AMCW storylines Godbinder

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Lord77 looks over the tome, working in his head first the spell to allow him to hear other god’s tones. After committing it to memory, he pulls his will and invokes the spell. Almost immediately, he hears a set of tones, almost like a chord. Looking up at his father he states. “I hear music.”

“You hear me, son. Get used to that.”

“You’re noisy.”

Lord01 snorts a quick laugh. “You’ll get used to that too. Maybe because I’ve been around for a bit, I’m a tad noisier than most. But, most likely, you’re just new to this talent, and you need time to learn to back the volume down.”

Turning back to his parchments, the ancient god continues, “In order to learn how to block a binding or unbind a god, the first thing you need to learn is how binding works. This is a tri-level spell, son. Very complex. You’re going to need to concentrate hard to pull this off. But first, I’m going to bind you so that you can know and feel what this is.”

Lord77’s eyes widen at the thought. “Whoa. You’re going to bind me? To what?”

“Well, I’m only going to bind a piece of you, son. Although, there is little difference in the work whether it’s a piece or the whole essence I bind. Mostly, it’s a question of time to get all of the god’s soul bound.”

“As to what,” Lord01 stands and kicks over the chair on which he was sitting. “This will do as good as any.”

“Now, sit tight, son, and try to relax. More importantly, try not to fight this,” Lord01 states as he prepares to bind part of his Lord77’s essence to the chair the younger god is currently sitting on. “Normally, you would weaken the god sufficiently to keep them from fighting the process.”

“I gather this is going to be unpleasant.”

“Oh, it’s going to hurt like a bitch, son. But you need to experience it in order to be able understand it and more importantly perform it,” the ancient god explains as he readies his documents.

“Why do I need to learn how to bind a god?”

Lord01 halts his reading for a moment and looks at his son. “Because in order to unbind a god, you’re going to need to bind one first.”

“I’m going to bind you?!” Lord77 asks, astonished at the concept.

“I’m fresh out of bound gods around here, boy,” the father responds. “Now, hold tight because here we go.”

As Lord01 begins to work the multi-layered spell, a fog appears to drift over Lord77’s conscious, creating an almost dreamlike state. As the spell progresses, the younger god feels a stretching occur, like stepping away from his current seat without moving. Suddenly, an intense pain strikes as his essence is pulled from his body and carved.

“AAAAAH!” Lord77 screams, and as a reflex begins to raise his shield.

“NO!” Lord01 yells. “Don’t fight it! Let me finish!”

The son, panting heavily, forces his shield down, and feels the spell complete, ripping the piece of his soul away. He now becomes aware of not only his aching body, but the chair underneath him too, as if it has become a new limb. The pain continues but slowly subsides, leaving behind an emptiness where part of his soul should be.

As Lord77 opens his now bloodshot eyes, he’s looking directly into his father’s eyes who had stepped around and crouched down in front of his son.

“How are you doing, son?” Lord01 inquires with concern.

“Like I was just cleaved in two with an axe, dad,” The younger god responds. “I can feel the chair now, like it’s another leg. Is that supposed to happen?”

The ancient god nods and then steps back. “Yes. Part of your essence is now bound to that chair. If I had completed the transfer, your body would be just an empty husk, and you would only feel the chair.”

Stepping back and around his son, Lord01 looks pensive. “So, that’s what I heard…” he muses.

“Heard what, dad?”

“Nothing, son…Nothing of importance right now,” Lord01 responds still in thought. Returning to the table, he continues. “Well, what say we put you back together?”

Lifting the parchment, the ancient god begins working the spell of unbinding. Again, a fog settles around Lord77’s conscious. But, this time, instead of a stretching, a compression occurs. Slowly, he loses awareness of the chair below him, and a feeling of wholeness comes over him in a very pleasant way. The fog lifts, and again his father stands in front of him.

“Feel better?”

“Yes, dad. That was actually quite nice, almost refreshing.”

“Hmpf.” Lord01 grunts and returns to the table. “That’s the natural order being restored. It fights the separation and rewards the consolidation…Well, now that I know that these spells work again, it’s your turn.”

Trading places, Lord01 takes a seat on the chair. “Now remember, it’s a tri-level spell. You have to balance the soul removal, the transference, and the binding all at once. I hope you’re over your girlfriend silliness, because you have to concentrate on this alone.”

“I got it, dad. I’ll be fine,” Lord77 responds with a degree of irritation. “You ready?”

“Yeah, go ahead. But please, once you feel my soul start to shift, hold that part of the spell and perform the binding on that part alone. I’d prefer that you not empty me completely into the chair.”

“Understood, dad. OK. Here we go,” and the process repeats, this time with the partners switched.

Upon finishing the binding spell, Lord77 quickly paces over to his father who is wheezing heavily. “Dad?! You OK?!” He asks with great concern.

“Yeah…I’m fine,” the ancient god says waving off his son. “Well, you managed to do it as my chair leg itches.”

The words hang in the air for a moment before the younger god realizes that his father is joking and then begins laughing. “Well, thanks dad. Glad to know I got it right.”

Holding still for a moment, Lord77 notes a change in the environment. “Hey, dad? You’re echoing.”

“Was wondering when you’d notice that. What do you hear?”

“I hear you…well your tone, but it’s different. Like I said, an echo.”

“OK, son. Let’s try this,” and the ancient god rises from the chair and walks over to the other side of the room. “What do you hear now?”

Lord77 stands rooted, initially confused, then understanding. “The part of your soul bound to the chair is emitting a tone just as you do. I’m hearing it in stereo.”

“Yep. Now you know why it was important for you to learn how to hear first. You can hear my essence bound to the chair, and you know that it’s me because you recognize the tone.”

Narrowing his eyes and looking hard at his son, Lord01 asks a question. “Now, son, suppose I was a god who stood before you with an object, a weapon of a sort, and you heard two different tones. What would I be?”

Lord77, now comprehending all the work that he and his father have been doing together, looks back at his father with complete seriousness. “You’d be a Godbinder.”

Lord01 nods slowly and then moves back to the chair. “What say you put me back together? Then you need to go see your friends at that Guild bar again. Get used to their tones and come back to chat with me about it.”

Lord77 enters the Guild House from his kitchen portal and walks slowly towards the bar, listening as he goes along to the myriad of tones assaulting his senses. As luck would have it, many of his friends are in the house at the moment keeping Pasha and Sasha quite busy pouring drinks and collecting the latest bits of gossip. Scanning the room, he sees Godofbeer at his normal bar stool. Azzageddi is shuffling some papers at his work table by the piano, and Nyrini holding Twilight at the end of the bar. Some of the guest gods from the sowing Sun Guild had dropped by and were sitting around a couple of bar tables.

“Dad was right. It’s like sitting in a musical orchestra,” Lord77 mutters as he tries to drown out the sounds to something manageable. “I can see why he sent me here to practice.”

Sitting down next to his drinking partner, Lord77 slaps the large god on the back and gets a salute of a beer mug in return. “Hey, big guy, I heard that negotiations with Chester didn’t go the way you expected.”

The beer god snarls lightly and covers a frown with another gulp of beer.

“Can’t say I didn’t warn you, buddy.” Lord77 chuckles as he catches Sasha’s attention.

Sasha quickly slides over and pours an ale. “Hi Lordy, dear! What brings you back so soon?”

“Just wanted to see my favorite barmaid and listen to the music,” Lord77 replies noting that although magical in nature, he perceives no tone from the buga bunny. Because of proximity, he hears the beer god’s tone quite clearly. It is unmistakable and almost lighthearted in nature reflecting the personality, Lord77 surmises.

“Dja hear that, Pashy? He says I’m his favorite barmaid!” Sasha giggles as Pasha blows a raspberry from the other end of the bar. “Well, the music isn’t playing right now. But if y’want, I’ll go punch a button on the karyoky.”

“No. That’s fine dear. I’m enjoying the ambiance as it is.”

Nyrini sets Twilight on the bar and heads in Lord77’s direction, intent on stopping by the kitchen to get a snack from Twilight. As she passes, the god hears her tone clearly, in stereo. Quickly whipping his head around, he watches her walk away, heading for the kitchen door.

“What’s the matter, Lordy? Haven’t y’seen her dressed like that before?” Sasha asks, interpreting the god’s actions as pure gawking. The question breaks Lord77’s confusion over Nyrini’s tone, and he looks back at the buga bunny.

“I’m sorry dear. No. I just thought I heard something.”

“Yeah, heard something. Right!” Sasha mocks and then laughs. “Well, I know that couldn’t be it, because if y’looked that way at at her little sister, Susan would have yer head…or something else important.” Giggling, the bunny moves back down the bar to refill a drink.

Meanwhile, Lord77 spots Nyrini reappear from the kitchen, snack in hand, crossbow ever slung across her back. Purposely looking down at his ale as she passes, he distinctly perceives the stereo effect, similar to that which he heard from his father.

“What the…?” he mutters, drawing a look from Godofbeer. “It’s nothing, buddy. Just need to have a chat with that goddess.”

Lord77 rises from his stool and walks slowly towards Nyrini. As he nears, the stereo effect becomes clearer, no mistaking the fact that somehow her essence has been split. As he approaches, Nyrini looks up from Twilight, who is quickly gobbling her snack.

“Hello goddess. We need to talk.” Lord77 states flatly.

Nyrini looks at him, raising an eyebrow at the god’s tone. “Right now? I just got off duty. Was hoping to spend some time with Twi, here.”

“Yes. It’s my turn to interrupt your day for a conversation. There’s a small table in the kitchen. May we move there away from the crowds?”

Nyrini stares at Lord77 for a moment, then deciding to find out what’s on his mind, calls over to Pasha to watch Twilight. “Lead the way, love,” she states and gestures towards the kitchen.

As they enter the kitchen, Lord77 takes the far seat of the two-person table. Nyrini takes the nearer chair and starts. “What’s on your mind?”

“You offered before to catch me up on your history. To this point, I’ve been a little busy. But, my work with my father appears to somehow involve you. So, maybe this is a good time to chat.” Leaning over the table, Lord77 quietly states. “Your essence is split. I’d like to understand how. “

The question catches Nyrini by surprise. “I don’t get it.”

“Your soul, young lady, appears to be split between you and bound to that pointy stick thrower behind you. Only a godbinder could do that. How did it happen?”

Nyrini stays quiet for a moment, trying to figure a path out of the conversation. “Who have you been talking to?”

“No one. This is all about the work my father and I are doing. All the godbinders are trapped in Mardi, yet here you are partially bound. How?”

The goddess takes a deep breath and composes herself. “It was a long time back. Mission went wrong. We got caught. They tried to bind me, but I got lucky and escaped.”

“Where was this and when?” Lord77 presses.

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Goddess, if there is a godbinder still loose, I need to know it. Dad is going to have a fit if I can’t assure him that there isn’t one about.”

“I’m sorry, love, I can’t tell you.”

“Then, we need to go back to the library. Dad is going to want to talk to you.”

Nyrini stands up from her chair. “I ain’t talking to him either. I… I gotta go,” she says, and disappears.

“Well, I could have handled that better,” Lord77 mutters. Closing his eyes, he tunes into her tone, perceiving where she has traveled. “I’ll be darned. It works,” he says to himself, somewhat surprised.

Invoking farsight, the god views the area Nyrini appeared in preparation to follow. Suddenly, he recognizes the surroundings, and a small amount of panic hits. “Oh, crap! Why there?!” the god snarls aloud.

Pulling back, Lord77 rises and heads out of the kitchen and back towards the bar. Grabbing his ale, he downs the remains quickly. As Godofbeer looks at him with a question, Lord77 responds, “Just getting fortification, buddy. A storm is about to hit. See you later, I hope.”

Heading back to the kitchen, the god passes the portal to his temple. Noting that all is quiet, he raises his hand towards his father’s library, and vanishes.

Nyrini appears in the middle of Susan’s office, at the Watch House, her eyes wide with panic.

“Well, at least I don’t need to tell you to shut the door,” Susan says, not looking up from the report she’s currently writing.

“Sue,” Nyrini cries, rushing towards Susan’s desk. “You have to talk to him. Like, now!”

The urgency in the young goddess’ voice makes Susan look up at her. What she sees in Nyrini’s eyes makes her forget about the report and rise from her chair. Walking around her desk, she comes to stand in front of her little sister.

“Who do I need to talk to, little one?” Susan asks.

“Your boyfriend,” Nyri replies as she starts pacing around the room. “He’s barely exchanged two words with me since I got back to Godville and, all of a sudden, he calls me to the side, tells me my soul is split and starts asking questions about my crossbow. I just bolted out of there.” She comes to stand in front of Susan again. “Sue, did you tell him anything about that? Does he know?”

“Of course not, Nyr. Why would you assume he does?”

“I don’t know. He was very insistent, Sue. Even wanted to take me to talk to that stupid old codger.” Too frantic to think rationally, Nyrini hugs Susan, hiding her face against the goddess’ shoulder. “I don’t wanna talk about this, Sue. I don’t wanna tell them and I don’t wanna go back there.” She starts shaking, her emotions overwhelming her.

Susan closes her arms around her sister in a soothing embrace, gently stroking her hair. “Breathe now, dear. From what you have told me, Lordy’s questions seem innocent enough. Although, he does tend to be a little too… blunt in his approach to issues.”

“I just… I don’t… Sue, please don’t make me go back there. I still have nightmares about it.”

“I understand, dear.”

“Can I hide here for a bit?” Nyrini asks in a small voice. “Just ‘til he forgets about this?”

“Oh, knowing Lordy, he won’t just forget about this,” Susan replies, softly pushing Nyri away and making the goddess look at her with a gentle touch of her hand. “Especially since you bolted out the door as if you had just committed a crime. But I will have a little conversation with him. One he won’t forget in a hurry, either,” she promises.

“You keep cleaning up after me…”

“Where is Twilight, little one?”

“Back at the bar, with Pasha.”

“Well, do you really think that hiding here and leaving her there is the best thing to do?” Susan asks in tender admonishment.

Nyrini sighs and shakes her head at this. “I guess not.”

“She is yours, Nyr,” Susan tells her. “And you owe it to her to be hers too. Go to Twi. I will make sure Lordy doesn’t bother you anymore.”

“Thanks, Sue.”

Watching Nyrini leave, Susan summons her scythe and prepares to leave too.

“Our turn to talk, Lord77. And you better know just what to say…”

Nyrini returns to the bar, her mind still on edge and her hands shaking slightly. She curses herself for never having been able to master Susan’s level of self-control but still tries to get a grip on herself as she walks back to Twilight, who’s currently playing with Sasha’s set of watercolors and a brush too big to paint anything but simple blobs of color.

Seeing the goddess back, Twilight immediately forgets about the drawings and paints, and throws herself into Nyri’s arms. “Mommy!”

“Twilight, no!” Nyrini shouts when she realizes the bunny is dragging the entire set of watercolors along with her.

Sure as sunrise, the paints all come crashing and splashing on the floor and all over Twilight, only missing Nyri because she was still miraculously out of range.

“Twilight, look at this!” Nyrini yells. “You need to start paying attention, child! Someday you’ll hurt yourself!”

“WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Twilight cries, her tears pouring down her face, her cheeks bright red with distress.

“Stop that, Twilight! What good is it gonna do to cry like that?!” Nyri admonishes her further, as everyone in the room turns to see what’s going on. “Look at yourself,” she adds, her voice strung, her hands clutching the bunny’s shoulders in a tight hold. “You’re all covered in paint!”

“Aww, poor wee one!” Sasha steps in, leaning down to Twilight’s level, her hands on her knees. “You’re gonna need a nice long bath, wee bairn. But don’t worry, watercolors wash right off,” she adds with a kind smile.

Twilight begins to calm down, her frantic crying settling into a gentle sniffing.

“That’s much better,” Sasha says, taking the little bunny by the hand. “Auntie Sasha is takin’ ye to a nice warm bath, now,” she states, looking at Nyri with concern but not really awaiting the goddess’ approval.

Nyri nods and mouths the words “thank you,” watching as the two bunnies turn and leave. As she kneels down and starts picking up all the fallen paint bottles and brushes, trying without much success to clean up the mess, Azzageddi and Mitzi, clearly dressed for a romantic night out, approach.

Seeing the nervous glint in the young goddess’ eyes, they exchange a knowing look. With a simple nod from Azz, Mitzi places a hand on Nyri’s shoulder, making her look up.

“Hey, let’s go somewhere,” Mitzi says in a calm but strong voice.

“Oh, I have to clean this up,” Nyri replies, looking at the floor. Noticing her own trembling fingers, she starts moving her hands in an effort to hide her nervousness. “I should go and see about Twi after I clean this, too.”

“I will take care of this.” Azzageddi kneels beside her and starts cleaning, succeeding where Nyrini is obviously failing. “And forgive me, my friend, but … children can pick up on their parents’ distress…”

“I’m her mom. I should be taking care of her.”

“We’ll take care of her for now,” Azz states, looking at her kindly but leaving no room for discussion. “You… you look like you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of her.”

“Very well…” Nyri relents, getting up. “Where do you want to go?” she asks, turning to Mitzi.

“Well, let’s just go out and see where the night takes us, shall we?”

“Seriously? A club named ‘No Chicks Allowed’?” Mitzi grumbles. “No wonder Sasha wouldn’t tell me the name.”

Mitzi is standing with Nyrini in front of a flashy club. Plenty of women are going in and out. In fact, practically the only people going in and out are women.

Mitzi looks over at Nyrini, who hasn’t said much since they left the AMCW station. “Nyri? Shall we?”

Nyrini blinks and looks down at Mitzi. “Uh, yeah, sure.”

As they go in, they are slammed with a wall of sound. A DJ is on the stage while black lights and strobes illuminate three levels of dance floors. Mitzi’s ears immediately flatten along the back of her head from the overload of noise. She almost suggests going elsewhere, but when she looks up at Nyrini, she sees the goddess relaxing into the rhythm. Seeing some booths with glass partitions, she takes Nyri’s hand and tugs her that way. As she expected, the sound is reduced to a level barely tolerable to her sensitive hearing as they enter the booth.

Nyri notices Mitzi’s ears coming back up to half-mast. “I’m sorry, is it too loud for you?”

“I’ll be OK,” the bunny says, as a pretty young man a vest with no shirt arrives at their table with a notepad. Mitzi looks over the drinks menu, looking for something she’s never had before. “Um, mojito?”

The waiter smiles and says, “It’s pronounced ‘mohito,’ Miss.”

“Right…one of those,” Mitzi says.

Nyrini takes the menu, glances at it, and says, “Queen of the Hill.”

Watching the waiter depart, Mitzi says drily, “Now I know why Sasha and Pasha recommended this place. Those are some seriously tight pants.”

Nyrini chuckles, looking around at the dancing. She’s still clearly distracted, Mitzi thinks. “Hey,” the bunny says, “come on! Let’s dance!”

“Are you sure?” Nyri says, vaguely gesturing toward Mitzi’s ears.

Mitzi smiles and flattens them again. “I don’t even have to stick my fingers in them to muffle the sound,” she says.

“Convenient,” says the goddess. “Right then, let’s go!”

Nyrini and Mitzi plop back into their booth laughing, a light sheen of sweat on their faces after their time on the dance floor. Their drinks are in the center of the table, covered by a glass dome. Mitsumi looks at Nyrini quizzically; Nyri shrugs and shakes her head. Just then their pretty young waiter shows up and whisks the glass dome away.

“Stasis device,” he says. “Keeps your ice from melting.”

“Oh, nice!” says Nyrini. They take their drinks and clink glasses as the waiter disappears. “Cheers!” says Mitzi.

“Cheers indeed,” says Nyrini. She takes a deep swallow and grimaces. “Ugh…that’s not how they make them back in Überwald.” She has to raise her voice slightly over the glass-muffled music.

Mitzi looks pleasantly surprised at her own drink. “Oh, I like this. I’m going to ask Pasha to make these for me.” She looks at Nyrini, who is once again lost in thought. Mitzi sighs, then reaches across the table and pats the goddess’ hand. “Hey!” Nyri looks at her in surprise. “Come on,” Mitzi says, “what’s wrong?”

Nyrini looks at her for a moment, then out of nowhere asks, “Why did you break Lord77’s nose?”

Mitzi sits back, surprised at the question. “Uhhh…well, I was really…angry. And scared…the first time, anyway.”

“He scared you?”

“Yes…Azzageddi was in danger. Actually…I think that was the first time I was scared about anything.”

Nyrini raises her eyebrows. “You remember the first time you were scared of anything?”

Mitzi shrugs. “Sure. Why not? Anyway…I guess I wanted to make Lordy feel something of what I was feeling.” She pauses. “I could probably have handled it differently, but…I wasn’t very good at talking at the time. I mean, I rarely spoke in those days.”

“Let your fists do the talking, eh, love?”

Mitzi half-smiles ruefully. “Yes, I guess so.”

“And what about the second time? You weren’t scared then, just angry?”

“Yes…Azz was safe by then, but he was still…well, ‘sick’ isn’t the right word, but he definitely wasn’t himself. And Lordy had saved him, but he was the one who put him in danger in the first place.”

“But he’s a god…he can just heal a wound like that!” Nyrini snaps her fingers. “In an instant.”

Mitzi nods. “That’s why I told him that if he wanted me to forgive him, he wouldn’t heal himself for a day.”

Nyrini looks surprised. “And he did it?? I mean, didn’t do it?? I mean…you know what I mean—”

Mitzi nods. “Yes…I suppose I wanted to see, well, if he cared what I thought about him. Like, if he had any understanding of what he’d put Azz through…and me…and by extension, if he had any respect at all for us bunnies.” She takes another drink. “And he did.” She smiles. “He even gave me a present…that breastplate…but to tell the truth, it was him not healing himself, not even using magic to relieve the pain, that impressed me more.”

“So…you’re friends now?”

Mitzi thinks for a moment, then nods. “I mean, it’s not like we hang out. But…I know he’ll be there, if I need him. He’s a lot more responsible than before. Susan helped a lot with that, I think. We even…well…we shared a moment.”

Nyrini raises her eyebrows at that. Mitzi laughs at her expression. “No no no, not like that! I mean, well, we were in mental contact, while he was healing my eye, and, um, he was supposed to be reading my mind, but I sort of read his…” She blushes. “Anyway, yes, he’s my friend.”

Nyrini absorbs this, then nods. “OK,” she says. “OK.”

Mitzi watches her for a little while. “So…was that what you wanted to know?”

The goddess looks at her and nods again, then takes another long drink and grimaces at the taste again. “Yech! Water tastes better… Mitzi?” “Yes?”

“Am I a bad mother?”

Flustered by another non-sequitur question, Mitzi replies, “Uhhh…I…I don’t think so!”

“You don’t think so? Maybe I am, then.” Nyrini sounds miserable.

“I…Nyri, I…I don’t know what to say! I’m not the right person to ask! I’m…I’m just a few months old! I never grew up! I was born full-grown. I’m not a mother…and my mother…well, you know Susan…”

Nyrini nods. “Yeah, been there. Kind of…distant, no?”

“Well…yes,” Mitzi says, subdued. Then she rushes to say, “But I know she loves me! It’s just…well, her parenting style probably isn’t the best for Twilight.” She reaches across the table and takes Nyrini’s hand. “But Nyri…I think you’re doing a good job with her…I really do! And nobody expects you to do it all by yourself! You have Sasha and Pasha to help, and of course Azz adores her, and you know, what with the whole godparents thing…”

Nyrini looks confused. “The whole what thing?”

Mitzi smiles and raises her voice over the music, “The godparent thing!”

Nyrini shakes her head. “I heard you…I just didn’t understand. What godparent thing?”

Mitzi’s smile freezes, then fades. Her ears droop. “Uh, Azz told you…didn’t he? … oh no… He…” Her face clouds over. She releases Nyri’s hand and suddenly slams her fists against the table, almost upsetting the drinks and making Nyrini jump. “AZZ! GAH!” She looks furious. Nyri half reaches out to her, worried the bunny might hurl her drink across the room, but Mitzi shuts her eyes, puts her face in her hands, and brings herself under control.

“Mitzi?” Nyrini asks, “are you all right?”

Mitzi shakes her head, then opens her eyes. Her anger turns into guilt as she looks at Nyrini. “I am sorry, Nyri. Azz told me he was going to tell you. I should have checked…I…” She shakes her head again. “Sometimes I just don’t understand him. Gods are so weird…”

“Um, I’m sitting right here, love.”

Mitzi looks guilty again. “Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t mean…I’m sorry. Look, uh, on the night Twilight appeared …well, Azz and Almighty Anne and I looked in on you and Twi asleep together, and Anne suddenly said—” Mitzi does a passable imitation of the Almighty Anne’s sweet, lyrical voice, “‘You know what this means, don’t you? We’re Twilight’s fairy godparents!’ And Azz was all ‘Sure!’”—Mitzi’s voice suddenly deepens on that word—“and I was like, ‘What?’ and Anne said ‘Pish-posh’—yes, I am not kidding, she actually said that—and there was that Almighty Anne Reality Distortion Effect going on, and suddenly we’re making wishes for Twilight’s destiny!”

Nyrini looks stunned. “You…made wishes??”

Mitzi nods, looking ashamed. “I mean, they were all good things! Anne wished for her to be musical, and you know how much Twilie loves singing! All those beautiful songs you teach her…and those Hawaiian songs Azz sings to her. And…Azz wished for her to be compassionate, and try to make the world better. And I…I wished for her to be brave…” Mitzi watches Nyrini’s face. “Oh Nyri, I’m sorry…I told them I had no right…I was just…carried along…”

“Those are some good wishes.” Nyrini says. “If only they’d work for me too…” she mutters to herself with a sigh. After a moment of silence, Nyrini shakes her head. “So you’re…” she smiles a little, “her fairy godmother? Really?” She chuckles.

Mitzi nods, and smiles in return. “I-I guess so. Is it…is it all right? I mean…” she reaches across and takes Nyrini’s hands in hers again, “I take it seriously! I really want to be a good godmother to her! I just…well…I don’t know if I’m…any good at that kind of thing.”

Nyrini laughs. “Great! Now you don’t know if you’re a good mother!”

Mitzi smiles again. “Well…to tell the truth…mostly I’ve been learning from you.”

“From me?” Nyrini chuckles. “You need a better teacher, love.”

“No,” Mitzi says. “You…well, sometimes you make mistakes, but who doesn’t? You learn from them. And Twi knows you love her. Oh, Nyri, she loves you more than anything! We all love her and want to help take care of her, but you’re her mother.” She grips Nyrini’s hands tightly.

The goddess nods, looking the bunny in the eye, and squeezes her hands in return. “Very well…I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be a godmother to Twilight, Mitzi. And…even though he may be forgetful and ‘weird,’ I’m glad she has Azz for a godfather. And Anne will be a wonderful godmother, too! Just hope she doesn’t turn the kid into some weird princess with little bluebirds flying all around her…”

“You know she has no idea that this could have upset you,” Mitzi says anxiously.

“I know,” Nyrini says. “You’re right, you know…gods are weird. Even to each other, sometimes. But you just learn to expect that, anyway.” She laughs. “Azz the Godfather…that just fits, doesn’t it?”

Mitzi giggles and nods. Then she looks more serious. “Actually…there’s something I wanted to ask you…this is going to sound weird…”

“Weirder than what you just told me?”

“Umm…maybe.” Mitzi sighs. “You know that little room you’re staying in with Twi? I mean…you know that’s just for temporary stays, right? It’s not exactly meant for long-term living in…especially with a child…”

Nyrini pulls away. “Are you… saying I should move out?” She fails to disguise the hurt in her voice.

“OH NO!” Mitzi rushes to explain. “Oh, no no no! I’m sorry, I knew that was going to come out wrong! I mean…I just think Twi needs a better place to live…and…well…you know Azz’s temple is huge and he has all these extra rooms…”

“Mitzi, I… It’s very kind of you but… I don’t know.”

“Oh…of course, if you don’t want to…” Mitzi’s ears droop.

“Oh, please, love, it’s just… Sue’s temple is vacant too and I do have a set of keys… Heck, I don’t need keys to get anywhere, but I’m allowed to live there until I get my own temple. I just didn’t move in because… well, it’s awful empty in there. Not a living soul to come home to. Hell, not even a dead one!”

“Oh…well…you know…Azz suggested fixing up the barracks and making it nicer for you, and I just said, ‘Well why don’t we just invite her to live here?’ and he thought it was a great idea. We would love to have you…with us. If you wanted, you could stay in the other wing. It would be like living in a whole other building…but the monks would probably wake you up at dawn with their chanting… Or, you could live in our wing…we can set up some rooms for you. Aliyaa has an apartment there, too, for when she’s not adventuring…it’s really nice having her there, and you know, having you and Twi…well…it would be good, you know?” Mitzi ends hopefully, looking at Nyrini with big shiny eyes.

“Oh, all right!” Nyri relents. “I’ll move in with you guys! Just quit the big shiny eyes thing! Freakin’ scary, that is…”

Mitzi shouts with glee and hugs Nyrini, squeezing her hard. “Oh I’m so glad!” she says, “It’ll be fun—you’ll see! Oh, we need to celebrate!” She signals the waiter. “Do you want another one of those?”

“No way…I’ll have what you’re having.”

“Two mojitos!” Mitzi calls out, pronouncing it correctly this time.

Some time and a number of additional drinks later, Nyrini and Mitzi arrive at the illegal casino where Nyri usually hangs out. They sit at the bar, each nursing a beer, hoping to end the night with a couple more drinks and some peaceful conversation.

“This place looks familiar, for some reason,” Mitzi says, looking around blearily. “I wonder if they serve mojitos…” She laughs. “I like that word… mow-heeeee-toes …it tastes all minty in my brain…”

“I think you’ve had juuuuuuuuuuuust a little too many of those tonight… Anyway, you’ve probably heard about this place through Azz,” Nyri comments, taking a sip of her beer. “We came here during our last case.”

Mitzi takes a sip of her beer as well. “Oh, yeah. That must be it.”

“Yeah…” Nyrini chuckles at the memory. “Man, that was one weird night! Strange clues, hairy demons, kids playing D&D… I even kissed Azz, for cryin’ out loud!” Her eyes widen as she realizes what she’s just said. “Oh, shoot! Look, Mitz… I am soooo sorry, I never meant to—”

“Oh, that.” Mitzi waves her off. “Azz told me about it. You did it to save him from that suc…” she trips over the word in her drunkenness. “That succu… the lady that sleeps with men to steal their energy.”

“Yeah… sure…” Nyrini hides behind her beer. “Well, it was a bit touch an’go there for a bit, anyway.”

“Well, thanks fer savin’ him,” Mitzi tries to pat her on the shoulder, misses, tries again and connects.

“So… you two tell each other everything?”

“Pretty much. Sometimes he doesn’t really understand me and I don’t really understand him but… I guess that’s what happens when mortals and gods fall for each other.” She shrugs.

“Yeah…” Nyri gulps down half of her beer. “Been there, done that. Nevermore!” she cries, raising her glass and taking one more sip.

“Was it really that bad?” Mitzi asks softly, looking worried.

“Let’s just say he didn’t live to regret it.”

“Oh.” Mitzi silently stares into her beer for a moment, then giggles. “You know, I actually asked Azz who was the better kisser, you or me.”

Nyrini nearly spits out her beer. “I can imagine that went well…”

Mitzi laughs at both the memory and Nyri’s expression. “Oh, he turned sooooooo red. Didn’t answer me though. He insisted he didn’t remember it clearly enough to say. So I said ‘That must’ve been some kiss, then!’” Mitzi laughs loudly and almost spills her beer.

“Ah, I think I can help with that,” Nyrini replies, suddenly leaning towards the bunny, holding her face between her hands and kissing her deeply. Mitzi freezes for a moment in shock, but then her eyes close and she relaxes. Nyrini lets go of Mitzi and turns to her beer again, taking another sip. “Always wondered what it’d be like kissing a bunny,” she says in a conversational tone. “Not bad at all.”

Mitzi opens her eyes, staring at the goddess, her mouth open. She suddenly remembers how to breathe. She makes a shaky, strangled little sound. “Uh…”

A sudden whistle from somewhere behind them makes Nyrini turn to see a dashing young god approaching them, closely followed by a man waving a white cane.

“Oh, crap! Not him!” She mutters, lowering her head and staring intently at her beer.

“Oh, looky here!” the god exclaims as he places himself between goddess and bunny, standing very, very close to Nyri. “If it isn’t Nyrini, the goddess we’d all like to see in her birthday suit…”

“Have you looked at me, love?” Nyrini replies in irritation. “Not much left to the imagination…”

“Well, you know I’m Lightstealer, the God of Blindness, and I like to see things in Braille.” The god brushes Nyri’s hair aside and grabs her neck, whispering in her ear, “You know… with my hands… And they have some nice rooms upstairs where we can do just that.”

Nyrini swats his hand away from her neck with a sharp, abrupt movement of her hand. “Fat chance, love.”

“Oh, c’mon!” the god grabs her by the arms. “I know you want it. And you could even leave your cute little friend” here he cocks his head at Mitzi “with my mortal, here. He’s also fluent in Braille.”

“A blind Hero? Wait a minute…” Mitzi mutters, looking the man up and down and trying to remember something.

“Well… yeah. I am the God of Blindness, after all. Makes sense to have a blind follower,” the god explains. “Don’tcha think… ‘love’?” he asks, turning to Nyri again.

“You wanna know what I think, love?” Nyrini asks, releasing herself from his grip. She gets up and turns around, slowly moving to stand very close to the god, placing both her hands on his chest. She smiles at him as she reaches her hand to his neck, grabs it and brushes her lips against his ear to whisper “I think you’re going to leave this place crying out for your mommy.”

The goddess suddenly applies a crushing, ruthless knee to a sensitive area below the god’s belt and immediately pulls her crossbow, instinct taking over. Turning to look at Mitzi, she sees the bunny still staring at the blind Hero, brow furrowed in drunken concentration.

“What’re you waiting for?!” Nyri asks her in mild irritation. “A formal invitation?!”

And suddenly, the lights go out.

Arriving at the library, Lord01 looks up from a book he is reviewing.

“Welcome back,” the ancient god states.

“We have a problem,” Lord77 opens.

“The tart, right?”

“How did you know?”

“When she came here, I heard her tone along with yours. That’s why I stepped back in. The stereo sound confused me, plus that sharp tongue of hers disrupted my thoughts. If the two tones had been different, I would have recognized it immediately and that lady would have been in a world of hurt right then. But the stereo sound of her individual tone stopped me.”

The ancient god scratches his head. “It had been awhile since I heard something like that. As I was trying to figure it out, you shooed her away. I confirmed it with you, though. That’s one of the reasons I sent you over there, to see if you’d notice it too. So what happened?”

“I asked her how she got split. Told her that you’d want to know if another godbinder was afoot.”

“Your damn right, I would! What happened then?”

“She said that she couldn’t tell me. Then, she disappeared.”

“Did you track her, son?”

“Oh, yeah. I tracked her alright…She ran right to Susan.”

As if on cue, standing before the two gods appears Susan Sto Helit, granddaughter of Death, one hand holding her scythe and an angry look on her face.

“Umm…Hi, dear?” Lord77 sheepishly says.

“I don’t know why I bother shielding this place,” Lord01 growls. “If it ain’t that tart, then your girlfriend just pops in whenever she wants.”

Susan stands in the middle of the room, scythe in hand, clear, bright anger in her deep-blue eyes. As the scythe disappears, she takes a long, silent look at both father and son before turning to Lord77 and hissing “Explain yourself!”

“Yeah…I kind of figured you’d be coming by,” Lord77 replies while trying very hard to avoid the metaphorical daggers currently being shot from Susan’s eyes. “Sorry about that. I was probably harder on Nyri than I should have been.”

“The only thing you did wrong son, was not bring her back here,” Lord01 intervenes. “This is more important than a few hurt feelings.”

“Harder than you should have been?” Susan snarls at Lord77. “She just appeared in the middle of my office in a panic! We are talking about Nyrini! Someone known to run into burning buildings and sail ships through thunderstorms just for the sake of it!” she nearly screams before her voice takes on a much lower, much more frightening tone. “But you…” Her eyes narrow. “You made her fear and shake… My little sister…”

Susan then turns to Lord01 “And you… Shut. Up!”

“Now you listen here, Missy…” Lord01 walks towards her, finger pointed at her in idle threat.

Lord77 quickly places himself between his father and Susan, a rock and a hard place, in an attempt to take control of the situation.

“Dad, I agree,” he says. “Shut up for a second and let me discuss this with Susan. I’m the one who screwed up.”

Lord01 grumbles but eventually lets his son have his way. “…Yeah, fine. Let your girlfriend tell you what to do…”

“Thanks, dad,” Lord77 sighs. “Again dear, I’m sorry.” he goes on in what is, hopefully, a rational, calm and conciliatory tone. “I don’t understand what got her all wound up. I’ve discussed a little about the work Dad and I have been doing here. From that, I just realized that her soul is partially bound. That means a Godbinder may be loose somewhere. Maybe you can help enlighten me as to how that happened, and whether we should be in a panic right now.”

“Do you have any idea of what a god must go through during the binding?” Susan asks, the anger in her voice now replaced with a mix of irritation and bitterness.

“Oh, yes. Dad and I went through that as part of the work. It hurts like hell.”

As the meaning of Lord77’s words hits her thoughts, Susan’s eyes widen with shock and concern. “You mean he tortured and weakened you until you were ready to be bound?” She places a hand on the god’s chest, feeling for his heartbeat and scanning to sense that his soul is still in one piece. She looks at Lord01 with renewed contempt for the elder god “What kind of a monster are you? He is your son, not your puppet!”

“I didn’t torture him,” Lord01 waves her off. “We bypassed that part.”

Lord77 takes her hand in his, placing the other on her cheek as if his touch alone could reassure her that all is well. “As long as a god doesn’t fight it, he or she can be bound. It wasn’t easy not fighting it though. I could see why a god would have to be weakened to let that happen to them.”

“It is more than just physical torture, heart of mine,” Susan pushes him away, turning her face so that he can’t see it. Her eyes unfocus as she explains, “The mind must be broken as well. Nyri went through it all, no shortcuts. What Azz went through in Mardi… she’s gone through some of that as well. And she was never the same after it happened. But you…” She turns to looks at him again, her eyes cold. “You just went asking about it with all the sensitivity of an elephant stampede!

“And you!” she gestures at Lord01, her voice packed with lead and ice. “Do you even care about that?! Or is it all just part of this… ‘Keeper of the Gates’ game you have going on?”

“Yeah,” Lord77 intervenes once again. “Look, I’m sorry about that. But, Dad has a point here. This is pretty important, and we need to know whether a Godbinder is still loose. This isn’t just a game,” he assures her. “This is making sure that we don’t all have to face what Nyrini and Azz went through.

“So help me here,” he goes on, grabbing her hand and gently pulling her closer to him. “What do you know about Nyrini’s binding? When did it happen, and more importantly, what happened to the Godbinder?”

Susan goes silent for a little while. Looking into Lord77’s eyes and finding only true concern in them, she eventually caves in with a sigh. “Some time ago, just before I arrived at the AMCW in Godville, I got called to collect the souls of fallen agents of ours. Not our usual officers, though. A special task force, like many you’d know nothing of, that had raided this strange hideout, not very far away from the Watch House I am now in charge of. But when I arrived…” she turns to look away. “Nyri was there, lying on the floor in a bloody mess and unconscious, part of her soul somehow bound to a crossbow. There was no one else in the room. I heard someone running and a sound like that of a closing portal, but I didn’t get to see who was behind it all. She was knocked out for a couple of days after that. I tried to help her but I had no idea as to how to reverse the binding and breaking the bond would only leave Nyri fragmented. So, I just waited for her to come to, afraid that she would never recover. In a sense, she never did…”

Lord01 swears sulphurously as he listens to Susan’s story, each little detail unnerving him further.

“All right dad, settle down. We still don’t know who or what that was,” Lord77 says.

“Doesn’t matter,” the elder god replies. “If those Nasties have another portal I don’t know about, then they can be slipping in here, and I won’t know it.”

“Dear, have you been to the hideout since?” Lord77 asks. “Do you know what’s there now? Would it be somewhere that we could visit?”

“It has been a while since I last stepped foot in it,” Susan replies, slowly shaking her head. “But I have received no reports of activity in that area.”

“See Dad. No activity at the scene since, plus no other god’s being bound that we know of. Maybe it was a one way trip?” Lord77 ventures.

Lord01 mulls over the idea for a while before saying “Possibly. An escape to Mardi, then no way back…I don’t know…You need to go there and take a look.”

“What do you expect me to find?”

“Yeah, you’re right. WE need to go there and look,” Lord01 states, his tone sharp and final.

“NO!” Susan exclaims immediately.

“I need to know if there is an open portal, Missy, or if it was a one-time gate,” Lord01 says in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “We’ll try not to cause too much commotion. Besides, I think I need to get out for some fresh air.”

Lord77 slowly shakes his head, torn between Susan’s distress and the reason in his father’s words. He soon chooses logic as his shield and sword in this battle of wits. “Dear. He’s right. Let’s pop in, take a look, and get out as fast as we can.”

“You will NOT take her with you,” Susan says, the tone in her voice not allowing for any discussion around the issue. “It would be torture forcing her to go back.”

“We won’t need her, dear,” Lord77 assures her. “You know where the place is. You could show us.”

“I—” Susan lowers her head, remembering all too well the image of Nyri lying in that dark place, an inch away from oblivion. She exhales deeply before agreeing to the deal. “Very well. Come see me when you are ready. You know where to find me.” And with these words she steps away from the gods, her scythe re-appearing in her hand. With a wave and a thought, Susan leaves the room in absolute silence, fading into thin air.

“Oh crap—Mitzi, don’t let him touch you! He can blind you!” Nyrini, her optic nerves shut down, clutches for Lightstealer’s arm but only finds air.

There’s a crash of glass breaking, and Mitzi yells, “You’re both under arrest! ARGH, KUSO!”

“Can you still see?” Nyrini cries.

“No…” mutters Mitzi, moving closer, “but I can hear. And I recognize that ‘Hero’ now too.” Mitzi raises her voice, “That’s right, Lenny! I know you…Lenny the Pervo Pickpocket, pretending to be blind so you can ‘accidentally’ grope people. Stealing wallets and copping feels at the same time. And now you’re a Hero? Give me a break! You’re nothing but a small-time scumbag.”

A nasty laugh prompts Mitzi to grab Nyri’s wrist. “You got me, little copper,” says a squeaky voice. “But now I really am blind. Most Holy here took my vision in return for making me his prophet! And now you’ll be a sacrifice to him, little bunny—”

As Lightstealer laughs in response to his hero’s words, Mitzi whispers, “Relax,” and Nyrini lets the bunny guide her arm. “There—shoot!!!”

The goddess shoots, hitting the god right on the shoulder. Lightstealer screams, “AAAAAARGGGGHHH!!! WHAT IS THAT BLASTED THING MADE OF?! OH, IT BURNS! CAN’T… BREATHE…” He groans from the wound and collapses as Nyrini’s crossbow magically reloads, becoming immediately ready for a second shot.

As it does so, Mitzi grabs a beer glass and leaps at the voice of Lenny, the Prophet. He gasps as she smashes the glass into his face, cutting her hand badly in the process.

“GAAAAHHH! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY FACE, YOU LITTLE PSYCHO??” He hurls her to the floor and staggers away.

From the floor, Mitzi gasps out, “I said you’re under arrest, Lenny! You’re a wanted man! And that god of yours has assaulted two officers of the law!”

The God of Blindness shouts, “You bitches are insane! Come on, Lenny, you moron, let’s go! THIS ISN’T OVER!” There is a BAMPH! of inrushing air as the wounded god teleports away with his fallen Hero.

Mitzi curses again. “Nyri? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, other than still being blind. What about you?”

“Uh, still blind, too…and my hand is hurt…I think it’s bleeding a lot…”

“Come here!” Nyrini reaches out and grabs Mitzi’s ear, causing her to yelp “Ow!” “Oh sorry!” the goddess says. She reaches lower and pulls Mitzi closer by the shoulder. “Give me your hand, quick! Oh, yeah, that’s a lot of blood…”

“Not all mine,” Mitzi grates through clenched teeth.

“All right, you’re not my Hero so this won’t be easy, but here goes…” Nyrini zaps the wound with pure godpower, willing the hand to return to its previous, whole state.

Mitzi gasps as she feels it flood into her, staggering from the overload of magical energy. “W-wait! Stop!” she cries, and then collapses into the goddess’ arms as the healing ends.

“Mitzi?! What’s wrong?? Oh crap, what did I do…?”

Mitzi, limp, wheezes, “Ohhhhh that was not good…”

Cradling her, Nyrini queries, “What did I do wrong? That shouldn’t’ve hurt you!”

Weakly, Mitzi says, “Bunnies…don’t react too well to sudden uses of godpower. Luckily…I’ve become more…stable from all the time I’ve spent outside…I’ll be okay. And, uh, you healed my hand, so…thank you.”

“I’m sorry, Mitz…why don’t people tell me these things!? What if I’d done that to Twilight??” Nyrini sighs. “We should get home. Um…my room?”

“Wait,” says Mitzi, still sounding weak. “Let me try…yes! I can still use my farsight! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Um…aww…Twi is in your room, asleep between Sasha and Pasha. So cute…”

“Oh, better not appear there then…we’ve both got blood on us.”

“Yeah…hey, the bath, in Azz’s temple. It’s empty. We can clean up, put on robes. Maybe this blindness thing wears off after awhile? I sure hope so.”

“All right, sounds good,” Nyrini says. “Wait, is this going to hurt you?”

“Azz has popped me around town a few times, and it doesn’t bother me much. I figure since this is your god-thing, it’ll be even more gentle.”

“All right, then. Here we go.”

In an airship miles away from the edge of Godville, a raven flies onto the shoulder of the god Never More. Nodding as though listening to the bird, he stands up from the captain’s chair and thinks to himself, A godbinder, huh? Been a while since I’ve heard that word, and even longer since it was used to describe someone that wasn’t me. Granted, that was only once, but Morrigan is no longer around to say it. Pointing at his messenger, he continues, follow after Susan and the Lords. See what they find out. And do it more discreetly. I can practically feel Susan’s eyes locked on the back of my head.

As father and son watch Susan Sto Helit disappear, Lord01 begins to grumble. “Well, better start digging out those books.”

“What books?” Lord77 asks and then yawns.

“Magical detection. Sometime back, I refined the spells on discovery. You know, the simple spells we use to reveal magical intention.”

“Yeah, Dad. I know about them.” He yawns again.

Lord01 grunts and steps into the bookshelves. “Well, if there was a portal, it would be evident. What I want to be able to see is any threads of a residual spell that might be used as a marker for a renewed spell. That not as obvious a thing to see.” Mumbling into the shelving, he announces. “Ah, here it is.”

Reentering the work room, Lord01 slams a heavy tome on the table blowing dust in all directions. “Yeah…This is going to take some reading.” Looking up at the younger god, he frowns. “When was the last time you slept?”

“It’s been awhile, Dad. Had some things to take care of.”

“Well, you’re going to need your wits around you for this. So get out of here and grab some sleep. When you return, I should be ready, and we’ll go see that girlfriend of yours.”

Yawning yet a third time, Lord77 says, “Yeah. OK, Dad. See you in a few hours.” And raising his hand in the direction of his temple, the younger god disappears.

As, he leaves, Lord01 unleashes a deep yawn. “Damn, those things are contagious.”

Nyrini and Mitzi appear in the bath, at Azz’s temple, still blind from their encounter with Lightstealer.

“You OK, Mitz? Not too rough a ride?”

“What, we’re there already? Wow! I didn’t even feel us leaving the bar!”

“Yeah, we’re here. Well, at least I hope we are! Usually don’t get these things wrong…” Nyrini loosens her grip on the bunny. “Can you stand on your own?”

“I think so…yes, I’m fine…whoa!” She grabs Nyrini’s arm for support. “Sorry…still a little woozy.”

“After all you drank, I’m not surprised.”

“I didn’t drink any more than you did!”

“Yeah, but you’re half my size, Mitzi. So are we in the right place?”

“Oh, this is the place…I recognize the echo-y sound of our voices. Wait, let me check where we are in the room with farsight….Ugh… we really do need a bath… And some clean clothes.”

“Well, this should be interesting… Never really tried to take a bath while blinded… oh, wait… yeah, there was that one time.” Nyrini chuckles.

Mitzi giggles. “Must be some story…”

The goddess starts taking her clothes off. “Short version of it: NEVER ask a centaur for a ride!”

“Ooookay… I— I’ll take your word for that. Hey, are those… tattoos? And these…” Mitzi tries to touch Nyri’s back, misses, tries again and succeeds. “Scars? So many…” Nyrini feels the bunny’s bloody finger tracing them.

“Could be worse. Not like they hurt anymore.”

“You walk around wearing next to nothing! How come I never noticed them?” Mitzi’s voice sounds sad.

“Some things are best hidden if left in plain sight.”

“You sound just like Susan,” the bunny whispers.

“I bet I do… So, where are the buckets and the washcloths, then?”

“Oh, they’re about…um, three steps to your right.”

“OUCH! Crap! That was a step and a half!” Nyrini starts hopping on one foot.

“Sorry! Sorry! I was thinking of bunny steps! Forgot your legs are longer than mine! Sorry!”

The goddess curses loudly. “Why’re we born with toes, anyway?! Friggin’ useless ‘til you bang them on something!” She keeps hopping, holding her injured toes.

“Nyri, be careful! You’re getting too close to the—” SPLASH!” Bathtub. Oh Nyri, are you OK??” She rushes over but, misjudging the distance, whacks her shin on the raised stone edge of the large pool-like tub that takes up about a third of the room. “OW! Crap!”

Nyrini surfaces, spitting water and wheezing. “Are you trying to get me killed?! ‘Cause… that won’t work, ya know?!”

“I’m sorry! Farsight doesn’t work like real sight. It’s like looking down on yourself through a glass pane…like one of those adventure games Aliyaa plays on her television-thingy. Are you all right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just wet, that’s all!” She gropes for the bunny with both hands, making contact with a warm, round body part. “Uh... Am I touching something I shouldn’t?” Mitzi laughs. “That’s my shoulder!”

“Good! Come here!” Grabbing Mitzi by her upper arms, Nyrini lifts her, laughing and protesting, into the tub. “Screw these fancy bath habits of yours! If I’m gettin’ wet, everyone’s gettin’ wet too! WHOA!” Nyrini slips and they both fall into the water with a huge splash.

Spluttering and laughing, Mitzi resurfaces. “Well, at least you could have let me fetch the soap!” She starts to get out of her soaked dress.

“Bah... It’s just blood! Water will wash it right off!”

Lord77 arrives at his throne only to be greeted with a rousing cheer. Startled, he looks around to find the temple pews about a quarter filled with ale-toting men, and his priest, Jeremiah, standing at the altar presiding over a service.

“And, here he ish in the flesh-sh-sh to be with us today,” an obviously over-served Jeremiah slurs while pointing dramatically to Lord77’s sudden appearance, using a half-filled ale mug as a pointing device. “Maybe he can come, tell ush about the good things to be happy for about stuff…”

Lord77 steps forward quickly and catches the off-balanced priest as his gyrations were threatening to combine with the one-too-many ales and toss him off the dais. “Whoa there, my priest. Steady,” the god says as he steadies the priest. “So, what service is this?”

“Oh, thish?” Jeremiah sweeps his arm in inclusion of the crowd. “Thish is the men’s select ale service.”

Lord77 looks out at the crowd, acknowledging for the first time the absence of women. “All men, huh?”

“Oh, yesh, my god!” Jeremiah excitedly nods his head, then continues as he puts a finger to his lips. “But, shhhhh. Don’t tell the wivees. It’s really, kind of a men’s drinking hour, with, or course, prayers and praises and prayers to you. Cuz, you’re, you know, the god and all.”

As if cued, the collective audience begins to sing a drinking song while punctuating the air with their beer mugs. Once the song ends, Lord77, now grinning, turns to his priest. “Are you telling me, that you’ve turned a mass into a men’s club meeting for the purpose of getting time away from their wives so that they can drink?”

Jeremiah begins to giggle, but then gets a very serious look on his face. “This is okay, isn’t it oh great one? I mean, the men do pay to come to this.” Jeremiah points to a collection plate now overflowing with gold coins. “That pays for the ale and this beefy jerky that the beer god brings now.”

Lord77, now laughing, notes. “It’s fine. I have to tell Godofbeer about this. My temple is now a drinking men’s ale club.” Picking up a piece of jerky, the god tastes it. “And, I’ll have to complement my buddy on the jerky. This is pretty good.”

Gripping the altar for balance, the priest continues. “Well, maybe not all men. We were thinking that, you know, being away from wives and all, that maybe hiring some dance girls, and…”

A shocked look passes over the god. “A night club?! You want to turn my temple into a night club?! What a great idea…err” the god hitches as the thought of Susan arriving to his temple only to find him cavorting with professional ladies strikes him.

“Uhh…maybe not, Jeremiah,” clasping the priest’s shoulder, the god continues. “Why don’t you have these gents go back to their homes now, anyway? I stopped by here to get some sleep.”

“Thanks for coming everyone!” the god waves to the assembled worshipers as he steps off of the dais and heads towards his sleeping chamber.

Early in the morning, Azzageddi returns to his temple, heading for his personal office. As he enters the suite of rooms in the residential wing, he passes through the living room and sees two figures passed out on the sofa. He recognizes Mitzi immediately, swathed in a thick, white fleece bathrobe, hair damp. He takes a moment longer to recognize Nyrini, never having seen her wearing something as concealing as the bathrobe. They are lying together on the sofa, spooned together, the goddess’ arms around the bunny.

Azz looks at them for a moment, and catching a whiff of alcohol, decides to be of use. Smiling slightly and shaking his head at the scene, he heads for the kitchen and starts brewing a pot of coffee. While in there, he goes over in his head what in the world the conversation over breakfast is going to be like.

Nyrini awakens on her side in complete darkness. A quick check of her open eyelids reveals that she is still blind. Pressed against her, enveloped by Nyri’s arms, Mitzi snores loudly in a drunken stupor. Feeling the unfamiliar touch of a fleece bathrobe on her body, the goddess quickly goes over the night’s events.

“Well, that was a fun night…” She mutters. A sudden thought makes her panic for a second. “Wait, where?…”

Nyri stretches her right hand out, making the bunny stir in her sleep, and summons her crossbow, feeling it fly straight into her hand, much to her relief. Stroking the wooden grip of the weapon with her thumb, the comforting feeling of completeness filling her, the goddess reaches a decision.

“Yes… I should have done this before…” she mutters.

Nyrini gets up slowly, trying very hard not to disturb Mitzi’s sleep, remembers what she’s currently wearing, and says to herself, “Hmm… I should probably get dressed first.”

A shuffling disturbance awakens Lord77 from a deep slumber. In the early morning light, he sees a figure lightly moving through his bedchamber and setting a tray on the small corner table. Focusing, he smiles as the silhouette cast on the wall by the limited sunlight clearly defines a feminine form with elongated ears.

“Good morning, Flower,” the god states, his voice raspy from disuse overnight.

The buga bunny, startled by the unexpected welcome, loses balance of the bowl of fresh fruit, spilling it on the tray as it crashes to the table with a clang.

“OH! I’m so sorry, master. I was trying to be quiet, but I knew you’d want some refreshment in the morning,” the bunny hastily states as she quickly tries to recapture all the spilled fruit into the serving bowl.

“Thank you, Flower. I appreciate the consideration,” Lord77 responds, his voice becoming clearer. “Am I to assume that you finally released Norman?”

The wizard’s name brings an embarrassed smile to the bunny’s face, and even in the limited light, the god can see her cheeks redden. “Yes. Thank you for letting him visit. He set out for your father’s place some hours ago.”

“Good, thank you again.” the god says, rising from the bed. Grabbing a fresh toga, Lord77 heads for the privies and quickly showers and changes. Returning back to his bedchamber, he selects his favorite fruits, consuming them quickly, anxious to return to the library.

As he steps out of the sleeping rooms, the temple is now deserted, his footfalls echoing among the golden bricks. Passing near the altar and throne, a sound catches his ear, but not quite a sound, more of a chord….a god’s signature tone. Spinning around quickly, Lord77 attempts to locate the source, expecting to see another god in his temple.

“Hello?” Lord77 inquires to the emptiness. Seeing no other person, the god scratches his head. Focusing, he can hear the tone quite clearly as the spell is still active within him. Stepping up on the dais, the god locates the tone as coming from or near his throne. Closing, he finally locates the source. Enclosed in its scabbard, standing tall in the wooden stand behind the throne is Claiomh Solais, invincible sword of the god Nuada, and its tone is that of a bound god.

“Oh, crap!” Lord77 exclaims, shock and realization describing the look on his face.

Stepping softly, the god reaches to the hilt of the sword, drawing it slowly as if some fantastic event would occur as the blade clears the scabbard. Instead, the tone continues, unchanged. Lord77 looks the blade over on one side then the other in an attempt to determine whether it had somehow been changed since he last carried it into his father’s library. Yet, no discernible difference exists from the day it was delivered to him by a courier.

“Alright my friend. Let’s go see Dad,” the god comments, and raising his other hand in the direction of the library, he disappears.

Lord77 appears in his father’s library carrying with him Claiomh Solais. Sitting on one side of the worktable is Norman studying the godpower-infused practice weapon designed by Nagele. On, the other side is Lord01, studying Norman intently while rubbing his chin.

“Dad, I’m back, and I have a problem here.”

“Yeah, I see you’re back. Why do you have Claiomh Solais?”

“Dad! Can’t you hear it?! There’s a bound god in here!”

Lord01 looks over at his son with irritation. “Yeah, so?”

Lord77 returns the stare dumbfounded. “Isn’t this a problem?”

The ancient god stands up from his seat and walks over to his son taking the sword from his fingers. “Nope. It’s a piece of Nuada. I guess I never mentioned it. Last time you brought it, we weren’t yapping about binding. I forgot that you have this when I gave you the god essence-hearing spell.”

Visibly relieved, Lord77 takes a seat at the table as the elder god sets the sword in the corner. “If Nuada is gone, how is it a part of him still inhabits the sword?”

“Good question, son. There are aspects to soul splitting and binding that I don’t even understand. But, it appears once bound, that part of your soul remains regardless of what happens to the rest of you. I think I said before that gods don’t die. Rather, they fade to where there is no longer a physical aspect to them. Binding them creates permanence to the physicality. Thus, it appears this part of the soul cannot fade.”

Finally noticing Norman’s activities, Lord77 inquires, “What’s Norman up to?”

“Well, he stopped in not long after you left. I was working over the discovery spells and didn’t want to be disturbed. So, I tossed him Nagele’s practice stick and had him do some discovery on his own,” Lord01 leans back in his chair, keeping his voice low. “The kid’s fairly remarkable. He’s already figured out what it is. Not bad for a low-leveled wizard.”

“Yeah, dad, he’s got promise,” Lord77 notes as he watches the young wizard work discovery spells. “Well, you ready to go? We need to get to Susan’s place.”

“Not quite yet. I need one more thing and need you to get it.”

Leaning over, Lord01 talks in low tones to his son. Lord77’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Really?!” the younger god exclaims.

“Yeah. It might help to be sure.”

“OK. Be right back,” Lord77 responds, rises, and vanishes, only to return a few moments later.

“Got it. Let’s go, dad.”

Picking up some freshly scripted notes, the ancient god nods and looks down the table. “Norman, Sonny and I need to pop out for awhile. Feel free to keep playing with that stick. Don’t try any of the spells in the tomes though. Some are for gods only, and they’re not annotated. I don’t want to come back and find a smoking pile of what used to be you at the end of the table.”

Norman, now fearing some of the texts around him, looks up concerned.

“Oh, don’t fret those,” the ancient god appends. “I made sure the ones you have are safe.”

Norman sighs in relief and continues on his work. Lord01 rolls up the notes.

“Let’s go.”

Both gods disappear. Norman, deep in his concentration, doesn’t even notice.

Susan arrives at her doorstep after a day of dull paperwork and stupid mistakes made by people who should really learn how to do their jobs properly. Silvershade stands by her side, waiting patiently for her to open the door. As she fits the key into the lock, though, the wolf cub tenses up and starts emitting a low growl. Susan looks down at the growling wolf, his ears thrown back, the fur on his back standing to attention, the very tip of his tail dancing slowly in the anticipation of battle.

“What is going on, Silvershade?” Susan asks, feeling slightly uneasy at the wolf’s reaction. “What lies beyond this door that you find so threatening?”

Silvershade merely stands there, apparently oblivious to his mistress, gazing at the door as if he could see through it. Acknowledging that a real threat might indeed lie within her own home, Susan places a hand on the door and allows her senses to stretch beyond it. Leaning on her divine ability of sensing and recognizing souls, she quickly identifies the cause of Silvershade’s uneasiness. Leaning down, she picks him up, holding him in her arms as she opens the door.

“I was not expecting you here this soon, I will grant you that,” she says as she carries the still growling cub to her sleeping chambers, not really bothering to look at the two other occupants in the room.

She puts the wolf cub down on the floor and closes the door behind her, leaving a whimpering puppy pawing at the inside surface of the door.

“We’re ready to go, dear,” Lord77 says, cringing slightly at the idea of being bitten again by that mouthful of needle-sharp teeth.

Susan nods in slow agreement. “Very well. Let me just leave a note for anyone in the Watch who might come looking for me,” she says, walking towards a small table in a corner and picking up a notepad and a pencil.

“Uuhh… you planning to leave that pinned to the door outside?” Lord77 asks in slight disbelief. “Isn’t that sort of an invitation to thieves and people alike?”

Susan finishes writing the note before answering. “No, I am not leaving it outside. I am leaving it inside.” She places it on the living room table.

“Then how will people read it?”

“Well, all they have to do is open the door and come in.” Susan shrugs. “I really never bother to lock it.”

“Uuh... that really doesn’t sound any better than leaving it pinned to the door,” Lord77 says as the goddess moves closer to him.

Susan smiles a nasty little smile as she slowly wraps her arms around his neck and brings her face closer to his, until their foreheads touch. “Take a minute to think about it, sweetheart,” she states in a soft voice. “Do you really believe anyone would be foolish enough to walk into my house and steal from me?”

Her question remains unanswered as god and goddess share the long, tender kiss of lovers forced to stand apart for a long time.

“Not if they want to wake up with their head still perching on their neck tomorrow, no,” Lord77 replies with a smile when their lips finally part.

“Are you two done with the cutesy gooey moment or should I take a nap while I wait for you to be ready to leave?” Lord01 growls at the embracing couple.

“I wonder who you’ve taken after…” Susan whispers to Lord77, loud enough for Lord01 to hear her words. “Perhaps your mother?”

“Don’t know,” Lord77 replies, stroking the goddess’ cheek with a gentle hand and smiling at her defiance towards his father. “Never met her.”

“That’s because there isn’t one,” Lord01 intervenes, placing a hand on Susan’s shoulder and gesturing impatiently towards the door. “Now, Missy, lead the way.”

Susan lowers her gaze to the elder’s hand and then brings her eyes to stare straight into Lord01’s, her eyebrow raised in a wordless warning. The elder registers it and holds her gaze for a while but eventually caves, letting her go.

“Very well,” Susan concedes, breaking away from Lord77 and walking toward her sleeping chambers. “We may need Silvershade’s special abilities for this.”

She opens the door, setting Silvershade loose. The wolf cub immediately runs straight to Lord01, jaws open in uncontained anger and resentment, both at the elder god’s unfriendly scent and his all-too-recent imprisonment in Susan’s bedroom. As he prepares to leap, teeth at the ready, Susan intervenes in a calm yet undefiable tone.

“Silvershade, NO!”

Silvershade instantly spins around, looking slightly abashed, gazing at Susan with eyes that say Why not? You don’t like him either!

“He is family, Silvershade,” Susan explains, almost as if she can read the wolf’s conflicting thoughts. “Unfortunately…” she mutters.

She summons her scythe and motions the gods to stand closer to her. Silvershade follows as well, ears down and tail between his legs in uneasy submission.

“Here we go, then,” Susan announces. “Please keep your hands where you can see them at all times.”

Lord77 looks alarmed at this. “Wait, what do you mean by—”

The question hangs unasked as all three gods and wolf fade away.

The thick dust and dimness of light masks the vastness of the storage room. Originally built as a depot, the decay of the neighborhood caused the building to fall into disuse. Yet, its size provided flexibility for other uses, most times not of the most legal kind. A gathering spot for gangs, consortiums or other collections of illicit groups would find refuge and opportunity in the building.

The front door leads to an antechamber which, in turn, feeds the storage room. On the side, a main door hangs on a track used to bring produce in and out of the room. However, neither door is disturbed as the newest visitors arrive. For as quietly as they faded from Susan’s home, two gods, a goddess, and a wolf cub appear in the center of the room. Emerging fully, Susan dismisses her scythe.

“Well, that’s…different,” Lord77 announces as they appear.

“Hmpf,” Lord01 grunts looking around. “There are multiple modes of magical transportation, son. Death uses the magic of the scythe to do so. It’s refined and quiet…ancient magic.”

Nodding, Lord77 comments. “It’s a tad dim in here, Dad. You want me to launch some luminaries while you prep?”

“No. No magic yet,” the ancient god quickly responds, clutching his parchments in one hand. With the other hand, Lord01 reaches into his pocket and retrieves multiple clear crystals and a spool of long, thin wire. Each crystal is affixed to a hook and thin chain. “Here, take these and string the wire, head-high in a cross through the room. Then hang the crystals from the wire, one every ten paces in each direction starting with the cross.”

Lord77 takes the crystals as if weighing them in his hand. “Divining crystals, Dad?”

“Yep. That’s why no magic yet. The residual magic of our trip here will help me calibrate it.”

As Lord77 begins stringing the wire through the room, Lord01 begins to survey the area. Turning back towards Susan, he asks. “Where did you find her?”

Susan turns slightly to her right and points halfway towards the back wall. “Nyrini was staked to a pole about there. You may still be able to see discolored stains in the floor where she was, or where the pole was affixed. The footsteps were towards the back. It was night and too dark in here at the time for me to see exactly where.

Moving towards the area Susan indicated, Lord01 steps over and looks at the spot. “There’s a lot of staining here,” he remarks.

“She was pretty badly hurt,” Susan responds in a soft tone.

“Hmm…” Lord01 responds absentmindedly, stooping over as he views the area closer. Finally looking up, he states. “How are you coming along, Son?”

“Just putting the last ones on, Dad,” the younger god responds. “Ok…ready.”

The ancient god rises and approaches the spot where the wires cross. Again reaching into his pocket, he retrieves a larger red crystal also bound to a thin chain. Affixing it to the cross of the wires, he stands back.

Slowly, the red crystal begins to softly glow. Following its lead, the clear crystal closest to Susan where the group first appeared also emits a faint glow, with the crystals immediately before and after along the wire glowing but less so.

Walking along the wires, Lord77 checks each crystal. Only the middle red and the clear crystals nearest Susan are glowing. “Looks like that’s it, Dad. No other magic around.”

The ancient god scratches his chin and then nods. “Good. Take the crystals down. I’m going to work over the area there that your girlfriend thinks the portal was.” And stepping over to the rear area, Lord01 begins to cast the divining spells from his parchment.

As octarine flashes illuminate the crystals that Lord77 is removing, Susan steps over towards him. “So, assuming he finds nothing, then what?”

Lord77 halts his crystal harvesting for a moment, pauses to consider the question, and responds. “It depends. No sign of magic would indicate the use of a one-way portal, which is good in that we know that there is no unprotected gateway through here. On the other hand, we won’t know if the escape was back to Mardi, or elsewhere. There is one more option, and I have to warn you that if Dad decides to go there, it could be uncomfortable.”

“What do you mean, uncomfortable?”

Placing his free hand on her cheek, Lord77 looks into Susan’s eyes. “I’d prefer not to say anything more unless Dad asks for it.”

Both turn as Lord01 rejoins them muttering to himself. “I’m done. We’re clean here…well, magically that is,” he remarks looking around at all the dust. “I had just wish that I had picked something up that would have given me a feel for the type and range of that portal.”

Sighing heavily, the ancient god addresses his son. “OK, Son. We’re going to need to have a look.”

With deliberate care, Lord77 reaches into a side pouch within his toga and extracts the Time Orb. Stepping towards the spot where Nyrini was tortured, the younger god begins to manipulate the Orb. “Dear, this is the uncomfortable part,” he cautions as images begin appearing in front of the god.

“Not knowing the exact time period, I’m going to need to jump around here a bit. Bear with me,” Lord77 announces as scenes appear and transform into other scenes in front of him. An image of crates and boxes dissolves into a long table with chairs. A group of men surround it, some visibly armed. Soon the scene shifts and the table disappears into an empty room. Susan catches sight of a figure and reacts with a sharp intake of breath.

“Yeah. I think we’re there,” Lord77 states, holding the scene and then letting it play out.

A cloaked figure stands over and partially blocks the view of a second figure that has been shackled to a post. Three other figures are seen scattered across the room, all splayed out on the floor in positions that indicate gruesome deaths. As the cloaked individual moves, the shackled figure becomes fully visible and identifiable. It is Nyrini. Her head hangs down, body covered in blood flowing from deep cuts, which appear to be caused by a whip. The cloaked figure is reading from a red leather-bound book.

Lord01 steps back towards Susan and in a low voice remarks. “Godbinder tome. I’ve seen them before.”

Nyrini suddenly jerks, throws back her head and screams as the Godbinder continues casting the spells. His hand is now raised, baring a black onyx ring as he extends it towards Nyrini and then towards the floor where lying visible is a crossbow, now familiar as Nyrini’s constant companion. Lord01 shakes his head and remarks to Susan. “I know this part. He’s already extracting her essence and is now binding it to the crossbow.”

Susan stands rigid, her breath rapid as her fury rises over the scene before her. As Nyrini screams a second time, the Godbinder suddenly jerks his head and looks straight at the three gods watching him. His face is lined with tattoos. Lord01 growls. “That’s a Nasty, and looking at the marks, he’s a high-level one.”

Abruptly, the Godbinder rises and begins running towards the rear of the room. An octarian flash indicates that intense magic is being employed. As a bright glow begins to radiate from the back wall, Lord01 yells. “Freeze it, right there!”

“Yep. Got it,” Lord77 responds, holding the image.

The elder god steps forward, now standing next to his son. In the static image before him, the cloaked figure is frozen mid-stride and about to enter the hastily cast portal.

“Not good,” Lord77 remarks.

“Yeah. That’s what I was afraid of,” the ancient god states flatly. “One-way, but short-range portal. He was only fleeing from the building, not back to Mardi.”

Lord77 shuts down the Orb, terminating the scene. As the gods turn towards Susan, they see a face tortured with pain and anger, fire flaming from behind her eyes. Between clenched teeth, she snarls, “Get…me…his…name.”

Stepping towards Susan, Lord77 again pouches the Orb. “I’m sorry, dear. I know that was tough to see. But we needed to know. Now, we do. There’s one still out there.”

Susan, her fury unabated snarls. “I don’t care what the penalties are. I will destroy him.” Refocusing on the god before her, she continues. “Get me his name. That’s all I need…his name.”

Gently reaching out to the goddess, Lord77 takes her hands in his. “We’ll find him, dear. Now that we know there is one. We’ll find him.”

Susan, the shock and anguish of what she faced now fading, releases the god’s hands and pulls him into an embrace. Wrapping his arms around her, the god still feels the tension in her.

“I know you will,” she replies. “I am just so glad that I told you not to bring Nyrini here. Could you imagine the shock to her if she saw this?”

Silvershade emits a low growl as Nyrini’s voice suddenly causes the couple to break their embrace and look towards the door.

“I’m sure it would be terrible. That is, if I could see anything at all.”

“Nyrini?” Susan asks as she approaches in disbelief the figure standing by the entrance.

“What do you mean, you can’t see?” Lord77 inquires, approaching the young goddess as well.

“Well, I’m sorta blind at the moment.” Nyrini replies.

“Sort of blind?” Lord77 insists.

“OK, completely blind, then.”

“Well, at least that explains the tart’s outfit.” Lord01 grumbles. “Got dressed in the dark.”

Nyrini looks down, as if she could see the outfit she’s currently wearing, even more revealing than her usual one. “What, this? Nah!” She waves it off. “This is just my back-up uniform. The other one’s got blood on it.”

“Blood?” Susan asks with obvious concern, looking intently at the younger goddess in search of any visible wounds. “Nyrini what happened? Didn’t I send you back to the Watch House to be with Twilight?”

“Oh, I did better than that,” Nyrini says as two long ears poke out from behind her legs, closely followed by Twilight’s head. Looking around, the small bunny quickly identifies Susan.

“Hi, Auntie Sue!” she greets, running towards Susan and hugging her legs.

“Twilight!” Susan exclaims, placing a hand on the bunny’s head. “What are you doing here?”

“I thought it was about time I got this out of my system and tell Lordy how I got bound,” Nyrini explains. “But it’s not like I can see anything so… I brought Twi along to be my eyes.”

“Puppy!!” Twilight cries suddenly, running towards Silvershade and picking him up in a tight embrace before the poor wolf cub even has time to react.

“I went to Lordy’s but Flower said he’d left,” Nyrini tells them. “The mausoleum was empty too so I figured he might be with you because…” she looks at her sister with unseeing eyes, causing Susan and Lord77 to exchange a slightly embarrassed smile. “Well, you know. You weren’t home either but Twi spotted this note on the table and read it to me.”

“Aunt Pashy’s been teaching me how to read,” Twilight announces with glee while Silvershade struggles wildly to release himself from her tight hold, whimpering slightly as he does so. “She says I’m really good at it.”

“Yes, you are.” Nyrini throws a proud, endearing smile at her little one. Turning back to Susan, she adds, “From the description I figured you’d be here. I never thought I’d see this place again.” She throws her blind gaze around the room. “Not that I am… seeing it, I mean.”

“Nyrini, just… tell us what happened, please,” Susan asks, rubbing her eyes with a mixture of confusion and impatience. “Start from the beginning.”

“Well, I did as you said and went back to the Watch House but then I really wasn’t fit to be around Twi so Mitzi suggested we went out for a drink and we did. DO YOU MIND?!” Nyrini suddenly yells at the hand being waved in front of her eyes.

“Yep, she’s blind, alright,” Lord01 concludes, lowering his hand.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t smell you, old man!” Nyrini complains. “Ugh… what is that? REALLY Old Spice?!”

“Nyrini…” Susan growls.

“Oh, yeah… sorry.” Nyrini resumes her report. “Well, we went to this bar but it was too crowded so we kinda ended up in this little casino I know that’s got a great bar.”

“The only casino I know in Godville is anything but little…” Lord77 comments.

“Well, this one’s not the kind that advertises. So, there we were, minding our own business when Lightstealer shows up and starts acting like an a—

“Nyrini… there are children in the room,” Susan warns her sister.

“Oh… right.”

“Who’s this Lightstealer guy?” Lord77 wants to know.

“Local god of blindness.” Nyrini shrugs. “Real jerk. He’s the one who did this to me. Did it to Mitzi too.”

“What?! He made the two of you blind?!” Lord77 exclaims.

“Yep,” Nyrini nods a yes. “‘Fraid so. Aaaaanyway, I shot him with my crossbow, Mitzi bashed his hero’s face in and that’s where we got all bloody. She cut herself pretty bad too but I fixed that… I think.” The young goddess looks uncertain for a moment.

“I don’t get it,” Lord01 snarls. “Why the hell would a god of blindness exist? I get that beer god. Everybody would want one of those. Actually, I’m somewhat surprised that he wasn’t an ancient. Although, fermenting hops did come later….Anyway, I finally get my head around that tart being the goddess of doorknobs and windowsills.”

“That’s thresholds and pathways, you old coot!” Nyrini corrects.

“Yeah, whatever,” the ancient god snaps. “But, whoever would want a god of blindness?! What’s next, god of taking candy from babies?!”

“I’m sure there is some reason, Dad” Lord77 responds, then turns back to Nyrini. “What about Mitzi’s farsight?” he inquires, looking worried.

“Oh, that seemed to be working fine. She used it afterwards while we were trying to wash the blood out.”

“We need to go have a look at that bunny,” Lord01 intervenes, rubbing his chin. “If that twit of a god managed to damage the eye, then I’m gonna have to have a little chat with him.”

“Don’t you dare, you fossil!” Nyrini yells at him, pointing a threatening finger in the general direction of his voice. “That guy is mine! If he hadn’t run away I would have booked him already!”

“Enough, you two!” Susan hisses, her tone admitting no defiance. “There are more important matters at hand. Like trying to restore your sight, for starters.”

Lord01 looks at Susan for a moment, and then relents. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Stepping towards the blind goddess, he places his right hand on her left cheek. The touch initially causes Nyrini to flinch and back away.

“Now, don’t you be moving, girl!” the ancient god admonishes. “I need to look at the spell.”

“Well, you could have said something first,” Nyrini responds.

“Yeah. Well, you could have not been blinded either. Now stand still,” Lord01 commands as he again places his hand on her cheek. After a few moments, he states. “Son, come look at this.”

Lord77 steps over to Nyrini, and as he raises his left hand, states. “Is it ok to touch your other cheek, Nyri?”

“Well, at least someone’s got the decency to ask. Yeah, go ahead,” she responds.

Lord77 continues to reach over, lightly placing his left hand on her face. Closing his eyes, he reaches out his senses.

“What do you see?” Lord01 asks.

“Single flavor. One spell. Simple retinal block?”

“Yep,” Lord01 states as he backs away from Nyrini. “No protection. No cap. Not even a thread back to maintain the spell. Simple place and forget. This guy is a complete lightweight.”

“You want to do the repair?” Lord77 inquires to his father.

“There’s nothing to repair. Just extract the spell and be done with it,” the ancient god dismisses as he lifts Nyrini’s crossbow off her shoulder. “I would like to look at this though, my dear.”

Nyrini hesitates for a moment before saying in a slightly strangled voice,” Sure. Just be careful with it.” she asks him, relinquishing the slightly trembling weapon.

Leaning in closer, Lord77 quietly speaks to Nyrini. “Just hold for a moment, Nyri. This won’t take long.” And he places his right hand on her head behind the left ear.

A red nimbus glows around Lord77’s hands and spreads quickly, surrounding the goddess’ head. After a moment, the god whispers. “Got it.” and steps back, lifting the nimbus from her head like lifting a hat and holding it between his hands. With an upward push, the god releases the nimbus with the trapped spell so that it floats up and out of the building. A small thunder report is heard a few seconds after.

Nyrini blinks a few times, focusing on the god in front of her, then smiles. “Well, it’s nice to be able to see again. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Lord77 responds, walking back to Susan and receiving an appreciative hug from her.

Nyrini then turns towards Lord01 who is concentrating on the crossbow. Seeing her stare in mild nervousness, the ancient god rises from his crouched position over the crossbow, and turns towards her. “If you wish, goddess, I can unbind your essence from this weapon. Make you whole again.”

Caught off-guard, Nyrini stands speechless for a moment. For many years, part of her soul has inhabited the crossbow. To be whole again, not to always feel that void in herself that was ripped out and bound to the weapon… She is stunned at the concept. “I, uhhh…” she starts.

“Tell you what, lass, you don’t have to do it now or ever. But if you do want to, come see me, or see sonny boy there, and we can do it.”

Now having a few seconds to consider, Nyrini responds. “Thank you for the offer. But, I think, I’m going to leave it alone for right now. I’ve gotten used to it, and if that Godbinder is still out there, I may want the weapon carrying part of me.”

“Your call, lass. Again the offer is there,” Lord01 finishes and hands her the crossbow.

Feeling relieved that her little sister is now out of danger, the events of Nyri’s plight finally strike home to Susan, and a frown comes to her lips. As Lord01 steps away, he’s now replaced with an angry goddess.

“Drinking, Nyr?!” Susan admonishes the younger goddess. “I sent you back to be with Twilight and you went drinking?!”

“I… I—” Nyrini stutters.

“You what?! Thought it was a good idea at the time?” Susan hisses in anger. “You left your child alone with people who have no obligation to look after her and you went partying!”

“Hey, it wasn’t my idea!” Nyrini cries.

“But you went along with it, did you not?!” Susan insists, her every word a dagger thrown at Nyri’s heart. “Did you consider, even for a moment, the possibility of staying in and going to bed early?!”

Nyrini sighs. “No,” she answers in a strangled voice.

“And you took Mitzi to an illegal casino! Mitzi!”

“Hey, she’s not exactly helpless, you know?!”

“You got her blind! And hurt!” Her anger building up to the point of making it impossible for her to stand still, Susan paces around the room, speaking somewhat louder than she’d like to. “Nyrini, when will you start taking other people’s well-being into consideration?! Could you be any more irresponsible?!” she cries in utter frustration.

“I… I guess I didn’t think things through,” Nyrini concedes, hanging her head.

“No, you didn’t. Because you were drunk! Did I not teach you better than to get drunk beyond your ability to reason?!”

Feeling anger arise within her as Susan’s constant attacks become too much to bear, Nyrini looks up again, straight at her older sister. “Well, maybe if you had stuck around for longer than 4 hours a day I would have turned out better!” she exclaims pointing a finger at Susan. “But no! The gods forbid anything or anyone from getting between you and your beloved Watch!”

“At least I never put your life in danger the way you did Twilight’s by bringing her here!” Susan retorts. “Do you not know by now that the Bunnies are extremely sensitive to magic and to being taken out of the Watch House?! They are unstable magical creatures, not nearly as solid as you or I! And she’s a child!”

“Hey, I made sure she was wearing that amulet you gave Mitzi!” Nyrini indicates Twilight with an open hand. The small bunny looks at her mother in return, her eyes wide with fear at the anger in the goddesses’ voices, the bright pendant in the shape of an Ankh with one of Susan’s hairs trapped in it hanging from her neck.

“You brought her to a known hideout for criminals of all sorts, Nyrini!” Susan throws her arms open to encompass the whole room. “Do you think the amulet will protect her against that?!”

“No, that’s what I’m here for!” Nyrini cries in response.

“You shouldn’t be here either!” Susan yells at her.

“WWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Twilight’s crying pierces through the air, making both goddesses immediately stand still and quiet, looking at the bunny in shock. Even Silvershade stops struggling and hangs, smothered and unresisting, from Twilight’s arms.

“What’s wrong, Twilight?” Lord77 asks in a soft voice, approaching the bunny from behind and placing a hand on her head.

“Auntie Sue is yelling at mommy!” Twilight complains as tears stream down her face. “Just like mommy was yelling at me before.”

“You yelled at her?” Susan whispers at Nyrini.

“Dear, maybe this is not the best time for you to have this conversation,” Lord77 says in a carefully leveled tone.

Susan nods in silent agreement. “I am sorry, Twilight,” she apologizes in a gentler tone, walking towards the bunny and kneeling before her. “I did not mean to upset you.”

Twilight sniffs and rubs her eyes as she asks, “Don’t you like mommy anymore?”

“Oh, my dear,” Susan produces a handkerchief and starts wiping Twilight’s tears. “Sometimes people argue,” the goddess explains in a soft, kind voice. “It doesn’t meant I don’t like your mother, it just means I don’t always agree with her.”

“So… you’re not gonna stop loving mommy?” Twilight asks, sneaking a peek at Nyrini, who stands looking at Susan with a nostalgic expression on her face.

“Could you stop loving her?” Susan asks, stroking Twilight’s cheek. “Even after she yelled at you?”

The bunny shakes her head in response and hugs Susan tightly. “No,” she whispers as Lord77 conjures a carrot-flavored lollipop, much to the bunny’s delight.

“I’d forgotten how good you are with children, Sue,” Nyrini says, smiling softly at the picture of the two gods comforting the bunny. “Ever thought of having a kid of your own? I mean… look at you!”

“Uuhh…” Lord77 mumbles with an audible gulp, looking sideways at Susan as sweat begins to drench his face. Lord01 chuckles, both at the idea and at his son’s look of obvious discomfort.

“That’d be the day…” the elder mutters.

Oblivious to all this, Susan replies in a slightly harsh tone, “I did have a child.” Her eyes narrow. “You! And it is becoming obvious I still have one.”

Nyrini sighs in surrender as she comes closer to the older goddess. “I’m sorry, Sue. I guess I still have a long way to go before I can be like you,” she states, taking Twilight in her arms.

“I never wanted you to be like me, Nyr,” Susan says, getting up. “I would just like you to pay a little more attention to the world around you before you find it slightly emptier of the people you care about… and who care about you.”

“It used to be just me and you, Sis.” Nyrini shakes her head slowly. “And then you weren’t there anymore.”

“And now?” Susan asks softly.

Nyrini breathes deep and exhales before answering, “Now my world is never empty and I’m having a hard time figuring out where I fit in it.”

Lord01 laughs. “Welcome to real life, lass! Population: everyone you’ll ever meet! Now, how ‘bout you leave the epiphany for later and we go fix your friend? We’re done here, anyway. Get the bunny and meet us in Lordy’s temple. We’ll sort out the next steps for the Nasty there.”

After some minor discussion on the logistics of travel, Nyrini leaves alone to get Mitzi while Susan fades away, taking both Lords, wolf and bunny with her to Lord77’s temple. The hideout is once again left vacant as the dust of the years rushes to settle down and erase any signs of their presence.

Mitzi moans, as her consciousness slowly surfaces from a deep, dark ocean—a sugary, minty, rum-flavored ocean—into a world of pain. A sharp pain stabs behind her eye like a knife in her brain, making her wince and whimper. She feels a hand gently stroking her hair.

“A-Azz?”

“Yes, it’s me.” His voice is gentle, but she still cringes from the pain it sets off to echo in her head. Her ears press tight along the back of her skull.

“Ooooooh, don’t talk so loud!” Suddenly she gasps. “Nyri? Azz, is Nyrini here?”

“She was,” he whispers. “She was asleep. While I was out of the room, she must’ve woken up, and left.”

“Oh…”

“Overdid it last night?”

“Ugh…I am never drinking again. Never!”

“Sure, sure…” He smooths her hair. “You want some coffee?”

With some help, she manages to sit up very slowly and carefully, one hand pressed against her temple, ears still down. She blinks, then curses softly under her breath. “Azz? Um…I…I’m pretty fuzzy on what happened last night, but…well…I remember inviting Nyrini to move in.”

“Oh good. Did she accept?” He holds a steaming mug of coffee to her, black, no sugar. She sniffs, then reaches out very cautiously for it. He automatically moves it to her reaching hands and she takes it and, blowing on it, takes a sip. She continues to blink and squint.

“Yeah, she did. I think maybe I’d better check to be sure she still wants to.”

“Really? Why?”

“Ow! Too loud…”

“Sorry,” Azz whispers.

“Even your breathing is too loud…” She drinks again. “Um…I think things might’ve gotten a little weird. Still sorting out what really happened. But…there’s something else I have to tell you.” She sighs and drinks more coffee. “Now…don’t freak out, Azz. OK?”

She feels him tense up beside her. She growls, “I said, don’t freak out!”

“Come on Mitz,” he whispers. “You’re just scaring me more, drawing it out.”

“Well,” she says, “I’m blind.”

“YOU’RE WHAT??”

“OW!” She almost drops her mug from the pain in her head. “AZZ! INSIDE VOICE!”

“Sorry! But, but…you mean, the eye Lordy fixed for you…”

“That’s not the problem. Some sicko god named Lightstealer…he blinded me, and Nyri too.”

She feels power roiling inside Azzageddi as he begins to transform. Though she can’t see a thing, she can picture him, having experienced it several times over the months since they returned from Mardi. She takes his suddenly much larger, taloned hand in hers, and leans against his now feverish body, his skin almost too hot to touch.

“Come on, sweety,” she says. “Calm down. I’m sure it can’t be that hard to fix. He did it with just a touch…couldn’t be major magic. I’m surprised it’s lasted this long.”

Azzageddi’s voice, now two octaves deeper, rumbles with barely controlled anger and doom. “I’ve heard of this guy. He’s wanted. I didn’t think he’d dare blind two officers of the Watch…and a goddess as well. I’ll tear him to pieces…”

“No,” Mitzi says, squeezing his hand. “Once we have our sight back, Nyri and I will arrest him. All right? We have to send a message out to gods and their heroes who would do something like this. All right… sir?”

The final word, a reminder of his duty, cuts through his rage. He nods slowly. “You’re right, Corporal. Of course. I’ll put out the feelers, find out where he is. And you and Nyrini will be armed with countermagic for protection, plus all the backup you need. We’ll take him in…but you don’t have to be gentle about it.”

“Oh, we won’t be,” she says, chuckling. “Nyri already shot him with her crossbow. Sounded like it really hurt. And I wounded his Hero, too.”

“Hero?”

“Oh, you’re going to love this…it’s Lenny the Pervo Pickpocket.”

“This scumbag god must be desperate. Well, it’ll be good to get both of them off the streets.” Azz takes a deep breath, and Mitzi can feel him cooling, his body returning to normal. “But first priority is restoring your vision. Can you still use farsight?”

“Yes. But I don’t want to use it again for awhile. I think the headache is mainly from using farsight in the bath, not the mojitos.”

“Oh…I haven’t had a mojito in so long…I used to drink those ages ago, in Cuba.” His voice has returned to normal.

At the thought of mojitos, the bunny’s stomach lurches. “Oh…I think…ugh…”

“Hold on, hold on!” cries Azzageddi, as he picks her up and rushes her heaving body to the toilet down the hall.

As she empties what seems like twice her body weight into the basin, Azzageddi wets a washcloth and kneels next to her, rubbing her back until she’s done. Sitting on the floor, she slumps against the wall and takes the washcloth gratefully and wipes her face. “Do not say anything even vaguely related to alcohol,” she wheezes, “for maybe the next ten years.”

There’s a knock on the doorframe and Nyrini’s voice rings out, “Good morning, sunshine!”

“Aarrgh, Nyri!!” Mitzi yells, clutching her head in agony, her ears flattening against the loud noise. “Why do you have to come in shouting like that?!”

Nyrini walks over to the bunny, greeting Azzageddi with a wink and whispers “You mean like…” Then shouting “ THIS ?” just as Mitzi’s ears return to their normal, erect position.

As the goddess chuckles, the bunny yells in agony again, clutching her head and curling into a little ball of agony. Azz winces and says, “Nyrini!” Seeing that Mitzi is truly suffering, Nyrini regrets her little prank and crouches near the bunny, throwing an apologetic look at Azz.

“Oh, you don’t look so good,” she notes with true concern. “Is all that because of last night?”

“No, I just went bowling and used my head for a ball!” Mitzi shoots in response. “Of course it’s from last night!”

“Oh… yeah… that’s what happens when you drink your weight in mojitos,” Nyrini states, nodding. “Well, love, I came to check if you’re still blind.”

“Did you turn all the lights out?” Mitzi asks, sarcasm flooding her voice.

“Uhh… nope.”

“Then, yes. I’m still blind.”

“It just might be your lucky day, then,” Nyrini smiles brightly. “Lordy is waiting for us in his temple. He’s going to fix your eyes just like he fixed mine.”

“Ugh…” Mitzi moans. Rising uncertainly to her feet, she points in Azz’s general direction and says "You—water and aspirin.”

“And my uniform!" she adds as Azz leaves the bathroom.

Pointing at Nyri, she orders, “You—help me fix my hair. I am not going wherever looking like…whatever horrible thing I look like right now!”

“Sure thing, love,” Nyrini replies, guiding a slightly stumbling Mitzi towards the vanity and helping her to sit in the chair.

“Hey, is Azz gone?” Mitzi suddenly asks, stretching an ear like a radar antenna.

“Yep,” Nyrini responds.

Mitzi’s shoulders slump and the bunny breathes deeply before saying, “Nyri, about last night—”

“Before you go there, sunshine,” Nyrini interrupts in a soft, yet final, tone. “Here’s all you need to know. I was nowhere as drunk as you think and you were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay drunker than you remember. Now… what hairstyle are we going for today?…”

Dressed and ready to be in public, Mitzi barely feels the shift when Nyrini transports them. The carpet under their feet disappears and they are standing on the cool ceramic tiles in Lord77’s temple, Azzageddi and Mitzi each holding one of Nyrini’s hands. A few rooms away, a rowdy crowd can be heard carousing and praising both Lord77 and beer, with someone yelling, “And don’t ferget da joiky!” before belching and causing uproarious laughter.

Azzageddi says, “It sounds like Lord77’s new catechism is proving popular.”

Mitzi grimaces slightly. “Just when he’s learning the value of moderation, his worshippers are going overboard.” She pauses and sighs, wincing again at the remains of her mojito-and-magic-induced hangover. “Not like I have any right to judge…”

Nyrini mutters, “Now where were we supposed to meet? This place is huge…”

Mitzi points. “That way…I can hear them talking. I’m pretty sure it’s the throne room.”

“Good ears,” Nyrini says, lightly brushing one with her hand and causing Mitzi to smile. “We have the blind leading the sighted. Well, you know your way around better than the rest of us—lead on, MacDuff.”

As they walk down the hall, Azzageddi quietly says, “Actually, it was ‘Lay on, MacDuff…’”

Nyrini and Mitzi both shake their heads and simultaneously say, “Such a nerd.”

As they enter the throne room, conversation stops and Twilight yells “Mommy!” and runs to embrace Nyrini. As the goddess picks up the little bunny, Twilight holds an arm out to Azz and says, “Uncle Azgabeddi!”

“Hi, sweetie,” he says, and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “Having fun?”

“Yeah! I’m outside! Everything’s diff’rent!”

“Oh, just wait until you really go outside! You’ll love it!”

Mitzi, head still pounding and ears down flat to muffle the loud voice of the child, doesn’t notice Lord77’s approach until he’s kneeling in front of her. She takes a half-step back, then relaxes when he says, “It’s OK. It’s me.”

“Oh, hi.” She smiles wanly. “Sorry to trouble you with this.”

“No trouble at all. I’m going to touch your face, all right?”

“Sure.” She remains calm as he positions his fingers, then as the oddly warm feeling of magic surrounds and penetrates her skull. A large hand—Azzageddi’s—settles on her shoulder, squeezing it.

“Any complications, Lordy?” Azz asks.

“None. Simple spell, easily removed.” Mitzi feels the magic leave her and float away, detonating with a small thump. “There! How about it, Mitzi…can you see?”

The light comes flooding in, causing her eyes to water. She blinks rapidly, clearing her vision to see Lord77’s concerned face. She smiles and throws her arms around his neck, giving him a tight hug, her cheek against his. “Thank you,” she says.

He chuckles and pats her back. “You’re welcome. I feel like I’m your regular ophthalmologist now.”

“Couldn’t ask for a better one.” She releases him and looks around, enjoying the ability to see again. She smiles up at Azz. Then she looks at Nyrini and laughs. “Nyr! Did you think your old outfit was too conservative?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nyrini says, waving her off. “Crack all the jokes you want. Oh, uh…what about my old outfit, anyway?”

“One of the monks has probably cleaned it and hung it up to dry.” Mitzi spots Susan, who is now standing with Azzageddi. The two gods are holding hands and smiling, clearly happy to see each other. Mitzi rushes over and clasps the goddess around the waist, as Susan smiles at her and strokes her hair.

As goddess and bunny begin to talk, Azzageddi gives Susan’s hand a squeeze, silently promising to talk to her later, then approaches Lord01, who is appraising him with crossed arms.

“Speak of the devil,” the ancient gods smirks.

“How long have you been saving that one?” rumbles Azz. Then he holds out his hand. “A pleasure to finally meet you, sir.”

Lord01 looks down at it for a moment, then takes it and shakes. “Yeah, it should be. You seemed to have adjusted to the world pretty well. My son has a lot of good things to say about you.”

“I’m glad to hear that. He speaks highly of you as well.”

“Shocking…” The old god pauses. “So…”

“So you were the one magically spying on me when I arrived in this world,” Azzageddi says matter-of-factly.

Lord01 pauses a moment, measuring Azzageddi’s statement. Then he confesses. “Yeah. That was me. You set off all sorts of alarms when you came through. Had to make sure that you weren’t one of those Nasties. Didn’t expect a devil, though. That was a surprise. So, I had good reason to keep an eye on you for awhile.”

“You did,” says Azzageddi. “I was a devil, one of the gods’ ancient enemies. I’m glad to know someone was keeping tabs on creatures like me.” He pauses and smiles. “Of course, if you’re going to use such obvious scrying spells, you might as well have just come talk to me.”

“Those were the subtlest scrying spells I knew at the time! I can’t believe you detected them. You must have been pretty danged paranoid.”

Azzageddi smirks. “Considering I was in the land of gods, most of whom would’ve tried to kill me if they’d known what I was, and knowing that I’d betrayed Hell too by abandoning my duties and trying to become a god…yes, I think paranoid is the right word. Even so, I almost didn’t notice your scrying. And when I did, I figured I was better off pretending not to notice. Anyway, I should thank you.”

“Whatever for?” growls the ancient god.

“Knowing that I was being watched helped me keep myself from backsliding. It’s not easy to be good when concepts like simple decency and kindness are alien to you. Knowing that if I screwed up, I might get smitten out of existence…it kept me in line.”

“Huh…you’re welcome.”

Lord77 strides over to an amazed Jeremiah, still in awe over the number and quality of gods currently convening in the temple. Towards the kitchen, the remnants of that evening’s men’s drinking club are still working over the jerky and ale allotment for the night.

“My priest, I need you to clear the temple of worshipers. We have to have some discussions that are for gods’ ears only,” Lord77 commands.

Jeremiah looks anxiously at his god, then nods quickly. “Of course, great one. I will handle this at once.” Staggering off, he approaches the worshipers. Soon, all exit the temple.

Striding back towards the altar, Lord77 sees his father, Azzageddi, and Susan Sto Helit in conversation. Reading the look of concern on Azzageddi’s face, Lord77 surmises that he’s being updated with what was learned in the hideout. Closing, he hears the conversation.

“And you believe the Godbinder is still on this side of Mardi?” Azz inquires.

Lord01, frowning, responds, “If that Nasty tried to cross back over, I would know it. He could get there, but the traps I’ve set would have gone off. The last time I received an alarm was when you came through, devil.”

Azzageddi pauses for a moment, then states flatly, “You know, I do have a name. Azzageddi.”

The ancient god holds for a moment, his lips move slightly as if trying out the name. “That’s a lot of syllables,” he finally responds.

Susan laughs, and Azzageddi smiles and adds, “Well, my friends call me ‘Azz’. How about you? What did your friends call you?”

Lord01 looks at the god for a moment, as if stunned by the question. Then, he responds, “I don’t know. As soon as I get a friend, I’ll let you know…Well, Nagele used to call me something. But I wouldn’t have considered that a name as much as a complaint. The other wizards just knew me as ‘Ancient’. But, if you want to be called ‘Azz’, I’ll try to remember that.” The younger god gives a slight bow in response.

As Lord77 joins the group, his father addresses him. “Son, your girlfriend and I were just updating the dev…uh Azz here on what we learned today.” Turning back towards Azzageddi, Lord01 continues. “Before we get back to the Godbinder, what about this fool, Lightstealer?”

Azz quickly responds. “Oh, we’re quite aware of him. We have folks already working on tracking him down. We’ll put him away.”

Lord01 nods briefly and then quickly asks his son. “Was the bunny’s eye OK?”

“Yes, Dad. No damage. I removed the spell, and she’s fine now.”

“Good. Then I don’t care about that lightweight any further. Dig a deep hole and drop him in. A god like that shouldn’t exist anyway.”

“We’ll take care of him,” Azzageddi again states looking to get off that subject.

“Yeah, fine,” the ancient god waves off, and then continues. “Now, this Nasty isn’t a lightweight. You should know that as well as anyone, being a former Mardi dweller. What I need is for you to find out where he is. A mask like his isn’t easy to hide. So, someone must have seen him.”

“I’ll start working the network,” Azz responds.

Lord01’s manner suddenly gets focused. “Only to find out where he is, right? We already saw what happened when the wrong group was sent in to get him. You send in a team, and you’ll have more dead mortals and bound gods. I need you to find out where he is, and then come tell me.”

Azzageddi thinks this over momentarily, then inquires, “What are you thinking, Ancient?”

Lord01’s eyes suddenly get very bright, shedding the many millennia of existence from his demeanor. In a clear and uncompromising voice, he states, “This is not a civil action. There will be no arrest. This is a battle in a continuing war. When the time comes, the team that goes in will be warriors, not police.”

“I want him,” Susan finally states.

“I know you do, Dearie. I want him too. I saw what he did to your little sister. But, you also saw how powerful he is. We have to do this smart.”

Turning back to Azzageddi, the ancient god concludes, “You and I will work through the how. But in the end, we’re not dropping him in a cell. We’re taking him out, agree?”

From his expression, it is clear that Azzageddi takes this very seriously. He looks at Lord77, then at Susan Sto Helit, and sees that they are in agreement. The gravity of Lord01’s voice combined with his own experiences at the hands of Godbinders provides no reason for Azzageddi to argue. He closes his eyes for a moment and sighs. Then, looking back at the ancient god, Azzageddi nods.

“Good. Then for now, I need to get back.” Turning to Lord77, his father continues, “Sonny, stop by when you’re done here. We still have a lot of work to go over.”

“Sure, Dad. Will do,” Lord77 responds, and as his father disappears, he turns to the other two. “Even with all that has happened today, the good news is that our friends and loved ones are safe and healed. I’m pretty certain that’s worthy of some celebration before the next storm hits. I certainly could use a drink at the bar, and would greatly appreciate your company.”

Clasping the shoulder of his brother, and taking the hand of his loved one, Lord77 leads the trio as they head back to the others and then on to the Guild Hall.

Azzageddi sits under the cherry tree, which is in full bloom. He thinks back on the years he lived in Japan with the monks, who taught him the ways he needed to learn to remake himself, to break free of his diabolic past and start down a new path, a road to redemption. There, for most people, sitting under a sakura in bloom meant hanami, flower-viewing, a time to have a picnic with friends and drink too much beer. But with the monks it was another opportunity for peaceful contemplation.

“Thank you, my friend,” he says, and sits in zazen, his legs crossed, back straight, eyes slightly down. His spirit has been unbalanced ever since his visit to Mardi, even since being tortured in Hell. Regaining that balance will take more than this, much more, but this is a start. One by one, he stops thinking of the alluring Bellatrixie, of Lightstealer, of the Godbinders, of the three demon-worshipping cults he has been infiltrating and trying to influence onto a more benign path, of the continuing complications of trying to forge a better relationship with the Unseen University, of his worshippers, of all his friends and enemies, and even of Mitzi. He lets it all go.

For all his centuries of practice at meditation, it is not easy. His spiritual wounds, inflicted by the Mardian Godbinders, have not yet healed. He may have achieved satori several times before, but he is very far from it now. But worrying about that helps not at all. He lets it go. The path is the path. The practice is the practice. Everything else…leave it be.

The words of an old friend drift into his mind, a beautiful young man who had tended to the wounded and dying in a terrible war…a war that Azzageddi had helped bring about: Light had flowed in upon me…the mists and clouds have cleared away, and I can now behold things as they really are.

Nyrini pops in right behind Lord77, with Mitzi by her side, and greets him cheerfully.

“Hey, Lordy!”

Lord77, choking on his bite of bread, spits out a piece and snarls as he looks up. “Don’t you ever knock?!”

Nyrini considers the seemingly outrageous question for a minute. “Uh..” she mumbles. “Wouldn’t that mean standing at the door? Like…” The goddess cringes at the unfamiliar concept. “Outside??”

“Yeah. I probably should install a doorbell,” Lord77 muses thinking it over.

Nyrini waves him off. “No need. I can just pop in anyway!”

“Hey, Lordy,” Mitzi intervenes. “I’m terribly sorry we’re disturbing you like this but…”

“Hi dear,” Lord77 greets and hugs her with affection. “Everything OK with the eye?”

“Oh, yes. Fine,” the bunny replies, hugging him back.

“That’s why we came over here,” Nyrini explains. “We’re looking to go after Lightstealer. Azz told us maybe you could track him through the bolt or somethin’.”

Lord77 nods slowly in agreement. “Yeah. I was thinking about that when Azz, Dad, Susan and I were chatting before.” He picks a grape from the fruit bowl and eats it. “I’ll assume you don’t know where he is…”

“He hasn’t been spending time at his usual hangouts,” the goddess says.

“And Lenny has been off-grid too,” Mitzi adds.

“Hmm...” Lord77 grunts. “Tell me, that bolt that you shot into Lightstealer, was it part of the original binding?”

Nyrini nods as she replies, “They all are. I don’t really carry wood or metal for this baby.” Her hand rises automatically to pet the grip of the crossbow currently strapped to her back.

“That is what I was hoping,” Lord77 mutters as he starts pacing around the kitchen table. “First of all, that probably hurt him pretty severely. So, he’s laying low to recover. But, more importantly, that bolt has some of your essence in it. I should be able to track it. Where the bolt is, may be where he is.”

Nyrini considers this for a while. “Well, I can summon the crossbow to me when I drop it for some reason but I can’t really trace the bolts once they’ve been shot.” She shrugs. “So, I guess we’re in your hands here. What do you need?”

“First, I need you to leave for a bit,” Lord77 states. “Mitzi can stay here, but you’re too loud and nearby. Give me a couple minutes and pop back in,” he instructs her. “Oh, and go some distance please, not just out to the range or the Guild Hall. That will help.”

Nyrini nods and smiles. “Sue’s it is,” she determines. “Want me to send her a little kiss?” she asks, winking at the god.

“Sure,” Lord77 smirks. “If she’s around.” Jerking his thumb at the door, he orders, “Now, scoot.”

With a theatrical bow and a short wave, Nyrini leaves Mitzi and Lord77 alone in the kitchen. Not wasting any time, the god closes his eyes and listens to Nyri’s unique resonance, tracking the goddess as she materializes in Susan’s house. Breathing deep and trying to ignore the main source of that particular essence-song, he tries to listen for the bolt. A faint sound catches his attention, the bolt. Focusing in by farsight, he detects its location, releasing a low whistle in his confusion.

Without warning, Nyrini returns to the room, not two heartbeats later, popping in right by the god’s side.

“Aaaaaaaaaand, I’m back!” she announces.

Lord77 sighs in quiet frustration. “I noticed,” he mutters. “Oh, was Susan there?” he asks, remembering where the young goddess actually was as his mind flashes back to an empty bed.

“Yep,” the goddess answers with a nasty smile. “She told me to give you a little something in response to that kiss you sent.”

Mitzi’s eyes widen as realization of Nyri’s intentions dawns on her. She turns away as Lord77 turns to Nyrini with a smile and says, “Oh, that’s nice of her. What did she—”

The god’s words suddenly die out as Nyrini abruptly grabs his head between her hands and presses her lips against his, delivering a long kiss as Lord77’s synapses short-circuit and paralyze him in shock. When she finally releases him, the god’s face is bright red, both from lack of breath, shock and slight embarrassment at being kissed by the young, fit, curvilinear, drop-dead-gorgeous little sister of his beloved girlfriend. Realizing the possible ramifications of having Susan find out about what just happened makes his skin tone turn from “shocked-crimson” to” I’m-dead-scarlet” almost immediately.

Peeking quickly out of the corner of her eye, just to make sure the scene is over before she turns back to the gods, Mitzi, shaking her head at Nyrini’s behavior, tries to stifle a chuckle at the god’s look of utmost discomfort.

“Did you deliver my kiss to Susan like that too?” Lord77 asks, wheezing slightly.

Nyrini winks and sticks her tongue out at him in provocation before saying, "Wouldn’t you like to know…” Resuming a slightly more serious tone, she asks, “So, did I leave for long enough?”

After a few deep breaths, Lord77 manages to get a grip on himself. “Yes, but I’m not sure why the bolt is where it is,” he replies, pretty much pretending the past five minutes never happened. “It’s at the UU! This just doesn’t seem right. Hmm… I can go over there, or you can, but I’m concerned if a god or the Watch shows up, we’re not going to get the information we need. I think we should send Norman over there to snoop. I need to get back to dad’s place anyway. Let me go get Norman, and send him over.”

Nyrini nods and walks back to where Mitzi is currently standing. “Sounds like a plan,” she states. “OK, we’ll be waiting for news back at the Watch House, I guess.”

“I’ll come over when he returns,” Lord77 replies. “The other thing I was considering is how to keep Lightstealer from zapping you two again. It’s easy to undo, but it would be better to have protection ahead of time. I want to bounce that off of Dad first.”

“OK. See ya, Lordy!” Nyrini waves at him as she rests a hand on Mitzi’s shoulder.

The bunny waves kindly at the god before saying, “Bye!”

Lord77 stands in his temple’s kitchen, waving too as goddess and bunny depart, before he raises his hand in a different direction and wills himself off to his father’s library.

Lord77 arrives at the library in the midst of a tirade being thrown by his father. The object of the abuse, however, is not Norman, who is sitting wide-eyed on the couch. Rather, it is a tall, cloaked figure whose back is to Lord77, but is facing his father.

“Sure!” Lord01 continues in mid-diatribe. “I have to find out by that tart showing up here that you can make the conversion. Why didn’t you tell me that before? We could have saved Nagele! Do you have any idea what a great asset he would have been to all the work here if he was deified?!”

NYRINI WAS A SPECIAL CASE. A ONE-TIME ONLY EVENT.

“Horse-spit!” the ancient god snaps back. “You had the ability all along, and didn’t bother to clue me in!”

NAGELE’S TIME WAS UP. HIS HOURGLASS EMPTIED.

Lord01 halts his fuming for a moment and stares at the cloaked figure. “Yeah, but you knew when that was going to be. You could have made the change then.”

NAGELE’S TIME WAS UP, Death repeats in his dispassionate voice.

Lord77 silently slides over towards Norman, and getting close, realizes that Norman is sitting rigid and shaking.

“Norman,” Lord77 nudges the wizard, grabbing his attention. In a whisper, he asks. “What’s going on?”

The wizard looks up at Lord77 with fear in his eyes and finally responds. “I’m not sure. Lord01 showed up here yesterday, and was fine. A couple of hours ago, he grabbed your sword there, and something changed. The next thing I know, he’s performing the Rite of AshkEnte all on his own and summoning Death. When Death showed up, your dad starting arguing with him.”

“What about?”

“Best I can tell, sir, it’s about bringing dead people back to life.”

Lord77 refocuses on his father’s discussion with Death and hears, “Well, we’re not going to get any further with this. What about my first question?”

THE SOUL IS INCOMPLETE.

“I know that, you bonehead! I put it there! What about the rest of him? Isn’t it attached somehow?”

THE REMAINDER IS GONE.

Lord01, finally noticing that his son had returned, sarcastically states, “Well, thanks for finally coming by, sonny boy. Hang out there for a moment, while Death here enlightens me as to why he’s friggin’ useless.”

Turning back to the cloaked figure, Lord01 continues. “Look! When a part of me gets bound, I am aware of me and the part I’m bound to. Where’s the rest of Nuada?”

NUADA HAS PASSED.

“What the HELL does that mean?!”

NUADA IS BEYOND RECALL.

“So, what happens if I unbind him from the sword?”

THAT PART WILL JOIN HIS ESSENCE.

“Meaning that he’s still around?”

NO. NUADA IS BEYOND RECALL.

Again, throwing his hands up in frustration, Lord01 finishes. “Forget it! Your answers make no sense, as usual. Sorry to have bothered you. I could get better answers from the table.”

Death, bows slightly and turns, his empty sockets now staring at Lord77.

SO, YOU ARE THE ONE WITH SUSAN.

Lord77 swallows nervously and answers. “Uhh…yes. I guess so.”

HMM… Death regards the younger god carefully. SUSAN’S FUTURE IS MASKED TO ME. HAD I KNOWN THIS WOULD COME TO PASS I WOULD NOT HAVE HAD HER TRANSFERRED.

The revelation of Death’s statement strikes Lord77 like a blow. “You did this?! I thought the Commander gave those orders.”

THE COMMANDER DID AS I ASKED, Death adds, and then with his empty hand summons an hourglass that Lord77 has come to recognize all too well. His own.

Looking it over carefully, Death continues. YOU’VE CAUSED ME ENOUGH DISTRACTION ALREADY. I WOULD EXPECT THAT YOU WILL TREAT HER WELL.

“Oh, stop threatening the boy, you bony bully, and put that away.” Lord01 intercedes. “Your granddaughter already scared him with that. Besides, you know that Susan can more than take care of herself. Rather than saving him by sending her away, if you want to really help him, you’d tell him where he can hide the next time he does something stupid and gets her furious.”

Death returns his focus at Lord01 as he returns the hourglass to Death’s domain. Then he softly chuckles. PERHAPS YOU ARE CORRECT. BUT THERE IS NO PLACE THAT SHE CANNOT GO. SO, I CANNOT HELP THERE.

“Yeah. Well, you’ve been basically no help here today anyway. So, don’t you have some souls to collect?”

YES, Death says and bows to the ancient god, I DO. And he vanishes.

Lord77 looks at his father with astonishment. “What the hell was that about?!”

The ancient god responds as he waves off the question. “Not much. It was just something that was bothering me, and then the sword reminded me of it. I still don’t have a good answer. So, I’ll just hold off for now.”

Shaking his head to reset his thoughts, Lord77 resets. “OK, fine. But, that’s not the main reason I stopped by though, Dad. I wanted to bounce a problem off of you. I’m helping Nyrini track down Lightstealer so that she and the rest of the team can arrest him. But, I need to be able to shield them from Lightstealer’s magic.”

“Nagele’s disassembly notebook,” a voice states from the couch.

Lord77 looks down at Norman with a quizzical look. “Pardon me?”

Norman looks up at the god and explains. “When we were looking for spells to counter Mitzi’s blindness, I came across a specific shielding in Nagele’s disassembly notebook. I remember it because I thought it was cool that you could shield against one specific spell.”

“The lad’s right,” Lord01 interjects. “Nagele was working on unique shielding and wrote some papers on it. I have a copy of it back here somewhere.”

Walking into the bookshelf room, Lord01 returns a moment later. “Here. This is what the lad was mentioning,” the ancient god notes pointing to a page in the notebook as he balances his weight by leaning on Claiomh Solais with the other hand.

Lord77 reviews the text for a few minutes then looks to his dad. “This is perfect. I can adapt this specifically to the optic nerve.” Turning to the wizard, the god adds. “Nice job Norman.”

Norman, smiling at being helpful, just adds. “Thanks.”

Picking up the notebook, Lord77 states. “I’m meeting the team back at the hall. I’ll take this with to set up the protection.”

When you’re done with that task,” Lord01 starts while handing his son Nuada’s sword, “go figure out how to use this properly.”

Lord77 stands blinking at his father. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. I saw you come in with that thing the first time. I was wondering how long it was going to be before you stuck yourself. Now somewhere down the road, your devil friend…”

“Azzageddi, dad,” Lord77 interrupts.

“Yeah, whatever. Anyway, he’s going to find out where that Nasty is hiding, and you and some of your friends are going to go in to get him. I’ll work out the particulars later with Azz-a-goddamit his name is hard!” shaking his head. “Azz! I’ll leave it at that…Anyway, I’ll work out the arrangements with Azz, but you’re going to be part of it. So, there have to be some people in that guild of yours that know how not to kill themselves with a sword. Go get some training, then come back here.”

Lord77 strokes his beard thinking. “Well, there are some.”

“How about Ravenvalykre?” Norman offers.

The younger god turns towards the wizard. “Ravey? Yeah, he’s pretty good with weapons…OK. Let me go find him after I set the protection spells.”

“Yeah. Fine. Go,” Lord01 responds absentmindedly as he waves off his son. “Just remember to come back here. There’s still a lot to do.”

“Will do,” the younger god responds, and then turning to Norman states. “I need you to come back with me for an errand.”

Norman stands up, a questioning look forms on his face. “Me?”

Lord77 nodding completes. “Yes. I was able to track the bolt that Nyri shot into Lightstealer. It currently is at the UU in the seldomly used, second floor magic lab. I need you to go and find out how the bolt got there. If I show up, there will be too much commotion. And I don’t think sending the Watch in to investigate is a good idea either. But, whoever brought it in is going to be the connection back to Lightstealer, and I need you to get find out who it was.”

Norman excitedly nods. “OK. I can do that.”

Lord77 walks over to the Wizard and takes hold of his arm. “No riding Tootsie for you this time. I’m taking you to my temple. Go through the portal and get to the university. I’m going to hang around the Watch House and work though this spell. I’ll wait there for you to return.” Raising his other hand holding the protection spell, both wizard and god vanish.

Norman grits his teeth at the enormous creak of the door he’s trying to open quietly. He mentally curses the way the Unseen University seems sometimes to be made up of cliché piled on cliché.

Furtive movement within the room halts. Norman holds his breath and wishes he had someone with him, Lord77 maybe, who had sent him to the university to track down this missing crossbow bolt—a quest that had led him to this long-abandoned lab high in a tower that was hardly used anymore. Or maybe Mitzi, for whom he was, apparently, doing this. He’d surprised himself at how angry he’d felt at this Lightstealer jerk, when he heard what the God of Blindness had done to Mitzi and Nyrini. He’d gotten over his feelings for Mitzi, after all…hadn’t he?

Dammit, Norman, concentrate! You’re going to get yourself killed, being distracted! Funny how the voice in his head always sounds like Lord77 nowadays…

He hears a floorboard creak, just on the other side of the door. Almost without thinking, he shoves hard against the door and slams it open, feeling it impact someone. He rushes into the room, ready to cast a simple spell to restrict an opponent’s movement, when he sees who it is on the floor.

“Reverto? What—what the heck are you doing in here??”

The long-haired, fat young man groans as he levers himself off the floor. “What am I doing here? What are you doing here…Normy?”

That bullying edge to Reverto’s voice—Norman recalls why he never liked his former classmate. “Reverto…you were kicked out of the UU, last I heard. Did your appeal go through or something?” Norman is pretty sure the answer to that is no. You don’t spend two years stealing rare and dangerous magical materials from the University and selling them on the black market, and then just get forgiven.

The former student chuckles nervously. “Well, it’s a big university. There are places you can use that nobody checks, right? You wouldn’t tell on your old buddy, now would you, Normy?”

“What are you doing here, Reverto?” Norman repeats coldly.

Reverto looks taken aback. “Damn, Normy, when did you get all tough-guy? Doesn’t suit you. Look, I was asked to check something out, and I needed the resources of a proper magical lab. I’ll be out of here in another hour or two. Now…just be a good pal and go away, all right?”

His eyes locked with the other student’s, Norman steps closer, making Reverto, despite being nearly twice as big as Norman, step back. “I can’t do that. Now…where is it?”

“Wha—where’s what?” Reverto’s eyes flick toward the back of the room.

Norman shoulders him aside and goes to a worktable, upon which are various lenses and crystals, plus three tomes. Norman recognizes one as having been stolen from the Library—the sight of it makes the hair rise on the back of his neck. Oh man, the Librarian threw a fit when this one went missing.

Also on the table is a crossbow bolt, a cruel-looking instrument of death. Norman takes it all in: the bolt, the drawings and notes on scattered papers, the tomes, the lenses…in a flash, the pieces fall into place.

“You’re tracking the owner! You’re trying to find out where she is! Not only that…you’re trying to find a way to attack her magically through the sympathetic connection!”

Norman turns. He looks at Reverto, who is now holding a heavy stone inkpot. Norman narrows his eyes. “Put that down,” he says authoritatively. To his surprise, Reverto looks sheepish and he does as he is told. Maybe all this hanging around cops is rubbing off on me, Norman thinks.

“I-I wasn’t gonna hit you with it, Normy…Norman. Really.”

“Reverto, I’m taking you somewhere. And all these things, too. You’re going to help me carry them.”

“Uh…where are we going?”

“The City Watch. You need to explain all this to Lord77.”

“Uhhhh, wait a minute…I heard about that guy. They say he made the Archchancellor ruin his best robes. I ain’t going anywhere near him.”

Norman looks at Reverto with contempt. “Would you rather have him come looking for you?” Reverto wilts at the idea. “Come on…let’s go,” Norman says. “You can carry the books.”

“So?” asks Nyrini. “Did he talk?”

Azzageddi finishes sitting and raises a finger to Sasha, then points at coffee pot. She nods and he smiles.

“Come on!” urges Nyrini. “Spill it!”

“Oh, he talked all right,” Azz says. “Lordy and I played the easiest game of good-cop-bad-cop ever. I smiled and poured him some tea; Lordy stood at the back and gave him the stink-eye. One look at Lordy glowering and the kid talked so much we had to tell him to shut up, finally.”

“So?” Mitzi asks.

“So yes: Lightstealer’s paying him to track Nyrini and set up a conduit so he can curse her from afar, using her connection with the crossbow bolt.” He thanks Sasha as she places a mug of steaming black Klatchian coffee in front of him. He take a deep whiff of it and smiles.

Nyrini curses. “I’m going to have to keep better track of those things in the future.”

“Well,” Mitzi says, “when was he going to be meeting with Lightstealer? We should keep that appointment for him.”

“It’s tonight,” says Azz, after a drink of his coffee. “Right after dark. An old abandoned house in Three Rats. Here’s the address.” He hands the folder to Mitzi.

She nods. “I’ll scout it out, using farsight. Then, when Lightstealer and his stupid hero show up, Nyr can pop us in, and we can take him before he can do anything about it.”

“Lordy says she should have that counterspell for the blindness ready in time. He’ll cast it on both of you so you’ll be protected. And listen,” he looks at both of them seriously, “I know you want to do this on your own, but we are going to be ready, in force, as backup. I’ll have a message link running—anything either of you say, I’ll hear. Lordy and I can ‘port in other cops—mortal or divine—as needed.”

“Sure, love,” says Nyrini, grinning. “It won’t be necessary, but it’s nice to know you care.”

“Wait,” says Mitzi. “Will Lightstealer and Lenny even enter the house without Reverto going in first? We need him to go in there to lure our targets in.”

Azz shakes his head. “This guy is falling apart. No way he’s going to be able to hold it together well enough to serve as bait. They’ll know something’s up, if they see him shaking and shivering while he’s going into the house.”

He drains his coffee, closing his eyes and savoring it, then opening them again. “Well, I need to process the prisoner. He told us about a ring of UU students and former students who were selling their services to criminals. We’re going to get a lot more out of this than just Lightstealer.” He departs.

Mitzi opens the folder and she and Nyrini start discussing plans, Mitzi sometimes closing her eyes to make brief scouting forays using her farsight. But they fall silent as they sense a large presence standing behind them.

They turn to see Godofbeer, fists on his hips, looking hard at Nyrini.

“Uh, hey partner,” says Nyrini.

“‘Partner’,” says the beer god, as if saying the word for the first time. “Now there’s a word I haven’t heard for awhile.”

Mitzi’s eyes widen as she senses the tension.

“Hey, come on, love! I’ve been busy with…all this.

“Yes, I know,” Godofbeer counters, “and apparently, ‘all this’ is dangerous police work that you didn’t think to include your ‘partner’ in.”

“Oh, no,” Nyrini groans, “Not the air quotes. You’re doing the air quotes?”

“Damn right I’m doing the air quotes!” the beer god snarls, “I have every right to do air quotes. I don’t know how else to make sure you understand the sarcasm. I’m not sure you remember the meaning of the word ‘partner’. Or perhaps you just don’t trust me to have your back on something this dangerous.”

Nyrini sighs, “It’s not that, never that. I trust you as much, if not more, than anyone else. It’s just that this is personal. This is something that Mitzi and I have to do alone.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m with Godofbeer on this one,” Mitzi interjects.

“What?” Nyrini turns to Mitzi with a look of surprise on her face. “What do you mean? This is between us and Lightstealer. We have to be the ones to take him down!”

Mitzi shakes her head. “A good cop always trusts in her partner. Going into a dangerous situation, you take advantage of every weapon at your disposal. And a big hunk of beer god who you know would lay down his life to protect you is a pretty good weapon.”

As Nyrini looks from Mitzi back to Godofbeer, she sees some of the anger go out of him. “Look,” he says, “I know you’re not big on including people in your private life, but this is different. You’re going into an extremely dangerous situation against a god that, from what I hear, has already blinded the two of you once.”

Mitzi and Nyrini both look at the beer god in shock. “How did you know that?” Nyrini asks.

“Are you kidding? Cops are the biggest gossips in the universe. Did you really think you could keep something like that a secret? I also know that you and Twilie have moved into Azz’s temple, that Lordy has, for reasons I can’t even imagine, instructed his priest to switch from beer to tea, and that Officer Davis has been seeing a lot of a certain waitress from the diner around the corner, if you know what I mean.”

Mitzi laughs and Nyrini just looks at the beer god in stunned silence. Finally, she throws up her hands in defeat. “Fine. I can see I won’t be able to change your mind. You can join in, but you have to promise that I get to take that scumbag down.”

The beer god puts on a look of almost infinite smugness as they begin to fill him in on the case.

“Hey, big guy!” Lord77 greets his drinking buddy and then turns to Nyri and Mitzi. “Ladies, I have the protection spell ready whenever you are.” Finally noticing that there is a somewhat unfinished situation around the table, he pauses and then inquires. “What?”

Mitzi looks at each of the Watch partners and then states, “Godofbeer will be coming with us.”

“Oh?” Lord77 responds surprised at the change. Then his brows furrow slightly as he considers the statement. “That’s probably a good thing. Even though I’m pretty certain that I can neutralize Lightstealer’s spell, he may have some other tricks.”

Mitzi, pleased with this opinion, adds, “What if Godofbeer impersonates Reverto? I mean, they’re somewhat similar in size, and a wizard’s cloak should be enough to cover the differences. Wouldn’t that be enough to draw Lightstealer into the hideout?”

Nyrini, liking the idea, adds on, “You’d have to ditch the helmet for this one, partner. The hood wouldn’t cover all of it. Besides,” she says with an evil grin. “I’ve always wanted to know if you’re really bald under that thing.”

Godofbeer crosses his massive arms and retorts, “I am NOT bald!”

Nyrini winks at Mitzi and responds, “Sounds like I hit a nerve there. I’ll bet there’s a cute little bald spot.”

The beer god only huffs in response.

“Getting back to the subject at hand here, please,” Lord77 interjects. “I’m ready to apply the protection spell. Nyrini, I would like to start with you as I’ve already been around your optics and know exactly where to apply the protection. Let’s step over here, please. Best if you sit down for this.”

The goddess goes to take a step, and then halts. “You sure this is safe?”

Lord77 strokes his beard as if in thought. “Yeah, I think so. There appears not to be any real problem applying it. You may have some initial blurriness, but that should fade very quickly, like within minutes. I’ve timed the spell to dissipate in about a day.” He continues deadpanned, “There’s only a slight chance of transformation when the spell completes. So, if I come back in a day and find three llamas at the bar, one with a helmet, I might have to research a counter-spell.”

Godofbeer’s eyes widen. “What?!”

“Just kidding!” Lord77 laughs. “No aftereffects. The spell is well-defined and very focused. I did boost the strength a tad as we’re up against godpower, not tamed magic. Hence, the initial blurriness.”

Turning to Mitzi, the god continues, “Dear, I want to do you last. That protective cap on your eye may cause me to shift the process a bit.” With an arm flourish towards the next table, he indicates to Nyrini. “After you, my dear.”

Once the protective spell is placed on both gods, Lord77 completes the application on Mitzi.

“How are you doing, dear?” he asks.

“A little…odd, kind of like looking into the fog. It’s getting better, though.”

“OK. Good. The cap didn’t get in the way since I’m working behind it. So, you should be fine very shortly. Let’s go back to the others.”

Returning with Mitzi, Lord77 checks with the other gods and gets assurances that their visions are clear again. Nodding, he turns towards Azzageddi.

“What about the backup team, Azz? Who is on deck, and should I protect them too?”

Azzageddi leans forward in his chair considering. “I figured to have you and me plus Syrona, Aliyaa, Drinkus, Ravey and Wink.”

“OK. I can’t apply the spell on myself. So, I’ll take other measures if needed. But when you assemble the rest of the team, I’ll cover them too.”

Hearing Ravey’s name triggers a reminder to Lord77, and he frowns slightly. “Oh, and I have something to discuss with Ravey, but I’ll wait until this is all over.”

“Ok, big guy, are you sure you want to do this?” Nyrini asks Godofbeer.

“Uuhh… Do I really have to wear this dress?” Godofbeer asks, looking down at the borrowed wizard robes and releasing a deep, heavily trademarked sigh. He combs his unruly blond locks, unusually exposed to the nightly sky. “And I’d really appreciate getting my helmet back. Kinda feel naked without it.”

Nyrini rolls her eyes at the god’s request. They stand in the murky darkness of Three Rats Alley. Up high, somewhere, a full moon brightens the nightly sky and bathes the city in a silvery-white veil of soft, forgiving light. But not down here. The crisscross of buildings and alleys eats away at the light, filtering it, dissolving it, rejecting it until nothing more exists around the two gods than murky, constant dusk. In front of them, the building Reverto indicated, a long abandoned, half collapsed brewery, stands stubbornly against time, decay, and apparently good taste in beer.

“Those are Reverto’s robes, love,” the goddess explains. “You’re supposed to be impersonating him, remember?”

Another sigh. “Yeah, all right…” Godofbeer waves it off. “OK, go. I got this.”

Nyrini adjusts the collar on the robes and hopes no one notices how they had to cut it so the robes would fit over GoB’s head and neck. “Remember, I got your back…” She looks at him, sheepishly. “Partner,” she adds tentatively.

The goddess reaches up to place a hand on his cheek, standing on tiptoes to move her face closer to his, and delivers a soft, affectionate kiss to his cheek.

Godofbeer blushes scarlet and nods in embarrassed silence. He begins to walk away toward the building. “Yeah, yeah… Good to know that word’s still part of your vocabulary.”

Nyrini watches him take a couple of steps in the wizard robes, smiling uneasily as he stumbles his way across the alley, the long robes getting under his massive feet and making him trip at every couple of steps. Her fine-tuned ears pick up some faint muttering before she finally teleports back to the Watch House.

…stupid people making me wear long skirts. But I’ll tell’em. Oh, if this ever comes up next Hogswatch party…

Far away, at the Watch House, Mitzi follows Godofbeer’s every step.

“So, how’s the reception on that thing?” Nyrini asks, popping right by the bunny’s side, making her jump slightly.

Damn it, Nyr, Mitzi thinks to herself. Out loud she says, “This is not a TV! I can see clearly, though. Godofbeer is just now entering the building.” She pauses. “Hey…I saw that kiss…”

“I know, I know! You told me not to kiss him…”

“No! I actually…I thought that was really sweet.”

“Oh. Well. OK then.” Nyrini smiles.

“It was unusually restrained and…mature for you.” Mitzi suppresses a grin.

“Mature?! How many hundreds of times older than you am I?”

“Shh! Lightstealer and Lenny just showed up! They’re waiting to make sure he goes in. There, they’re going in now.”

“Come on, come on, Mitz…” Nyrini urges her on. “Can’t you make that thing go faster?!”

“I’m not controlling them, Nyri!” Mitzi snaps at the goddess. “I’m just watching!”

Nyrini sighs and hangs her head. “Yeah, I know…”

“I’m sorry…doing this is giving me an awful headache…” The bunny’s head shoots up suddenly. “Oh, they’re all inside now.”

“Nice!”

Meanwhile, inside the building, Godofbeer walks uncertainly, bumping into everything, half-blinded by the eerie, dim, shadowy light that floods the inside of the building. Hearing Lighstealer and Lenny move behind him (with considerably less stumbling), Godofbeer turns around to face them, stepping into a slightly darker spot in the room to elude Lightstealer’s eyes.

“So, Reverto,” Lighstealer says in the way of greeting, “I was beginning to fear you wouldn’t show up. Did you manage to do what I paid you so handsomely to do?”

Afraid of his cover getting blown for not sounding like the young wizard, Godofbeer remains silent, clinging to the shadows, backing away ever so slightly.

“Reverto…” Lightstealer calls him, taking a couple of steps towards the false wizard. “I know I’m immortal but I’m not planning on spending the rest of eternity waiting to get back at that little tramp!”

C’mon, c’mon, ladies! Godofbeer thinks as he backs up some more. Guy’s gonna find out he’s been duped in about a minute…

And then his feet fly from under him and the world turns black

At the Watch House, Mitzi watches as Godofbeer backs up.

“Wait for it…” she says, placing a finger on a blueprint of the building so Nyri can know where Godofbeer and Lightstealer stand. “Wait for it…”

Nyrini looks at the map, one hand on Mitzi’s shoulder to keep her ready to teleport, the other tapping impatiently in the tabletop.

Suddenly, Mitzi sees Godofbeer disappearing from sight and both Lightstealer and Lenny running to where the god used to stand.

“NOW NOW NOW!” the bunny cries.

“Hey, you’re not Reverto!” Lighstealer yells at the fallen Godofbeer.

“You’re damn right he’s not!” Nyrini cries as she pops in right by the criminal god’s side and lands a punch on his Adam’s apple. As Mitzi quickly moves away to confront Lenny, using her naturally great night vision to spot the man, Lightstealer gasps, backs away and collapses, trying hard to breathe.

Nyrini looks down at Godofbeer.

“Are you ok, partner?” she asks, looking at his recumbent form traced in shadows.

Godofbeer rubs his head and checks himself for injuries. “Yeah, I just… I think I slipped on something.” He holds up a hand and sees that it’s covered with some kind of slime. “Ugh…”

Nyrini looks at the floor around Godofbeer, and then at the wall. They seem to glow slightly with an eerie, bluish light. They also seem to… ooze? She touches the wall with a hesitant hand, feeling it slimy and viscous under her touch.

Oh, I remember this… she thinks to herself.

Looking up, the goddess soon identifies the source of the glow. She smiles to see them, as long as her partner is tall, crawling all over the ceiling, the product of their constant digestion of dust particles, morning dew and the occasional small child, oozing from their convoluted exterior surface and tracing their path in light. Glow Worms, another of Three Rats’ wonderful phenomena.

“Well, big guy,” she says to her partner. “The good news is, you just slipped on some goo. The bad news is… you’re glowing.”

“Will you quit telling everyone I’m pregnant?!” Godofbeer snaps at her all of a sudden. “That joke’s getting old! Even Azz came by to congratulate me! AZZ!!”

Momentarily forgetting all about Lightstealer, Nyrini bursts into uncontained laughter. “No, silly! That’s Glow Worm goo!” She points up and GoB follows her finger with his gaze, cringing at the sight of the enormous bugs.

“It glows in the dark,” Nyrini explains. “Now come here, you oversized firefly, you!"

Taking her partner’s wrist in her hand, the goddess helps him up, getting covered in goo herself as she struggles to support his weight.

“EEWWW!!!” Nyrini complains, wiping some of the goo off one of her way too many areas of exposed skin and shaking her hand, sending flying splashes of glow-in-the-dark slime flying toward a nearby hard-at-work Mitzi.

“HEY!!” the bunny cries and glares at Nyri as the goo hits her, distracting her from her ongoing struggle with Lenny. She turns back to him, to see him running away from her, glad for the distraction. “Don’t you dare run away, Lenny!! You’re spending the night in lock up!!” Mitzi yells at the perp and dashes after him.

As bunny and man move away, Nyrini feels a hand touching her shoulder. Lightstealer is up again, casting his blindness spell, trying to steal the light from her eyes. Immune for now, thanks to Lord77’s fine work, Nyrini remains uninjured. She spins on her heels, fist closed and swinging in a wide arch, ready to punch the daylight out of the miscreant god. But he’s faster than anticipated, and even in his surprise at the unexpected failure, he manages to duck and evade her attack.

“I don’t get it!” the god exclaims. “You should be blind!”

While Godofbeer still struggles to stand up properly in his unfamiliar, slippery outfit, Nyrini places herself between her partner and Lighstealer and assumes a ready stance, placing her feet further apart to increase her base of support, her knees flexing slightly to lower her center of gravity. As one hand rises ready to defend, the other hovers at chest height, eager to attack.

“Well, that party trick doesn’t work on me anymore!” She states as she shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “Now, be a good boy and resist arrest. I got a score to settle with you.”

Against the odds, Lightstealer chuckles at the goddess. “Ah, but you ain’t seein’ the whole picture, dear, dear Nyrini!” he mocks her. “You’re still at disadvantage! I can see you in this darkness! You’re glowing like a friggin’ lantern! So’re your pals! Now me…” the god looks down, to his left, his overconfident grin making his white teeth flash in the darkness. “I wonder if you can see… THIS!!”

Suddenly, Nyrini feels a sharp pain on her ribcage. A feeling of abrupt pressure as something metallic and heavy is hurled at her, followed by the sound of ribs crushing, fills her world.

“AARRGHHH!!” the goddess cries in a strangled voice as she hits the floor, closely followed by the long length of pipe that Lightstealer used to strike her.

“Nyri!” Godofbeer yells, both in anger and concern, immediately stepping between his fallen partner and Lightstealer before the god can advance on her. “Ok, buddy!! I was trying to let the ladies have their vengeance but you just got on my bad side, here!!”

Enraged, the beer god snaps his fingers and, as he does, an amber wave washes over the scene. In less than a second, the abandoned ruin of a brewery comes back to life, crowded with the sounds, visions and scents of the beer-making life. A flash of bright golden light blows over the shadows, dethroning the eerie twilight for an instant, disappearing almost immediately, leaving nothing but the vague taste of beer in everyone’s mouth and the haziness of severe drunkenness in every single occupant of the room.

“Wha—wha happened?” Lightstealer asks, suddenly feeling extremely light-headed. “I got, I got, I got… Whooo… Ah’m hammered!”

“Yep, you are drunk! Dead drunk!” Godofbeer states, fuming. “That’s one of my special skills! Getting people drunk! Like a good beer! And now…” he adds, ripping the robes to reveal a very light, rather tight version of his usual uniform as he advances on Lightstealer.

“You’re gonna learn…” Godofbeer slaps the God of Blindness with a massive hand. “That I don’t like it…” He closes his hand in a fist and punches the staggering Lightstealer. “When people mess…” He holds Lighstealer by the shoulders and knees him in the stomach. “With my partner!”

Lighstealer falls, clutching his abdomen, rolling over to fall on his back. Still too angry to contain himself, Godofbeer takes a few steps back, looking to gain momentum for his next attack. With remarkable presence of mind, Lighstealer pats the floor around him, looking for a weapon, smiling as his fingers find a fallen piece of broken glass and grab it. As GoB runs and dives in to perform a devastating Elbow Strike, Lighstealer holds the piece of broken glass up, ready to impale his opponent.

Albeit seeing everything doubled, Nyrini manages to roll over and catch the scene. She sees the glass reflecting the light and her eyes widen in terror.

“GoB!!” she cries as she pulls out her crossbow and prays that aiming to the middle of the two Lighstealers she’s currently seeing will make her hit the right target.

She shoots.

“AAARRGGHHH!!!!” The two gods cry in pain.

Staggering in a drunken haze, Nyrini gets up and walks up to the gods. She looks down at them, trying to make sense of what she sees.

“Uhh…” she mumbles, rubbing her temple in confusion. “So, which one of you did I shoot?”

“Me!” both gods reply in unison.

“What the hell?!” they exclaim, again in unison, looking at one another in sheer perplexity.

Nyrini shrugs and helps Godofbeer up, wincing at the piercing pain to her ribs. While the beer god checks himself for newly open holes, Nyrini rolls an agonizing Lightstealer over and handcuffs him. She notices the bolt sticking through his wrist as she does so.

“Well, the bolt is hanging from your arm so…” the goddess notes, speaking to her prisoner. She turns to Godofbeer. “Where’s it hurt, partner?”

“Here!” Godofbeer presents the side of his chest for inspection.

Nyrini examines the pointed area in search of gaping holes. “Oh, c’mon!! That’s just a scratch!!” she cries. “The glass must have grazed you before Mr Epiphany here dropped it.”

“Hurts like hell!!” Godofbeer complains.

“Men…” Nyrini mutters, rolling her eyes. “Hey, Mitzi! How you doin’?” she calls out.

All she gets in response is a low grunt from the fallen bunny.

“Ugh…”

Godofbeer and Nyrini immediately cover the distance between Mitzi and themselves, with Godofbeer half-dragging Lightstealer behind them.

“Oh…” Nyrini looks down at Mitzi. Her lips curl in a grin. “Drunk…” she whispers. “Where’s Lenny?”

“Wha—?” Mitzi replies as she clumsily tries to get up. “Lenny?” The bunny blinks to dispel the drunken mist. She rubs her eyes and points at the general direction of the door. “Oh, I think he just… Bleeeerrrghhh!”

As the bunny empties the contents of her stomach on the floor, Nyrini takes a look around and concludes, “Oh, great, Lenny got away!”

Godofbeer places a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry. The others will take care of him,” he reassures her.

“This is police brutality!” Lightstealer complains, speaking loudly in his agony. “You can’t treat me like this!”

Godofbeer glares at the god of blindness, his eyes promising a world of pain if he doesn’t shut up. “Shut up or I’ll find an encyclopedia, make you look up the meaning of the word ‘brutality’ and then hit you in the head with it!” He turns to Nyrini. “Now, partner, are you too drunk to teleport?”

Nyrini looks at him and pulls a smart salute. “No officer! Eh eh…”

At Milestone 12, Lenny finally staggers to a halt, falling to his knees, utterly exhausted. He’s still not sure how he got out of that place. One minute, he was blind as usual—constantly cursing himself for agreeing to give up his eyesight in order to be Lightstealer’s prophet—fighting that insane little bunny-cop, barely warding off her baton blows with his enchanted swordcane. Then that wave of drunkenness washed over him…and it seemed to take her down a lot harder than him. Ha! Lightweight…

He’d taken the opportunity to make like a tree and get outta there. Say what you want about blind people having more developed senses than the sighted, he must’ve stumbled over every single thing that existed to stumble over in his hurry to escape. And then, suddenly…he could see again! He wasn’t sure what it was, but it must’ve had something to do with Lightstealer getting captured. What a mug! Why’d he have to go and tangle with the Watch anyways?

Well Lenny didn’t care. He was going to leave Godville behind. Maybe go set up in Tradeburg. No wait…too close to Godville. Gotta get away from the Watch…maybe even get off the main continent and head over to San Satanos or something. Yeah…probably lots of hot chicks over there who weren’t wise to his “help a blind guy out” routine.

A woman’s voice says calmly, “You’re quite the fool, if you thought you could get away, Lenny.”

He jumps nearly a foot into the air. “WHO WHAT WHERE!!!???”

“Syrona of the Watch. About to arrest you. Here.” A gorgeous blonde woman with mismatched eyes steps into his view. Her outfit is blue and gold, and she holds the hilt of a sheathed sword at her side. “Prove to me you’re not so much a fool as you seem, Lenny. Yield. Then I won’t have to hurt you.”

“Oh great! Another woman, thinkin’ she can order men around! Like I haven’t had enough of you—-AAAAGGGHHHH!!!”

Lenny screams as Syrona holds her hand up and summons a column of pure-white light so bright it instantly blinds him as it writes sacred sigils across the sky. As he falls to his knees in tearful agony, he hears Syrona calling out in a voice both beautiful and terrible,

COME FORTH LORD OF LIGHT AND SING THE SONG OF TIME! HOLD FAST THE HANDS OF THY SERVANT, YIELD YOUR WILL TO MINE! RAIN DOWN FROM THE HEAVEN’S LIGHT MOST DIVINE AND RULE OUT JUSTICE, LIGHT AND FATE INTERTWINED! SING THE SONG OF MY MASTER, THAT SACRED SONG: RAGNARÖK!

“YOU PSYCHO BITCH!!! What did you do to my eyes??”

“You’ll be fine in a few days, Lenny. Probably.” She yanks his arms back roughly and cuffs him. “Let’s go, dirtbag.”

Returning to the Guild Hall kitchen now carrying Claiomh Solais, Lord77 peeks out and notes Nyrini dancing with Mitzi to the karaoke. Listening again he hears the essence-song of Ravenvalykre, now seated at a table just a few steps beyond the dance floor,

Intent in getting this sword-fighting practice thing over and done with as soon as possible, Lord77 sighs and enters the hall to face young Ravey.

“Hey, Ravey!” he greets, receiving a polite nod from the younger god in return. “I have a little task that just might be right up your alley.”

“What is it?” Ravenvalykre asks in return, closing a leather-bound tome apparently entitled 30 Best Ways to Properly Water Petunias.

Gesturing to Claiomh Solais, currently hanging from his belt in its exquisite scabbard, Lord77 answers, “I would like you to teach me swordplay.”

Ravenvalykre stands in silence for a moment, raising an eyebrow at the nature of the request. “Are you sure? I am not an easy teacher.”

Lord77 nods, his expression denoting the seriousness of his intentions. “I am certain,” he replies. “I need to learn, and I need a good teacher. An easy one won’t do.”

Ravenvalykre shrugs and stands up. “Very well then,” he says. “Let’s step out back.”

Well, you really don’t need to twist my arm on that one, kid, Lord77 thinks and follows the younger god.

As the gods enter the rear yard, Ravenvalykre turns and summons akutto, a reversed-blade katana, to his right hand. “Come at me as if you wanted to kill me,” he commands.

Lord77 draws Solais and rushes towards Ravenvalykre, raising Solais for a downward slash only to be knocked out of breath.

“Aarrgh!!” the god cries in pain and resentment. “The book?! You hit me with the friggin’ book?! Who brings a book into a sword fight?!”

Ravenvalykre shrugs, his left hand still holding the tome. “Well, I could have used the sword but attack was such a pitiful little thing…” he comments. “Really not worth the trouble of staining the blade with your blood.”

“Oh, you little—” Lord77 mutters in anger, attacking again. “Ouch! Ok, that stung!” he complains as a small cut on his abdomen begins to bleed. “A lot!!”

“Well, you did want me to use the sword,” Ravenvalykre notes, tilting his head. “Your movement was too slow. Had this been a real blade you would be cut in half,” he explains.

Lord77 nods in frustration, anger beginning to cloud his judgement. “Slow, uh?!” he readjusts his grip on the hilt. “Then take this!” He slashes. “And this!” He thrusts. “And this!” He wheezes. “WILL YOU STAND STILL WHILE I TRY TO HIT YOU?!” he yells in frustration as all his attacks get eluded or blocked.

Lord77 attacks again and again, slashing quickly at Ravenvalkyre and trying to hit him only to miss every time as the younger, leaner, faster god dances gracefully around him until he grows tired of the older god’s folly and whacks him on the head for all his troubles.

“ARRGGHH!! Ravey! Don’t hit the head! I need that to think!”

Ravenvalykre sighs as he calls his sword away. “Your skills leave much to be desired for now…” he looks Lord77 up and down, considering the challenge at hand. After a moment’s silence, he shrugs. “But I guess even you can learn.”

With a wave of his hand they are transported from the kitchen into an eerie, seemingly abandoned training ground.

“Where did th—?” Lord77 looks around, trying to place himself. “Where are we?”

Ravenvalykre draws a long arch with his arm to encompass the landscape around them. “Take a good look around you. This alternate reality will be your home for the next three years.”

Lord77 nods. “Oh, an alterna—!” His eyes widen in sudden realization. “THREE YEARS?! ARE YOU INSANE?! I can’t wait that long to learn swordplay! Takes me less time than that to grow a three-foot-long beard!!”

Once again, Ravenvalykre sighs in quiet frustration. Rubbing his eyes he says, “Do you even hear words when people are talking to you, or does it all just sound like blah… blah…blah to you?” he asks. “I SAID this is an alternate reality! You know, like the ones Susan uses? Time moves faster here. Three years here equals three days in Godville.” He crosses his arms and stands his ground. “You will stay here for as long as it takes. You want to get out sooner? Learn faster!”

“I should have gone with Nyri… Or Susan,” Lord77 mutters. And I am sooooooooooo not staying here for three years! he promises himself.

“Yes…” Ravenvalykre muses, catching Lord77’s words. “That would have been fun to watch…” He points at a nearby building. “Now, your room is over there. You should find armor your size in there as well. Please don’t pay attention to the chalk outline on the floor. Oh, and the bloody carvings on the wall…” He shrugs. “They’re somewhat exaggerated.”

Lord77 raises an eyebrow at this. “O-kay… And when do we start?”

Ravenvalykre points to a wide wooden circle a few feet to the left of the building. “Tomorrow at dawn meet me there.”

“Why does it always have to be at dawn?!” Lord77 throws his hands up in exasperation. “Seriously, what do you people have against the concept of a good night’s sleep?!”

Ravenvalykre considers this and shrugs yet again. “Heh, it’s an established cliché, I guess.”

“Yeah, ok… Sure… At dawn it is,” Lord77 concedes. Little sleep, crappy lighting. Sounds like a good time to play around with sharp blades…

Ravenvalykre bows slightly in response. “Be prepared for heavy blows and real injuries,” he warns the older god. “I do not like doing things halfway and by the time I’m done, you will have earned the title I hold, that of Blademaster.” Pointing again at the circle, he states, “At dawn. Right there. I will teach you the basics there…and there is where I will choose your blade.”

“Ay ay… Blademaster…” Lord77 replies, turning away. As he walks towards his so-called room, Claiomh Solais chuckles softly at its unwilling wielder. “Shut up, you!”

“Hey…”

Azzageddi stops in mid-sentence as Nyrini appears in the living room. He is sitting on the sofa, reading aloud from a heavy tome titled Crime Scene Investigation: Standards and Procedures, while Mitsumi is lying on the sofa, her feet on his lap, a cold wet cloth on her forehead, eyes closed.

“Hi, Nyri,” he says. “Did you get Twi to sleep?”

“Yeah,” she replies. “Oh, and thanks for this,” she says, touching her left earring, which Azz has enchanted to carry Twi’s voice to her ear from anywhere in the world, if Twilight calls for her.

Nyrini pushes her hair, damp from her evening bath with Twilight, back behind her ear. Dressed for bed, she’s wearing the same mid-thigh-length t-shirt she was wearing at breakfast that morning—a breakfast that seems so long ago now.

Mitzi, also dressed for bed in a jersey top and cotton boxers, opens her eyes, squinting at the light that makes her head throb. “Hey, Nyr…farsight headache came back,” she says a bit weakly, smiling. “Want to join us?”

“Oh, I don’t wanna interrupt anything…” But she walks over and, as Mitzi raises herself up on her elbows to make room, Nyrini sits down so Mitzi can rest her head on the goddess’ lap. The bunny smiles contentedly and closes her eyes again.

Nyrini spots a large handmade book on the low koa-wood coffee table. “Hey, what’s this?” She leans forward and picks it up, jostling Mitzi’s head, causing her to groan quietly. “Oh, sorry, sweetie!”

Mitzi barely opens her eyes again, then says, “Oh that. Those are pictures from Azz’s life on the Roundworld…Dirt? Earth! Yeah, that’s what they call it.” She opens her eyes more fully and, taking the cloth from her head, shifts to her side so she can look at the pictures too. Her hair falls onto her face; Nyrini brushes it back, and Mitzi smiles up at her.

At the beginning of the book, the pictures are all without color, but they appear to be remarkable works of art, amazingly realistic, more so than all but the best imp-powered iconographs. “How come nobody’s smiling in these things?”

Azzageddi shifts a bit to look over. “The cameras required a long exposure.” Seeing Nyri’s blank look, he restates, “The, uh, iconographs worked slowly. They didn’t use imps…it was technology. Holding a smile was too tiring, so people kept their faces in a formal expression. Later, the cameras got faster, even faster than imps.”

“Huh…look at all the wild facial hair. Hey! That’s you, Azz! You’re the only clean-shaven guy in these pictures. Interesting uniform—were you a soldier?”

Azzageddi nods. “A soldier, and a spy. Occasional terrorist. Sometimes a doctor. I assisted slaves in escaping. Handled a few assassinations. Whatever needed doing.”

Nyrini looks at him. “Assassinations, huh?”


“It was a more…morally ambiguous time for me.” He looks depressed. “I helped start that war…three quarters of a million dead. A few murders hardly seemed to matter, at the time.”

They are silent for a time. Then Nyrini asks, “So, uh, who are these furry-faced guys, then?”

“Well, that one with the big beard was a novelist. He wrote about me, in fact. Hardly anybody read that book, but he wrote a pretty famous one about a white whale. And that dandy-looking guy tended to injured soldiers. Very gentle and sweet. He was an incredibly gifted poet.” He pauses over another picture. “This one with the pleasantly ugly face…was the leader of the side that wanted to end slavery. A great man. Murdered for all the good he did, just after he won the war.” His face looks like he is experiencing heartbreak all over again.

“Oooookay, moving on then!” Nyrini turns a few pages. “Oh! That’s you and…is she wearing a wedding dress?”

Azz nods. “My wife, yes.”

“You were married?? To a human…”

“She was an escaped slave. Went back to help others escape. Fearless…” He caresses Mitzi’s leg. “Like someone else I know.”

“Sweet talker,” Mitzi mumbles, staring at the picture as if trying to learn something from the dark, serious face of this woman who lived and died so long before she was born.

“And these your kids?” Nyrini asks, looking at a series of several pictures, each with more children than before, and with the earlier children older in successive pictures.

“Adopted. War orphans, many of them. Or orphaned in other ways.” Azz pauses. “She loved children. I…couldn’t give her any. I couldn’t curse her with demi-devil monsters. Who knows what would have resulted? Nothing good.”

“Well aren’t you just a bundle of joy tonight, love?” Nyrini says in exasperation. “Note to self: do not ask Azz about his past.”

“Ah well,” Azz says, “we had a good life together, most of the time. And a long one…and we gave many kids a home, a family.” He smiles and leans back. “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, things I thought were right at the time that caused terrible suffering, but I did do something right.”

Nyrini shuts the book and, gently dislodging Mitzi’s head, stands. Mitzi goes up on one elbow to watch her, a bit worried as Nyrini stands facing away from them, her arms crossed, for a good half a minute. Then she turns to face them, looking irate.

“Is that what I am, then? One of your orphans, Azz? Is that why I’m here, me and Twi? Am I some kind of project for you? Because I’ll tell you, Susan’s been trying to change me for ages, and it hasn’t worked!” Her voice rises in volume. “If that’s what this is, you’re in for a disappointment!”

Mitzi sits up, her ears drooping. “Nyri!” she says, sounding hurt.

But Azzageddi’s voice is quiet and gentle. “Nyr…no. That’s not it at all. I don’t want to change you. I mean…if you want to change, tell me…I have some experience with that kind of thing.” He smiles sardonically and leans forward, elbows on his thighs, gesturing with his hands. “But…I like you fine the way you are. It’s just…well none of us is really complete without friends, without family, right? We rely on each other’s strengths, and shore up each other’s weaknesses. That’s all.”

“Family?” Nyrini asks. “But I…I already have Susan.”

“Of course you do,” says Mitzi. “And Susan is our family too. Mine, obviously…and therefore Azz’s.”

“Oh ick!” cries Nyrini, sticking out her tongue. “Does that make me your aunt?” She points at Azz. “And that would make you my nephew!”

This sets Azzageddi off laughing, while Mitzi snorts and shifts aside a little, and indicates for Nyrini to sit between her and Azz. The goddess hesitates only briefly, then gives in and sits between them. Azz puts his arm around her shoulders, and after a moment she relaxes and leans her head against his shoulder. Mitzi once again lies down and puts her head on Nyrini’s lap, and the goddess absentmindedly caresses the soft fur of one of the bunny’s ears. Mitzi closes her eyes in pleasure, smiling.

“This is one weird family,” says Nyrini.

“What’s a normal family?” asks Azzageddi. “I’ve never been in one of those.”

“Hey!” says Nyrini suddenly, with a wicked grin. “We never did figure out who was the best kisser!”

Azzageddi rolls his eyes, while Mitzi complains, “Not that again!” and Nyrini laughs, “Ihihihihihi!”

Suddenly awake, Azzageddi immediately opens all his senses to find out why. Then he hears a familiar whimper. Next to him, Mitzi is trembling, in the grip of a nightmare. He shifts and, very carefully, enfolds her in his arms. This has happened many times, and she no longer wakes up fighting when he does it, attempting to kick and punch and bite him. Her body knows it’s him now, and she calms, the dream fading without waking her.

She thinks the dreams have been occurring with much less frequency, but they are actually happening almost as often as they ever have. She just doesn’t remember them in the morning. Her memories of Mardi, her lasting guilt at her time as a warrior are still with her: Blood-soaked fields, hundreds dead at her hands, thousands more at the hands of her soldiers, and those soldiers themselves, not to mention all the maimed, and the families of those killed. The cliffs, where she drove an entire army to their deaths, just like Kamehameha at Nu’uanu Pali.

And she went down that path in order to save him.

Oh it became more. An entire culture had been enslaved by the despotic empire of the Godbinders, and she led them to freedom, as well.

She killed a god. Two, really, counting his godbound weapon. And she became the owner of an enslaved god-weapon herself in the process. The tattoos on her forearms, finely-written words of a spell of binding, allowing her to control Feather—they enslave her to Feather almost as much as the murderously insane bound god is enslaved to her.

She only ever wanted to be a cop. A simple cop. His mistake—taking her to his homeworld for a nice vacation—turned her into a hero. A general.

A killer.

Her physical wounds—her lost ear, her lost eye—all healed. But some things never heal. It is time, he thinks. Time for this to end. If her pain is to mean anything, the Godbinders must be wiped out for good. Very carefully, Azzageddi withdraws from their bed without waking her, silently dresses, then departs.

He passes Nyrini’s suite, pauses, lays a hand on her closed door. He senses that she is sleeping fitfully as well. Twilight, despite having her own room now, is in bed with her. He wonders who is comforting whom. Nyrini and Twilight have become family to him. The knowledge that the young goddess has been through the same tortures he himself endured—soul-wounds that still leave him in constant pain and cause him to periodically lose control of his very form, taking on the diabolical shape of his rejected heritage—adds to his smoldering rage.

He freezes for a moment, then relaxes and says softly, “Mountain Hawk. You’re allowing me to barely notice you.”

A gruff voice replies, “You seemed to have something on your mind. How can I help you, Lost One?”

Azzageddi half-smiles at the old name. “We need to locate the Godbinder. It’s time. Spread the word. But I don’t need to tell you…”

The old monk snorts. “Don’t need to tell me not to spook the prey? As if.” After a pause, the monk says, “This is a kill mission, isn’t it?” At Azzageddi’s nod, the monk says, “Well. Took your time over the decision, did you?”

“You know I did. It is my nature to murder anything that annoys me. So I must set rules for myself, and not break them lightly. Otherwise I’d be worse than the criminals I hunt.”

The monk merely nods, then fades from perception again.

Azzageddi strides to the portal and passes through. In the Watch House he pauses only long enough to grab an ordering pad and a pen from the bar, and he scrawls a quick list of items, titles of books. Then he strides through the kitchen and passes through another portal, into Lord77’s temple. Without pausing, he wends his way through the halls until he reaches a small apartment. As expected, the door is not locked.

He walks over to the bed and looks down at Wizard Norman lying in blissful oblivion with his arms around awkward, pretty Flower. The bunny is actually smiling in her sleep, and despite his serious frame of mind, Azzageddi can’t help but smile too. He folds the sheet of paper and slips it carefully into Norman’s hand.

He knows this list will leave Norman mystified, but the resultant research may produce useful information from the archives of the Unseen University Library.

Back in the Watch House, he immediately heads for the door to the street, nodding to Shade and a couple of mortal constables on the way out. He moves through the streets, scanning corners and alleys, stopping to speak to a derelict here, a street urchin there, a prostitute, a hustler, a sailor, greeting them familiarly, slipping them money and asking them questions. They nod, knowing him well, and go in search of the information he is seeking.

None of his questions mention the word “Godbinder.” Indeed, none of them even mention a specific person. Only things bought, ordered, sold, stolen. Ships chartered, items smuggled. Murders. Disappearances. Whispers.

He finds one of the last informants he’s searching for asleep in an alley in Three Rats, one tentacle loosely curled around a bottle of Cutty Sark.

“Sneezey! Wake up,” he says, nudging the land-squid with his foot.

“Huh? Hurm, wha…” The squid flashes multiple colors and blinks his enormous eyes. The bottle rolls free. “Heyyyy, Sergeant…how’s Corporal Mitzi?”

“She’s fine. How are you? All your tentacles intact?”

“Oh sure. That one Constable Syrona chopped off grew back ages ago.”

“Corporal Syrona now.”

“Oh?” The squid’s color change is the equivalent of one raised eyebrow. “Well, I hope she ain’t choppin’ off the arms of yer good ol’ pals no more.”

“She’s coming along just fine,” Azzageddi assures him. “Now listen…I need you to tell me about large purchases of quicksilver. Also, there was a god, no hero no temple, used to sleep in doorways around here, named Mongo.”

“Him? He went missin’ weeks ago.”

“Right. I heard he’d answered an ad…”

Lord77 returns to his father’s library after a day’s absence. At his belt, Claiomh Solais hangs in its jewel-encrusted scabbard and is strangely quiet. Although six months have passed in Lord77’s life, only one day has passed within the library. At the end of the work table, Norman and Lord01 are looking over some notes, while Nagele’s practice stick sits to Norman’s right.

“I’m back!” Lord77 announces to the duo.

Lord01, still looking at the parchment, waves a nonchalant hand over the paper. “Yeah, greetings. Glad you didn’t get lost.”

Norman looks up at the returning god, and his brows knit together. “Whoa. Where have you been? You’re tanned and…have you been working out?”

Lord77 laughs stepping towards to the other two. “I just spent six months sword training with Ravenvalykre. He wanted three years, but got tired of my whining and let me break early. I had to duel him to a tie first before he’d let me leave.”

Lord01 drops the parchment now fixing a stare at his son. “What do you mean ‘six months’?”

“Ravey plays around with alternate realities. He plugged us into some kind of time loop that gave us six months where only about a day passed here.”

The ancient god sits back in his chair and snorts. “Hmpf. Sub-time.”

“Sir?” Norman inquires looking at Lord01.

“That young god is messing with sub-time. Sub-time and Hyper-time are two reality-altering spells. They place you outside of time. One slows it down; the other speeds it up. They’re useful at times to either allow you to get something done quicker or let reality pass faster when you’re waiting for something. But, normally, I don’t like messing with those spells much.”

Leaning forward, looking at his son, the ancient god notes. “He must have worked you out pretty well. You haven’t been in that good of shape since…well never.”

“Yeah. Ravey’s a taskmaster when it comes to sword training. He put old Solais and me to the test. I can handle this big knife far better now.”

Looking at the papers, Lord77 inquires, “So what are you two up to?”

Lord01 slaps Norman on the back and announces, “Your protégé here was just showing a trick he discovered working through Nagele’s practice stick. Why don’t you show my son what you learned about infusing magic into that stick and how to enhance it?”

Norman, now beaming at the opportunity to show his ability, walks over to the table by Lord77 and starts. “Well, sir, I adapted the shielding spell from Nagele, and with your father’s assistance, the practice stick now has a combined Godpower infusion with a Wizard’s magic shield.”

Lord77 shaking his head, looks at his father for clarity.

“You’ve infused Godpower into objects before, correct?” the ancient god inquires.

“Of course, dad. It takes some effort, but I’ve done it more than a few times…Mitzi’s breastplate for one.”

“Well, son, for something defensive like a breastplate, you infuse the power through it to make it all resonate. That way, all parts of the armor provides power. But for something offensive, it’s a waste of power to infuse the whole weapon. For a sword, only the edge needs to be infused. What the young lad here has done was to figure out a way of using Nagele’s shielding to create a balance between the magics, forcing the RAW to move towards the edge. So, the sword is now more powerful for the same amount of Godpower.”

Lord77’s eyes widen at the understanding. “That’s quite impressive, Norman. But, why do it?”

Lord01 responds. “Son, you and your friends are going to be facing a Godbinder soon, I hope, once your dev…uh Azz finds him. You have some bound weapons to go up against him, but not enough. And, I’m not about to start binding gods to weapons. So, Godpower-infused weapons is all you’ll have. What this does is give them a kick, not quite as powerful as a godbound weapon, but still pretty damaging.”

The younger god nods. “Nice. This will definitely help. Again, well done Norman.”

The wizard grins at the complement. “It wasn’t much. I was just goofing around a bit.”

“Some of the best discoveries are done that way, lad,” Lord01 notes, then turning to his son. “You sticking around here for awhile?”

“If it’s OK with you, dad, I’d like to pop over to the Guild Hall for a bit and try to undo some of Ravey’s conditioning with a long-awaited ale.”

“Fine. Go,” the ancient god says while waiving off his son. “Norman and I will be finalizing these notes. You’ll need to take them to your friends and work the spells on their weapons when the time comes.”

“OK, Dad. Will do. I’ll be back after a few, and maybe a night’s sleep in my own bed. The floor pallet Ravey had me sleep on was little better than sleeping on the floor itself.” And, raising his arm, the god vanishes.

“If you don’t mind, sir,” Norman implores to the ancient god. “I’d like to finish writing out these notes. Your handwriting is sometimes…well…different.”

“You saying my scrawling is illegible, lad?”

“Well, sir. I was trying not to.”

Perching on the fence, it looks through the window at the seated female inside the house while pretending to prune its blue-black feathers. This must be an important female. She has merited the attentions of his master for awhile now and he has sent about twenty of his best spies to keep an eye on her.

The bird raises its head and turns it, to stare into the house with a single, obsidian-black eye. None of the others have returned from their missions but he can sense them close by. He wonders why he can’t see them but, heck, it’s not like they’re family. The female has been sitting for a long time, leaning over some papers, her back turned to him. She’s really not that interesting. The raven shrugs (or at least tries to, ravens are not really known for their shrugging skills) and goes back to taking care of its feathers. And suddenly… the world grows teeth…

“Thank you, Silvershade,” Susan says as she pulls the unconscious bird out of the wolf’s jaws. “That makes it twenty-five. In two weeks…” She gets up and walks toward a large object covered with a black sheet located in a corner of the room. She uncovers it to reveal a bird cage teaming with ravens.

“I guess I owe someone a visit,” she says while twenty-four pairs of curious eyes gaze at her.

Summoning her scythe into her right hand, she leaves the house and reappears within the confinements of a pirate ship’s captain’s room, the bird cage still by her side.

“I believe I have something that belongs to you,” Susan announces to the figure standing with his back turned to her. “Well, a whole lot of somethings, really.”

At the sound of her voice, Never More suddenly becomes rigid. Turning around slowly, he whispers, “Susan…”

With a snap of her fingers, the birdcage shoots open, releasing the ravens. Opportunistic as any such animal must be, the birds immediately realize what this means and fly, straight ahead, out of the cage. They fly straight at Never More, grazing him on their flight, flapping their wings against his head and scratching his face with their talons in panicky attempts to change directions before hitting him.

By the time Never More gets free of the wretched birds, he finds himself standing only a few inches away from a pair of deep-blue eyes burning cold with ice and anger. Suddenly, panicky ravens don’t look so bad…

“It’s not what you think!” the god cries almost immediately, raising his hands in submission.

“Twenty-five,” Susan says, her voice still leveled but carrying a sharp edge. “I have caught twenty-five of your little pets spying on me in the past two weeks.” The scythe disappears from her hand but only to allow her to grab his lapel and push him against the wall. “Tell me, Never More, what is it that you fear so?”

The winged god sweats under her gaze, feeling her every word like a burning threat. Still, he bargains,” OH, come on, Susan! You can’t really think that every raven in Godville is under my command…”

“Oh, I don’t. But these…” the goddess gestures at the ravens, now perching on every available surface, making sure to stay close to their master. “These are.”

“Look, I…” Never More stutters. “This can all be so easily explained.”

“I don’t like to be spied on, Never More!” Susan yells at him. “And even less by you.”

“I just wanted to know if you’re doing well at the outpost!” Never More claims, playing innocent. “Make sure all my friends at the City Watch are safe and sound.”

“You are a pirate, Never More,” the goddess hisses. “The only friend you have is your own reflection in the mirror and you cover it every night just to make sure it doesn’t kill you in your sleep.”

Never More can’t help but smile at her words. “Heh, I can see you’re very well informed yourself…” He looks down at her clenched hand, still pinning him to the wall. “You’re stronger than you look.”

“I am Death incarnate, Never More! There is little I cannot find out if I will it so.” Susan states as her hair begins to blow in a phantom breeze and all light flees away from their immediate surroundings.

Or is it the shadows, that are creeping in from every corner and gathering themselves to her? Never More muses.

His fear grows still as she adds, “Your… friends,” she almost spits the word. “Started showing up at my house right around the time we started looking for the sorcerer.”

Nevermore’s eyes grow wide as he panics. “I am not your Godbinder!” he cries desperately. “I am not the one you seek!”

That one word. The sound of that one word, Godbinder, immediately registers with Susan. Her eyes flare as she pulls Never More closer to her only to drive him against the wall again, making him gasp at the air rapidly leaving his lungs. “Then why spy on me?”

“You don’t get it!” the god goes on in a desperate attempt to save himself. “I’ve been spying on everyone! Every god-cop in the Watch! You were just the first one to figure it out!”

Susan’s wrath subsides ever so slightly. “What do you want from us, bird of doom?” she asks calmly.

Never More shrugs, feeling tension begin to dissipate. “Not to get killed would be a nice start…”

WHAT DO YOU WANT?! Susan asks again, calling the voice of Death to her throat, making it reverberate off of Never More’s very soul until he cries,

“Revenge!”

Never More slumps, exhausted, at the edge of losing consciousness. Suddenly, the door flies open and two angry gods step in. They stop at the sight of her, jaws dropped, until Lord77 finally asks,

“Susan? What are you doing here?”

Lord77 strides into the bar, grinning at the familiar place he hasn’t seen for six long months of subjective time.

“Hi Lordy!” Sasha calls out. “Well, my, aren’t ye lookin’ pleasant…hey, have y’been workin’ out? Ye’re lookin’ quite fit, ye are.”

Before he can answer, Pasha pipes up, “Wait, why would gods have to work out anyway? Can’t you guys just decide to be big and strong and super-buff? I mean, you’re gods.”

Lordy opens his mouth to reply and Sasha says, “Well maybe Lordy wasnae feelin’ like bein’ all big an’ macho an’ all! An’ now he is?”

Lord77 raises one finger to try to make a point, but Pasha says, “I think we’re getting somewhere! See, what I think is…”

Frowning, the god is just about to interrupt their interruptions, when he feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns to see Azzageddi with a half-grin. “They’re on a roll,” says the dark god. “Probably best to let them wind down. Besides, I need your help with something, brah.”

“Sure,” replies Lord77. “Has something come up in the search for you-know-who?”

Azz nods and looks serious. “That’s it exactly. Hints and whispers have been rolling in, and as they all start to fit together, they point in one direction: Never More.”

Lord77 looks stunned. “That squawking crow?? What could he possibly have to do with this?”

Azzageddi makes a complex gesture with the fingers of his right hand, and the air around them fills with a slight hum that disrupts sound waves that travel more than a few inches from the two of them. “It’s looking like the Godbinder may have caught a ride with Never More on his flying ship. And here’s something interesting: Never More was a mortal at the time. And guess when he became a god?”

“Right after giving the Godbinder a ride,” Lord77 says grimly.

Azz nods. “Could be a coincidence, but… Shall we go have a word with him together? I thought of going alone, but…well, if I didn’t come back, nobody would know what I found out. Besides, having your scowling face looking over my shoulder at an interviewee always seems to help loosen their tongues.” He grins.

“Sure, let’s go! I want to know what that thieving magpie has to say to all this. And if he won’t talk, it’s going to be time for roast squab.”

“Good,” says Azzageddi. Just before they teleport out, he asks, “Hey, have you lost some weight?”

Azzageddi and Lord77 arrive on the deck of Never More’s airship. Godofrum, looking like a cross between Godofbeer and the Captain Morgan’s mascot, hails them. “Welcome, me hearties! What may I do fer the fine gennelmen of the po-leese?” Azzageddi says, “We need to speak with your captain. Now.”

“Arr! He be in his quarters, but I be afeered he’s with a lady, fer I heard ‘em talkin’ through the door.”

Lord77 says, as he and Azzageddi stride toward the door to Never More’s quarters, “I’m sure he won’t mind being interrupted.”

“Suit yerselfs,” says the pirate. “He may even thank ye! Sounded to me like the lady was ready to keelhaul him.”

Azzageddi pauses. “He was being threatened?”

Godofrum shrugs. “If he needed help, he’d’ve called fer it.”

Azzageddi and Lord77 share a look and ready themselves for a possible battle. Azzageddi grasps the doorknob and then flings the door open. Lord77, hand on the grip of his sword, swiftly enters, with Azzageddi right behind.

Their eyes adjusting to the dim light, they see Susan Sto Helit holding the bird god by his lapels against the wall. Both of them are staring at the sudden intrusion.

After a moment of astonishment, Lord77 asks “Susan? What are you doing here?”

Recovering quickly from her surprise, she replies, “It appears our little pirate here has been spying on us. I thought I would stop by and inquire as to why.”

Lord77, a questioning look on his face, turns to Azzageddi, and receives a shrug in response. Stepping forward, Lord77 begins to inquire, “Never More, why are you—” and it hits him. He hears three tones from the god and goddess. The one, Susan’s, is etched indelibly in his mind. The other two are coming from Never More. Not an echo. Two distinct tones.

He’s hearing two tones.

Months of spell practice, lectures from his father, the practice drills with Nagele’s stick, six months of sword training with Ravenvalykre, are all keyed to react to one event.

Two tones.

Claiomh Solais rings as it clears its scabbard. A red nimbus, dark and angry, flares and surrounds Lord77 as he launches towards the bird god.

“Susan, back away from him!” the god growls as he quickly closes the distance.

“Lordy! What are you doing?!” he hears Azzageddi’s voice from behind.

Susan, seeing the anger and distress in her lover, releases Never More, who presses against the gunwale, the bird god’s eyes wide with fear at Lord77’s approach. “Lordy?” she asks confused.

Lord77 halts, Solais aimed at Never More’s heart, poised only a fingertip away.

“He’s a godbinder!” Lord77 hisses. “He’s carrying bound weapons!”

Susan spins, staring at Never More, “What?!”

With eyes boring through the nearly impaled god, Lord77 snarls. “You’re going to show me all of your forms, bird god, and if any of them include a tattooed face, your existence ends here.”

Swallowing hard, Never More stammers, “W..w..wait! I can explain!”

Azzageddi, now standing next to the god and goddess, calmly intercedes. “He’s been around us for some time, Lordy. I would find it difficult to accept that he’s our godbinder. So,” he continues turning his gaze at the bird god. “I’m sure his explanation will be very convincing. Am I right, Never More?”

Slightly smiling at Azzageddi’s calm composure in the situation, Never More thinks to himself, If it isn’t a godbinder trying to tell me what to do, then it’s my ex-boss’s granddaughter and her boyfriend interrogating me. If I can just stall a few more seconds…

“Of course I have a convincing explanation, Azzageddi. However, I don’t think these are the right circumstances to give them.” Twisting his face into a wicked grin, he continues, “Wouldn’t you agree, Alicia?”

Before Lord77 or Azzageddi can react, Susan is forced to block an attack by Never More’s heroine, Alicia Ravenknight, tossing the heroine aside. As Susan’s attention is taken from the bird god, he takes advantage and snaps his fingers. Suddenly, rows of turrets appear out of the walls and ceiling, all pointed at…Lord77.

Alicia, picking herself up off of the floor, finally responds to her master’s question. “A pirate must always make sure they have the advantage.”

“Well spoken, my heroine. Now then folks, it appears we have a stalemate. Would you all be so kind as to stand down?”

Susan steps back from Ravenknight and grudgingly lowers her arms. Lord77 snarls, withdrawing his sword slightly. Azzageddi turns to Never More and growls, “Never More, you are making a big mistake.”

“Not to worry, my dear Azzageddi.” Never More assures him. “I bear no ill will towards your friends or the Watch. It’s just having people assaulting me on my own ship, especially for the second time, makes me a little ABSOLUTELY FURIOUS! Ahem…Sorry about that.”

“What do you mean, second time?” Susan asks Never More, clearly using all her willpower to not snap his neck as well.

“I’m so glad you asked, Susan.” Never More says mockingly. “You see, when I came to find that the Watch was after a godbinder, I realized that you must be looking for the lowly, despicable cur who had the audacity to come aboard my ship and use my OWN TURRETS TO HOLD ME HOSTAGE!!! Ahem..Sorry about that.”

“So, the godbinder was here?” asks Azzageddi.

“Oh, yes. That tattooed-faced cur forced me to use my ship to take him to the edge of the Rammerorck mountains.”

Lord77 looks at Azzageddi. “The mountains, of course.”

Azzageddi nods back. “I’ll get the network going there.”

Lord77 turns back towards Never More, still glaring. “But, you haven’t answered to the bound weapons, bird god.”

Never More smiles back. “Ah. An unexpected gift from my captor. You see, while he thought he had me captive, I slipped out of my bonds. A pirate has to be resourceful, you know.”

Shifting to a more comfortable position, he continues. “But as I was stepping away, I saw that the cur had left a red folder on a table. Opening it, I saw some wonderful spells, which I copied. Alas, after I placed the folder back, I could not make an escape before he caught and rebound me.”

“Did you see a name?” Susan quickly asks.

“No. I guess I didn’t look for that, as the spells were very enticing. One in particular was helpful as sometime after his exit, Alicia here brought aboard a goddess who was very distraught. Something about a failed love affair. She wanted to disappear from the world. One of the spells provided her the means to do that, a binding of a sort that would encase her in my weapons. She agreed, and I was able then to gain dominion over my avian friends using the magic she provides me now.”

Lord77 shakes his head and sheaths his sword. “I don’t know what to do with that, Never More. By definition, you’re carrying a bound god, but if it’s mutually agreed upon…”

“We’ll figure out the legalities of that later, Lordy,” Azzageddi states. “For now, we need to do a search of those mountains.”

Susan stares at the bird god with cold, blue eyes. “Keep your little minions to yourself from this point forward, Never More. Oh, and Alicia?” she says, turning to the heroine. “Attack me again, and you will soon find yourself beyond resurrection.”

Lord77 turns to Azzageddi, stating, “I want to check in at the library, and there’s some equipment that I want to get together for when your network comes through. Have Flower call me when you want to go scouting.”

Azzageddi nods as Lord77 and Susan vanish to the sound of Susan’s voice saying “You look different. Did you lose weight?”

He then turns towards Never More. “You could have come and seen me about this. You didn’t have to sneak around.”

Shrugging his shoulders, the bird god answers, “I’m a pirate. It’s what I do.” And then getting a very serious look in his eyes, he adds. “And, when you find that scum, I want in. I want a piece of him for stealing my ship.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Azzageddi responds. “Thanks for the tip on his possible whereabouts. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some networking to do.” And the god disappears.

Never More thanks his heroine as she leaves the room. Resetting the turrets, he looks around at his ship and declares, “I really need to amp up my security. These unexpected visits are a real pain.”

Armed with the knowledge given him by Never More, Azzageddi narrows his search. Certain of his informants receive new visits; others he hasn’t used previously hear from him, or from an intermediary.

A member of an anarchist faction receives a visit. Azzageddi has actually been supporting them, trying to nudge them toward nonviolent protests that he hopes will improve the lot of mortals. She lets him know about the activities of a violent splinter faction—that they have had contact with a certain sorcerer or god who was offering them a way to enslave the gods themselves.

He also visits the home of a certain demon-worshiping priest, the head of a cult he infiltrated months ago. Willingly taking his diabolic form, Azzageddi throttles the man awake and tells him what he needs. Then he lets the man breathe, and speak. When the man doesn’t speak enough, he starts breaking the man’s fingers. Three fingers does the trick. The information clicks with some other information and he finds himself a step closer to his goal. He looks down at the terrified priest for a long time, considering whether he can safely allow the man to live, possibly reveal to the Godbinder that he’s being hunted.

He decides. The cult will have to choose a new leader.

The information slots into place, triangulates finally upon a location. A mountain lair.

From a neighboring ridge, they can see it, a schloss in the mountains, just some country home by all appearances. Lordy takes the field glasses from his eyes. “Looks nice and quiet. Just the kind of place you’d think you’d find a demon.”

Looking at his companion, he adds, “Nothing personal.”

Azzageddi chuckles. “I’m not a big fan of demons either. Well, we’ve already seen everything we can see from outside. Time to get all mystical.”

Both gods pull some delicate equipment out of their packs: wooden rods, crystals, glass spheres full of dubious-looking liquids and assemble them into a complex, tripod-supported devices.

“Like this?” Azzageddi asks.

Lord77 nods. “The thaumic field readings should isolate where he’s hiding out. It’s the best we can do without using farsight. Besides, dad thinks he’d have the place shielded and triggered. We hit it with vision, and he’ll probably be warned.”

“Got it,” Azzageddi responds. “You have this spot measure then. So, what do you think, about every 45 degrees?”

Lord77 looks up from the device and scans the area. “Yeah, eight measures ought to do it.”

Azzageddi nods. “OK. I’ll take left. You got the right. I’ll meet you on the other side.”

“You got it, Sarge.” Lord77 responds as Azzageddi lifts his device and translocates.

BAMPF

==

Arriving on the opposite side, Lord77 sees Azzageddi taking a reading from the thaumic field device. “All go OK?” he asks.

“Yep,” Azzageddi responds writing down the figures. “Time to go see your dad.”

“You’re going to need to meet me in front of dad’s library. The shielding will keep you from translocating in.”

Putting the equipment back into his bag, Azzageddi looks up. “I thought Nyri was able to go there directly.”

“Yeah, she did. It really pissed dad off too.”

Laughing, Azzageddi adds, “I’ll bet it did. OK. Let’s go.”

BAMPF

Now in front of the former mausoleum, Lord77 touches the door, which unlatches immediately.

“I wonder why we haven’t gone out on patrol together for awhile,” Azzageddi muses out loud as they step through the threshold carrying their equipment.

“Something about me being bad for the image of the Watch as I recall,” Lord77 responds leading down the stairwell.

“Oh. Right. The arrest of that ‘Sorceress’.”

“I swear she was about to cast a spell!”

“She was eight years old and wearing a costume! They do that once a year!” Azzageddi admonishes. “You really need to get out more.”

“Well, it was an easy mistake to make.”

“I remember getting the report. ‘Some crazed wizard is paralyzing kids out here!’ No wonder I took you off the street.”

“Are you two about done!” Growls Lord01, standing at the base of the stairs, arms folded and looking up at the two gods.

“Sorry.” Both gods respond as they enter the work area.

The three gods sit at the work table in Lord01’s library reviewing iconographs and thaumic readings of the Godbinder’s hideout. The ancient god strokes his wrinkled cheeks as he reviews the pictures and data, while listening to the younger gods’ observations.

“I would tend to agree,” Lord01 starts, “that the data is showing our Nasty is hiding in there. What surprises me is that rather than some high turret for him to see his surroundings, the readings are indicating that he’s holding up in the first floor, rear. I only see two small windows. Our Nasty must be a true recluse.”

“And exactly where have you been holding out, dad?” Lord77 inquires.

Lord01 looks up from the papers at his son. “Don’t be a smart-ass.” Then, looking around the room concludes. “Takes one to know one I guess…OK. I’m betting that he’s got a study back there where we’ll find his spell book. We need to pull him out of there to get it, and that’s where I think we can leverage that Nasty’s ego and aggression by luring him with the tart.”

“Nyrini?” Lord77 asks surprise.

“Yeah. The Nasty almost had her, but in the end lost out. Put her in front of him, and he’ll chase after her like a fox on a rabbit,” Lord01 responds.

“I don’t doubt she’s up for it,” Azzageddi states with concern, “but she’ll be all on her own.”

“What’s so important about his spell book?” Lord77 asks, trying to make the connection.

“His name is in it,” Lord01 responds as Azzageddi nods. Continuing on, Lord01 explains. “When a Godbinder achieves his rank, a leather-bound tome, dyed red indicating the blood-of-life essence, is presented to the new initiate. It’s personalized with his name embossed within the first page. As the Godbinder grows in capability, he adds the spells learned into his tome. Get the tome, and you get his name. That’s all that Susan needs. I mentioned it to her back at your temple, when we gathered there before.”

Lord77 nods and remarks, “That’s why Susan wanted to know if Never More saw the name.”

Azzageddi responds. “Right. It would have saved a lot of work here.”

Lord01 looks at both younger gods. “Who’s Never More?”

Azzageddi replies, “A pirate god who was held captive on his airship by the Godbinder. That’s how our friend here escaped from Susan to begin with. It appears that Never More was able to get hold of the Tome while the Godbinder was distracted and copy select spells. He used one to bind to his weapons a goddess who wanted to disappear from the universe.”

The ancient god’s eyes widen in surprise. “Really? I would like to meet this Never More.”

“You may just get a chance, Ancient,” Azzageddi states. “You are going to need to have someone go in to get the Tome. Never More knows what it looks like, having seen it before, and that pirate is pretty good at stealing things.”

Lord77 nods. “Yeah, good choice,” then, looking at his father, continues, “The windows are going to be spell shielded. For Never More to get in, those spells are going to have to be defeated. Azz, me, and the rest look like we’re going to be wrestling with the Godbinder. Are you up to overcoming the spells?”

Lord01 huffs, sitting back in his chair. “I’ve got a few tricks that I’m sure will do the job. Don’t worry about me.”

Azzageddi stands up from his chair readying to leave. “Well, it looks like a plan. I’ll talk with Nyrini about…”

“No,” Lord01 interrupts. “You didn’t see what that beast did to her, I did. If this is going to work, I need to be comfortable that she’ll be able to pull this off. Plus, this is my idea to use her as bait. I want to talk to her.”

Azzageddi looks at Lord01 considering, then over to Lord77 who shrugs his shoulders. “OK,” he relents. “I’ll have her come over here. But listen, Ancient—” Azzageddi gives him a flat stare “—no more of this ‘tart’ crap. You’re talking about one of my officers.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it… In the meantime,” Lord01 states looking at his son, “go find your girlfriend and warn her. When it’s time I’ll go get her. But, I want her here, protected when you all go to the Nasty’s lair. I’ll make sure the Tome comes back to her here. Then, go find that pirate and bring him here.”

Both younger gods nod as to their assignments, exit the library, and vanish.

Lord01 turns and walks back to the hidden room where books and papers line the shelves. Selecting one book, he mutters, “Ah, here you are my little tricks. Now, the spells the last Nasty cast when I met up with him didn’t fare very well against you. Let’s hope this one isn’t much smarter.”

Nyrini fades into Lord01’s library. Standing at the end of the room, she sees Lord01 talking to Lord77 and Never More. Perceiving her arrival, Lord01 looks towards her. “Wait one moment, goddess. I’ll be right with you.”

Wow, she thinks. He actually called me ‘goddess’. Narrowing her eyes she adds. I wonder what the old coot wants. Damn you Azzageddi and your need for secrecy! “Now, are you following what I need from you, pirate?”

Never More looks at Lord77 and then back at the ancient god, still in shock over the fact that he’s in the presence of an ancient god, and that it’s actually Lord77’s father.

“Yeah, I got it. In and out with the book. Should be no problem.”

Lord01 stares hard at the bird god, making Never More flinch slightly. “Don’t underestimate this situation, pirate. But yes, in and out. Try to hold back on your pirate tendencies to do some shopping while you’re there. Speed is urgent here, and anything else you touch may bite you.”

Never More, wondering if the ancient god is a mind reader, reconsiders his initial plan. “I understand.”

“Good,” Lord01 says and turning to his son continues. “Take birdy here back to his airship. When the time comes, I’ll go get him myself.”

Before they leave, Lord01 turns to Never More and says, “About your weapons, what was the name of the goddess you bound?”

“She asked that her name never be revealed, and a pirate doesn’t go back on his word to a lady.”

“Hmpf,” the ancient god snorts. “The tone is familiar, like I should know it. But, it escapes me…OK, go, “ Lord01 orders waving them off, and as Lord77 takes hold of Never More’s arm, they vanish.

Walking the length of the room towards Nyrini, Lord01 motions towards the couch. “Please, have a seat.”

Nyrini’s eyes widen with surprise. Please?, she thinks. Then, with no reason not to sit coming to mind, she sits down facing him.

“So, what did that dev…uh Azz tell you?” Lord01 opens, taking a work chair, turning it towards her, and sitting down on it.

“Not a blessed thing, and I’m pretty crossed about that,” Nyrini retorts, still not comfortable with this conversation.

Lord01 sits back and takes a deep breath. Releasing it slowly, he starts. “Do you know what we were doing at the hideout when you arrived?”

Nyrini sits forward, and after pausing for a moment answers, “Yeah. Sue told me.”

“Then you know that she, my son, and I witnessed what happened.”

“Yes,” the goddess responds, her voice guarded and quiet. Her eyes casting down, not wanting to reveal the pain behind them.

“We believe we’ve found him.”

Nyrini’s head snaps up, looking hard at the ancient god. “Where?”

“In a mountain retreat. A team is being assembled to go after him.”

“I want in!” Nyrini growls her demand.

“That’s what I wanted to hear. But, there’s more to this. I need to ask of you a favor. And, I will warn you, this will not be easy.”

“And…” Nyrini pushes.

Lord01 stands and begins pacing as he explains. “To send a team in expecting to destroy or capture him is foolish. I’ve dealt with these Nasties before. I know what they’re capable of. This one in particular was capable of killing your team, besting you, and almost ripped your soul completely out to stuff it into that weapon you now carry.”

“Geeh, wanna make it just a little more graphic there?”

“He’s a beast,” Lord01 continues, ignoring her, “an animal, and I’m going to use that against him. I’m going to pull him out of his cage and kill him. But, to get him out, I need bait. Something he’ll go for. Something he’ll want so bad that he’ll forgo the protection of his cage and chase after it.”

Nyrini, eyes wide with shock and realization, says, “You want me to go in there and wriggle like a worm?”

Lord01 nods, “Yes, goddess. I need you to lure him out. This is your chance at revenge. I saw what that monster did to you. I want revenge for what I had to endure watching it. You were the victim. You want in?! Here’s your chance! But, you’ve got to be certain. You’re going to go face your torturer again. You’re going to see those tattoos, hear his voice, smell his stench. It’s all going to be there in front of you, and you can’t freeze. You have to do whatever you need to do to keep your head together and piss him off enough to chase you. Get him out of his study. I need him out long enough to get what I need. Then, we’ll destroy him.”

Lord01’s eyes bore into Nyrini’s, as if challenging her very core. “Can you do that?”

Many heartbeats go by before Nyrini starts her answer. Responding to his challenge, Nyrini’s eyes flare, the pain inflicted by the Godbinder years back now being incinerated by the fire lust of revenge.

“Promise me you’ll kill that bastard, and I’ll draw him out for you,” she responds coolly and evenly.

“Good. That’s what I was hoping to hear, goddess. I needed to know that you were as strong as you portray.”

Again sitting down on the work chair, Lord01 continues. “I will be around there the whole way. If things go bad, I’ll be there to help. But this is yours to make happen. Get him out of that room, and I can guarantee his destruction. Hopefully, that will help when you face that beast again…Azz has the plan. Go see him when he’s ready, and he can fill you in on the specifics.

“And, Nyrini,” Lord01 adds. “Thank you for taking this on.”

“He’s been my nightmare for too long. It’s time to bring this to an end,” Nyrini rises and fades away as she returns to the watch house. Upon arriving, a thought comes to her. Did he call me by my name?

“Is it time, then?” Mitsumi asks.

Her voice echoes in the deep, stuffy chamber. Azzageddi’s temple, built on a hot spring, features a number of natural caves beneath, all hot and humid. This one, however, has been carved out special, designed to contain one specific item. One sword. A god in the shape of a sword.

Feather.

The god-weapon is bound in clamps of soulsteel and orichalcum, adamantine and lead. Just at the edge of perception, it keens with a desire to be free, to engage in what it was forged to do: Cut. Slice. Kill. Slaughter.

Its full name is Owl’s Feather Floats on the Breeze, which sounds much less strange in the Mardian tongue. It is shaped like a large feather, but it is made of the same sort of mystical metals as those that bind it. In Mitzi’s hands, it is longer than her body, but due to the magical runes painfully tattooed onto her forearms, hands, and even fingers, in her grip it is tamed, and weighs no more than a feather…an enormous feather, granted.

And when she holds it, she becomes a deadly force, able to lay waste to entire armies, even to kill gods. In her hands, it is both a weapon of mass murder and an assassin’s subtle knife, moving like an owl’s feather with utter silence through the air, allowing her to catch the wind and extend her already-prodigious bunny leaps.

If he were to try to use it, it would weigh as much as a massive, unbalanced, overly-long solid-metal weapon ought to weigh. Even with his great strength he would be barely able to lift it, much less wield it effectively. And it would fight him. It wouldn’t care who he was. Without the spell of binding tattooed on his hands and arms, he would just be another enemy to kill.

That would have to change.

“Yes. It’s time. I’m going to gather the team, and we’re going to go take this bastard down.”

She breathes deeply, steeling herself. “All right,” she says, her voice trembling slightly. “I’m ready.”

“No,” he says.

She looks at him, confused. “What?”

“You’re not going.” His voice is implacable.

“No!” she nearly shouts. “You need me! You need Feather! This Godbinder must have a dozen god-weapons! You need me to protect you!”

He puts his hands on her shoulders. She tries to shrug free but he holds on until she looks up at him, locking eyes with him. He goes down to one knee so that his head is nearly level with hers, and slides his hands down her arms until he is holding her hands.

“You’ve saved my life twice, Mitzi. I can’t ask you to sacrifice yours for mine now. We will be a half-dozen gods going up against a god and, as you say, a dozen or so god-weapons. There’ll be so much deadly magic flying around that no mortal could survive long, not even armed with Feather. This will be far worse than your battle with Peerless Blue Shark, and you barely survived that.”

Tears fill her large eyes and she chokes out, “But you need Feather!” She sees his eyes look down at their hands, and she looks as well, and gasps at what she sees. The runic tattoos are flowing like tadpoles from her arms, across her hands and fingers, onto his. He is stealing her binding spell. “NO!” she screams. “You said you didn’t dare carry Feather! You said you didn’t trust yourself with that much power!” She struggles to pull her hands free but he holds fast until the last rune has left her flesh and moved to his.

He releases her hands and she slaps him hard across the face. He closes his eyes as she slaps him again, hard enough to make him wince.

“I can hear it,” he says. “Is this what you’ve been hearing? Feather’s whispers? He thinks of nothing but killing…oh Mitzi…” His voice fills with sorrow. “No wonder your nightmares haven’t ceased. Why didn’t you tell me? Did you think you had to bear this forever?”

She dissolves into sobs, her now-flawless hands over her face. Azzageddi enfolds her in his arms and pulls her tight against him. He holds her while she tries to speak. “All those people…the lives I ended…it was my burden…my responsibility…my fault…”

“No…not your fault. It was the Godbinders’ fault. And now we’re going to end that. You’ve done your part, and done it beautifully, and you are the bravest person I’ve ever known. And now it’s time for you to do what you were born to do.” He holds her slightly away from him so he can see her tear-streaked face. “You’re going to be a cop, Mitzi. Not a soldier. Not a killer. A cop.”

He lets her go and stands. “Corporal Mitsumi, I don’t have the authority to promote you any higher, but I can make a temporary battlefield promotion. The paperwork to confirm it is already on its way to Überwald. I am naming you Acting Sergeant, and putting you in charge of the mortal side of this Watch House.” He salutes.

Stunned, she automatically salutes back. Then she watches wide-eyed as he removes his sergeant’s insignia and pins it on the epaulette of her jacket. “There,” he says, “that’s as official as it’s going to get for now. Almighty Anne will be in charge of the gods, but I’m sure you and she will work together smoothly—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she lets you run the whole show. You’ll do fine, Sergeant.”

“Azz…what if you don’t come back?” she asks, her voice quavering.

“Well,” he says, his voice somber, “in that case…give Twilight a kiss from me every night, my love.”

神兎神兎神兎神兎神兎神兎神

Azzageddi comes through the portal from his temple, holding Feather in his right hand, looking determined, Mitzi following close behind.

He looks at the assembled gods, one by one. Lord77, looking grim, glances at Feather and nods approvingly as he adjusts his own sword, Claiomh Solais. Godofbeer manages to look both nervous and resigned, and squares his shoulders and hefts his double-handed war axe guitar, bladed on one side, a maul big enough to bash the brains out of a water buffalo on the other, the strings jangling. Ravenvalykre looks calm, in his element, fully armed and armored, bearing his sword, Angel Slayer. Nyrini grins and says, “Finally! We ready to go then, love?”

“Yes,” he says. “First stop, Ravey’s dojo.” He waits out the expected chorus of groans. “I know! We all want to get this over with. But if we are taking this guy on all at once, we’re going to be getting in each other’s way, probably hurting each other, and we. will. lose. So…a week of training. That’ll only be, what—”

Ravenvalykre says, “Two hours.”

“—thank you, two hours in this world. Then we hit him. So…let’s go.”

“Wait!” cries Mitzi. She steps forward and, like Azzageddi, looks at each of them with warmth and sadness. She is almost trembling with the desire to grab hold of each and every one of them, hold them and prevent them from going, but she is on duty…now is not the time. She tamps down her emotions, straightens, and salutes them. “Come back,” she says, “all of you.”

He sits in a high backed chair behind a wooden desk so dark and dense that one would swear the wood has petrified and fused to the floor over the years. Small yellowing inlays of bone and teeth form a pattern of winged serpents around the drawers and across the tabletop. A small skull, the size of a child’s, houses an inkpot; next to it a length of spinal column acts as a perfect rack to hold pens made from the bones of enemies and their loved ones. Light filters in through two small windows, glowing with the faint octarine telltale of the shield enchantments they hold to repel attempts at ingress. Not that any would attempt. The few that know that the building is occupied are never allowed into this room: his study, his stronghold, his sanctuary. To his left, thick shelves are lined with books. Paper and dust silently battle with each other to dominate them while soft hums speak of the horrible knowledge contained in the skin-bound tomes. Skin, yes. Both human and divine, spells tattooed on the skin of his victims to fit each tome as part of his torture techniques and removed after healing only to inflict more pain. Too bad the humans are too weak to bind. They are certainly easier to break. And their unwavering hope in their godly guides makes for such wonderful entertainment, as they pray and beg and cry and curse while pain grows ever so strong, so overwhelming, so… consuming.

Far to the right on the shelf sits his red leather tome, his personal book of spells, now spell protected to allow only his use since that day of his flight when he found that pirate rifling through it. He would have ripped the essence out of that wretched creature if it wasn’t for the need to flee after being discovered by that accursed Susan Sto Helit.

He had promised himself she would be a part of his collection someday. She’d make a delicious little target… But a dangerous one as well. Many a blank page in his library was filled with spells and traps designed just for her and yet, the timing would have to be perfect and he has long ago decided to wait for a moment of weakness. Maybe the news of her sudden change of heart will prove quite profitable. That goddess’ weakness always seemed to lie on the ones she cares about and this Watch and this… boyfriend of hers… Would she surrender herself to a fate worse than death just to protect one or both of them?

Rising from the desk, the godbinder lifts the ornate, armored breastplate that he enjoys polishing every now and again. His heavily tattooed face reflects from the bright surface. Sneering as he wipes the plate, he imagines that he is wiping the inhabiting bound-god’s face with his coarse rag, adding yet another insult to the jail sentence he has forced on his prisoner, his former mentor. Such a fitting payment for the long periods of training he had to endure from his teacher! The binding lessons, during which his mentor, a cruel, sadistic god himself, would force his students to undergo painful bindings, sometimes requiring they remain that way for long durations before being released.

In the end it was he, the student, who had ended up with a bound god in his collection. Shortly after completion of the punishing training, he had tricked his mentor with a drug-laden drink. As the mentor lost consciousness, the newly trained godbinder ripped his former mentor’s essence from his body and forced it into the armored plate he now holds.

His very first full binding. The very first piece in his collection…

The sneer continues on his lips as he rubs harder the rag across the metal, hoping in some way that this brings additional torture to the soul trapped within. Ornately decorated but inviolate in function, the plate matches the rest of his armor, dark as a moonless night yet shining with the silver-white scribbly, flowing lines of his binding spells. He dons it out of habit, looking at his own reflexion in the mirror with pleasure, appreciating how powerful and frightening he looks in it, as he gathers his favorite weapons, all humming angrily and desperately with the essences different gods’, which he’s gathered through his long years trapped in this world, exiled from his home, Mardi, preying on the local weak gods he happen to cross paths with while searching for the one who killed his brother.

The memory of his brother makes him pause his polishing. His brother, whom the godbinder loved so, was sent to destroy the intruder, the one who had stolen their secrets and was erecting the barriers trapping them in Mardi. The godbinder was already on this side, having found his way across earlier. Then, he heard from his brother, proud over the honor bestowed upon him by the elders to destroy the intruder.

Then, he felt his brother’s death.

A grimace comes to the sharply decorated face, the tattooed lines draw together and down as his lips turn to a frown. Pounding his armor- gloved fist on the desk, the black onyx ring of rank clanging on the surface, he upsets a brewed cup of tea, spilling some of the contents. Picking up the cup, he drinks noisily, the taste bitter. He looks forward to the day he can flavor it properly with the dying blood of his enemy.

Some day, he thinks. It will come.

Standing fully, he looks over his armory and selects his favorite bound sword to complete his wardrobe.

“Quite a selection of toys you have there,” he hears from his right and turns quickly, incredulous that anyone would ever enter his study. Stunned, he sees her, the one that got away. The one that cause his flight. The one that drew Susan Sto Helit to his hideout. Snarling, he grabs the hilt of his sword, ready to maim her, bind her, finish her.

“Looks like you’re missing one piece, though,” Nyrini, goddess of thresholds and pathways, calmly says as she stands inside the doorway, lifting her weapon and aiming at the godbinder.

“You could use a good crossbow,” she finishes as she pulls the trigger, launching the bolt.

Meanwhile, back at the watch house.

The Almighty Anne walks into the bar of the strangely quiet watch house.

“Hello Sasha, Pasha, where is everyone?”

“Ummm…” replies Pasha, “why don’t you sit down and relax while I get you a drink?”

“Pasha, what’s going on? Where are the other gods?”

Hearing the Almighty Anne’s voice, Mitzi walks into the bar, sniffling. Her eyes are red and puffy, and she has a sergeant’s chevron on her shoulder.

“They’re gone,” the bunny says dejectedly as she climbs onto a bar stool.

“What do you mean gone?” replies Anne.

“Here, Azz left you a note."

Dear Anne, I’m guessing that Mitzi has just given you this note and you’ve realized that you are the only god in the watch house at the moment. Over the past few weeks we have discovered that a Godbinder is on the loose in Godville and that none of us are safe right now. The other gods in the watch and myself have gone to fight and try to capture this demon. I have made Mitzi and the others stay behind, it is just too dangerous for them to come with us. I need to you stay and run the watch house while I’m away, Mitzi will help you, but we need to have a god there to keep the watch house and our family safe. I know I can trust you to protect our family. You know what to do if we do not survive. A

“Can you believe it?” Mitzi says, snorting derisively. "He was just about to leave when he realized he’d forgotten to tell you. Typical Azz.”

“Wait, No! I can’t do this!” exclaims Anne, her voice betraying her panic. “I can’t manage the Watch House—I can’t even manage my own hero!”

“He said that I was to give you this, should you argue," adds Mitzi, handing Anne the enlistment records for the time she and Azzageddi joined the Watch.

As the Almighty Anne reads the record a cloud forms around the little goddess, and with a flash of light her appearance changes. In place of the diminutive goddess in her pinafore and hair ribbons stands a valkyrie, a Watch badge affixed to her breastplate and her wild hair surmounted with a winged helmet. She is not however, any taller.

“AZZAGEDDI!” thunders Anne, as lightning crashes around the building, making roof shingles burst. “How dare you! You’d better come back in one piece, so I can kill you myself!”

“Excuse me,” interjects Mitzi, drily. “All things considered, if anyone is going to be killing Azz, I think it should be me. You can clean up if there is anything left once I’ve finished.”

“Of course you are right my dear,” replies Anne, smiling wickedly, “Let me know if you need someone to hold him down for you. Now, what on the Disc are we meant to do?”

“Well… we haven’t got enough people to go on patrol, and it’s been a rough day for all of us, so let’s have a drink.”

With this Sasha and Pasha re-emerge from beneath the bar, their ears flattened against their heads.

“Is it safe?” they chorus.

“As long as there are some drinks coming, yes,” replies Anne, smiling.

“I think we c’n manage that” laughs Sasha. “Now, there are two more bunnies under this bar who would really like t’know that there is going to be no more lightning.”

“Under the circumstances I don’t think I can make any promises, but I will try,” agrees Anne as Peaky stands up from behind the bar, holding Twilight, who is clinging to him desperately, shaking like a leaf blown in the northern wind.

“Come on Twi, I think she’s ok now,” whispers Peaky to the frightened little bunny.

As Peaky walks around the bar to sit with Anne, and Sasha and Pasha serve drinks, Mitzi turns to the goddess to say,

“There is one thing I don’t understand…why did Azz want me to give you the enlistment records?”

“Ahhh…” says Anne, blushing, “Azz found out that I’ve actually been in the Watch for longer than he has. He seems to think that that means I should be in charge. Personally, I think it should be the best person for the job and all that.”

“I see… Well, it looks like we’re in this together, so here’s to us,” replies Mitzi, raising her glass.

“And heaven help anyone who crosses us!” adds Anne, laughing.

Nyrini places one hand on the door and closes her eyes. The darkness beyond her eyelids takes her through scenes of dusk and blood, bringing her images of her previous team, her previous family being tortured, the sounds of their screams melting into her own cries of both physical and emotional pain.

It was my fault, she says to herself. It was my fault he found us, my fault they died. And now…

Nyrini opens her eyes and glances around the corridor. In the hall that lies behind her, every shadow hides a member of her new family, she knows. She is not alone, not any more. Susan is right, she must look out for the people that matter.

Whatever happens, she promises herself, they all leave this place alive today. Even if I don’t…

Grinning at the grim thought, the goddess reaches for her crossbow and removes it from its usual place, strapped across her back, hooking it to her belt instead. If the room is small, this should make it easier to reach for her favorite weapon. And if that fails…

Her hand reaches for the hilt of her short sword. Unable to get any sleep, she spent a nice couple of hours sharpening it last night. It will do her no good against god-bound weapons but it’s a virtual safety blanket.

Well, time to go.

After a deep breath, Nyrini focuses her senses on the Godbinder’s personal chamber and wills herself in.

She sees him standing by the mirror, looking sideways at his own reflexion, tracing the silvery lines on his armor with his finger. His scent reaches her nostrils almost immediately, hitting her like a wall of spikes. That stench. It fills the room with his presence. And, suddenly, everything comes flooding back. The whiplashes and cuts, fire and ice, salt and hunger. The chains that drained her from her magic. How many days of that did she endure? And then the killings, the loss of her teammates, her friends, her family. The smell of the blood, his sickening touch on her skin afterwards. She feels shame at the memory of herself giving in and surrendering but she was so tired… And the pain was more than she could bear. Until he started pulling her away from herself, stretching and molding her to fit the crossbow. That… that pain. More than that, that humiliation. She will hate him forever for it all, be haunted by him forever for it all.

It needs to end.

Still oblivious to her presence, he reaches for a sword hanging among all kinds of weapons in his armory.

It is time.

“Quite a selection of toys you have there,” Nyrini says outloud.

The godbinder’s head immediately shoots in her direction. He looks surprised at her presence for a moment, his eyes wide with shock. His eyes narrow as he recognizes her.

Yep, it’s me, you piece of filth. Now come and get me!

“Looks like you’re missing one piece, though,” she adds calmly as she lifts her weapon and aims at the godbinder.

“You could use a good crossbow,” she finishes, pulling the trigger and launching the bolt before the godbinder can react.

The bolt flies straight and true, hitting his armor with full force, right at the point where the body plate joins the neckguard. Even knowing what to expect, Nyrini can’t help but gasp at the result. The godbinder stands before her, unwavering and untouched. If it were any other piece of armor, he would have collapsed on the floor and died in horrible pain already. But this is godbound armor, both pieces of it imbued with the souls of different gods. Full bindings, much more powerful than the one that animates her crossbow.

Nyrini swallows, grinning at her odds as her crossbow reloads automatically. She doesn’t stand a chance against this guy. And then again, she doesn’t need to be more powerful than him. Just smarter.

Perceiving her uneasiness, the godbinder chuckles derisively, mocking the young goddess’ failed attack. “Didn’t quite go as expected, did it?”

Nyrini shrugs. “Oh, don’t worry,” she replies, showing him a calmness she doesn’t quite feel. “There’s plenty more where that came from. Courtesy of your own skills…” she raises the crossbow to eye level. “Godbinder.”

“Ah, I see you remember me,” the godbinder retorts, turning to walk to his bookcase. “I am so glad you do.”

Nyrini watches him move but does nothing to stop him. “How could I forget? What you did to me, what you took from me.”

Running his finger over the spines of his books, the godbinder chooses the one humming with the right spell. As he removes the book, he holds it between the tips of his fingers, making sure Nyrini can see the binding properly. The sight of the book makes her heart race, her breathing turn chaotic. The tome is bound in her own skin, decorated with tattoos similar to the ones running across her back and belly. She knows exactly where it was removed from, her scars a constant reminder of it. Her body hurts now as it hurt then, the anguish of facing the one who made her suffer so much making her go back to that day.

“I offered you a new life.” The godbinder sets the book on his desk, satisfied at the effects its sight has on the beautiful goddess. “With me.”

“THAT IS NOT A LIFE!” Nyrini cries in response, aiming the crossbow at him again in pure anger. “And neither is what I’ve come to give you.”

The godbinder opens his arms, presenting himself to her, confident of the outcome he’s anticipating. “Looking for revenge, my beautiful prize? You know you can’t escape me, let alone defeat me.”

Nyrini puts pressure on the trigger. “I guess we’ll have to see about that.”

She shoots again, and again the deadly bolt deflects harmlessly off his armor.

Laughing, almost cackling, he produces a bound dagger and throws it at her. Nyrini moves quickly, bending back to evade the blade. While she does so, the godbinder quickly grabs the spellbook and chants the words, sweeping the tome in an arc to release the spell it contains. The ink of the tattoo flows out of the skin binding, flowing through the air as if flowing through water, shifting in shape to become a tentacled creature, like a cross between an octopus and a jellyfish, with stinging claws instead of suckers. The creature instantly whips itself around Nyrini’s legs and wrists, making use of her distraction to bind her tightly, making her fall to the floor.

The godbinder laughs and walks up to her struggling shape, grabbing a whip made of small articulated vertebrae along his way. He makes it crack to show her what’s coming next.

“See? I told you you are just delaying the inevitable,” he tells her. “And the inevitable is…“

He cracks the whip, lashing it at her, making her scream with the painful touch of the bound weapon.

“…You will be mine,” he adds, whipping her again. “Do you remember this little spell I crafted just for you? The one that keeps you from teleporting?”

Nyrini doesn’t answer, still overwhelmed with the pain as he whips her yet again, opening deep gashes on her chest, breast and belly. Her mind races as she finds herself pinned down, unable to teleport.

I do remember, she thinks, her eyes flaring open. And I’ve learned some new tricks in the meantime.

Bending her will to a new purpose, molding her power to a new shape, she finds her way through the fabric of space and time, moving through the very threads that bind the realms of life and death. It’s a tricky path and she can’t keep it for long. But maybe…

She disappears from the room just as the whip is about to fall again. The godbinder’s eyes widen in shock, wondering how could such a young goddess outwit one of his spells. He immediately starts tracking his spell and smiles when he finds it, beyond the door to his study, just down the hall.

“I know where you are, little goddess,” he cries out as he opens the door and sees her reappear in the middle of the long corridor leading to the great hall.

He starts following her, knowing now that she can’t run far. He doesn’t worry at the sight of her next teleportation.

“You amaze me, managing to jump even such a short distance with my bola anchoring you in space/time,” he adds as he sees her reappear within the large room.

Nyrini struggles to move, her every thought focused on getting this far as the spell rips holes into her legs and wrists. She turns and looks back to see him arrive, taking the bait like a shark following a drop of blood in a pool.

Almost there…

The pain grows suddenly, as the spell finds a nerve to feast on. Nyrini falls to the floor, facing the threat on her knees. Sweat runs down her face as she becomes painfully aware of every wound she’s sustained so far. And still the godbinder approaches, walking slowly towards her, whip in his left hand, sword on his right, ready to finish her for good.

“Such amazing strength…” he says, covering the short distance between them. “You have matured nicely since we last met.” He raises the sword and points it at her throat. “And now you are ready to make a sweet addition to my collection.”

“Sorry, love. I didn’t come here to die,” Nyrini replies.

The godbinder smiles and moves closer to her, pressing the tip of his sword against her throat, making her lean back further and further, until she lies with her head and back against the floor, her legs still folded under her body.

“And how exactly do you intend to stop me from putting an end to our little dance?” the godbinder asks, moving to stand over her, sword tip resting gently against her skin.

Nyrini smiles. “Oh, I won’t stop you. But I’m sure you remember…” she licks her sweat covered lips before adding, “I am never alone.”

The team stands in the main hall hoping for Nyrini’s imminent arrival. Lord77 strains to hear the mystical tones of an approaching god, but the shielding of the building muffles it.

“I swear, I hear dad’s tone, but outside of you all, I can’t make out Nyrini or the Godbinder,” Lord77 grumbles as he continues to listen. The others, connected with a short-range message spell, all hear his nearly-silent words.

Suddenly, for just a moment he hears Nyrini’s tone…and then it stutters out, freezing his heart. But by the time the thought that she could have been killed forms in his mind, Nyrini appears in the room. She is struggling, grimacing in pain, trying to free her legs from what appears to be a creature made of whip-thin tentacles, wrapped around her legs, digging into them with its claws, mewling like an enraged kitten. She is bleeding, wounded.

“I know where you are, little goddess,” they hear the Godbinder say laconically, his voice unnaturally, effortlessly loud, booming down the hallway. “You amaze me, managing to jump even such a short distance with my bola anchoring you in space/time.” His voice is gradually growing louder as he slowly approaches. He chuckles. Something about the tonal quality of the voice induces bowel-churning fear in those who hear it; the magic-savvy among the waiting gods recognize this and do their best to ignore it.

Seeing the goddess—his officer, his friend, his family—in pain, it is all Azzageddi can do to stay in place. He thinks, That voice…I know that voice…

The Godbinder enters the room, fully armored, a terrifying helm with a demonic face covering his head, adding a glamour of fear to his every word. He holds a sword, long and straight, in his right hand, a living whip of bone in his left. He treads heavily across the carpeted chamber to the wounded, helpless goddess.

“Such amazing strength…” his voice rumbles. “You have matured nicely since we last met.” He points the sword at her throat as his whip writhes of its own accord. “And now you are ready to make a sweet addition to my collection.”

Nyrini gasps in pain as the thing binding her limbs bites deeper. She grimaces and replies defiantly, “Sorry, love. I didn’t come here to die.”

Barely visible through the opening of the demon’s maw, the Godbinder’s lips curl into a wicked smile. He steps closer, his sword against her throat, forcing her to lie back supine on the floor, her legs folded under her. “And how exactly do you intend to stop me from putting an end to our little dance?”

Nyrini smiles up at him. “Oh, I won’t stop you. But I’m sure you remember…I am never alone.”

“True,” Azzageddi says in Mardian, stepping out from the shadows to block the way back to the Godbinder’s study.

The sorcerer, still leaning over Nyrini, stares at the newcomer. Azzageddi is not wearing his police jacket, nor is he wearing his usual aloha shirt underneath it. He is in the form of a Mardian God-King, wearing a crested helmet, a cape of crimson bird feathers, and a loincloth of patterned tappa. His body, normally merely tall and strongly built but not exceptionally so, now ripples with muscle and is covered with blue-black tattoos on his brown skin, from foot to face, depicting his battles, his wars, his loves and his enemies.

Held lightly in his right hand is Feather, shining gold and silver. “Owl’s Feather Floats on the Breeze,” breathes the Godbinder. In Mardian it is only one word.

The sword in Azzageddi’s hand quivers with rage. “Yes,” Azzageddi says. “You recognize him? He knows you too. You bound him, didn’t you?” I know that voice, thinks Azzageddi again, peering at the sorcerer-god’s godbound helm, trying to catch a better look at his face. He wants to order the Godbinder to stand away from Nyrini, but he doesn’t dare. He tries to forget her existence, knowing that any distraction only endangers her more. He waits for the Godbinder to move away from her.

Still speaking Mardian, the sorcerer says, “I thought we had bound every god-king of old Mardi…those who did not join us, of course. Who are you? How did you escape?”

Azzageddi pauses, thinking. He needs to goad the Godbinder into attacking him. “There were always a few of us,” he lies, “hiding out. Biding our time. Perhaps you don’t get much news from home, monster. Did you know, you are all deposed now? Dead or sent to Hell, to be punished for eternity by the very devils who taught you your evil magic!”

“Impossible,” the sorcerer spits. He rises to face Azzageddi, leaving Nyrini on the floor behind him. “The Mardian peasants would never rise up against us! After they threw off slavery centuries ago, we, the slave masters, returned with our godbinding and taught them all how to be slaves again!”

“Why do you think I’m here?” taunts Azzageddi, his voice angry, his stance widening into the body language of a Mardian challenge. “You are the last! I am here to bring justice! To exterminate the last of you devils!” His face contorts into the Expression of Provocation : eyes wide and crossed, mouth scowling, tongue out and down. He raises one leg and stamps it on the floor, shaking the entire room, and shifts his grip to hold Feather in both hands.

The Godbinder, unable to resist such defiance in his own lair, roars in anger and charges the interloper. Azzageddi receives his attack, whipping the huge blade in an upcutting cross-swing. Simultaneously, Ravenvalykre appears out of a shadow, making a leaping overhead attack with Angel Slayer. For a moment it looks as though the battle will be over before it had barely begun.

Incredibly, the sorcerer parries Ravenvalykre’s attack without any apparent awareness that the young god was even there. His sword simply takes over. At the same time, instead of engaging Feather with his sword, the Godbinder lashes out with the whip and entangles Azzageddi’s arms, yanking up and causing Feather to miss by a hair’s breadth.

Ravenvalykre, having fully committed to the attack, rolls off to the side to recoup, while Azzageddi pulls back hard against the whip, causing the Godbinder to stumble and miss his return stroke with the sword. Azz smashes his forehead against the godbound helm. This shatters Azzageddi’s own helmet, but it does make the Godbinder stagger back a couple of steps, and Azz pulls down hard, ignoring the shocking pain that the whip keeps shooting through his arms, and brings Feather’s edge against a length of it near the handle. The whip, forged of a lesser god, screams as Feather angrily cuts into it, then splits it, freeing the bound divine soul and killing the weapon. As it falls to pieces, Azzageddi is freed just in time to parry another blow from the Godbinder’s sword.

Locked sword against sword, the Godbinder growls, “You will make a fine addition to my collection, little god-king. You and your friends.” He spins away, surprisingly fast in his bulky armor, to block another blow from Ravenvalykre, and then one from Lord77, who attacks from the shadows with his own sword.

“And you two,” the Godbinder shouts, “why are you here? You are not Mardian. I have not harmed you!”

Godofbeer steps out of the shadows as well, holding his war axe. In his best Humphrey Bogart, he paraphrases, “When a man’s partner is hurt, he’s supposed to do something about it.” Then raising his arm high, he strikes the strings on his weapon and lays down a huge, face-melting metal powerchord that causes the Godbinder to stagger and his panoply of living equipment to scream in pain, yet leaves his friends untouched.

Azzageddi takes advantage of the moment to strike hard at the Godbinder’s helm. Feather bites deep, but the helm gives its life protecting its master, and smoking and crackling falls to pieces. At the same time, Ravenvalykre and Lord77, who have been training together for six months of subjective time, make a coordinated attack, Ravey catching the sorcerer’s sword with his katana forte a forte to arrest it, and Lord77 stabbing in with Claiomh Solais, trying to slip the point between the overlapping plates of the armor.

The Godbinder shakes off the effects of Godofbeer’s musical attack, in the process causing the remains of his helm to fall away, revealing his tattooed face and shaven pate. He opens his mouth and extends his tongue—it is pierced, with a thin metal tube lying along the top of it. A dart shoots out of the tube at Ravenvalykrie’s face, causing the young god to flinch so that the dart catches him in the cheek instead of the eye.

Ravey stumbles back. He has already made his body immune to 99% of the poisons ever developed and recorded, but this one is managing to have some effect. It disrupts his nerves, causing them to fire unpredictably and disrupting his thoughts. He prepares to step out of the battle, out of this world, in fact, into another where time moves much faster than here. There, he will be able to heal himself and return to the battle after only a moment of local time, armed with an antivenin.

But he sees Lord77, his superior officer and student, engaged heavily sword-to-sword with the Godbinder. Lordy is on the defensive, parrying with blinding speed, face set and determined. Azzageddi, meanwhile, has stooped to aid Nyrini, carefully using Feather to kill the creature binding her, then rising to attack the sorcerer. And Godofbeer readies his axe for a powerful blow.

But Ravenvalykre, a true Blademaster, can see what is about to happen, several moves ahead. He knows the Godbinder is lulling Lordy into a pattern that will set him up for a blow that he will fail to parry. Ravey, unable to move as fast as usual, still manages to intercede, leaping, grabbing Lord77 and taking them both out of this existence just ahead of the killing blow.

“Uhhh, excuse me?”

Lord77 can’t move. He’s frozen in mid-lunge, but knocked half off-balance as Ravenvalykre has tackled him…or started to tackle him. It’s an extraordinarily uncomfortable position, his spine curved to one side, ribs compressed, the side of Ravey’s face pressed against his chest. His arm is outstretched, hand open, his sword having slipped from his grip when Ravey hit him.

All he can see, since he can’t move his eyes, is a featureless bluish-white emptiness. He notices that his eyes are getting really, really dry.

He can’t turn his head to see who is talking to him, but he can hear the voice of a young woman. It’s a pretty voice, and he wishes he could get a look at her to see if her face matches the voice. But maybe she’s like one of those whatchamacallit radio JDs or DJs or whatever they are that Sasha and Pasha listen to on their “Walk Man” techno-thingy that Azz gave them…their voices sound great but, according to Azz, they never look like what you think.

Why am I thinking of this stuff? he asks himself. Oh yeah, because my back is really starting to hurt! And I want to blink so bad! I need to think of something to distract myself. He extends his senses, and feels what he had feared…the flow of time has come to a standstill. Great…just great.

“Hey, I’m talking to you!”

Well I can’t answer, toots! I’m frozen in time! Wait, why isn’t she frozen in time? And why is my back hurting if I’m frozen in time? My synapses shouldn’t be firing…hmm…I shouldn’t even be able to think… He feels a hand touch his shoulder and suddenly he can move. He immediately falls down—hard—with Ravenvalykre on top of him, the flying tackle completed.

“Oof! Dammit, Ravey, get off me! What the hell were you doing tackling me anyway! I almost had him!”

Ravenvalykre stands smoothly. “He almost had you. He was just about to take your head off.”

“What?? No…” Lordy77 thinks back over the last several moves of the fight, analyzing them the way Ravenvalykre taught him. With a chill, he realizes the younger god is right. “Oh crap…uh…thanks.”

“If you’d trained with me for the full three years, you would never have been entrapped like that,” the Blademaster scolds.

Lord77 starts to retort, then hears a throat clearing. He looks around and sees a young, pretty woman in a white chiton. Her skin is pale, her hair black. Her nose, combined with the clothes, makes him think of those Greek gods he used to hang around with. Boy, those were some fine drunken revelries.

“Ah, hello,” he says, bowing. “Thank you for getting us out of that, um, time lock or whatever it was. I’m Lord77. This is—”

“I know who he is,” she says, looking at Ravenvalykre with narrowed eyes. Then looking back at Lord77 with slightly less annoyance, she says, “I am Time. You can call me Lydia.”

“Oh,” says Lord77, surprised. “You’re a goddess of time…?” This causes her expression of annoyance to intensify.

“She is Time,” says Ravenvalykre. “She’s not a goddess. She is the thing itself.”

Lord77 feels the blood drain from his face, but Lydia looks partially mollified. “Well,” she says, “let us say an aspect of Time. One of Time’s faces.”

Lord77 attempts to be charming. “Certainly a lovely face…um…your…majesty?” Hoo boy, that didn’t come out right. What do you call an incarnation of a major cosmic force? Fortunately she does not seem to be bothered by it, turning her ire on Ravenvalykre rather than on him.

“Ravey! How many times have I told you to stop playing fast and loose with the building blocks of the universe? You are always doing this!” She stamps her foot in a way that would be charming if she weren’t capable of deleting them from existence and even history with barely any effort. “Now you’ve gone and broken time in a local area with your silly Chaos magic!”

“I, uh, I’m sorry, Lydia.” Ravenvalykre glances over at Lord77, looking very uncomfortable. “Look…we’re in the middle of a thing…he was going to be killed…”

“Hey,” says Lord77, “don’t blame me for breaking time!”

“You know there are rules, Ravey! Now I have to keep you here until this event in your life is over. I’m afraid you’re stuck.” She takes a breath and shakes her head. “Well, as long as you’re here, would you both like some tea?” She gestures toward a table that hadn’t been there moments before. It didn’t appear out of anywhere…it was like it had always been there. But it hadn’t been…had it?

Lord77 speaks up. “Actually, Lydia, Miss, er, Madame? Our friends…they really need us. I’m afraid we don’t have time—”

She interrupts him with laughter, like he’s made a joke. Oh, right, he thinks. Haha…time. Sigh. “Come on now,” she says, “there’s nothing for it. We have to follow the rules, or the whole universe will collapse.”

“Lydia,” Ravenvalykre says, “Lord77 didn’t violate the rules. That was me. And you know…I have this.” He pulls something out of his pocket and opens his leather-gauntleted hand, revealing a shining gem, lit within by its own magical glow.

Lydia looks at it sadly. “I gave that to you,” she says, her voice low. “Would you really use it now?”

“If I have to,” he says. “Please…send Lord77 back. I’ve seen my near-future path anyway, and I know I’ll be useful to them in a different way. But he may be able to help.”

She turns away from him, her arms crossed, as if he’s hurt her feelings. No way, thinks Lord77. They are NOT in love. NO. WAY. He realizes his jaw has slightly dropped and very purposefully closes his mouth.

“Very well,” she says, sounding mildly angry. “But I cannot put him back just where he left. Time is too fractured in the immediate area. He might arrive turned inside out or something.”

“Uh, that’s fine!” Lordy hastens to say. “Just…wherever, ur, whenever I can show up where my insides stay in! Thank you!”

She turns to look at Ravenvalykre. “But you have to stay here until the crisis point is fully over. Besides, we need to talk. And this time, you are going to listen!”

Lord77 starts to say something, but she gestures without looking at him, and suddenly he is falling.

In the study, now deserted, dust from the Godbinder’s departure swirls and catches rays of light as it passes the two, small windows. The octarine hue in the window to the right suddenly shifts, brightens, and prisms. Energetic waves of radiance reflect into the room as counterspell attacks spell. The battle intensifies and finishes when a portal opens within the room and a pirate with jet black wings strolls through it.

“Infiltration successful,” Never More says to himself, smirking. “Apparently Gandalf the Grumpy’s magic is actually useful. Now, where are you, my handy little tome?”

As he walks through the room, Never More can’t help but shake off the feeling that he’s not alone, unaware that he is surrounded by objects containing bound gods. Seeing a collection of writing utensils made of bones, he thinks, Nice pens. I’m sure the old coot wouldn’t mind me taking a couple of souvenirs to sell to “legitimate businesses.”

Finally, he finds what he came to get, the Godbinder’s red spell tome.

“Hello again, my little friend,” he says to the book. “Sorry we had to part so abruptly before, but your daddy can be a bit… selfish when he wants to be. Ah, well…he’ll get his just rewards soon enough,” he adds, stretching out a hand to grab the tome.

As Never More touches it, however, he suddenly finds himself acquainted with a world of agony, growing and closing in around him, trapping him in a web of pain he can’t quite describe. Eventually, it subsides and he slumps down onto the floor. Right before losing consciousness, he hears footsteps approaching from the direction of the portal. Turning towards the sound, Never More puts up his hand into a mock salute and tells Lord01, “Sir, the mission would have been a success, if my commanding officer wasn’t a cryptic, short-sighted old son of a—”

Then, the world goes black.

Suddenly, Azzageddi finds himself facing the Godbinder with only Godofbeer and Nyrini with him, and Nyrini is still on the floor, trying to heal her wounds.

The Godbinder turns to face him, and Azzageddi grins. “I thought I knew that voice,” he says. “It has been a long time, my lord Abrazza.”

The Godbinder freezes, an incredulous look on his face. “Who…who ARE you??”

Wanting to buy time for Nyrini to heal herself, for Ravey and Lordy to return, Azzageddi chuckles. “We once had a pleasant dinner together, m’lord. A god-king, a priest, a bard, a traveler, and a philosopher. And me. I spoke to you of death, which you called gibberish. It was just before my little project began that ended slavery in Mardi ten years later, and sent people like you into hiding.”

“Impossible! That was centuries ago! Even god-kings are not immortal.”

“Oh, I never was a god-king. I was lying before. I’ve been known to do that.” Knowing that he has his opponent now, that he can simply send Nyrini to Susan with the Godbinder’s name, so that even if Never More has failed to find it, they will still win, Azzageddi grins and taunts in classical Old Mardian, “King! but I will gibe and gibber at thee, till thy crown feels like another skull clapped on thy own. Gibberish? ay, in hell we’ll gibber in concert, king! we’ll howl, and roast, and hiss together!”

The sorcerer’s expression of shock fades and turns into a sly grin. He begins to chuckle. Azzageddi feels uneasy.

“Yes,” the Godbinder says mirthfully, “I do remember you…Azzageddi. Or remember hearing of you. You see, I have been known to lie as well. My brother and I, you see, had the same pattern of facial tattoos.”

Azzageddi feels his stomach drop. “Your brother…”

“That’s right. My brother. Who was murdered by a god that I suspect orchestrated this whole assassination attempt.” The Godbinder shrugs. “No matter. As I torture you all, I will get his name from you, and I will visit revenge upon him.”

And then Godofbeer attacks, swinging his axe. As it passes through the air, aeolian-like its strings are played by the air itself, ringing out a powerful chord as it arcs for the sorcerer’s bald, tattooed skull. Desperately, Azzageddi attacks simultaneously, aiming to shatter the Godbinder’s weapon.

But unexpectedly, the Godbinder parries the axe with his sword, and the godbound blade is too much for the Beer God’s weapon, shattering it in a clangor of chaotic sound and throwing the god halfway across the room. Against Feather, the Godbinder raises his left arm, taking the shrieking sword on his thick metal bracer, a sort of buckler along his left forearm. The buckler howls with rage, battling against Feather and losing, but as it sacrifices itself, it bites the sword and holds it in place.

Unable to use Feather to parry the return stroke of the Godbinder’s sword, Azz raises his own left arm, ensheathing it in godpower in an attempt to ward off the blow.

He fails.

The sword, keening in triumph, blasts through the raw godpower and slices Azzageddi’s arm off just below the elbow. Azz staggers back and lets go of Feather as his arm hits the floor with a meaty thump. Well, crap, he thinks.

The Godbinder quickly casts a spell and sends it at Godofbeer, who is groaning as he begins to stand. A web of gossamer strands spreads out and envelopes the god, squeezing tight and cutting into his exposed skin. “Ow, hey, my face!” shouts the god, who tries to break free.

Turning his attention back to Azzageddi, who is holding his stump, healing it enough to stop the bleeding, the Godbinder points his weapon at him. “Devil…you were nothing…just a minor spirit. My brother thought you probably weren’t even real.”

Beyond the Godbinder, Azzageddi sees Nyrini stand shakily and reach out. Her crossbow comes flying from down the hall and into her hand. Better put on a real show, he thinks, keep his mind on me alone. “Oh…I got bigger,” he says, and Azzageddi begins to shift from his divine form into his diabolic one: jaw enlarging, teeth sharpening, his remaining hand turning into talons, skin turning red-black. He grows until he has to duck to avoid scratching the high ceiling with his heavy bull-like horns, and his wings spread out as well. “Please allow me to introduce myself,” he rumbles loudly to cover the sound of Nyrini’s crossbow cocking.

Contemptuously, the Godbinder spits in his face. “All you are doing is providing me a bigger target, devil. And I am glad you are no mere god-king. You and your friends will make fine equipment to replace that which you’ve cost me in your foolhardy attack. A pity two of you got away, but I will track them down later.” He draws back his arm.

As he thrusts, a crossbow bolt pierces his right ear and jaw. He staggers as Nyrini, who had aimed at his brain, curses and reloads. The wounded sorcerer spins and hurls his sword at Nyrini who, still slowed by the venom in her system, fails to disappear before it impales her just below her sternum.

Nyrini stands in shock and looks down at the godbound weapon piercing her, then, eyes wide, falls heavily to her knees.

Azzageddi howls and pounces upon the godbinder, biting him, ripping and tearing one-handed at him. Godofbeer roars and, flexing, bursts the spell restraining him, and runs to catch Nyrini before she falls over.

Azzageddi feels a blade bite deep into his torso again and again. The pain is enough to bring him out of his berserk rage and he collapses against the wall, to see the Godbinder, his head bloody, face half ruined, crossbow bolt still sticking out of his jaw, standing with a gore-covered godbound dagger in each fist. His face is twisted into a horrific grin by the fact that Azz has chewed off one of the sorcerer’s cheeks. The flesh around Nyrini’s crossbow bolt is burning, melting, as if acid were flowing out of the bolt.

Suddenly the Godbinder looks up, as if hearing something. “No…my books!” Azzageddi begins laughing weakly, and the Godbinder looks at Azzageddi in astonishment and sudden realization. “This was all a distraction??” Azz nods, laughing louder, though it pains him. The Godbinder roars in rage and disappears with a BAMPH!

Not one second after, Lord77 reappears, looking disoriented. He glances around the room in horror at what he sees: Azz in full devil-form, missing an arm and bleeding from numerous punctures; Godofbeer carefully pulling a long sword out of Nyrini’s chest, his face crisscrossed with cuts like somebody has been playing tic-tac-toe on him; and no Godbinder to be seen.

“Lordy!” Azz gasps as he staggers to his feet…er, hooves. “He just left for the study! Take Godofbeer and go after him!”

Godofbeer manages to get the sword out of Nyrini’s torso, and says, “She’s hurt bad, man! She’s barely alive!”

“I’ll take care of her,” Azz says. “I’m in no condition to fight anyway. In case Never More failed to get the name…Godbinder’s wounded, lost his helm…with your sword, and Godofbeer armed with that godbound sword, you two might be able to finish him. Now go!”

Lord77 picks up Claiomh Solais, and Godofbeer hefts the Godbinder’s sword, handing Nyrini gently to Azz despite Azzageddi’s fearsome appearance. Unable to teleport into the shielded study, the two relatively unwounded gods run for the hall.

Azzageddi sinks to the floor, holding Nyrini. Her wound is grave—while such a wound from a normal weapon, even a normally enchanted one, would cause a great deal of pain to most gods, it would hardly be life-threatening. But from a godbound weapon, Nyrini might as well be a mortal. If it had hit her just a little higher, it would have gone through her heart…and healing her with godpower was going to be no picnic either.

Azzageddi has already used much of his godpower stopping the bleeding of his own wounds. Now he holds Nyrini and begins to pour all the rest into saving her life.

Holding the portal stable, Lord01 stands alone in the Godbinder’s compound, his dark cloak blending into the dark shadows cast by the surrounding trees. His attention is split: part is holding the portal through which Never More, the Pirate has passed through; part is tracking events inside as close as he can, given the shielding of the building. He “hears” their tones, again warped to some degree due to the shielding. Alarm over the sudden loss of his son’s tone makes him focus, scanning, straining to hear that chord which has been part of his life since the kid was created. It is during this frantic search that he momentarily loses track of Never More, and is dragged back when the triggering of the protective spell screams at him through the portal.

“Oh, damn!” the ancient god growls. “What did he do?”

Quickly casting a spell, fixing the portal’s generation, Lord01 passes through the portal into the Godbinder’s study. A quick scan of the room registers the books, tomes and papers housed in the over-engineered shelving. It is there that he finds Never More, sprawled on the floor, clutching the Godbinder’s red-leather-bound tome, twitching, and losing consciousness.

“Damn!” again Lord01 swears as he swiftly closes only to be greeted by the pirate with a sloppy salute and a sarcastic comment. As Never More slips into unconsciousness, Lord01 grabs the pirate’s free arm. Pointing angrily at the portal, he translocates both through it. Taking only a moment as he passes to banish the generation spell, the ancient god translocates again to his library, taking himself, Never More and the red-leather-bound tome the bird god is still clutching to his chest.

Susan Sto Helit stands in Lord01’s library, her face unreadable, an unmoving fixture at the head of a room of unmoving fixtures. Although many chairs line the walls and table, she disdains them all as she faces the spot where Lord01 had disappeared no more than 30 minutes earlier on his way to retrieve Never More and breach the defenses of the Godbinder’s temple to get the name, the wretched Godbinder’s name. She waits.

A blurring occurs on the far end of the room, resolving into Lord01 holding an unconscious Never More who is still clutching the tome and enveloped in a red nimbus, the color of the ancient god’s power. Rushing past the goddess, Lord01 yells, “Don’t touch him!” and runs into his hidden room of spell books, returning moments later with a tome tucked under an arm. Slamming the tome on the work table, he furiously flips pages, swearing under his breath until he stabs at the center of a page.

“Here it is!” he exclaims, dragging the tome over towards the unconscious bird god, and quickly begins to cast the counter-spell to that which currently has debilitated the pirate.

“Turn away and hold your ears!” Lord01 yells at Susan. As she obeys, the ancient god’s nimbus flares a deep red, moments before he slams his hand on the pirate’s back, creating a blinding flash and thunderous report. As the room returns to normal, Susan sees the work table has been hurled against the wall, rendering it into kindling. Lord01 is still standing over Never More, both no longer encased in the ancient god’s nimbus.

“What happened?” Susan inquires with concern.

“That cursed Nasty placed a paralysis spell over the Tome. I had to encase birdy here in a stasis until I could get back here and get the counter,” Lord01 quickly explains as he grabs the tome from a slowly recovering Never More. “I didn’t have time to exorcise the spell. I had to destroy the spell as it sat. Sorry about that.” Then, waving his hand, the work table resets to its previous form.

Opening the Tome, Lord01 finds the section he had been expecting. Turning to Susan, he translates:

“By the authority of the Council, you are granted the honor and title of Godbinder. Hold well this learning and add to the knowledge for this book contains the path of Godbinder…Lycan.”

Hearing the name, Susan’s eyes go vacant, her conscience traveling to another realm. As her vision clears, she again focuses on Lord01.

“I have him,” she whispers.

“Then, go, goddess. Banish him forever from existence.”

Summoning her scythe, Susan vanishes.

Lord01 turns back towards Never More and helps the pirate to his feet. Still very wobbly, the bird god grips the table for support.

“Well you did it, pirate. That Nasty is about to finished.”

Never More, shaking his head to clear it, looks at the ancient god and asks, “What about the others?”

A look of shock comes to Lord01’s face. “Oh, crap! The others…,” he realizes as his focus leaves the room to the Godbinder’s compound.

“Oh, no…” he whispers, and then grabbing Never More, they vanish.

Lord01 and Never More arrive in the main hall. As Never More slumps against a wall, he hears Lord01 swear and run to the spot where a huge devil is holding a mortally wounded goddess.

“Damn! Damn!” Lord01 growls as he goes to his knees, taking Nyrini from a very weakened Azzageddi. A red nimbus now surrounds Nyrini as Lord01 freezes her in stasis. Turning to Azzageddi he snarls. “What the hell happened?! You were supposed to draw him out, not battle it out, devil!”

“It didn’t quite go as planned,” Azzageddi responds, putting his back against the wall, and trying to staunch the bleeding from his other wounds. “And, the name is Azz,” he adds wearily.

“Yeah, well the Azz I know doesn’t have horns, and…Hey! Since when do devils only have one arm?”

“The other one is over there,” Azzageddi responds, nodding towards the spot where his left arm sits, not far from the wall where Never More is leaning. As the pirate looks at Azz’s arm, he says, “OK if I take this? I know a guy who’d pay a lot—”

Lord01 and Azzageddi both respond in unison, “NO!”

As the pirate looks at the great sword Feather lying not far from the arm, Azzageddi reaches out his hand. The sword leaps across the room and the grip smacks into his palm. Never More looks at him and shrugs.

Softly laying Nyrini on the ground, Lord01 walks over and picks up the arm. Returning to Azzageddi, he squats down, places the arm in place, and begins working a healing. He can see Azz is already smaller than before, his skin less red-black.

“You need to look at Nyrini first,” Azzageddi wheezes.

“She’s in stasis. Not to worry.” Lord01 continues to work over the arm. Looking up at Azzageddi, he suddenly asks. “Where’s my son?”

“I sent him and Godofbeer to go after the Godbinder. We hurt him pretty bad, and if Never More couldn’t get the tome, I thought they could finish him.”

“Figures,” the ancient god mutters, again focusing on Azzageddi’s arm. “The one time he could be of use to me here, he’s playing soldier. But, no need. We got the tome, and right about now, I would suspect that Susan is giving that particular Nasty a bad day.”

“I thought I recognized him,” Azzageddi muses, as Lord01 continues his mending. “I thought he was Abrazza.”

“Nope. I blew up Abrazza,” Lord01 says almost absentmindedly as he continues focusing on the arm.

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

Lord01 pauses his work, looking up at Azzageddi, he explains. “Abrazza was a pompous ass, the loudest of the bunch." Azzageddi snorts in recognition. "Early on, I stroked his ego and through that learned much of the Nasties’ lore. When I was discovered, right as I was sealing those beasts in Mardi, he forced the Council to send him, alone. I was to be another jewel in that blowhard’s crown. But I knew Abrazza well enough to know his weakness.”

“What weakness?" Azzageddi asks.

“His fondness for weapons,” the ancient god answers. “His greed was his demise. And he wasn’t alone on that, either. All those Nasties want is to use those god-bound abominations of theirs in their quest for dominance. But, they forget what they are: gods, like the rest of us. And in their quest for powerful toys, they forget the true nature and reach of our power. Only Death should have domain over a god’s soul. But they discovered that they too can destroy other gods, and poured all their energy to perfecting that alone, blinding themselves to all they can be. They bypassed spell knowledge for weapons development. I didn’t. Too bad for them. I could hear Abrazza coming, but he couldn’t hear me. So I didn’t need a weapon. By the time he saw me, he was already under attack, and all his armor and all his weapons were useless against me.”

Lord01’s eyes now focus hard on Azzageddi, his irises tinged in red. “Remember the dumbass move my son did, splitting you?” Azzageddi nods, cringing slightly at the memory. “I did that to Abrazza, only a thousand times worse. I paralyzed him with spells he never dreamed of and ripped his essence out of him, leaving nothing but his empty husk as a warning. I made him scream so loud that all of the Council ran to hide from the anguish in his shrieks. I made them shiver, and tremble, and shake and fear me,” the ancient god’s lips curl into a sneer. “And then, I split that bastard into a million pieces and released his soul into the Void. In short, I blew him apart, devil.”

“Why didn’t you do the same to this godbinder, then? Why did you send us in this time?” Azzageddi challenges.

“That was some time ago. I knew Abrazza. I could have set my clock by his little quirks and shifts. This one… I’ve never met him before. I didn’t know what to expect of him. He could have been one of the Council. Besides, Susan gives us a better chance anyway,” Lord01 answers turning back to his work mending Azzageddi’s arm.

“Well, it turns out that this was Abrazza’s brother.”

Lord01 pauses again, chuckles, and then resumes. “Well, he must be really pissed at me then.”

Soon, Azzageddi jerks the arm, flexing the elbow, wrist and fingers. “Very nice,” he says. “Numb, but at least I can move it.”

“I’ve had lots of practice. The feeling should return slowly. Now, work on yourself while I see to the goddess there.”

Moving back to Nyrini, Lord01 begins a healing by first releasing her from stasis. The goddess takes a deep breath in obvious pain. Reviewing her condition, the ancient god shakes his head. “Good thing you poured some RAW into her, devil. She’s hurt pretty bad.”

Against the wall, Azz’s weak voice responds, “She going to make it?”

“As long as she doesn’t try to fade on me, she will,” Lord01 replies, his body now encased in his red nimbus as he employs high energies healing the goddess. “Those godbound weapons do a lot of damage. But she’s pretty tough. So I would think she’ll recover.”

After a short pause, the ancient god adds, “What is it with these Nasties and their spell-giving weapons? That stupid sword was enchanted with a spell that prevents healing like the one your bunny friend had placed on her. Thankfully, this idiot didn’t think to put a cap, or I’d need my son here.”

Rising from his knees, Lord01 pulls the spell from Nyrini’s torso, now encased in Lord01’s nimbus. Standing, he heaves the encased spell up, where it passes through the roof, causing a thunderous report outside.

“I was able to burn it out of your wound, Azz, but this one was more extreme. Now we can get to business,” Lord01 states, again dropping to his knees and invoking healing spells.

Moments later, Nyrini’s eyes open and she takes a deep breath. “What?” she whispers.

Azzageddi slides over, taking her hand in his. “Lord01 showed up right after we battled the Godbinder. They got the name. Susan is dealing with him now.”

“I told you we would, goddess,” Lord01 adds. “Sorry that you had to go through all of this though. Now lie back and let me finish.”

Shortly thereafter, Nyrini sits up looking at the two gods next to her, and then sees Never More still leaning by the wall. “Glad to hear you got the book.”

“Yeah,” Never More responds. “The blessed thing shocked my butt, but old grouchy here pulled me through.”

“If you two are done, I think it’s time for us to see if Susan has finished with our Nasty. Shall we?” Lord01 suggests.

A blur suddenly occurs on the far side of the room and Ravenvalykre appears.

Azzageddi looks over at the young god. “Welcome back. You missed a lot.”

Ravey, looking chagrined, responds, “I didn’t have much choice.”

Azzageddi nods. “Fine, help me up, will you? We’re going to the study.”

And with Nyrini and Azzageddi leaning on each other, and Lord01 helping Never More, the wounded warriors step down the hallway to the Godbinder’s study.

She waits.

He is coming, she knows. He will soon be here. Now that she knows his name, she can easily trace every single one of his steps in the intricate web of soul and fate that binds all creatures to each other. The threads of his existence stretch here and there, leaving their mark on the web, letting her know where he was.

Where he is.

Where he will be.

And still she waits, counting the beats of her placid heart. She is not angry anymore. What she is about to do demands no anger. She has decided. For his crime, he must be eliminated. She knows what will come of it and is prepared to pay the price. He must burn. And if the rules forbid it, then let them burn too.

Suddenly, the door bursts open and he enters the room, running. She doesn’t move a single muscle, neither to flee, nor to attack him. There is no need.

It takes him about half a minute to realize he is not alone in the room but, as soon as he notices her, his stance changes dramatically. Standing about ten paces away from her, his breathing goes quiet and rhythmic, his posture shifts to one of confident attention. From prey to predator, he changes back into the feared and fearless Godbinder he is, looking all the more frightening for his disfigured jaw, half melted and pierced by a brilliant crossbow bolt, his opposite cheek ripped away as if by the fearsome teeth of some wild beast.

“I know you,” he slurs, looking at her with an appraising eye, lusting after the thought of capturing such a ripe and powerful prize, already mentally browsing his assortment of favorite weapons to find one that would fit her. “Susan Sto Helit.”

Susan smiles and summons her scythe into her right hand. “I am afraid learning my name is getting progressively easier these days. Now yours,” she says, still looking at her weapon, tracing the blade’s profile with a gentle finger, “took me a little while longer. But I did find it.”

She shoots a look at him, thrilled to see terror and doubt creeping into his eyes, even if his lips betray none of his thoughts. He freezes in his place. Not a single muscle in his body twitches. If he is breathing, he does so without moving his chest.

She lets silence linger for a moment, torturing him with it. Finally, she states, “Lycan.” She sees him cringing involuntarily at the truth in her words. “Is that not your name?” she asks, delighted with his terrified silence.

“You see, Lycan, names are powerful things,” she goes on with her monologue while he merely looks at her, eyes wide. “Especially in my possession,” she adds.

With a stomp of the scythe’s handle on the stone floor, the atmosphere in the room changes. It still looks like the exact same room but, as the echo of the blow reverberates off the walls, the feeling of it shifts dramatically.

And now he knows. This is not his room anymore. It is hers. She is in control here. Paralyzed in his fear, he watches as the rich royal blue of her beautifully fitted robes disappears as if burnt out of the fabric, leaving only blackness behind. Even if her features are slender and delicate, beautiful and graceful, he is no less horrified by her. She fills the room, his mind, his world, endless and almighty. And as he looks at her, he stares into the ice-cold eyes of his very own Death.

She raises her left hand, palm up and now he can see that what peeks from the edge of her sleeve is not flesh and blood like the rest of her, but bone. White, shining, bare bone. With an elegant movement of her fleshless fingers, she summons an hourglass into her bony palm.

“You have probably never seen one of these,” she says, making the delicate thing dance slowly between her fingers. “But I will tell you what it is.” She stops twiddling and presents the hourglass. “This is the vessel of your life-force, counting what is left of your miserable days.”

He finally finds his voice, hiding deep in his throat. With a weak attempt at a grin, made horrible and absurd by the damage to his face, he states, “I can see there is still sand left in it. My time must not be over yet.”

“That would be true, yes, had I been planning to kill you.” Susan suddenly grips the hourglass and squeezes it, sending terrible waves of pain into the Godbinder’s body, making him scream and bend double. Taking a sick pleasure from his suffering, she softens her grip, ending the pain. “But that is not my plan.”

Her eyes burn white and blue as she adds, “No, I am going to destroy you. Make it more…” She smiles. “Permanent.”

Without warning, he runs forward in a mad dash to try to catch her off guard, raising his shields, throwing god-bound daggers at her in a desperate effort to save his own life.

But this is her room. She is in control here.

With a graceful, flowing slash of the scythe, she opens a gap in reality into which he leaps, too caught in his own inertia to stop himself. In this little slice of nothingness, he merely hangs, powerless, sentenced to watch and nothing else, as she ends his existence.

“It is time, petty little soul,” she announces, her long hair blowing in a ghostly breeze as shadows gather around her. “You have wasted enough of my time already.” She twiddles with the hourglass once more. “But, before I destroy you, I want you to feel the pain you have put her through.”

Trapped, helpless, he sneers at her. “The pain I put her through? And you? You sent her as bait, to distract me? And now she lies dead, at my hand. And she is not the only one!” He laughs as a barely perceptible hint of pain slips past Susan’s impassive mask.

In unrestrained anger, she squeezes the hourglass again and the pain returns. Agonizing, searing, overwhelming, soul-burning pain. He screams and his screams melt into a constant, inarticulate, terrifying song that fills the room. Squeezing slowly, tighter and tighter at each moment, Susan basks in his pain, taking immense pleasure in her vengeance.

And suddenly, the hourglass breaks, spilling its contents into the palm of her hand. The screaming stops and Susan looks at the Godbinder to find nothing but an empty shell, contorted and disfigured, a mask of absolute, life-consuming pain. She blows on what was once the sand of his life, now devoid of its previous glimmer, and as she does, the body turns to dust as well.

The room returns to its former self, the gap in reality where she had him locked disappears, and the sand of his former shell falls to the floor. The racket of metal armor hitting the floor awakens her from her trance and Susan looks around to notice, for the first time, that she was never alone in the room with the Godbinder to begin with.

Lord77 and Godofbeer stand in the doorway, frozen, stunned at what they have witnessed. Although along with the others they had expected, planned, anticipated this outcome, the sure finality chills them as they watch Lycan’s termination. Godofbeer opens his mouth, wanting to make some dry joke to lighten the mood, but nothing comes to mind. Lord77’s face reflects horror as he recalls that this fate was almost his, once.

“I have to remember to get her some flowers,” he softly reminds himself. “Stay on her good side.”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” says the cloaked figure suddenly appearing before the group facing Susan.

“I’ve removed a blight from the universe,” Susan states impassionedly.

“YOU KNOW THAT IS FORBIDDEN! THAT THERE ARE PENALTIES!”

“Then feel free to take them out on me, you bony ghost,” comes a voice from the rear of the room. The group all turn to see Lord01 walking in, assisting a limping Never More who detaches and leans against a wall for support. Behind them come Ravenvalykre, followed by a very pale, shaky-looking Nyrini, one of her hands pressed to her sternum, supporting and being supported by Azzageddi, who is slowly changing back into his normal human-appearing form, nearly at his usual height, horns and wings almost gone, skin more brown than red, moving with pain.

The ancient god continues forward into the room, piercing eyes aimed at Death’s bony skull. “She was under my direction, and you know it. You want to take a pound of flesh, come get it from me.”

“YOU DID NOT BREAK THE LIFE HOURGLASS.”

“That’s a technicality. I sent them in here to do exactly that. And so what? Had your granddaughter not busted the hourglass, those two,” the ancient god points at Lord77 and Godofbeer, “were going to cut him up. Susan just sped up the process.”

“THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. BY BREAKING THE HOURGLASS, THE DEATH IS MADE PERMANENT.”

“Ah, so deaths are transitional, are they? OK, I’ll take Nagele and Nuada back right now then,” the god stands with his arms folded.

“IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY.”

“Really? Then what’s the difference? Dead is dead. Only in your mind is it not. And I think that’s the real problem here. You can’t control them if their hourglass is busted. Isn’t that right? Oh, the tart’s hourglass was intact. So you had no problem turning her into a goddess and getting your way in making your granddaughter do your bidding. But, if her hourglass was busted, then you couldn’t, right?” the god challenges. Seeing the hesitation, he presses on. “But, for the rest of us, hourglass death, or natural death is no difference. That’s what your penalty is about, isn’t it. Putting you in the same basket as the rest of us means there is penalty? Bah. Stick your penalty.”

Lord01 slowly strides past the group taking a stance directly in front of Death. “You know, friend Death, you’ve been taking it easy, sitting on the sidelines. You’ve watched these Nasties binding gods to objects and have taken no action to stop them. Why?’

“IT IS NOT MY JOB TO INTERFERE.”

“Not interfere? While they’re killing gods?”

“THERE IS NO DEATH.”

“Aaargh!” The ancient god yells as he throws his hands in the air in frustration. Walking a few steps away from the cloaked figure, he then turns to again challenge the death god. “If you would just take your cranium out or your rear pelvis for a moment, you might actually hear how stupid that statement is!”

“I’ll tell you what,” Lord01 growls as he sweeps an arm back at Nyrini. “I’ll pull her out of that crossbow and stuff you in it for the rest of eternity. Then, you tell me. Are you dead or alive? Because, my friend, I see little difference. It’s all about definition, and yours is too rigid.”

Death aims his empty eye sockets at Lord01 and then looks past him at Susan. “WE WILL DISCUSS THIS AT HOME.”

“Yeah, well don’t make her go away. I’m expecting her over for regular Sunday dinners from here out.”

Returning his empty gaze at Lord01, Death finishes. “WE WILL FINISH THIS TOO AT A LATER TIME.”

“You’re welcome to stop by anytime, my friend. Bring your chess board.”

And, raising his scythe, Death disappears.

Lord77 sighs. “I knew I was hearing you.”

Susan turns to the group. “He brought Never More and the Godbinder’s Tome to me. Never More was hurt, and Lord01 was healing him while he translated the name to me. Once I had the name, I came back to finish him.”

Lord01 nods. “Yeah, I was keeping tabs on you folks all along. If something really went wrong, then I could step in and take on that Nasty myself. Or," he adds looking at the injured gods, "it appears, patch you up. If it went well, then I figured I was going to have to face up to your granddad, Susan. I knew he was going to be pissed. But, don’t worry. He and I have done this dance in the past. He gets mad at me for awhile. Then, he comes back, and we straighten it out. This will pass too.”

Azzageddi turns to the group, exhausted but smiling. “Friends, we’re done here. It is time to go back to the bar to recuperate and celebrate. Perhaps—” he looks at Ravey “—we should stop off at your dojo to recover a bit. Some of us are in no shape to party.”

Ravenvalykre nods. Looking at Lord01, Azz adds, he adds. “And you’re welcome to join us.”

“Be around a group of gods and mortals?! Bah! Why would I want that?”

“Because, Dad, people might want to thank you,” Lord77 replies.

Godofbeer adds. “And, I’ll bring along a keg of Klatchian ale.”

Lord01 looks hard at the beer god, considering. “Well, in that case…I suppose a drink wouldn’t hurt.”

Looking at the rest of the group, Lord01 barks. “What are you all doing standing there? There’s a celebration to be had. Let’s go!”

Azzageddi nods to Ravenvalykre, who shifts realities, and the happy group vanishes.

Anne sits at the bar, piles of books on the counter and bar stools next to her. She is reviewing procedures for routine Watch tasks, wondering what changes need to be made to suit their temporarily depleted cohort.

“We have a problem, ma’am,” says Mitzi to Anne, joining her at the bar after moving a stack of books.

“We do?” replies Anne, puzzled. “And stop this ‘ma’am’ business, Mitzi!”

“Ma’am, when I’m on duty I call Azzageddi ‘sir’ and he calls me ‘corporal’…well, ‘sergeant’ now, I suppose. I’m sorry but…it’s just the way I do things. … Anyway, one of my sources has notified me that the pirate, Godofrum, is planning a raid on us while we are short staffed,” explains Mitzi, her face betraying her concern. “You don’t have any ideas on how to defend this place do you? Rumor is, they think that with you in charge,” she pauses, looking embarrassed,” well, they think we’ll be an easy target.”

“Let me guess? Sweet-not-so-almighty-little Anne can’t put up a fight?” responds Anne, rolling her eyes.

“That’s about it,” confirms Mitzi, cautiously.

“Well, I might not approach things the way that Azz or any of the others would, but I think we’ll manage,” says Anne, sliding down from her stool and walking toward the chocolate fountain. “You know how we had the moat drained and cleaned to make more garden space for the gnomes? I think it’s time to reclaim that space, and I have a feeling that the hippos could use some more space…”

“But…” Mitzi tries to interrupt, looking aghast.

“Peaky, Shade? Could I get you two to divert the chocolate fountain to fill the moat? See if you can tempt the hippos back as well,” asks Anne of the two bunnies.

“But..!” Interrupts Mitzi again.

“Make sure you close the drawbridge when you are finished,” adds Anne to the already departing bunnies.

“But..!” Interrupts Mitzi once again, frustration showing in her voice.

“Mitzi! Do you really think that this is the time for buts? We need to get ready!” explodes Anne, bustling toward Leonard and Manoel’s laboratory.

“Gentlemen, we need to defend the Watchhouse. Do we have any caltrops?”

“No Señorita, pero…” begins Manoel.

“I have an apparatus fit just for this situation!” blurts Leonard, “It is quite non-lethal, I assure you. Just throws a sticky substance that will instantly immobilize the enemy!”

“Señor Leonard, you forget to mention the sticky bit burns al aire?” adds Manoel.

“Umm…” hesitates Anne, “Thank you Leonard, but we might save that for another time. Any other ideas? Manoel?”

“We has the treebs,” suggests Manoel.

“Treebs? What on the Disc is that?!”

“Furry things. Con pelo largo. Multiply like di bunnies,” Manoel looks significantly at Mitzi. “Well, sóme bunnies…”

“You mean treebles?” queries Anne incredulously.

“Si, Señorita, like I say, treebs. I learn from Mith Igorina; she gif me my arms. But I don’t use them. I give di treebs nasty bitey teeth like dost bunny—like fluffy caltrops no?” explains Manoel.

“I like it. Get on to it!” commands Anne imperiously, returning to the bar to write a list.

“Och, Miss Annie, you’re rushing about like a wee fury! Will ye no sit a spell? I ken Mitzi wants a wee word with you,” says Sasha, pouring the goddess and the bunny a drink.

“Mitz, if you needed to tell me something you should have said so!” exclaims Anne to the spluttering Mitzi.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Mitzi begins, “Ma’am, you know how we drained the moat and made it into gardens?

“Yes.”

“Well, when we did that, Ravey had some windows put in through the moat to his basement rooms.”

“And?”

“I was trying to tell you—we needed to check that all the windows were closed!”

“Oh… I am sorry Mitzi… I just wanted to be a good leader,” says Anne contritely.

“A good leader listens,” counsels the bunny, gently.

“Um… Mitz? We should probably send someone into Ravey’s basement to check that it’s not flooding, shouldn’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am,” agrees Mitzi, “especially since, if Ravey’s basement is flooding we won’t be able to stop it and the prisoner holding cells will flood too, and Ravey’s, um, brother? is currently in the cells.”

“Well, I suppose we’d better get down there.”

“No, you should stay up here—you are in charge. I’ll take Shade and Peaky with me.” She lays a hand on Anne’s forearm. “Just talk to me before you make any major decisions? please?”

As Mitzi leaves, Pasha comes over. “Hey, Miss Anne? Why do we need a moat anyway? They’re air pirates? They’re going to attack from the sky.”

Anne looks at her with shining eyes. “But Pasha! Chocolate moat! Hippos! Come on! It’ll be like the good-old days!” As Pasha looks at Sasha and they both shrug, Anne gasps and raises a finger. “Bats! Vampire bats! Fire-breathing vampire bats! I bet we can still find some up in the attic!”

Four chocolate-drenched figures troop slowly up the stairs from the basement, firmly closing and sealing the old but still watertight basement doors. One of the figures has his hands shackled behind his back and is laughing uproariously.

“I’m guessing someone left a window open? Oh well, I’ve always enjoyed chocolate bunnies,” laughs Anne, winking at what she assumes is Peaky.

“The hippos have gotten in down there. I really doubt this is just chocolate…so don’t go trying to bite me. D’you mind if we go clean up while we have some time?” suggests Shade.

“Of course! Leave the prisoner here, I need to talk to him.” As the bunnies leave, Anne points at the shackled god, causing the worst of the mess to vanish.

“So, you’re in charge huh?” asks the god, still chuckling.

“Yes.”

“You do know that Ravey is going to flip when he sees what you have done to his cellar?”

“I know,” says Anne grimly.

“If you can cause that much trouble accidently, I’d love to see what happens when you know what you’re doing!” he laughs.

“Should I take that to mean that you won’t try to escape? And while I’m asking questions, what is your name?” asks Anne.

“Oh, I’m staying here—this is way too much fun to miss. The name’s Melephis.”

“Well Melephis, I think I may need your help. When Godofrum breaks into the keep—and I know that they will manage to take the keep—I need you to capture him. Alive.”

Godofrum and his hero, Pie Rat, their arms loaded with cases of rum, approach the AMCW guild hall. Instead of the open and inviting party location that they have heard so much about, they find a closed drawbridge and a moat filled with a dark liquid.

“That is the dirtiest water I’ve ever seen,” exclaims Pie Rat.

“I’m thinkin’ that that’s not water,” Godofrum replies. “And there be several sinister lookin’ shapes afloatin’ around in it.”

Pie Rat adopts his usual look of confused ignorance. “So, now what? Can’t you just magic it open?” He waggles his fingers in an effort to demonstrate his brilliant idea.

“I hear tale that there be an enchantment about the place. That only a member of the guild be allowed to cast a spell. A more cunning plan is called for. These folk have a likin’ of the booze, sure enough. Perhaps, we can talk our way in and start the party as planned.”

They move as close as they can to the front gate before Godofrum calls out, “Ahoy, City Watch! We be Godofrum and Pie Rat and we be bringin’ the finest rum with us. I’ve a notion that, what with our bosses away, we might be havin’ ourselves a little party.”

“That’s right,” yells Pie Rat, “A real, live party. Not some trick to distract you or anything sneaky like that.”

Godofrum smacks Pie in the back of the head. “Shut yer trap, ye mutinous dog!”

“What? I told them it wasn’t a trick so they won’t catch on.”

“One more word and it’s straight into the moat with ye. We’ll find out what’s in there as it feasts on yer idiot carcass.”

“But…” As that one word escapes Pie Rat’s lips, the rum god slaps him again with the force of a god behind the blow. Pie Rat is sent spinning through the air to land in the middle of the dark brown moat, where he slowly sinks from view.

“As I was sayin’,” the rum god calls out as he turns his attention back to the main gate. “I’ve heard many a tale of the legendary parties held within this hall. I’ve a desire to experience the legend for meself. We’ll be waitin’ here.”

He turns away and, with a well-practiced gesture, resurrects his fallen hero. “So?”

“It’s chocolate! The whole moat is full of chocolate! And those large lumps are hippos. Not very nice hippos, at that.”

“Hmmm…,” Godofrum muses, “I wonder if those guys from the waffle guild could find a way to use that chocolate. I guess now, we wait.”

“Ahoy, City Watch! We be Godofrum and Pie Rat and we be bringin’ the finest rum with us. I’ve a notion that, what with our bosses away, we might be havin’ ourselves a little party.”

“That’s right, A real, live party. Not some trick to distract you or anything sneaky like that.”

“As I was sayin’, I’ve heard many a tale of the legendary parties held within this hall. I’ve a desire to experience the legend for meself. We’ll be waitin’ here.”

“Ma’am, I think they are here.” says Mitzi to Anne, “How did you want us to proceed?”

“Well, that was faster than expected. They might try and fly in mightn’t they?”

“They could…”

“Can you nip back to Azz’s quickly and grab the oldest, smelliest piece of his clothing you can find? And ask Flower if she could pop over here to babysit Twi.”

“Manoel? Could you and Leonard move all of the fuzzy, bitey tribbles to the forecourt? We want a nasty surprise for anyone who crosses that drawbridge.”

Several minutes later, on the roof of the Watch House, Sasha, Pasha, Peaky, Shade, and Aillara are armed with bows. The point of each arrow has a tiny piece of tattered, stained fabric attached.

“Right,” says Mitzi, “we need to be prepared for the raiders to come at us from the air, so you need to shoot anything airborne. Once you’ve tagged enough targets, Norman and Queequeg will release the fire-breathing, vampire bats from the belfry. We’re hoping that the bats will be so attracted to the smell of Azz’s old clothes, that they will swarm and attack the raiders. Norm will be up here with us using magic to shield us from the bats and working with Queequeg to upset anyone on the ground.”

Aillara laughs coarsely “Maybe you eat tonight, Queequeg?”

“Anyway, I’ll be outside herding some llamas around to, umm… attack from, well… from the rear.” says Mitzi blushing. “When you come down stairs, be careful of the llamas, I’ve heard they can get a little bit friendly. Pasha! Stop smirking! Anne is down stairs, defending the main doors and guarding our guest.”

T’is the calm before the raid, and all ‘round the watch house, they wait…

After several tense moments of waiting, Godofrum sighs and turns to his hero. “They’re not for trustin’ us, it seems. We’ll be needin’ a new plan.”

Pie Rat turns a concerned look on his God, “I’m not going back into that moat. Those hippos bite.”

“I’m thinkin’ the two of us takin’ a chocolate swim ain’t the way to solve our problem,” the rum god chuckles. “We be needin’ a way for bringin’ that drawbridge down. ‘Course, then they’ll be knowin’ that we be lyin’ and we’ll have no choice but to fight.”

Godofrum scans the area, hoping for some flash of inspiration. The drawbridge is locked up tight and the fortress seems almost impenetrable. “T’would take an army just to bring down that drawbridge,” he mutters, “Not to mention fer fightin’ our way in.”

“Well,” replies Pie Rat, “I do have this horde of raiders over here.”

The rum god raises an eyebrow, “Ye brought a horde with ye?”

“Nah. I bought them some drinks the other night and they’ve been following me around ever since. I can’t seem to get rid of them.”

“Well, see if they might be wantin’ to take down that drawbridge for us. Then we’ll be seein’ if the Watch wants to play.”

Pie Rat walks over to a large group of non-descript warriors and relays his God’s request. After a brief discussion, the horde says “Arrr!” and moves to the edge of the moat where a small group breaks off from the main hoard and enters the hippo-infested chocolate. Most of the squad makes it across, losing only a few to hippo attacks, and they begin climbing the wall. Two raiders sneak over the wall while the rest of the group waits just below the top. A few moments later, the drawbridge comes crashing down. The chocolate covered commandos surge over the wall as the rest of the hoard heads for the open gates. With a loud laugh, the rum god shouts out, “The Raid is on!” and joins his newly found army rushing into the keep.

Flower comes running upstairs to the roof, holding Twilight. “They’ve broken into the Watch House! Melephis is holding them off, but there’s a whole horde of pirates saying things like ‘Arr!’ and ‘Shiver me timbers!’”

“Oh no!” says Mitzi. “OK, I’m going to go assist Melephis. Pasha, you’re the strongest—sorry, Shade and Peaky, but it’s true. Come with me—you can help me fight them back. Shade, Peaky, you stay up here with the bows.”

“Well what about me?” asks Sasha.

“I have a special mission for you,” says Mitzi. “I need you to go for help.”

Sasha stands to attention and salutes smartly, palm out, fingertips to her WWI British infantry helmet. “Aye aye Acting Sergeant!”

“Now you have to be fast,” says Mitzi. “We wouldn’t want you getting captured by pirates.”

“Are ye kidding, Mitzi?” the redhead replies. “Getting captured by pirates is a lifelong fantasy of mine!”

“Oh it is,” says Pasha, rolling her eyes. “It definitely is.”

As the drawbridge falls back over the moat, and pirates begin to rise over the walls a voice rings out over the keep of the Watch House. “THEY’RE HERE! UNLEASH HE… UMMM… OHHH… HECK! YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!”

“FIRE!!” shouts Aillara at the other archers.

Meanwhile, in the forecourt, Godofrum leads a hoard of raiders into the keep, the majority of the raiders falling under the mass of ravening tribbles. Though otherwise powerless, tribbles fall off Godofrum, almost immediately intoxicated from biting him. Hearing the rum-soaked god’s laughter, Melephis strides into the forecourt, his dread-sword held low.

“So, you notic’d that we not be bringin’ the rum?” says Godofrum drawing his cutlass and launching himself at the other god with a blow that would kill a lesser swordsman but is calmly parried by Melephis. The two gods are locked in titanic battle, their swordplay degenerating from the elegant attack, parry and riposte of a seasoned sabreur to the slash and hack of a fighter desperate to incapacitate their foe. Suddenly, Godofrum steps on a tribble and stumbles. Seizing this opportunity, Melephis swings his sword as though to decapitate his nemesis. “I SAID ALIVE!” shrieks Anne, and with the faintest of movements, Melephis turns his blade, striking Godofrum with the flat of his sword, leaving the god unconscious but alive. Honorably keeping his word, Melephis picks up his fallen opponent and returns into the Watch House, resuming his incarceration.

As Godofrum stirs his first thought is of the throbbing pain on the side of his head, his second is of the shackles binding his hands and feet, his third thought is of the tantalizing smell tickling his nostrils. Rum… Old oak casks… Twelve years old… Spiced… Overproof!

“Bu’ wait!” he says, raising his head from the countertop, noticing the bottle and straw placed considerately within reach, “Ye don’ give rum to prisoners!”

“This jailer does,” mutters Melephis dryly, looking ruefully at the shackles securing his ankles to the bar.

“Bu’ you captured me!”

“Yes, but I’m still a prisoner. I gave my word to assist our hostess without breaking my captivity. I wasn’t thinking very clearly.”

“I thought I’d heard about some li’l wench, sum-tin-sum-tin-Anne?”

“I think we can lose the ‘li’l wench’ bit,” says Anne, walking into the bubble enclosing the bar.

“Tea Miss Anne?” asks Flower.

“Wha!” rages Godofrum at Melephis “Ye be tellin’ me that ye captured me for some li’l tea drinkin’ girly. She’s no’ even got a sword! Wha’ next? Torturin’ me with scones an’ cucumber sandwiches an’ pretty hair ribbons? Why don’ ye let me go and let the big men sort this out luvvy?” he asks Anne, now incandescent with rage.

“I can see we need to sort this out.” says Anne, smiling, “Firstly, no, I don’t have a sword, is this little axe ok? Secondly, I like tea. Flower, could you replace Mr Rum’s bottle with a nice cup of tea? I think something weak, sweet and milky? And finally, do you like hair ribbons Mr Rum? Twi? Could you come out? Our new friend Mr Rum would like you to make his hair and beard look all pretty for the other prisoners.”

Twi squeals delightedly, her ears quivering with excitement, “Really, just like I did for Azzabageddi?!”

“Yes dear, Mr Rum is going to sit very, very still so you can make him look extra pretty.”

“YAY!!!” shrieks the tiny bunny, climbing onto the bar.

“This be cruel and unusual punishment!” splutters Godofrum.

“Now do you see why I agreed to help her?” smirks Melephis.

Aillara, Shade, Peaky and Norman stand on top of the Watch house, shooting their bat attracting arrows at the raiders storming into the forecourt.

When a large number of raiders appear to have been tagged Aillara shouts out “RELEASE THE BATS!!”

A flock of fire-breathing vampire bats erupt from the attic of the Watch house, descending like a black, squeaking cloud upon the raiding horde, most conveniently avoiding any members or allies of the Watch.

In the Watch house below Anne, Mitzi, Bella, Pasha and Melephis fight valiantly, while Flower and Twi sit in the safety of the bar braiding ribbons into the beard of the shackled, hair-ribboned Godofrum.

On Never More’s flying pirate ship, the mysterious Godofwine sits in the captain’s chair, his fingers steepled together, chuckling in a sinister manner.

“Excellent…yes…it’s all going as planned. Godofbeer is out of the way…that fool Godofrum has been captured…even Stickyorder is busy…and soon it will all fall into place. Heh heh hehhhhh…”

One of the Infinity Waffles minions, dressed as a pirate but with a large waffle-shaped hat, sticks his head in. “Uh…sir? We’ve captured a prisoner trying to return to the Watch HQ…it’s a…a girl, sir.”

“Oh? Fine, bring her in, bring her in…”

The minion signals to another one, identically dressed, and they bring in Sasha, who is tied up in an artfully complex manner that looks quite uncomfortable, ropes crisscrossed across her torso, her elbows nearly touching behind her back, which forces her chest to thrust out. She has a pirate-patterned bandana tied across the lower half of her face. Her lovely red hair spreads out across her shoulders, and her emerald eyes twinkle with apparent amusement, while her bunny ears twitch.

“Who tied her up like this??” demands Godofwine.

“Uh, nobody sir,” replies a minion. “We just tied her wrists behind her, and when we checked on her again, she was all tied up like this.”

“Take that bandana off her! How am I supposed to question her like this?”

They remove the bandana. Sasha is grinning like she’s having a fabulous time. Before Godofwine can say anything, she blurts out, “Oh, this so much fun! By the way, my safe word is beta carotine!”

Godofwine’s eyes bug out in shock and his face turns the color of port. It takes him a moment to compose himself well enough to speak. “Who…” he finally gasps, “who tied you up like this?”

“Oh this?” she asks, looking down at the ropes. “Well, yer men’s idea of ropework was pretty basic, y’see, so I redid it up meself. D’ye like it?” She turns and shows it off from different angles. One of the minions smiles and applauds until Godofwine glares him into silence.

“You…tied yourself up?? Like that??” the god asks.

“Sure, an’ it weren’t no’ easy job, neither! I usually have some help from Pashy. But goodness me, it’s such a delight bein’ captured by pirates, finally! I had to run back and forth through the battle lines three times before somebody finally caught me. Only,” Sasha pouts, “you fellas aren’t exactly pirates, are ye?”

“We’re pirate…allies, my dear,” Godofwine says.

“Oh,” she says, her ears drooping. “Then, would ye mind turnin’ me over to the th’real pirates? I’d be ever so grateful!”

“No!” insists Godofwine. “You are going to tell me everything about the secret treasures of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch!”

“Treasures?” asks Sasha, looking confused. Then she brightens. “Oh! Ye’re interrogatin’ me! Oh, delightful!” She immediately assumes a frightened-yet-defiant look that wouldn’t fool a child. “I won’t talk! There be nothin’ ye can do to make me talk…except maybe a good spankin’ and some serious tickling!”

Godofwine stares at her. “You don’t know anything about treasure, do you?” he says flatly.

Sasha laughs. “If there’s treasure, nobody’s told me! If yer men are breakin’ into th’ armory, all they’ll be gettin’ is rusty old breastplates and old used swords. Ooo, an’ boots! Lots of ol’ boots!” She laughs again.

Godofwine sighs. “Fine—untie her, minions!”

Sasha squirms and suddenly all the ropes fall off her, leaving her completely free. “Oh, they wouldnae have a chance with those knots, but I have quite a bit o’ practice getting outta ropes.” She stretches in a way that causes one minion to spring a spontaneous nosebleed. “Ah! That’s better.” She takes a seat. “So…you must have some good wine around here…”

Godofwine pours two glasses of his best wine and hands one to Sasha. He runs an appraising eye over the bunny as he takes a drink from his glass. “You appear to be a woman of considerable talent. I could use someone like you in my organization. With your position in the Watch, you would be a very valuable asset.” He raises his hand as Sasha begins to respond, “No need to answer right away. Just think about it. For now, we can just enjoy each other’s company. Now, let’s discuss this spanking and tickling idea.”

As the sounds of battle draw closer to the bar, Flower takes Twi to the safety of Lord77’s temple. The rum god breathes a sigh of relief as the torturous braiding session ends. He glares at Melephis, drawing a laugh from the dark god, and then turns his attention to the stuffed parrot on his shoulder.

“I coulda used a bit of help.” The parrot, due to a complete absence of life, doesn’t respond. “Ye just gonna sit there and let me rot? Bah! Ye’re useless!”

He looks over at Melephis, drawing yet another laugh, and raises his manacled hands, “I’m fer breakin’ outa here. Are ye gonna stop me?”

“I agreed to capture you,” Melephis replies, “And I agreed not to escape. I did not agree to guard you.” He chuckles softly, ”And you’re not nearly a good enough swordsman to provide me with a challenge. As far as I’m concerned, you do what you want. Don’t expect me to help you, though.”

“I’ll not be needin’ any help,” Godofrum says with a chuckle of his own. With a slight twitch, the rum god shakes the shackles off, causing Melephis to raise an eyebrow in surprise. “Ain’t much point in bein’ a pirate if’n ye can’t even pick a lock,” Godofrum explains.

The rum god moves around the bar, his smile growing as he realizes that his goal is attainable after all. “There ye are, just where I thought ye’d be,” he exclaims as he picks up a large, engraved mug, “Let’s see how that fat, hippie beer god likes this.” Cradling his precious plunder, he slinks out through the chaos and moves quickly through the streets to his rendezvous with The Sovereign, leaving the rest of the raiders to find their own booty.

At the edge of the moat, a hissing sound can be heard as another pirate carrying what looks like a flamethrower, sprays the moat with a blue gas. “Should have figured they’d fill the moat,” Ravenknight, heroine of Never More says to herself as she continues to spray the chocolate. “Good thing I remembered to bring my Lord’s nitrogen sprayer.”

After spraying enough of the moat to freeze a section large enough to walk on, Ravenknight begins crossing the moat, spraying and strolling until she reaches the wall. There, she freezes a section of it before shattering the stone like glass with a strong kick. “Well, now I’m in,” she says as she observes the chaos of the Raid, Watchmen, pirates, and deities embroiled in a massive brawl. “And what a beautiful battle to walk into. I’d love to join, but there’s a cellar with some magic books I’ve heard could sell for a lot to the right mage.” The black-dressed pirate steadily walks around the fight, heading towards the library of Lord01.

Pasha steps out of the showers, wearing only a towel wrapped tightly around her torso while toweling her luxuriant loose-curled afro with another, completely ignoring the battle raging around her. As she mutters about how hard it is to get chocolate out of her hair, pirates, evil gnomes, and Iduna’s many pets pause in their fighting and allow her to pass, stunned that she’s just paying them no attention at all.

She passes the bar and is nearly to her and Sasha’s room when she finds her way blocked by someone. She stops drying her hair and looks up in annoyance.

“Hey! Oh, hi…I’ve seen you before…you’re Never More’s hero, aren’t you?” Pasha looks up and down the black-clad pirate, privately envying the woman’s fashion choices.

“That’s right, little bunny! The name’s Ravenknight!”

“Oh, nice to meetcha! Well, pardon me, but I need to get dressed—” Suddenly Pasha finds a razor-sharp blade at her throat. “Eep!”

“Sorry,” growls the gorgeous pirate. “But I’m in search of some books, and I need someone to act as the key for a certain lock.”

Pasha’s ears droop. “I don’t exactly follow…”

“No need to follow—you take the lead.” She turns Pasha around and, poking her chocolate-brown skin with the sword to guide her, makes her head into the kitchen and up to Lord77’s portal. Then sheathing her sword, she scoops the bunny up and into a fireman’s carry on her shoulder.

“Hey!” protests Pasha. “This is highly undignified! You’re gonna make my towel fall off!”

Ignoring her complaints, the pirate steps through the portal, which recognizes Pasha and allows them both to phase through to Lord77’s temple.

Once in the temple, Ravenknight puts down her hostage and stares in wonder at the many books, ripe for the stealing. Her wonder is not so great, however, to stop from pulling out her cutlass once more and leveling it to Pasha’s neck. “You’re not going anywhere, little bunny. I need you in order to get back.”

“But I still need to get dressed! I can’t just walk around the temple in a towel!”

“Well,” Ravenknight smirks to her long-eared prisoner, “I can’t really help it. Besides, you shouldn’t have been taking a shower during a Raid anyway.”

After being subject to Pasha’s tearing bunny eyes for a second, however, Ravenknight sighs before taking off her captain’s coat and draping it over the bunny girl.

Continuing through the temple, Ravenknight finally finds her goal: the cellar that leads into Lord01’s library. Right before entering she pulls out the note her patron god sent her earlier via raven:

Dear Alicia, I have a job for you. It would appear that Rummy has planned to Raid the Watch while we’re after the godbinder. Therefore, I would like you to use this as a distraction in order to get into Lord01’s library and take anything worth taking. That’ll teach Gandalf the Grumpy for ordering me around. Quoth the Raven, Never More.

Finishing reading, Ravenknight turns to a giggling Pasha.

“Hahaha, Gandalf the Grumpy.”

Pasha, admiring how the captain’s jacket looks quite fetching on her even though it’s several sizes too big, says, “Aw, thanks! It’s always good to get kidnapped by polite pirates. So anyway, why are you stealing these books?”

“They’re tomes of magic, worth lots of money,” says Ravenknight.

“Really? Are you sure…”

“Hush! I need to hurry!”

“Fine…” Pasha goes over to a desk and picks up a pair of Lord77’s reading glasses. “Oh good, we’re almost the same prescription.” She dons them and, using her fingers to put her hairdo into some semblance of order, starts reading the spines of the books. “Ummm…Miss Ravenpirate…”

“RavenKNIGHT! Ah, hell, just call me Alicia.”

“Sure. It’s just that the books in this library aren’t magical tomes.”

“WHAT?!”

“Look! They’re all trashy romance novels!”

“No way!” Ravenknight takes a closer look. “You’re right…a bunch of bodice rippers! Is this what Lord01 reads?”

“I’ve never met him, so I don’t know—”

She is interrupted but the door at the top of the stairs opening. A girl voice calls down, “Hey! Who’s down there messing with my books?!”

Pasha calls back, “Hey Flower! It’s just me…oh, and a pirate!”

Ravenknight clicks her tongue as Flower descends the staircase to her library. “What are you doing down here, Pasha?… And why are you with a pirate?”

“Ravenknight here was looking for Lordy’s father’s library, and she needed me to get through the portal.”

“I don’t have time to chat, dear.” Ravenknight pulls Pasha’s arm, indicating the stairway. “I need to find the library quickly.”

“Oh, you mean Lord01’s library? That’s on the other side of the temple, near the back.”

Turning to Flower, Ravenknight responds, “Really?”

“Yup. It’s behind a door with a bunch of weird-looking runes.”

“…You know it’s usually a bad idea to tell thieves where their loot is.”

“Oh. Whoops.”

In the forecourt, Anne and Mitzi cling to each other panting, so exhausted they can barely stand. The number of raiders appears to be decreasing, many of them having fled the tribbles and fire-breathing vampire bats. In the near-empty, quiet forecourt, the silence is punctuated by the occasional crash and cry of the battle inside, the bleating and grunting of the amorous llamas outside and the squeaking and flapping of the still hungry bats overhead.

As they stagger inside, tired but wary, Peaky and Norman rush to them.

“She’s gone!” says Norman, “I can’t find her anywhere!”

“Pardon?” enquires Anne, confused.

“Flower, Twi, Pasha and Sasha are all missing,” explains Peaky, calm but upset, “I think I saw Shade a minute ago, but I can’t find any of the others.”

“What about Aillara?” asks Mitzi.

“Oh, I think she’s fine,” says Peaky “she went berserk foaming at the mouth and biting the raiders. I think her and Queequeg are having fun.”

“Berserk?” asks Anne turning to Mitzi,

“Berserk.” confirms Mitzi, looking heavenward with a sigh of exasperation.

“But where’s Flower?” asks Norm, his panic giving way to a steely resolve, “I. want. my. Flower.”

“Hurry it up!”

Ravenknight again orders her captives, who have grown to include Flower and the young Twilight, towards the other end of the temple. How did this job get to be so difficult? the pirate thinks to herself. I thought taking the books would be the hardest part. Shows how little I know. “Come on, faster!”

“Where is the lady in black taking us?” Twilight asks Flower, who is carrying the half-awake toddler.

“We’re going on a treasure hunt, munchkin,” Ravenknight yells over her back as she runs. “A lot of shiny books that can be traded for a lot of shiny coins.”

Ignoring Twilight’s pouting face in response to being called “munchkin,” Ravenknight continues leading her prisoners through the temple.

“Hurry it up!”

Ravenknight again orders her captives, who have grown to include Flower and the young Twilight, towards the other end of the temple. How did this job get to be so difficult? the pirate thinks to herself. I thought taking the books would be the hardest part. Shows how little I know. “Come on, faster!”

“Where is the lady in black taking us?” Twilight asks Flower, who is carrying the half-awake toddler.

“We’re going on a treasure hunt, munchkin,” Ravenknight yells over her back as she runs. “A lot of shiny books that can be traded for a lot of shiny coins.”

Ignoring Twilight’s pouting face in response to being called “munchkin,” Ravenknight continues leading her prisoners through the temple.

Meanwhile, back in the pirate ship…

“YOHOHO AND A BOTTLE OF SYRUP! POUR IT ON WAFFLES AND THEN YOU WILL CHEER UP! BEFORE YOU LEAVE AND PUT YOUR BOOT IN THE STIRRUP, YOU MUST SING YOHOHO AND A BOTTLE OF SYRUP!”

Sasha, who is leading them in the song, flops down on the sofa beside Godofwine, exhausted. She is now dressed to the nines in pirate-couture: knee-high boots, a leather miniskirt, a linen blouse that is tight across the bust but loose in the sleeves, and a bandana on her head. “Goodness me, don’t they ken any other songs, these waffle minions? And what’s ye’re story, dear villainous Godofwine? How’d’ye end up teamin’ up with waffle pirates? It’s not like waffles an’ wine are a natural combination.”

“I prefer to leave my past a mystery, my dear Sasha,” he says suavely as he pours her another glass of wine. “Here, you’ll love this Château de St.-Cosme.”

“Mmm, very nice! So I was wonderin’…what IS your cunning plan? I mean, you cannae tell any of THESE fellas, I ken, but y’have to tell SOMEone? Why not little-old me?” Sasha cuddles up to him and bats her eyelashes.

“Uh…well, it’s a secret…” Godofwine blushes at the look she gives him.

“Oh come on! I’m yer prisoner! It’s traditional!” She smiles naughtily. “I’ll let you tickle me again.”

Godofwine loosens his cravat and feels himself begin to perspire. “Well, I suppose it IS traditional…”

Behind the bar, Anne stops making tea, her face crestfallen.

“So, I guess this means you’re not staying for a drink?” She asks Iduna, who is busily herding her menagerie “Would you mind dropping Shade back when you get a chance?”

“Well Ma’am, I suppose we had better get back to searching for the other bunnies” says Mitzi briskly, “I’d better check on our defenses while we’re at it.”

“We still have the llamas and tribbles in the forecourt, the bats are starting to look hungry again, and woe betide anyone who gets in Norman’s way.” lists Anne as they leave the bar to search the building

“Ma’am, there was one thing you never explained. Why did we need some of Azzageddi’s clothing to attract the bats?”

“Oh, that’s simple. Last time we had bat problems they were irresistibly attracted to Azz, so now they will attack anything that smells like him.”

“Small point Ma’am, doesn’t that mean that when Azz comes back the bats will immediately attack him?”

“Oh sugar…” mutters Anne, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

From the bar, Melephis’s laughter rings through the Watch house.

“Now, ladies,” interrupts Melephis urbanely, “I know that Anne and Mitzi are still searching for the other bunnies, and I also know that there is a something of a ban on non-Watch members using magic in the Watch house. So why don’t we all sit down and have a nice cup of tea? I know that I am technically still a prisoner here, but that is no reason for me to be a poor host.”

As Melephis pours the tea, Anne rushes back to the bar

“Oh Hello Iduna! and Epona, Welcome to our little raid!” says Anne, climbing onto a bar stool, “Take a seat, rest a little bit.”

“You might have noticed that things are a little bit quiet here at the moment, we appear to be running a little short of raiders, what with the tribbles, bats and llamas having such fun with them. But I’m sure we’ll have more fun coming along anytime now.” chatters Anne.

“Ah… some tea, thank you Melephis, you are both a scholar and a gentleman.”

“That’s not what they usually say…” mutters Melephis

“Now,” continues Anne, “We’re having a friendly little raid here, no killing, minimal bloodshed and no biting or shackles unless your captive asks very nicely” she winks

“Some time ago our wonderful, honorary leader, Azzageddi placed an enchantment on the Watch house allowing only full members of the Watch to use God-magic powers inside the Watch house. But a little bit of friendly magic-ing outside or near the Watch house is perfectly fine, even encouraged if it leads to saving the Watch house.” she witters

“Now, how about some cake?” says Anne leaning over the top of the bar before falling headfirst into the sink, her legs waving helplessly in the air.

“Oh poot! Is this a sink or a bath tub? I’m stuck!”

“Oh, how did she figure out our ruse?” whispers Flower as they finally near Lord01’s mausoleum/library.

“Oh, y’know…pirate. People probably lie to her a lot,” says Pasha, not bothering to whisper. “But you did good, Flower—you picked up on my lie real quick.” She gives the smaller bunny a kiss on the cheek.

“OK,” says Ravenknight, handing Twilight back to Flower with an indulgent smile, “now tell me, what kind of defenses does this place have?”

“Shoot, Alicia,” Pasha says, using the pirate’s real name, “how would we know?? I honestly had no idea where this place was—I’ve never even met Lordy’s dad! I just heard about him. And Flower, have you ever been to this place?” Flower shakes her head. Pasha continues, “We’re just bunnies, honey. But from what I heard, this place is probably wired up every which way with deadly spells and rolling boulders and poisoned darts.”

Pasha moves to stand in front of Ravenknight and puts her hands on the hero’s arms, looking up at her seriously. “Alicia, I like you! You were actually pretty nice to me, all in all…”

“Sorry about the sword at your throat…”

“Oh no, I actually kinda liked that!” Pasha grins wickedly. “Got my blood pumping! But listen, honey,” she continues, her face turning serious again, “I don’t want you gettin’ hurt. Come on…I bet that raid is pretty much over by now. Let’s go back to the bar and I’ll serve you up a few drinks on the house. Please?”

For a just a second, looking into those big brown shining eyes, Ravenknight considers it, but then shakes her head. “Sorry, Pasha. I gotta do what I gotta do. But you three? Stand way back, OK? I really don’t want you getting hurt.”

“Azz…and the rest of them…” Mitzi murmurs. “They’re several hours late.” She turns pale at the implications.

Norman puts a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure they’re fine,” he says.

She reaches up and squeezes his hand. “Yeah,” she says. But she’s obviously thinking, But what if they’re not? What if they’re all dead? Or turned into godbound weapons? What if we’re never, ever going to see them again? She closes her eyes and shakes it off. She squeezes his hand again and whispers, “Thanks,” and they go through the portal.

Norman’s magic sense plus Mitzi’s keen sense of smell leads them to Flower’s library, then to the scene of a battle, then to a rune-covered doorway. “What’s in here?” asks Mitzi.

“You know, it’s never come up,” replies Norman. “I’ve kind of wondered myself. But whoever has Mitzi, Flower, and Twilight didn’t break the seals or even try, so at the moment, it doesn’t really matter.”

Mitzi muses, “Right. Still…books pulled off the shelf and then dumped. Then an approach to a magically shielded door, which is then abandoned after tangling with what is obviously some of Iduna’s creatures. So I’m thinking books…magical books…”

“Crap!” shouts Norman.

“Crap? You have been hanging around Lordy a lot lately…”

“I know where they’re going! Oh I hope I’m not too late! The spells shielding that library could fry them all if their captor isn’t careful!”

“Then we’d better run—hey!” Mitzi begins, before Norman scoops her up in his arms.

“No time! Are you going to be harmed by a short teleportation?”

“No but—wait!!!” She points at her eye, the one with the silver rim around the iris.

“Oh right…check out Lord01’s place!”

Mitzi closes her other eye, and the silver rim expands to take over her whole iris as she activates her farsight. “Oh! Yes, there they are. It’s…whatsername…Ravenknight! Never More’s hero…”

“I’ll turn her into a toad!” growls Norman, and then he teleports them. BAMPH!

The wine god brushes himself off and straightens his immaculately tailored suit. “Remarkable creature, that dragon” he says softly, “but travel by dragon talon has never been my favorite mode of transportation.”

He looks over his new captors; The Almighty Anne, who turned out to be quite a bit more formidable than he had thought; two bunnies he knew nothing about, Peaky and Shade they had been called; and of course, the lovely Sasha, the only one currently paying him any attention. He turns to Sasha, marveling for a moment at her beauty before addressing her, “My darling Sasha. It has been a real pleasure spending this afternoon with you. Just think, if your rescuers had been just a little late, you would now know my entire plan. Oh, well, I guess I’ll just keep it to myself for now.” He focuses on something behind her and says, “My, that is a very revealing outfit Bellatrixie has on.”

When Sasha turns to look, Godofwine bolts through the door and down the hall. Sasha, angry at herself for falling for such an obvious ruse, curses under her breath and rushes out after the wine god. She chases him down the hall, up several flights of stairs, and out onto the rooftop. She finds him facing her at the edge of the roof, his heels over the edge, a large smile on his face.

“Ah, my lovely Sasha. I’m afraid I must be off now. Although I would enjoy a few more moments in your company, I have urgent business elsewhere. Goodbye, my captivating captive.”

The wine god allows himself to fall backwards over the edge of the roof. Sasha gasps and runs over, afraid of what she’ll see. She sees Godofwine, now suspended from a miniature airship, rising up into the air. He flashes her a smile and a wave and then quickly flies away to freedom.

Godofwine lands on the deck of The Sovereign to find an anxious Godofrum waiting for him. “Ye was s’posed to be here waitin’ fer me. Where’d ye run off to?”

The wine god chuckles, “I was unavoidably detained. I’m here now. Did you get it?”

“Yeah, I got it,” the wine god replies, holding up the beer mug. “I hope ye know what ye’re doin’. He’s gonna be pissed.”

“I need to be sure that he will be where I need him to be.” Godofwine sighs, “It’s going to be difficult to get him to work with me on this. It will be impossible if I can’t even get him to meet with me. This is too important. I have to get him to the meeting.”

“Well, I did my part, what about ye’re own?”

“I believe this will be my part arriving now.” The wine god points at a shabby figure walking towards them, carrying a large bundle. The man beneath the smelly rags sets the bundle on a table and bows before Godofwine. “Godofrum, allow me to introduce you to my hero, Boone The Wino.” Godofwine turns to address the bedraggled mortal, “So, no difficulties in procuring the item?”

“No, my lord,” Boone replies, “No one ever notices a wino. The few that did see me quickly looked elsewhere when I held my hand out for a generous donation. I found it right where you said it’d be. It was unguarded in a storeroom full of old rusty swords and breastplates. And boots, lots and lots of boots.”

Godofwine unwraps the package to find a shiny, but otherwise unremarkable breastplate. “There it is, gentlemen. The Battlerager Breastplate. Stand back while I activate it.” Using a long pole, the wine god presses a button on the front of the armor. Instantly, spikes and blades spring from the breastplate, protruding out from it at all angles.

Boone The Wino cocks his head to the side before speaking up. “Wouldn’t these blades on the sides be in the way for the person wearing this?”

The wine god chuckles, “That’s why it was sitting in a pile of forgotten armor. That’s what you get when you let Bloody Stupid Johnson design a breastplate. Only one man ever wore this and no one remembers his name. He is generally referred to as ‘the Armless Watchman’, but he’s sometimes called ‘that idiot who volunteered to try out that stupid armor’. As armor, it’s useless. But in a display case, I think it will satisfy our raven god’s desire for shiny trophies.”

Godofrum laughs, “Useless it may be, but it was still raided from under the noses of those annoyin’ cops. I’ll be findin’ it a place of honor in the trophy room.”

Godofwine picks up the stolen beer mug and begins to walk away. As he and his hero are leaving, he calls back, “Just make sure the beer god gets the message. If he’s not at the meeting, this will all have been for nothing.”

Walking up to the rune-covered dire to Lord01’s library, Ravenknight pulled out a pair of black, pin-striped gloves. “Time to test you babies out.” Putting on the gloves, Ravenknight watches as small jolts of energy crackle around the gloves before lifting one glove-clad hand and placing it on the door.

The runes on the door blaze with light and arcing bolts of power seem to consume them. Finally, the bolts disappear as the runes fade out, leaving a completely defenseless door, lacking even a basic lock. “Perfect.”

Casually opening the door, Ravenknight walks into the library and gazes in avarice wonder at the large collection of books. Finally decomposing herself, she walks up to the nearest shelf and looks at the title of the book, to make sure that this time, she found the correct library.

“Runes and Hexes from the Medium-Expert to the Semi-Divine,” smiling happily, she reaches a hand towards the tome. “Yup, this is the place!” As her hand touches the book, it sizzles with magical power before fizzling out, removing any runes or charms placed on it. Placing the tome in her bag, Ravenknight moves to take as many books as she can cram in her sack.

Sitting in the alternate reality, Lord01 chats with Godofbeer on the relative merit of adding wheat to beer.

“Now, one of the ancient civilizations I used to brown the wheat before they added it,” the ancient god begins. “Really gave their beers a…”

Suddenly distracted, Lord01 pauses.

“Excuse me a moment,” he says quickly, and disappears.

Azzageddi and Lord77 break from their conversation and look at Godofbeer with surprise.

“What did you say to dad?” Lord77 asks.

The beer god, a surprised look on his face, responds. “I don’t know. We were talking about wheat beer, and suddenly, he vanished.”

Lord77 looks back at Azzageddi, and says. “This can’t be good.”

As Ravenknight continues to load her sack with tomes, she suddenly hears a aged voice behind her.

“Looking for and early death?”

Spinning, she sees Lord01 standing behind her, arms folded, and a very displeased look on his face.

“You’re that pirate’s heroine, aren’t you?”

Ravenknight, stunned at the ancient god’s sudden appearance, stutters. “J-just considering some light reading.”

Lord01 reaches over and removes the gloves from the heroine’s hands.

“Interesting toys. I’m going to have to look at these. My shielding should have stopped them.”

Setting them down, he then relieves Ravenknight of her bag of loot.

“Tell you what. Since you like adventure, for the gift of those gloves, I’ll provide you some,” and waving his hand, Ravenknight disappears.

As the god turns, he sees Norman and Mitzi have appeared behind the bunnies. Flower squeals and hugs the wizard, while Mitzi approaches Lord01.

“Was that Ravenknight?” she asks.

“If that’s her name, then sure,” the ancient god responds.

“What did you do to her?”

“Oh, just gave her something else to excite herself over today.”

-—-

In a far off swamp, Ravenknight suddenly finds herself in knee-deep water. The cool, library air is displaced by hot, muggy atmosphere.

“Oh, great!” she laments. “And, I was that close to having all those nice…”

“What do you think, Harv?” A voice sounds from behind her, forcing her to spin to see two of the largest alligators she could ever imagine.

“I think, Merv, that I’m hungry,” the second one responds, chilling the blood in Ravenknight’s veins. “You want the top or bottom?”

“I’m feeling like some leg meat today, Harv,” as both reptiles advance, Ravenknight flees for her now limited life, hoping that next her resurrection will not include teeth marks.

Lord01 looks to the group assembled in his library.

“Now, you all want to tell me why you’re here?”

Mitzi responds. “There’s a raid going on at the Watch House, and Ravenknight was part of it. She took the other bunnies her to sack your library.”

Lord01’s eyebrows raise in response. “Oh, really? I’ll have to inform the others.”

Mitzi, showing great concern then adds, “Is everybody OK? Is the Godbinder dead?”

Lord01 nods. “Yes, the Nasty has been dealt with. A few nicks and bruises, unfortunately in the team. They’re recuperating.”

Turning to Norman, he finishes. “I see you’ve mastered that translocation spell. Nice…Now how about getting everybody back to the temple while I go get the others from Ravey’s place?”

And, the god vanishes.

The air in Ravey’s dojo stirs and Lord01 reappears. In his hands are a couple of gloves, recently worn by the bird god’s heroine.

“Birdy,” Lord01 snarls. “I believe these belong to you,” he finishes, tossing the gloves at Never More. “I would appreciate you not sending your minions into my home to steal my books.”

“Interesting spell on those things. That little lesson learned is what is keeping you in feathers right now. Though, she wouldn’t have gotten far with them. Just like you learned, the hard way, tomes can be spell protected. Mine are linked to me…” suddenly, a faraway look comes over the ancient god, “…as you’re about to see.”

Snapping his fingers, the sack of stolen tomes appears next to the god. A second snap sends them back to the library.

“Nice recovery, by the way. I was going to tell you that you’ll need to resurrect your heroine. Seems my friends didn’t get their meal.”

Turning to Azzageddi, Lord01 states, “It appears that there is some commotion at the Watch House. A raid of some kind. Looks like the time to mend is over and you and your friends need to get back. I would suggest starting at sonny’s temple. I’ve already sent our young wizard and his friends back there.”

Pointing at Never More, “As for you, my little feathered pirate,” he snarls, “go find some other treasure to plunder, or risk spending the rest of your existence stuck in a cage! A very, small cage!”

“I’ll stop first at my library and restock my shelves. I’ll meet you at the hall once you’ve settled things.” And, again, the god vanishes.

Safely hidden in Leonard’s basement workshop, Manoel turns to his master with a worried look under his bushy mustache.

“Señor, maybe it is time we activate di sploding treebs, no?”

“Exploding tribbles?” Leonard looks confused. “What do you mean, exploding tribbles? I created tribbles that put everyone to sleep when they start singing, not some kind of furry hand grenades!”

“Pero… di recipe you give me… it be for sploding treebs!”

“What?! Let me see that recipe!”

“Aqui está, señor. See? Where you write ‘Add napalm in generous amounts.’”

“You idiot! This is a recipe for the Hogswatch firecrackers!!”

“Oh… so, when di treebs start singing…”

“We will all be blown to bits, yes.”

“And what we do now?”

“Well, we really should go check on our Mistress’ temple… We haven’t been there since construction was finished.”

“A good idea, señor. Di best idea you have today!”

After Lord01 vanishes, Mitzi stands staring at where he was.

Flower squeeeees and grabs Norman, hugging him tightly. “You came to save me!” she squeals.

“Ah, well…I did try…” he mumbles, sounding vaguely disappointed that he didn’t get to save her.

“Oh don’t be silly! You would’ve totally saved me!” She begins to cover him with kisses.

Twilight looks sad that her new friend Ravenknight is gone, and then she hears a sob. "She turns to look at the source, and says, “Aunt Mitzi?” Pasha rushes over to Mitzi and cuddles her.

Mitzi has removed her helmet and dropped it on the ground. Hands to her face, she is crying, trying not to make any noise but not quite succeeding. Twilight bounces over and hugs her around the thighs, and Norman and Flower come over as well, Flower hugging her and Pasha gently, and Norman, after some hesitation, putting his arms around all four of them.

“It’s OK,” he whispers to her. “They’re all OK. See? I told you.”

She nods. “I was really worried. I don’t think I even knew how worried I was.”

BAMPH!!! The air is displaced thunderously as seven gods appear in the room.

BAMPH!!! With an enormous clap of displaced air, seven gods, Azzageddi, Susan Sto Helit, Lord77, Godofbeer, Nyrini, Ravenvalykre, and Never More, all appear in Lord77’s temple. Azzageddi is wearing a sling to support his left arm; Nyrini still has red strips on her skin that reveal where she was wounded recently and not yet fully healed.

Lord77 crows, “Man, it’s good to be home again! I have had enough of thin ascetic pallets to last me a lifetime.” To Ravenvalykre he says, “Seriously, what’s wrong with a real bed, Ravey?” Ravey shakes his head and doesn’t deign to answer.

Seeing the gods return, the little group of hugging bunnies, plus Norman the wizard, breaks up. Twilight immediately bounces over to Nyrini, yelling “MAMA!!!” and flinging herself onto the wounded goddess, while Flower laughs and grabs Lord77 joyfully and gives him a big kiss on the cheek, making him blush and look at both Susan and Norman with one of those “Hey, look, I’m not kissing her back” expressions. Pasha cries out, “Susan!” and hugs her around the waist.

Mitzi, her face still wet with tears, runs to Azzageddi and suddenly stops as she sees his arm. Then she looks over at Nyrini and sees the signs of the even worse wounds that she has sustained. “You’re…you’re hurt…I thought….you were late and I thought…” Azz steps forward and embraces her tightly with one arm, saying, “I’m sorry.”

Twilight slips down to stand again and tugs at Nyrini’s hand to bring her over to Azz and Mitzi. Nyrini hesitates, but Azz sees the two of them and reaches out a burly arm to scoop them both in. He slips his left arm out of the sling—it seems weak but usable, and he holds them, the three closest members of his family.

Amid all this, Pasha lets go of Susan and jumps on Godofbeer with a laugh, catching him off-guard and making him stumble slightly. She gives him a big kiss that starts out friendly but turns into something more, before pulling her face back and grinning at him. She looks down at his belt. “Nice sword, but I thought the guitar-axe was more your style.”

“Oh…uh…broke it,” he says, blushing.

“Oh well,” she says, “beer will take care of that.” Then she springs away and goes to hug Ravenvalykre and give him a friendly kiss on the cheek, before finally confronting Never More.

“Hey!” she shouts. “Your stupid pirates really messed up our place!”

Never More, looking innocent, says, “I was with these guys. If my subordinates chose to conduct an unauthorized raid in my absence, I assure you I had nothing—”

“Oh come off it!” Pasha retorts. “Alicia was here on your orders! She kidnapped me an’ Flower and Twi, too! And I was naked!”

Everybody pauses to look at Pasha wearing only a stylish but overlarge captain’s jacket, realizing that she must have nothing on underneath.

“Alicia?” Never More sighs. “She got friendly with the prisoners again, did she? Anyway, even if I did have something to do with this, which I didn’t, the way you guys treated me—”

“ENOUGH!” roars Azzageddi, standing, his voice loud enough to silence everyone, his face darkening with tattoos. “Pasha, do you want to press charges?”

She looks at Never More. “Naahhhh. Alicia was actually really nice in her way. Besides, under the circumstances, I think I’m keepin’ this jacket as booty!”

“Flower?” he asks. “Oh no,” she replies. “Ravenknight was quite gentle with Twi and defended her when she was scared.” “Yeah!” Twilight says, “She told the monsters to stop scarin’ me!”

“Monsters?” asks Azz. Pasha murmurs, “It was some of Iduna’s pets—they were on our side, but pretty scary in the confusion.” Azz nods.

“And what about the raid itself?” Azz asks Mitzi.

Acting Sergeant Mitsumi dries her eyes and straightens. “Well, there’s a lot of damage, but I have to admit, the worst was caused by us when the chocolate fountain flooded Ravenvalykre’s underground chambers.”

Ravey goes pale at this, thinking of all his reagents, his technomagical items, his poisons and clothes and…everything. Then he sighs.

“Sorry,” Mitzi says to him. “Um, some things were stolen, mostly old equipment that we really ought to have replaced anyway. But some more important things might have been taken. And there were some minor injuries, but as far as I know, nobody was seriously hurt or killed…except some cheeses and bottles of milk, and, uh, I think many of our fire-breathing vampire bats were turned into a smoothie and drunk by Dragolord.”

“Never More,” Azzageddi says, after taking a moment to be disgusted by this last bit of news. “Your guild is going to return or compensate us for every penny of lost and damaged property.”

“Now wait a minute!” the pirate god splutters.

“That is,” Azzageddi intones darkly, “if you don’t want things between our guilds to get very, very bad. Besides…do you really want to be crowing triumphantly about stealing old boots from a police station while nearly all its gods were away? Is that the image you want? The way I see it, your guild barely managed to fight one god and a crew of bunnies to a draw.”

“Grr…fine!” He stalks over to Azzageddi and points a finger at his face. “But—I will no longer be treated with disrespect in the future! You high-and-mighty cops, coming onto my ship, into my cabin, threatening me! Did you think I was going to take that sitting down?”

They stare at each other for a long moment. Then, Azzageddi relaxes. “No, of course not. You are right—we shouldn’t have done that.” He holds out his hand. Never More looks at it, then shakes it.

Azzageddi smiles, checks to make sure the pirate didn’t manage to steal his hand, then says, “All right, everyone, let’s go back to our home-sweet-home! Surely we’ll have a lot to clean up, but fortunately the worst is over. Let’s go see if there are any unbroken bottles at the bar!”

“Hmmm…”

“What is it, raven god?” Lord77 asks the raven pirate.

“I know I’m forgetting something important. Something I needed to do to make sure my fir- oh. Oh boy.”

“What? What did you do?”

“Well, it’s not what I did as much as what she’s doing,” answers Never More as he slowly backs away. Suddenly, the pirate turns into a raven and attempts to fly out of the temple.

“Not so fast,” Susan Sto Helit cautions the bird, raising her scythe to block his flight. “What did you mean by-” Susan’s face contorts into anger as she realizes “This is a regular raven! He’s gone!”

Almost simultaneously, shouts can be heard coming from the direction of the Watchhouse.

- — -

“Finally! I found them.” Ravenknight praises herself on finding the cells for the Watch’s prisoners. “Open these up, and it’s back home we go.” Pulling out her nitrogen sprayer, she begins spraying the cell bars, causing them to freeze and shatter. “Wakey-wakey, boys and girls,” Ravenknight calls out to the inmates. “It’s time to bust out of this joint!” Though most of the prisoners are too confused or idiotic to figure out what’s going on, the quickest understand and start running towards where they hope is the nearest exit.

Suddenly, a raven lands on Ravenknight’s shoulder. Recognizing the bird’s aura instantly, she reports, “I’ve just released the inmates, my Lord.”

“Good, good,” Never More hurriedly replies. “Now let’s get out of here, now!”

“Yes, sir!”

As the returned gods enter the bar they see Anne standing at the bar, her face stony. “YOU LEFT ME HERE! AND A NOTE! ONLY A NOTE TO TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON?” she shrieks, lightning crashing around her.

“Hiya Anne, nice outfit,” smirks Lord77.

“The girl knows how to fill a breastplate,” sniggers Godofbeer, nudging and winking at Nyrini.

“Don’t even try it,” she says to them, glaring. “You left me here, in charge, the only god in the place, and only a note to let me know?! Oh, and the enlistment register. Very nice!” she spat, turning back to Azzageddi. “If you didn’t know, we got raided! And who had to organize defending this place? Me and Mitz! And then the moat flooded Ravey’s basement and the hippos came back, and we needed the llamas-and-the-bats and-Melephis-laughed-at-me, andSashagottakencaptiveandPashaandFlowerandTwiwentmissing n’Normygotangryn’Ifellintothesinkn’thebatsaregonnaeatyou!! andandand…”

As Anne rants on, becoming increasingly unintelligible, Agnes walks around in front of the hysterical goddess and lands a well-placed slap across Anne’s cheek. The small goddess stands there, stunned. “That was Perdita wasn’t it Agnes?” Agnes nods, not trusting herself to speak.

Turning back to the other gods, “I’m so glad you’re all back!” squeals Anne, flinging her arms around Azz’s neck (leaving her feet dangling more than a foot off the floor). Azzageddi hugs her back, apologizing. Climbing back down to the floor, Anne continues, berating them all. “Don’t you ever leave me again! And never, ever, ever leave me in charge again! Now, who do I hug first?”

Over at the bar, Agnes turns to Peaky and asks, “You know she’s always like this?”

“I know…” he says with a wink. “I like it.”

“Are ye quite finished Missy Anne?” interrupts Sasha, “only, this place, it’s a mess, I’ve seen cleaner pigsties, ye ken?”

“Yes, you are right dear Sasha, come on everyone, it’ll be much easier if we all work together. Why don’t we sing a little song? "

Up on the battlement Manoel and Leonard stand next to a barrel of potentially explosive tribbles.

“I only wanted them to sing you know” says Leonard.

“Si Señor, but your instructions, they no so good.”

“What if the pirates come back?”

“Weeelll…” says Manoel, “We haf the Pup-a-pult Senorita Bella, she lend us. Maybe we put the treebs in the pup-a-pult and shoot se treebs at se pirate sheep?”

In the bar Azz turns to Anne and asks, “Do you have any idea about how to get rid of the bats? I really don’t relish the notion of being a bat-buffet again.”

“I suppose catching them is out of the question?”

“Probably, and I refuse to provide the bait this time.”

“Oh…” replies Anne, “I’m wondering if Agnes can help us out? Bats have very good hearing you know. Agnes my dear? How do you feel about having a little sing?”

“Let me guess, it’s not over until the fat lady sings? You know I really resent all this stereotyping! I’m more than just a fat girl!”

“Yeah,” adds a seemingly disembodied voice. “There’s a thin girl and a cart-load of chocolate here too!”

“Shut up Perdita!” chorus Anne and Agnes.

“Fine. I’ll do it.”

“Wonderful!” exclaims Anne as the pair walk to the stage. “Can everyone go to the windows, I have a surprise for you all.” As Agnes begins to sing, the fire-breathing vampire bats fly out, beyond the confines of the Watch house.

As they fly a loud twanging noise can be heard, like the release of a pup-a-pult lanyard.

“YOU EEEEDIOT SEÑOR!! No pirates, dost bats! You throw di esploding treebs at di fire-breathy bitey bats!”

As the bats fly into their final formation, tribbles begin to explode in the air around them, like fluffy fireworks.

There is a collective gasp as the bats hover in the air outside the Watch house, spelling out the words THANK YOU before they fly off into the distance.

It is 12 o’clock at the Watch house, and aside from the smell of exploded tribble, all is well.

The place cleaned up, even the chocolate magically removed from the moat and Ravenvalykre’s chambers (it was attracting flies…and bees), hippos shooed away back to the river, bats frightened off by exploding tribbles, over-amorous llamas removed to Lord77’s ranch where even now the beasts are attempting to create a new half-llama half-cow species, passed-out pirates, gnomes, and constables sent home or to the hospital as needed, the group finally settles down at and around the bar.

They notice some newcomers: several raggedy-looking individuals with prison tats. Mitzi says, “Hello, Rocco. What are you doing out of your cell?”

The prisoner grooms his long mustache and says, “Well, Sarge, it’s like this, see…oh and congrats on yer promotion—”

“It’s not official yet,” she says.

“Ah, well…Some crazy waffle guy came in, and then a hot pirate chick, all in black, and she sprayed some gas on the bars and set us free.”

“Great,” says Mitzi. “So why didn’t you run?”

“Ahhh, we knew you’d catch us later. And me and the boys was hungry. Thought we’d come and get our dinner before you put us back in the regular cells downstairs.”

“Very wise of you, Rocco. You and the others, go get some food from Queeg. He must be in the kitchen…”

“No, he isn’t!” shouts Aliyaa. “And somebody disintegrated that flimsy door on our bedroom closet and stole his harpoon! And some of my underwear too, I think!”

“Queequeg’s been stolen? All right, Corporal, that’s your assignment: find him.”

“Yes maam!” Aliyaa salutes. “I’ll get right on it, after a drink.”

Mitzi looks annoyed. “I guess we’re going to have to do a full inventory for our compensation claim for the SRPG. I wonder if anything else valuable got stolen?”

Rocco clears his throat. “Beggin yer pardon, Sarge, but the waffle guy was goin’ on about grabbing some ultimate cure thingy upstairs from the cells.” He puts his finger beside his head and twirls it, making a “cuckoo” sound.

“Huh…I wonder what we were keeping up there. Well, anybody else notice anything missing?”

Sasha and Pasha pop up from behind the bar, gasping for air. “Um, maybe we’d better check our bedroom!” suggests Pasha.

“Excellent idea, Pashy!” replies Sasha. They grab hands and run off giggling.

Mitzi rolls her eyes, then looks over in surprise when she hears Pasha say, “OH COME ON!” and Sasha say, “Oh, she looks just like an angel! An evil, piratical angel!”

Pasha comes stomping back to the bar, muttering about a lack of privacy, while Sasha explains that they’ve discovered Bellatrixie asleep in their bed. “She fell asleep there at the party that time, so perhaps it was like a homing instinct! I suppose she got a bit tipsy…we did offer free drinks to anyone who helped us in our hour of need, after all!”

“I was wondering where she went,” says Mitzi. “You know, she’s actually pretty good with a sword. Well, maybe she’ll come join us later.”

She sits down next to Azz, who says, “You don’t mind her joining us?”

“Of course not,” Mitzi says. “Long as she doesn’t lead you into backsliding. How’s your arm?”

“Kinda like I slept on it all night. Tingly. The feeling is coming back.”

Sasha and Pasha get to work pouring drinks, and Azz stands to propose a toast. “Friends, we’ve all had adventures, and we have triumphed. Let us drink to the two best things in the world: being alive, and being with those we love. Kanpai!”

Godofbeer raises his glass, “I don’t know what ‘kanpai’ means, but I’ll drink to that.” He drains his glass, looks at it for a moment, and turns to Pasha. “This isn’t my normal mug. Where’s my mug?”

Pasha chuckles, “I don’t know, it must have gotten misplaced in all the chaos. I’m sure it’ll turn up around here somewhere.” She laughs and shakes her head. “Seriously? You go up against a dangerous god, the watch house gets raided, several of us get kidnapped, and you’re worried about your favorite mug?”

“It’s a great mug,” the beer god replies, his face drawn into an exaggerated pout, “It’s just the right size and it has my name on it. I love that mug.”

A laugh erupts from the end of the bar. Pasha and Godofbeer turn to see Melephis, still shackled to the bar, smiling at them. “That rum god took it. I believe his exact words were ‘Let’s see how that fat, hippie beer god likes this’. I think you fit that description.”

The beer god’s expression shifts from confused, to shock, and then, finally, to anger. “He took my mug? That pompous, overdressed, pirate wannabe stole MY mug? That’s it! I’m gonna kill him! I’m gonna rip him to shreds! I’m gonna spread tiny, rum soaked pieces of pirate all over that ship!”

As everyone’s eyes turn towards the shouting beer god, Pasha reaches out and grabs his arm. “You can’t kill him over a mug. It’s just a mug, you can get another one just like it.”

“It’s not about the mug,” Godofbeer replies, his anger fading slightly under Pasha’s touch. “It’s a matter of principle. This was a personal insult directed at me. And he didn’t even have the guts to come while I was here.” He looks at Pasha and sighs as he lets go of a little more of the rage. “He and I are gonna have a talk. I’m not making any promises, but I’ll try to keep it short of lethal. But not by much.” He turns and storms out into the night, heading straight towards the pirate airship.

Lord77 stands near the bar as he watches Susan Sto Helit addressing a small crowd gathered around her and hanging on every word as she modestly describes her part of the operation. A movement beyond her catches his eye as he sees his father has arrived and is off to the far side of the room having a separate conversation with Mitzi. The look in the buga bunny’s eyes initially shows concern, but then softens as she suddenly hugs him. Upon separation, Mitzi joins the group around Susan, and the ancient god slowly makes his way towards his son.

“Everything alright?” Lord77 asks of his father.

“Yeah,” Lord01 responds with a dismissing toss of his hand. “The bunny just wanted to thank me for putting her boyfriend back together. No big deal.”

“Dad, I think Mitzi understands that you are a big deal. You fixed her eye, then put Azzageddi back together. Saved Nyrini from some pretty nasty wounds,” Lord77 chuckles. “I told you that people would want to thank you.”

“Bah! I didn’t come here to be revered.”

“Then, why did you come, dad?”

Lord01 looks as his son and smirks. “Because you told me to, and the big guy promised me one of those ales,” he says tossing a thumb at a quickly exiting Godofbeer carrying the sword he appropriated from the Godbinder and has murder in his eyes.

“What’s with him?” Lord01 asks.

“One of the raiders stole his mug. He’s going to get it back and instruct the other god never to do it again.”

“Hmm..” Lord01 muses. “For a beer god, I guess that’s fair.”

“So, dad. Back to the point. Could it be that you finally got tired of holding up in your mausoleum?” Lord77 challenges.

The ancient god steals Lord77’s ale from him and takes a drink. Lowering it, he snarls. “I should never have taught you to talk, you do it too much.”

Setting the glass down, he continues. “Besides, there is something I need for you to do right now that will give you something to do other than practice amateur psychology.”

Lord77 sensing a note of concern inquires, “What’s that?”

In a low voice, the ancient god replies, “Get back over to that Nasty’s hideout and translocate all of his papers, books, weapons, anything not nailed to the floor to my building. Store it in the corner by the couch. I don’t know what all that beast had going on, but we need to review it. And, I certainly don’t want somebody walking away with bound weapons.” Looking towards the door where Godofbeer exited, Lord01 adds, “I’ll take care of reliving that sword from the big guy.”

Nodding, Lord77 replies, “Understood. OK. I’ll be back soon.” And, setting down his glass, the younger god raises his arm and disappears.

Susan, noting the departure, looks at Lord01 with a questioning look. “Just doing some clean-up, girl,” he replies shortly and turns back to his glass. Catching Sasha’s eye, he states. “Dearie. That big guy was to leave me some Klatchian ale. Would you be so good as to pour me one?”

As Godofrum finishes setting up the Battlerager Breastplate display, he hears heavy footsteps coming in to the trophy room. “I see ye got my message,” he says calmly as he turns to face the newcomer. He laughs as he sees the look of hatred on the beer god’s face. “Ye don’t seem too pleased ta see me, Beero!”

“Well,” the beer god begins, walking steadily forward, “You can be very annoying when you want to be. And you always want to be.”

The rum god takes a moment to pretend to be hurt by the comment before ducking behind one of the displays. “Not nearly as annoyin’ as yerself, hops breath. Ye big, beer swillin’ landlubber jest can’t tell a good conversation when ye hears one.”

“Why do you talk like that?” Godofbeer asks, coldly stalking the rum god. “You didn’t used to sound like the loser in a ‘talk like a pirate’ contest.”

Godofrum maneuvers to put another display between himself and the angry god. “This be my normal speech, ye scurvy dog! Speech befittin’ the god of all rum!”

“You do know that pirates didn’t really talk like that, don’t you? It just sounds ridiculous.” Godofbeer’s fist clench as he tries to move within striking distance.

“I am a pirate and this is how we talk. Bob’ll tell ye, jest ask him and see.”

The beer god rolls his eyes, “Don’t even get me started on Bob. It’s bad enough that you walk around with that fake parrot on your shoulder, but the fact that you carry on conversations with it is insane.”

“Bob is NOT fake! He is my best friend, a far better friend than ye’ll ever have!” His anger makes the rum god forget that he was retreating. He is rudely reminded by a punch that sends him flying across the room to land flat on his back on the cold, hard floor.

“MY friends were put in danger by your little stunt,” the beer god growls through clenched teeth as he approaches the slowly rising god of rum. “Where… is… my… mug?”

Godofrum raises his hands in a placating gesture, “I don’t have it. Winey took it.”

The beer god pauses as the implications of that statement register on his brain. “You… gave my mug to Godofwine?”

“T’was his idea that I snatch it in the first place,” the rum god replies, gingerly rubbing the spot on his face where Godofbeer’s punch had landed. “He wanted yer mug and I be owin’ him for past favors. He’s fer making sure that ye be attendin’ this year’s meetin’.” “The conclave?” Godofbeer asks, confusion obvious on his face and in his voice. “I haven’t been to the conclave in decades. I don’t want any part of that nonsense.”

“On that point, we be of like minds. I’m not fer havin’ any dealings with that bilge rabble meself, but I been told that my attendance be mandatory.” The rum god fixes his fellow alcohol god with a stare. “The conclave meets just a few days hence, ye know where and when. If’n ye’re wantin’ that mug back, I’ll be seein’ ye there.”

Godofbeer ponders taking another swing at the rum god, but his mind quickly dismisses that idea in order to focus on the larger problem. He couldn’t think of any reason that Godofwine would want him at the conclave. The two had usually been diametrically opposed on every issue, with the charismatic wine god generally getting his way. He knew that the smart thing to do would be to simply forget about it and buy himself another mug. Of course, doing the smart thing had never been his strong suit, and there was no way he would rest comfortably until he knew what the wine god was up to. He took a moment to growl once more at the rum god before turning and walking back out into the night.

Never More steps back into his cabin, wisely deciding not to get involved with the commotion in the next room where two alcoholic gods are having a “discussion” over a stolen mug. “It’s like I can’t have some quiet around here for five seconds anymore,” he laments.

Only short steps into his room, he stops, quickly acknowledging that he isn’t alone. “Oh, now what do YOU want?!” he snaps.

“Birdy, you and I have some unfinished business,” Lord01 responds, sitting in the chair by the pirate’s desk.

“What business?! I did what you asked and got my butt zapped for it. I still flinch when I have to touch a book! What do you want now?!”

“Your weapons. I want her back.”

Looking down at his cutlass and pistol, Never More responds, “Sorry old one, can’t do that,” and snapping his fingers, the pirate’s turrets train on the ancient god.

Lord01, seeing the attempted threat, growls and waves his hand. Each turret is replaced with a potted plant. “Don’t mess with me, junior!”

Never More looks at his turrets, now plants, astonished. “They were magic shielded,” he stammers.

“Next time, get a better wizard,” Lord01 snaps back as he stands and relieves the pirate of his weapons, placing them on the desk. “And, if you’re good, I’ll change them back when I leave.”

Now, fretting over the weapons, Never more starts, “But, my powers…”

“We’ll worry about your powers later, birdy. It took me a bit of remembering to place the tone of the goddess in your weapons. I thought I was just losing my memory. But, in truth, I think I was just trying not to remember. It’s time I atone for my stupidity.”

Stepping back, the ancient god begins reciting complex spells. Initially weaving a pattern, he summons a shapeless form to the side of the desk. “Got to give her something to inhabit,” he murmurs as he continues spell casting.

Suddenly the weapons glow, and a white-hued nimbus brightly launches into the shapeless form, causing it to shine and recast, finally gaining definition and resulting in the shape of a female goddess…a very angry female goddess – The Morrigan.

Lying on the table, she props herself up on her elbows, staring around her. Her hair is long and flowing, black and glossy as a raven’s wings, her eyes a piercing green. She is young, and her beauty nearly makes Lord01 forget to breathe, but suddenly he whips a blanket off the arm of a chair and puts it over her. Blinking her eyes to focus, the goddess rises, holding the blanket, first looking at Never More, and then turning her attention on…him.

“Morrigan,” Lord01 nearly whispers as he casts his eyes on the goddess for the first time in ages.

“YOU!” She screeches, her face and body transforming, aging, from lovely youth to a more mature beauty, and then to a raging, iron-haired harridan in an instant. “How did you find me?! And, you, pirate!” She again snarls pointing a finger at Never More. “Our deal was for you to hide me from him.”

“Well, in truth, goddess, you never really told me who ‘him’ was,” Never More tries to explain as he steps back.

“Enough!” She yells, cutting him off. Flaming eyes then turn towards the ancient god. “And, you!” She screams, her anger at a high pitch, the cawing of battle-feasting ravens echoing in her voice. “I told you that I NEVER wanted to see you again!”

Uncharacteristically, Lord01 stands quietly and takes the abuse from the irate goddess.

“So, why didn’t you leave me alone?!” Morrigan challenges him. “What did you want so badly as to risk the wrath of the Mórríoghain, the Triple Goddess of Battle, Sovereignty, and Strife?”

“To tell you that I was sorry,” Lord01 says in a very soft, even tone.

As if hit by a blow, the goddess halts and looks at the ancient god as she tries to grasp what she heard.

“You’re sorry?” She repeats his words and receives a confirming nod. Her body transforms again, back to maturely beautiful, tall and imperious. “I never thought I would hear those words from you.”

Lord01 still stands unemotionally before the goddess. Then, in measured words, begins. “It took awhile, Morey. I was so involved in my work, so certain that I had to go alone, that I didn’t think of what that would mean to you. It wasn’t until after I returned that I realized how wrong I was. But, by that time, you were gone, and I couldn’t find you to tell you how sorry I was.”

Morrigan, now quiet, intently reads the face of Lord01 and finds only truth.

“I wish you had come to that decision earlier,” she complains, but without her previous fury.

“I know. I was foolish. It took you leaving for me to realize that,” Lord01 confesses. More heartbeats pass before finally Morrigan, her rage spent, takes a step towards the ancient god. He opens his arms, and she steps forward entering his embrace.

“I should punish you for what you did to me, you know,” she says into his ear, even as her embrace tightens around him.

“And, I would deserve it. But, please come back with me first,” he responds.

“Ahem…” Never More interrupts, and both deities glance at him. “If you lovebirds are all good, would you please be so kind as to exit my ship? You’ve already ruined my armament and…taken away my powers.” He finishes with a sign, slumping into a seat on a nearby chair.

Morrigan looks at the crestfallen pirate, then back at Lord01. “A little piece,” she says. “Really?!” Lord01 looks at her, astonished.

“Yes. But, be quick about it.”

“OK, my love,” the ancient god responds, and then stepping back, begins to cast another complex spell.

Never More looks up at the god and goddess with a confused look as the goddess closes her eyes and suddenly exhales as if pained. A short, but brilliant flash of nimbus light leaps from her and once again settles on the weapons. She then opens her eyes.

“Pirate, you’re lucky I’m feeling magnanimous today. I’ve left a small piece of myself in your weapons. Enough to give you your powers back. But…” she adds as her eyes narrow, “…it will also make me aware of what you are doing and how you are treating my children,” she states waving her hands towards the assembled collection of ravens. “Treat them well, and you may keep your powers.”

“Really? That’s where you draw the line, huh?” Never More asks with skepticism. “It’s OK to, say plunder another guild, so long as I treat the flock well.”

“Your activities don’t interest me, pirate,” Morrigan responds.

“It’s murder, pirate,” Lord01 states.

“Come again?” Never More inquires.

“A group of ravens is a murder, not a flock,” responds the ancient god.

“Ah. Yes. I thought you were blessing my activities. I generally don’t use that particular term with others as it makes them nervous. I got used to generalizing it, sorry. But, as long as your girlfriend is feeling generous, how about…” Never More nods his head towards the collection of flower pots that used to be turrets.

Lord01 mummers. “Yeah, fine,” and waving his hand, returns them to their prior form. “You do know that firing them would only leave a big hole in your ship, right?”

“Well…sure. They’re kind of there to be intimidating anyway, not really to use.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Lord01 turns towards Morrigan. “There are others I would like for you to meet. One of them you haven’t seen in a long time—my son.”

“Really!” She responds with enthusiasm. “The last time I saw him he was drooling in the corner and pooping on himself.”

“Well, that part may not have changed. All depends on whether his beer god friend got to him or not.”

As the deities fade off, Never More hears, “There’s a god for that now?”

The mixture of movements, conversations and laughter mask the magical arrival of Lord01 and Morrigan. Still in her mature-beauty form, Morrigan leans towards the ancient god inquiring. “What is this place?”

“This is the local law-enforcement establishment. Current incarnation of it is the ‘City Watch,’ although most of the time as I understand, it isn’t the city as much as their beer glasses that are under watch.”

“Charming,” Morrigan comments as she glances around the room noting pockets of celebration, conversation, and overall social intercourse occurring. “So, where’s your son?”

“At the end of the bar, looking nervous for some reason.”

“Oh, yes! I can see the resemblance now,” the goddess notes. “And the two by him?”

“The male is the head of the watch, a devil turned god, and a refugee from Mardi no less,” Lord01 notes.

“Really! So, you weren’t able to cap them in?”

“Oh, they’re all sealed in Mardi, all right. That one came through before I finished the work. Decent enough chap when he’s not all red-skinned and horned. Oh, and the lady is Death’s granddaughter, Susan something-or-other.”

“Astonishing! Death has a granddaughter?! How?”

“You know, dear, I never really got into that topic with old boney. I only recently learned that fact myself, and my dealings with him since haven’t allowed me the luxury to ask,” Lord01 finishes. “Shall I introduce you?”

“Please do. They seem like a very interesting group.”

As the two ancient deities cross the room towards the bar, Susan catches eye of them first. Nodding in their direction, Azzageddi follows her look and then taps Lord77 on the arm; whereupon he turns from his attempt at “enhanced nerve settling via amber liquids” to notice the couple.

“Oh, crap…” Lord77 exclaims under his breath.

“Who is that?” Susan asks.

“I think your dad has a girlfriend,” Azzageddi surmises.

“It’s worse than that, brother,” Lord77 responds in a low voice as the couple come into earshot.

“Folks,” Lord01 opens as the three, now all standing, meet the ancient ones. “I would like to introduce to you the Mórríoghain, the Triple Goddess of Battle, Sovereignty, and Strife, sister of the god Nuada, and up until our now patched-up schism, one of my closest and dearest companions.”

“Please, call me Morrigan,” the goddess adds as she gets introductions from Azzageddi and Susan.

“It’s an honor to finally meet you, Lady,” Azzageddi says, taking her hand and bowing over it. “I’ve…followed your work.” His voice betrays a slight nervousness.

Finally turning to Lord77, she says. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, offspring. Good to see you in clothes now.”

Lord77 takes Morrigan’s hand, initially speechless. Finally, he hesitantly starts, “Dad has said so much about you to me in the past, but I thought you had faded like Nuada did.”

Morrigan laughs and then responds, “Oh, dear me, no. I was around. Your father just made me so furious that I had to leave and find a place to cool down. It was that or take my frustration out on some innocent population and drive them into war.”

Releasing her hand, Lord77 notes, “Yeah, well, dad can have that effect on some people.”

Azzageddi, not able to restrain himself any longer inquires, “Lord01, before you left, you mentioned something about Lordy’s mother, and then you bring this lovely lady here who calls him offspring. May I infer…?”

Lord01 scratches the back of his head, and then responds. “Yeah, I guess that requires some explanation. Even sonny-boy here doesn’t really know all the particulars.”

Continuing, the ancient god explains. “You see, I knew that I needed somebody else to carry on in my work in the future. Nagele was a mortal and had passed. Nuada, great friend that he was, was a warrior, not a scholar. And, we were working at the time on the ability to unbind pieces of our essences. If the piece is small enough, you can recover, effectively growing it back. So, I realized that I could unbind small pieces of different gods and take those essences, combine them, and it would be significant enough to start a new lifeforce.

“That’s where sonny comes in.” Lord01 continues. “Most of his essence came from me. But pieces came from Morrigan here, Nuada, and a few others that were with us. Morrigan was the only female. So, I loosely use the term ‘mother’. But, technically, sonny is a part of her, just like he’s a part of Nuada, which is why that sword identifies with you, by the way. It senses another part of itself in you, boy.”

“I sort of wondered about that,” Lord77 muses.

“So, you took all these pieces and made up a new god?” Susan asks.

“Not quite. And, as a matter of fact, that whole process kind of pissed off your granddad,” Lord01 responds. “Let me explain that.”

“So, I had these pieces of essences, but they were small even in combination, yet large enough to define the start of a new life. But, the life would have to start small, like an infant, and then nurture the essence, growing it as the new life matured. That’s where the experimentation started. After seventy-six attempts, and seventy-six failures, I was getting close. It may take thirty more tries, but it was going to work. Death knew it, and he was unhappy about it. A new life was going to be made outside of his domain. So, after number seventy-six, he shows up, and in his calm, impassioned way, he starts chewing me a new one.”

“YOU SHOULD NOT BE CREATING LIFE…blah blah blah,” Lord01 mimics. “He was pretty upset for one who has no nerves. So, we compromised. He put together the hourglass and using his magic, we were successful on number seventy-seven.”

Lord77 shakes his head. “So, I’m a mutt.”

The ancient god snorts and responds, “Most entities are mutts, son. Your girlfriend ain’t exactly original edition either. Truthfully, other than Death, Time, and a few others, all of the entities you’ve met are a mixture of some others in some way. It just depends on how they came to be.”

“What about you?” Susan inquires, a little affronted about being labeled a mixture. “Is the ‘01’ suffix supposed to be a stamp of originality?”

“Oh, cool your britches, girl, I was just making a point. I really don’t know about my own beginnings actually. I was just there. No instruction manual, but lots of time to figure it out. And, no, the ‘01’ was something I added after sonny came around. Acquaintances were getting confused with the name. Up to that point I was always just Lord.”

The Morrigan places her hand on Lord01’s cheek and a sweet voice adds, “But, you’ll always just be ‘Poo-key’ to me.”

“Poo-key?!” Azzageddi repeats as Susan laughs.

Lord01 glares at Azzageddi and snarls, “There’s a world of hurt waiting for you, devil, if you ever call me that!”

As they all laugh, Lord01 snorts, “Ok, very funny. Now how about getting the lady here a drink, son? It’s been some ages since she had the opportunity.”

Susan arrives at her cabin after picking up Silvershade from the local Watch House. Before the wolf cub can follow her in, however, the door slams shut, leaving the poor creature whining and whimpering outside.

Inside the cabin, Susan feels the room shift around her as she is transported to Death’s domain. She stands in the black-on-black gardens of Death, black roses on black stems arranged in black bushes around a small clearing featuring an obsidian fountain.

Creativity was never one of his strengths, Susan muses, sighing inwardly.

Death appears before her, scythe in hand, looking at the goddess through empty eye sockets.

AND NOW IT IS TIME WE SPEAK, he says leaning on his scythe.

Susan nods, walking over to the fountain. “I see…” she says, testing the water’s temperature. “And where will you have me relocate this time?”

Death walks over to his granddaughter, scythe disappearing from his hand. DO YOU SERIOUSLY BELIEVE THAT WHAT YOU HAVE DONE CAN BE SWEPT UNDER THE RUG WITH A SIMPLE RELOCATION?

“So, what will the punishment be?” Susan asks with aggravating serenity.

Death suddenly reaches a hand to her chin, grabbing it with painful abruptness between two bony fingers, forcing her to look up into the void of his empty eyes. PUNISHMENT?! he rumbles. YOUR PUNISHMENT SHOULD BE EXTINCTION!

Susan locks eyes with him, holding his gaze for what feels like eternity. Finally, she smiles at the ever so slight wavering of his angry gaze. “And yet… it isn’t.”

NO. Death releases her from his grip and straightens up again. NOT IF YOU REPENT. A FEW MONTHS WITHOUT YOUR POWERS SHOULD BE ENOUGH TO PLEASE THE AUDITORS.

“No,” is Susan’s immediate and deadpan response.

COME AGAIN?

Susan shakes her head and turns away from her grandfather, walking to the edge of the clearing. “No! I am not sorry for what I’ve done, nor will I give up my powers for any amount of time!”

WHY NOT? Death asks, staring at her back, his voice leveled as ever. I SEEM TO RECALL YOU NEVER WANTED THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE.

“I have grown attached to them.”

AND TO ALL THE HAVOC YOU CAN WREAK WITH THEM ON THE FABRIC OF TIME AND SPACE, IT SEEMS.

Susan turns once again to look at her grandfather, the anger triggered by his words making her hands shake as she walks up to him, her beautiful face contracted in absolute rage. “Wreak havoc? Me? Are you seriously accusing me of betraying the calling?”

YOU HAVE DESTROYED A SOUL, Death states, his voice devoid of emotion.

“And I would again!” Susan yells. “One soul! One measly, pitiful soul,” the goddess nearly spits the words. “Dedicated to entrapping others! How can you believe that one soul is worth the chaos it generates?!”

EVERY SOUL IS SACRED, Death insists.

“Then what about all the others, chained to armor and weapons and books and furniture?! “ Susan cries, gesturing violently in her anger.

THEY EXIST STILL.

“Trapped!” the goddess argues. “Kept from the Wheel of Fate! They might as well be lost!” She throws her hands up. “What is a soul that cannot be released and revived in the endless cycle of life and death?!”

IT IS NOT OUR CHOICE TO MAKE, Death says with infinite patience. WE ARE HERE TO COLLECT, NOT TO DECIDE.

Susan’s voice lowers into acidic hissing as she says, “And as you sit on the sidelines, idly watching as souls slip through your fingers, away from the calling and the Wheel, they – here she gestures toward the edges of the garden as if the godbinders were standing there – will become more powerful and challenge us, all of us, you included. They will be deciding our future and we will be their slaves!”

Death remains impassive at her words. IT IS NOT MY PLACE TO INTERVENE. THERE IS NO VICTORY OR LOSS FOR ME TO CHASE OR FEAR. ALL THERE IS, IS THE CALLING.

Susan’s lips twist into a sneer. “Then tell me, grandfather, when the godbinders and the mages and all the ones who are less than us and yet can do so much more than us take each and every soul and bind it in trinkets, what will be left for us to collect?”

THEIR SOULS, Death insists. THEY TOO MUST DIE.

“And why would they die when they can find eternity in the power and life of gods and men?” Susan sibilates.

EVERYTHING DIES.

Susan nods slowly and looks down, anger transformed into bitter contempt. “Yes. And eventually, I too will fall at their hands, when there is no one left to fight by my side.” She glances up at Death. “Who will obey the calling, then?”

I WILL.

Susan snorts. “You?!” She laughs derisively. “You are a mere product of people’s fears and beliefs, no better than a god, feeding on prayers! And the source of your prayers is as much at risk as ours.”

I AM DEATH. I WILL BE LEFT.

The goddess lowers her voice to little more than a whisper. “Until even you are forgotten. No…” she shakes her head. “Some fates are worse than death.” She turns away, waving him off. “Do as you must. Send me wherever you want. I will find my way back.”

Death grins at this. Alas, he has no option but to grin. OR YOUR LOVER WILL FIND YOU. YOU SAW TO THAT.

Susan looks at him sideways, her eyes flaring icy-blue, her voice carrying a steely edge. “I will not apologize for turning my existence into a life.” She turns to her grandfather to say, “My question is, how much do you value yours?”

Death remains in silence for a long time, the void in his eye sockets moving and turning with impossible depth. Susan looks at him, swearing she can feel him waver, waiting for his reply. After a while, Death summons his scythe again, transporting them back to her cabin, to the sound of Silvershade’s soft cries.

YOU WILL NOT BE RELOCATED, he sentences. YOUR TIME HERE IS DONE.

Susan’s heart skips a beat in shock, but her voice sounds leveled when she raises an eyebrow and asks, “And what exactly does that mean?”

YOU ARE FREE TO GO WHEREVER YOU WANT, Death explains. I WILL MAKE SURE YOU ARE RELEASED FROM YOUR DUTIES HERE.

“I can’t just leave,” Susan argues.

THAT IS YOUR CHOICE. I WILL HAVE YOU RELEASED FROM YOUR BANISHMENT, Death replies, turning away.

“And the Watch House?” Susan insists.

Death waves her off. STAY, IF YOU WANT. LEAVE IF YOU WANT. RETURN TO YOUR FRIENDS. DO AS YOU WISH. YOU ARE FREE.

“Why are you doing this?”

Death turns to look at her as he fades back into his domain. BECAUSE I CAN.