“You should be thankful we asked you,” said the Prince. “All you stand to do is break some hearts, ruin a few friendships, imprint an unquenchable desire into a handful of souls, but nothing serious, nothing we can’t—how should we put this?—rearrange. Our Princess, however? I think her spreading a little gossip should be the least of your concerns.”
He gestured towards her bedroom window—but, instead of Torsten it now looked out across an ocean of trees that made the oaks of beeches of Torhout look like saplings, with the tallest among them so vast their winding trunks pierced the clouds. And, beyond their boughs, bathing the forest in iridescent light, hung a pulsating star, suspended upon a whirlwind of an axis.
“This is my world,” said Freyr. “The Queendom of Áine Echraide and realm of the Áes Gáeth, the People of Wind.”
Emily walked up to her window, unable to resist the scene’s allure. It was like something from a dream, and yet something far beyond a dream, as if the Prince had stripped away all the layers of illusion between Heaven and Earth.
He threw her an amused smirk over his shoulder, a flash of—was it pride in his emerald eye? “Any ordinary human would cower at such a sight,” he said. “But even his genius has its limits.”
The forest seemed to fade as the star flared up, growing in size and splendour as if it were falling towards them. Emily staggered back, lifting an arm to protect her eyes, but the image had burned itself into her memory and, as it grew closer, brighter, she thought she might lose herself to that blazing, all-encompassing Light—the Light that stripped everything away, every layer, every wall, every secret, until all was One and One was All. She cried out; she didn’t want to go there—
Darkness. The vision faded into memory, and then into nothing, except for a lingering fear and a stinging migraine, as if she had just gazed too long at the sun.
“The Light reveals all,” said the Prince, “and beneath its glare even I cannot lie. It is the fear of that Light that anchors all worlds, fear of that Truth which turns the wheels of life and death and life again—and it is my darling Dionysus’s belief that Princess Phantasia is an agent of that Light, an avatar of Truth before whom no one can lie and no one can deceive. Even one such as you, who can stare unblinking into the realm beyond dreams and past death, cannot claim no fear of such a thing.”
Emily dug her nails into her arms until she felt them break skin. “It was like … dying. I thought I was dying.”
“Then you are clearly not frightened enough. But that is understandable.” Within the blink of an eye, Prince Freyr stood admiring his reflection in her bathroom mirror. “After all, you are blessed! You have but one lifetime to your name. Others do not have that luxury. For them, the moment they stare into that Light could well be the moment they stare into a past best forgotten—and who knows what shadows might arise from their denial. As I said,” he turned, and his ubiquitous smile had vanished, a severe, tightened frown in its place, “gossip should be the least your concerns.”
Emily pushed the memories out of her mind—not here, she thought, not now. “And you would risk that?” she asked.
The Prince swaggered across her lounge and picked up Leira’s copy of ‘A Grimoire of Fiannan Sealing Magicks’, which he quickly cast aside with a bemused scowl. “You do not understand Dionysus as I do,” he said. “If fear is to be the instrument of his revelation, then so be it. He will do whatever it takes to save this world from the Erebus.” He sighed, like a love-struck teenager reminiscing about his crush. “You see now where Princess Phantasia gets her ideals from, yes?”
Outside, the evening sun sunk towards the horizon, scattering wild strokes of pink and red across the clouds. In the distance, the World’s End stood in silhouette, silently waiting for the coming night and its waves of hedonistic ravens, desperate to forget the doom they believed imminent. As much as she loathed their grotty shrine and its violent music, Emily envied them. What she would give—the price she would pay!—to avoid all this, to escape all these impossible choices.
“I could grant such a wish, if only you were to ask it,” said the Prince. “But understand that my dear Dionysus has planned for every possible outcome, including your flight into blissful ignorance, so whatever you decide makes no difference to him—but it will make a difference to your friends.”
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To say this scene has a lot to unpack would be an understatement—hence why it’s received a complete overhaul in the 2018 cleanup.