Eleutheria: A Tale of Magna Athenaia — Part Three

Image courtesy of Jashishtha Jogi on Unsplash

“Blessed Eleutheria!”

“Leander?”

“Hey, Sito. Hold on.” Leander tapped the speaker button on the phone and held it out. Beside him, Wilanu glanced over quickly from the road — “Blessed Eleutheria, Sito” — then turned back to navigating through the crowds of pilgrims.

The mock battle had just ended, the idol of Athena was on its way across the bay from the Sacred Island, and the crowds were lined up along the processional route, with more people still coming. Some were dressed casually, others in more formal holy day attire. Quite a few had painted their faces silver, blue, and grey, some with plain stripes, some in the form of owls or gorgons.

“Has Kiran left yet?”

Leander frowned. “Pardon?”

“Well, he’s not here yet. At the temple. We tried calling his phone — yes, Yashpal, I’m getting to that — we tried calling, but he didn’t answer. … We were hoping, maybe, he got held up?”

Something twisted in Leander’s stomach. His heart thudded. He glanced over at Wilanu, and saw the same reaction there: the narrowed eyes, the hands tightening around the wheel.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Sito.” Wilanu’s voice was carefully reassuring. “He maybe just forgot something at home and had to go back. We’ll swing by and check on him.”

“… All right. Please call us.”

“We will.” Leander tried for reassuring as well, but felt his voice wobble. “I’m sure he’s fine. Talk to you later.”

Wilanu was already cranking the wheel around, causing pedestrians to scatter. He tapped the horn, then flashed the lights. A few threw insults in their direction. “Call Egilsdottir. I’ll put out the bulletin.”

Leander nodded, his heart still thudding. He double-tapped the ear mic. “Central, unit twelve. Connect Chiliarchos Egilsdottir at Garrison Zeta.”

“Central, copy. Standby unit twelve.”

Beside him, he saw Wilanu tapping out the bulletin on the tablet, eyes jumping back and forth to the road: Kiran’s name and description, his car, his supposed location. The cruiser wove around clumps of celebrants, finally clearing the crowd — only to run into more vehicular traffic. Wilanu swore under his breath, flashed the lights, and hit the siren. The high-pitched deet-deet echoed between the buildings.

“Egilsdottir.”

“Kiran’s missing.”

A short silence.

Leander grabbed the roll bar as Wilanu took a corner too fast.

“Did you put out a bulletin?” Terse and to the point.

“Wilanu just did. We’re headed home, then we’ll trace his route down to the Twins’ Peaks. Did you find anything on Economides?”

“Officially, he’s an upstanding citizen. Unofficially, the Boule launched an investigation about a month ago. Very hush-hush. Only Stratagos Guinne and the officers directly involved knew about it.”

Leander swore loudly.

“What?” Wilanu shot him a quick glance, then took another corner too fast.

“Boule’s looking at Economides.”

Now Wilanu swore.

“I’ll inform the Stratagos. Keep me informed. Egilsdottir out.”

Sixteen minutes later they pulled up in front of the house. No sign of Kiran’s car. Leander leapt out, leaving the door open as he took the stairs three at a time. Behind him, he caught a glimpse of Wilanu circling the building itself.

Leander unlocked the door and shoved it open, calling for his husband.

Empty. Silent.

He checked every room, even the junk room in the back. Nothing.

Growling under his breath, he pulled the door shut, locked it, and ran down the stairs.

Wilanu met him at the bottom, his jaw tight. At his questioning look, Leander just shook his head.

Wilanu pushed away from the stairs. “Come on. Let’s see if Citizen Economides is really spending the holy day at home.”

***

Kiran awoke with a jerk.

He snorted, trying to breathe. His arms were sore and stiff and trapped behind his back. He was cold and something (wind?) tugged at his clothes. He flinched and blinked and blinked again, light and dark swirling, trying to focus, trying to get his lungs full of air.

Something hard hit his shin.

The light and dark twisted, went fuzzy, and finally cleared.

“Open those eyes like a good boy.” Another kick to his leg. “There we go.”

He was on his side pressed up against … a wall. Yep, a bare wall, and he was lying on a bare floor. And he was cold.

Folia leaned over him, her lips tipped up in a cruel smile. “Citizen Lal.” She drawled the first word, as if she found it amusing. “Tell me what you know. And who you told.”

“I … what?” His throat was dry and rough. He shivered, trying to figure out where the wind was coming from. He squinted, looked around, and realized that there was bare blue sky behind Folia. Hot air balloons floated gently in the distance and observation drones glinted in the sunlight.

They were high. High with bare walls and no windows.

Next to one of those empty windows off to the left stood two other men and ….

… Missiles?

Kiran tried to swallow.

Yes, those were missiles. Three of them, painted a garish red, white, and green and attached to launchers of some kind. They were pointed out of the building … was that north? Yes, northish. He could just see the very tops of the three towers that held up the Long Bridge.

Folia kicked him again. “Who did you tell?”

He pushed with his legs, pressing against the wall, trying to get a better look at his surroundings. Apparently, not a true wall. He was towards one side of the unfinished space, but not all the way back. So, maybe a stairwell? Or elevators? Maybe … maybe if she looked away for a moment, he could … could …. He grunted, levering himself so that he sat upright. He was panting and fear twisted his guts. “Tell who what?”

She hit him, a solid punch that cracked his skull against the wall. Lights popped in front of his eyes. Blood ran down his cheek and into the corner of his mouth.

“Who did you tell?” Her voice did not get any louder or higher; just colder and angrier.

“Tell who what?” he demanded, fear momentarily replaced by anger. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

She crouched in front of him, eyes hard. “Calliope overheard us. She told you. Who did you tell?”

His mouth opened, closed, opened again.

One of the missiles squeaked on its launcher. The man beside it tapped at a tablet and the launcher swiveled, the missile angling down slightly. The other man knelt beside the third launcher, fiddling with a handful of wires.

Folia grabbed his chin, pinching. She banged his head against the wall again.

Kiran flinched, trying to get his brain to cooperate. Think. Thinkthinkthink.

“What about your husbands, hhmm? Avramidis and Wilanu. Did you tell them?”

“There was nothing to tell — ”

This time she slapped him. “Degenerate. How your city has stood for so long I will never understand.” Another slap. “Answer me. Did you tell Avramidis and Wilanu? Who did they tell?” And another. “What does the Polinomia know of our plan?”

His ears were ringing. His face stung. Blood dribbled down his cheeks. He had to think of something. Thinkthinkthink. Please, Athena, please, please, please. “I didn’t tell them anything because there was nothing to tell!” His words were slurred, his lips going numb from cold and pain and fear. “I thought she was just having bad dreams! That’s all!”

Folia stared at him, one eyebrow arced in silent disbelief. Then she sighed. “Very well.”

She stood and moved to the side.

On the far side of the room, Calliope sat huddled against the wall beneath one of those great open windows. The wind yanked at her hair. Her head was tucked tight against her chest, but he could see the bruise that covered her right cheek.

Kiran opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

“Calliope.” Folia snapped her fingers. “Come here, girl.”

With a hard shiver, Calliope sank back further against the wall. She covered her head with her arms.

“Calliope ….” With an exaggerated sigh of annoyance, Folia turned on her heel and marched across the room.

The large man holding the tablet looked up, smiled, then turned back to his work. The other just ignored them all, still tinkering with the launcher.

Calliope shrieked when Folia grabbed her arm. Grip tight, she hauled Calliope across the room, half dragging her.

Kiran didn’t realize that he was yelling until Folia threw Calliope so that she sprawled across hiss lap, knocking the breath from his lungs, and the sound echoing in his head stopped. He must have been straining at the cuffs around his wrists, too, because his shoulders spasmed and there were scrapes on his hands from trying to push up against the wall.

Sobbing, the little girl cuddled against him, her arms tight around his waist, her face buried in his chest.

“Let’s try this again. We are thirty stories up, Citizen Lal. That is a long … long way for a little girl to fall. She will scream most of the way down. Not that you will be able to hear her. But you can imagine it.” She leaned over him, smiling. “So I am going to ask you one last time: who did you tell?”

Thinkthinkthink.

Please, Athena, pleasepleaseplease.

He had studied this. He had studied every philosopher since Thales and Kǒng Fūzǐ and Veda Vyāsa. He had studied yì and satya and arete and eudaimonia and eupraxis.

He should know what to do.

Why didn’t he know what to do?

Folia reached for Calliope, who whimpered and frantically tightened her grip.

“No!” Kiran screamed. “I told them that she was afraid. I told them she was crying, but I didn’t know why. I asked them to check, to look, to — to see what — they said they couldn’t. They said there was nothing to look into. That — that — they couldn’t look for no reason. They don’t know anything. They don’t know anything ….”

He was panted and tears burned his throat.

Folia studied him for a long, awful moment, her hard eyes fixed on him.

“Mm,” she finally said. She pressed the mic in her ear. “Stella, Florus, report. …. Very well. Keep a sharp eye. Just in case.”

With a last hard look she rose and moved to the far side of the room. She rested a hand on one of the missiles, stroking it gently.

[End Part Three. Continue to the conclusion in Part Four.]

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poems and stories can be found there.]