“NOT AGAIN!” ADRENALINE BURNED through his edginess as Peter flung himself back from the lip of the rock shelf, falling against Ariadne as the earth shivered and groaned. Pebbles rained over them.
A sickening sliding motion, lifting them up and then suspending them for an impossible eternity. The rock finally dropped, slid down in a weird flowing. They dropped together, jarring onto the hard stone. Peter pulled Ariadne beneath the shield of his body as rocks came crashing from the cliff overhead, bouncing and clattering over them. One punched his shoulder.
Another grinding jolt. Dust settled around them to a last clatter of rocks. Echoing silence.
Peter pushed himself upright with a groan. Ariadne sat up. The thin branches overhead still trembled, dropping a few leaves.
“Are you hurt?” She peered through the shadows.
He worked his shoulder. “Just winged a little.”
“That eased the pressure on the fault line. We should go on.”
“Just rest, ten minutes.”
A vague, impatient movement.
“Take it easy.” His hand groped for hers. “You’re sure about this cave up here?”
“Can’t you feel it?” She coughed, went on hoarsely, “The old legends were right. The cavern of the nymphs. In ancient times there were wild bacchanals on this mountain. Dionysus and his Corybantes. . . .”
He peered, trying to make out her expression. “I thought Delphi was Apollo’s place—you know, light and logic.”
She answered in a halting whisper, like she was only half there, “But Apollo took over Mount Parnassus from older powers. . . . He slew the ancient Pytho, the sacred dragon, earth serpent. It’s said there was a bronze column here, until the Turks stole it hundreds of years ago, of three intertwined serpents. The two serpents rising, many cultures have depicted that, but three . . . ?” She sighed, shaking her head. “Perhaps the meaning is lost.”
She glanced at Peter and cleared her throat. “Even before the Delphi temple site was declared the omphalos—the navel, the center of the world—this mountain was sacred to the earth goddess. The ancient word delphis meant womb, or cave. There are stories, too, of a lost secret passage from the inner caverns up here on the mountainside, leading to the temple site below.”
“And this omphalos? You think it’s inside a cave?”
Her hand tensed beneath his, like she was gripping the rock to hold herself down. “There is power here, Peter. A connection going deep into the earth.” A shaky breath. “But now the unbalanced forces are whirling around it, blocked, building until the violence must break loose.” She shuddered.
His hand squeezed hers. “You sure you’re ready for this . . . whatever it is you do? Can I help?”
She shook her head. “I must finish what I started. The final locus of the triad.”
“And then?” He was suddenly bone-tired. “You said this was some kind of trial just for this region. What if it works, and you get the energy fields balanced here? What about the rest of the world? You going to kill yourself trying to take that on, too? And healing the RPH victims just for icing on the cake?”
Her hand pulled away from his, groping for her etched crystal pendant. “I don’t have a choice. I’m only an empty vessel for the power.” Her voice seemed far away.
Peter shuddered. “What if we’re both going crazy?”
She squared her shoulders. “We need to move on now.”
He sighed. “First let me take a look. We’ll be exposed on this slope.” He scooted to the edge of the rocky lip, peering down, raising the binoculars and setting them for nightscope. “Looks like the tremor broke off part of that ridge down below. Wait, what’s—?” He caught a quick breath.
Coming into focus now, just visible beyond the ridge, were two fluted stone columns—no, three—set in a broken-off curve and joined by a thread of crumbling cornice. Silvered by moonlight, the slender shafts looked impossibly delicate and unreal, cupped in the desolation of cliffs and broken rock.
Peter passed her the binoculars.
“Ahh . . .” She slowly lowered them. “The Tholos of Athena. I visited it long ago . . . with my mother. A magic place. In the spring it’s carpeted with grape hyacinth, tiny lizards scurrying over the rocks. We sat in the shade of the sweet bay trees and listened to the bees. I swore I could see the ancient ones dancing among the ruins.” She touched his hand. “Someday, Petro, I would like to walk among those sacred stones in the sunlight with you.”
He touched her shoulder. “It’s a deal.” He took the binoculars back and scanned again. “Thought I saw something. . . .” He swept the lenses to the left.
Tiny figures etched in monotone night-vision moved directly below them on the slope, darting in quick crouches along the jagged ridge. One of them paused before the cut newly opened by the tremor. The figure turned to scan upward as Peter held his breath, the pale blur of face somehow broadcasting fierceness. An arm waved, beckoning the others along.
The focus sharpened: rough belted tunics and leather leggings, glinting spears along with slung rifles, darting synchronized movements as each passed the open spot to melt into the shadows of broken rock. They were women. Holding back their braided or short-cropped or loose long hair, each one wore a knotted dark headband, some kind of white design on it.
“Damn,” he whispered. He handed Ariadne the binoculars. “Take a look.”
She frowned and swept the lenses. She stiffened and lowered the binoculars. “The eye in the spiral,” she whispered. “Corybantes.”
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