Alma returns to the Oracle’s private chambers, her clothes and hair still drenched. She finds Gwydion sitting on a protrusion of the rock wall suspiciously resembling a high-backed chair or throne. He looks drained, his chin supported by his hand, elbow resting on the stony arm of the natural chair, but nonetheless the god looks intently at the Oracle, currently lying unconscious on a partially submerged rock formation at the edge of the shallow pool, her head and torso out of the water, her tail immersed. Even from afar, Alma can see that the goddess’ breathing is anything but peaceful, her ribcage moving irregularly between quick, shallow inhalations and deep, slow movements.
She must rely on her lungs to breathe when she is out of the water, Alma surmises. And from the way she is breathing, she is in pain, still.
Dion looks up and sees Alma approach, and he perks up at the sight of her soaked clothes clinging to her form. Standing up, he approaches her, sarcasm oozing from his words in spite of the sweetness of his tone. “It looks like you’ve had a nice swim. Find anything?”
Summoning a gentle breeze blowing from nowhere to dry her hair and clothes, Alma looks slightly surprised to find herself unable to sustain the spell for more than a couple of minutes.
Out loud, she says in slight tones of annoyance, “I found the water a bit too... tainted for my taste. It is best if you stay away from it,” she advises. Producing the metallic item she found lying at the bottom of the pool, Alma adds, “I also found this.”
The goddess hands Dion the item, a questioning look on her face as he takes it in his hand. “Do you have any idea of what it might be? It was in the water by a shattered Archon shield.”
A momentary look of shock breaks the god’s façade as recognition of the object strikes him. Quickly recovering, he studies the runes on the brass link surrounding the metal tubes and a tentative fitting of his fingers inside the metal cylinders, the god concludes, “Yes. I’ve seen one of these before in the academy, but only on display,” he says quietly. “It’s a Deus percussorem, or God Striker in common language,” he explains. “Its purpose is to concentrate a forceful spell, magnifying its attack.”
Closing his hand around the Striker, Dion extends his senses to feel the magic it contains. “Yeah, it’s been used,” he announces, opening his hand again. “It’s a one-and-done item. Once used, it has to be recharged by a high-level wizard or mage.” Looking up at Alma he adds, “These things are borderline illegal, and highly controlled.”
Alma looks at the seemingly inoffensive object for a moment, her eyelids drooping for a second. “Would you be able to trace its origin?” she asks after a moment’s silence, spent wringing out her still thoroughly wet hair. “I imagine there aren’t many of these things going around.”
Dion nods his agreement, his expression indicating an unspoken concern over the presence of such a rare artifact in Three Rats. To Alma, he replies, “Very few, and the fact that it has to be recharged by a high-level makes it easier to track. So I would imagine we should be able to figure out where it came from.”
“Very well,” the goddess concedes, turning to the pool where the Oracle lays.
She walks up to the edge of the water, being extremely careful not to touch it. With her back turned to him, Dion can see her shoulders slightly slumped, her graceful and aristocratic posture slightly dented by exhaustion as she focuses her eyes on the Oracle.
“This water...” Alma almost whispers. “There is something wrong with it. When I dove in to get that,” she notes, turning back to the god to indicate the Striker, “I felt the water drain my energy. And it looks like it is doing the same to the Oracle.”
As if responding to the goddess, the Oracle stirs in her sleep, surfacing enough to speak weakly.
“The Pearl... They took it... The Pearl,” she says, her words interspersed with her heavy, struggling breathing.
“Oracle?” Alma immediately calls out to her. “Who took it?”
A few moments of silence go by before the Oracle responds. “Dukaines... tainted it.”
“What did they do to the Pearl?” Alma inquires.
“And what exactly is the Pearl?” Dion asks, approaching the edge of the pool.
“Tainted... The Pearl.... Tainted... Dukaines,” is all the Oracle can say before her words are drowned in her throat and she falls unconscious again.
“Oracle! Oracle!” Alma cries.
“I don’t think she’s listening anymore,” Dion states, his voice inviting no doubt.
“There must be something we can do,” Alma contends, looking down into the pool. “The water is really getting to her.”
Crouching by the water, Dion dips the tips of his fingers in the pool, feeling immediately the draining effect Alma mentioned. Pulling out a handkerchief, he makes sure to thoroughly dry his hand.
“I may be able to adapt my water-filtering trick to separate pure water from whatever is tainting it until we get the Pearl back,” the god suggests. “It won’t be perfect, and I’ll need to set up a few of them. There’s a lot of water here, and the spring is continually feeding it. But it should help.”
Nodding her agreement, Alma rubs her eyes and questions, “How long will you be able to keep it active?”
“I’m not sure,” the god answers truthfully. “I’ve only ever attempted much smaller quantities and closed environments at that. I’ll have to sit with it here and manage it with this much water to purify.” Shaking his head slightly, he adds. “This is going to take a lot of mana.”
“I see... I will have to return to the station and report to the Inspector,” Alma lets him know, shooting one last glance at the sleeping Oracle. Once again focusing her deep blue eyes on Dion, she adds, “I will return later to check on the two of you. Meanwhile, is there someone I could ask about the Striker?”
Dion hesitates before answering. “Well, yes...” he finally states. “But this isn’t something that you easily ask about. A lot of ranking people might get nervous if this suddenly showed up in Guardia hands after an attack on a former Archon. Let me look this over as you’re reporting back and see if I can narrow it down a bit. Then, I have a...” He hesitates again. “Well... ‘friend’ that might be able to help.”