“Tea?” Sky asks, twisting the gas cock on a small portable burner, lighting it with a match, and setting a kettle of water on it. He takes off his hat and tosses it on the desk.
“That’s very kind of you. Thank you sir,” says Sgt. Gwydion, while Sgt. Alma nods.
Gwydion nods at the burner. “So this is a low-tech area of the City then, sir?”
“That’s right. Electricity works erratically, electronics not at all. But it’s a medium-high magic area.”
“I can see that being an advantage to the Guardia Dei, then,” Dion assesses.
“Sometimes, yes,” Sky responds absentmindedly as he busies himself with preparing the tea, asking if they take milk and sugar, apologizing for having no lemon. He notes their facial expressions and files away their preferences for later: Gwydion slightly disappointed at the lack of lemon, Alma mildly disgusted at the idea of polluting tea with any foreign substances. He finally serves their steaming tea in cups made of lacquered wood, one black, one red, apparently inexpensive but elegantly made by hand.
As he sits behind his standard-issue civil-servant’s desk, rather on the small side, he blows on his own tea in a green ceramic cup. He sees Sgt. Alma looking at him significantly, holding an official envelope in two fingers. “Oh, of course...sorry. Yes, your orders, please.” He takes their orders and attempts to look as serious and thorough as the mortal sergeant had just a short time earlier as he reads them. “All right, everything seems in order. I’ve read your files, but they really don’t reveal much about you. If we’re going to work together well, we need to know each other’s strengths...and weaknesses. It’s unlikely, but certainly possible, that we may one day have to coordinate in taking down some berserk god of rage.” He looks at them both. “This kind of thing is never comfortable. I’ll start.”
He drinks from his cup. “In case it isn’t mentioned in your orders, my name is Tuma-Sukai. I have been in the Guardia for about forty years. Like you, I’ve just been promoted; like you, I am new to this district. This is my first time to command a station.
“I am a god of rebellion. I shatter chains and locks, incite the meek to battle, terrify the strong into surrender, all that kind of thing, but these powers only work when I’m acting for the benefit of the enslaved or oppressed. Less useful than you might imagine in police work, but sometimes pretty effective. I’ve learned a few enchantments to make up for my over-specialization.”
He takes another drink of tea. “Well, that’s me. Who’s next?”
Gwydion looks at Alma, who says to him with a void, multi-purpose smile, “He who is last to arrive shall be first to explain himself.” Gwydion laughs at this, and says, “All right, then. Well, I’m Gwydion, but my friends call me Dion. I was born to the First Ring,” he says proudly. “I’m a God of Magic, enchantment speciality...so, technically, Master of Enchantment. I graduated top of my class from the High Academy of Magical Studies. So, if you need any tips with those spells, Inspector, I’m happy to help.”
“And your file didn’t mention a divine sphere of influence. Does that mean...” Sky trails off.
Dion pauses, then answers. “As you must know, sir, Gods of Magic are usually born without one. We answer a calling of the soul more than one of family.”
“Yes, I see. So, the devotion to studying magic...”
“It gives me greater flexibility than most gods, actually. And as I said, I am quite good at it.”
“Good to know,” Sky says. “But...I see you haven’t finished healing yourself.” He points at his own cheek, at the spot where Dion’s cheek is bruising.
Dion touches it and frowns. “I...I was running late. My jacket was torn. I focused on mending it. I must have forgotten about this.”
“What happened, Sergeant?”
“Nothing. A minor scuffle.”
“Sergeant, anyone who attacks a member of the Guardia attacks the Guardia itself. What happened?”
“Sir...it’s a personal matter, nothing to do with the Guardia,” he says stiffly.
Sky looks at him for a long moment. “All right, Sergeant. But if your personal matter seems at all likely to pay a visit to this station, you will tell me immediately. I’ll not have your problems becoming a surprise for any of your colleagues to deal with.” He then looks at Alma and nods.
She looks from Sky to Dion. “I am Alma, from the Clan of Death. I am called Keeper of Souls. That alone, should be enough to tell you what it is that I do.”
“Humor me,” Sky insists.
Alma sighs imperceptibly and proceeds to explain. “My role is to collect the souls of mortals when they reach the end of their spans.”
“Your file mentions other abilities. Anything that might be useful to us?”
“Well, I can also do this.” Alma waves a hand in a sharp, yet graceful, movement toward Gwydion’s face that causes the god to cringe, half expecting a slap to hit his already injured cheek. She never touches him, however, causing only a gentle sensation, like being brushed by the faint flapping of a butterfly’s wings.
“Healing?” Sky asks in astonishment, leaning over his desk to inspect Gwydion’s no longer bruised face. “As a divine ability? Not a spell?”
“Yes,” she says, as if it were an uncomfortable admission.
“That is...unusual, isn’t it?”
She simply looks back at him raising a beautifully arched eyebrow.
“Very well,” he says. He opens her folder. “Something else unusual...you have apparently created life. These... ‘Bunnies.’ You were ordered to keep them in stasis until now, but according to the Commander, you are to be allowed to release them and train them to work as civilian staff here at Three Rats Station.” He closes the folder. “I have to say, Sergeant...I’m confused by this. First of all, how does a Goddess of Death create life?”
Her eyes flare for the tiniest speck of a second but she finally grinds out, “A part of my sphere of influence...is also Life.”
Sky sits back in his chair, astonished at the idea of a deity of Death also being one of Life. “Ah...well...anyway, surely you knew the rules against creating new life forms. Only gods specifically licensed –”
“Of course I know the law!” she hisses, almost immediately returning to her previous stern but pleasant decorum. “I did not do it on purpose.”
“An accident?” Sky is even more astonished. “Then...why weren’t these poor creatures destroyed?”
“Creatures?” she says coldly. “They are not just ‘creatures’! They are sentient beings, as worthy of life as anyone. And they should be free.”
Sky looks at her, feeling a bit sick. He’d seen this kind of thing before: gods so self-aggrandizing that they feel the need to create little copies of themselves to worship them, usually nothing more than soulless automatons, often abandoned or given away as toys to other deities when the thrill fades. It would be slavery, if the poor, doomed things had real minds and not just pre-programmed simulations of thought.
“Well,” he says finally, “I have orders to allow you to release these...beings...and you will be responsible for them, Sergeant. You will train them to serve as staff for this station. As for me, I am to observe them and prepare a report on them. I very much hope I will be able to make a positive report.”
He is actually glad to see the look she gives him, an angry expression of challenge, almost smiling, as if she is sure she will beat him. He hopes she will. He feels ill at what he is holding back: that his report will be part of a decision from on high over whether to allow these creatures to continue living and working at this station, or to have them put down like the accidents there are.
“Now,” he says, standing, “let’s go see to them.”