Chapter 1: Prologue
Pope Eudoxia ponders the future of Sanctuary and the continued survival of the Saints, as well as the peace thus far.
Reports from Cancer Persephone indicate that the Specters aren’t mobilizing for war, and the same can be said of the God Warriors and the Marinas according to Aquarius Julian and Pisces Hayliel. I barely believe it, but it seems like this uneasy peace is holding. We never thought in a million years that this would work, but here we are. If the Saints of the old days could see this, they’d be overjoyed- they’d have done anything to live in such peaceful times as these.
Pope Eudoxia- formerly Sagittarius Eudoxia- sank into the bath with a sigh of relief. She and her fellow Gold Saints had all heard the stories of the Holy Wars, the steep price Sanctuary had paid in the name of Athena. I know from the records left behind by my predecessors as Pope of Sanctuary exactly how devastating it was. Sometimes I really wonder how this old place is still standing after all that. It’s been years since the last time we went to war, and that was against Mars, long in the past. Against all odds, we’ve managed to form an agreement with the god warriors of Asgard, Poseidon and his Marinas, and even Hades himself. These godly conflicts have gone on too long and cost too many lives. And for what? Did anyone even really remember what it was we were fighting about? It just seemed like we were all being moved around on some kind of godly chessboard.
Relaxing in the hot water, she turned her gaze to the far wall, which was mainly covered by a relief depicting the previous Popes of Sanctuary and their most notable acts. The segment between Aries Shion and Taurus Harbinger had been damaged with a chisel, and the features of Gemini Saga were chipped away, leaving his stone representation faceless. Saga wasn’t popular, and it’s no surprise to me that someone decided to expunge him from history all things considered, but nonetheless I’ve been wanting to get it fixed. As unsettling as it is to have the faces of those who came before staring at me while I bathe, he’s part of Sanctuary’s story, and if we simply chisel out the bad bits in favor of only looking at the good, this peace won’t last. Nothing can survive if it just chooses to forget the past, or only remember what’s convenient. You start revising history and you learn nothing from it.
Eudoxia had always been the most interested among her peers in the history of Sanctuary. She’d spent countless hours in libraries perusing the dusty old records, mind fixated on the stories of the Saints of old. It was then that I realized just how much the past kept repeating itself, how many times a problem went unaddressed and cost lives. By Zeus, even just reading about the history of the Gemini Saints can tell you that we’ve been doing something very wrong all these years. I started searching all the temples, looking for more information- personal information. Diaries of past Saints and all that, anything to give me a clue to what we could do to stop it all happening again. I scoured every ancient volume and chased after every living relative of a past Saint I could find. I fought endlessly for peace, for change, for justice in the name of the living and the dead. And yet there’s still so much more I want to do. So much that can still be accomplished. We can still improve, I know we can.
A cool breeze wafted through the room and Eudoxia lowered herself a bit more into the warm water, up to her neck. No one living enters the Pope’s chambers without permission, particularly the bath, but the dead… they go where they please. I was never endowed with the ability to see them, but we all know Sanctuary’s teeming with the ghosts of Saints. They come in and out, offer guidance where they may. That breeze may really be just a gust of wind, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful. You’re never really alone around here.
Sure enough, she thought she heard the faintest clink of armor and the sound of murmuring as the breeze passed through. No doubt some past Pope, wandering the halls. I wish I could talk to them, or at least know who they are. They probably have so much they could teach me. I would have liked to meet some of them, but our years didn’t line up, not exactly. Perhaps I’ll meet them someday in another life- and hopefully then, they won’t be catching me in the bath.
As she began to wash, her mind turned to the main problem at hand- successors. She and the other Gold Saints were still in the prime of their lives and unlikely to die of old age, but teaching the new generation would take time and patience. So far, few Gold Saints had found their successors. I don’t doubt we’ll have to make more changes as new questions come up, and it takes time just to find suitable candidates for Gold Cloth. They have to be born under the right sign, not be too old, and have a suitably strong Cosmos- plus, they need to survive training to begin with. It’s a grueling process, and the Trials to attain a Gold Cloth are oftentimes fatal to those who do not prove themselves worthy. Seeking out and training the next generation of Gold Saints is going to take some trial and error. It’s said that you don’t usually find your successor by directly looking for them, though- I suppose I’ll have to let destiny bring the next Gold Saint of Sagittarius to me.
Eudoxia sighed a bit and unpinned her brunette hair, letting it flow down and float on the surface of the water. I don’t like leaving things up to fate, fate has a tendency to set all Hades loose upon us around here- sometimes more literally than you’d think. But if there’s nothing I can do but wait, then the path is clear.
The Pope of Sanctuary raised her eyes to the ceiling, where above her glittered a mural of the night sky. The different constellations glowed depending on the seasons, and which stars were visible at the time from Sanctuary. Sagittarius was shining bright, and looking up at it, she had to wonder if the real constellation of Sagittarius was shining above her future apprentice.
Wherever they are, I hope they come to me quickly- and are willing to work hard. We’ve got so much to do, and time keeps ticking. Even if we are at peace, something tells me we shouldn’t let our guard down.
Chapter 2: Summons
The twelve Gold Saints have been summoned back to Sanctuary for unknown reasons, and some fear the worst. Ravi, the young apprentice of Aries Tenzin, follows his mentor from their home in Jamir to Sanctuary in Athens, Greece.
Ravi scrambled over another large rock, bag of tools bouncing painfully against his back. Tenzin had called him telepathically and it wasn’t time for dinner yet. Tenzin never called before mealtime unless something was horribly wrong. Normally, the Aries Saint let her apprentice spent his afternoons running around in the mountains of Jamir on the grounds that he needed to keep up his strength and stamina. Ravi didn’t know why she was so set on him getting so much exercise when being a Cloth Blacksmith wasn’t terribly physically demanding, but he welcomed the opportunity to explore. It was better than sitting indoors all day listening to the sound of metal being banged on with a hammer. The noise of blacksmithing, while enticing at first, grated on the ears like nothing else after several years of hearing it nigh-incessantly.
He’d lived with Aries Tenzin and her husband, Taurus Yves, for several months now. Other Lemurians were few and far between, especially these days with fewer of their species choosing to have children. Due to being orphaned at a young age, the Saint of Aries was the only other Lemurian that Ravi had ever seen. She took me on because she needed more help in the forge, another pair of hands who had our skill for fixing Saint Cloth. Yves was a blacksmith by trade himself before he became a Saint, but celestial armors and mundane metalworking are two entirely different things.
Ravi trudged up the path to the small house overlooking the gorge, wondering what Tenzin might want. It could be that she’s got a new order to work on and needs my help. Mentor’s needing more help lately. Tenzin had lost her leg in the trial to attain the Aries Cloth, and the bionic one which had replaced it didn’t respond well to the strain of lugging around heavy armor and spending the whole day on her feet. Yves was always tinkering with it, trying to fix the little damages caused by wear and tear.
The Taurus Saint was standing outside the house, plaited auburn hair blowing in the wind. In terms of physical appearance, he was taller and more well-muscled than most humans and fairly towered over Tenzin and Ravi. There was a certain physical demand upon those who wore the Taurus Cloth, and Yves rose to it with ease. One of Ravi’s earliest memories of Tenzin and her husband was Yves with his mentor in his arms, fully armored and laughing as he carried her over the threshold of the house. I like Yves, he’s kind and he makes Mentor happy. I’ve never seen anybody else who’s able to make her laugh that way.
Today, however, Taurus Yves wasn’t smiling- and to Ravi’s surprise, he’d traded his normal simple garb for his golden armor. He doesn’t put on the Taurus Cloth often because he doesn’t like to stand on ceremony when there’s no fighting to be done- does this mean we’re under attack?
“Yves, what’s going on?” Ravi hurried over to where the Taurus Saint was pacing worriedly, armor clanking loudly with each movement. “Is everything okay?”
Yves stopped his pacing, looking relieved at the sight of him. “Oh- Ravi. Thank gods, Tenzin was wondering where you were. We need your help packing up the workshop.”
“Packing up the workshop?” Ravi questioned. “We’re leaving Jamir?” Normally the furthest away that we go is down the mountain to the town to buy food, but we wouldn’t need to pack for that because it’s only a day’s trip.
Yves nodded. “Yes, Sanctuary’s calling back all thirteen of us for a Golden Round. Pope Eudoxia’s message arrived an hour ago. She didn’t give a reason, only told us to be prompt- and bring you along.” He threw a concerned glance back at the house. “I can only hope this doesn’t mean Holy War.”
Ravi had heard about the Holy Wars in whispers from Tenzin and Yves many times. Although neither Saint had fought in them, Tenzin’s parents had given their lives in the last conflict with Hades when Specters had stormed Sanctuary. The horrors and loss of life brought by a battle between gods were unspeakable and while they’d been blessed by years of peace, the underlying fear of a new Holy War was ever-present. Ravi could see it in the way Yves held Tenzin close to him in his sleep- if there was a new Holy War, they would be expected to fight and die, and as the Aries Temple was the first house of the Zodiac, Tenzin would be the first to go. By the time the attackers reached Yves, his wife would already be gone.
Ravi didn’t have much to pack in his small bedroom- only his clothes, bedroll, and tools. They lived simply in Jamir and unnecessary items usually ended up lost or discarded. I wonder what Sanctuary will be like? Yves will have to live in the Taurus Temple, with me and Tenzin in Aries. Maybe the other Saints will have apprentices too and I’ll make some friends. There aren’t any other children up here.
From the workshop, he could hear Tenzin and Yves conversing as they packed. Their voices were low and hushed, but Ravi couldn’t help but eavesdrop.
“Damn the rules, Tenzin- if Sanctuary comes under attack, I’m not sitting by and waiting while you- you-”
“I’m the first line of defense, Yves. As unfortunate as it is, you need to wait and ensure you survive to protect the goddess if I fall.”
“I can’t fight knowing you’re hurt, I can’t- you remembered what happened in the trials for our Cloths. I ran all the way from the Taurus Temple to get to you, and I’ll do it again.”
Tenzin laughed softly. “I know- you carried me all the way to the healers. Your mentor was livid, my dear.”
“It doesn’t matter so long as you’re safe, love.” Yves lowered his voice a bit more and Ravi strained to hear it. “I hope this isn’t a sign that the peace is breaking.”
Tenzin heaved a sigh. “Me too, dear. Me too.”
Ravi turned away from the door where he’d been listening, mind full of worries. Yves and Tenzin are afraid, and they have no more idea what’s going on than I do. What will it mean for me if there’s a Holy War? I’m just a novice Cloth Blacksmith, I don’t know anything about fighting. Will I have to fix the armors on my own if Tenzin goes into battle? I’ve been learning, but I don’t think I’m ready. There’s so much my mentor still has to teach me, and she and Yves are already preparing for the worst.
The young boy looked around the now-bare room, trying to memorize the details and imprint its appearance in his brain. This room was his earliest and only memory of a home- memories of the orphanage were hazy at best and memories of his parents were nonexistent. This was the first place he could truly call home, that little house with Yves and Tenzin and the occasional Saint dropping by for repairs. As Ravi surveyed the room, he felt a pang in his heart. Although he couldn’t fully fathom why, something gave him the sense that he wouldn’t be coming back to the little house for a long time. Sanctuary summoning us probably means something is changing. I don’t know when we’ll be back in Jamir, or what’s waiting for us when we leave.
For a moment, everything was quiet as he grappled with the implications of that thought and the fears of Holy War. Then, Tenzin called his name from the forge and with one last look, Ravi left his room behind to face what was in store for him in Sanctuary.
Tiresias squinted in the bright sunlight of the market, pulling his hood lower over his eyes. It’s impossible to see anything out here. How do people stand it being so fucking bright? Now I know why Sephi likes the castle to be perpetually in dusk. I’m going to get a headache if we stay here much longer.
The Saint Cancer Persephone was less ill-affected than he was, he noted with some bitterness. The cowl of her long black cloak was worn further back on her head so that her face, with its hooded eyes and high cheekbones, was visible. The lines of one of her many tattoos- an intricate pattern of the branches, leaves, and fruit of a pomegranate tree that curved across her left shoulder blade and down her arm- could be seen snaking up her neck. Underneath the folds of black crushed velvet and silver embroidery, her Gold Cloth glittered and shone in the light. Just as he was staring at it, a sunbeam hit it just right to make it sparkle and Tiresias was forced to turn away cursing. Fuck, this is why I prefer the Cancer Surplice. At the castle, we never wear anything that flashy. It’s either muted tones or outright black, and it’s easier on the eyes that way. I’m not meant to look at bright, living things- they hurt my eyes.
Persephone threw him a quick glance. “It’s not too much farther to Sanctuary now. How are you holding up, Tiresias?”
He scuffed his boot in the dirt irritably. “I don’t like how bright it is- I can barely see a thing out here. Why couldn’t we go through the Meikai?” Normally when we’re leaving the castle and I go along, we go through the Meikai and pop out wherever in the land of the living we need to go to. Even then, we normally go out only at night. But we received a letter from Sanctuary, and Sephi said it was urgent so here we are in the middle of the fucking day.
The corners of her red-lipsticked mouth twitched in amusement. “You have to get used to a little bit of daylight, Tiresias. When you’re a Saint, you might not be able to run off to Castle Heinstein whenever you feel like it. The sun is beastly out here but it won’t be so bad once we get to the Cancer Temple.”
“I don’t see why anyone would want to become a Saint,” Tiresias griped. “It’s much better in the land of the dead. Why do we have to go back anyway? Doesn’t Sebastian have the authority to tell them to fuck off?”
Persephone shook her head. “Just because Athena and Hades are at peace and we can live this way with Sebastian and Pandora in Castle Heinstein doesn’t mean I can neglect my obligation to Athena. I know Seb doesn’t like the idea of me bowing to a former enemy, but it’s my status as both a Saint and the Lady of the Dead that’s averted so many Holy Wars. We must go when Athena calls- she’s just as dangerous as Hades when she wants to be and it wouldn’t do to offend the goddess of wisdom and war.”
Cancer Persephone’s position was an interesting one- through a string of events she’d never told Tiresias the full story of, she’d found herself nearly abandoning her post as a Saint to run away with her childhood-friend-turned-lover. Unfortunately, the shy and retiring Sebastian Mortensen had turned out to be none other than the host of Hades. Holy War had hung on the horizon until Sagittarius Eudoxia had stepped in, and through a lot of what, to Tiresias, sounded like boring diplomatic bullshit, the current peace had been negotiated with Persephone as the liaison between Sanctuary and the realm of Hades. She stays in Castle Heinstein during the fall and winter and returns to Greece during the spring and summer. Normally I don’t go with her and frankly wouldn’t want to but this time apparently Athena insisted.
The sun momentarily drifted behind the clouds, allowing Tiresias’ eyes a bit of respite. Hopefully the Cancer Temple will be dark, or I’ll never be able to live there. But if Sephi can handle it, I have to as well. I’m her apprentice, so if she thinks I can do it, then I need to try.
His mentor seemed to sense his thoughts and pulled him a bit closer to her in order to shield him with her cloak. “We’re almost there now, don’t worry. I’ll let you rest in the Cancer Temple while I attend to some business. Fortunately it’s tradition that we hold the Golden Round under the stars, I fully intend that you join us for the meeting and I’d never subject you to hours upon hours struggling in sunlight.”
Tiresias smiled slightly, grateful. Although being out in daylight was entirely unpleasant, he admitted that he was very curious and hoped that whatever his mentor was doing, he’d be allowed to participate. Sebastian and Sephi have always treated me like an equal rather than an inferior, which is better than the orphanage ever did. They’ve always allowed me to learn or at least listen in, unlike most adults who just dismiss me as too young to understand. “Thanks, Sephi.”
She smiled back. “Anytime- now, if you’re up to it, come out of my cloak and take a look at where we are.”
Hesitantly, and still trying to shield his eyes, Tiresias did so. They’d arrived at a great marble archway, framed by gold leaf and imposing statues. An inscription in Greek was carved at the top, and a winding stone stairway could be seen ascending upwards. Temples dotted the sides of the stairway as it wound up the mountainous terrain, and in the distance, the clamor of warriors training could be heard. So this is Sanctuary. I admit, it’s not Castle Heinstein and everything’s bright, but it is pretty fucking impressive.
Persephone nodded approvingly at his awed expression. “You think it’s cool now, wait until you see it at night. I love Castle Heinstein, but there’s nowhere better to see the stars than the roof of a temple in Sanctuary. I can show you around more after sundown.” She gestured toward the gates. “Now we’d better hurry and get you to the Temple of Cancer so you can get settled in before our work begins. You’ll need your rest.”
Receding back into the darkness of his mentor’s cloak, Tiresias followed her into Sanctuary.
Chapter 3: Exploring
Ravi decides to explore his new surroundings, and meets a new friend in the process.
The Aries Temple was more vast of a living space than Ravi was used to, and the marble floors were cold against his bare feet. He readily admitted that it was easily one of the most beautiful places he’d ever seen, with its soaring ceilings and the crystal outcroppings that acted as chandeliers, but the whole place just seemed wrong. Home in Jamir had been small, but it had been warm, felt welcoming and safe. The temple was like a palace, but he couldn’t seem to shake the sense that he didn’t belong there. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t feel like home. It might feel better if I could spend more time with Tenzin and Yves, but they ran off to meet with the Pope as soon as Mentor teleported us here and told me to stay behind. I know they’re probably trying to find out if there’s a Holy War and don’t want to frighten me if there really is one, but not knowing is a million times worse.
He sighed and hurried across the vast main chamber to the door. They said stay behind, they never specifically said that I had to stay in the temple. Maybe I’ll feel better if I explore, or maybe I’ll see Mentor and Yves. Either way I can’t stay in here, not alone. This temple’s too big for one person.
The afternoon sun was high in the sky, and most activity had halted- it was too hot at midday to do much except sleep or work quietly indoors. It’s blistering hot out here, but if I can find something to do besides sit in that big old temple, it’ll be worth it. He started climbing the long, winding flights of stairs which served as Sanctuary’s main route of transportation, eyes peeled for something, anything to distract himself. I haven’t gotten a good look at the other temples yet. Hope at least one of them is better than Aries.
From the outside, the Taurus Temple didn’t look much different- similar style of architecture comprised mostly of marble- but there were more stained glass windows and vaulted domes than the temple Tenzin and Ravi called home. It seemed much homier too, and through the front entryway, Ravi glimpsed what appeared to be an immense fire pit in the center of the floor, likely for either warmth or cooking. Due to the hot weather, it was unlit. There’s nobody there since Yves doesn’t have an apprentice, and I can explore it later when he’s returned. I don’t really want to wander around another empty temple.
He reached what he presumed was the entrance to the Gemini Temple after barely a minute of climbing. The temple itself was out of view and the path off the landing almost immediately led into a walled maze. Of course the Geminis would hide their temple in a labyrinth- they’re so dramatic. I don’t doubt it’s booby-trapped too, and I’m sure whatever the temple looks like, it’s not worth fighting my way through a death maze to see it. Besides, Tenzin always makes an annoyed face when talking about the current Saints of Gemini and something tells me I don’t want to be meeting them just yet.
Ravi kept climbing, brushing hair out of his face. So far the rest of Sanctuary wasn’t any more interesting than Aries. I doubt all the other Saints have arrived yet, but even so, it’s completely dead around here. I don’t know what I’m going to do all day if we have to stay for good.
He sat down on the next landing to catch his breath, and that was his first glimpse of the Cancer Temple. While the Taurus and Aries Temples were made of white or beige marble, the Temple of Cancer was jet black with veins of gold. Unlike the others, he couldn’t seem to discern anything about the interior- everything beyond the entryway seemed to be shrouded in shadow. Although he wasn’t sure why, Ravi could feel the hairs on the back of his neck raise. That’s strange… it’s sunny outside. Why’s it so dark in there?
He stepped off the landing onto the path with some trepidation, craning his neck to look inside. The interior didn’t get any less murky as he moved closer, and standing in the shadow of the building, it almost felt like dusk. Upon arriving at the foot of the steps to the entrance, Ravi became aware of half-audible whispering emanating from within. Is there someone in there? Mentor says the Cancer Temple is filled with wandering souls, maybe it’s haunted.
He was just about to mount the first step when a quiet, forceful voice cut through the whispering and stopped him in his tracks.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Ravi backpedaled rapidly and immediately froze, darting his eyes back and forth as he searched for who had spoken. Is that a ghost? Are they angry because I came too close to the temple? Maybe I should have stayed in Aries…
There was a rustling of fabric from behind one of the columns and a boy about his age stepped out, hovering in the shadows but still close enough to the doorway to be seen. He had messy, dark hair that extended to his shoulders and heavily lidded eyes with irises that seemed to have only the slightest tint of blue-green pigmentation. He looked sallow, thin, and almost sickly, but the way he held his head was imperious, proud- as though he was accustomed to respect and prestige, or at least had observed it enough to imitate it.
“I said,” he repeated irritably, “what the fuck are you doing? People live here, you can’t just walk in. You might disturb the ghosts, and it’s hard enough to get them to keep quiet so I can sleep without strangers walking in.”
Now that it was apparent that the source of the voice was human and living, Ravi relaxed considerably and his fear gave way to belligerence. I don’t think I like this guy’s attitude. I had no idea anyone was in there trying to sleep, and I didn’t think I made that much noise. Who the hell sleeps in a creepy temple in the middle of the day anyway? “I was just exploring, I wasn’t going to come inside.”
“Good,” came the lofty reply. “I need to sleep during the day or I won’t be awake during the night- that’s when Sephi is going to show me around Athens and I don’t want to be yawning and exhausted the whole time.”
Ravi raised an eyebrow. Not just conceited, he’s downright weird. “Why are you sleeping during the day? Who’s Sephi?”
The boy sighed loudly. “So many stupid fucking questions. I’m sleeping during the day because the sun’s too bright and it’s unpleasant, and Persephone is my mentor. She’s the Gold Saint of Cancer,” he added with a note of pride, “and the Lady of the Dead. Only Sebastian and I can call her Sephi, it’s too familiar for strangers to be using.”
“Well, I’m a Saint’s apprentice too,” Ravi shot back quickly, not to be outdone. “Aries Tenzin is my mentor.” He conveniently omitted that at the moment, he was Tenzin’s apprentice only in the trade of Cloth blacksmithing. Mentor’s never actually taught me anything about fighting or Cosmos or being a Saint, and every time I ask, she tells me there’s no need for me to learn or I’m too young or makes some other excuse. I’ve tried to learn on my own, but I can’t break rocks into atoms or punch at even slightly above average speed for a Lemurian. I don’t know if she’s ever going to teach me any of it, and I’ve learned to stop asking. But he doesn’t know that- as far as he knows, I’m destined to be the next Aries Gold Saint.
The other boy cocked his head, looking surprised. “You climbed all the way up here from Aries? In broad daylight ?”
“Um… yeah? The heat doesn’t really bother me- it’s only about as hot as a blacksmith’s forge and once you get used to that, it’s not too bad.” Ravi wasn’t sure how to respond to the boy’s implication that being awake during the day was somehow strange or against the natural order of things. Are Cancer Saints nocturnal?
“It’s not the heat,” the boy replied, leaning against one of the black columns, “it’s the sunlight. I’m not used to it, and it hurts my eyes. It’s always dark in Heinstein Castle- that’s where I lived before Athena summoned the Gold Saints.” He sighed heavily. “I miss it there.”
Ravi had no idea where Heinstein Castle was and privately thought a castle where it was always night time sounded decidedly creepy, but he understood homesickness. He misses his dark castle just like I miss Jamir. In the end, both of us just want to go home. He took a step closer, less wary than before. “I know what you mean- I wish I could go back to the forge in Jamir. My name’s Ravi- yours?”
“Pleasure to meet you. I’m Tiresias.” The boy smiled slightly, proffering a hand for Ravi to shake. Ravi did so, taking Tiresias’ thin, pale hand in his smaller, calloused one. For someone so skinny and sallow, he had a surprisingly firm grip. Where Ravi’s hands were rough with work and burn scars from accidents in the forge, Tiresias’ were smooth and had not a mark or blemish on them.
“I’m sorry for being so harsh when you first arrived,” Tiresias continued, sitting down in the steps. “I’m very tired from the journey, and Sephi had us climb up here at about midday. I’m still getting over the fucking headache.”
Ravi sat down next to him, emboldened by his companion’s sudden shift towards friendliness. “So if you go out in the sun, you get headaches?”
“If I stay too long, yes. I’m not accustomed to bright lights and I don’t like them in the least.” Tiresias yawned. “And I’m not used to being awake in the day either. Sephi says I need to learn, though- things are different here in Sanctuary than they were in Heinstein Castle.”
Ravi nodded sympathetically. “Yeah- things are different here than they were in Jamir too.”
“Say, is your mentor bringing you to the Golden Round tomorrow night?” questioned Tiresias. “Sephi will be busy talking about the situation with Lord Hades and his troops, and I wouldn’t mind the company.”
Ravi wasn’t sure- Pope Eudoxia had stipulated that he go along with his mentor to Sanctuary, but not whether or not he was allowed to attend the enclave of the Gold Saints. Tiresias sounds totally sure that he’s allowed to be there, but then again, his mentor’s probably taught him all kinds of Saint stuff. As far as most people are concerned, I’m just a blacksmith. I don’t know if Yves and Tenzin will bring me along, or even if I’ll be welcome. “I don’t know, but I hope I can- I want to know what’s going on. If there’s a Holy War, I mean.”
“If there’s a Holy War, it’s certainly not against Hades and Sephi says that according to Pisces Hayliel, the Marinas are very disorganized. I don’t know about Asgard, but seeing as Aquarius Julian is alive and kicking-” here, Tiresias’ mouth twisted in distaste- “I assume no one’s mobilizing there either. I have no idea why we’ve been called here, but don’t worry- it’s not Holy War unless some new enemy has surfaced.”
It’s good that there probably isn’t a Holy War, but it seems like Tiresias knows everything that’s going on. Cancer Persephone’s told him everything and Tenzin and Yves told me nothing. It could be just because they didn’t know, but I have to wonder- would they have told me if they did? He bit his lip, feeling almost betrayed. It seems like Tenzin and Yves discuss everything about Sanctuary behind closed doors- they didn’t even tell me much about the place before we came here. Are they trying to tell me that I’m not meant to be a Saint? I always thought Mentor would start teaching me to hone my cosmos eventually, but what if she never does? What if I really don’t have the potential to be a Saint at all? “Oh.”
Tiresias yawned again and stood up, turning to go back into the temple. “I’d love to stay and talk, but I can barely keep my eyes open. I hope I’ll see you at the Golden Round, Ravi.”
“I hope so too,” Ravi replied, considerably less sure than before.
With a wave, Tiresias strode back into the temple and was almost immediately lost from sight in the shadowy interior. He’s a little bit strange but so far, he’s the only person my age that I’ve met and having a friend around here would be nice. But he’s going to become a Gold Saint and I’ve never even felt my Cosmos… Ravi climbed up from the step and walked back to the stairs, debating whether or not to keep exploring. I’ve barely seen any of Sanctuary, but Yves and Tenzin will be back soon. They didn’t exactly tell me to stay put, but I have a feeling they wouldn’t be too happy if they came back and I’d vanished. Best to go back to Aries.
The trip down was much faster than the trip up, as the sun was beginning to sink in the sky and Ravi wasn’t stopping to look at the temples he passed. He’d already seen them on the way up and there was no apparent change in their appearances- the Gemini Temple was still hidden behind its maze and the Taurus Temple was still unoccupied. It looks like either Yves isn’t back yet or he’s down in the temple with Tenzin.
When Ravi arrived back in the Aries Temple, it was still deserted. They must still be busy, I guess. I can wait here until they get back. Truth be told, he was somewhat glad that Tenzin and Yves hadn’t returned. The trust which seemed to be so strong between Tiresias and Persephone had made him realize just how little his mentor had told him, and he couldn’t help but wonder why she’d chosen to leave him in the dark. There’s so much she hasn’t told me, so much I still want to know. Tenzin has always been kind to me, but I wish she’d tell me the truth about all of this.
I really don’t feel I belong here at all.
Chapter 4: Rising Tensions
Tiresias decides to bring Ravi along while exploring Athens with Persephone, but is quickly reminded that grudges among Gold Saints don't rest for anything.
Tiresias awoke slowly, blinking and smiling in sleepy satisfaction as he noted the darkness outside his window. After Ravi had left the temple, he’d fallen asleep fairly quickly and hoped not to wake up again before sundown. While it was less sleep than he was used to, his headache was gone and he could make up for the lost hours the next day. Mentor will likely permit me to sleep during daylight so I’ll be rested for the Golden Round. Thank gods that’s at night, I’d hate sitting in a meeting for hours in the sun. Although I have to wonder how Ravi will like getting up in the middle of the night for that. It won’t be much fun if he’s half asleep.
Before meeting Ravi that day, Tiresias had never had the opportunity to make many friends his own age. He had been the only child at Heinstein Castle, and as the personal ward of the Lord and Lady of the Dead had spent most of his time in the company of adults. The castle’s residents essentially amount to Seb, Sephi, the Specters stationed there, and servants. The only children were the children of the staff and they were frightened of me because I was part of Lord Hades’ family. I remember that the few times I went into the town with Sephi or Seb, people would rush away and clear a path for us- they were afraid. Memories of old Holy Wars and bloodshed die hard, even though Seb’s done everything he can to convince them things are different now. But now I’ve met Ravi, and he only seemed afraid at first because I startled him. It’s pretty clear his Jamir is very different from Heinstein Castle and I can tell he isn’t sure what to think about me avoiding the light, but he’s not running in fear or treating me like a monster. I’ll take that as a good sign, it’s better than usual.
Absently, he wondered what the Aries apprentice was doing. It’s eight P.M. so I’m not sure if he’s awake still. If he was, I’d drop by and say hello to him when Sephi takes me to show me around. I wonder if she knows his mentor? Aries Tenzin isn’t one of the Saints that Sephi’s told me about, so I don’t think they’re close, but I’m sure they’ve at least met. Maybe I can learn a bit more about what he does in the Aries Temple or what his training is like. Persephone hasn’t taught me much yet but she says we’re going to be more serious about it now that we’re here in Sanctuary- I wonder what he’s learned so far?
“Tiresias, are you awake in there?” Persephone knocked quietly on the doorframe and entered, carrying a glass of what looked like iced coffee. “I’m back, and I brought frappés .”
Tiresias sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “What’s in them?”
“It’s coffee,” Persephone replied cheerfully, “strong coffee. I thought you might want some before we go.”
As if I would say no! I’ve been drinking coffee with Seb and Sephi since I was old enough to ask for it. They’d give me sips of theirs until they decided I could be trusted to drink a whole cup without being completely hyperactive. Tiresias accepted the glass and took an experimental sip. It was delicious, not too sweet but not too bitter, and strong enough to fully wake him up. “Thanks, Sephi. How’d meeting with the Pope go?”
Persephone’s smile faded a bit. “I ran into some people who aren’t exactly... charitable towards my involvement with Sebastian, but other than that, well enough.”
Tiresias knew full well just how much of an understatement that was. After Sephi ran off with Seb and decided to stay engaged to him despite the fact that she knew he’s the host of Hades, a good chunk of Sanctuary derided her as a traitor. Only Pope Eudoxia and a few others believed in her integrity- everyone else either avoided her or was outright hostile. Even though Sephi being the Lady of the Dead has helped keep the current peace we have and most people have come around, some still hold grudges and mistrust her. It’s bullshit, and they shouldn’t dare to speak about my mentor that way. I bet it was Aquarius Julian, he’s always talking shit about her... “Who was it?”
Persephone sighed and sat down next to him on the bed. “Taurus Yves and Aries Tenzin claim that having a Saint who keeps friendly relations with Lord Hades is a liability and that I’m going to stab everyone in the back when the time comes. It’s no secret Cancer Saints walk the line between the living and the dead, but according to them, I don’t walk the line so much as lean to one side.” She rolled her eyes. “I know they have their reasons to be wary- Tenzin’s lost family members in past Holy Wars- but it’s tiresome to keep up the same old grudges for so long. Yes, I left Sanctuary for Sebastian, but I paid the price and in the end, the arrangement benefitted us more than it hurt us.”
Tiresias nearly choked on his coffee. Aries Tenzin is Ravi’s mentor! Is she seriously one of the ones who thinks Sephi’s a traitor? Does that mean Ravi will think the same? He can’t possibly, right? I don’t want him to start looking at us the way Julian does. “Oh…”
Persephone noticed his hurt expression and moved a bit closer, voice lowering in concern. “What’s wrong? They didn’t say anything to you, did they?”
He shook his head. “No, I just- I met Tenzin’s apprentice earlier and he seemed nice. I was hoping maybe we could be friends, but if his mentor and her husband think you’re a traitor…” I want to be loyal to my mentor, and not just because I know that whatever they think of her is also what they think of me. But it would be nice to have a friend, and I hope Ravi doesn’t think that way…
Persephone nodded sagely. “Ah yes, Ravi, isn’t it? Tenzin’s doing everything she can to keep him away from the trial of the Aries Cloth, I hear. Doesn’t want him dragged into any future wars or something- she seems quite incensed by the thought of him being a Saint, actually. Of course, she doesn’t has a choice since finding a Lemurian born at the right time to succeed her as Aries is nigh-impossible. I hope that he hasn’t already taken on his mentor’s worldview- I can handle what Sanctuary thinks of me, but I don’t want that holier-than-thou attitude of some people getting shoved in your face too.” She patted his shoulder gently, careful not to rest her hand there for too long. She knows I don’t like being touched too much and has always been good about giving me my space when I need it. “Although I do know of a few other apprentice Saints I can introduce you to, so you won’t be without companionship regardless.”
“Thank you, Sephi.” I admit it, I do want to be friends with Ravi, but if he thinks we’re traitors, there’s nothing I can do about that. It’ll be nice to meet the others.
“Anytime.” Her smile returned quickly. “So, do you still want to see the rest of Sanctuary?”
Of course! I’ve been dying to do that all day! “Yeah, can we go now?”
“Get dressed then,” Persephone said with a laugh as she took a step back towards the door. “You can’t go wandering around in your pajamas- this is just as much a stronghold of the gods as Heinstein Castle was. I’ll wait downstairs and then we can go.”
With that, she left him to undress. Tiresias opened the trunk he’d brought with him to search out some clothes. Most of it was in black, white, or a very muted red or purple- the residents of Heinstein Castle believed in looking polished and dressing in the colors of the eternal dusk which they lived in- bright colors were rare to find in Hades’ ranks. Clearly Sanctuary was different, with its sparkling golden armor. I know from the way we dress, it’s easy to tell which god we’ve been paying tribute to. But still, it’s infinitely more comfortable to wear this than so many colors. And it’s more formal, anyway- just because Athena’s ranks are stuck in the past and everyone’s casual clothing looks like we’re living in ancient Sparta doesn’t mean we have to. At least the Lord of the Dead believes in fashion sense. Having selected pants and a shirt, he grabbed his leather jacket from where he’d left it on the bed before falling asleep and glanced quickly in the mirror. His curly black hair was a mess, but then again, it usually was. There’s no comb that can seem to tame it, so I’ve learned to just run my fingers through when I can and accept it for what it is. Sephi used to try to brush it, but when I decided I was growing it out long, it became impossible and the time spent picking bits of broken hair brushes out of the knots just wasn’t worth it. I don’t mind it, really. I like the way I look, regardless of what other people say about it.
Brushing a stray curl out of his face, Tiresias walked down the hall to the main chamber. The temple was even darker than in the daytime, and the whispering that perpetually echoed in the halls was louder. Sephi told me that the true mark of a Cancer Saint was that the whispering doesn’t scare us. It doesn’t scare me in the least- I think that’s a good sign. Knowing I’m not alone in here when Sephi’s gone is really kind of comforting even if the people around are technically dead.
His mentor was waiting for him, leaning against one of the columns supporting the entryway. She’d opted for the sort of clothing she’d worn in Heinstein Castle rather than her cloth, Tiresias noted. I’m glad, even when it’s not daytime, that armor is way too shiny. Bright gold doesn’t suit Sephi, it’s not natural for someone from the land of the dead.
“I was thinking I could introduce you to a few of the other Saints while we’re in Athens, people tend to stay out late around here. I’d bring you to see Eudoxia too, but she’s gone off chasing a rumor of a powerful Sagittarian Cosmos.” Persephone laughed. “Our Pope is very driven in finding an apprentice.”
I’ve heard a lot about Pope Eudoxia- and I saw her briefly once when she came to the castle for negotiations. All those were behind closed doors, though- I think that was the one time I wasn’t allowed to fully participate in whatever it was Seb and Sephi were doing. Normally they’d at least let me sit in on important meetings, or when the Judges were giving their verdict on a human soul. Rhadamanthys, Minos, and Aiacos were instructed to give me the same respect as they would Seb or Sephi, and they did. I was a part of most of what went on, but for some reason, they sent me away during the peace talks. I still don’t know why, and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t bother me a little. Every time I’ve asked about what was discussed, she’s avoided the question. It’s not like Sephi to hide things from me.
“There are still Saints that still haven’t found apprentices?” he questioned, not wanting to broach the subject of Pope Eudoxia again. Besides, I want to know- the rest of the Saints are getting to the age where they have to start thinking about successors. It takes time to train a new Gold Saint, and even though we’re at peace, you never know when that successor is suddenly going to be needed. Plus, I know the trials of the Cloths have a reputation for claiming apprentices’ lives if they’re not prepared enough when they have to take up the mantle.
Persephone nodded. “Yes, surprisingly- some are harder to find than others, you know. Each Cloth demands certain qualities from its wearer, and those qualities are incredibly specific. Being born under a particular set of stars isn’t enough, not if you want to be a Gold Saint. That and mentor and apprentice have to wait until fate is ready to bring them together- not all of them are like you and I. Some probably won’t even meet for years. Now,” she continued brightly, gesturing out the door, “we’d better get going if we want to see anything before sunrise. You can ask me all your questions as we walk.”
Tiresias followed her out of the temple, unease clouding his mind again when they passed the place he and Ravi had met. I can’t help but go back to him- it didn’t seem like his mentor’s told him anything about me or Sephi yet, but when she does, what will happen? Will he hate us too? I do want to meet the other apprentices, but the first friend I’ve made here- the first friend I’ve ever made- eventually seeing me as a traitor? I’ve just met Ravi, but I do like him, I do. I don’t want him to hate us!
So absorbed in and incensed by his thoughts was he that Tiresias and Persephone walked in silence until they reached the Aries Temple. Tiresias hovered on the landing hesitantly, debating whether or not to ask his mentor to allow him to go knock on the door. If he hates me, I at least want to know. It’s going to bother me all night if I keep wondering.
He didn’t have time to voice his thoughts because with a splat, something small and round struck him in the back of the head. What the fuck? The object rolled onto the ground, revealing itself to be a ripe fig. Tiresias whipped around, cheeks flushing at the sound of Persephone stifling laughter, to get a glimpse at whoever had thrown the fruit. I don’t like people playing tricks on me, it’s embarrassing! Who the fuck threw that?
“A direct hit!” a familiar voice proclaimed triumphantly from above him. With a start, Tiresias looked up into one of the nearby trees to find Ravi suspended in the branches, slingshot already primed with another delicious projectile. He grinned from ear to ear at the sight of Tiresias’ annoyed expression. “I thought that’d definitely grab your attention!”
“Consider my attention grabbed,” Tiresias replied, anger abruptly fading. He seems happy to see me, which is a good sign. “Where’d you find fruit here in Sanctuary?” It might make things feel a little more like home if they had pomegranates. We grew some in the greenhouses at Heinstein Castle and they were delicious.
Ravi pulled out a small knife and set about skinning a fig. “There are fruit trees everywhere - apricots, peaches, figs, cherries, and pomegranates. I tried to choose one that wouldn’t hurt too much to fire at you when I saw you coming- can you imagine getting a pomegranate zinged at the back of your head?”
Well, that answers that. Tiresias took a step closer to the tree, leaning against one of the lower branches. “Did you stay up just to slingshot a fruit at me?” I know he sleeps during the night like most people, and it’s getting late. I’m glad I got to see him, but if he doesn’t sleep, he’ll be exhausted…
Ravi yawned and shifted his position in the branches. “Couldn’t sleep, and I knew you were waking up, so I thought I’d try to meet you. The Aries Temple’s big and much too quiet.”
Homesick, I don’t doubt. Tiresias glanced quickly at his mentor, who was watching the exchange with amusement. “Well, Sephi and I were going to see a bit more of Athens, and if you can’t get to sleep, maybe…” He trailed off a bit awkwardly, hoping that Ravi and Persephone would understand what he meant. I’m not used to asking people if they want to go places with me, but I think it might be fun if he came along.
Thankfully, Persephone came to his rescue. “My apprentice was wondering if you’d like to join us, my dear.”
Ravi grinned and nodded emphatically. “Of course!” He paused, glancing back to the Aries Temple. “My mentor’s asleep, will we be back before she wakes up?”
Tiresias scanned his mentor’s face for any reaction to the mention of Tenzin, but she only smiled and nodded. “Of course we will. No need to worry about it.”
I’m guessing he hasn’t told Tenzin we met, then. Otherwise… well, I’m not sure if he’d want to go. Tiresias extended a hand to help Ravi down from the tree, and the Aries apprentice took it, squeezing it a little as he lowered himself down from the branches. His hand’s so rough- there are burn marks, scars, and calluses all over it. It’s pretty obvious he’s used to hard physical work, which I don’t deny is as distant from my experience as you can possibly get. Yes, I trained my cosmos in Heinstein Castle, but I hardly got my hands dirty- didn’t even chip a nail. Ravi’s had a vastly different experience from me, and no doubt it was a much harder one. He’s probably more physically up to the challenge of being a Saint than I am.
“Now, when we go into the city, there’s going to be a lot of people around,” Persephone advised as they reached the gates. “This time of year, it’s always teeming with tourists and it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Stay close to me, and to each other. Not everywhere in the city is like Sanctuary.” She laughed sardonically. “Gods know I’m not bringing you anywhere near the docksides in Piraeus until you’re both at least eighteen.”
Ravi turned to Tiresias, looking excited. “I’ve never been in a city before- we lived in the middle of nowhere in Jamir! What do you think it’ll be like?”
Tiresias has about as much firsthand experience with cities as Ravi had, but he’d read enough about them to formulate a general idea. “Lots of people and lots of shops, mostly- I think the area closer to Sanctuary isn’t likely to be very modern, it’s mostly ruins and tourist stuff.”
Ravi’s eyes widened in awe. “Do you think we’ll see any cars or anything?”
Wait, he’s never seen a car before? Tiresias openly stared at him. “Probably? It’s not like they’re uncommon or anything. Haven’t you seen one before?” We rarely had a need to use one, but I’ve ridden in a car, and on Sephi’s motorcycle too.
“Nope, we didn’t have one and neither did anyone in the village,” Ravi replied as though this was the most natural thing in the world. “No electricity, no phone, nothing. Did you have a car?”
No car I can understand up there in the mountains, but the other things? Even the castle had those! “Yes, and Sephi’s motorcycle. How did you do anything in Jamir?”
“The same as anyone else,” Ravi shot back defensively. “Just without electricity! Most of the time we were busy fixing Cloths anyway! We didn’t have time for that kind of stuff!”
Before Tiresias had time to retort, they descended a stone staircase and seemingly without warning, Athens sprung up all around them. It was plain to see that the city had been building and rebuilding itself for centuries- small, chic restaurants and well-lit bars rubbed shoulders with the remains of old temples and fallen columns. The last vestiges of the ancient days had found their resting place among the hustle and bustle of the modern era. Standing on the well-worn cobblestones of the street, Tiresias and Ravi were immediately struck with a profound sense that the first Saints of Athena had likely stood where they stood, taking in their first sights of a very different Athens. Some cities stuff their pasts in museums and block it off with ropes, putting history behind glass where it can still be looked at, but only when you want to. Athens grows up in its own ruins, and the remains of what once was are never out of sight.
Persephone smiled at the sight of their awestruck expressions. “Welcome to Athens, boys. Marvelous, isn’t it? I admit it’s very different from Jamir and Heinstein, but it’s an impressive place to call home nonetheless.”
“Well, well, well. Look what the Specters dragged in. I didn’t know you were already here, Persephone!” A tall, thin man with long brown hair tied back in a messy excuse for a ponytail hurried out of the crowd, clapping Persephone on the back. He grinned, a slightly lopsided sight due to a long scar extending down his jawline and cutting through his lips. “Romulus and I were wondering if we’d have someone to drink with!”
Persephone laughed and playfully punched the man’s shoulder, fist connecting with a metallic clang. Many of the Saints are scarred or missing limbs, even in peacetime. Training is grueling, and the trial for a Gold Cloth even more so. “I bet you didn’t notice we were here because you and your brother got lost in the maze again, Remus,” she teased. “In all the centuries, Sanctuary has never had two Gemini Saints with such a piss-poor sense of direction!”
“I can’t help it if that bitch of a maze is out to get us,” Remus shot back, the picture of mock-indignation. “It’s already taken one of my arms, what more does the damn thing want?”
“Is that our Lady of the Dead I hear?” A near-identical man stepped out of the crowd, albeit more sedately. His appearance was more polished, and his eyes were shielded by a pair of dark-tinted glasses. When he lowered them, no doubt to get a better look at Persephone, Tiresias noticed with surprise that his eyes were a deep crimson, with silvery irises and a slight glow to them. Cybernetic eyes? If the other man’s Remus, then he must be…
“Romulus!” Persephone’s smile widened and she threw her arms around him. “I didn’t think you were coming!”
He gently returned the embrace, the corners of his mouth twitching in amusement. “I thought I might like to visit some old friends. Besides, we’ve sensed a powerful twin Cosmos in the area and I’ll be damned if I let my brother corrupt our apprentices.”
Ravi nudged Tiresias, looking confused. “Who are these guys?”
“Gemini Romulus and Remus,” he explained. “They’re twins, Gold Saints like Persephone, and technically my neighbors. Normally they don’t come to Sanctuary- they live on the island of Santorini and Sephi says they write novels. Don’t worry, they may seem rough but they’re friends of hers.” I’d never met them before, only heard stories- they attained the Gemini Cloth together and never let go of each other’s hands the whole time they were fighting their way through the maze. Even when Romulus lost his eyes and Remus’ arm was completely maimed in one of the traps, they refused to abandon each other. In the end, it was a mixture of both their blood that awakened the Cloth of Gemini. That’s why we have thirteen Gold Saints instead of twelve. For once, the Gemini twins are standing side by side.
Remus turned at the sound of their voices and grinned. “I see you’ve already found your apprentices, of course- I know the one dressed all in black must be Tiresias, but where’d you find the other one?”
“I’m Ravi,” Ravi proclaimed, looking a little offended at his anonymity, “Aries Tenzin’s apprentice.”
Remus nodded sagely. “Might have guessed. It’s nice to meet you, kiddo. Quite a hike to get here from Jamir- is this your first time in Greece?” I know for a fact that Romulus, Remus, and Tenzin don’t get along. I’m glad he’s not projecting that onto Ravi. Who knows, maybe getting to meet the people his mentor doesn’t like will help Ravi stay free of the same grudges.
“Yes,” Ravi replied. “I’ve never been out of Tibet before. I was exploring this afternoon, but you weren’t in the Gemini Temple.”
“No, we try to spend as little time there as possible.” Remus absently rubbed his shoulder where Tiresias guessed the bionic arm connected to his body. “There are some painful memories associated with that place that we’d rather not relive, and besides, we’re going to be here a while. We figured we’d do the grocery shopping.”
“After all, someone has to cook around here or we’ll all be eating field rations,” Romulus added with a hint of sarcasm. “When we find those twins whose Cosmos we’re chasing, the first thing we’re teaching them is how to make spanakopita.”
Remus winked conspiratorially, throwing his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “Don’t tell anyone, boys- our family’s recipe for spanakopita is the most secret art of the Gemini Saints!”
Persephone rolled her eyes in mock annoyance. “Ravi, Tiresias, meet Gemini Romulus and Remus- they haven’t changed a bit since they were apprentices themselves.”
“Although we are missing some body parts,” Romulus chimed in, throwing his arm around his brother’s shoulder in turn. “Everyone always said Remus has a disarming smile, but we never thought they meant it so literally.”
Remus burst out laughing. “Oh, you shush- you know they only had eyes for you.”
Tiresias and Ravi stifled laughter as Persephone sighed theatrically. “Don’t encourage them, they’ll be making puns about their injuries all night if they realize they have a willing audience.”
“Now Persephone, it wouldn’t ‘arm the children to hear some more puns,” Remus said innocently, struggling to keep a straight face.
“Eye, eye,” added Romulus, only just barely clinging to his composure. Unable to hold out any longer, both Gemini Saints burst out laughing. Tiresias watched the two of them, noticing the way even the more reserved and poised Romulus was unable to contain his mirth at the terrible puns. They’ve had a hard life, those two. Persephone told me that all they had in the world when they arrived in Sanctuary was each other. Their training and the trial of Gemini nearly took even that away from them- both nearly died from their injuries after attaining their Cloth. And yet here they are, laughing and joking and happy together. Sephi said that when she visited them on Santorini once, it was one of the most joyful homes she’d ever been in. There may be only the two of them living there, but they’re a family and it shows. It’s really kind of amazing. I’m an only child, I can only imagine what that bond is like.
“Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I promised the boys I’d show them around the city,” Persephone said as their laughter began to fade to tiny gasps of mirth. “I’m sure I’ll see you two around Sanctuary plenty, and at the Golden Round, tomorrow.”
Remus nodded, taking a breath to regain his composure. “Of course- we’ll look forward to catching up with you then, Persephone. Have fun seeing the city, kids.”
“Now, wait just one second !”
Tiresias whipped around to see a petite Lemurian woman with straight, dark hair cut short around her chin striding towards them, jaw set angrily. Her gait was slightly lopsided, and he could faintly detect the whir of hydraulics with each step. Even before Ravi spoke her name aloud, he felt his heart sinking. Tenzin- Aries Tenzin. And she’s not happy.
“Here comes trouble,” Romulus murmured, squeezing his brother’s shoulder.
Remus let out a low whistle. “You’re telling me.”
Persephone looked momentarily shocked, but quickly regained her control and assumed a serene, if slightly forced smile. “Ah, Tenzin. I didn’t expect to see you out so late.”
“Cut the pleasantries,” Tenzin snapped. “What the hell are you doing with my apprentice?”
“I asked him if he wanted to join us and he did,” Persephone replied coolly. “I didn’t kidnap Ravi, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Tenzin glared at her. “Well, he’s coming with me back to Sanctuary now, so it hardly matters. Come along, Ravi.”
Ravi hesitated, looking at Tiresias in confusion. Tiresias couldn’t bring himself to meet his eyes and instead stared morosely at the sidewalk. I should have guessed Tenzin would find out where he was. I should have guessed and I didn’t and now she’s going to tell him all kinds of horrid things about us and-
“Ravi,” Tenzin said pointedly. “ Now .”
With one last glance at Tiresias, Ravi walked slowly to stand beside his mentor. Tossing Persephone one more withering glare, Tenzin took him by the arm and pulled him away into the crowd. Tiresias bit his lip, trying not to cry. She’s going to tell him things that will make him scared of us, or at least things than won’t make him want to be my friend anymore… Stupid, stupid, stupid! You’ve barely known each other for a day, it doesn’t matter! It shouldn’t matter, but I still feel so upset I could just throw up…
Persephone gently pulled him close to her. “There, there- it’s alright, you’ll see Ravi again tomorrow. It’ll be alright.” Unfortunately for both of them, Tiresias knew full well she was lying. He’d spent enough time among adults to know when they were making empty promises to conceal an unpleasant truth. Perhaps the lie might have placated a less perceptive child, but to Tiresias, it only signaled what he most feared- that he would most definitely not see Ravi tomorrow and nothing, nothing would be alright.
Chapter 5: Battle Lines
Ravi finally gets some answers, which in turn lead him to question his friendship with Tiresias and status as Tenzin's apprentice.
Tenzin hadn’t spoken a word the whole walk back from Athens to the Aries Temple, only dragging Ravi behind her as she rushed to put as much distance between herself and Cancer Persephone as possible. Ravi hadn’t even had time to formulate any questions, much less an explanation, before she hauled him into the temple’s kitchen and instructed in a too- calm voice that he sit down at the table. He had done so, sensing in her tone that she was not in the mood to be argued with. She’d seated herself across from him, taking a moment to catch her breath.
After what seemed like ages, Tenzin finally spoke. “Well?” The one- word question carried incredible weight, and called for a full explanation.
Ravi swallowed. “I met Tiresias this morning. We got along well and he seemed nice, so I stayed up to meet him this evening. I went with them into the city because I wanted to and because I couldn’t sleep. They were nice and didn’t do anything to hurt me. Why did I have to leave?” It doesn’t make sense- I’ve never seen Tenzin look at someone the way she looked at Persephone. She seemed to hate her, but Tiresias and his mentor were nice to me…
Tenzin heaved a long sigh. “Do you know where Persephone and Tiresias are from , Ravi?”
He shook his head. “Someplace called Heinstein Castle.”
“And do you know who they live with in Heinstein Castle?”
“Tiresias mentioned a man named Sebastian.” Why is she asking all these questions? Why does it matter where they live and who they live with? I don’t understand!
Tenzin’s expression was unreadable. “Ravi, Heinstein Castle is the stronghold of Hades, Lord of the Dead and God it the Underworld. And the man your new friend was referring to is Sebastian Mortensen, the Purest Soul in this century and de facto host of Hades on earth. Persephone and Tiresias know this, and they willingly associate with him. They’ve been living with and are at least partially loyal to an enemy of Sanctuary.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, Ravi. But I can’t let you go wandering around with Tiresias.”
Tiresias and Persephone are loyal to Hades? But isn’t Persephone a Saint of Athena? Why would they be here if they’re not loyal to her? “Mentor, I don’t understand- there isn’t a Holy War, they said so! Why does it matter? They’re nice, they wouldn’t betray Sanctuary! I know they wouldn’t!”
Tenzin’s eyes flashed angrily. “You know ?! You don’t know anything about any of this, Ravi! Not about Holy War and certainly not about Cancer Persephone! She’s in love with Sebastian- in love with the host of a god whose soldiers have murdered countless Saints! And she knows it! She knows what he is and she still loves him, can still sleep by his side at night!” Tenzin was shaking now, tears filling her eyes. “Gods don’t change, Ravi, particularly gods of Hades’ caliber. She knows that. My parents lost their lives in the last Holy War- they were murdered in cold blood by Specters, and the man who sent those Specters is Persephone’s lover . I never even got to know them. Do you see now why I don’t trust her? Someone who can just so easily forget all the Saints lying cold in their graves, dead before their time, all because of Hades?” She began to cry outright, tears coursing down her cheeks. “How can anyone trust someone like that?”
Ravi sat still, trying to process everything she’d said. Hades killed Tenzin’s parents, and Persephone is in love with him. Does Tiresias know the truth about Sebastian? He has to- they live together. But that means Tiresias is also loyal to someone who killed Saints… “Oh…”
“It’s alright,” Tenzin replied, drying her eyes. “You didn’t know.”
Ravi stared down at his shoes sadly. I really thought Tiresias was nice, but what Tenzin’s saying… I don’t know. He’s the first friend I’d ever made, but is he really my friend if he didn’t tell me this? Was he hiding it because he knew it was wrong? “I thought he was my friend.”
“And he might be, for all I know.” Tenzin sighed. “But Ravi, the fact of the matter is that even though we’re at peace, Hades is still one of the most formidable and devastating foes that Sanctuary has ever faced. It’s too soon to be so friendly with someone who’s taken so many lives.”
Maybe she’s right…. “I’m sorry, Tenzin…”
She leaned over and ruffled his hair. “It’s alright- like I said, you didn’t know. I’m not surprised they didn’t tell you.”
“Tenzin, Ravi? Are you still awake?” Yves poked his head into the kitchen. “I’m back.”
Tenzin leapt up excitedly, immediately having to steady herself against the table. “Did you find it, love?” Noticing Ravi’s confused expression, she turned back to him. “Yves sensed a Taurus Cosmos here in Sanctuary and went looking for its owner after we met with Eudoxia. He thought that it might be his apprentice.”
Yves might have found a student! That means I’ll have someone to talk to! Hopefully they’re more honest with me than Tiresias was… Yves grinned and ducked out of the kitchen, calling over his shoulder. “Come on in, Lívia!”
After a few moments, a young girl about Ravi’s age entered. She had dark skin and long black hair running down her back in a pair of thick braids and wide, friendly brown eyes. Ravi noted with some surprise that she was taller than he was, and more well-muscled too. When she spoke, her voice was gentle and sweet, but without a trace of shyness or timidity. “Hi there!”
“Lívia’s one of Sanctuary’s wards- she was brought here from Brazil when she was a child,” Yves explained excitedly. “She was initially going to be an acolyte but quickly showed uncanny aptitude for fighting. They were going to try to train her in hopes she might attain a Bronze or Silver Cloth, but the moment I got close to the training ground, the Taurus Cloth got excited and practically dragged me down to her. That’s when I knew- she’s a future Gold Saint for sure!”
Tenzin embraced him happily. “You’ve found your apprentice, then! That’s wonderful!” She turned to Lívia, smiling. “I’m Aries Tenzin, your mentor’s wife and guardian of the first Temple of the Zodiac. I look forward to seeing what you’re capable of.”
Lívia smiled back, fairly glowing at the praise. “Thank you, ma’am.” She pointed to Ravi. “Is he your apprentice?”
Ravi leaned in, interested. Tenzin still hadn’t outright said that he was anything more than a Cloth blacksmith, and he was curious. If I’m the Aries Saint apprentice, she’ll tell me now, won’t she?
Tenzin glanced at him, eyes full of an emotion he couldn’t name. “That remains to be seen. In the meantime, he’s here to assist me with fixing Cloths, so you’ll see a lot of him around the Aries Temple. His name is Ravi.”
Ravi tried to hide his disappointment as Lívia enthusiastically waved hello. She hasn’t decided yet… does that mean I’m not good enough to be a Saint? I always assumed I was Tenzin’s successor, but now that I’m here, I don’t know for sure. Everyone seems so certain, and I’m not certain at all.
“Well,” Yves said, clapping Lívia on the shoulder and quickly kissing Tenzin’s cheek, “we must be going. It’s getting late and I want my apprentice rested for the Golden Round tomorrow night. She and Ravi can get to know each other then. Goodnight, you two.”
Tenzin returned the kiss gently. “Alright, Ravi and I should do the same- I intend to bring him along. Goodnight, both of you.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Ravi!” Lívia called over her shoulder, still smiling. “It’ll be our first Golden Round!”
Ravi watched them go, now more conflicted than ever. He wasn’t Tenzin’s apprentice, not definitely, but he was going to the Golden Round. Tiresias was kind, if a little eccentric, but he was loyal to Hades. And now Yves had an apprentice, and she was nice, but she was definitely a Saint and he wasn’t. I’m not sure what to think, what I’m supposed to do. None of this makes any sense! People I thought I could trust are hiding things, people who I thought trusted me aren’t sure about me, and things keep changing!
Why can’t it all be the way it was? I want to go back to Jamir…
Chapter 6: Heart-to-Heart
Lívia settles into the Taurus Temple, Yves avoids questions about the past, and Ravi has a good cry.
Lívia didn’t sleep a wink that night.
The new Taurus apprentice was so excited that she could hardly close her eyes, for fear of missing something new and exciting to look at. She’d never lived in a place quite like the Taurus Temple- certainly, nowhere else she’d lived had stained glass ceilings and a fire pit. It was a far cry from the barracks where she’d slept in her time as an acolyte, and certainly a far cry from the orphanage. Everything felt warm, and she could feel a humming present in the air that seemed to be excited to welcome her.
The previous evening had been a whirlwind of events that she’d never thought possible. One minute she was practicing her punches on the training ground alone to focus her mind, the next, a man in shining golden armor had all but tumbled down the embankment to the small circle flattened by years of sparring Saints. He’d introduced himself as Taurus Yves, and said that he’d sensed her Cosmos from the Temples of the Zodiac and run to find her. She’d been in awe- and truth be told, the awe hadn’t faded with the knowledge that apparently it was her destiny to be a Gold Saint. They told me I might even become a Silver Saint someday in the training ground, but I didn’t think I’d be training under a Gold Saint for the Taurus Cloth!
She’d lain in bed all night, staring up through the skylight at the night sky and trying to pick out her constellation among them all as she thought about everything that transpired. I’m going to be a Gold Saint, and I’ve already met two Gold Saints- Yves and the Aries Saint, Tenzin. She has an apprentice too- Ravi. I wonder what it’s like being an Aries apprentice?
Lívia had always excelled in the physical portion of Saint training, and had emerged very quickly as a contender for a Cloth someday. I’m stronger than most of the other candidates- I can lift several of the bigger boys, and I knew how to throw a punch before I came here. However, physical prowess was not all that a Saint needed in their time serving Sanctuary, and she and the other children had been carted off to innumerable classes in subjects anywhere from astronomy and the history of Sanctuary, to Greek language lessons broken up by native tongue for those who weren’t from Greece itself. Lívia had studied hard, but most of her teachers had been chagrined by her unbreakable habit of asking questions. It seemed that they couldn’t get two words into a lecture before her hand shot up. I can’t help it, I just can’t stop thinking of things I want to know. Sometimes when I’m lying awake at night, I even write them down so I can remember them tomorrow. And when I have a question, that’s all I can focus on until somebody answers it. The most common questions- which, incidentally, were also the ones most hated by the teachers- usually began with why . Her Greek instructor had gone to the Pope in complete despair because he was thoroughly sick of telling her that he didn’t know why Greek verbs worked that way, or why words were gendered, or why that gender was conditional upon seemingly arbitrary situations. He said that I didn’t need to know those things to speak proper Greek, and I suppose he’s right, but I want to know- I want to understand all of it. It makes Greek hard to speak, so why is it like that?
If the teachers had been unhappy about her various questions regarding the material they were studying, they were livid when she began to question the rules, and their authority. Why was asking questions disruptive? Why did they have to wear uniforms? Why weren’t the apprentices allowed to go to the city? Why was curfew so early? Could they have something besides a massive pot of oatmeal for breakfast? Why weren’t they allowed to play games on the training ground if they didn’t want to spar or do exercises? Could the rules be changed? Even when she wasn’t asking questions, she wasn’t afraid to say when she didn’t like something or when she believed a rule was unfair, and ignored the dirty looks she got for doing so. Although Lívia was bright and eager to learn, her teachers and instructors didn’t like her challenges to the standards they’d set in place. Inquisitiveness and eagerness to learn was a prized trait, but in moderation, they said, and when it was accompanied by a healthy respect for authority and the Way Things Were, something Lívia had never been satisfied with. Changing the rules was all well and good, they thought to themselves, but it had to be done quietly , gradually, and not by little girls with too many questions.
It seemed she’d only just gotten her excited mind to quiet down a bit for sleep when she was roused by a soft knock on the door of the room. It was a much different wake up call from the shouting and threat of a chilly bucket of water to the face in the barracks, and for a moment, she almost didn’t hear it. But then the knock came again, followed by Taurus Yves’ quiet voice.
“Lívia? Are you awake in there?”
She got up from the bed, excitement returning immediately. “Yes, I’ll be right there!”
She thought she heard Yves laugh a bit before speaking again. “No need to rush- may I come in?”
“Go ahead.” Lívia sat back down on the bed and smoothed her tunic a bit to try to appear presentable. In her rush to follow the Taurus Saint the previous night, she had left her extra clothes behind and slept in the plain tunic and leggings she typically wore for training, simply removing the boiled leather armor for the sake of comfort. If Yves was going to inspect the room as they had done in the barracks, he was sure to find it lacking. For all I know, he might be even stricter about a clean chamber than the Saints back there were...
He opened the door surprisingly gently, leaning on the doorframe. Yves had traded his cloth for casual- if more than a little soot-stained- clothing, a white button-down shirt and vest with the sleeves rolled up. If Lívia had never seen him before, only his build would have marked him as a Gold Saint. His eyes swept around the room, and she sat a bit taller- failed chamber inspections didn’t faze her. It would just be a bad start to my apprenticeship as a Gold Saint, that’s all.
“Did you sleep well?” he inquired. “If not, we can try to find you another room, or I can let you go back to sleep for a while. We don’t have anywhere we particularly need to be until tonight, so sleeping in is just fine.”
She blinked. This was new- if you were tired in the barracks, you got up anyway and resolved to sleep as early as you could the next night. I was expecting Gold Saints to be stricter than that with their apprentices.
Yves just nodded sagely at her shocked expression. “Don’t worry, I don’t believe in rousing you with a bucket of water like the barracks did. I got my fill of that in my youth, and now I hate getting up before noon unless I absolutely must. If you sleep in, you’ll do us both a favor. There’s plenty of time in the day anyway.”
A question immediately sprung into Lívia’s mind. “You lived in the barracks too?” She hoped he wouldn’t find the question too forward, but she couldn’t help herself. It was known fact that most of the students in the barracks would become either soldiers or servants around Sanctuary- only a small handful would attain a cloth of their own, and in that handful, the chances of one of them being an undiscovered Gold Saint were astronomical. Normally, a Gold Saint would sense their apprentice’s Cosmos before they even came to Sanctuary, or as soon as they arrived in the barracks. Children with that kind of a destiny rarely stayed long among the others in the barracks, not long enough to really be acquainted with what it was like, and Yves sounded as though he’d spent some time there.
The Taurus Saint laughed a bit ruefully, running a hand through his curly hair. “Yes, when I first came to Sanctuary. I was there for four years before my mentor managed to track me down. Believe me, if I never taste porridge or have to wake up before the sun again, it’ll be too soon. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting in there too long- I haven’t been back to Sanctuary in some years, and with all the energy surrounding Jamir, it’s very hard to hone in on a distant Cosmos.”
That’s right, he lived in Jamir too, with Tenzin and Ravi. Lívia tried to suppress a laugh at the mental image of the now quite physically imposing Taurus Saint as a child in the barracks like all the others. “I’ve been here for as long as I can remember- they told me I was given to Sanctuary as a baby as an offering to the goddess.” The legendary Gold Saint Taurus Aldebaran had been born and grown up in her town, and every two years, a baby born under the sign of Taurus was sent from the town to Sanctuary, in hopes another protector of the goddess might emerge. Most of these children became acolytes or foot soldiers, but every so often, one attained a Cloth and joined the ranks of the eighty-eight as a Bronze or even a Silver Saint. I guess they were right to send me, considering I’m sitting here.
Yves nodded and sat down on the side of the bed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t earlier, then- you’ve been waiting longer than I did.” He sighed quietly. “Eudoxia’s trying to get them to put a stop to that tradition- doesn’t want kids taken away from their families, and frankly, I agree wholeheartedly. A kid deserves to grow up with loving parents in a safe home, and Saint training shouldn’t come before that. I don’t pretend that I know the workings of Athena’s mind, but I just can’t see how separating children from people who love and care for them could possibly be the will of any goddess worth fighting for and protecting.” His broad shoulders slumped a bit as he stared off at the wall sadly, and Lívia could plainly see something written in his face, something indescribable, yet unmistakable. She’d seen it before, many times- in the faces of her fellow recruits, in some of the Saints, and even in herself during the few opportunities she had to look in the mirror. It wasn’t something recognizable to those who didn’t have that look, whose brow didn’t have the same shadow over it every time family came up in conversation. Another question formed in her mind, but she asked this one quieter, gentler, not sure if she’d receive a proper answer and not planning to press further if she didn’t.
“What happened to your family, sir?”
Yves took a shaky breath before speaking, and when he did, his voice was almost inaudible. “I never knew them. They were gone before I was born.” He looked over at Lívia, and she could see him fighting tears. “Do you have a family to go back to?”
She shook her head and gently placed her hand on top of his where it rested on the bed. “I never knew my parents either. That’s why the town chose me to send to Sanctuary. I don’t have a family to go back to, and they thought it would be kinder to send me someplace that might take care of me.” I don’t even know if I have siblings at all- none of them stepped up to take me in if I did, and they might not even have been in town when I was sent away. If they exist, they likely don’t know where I am. Maybe they assumed I died by whatever killed our parents.
Yves looked at her again, with a mixture of sadness and the kind of expression that could only be described as twisted relief. Lívia knew she probably looked the same. It was no secret most of the Saints were orphans who joined Sanctuary’s ranks simply because they had no place else to go, but most of them had something the two Tauruses didn’t. They actually remember their families before they died, and possibly even what happened to them. I don’t know who my parents were, or what they were like- I don’t even know their names. How do you grieve for someone who you didn’t even know? I know I should be sad, but I just feel empty when I think about it. It’s like there’s a missing piece that should be there, but I can’t find it because I don’t even know what it looks like.
“Well,” Yves said, breaking the silence. “You may not have had a family then, but as your mentor, I hope that I can at least help things a little. My wife Tenzin will no doubt do the same, just as we’ve done for Ravi. It’s not a perfect substitute- nothing would be- but it’s something.”
Lívia nodded quietly. She didn’t know Yves very well yet, or she probably would have hugged him. Instead, she simply squeezed his hand a bit. He seemed to understand, because he squeezed back with a small smile.
“Do you need a little more time or are you ready to get things started?”
She took a deep breath to clear her head. “I think I’m ready.” I’m excited to begin anyway, and I want to see the rest of the Taurus Temple at least before the Golden Round.
Yves nodded approvingly. “Good, I’m glad to hear it. Now, we have some leftover clothes lying around here from past inhabitants, but all of them are in adult sizes, and well… you’ve seen the murals. I’m actually one of the smaller Taurus Saints. However,” he added quickly, “I do have some other things that might fit if you’d like me to get them. They’re a bit old and haven’t been worn in some time, but they’ll be better than a barracks uniform.”
“I’d like that, if you don’t mind.” Lívia had never had clothing of her own outside the uniforms provided to every child in the barracks, and privately, she’d always wished she had. Clothing that was only hers and didn’t look the same as everyone else’s was self expression, it was self-determination, it was standing out from the crowd. The instructors in the barracks derided it as vanity but she couldn’t help but feel that they were wrong. Is it really such a crime to want to choose your own outfits?
Yves turned and with only the slightest grunt of exertion, hefted a trunk that had been set down behind him in the hallway and brought it into the room. Lívia has to stifle a gasp of awe- it was a very large trunk and didn’t seem to bother Yves in the least. She’d known Taurus Saints were typically physically strong on average, but she’d never seen a demonstration of that strength. That should have taken at least two people to lift!
Yves set the trunk down again with complete nonchalance, as though he was accustomed to lifting much larger and heavier things than that. “Feel free to look through it. If you see something you’d like but you don’t think it’ll fit, I can alter it for you.”
Lívia lifted the lid and her eyes widened. The trunk was absolutely filled with clothing of varying styles and colors. There were simple tunics and trousers like her uniform from the barracks, intricately embroidered vests and jackets, and most exciting of all, a rainbow of colorful skirts and dresses. Lívia has never been allowed to wear something like that- skirts weren’t practical with grueling training regimens- but she’d always been fascinated by how beautiful they were. She enjoyed the sparring on the training ground and hated sitting still, but she didn’t see why that meant she couldn’t also like pretty things and want to wear them. Gently moving another tunic aside, she found exactly what she’d been hoping for and gave a little cry of happiness.
Towards the bottom of the trunk, buried under all the other clothing, was a yellow sundress, made of light fabric with frills on the hem. It was hardly clothing for fighting in, nor was it suitable for any kind of training, but she reached for it, holding it up to her body to see if it would fit. She half expected Yves to tell her to pick something more practical, but instead, he nodded approvingly.
“I made that one myself, it’s about time someone wore it.”
“Can I…?” she ventured. “I know it’s not exactly good for training in, but…”
Yves smiled and nodded again, encouragingly. “Of course. You can wear whatever you want and change into other things for training. If that means wearing every dress in this trunk when we’re not sparring, I don’t mind at all- I want to see the clothing I made get some use again, and most of all, I want you to be comfortable.”
She smiled happily in gratitude and laid the dress out on the bed. It looked like it would fit her, and she already couldn’t wait to put it on. However, something in his words piqued her curiosity once more, and another question escaped her lips before she could stop it. “Why did you make so many dresses?” It seemed odd to make so many of one article of clothing, especially one that, as far as she could tell, wouldn’t fit anyone that she’d seen around.
Yves chuckled a bit ruefully. “Well, some were made a very long time ago, when I was young and hadn’t quite figured out that I didn’t like wearing those yet.” He paused, and something unreadable passed over his face. “The others were made for someone else, but she’s been gone a long time.”
Something in his tone suggested to Lívia that perhaps it would be best if she didn’t ask about who the “someone else” was- that was a question for another time, preferably far into the distant future when she knew the Taurus Saint a bit better. Even though she had an inquisitive spirit, Lívia knew the importance of taking care when asking her questions. It’s not worth asking if it’s just going to end up hurting people. It was only her first day, and Yves had been nothing but kind to her. She didn’t want to dredge up painful memories without realizing it.
Yves left her to change and Lívia quickly put on the dress. Her initial assessment had been right and it did fit, thankfully with room to spare. She would be able to look forward to wearing it for a good while, she expected. As she looked at herself in the mirror- she’d never had a room with a mirror before- and gave an experimental twirl, she noted that the Taurus Saint really was quite good at sewing. Lívia’s only experience with a needle and thread was doing the necessary basic mending on her clothes from the barracks, and even that she only did well enough that it was functional. Yves had plainly put in a great deal of work.
She was pulled out of her thoughts by a peculiar sound floating in from outside her window- someone crying. It was small, whimpering, and gasping, as though the person in question was trying very much to hold it in, and very much failing. Who could be crying out there? Has something bad happened? Lívia quickly crossed the room to the window and undid the latch, opening it and leaning out to scan the area in search of who was making the sound.
It didn’t take her eyes long to find him. Ravi, the Aries apprentice from last night, was sitting up against the wall of the Taurus Temple, head in his hands, and shaking with the effort of trying to muffle his sobs. Lívia bit her lip. From her time in the barracks, she’d gotten accustomed to hearing crying of all kinds- hot tears from injuries on the training ground, the soft, pitiful sound of weeping from exhaustion, the quiet, lonely sobs of children who missed their home and families, and so many more. Crying over a scraped knee or a bruised elbow was different than crying over homesickness or the pain of being taunted by your peers, and Ravi’s crying wasn’t the former kind. Those tears could be dried quickly once the wound was bandaged; tears shed for an aching heart lingered much longer, and even once your eyes were dry, the hurt still remained.
“Ravi?” she called out as quietly as she could, so as not to startle him. “Are you okay?”
Despite her efforts, Ravi started like a scared rabbit and scooted away from the temple anyway. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean for anyone to…” He trailed off, scuffing a shoe in the dirt and sniffling.
He didn’t mean for anyone to hear him… Lívia leaned a bit further out of the window. It wasn’t too far off the ground, and there was an olive tree growing near the wall, which she calculated that she could climb down if needed. “What’s going on? Why are you crying?” She tried to make the questions gentle and not interrogatory as best she could, hoping desperately not to make things worse. Lívia couldn’t stand the sight of someone hurting, and it wasn’t in her nature to sit by and do nothing while they suffered. Just standing there and watching someone hurt is an awful feeling. If I can, I’d rather help them feel better.
“It’s just…” Ravi sniffled again and sighed. “I made a friend. He’s a Saint Apprentice here, a few Temples up the Zodiac. But my mentor says that he and his mentor are traitors. I don’t think he’s a traitor- he’s a good and kind person and I really liked spending time with him, even if he is a little odd. But how do I know?” He gave another whimpering sob and hid his face. “Maybe he was just lying to me the whole time and I fell for it!”
“I don’t know anything about traitors around here,” Lívia ventured carefully, “and I don’t know your mentor. I just came to the Taurus Temple last night, so I don’t know anybody in the Zodiac. But I think if you really are friends, then you should talk to this other apprentice about the doubts you have and what your mentor said. Maybe there’s another side to the story.” She didn’t intend to suggest that Aries Tenzin wasn’t trustworthy, but she did know that nine times out of ten, people could solve things or at least gain clarity if they only communicated. Asking the right questions to the right person to try to clear up misunderstandings made everything easier in her opinion. It’s better to just say what you need to say outright and make the first move if you have to.
Ravi blinked and wiped his eyes. “I think he’ll be at the Golden Round tonight, so maybe then…?”
“It’s as good a time as any,” she replied. “You’ll be able to have other people there too if you’re nervous.”
He nodded a bit absently, no doubt already planning the conversation in his head. “Thanks, Lívia…”
“Anytime.” She smiled down at him encouragingly. “I hope everything works out with your friend.” Lívia liked Ravi, although from the small amount of times she’d seen him, she could tell that he was almost constantly preoccupied with something. He seemed nice enough, but probably needed somebody to get him out of his own head once in a while. He’ll probably be more cheerful once this is resolved, too.
“I hope so too.” Ravi turned to go, but then looked back over his shoulder. “See you at the Golden Round, Lívia.”
“See you there, Ravi.”
She watched him walk away before turning away from the window and looking back at the mirror, smoothing her dress. Traitors and secrets everywhere… this really is different from the barracks. Yves has a past he doesn’t like to talk about and Tenzin thinks another Saint is an enemy. It’s just another part of Sanctuary, but it feels like a different world.
It would be an adventure, the young Taurus could tell, adjusting to this new life.
Chapter 7: The Golden Round
Ravi, Lívia, and Tiresias attend the Golden Round and get their first glimpses of several of the other Gold Saints.
The Golden Round
The rest of the night has passed uneventfully but melancholically for Tiresias. After Tenzin had dragged Ravi away, he’d lost all desire to explore and they had returned to the Cancer Temple posthaste. Telling Persephone he wanted to be alone, Tiresias had locked himself in his bedroom and cried until the first rays of morning sun had peeked over the horizon. He’d slept fitfully for the rest of the day, waking intermittently to pace sadly about his room before sleep claimed him once more.
When the sun began to set, Tiresias finally abandoned all pretense of resting and went to the window to watch darkness creep over Sanctuary. When we passed the Aries Temple last night, the windows were already dark and Ravi was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t even get to tell him goodbye, but Tenzin’s probably told him all kinds of things to make him hate us so I’m not likely to get the chance… He sighed, willing himself not to cry again. I liked Ravi, and I still do- but I doubt he wants to see me anymore. So now I’ll just be trailing after Persephone at the Golden Round. I don’t mind, but it would have been nice to make a friend, just once…
A knock on the door jolted him out of his melancholy thoughts. “Tiresias? Are you awake in there, dear?”
Tiresias opened the door and Persephone entered, already dressed in the Cancer Cloth. Her expression of concern only deepened when she noticed the redness in his eyes from crying. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay,” he said, feeling anything but. “Are we going to the Golden Round?”
Persephone nodded. “Do you still want to come?”
“Sure.” It’s better than staying here alone. Maybe it’ll be a good distraction.
“Alright then, get dressed.” Persephone patted his shoulder lightly, voice softening. “I’m sorry, Tiresias- I didn’t think that would happen. I’d hoped I could avoid subjecting you to such a thing.”
He sighed. “It’s okay. I should have guessed it would happen anyway.” Tenzin hates us, I should have known it was doomed from the start. I’m such an idiot.
Persephone bit her lip, eyes full of regret, and said nothing. After a moment, she turned and left, closing the door behind her. Tiresias dressed himself without ceremony, but more lethargically than usual. It’s not important, especially since my one friend here hates me. He made no effort to brush his hair and left the leather jacket behind on the bedroom floor where he’d discarded it the previous night.
Persephone waited for him at the entrance to the Cancer Temple but didn’t try to make conversation, only beckoning for him to follow. The dusky air was warm with a slight breeze stirring it- under any other circumstances, Tiresias would have counted this a perfect night. Instead, he simply followed his mentor unenthusiastically up the stairs, past the other Temples. Most of the others probably aren’t leaving yet, we’ll be early. She’s probably using it as an excuse to get me out of the Temple.
As they passed the final Temple, Pisces, a tall, curvy blonde woman stepped out of the roses and threw her arms dramatically around Persephone. “Sephi, darling , it’s been too long!”
“Hello, Hayliel,” his mentor replied, brightening at the sight of her old friend. “You’re looking lovely as always.”
“Naiads, darling. We simply don’t age,” the woman responded cheerfully, tossing her golden curls. It was then that Tiresias noticed that she was sopping wet, from the hem of the near-transparent silk robe she wore to the top of her head. This must be Pisces Hayliel- she’s one of Sephi’s best friends here and half river spirit. She visited once when I was young, but I don’t remember much at all about her other than she was always at least slightly damp. He averted his eyes, face reddening once he fully took in her attire. She also unfortunately not fond of clothing that covers… wet silk leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.
“And this must be your apprentice!” Hayliel gushed, waving a well-manicured hand in Tiresias’ direction. “The last time I saw you, you were just a little slip of a thing! My, how you’ve grown up!”
Tiresias stared at the ground in embarrassment. “Yes, ma’am.”
Hayliel gasped delicately and giggled, a sound not unlike the babbling of a brook, but more high-pitched and girlish. “Oh, dear gods- I’d almost forgotten! I’m nearly naked !”
Persephone sighed good-naturedly, as though this was a frequent occurrence. “Trust you not to notice that. Get yourself decent, Lili.”
“Well, it is a rather chilly night and I’d rather avoid another head cold,” Hayliel replied with a smile. She beckoned a finger and murmured something sweetly under her breath, and before Tiresias could blink, a Gold Cloth adorned with fins and engravings of fish enveloped her like water flowing over her body, and the scent of roses grew stronger. The poison of Pisces… Sephi’s told me about it, how Hayliel’s blood is a toxin so deadly that even prolonged contact with her body can be dangerous. That hug was carefully calculated to last within a safe limit of time, I don’t doubt it.
“There now,” the Pisces Saint proclaimed cheerfully, “Now that I’m dressed, shall we go to the Golden Round?”
Persephone nodded. “Yes, there are a few more people I want to catch up with before we start. I’ve seen Romulus and Remus already, but no one else save you.” Tiresias noted gratefully that she left out their encounter with Tenzin. I’m trying not to think about what happened, and I think she knows that. I’m glad she didn’t bring it up.
After a few more minutes of walking, they reached a round building with columned arches all along the outer wall. Tiresias followed his mentor and Hayliel through one of them and got his first glimpse of the chambers where the Golden Round was held. Even in his despairing mood, he had to admit it was impressive. The walls above the arches were adorned with large, intricate mosaics depicting importance events from the history of Sanctuary, and the roof had been removed so that the stars were visible. Stairs led down to the center of the room, where a round table with thirteen chairs stood, each one with the symbol of a zodiac sign carved into the back. A fourteenth chair, more ornate, was pulled away from the table. That must be for the host of Athena- will she be here tonight? Apparently no one's ever seen her except Pope Eudoxia- she keeps to herself.
Tiresias hung back among the columns, not wanting to mingle with the Gold Saints who had already arrived. As he looked around the room, he found himself staring into a pair of familiar brown eyes that were doing the same.
Ravi didn’t shrink away from Tiresias’ gaze from across the room, meeting his eyes with a pained look on his face. Oh no, he does hate me! I don’t know what I was hoping for, why I thought he wouldn’t. He does hate me and I shouldn’t have come here at all!
The Aries apprentice turned to speak to a much taller girl standing next to him, who pointed to Tiresias, looking confused. After a few seconds of heated conversation, the girl picked him up and carried him, protesting, through the chamber to where Tiresias stood.
“Lívia, I can’t- I shouldn’t-” Ravi cut off abruptly as they reached him, face turning red. “Uh… hi.”
The girl, Lívia, set Ravi down, crossed her arms and fixed Tiresias with a belligerent stare. “Ravi’s been talking about nothing but you the whole walk up from Aries and Taurus and I can see your pity party from all the way across the room. Talk to each other, right now . I can’t stand to see him pull another melancholy face!”
Ravi threw Tiresias an apprehensive look. “Tenzin told me. About you and Hades.”
“I’m not surprised,” Tiresias said morosely. “Did she tell you about the Holy Wars too?”
He nodded. “She did.”
“Things are different now!” The words were out of Tiresias’ mouth before he could stop them. “I know people say gods can’t change but they can ! They did ! Sanctuary only survives because it adapts, but we can’t adapt if we cling to old grudges when those grudges have already cost so many lives! I’m sorry about the Holy Wars, and I wish they’d never happened! But there’s nothing we can do about that- they happened before we were born!” He felt tears on his cheeks, but ignored them. “ That’s why Persephone and I live the way we do! So you and me and the other apprentices will never, never see a Holy War!”
Ravi stared at him for a moment in shocked silence, and for a terrible moment, Tiresias thought that he was going to storm away in anger, or even raise his fists. But instead, he threw his arms around him in an awkward hug. “I knew it,” Ravi muttered, clearly trying to suppress tears. “I knew you weren’t evil or ignoring history or anything like that. I knew .”
He doesn’t hate me- maybe Tenzin might hate me, but he doesn’t! Tiresias hugged back, feeling a rush of relief as tears sprang to his own eyes. Ravi doesn’t hate me! He still wants to be my friend, he doesn’t hate me!
“ That’s better,” Lívia said, smiling brightly. “I figured Ravi’d cheer up if you talked to each other!”
Ravi finally seemed to remember she was there. “Oh- Tiresias, you haven’t met Lívia yet. She’s the new Taurus apprentice.”
“Yep!” She nodded, smile widening with pride. “Just got brought to the Taurus Temple last night!”
“Pleased to meet you,” Tiresias replied, still elated that Ravi was speaking to him. So there are three of us now- me, Ravi, and now this Lívia girl. If she’s Yves’ apprentice and Ravi’s Tenzin’s and they’re not convinced I’m a traitor, then maybe the other apprentices won’t be either when they arrive! Maybe-
Before he could continue, a wintry wind whipped through the building and even the chatting Gold Saints below fell silent. Abruptly, Tiresias was filled with an overwhelming sense of something approaching- something celestial, vast, and bitter cold. He instinctively looked to the skies, but nothing out of the ordinary appeared there. Is this a human’s Cosmos? The clanking of armor pulled his gaze towards the northernmost archway and Tiresias found himself staring into the cold gray eyes of someone he’d only heard of, but recognized immediately. The severe look, the frosty armor- that must be Aquarius Julian. I’d bet my life on it.
“Has the Pope not arrived yet?” the imposing man questioned, voice harsh and clipped with the slightest French accent injected through it like an ice spike through powder snow. “I’ve taking great pains to journey here for this meeting, it would not do for our leader to be late.”
“Hello to you too, Julian,” Remus muttered sarcastically.
Romulus gently touched his shoulder. “Don’t, Re. He’s an ass, but he’s not worth it.”
If Julian heard him, he didn’t react other than with a derisive clicking of his tongue. “Gods, compared to Sanctuary, Odin’s forces appeared organized. In Asgard, they at least were familiar with the concept of promptness.”
Ravi, Tiresias, and Lívia exchanged looks. Persephone said he was a piece of work, but I never thought he’d be so downright nasty- and to the Pope, no less! I pity whoever his apprentice will be…
“I’ll thank you to show more deference to the Pope in the Golden Round, Julian,” a voice cut in sharply. Tiresias and the other apprentices turned to see a tall woman with black hair in a long braid descending the stairs on the opposite side of the room. She was dressed partially in an Indian saree , partially in a Gold Cloth Tiresias didn’t recognize.
“Virgo,” Ravi whispered by way of explanation. “Tenzin and I fixed it for Chandrakanta- that’s her, the Virgo Saint- one time. She’s rarely ever in Sanctuary, apparently, and Tenzin says she’s always traveling. I’m surprised she’s here, I’ve heard she skips Golden Rounds all the time.”
Chandrakanta met Julian’s icy gaze with a steely one of her own. “Eudoxia will be along momentarily, as she was visiting with the host of our goddess. Promptness may be a virtue, but patience, humility, and understanding are as well. Did Asgard demonstrate those as well, or all the God Warriors as self-important as you?”
The Gold Saints who had already settled around the table began to murmur, no doubt recognizing the oft-absent Virgo Saint as well. Some of them probably haven’t seen her in person before- Sephi said herself that she didn’t know the Virgo Saint, and she spends a fair amount of time in Sanctuary! One of them- a polished-looking man with hawk-like features and dark hair swept back- rose and pulled out the empty chair beside him, indicating for her to sit. “Welcome back, Chandra.”
“I’ve helped fix his Cloth too,” Ravi whispered to Lívia and Tiresias excitedly. “He’s Libra Draco, and he brought us both the Libra Cloth and the Dragon Bronze Cloth to restore. We had to let him stay with us for a whole week to recover from the blood loss!”
Blood loss? Ha, wonder if he’s descended from Shiryu? Chandrakanta smiled slightly and sat down beside him, murmuring a greeting. Draco returned the smile with a toothy grin that befit his name as a few chairs away, Julian huffily took his seat. I’m guessing he doesn’t like being shown up- or upstaged. Especially with that kind of an entrance.
No sooner was the Virgo Saint seated that a woman in Pope’s robes rushed in, nearly tripping on the stairs in her haste. To anyone who didn’t know her, the former Sagittarius Saint Eudoxia didn’t cut a very impressive figure. She was a curvy, plain-featured woman with wavy brown hair pinned up rakishly in what might pass for a bun. A few scattered freckles dotted the bridge of her nose, and her hazel eyes had a gentle shine of wisdom to them. Her stature was nothing remarkable either- Julian and Chandrakanta towered over her, and Tiresias figured she had maybe a few inches on Tenzin, if that. Although her strides were short and her gait had a peculiar uneven sway to it, she reached the table fairly quickly. Two chairs still remained unoccupied- the more ornate seat between Tenzin and Hayliel traditionally reserved for the Pope, and the much more plain alternative with the symbol of Sagittarius carved into the back. Without hesitation, Eudoxia settled herself in the chair bearing the symbol of her sign, flashing everyone a slightly flustered smile. “Sorry, all- I had some business to attend to.”
Ravi nudged Tiresias. “Why doesn’t she sit in the Pope’s chair?” Lívia leaned in as well, clearly just as interested in hearing the answer.
“Doesn’t want to stand on ceremony,” Tiresias explained, thrilled at the attention and proud to have an answer ready. They don’t know much about Sanctuary yet, so I can help them learn what’s going on in times like this. “According to Persephone, she’s always said that she was a Saint first and by rights shouldn’t elevate herself over those who she sees as her brothers, sisters, and siblings in arms. Some of the others don’t like it because they think she’s besmirching the honor of her position, but most know it’s just how she is.”
“It’s nice to see everyone,” the Pope continued. “Especially those of us who were away for so long.” She waved cheerily to Ravi, Tiresias, and Lívia. “It’s even nicer to see that some of you have already found your apprentices. I’ll look forward to getting to know them.”
Tenzin looked as though she was about to say something, but Yves shook his head slightly and she closed her mouth, looking conflicted. That’s strange... Tiresias was about to ask Ravi what the unusual reaction was about, but his friend studiously avoided meeting his eyes. Is something going on between Tenzin and Ravi? I mean, I know Tenzin and Sephi don’t see eye to eye so Tenzin and I are hardly friendly, but I got the impression he and his mentor had a good relationship. Come to think of it, he didn’t really talk much about what things are like with Tenzin. Maybe I just assumed that they were like Sephi and I and didn’t question it…
Julian’s eyes flicked to the trio of apprentices quickly, sizing them up and by the derisive curling of his lip, finding them lacking. “ I have also found my apprentice, but he is not ready yet to be brought to the table of the Golden Round without causing an inconvenience. Bringing young, undisciplined children into such a sacred gathering is rather a breach of etiquette. But I suppose I should simply be thankful that three of my colleagues actually took the time to find their successors.”
“Hey, hold on just a second,” Remus shot back, clearly incensed and offended at his barbed comment. He rose from his chair, striking the table with his metal hand for emphasis. “Chasing down a Cosmos can take time, and it might not even surface immediately! Even if not all the next Gold Saints are here, we’re all searching, aren’t we?!”
Romulus’ hand was on his shoulder in an instant, yanking him forcefully back into his seat. “We are, and no one can fault you or any of us for not having found them right this second, Re.” He didn’t move his hand as he glowered at Julian, and murmured, “Besides, this isn’t worth starting a War of a Thousand Days over. The last thing I want is to have to lose you to an endless battle against Julian. We’ll egg his temple later, but don’t rise to the bait. All he wants is to make trouble and feel superior when someone loses their cool.”
Remus nodded sullenly. “I’d still like to wipe that smug look off his face.”
“And we will,” cane the measured reply. “But not now, and not like this. Not when he’s got it on his terms.”
Eudoxia cut in, tone taking on an edge of severity. “That’s enough. Julian, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to be civil while we’re all together. If you have a quarrel with anyone here, put it aside for the Golden Round and settle it later. And Remus, please control your temper. This is meant to be a gathering, not a battlefield.”
Julian’s expression twisted into one of disgust at the reprimand, but silently nodded assent. He’s a piece of work, but he’s certainly not stupid- even he knows that Eudoxia is Pope for a reason, and that if need be, she can fell an enemy with her bow and arrow at longer ranges than this.
Remus nodded as well. “Sorry, Eudoxia.”
The Pope inclined her head, acknowledging the apology. “So I assume most of us have sensed a Cosmos belonging to a potential student, and I expect many of us will be departing immediately after the Round is over to chase it.” She turned back to Julian. “Before I leave to do the same, I need to meet your apprentice along with the others-” here, she gestured to Ravi, Tiresias, and Lívia- “in private. I don’t care how you feel about his readiness, I have some certain advice to impart to our next generation that I think he would benefit from greatly.”
Julian nodded again. “If you must speak with them, I will collect him after we’re finished here.”
“Good.” Finished laying down the law, she brightened again. “Now, to business- I’ll need to hear your reports of the time since the last Round was called. We can discuss apprentices further when more of us have found our students, but for now since so many of us have been away, I know I’m interested to hear what’s gone on outside these walls.” A few of the other Saints smiled amicably at this, and the atmosphere in the room seemed to relax immediately. Even with Julian’s abrasiveness and the tensions between certain Saints, it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been together since they were young. Just like Ravi and I met pretty much as soon as we came to Sanctuary, pretty much all of them have known each other since childhood and they’re all adults now. Many of them have close friendships with each other, bonds that are as strong as Gold Cloth.
The reports were uneventful compared to the arguing, and by the time Yves and Tenzin finished their accounts, Ravi was nudging Tiresias again.
“What do you think Pope Eudoxia wants to talk to us about?”
“I don’t know,” Tiresias replied. “I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about, though. She probably just wants to welcome us to Sanctuary.”
“Well, I just hope Aquarius Julian’s apprentice is nicer than he is.” Lívia folded her arms decisively. “Why’s he so nasty, anyway?”
Come to think of it, I don’t know that either. No one had ever mentioned why Aquarius Julian’s demeanor was just as frigid as the ice of his techniques, only that most people generally regarded him as unnecessarily rude. “No idea. But I pity his apprentice. Can you imagine having to live with him?” Either his student’s as much of an asshole as he is or they’re suffering horribly having to deal with his frosty demeanor.
Lívia made a disgusted face. “I’d hate it. Thank Athena none of us are Aquariuses!”
“No kidding.” Tiresias looked over his shoulder, down past Pisces to where the bluish-white, crystalline Aquarius Temple glittered cold under the starlight. Somewhere in there is Julian’s apprentice, probably freezing. Just like the Aries Temple has its crystal walls, the Taurus Temple has its strong foundations and barriers of stone, and the Cancer Temple has its spirits, the Aquarius Temple keeps out intruders with ice. The whole place is locked in perpetual winter, it can’t be pleasant to live there.
Ravi stood up and pointed to the ice-covered building. “Hey, want to go explore? Maybe we can meet the Aquarius apprentice, or at least bring them something warm. I know I wouldn’t want to be all alone in a frozen house.”
Lívia nodded agreement. “Yes, let’s- our mentors aren’t going to notice anyway. Tiresias?”
Both of them looked at him expectantly. I’m not used this, people wanting me to go along with them to someplace- normally, I’m just trailing after Sephi and hoping I can find something to occupy myself. In fact, that’s why I came here- trailing after Sephi. He glanced at his mentor, who was engaged in conversation with the twin Gemini Saints. Maybe it’s time to stop that. I mean, I can’t become the Cancer Saint by following on my mentor’s heels for the rest of my life.
“Sure,” he replied, turning back to his friends. “Let’s go.”
Chapter 8: Ronan
Ravi, Tiresias, and Lívia set off for the Aquarius Temple to meet Julian's apprentice.
Ravi’s first impression of the Aquarius Temple was that it was cold .
He’d been aware that due to the nature of the techniques of Aquarius, the temple was encased in ice, but hadn’t expected the arctic winds whipping through the columns and his breath turning to clouds in the chilly air. It was almost as if they had been transported from the heat of mid July to the most frigid days of December in a matter of seconds. I know I’m not an Aquarius and thus probably can’t understand what’s going through their minds, but how could anyone possibly enjoy living here? It’s absolutely freezing!
Beside him, Lívia was shivering- she’d opted for a thin yellow sundress for the Round rather than her training attire and was clearly regretting the decision. “I didn’t expect it to be so cold ,” she muttered through chattering teeth. “Greece isn’t usually this cold, even in winter. Not naturally, anyway.”
Tiresias glanced at her worriedly. “Should we turn back? It’s not worth exploring if you freeze to death before we can find the Aquarius apprentice.”
“No, I want to keep going.” Lívia crossed her arms, rubbing them to try to improve circulation. “I’ll be fine, I want to meet whoever they are.”
They pressed on, scanning the icy building for any signs of life as they went. The Aquarius Temple seemed to be constructed of ice, or at least some sort of crystal designed to simulate it. Everything, from the columns to the high ceilings themselves were adorned with large icicles that looked sharp enough to impale anyone who had the misfortune to stand under them when they fell. In a few places, the ice was formed into stained glass windows whose panes glowed in varying shades of blue in the moonlight. It’s beautiful, but everything here seems so austere and forbidding. It’s just the kind of place someone like Aquarius Julian would live in- pretty to look at, but if those who can’t stand the cold stay in there for too long, they probably won’t survive. I’d hate to be someone trying to invade this place.
As they walked, Ravi suddenly became aware of a strange sound, which only grew louder as they proceeded. It was a scraping, like a blade against ice, and seemed to be coming from somewhere ahead of them. Every so often, it would pause for a few seconds, then resume again after a sudden whoosh of whatever it was coming down on the icy ground again. Strange- what could possibly be making such a sound?
Lívia pointed ahead of them wordlessly to where the hallway ended, opening into what Ravi assumed was the main chamber. She motioned that they move closer to the wall and the trio crept silently to the archway leading into the chamber ahead, peeking around a column in an attempt to seek the source of the noise.
There was a boy of about their age in the room, appearing to perform some sort of dance on the ice. His footwear was the first thing that caught Ravi’s attention, for it was like none he had ever seen- short black boots with thin silver blades attached to the soles. By some miracle, the boy was able to keep his balance on these, and by an even greater miracle, move gracefully. Ravi watched in awe as he jumped and twirled and spun, marveling at the poise and sureness of his movements. How is he doing that? Is he using his Cosmos? I don’t think I could even do that in normal shoes…
Lívia’s eyes widened. “He’s amazing! I’ve never seen anyone that good except in the Olympics!”
Tiresias nodded agreement. “No kidding- I can’t even skate in a circle, and he’s not missing a single step!”
They’ve seen this before? Ravi tapped Tiresias on the shoulder, feeling a bit embarrassed. “Um… what is he doing?”
“You mean you don’t know what ice skating is either?” Tiresias looked taken aback. “Come on, you must have at least seen it in the Olympic Games on T.V! Even I watched the Olympics!”
Ravi was saved from the further mortification of telling Tiresias and Lívia that he had no idea what the Olympic Games or a T.V. was because the boy stopped skating and stared at them. Now that he was no longer moving, the trio were finally able to get a good look at him. He was thin, mostly muscle and sinew, with dark skin- darker than Lívia’s- and black hair in long box braids with blue beads adorning the ends. His clothing was simple enough- track pants and a somewhat oversized long sleeve shirt, most likely selected for the purpose of easy movement. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and serious, although without the imperious edge of his mentor’s.
“Who are you and what are you doing in here? The Aquarius Saint won’t be happy if he finds strangers sneaking around in the Temple.”
“We’re Saint apprentices too,” Tiresias explained, taking a step closer to the boy. “I’m Tiresias of Cancer, he’s Ravi of Aries, and she’s Lívia of Taurus. Everyone’s at the Golden Round, but Julian mentioned that he had an apprentice. We thought we might come say hello.”
Ravi remained silent, but the words Ravi of Aries still stung a bit. That’s right, as far as he thinks, I’m definitely the Aries Saint apprentice. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, according to Tenzin- but that’s what I told him when we first met and now I’m committed to that lie. I’m not sure what he’ll think when he finds out the truth. I just hope I can put it off long enough that maybe Tenzin will change her mind… it’s probably wishful thinking, but I really don’t know what else to do.
The boy skated over to them with a few long, graceful strides. “Julian actually acknowledged I exist? There ’s a surprise.”
“Yeah, we can tell he’s got an icicle three miles up his ass,” Tiresias replied frankly. “After all, he did sweep in all covered in frost, insulted the Pope, and then got himself burned by Virgo Chandrakanta. How do you survive with a mentor like that?”
The boy shrugged. “It’s a big temple. We avoid each other. I practice my skating, he does whatever the hell he does all day. I wish I could say he warms up when you get used to him, but if anything, he just gets worse the longer you’ve known him.” He stuck out a hand. “I’m Ronan Walters.”
“Wait a second,” Lívia broke in, confused. “You know your last name?”
Ronan stared at her as if she’d just declared she was the goddess Athena herself. “...Yes? I lived with my family in Phoenix since I was a kid and that’s their last name. Is there something weird about that?”
“I was given to Sanctuary as a baby,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I never knew my parents. Most people who end up in Sanctuary don’t know their biological families, not unless their parents were Saints or something.”
“Yeah,” Ravi added. “Tenzin’s the only adult Lemurian I’ve ever seen and she’s not my mother. I never knew my parents.” Most Saints have never met their families, and if they have, they don’t see them much after they attain their Cloths. Sanctuary usually takes in wanderers, people who have nowhere else to go- that’s how it got its name.
Tiresias nodded agreement. “And I’m sort of adopted, I think? I guess you could say my last name is Mortensen, but it doesn’t really fit.” He paused, realization dawning. “Oh my gods , you’re American !”
“Don’t hold it against me,” Ronan quipped sarcastically.
The United States of America- then he’s come to Sanctuary from even further away than Lívia. If Julian was able to sense his cosmos from here in Sanctuary, then he must be powerful… “You came all this way from America just to become a Saint?”
The Aquarius apprentice let out a heavy sigh and sat down on the ice to undo his skates. “Something like that, I guess.” The response was ambiguous, but something unspoken in his tone suggested to the three that it would be best not to ask him what exactly he meant. “How long have you three been here? I hadn’t seen any other apprentices around, and I’ve been living here for about a month now.”
“I’ve been here, training with the soldiers- so around, but nowhere near the houses of the Zodiac.” Lívia grinned. “I still can’t believe I’m standing in the temple of a Gold Saint.”
That’s right, this is all new to Lívia… she probably never thought in a million years that she’d become a Gold Saint apprentice. To her, all this probably feels like she’s finally found a place to belong. It’s the exact opposite for me, I’m even less sure of where I belong than I was before now. Ravi stared at the floor, suddenly feeling more alone than ever. Tiresias, Lívia, and Ronan all belong here. I don’t know if I belong anywhere at all.
“Ravi and I just arrived a few days ago,” Tiresias added. “He was exploring and found me in the Cancer Temple. He was the first friend I ever made here.” He smiled at Ravi, but the happy expression was more hurtful than comforting. I’m not who he thinks I am.
Ronan nodded in acknowledgement. “Well, it’ll be nice to have people my own age around. I spend most of my time practicing my skating, but it might be nice to have some company from other apprentices.” Except I’m not, I’m not an apprentice, I’m just lying to him, lying to Lívia, lying to Tiresias-
The words were out of Ravi’s mouth before he could stop them. “I’m not an apprentice. Tenzin says she doesn’t know if I can be a Saint and I don’t think she wants me to be. I think she probably just brought me along to help her around the temple and fix Cloths. But I’m not a Saint- and I shouldn’t be in here.” He avoided the others’ eyes, biting his lip and willing himself not to cry. “I’m sorry I lied to you.”
For a few brief moments, an absolute, oppressive silence descended over the icy chamber as Ravi’s words echoed within it. Ronan looked a vague mix between confused and concerned, which was no surprise- they’d only just met after all. Tiresias and Lívia are the first other apprentices he’s seen, he’s probably still grappling with the fact that he’s not the only one anymore. And now there’s one less than he thought… Lívia just looked worried for him, and Ravi could see her plainly debating the merits of hugging him. He could only manage a sidelong glance at Tiresias before turning away. His friend- well, not likely to be anymore - just looked shocked. He’s found out that the first friend he made isn’t who he thought they were. I’m not surprised that he’s shocked.
“It’s her loss!”
Tiresias finally found his voice, and the last echoes of Ravi’s confession were eclipsed by his shout. “If you’re not Tenzin’s apprentice, it’s her fucking loss! Ravi, I don’t care if you’re not a Saint so long as you’re still here and still my friend! My mentor’s the queen of the fucking Underworld , I don’t care if you’re not actually the future Saint of Aries! You’re the first friend I’ve ever made and I thought you hated me when I first walked into the Golden Round, but now you don’t, so I don’t give a flying goddamn fuck about anything else!” He shifted his weight from foot to foot and opened his arms slightly. “Uh… is it okay to hug you?”
Ravi nodded and Tiresias threw his arms around him. He squeezed a little too tight and his curly hair nearly blocked Ravi’s vision, but the emotions behind the gesture were genuine and after a few moments, he hugged back. Oh thank the gods… Tiresias doesn’t hate me…
Lívia joined the hug, pulling them both into her arms easily. “He’s right, Ravi- it doesn’t matter that you’re not the future Aries Saint. You’re our friend, and that won’t change.”
“And I’ve just met you, have only a vague idea of what’s going on, and don’t really do hugs unless I’m very upset,” Ronan deadpanned, “but you seem pretty cool, so I’d say you’re fine.”
I’m fine! I’m not a Saint, but they still like me anyway! It still hurts a little that I’m not really Tenzin’s apprentice, but at least the others still seem to want to be my friends… Ravi moved a little closer to Tiresias and felt both him and Lívia tighten their embraces. “Thanks…”
“Anytime!” Tiresias grinned. “I’m not normally one for cuddling, but it’s freezing in here and you looked like you needed it.”
The trio extricated themselves a bit awkwardly from each other’s arms, although Tiresias stood a little closer to Ravi than he had before. He’s probably worried now because I was upset. I don’t like worrying people, but I’m glad they all still like me, at least.
“So,” Lívia began, changing the subject, “should we try to go to the Pope’s chambers? Eudoxia said she wanted to see the four of us, didn’t she?”
Ronan nodded. “It wouldn’t do to keep the Pope waiting. Let me take off my skates and I’ll walk up there with you three.”
That’s right, Eudoxia said she wanted to meet us- she still thinks I’m the apprentice Saint of Aries. Hopefully Tenzin will correct her on that, or at least give me a definitive answer. Ravi followed Tiresias and Lívia as they made their way towards the door, Ronan close behind him.
Finally meeting the Pope of Sanctuary… maybe this will give us some answers.
Chapter 9: Principles
The apprentices rejoin their mentors to respond to Pope Eudoxia's summons, Aquarius Julian crosses lines which should not be crossed, and Yves talks about the past.
The hike back up from the Aquarius Temple was passed in amiable conversation. Tiresias mostly stayed near Ravi during the journey, Lívia noticed, but he opened up quickly and she grew to like both him and Ronan very quickly. The Cancer apprentice was more cheerful now that he and Ravi were friends again, and Ronan was clearly rejoicing at having people to talk to. She herself was glad that she’d made friends among the Gold Saints- Lívia had been privately wondering how she was going to fit into this new world she’d found herself a part of. However, the time she’d spent among the three other apprentices had proved that these worries were largely unfounded. It’s been nice to make new friends.
“I hope our mentors weren’t worried that we ran off,” Lívia mused as they came into sight of the chambers of the Golden Round. “We didn’t say anything to them before we left.” She wasn’t worried about getting in trouble with Yves, but something told her that Ravi showing up with Tiresias in tow wouldn’t go over well with Tenzin.
Tiresias understood her meaning and glanced over at Ravi, who only shrugged.
“Guess we’ll find out.”
“I don’t know about your mentors, but Julian’s gonna flip his shit,” Ronan stated frankly. “He didn’t want me to leave the temple in the first place.” For a moment, a breath of frost danced around his fingers. “But don’t worry, I can defend myself just fine.”
Lívia only barely managed to keep her jaw from dropping and Ravi and Tiresias attempted in vain to do the same. Ronan was already able to burn his Cosmos, although with the form it took, “burn” seemed entirely the wrong word. He’s on a whole different level than the rest of us- Ravi might not have a Cosmos to burn, Tiresias probably hasn’t gotten this far in his training, and we didn’t do anything like that in the barracks.
Ronan noted their surprise and his face spread into a wry grin. “You think that’s cool, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
He snapped his fingers and whistled low, and suddenly, like ice forming the top of the pond, a silvery-blue armor spread itself over his body. The breastplate has a distinct shape, not unlike the spreading wings of some large bird, and Lívia, who was closest to him, shivered a bit- the armor just seemed to radiate cold . He has a Cloth too?! At our age?!
“Oh my gods !” Ravi exclaimed, face written all over in disbelieving recognition. “ You’re the Cygnus Saint! I was the one who fixed your Cloth after you attained it- when Julian brought it to us! How is Cygnus? Has it been holding up well?”
Ronan nodded, smile widening. “It’s been wonderful, thank you so much. I’m so glad you were able to heal Cygnus, and you did an awesome job too. I really owe you one for that, and I’m happy to say that all our Cloths are in good hands.” The Cygnus Cloth hummed against him and he rubbed his thumb against one of the gauntlets, humming softly in return. “I was so worried about it from how smashed up it got.”
“It took less than a pint to revive it and then I was able to get it all fixed up,” Ravi said proudly, rolling up his sleeve. Lívia noticed then that his arm was covered in scars and scratches, some barely there, some looking to be quite deep. There’s so many of them… he must have fixed a lot of Cloths! He pointed to one of the smaller scars. “Tenzin only let me do it because it wouldn’t take much blood, and in the end, it looks like it worked out just fine!”
Ronan traced a finger along the scar. “Impressive- I can feel it in Cygnus that you’ve done well. You’re a great blacksmith, Ravi, and both of us thank you for your sacrifice.”
Ravi’s proud smile only widened. “It’s no problem. It’s really cool to see how a Cloth I fixed turned out.” Clearly the young blacksmith was in his element. From his outburst in the Aquarius Temple, it was obvious that he felt out of place among them because he wasn’t a Saint, but any kind of uncertainty seemed to fade whenever someone talked to him about his craft. Lívia privately resolved to ask him more about it- it would be a good way to cheer him up in the future, and she was interested. I don’t know all that much about Cloths, only that they’re sort of alive and you need blood to fix them. I feel like that’s something a Gold Saint- or any Saint- should know. Maybe Ravi can teach me!
Her attention was pulled away from Ravi and Ronan’s conversation by a soft moan from beside her. Tiresias’ complexion had gone decidedly ashen, and he was averting his eyes, expression plainly indicating that he was exceedingly close to vomiting.
“Are you alright?” she asked, a little surprised. Tiresias didn’t strike her as being the type to have a weak stomach. Why’s he feeling sick all of a sudden?
“Don’t like blood,” he muttered, eyes fixed firmly on the ground and face turning another few shades of gray. “He’s got so many cuts…”
Oh… Lívia patted his shoulder carefully, unsure how much Tiresias would want to be touched in such a situation. “Should I try to get them to change the subject?” Ravi and Ronan seemed fairly wrapped up in talking about Cloths and hadn’t yet noticed Tiresias’ distress, and she could tell that the Cancer apprentice wasn’t about to try to speak up and get their attention.
Tiresias shook his head. “It’s okay. It’s making Ravi happy to talk about Cloths, it’s just… I don’t like to think about blood and cuts, or my friends getting hurt.”
Lívia nodded quietly. He’s noticed Ravi looks happier too, then. “So, what do you think the Pope wants to say?” she asked, hoping to distract him.
Sure enough, a bit of color returned to Tiresias’ cheeks and he turned away from Ravi and Ronan to look at her. “I’m not really sure. It could be just to welcome us to Sanctuary, or to tell us why she called everybody back.”
“Have you met Pope Eudoxia before?” Lívia was fast realizing that she didn’t know how exactly to present herself to the Pope of Sanctuary- it had never occurred as a possibility to her. She hadn’t been intimidated by Yves mainly because his manner was so friendly, but the Pope was the highest authority among the Saints except Athena herself and she knew nothing about Eudoxia. If there’s something special I need to do, I’d like to find out now…
“She visited Heinstein Castle when I was younger, but I only caught a brief glimpse of her because she was busy with diplomacy. Don’t worry,” Tiresias added sympathetically. “She’s really nice. I think you’ll really like her.”
Lívia gave an inward sigh of relief. She wasn’t usually uncertain, but she also didn’t like to make a fool of herself by not knowing how to do things. I’ve got experience living in Sanctuary, but not with being a Gold Saint apprentice. I wasn’t raised by my mentor, and I didn’t know about my destiny until a few days ago- I know there’s a lot I still have to learn. “Thanks, Tiresias.”
He grinned. “Anytime. Thank you- for carrying Ravi across the room and making us talk to each other, and for being so nice to me. I’ve never really had friends before.”
Lívia burst out laughing. “It’s no problem- he’s really light. And…” she added a bit more quietly, “I’ve never had friends before either.” But now I have three of them- Tiresias, Ravi, and Ronan. We’ll probably meet more apprentices along the way too.
She stopped short at the sound of her name, and looked ahead to see Taurus Yves standing by the roadside ahead, alongside Aries Tenzin, Aquarius Julian, and a pretty, dark-haired woman standing slightly apart from the others who she figured had to be Cancer Persephone. Julian’s lip curled at the sight of his apprentice, and Ronan stared back defiantly. Tenzin was fixing Persephone with a thinly veiled glare, and Tiresias looked stricken, quickly reaching for Ravi and Lívia’s hands, as if hoping that holding on to them would ensure that their mentors wouldn’t take them away.
“Where have you been?” Yves continued, concern creeping into his voice. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
“ Clearly they’ve been off prying into my personal affairs and interrupting my apprentice’s training,” Julian cut in scathingly. “You need to better control your students, the three of you.”
Ronan clenched a fist and the frost dusting the gauntlet of the Cygnus Cloth spread further up his arm. “I’m a Saint in my own right, I can go where I please.”
“We just wanted to see if the Aquarius apprentice was lonely,” Lívia stated, not avoiding Julian’s icy gaze. “I’m sorry for worrying you, Mentor.” She was willing to apologize to Yves- it was apparent he’d been concerned for her- but Julian was a different story. I don’t believe in deferring to bullies.
“My apprentice doesn’t need the companionship of children who don’t weren’t raised well enough to know that trespassing is wrong,” the Aquarius Saint spat. “Some strong discipline would soon educate them properly.”
How dare he! He’s got no right to tell the others how to treat their apprentices! Lívia took a step forwards, bristling angrily. “We didn’t mean any harm by it! And anyway, we’re not the ones who left Ronan to freeze in an icy temple while you ran off to the Golden Round!”
“Impertinent little-” An angry sound growled in the back of Aquarius Julian’s throat as he finished the exclamation with a muttered epithet and he raised a hand, as if to strike her. However, he wasn’t able to complete the motion because Yves grabbed his wrist, tightening his grip around it until Julian’s already sallow skin went white.
“Julian, we’ll tolerate your bullying and superior attitude only because we have to. But I think I speak for all of us when I say that if you touch my apprentice, I’ll snap your fucking wrist.”
A quiet, nervous snicker escaped Tiresias’ lips, and Yves gave him a pointed look. “Don’t pretend you’ve never heard that before.”
Tiresias nodded quickly, embarrassed. “Sorry, sir.”
“It’s fine.” Yves turned back to Julian, eyes flashing dangerously, and the four apprentices standing before him were reminded with a jolt that the Taurus Saint probably was strong enough to break the Aquarius Saint’s bones if he desired. “Now, are you going to stop lording yourself over four children with more honorable intentions than you, or do I need to give you a reason to think twice about shooting off your mouth?”
Julian grimaced as his grip tightened. “Would you attack a fellow Gold Saint over something so foolish?”
Yves didn’t flinch. “If I must. There’s no excuse for verbally abusing and attempting to strike children and calling it discipline.”
“And if you decide to fight Yves,” Tenzin added, “you’ll be going through me to do it.”
Persephone stepped forwards to stand beside the Aries Saint. “And me as well.”
Tenzin gave the Cancer Saint a stiff nod of acknowledgement before turning her attentions back to Yves and Julian. “Are you really so stubbornly set in your rudeness that you would face three equally capable Saints, Julian? Make your choice.”
Julian threw Ronan a glance, opening his mouth to command him, but the Cygnus Saint shook his head. “I’m not stepping in front of three Gold Saints to defend you. Maybe don’t threaten kids next time.”
Realizing that no one was going to stand in agreement with him, Julian’s sharp features contorted into a scowl. “Fine. I won’t try to fix your lack of control over your apprentice. Let me go.”
Yves relinquished his wrist and immediately moved to stand by Lívia, placing a hand on her shoulder. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ravi and Tiresias go to their mentors as well. Ronan did not move, instead staring down Julian with open hostility. The Aquarius Saint stared back contemptuously, grimacing slightly as he rubbed his no-doubt-smarting wrist. Lívia looked up at her mentor, who still had one fist clenched as he watched Julian.
“Thanks, mentor.” She hadn’t been unused to physical discipline- in fact, it was rather common in the barracks. If you wanted somebody to stand up for you, you had to do it yourself, and even then, it was unlikely that you could avoid the punishment. Lívia had tried to protect the smaller children, and as a result, had gotten her fair share of punishments. Up until now, no adult in Sanctuary had been against the practice and while she knew in her heart it was a cruel thing to do to a child, she didn’t think that many people shared her opinion. Julian is definitely the type to believe in that kind of thing, and I didn’t really think Yves would ever hit me, but I’ve never had an adult stick up for me before.
Yves patted her shoulder gently. “Anytime. That sort of thing doesn’t do a child any good, and damn if I’ll let Julian- or anyone- hurt my apprentice.”
Lívia reached up and placed her hand on top of his much larger one. “I’m sorry we wandered off. We really did just want to see if Ronan was lonely.”
“No harm done,” the Taurus Saint replied. “I think having some friends will do him good- he deserves to get a break from Julian. Besides, I’m glad you’re meeting other apprentices. You’ll be training and fighting with Tiresias, Ravi, Ronan, and others for years to come. The path of a Saint is much easier if you have friends to walk it with you.”
They continued up the path to the Pope’s chambers, mentors and apprentices side by side except for Ronan and Julian, who remained apart from each other. Lívia noted that Tenzin and Persephone were conversing in low voices, and though their expressions were dour, it seemed to be a calm discussion.
“We were good friends once,” Yves explained, noticing where her gaze had wandered to. “When we were younger, Persephone and Tenzin were my best friends. The animosity you’ve seen came later, when she ran off with her boyfriend- now her fiance- who happens to be the Host of Hades. Tenzin and I haven’t spoken amicably with Seph since.”
Lívia looked at Tiresias and Ravi, who were watching their mentors with hope in their eyes. They noticed her looking and each gave a shy wave before turning their attention back to the conversation at hand. Yves and Tenzin and Persephone were once friends, just like me and Ravi and Tiresias… “Do you think she’s a traitor? Persephone, I mean.”
Yves heaved a sigh. “I wish I knew what to think. Tenzin’s pretty adamant in the belief that her loyalty to Sanctuary is compromised now and she shouldn’t be called a Saint, but I don’t know- I don’t want to believe Seph’s a traitor, but I’m not sure I trust that Sebastian Mortensen either. I wish things could go back to the way they were when we were young. It hurts to be at odds like this.”
Lívia fell silent, having no more questions to ask about the situation. Instead, she continued to watch Persephone and Tenzin, who had ended their conversation and were no longer looking at each other. They had moved a bit apart from each other, but Ravi and Tiresias were walking between them, talking excitedly. Tiresias looked back and gave her a cheerful thumbs-up and she smiled. Maybe they’ll be able to heal the rift between Tenzin and Persephone…
Finally, the group mounted the crest of the last hill and a large, imposing marble building with innumerable columns met their eyes. Though Lívia had never seen the place before in person, she knew it immediately.
It’s the Pope’s temple. We’re there.
Chapter 10: Cusp
The apprentices appear before Eudoxia, and Tenzin reveals why she doesn't want Ravi to become a Saint.
Tiresias had never been in the Pope’s chambers before, and none of his mentor’s descriptions could have prepared him for the interior. As Tenzin and Persephone led them through corridor after corridor lined with mosaics of scenes from Sanctuary’s long history, he found it difficult to keep himself from gaping at everything. My gods, this place is impressive!
Lívia was staring too, looking at the mosaics with interest. She’d probably learned about at least most of these events during her education in the barracks, he thought. As she passed a mosaic featuring a tall man with long brown hair and a helmet with one broken horn, her face lit up and she pointed at it, nudging Yves as she did so. Her mentor smiled and nodded- no doubt it was one of their predecessors. I’ve never been good at identifying Taurus Saints- are they all named Aldebaran?
Ravi, by contrast, wasn’t staring at the mosaics. His eyes were fixed firmly on the ground and he was chewing nervously on his lip. Clearly, the impending meeting was scaring him. Is it because he’s not sure if he’s actually a Saint…?
“Are you alright, Ravi?” he asked quietly. I don’t want him to have to be terrified out of his mind.
Ravi shook his head slightly. “I just… I’m not a Saint like you. What if Eudoxia sends me away from Sanctuary because of it? I miss Jamir, but all my friends are here, and Tenzin and Yves are the closest thing to family I’ve got…”
“Eudoxia wouldn’t do that,” Tiresias reassured in a voice which he hoped sounded confident and slipped a hand into Ravi’s. “Besides, if you go away, then who will fix the Cloths when Tenzin retires?” He didn’t think the Pope would be cruel enough to tell Ravi to go back to Jamir all alone, but the fear of losing his friend was still very much present. If they send Ravi away, I’d miss him terribly…
Ravi took his hand and they continued walking in companionable silence. Ahead of them, Tenzin and Persephone were doing the same. Since the moment when the three Saints had joined forces against Julian, Tiresias had noticed some of the animosity between the Aries and Cancer Saints lessen. When the two women had spoken while they were still outside, the conversation was a bit stiff, but more civil than previous encounters. Tenzin and Persephone had chastised them both for running off, but said that under the circumstances, they would not try to separate them any longer. “There’s no need to make them suffer for the sake of past grudges,” Tenzin said. She told us both that she wouldn’t stand between us anymore, and I think she might even try to patch things up with Persephone! Although there was still a long way to go before the two of them could be called friends, Aries Tenzin and Cancer Persephone were attempting to bury the hatchet.
They reached a large set of double-doors, and Tenzin raised a hand for everyone to halt. “Alright, Persephone, Yves, Julian, and I will announce our arrival to the Pope. Wait until the four of you are called before entering, and don’t forget your manners. Do you understand?”
The four apprentices nodded, understanding the gravity of the situation. Tenzin placed a hand on Ravi’s shoulder, and her mechanical leg clicked as she knelt down to look him in the eyes.
“No need to fear, Ravi. Eudoxia’s a fair Pope, and one of the kindest Saints I know. It’ll be alright.”
Ravi nodded, smiling a bit. “Thanks, Mentor.”
Tenzin smiled as well and tried to rise but nearly overbalanced in the process. Yves moved towards her but Persephone reached her first and offered her a hand, which she took gratefully and stood, turning back to Tiresias’ mentor a bit awkwardly. “Thanks, Persephone.”
“Anytime, Tenzin.” Persephone turned to Tiresias, gently brushing a strand of hair out of his eyes. “Remember who you are, my dear. You’ll be just fine.”
“I will. Thanks, Sephi.” He smiled back, laughing softly as the stray curl immediately flopped back into his face.
Yves ruffled Lívia’s hair. “You don’t need to worry, Lívia. In fact, I think you’ll like Eudoxia very much. You’ll do just fine.”
“I know,” his apprentice replied with a confident smile. “Thanks, mentor.”
Julian just turned up his nose at Ronan and looked away. “Just don’t embarrass me.”
Ronan didn’t respond except to fix him with a glare that rivaled the ice of the Aquarius Temple in coldness. Tiresias could tell he was fighting to keep himself under control, and there had been a sad look in his eyes as their mentors had encouraged them. Julian’s probably never said a single kind thing to him, not once…
Without another word, Julian led the others into the Pope’s chambers and the doors shut behind them, leaving the four of them alone. As soon as his mentor was out of sight, Ronan seemed to deflate, sighing heavily and sitting down on the floor, head in his hands.
“Fuck, I hate him.”
Ravi sat down next to him, laying a hand on the pauldron of his Cloth. “Yeah, your mentor’s an asshole. You don’t deserve that, Ronan.”
“That’s how he’s been since he found me,” the Cygnus Saint replied huskily. “I even attained a Cloth young, just to try to see if I could make him proud. I thought if I lived up to his standards, he’d warm up, maybe treat me like your mentors treat you. Like family. But he just pushed harder. I’m a Bronze Saint, one of the youngest ever, and Julian still sees me as an embarrassment.”
Lívia joined them, sitting down on Ronan’s other side and patting his back. “You’re not an embarrassment, Ronan. You’re really cool, and we’re your friends. We won’t let Julian make you think anything less of yourself.”
Tiresias settled down next to Ravi and reached for Ronan’s hand. “They’re right, you’re probably the strongest out of all of us and we’re here for you. That’s what friends do. We won’t let you deal with him alone.” I can’t imagine living with a mentor like that, but damn if we’re going to let him break Ronan. We’ll stick together.
A single tear trickled down Ronan’s cheek and a ghost of a smile tugged at his lips. “Thanks, guys.” He opened his arms and the others leaned in close for possibly the chilliest hug Tiresias had ever been a part of. The Cygnus Cloth was so cold that it made his fingers numb, but he held on anyway. Someday, the four of us might be on the battlefield together- I might as well get used to it now.
Suddenly, Ronan blinked and sat up straight, startled. His eyes widened, and for a moment, his irises flashed an icy blue. What the-? The young Aquarius looked at the others, shock and surprise clearly written on his face. “Do you feel that?”
Tiresias was about to ask what it was that he was supposed to be feeling, but immediately, a warm sensation began to spread across his chest. Spectral tendrils curled at the edges of his vision and he was dimly aware of an energy radiating from his three friends, but couldn’t quite hone in on it. Is this my…? “I… I think I feel something!”
Lívia’s face spread into a wide grin. “It’s so warm! I feel like I could do anything!”
Ravi’s mouth was agape. “Everything’s… glittery, like stardust! Is this-? Do I-?”
Ronan nodded emphatically. “Yes, it is! I don’t believe it, you guys- I can sense your cosmos!” He grinned wide and gave Ravi a good-natured slap on the back. “Yours too, Ravi! You’re a Saint for sure!”
They didn’t have time to celebrate further, or even take in the news of Ravi’s cosmos, because the doors opened once more and a guard stepped out, beckoning to the three of them.
“Pope Eudoxia will receive you now.”
Ronan clambered up from the floor and the others followed. Tiresias could feel the warm sensation fading a bit, but it was still present, and the tendrils in his vision didn’t quite fully dissipate. I can feel my cosmos, and so can Ravi and Lívia! This is amazing! Maybe we can even train together!
The Pope’s chamber was an impressive place, with high, vaulted ceilings and even more mosaics than the hallway outside. The ceiling was mostly comprised of a large, expansive skylight which allowed a view of the starry night. Looking up at this, Tiresias was idly reminded that it was getting late and soon, his friends would need to sleep. They’ve been up all night. The thought quickly left his head, however, as he found himself meeting the calm brown gaze of the woman seated on the throne at the opposite end of the room.
Eudoxia wasn’t any more physically imposing sitting on the throne, yet her measured gaze and serene hint of a smile gave her an aura of wisdom, maturity, prestige. She wore no mask and held the ceremonial helmet in the crook of her arm, long hair spilling down over her shoulders. On either side of her, the Gold Saints were standing at attention, flanking the throne. Although he wasn’t sure how he hadn’t noticed before, Tiresias suddenly found himself becoming aware of a ringing emanating from their Cloths, like a bell that had been struck and was reverberating through the chamber. Somehow, the armor seemed to glow a brighter gold and sparkle in the light more when the Cloths were together. He could see pride in the faces of their mentors as they stood together as comrades, and the infighting and tensions which plagued them seemed to have momentarily lifted. I guess when it all comes down to it, they’re all Gold Saints, and that means they have to be able to rely on each other. Despite everything, they’re all in the same situation, doing the same job. No matter how much they fight each other, they’re at least in part a family.
“Ravi, Lívia, Tiresias, and Ronan.” Eudoxia’s smile widened as she spoke their names. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting the four of you. Come forward.”
They did so, unsure whether or not to speak in response. The only sound as they approached the Pope’s throne was the clinking of Ronan’s Bronze Cloth as he walked beside them. Tiresias made quick, excited eye contact with Persephone and saw her smile slightly in response. I don’t think I’m supposed to wave too much, but I’m just dying to tell her what just happened! Oh well, I’ll have time later, after we meet Eudoxia...
“Thank you for coming,” she continued when they reached the foot of her throne. “I’m so happy that four future Saints have already been found.”
Four…! Then she does know about our Cosmos! Tiresias had barely flicked his eyes to Ravi when Tenzin stepped out of line, worry plainly written on her face as she bowed and addressed the Pope.
“Eudoxia, I’m sorry, but I can’t let this stand.”
The Pope blinked in surprise. “Tenzin? What’s wrong?”
“Standing before you are three future Saints,” Tenzin said, avoiding Ravi’s eyes. “Ravi is not, and never will be my successor.”
From the other side of the throne, Pisces Hayliel her neck to look at Tenzin in confusion. “But moments ago, we all felt… didn’t you sense it, Tenzin? Ravi’s a Saint, no question about it.”
“It’s true, Tenzin,” Persephone corroborated. “That was a powerful Cosmos, no question about it. I sensed Ravi’s just as strongly as I sensed the individual Cosmos belonging to Lívia, Ronan, and my Tiresias.” She quickly flashed her apprentice a proud smile and turned back to the Aries Saint. “There’s no denying it, he’s one of us.”
Tenzin’s eyes hardened. “It was a fluke. He won’t be able to repeat it. Ravi is not and never going to be a Saint.”
Before any of the others could move to stop him, Ravi stepped forwards. “That’s not true! I felt my Cosmos, I know I did! And I can make it do it again!”
For a moment, Tiresias thought that Tenzin was going to shout at him, but when she looked at Ravi, she appeared positively stricken with fear. “Ravi, please. I know you think you felt your Cosmos, but it’s not possible. You can’t be a Saint. You just… you can’t. Please try to understand.”
“But why can’t I?” Ravi protested. “Everyone else felt my Cosmos too!”
Eudoxia rose from her throne, looking down at both Lemurians in confusion. Though she kept her voice low and gentle- no doubt to avoid escalating the confrontation- there was a commanding edge to it. “Tenzin, please explain this. Either twelve of us and four apprentices were all somehow sorely mistaken, or there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Tenzin whirled to look at Eudoxia with pleading eyes. “I can’t let Ravi end up like the last one. You know we can’t do that, Eudoxia. Please- let me find a different apprentice, one who isn’t a-” She cut off, shaking her head vehemently. “One who isn’t like she was.”
Yves moved to stand beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Tiresias could see his hands shake and he pulled his wife close to him. They’re both terrified of whatever this is… “Eudoxia, we practically raised Ravi. Let us keep him out of this. We can’t see another one dead. It would kill us both to go through that again. I know it’s irregular, but you remember what happened last time. We all do- or almost all of us, anyway.”
Eudoxia looked down at Ravi, who was looking from Tenzin to Yves and back again with a hurt expression. He doesn’t have any more idea what’s going on than the rest of us, and now both his mentor and her husband- practically his only family- are denying that he has a Cosmos because of some secret they’re keeping… “You’re certain that Ravi is… ?”
“We didn’t find out until recently,” Tenzin stated, voice husky. “The orphanage didn’t have birth records for him and only found them once he’d been living with us for a while. By the time we knew, he was already a part of our lives and learning to be a Cloth Blacksmith. We couldn’t turn him away.”
Eudoxia pursed her lips. “Tenzin, you know we can’t just ignore the stars bringing Ravi to you, especially when he has a Cosmos like that at his disposal. As much as it might hurt, he belongs here in Sanctuary. It’s undeniable.”
“He’s a child !” Tenzin shot back, voice rising into a shout. “How can we possibly know where he belongs now ?! Maybe he’s destined for something else- there’s no way we can possibly know that yet!”
If Eudoxia was offended by the display, she didn’t show it. If anything, her expression only became more sympathetic. “Tenzin, I understand you’re still blaming yourself for what happened to Genesis. We all are. But there was nothing we could have done to stop it. You know Sanctuary’s research on volatile Cosmos is lacking, especially in children born in that window of time. We did the best we could- it pains me beyond belief to say it, there was nothing more any of us could have done to avoid it.”
“We could have had the good sense to send her home when we realized that her Cosmos was far too much for any human being, let alone a fourteen-year-old to handle!” Tenzin’s eyes were blazing, and she looked as if she was about to either burst into tears or attack Eudoxia outright. Tiresias was about to speak up, ask what the hell was going on, who was Genesis, and what any of this had to do with Ravi, but the apprentice Aries beat him to it.
“What are you talking about? Mentor, I don’t understand…”
Tenzin’s anger seemed to melt away as she looked at Ravi, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “Please, Ravi. Please don’t ask me that question.”
Ronan stepped forwards hesitantly, normally confident voice wavering a bit. “Pope Eudoxia, forgive my interruption, but I, Ronan of Cygnus, would like some answers as well. With all due respect… Ravi is my friend. I think he deserves the truth.”
Julian stepped forwards as well, fixing Tenzin and Eudoxia with an accusing, pointed stare. “For once, my apprentice and I are in agreement. We’d all like some answers.”
“Answers?” Yves questioned. “Julian, you were-” He cut off abruptly, looking at the Aquarius Saint with something like sympathy. “Oh. Right.”
I don’t know what Yves is talking about, but even Julian’s on our side on this one… Eudoxia murmured something that sounded like a prayer under her breath, nodded quietly and looked down at Tenzin. Her voice was lowered when she spoke, but the edge to her tone indicated that disobeying her orders in this moment would be a foolish move indeed. “If you feel you can handle telling them, then I suggest you do so. But know that if you don’t, I will.”
Tenzin let out a long, shaky sigh and turned away from Ravi. “You tell them- gods know I’ve suffered enough already.”
“Very well.” Eudoxia rose from the throne, drawing herself up to her full height as Tenzin and Yves dejectedly rejoined the line. “Ravi, how much do you know about the Zodiac?”
“There are twelve signs,” Ravi ventured carefully, no doubt very conscious that he was talking to the second-highest authority in Sanctuary, “and thirteen Gold Saints. One for each sign except Gemini, where there’s two. Each one has a Cloth which can only be worn by the Saint of that sign. Your sign is determined by when you were born. I’m an Aries, Tiresias is a Cancer, Ronan is an Aquarius, and Lívia is a Taurus.”
The Pope nodded. “That’s a good foundation, but not everything.” She took a deep breath and steadied herself against the throne. “Sometimes, a person is born very close to the point in the calendar where one sign’s season ends and the other begins. If they’re born during that time, it can be… difficult to determine what sign they are. Most people call it being a ‘cusp’ sign.”
Ravi looked up at her, confused. “What does that have to do with me?”
“I’m getting to that.” Eudoxia glanced over at Tenzin, who avoided her gaze. “Cusp individuals have a fraught and painful history here in Sanctuary. Because their sign is so difficult to determine, their Cosmos is often too vast or too volatile for their bodies to handle. Sometimes they lean towards one sign and the other never surfaces in their lifetime. Those are the lucky ones, but they are not the majority. The others… may begin developing characteristics and abilities of one sign while trying to pursue the Cloth of another. Some have tried to ignore half of who they are, only to have their other sign’s Cosmos consume them at the worst possible moment. Others have tried to train both and found themselves unable to contain the rush of power. Still others have done nothing and were still unable to contain their Cosmos growing as they aged. None of those ones have survived past their sixteenth birthday as far as we know.”
Ravi took a step back, looking a bit fearful. “None of them at all?”
Eudoxia bit her lip again, looking as though she very much wanted to pull him into her arms but knowing that she’d already said too much to go back now. There was already a knot of fear settling in Tiresias’ stomach, and he found himself looking at Ravi with new eyes. Is that what she’s saying? Is Ravi a cusp sign? Is he going to die…?
“There was another cusp sign in Sanctuary very recently,” Eudoxia continued as if Ravi had never spoken. “A girl. Her name was Genesis, and she was an Aries-Taurus cusp. We were all younger then, and we thought we had the resources and the knowledge to save her. Things were looking promising too. Unfortunately-” here, her voice wavered- “it was all in vain. Though she tried to remain in control, the vastness of her power broke her mind. She would have destroyed Sanctuary if-” Abruptly, she cut off, looking at Julian. “She would have destroyed Sanctuary if we had not subdued her.”
“Oh, for Athena ’s sake, Eudoxia,” Yves muttered in a rough voice. “Just say we killed her.” He didn’t raise his eyes, and instead glared balefully at the floor as he addressed the apprentices. “Several Gold Saints versus one teenage girl- Genesis was powerful, but even she didn’t stand a chance. I pray to Athena that none of you four ever have to make that kind of choice. The lives of an entire city, plus the lives of your friends, your comrades- no, the lives of your family - over the life of someone you love like your own child. In the moment, there was no other choice we could have made if we wanted Sanctuary and Athens to stay standing. It was the only option that would ensure minimal loss of life, but I will never, never say it was the right choice.”
The room fell silent. Tiresias could see that Persephone looked stricken, and knew that his mentor’s expression likely mirrored his own. Sephi’s been in Heinstein Castle with me and Sebastian- this is all news to her too… she wasn’t here when it happened. No wonder Tenzin is the way she is… He reached for Ravi’s hand, suddenly wanting some physical reassurance that his friend was beside him, but Ravi pulled away, shaking his head a bit.
“And this Genesis… am I like her?”
This time, it was Tenzin who spoke. Her voice was even quieter than Yves’, and ragged with the pain of having such unhappy memories laid bare for all to see. “Not the same signs, but yes. You were born on the cusp of Aries and Pisces, Ravi, and I’m so, so sorry. I thought I could keep you safe by hiding you in Jamir, trying to make sure you never awakened your Cosmos. But I’ve felt it inside you since you came to us. We always knew, and we still loved you as our own.” Tears began to course down her cheeks, but she continued nonetheless. “We still loved you as our son, and we still do. Losing Genesis… we might as well have lost our own child. That’s why I’ve been trying to keep you away from it all. I didn’t want to lose another. Neither of us do I shouldn’t have kept the secret from you, Ravi… but it’s only because I loved you too much to let you grow up knowing that nothing but death awaits you in Sanctuary.”
Ravi stood stock still, eyes wide and hands beginning to shake. Abruptly, he dashed past the throne and launched himself into Tenzin’s arms, clinging to her and beginning to cry. Tenzin clung to him, holding him close as if she could stop the passage of what seemed an inevitable future simply by keeping him in her arms. Tiresias found himself unable to move. Ravi was a cusp sign, and that meant he was most certainly going to die. And we awakened his Cosmos. We started this… Maybe if we hadn’t, there would still be a chance of him surviving… He wanted nothing more to run to Persephone just as Ravi had run to Tenzin, but couldn’t seem to make himself move his feet. It seemed selfish for him to start crying now, to look for comfort when his Cosmos was in no danger of burning him up with it. I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to die like that… and Ravi’s going to… he’s going to…
Somewhere during the display, Lívia had gone to stand beside Yves, and was holding his hand. The two of them talked quietly for a moment before Yves turned to address Eudoxia.
“I’d like to request your permission to take my wife, Ravi, and Lívia back to our Temples, Eudoxia. All things considered, I think it might be best if you continued this meeting without us.”
Eudoxia nodded somberly. “Permission granted. Get some rest, all of you. I’m sorry it had to happen this way.”
Pisces Hayliel stepped forwards, wringing her hands slightly. “Tenzin, dear, I know now isn’t the best time, but perhaps you and I should…?”
Tenzin nodded tearfully. “Yes. Come find me tomorrow, please.”
“I won’t be busy. Get some rest now, honey.” She turned on her head gracefully and wiped away a tear of her own before making her way to her place beside Julian again. Tenzin led Ravi back towards the doors, tears still on her cheeks. Ravi managed a small, halfhearted wave as he passed Ronan and Tiresias, and when he spoke, his voice was hollow and shaky.
Neither of them managed to respond- what could they possibly say in a situation such as that? Tiresias knew it was obvious that he was fighting tears of his own, and Ronan looked completely lost, as though the one thing stopping him from becoming lost in the abyss had been yanked from his grasp. In a way, Tiresias supposed, it had. With Julian being the jerk he is, me and Ravi and Lívia gave him a distraction, something to make living here a little more pleasurable. And now we have to come to terms with losing Ravi…
Lívia waved sadly to them both as she and Yves passed. “I’ll let you know how he’s doing and make sure we can see each other soon, I promise.” Out of all of them, her expression was the most controlled, and Tiresias could see her jaw set in determination. Even now, when things seemed hopeless, Lívia was determined to keep fighting.
“Thanks, Lívia.” Tiresias waved goodbye to the Taurus apprentice as she followed her mentor. I know she’s trying to be strong, but she has to cry too at some point… though I guess Ravi’s not dead yet, so there’s still hope, at least a little…
Ronan nodded his thanks as well and glanced toward his mentor, who surprisingly looked more pallid and drawn than usual. Funny, I didn’t think he was the kind to care what happened to other people… “Mentor… may we depart as well? I think I need… some time to process this.”
Julian made a small, grunted sound of assent and moved to stand before Eudoxia. “My apprentice is in emotional distress and I myself am feeling-” He cut off abruptly, and with a muttered string of curses in French, dropped to his knees, clutching at his chest. “Please, dismiss us quickly.”
Ronan moved to his side with some reluctance. Julian’s a rude and self-centered prick, but he’s still his mentor, and he seems to be in pain... “Sir…?”
Julian muttered another string of curses, which, judging by how one of Eudoxia’s eyebrows shot up, were both wholly uncharacteristic and far more colorful than the last. “I’m alright. Just unwell all of a sudden.”
“Can you stand?” Ronan questioned skeptically.
The Aquarius Saint was about to respond, likely in a sarcastic manner, when another wave of pain took him and he clutched at his chest again, gritting his teeth. Ronan looked down at his mentor for a moment, torn between pity and his deep-seated dislike of the man. However, pity won over and he knelt down, sweeping one arm under Julian’s knees and bracing the other against his back. Ronan lifted him easily and looked at Eudoxia.
“Go,” the Pope said quietly, “and get him to rest. But please come to the Sagittarius Temple afterwards, Ronan. There’s something I need to speak with you about.”
Ronan nodded and turned, carrying Julian towards the door. “See ya, Tiresias.”
“See you, Ronan.” He could feel Persephone’s hand on his shoulder, and knew she would probably ask that they be dismissed as well. Tiresias certainly wasn’t about to fight that decision- at this point, he wanted nothing more than to go back to the Cancer Temple and sleep, hoping that when he woke, this would reveal itself to be nothing more than a bad dream. I don’t want Ravi to die, and I really don’t want to have to be the one to kill him… Ravi wouldn’t try to hurt anyone, I know he wouldn’t! But that girl Genesis probably didn’t want to hurt anybody either, and look what happened…
If this is a nightmare, I want to wake up now…
Chapter 11: Predestiny
In order to try to reconcile his fate, Ravi takes a trip to Sanctuary's cemeteries for some much-needed reflection.
Ravi hadn’t expected to sleep at all after the revelation at the meeting, but as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was lost in deep, dreamless slumber. Somewhere in his shell-shocked brain, he was grateful for the lack of nightmares. Nightmares would only have made things worse, though he knew in his heart that he didn’t have the energy to be terrified.
He wasn’t scared , not exactly- how could he be? He barely understood it. Because of when he was born, and the fact that he happened to have a powerful Cosmos, he was destined to die. By rights, it made no sense and he couldn’t seem to fathom it no matter how hard he tried. It just didn’t seem real. Dying at sixteen years old didn’t make a long life by any means, and he was already perilously close to that benchmark. Ravi had never really had to think about his own mortality before, and trying to start now, when there was suddenly a date and time, a deadline approaching was overwhelming. He’d always felt like- or at least hoped - that his life was just beginning, and, though he didn’t necessarily need to begin serious planning for it yet, that it was reasonable for him to assume he would live to grow old. But now, a future that he’d barely thought about or planned for had been ripped from his grasp. He wouldn’t even have the chance to plan for it- he would be dead in less than five years. Whatever he planned for wasn’t going to happen.
He slept in late, partially because he was tired from such an eventful night, partially so that he didn’t have to think about it anymore. A few times, he was awakened by the sound of Tenzin out in the hallway, checking to see if he was still sleeping or talking to someone- probably Yves or the pretty Pisces Saint whose name he didn’t know. Somewhere in his haze of shock and exhaustion, Ravi knew he would probably be meeting her at some point. I wonder if I’ll have to train with her too…? He didn’t know much about being an Aries Saint, and he knew nothing about being a Pisces Saint- yet apparently he was qualified for both. I don’t even know if they’ll train me at all, though… they might just decide it’s too dangerous…
Ravi knew they probably couldn’t send him back to Jamir, but he didn’t feel that they could let him stay in Sanctuary either. If cusp Saints were as volatile and dangerous as they said, then that seemed like a foolish move. At the same time, he wasn’t exactly sure where else there was for him to go. I don’t have a home or a family, and they can’t just leave me all alone and abandon me to my own devices… or can they? Maybe they’ll lock me away somewhere remote to avoid any more damage…
He was fully roused by the sound of a sharp knock on his door and Tenzin’s voice drifting through from the other side. “Ravi? Are you awake in there?”
When he didn’t respond, another voice that he vaguely recognized as the Pisces Saint’s could be heard. “He’s probably exhausted, poor dear. Let’s only do this if he’s feeling up to it.”
“I’m awake,” Ravi managed, idly wondering what it was they had in store for him. He wanted to sleep more, but part of him knew that sleeping away the whole day wouldn’t magically erase his problems, or this destiny, or any of it. Maybe doing something will distract me.
He sat up in bed, and the door opened. Tenzin walked in, no longer wearing her Cloth and instead dressed in the simple casual clothing she’d worn back in Jamir. The Pisces Saint was hovering on her heels, curly blonde hair spilling down her back in slightly damp tresses. Judging by the redness around her eyes and nose, she had been crying only moments before. Was that because of me…? She sniffled a bit, and flashed Ravi a slightly melancholy but nonetheless winning smile.
“Hi, Ravi! Did you sleep well?”
Ravi nodded quietly, unsure how to address her. He didn’t trust his tongue in the moment- there was something about the Pisces Saint that made his head hazier than it already was, and the smell of roses that clung to her was overwhelming. Is that perfume…?
Tenzin sat down on the bed beside him, slipping an arm around his shoulders. “Ravi, this is Pisces Hayliel. Before we figure out what to do going forwards, there are some things we need to test, and she’s going to help us. It won’t hurt, but it may take a little while. Is that alright, or would you rather wait until another day?”
It doesn’t really matter whether we do it now or later, and I don’t really know what else I’m going to do. “We can do it now, it’s okay.”
Hayliel nodded approvingly. “Alright. Tenzin, darling, you may want to stand back. It’s only going to be the size of a papercut, but even that’s risky.”
Tenzin didn’t move. “I want to stay with my apprentice. Are you absolutely certain it’s too dangerous for me?”
Hayliel shook her head. “You might feel a bit light-headed, but no more than that. I just wanted to take precautions.”
Ravi blinked. “Um… what are we doing?” He really didn’t want any more surprises after last night, particularly of that caliber. And Hayliel is making this sound like it might be dangerous…
“We’re testing your immunity to poison, darling,” Hayliel replied, as though this was the most natural thing in the world. “Since you’re on the cusp between Aries and Pisces, we need to figure out how your abilities stack up.”
“What does poison have to do with that?” Ravi meant the question to be genuine and nonchalant, but upon hearing it, Hayliel raised a well- manicured hand to cover her mouth in a gasp of exaggerated surprise. Great. Another thing I was supposed to know.
“Tenzin, did you tell him anything ?”
“I was hoping I wouldn’t need to,” his mentor shot back defensively. “If I’d had my way, we wouldn’t be here right now.” I guess now I understand why she was so secretive with me. She wanted me to avoid finding out about all this. He still wished that his mentor had been truthful, but now he was at least secure in the fact that her avoidances had been for a reason. It’s the only thing I’m secure in right now, I think.
Hayliel didn’t rise to the hostility in her words and just nodded understandingly. “Of course, of course. Shall I explain myself, then?”
Tenzin waved her to continue with only the slightest of eye rolls. The Pisces Saint smiled winningly back and sat down on the edge of the bed, a short distance from Ravi and Tenzin. “Each Saint has certain powers or attributes that are passed down through the legacy of a Cloth’s wearers. Aries Saints have the Crystal Wall and suchlike, Cancer Saints pass between the living and the dead with ease, Taurus Saints have unshakable strength and stoicism, Aquarius Saints freeze all that they touch, and we Pisces Saints have our poison.” She proffered her wrist and tapped a long nail on the faint outlines of bluish veins below the skin. “We cultivate gardens of beautiful, toxic roses whose perfume can bring death, but the toxins in our flowers are also in our blood. Even one drop can do a world of damage. Obviously, using our own blood as a weapon is risky, so we try to keep it as solely a last resort. But sometimes, it becomes necessary.”
Poisonous blood… that sounds really scary. But if I’m already going to die from my Cosmos, then I guess it doesn’t matter… “And you’re trying to figure out if my blood is poisonous?”
Hayliel shook her head. “No one’s blood is inherently poisonous- through the Red Bond ceremony each Pisces apprentice goes through to become a Saint, the toxins from their mentor’s blood are intermingled with theirs to pass on the mantle. We’re checking to see if you have the natural Pisces immunity.”
“What if I don’t?” Ravi questioned. He didn’t see the point of asking what the poison would do if he wasn’t immune. It seemed unimportant in the face of everything else.
Hayliel patted his forearm reassuringly. “You might faint, but that’s all. I’m not exposing you to a lethal amount of toxins, just enough to get a benchmark for your tolerance. If you don’t have the immunity, don’t worry about it- in fact, it might make things easier.
Tenzin nodded. “You don’t need to do anything special, just tell us if you start feeling strange and we’ll stop right then. I’ll be right here with you.”
They probably think I’m scared… Truth be told, Ravi didn’t know what exactly he was feeling. Things were changing and moving very fast and above all, he wished he could go back to sleep and make it all go away. And anyway, knowing what I know, how can I be scared of something like this? “Okay.”
Hayliel produced a Swiss Army knife from her pocket and clicked out the blade. The plastic casing of the weapon had been meticulously covered in pink and silver rhinestones, and it appeared well-cared-for. If Ravi had been able to see any humor in the situation, he might have laughed at the strangeness of a knife which was decorated to be a fashion accessory. It’s kind of like Hayliel- she’s pretty and nice, but even touching her can hurt you... The Pisces Saint extended one finger and deftly sliced the sharpened edge of the knife across it, leaving a small red line which a single drop of blood bubbled up from, shining and crimson. True to her word, it was no bigger than a mere papercut.
The smell of poison roses hit Ravi’s nose fairly quickly, and he felt a moment of lightheadedness. However, it passed before he could vocalize it and though his head was a bit foggy from the aroma, he remained conscious. Fascinated, he leaned in close to Hayliel’s proffered finger, and though the smell got stronger, he no longer felt like fainting. Does this mean I’m immune?
There was a moan and a thud, and Tenzin slid to the floor, having unconsciously leaned in close with her apprentice. In one fluid motion, Hayliel yanked her finger away and put it in her mouth, then crossed the room in several quick steps, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and the fallen Aries Saint. With her other hand, she unlatched the window and threw it open, letting in a blast of chilly morning air.
Tenzin raised her head groggily. “Damn, that’s strong.”
Ravi looked down at her. She fainted from a little drop? If that’s what happens with just a small amount of Hayliel’s blood, then I must have immunity… “Are you okay, Mentor?”
Tenzin nodded and ruffled his hair reassuringly. “I’m fine, don’t worry. Looks like you are too, which means you’re probably immune.” The last words were uttered with a bit of a sigh, and Ravi was reminded with a start that his immunity to Hayliel’s poison was far from a good thing. Just another reminder that I’m a cusp…
Hayliel pulled her finger out of her mouth, now clean of blood, and looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, Tenzin.” Her expression was quite pained, and Ravi knew with a sinking heart that she didn’t just mean about causing the Aries Saint to pass out. She’s saying “I’m sorry” like you would say it to someone at a funeral…
“Not your fault.” Tenzin climbed up from the floor and patted Ravi’s shoulder. “We’ll figure it out. Thank you for your help, Hayliel.”
“Anytime, dear,” she replied. Turning to Ravi, she gave a small smile, tinged with a hint of sympathy that made him want to look away. “It’s been a pleasure getting to meet you, Ravi. I only wish the circumstances were different.” They’re walking on eggshells, talking to me like they’re talking to someone who’s on their deathbed! I suppose that isn’t exactly untrue, but still.
“Nice to meet you too, ma’am.”
Hayliel exited quickly, no doubt to avoid further exposure to her poison. Tenzin took a step towards the door, intending to follow her.
“Before you go back to Pisces, I’d like to talk to you.”
Hayliel nodded. “Of course, dear. Shall we, then?”
Tenzin followed her out the door, turning back to Ravi. “I’ll be back soon. You can get up if you want, or go back to sleep if you’re still tired. We won’t be doing anything more today.”
With that, both Saints left the room, leaving Ravi alone again. He briefly debated going back to sleep again, but decided against it. Even if I do, it won’t really change anything. I’m not even tired, I just can’t think of anything better to do. Part of him wanted to find Tiresias, Lívia, and Ronan in hopes they might have a suggestion for something, anything to do to take his mind off of what was essentially his impending doom. However, he knew in his heart that it would just be more of what he’d seen from Tenzin and Hayliel- sympathy and attempting to avoid the subject at all costs. I don’t blame them, and I know it would almost be worse if they tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, but it’s just a constant reminder that nothing’s ever going to be the same, or really even okay. Maybe it would be better if I stayed away from them. It might make things less painful when I’m gone…
It struck him at that moment how quickly he’d accepted it. Shouldn’t people be afraid if they find out they’re going to die? He didn’t know if he had it in him to be afraid, and his life had barely begun- he hadn’t made any kind of plan for what to do when he was older. The closest thing to a plan I had was becoming a Saint, and even that was never really certain. Ravi figured that he probably wasn’t supposed to be so apathetic about whether he lived or died, but at the same time, he didn’t know if you could lament the loss of something you’d never really thought much about in the first place. He didn’t want to die, but dying young appeared to be what was in store for him. It doesn’t seem like there’s a way to fight it, even though I don’t want it to happen. It seems like Sanctuary tried everything to save that Genesis girl, but in the end, she died too… With me, they’ll probably just focus on damage control.
He slid out of bed and moved to the door, listening for sounds in the hallway before opening it. Ravi wasn’t sure he was in the mood to talk to Tenzin, and knew that seeing him would probably just make things more painful for her. Every time she looks at me, she probably sees Genesis all over again. Seeing no one, he continued down the hallway and through the columned entrance to the temple. Ravi wasn’t certain where he was going, but he did know that he wanted some air and a place where he could be as hidden from the world as possible.
Whether it was coincidence, poetic justice, sheer morbidity brought on by the revelation of his destiny, or a combination of all three, his feet found the small path leading off the staircase and further down the mountain which led to Sanctuary’s graveyards. The place was almost completely silent, and some of the graves were so old that they had been eaten up by the landscape. As such, Ravi didn’t realize where he was until tombstones scratched simply with the names of long-dead Saints were all around him. Most didn’t even have a birth and death date marked, only names and Cloths carved below them, and all of them were bare. These were not final resting places which were flocked with mourners, and for some of the more decrepit headstones, it was likely that no loved ones remained alive to mourn them. Aside from a few names he knew due to their historical significance, Ravi recognized almost none of the Saints who were entombed there.
He stopped walking abruptly when one of the graves caught his eye, a grave with a name he now knew quite well. Kneeling down until the writing on it was directly at his eye level, he mouthed the single word engraved upon the stone.
Though this one was just as simplistic as the others, it was far from bare. Someone had recently placed flowers upon it, and more plants grew around it, climbing up the stone and making the symbol of death and finality just a little less stark and cold. The grass in front of the headstone was worn away, as though many people had stood or kneeled in the very same place for some time. In the dirt, Ravi thought he could see the indentations of footprints, one small and slight, the other considerably larger. Tenzin and Yves have probably been here many times.
He took a deep breath and fixed his gaze on her name once again. “Um. Hi.” Though he wasn’t fully certain why exactly he was talking to the gravestone of a long-dead girl he’d never known, and he most definitely didn’t expect a response, it felt like the right thing to do. Tiresias said the Cancer Temple had ghosts, maybe this place does too.
“I’m Ravi. I’m a cusp. Like you.”
There was no answer, but a breeze wafted through the cemetery, stirring the flowers on the ground slightly. Taking this as a good sign, he continued.
“I only just found out, and I really don’t know what to do. I don’t know if you’re listening, or if you can help, but if you can… give me a sign, or something.” He paused, thinking for a moment before speaking again. “It doesn’t have to be anything big or grand, and if you can’t help, you don’t have to, but… if there’s anything you can do… if there’s anyone who can help me…” After another moment of thought and listening to the breeze, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I just don’t want Yves and Tenzin and everybody to have to suffer because of me.”
The breeze picked up and became a true gust of wind, tugging at his clothes, and Ravi screwed his eyes shut tighter, not daring to open them for fear of what he might see. He half expected Genesis to rise from her grave like a zombie, or to see a horrifying apparition before him, demanding vengeance against the Saints for a life too short- or worse, nothing at all. Something in him, some shred of desperation vowed that it would take a million undead Saints or a thousand baleful spirits over nothingness and having to accept that this desperate gamble of his was for nought.
Instead, he felt a soft hand on his shoulder and heard the sound of a quiet voice.
“Hello, Ravi. My name is Genesis.”
Ravi blinked, and opened his eyes, turning around to see a girl standing behind him. She was a little older than him, with dark skin and a halo of curly hair with a chain of flowers woven into it by a gentle hand Though she didn’t have wings, something about her- perhaps the way her simple dress flowed around her, and the ethereal quality of her form, which seemed to glow against the landscape of the cemetery- reminded Ravi of an angel. She was smiling at him, as though being reunited with an old friend after a long time spent apart.
“I’ve been watching you for a while, and I’m so happy to finally meet you.”
He blinked in confusion. “Genesis? But they said you were…?” He didn’t want to say “dead”- it seemed rude to remind her of that if she really was Genesis- but he couldn’t ignore the fact that dead people didn’t just appear of their own accord. It can’t be that easy to summon ghosts and spirits, can it?
“Dead?” The girl laughed. “You don’t need to avoid the word, Ravi. I know what happened to me. But that’s an explanation for later- you asked for my help. Do you truly want me to help you? I can do it, but it may be difficult, and it will most certainly require leaving the Sanctuary you know behind.” She looked at him a bit pointedly, with eyes that contained something older than her supposed fourteen years alive. “This will be difficult, and there are no guarantees- only a trace of a chance for life. I don’t blame you if you choose to turn back.”
A trace of a chance… barely anything, but still more than I had. I was hoping to find my way when I came here to the graveyard- this must be it. This must be the path I’m supposed to take. And even if we fail… what do I have to lose? I’m already going to die in a few years- it’s not as if things can get worse. Ravi took a deep breath and nodded. “I want to do this.” This is for you, Tenzin- and Yves, and Lívia, and Tiresias, and Ronan, and all the other Saints too.
Genesis smiled and removed her hand from his shoulder, proffering it to help him to his feet. “I thought you’d say that. You’re brave, Ravi. We’re going to need that courage where we’re going. Now, get yourself up. If we’re going to save you, we’d better get started.”
Steeling himself, Ravi slipped his hand into hers, which was soft and carried the warmth of a living being. Genesis helped him up with no difficulty, and once he was standing, turned to him with another wide, happy smile.
“Are you ready?”
He swallowed hard and nodded. “As I’ll ever be.” I don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting ready for, but if this can change my destiny…
Genesis nodded quietly, and closed her eyes, murmuring something under her breath. The cemetery began to fade to white around the two of them, and Ravi shut his eyes once more.
I’ll bear anything if it means I can stop everyone’s hearts from breaking.
Chapter 12: A Changed Man
Lívia chooses to keep busy by helping Ronan find Chandrakanta and learns something rather interesting about Julian's past.
A Changed Man
It’s a nice day. I’m glad I got out of the Taurus Temple.
Lívia paused on the landing just past the Cancer Temple, looking down at it. After a night of fitful sleep after the previous night’s meeting with the Pope and a morning of Yves trying to pretend everything was alright even though she could plainly see that he’d been crying, she’d decided to escape and go for a walk. She’d intended to ask Tiresias if he wanted to join her, but when she’d passed the darkened windows of the Cancer Temple, she’d remembered with a start that Ravi had said Tiresias was nocturnal. He’s fast asleep right now, and it’s probably better that I don’t wake him. We’ve all had an upsetting night.
Truth be told, she’d also been hoping to find Ravi. Her first stop had been in the Aries Temple, where Tenzin had said that he’d gone for a walk and she was bound to meet him along the way. I think she assumed he would be going to see Tiresias or Ronan. So far, however, there had been no sign of her friend. Lívia wasn’t sure exactly what she’d say to Ravi if she came across him, but she did know that she was going to hug him tightly and swear up and down that no matter what everyone else said, they would find a way to fix this. I can’t sit and accept that one of my friends is going to die that way. I just can’t. There has to be something somewhere we can do.
She was just a bit frustrated that the others seemed to have given up so easily and were accepting such a grim fate for Ravi, but she knew that Genesis’ death must have made it difficult for them to hold out much hope. That must be who Yves made those dresses for, Genesis… and he still let me wear them. Even after such a tragedy, Yves still welcomed me as his apprentice… She looked down at her clothes- another dress from the trunk, this one lilac- and wondered fleetingly if Genesis had ever worn it, or if it had been sewn for someone who wouldn’t live to put it on. At least some of those dresses were probably never worn, and he made them anyway… did he think she was going to live longer than she did, or did he know it was coming and make them anyway to stave off the grief?
Lívia kept climbing, vowing that she wouldn’t start crying, or give up hope. Ravi won’t end up like Genesis. I won’t let that happen. I won’t. She wasn’t sure yet what she’d do to stop it, but resolutely standing her ground had always been one of Lívia’s strong suits. We’ll find a way, I know it- we can’t give up now. We can’t just sit by and let this happen. That would mean giving up on Ravi.
Ronan was hurrying down the stairs towards her, dressed in the same casual sort of clothing that she’d first seen him in and looking as though he’d run all the way down from Aquarius. Wonder why he’s in such a hurry?
“Hi, Ronan. What are you up to?” Remembering one of her initial reasons for leaving the Taurus Temple, she added “Have you seen Ravi?”
Ronan shook his head, expression turning sad. “Nope, not since last night. I’m looking for Chandrakanta, but I was hoping to run into him.”
Lívia tried to hide her disappointment. Nobody’s seen him, so unless he’s in the Cancer Temple, he’s probably off on his own… “I was hoping to do the same thing. Chandrakanta’s the Virgo Saint, right?” Wonder what he needs her for? From what I saw at the Round, she and his mentor didn’t exactly hit it off. But then again, neither do Ronan and Julian.
The Cygnus Saint bit his lip, a flash of concern crossing his face. “She’s a doctor, and generally handles medical emergencies around here. My mentor’s not doing so well- he collapsed last night after you left the Pope’s throne room and I had to carry him back to the Aquarius Temple.” He sighed heavily. “He’s a self-centered asshole, but Eudoxia told me something about why he’s like this, and- well, I’m not cruel . I don’t want him to suffer.”
Lívia nodded understandingly. Just because Julian isn’t very nice doesn’t mean Ronan wants him dead. “Do you mind if I come with you to look for her? I don’t really have anything else to do.” She did want something to occupy her mind and make her feel as though she was doing something useful, even if it wasn’t directly to help Ravi. Perhaps Chandrakanta would know something to help him, or at the very least, they’d meet him on the way. Either way, it’s better than just wandering around aimlessly.
“Sure, go ahead. I could use some company- helps me get out of my own head.” Ronan’s hands fidgeted with the edge of his shirt. “I still can’t believe it.”
“Me neither.” Lívia had been all but forcing herself to accept it for the sake of trying to fix it, but despite that, Ravi’s fate still felt distant, unbelievable, like it couldn’t really be happening. She’d only just barely gotten used to the revelation that she was destined to succeed Yves as the Taurus Saint when her Cosmos had burned for the first time, and she’d had no time whatsoever to get used to that before finding out that Ravi was going to die. Everything had happened so fast, yet the moment when she’d looked up at the hill leading down to the training ground and seen Taurus Yves running towards her already felt like a lifetime away. Is the life of a Gold Saint always like this…?
Ronan looked despondent. “I just hope we meet Ravi on the way. Being alone at a time like this… I can only imagine what might be going through his mind.”
Lívia could only nod agreement. That’s right, Ravi’s probably hurting something awful… and even though he probably wants to be alone, being off in his own head at a time like this will just make him feel worse. We might not be able to cheer him up, but we can at least be there with him. She’d grown to understand death, grief, and loss at a young age thanks to the situation of her parentage, and had almost become accustomed to it as a fact of life. Most everyone she’d ever known had been either orphans or abandoned children- people with loving, living parents who tucked them in at night rarely found their way to the barracks of Sanctuary. When other children had cried out for long-dead mothers and fathers, she had done her best to sing them to sleep and comfort them. However, death had always been a slightly detached concept- she’d never lost somebody she knew well enough to mourn for. Her parents had been nebulous, hazy figures in her oldest memories, not-quite-people who she’d never really known, and would never get to know. But Ravi, Ravi was different. Ravi was a friend, someone who she’d begun to get used to as a part of her new life. And now, Ravi was going to die. I don’t want to lose him, so I have to believe that there’s another way out of this. I have to.
She and Ronan walked side by side in silence, neither one having much to say. Each knew that the other was thinking the same thoughts, turning over the same problem in their heads. For one, Lívia wasn’t tempted to ask any questions. Part of her did idly wonder what was wrong with Aquarius Julian, but in the face of everything else, it seemed inconsequential. That was the thing about asking questions and looking for answers, she realized. You wouldn’t always like what you found. Ravi had wanted answers, and he’d discovered this. She didn’t think ignorance was better- Lívia would take facing the cold hard truth over living a happy lie any day- but the pursuit of knowledge had never been dangerous before. She’d known that questions could hurt, but Sanctuary’s web of secrets was thicker than she’d ever thought possible. And the threads of those secrets are tied to everybody- Yves and Tenzin and all my friends. The past never really goes away around here. Some patterns might have been halted, but I wonder how many other shadows there are over the pages of our history books that haven’t really gone away.
They reached the gates and Ronan made his way over to one of the guards standing at attention. “Excuse me, have you seen Virgo Chandrakanta pass by here? I need her help with something.”
The guard nodded, eyes lowered respectfully. “Yes, sir. She’s gone up to the Acropolis to take some time to herself. You should find her there.” That’s right, Ronan’s already a Saint. He outranks these guards- and me and Ravi and Tiresias too.
“Thank you.” Ronan set off again, eyes already fixed on the path leading up to the Acropolis. Lívia had always wanted to climb the hill to see the Parthenon, but today the excitement was considerably dulled. In the past few days, her thoughts and plans to explore Athens had usually included her three friends by side. Tiresias is asleep and probably distraught, Ravi’s missing, and Ronan is dealing with a sick mentor who he doesn’t even like. This wasn’t how I wanted it to be… She idly wished that the four of them could run off together and distract themselves from their hurt for a while, but knew full well it was impossible. It wasn’t so much that they couldn’t go off and try to have fun together, but more so that there was no place in the world which would be far enough to keep their problems from catching up. They would always be carrying the weight of destiny and a future that seemed utterly unavoidable.
The path was fairly short due to Sanctuary’s already high elevation, and she and Ronan reached the top in a matter of a few short minutes. They talked just as little as they had on the way down from the temples- anything that could have been said was something they both already knew,and neither one particularly felt like forcing conversation. I just want to find Ravi… who knows what’s going through his head now that he’s all alone?
Chandrakanta was sitting on a chunk of marble, looking out at the city with her saree swirling around her ankles in the breeze. She’d left the Virgo Cloth behind and looked more relaxed, as though her armor and the station it symbolized had been weighing her down and constricting her. Lívia found herself quietly marveling at how beautiful the Virgo Saint was- but it was not a delicate beauty. It was beauty that had seen hardship and blossomed anyway, like so many colorful wildflowers dotting a field. It was beauty that remained and didn’t diminish even when times grew dark, beauty that was gentle but still strong, unshakable, unbreakable . She fancied that even in the midst of a raging Holy War, Chandrakanta would still be strikingly beautiful. I want to be pretty like that someday.
Ronan stepped forward and dropped into a kneel. “Virgo Chandrakanta, please forgive me for interrupting but I need your help.”
Chandrakanta turned to look at him, first startled, then amused. “Get up off the ground, Cygnus. You don’t need to stand-or kneel- on ceremony here. I’m a Saint, same as you are.”
Ronan hesitated for a moment, then rose. “Sorry, I’m used to… well, you know my mentor.”
The Virgo Saint made a face, curling her lip in distaste. “Yes, unfortunately I do. Julian’s heart is as cold as his Cosmos, and it’s a crying shame. He’s not the man I knew when we were young.”
“You mean Julian wasn’t always an asshole?” Lívia blurted, unable to contain herself. Dammit! She’d managed to suppress most questioning outbursts due to worrying about Ravi, but what Chandrakanta had said implied that something had happened to Aquarius Julian to cause him to harden his heart against everyone. How could someone turn so mean? What would have to happen to make somebody that way?
Chandrakanta just shook her head, laughing. “Well put, Miss Lívia, well put. But no, he didn’t always have a heart of ice.” Her expression sobered abruptly and she turned her gaze back towards the city, as if seeing the past in Athens’ skyline. “Back in the old days, he was gentle and kind- one of my dearest friends. In the end, that kindness was his undoing.”
“I don’t think I can ever imagine my mentor as kind,” Ronan said with a sardonic chuckle. “He’s never once showed me a scrap of warmth in the whole time I’ve been learning from him.”
“I know, and I’m heartily sorry you didn’t know him when I did.” Chandrakanta sighed heavily. “You don’t deserve to weather the veritable snowstorm of his current behavior. He’s a changed man, but that’s in no way your fault.”
Lívia longed to ask what had happened to make Aquarius Julian go from the kind of person who someone like Chandrakanta could consider a friend to the rude and callous man she’d met at the Golden Round, but something in her managed to hold back the questions. Some stories couldn’t be forced; they had to be told willingly, and her instincts told her that this was one of them. It must hurt a lot for Chandrakanta to see her former friend act this way- and she had to confront him at the Round, too! I can’t imagine how I’d feel if one of my friends suddenly changed like that.
Ronan shifted his weight awkwardly, and concern returned to his face. “Actually, Julian is the reason I’m here. I’m told you’re a doctor?”
Chandrakanta swung her legs over the edge of the marble chunk and rose. “Yes, I am. Is something wrong?”
“You saw my mentor collapse last night, right?” When she nodded, he continued. “Pope Eudoxia said to come find you if he hadn’t gotten better by morning and… if anything, he’s gotten worse. She said it’s because of something wrong with his heart…”
The color drained from Chandrakanta’s cheeks and she clapped a hand over her chest, murmuring something in a language Lívia didn’t recognize, but guessed was probably her native tongue. Ronan shifted his weight again and stared at the ground.
“I mean, he’s an asshole but I don’t want him dead.”
The Virgo Saint took a moment to steady herself and then began hurrying back towards the path leading up to the Zodiac. “We need to go immediately. I think I might know what to do for him, but we don’t have much time. Miss Lívia, if you don’t have anywhere else to be, I heartily suggest you join us. I could use an extra pair of hands- and an extra Cosmos. Do you mind?”
She fixed Lívia with a piercing gaze, indicating that there wasn’t much time for the choice to be made. She’s trusting me to help… part of me wants to keep looking for Ravi, but I don’t know if I’ll find him or even if he wants to see anyone right now. At least here I’ll be sure I’m doing something productive, and I still might see him on the way. Lívia shook her quickly. “No, ma’am- I don’t mind.”
“Excellent. Come along, then.” Without waiting for any further discussion, Chandrakanta set off at a brisk walk, leaving Ronan and Lívia no choice but to hurry and catch up with her. Clearly the Virgo Saint was on a mission. Something in what Ronan said made her want to hurry- from the Round, I didn’t think she liked Julian much. Lívia shook her head to herself slightly. But like Ronan said- even if she doesn’t like him, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wishes he was dead. Although it still seems like there’s something else…
She quickened her pace until she came up even with Chandrakanta. “Excuse me, ma’am?”
Chandrakanta kept her eyes fixed on the path ahead, but nodded slightly in acknowledgement. “Dr. Sidana will do, Miss Lívia. Is there something that you need?”
“Do you know what’s wrong with Julian?” she asked. “All I know is that Ronan said he collapsed and still isn’t feeling well.”
The Virgo Saint huffed a short sigh. “The situation with Genesis changed him, you could say. He wasn’t always the way he is now. When I knew him, he was my best friend, a kind and gentle person with a large heart who couldn’t stand to inflict pain on others- and that was his undoing.”
Lívia blinked. Aquarius Julian, kind and gentle? It was nearly impossible to picture the cold and unfeeling man being nice to somebody. And he and Chandrakanta were friends? From how they acted last night, I’d have thought they were bitter enemies, or at least rivals… “What made him change? Right now, he’s about as cold-hearted as they come.”
Chandrakanta sighed again. “Gods, you ask a lot of questions.” When Lívia opened her mouth to apologize, she waved a hand, shaking her head. “It’s nothing to be sorry for, a sharp and inquisitive mind is indispensable to a Saint. Many believe that training your body is the most important part of serving Athena, but without training your mind, you’re doing yourself and your fellow Gold Saints a disservice. All the physical prowess in the world is useless if you don’t know how to ask the right questions and think on your feet.”
Lívia, in her surprise at Chandrakanta’s words, simply nodded silently. She had to admit, it felt nice to be complimented by the Virgo Saint. She’s so cool…
“Now,” Chandrakanta continued, “about your question. You see, during the incident with Genesis, Julian was indispensable in the ensuing fight. If he hadn’t frozen her, undoubtedly your mentor and a good few others wouldn’t be standing here today. It gave us the opening we needed to strike the final blow and ensured that the destruction would never spread beyond Sanctuary and down into the city, where defenseless citizens would no doubt have been harmed.” She closed her eyes, expression becoming mournful. “We all dealt with the guilt in different ways. Your mentor took it especially harshly himself, though being a typical stoic Taurus Saint, you’d never know that. But it consumed Julian. He might not have struck the final blow, but he felt that because his technique opened the window for us to subdue Genesis, he was responsible for her untimely death. Though he knew we had no other choice, he couldn’t cope with the guilt and pain, and he-”
The Virgo Saint’s explanation was cut off as, with the sound of clanking armor, Yves rounded the corner of the trail and skidded to a halt before them. He looked as though he’d been sprinting the whole way, and momentarily, Lívia was reminded of when she’d first saw him. But that was a happy occasion and he certainly doesn’t look happy this time…
“Yves? What is it?” Chandrakanta snapped her fingers and the Virgo Cloth shimmered into existence around her. “Has something happened?”
The Taurus Saint nodded gravely. “Unfortunately, yes. Tenzin and I have searched the entirety of Sanctuary, and found no sign of her apprentice. Ravi’s missing.”
Chapter 13: Cogs in a Machine
Tiresias grapples with the current situation and questions whether he's fit to become the Cancer Saint as Julian wakes up.
Cogs in a Machine
Tiresias woke to the sound of clanking armor and distressed voices outside. It was still daylight, and he hadn’t even fully registered that he’d fallen asleep- and on the floor without changing into pajamas, no less. There was a vague moment of confusion as to why he’d chosen this uncomfortable position before remembering with a painful jolt all the events of the previous night. That’s right, we found out that Ravi’s going to…
He shut his eyes tightly and slowly ran his fingers through his hair- hardly a fluid process with so many tangles. I shouldn’t be so affected by this, not when he’s probably feeling a million times worse… but everything’s happening so fast and I feel so lost… It had only been a few days since he’d met Ravi, yet the moment when he’d stumbled sleepily out of bed to see the young Lemurian looking at the front of the Cancer Temple uncertainly seemed like an eternity ago. During the very short span of time he’d known Ravi, he’d watched his friend grappling with the possibility that he may not have a cosmos to burn, and then, only a few minutes after he discovered that he did have a cosmos, find himself forced to confront the fact that having this cosmos would lead to his demise. In fact, it seemed that Ravi’s stay in Sanctuary so far had been fraught with hurt.
Tiresias had known that not all apprentices would have the kind of experience he had in his journey to become a Saint, but this was not what he’d expected in the least. I never wanted anyone to suffer… but it seems like that’s exactly what’s happening. Is it always like this…? He’d never had a doubt about following in Persephone’s footsteps as the Cancer Saint, but now, confronted with everything that was happening, he found himself having to pause. They had to kill Genesis, and though it was painful for them all, they talked about it like it was just part of the job… can I even do that? Do I have it in me to kill anybody, let alone a friend? Tiresias knew about death and was reasonably aware of mortality- he’d long accepted that everyone had to die sometime, and grown to understand what happened when they did. But killing someone was different, killing someone was willfully hastening that end, sending them down to Hades by your own hand. Even in peacetime, the other Gold Saints had needed to kill- and they’d done it. They’d killed someone they loved- a child not much older than Tiresias and his friends, no less- in the name of the greater good because there had been no other option. Is that what it takes to be a Gold Saint? To be able to kill a friend or a family member without hesitation in the name of the greater good? How do you know when there’s no other choice? How can anyone- Pope or goddess or fellow Saint- ask that kind of thing of anybody?
The sound of metal against metal cut through the turmoil of his thoughts and Tiresias looked up to see Persephone had entered the room. Though she’d made an effort to appear presentable, she looked tired and weary, and he guessed that she probably hadn’t slept a wink since the meeting with the Pope. Noticing that he was awake, she crossed the room and sat down on the bed.
“How are you feeling, Tiresias?”
He began to say he was fine, but the words caught in his throat. I’m not fine and nothing is fine and now I’m not even sure if I want to be a Saint at all.
Persephone seemed to understand and sighed quietly. “I know. Me too.” Normally, an adult admitting that they were just as shaken by something horrible happening would be frightening, but it gave Tiresias a shred of comfort. Sephi always told him the truth when something was wrong or if she was hurting- if she wasn’t telling him, then things must have been very bad indeed. She knows I’m smart enough to see when something’s bothering her, and that pretending everything’s fine when it’s not will scare me worse than being honest.
“Were you there?” He asked the question quietly, without daring to elaborate; he knew he didn’t need to. I’m almost certain she wasn’t, but I have to know either way- I don’t know when this happened. For all I know, Sephi could have-
Persephone shook her head. “No. They tried to call me back to Sanctuary but couldn’t get word to me in the Underworld until after the fact. I knew that something had happened and Sanctuary was nearly destroyed, but I had no idea about Genesis.”
Tiresias nodded quietly. She wasn’t there… “Is this… normal? Do Saints have to do stuff like this all the time…?”
Persephone sighed softly. “Sanctuary’s history isn’t a happy one. We’re trying to change that, but… well, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I hope you’ll never have to make that kind of a choice in your lifetime, just as my mentor probably hoped that I’d never have to either. It gets better with each generation, less and less tragedies and unfortunate events. We’ve come far since I was an apprentice. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I won’t lie to you and pretend that it’s impossible for something like that to happen in your tenure as a Saint.”
“I’m not sure if I can kill somebody, Sephi.” His voice was barely a whisper and he couldn’t seem to turn his head and look at her. “Especially not Ravi. Not my friend.”
She nodded and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know. We’re going to look and see what other options there are for Ravi going forwards precisely so you don’t have to do that. And later, if you’d like, we can talk about what you want to do from here. But right now I want you to know that if right now you want to go back to Heinstein Castle and stay there, that option is open to you. I will do whatever I need to do to make that happen if you think that’s best for you.” Tiresias opened his mouth to speak and she raised a hand. “I just ask that you think about it for a while first to ensure that it’s what you really want.”
Going home to Heinstein Castle and leaving Sanctuary… Tiresias nodded quietly. “Okay, Sephi.” Even though things weren’t any less uncertain and the threat of tragedy still hung over their heads, his mentor’s words had reassured him. I want to stay and help but I feel like my heart’s being tied into knots. If I can’t untangle my own feelings, I can’t help anybody. “So, what’s going on? Why are you still awake?”
Persephone bit her lip and hesitated a moment before speaking. “Ravi’s disappeared from the Aries Temple and we’re not certain exactly where he’s gone off to. I was about to join the others in looking for him down in the city, but I wanted to check on you first.”
Tiresias leapt up from the floor immediately, pulling on his leather jacket as worry took over. “I want to help look for him!” What if something bad’s happened? What if-?
Persephone placed her other hand on his opposite shoulder, gently but firmly holding him in place. “Tiresias, stay calm. We’re all but certain he’s wandered off somewhere to be alone. At this point, we’re not in any danger of his cosmos overpowering him, but we would like to find him before dark so that we’re sure he’s sleeping somewhere safe for the night and getting a hot meal. I promise you, Ravi isn’t in any danger from us today. You can definitely help with the search if you wish to but if you’re afraid that what happened to Genesis will happen to Ravi, you have nothing to fear. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be alright.”
Oh, thank the gods… Tiresias did as he was told and felt the fear gnawing and tearing at the edges of his stomach lessen a bit. “Okay, Sephi. Thank you.”
“Anytime.” His mentor glanced back towards the door. “I think Lívia and Ronan are up in the Aquarius Temple if you want to see them. Do you want me to take you there, or would you rather come searching with me?”
Tiresias weighed the options in his mind. On one hand, he very much wanted to find Ravi, but on the other, making sure that Lívia and Ronan were alright was just as much of a priority. Maybe one of them has a plan to help Ravi, or maybe we can figure something out together. Either way, it’s better to be surrounded by my friends than all alone. “I think I’d like to go with Lívia and Ronan, if that’s okay.”
Persephone nodded approvingly. “That’s a good idea, yes. You need your friends beside you in times like these, Tiresias. There may come a time when-” She cut off abruptly, realizing that the implied end of the sentence would be far from comforting in a time like this, but Tiresias could guess the implied meaning. I need to learn to rely on my friends and have them rely on me because there may come a time when they’re all I have…
He followed Persephone out of the room, the late afternoon sunlight stinging his eyes. Even though being out in daylight was both unusual and uncomfortable, he was glad that his mentor hadn’t suggested that he go back to sleep. He’d only managed to sleep through sheer exhaustion from despair, but it had hardly been sleep, more simply passing out on the floor and remaining dead to the world until his body had the smallest shred of energy in it to wake himself up again. I won’t rest until I’m sure Ravi’s safe and we’ve done at least a little bit to help thing get better… He could still feel the tiredness in his limbs and things felt a bit hazy, but pure nervous energy kept him going. Tiresias knew that nobody would fault him for stopping to rest, but he felt that he owed it to Ravi, Lívia, and Ronan to continue. I just want to be of use somehow.
Persephone tried to keep them in the shade as much as possible as they climbed the stairs to the Aquarius Temple, and Tiresias silently thanked her. He wasn’t so singularly set in his purpose that sunlight stopped hurting, and he knew if he looked towards the light for too long, he’d definitely get a migraine. The Aquarius Temple is pretty dark, though, so I should be fine in there, and I remembered to bring my jacket for the cold this time.
Taurus Yves was standing on the landing between Leo and Virgo, which led to the training grounds. He looked even more disheveled than Persephone did, Tiresias noted, but there was fire in his eyes that plainly said that he wasn’t about to give up hope. Persephone threw him a small wave.
The Taurus Saint shook his head, fire dimming a bit. “No sign of him. No one’s seen him since he slipped off from the Aries Temple after Tenzin and Hayliel met with him.” He paused for a moment and continued in a slightly more familiar tone. “Hayliel’s been crying almost nonstop- I think she blames herself. You know her better than any of us, Seph. Can you talk to her?”
Persephone bit her lip. “I’ll do my best. How’s Tenzin taking this?”
Yves heaved a sigh. “About as well as you’d expect, after Genesis. But I did tell her your idea.”
Tiresias could see his mentor’s shoulders stiffen and she clenched her fists for a moment, trying to steady herself. “And…? I know how she feels about Sebastian, with good reason, but in this case, we just might be able to help.”
“She says that she’s willing to try anything, and if you truly trust Mortensen to help us, then by all means, lead the way,” Yves replied. “For the record, I feel the same way. I’ve missed you, Seph,” he added with a hint of a smile.
Persephone blinked in surprise for a moment and smiled slightly in return. “I won’t let you down. If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you and Tenzin beforehand to prepare you for exactly what you can expect. It is the Underworld, after all.” Before Tiresias could even begin to wonder what was going on, his mentor turned to him. “It seems I need to go with Yves to take care of some business. Do you think you can get to the Aquarius temple on your own, Tiresias?”
He nodded, not entirely sure what else to do. It appeared that Persephone was plotting something with Yves, but his interest in whatever it might be was quickly eclipsed by the revelation that there was still no sign of Ravi. I was hoping that we might run into him on the way up or get word that he’d been found… Trying to hide his growing worry, Tiresias waved goodbye to his mentor and set off climbing the stairs towards Aquarius again. He admitted that he didn’t necessarily want to be alone with his thoughts at the moment, but also didn’t want to keep Persephone from her duty. Whatever she’s doing, it’s probably something that will help, and I don’t want to distract her. I know she’ll tell me about it later.
Most of the other temples were empty- it seemed that everybody was out helping with the search. Sagittarius was empty as usual and looked pristine but decidedly not lived in- Eudoxia stayed in the Pope’s chambers now. The Sagittarius Cloth was probably sitting equally empty within it. Eudoxia still hasn’t found her apprentice yet, and until she does, the Cloth is technically hers. But her duties as Pope are more important than guarding a temple, so she’s rarely there. He continued on past it, still keeping his eyes peeled in case Ravi came into view. Tiresias found his gaze pulled up into the trees more often than not, as though his friend might be perched up there as he had been only a few days ago, throwing fruit and teasing him. I’d give anything for him to throw a fig at me right now. Even if it’s sticky and gets in my hair, it would mean he’s okay- and still alive.
The apprentice Cancer Saint shook his head rapidly. I can’t think like that. He’s fine. He just wandered off to have some time alone. That’s all. Entertaining the possibility that Ravi might be dead would do him no good, he knew, but he couldn’t keep the despairing thoughts from drifting into his head. Maybe that’s why Yves, Tenzin, and Sephi are going to the underworld. Maybe it’s because that’s where they think they’ll find Ravi. He bit his lip. It was a reasonable possibility- Persephone had made whatever the plan was sound like a last resort, and looking for Ravi among the souls waiting in the underworld to be judged was the absolute last resort. If the Saints were already desperate enough to consider such an eventuality then they couldn’t have much hope to find Ravi alive. Maybe they think he despaired and ran off so he could-
So occupied was Tiresias by his whirling thoughts that he didn’t notice the old man standing on the stairs opposite the Capricorn Temple until he crashed right into him, nearly sending him off balance. The man was unsteady for a moment, but with a quick, precise motion, repositioned a pair of forearm crutches to regain his balance. His left arm was wrapped almost entirely in bandages and hung limp, the fingers loosely curled around the handle of the corresponding crutch. His features were rugged and rough and his eyes severe, and when he looked at him, the young apprentice took a step back, reddening in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, sir- I- I wasn’t paying attention.”
The man cocked his head, eyes softening a bit and lips parting in a small smile. “Don’t worry about it, young man. I wasn’t either. It seems even now, Sanctuary’s always in an uproar.”
Tiresias nodded sadly. “My friend is missing. Have you seen him?” he asked halfheartedly. “He’s a Lemurian with reddish-brown colored hair and brown eyes, and his name is Ravi.”
The old man shook his head apologetically. “ Lo siento , I only just arrived and haven’t seen anyone who fits that description. But I’ll keep an eye out, don’t you worry.”
“Thank you, sir.” Tiresias’ heart sank. I didn’t really expect him to have seen Ravi, but I was still hoping… I’d better get to Aquarius where I can be useful instead of just standing here worrying.
“Wait a moment,” the man called out after him as he began his climb once more. “Are you going to Aquarius?”
Tiresias turned back. “Yes, that’s where my other two friends are- Lívia and Ronan.”
“Better hurry,” the man opined, leaning back on his crutches. “I sense a flickering cosmos in there. Someone in that temple is fighting for their life and may not be long for this world.”
Tiresias felt all the color drain from his cheeks. Oh gods, oh gods, please don’t let it be Lívia or Ronan… Ravi’s already missing, please don’t let another one of my friends be- “Do you know- I mean, can you tell who it is?”
The man’s brow furrowed. “It feels familiar to me, but the familiarity is buried under many layers of ice. It’s definitely Aquarian, no one else is this chilly. But it’s been many years since I was in Sanctuary and I can’t be certain.”
So it might be Ronan… Without a response, Tiresias took off running at top speed towards the Aquarius Temple, not caring for the sunlight or the brightness or if the old man had anything else to say. What if Ronan’s sick or something? What if he dies? I can’t lose him too… I can’t lose both him and Ravi… What if something happens to Lívia too? I don’t want to be all alone, I don’t want anything bad to happen, I don’t-
He mounted the stairs two at a time, only quickening his pace when the temple came into view. A tall, dark-skinned figure, cornrows pulled into a hasty ponytail was standing in the doorway- Ronan. Tiresias all but barreled into him in his haste, and with a yelp of surprise from the Cygnus Saint, the two of them went crashing to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
“Tiresias!” Ronan gasped in surprise, adjusting his glasses which had nearly been knocked clean off his face. “Are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost! I mean,” he added hastily, realizing his mistake, “I know you live in the Underworld and you’re surrounded by ghosts, but you look terrified. Is there bad news? What’s wrong?”
“Are you okay?” Tiresias panted. “The man by the Capricorn Temple said he sensed a cosmos waning and I thought… I thought…” He shuddered, not wanting to think about the possibility.
Ronan patted his shoulder reassuringly. “I’m perfectly fine, just worried about Ravi, same as everyone. The waning cosmos wasn’t mine.” He sighed, looking over his shoulder into the temple. “You remember how my mentor collapsed last night, don’t you?”
Oh, it’s Julian… thank the gods… Tiresias didn’t exactly wish harm of the Aquarius Saint, even if he had been less-than-friendly for the whole time they’d known each other, but he was glad that it was Julian and not his friend. “What’s wrong with him?”
Ronan’s expression turned unreadable. “Long story. Very long story. And I’ll tell you all about it,” he deadpanned, “if you’ll get off me so we can go see how Chandrakanta and Lívia are getting on with keeping him alive.”
Tiresias reddened in embarrassment and rolled off Ronan’s legs, climbing up into a standing position. “Sorry about that. Can I help too?”
“I don’t see why not, Ronan replied, standing up and gesturing into the temple. “Shall we?”
Tiresias nodded and followed him into the icy building, almost immediately glad that he’d thought to bring his leather jacket. The Aquarius Temple almost seemed colder than it had the last time he’d been here, with more icicles dripping from the ceiling and thicker ice coating the walls and floor. There was even a layer of ice over the windows, dimming the sunlight streaming through them and keeping the interior a few shades darker than before. Tiresias was grateful for the darkness, but the new ice gave him pause. What’s happening to Julian that’s making him put the temple in a deep freeze?
As they ventured further in, the air got colder and Tiresias was forced to zip up his jacket. He had a feeling that the closer they got to Julian, the chillier it would become. It’s like his cosmos is running rampant through the temple and freezing everything in its path… Ronan seemed to notice the decrease in temperature and quickened his pace, worry written clearly across his features.
“This isn’t good… this isn’t good at all…”
“What’s wrong with him?” Tiresias questioned, hurrying to keep up with Ronan’s longer, swifter strides. “Is he sick?”
“No, not in a medical sense.” Ronan’s expression was almost sympathetic. “You know what happened with Genesis, how Yves and all the other Gold Saints had to subdue her? My mentor was there, and without him, none of the others would have survived. He managed to freeze her for them to take the final blow.”
That’s an understandable tactic- they were trying to contain the destruction and make sure she didn’t harm defenseless civilians when her power got to be too much… “Did he get hurt or something? Did Genesis do something to him?”
Ronan turned away and Tiresias could see frost forming on the beads of his cornrows. “Yes and no, I guess. He walked away without a physical scratch and the plan went off without a hitch, but the guilt was destroying him to the point where he was seriously considering some pretty final solutions. But he didn’t want to break everybody’s hearts all over again, so rather than take his own life, he froze his own heart so he wouldn’t feel the pain. Before he did that, I guess he was a different man. Kind, gentle, compassionate, a loyal friend and a sensitive soul. Now… well, I think you can see how what he did has worked out for him. And now history’s repeating itself and his frozen heart is breaking all over again.” His voice dropped to almost a whisper. “In the end, you could say Genesis killed Julian and I’ve never really known the man at all.”
Tiresias could find no words to respond to what Ronan had just told him, and instead lay a hand on his shoulder, barely able to imagine the maelstrom of emotions that his friend was grappling with. Julian has been nothing but callous and hurtful for Ronan’s entire apprenticeship, but now apparently it’s not his fault he’s like that. Knowing that doesn’t erase Ronan’s pain, it just makes it harder to figure out who to blame. Genesis losing control wasn’t her fault, Julian’s guilt wasn’t his fault- but these tragic things keep happening anyway. And they leave ripples behind- Tenzin is in pain because she lost an apprentice and is going to lose another, Ronan is in pain because he’s become the unwitting casualty of Julian’s frozen heart, and we’re all about to be forced to watch history repeat itself, but this time with my best friend. It was a situation that couldn’t be defined by simply one reaction, one feeling- there were too many facets, too many ripples to declare it any one thing. But all of this traces back to Genesis. This one long-dead girl’s shadow still hangs over us today.
Ronan took a deep breath. “I think when he wakes up- if he wakes up- I’m going to need to have a long talk with my mentor. I just hope he doesn’t die now. He’s been an ass, but… not like this. It shouldn’t be like this.”
Tiresias nodded quietly. “Yeah.” He didn’t have much else to say, but the silence spoke volumes. Whatever happens, I just want Ronan to be happy and at peace. I don’t want history to repeat itself among the Aquarius Saints. It was beginning to dawn on him that the halls of Sanctuary were full of history, and that history never really went away. Are we really doomed to make the same mistakes over and over?
Both boys turned to see Lívia running towards them, long black braids bouncing against her back. She was wrapped in a shawl against the cold and her cheeks were flushed.
“Hey, Lívia,” Ronan called out as she approached. “Any news?”
Lívia opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by the sound of a groan and shambling footsteps. Aquarius Julian staggered into view, breathing hard and clutching his chest, with one arm draped around the shoulders of Virgo Chandrakanta for support. He raised his eyes and looked at them with a gaze that somehow seemed thawed, less icy than usual, and spoke, voice low and shaking with the effort.
“I sense the cosmos of someone who should be dead.”
“He woke up,” Lívia interjected hastily, “after Chandrakanta managed to thaw his- and then he just started talking about-”
Ronan looked from her to Julian and back again in surprise. “Is he okay? You managed to get him back to…?” He trailed off, unsure how to define Julian’s return to how he’d supposedly been before. It’s like he’s a totally different person…
Lívia nodded. “Chandrakanta says she thinks so, but we’re not sure if he’s stable because he keeps saying-”
Julian groaned again, cutting her off. He stepped away from Chandrakanta, staggering towards them and struggling to remain upright. It seemed as though he was only conscious through sheer determination to impart his message. His breath was coming in heaving gasps, and his speech was labored, but his words struck them all to the core.
“I can sense her, I’m sure of it. Genesis is somewhere in Sanctuary.”
Chapter 14: Demeter
In order to find a way to save Ravi's life, he and Genesis journey to the gardens of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest.
Ravi blinked and opened his eyes, slightly disoriented and confused as he realized he was lying on the grassy ground of the cemetery. The last thing he remembered was going to the cemetery to clear his head. I met Genesis there, and she said she would take me somewhere… it was a strange dream. I must have fallen asleep. I guess I didn’t sleep well last night.
He stood up and dusted himself off, looking around. The cemetery looked different, and not just the time of day. It was nighttime now, and above him was the clearest starry sky he’d ever seen. The gravestones had vanished, and were replaced by flowers and a winding stone path leading off into what appeared to be a walled garden. This is definitely not where I was before.
“Oh, you’re finally awake. I was getting worried.”
He turned to see Genesis sitting on a rock behind him. Her garb had changed from the simple dress she had worn to a more ornately embroidered one with an opalescent breastplate and pauldrons, with matching gauntlets, leg guards, and boots. Wrapped around her shoulders was a white cloak which shone with pale silver images of what seemed to be constellations. In her hair was a circlet of flowers and silver tendrils, and the ethereal quality of her form from before had only increased. The most notable change was the pair of large, tawny wings that were folded against her back. She really is an angel…
“I tried to make my form a little more normal for you when we first met. Seeing an Angel in full Glory for the first time can be a little daunting, and you were already in a difficult place without me adding to that.” Genesis smiled apologetically. “I expect this raises a lot of questions.”
No kidding. I’m still not entirely sure that this isn’t a dream… “I didn’t know angels were real.” To be honest, Ravi had never thought much about religion. It was an odd position to be in for someone who had spent almost all his life with people who served the goddess Athena, but he had never considered what his beliefs really were. I’ve always believed in Athena and the other Olympian gods but that’s just because I know for a fact that they exist. I always thought religious faith was supposed to be in something that you can’t see to begin with. It wasn’t so much that he doubted the existence of deities he couldn’t see, but like his own mortality, it had never seemed to cross his mind.
“Oh, they are,” Genesis replied matter-of-factly. “Just not necessarily in the way you might have been raised to believe. Just as many of your friends are Saints, I am an Angel. I serve the Olympian gods just as you do, though I suppose you could say that the arrangement is a bit different.”
That just makes me more confused… Ravi wasn’t exactly sure what to think of what she said. If Angels were the equivalent of Saints for a different god, then how had Genesis become one? I’m pretty sure that to serve a god you have to be alive, unless it’s Hades… “But aren’t you… dead?”
Genesis made a face, as though she herself wasn’t certain of the answer to his question. “Yes and no. I did die, but I’m not dead at the moment. It’s rather complicated.” She paused, brow furrowing, then shook her head. “But I don’t think it’s really important right now. We have places to go, people to see, and things to do.” She slid off the rock and set off at a brisk walk down the path ahead, leaving Ravi no choice but to hurry and catch up with her.
“Where exactly are we?” he called after her as she strode purposefully into the garden. “Am I dead? What’s going on?” I keep expecting that suddenly I’ll wake up- this is way too strange to be real.
“Those are all questions that will be answered soon,” Genesis replied with a wave of her hand. “For now, just enjoy the scenery. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover ahead of us, I suggest you take the time now to stop and smell the roses.”
Ravi nodded and fell silent, unsure what else to do. It was quite obvious that Genesis wasn’t going to answer his questions at present, and he had the feeling that pressing her for answers would be futile. To be honest, it doesn’t exactly seem like she knows the answers anyway. None of this quite seemed to make sense. Dead people did not simply appear when their names were invoked, at least, as far as he knew. If Genesis wasn’t dead, then what had happened to keep her alive? Would the same thing happen to him when he finally lost control of his cosmos? And if she is dead, how is she here talking to me? She looks like she’s flesh and blood…
The gardens they were walking through were some of the most beautiful that Ravi had ever seen. The plants seemed to all be perfectly in bloom, without any blemish or flaw that he could see, and no one individual seemed to be overshadowing the others. Either someone was very meticulous in caring for the plants or the plants themselves had some sort of inner discipline that kept them so neat. Though he recognized most of the flowers and trees that he could see, there were a few that were unfamiliar- thin, semi-transparent stems with leaves that almost looked as though they were made of glass shooting up between azalea bushes, large blossoms in every color of the rainbow at once, and many others that seemed as though they couldn’t possibly be of earthly origin. One particular patch of flowers- purplish-blue ones with metallic silver stems and iridescent petals crisscrossed by shimmering blue veins that appeared almost cybernetic- gave him pause, and he strayed off the path to look at them.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Genesis called out over her shoulder. “This garden may be beautiful but not everything in it is necessarily harmless. Some things, like those flowers you’re admiring, aren’t even from our world.”
Ravi stared at the strange flowers, confused. They didn’t look like anything he’d ever seen, but could they really come from another world? What kind of place has robotic flowers? “Where are they from, then?”
Genesis walked over to where he was standing and peered at the blossoms. “Those were a gift from another realm long, long ago. They can weather shrieking wilds and tempest-tossed wastelands alike, but we’re not certain exactly what purpose they serve.” She gestured around her. “Everything in this garden will serve a purpose someday, but that’s only for us to find out when the time is right. We don’t know yet whether those flowers will harm or heal, but the ones who planted them here were very certain that they’d be useful in the future- it’s only a question of when.” She smiled apologetically. “If you want to know more, I’m not the one to ask. The Goddess knows more than I do about such things.”
The Goddess? “Is that who we’re going to see?” He paused, and almost immediately another question popped into his mind. “And… um, which goddess is this?” I’d have expected it to be Athena, except we’re not in Sanctuary… I know there are other gods and goddesses, but I’m only really familiar with Poseidon, Hades, and Odin because they’re part of Sanctuary’s history.
Genesis nodded. “Yes, it is. Right now you’re standing in the personal gardens of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Currently, she’s the goddess I serve.”
Demeter… Tenzin taught me a little bit about her, but only that she’s a harvest goddess and has never called for a Holy War against Athena. “And she’s going to help me?”
“If she can, yes.” Genesis turned and continued down the path, motioning for him to follow. “If not, then she might know somebody somewhere who can. Since I’m working for her at the moment, I thought she might be the first place we try. Plus, out of all the Olympians we might cross paths with, I trust her the most.”
Ravi stepped away from the flowers and resumed following her through the rest of the garden, much more conscious not to touch anything. “Do all Angels serve Demeter?”
“Gods, no.” Genesis laughed. “We serve the Olympian Pantheon as a whole and are sent where we’re needed most. I’m young and relatively new, so I was sent here as protection for the goddess since historically she doesn’t have soldiers of her own like Saints or Specters. She has those who serve her, but not an army. Though to be honest, she doesn’t need one- most of my duties so far have been helping with the gardening.” She pointed to a large pomegranate tree on the other side of the path, branches bending under the weight of ripe, red fruits. “It’s almost always pruning that thing and harvesting the pomegranates before they drop on the ground and start attracting flies. The goddess is very particular about it. I think it’s important, but she’s never told me exactly why, only that it’s imperative we take good care of it.”
I’m beginning to think not telling their subordinates things is a consistent theme with the Olympian Pantheon… Ravi looked at the pomegranate tree and tried to remember if pomegranates had any significant role in the Greek myths Tenzin had taught him about. “Wasn’t it a pomegranate that Persephone ate in the Underworld which made her stay there with Hades? Not Cancer Persephone,” he added quickly. “The one from the myths.” As far as I know, they just have the same name...
Genesis shrugged. “I think so- I never was good at memorizing the details of all those stories.” She laughed in embarrassment and Ravi was reminded with a start that though she was an Angel and likely had been for some time, in mind and heart Genesis was only a little older than him. “Tenzin and Yves used to get so exasperated with me- they’d be trying to teach me about it and I’d start daydreaming. Either way, you probably should keep it down about Persephone- it’s a bit of a touchy subject for-”
“It’s alright, my dear Genesis. I applaud the boy’s knowledge of our history.”
Ravi started in surprise and whirled around to see a woman seated in a wheelchair, wearing a long gown in shades of green, with a shawl styled to look as though it was made of leaves draped around her shoulders and a basket of fruit which she’d been collecting resting on her lap. She had dark skin, and her long, curly black hair was held back from her face with a woven headband. Bracelets and rings adorned her wrists and hands, and she had an aura about her of power, but not the sort that came from vanquishing many enemies in war. It was the sort of power that came from confidence, poise, and remaining unshaken in the face of adversity. Even before Genesis frantically motioned for him to bow and whispered her name to Ravi, he was immediately certain that he stood before Demeter, goddess of the harvest.
Demeter looked at them both with calm amusement and turned to address Genesis. “I thought I told you that there wasn’t any need to bow every time our paths crossed, my dear.”
Genesis’ face flushed red and she rose, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry, I’d forgotten. Ravi, this is Margalo Reeve, host of the goddess Demeter.”
Ravi waved hello a bit awkwardly. “Um, I’m Ravi. Nice to meet you… your majesty?” He wasn’t exactly sure how to address a goddess, but figured it would be better to be too formal than not formal enough. I was warned by Tenzin that Olympians can be particular about how they’re addressed, and people who piss off gods tend to be turned into spiders or trees or end up cursed for all eternity…
Judging by Genesis’ snickering and Demeter’s barely-suppressed laughter, this was incorrect. Ravi blushed in embarrassment and stared at his shoes. “Um… sorry. It’s my first time meeting a goddess.”
“It’s alright, perfectly alright,” Demeter reassured with a winning smile. “I won’t fault you for trying. But honestly, you don’t need to call me anything but Margalo.”
“Alright…. Margalo.” It felt wrong to call a goddess by such a relatively normal name, but if it was by her request, he figured he was unlikely to be transformed into a tree. She asked me to, so I’m probably alright. “Your garden is very pretty.”
Demeter’s smile widened. “Why thank you. It’s my pride and joy, and Genesis has been a great help in caring for it.” She leaned forward in her chair in interest. “So tell me, Genesis, what brings this young man to my garden? Have I been sent another Angel?”
Genesis shook her head, expression turning a bit sad as she looked at Ravi. I’d almost forgotten why we’re here…. “No, Margalo. Ravi is a mortal, and I’m trying to help him with a- with a problem.” Her voice faltered as she no doubt remembered her own experiences as a cusp sign in Sanctuary. It must be awful for her- if she’s an Angel even after she supposedly died, then she can probably remember when Yves and the others-
Demeter blinked in surprise. “Genesis, you know I don’t object to it, but this is highly irregular. Unless there are extenuating circumstances or he believes he may be a demigod, mortals do not come here. You’re lucky you came here before someone else saw him.” She pulled her shawl tighter around herself, as if suddenly chilled by something Ravi and Genesis could not sense. “Other gods might not be so charitable about a mortal venturing into their stronghold.”
Genesis nodded. “I understand, Margalo, but he needs our help.” She took a deep breath and shut her eyes. “Ravi comes from Sanctuary- he’s the new apprentice of Aries Tenzin and Pisces Hayliel. He’s… He’s a cusp sign, just like I was.”
Demeter gasped softly, raising a hand to her lips. “Oh, Ravi- I’m so sorry.” Her eyes hardened a bit as she continued, fists almost clenching the sides of her wheelchair. “I see Athena has not learned her lesson when it comes to exploiting the pain of others in the name of serving her. Even after what happened to my dear Genesis, she still calls you to her service, still values mortal lives as nothing more than tools to utilize against her foes. Nobody deserves that sort of fate.”
Ravi blinked. Demeter doesn’t like Athena? From the stories he’s heard about the Olympians, he hadn’t exactly expected them to be one big happy family, but such vocal dislike of another goddess was a surprise indeed. I don’t even know what Athena’s like, only about her previous hosts and what kind of people they were. Could it really be her fault that I came to Sanctuary? No one’s actually seen the current host- could she really have that kind of power?
“That’s why I came to you,” Genesis jumped in hastily because Demeter could say anything more. “I’m trying to find a way to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to Ravi. Do you know of anything we can do for him, or someone who might be able to help?”
Demeter’s brow furrowed and she shook her head apologetically. “I’m sorry, Genesis, Ravi, but I don’t know if there’s anything I can do. What you’re asking of me is to prolong Ravi’s lifespan- that’s ancient and powerful arts, out of my area of expertise. Even if we could try to use the plants in this garden, there’s no guarantee that it wouldn’t leave him with worse problems than he already has. These plants are wild, and they can take life just as easily as they can give it. I am merely their caretaker, I cannot govern what they do- and not all of them are of this world. I don’t have jurisdiction over them all.”
Ravi tried not to look too disappointed at her words. I was really hoping Demeter might be able to help… and if she can’t help me, maybe it’s hopeless… “It’s alright. Thanks for letting me come to your garden.”
He turned back down the path, feeling frustrated tears spring to his eyes and not wanting Genesis and the goddess to see him cry. It’s not either of their faults, and I don’t want them to think I’m upset with them… However, before he could get very far, Demeter spoke again, hands twisting her shawl nervously.
“I may not be able to help you, Ravi… but I might know who can.”
She hesitated a moment, as if not wanting to speak the words she was about to say. “You’re looking to extend the thread of your life. The threads of lives are kept in the domain of another god.”
Genesis quietly placed a hand on top of Demeter’s. “Do you mean…?”
The goddess nodded a bit shakily. “Yes, I do. If it’s the forces of life and death you’re seeking to govern, you’ve got to go to the Underworld.”
Genesis looked at Ravi in concern. “Will he be alright if he’s under my protection there?”
“I would hope so,” Demeter replied, adjusting her shawl again. “You have enough jurisdiction in the realm of any god to protect him, unless Hades directly wants him dead.”
Hades… that’s Persephone’s fiancee, Sebastian Mortensen. And we’d be going to Heinstein Castle- that’s where Tiresias is from. “It’s okay, I’m not scared to go to Hades’ realm.”
Genesis raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that? The land of the dead isn’t exactly a nice place, Ravi.
“I know,” he replied. “It’s just… my friend is from there. Heinstein Castle, I mean. That’s where he grew up. If he’s from there, it can’t be all bad.” If I remember my friends, it’ll make it easier. Even if the land of the dead is scary, I can do it. I just need to remember them and think about seeing them again.
The Angel nodded sagely. “Ah yes, I’d forgotten- you’re friends with Tiresias. Who knows, that might even make him more likely to listen. I can take you there, if you’re ready.”
Ravi nodded. “I’m ready.” He turned back to Demeter. “Thank you for trying to help.”
The goddess smiled warmly. “Anytime, Ravi. If I find something else, I’ll call Genesis back to me immediately and we’ll get you the help you need. But in the meantime… I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Genesis took a step back towards Demeter. “Margalo, I know this is irregular and outside the realm of my duties, but… if I can help him, if I can stop him from ending up like I did-”
Demeter cupped Genesis’ cheek in one hand, gently stroking it with her fingers. “I understand, my dear. Go and help Ravi. I’ll manage until you return, and if you need me, I’ll be watching over you. This is something you must do, I know, and I would never stop you from trying to save a life.”
Genesis smiled in relief. “Thank you, Margalo.” She turned back to Ravi and extended a hand. “Are you ready to go?”
Ravi nodded again, already bracing himself for the inevitably blinding light as Genesis took his hand. Little by little, the garden and Demeter faded away around him until all he could see was whiteness, and he preemptively shut his eyes, trying to mentally prepare himself for what he would see when he opened them once more. Demeter’s garden was another world, yes, but Hades’ realm was even more removed from what he knew, and he had no idea what to expect or what might be waiting for him there. This is Tiresias’ world I’m entering now… gods, I wish he was with me…
Demeter watched the two of them disappearing, hands moving to worry with her shawl once more as Genesis and Ravi faded from sight before her eyes.
“Good luck, both of you. It’s a noble quest you’re on, looking for a miracle.”
She paused, biting her lip, and let out a long sigh.
“Now, let’s just hope you survive.”
Chapter 15: A Crisis of Faith
Lívia and Tiresias find themselves at odds with each other as the Cancer apprentice questions whether he really has what it takes to be a Saint in the face of Ravi's disappearance.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
A Crisis of Faith
If anyone had intended to speak before Julian’s outburst, that desire was abruptly snuffed out at his words. Lívia looked from Julian to Tiresias and Ronan, whose shocked expressions no doubt matched her own, trying to confirm that the Aquarius Saint had indeed said what she had heard. He sensed Genesis, he says- but that’s impossible! There’s no way he could have sensed the cosmos of someone who’s already dead here in Sanctuary… right?
“Julian, are you sure?” Chandrakanta asked gently. “It could simply be that you’re exhausted and-”
Julian cut her off, shaking his head. “I’d know her cosmos anywhere, Chandra. It’s Genesis. It’s as shocking to me as it is to you, but I sensed her for a moment. She was here. Not here in this room,” he added quickly, noticing their incredulous looks. “I didn’t have time to pinpoint the exact location, but it seems to have been below the temples of the Zodiac, closer to the cemeteries.”
Lívia tried to hide her relief. As nice as it would be for Genesis to be alive and how happy it would probably make Yves, the dead rising from their graves was never a good sign. If Genesis was alive, that raises the question of who brought her back to life and for once, I don’t think that’s a question that I want to hear the answer to. There was another, more selfish reason for her relief that she didn’t care to admit, however. Genesis had been the apprentice of Yves and Tenzin, and loved as their daughter. If she were to return, she would very likely continue her training under the both of them. And then I don’t doubt it would be back to the barracks for me. I may be a promising student, but I can’t wield two cloths. The Taurus Temple was the first true home Lívia had ever had, and though the scenario that had popped into her head was unlikely, she couldn’t help but fear the possibility of it being taken away from her. I like Yves a lot, and I like the Taurus Temple too. I don’t want to have to leave.
Resolving to put the question of Genesis returning out of her head, she realized she hadn’t said a proper hello to Tiresias. I thought he normally slept during the day. Ravi said he was nocturnal. It’s a surprise to see him here. “Hi, Tiresias- what are you during awake?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” the young Cancer apprentice replied sadly. “I couldn’t stop thinking about- well, you know. And besides,” he added with a hint of his usual sarcastic sense of humor, “Sephi was awake and moving around the temple in her Cloth. You try sleeping when someone’s clanking around downstairs like that.”
“You get used to it,” Ronan deadpanned, ruffling his already-unkempt hair. “It becomes like a lullaby to you once you live among Saints long enough. Nowadays, I can’t sleep without it.”
Julian finally seemed to take notice of their presence, and turned to Chandrakanta, pointing to the group of apprentices with confusion. “Who are they?”
The trio looked at each other incredulously. He doesn’t remember who we are? I would have thought that he’d at least know we were apprentices, even if he didn’t remember our names! And Ronan- he lives here in the Aquarius Temple! He’s got to at least recognize him! The detachment in Ronan’s relationship with his mentor had always upset Lívia- mentors were supposed to treat their apprentices well, after all- but she didn’t expect that even Julian could truly be so dismissive as to forget who Ronan was.
“You don’t remember?” Ronan asked, taking a step forwards disbelievingly. “You really have no idea who we are- who I am?”
Julian shook his head, looking something that Lívia had thought that she’d never see from the frosty-hearted Aquarius Saint- apologetic. “I’m sorry, I have a vague recollection of your face, but nothing more.”
“In the process of thawing his heart, he may well have lost his memories of the recent past,” Chandrakanta explained. “It’s very likely that the last thing he clearly remembers is Genesis’ death and the actions he took immediately following it. Now that I think about it, him sensing Genesis’ cosmos may simply have been a manifestation of those last memories.”
That would make sense- and it explains why no one else felt it but Julian. Ronan crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow. “So he probably doesn’t know how I am?”
The Virgo Saint nodded, giving Julian a pointed look. “Yes, which means the two of you have quite a lot to talk about. That is, if you don’t mind filling him in.”
“I don’t mind.” Ronan turned to Julian, expression unreadable. “My name is Ronan, Bronze Saint of Cygnus. You likely don’t remember me, but I’m your apprentice and future successor to the Cloth of Aquarius.”
Chandrakanta cast an approving look at the Cygnus Saint. “I’ll help Julian back to bed and you two can talk things out. In the meantime,” she said, addressing Lívia and Tiresias, “I suggest the two of you join the search parties. This is something which I believe should be between your friend and his mentor.”
Ronan nodded agreement. “It might be a while, and I’m not about to make you hang around the Temple to wait. If you find Ravi, come tell me as quickly as you can, yeah?”
“We promise we will,” Lívia replied. “See you later, Ronan. I hope everything goes well.”
Tiresias echoed the sentiment and the two of them left the temple together. Lívia was immediately glad for the increase in temperature- though for much of the time she’d spent there, she’d been too occupied with other things to mind the cold much, there was no denying that the Aquarius Temple wasn’t a comfortable place for an extended stay. Perhaps now that Julian’s heart is thawed, it’ll be a few degrees warmer in there.
“Do you know anything about how the search is going?” she asked Tiresias as they made their way down the stairs. I’ve been in the Aquarius Temple for a good portion of the day, so I haven’t been able to get updates.
Tiresias sighed sadly. “We’re running out of places to look and there’s been no sign of Ravi so far. Sephi tried to reassure me that we’d find him, but it’s clear that everyone’s getting desperate. I even heard her talking to Yves about potentially getting Sebastian involved- and Tenzin consented to it. If even she’s willing to call on the Host of Hades for help, then we’re definitely beginning to exhaust our options.”
They’re calling on Hades? Do they think Ravi is…? Lívia bit her lip, trying not to betray that she was considering such an unhappy possibility, but she knew in her heart that Tiresias was probably thinking the same. Why else would they be calling on a death god unless they think Ravi may be among the dead? “I just hope they find him soon…”
“Me too.” Tiresias kicked a rock in annoyance. “I should have said something to him last night, before he left with Tenzin. Maybe then he wouldn’t have run off and he might still be…” The rest of the sentence didn’t need to be spoken; both of them were thinking it, but didn’t want to give voice to those thoughts for fear of speaking it into existence. I don’t want to believe Ravi’s dead, but we’ve been searching all day and considering the circumstances, it might well be a possibility. He can’t have gone far, so if he isn’t around Sanctuary.
“Say, where’s Athena in all this?” Tiresias asked suddenly. “We’re her Saints- or rather, we’re going to be. Shouldn’t the goddess be helping us, or at least give us a push in the right direction? We’re supposed to serve her, but we’ve never even seen her.”
Lívia blinked in surprise. He’s right- we’ve never seen Athena. We know she has a host in this century and that she’s somewhere in Sanctuary, but she never appears in front of us. I’ve heard only Eudoxia has seen her and even then, she doesn’t have much hand in how things are run around here. The young Taurus apprentice had always been one to question the authority placed in front of her, but it struck her in that moment that she’d never taken the time to question Athena. We were taught about her in the barracks, and all the things her previous hosts did, but she always seemed distant and it was always the Saints doing much of the real work. “You’re right- you’d think she might do at least something to help us find Ravi.”
“Now, I know gods are supposed to be ineffable and beyond mortal comprehension,” Tiresias opined, kicking another rock, “but that doesn’t mean they have to distance themselves from everyone . I’ve lived with the host of Hades for as long as I can properly remember, and he tries, at least, to help his followers when they need it. If Athena’s so great, she might help us find Ravi. He’s a future Gold Saint, it’s not like he’s beneath her notice.”
And now we’re having to turn to Hades, who, even though we’re at piece, remains someone who used to be Sanctuary’s enemy and a force to be reckoned with. But our own goddess has been silent- about Ravi being a cusp, about him running away, about everything. I wonder why… “What are you going to do now?” she asked, changing the subject. It’s not that I disagree with him, I just have no idea what to say about all this.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged noncommittally. “I would join the search party, but I have a feeling it’s not going to make any difference. Frankly, I’m not even sure if I’m staying here in Sanctuary.”
Lívia blinked in surprise. “You’re leaving? Where will you go?” And at a time like this, when we already might have lost Ravi? We don’t need Tiresias disappearing too!
“Back to Heinstein Castle,” he replied, not meeting her eyes. “Sephi told me this morning that if I wanted to go home, I could. And I think I want to.” Noticing her aghast expression, he sighed. “When I came here, I thought I was sure of wanting to be a Saint, that I could take the stress and pressure and follow in my mentor’s footsteps. But now that I’m here, and I’ve seen what might be asked of me someday… I’m sorry, Lívia, but I don’t think I can do it.”
“This isn’t like you, Tiresias,” she pressed. “I know it’s hard right now, but we have to keep trying. We have to find Ravi and make things right.” I can understand wanting to give up, and it’s not like we have a plan to save him yet, but we have to keep trying no matter what- if we give up now, then there’s no hope left for Ravi or Sanctuary. We need to stick together, that’s the only way we’ll all survive this.
Tiresias just shook his head. “And what if we don’t find him, Lívia? Or what if we find a body? What if we do find him, and then when we’re older, we have to do to him what our mentors had to do to Genesis? Can you do that? Because I can’t. I can’t pledge my life to a duty I don’t know if I can perform.” A tear rolled down his cheek and he quickly brushed it away. “Lívia, you and Ravi and Ronan are the first friends I ever made. I can’t- I can’t take the thought of anything happening to you. Our mentors killed someone they loved. If there’s even the slightest possibility that I might have to do the same, I can’t be a Saint. I just can’t. If you want to continue to train, then I wish you only the best. Goodbye, Lívia.” He set off down the stairs without another word, clearly heading for the Cancer Temple.
He can’t just leave! This isn’t like him! “Tiresias, just think about this!” Lívia hurried after him, voice tinged with desperation. “If you leave now, you’re not just giving up on Sanctuary- you’re giving up on me, and Ronan, and Ravi too! I know it’s hard for you, but it’s hard for all of us- and we’re only going to find a way through this if we work together! I don’t know how this will end any more than you do, but if you go now, you’ll never know if it’s possible to save him!”
Tiresias didn’t turn around and instead quickened his pace. “We can’t survive on false hope. The fact of the matter is that Ravi is doomed to die, and nothing- nothing - can stop the Fates from snipping the thread of a life when the time comes. Not even Hades can meddle with destiny, Lívia. You’ve read the old stories, you know that nothing good ever comes of meddling with the forces of life and death!”
I knew Tiresias could be pessimistic, but this is ridiculous! Giving up won’t make things better for any of us, Ravi included! “This isn’t like you!” she exploded angrily. “You’re running away- that’s all you’re doing! You’re not being pragmatic or smart or realistic or any of the other things you might think! You’re just being a goddamn coward!”
Tiresias whirled around abruptly at her words, eyes full of fire and anger. “You don’t know a damn thing about what I am! We’ve known each other for two days, Lívia- two days ! You don’t know what I’m like, and you have no right to call me a coward!”
“I’ll call you whatever I damn want ,” she spat as she took another few steps down the stairs towards him, anger growing sufficiently hot in her chest. Lívia had a history of outbursts, that much was true, but she wasn’t often one for outright anger. However, his words had stung her- it was true that they’d only known each other for a few days, but she’d considered him a friend and didn’t appreciate him throwing that particular fact back in her face. I’m not going to punch him unless he tries to punch me first, but I have no reservations about calling him a coward. “You’re running away when your friends need you! That’s the most cowardly thing of all!”
Tiresias gritted his teeth in anger and stepped forward as well, drawing himself up to his full height. However, the fact remained that he was not only shorter than Lívia but standing on a lower step, and this made the gesture utterly ineffective. “Why don’t you just mind your own business and stop trying to run my life?! If I want to leave Sanctuary, it’s none of your business!”
“It is my business,” she shot back, “because you’re my friend and I care about you! You’re running away from your problems and that never solves anything! Friends don’t let each other do that!” Though I’m not sure if we’ll still be friends after this…
Tiresias looked for a moment that he was going to start a fistfight with Lívia but instead, he turned around and set off down the stairs again, faster than before. Once he reached the landing below her, he turned around and shouted back up at her, angry tears springing to his eyes.
“Friends don’t call each other cowards, either. So I guess we must not be friends.”
Before she could formulate a response, call after him, or even fully register the implications of what he’d said, he was off again, hurrying down the stairs to the Cancer Temple. Now that the moment of anger had passed, she was acutely aware of how tired she was, and how bleak everything suddenly seemed. Part of her wanted to go after Tiresias, but she knew that chasing him down now was pointless. If he wasn’t set on going away before we fought, I sure made up his mind for him. Nice going, Lívia. He wasn’t being reasonable, but I shouldn’t have called him a coward.
She sat down on the stairs, head in her hands.
First Ravi runs away, now Tiresias is leaving- probably at least a little because of me. Is this really it? Is this really what tears us all apart?
Clasping her hands together, she looked over her shoulder to the towering statue of Athena looming over the houses of the Zodiac, half-hoping to see a sign written in the imposing marble features that perhaps things weren’t as bad as they seemed.
Where are you, Athena? Why are you hiding away from us? I think it’s obvious that we need your help more than ever right now.
After this chapter, the rotation of character point of views for chapters is changing. Previously, the cycle has gone "Ravi, Lívia, Tiresias, repeat", but now, in order to avoid having too many "filler" chapters and keep the story moving forwards, the new cycle will have double as many Ravi chapters.
So instead of the previous order, it will go "Ravi, Lívia, Ravi, Tiresias, repeat", making the next chapter a Ravi chapter.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the story!
Chapter 16: The River Styx
Ravi and Genesis travel down the River Styx, hoping to find the Fates and prolong Ravi's lifespan. However, this foray into the Underworld is unlikely to be as simple as it sounds.
C hapter Fifteen
The River Styx
Ravi blinked his eyes, willing them to adjust to the sudden darkness more quickly. The place in which he and Genesis had suddenly arrived was vastly different than Demeter’s garden, of that much he was certain, but in the murky darkness that seemed to permeate the area, he could make out very little of it.
From what he could see, they were standing in a stone cavern of some kind, cool and damp, with a greenish-tinged mist that seemed to tug at his clothes and hair as it idly swirled around him. In the distance, the sound of running water could be heard, and the stone beneath his feet was wet due to water dripping periodically from the ceiling. Every so often, something like a breeze would moan through the cavern, but from the sound it made, Ravi wasn’t entirely sure that the noise didn’t come from something alive, crying out in agony. Considering we’re in the realm of Hades, I really wouldn’t be surprised if it was both.
Beside him, Genesis wrinkled her nose in distaste. “I hate this place. It’s damp and cold and creepy as hell. Fitting,” she added quickly, realizing her accidental wordplay, “because hell is exactly where we are.”
Ravi nodded quietly, taking in more of the room as his eyes began to adjust. There were no furnishings to the cavern as far as he could see, nor any signs of anyone- or anything , he thought darkly to himself- having taken up residence there. Behind him, a set of crude stone steps lead upwards into a tunnel and faded into darkness. Do those go to the surface, I wonder? As he stared at them, there was a rushing sound and a jet of water came pouring down them, pooling on the floor and licking at his heels ever so slightly before it receded, leaving behind the telltale smell of salt. Seawater?
Genesis noticed him studying the stairway and turned to look at it as well. “Oh, so that ’s where we ended up. Up those stairs is one of the old Oceanus entrances to the underworld. Treacherous passage- almost nobody uses it anymore because in high tide, that stairway and sometimes even this entire chamber are completely flooded with seawater.”
Ravi watched in trepidation as another jet of water, more forceful this time, flowed down into the chamber. “Will we be alright?”
“For now,” Genesis replied, “but not if we stay much longer. I brought us here to enter Hades because it’s remote and the Specters don’t patrol this area as much because of the flooding, but it’s best not to linger or else we might find ourselves at the mercy of an entirely different god.”
Without another moment of hesitation, she set off through the mist, leaving Ravi to follow her and try not to slip and fall on the wet stone. I think I infinitely prefer Demeter’s garden to this. No offense to Tiresias, but I wouldn’t live here if you paid me.
“I think I know how to get to where the Fates reside from here,” Genesis said as they exited the cavern and entered a long, narrow corridor. “I think it might be better to go to them directly than to visit Hades first. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness if we’re caught sneaking around than asking for permission, and it’ll be quicker too than trying to get an audience in Castle Heinstein. Once we reach the River Styx, navigating will be easier. This place is a maze of caverns and tunnels that haven’t been used for years, and I’ve only been here twice- once when Demeter came to introduce herself to Hades’ new host and I was part of her entourage, and once when…” She trailed off, expression turning sober. “I’m sure you can guess.”
Once when she died… Ravi gave a quiet nod of understanding and slipped his hand into hers. Genesis was an angel, yes, and essentially immortal by his best approximation, but she still had the looks and mind of a fourteen-year-old- the age she had been when she died. She’ll be young forever, and I guess you could say that has its perks, but at the same time, that means she’ll never get to grow up- she’ll always be stuck in time at age fourteen, the same as she was when she died and never changing. I suppose there are worse things than being a teenager for all eternity, but it’s not entirely a blessing.
“How old are you, anyway?” Genesis asked suddenly. “I know Tenzin and the others said that you’d be sixteen in a few years, but they never mentioned how old you are.”
“I look younger, but I’m thirteen,” Ravi replied with a hint of belligerence. He was used to people assuming that he was much younger- twelve, eleven, even ten- and though he knew Genesis hadn’t intended to call him a kid, he couldn’t help but feel a bit defensive. I’m a teenager- barely, but I am!
“Hey, hey, nothing wrong with that,” Genesis replied, raising her hands to indicate that she’d meant no harm. “That’s what I thought, I just felt like asking because I didn’t know for sure.”
“Sorry, I’m just used to people thinking I’m younger and it’s a little bit frustrating.” People use it as an excuse to treat me like a little kid sometimes, and I don’t like that. It also doesn’t help that Lemurians don’t show their age as much, and that I’m shorter and smaller than Tiresias and Lívia. Of course, all three of us are shorter than Ronan because he’s older. Remembering his friends caused him to realize with a pang just how much he wished he was undertaking this adventure with them by his side. It’s not just because Tiresias knows the underworld, Ronan’s a powerful Bronze Saint, and Lívia’s good to have in a crisis, it would just be nice to see them again. They’re probably worried about me and I want to be sure they’re okay too… It’s nicer to go on a quest if you’ve got your friends by your side.
They continued on their way, passing through corridors and chambers seemingly identical to the previous ones which caused Ravi to wonder how Genesis could possibly know where she was going. He could see how easily someone could get lost in the caves and never be found again, and the thought chilled him more than the oppressive weight of the damp air ever could. That would be an awful way to die, getting lost in the caves of Hades’ realm… However, as they walked he began to become conscious of the sound of running water he’d first heard as they’d appeared in the cavern with the staircase slowly increasing in volume. Joining the sound was a cacophony of low, wailing moans that intermittently rose in volume and faded into harsh whispers.
Genesis turned back to him, pointing ahead to the end of the corridor, which was obscured by greenish mist. “We’re almost at the river, so I thought I should warn you- there will be souls around, and they may try to speak to you or tempt you to follow them. Stick close to me, and don’t listen to their words or you might find yourself waist-deep in the River Styx.”
Ravi nodded, trying to mentally prepare himself for the sight of the Underworld’s inhabitants and willed his imagination not to get the better of him. He didn’t deny that the thought of walking among the dead unsettled him, but knew full well that there was no good in giving up now. I can’t just quit the moment things seem scary.
The corridor abruptly opened up, and after the mist cleared, Ravi got his first glimpse of the River Styx. Though the sound of flowing water could still be heard, overall the sound the river made was more of a hissing as it flowed in twists and turns off into the distance. The water itself was opaque with a luminescent greenish tinge not unlike the mist that permeated the area, and looking at it gave no insight as to the depth or what might be lurking at the bottom. In some places, the water swirled and rippled independently of the current, as if something was swimming just below the surface, out of sight.
The most notable feature of the river by far, however, was how polluted it was. What Ravi had initially thought were rocks sticking up through the stream were revealed to be piles upon piles of refuse, everything from discarded newspapers to the remains of furniture and appliances to, most chillingly, discarded and broken children’s toys. Dolls in varying states of disrepair were stacked among the remains of household debris, along with sports equipment too small for an adult, a crib in splintered pieces, and perched atop one pile, a plastic princess crown with its false jewels missing and cracked. There’s so much garbage in there…
“How did all of that get in the river?” he asked, curious. “Did the souls bring it with them when they…?”
Genesis shook her head. “Not exactly. Objects have a certain life to them, provided they remain useful to their owners. But when they’re not useful anymore and they get thrown away, they start to collect here. It’s a sort of graveyard of the things people toss aside. I wouldn’t want to go to near the river’s edge if I were you,” she added as he took a step closer to investigate further. “That many unwanted and disused objects in one place has a great deal of power, and it’s never a good idea to mess with that much raw despair.”
Ravi blinked and took a step back. “But it’s just garbage, right? What can it do?”
“Each piece of detritus in that river has a little bit of its former owner left in it,” Genesis explained. “Some of those things were thrown away only after being broken, but others have a sadder history. That baby crib may belong to a child that died an infant, and the dolls and toys may have been in the possession of one who never reached adulthood. The other items may be fragments of people’s dreams that they were forced to give up on and throw away. That sort of wasted potential carries power and energy, and if you put a lot of it in one place, it has a way of permeating your mind. You can look, but don’t linger and under any circumstances, do not touch.”
A question struck Ravi and he squirmed, unsure how exactly to ask it without seeming rude or prying into things that might be too painful to talk about. “Is… there anything of yours in that river?”
Genesis gave a short sigh and nodded. “I’m sure there is. But then again, I think there’s something of everybody’s in that river, or at least everybody who’s been disappointed before or has seen tragedy. Unfortunately, there’s wasted and robbed potential everywhere.” I probably shouldn’t have asked…
They continued walking in silence after that, Ravi stealing occasional glances at the river to try to spot an object he recognized. She said that there’s something from everyone in there… maybe there’s something of mine. He was so occupied in his search that he didn’t notice the small boat approaching until it was almost upon them, and the ferryman called out to him and Genesis.
“I didn’t expect to see you back here.”
Ravi whipped around to see a hooded figure standing in a long, black wooden boat and carrying an oar rowing towards them. Genesis looked unafraid and rested her hands on her hips.
“We need passage to see the Fates.”
The ferryman laughed dryly. “What would an Angel in the service of Demeter want with the Fates? Looking to see how your climbing roses will survive the winter?”
“And it has to be safe passage,” Genesis continued, steadfastly not answering his question. “My goddess might historically be a peaceful and benevolent one, but if a follower of Demeter and someone who’s under her protection come to harm in the domain of Hades, there will be consequences, and from more than one god at that. Unless you wish to bring Holy War upon the Underworld, I suggest you let us on the boat.”
Another dry laugh emanated from the shadowy hooded figure. “You’re smart, I’ll give you that. But alas, that just isn’t how things work here anymore.”
Genesis blinked and took a step back. “What do you mean by that?”
“Any new arrivals, particularly those what aren’t already dead ,” the ferryman recited with a hint of malicious amusement, “have to be brought before Lord Hades before they can go roaming where they please down here. Now, you’re not alive anymore because I remember when you came down here the first time,” he stated, point to Genesis with a long, bony finger, “but I can sense your little friend’s heart beating in his chest like a rabbit that knows it’s cornered.”
Ravi’s heart was indeed racing, and it only became faster at the ferryman’s words. I was really hoping we could avoid having to meet Hades, and if he decides we’re not allowed to be here and we can’t go see the Fates… Genesis reached over and squeezed his hand in an attempt to reassure him, addressing the ferryman in a voice which had a commanding edge that made her seem years older than her fourteen-year-old looks.
“And if we decide that we’d rather not follow your protocol?”
Under the hood, Ravi could sense that the ferryman was grinning evilly. He moved the folds of his cloak aside ever so slightly to reveal black armor plating that glinted with a faintly purple luster. A Surplice… then he’s a Specter! “Then truce or no truce, I’ll make you regret ever daring to trespass in the lands of the Lord of the Dead.”
Genesis’ wings unfolded from her back in the manner of a bird of prey trying to make itself larger. “You would dare to cross fists with an Angel?” Ravi instinctively stepped back, unsure whether or not to step in and join her. I’m almost completely untrained, I won’t be much help against a Specter. Is she really going to fight him?
“You may be used to deference in other realms, little girl,” the ferryman sneered, “but you have no authority in the Underworld. Even if you did manage to defeat me here, you’d be facing one hundred and seven of my fellow soldiers of Hades in a matter of minutes. Spare yourself a painful death and present yourself to the Lord of the Dead. Trying to avoid the slight delay to your mission isn’t worth the loss of your friend’s life.”
The feathers on Genesis’ wings bristled and she glared at him belligerently before almost reluctantly folding them against her back again and climbing into the boat, extending a hand to help Ravi do the same. The ferryman chuckled triumphantly and once they were seated, began rowing them down the river, navigating the piles of refuse with expert precision.
“This place wasn’t always so polluted,” he quipped as his oat struck against a mound of garbage. “But the more despair there is in the world, the more junk comes down here and fills my river. If mankind keeps dividing itself with hate and intolerance, I’m going to be out of a job as a ferryman before the next century.”
Genesis sighed and nodded agreement. “Unfortunately, you’re right. Demeter’s garden has been steadily shrinking- climate change and the fact that there’s just not as much space for things to grow anymore. There are even companies that have had the audacity to put a patent on one specific genetic part of a plant. Some people are trying to take their land back and learn to garden while pushing for change, but a smattering of individuals trying to undo the damage of corporations… it’s an uphill battle to say the least.”
The ferryman made a short noise of agreement. “This world is going to shit. I’m beginning to think the Underworld is kinder than the land of the living at the moment. At least here the wicked face some repercussions for their deeds. Up there, they get elected to political office.” He paused and turned around to look at them, shipping his oar for a moment. “So, what brings you down here with one of the living in tow, Genesis, and an apprentice of Sanctuary, no less? I thought Demeter was adamant about you avoiding the place.”
Genesis glanced at Ravi. “He needed some help, Charon, so I’m helping him. Demeter’s allowing me to see this through because it’s personal, and I’ll deal with the consequences later.” Her jaw tightened a bit. “It’s true I’m not supposed to meddle in Sanctuary, but no one but Ravi here saw me, so I have nothing to worry about.”
Genesis isn’t supposed to go to Sanctuary? Come to think of it, that explains a lot. Ravi had been privately wondering what had kept Genesis from revealing herself to the Gold Saints, or at least visiting Tenzin and Yves. With everyone grieving over her passing, wouldn’t she have wanted to ease their pain a little by letting them know that she wasn’t completely gone? It hadn’t previously occurred to him that perhaps she might not have been allowed to do so. However, he couldn’t fathom why Demeter would have made such a rule- the goddess seemed kind and benevolent as far as he could tell, and not like the type of person who would keep Genesis from visiting those in Sanctuary who had been like family to her. I wonder why she isn’t allowed?
“Still looking for loopholes around the rules of the gods, are you?” Charon sighed. “Take it from someone who’s been serving the Olympians for centuries, Genesis- you grow out of the rebellious phase eventually. Trying to change the minds of the gods is almost impossible. I’m just amazed that we’ve been able to make the progress we have.”
Genesis crossed her arms. “If I’m bound to serve the Olympians eternally, then I’d rather it be at least somewhat on my terms. Just because I chose to be an Angel doesn’t mean that I should have to bend to rules I think are bullshit.”
“Suit yourself,” Charon replied, in the manner that someone might say it’s your funeral . “You’re just lucky you ended up serving someone lenient like Demeter. Sure, you might be pruning fruit trees for eternity, but at least that means no marching to war.”
Genesis nodded agreement. “Demeter’s host is a good person, I hope I’ll stay assigned to her for a while. I think she’s grown fond of me, though, so I can’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon.”
Further conversation was cut off as the winding cavern which the river had previously been flowing through opened up. Ravi was surprised to notice that he could see the stars glittering above him, clearer than ever before. As they passed under a bridge, he caught a glimpse of a small town dotted with lighted windows and streetlamps, and small docks with boats tied at the water’s edge. Off in the distance, somewhat difficult to discern in the darkness, the silhouette of an immense, dark stone castle could be seen. That must be Heinstein Castle- the castle where it’s always nighttime, and where Tiresias comes from. I didn’t think I’d ever be visiting it, let alone without him…
They made their way down the river, which seemed to have become smoother and lost the eerie quality it had previously possessed. The surface was misty, but it no longer carried the greenish tinge it had while they had still been underground and the piles of refuse could no longer be seen. Charon noticed him scrutinizing the water and gestured to it with his oar.
“The River Styx doesn’t look as ghostly in the realm of the living as it does in Hades’ domain, but it’s no less dangerous. Though it may appear to be a normal river, the mortals that reside here know better than to swim in it.”
Ravi moved back from the edge, resolving to keep his distance from the river. I still don’t know what exactly would happen if I fell in, but I don’t think I want to find out. Fortunately, he was saved from further contemplation of what might be lurking in the depths by their arrival at a small dock, which connected to a small set of stone steps leading up to a door into the castle. In the darkness, he could glimpse two purplish, glittering figures on either side of the entrance. More specters, probably.
The boat pulled up to the dock smoothly and a black corded rope seemed to manifest from the bow, wrapping around the post of the dock. Charon gestured for them to disembark, pointing towards the door.
“The guards will take you to see Hades,” he stated as they clambered up onto the dock. “I suggest you show him the proper respect, he may seem like a neurotic mortal who couldn’t harm a fly if his life depended on it, but he’s still a god and undeniably dangerous. Gods know he’s already upset about the uproar in Sanctuary and the reception his fiancee and ward have gotten from the other Saints. He might not take kindly to sudden arrivals from there, especially if your business is related to the affairs at hand. Good luck.”
Without another word, he snapped his fingers and the black cord disappeared, leaving Ravi and Genesis to watch him row off down the river, where he was soon lost from sight in the mist. I just met my first Specter… hopefully the others are like him.
Genesis reached over and squeezed his hand. “Once we go up to those guards, they’ll be taking us to Hades. I promise you have nothing to fear while under my protection, but if things don’t go as planned, I’ll transport us somewhere else as quickly as possible. Stick with me, and don’t try to take anything with you when we leave.” She paused, and lowered her voice, making sure the Specters within earshot didn’t overhear her. “And if you can avoid it, don’t eat anything. The rules are a bit more relaxed than they once were, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”
That’s right- if you eat something in the Underworld, you can’t leave… Ravi nodded to indicate that he understood and Genesis squeezed his hand again.
“Are you ready?”
Ravi swallowed hard and took a deep breath, glancing at the Specters on either side of the door. He didn’t deny that he was nervous, but he wasn’t about to show it. Genesis said that this wouldn’t be easy, and that sometimes I might be afraid. But if this might help change my fate, then what have I got to lose? I have to trust Genesis, and trust that we’re not walking to our deaths…
“Yes. Let’s go see Hades.”
Chapter 17: Departure
Tiresias grapples with regrets and receives advice from Héctor, and the Saints prepare to search for Ravi outside of Sanctuary.
Tiresias was angry for the first two flights of stairs he ran down, but after the third, it had faded to mild annoyance, and by the time he reached the Cancer Temple, he was almost entirely convinced that the fight had been unnecessary and wanted to immediately run back up and make things right with Lívia. In the heat of the moment, he’d been angry and upset enough to believe the things he’d said and feel justified in saying them, but now, with the massive staircase of the Zodiac giving him plenty of time to reflect, he wondered what had possessed him to argue with her in the first place. Ronan has his own stuff to deal with, Ravi’s still missing, and our mentors are focused on the search for him. Lívia and I really only have each other to get through this, and now I’ve gone and screwed even that up.
He didn’t deny that he still very much wanted to leave Sanctuary, but there was truth in her words. I might have the option to run away, but she doesn’t and neither does Ronan. Ravi can’t run away from his fate, either. It feels like I shouldn’t even be contemplating the option when all my friends have no choice but to stay but I don’t feel like I can take it anymore… A tear slid down his cheek and he sat down in the darkness between the columns of the Cancer Temple, willing himself not to cry. I said something stupid, and now I think I’ve ruined everything… the first time I ever managed to make friends and I ruined it…
For all his willpower, the tears still rolled down his cheeks and he pulled his knees to his chest, trying to hide among the columns in hopes that perhaps no one would see how upset he was and ask him what had transpired. If he was going to cry just thinking about it, then having to recount what had happened would probably cause him to break down sobbing like a two-year-old. I’ve lost Ravi and I’ve pushed away Lívia and Ronan’s probably too busy for a stupid kid like me anyway… I want to go and apologize to her but I don’t know how to make things right, and I don’t think I can unsay what I said! I’m such an idiot…
He tried in vain to remember what Sebastian or Persephone might do in the situation, hoping that by thinking of his mentor and the enigmatic host of Hades, he might find a solution. Sephi would go up and directly apologize, she’s good at finding ways to fix things when they go wrong, and Seb’s almost constantly anxious but he’s able to swallow it and do his best. I’ve never had to apologize for hurting somebody I care about before… I don’t know how to do it right, without either not saying enough or going to pieces… Tiresias had never had friends his own age before the other apprentices had entered his life, and he’d never had a fight with someone his own age either. There had been few disagreements with Persephone and Sebastian, and the Specters had always deferred to him due to him being all but adopted by Hades himself. This situation was most definitely not something he was used to. He wanted to apologize and try to repair his friendship with Lívia while he still could, but he wasn’t certain that he knew how to do it right without sounding like an ass or fumbling over his words.
He sniffled and hoped once again that nobody could see him. Everyone’s got bigger problems to deal with than me making a mess of things because I said something stupid. This is my fault, and I need to make it right, but I’m not sure how… I’m not sure if I can… Maybe I should just leave, that might be better for everyone...
The sound tapping of crutches on stone accompanied by a familiar voice jolted him out of his melancholy and he looked up to see the man he’d met on the stairs of the Aquarius Temple standing before him, face bearing the tiniest hint of a smile.
“I thought I might find you here.” He sat down on the steps beside Tiresias with some difficulty and leaned his crutches against the columns to ensure that they remained within his reach before speaking again. “That was quite an argument you had with your friend outside my temple.”
Tiresias nodded sadly, then, suddenly processing the last part of the sentence, looked at the man in surprise. “You’re a Gold Saint?” I don’t remember seeing him at the Golden Round…
“Retired Gold Saint,” the man corrected with a laugh. “I wore the Capricorn Cloth before I elected to step down and focus on the training of my successor. She’s a truly brilliant young lady and I’m getting old. I decided that I’d very much like to retire while I still have all my original limbs.”
Persephone did mention a retired Capricorn Saint, come to think of it… The concept of a Saint actually living to retire was a relatively new one- with the constant threat of Holy War no longer looming over everyone’s heads, it stood to reason that more Saints might simply grow old rather than fall in battle. Admittedly, it looked as though the Capricorn Saint had sustained a few injuries that might have influenced his decision to step down, but the fact of the matter was that generally, Saints didn’t often make it into their thirties, let alone retiring age. There had been a few outliers- Libra Dohko and Aries Shion, for example- but on average, the Saints buried in Sanctuary’s extensive cemeteries were decently young at their time of death. He’s abnormally lucky to be alive...
Tiresias sighed morosely. “So, you heard Lívia and I arguing, then?”
“I think the whole of Sanctuary heard the two of you shouting at each other,” the man replied with a dry laugh. Noticing that Tiresias’ frown only deepened, his expression turned sympathetic. “It’s alright, it’s alright. You said some regrettable things, but at your age, you’re going to say a lot of those- especially in stressful situations like this. It isn’t an excuse by any means, and once words are out in the world, you can’t put them back inside you. But you can to rectify this by apologizing properly to your friend for what you said and make sure that you try to control your temper a bit better in the future. Your regret shows that those words don’t reflect who you really are and what you really feel, but in order to make it clear to your friend that you didn’t mean the things you said, you have to make an honest apology. Tell her that you regret it, tell her you’re sorry, and tell the truth about what your friendship with her really means to you. You’ll be alright.”
He’s right… Tiresias nodded, wiping away the beginnings of tears. “I’ll have to go find her… I’m not sure where she went after we yelled at each other.” He paused, shifting awkwardly on the step. “Can you come with me? If you don’t have something more important to do, that is…” I don’t really want to wander Sanctuary all by myself…
The Capricorn Saint smiled and nodded understandingly. “Of course, at the very least I can help you find your friend.” Bracing himself against the column, he hoisted himself up using his crutches and rose into an unsteady standing position, using the marble fixture as a support while he adjusted the position of the crutches on his arms with the precision of someone who had done this many times before. Tiresias stood as well, dusting off his jeans and pulling his leather jacket a bit more tightly around himself. He was glad he’d worn it, and not just because it had kept him warm in the Aquarius Temple. The jacket made his shoulders look a little wider, and drew attention away from the parts of his torso and waist that he didn’t exactly want people staring at. It was as much a comfort item as it was a practical piece of clothing, and in a time like this, he needed the feeling of security and safety it brought.
“It just hit me that I never properly introduced myself,” the man stated as they made their way to the stairs together. “My name is Héctor Aguirre, former Saint of Capricorn. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, young man.”
“I’m Tiresias Mortensen. It’s nice to meet you, sir.” Tiresias didn’t often introduce himself using the last name of the host of Hades, but he always felt odd giving only one name when someone else introduced themselves in the classic first-and-last manner. It’s not that I mind using Seb’s last name, but he never expressly said I could and I’m not sure how he feels about it. He’d always been treated like a member of the family by Persephone and Sebastian, but adopting their last name crossed a border that he wasn’t sure he was allowed to cross. Being Tiresias Mortensen raised the question of familial ties, formal adoption. He knew that he was Persephone’s apprentice, and that both Sephi and Seb cared about him deeply, but he wasn’t exactly sure if they went as far as to think of him as their son. I know they love children and definitely want kids of their own someday, but I’m not sure if I’m the kid they want. If I’m not, I don’t really blame them…
“Mortensen,” Héctor mused, seeming to recognize the name. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Sebastian and Persephone, would you?”
Tiresias nodded. “Persephone’s my mentor. I guess you could say I’m sort of adopted.” It wasn’t exactly untrue, after all. He’d lived under Persephone and Sebastian’s roof for as long as he could remember, and he’d had no other home before the two of them as far as he knew. Dimly, he was aware of the fact that he most certainly had biological parents somewhere, but had no idea where or who they might have been. At this point, they’re not really a part of my life and likely as not, they’re either dead or moved on by now.
Héctor stroked his chin pensively. “Ah, I see. Funny, with your looks I could have sworn that you were their own flesh and blood. But Persephone can’t have another child, not after what she went through with the first one. Nevertheless, you’re in good hands with the Cancer Saint. She’s a good woman, and though I’ve never met her fiance, I trust her taste in companionship. You’ll learn a lot from her.”
“Yeah, she’s great,” Tiresias replied, a bit confused. “What do you mean, ‘the first one’? My mentor doesn’t have any kids… I don’t think.” As far as he’d known, Persephone and Sebastian had never given birth to a child. They’d never mentioned being parents, or anything about childbirth that suggested that they’d already experienced it. If they had a child, wouldn’t I have met them before, or at least heard their name? Seb and Sephi tell me most everything…. I think.
“That,” Héctor stated with an unreadable expression, “is not my story to tell. In fact, I think I’ve said too much already.” Before Tiresias could protest his decidedly unhelpful answer, the former Capricorn Saint pointed ahead of them, changing the subject. “I think I see your friend by the Taurus Temple.”
Tiresias looked ahead to find that the second temple of the Zodiac was in fact within sight, and he could see Lívia standing on the landing nearest to it, looking around frantically as though she was searching for something or someone. He started to move towards her, and she turned, eyes widening as she noticed him. Tiresias quickened his pace, all questions forgotten, and they met in the middle of the staircase. With only a beat of pause for breath, he closed his eyes, screwed his courage to the sticking place, and spoke.
“Lívia, I’m sorry for everything I said earlier. I was scared- well, I still am- and I said a lot of dumb things,and I promise they aren’t true. You are my friend and I don’t want to run away and abandon you and Ronan and Ravi, I’m just worried about what’s going to happen now and I’m not sure how much more I can handle. But it wasn’t right to take it out on you, and I shouldn’t have said the things I said. You’re a really great friend and I’m really glad I met you, and-”
“Tiresias,” Lívia cut in, expression unreadable, but he continued, unable to keep the words inside him from pouring out.
“-I know we’re all under a lot of stress, and that this is definitely more than we bargained for when we decided to train as Saints, but I want to stick together. I’m afraid, but I want to try to be brave, for you and for Ravi and for Ronan too and-”
“Tiresias, shut up !” Lívia placed her hands on his shoulders and looked him dead in the eyes. “I accept your apology and I’m sorry for what I said too. I’m glad you came to apologize but… well, we’ve got bigger problems right now.”
Tiresias blinked, confused. “What’s happened?” A terrifying thought struck him and his hands started to shake. “Is Ravi…?”
Lívia bit her lip and shook her head. “No, they still haven’t found him- we don’t really know yet. But they- Yves, Tenzin, and your mentor- have decided that we’re going to start looking outside of Sanctuary. Considering what we just found out about Ravi and that we haven’t found so much as a trace of where he might have gone, we’ve got to consider… that we might not be looking in the right place.”
She didn’t need to say what she meant or where they were going; he understood immediately. Persephone’s conversation with Yves on the stairs, her sudden running off- it all pointed to one outcome. If they’re asking for help from who I think they’re asking for help from, then that means they’re considering the possibility that Ravi is dead. Tenzin would only ever agree to going there as a last resort, which means she’s getting desperate…
The Taurus apprentice nodded as she noticed the realization dawning on his face, expression a mask of barely-concealed fear and worry. “That’s right. They’ve decided we’re going to the Underworld.” A tear ran down her cheek. “They said if we find him there then we might at least be able to say goodbye.”
Tiresias stood motionless for a long moment before stepping closer to Lívia and wrapping his arms around her, trying to keep the tears in his own eyes from spilling out. Only a short while ago, he would have jumped at the chance to visit home again, but now, the prospect of returning to the Underworld filled him with equal parts hopelessness and dread. I didn’t want it to be like this…
Please, oh please don’t let Ravi be dead…
Chapter 18: An Audience With Hades
Ravi and Genesis go before Sebastian Mortensen, Host of Hades, in order to seek safe passage through the Underworld to visit the Fates, and overhear a conversation not meant for mortal ears.
An Audience With Hades
The Specter guards wasted no time in ushering Genesis and Ravi through the door and down a maze of dark stone corridors lit only by periodic torches with eerie purplish flames. They were not given any opportunity to state their case or purpose; either the guards knew of it already somehow or they simply didn’t care. Neither one spoke, and the stony manner of their silence indicated to Ravi that he would be wise to do the same. Indeed, the only sound they made as they traversed the halls of Heinstein Castle was the quiet ringing of their footsteps on the sleek black marble and obsidian floors and the soft clanking of the guards’ Surplices.
In order to occupy himself and to keep his mind away from the impending meeting with the God of the Underworld, Ravi studied the Surplices as they walked. He hadn’t gotten a chance to have a proper look at Charon’s, and thinking about armor was a welcome diversion. They were much different than Saint Cloth in more ways than color, he noticed. Where the Cloths he’d seen shone and sparkled in the light to the point where they were sometimes blinding, the Surplices had a much duller luster and seemed to absorb light rather than reflect it. They had a particular sheen to them as well, almost like an oil slick but tending more towards the blue and purple end of the spectrum. Though they were predominantly black in color, this sheen seemed to be unique to each particular surplice- the guard on the right’s tended more towards deep indigo, while his companion was a reddish purple. Both wore helmets which obscured their faces, but a long blondish ponytail could be seen poking out from beneath that of the latter guard. The plating of the armor itself was also smoother, devoid of the intricate bas relief that typically adorned a cloth. They’re beautiful…
The indigo-armored guard noticed Ravi’s wide-eyed staring and gave him a quizzical look. “What are you looking at, kid?”
Shit! Ravi made a quick little eep! of embarrassment and drew back abruptly, nearly running into Genesis in the process. “I’m sorry, I just- I’m a Cloth Blacksmith, or training to be, and your armor- I’ve never seen a Surplice before and I-” He cut off and lowered his eyes to the ground, shuffling his feet against the floor and hoping he hadn’t angered the guards too much. I’d almost forgotten where we are…
Surprisingly, the Specter didn’t seem terribly upset and a ghost of a smile flicked across his featured. “Stare all you’d like, then. We don’t often get people from up above actually wanting to learn about the ranks of Hades. Even with the peace, there’s still a lot of bad blood, particularly in Sanctuary.”
Ravi nodded and resolved not to mention that his own mentor was one of the people who still held a strong grudge against Specters and Hades. I’m not old enough to remember the Holy Wars so she’s had a different experience with Specters than I have, but I definitely don’t feel the same way that she does. Just because we’re mentor and apprentice doesn’t mean we agree on everything. “I know. But one of my best friends- my first friend ever- came to Sanctuary from here in the Underworld, so I’m not afraid of Specters.” It was a bold statement, and not entirely true- the guards were more than a little intimidating- but he spoke it with confidence. This is where Tiresias grew up, and if my best friend came from here, then there’s no reason to be afraid, right?
The other guard looked amused. “Brave words for someone trespassing in the Underworld.” They looked as though they were about to say more, but abruptly cut off at the sound of approaching footsteps in the hallway and raised a hand for Ravi and Genesis to halt. They stopped walking, and Genesis took a step closer to Ravi, leaning over to whisper in his ear.
“Word’s probably gotten to Hades that we’re here, so I imagine that we’re about to change hands to someone more powerful or at least higher up in the chain of command.”
Ravi swallowed nervously and nodded, once again reminded of their purpose there. Here’s hoping that Hades is in a good mood. Charon already said that he was upset about the welcome Persephone and Tiresias got in Sanctuary… Before he could begin to worry too much about Hades, however, the two guards who had been escorting them bowed low and Ravi caught his first glimpse of the newcomers.
They were two Specters, the first tall and well-built with broad shoulders, and a deep black and gray surplice that in many ways reminded Ravi of the Taurus Cloth, and the second slim and somewhat willowy with unusual amber-tinted armor and, most notably, a pair of massive green and yellow butterfly wings. The winged one gestured to indicate that the guards could return to their resting positions and spoke, voice measured and a bit musical, with a lilting higher pitch.
“We’ve been ordered to escort them from here to Hades, Rian and Linden. He’s heard of their arrival and wants to see them immediately.”
The two guards nodded and turned to go back to their posts. As they brushed past Ravi and Genesis, the indigo-armored guard whispered something that sounded like “good luck”, and his companion echoed the sentiment. Before either the Angel or the apprentice Saint could thank them, however, they were already lost from sight in the darkness of the hallway. Seeing that the guards were gone, the butterfly Specter turned his attention to Genesis and Ravi, lip curling into a capricious half-smile.
“You really are full of surprises, Genesis. We didn’t expect to see you back here.”
Genesis met his gaze evenly, only slightly flinching. Ravi didn’t blame her- something deep inside him, almost ancestral, told him that this Specter was a force to be reckoned with. It almost feels like my Cosmos is shrinking back inside me and trying to tell me to get away from him… like it’s met him before and it’s afraid of him or something.
“I didn’t expect to be back here, but as I’m sure you’ve heard, I have business to attend to and I have to go through your master to do it. Now, are you going to take us to him or not?”
Ravi imagined that by his expression, the Specter was probably rolling his eyes, but as they were pupil-less, faceted disks of magenta, it was impossible to tell. “It’s a wonder Demeter hasn’t turned you to fertilizer for her tulips with that attitude of yours.”
“Says the guy with technicolor butterfly wings, thigh-high metal boots, and a crush on his commander,” Genesis fired back belligerently.
“Be nice, you two,” the other Specter intoned in a deep, commanding voice. “You can argue about who Demeter likes best and have your wing-flapping contest later. For now, Lord Hades was adamant about seeing the two of them immediately.”
“Oh, that’ll end well,” the winged Specter quipped sarcastically. “You’ve picked the worst possible time to bring a visitor from Sanctuary, Angel.”
Ravi gathered himself and finally managed to join the conversation. “Do you know these two, Genesis?” They’re talking like they’ve met before…
The Angel nodded. “I met them the last time I was here. The one in the horned helmet is Minotauros Gordon and the overglorified insect is Papillon Myu. He’s also acted as a liaison between Hades and Demeter, which means I see far too much of him.” She made a face. “And I’m sure he’s enjoying escorting us like we’re prisoners.”
“Your friend and Myu have had a ridiculous rivalry since they first met after she happened to embarrass him in front of our commander,” Gordon added conspiratorially to Ravi. “It’s been many years and neither one has managed to let it go.”
Genesis’ expression morphed into a self-satisfied smirk. “I can’t help it if those ridiculous excuses for wings have a way of getting stuck in doorways.”
Myu turned up his nose with a dramatic hmph! and turned to keep walking down the hallway. “Come on, the sooner we bring them to Hades, the sooner I’ll be rid of this disrespectful little pigeon .”
Genesis simply laughed away the insult and they continued on their way, eventually coming to a set of stone stairs which spiraled up into darkness. The two Specters began climbing without hesitation, and Genesis followed, leaving Ravi to do the same. I don’t really like the feeling of climbing up into a place I can’t see, or what might be waiting for us at the top, but I don’t really have any other choice… I have to be brave. I have to be brave so I can maybe have a chance of changing my fate and growing up and seeing my friends again.
He bit back a nervous laugh. What could Hades possibly do, kill me? I’m going to die anyway if the Fates can’t help us, right? It was morbid, terribly morbid, and more than a little nihilistic, but in a comforting way. There was something freeing about it, knowing that in the end, he really had nothing to lose. This whole journey with Genesis is a last resort anyway, right? Some part of him was still afraid of standing before the God of the Dead, but the fear was dulled considerably. It was hard to be frightened of anything when faced with the bigger picture.
They continued up the stairs and into the darkness, which only became slightly less murky as the group entered it. It was almost as if it was not merely an absence of light, but an entity in and of itself with a will and intent of its own. Ravi had noticed during their travels in Hades’ domain that the place itself and its aura seemed to be alive. He’d gotten a similar feeling from Demeter’s garden, and to an extent, from Sanctuary, but the aura of the Underworld was the only one which seemed keen on interacting with its visitors. It’s strange for the land of the dead to be so… alive.
At the top of the staircase, an imposing wooden door stood ajar, and a number of voices could be heard echoing from the room beyond. From their raised volume and the tone which was being used, it sounded as though the conversation was far from an amiable one. Gordon silently raised a hand for them to halt, and he, Myu, Genesis, and Ravi stood on the stairs listening to the argument occurring on the other side of the door.
“You can tell him that I couldn’t give less of a damn about what he thinks if I consciously tried, and that if he’s going to lecture me about how to rule over my domain, he’d best be sure that his own affairs are in order, Adari.” The first voice was somewhat whispery and hoarse, but it had a commanding edge to it and the way it echoed in the room beyond the door was positively sepulchral. Though it was not a voice he had heard before, something inside Ravi began tying itself in knots, as though it recognized the sound and was terrified of it. It feels like even my Cosmos wants to get away from them… Somehow, without really knowing how he knew it, Ravi feltin his gut that this was the voice of Sebastian Mortensen, Host of Hades.
The next voice was more pleasant-sounding, elegant and musical with mischievous overtones. “My, my, somebody skipped their morning coffee. I suggest you rethink your word choice, however- the last god who decided to go toe-to-toe with him ended up in a sticky situation.”
Ravi could have sworn that he could hear Sebastian bristling in annoyance. “Are you threatening me?”
The other person chuckled dryly. “Simply trying to warn you, that’s all. Let me put it this way: have you seen Hephaestus lately?”
Sebastian muttered something which was inaudible from the other side of the door, likely a curse. “What happened to Linus, Dante?”
Dante sighed. “I wish I knew. In an unofficial capacity, one god-host to another, stay out of it. His dispute with Ares went too far, and he put a stop to it. I haven’t seen either of them since. If you think the same won’t happen to you because you’re the God of the Underworld, you’re dead wrong.”
Sebastian cursed again. “Alright, alright. For now, just tell him I’ll do my best to stay out of Sanctuary’s affairs, but my fiancee’s Sainthood is out of my jurisdiction. For that, he’d need to talk to Athena. But this is only so that he doesn’t shoot the messenger, got it? I’m still not bowing to his authority no matter what he threatens to do, and there’s no way he can possibly know what really happened to the child.”
Dante gave another dry laugh. “Thank you, the messenger appreciates it. I admit, Mortensen, you’ve got some massive rocks on you and I can respect that. I’m just hoping it doesn’t get you killed.”
“I don’t intend to die just yet,” Sebastian replied. “Now, you’d best get going. An Angel, two of my Specters, and someone I don’t quite recognize are listening at the door.”
Ravi blinked in surprise. He knew we were here the whole time? And what does any of this mean, anyway? Who’s this “he” they’re talking about? Is something going on that we don’t know about?
Gordon opened the door and indicated that Genesis and Ravi should enter. Myu moved behind them, no doubt to ensure that they didn’t make a break for it at the last moment. Genesis gave him a nod of encouragement and they stepped into the room.
It was well-furnished in the same dark colors as most of the castle, with chairs upholstered in shades of deep purple and red and tall, imposing bookcases lining the walls. One of the stained-glass windows on the far side of the room was open, Ravi noticed, and there was no sign of Dante, the other person who had spoken moments before. Facing the window and looking slightly miffed, a tall, thin, pallid man with long reddish hair tied back with a black ribbon stood with the poise of royalty- Sebastian Mortensen. If his voice had made Ravi’s Cosmos shrink back and recoil, then his presence was ten times worse. However, this was tempered by the fact that though he was trying to hide it, his hands were shaking profusely. Looks like he’s more nervous than he pretended.
Gordon cleared his throat discreetly. “My lord?”
Mortensen’s shoulders tensed and he turned around to face them, expression taciturn. There was something familiar about his eyes, Ravi noticed- that unusual blue-green color was unmistakable. He and Tiresias have the same eye color… strange. I didn’t think it was common to have eyes that looked like that. “Are these the visitors from Sanctuary?”
Gordon nodded. “Yes, sir. The Angel Genesis and…” He paused, and looked at Genesis pointedly. That’s right, she never introduced me to Myu and Gordon…
One of Sebastian’s eyebrows shot up quizzically. “Ravi? I’ve heard that name before. You’re the apprentice of Aries Tenzin- the one who’s missing.” All at once, the shadows in his expression and demeanor slipped away and he took a step towards Ravi, looking for all the world like a concerned parent. “Everyone’s worried sick about you, my fiancee and Tiresias included. Whatever possessed you to run away like this?”
Ravi glanced back at Genesis and shuffled his feet. He’d known from the onset of this whirlwind adventure that leaving his friends and the Gold Saints without a word would cause them worry, but hearing it confirmed still tied his stomach in knots. They might not even know I’m alive… Tiresias and Lívia and Ronan are probably out of their minds, and Tenzin too… “There… there’s something I have to do to change my fate. I can’t go back just yet.”
“We need to see the Fates,” Genesis supplied quickly, “to see if we can make his life-thread longer. He’s… well, I’m sure you’ve heard the news.”
Sebastian fixed Genesis with a look that was part regretful and part stern. “Yes, and I had a feeling that if he came here, it would be at your behest, Miss Genesis. It’s an admirable goal, of course, and I wish I could allow you to proceed on this journey.”
Genesis opened her mouth to protest but Sebastian waved a hand and suddenly, with an imperceptibly swift movement, Myu was restraining her. Ravi barely had time to turn around before Gordon was upon him. What the-?! The Host of Hades simply shook his head remorsefully.
“I’d allow you to go on your way if only I could, Ravi. But someone with your powers traveling with someone like Genesis through my domain could very well end in catastrophe and that’s a risk I’m simply not willing to take.” Sebastian turned back to Myu and Gordon and the shadows that had slipped away only moments before returned as swiftly as they had disappeared. His voice regained the echoing, unsettling quality it had held when when it had first reached their ears, and suddenly, though nothing about his outward appearance had been altered, he no longer seemed human. “Take them away and ensure they don’t escape. Do not harm them in the process unless absolutely necessary. They will be dealt with later.”
“Godsdammit, Mortensen, we don’t have time for this!” Genesis exploded angrily, straining against Myu’s grip. “We need to go find the Fates before-”
Even if she had managed to finish speaking, Ravi wouldn’t have heard her. With a snap of Sebastian’s fingers, blackness spread from the corners of his vision and engulfed his eyes. He was dimly aware of free-falling without the floor or even his body catching him before he finally succumbed to unconsciousness.