Mag Well. The city of the gods and goddesses; our paradise.
Even in her mental thoughts, that last word felt bitter, and Airmed sighs heavily as she stares out the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the ancient city. Bitter or not, she knows her choice, if she so chooses to continue with her plan, would destroy what peace this place has brought her kind, and there are many here she cares deeply for. Does she really want to be the cause of their pain when it is in her nature to heal?
The unmuffled pitter patter of rain and rushing wind sweeps across the old shop as the front door opens and closes, but she ignores it, lost deep in her brooding. That is, until a familiar voice calls out to her.
“Spill the tea, Airmed! What did he tell you?”
Airmed instinctively tightens her grasp around her ceramic teacup. The tips of her fingers lacing together, she cradles it to her chest where its steaming liquid warms her to her core. Languidly, she turns her face from the window and scowls at the woman speaking to her.
“Dionysus. If you care to gather any information from me, it would be wise to not use such offensive language in my shop.”
Dionysus rolls her eyes, her wide smile contagious as it turns the corners of Airmed’s lips up, despite her efforts to resist. Dionysus flicks her raven hair behind her shoulders, and her violet eyes sparkle as she replies, “Darling, I said tea. Not wine.”
Airmed laughs, a genuine sound as musical as wind-chimes.
“I suppose we all have our vices in Mag Well,” Airmed replied, before turning away from her friend. She proceeds deeper into her store, her long, wavy, red hair whipping behind her.
“I prefer the name Elysium myself.” Dionysus replied, filing in after her with swaying hips.
The walnut floors underfoot brace against their steps as the women pass shelves of pre-made tea blends, stacks of roots drying on old screens, and potted shrubs such as bladderwrack or mistletoe. The ancient molding lining the ceiling is cracked, and blue cyan paint coats the walls, though either are hardly visible under the crawling ivy, mint, and passion flowers adorning its surface. Above the women’s heads collections of flowers hang, twine tied at their bases, drying and awaiting their use.
Airmed loves her tea shop; it is the only family she has left. And as the earthy, sweet smell of licorice and valerian root and hops fill her senses, becoming stronger the further in she ventures, she finds herself filled with contentedness by time she reaches the large, wooden counter at the back of her shop. Draining the last of the dark, bitter-floral tea in her cup dry, Airmed sets it down next to her mortar and pestle and turns to Dionysus, meeting her gaze across the counter.
“You would, though I suppose it no longer matters after the union of our nations, wouldn’t you say?” Airmed’s words remind her that now is not the time for contentedness, and her smile slips before she adds softly, “The Great War may be over, but now it seems the complete absence of humans in our life is taking a different kind of toll on our people.”
Turning away, Airmed faces the shelves running from floor to ceiling, lined with amber glass and clay jars full of herbs, tinctures, and compounds. Running her fingertips over the unlabeled jars, she passes chamomile and lavender buds, willow bark and echinacea, catnip and dandelion root, linseeds, raspberry leaves, and varying oxidation of tea leaves. And then, finally…
“Here you are, right where I left you.” Airmed sighed, pulling out a blue, clay jar.
Though Airmed knows the safest place to hide such an item is in plain sight, it still fills her with relief to see it safely where she left it. Foraging for this herb cost her a great deal, after all, and she is careful as she places it on the counter between Dionysus and her. Leaning her elbows against the counters sturdy frame, she cups her hand over her pointed chin, resting her fingertips on her lips, and peers from under hooded lashes at Dionysus. Slowly, a wicked grin spreads across Airmed’s lips.
“Don’t look at me like that with those mischievous green eyes of yours, little Danu. Spill it already!” Dionysus said with pursed lips.
Airmed rolls her eyes. “You know I hate it when you call me that.”
“Seriously, what did Hades tell you?” Dionysus implored impatiently.
Airmed does not answer Dionysus. Instead, she pulls back and pivots toward the hearth at the counter’s end and grabs her water-filled iron kettle sitting atop her pottery wheel where she makes special teacups. Shoving the kettle into the fire, she comes back next to Dionysus and retrieves her cast iron tea pot from under the counter, setting it between them. Pulling tea leaves and herbs from her shelves, she gently feels their dried contents between the pads of her fingertips, listening to the language they speak to her, before adding them to the tea pot.
Glancing at Dionysus, Airmed spoke as she continued to work. “It was unexpected, how long the battle with humans took. We had thought submission would come quickly, but as time dragged on it soon became evident their stubbornness was stronger than their bodies. Only their numbers allowed them such power, and we could not kill them all or risk our own destruction. This is the only reason such a treaty as the Great Division was created. But now here we are, allegedly in paradise, and with what purpose? What is a god or goddess without human need?”
“A goddess, still, Airmed.” Dionysus replied softly, but she couldn’t look her friend in the eyes.
A silence fell once more until the kettle sung in the hearth and Airmed turned to collect it. When the sound of roiling water ceased, she tipped its piping liquid into her pot, listening to the sizzle of it soak crisp leaves.
Sighing, Dionysus spoke first, saying, “I take it the information you sought from Hades left you with answers you did not wish to hear? Whatever it is he told you, did you ever stop to think it could be a trap? That Hades may find your skill in necromancy a threat and wish to be rid of you?”
Airmed scoffed. “A threat to what? There are no humans here, and Gods do not go to the Underworld as often. Gods such as Zeus and Poseidon may still have worship of their crafts on Talam, but without human souls here fearing and feeding Hades’ wrath, he is also feeling the effects of this paradise. Though he would not admit it, I know why he aided me knowledge of my brother: his power is weakening, just the same as the rest of us who are no longer fed the worship of our craft. You do not understand this Dionysus, for even gods and goddesses drink wine and wish for pleasure.”
“Or perhaps he’s just bored and hoping to stir trouble,” Dionysus coaxed. “It wouldn’t exactly be the first time he’s done just such.”
Airmed drops her gaze. Tipping the soothing liquid from her pot into her teacup, she watches the swirling steam rise out of it with the promise of strength and comfort. Still, Airmed does not take a sip yet, wondering to add the final ingredient; the one sitting inside the clay jar between Dionysus and her.
“Our people may not need healing as the humans had, but even we are not touched by Awen, as you; your knowledge is valuable to us. Your shop will thrive, and you will not fade,” Dionysus replied softly. Trying to lift the mood, she adds with a laugh, “Your use of herbs is too delicious to be lost on even us.”
Airmed smiles patiently and meets her friend’s eyes. “A Greek goddess appreciating my craft? And Dionysus of wine, at that. I can almost hear the mortified gasps of our ancestors through the veil.”
“Don’t fret too much over it, Danu, for I’ll never admit it to another,” Dionysus replied with a smirk.
Airmed’s lips quirk up again before her moss-green eyes become glossy, her thoughts lost to the past once more. “My father died in the Great War with humans. In that moment, as his broken body laid at my feet -before the war between our races had even ended- I set off in search of the remaining herbs of my brother. I cared of nothing more. Even when Zeus slammed shut the veil between our worlds. However, as time passed, I began to hope, with my father dead perhaps I could finally gain peace and move past my brother’s death. Alas, I cannot. Not without knowing whether my brother has it, as well.
"Hades said he did not see his soul in the Underworld. That means he is still trapped in the in-between, Dionysus. Because my wretched father scattered his remains when I tried to resurrect him. And now, finally, I have the pieces of my brother together! All 365 herbs found and collected at last, stashed here in my tea shop, just waiting. Except, as the Fates would have it, without human need it seems my powers have too much dwindled to resurrect him."
Airmed meets Dionysus’ eyes as she feels the fire of passion and purpose build in her chest, and watches a frown grow on her friend’s beautiful, painted lips. In that frown, Airmed can see the future; the gods and goddesses cursing her for her selfish desires. Desires that could start the second Great War between races if she tore down the veil between Mag Well and Talam. But who knows? Perhaps some of the humans have found they need the gods and goddesses as much as some of us need them.
The hope of that last thought stops the wavering of Airmed’s conviction. Resolute, she drops her gaze to the blue clay jar on her counter once more; the herb from the Underworld she knew to fix it all -and destroy it all.
Opening the jar, she is instantly met with the smell of ash and floral sweetness before she reaches inside and withdrawals a small piece of sticky root. It drips with thick, black liquid as she moves it across the table and over her teacup. Easing it into the amber contents, their union swirls together like blood in water.
“I wish to return to Talam, to regain my power, and to be reunited with my brother at last! And since Zeus will not allow me passage through the veil and the treaty of the Great Division to be broken, I will bring our worlds back together myself!”
Before she can change her mind, Airmed brings the teacup to her lips. Roots and herbs roll inside her mouth as she drains its contents dry. Almost instantly, she feels the change inside of her begin.