Orphic Phantasia

20: Poison

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“I thought you might have ditched me,” she shouted, wrapping her arms around his waist and dragging them into a perfect moment far away from the surrounding battle. Dante wondered what he should do. Was this the part where he whispered poetry in her ear, or where he stuck his tongue down her throat? He just stared at her instead, at her totally-not-a-crescent-moon-but-nice-enough smile. She giggled, then pulled him in close. He prepared for the kiss, but she moved her lips to his ear instead. “You’re the first guy I’ve met who could keep his hands to himself,” she said.

Dante’s hands were in his pockets. Maybe he was hoping for advice from the Tablet. Unfortunately, it was sitting on his desk, next to his cellular, across the other side of town. That wasn’t much help! With a dimpled half-smile, Arachne took his hands in hers. They were cold, so very cold, like she’d been digging in snow or something. Not that they had snow in this part of the world. Or maybe they did. He wondered if it might snow through that big hole in the ceiling. Whose idea was it to build a dance hall inside a cooling tower, anyway? What if it rained?

“You’re looking thoughtful,” said Arachne, “What’s on your mind?”

“Won’t we get wet if it rains?” he asked.

She laughed. “They have a cover. We’re not that backwards.” She cocked her head to one side, studied him. He studied her back. He figured he was doing the right thing because she laughed again. “Such a strange boy,” she said.

“I’m not a boy.”

She stepped forward until their cheeks were touching again. “Shall we find someplace quiet so you can show me how much of a man you really are?” she asked.

“They do quiet?”

They did quiet. In fact, they did a lot of quiet. Past the toilets and along a corridor, they did a whole street of quiet. Arachne picked a door at random and led Dante inside. It was a small room, but cosy, with a table, chairs and a sofa that looked ready to collapse into another dimension. Arachne teased him towards it. Was she going to drag him down into that other world? He would probably go there—no, he would totally go there.

Her grey-green eyes fixated on his chest as she ran her fingers along his muscles. “Definitely not a boy,” she said. And then she reached up and pulled him into her. Actually into her. Well, her mouth, anyway. It took a moment for him to realise she wasn’t trying to eat his face. Although, he figured, she kinda was. It was a bit like drowning, or at least how he imagined drowning must feel—drowning in a river of lips and saliva and tongue. She was running her fingers up and down his back, digging her claws into him. Was he supposed to do the same? Then, with a gasp of breath, it was over—at least until she fell back into the sofa and tried to pull him with her.

Dante stood there, wondering what he should do next. He’d never really given it much thought. In fact, he usually did everything he could to not think about it. The City was very much against that sort of thing. It was a barbaric behaviour. But there was Arachne, waiting for him, pleading with him. Only it wasn’t Arachne, at least not in his imagination—it was Emily.

Emily! What would she do if she saw him? What was he even doing here? He cast a paranoid look around the tiny room, at its dark corners and crevices, afraid somebody was watching, if not Emily then the City itself. The sudden rush of anxiety overwhelmed any influence the drink had over him. His blood was his mother’s blood. No poison could hold him for long.

He sat down, breaths shallow and quick, body trembling as if he’d stepped out into the Antarctic snows. He needed another drink, or more drugs, sedatives or stimulants or anything to take the fear away.

Arachne popped up beside him. “You okay?” she asked.

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Actually, the Cities don’t so much condemn physical intimacy so much as they do sterilise it, until it’s such a normal, everyday thing that no one much cares for it anymore. The people of the higher terraces don’t even see a point to it. They’re almost immortal, so what could they possibly need with suck a strange and icky ritual? But, of course, the more you deny a thing…