Orphic Phantasia

41: Unmasqued

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Realising this was his one and only chance, Dante broke from cover, snatched up Byron’s rapier and charged. A single blow to the back of the head would do it, he thought, a needle-fine thrust into the beast’s central processing unit, or whatever it was that gave it life.

As he leapt to strike, a tentacle lashed out of nowhere and struck him in the chest. Byron’s sword slipping from his grasp, he crashed into the sand, chest burning with pain.

“And what do we have here?” said the octopus, pivoting to face him, its bulbous body a behemoth of blubber dripping with slime and seawater. Beneath its bulk, a maw of knives and skewers clattered and clanged with anticipation. As the smell of rotting flesh reached his lungs, Dante felt his stomach lurch. Before he could even think to escape, the beast seized his leg and hoisted him aloft.

“Thought you could hide away while your mates did all the hard work, did ya?” it said, its gluttonous eye filling Dante’s vision, a luminous orb of liquid yellow split with blood-red cruelty. “Pathetic! The ladies ain’t gonna look twice at a coward like you.” It tightened its grip on Dante’s leg, sending a scream of pain sweeping through his body. “No wonder that bint ran off with Mr Mireille. He’s the epitome of manhood compared to you!”

This close, the gwa-ha-ha of its laughter was like a rain of steel fists slamming into Dante’s battered abdomen. He felt what little he’d eaten that day stir inside him, his throat convulse with the bitter taste of bile. With a violent splutter, a half-eaten takeaway meal spilled over the sand.

“I know how ya feel,” said the octopus. “The thought of a pretty girl like ‘er bent over a table, pleading with a bloke like ‘im to do it harder, harder, harder!” It started to make obscene noises, mock groans of pleasure interspersed with its cackling laughter. “Bet the little whore can’t get enough of it. I tell, ya, if I get my hands on her…”

Dante hung there, helpless before the beast’s laughter, the cheers of the audience—and the watching eyes of Seelie. A tickle of bile ran down his cheek and into his hair. After all his posturing, the world could see him as he truly was: not as a man with delusions of grandeur, or even as a child, longing for his mother, but as a failure. A miserable, cowardly failure.

Somewhere, deep inside of him, he heard a voice. No, a choir of voices, singing a twelve-note song.


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I sure hope someone tells Dante to stop whining soon.