Orphic Phantasia

41: Unmasqued

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Even as he tried to lose himself in an unending moment, Dante screamed. Any second now his leg would shatter and slip from the monster’s grasp like jelly. Somewhere behind the sound of his own terror, Lance was shouting, trying to draw the beast’s attention elsewhere, lure it into another dance—but even his cries of “Charlie” had little effect. It was too busy gloating, too focused on Dante’s suffering.

It wrapped a tentacle around his other leg. “I wonder what’ll happen if I pull one off,” it said.

As it tightened its grip, a gong sounded through the arena. The beast rolled its eyes to the side, to where the spotlights had once again fallen upon the Sultan.

“It would seem that the terms of this contest have changed,” he said. “Charybdis, I am afraid to announce that Jonas Mireille is dead. We found what little remained of him not two minutes ago.”

Dead?” The beast chortled, a rotten, gurgling sound from somewhere deep inside its blubbery body. “And what about that bird? You got a hold of ‘er, right?” Its tentacles quivered at the thought.

“Aliza Adel is nowhere to be found,” replied the Sultan. “It seems Jonas Mireille overestimated how important these boys were to her.”

The beast turned its attentions back to Dante, its eyes now filled with a ravenous malice. “So, does that mean…?”

“By all means, my octopian friend. They have outlived their usefulness, and I would hate to leave such a large and excitable audience disappointed!”

As hideous as it was, as monstrous and inhuman, the beast appeared to smile.

Dante’s body lurched upwards, his dead leg flailing out behind him. The ceiling was getting closer. No—he was falling. Falling towards that maw of clicking, clacking knives, that machine designed to dice flesh and crush bone. He wanted to escape. Anywhere but here. Anywhere…

He felt the air cushion his fall, his body slow, his pain slip away. As lightning danced beneath him, as shapes and fireworks exploded around the monstrous mouth, he found himself standing upright, suspected in mid-air. Safe. Opposite him, Natalia Espinosa, the stern Seelie Captain and haunted survivor of the Donara, managed a rare smile.

“It’s okay,” she said. “Just relax and leave the rest to us. Deep breaths, remember?”

In for four, hold for two, out for four, hold for two. Dante felt her reassurance pulsing through his body, her encouragement like a warm day’s sunshine, casting away the clouds of doubt. They were flying—or perhaps they were falling? Either way, it didn’t matter. For now, at least, he believed.

They came to rest just as the beast dove into the lake to escape a volley of lightning-blue shapes—Dante thought he saw a large cat, as big as a person, and some kind of bird, maybe an eagle or falcon. Then, remembering his injuries, he toppled forwards and into Ms Espinosa’s waiting arms. Despite all his best instincts, he clung to her as if she were his mother.

“Don’t worry,” she said, whispering into his ear. “We’ll have you fixed up by sundown.”

Across the other side of the arena, the Sultan was fuming. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded over the confused chatterings of his audience. “Seelie has no right to interfere in my jurisdiction!”

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They don’t call Sohrabarak al-Hakim ‘Lightning Shaper’ for nothing.