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.”