Chapter 24

The Day That Never Came

Dante wiped the dust from the painting. It was unfinished, but he could recognise his mother’s style anywhere. As he thought of her, young and happy, sitting in the studio with a tin of pencils and a palette of paints, unbranded and unconcerned with whispered song, the tears returned. He wiped them away with the sleeve of her cloak.

He had to stop this. He had to stop acting like a child and prove himself worthy. That was his promise. Forcing back the sobs, he stood up and turned his back on the paintings. The fog had lifted from the streets and he had to find his way out of the Scar. That would be his first step towards proving himself.

As he made to leave the abandoned studio, he noticed a crack in the corner, a dark shadow of a door that creaked in a still breeze. There was something about it, some invisible light that stood out from its dim surroundings, a whisper in the silence that begged him to enter. Dante wasn’t sure how, but it reminded him of his mother.

When he glanced inside, he knew why. Her face looked back at him from a hundred photographs, scattered across the walls of a narrow, windowless closet. Using Arided’s tablet for light, Dante traced the procession of images and faces around him. Some he recognised — Lady Mendoza, Mrs Ritches, Ms Thorbjorn and Mr Payne from the Theatre — but many were strangers, gathered in places Dante had only heard about in stories.

Yet, despite all the faces looking back at him, despite all the various characters with their Seelie brooches and magical instruments, their wild hair and their improbably fashions, there was no sign of Princess Europa, no sign of Queen Thetis, no sign of anyone or anything that had stepped down from a higher place to outshine all others. The only person who matched that description was none other than Arided herself, stood with his mother and father with a group of their friends outside a house that looked rather like the one he was now hiding inside. There was another woman, too, another crescent-moon smile just like his mother’s. Dante wondered if they were all related somehow. One day, when he saw his mother again, he would have to ask her.

But not today. Today, he was alone.

He left the studio with a sniffle of tears and shuffled into the main hall. He was about to head downstairs and brave the cold, dark world outside when he heard footsteps below, followed by the one voice he really didn’t want to hear.

“Dante?” asked his father. “Is that you?”

Time for a thoroughly festive chapter!