“I guess so.” Kat didn’t look like she believed it and continued to tug at her hair. Emily wanted to change the subject, to talk about something relaxing, something that wouldn’t leave either of them on edge, but her own head was such a mess of anxieties she couldn’t hope to find the right thread. She wasn’t like her mother. Aliana Adel would know just the thing to say at a time like this. She always did. It was her job — and a job she had always hoped her daughter would avoid.
What would Leira do? Emily thought to herself.
Ten minutes later, they were sipping green tea — a far better answer to stress than any of Byron’s drugs, they agreed — when Dante shuffled in and collapsed on the empty sofa between them.
“I told you to relax,” said Kat.
“I’m relaxed,” he replied.
Kat frowned. “It takes longer than that to detox, Dante.”
Longer for ordinary people, at least. Emily got up to pour him a mug of tea. For someone like her, drugs only provided a temporary experience. It was why she never accepted Kaori’s offer of alcohol; once her body knew a drug, it killed it dead. A maiden’s blessing.
“How much did you take?” asked Kat, as Emily handed him his tea. He eyed it suspiciously — it wasn’t his usual coffee — but accepted it none the less.
“Not enough,” he replied.
From the hard line of Katrina’s frown, it was obvious she was making a great effort to hold back her temper. “Going by the state you were in when we found you…”
“I was tired. It’s been a long day.”
“And the last time you had a decent night’s sleep?”
“I slept an hour last night,” he said, “and three the night before.”
Kat didn’t reply. It wasn’t a surprising revelation. Emily sat down next to him, hoping that her smile might somehow help his body’s fight against the sedatives. She wanted to ask how he managed to astrally project despite his disbelief in such things, but now was not the time. Instead, she gestured towards Byron’s diorama and asked, “You think you’re up to it then? Kat’s got everything planned out already.”
“No,” Kat cut in without a moment’s pause. “Not in his condition.”
But, unlike her, Emily knew there was no room for argument. Dante had to enter the Scar. They all did. The Sidhe set this up, just as they set up their exams — and just as they set up their trip to a Seelie training facility. They were all ‘alternatives’, all ways for them to find what they were looking for. Just like Emily herself.
And she did not want that responsibility. She knew the consequences. The Scar might be troublesome, and it might even be dangerous, but it was better than the alternative. Better for her, better for everybody — especially Dante.
Thankfully, he was on her side. “I’ll be fine,” he said, waving aside Katrina’s concern.
“And he’ll have us to look after him,” said Emily, her smile doing little to dent Katrina’s scowl.
With the sound of his door sliding shut, Byron added, “And myself, too, of course. It was my folly that brought this drama about, so I feel it only appropriate I make amends.”
Trust Byron to take advantage of the situation to promote his own chivalry — not that Emily could ever hate him for it. For all his posturing, she knew he had a good heart. After all, she wasn’t always such a pleasant person herself.
Katrina sighed in defeat, her anger for the day spent. “Can we at least wait until Dante is detoxed?”
“Very well,” said Byron. “I only hope that Astrid Guirlande does not bring her father’s justice down in the meanwhile.”
Oscar York strode out of the forest with his chin held high and a spring in his step. Had he known things would turn out like this at the start of the day, he might well have tackled his exams with a little less enthusiasm — that last one especially. One of these days, he thought, he might meet a princess who wasn’t a crazy person attached to the body of a goddess. And that Phantasia had been crazier than Ceres Mendoza and Astrid Guirlande combined.
Still, at least he had impressed Natalia Espinosa enough to bring the day’s achievements to a passable seven out of twelve. Not that he would have to concern himself with such trite trivialities much longer. In fact, he thought he might keep Seelie’s crystal as a token of his success. That was, after all, what they symbolised, and Oscar was about to accomplish his ultimate victory.
To bring down Seelie.
The Return of Matt Berry!