Naida sat, fourth level down from the doorway Temis had opened for her, a stack of scrolls beside her, a map pinned open to the floor where she knelt, a table covered in codexes and a chair with a precarious box of scrolls on it next to her. The broom she’d used to carefully sweep her way down the human stairs lay drunkenly against the steps.
Temis had flown down one level at a time as Naida had swept and polished her way down, calling out how to find certain maps or books or scrolls she wanted.
There had been a whirl of explanation how to find things and then Temis had looked up and said. “Start with this scroll and that map. Everything else is something I’m interested in. I’ll be back.” And launched herself off the edge of the level, leaving Naida by herself, her legs and arms aching from all the running and carrying.
“But…” Naida sat, surrounded by more scrolls than she had ever in her wildest dreams imagined, overwhelmed and suddenly very, very lonely.
“I’m here,” Asteri said. He hopped over the broom handle and settled next to her, neatly avoiding the paper spread everywhere. “You’re not alone.”
Naida buried her face in his ruff. He had a ruff now, as well as his curling horns. A ruff as soft and clean as fulled angora wool. She didn’t cry but sat, shaking. “Asteri… the… the volcano didn’t happen because of me, did it?”
He snorted. “You don’t have that kind of power yet, dear child of my Ushera.” He lay down and she curled up against him. He’d gotten a lot bigger in just the one night and day. “It is possible that the Great King, who ceased shedding Persian blood, lost his Great One, lost his love… swore he would conquer Atlantis… and the Goddess didn’t want him to. That’s my theory. He’s probably running around with a red leather collar on, as a captive of the Labrys’s Queen, oh, sorry, ‘honoured guest’, with most of his navy on the bottom of the sea.”
“So nothing to do with me.”
“As a side note, perhaps.”
“Oh.” There didn’t seem to be anything else to say. “I miss…” she stopped as her throat clogged up. “I WON”T cry again. I won’t!”
He nuzzled her hair. “It’s all right to cry for those who’ve gone on over the Belt Bridge to the Goddess’s land. It speaks well of you that you weep for those who mistreated you.”
"Zeno and Oios never mistreated me! And Pero, and Deno, and... there were lots of good Afarisi! Just some nasty harpies. Not ALL of them!" Naida drew a hand across her face, angrily shoved her hair back behind her ears, growled and caught it in a knot at the back of her head. “Cursed wire-hair that I am! I should shave it all off!”
Asteri stuck his nose in her hand, at the nape of her neck. “Stop that. Your hair is like your mother’s. You are as dark as your father and he has ebony skin. And your mother’s eyes are gold like yours. People say that it was a gift to your grandmother from the Goddess Sekhemet, for bravery. Granted your mother curses her hair when she has it done up.”
“I’m not brave.” Naida looked at her hand, dark against Asteri’s white fur. “I… don’t know my people and my mother’s world and I’m supposed to be a princess? I might… do something stupid like accidentally fart in the lemonade or something.”
He sputtered goat laughter. “Not likely, Kitten. I like Temis’s name for you though I’d be more inclined to call you ‘kid’.”
“Are you sure?”
He answered the real question. “You have a whole winter to learn not to mess up and Sybaris is a far better teacher than Temis. The sphinx thinks that everyone just needs to have the information thrown at them – like – ‘Here, READ!’”
It was Naida’s turn to sputter laughter. “That’s exactly what she did today.”
“Sybaris won’t do that. In fact I won’t. And if you get stuck you can ask me. I’m remembering more and more as I get older and as you get older.” He leaned over and turned his head to gaze at the map. “Lend me your finger as a pointer and point where I direct you.”
She sat up.
“See that island shaped like a dot with a long tail?”
“No, up five or so…. Yes, that one. That’s the one that isn’t there anymore.”
Naida stared at the map and her finger slid over. “Does that mean that Afaris was somewhere around here?”
“Pretty close… Jump that island mountain there… to yes… that one. One day this island will blow up. I think the Sun Twins are just using Sybaris as an excuse to ‘cork’ this volcano. As long as she and Temis are here it won’t blow up.”
“Ohhhh.” She leaned against his shoulder. “Show me how to point to Atlantis…”
“Why don’t you get a blank scroll and that pen… that strange one over there… and draw your own map?”
“All right.” She scrambled up and gathered her materials, laying out her own scroll with one of Asteri’s hooves as a corner holder, a paper weight that showed endless snow, and an amethyst geode. “Where’s Aegypti from here? And… home?”