THE DESERTED COVE AROUND the headland from the villa shimmered far below, cool beckoning blue, as Ariadne strode the narrow path again, urging along Iris with the empty waterskins. The sun blazed overhead now, baking the cracked earth.
The donkey balked at a switchback, digging in her hooves.
Ariadne tugged impatiently on the lead rope. Then she took a deep breath and reached to scratch behind Iris’s soft ears. They twitched forward as she murmured, “Poor little ouno. First my pompous ass of an uncle interrupts our work, and now you have to make another trip in the heat of the day. Come now, we’ll cool you off at the spring.”
The donkey tossed her head and followed, as Ariadne tried to contain her own jittery energy. The fresh clarity of the dawn had vanished, defeated not only by renewed geomagnetic turbulence. An oppressive weight hung in the air, a goading sense of pressures converging.
She rubbed a pulsing ache in her forehead. She had to break free. Escape. The geomagnetic upheavals were accelerating, and when the normal background fields wavered, the negative effects of manmade electromagnetic fields were only amplified. Few beyond the “fringe” scientists and the NeoLuddites seemed to appreciate the danger to living cells. Her RPH experiments, with the expertise of Doctor Singh and Doctor Espinoza, had been on the verge of a breakthrough, she was sure of it. There had to be some way to explain and perhaps control her apparent ability to heal, erratic as it was. Somehow the map of the three anomalous disease zones held the key, and she needed to visit those places.
It had to be soon, before her father the Tyrannos returned. Or would he subdue her to his will once more?
No. No. No. Her cry echoed off the bare cliffs.
Ariadne urged Iris to a faster pace, striding up the trail that climbed over the headland. A loose rock broke away under her sandal to clatter over the edge, and she threw out a hand for balance, cliff wall burning her palm.
Ignoring the tingle of pain, she climbed higher into searing white and blue. Her breathing settled into the smooth rhythm of exertion as she savored the open expanses of sky and sea, the flex of leg muscles, the faint dry breeze on her face—all that would soon be lost to her if she allowed her father to imprison her in his fortress.
Still tugging Iris along, she crested the rise and headed down between boulders and sparse thorn. A rustling in the brush brought her up short, as Iris snorted and jerked back against the lead rope.
“Nyaa!” A black domestic goat clambered past a twisted olive tree onto the trail.
“Easy, girl.” She patted Iris’s neck. “Kali spera!” She knelt to rub the goat’s head. He butted against her, nibbling her skirt, and she couldn’t help chuckling. “What’s wrong? Lose the herd?”
A flicker of movement farther off the trail. She stood.
Across the stretch of boulders and scrub, an old man in high boots and a dusty jacket glared at her. He whistled sharply, and the goat leaped away from Ariadne. The old man jabbed his crooked staff ahead of him as he drove three spotted goats to join the herd moving over the opposite slope.
The goatherder always seemed to appear just when she needed this wild solitude, watching her with his gap-toothed scowl. Outraged, like her uncle, that Ariadne—a mere koritsi—would violate a man’s domain? The goatherder stopped to glare back at her, raising a hand in the sign against the evil eye. She could feel the old man’s ill-will troubling the air.
Impossible to dismiss it any longer. Like the birds with their geomagnetic sensitivity, she had gradually come to sense the tremors of agitated energy fields. She felt like a forked divining-rod, resonating despite herself to invisible eddies, to auras of sickness, imbalance—and not just in humans. At times she was nearly overwhelmed by the visceral pain of the polluted earth.
She turned her back on the old man, striding on, finally pausing where the path dipped to cross a dry streambed.
It was only early spring. The stream should have been lively from winter rains, but it was already parched, stones laid bare and baking in the fierce sun. And where were the swallows? Gone, those wings dipping and wheeling airy traceries over the island.
A silent cry stabbed her. Ears ringing, she felt dizzy, dislocated. Out of blind habit, her hand groped for her crystal pendant, and as she touched its smooth facets, the buzzing in her head clarified into a pure, vibrant tone. Almost a tune, something she should remember . . . ?
She blinked, shaking her head. The pain and the ringing in her ears had faded. She moved on, then paused again at the turning toward a dirt clearing and a low stone structure flanked by olive trees.
Years since she’d visited this ancient shrine, and she’d vowed never to return. It was hardly more than a ruin, fronted by a broken mosaic, pieces of fluted columns scattered before the remaining chamber. This had been a sacred place for thousands of years, the sanctuary built upon layers—crude stonework, broken bits of colored tile, the remnants of Ionic columns, and finally a Byzantine arched ceiling whose crumbling frescoes of dour saints still frowned past stains of leaking rain.
Ariadne gave in to her impulse to visit the shrine one last time. The Church didn’t own this place, it had been claimed long ago by much older powers. As a girl, she had believed she might meet one of the Old Ones here. She ducked under the low lintel, stepping into musty dimness.
“Ariadne! Never thought to see you here.” In the flicker of votive candles, the village midwife turned from the cheap icon and the wooden altar, her black dress and head-scarf melting into the shadows, face eerily disembodied.
Candlelight wavered over the offerings on the altar: fresh and withered flowers, a few dried figs and a small bottle of ouzo, a dusty blue crystal—
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