Ch4.25 Fatal Prophecy

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…”


Ch4.24 Fatal Prophecy

Margrave nods to the Dukaine bodyguard stationed outside Lord Nekh’s study. The bodyguard gives him a sly, minimal smile, possibly the only movement she has made in days. She is some kind of earth elemental, summoned and bound by Nekh himself, currently appearing to be part of a bas-relief panel of marble, a lovely nude woman holding a staff in a way that can only be termed “erotic.” But Margrave has seen what happens if Nekh becomes displeased enough to call for her. The elemental can move with shocking swiftness, just as graceful and beautiful as she appears now, and Margrave saw that phallic staff, made of solid marble, punch right through the back of the skull of his predecessor a few years ago. Margrave had to replace his suit. The blood just wouldn’t come out.
The elemental, able to bend all the stone in this part of Nekh’s palace to her will, causes the marble door to open, then goes back to doing whatever earth elementals do when they’re not killing people or opening doors. He wonders if she just contemplates the nature of Reality, or thinks about soil qualities, or if she just turns her brain off. Assuming she has something that can be described as a brain.
Elementals, he thinks. Give me a demon any day. At least with demons, you know where you stand.
He enters the study and the door swings silently shut behind him. Nekh is sitting in front of the opened bay windows, holding a snifter of brandy and contemplating the Sun as that god’s golden chariot passes behind the edge of the great caldera on which Nekh’s palace is perched. The shadow of night has already taken hold of the City below, on this side of the Insula. An insect, perhaps a bee, buzzes lazily in through the window.
Margrave waits, but Nekh says without turning, “What news? Don’t hesitate – this may be beautiful, but I can see it every day.”
“Tuma-Sukai has sent word to the Commander. He claims Sergeant Alma’s progeny are ill and unable to be moved at this time, citing a public health–”
Nekh hurls his glass through the window to shatter on the veranda. He grips the arms of his chair so hard that Margrave hears the stitching pop, then thrusts himself to his feet and turns to glare at Margrave. The diabolist wizard swallows but tries not to show any fear. None of this is his fault, after all.
“Has the Commander sent the message to demand that his trained dog follow his demon-pissing orders yet?” the vulture-headed god screams.
“He has not, Lord. His response was, ahem, ‘Well, we don’t want to start an epidemic, do we? And it’s not like they’re going anywhere’.”
“The Commander!” Nekh hisses. “I knew he was disloyal. He’s always had his own agenda. And keeping a thing like Tuma-Sukai as a pet. Margrave, I want them dead.”
“The Bunnies, Lord?”
“The Bunnies, Tuma-Sukai, Math’s precious nephew!”
“My Lord, if you kill Lord Math’s designated heir–”
Nekh barks a laugh. “Ha! It’ll be open war between us? Fine, fine, the time is not yet ripe. They can kill that Gwydion if he gets caught in the crossfire, but no purposeful assassination, yet.”
A buzz fills Margrave’s ear and he waves distractedly at the bee to shoo it away. “What of Sergeant Alma, Lord?”
“Oh, leave her alive. Her spirit will be crushed with the loss of her precious creations.” The Archon fetches another snifter and fills it from an ancient crystal decanter. The bee makes a pass by him, attracted by the sweetness of the brandy. “She’ll probably come running to me for help. Then I can tell her the truth of it all, and destroy her utterly. Perhaps I’ll keep her as a hostage in the dungeons, to control Death. Though I’m not sure he’ll still want her.”
“Shall we send the Sikari, Lord?” The bee flies toward him again, and Margrave reflexively snaps his hand out and grabs it from mid-air, then squeezes, crushing it.
Nekh chuckles at his lieutenant’s swift reflexes. “No, it would call too much attention. Besides, we already have our Dukaines on the ground. Have them assemble a hit team.”
Margrave hesitates. “Would this be a surgical strike, or a full assault on the station?” He opens his palm and looks expressionlessly at the twitching insect, then puts it in his handkerchief and tucks it into his jacket pocket.
Nekh considers. “The assault is tempting. Dead Guardia piled high would send a perfect message to Math. But now is not the time. Not when we’re so close to having Dukaine control of every ward around the base of the City. Have them wait, and take the Bunnies when they try to move them. Tuma-Sukai has been acting suspiciously, blocking our attempts to eavesdrop. Surely they have some escape route prepared.”
Margrave bows. “I will make the arrangements personally, Lord. Oh, by the way, I recently learned that a wizard-assassin threw in with the Dukaine organization in Three Rats. Apparently he’s been hunting Lord Math’s nephew after a failed attempt to kill him.”
“Ha! Good. Make sure he’s part of the strike team. If he kills Gwydion, we can shift the blame all the more easily.” He smooths the feathers around his long, wrinkled neck. “Don’t fail me in this, Margrave. I want those Bunny-things dead.”
“Of course, Lord Nekh.” Margrave bows and withdraws.
Walking out past the elemental, he pulls out his handkerchief and once again examines the dead bee, using his mage sight. He sees it, yes, a fading glimmer of magic, of a very specific kind. The bee was controlled. And it had carried an enchantment along with it: an eavesdropping spell. Someone had been listening in on their conversation, at least for awhile.

He thinks back on the mistakes Nekh has made in recent weeks, and calmly decides to keep this information to himself. It might come in useful, after all.


Ch4.23 Fatal Prophecy

The coolness is the first sensation to hit. It transcends the skin and bypasses bone, moving straight to the mind, triggering memories of being submerged. The air feels as thick as water. And yet, it is lighter, breathable, insubstantial, like a faint ghost of the elemental liquid.

Then, there is the darkness.


Not darkness, per se. There is light here. Things are visible here. There is just nothing to be seen. It is a dark light, maybe, a deep light that speaks of unfathomable abysses and hidden places. It goes well with the apparent absence of sound.

Floating in this strange atmosphere, Alma feels the cool touch of the ghostly water on her neck and scalp, as her hair flows around her in an intricate, almost weightless dance. There is nothing here, it seems, except for the quiet of one’s breathing and constant seeping of thoughts away from the mind and into the distance. The report, the Bunnies, Nekh, Sky, Gwydion, each flow far and away from her, into temporary oblivion. Lost to existence, to worry, to time, the goddess closes her eyes and lets the sweet abandonment wash over her.

It has been a long time… a voice invades her thoughts. Since you have last been at peace.

The young goddess opens her eyes to find the Oracle idly floating before her, her long, iridescent tail curving and swaying in its insubstantial medium.

Nevieve tilts her head at Alma. Has it not?

The goddess opens her mouth to reply but the apparent nothingness fills it, robbing her of her words and almost even of air. Alma panics for a moment as she feels her breath being sucked away by this strange sensation of void, her eyes widening in alarm, both her hands clutching her throat as it seems to lock shut, her mouth opening and closing like a fish suddenly caught out of water. Smiling the smile of one who is used to this, the Oracle moves closer, wrapping her tail around Alma’s legs and covering her mouth with a slender webbed hand. The strangely slippery touch to her lips soothes the goddess and Alma realizes that, although there seems to be no air, she currently feels no need for it either. As she relaxes and regains composure, the Oracle lets go of her.

Speak with thoughts, child. Nevieve instructs. I will hear yours as you hear mine. Now, tell me, how long has it been since you have last tasted peace?

Peace is a rare treat for those entrusted with heavy burdens, Alma replies, all the sadness in the world seemingly pouring into her deeply blue eyes.

True… The Oracle concedes, her hand now resting on Alma’s pale chest. And what a heavy burden you carry within your heavy heart.

A sudden image of her Bunnies lying senseless on the floor fills Alma’s mind. It is gone in a flash, so quickly that the goddess almost feels the whiplash of its disappearance.

The note… she thinks with difficulty. If she had been breathing, she would be wheezing. It was you, wasn’t it?

And why would I write you a note when I can just call you to me? Nevieve replies nonchalantly, swimming away from and around Alma.

The young goddess turns to look at the siren, now floating gently behind her, the bright gaze of those white eyes lost more in time than in space. A frail, distant, metallic, dull scent of blood and death fills Alma’s senses, for some reason, as if she could taste blood yet to be spilt, lives yet to end. The sensation sends a chill down her spine as her fear takes on a less urgent, more ominous quality.

I am lost, Nevieve, Alma pleads. My children will be paying for my mistakes with their lives and I… She shakes her head in doleful solemness. I have only one card left to play and it may have failed me already.

The thing about the cards of life, child, the Oracle states, is that the deck is undefined. We seldom know how many cards there are until all are on the table. She fixes the full force of her radiant gaze on Alma. And not all of them are yours to play.

Her patience growing thin, Alma hides her face in her hands, rubbing her eyes and cheeks in frustration. Her thoughts grow an edge of tension as she throws them at the Oracle. I don’t have the luxury of time to watch that game be played, Nevieve.

On the contrary, child, Nevieve retorts, drawing circles as she swims leisurely around the young goddess. You have time. What you don’t have is a place at the table, she adds, pausing to tap Alma’s nose with the tip of a scaly, slippery finger.

Alma turns away at this. There is one who can still play on my behalf.

Oh, there are many who can play on your behalf, the Oracle notes conversationally. Whether you trust them to or not. The question is: Are you relying on the right players and on the right cards, child?

The image of her Bunnies lying unconscious flashes again, this time followed by a familiar magical scent and a strange sense of feeble protection. Alma quickly shakes it away.

I can’t afford to lose, Oracle, she states.

Nevieve smiles at this and releases the young goddess. Then remember, firefly: the strongest trump card is the one that plays itself.

And then the Oracle is gone, time returns to its axis and Alma surfaces from the depths of her own pool, howling her frustration into the protective bosom of her sanctum. Her hair plastered against her cheeks, she looks up to find the youngest of her Bunnies staring at her in placid curiosity, her eyes empty of fear or comprehension. The sight of her brings a sad grin to Alma’s lips.

“You know, little one,” she says. “For once, I wish that gods weren’t so thoroughly… complicated.”


Ch4.22 Fatal Prophecy

Dion moves swiftly now down the hallway to the adjoining Annex building, his mind still churning from the conversation.
Why? He struggles internally crossing the connecting breezeway. What possible reason would cause the Council to have such a hateful interest in these creatures?
Passing quickly through the bar area, the god is relieved that the Bunnies are nowhere to be seen. He has no desire to be engaged in an unpleasant conversation at this point.
His face locked in place, he opens the portal to his home and immediately spots Geryon waiting inside. Two steps past the doorway and their eyes meet. The long, close relationship between the two allows for all the communication to pass between them that the gryphon needs to gain comprehension. Rising from the bed, he quickly morphs to his full form.
“I cannot believe it,” Geryon states while shaking his feathery head. “Do you know why?”
“No, but we’re about to go find out,” Dion states flatly as he grabs a small travel bag and begins placing some items in it.
“And where are we going?” Geryon asks, but mainly for confirmation as he already suspects.
“My uncle’s estate,” Dion responds, an economy of words now his method as his mind still storms.
Geryon circles between Dion and his bag, forcing the god to halt and look directly at his eagle-shaped head.
“Dion, you need to think this over for a moment. The Council has spoken. I completely agree that it makes no sense for the most powerful gods in the isle to have a vendetta against these creatures, but there must be a reason. It is the Council, after all.”
The god of magic steps back, his eyes flashing. “Geryon, I’ve come to the realization that maybe the Council isn’t so wise after all. That maybe there is something terribly wrong with them. These are peaceful, loving creatures. You’ve met two of them. I’ve met them all. There is nothing in them that should cause the Council to react so negatively.”
“They are a created life-form,” Geryon argues. “The prohibition against that—“
“Are not you?” Dion asks, cutting off his friend. “Did I not create you? Are you not artificial?”
“Hear now, you are comparing rain to sunshine! I existed before then…”
“Is that the test then, Geryon?” Dion asks, his normally even tone rising slightly.  “Are these creatures any less of a creation than you or I just because they came to being by the hands of life-giving magic rather than life-creating biology?”
Turning to his desk, the god of magic grabs the report and other notes, returning to his travel bag and placing them in. “Do they feel any less real to you? Do they not laugh, cry, fear, tire, just like us? Who is to say that they are any less of a creation than any of the Council members themselves, some of which may be hard-pressed to define their own legalistic beginnings?
“No, Geryon,” Dion says with finality. “Something else is wrong here, and my uncle’s truncated note and hint of a plan is insufficient answer. I am returning to get the real answer and his help in overturning the decision. I cannot require you to accompany me, but will ask for your companionship in my trip.”
Geryon rolls his eyes upwards exhaling deeply once in resignation. “You know, it would be much easier to stay out of the way, let this blow over, and then sneak back home to spend time with the lovely ladies again.” Seeing the sharpness of Dion’s look, Geryon sighs in resignation. “No, of course not.”
Heading towards the portal, Geryon continues. “I have heard of this tale, once, where a madman decided to attack windmills with a wooden lance while riding a horse because he thought the windmills to be monsters. Could never destroy them, really, not with a lance at least, but he did try it anyway.”
Looking over his tan-furred shoulders and watching Dion seal the pocket universe, Geryon adds, “I guess we should stop at a lance merchant’s place on the way.”
And the two figures exit towards Little Falls and its transfer portal.