The Goddess of Fire sank to her knees, into the warm sand, trying to keep from sobbing. She was shaking, and Hichan started to wail, finally grasping that what had happened to her was not a good thing. She clutched at her mother's neck, and both of the goddesses cried together.
Rahne groaned, and her eyes flickered open into the light. "Where?" she murmured, struggling to sit up. She was in a plain room, white walls, a bed and a chair the only furniture. Then she saw someone. "Medicalis?"
The God of Doctors smiled down at her. He was leaning against the wall, and had been for some time, apparently. "How are you feeling, my dear?"
She rubbed her head. "Tired?"
He chuckled. "That's an adequate description."
She closed her eyes for a moment, her head swimming from sitting up to quickly. "Hichan?" she asked, opening them again.
Medicalis raised an eyebrow at her. "Hichan is fine."
Rahne sighed with relief, and then swung her legs over the side. "Thank the Creator," she breathed.
"Hold it!" he exclaimed, blocking her from moving further. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm going to look after Hichan," Rahne explained, puzzled. "It's my mission."
"Yes, I know that," Medicalis sighed. He sat down on the bed. "Look, Rahne, you can't leave just yet. While you were unconscious, I started trying to detect any spells that could affect your memory."
"My memory?" She stared at him in confusion. "My memory is fine."
"No, it's not," he corrected.
"I don't think I'm forgetting anything," she persisted.
He sighed again. "Rahne... who are your parents?"
She blinked. "What does that matter?"
"Tell me, please."
She took a deep breath, and realised, with a start, that she didn't know who her parents were. That was odd... wasn't it? She met his gaze, and he put a hand on her knee. "Kerlan did a mind link with you, Rahne--you've got mental blocks even he couldn't get through."
"No, this is absurd," she protested, getting to her feet, starting to pace. "I don't... I can remember..." She trailed off, growing white with anxiety. "I can't remember anything!"
Medicalis got to his feet quickly. "Rahne, come back, sit down--"
"I can't remember!" she wailed, as the full force of the implications struck her, hard. She squirmed away from him, distressed. "I can't even remember my life before I woke up in the Hall... but I know it happened, I know it did--"
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Medicalis informed her, firmly, finally grabbing onto one of her arms and leading her back to the bed. Kerlan teleported in, alerted by the elder deity's mental call.
"Dam's broken?" he inquired to Medicalis, who nodded.
"I can't remember!" Rahne wailed, trying to jump up, but she was held down by Medicalis, and a moment later, Kerlan as well.
"I was about half-way through my spell," Medicalis told the god, ignoring Rahne's cries for a moment. "I'm not reading anything more than a simple block, so far."
"Medi, her entire life is gone--that can't be a simple block!" Kerlan exclaimed.
"I said so far!" Medicalis snapped, growing irritated with Rahne's attempts to flee. "Rahne, calm down. You still need rest, and I need to finish my spell!"
"But how could this happen?" she sobbed. "I have to find the Wise Lady, she will know, if anybody knows, she does!"
"How do you find her?" Kerlan asked. "I can find her for you."
"I don't know!" Rahne wailed. "I don't know, I have to find her myself, I have to protect Hichan, but how can I, if my memory is gone--?"
"You were protecting Hichan before," Kerlan pointed out.
"My memory wasn't gone before!"
"It was," Medicalis said, very firmly. "You just didn't notice it until now. Rahne, calm down or I'll be forced to sedate you!"
"I have to find her!" Rahne continued, ignoring him. "I have to--"
Medi's aura flared around him, and Rahne trailed off, her eyes closing.
"--must find Wise Lady, no, I must protect the... small..." She collapsed, unconscious. Medi sighed, his aura fading away.
Kerlan rubbed his face. "That was..."
"Enlightening," Medicalis finished.
"I was going to say a little scary."
"It was that too," the god admitted. "But also informative. This Wise Lady must have been the one who gave Rahne her mission, possibly even set up the mental blocks. But what's also interesting is that, until now, Rahne didn't even realise most of her life was missing."
Kerlan looked thoughtful. "If she doesn't remember why she's supposed to protect Hichan, why would she be so insistent about it?"
Medicalis sighed again. "I think she's being influenced. I think--this is a rough hypothesis, mind you--that whoever blocked her memory--Wise Lady or not--implanted the mission as well."
"That doesn't explain why, though," Kerlan replied.
Medicalis shrugged. "That I don't know. But I have a feeling the only person who does is the Wise Lady herself."
The two gods looked down at the sleeping goddess.
"I'm really tired of all these mysteries," Kerlan grouched.
Sonya found the pair seated at one of the far tables, surrounded by mountains of scrolls, which spilled over onto the neighbouring tables and chairs. Used nectar glasses were scattered among the debris. Meimei was reading, looking weary; Lindara was asleep, and using the History of the Water Clan as a pillow.
"Sonya!" Meimei exclaimed. "There you are--what's happened?"
"Huh?" Lindara blurted, startling awake, looking around herself sleepily. "Oh, hi, Sonya." She yawned.
Sonya sat herself down. "I just had another encounter with Black Robes," she began. She held up a hand to continue, both goddesses looking stunned and ready to interrupt. "I think I may have come across something that might help us--he kept referring to himself as 'the storm'. I'm pretty sure I came across a reference to a storm when I was breezing through some of the scrolls earlier. And Medi said he remembered something like that from his childhood. Could be a clue."
Meimei brightened considerably, gaining a twinkle in her eye. "I think I can help on both counts," she exclaimed, excitedly. "Here, Lindara, help me clean up."
Lindara obligingly took an armful of the scrolls, but Meimei smacked her lightly on the arm and she dropped them. "Not those ones," her sister complained. "I need those. Get rid of the nectar glasses, first off, then all the scrolls from before the Third Meeting."
Lindara nodded, yawning again and made the glasses disappear in a green twinkle, while Meimei continued to hunt through another mountainous pile. Lindara sorted the piles closest to her into two, then one disappeared, no doubt back to where it had come from.
"You said you could help with 'both counts'," Sonya prompted. "What did you mean?"
"I think that what you're talking about is definitely a clue, but I think that Medi's got his wires crossed. I think he's thinking of the Maelstrom, which was a disaster that occurred when he was a small boy. Fleurdelis helped a great deal with the aftermath, no doubt that's where he heard it from. Aha!" Meimei exclaimed, grabbing a scroll that seemed identical to all the others. "But what I think you're on to is The Storm--something that was prophesied as a threat to all existence."
"How come these sort of things always threaten all of existence?" Lindara asked, yawning. "You never hear about the ones that just threaten a little part of it."
"I was thinking the same thing," Sonya agreed.
Meimei frowned, and started scanning through the scroll. "I'm sure it's just Historical licence. Now, this prophecy dates from the Fifth Meeting of the Elders, which is how deities distinguish different eras," she added, for Sonya's benefit. "We're currently on the Tenth Meeting of the Elders, or the First Meeting of the Council, depending on whether or not you're Celebria. Ah, here it is: 'And a storm shall break and the walls shall fall; a flood in the stream shall threaten all'."
"Interesting. Cryptic. Nice and rhymey, too," Sonya remarked dryly.
Meimei's eyes twinkled. "It gets better."
"This I have to hear," Lindara said, yawning.
"Apparently there was a second half to the prophecy, that came only a few days after the first was received." Meimei took a deep breath. "That only Lightning born of Thunder would be able to brave the storm."
There was a sudden silence, broken by Sonya.
"You mean Hichan's going to save us from this guy?" she exclaimed. She and Lindara exchanged startled glances.
Meimei shook her head, nearly dislodging her precariously placed pins. "I know it sounds like that, but I'm not done. You have to dig deeper. Here, look at this." She handed the scroll to Sonya.
Sonya took at it, and looked at the strange writing. She had never seen any alphabet system like it, ever, and she had never been taught to read it; and yet the words were as clear as day. But that still didn't mean she knew what she was looking at. Meimei pointed at the (for her) upside-down text. Lindara leaned in over Sonya's shoulder. "Here. Now, in Old Script, there were marks given to Powers to indicate the gender of the holder. As the prophecy was found written on the wall of the Temple, it's very clear in this respect; Lightning is a goddess," she paused to clear her throat, "but so is Thunder."
"What?" the two deities blurted.
Meimei nodded. "It is better translated as 'only the Goddess of Lightning, born of the Goddess of Thunder, can brave the storm'."
"Curiouser and curiouser," Sonya murmured.
"But--there have only been Thunder gods!" Lindara protested.
Meimei nodded, again. "I know. I was curious about that, too. So I did a little more research." She started hunting for another scroll. "Here we go. It seems that about ten years after the prophecy of the storm, a family of Immortals appeared, taking up residence in a vacant Realm. No one knows where they came from; all that was known was that they were from Away."
"Ah, Away," Lindara agreed. Sonya just looked blank.
"Now, the family consisted of a god, a goddess, and two small children. They never gave their names, or their powers, and shied away from all contact with the other Immortals. However," and Meimei's eyes began to twinkle again with the excitement, "the chronologers noted that whenever the goddess was angered, or frightened, strange rumbles would be heard in the sky, the likes of which were not known at the time. Eventually the noises scared the chronologers away, for good."
"Thunder," Lindara breathed. "They were hearing thunder."
"Exactly!" Meimei grinned. "But the only mystery is--"
"You mean one of the only mysteries," Sonya corrected.
Meimei smiled ruefully. "Right. One of the only mysteries is that, several years after the family left--and they disappear one or two years later, as suddenly as they had come--a child was born, a boy, with the power of Thunder. And he was declared by the Creator as the first to hold that Role."
"Thunder started as a spontaneous power?" Sonya exclaimed.
Both Meimei and Lindara nodded. "It did. One of the reasons it's considered one of the most respected of the Clans now is that since it was first designated, there has always been an incarnate. Most powers come and go; only a select few, outside of the Elementals, have remained constant."
"Plants is another," Lindara said, proudly.
The conversation lapsed, and the trio of goddesses sat, looking at each other.
"That's all there is on the storm?" Sonya asked, suddenly.
Meimei sighed, fixing her hair. "It is. But I'm sure that if we are to know what is going on, the Creator will tell us."
"Probably not personally," Lindara grumbled. "Creator's pet."
Meimei rolled her eyes, and smiled slightly, as she was actually pleased by the title. Lindara grinned as well; she was just teasing.
Sonya sighed, leaning back in her chair, arms crossed; it was a signal to get back on topic. Meimei cleared her throat, one more thing to add: "Since the prophecy happened so long ago, it's almost been forgotten; I only knew what you were talking about because I have such a keen interest in the Histories."
"It's a good start," Lindara protested.
"I agree with you," Sonya replied. "Can I borrow that scroll, Meimei? Maybe Rahne can shed a little light on the subject, if prompted enough."
"Sure." Meimei rolled up the scroll and handed it over. Then she yawned. "Oh, I'm so tired. I've been here since yesterday."
"You should go home, get some rest," Sonya told her. "We've got enough to look into for now, and besides, the hearing is tomorrow."
Both goddesses looked disheartened. "I'd forgotten," Lindara said, quietly. "I think I'll go stop in on Rayden and Hiko, see how they're doing."
"Tell them I'll see them before the hearing," Meimei asked.
"I will." Lindara followed Sonya's example, and got up from her chair.
"I'll talk to you both later," the Goddess of Space said, clutching the scroll as she teleported away. Lindara disappeared a moment later.
Meimei sighed, and started to clear up the mess.
Rahne woke up slowly, growing used to consciousness, instead of throwing herself into it. Finally she opened her eyes. The room was deserted, and not as light; it was later in the day. Much later.
She wondered how long she had been asleep, but realised that she couldn't be sure. She didn't know what time she had been knocked out, she couldn't remember...
A surge of panic clutched her heart, but she willed it down. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply and calmly. She could still feel the emptiness of her memory. There were memories of before the Hall, before Hichan; but they were dim, fading away. She couldn't trust them. They were from her childhood; she could remember being very small, and very afraid--
What's happening? Where are we going? Mommy!
She shook her head violently, trying to stop the child's cry from echoing in her head. She sat up, clutching her temples. "The Wise Lady will know what to do," she muttered, gritting her teeth. "She will know what to do, she will. I must find her."
But where could she possibly be? The only place that Rahne could... recall her from was the forest, from the ring of trees. But that was before she came to the Hall, and she wasn't sure if the memories were genuine or fashioned in attempt to make something concrete out of fragments.
She got to her feet, feeling wobbly, and unsure of herself. She had to get out of here, she had to find the Wise Lady--
She wasn't sure who had said that. Startled, she looked around herself, but the room was still empty. "Hello?" she called, uneasy, her voice sounding too loud.
Hichan needs you. The voice sounded fainter, and she realised it was coming from within her own head. She is why you are here.
"Wise Lady!" Rahne cried, but the voice and the presence faded away. She was gone. The goddess nearly burst into tears. To be so close, and yet so far away, it was almost too much to bear. But the Wise Lady was right-of course she was right. Hichan was why she was here. She could remember that, at least. For now, that's all that mattered.
"Rayden?" Lindara called, cheerfully. "I have the best news... I think we may have stumbled on something leading to Black Robes' identity... Rayden?" She came to the kitchen, and poked her head in. "Rayden!"
Rayden was sitting at the table, glass in hand, a half-full decanter of nectar beside him. He was leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, blankly.
"Rayden!" she exclaimed again, horrified. The last time she had seen him like this was several years ago, just after Hiko and Nova had died. He had been catatonic, and worried Lindara to pieces.
At the sound of her voice, he seemed to snap out it; he shook his head and looked at her. "What? Lin."
"What the hell are you doing?" she blurted, angry and worried.
He slugged back the contents of his glass, hissing afterwards through his teeth; he was drinking far too fast. "Drinking. Want some?"
"No I do not want any!" Lindara snapped. "What are you doing, going on a binge? What sort of example would that set for Hichan? How much have you had--you're drunk, aren't you? I can tell from your energy!"
"Oh, shut up, Lindara," he growled, shifting around, clearly having enough of her patronising attitude and tone. "You've had your moments, you're the last one to be throwing rocks."
"Stones," Lindara corrected, frostily. "And I'll have you know I have never gotten drunk around small children, it's not respectable!"
"It hardly matters, does it!" Rayden roared, half-standing up, suddenly throwing the glass at the wall, in a burst of rage. It cracked, and shattered, scattering fragments over the floor and table. "She's not here, is she? No, she's not!" Lindara flattened herself against the wall, her eyes wide, startled by the sudden ferocity. When he saw her expression, he closed his eyes and held his head in his hands, slumping back into the chair. "Lin, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you."
She had one hand on her chest, in shock. "Rayden... what happened?"
"Hiko left," he said succinctly, tiredly, clearing up the mess with a wave of his hand. "She's gone. And she took Hichan with her."
Lindara's eyes widened, and she hesitantly pulled up a chair, wanting to help but wary, at the same time. "Rayden--that's terrible!"
"Thanks for pointing that out," he said, dryly, creating a new glass, which she snatched up, along with the decanter.
"That's quite enough," she stated, primly.
"Don't 'Lin' me. Start at the beginning. I can't understand why she would leave you," she remarked, getting up to put the nectar in a cupboard.
"It's a long story."
He chuckled. "You sound just like Mother."
"Indignant and worried?" she inquired, arching an eyebrow. "That would cover it. What happened? Maybe I can help."
"I don't think so," he sighed, but he told her the story anyway. He started with the fight that Hiko and he had about Rahne staying overnight; then the fight the next day, and finished with how he nearly used his powers against her, resulting in Hiko portalling away, taking Hichan with her. "And I can't reach either of them, Hiko's shielded."
Lindara sat in silence, in shock, stupefied. "I..." she started, then shook her head. "I don't know what to think."
"That I'm an idiot and I deserve it?" Rayden observed glumly.
"That's not true," she said, firmly. "Well, yes, you were an idiot, but that's just your temper."
"You know what I mean," she persisted. "I'm sure Hiko was just... reacting, you know? Heat of the moment, sort of thing. Give her some time, and she'll come to her senses."
"What if she has, already?" Rayden said, quietly, looking down. Lindara frowned.
"Don't talk like that. You and Hiko are happy together; you're just going through a rough patch. Mother and Papa go through rough patches all the time. It usually means that Papa comes to visit me in Agri, that's all, and then they get back together and go on arguing like normal." She patted his shoulder. "I'm sure it'll all work out."
"I hope you're right," he replied, glumly.
She patted his shoulder again. "Do you want me to stay and keep you company?"
"No, thanks," he answered. "I think I just want to be alone for a little while."
"Don't have any more to drink," she warned. "The last thing you want to happen is Hiko to come home and find you passed out under the kitchen table."
He laughed at that; he couldn't help it. "Thanks for the advice, Lin."
She nodded, and got up, teleporting from the Temple.
He sighed, and looked around himself. It was far too empty. Far too... lonely. After living with a hyperactive three-year-old, the Temple suddenly seemed much larger, and too quiet.
Celebria sighed, and rubbed her eyes, tiredly. There was a knock on her Council chambers. She ignored it; it was probably just Adiutor, interrupting as usual.
The knock resounded again, louder, and more insistent. That wasn't Adiutor's signature style. His was a weak, hesitant tapping, that when ignored grew faster and louder, but never resembled anything like the solid pounding at the moment. It was like the difference between the yip of a terrier and the bark of a German Shepherd.
"Who is it?" she inquired.
"Medicalis," came the gruff reply. "Come on, Celebria, let me in."
"I'm busy at the moment," she answered. "I'll talk to you after the hearing."
There was a flash of light and Medi stood in front of her desk, arms crossed over his chest. "No, you'll talk to me now."
"Medi," she growled, "I'm a little busy."
"I know that," he replied succinctly. He crossed behind her chair and laid a hand across her forehead. "As I thought, you're very low in energy. Have you eaten recently?"
She shook her head slightly.
He harumphed. "I don't approve of the all-nighter you're pulling."
"Neither do I," she answered, quietly. She tilted her head. "But it's got to be done. The hearing is only in a few hours. I'm still not sure what I'm going to say to the Council. Kerlan and I have been going over it and over it and..." She trailed off, tiredly.
Medicalis didn't respond; he didn't feel he needed to. He boosted her energy, then withdrew his palm. "Better?"
She nodded. "Thank you. I--" She seemed to falter, and sighed, resting her head in her hands, her elbows on the table. "Oh, Medi, what am I doing?"
"I don't know?" he replied, honestly. "I thought you were going over the Histories--"
"No, no," she corrected, tears welling in her eyes. "What am I doing here? This is the second time I've held Rayden's fate in my hands, what if--" her voice dropped to a whisper, afraid that if she said her next statement too loud, it might come true, "what if I can't help him, again?"
Medi blinked. "I thought that--the sanity hearing--"
"I tried to convince them," Celebria continued, her voice barely audible. "But they wouldn't listen; they were too afraid. They're afraid now. Medi, if I have to rule against him, I don't think I can do it."
"You wouldn't be ruling--"
"Pronouncing it is the same thing. What if they decide not to let him go, Medi? What if I have to..." she faltered, then caught her breath and continued. "What if I have to sentence him to death again?"
"It won't come to that," Medicalis said, firmly, straightening up. "Don't let it. You're the Council Leader; it's time you started leading."
"I--" she let the sentence drop. She just shook her head from side-to-side, slowly, tiredly. "I wonder why they chose me in the first place. I'm the last person who should be in charge."
The god smiled. "I think that's why they picked you."
Lindara exhaled, surprised that she had been holding her breath. But the villa was empty, it was safe. She was okay on her own, for the time being. But the empty villa also meant that Jikan Tai wasn't back yet. This worried her more than Black Robes did; she knew the Guardian shouldn't take so long to visit that Wood.
She stepped into her house, and shifted into mortal guise, in case one of the villagers stopped by. She could wait for Jikan Tai here, and find out what he knew. Waiting here also meant that she could remain (subtly) in contact with Rayden, in case anything happened with Hiko.
There was a knock at the door, and she hurried to open it. It was Signorina Rosa, bearing a braid of onions. "Ah, Signora Lindara. You asked me to bring some onions after Leo delivered them."
"Oh!" Lindara exclaimed. "Right. Thank you, Rosa, you didn't need to bring them all the way out here."
"It is no bother," Rosa said, pleasantly.
"Would you like to come in?" Lindara asked, politely. "I could--"
Suddenly Rosa's blinked in surprise, and fear, and she stepped backwards. "No, no, Signora. I can't stay. Here are your onions; you can pay me tomorrow." She pressed the braid into Lindara's hands and then fled down the path.
Lindara watched her leave, puzzled, the braid still in her hands. Then she heard a footfall behind her. Every muscle tensed, and very slowly, very cautiously, she turned to look behind her.
Jikan Tai leaned against the door frame to the bedroom, looking at her through narrowed eyes. The black of his costume, combined with the shadows, made him almost invisible.
"Yellow!" she exclaimed, with relief. "You nearly frightened me half to death! What are you doing skulking around?"
He didn't answer her, but stepped over to the kitchen table and sat down, beckoning her to follow him. Confused, she set the onions down on the counter and took the chair opposite him.
"What are you doing in your costume? You frightened Rosa--" Lindara began, and she noticed he was looking at her puzzledly. "Remember? You said we should be in mortal guise when we're here?"
"Ah," he said, nodding, with growing comprehension. "Yes, I forgot. I've had a lot on my mind."
"You look it. Here, I'll make you some tea--" Lindara got up from the table but he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back down.
"I don't have much time," he said, his voice dropping. "I have to tell you about the storm."
"About the storm?" Lindara repeated. She looked out the window; the sky was perfectly clear. "Oh, wait, the Storm," she realised. He glared at her for a moment before continuing.
"He's in the time-stream," Jikan Tai said, softly. "I can't get him, not without jeopardizing the flow."
"The flow?" Lindara repeated, but he ignored the question.
"You must listen to me. He's in the time stream, but he's caught. He's caught in... a sort of eddy, a whirlpool. He can't get out on his own, but I can't get to him, it's too dangerous." Jikan Tai leaned forward, concentrating, as though he was trying to help her to understand mentally, but she knew he wasn't. The grip on her wrist tightened.
"What's that?" she blurted, suddenly, her free hand pointing towards his neck. A thin scar ran along his jawbone, from underneath his ear to under his eye. He dropped the hold he had on her arm to touch it, gently.
"I... met up with Black Robes in the Wood, but it's healing," he said, quickly. He got to his feet, anxious. "I have to go back."
"Back to the Wood," Lindara clarified, still confused. "Yellow--is there something wrong? Something you can't tell me? I'll try to understand, I really will."
He stopped for a moment, wanting to say something, but failing; the look in his eyes softened for a half-second. "If I could, I would tell you, Lindara."
He created a portal, and stepped back through it.
She watched him leave, puzzled. Something told her that Sonya would like to be informed of this new development. She got to her feet, and created a portal. She'd be back in Earthrealm soon enough, she was sure Rayden would be all right.
Jikan Tai strained against the bonds, but the energy ropes held him tight. He gritted his teeth as well as he could with the gag, but the cloth prevented him from even doing that.
She stood over him, on guard, the staff's jewel glowing a fierce red, with an even brighter center. The staff was oddly effected; it was casting a golden light on her pale skin. She was watching the pools, waiting.
"It's for the best," she said, almost to herself, but he knew her sentence was meant for him. "You'll understand that, soon enough."
He growled something in response, which, garbled though it was, came through loud and clear.
She sighed and shook her head, smiling slightly. "That doesn't sound like the language of a Guardian."
He growled something else, the meaning just as clear.
She straightened up, shielding her eyes as she looked up into the sky, to the thin strip of blue that wove itself between the tree tops. A wind was picking up, and she shivered. He was protected, in the lee of a tree, but she was in the open.
The wind caused ripples on the pond, and they both frowned.
"It's for the best," she repeated, her demeanor confident, but her voice betraying her anxiety.
She groaned, fighting to stay asleep.
Hiko, don't you think you've slept long enough?
"Just a little longer, Mother..." she grumbled, trying to turn over, when she was suddenly aware of a presence beside her. Startled, she blinked her eyes open.
Hichan was on the bed next to her, whimpering in her sleep, her white curls plastered down by sweat. Hiko rubbed her eyes and sat up.
They were in the Temple of Flamma, in the city of Subaquaritum. They were in Maresium. And they were alone.
The memories of the previous day's events flooded back with a vengeance and Hiko shook her head, trying to work them out, trying to shake them off, away from her. Sleep was no longer possible, she knew; so she slipped out of bed.
The disturbance caused Hichan to wake up. She started to cry and held out her arms to her mother, wanting comfort and reassurance. Hiko wished she could give her daughter both, but the goddess didn't feel reassured herself.
She picked the child up, noting how hot and sticky Hichan was. The climate was a lot warmer than what the girl was used to, especially in Subaquaritum, out of the breeze. "Would you like a swim, Hichan?" she asked her, trying to smile, to be happy for her daughter's sake. "A nice cool swim?"
"No," Hichan murmured, rubbing her eyes then resuming her clamping on to her mother's shoulder.
"Would you like something to eat?"
Hiko sighed, and stood up, walking back and forth, rocking the girl. "Are you just going to be stubborn?"
Hichan wasn't sure what the word meant, but she had an all-purpose answer ready. "No."
Hiko sighed. "I'm going to have some breakfast," she announced, settling the girl on her hip--which Hichan did not approve of, but which she couldn't contradict--and walked to the small kitchen. There was fruit and... more fruit. The goddess sighed. She didn't feel like cooking, and fruit was the only food that didn't need preparing.
"Want Daddy," Hichan whimpered, sniffling. Hiko sighed, again, more heavily, and shifted the girl around. The small goddess started to cry, upset, hungry, tired and irritated at being shifted around to boot. "Want to go home!"
"Hichan, we are not going home," Hiko said sharply. "I told you this already, until Daddy--Rayden--gets his act together, we're staying here."
"No!" Hichan wailed, protesting. "Want to go home! Want home!"
Hiko went back to the bed and sat down, unwrapping the crying girl as she did so. "Hichan, I know you want to go home. But even when Rayden does calm down, we're going to be living here from now on."
This was met with incomprehension. "No."
"You don't have any choice in it, Hichan," Hiko replied, growing irritated herself. "You might get sick if you stay in the Temple."
"Temple!" Hichan yelled, suddenly, angry. "Me live at Temple, with monks, and Uncle Liu, and Daddy!"
"Hichan!" Hiko said, sharply, but it did no good. Her daughter started to wail, furiously. Taking a deep breath and counting to ten, Hiko tried again. "Hichan, calm down. If you don't calm down, I'm going to go have breakfast by myself, and you can stay in the bedroom. By yourself."
Hichan, her wails subsiding, glared at her mother, confused and unhappy. This was a new threat. Never before had she been banned from her parent's side. She was often told to play outside, but she was always allowed back in.
"There, that's better," Hiko remarked. "Do you want some breakfast?"
Hichan nodded, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. She lifted her arms up again, and was relieved immensely when Hiko picked her up.
"Hichan!" Rahne called, as she teleported into the small Lady's room. "Hichan, I've come back!"
Something was wrong. Very, very wrong. A smell of ozone pervaded the air, and the small Lady was no where in sight. Rahne got shivers along her spine. She started out into the corridor, tense, and ready for a fight. She couldn't tell if he had been here. It didn't feel like it, but that didn't mean anything. She had been caught off guard before.
"Hichan?" she called again. There was no reply. She reached out with her limited mind powers. She was capable of finding only two people--Hichan and him. Kerlan had tested her. She was sure he was right.
Hichan wasn't anywhere near.
A crackle built up in the air, as her black aura shifted around her. She had to find the small Lady. It was all Rahne's fault that she was in danger; if she hadn't fallen asleep, or fought Medicalis, then she would have been awake to deal with this crisis.
There were footfalls. Loud ones. A god's, she knew. She flattened herself against the wall, then slid behind the door. The footsteps were growing louder; they would be turning around the corner--now.
Rahne held her breath, and waited until the owner was close enough that she could--"Lord Rayden!"
Rayden jumped about a foot and a half into the air, thunder booming outside. "Rahne--by the Creator--!"
Rahne bowed very deeply, trembling. "I am sorry to frighten you. I thought you were... him."
He frowned at her, his heart hammering in response to the sudden fright. "Well, I'm not."
"No, you aren't," she agreed, straightening up. "Where is the small Lady?"
"Hichan?" he asked. She nodded. "She's not here," he replied, darkly, starting off down the corridor.
"Where is she?" Rahne pursued, horrified that her initial fears were correct, that he had gotten her!
"She's with her mother, in Maresium," Rayden replied, coming to a sudden halt. He whirled on her, and she skidded to keeping from slamming into him.
"Maresium?" Rahne looked blank. "Where is that? Is that another Temple?"
"No, it's another Realm," Rayden answered, surprised. "You haven't heard of it?"
She shook her head. "I might have... I do not remember." Her tone was heavy and immeasurably sad; but before he could inquire, she threw her head back and straightened her shoulders. "I will be leaving Earth, Lord Rayden; my place is with Hichan."
He glared at her. "Good luck. Hiko's sealed Maresium off. I can't get in, and I doubt you could, either."
"Sealed? You mean locked?" Rahne was incredulous. "Why would she lock you out?"
It was then that he realised how little she was picking up about the situation. He sighed, and ran a hand over his hair. "Rahne--Hiko's left. She's left me, she's left the Temple, she's taken Hichan with her."
Rahne didn't reply, her dark brown eyes growing wide with shock. "What? Why? What? Why would she do such a thing? What?"
"We had a fight--"
"That is no excuse! She is endangering the small Lady! Hichan needs all of our protection, Lady Hiko cannot divide us now!" the goddess exclaimed, shrilly.
Rayden gritted his teeth. "You're missing the point entirely, Rahne!"
Rahne wasn't listening. She had turned away and started down the hall, her eyes closed, concentrating. "Small Lady," she called, "small Lady, I need to find you--"
She couldn't pick up anything. Maresium, being sealed, was distorting the whereabouts of Hichan and Hiko even to someone as powerful as Rayden. Rahne had no idea where to begin; she had no idea where Maresium was in relation to Earth.
"Rahne!" Rayden called, running after her. "What are you trying to do--" He stopped, in horror, and back-pedalled.
Rahne had turned on him, and her brown eyes were illuminated with a reflected red shine, one that he found very familiar. He wasn't sure how this could be possible, but the glow reminded him of the Guardian's staff... "Wise Lady," she murmured, looking to someone who wasn't there, "help me find her..." She waited for a moment, her head tilted as she stood listening; then a smile spread across her face. "Thank you," she whispered, as the glow faded. She blinked a few times, regaining her bearings, and then she disappeared.
Rayden stood for a moment in the now-empty hallway, not sure if he'd seen what he thought he saw.
"Small Lady!" Rahne exclaimed, brightly, as she teleported onto the wide, sandy beach. Hichan was lying on a blanket, underneath one of the trees. The goddess felt guilty; the small Lady was sleeping--
Hichan's bright blue eyes were open, and fixed on her, steadily. She hadn't been asleep. But then why was she just lying there, why wasn't she running around, playing? The small Lady was a bundle of energy...
Rahne knelt by the edge of the blanket, and Hichan whimpered, curling into a tighter ball. "Small Lady," the goddess whispered. "What has happened to you? Was it him? Was I too late? Small Lady!"
Hichan lifted her head up, tears welling. "Me tired, Rahne," she cried. The goddess picked her up; the child was limp, and covered in a sheen of sweat. "Me hot."
"It is very hot here," Rahne agreed.
"Mama makes it hot," Hichan said, quietly, resting against the goddess. "Always hotter."
Rahne nodded. The Goddess of Fire was angry; her powers were affecting the Realm. "It is cooler in Earth, I will take you there."
"Daddy?" Hichan asked, hopeful, looking at her guardian. She struggled to sit up. "Home?"
Rahne nodded. "I will take you back--"
"You will do no such thing," snapped a voice behind them. Rahne twisted around, while Hichan buried her face against the goddess.
"Lady Hiko," Rahne said, reverently, protecting Hichan from her angry mother.
The goddess was standing on the sand, her aura causing the air around her to ripple with the heat. "How the hell did you get past my shields?" she demanded.
Rahne blinked. "I teleported in."
"So you are free to ignore the Boundaries, are you? How convenient. Put Hichan down, and go away." Hiko stood, hands on her hips, not leaving room for argument.
"No, Rahne," Hichan whimpered in response, clutching at her robes. "No."
"I will not leave Hichan," Rahne declared, boldly, tightening her grip around the girl.
Hiko's eyes narrowed. "I declare my Realm off-limits to Rahne, Role unknown."
Rahne gasped, a hand going to her chest. She couldn't breathe, something was weighing down on her on all sides...
"Rahne!" Hichan wailed, distraught.
"Put Hichan down," Hiko repeated, forcefully. Rahne, her face growing dark red with the strain, shook her head. Hiko snorted. "I declare my Realm hostile to Rahne, Role unknown."
Still Rahne held her grip, even as her vision blurred and her lungs screamed for air. Her vision was tunnelling, she was going to black out completely... but she still didn't let go.
Hichan whimpered again, and started to struggle. She slipped out of Rahne's grasp and crawled back to the blanket, sitting herself down fearfully.
Hiko nodded. "I declare my Realm no longer hostile to Rahne. But still off-limits."
Rahne pitched forward suddenly, the sudden strain being released. She still couldn't breathe properly, but she could breathe again, a definite plus. She looked to Hichan, and then up at Hiko, who was still standing, silhouetted, meters away, the confident owner of her Realm.
"I will still keep an eye on her," Rahne whispered, determined, before she disappeared in a black mist.
Hichan, when Rahne portalled away, began to sob, anew. Her mother, with a heavy, weary sigh, sat down next to her on the blanket. For a moment Hichan was unsure whether she should shy away; then she threw herself against Hiko, hugging her tightly, and wailing in frustration.
Hiko hugged her tightly, and patted her back. "It's for the best," she whispered. "I know you can't understand that now, but it really is for the best."
"How could you let this happen?" she screamed, her face red with the exertion. "How could you let her take away the small Lady?"
Rayden blinked in surprise, the tirade unexpected. Rahne had teleported in, only a few moments after she had left. Her energy had been--still was--in complete disarray.
"Rahne, I don't need to hear this from you," he snapped. He didn't want to hear it from any one, but especially not the maniacally-focussed stranger in front of him.
"You're her father!" she cried, fists clenched. Her entire attitude reminded him of Hichan, during one of her tantrums. "You should have done something!"
Thunder rolled outside as Rayden's temper built around him. "And what would you have liked me to do, Rahne? Perhaps I should have tackled Hiko? Would that have made it better?"
Rahne paused. Tears were starting to well in her eyes. "You should have saved her."
"Saved her from her mother?" Rayden inquired, his temper starting to ebb. He really didn't have the strength to argue with someone so irrational. "Her mother thought she was saving Hichan from me."
"You would never hurt her." Rahne's voice was hoarse, but confident.
"I know that, you know that, Hiko apparently doesn't know that," Rayden answered, leaning against one of the cool, stone walls. The thunder roared overhead, and the sound of rain on the stone roof was heard plainly. He sighed. "Rahne, I'm sure that it--"
"She's in danger," Rahne whispered. "Being away from here, she's at his mercy, I have to save her."
"If I hadn't have fought Medicalis, I would have been able to prevent this from happening," she continued, ignoring him. "It's my fault!"
"It's not your fault!" he blurted, growing irritated again. "By the Creator, Rahne, your sole purpose in life isn't to protect Hichan. You've got a Role, a family, somewhere out there, that you should go back to." She was looking at him, stunned, and he pressed his advantage. "Kerlan and Sonya are trying to find a way to send you home--"
"This is home!" she screamed, suddenly, furious, and a bow of black energy arced around her. "I don't remember anything else! I don't remember who my family is, where I'm from! All I have is Earth, and Hichan, and you want me just to turn my back on her? I won't! I won't!" She whirled around, and ran down the corridor.
He started after her. "Rahne! Stop, just listen to me--!"
She was out the door, outside, in the storm.
Rahne slipped and fell, sliding down the hill, over the slick wet grass. She tumbled to the bottom, soaked, and shivering. Thunder rumbled, briefly, as though the sky was laughing at her.
What do you think you're doing, little one? it asked her, chuckling at her failure.
"I will protect her!" Rahne screamed at the clouds, fists clenched in anger over her head. "I will still protect her!"
Protect her even from her parents? How do you plan to do that?
"I don't know!" she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. She thought of the poor small Lady, ripped from her home and her father. In a strange Realm, not knowing what was going on.
Rahne dropped her hands in defeat, and the thunder roared in merriment, at her misery. She couldn't even remember her own parents, although she knew she must have some. Why couldn't she remember her home, her family? What good was she without her memory?
"Rahne!" she heard Rayden calling, looking for her.
She got to her feet. He couldn't see her, she was behind him. He might not even be able to see her in the dark, thanks to her robes. She took off, running to put the Temple between her and him. Try to run to the walls, she slipped again, and this time she twisted her ankle. It wasn't broken, or sprained, but it hurt, and she paused for a moment against the stone, catching her breath, her heart in her chest.
"Rahne, where are you?" echoed through her head, as he headed farther from the Temple in search of her.
Rahne, who are you? she thought, with a sob. That's a better question to be asking. She leaned against the stone, as the rain pelted her. Her hair was soaked and it whipped against her face as she turned her head, tilting it up, her eyes closed.
She wanted to reply, to run to him, to be with him, but she couldn't. She was pathetic and unworthy of kindness. One simple task, to safeguard Hichan, and she had failed that. She couldn't even protect Hichan from her own mother.
The thunder crackled, and a memory sprung to the surface. It startled her, she almost didn't know what it was. But she saw the clouds of the past above her, and remembered the intense fear that had accompanied that storm. She climbed back to her feet, the throb in her ankle nearly gone. She was reaching out for someone--
"Who?" she screamed, at the dark, loud sky. "Who was there with me? Who?"
There was no response, and she started to run again. She could barely see, from the tears in her eyes and the rain coating her eyelashes. Again, she tripped on the slick ground and she tumbled down. This time she didn't get up.
"Who am I?" she sobbed, into the dirt. "Just tell me who I am, please, someone--"
It resounded in her head, a clear voice, a sweet note.
She looked up, into the face of someone she knew intimately, and yet didn't know at all. "Wise Lady," she breathed, stunned.
The Wise Lady clutched her staff, and held her hand out to Rahne, beckoning her to her feet. Rahne accepted the grasp, and stepped up. Rahne.
"Just tell me who I am," Rahne whispered, pleaded.
"Because of him?" she cried, distraught, staggering backwards. "Because he would know, is that it?"
It is, but not in the way you mean. The Wise Lady looked at her sadly. I know this is hard, but it is the only way to save Hichan.
"How can I?" Rahne roared, against the peal of thunder echoing overhead. "I can't save her from her parents!"
The Wise Lady reached out again, and took Rahne by the shoulder. There was a lightness to the touch that the goddess couldn't even begin to explain.
I can't stay much longer, the stress is too great. Rahne, you must believe in what you are doing. I know that you can succeed, but not if you doubt yourself. She paused, her head cocked as if listening to something. The only thing I can say is that only you know who you are. You cannot be told, by anyone else.
"I don't remember," Rahne persisted. "I can't remember who I am!"
Your Role does not stem from memory; it is who you are, and that will never change, Rahne. I must go, now.
"No, wait--!" Rahne screamed, leaping forward, but the Wise Lady vanished, fading away into the night. Rahne tumbled forward through the thin air, not catching on to anything, and she landed on her knees.
The one tie to her past, the one clue to her identity had slipped away from her. Just like she had let Hichan slip away from her. She started to cry again, out of despair, and frustration.
She whirled around. "Wise Lady...? Rayden," she corrected, sadly.
Rayden stepped down taking off his outer robes and wrapping them around her. "You're soaked. Come on, come inside." She was too exhausted to argue; she allowed herself to be led inside.
"I'm sorry," she said, feebly. They were sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of steaming tea in her hands, Rayden's outer robe still wrapped around her shoulders.
He didn't answer, having a sip of his own drink. Finally he shrugged. "Tempers have been in short supply recently."
Rahne wouldn't met his gaze. "I shouldn't have accused you of those things."
He sighed, at set the cup down on the table. "You were right, though."
Her head whipped up, her eyes questioning.
"I should have done more. I should've cleared this up with Hiko, instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself." He stretched, feeling tired after the long day. "But it's too late now, I can't even teleport to Maresium to apologise."
"I can," Rahne said, hopefully.
He looked at her. "I know. You shouldn't be able to, and yet... what a little conundrum you are, Rahne."
"Oh." She took a sip of her drink. "I could give the Lady Hiko a message for you."
He shook his head. "I want to say the things I want to say in person. No offence, Rahne, but I don't want the message to go through a second person."
"Oh." She hunched her shoulders, shivering, and drew the robes around her tighter. "I could carry a message, for you."
He considered this, for a long moment. "That might work. I could write a letter... a scroll... hmmm."
"I would be glad to help," she told him, earnestly. "To make up for everything that I've done."
She nodded her head vigorously. "Since I showed up, the Lady Hiko has been irritable, right? Sonya told me so."
Rayden snorted. "Hiko's just under a lot of stress, we both are, what with the--by the Creator--!"
The exclamation startled Rahne and she jumped, nearly spilling her tea in the process. "What? What has happened?"
"Nothing's happened," Rayden replied, morosely, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I just forgot about what's--It's what's going to happen--tomorrow's the hearing."
Rahne blinked. "Is it that bad?"
Rayden sighed. "That's an understatement. A very large understatement." He declined to elaborate; he got up from his chair, his cup disappearing in a flash of light that coincided with a rumble of thunder. He started from the room but Rahne stopped him. She reached out and took his hand, very carefully.
"Rayden," she said, quietly, "I want to help."
He gave the hand a squeeze. "Thank you, Rahne. I appreciate the offer. But unfortunately, even I'm not in control of what happens next. All we can do is hope that Celebria or Kerlan can sway the Council."
"Sway the Council to what?" Rahne asked innocently.
He looked at her, and sat back down. "You don't know, do you?"
He sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. "Hiko and I had an unsanctioned child--"
"Hichan?" Rahne blurted.
"No, not Hichan. No, Nova--she's dead now--and..." he faltered, and had to take a deep breath. "If the Elders had still been in charge, Hiko and I would have been executed immediately, but Celebria's trying to change how everything works, and she thinks she might be able to convince them to sway that decision. But she doesn't know." He stopped, looking down. "She hasn't had a very good success rate in the past."
Rahne was very quiet, and staring at him with wide, brown eyes. "I didn't know," she whispered. "I didn't know that was what the Hearing was about, I thought it would be like what Kerlan and Sonya did to me... I swear I didn't know!"
"It's all right, Rahne, it's all right." He patted her knee. "I'm going to go to bed, I'm really tired; you can sleep in Hichan's room, if you'd like."
She nodded, still huddled in his outer robes, still in shock. He got up and headed out of the kitchen.
There was a knock on the door. Grumbling, he forced himself awake enough to lift his head. "Hello?" he called. A thought belatedly occurred to him. "Hiko?"
The door opened, and Rahne tip-toed in. "Rayden."
"Rahne." He yawned, and rubbed his eyes. "What's the matter? It's the middle of the night."
"I can't sleep," she said, very quietly.
"Then go do something else," he yawned, snuggling back in under the covers and closing his eyes. He heard her feet padding near-silently across the floor; but then he didn't hear the door close. Confused, he started to tell her to close the door after her, but as he opened his eyes, he realised she wasn't near the door at all; she was standing by the bed, on Hiko's side. He blinked at her in confusion.
"I can't sleep," she repeated, almost in a whimper. "I'm too worried."
He stared at her, not sure what she was up to or what she expected of him.
"Can I sleep in here?" she asked, finally. Not waking for an answer, she pulled back the blankets and slipped under the covers. Rayden tensed up, still staring at her in confusion; but she didn't pick up on his bafflement, instead turning onto her side, facing away from him, and sighing with contentment.
He continued to stare at her for a moment, and then decided that it wasn't worth the concern he was expending on it. He turned around, so that they were back to back, and tried to get comfortable. He dropped off to sleep in no time.
Rayden yawned as he woke up, quite pleasantly warm thanks to the person next to him. He was glad Hiko was back, he'd missed her so much...
As he rolled over to say good morning, he became very aware that the hair spread over the pillows was not red, but black; and that the woman he was sleeping next to was not, in fact, his wife.
Rahne blinked her eyes, yawning. "Morning, Rayden."
He paused. "Rahne? What are you doing here?"
She looked as confused as he felt. "Sleeping?"
"I was tired? I couldn't sleep last night by myself." She seemed to think that this explanation was more than evident. "Today's the Hearing, right?"
"Yes," he agreed, slowly, still staring at her in bewilderment. "Rahne... why are you sleeping in here? Beside me?"
She was starting to become upset. "What's the matter? I don't understand!"
"Neither do I," he sighed, turning back around, wondering if there was any point in fighting for an explanation. There was nothing really wrong with it, anyway. He hadn't been sleeping with her, he was still faithful to Hiko completely and totally... and he had to admit that being beside someone was more comforting than being on his own. Especially now. He decided to let the matter go. He'd tell Hiko later, once they were back together. She'd understand.
"Quiet!" Celebria, Goddess of Truth and Leader of the Council, demanded that her fellow deities silence themselves. At her right hand sat Amai, Goddess of Justice, and at Celebria's left sat Kerlan, God of Communications. They formed the triad that the Council owed its allegiance to. Truth, Communication, and Justice. It made a nice motto.
The Council calmed down, waiting for her to speak. She took a deep breath. "I have been thinking about this issue a great deal--"
"What issue?" demanded Kenduff, God of Rocks, loudly. His protests were quickly taken up by the others. "There is no issue--they have broken the Law."
"How many times," Celebria said, very quiet, "will they have to pay for what they did?"
There was a sudden drop in conversations as the Council strained to hear what she was saying. Amai and Kerlan both looked up to her, as she stood. "How many times," she repeated, her voice still quiet, and solemn, "will they suffer for a mistake?"
The Council squirmed.
"It's Law," someone protested, feebly.
"It is. But we disbanded the Elders because we were tired of being bound by tradition. We were tired of having no alternatives. And yet you would have us lay down punishments which do not fit the crime simply because..." Celebria trailed off, but Kerlan and Amai finished the sentence for her.
"Because that's the way it's always been done."
The Council exchanged glances with each other, unnerved and confused.
"If we do not enforce the Law, what purpose do we serve?" asked Seadra, Goddess of Kelp, timidly.
Kerlan got to his feet. "Who creates the Laws?"
"The Creator," the assembly replied in unison.
"Who carries out the punishments?" Kerlan continued.
"The... Creator..." the crowd replied again, most seeing where the god was heading with his demonstration.
"If the Creator creates the Laws, and the Creator carries out the punishments, then wouldn't it be safe to say that the Creator enforces the Laws?" Kerlan summed it up for those who hadn't followed along.
"Then what is our purpose?" Seadra asked again, and those around her rallied.
"Yes, Celebria, what is our purpose? You seem to have the answers!"
"Kerlan does anyway."
"Maybe it runs in the family--"
"Silence!" Amai roared, startling everyone. She looked to her left. "Celebria?"
"Thank you." Celebria dipped her head in response. "My friends, the answer came to me last night. I was tired, and frustrated, and angry. And I asked myself who I could turn to... turn to for guidance. And that's when I realised that our purpose, the Council's purpose, is to provide guidance for matters which are unclear. We are not the Elders; we do not hold the ultimate decisions in our hands. We were never meant to.
"When did the Creator decide to hold a Council? When the Elders proved themselves corrupt and unable to properly advise the Omniverse. But what have we been doing, friends? Have we been upholding the Creator's wishes? Or have we been setting ourselves up as the new Elders?" She took a deep breath, shivering a little as she did so.
"It makes a nice argument, it does," Kenduff grumbled out loud, "but what does it really mean? The Elders were judges--"
"Judge, jury and executioners, as the need arose," Kerlan interrupted, leaning back in his chair, his arms crossed. "Are you proposing we do the same thing?"
"But it's not the same thing at all!" Seadra protested. "I believe what Celebria's saying. I think we all do."
"I do, at least."
"She's right, couldn't have said it better myself."
The deities' comments rang out, simultaneously. Celebria cleared her throat. "Please continue, Seadra."
Seadra looked nervous. "I believe you, Celebria, I really do. Except for one thing. Except for... this isn't a gray area. This isn't something ambiguous. This is something in the Law, written down. No unsanctioned children. Rayden and Hiko had one. Therefore, they should suffer the consequences." This was met with muted cheering; while most still seemed to favour Seadra's side, a minority was growing doubtful.
"It's interesting that you should say it that way," Kerlan mused, and the assembly quieted itself, recognising one of the god's round-about arguments coming. "'Suffer the consequences'. Do you know Rayden and Hiko, Seadra? Really know them, not just know of them?"
"No," she stammered, growing worried.
"Hmm. I do. So does Celebria. We've known Rayden since we were kids. I've seen him through good and bad--but mostly bad. And the majority of his troubles started when he and Hiko were forced to be apart. And Hiko--let's not forget the miserable life she endured, with Cosmos, apparently to spare Rayden harm. I'd say that they suffered already, thanks to Nova being unsanctioned. And lest we not forget, she was only unsanctioned thanks to Thunder's meddling." He shook his head. The details of the story had been told to him by Sonya, who was now free to share the secret, since Nova's patronage was common knowledge; the sordid little tale spread like wildfire through the Omniverse, greatly cementing Thunder's position as a corrupt Elder.
Kerlan noticed that all the eyes of the Council were on him; he allowed a small smile. "Celebria and I are very sure about this issue: we both think that Rayden and Hiko have 'suffered the consequences' of their actions many times over. And--" here the smile broadened, "--I do believe that the Creator agrees with us."
There was a shocked gasp from the Council.
Celebria took over. "If the Creator did not think that Rayden and Hiko deserved to be together, would the Creator have raised them from the dead in order to let them do so? If the Creator was so displeased with Nova, why did the Creator let her live, grow up, support the Omniverse in its time of need? Why not just wink her out of existence, if she was such a blight in the Creator's eye?"
Seadra got to her feet again. She attracted the stares of many around her. The former minority had, with Celebria's final fact in place, grown into the solid majority. "Lady Celebria," she stammered, trying to calm herself down, "if the Creator approved, then why did the Creator fashion the Law in the first place?"
"Because the Creator, unlike, say, the Elders, does not live by the letter of the Law," Celebria replied, calmly, a sparkle in her eyes, her confidence growing as her support did. "The Laws are meant to be there, but they are not to be the be-all and end-all of existence. Unsanctioned children are still a threat. They are still against the Law. The problem with Rayden and Hiko's case is not the Law, it is the enforcement. The Law is not to blame; we are.
"Do we use the same ruler to measure everyone by, as the Elders would have us do? 'If it was true in Lord Aldric's time, then it must be true now' is a useless bit of nonsense. We all know that. No one would argue that it was true-but it is true. We are living by that principle. And we will continue to, unless we choose to stop following useless traditions. If we choose, instead, to emulate the Creator, we can take each case individually, separately, and make an accurate decision based on each situation. Not on what Lord Rivus thought was the best solution, but what we think is the best solution."
She sat down, and Seadra remained standing for a moment, trembling, then she too sat, dejectedly. At once, a great cheer rose among the ranks, and the deities got to their feet, clapping. Celebria acknowledged it with a dip of her head. Amai waved for the cheering to die down.
"It just remains for us to put this new policy in effect," Kerlan said dryly. "I think we should start with Rayden and Hiko."
The Council exchanged murmurs and whispers.
"They are married," one god admitted.
"They have been faithful to each other."
"Nova was an exceptional sort of goddess anyway."
"Let them go!" Kenduff yelled, and this was immediately taken up on all sides.
Celebria, Kerlan and Amai all sighed with relief. Celebria and Kerlan hugged, briefly; he was stunned to see that she was crying. It was an unusual gesture, but she managed to keep herself under wraps so well that only he and one other person noticed it.
But Celebria wasn't the only person restraining herself to keep from crying.
Seadra, Goddess of Kelp and betrothed of Staryu, sat in her chair, dwarfed by those standing around her. She sat quietly, tears running down her face, with her hands resting on the round of her stomach.
At last the cheers began to die down, and the assembly managed to contain itself. Celebria, surreptitiously wiping her tears away with her palm, looked to Kerlan and nodded. He returned the nod, and closed his eyes.
Hiko? Rayden? If you could join us now, please.
There was a slight delay, and then a crackle as a portal formed, ringed with white, the signature of the God of Thunder. He stepped out, a woman following closely behind him, holding his hand.
But the person holding his hand wasn't Hiko.
Hiko stepped out of her own portal, ringed with orange and red, alone, and on the opposite side of the floor than Rayden's portal. Silently, she ignored his glance and turned her attention to the trio before her. "You have reached a decision?" she asked, loudly, keeping her voice as steady as she could.
"We have," Celebria announced, standing up. She took a deep breath. "The Council has decided that... that you and Rayden are free to do as you wish. You have done nothing which we can hold you responsible for. If the Creator is displeased, then the Creator will simply have to deal with it." She sat back down, triumphant, but her smile of victory did not last long.
Hiko bowed, very deeply, sighing with relief. Then she teleported away, without another word.
Ripples of whispers burst out among the deities. What was Hiko doing? Why did she leave without Rayden? And what was he doing with that goddess in black robes?
Rahne clutched Rayden's arm, noticing the glares centred on her, feeling the negative attention. "Rayden, I want to leave," she whispered, fearfully.
"I'll just be a moment," he replied, under his breath. He turned to the Leader of the Council. "Celebria, thank you for dealing with this matter."
She nodded, clearly wanting to discuss the social situation but unwilling to do so under the present circumstances. "It was my pleasure, Rayden. Justice will be done."
"Hey," Amai teased.
Celebria grinned. "Sorry. I'll change that to 'truth will be served'."
Rayden laughed along with the others, but he stepped back, to stand next to Rahne. She created a portal, ducking through it, and he paused for a moment to look around the crowd, and then he too disappeared.
The murmuring increased as each Immortal tried to reason out an explanation. The only one not whispering out loud, in confusion, was the reigning Queen of Gossip. Celebria sat, very still, and very quiet, with only a puzzled explanation on her face.
Hiko reappeared on the beach. For a moment she just stood, seething, facing out towards the endless blue ocean, the wide sky. She took a deep breath. And another. Deep breathing didn't seem to be helping at all.
I saw what I think I saw, right? No one can say I'm reading too much into it now...
"Mama?" Hichan inquired, coming up behind her, still dressed in her red-and-white bathing suit. "Mama? Back now?" She tugged on her mother's robes. "Stay here? No leave?"
"Yes, I'm back, I won't go anywhere," Hiko promised, picking the toddler up, even though she was covered in wet sand. Hiko hugged her tightly. Normally this caused Hichan to squirm and try and jump down, but now she simply leaned into the embrace and returned it whole-heartedly. Hiko wiped a smudge of sand from her daughter's face. "I promise, I won't ever leave you."
"Good," Hichan replied, with a sigh of relief.
Suddenly a jolt of energy ran through the two goddesses, causing them both to shiver unexpectedly. Hichan started to cry. Hiko held her tighter, anxiously; she knew what that shiver meant.
Black Robes was nearby.
She looked around herself, worried, her aura flaring around her and her daughter. There was no one else on the sandy, pristine beach.
"Show yourself!" she yelled. "I know you're here!"
He stepped sideways into view, from outside of reality. She knew the move well, from Jikan Tai. "How could you tell it was me?" he asked, innocently enough, until he raised his hands.
Pain ripped through Hiko and she screamed, falling to one knee. Hichan wailed, but her mother kept the grip on her.
"Give Hichan to me," he snarled, taking a step forward. "Now."
"No," Hiko replied, as a wave of fire leapt out in front of her. He cried out, arms rising to his face to protect him, as the flame washed over him. Panting, he created a shield at the last moment; the fire dissipated in the air.
He looked at her, momentarily alarmed by the strength of her powers; but then the mask slipped back into place and he glared at her, furiously.
"I declare my Realm hostile to--" Hiko faltered. How could she say the spell if she didn't know his name? "To... to everyone!"
That did the trick; Black Robes screamed and staggered backwards. Unfortunately there was a hideous side-effect: Hichan. The child wailed, her colour draining away as she too lost her ability to function in the Realm.
"Hichan!" Hiko cried, distraught, trying revive her daughter as the child slipped unconscious, unable to deal with the stress. "I declare my Realm... unhostile!"
Hichan wailed again, faintly, but the colour was returning to her cheeks, and she was starting to come around. Hiko sighed heavily with relief, still on her knees, cradling the little girl.
She didn't even notice Black Robes until his foot connected with her head.
She tumbled forward, Hichan spilling from her arms. The girl screamed, partially trapped under her unconscious mother. Black Robes stood over her, still breathing heavily from the effects of the temporary ban. He grabbed Hiko by the back of her collar and lifted her off the ground and then rolled her to the side.
Hichan was too frightened to move; she went limp as he picked her up by the straps of her bathing suit.
"Well, Hichan, we meet again," he said, pseudo-pleasantly. "And under such wonderful circumstances."
Hichan whimpered, trying to squirm away from him.
"Oh no, you're not going anywhere," he replied. "I thought that I was simply going to kill you, but I think I might use you as bait instead, to get the Guardian. As much as I want you dead, Lady, I would also like to be able to go home." He shook her, enjoying her squall of protest. "I can kill you later. It can wait."
He heard a groan coming from the sand at his feet. It was Hiko, starting to wake up. He kicked her, hard, in the ribs, and she rolled away, moaning. He held Hichan under his arm, against his side, and she kicked at him furiously, but her tiny blows did nothing more than irritate him. He lashed out at her mother in retaliation.
"I suppose if I kill you too, that will help things even more," he mused, out loud, to the goddess.
"Why?" she muttered, rolling and missing the next savage kick. "What have we got to do with you?"
"Awake are we?" he observed. "We'll have to remedy that, I suppose."
He raised his free arm, but Hiko made a slight gesture with one hand; a wall of fire leapt around her, a shield strong enough to hold him at bay and he knew it. He growled at her.
"You can't hold me off forever," he snapped.
"And you are not getting Hichan," she retorted, slowly raising herself to her feet. It was clear the blow to the head was effecting her equilibrium; she was woozy.
"I already have Hichan," he reminded her, squeezing the child to hear her cry out. "Perhaps I should just kill her now."
Hiko glared at him, and clicked her fingers. In a flash of light, Hichan was suddenly in her arms, and clutching her tightly.
"What? How did you do that?" he cried, startled.
"I've had a lot of practice," she replied, dryly. "Tell me why you want her. You want to go home--perhaps there's another way to do that without hurting anyone."
"Hichan is the reason why I'm here!" he roared, indignantly. "I have to kill her--then my future won't be ruined by her!" He took a fighting position. "I won't stop until I finish my mission, to restore the lives of my family, lives which she ruined!"
Hiko took a step backwards. She couldn't defend herself against his physical attacks and protect Hichan at the same time. "Mama?" Hichan whimpered, fearfully. "Need help?"
"I'll handle it," Hiko said, confidently. "I'll protect you."
Mama needs help, Hichan thought, silently, as her mother faced off against the angry stranger. Daddy could help. Daddy!
The mental cry, which normally brought her father to her instantly, failed. It hit some sort of wall. Hichan whimpered. Daddy wasn't going to help. But who else would?
Rahne! Rahne said, she help me. Help, Rahne, help!
Help, Rahne, help!
The goddess leapt to her fee, the chair spilling over.
"What?" Rayden cried, startled. "What is it--?"
Rahne teleported away.
Hiko screamed as his kick caught her in the side, and she staggered over, still protecting Hichan. He was braving her fire walls, and she couldn't retaliate without dropping her daughter--which was something she would never do.
He paused for a moment, catching his breath, and then he jumped forwards again, executing another spinning kick. Hiko tried to duck, but she miscalculated, and again his heel connected with her temple, and she fell to the ground, groaning. Not unconscious, but not able to fight either.
"Got you," Black Robes crowed, victoriously. He stepped forward when there was suddenly a crackle and a portal formed over his head.
Rahne dropped through, sending him crashing to the ground. She rolled with the impact, into a crouch, waiting to see what he would do.
He struggled to get to his feet. "You again!"
"Where Hichan is, I am," Rahne confirmed. "I'm ready to fight for her. Are you?"
He staggered backwards. Hiko was still awake, able to make fire walls, although she was in no shape to fight. But Rahne was another story. He knew she was more than willing to take him on. He took another step backwards. "I will fulfill my mission, I will kill Hichan, I will avenge our stolen lives!" Then he disappeared, without a portal, stepping through the frame of reality.
"Rahne," Hichan acknowledged with relief. She was beside her mother, tugging on the fabric by her shoulder, trying to get the goddess to get up.
Rahne crouched down. "Lady Hiko," she said, softly. "You're badly hurt. Take down the shields, so that Medicalis can heal you."
"No," Hiko whispered, trying to get up, but not managing to even lift herself up by her arms. She lay back in the sand, exhausted, hurt. "No, I can't go back."
"Lady," Rahne repeated, pulling Hichan away, despite the girl's protests. "You can go back. The door will always be left open for you."
Hiko turned her head away, ashamed. "I can't go back. Not after the things I've said..."
Rahne was silent for a moment, cradling Hichan on one knee.
"Mama," the girl whispered. "please be better."
"I'm trying, Hichan," Hiko replied, almost laughing, but her smile faltered and her eyes fluttered. "By the Creator, I am so tired."
"If you will not leave the Realm, then at least let me take you to your House here," Rahne said, at last. "You need to rest."
Hiko didn't reply, which Rahne took to mean that the fire goddess agreed. Taking her limp hand, Rahne grabbed onto the image of Subaquaritum from Hiko's mind, and teleported them all away, off the beach.
Hichan hovered by the bed, distressed at her sleeping mother's pain, and by the simple fact that she was unable to help. "Rahne," she said, trying not to cry, "Do something."
"There is nothing I can do, small Lady," Rahne replied, softly. "I am not a Healer, and no Healer can get in."
"Mama makes me better, when me hurt," Hichan informed her, in a whisper. "You make Mama better, less hurt."
"I wish I could, small Lady." Rahne got to her feet, and held out her hand. "Come, we should let her rest."
Unsure, Hichan took Rahne's hand, and they teleported away.
"Beach," Hichan said, listlessly. "Too hot."
"It is the only other place I know of," Rahne admitted. "I do not know this Realm at all."
"Trees," Hichan pointed out, gesturing. "Cooler."
Rahne obligingly picked her up and headed over to the palms that fringed the white sands, and sat in the shadows cast there. "It is cooler," she admitted, with a sigh, her back against the trunk. Hichan leaned against her, and together they sat, enjoying the breeze off the ocean, and the sound of the wind in the frondy tree tops.
"I don't know!" Rayden raged, pacing back and forth. Sonya and Meimei both watched him from their places at the table. They had been researching more about The Storm--not that they had been at all successful--when he had shown up and began yelling about Rahne disappearing and Hiko's ignoring his apologies.
"Rayden, calm down," Meimei said, calmly. She was used to his tempers. When he passed close enough to her, she laid her hand on his arm. He reluctantly stopped pacing.
"How can you tell me to calm down?" he exclaimed.
"Because you're frightening the other patrons of the Hall of Records," Meimei replied succinctly. He looked around at the startled stares of the other, scattered deities. Sheepishly, he sat down.
"I'm just worried," he admitted.
"We can tell," Sonya observed dryly.
"I don't know what's happening," he continued, morosely. "Rahne seemed so upset--perhaps something has happened to Hichan, but with this shield up I can't tell--"
"Rayden!" exclaimed someone, jauntily. It was Arnold, God of Lamps, followed by Juanita, Goddess of Heat. "I heard about the results of the hearing--great news!"
"Fantastic," Rayden agreed, deadpan.
Arnold was a little puzzled by the solemn reception. "You and Hiko must be thrilled."
Arnold and Juanita exchanged glances with each other, and then looked to Sonya and Meimei for an explanation; the two goddesses gave them only blank looks in response.
"Well." Arnold started to pull away. "Just thought I'd congratulate you--I guess I'll see you later?"
"I guess so," Rayden agreed, his expression never changing. Both the God of Lamps and his wife teleported away.
"You're terrible," Meimei chided.
Rayden shrugged. "It's habit. I've avoided Arnie for so long I don't think I could open up to him if I wanted to. Not that I want to."
Sonya picked up a scroll. "I was just thinking, Meimei--if Black Robes is the Storm, what would that have to do with Hichan? 'The stream' of the prophecy no doubt refers to--"
"Hello? Personal crisis here?" Rayden interrupted sourly.
The goddess ignored him. "--no doubt refers to the time stream, which explains why he's after Jikan Tai. But Hichan is a mystery."
"It's all a mystery," Meimei sighed. She turned back to her brother. "Rayden, we know that you're having a crisis--"
"But honestly, what do you expect us to do about it?" Sonya finished abruptly, setting the scroll down. "You refuse to listen to advice--"
"Waiting for Hiko to 'cool off' is not advice," he countered.
"You refuse to actually do anything except sit and mope. I've noticed a pattern, here," Sonya continued blithely.
"That doesn't count."
"Of course it does. It's your major trait," she said, imitating the drone of a teacher, no doubt an High School English one. "The character Rayden's fatal flaw is a ferocious temper, which leads him to act out impetuously, and then sit around for days being depressed about his actions but not actually doing anything about them. Write an essay contrasting his actions with anybody at all who's more productive."
Rayden fumed. "I am not moping!"
Professor Blade regarded him coolly. "Here is an excellent example of the aforementioned temper. Please provide alternate examples and explain your answer in complete sentences."
Meimei looked blank. "Who was that supposed to be?" she asked, curiously.
Rayden grumbled. "I am not moping. I can't do anything while she's got her shield up!"
"Force your way in," Sonya replied, picking the scroll back up.
"Force your way in, and while you lie gasping on Maresium sand, your strength ebbing away, tell her how much you love her. Very romantic. Shows you care. Shakespeare used that all the time in his stuff. 'Course the characters killed themselves after, most of the time, but that's nothing to worry about."
He glared at her. "That's a lovely thought." He got to his feet, irritated. "Thanks for your help," he added, sarcastically.
Sonya shrugged, reading over the scroll. "I don't understand why you came to me with your relationship problems. I don't do relationship problems."
"I've noticed," the god retorted. "Maybe I should talk to Johnny, instead."
Sonya's head snapped up. Her eyes narrowed. "There's that character flaw," she warned, quietly.
He glared back at her, and then teleported away.
Meimei sighed and laid her head down on the table. "You two are just infuriating."
Sonya didn't reply.
Hiko groaned, and felt the grip of his hand around her throat. She could barely breathe, she was caught and she knew it. She knew she wouldn't be able to escape him, and it was all her fault that her daughter would suffer too. She wanted to protect her child with all her heart, but she couldn't, no matter how hard she tried.
"No fight left?" he asked, sneering. "I shouldn't have expected so much from you. Now I'm disappointed, Hiko. Perhaps she'll provide more of an amusement..."
"No!" Hiko screamed, with the last strength she had left. "No, leave Nova alone!"
Cosmos simply smiled. She reached out with her fire powers, but he was fading away, out of reach, ready to strike again, at any time...
She woke up with a start, in the dark of her room. It was a dream, it was nightmare, but she was awake now, she was safe...
"Rayden," she murmured, reaching out to touch him, for reassurance, but her hand fell on blanket. His side of the bed was empty. She was alone. And she knew she wasn't dreaming any more.
Rahne woke up with a start, gasping. She looked down, her heart hammering, to see Hichan, lying against her, her blue eyes wide.
"Rahne? Bad dream?" the girl asked.
Rahne nodded. It was slipping away, the images fading until she could no longer see them or remember. But they had terrified her, and the terror remained with her still. "But it was just a dream."
Hichan snuggled against her. "Me have bad dream too," she sniffled. "That me never see Daddy again. Me cry and cry, but he never come back."
Rahne wrapped her arms around the girl, comfortingly. "I am sure you'll see him again, small Lady." Something choked her; would she ever see her own father again? She could have seen him already, and not known it. She couldn't even bring up any faint memories of her father. There was a faint residual image of her mother, running from the clouds, and that terrible fear, but that was it.
She must have shown her thoughts on her face, because Hichan hugged her tighter. "Rahne, you go home too, soon," she said, the only comforting advice she could think of. "See own Daddy."
"I wish I could," Rahne whispered. "But I don't know who he is."
"Your Mama knows," Hichan replied, with the straight-forward wisdom of a three-year-old.
"I don't know who she is, either," Rahne said, sadly. She was trying not to cry, but her eyes were filling with tears. She blinked and it slipped out, trailing down her cheek. "I don't even know who I am, small Lady."
"You Rahne," Hichan replied simply, puzzled. "You Rahne. You always be Rahne. Even when you grown-up, you still Rahne. Still same person as before."
Rahne looked down at her. "Pardon?"
"You Rahne, me Hichan. Even when me big, me still be Hichan. Me never change," the girl replied. "Me Goddess of Lightning, and me always Goddess of Lightning. You something too, and you always that something."
The Wise Lady's words came back. Your Role does not stem from memory; it is who you are, and that will never change, Rahne.
"I just need to remember," Rahne whispered, her eyes narrowed as she looked out to something only she could see. "Once I remember who I am, everything else will be clear. Is that it, Wise Lady? Is that what you meant?"
"No, me meant that--" Hichan scratched her head. "Me not sure."
Rahne smiled, and hugged her again. "It's all right, Hichan, I understand what you're saying. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Hichan said with a yawn, laying her head back down against Rahne's chest.
There was a knock at the door. Celebria, Kerlan and Amai looked up, simultaneously.
"Come in," Celebria called.
The heavy wooden door swung open, and Seadra, Goddess of Kelp, stepped in. She was very hesitant, and shy. "Madame Celebria."
Celebria was startled at the address; no one ever called her that except when a) she was being announced in her official capacity as Leader of the Council, or b) when Kerlan was being sarcastic.
"Seadra?" she got to her feet. "Can I help you with something? What's wrong?"
Seadra seemed hesitant to answer, and so Kerlan motioned to Amai and they both excused themselves, slipping out the door. Celebria led the anxious goddess to one of the vacated chairs. "Would you like some nectar? We were just celebrating..."
Seadra shook her head. "No thank you, Madame Celebria."
"You don't have to call me that," the goddess replied, kindly.
Seadra shook her head again violently, as though she was protesting the whole situation. "I need to tell you something... but I'm not sure if I can, or not."
Celebria sat back in her own chair, regarding Seadra carefully. The way the goddess sat, the way she walked, her entire demeanor spoke volumes. Not to mention, the way she had argued so vehemently at the hearing. "You're pregnant."
Seadra's head whipped up in horror, the colour draining from her face. She started to get up, but Celebria waved her back down. "I won't do anything," she promised. "What's there to be frightened of? You're betrothed."
"As of this week," Seadra confirmed. "However..."
"Ah." Celebria nodded, solemnly. Now everything else made sense. "I see."
Seadra ducked her head. "I'm so ashamed. I haven't told anyone, but Staryu, that is, but I'm sure people have guessed by now--you have--"
"I have long years of experience," Celebria noted dryly, which brought a shy smile to Seadra's face.
"You were the first one to know about Staryu and me in the first place," Seadra admitted.
"I know everything that goes on," Celebria said proudly. Then she faltered. "Well... maybe not everything, but definitely most things. A lot, anyway."
Seadra smiled again. She was obviously trying to fight back tears. "I just don't know what I'm going to do," she whispered. "I'm so frightened, and so ashamed..."
"Don't do anything," Celebria said, very firmly. "Trust me on this--you have nothing to be ashamed about. You're betrothed, so the child will definitely be sanctioned. Besides, I told you already that the Creator doesn't just smite you down for making mistakes..." She paused. "That's it, isn't it?"
"I have to go," Seadra said, suddenly, growing very red in the face with embarrassment. "I said I'd meet Staryu in the Bar. I only meant to stay a few moments, anyway."
"Seadra, wait--" Celebria started to get up, to stop her.
"Thank you for your advice, Madame Celebria," Seadra continued, ducking outside the door. She was gone.
Celebria sat down, defeated. Okay, you can come back now.
Kerlan and Amai teleported in, both curious.
"What was that all about?" the goddess asked, picking her glass of nectar back up.
Celebria leaned back, deliberating. "Seadra's pregnant."
"That's wonderful!" Amai exclaimed. Something seemed to occur to her. "Wait--"
"Exactly." Celebria sighed. "She's not in any trouble, it's Staryu's and anyway, she's betrothed, but she's so worked up about it--"
"Hold it, hold it," Kerlan interrupted. "You've got to be wrong. Don't go making up stuff like this. Why would she be pregnant and fighting against Hiko and Rayden? She'd understand their position better than the rest of us."
Celebria grumbled. "I know because I figured it out." Her friend and her brother looked dubious. "And because she told me."
"Ah," Amai and Kerlan said, with understanding.
Celebria glared at them. "I can't believe you would think I would make up something like this--of all the nerve--"
Kerlan held up a hand. "Cel. Seadra, remember?"
She grumbled, and fussed with her hair. "I know, I know. It's just that... I think Seadra's guilt over the whole thing made her go a little crazy--she was paranoid that someone was going to find out about her and do the same thing to her that might have happened to Rayden and Hiko."
"So if she was going to suffer, they should too?" Amai summed it up succinctly. "Nice. I didn't realise Seadra was so vengeful."
Celebria shook her head. "She's not, I think the stress of knowing something like that and having to hide made her a little--" She pitched forward, violently, clutching her head.
"Cel!" Kerlan exclaimed, leaping forward to catch her before she fell onto the ground. "Cel--it's the link again, isn't it?"
Celebria screamed in desperation, clawing at her face. Amai held her hands away while Kerlan concentrated on breaking the link. It took a long moment, and Kerlan wasn't sure if he could protect his sister at all, but then the link broke and Celebria snapped back into herself, gasping with the terror, shaking with the fear.
"I was running, I was going to get left behind," she sobbed, in Kerlan's arms. "I couldn't keep up, don't leave me--"
"It's all right," he soothed, exchanging a quick glance with Amai, who nodded and got to her feet. "It's all right, no one is going to leave you."
"I'm--was--so frightened," Celebria continued, as Amai teleported away. "I couldn't keep up, and they were going to get me--"
"Who?" Kerlan asked, in a whisper. "Who was going to get you?"
Celebria blinked, sniffling. "I--" she faltered. "I can't remember... it's slipping away..."
A portal flickered open and Amai stepped back out, followed very closely by Medicalis, who seemed anxious to move past her. "Celebria?" he asked, kneeling by her side, placing a hand on her head. "Another vision?"
She nodded, weakly. "I don't understand why the Creator keeps sending me these visions--" She sighed as Medicalis sent her healing energy, just a touch, to help her calm down. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it," he replied, briskly. Now that she was no longer in any danger, his attitude was shifting from concern to coolness. "Just try and rest. I know you can't do anything about these visions, so just make sure your energy levels stay up, so that you can deal with them better. All right?"
She nodded, silent.
"Thank you, Medicalis," Kerlan said. The God of Doctors nodded, sharply, and then got to his feet.
"I'm wanted back at the Hospital, I'll see you later," he said, just before he teleported away.
"What's gotten into him?" Celebria asked, puzzled, getting back into her own chair.
Amai and Kerlan looked mystified. "Isn't he always like that?" the goddess asked. "He always is with me, anyway."
"Hmm," Celebria replied, non-committal.
Kerlan cleared his throat. "Getting back to the visions... have you done your scries?"
His sister nodded. "But they didn't turn up anything. Just blank. The Creator isn't willing to tell me anything at all about why I'm getting them."
Kerlan blinked. "Maybe that's it."
"What's it?" Amai asked, beating Celebria to it.
"Maybe the Creator isn't sending you the visions at all. You said the first visions were of trees... clouds?" he asked.
Celebria nodded, squinting as she tried to remember exactly what she had seen. "Yes, and a woman, with a fan--and someone named--oh, what was the name, Tài something--"
Kerlan looked thoughtful. "The images I saw in Rahne's mind were of trees, clouds, and an indistinct woman--the Wise Lady. I think there's a connection."
Celebria blinked. "Why would I be seeing inside Rahne's head?"
Kerlan opened his mouth to reply, and then closed it, looking blank. "I... don't know."
"That clears that up," Amai muttered, taking a swig of her nectar.
Rahne took a deep breath, not wanting to go to sleep, but she was very tired in the heat of Maresian sun. Hichan was dozing fitfully, lying against Rahne's chest. The girl would whimper every few moments and wake herself up.
I've got to convince Hiko to let her shields down, if only for Hichan's sake, the goddess thought, tiredly. Hichan needed her father around.
Something tickled at the back of her mind, and she bolted upright, startling Hichan in the process, who started to cry. Reflexively Rahne hugged her, comforting her, but at the same time she was tense and straining to sense what was around her. It was him, she knew it.
"Hichan, I'm going to take you to your mother," she whispered in the little girl's ear. Hiko might not yet be awake, but Rahne wasn't sure if she could battle him and carry the child at the same time.
"No, Rahne," Hichan whispered back, clutching in fear. "Don't leave. Please?"
"I won't, not if I can help it," Rahne assured her. "But I need to fight him, and not worry about you at the same time. Do you understand?"
Hichan nodded, still frightened. Rahne got to her feet, the child on her hip. "I'll take you to--"
The burst of energy struck her mid-section and she screamed, flying forwards, Hichan screaming and dropping from her grip. Rahne tumbled down to the sand, clutching her side. She looked over her shoulder. He stood there, scowling, watching her with distaste.
"I will complete my mission," he said, very simply. "I will kill Hichan."
Hichan, too terrified to cry, clutched at Rahne's arm, trying to help her up.
"Hichan, scream," Rahne said, very simply, urgently. Hichan, puzzled, didn't understand.
"Oh no you don't," he replied, grasping what Rahne meant to accomplish. He lunged for Hichan, but Rahne blocked his way, and they tumbled to the ground, sand spraying in all directions.
"Scream, Hichan!" Rahne yelled, rolling out from under him and away, scrambling to her feet.
Hichan started to cry, unsure of what Rahne wanted or what was expecting of her. He growled, and feinted at Rahne; as she set herself up to block him, he whirled around and leapt at Hichan again. This time Rahne couldn't defend her; he grabbed on to her, tightly, and picked her up.
The two goddesses stared in horror, Rahne ashamed because she hadn't seen his move coming and Hichan because she knew he would hurt her.
She started to cry. "Stop that!" he commanded harshly, shaking her roughly. That was her final breaking point; she screamed as loud as she could, terrified as she could be.
Just as instantly, there was a sudden burst of heat, and light.
A plume of fire materialised on the beach, then became a panicked Hiko, ready to defend her child. He scowled, backing up, but Hiko summed up the situation instantly, and snapped her fingers. Again Hichan appeared in her arms, sobbing now with relief. Rahne was on her feet, and the two adult goddesses stared him down.
He backed up, knowing that he was unable to beat them both. "I will be back, I assure you of that," he roared, before he disappeared in a black portal. Rahne started to follow him, but then she gasped and fell to one knee, her hands clutching her side, where his energy had hit her. She was gasping.
"Rahne!" Hichan cried, straining to reach her, before she stopped and turned to her mother. "Make Rahne better!"
"I can't," Hiko replied, worriedly, still weak herself. She was shaking as the panic wore off, leaving her even more tired than before. "But... but I can lower the shield and teleport her back to Earth, to let her recover."
Rahne looked up, startled. "Does that mean--?"
"No," Hiko replied, shaking her head. "I'm not going back, not if it means putting Hichan in danger again."
"She's in danger here!" Rahne cried, gritting her teeth against the wave of pain as she tried to stand up. "I'm not leaving her, and if she's staying here, then so am I."
"If she's here, then at least I know what's happening to her!" Hiko snapped, close to tears, as was Hichan. "If she's raised around mortals, who knows what could happen to her?"
Rahne blinked back tears of her own. "Are you willing to risk Hichan's life over your fears?" she growled. "If she stays here, you can't protect her forever, and I can't either. I'm already losing my energy in this Realm. At least let Rayden in, to help you both. You know he wouldn't hurt you or Hichan."
Hiko was silent. Hichan pulled on her sleeves. "Mama," she whispered, sadly. "Want Daddy. Please?"
"I won't let her grow up like Nova," Hiko responded, her voice barely audible.
"But isn't that what you're doing?" Rahne prompted. "Making her live without her father?"
The simple statement was like a slap in the face and Hiko actually took a step backwards. "How do you know about that?"
"Rayden told me." Rahne sat down, sighing with relief that she didn't have to keep straining. "He's told me a lot about what happened."
Hiko held Hichan, looking down at her, sadly. Hichan reached up and touched her mother's face. "Mama, please?"
Hiko paused for a moment, and then nodded. There was a slight pop noise, and then the trio of goddesses teleported away.
For a moment, Rayden thought he could hear something, almost as though Hichan was calling to him. But he wasn't sure. He tried to reach out to her, but he hit the wall that Hiko had created around Maresium.
Sadly, he withdrew, and decided to go to the Bar for a drink.
"Sit down," Naturalis ordered, sternly. His listless older brother followed the command and sat himself down on the stool, by the Bar. Kerlan was no where in sight; Marie, a mortal from Thrihyrne, was tending in his place.
"The usual?" she asked, pouring them each a glass of nectar. She asked that every time that she poured a drink, and seemed to find it very amusing. It was some sort of mortal joke, Naturalis surmised; there wasn't anything else to drink.
"What am I here for?" Medicalis asked, with a heavy sigh, staring down into the nectar. "I've got stuff to take care of in the Hospital."
Naturalis was strumming his fingers on the bar top. "You need a talking to, Medi."
His brother lifted his head. "What? What are you talking about? And what are you waiting for?"
Suddenly self-conscious, Naturalis stopped drumming his fingers; he picked up his glass instead. "Logicalis."
"Why's Logi coming?" Medi looked blank.
"I told you. You need a talking to." Naturalis drained the glass. "Fill us up, please, Marie."
"Of course," Marie answered, pleasantly.
A portal opened at the far end of the bar, and Logicalis strode out, looking impatient. Naturalis waved him over. The God of Logic sat himself down next to Medi.
"I hear you need a talking to," he said, without preamble.
Medicalis grumbled. "Logi, the last thing I need is a talking to from my littlest brother."
Logicalis mumbled in return. "Don't call me that. I hate that nickname, I always have."
Medicalis and Naturalis exchanged a grin. "That's why we call you it, Logi," Medi replied, ruffling Logicalis' immaculately groomed black hair.
"Hey! Quit that!" he snapped, a hand flying to his head.
"Boys," Marie called out, her back to them, but they got the hint, and calmed down.
"We were just teasing," Naturalis explained.
"You were always just teasing," Logicalis grumbled. "You'd think you'd let me have some dignity in life."
"Why should you get any?" Medicalis suddenly remarked, soured, downing his glass.
Logicalis and Naturalis exchanged glances. "Ah."
"Women," Naturalis added.
"Ah," Logicalis repeated, this time with more feeling. "Medi's finally got his eye on someone?"
"Nope," Medicalis replied, succinctly.
"Celebria," Naturalis supplied, over his eldest brother's head.
"I do not 'have my eye' on Celebria," he grouched, slouching farther over as he sank into his gloom.
"Boys," came Marie's voice from over the Bar. She may have been a mere mortal but she was a mere mortal with control over their nectar supply. They calmed down.
"So, why aren't you going after Celebria?" Logicalis asked, after Marie had moved on. "She's unattached."
"That's what I've been saying," Naturalis concurred.
"Except," Medi began, sourly, and regretfully, "that's she not unattached at all." He downed the remains of his drink and hissed from the surprise. He set the glass back down and slid it out of his way.
Logicalis and Naturalis were in shock. "What... are you talking about? Celebria's not married."
"No, she's not," Medi agreed. "But she's still attached. To Rayden."
Logicalis blinked a few times. "What?"
Naturalis had the same reaction. "Rayden and Celebria--are--?"
"No, no," Medi said quickly, with a sigh. "No, no. Rayden's very happy with Hiko, as far as I know. But Celebria... she's still hung up on him."
"I know that she was interested in him when they were younger, before the Kombats ever started," Naturalis said, thoughtfully. "But I thought she'd given up on him."
"Apparently not," Medicalis replied, dryly. He paused. "I thought she had, too. But then I saw her expression at the Hearing... she was crying, crying because she was so happy for him, that she could help him, protect him. And the way she talks about him..." He scowled. "She's over him and I'm the Creator incarnate."
"This is not good," Logicalis summed up. "Does she know how you feel?"
Medicalis regarded his youngest brother with pity. "Because I haven't told her, you idiot."
Logicalis bristled. "I may not know what's going on all the time, but I still managed to get married."
Medicalis gritted his teeth. "It's not the be-all and end-all, you know."
"Okay, stop it," Naturalis commanded, before Marie had a chance to intervene. "This isn't getting anywhere."
"Where are we supposed to be going, anyway?" Medicalis asked him.
"Ideally--you will be going to tell Celebria how you feel. She may only be still hooked on Rayden because she doesn't realise there's any one else," Naturalis mused.
Logicalis nodded. "When Frieya started looking for a husband--"
"By the Creator, not the Turan story again," Medicalis groaned, loudly.
Logicalis bristled. "It's a very good analogy."
"It's a very boring story. Every single goddess in the Omniverse has had a crush on Turan at one point or another, it doesn't mean anything," he countered.
"I have to agree with Medi on that one, it is a boring story," Naturalis added.
Logicalis started grumbling. He started looking around for his drink, but then remembered he hadn't gotten one yet. He waved Marie over. "I don't see what you want me here for, then."
"To give you something to do?" Medicalis offered, innocently.
Logicalis growled. "I'll have you know--just a small glass, please, Marie--that I have kept myself very busy since leaving the Elders."
"I'm sure," Medi replied, still innocent.
"Stop that," Naturalis commanded. "We're here to solve Medi's problems, not start more."
"It's not a problem," Medicalis snapped. "I'm over her. I've moved on. That's the end of that. It was only a passing fancy, anyway."
Logicalis and Naturalis exchanged glances.
"It was," Medicalis insisted. He sighed, and slouched over far enough that his forehead was resting on the edge of the bar. "Who am I kidding?"
"Yourself," Naturalis supplied, dryly. "I saw you with her at the Festival... you were almost pleasant and charming with her."
"What?" Logicalis exclaimed, startled. "How come I didn't hear about this?"
"Quit it," Medi grumbled, his head still on the edge of the counter.
Naturalis ignored him. He starting talking to Logicalis alone. "You should have seen him... he was polite."
"Polite!" Logicalis repeated, in awe.
"He was mannerly!"
Naturalis nodded, remembering the incident well. "I never would have believed it otherwise, but there he was, being charming and--dare I say it--sweet--"
"Stop it! I can't handle any more!" Logicalis exclaimed. "You're scaring me!"
"Okay, that's enough fun at my expense," Medicalis declared, straightening up.
"It's all true, I swear on the Creator," Naturalis announced. "And there's only one reason why I can think of Medicalis behaving like he did. Well, two. One, that he's gone insane. But the other explanation is..."
"That he's in love with her," Logicalis finished, nodding. "It makes sense."
"It's total nonsense," Medicalis insisted, but a blush was spreading over his face. "Utter and total nonsense."
"If it's nonsense, then why are you blushing?" Logicalis teased.
"Because it's hot in here. Or it's the nectar. That's it, it's the nectar. Yes, I've had too much to drink..." Medicalis trailed off, trying to ignore the looks of his brothers. He sighed and leaned his head against the bar top.
Logicalis bent down. "Go talk to her," he said, quietly, serious. "If you don't, you'll regret it."
"Like you're the marriage expert," Medi grumbled.
"Cecilia and I may not be the most showy of couples, but that doesn't mean we're not happy," Logicalis explained, patiently. "I, for one, would never have changed anything about our relationship. But I nearly didn't have one at all, simply because I was too afraid to tell her."
"The same thing with me and Suyuan," Naturalis added. "And at least you don't have to worry about Thunder being on your back because of it."
"That's true," Medi admitted. He lifted his head up. "It's not like I have anything to lose. Except my dignity, of course."
"Only, if Naturalis is right, you lose that every time you're around her anyway," Logicalis teased.
Medi cast him a withering glare. "Thank you."
Naturalis gave Medi a sharp shove on the shoulder. "Go on, then. No time like the present."
"What? Now?" Medicalis blurted.
"That's what the present usually refers to, yes," Naturalis replied, giving him another shove. "Go on. Tell her. We'll still be here when you get back."
Medicalis got to his feet, uncertain. "I don't know about this..."
"That's why we're telling you. Go on, go." Naturalis and Logicalis made "shoo"ing motions towards the door. Medicalis straightened himself, tugged on his robes to make sure he was presentable, and then created a portal. He hesitated at the last moment, but then stepped through.
"By the Creator, he's got it bad," Logicalis observed.
"I just hope that Celebria lets him down easy," Naturalis added.
The two remaining brothers turned back to the bar, chuckling, joking, reminiscing. Three stools down and across the room, Rayden lifted his head sadly, then dropped it again. He stared down at his drink, thinking.
About Hiko, Hichan, Rahne and Nova. About things that went unsaid for too long. About chances lost.
Sonya had suggested forcing his way through the shield, to tell Hiko, face to face what she meant to him. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. He'd died already for Hiko, what did he have to lose now?
He took the drink and slugged it back, determined. He got to his feet, and started forward, creating a portal. His step-father didn't notice his presence; nor did Logicalis.
Daddy? suddenly resounded in his head. Daddy!
He stopped in his tracks. Hichan?
He heard her squeal in delight. We're home, Daddy, we're home!
He didn't waste a single second, but teleported home, to his family.
"Daddy! Daddy daddy daddy daddy--" Hichan shrieked, running forward towards him. He picked her up and threw her into the air, in a single motion, with sheer joy. She laughed and as he caught her again, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tightly. And he didn't mind at all.
"Daddy," she murmured, happily, kissing his cheek. He squeezed her back, kissing the top of her head, after she rested it against his shoulder, happy and content.
Rahne stood off to the side, beaming, even through her pain. Her wound was healing quickly, just because she was back in her home Realm; it was a dull throb now, and the happiness of the occasion helped to heal her even more.
Hiko stood in the doorway, watching the joyful reunion, smiling slightly, tiredly. Rayden caught her eye, and held her gaze for a long moment, then he stepped over to her.
"Hiko," he said, simply. "I--"
"I'm so sorry," they blurted at the same time, then they both chuckled, relieved and happy. Hichan clapped her hands, and Rayden juggled her onto a better position on his hip, so that he could pull Hiko to him for a kiss. It had been a long time, and both deities had clearly missed it.
Hiko sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm sorry for what I did, what I said," she whispered, resting against him.
"So am I. And I'm sorry for not listening to your concerns about Hichan," he replied, resting cheek to cheek with her. "But we'll come up with something."
"Together," she finished, smiling. He grinned back, and Hichan clapped her hands together again, excited and happy that her parents were no longer apart.
"Daddy," she crowed.
"Yes, Hichan?" he replied, looking down at her with relief.
"Me hungry, Daddy," she told him, tugging on his arm. "Me very hungry."
He laughed. "I think we're all a little hungry, Hichan--"
"No, me very hungry," she interrupted.
"Very hungry? Well, that's a terrible thing. I think I'll make lunch for us all." He looked over to Rahne, who was hovering around, not sure how she fit in, or even if she should. "Would you like to take Hichan, Rahne? Just so I have my hands free?"
Rahne nodded, grateful to have something to do, and she rushed forward. Hichan was not pleased with this turn of events--she preferred to remain with Rayden--and she clung to him fiercely, threatening to cry.
"Small Lady," Rahne chided. "He will still be here, he's not leaving."
"I promise I won't leave again," Rayden agreed, quickly. "But I need to make lunch."
"No, me stay with you," Hichan insisted, rubbing her eyes dry. "On floor? In kitchen?"
"I suppose so." Rayden swung her down, and she remained true to her word, staying glued by his side, clutching onto his trouser leg.
"I think I'm going to get changed into something a little nicer," Hiko announced, suddenly, looking down at her grimy robes. "I haven't been thinking about freshening up, lately." She pulled Rayden over for another kiss--something he did not protest--and then she sailed down the corridor, walking on air. Rayden started to get food out, to make lunch. Hichan was following him, latched on to his trousers, trying not to trip him.
Rahne felt out-of-place and so, as she didn't know how to cook, she decided to see if she could help Lady Hiko, and she hurried off down the corridor after her.
Suddenly, the clouds had parted, the sunshine was streaming in, and Hiko felt better than she could ever remember feeling. All the sadness and despair and anger from the last few days was flying away, lifting from off her shoulders. Yes, she and her husband had a few things to work out. But now that they were together again she was sure she could handle anything. Anything at all. She felt as light as a breeze and twice as cool as she floated into her bedroom.
And she was met with quite a shock.
The bed hadn't been made yet.
And it was quite evidently been slept in by two people.
She stepped back from the doorway, as though she wasn't quite sure she was in the right room. But this was it.
And that was that.
"Lady Hiko!" Rahne called, coming down the corridor after her. "Is something the matter, Lady? Your energy--"
Hiko turned to face her, slowly, the air around her shimmering with the sudden heat. "Rahne."
"Lady Hiko?" the goddess stammered, confused, but knowing the goddess's temper when she saw it. "What is the matter?"
"I'll ask you out right, perhaps there has been a misunderstanding," Hiko continued, carefully, her voice low. "You have been staying here at the Temple?"
"Yes, Lady," Rahne answered, shaking. She was too confused and frightened to move.
"And what have the sleeping arrangements been?" Hiko asked, the air in the corridor blistering hot.
"I--I've been sleeping with Rayden," Rahne answered truthfully, starting to back up.
Hiko's eyes narrowed.
"No, no peanut butter," Hichan informed him, with a tug. He looked down at her.
"I thought you liked peanut butter."
"No like it now," she informed him, as though it was painfully obvious.
"Oh, I see," he replied, with exaggerated patience. "So what would you like to eat?"
"What you eating?" she asked, looking up.
"Then me have soup too," she replied, firmly.
"But you don't like soup," he pointed out.
"Me have soup," she repeated, exasperated with how clueless Daddy was being lately.
"Okay, okay, you can have soup," he agreed, giving in. He'd make her a peanut butter sandwich as well, for when she remembered that she didn't like soup, and did like peanut butter. He sighed, heavily, fixing the sandwich, when he noticed how warm it was getting.
Hichan tugged again on his trouser leg. "Daddy," she whimpered. "Daddy, bad hot."
"It is getting very warm," he agreed, when the wave of anger from Hiko hit him, soundly and fiercely. He almost staggered, and Hichan started to cry, when Rahne backed up into the kitchen, trying to fend someone off.
That someone was the Goddess of Fire, and she was in full flame as she appeared in the kitchen. "I thought we could work everything out," she roared to her husband. "But it appears you had everything worked out before I came back!"
"What? What are you talking about?" Rayden moved to put Hichan behind him. He wasn't letting her go again, and she wasn't minding the protection.
"I know," Hiko said, her voice dripping with malice. "I know, about you--and her!" The finger first pointed at Rayden, and then swung over to rest on Rahne, who cowered.
"Know about what?" Rayden said, trying to placate her. "We haven't been doing anything."
"Like hell!" Hiko snapped. "I'm gone for not even a week, and already you find someone to replace me?"
"I could never find any one to replace you," he said, simply.
The truth and conviction behind the statement startled Hiko for a quarter-second; but she was too far gone to truly understand what he was telling her.
"I'm not standing for this," she retorted, still furious. "I'm leaving."
"No, wait, Hiko, don't go," he blurted, lunging forward at her, to hold her back, to keep her from disappearing again out of his life. But he was a fraction of a second too late; she vanished in a puff of flame, and his hand closed on empty air. Hiko! His mental cry was cut off by a sudden wall, a shield that snapped up and blocked him out. "Hiko. Oh no, not again."
"It's all my fault," Rahne wailed, fearfully, knowing she had screwed everything up, again. "She was so mad at me--but I didn't know why!"
Rayden whirled on her. "Why? What did you tell her?"
Rahne took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "She said--she asked where I had been sleeping, and I said with you--and then--"
Rayden wasn't listening. His face drained of all colour. "That's it. That's what she thinks."
"Daddy!" Hiko cried, running up to him and tugging again on his leg. Her face was red, and streaked with tears. He picked her up, but she wasn't comforted; she had gotten her father back only to lose her mother.
"Small Lady," Rahne whispered, seeing and feeling the child's distress. It's all my fault, that she's living like this. I have to fix things, I have to make it all right again. "Rayden, give Hichan to me."
He looked at her, surprised, as did Hichan. She held her arms out. Still crying, he gave her the child, and Rahne rocked her for a moment. "Small Lady, I promise I will make everything all right for you, I swear by the Creator. I was sent to protect you, and I will do everything I can to fulfill that mission." Hichan's wails had quieted down somewhat, and she sniffled. Rahne walked over to the table and sat Hichan down in one of the chairs. "Stay right there. Don't move at all, and if you need me, just call. Okay?" Hichan nodded. "Good."
"Rahne, what are you doing?" Rayden asked, as she took his hand.
"I'm taking you to Maresium so that you and the Lady Hiko can get this sorted out once and for all," she said, firmly, teleporting them both away.
Celebria looked up from the scroll as she heard the first knock. "Come in," she called, absent-mindedly, going back to her research. It was no doubt Kerlan or Amai, hopefully with some news with news from Sonya and Meimei.
The door swung open, and someone walked in, after a moment's hesitation. "Oh! Medicalis!" Celebria exclaimed, brightly, setting down the scroll. "I didn't think--I mean, I know I haven't been resting but I don't need a check-up, I haven't had any more visions..."
"That's not what I'm here for," he said, sounding nervous. That was a new experience for her, she had never heard him sound even remotely anxious.
"Medi? Are you okay? Come, sit down." She patted the chair next to hers. He paled, then took a deep breath, and made his way over.
"Celebria, there are a few things I need to discuss with you," he said, steeling himself.
She giggled. "You sound so gruff!"
"Gruff?" he blurted, the wind out of his sails.
She giggled again. "You don't have to look so worried. There's no one here but me and you."
He cleared his throat. "Yes. I know that. That's one of the things I wanted to discuss..."
"That there's just you and me?" she repeated, growing confused.
"Yes. Well... no. Not exactly. But sort of. In a way." He shook his head. "I mean... well, they said that... only I tried to tell them that... you know, and then I said that it was nonsense, and...ummm, yeah."
Celebria stared at him. "What?"
He cleared his throat again. "I was just thinking... about us... about you and me, that is, which is us, technically, only we're not us yet, really, but we're still you and me..."
She held out her hand, touching him gently on the arm. "Medi, you've completely lost me."
"I've completely lost myself," he admitted, running a hand through his short brown hair. The absurdity of the situation got to him, and he started to chuckle. That set her giggling, although she wasn't sure what she was giggling at exactly. "I think that I just wanted to say that since I've gotten to know you, I--Celebria?"
She had stopped giggling, and she was rubbing her forehead. "Celebria?" he prompted, concerned.
"I--" she began, but stopped, grimacing in pain. "My head hurts, Medi--I--" She suddenly pitched forward, and he caught her. Her energy was all out of whack, discombobulated, however he wished to describe it. Her eyes were squeezed tight, and she was whispering. He sent her healing energy, and then a mental command to Kerlan.
He leaned in closer, to hear what she was whispering: "I'm sorry, it's all my fault, I didn't know why she was so mad at me--"
"Celebria, snap out of it," he said, worried. The energy wasn't helping; she needed to be brought out of the link. Kerlan appeared, and summed up the situation, kneeling beside his sister.
He took her hand. "Cel... let me in."
"What are you doing?" Medicalis snapped. "Break the link!"
"I want to see if I can find out what's causing it," Kerlan replied, not even bothering to look up. His eyes narrowed, and he seemed to be looking at something that was out of focus.
"It's hurting her!" Medicalis reminded him. "Break the link, now!"
Kerlan still didn't look up, but his expression grew harder. "I know what I'm doing. If we find who's sending her the visions, we can find out a way to block them."
"I know what's best for her!" Kerlan snapped, suddenly, and the God of Doctors suddenly backed down, uncertain. Undeterred, Kerlan continued his search. "Almost there... who... Rahne?" he murmured, suddenly. He snapped out of the reverie, and almost immediately Celebria did too, the link severed.
"What... what was that...?" she asked, woozy and disoriented.
Medicalis helped her sit up, still sending her energy. "Kerlan found something interesting."
She looked to her brother, expectantly.
"It's Rahne sending you the images," he said, simply. "Like I thought."
On To Part Three