There seems to be silence around me, the noise of drums hollow in my ears. I keep my head up straight, hiding my darting gaze as best I can. To my disappointment, the first person that I recognize is Illiana, given pride of place amongst the many sponsors vying for her at the front of the crowd. She's dressed in dark blue, hung with silver jewellery that joins all across her body like silk, from the clips in her hair to the clasps at her shoulders to the belt at her waist. As our eyes meet, her bright red lips fold up into an arrogant smile, rolling her shoulders just to demonstrate how tight for space it is around her and how intimate she is with the nobles. I try not to care, but my stomach begins to constrict with anger, it's my graduation, and I swear she looks better than me.
The lines of attendants begin to split at either side of the altar, and as I move closer, the haunting notes of the singers in the gallery shake the air around me. Everything seems separated, my legs from my chest, the procession from the audience as if we're encased in glass. My steps resonate on the tiles, and as I glance to my right where Ideón blows in the night wind, I swear that it rattles and sways in time with us. I look back to the front after I've made a thorough sweep of the spectators, trying to ignore those that look disinterested, and the lower year Muses who gawk at me with wide eyes that expect perfection. Akantha is not far from me now, she stands at the altar, ready to receive the items that I grasp with hands that feel numb; with her is Calliope. As I come closer, she's just as spellbinding as from a distance, she is beautiful in every way, but virtuous in so many others.
The drums are beginning to beat faster now, my cue that soon I will have to kneel before the altar. It seems as if I'm miles away, but I try not to panic and increase my pace, and somehow, miraculously, at the second beat of a triad of final notes, I reach the altar and kneel, my knees connecting with the ceremonial cushion, safe and successful. Silence washes over us, and with my head down, I can see little, trying not to look up in curiosity at the seeming delay. But then Akantha speaks in the Old, words I can't understand but should pretend I do. There are words that Amaryllis told me to listen out for, at which point I should hand her the items in my hands. I do so, enervating my limp arms quickly and passing the scroll up to Akantha, which she unravels and begins to read, a decree that many years ago was written by each individual Muse on what they wished to accomplish in the human world, and whether they thought they were ready. Now, we use that of an older student; Amaryllis, unbelievably. Calliope makes her reading, and it is just as relaxing as the last time and the time before that.
Akantha goes through the normal ritual, waving smudge sticks over my head, taking the registrar that I signed when I first enlisted at the acropolis and burning it in an oil basin, the smoke coiling at the back of my throat and making my eyes water; tempting me to lose focus. That part is over quickly, but when I look up and Akantha gestures for me to rise, taken towards Ideón with the sacred three behind me, my heart begins to palpitate, but I obey.