24: The Day That Never Came
“Why do they care about the Scar?” he asked. It sat there on the edge of town, its misshapen dome spreading its roots across the nearby ruins, oblivious to the town’s dramas. Until now, the Sophists had focused their attentions on the forest. Dante could still see the charred wounds they left behind.
“They say it’s the ‘heart of the corruption’,” said Katy, “and that Seelie put it there as part of some plot to take over the town.” She shrugged. “It sounds stupid, I know, but…”
Dante wondered what she would think if he told her about his encounter with the majestic Arided and her winged giant, but he had made a promise, and Dante Orpheus did not break his promises. He took another, reluctant bite out of the apple Katy had given him.
“Say,” Katy perked up, “if you want something proper to eat, Ma has the kitchen working overtime to give the Donara a farewell feast. You want to come down?”
Dante shrugged. “Maybe.” He didn’t really know what he wanted to do, besides read the secrets sleeping inside the Malkuthian Tablet.
He was on his way back to his room to do exactly that when Shelley Eoghan turned the corner ahead of him and, with a startled cry, dropped a wad of pages across the corridor. A year his junior, Shelley was a wide-eyed child with dirty blonde hair and tiny hands that she liked to flap around with every other word. This time, however, they were too busy trying to reassemble the pages of her latest story into the correct order.
“I—it’s about you and ye mam,” she said, blushing as she thrust a sheet of paper at him. Shelley had a strong Grampian accent she tried her best to hide in public, but she always dropped her mask whenever she was around somebody she liked. “I heard what people were saying about her fighting off a whole army of Sophist bastarts, so I wrote a story about it so nae one’ll ever forget what she did.” She brushed the hair from her face and clutched the rest of the pages to her chest. “Figured I oughta show it tae ye before I went showing it tae anyone else. Maybe ye can even show it tae ye mam, too?” She watched him with eager eyes. He always read her work. He was probably her best friend.
“No.” He dropped the sheet of paper she gave him without so much as a glance at her silly fantasy and stepped past her.
Shelley pouted. “A—and why’s that then?”
“Because…” He thought for a moment. He hadn’t told anyone what happened to his mother that night. He hadn’t even given them a hint. From what he had overheard, people assumed she was simply in hiding.
In a way, she was—and he had to make sure that nobody ever found out where.
“My mother is dead.”
It was the adult thing to do, like telling a child stories about flying men who delivered presents so that the child would behave themselves—or telling a young boy stories of magic and adventure and faeries to protect him from the harsh realities of the real world and the madness they spawned.
The pages of Shelley Eoghan’s story slipped from her grasp and drifted to the floor like autumn leaves.
Growing up was hard, but Dante had already taken his first step.
His mother would understand. His mother would be proud of him.
And, any day now, she would be home.
Yes, that was very grown-up. Well done, Dante.