16: A Crack in the Mask
“But what concerns me,” continued the Director, “is how a young man such as yourself could come by such a cursed thing. They are not handed out freely.” He reached up and stroked his beard. “Unless…”
His face dropped, paled in the darkness, as if all the life had drained out of him. “Ophelia,” he said. “They got to her, didn’t they?”
“They got her, Aliana. Pleiades got Ophelia”
The Director lips dissolved to a thin frown. “Arided.”
If speaking the name ‘Erebus’ was the equivalent of sticking a knife in Dante’s gut, then ‘Arided’ was like flaying him alive. He took a staggering step away from the Director, then another. He looked like he could fall at any moment. Emily started towards him.
“Mr Orpheus,” said the Director, “Dante, you have my sincerest apologies. I thought your mother dead, or at worst consumed, but if they have her—”
“No! I won’t let you deceive me! She’s safe now!”
The Director turned his ashen face towards Emily, then Dante, then Emily again, as if filling in the blanks of his own puzzle. Then his sympathy turned to anger. “This is—”
But, before he could say another word, the walls that protected them from the shadow-mass outside gave way, and the world turned dark.
He drifted through the Dark. The other world — worlds — seemed so distant, so meaningless, like dreams that would soon fade. In one, he spent six years of his short life working towards a goal that did not exist; in the other, he found himself face-to-face with truths he would rather deny. One world was pale, monochrome, infused with an irritating fog that crept around a town lost in time; the other was pale, monochrome, infused with an irritating fog that crept around a forest devoid of life.
What was the difference, really? They were the same. Everything was the same.
An endless, repeating lie.
An endless, repeating song.
He looked up and saw her hanging there, tethered to the Dark, naked and alone, barely a shadow in a world of nothing. If this was the truth, if this was reality, then maybe it was for the best if Theia fell.
Let Theia fall, so death shows us the way to a—
“Who are you?”
The question overpowered the song. Was it his voice? He’d almost forgotten what it sounded like. No, it was another, a familiar voice, female…
“Who are you?”
He thought for a moment. Could he even answer that question? What point was a name when you were alone?
“Who are you?”
The voice grew more insistent and he realised then that there was someone standing with him, watching him with eyes like a twilight sky and a smile as delicate as a crescent moon. She reached out and took his hands in hers. He could tell her anything. She was his saviour.
He recoiled as darkness exploded into light.
Chapter 16 End
You wouldn’t believe how close we just got to Something Really Very Bad happening here…