They walk down a wide spiral staircase, their steps resounding off the marble flooring. Studded with glowing crystals, the yellowish stone-lined walls give a sense of progressive coolness, as if by climbing down the stairs one is moving away from the light of day and its warmth.
“This place is beautiful but so eerie, my lady,” Doria comments, looking around nervously while carrying an ornate brass basin decorated with a motif of shells and sea serpents.
“Some seem to believe the Council should not gather under the light of day,” Nevieve says, a smile dancing on her lips. “Our matters are to be kept our own, they say,” she adds, glancing at the brass jug of pure, clean water she’s carrying, a perfect match to the basin.
“You don’t agree,” Doria states, rather than asking.
“I don’t agree,” the Oracle echoes. “But, as they say, sound likes to travel down, not up.”
As they reach the bottom of the stairs a pair of unfriendly-looking guards in golden armor welcome them with a low bow and open a tall, narrow door for them. Beyond it, dusk and twilight await.
Doria falls behind while Nevieve gently makes her way across a narrow white marble ledge that gradually widens into a teardrop-shaped platform supported from below by a slender pillar. In the dimly lit room, the white stone of the platform appears to glow with a light of its own and Nevieve, in long, figure-hugging aqua-green, stands in the middle of it like a luminescent coral. Below her, and around the platform, a moat as deep as the volcanic crater of the mountain that is the Insula whispers and moans its old age. Around her, curved walls limit a wide, round room. Carved on the walls, balconies illuminated by soft lights open in two offset rows like honeycombs in a beehive. Each balcony harbors an Archon, Nevieve knows, their names known more than their faces seen in the dusky Council room. Right now, they grumble and whisper to each other in idle gossiping, waiting for their attention to be drawn by more pressing issues.
The Oracle lets them wait some more, raising her eyes to the hushed voices coming from above. Up there, high above ground and under the warm light of day, is the Senate, a round structure of benches built around a central arena, where bills are presented and issues brought forward for discussion by the dozens of senators that argue and haggle their way through each minor piece of law. Their hushed voices reach the Council room, muffled by distance. There is no ceiling here. Above Nevieve, a number of magical filters are all that separates this space from the arena high above, all that keeps what is said here within confined to these walls.
The voices from above sound slightly louder now, but only because every soul in the room has gone quiet. As Nevieve lowers her gaze to focus on the Archons all around her, sitting behind their balconies, she finds them in complete silence, awaiting keenly and curiously for her to reveal what it is that has made her summon this extraordinary Council meeting. Calling Doria to her side with a subtle hand gesture, the Oracle softly instructs her to lay the basin at her feet and then leave the room. The moment the great doors close behind Doria, Nevieve leans over the basin and fills it with water from the jug she still carries. Even without any spoken incantations, the water immediately starts to glow white with an icy-blue edge to it, its light spreading across the room in a shimmering, translucent curtain. Putting the jug down on the ground by her side, Nevieve breathes deep and raises her voice to speak.
"My fellow Archons, I come to you with a warning and a vision.”
From one of the balconies, hidden by the watery haze, a female voice replies, serene and pleasant, “Speak, then, Oracle. What have your eyes seen?”
“My eyes have seen a future not distant when the Council will be without one of its own,” Nevieve states, to a choir of half disappointed grumbles.
“This Council has seen Archons come and depart before, Nevieve,” the voice notes, hushing all others. “Why should we be troubled for it?”
“Death will come for an Archon in this Council,” Nevieve says, tilting her head. “Has this happened before, pray tell?”
The Oracle glances down at the basin and, suddenly, the light pouring from it vanishes. In its place, shadows appear, crawling out of the basin, spreading around the room like black ink in a glass of water.
“Death?” the voice of Archon Dergallin sounds, confused and surprised.
“The clan?” Archon Anura asks from her balcony.
“The god?” Archon Kadmyl ventures in his strong, deep voice.
“They cannot be trusted, the lot of them!” Archon Eriseth immediately cries, her voice rising in slithering accusation. “I have been saying so for eons, now!”
“Wait! Do you mean an Archon can be killed?” Archon Chanti queries in obvious shock.
“What kind of weapon would one need to eliminate an Archon?” Archon Enki inquires, the voice of his wisdom ringing pure and calm.
“In the hands of a bunny, the weapon will come,” Nevieve replies, soft and serene.
“What do you mean, a bunny?!” Archon Eriseth snaps.
"Did she...did she seriously say a bunny?” Archon Taleloc jests, his incredulous laughter booming like thunder in the great chamber. “You should check the water in which you bathe, lest it be tainted with alcohol, goddess! Bunnies killing gods?! That is ridiculous!”
At a wave of the Oracle’s hand, the shadows spreading across the room twist and gather, taking exotic shapes of tall rabbit-eared creatures with long legs and slender figures, that hop around in the air, perching at times on the balcony rails, tilting heads with expressionless faces at the Archons as if mocking their ignorance. Then, suddenly, they all jump and gather at the center of the room, just above Nevieve’s head, their strange bodies standing in a circle, back to back, glaring without eyes at the assembled Council members, like killers waiting for an order to attack.
"We are the great and the ancient! How can an Archon be killed?!" Archon Chanti insists.
“Unheard of!” Archon Dergallin cries.
“Impossible!” Archon Ikenga grunts from his seat.
“In the hands of a Bunny, death looms for an Archon,” Nevieve states, sure and true. “This much I have seen, this much will come to pass. Ignore me at your own risk.”
And without further explanation, the Oracle turns and makes her way out of the room. Behind her, the shadows of her “bunnies” dissolve slowly as the Archons argue and fear for their own fates.
The glow in Nevieve’s white eyes flickers as her attention returns to the present. By the edge of the pool, in front of her, Doria patiently awaits with a plate of fresh fruit for her lady.
“Looking into the future, my lady?” the naiad asks as Nevieve approaches the pool’s edge.
“The past, my dear,” the Oracle replies, slowly shaking the memory of that long gone Council gathering from her head. “Remembering words said a long time ago, right before we came to dwell here.”
“We left much behind…” Doria nearly whispers, suddenly looking pensive and melancholic. “But why remember now?” she inquires.
Nevieve smiles and takes an apple from the plate. Around her, the nagas surface and look at the fruit with curious eyes. While Doria whispers an “I’ll feed you soon too,” the blue-green ethereal naga so closely bound to Sergeant Alma’s essence lowers its serpentine head and brushes a cheek against Nevieve’s, making the Oracle’s smile widen.
“Because it is now that Fate will prove me right,” she states, half-turning to pet the naga. “Is it not, little one?”