Alma returns to the grotto with her precious cargo to find a troubling scene. She sees Gwydion sitting against a stalagmite, head hung low, almost as if nodding off. The Oracle lies unconscious in her pool, looking again like the poison is taking its toll on her health, her breathing labored once more. Carefully and quietly, the goddess walks up to the nearly slumbering Gwydion, who raises his head at her approach and smiles weakly.
“You look exhausted,” Alma notes on seeing his paleness and sunken, glassy eyes.
At her words, Gwydion rises, clumsy and struggling. “I am in need of rest, yes,” he concedes. “It is my mana that is exhausted, though.”
“Too many filters to maintain?” the goddess asks for lack of something better to say.
He rubs his eyes and nods in confirmation. “That and whatever is tainting the water seems to be getting stronger.”
“Or the Pearl is getting weaker…” Alma little more than whispers.
“And so is the Oracle,” Gwydion adds, glancing at Nevieve’s agonized form.
Glancing briefly at the Oracle herself, Alma offers Gwydion the container with the four precious mana orbs, being careful to open it for the god’s inspection and immediate usage.
“I brought you these from the Academy,” she announces as his eyes flicker with something close to relief. “Your… colleagues? were rather friendly, if a little stumbling at times.”
Taking an orb in his hand, his need greater than any thoughts of a façade, Gwydion quickly consumes its contents, incorporating the much-needed power into his own reserves. Color returns to his cheeks, his eyes retrieve their healthy shine and the god smiles pleasantly and charmingly, his normal self renewed for the time being.
“Thank you so very much, my dearest Sergeant. And yes, they usually are, especially around beautiful women,” he comments, carefully removing the remaining orbs from the container and shrinking them down to fit in his jacket pocket. “Are you any closer to finding the Pearl?”
“Working on it,” Alma replies vaguely, trying to maintain her growing concern away from her voice. “How much longer will you be able to hold?”
“As long as it takes,” Gwydion responds, rubbing a temple undoubtedly afflicted by the beginnings of a mana headache.
Provided that’s not too long… Alma thinks to herself.
Out loud she says, “I hope the mana helps. We are doing all we can to find the Pearl and restore it.”
“It helps me immensely. Thank you again for it,” Gwydion assures her. His expression darkens slightly. “So, you found Geryon…”
Alma nods. “He found me, as you said he would.”
“Yes. He has a knack for that. Did he mention anything of consequence?” the god inquires.
“Nothing of use to us right now – we can speak of it later,” the goddess replies evasively, her voice lined with ice. “We have set up water-distribution points at the Copper Pot and at the station. I should return and help the Inspector with keeping things under control while we look for the Pearl,” she states. “Unless you need me here, that is.”
A moment of silence falls upon them as Gwydion considers this, broken only by Nevieve’s heavy breath and rhythmic tail movements.
Finally, the god says, “Although I would treasure the company, I believe you’d serve a better purpose tracking the Pearl. I will hold things steady here.”
“I will hurry,” Alma promises, a hand rising tentatively to comfort but falling again almost immediately as the goddess recalls her meeting with the wizards.
Her expression darkening, she turns to leave and walks away quickly. Behind her, the goddess catches the softest of whispers.