Chapter Nine: Departures
The Temple of Apollo's courtyard was an unexpected hive of activity as Callisto emerged, bleary eyed and somewhat unkempt into the dull, grey morning air. From the moisture on the cobbles she could tell there had probably been a mist hanging over the city through the night, and maybe even into the early hours of daylight. It was gone now however, chased away by the first hints of sunlight beginning to break through the heavy clouds over head.
With a wide yawn, she arched her back and stretched her arms out taught in front of her until she heard vertebrae and knuckles give a series of satisfying pops. Some of the kinks thus worked out, she began to make her way down the temple steps, drawing many suspicious and hate-filled glances as she went. She did her best to ignore them but found it harder than usual, and she was not entirely sure why. It had been happening more and more often recently she had noticed; this increasing inability to shrug of that which would have before been as water off a duck's back to her. She had especially noted it the day before when confronted by Barabus, and to an even greater degree during her audience with the Oracle. In the past, their words would have meant nothing to her, but now the old armour she had cultivated since the burning of Cirra was not quite so impervious as it had once been, leaving her more vulnerable than she cared to admit, and allowing them both to hook barbs into her that she could not so easily dismiss. The rumours of her involvement in the burning of villages to the south had not helped matters, and despite the obvious impossibility of the claims that had been made, she could not shake a strange sensation of ice cold fingers running down her spine every time she thought about it. Despite all of this however, she still had a particular image to maintain. Her reputation was the single best defence remaining to her, and while her confidence might have taken something of a pounding over the last several days, she could not allow anyone else to see the cracks in the façade that were beginning to form.
Adopting her best devil-may-care strut, she sauntered across the courtyard to where she could see Ithius standing and talking with Adrasteia, all the while trying to work out exactly why there was so much activity around them. All about the courtyard, servants of the temple moved this way and that, carrying bags of provisions and leading horses. A large number of the Delphi City Guard were present too, in many cases readying the horses and provisions after the servants had delivered them. Most of them were carrying weapons, armour, and camping gear with them, and in most cases were busying themselves with securing their kit to the harnesses of their mounts, as if they were preparing for an extended patrol out in the wild country beyond the city walls.
"Morning," Ithius offered in greeting as Callisto drew within earshot. Adrasteia turned and nodded too. Callisto immediately noticed the girl's red rimmed eyes, and exhausted expression suggesting that she had been crying the night before and had not slept well.
"Morning to you too," she nodded to Ithius before turning her attention to Adrasteia and grinning widely. "And what is it that's got you so restless today? Were you crying yourself to sleep because you're worried I've been up all night having my wicked way with your dear brother?"
Adrasteia's expression darkened but she did not take the bait. Instead she just sighed and turned back to Ithius causing Callisto's grin to widen even further. She did so love to watch Athelis' holier-than-thou little sister squirm.
"Anyway," She continued on, now to no one in particular as she looked about her at the hubub and her grin turned to a confused frown, "this is unexpected. Have you got any idea who all these people are?"
Ithius shook his head.
"Your guess is as good as mine, although I'd lay dinars on it being something to do with us."
"You'd win the bet too," came a fresh voice that cut into their conversation before Callisto could reply. The three of them turned to see Barabus himself emerging from the crowd of people.
"What are you doing here?" Callisto grunted. She had a feeling that she already knew, but was hoping against hope that that feeling was wrong.
"My duty," came Barabus' simple reply.
"Your duty was to give us what we need to ride out and find Sentos," Callisto argued. "Your precious Oracle said as much."
"But she never stated that it would be you who got to determine what those 'needs' would be."
"So you took it on yourself to decide instead?" Callisto said arching an eyebrow at him in barely disguised contempt. "You think we need this? A patrol of City Guard large enough to take on a small village? Has no one ever explained to you the meaning of the words 'low profile'?"
"Low profile?" Barabus' lip curled up in a disgusted sneer as he looked her up and down. "You're going to try and tell me how to keep a low profile?"
"She has a point," Ithius interjected in as calming a fashion as he could manage. "Sentos is almost undoubtedly around the coast to the South East of here, but Demosthenes and his army are somewhere out that way too, and are doubtless coming this way. Time is of the essence here. A smaller group would be able to move faster, make contact with Sentos quicker, and stand a better chance of doing it all without drawing Demosthenes' attention in the process. Sending a force this size south would make all of that much more difficult."
As Ithius spoke, a look of dark amusement began to spread across Barabus' face. Callisto could only roll her eyes in response.
"Oh, just don't waste your breath," she said to Ithius. "He doesn't need an explanation. He's not stupid after all, and I'm sure he's already given some thought to everything you just told him." She took a step toward Barabus, her hard stare meeting his. "But in the end, he's decided none of those things matter because, really, they aren't related to why he's doing this."
"So why is he doing it then?" Adrasteia asked looking confusedly between them.
"Isn't it obvious?" Barabus replied. Despite the smug, self-satisfied expression on his face, his voice was hard and cold.
"He's doing it because of me," Callisto said.
"You're kidding right?" Adrasteia sounded surprised, and then suddenly more earnest when no one immediately reassured. "I mean you have to be? Right?"
Callisto found herself wondering if the girl's apparent naivety was simply an act, or if she really was just that clueless as the girl turned to stare at Barabus with new found understanding.
"You'd risk this city's best chance at safety," she said, her voice now genuinely stunned, "it's best chance of survival, by draining it of half the Guard and then sending them into the lion's den, just to spite her?" She gave a single nod in the direction of Callisto.
Barabus shot the younger woman an angry look.
"This isn't to spite anyone," he hissed. "You might think Demosthenes and his army are the biggest threat we face, but Callisto is just as dangerous; maybe even more so. We had her in our grasp once before and we let her slip through our fingers. Look at the damage that caused; the loss, the pain, the destruction and the deaths. I will not allow that to happen again. Ever. Not while it is within my power to prevent it."
He turned his attention back to Callisto and Ithius.
"My orders were to see to it that you have everything you need to make contact with this Sentos and his rogue Spartans. That I've done. You have supplies, horses-"
"An escort," Callisto cut in and Barabus smiled dryly.
"There's a reason I'm the commander of the Guard," he said. "Can you guess what it is?"
"The fact that you're a petty, anal retentive?"
Barabus' smile faltered only slightly at the jab.
"I prefer to think of it as my ability to provide peace of mind," he said. "I leave nothing to chance."
"Like letting a known mass murderer wander the country side without a leash?" Callisto offered sarcastically.
"And if, for your 'peace of mind', we all end up dead?" This from Ithius.
"Then at least I'll die safe in the knowledge that she'll be heading to Tartarus alongside me."
Callisto gave a sigh and folded her arms across her chest.
"So I take that to mean you're coming along too?"
Barabus did not reply, instead just smiling as he backed away from them, before turning on his heel and making his way off into the crowd of people once more.
It was less than a quarter hour later that Callisto was readying a mount that had been granted to her by one of temple's stable hands. It was one of a long line of similar animals, each secured to a long hitching rail and being tended to by their individual riders. This particular horse was a large but somewhat unkempt looking dark brown stallion that seemed relatively passive when compared to some others she had ridden. The animal was chewing on feed from a trough, casting her only the most cursory of backward glances and twitching its tail as she slung her saddle across its back and began to fasten its harness.
She was in the middle of tightening the harness straps when she felt eyes on her back. At first, she thought it was just some local Delphian, probably watching her warily as she worked, but after a little time had passed she began to recognise the familiar presence of the person behind her.
"You're not coming along?" She said without turning around.
"Even if I did, do you honestly think I could make a difference out there?" It was Adrasteia who spoke.
Callisto turned and regarded her coolly. The girl was standing a couple of strides away, arms folded in apparent annoyance, but her expression did not match the rest of her body language. She looked pensive and uncomfortable.
"Not really," Callisto said. "But I thought you might still be wanting to keep an eye on me."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, it's hardly like you trust me."
"Themistocles said I should be careful who I trust. I'm pretty sure he was including you in that statement."
"Especially me I'd wager," said with a nod. "A smart man." Adrasteia cocked her head slightly in surprise and Callisto frowned. "Did I say something wrong?"
"It's just I never thought I'd hear you do that," Adrasteia said. "Pay someone a compliment I mean."
"There are precious few who deserve them." Callisto turned back to tightening straps. "So, if you're not coming along what do you plan to do here? Go back to being just another of your Oracle's hand maidens? Just another glorified fetcher and carrier?"
"I think I can be a little more use than that."
"Only a little?" Callisto replied casting a backward glance and an arched eyebrow at her. Adrasteia chose to ignore the slight instead taking a conspiratorial step forward.
"I have the book," she said softly. "The one Ithius brought to the city that belonged to your friend Monocles."
Callisto stared at her steadily.
"And?" She said, hardly impressed.
"Well it's important isn't it?" Adrasteia replied, looking somewhat put out. "I mean, it may have even cost Monocles his life. If we can find a complete copy-"
"We might be able to find out what it is they were trying to hide from us when they killed Monocles." Callisto nodded, completely unimpressed. "I had this talk with Ithius already."
"But you don't think it's important?"
"Did I say that?"
"You certainly made it sound that way."
Callisto rolled her eyes.
"Do I look like a librarian to you?" She said, barely able to keep the exasperation out of her voice. "I wasn't the one poking around libraries and dusty city archives with Monocles when he found it the first time. He did that on his own. Maybe the book is important, maybe it isn't, I don't know. What I do know is that in a war you concentrate on the most achievable and relevant tasks first. Finding that book isn't going to keep Demosthenes' men from breaking into this city when they finally get here and stopping that from happening is what I'm most concerned with right now. If you want to go sniffing around in search of another copy, I say have at it. At the very least it will keep you out from under foot and keep me from having to rescue you again like I did at Tryxis." She turned away from her mount once more. "Now is that it? Are we done? I don't know if you realise but we are on something of a schedule here and we're already burning daylight."
Adrasteia stiffened slightly but held her ground nevertheless.
"There is something else," she said, placing her hands on her hips as she did so. "It's about my brother."
"Your brother?" Callisto replied, glancing briefly down the row of horses to the end where Athelis was already finishing up his own preparations like Callisto would have been by now if she was not being consistently disturbed. "Why am I not surpised?"
"I don't want him to go with you again," Adrasteia said firmly. "Not this time."
Callisto's top lip curled back in a sneer.
"Touching," she said. "Really it is, seeing you worry about him so and trying to protect him from my bad influence, but I've got news for you Adrasteia; Athelis is a big boy now. He can come and go as he pleases. If he chooses to come with me-"
"Then that's his choice," Adrasteia nodded. "You're right of course, and if that really is what he wants then I'll certainly respect it, but I worry that it's not his choice. Not really."
Callisto's sneer fell away and instead she frowned at the other woman again, somewhat confused.
"Why wouldn't it be his choice?" She said. "No one's forcing him to come with me."
"Did anyone force you to do the things you did?" Adrasteia answered. "I'm fairly certain they didn't. Afterall, who could force you to do anything?"
Callisto grinned slightly at that but said nothing.
"But I'm also fairly certain," Adrasteia continued, "that if I were to ask you why you did those things I'd get the same answer he would give me. That you didn't have a choice, that you didn't choose to become what it was you became, and that it was someone else who made you that way."
She paused and looked down at her feet, shuffling uncomfortably as she did so. When she looked back up again something had changed about her. There was no longer the fierce and intense dislike for Callisto behind her eyes that Callisto normally noticed. Instead, Adrasteia just looked sad; sad and more than a little tired.
"He won't listen to me," she continued. "Me or anyone else. He doesn't think we understand him or that we know the kind of pain he's in. Perhaps he's right, and we don't." She paused as if what she were about to say was taking a great deal of effort for her to admit. "You do, though."
"And what if I don't think he's wrong to want the things he does?" Callisto said darkly. "What if I think he's more than justified in wanting to track down Pelion and end him?"
"But you don't think that, do you?" Adrasteia said. "Not anymore. You know better than anyone else that no good can come from this mission of his; that he'll lose himself to it one way or the other." She lowered her gaze once more and this time she did not look back up. "Maybe you don't understand this, but he's the only family I have left. I know he thinks he lost everything, but I'm asking you now to help me show him that he didn't."
Callisto did not know what to say. Adrasteia did not understand. That much was obvious, and how could she? Yes, she had lost people in her life, people she was close to no doubt, but she had not had them taken from her the way Athelis had, the way Callisto herself had. She could not comprehend the pain of that, and yet, at the same time...
She opened her mouth to speak, but her throat suddenly felt dry, and before she could say anything, a loud gong strike rang out across the temple courtyard; the signal that it was time for the troops to move out. The echoing sound snapped her out of her sudden introspection, and she felt a small spark of anger in her gut at the other woman. No, Adrasteia did not, and could not understand, and that was the end of it. Grabbing her horse's reins, she fixed her jaw and glared defiantly back at the younger woman.
"His choices are his own," she said, her voice cold and hard. "Now it's time for me to leave."
Adrasteia stared at her, her mouth a tightening to a thin, pale line as that anger Callisto was so familiar with ignited behind her eyes again.
"So I was wrong then," she said with a disappointed nod. "That's sad. I was hoping that I wasn't."
With that, she turned and stalked off across the courtyard leaving Callisto standing next to her horse. The animal gave a snort and tossed its head, prompting a her to give a vicious tug on the reins.
"Don't you start," she snarled at it, as she swung herself up into the saddle, and began to trot across the stone courtyard to meet with the rest of the gathering Delphians. Athelis was already there, astride his own mount, and next to Ithius.
She felt a strange churning feeling in her gut as the approached them. Had Adrasteia been wrong? The girl was right about Athelis' little vendetta, that much was true. That there was no peace to be found in vengeance was a hard lesson she had learned way too late. What she was less certain of however, was whether or not she actually thought that made it worth him turning his back on it. Was Athelis still salvageable? Or was he already as far gone as she herself, and more importantly, why did she even care?
"What was all that about?" Ithius asked as she rode up to them, nodding toward Adrasteia's departing figure.
"Oh, nothing much." Callisto said, doing her best to adopt her usual uncaring attitude, but still feeling the gnawing doubts that Athelis' sister had instilled in her. "She just wanted to give me a bit of encouragement, you know. Pep me up a bit before the journey."
From the front of the gathered troops, Barabus gave a barked command for the unit to move out, and so they did, each member of the group guiding their horses into two parallel riding columns. Callisto found herself riding behind Ithius and with Athelis immediately on her right.
"Really?" he said with a disbelieving frown. "My sister did that?"
"Oh yes," Callisto nodded barely able to keep the sudden amusement she was feeling out of her voice. She had made a decision as they had begun to ride, and when she had, that small curdling feeling of guilt in her stomach had disappeared almost immediately. "Picked me right up too. Quite the inspirational speak when she wants to be, isn't she?"
Athelis gave a snort of wry amusement.
"Teia?" she said. "Hardly. She used to scold me worse than father did. She always had this way of speaking that made me feel about two inches tall-"
Callisto nodded along as he spoke, surreptitiously slipping the dagger she had at her waist out from its sheath, then suddenly bending low over her horse's flank. Before Athelis could respond, she had lashed out with the dagger and cut the harness on his mount. With a surprised cry, the former mercenary toppled sideways onto the courtyard cobbles as his saddle tipped from the horse's back. A ripple of laughter went up from the column at the sight of his fall, but Athelis apparently did not see the funny side. He was on his feet almost immediately, his face flushed with anger, and his eyes blazing hot.
"Callisto!" he shouted after her, scrabbling to grab his saddle up from the cobbles and jogging to try to catch back up to his horse which had wandered clear of the rest of the riders and was now standing a few yards away, somewhat bewildered at having lost its rider. "You can't do this to me!"
"Just you try and stop me," Callisto snarled twisting in her saddle. "This mission is important Athelis. Too important to let you and your vendetta get in the way of it."
"You can't keep me from coming with you!" he shouted back. "I'll follow along behind if I have to, but I am coming!"
"No," Callisto repeated, shaking her head as she did so. "You're not." She raised her voice as the distance between them began to increase. "And, trust me, if I catch you even trying to follow us, I'll do far worse than cut your horse's harness!"
With that, the column passed beyond the temple courtyard and out into the early morning city streets. Callisto turned in her saddle and fixed her eyes on the road ahead. The last she saw of Athelis was him standing, impotent and fuming in the middle of the courtyard beside his mount, clutching tightly to his broken saddle.
"You know," Ithius said, slowing the pace of his own mount so that it could fall into step beside hers. "You could've at least tried to persuade him to stay behind."
"Why bother?" Callisto said. "It wouldn't have worked, and we both know it."
"Maybe," Ithius nodded. "But did people forbidding you from doing anything ever stop you from doing it?"
Callisto did not reply. Instead she gritted her teeth in annoyance as they rode on through the city toward its southernmost gate.
It was not long after Callisto and the others had departed that Adrasteia found herself standing before the Library of Delphi. After leaving the courtyard she had returned to her room in the temple to retrieve the book Ithius had handed over to her the day before. Not wanting to waste any more time, she had stuffed it into a small shoulder satchel and proceeded on her way, all the while stewing over Callisto's unhelpfulness.
Callisto did nothing but confound Adrasteia. On the one hand there were the visions of her, manic and marching at the head of an army that plagued Adrasteia every time she tried to sleep. On the other hand, there was Ithius' belief that she was actually some kind of chosen champion of the gods, and it was the apparent contradiction in those two ideas of the woman Callisto actually seemed to be that were causing Adrasteia so much frustration. No matter how she approached her, Adrasteia just could not seem to get any kind of handle on how Callisto would react at any given time. Most of the time she seemed so gleeful and wicked, delighting in whatever pain and discomfort she could cause those around her. Then there were the other times where, despite her best efforts, she could just seem so much more human than she had any right to. Was that the reason that in her visions of Callisto, the woman's face never quite seemed right, seeming to shift and flicker between personas as if even the vision itself could not quite determine the nature of the woman it was showing her. Were the two versions of her separate and distinct, or were they in fact one and the same?
Adrasteia was pondering this when she finally turned a street corner and emerged into a small square with a statue of some ancient orator at its centre and the entrance to the Library of Delphi just beyond. The Library itself was not a small building, but nor was it an ostentatious one. It squatted, long and wide, flanked on either side by a number of the city's other administrative buildings that also opened out onto the cobbled square Adrasteia was standing in. Where the admin buildings were all of a piece with one another, white and regal looking, the library was like some kind of great stone slab whose bleak grey lines were only occasionally broken by windows barred with iron, so as to keep potential intruders from getting inside any other way than the main double doors or the smaller service entrance toward the rear of the building.
Taking a deep breath, Adrasteia stepped forward, pushing those heavy double doors open and making her way inside, somewhat surprised that they opened at all. Considering how early in the morning it was she had half expected them to still be locked. The entryway was a simple open hall with a sunburst pattern etched into the floor tiles indicating the city's loyalty to Appollo. Somewhat ironically, the entry hall was heavy with gloom, the only daylight filtering in from two pairs of windows to either side of the main doors. Moats of dust swam languidly in the shafts of light. A small desk was situated opposite the main entrance with doors that lead deeper into the library halls beyond situated to either side of it. The desk itself was attended to by a matronly woman with her hair tied up and a bad squint, presumably brought on by the strain of having to make out the tiny print in the heavy, leather bound ledger that open in front of her and that she was currently scratching something into with a white feather quill. Before Adrasteia could make her presence felt herself, the big double doors swung shut behind her with a loud clunking of wood on wood. The woman's head jerked up at the sound, her eyes narrowing even further as she peered through the gloom and tried to make out Adrasteia.
"Why hello there deary!" She said after a moment, her eyes widening delightedly while her tone was all warmth and welcome as she stood to greet Adrasteia. "Is there anything I can help you with this morning?"
Adrasteia paused for a moment, glancing at the chamber all about her.
"I... um... I was just wondering, are you actually open?"
"Oh but of course!" The woman replied, sliding her sizeable frame out from behind the desk and making her way over to Adrasteia, chattering cheerily away as she did so. "I'll admit we don't usually get people here so early, and that's how I like it really, what with the records needing to be updated so often, and everything else, but that's not to say you're not welcome. No not at all. Far from it in fact. After all, what good's keeping all these books and scrolls cooped up in here if no one ever comes to read them, eh?"
She smiled broadly, and for a moment Adrasteia felt the sour mood she had been in since her conversation with Callisto beginning to lift slightly.
"I'm actually only looking to find one book," she said, unslinging the satchel she was carrying. "and a very specific one at that." She pulled the old tome from the bag and handed it to the older woman. "You wouldn't happen to know if the library has another copy of this would you?"
The woman frowned a little as she took the book from Adrasteia, turning it over in her hands so that she could inspect it more carefully.
"'Meditations on Divinity, Aether, and the Nature of Being'," she said, studying the title carefully. "Hardly light reading."
"Do you know it?" Adrasteia asked, doing her best to sound casual.
The woman's frown deepened.
"I recognise the author. Androsius if I'm not mistaken. A minor philosopher at best. A few published works all pretty much reiterating the same points over and over again. He had a bit of an obsession with the nature of religion, and what the Titanomachy represented as a part of our beliefs. I tried reading one or two of them in my younger days, but he's rather dry and I never really found any of them that interesting or insightful. Trust me my dear, there's other authors much worthier of your time."
She passed the book back without opening it, much to Adrasteia's relief. She had not wanted to have to explain the bloodstains within.
"Oh, I just think some of the subjects he raises are worthy of a little further study is all," she said, tucking the text back into its satchel.
"To each their own I guess," the other woman said with a shrug. "But if you don't mind my asking, why are you looking for another copy of this book? I mean, you already have this one don't you? We do have some of his other books if you'd like to take a look at them."
Adrasteia shook her head.
"Sorry but it's this particular book I'm looking for. This copy was damaged you see. A chapter is missing, and it's the chapter I'm actually most interested in."
The made her way back over to the desk and began unraveling several cracked and yellowing scrolls, her finger tracing down a list of what Adrasteia assumed to be titles as she followed after her. After several minutes, the woman turned her attention back to Adrasteia with an apologetic look on her face.
"I'm sorry deary, but it appears that we don't have it on record."
Adrasteia folded her arms and frowned.
"Not on record?" She said. "That doesn't sound like you don't actually have it."
"Well, that's the rub you see," the woman said leaning back in her chair and tapping at the yellowing scrolls before her. "These records are hardly the most up to date list of what we have stored here. My predecessor was dogged in expanding our collection, almost to a fault in fact, but he was quite poor at making sure the records kept pace with his acquisitions. That's why, when I took over, I set myself the task of completing the cataloging he completely failed to do. Unfortunately, it's a much larger task than I had originally envisioned. His records were even worse than I thought, and a good half the books kept here are still unlisted."
"So what you're telling me is that you might actually have a copy of this book, but..."
"...but if we do, I don't know where it is," the woman finished for her, then nodded. "Yes, I'm afraid that's precisely it."
Adrasteia felt herself deflating at the news. For a moment she had found thinking that finding another copy of the book might be just that easy; that she would be able to solve the mystery surrounding the murder of Monocles and whatever secret it was he had been killed to keep. Instead now it looked like she was about to fail at the first hurdle.
Taking a deep breath, she blew out a thin stream of hair from between tight lips as she thought about what to do next.
"Is there anyway I could try looking for it?" she said finally. "Search your archives and see if I can find another copy myself?"
The woman behind the desk gave her a gentle smile.
"It really does mean a lot to you to find this thing doesn't it?" she said.
"More than you know," she replied.
Still smiling the woman heaved herself back up again.
"Then why don't you come with me," she said setting off through one of the doors that led deeper into the library. Adrasteia followed after feeling her spirits lifting as the larger woman opened a door that connected the hallway they were standing in to the libraries main hall. At the sight of what lay beyond, the meager hope she had been building was dashed all the harder.
The main hall was huge.
While the library was clearly large when viewed from the outside, the relatively unassuming nature of its exterior did a good job of camouflaging its sheer volume. The ceiling overhead was high enough to allow two more people to stand on Adrasteia's shoulders and still not scrape their heads against it. Every inch of space seemed occupied too, with dozens – maybe even hundreds – of shelves and scroll racks, each one filled to bursting point and laid out in such a way that they created an apparent labyrinth of old wood and musty papyrus. Here and there spaces were apparent in the occasional gaps between shelves, each usually filled with a reading table and chairs. A person could loose themselves for days trying to find anything in here, and Adrasteia quickly realised that that was very likely what was about to happen to her.
"As you can see," the big librarian next to her said apologetically, "we do have rather a lot of texts still to catalogue. You are of course welcome to search of the book you're looking for. It may be that we do actually have a copy. If we do, your guess as to where to find it is as good as mine. Are you sure you still want to hunt around for it?"
Adrasteia gave a tired sigh, then made her way over to the nearest shelf and began scanning the titles.
"I don't suppose I have any other option really," she said, feeling her dismay growing as she realised the books were often stacked two or three deep, and that many had had their covers changed due to age and damage. This was not going to be a simple matter of scanning book titles. Her search was going to have to be more thorough, she realised; more exhaustive.
"Well just leave you too it then, deary" the big librarian said. "You've quite a daunting search ahead of you after all. If you need anything, just come running. I'll be at the front desk all day." She turned to leave, then paused.
"Oh, one last thing," she said, turning back to Adrasteia a final time. "Do make sure to put everything back where you find it. Cataloging everything is hard enough without people moving everything around. I'll end up not knowing if I'm coming or going."
With that, she turned away again and made her way out of the room, leaving Adrasteia alone among the stacks.
"You and me both," she muttered as she began to heft down her first stack of books.
It was hours later, and Adrasteia had found herself making little headway. At first she had assumed the books to be categorised and alphabetised, but it seemed the librarian had probably been underexagerating earlier when she said that her predecessor had not kept the library in any kind of order. Only about a third of the books and scrolls present seemed to be in any kind of real arrangement leaving her to sort through the rest.
Now she was seated at one of the reading desks, surrounded by piles of books and from a nearby set of shelves, and slowly scanning through each of them to try and determine if any were in fact a copy of what she was looking for. It was tedious to point of being mind numbing, and as she worked, she found her thoughts beginning to wander to places she had hoped to avoid. After the news she had received the night before, she had hoped searching for the book would prove an effective distraction, but that was far from the case.
As she reached out for the next book in the pile beside her, she felt a dull ache begin in the back of her throat. Swallowing hard, she placed the book in front of her and opened it, blinking back tears as best she could as she focused on the first few pages.
It was then that she heard the footsteps approaching. Sniffing, she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, hoping to wipe any trace that she had been on the verge of crying and looked up. It was Athelis crossing the library toward her.
"Finally," he said as she caught sight of him. "It took forever to find you. I had to corner one of the Oracle's handmaidens back at the temple to find out."
Adrasteia frowned in confusion.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, "I thought you left with the others hours ago?"
"Well you thought wrong," Athelis said, slumping down into a chair opposite her looking angry and frustrated. For the first time he seemed to notice the various books scattered around the table. "What exactly are you doing here anyway? You were never a big reader, even after mother taught you how."
"I could say the same about you!" Adrasteia protested, then laughed. "Do you remember when mom nearly had to tie our hands to the quills when Hetheus came around to teach us."
Athelis nodded with a slight smile. They both had less than pleasant memories of the severe old temple scribe that their mother had paid good coin to teach them to write. Hetheus
"I though the old man was going to kick over your chair when you spilled that ink pot on him."
"Me too!" Adrasteia grinned. "Mom was furious too. I mean she... she..."
Adrasteia trailed off, as memories of her mother clouded her mind, carrying the dull ache of grief with them. How was she supposed to tell him?
Glancing up, she noticed Athelis looking at her quizzically.
"Everything okay?" He said.
"I just need to concentrate is all," she said. "I was looking for another copy of this." She slid the blood-stained book to him. "Callisto and Ithius think it might have secrets that the Followers are trying to protect."
"You mean secrets Pelion is trying to protect." Athelis leaned forward with interest, his concern for her seemingly forgotten exactly that quickly. "Well that's something at least. Making any progress?"
"None," Adrasteia said. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack in here."
"Well then I guess you could use a second pair of hands," he said, standing back up again. "Where do I start?"
"You could make a start on those stacks over there." She motioned to a collection of shelves groaning under the weight of dozens of slab sized tomes. "I hadn't even made a start on them yet."
Athelis nodded and made his way over to them, hefting down a large selection of books and carrying them back over to the table, stacking them up on the floor next to it before seating himself again. He grabbed the top book from the stack and began paging through it then, once he was satisfied that it was not the book they were looking for, he laid it to one side and reached for the next.
The time passed easily at first, each of them working steadily through the piles of books and scrolls stacked around them. They would talk a little every now and then, mostly about things they both remembered from their youth. Occasionally Adrasteia was almost able to forget the years of apart that had so changed them both. Sometimes the conversation would stop as one of them would stand and return some book or other to its original resting place, only to fetch back still more from some other uncatalogued corner of the library so that the search could continue. From the few windows visible from where they were seated, they could see the sun rising, passing across the sky and beginning to fall again and as the day wore on, it began to become apparent that Athelis' patience was wearing thin.
"This is pointless!" He growled in frustration, tossing the latest book he had been checking to one side with such venom that it hit a stack of as yet unchecked books, causing them to totter then topple clear over the side of the table with a series of heavy thuds. "We don't even know if this book we're searching for will even be of any use."
"A man was murdered to keep whatever he had found in it secret," Adrasteia said as patiently as she could manage, rising from the table and stooping to collect the fallen pile of books from where they now lay. "I'd say that makes it pretty..." She trailed off yet again as she noticed one of the books – a particularly large and dusty volume with cracked and yellowing pages – had fallen open somewhere toward its centre, revealing a carefully drawn illustration that tickled some half-formed recollection in the back of her mind.
"...important," she finished, frowning as she reached out picked up the book. The spine had been cracked when it had fallen from the table and she did not want to risk damaging it any further.
"You've found something?" Athelis asked, eyeing the book in her hands as she lifted it to the table.
"Maybe," she said. "Not what we were looking for, but still, maybe." Placing the book on the table, she spun it around so that he could see the illustration that had caught her eye. It was of an amulet. The colour of the metal it would have been made of could not be discerned from the simple black ink drawing, but the large obsidian stone that formed its centerpiece was by far its more distinct feature anyway.
"Does this look familiar to you?" She said. "I've seen it before, but I'm not sure where."
Athelis looked down at the book, and for a moment, Adrasteia saw a look of not only recognition but, more importantly, discomfort pass across his face.
"Never seen it before," he said, almost a shade too quickly. "Why? Do you think it's important."
Adrasteia eyed him coolly.
"It could be."
"Does the book say what it is?"
Before he could crane over to read it, Adrasteia turned the book back to face her, her eyes quickly skimming over the text as she tried to parse what had just happened. Why had her brother lied to her?
"It says something about it being part of some kind of ritual," she said, then frowned. "That's odd."
"What is?" Athelis said, leaning forward as he tried the read the now upside-down text.
"The ritual was apparently some kind of rite of purification. According to this, it was performed by a whole bunch of ancient warrior societies as a way to achieve a kind of... kind of... inner calm and focus..." Her eyes flicked back and forth as they devoured the information on the page. "...and it involved Pneuma."
"Pneuma?" Athelis said. "The same stuff the Oracles use? The stuff Callisto was poisoned by?"
Adrasteia nodded, and at the mention of Callisto, a fresh memory surged to the surface and suddenly, clear as day, she knew where she had seen the amulet before.
"And Callisto was wearing one!" She gasped. "I saw it in Tryxis, when she and Ithius saved us from the Spartan patrol. She had it on then. Don't you remember?"
Athelis shook his head, but she could not help noticing that he seemed to be studiously avoiding meeting her gaze as he did so.
"But I don't get it," he said, squinting hard at the text. They had learned to read together, but he had never shown quite the natural aptitude for it that she had. "How does an amulet purify anything? And what does the Pneuma have to do with it?"
"It says it right here," Adrasteia said, placing her finger on the page and tracking the words as she read them out loud. "And the divine Breath of the Gods shall fill them, driving all that is dark and afeared before it with its cleansing wind. Dark shall be drawn to dark, and thereafter that which was within shall be without, and mettle shall be tested, to the ruin or salvation of those that birthed it."
"But what does any of that mean?" Athelis growled, his teeth gritted in frustration. Adrasteia glanced down at his hands. They were clenched into fists, his knuckles whitening as he pressed them hard against the surface of the table.
"You lied to me just now, didn't you?" She said, her voice hard and steady. "You've seen this amulet before."
For the first time since she had placed the book on the table in front of them, Athelis looked at her, his face suddenly ashen.
"I... uh..." he began uncertainly. "I mean, I must've done right? We were both in Tryxis together. I saw it the same time you did."
Adrasteia shook her head.
"No," she said as more and more memories came tumbling back through her thoughts as she tried to piece it all together. "There's something more, isn't there? Something you're not telling."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Athelis snapped, but even as he straightened to storm off, Adrasteia was speaking again.
"Callisto wasn't wearing it when she came aboard Drevus' ship," she said, her voice louder now. "And she didn't have it when I found you with her at-" she stopped suddenly as that particular moment fixed in her mind's eye. Ithius and Themistocles had wanted her to go after her brother she remembered; to somehow try and convince him to use his influence with some of the Helots to help get everyone free of the camp they had found themselves trapped in. That had been the first time she saw Callisto, and now she realised, also the first time she had seen the amulet. Callisto had been laid out on an old bed in an abandoned woodsman's cottage, still comatose and ashen skinned from Pneuma poisoning. Athelis had been standing over her and holding something. He had quickly hidden it when she had walked in on him, but he had not been quite quick enough to prevent her seeing it. That something had been the amulet.
"You put it on Callisto, didn't you!" She exclaimed. "She was wearing it because of you!"
Athelis paused, suddenly seeming smaller and more lost than she ever thought she had seen him look before.
"He gave it to me," he said quietly. "He told me it would help; that it was the only thing that could save her."
"Who?" Adrasteia demanded, stepping around the table to confront him. "Who told you?"
"Pelion," was his only answer.
Adrasteia felt sick to her stomach.
"Pelion," she said, her horror growing with each passing moment. "And you believed him?"
"It worked didn't it?" Athelis snapped at her defensively. "She's back, isn't she?"
"But at what cost? Gods Athelis, you know Pelion probably better than any of us. You know he's not to be trusted. Why would you entertain anything he had to say, even for a minute?"
"You couldn't understand," said trying to push past her dismissively.
"I'm getting sick of hearing that excuse!" She moved to block him, to keep him from getting past her. She was going to wring answers from her brother whether he liked it or not! "How can I understand if you won't tell me."
Athelis glared at her.
"You want an explanation then," he growled. "Is that it? You think it will all just be better for both of us if I come right out and say it? Alright then, how about this. I want Pelion dead. And not just some quick and quiet kind of dead either. I want it to be long and lingering, and I want him to know that it was me who killed him."
"So, you put the amulet on Callisto?"
Athelis shook his head.
"Not at first, no. I tried not to use it. I was desperately hoping that I wouldn't need to and that somehow she'd get better without it. But she wasn't getting better and I..." he paused as if not knowing quite how to put into words what it was he was feeling. "...I just..."
"Just what?" Adrasteia pushed hotly. She had a feeling she already knew the answer, and that she did not like what it was, but she wanted to hear him say it all the same.
Athelis sniffed and stared up over her head at something off in the middle distance, his back straight and unbending, as if he were trying to convince himself that he had nothing to be ashamed of.
"I needed her."
Adrasteia could only stare at him, not even sure how she was supposed to feel about what he had just said.
"You needed her?" Was all she could say.
"More than your own family?"
"You were fine without me."
"No we weren't!" Adrasteia finally snapped, her voice rising in fury. "How many times do I have to tell you, we were never okay without you! Mom and Dad, they went to pieces, and I was left sifting through the rubble! I used to lie awake at night thinking that if you just came home, maybe we could still patch things up and be a family again." By now she could feel the tears she had been trying to hold back ever since the night before welling up in her eyes, but she did not care. She wanted to get it out, to finally say everything that had been weighing on her for so long. "I was crushed when dad died," she carried on. "But through it all I remember hoping that maybe you'd learn what had happened, that you'd come home, but you never did. Then mom got sick and I had to join the temple so that she could be cared for. Now she's dying and I don't-"
Adrasteia paused suddenly realising she had gone a little further than she meant to. Athelis was staring at her intently.
"Did you just say mom's dying?" He said.
Adrasteia sniffed and nodded.
"Why didn't you tell me this sooner?" Her brother demanded.
"I only found out last night," was her reply. "Aegon told me."
"We've been together all day," Athelis said. "You could've told me any time."
"And I wanted to," she said. "Really, I did, but then we got talking and it felt so nice, like it was the old days again, and I just couldn't. You'd been away so long. I just wanted my brother back, even if only for a moment."
Athelis fell silent for a moment.
"You've seen her since we came back?" He asked.
"Yesterday evening after our audience with the Oracle," she paused, not really sure how to continue. "She doesn't look good," was all she could seem to manage, and she winced at just how bad the comment sounded.
Athelis was quiet for a moment.
"What's wrong with her?" He said eventually, his voice leaden and heavy.
"The healers say it started while I was away. They thought it was just a cold at first, but whatever it is, its settled in her lungs and they say she's sinking fast. That's why I asked Callisto to persuade you to stay behind and-"
"You did what!?" Athelis snarled his voice suddenly hot again as he took a threatening step toward her. "You told her to leave me behind? And she agreed!?"
Adrasteia squared her shoulders defiantly. She was not about to let herself be intimidated by her own brother.
"Maybe she thought I was right," she said smartly. "Who'd have thought it. Me and her seeing eye to ey for once."
Athelis fixed her with a steady glare, but did not say anything. Stepping around her, he set off toward the library's main entrance.
"Where are you going?" Adrasteia called after him.
He paused by one of the nearby stacks.
"Our mother," he said tightly. "Where is she?"
"They moved her out to one of care houses outside the city," Adrasteia said. "If whatever she has is infectious, they don't want her spreading it within the walls."
"A death house, you mean?" Athelis said, glancing back over his shoulder at her. "And you let them do this?"
"It's not like I had much of a choice is it?" Adrasteia said. "Temple rules are clear on the matter. They're taking good care of her there."
"If she's dying, not good enough, clearly," Athelis snarled. He was about to start walking again when Adrasteia called out to him.
"Are you going to see her?"
Athelis stopped again for a brief instant.
"I don't know," was all he said, and with that he was gone, leaving Adrasteia alone among the stacks.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Back again. This chapter came a little easier than the previous one, and also, since the first story in this series finally got 3000 views I thought I'd best push through to get this one out as a little celebration. Hope you all enjoy...