Lost in my own thoughts, I got perhaps two blocks away when a thunderclap startled me, followed by a warm breeze. A gentle swirl of petals flowed up beside me, and long black tresses of hair followed: a pale face, red lips smiling at me.
The last person I expected to see in Greece was Amaterasu-omikami, and yet here she was, though she looked off. Her robes were dirty at the hem, and a few scorch marks covered her sleeves and shoulders. And in her arms was a small child.
“Yozora, you’re a hard deity to track down,” she started, her flowing voice melting over me. She adjusted the child in her arms. “Is everything alright?”
I gave Ammy a tired smile, I didn’t need to rehash the past few weeks to her. Not in her current state. “Just under the weather, ilios. I’m feeling better now. What did you need me for?”
Her face fell, and she clutched the child a little tighter. “I have a favor to ask of you. There is unrest at home, I will not go into the details, but a casualty has fallen upon my temple. One of my priestesses…was killed and left behind a child. I cannot care for them at the moment, not to the capacity that they should be. It would be doing a disservice to one who was so faithful to me, and I will not honour her life with poor repayment. I ask you, as a friend and a mother, would you watch over this life while I sort my home out?”
My arms took the child without me thinking, leaning them on my hip and gazing into the beautiful eyes that looked up at me.
“His name is Daisuke. I know I don’t need to say this, Yozora, but,” she locked her eyes with mine, hands twisted in one another, “please treat him as if he were your own child.” Ammy looked up, clouds rolling in, then back at me with a grimace. “I must go, I will explain more to you when I have the chance. Thank you, Nyx.” She moved towards me, hugging me briefly, before disappearing in a whorl of petals. I looked down at the boy in my arms, and he reached out and grabbed my hair, tossing it around. The skies opened and rain started to fall, so I jogged the rest of the way to the Complex, beelining to Dinlas’ floor. I shouldered the door open to see him sitting on the couch, Calli, and Ao at his feet. He rose the moment he saw me, meeting me halfway and unsure where to look first.
“Amorcito, what…?” His eyes kept going back to Daisuke. “Whose child is this? Where did it come from?”
I took a deep breath, dripping wet still. “Amaterasu just paid me a quick visit on the way home. She asked me to look after him for a while. Things aren’t right at home for her, and she was worried about him.” I watched as Daisuke batted at Dinlas.
Dinlas looked from me to the baby, then back again. “Nyx…where? What? How did this happen? You mean Ammy from Japan?” He looked down at Daisuke with a frustrated look on his face.
“Yes, the very same. I left the shop a few minutes ago and was walking home – oh,” I said, moving past him to sit on the couch, drying my clothes as I went. “Philotes just came home, and dragged a wayward Philomela of Athens with her.” I looked up at him, bouncing Daisuke on my knee. “What is going on?”
“Philomela is here? Now?” he asked. Then without waiting for an answer to that he went on, “Nyx, we don’t know anything about babies. How can we keep a baby?” He waved his hands around enough that Calli and Ao both jumped up and approached me, suspicious of the small human in my lap.
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Amata. Have you forgotten I raised over two thousand children? I am quite capable of taking care of one mortal baby.” Hearing the commotion, Adrastos padded down the stairs behind the couch and headed for the girls and Dinlas.
Dinlas looked hard at me for a few seconds then replied, “Yes, I suppose I did forget that, though I can’t imagine why. Is there anything else happening? I thought you and the girls were just going to have a latte. I thought you might come home with a croissant for me, but certainly not a baby.” He fell silent but chewed the inside of his cheek as he stared at the baby.
“I wasn’t expecting this either, Dinlas. A lot just happened in the past hour. There’s…there’s another thing, too.” I bit my lip, setting Daisuke down beside Adrastos and the girls. Walking towards Dinlas, I changed shape, the gold vibrant on me again. I held my hands out to him, searching his face. I felt like a well was going to spring in my chest.
“What happened to me?”
Dinlas looked at me with wonder on his face at the golden handprints on my arms. Several large prints, and several smaller ones. They were clearly from different people. After a moment he pressed his own hand over one of the prints, it was too small for his hand. He changed to another print and it fit his hand perfectly. As he flexed his hand on the spot for a moment he looked up at me.
“It’s my handprint. It’s our handprints, from when we pulled you back,” he whispered. He looked deep into my eyes and continued, “Your, your eyes have changed as well. They…they look like mine. I – I don’t know what happened except it looks like we all left our mark on you.” He looked back down at his hand on my arm. The print fit him perfectly. No matter what else happened he would have forever left a mark on me.
“My eyes changed?” I headed to the bathroom, glancing at Daisuke. He was blissfully unaware, playing with the animals. Standing before the mirror, wings unfolded as I turned my arms gently, pointing at the thin white lines and the sunbursts. A thought came to me, and I lifted my sweater to see a stark white, jagged line across my abdomen, where Kronos had struck me. “I have never been marked like this before,” I murmured, scanning my body for more. “Ever.”
Dinlas watched me as I looked at my abdomen in the mirror, then reached out and touched my down-gray wing where the tulpa had cut it off. I stiffened as his hand grazed across it. It was the spot, it was the spot he touched at the bonfire on Eventide. It seemed so long ago that he kissed me and grazed his fingers on my wing for the first time. Mesmerized he was, mesmerized he said by my beauty. But now, I was covered in these marks and these scars. I wondered what he would think of me now as he looked at the white scar where my wing had been sliced off. I caught his eyes in the mirror and he must’ve known what I was thinking.
“You are more beautiful than ever,” he whispered then kissed the side of my neck.
I sighed softly, leaning into him. “What the hell is going on, amata?” I turned around, changing back to my mortal form and pressed my head on his shoulder.
“I don’t know amorcito, I don’t know. But I think we probably shouldn’t leave a baby alone in the other room with two wolves and a dog.”
I nodded my agreement and we headed back into the living room, where Adrastos lay nearby Daisuke, Calli, and Ao watching as he tottered around the coffee table.
Dinlas glanced at me as Daisuke gave Adrastos a too-hard pat on the head causing the big dog to wince and grimace. “Nyx, I know nothing about babies. I- I’ve actually never even held a baby that I can remember. Aren’t they fragile? I mean what if I hurt it? Or I mean, what if I hurt him?”
I glanced between the toddler and my amata, before walking over, picking him up, and handing him over. “Now’s a good time to learn then.” I smiled encouragingly at him. “It’s not as scary as it seems.”
Dinlas recoiled as if I were handing him a pit viper. “No, Nyx, really, I don’t know what to do with him.” He continued to protest as I stepped forward and gently pushed the toddler into his chest and wrapped his arms around the boy.
“That’s it. No, now support his head, yes that’s it,” I encouraged Dinlas as he looked at me a bit wild-eyed. I shook my head and had to chuckle inwardly.
This man stared down a demon and imminent death but was terrified of a toddler. Still, knowing Dinlas it did make sense. I watched as he maneuvered Daisuke into his arms better, looking between me and the child with eyes as large as discs. I repositioned his arms and stepped back to look at him. He looked petrified that I had left the immediate area, and was frozen in place.
“Just relax, o vasiliás mou, you are doing perfectly.”
He flashed me a look, his shoulders ever so slightly relaxing. I let myself drink in the scene, a honeyed sense of longing rippling through me before passing onwards. I felt content watching him, before he cut his eyes back to me again, bringing me back to the real world.
“Could-could you take him now?”
I nodded and smiled, scooping the lad out of Dinlas’s arms and hiking him onto my hip. “Let’s get you something to eat, hm?” I wandered into the kitchen with Adrastos at my heels, sniffing the child’s feet and making him giggle.
“Amata, I-I have – would you join me for a moment? There is more to tell from this afternoon that I need to share with you.”
Dinlas approached the kitchen door tentatively, as if he thought this was some ploy and I was going to make him hold Daisuke again. Callie and Ao were by his side and I smiled at quite the menagerie we were accumulating.
“What else Nyx? Is everything okay?”
I sighed, sitting Daisuke on the counter beside me while I pulled out the blender. “I saw the girls today, as I mentioned before. They had…some ideas on how to protect me. Not that I need it, but Luna was concerned for me so…”
I leaned into the fridge, my left wing opening to keep Daisuke on the counter while I grabbed fruits and veggies. “They have decided to found something called the Order of the Aurora. And on their list of recruitments is some mortal who lives among the waves, as well as a visit to the Oracle.”
Dinlas didn’t respond so I looked over at him and he had a strange, pensive look on his face. I honestly wasn’t sure he had heard me.
He drew in a deep breath and said, “Is this, uh, is this because I couldn’t protect you? I am sorry Nyx, I failed you twice but I have been working here around the clock to make sure this never happens again. To you or anyone else.”
I shook my head. “You have not failed me. No one could have known any of what had happened, how does anyone plan for that? I was assaulted in my own bed, there was nothing I could do. Do not burden yourself with that for nothing, amata.” I gave him a soft smile, shuffling my wings back into place while I chopped the produce up. “The girls seem to think it’s not a bad idea to have back-up, for all of us,” I looked at him pointedly, “and they want to set out as soon as possible. Would you come with me? Us?”
Dinlas furrowed his brow, “Who is this…man?”
I shrugged, watching Daisuke roll an apple around. “Luna did not say, only that he may have knowledge or the whereabouts of – of Chaos.”
Dinlas nodded and looked at me as if he were swirling it around in his mind. “If they think it will keep you safe, of course, I will go and try to secure his favor with you.”
I tossed the bits of food into the blender, securing the lid before turning to face him properly. “You do not mind? I…it would not feel right going without you.”
“I will not lie, I feel a bit,” he waved his hands in the air then continued, “emasculated for lack of a better word, to have to seek the help of another. But this is not about me, or my ego. This is about you being as safe as possible should Kronos or this creature ever return. We will go together, I could not bear to see you hurt again.”
I set Daisuke down on the floor beside Adrastos, before walking into Dinlas and hugging him tightly, wings curling around him. “Thank you,” I murmured into his neck, “that means a great deal to me.” He wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me.
“I will tell you what you told me, I can’t bear the thought of ever losing you again. So we will find this man and petition him for help.”
I let my wings relax slightly, letting out a slow breath. “And the Oracle?”
Dinlas nodded, “We will make the quest to find the Oracle together as well. I have to visit Uncle Hades first about Eleni’s situation. I have to check security cameras for clues about her location in the city. I can also be looking for any sign of the Oracle’s shop at the same time. Meanwhile, we may need to divine some clues as to where the Oracle is currently, since they move around so much.”