The temple of Amun, just outside Caristhium, had clearly fallen on hard times. The gates, once open to anyone, were now closed and carefully guarded; the priests and paladins within were slimmer, hungrier, more tired. Even the Abbess seemed to have aged far more than two-and-something years that had passed should allow.
...Which was nothing compared to what had happened to Geddy, of course, but Geddy had played with powerful magics and wound up aged well beyond the years that had passed for everyone else. The gold dragon Eva had likewise aged, but in her case it had taken her from a small child (when she took human form) to a mature woman; Ruin wasn't sure what that had done to her relationship with her sister Rita, but he had the impression that here and now, they had grown up largely apart and might be close to the same age. Lifespans were funny things.
They were on their way back up from the sanctuary -- and the small suite of secret rooms hidden behind and below it -- when someone said, "Ruin?"
He turned and beheld Werendril, the paladin looking strong and lean and--
He hadn't expected to be struck in the face with a mail-gauntleted fist, and as a result completely failed to dodge. He staggered back, barely avoiding crashing into Geddy. Martini stepped out of the way; it was Eva who caught him and pulled him effortlessly upright. "Werendril?" he asked.
The paladin stepped in and punched him in the balls, and Ruin doubled over. "What--?"
Then the paladin stepped in and pulled him close. "Corellon's Sacred Scrotum," he swore, "it's good that you're alive."
"You have," Ruin gasped, trying to force himself upright, "a funny way... of showing it..."
"He's a fucking amateur," said another voice, a woman's voice rich with threat, and Werendril stepped aside. Anica was coming towards him, fist raised over her shoulder, and he braced himself for the impact.
She wrapped her hands around the back of his neck and kissed him, hard.
"Careful," he gasped. "I still might throw up."
"Don't care," she said. "You're alive." Then she punched him in the nerve cluster under his left shoulder. "But that's for leaving us alone all this time. Where the hell have you been?"
Ruin groaned. "Fanaxia," he said. "Then the Abyss. And finally Mar Dentro." This wasn't exactly the reception he'd been expecting, though he'd be hard-pressed to describe what he had been expecting. "Look, if you're going to stab me, just go ahead and get it over with."
"I'm not going to stab you, you idiot," said Anica, "but I have no idea how we're going to explain to Rune that you're actually his father. He's two fucking years old now, and has no idea who you are."
Ruin shook himself, trying to get rid of the nausea... and the numbness that ran through his entire left arm. "You're right," he said. "I have a lot of apologies to make."
"Then you should bloody well start with Aesa," responded Anica.
Ruin looked around at his companions. Geddy was watching with avid fascination and Martini was grinning. Only Eva looked concerned. "I'll... I'll be back in a little bit," he told them.
"I'll get your friends settled," the Abbess told him. "Let Birno know if you need a room to yourself."
Ruin blinked at her, nodded, and then turned as Anica grabbed his arm and all but dragged him away.