“Where is he?” Shu-Tu asked, surveying the manicured grounds outside Thoth’s private grotto.
Under the light of the half moon and stars, she could make out a giant circular garden, all the flowers closed and bowing in deep contemplation. A bubbling spring on her right gave off enough steam to dampened the air and make her unbound hair frizz. She licked her lips, tasting the saltiness in the air from being so close to the ocean. Shu-Tu’s skin tingled. Her thin, sleeveless dress stuck to her body. Perhaps this is a mistake.
“Thoth said he’d meet us here, and his word is true,” Amiee replied, glancing around.
“True or not, Thoth better show his face soon,” Segferd said, hiking up his silk trousers to sit on a gleaming granite bench. “I’m not accustomed to be kept waiting.”
“Honestly, sometimes I think we came from different mothers, Segferd,” Amiee said.
“That would explain many things,” Segferd said, grinning. “Like your gigantic feet and monkey-like hands.”
Aimee snorted. “Or your tiny ears and bird-beak nose.” She glanced at her palms.
Shu-Tu rolled her eyes. She rubbed her arms briskly just as she heard a thunderous crack behind them. A dark green creature double the size of full grown horse charged out of the thicket. The creature screeched, the sound going through Shu-Tu like shards of glass, and then snapped its reptilian jaws. The moonlight caught a forked-tongue slithering out of its mouth, lapping the air in search of fresh blood.
“Oh Poseidon, a wyvern!” Amiee shrieked. “It must have escaped from its breeder!”
“Quick, into the grotto and down the stairs!” Segferd picked up a chunk of rough-cut quartz crystal. “It’s too big to follow us!”
Segferd hurled the quartz at the wyvern’s bulbous serpent head. It snapped at the crystal in mid-air and spit it out. Translucent wings beat a path toward them while the wyvern’s hawk-like feet curled up into its leathery body. A long tail with a barbed end—poisonous to the touch—swished furiously as the wyvern got closer to the three classmates.
“Move, now!” Segferd shouted, leading the way.
Stumbling, Amiee tripped over her bejeweled sandaled feet at the mouth of the grotto.
“Amiee!” Shu-Tu screamed. She stopped to help her friend up, and dragged Amiee inside.
Hot, rancid breath from the wyvern’s open mouth rolled across the back of Shu-Tu’s neck and arms. The wyvern screeched and snapped its powerful jaws, its tongue desperately trying to reach her, taste her, but the wyvern couldn’t fit in any farther. Shu-Tu shivered just as the ground tremored. Her eyes widened. An earthquake! Oh please, Poseidon, have mercy! Holding onto Amiee, Shu-Tu reached out to grab a statue of Poseidon’s mortal wife Cleito sculpted from the rock above them. The wyvern retreated as fast as it had attacked, the beating of its wings signaling the creature’s departure. Falling pieces of rock and crystal filled the entranceway, and snuffed out the moonlight. Shu-Tu’s throat tightened. There was no way out. Suddenly, the earth ceased shaking. Shu-Tu blew a sigh of relief. At least the quake only lasted three short breaths.
“Shu-Tu? Amiee? Are you okay?” Segferd asked from the bottom of the rock-cut stairs.
Shu-Tu coughed. “I’m fine.” She released the smooth, stone statue and blinked a few times to adjust her eyes to the darkness.
“I…I think I’ve twisted my ankle,” Amiee said.
Groping in the dark, Shu-Tu bent down, and brushed away Aimee’s soft gown. She placed her hand over Aimee’s foot. “She’s right. Her ankle is starting to swell.”
Aimee growled. “This…this is all your fault, Segferd!”
“My fault?” he asked, his voice echoing. “How so?”
“You attacked the wyvern first!” she snapped. “Who in their right mind does that?”
Shu-Tu used the cool, granite wall as a guide to stand. “It’s all right, Amiee, your brother did his best to protect us.”
“You must learn to stop sticking up for him,” Amiee said, grunting to stand. She squeezed Shu-Tu’s hand. “T-Thank you for…saving me.”
Shu-Tu shrugged. “You would have done the same for me. Can you walk?”
“I…I think so.”
“Here.” Segferd passed a wooden staff topped with a glowing crystal to Shu-Tu and Amiee. “This will help Amiee walk and give us enough light to navigate the pathways to find another way out.”
“Where’d you get these staffs?” Shu-Tu asked, the orange glowing end illuminating her features.
“They were leaning against the wall at the bottom of the stairs,” Segferd replied, holding out his hand to his sister. “It’s like someone left them there for us to find.”
Amiee swatted his hand away. “No thanks, I can manage without your help.”
As they made their way deeper into the grotto, the only light source, other than the glimmering crystals on the staffs Segferd found, came from the effervescent springs swirling below them. The damp, pungent air inside the grotto was a welcome relief from the humidity above. The smooth passage led them down and around, down and around, like the actions of a perfect spiral.
“Where do you suppose this goes?” Amiee asked, limping.
“There’s talk among our servant hybrids of a secret natural labyrinth called the Hall of Illumination,” Segferd said, holding out his staff. “Initiations for the highest order of magi are held at the far end of the hall. I wonder if this is the place they were speaking about?”
“I don’t think such a hall truly exists,” Amiee replied, grunting. “Hybrids have a tendency to fabricate things. Besides, those half-breed creatures were created to serve us, not teach us.”
“But, Amiee, what about what Thoth has taught us?” Shu-Tu asked, wiping damp hair off her forehead. “That everyone, and everything has a purpose here. That we are all an inseparable part of one Whole.”
Amiee snorted in laugher. “If you to choose to believe that you’re one with a hybrid, Shu-Tu, then as Poseidon is my witness, I’ll throw you into the churning springs below us.”
“Wait, do you two hear that?” Segferd stopped. “It sounds like chanting.”
Shu-Tu listened. A steady, monotonic mantra lulled her, invited her to come closer like an invisible wagging finger. She smiled. “Reminds me of a verse Father would chant.”
“Whoever it is must know a way out,” Amiee said.
“Agreed.” Segferd pulled at his silk tunic. “Come on, it’s not too much farther.”