Sky pauses in speaking and looks at his Dei sergeants, seated across from him. Gwydion is leaning slightly forward, the slight shift in body language revealing concern at what Sky has revealed about the Council’s interest in the Bunnies. With Gwydion, Sky thinks, one must pay attention to even the smallest cracks in his armor. I’m not the only one who wears a mask. Alma is looking at nothing, slightly down, at the edge of the desk maybe, her face as blank as she can make it, as if carved out of a pale, delicate stone.
Fighting the sick feeling in his stomach, Sky backs up and repeats the first part of the sentence. “And if the Council rules against Sergeant Alma and her progeny, the Bunnies…” He pauses again, hating to say it, but this time he pushes through after only a moment. “The Bunnies will be executed.”
Although Alma already knew what he was going to say, Sky catches her flinch at the cold words. He resists the urge – the renewed urge – to reach across the desk and touch her arm, to give her some comfort.
His glance flicks to Gwydion again. The god of magic is staring at him, face composed but eyes stunned. This is news to him, Sky thinks. Alma has always known something like this might happen, and she’s had time to process it from when I told her this morning. And I have known for weeks. But Dion, even though he is the only one of us not directly affected…
The god of magic grips the arm rest on his chair, fingers turning white. “This…” He begins to say. “This isn’t right. They can’t just...kill them!” He stops and glares at Sky, accusingly, but his voice regains a neutral tone. “Who? Will they send someone to do it?”
“They will,” Sky responds heavily, “if I refuse the order.” He locks eyes with Dion and speaks with absolute certainty. “And I will.”
This open statement of intent prompts Dion to raise an eyebrow and respond with a barely perceptible nod. Gwydion then glances at Alma, and his empathy for her pain breaks through for just a moment. Then he looks back at Sky. “Sir...you would be removed from your position.”
Sky nods. “Naturally. And then I would be unable to do much to defend them. But we must do all we can to make sure it doesn’t get that far.” Sky holds out a folder to Dion, and another to Alma. “Copies of the draft report. I’m not the most eloquent of gods. And I’m not of the upper Rings like you two are. You know how to talk to these people better than I.” He absentmindedly touches his badge, with its center stone of obsidian, indicative of his origin in the Fifth Ring, the very lowest, barely part of the City at all...although in reality, his origin is far lower. “Please read these over. Change and add to them as you see fit. Extend and strengthen the arguments. And Dion…”
Sky pauses, allowing his rare use of Gwydion’s nickname to sink in, waiting for the sergeant's eyes to rise and once again lock with his. “Sergeant Alma and I are of course pulling on every string we can. But being from the First Ring, and having an uncle on the Council...I hope you can draw on resources that we simply do not have.”
Dion withdraws his gaze inward, thinking, considering. He glances at Alma to find she is looking at him with a guarded expression, as of one hoping against disappointment. He says to both of them, but mostly to her, “I’ve come to know them. Especially Cherry and Rosemary. We...talk.” His voice shakes ever so slightly, and then returns with determination. “I will do whatever I can.”
Alma does not quite smile, but her expression softens as she looks at him. Words are unnecessary – her gratitude is clear. But she says quietly, sincerely, “Thank you.”
They hold each other’s gaze for seconds longer than Sky would have expected, long enough for him to realize that a bond is forming between them, one which perhaps even they do not yet recognize. He feels...jealous? No, that’s not it. Forgotten. Momentarily, at least. More a hollow feeling than a painful one. How strange, he thinks, before pushing it away.
“Very well, then,” he says aloud to both of them. “We have a few days before the report is due. If you have any duties you need reassigned in order to focus on this problem, you have only to inform me, and it will be done.” He stands, prompting them to rise, but as he begins to deactivate the privacy spell, he says, “Sergeant Alma, stay. I have something to ask of you.”
Dion glances at them both, then takes his leave, holding the folder thoughtfully. Sky and Alma remain standing. As the door closes, Sky says quietly, “I need to take one of the Bunnies with me on a day trip.”
Alma looks at him suspiciously. “And what does this trip entail?”
He glances significantly at the faded, inactive symbols on the upper walls, and replies, “Just moving around the City, using the portal system. I assure you, there will be no danger in it. We’ll stick to safer wards than Three Rats.” As he speaks, he picks up a notepad and writes, then hands it to her.
Backup plan, it says. Escape route.
Her eyes widen as she reads it, and Sky continues, “I would prefer to take Mayumi, if that’s all right. I trust her to handle herself and take orders, if we happen to run across some trouble. But if you need her, I could take Sage.”
She tears the paper from the pad and crumples it. “Do not run across any trouble,” she says darkly. She looks at him severely, then her expression softens. “Sky...do you think we have a chance?”
He nods but does not answer. “We will take every chance that presents itself. And then we’ll do more. Now go.” He holds out his hand for the balled-up piece of paper, and as she leaves, he holds it up to the low flame of his gaslamp.