The short trip back to her room is an anguished one. Moving quickly, her head still reeling from hearing of the rejection of Sky’s report, her heart set on seeking Nekh in search of answers, Alma crosses rooms and hallways without seeing them, the spaces now so familiar that her feet have no trouble negotiating their way through the bar and down the stairs, across the threshold, around the wisteria privacy screen…
“Oh, hello!” Sage greets her as the goddess enters her sanctum.
Standing on a chair propped against one of Alma’s bookshelves, one of his ears turned straight at the door, the Bunny leans closer to the leather-, cloth- and even wood-bound volumes, seemingly inspecting the titles engraved or carefully painted on them.
Alma breathes deep at the unexpected sight and takes a moment to conjure up a smile before asking, “Hello, little one. Are you looking for anything specific or just browsing?”
“In my dreams, I would spend many of my days cooking,” Sage explains, turning to look at the goddess, a short flash of worry over her paleness coming over his eyes. “But for some reason, I’m having trouble remembering the recipes.” Her turns to the books again. “I thought I had seen a cookbook here, but I just can’t find it. I thought, with what’s going on, cooking might help.”
Silently, Alma moves to the opposite bookshelf and quickly finds the old tome Sage is looking for. Crossing the room to stand by the Bunny, she hands him the book.
“Here you go, dear,” she says in a soft voice. “You can keep it, if you like.”
Sage remains silent for a moment, holding the book to his chest and looking at the goddess. Although he smiles, his eyes betray his concern. Try as she might, Alma’s spinning and rushing mind has her spreading her angst around her like an invisible wave washing off her body. Her demeanor speaks of serenity and comfort but the air around her might as well be packing thunder and lightning.
“Will everything be all right?” Sage nearly whispers.
Alma smiles at this, albeit solely with her lips. “Yes, little one.”
The Bunny nods slowly and jumps off his perch on the chair. “I hope so,” he murmurs. “Thank you. For the book,” he adds.
“You are most welcome,” the goddess replies. “I hope I can taste some of those wonderful dishes soon.”
“You surely will,” Sage answers with a smile.
He walks to the door but stops to look at Alma once more. “We can always talk, yes?” he queries, tentatively.
“Always,” the goddess says. “But not right now.”
The Bunny once again turns away and exits the room, leaving Alma with her raging thoughts. The former fear instilled by the Commander’s note to Sky that the report might not be more than a dog and pony show is now a very solid, very frightening reality. That the Bunnies were at risk was not new to Alma. Ever since they were born, her creations have been at risk.
New species created without permission are deemed aberrations, no matter who their creator. But new species created by a member of the Death Clan have been especially so since the case of the Anubi, stupid and frail creatures, barely able to take commands or even care for their own lives enough to sustain themselves. The Bunnies were considered no different at the time of Cherry and Merri’s creation and right there and then very much considered monsters unworthy of being kept alive. And with the ghost of that prophecy...
Nekh changed that. Forever enthralled by Lyria’s charms, the vulture-headed god took Alma under his feathered arm in the hopes of future attentions from his platonic love, and interceded with the Council in her favor, claiming the Archons know what, to buy the Bunnies a chance at life. That they had to be kept in stasis bubbles was sold to Alma as a way of ensuring that development and growth occurred without external interference so that the Bunnies could prove themselves capable of intelligent, independent life in the future. The stasis bubbles were little more than eggs, after all, sustaining the young Bunnies as body and mind developed. Alma didn’t care. She would have taken pretty much any option available to keep her children safe.
Thoughts flying in all directions, Alma sits at the end of her bed, caught somewhere between breathtaking fear, mind-numbing hysteria and soul-crushing defeat. This turning of tables has just changed everything. Now confronted with the very serious possibility of seeing the Bunnies taken from her, the young goddess wrestles each panicked thought, trying to decide her next steps.
“Nekh…” she finally whispers to herself in a prayer to no one. “Whatever he did last time, please let him do now. Let me still have that one card to play.”
Feeling all strength drain from her body as anguish is replaced with resignation to the need to act, Alma slowly rises to her feet and steps slowly across the room, toward the mirror sitting on the opposing wall.
And then she notices the music...
At first, the music is barely audible, just a small crystalline ping punctuating each step she takes. Then the sound diffuses and grows, echoing off the walls with a watery flare. Around Alma, the light from the orb dims and wavers, now stronger, now very faint, flowing in waves that bathe the room in a liquid, hypnotic twilight with a heartbeat of its own, as soft and rhythmic as water dripping into an underground pool.
It is a strange song, the one that water sings as it seeps, drips, falls, hits, flows and fills the world, washes over the world, with its cool, soothing presence. Standing in the middle of her room, Alma takes in the slow, limpid, echoing dripping that somehow seems to overpower the ever-present murmur of the running water of her pool. Although a watery peace spreads through her mind, she can feel the alien nature of this sudden tranquility. Spreading her senses around her, the goddess scans the room for the origin of the distortion.
A shadow in the pool catches her attention, little more than a sudden blur of greenish-blue just below the surface. As she moves closer, the pool becomes darker, seemingly bottomless as if, somewhere below, the floor has dropped away. And again that blurring flash of blue and green catches the corner of Alma’s eye.
Her senses capturing now more than just image and sound, fully extended to find the faintest thread of life and soul, the goddess kneels by the pool and waits. This time, the colorful blur seems to move slower, taking on a slender, longer shape. Vague suggestions of something iridescent remind her of fish scales catching sunlight before the colorful thing vanishes again. Her hands placed on the very edge of the pool for support, Alma leans closer still, awaiting for its next apparition.
Around her, the gentle dripping of water on stone fills the air as the seconds stretch into short eternities.
Ping… Ping… Ping...
The creature leaps...
...and drags Alma in.