Alma wakes up to a blurry vision of an office. As her eyes begin to focus, she slowly takes in the small desk in the middle of the room, the mismatched chairs in front of it, the different teacups still placed on the desktop. The light streaming in through the window on the opposite wall bathes the scene and refreshes the goddess’ memory of past events, jolting her into full vigilance and action. Sitting and then standing, the little table with the gas burner and the locker coming into view as she looks for signs of Sky’s presence in his own office, Alma composes herself and makes her way to the door. As she grabs hold of the doorknob, a passing thought makes her stop, turn around and return to the sofa, where the pillow and blanket still lie. Picking it up and folding it carefully, the goddess leaves the blanket on an arm of the sofa, the pillow placed neatly on top of it.
Again, she moves to the door, opening it and walking into the chaos of Three Rats Station. Not having been planned to harbor so many people all at once, the full body of Guardia Popula having been called to serve regardless of shift assignments, the station looks even more unfit for its purpose than usual. Moving quickly, her next steps already carefully planned in her mind, she nearly runs into PC Longshot again. It is only for the sake of her quick reflexes and an unusual state of awareness from Wallace that they manage not to crash into each other again.
“Oh, Sergeant Alma!” Wallace greets, saluting immediately with a bright smile that in the goddess’ mind translates as See? I didn’t forget, this time. “Sure is busy around here, eh?”
“Three Rats faces a crisis, Probe Constable Longshot,” Alma replies, nodding slowly by way of greeting.
“Yeah… Everyone’s either too worried to rest or too drained to care. Officers keep running in and out. Just a while ago, Inspector Sukai left with Aliyah and that weird girl that’s always wet!”
“And have you found some way to help, Wallace?” the goddess inquires in a soft tone. “You were concerned about not being useful before.”
Wallace rubs the back of his red-curl-ridden head and shrugs before answering. “I try, you know? But I guess it’s not easy being useful when you’re as big a clutz as I am.”
“We will find you something to do, Wallace,” Alma assures him. “For now, though, I too need to rush.”
“Oh, sure! Sorry to keep you!” Wallace responds. “Until later, Sergeant!” he adds, saluting brightly once again.
Walking away from the young mortal, Alma walks out into the breezeway. Halfway through it, though, she stops and contemplates the prospect of a building full of Bunnies standing between her and her room. Too set on her purpose to be sidetracked by their idle concerns, Alma whispers a word of summoning. On the floor around her feet, a circle appears and grows, glowing white and blue with her magic, light crawling within it to draw a transportation sigil. As soon as it the symbol appears fully, the goddess fades away into the soft breeze that suddenly begins to blow. A similar circle glows into existence at her destination and Alma reappears in her room, the teleportation portal disappearing at her arrival. Making sure she stands alone in her sanctum, she takes the opportunity to breathe deeply. A pair of eyes the color of dawn follow her steps from within Starfax's cage as the goddess walks to the mirror and places a hand on its smooth, metallic surface.
“Mother,” she calls out. “I need you.”
“Then come,” a soft voice rings in response as a delicate hand stretches through and out of the mirror. “Let me guide you.”
With a sigh of relief, Alma takes the inviting hand and closes her eyes, allowing herself to be guided.
When Alma opens her eyes again, she finds herself standing in a large octagonal garden surrounded by arched passageways and white marble walls. All over the columns supporting the arches, climbing plants creep leisurely and stretch their leaves of green and gold towards the sunlight coming in from above, filtered through a stained-glass skylight crafted in white, reddish and yellow tones. Here and there colorful insects hum and buzz and fly among flowers of all shapes and colors, collecting nectar and spreading pollen.
Alma breathes deep, inhaling sweetness and peace, floral aromas and pleasant memories. The idle sounds of insect life blend in her ears with the soothing splash and flow of water coming from a simple, marble fountain gurgling in the middle of the room, to bring her the ever-playing song of this place. Everywhere around her, there is warmth and calm enveloped in a busy, pleasant and safe silence.
She is here, Alma knows, and she doesn’t have to search long before finding her, standing by a flower bush, her feet aligned with one of the many water channels radiating from the fountain in the middle of the room. This is where the warmth and peace of this room come from: her. Apparently oblivious to the young goddess, Alma’s mother leans over the flowers, caressing petals and leaves with soft, skilled hands. Her long blonde hair, fashioned in a loose braid decorated with red and pinkish wildflowers that falls over her right shoulder, carries the golden highlights of wheat fields lolling in the breeze of a summer day. The gold in her hair reflects on and accentuates her slightly tanned, sunkissed skin, laid over a pleasant and delicate face, locked in the perpetually peaceful expression of the soul that lies somewhere behind her intensely green eyes. Clad in the earthy tones befitting a Life Goddess, her beautifully sculpted body of generous proportions curves gracefully in well rounded breasts and hips, hidden under a long, fitted dress.
Lyria… Alma thinks as she watches her mother working and waits for her to finish. Even her name speaks of the warm, unspoken beauty of life.
“Hello, little soul,” her mother greets her with a gentle smile. “You choose a wonderful time to visit.”
Under Lyria’s touch the flower buds begin to tremble slightly.
“Come on, dears,” the goddess whispers. “Time to bloom.”
As Alma looks at them, the petals on the tiny white and blue buds begin to move and open, revealing the slender creatures hidden within. At the core of each flower, a colorful pixie stretches her arms lazily and basks in the soft daylight shining from above. With a smile and a wink at the young goddess, the pixies flap their dragonfly wings and take flight, and Alma can see that the petals on the flower buds are actually the long, rounded skirts of their delicate, translucent dresses. Moving in perfect synchrony, the pixies gather in a circle high above the two goddesses and begin to dance, their elegant feet stepping on hair as they hover much like a dancer would move gracefully on stage, going round and round, swaying and turning as they fly ever lower, ever closer to Alma’s fascinated gaze. A shower of glittery dust fills the air, falling gently over every living creature, making the air and the plants sparkle with a magical glint.
Like a child lost in a dream, Alma watches the scene with wide, hungry eyes, marveling at the exquisite little creatures as they hover and dance. She reaches out a hand and one of the pixies leaves the group to land on her finger and greet her with a wave of a tiny hand. Smiling softly, the goddess waves her other hand and the pixie flaps her wings in delight, covering Alma’s finger in a thin layer of pixie dust. Her white and blue dress dancing around her, the miniscule creature blows Alma a kiss before leaping into the air to join her sisters in the circle.
As their dance reaches its end, the pixies begin to return to their bush, each landing on her stem and curling around it, lying down to sleep again. Skirts once again become petals and pixies become buds and all that is left of the flower bush’s little secret is the lingering sparkle of pixie dust.
“I’ve been asked to help renew the plant collection at the Council gardens,” Lyria explains. “Aren’t they just gorgeous?” she asks with a touch of pride in her voice.
“They are, yes,” Alma replies as she looks at her sparkling, dust-covered dress and smiles. She looks at her mother. “Everything you create is.”
The older goddess nods slowly in agreement as she moves closer to Alma. “Yes... I can take pride in many a wonderful and beautiful creation.” She reaches a hand to her daughter and softly strokes her hair, pulling it over Alma’s left ear and leaving her earring at plain sight. Lyria’s left ear harbors a similar lily-shaped earring, though without the rod and the chain. “And in you more than any other.”
Alma gently places her hand over Lyria’s and dislodges it from her cheek. Smiling sadly, she says, “I am sorry I went so long without visiting.”
Lyria’s smile mirrors her daughter’s as she replies. “So am I.” The goddess releases Alma’s hand and walks towards the center of the room. “How are your creations? The Bunnies, as you call them?”
Walking slowly to meet her mother by the marble fountain, Alma responds, “They are so much more than I ever dreamed they would be...”
“Children usually are.” Lyria notes with a smile. Suddenly, her expression brightens, her eyes flashing in delight over a passing thought. “I remember the first time you saw a bunny. You were probably this tall.” She holds her hand at waist height. “Oh, how your eyes sparkled in fascination! I remember you played with that sweet little creature for hours and then, the next morning…” The goddess giggles in amusement. “We had perfect, cute little bunnies hopping all around the house, munching on everything green and edible!”
“I remember what Father did to them.” Alma shudders at the memory of being forced to collect the poor creatures’ souls amidst tears and screams, after her father had… undone her creations.
“He did what he did only to protect you. There is a reason why there are laws against creating new life without going through the proper channels, Alma,” Lyria retorts with a familiar, well-practiced and much-repeated speech. Turning to the younger goddess, she says, “You should go see your father. It has been a long time since you two last spoke.”
Alma shakes her head and, in doing so, her hair becomes loose, hiding her father’s mark on her ear. “There is no time, mother. I come to you with a serious and urgent issue.”
Lyria tilts her head, her expression becoming very serious all of a sudden. “What is wrong, little soul? Is this because of Nekh?”
“Nekh?” Alma’s eyes widen in fright at the name of her patron. “Has something happened to him?”
“I hope not,” Lyria replies. “He was looking a little under the weather the last time I saw him, that’s all.” She smiles softly and innocently. “I guess your father’s gift for political intrigue is beginning to rub off on me.”
Deciding to put this issue away for later analysis, Alma proceeds with her claim. “I come to you for help, mother. For a water goddess of the Fourth Ring. People call her ‘The Oracle’.”
“‘The Oracle’?” Lyria raises an eyebrow and turns to look intently at the water in the fountain.
“Yes. Very beautiful. Mermaid.”
Lyria’s head moves up and down in fast acknowledgment. “I know of her. Her name is Nevieve and she was once a First Ringer before she left without warning. Her predictions are famous for their accuracy.” She turns back to Alma. “Why does she need help?”
“Something of hers was stolen,” the young goddess explains. “A pearl.”
Lyria’s eyes widen as she hears these words, her lips mouthing unintelligible words before uttering, “No, not a pearl, the Pearl.”
“You know of it?” Alma asks.
With a subtle movement of her right hand, the older goddess brings all of the pixie dust in the room to hover right in front of her and take the shape of a glittering orb, just slightly larger in diameter than Alma’s hand. “The Siren’s Pearl is an ancient and powerful item, Alma,” Lyria says. “Almost as old as time itself.” The image of a cloaked figure handing Nevieve the pearl appears reflected on the surface of the shimmering orb. “It was given to Nevieve a long time ago for safe keeping.” Lyria’s head shakes in disbelief. “The thought that someone might steal it...”
“Someone did,” Alma states. “A gang of criminals who call themselves the Dukaines. They have been trying to take over the part of the City where I am stationed. From what I have been told, they took the Pearl hoping it would force Nevieve to do their bidding. All the water in the entire ward has become tainted, undrinkable. And, mother...” Her voice becomes strangled. “Nevieve seems to be in terrible pain.”
“I imagine she is,” Lyria agrees as the ghostly orb crumbles to pixie dust again. “Alma, Nevieve has guarded that Pearl for so long that their fates have become intertwined. If one is destroyed, the other will soon follow. And if she is in pain, then something must have happened to the Pearl as well, other than being stolen.”
“Can we not free Nevieve from the Pearl’s influence?” Alma asks.
“Only Nevieve knows the answer to that and I don’t think she is ready to relinquish the Pearl anyway.” Lyria sighs. “No, little soul. Do not waste your time with such theories. Find the Siren’s Pearl. Learn what has been done to it and how to restore it.” She turns to her daughter, her green eyes acquiring a steely edge that allows no room for disobedience. “If you wish to save Nevieve, then this is what you must do.”
Alma nods in assent. “We are doing all we can to find and retrieve it. I will know more when we do.”
“Call upon me when you have the Pearl,” Lyria says as she turns away to tend to her plants. “I will do what I can to help you.”
“Is there anything we can do for Nevieve in the meantime?”
“Rush, Alma,” Lyria replies. “All you can do is rush and find that Pearl.”