Meteora, Episode 1.4

Nolly was becoming a true part of the Gethsemane household. Daily routines came naturally now. She no longer felt like a guest tiptoeing around someone else’s house. Perhaps it was because they were all so familiar with one another, that they found her — much to her surprise — quite intriguing, and easily fit her into their ranks. Almost as if she’d been there all along. While her aunts were beside themselves to see how much she resembled Alexandria in her expressions and mannerisms, the company at Gethsemane was curious to discover her interests, what she loved and what she hated, as she, in her own words, finally started living.

She loosened up, got a feel for the city. They took strolls through the forest around Phoenix, journeyed out to Thaeyet’s numerous art museums. Imogen knew the best local restaurants and cute little cafés. Nolly listened to jazz for the first time at Heidi’s favorite club. They took many trips up and down Kilimanjaro Drive. For every outing, Cinna took extensive measures to look inconspicuous in public, afraid to attract too much attention. Demeter, in contrast, reveled in not being too recognizable, despite being a Shanty princess. Thaeyetians paid far more attention to the Ariadnes than the Shantys.

Every day, Nolly walked over to Phoenix, had lunch with her aunts. One afternoon, Efthemia requested that she come a few minutes early, and took Nolly into her office.

“You seem to be settling in very well,” she commented with a smile. After her initial astonishment upon Nolly’s arrival, Efthemia had shifted back to her usual temperament: level-headed, serious, with a business-like approach to everything.

“Yeah, I really like Gethsemane. And Phoenix,” Nolly added quickly, though she hadn’t spent nearly as much time at the mansion.

“Well, Cleo and I talked about it, and we thought it would be nice to throw you a party,” Efthemia told her.

“A party? For me?”

“Yes. It’s about time the public met our young niece, wouldn’t you say? Better to come out with it than let the press catch you around here and make a big scandal of it. Sometimes it’s best to initiate these issues so that we don’t have to defend ourselves unprepared from the tabloids later. We were thinking it could be around the beginning of Gemini. Cleo’s already made a list of potential guests. Maybe a few people from the House of Cyrene, some of our cousins, and other important members of society.” She described these plans as if she were talking to a client. “What do you think?” Efthemia asked. Nolly wasn’t sure what she thought. She’d never had a party thrown for her before.

“Um, I guess that sounds nice,” she said, “but I have no idea what to do at such a fancy event. I have nothing to wear that’s formal enough.”

“Oh, we’ll take care of that,” Efthemia assured her, with a nonchalant wave of her hand. She suddenly got an idea, her eyes lit up. “What if we could get Eura Wilde to design your dress? That’s sure to make a grand entrance into the public eye.”

“Who?”

“Ne is one of the most highly-rated designers in Meteora. Very important in the fashion world. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of nem.”

“The fashion world isn’t usually a child’s top priority when they don’t even have a permanent home,” Nolly replied, frowning. Growing up, she’d struggled to find secondhand clothes that fit. Forget about trendy.

“Right. Sorry.” Efthemia winced. Most people found her insensitive. But she didn’t mean to be tactless. She checked the clock on the wall. “I suppose we’d better go to the dining room. If you’re okay with it, we’ll begin preparations as soon as possible.”

“Sounds good,” Nolly agreed. They left the office.

Anri was already seated at the table, wearing a satin camisole and pajama pants. She didn’t bother looking up. Nolly wondered what she did all day. She appeared perpetually too sick to leave the mansion.

“How do you like the pool? I hear you’ve been using it almost every day,” Efthemia said, eager to keep up cordial conversation, making up for Anri’s stark silence. Just the lunchtime routine among the Ariadnes.

“Oh, it’s wonderful!” Nolly gushed. “I used to swim at the community pool near Celica. Now that I can swim whenever I want, I can’t get enough of it!”

“I’m glad someone’s making good use of that pool. I don’t even remember the last time I swam in it,” Efthemia remarked. “Have you ever competed?”

“No, I’m not much of an athlete. I simply love how water feels on my skin,” she replied. Anri rolled her eyes.

“Maybe we’ll make an underwater theme for your party. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Efthemia suggested.

“What party?” Anri asked, frowning.

“Ocean sends love, everyone!” Cleopatra breezed in.

“What party?” Anri repeated. Two maids brought in fresh-squeezed lemonade and an elaborate salad of fresh berries.

“We’re throwing Nolly a party to introduce her to society,” Efthemia told her.

“That’s funny. I thought you’d want to keep this little embarrassment in the shadows,” Anri said, releasing a fake giggle. “Even the servants think you’re a laughingstock. They can hardly believe they have to serve a girl from the lowest class. I heard them whispering about it in the corridor just yesterday.”

“Stop making up stories, Anri,” Efthemia replied. “To be honest, I think the exact opposite is true.” Word had travelled fast that she was the daughter of the late Head of the House and West Darling. The archery unit of the Ariadne House Guard revered West while he was alive, studying his technique. Many of them were Nehring, and called him something else, a nickname with the word “arrow” in it. Because of who her father was, they automatically welcomed Nolly with more respect than her aunts, and freely told her so whenever she came across them around the estate. “And we’re overjoyed to have Nolly here, remember?”

“So what, now we’re just going to tell everyone what happened?” Anri asked, her voice rising in alarm. “You want Meteora’s memory of my perfect mother to be tainted by her past mistakes?” Her mouth dripped with sarcasm, prompting Nolly to wonder what exactly she was attacking.

“Just because she’s not a child by marriage doesn’t make her a mistake,” Cleopatra protested.

“She probably has no idea how to behave at high class gatherings. I bet her ballroom manners are no better than an ape’s,” Anri spat, shooting daggers at Nolly. “Better not make a fool of yourself in front of the crowd! Wouldn’t want to fall on your face before our grand society.” She smirked, regaining her composure once she knew she had the upper hand.

Nolly’s face burned. “What’s wrong, Anri? Jealous because someone else is getting attention besides you? Or do I remind you too much of our mother?” she retorted.

“You have no right to speak about her, because you didn’t know her! But you’re right, even though I’m on the verge of dying, she always had something more worthy of her attention. And you’re just as self-centered and selfish as she was,” Anri shot back.

“You shouldn’t say you’re dying, Anri,” Efthemia said, picking at her salad with disinterest. “It’s not funny.”

“And you’re only going to reprimand me?! Why don’t you just make her Head of the House already, since you like her so much better!” Once again, Anri jumped up, stormed out.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” Nolly whispered, ashamed of herself. She didn’t realize she could hit the right nerve so easily.

“Maybe we should have her see that therapist again,” Cleopatra suggested.

“No, what Anri needs is to stop being treated like a patient all the time,” Efthemia replied, rubbing her temples.

Helena. A city built into the side of a mountain, with a branch of River Kylie running through it in a multitude of waterfalls. This city rested on the southern edge of Mountains Arcadia, with Plains Kyoko opening up in the south, its rolling hills to the east, and Wind Soraya blowing especially strong. Acacia trees with narrow trunks and wiry branches grew among Plains Kyoko and Desert Ariel. As in all of the five larger Meteoran cities, ornate wrought iron balconies adorned the sides of buildings, while open-air stone walkways stretched between them. Ceramic tile mosaics covered the city’s exterior and interior walls, forming the geometric patterns and tessellations common in Meteoran architectural design. The center for Meteora’s active stock market buzzed downtown, while Jerusalem Park stretched for miles in the middle of the city. Hand-woven lace and hand-dyed silk were traditional Meteoran crafts still practiced here. All of the huge trends started on these streets, and most big designers made their name first in Helena, making fashion its most lucrative export.

Dresden. House of Regina’s estate. It resembled a fortress cut into the mountainside, presiding over the land below, with a stone wall impassable by an army. Terraces of plants, with stair steps leading up the hill, looked like miniature Jerusalem Parks, while obelisks with various carvings stood in the centers. Inside, Dresden followed Helena’s style, with all of its walls covered in elaborate ceramic tile mosaics.

Iris Regina intimidated everyone. She stood near two meters tall, and carried herself with the self-assurance she’d been taught from a young age, her long dreadlocks swinging behind her. Sitting with her in a council room were Jane, her husband; Anastasia, her aunt and the Advisor of Regina House; Haku, her brother and Commander of Regina House Guard; Anaïs, Scylla, and a few other trusted officials. Her stony demeanor gave way to a delighted smile as she listened to the news Haku presented. Haku finished speaking, sat down. A maid came in with a pitcher, refilling their cups of mint water. Iris looked around the table, enjoying the expressions of surprise and wonder on the faces of her council members.

“This is perfect,” she said, gazing at the cluster of pyrite at the center of the council table. “That cave is exactly what we need to set our plans in motion.” Members of the House Guard sent to scout the area had reported the existence of a large cave underground, containing an astonishing quantity of gold.

“Well done, Anaïs,” Jane acknowledged the girl across the table, his icy grey eyes shining behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.

“With Cave Icarus, we’ll be unstoppable!” Haku raved. His defined eyebrows lit up his face, animating his words. “We will have the upper hand in every political discussion.”

“The other Houses will be bowing down at our feet in no time,” Anastasia chimed in, smirking.

“Haku, can you assemble a squad of your soldiers there as soon as possible? We need to make sure no one else tries to gain control of this underground cave,” Iris said.

Haku nodded. “I’ll pick a team that will take shifts guarding, so they can be there around the clock.”

“We’ll wait to excavate it later. News of this place will surely spread, and when it does, we should be ready to make our move. I will set up a meeting with the House of Shanty. We’ll need support in this endeavor.”

“We should go back to Dresden, where we’ll be better equipped,” Jane suggested, turning to her. Iris met his gaze for a moment, and nodded. While they never publicly displayed affection for one another, they reflected a significant, albeit not romantic, understanding of each other.

“Good idea. Sevda, see to it that everyone’s luggage is ready for our departure tomorrow morning,” Iris told the maid waiting by the door. Sevda swiftly left the room. As the council members got up from the adjourned meeting, Iris gestured for Scylla to stay. Once they’d all gone, she commented, “You have an opinion on this plan.”

“I have an opinion on what you’ve told us, but I don’t know why you would want to hear it.” Scylla had been slumped on her cushion, the hood of her sweatshirt pulled over her head, for the entire discussion. Her position at Dresden didn’t usually involve going to important council meetings. Cinna had always been better at communication, giving a thorough perspective and articulate advice. That’s why he wrote all their speeches, while she holed herself up in an office doing specialized computer work. Iris said nothing, only waited. Scylla took a deep breath. “As demand for gold increases, its supply around the globe is depleting. What will happen when the government gets a hold of this information? I’m not certain you’ll be able to handle all the consequences that will arise, particularly not if you plan on fighting for ownership over that cave. But then again, you’re not telling us your entire plan, are you? Clearly, it’s more than just the gold you want.”

Iris shook her head, amused. “You’re immensely valuable Scylla, but you think too much. You’ve done well by stepping up in Cinna’s absence. For now though, you’re going back to your old job,” she told her. “I need you to run another test on our security systems. Cyrene’s hackers will be digging around for any documents we have regarding our plans.” She stood up to leave, but then turned around. “Oh, and another immortal will be visiting Dresden for a little while. He’s the key to everything we’re going to do, including the things you claim I’m not telling you. When he comes, it will be vital that we keep him satisfied, and we’ll need you to do that.” To suggest that any interaction between two immortals could be as simple as satisfying each other displayed Iris’s fundamental misunderstanding of how the immortals worked. She couldn’t be blamed for this though, when no one else understood it either. “If you cooperate with him, I’ll continue to give you the half truth, and nothing less. What’s coming could benefit you as much as it will benefit us, if you stay on our side.”

“Which immortal is it?”

“Wren.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing by bringing him into this.” Iris just smiled. She knew exactly what she was doing.

Eura Wilde was the most sought-after designer and couturier in Meteora. Hailed as a prodigy, ne had emerged onto the fashion scene incredibly young. In a few short years, every major city in Meteora, as well as Milan, London, Paris, Tokyo, and New York, had a Wilde shop. Celebrities strutted down the streets wearing nis designs. Not one for self-doubt, Eura had always known ne would end up in this position of artistic success. But, despite all of these impressive accomplishments, ne sometimes wondered if the last few years were merely a blurry dream from which ne had yet to wake up.

Ne stood in an elegant lounge at Phoenix. While nis position as a couturier was well-established, producing custom creations for musicians, film sets, and other high-profile projects, this was nis first job with a member of the Dyiana as a client, which Efthemia Ariadne had somehow persuaded nem to do. Apparently no price was too high for her to pay. Besides, this job would help them both. Efthemia would get the awed reactions she wanted from her peers, upon discovering that the dress was a one-of-a-kind by an incredibly talented designer. Eura would get renewed respect in the fashion industry for snagging such a special client, and provide excellent media attention for Meteora’s first-ever Fashion Week, slated for Capricorn in Helena. On top of that, ne would get an invitation to the party.

Despite nis professional background, ne was nervous. Clad in nis usual three piece suit with nis hair clipped very short, ne paced the room, unable to sit still, clutching a tattered sketchbook in nis hand. Ne stopped to stare out the window, waiting for Efthemia to return with the girl intended to wear the dress. The girl arrived a few minutes later, greeting nem as she plopped down on a couch.

“Okay Eura, you two can talk, just as you requested. I’ll send someone with snacks, and you can take as much time as you need,” Efthemia said, before closing the door and leaving them alone.

“I’m Nolly,” the girl said with a smile. “And I’m going to be totally honest, I know you’re a crazy-big designer, but I have no idea what kind of stuff you like to do.”

Eura raised nis eyebrows, amused. “Well that’s a refreshing statement to hear,” ne commented.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Nolly told nem, wincing at her blunder. “I only meant to warn you of my ignorance in hopes that you might educate me, so that I know what to expect.”

Eura shrugged. “For this, you don’t need to know my style or past work. Whatever dress I make will be tailored to your tastes and complement your physical features,” ne replied. There was a knock on the door. A maid came in with a tray. She set down glasses of lime water and a large plate of sliced peaches with a rich creamy dip on the table between them. They both nodded their thanks, and she left. Eura took a huge gulp from nis glass.

Nolly bit into a peach slice. “Where do we begin?”

“Truthfully, I’d like to know if your eyes are naturally different colors,” ne answered. “They’re beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you!” Nolly exclaimed, caught off guard. She attempted to hide her embarrassment with a laugh. “Most people think they’re disturbing. I haven’t gotten many compliments before.”

“People are too cruel,” Eura told her. “Hmmm. Do you have a preference in skirt length?” ne asked, opening up nis sketchbook. “Let’s start there.”

“I’ve never had a floor-length dress before. Can we do that?”

“Of course. Now, what about the shoulders and arms? Short sleeves, long sleeves, sleeveless, off-the-shoulder, strapless?”

“I definitely wouldn’t have the confidence for strapless! I think sleeveless would be best.”

“Okay. Do you have any favorite colors?”

“Maybe a cool color? Nothing too bold. I guess I’ve always liked purple.”

“Purple it is.” The next round of questions regarded her body. How tall was she? How much did she weigh? Eura jotted down every answer, the workings of nis keen mind clicking into place. Ne produced a tape measure, asked Nolly to stand up. Keeping up the casual conversation to put her at ease, Eura measured the breadth of her skinny shoulders, followed by her bust, ribcage, waist, and hips with expert speed. In a short span of time, they burned through topics from Eura’s preparations for Fashion Week, to Nolly’s opinion of the President’s recent budget cuts, to what Helena was like at that time of year.

“The air is drier there. And with Wind Soraya blowing through, it feels colder. I doubt you would like Helenians either,” Eura told her. Thaeyetians were more liberal than Helenians, free-spirited and offbeat. This was a place for eccentrics, activists, independents, entrepreneurs.

She was surprised at how young Eura was for nis profession, just as Eura was surprised that she had only recently moved to Phoenix. Eura laughed as Nolly told nem a funny story she’d heard recently, and Nolly asked nem what ne thought about a movie which came out in theaters last week. When they finished, an hour had gone by. She set up another appointment, at which time Eura would present a few drawings to her, show her fabric samples. Nolly left the lounge with more excitement for her party than before. Eura’s head already filled up with extravagant ideas as soon as ne headed home.

Spring in Thaeyet was damp. This didn’t bother Nolly. The nights with heavy rain lulled her to sleep. But tonight’s sky was clear, and for some reason, she couldn’t get comfortable, no matter what position she lay in. She sighed, exasperated, and realized that Cinna must be awake, too. Every time she struggled to sleep, she’d talk to him the following morning, to discover his insomnia had returned. Her curiosity piqued, she slipped into clothes, tiptoeing out of her room, searching. At the end of the hall, a hatch in the ceiling opened onto the roof. Nolly climbed through it, finding Cinna and Audrey perched on the sloping tiles.

“May I join you?”

“Of course.” Audrey greeted her with a smile. He wore his usual fitted, plaid button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, his skinny jeans rolled up on his calves, a bracelet made from a bike chain dangling on his wrist. She sat down with them, initially preoccupied with the height of their seating arrangement, but soon relaxed, leaning back on her hands. North of the city and surrounded by forest, Gethsemane remained quiet, a welcome escape. Nolly eased into their late-night musings and before long, found herself quite entertained by the two quietest residents of the house.

She was cracking up at something Cinna had told her, when Audrey said, “I’m curious to know why you two are so comfortable with each other.”

She stopped laughing. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Audrey continued, tracing a gap between two tiles with his finger, “that the majority of people who see or meet Cinna for the first time have intense reactions. Come on, haven’t you noticed whenever we go out with him, even when he tries to be inconspicuous? Their eyes are glued to him, and sometimes their emotions become palpable in the air. But you seemed completely relaxed from the beginning.”

“Why are you keeping track?” Cinna demanded.

“I’m not. But these intense reactions occur often enough that the times when they don’t are more prominent.”

“I suppose it helped that I sort of knew him beforehand,” Nolly replied.

“What?” He abandoned the tiles, looking back and forth between them. “How is that possible? When did you meet?”

“Back when we were little kids,” Cinna told him. “I think she was only five at the time, but we both remembered it. It was before I met Heidi.”

“Really? That’s crazy!”

“Yeah, of all the people in Meteora, I never thought I’d see him again,” Nolly said.

“Small world, huh?”

“Small world,” she agreed.

He picked up a copy of the Persepolis Oracle, the largest daily newspaper in Meteora. He had been reading it on the roof before either of them joined him. “Look at this article. Another person claiming they know where Hiro is.”

“It’s insane what people will do for attention,” Nolly muttered.

Hiro was the lost city of Old. It had supposedly been built among Mountains Arcadia, and had contained the largest library in Meteoran history. Information about genealogy, astronomy, botany, and many other subjects, was recorded and organized in the library. Before the Occupation, Hiro was considered the best place to not only share one’s life story and expertise, but also to gain more knowledge. Every document had been written in Emersian, the indigenous language of the Meteoran people. In the time of Old, Emersian had supposedly been spoken and written in various dialects by every inhabitant of the archipelago. But one day, the glorious library and its city were completely destroyed. Most people believed that the spread of English during the Occupation, and consequently, the loss of Emersian in the people’s minds, had manifested in a mysterious storm descending upon the city.

There was no proof of the city’s existence, as all possible locations were isolated within the treacherous mountain range, and none of the expeditions to find it had ever returned. After the destruction of Hiro, the Andalus tribes, who were the only ones left speaking Emersian, upheld an entirely oral tradition.

“Doesn’t it make you wonder though, that every year, a few more people come out and say they know its whereabouts?” Audrey asked. “Why would they all lie about something like that, when a quest to prove them right or wrong could get someone killed?”

“The government stopped sending researchers into Mountains Arcadia decades ago,” Cinna pointed out. “I don’t think we need to be concerned about people risking their lives on half-baked ideas. Besides, I’m not sure Hiro ever truly existed. It seems like a story made up to tell children.”

“Sometimes, children are wiser than adults,” Nolly reasoned. “They take leaps of faith that older people won’t, for fear of going against the ‘facts’ presented to them. Why do you think they’re so much happier than the rest of us?”

“You don’t describe your childhood as a happy one,” he reminded her.

“No. But I can think of at least one time when I was,” she said, meeting his gaze. An image flashed in Cinna’s mind, of a large lily, pressed against the face of a little girl.

He bit his lip, looked away. “I guess you’re right,” he mumbled. After a pause, “It still seems unrealistic to believe something exists when the only evidence is a centuries-old bedtime story. I haven’t seen or been to Hiro myself, so how can I know for sure whether it’s real?”

They sat in silence for a moment. Nolly stared up at the full moon, hugging her knees to her chest. All across the country, people were burning small objects or symbols of whatever they wished to release or let go, intending to usher these things out of their lives. At the new moon in a couple of weeks, they would place different objects and symbols of their hopes and desires into a glass jar full of water, intending to manifest those things in their lives.

“I can’t believe we only just met you this year, Nolly, when it seems like you should’ve been hanging out with us years ago,” Audrey finally said.

“Kind of like how we felt when we first met you,” Cinna added, turning to him. “What was that word Heidi used?”

“Fate?”

“Yeah! Fate.”

A few days later, Nolly was sitting in a council room at Phoenix. Her gaze slid across the sleek surface of the long wooden table, stopping every so often to land on the velvet cushions placed around it, the sepia photographs on the walls. After being at Phoenix for a few weeks, she still marveled at how no expenses were spared on this estate, as evidenced by this elaborately furnished room which was not often used.

Nolly had learned easily, with a few reminders from her housemates, how she fit in with her new family and friends in Thaeyet. They were a varied group, but the quality they shared was their kindness towards her, and their immediate acceptance of her living there. She liked being in their company, hearing their anecdotes. She could no longer fathom how she’d spent so many years without friends. She didn’t have to contemplate that loneliness anymore. The wealth, on the other hand, was not an easy adjustment. She only had to ask when she wanted something, no matter how frivolous. But it still didn’t seem like her money. Everything they bought her, including her entire wardrobe, felt like a gift she didn’t deserve. The access, the entitlement, was unreal. She slowly realized that it was okay to have things meant purely for pleasure. That everything didn’t have to be a struggle. Life was no longer defined by lacking. Nolly’s survival instinct — the instinct to watch out for only herself — was disappearing. In its place, she discovered a part of her mind, her heart, which she’d never touched before. She wasn’t a shadow of a child, filled with hopelessness and fear, but a complete person, with ideas, expressions, even dreams.

Efthemia sat at the head of the table, with Cleopatra and Anri sitting on either side of her. Siddhartha, wearing a sleeveless sundress, crossed his legs, waiting patiently. Beside him, Solenne had her nose tucked into a book. Heather sat beside Anri, sorting out her medication. He nudged her, holding a cup of water. She sighed, took the pills. Farther down the table were other Ariadne House officials, and the Gethsemane residents. They looked around curiously, wondering why they were there.

“I asked you all to come because this is something that could concern you in the near future,” Efthemia told Nolly and her friends. “An Ariadne House agent has recently apprised us of the existence of an abundant gold deposit in a grotto beneath River Spektre. It’s called Cave Icarus.”

Solenne raised an eyebrow. “Who decided to name the cave Icarus?”

Efthemia shrugged. “I don’t know. Apparently there’s an Andalus tribe in the area, and that’s just what they called it.”

“Where along the river was it found?” Heather asked. Nolly had met him only a few times, as he was usually busy with corporate work.

“It’s located on the southern half of the river. Apparently, both Cyrene and Regina have small estates in the area, and now a feud has broken out over whose land the cave belongs on,” Efthemia said. She sifted through a few papers in front of her. “We’ve known for a while that something serious was brewing among the Dyiana, and this seems like it might be the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.”

“Who’s Franz Ferdinand?” Nolly whispered to Heidi.

“She means it’s the catalyst needed for our current situation to explode into full-out conflict,” he told her.

“Who all knows it’s there?” Cinna asked Efthemia, frowning.

“The news is traveling fast. As of this morning, there were already a few posts online about it, so it’s only a matter of time before all of Meteora knows about Cave Icarus.”

“But no one would be stupid enough to get between Regina and Cyrene,” Heidi commented. That was another thing great wealth could do: give the Dyiana power to get whatever they wanted, whether or not it was legal, justified, or humane. Everyone here knew the many ways in which the Dyiana spread their will over the country. The same logic informed their interactions with each other — a constant flow of secret information, trafficking of contraband, occurrences just under the radar of the public consciousness. Sometimes people disappeared, or died mysteriously, and the evidence needed to trace them back to any of the five Houses wasn’t available. People who did end up seeing or hearing something learned to keep it to themselves, and stay out of any warpaths.

“On the contrary, I think President Ashalev would want to do exactly that,” Siddhartha replied. “All of the rivers in Meteora are public property, so I’m betting he’ll argue that the cave belongs to the government, even if it’s underground. House of Cyrene and Regina claim it’s on each of their private properties, but everything’s up in the air at this point.”

“So, what can we do about it?” Demeter asked.

“Nothing right now,” Efthemia said, glancing carefully from Demeter to Heidi. “We don’t want to take sides too soon.”

“But, just so that all of you are clear, House of Ariadne hasn’t been on good terms with House of Regina for a long time,” Cleopatra added, turning to address them.

“If worse comes to worst, we’re more inclined to aid the Cyrenes,” Solenne agreed, sneering.

“I guess we’ll have to see what happens,” Demeter said, staring down at her hands, already knowing that her family would support the Reginas. Nolly wondered once again why they were all living on Ariadne land, what drove Demeter to stay near people who were not friendly with her family.

“Regardless, you should all be careful,” Siddhartha told them. “Pay attention, because whether or not we want to, we may be dragged into what I fear will become a civil war.”

[ AUTHOR NOTE: Hey, lovely! You can help support my work (and get access to exclusive “backstage” content!) by becoming a patron: https://www.patreon.com/darcycirca ]