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Chapter 8: To Temple

The passage was damp, cool yet suffocating. The light in her head faded. A great wind overtook Acacia’s lungs as she struggled to stand; the journey and claustrophobia robbed her breath. The crushing weight of the wind sacked her lungs and papers and maps flew everywhere; any one of them could have been the deed!

However, that wasn’t her biggest concern. I left behind my medication! Finally, this is death! Knowing how this feels takes the weight off my big curiosity but it sucks the mystery out of my lungs. All the more painful. It’s unfair that my grandma, and now Conrad, knows of the Great Mystery. Ha-ha, I can’t take it anymore, Life—you have given me too much, were her next to last thoughts.

The gust rose out of her lungs as quickly as it entered. The passageway gave back her life.

But my thoughts kept working. I was immobile, but I still had feeling. I lost every sense of direction, time, and place but I had myself as reference. I only saw constant and immersive white light. This had to be some rare allergic reaction listed on the bottle that my doctor warned me about and this must be the hospital! However, I had an eerie intuition that I was on the edge of a vast orchard on an event horizon of the wilderness where no one could hear my cries for an inhaler if I had any breath at all. The vision that happened, perhaps after taking my remaining medication at once beforehand, put me off balance. Everything became two then blurred and then it was like a gunshot went off through my brain and everything became black. Then it turned white again. I couldn’t feel my limbs, but it wasn’t paralysis—my whole being was floating on air! Have I really reached this temporary Nirvana?

Everything suddenly became clear. Blots and textures, light and glistening of waters became vivid and glimmered to life. If this is what going through the Wardrobe, the Tesseract, or through the Rabbit Hole was supposed to feel like, I guess I imagined it less painful, but I suppose the Pevensies weren’t on meds and that Alice was on too many. Perhaps I was thankful for the pain telling me I wasn’t dreaming.

The first place she saw after the blinding light of the passageway were stairs leading to a monastery. Acacia thought about Conrad even as she walked up the hill, up the new and eerily silent world, up the stone path and past the laurel trees. Surprisingly, there were people and the first of them she saw was Kazimir. It looked like one silent toga party!

Has this been where everyone thought I was sneaking off to?

Despite, the astounding scene—that looked rather unfamiliar after living your whole life in Domain yet too familiar—Acacia was mainly interested in Kazimir and finding Conrad.

She appeared in the place that truly trusted her secrets but was she still interested in her friends now that she arrived? She thought about making new friends in the Old World of her ancestors. The world looked like an enormous city mixed with woods and never-ending white roofs. It was quieter than a Domain Sunday except for song thrush and locusts. She gazed up a monastery that sat atop her landed path of twisting alabaster steps.

Maybe that’s where everyone left me...maybe it’s open.

When she reached the door, voices issued from within and she instantly tugged on the heavy oaken port. Hearing alien muffled voices was worse than hearing a warm and non-obtrusive party outside of the dorms of which you could never take part. However, when she was accepted into the scene the monks and nobles paid no heed to her and milled in joviality. The monastery was shaped into a rotunda and vines and Virginia Creepers crawled up to the ceiling dome. The monks or nobles ducked back and forth between two opposite halls leading to more rotundas and coiling staircases.

The entrance to Acropolis was no longer any secret but the world of the passage held many. Kazimir suddenly appeared inside the temple carrying herbs. High priests and priestesses silently milled about while notes from reed flutes floated to the ceiling intermingling with songbirds. Kazimir wore the lesser garbs of a priest. Acacia turned around, at first not registering him. He was calm but expectant.

With sudden authority, he scolded, “Acacia, it has come to my attention, you didn’t keep an eye on the deed—the seal—as I implied. I’d hate to say it’s your fault but since I’m helping you there is no reason to lag in responsibilities. What have you done to him? What have you done to the ancestral seal?”

“It has come to your attention? What suddenly gives you my grandma’s authority?” The reed players suddenly become distracted and flew off tempo, disturbing the birds that have flown in and swirled about the ceiling. She wished there was time to be awed. Everything in her life connected at that moment. Instead, the quarrel gave her newfound authority.

“How do you assume I am unaware of Conrad running away before many? How do you even know about the whereabouts of the fruit—the deed? We have lost the fruit, but I assure you—the secret is safe with me. Would it make me more responsible to turn my back and kill him? Your responsibilities rebound on me, Kazimir. And you know me, I wouldn’t kill him.”

Has Jan or Anton Drought influenced my friend? I am amazed that Kazimir wasn’t amazed at the amaranthine temple. We didn’t have seas in Domain either; rivers, yes, but from Daphne’s tales, those who have reached sea have never been found again and from evidence of the boats washed ashore, those who have returned turned up empty or mute. But finally, Kazimir decides to drop the case I so graciously and so forcefully accepted his help with.

“Aye, ah! My head hurts. It’s no time for silly matters when it is high tide for another coming war. I know you didn’t kill him, Acacia...” Kazimir reached into his robes for a conspicuous telescope, “and I know because of the deed, and since I live here I am part of the deed, the living flesh of the deed, and no matter where you hide the deed I continue to be a part of it and what’s dealt with it affects me. We are both cursed. And although I never knew your grandmother as well as yourself, I am led to her calling. I study the stars day and night (after calculus of course) and I am no less ignorant than you.” Kazimir seemed to be in Acropolis longer than Acacia thought by how much he appeared to know. He became more frightening and uptight. “We grew up together and now we share everything together, yet, I was given the talent to see into urgent matters overseas as High Priest, under Daphne and the elders’ consent. Too many questions you ask like the jurors and so fewer answers you will have.”

Kazimir waited for a response. Acacia now wasn’t sure what she wanted as she looked at the furrowed expression of his brow tinted with longing. Until this moment, nothing in her life had been foretold, but now Kazimir presented her future. He changed as much in a few days as he did in years.

Too many secrets you did keep of yourself...even from yourself.

“You kept so much from me! I thought we were friends. You’re lucky I’m lucky to be here or I’ll turn my back on you!” she whipped her head back and feigned haughty, holding her nose up high and crossing her arms. But something interrupted her.

Outside there lingered a beautiful yet suspicious looking town’s lady. Her hair was sun-colored, her skin dark, yet rosy, blaring eyes like the sea. The lady’s ancient yet modern outfit and twisted, algae hair and expression made her look lost.

Did she step out of the wake?

Acacia, without delay, ran outside while Kazimir cautiously treaded her path.

“You were once a questionable juror. And to clarify, Kazimir, I can lock you up in a cage of thorns like I did in Grandma’s story.” Acacia grabbed his neck in a cobra-like headlock, half-heartedly in a tease.

The corner of his lips teased. “I never said you had any less say or power than I do but remember to never let Jan’s wine reach anyone’s lips. His long stupors could steep anyone into another war, surely you remember the rumors,” he gasped and choked. “The guardian spirit Conrad retains obscurity, but he doesn’t know how to use wards. Jason could have got to him! That’s what I was trying to say!” His voice reminded her of Conrad’s mysterious compassion. She had too many questions to ask. “As new priest appointed by your family, I can find him. He can’t be a spirit! He can’t be dead!”

Once Acacia rounded the temple she silenced. “Now I’m wondering if you’re a killer but shh...I forgive be quiet!” The lady did not approach but she had a blank yet knowing expression. Her fixative eyes were wise with a glint of youth apparent in her carefree fashion. She may have been a foreigner, but no one ever seen from Domain.

“Yes, I am Kazimir, the high priest of the village and protector of the temple, former citizen of Acropolis, and where do you come from?” As if the aimless traveler noticed him.

The lady with sun-colored hair looked stubborn with silence. “It wasn’t the wine and enchanted stories that brought your problems.” The thin contralto wore a robe of white with little cleanliness. Algae tangled in her hair and mixed with the perfume of salt in her colorful chiton.

“Excuse me?” Kazimir didn’t mean to sound harsh but he didn’t expect the response.

Acacia followed the interruption. “You look equally familiar to me. Please, where do you come from?” She spoke with polite caution and not haughty, formal interrogation.

“This is where I come from. I believe you need my help and I believe you know me.” The lady looked like a character out of her childhood.

“Are you Daphne?” Kazimir inquired.

Acacia wanted a few more moments to believe it was a specter or spirit, but then a fiery and fierce anger quelled in Acacia’s chest. She subdued the tension before it reached her legs. Before the anger could reach her toes, sadness and confusion calmed her and brought her back.

“I am Daphne, your grandmother, and once I was a queen or queen-in-waiting, or so I might have told.”

Acacia’s fury mixed with confusion, but she was frozen in place.

Beside the stoic expression on Daphne’s face, Acacia could read a hesitant smile. Daphne was warm and welcoming. Her stoic expression melted with her new transformation into flesh, alive and a bit younger looking, but her grace was not human, and she expressed sorrow despite the growing, warm tease of her familiar smile. Spirit or lack-of, her grace daunted with emotions, demanded attention. Acacia felt the salty haze of a nearby ocean sting her eyes rather than tears.

Kazimir withdrew. I recalled the stories of her grandmother. Daphne followed an interesting life. She shared her culture and the telling of her voyages. Daphne also shared her war stories, but most importantly, she shared the triumph of refusing to marry a full-of-it to-be-king and high priest whom she once held in her heart. The priest tried to turn her into a laurel tree, but she accepted the curse of exile. Daphne’s bark was sturdy and somehow, she escaped...maybe that’s how she came to Domain? But how will I know until I gain evidence? Maybe her curse was just a threat.

Acacia would not let go of the same flood of memories. Myth mingled reality. Somehow Daphne managed to communicate with nature thus speaking to the people in silent rule; she reminisced and swallowed her tears. How long did she lie in this curse? Believing all her bonfire stories suddenly became helpful.

“Grandmother, Conrad ate the original fruit, the seal of Acropolis. I don’t know exactly what sets it apart from the rest of the orchard, but he’s dead.” Tears threatened her eyes with burning rage. “And I thought you were too!” She snared. Despite her fear at the lost fruit, she still didn’t know whether it had to do with the missing deed, but it wasn’t time for legal questions and to ask money for college.

Kazimir looked bewildered, “Conrad has touched his lips with the fruit of our wine, our seal, Daphne, poisoned our alliance!” Daphne then nodded, mourning the loss of what gave birth to life of the Acropolian world, and at the same time, mourning Conrad.

“I said wine and storytelling weren’t what brought your troubles, Kazimir Kid.” She chuckled. “Conrad grabbed desperately for temptation.”

Acacia intervened. “I thought you were dead, we all did,” then speedily noted, “but one observation: I don’t recognize you,” suddenly distracted by Daphne’s mirage. “How did you come to be alive? Grandma! How did you go into hiding? Why am I here?”

Daphne knew, however, Acacia to be an excellent listener despite her knack for questions. “In my old Domain form, I could not go home to even a slightly younger state, or go home at all, but since my curse was broken somehow the clock has been rewound. Ha-ha, better than the best wrinkle cream Acropolian air is! I have more time to rewind but it’s still too late! Ha-ha, my rule is, well, dead. Both thank you and sorry, Conrad.” She was serious. Daphne never wanted to rule alone despite refusing the prince. Perhaps, the will-seekers broke her rule. Her curse.

“Conrad broke my curse of exile to Domain. Now younger, I can go back. I won’t be dead in any world but prepare yourself when the day finally comes. Your parents in a world more or less corrupt than this one cannot see through their circumstance. In fact, though Conrad may be dead back home, here he is alive in his wind spirit blessing the trees. Word did not come to you, though it came to me only through the wind. In truth, he did eat the fruit. He sacrificed himself and broke my curse to rule.” The shells and beads in Daphne’s hair jangled and chimed with her lilts. She held Acacia’s hand but expressed ravings of lunacy.

Acacia interrupted, “And gave the curse to himself as a spirit? Is this what you’ve become too? Or is that what we’ve all become?”

Anton Drought was right when he said, ’what frivolities!’” If Daphne didn’t look so much younger, like a different person, Acacia would probably have taken back her bitterness. “I still don’t understand, so Conrad took your place since taking a bite of the seal? I will never see him again!” She collapsed from the weight of her words.

Instead, Daphne further justified her death. Her death was a cover-up, yes, to bring her out of an unjust exile, but was it a curse in reverse? If Conrad died and went with Daphne’s blessing before anyone knew he would die, what truly became of Daphne while Daphne was away and why did she leave? Will Daphne ever be able to return to Domain? Had she been encased as a tree, breathing in the ocean years ago? Had her cursed casement been broken by the Droughts when they took a bite of her seal stolen before I had been born? Maybe that’s why the Droughts became mayors and signed the will—it was a reward for breaking Daphne’s original curse. That’s how she escaped! Was this happening again or for the first time?

“Then if you were cursed, what brought you back? Was it Conrad’s sacrifice, really? I think it’s easier to assume you went into hiding, choosing your exile. Or is it like those stories you told at the bonfire? I don’t want anything made-up.”

Daphne continued in a quiet and trembling voice. Although Acropolis took a few years off her age it didn’t do the same with her voice, “It has returned, another curse, but I can’t explain everything since there is ever more to it,” she shrugged, “and no matter the Droughts. Conrad told me in the passing of his spirit that he wanted to sacrifice himself because Domain has used him—used you. I can’t explain who betrayed me, but it’s not anything Domain can do, for they forget the past like a dying wave but what sets that fruit apart is this: when Conrad ate the fruit, he broke part of the spell. I don’t know what more of it is to come. Although I’m an old adult, Acacia, I don’t know everything, and I shouldn’t have wronged the Droughts. But thanks to Conrad, I no longer return to any exile. Like him I am free; except, I know where I am and hopefully, I’m without death. I must stay here for now. The truth is, I was once encased in a laurel and thank my once wedded prince for such spell, but most of all, thank my father. Maybe it was my only chance to escape, but the curse has longer consequences to come. I know I’m your grandmother, but my choices weren’t always wisest. Still, there is trauma, greed, and sleeping revolution beyond Domain and at your old home.”

It was out-of-place for me to recognize Acropolis as home even though I’ve never really felt at place in Domain. Kazimir, once again, brought me back to reality and maybe I was unsure about going back. After discovering Daphne’s curse had passed down the family tree, I realized someone had saved Daphne, to begin with, and maybe it was a Drought, but I didn’t ask any more questions for it may have led to a lie.

“Daphne and Acacia, I am more than sorry,” spoke Kazimir. “I did find suspicion in everything back in Domain but I’m sorry if I was ever suspicious of either of you.”

“Still I’m suspicious withal, but more so with the situation back home. And I am sorry I ever tried to impress or feel sorry for Jason by accepting his charity, Daphne. It wasn’t you that wronged him. He wants too much now. I thought I really needed his charity case. Forget the Droughts.” Acacia shrugged in acceptance.

Daphne dreamily muttered to herself, “Let them live by their own lives, by their own will,” but straightened up. “It could very well be what you needed, but you almost fell to the curse of Conrad. Dare I say if you had eaten the fruit, Conrad might be here with me? I would rather live in my curse and be exiled from Acropolis rather than have any one of my kids die.”

Once again, Daphne untied another knot in the chord yet there were more loopholes. More she is keeping from me, Acacia thought.

“If only I was there to protect him. Here, take my golden bow and arrow.” She had it strung around Acacia’s shoulder. “Remember—the tip is pointed with led.” Beneath her cloudy, algae-brimmed halo, she winked.

“Will you come back to fight for Domain?” Acacia hoped Daphne’s answer wouldn’t end in metaphor.

Daphne softened her demeanor. “Sometime I will return, but even fresh out of my curse, it is my duty to protect this land. And when you protect the land you protect the spirits in it. Rejoice in your responsibility yet knowing you can’t protect everybody. And yet I must go. Prepare!” She walked inside the temple, leaving with more ambiguous formalities that made Daphne seem far wiser than others and sometimes herself made her to be—sometimes her thoughts were so distant that she didn’t seem like a grandma. Even behind the bonfire smoke burning with incense, she kept control, yet the change in Daphne put Kazimir and Acacia at ill ease.

Acacia smiled with a glimpse at the older version of herself, the younger Daphne, the future frozen in time. She took the bow and arrow. Kazimir led them to the temple where he ordered a gathering of the townspeople to elect Acacia as the new High Warrior, following Daphne’s instructions. Acacia agreed to protect Acropolis and guard the temple. Daphne spent the entire Acropolian day in preparation. Kazimir went to separate quarters of the strange village sharing the good news of coronation.

The drums picked beat in the streets and she was anointed with rose petal on the sunrise of the second day.

Daphne proclaimed: “We have an election. Acropolis shall not commence with a ballot but by consensus. I am your old queen. Many of you are too young to remember me, but I am Daphne, former queen and high priestess returned to Acropolis. I will soon be again if not for the denunciation of my role. My father punished me far too long. I was old enough to make my decisions then, and so now, for myself and my country. My father put me before my land, well, sometimes, and I commend him for it, but I can’t put myself before you. Kazimir, Acacia, take my place.”

The crowd sped with confusion. Citizens shouted, “Why do you need us?” And Tears streamed from the creases on the faces of the older citizens, high priests and astrologers appointed to the temple. Acacia did not understand their sentiments but was afraid to let them go unrequited. Assumedly, their emotions were a mixture of fear and nostalgia.

Kazimir did not know how to empathize, so he stepped forth in front of the temple and Acacia.

Kazimir tilted his machete toward her at the hilt of his waist. “I accept...only if you would accept me.” Acacia drew closer. She assumed he was referring to their new positions in government.

“I accept,” Acacia reacted unintentionally, “I have more to learn from you than you do from me.” Her confessions became slippery. She knew she did not seal the main consensus but Kazimir needed support as much as her.

Many grumbled at the new dictators and some shot leftover glances when the crowd started leaving. The spindles of confusion were tightening, and the citizens’ gazes made the leaders uneasy with widespread uncertainty. For any minute the citizens could raise a scabbard or raise a riot. However, some stayed behind to monitor the last inklings of the ceremony. Bizarre fluffy creatures stood in attendance and bounced up and down—some with eagle wings and rabbit bodies and some with round bodies, sheep fur, and wings of pelicans.

Kazimir reunited with his elders, people who resembled his parents but far too removed from time. Each grandparent or great-grandparent wore blue robes with ornate matryoshka patterns on the hems and seems, high headdresses of jewels, and robes decked with feathered belts. He was impressed by their large necklaces of Egyptian gold and Turkish silk and their high pointed hats and light armor, but what impressed him the most was their devotion. They were more devoted to him than even to the maintenance of Acropolis, lifted high from the temple.

“After the baptism and knighting, send Acacia to find Jan and Ondrea. Daphne is already with the provisions.” Kazimir’s great-grandfather advised.

“Shouldn’t I accompany her?” Kazimir asked his great-grandfather.

“No, we need you to guard the temple next, and more must be shared with you in training.”

“And so, must I learn,” his words haunted everyone. “I thought you were dead too.” Talking to the elders was like talking to spirits or statues, not dead or latent, but lingering and fiery representations. Images come to life out of history books.

Kazimir walked to Acacia on the podium and spoke in a spirited whisper, “I’m just as apprehended as you, but after the baptism, find Ondrea and Jason. Daphne sent them into short exile here and had them under guard until they escaped, and they have something we need—part of the seal. They are somewhere in this new world.”

“What else could I need from Jason? He shouldn’t be here. He not only violated a reasonable search warrant but violated my care. I’m not the only one in need of care.”

Kazimir ignored the last part. “The fruit was stolen—stolen from our elders and stolen from Conrad’s dead hands. He will take the seal of Acropolis.” Acacia couldn’t wrap her head around what the seal meant, but the possibilities made her nervous.

Matters were complicated when Acacia asked to receive a gift from Kazimir’s ancient elders. She was granted weaponry, and thus was baptized not out of ceremony, but for preparation as a talisman of protection. The elders were much obliged and willing in their efforts.

At the end of the ceremony, Acacia announced, “I am honored and blessed to be a part of your world, even if there are rumored wars, but the curse is almost broken and I’m joyful to have the choice to go back to my village, Domain. Despairingly, my friend Conrad doesn’t have that choice. He didn’t know where his choices would take him. He was courageous if all in the wrong ways, but I propose a toast to him.”

Acacia glanced at the guards and then around the temple to see if Jason was looming. The citizens seemed confused about the word “toast” as if it meant rye but then, she took a small sip of wine from the magic fruits of the land and when used for all the right reasons, it lifted the spirits. Toasting wasn’t the only confusion.

Behind the pulpit, Kazimir’s great-grandfather motioned to him, “Come, Kazimir. In preparation, your training has just begun, and it shall begin with your baptism.” From the busy temple, Acacia left without word and took up the momentous mission to find and return Jason, the self-exiled fugitive, so he could testify to either Acropolis or Domain. The Old World or the New.

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