Alma reclines on a comfortable chaise lounge by an ornate, golden brazier, that spreads its warmth across the room, the slow, lazy waves of shade and light it emits giving off a sense of comfort and relaxation. Her body propped up by an elbow resting on the chaise arm, her legs lying slightly bent over the pearly, velvety, cushioned surface decorated with a golden pattern of fleur de lis, feet bare of the ballerina slippers that now rest on the floor, the goddess enjoys the light reading provided by a baked-clay tablet engraved with small, intricate hieroglyphs. The sensation that someone is standing by her breaks her away from stories of animals created from random body parts and of lakes made from godly spit.
She raises her head to look at Math, who stands behind the chaise, reading over the goddess’ shoulder.
“The myth of creation according to the Sumi people,” he comments in soft tones. “Interesting.”
Alma smiles pleasantly in greeting, still very much enveloped in the feeling peace she had been enjoying until now. “What can I say? I like good fiction.”
Math snorts and walks around the chaise, to the little table by Alma’s right that serves as an aid, and where a decanter made of fine crystal sits surrounded by delicate glasses made to match the set.
“Then you will not like that one. They were particularly uninspired,” he says, pouring the golden liquid in the decanter into two glasses and proffering one to Alma. “Join me, my lady.”
The goddess puts the tablet down on the table and takes the offered glass. “With pleasure.”
Math nods in approval and takes a seat in a comfortable chair by Alma, crossing a leg over the other and leaning back in relaxation. “So, let us get to know the young lady who has proven the downfall of two Archons so far.” He says with lightness. “Should I be worried?”
Alma grins bitterly for a second before her expression locks in almost complete blankness.
“I would like to say you have nothing to fear from me, but I have been known to be wrong before,” she notes, taking a sip of her drink.
The answer has Math leaning forward, legs now close together, his glass held in both of his hands as he looks straight into Alma’s eyes, every drop of lightness sucked away from his composure. Still, it is in soothing, seemingly caring tones that he speaks to her.
“I know you have no reason to trust me, Alma, but you are still one of my Guardia Dei and so I am going to be very straightforward with you. I have no intention of letting you rot behind bars for what has happened to Nekh. He was a fool to take matters into his own hands and for betraying the Council in doing so. Cruel as his fate has been, it wasn’t at all unexpected.”
He leans back in his chair, one elbow propped on the chair arm so that his head rests on the back of his hand, while the other hangs, holding his glass, over the other chair arm. “However, in order for Nekh to remain the traitor who attacked my officers without provocation and for you to be deemed the victim who acted in self defense, we need to be able to put this prophecy business to rest and prove your Bunnies harmless. That said, never to be repeated, keep in mind that you stand nothing to gain and everything to lose from lying or keeping secrets from me. Are we clear?”
“Sir, yes, Sir,” Alma replies without jest or arrogance.
Sure, be all military. That’s what gets him off, you know, women in uniform? Nekh’s voice resounds in her head. Bet you can turn him around to your side too.
She glances to the empty armchair by her feet to see Nekh sitting with his back to one
of the arms, while his legs hang from the other, his vulturine head hanging low, his long, featherless neck bent in an arc as he makes a big show of inspecting his nails. He almost provides enough distraction to drown out Math’s next words.
“I knew and know your lover quite well, Alma. If Nekh was a fool, Arion has a sharp mind that few can rival.”
Hey, who are you calling a fool? Nekh explodes in rage, nearly falling off the chair. At least I don’t fall head over heels for the first pretty broad someone threw into my arms!
It is all Alma can do to ignore Nekh or let any hint of her hallucinations appear in her expression. She focuses her attention on Math, who goes on speaking, completely unfazed by the words he cannot hear.
“I know that Arion wouldn’t surrender his heart or his future to just any pretty face on the street, and I have your personnel record to prove it.”
At this point, Math rises from his seat and crosses the room. He leaves Alma’s field of vision for a moment and she hears the distinctive sound of a drawer opening. He returns with a thick folder full of tagged and annotated pieces of paper. He puts the folder down on the little table by Alma. He looks at the goddess and taps the folder with a couple of fingers.
“Your unorthodox methods and creative interpretation of authority are the hallmark of an unusual mind, and a dangerous one, at least if your regular Dei is considered.”
Alma cannot help but grin. “I am a child of my father, Sir.”
“Oh, there is no doubt about that,” Math replies, sitting down again and taking another sip of his drink. “And we both know he is not at all pleased that his only daughter has joined the Guardia.”
“And yet, even in that I have served his purposes,” Alma says with a sigh, shaking her head slowly in defeat. “I have always served his purposes. And Nekh’s–”
“And Arion’s?” Math intervenes, looking sternly at the goddess. “Tell me Alma, why did you create the Bunnies?”
Why?! Nekh cries from his seat. Because she slept with a horse, you jackass!
Alma’s voice becomes as bitter as her thoughts. She rises from her seat, unable to stay put, and nearly hisses her retort. “Everyone speaks as if all of this was a carefully designed plan, as if the Bunnies were nothing but tools and weapons.”
“I was there the day Nevieve delivered her prophecy, Alma, and I was there the day Arion announced that the Bunnies had been created,” Math scolds her sharply. “As soon as he turned his back, they stopped laughing and started shaking in their seats. For twenty-four years, the fear has existed in the back of our minds that this day might come eventually – and it did, for Nekh.”
Alma fights the urge to break down in tears. For the past few days, she has hovered between complete numbness and overwhelming impulses to cry her heart out. Regardless of the Archon’s words, she feels hopeless and helpless.
“You believe we did it on purpose, but you don’t understand,” she says, struggling to keep a leveled tone and being careful to not look directly at Math. “And how could I blame you? It took Nekh’s death for me to understand. It was all a terrible accident, a twist of Fate. Someone else’s plan gone wrong…”
She raises her eyes to the Archon, glad for the dim lights that keep the glint of tears in her eyes well hidden. “Archon Math, I gained nothing from creating my children other than the joy of having them by my side, and even that has been taken away from me for years on end. And what a dear price I have paid for it all…”
Math looks at her in silence for a moment, as if considering the truth in her words. He then leaves his glass on the table and rises, covering the short distance to the goddess in three steps. He places a comforting hand on each of the goddess’ arms.
“Then talk to me, child,” he asks softly, gently guiding Alma back to the chaise and sitting by her. “Help me understand.”
Math, savior of all! Nekh snarls. I knew he’d fall for the weak and helpless act.
Alma sighs. At this point, there is barely anything left to lose in telling Math the whole story.
“Twenty-five years ago, give or take a few months, I was called to Father’s presence to entertain a guest of his,” she starts. “This was not unusual, of course. I have known many of Father’s fellow Senators for as long as I can remember and I was often called to help Father spread his charms among his peers.”
Math nods slowly, in assent. “We have all played that game. I have lost count of the number of dinners that Gwydion has attended at my request.”
“Yes, but this guest was different,” Alma moves on with her tale. “I had never seen him or anyone like him before. He had a look about him… Wise and caring, burdened but strong. Looked young but his eyes betrayed his age.”
“Arion,” Math deduces.
“I could have sworn we shared a lifetime in a single look,” Alma concedes, looking into the distance, unable to fight the loving smile that curls her lips.
Ugh. If this gets any sappier I’ll have to start going through your bedroom scenes. Nekh threatens. Good luck keeping a straight face.
The smile disappears from Alma’s face. She turns her gaze back to Math. “He visited several times more with the excuse of discussing politics with Father. Became my patron, opened many a door for me. Taught me the ways of his politics, his philosophies about the Urbis. And before we knew it, we were lost in each other.”
“I can see how Death would have gained from such a union,” Math mutters.
“I see now how it was all a plan of his,” Alma concedes. “I never would have met Arion otherwise. And Father was always very resistant to the prospect of my having a personal life.” She finishes her drink. “I guess there are advantages to siring a daughter.”
“Make no mistakes, Alma, that the game of politics is as unforgiving as the mind of the mob,” Math tells her. “So, the Bunnies…”
“Were an accident that no one could predict,” Alma explains.
Hah! Someone got a bit distracted in bed, you mean! Nekh exclaims.
“Seven accidents, you mean,” Math corrects the goddess, the condemning tone in his voice somewhat echoing Nekh’s. “Or six, considering the twins who look nothing alike.”
“Love is blind, deaf and stupid. To this day, I do not know how to control the process that brought them to be,” Alma insists. “And once the first two had been created…”
“Who cares about five more, heh?” Math asks.
Not you, that’s for sure… Nekh leers.
“I care about all of them, Sir,” Alma states, an eyebrow raised, head tilted in questioning. “But tell me, why would you care about me? Even my father has washed his hands of me.”
The question seems to hit a nerve with Math. He hangs his head and shakes it slowly, keeping silent as he rises from his seat on the chaise and walks up to the table holding the decanter and glasses.
“I am not your father, Alma,” the god says, finishing the drink he had left unattended. “However, you are one of my Dei and a good one at that.” He taps the personnel file. “Regardless of reports attached.” Being careful to keep his eyes focused on anything but Alma, the Archon picks up the decanter and removes its heavy, ball-shaped lid. “Besides, this is the first time my nephew has pled anyone’s case to me other than his own and I would like to think of that as a sign of your worth.”
“Gwydion,” Alma whispers to herself. “Are you all the family he has?”
Math nods, the simple revelation seemingly painful to him. “In spite of my best efforts, or because of my best efforts to compensate for the unfortunate loss of his parents, my nephew has grown into a spoiled brat.” He sighs. “I’m still trying to work through the scandal he left behind with his idle games.”
“That is why he was sent to Three Rats, is it not?” Alma asks, her voice now as soft as the velvet that lines the chaise.
“I’m glad to see it has done him some measure of good,” Math states by way of answer as he pours a new dose of Ambrosia into each of their glasses. “There is nothing I would treasure more than to see him rise to his full glory.”
“But, my lord Archon, you have sent him to a station riddled with bad influences,” Alma says playfully and her words bring a smile to Math’s lips.
“Trust me, my lady Alma, when I tell you that I don’t play when I can’t win,” he replies with a warmth that almost feels like affection. “He is in good hands.”
The Archon picks up both glasses and sits by Alma again. “And in good hearts,” he adds, proffering a glass. “Join me?”