grace that was surely magic.
No, he thought, not magic — sufficiently advanced technology.
Chapter 23 End
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH