The Beats of the Drum

When the time comes, I do as Akantha allows me to. Marissa had to take a different branch of the stairwell than we did into the crowd, down into the underground where attendants wait to anoint her and hand her the equipment she needs. As a muse of Calliope, she is given a traditional writing scroll, a quill and a vial of sand. I don't like the sound of it, it reminds me too much of the ritual of the dead, leaving items that are needed for the descent in Elysium. But then I suppose, in many ways, Marissa will soon be dead to Oneirus. We will only speak her name with reverence and unknowing, and unless she is selected by Calliope herself, I know in my heart that I will never see her again.

I had tried to convince myself different, that we would meet in the human world, but even if we did, law demands that we do not acknowledge each other. We belong to our protegees, our hopes and desires can only be for their benefit. I know this, and I hate it, I hate that Marissa knows that amongst this celebration, at the end she will be completely alone, and nobody can help her.

Akantha takes her place before the altar, required to perform a ritual to signify Marissa has completed all necessary teaching to go forth. As I watch her go, my eyes move to where she stands, and the woman beside her, all in red. My heart jumps in my chest as I stare at Calliope, whose face is only visible by the ceremonial veil that covers all but her golden, immortal eyes. Her hair looks almost white, and there is a way that she moves that amazes me, as if every movement, every turn is important, precise and yet effortless. I do not wonder in this moment why she is thought of as a higher being than us; she is absolutely beautiful.

The drums begin, the musicians standing between each column of the collonade, doubling as sentries to hold back the goggling crowd. Each is shirtless with green olive wreaths around their heads, still in intense concentration as they flick the sticks onto the stretched skin, a rhythm moving between slow, intense beats and fast excitement. Rising from below through a decorated marble arch come attendants, in two rows of eight, each holding a candle to signify Marissa's birthday; as close as she can have to a cake. Then come two male attendants swinging thuribles of sweet-smelling herbs, followed by Amaryllis dressed all in white, and just a couple feet behind comes Marissa. I stand at the edge of the crowd closest to her, making sure that she sees me at the corner of her eye and she walks forward with calculated pace. I notice a smile at the edge of her lips, but the rest of her is overcome by the importance of the ceremony, and I see that her cheeks and forehead have been painted with swirling patterns, making her such a vision that I hardly recognise her.

I slip quietly through the crowd, keeping pace with her so that she can always see me. We hear a hauntingly beautiful voice and look up to see a female singer up on the gallery, singing words of the Songs of Old that we know only a few words of. The verses are sung at each graduation, and is a song that the apprentices of Euterpe must commit to memory. I hear from them that the song speaks of gifts of great promise, bravery and joy, and as Marissa reaches the altar, kneeling on cue, the singer at a high note, the drums ceasing and the cella falling silent; in that moment I wish all of those things for Marissa.

The End

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