Chapter 22

The Night Everything Changed

part one

Dante Orpheus took a step back and studied his painting. The Sapphire Queen, the ruler of the Áes Uisce, Her Majesty Queen Thetis Mysticeti, looked back at him with azure eyes framed by great tides of hair spilling down the sides of her face. He thought her seashell crown could use a little more work, but at least everything was in proportion this time. Gydia Lilian had made an excellent reference.

He placed his palette down and washed his brush in the glass sitting next to his easel. It would be many years before he could paint like his mother. Ophelia Orpheus could snatch images from dreams and paint them as if they were real. Her portrait of the turquoise-haired storm-spirit, Princess Europa, was especially vivid. It had taken pride of place on the wall of all their homes, even their current, cramped little burrow. So skilled was his mother’s hand that Dante sometimes thought the painting alive, watching him with rain-cloud eyes. It didn’t help that, one day, he caught his mother talking to it, a streak of tears on her fragile cheeks.

She didn’t like to admit it, but Ophelia Orpheus cried a lot. Dante could tell just by looking at her pale-winter eyes, despite how much she would protest otherwise. When his mother was happy, she would smile a crescent-moon and it would brighten even the darkest of winter days.

Today, however, was not one of those days.

With a rustle of beads, she entered the room wearing a forced smile. Dante spotted the flecks of tears on her checks, tiny diamonds under the light. She cooed her approval of his painting, as poor as it was compared to her own, and wrapped her arms around him.

“Have you been poking around inside my dreams again?” she asked.

He blushed. It wasn’t intentional. At least, not always. It was the way she told her stories. Other people would just sit there and talk—or write them down and expect you to read them—but not his mother, not Ophelia Orpheus. She would reach out her hands and he would see her dreams as if they were his own. And, sometimes, when she was asleep and he sat nearby, eyes closed, senses dulled, they were.

His mother kissed the crown of his head. “I’m sure Queen Thetis would love it,” she said. “Maybe we can show it to her one day.”

One day. He had wanted to meet the Sidhe for as long as he could remember, and he was growing impatient. “I need to earn my wings first,” he said.

His mother rubbed his shoulders. He could feel her lips twitch, the grimace she tried to hide behind a smile. “You don’t have to join Seelie. There are other ways to meet the Sidhe.”

But she was wrong: Dante had to join Seelie. The moment he finished his schooling, he would sign up for the local Initiate Program and prove himself worthy of a place at the Academy. Then, finally, with the wings of Seelie pinned to his chest, he would have the strength to protect her. To save her. That was his promise.

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This chapter has completely consumed my Sunday. I hate chapters like that.