“You should know better,” Alma whispers softly, in an almost stoical sigh.
Leaning over the unconscious Gwydion, her hand resting gently on the god’s extremely pale cheek, she brings her face closer to his. With the lightest of touches, their lips connect.
Searching for the thread now binding their life-forces, Alma finds a point of entry and slowly releases a portion of her mana into the god, infusing him with some much-needed power. She feels the energy abandon her, flooding into him as she willingly drains herself to strengthen his vital force, keeping only what is absolutely necessary to sustain herself. When she can afford to give no more of her mana, she breaks away from bond and touch and examines the god for signs of change.
For a moment, nothing happens.
“Hmm… am I too late?” the goddess wonders aloud.
But not much longer goes by before Gwydion seems to sprout new life, color returning to his cheeks, his breathing becoming stronger and deeper. No longer at risk of collapse, the god sleeps.
Alma smiles at this little victory. “No, I’m not,” she answers to herself.
Exhausted herself, she sits by his side, her back leaning against the same stalagmite that supports his reclining body. Before her, Nevieve sleeps in her pool and the Pearl still hovers contentedly above the water. To her left, Gwydion slumbers, his rhythmic breathing inviting rest. All is well for now. All there is left for Alma to do is stand guard.
She wakes up to a male voice calling her name in concern.
“Alma?” the voice insists, adding the touch of a hand to her shoulder to its plea. “Alma?”
Slowly, the goddess opens a weary eye. The headache hits almost immediately, clouding her sight, forcing her back into soothing darkness. A moment passes, and she opens both eyes to look at Sky’s concerned face. His lips part in a smile at the sight of her awakening.
“Glad to see you pulled through, Sergeant,” he says in a friendly tone.
“The Oracle?” Alma mumbles almost unintelligibly.
“Your mother told me where she’d sent you and I came by to check on you,” Sky goes on, seemingly unaware of Alma’s question. “All is well now. The Pearl is back, the Oracle is safe and Dion there seems to have made himself a new friend,” the Inspector adds with a smirk and a jerk of his thumb to a point above and beyond his shoulder, where Gwydion stands showering Nevieve with his charm, much to her apparent amusement.
Well, I guess he is back to his normal self, Alma muses, the mana headache hitting her with a sudden wave as if in punishment for her malevolent thoughts.
Rubbing her eyes, the goddess waits for the pain to subside before accepting Sky’s hand and letting him help her rise to her feet. Leaning on his arm for support, Alma watches him produce a mana orb from a pocket and offer it to her.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” she protests immediately.
“Take it,” Sky insists with a kind smile. “I figured that restoring the Pearl would leave you drained, so I brought it over just in case. Brought one for Gwydion too. Please, take it.”
The god doesn’t need to insist for much longer before Alma takes the orb and consumes its contents. Feeling her strength at least partially restored, the headache subsiding greatly, the goddess finds herself strong enough to stand without aid. Walking to the edge of the pool, with Sky following close behind ready to assist if needed, Alma comes to stand before the Oracle, who immediately puts an end to Gwydion’s conversation to focus her attention on the young goddess.
A friendly smile blooms on Nevieve’s lips as the Oracle’s white eyes focus on Alma. The iridescent lines that decorate the mermaid goddess’ cheeks seem to dance as Nevieve says, “Thank you so very much.”
Alma feels the intensity of the white gaze on her as the Oracle goes on with her speech, her words clearly aimed at the assembly of gods before her, her eyes looking at nothing but the bottom of Alma’s very soul.
“The Siren’s Pearl is back and the taint those Dukaines had put on it is gone. I am glad that our paths crossed at this point. Three Rats needed you here.”
“I am afraid our task is only half done,” Sky says, his voice tense, almost uneasy in Alma’s ears. “If the Pearl was taken once from your keep, it could certainly be taken again. But I do think we may be able to help with that as well.”
Much to Alma’s relief, these words seem to pull the Oracle’s attention from her. As Nevieve focuses on Sky, her smile turning into a strange grin, she inquires, “And what exactly do you suggest, little firefly?”
Sky turns pale under her gaze, causing Alma to wonder just what he thinks the Oracle is seeing. “Please, follow me to the main pool,” he asks them all as he turns to leave.