Brew shakes his head, his vision doubled, and a sharp pain wobbles through his skull at the motion. Hangover? No, that’s not hangover pain. Hey, where’d all this glass come from?
A big shape, shiny-dark scales and a pale belly, walks across the glass and stands looking down at him, wide snake mouth open in amusement. Brew thinks, I oughta be hearing the glass crunch. And this fool looks like he’s laughing. Oh crap. I’ve gone deaf! How hard did I hit my head? I should really buy a helmet.
Suddenly Kyri, clad in brilliant silvery armor again like she was weeks ago when they fought the Dukaines in the street not far from here, charges against the snake-god Eater of Frogs. He turns to defend himself against her spear, but before she can get close enough to strike, Kyri is knocked aside by something invisible. No, not quite invisible – it looks like a wavering motion through the air, like steam above a boiling pot. She crashes noiselessly next to Brew, who rolls over halfway to help her.
As they both start to struggle to their feet, Eater of Frogs looks back over his shoulder at his companions outside. He signals to one, putting up two fingers like… Bunny ears? and pointing to run after someone. Aw crap, they saw Chime run out the back. Go, kid, go! By the time Eater of Frogs is facing them again, Brew is standing.
Behind Eater of Frogs a goddess steps in through the shattered window while some shaggy god or creature outside dashes off. The goddess is a real looker, though too skinny for Brew’s taste, skin the color of stormclouds and dark hair in myriad tight braids. And a ragged man with a crazed look on his face comes in as well, covered in writhing serpents. Ugh, snakes! Man, those are rattlers! The man looks at Eater of Frogs subserviently, and Brew pegs him for a worshipper, probably some kind of priest. The scaly god, who is always deaf, says something to Brew, perhaps not realizing that Brew cannot read lips. Though how do you read lips on this guy? He ain’t got any lips. Face almost human, but hardly any nose, wide slash of a mouth. Not like I wanna hear what this jerk has to say anyway.
Shrugging off the train of thought, Brew draws on his divine sphere and releases his most direct power: a wave of drunkenness in all directions. Unfortunately he has no control over it – it even makes him drunk, but then he’s pretty much always at least slightly under the influence, so he can act with his normal degree of clumsiness.
Kyri staggers, but the others… Oh man… They’re laughing at me. What the Hell? He looks at the priest, who is holding a piece of jade and murmuring an invocation while two timber rattlers rub their triangular heads against it like cats. Some kinda spell. Protection against toxins? Yeah, that’d do it. And I got Kyri all drunk for nothing.
Deep inside, Brew feels something building. It’s an emotion he rarely feels. He is a sweet-natured guy, a god who just wants to bring the pleasures of beer and other joyous beverages to everyone. No matter how drunk he gets, he’s never an angry drunk, and in fact those who get drunk with him normally don’t experience an amplification of negative emotions like anger or sorrow even if that is their usual tendency. But the potential for fury is within him, and though it has been years since he has been in its grip, tonight, he can tell, is going to be one of those nights.
The feel of Brew’s beefy fist smacking hard into Eater of Frog’s scaly face feels so very good. Brew decides he’ll have another of those. He roars silently and charges as Eater of Frogs staggers back.
Chime runs swiftly. Like all the Bunnies, he is short but very fast, his legs looking human, but with springier muscles and tendons, and his relatively long, narrow feet designed for speed. He pauses momentarily to kick off his shoes, the ones designed by Professor Syron. They are the third redesign, and Syro still hasn’t gotten them quite right. If Chime has to run, he still prefers to do it barefoot.
Behind him, he hears Kyri’s lovely voice calling out a battle cry, then a squeak and a crash. Is she hurt? He wants to run back to help them. But no, Kyri is right. He needs to get Inspector Sky.
As he grabs his shoes, he hears a growl behind him. His ears twitch, and he glances back. There is a hulking, bipedal, fur-covered creature loping toward him, about two blocks away. The eyes glow yellow and the teeth in the long snout flash white in the darkness. Some kind of wolf man, or dog man? Chime feels fear flooding through him. His ears and tail go down, and he dashes off for Three Rats Station as fast as he can.
Behind him, he hears an excited bark, and his pursuer launches into chase. Chime fights panic, his heart racing. He dodges a lamppost, a tree, a couple out together very late. He hears them scream behind him as his pursuer frightens them. Is it gaining?
The shadows on all sides of him shift, move, form into baying dogs that snap at his heels, threatening to make him freeze in suicidal panic. Shadow teeth try to seize his tail, his ears. He screams.
He almost smacks right into three people. Blind with terror, he only vaguely notices them as two women and a man, standing in line, blocking the path. To avoid them he dashes down an alley, hoping to give his pursuer the slip. But a few meters in there is a wall between the two buildings flanking the alley. It’s too high to jump. He spins, hoping to zip back out, but a large, furry shape steps into the alley, silhouetted. A growl comes from it as it advances toward him.
He can see it better now, despite the dark, for his eyes are large and well adapted to the night. Definitely more dog than wolf, with floppy ears and a kind of mustache on the muzzle, its – no his, definitely male, as a lack of clothing makes clear – his fur is variegated brown and dirty white, matted and filthy.
Chime backs away, terrified. The shadows seem to solidify around him, the pack of hounds becoming every second clearer and more real. He can almost feel those teeth on this throat. Breathing hard, he reaches behind and feels the filthy wall. He presses his back to it, mind racing, looking for an opening to spring past the dog-like creature.
“HEY! GET AWAY FROM THAT KID!”
The voice is familiar, but Chime has never heard it so filled with furious command. The shadow hounds suddenly disappear. The dog-man cringes and a whimper escapes its muzzle. He looks back, then growls.
“Guardia…hah! Guardia Popula. You dare to come between me and my prey?” The fur between the creature’s shoulder blades goes up.
“You bet I dare.” Chime nearly faints in relief. It’s Aliyah! “Now you come on outta that alley and surrender like a good boy. Heel!”
The creature growls as his body flinches with a suppressed desire to obey the command. “I am Zev! I am a God of the Hunt: Howler at Moons, Slayer of the Timid! You pitiful mortal. I will tear out your throat for speaking to me in this manner.”
Chime crouches to get a better look. He can see Aliyah standing with her crossbow shouldered in a perfect firing stance. Ever since this business with the Dukaines falling apart, the Inspector had been requiring all the Guardia to go out armed to the teeth, crossbow, sword, and truncheon, plus the steel-reinforced Guardia leather jacket and cap.
“Just give it a try, dog-boy,” the tall constable growls back.
Another Guardia, shorter but stouter, steps into view, her arm around a drunk who she lowers gently to the street. “You just stay there, Jack,” Corporal Cala Lamore says gently before she straightens and shoulders her own crossbow to stand with Aliyah. “We will not allow you to harm that child, God of Strays.”
“Another mortal who dictates to a god,” Zev snarls with contempt. “I will taste that lovely, fat-marbled meat you wear on your bones. Do you think your pinpricks can do me much harm? Especially when I can call my Shadow Pack to kill you from any direction!”
Zev chuckles. Then he cocks his head in confusion, ear perked. Chime hears a whine of anxiety escape the dog-god, and sees the tail tuck between his legs.
Cala says flatly, “That’s right. You have no powers. No ‘Shadow Pack’, and no ability to heal yourself if you take a bolt from these crossbows. You will bleed out.”
“H-how?” Zev whimpers.
Aliyah starts to say, “Oh, see–” but Cala interrupts her. “It’s just something we’ve learned how to do. Don’t you know how many so-called gods have died in this ward lately? How many fell before the Guardia here? We know how to deal with your kind.”
Zev backs away from them, getting closer to Chime, who, though no longer panicking, does not want to be any closer to the canine. He makes a break for it, trying to slip past the god, but Zev seizes his arm. Chime screams, falling to his back, his arm twisted, and he kicks out hard with both feet, hitting Zev in the leg, feeling Zev’s knee pop. The god yipes and falls, releasing Chime, who jumps to his feet and rushes to Cala as Aliyah moves swiftly past him. The tall woman’s long braid whips out as she shifts her crossbow to her left hand and draws her truncheon with her right, bringing it down hard on the whimpering god’s head twice. Zev falls silent.
Chime runs to Cala and, jumping over the legs of the drunk the two Guardia had been escorting, grabs Cala around the waist, burying his face against her leather jacket, feeling the steel mesh underneath. She doesn’t put her arms around him. She is still pointing her crossbow down the alley, as Aliyah drags the unconscious god to the entrance. Then Cala lowers her crossbow momentarily, takes a pair of shackles off her belt – Chime opens his tear-filled eyes to see that they are engraved all over with patterns and eldritch characters – and tosses them to Constable Aliyah.
Aliyah catches them and chuckles. “You supposed to have these, Callie?”
Cala grunts in affirmation. “The Inspector issued them to Philippus and me, and to Sergeant Machado too.”
Aliyah restrains Zev, locking his wrists behind his back. “I thought us mortals wasn’t supposed to go around arrestin’ gods.”
Cala finally clicks the safety on her crossbow and slings it, then embraces the trembling Bunny. “There, there, pyārē bētē. You’re safe now,” she says to Chime, her voice, moments ago commanding and cold, now full of warmth and sweetness. To Aliyah she replies, “It is a good thing for us, then, that our Inspector is willing to bend the rules.”
“He ain’t got no powers ’cause’a my hat!” Seated on the street, Atheist Jack drunkenly groans, “They ain’t gods anyhow! Even if some of’em are pretty nice. That Kyri…now she’s a good woman.”
“Kyri!” Chime cries suddenly, pulling away from Cala. “You gotta help, help, help her!” he sings.
“Don’t tell me there’s more naked dog men over at the Copper Pot!” Aliyah moans. “One was enough! And can’t this guy wear pants? I am totally citing him for public nudity. Nobody wants to look at that, come on!”
Cala goes to one knee and cups Chime’s cheeks with her hands. “What is happening, dear boy?”
His voice quivering, Chime sings,
“A walking talking snake
Shattered all the glass
Now Kyri cannot bake
And Brew fell on his–”
Cala and Aliyah look at each other for a moment, then Cala speaks. “Take Chime back to the station as fast as you can. Get the Inspector and return to the Copper Pot.”
“What about you?” Aliyah asks.
“Come on, Jack!” Cala grabs the man’s arm and pulls him to his feet. “I’m going to need your help with this. I know you can’t run, but Kyri needs you, so let’s try to stumble fast, shall we?”