With angelic swiftness, Calliope turns back towards the spectators to rounds of disbelieving whispers, and I lose all composure and look too. The oil begins to drip between my brows across my nose, I wonder how I look to the eyes fixated on me. I catch sight of Illiana, her jaw almost to the floor, outrage burning on her face whilst sponsors move apart from her, turning and glaring with disappointment and fury. My graduation had the lowest odds of all, and in an absent part of my mind, I wonder, I hope that irritates them. Akantha looks heartstricken, was this what she was trying to warn me about before? How is it such a bad thing that I've just become Calliope's apprentice? I don't deserve it, I can't believe this is happening, but it's good. I can come back indefinitely, I can return to Thatty and Mother and Akantha - I can come home!
But I can't push the memory of Akantha's anger from my mind; something's wrong. I can feel it. There's a chill on my back, like fingertips caressing my shoulder, and I turn back around to Ideón. There's a magnetism, drawing me forward uncontrollably, my feet moving away from the crowd towards its roots. My hands shake and I wrap my fingers around the rough bark as I lean down and nestle the cloak into the hollow, letting it go sorrowfully as I remember how much I'd loved it. I sink to my knees - gladly - and wait. The crowd is now still, knelt on the ground behind me, and as the oil begins to drip down to the corner of my lip, I see Ideón begin to shake. There's a flash of red from high amongst the leaves, like the eye of a monster just waking, and then it falls towards me, hitting the trunk and rolling down with a tinkering sound like bells. It begins to slow, tapping my knees gently and stopping. I look at it in wonder, trying to gaze inside it to the golden light swirling around like particles of dust, the skin so bright and thin that it looks just like a bubble I could touch and pop.
Still shaking, I pick it up delicately in my hands, and as I do I hear whispers, words that I can't make out so far away, but like voices coming from the Idea's core at the centre of the world. I bring it up to my face, the voices growing louder and more distinguished.
"That's it! It's perfect in every way! I can't believe I didn't think of it before!"
"It's brilliant, Lisa. Like nothing I've ever read - you need to do it. You need to get this out there!"
"You're nothing! You and your stupid dreams, what have they gotten you? NOTHING!"
I don't know who I'm hearing, but as my lips connect with the skin, I feel my hands close as it dissipates, rushing down my throat into my core, then up my nose into my mind. There's an explosion of colour, sound, like nothing I've ever felt before, forcing my eyes shut so that I can revel in the myriad. My body starts to feel lighter, and forcing my eyes open again, I look at my arms. They're glowing, like the paint has caught the moonlight perfectly; and fading.
What's happening to me? What is this? Am I still -
I turn, trying to shout out for Akantha, to ask what's going on and what she meant about me needing to get out of here and avoid all this. But when I do, she's gone. Everybody's gone, no crowd, no Calliope or Akantha. The temple is suddenly empty.
I am alone.