Asteri crossed his hooves and looked down at the map. “Aren’t you tired yet?”
Naida didn’t look up from where she was carefully tracing crinkly bits of shoreline, lying on her stomach on the enormous parchment that the chimera had pulled out of a storage cubby. “No. I’m just about finished…”
“It’s been a whole day!”
“I have a lot of catching up to do!” Naida set the pen carefully in its holder and rolled over on the inland sea that she’d already drawn. She laid her head on her arm and was asleep in a moment.
Asteri watched over her as she slept, lying in the golden light of the library. Then sat up and hunched his shoulders, breathing and straining as if he could make himself grow faster just by willing it. For an instant there was a flickering image of wings over his back but they were no more than shadows of shadows, a ghost of true wings.
He didn’t even notice when Temis spiraled slowly down from her door, soaring without flapping so she didn’t disturb the papyri, the papers and pens. “She’s finally asleep?”
Asteri startled and nearly rolled off the edge they were on. He drew a huge breath and then clamped his lips together, let it all out in a long, quiet hiss. “Don’t scare me like that!”
“Sorry,” Temis said but didn’t sound terribly sorry. “Syb is still sleeping off her great work and I had no idea this Kitten would be so book hungry.”
“Hmph. More drawing hungry. She’s worn down three blue pencils just edging the ocean she’s drawn.”
“Have you gotten to her country yet?”
Asteri rose and trotted over to the south coast. “You see. She did the coast and the mouth of the Nile, but then broke off and came back up here to detail this island.”
“She’s afraid of it. Of learning about her people.”
“I don’t understand why.” Asteri sat down by the stairs with a huff. Temis reached out and gathered Naida up in her forepaws cuddling her against her breast. “I’ll nap with her in my nest for a bit and we’ll be down again in a bit.”
Next day Naida came hopping down the stairs, refreshed and ready to start where she’d left off and Temis glided down to settle neatly on her haunches, folded her wings with a flip and wrapped her tail around her paws. She settled her long hair with a shake.
“Asteri! Asteri did you SEE the cold storage cave? There’s whole AUROXEN hanging in there! I didn’t know there were that many on an island. I thought there would only be sheep and there’s cheese! And air-dried hams twice the size of what I had! There’s jars and jars and jars of things from Silk Road! All the way EAST! The hams… there’s dried racks of ribs I couldn’t eat one by myself if I gnawed on it all week! ‘n fish bigger ‘n me! ‘n-“
“Yes, yes,” Asteri bounced up the spiral stairs from below, a bag full of scrolls hooked over one horn. “Temis, I need the Kitten… Your spectacles are hanging in a niche I cannot get into.” He waved his head, curling horns spreading wide now, the scroll bag swinging wildly.
“Hey!” Naida ducked under the swinging bag. “Temis? What’s he talking about?”
The sphinx ducked her head, looking sheepish. “I… well in the last little while… I’ve found it hard to read.”
“She means the past two hundred years…”
“Oh!” Temis put her muzzle in the air. “Bring up someone’s age!”
“I’m older than you!”
“Only in your adult form!” she teased. “You have to grow up again!”
“Oh, just rub my muzzle in that,” he snorted. “Naida come on, it’s only down eight floors.”
“Only eight floors,” she said. “I’m coming.”
On that floor there were grand wooden shelves with gigantic codexes bound in leather, chained to the shelves. In the distance there was an echoing animal call and Naida stopped. “Don’t worry,” Asteri said. “That’s just another librarian.”
“Good?” Naida shivered. “Asteri can we just get back to Temis please?”
“Oh, yeah. Over here.”
The shelves were too narrow for Asteri to fit between now, and Naida wondered how Temis had gotten there in the first place, or whether she’d dropped her reading glasses while she was flying.
The spectacles hung in one of the chains, and Naida reached up and unhooked them gently. The books stirred in their shelves and she looked up, startled, but they were all still. “I’ve got them!”
“Great! Hey, Naida I can still fit up the stairs… ride me up!”
She clambered onto Asteri’s back, wondering why she needed to ride when it was only eight floors, but he leapt onto the spiral and Naida gulped and caught her breath. “The library is always growing,” Asteri said as he jumped up a dozen floors. And then another dozen.
“But… how can I find anything?”
“It doesn’t shift if you’re on a floor, but it does when you’re not looking.”
“I’d better stay with you or Temis then…” She said, uncertainly, breathless, clinging to Asteri’s ruff as he bounded up trying to catch up to the floor they’d left Temis on.
“Yes. Here we are.”
“Oh, I didn’t bend them did I?” Naida slipped gratefully off Asteri’s back. “They’re beautiful!” She looked at the metal rimmed glass lenses. They were ground out of some kind of rosy crystal and when she reached up to help Temis slide the loop over her head, found herself gazing into magnified pink tinted lion’s eyes. “Does your hair go over or…”
Temis grinned. “Over, please.”
Naida gently pulled the long blond hair/mane over the loop, settling the glasses firmly on Temis’s head. She put up a talon and adjusted them slightly before looking over the tops at Naida. “Before you ask. One of the Smith’s apprentices made them for me, before they fell in love with His Wife… as they all do.”
“I have a stack of codexes here for you. We are going to start with the rise of humans and how they came to Kush for the first time forty thousand years ago.”
“Start with that polished horn there with those marks burned into it. That’s the oldest human record I have.”