The temple is so crowded that the air feels humid and oppressive as I follow Akantha, led terrified through this swamp of people. It's easy to tell the rank of each of the spectators here, from the men and women wearing bright fabrics and sparkling jewellery - clearly various sponsors with enough money to waste away on bets like this. I always hate formal gatherings between apprentices and potential sponsors, where we're forced to sell ourselves to the high class just to get the luxuries the acropolis can't afford. There's always a lot of singing and recitals at events like that, all to prove our worth, and for somebody like me, who shakes and palpitates in public performances...I never stood a chance. Further at the edges are the attendants of the temples with their faces concealed by chaste veils. I look around, wondering if I could spot her, the Muse Calliope, whose figure is carved atop the temple, sewn on many tapestries, and whose name is whispered in history.
Tall, ionic columns hold up the greatest temple in all of Oneirus, and we hurry between the collonade hallway to a staircase leading to the private rooms upstairs, where I know Marissa will be waiting. There's an unnatural number of people that we have to weave around and murmur apologies to. I shouldn't be surprised, Marissa is the top of our class, and if Calliope doesn't turn up to this selection, then I'll question her judgement.
"Netea," Akantha whispers, and I see we have reached the outer layers of the crowd, and the winding stairwell at the west side is not far away. "This way." I look around, raising onto my tiptoes to see into the centre of the temple where an altar has been arranged in front of where Ideón stands, its white trunk knotted and twisted after many centuries, the fruits beginning to glow brighter like sacred torches. The ceremony would begin soon, meaning I don't have long to say goodbye.
I had never been in the luxury rooms above the temple, as it is reserved only for graduating apprentices to use for the night. When the door opens, I take no notice of the golden ornaments or the king size bed against the wall to my left. All I see is Marissa, sat up on the ledge of a panoramic set of paneless windows, fiddling nervously with the material of her gown.
"Marissa!" I exclaim, elation flooding through me as I run forward and embrace her as she slips down. There's a delicacy in her touch, and I guess that she fears ruining her ceremonial outfit.
"Netea," she grins, her voice soft and elegant, laced with nerves. "I feel like I'm going to be sick." I pull back to see the dizzied expression on her face, then stand back further to admire her. All graduating apprentices wear the same peplos, a gown of obsidian black and gold-strapped sandals, but jewellery is always newly bought, hair made unique and artistically. For Marissa, they compliment her beautiful red hair with elaborate plaits linking to a chignon, adorned with gleaming, black beads going from hairpin to hairpin. A heavy gold necklace hangs at her neck, matching a pair of equally large earrings.
"You will do splendidly," says Akantha, standing beside us. A smile lights her features, one that I rarely see given to me. "I have faith in you, as does Mistress Calliope -,"
"Do you think Calliope will choose her?" I ask excitedly, but Marissa recoils a little.
"Do not say such things, Netea. I was frightened enough to know she was here."
So she is, the holy, beautiful and incredible, our lady and mistress, turned up after all.