“How many bolts left, Edison?” Sky asks.
“Uh...three.” The burly Guardia Popula sergeant fires, just to keep an enemy’s head down. “Two.”
Sky scans for movement as Machado reloads. He knows a few have slipped past them, one that flew through the air, another that he could sense below, tunneling through the ground. But they have bought Alma’s group a good fifteen minutes. He hopes they can reach the portal ahead of their pursuers.
He sees a rounded shape that wasn’t there earlier. He fires and is rewarded by a hiss that sounds familiar. A flesh wound only, but any mana spent on healing is mana a god won’t have when the real fight comes.
“That’s my last one,” says Sky. He sets down his crossbow and draws his sword. It is a short, wide tool, not quite the length of his arm, brutal in its simplicity, reinforced by magic so that it will stay sharper than steel and not break in the rigors of battle. “I’m going out to meet them. Use your last ammunition on ones that I don’t seem to notice, eh?”
Machado’s shoulders slump. “I won’t be able to fight much, with my leg like this.”
Sky squeezes the man’s huge shoulder. “After your last shot, just slip away, my friend. Hopefully–” He breaks off, listening. “Do you hear that?”
Machado listens. “Music?”
It is coming from behind the Dukaine attackers. From the direction of the Copper Pot. Sky grins. “Kyri.”
“Dona Kyri?” Machado asks. “But...what will she do? Make them dance?”
Sky listens intently. The music is stirring, the strings ominous as the orchestra promises rather than threatens a divine retribution for anyone who would defy the tiny conductrix. He feels his divine powers growing stronger, realizes he is getting caught up in the goddess’ musical distortion of reality, her divine power supplementing his own. She must have heard all the fighting, realized what was going on. Surely she will not join the fight directly, not short, adorably plump Kyri. But then again, Sky wonders if there is some steel lurking beneath her sweetness.
And then he hears the wings, and he sees them, glowing in the darkness, swooping down from the night sky. Winged horses, ridden by women, armored, bearing spears. They are like silver ghosts, translucent, perhaps mere illusions, but a scream, then moans and shouts of panic rise from the remaining Dukaines. Mortals, perhaps even gods, break and flee, exposing themselves to Machado’s fire if the Sergeant had ammunition to spare. Sky laughs and shouts, “Valkyrie!” He feels the urge for battle rise in him, fill him, partly his own, partly an urge brought on by Kyri’s music, and he hears her voice, clear and beautiful and sees her figure striding into view.
She is small but magnificent, her armor mirror-bright, her spear twice as tall as she is, with a broad leaf-shaped blade. Sky can feel just a hint of the terror she is inspiring in her opponents, senses how, to them, she is a towering giant they dare not approach. Still laughing, he leaps over the wall and charges toward her, hearing the roar of the ocean in his ears.
Kyri’s armor flashes and Sky sees another figure, standing behind her, much larger, unarmed, looking a bit unsure about all this. Brew, the beer god, come to stand with Kyri. He rolls his shoulders and clenches his huge ham-fists.
And then the remaining Dukaines erupt from hiding. The nearest to Sky is fast, on him almost immediately. Tall and thin, covered in what appears to be thick but flexible leather armor, moving swifter than any mortal and bearing two slender swords, the divine slashes before Sky can raise his guard, but only succeeds in penetrating the outer layer of leather over Sky’s chest, revealing a layer of chainmail beneath.
Once, for a few decades after fleeing the Insula and arriving on Earth, he was a god to idyllic island-dwellers on Earth, and they named him Tuma-Sukai, reflecting the dual nature they sensed in him: Devil Wave, Calm Ocean. In his counterstroke, he draws on the first part of that name. The gangly god or demigod tries to dodge, but there is no avoiding the power of the tsunami. The roar of the ocean fills the air, filling his arm as the blade comes down, smashing through one blade’s ineffective parry, and down through the armor, flesh, bone, and down, down to ring against the suddenly wet street.
Sky’s opponent slumps, unmoving, in two parts, blood pumping, spreading across the street. Sky feels himself grinning and exultant, and a small part of himself is frightened, but that part stays silent. This is no time for morality, his body sings. This is a time to kill or be killed. And if you are killed, you cannot defend those you have vowed to protect.
As he is turning something hits him, the world flips, and he finds himself flat on his back, confused. He feels like he has been hit by a house. Glancing around, shaking his head to clear double vision, it looks as if he was. Or at least a wall, which shattered after he was flattened by it. Then with a hiss, a familiar scaled enemy is upon him, grabbing his throat, strangling him. Sky’s vision clears and he sees the black-and-white snakeskin pattern of Eater of Frogs above him. If he weren’t being throttled, Sky would laugh.
He can feel the snake god trying to fill him with poison through his grip, as he did in their last battle, but Sky’s divinity is roaring in his ears, and the power of the ocean is washing away any poison. He reaches up and places his palms on Eater of Frogs’ chest, then pushes. The snake god flies back, choking, lungs filled with water and hurled away by the unstoppable power of the ocean waves. Gasping and struggling, Eater of Frogs tries to rise, choking and vomiting out seawater onto the street. Sky finds his sword and strides over, glancing to see Kyri and Brew fighting two much larger gods, one of them with at least eight legs. As Brew pummels the larger of the two gods, Kyri spins, crouched low, her spear scything at least four of the spider god’s legs out from under it. But as the little valkyrie prepares to stab the foe, one of the spider’s flailing legs hits her side, sending Kyri flying toward a wall, like a doll thrown by a child.
“I suppose you must’ve had a good lawyer, Eater of Frogs,” Sky growls. “He won’t do you any good if you don’t stand down now.”
The snake god makes it to his feet. Sky can see the fear in his eyes. The Inspector had not been nearly as powerful in their last fight, and Sky still won. But apparently the fear of his masters wins out, and Eater of Frogs hisses, “I’ll fill you sssssssso full of poissssssson you’ll never recover, Tuma-Ssssssssukai!”
Then just as the snake god is about to spring at him, Sky feels a wave of magic pass over him, and tastes...beer? Really good beer! And suddenly he doesn’t feel angry anymore, oh no, he feels mellow, floaty, as if his legs have disappeared, the world swaying back and forth, spinning.
“Oh, great…” he murmurs. “Wha’ da hell?” He’s barely able to remain standing, but Eater of Frogs collapses completely, and vomits again, and settles down to sleep in the vomit. Sky looks over at Kyri and Brew, and sees the only figure standing is the beer god. Everything else has gone silent.
Then a bolt zips past Sky’s head. He spins to look behind him, and just keeps spinning, three times around, staggering. He barely manages not to fall down, exerting his will, trying to use mana to burn the drunkenness out of this system.
Machado is laughing. “I’m sorry...my finger slipped! Wha’ happened? I feel...strange!”
“Ahhhh…” Sky vaguely waves over in Brew’s direction. “THAT guy! He made us drunk.”
“Ooohhhhhh.” Machado complains, “Brewwww! I’m on dutyyyyy!” Machado slumps on the wall, head sinking. “...beer always makes me schleepy.”
Sky turns again and staggers over to Brew and Kyri. The beer god is helping Kyri up. She is clutching her side,where blood is seeping out from under her breastplate. “Oww. Ohhh ow. Fiddlesticks!” She hiccups daintily, then giggles.
“You all right?” Brew calls to Sky.
“Fine,” the Inspector answers, shaking his head. His divine power still running strong, the drunkenness is washing away swiftly. He looks at the fallen opponents. The one with the extra legs looks like what you’d get if a centaur married a hairy tarantula. Only the face, as well as the lower body, is that of a spider, while the upper torso is that of an astonishingly lovely woman. Wonderful, Sky thinks. Another one for Sky’s Big Book of Recurring Nightmare Characters. In any case, the beer wave has made her forget how to coordinate eight legs and, essentially, two bodies, and she is just twitching and moaning on the street, her naginata dropped nearby. Sky kicks it further away.
“That’s a neat trick, Brew.” He nods at the other opponent, a rather mundane-looking man with a split scalp. “What’s with him?”
“He was, like, some über kung fu guy. Glowin’ purple energy around his hands. I didn’t want him touching me, and then Kyri got hurt, so I kinda, well, did my thing.” He shrugs. “Sorry, can’t discriminate between friend and foe with it.”
“I think you saved our lives, you two,” Sky says, feeling more normal by the second. “I don’t think I could’ve taken all four of them.” He pulls out a pair of enchanted handcuffs and slaps them on the martial-artist god. “Kyri...are you going to be all right?”
“I...think so, dear...if the world would kindly stop spinning, I’ll even heal myself a little. Whoopsy!” She swoons and allows Sky to catch her, giggling. Brew rolls his eyes.
Smiling indulgently, Sky hands her over to Brew. She pouts, then looks up at Brew adoringly. “My hero!” She reaches up and after a few missed attempts, strokes his stubbled cheek.
Sky resists laughing. “I only have one set of handcuffs. Can you keep this one drunk?” he asks, indicating the spider goddess. Then he looks back at where Eater of Frogs is lying. Was lying. The snake god is gone. Sky sighs, realizing the recurring annoyance must have a resistance to poisons as well. “And Sergeant Machado is injured.”
Brew nods, helping Kyri to stand again. “Got it.” At the sound of a Watch whistle, he glances over his shoulder. “Ah, here they come. Reinforcements.”
“Good,” says Sky. “I have to go. Perhaps I can do for the others what you two just did for me and Edison: come running to the rescue. Thank you!” And he speeds off as fast as he can along the route Alma, Dion, and the Bunnies took to Little Falls.
As Sky runs onward he hears Kyri rambling to Brew, “Do you know something? I really do think I could have beat that spidey-girl if you hadn’t gotten me drunk just then!”
“Of course you coulda, Kyri,” replies Brew, indulgently.
“No, really, I’m quite sure! I’d have just… just… whoopsy!”
Sky laughs into the dangerous night.