Hurried steps echo in the basalt and marble halls that lead to the old library where Lyria keeps her large collection of manuscripts on healing and remedies. She sets down the scroll she has been reading with the affectionate care one would reserve for an old friend. One of a very old set, it is after all one of the few things she has kept of her life in the First Ring. Her decision to move here was such a scandal in its day that leaving meant letting go of most of her possessions. That was so long ago…
As the soft scurrying sounds closer and closer, the goddess walks over to the door and opens it to let her daughter in. Wrapped in a raven-wing black cloak, her white and silvery hair hidden by under a dark hood, Alma enters the room swiftly.
“Mother!” she whispers, her voice carrying the distinctive tone of anguish.
“Alma, you look troubled,” Lyria notes calmly by way of greeting. “What is going on?”
“It happened again, Mother,” Alma announces, one hand removing the hood from her head.
“What happened again, child?” the older goddess inquires in a soft voice.
“I… created,” her daughter explains, unclasping her cloak to reveal the cloth-bound bundle in her arms.
“You will soon be without room for so many pets, little one,” Lyria jests, walking over to her the younger goddess. “But that sounds like little cause for such distress.”
“It was different this time,” Alma states, slightly unwrapping the bundle and uncovering two small human-looking babies, one pale, the other dark-skinned, both with rabbit ears and tails, and firmly shut eyes. “I had never created creatures I have never seen before.”
Lyria’s eyes widen at the sight of Alma’s burden. She nearly hisses as she looks at her daughter and says, “Alma, I told you to stay away from that god!”
“Did your mother not tell you to stay away from my father?” Alma replies in a suddenly serene, ice-cold tone of voice.
“I swear, child, that love is blind, deaf and stupid!" Lyria admonishes her. "Does Arion not recall the prophecy about death coming for an Archon? He was there as it was announced, years ago,” she says pacing away from her daughter.
“He remembers, Mother,” Alma retorts, the folds of her black velvet dress brushing lightly against the wooden desk as she leans on it. “The Council will remember too when he announces their creation tonight.”
“For the life of all beings, why would he remind people of the prophecy?!” Lyria cries, cursing herself almost immediately for her noisy words.
“They have been capturing his family, Mother,” Alma argues, cradling her babies in her arms. “Taking them as prisoners, doing awful things. He is being forced to leave to protect the ones that are still left and as he does so, he will leave the Council shaking in fear.”
“And make a target out of you in the process,” Lyria accuses.
Alma slowly shakes her head at this. “Not unless they find out about us, Mother. We have always been discreet, careful.”
“Be reasonable, child!” Lyria hisses, walking back to the young goddess. “So many eyes could have seen you and so many minds know to link you to him!” She sighs, her voice softening again at the sight of the slumbering babies. “You expose yourself to a great risk, Alma. You know that creating new life forms without Council authorization is forbidden since your uncle created the Anubi.”
“I know,” Alma concedes, smiling in spite of her mother’s warnings. She holds her children closer to her. “But I intend to keep them even so. Father will not do to them what he did to my other creations.”
“He will cast you out if you do not get rid of them before they are found,” Lyria states with a sad smile, stroking the babies’ soft cheeks.
“Let him, then,” Alma retorts, her jaw locking in an expression of courage and indifference. “It is not the worst thing he could do to me.”
“No, it is not,” Lyria says carefully, brow raised. “Nor should he be your biggest concern right now.”
“Shall I go tell him?” her only daughter asks, shoulders sagging despite her mask of proud bravery.
“No. Not just yet,” the older goddess decides. “His position in the Senate allows for no help from him. Go to Nekh, instead,” she suggests. “For the love he still has for me, he will grant me this wish and speak on your behalf before the other Archons once Arion leaves.”
Alma sighs, her mask falling. “I did not mean to create them, Mother,” she whispers. “Arion and I…”
“I know,” Lyria states, taking the bundle from Alma’s unresisting arms and softly rocking the children back to sleep. “It is a fault of your character that you are more inclined to create life than to take it and that your unruly emotions so often shape your power into new life forms. You really must learn a way to control them, little soul,” she adds in a singsong voice meant to keep the tiny babies calm.
“I believe I have found one, mother. I am joining the Guardia Dei,” Alma announces.
Lyria freezes in unconcealed surprise. “You? Not only do you put your family’s name at stake by committing such a crime as the unlawful creation of life, now you wish to disgrace your father’s reputation by having his only daughter join the Guardia?” she asks sharply, regretting her tone immediately when the babies wake up again. “My child, do you wish to be disowned?” the goddess adds in a considerably softer tone.
“Joining the Guardia will serve the purpose of keeping me away from the public eye and show my loyalty,” Alma reasons. “Besides, Father’s image can only benefit from the notion that allowing one of his own to serve the Urbis in such a dignified function as a peacekeeper is one of the ultimate sacrifices a god of his rank can make. Noblesse oblige.”
Her daughter’s sharp, strategic logic brings a smile to Lyria’s lips. She frees one hand that she uses to stroke Alma’s cheek. “Always estranged and ever so alike…” the goddess whispers. She shakes her head vigorously and returns the bundle to Alma’s caring embrace. “First and foremost, child of mine, your father will benefit from not having his daughter sentenced to rot in prison. Go to Nekh; tell him I sent you.”
She watches as her daughter again covers her head with the hood and walks away.
“And Alma…” the goddess suddenly calls.
“Yes, mother?” Alma replies, stopping and turning to face her.
“Forbidden romances are wonderful and exciting only until people start to get hurt,” Lyria counsels. “Unless you wish to find out just how much that love is worth, I would recommend you let go of that Void Rider.”
Alma’s eyes shoot open and she experiences a short moment of disorientation before recognizing the ceiling of her own room at the station. Her dream, based on memory, was so vivid, she could swear everything was happening all over again. She sits up to find the room bathed in the soft light of an artificial dawn. All around, the Bunnies sleep peacefully, scattered between the bed and the little pillow-filled alcove by the edge of the pool.
Alma breathes deep a couple of times, gathering the necessary nerve to leave the shelter of the sheets. Things have not been easy lately. Since May’s revelation regarding her lies and Sky’s involvement in them, the goddess’ heart has felt ripped in two, torn between affection and hurt, friendship and betrayal. Her mind, restless at the best of times, has replayed conversations time and again in search of evidence of falsehood and of truth. She turns her gaze to Mayumi’s sleeping form, rolled up in a ball in the alcove, the only Bunny sleeping alone, and for a moment the full depth of her grief shines in her eyes. A single tear runs down her cheek, like a drop of blood falling from her wounded heart. How can love exist where trust does not?
Again, the goddess breathes deep, before turning and sitting on the edge of the bed. It is then that she notices a small, folded piece of paper lying innocently on her bedside table, as if it has been there all along. Intrigued, Alma reaches for it and picks it up, unfolding it.
Written in a pleasant, soft cursive, the note says only:
The time has come.