I sit in the background whilst the attendants stand readily around me, all of us anticipating the first knock of the drum when the doors will open and it will all begin. Up in the cella, I can hear the shrill notes of instruments that hired dancers are probably spinning and jumping to. I wish I could see it, but I know it would just unnerve me, knowing what has come before me and what expectations I have to live up to.
Akantha has taken longer than I expected, and as much as I like Amaryllis' company, there's still something about her, the way she watches me from the corner of her golden eyes, knowing something I don't, that makes me want to hide away. But when Akantha does return, just minutes before the ceremony is to begin, I know something's wrong. There's fear shining in her eyes, and she scans the room quickly, stopping when she sees me and hurries forward.
"Netea - Netea - you have to -," she struggles to catch her breathe, and I stand up to hold her up.
"Akantha, what's the matter?" I ask, fear expanding in my chest.
"You - you have to get out, Netea," she says breathlessly, gripping my hand tightly.
"Out of where?"
Before she can tell me, Amaryllis approaches and Akantha is silent, as if someone has forced their hand around her throat. "Is there a problem, Lady Akantha?" she asks, her voice soft and controlled.
My mentor freezes, but then a shade seems to cover her face, her eyes veiled with anger, "did you know about this?" she asks, her words edged sharply. "About what will happen?"
Arrogantly, Amaryllis shrugs, and her lip quivers into a smile. "I don't know what you're talking about. None of us can know what Netea's fate will be, only Ideón can judge -,"
"You'd lie, even to her. I've heard all about you and your schemes, I never did trust you, you -,"
My temper flares as I interject, "somebody, please, what's going on?"
Amaryllis gestures to me. "There, see what you've done, Akantha? Scared your poor apprentice at such a nervous time in her life. I would hate to think you make her out of sorts and jeopardise the ceremony." She reaches for Akantha gently, at the last moment seizing her arm, freezing her to the spot. "I think it's best that you go, forget this, and prepare for the ceremony, don't you?"
I watch Akantha's face, I watch her brow begin to uncrease and her face wash over with vacancy. She gives Amaryllis a swift nod and turns away, ignoring me even as I latch onto her wrist and ask her to explain. My head snaps past to Amaryllis, what kind of Muse has that kind of power, retired or not?
"What did you do to her?" I ask sharply, my admiration fading for her like it was just a mood swing.
She looks at me innocently, fakely, smiling. "Not a thing, Netea. Akantha's senses seem to fail her. She is, after all, quite old..."
"Some say you're older," I snap, and for just a moment, a moment that she probably hopes I don't see, her smile turns vicious.
She steps closer to me and talks quietly with a low sort of intimacy. "I just don't want her to ruin such a special day for her. You don't need such memories of her, since you'll probably never see her again." With a wave of shock, I realise she's right. I'm leaving Akantha too, so what was so important for her to tell me in these last moments?
"Besides, nothing can be done now," Amaryllis adds, her eyes glancing at the coffered ceiling, to where applause and the slow pace of drumming fades down to us. "It's time."