Rayden grumbled. "I'm not nervous." He adjusted his formal robes one last time. She grinned and put her arms around his waist, resting her chin on his shoulder.
"You look nervous."
"I'm not nervous. Why would I be nervous? Just because my little sister is getting betrothed is no reason to be nervous," he replied.
"So what are you then?" she asked, looking at his reflection with him, "if you're not nervous, that is."
"Happy," he replied succinctly. "Well, I would be if I could get this fastener--" He trailed off as she reached around and tied it for him.
"There." She turned him around and looked from head to toe. "You look great."
"You do too," he replied, leaning into her hug and kissing her for a moment.
She smiled. "Maybe we should cancel."
He laughed. "And then my mother and my sisters, and step- father, and my new in-laws would kill me."
Hiko pouted. "What--am I not worth it?"
He grinned slyly. "Of course you are. But there's plenty of time after Meimei's wedding..."
"I wasn't worried at all," Naturalis, God of Nature, replied, drinking from his glass of punch. His wife frowned.
"It was just as bad in the Hall," Celebria, Goddess of Truth, confided. "We just kept watching that map, and it was as though time itself froze."
"Speaking of time," Naturalis began, "Isn't it time we get this show on the road?"
"Don't be in such a rush," Suyuan replied, sharply. "But I suppose you're right. I've got to go check on Meimei, see if there's anything she needs help with." She sauntered off, clearly enjoying her role as Mother of the Bride.
Nova, Goddess of Stars, poked her head into the tent. "Ah! Here's where everyone is."
"Nova!" Celebria exclaimed. "Good to see you. I didn't know you were coming."
"Oh yeah, wouldn't miss this for the world," she replied brightly. "Naturalis. How are you doing?"
"Very well," he replied. "You look stunning."
"Thanks," she grinned, smoothing down her elegant (and clingy) red sparkly dress. "I can't shake the feeling that something's wrong with it."
"Not from this angle," Naturalis muttered, heading off towards the refreshments.
Celebria linked her arm through Nova's. "So... any new news?"
"Nope, sorry." Nova shrugged. "I've just been travelling around."
"Oh." Celebria, the Omniversal Queen of gossip, seemed a little disappointed. "Have you heard the latest about Arnie and Juanita?"
"No," Nova admitted. The elder goddess' eyes sparkled.
"Well," she began, when suddenly she trailed off. She was looking behind her, and so Nova turned.
"Mother! Rayden!" she exclaimed, slipping out and away from Celebria to run over to the newest guests. She hugged her mother, and then Rayden. "You two look great!"
"So do you," Hiko said proudly. "I think I recognise that dress, too."
Nova looked sheepish. "I borrowed it a while ago, for a festival... one that I ended up not going to."
"That was yours?" Rayden exclaimed, staring at the goddess on his arm. She nodded, and he leaned over to whisper something in her ear, causing her to giggle and swat him on the shoulder.
"Eeew." Nova wrinkled her nose at them. "I heard that."
Celebria took that moment to waltz up. "Rayden. Hiko. It's so good to see you again," she said, smiling, although Hiko noticed she was smiling more at Rayden than at herself. But that was to be expected from Celebria.
"It's good to see you again," Rayden answered, congenially. "How's the Council business?"
"Oh, you know," Celebria replied, running her finger around the rim of her glass. "Same old, same old. Anything new with you two?"
The deities exchanged a glance, and Nova rolled her eyes. Even she could pick up on the vibes Celebria was sending out. They were practically visible to mortals.
"Nope, nothing new," Rayden replied, stone-faced. "Nothing at all out of the ordinary."
Hiko sighed. The Goddess of Truth seemed to pick up on the fact that he was making fun of her, and she nodded, her smile fading, and then sauntered off, no doubt to mingle and gather gossip.
"You're terrible," Hiko said.
"She started it," Rayden retorted. "I can't get a moment's peace from her."
"Enough of that," Nova interrupted. "How are you enjoying Earth Realm?"
"It's great," Hiko replied, with a smile. "It's a lovely Realm. You should visit."
"Is that a hint?"
"Can't you tell? Is it not motherly enough?"
"Mother..." Nova trailed off. "Seriously, I've been meaning to visit, but I wanted to travel around a little bit."
"There's plenty of time," Rayden replied, easily. "Stay away long enough, and your mother may even learn her way around by the time you show up."
Hiko snorted. "I wouldn't have gotten lost if you hadn't made that Temple of yours into a labyrinth!"
"I still don't see how you managed to get stuck in a closet," Rayden retorted.
"Okay, I guess I'll leave you two alone," Nova interrupted. "I think I see Lindara. I'm going to go say hi."
She wandered off, leaving the couple on their own.
"I think I smell that bean concoction of yours," Hiko said suddenly, sniffing the air. "I've been dreaming about that for years."
"Is that all you love me for? My cooking?" Rayden mimed being stabbed through the heart as they headed towards the refreshments. She looked at him solemnly.
At the table, they found Arnie, moping around, having just been dumped by Juanita, again.
"Hey, Rayden," he said, waving a sad hello. "Hi, Hiko."
"Hi, Arn," Rayden replied.
"It's a nice tent," Arnie commented.
That caught the god off-guard. "Yeah...I guess it is."
Arnie sighed, and rested his chin in his hands. Hiko started to snicker, trying to hide it behind a plate. It didn't make much of a difference; the God of Lamps was too depressed to notice.
"I think I'm going to go... away, and leave you two boys alone," she said slyly, to Rayden. He looked at her forlornly, but when he tried to follow, Arnie glanced up so pathetically, the thunder god had no choice but to sigh and sit down.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he offered, wearily, biting into a muffin.
"Not really," Arnie replied. "Well, I suppose if you're interested..."
Celebria glanced over with distaste. Hiko was busy mingling with several other deities, all congratulating her on her new- found freedom. Of course, that meant the goddess wasn't monopolising Rayden any more...
She made her way over to where Rayden was politely "listening to" (in reality, tuning out) Arnie's long, mostly incoherent ramble about the many charms and pitfalls of Juanita. It was clear that the God of Lamps had been into the nectar. And quite frequently.
That was one of the things Celebria liked about Rayden. He was so polite, in that caring way, not the insincere way that she met so frequently among the Immortals. She decided to do him a favour.
"Rayden! There you are!" she exclaimed. "I've been looking for you everywhere! Suyuan needs your help with something."
Rayden frowned, trying to imagine what his mother would need his help with. Then he realised it was a ruse. "Oh!" he replied, getting to his feet. "Sorry, Arn. Gotta go."
Arn mumbled something depressing and sighed heavily, barely noticing the thunder god slipping away.
Once they were out of ear shot, Rayden managed a sigh of relief. "Thanks."
"No problem," Celebria replied, breezily. She slipped her arm around his, as they were walking. He looked a little surprised, but she pretended not to notice. "I was hoping to get you all to myself, anyway."
"Ah." Rayden was growing tenser by the minute. "Look, Celebria, I think I ought to tell you something..."
"It can wait," she purred, in his ear. She was centimetres and moments away from nuzzling his neck and he hastily disengaged himself.
"Look, Celebria," he began, "I--this makes me really uncomfortable. I'm with Hiko, now."
She pouted. "What are you talking about?"
"We're living together," Rayden replied, hoping she would figure out on her own. She did, and her dark features flushed darker still. Horrified at the faux pas, she took a few steps backwards.
"Sorry," she muttered, embarrassed beyond belief. "I suppose I should have picked that up, huh?"
"Look, Celebria--" he began, clearly not relishing making her so upset, which was small comfort to her. She waved him silent, and disappeared off into the crowd.
Hiko was chatting with Adiutor--who was taking a rare vacation from work--when Rayden suddenly appeared at her elbow. "Did Arnie actually shut up?" she asked, sincerely.
He glared at her. "I really do appreciate you stranding me with him, by the way."
"He's your cousin, dearest, not mine," Hiko reminded him. A glance told her what he thought of that excuse very quickly.
"Anyway," he continued, waving hello at Adiutor who paled and scuttled away, "anyway, Celebria rescued me."
"That was nice of her," Hiko remarked.
"And then she tried to..." Rayden frowned, thinking of the best way to put it. It wasn't necessary; Hiko picked up immediately, her eyes narrowing.
"Really? Here? Of all the nerve," she remarked.
"She didn't get very far," he assured her.
"She better not have--Naturalis!" Hiko exclaimed, jovially. "I haven't seen you in ages!"
"It's been a while," he agreed, shaking her hand. "Congratulations on... uh... getting rid of Cosmos." The god then breezed by her, leaving her very puzzled and Rayden chuckling.
"That's Naturalis for you," he remarked. "Always straight to the point."
Hiko grumbled. "That's the third person who's said that to me in fifteen minutes." She paused. "Well, not quite that... bluntly, but that's not the point."
"They're happy for you," Rayden replied, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"I still wish they wouldn't keep bringing it up," she finished, taking a sip of her drink. "I wonder where Tai Hou is."
"I don't know, I haven't seen him yet," Rayden replied, scanning the crowd.
"I haven't met him, period. Apparently Shimauma's boys keep to themselves," she replied. "I am curious to see the deity that snagged Meimei."
"I've met him before a few times. He's very nice. Not much of a sense of humour, but good-natured." Rayden waved at someone who waved at him, first.
"He'd have to be, wouldn't he?" Hiko remarked, cryptically, before she caught sight of someone, and waved them over. "Jes! Over here!"
Celebria sighed. "I can't believe I'm so dumb," she said to her brother Kerlan, who was busy refilling her drink.
"Neither can I," he replied, with a smirk. She frowned at him. "Come on, Cel, you were one of the first people to know they got together. You even told me about it."
"I know," she said sourly. "I guess I was in denial."
"I guess so," he replied, moving away from the refreshment table. "I have a little bit of advice for you: get over him. He didn't like you back before Hiko--"
"He did too!" she snapped, furious. "He just didn't know it."
"Uh huh." Kerlan nodded, taking a sip of his own drink. Then he caught sight of someone and whistled. "By the Creator."
Celebria turned, just in time to see Lindara, Goddess of Plants, breeze by, in a gorgeous, skin-tight green dress. "Kerlan, you're drooling."
"Huh?" The god of Communication muttered, before his vision snapped out of Admiration Mode and he turned back to his sister. "What were you saying?"
"Never mind," she sighed. After a moment of watching the mingling deities, she continued. "You know, I wish there was a way we could find out whether or not the people we were attracted to were attracted back."
"Well, Cel, you're the Goddess of Truth, that's your department," he replied.
"Yours too," she retorted. "Kinda."
She sighed, and stomped off, having enough of the "conversation" and leaving her little brother stranded. Not that he noticed; he soon picked up a conversation with Lars, God of Police, and that was that.
The deities began to gather outside. The ceremony was being held in Officina, and Naturalis was making damned sure the weather cooperated for his step-daughter's wedding.
"It's a beautiful day," Hiko remarked, to her daughter, who was standing beside her.
"It is," Nova agreed, taking in the scent of flowers that wafted by on the breeze.
Rayden came up to them, bearing new glasses. "I thought I was going to get trampled," he remarked, giving them each their drinks. "Everybody decided to get something to drink at the same time."
"You survived, that's the important thing," Hiko quipped, taking a sip. He rolled his eyes at her. Nova suddenly darted off, and came back leading a tall, nervous deity in formal robes over to the pair.
"Mother, this is Tai Hou. Tai Hou, this is Hiko. You know Rayden already, right?"
Tai Hou nodded, clearly embarrassed. "Lady Hiko. Lord Rayden."
"Don't be like that, Tai Hou," Rayden exclaimed, giving him a slight punch on the shoulder. "We're almost family."
That particular statement did little to improve the groom's mood; stuttering something that no one could pick up, he darted back into the crowd.
Rayden stared in puzzlement. "What the hell was that about?"
"I think he's nervous," Nova answered, just as bewildered. "His energy was a little off."
"A little off?" Hiko repeated. "Poor boy. He was completely intimidated."
"Intimidated?" both Rayden and Nova exclaimed. Hiko nodded and glanced at her date.
"By me?" Rayden continued. "Why on Earth would he be intimidated by me?"
"Pick that one up from Johnny?" Nova teased him.
"What? Oh. I guess so. Hiko, what did you mean?" the god persisted.
Hiko shrugged. "Just a feeling. Maybe Tai Hou's a little anxious about suddenly being in-laws with the Thunder family."
"Why? I wouldn't be," Nova remarked, giving her mother a pointed look which the goddess ignored.
"I don't know," she repeated. "Just a feeling."
"Well, unfeel it. That's got to be absurd." Rayden, grumbling, took a sip of his drink. "Of course, if he even thinks about hurting Meimei at all, he'll get a first-hand view of Thunder intimidation."
"There! That's what I was talking about!" Hiko exclaimed. "You looked just like Thunder when you said that. Speaking of, where is his Eldership?"
"I saw him," Nova volunteered. "He's staying as far away from everybody as he can."
"Good," Hiko proclaimed. Rayden harumphed, and took another swig.
Nova was staring off into the crowd. "I think I see Tai Hou... he still seems to be nervous. Probably just betrothal jitters."
"Probably. Meimei's just as nervous, no doubt." Hiko looked where Nova kept glancing, and hummed to herself. Her daughter smiled.
"What was that for?" Rayden asked suddenly.
Hiko shrugged. "I was just thinking, that's all."
"Thinking about what?" Rayden's eyes narrowed. She looked at him with amusement.
"For your information," she began, "I was just thinking that Meimei did very well for herself."
Rayden's eyes remained narrowed. "Tai Hou is very good- natured."
"Uh huh," she replied, exchanging another glance with her daughter, and the two of them smiled.
Rayden glared, clearly wanting to be in on the joke.
Nova leaned around and whispered, sotto voce: "Mother doesn't think his good-naturedness is all that Meimei sees in him."
Rayden seemed scandalized. "Hiko!"
"What?" she asked, innocent. "I was merely thinking that Tai Hou is fairly cute. For somebody else's husband." He continued to glare at her, sipping his drink irritatedly. "What?" she exclaimed. "Like you never look at other goddesses?"
He shook his head. "Nope."
"Ever?" she laughed, believing him to be pulling her leg. He shook his head again, dead-pan. Now she looked at him askew. "You're having me on."
He shook his head. "Nope."
"Not even during that whole--" she waved her arms, to indicate the expanse of time they were apart.
"Well--nope." He took another sip of his drink and looked at her in such a way that she began to blush, furiously.
Nova, deciding now would be a good time to slip away, started off, but her mother caught her by the arm. "Nova, are you coming back to Earth Realm with us?" she asked.
"Probably," the goddess agreed. "I guess so."
"Okay then." Hiko let her go, and the younger deity darted off into the crowd.
"Feeling all right?" he asked her, suddenly. "You look a little flushed."
"I think I need to sit down," she agreed, making her way to one of the chairs.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he persisted, growing concerned. "Did that actually upset you?"
"No," she managed, finally. "I just suppose, that if we're being totally honest with each other--"
"Rayden!" someone called, just as Hiko was about to finish her sentence. The two deities looked up.
"Lin," he called back, waving. "What's the matter?"
"Can you come have a talk with Meimei?" his youngest sister asked, quickly. "She's... well..."
"A little nervous?" Hiko supplied.
"Crying like a baby," Lindara finished. "We can't get her to calm down."
Rayden sighed, and got to his feet. He put a hand on Hiko's shoulder. "You'll be okay?" he asked, quietly.
He sighed, and started off with Lindara towards the manor.
Celebria sat by herself at the table, enjoying her second, or possibly fifth, glass of nectar. "I hate these stupid weddings," she snarled to herself. "They're just... stupid."
Someone bumped into her from behind, muttering apologies quickly, and she decided to leave the tent, it was getting stuffy. She slowly made her way outside, away from the crowds, careful not to bump into anything. It wouldn't do for the leader of the Council to embarrass herself. Embarrass herself any more.
She finally leaned against one of the great oak trees that lined the area and sighed to herself. "I'm the Goddess of Truth," she grumbled. "I should be able to figure it out in other people."
Finishing her drink, she tossed the glass over her head. It bumped into the tree trunk and landed on the ground in front of her. The fact it didn't shatter on contact annoyed her further.
She ground it in with her heel. "I wish everybody would just act the way they felt towards each other," she snapped, feeling a twinge of power running up and down her spine. "Everything would be so much better if everybody just liked the people that liked them back. I wish Rayden would figure out who he was supposed to be with. By the--"
She felt all light-headed and shivery. Luckily, at that point, Kerlan was passing by. "Cel!" he exclaimed, taking her by the arm. "Cel, you're completely sloshed."
"I am not," she insisted, wobbly. "Leave me alone."
"Your energy is all weird, too," he continued, pulling her towards a series of chairs. "You haven't been doing a spell have you? When you're drunk? That's a brilliant move."
She mumbled something, feeling decidedly nauseous. "Kerlan, stop fussing over me. You're worse than Mother, by the Creator."
At her final phrase, a curious sensation passed through her. Figuring it to be nausea, she leaned over.
Kerlan wasn't patting her back any more, but staring across her into the crowd. "You're right," he said slowly, getting to his feet. "Maybe I have been fussing. If you'll excuse me, there's more important things that I should be doing."
"Damn straight," she muttered, with a sigh. She sat back up, looking around her in a daze. "Kerlan? Where'd you go?"
Meimei took a deep breath. Rayden, relieved that she was winding down, was about to say something when she started to wail again. Apparently the breath had merely been that: a breather. He patted her shoulders awkwardly.
"It's, just, I don't know," she sobbed. "I just get the feeling that this isn't right, 'cause if it was right, I'd know, y'know? And if I don't feel right, then maybe it isn't right, right?"
Suyuan rolled her eyes. "This isn't helping, Rayden," she muttered. "I could have done this on my own."
"I could have done this!" Lindara concurred.
He sighed, still patting his sister's shoulders. "I don't see what good you thought I'd do," he replied.
Meimei wailed harder.
"Meimei, come on, sit up," Suyuan ordered, helping her eldest daughter to straighten up, pulling her away from Rayden. "Come on, now. You still love Tai Hou?"
She nodded, dabbing her eyes dry.
"Well, then, what have you got to lose?" Suyuan continued.
Meimei paused, thinking about it. "But what if it's the wrong choice?"
"Then you accept that and move on," her mother continued, patting her leg. "It's not the end of the Omniverse."
"Unless you marry someone like Cosmos, of course," Lindara said, smartly, before she realised what had come out of her mouth. Horrified, she started to get all flustered before Rayden shook his head slightly, the remark forgiven.
"Tai Hou's nothing like Cosmos," Suyuan replied, shooting a furious look at her youngest. "Therefore, you have nothing to worry about."
"He's very nice," Lindara agreed.
"Very," Rayden added. "Maybe a little too nervous--"
"Rayden!" Suyuan sighed, and turned back to her daughter. "Meimei, it's your choice. No one can make you do anything you don't want to do."
"I do want to marry Tai Hou," Meimei admitted, finally. "I guess... I don't know..."
"It's just wedding nerves," Rayden consoled. His mother shot him another look.
"And what would you know about them?" she asked, only slightly sarcastic.
"Don't start..." he warned.
Meimei laughed. She was still sniffling, but she was calming down. "I--"
All the deities jumped slightly, in unison.
"What in the name of the Creator was that?" Rayden exclaimed, looking around.
The three women were all staring at each other, in confusion.
"You know," Meimei suddenly exclaimed, getting to her feet, "I don't think I do want to go through with this, after all."
"There are so many choices you make in life," Suyuan said sadly, with a sigh. "And sometimes when you wonder, how it could have been..."
"I wonder how I couldn't have noticed before..." Lindara murmured to herself.
"What? What are you talking about?" the god blurted, bewildered. "Meimei, where are you going?"
"To do something I should have done a long time ago!" she exclaimed, creating a portal and teleporting out. Lindara, looking determined, nodded in agreement and followed behind. Suyuan, sighing deeply, leaned back, and then started staring out the window.
"Okay, that was weird," Rayden said, almost to himself. He started from the room, to follow his sisters, when he thought of something and turned back. Suyuan was still looking out the window. "Do you know anything about it? Mother? Hello?"
The goddess sighed heavily, still glued to the window. The entire reception party was spread out, all the deities mingling and talking...
Curious, he followed her line of vision, but something else made him stop before he reached her target. "What the hell?!" He teleported from the room, in a flash of fury.
Meimei sighed. "I've been thinking a lot, you know, really thinking, and--"
"Uh huh," Adiutor prompted, sliding closer and wrapping his arms around her waist.
"I mean, ever since I saw you when you got elected to the Council--" Meimei continued, her eyes glazing over, her voice taking on a dreamy quality, "I just thought you were so cute, in that, you know, assistanty way."
Rayden suddenly appeared in a flash of light and a clap of thunder. He grabbed his sister and pulled her away from the surprised god. "Meimei," he began, "Kindly explain what you're doing."
"I just couldn't be happy with one deity," Meimei said, simply. "That's why I was so nervous about getting married. I'd be getting tied down, you know? I'd be loosing all my freedoms."
Rayden blinked in surprise. "Meimei, are you listening to yourself? What's the matter with you? What about Tai Hou?"
"Tai Hou likes someone else," she dismissed with a wave of her hand. "He just realised it, like I did. Like we all did." She patted her brother consolingly. "It's a wake-up call from the Creator."
"Okay, that's it, you're coming with me," Rayden insisted, starting to pull her through the crowd, which was beginning to pair off, and even form triplets. Adiutor opened his mouth to protest, but Rayden silenced him with a simple: "And you, stay away from my sister."
"Okay, Mother will talk some sense into you--Mother?" Meimei's old room was empty. Suyuan had disappeared. "Great. Just great."
"Rayden, you're not listening to me," Meimei insisted.
"Meimei, you're not listening to yourself," he retorted. "Mother?"
"She's not here," Meimei told him. "Let me go--"
"You are not going anywhere," he insisted. "Stay right here until I get back."
"But what about Lars?" she pouted.
"Lars! You were throwing yourself at Adiutor!" Rayden
exploded. "Adiutor! You're sounding exactly like Shemali, and the Creator knows where she's going to end up--"
"You're so negative," she grumbled.
"Damn straight. Now sit." Rayden steered her to a chair and plunked her down. "Don't move."
He ducked out of the room, calling for Suyuan. She'll straighten Meimei out.
He passed several deities in the halls, all in various forms of embracing, and by the time he made it outside, he was certain that something was not quite right with the reception.
Celebria frowned, rubbing her eyes. Arnie and Juanita, despite having broken up only hours before, were now kissing madly underneath one of the trees. That wasn't very unusual, really. What was unusual was that Naturalis was only a few feet from them, also kissing someone, and although she was hidden from Celebria's view, who ever she was, she wasn't Suyuan.
"Oh my," the goddess giggled. Things were starting to look up, already. She still felt light-headed and woozy, but the effects of the nectar were fleeting. She got to her feet. "This is interesting--hey, Kerlan!"
Her brother paused, slowly to a halt. "Celebria? Any luck with Rayden yet?"
"What?" she exclaimed, furious. "What the hell kind of thing was that to say--"
He held his arm out, gesturing to what was happening all around her. "I just thought you would have taken advantage of the situation."
"The... situation?" Celebria blinked. She took a good, long look at the deities that surrounded her. They didn't seem all that different than from earlier in the party, except for the fact that there was a lot less talking. She turned to her brother again, but he had disappeared. "Huh."
Rayden. Maybe Rayden was feeling... more expressive than normal. It was worth a shot, anyway. Fixing her dress (which had become a little dishevelled) and making sure her hair was okay, she set off, a goddess on a mission.
The thunder god had the feeling that he was going insane. All around him, no matter where he looked, were kissing deities. Admittedly, some, like Arnie and Juanita, were known for public displays of affection. However, some, like Logicalis and his wife Cecilia, were not. And some couples consisted of people who hated each other, like Mizuno and Ariel, both Elders, known for their constant fighting.
He had to find Hiko, see if she knew what was going on. He checked where he had left her, but she was gone, and he had a sinking feeling that he decided to ignore, for the time being. He spotted his friend Kerlan, leading someone out of the refreshment tent. "Kerlan! I need to talk to--Lindara?!"
"Hi, Rayden," she purred, an arm going around Kerlan's shoulders. "You don't look so well."
"What? Why? What?" Rayden blurted.
"Three good questions," Kerlan replied. "And I'm sure they'll get answered. The Creator seems to be providing us with all the answers, at the moment." Lindara giggled, and whispered something into his ear. He smiled. "Excellent idea, my sweet."
"Okay, hold it, back up," Rayden interrupted. "I didn't know you two were going out."
"I didn't know either, until a little while ago," Lindara continued, happily. "But I just woke up and realised it, you know?"
"I've heard a lot of people saying that," Rayden muttered, his eyes narrowing. "This is getting out of hand."
"I don't think so," Lindara purred.
"Okay, stop that," he ordered.
"Rayden, don't be so fussy," Kerlan soothed. "Your sister is in good hands. Come on, Lin."
"Coming!" she chirped, following behind him.
Rayden stood for a moment, trying to take it all in, and then he walked into the tent.
After his eyes adjusted from the light change, he looked around for a flash of red that would be Hiko. No one in here was wearing red--he stopped scanning as his gaze fell on one particular couple.
"I was wrong," Thunder was saying, holding Suyuan's hand. "It's all been a mistake."
"A horrible mistake," she agreed, with a happy sigh. "But an easily righted one."
"Okay, I have to get out of here," Rayden muttered, back- pedalling. As he did, he bumped into someone. "Celebria!"
"Rayden!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around him and lunging in. He scrambled backwards, nearly tripping into one of the tent poles before he managed to make his way outside.
"I know, it's been tough being without each other, but we've managed," she continued, gazing at him with a hungry look he didn't like all that much.
"Okay, Celebria, you're becoming unhinged," he declared, holding her at bay. "This whole wedding has become unhinged."
She frowned, stopping in her tracks. "You're not affected?"
"Affected? Affected by what?" he exclaimed. "What are you talking about?"
She shrugged. "We're all under a spell. Well, I'm not, and unfortunately, you aren't either. But everybody else is."
"Continue," he growled.
"I don't know what set it off," she said, thoughtfully. "I've got a weird memory of standing by a tree, but it's all kinda blurry." She waved it away.
"Get to the point."
"The point, Mr. I'm In A Huge Hurry, is that everybody is going after someone they've been admiring. From a far, you could say. In some cases, it was no more than a passing fancy, but--" She held her arms out, show-casing the action around them.
"How do you know all this?" he asked, suspiciously.
"I'm the Goddess of Truth, remember? Also, I asked around." She rubbed her head. "By the Creator, I've got a headache."
"I know the feeling," he sighed. "We've got to undo the spell, get everybody back to normal."
"I suppose so." He glared at her, and she sighed. "Okay, okay."
Suddenly a thought seemed to occur to him. "Celebria," he said very slowly, "you said that everybody you saw was affected, right?"
"Right," she agreed.
"You didn't see...Hiko, did you?"
She nodded. "She was heading towards the Manor with someone. I don't think I can remember who, though. Some god."
Rayden paled. "What?"
Celebria seemed to grasp the significance of what she had just said. "Uh oh."
The thunder god tore off towards the Manor, leaving her behind. She grumbled, and went to get some more punch. There was no way she was fixing this mess. Not until she'd made some mental notes, anyway. "Seadra and Staryu, huh? I always thought those two were up to something..."
Rayden was passing one of the oak groves when he noticed a flash of red, amongst the trees. So Hiko wasn't in the Manor after all. He changed course, and headed to the right when he noticed Naturalis. Then he noticed who Naturalis was with. "Nova!"
At his yell, Nova broke off her kiss with the God of Nature. "Rayden!" she exclaimed, happily.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Rayden roared to his step-father, who seemed more addled than normal. The thunder god grabbed the goddess of stars away from her companion.
"Rayden," the older god snapped. "This isn't any of your business."
Rayden laughed. "That's what you think." He turned, and pushed Nova in front of him. "Go."
"But--" she pouted.
"Now," he repeated, electricity building around him. She backed away, confused and a little frightened. He turned back to the other god. "As for you--" He started to tell his step-father off when he noticed the glazed look in Naturalis' eyes. Of course. The spell.
Grumbling, he whirled back around, and helped Nova make a speedier get-away from the grove. "I'll put you in with Meimei, you two can stay out of all of this."
"Stay out of what?" Nova asked, innocently. She caught sight of Logicalis and nearly gave herself whiplash.
"Stop that!" Rayden ordered.
"Stop what?" she cried, as he pulled her towards the Manor. She slowed to admire Timbo, God of Science, on a break from his wife, but barely had time to blink before Rayden simply teleported her away.
They reappeared in his old room, the first place he had thought of. It was only natural, he supposed, he had lived here for a long time...
"Rayden," Nova said, slowly, turning around, "what are we doing here?"
"We're not doing anything--Nova!" he burst out, as she tried to kiss him. Looking hurt, she started to sulk.
"It's not fair," she griped. He was too startled to reply, and she continued. "I want to have someone too, it's not fair, you're such a nice--"
"Stop right there!" he demanded, regaining his voice. "This is going no further!"
He rushed to the door and slid out, slamming it behind him, muttering words under his breath. There was a slight flash. And then repeated banging against the wood. "Rayden!" Nova yelled, furious, "I can't teleport out!"
"Good," he sighed, with relief. "You're just staying in there until all of this blows over."
"Let me out!
"No, and that's the last of it!"
She started hammering against the door frame, but the magic held true and she couldn't get through. "Rayden!" He was already heading down the halls. The thumps started up again. "Rayden, let me out!"
Nope, not in here. He slammed the door shut. The weird energies floating around was making it hard to find a fix on Hiko. He had narrowed it down to this wing, but there were several doors and he had no other option except to try them all. There were three doors left now. He opened the one closest to him. He had been steeling himself against any strange sights, but this one had to be the one he could have foreseen the least.
Hiko was sitting on Tai Hou's lap, and they were kissing. Quite passionately.
He stood for a moment in the doorway, trying to remember how to breathe.
Hiko looked up, saw him, and frowned. She pulled away from Tai Hou, blinking in confusion. "Rayden?"
"Hiko?" he croaked.
For a second, time ground to a screeching halt, as the three deities looked at each other. Or rather, Tai Hou exchanged glances between his new lip partner and his brother-in-law-to-be, while Rayden and Hiko gazed at each other intently. He had no clue what was going on, not really.
"Rayden," Hiko murmured, the colour draining from her face. For a moment, he thought she was going to faint. But then the colour returned in a furious blush and she leapt away from Tai Hou, nearly crashing to the floor in the process. "What--what was I doing?"
"I'd rather not think about it," Rayden admitted, as he helped her to her feet. The glazed look in her eyes was gone, although Tai Hou's remained.
"I--" she shook her head, not really sure what to believe.
"We'll sort that out later," he told her, taking her hand. "First things first. This is all a spell."
He nodded. "That's what's making you act this way. Some one created a spell. If we can find out who--"
"We can get them to reverse it," she finished. "Good idea. But who...?"
He shrugged. "That, I don't know. Celebria might, she was..." He trailed off. "She was the only other one not affected..." He frowned, clutching Hiko's hand. "Hold on. I'll teleport us straight to her."
The Goddess of Truth sat on one of the chairs, munching on an apple. "Huh. Mizuno and Ariel. I would never have thought of that, I always thought she was mad for Logicalis. Oh well, you learn something new every day."
"Talking to someone, Celebria?" asked a gravelly voice behind her. She looked over her shoulder.
"Oh, Rayden! And you found Hiko, I see. See anything interesting?" she joked, giggling.
"Celebria," he said, very slowly, and darkly, "you have to undo this."
"Me?" she repeated. "I didn't do this."
"You must have, you're the only one not affected, besides me, for whatever reason," he finished. "Undo the spell."
"I don't remember doing a spell," she protested.
"I don't care. Just do a general reversal spell," he said, sharply. She stared at him for a moment and then decided it was in her best interests to co-operate.
"Okay, fine, whatever." She took a deep breath. "Whatever I may have said, whatever I may have done, let the spell be broken and my words be unspoken, in the Name. By the Creator."
There was a bright flash of light.
"It was dreadful!" Suyuan insisted. "I woke up, and you will never guess who was there! Thunder! Of all the people to wake up next to, honestly--"
"I was wondering around in the oaks," Naturalis interrupted, knowing by now that it was the only way to get a word in. "I was looking for someone, but I can't remember who."
Rayden, overhearing this, sighed again. Hiko, next to him, hugged his arm. "I have the strangest feeling," she confided. "I was somewhere, and then you came in..." She squinted. "It's fading, but...I can't remember it any more."
"It probably wasn't important then," he replied, taking his arm out from her grip and wrapping it around her shoulders. "All's well that ends well." Suddenly his eyes widened. "By the Creator! I forgot about her entirely!"
"What?" Hiko exclaimed, startled. He snapped his fingers.
"There, that should take care of it," he muttered, shaking his head. Hiko, more than a little confused, wanted to ask him, but paused, at the last minute. Then changed her mind again.
"What was that about?" she inquired, politely.
He looked a little sheepish. "Nova. She was locked in my room."
This caught Hiko by surprise. "I don't think I want to know," she answered, carefully.
"No. And I didn't want to know either," he replied. "But it all got worked out eventually. For the best."
They stood for another moment or two, listening half- heartedly to snatches of conversation around them. Then Hiko sighed. "I wonder when the wedding is going to get under way?" she mused. He stopped walking for a moment.
"I suppose whenever they find Meimei and Tai Hou," he replied, slowly. "Hiko, there's been something I've been wanting to ask you--"
"What do you mean, 'find them'?" Hiko asked, suddenly.
"Never mind. Long story. Now, there's something I need to talk to you about." He took a deep breath, gathering courage.
She waited, watching him. "Well?"
He took his arm from around her shoulder, and held her hand. "Hiko, do you remember when I asked you to marry me?"
"Of course," she replied, instantly. "How could I ever forget?"
"Does your answer still stand?" he continued, very quietly.
She stared at him. "Of course it does...?"
"Then, if you'll agree, I want to talk to Meimei and Tai Hou and Mizuno," he said, with a smile. She smiled too, comprehension dawning. Then she stopped.
"Why Mizuno?" The goddess frowned.
"Because she'll be the one doing the Ceremony..."
Shimauma, God of Safari Parks and father of the first groom, raised his glass. "To Meimei and Tai Hou. May the Creator bless their union."
The crowd cheered. "May the Creator stay out of it!" Arnie yelled, still recovering from a concussion, so no one paid him any mind.
Shimauma continued. "Several years ago, when my son lost his Realm, I thought it was a disastrous event." Almost simultaneously the crowd looked to the Brother of the Groom, Roger, God of Shrubs, who ignored them. "And when his Realm was given to Lindara, Goddess of Plants, I took it almost as an insult. No offense, Lin."
"None taken," she called back.
"I never would have dreamed that it would have brought Tai Hou and Meimei together, however. But I'm glad it did." He raised his glass again.
"So am I," added Tai Hou, kissing his new wife. Suyuan dabbed her eyes with a napkin. Naturalis blew his nose loudly. Shimauma sat down, his speech, such as it was, finished. He had never been big on public speaking.
Next, Thunder was called upon to say a few words. He got to his feet, wearily. "What can I say?" he said, slowly. "Two of my children got married on a single day. I suppose that's unusual. May their marriages be fruitful. In the Name of the Creator."
"In the Name," the crowd chanted back, by rote.
He sat down, taking a swig of his drink as though he was trying to wash his mouth out.
"Wow, that was nice of him," Hiko leaned over, and murmured to her new husband.
"I'm surprised he said anything at all," Rayden replied.
"Uh oh. Your mother's up next, here come the waterworks."
"She's your mother-in-law now, in case you've forgotten."
"I haven't, believe me." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, under the table, and he squeezed back.
As the evening wore off, the wind began to pick up, and the guests began to wear down. Rayden and Hiko said many thank yous to many offers of congratulations, before they decided to take a break, and sit down. She picked a chair under one of the oaks, Rayden's outer robe wrapped around her shoulders. Nova strolled up, beaming (appearently all was forgiven under the circumstances).
"I guess you're heading to Earth Realm, after," she said, grinning widely.
They nodded. "Are you coming with us?" Rayden asked.
"Oh, no, I think I'm going to keep travelling around for a little while," she replied. "But I will be in to see you two, soon enough."
"We'll be waiting," her mother promised, as Nova waved goodbye, heading back into the crowd.
Rayden sighed, happily.
"I know the feeling," Hiko commented.
They watched as Meimei and Tai Hou had several pictures taken, by Lux, God of Light.
"They seem so happy," she murmured.
"I think that's because they are."
She sighed. "I hope it stays that way for them."
"Don't worry." He took her hand. "They'll be happy. Meimei had better be happy, or Tai Hou is going to hear from me."
"Rayden! Hiko!" Meimei caught sight of them, and waved them over. "Come here! Get some stills taken!"
Rayden got to his feet, but Hiko seemed hesitant. He pulled her up. "Come on. We should have something to remember today by."
"I don't think I'm going to forget, any time soon," she replied, but she walked with him over to the other wedding party.
"Hiko's a little antsy about having a still taken," Rayden announced. She swatted his shoulder.
"Just one picture," Meimei pleaded. "You two look so sweet together. Just one."
"It's supposed to be your wedding album," Hiko said with a resigned sigh and smile.
"Yeah, but..." Meimei pouted. She pulled Lux over. "Just one, please."
"Come on," Rayden teased, pulling her towards him. "Just one."
Hiko smiled, accepting. "Just one. But I always look terrible in stills."
"I find that hard to believe," he whispered, kissing her under her ear, which made her giggle. He slipped his arms around her waist and waited for Lux to work his magic.
The god frowned. "The light isn't very good here. Move under the trees."
"Oh, come on," Hiko gripped, good-naturedly, but Rayden pulled her over.
"I want a copy of this one," he called to Meimei.
"Rayden!" Hiko exclaimed.
"I'm going to put it on my bedside table, so that I get to look at you no matter which way I'm facing when I wake up," he said with a grin. She smacked his shoulder, an awkward movement considering he was in front of her, but she managed it.
"Stop it, you two," Meimei called. She patted Lux on the shoulder. "Take it now."