Dion sits at the old hard-wood desk in his uncle’s study, searching tome after parchment after tablet for information on the Percussorum. The last few hours have been spent in this relentless, fruitless quest for a name, a description, a shred of evidence that they have ever even existed, let alone how they were created. The book sitting open in front of him is just the latest in a long line of dead ends.
“Nothing. Demons! How can it be?” the god swears, shoving the book aside in his frustration.
“You seem troubled,” a quiet, calm female voice rings.
Dion looks up to see Alma standing by the door. Head tilted, a book held in her arms like one would cradle a precious baby, the goddess looks at Dion with what looks like a mixture of curiosity and concern.
“I…have been better,” he replies vaguely, being careful to refrain from eye contact. “Can I help you with anything?”
Much to his gratitude, Alma focuses her attention on finding a spot in a bookshelf, giving him enough time to at least recompose himself partially.
“I came to return a book and couldn’t help but overhear you speak,” she explains, placing the book she is carrying back in its proper place. She then turns to him again. “What is wrong?”
“I have been researching the God Striker,” Dion explains with a very subtle sigh and a gesture towards the manuscripts on the desk. “According to Geryon’s uncle, it should not have worked in my hands or obeyed my commands when I told it to stop.”
“I take it from your frustration that you have failed to find anything of value,” Alma says, approaching the desktop to take a better look at the tomes.
She picks one and browses through the pages as if she would be able to find something that the god has missed. She puts it down and browses another book.
Dion moves from behind the desk, his frustration keeping him from standing still while his self-control keeps him from pacing. “One would think that with my uncle being the patron god of all Guardians in the Insula, that he would possess such knowledge.”
“Well, just because it isn’t here does not mean he doesn’t have it,” Alma replies, her finger tracing the seams between the pages in the books she has picked. “There seem to be pages missing in all of these volumes. Perhaps Math is trying to stop such knowledge from falling into the wrong hands?”
Dion inspects the seams, cursing himself for having failed to detect such an obvious anomaly in the tomes. He shakes his head, forgetting himself for a moment in the heat of his frustration.
“Gylden let it slip that it might have something to do with the Percussorum confusing me with my father, that my father created the Percussorum. But there is nothing there. Nothing! Not even a name…”
Alma’s touch makes him turn his gaze to her. She looks at him in confusion. “A name? Gwydion, who is your father?”
The answer that he cannot give eats away at him. He cannot enlighten her any more than he could inform himself and yet the words “I don’t know” catch in his throat. She looks at him as if she could see the depths of his soul, making his heart pang with discomfort. But for as much as he would like to stop this perceived invasion, he cannot bring himself to look away, to avoid those endless blue eyes that seem to see through all of his masks and ruses. For some reason, the thought of being stripped naked of that heavy façade of nonchalance is somewhat comforting. He breathes deeply, his heart settles in his chest.
“This is why you are so desperate to find something… You don’t know who your parents are, do you?” Alma asks, her voice softer than velvet.
“No,” Dion rushes to answer. The words leave his lips as if propelled by an unseen tide, too strong to contain. The feeling of losing control over his words is exhilarating and terrifying to him. “They disappeared from my life when I was too young even to remember them. I was raised by my uncle and an army of the best tutors money can buy. I was never even allowed to know my parents’ names. This was the first time I’ve had my father mentioned to me and why am I telling you this?”
He slumps into a chair, one of the two usually left for guests in front of the desk, feeling both excited and exhausted. Alma walks up to him and gently leans against the desk, facing him, her head lowered to make it more comfortable for him to look back at her.
“That, I cannot say but I am glad you did. I may be able to help you. If you want my assistance, that is,” she says and for a moment, he fights the urge to grab and pull her down to his lap, kiss her like he did all those days ago and let that wash away this consuming anguish.
The look of compassion, almost of pity in her eyes makes him wish he had remained quiet.
Still, he asks, “How?”
“I am a daughter of Death’s clan and my mother is a major goddess of life, Gwydion. Among other things, we make it our business to keep an eye on every soul and a record for every life,” Alma states, speaking slowly and soothingly. “Either one of my parents could hold records on yours.”
“I don’t even know their names,” Dion argues.
“You know yours,” the goddess insists, never changing tone. “And Math’s. That should be enough to start with. All we need is an escort to take us to Father’s house.”
Whether it is a spell she weaves or the true nature of her soul, Dion feels peace radiating from her like warmth from a gently burning fireplace. The desire to be close to her rises again, to hold her and be lost in her arms and just stay still, ignoring the world outside. It is a new sensation for him, this craving of another’s peace. He wonders if the feeling radiating from her is somehow connected to her condition as a mother. Or if the mother he never knew was capable of the same emotions.
“Is something wrong?” the goddess asks.
Dion suddenly realizes that he must have been frowning. He also realizes why.
“My uncle has provided a good life for me,” he says, unable to forget Math’s efforts throughout the years.
Alma chuckles at that. “Considering why you got yourself sent to the luxurious haven of Three Rats, I don’t doubt he did!”
She laughs and her laughter makes him laugh as well. Heavy as his heart may be, chaotic as his thoughts are, the simple joy of laughter has him feeling light-headed. They laugh quietly and not for long but they both find themselves smiling in the end. Alma offers her hand to help Dion rise from his seat.
“I can tell he holds you in great affection,” she says softly.
Dion agrees with a nod. “And I him.” He becomes very serious for a moment. “Do you hold me in affection? Or is this dance just a way of besting me at my own game?”
Alma’s brow furrows, her arms cross over her chest, her eyes grow cold as they pierce right through him with resentment.
“You may enjoy playing games, dear, but I don’t.” She tilts her head. “Frankly, I am still deciding what to make of you.”
Her prompt response has him smiling. A strange sense of relief at the genuine, spontaneous retort spreads as Dion feels himself once more in control of the situation.
“What a coincidence. I have a couple of thoughts on that myself,” he replies, his best charming smile working its magic.
“You seem to think your worn-out lines work on me, Gwydion,” Alma says with pretended annoyance, leaning more of her weight against the exquisite wooden desk, her fingers lightly tapping the top.
Gwydion takes the opportunity to move closer to her, his body now blocking her view of the rest of the room so that the sight of him fills her vision, his scent floating into her nostrils, intoxicating her senses.
“They did get you to stop calling me ‘Sergeant’,” he replies softly.
The line makes her smile. It is a pleasant, languorous smile, spiced perfectly by the gentle resting of her teeth on her soft lower lip. An invitation all of its own. “I can always go back to it.”
“I rather you didn’t,” Gwydion states, leaning closer to the goddess, his voice barely above a whisper. “There are so many better things you can call me, after all.”
“Like what, for instance?” the goddess asks as his hands cover hers and travel, slowly, up her arms, spreading small bolts of lightning in their wake.
“Like Dion,” he suggests, smiling his most alluring smile, his hands now stroking her cheek and neck. “All my friends call me Dion.”
Alma’s smile curls into a malicious grin as she raises a hand to caress his chin and the corner of his lips. “Even your lady friends?”
The god leans closer to her, to whisper in her ear. “Especially my lady friends.” He kisses her neck.
She turns her head and stands up, evading his attentions to casually say, “Well, I don’t like Dion. Sounds like a child playing in the park. I don’t play with children, dear.” She drapes her arms around his neck. “Gwydion has more of an… adult charm to it.”
“In that case, Gwydion it is,” he responds, his hands around the small of her back, holding her close to him. “I like to play with adults.”
The goddess leans closer, to whisper in his ear. “Do you know what happens when powerful gods lay with me…Gwydion?”
The soft breeze of her murmured words leaves echoes on his skin. She kisses his neck and the electric touch of her cool lips surges through his body.
His next breath feels just a little heavier as he asks, “What?”
“I make Bunnies.” Her lips curl against his ear lobe. “Would you like to father a Bunny?”
His heart stops for a second. If her touch sparked fire in him, the thought of being called “Father” by a bunch of Bunnies is ice down his spine. He moves gently away from the goddess. And yet, she resists him, refuses to let go, her arms gently but firmly wrapped around his neck, face still ever so close, those lush, soft lips, curled in a sensuous smile, mocking him, teasing his lips to join them again. Temptation overwhelms him for a moment…
…and then he thinks of Bunnies.
“May be best if I don’t,” he finally manages to say.
Alma looks deeply into his eyes and then chuckles. “Yes… I didn’t think you would. Your fear of any sort of attachment is far greater than any desire you could ever feel.” She lets go of him. “It is quite sad that you are so thoroughly predictable, Gwydion. I wonder how your young lady friends fall for your wil–”
He throws his arms around her and pulls her to him, kissing her lips with violent passion, drowning her words. A challenge. What were they but a challenge to his character and his ego? Her prompt acceptance of his kiss is evidence enough. The way her hands scour his back and pull him to her tells him of her desire. His mind becomes blissfully empty. Thoughts of Bunnies and mysteries go unheeded. This is easy. This is simple. For as long as their bodies will hold, there is no need for words or fears. This, he understands.
He pins her against the desk with his body, runs his hands over her thighs and curses in thought at the fabric of the long dress that keeps him from her soft skin. Her hands clutch at his sides as he breaks away from her lips to kiss her neck and collarbone. The touch of her skin against his lips steals his whole attention, her shuddered breathing at the grazing of his teeth against the pale, soft, graceful column of her neck hushes all other sounds. For now, this is all he wants.
Suddenly, without his knowing how, he is the one who is pinned against the desk, feeling Alma’s weight pressed against him, the touch of her lips holding him hostage in their kiss. He embraces her tightly but something happens.
Her hold loses strength, she breaks away from him.
“No more Bunnies,” she barely whispers and he nods slowly as the words register.
The thought of letting go of her, though, is torture to him. He pulls her closer but the moment is past. They regain their breath among smaller, softer kisses that do little to quench the desire for more.
“Was that predictable?” Dion asks, eventually.
“Very,” Alma replies, accepting one last soft kiss. “But not at all unwanted.” She leans closer to whisper in his ear. “I like you better without the façade.”
With a little kiss to his earlobe, she straightens up and composes his shirt. “Find us an escort, Gwydion. If you are lucky, you may even get to know my parents.”
Dion smiles. “Can’t wait to meet the in-laws,” he jests.
The joke has Alma laughing again and the sound of it envelops Dion in temporary bliss as he watches her leave the room. Just as she reaches the door, though, it opens to let Math through. A quick greeting to the departing lady, and Dion finds himself alone with his uncle.
“I’m glad to see you no longer look at Lady Alma as if she were about to kill you,” Math says in light, conversational tones. “You will need to stand together if you are to get out of the mess you’re in.”
If Alma’s presence brought him peace and lightness, Math’s has Dion feeling nervous and cynical. His thoughts become dark, almost without his noticing. The smile disappears from Dion’s face, memories of passionate kisses are buried away.
“I still don’t know if I can trust her,” he says coolly.
Math looks at Dion for a moment before turning his attentions to a small table holding a jar of Ambrosia.
“Well, considering what that young lady has been put through, I find it a good indication of character that her body count is so low,” he states.
“Still, she is dangerous, isn’t she?” Dion asks as he watches Math pour himself a glass of the golden liquid.
“Of course, she is,” the Archon says, raising his glass to his lips. “We all are.”