24: The Day That Never Came
The lonely mountain peeked over the southern horizon, a hazy silhouette on a late summer’s afternoon. It was hard to believe it seventy miles away, far beyond the wilderness that seemed to stretch on for infinity. Truly, the people of the Cities could work miracles. Dante had already worked out that it would take him months to traverse the distance on foot—and perhaps longer, if he believed Byron d’Arcadie. He had made the opposite journey and claimed it was fraught with perils he only survived through his keen wits and cunning.
Dante had neither wits nor cunning. If he tried to reach Malkuth as he was, he would be dead within a day.
“Hey, mind if I keep you company?”
It was Katy Ritches. Dante mumbled an acknowledgement, and she slipped onto the bench next to him. Despite all that had happened, she still had her rosy-cheeked smile. She handed him an apple fresh from a nearby tree.
“Shelley dropped off some homework for you,” she said. “She says you missed a really boring agriculture lesson, but that she wrote something in lit class she wants you to look at.”
He grumbled at the thought. A week ago, just before everything changed, he would have listened to her stories and tried to illustrate them with paints and pencils, but since he had started reading through the Malkuthian Tablet, he found his enthusiasm for fantasy slipping away. It was a childish thing, and Dante had to focus on becoming an adult.
Katy Ritches, he thought, was a good role model. She was herself on the cusp of adulthood, though she hid the signs beneath several layers of baggy clothing. And, unlike Shelley, who spent so much of her time in imaginary worlds, Katy actually seemed to care about the world around her.
“Any news from the council meeting?” he asked, before taking a bite out of the apple. It left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth.
Katy’s usual glow faded to a hard frown of frustration. “Ma says we’ve got to send the Donaran refugees back into the forest,” she said. “The town council say they have ‘irrefutable evidence’”—she mimicked a pair of quotation marks, a gesture she had learned from her friend, Phoenix Rogan—”of ‘conspiracy to harm the community’. They want the Donara out of Torsten for good.”
Dante nodded. He didn’t really understand town politics, but he knew it was an adult thing to be interested in, and he had to start acting like an adult.
“It’s all because of the Sophists,” Kat continued. “Phoenie says they’ve taken up the Donara’s seats on the council. They promised to help ‘protect the town’”—more air quotes—”from further ‘corruption’. We’re not sure what they mean by that, but they’ve apparently demanded control of the Scar, and that the council should cut Seelie’s funding because Chief Payne has ‘failed to put Torsten’s needs first and foremost’.”
Dante remembered his parents ranting about the Sophist Aristocracy and their attempts to muscle in on Seelie’s territory. Back then, he had no idea who the Sophists were, but after his encounter with the armoured figures in the forest, he wasn’t about to forget them any time soon. Nor was he going to forgive them.
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You know the world has gone a bit screwy when children take an active interest in local politics!