“I shall finish up here,” Sybaris said when Naida popped one last baked egg into her mouth. “I’ll be napping in the hot pool afterwards my dear,” she said to the sphinx, who blinked and yawned at her, showing all of her fangs and Naida wasn’t sure but maybe all the way down her throat to the dangly bit at the back. “I’ll be dreaming a message to your parents, child,” Sybaris continued, ignoring Temis’s teasing.
“I was wondering how you were going to make Asteri do it, since he’s been being a rotten little Bennu for leaving Amani-shakete and her consort in the dark about their child’s survival.” Temis shook her wings out. “Hmph. They’re going to want to come thundering up here and ‘rescue’ her,” she flipped her wings and turned over one of her huge paws to clean between her talons.
“Not in the winter. Not in these kinds of storms. Even the Divinities tend not to try and move anywhere when the Highest of Goddesses is throwing a tantrum either. But it is cruel to keep it from them. Is the volcano still erupting?”
Asteri clattered in from where he’d clattered out a while ago in time to hear her question. “Oh, yes.” He said. “These earth-shakes aren’t just your normal magic, ladies. As far as I can tell, without transforming and flying over to check, I think that most of that island is gone. The snow and rain and ice are just beginning.”
“Are my parents safe?” Naida asked.
“Oh yes, at least from that volcano… why don’t you come along and I’ll show you a map,” Temis said. “You can put my spectacles on for me with your clever hands, Kitten.” She got up and Naida followed her out.
“Sybaris wanted to finish eating and didn’t want to distress you,” the sphinx said, purring.
“I saw her eating,” Naida walked beside Temis, holding on to one of her flight feathers. “It didn’t bother me.”
“She’s going to unhinge her face and swallow the rest of that pig,” Temis said. “She’ll be asleep for a few days in the pool and you’ll be able to bathe without disturbing her in the slightest.”
“Um. Oh.” Naida didn’t even want to think of what Temis meant by ‘unhinging her face’ and the idea of elegant, sinuous Sybaris swallowing most of a whole pig at one go just made her queasy.
“And before she sleeps she’s going to send a message to your parents that you’re alive and safe.”
“Oh, good!” Oh no! I’m going to have to… to… measure up to my real parents and they’ve never seen me before.
Temis looked at her sideways with her enormous yellow lioness eyes. “Don’t worry about being good enough, Kitten,” she said. “Parents… good parents and I’ve heard that yours are good… love their children sight unseen… ” Naida nodded, silently. "In fact after I show you the maps I can show you a scroll about your parents and some books about your people and your country. If you’re anything like what Syb and I have seen in her mirror, you’ll work your tail-feathers off to be good enough for them."
“I always do my best!” Naida wasn’t sure what prompted her to say it so firmly.
“Good. Sybaris is a good teacher. One of the best. She’s taught half-Godlings, princes and farmer girls. Swine herds and warriors.”
“And…” Naida’s stopped as Temis did in front of a doorway set into the rock that was large enough to admit four Temis’s if two stood on the backs of the other two. “You have the library?”
Every inch of the white wooden doors were carved with scrolls and codices, ink-wells brushes and reed pens and quills and strange machines that seemed to be spitting out books in boxes and people gazing into what looked like shining stones or mirrors.
Temis raised her paw and set it, claws extended, into the door. Her paw fit perfectly and her claw-tips clicked into tiny holes in the door. Both doors swung open, away from them, and Naida gasped, put both hands over her mouth, raised them to rub her eyes and then gasped again on her exhale. Then she walked forward three steps and sank to her knees looking through the marble railing at the top of the stairs.
One of hundreds of stairs, spiraling down and down and down into bright light, and no there weren’t hundreds of staircases, there were thousands fading off into the distance. Every turn of the stairs down opened into another gallery filled with books and scrolls. Naida couldn’t see any walls at all because they were completely covered with books and she thought she could see, way down near the bottom of this stack of floors, shelves and shelves holding nothing but clay tablets.
“My library,” Temis said smugly. “I usually fly down to the floor I want, so you’ll either have to ride on my back, or clean all the dust off the human-sized stairs. One of the jobs I’ll get you to help me with. How are you at unrolling scrolls and turning pages?" She flexed her talons on the inlaid stone floor making skreeking noises. "I'm a little hard on them. You can read, can’t you?”