XIII - Meet and Greet

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 I haven't figured out my next move by the time the boulder rolls into place, sealing me and the mystery man into the stone room. Peaceful as a tomb, the only sound I can hear is the slow breathing of the human. The ring through my ankle buzzes happily. I'm absorbed in thinking of what to do next, my mind rushing a million miles an hour, so I don't catch the question the man offers out into the silence between us. His voice cuts through my thoughts, a bright and mellow babble. His voice sounds like candlelight.

"What?" I ask, turning to face him, answering in Aundun out of habit.

He sits on a squat little stool covered in blue velvet. He blinks a few times, uncomprehending.

Under our feet lie lush, handwoven carpets. Little brass braziers heat the room until its stifling, chunks of resin placed within the coals perfume the air. The scent makes my brain feel foggy. Murals to the goddess cover the walls, the strange, flickering, bejeweled eyes of my lifeless reflection observe the scene, waiting with anticipation that is palpable. Stoic, static impressions of myself watch to see what will happen next. I only wish they'd give me a clue.

The man speaks again, looking down," I'm sorry, I thought you spoke Pernathic."

"Is that how you would prefer to communicate?"

"It is more comfortable, yes," His lips buzz with the sting of unfamiliar vowels and consonants shoved together in a halted, courtly version of Aundun.

"Then Pernathic it is," I say in his own language, sinking down onto a pile of pillows.

His brows knit together with some confused emotion I can barely read. The stink and glory of War is too distracting, bubbling off of him with giddy, newborn delight. He smells like a citrus grove and it makes me momentarily heartsick.

Ares, look at this fool.

The magic of our first glance lingers here in this small, cramped room. It exists in a shroud around us. Bacchus and Ariadne. That's what it is. A stilted, stalled moment for us alone. Cocooned under a shower of stars and a swath of ultramarine blue sky. We continue to stare at each other for a few minutes, coral and blue fog enshrines our shoulders. He breaks first, his lips quirking upwards in an uncomfortable, timid smile.

"What is your name?" I ask.

"Diodorus."

The archaic Greek word punches through my chest with the grace of a sledgehammer: gift from Zeus. For a panicked second, I search the air around us, hunting for the cool blue light that heralds Zeus' arrival. There is nothing. I internalize a fervent prayer that bringing Hades here has not exposed the secrecy of the planets' location. This is not an Olympian playhouse.

"I'm not going to call you that," I rub my sternum absently.

"Why not?" His face twists in confusion. A thin ripple of defiance — spicy like carbonated water on the side of your tongue — sprays out of him with seafoam delicacy.

I shrug and offer him a breezy explanation, "The goddess wills what she wishes."

"And you're her? The goddess, I mean." His brow arches with skepticism.

Yeah, I really should have thought this through. I lick my lips and swallow them into my mouth, the sharp edge of my teeth digging into their sensitive skin.

"In a way — " I stop and shake my head, "I am an emissary for her. Everyone at this temple is in her service."

That seems to suffice for the time being, but I don't miss the sweep of his eyes across my form; they linger on the tattered edges of my linen chiton, the unpolished, tin belt at my waist. He frowns slightly at my bedraggled appearance. He expected something more.

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