A pale, thin woman stands on a balcony, looking outside over the balustrade. Her long, pearl-white hair, occasionally punctuated by a bright silvery highlight, frames her face as it falls freely over her bare shoulders, her pallid, soft skin contrasting sharply against her long, dark-blue robes. No lines or scars mark her seemingly ageless face and, if not for the lingering darkness in her eyes, one might be tempted to think she is little more than a young adult.
As she looks outside at the bustling city, her deep blue eyes wander toward the inner Ring. A haven within the city, the home of the greatest, most powerful and revered gods glows with the magnificent shapes and colors of the majestic temple complexes and splendid statues of the extremely restricted elite of elder and popular gods. Gardens snake around the buildings while bright, clear pools, lakes and rivers bring an everlasting sense of freshness and purity into the breathtaking neighborhood where only a privileged few are allowed to dwell. A treacherous thought crosses her mind as a peculiar kind of jealousy leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. Those temples and gardens… How much longer would she be forced to walk among the lesser gods until her family was finally allowed to claim its rightful place among the elders?
A sigh of utter impotence escapes her delicate red lips in anticipation of her next thought. Age and power alone were not enough. Death would always lose the great popularity contest that made for whatever passed for politics in this city.
Her eyes find the familiar silhouette of her family’s great temple, standing close enough to the First Ring so as not to offend its illustrious inhabitants but far enough not to bother their fellow gods with their disturbing presence. An impressive house… but not a home. Never a home. Theatres, libraries, academies, museums, all fall under her gaze as she forces her eyes to look back into the balcony. These places have been more of a home to her than any temple or shrine. And yet, they have never been quite enough…
Her thoughts are disturbed by the quick, angry stride of a dark-skinned man leaving the balcony at speed, and Orin, the sub-secretary, walking to her and bowing low, with the slightly worried look typical of any mortal who is forced to talk to a member of Death's family on his face.
“Corporal Alma, the Commander will see you now”.
“Thank you, Orin,” the goddess replies with a vague smile. “How is your family?”
“All in good health, Corporal, thank you for asking,” the sub-secretary answers quickly. “Please, follow me.”
Now inside the Commander’s luxurious office, Alma walks over to his desk and remains before it, standing rigidly with her hands locked together behind her back. She doesn’t look directly at the Commander, who is standing by the window, looking out as if to inspect his city from this vantage point and apparently unaware of the young goddess’ presence. Instead, she looks ahead, her eyes focusing on nothing as every muscle in her slender body keeps her standing as the coldest, most graceful of marble statues.
“Corporal Alma, of the old and great clan of Death gods,” the Commander says, still refusing to look at her. “It has been a while since you have last stood in this office.”
“I try to stay as far away as possible from this room, sir,” Alma answers to the air in front of her, looking straight ahead as before. “I know how busy you tend to be.”
“You do have a rather disturbing talent for evading my sight,” the Commander concedes, walking away from the window and towards his desk, where a pile of folders patiently awaits his attention. He goes through the pile and picks a particularly thick folder. “And yet every week I get at least one report featuring your 'creative' solutions to difficult problems.”
“And what exactly does my commanding officer say I have done this time?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The damned things give me headaches so I never read them anymore. Here, you read it,” the Commander states, handing the file to Alma.
The goddess takes it and reads quickly, pausing every now and again to decipher a particularly difficult line of bad calligraphy. “Hmm… Funny how I don’t remember letting this petty criminal go free. I don’t even remember coming in for work that day. I was too busy following this particular suspect to his gang’s hideout.”
“The same criminal who was supposed to be in jail?” The Commander asks, raising an eyebrow.
“He must have gotten out, somehow,” Alma replies, shrugging in false ignorance.
“Well, Corporal, I can no longer ignore these reports. Every CO you have ever served under has come to hate you, in spite of your surprisingly high apprehension rates, and I have but one left who won’t jump off that window before accepting you under his orders.”
“I cannot be blamed for other people’s incompetence, sir. That is their crime, not mine.”
“No, but you can be blamed for your own crimes, can you not?” The Commander replies, his every word a dagger laced with deadly poison.
Alma says nothing but her face betrays her alarm for just long enough to be picked up by the Commander.
“Yes, that one in particular,” the Commander responds as if reading the thoughts now moving frantically across the goddess’ mind.
“It is an old crime…” For the first time, Alma allows her eyes to move away from the end of the room and look down.
“Some crimes cannot be forgiven, regardless of how much time goes by. Like creating life without proper authorization and refusing to destroy it even after being ordered to do so by your Commander.”
“The Bunnies are sentient, living beings,” – here the goddess looks straight at her commander – “They have as much right to a life as any other creature.”
The Commander evades her look for a moment before saying “There are many who would consider them abominations. But they will get to live. I will even allow you to free them from that stasis bubble you have been keeping them in.” He looks back at her carefully blank face. “Yes, I do know more about your secrets than you think.”
“And what do I have to do in return?”
“Do as you’re told in your new assignment. And make sure those… creatures are sterile.”
“I am not sure I can change them that much.”
“I trust your abilities,” the Commander states, picking another folder from the pile and handing it to Alma. “You’ll be stationed at Three Rats from now on.”
“The Fourth Ring?” the goddess asks after a quick read. “You are banishing me to the Fourth Ring?”
The Commander looks at the young goddess with the fiery eyes of one who is not used to taking “no” for an answer. “You have dug your own grave, Corporal. Now lie in it.”
“I understand… Sir.” Alma concedes in a voice cold as the Abyss.
“Oh, I’ll bet you do,” the Commander replies, walking up to her. He looks at her robes, frowning as he always does at the corporal’s resistance to wearing the traditional Guardia skirt suit that all female officers are “suggested” to wear. Alma’s bare shoulders hold no corporal insignias. These are held on armbands, one on each arm, made of the same fabric as her robes, and the Commander has but to stretch out both his hands and pull gently to remove the signs of a corporal’s rank. He carefully pins new insignias onto both armbands before stepping back and saluting. Alma salutes back, with a graceful hand gesture honed by years of etiquette lessons.
The Commander quits his salute and says “Sergeant Alma, Bringer of Life,” – here the former corporal raises an eyebrow and breathes deep – “Keeper of Souls, I order you in the names of the Ministry of Justice and the Guardia to take station at the Guardia Station of Three Rats. Report to your new Commanding Officer there, as soon as possible. His name is Inspector Tuma-sukai.”
“I shall commit it to memory.”
“And Alma…” The Commander says in a softer voice. “This is your last chance. Please, don’t waste it.”