Another huge, tooth-loosening boom hits the door, assaulting the ears of the defenders, making the door bow inward, a small gap opening between it and the frame this time. The seal which Sky painted in his own blood has not, however, broken, and the door holds firm.
“That won’t last much lon-gerrrr,” Somrak sings.
“I knowwww,” Sky replies with a falling singsong tone. He readies the Commander’s little crossbow. Somrak has the other. The Commander has pulled out something else from whatever pocket universe he carries, quite literally, in his pocket. For all the world, it looks to Sky like a weapon he had reason to carry himself for a time, in one of those bush rebellions he fought before his return to the Urbis: a single-shot 40mm grenade launcher. Good old reliable Thumper, he thinks. But no – it is clearly hand-crafted, like any magical weapon must be, and lacks the tall, ladder-style leaf sight for firing long-range arcing shots. He wonders what it does. Certainly not launch grenades. In a confined space like this, that would be suicidal.
“I make a dozen out there, from the sound,” the Commander says flatly.
A dozen Sikari, the Council’s elite killers of both the mortal and immortal. To the general public, even to most gods, their existence is mere rumor, a threat hanging over those who would defy the Council. And even those more in-the-know rarely have any idea of their real nature. The rumors are wild: gods chosen for their particularly deadly powers, drafted into service and conditioned to kill; mortals infused with the souls of murdered gods; specially bred creatures raised on demon flesh.
“Didn’t you see them in action once, Sky?” Somrak asks.
He nods grimly. “But they obscure themselves. Mists precede them. Shadows surround them. I never saw any of them clearly.” He looks at the Commander. “Surely you have seen them, sir.”
The Commander nods. “I’m sworn not to reveal their nature. But they are abominations.” He pauses. “Their eyes glow dimly. Aim right between them.”
Another enormous blow hits the door, buckling it further. The seal flashes red, then all magical vibrancy goes out of it. A grey mist begins to flow in through the gaps between door and frame.
Somrak says, apropos of nothing, “I thought Sergeant Alma was going to tear my head off when I wouldn't let her heal me.”
“She is a very...determined goddess,” Sky says.
“Nearly ruptured myself laughing when I saw that slender little thing filch your sword and go after that giantess.” Somrak smiles at the memory.
Sky smiles. “She is brave.”
The Commander’s gravelly voice tears through Sky’s moment of admiration. “I guess it’s true then.”
Sky cocks his head. “What is, sir?”
“And here I thought you were some kind of monk.” The Commander chuckles to himself. “I suppose it’s no business of mine who you fall for, but she is a subordinate officer. Still, I’m glad to know that you can fall for someone, even if it does complicate things.”
Sky listens to this in growing astonishment as the room fills with mist. His face feels hot. Gripping his crossbow so tightly the stock creaks from the pressure, he bursts out, “Whoever you have reporting to you has gotten things badly wrong! Who is it? Machado? Stathos?”
“Never you mind how I get my infor–”
“And you’re right – it is none of your poxy business! But just so you have all your files updated properly, Sergeant Alma is my friend. At least I assume that’s who you’re talking about, since you haven’t mentioned her by name. If your little spy thinks I’m in love with Constable Lamore then you should demand your money back!”
Somrak laughs. “As amusing as this is, I think it’s time to–”
He is cut off as the door slams open, half-falling as it hangs only on the bottom hinge. Tiny points of dim light glow in the thicker mist beyond, but not clearly enough to offer a certain target. Then a much larger, misshapen shadow looms in the doorway and squeezes through.
Sky gasps. As it enters the room he can see the shape more clearly. It is the giant goddess, hand-crossbow bolts still embedded in her flesh, the wound in her throat gaping, and many more wounds besides. Her left arm is missing. Her skin is deadly pale, drained of blood. From her open mouth, and from her opened throat, a low moan issues.
They have a necromancer on their team, powerful enough to animate the corpse of a god? Sky feels a disgusted awe. Necromancy had supposedly been nearly wiped out two centuries ago.
The Commander, his voice unimpressed, says, “Somrak.” The slender god raises his left hand and the walking corpse is enveloped in flames. The fire burns hot, and drives away some of the mist. The body begins to twitch and stagger randomly as the muscles and tendons contract from the heat. It hits the wall and stops there, convulsing. But its brightness, reflecting off the mist, and the smoke it generates together serve to obscure the Guardias’ vision even further, and the eyes of the Sikari are impossible to make out.
Movement. They are gathering themselves for the charge. Sky readies to fire. The doorway will channel them, keep them from coming in more than two at a time. The Guardia trio may barely have a chance, if the Sikari don’t have reinforcements coming.
Just do your job, he thinks, the voice in his head sounding like the Commander. Just do your job and don’t worry about what comes after.
Then he hears the whistle. Piercing and utterly familiar, the distinctively harsh musical tone of the Guardia, it fills Sky with a hope he had been refusing to feel.
Somrak laughs. “Those two highborn fools came through!”
“But will the Sikari fight?” the Commander growls.
A voice outside shouts, “Stand down! Our Commander is in that room!”
There is a moaning grumble from the Sikari that lasts over a minute. Finally, an empty voice that has never known hope nor love states, “We have completed our mission. The assassins are dead. We shall withdraw.”
A shambling, dragging sound as the Sikari reluctantly pull back. The mist dissipates. The burning corpse of the giantess suddenly goes out as Somrak makes a cutting gesture at it.
The doorway fills with a figure in full armor of articulated ceramic and metal plates, enameled in Guardia Dei indigo, heavily enchanted for only the most elite special-operations units. “Commander?”
“Good work, Captain Morkov.” The Commander rises to his feet and shoulders his fat-barrelled weapon.
“Belli interruptus,” Somrak says. “I feel strangely empty. And disappointed.”
“I do not,” mutters Sky. He steps through the door and sees a squad of eight elites in full armor, supported by another dozen Guardia Dei kitted out for a riot in heavy reinforced jackets and helmets, at least those who have any need of such armor. He spots skin made of stone, or of thick saurian plates. These are some of the toughest Guardia in the City, ready not for patrolling or for taking in unruly drunken gods, but for taking down deities destructive and murderous, very swiftly and very hard.
Movement catches his eye. He looks down at a pool of blood on the broken marble tiles. In the blood swim serpentine shapes, one, two...three. One pale and ethereal, a ghostly green-blue; one reddish gold and regal; one black with a hint of red, spined and vicious in demeanor – the three nagas that guard the Oracle, the ones hatched from Lyria’s eggs and bound to Alma, Dion, and Sky, somehow here, and tiny as garter snakes, swimming in choreographed pattern.
Sky watches, fascinated, and suddenly understanding. He has learned many codes for conveying secret messages over his decades of fighting and spying, and his mind retains them all. This is one used only once, a semaphore using long, fluttering flags. As he sees it, the nagas spiral together, forming a knot that falls in on itself, until they are gone, as if they had never been there.
Sky turns to the Commander, who has just finished shaking the hands of the two Dei he’d sent to fetch help. “I know where they are. The Bunnies, and Alma and Dion. And they are in danger!”