24: The Day That Never Came
‘Happy Birthday, Dante!’ read the dog-eared note. ‘All my apologies for my present absence, but I’m afraid I am terribly busy at present — Seelie likes to keep a man occupied! Still, I thought I would pass on something of a present, so here are some old recordings that your mother and I made during our various sojourns across the world. She wanted you to have them after you joined Seelie, but I figured, what with the circumstances and all, you might like to see them sooner. Remember, it’s important to think about her every day!’
It ended with an awkwardly scrawled, as if reluctant, ‘Much Love, Your (Overworked!) Father’.
Dante studied the data card marked ‘The Journal of Ophelia Orpheus: 92-96UE’. It was one of those thin slips perfectly sized for the average pocket. It wasn’t the height of technological advancement by any means, but it was durable. Historians and archaeologists often said that, had they used such things in centuries past, rather than pushing for smaller and better and faster alternatives, then the history of the Old World and its downfall might not have been lost. Dante placed the card on his bedside cabinet, discarded the box and its enclosed letter, and fell back into his duvet’s welcoming embrace.
The Tablet was waiting for him. While the other orphans ate their breakfast together, he would shut himself away in his room to indulge in Malkuth’s knowledge. Though there was a great deal he couldn’t understand, he understood enough to know that the people around him, from the youngest of orphans to the commanders and chiefs of Seelie, lived a terrible lie. Dante’s job was to set them free from that lie.
Unfortunately, Katy Ritches had taken some of his suggestions rather badly, but he was certain things would get better once she realised he was right. In the meantime, she had given him a present of art materials for his birthday.
To think it had almost been almost a year and a half since he last picked up a paintbrush and sought to translate his imaginations into something tangible. He was more proud of that achievement than any other; as a child, he gorged on fantasy like a famished vagrant, as an adult, he locked it away where it belonged.
He glimpsed the distant City through his window, its shadow stirring in the morning light. It wouldn’t be long now. Arided had surely saved his mother from her delusions by now—the Tablet called the process ‘rehabilitation’—and she would be enjoying the peaceful life Malkuth provided her. Sometimes, he wondered if the City was so great a place that she might never leave, but then he would remember her promise and his worries would vanish. Unlike her husband, unlike Cyrus Aides, Ophelia Orpheus did not break her promises.
And neither did Dante. Once he was finished with his senior schooling, he would apply for the Seelie Initiate Program and earn a recommendation to the Academy. Soon enough he would be a Seelie Officer, a hero with rank, title and golden wings to make his mother proud.
And, if his mother still wasn’t back by then, he would go and fetch her himself.
It was more than his father had ever done.
As he lay there, thinking of the journey ahead of him, he felt his eyelids start to droop and sat up with a start. He didn’t want to go there. His dreams showed him things, horrible things, things he would rather not see.
His mother, dancing in the night, singing to a twelve-note song.
His mother, the light of a full moon reflecting in her clouded eyes.
His mother, naked and alone, barely a shadow in a world of nothing.
The Tablet told him such dreams were symbols, manifestations of his fears and anxieties, signs of a brain still overcoming its childish fantasies, but he would have rather they not existed at all. If that meant not sleeping, he would not sleep.
His mother would understand. His mother would be proud of him.
And, one day, she would come home.
Dante was at senior school from age 11 to 13. Katrina was a year ahead of him.