Rushing from the Academy of Magic’s portal, through the hallways, Sky leaves the Commander and Somrak behind, forgets about them entirely. The message from the Oracle is imprinted on his brain – he knows every turn he must take, as if she is beside him, holding his hand and pulling him along. Something awful is about to happen. Something truly awful. Images of his friends, slaughtered in spite of all he has done, in spite of all promises and divinely binding vows, fill his mind.
He sees the door, hears shouting. Dion’s voice. Through the edges of the door glows a flickering light. And then a scream almost stops him. Her voice is so distorted that he almost cannot recognize it, but through the mixture of pain, horror, and triumph, he still recognizes Alma. The light flashes, blinding him momentarily even though the door is yet closed, but he lunges unseeing and manages to grasp the handle, pulling it open, and stumbles into the room, blinking. He barely notices the Commander right behind him.
Breathing hard, he tries to make sense of what he is seeing. In the center of the room, Alma, slumped on her knees, half-turned away from him, looking stunned, unaware of her surroundings. Before her is the crumpled corpse – somehow it is so clearly a corpse. An afterglow of powerful magic rises from Alma’s hands like smoke.
She begins to fall to one side, and he moves swiftly to her, kneeling and catching her. He feels every hair on his body stand on end as he touches her, like touching a live wire. He shivers and sees that the body before them has the head of a vulture. As she leans her head against his chest, she whispers, “Gwydion?”
“It’s Sky,” he murmurs. He glances around the room. Mayumi is standing, looking shocked, holding a knife, from the look of it a table-knife left in the room by some student. She keeps glancing from the corpse, to Alma, to Sky, as confused about what happened as Sky himself, despite having been in the room. Behind her he counts Sage, Rosemary, Kori, Chime, and Cherry.
Not far away, his back to a workbench, Dion sits on the floor looking equally stunned, though not as confused as Mayumi. More...dismayed. His jacket torn, hair disordered, he doesn’t seem to notice the youngest Bunny grasp his trouser to pull herself against him, until she puts her arms around his waist and clings tightly to him, her face against his belly. She is sobbing, and Dion looks down, uncertainly laying his hand on her head and stroking her hair and laid-back ears to comfort her.
Suddenly Dion looks up from the trembling young Bunny. He starts to rise, then hesitates, caught between calming the child and something else. Sky twists around to see, eliciting a whimper of protest from Alma, who grips his battered armored jacket harder. He sees a large creature – a gryphon? – lying broken, entangled in a tapestry, unmoving. Is it dead? Enemy or ally?
By the time he looks back, Dion has risen and is handing the girl to her immediate seniors, Chime and Kori. The Sergeant staggers past Sky, pausing for a moment to look down at him. No, he is looking at Alma, Sky realizes, Dion’s face a confusing mix of concern and...fear?
Astonished at all this, Sky feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns and sees it is Sage, looking down at him sadly. Preempting Sky’s question, the Bunny says, “She saved us. The Archon Nekh was going to kill us all. She saved us.” His voice is soft, as always, but reinforced with a steely determination.
Sky nods, beginning to understand what must have happened, then shifts as Sage kneels to take Alma. She at first holds onto Sky’s jacket, but then seems to sense that it is Sage, and she transfers her attention to the Bunny, holding him tightly as he whispers to her. As he rises, Sky hears Sage whisper, “You saved us, Mother. We’re all well. You saved us all.”
Sky cannot remember any of them calling her “mother” before.
Glancing around the room again, Sky sees Mayumi placing her knife on a table and just standing there, hands resting on the tabletop, facing away from everyone, deep in thought, her ears laid back. He summons his power, just a little, to waft a sea-wind whisper across the room. Mayumi?
She stiffens at the sound, her ears straightening to instant attention, the touch of the breeze and the smell of the ocean all tied together with the question, and she turns her head to meet his gaze. She looks so confused, so lost. Her eyes flicker to Alma and Sage, then down to the dead Archon, and Sky puts it all together, his blood running cold. This killing was outside the rules of the Guardia. Alma must have, in effect, killed a prisoner. It is the only explanation for all these reactions.
Mayumi’s eyes find his again, and he nods to show he understands. Her eyes begin to fill with tears and she turns away. He begins to take a step toward her, but just then Merri and Cherry rush past him toward Dion, who is still kneeling before the downed gryphon.
And then Somrak comes strolling in with a deity Sky recognizes, barely: Math, the Archon who acts as a particular patron to the Guardia. Dion’s uncle. The Archon’s face registers shock at the scene.
The Commander puts his hand on Sky’s shoulder and growls in his ear, “What a mess. She wasn’t supposed to kill him!”