After my hair is finished and pinned so that it won't ruin overnight, I spend a full hour in the underground baths, where I rub myself with oils until my skin tingles. I am given the traditional garments, not the ceremonial black peplos, but a white one, blindingly bright to the eye, which I wear until the special day. The ceremonial garb lies in a dress box which I slot under my arm as I, escorted by an entourage, head to the temple. I'm still dazed from the perfumed air I've sat in for the past couple of hours, and I feel light-headed as if my spirit is hovering outside of my body.
The temple is quiet, but filled with attendants moving props and checking lists. Their veils are down for once, and I recognise a few of the upperclasswomen, mainly from Polyhymnia's cult, each as pensive and graceful as the other. I try not to look at Ideón as we pass through the collonade, afraid to imagine myself in a day's time, standing before it with crowds of people expecting me to be perfect, Calliope overseeing the ritual, and Iliana smirking from the back.
I suddenly feel sick, and almost fall forward, but I compose myself so that nobody notices as we ascend the stairwell. The apartment is as it was before, clean and beautiful, and I half expect to see Marissa waiting for me on the window ledge as she was before. But she was gone, though her presence seemed to linger in the air, and I shake the thoughts from my head. I refuse to be upset, and I refuse to cry like I have in lonely moments over the past weeks.
The other girls put my possessions on the huge white bed that I feel tempted to curl up in, and they leave Akantha and I alone. The apartment has everything I would expect one of the Nine to have, with reclining sofas, a private bathroom, expensive ornaments, and I see that the west wall is consumed by the back side of the pediment, where colourful panes fill the spaces between bodies and branches of the marble Ideón. I turn around, and see that Akantha has thrown the black peplos over the back of the sofa, holding the skirt up to the light so that the threads shimmer.
"You know what is to happen," Akantha says. "Remain here for the day, have all the luxuries you desire, for they are the last you will have for some time. Ask the attendants for whatever you need. This ceremony will be different tomorrow, being at night, but of course, you were born at a very special time."
"Will you help me get ready?" I ask. For the first time, all the cheer and sarcasm fades from the voice I usually speak to her with. I am terrified, and Akantha is here for me whether I like it or not. She cares, though I'm not sure why since I've driven her up the wall for years. It could be obligation as my tutor, but I like to see otherwise.
She smiles, touching my shoulder as she did Marissa. "I will come at dusk and make sure all is well. Amaryllis will visit later today to rehearse with you and...ease your mind, where I cannot. When torches come up the mountain tomorrow evening, it will begin..."
I try and suppress my tears, though it's no secret to Akantha how afraid I am. We're not the most affectionate mentor and apprentice, it isn't as if she'd ever hug me. Mother would do that without a second thought, but I relinquished her the day I stepped into the acropolis. As Akantha leaves me in silence, I wonder if my mother is sad that she isn't here with me, and if she knows I need her more than ever.