Chapter 11: Agora Temple
The new friends returned to the safety of the temple when Chiron finally gained strength. Ara attempted to help Chiron up as did Circinus before the high priestess lead the cavalry to the summit. No citizen touched them nor peer at them. Chiron’s strength was not what Acacia remembered, but it was sufficient for the steep climb. However, worry did not flood from Circinus and Acacia over Chiron’s health.
When they marched to and arrived at the same glittering monastery, it was quiet except for their ghostly echoes.
Ara smiled spaciously at Acacia, wisdom in her eyes. “I have heard of your plight. I know much from the forest, but also, the other unicorns. I am not who you think I am, and you acknowledge that. I’m dreadfully sorry; I’ve been so captivated in my monastery I’ve forgotten how the town has been in spiritual ruins. I can tell you who I know, though you do not possess knowledge of me. Daphne, the Old World has heard of her, and although I have never met you, you remind me of her, as if you remained a part of Daphne—always tenacious yet on the surface, so subdued. I can tell of the unicorn war, which lead the race of some unicorns to forever migrate.”
“It is better that way,” Circinus added solemnly. “We want to remain free.”
Ara continued, “I can tell you who is really in control of the fruit. I could explain the entire workings of the Acropolises—following the unicorn war, the Aegean, known by many names, plummeted into anarchy.” Acacia was eager to continue her bounty but eager enough to listen.
Ara went into explanation of how the height of Acropolian learning has been kept sacred with the high priests. Especially after the war alongside General Kazimir Senior and Old Prince Razim, the land further went into disrepair. High Priests had keenly kept the secrets. The battle left the unicorns to migrate without ownership to never return to corrupt civilization, but this did not work either since the unicorns continuously were captured. It started after the days of the Creation Rulers, who created Acropolis but mysteriously left the world behind for beast and person to fend for themselves.
“However stringent that war was, I thank you, Acacia, and I thank your elders for putting Jason and Ondrea into exile. I’ve never said I knew you, but of course, I have heard o’ you.”
“Thanks is appreciated but not needed yet. I barely heard say of the war and there may be another war unless I can capture the fruit.”
Ara said that the fruit could overwhelm the powers of whoever uses it and the fruit was entrusted with Kazimir and Acacia from Daphne, but that is all she could gather of the fruit, the Acropolian, queenly seal. Acacia updated her on the quest to find the fruit and that the fruit may lie with Jan, no longer at the Acropolian temple. Acacia became suddenly more ashamed and guiltier than ever (in the beautiful mosaic temple that glittered gold and blue) to have entrusted the fruit with Conrad, someone she only had just met (by Domain standards).
Acacia interjected Ara with the courtly elegance taught in Acropolis (assumedly appreciated across most cultures), “If you would be so gracious to explain.”
“In the land of the Aegean by many names, the fruit goes by a special name, but I can’t speak it in the open.” Her tone pitched, and her skin was pricked.
“The fruit,” Ara continued, “we named it the fruit of transfiguration, the Nimbus fruit, your seal. You know the true fruit when you see it because it cannot be eaten. If it’s bitten into, the skin grows back, and once you’ve swallowed it, you’ve been poisoned. A wind spirit, of whom I’ve communicated is lost and is trying to find you.” Acacia wondered who could be searching for him. Just then her skin pricked at the mention.
“I’ve imagined Jan the storyteller who still touches the fruit has already been poisoned in the heart. This type of poison spreads either first by greed or by word of mouth. Many other fruits belong to it and remain inert, but this possesses the seeds to all other seeds. It has been with us since the beginnings of this world, maybe even before time. It gave birth to our land, our creatures, and even our people.”
“This is unicorn lore.” Chiron paused with a breath. “But now I apprehend the truth as Conrad may have known.” His voice grew deeper while his spine reeled. He peered over his haunches after his mention of Conrad’s lost spirit.
“Ara,” Acacia said, “Hopefully there is a way to get the fruit back from Jason. It belongs buried in the ground. Not only does my hope lie in the land but changing Jason back to himself. He knew about this planet before I, even before Ondrea did. I am still resentful about it, but I’m not sure; I might miss him.”
“Ah, it precisely belongs to the earth, this fruit was born of the stars, and even there, I’d die to ever throw it back. However, to bring it back to the earth, we must go after Ondrea. He is the real possessor. Agora saw him pass through and he escaped. Find Ondrea now.”
“Ondrea?” Acacia snared. “He didn’t even know about the passageway to Domain or Acropolis...or did he? Well, he owned the property. I have a vague feeling that Kazimir even knew before I did, but I’m sure Ondrea was willing to die for this world before he betrayed me.”
Ara ignored the confusing prattle of her world. “Or he did not know of the fruit. Our world has lost even the most fundamental knowledge, though it’s not knowledge that escapes you.”
“I see, it nags and nags until you find it.” Acacia realized. “But I’m nagged about this moldy, old fruit. How is it so old?”
Ara honed a smile. “Acacia, it’s the fruit of the will that gave birth to our land—all the trees, all the forests, at least. Undoubtedly Ondrea knew about this will before even you it seems. Daphne might have changed your inheritance to include you, Ondrea, and Kazimir. We go way back.”
Acacia asked the long-awaited question, “But why Kazimir?”
“He was very generous toward your family. I performed an underground initiation and baptized him along with his elders, and according to your will, as I confided the lost knowledge with him long before his priestly apprenticeship. My guess is he knows, and Daphne knows, Ondrea has the fruit.”
“But why then, did Grandma want me to find Jan?” Acacia had an episode of thoughts racing before she could seek the answer. Kazimir made me out like the hypocrite.
“Jason is who Ondrea confides in from what Daphne conveyed to me in the temple. From what you tell, Ondrea doesn’t understand the real implications of the fruit. Poor boy, he is lost like the rest of the Aegean. Go find Jason and you will find Ondrea.”
“Oh! I really do hope I find Jason. Thanks, but I miss Ondrea more than ever.” It was clear to everyone. Kazimir was put on the will after Jason but the Droughts were the first to usurp Domain. However, Acacia was the first from the original will to perceive the seal’s meaning in foresight.
“I’m here for you. Please remember me. Remember Agora.”
Chiron turned and spoke. “Whenever our journey leads through thorny thickets, I will eat those weeds and I will know where to find you.”
Circinus asked Acacia, “How did storyteller Jason acquire the will? Your Daphne seemed a gracious and cautious ruler and mighty protector before the unicorn war.”
“My grandma wasn’t foolish—more than an opinion—but the Droughts were different in those days. Jason was different. He wasn’t just trustworthy; his family founded Domain. I’m sure there is another reason to support my grandma’s decision, but that plan, I am not seeing played out. When you are taught to conceal Acropolis and protect it, his other charities become useless anyway.”
“Very odd how long you and Jan have been united—almost as odd as going after a weed.” Circinus chewed. “Who knew from the top of Mt. Helena that our migration path would be scattered with fruit?”
Chiron exclaimed, “Don’t be so tempted to find and chew the fruit!”
Acacia silenced Chiron. “They can hear us!”
“The forest already knows, my mare, and it’s about time all of the empire knows.”
“I don’t know if it will ever be time, according to Daphne, because I still do not have the hour!”
His retort was simple. “You can judge by the sky. Circinus is our guide.”
“I have faith in Circinus, but the constellations here are different. My compass was my only guide before you met me at that fountain pouring from the earth.”
Chiron snorted and then gained full speed. The air became cooler and Acacia recalled a map in the underground treasury. She almost cursed herself if it had not only been a map of Domain and instead, one of Acropolis.
I do not need maps. I need stars and if only Ondrea didn’t possess one.
The unicorns came to a halting stop.
“Is something a-matter, Chiron?”
“Acacia, you must learn what grows here. These are whistle lilies.” Chiron averted his position toward a patch of white, tube-shaped flowers. The petals were so long it looked like they were grabbing the air and moving, sniffing, as if the company smelled more peculiar than they did. They had two extra, petal-like tubes where one connected to the stem while the front tube curled back toward the sepal. The flowers reminded Acacia of a musical instrument or the phonograph she uncovered in the passageway.
Chiron continued, “Whistle lilies are the ears of the forest while the animals are the storytellers.” Dusk made Chiron’s words all the more sensitizing.
Magic trickled down Acacia’s spine. The tendrils of the forest spoke amidst resting of eternal dusk. The whistle lilies really did whistle as the wind flowed through them.
Acacia whispered in the lilies’ ears, “I am sorry I ever tried to impress Jason. Send my condolences to Kazimir for baptizing Conrad, dead or alive.” Kazimir made this a vital task in the first day of his apprenticeship. “I am thankful for Daphne’s freedom, and grateful of Conrad’s sacrifice, but if Daphne’s ways aren’t of the least bit selfless, I need all the guidance I can handle. Thanks be to the forest!” She toasted.
The timber creaked in response and the flowers whistled through an unknown breeze that hummed and sang.
Chiron finished eating a clump of grass when he shot Acacia a glance with his deep, glassy eyes.
“Much I have gathered from the forest throughout the centuries and our tribe. I can tell you that there existed not one fruit that formed our world, but two. One from each Creation Ruler. I am deeply regretful that Conrad had found and eaten the one.”
“I am in remorse. Kazimir was right. I shouldn’t have let this happen, but who knows what else could have broken Daphne’s curse when the only thing that broke mine was the end of the war?”
“Always, there are other paths. Just find this one with faith. Circinus or I neither possess myths, legends, or much knowledge of Conrad, or Kazimir and all other priests in their secret ceremonies. Unicorns know a good deal, but this land is too wild even for us. The creatures can be more dissected in their own affairs than the Kirin of the East is separated from Acropolis or Agora-atlantisia.”
Or Domain from Acropolis, Acacia filled in privately.
“It’s a magnificent city, Agora-atlantisia,” Circinus commented. “At least it was equal to the splendor of Acropolis once-upon-a-time. If I can follow the scent of Jason’s wine we can capture that fruit, bring it back to the high priests, and hopefully, restore the towns.”
Acacia saved the story of Agora for another moment. “Circinus, you are telling me that the fruit belongs with the high priests?” Acacia thought for a moment that Conrad was exiled with one of the high priests, explaining his recent disappearance taken to the grave.
“If that’s what our tales imply.” Circinus snorted.
“Then, perhaps, the fruit was originally taken from Kazimir’s possession and it’s not sealed with my blood or Conrad’s.”
“Then why would Kazimir have the authority from Daphne to be in custody of it?”
Chiron mused, “Maybe there are many things Daphne has not spoken...for a purpose?”
“She has spoken of another realm before she disappeared. I have always thought she was dead. Now I know it was a curse for certain, but I can’t seem to think why she would fail to mention the fruit to me.”
Chiron supposed, “She wants to protect you.”
She hesitated then puffed out. “I don’t seem too protected now. Maybe Jan and Ondrea looted the passageway.”
“And Kazimir tried to stop them?” Circinus guessed.
“Good thought, yet I can’t come by the reasoning for leaving the passageway open in the first place. Kazimir would not have tried to stop them without telling me.”
The unicorns paused. “A ruler never attains perfection. We are all wild beasts.” Chiron concluded.
The sun burned with such luminescence that the cavalry could not bear to look out to the sea. Every rock was bathed in clarity so much so that Acacia could not hide her thoughts. Chiron and Circinus reposed in a hilly meadow to bite off an apple tree. When Acacia enjoyed the crispy fruit, memories from before the rainy day in Acropolis flashed in ungrasping waves.
Kazimir neared the end of the passageway. A bright light only seen by death engulfs him. He spent what seemed like years in this land without rain. The culture overtakes him, but he remained compelled to the other side of portal. He woke up from the vivid dream afraid to show anyone.
“Chiron,” Acacia questioned, “in your many years on this planet, do you ever feel led to leave?”
“Of course, it’s radical to say I’m not curious...but my purpose is here.” Chiron remarked.
“Our migration is what keeps us wandering. It keeps us curious.” Circinus elaborated. “What brings your concern?”
“I don’t know if it’s the future or just a memory, but I suddenly understand why Kazimir is here. I don’t fully grasp it,” she took one last bite of the apple, “because in this memory I couldn’t sense my entire presence.”
A gust of wind came from the sea and fled over the hills and into the forest. The unicorns tread silently except for the sounds of their subsiding crunches.
“Then the only choice is to move forward.” Circinus proposed. “I do not see any warning.”
The forest became rockier but filled nonetheless with a multitude of creatures. They kept quiet. Cardinal spiders and dreamcatchers did not all fall prey to sleep in daylight. Not only did the forest become rockier but it became sunnier, and maybe hotter. No spring could subdue the sweat of the cavalry. Acacia sweated like a lava fountain.
Circinus came to an exhausted halt. His voice sounded like biting an iron clamp. “Those are dreamcatchers. Only the cardinal spiders can make them.”
“Are they poisonous, dangerous?” Acacia inquired. Her instincts could not gather. The dreamcatchers were twice the size of a full-grown sunflower only they glowed whenever caught in the shade. In the center of their heads was a glowing web of woven texture. Their colors ranged from every shade of wisteria to auric azure to indigo. She wondered what glowed within, but she was still frightened. Some flowers were so heavy they drooped onto the pine needles.
“Do they eat dreams?” Acacia tried to imagine their thoughts, hopeful to catch the conscience of the eternal amaranths.
“Only bad chimeras they feast on to return them to the soil. The cardinal spiders have no say in their catch, but the dreamcatchers do aid them.”
The spiders were frighteningly dark and thin like black widows only without the emblem of the hourglass of death on their backs; they wore a northward arrow that glowed whenever the spiders became disarrayed, bumping into each other. Each spider had a thin layer of peach fuzz.
Circinus could read her confusion. “The arrow reassures—they’ll never get lost.”