Pacing quickly through the well-known back passages of his uncle’s estate, Dion negotiates the manicured landscaping, the beautifully trimmed bushes, the strategically placed trees, the statues so skillfully carved that they seem to have been born out of the natural rocky landscape instead of carved into it. Swiftly covering the lush green distance, he traces a convoluted path through the seemingly continuous rows of bush and hedge, sliding into and out of passages skillfully hidden by the tiny, dark-green leaves to find himself standing before a well-hidden, white marble stone wall. Behind him, he can hear the thumps and the brushing of his companion’s winged body against the labyrinthine plant life as his bulkier yet more flexible body negotiates its way through, until four padded feet land next to him.
“Someday, my friend, you will just have to explain to me what it is you have against the concept of using the front entrance,” Geryon complains.
“Hush, please!” Dion reprimands, holding up his hand to halt his friend. Turning to the wall, the god touches the marble, his finger trailing a vein and applying an intricate pattern of taps to the cool, exquisite stone. Placing his palm on a specific spot, Dion says a string of power words in low tones. The vein suddenly cracks and the wall parts, creating a passageway. Stepping in quickly, Dion steps aside and awaits his gryphon friend's entrance before casting a counter spell to close the wall.
“I would suspect that my uncle’s estate is heavily monitored by some that may wish to do me harm. This is a safer path,” Dion explains.
“Do you harm? Is that why you asked me to come along – figured that the bird-kitty would scare off the big bad people wanting to attack you?” Geryon accuses.
Dion pauses and looks back at his friend. “The thought had crossed my mind,” he admits.
“Lovely,” Geryon sarcastically mutters as he peers down the hallway with his sharp eagle vision. “So, which way now?”
“We go this way,” Dion points to a curving corridor. “There is a back stairwell that will take us to my uncle’s offices.”
Dion strides off purposefully with Geryon quickly closing the distance from behind until they reach a solid wood door. Touching the handle, Dion again whispers an incantation, and the door swings open to a marble staircase.
“And what happens if you don’t cast that spell?” Geryon asks.
“We’d plummet into a pit of molten rock and jagged outcroppings.”
“Of course! No proper mansion is complete without one,” Geryon mutters as he watches Dion run the staircase two steps at a time.
As Geryon mounts the stairs to catch up, he sees Dion open a matching door at the top and disappear behind it as it swings shut with barely a sound from the century-old hinges. Voices ring somewhere beyond the wooden portal just as Geryon reaches the top of the stairs. He holds there, listening.
“Well, if it isn’t the pretty boy!” one voice says. “I’m surprised you would show your face around this ring after you were discovered with Archon Dergallin’s daughter. I ought to tell my sister that you’re back.”
“Why? I think Dion already gave her his best!” comes another voice in a mocking tone, much closer to the door.
“Shut up, idiot!” the first voice retorts.
“My fellow Dei, I would suggest you detain me no further. I have pressing business with my uncle to attend,” Dion’s voice sounds from a little distance away.
First Ring gods, I'll bet! Geryon thinks. We just had to go and run into a couple of pompous Guardia Dei.
“Sorry Gwydion, I believe Dergy has a warrant out for you. Maybe we should take you over to see him,” the first voice says in a sneer. “I’m sure my sister would appreciate hearing that…OOOF!”
The door suddenly bursts open, knocking the second speaker into the far wall, rendering him unconscious. Geryon leaps through the doorway, jumping to defend his friend. In a bound, the first Guardia Dei finds himself flattened to the ground, face down, pinned by the gryphon’s lion-sized bulk.
Placing his beak dangerously close to vital neck arteries, Geryon snarls. “The god here says he has some business with an Archon. Are you really thinking of detaining him?”
The Guardia Dei of the First Ring, his immaculate uniform now crumpled under Geryon’s mass says to the floor, “He’s a disgrace to the Guardia! He should be taught a lesson!”
“Ah, the desperate words of the terribly jealous,” Geryon states, and as he feels the Dei raising magic against him, he cuffs the pinned Guardia in the back of his head with his front paw, rendering him unconscious.
“That’s a useful technique,” Dion says to his friend as he halts his own counterspell to the Dei’s now aborted attack.
“Yes, I have generally found it just a teeny tiny bit harder to cast a spell when one is unconscious. You gods may be immortal but a good whack across the head will ring your bell no different than us. Besides, bird-kitty doesn’t have a lot of love for the pompous Guardia Dei,” Geryon says and then pauses looking at Dion. “Close friends an exception, of course.”
“Of course,” Dion responds with a nod, and then turns to move swiftly towards a crossing corridor that leads to two mammoth, marble doors, larger than the surrounding walls, whose top edges somehow lose sharpness as if occluded by haze. The doors hold open while the day’s business is being transacted. But at night they close with a deafening bang that is heard throughout the Insula.
Dion paces through the doors, quickly followed by Geryon, towards steps ringed with functionaries, administrators, and inner, elite guards who quickly recognize Dion and evacuate his path.
“I wish they had been so kind to do so with me,” grumbles Geryon only to receive a “shh” from Dion.
Mounting more steps they reach a platform of marble and gold upon which a massive desk of the same materials sits. Behind, bathed in a glow that seems to bound from marble wall to marble wall, sits Math – Archon, Guardia patron, and uncle to Geryon’s closest friend.
Dion steps over the last stair and halts, standing at the threshold of the platform, as silent and rigid as the marble itself. Geryon holds back a couple of stairs, uncertain of the protocol at this point as he has never ascended to Math’s platform before.
Moments tick by before a booming, thunderous voice, echoes across the surface. “Dion, my beloved nephew! How wondrous it is for you to visit! To what do I owe this surprise?”
“He doesn’t know?!” Geryon hisses from behind and below Dion but gets no notice from the god of magic.
Suddenly, Dion takes formal, rigid steps and approaches the marble desk. Standing only a body length away, his jaw locked, eyes piercing, Dion bows dutifully and states, “I have come to request your personal intervention on behalf of the Bunnies created by the daughter of Death, in the matter of the Council’s orders.”
Math momentarily strokes his pure white beard as if considering the request, each strand of facial hair cloaked with light. Standing, he turns and steps towards a doorway to the rear of the platform, a peculiar feature with no walls to sustain it or even give it apparent use.
“Follow me, nephew,” he says. “Oh, and you can bring your reshaped friend, too.”
Dion looks back to Geryon as if reinforcing the approval, and steps forward, towards the door. “I knew I should have stayed back at the bar,” Geryon mutters as he launches forward. “My chances with Death's daughter seem better right now.”
Passing the doorway, Geryon finds himself in a rather mundane study. Panels of richly polished wood adorn the walls, but the floor is a simple, wood-pieced floor with a tapestry rug covering. Lighting is more diffuse and much darker than the luminescence on the other side of the door.
“Hello Geryon,” Math greets the gryphon as he moves to take a seat in a large but not ornate chair facing them.
“My Lord Archon,” Geryon responds with a low head bow.
“I see my favorite mage’s nephew is looking well, although still more feathered than I recall of past,” the Archon remarks.
“Yes, my Lord,” Geryon responds. “Gwydion has been a bit preoccupied of late to derive a counter-spell. Although,” the gryphon-shaped-god adds while flexing a wing, “I do seem to find this form useful at times.”
Math chuckles briefly before turning back towards his nephew to be greeted with a stone-rigid face.
“Ah, yes. The Bunnies,” the Archon starts. “I do apologize for the terse note, but things were coming to a consensus in the Council, and I did not want to tip any conversations.”
“But Uncle, you had noted a plan. Yet the result was to call for their execution,” Dion argues.
“Not execution, but rather their imprisonment,” Math corrects. “Once here, I hope that cooler heads may prevail and provide me a better negotiating position.”
A motion, a barely detectable presence, catches Dion’s awareness as it moves slowly towards Math. Alarmed, Dion quickly draws his short-sword, the act finishing a preset spell as the magically infused sword flares to golden life. Behind him, Geryon squawks a note of surprise.
“Dion! What–?!” Geryon shouts as Dion advances quickly on the presence, his sword now raised to strike.
“Something is advancing on my uncle.” Dion states deadpan.
Math quickly raises his hand, halting Dion’s approach. “It’s all right Gwydion,” the Archon speaks, and then leans in the direction of the presence. “You’re losing your touch, old friend. My nephew discovered you.”
A voice, almost a whisper responds, “Remove the pretty girls from his view, and maybe the young mage finally sees around him.”
Math chuckles softly. “And what have you to tell that you would interrupt my time with my nephew?”
The presence leans closer, the whisper dropping below Dion’s and even Geryon’s hearing. The friendly smile on Math’s face disappears and suddenly changes to a look of alarm.
“Most disturbing indeed,” Math states, again stroking his beard. He suddenly punches the arm of his chair. “That fool! Again, he thinks himself greater than the Council!”
Dion, now confused, takes a moment to sheath his sword. Geryon pads up next to him as the presence recedes and disappears.
“Uncle?” Dion asks.
Math turns and again focuses on his nephew. “Things have changed, Gwydion. I need you to perform a task for me. But before you do, tell me, what has Lady Alma told you of the Council's reasons for wanting the Bunnies eliminated?”
“She has mentioned the Ban on the Unauthorized Creation of New Lifeforms Act,” Dion replies, eyebrow raised.
Math snorts. “Nice to see a woman manipulate you for a change... No, Gwydion, here is the real story behind history.”
The Archon proceeds to relate the story of the Oracle’s prediction.
“We all thought it quite incredulous, a bunny killing an Archon. Then came the announcement of their creation, a parting shot by one of our own before he fled. We were in shock,” Math explains. “The only thing that stayed our hands from having them annihilated was that their creator was a member of the Death Clan.”
“Sergeant Alma,” Dion says flatly, getting a nod of agreement from his uncle.
“It was Lady Alma at that point,” Math corrects. “Her joining the Guardia was probably the only thing that saved her Bunnies. Once under my jurisdiction, I managed to keep her and the Bunnies away from the Council, and stay the fervor, until she finally gave me no choice but to have her sent to the Fourth Ring. Sadly, there appear to be members that were not convinced that that would suffice and proceeded to take actions to have them eliminated.“
“They’re afraid,” Geryon says. “They don’t hate the Bunnies. They’re fearful of them.”
“Quite so, sadly,” Math states. “I should be too, yet something makes me believe that the prophecy is not aimed at me.” Leaning back in his chair, he adds. “Once I came to terms that banishment to the Fourth Ring would be insufficient, I arranged for their captivity here.”
“This finally connects a number of things, Uncle,” Dion says, shaking his head. “The Oracle’s words to me, Sergeant Alma’s presence in the Fourth Ring, the Council’s actions…”
“Which brings me to the task, my nephew,” Math says, leaning forward in his chair, his stare intense and piercing. “I need you to bring Alma and her creations to my estate for protection. A Council member has taken independent action, and the Bunnies are now in mortal danger where they sit. Return quickly and retrieve them.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Dion responds almost automatically, still numb from Math’s revelations.
“Should I return with him?” Geryon asks.
“No. Dion needs to move quietly. Sadly, you would draw attention,” Math answers, and then stands. “Now go. I must contact the Commander next to alert the Guardia of these events.”
Dion, shaking himself out of his stupor, bows quickly to his uncle and turns towards the door.
“No!” Math commands, pointing to a rear corner behind a partition. “There is a portal there that will take you to Little Falls. Use it instead.”
Dion nods to his uncle, paces behind the partition, and vanishes.
Geryon looks back towards Math. “What can I do to help?”
Math responds, “Go to your uncle. He should have completed the task I asked of him. Take the result and bring it back here for safekeeping.”
Geryon nods and quickly exits, as Math follows. Returning to his desk, he addresses a functionary standing nearby.
“Send a note to the Commander…”