Chapter 2 "Snakes" 17

Alma walks the path that separates the station from the adjacent building at a slow yet constant pace. Her every thought focused on the piercing headache that has been building up throughout the morning, trying desperately not to trip and fall, she can barely entertain a simple line of cogitation regarding her conversation with Inspector Tuma-Sukai. Although his apparent humility and kindness today are not to be ignored, the goddess decides to keep him at arm’s length for the time being. How many bad deals have been made on a smile and a false promise?
Her most pressing thoughts obviously fall on that blasted report. Alma shakes her head slowly (soon regretting it when the pain hits), as she thinks about her three younger creations. They seem so helpless, so irrational, so... nameless, for now. And the other four will be a handful as well, with those strong personalities of theirs. But, bend or break, they will all have to be ready to shine and prove their worth by the time that report is due. The goddess stops before the door. I will find a way, she decides. I will find a way, she hopes.

As Alma stretches her right arm and reaches for the doorknob, the door opens, a striking male body dressed in an exquisitely tailored Guardia uniform appearing to block the gap that the open door would otherwise have left.

“Sergeant Gwydion,” Alma says, a subtle nod of her head serving as greeting. “I trust you are having a good morning,” she adds, her weariness tingeing her voice ever so slightly.

“Dearest Sergeant Alma, such a delight to see you! And just as I was stepping out to report for duty,” Gwydion replies, taking her hand and raising it to meet his lips. “Oh, when will you let go of these silly titles and just call me Dion?”

From the look of things, when Hell becomes a nice place to visit, Alma answers in thought, her eyes reflecting her opinion. Whether in response or in punishment another wave of pain hits her, making her wince and stealing what little color was still left on her cheeks. Her hand, still a hostage of Gwydion’s gallantry, falters for an instant, becoming almost lifeless under his soft grip.

“Alma, are you quite all right?” he asks, slipping an arm around the goddess’ slender waist to support her, even though her legs don’t seem to betray her yet. “You look extremely pale.”

“I am just a little tired,” Alma answers, attempting to hide her weakness behind a graceful smile. “No need for worry. Some rest should prove effective in restoring me.”

Gwydion takes a moment to look into Alma’s slightly glazed eyes, in what feels to the goddess as an attempt to dive deep into her very thoughts. “Oh, I know that look,” he says after a while. “It is the look of someone who has used too much mana in too short a period of time. I used to suffer from that myself. But I wouldn’t be surprised. The level and power of the spells you used to both contain and release the Bunnies is astonishing for one who has never set foot at the Academy.”

“I had good teachers,” Alma replies dryly, looking away from the disturbing glimmer in those hazel eyes. “Now, if you don’t mind –”

“Maybe I could help you,” Gwydion offers in a pleasant, alluring tone, still not letting her go. “I have plenty of mana and it would be an absolute pleasure to offer you some.”

Alma tries to release herself from his grip with little result. Although he is not holding her with much force, she finds herself unable to push him away as the strength abandons her arms and threatens to leave her legs as well. I am weaker than I thought, the goddess thinks, breathing deep. This, however, only brings Gwydion’s unsettling scent into her nostrils, filling her thoughts with the vaguely familiar yet strangely unidentifiable fragrance of his skin. She looks up, into his eyes, to find them looking back into hers, his face far too close for comfort. He is rotten to the core, her mind screams at her. I can see it in his eyes. And yet…

The soft sound of bare feet padding in their direction disrupts Alma’s thoughts. Through the corner of her eye, she sees the Bunnies approaching from the kitchen. Cherry and Rosemary are the first ones to reach them, looking at the gods inquisitively.

“Are we interruptin’ somethin’?” Cherry asks, tugging at the leg of Alma’s trousers, while Sage maneuvers himself to stand between the gods with a less-than-friendly look at Gwydion, forcing the god to release Alma.

“No, dear. You’re not,” the goddess replies, glad for the excuse to escape from Gwydion’s hold. “Thank you for your kindness, Sergeant,” she says to the god. “Your assistance, however, will not be necessary.”

Dion steps back in a most formal fashion, now that the bunnies are in witness, and responds. “Most certainly, my dear Sergeant. But, please do consider my offer. I am, of course, only here to help.”

Alma says nothing, but merely flashes a polite little smile at him in response.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s just great but we got more important issues to deal with,” Cherry says, taking Alma’s hand and nearly dragging her to the center of the room. “Like this one!” she announces, opening her arms to encompass the whole room. “Tah-dah!”

Alma looks around, seeing nothing more than an empty room populated by half a dozen – no, seven, she realizes to her great relief as she sees Mayumi arriving from the kitchen – Bunnies and a god.

“I am truly sorry, dear, but I don’t see anything,” she says to Cherry.

“You mean, you didn’t notice?” Rosemary asks, her ears drooping in deep disappointment. “We cleaned it! Wasn’t easy, either!”

“Yeah, we wanted to show Sky that we can take good care of this place,” Cherry explains.

“So he’ll let us keep it,” Rosemary finishes.

“Sky?” Alma asks, looking confused.

“Yeah, you know, Mr. Tuma-whatshisname.” Rosemary waves it off. “He said we could call him Sky when he came over to apologize for being so rude to us before.”

“He apologized...” Alma repeats the Bunny’s words as she begins to see some truth in the Inspector’s claim. “To you.”

“Inspector Sky was very polite,” Sage intervenes in a calm, reassuring tone. “And he seemed truly sorry for not having stuck around to get to know us.”

Rosemary grabs Alma’s arm. “Did y’ask him about the bar?” she asks Alma, her eyes glowing with anticipation. “Did you, did you, did you?”

“I –” Alma hesitates.

“Cherry... Merri...” Sage growls in warning.

“Oh.. right.. sorry,” Rosemary apologizes.

“We’re just very excited, that’s all,” Cherry says with a quick look in her brother’s direction.

“I can imagine, little ones,” Alma replies, gently petting both Bunnies between the ears. “I did ask Inspector Tuma-Sukai if you could have this place and turn it into a bar. He seemed to think it wasn’t such a bad idea but first we need to make sure the building is ours to keep, and not just rented by the Guardia,” she explains in as patient a tone as possible.

“It actually sounds like a rather interesting idea,” Gwydion comments, walking around the room as if considering possibilities and planning furniture placement. One look at Alma's narrowed eyes and stony expression makes him change his tone. “But, yes, some licenses will have to be attained for the bar to be allowed to function. I know someone who could help you with that, though.”

“You do?” Rosemary cries, running toward him and throwing both arms around his waist. “Yey!”

“You’re awesome, Dion!” Cherry exclaims, following her sister’s example.

“Again, you are too kind, Sergeant –” Alma begins to say.

“Dion,” the god interrupts her with one of his charming smiles as the two Bunnies continue hugging him.

However, I would prefer not to have the rain pouring before the clouds arrive,” Alma says in a sharp, cautionary tone.

“Such a quaint expression!” Gwydion replies, still smiling and letting the goddess’ tone go unnoticed as Cherry and Merri finally release him. “I don’t believe I have heard that one before.”

“There are apparently many things you have never heard,” Alma retorts, her smile fading away. The word “No” being one of them, she adds in thoughts.

The goddess then walks up to the younger Bunnies, presenting each of them with a kind smile and a soft pat on the head, watching their reaction intently and feeling slightly saddened when they fail to show anything other than instinctive affection towards her.

“You should rest,” Sage tells her in a low, pleading voice. “You look worse than before.”

“Yes. I should rest.”

“We will take care of things here,” Mayumi steps in, taking one of her brothers by the hand and handing him an origami crane with a smile, getting a puzzled but pleased look from him in return. “Please, go lie down for a while.”

“Thank you, dear,” Alma says, smiling herself at Mayumi’s kindness towards her sibling.  “And, please, don’t leave the building,” she asks her softly.

“I won’t. You have my word,” the Bunny replies, a look of guilt coming over her face.

“Sergeant.” The goddess nods slightly at Gwydion, in a subtle compliment.

“Please, do go and get some rest,” Gwydion tells her in that annoyingly pleasant tone of his. “I hope to find you feeling better later on.”

And with this, Alma leaves the room, walking toward a comfortable bed and some much needed rest.

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