This is dedicated, like always, to Bento and Johinsa. I know I tormented you with plot talk, Bento, and I'm sorry. But I hope you'll forgive me, especially once you read what I did with all the incoherent plot rambles...
His companion, Lindara, came out of the villa wearing a thin cotton sundress and a straw hat, which barely kept her thick black hair from out of her eyes, as it was tossed forward by the gentle breeze. "Supper's ready!" she called, cheerfully. As she walked towards him, the wild roses lining the dirt path to the garden seemed to swell and stretch towards her. The grass bent over, straining to touch her bare feet.
"That's good to hear," he admitted, taking a last stab at a particularly tough clump of weeds. She stopped beside him, and the plant seemed to find new strength to hold on, to fight a little longer. Yellow sighed. The Goddess of Plants didn't know the effect she had on the flora around her, she simply took it for granted. And while her presence created spectacular roses and prize-worthy vegetables, she also encouraged hardier-than-normal weeds and spikier than average thistles and nettles.
"I made a green salad, and I boiled the new potatoes, and I chopped up some vegetables, too," Lindara told him. She wasn't much of a cook, she was more of an assembler.
He nodded, focusing on the weed which she hadn't noticed yet. He decided to cheat. He was hungry, and that justified a small use of his powers. A tiny jolt of energy zapped the plant, and he hefted it out with ease.
Lindara's eyes widened. "Hey," she remarked, her hands on her hips. "I thought you said--"
"I know, I know," he sighed, dumping the weed on the pile. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, wearily. "But I'm hungry."
"Well," she continued, impishly, "I guess that's all right then."
He grinned at her, and started back towards the villa, leaving the hoe against the outside wall. "Aren't you coming?" he joked at her. She was standing, admiring the Tuscan view, and she turned to smile at him.
"I think my brother's a genius," she remarked, pleased. "I don't think there's any where in Agri that compares to this."
He stepped back over to her, slipping an arm around her waist as they watched the sun setting over the green, poplar-lined hills.
"This has been a marvellous vacation," she remarked.
"Has been? It's not over yet," he answered.
She shrugged. "It won't last forever, Yellow."
He frowned. "If that's what you would like--"
She turned, slightly, so that she could look at him, a touch of a smile on her lips. "That's a definite breach of your promise not to use your powers."
He smiled at her. "I know, I know. Don't worry. But it would be nice, just to stay like this."
She nodded, looking back out over the view. "It would be. It seems like everything has finally come together, and not just for me, either. For you, Rayden, Hiko, Meimei--and you know what that means."
"That trouble is just around the corner," he agreed, dryly. "I know."
Lindara laughed, but this time it seemed sadder, wistful. He gave her a squeeze, his way of asking what the matter was. "I was just thinking about how much I miss my Realm," she replied, in a whisper. "The view from Towerbridge was like this--not exactly, but just the feeling that it stretches out forever." She shook her head, dismissing the feeling. "I miss Agri."
"You could go back," he reminded her. "Just to visit."
"I said I wouldn't. It would only disrupt everything, cause a fuss. No, no, I just have to get used to the fact that I'm barred from my own home." She took a deep breath.
He frowned, and held her a bit tighter. "You can make here your home."
"It is, it is," she reassured him. "But it's... it's not the same, Yellow. I can't describe it."
"I think I know what you mean," he replied, after a moment. He was silent for a long stretch of time, a sign that Lindara knew meant he was thinking. The sun was almost gone now, and the breeze was beginning to pick up. She shivered, the sundress not providing much protection from the chill.
"Come on," she decided, pulling away and taking him by the hands. "Let's go eat supper. It's probably cold by now." She paused, considering. "Not that it would really make any difference, it was just a cold supper anyway, but still. The potatoes at least should be kept warm..."
They started up the path to the villa, Yellow walking behind her. She had one hand in his, and one hand on the top of her head: the breeze was threatening to dislodge her hat. She was relieved when she could take it off, as they entered their small cottage; she left it on a peg by the door. Yellow lit a candle, and brought it to the wooden kitchen table, that was already spread with their supper.
"I think we're going to get a storm," he said, suddenly, as he sat down. "I feel one coming."
Lindara frowned, reaching out with her senses. She too had agreed not to use her powers, to pass as a mortal, but that didn't mean she couldn't in her own home. "I don't feel anything. Rayden's fine."
"What?" Yellow blurted, confused. Then he seemed to understand, and he smiled. He started to help himself to the potatoes.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied, handing her the dish, which she took.
"You were laughing at something," she chided. "What was it?"
"I just find it amusing the way you automatically assume that a storm means Rayden's upset," he explained. "When it's normally just the weather."
She suddenly felt self-conscious. "It's hard to think like a mortal," she admitted, at last. "I think I'm starting to get the hang of it, though. I made a friend in the market today."
"Oh?" he asked, starting in on the salad. He lifted his head for a moment, to look out the window, distracted; but then he decided whatever-it-was wasn't important.
"Uh huh. Well, she's not really a friend. More of an acquaintance, really, I suppose. But she did talk to me while I was buying some garlic from her." Lindara seemed extremely pleased with herself. Even though she had donned a mortal disguise, aspects of her true self remained clear. Her bearing, her way of talking and her thought processes remained one-hundred-percent Immortal, and the people in the nearby village could pick up on it instantly. (Not that they knew exactly what--or Who--she was; they simply thought there was just something not right about her.) She was having a hard problem fitting in.
As was Yellow, but for different reasons. There weren't many people of Asian descent in the area, if any at all, and he stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of Italians. His taciturn nature and his penetrating stare--he had a way at looking at people that cut through to their soul, although he was unaware of the way his gaze was perceived--meant that people were not very sociable towards him. He didn't mind at all; in fact, he preferred it that way. But Lindara was garrulous and out-going and very much a people-person. The mortal's avoidance of her distressed her, but there wasn't very much she could do about it, which she also found distressing.
The hidden goddess chewed thoughtfully on a dandelion leaf, one of the market finds. She enjoyed the sharp bitter flavour; as well, they were supposed to be an Italian delicacy. Yellow seemed to have no opinion on the matter, he was capable of eating whatever was put in front of him. (Though she knew he had a soft spot for cantaloupe, which she also found at the market occasionally.) "You know, perhaps I ought to set up my own stall, at the market. We have more than enough zucchinis, by now."
"That's true," he remarked.
"It would help me to get to know the villagers," she continued. She started to say something else when he suddenly got up from the table. "Yellow?"
"Something's not right," he said, slowly, looking out the window. He stepped around her and darted out the door.
"Yellow?" she asked again, getting up to follow him. He was looking up at the sky, which was growing darker and spreading with purples and reds, the last remnants of the sunset. "I don't see anything--Yellow!"
His features had shifted, his eyes and hair taking on their supernaturally green shade. "Get in the house," he demanded, immediately.
"What? What is going on--" Lindara was interrupted by a flash of light overhead. A portal had opened, and someone had dropped through it.
He was dark-haired, and wearing black robes, and she found with her mortal eyes that he was very hard to spot against the shadows of the landscape.
The god charged at Jikan Tai, almost ignoring Lindara completely. The Guardian side-stepped him, his powers growing in a glowing arc around him.
"Who are you?" he demanded to the stranger, who responded by lashing out with his fist and catching Jikan Tai solidly in the nose. He staggered backwards, a hand going to his face, coming away bloody. The man charged him, and the two tumbled to the ground.
"Enough!" Lindara roared, shedding her disguise. The radiance of her true form lit up the garden, and shed light on the new-comer's face. She was startled to notice how much he resembled her. "Who are you? What are you doing?"
"You," he sneered, rolling away from Jikan Tai and jumping to his feet. His powers crackled around him, a dark green aura that shimmered. "What are you doing here?"
"I asked you first," she retorted, gathering her wits back together after the shock.
The man looked at the Guardian, who was also on his feet, and ready to continue the fight. "Give me the staff!" he demanded.
"No," Jikan Tai replied, simply.
The man blinked, startled by the easy refusal; then his expression changed to one of frustration and anger. "You don't have it either, do you! Tell me where it is!"
"No," the Guardian replied again.
The deity seemed ready to explode. "Damn you all!" he roared, his voice echoing in the hills. "She's gotten to you, hasn't she? Hasn't she? The son of Lachdannan will not be stopped by the likes of her, and you can tell her that!"
"Tell who?" Lindara demanded, sharply, but the deity disappeared, as quickly and as brightly as he had come. The moment the threat was gone, Jikan Tai straightened up, his features shifting back towards his mortal self. He looked towards Lindara, but she remained bright and shining.
"Lin!" he reminded her, and she snapped out of her reverie.
"You have to change back to being a mortal," he told her. "You're lighting up the hill-side."
She nodded, and her glow disappeared as she downgraded to her more corporeal form. It was then that he noticed how out of sorts she seemed. "Lin?"
"Yellow, I think we have a bigger problem than it looks like," she said, quietly. He didn't reply; he waited for her to continue. "Lachdannan is only six months old," she explained. "He is the son of Dealanach, Goddess of Fields, and Lughnasath, God of Summer."
Yellow looked at her, puzzled.
"That god must have been from the future," she finished.
"I know," he answered, simply. "He came from a time portal."
"We'll have to let the Council know," he continued, thoughtfully.
"Tomorrow is the Festival, that is a perfect time," Lindara exclaimed. He shook his head ruefully, apologetically. "We--what? You're not going?"
"I think I need to take a journey to the Wood," he explained, noticing the way her nose wrinkled with disgust as he mentioned the place. "See if I can spot him from there."
"If you insist," she sighed. "I suppose there's no point in going now?" This was added hopefully; she did not want to spend the night alone, as a mortal, while a dangerous and chronologically-challenged deity was on the loose.
Yellow shook his head. "No, there's no reason to go yet. I'll leave when you go to the Festival, tomorrow." He started inside, and she followed him, greatly relieved.
Of course, all of this meant that she had to tell Rayden. That made her sigh sadly. Her brother seemed so happy, she hated to involve him in anything. But it was happening in his Realm, he had a right to know.
She sighed again, and trudged inside, no longer relishing the thought of supper.
"My, how you've grown!" Suyuan, Goddess of Winds, exclaimed as her graddaughter leapt into her arms. "You're getting big!"
Hichan just beamed at her, and gave her a tight hug, around the neck. "Grandma!"
"She is getting fairly big," Hiko, Goddess of Fire, noticed, suddenly. "I hadn't really thought about it."
"You never do, don't worry about it, dear," Suyuan soothed, disentangling Hichan from around her neck. She smiled at her granddaughter. "And how are you enjoying the Festival?"
"Fun!" Hichan crowed. "Candy!"
"Yes, there'll be lots of candy, I'm sure," Suyuan chuckled. She set the small goddess down. "Have you met up with your cousins yet?"
Hichan frowned, not knowing the term. She looked up to her mother for an explanation.
"Jih and Yueh," Hiko told her. "I told you about them this morning." This did not ring a bell with Hichan, who continued to frown, deep in thought.
"They haven't met her yet?" Suyuan exclaimed. "Goodness!"
Hiko shrugged, picking Hichan up as the girl tugged on her mother's dress. "Meimei and Tai Hou have been fairly busy settling in Outworld, we didn't want to bother them. I'm sure the boys'll get along with Hichan."
"Want candy!" Hichan agreed, not following the conversation but knowing her own name.
Naturalis made his appearence, bearing two cups of nectar, one for his wife and one for his daughter-in-law. "Here you go."
Hiko nodded her thanks, as she took the glass. Hichan leaned over, trying to take a sip of the drink until she caught a sniff of it. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, then wiped it with the back of her hand, trying to get the tickly sensation out. Hiko smiled. "It's not for little girls," she remarked.
"Yucky," Hichan agreed. She added hopefully: "Juice?"
"Oh, I didn't get anything for Hichan," Naturalis blurted. "Sorry. I'll go--"
"No, no, don't bother about it," Hiko replied, touching his arm as he turned to leave. "I'll go get it. I've got to find Rayden, anyway."
"Didn't you come with him?" Suyuan asked, calmly taking a sip of her own drink. Hiko shook her head.
"Hichan needed her nap, but I let Rayden go earlier, he enjoys Festivals much more than I do, anyway," she explained.
"Nap?" Hichan blurted in horror.
"No, you've already had one, it's all right," her mother soothed, shifting the girl around so she was better positioned on her hip. Hichan grumbled, and clutched at the shoulder of her mother's dress. "Anyway, I'll see you later, at the Announcements, Suyuan, Naturalis."
"It has been nice seeing you again," Naturalis remarked. He shook Hichan's hand, although her grip only fit around his finger. "It was nice to see you too, Hichan. You're getting so big so quickly!"
She smiled at him. Hiko tried to leave, but Hichan wouldn't let go of Naturalis' finger, so he had to pry it loose. She took exception to this and started to cry. Hiko rolled her eyes and sighed, starting off, patting her child's shoulder.
"It was pretty funny, yeah, but it didn't seem like it at the time," Rayden remarked. He grinned. "Did I tell you the one about--"
"Yeah," Kerlan agreed, quickly, grinning as well.
Rayden rolled his eyes.
"Trust me, I've heard them all," his friend assured him.
Rayden was just about to retort when his wife teleported into view. "Hiko! Here at last?"
She smiled, and took another sip of her drink. "I was visiting with your mother and Naturalis for a little while. I couldn't find you."
"Oh." Rayden took Hichan, who seemed happy to see him, and Kerlan, whom she waved at. He waved back.
"Hiko," the God of Communications said, holding his arms out. She laughed and hugged him, careful not to spill her drink. "Come to get your husband?"
"No, you can keep him if you want," she replied, cheeky, disengaging herself from the hug.
"It's always nice to feel wanted," Rayden answered dryly, trying to juggle Hichan into position while keeping his own drink upright. Wordlessly, Kerlan took it and let his friend get his daughter settled. Then Kerlan handed the drink back.
"Juice?" Hichan asked, looking over. She wrinkled her nose. "Not juice."
"I'll get you some in a minute," Hiko assured her.
"Candy?" Hichan exclaimed, suddenly, looking sly.
"Don't push your luck," her father informed her. "Candy comes later." She grumbled, but seemed to accept the delay. Hiko excused herself for a moment, presumably to get Hichan's juice. Rayden took a drink, finishing the last of his nectar. There was a slight flash and the drink disappeared.
Kerlan suddenly got a sneaky expression, and he reached over and tickled Hichan. She giggled and buried her face in Rayden's shoulder. "Uh oh, somebody's suddenly shy," he teased her.
Rayden laughed. "Do you want to take her?"
Kerlan looked surprised. "I don't--um--"
Rayden untangled her fingers from their grip on his robe, and held her out to Kerlan. The small goddess and the grown-up god regarded each other for a moment. "Take her," Rayden snapped. "She's heavy."
That seemed to jolt Kerlan back to reality; he very carefully lifted her out of Rayden's arms and into his own. Hichan, for her part, seemed to realise she was with someone inexperienced with handling small children. She shifted herself around, making herself comfortable, and latched onto Kerlan's collar. He looked down at her, bemused.
"Oh, how cute," Hiko mused, coming back, bearing juice, which Hichan immediately reached out for. The goddess held it back. "What do you say?"
"Please." Hichan sighed, then squealed, as she was given her cup. She took a timid sip, decided it was to her liking, and downed the rest.
"She drinks like her father," Kerlan noticed.
"She eats like him too," Hiko added.
Rayden rolled his eyes skyward.
Hichan sighed happily, finished her juice. She licked her lips, and held the cup out to her mother. Hiko raised an eyebrow at her, and she drew her cup back, thoughtful. Then she remembered. Concentrating, she squinted, and the cup disappeared in a haze of silvery sparkles. Rayden grinned and reached over to toustle her hair, while Kerlan bounced her up and down a few times. She squealed again and clapped her hands.
"Have you thought about having kids, Kerlan?" Hiko asked suddenly.
The diety suddenly looked a little embarressed. "Yeah, I have. Didn't meet the right goddess, I guess."
Rayden snickered. "Either that, or your mother didn't."
Hiko looked questioningly at him, and Kerlan sighed heavily.
"Paene was always bringing someone home for him," Rayden explained. "It got to the point where he was afraid to come home at night."
"It was never that bad," Kerlan disagreed. Rayden gave him a look, and he sighed again. "Okay, maybe it was."
Hiko looked thoughtful. "Hmmm."
"Hmmm?" both gods repeated. Then Kerlan shook his head.
"Don't even go there," he warned her. Hichan giggled and pulled at his ear. Surprised, he twisted around to look at her, confused, but she didn't offer any explanation. The act did, however, give Hiko a moment to slip away. When he realised that she was gone, Kerlan sighed, yet again.
"They ganged up on me," he complained, looking forlornly at the small goddess, who giggled again.
"Don't look to me to do anything about it, I'm wrapped around their fingers," Rayden laughed. "I think I'm going to get some more nectar. You up for a refill?"
Kerlan shook his head. "I had a couple before you showed up--I think I'm set for a while."
Rayden shrugged, and teleported away.
"Well, kiddo, it's just me and you," Kerlan mused.
"Candy now?" Hichan asked him, hopeful.
He frowned, then laughed. "You don't give up easily, do you?"
She blinked. "No candy?"
"You'll get candy, don't worry, but it won't be from me. The last thing I need is--" Kerlan paused, mid-sentance. He looked around him in surprise.
"What?" Hichan asked.
"I thought I heard something," he said with a shrug, which he found harder to do than normal thanks to the small girl on his hip.
"Hear?" she asked. "Hear Mama?"
"No," he replied, a little confused.
"Daddy?" she asked again. "Me hear them. For eating."
Comprehension suddenly dawned. "No, no," he corrected. "I didn't hear any one calling to me. I just thought I heard--something weird."
"That bad," she commiserated. "Candy make it better."
He laughed. "You're determined, aren't you?"
She frowned, not sure what the word meant, but pretty sure it didn't mean candy was coming her way any time soon.
Rayden suddenly teleported back, looking uncomfortable. He didn't have a new drink, either.
"What's the matter?" Kerlan asked, suddenly. Then he knew. "Uh oh."
Juanita, the Goddess of Heat, was storming over to them. "Rayden!" she barked, furious. "What were you telling my Arnie?"
"Nothing," he replied, innocently. "He came to talk to me, and I said some useless remarks designed to make him feel better. Then I got him a drink. That's it."
Juanita fumed, the air around her starting to shimmer with the heat. "He's broken up with me!"
"I'm sorry to hear that," Rayden replied instantly, utterly guileless. "But that has nothing to do with whatever I said to him."
She started to say something when Kerlan held up a hand. "Juanita, I'm sure Arnie's just going through one of his moments. You know him, he's a terribly moody fellow."
This she agreed to, and the god continued, shifting Hichan around so that she would stop fussing. "I'm sure he just needs a little time to come to his senses."
She grumbled, but seemed to be pacified, for the moment. "Maybe you're right."
"Hey," Kerlan said, with a sweeping arm movement. "It's me, remember?"
Hichan giggled. Juanita smiled at her, looked thoughtful at Kerlan, and frowned at Rayden.
"I guess I will go talk to him," she said, finally, with a sigh. "No harm in trying."
"None at all," Kerlan agreed. Rayden nodded. The goddess stormed off again, and then disappeared in a shimmery portal. The thunder god sighed, relieved.
"Just out of curiosity, what did you tell Arnie?" Kerlan asked, amused.
"That if Juanita bothered him so much, he should break up with her," Rayden admitted. "He was starting to annoy me. I had Hichan with me, and I was trying to keep an eye on her and listening to his endless whining, and I got annoyed."
"Don't worry, happens to the best of us," Kerlan remarked. "I'm surprised you've put up with him for so long."
"Yeah, so am I," Rayden grumbled, with a shrug.
There was a sudden flash of orange and yellow, and a portal formed. Hiko stepped out of it, dragging someone behind her.
Sonya Blade, Goddess of Space, looked around herself in confusion. "This looks like the Hall," she said, frowning. "What are we doing here?"
Hiko led her to the two gods. "It's Festival--didn't you get the invitation?"
Sonya furrowed her eyebrows. "No."
Hiko, Rayden, and Kerlan all blinked in surprise. "No?"
"That's what I said," she repeated, folding her arms over her chest. "Hi Rayden, Kerlan."
"Hi!" Hichan yelled, suddenly, waving. Sonya raised an eyebrow at her, but the child didn't understand the gesture.
"You should've been invited," Hiko said, thoughtful. "Are you sure--?"
"I didn't get any invitation," Sonya insisted. "I haven't gotten any mail for months--"
The three dieties laughed. Hichan joined in, not sure what they found funny, but enjoying a giggle nonetheless. "It's not an actual card invitation," Hiko explained, hiding her grin behind her hand. "It's a dream, usually, or a vision in a scry. Everyone gets one."
"I did get a weird dream the other night," Sonya admitted. She shook her head. "It doesn't matter anyway. I've got work to do, I don't have time for a party--"
"This isn't just a party!" Kerlan exclaimed. "It's Festival--the Festival. The Feast of the Creator. It's everyone's birthday, for one thing, and secondly, it's considered extremely bad manners not to attend. Only the old get excused. But you're not, so you have to come."
"What?" Sonya blurted, entirely confused. Rayden suddenly popped into existence; no one had noticed he'd left but he didn't mind. He gave her a cup and she accepted, sniffing gingerly.
"What--?" She trailed off, sniffing again. She was clearly having problems trusting her nose. "This smells like--I don't know what this smells like--"
"It's nectar," Kerlan supplied. "It's what all adult dieties drink. But be careful--it has the same effect on us as alcohol has on mortals."
Sonya took a careful sip. She was pleasently surprised, and showed it. "It's good."
"It's nectar," Hiko repeated, as though that made everything clear. "Have enough of that and you'll forget all about work, trust me."
"I don't want to forget about work," the goddess replied. She took a careful sip. "This is good!"
"Don't sound so surprised," Rayden smirked.
She took another sip, then sighed to herself. "It kinda reminds me of the cocoa I used to have as a kid--only it doesn't really taste like cocoa at all."
"They don't call it 'drink of the gods' for nothing," Rayden teased her.
Hiko and Kerlan both frowned. "Who calls it that?"
Rayden paused. "You know--I can't remember. Somebody did, though."
"The Greeks," Sonya answered for him.
"That's right, the Greeks. They were good with names. Or was that the Romans? Somebody called a spade a spade, I remember that." Rayden took a sip of his own drink.
"Juice?" Hichan asked suddenly, feeling forgotten in the wake of the new guest. "Please?"
"Okay, Hichan, okay," Hiko sighed. She grabbed Rayden's arm. He looked at her confused, for a moment, and she teleported them both out.
Sonya blinked in surprise. Kerlan looked bewildered as well. "They don't need to both--oh. Oh no."
"Oh no?" Sonya inquired. He flushed, although it was hard to tell.
"Never mind," he said, quickly. Her eyes narrowed at him.
"I hate when people tell me that," she replied.
"I'm sure you do. I'd hate it too. Say, Hichan, how about some candy? You ready yet?" Kerlan asked her, swiftly changing the subject.
"Candy!" she yelled, happily. "Candy candy candy candy--"
"I think Taguon and Pocky are around here somewhere," the god mused. "Let's go find them."
"Hey, you're not going off without me," Sonya insisted, fiercely, her cheeks starting to flush from the nectar. "I don't know my way around at all."
"Candy candy candy candy--" Hichan continued, unabated.
Kerlan paused for a moment, considering, and then he sighed, defeated. "Sure. I guess so."
"You guess what?" Sonya inquired. "What's the matter with you, anyway?"
"Candy candy can--"
"Nothing," he insisted, starting off. "C'mon, let's go."
"What was that about?" Rayden asked, as they materialised by the drink table. "You don't need me to--oh, wait a second. I got it."
"The penny dropped at last, praise the Creator," Hiko quipped.
Rayden sighed. "Do you really think--Kerlan and Sonya? I mean--Kerlan? Sonya?"
"You said that already," she pointed out. "I think they'd get along fine."
"Well, they do, but that doesn't mean--" Rayden tried to protest, but he was getting all muddled. "Why are you bothering with it anyway?"
"I think Kerlan needs to find someone and settle down," Hiko explained, as though it was painfully obvious. Suddenly she saw someone and waved. "Meimei! Tai Hou!"
Meimei, Goddess of Change, and her husband Tai Hou, Numinae, strolled over towards them. "Hi!" Meimei exclaimed, brightly. She hugged her brother, and then her sister-in-law.
"You look very happy," Rayden observed. Meimei grinned at him, and took Tai Hou's hand.
"I have the best news!" she gushed. "We're going to have another baby!"
"What? Already?" Rayden blurted. Hiko swatted his shoulder. "No, I mean, that's fabulous, of course it is, I just mean--another one?"
Tai Hou smiled. "That was pretty much my reaction, too."
"That's wonderful, Meimei," Hiko repeated, giving her another hug. "I'm so happy for you."
Meimei's grin suddenly turned a little sneaky, and she giggled. "Remind me to tell you something, after the Announcements," she whispered in the goddess' ear. "I think you'll be pleased by it."
Hiko drew away, puzzled, but Meimei had nothing further to say on the matter.
"So how have the boys taken it?" Rayden was asking Tai Hou.
The diety shrugged. "Jih's excited. But then anything gets him excited. Yueh seems all right with it, but we think he's upset about something. He keeps going on about dogs."
"You know what he's talking about?" Tai Hou asked, curious.
"Not a clue. Sorry."
"Oh well." Tai Hou shrugged and slipped an arm around his wife. "We couldn't be happier."
"Yes we could," Meimei giggled, very amused by something. "I'll tell you later."
There was a long pause while Rayden and Hiko and Tai Hou exchanged glances; but no one besides Meimei had any idea of what she was talking about. Hiko took this moment to get a cup of juice.
"That's right, where's Hichan?" Tai Hou asked, suddenly. "You can't have left her with Suyuan--we were just there--"
"No, Kerlan's got her," Rayden explained. "He's with Sonya. Hiko's got this crazy idea that--"
"Oh, that would be perfect," Meimei exclaimed, catching on. "I wonder why I didn't think of it?"
Hiko shrugged. "It came to me in a flash of inspiration. A gift from the Creator, I guess."
"What are you two talking about?" Tai Hou asked, confused.
"So you just introduced them, and--?" Meimei continued, ignoring him.
"Oh no, I wasn't thinking of it at all," Hiko explained. "But then I thought it was weird that I hadn't seen her, and then I thought maybe she doesn't know about Festival--it turns out she didn't--and then the pieces all flew together."
"What pieces?" Tai Hou cried.
"Don't ask," Rayden advised.
"That would be so perfect," Meimei agreed, again ignoring them. "Wow. I hope that works."
"Speaking of works, have you seen Lindara lately?" Hiko said suddenly.
"What?" Tai Hou continued, forlornly.
"No--not since she took off to Earth Realm," Meimei answered.
"Well, I haven't seen her much lately either. She and Jikan Tai are keeping a low profile, but they are so happy." Hiko sighed. "I mean, they fight a lot, but it's the good sort of fighting, you know?"
"There's a good sort?" Rayden blurted, now having lost the thread of conversation. Tai Hou, never having had the thread in the first place, just made a quiet whimpering noise and headed for the nectar.
Taguon, God of Sweets, handed Hichan a lollipop which she took with great pleasure.
"What do you say?" Kerlan prompted.
"Thag oo," she replied, mouth full of lollipop. Taguon smiled.
"My pleasure," he grinned. "Pocky, dear, have you got any cookies left?"
Pocky, Goddess of Snacks, looked into her ever-present tin. "I think I do. Ah, here's one she'll like." The goddess pulled out a chocolate-chocolate-chip cookie and held it out to the child.
Hichan was torn. On the one hand, her hands were busy holding the lollipop stick, which was hard for her to keep a grasp on. On the other hand, Pocky was offering a cookie...
Kerlan solved the dilemma by taking the cookie for her. "What--"
"Thag oo!" she exclaimed, beating him to it.
"My pleasure, dear," Pocky purred, patting her head.
"Hey, don't I get a cookie?" Kerlan pouted. The goddess laughed and fished another one out, putting it right in his mouth, as his hands were full with Hichan and Hichan's cookie.
Sonya sighed and rolled her eyes, but it was with a slight smile. Hichan and Kerlan both turned to look at her. Hichan offered a lick of the lollipop, which the goddess declined.
"It's been good seeing you again, Kerlan--I'm going to try and stop by the Bar more often," Pocky said, fluttering her eyelashes at him, which her brother Taguon did his best to ignore.
Kerlan tried to mumble something, but that started to make the cookie crumble, so he settled on nodding. He looked to Sonya, pleading, and she sighed, and took the cookie out for him.
"I'll look forward to that," Kerlan replied, with a bright smile. Someone suddenly called Taguon's name, and the god and his sister bustled off, waving behind them.
"That was interesting," Sonya remarked.
"Oh, Pocky's had a crush on me for ages," Kerlan said, with a slight shrug.
"But aren't you--in--un--oh, what was the word--"
"Incompatible? Not at all." Kerlan smirked at her. "Cookies and good communication go hand in hand."
She sighed and jammed the cookie back in his mouth, and then started off. He laughed, crunching it, and doing a juggling act to catch the pieces. Then he jogged to keep up with her. "Do you know where you're going, yet?"
"Not a clue," she answered. "I--" She stopped, confused. Hichan paused as well, looking around in bewilderment. Kerlan grinned.
"Time to get going," he said. "It's the Announcements."
"That was--Celebria?" Sonya hazarded a guess. He nodded, and created a portal. He gestured for the goddess to step through and she did. He followed a step later.
"Deities!" Celebria's voice rang out through the Hall, to the assembled crowd. "How goes the Festival?"
The resulting cheer caused Hichan to whimper and try and block her ears by leaning her head against Kerlan's shoulder; her hands were still full of half-eaten lollipop and cookie. He gave her a little squeeze, and tried to find Rayden or Hiko in the mass of celebrating deities.
Celebria, Goddess of Truth and leader of the Council, smiled. "There are only a few things to be discussed at this session," she said. "Then we can all get back to the true reason for the Festival."
Most of the crowd cheered again and raised their glasses.
"The first is congratulations going out to Staryu, God of Shellfish, and Seadra, Goddess of Kelp, who are officially bethrothed!" Celebria grinned, and pointed out the pair. The crowd cheered once again, and many people turned to look at the blushing couple, which led to several bouts of laughter, before Celebria waved them back to pay attention to her again. "May their marriage be fruitful!"
"In the Name!" the crowd roared back, without any prompts.
Celebria smiled. "That is joyful news indeed, and I wish the couple every happiness." She paused, for a moment, taking a deep breath, and letting the crowd calm down somewhat, for the next piece of news was somber. "This next announcement is more on the serious, political side-I apologise to everyone." The crowd, expectant, smiled at the weak joke. She nodded, and continued: "Ariel, God of Air, has decided to renounce his title as Elder." This tidbit of information was not met with cheers or even silence, but with murmurs and whispering.
As the Elders could not be dissolved as a ruling party, it was decided (by the Council) that no more Elders would ever be appointed, and the current ones would be "asked" (pressured) to renounce their titles. Logicalis, God of Logic, and He Who Should Not Be Named agreed at once. Mizuno, Goddess of Water, had taken a little longer, but finally agreed. Now that Ariel had also fallen sway, the last Elder was Thunder. And he wasn't budging, although the Council had strong hopes.
Celebria sighed at the poor reception to the news. Most deities didn't understand or couldn't be bothered to find out why the Elders were being disbanded, but as expected, weren't challenging the Council on the matter.
"This final piece of news," Celebria continued, feeling uneasy at the muted murmuring of the crowd, "is a special Announcement. It has been decided to create a new festival, honouring someone who is--or should be--very special to everyone present." She paused, letting this sink in. "The Council has proposed a festival dedicated to Nova, Goddess of Stars."
This was met with an uproar. Dieties of every stripe began talking amongst themselves, shouting at Celebria or at each other. The goddess held up her arms for silence. That barely calmed the furor. "Quiet!" she yelled, loudly. That was more effective. The dieties were interested in what she had to say next. "I know this may seem odd to you, and it has been a long, long time since any new festivals have been created, but it is my belief that Nova deserves to be honoured."
"I agree!" called out a voice, suddenly. The crowd turned, en masse, looking for the source fo the voice. It was Rayden, making his way to the front, leading Hiko by the hand. The goddess looked terribly distraught. Rayden was trying hard to keep his emotions under control.
"Rayden, God of Thunder," Celebria acknowledged. "Hiko, Goddess of Fire. Do you have something you wish to say?"
"Just that I think it's a good idea," Rayden replied, simply. "One that's long in coming."
Hiko didn't say anything, but wiped her eyes with the back of her free hand. Celebria hadn't realised the goddess was crying, but she supposed Hiko had a right to. It had only been a couple of years since Nova had died.
Two more dieties pushed themselves to the front: Kerlan and Sonya.
"I agree whole-heartedly with all of this." Kerlan added his two cents. "It's a great idea."
"Kerlan, God of Communication," Celebria introduced him, for the benefit of those who couldn't see him. "Sonya, Goddess of Space. I thought you would think it was a good idea, but there is still deliberation--"
"If anybody has any objections to this, I'd like to hear them!" Sonya yelled out to the crowd. Surprisingly, no one came forward to debate with her. She turned back to Celebria, smugly.
Celebria supressed a grin. "Then it is decided. A festival will be set up, honouring Nova, Goddess of Stars, daughter of Hiko and Cosmos--"
Hiko gave out a strangled sob. It was something crossed between a gasp and a shriek, and she immediately tried to cover it up, but it was too late, everyone had heard her. She was holding her face in her hands. Rayden went pale and closed his eyes.
"Lady Hiko?" Celebria inquired. Kerlan was just as confused as she was, but Sonya wasn't.
"You have to tell them," she said to the distraught goddess, who was shaking terribly. "If you don't, I will."
"Sonya," Rayden warned, but she shook her head.
"If you don't, you're doing a disservice to Nova," Sonya continued, firmly.
Rayden looked at her, and she met his gaze, steadily. Neither of them wavered. Hiko took a deep breath, and lifted her head. "Sonya's right," she said, softly, still pale, still shaking. "She's right."
"Lady Hiko--?" Celebria asked, again. She, like everyone else, was horribly confused. Hiko took a deeper breath, straightened up, and approached the podium.
"I would like to say something to the crowd, Lady Celebria," she said, her voice nearly under her control. "Please."
"By all means." Celebria helped the goddess step up.
Hiko paused, slowly losing her nerve, until she saw Hichan looking up at her, wide-eyed, and fearful, upset that her mother and father were so distraught. That helped her gather her strength together.
"Nova," she began, with a slight tremble, "was not Cosmos' daughter."
The silence was thick, and heavy and it fell upon the crowd, a smothering blanket. The assembled crowd had no idea what Hiko was telling them; a few picked up on her insinuation, but most waited with bated breath to hear her next sentance.
Celebria, for her part, seemed stunned, but expectant.
Hiko looked down at her husband, for support. He nodded. She raised her gaze to the crowd, momentarily boosted. "Rayden is Nova's true father."
Again the silence descended upon the crowd; but this time it was broken by a loud thump as Celebria passed out and hit the floor.
Kerlan handed Hichan on to Rayden and jumped on the podium to help his sister. Hiko was already kneeling by her, giving her energy to help wake her up.
Medicalis, God of Doctors, pushed his way through and to the unconcious deity. "Isn't that just like Celebria," he snorted. "Always stealing the show." He waved Hiko and Kerlan away, and the god helped Hiko back to her feet, while Medicalis frowned, and then swiftly slapped Celebria across the jaw. She gasped and opened her eyes, blinking.
"What? How? What?" she cried, trying to sit up. Medicalis helped her up so she could stare, confused, at Hiko. "What?"
"I know this comes as a shock," Hiko began, hesitently, "but--"
"What?" Celebria blurted again. Her revival and shock had brought about a change in the crowd. Now they began to murmur and whisper amongst themselves freely.
Rayden began to grow uncomfortable, and shifted Hichan around. She was starting to cry, unnerved by the emotions floating in the air, and distressed on account of her parents.
"You two were not betrothed when Nova was born!" someone called out, working up the courage to yell what everyone was thinking. "She was--unsanctioned!"
Hiko looked about ready to pass out herself. Kerlan was steading her, but even he had gone a little pale. For him, at least.
Celebria seemed to be recovering her wits. She shook off Medicalis' hands and straightened her dress. "In spite of this little... revelation, the Festival must continue. This is a matter for the Council to decide upon--"
"There's nothing to decide!" someone else yelled. "This is Law! They have broken the Law!"
This was taken in agreement by most of the crowd. Suyuan and Naturalis were just now making their way to the front, Jih and Yueh in tow. Lindara appeared from another direction, looking horrified.
"Deities!" Celebria suddenly yelled, nothing bringing her back to the present like a shot to her authority, "This is not to be discussed here. This is the Feast of the Creator. This matter will be settled, I assure you, but it will not be here. Or now." She took a deep breath. "The Announcements are finished."
"What about the Nova's festival?" someone asked, before the crowd began to disperse. "Doesn't this change things?"
"I don't see how," Sonya snapped, growing angry enough to contribute. "Nova couldn't help it, and the fact that Rayden was her father doesn't change the fact she saved all of you from Lightning."
This was met with murmurs of agreement. Nova had been well-liked and known within the community of the Omniverse; many mourned her death greatly, and it was true, she couldn't help who she was.
"Thank you, Lady Sonya Blade," Celebria agreed. "I do not see any reason why the festival should not be created as planned. Now, let us all leave and--"
The entire assembly jumped, startled, as a crackle of energy ran through them.
"What in the Name?" Celebria cried, but nothing appeared, and no one seemed to have caused the strange phenomenon.
"It's a sign from the Creator," someone cried.
"But of what?" someone else chimed in. This got everybody whispering and talking amongst themselves again. Celebria held her arms up.
"I do not know what that was, but I intend to find out. I will do a scry, and let everyone know. I am sure it was nothing of any concern. Now, please, let us all go back to the Festival."
The crowd murmured, not budging.
"You heard her!" Sonya barked.
That got the desired effect; the crowd began to move off and split up into smaller and smaller groups.
Rayden sighed heavily, rocking Hichan, who by now was howling furiously, her face a bright red. She held her arms out towards her mother. Hiko stepped down off the podium and took her daughter, holding her tightly, rocking her as Rayden had been doing. Hichan seemed to find this more comforting and slowly wound down, while Hiko rocked her and Rayden patted her back.
Suyuan and Naturalis said something to the boys and they darted off. It was presumably to find their parents, but the mission was short-lived; Meimei and Tai Hou were already on their way over.
"Oh, Rayden," Suyuan sighed, shaking her head. "I knew you shouldn't have told anybody else."
He didn't answer her, but kept his attention focussed on Hichan and on his wife.
Kerlan stepped down off the podium. "I had no idea," he said, quietly. "I suppose I should have, but I never put two and two together."
"Nobody did," Meimei told him.
"I didn't even know," Rayden admitted, simply. Hiko was growing more and more distressed by the moment and it was not helping Hichan at all; Suyuan took her granddaughter and that left Hiko free to lean against Rayden for support.
Celebria and Medicalis both seemed to be at a loss for words. "I suppose I should... check on that scry," the leader said, finally.
"I think I'll join you," Medicalis blurted, heading off after her, although he exchanged a look with his brother before he did so.
Lindara sighed, and shook her head. "It's just one thing after another."
"It'll work out," Kerlan assured her. She looked up at him, and then abruptly both of their gazes fell away.
"This is a lot of nonsense," Sonya growled. She had her arms crossed over her chest and she was looking out to the rest of the Hall, to the gossiping deities. Her power crackled around her for a second, startling everyone, then she seemed to take control of herself and it faded away. "I don't see the point--"
"There's a very good point," Hiko said, quietly, glancing over at the goddess. "Lightning."
"Lightning?" the rest repeated.
"What on Earth does that have to do with anything?" Sonya continued.
Hiko closed her eyes. "Lightning is the sort of threat that the Elders feared, when the Law was set down," she explained. "A goddess who was too powerful for her own good."
"Nova wasn't like that," Kerlan interrupted.
"She could have been," Hiko replied, softly, resting her forehead against Rayden's shoulder. "She could have been."
Sonya looked confused. "If you two together are such a threat, why did they let you get married now? Aren't they worried about Hichan?"
"It was right after we defeated Cosmos," Rayden said, softly. "Everyone was too excited--there were several complaints, from the Council, but eventually they were over-ruled. The thrill of victory."
"I remember that," Kerlan remarked, nodding. "But you have to understand, Sonya, that we can keep an eye on Hichan, that we can look for any signs that she might be too powerful, and take steps to correct that. But what happens if we didn't know who her father was? We'd have no way of knowing what form her powers would take, or how strongly." He blinked. "No offense, Rayden."
"None taken," the god sighed, rubbing Hiko's back.
"So what happens now?" the Goddess of Space asked, after a moment.
Meimei patted her arm. "Best not to cross that bridge yet--the whole thing may blow over."
"It's not going to blow over, Meimei," Suyuan snapped, rocking Hichan. "We've got to think about it in plain terms."
"No, we don't," Kerlan interrupted, swiftly. "It's Festival. No one is going to be deciding anything, and trust me, I'm going to do my best to make sure this all ends happily." Hichan looked up, sniffling; she held out her half-cookie to Kerlan. He accepted it. "Thank you."
She shook her head and pointed to Hiko. "For Mama." Kerlan smiled, as did her parents.
Hiko accepted the cookie. "Thank you, sweetheart," she said, quietly. She nibbled on it, still resting against Rayden.
"Down!" Hichan insisted, suddenly. Suyuan obliged and let her swing down. She immediately took off.
"Hichan!" Rayden yelled, but he wasn't quick enough. Lindara tried to give chase, being closer, but the girl vanished into the crowds.
"I'll get her!" Jih and Yueh both exclaimed, darting off.
Suyuan sighed. "It's like a madhouse."
"They'll find her," Meimei replied.
Her mother gave her a glare. "That's not what I'm talking about, dear. Oh, never mind." She created a portal. "Anybody else want a nectar?"
"I'd like one," Hiko admitted, with a sigh. "Got to wash the cookie down."
Suyuan smiled and looked to the rest of the deities; they shook their heads. She nodded and stepped through the portal.
"You're in big trouble!" Jih yelled, as he and his brother searched for their cousin. "Big trouble! Uncle Rayden's going to be mad!"
"Uh uh," piped a small voice, almost instantly, and both boys swerved over, following it.
"Gotcha!" Yueh cried, as he reached under one of the tables and hauled Hichan out by the scruff of her collar, as he had been hauled many a time.
She started to cry and tried to struggle, but Jih and Yueh kept a firm grip on her, one hand to each brother.
"Come on, we've got to take you back," Jih began, as they started to drag her.
"No!" Hichan screamed. "No, leave me alone! Me need find him!"
"Find him? Find who? We were looking for you," Yueh snapped.
"Find Mama's bad man," Hichan blurted. She tried to back-pedal furiously, but she wasn't a match for the twins.
Jih and Yueh exchanged looks. "There's a bad man?" Jih asked, growing worried.
Hichan nodded, her eyes welling with tears. "Mama thinked of him. He's a bad man, frightens her."
"He frightens Aunty Hiko?!" The statement was met with complete horror. Anyone who was capable of scaring Aunty Hiko was someone very fearsome indeed.
"Why would you want to find him?" Jih blurted, the next question on their minds.
Hichan grumbled. "To make him stop!"
"Oh." This seemed to make little sense to the boys. "Maybe you should get Uncle Rayden to do that," Yueh suggested. Hichan considered this.
"Maybe," she admitted. She paused, thinking it over. "No, me do it."
"I don't think you can," Jih pointed out. "You're only a little girl."
"Yeah," Yueh agreed. "Really little."
Hichan pouted. "Am not."
"Jih? Yueh?" Lindara was calling them. "Have you found Hichan yet?" Her sudden appearence from within the crowd startled the two boys, and Hichan used that opportunity to make her escape, slipping from their grip and darting off.
"Aunty Lin!" they both whined, taking off as well; but their cousin was already lost within the sea of people.
Hichan darted among mingling deities, drinking deities, laughing deities and gossiping deities. These disturbed her the most--they were all talking about her parents, but not in a particularly nice way.
"Hichan!" exclaimed someone, who she found slightly familiar, but not familiar enough to place. "What are you doing here? Where's your mother?"
Hichan squealed and swerved away, hoping the lose the strange god in the shuffle. She didn't want to get caught; she had to find The Bad Man first. It was vitally important that she stop him from hurting her mother any more.
The image drifted through her mind again, the image she picked up from Hiko: of a dark, mean deity, with cruel eyes and a nasty sneer. She started to cry. She didn't want to meet this Bad Man any more than her mother did; but her mother was too upset because of Nova.
Hichan had only the vaguest notion of who Nova was; she was someone special, she knew, someone that her parents missed. But that was all she could piece together.
All she really knew, in the deepest sense, was that someone had to get rid of the Bad Man; then everything would go back to being happy, again. The Festival was fun until he showed up. And she was the only who could do it, beacuse everyone was too upset.
She was concentrating so hard that she didn't notice where she was going until she plowed into someone's legs. She bounced off, crying out, and got to her feet again. And looked up. And up.
The god stared down at her with a slight smile. His eyes were thin slits, dark and glittery and definitely malevolent. He was dressed in black, and his robes swirled around his ankles as he stepped forward, to try and grab her by the collar.
Hichan screamed, in utter terror, as her mother's fears seemed to be made flesh in front of her. She scuttled backwards, and then found she was unable to move; she was frozen. The man dipped forward swiftly and picked her up. She squealed as the spell faded and she could move again; but he had her several feet off the ground and there was nothing she could do.
He smiled at her. When he smiled he only showed a faint white streak of teeth; it was not a very broad smile and it terrified the small girl even further. He still had her by the collar and he drew her closer, and she screamed. That caused a chuckle.
She took a deep breath, winded, and too afraid to struggle. He leaned in, and looked her right in the eyes. "Come on," he joked. "Show me some of your famous fire." She made no move and he jerked her, savagely. This caused her to cry out, and suddenly her powers blazed around her, a ferocious display of lightning.
He barely flinched; his lips drew back in a sneer. "Impressive, Lady. Very impressive."
"Hichan!" Lindara called, as she, Jih and Yueh headed through the crowd.
Hichan cried, feebly, weakened by the power burst, but neither her aunt nor her cousins heard her.
"Put her down," growled a deep voice from behind him. Startled, the diety whirled; he faced Thunder, former God of Thunder.
"What?" he blurted, confused and afraid.
"Your mind tricks do not work on someone as skilled as me," Thunder explained, his own powers building around him. While they were no longer as powerful as they were, they were still capable of packing a punch.
The diety backed up. Hichan, sensing a rescue, started to squirm again. He nearly dropped her.
"Put her down," Thunder repeated, stepping forward, his aura building in intensity. "Now."
"This has nothing to do with you," the deity retorted, fiercely.
"It does now. Drop her." Thunder's powers suddenly arced around him and around the deity. He screamed and Hichan tumbled from his grip, falling to the ground. She screamed, from the sudden contact with the floor, but she managed to scramble out of the way.
The stranger picked himself up. Appearently the thunderbolt had been more of a shock; the diety seemed no more worse for wear, only now he was extremely upset at having lost his prize. He reached out his hands, and Thunder suddenly jerked backwards, hissing in pain.
"That's enough of that!" cried another voice, a woman's, as a goddess suddenly appeared in a silver flash. She crashed into the diety and they tumbled to the ground.
He lost his concentration for a moment, and became visible; the crowd who had been watching Thunder--thinking he was talking to himself--had been stunned when Hichan seemed to appear and drop to the floor, but now they were even more startled by the strange god's appearence, as well as the goddess.
"Dammit!" the god scowled, rolling away from his assailent. "Don't you ever die?"
The woman was in a defensive position, ready to attack, and watching him intently. He disappeared in a black portal. She straightened up, cautious, then relaxed. She turned and crouched beside Hichan, who was cautiously curious about her.
"There, small Lady," she said, with a grin. "I told you I'd save you."
She reached out and patted Hichan warmly on the head, giving the child a dazzling smile. Before Thunder could ask what she was doing or who she was, she disappeared. Not in a portal, or in a silver flash; she simply disappeared.
Hichan sat, blinking, in shock. Now that the danger was seemingly over, she started to calm down. That meant she reached the stage where she was frightened enough to start howling.
Thunder bent down and picked her up. She looked at him, not sure who he was. He sighed.
"Daddy?" she inquired, at last, confused.
"Not quite," he said, misunderstanding her. "I'm your father's father."
She sniffled, and frowned at him.
"Grandfather," he clarified. "I don't think you've actually met me, yet, small one."
"Grandfather," she repeated, dutifully. She already had one of those. Only Naturalis was Grandpa, but she could tell the difference. "Take me to Daddy?" she tried again.
"That I can do," Thunder said, with a slight smile, starting through the crowd.
Celebria took a deep breath as she hurried away, Medicalis right behind her.
"I wonder how they manage to stand it all," she said, in a hushed voice, as she led him through the Hall to her private chambers--or rather, the Council chambers.
"Oh?" Medicalis prompted, catching up to her quickly, his strides being longer.
"Any normal couple would have just found it easier, I think, to be apart," the goddess mused, "than put up with all of this, constantly."
"Hiko and Rayden," Medicalis replied, dryly, "are hardly what I'd call a normal couple."
"That's exactly my point--" Celebria stumbled forward, gasping. He caught her, swiftly, and she groaned, shaking her head, her eyes closed.
"Celebria?" he exclaimed. Her energy became wild and erratic and she twitched herself away from him, digging the heel of her hands into her eyes, trying to rub something from them. She screamed again, and he grabbed a hold of her shoulders, pulling her hands away from her face. "Celebria, what's the matter?" Suddenly she moaned and fell forward, fainting again. He was supporting her, so she didn't topple over. "Celebria, speak to me--"
Her energy was slowly returning to normal, and her eyelids flickered open. "Medi--?"
"Yes, it's me," Medicalis answered, calmly, giving her healing energy. "Yes--what just happened?"
"Vision--" she croaked, her voice hoarse. "Vision--images--I couldn't handle it--from the Creator--"
"A vision from the Creator?" Medicalis breathed. Such divinations were very rare; most messages were recieved in scries, or dreams, or through some other medium. To have a direct contact with the Creator could be dangerous; some deities couldn't cope.
Celebria seemed to be managing, to his relief. He led her onward to the small chambers, finding it unlocked, and sat her down on one of the chairs. "Do you need something to drink?" he asked, once she was settled.
She shook her head, still rubbing her eyes, as though the images were something physical that she could remove. "I think I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, thank you. I just need to sit for a minute, to sort everything out." She frowned, sighing. "So many images, all jumbled--I'm the worst person for this sort of thing, you know, I'm a better transmitter than I am a reciever."
"Really?" This intrigued Medicalis greatly; most deities were adept at both sending and recieving mental calls and messages. If there was an unbalance, it was always towards the recieving end. He couldn't think, off hand, of any one else with Celebria's leaning.
She nodded. "I wonder why the Creator picked me to do it, I mean, Rayden's much better at this than I am, even Hiko's better than I am--"
"Did the message concern them?" Medicalis asked, curious.
She frowned, looking at him straight on for the first time since she blacked out. "I...think so. I'm not sure." Celebria gritted her teeth together. "Most of it didn't make any sense! Clouds, a voice--a woman with a fan--I don't know what this means! And who the hell is Tàirneanaiche?"
"Tey what?" Medicalis blurted. "What was that name?"
"Tàirn--Tàinre--oh, by the Creator, even I don't know any more." Celebria got from her chair and started pacing. "That name came to me--it was someone--a deity--" She shook her head. "Damn it all!" Her powers flared around her suddenly. This was a very, very rare occurance for the goddess. Medicalis didn't think he'd even seen her aura, ever. He put both hands on her shoulders, and looked at her with confidence.
"You'll figure this out," he assured her. "The Creator must know you're the best person to trust with this message."
She looked up at him. "Do you think so?"
She sighed. "I guess--I just don't know what to make of all these images--" She paused, brightening significantly. "Perhaps a scry will help!"
"You've already got the message--" Medicalis trailed off.
"I know that," she sighed. "But maybe it will help me sort them out. I have one in here, it's worth a try."
"Of course," he replied, drawing away. "It's a good idea. Not much I can help with that, mind you, I think--"
He paused, and both dieties looked startled as a scream echoed through their heads, a child's scream.
"Hichan," they both exclaimed, teleporting out.
Both Hiko and Rayden's heads jerked up, looking out into the crowd in anxiety. Half a second later, all the dieties heard Hichan's panicked shriek.
"Hichan!" Hiko cried out, her Fire powers blazing around her, contrasting sharply with the Thunder powers of her husband. "Where is she? I can't sense her properly!"
"Someone's trying to block her," Rayden replied, already starting through the crowd, "but I can get through the shields all right. She's--wait--she's okay."
He stopped, suddenly, and Hiko crashed into him. Now he was looking around in confusion. A fight or something had broken out, on the far side of the Hall; he started towards it.
They were met a few moments later by Thunder, approaching and bearing Hichan who looked frazzled but none the worse for wear. "I believe you were looking for this," the Elder said, holding his granddaughter out to them. Hichan, immensely relieved to see her parents, nearly jumped from his arms to Hiko's. The goddess caught her right before she toppled out of his grasp.
"Hichan," Hiko murmured, holding her tightly, while Hichan sighed with relief. "What in the Name happened to you?"
"Someone attacked her," Thunder supplied. "I don't know who. He was dressed all in black."
"None of the Clans have black as their colour," Rayden said, confused.
"I know that. I have no idea who he was or what he wanted." Thunder reached over to pat Hichan's head. She looked up at him, smiling. "I will go, now, small one, and leave you with your parents."
"Thank you for saving her," Rayden added, somewhat surprised, as if he had forgotten that fact; but Thunder merely harumphed and turned to disappear back into the crowd.
"Hichan," Hiko murmured again, "whatever did you run off for?"
She sniffled, suddenly. "Me find the bad man."
"Yes, you certainly did," her mother agreed. "But why did you run off in the first place?"
"To find him," Hichan insisted. "To tell him, leave you alone."
Both deities stopped, confused.
"What?" Rayden demanded.
Hichan started to cry, a combination of the stress and the residual fear. "Me want to find Mama's bad man," she wailed. "Me make everything happy again!"
Her parents exchanged sad glances, while Hiko started to rock the crying child, rubbing her back. "I think we should get going home now, Hichan," she said with a sigh. "I think we could all use a break."
"Hiko! Rayden!" Celebria exclaimed, coming over with Medicalis in tow. "You found her--she's all right?"
"She's fine," Rayden assured her. "What's the matter with you? You look like you've seen a bad vision."
She nodded, vigourously. "I did see a vision, a vision from the Creator, Rayden--something's going to happen."
He snorted. "We hardly need a vision to tell us that," he remarked.
Medicalis frowned. "That's not what she means," he explained. "She was on her way to do a scry, to find out what that energy surge was when--"
It happened again, a ripple of energy that wound itself through the crowd.
"I have a very bad feeling about this," Celebria whimpered. Medicalis put a hand on her shoulder for a second, to reassure her; once he realised what he was doing, he whipped it off again and tried to look as though it hadn't happened. She didn't notice, in any case.
Hichan, newly upset by the strange energy, started to wail harder. "I'm going to take her home, for a N-A-P," Hiko told Rayden, but then she stopped, her face draining of its colour as she turned to regard Celebria. "That's all right, isn't it?"
Celebria blinked in confusion, not understanding. "Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be?"
They all waited for the penny to drop, and as it did, she flushed, a hand going to her mouth in embarressment. "Oh, Hiko, I'm sorry about that, of course you can go home."
Hiko nodded, and looked to Rayden for a moment; then she teleported away.
"I think I'll go find the others, tell them what happened," Rayden said with a sigh. "They're all worried too."
"I'll do that," Medicalis volunteered suddenly. "You should go home too. Your energy is all out of whack."
"I wonder why," Rayden muttered, with a slight shrug of resignation. He quickly told them what Thunder had said, which wasn't much. When he was finished, he created a portal. "I'll see you later, then."
"Bye, Rayden," Celebria said, still embarressed over her early faux pas.
"I'll go talk to Naturalis and the others, so you can work on that scry of yours," Medicalis said to her. "You've got a lot of thinking to do."
"I've decided on one thing already," she told him as they started walking.
"I'm going to make their... case... a Council matter. I don't care what people think. We got rid of the Elders so that we weren't relying on traditions that people don't remember who started and Laws that--okay, Laws are different, aren't they? Set down by the Creator and all. But still." She took a deep, calming breath. "It's a Council matter, now."
"After the Festival," Medicalis corrected.
"That's what I meant. After the Festival."
Rayden sighed, flopping down on the bed. "What a nightmare."
Hiko was already lying down, after making sure that Hichan was asleep. She sighed, and twisted around, trying to make herself comfortable. Rayden tried to help by snuggling up to her.
She sighed, and let him drape an arm over her waist. "I'm really worried about Hichan," she said, quietly.
"So am I," he admitted. "But we don't even know what will happen with the decision--"
"Not about that," she interrupted. "In the Name, I hadn't even thought about that yet--" She started to tense up, and he gave her a gentle squeeze.
"No need to cross that bridge yet," he said, reassuringly. "Meimei's right, it may all blow over."
She sighed again. "Maybe you're right."
"I try to be," he said with a slight smile, but she wasn't up for the lightness of the joke. She was still frowning. He shifted over so that he was slightly higher than she was, looking down. "What's the matter? What were you worried about?"
She looked up at him, tiredly. "Hichan. She went looking for Cosmos."
"What?" Rayden blurted, confused. He slid back down, concerned. "What are you talking about?"
"When I had to make that... Announcement, I was thinking about Cosmos the entire time," Hiko whispered. "I was thinking about how much easier, and happier, everything would have been if he had never existed. And she was reading me, and decided to go off and find him and..."
"Get him to leave you alone?" Rayden finished. He had a slight smile. "What a girl."
Hiko rolled her eyes. "You're missing the point!"
"What's the point then?" he asked, her, slightly annoyed.
"The point is--I don't even know what the point is any more!" Hiko, irritated, sat up and sprung off the bed, pacing beside it. "If she's this worried now--what's she going to be like when it really heats up? I'm so concerned for her, and then there is her age--"
"What's that got to do with anything?" Rayden rolled onto his back, watching her pace. "I mean, yes, she's very young, but--"
"You don't know, do you?" Hiko stopped pacing, regarding him through narrowed eyelids. "You haven't noticed."
"Noticed what? I've noticed lots of things."
"You haven't noticed how big she is," Hiko confirmed.
"She's growing up pretty fast, yeah," he replied, bewildered.
She snorted. "Pretty fast, eh? That's an understatement. Tell me how many Festivals she's been to."
"This one was her first--" Rayden's eyes widened and he sat up in shock. "By the Creator!"
"Exactly!" Hiko threw her hands up in the air. "She should only be one year old right now!"
"But--but--" he stuttered, confused and concerned.
"I know what it is, too," Hiko added, beginning her pacing anew. "It's here."
"Where is here, exactly?" he asked, needing clarification.
She spread her arms. "The Temple. We've been living on mortal time."
"We've always lived on mortal time--and we're not aging," he pointed out.
"I know, but we've stopped growing. Hichan hasn't. Hichan is so attuned to the Realm--from living so closely with the mortals--that's she growing at the same rate that they are. Three Earth years have passed since she was born, and that's how old she is. Not one Omniversal year." Hiko started pacing again. "It was your mother that pointed it out, actually. And I wondered why I haven't seen it sooner. I mean, we've been practically holed up in this Realm, no wonder she's so close to it."
"I grew up on Earth too, at the normal rate," Rayden persisted. As worrying as the thought was, the idea that his Realm was the cause of it seemed preposterous.
"Yes, but was it around mortals, all the time?" she asked. He shook his head. She looked triumphant. "Of course not. Deities are not raised around mortals--tradition. Did we ever stop to wonder why? No. We assumed it was yet another pointless and stupid way of looking at things."
"If you're right," he said, quietly, mulling it over, "then the only solution is--"
"Is to take Hichan away from mortals, until she finishes growing," Hiko finished. "That would mean leave the Temple."
"By the Creator!" was all Suyuan had to say on the matter. Naturalis simply nodded, sadly, in agreement with her. Both Jih and Yueh wanted to know why black wasn't a Clan colour, and who was Cosmos, and why would they want to hurt Hichan, and oher questions, until Tai Hou decided to take them on a spontaneous visit to Taguon or Pocky. Meimei held her head in her hands. Sonya looked ready to start knocking heads. Lindara was bewildered. Kerlan sighed.
"Honestly, you'd think they'd get some time off from this," he muttered. "If it's not one thing, it's another."
Medicalis shook his head, agreeing with the god. "And now I can't find Thunder anywhere, he's gone."
"That's just like him," both Suyuan and Celebria exclaimed instantly, smiling slightly at the coincidence.
"I wonder..." Lin said thoughtfully. "I wonder if he's the same god."
"What?" about half-a-dozen voices wanted to know.
"What are you talking about? Who?" Meimei demanded of her younger sister. Lindara blinked in surprise, startled by the sudden interest in what had been a passing thought.
"Last night, Jikan Tai and I were attacked, by an intruder," she explained, remembering that she was supposed to tell Rayden all about it. "He was from the future."
"How do you know that?" Kerlan asked her, but Celebria waved him quiet, so that Lindara could continue.
"It was a god, dressed in black," Lindara continued, musing. "But he just wanted Yellow's staff--I mean, he wanted the Guardian's staff. I was going to tell Rayden when I found him, but then..." Her arms opened briefly, indicating the days incidents.
"So how did you know he was from the future?" Sonya prompted her, exasperated.
She shrugged. "Two things. The first was that he claimed to be the son of Lachdannan; the second that Jikan Tai said that he came from a time portal."
There was silence from the deities. Sonya sighed and rolled her eyes. "Come on, guys, do I really have to ask?"
"Lachdannan is the God of the Sky, son of Dealanach, Goddess of Fields, and Lugnasath, God of Summer," Kerlan explained it for her. "He's about--what, half a year, now?"
"He was born only a few months after Hichan," Naturalis agreed. Something about that logic struck everyone as odd, but they decided to ignore it for the time being.
"So this son of his is coming back in time to harass small children?" Sonya summed it up succiently. "Do any of you ever have normal problems?" Everyone except Kerlan, who was used to her, missed the sarcasm of her question and looked at each other in bewilderment. "I'll take that as a no," she muttered, shaking her head.
"What else did Jikan Tai say about the intruder?" Celebria asked, giving up on Sonya's remark and turning back to Lindara. "And where is he? I know he's not obligated to come, but--"
"He said he was going to check the Wood," Lindara replied. Suddenly, she looked very thoughtful. "That was this morning--he should probably be home by now."
"Perhaps you should check for him," Kerlan suggested. "See if he's found anything out yet."
The Goddess of Plants nodded, and teleported away, presumably to find the Guardian.
"I really want to check out that scry," Celebria said, almost to herself. "That vision was disturbing--I hope I can figure it out. It'll probably shed some light on this, too."
"Do you think you'll need any company?" Medicalis asked her, quietly, placing a hand on her elbow. She shook her head. He nodded, and looked to his brother. "Naturalis, I'm going to visit Maman for a while--she's been experiencing some bad energy lately; I want to check that it's nothing serious."
Naturalis looked startled. "I talked to her, she said she was fine!"
Medicalis shrugged. "We all know what she's like. I was just thinking, maybe you could drop by later on--"
"We'll be there," Suyuan agreed for herself and her husband. She then turned on Naturalis. "You never told me she was sick!"
"I didn't know myself!" the god protested, wearily. He suddenly looked very tired. "On second thought, Medi--"
His brother laughed. "Fine with me, Naturalis." He created a portal, and dipped his head towards the others. "Let me know the moment anything happens," he said to Celebria in particular. "If it's anything to do with Rayden, I'm sure you'll be needing my help by the end of the day." He stepped through, Naturalis following him a moment later.
"Way to scare him off, Mother," Meimei muttered.
"What? Scare? Me?" Suyuan cried, shocked. "I would never do such a thing!"
"Ladies!" Kerlan interrupted, holding his arms up. They both stopped and turned to face him. "I think that maybe either we should concentrate on finding out the identity of our new friend; either that or start enjoying the Festival again. We're attracting too much attention standing around arguing."
"I don't think I could enjoy myself much after what's happened," Suyuan said quietly, looking forlorn. "Poor Rayden. And Hiko. And Hichan--how could she possibly deal with any of this? She's just a little girl!"
"It's going to blow over," Meimei insisted firmly.
"You don't know that," her mother retorted.
"Ladies," Kerlan warned.
"I think I'm going to go home for a while," Suyuan said, after a moment. "And wait for Naturalis to get back from visiting Fleurdelis."
"Would you like some company?" Meimei asked, quietly. Suyuan shook her head, opening a portal.
"I'll be fine, dear. If you need to, you can send the boys home, if you need some space."
"I'll do that," Meimei agreed, quickly. "Don't worry about it, Mother, trust in the Creator to work everything out."
"I know the Creator will work everything out; it's the Council that worries me," Suyuan replied, stepping through and disappearing.
They all stood, looking at Celebria.
"I have no idea what she meant by that," the goddess grouched. "Does she think she can't trust our decision?"
"You did nearly kill him before," Meimei pointed out, quietly.
There was a sudden silence.
Celebria straightened her shoulders. "Well! I see where this is leading!"
"Cel, she didn't mean it like that," Kerlan hurriedly assured her.
"I most certainly did!" Meimei burst out. She and Celebria faced each other off. "If you couldn't sway the Council before, what makes you so sure you can do it now?"
This Celebria didn't have an answer for, and she knew it; she flushed darker than normal and stomped away, heading towards her chambers. Kerlan hurried after her, still trying to calm her down.
Meimei sighed, defeatedly, shaking her head. "I didn't want to get into a fight about it," she told Sonya.
The goddess shrugged. "It had to be said."
Meimei started fidgeting with her hair pins, a sure sign that she was worried and unsure about what to do with herself. "I want to help," she said, finally, "but I don't know what I could do."
Sonya was deep in thought. "Hmm."
"Hmm? Is that a good hmm?" Meimei said, hopefully.
"Maybe. I was just thinking, if Mr. Black Robes has the ability to jump through time, he might have popped up elsewhere, in the past, and it might be documented somewhere. Do Immortals have a set of records?" she asked.
"Records?" Meimei repeated. "Records... you mean the Scrolls? They hold our History, as it happens."
"Scrolls, records, it's all good," Sonya agreed. "Let's go have a look."
Meimei nodded, and created a portal
"Take her away from the Temple?" Rayden repeated. Hiko nodded. "But--she has friends here, family almost, what with Johnny and Liu--"
"I know it would be upsetting," Hiko agreed, sitting on the edge of the bed, "but it would also be for the best."
"I don't know," Rayden trailed off. "Where would we raise her, then? Maresium?"
Hiko nodded. "It will be her Realm one day anyway. I've never been as close to my mortals as you are to yours; it wouldn't make any difference to them."
He looked glum. "I think we'll have to think about this, before we make any rash decisions."
"Rash decisions?" Hiko got to her feet again. "What do you mean by that? She's growing up too fast, Rayden--who knows how it'll effect her?"
"What do you mean by that?" he exclaimed, growing irritated by her tone.
"I mean, what if she grows too much like a mortal? What if she... ages?" Hiko put her hands on her hips, wanting to hear his explanation for that one.
"That's imp--" He stopped himself, and started anew. "Immortals don't age."
"They don't grow according to mortal time, either," she reminded him, starting to pace. "Another problem to look at is what if she grows too quickly, and can't cope with her powers when they start to develop? She might be too immature to handle them."
"Now you're jumping the gun a little bit," he said, getting to his feet. "We have no idea what the effects could possibly be--"
"Why are you fighting this?" Hiko snapped, stunned. "Can't you see what's happening to her?"
"I can now, but that doesn't mean we should just take the first solution that presents itself and burn all our bridges behind us!" Rayden retorted. "You're getting too worked up about it!"
"Too worked up?" Hiko yelled, angry. "Too worked up? How can you say that, how can you--"
She was interrupted by the creak of the door. Hichan was poking her head around, wide-eyed and fearful. Both of her parents stopped fighting immediately.
"Mama?" the girl asked, tearfully. "Why yelling?"
"Oh, Hichan," Hiko sighed, ducking down and picking her up, "it's nothing to worry about, it's nothing to be frightened of."
"No yelling," Hichan insisted, rubbing her eyes.
"Are you still tired?" Rayden asked, "or do you want something to eat?"
"Eat, then nap," Hichan said, yawning. The fact that she admitted she wanted a nap worried her parents significantly. Rayden took her from Hiko, and she latched on to him, gripping his robes tightly, as though she was afraid he would drop her. "I'll get you something," he told her, resting his cheek against her head. He looked to Hiko. "I shouldn't be long."
"I'll be right here," Hiko replied, sitting down on the bed, avoiding eye contact.
He headed from the room to the kitchen, while Hichan maintained her death grip on his robes, and sniffled occasionally.
"It's nothing to be worried about," he told her, repeatedly. "Your mother and I, we're just under a lot of stress at the moment. We don't mean anything by it."
"Stress," Hichan repeated, quietly, mulling the new word over. "Bad men."
"And don't worry about the bad men at all," Rayden told her firmly, getting a few crackers down from one of the shelves. "We'll be here to protect you. They can't get to you through us."
She only whimpered in response, taking the crackers quietly, munching with her head still resting on Rayden's shoulder.
"Honestly!" Celebria fumed, pacing around her chambers. She was far too upset now to do a scry, so she settled on venting at her brother. "Did they think that I didn't try my hardest at his hearing? Did they think that I went along with the consensus? That decision to carry through with it because the Council decided so was the hardest I've ever had to make!"
"I know, Cel, I know," Kerlan assured her, an arm around her shoulders as he led her to one of the chairs. "I know." She sat down, frowning.
"I tried my hardest for them," she said, quietly, "I always have." Celebria started to cry, suddenly, leaning forward. Startled, he almost jumped to his feet; he hadn't seen his sister cry since they were both kids. "I'm just trying to do what's the best for everyone," she sobbed, shaking with the force of it, even as she tried to stop herself. "But I can't seem to make everybody happy."
"I learned a phrase a while ago, I forget where," Kerlan said, quietly, patting her back awkwardly, "But it's that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing nobody; so it's better just to please yourself."
She looked up at him. "But I can't do that, can I? I've got the Council to worry about, I'm the Leader after all--"
"I know," he insisted. "I'm just saying, maybe you should stop looking at it as what's best for the Omniverse, and maybe look at it as what's best for Rayden and Hiko."
"I'm supposed to be impartial," Celebria sniffled.
"You came up with that notion yourself, it was never implied. I mean, nobody is really impartial. Not even the Creator is. I mean, would the Creator have bothered to bring Hiko back if it didn't matter? The Creator promised not to interfere, but that whole... incident was definitely interefering, in my books. Do you see what I mean?"
Celebria was silent for a moment, deep in thought. "I think I do, Kerlan. Thanks."
"That's what I'm hear for," he said with a grin. "Feel better?"
She nodded, rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry about that."
"About what? Crying? Don't worry about it, I'm your brother, I'm supposed to help you out when you need it."
"I thought you were supposed to annoy me endlessly," she replied, with a grin.
He grinned back. "Nah. I just do that for fun."
She smacked his shoulder playfully and was about to say something in reply when there was a sudden knock at the door. "Come in?" she called.
It was Staryu, the newly betrothed God of Shellfish. "Madame Celebria? I think you need to come out here."
"Why? What's the matter?" she asked, getting to her feet.
Staryu paled to a light shade of brown. "It's a portal."
"A portal?" Kerlan repeated. "So?"
"It's a black portal," Staryu elaborated, slowly. "None of the Clans have black as their colour."
Celebria and Kerlan exchanged a quick glance at each other, then headed for the door.
Sonya sighed, setting the scroll down on the table, and started to rub the back of her neck. "This is so tiring."
"I could do it forever," Meimei replied, wistfully, her eyes glued to her scroll. "I love reading the Histories--it's all so fascinating."
"To me it's just more paperwork," the Goddess of Space scowled. She put her scroll down. "And I--"
Meimei looked up to see what the matter was. "Sonya?"
Sonya had the glassy-eyes of a deity in mental contact. Then she snapped out of it. "That was Kerlan--Black Robes is about to show up again."
Meimei got to her feet as her friend did, but Sonya waved her back down. "You stay here, see if you can find anything. I can call you if I need back-up."
"Are you sure?"
"Always," Sonya replied dryly, teleporting out.
The deities collectively gasped, the shock and confusion spreading through the crowd, rippling through the pond. The deities underneath the portal fled backwards, while Celebria, Kerlan and Sonya pushed themselves forward.
The portal was unlike any that they had ever seen before--for one thing, it was suspended over their heads, meaning that the travellor would be soon falling to the ground, a most impractical set-up. Secondly, the portal held no colours. Portals reflected the colours (or powers) of their owners' Clans, like clothing did; it was an easy way to identify them. It also meant that it was impossible to remain anonymous.
But this portal had everybody stumped. It was forming slowly, almost too slowly for it to form at all; but it was growing steadily, a pitch-black stain in the air.
Celebria eyed Sonya periphally. The Goddess of Space semed calm, collected. Even Kerlan didn't seem as fidgety as Celebria felt. That did it for her. She had no chance of imitating the goddess with her steely nerves, but she could definitely show-up her little brother. She straightened her spine, threw back her shoulders, lifted her chin and then waited for her chance to prove herself.
She never got it.
A blinding fury--light all around--she was so terrified she couldn't remember how to scream. Images burned into her eyes. Clouds, rolling, dark; a woman, smiling as she fanned herself in the strong sunlight. A tree, tall as heaven, stretching upwards infinitely. A hand, reaching towards her...
Celebria found her voice, and proceeded to use it.
Kerlan was nearly beside himself with panic as Celebria fainted dead away, and then began to scream herself hoarse; he cradled her in his arms, trying to send her healing energy.
Sonya kneeled beside them, half-watching the portal forming over their heads. "It's a mental link, isn't it?" she asked Kerlan, who had far more knowledge in the area than she did. He nodded. "Can you break it?" she continued. He looked at her for a moment, blankly; then his senses returned to him and he bent his head in concentration.
For a moment, nothing seemed to be happening, and then Celebria's screams petered out. She was breathing hard, but she was starting to calm down. The link was broken. Kerlan looked up, grinning, but Sonya's attention was elsewhere. She leapt to her feet, her powers arcing around her as someone fell from the portal.
It was a woman, dressed in black. She was unconscious, and landed limply on the Hall floor. Celebria, fully cognizant by now, let Kerlan help her up and together they watched as Sonya made her way to the woman, obviously a goddess.
Sonya didn't enjoy the feeling of deja vu. Not one little bit.
The deity was out like a light. Her black hair lay in a tumble underneath her head. It was a simply pageboy, unlike the ornate hairdos favoured by most goddesses. Her clothes said nothing about her, just like the portal: she was dressed in an all black vest-trouser-robes ensemble. There was no clue to her identity. She groaned in her sleep, a troubled look on her face.
"By the Creator," Celebria mumbled. "I have the weirdest feeling that this has happened before."
"You're not the only one," Sonya remarked. "Anybody know who she is?"
"Black is not a Clan colour," someone volunteered, anonymously, from the safety of those gathered around, watching.
Sonya muttered something in response which no one could catch. Then she raised her voice. "I know that already. Does anybody have anything useful to say?" The silence was so total, Sonya was convinced she could hear Omniversal crickets in the background. "I'll take that as a no, then."
"Should we try to wake her?" Celebria asked, stepping forward. "She looks harmless."
"That's almost a sure sign she isn't," Sonya snapped, getting to her feet. "Lightning looked like kitten, too, when she first showed up."
"You don't think it is Lightning, do you?" Kerlan asked her, worried. "I mean--we thought she was gone once before..."
"That time we didn't have the Creator on our side," Sonya reminded him. She looked up from the goddess at the crowd gathered around. "Don't you people have somewhere better to be?"
The assembly scattered instantly, everyone clearing out in only a few moments. Kerlan tried to suppress his grin.
Sonya knelt again by the goddess, and lifted her head up carefully. "No point in delaying the inevitable," she said, mostly to herself. She slapped the goddess across the jaw. She stirred, but didn't wake up.
"Maybe we should fetch Medicalis," Celebria offered. "He could wake her."
"That's a good--" Kerlan stopped, as a current of energy ran through him. He jumped, even though he tried not to. "There it is again."
The deity was stirring now, trying to wake up. Sonya, feeling cautious, stepped away from her.
She opened her dark eyes, blinking at the sudden light. "Wise Lady?" she asked, looking up at the goddess.
"I'm Sonya Blade, Goddess of Space," she replied. "Who are you?"
"Hichan," the goddess murmured. The trio standing around her exchanged startled glances. "Must find Hichan," she cleared up, not noticing their suprise. She was groggy and was trying to roll over, off her back, and get to her feet, but she seemed unused to moving. She was stiff, and awkward.
"Who are you?" Sonya repeated.
The goddess looked up, as if noticing the deities for the first time. "I am..." She paused, unsure. "I am... Rahne."
"Rahne? What Clan are you?" Kerlan prompted.
"Clan?" the goddess repeated, unsure. "I am... Rahne. Must find Hichan." She was on her knees now.
"You're not going anywhere until we get some answers from you," Sonya interrupted her. "Like where you're from, and what you're doing here."
Rahne shook her head, frowning, lost in thought, as though she couldn't quite remember how to speak. "It's... I have to find Hichan."
"I told you--" Sonya took a step backwards as Rahne suddenly leapt to her feet.
"Hichan!" she cried, creating another portal, floating sideways in the air by her head, that opened quickly, like a normal one. She jumped up, and did a backflip so that she jumped down through her portal, which sealed behind her.
"Dammit!" Sonya swore. "We've got to get to Rayden and Hiko--I have a feeling they'll need the help."
He laid her down, and wiped the last trace of cracker crumb from off her face. She was exhausted from all the stress, and had fallen asleep on his shoulder as soon as she was done her snack. Rayden sighed, and sat for a moment at the edge of her bed, looking down at her. The door opened.
"Maybe you're right," he said, softly, to his wife. "Maybe I haven't been thinking it clearly."
There was no reply. "Hiko?" he asked, turning around.
The iron grip on his throat startled him nearly as much as finding the person he thought was his wife, was, in fact, a deity dressed entirely in black.
Rayden's powers crackled around him, and the stranger flinched, but didn't loosten his grip. Hichan woke up, frightened, and immediately screamed for her mother.
But Hiko didn't appear.
Rayden got to his feet, pushing his assailent backwards while trying to move his hands from his throat, finally succeeding, although the intruder managed to get a new grip around Rayden's wrists. The deity was strong; but Rayden was just a bit stronger.
"What are you trying to do?" Rayden snapped, as the two gods pushed against each other, a stalemate.
"I'm setting things right," the god snarled.
There was a flash of a portal.
"Thank the Creator," Rayden muttered. "What took you?"
But the newest visitor wasn't Hiko either. It was a goddess, dressed in black as well, and she charged for the god, tackling him and sending him flying, freeing Rayden.
"Who the hell are you?" the strange god roared, rolling away from her. Energy crackled around him, but the goddess stared him down, confidently. In Hichan's small room, there wasn't nearly enough room for a proper fight. "Do you think you can defeat the storm?"
"I will protect her," the goddess growled, in a defensive stance, standing over Hichan, Rayden by her side.
"We both will," the God of Thunder concurred.
The god got to his feet and disappeared, scowling.
The goddess looked around her, almost as though she expected him to be hiding somewhere in the room; then she relaxed.
"Who are you?" Rayden asked, as he picked up Hichan, who was howling. "It's all right, Hichan, it's all right."
"Hichan?" the goddess said, smiling shyly. She took the girl's hand, which--out of habit--wrapped around her finger. "Hichan, oh, you are so small!"
Both Rayden and Hichan blinked at the non sequitor. "Who are you?" Rayden repeated.
"Rain?" Rayden frowned. "Where did you come from?"
Rahne looked confused. "I've come to protect Hichan. I must protect Hichan. She's so small--"
There was another flash of a teleport, and Sonya and Kerlan appeared. "Rayden--Hichan! You're okay--" Sonya's smile of relief turned upside down. "Rahne."
"You know her?" Rayden asked, taking a step backwards to stand next to them. Hichan hastily let go of the goddess' finger.
"Sort of." Kerlan looked around the small room. "Where's Hiko?"
Rayden and Hichan both looked at each other in surprise. "I don't know," the god admitted. "She should have come the minute she heard Hichan cry out--" Worried, he teleported from the room.
"He's taken the small Lady!" Rahne cried, distraught, and she made a move to follow him, but Sonya grabbed her by the arm.
"Oh no you don't, you're coming back to the Hall, with me," she announced, fiercely.
"Let me go!" Rahne snapped, trying to free herself, but Kerlan grabbed her other arm, and together they pulled her through one of the portals, back to the Omniversal Hall.
"Hiko?" Rayden called, teleporting into their room.
"Mama?" Hichan joined in. The room was empty. Rayden sighed, and closed his eyes, trying to find her. It didn't take long; she was in the kitchen, and she was--hurt?
"Hiko!" he exclaimed, as he teleported to her. She was leaning against the counter, dabbing at her face with one of the cloths. Blood was streaming down along her cheek from a cut on her temple.
"Mama!" Hichan cried, horrified. Rayden put her down and she clung to his leg as he helped Hiko, examing her wound.
"I'm fine," the goddess insisted, wincing as he dabbed her cut. "It's nothing."
He showed the bloody rag to her, wordlessly, and her eyes widened, but she remained firm. "It's nothing," she insisted. "I must have tripped, or something."
"Tripped? On what?" Rayden blurted, trying to wring it over the sink. "We need to get you to Medicalis."
"No," Hiko insisted.
"Hiko, don't be stubborn."
"I'm not being stubborn, I'm fine on my own," she repeated. She shrugged away from him, but he grabbed her by the arm.
"What are you doing this for?" he asked, quietly, forcefully. She looked at him, and then down at Hichan, who was staring at her, worried. She sighed.
"I'll go see Medi," she relented.
"Hmm." Medicalis stared intently at the wound. "How did you get this, again?"
"I don't remember, I must have tripped," Hiko replied. She was sitting on the hospital bed, sagging with tiredness; she complained of a headache, but still refused to seek help, even when they went to see Medi.
"Hmm. Head trauma." Medicalis looked to Rayden. "She's got a concussion as well as a cut; I think she was attacked. Pushed from behind maybe; she's hit her head on something hard and sharp. The corner of the table, or the edge of the counter."
"We did have a run in with our mystery deity," Rayden concurred. "She was in the kitchen when it happened."
Medicalis arched an eyebrow. "Hiko, did you fight with Black Robes?"
She frowned, concentrating. "I don't remember," she said, sighing. "I told you that already."
"True enough. Hold still." Medicalis suddenly pressed his hand against her temple, the pressure causing her to cry out and try and pull away; but he gripped her head with his other hand and kept her immobile. "It's a healing spell, nothing to be concerned about."
His aura, a delicate blue-green, flared around him, and Hiko sighed with relief. She was still tense, from the pressure; but the pain was easing off. Finally, he took his hand away, wiping it on a nearby towel. "There you are. Good as new."
"Thank you," Hiko said, gratefully. She still seemed a little dizzy, so Rayden tried to help her off the chair, but she refused his offer and got to her feet on her own. "I'm fine, Rayden. Stop fussing."
He started to say something in response when the door opened, and Kerlan poked his head around the door. "Hi Hiko, Hi Medicalis. Uh, Rayden?" he inquired. "We have a problem."
"What sort of problem?" the god demanded, instantly suspicious.
"First, I want you to calm down--" Kerlan began, his hands up defensively.
"It's Hichan," Hiko surmised, pushing past the surprised deity and into the hallway. "Isn't it."
"Actually, yes," Kerlan awknowledged, sheepishly, following her out into the hallway, Rayden right behind him. "But..."
Rayden glowered. "Out with it."
"She's sort of been kidnapped," Kerlan said, with an uneasy grin. Since both parents were ready to blow up, he held up his hands to let him continue. "It's not what you're thinking! We took Rahne to the Hall to sort her story out, but she slipped away, and now she's in Officina with Suyuan and she won't let anybody else near Hichan. Period."
Hiko gritted her teeth. She was about to say something when Medicalis grabbed her by the arm. The sudden touch made her jump with fright; she nearly hit him.
"Hiko, I think you should stay here for a little longer," he said to her, quietly.
"Why?" she demanded.
"Your energy is all out of alignment. So is Rayden's, and I understand that, but yours is especially and I want to have a closer look." He gave her a slight tug, back towards the hospital room. For a moment there was dead silence in the hallway, and then all that could be heard was a crackle in the air, as the temperature began to rise significantly.
Kerlan backed away.
Rayden pushed himself between the God of Doctors and the Goddess of Fire. "Hiko, calm down."
For a minute he thought she was going to turn on him, but he took her hands--hot though they were--and wrapped his around them. "Calm down. Hichan's fine, you're okay now, we just need some rest and then we'll all be fine."
She looked at him, and nodded, her powers dying away. "Let's go get Hichan."
Hichan looked up at her. She was staring outside the window with a slight smile on her face, watching the clouds drift by. The girl tugged on the goddess' sleeve.
"Yes, small Lady?" Rahne asked.
"Me want go home," Hichan said, timid. "Home to Temple."
"Oh no, small Lady. He might still be there," Rahne told her, sternly.
"Me want to go home!" Hichan yelled, furiously.
Rahne gazed down at her. "No."
"Small Lady, you are not behaving properly," Rahne admonished. "I cannot carry out my mission if you will not listen to me."
"And what would your mission be?" asked Hiko, as she stepped into the herbarium,
Rayden right behind her. Suyuan remained outside the room, fussing. Hichan tried to run to them, but Rahne stopped her, holding on to her arm, holding her back.
Rahne's eyes furrowed. "Who are you? What do you want with Hichan?"
"I am Hichan's mother," Hiko informed the goddess briskly, her arms over her chest.
"Mama!" Hichan agreed.
Rahne looked to Rayden. "You are Hichan's father, then?"
"I am," Rayden agreed.
"Daddy," Hichan concurred. "Now, go home!"
"I cannot leave you, small Lady," Rahne disagreed, instantly, shaking her head. "But I can release you into the custody of your parents."
"How kind," Hiko muttered. Rahne let Hichan go, and the little girl ran to her mother, who swung her up.
"Better?" Hichan asked, looking at her mother's head. "All better."
"Yes, all better," Hiko agreed with a slight smile. "Are you okay?"
Hichan paused for a moment. "Okay. Hungry."
Both of her parents laughed. "That's a good sign," Rayden said with a chuckle, before turning back to Rahne. "Now, what are we supposed to do with you?"
"I will come with you to the Temple," Rahne informed him briskly. "I must guard Hichan."
"We appreciate the offer," Hiko said, calmly, "but that's not really necessary. We can take care of her on our own."
Rahne frowned, and for a moment, she looked exactly like Hichan as she did so. "I do not think so."
"I do," exclaimed someone, entering the herbarium from the main section of the house. It was Sonya. "You're coming with us. Hichan's back with her parents; there's nothing more for you to do."
Rahne blinked. Clearly, she was not sure how to respond. She didn't regard Sonya as a threat, as Sonya was just as concerned about Hichan as she was; but there was no other category for the goddess to fit her in.
Kerlan stepped in, and stood beside the Goddess of Space. "It's easier for everyone if you just come with us, peacefully." Rahne looked from him and Sonya--who obviously meant business--to Hichan, safe in her mother's arms.
"I will go," Rahne said, quietly. "But I will not stay if Hichan is in danger."
"Fair enough," Kerlan agreed for everyone else. He took her by the wrist and led her from the room. Hiko and Rayden followed behind, and Sonya brought up the rear.
"Are you all right?" Hiko asked her daughter, worriedly, the moment that Rahne was gone, taken by the other deities. "Did she hurt you? Scare you?"
Hichan shook her head, solemnly. "No. She friendly."
"Friendly?" Rayden repeated.
Hichan nodded. "She says, I come, play with you. Only she not let Grandma in the--" she faltered over the word, then decided to move on. "Only she not let Grandma in the plant room."
Hiko and Rayden exchanged glances.
"Can we go home now?" Hichan continued, near-oblivious to their worries. "Me hungry."
"Sure, we'll go home," Rayden told her, ruffling her hair. She looked up at him, and smiled.
"See, better, no fighting," she told him, happily, while snuggling closer to her mother. Hiko just sighed, and patted her back consolingly.
"Jikan Tai?" Lindara called, as she teleported to the entrance of the villa. "Yellow--are you back yet?" There was no answer. The rooms felt eery, too empty, too silent. She shivered. "Yellow, it's me, Lindara."
She walked through the main room, past where they had eaten supper the previous night, and into their bedroom. She screamed, suddenly, as she caught sight of what she thought was a corpse, hanging from the door; but she realised, feeling very foolish, that it was only the Guardian's suit, on a hanger. She giggled, the fear disappaiting, as she fingered the suit.
"How silly," she laughed to herself. What was she so jumpy for? There was nothing here; Yellow must still be in that Wood. She turned, and started to leave, when she heard a creak on the floorboards.
She paused, her aura flaring around her suddenly. "Hello?" she called, trying to keep her voice level, calm. "Is anybody there?"
There was no response, save another creak on the floorboards. She clenched her hands into fists, shaking. The creaks were in the bedroom. She hadn't gone in. Suppose someone was in there? She reached out with her mental powers. She knew it wasn't Yellow, he would have responded to her. There was a tingle running along her spine as she located the person in her room; that feeling told her immediately that it was a deity who was in her house, not a mortal.
And there was only one deity she knew of who would be skulking around her house without her knowledge.
Lindara turned and bolted. She wasn't a fighter, she wasn't a match for any Immortal with murder on their minds. The only thing she could do was get away, get Rayden perhaps, come back with someone confident enough to--
There were footsteps behind her. He was running after her, Oh Creator--she dared not look back, but tried to open the door to the outside. It was locked, sealed with magic, a deity's doing. She couldn't get it open, he was right behind her, a touch on her shoulder, gripping it.
Lindara screamed and used her powers. The door was sealed, and it held, but the surrounding wall did not, and it exploded outward, surprising her assailent and giving her a chance to wrench herself away and scramble through the dust cloud, to the outside.
Now that she was outside, not trapped in the house, she started to regain more of her common sense. She was back in control.
Rayden, she thought out, clearly and strongly. I need help, that deity is back--
He emerged from the villa, his black robes coated with pale-gray dust from the white-washed walls. Seeing him, she felt another spurt of fear, but any moment, her brother would be appearing to help her--
Any moment now--
"Rayden?" she whispered, backing up a few paces.
"He can't hear you," the deity said with a scowly grin, looking pleased with himself. "I blocked you off. He doesn't even know that you're here."
Frantically, she tried reaching out to her brother. But now that she knew the shield was there, she could detect it, faintly. She wasn't strong enough to break through it. She tried to create a teleport, but that too failed. She was trapped.
He advanced on her, slowly, relishing her panic. "The Guardian won't give me his staff unless he feels a good reason to," he said, almost nonchalantly. "Any idea of what constitutes a good reason?"
"Leave me alone," Lindara demanded, sharply.
He thought for a moment. "No," he replied, at last. He charged at her. She screamed, turned and bolted, but he was quick on her tail. He leapt and tackled her, catching her in back and knocking her to the ground.
She tried to roll out from under him, but he was much larger than she was, and a lot heavier. Struggling, she saw something in the corner of her eye. Yellow's hoe. It was lying just almost within reach. She tried one last time to wiggle free, but he had grabbed one of her arms and was trying to hold it against her back. The pain was excruciating, he was doing it wrong and straining her. He was going to break the bone in a moment. She gritted her teeth and tried to jerk away. This gained her a few inches leeway and her fingers grasped the end of the hoe.
With a jolt of power sent through it, the hoe became capable of hurting an Immortal, and she swung it backwards, as hard as she could. It connected with the deity--somewhere hard, probably his skull--and he tipped over. She scrambled away, maintaining a steady grip on the hoe.
Lindara got to her feet, panting. The deity was sprawled, unconcious. She checked for the shield again. It was gone.
Help! she yelled, as loudly as she could.
The response was instantaneous. Rayden, Hiko, Meimei, and Jikan Tai all appeared, bewildered and in a panic.
"Lindara!" Jikan Tai cried, running to her, immediately, his powers crackling around him, black-green. "What--who is that?"
"That's our newest friend," Rayden replied, summing up the situation. "I take it he tried to attack you and you beat him off with a hoe?"
Lindara stood straighter, determined to salvage her pride. "It worked, didn't it?"
Meimei started to giggle, though she stifled it; she couldn't help it at the sight of her sister, covered in dirt, holding the hoe proudly. Both Lindara and Jikan Tai glared at her.
Rayden was crouched over the body of the god. "Hmm. He looks really familiar. I haven't gotten a chance to really look at him yet."
"You mean, you've seen him already?" Lindara blurted. "But I thought Thunder got to him first. I didn't know--"
Hiko nodded. "That was the only the first time. He just attacked Hichan, back at the Temple."
"By the Creator!" Lindara and Meimei both exclaimed.
They all peered down at the unconscious deity.
"He does look a little familiar," Lindara admitted.
"He almost resembles you," Jikan Tai added, simply. They all turned to look at him. He furrowed his eyebrows. "What?"
"He called himself the son of Lachdannan," Lindara murmured. "Sky and Plants are sort of compatible, in a way..."
"What are you saying?" Meimei demanded. "You don't mean--"
Jikan Tai went pale. "You think that he's your--" He gestured down at the god, limply. "But--?"
Lindara shrugged. "It could happen."
The Guardian grumbled.
"I don't think this is really any point of concern," Hiko announced. "We should get him back to the Hall, so that we can find out what he's up--"
She was interrupted by a groan from the deity. "Where--" he muttered, not quite compos mentis. Lindara backed away, frightened, brandishing the garden implement. Jikan Tai slipped an arm around her shoulders, protectively, while the powers of Rayden, Hiko and Meimei flared into being. The deity looked up at them, bewildered. "What--?" Then his senses seemed to return in a rush, along with his memory and he disappeared. He didn't create a portal or teleport away in a tell-tale flash; he simply ceased to be there any more.
"Time portal," the Guardian confirmed. "I'll see if I can track him." He created a portal of his own, and stepped through.
Lindara shivered. "I don't like the idea of him popping up all over the place without warning."
Meimei gave her a brief hug. "You can come and stay in Outworld for a while, if you want," she suggested. "There's more than enough room, and somebody is always home."
Lindara nodded, grateful for the offer.
Rayden turned to Hiko. "I think we should be getting back. I don't like the idea of leaving Hichan on her own for too long, even if Rahne seems to want to protect her." His wife agreed with him, and created a portal. He followed her through it.
Meimei sighed. "I think I should be getting back to my scrolls--"
"Why are you looking through the Scrolls?" Lindara asked her. "Maybe I can help."
Her sister grinned. "That's a great idea, I could use the help, now that Sonya's got her hands full."
Lindara nodded, and took Meimei's hand, teleporting them away to the Great Hall.
Kerlan sighed. "Yes, I know that you have to protect Hichan, but I want to know what your mother's name is. Or your father's."
Rahne blinked, confused by the question. "What does it matter?" she asked him.
He rolled his eyes. Sonya picked up the conversation for him. "We want to know where you're from, what your powers are, that sort of thing," she explained tiredly. Rahne had been stubbornly refusing them at the beginning, telling them only that her name was Rahne and she was supposed to protect Hichan. But now the goddess was starting to get the impression that those two facts were all Rahne knew.
Rahne was looking at her hands. "My... powers?" she said, to Kerlan, hoping for elaboration.
"Your abilities, your Role," Kerlan said, although the minute it was out of his mouth he knew that was a mistake.
"My role is to protect Hichan," Rahne said, confidently, relieved that she had an answer for them.
Sonya grabbed Kerlan by the elbow and led him away, whispering in low tones. "Does she strike you as... a little simple?" Kerlan's eyebrows furrowed. She continued. "She doesn't know where she's from, and she doesn't know who she is, really, besides her name. What if she's under a spell, to block her memory? Or she has amnesia of some sort?"
"I could have a mental conversation with her," Kerlan agreed. "If she is lying--hiding something--she won't be able to keep it from me, then."
"And if she refuses, we'll know there's a reason why," Sonya added. She turned to their "guest", who was looking at them curiously. "Rahne, we're going to try a mental link with you."
"Mental link?" Rahne wrinkled her nose. "I don't like the sound of that."
"It won't hurt," Kerlan promised. "We just want to see if you're under some sort of a spell."
She paused for a moment, thinking; then she shrugged, and closed her eyes. Kerlan did as well, reaching out, trying to find a connection. As it turned out, Rahne was more than simply receptive to him, and finding a connection was laughably easy.
At first there was only a wall of blackness, sheer blank space, and he couldn't understand where he was. But then Rahne's consciousness found him, and guided him to something interesting: Rahne's most recent memory, beyond her experiences in the Hall and with Hichan.
It was of trees, very tall. Rahne was lying underneath them, looking up, and they stretched so far that the tops were invisible, tiny points of light far away. Someone was standing beside her. Kerlan couldn't recognise her from sight; but Rahne's mind informed him that this was the Wise Lady, the one she was serving, the one that told her to protect Hichan.
Curious about what else Rahne knew, he tried to press farther in, to beyond that memory, but the moment he attempted to, something blocked him. He could not get any farther. He knew it was not Rahne herself; it was someone's will imposed, keeping him--or her--from knowing most of her life's memories. He snapped out of the link, nothing more to be gained.
Sonya sighed, rubbing her nose. "Let me get this straight," she said. "Most of her life is blanked--erased--blocked--whatever. She basically knows only two things: that she is Rahne--"
"And that she has to protect Hichan," Kerlan finished. "Yep, that's it."
"This is too bizarre. Who's blocking her memory? Could it be this Wise Lady she knows about?"
"I don't think so," Kerlan admitted. "The memories surrounding the Wise Lady are warm, comforting--if it wasn't for the fact that Rahne calls her the Wise Lady, I'd have assumed she was her mother."
"Rahne's mother," Sonya clarified. He nodded. She sighed again, and rubbed a hand over her face. "I think there's something that we can assume, if only to help make this a little easier; I think that Rahne's from the future, the same as Black Robes."
"Sent back to protect Hichan from him, it makes sense," Kerlan agreed. "If that's the case, then the reason her memory is blocked could be to protect her."
"Or us from learning anything about the future," Sonya agreed.
"It's a good a theory as any," Kerlan finished up. He yawned, and stretched. "By the Creator, it's been a long day. I don't seem to remember any Festivals ever not going by in blur."
"It's just my first one," Sonya remarked with a smile. "I hope next year's will get off to a better start."
"I hope so too," he finished. He sighed, and looked towards Rahne; the goddess was sitting, curled up, in the corner of the room, watching something in the distance. They had tried to offer her a chair, but she refused to budge. "So what do we do about her?"
"I think we should find some where to keep her overnight," Sonya mused. "She's not dangerous, far from it, so we don't need to keep her under lock and key."
"I think I know the perfect place," Kerlan answered, thoughtfully. "It'll solve both our problem and hers."
Hiko sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her hair. Rayden was already lying down, turned away from her.
A sudden creak startled them both; then they realised it was just the furnature, settling. Hiko smiled, ruefully. "I'm so jumpy."
Rayden didn't reply. She set the brush down on her night table, and blew out her lamp, whisking the room into darkness. She got down under the covers, and tried to settle in.
They both lay awake, listening to the sounds of the night, until finally Rayden sat up. "Look," he said, suddenly, lighting the lamp with a spark, "I think we should get this settled, or it's going to keep unnerving both of us."
"Get what settled?" Hiko asked, innocently, still lying down, her back to him. "We can hardly do anything about Black Robes now."
"That's not what I'm talking about," he nearly snapped, although he lowered his voice at the last moment. "I mean about moving. Away from the Temple."
She twisted around to glare at him. "What does that matter, at the moment?"
"I just want to get it sorted out," he said, defensively, and annoyed that she had provoked that reaction.
"I would rather get some sleep," she replied, smartly, blowing out the lamp again. "We can deal with that in the morning."
"I want to deal with it now," he growled.
"Well I don't."
"And that's it? The end of the conversation? Hiko has put her foot down?"
"Look," Hiko snapped, rising up, her powers flickering in the dim moonlight, "I am not in the mood for an arguement. I am in the mood for a good night's sleep."
They glared at each other, face to face, and then Rayden got up and off the bed, leaving the room. "Fine then," he replied. "Pleasent dreams." He closed the door tightly behind him. Hiko grumbled, but lay back down, tossing and turning before she finally fell asleep.
Kerlan teleported in, and found Rayden in the kitchen, a single light on, enjoying a cup of tea and a scroll. "Rayden?" the god prompted.
His friend looked up, startled. "Oh! Kerlan. I didn't notice you'd portalled in."
"I guessed that," Kerlan replied dryly. "Everything all right?"
"Fine," Rayden said smoothly. "How's the investigation going?"
"Called, on account of... on account of we're all tired and want to go to sleep." Kerlan sat himself down at the table. "Something you should be thinking about."
"Can't sleep," Rayden said with a sigh. "So I decided to go over some History--"
"Ah, to put you to sleep," his friend replied, nodding sagely.
Rayden laughed lightly. "No, I was looking at..." he trailed off, unable to bring himself to say it.
Kerlan took the scroll from him, wordlessly, and examined the contents. It was a detailed history of the incidents involving unsanctioned children and their parents. And from what little Kerlan saw of it, it wasn't very encouraging. "You shouldn't be going over this, not now," the deity said, quietly. "You should be resting. The Council meets in two days."
"That's why I don't have a lot of time, and that's why I want to do it now," Rayden snapped. Then he sighed and set his cup down, so he could rub his eyes. "Sorry, Kerlan, I've been--"
"Hey, don't even mention it." Kerlan held his hands up. "Don't worry about it." He got to his feet. "I guess I'll let you get back to your reading."
"Wait a second, what did you pop in for?" Rayden asked, before the god could leave.
"Just to tell you that we didn't get very far with Rahne," Kerlan lied.
Rayden saw through it. "You could have told me that through a mind link."
"I wanted to stretch my legs."
Kerlan sat back down. "I was going to ask you a favour, but I've decided not to."
"What favour?" Rayden inquired, curious.
Kerlan sighed. "I was going to ask you if Rahne could come and stay with you for a couple of days."
"What?" Rayden blurted, astounded.
Kerlan held his hands up again. "I know, that's why I thought better of it."
"Why did you think of it in the first place?"
"Because she wants to be near Hichan," Kerlan explained. "I thought, maybe, if you let her stay by the Temple, it would let you and Hiko relax a little, and maybe make Rahne more co-operative."
Rayden was thoughtful, as he took a sip of his tea. "You could be right, there. What with the Council hearing, we would definitely benefit by having some of our nerves left unfrayed. Do you know what? Let Rahne stay."
"What?" Now it was Kerlan's turn to be surprised. "Shouldn't you ask Hiko first?"
Rayden looked at him askew. "No."
"It's my house, isn't it? My Realm? If I want Rahne to stay, then she can stay. No problems." Rayden glared at him, almost daring him to argue. Kerlan backed down.
"Whatever you say," he agreed. "I'll tell Sonya to bring her."
Rayden assumed that Kerlan would leave to do this; but instead he closed his eyes and talked to Sonya via a mindlink. In a moment, a portal opened, and the Goddess of Space stepped out, Rahne at her heels.
Rahne looked pleased to be invited to stay; Sonya looked tired. And grumpy.
"You sure about this, Rayden?" Kerlan asked, a final time. The god nodded. Kerlan looked to Sonya and they both shrugged, then teleported away.
Rahne stood, hovering by the table, unsure of what Rayden expected of her. He pulled out the chair vacanted by Kerlan. "Here, Rahne, sit down. Are you hungry? Would you like some tea...?"
Hiko yawned, and blinked her eyes open. Sunlight was streaming in through the windows; she'd overslept. Startled, she turned to Rayden, to see if he had overslept as well; but his side of the bed of was empty, cold, unused. Then the final moments of last evening flooded back to her, and she sighed, flopping back down on the pillows.
Why was he being so stubborn? She couldn't figure it out. She rubbed her eyes, and yawned again. She had probably get up soon, and check on Hichan. But if Rayden was up already, he would have probably seen to her. But she couldn't depend on that--
That thought struck her as odd. Of course she could depend on him to give Hichan breakfast. He did almost every morning. Why in the Name did she think he wouldn't?
A memory came to her, unbidden; of waking up, early morning, in Usirapi, sneaking out of bed, and creeping to be with Nova. She took care of Nova almost entirely, from the time her daughter was a baby to a teenager; Cosmos showed almost no interest, and could barely be trusted to mind her even when Hiko was away.
She closed her eyes, tightly. She didn't want to drag all of this up again. She hadn't thought of Cosmos in years, she hadn't needed to. The last time was when Lightning had claimed to be from his Realm--
Lightning--Nova--waking up and that horrible moment when she knew that her daughter was dead--
Hiko shivered and got up, and told herself sternly that there was no point dwelling on any of this. She had more important things to worry about: Hichan.
The goddess swung her legs out of bed, determined to keep her thoughts to the things that actually needed her attention.
"Hichan," Hiko called, softly, as she walked into the kitchen. It was empty. A set of scrolls were on the table, and an empty cup; Rayden's debris, not Hichan's. Perhaps he hadn't given her breakfast yet. Confused, Hiko made her way to her daughter's room.
When she turned the handle, she found it was locked. That was extremely unusual; Hichan didn't have the skills to lock her door. Rayden must have been in there, but why would he be trying to keep Hiko out?
She rattled it, in anger, and was startled to hear someone scuffling around inside. Someone much larger than Hichan.
Panicked, Hiko broke the lock and threw open the door, half-expecting to see her daughter and husband murdered, Black Robes on his feet, gloating.
Instead she saw Hichan, sitting on her bed, fully clothed, playing with her puzzle. "What in the Name?" Hiko exclaimed, relieved and annoyed at the same time. Suddenly there was a blood-curdling yell, and someone tackled her, throwing her to the ground.
She screamed as she hit the floor, hard, and her powers sprang forth in an explosion of flame. Hichan shrieked and dived off the bed; Hiko's assailant also cried out, leaping up and staggering backwards. It was Rahne.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Hiko roared, as she got to her feet, her powers still blazing around her.
Hichan, the bed between her and her mother, was wailing, and Rahne looked as though she wanted to run to her; but one look from Hiko stopped her in her tracks.
"I was here to protect Hichan," Rahne replied, trembling. "I did not know it was you, Lady, I swear in the Name!"
This Hiko took as an apology, and she allowed herself to be slightly mollified. Slightly. "Why did you lock the door?"
This question confused Rahne; she stared at the elder goddess in confusion. "To keep people out?"
Hiko was about to say something when Rayden appeared in the doorframe. "What is all the fuss?" he asked, seeing Hiko's aura, and smelling charcoal in the air. "Hiko?"
"I was startled," Hiko explained, dryly, her powers fading away, leaving her feeling slightly sheepish. "Rahne attacked me."
"I didn't know it was her!" Rahne blurted, horrified, and ashamed. Hichan, calming down now that her mother was safe again, crawled back on the bed, then jumped down and ran to her father, who swung her up.
"You all right?" he asked, wiping away her tear streaks. She nodded.
"Rayden, I would like to have a word with you," Hiko said, quietly, but fiercely. She glanced at Rahne. "Alone."
"Sure." Rayden shrugged, and tried to put Hichan down. She fussed and refused to let go. Rahne ducked forward, and offered to take the child; Hichan, realising this was the best option, allowed herself to be transfered to the goddess.
Hiko scowled and sailed from the room, Rayden following behind her.
Hichan whimpered again, clutching onto Rahne's black robes tightly. "It will be all right, small Lady," Rahne murmured, starting to rock her. "They'll work everything out, and I will be here to protect you, always."
"Promise?" Hichan asked, in a whisper.
"Promise," Rahne assured her.
"Would you care to explain how that maniac has come to stay in Hichan's room?" Hiko asked, with exaggerated patience. Rayden glared at her.
"She's not a maniac. She's just... a little unbalanced. Kerlan's coming by--"
"She attacked me!" Hiko fumed.
"Kerlan's coming by to fetch her, take her back to the Hall. She's only staying during the nights, since there's no where else to go," Rayden finished. He was leaning against the countertop, his arms folded over his chest.
"And why didn't you inform me of this, exactly?" Hiko pressed.
He rolled his eyes. "I didn't think it mattered."
"Didn't think it mattered?" Hiko burst out, by now not even bothering to keep her voice down.
"No, I didn't think it mattered," Rayden repeated. "It's my Realm, after all. I choose who I like to stay here."
"Oh, is that what this is about," Hiko clarified, starting to pace. "I see. A power trip."
"It's not a power trip," Rayden snapped.
"Then explain to me what it is, you not telling me that an 'unbalanced' goddess is coming to stay and barracade me away from my daughter," Hiko growled.
He narrowed his eyes at her. "I thought you were asleep, and secondly, I believe our daughter is in very good hands."
Hiko paused, furious, and unable to come up with a sufficient retort. She turned on her heel and marched from the room. Suspicious, he followed after her. She was heading right back to Hichan's room.
"You, out," she announced, without preamble. Rahne stared at her in incomprehension; Hichan, still in the goddess' arms, started to tremble.
"Hiko," Rayden warned, coming into the room. She ignored him.
"You, out," she repeated, forcefully, pointing at Rahne and then at the door.
"Rahne, stay put."
Hiko turned on Rayden furiously. "I do not want to be tip-toeing around my own home, worried about attacks on all sides! I've got enough to worry about, without being ambushed!"
"It won't happen again, I swear it!" Rahne blurted, trying to comfort Hichan, but neither of the two deities were listening to her.
"That was an accident, and besides, do you think I've not had anything to worry about? And yet I'm somehow managing to cope!" Rayden exclaimed.
"You haven't exactly seen this coming for years!" Hiko yelled. The statement was a mistake, and she knew it was, the minute that she said it. "By the Creator, Rayden, I'm sorry--"
"No, you're right," Rayden replied, his teeth gritted, the colour draining from his face in anger. "You're right, I haven't had to live with that for years, mostly because someone didn't tell me!"
"I did it to protect you!" Hiko roared. "You were the only reason I stayed with him!"
"It was nice of you to let me know that, instead of letting me assume that you simply didn't love me any more and were moving on!" Rayden retorted. "Try living with that for a few years!"
All this time, Rahne and Hichan were backing up, trying to make themselves as small and inconspicuous as possible. The only door was blocked by the arguing deities. Rahne held on to the little girl, trying to keep herself from shaking terribly as the arguement grew in proportions.
Hiko was heading into speechless fury. She had her fists clenched. "I can't help how you would interpret it!"
"Surely you must have realised that I couldn't have read your mind while you standing next to your husband!" Rayden roared. At the sight of her blanched face, he decided that his side of the argument was finished, and he turned and stomped from the room. Hiko watched him leave, seething, and then simply teleported away in a flicker of fire.
Rahne and Hichan allowed themselves to untense, slightly, as the arguement was over. Hichan, to distressed to even cry, buried her face in the crook of Rahne's neck, and Rahen patted her back awkwardly.
Kerlan teleported into the Temple kitchen, but it was empty. "Rayden?" he called. No one answered. "Hiko?"
Still no reply. Shrugging, he headed down the corridor. He knew Rahne was in Hichan's room; if he couldn't find Rayden or Hiko then he's just leave without telling them; there were several people waiting back at the Hall.
"Rahne?" he called, poking his head into the room. There was terrible smell of charcoal, mixed with ozone, and Rahne and Hichan were sitting on Hichan's bed. The girl was in the goddess' lap, holding onto her robes tightly. "Hi, Hichan." She didn't reply, but whimpered and buried her face against Rahne. Puzzled by their odd behaviour and the strange smell, he stepped into the room, waving away the odour from his nose. "Rahne, it's time to come back to the Hall." She nodded in response, sadly.
"I have to go, small Lady," Rahne said, gently, trying to disentangle Hichan's fingers from her robe. "You must let go."
"No. No, Rahne. Please?" Hichan pleaded. "No go, please."
"I must go, small Lady. But I will be back," Rahne promised. "And if anything happens, I will be here, in an instant."
"No, Rahne, no," Hichan began to wail, over and over. "No!"
Kerlan crept up behind her and laid a hand on her head. Startled, she tried to twist around to stare at him, but her eyelids flickered and then closed. She was fast asleep, her fingers still gripping Rahne tightly.
The goddess unlatched herself and laid the girl down, covering her up with a blanket. "I am ready to go," she said, sadly.
Medicalis stood, frowning, staring at the goddess. "She does look familiar," he admitted.
"We know that," Kerlan sighed. "But is she under a spell?"
Medicalis glared at him. "It would take hours to find out. Can't you tell yourself with a mindlink?"
"No," Kerlan said, exasperated, sitting down. Now he was eye-level with Rahne and she watched him carefully with her dark eyes. When he switched his attention to her, she looked down, quickly. "Rahne, it's not your fault."
"I wish I could help," she said, quietly. "But I can't remember anything other than what's happened here."
"And the trees," Kerlan added softly. That caught her attention and brought her gaze up from the floor. He found that when his concentration drifted, he could see the forest in his mind's eye again; and the tall woman, bending down. She was blurry, indistinct. He wished that he could bring her into focus, to see what colours she wore, what she looked like. Any clue, including who the Wise Lady was, would be helpful at this point.
Sonya came in, bearing a tray with four cups of nectar, one for herself, one for Kerlan, one for Medicalis, and one for Rahne. "The Bar is packed," she muttered. "And every single person is talking about Rayden and Hiko."
Medicalis accepted his nectar, as did Kerlan; Rahne stared at it. When she took a hesitant sip, her nose wrinkled and she set it down.
"Celebria's been doing scries all night, but she can't make any sense of the visions she recieved," Medicalis informed them, matter-of-factly. Kerlan and Sonya exchanged glances.
"And how would you know that, exactly?" Sonya inquired, dead-pan.
Medicalis flushed, but didn't give her the satisfaction of a response.
"Anyway," Kerlan continued, deciding to bring the conversation around, "anyway, I think you should go ahead with the spell testing, Medi. It might prove usefull."
"It might," the god agreed. "All right. Rahne, you can come with me for the afternoon--Rahne?"
The goddess was staring vacantly into space. Not vacantly, Kerlan corrected himself; she was staring at something in the distance. "He's coming," she whispered, getting to her feet. As she did so, a tremour of energy ran through the trio.
"There's the bat-signal," Sonya muttered.
"The what?!" both Kerlan and Medi exclaimed. "What--"
Rahne created a portal, and jumped through. "Dammit!" Sonya cried. She jumped through it at the last moment; her cup of nectar dropped, spilling out onto the ground.
By the time Kerlan registered what had just happened, the two goddesses were gone, and there was no way to track them. "Dammit," he swore. Just to be on the safe side, he tried to contact Rayden, but the god wasn't responding; he had erected a shield around himself, the Immortal equivalent of leaving the phone off the hook.
"Is Hichan all right?" Medi asked, concerned.
"I don't think she's in danger; Rayden's not responding to me, which probably means he's not looking for help." Kerlan got to his feet. "I wonder if that means that Black Robes has gone after Jikan Tai, or Lindara."
Rahne dropped down from her over-the-head portal with the grace of a cat, in a crouch. She got up almost immediately, looking around for signs of danger.
Sonya didn't land quite as compactly, as she wasn't expecting the portal to turn around mid-journey; but she rolled with it and was none-the-worse for wear. "Rahne? Where are we?"
Rahne looked startled to see Sonya, but she didn't reply.
It was a village alley. They were... they were on Earth, Sonya was sure of it; out in the country. She wasn't sure which country, but the people she could see out on the street were Caucausian, Mediterrainian--didn't Hiko say that Jikan Tai and Lindara were in Italy?
"Lindara," Sonya said. "He must be after Lindara again."
"He is not here yet," Rahne murmured. Sonya frowned.
"How can he not be here yet, if you were sensing--" Sonya trailed off. "We've gone through time, haven't we."
Rahne nodded. She was creeping forward, making sure to stay close in the alley, against the walls, out of sight.
A couple passed by the alleyway's mouth. They were strolling along, the woman holding a basket of vegetables, the man with his arm around her. The man was Asian. The woman was not but still obviously not from around here.
"Lindara and Jikan Tai," Sonya confirmed. They looked different, no doubt in disguise; but it was them. "We can't let them see us."
Rahne wasn't listening. She was focussed entirely on the alley across the narrow street. A portal was forming.
Sonya could tell who it was before the deity exited; the portal held no identifying colours. It was Black Robes. He was coming out into the street, bold as brass; the locals were staring at him in curiousity and horror.
"We've got to stop him," Sonya whispered. "Without alarming the... mortals."
Rahne nodded, and she started forward, but then the goddess grabbed her arm. "I have a different idea," she murmured. "Just watch."
He strode out onto the street, the mortals around him barely registering. The Guardian and his Immortal girlfriend were a block or two away; they hadn't noticed his presence. He was slightly worried that the goddess would try and attack him again; but at the same time, the need to get his hands on the staff over-rode everything else. He needed the Guardian's power; only then could he fufill his mission.
Suddenly, every mortal in his field of view stopped paying attention to him, looking away or returning to the care of their vegetables or doing whatever menial mortal tasks they were doing before. That meant one thing: a deity was using a distraction spell. Someone was watching him.
He continued walking, quickening his pace, and then the ground suddenly gave way beneath him.
Sonya grabbed Rahne's hand, and then created a portal almost directly in Black Robe's path, lying on the ground. He stepped onto it, and then fell down, disappearing as though he had slipped down a manhole. The moment he fell, she teleported herself and her companion to the portal's exit point.
Rahne growled, low in her throat, as he appeared, shaken by the sudden portalling. He turned to face her, and Sonya.
"You again?" he addressed Rahne. "How is it that you can follow me?"
"You leave such an easy trail," she remarked, dryly. She leapt up, charging forward, and spinning 'round so that she kicked him solidly with the back of her heel. He fell to the side, but rolled and got back up, in a defensive position.
"You cannot beat the storm, once it hits," he snarled at her. She lashed out with her fist, and he managed to block it, clumsily, and she brought her knee up sharply into his stomach. He pushed away from her, in pain; she used the opportunity to grab his head and knee him in the face. He cried out, and fell to the grass, clutching his nose, blood streaming between his fingers.
"Is that the best the storm can do?" Rahne asked sweetly. "If so, it's more like a rain shower."
He was curled in a ball, clutching his broken nose. "You will regret this."
"I don't in the slightest," Rahne replied. She was waiting for him to get up. "I thought you would put up more of a fight than this."
He lifted his head, his eyes crackling with power. Sonya, who had been up till now impressed with Rahne, started to worry. "Rahne, back away from him."
"He can't hurt me," Rahne responded.
He pushed himself up, leaning heavily on his arms. The air began to swirl around him. "I am the storm," he repeated, slowly, "and I will fufill my mission."
"To kill Hichan," Rahne filled in. She was starting to worry now as well, as energy crackled in the air, building as he got to his feet. "Not while I'm around."
"My thoughts exactly," he growled, and suddenly she was enveloped in blast of energy, black fire, that snaked around her. She screamed, unable to free herself.
"Rahne!" Sonya cried. Enough was enough. Rahne had done her part, and now it was time for the goddess to do hers. She pulled out her gun. She had changed it, a while ago, into a weapon capable of harming deities; she had learned that very few considered weapons anything of consequence, and fewer still knew what a gun was to begin with. It was a nice advantage. "Let her go!"
He stared at the gun in confusion; he clearly didn't know what it was. "Leave me alone--this is none of your business!"
"I'm making it my business." Sonya fired, and the god staggered backwards, in agony and shock, clutching his arm.
"What--what did you do?" he cried, horrified. "What is that?"
His concentration was broken, and Rahne dropped. She was winded, and in a great deal of pain, but she got to her feet, ready to continue to fight him, if need be.
He didn't consider the fight worth anything any more. He disappeared, the look of horror on his face clear and lasting even after he vanished.
Sonya holstered her gun and ran to Rahne's side. The goddess was shaking, in shock, but was not seriously harmed. Sonya put Rahne's arm around her shoulder, and helped her to her feet. "Rahne, you're the only one who can create a portal back to our time. Can you do that?"
Rahne nodded, wearily. A portal formed, flickering, as she was low on energy, but it was enough. Sonya led her through it.
Medi felt her head. "She's very weak, but she's okay. She should be fine, after a nap..." He trailed off and looked up at Kerlan, who was hovering by Rahne, as she lay on the Hospital bed. Sonya sat in the corner, thoughtfully.
"What's the matter?" she asked him, taking his silence to mean that something wasn't right.
"I was just thinking," the God of Doctors said, quietly, "that unless her home Realm is found, she's going to get worse."
"How so?" Kerlan blurted. "You said yourself she just needs a nap, to boost herself."
"I know," Medi replied, wrapping his hands around Rahne's, to send her healing energy. "But the longer she's away from her home Realm, the lower it will keep dipping, until it reaches the point where I can't top it up any more."
"Like a rechargable battery," Sonya muttered, to herself, getting to her feet and pacing the length of the small room.
"A what?" Kerlan asked her, but she ignored him.
"I was thinking about what Black Robes called himself--the storm. This seems really familiar to me, I think I may have breezed through something in the Scrolls about a storm," she mused, thinking out loud. "I'm going to have a talk with Meimei and Lindara, see if they know anything."
"I vaguely know of a story about a storm," Medicalis said, trying to remember. "It happened when I was very young, I remember my parents talking about it."
"I'll be sure to tell Meimei that; it may help narrow down the search," Sonya replied. She looked to Kerlan. "Are you okay to hold down the fort for a while?"
He glanced at the unconcious goddess. "I don't think the fort's going anywhere."
Sonya frowned, momentarily confused; but then she shrugged, and teleported away.
The two gods stood in silence, until Rahne broke it, by whimpering. As her energy levels increased, she started to wake up; now she was groaning.
"Poor woman," Medicalis murmured. "I wonder who she is, really."
Kerlan crouched down, so that he could be eye level with Rahne. Her eyes were flicking back and forth under her eyelids; she was dreaming. Something unpleasent. He reached out with his mind, trying to see what she saw--
--clouds rolling overhead, Mommy screaming, Tài was lost somewhere, they were leaving, they had to get away, but they couldn't not without Tài, she had to find Tài--
Kerlan gasped, his head snapping up as he broke the link. He realised that he was on the ground, looking up at the Healer God. "By the Creator, Kerlan, you gave me a fright. What just happened? Did you set up a mindlink with her?"
Kerlan nodded, gasping for breath. He felt winded, as though he had been running for ages. Rahne was still asleep, but the nightmare had passed, she was restful; he sighed with relief.
Medicalis extended his hand, and he helped the god to his feet. "Is there more to our guest than what meets the eye?" the god asked, quietly.
"You were there when Celebria had her vision, right?" Kerlan asked, sudden. Medi nodded. "Did she tell you about what she saw?"
The god frowned, concentrating. "She did. She couldn't tell me much, just brief images--clouds, trees--a woman with a fan--" Kerlan rubbed his chin, deep in thought. "Why? Does it mean anything to you?" Medi asked.
"I don't know, not yet," Kerlan admitted. "I'll talk to Cel, see if I can corroborate--"
Medi shook his head, interrupting him. "Celebria's sealed herself inside the Council chambers."
"To figure out what to do with Rayden and Hiko," Medicalis explained. "She and Amai are going at it from every angle."
"The hearing isn't until tomorrow," Kerlan pointed out.
The other god shrugged. "That's what she's done. I think she's planning to talk to the Council, first, and then let Rayden and Hiko in for the hearing. I'm not sure what she's up to."
They were both interrupted by a sudden groan from Rahne. "Dammit!" Medicalis snapped, going to her side. He again took her hands between his own. "She's coming out too early. Her energy is all over the place."
Kerlan looked down at her. "I think I have the solution to that, too. I'll be back in a little bit."
"What?" Medi blurted. "Where--"
But the god had already teleported away.
"I don't know," Rayden replied, uneasy. "We've had this problem before."
Kerlan blinked. "But you were all right with taking her in last night."
"I know, but that's because if she becomes a threat, then I declare the Realm hostile to her, and she's no longer--well--less of a threat. But inviting her permenantly..." Rayden sighed, and sat down. "I just don't like it."
Kerlan sat down as well, tiredly. "Okay. That's your decision. I only thought, since she feels so at home here--"
"She does?" Rayden inquired, eyebrow raised.
Kerlan nodded. "She talks about Earth like it was her own home. It's the only thing she talks about beside Hichan. Which is another reason--" He let the sentence finish itself.
"I wonder why she'd be so attached," Rayden muttered. "She hardly got a very good reception here."
Kerlan looked at him.
"Didn't she tell you about that?" Rayden exclaimed. "Hiko nearly vapourised her, then ordered her point-blank to leave."
"Never mind." Rayden sighed again, and rubbed his face. "I'm so tired."
"You do seem a little stressed out. Hiko does too. Maybe that's why she... over-reacted?" Kerlan offered.
His friend snorted. "Saying she over-reacted is like saying Arnie is a little whiny at times. She went ballistic, Kerlan, and I have no idea why."
"Didn't you ask her?"
Rayden assumed a dry expression. "The wife and I are not talking at the moment."
"Ah." Kerlan didn't know what to say in reponse to this, and he wisely said nothing at all. It might have been the end of the conversation, period, but Hichan broke it by running in.
"Daddy! Daddy!" she exclaimed, as he lifted her on to his lap. "Where Rahne?"
The two gods exchanged glances. "She's not here, she's in the Hospital," Rayden explained. "She... hurt herself."
"Fighting the bad man," Hichan surmised, sadly. "Poor Rahne. She come back?"
"Maybe," Rayden agreed.
Hichan tugged on his outer robe, staring up at him with wide eyes. "She promise," the girl said, in a whisper. "She promise to stay with me, keep me safe."
He wrapped his arms around her. "No one is going to harm you."
"She promise," Hichan repeated, solemnly.
"I'm promising too," Rayden told her, firmly. "No one is going to harm you."
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Make me samich, later, please?" she asked.
"Sure, I can make you a sandwich. Peanut butter?" he inquired. She squealed--which he took to mean yes--and then hopped down. She looked to Kerlan.
"You tell him, let Rahne come back," she ordered, imperiously, hands on her hips in imitation of her mother. Then she darted off, out of the room.
"That's you told," Kerlan said, drly, smirking.
Rayden chuckled, shaking his head. "That's me told all right. Still..."
"Still...?" Kerlan prompted.
"Rahne couldn't fool Hichan, could she?" he said, contemplative. "I mean, I don't think that Hichan would feel this attached to Rahne if Rahne wasn't inspiring the loyality, do you know what I mean?"
"I do," Kerlan agreed. "And if it helps, I don't think Rahne's a very good liar."
Rayden looked at him askew. "You know, that does kinda help."
"In a deranged sort of way," Rayden finished.
Kerlan laughed. "I try to help, as best as I can."
"So do I," Rayden declared. "I'll do it."
"You'll do what?" Kerlan blurted, confused for a moment. Then he caught on. "Oh, I see. Now?"
"Sure, why not?" Rayden was in a fatalistic mood. "Great Creator, I declare my Realm, the Realm of Earth, open fully to Rahne, uh, who has an unknown power and Realm." He looked to Kerlan for help, but the god just shrugged. Rayden shrugged as well. "In the Name."
Rahne gasped, momentarily, nearly startled out of her rest ; then she relaxed, slipping down into a deep, healing sleep, a small smile on her face.
"Well," Medicalis said, pleasently surprised. "It looks like Kerlan's idea worked after all."
Hiko was gardening. She enjoyed gardening, especially flowers. She had never been to keen on vegetables, but she enjoyed having a flower patch. Her roses, a variety indigenous to Maresium, was having problems adapting to Earth, and she was trying to cross breed with the hardier, but far less fragrant Earth blooms. It gave her something to concentrate about, something to focus on. If she didn't have that focus, her mind wandered, and drifted onto topics she would simply prefer not to think about.
But the roses never caused her any grief. She would never expect gratitude from them, but neither would they create any disappointments that couldn't be solved with a little elbow grease.
For the first time since the beginning of the Festival, Hiko felt entirely at ease, relaxed even. Hichan was--or had been, she was inside now--happily playing outside, running around on the grass. Hiko didn't have to worry about her, or Rahne...
She scowled, trying not to think about the goddess, but it was hard work to concentrate on something else; Rahne kept popping up in her head. Then there was the look she caught Rayden giving Rahne--
Don't be silly, Hiko. You're making that up. Her conscience, not surprisingly, sounded a lot like her mother. Maybe she was reading too much into things. But she was still glad that Rahne was gone...
Right as she thought it, irony kicked in, and she felt shivers along her spine. Her hands were trembling, and she dropped her clippers, although she hasitly retrieved them. The only time she had felt that particular feeling was when Lightning had been invited into the Realm.
Rayden's invited Rahne. Permanently.
Her brain informed her calmly of the fact, ignoring the amount of stress it caused.
She got to her feet.
She found him in the kitchen, making Hichan a sandwich. The girl was by his legs, hovering, and she looked up, anxiously, as her mother walked in.
"Rahne has been given permission to stay permenantly," Hiko observed, frostily, without preamble, outraged at his decision to do so without consulting her. Rayden looked up at her, then back down at the sandwich; he sliced off the crusts, cut it in half, and then handed the halves down to Hichan.
She started wolfing the first half down, then paused, remembering. "Thag oo," she told him, tugging on his trouser leg, her mouth full of peanut butter. He ruffled the hair on her head, but kept his gaze on Hiko.
"Why don't you go play for a bit?" Rayden told the girl. "Or just eat outside."
Hichan looked up at him, and then up at her mother, and then back at him. She tried to tell him something, but her mouth was full of bread and peanut butter and the message was garbled. He gave her a slight push towards the door. "Go on." Sighing, she headed out, stopping one last time to make sure her parents were behaving themselves, and then she ran down the corridor.
"You were saying something?" Rayden prompted, deadpan, starting to clean up.
Hiko folded her arms over her chest. "You gave Rahne permission to stay in Earthrealm with full powers."
"Because it would help her heal, and besides, if she had her full powers, she could defend Hichan better." Rayden looked at her. She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Except that Hichan won't be staying at the Temple much longer," she corrected. "We have to move her away from the mortals."
"No we don't," Rayden retorted, quickly. This remark shocked Hiko silent, but only for a moment.
"Do you realise what you're saying?" she blurted. "You want to condemn her to--"
"I'm not doing anything of the sort," he snapped, irritated at her accusation. "What I'm doing for her is making sure she grows up in a happy environment, surrounded by friends and family. That's how I see it, but then, I've never been very good at making sacrifices for other people."
Hiko stepped back as if he'd actually slapped her. She blinked in surprise, colour rushing to her cheeks in fury. "How dare you!" she roared, fiercely, tears welling in her eyes. "Do have any idea of what I went through, for you?"
"For me?" Rayden repeated, with a sneer. "Or for yourself?"
"What do you mean?" she whispered, hoarse, too affected by his comments. Her breathing was jerky, as she was trying to keep from crying.
"You say you stayed with him for my sake, but how do I know that's for real? Do you want to know what I think happened? I think you just used me as an excuse." Rayden's voice dropped. "Because you were too frightened to stand up to Cosmos on your own."
This was met with sheer, stunned silence. Hiko just stood, shock-still, unable to formulate any sort of coherent answer. Rayden sighed theatrically and started from the room. That galvanised her, and she started after him. "I can't believe you actually said that," she spat at him. "I can't believe you thought I actually preferred Cosmos--to anything. There were times when I didn't know if I could make it, but I thought of you, instead."
"How comforting," Rayden retorted. "It will help you to know that I didn't think of you at all during that time." He didn't wait to see her expression; he continued down the corridor.
When he reached their room, she was waiting for him, having teleported in. Her arms were crossed and she was glaring at him. "I know that's not true."
"What tells you that?" he snapped.
"The fact that you told me so yourself," she retorted with a sneer. "On several different occasions, I remember them distinctly."
"Good for you," he replied casually, trying to leave the room, but she blocked his path. "Maybe now I wish I hadn't," he added, savagely, just for spite.
She glared at him. "And maybe I wish I hadn't bothered to keep quiet," she answered, with the same savage expression. "Maybe I would have been better off if I hadn't met you in the first place!"
"Maybe we both would have been better off," he agreed, although the remark stung deeply. He was too far into the thick of things now to worry about hurt feelings and bruised egos. All that mattered was getting things off his chest that he didn't even know had bothered him. He pushed past her, back out into the hallway.
"I'm sure Nova would have been better off," Hiko added, in a sing-song, from the doorway. That made him stop in his tracks. He took a deep breath, but didn't turn around.
"We'll never know, will we?" he snapped. He finally whirled to look at her. "Since we never got a chance to make our own decisions in the matter."
Hiko regarded him coldly. "What decision was there to make?"
"I don't know," Rayden replied sarcastically, flinging his arms in the air. "Perhaps, if you had told me about Nova, I might have been able to come up with a better solution than you throwing both of your lives away."
"And maybe we would have been all killed outright by the Council," Hiko snapped. "That would have been a lovely chain of events, I'm sure."
"It's going to happen anyway," he pointed out. "Maybe if it happened sooner, there would have been less to regret."
Hiko's face drained of all its colour again. She was struggling to retain her composure. "You regret it?" she inquired, furiously. "I didn't realise you regretted having Nova, or having Hichan."
"Of course I don't regret Nova or Hichan--" he blurted, aware, for the first time, of what he'd been saying.
"Because that's definitely what it sounds like to me," Hiko continued fiercely. "Cosmos may not have been the best parent, but at least he never regretted her simply being there!"
Rayden took a step backwards, clenching his fists to keep his powers from flaring around him. "I can't believe you're comparing him to me," he said, dangerously.
"Why not?" Hiko sniffed. "He showed about as much concern for Nova's welfare as you do for Hichan's."
Something inside Rayden snapped.
His powers arced around him, a rumble of thunder echoing in the distance. The energy crackled in the air, and Hiko backed away, terrified, for the first time that he'd known her. The moment he saw the sheer, object horror on her face--the fear that he would hurt her--his anger vanished, his feelings crumpled. "Hiko--" he breathed, sickened by himself. "I--"
She seemed to pick herself up, fire blazing, almost timidly, around her. She was pale white, and the flush was not returning as it had been doing so in the earlier arguments. "I can't stay here."
"Hiko, wait," he blurted, starting forward, but she backed away, still frightened.
"I took too much of that, I took enough to last a life-time," she continued, her voice cracking. "I won't take any more, and I won't let Hichan grow up that way either!"
She teleported away in a spurt of flame.
He cursed himself repeatedly, reaching out towards her, trying to figure out where she had gone, so he could tell her how truly, how deeply sorry he was for the way he had acted; but she had put a shield around herself, and he couldn't tell where she had gone. Most likely Maresium.
Once he stopped trying to find her, another thought occured to him, one that filled him with dread. She had said she wouldn't let Hichan grow up like that either--he didn't dare finish the thought, but darted outside. The courtyard was empty. There was a smell of char on the air, and on the ground, by one of the benches where Hichan liked to eat her lunch, he found the remains of a half-eaten sandwich.
Hichan never left any food uneaten.
He sat down, holding the slightly sticky sandwich, alone.