School, for godlings, is a strange, strange thing.
You can’t really predict their powers. Sure, there are clans, and they breed for bloodlines that have an affinity for related divine spheres to awake within them, but even in the Wind Clan there’s always a chance of a kid turning out to be the God of Sunflower Seeds or something. Then what do you do? But even within the constraints of a clan’s tendency, there’s a lot of room for surprises. Just look at the Death Clan and all their different kinds of death. Probably have a god of Death by Poking Forks into Toasters. Just think of how that first manifests itself. Could happen any time between ten seconds after birth and half a century or more. Some five-year-old kid jamming forks into everything he can find, including the nanny’s ankle, somehow instinctively knowing it’s supposed to go into a toaster – only the Death Clan estate is in a low-tech ward and they don’t have any electricity.
The Commander, highest ranking officer of the Guardia, drums his fingers on the armrest of his chair as these idle thoughts drift through his head. A number of parent-gods have stood up and gone to get refreshments while they wait for the show to restart. The hammering and sawing is pretty loud, he has to admit.
School. He looks around and sighs. How long has he been coming to these events? And there’s always some kid with no control over his powers who screws it up. Never his girl, you can bet on that, but then she’s had a lot of practice. Screwing up with her powers is not the problem there. Refusing to grow any older and graduate out of elementary school, on the other hand…
He checks the door again and sees a slender, muscular goddess with short red hair. He doesn’t like the look on her face. “For once it’s not me who’s late. What’s going on? You look like you just ate a lemon thinking it was an orange.”
Subcommander Varah, better known as the Fencer, sits. She props an elbow on the chair arm, looking forward, annoyed. “I’m fine. What happened to the stage? Looks like a bomb went off.”
“Things had just got started when that Strength Clan kid threw a tantrum,” the Commander explains.
Varah grimaces. “Hate that kid. Keeps trying to bully Yllaina. Somebody ought to clap him in Dei manacles until he can control his damned sphere. I’d show him a few manners myself if it weren’t against the law.”
“He’s an idiot, for sure, but at least it was entertaining. Dwarves should be done rebuilding the stage in about twenty minutes.” He looks at her again. She’s still staring at the demolished stage as if willing the dwarves to hurry up. “Right, let’s go talk.”
Fencer looks at him sideways. “About what?”
The Commander raises his chin, grinning humorlessly. “Oh, guessing games, is it? Maybe it’s about Somrak disappearing, and stirring up trouble in Three Rats? Significant demon incursion there? Death Clan members poking their nose in? Am I getting warm?”
She narrows her eyes and looks away. He knows that he loves showing off how well he’s keeping track of everything, a bit too much. “If you know everything already, what’s the use of talking to me?” she growls.
“Obviously I don’t know everything yet,” he says, mollifying her. “But if a gang of demons breaks through in a ward I keep an eye on, you know I’m going to check around. So what’s going on?”
Varah exhales deeply. “Fine, let’s go outside.” She gets to her feet and vanishes.
A moment later he appears next to her outside the school. He’s already pulling a cigar from his breast pocket. He uses a little pocket cigar cutter to guillotine off the tip, thinking as he always does of how perfect the little device is for removing fingers, and lights up. All the while his eyes are on her as she speaks.
And she does, leaning against the back wall of the school, eyes on the horizon, arms crossed over her chest. “It happened. They all know the truth now. Well, a part of the truth, at least.”
“Just so I don’t go off half-cocked, yelling about the wrong thing, which truth are we talking about here?” He takes his first puff, savoring the hot espresso-mixed-with-almond flavor that fills his mouth.
“The necromancer I was looking for in Three Rats was the same that got away from me two centuries ago.” She looks at him. “Guess who killed her then. Who she came back for.”
He wrinkles his brow, then closes his eyes. He is instantly in touch with the acres of Guardia records, files through which he can search from afar whenever he needs to. It is an extension of his memory, in essence. He zooms in on one cabinet, one drawer, one file. He doesn’t need to take it out. He can read the pages just as they are, in the dark and pressed tightly together.
The word he curses under his breath would strike a mortal blind if one were nearby to overhear. “How in Hell did we miss that?”
“We only had half a name.” She sounds bitter. It had been her case. “Anyway, we missed it. She kidnapped him. And my lovely little niece decides she is a grown-up now and doesn’t need guidance anymore so she calls in your other little pet, gets Math’s nephew to help and some mortal or other. They went into the necromancer’s lair without backup. You should have seen them on the way out.” She looks away, but the Commander can see that she is trying to hide the concern she feels for her niece, Alma.
He’s never been the comforting type, but he spares her a glance of compassion. “Coincidence piled on coincidence. Too much to be possible. Somebody is manipulating events. Somebody aside from us, and Math, and the others we already know of. The Oracle? Another oracle?”
Fencer nods in agreement with his frustration. “The mortal is dead. Tuma-Sukai is stuck in his original form, soul too tortured to manage to change back. I don’t know if he’s salvageable. Gwydion and Somrak took a beating as well. God-bound weapon, made out of a minor goddess from my clan. Alma… It was a close one for her. We could barely keep her in her body.” She sighs. “And now they all know.”
“Bound weapons…” The Commander’s voice is heavy. “That confirms our suspicions – the Tragas are back. And of course it’d be Somrak in the middle of that. Didn’t think he was a piece in the game, but someone does. The mortal – it was that assassin?”
Fencer nods. “We have a problem in Somrak. His loyalties are not with your off-blues anymore and he doesn’t trust either of us. He thought we would have brought the Sikari in.”
He mutters, “He was supposed to think that, because it’s what we’re supposed to do. He knew even if he brought us in and we didn’t call in the Sickos, we’d be putting our positions at risk. But yeah…Somrak no longer trusting me – he’s going to be falling to pieces.”
“On the slightly less grim end of the spectrum, our suspicions are confirmed. Gwydion did inherit his parents’ talents. Somehow he managed to keep his sphere dormant for this long.”
“Finally. And he still rescued Sky instead of killing him?” The Commander chuckles. “Always knew that kid had more to him than Math thought.”
Fencer grimaces. “He’s still weak,” she insists. “And he’ll make my niece weak with him. Those two are together now.”
“Still?” The Commander is surprised. “I figured that’d last a week, tops.”
She shakes her head. “Solid. Forged in battlefire. Not going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Reminds me of someone.” He gives Varah that tight grin that makes babies cry two blocks away. “Right, so Alma’s weak from the necromancer and her new sphere and a hundred other things, Gwydion’s weak from his new sphere and being a lovesick puppy, Tuma-Sukai’s been tortured, Somrak’s falling apart – these guys need a vacation. Only we can’t give them one. But we can keep an eye on the place and quietly intervene. Otherwise, a lot of our plans go in the toilet. The few that haven’t already.”
“Math will want our hides.” Fencer’s voice is grim. “He’ll want Tuma-Sukai eliminated for good. And Lyria was talking about pulling Alma out of there. I have to admit I wouldn’t mind that at all but it seems I have ‘lost all claims’ to a certain insubordinate child’s future.” She sounds sarcastic but the Commander can tell, from long and intimate association, that she’s actually hurt by her niece’s words. “Alma doesn’t want to leave but I have never known Lyria to give up easily. And anyway, we cannot let them go out of this unpunished. Not officially, at least.”
He casually turns to lean against the wall next to her and puts an arm around her waist, like it’s got nothing to do with her feeling bad. “Lyria has her plans. I wouldn’t be surprised if making a show of pulling Alma out wasn’t just a move. But yeah, we need to make a show of punishing them. In some cases, not a show. If we don’t, it’ll cost us.”
To his surprise she allows him to keep his arm around her. “She’s gonna fight for them. All of them. You know that. And…I will have to tell my brother everything. I cannot go against him, as you very well know.”
A short barked laugh. “Except for all the times you have, secretly. Yeah, I know.”
Varah shrugs. “This thing should be restarting about now.”
“Too bad we can’t stay here until our kid sings,” he mutters. “That’s the only bit I care about.”
“Yeah, well…I hope you brought wax for your ears because some of these kids sing like harpies.” Varah detaches herself from the wall, turns and without warning grabs his chin in one hand and kisses him with the full force of her frustration.
The Commander knows better than to pass up a moment like this. He drops his cigar and holds onto her, one hand on the back of her head, the other on the small of her back. Her muscles, so hard and compact, shift under his calloused hands, and her body presses against his, pinning him to the wall. When the kiss ends, he is breathing a little faster, a little harder. He can feel her heart, too, pounding against his chest. He doesn’t say anything. He’s learned better than that. It took being married to her, getting divorced from her, and having a child together after that was all over, but he has learned.
She rests her forehead against his for a moment, eyes closed, then pulls away. “Let’s go, then.”
His voice is a little rougher than usual, after that kiss. “Yeah. I think I can even sit through that Storm Clan kid’s singing now.”
The Fencer snorts and vanishes.