22: The Night Everything Changed (Part One)
“She is,” said Lady Mendoza, emerging from the other bedroom, “and we must do everything in our power to make sure they stay together.”
Dante’s mother emerged from behind her and hurried over to her son. Though her cheeks were still wet with tears, she wore a brave frown. Dante reached out and took her hand. It wasn’t much, but, more often than not, it was enough.
“Dante,” said Lady Mendoza, “you and your mother must leave this place at once. You are no longer safe here.”
Dante nodded. There was no other explanation needed. His mother was special. She was a maiden of the Orpheus family, who walked the places no others could walk and saw the things no others could see. It was a power that some would pay a high price to control.
“Where are we going?” he asked. He hoped they would move back to the Ritches Estate for a while.
His mother forced a smile. “It’s a surprise,” she replied.
Lady Mendoza instructed her companions to take Dante’s satchel and begin moving things out of the burrow. As they did, his mother pulled on her boots and wrapped herself in her oversized cloak. It could make her invisible with a gesture, though Dante always seemed to know where she was, no matter what. She once told him that it was proof he was an Orpheus. “Who else could see me but one of our own?” she had said.
As Dante pulled on some boots and a warm coat, his mother gathered some supplies from the kitchen. Then, with little pause to say goodbye to their home of six months, they were off. Lady Mendoza led them through the torchlit burrows, avoiding the paths that would take them up to the forest and heading deeper into the earth. Dante kept a hold of his mother’s hand as the light faded from warming fire to the cold, sickly green of the catacombs. There was an armed and armoured Donaran warrior waiting for them where the earthen passageway opened up to the machine-made tunnels.
“This is where we part,” said Lady Mendoza. “Oihana shall accompany you as you make your escape. I will do what I can to help, but the longer we delay, the less chance you have of escape. Are you ready, Ophelia?”
“I’m ready,” she replied.
Lady Mendoza looked down at Dante as she would a child lost in the forest and forced a smile. “Be brave, Dante Orpheus,” she said, brushing her fingertips against his cheek. “Your mother needs you now more than ever. I only wish I could promise an end to this madness, but the Donara do not break their promises.”
She kissed his forehead, then embraced his mother one last time. “You have my blessings, both of you,” she said, “and those of our people. There is nothing more to say. They will be here soon, and I must play my part. Now, run. And may the Queens watch over you.”
And they ran.
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Lady Mendoza is Ceres’s mother, if you were wondering.