Enter the Beer God 3

“I remember this place,” says the beer god, looking around the clean but nearly empty bar. “It was a great bar once upon a time. Small but cheerful. I was sorry to see it close.”

“We have a couple of people eager to reopen it, as a matter of fact,” says Sky. He sets down a couple of cold bottles of beer, from a box of half a dozen he sent a constable out for, and opens them, handing one to Brew.

“Really? Are they cops?” The beer god picks up his bottle and touches it to Sky’s, saying “Cheers.”

Sky feels an infusion of mana into his beer at the touch. “No, they’re civilians. They say they have experience running a bar.” He takes a drink, and marvels at the fullness of the flavor, a decent beer turned into something special. “Mm, thank you.”

“No problem. So, uh, what happened there?” Brew points toward his own face, at the places torn and bruised on Sky’s face.

“Ah...someone resisted arrest a couple nights ago,” Sky responds dryly. He takes another drink. “That’s related to what I wanted to talk to you about. I was rather surprised to hear we had a god using our police station as a hotel, you know.”

“Oh, uh...sorry about that. Is it going to be a problem?”

“Well, I suppose we might need the cell for a prisoner sometime, if the other two are full. But I think, other than that, we can keep things as they are. I do have a request, however.”

Brew gestures with his bottle for the inspector to continue.

“Someone like you must overhear quite a bit, in bars, at parties, on street corners and the like. We have a new element moving into this ward.” Sky points at his bruises, at the stitches on his cheek. “The Dukaines. They deal in slaves, and they intend to take over Three Rats. I don’t intend to let them. So if you hear anything you think we need to know, I would be very glad to hear about it from you.”

Brew considers this, then nods. “I wander all over the City. But something has kept me in Three Rats for the last few years. I like this place. The people here...they have spirit.” He looks Sky in the eye. “You understand, I’m not gonna tell you about some shopkeeper buyin’ untaxed cigarillos off the back of a cart, stuff like that?”

“Of course,” Sky says. “I’m more concerned with the Dukaines. And anything else you come across that you think might be harmful to the people of this ward.”

Brew nods. As he takes another drink, there is a creak on the stairs to the second floor, from the kitchen. Low voices drift out, “I thought I heard people talkin’, Cherry!” “Shh, let’s just take a look, Merri.”

Two faces peek from the kitchen door, one dark, one pale. The pale one exclaims, “Oh! It’s Inspector Sky!”

The two Bunnies come into the bar. “Hey, Inspector!” says the dark one, buttoning up her blouse. “Who’s your – whoa! What happened to your face?!” Cherry freezes in shock, and Rosemary gasps and puts her hand over her mouth.

Sky rubs his face ruefully, wincing. “Yes, this seems to be the topic of the day. No, don’t worry...” He almost laughs as Rosemary approaches and touches his face tenderly, on the verge of tears. “It’s all right! Sergeant Alma is helping to heal me. It’s just taking some time. Here, let me introduce Brew, the God of Beer. Brew, this is Cherry, and this is Rosemary.”

“Oh, please call me Merri, yer Holiness!” chirps Rosemary, incipient tears instantly gone.

“Only if you’ll call me Brew, Merri,” the god rumbles.

“You can call me anything you want, big guy,” purrs Cherry.

“Do say ye’ll come to our bar when it opens, Brew!” enthuses Merri.

“Sure, I–”

“Yeah, we’d love to have you hangin’ around,” says Cherry, trying to put her hands around one of his biceps. “Look at these arms, Merri! My fingers don’t even touch!”

“Oh, heh, that tickles–”

“It would be such an honour havin’ ye as a regular,” says Merri.

“Well, that’s–”

“Ladies!” barks Sky. The two Bunnies come to some loose definition of attention. In a gentler but still firm voice, he continues, “Our guest is a bit...under the weather. Now weren’t you on your way somewhere?”

Merri gasps. “Oh, that’s right...Alma will be lookin’ for us! Come on, Cherry! Goodbye for now, Brew...it was a true pleasure meetin’ ye!” She tugs at Cherry’s arm, dragging her toward the stairs down to the basement. Cherry pouts, then smiles at Brew, then sticks her tongue out at Sky, then smiles at Brew again, then just as she’s being dragged into the stairwell, she waggles her fingers goodbye to the beer god.

“And those were our future bartenders,” Sky says.

Brew looks at the now-empty stairs in amazement. “Huh. They certainly have the energy for it. Um...did they have...bunny ears?”

Sky nods. “Yes. Yes, they did.”

“Huh. Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Inspector. Thanks for the beer.” He rises and shakes hands with Sky. “I think it’s time for me to move along.” He looks around the bar, as if imagining the possibilities. “But I’m looking forward to coming back.”

“You are most definitely welcome,” says Sky.


Enter the Beer God 2

He awakens slowly and reluctantly opens one eye. The light that enters through his now open eye stabs at his brain and increases the already overwhelming pain throbbing in his head. Knowing that it is a bad idea, he nevertheless opens his second eye, doubling both the light and the pain, and desperately hopes that he doesn’t have a third eye to open. He is fairly certain that he only possesses the usual two eyes, but the pounding in his head is making his thought processes unreliable at best. Cringing, he attempts to open a third eye. When nothing happens, he releases a heavy sigh of relief and tries to come to grips with his hangover.

He is no stranger to hangovers, having experienced thousands of them over the centuries. He is a deity of beer and ale, a patron god to brewers and drinkers alike. The fun of drinking and the agony of the hangover come with the territory and have become a major part of his life. In his younger days, in an attempt to make his life more about enjoyment and less about pain, he developed a spell for curing hangovers. It had not taken him long, however, to realize that the ability to drink without consequences leads down a dangerous path. As he always does when in his current condition, he regrets that he has vowed never to use the spell even in the direst of circumstances.

He breathes out a relieved sigh as he recognizes the ceiling and the high, barred window as belonging to his favorite cell. He has to admit that he misses his cell at the old station, but over the last few days, he’s grown accustomed to the new cells. It was nice that they reused the old locks so that he didn’t even need a new key. They even kept his favorite pillow for him.

He groans as he slowly raises his large frame into a seated position. He is a giant, even amongst other gods, not quite fat enough to be considered obese, but not muscular enough to be considered anything else. Actively against any form of exercise, his only workout comes from lifting large mugs of beer and the occasional barroom brawl. As the rest of the cell comes into focus, he notices two figures standing at the door.

“Morning, Corporal,” Brew says.

“It’s sergeant, now,” Machado replies.

The beer god thinks about that for a moment. “Is that better than corporal?”

“Yeah, it’s a promotion.”

“Well, then. Congratulations, Sergeant Machado!” the beer god says with a smile. “Who’s your friend?”

“My name is Inspector Tuma-Sukai, of the Guardia Dei,” Sky interjects, holding out a hand, “and I am now in command of this station. I thought we should talk.”


Enter the Beer God 1

Inspector Tuma-Sukai wanders through the station, ostensibly performing a routine inspection of his command, but far too distracted by thoughts of the last few days’ events to really notice his surroundings. A loud snore brings his mind back to the present, the sound emanating from one of the holding cells. He begins to chuckle as he gazes at the large man occupying the cell, but the chuckle quickly fades as he detects an aura of power coming from the snoring figure.

He moves swiftly up the stairs and into Sergeant Machado’s office. “Sergeant, a word, please,” he begins. “I think it would be best if the Guardia Dei handled the arrest of any gods. Additionally, our holding cells are not meant for that level of containment.”

“Yes, sir,” the confused sergeant replies, “I know all of that.”

“Then, perhaps you can tell me why you’ve arrested a god?”

“None of my people have arrested any gods.”

“There is a God sleeping in one of the cells right now,” Sky counters. “I know none of the Dei arrested him, so how do you think he got there?”

A look of sudden realization comes over the sergeant and he chuckles. “Oh, that’s probably just Brew, sleeping it off.”

“Brew?” Sky asks.

“Yeah,” Sergeant Machado replies, “See, we arrested him a few years ago for being drunk and disorderly. We didn’t know who he was at the time, and he came along quietly. We didn’t know he was a god until the next morning. He said that we had the most comfortable cell he had ever slept in and asked if we minded if he came by from time to time to sleep it off when he’d had too many.”

“So, he comes by and you arrest him?” Sky asks, trying to make sense of the situation.

“No, sir. He locks himself up.”

Sky raises an eyebrow. “He locks himself up?”

“Yes, sir. He has a key.”

Sky’s other eyebrow quickly joins the first one in a surprised look. “You gave him a key to the cells?”

“Well, it seemed like the right thing to do. What with him coming by so often, it just made it easier on all of us.”

Sky could feel the conversation rapidly getting out of control. “So you’re telling me that this god gets drunk often enough to warrant a permanent cell of his own?”

“Um, yes sir. He is the god of beer, after all. I think it’s part of his job.”

Sky sits for a moment in shocked silence. He then slowly lowers his head and shakes it. Looking back up at the sergeant,  he says, “I think we should go have a chat with this beer god.”


Chapter 2 "Snakes" 24

Alma awakes to complete darkness. Lying on her back, apparently floating amidst the shadows, she slowly gains consciousness of herself. Sustained by nothing, her delicate arms lay relaxed and slightly open, her legs following their example. She doesn’t attempt to move or speak. Yes… She knows this place. She has visited it many times before.

As silence and stillness spread around her, Alma allows her mind to drift and shatter, her every thought falling into the darkness like a pearl fallen from a broken necklace. Slowly, her memories of the world she once inhabited escape into the Void. A city… No, there was never a city. People… She remembers no one. Dreams… No, she has never dreamed before.

Images of gods and Bunnies cross her mind, fleetingly, leaving nothing but a blurry trail behind them. Voices… Does she hear voices? No… She is beyond sound. Memory, touch, fear, anguish, pain, nothing can dwell in here for more than a second. She opens her heart to the darkness, offers her mind to the Void and waits, patiently, for it to take everything away. The silence washes over her, leaving nothing but sweet, gentle, forgiving numbness behind. She is nothing, now. Was she really something, before?

Held in the sweet embrace of nothingness, Alma closes her eyes and surrenders to it, feeling herself fade away, her whole being consumed in sacrifice to the Chaos and Void outside which all things exist.

I did not expect to find you here, a voice resonates, deep within her mind.

Ah, yes… nothing can survive here. Nothing, except for him…

Arion, the goddess remembers. How long has it been since she last dared to even think of his name, let alone speak it?

You do not belong here, dear goddess.

I don’t belong anywhere else, she replies.

Anywhere else will not destroy you, should you remain there for more than a few minutes, Arion admonishes her.

As Alma reopens her eyes, she realizes that she no longer lies in darkness, but instead stands in a gloomy, endless meadow. Arion stands before her, a majestic black stallion, his black and white mane billowing in an absent breeze. His ghostly body, slightly translucent, seems to hold within it a piece of the very Void they both stand in.

This is Chaos, my dearest Alma, not Death. A force and an essence that not even you can bear, Arion reminds her.

And yet, here I stand, the goddess says, walking towards him, extending a gentle hand. Unharmed

Yes, you do, the horse appears to smile, as Alma’s hand caresses his jaw and then his broad, powerful neck. But not for much longer. I cannot sustain you, my dear. I cannot protect you here.

I know I can’t stay. Alma presses her forehead against his, placing a hand on each of his cheeks. I wish I could.

You belong elsewhere, goddess, Arion replies in a strict, yet caring tone. As I belong here. Now, please, go.

With a gentle nudge of his imposing head, the horse sends her flying away from the meadow and the Void, and back to realm of the living.

I miss you. The goddess throws him that last thought as she begins to fall back into her body.

And I you… she hears, right before she awakes again, this time to the twilight filling her bedroom.

Her eyes, her real eyes, now wide open and taking in the  familiar shadows of her room, the goddess takes a moment to re-establish communication with her body. She lays on her back, like before, a comfortable mattress holding her relaxed body. A slight pressure to her right, a feeling of weight holding down the covers, makes her look that way. Sage sleeps peacefully and silently by her side, his head resting on a soft, silver-over-black embroidered pillow, one of the many Alma usually keeps on her bed exclusively for decoration.

Slowly, so as not to disturb the slumbering Bunny, Alma moves to the other side of the bed and gets up. Looking around, she finds the rest of her Bunnies sleeping in their comfortable and safe little alcove, the three younger ones gathered around Mayumi while Rosemary and Cherry hold each other in a sleeping embrace.

Once again looking down at Sage, she now notices that there is no blanket covering him, as if he didn’t expect to fall asleep by her side. Alma moves toward that side of bed and, whispering a simple spell, summons a blanket to cover him. She then leans over and softly kisses his head, eliciting a quiet, contented sigh from the resting Bunny.

Not five minutes later, Alma is again dressed in her long robes, ready to leave the room in search of some fresh night air. And just as she is about to close the door, humming an old nursery song about icy peaks and mountain streams and safe in the knowledge that the protective anti-intruder spell she’s cast on the door will make sure the Bunnies are not disturbed as they sleep safely within, an alien thought brushes against her mind.

Kori…Is that my name? My name… Kori.

Turning back, she sees the three younger Bunnies lost in sleep. She will have to test that name tomorrow, to see if one of the males has finally managed to become aware of himself. They are growing so fast…

Her steps take her out into the night, through empty streets and silent alleys. The gloom holds no secret or fear to her. Death gods soon learn to walk in shadows, seeing as clearly in the soft darkness of the night as in the piercing light of day. Glad to find her mana headache is no longer a problem, Alma spends a long time walking the slumbering streets, listening to their empty silence and following the glimpses and whispers of Three Rats. Out of a reflex honed by a lifetime of practice, her eyes scan the world around her, seeing more than just the shadowy outlines of buildings and statues, her ears capturing more than mere sound. Opening her senses to become fully aware of everything around her, Alma looks at a world of brilliant lights and glittering paths, of souls trapped in human flesh and godly lives contained in ever-changing divine vessels, sculpted after the common belief of their mortal followers, all of them linked by the insubstantial threads left as lives connect and destinies become connected. Difficult to master, impossible to hold for long, this is a skill she only uses when patrolling the streets.

But she is not a Guardia Dei tonight. The minor street gang scuffle in that shadowy corner holds no interest to her. The men will not see her, they will make sure not to see her, and she will pay no attention to them. Tonight, she is a daughter to her father, hunting for a prey that cannot evade her. She is Death tonight, and her target is just around the corner, lying in a ditch with a hand over his heart and an already absent look on his milky white eyes.

She comes to stand by the old man, listening to his failing heart and looking down as his body breaks into the final convulsions of death.

“Do not fight it, little soul,” she advises him in a soft, reassuring voice.

“Am I dying?” the old man says, through unmoving lips.

“No, little soul,” she lets him know. “You are dead.”

“Aahh…” The corpse appears to exhale, releasing a small cloud of pure, shapeless energy that comes to hover in front of Alma’s eyes. “It was faster than I imagined.”

“It often is,” she says as the soul-cloud takes the only shape it remembers having, a spectral copy of the body that once contained it.

“And you are?” it asks.

“Here to collect and deliver your soul.”

The greenish-white ghost takes an appraising look at her. “I always expected Death to be taller, scarier… and male.”

“I am afraid Father is otherwise occupied,” Alma replies with a smile.

“Ah, well…” the ghost shrugs. “I cannot complain. If I had known Death could be beautiful and kind, I would not have feared it for so many years.”

“Kind, little soul? What makes you think that I am kind?”

For the first time, the old man’s soul looks down at the body it once brought life into. Gesturing at it, he explains, “You are here, keeping an old, broken man company as he departs this world instead of being off somewhere, enjoying the attention of other gods, as young and beautiful as you. I call that kindness.” He looks back at her. “I was afraid of dying alone.”

“No one dies alone,” the goddess states. “My family exists to ensure that this much is true.”

“Thank you, dear,” the old man says, nodding in grateful approval. “Now, let me repay you with a little piece of advice from an old man at the verge of eternity. Do yourself a favor, and make sure you don’t live alone either.”

Alma gives his strange words a minute to settle in her mind before answering. “I appreciate your advice, little soul, but your time grows thin. I need to know where you wish to go from here.”

“You mean I can choose what happens after I die?"

“Your soul will be restored to the endless cycle of life and death,” Alma explains. “This, you cannot change. But how you get there is completely up to you. A long journey or ascension into the Heavens, or a brief stay in a lavish dining hall, all are acceptable options to keep your soul busy as it is absorbed by the inner workings of Time and Fate.”

The ghost seems to consider these options for a while, rubbing a spectral chin with a ghostly hand. “I’m done walking and am really not that hungry. But… there is one thing I wish for myself, if it’s not much trouble.”

“Speak it and I will see what I can do.”

“I was a slave my whole life, shackled and beaten,” the old man says, looking at the arms of his soul as if they were still held bound by shackles, the marks of which Alma can see adorning the corpse laid by her feet. “And if I can have anything I want for my afterlife then, please, turn me into a mayfly.”

“A mayfly?” Alma asks in confusion.

The old man’s ghostly lips part in a nostalgic smile. “When I was a young man, I was sent to work in a workshop near a lake. Worked there for twenty years, and every year, when the time was right, the Change would happen and mayflies would invade the area, flying frantically in the sunlight and disappearing the next day.” His lips part even further as he says, “I was happy there…”

“An adult mayfly will only last one day,” the goddess notes.

“Yes…” the old man nods. “And that’s what I’ve always wanted. To live only for a day, but be free for a lifetime.”

Alma nods back and assures him, “I will see what I can do.”

“Thank you,” the ghost utters its final words.

As the final strands of the bond connecting the old man’s soul to his body finally break, Alma gathers what was once a grown man’s soul in her cupped hands and quietly leaves the rapidly cooling corpse to be found by some late-night stroller. Moving in solemn haste, she makes her way to the bridge she knows exists nearby as she feels some of her divine power being replenished in the fulfillment of her calling. She stops in the middle of the bridge, looks down at the waterfalls and then up again, to the little glittery form she holds in her hands.

“It is not a lake, I know. But it is the best I can do right now,” the goddess says apologetically.

She opens her hands, releasing a bright, glowing mayfly, made of nothing but energy and promise. As the goddess turns to leave, it flies away, tumbling and twirling in newfound joy, slowly fading away against the bashful light of the rising sun. Heading back to the station, Alma sighs as the old man’s words echo in her mind.

“Free… for a lifetime…”

...Nasceste, ser pequenino You were born, little being
Para ser livre e ser feliz To be free and happy
Nas tuas mãos jaz um destino In your hands lays a destiny
Construído de raíz Built from scratch
Para ser chão sob os teus pés, To be a ground beneath your feet
O horizonte à tua frente. The horizon in front of you
Nasceste para viver como és You were born to be as you are
E morrer, por fim, docemente… And to die, at last, gently...


Chapter 2 "Snakes" 23

Walking through the streets, the four cops in their armored jackets – two immortal Guardia Dei, two mortal Guardia Popula – prompt night-time conversations to cease and gathered knots of humans and other citizens to stare, and in some cases to break up and slip away. The two gods, Insp Tuma-Sukai and Sgt Gwydion, do not attempt to conceal their divine status now, allowing their natural auras of power to be felt, making them seem bigger, more powerful, more dangerous, drawing the attention of every mortal they pass.
Sky glances back at the two mortal constables trailing them. GC Lamore is even larger in her bulky jacket, but she moves easily in it, graceful and confident. In addition to the usual truncheon, she bears a simple, deadly short sword at her side, having qualified in its use years ago. Probationary Constable Patel carries only the truncheon, and moves awkwardly in his armored jacket, not used to the additional weight. Sky makes a mental note to regularly train with all the station’s cops, two or three a day, unscheduled and randomly, in the basic weapons of the Guardia: truncheon, short sword, staff, and crossbow. Unarmed as well, of course. It would be a good way to get to know them, and to keep them sharp. They would practice on their own, in order to be ready for him.
As they approach the bar Kyri told him about, Sky notices a hesitation from Gwydion. He stops. “What is it, Sergeant?”
“The Singing Cockroach, sir? I, uh...well, I was here last night, actually.”
“Oh really? Doesn’t seem like your kind of place. Kyri said it was a real dive. Very rough.”
“It is, sir. In fact...it seems a lot quieter tonight.” He sounds concerned.
Sky turns to GC Lamore. “Constable?”
She takes a step forward. “Sir. The Cockroach...well, sir, ‘dive’ doesn’t quite cover it. Before the expansion to the new station, Sergeant Machado...Corporal Machado then, of course...gave us standing orders never to enter alone, preferably in groups of four. Even the Zeffrettis just left it alone.”
Gwydion speaks up, “Does it seem...overly quiet to you?”
She looks around the area and at the exterior of the building, then nods. “Normally there’d be shady characters hanging around the outside, making deals and cadging drinks, buying and selling banned items. And the bar itself should be a lot more active. Definitely too quiet.”
Gwydion nods to Sky. “That’s how it was last night, sir. Something’s wrong.”
Sky looks grim. “We’ll check it out. Constables, stay out here. Prevent civilians from entering.” GC Lamore salutes; after a moment, GPC Patel does as well. “Sergeant, be ready.”
Sky walks up to the door and lays a hand on it, lightly. He looks up at the broken sign, then closes his eyes, muttering a small spell. Detecting no immediate danger, he grasps the handle and opens the heavy door, then steps into the bar.
He takes in the centrally placed bar, the heavy tables, automatically calculating positions, lines of movement, looking for doors and other exits. At the cash register, the bar owner stands nervously, watching the entering Dei cops with frightened eyes. A single barmaid is serving a god fitting the description of Eater of Frogs, who is seated at a table at the far end of the room. She is just setting down a full bottle of wine and taking away an empty one. She looks at the cops with fearful eyes that appeal for help, then she moves away.
Sky notes only one other figure in the room. She would stand out even if the room were crowded, however: not only is she gorgeously statuesque, her body is clothed only in smokeless blue flames that lick across her pale skin and red hair as if she had been doused in alcohol and set alight. She is not at all bothered by this, nor do her flames seem in danger of setting afire the chair she is sitting in or the table on which she leans one elbow. She smiles, chin on fist, at Sky and Gwydion, a challenging smile, cruel. Sky recognizes it as an attempt to intimidate. He gives her a dead stare, then focuses on the scaly god at the other end of the room.
His voice rings out. “Eater of Frogs. You’re under arrest for extortion and destruction of private property. Come along quietly.”
The snake god hunches over his mug of wine and laughs hissingly, looking at Sky with hooded eyes. “Inssspector Tuma-Sssssukai! What a pleassssure. Won’t you sssshare my wine? I’ve only jussst ssssstarted another bottle. Wouldn’t want it to go to wasssste.” He raises a glass in mock toast to Sky and Gwydion, then drinks, his lipless mouth scaled black above, white below.
Sky draws his truncheon and strolls into the middle of the room, stopping to stand in a wide stance, truncheon at his side. In a bored voice, he says, “Put down the wine and come along, snake. I won’t tell you again.” Sky can feel Gwydion’s presence behind him, the prickle of magic being prepared.
Eater of Frogs tilts his mug up, drinking deeply, a little wine spilling over the corner of his mouth and trickling down the side of his throat onto his shirtless, dead-white chest. He sets down the mug and looks at the cops with amusement, the shakes his head. “No, I don’t think sssso, Insssspector. Inssstead, I think you’ll be coming with me. My bossssesss want to talk with you. Ssssset boundariessss, dissscusss who getssss to control what, in the new order.”
Sky tilts his head to one side.
“Oh come now, Inssspector! Sssssurely you didn’t think we’d cheat you out of your cut! We don’t much like accommodating rivalssss, it’ssss true, but the Guardia are the biggessssst gang in the Cccccity. We’re reassssonable people. You’ll find working with the Dukaine Organization to be highly profitable.” The god begins to refill his mug.
Sky takes one step forward and swings his truncheon, shattering mug and bottle simultaneously, the bottle exploding into shards and soaking the snake god’s satin jacket. Eater of Frogs sits frozen for a moment, dripping, hand still holding the neck of the bottle in the midst of pouring.
“Well...” Eater of Frogs says with incongruous pleasure, setting down the broken bottleneck. “I ssssuppossse it’ssss Plan B then.” He stands, knocking his chair over. At the same time, the woman in blue flames stands and moves a little closer.
“Does Plan B involve you coming along like a nice snake?” Sky asks.
“No, Insssspector. Plan B involvessss my beating you and your pretty friend until you both beg for mercccccy, ssssso everybody in this ward knowssss that the Guardia can’t protect them from the Dukainessss.” The thuggish god chuckles. “Perssssssonally, I wanted that to be Plan A, but my ssssuperiorsss inssssisssted on offering negotiation firsssst.”
In that same bored voice, Sky says, “Don’t be stupid. As it is now, you’re only going to serve a brief period of incarceration in Purgatory.” He uses the common nickname of the prison for divine criminals. “If you attempt to assault two Guardia Dei, you’ll go away a long time.” His voice becomes inflected with a dangerous rumble. “Not to mention all the damage I will personally inflict on you.”
Sky turns and glares freezingly at the flaming woman as she moves closer. “And you...leave now. I have nothing to charge you with yet, except maybe public indecency.”
In glancing toward the inspector, something catches Gwydion’s attention. “Look out!” He shouts suddenly, shoving his commanding officer in one direction while making a quick but complex gesture with his other hand, a well-practiced generalized counterspell. His target is a shadow that, Sky sees now, is unnaturally extended, having slowly stretched across the floor toward Sky’s back while he was talking with Eater of Frogs.
The spell takes effect instantly, causing the magically stretched shadow to wink out of existence, and a dark shape to appear where the shadow had been. A figure cloaked in shifting shadows stumbles, unbalanced, and falls to one knee, almost dropping a smoky, glassine blade. Without hesitation, Tuma-Sukai kicks the new opponent in the ribs, brutally, lifting the shadowy god completely off the floor to fall groaning nearly two meters away, the obsidian knife spinning away under a table.
Then Sky feels a powerful impact himself, his heavy reinforced jacket only partially absorbing Eater of Frogs’ punch to his kidney. Staggering a few steps, Sky feels a liquid burning in his side that quickly spreads. Poison? he thinks. But he didn’t penetrate the jacket. The pain slows him, and the snake god is far faster than he anyway.
With breathtaking speed, Eater of Frogs presses his attack, slamming Sky with three more massive blows, fists wreathed in an aura of poison. Right shoulder, left cheek, and mouth blaze with pain, both from impact – he can feel his cheek and upper lip split and bleeding – and magically injected venom.
“Whoo!” shouts Eater of Frogs. “Come on, Tuma-Sssssukai! It’ssss no fun if you don’t fight back!”
As he shakes his head to clear it, Sky hears a scream. He turns his head to see Gwydion embraced by the flaming woman, blue flames spreading across him. Rather than burning, the flames leave frost behind, and seem to burrow into the sergeant’s flesh. She kisses him on the mouth as he writhes in agony.
Eater of Frogs laughs. “Cast a love spell on her, Ssssergeant, you get what you dessserve!"
Taking advantage of the snake god’s distraction, Sky swings his truncheon, delivering a strong left-handed blow to the belly. Without oppressed victims to protect, or someone to assist in rebellion, Sky cannot activate most of his divine powers, but he is just as strong as Eater of Frogs, perhaps stronger. Putting his full weight into it, he sends his opponent smashing through a table and into a wall.
Then, grabbing a fallen chair, he hurls it at the burning woman’s back with all his strength, half breaking it against her. She releases Gwydion and falls, arching her back in pain. As Gwydion staggers back and falls as well, the flames enveloping him die, and reaching a hand toward her as she struggles to rise, the sergeant gasps out a single word in a language of magic that Sky recognizes: “PAIN!” Her pain momentarily, magically multiplied many times, her mouth opens in a silent scream and she collapses in an insensate heap.
As he stands, Gydion barely, instinctively dodges a sudden slicing attack from the shadowy figure whose attempt to backstab Sky he had earlier disrupted. Gwydion blocks the next knife attack, forearm to forearm, and then counterattacks with a painful stomp on the instep and a wrenching arm lock, making the shadow-wreathed figure gasp in pain and preventing the knife from being used. But the shadowy god drops the knife and catches it left-handed, forcing Dion to release his hold to block the next attack.
Sky feels a scaly grip on the back of his neck, and he is thrown to the floor. He rolls and lands on his back, getting his arms up, holding out his truncheon to fend off the attack. But Eater of Frogs is too fast, pouncing on the inspector, slapping aside the truncheon and sending it across the room, straddling his chest and seizing him by the throat with one hand while drawing back the other to punch Sky’s face once, twice, three times. Each time, more divine poison fills Sky’s veins.
Glancing to see that Dion is still occupied, Eater of Frogs looks down again at Sky and grins, his mouth full of small hooked teeth, his tongue bifurcated. “I have to compliment you, Inssspector! Mosssst godssss can’t hold up againsssst my poissson ssstrike ssssso long.” He punches Sky again, across the cheek, tearing a flap of skin loose. “You ssssshould have taken the deal! After all, we’re grateful to you! When you took out our rivalssss lasssst month, you opened the ssssslave market for a big exssssspansssion!” The god laughs and hits Sky again.
As the words register, Sky realizes he’s dealing with a slaving organization. He starts to laugh along with the snake god. Eater of Frogs stops laughing and looks at him, puzzled.
Sky slams his fists in hammer blows into the snake god’s sides, feeling the sickening crunch of ribs cracking. As his opponent hisses in pain, Sky grabs the lapels of Eater of Frogs’ jacket and jerks him to the side and down, breaking the floorboards as he smashes the ophidean deity beneath him. Holding his opponent down, getting on top, Sky looks at the others in the room with his ruined face. Through a veil of blood, he sees that the flaming woman is back up and preparing to help her partner. Sky’s gore-matted hair hardly moves as a wind smelling of the ocean blows at gale force around him, as his eyes turn the color of a black hurricane cloudbank. Tattoos blossom and writhe across his face, the backs of his hands, all his exposed skin.
STOP!” he says in a voice that cannot be denied, any more than can a typhoon-driven flood. The two who are fighting Dion freeze in their tracks. “THIS WORM IS NOT YOUR MASTER ANY LONGER!” He gestures toward them, and the breaking of their chains of loyalty is almost audible. Suddenly, their reason for fighting at least temporarily gone, they waver.
SUBMIT!” Sky roars. The shadow god drops the knife and kneels. The shadows disappear, revealing a small male god, head shaved, the face of a child. Dion, not knowing how long this effect will last, grabs the shadow god and slams him across a table, locking his arm behind him and slapping on a pair of silver, magical handcuffs. Then he looks up for the flaming woman, only to see her running out the door, her will strong enough to resist Sky’s command.
Dion looks at Sky, but the badly wounded god is focusing on Eater of Frogs, who is laughing again.
“You’re voiccccce doessssn’t work on me, Inssspector!” The snake god tries another lightning-quick punch, but Sky blocks it, and then another. He is visibly healing, wounds knitting together. His reserves of mana seem to be bottomless as he gathers power and sends it throughout his body, repairing it, and burning away the traces of poison.
“And your poison doesn’t work on me, snake. Weak stuff, really.” He slams a fist into his opponent’s chest, shattering his ribs and tearing his heart, knowing the snake god will just heal it, but that it will greatly reduce his mana. The scaled god convulses in pain. “You shouldn’t have told me so much.” Sky hits Eater of Frogs again, crunching more bone. “But now you’ve started, you’re going to tell me more.” Another shattering punch. “Everything you know.” Crunch. “Probably not much...” Crunch. “But...” Crunch. “Everything...” Crunch.
Sky looks down. The snake god looks like he has been run over by a wagon. Sky reaches back and takes his pair of magic-encrusted handcuffs, rolls the ragdoll god over, and almost puts the cuffs on him before Gwydion holds out a hand.
Sky looks up, confused.
Gwydion says, breathing hard, “If you...cuff him...he won’t be able to...heal. He could even...die.”
Sky grunts assent, then stands slowly. “Right. Sure.” He steps away, still holding the cuffs. “I’ll give him a minute.” He looks at the sergeant. “You all right, Dion?”
“Yeah...uh, yes. Yes sir,” Dion responds, his breath coming more under control.
Sky laughs and puts a hand on Dion’s shoulder, then takes it away, leaving a large bloody print on Dion’s jacket. “Oh...sorry about that...”
Dion glances at it and sighs. “This jacket’s been through a lot,” he mutters. Louder, he asks, “What about the one that ran away?”
Sky shakes his head. “We’ll have our hands full, taking these two to Little Falls Station. They have the right sort of cages to hold them until they can be taken to Purgatory.”
“We just let her go?”
“We’ll get her later. Don’t worry.” Sky looks down at Eater of Frogs, who has started groaning in pain. His torso looks a bit more three-dimensional than it did. “Right, I think that’s enough.”

He bends down to handcuff his prisoner.