The forest rose around him, shrouded in twilight. Once, its trees had been alive, vibrant with colour, but now the fires had claimed their lives, scorched them black and twisted their branches into misshapen hands, petrified fingers grasping skyward for rejuvenation from an absent god. The earth crunched beneath him, each footstep bringing him closer to the light at the end of the darkness, each breath bringing him closer to the music, to the Song.
Twelve notes, repeated. Then, as the forest thinned out, words.
Erebus, hear our call; free our souls from these chains…
Dante looked towards the light, but instead of the life-giving Sun, he found the death-bringing Theia, her cracked eye wide, watching down on the fog-soaked clearing, on the shadows dancing, the woman singing.
Erebus, hear our call; purge our souls with your flames…
Dante ran, and he didn’t stop running. He ran, even as his limbs screamed for mercy. He ran, even as the forest fell into night and into shadow. It was the only thing he could do; it was the only thing he knew how to do.
Dante ran, and he didn’t stop running. Not until he reached—
He turned at the sound of her voice, the projection of his name across the aether.
We shouldn’t bother him, said Katrina. Besides, I don’t feel comfortable taking him with us.
We’re taking him, said Emily, then called his name again.
“What?” he replied.
Emily spun about, her pale-winter eyes wide in surprise. “Since when were you out here?” she asked. “Were you hiding under that cloak again?”
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
The sound of a door sliding open caught her attention and, as she turned to the source, she brought the vague world around her into focus. They were standing outside their apartment and Hermia, Horatio and Denny had just stepped out the front door. Hermia looked tougher than usual, her muscles defined, her Malkuthian tan deep, while Horatio’s skin almost seemed to sparkle in the sunlight, a bronze statue of strength and vitality. Denny hid behind them, encased in shadow.
“Hello, Emily,” said Hermia, flashing her perfect smile, “Kat. I hope the two of you are ready for the last exam because it is the toughest we have ever faced! I expect your best, for the sake of Lucretia House!”
The trio walked off down the path, towards the south gate presently but a blur on an impressionist horizon. Emily raised an eyebrow. “I guess they don’t expect much of you, Dante. About time you proved them wrong, don’t you think?”
The air around Katrina rippled with a grumble as she crossed her arms and huffed. Emily gave her a disapproving look. Kat was looking like her mother again, all stern-eyed and serious, a responsible adult babysitting wayward orphans.
“Kat thinks you should stay at home,” said Emily.
Kat frowned. She had her reasons, and they were good ones, but this wasn’t the time or the place to worry about the past.
It was, after all, only a dream.
“I’ll be okay,” he replied, earning a smile of approval from Emily, whom he presumed a subconscious representation of Malkuth.
Kat’s frown deepened. She was his past. “If you say so.”
Their attention turned to the balconies above where a figure lifted a hand in greeting. Byron d’Arcadie came into focus a true lothario of a man, his skin like polished brass, the silk strands of his earthen hair fluttering in the breeze as he slouched over his balcony, like some self-proclaimed prophet about to charm a legion of adoring followers.
“Ah, what good fortune!” he called down. “Are you perchance preparing for our final trial, or have you decided it too risky a proposition?” He then noticed Dante and screwed up his face in confusion. “Orpheus? Since when did you abandon your abode?”
Dante shrugged. What did Byron symbolise, anyway? Katrina was his past, and Emily was his future, so did that make Byron the present? No, it couldn’t. Byron d’Arcadie represented something—someone—else: someone as equally pretentious and undeserving of the praised heaped upon him.
“At any rate, I was making preparations, if you’d care to join?” said the subconscious representation of Dante’s father.
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If you’re wondering what those ‘twelve notes’ are, go listen to Beethoven’s ‘Sonata quasi una fantasia‘, more commonly known as ‘Moonlight Sonata‘…