Dion lies on his bed, staring at the ceiling. His loose, linen shirt open to the warmth of the night, his legs left bare by his sleeping shorts, he lies with his hands under his head, his chest rising and falling slowly to his deep breathing. By his side, Gryphy, his childhood plushie companion, now a raggedy old toy missing an eye, lies like a watchful sphinx protecting its master. It is a silly compulsion, to have the stuffed animal there, but somehow its reassuring presence brings a soothing contrast to the turmoil in his mind.
A thousand images run through his mind. Life seemed so much easier just some weeks ago…
The bitter, constant quarreling and crime of Three Rats feels almost boring when compared to the ever-tense environment of his uncle’s estate. The speculation around Alma’s fate, as well as his own, permeates every room, every servant, every visitor. Voice Ewá’s calm and apparent certainty in their chances of escaping a serious conviction leave him no less worried about his own future.
Ewá… The extremely attractive, mahogany-skinned Voice of Defense, with shapely legs and an hourglass figure. Confident and cordial, but exuding that aura of unavailability and cold efficiency so typical of female overachievers. Firm and strong, passionate and focused, earthy and spiced by something more than idle chatter in the halls of the great estates of powerful gods, almost manly in her movements. Wouldn’t she make a lovely catch? What taste would a kiss stolen from her leave in his mouth?
The taste that comes to his lips is much different. Alma…
The memory of her lips, her body, every wall of hers lowered, inviting him in. The simple thought of those moments makes his body respond, his breathing become quicker, his muscles tense with anticipation. The bittersweet anguish of craving something he knows is beyond his reach makes his heart race and fall all at once. Unusual in her beauty, her upbringing, her mask of the constantly solemn and vigilant specter intriguingly balanced with the warm, smiling lady that she was in that garden, dangerous and vulnerable, she becomes a true creature of wonder in his eye for her mind-twisting approach to his charms. The game of cat and mouse they play, where each is both predator and prey all at once, is unlike anything he has ever experienced. She is certainly no young debutant charmed beyond decorum by an attractive, older god, nor a middle-aged lady past her prime desperate to feel attractive and wanted again. Tantalizing and desperating, their relationship has him entranced. And yet…
It is but a game, isn’t it? Broken at heart, too damaged and confused to know what to do next, the game is to him as much an effort to evade sanity as it is of keeping it. He wonders if Alma was thinking the same thing when she kissed him so passionately the first time.
He wonders once more if there is any hidden reason for her sudden passion. She seems to play the game so well… And yet, at the same time, the warm, caring aura that sometimes surrounds her, as if she were above something as primitive as sex, makes her just as alluring to him. The craving to lower his walls and be weak around her feels to him unusual, unnatural and mixed with a very real fear of the goddess’ anger.
His head tilts to the right, his eyes move to his bedroom door. Through sheer force of will, he summons her image to mind, sees her standing there in her blue and white dress, enveloped in a pale light, transcendentally beautiful to his eyes well-used to beauty. Maybe it is more than just her looks… He remembers her covered in blood, wounded and exhausted but still standing lovely and graceful before Math. That strength, that inner radiance of a being confident in her ability to survive and strive through the worst and the best of times. How he craves that light for himself…
She moves toward the bed, lies with him, on top of him, steals his breath with a single kiss. Her long, smooth silver-white hair slides down her back, brushes against his cheeks, escapes through his fingers as they run through it. Her flawless skin delights him as her dress is undone, releasing the soft curve of her back to his thirsty hands. Her touch to his chest, bare from the open shirt, makes him clench her, roll her onto the bed and lay atop her, basking in her soft moan as he kisses her neck and moves down to her collarbone. His palms brush against her sensitive, round breasts, sending them both into the antechambers of ecstasy.
He opens his eyes. Somehow, he must have fallen asleep, dreamt the whole thing. His body’s response to it is very real, however. Sweat beads on his forehead and chest, making his shirt cling to his skin, his hair stick to the sides of his head. His blood concentrates below the waist, throbbing, making his senses beg for the release that his reveries had them anticipating. He closes his eyes, tries to think of something else.
Images of that fateful day, of the Bunnies hurt and terrified, of Geryon nearly dead, of Nekh lying on the floor and of Alma ripping his soul away from him in a blood-curdling show of power all compete for his attention, painting a nightmarish picture of horror and death against his eyelids. And then…
Darkness. Just darkness. Blissful emptiness fills his world, consuming all light and all thoughts. For a moment, he feels like himself again, empty and simple.
Motes of light start pouring into his dark haven. A figure emerges from them, made of light and shadow, a female figure, like the one he saw in the Oracle’s grotto.
Can it be true? Was his mother, not his father, really related to his uncle? Who was she? What was she like? And why has all information about her been erased from Alma’s mother’s records? What in her past is in such need of secrecy? Questions long buried in the dark corners of his mind resurface. Somehow, the carefree life he has lived for so long seems to be over, replaced by a call to responsibility, to empathy, to truth.
Dion shakes his head violently, dislodging the eerie apparition. Still, he finds himself unable to detach his mind from thoughts of his mother, of Alma, of Three Rats and the Bunnies. His tired mind sends him off to sleep to a lullaby of loneliness and conflicting feelings.
By all the gods, what is wrong with me?