“Where did she go? What happened?” Sky demands, looking at the empty space where Alma had been just a moment before.
Smiling at his confusion, Lyria turns to face him as she cancels her shield. “Relax, little demon. She is exactly where she needs to be.”
“And where is that?” the god nearly shouts. “She’s my officer! She’s under my command and–” He pauses, swallowing his words.
Lyria tilts her head at the half-spoken sentence.
“And…?” she asks, her expression and tone inviting him to continue.
He masters his emotions as well as he can. “And she...is my friend.”
Lyria nods, radiating warmth and empathy. “Good to know she is finally making some.” She walks slowly towards Sky, stopping a mere short step away from him. “But, you see, she is also my daughter. Do you really think I would ever send her, alone and weakened, into the jaws of danger?”
Sky looks down slightly to fix his gaze on the shorter goddess’ eyes, all the while realizing that the answer to that is not necessarily a simple one. Even so, he says, “Of course...of course. I’m sorry.” He takes a deep breath. “So...what do we do now?”
“Well, you are the commanding officer,” Lyria says brightly. “I am a mere aid in this matter. What do you wish to do?”
Sky’s jaw locks in a stern grimace as he responds, “I wish to make sure my people are safe. And I wish to make sure the Pearl is safe, and that this ward is safe.”
“So many things to do, all at once…” Lyria nearly whispers. Her hand reaches out with no sign of hesitation and touches his cheek, stroking it as if Sky was just a lost child. Her words sound soft and kind as she says, “You take on such a heavy burden alone… Tell me, does the word 'friend' just mean someone to keep safe to you, little one?”
The god fights the urge to close his eyes at her touch, its warmth and silky feel penetrating his skin all the way to his core. He looks down at Lyria’s beautiful maternal countenance, his gaze losing its severity. “It is my duty to send those under my command into danger, at times. But always balanced with the need to keep them as safe as possible while allowing them to do their jobs.”
Lyria removes her hand from his face at these words.
“I see.” She shrugs lightly. “Oh, well! Such is life, isn’t it, Sky?”
He frowns. “So, Lyria...how shall we proceed from here? Since I don’t know where it is you’ve sent your daughter.”
“Oh, you know where she is.” The goddess waves off the Inspector’s flash of annoyance. “You just happen to suspect she is somewhere else. And once you reach her, these might prove helpful.”
With a graceful flourish, Lyria holds out a hand. As she does so, ivy stretches leisurely out from over her shoulder and curls around her arm, covering her open hand for an instant. In the blink of an eye, it curls back, leaving three greyish-gold eggs in her exposed palm. Smiling a serene smile, the goddess extends her hand to Sky in offering.
The parlor trick merits a lopsided smile from the god of rebellion but he takes the eggs even so. “And what shall hatch from them, Lady?”
Her expression unchanged, Lyria’s voice is a pool of patience as she asks, “Tell me, Sky, how do you propose to keep the Pearl safe, now that your… Dukaines, was it?” – here the god nods in confirmation – “Now that they know how it can be taken?”
The question asked with such surgical precision forces Sky to breathe deeply and look down. “Yes. I haven’t come up with anything yet, I have to admit. There hasn’t been much time to plan for the aftermath.”
Smiling softly almost if the weight of her words doesn’t burden her, the goddess explains, “The Siren’s Pearl is older than most of us, little demon. One of only a few items left from the times of original creation. It has survived wars and it has survived time, kept faithfully by many a guardian of which Nevieve is merely the most recent.”
The slightest of shadows creeps over her face as she adds, “But throughout all of the ages of gods and men, it had never been attacked in such vile manner. These people must be stopped, Sky, lest they find their way into stealing even more dangerous things.”
Even under the gentle melody of her voice, the gravity of Lyria’s words deeply disturbs Sky. “Lady, the wizard who, as near as we can tell...corrupted the Pearl – according to our research – he was no great talent. Are you saying that someone more powerful...much more powerful, must have given him the magic needed to do this?”
The goddess raises a delicate eyebrow, her expression looking remarkably like Alma’s for a moment. “I am saying nothing. But I do find it difficult to believe a single drop of poison could taint a whole spring...” Her voice trails off ominously but Lyria soon looks at Sky again and smiles reassuringly. “I am sure you will find a way to stop them. In the meantime –” here she gestures towards the eggs “– those will help. They are naga eggs. Do you know how to make them hatch?”
A low whistle escapes Sky’s lips. “Nagas. No...I’m more familiar with the adult portion of their life cycle. Took me awhile to recover from that fight…” He touches his left arm and grins in painful memory of the day it was ripped off by one of the creatures.
The expression on his face makes Lyria laugh, her laughter so very warm, so sincere, so charming and inviting that it fills the god’s heart, softening his stern countenance and bringing a smile to his lips.
“Yes, well, then you know how they will make powerful guardians.” She covers Sky’s open hand with hers. “If you want nagas to be loyal to you as their master, you must give them something of your essence to awaken them and make them hatch. They will remember you and do your bidding.”
Sky looks down and nods his comprehension. “I see… And there are three eggs…” He looks back at Lyria. “Sergeant Gwydion is with the Oracle now...and I assume you sent Alma there...and then there is me.”
The goddess looks genuinely surprised at this. “Oh, there are three of you? How wonderful! I just thought that three would be a nice, magical number.” She smiles innocently. “It should work nicely, then. And now, Sky…”
Lyria touches his cheek again, softly stroking it down to his jaw, then brushing down his throat to rest on his shoulder. “You have your people to check on and a whole ward to save.” Her hand travels down to his arm, squeezing it lightly before letting ago. “And please, do feel free to visit me, when you have the time. You look like the kind of person I would very much like to know better.”
Sky looks down into her captivating, intensely green eyes. In the depths of her charming gaze, he believes he can see sincerity. He loses himself in her eyes for a moment before stepping back and bowing low.
“Thank you, Lyria,” he says. “You have done a great thing for the people of Three Rats.”
A few quick steps and he is out of the room, shouting up for Sage to find Corporal Kaur for him, to guide him to the Oracle’s grotto. Behind him, the door to Alma’s room closes, pushed by a warm breeze reminiscent of ripe fruit and birdsong.