23: Dusk

Twilight drifted upon the Grecian horizon with the soft glows of navy and violet. Constellations, heroes of the past, twinkled with smiles down towards the towering Mount Parnassus. A few lazy fireflies, remnants of summer, flitted through the air, their slow sparks barely mimicking the anxiety that Cassandra felt as she stood before the Castalian Spring.

Eight, tall, stately figures stood behind her in solemn quiet. The hauntingly beautiful women formed a straight line of white robes; each one grasped a small bronze oil lamp and a green palm leaf, symbol of their chief, Apollo. He stood, rosy and serenely radiant, beside his sister in the forefront. Other gods and divinities clustered behind them and to the sides of the wooded spring, audience to the exceptional ceremony.

Castalia, hems dipped in the waters of her own sparkling spring, stepped forward, palm outstretched, inviting Cassandra to join her in the water. Hesitantly, the girl obeyed, stepping carefully over the low stones walling the fountain. She turned back to Apollo for a second, unsure, but he smiled comfortingly, and she knew she must continue. The eight Muses, each yearning for the return of their leader, moved to surround the spring in a divine halo.

Apollo was the only one to speak. "Now, Castalia," he prompted.

The young nymph, consecrated to the Muses, set her hand to the smooth surface of the water, barely causing the smallest wave. Mystical glow shone from the depths of the water itself, and a glittering shimmer rippled towards Cassandra, surrounding the demigoddess with its aquatic light.

Pain seared through her body, as if unseen forces ripped her soul from her physical self and scorched her very skin. Her mortal breath was smothered and no matter how she gasped, she could not fill her parched lungs. Panic ran through her as she had the fleeting thought that perhaps in liberating Calliope, her own earthly shell would be extinguished.

As suddenly as she'd had the thought, the sting seemed to diminish gradually; Cassandra felt a stirring in her heart and deep within the core of her body. It felt as if a part of her was coming alive, growing into an intense, warm love inside of her. She felt the most tender that she ever had; a giddy smile exploded onto her face, eyes half-lidded in exhilaration.

She exhaled in a cough as suddenly she was back to her natural state, heart gaping with loss. She felt, briefly, as though she was empty inside, as though a part of her were inexplicably missing. She realized, then, that she was no longer alone; she felt the hand already clasping hers.

Beside her stood the beautiful leader of the Muses, guider of epic poetry, Calliope. All could see the resemblance between the two women, though one was young and one was as ancient as the heavens. They shared those enigmatic eyes Aphrodite had admired so long ago—blue and green and gold—and Calliope's quietness and appropriately gentle modesty, in a rare form without timidity, also seemed to have shaped Cassandra as well. Her regal stature and motherly smile instantly assuaged Cassie's feelings of hurt and emptiness. She could tell that the Muse still felt a connection to her emotions and self; the woman bent to kiss her forehead.

"Be not afraid to love wholly, child, and trust with all your heart, as you always have, the gods who love you," Calliope whispered, smiling sadly.

She understood how close Cassandra had come to feeling utterly forsaken by her gods— her innocence stolen and very identity doubted. Cassandra noticed a deep sorrow in the Muse as well, an ache that she recognized, having once felt it herself.

"He is here," Cassandra divulged.

Apollo approached the pair, his godly aura blazing with an excitement he was struggling to contain. His eyes shone with a fire so familiar to Cassandra, but she understood now that it was a fire never for her, just as the sensations of longing she'd felt also did not belong to her own soul.

The Muse stepped towards the sun god shyly, smiling in homecoming. He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her flush against him, holding her as close as he could, and kissed her with a smoldering passion long in coming.

Artemis drew closer to Cassandra, holding Hecate's hand. Though the latter often reveled in the dark and malevolent, for Artemis she strove to appear somewhat decent. The pair of them angled their views toward the moon, the third and celestial component to their lunar trinity. When their gazes resettled on Cassandra, they were clutching the hands of a very bewildered Marcus between them.

One of the Muses, Polyhymnia, approached the boy and laid a kind but stern hand on his shoulder. "Virtuous Marcus of Quintus Claudius, you have shown this demigoddess more aid than you know. Be blessed with inspiration," she pronounced, infusing him with powers of rhetoric and oration.

Cassandra moved to stand near him. "You helped me so much, Marce… coming on such a long trip, and—and protecting me in the hotel before I was taken…And you were so understanding."

Caught off guard, Marcus simply responded, "Of course."

He felt some sort of emotion bubble inside him, a precariously floating, butterfly sensation, and he knew that it was the beginning of more than just deep physical attraction. Cassandra felt it too, and considered that she might be able to see strong emotions between them in the future. After all of the struggles they had been through, and the predicaments they had found themselves in, they could never return to being strangers or simply friends.

"So where do we stand?" Marcus asked, reluctant yet hopeful.

For a long moment Cassandra thought, and realized that she could not see herself in a life without Marcus. She felt flighty and excited around him, whenever he was near, and she loved his conversation and company. Slowly, she closed the distance between them and tilted her face towards his.

"I think love can come in time."


Below the trivial tribulations of the land and heaven, deep within the Underworld, the gigantic tapestry of life hung, details not yet complete. Aged with all the years past, present, and yet to be, the three wrinkled Fates laughed.


A/N: Thank you to all who stuck with this story since October 2005 and my habit to take a few-month-long hiatus! I hope you enjoyed it; I tried to do something a little bit different than the average retelling of some myth or other and infuse my own creativity too. If you have any unanswered questions you feel need to be addressed, or you just want to know to satisfy your own curiosity, please let me know and I'll add an epilogue just for you, and I'll work your suggestions into my own master copy. I hope you all know how much I appreciated the motivation you gave me following each and every chapter! They keep me going sometimes.

A/N2: I'm attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time—might not succeed since it's 50,000 words in one month and this story is maybe 35,000 in two years, but I may post it in December when it's complete. It will be a ChickLit kind of story (weird, right? I've never tried to write anything like that before) and hopefully amusing.

A/N3: I am taking suggestions and ideas for my next big project as well!

Ciao, belli.