Amcw storylines Mardi and Susan's departure

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Hours later, Susan Sto Helit, Godofbeer, and Azzageddi are still playing poker. As Godofbeer is drunk and Azzageddi is distracted,Susan is winning handily.

Susan Sto Helit: As much as I enjoy taking all your money, gentlemen, it’s not as much fun when you don’t have your head in the game.

Azzageddi: Huh? Oh…yeah. Sorry. Well, this morning I sprung a surprise on Mitzi.

Godofbeer bursts out laughing.

Azzageddi: I mean, I told her I was taking her on a vacation for a few days. To a remote island paradise. Tomorrow.

Susan Sto Helit: And I take it she was not completely happy.

Azzageddi: (wincing) You might say that. Sometimes it’s not easy for me to take mortal concerns into consideration. She has a job, a rookie to train, a gang of non-Guild child pickpockets to save before the Guild of Thieves takes action.

Susan Sto Helit: So delay your trip.

Azzageddi: Actually…I can’t. The portal to Mardi, fictional archipelago of my birth, only opens rarely. It’s tomorrow or…well, I’m actually not sure when the next time will be. I haven’t been back there for over a century.

Susan Sto Helit: Hm…


With a loud bang, the street entrance slams open, Mitzi flying through the air backwards to land flat on her back. A seven-foot-tall tyrranosaurus rex wearing handcuffs on its tiny little arms comes charging in after her, roaring, enormous mouth open to reveal thumb-length fangs.

Suddenly one—two—three tranqued mini-crossbow bolts thunk into its back, and it falls on its chin, sliding across the floor to bump its nose against stunned Mitzi. She pushes herself up to a sitting position to see Syrona dragging a surly bipedal triceratops by its handcuffs, followed by a small feathered velociraptor.

Chickenleg: I was only the driver, I tells ya! I didn’t know they was gonna rob the bank!

Polly Tricorn: Shut UP, Chickenleg! Wait for da lawyah!

Mitzi, shaking off her fall, takes Syrona’s offered hand with a smile: Thanks. All right, let’s get these guys into a jail cell. And I’ll see if Mith Igorina is around to take care of Chompers, there. Good work today, Lance Constable!

Syrona, rubbing a bruised shoulder: You think Mith Igorina has some Motrin?

As she walks past Azzageddi, Mitzi makes eye contact with him but keeps her face neutral.

Susan shuffles the deck one last time, cuts in four separate groups and proceeds to draw and place the cards on the table as an experienced tarot reader would be expected to do. One by one, Susan picks up the cards, looks at the numbers and symbols and proceeds to return them to the deck.

Hmm… interesting… so many quaint events coming our away. And, for some reason, popcorn keeps popping up…

Turns to Azzageddi

Well, Azz, I do think I have a solution to your problem. I have been worrying about the way we train our rookies here and I do think it is time we, senior officers, intervene. So, for the next week, all the rookies will be going through the Susan Sto Helit Intensive Course For AMCW Lance-Constables. I am sure Mitziwill leave with less of a frown on her face. Have a great journey, my friend!

Ravenvalykre: Susan Sto Helit what does this training intel

Azzageddi smiles: Susan, I think that’s a wonderful idea. Thank you. I’ll go talk with her. And…oh… (looks off into the distance, with that “receiving a prayer” expression that gods get) … Well! It seems another problem has been taken care of.

Enter Aliyaa, barefoot for some reason, herding a half-dozen filthy-but-adorable tykes who look like refugees from a production ofOliver! This group is followed by “Flannelfoot” Boggis, head of the Guild of Thieves.

Aliyaa: Right, you pack of terrors! Into the interview room! Your new boss here is going to explain how you can work less and make more money…and not get killed by the Thieves Guild.

Looking exhausted, she pads up to the bar.

Aliyaa: (to Azzageddi) Hey there, Most Holy! (to Susan) Um, hello, Other Divine One. Well, it took all night, but I got them rounded up, and Never More convinced Boggis to recruit them and let bygones be bygones. Boy, do I need a drink!

Azzageddi, after ordering his hero a beer: Good work…but…where are your boots?

Aliyaa: What? (looks down) OH MAAAAAANNN!!! THOSE LITTLE YARD RATS!

(Enter Mitzi, looking happy after observing the kids and crime boss talking in the interview room. Seeing Aliyaa, she gives her a hug and a thank you, then looks doubtfully at Aliyaa’s bare, dirty feet. Aliyaa gives a “Eh, what can ya do?” shrug and goes back to drinking. Mitzi then turns to Susan Sto Helit.)

Mitzi (in a much smaller voice than when she was talking with Aliyaa): I’ve heard about your plans for a training program…I think it’s a good idea, Ma’am. (turning to Azzageddi) Uh…listen…

Azzageddi: Let’s go over here and have a talk, shall we?

(After several minutes of quiet discussion punctuated by moments of slightly raised voices and expressions of contrition on both sides, the two return, holding hands and looking happier.)

Azzageddi: Right, we’re off! Thanks very much everyone! The return portal should bring us back right before Valentine’s Day, so we shouldn’t miss the party.

Sasha: Party? Did ye hear that, Pashy?

Pasha: You bet I did! Sweet! We better start cutting out construction-paper hearts now. … And why do I STILL smell popcorn?

Azzageddi: You two keep the bar running smoothly until then.Ravey, stay out of trouble now. Susan…I only got a quick look at that reading you did, but I could swear the card-combo you read as popcorn was in resonance with something that looked like “steam-powered catastrophe”…Anyway, give our regards toLord77 and Godofbeer and Never More and everyone else. We’ll try to send postcards!

(Lord77 once again sits upon his temple throne, made possible by the fact that all four feet are now correctly attached to the floor and not suspended midair due to a misalignment of construction plans. As the healing energies wash away the damages caused by his ill-fated attempt to mount Binky…no wait…that didn’t come out right…ride Death’s horse, the God rises and looks to the cattle range were soft mooing is sometimes punctuated by porcelain clanks. Far off in the distance, he spots a ceramic figure pattering back and forth wearing a stone crusted crown.)

Time to take ol’ Clay King his papers and moolah.

(Exiting the back passage to the field, Lord77 summons his ride to take him to the range….Then, he summons it again….Then, he looks around the back area for that damn donkey.)

SON-OF-A!!! (Turns and marches back into the temple where he sees Adam77 refitting himself with Icarus Wings.)

Adam! Would you please go back to the hall and fetch that stupid burro?

(Adam77 bows deeply to his God, pivots, and enters the portal leading back to the Guild Hall. Upon, arriving into the kitchen, he strides purposefully through the door into the main hall where Deities and mortals are milling. Having his God’s commandment as his current life purpose, Adam77, chin chiseled in granite and cranium full of marble, marches powerfully to the center of the hall, stands his full 6’ 4" of height, flexes his 225 lbs of solid muscle, and announces to the hall in a booming, baritone voice.)

EXCUSE ME MEMBERS OF THIS GUILD. HAS ANYONE SEEN MY LORD’S ASS?

(An immediate hush covers the Guild Hall following Adam77’sinquiry, which is quickly shattered by snickering, outright laughter, scattered discussions on seal skin thongs, butt cheek quality, what scale should be used to measure, and whether negative numbers are acceptable values.)

(Adam77 stands confused by the various discussions, not surprising since a single conversation can leave him clueless. Finally, as his impatience grows, he adds:)

SHE SOMETIMES GOES BY THE NAME TOOTSIE.

(A collective “OH!” is synchronously uttered by the Guild members, and a number point to the front door where Tootsie was last seen trailing her heartthrob Godofbeer.)

Susan grins maliciously

Oh, dear… Truth be told, for a minute there, I thought Lord77had actually given in to an overwhelming desire to name his… uuhhh… rear floating device. Too bad Adam77 was just talking about Tootsie, the seemingly undead mule…

Turning to Ravenvalykre and Godofbeer

Gentleman, this Intensive Course is not just meant for your heroes. As rookies, you too are summoned to attend classes. The course is divided into 3 parts: Mind training, Physical Fitness and Perp Handling/Interviewing. Mind training will be taught by myself and by Leonard. You don’t get to move to the next step until you have completed the previous one. So, first you get smart, then you get fit, then I show you how to use both to apprehend and interview suspects. Training starts tomorrow. No weapons allowed, no magic allowed. You and your heroes will be face training as equals.

See you there…

(Godofbeer walks in just as Susan Sto Helit makes her announcement) Sounds like fun. I’ll be there.

(not far behind, Adam77 walks in leading a wet and obviously intoxicated mule. Godofbeer walks up to the bar) Well, I couldn’t find anything wrong at the brewery. They are, however, starting a new batch after they found a donkey swimming in the vat. I think Tootsie might have a serious problem. Lord77 may want to look into a local donkey rehab. Would one of you ladies kindly pour me a beer?

(Pasha sets a nice ale on the bar in front of Godofbeer. He looks down at the beer and sighs) OK. Let’s see if we can figure this out(the beer, as it so often does, says nothing) I think Tootsiestalking me is the reason for my paranoia. So that solves that mystery. I’m only smelling popcorn while I’m here, so that’s probably not the beer’s fault.

That just leaves the squid and the dinosaurs. If they were real, then everyone else must have seen them and members of the watch will be taking care of it. (the beer does not point out the fact that Godofbeer is a member of the watch and could be taking care of it himself) The other possibility is that they were just hallucinations brought on by too much drinking. I guess I could ease up on the drinking a bit. (a lesser beer may have rolled it’s eyes at this suggestion, but this beer did not. Godofbeer lets out another sigh) Ah hell, I’ve seen worse. (he quickly downs the extremely patient beer and looks up with a smile) Keep ‘em comin’ ladies! Let’s see how many I can drink before something weird happens!

(Adam77 begins dragging Tootsie back towards the kitchen to return her to his God’s Temple. Braying loudly, Tootsie pulls back on the rope while looking at her worship, Godofbeer. Finally Adam77leans towards Tootsie and whispers into her ear. Her ears shoot straight and eyes widen. Turning her head towards the Beer God, she shoots a look of betrayal. Finally lowering her head, she slowly walks, unforced into the kitchen. As Adam77 is about to pass the door, he looks back at Godofbeer who sits at the bar with a questioning look on his face.)

I had to fib a little to her. I told her that you were known to sip a Sherry from time to time.

(Bowing low towards the Beer God.)

I apologize, Great One, for the slight. It was the only way I could see to have her halt her stalking ways with you.

(Lord77’s hero then straightens, precision turns, and marches professionally into the kitchen and is gone.)

After clearing an appropriately large flair area in the center of the guildhall, Susan summons her rookies. Suddenly, a sharp, piercing noise fills the air. Looking around, and then looking down,Susan sees Manoel hopping in excitement, a policeman’s whistle strapped around his neck. Erase, that, a policeman’s whistle strapped around his shaft.

You know, Susan says I don’t think that’ll be necessary. The guildhall is really not that big…

Sorry, Señorita. Manoel replies I got a little carried away. I like to… how you seh?… blo di wiisel.

Well, sure. Susan says Just, whistle a little lower, ok?

He’s a freakin’ screwdriver! Godofbeer bellows as the rookies line up in front of Susan I don’t think he could get any lower than THAT!

Keep it going, Godofbeer, Susan responds and I’ll show you just how much lower than Manoel you can get…

Swallowing nervously and holding their breath, the rookies stand to attention as Manoel ’s family begins to deposit a small pile of seemingly random items on a table, placed between them and their instructor

Like I said before, Susan begins to explain the first part of your training is meant to test the mind. This is a test of wits, people. Each of you will have access to the following: a toothpick, a small roll of twine, 3 standard pieces of parchment, 2 planks of wood, a gold coin and your own badge. Additionally, each of you can choose to summon 2 kinds of help, not mutually exclusive. The first Susan pulls out a deck of cards, backside up lies in these cards. There are 20 of them, each depicting a Godville creature you can summon to help you. It is a game of luck and may the Lady favour you in your pick. The second is a fellow god, any god, from any guild,except for me, of course. Now, remember: No magic and now weapons are allowed, for you or your helpers. I see all, I know all and, trust me, I will NOT let you get away with it.

Your goal is to make a contraption that will give Manoel ’s disturbingly assorted family a better quality of life. You have 24 hours, rookies! Make them count!

Ravenvalykre: starts examainig the matrial given then says a slight curse I have never been the best at math the cosmic mathamatics always got me. takes the paper and a feather from his wing and starts wrighting down equations as he does he starts to plan more and more eventuly drawing the top card and getting the card carrying villian useing his deck of cards he begins to fashion wings that will carry one person in each famaly (after desinging a prototype of corse) by heating his badge and melting it he forms it into rods then use the rods and cards to fashion bat like wings and makes them large enough to lift up the heavyest one of them but not to large to be hard to walk in then atatching a pair to Manoel he let’s him fly around the room okay their we go I did not use magic to heat the meatle but the fire in the guild hall how’s that susan.

Susan Sto Helit: Well, Ravenvalykre, although I never thought I would see a full set of tools flying around, I do believe you have passed this first test.

I just hope the Commander doesn’t happen to drop by and find out you actually melted your badge. How will the perps know you’re a member of the Watch now?

Pasha: Come on, Godofbeer! You can do it!

Sasha, picking up a card painted with an image of a beautiful beach sunset: Ooo, look what came in the mail today, Pashy! It’s a postcard from Mitzi!

Pasha: Wow, that was fast. I guess they have good interdimensional mail service. What’s it say?

Sasha: Ahem. “Hello, my dear friends. I hope you are doing well.” Oh, isn’t that nice… “We arrived last night in the Mardi Archipelago. It is quite beautiful here, though chillier at night than I had thought it would be. The people are friendly, and threw us a huge banquet. However, one old man kept pointing at A. and shouting something that seemed rather accusatory. A. didn’t seem bothered, however. More later…XXOO to everyone there. Mitsumi.”

Pasha: Huh. That sounds…ominous.

Sasha: Oh, I’m sure it’ll all be fine.

Pasha: Oh great. Now you’ve pretty much guaranteed something terrible will happen!

Sasha: What? No! No, I didn’t? Did I? Tell me I didn’t!

Pasha: Holy carp, Sash, don’t cry! Come here! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Of course everything will be fine…(looking at Godofbeerand shaking her head, silently mouthing “No, it won’t”)

Syrona who has been tinkering around for a while with a strange device grabes one of the famialy members and sliped a harnes on with two cypernetic arms their for giveing it more then just basic abiltys. that should do it when all is said and done I will work on it some more and make it better. _currently its a clever paperclip parchement and biowolf mucle and claws device.

(Godofbeer and Drinkus Maximus look at the materials.Drinkus draws a card, summoning an Inevitable Hulk. He quickly grabs the toothpick and slays the creature. Godofbeer turns to his hero) No, you idiot! The creature is supposed to help you!(Drinkus sheepishly mumbles an apology and turns back to his task.)

(Godofbeer picks up the gold coin) First things first. (he takes the coin to the bar and uses it to buy a beer. He returns to the challenge and takes a big drink) There. Now I can think. Let’s see, I’m going to need some tools. Manoel, if your family would be so kind.

(As the tools gather around ready to be used, Godofbeer looks over at his hero. Drinkus has, somehow, glued both planks to his rear end and is now spinning in a circle in an attempt to grab and remove them. Godofbeer shakes his head and returns to the task at hand.) OK. We need to cut here, here and here. Miter this, some scrollwork here, attach this, insert tab A into slot C,check for both level and plumb, cut designs into parchment, attach parchment here, and voila! A Victorian style, split level toolbox with parchment lace curtains ready for some very special tools to move in.

(Godofbeer smiles proudly at his handiwork and turns to check on his hero’s progress. The smile vanishes as he sees that Drinkus is now completely hogtied with the twine and is lying helplessly on his back with a bewildered look on his face. Godofbeer slowly facepalms, finishes off his beer, and wonders if it would have been possible to find a dumber hero)



Looking at the assorted makeshift creations spread around room, each guarded by a proud, slightly embarrassed or, in Drinkus ’s case, extremely incapacitated rookie, Susan grins (more out of a suitable face expression to convey her mental turmoil, then because of any actual feeling of personal satisfaction) and decides to proceed with to the next step of the training program

Very well, rookies, she says, ducking to avoid a passing sledgehammer, flying way to low and defying physics even more than the common bumblebee stage I is now complete!

FWWWEEEEEEEEEEEHHHH!!!

Please, Manoel, give that whistle a rest! Susan cries, as she strains to recover her hearing

Excoose mi, Señora. I get a bit carried aué, no? Manoel replies Di rookies need to know dis is part over, si?

Well, Susan goes on as I was saying. Stage I of your mental fitness training is complete. I’ll consider that you have all passed. Even if Drinkus there doesn’t seem to have much of a mind to train… Anyway, let us proceed to Stage II. Manoel, would you please fetch Leonard, so that he can explain what Stage II is all about?

Looking slightly disconcerted (as much as possible for a screwdriver) Manoel mutters He is not coming, Señora.

Speak up, Manoel. I am still half deaf from that whistle of yours.

Di crazy Señor is not coming, Señora. He is a bit… as you sé… buried in his work. Manoel explains

What do you mean, buried? Susan asks, a slight note of worry in her voice Is he alright?

Oh, he just fine, Señora. I shó you. Manoel says

Hopping to an easily missed trapdoor placed in a corner of the guildhall’s floor, Manoel opens the massive, yet surprisingly light, lid and shouts Señor, di lady is asking if you are dead yet!!

A muffled, almost inaudible voice answers from within, mixed with a distant popping sound

Although I do recognize Leonard’s voice I have no idea what he just said, Manoel.

Oh, di crazy Señor just say he no está muerto, Señorita. Manoe lanswers, smiling brightly

Well, ask him where the Stage II devices are, then, will you Manoel?

Oh, ok! Manoel bends… uuhh… leans over the trapdoor Where are all di non-deadly máchines, Señor?

An angry, yet incomprehensible voice answers from within

What you mean, you no make deadly máchines? Manoel yells We had to break di one you make too days ago because it was eating all di foundations of di Watch House. And spitting out marble statues with pointy bits!!

More muffled screams from the inside

Oh, ok then! Manoel turns to Susan Di máchines are in di kitchen. I bring them to you. the screwdriver closes the lid and heads for the kitchen. Behind Manoel, a small piece of popcorn silently falls on the floor

Thank you, Manoel. Susan replies, as Manoel and his family transport a number of seemingly harmless but slightly disturbing devices. The screwdriver then proceeds to give Susan the original plans to the machines

Why are these papers half eaten? Susan whispers to Manoel, trying not to let the rookies know what is really going on And moist?

Tootsie, Señora. Manoel whispers back What she find, she eats.

I can’t even see what these things are supposed to do! Oh, but wait! These are old… back from when Leonard had that crush on…

Struck by a sudden, not really brilliant idea, Susan turns to the rookies

Very well, people! After some minor technical issues, here is Stage II of the mental fitness challenge! she announces You are to pair up. Each pair will work on a single machine. The goal is to figure out what it does, how to turn it on and, this is the tricky bit, how to turn it off! I am certain that none of the machines is either lethal or just generally dangerous to the fabric of time and space. So, choose a pair and work fast. You have 24 hours.

Ravenvalykre: Syrona and I are teaming up to get this going (takes a pile of paper and starts working out some equations then gives a full list of matrials then ducks as a blast comes out of no where) get back here quick we should be able to bring it down quickly when we have what we need.

(Adam77 arrives back into his God’s temple accompanied by a dejected looking burro. Leading it outside, Adam77 outfits the burro with a proper riding blanket and then turns it over to Lord77. The God hops onto the animal and rides out to the range to the Gnomes and his herd. Slowly, very slowly.)

If I ignite some of the fumes coming out of her backside, I might get some useful acceleration here. (Lord77 gripes while waving his arms to ward off the noxious fumes.)

(Finally reaching the range, the God approaches the Gnome King and dismounts from Tootsie.)

M’Lord King! I bring you papers and payment fromRavenvalykre.

(The Gnome King takes the papers, and quickly scans them, then makes a ceramic frown.)

I wasn’t aware he was looking for all 11 floors but rather just the 11th floor. I will take this up with him.

(In his grinding speach, he continues.)

But, there is something else that I would like to discuss with you, Almighty. This pasture that you’ve provided me to tend along with the Guild property is stretching my people to the limit. To maintain this effort, I will need to expand my numbers of my followers.

(The Gnome King turns and points to one of the adjacent ponds bordering the range.)

The pond there has a clay base and could be used for the expansion. The clay is very good….very good indeed. (The Gnome King’s eyes take an almost dreamy look, then he snaps back.)

But to do this, we will need to dredge the pond. Irrigation furrows could be dug accomplish this purpose, which will then provide needed moisture to our fields and carrot crops. But I will need your approval to do so.

(Lord77 looks to the pond in question and then his fields.)

M’Lord King, all that pond does is breed mosquitoes, and it smells as bad as my ride here. Dig and dredge away if it makes you happy.

(Mounting Tootsie for the eternal ride back to the temple, Lord77waves to the Gnome King.)

When you see Ravey, please let him know I delivered the papers to you. I have enough black marks against me already. I don’t need failed courier added to the list.

A loud clanging can be heard of to one side of the compound eventuly both syrona and ravenvalkyre everge and sweep their hands to display a machine this is a null vortex genrator when on it release a puls of anti particals that then will crush and defense in the way turninging it on involves a six didget code its 962493 to deactavte it simply revove its power sorce on the side and the vortex goes off.

Sasha: Oh, Pashy, it’s another postcard from Mitzi! This one has a tiki god on it…Oh, cannae read it! What if something bad has happened? Something that’s all my fault for what I said!?

Pasha (slightly drunk on Mai-tais): Don’ be silly. Ah’m just a big ol’ stupid-head. You shoon’t take what Ah say so…seriously. If anything bad happen, it ain’t yer fault, baby. Gwan, read it.

Sasha: Oookay…“My dear friends, I must keep this brief as I am on the run. A. has been arrested and bound with magic by the local priests. They claim he is a dangerous devil. I am attempting to find a way to free him, but—must go love Mitzi”

Pasha: …um…oh no, sweetie, don’t cry!

Sasha: BWAAAAAAAHHH!!!

Susan inspects Ravenvalykre ’s assigned device from a safe distance, just to make sure it is safely turned off.

That’s odd… Why would Leonard create a null vortex generator to impress a lady? Susan mutters

Di lady was a phys… a phsysi… Manoel tries to explain, while strugling with the unfamiliar word A lady that likes all di ropes and di numbers and di arrows pointing everywhere, Señora.

Oh, a physicist! Yes, I remember now. I wonder what happened to her…

Di crazy Señor, he no talk about her. Manoel says She married a… a… lawyer. he whispers, pronouncing the last word as if it were painful

Oh, I didn’t know that. Susan says, touching the device in search of any signs of a moving engine Poor Leonard! I guess, to him, nothing says “I love you” like a Doomsday machine…

Si, Señora! Let us hop di other máchines are less… expressive, no?

(Godofbeer and Drinkus Maximus approach their machine. As they get nearer, a wide-eyed look of recognition comes overDrinkus)

Drinkus: I can’t believe it! I never thought I’d actually see one!

Godofbeer: What? What is it?

Drinkus: I can’t believe someone really built one! It’s amazing!

Godofbeer: Will you stop babbling and tell me what it is?

Drinkus: This is true genius! The greatest moment of my life!

Godofbeer: DAMMIT DRINKUS! WHAT IS IT?

Drinkus: That awesome genius actually built an automatic pickle decorator!

(The rage at his hero’s stupidity overwhelms Godofbeer)

Godofbeer: PICKLE DECORATOR? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY, LITTLE MIND? A PICKLE DECORATOR? WHO THE HELL WOULD WANT A DECORATED PICKLE, YOU MORON?

(Godofbeer slowly calms down)

Godofbeer: No one would spend time to make a machine that decorates pickles. I don’t know where you come up with these stupid ideas. Now, get over here and let’s figure out what this really does.

(Drinkus sheepishly joins his god and together they look the contraption over. The machine is roughly cylindrical with multiple appendages radiating from the midsection. The appendages end with various tools, mainly knives, chisels, and brushes, with a few that defy identification. Towards the top is what appears to be a control panel containing various levers and switches)

Godofbeer: Let’s examine the control panel. Maybe if we can figure out how to turn it on, we can see what it does. Let’s see here. I believe most of these levers and switches are for configuration. This one switch is isolated from the rest. It might be the power switch. Let’s try it.

(Godofbeer flips the switch. A faint whirring sound emanates from the machine as it comes to life. A door opens near the top of the device. One of the appendages reaches into the compartment and pulls out a pickle. The other appendages start carving and painting the pickle. A few moments later, the machine finishes its work, revealing a pickle replica of a poodle. The machine places the pickle poodle on the bar. Levers and switches change positions, the machine produces another pickle, and the arms begin carving what appears to be a cat out of the new pickle.)

Godofbeer: It really is a pickle decorator? That is the dumbest thing I have ever seen.

(Drinkus Maximus looks on in an awestruck stupor, occasionally muttering oohs and aahs. Godofbeer just barely restrains himself from slapping Drinkus in the back of the head. Godofbeer walks over and flips the switch back to the off position. The machine, apparently not noticing, continues decorating the pickle.)

Godofbeer: It looks like that isn’t how you turn it off. It must be deactivated some other way.

(The machine finishes the pickle cat and places it next to the pickle poodle. Again levers and switches move, and the grasping appendage reaches into the pickle compartment. The machine, however, has run out of pickles and the appendage comes out empty handed. The machine goes into a frenzy and the arms start flailing about. It moves over to the enraptured Drinkus, yanks off his breastplate, and begins to carve on it.)

Drinkus: Hey! That’s my official, standard issue breastplate! Give that back!

(He grabs the breastplate and attempts to wrestle it away from the contraption. An arm slams into Drinkus, sending him flying across the room. Godofbeer leaps onto the machine but is also sent flying to land in a rather undignified heap near the bar. Godofbeer andDrinkus get up and slowly approach the wildly decorating machine.)

Godofbeer: We need to find a way to shut this thing down! Help me find the off switch!

(Godofbeer, being better prepared this time, leaps onto the machine and begins moving levers and throwing switches. An enraged Drinkus Maximus grabs a low flying sledgehammer and slams it down, immediately reducing the machine to scrap)

Godofbeer: WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?

Drinkus: You said turn it off. It’s off!

Godofbeer: But now it can’t be turned back on. Actually, that may not be a bad thing. Who knows what that thing might have started decorating next?

(Godofbeer watches his hero pick up his breastplate, which now has a clown face carved into it, and buckle it back on. He chuckles and shakes his head)

Godofbeer: An automatic pickle decorator. It takes a very special kind of insanity to come up with something like that. And you recognized it right away. I guess it takes one to know one. Well, we were supposed to figure out what it was, how to turn it on, and how to turn it off. I guess, technically, we accomplished that. What do you think, Teach? Did we pass?

As Susan inspects the device assigned to Godofbeer and his pair, an ominous, repetitive clicking sound, something resembling the movement of metallic cogweels and the engaging of gears, starts to play at the very edge of hearing. Susan nods in partial aproval ofGodofbeer ‘s abilities (all the while thinking to herself "at least that one won’t cause us any trouble anymore") and moves on to inspect the remaining machines. One by one, she interrogates the rookie teams on their findings. Little by little, the clicking sound becomes louder and louder, until none of those present can ignore it anymore. As Susan scans the room with her eyes, trying to find the source of the sound, a series of different noises, somewhat similar to the stretching and releasing of a very tight string, joins the chorus, followed by a sharp, piercing scream of pure panic. Not very far away from Susan, one of the teams awaiting inspection suddenly hits the ground, hands covering their heads.

Everyone, duck! Susan yells, her mind racing as if fueled by lightning. The edge and urgency in her voice lead every single soul in the room to obey immediately. Sasha and Pasha take cover behind the bar.

What did you do? she asks as a yet unidentifiable object cuts through the air, disturbing a lock of Susan ’s pale, white hair. Following her own command, Susan immediatley hits the floor.

We… the bravest (or maybe just the least terrified) of the two rookies says we were trying to figure out how to turn it on.

Well, mission accomplished! Susan replies, looking for shelter behind one of Leonard’s other devices as more projectiles start flying all around the room What does that thing do?

We… the rookie goes on we don’t know!

What?! You turn the machine on without figuring out what it does first?

Well, we sort of assumed it would be easier to find out this way!

Cursing under her breath, Susan looks for what is left of the machine’s original plans, only to find them lying on the floor, too far away for her to reach

Very well… she mutters This should be interesting enough…speaking to the rookies Can you turn it off?

Uuhh… the spokesrookie hesitates We were kinda, sorta hoping to work on that little detail after we found out what it is the machine does…

That was NOT a good idea! Susan yells. Then, trying to get some control over the situation, she says Tell me, is there any sort of writing on the machines frame?

A bit! But it’s in cipher! We can’t figure it out!

No, I imagine you can’t Susan says to herself And I certainly wouldn’t remember any ciphers from back then… making a difficult decision, she yells Everyone, remain where you are! Do not move! Do NOT try to help!

After drawing a mental map of escape routes and hiding places,Susan leaves the shelter of her current hiding place and starts the dangerous journey toward the rouge device. Leaping and hiding, rushing and ducking for cover, she gets progressively near Leonard’s machine.

A final dash now separates her from the device. Left without any suitable hiding places to rely on, between her and her goal, Susantakes a deep breath and leaps out of hiding just as one of the rookies, terrified with the machine’s ever rising racket of bolts, cogweels and twangs, curls her body into a ball, knocking the machine and making it rock on its 5 wooden legs. Rocking madly, the machine keeps firing still, each projectile’s trajectory impossible to predict. As Susan, now just a couple of steps away from reaching the device, runs at full speed, something similar to a shining, translucent crossbow bolt strikes her in the upper chest/lower right shoulder, knocking her down on her back. With her mind fixed on the single, overwhelming need to turn off the machine, Susan quickly gets back on her feet and covers the remaining space between her and Leonard’s mad device. Instinctively, without really dedicating a thought as to how she knows what to do, Susan reaches a hand to a particularly rusty lever in a set of about 20 rusty levers and pulls is, turning off the machine.

Is everyone alright? Susan asks, rubbing her chest.

As a chorus of yes ’s, all ok here ’s and is it safe to come out yet ’s fills the air, the bravest of the two rookies looks up from her hiding spot at Susan and asks

Are YOU alright, ma’am?

I think so, yes. Susan answers, inspecting her body for damage No wounds, no blood, no pain. Funny how Leonard’s machines work…

What does that thing do? the rookie asks

Well, you were the ones who were supposed to figure it out.Susan says in a calm, chilly voice And because you have failed to do so, you will both be punished with 20 laps around the guild.turning to the remaining rookies Everyone else gets some time out to catch their breath. We’ll pick it up where we left off again tomorrow.

The two disheveled, yet grateful, rookies get up and head off outside for their punishment. Still rubbing her chest, realizing but not quite believing that the bolt has left no visible damage, Susan takes a long look around the room. Much to her surprise, nothing is broken, nothing is damaged, no one is harmed and, against all odds, the once so threatening projectiles are nowhere to be seen…

Susan Sto Helit feels a presence behind her and turns to findShade standing, breathing hard, shirtsleeve torn at the shoulder, holding a first-aid kit, appearing to have rushed over while all the action was happening. He says nothing, just looking her over for signs of damage, then hangs his head in relief when he sees no visible wounds.

Across the room at the bar, Sasha: Ooo, d’ye think he’ll give ’er a hug?

Pasha: No way. Shadey seems tough, but deep down, he’s shy. … Hey, is that what I think it is?

Sasha: Oh no! Not another postcard! I can’t look! Pashy, you read it!

Pasha: Sigh…OK. I wonder when these things get delivered, anyway…I never see them arrive. Aaaaaaanyway…um, the cover is an old-timey-looking map of Mardi…man, that’s a lot of islands. Heck, some of them are as big as continents…

Sasha, stamping her feet: Oh, come onnn!

Pasha: Hold your horses, Sash…OK… (affecting Mitzi’s lower, softly serious, authoritative voice) “My dear friends, I have evaded my pursuers and am currently being hidden by people I dare not describe, as this message could be intercepted. However, they are friends of Azzageddi. It seems that he is blamed/credited with starting a rebellion against slavery here long ago. Descendents of former slaves consider him a patron god, while others call him a devil. The current regime are of the latter camp. It appears I am soon to go from being defender of the law to lawbreaker, and take up arms in a new rebellion. I am glad I brought my breastplate along. Give my love to everyone there. M.”

Sasha, putting her arms around Pasha: Ohhhh Mitzi, what ha’ ye gotten yerself into?

Pasha, holding her friend tightly: Sh-she’ll be all right. Of course she’ll be OK! She’ll be fine! You’ll see! (sounding like she really, really wants to believe that)

Godofbeer: Ah good, a break in the action. Come on Drinkus, I’ll buy you a beer. (Godofbeer and Drinkus Maximus walk over to the bar and sit down. Godofbeer orders two beers and wonders momentarily at the concerned look on the bartenders’ faces. He decides that if they wanted him to know what was troubling them, they would tell him. He thanks them for the beers, hands one to Drinkus, and looks his hero over.) We are going to have to get you a new breastplate. You can’t walk around with a clown face on your armor.

(Drinkus looks down at his armor) I kind of like it, Almighty. It will help me in my work. Criminals will see it and be like “Hey. Look at that clown. No way he’s a cop. Let’s go ahead and break the law. What could a clown possibly do?” and then they’ll break the law and I can nab them and they’ll be none the wiser.

(Godofbeer lets out a heavy sigh) Drinkus, I’m afraid you will always be none the wiser. Anyway, that’s not really what I wanted to talk to you about. The construction of my temple is proceeding much too slowly. You need to step up your gathering of golden bricks. I’m afraid we may have to think about getting you into the arena. Now I know you don’t really enjoy the arena and neither do I. The other Gods seem to only be interested in encouraging or punishing their heroes. They never say anything funny or interesting and I get quite bored. But I think we may have to just deal with it and get you some more arena experience. Without it, I’m afraid you will die of old age before you complete my temple.

(Drinkus gives his god a look of resignation) It’s not that I don’t like smashing other heroes in the head, I do. But then lightning starts flying around, and there’s explosions and earthquakes, and then you start yelling and I get confused. But if you think that’s what we need, I’ll do my best.

(Godofbeer smiles at his hero) That’s all I can ask, my boy. I know I yell at you a lot and call you stupid and force you to do things you don’t want to do and complain that you’re not doing it well enough… (he trails off and a distracted look appears on his face) I’m pretty sure I was going to make a point but I can’t remember what it was. Oh well, finish your beer so we can get back to it.

(Godofbeer watches his hero trying to make his beer last and chuckles softly) You don’t need to spend forever on that beer, lad. I’m not going to chuck you into the arena the second you finish it. We still have our training to complete. We probably have time for another drink or two. (Drinkus smiles and quickly finishes off his beer. Godofbeer is just about to order another round when he catches sight of Susan) Hey, Teach. Come take a load off and join us for a drink or two. (He orders a pitcher of beer and some glasses and moves to a table. He pours a round asDrinkus and Susan join him.) Those contraptions your Leonard comes up with are something else. I don’t know how you deal with it day in and day out. You’re a better God than I am, that’s for sure.

Susan picks up her glass, hand almost imperceptibly shaking from the recent effort and adrenaline surge.

Thank you, Godofbeer. It is probably best that I take a moment to rest before we resume training. You are doing very well, by the way.Drinkus, on the other hand…

Looks at the clueless hero, who seems to be paying too much attention to the small pickle petting zoo he’s managed to salvage from the wreckage of the Pickle Decorator 3000, to actually listen to what the gods are saying.

Well, he’s probably going to need some more training. A LOT more training…

Pasha: Poor Drinkus. He’s in for a butt-whoopin’.

Sasha: Aw, d’ye have a crush on him too?

Pasha: WHAT?? On Drinkus??

Sasha: I thought you liked your fellas big and dumb.

Pasha: Not THAT dumb.

Pasha: So…any mail today?

Sasha, ears drooping: …no.

Lord77 emerges from his sleeping chamber into the common area of his temple. Moving past his throne, he sees the Gnome King’s followers diligently extending the irrigation furrows leading to his range.

“Hmm. Looks like old Clay Face has raised his numbers. Must be getting along on the dredging of that stink pond.”

Strolling out of the rear of the temple, Lord77 locates the direction of the air movements and adjusts his path to arrive upwind of Tootsie. Feeding her a plump carrot from the Gnome garden, he unhitches her to ride to the where the largest congregation of Gnomes are amassed. There, he sees a pottery figure wearing a porcelain crown.

“M’Lord King!” The God shouts as he arrives “How goes the work?”

The Gnome King patters over to greet the God.

“It goes well, Almighty One. But, we’ve discovered something that you need to see”

Pointing in the direction of the now, much lower, pond, the Gnome King points out a marble structure which has now been unsurfaced.

Lord77’s eyes widen as he sees and recognizes the structure.

“A submerged mausoleum?”

“It would appear so.” Grinds the Gnome King.

Riding Tootsie into the shallow waters of the depleted pond, Lord77arrives upon the structure with the Gnome King.

“We’ve been careful not to touch anything around the building until you arrived.” The Gnome King continues. ”For being submerged for so long though, it’s in immaculate condition.”

“It’s glowing octarine”, Lord77 whispers.

The Gnome King looks at the God sharply. “Magic?”

Lord77 shakes his head. “Much more than that. The whole building is infused with Godpower.”

Stepping off of Tootsie, Lord77 approaches the door barring the threshold enterance. A detachable stone tablet bearing an unfamiliar script is attached. The God takes hold of the stone tablet and immediately feels the Godpower surging around his hands. He lifts the tablet and brings it back to where the Gnome King is standing.

“Can you identify this script, M’Lord King?” The God asks of the Gnome.

The Gnome King studies the tablet. “I’m sorry, Almighty. I have never seen these types of runes. The flair would indicate significant age.”

“I need to get this to Azzageddi.” Lord77 states. “He’s the best linguist there is.”

“You were best to have your followers stay away from this building. Continue your work, and I’ll be back with help.”

(Carrying the tablet with him, the God slides onto Tootsie’s back and rides to his temple.)

(Godofbeer looks over at his hero and chuckles) You know,Susan, it’s funny. Your hero’s brain seems to be working overtime while my hero’s brain is completely out to lunch. I wouldn’t waste too much time on mental training. There’s really just nothing there to train. He’s pretty good in a fight, though. If you need something smacked, he can definitely do the smacking. And drinking, he’s really good at that, too. But trying to teach him anything that requires thinking, you’d be better off trying to teach quantum physics to a turnip.

Sasha: Oh no…Pasha! Look!

Pasha: A new postcard? What happened to it?

Sasha: Oh Pashy, it’s all torn and burnt and…oh Pashy I think that’s blood on it!

Pasha: Give it here…I can’t read most of it…it says “ambush … counterattack … heavy losses … in hospital now, with our wounded … Love, Mitzi.”

Sasha just starts crying, and Pasha holds her.

Pasha: The picture on the front is a bunch of hula girls on the beach. Man…

Exiting the kitchen portal, tablet in hand, Lord77 enters the Guild Hall and searches for Azzageddi. Failing to see him nearby, the God stops by the bar to inquire as to his brother’s whereabouts.

“Oh dear, Lordy. You haven’t been around lately.” Sasha says looking nervous and quickly hiding a colored paper. "Ummm…Azzand Mitzi went on holiday!” She finishes as she pours an Ale for the God.

Pasha slides over and looks at the tablet. “And, whaddya have there? Five more commandments?”

Sasha looks at her bar mate, “You finally get done breaking the other ten?”

Pasha snaps her with a towel. “I ain’t killed no one…yet!”

Lord77 thanks the barmaids, puts a coin in the tip jar, and moves over to a table where Susan Sto Helit is talking with Godofbeerand Drinkus Maximus who is holding what appears to be a pickle shaped like a poodle.

Susan looks up at Lord77 and breaks from her discussion with the other two.

“You probably ought to be in the training class too.” She admonishes. “You could use some refresher instruction, which is probably more than you’ve ever had, anyway…"

“Wouldn’t help. I’d just forget it all at the bar,” Lord77 mutters and sets the tablet on the table.

Godofbeer quickly updates Lord77 on recent events involvingSusan and Leonard’s machine. Lord77 looks at her questioning, and she responds with a subtle, shaking movement of her head, a clear sign that all is well with her. He relaxes and focuses back on the tablet.

Both Gods and Hero look at the tablet. “Where did you get that?”Susan inquires.

“From a recently surfaced mausoleum on my temple property. The Gnomes are dredging a pond, and the building was under it. It’s infused with Godpower.”

Both Gods eyes widen and look at Lord77. Godofbeer slowly whistles. Susan’s eyebrows furrow. Drinkus makes small barking noises while playing with his pickle.

“The whole building?” Susan asks, looking back at the tablet.

“As far as I can tell. This tablet was hanging on the front. I brought it over here hoping that Azz could make some sense of it, but he’s off gallivanting with Mitzi.”

“I don’t know these runes,” Susan states. “But, the bottom part looks like some kind of list, the way it’s ordered.”

“Well, without Azzageddi to help read this tablet", Lord77 says scratching his beard “the only way I can see figuring out what’s in it is to open it up. Probably going to need some help. Want to take a trip?” Lord77 asks of the other Gods.

Godofbeer looks to Susan who shrugs her shoulders and stands up. Relieved to be given a recess from the rigors of the training, he sends his hero back to the group, quickly strolls over to the bar, and requests a refill in a travel mug for a road trip.

As Susan heads towards the kitchen, she spots Ravenvalykre.“Ravey!” She shouts. “Lordy… I mean, Lord77, Godofbeer, and I need to take a short trip so I am leaving you in charge while I’m gone. It shouldn’t take too long, anyway.”

Ravenvalkyre, eyes wide with surprise at the honor, nods his head quickly as she turns to the kitchen. Struck by a second thought, she stops and turns to say

“Please, try not to blow anything up!”

Her mind now at ease, she turns to follow her fellow gods and departs.

Entering Lord77’s temple common area, the Gods move away from the side portal and begin moving towards the back exit.

“One minute, please,” Lord77 requests and moves to the throne where, mounted to a holder, is Claiomh Solais, invincible sword of the Irish King of Gods, Nuada. Lord77 removes the sword from the holder, slides it into its sheath, and straps it to his back via a shoulder harness.

As he walks back towards the other two Gods, Susan smirks.“What do you expect to find there? Are you planning on slaying some Zombies?” she mocks. “All right Achilles, let’s go.” And she leads them out the back.

Walking the distance to the far end of the property, feeling the weight of the sword on his back and the tablet under his arm,Lord77 begins to truly miss Tootsie.

“When I get back, I’m giving that burro a gas-free carrot.”

Finally reaching the pond’s edge, the Gnome King patters out to meet the Gods.

“I’ve kept my followers away from the building as you requested. But there are noises from time to time coming from within. If I had nerves, they would be unnerved right now.”

The three Gods move forward to the threshold door where the tablet hung. Placing the tablet on the ground, Lord77 looks atGodofbeer and Susan Sto Helit.

“Well? Let’s see what’s in there.”

As all three Gods touch the door, they are quickly enveloped by the building’s infused Godpower. The three flinch simultaneously, and then adjust to the force being presented. All close their eyes, draw upon their will, and begin pushing on the door. As they do, each God begins to glow different hues according to their personality:Lord77 red, Godofbeer amber, and Susan bright blue. Finally, tuning in to the building’s force, they merge with it, and an audible “click” is heard as the door latch slips.

Pushing the door forward, Godofbeer steps back and open-handedly gestures to Lord77 to enter first. Lord77 looks atSusan.

“It’s your land, Lordy,” she chuckles. “Why don’t you take that oversized carving knife from your back and go see what’s inside?”

From Lord77’s back, a note sounds, and with a heavy Irish accent, “Knife? Póg mo thóin!” emits from the sword.

Susan raises an eyebrow.

Lord77 chuckles. “You just pissed off Claiomh Solais. He just told you to kiss his arse.” Then the God sighs and steps first into the alcove, followed by Godofbeer and Susan.

As they step down from the elevated entrance, a cackling laugh echoes off of the marble walls. Now Lord77 does draw his sword and tentatively steps forward, terribly off-balance, as Godofbeersummons floating luminescence to light their way to the crypt.

The cackling laugh becomes louder as the three approach the entrance to the crypt. Arriving at the door, Godofbeer sends a ball of luminescence forward to see the crypt, but it is quickly extinguished. Suddenly, the crypt is bathed in brilliant light surrounding an emaciated, stooped-over figure standing in the middle, dressed in an ancient white cloth. Facing the trio, they see a face deeply lined with age, but somehow familiar.

Lord77 steps into the crypt, looks hard at the aged figure, and says one word:

“Dad?”

Dad? Susan repeats in a half-shocked tone That’s your father?

Afraid so… Lord77 answers, slightly abashed

You have a father? Susan asks, as if not quite believing in what is going on

Of course I have a father! Lord77 answers in a harsh tone of voice You have a father, don’t you?! And a damn scary grandfather too, if I recall!

Well, yes. Susan says, throwing a not-so-innocent little smile at him I guess I just assumed you had spawned from a particularly grubby swamp, that’s all.

Lord77 steps further into the crypt, eyes affixed on his father.

“How?” Lord77 can only mutter. “You’re supposed to be gone”.

Turning back to his fellow deities, Lord77 does an introduction.

“This is my father, Lord01.”

The aged deity takes a step forward towards the other two and stops briefly to cough deeply. Recovering, his eyes sharpen again and looks at Susan.

“So, who’s the pretty Poopsie with the sharp tongue?” he cackles.

As Susan’s eyes widen at the affront, and then start to narrow,Lord77 intervenes.

“Dad! Be nice. This is Susan Sto Helit.”

“Yeah, sure Sonny, and where are my cookies, sweetheart?”

Susan and Lord77 exchange questioning looks.

“The cookies, dear! The recipe was on the door! I left it there myself! When you come in here you were to bake and bring those cookies!”

Susan turns to Lord77. “I told you the bottom looked liked a list. A list of ingredients.”

“You really shouldn’t take that from your girlfriend, Sonny. You need to teach them who’s boss.”

“DAD! ENOUGH!”

Lord77 steps in front of Susan just as the Goddess is about to launch on the ancient one. Instead, Susan spins on her heels and marches out of the crypt to the upper floors, now all lit. Lord77watches Susan storm off and then spins back to his father.

“Really? Did you have to do that?”

“Bah!” Lord01 waves nonchalantly. “And, who’s your big friend, stinking this place up like an alehouse?” pointing at Godofbeer.

“Dad,” Lord77 sighs, “this is Godofbeer.”

The Ancient One’s eyes widen. “Really?! There’s a god for that now?”

Godofbeer looks at father then son, not sure how to respond.

“Yes, Dad.” Lord77 replies.

The ancient one’s eyes narrow piercingly at Godofbeer. “Prove it,”he challenges.

Now Godofbeer, feeling better about the situation, closes his eyes, points, and summons a keg of Klatchian Finest Ale to appear before the father. Lord01’s eyes go wide, and he reaches for an ancient mug on a nearby shelf, blows the dust off, and draws a drink from the tap. Drinking, first tentatively, then deeply, he polishes the mug off with a satisfying “Ahhh” and wipes his lips.

“Oh, large one,” Lord01 smiles, “that’s some talent you have there.”

Done with introductions, Lord77 finally challenges his father.

“How is it that you’re here? You were supposed to have gone off to ‘The Heavens’ as you said millennia ago.”

“Eh, I thought about it, then didn’t feel like it,” he mutters.“God’s don’t really die, you know. They just fade off, and I decided that fading wasn’t for me right now. After seventy-six failed attempts, I finally made you to take my place here so that I could go exploring. I hopped around a little, but decided I would come back. The place had changed. Funny how a couple of millennia will do that to a spot. Decided I didn’t like the people here anymore, so I built this place to stick around. Then, the damn thing sank! I really didn’t care. I had my solitude and plenty of Twinkies to keep me company”

Handing a plastic wrapped sponge cake at Lord77, he says, “Want one? They last forever!”

Lord77 shakes his head.

“More for me then.” Lord01 unwraps the cake and tosses the wrapper into a mound of used ones by the crypt wall.

Noticing the sword, Lord01 asks. “Is that Claiomh Solais?” The sword, happy to be acknowledged, starts singing an Irish Brogue.

“Quiet you,” Lord77 commands. “Yes Dad, it is.”

“Where’s Nuada?” Lord01 asks, confused.

“Nuada is gone, Dad. For some time now.”

Lord01 suddenly gets very quiet. “Gone?” He whispers. “Gods aren’t suppose to go.”

Suddenly, getting brighter again, he looks at Lord77. “Nuada was a great friend. I worked with him on that invincibility spell the sword carries. Somehow, it imbued a personality too. Never figured out how. Sadly, it also brought a belief to it that it could sing. I see that hasn’t gone away.”

Finally, Lord77 blurts out, “Why didn’t you come out to see me?”

Lord01 breaks from his rumination, and looks at his son.

“You had your own life going,” Lord01 continues. “And…and I was supposed to be gone. I didn’t want to bother you. Almost did once, but you were spending time with that hippo-looking toothless girl. You ought to see some of the winners he’d bring home, Beer God, when he lived with me. I thought he was running a rescue service for abandoned animals.” Lord01 starts chuckling, and then breaks into fits of coughing.

“At least you found a pretty one this time.”

“Dad,” Lord77 says, “Susan isn’t my girlfriend. Besides she’s Death’s granddaughter.”

That startles the ancient God.

“Death has a Granddaughter?” Lord01 breaks into laughter, which again ends in a coughing fit.

“He used to come by here every so often to see if I was dead yet. Personally, I thought he was just bored and was looking for someone to play chess,” Lord01 muses. “Granddaughter, huh? Well, I warned him that if he tossed his bone around with those mortals that might happen.”

At which point, Godofbeer chokes while quaffing some of the Klatchian Ale. Lord77 checks on his Drinking Buddy then turns to his father.

“I wouldn’t suggest you tell her that. As a matter of fact, I would highly suggest that you apologize to her for your rude behavior.”

Lord01 looks surprised at his son and then relents. “Yeah, OK. Maybe, I was a tad inconsiderate. Tell you what, bring her down here and I’ll apologize.”

Lord77 climbs the stairs back to the landing where Susan is waiting.

Seeing Lord77 leave the crypt alone, with Godofbeer nowhere in sight, Susan immediately shoots at him

“So? Are you done with that twit?” she snarls, shifting her weight in a failed attempt to control her anger.

“Almost.” Lord77 says “But he’s asked for you, and I would appreciate it if you would come down there with me.”

Susan ’s eyes narrow, staring daggers at Lord77 as she considers her options. Then, shrugging, she finally relents.

“Fine.” she concedes, more annoyed than she cares to show “But if that jerk says one more negative thing to me,” she pantomimes a snipping action with her fingers “I will turn him into your mother.”

As God and Goddess return to the crypt, Lord01 looks at Susan.

“Sonny here says I was crude and insensitive in meeting you. I apologize. I guess I’m not used to women having an opinion that matters.”

Susan’s eyes start to narrow.

Lord01 continues. “But Death was always a friend, and I should treat his granddaughter as one, too.”

Turning back to Lord77, he says, “Tell you what Sonny. Now that those yapping flowerpots out there have drained my over-sized moat, I think maybe I should take the time to do some exploring. So as compensation for missing a few of your birthdays, I’ll leave you this building as a gift. Who knows, if I get bored, I might drop back in. Or maybe,” nodding at Susan, “I’ll find me a cute girlfriend, too.”

With a wink and wave, Lord01 disappears, leaving behind a cloud of smoke and a mountain of Twinkies wrappers.

Susan spins and stares at Lord77.

“GIRLFRIEND?! EXACTLY WHAT DID YOU TELL HIM?!”

Lord77 puts his hands up in a sign of innocence. Godofbeerstarts whistling and moves quickly up the stairs.

(Godofbeer walks quickly up the stairs and stops at the first landing, far enough from the imminent explosion to avoid being part of the collateral damage, but close enough to eavesdrop be there if they need him. He takes a drink from his manly beer sippy cup and thinks about recent events.)

Lord77’s father living under a pond in his son’s backyard. Definitely didn’t see that coming. I wonder what those uppity theologians are going to make of this? They’ll come up with some stupid theory, but at least they’ll have something new to argue about.

(He thinks about his own father, but the memory is faded and fuzzy. Whether this is from too many years or too many beers, he doesn’t know. Either way, he decides that it might be a good idea to get Drinkus to look his construction site over very carefully.)

Lord77 follows Godofbeer out to the marsh surrounding his father’s mausoleum. Unfortunately, the area is terribly devoid of any useful hiding places, which would have come in handy,as following him out is one irate Susan Sto Helit.

“By all the gods on the disc! Why did you call me your GIRLFRIEND?!”

Realizing that it was going to be a looooong walk back if he didn’t address this, Lord77 halts and faces the Goddess.

“Look, Dad was always kind of simplistic when it came to relationships…well, women in general.”

“Yes. I caught that particular drift,” Susan, snarls. “He’s a regular Prince Charming, let me tell you.”

“And,” Lord77 tries to continue, measuring every word as if his life depended on it. “The only girls that I would bring by would be ones that I was, in some fashion, romantically involved with. Or so I told him. he explains Or else, Dad would start hitting on them himself. The only way I could get him to lay off was to already lay claim. So, I told him if he sees me with a woman, it’s because we’re…well… involved.”

“Lay claim? Such nice little words… I can see the apple doesn’t fall far for the tree.”Susan huffs.“And you didn’t think to correct him of that, did you?”

“I did! I told him that you weren’t my girlfriend! Godofbeer can back me up on that,” Lord77 points to the Beer God for concurrence.

Godofbeer’s eyes widen as he throws his hands in front of him, palms out, indicating that he wants no part of this argument.

Lord77 sighs and turns back to Susan. “But, as I said, he was kind of simplistic in these things…Hey! At least I got him to apologize to you!”

Susan pushes past the other two gods. “Fine. Yes, you got that jerk to apologize by acknowledging that he’d never met a woman before that had a useful opinion. Lovely. A victory to women everywhere, I’m sure.”

Marching quickly towards the temple, Susan shouts over her shoulder, “C’mon, then! Let’s get back to the Guild Hall before Ravey starts redecorating with explosives.”

Godofbeer looks at Lord77 and begins chuckling.

“Yeah. Thanks for the help, Big Guy,” Lord77 sarcastically mocks.“You know, I think you enjoy watching her turn me over a spit.”

Godofbeer laughs and claps his oversized hand on Lord77’s back, then they race to catch up to the seething Goddess.

Sasha: Everybody’s so busy, rushin’ around…

Pasha: Yeah, important god-business, I guess.

Sasha: Susan looks so angry!

Pasha: You won’t catch me getting on her bad side, no ma’am.

Sasha: You think we should tell them about these postcards?

Pasha: We been readin’m out loud for days now. They’re all right there on the bar for anyone to read. They’re busy with their…god stuff. Anyway, you know what Mitzi told us. There’s no way in or out of that place except at the right times.

Sasha: But it sounds so dangerous…

Pasha: Come on now, they’ll be fine. Mitzi’s going to get Azz out of that little jail—probably he’s sipping mai-tais out of coconuts and watching dancing girls—and they’ll come back here just in time for the party, like they said.

Sasha: Oooh, yer probably right.

Still cursing under her breath, Susan returns to the Watch House with a grumpy Lord77 and a chuckling Godofbeer following close behind.

Alright, people! she yells to the room, making rookies and senior officers instinctively stand to attention Break time is over! There will be no more rest for you until we get this bloody intensive course over and done with!

Running around in various directions, bunnies, seniors and rookies rush to form a broken and somewhat scrambled line in front ofSusan, who stands perfectly still and silent in the middle of the room, eyes ablaze with rage, legs shaking angrily under her robes. After taking a few deep breaths to recover her self-control, she says

In case you haven’t noticed, ladies and gentlemen, I was only talking to the Lance-Constables. So, Pasha, Sasha, Shady,Peachy, Poindexter and… well, all the other bunnies we haven’t gotten around to naming yet, please get back to your chores.she asks. The bunnies look at each others as if suddenly realizing how much they shouldn’t be standing in this particular line and quickly leave to their normal hang-outs in a small puff of smoke.

The same applies to the senior officers, thank you. Susan goes on. All the seniors look down at their feet, slightly embarrassed by their rash actions. Amongst them, Lord77 tries to make himself small and starts walking away toward the bar.

Oh, no you don’t, Lord77! Susan states in a voice that sends an ice cold chill down his spine and immediately causes him to freeze where he stands. You are not going anywhere!

I… Lord77 stutters as his godly life flashes before his eyes, in what looks suspiciously like a beer commercial I thought this was only for the rookies.

Oh, but it is… Susan replies in a soft voice laced with poison You, however, will help me in this task.

Do I really have to?

Susan, arms crossed in front of her chest, walks slowly towardLord77, who starts clenching and unclenching his right hand, like a gazelle wagging it’s tale at the sight of a approaching lioness.Susan stops just a few inches away from him.

Are you sure you want me to answer that? she asks in a voice that really means “how much longer do you want to live?”

Knowing he has no choice but to cave (at least none that includes an immediate future with all his body parts still attached), Lord77shakes his head

No, he says what do you need me to do?

Smiling a mischievous little smile, Susan leans closer and whispers something in his ear

OH, C’MON!!! Lord77 screams What did I do to deserve THAT?!

As Susan ’s eyes begin to glow a fiery red and as she opens her mouth to answer, Lord77 immediately interrupts her

No, no, you don’t have to answer that! he says I’ll do as you wish.

The helpless god slowly begins to walk to the end of the room, to a chorus of sniggering and chuckling

WILL THE LOT OF YOU QUIT THAT, ALREADY?! he yells at the rookies I AM STILL YOUR SUPERIOR OFFICER!

The rookies quickly shut up and walk towards Susan for instructions.

Alright, gentlemen she says here are your instructions. We are now moving on to the physical part of the training, which should encompass a single stage, Stage III of our intensive course. Each of you will be put to the test separately. You must defeatLord77 in a popular game here at the Watch. We call it the “Grab, Pinch or Slap”. The rules are the following: each opponent must steal an item of clothing belonging to the other player in order to win. Players may defend themselves (and their clothing) exclusively by slapping their opponent so, no punching, no kicking and no biting. Expect your opponent to defend himself and try to use your wits and speed as well as your strength. Again, no weapons, no magic. You have 24 hours, gentlemen. Be fast, be smart!

Pasha, back behind the bar: Like. I. said. Never gettin’ on her bad side. NEH! VAR!

Sasha: Thank goodness we’re not actually on the Watch, right?

Pasha: You said it. We SERVE the Watch. And we will serve them nice hand towels when they get their knickers nicked.

Sasha: Gasp!

Pasha: Did you seriously just SAY “gasp!”?

Sasha, pointing: There’s another postcard…

Pasha, picking it up carefully, as if it might bite: This one is just a painting of some tropical flowers on the front…

Sasha: I doon’t care what the picture is, Pasha! Oh, give it here! I’ll read it! … “My dear friends, Over the past few weeks—” Weeks?? It’s only been a few days! What…oh, time must run differently there…Oh, Mitzi, how long have you been going through all this? “Over the past few weeks we have won victories and suffered losses, but our cause is just. Tonight, hours ago, we dealt the regime a severe blow, and they have agreed to negotiate. Perhaps this will all be over in a few days. I hope to be with you soon. My love to everyone there, Mitzi.”

Pasha: Well…she sounds OK.

Sasha: But she’s still in danger. Maybe…maybe we really should bring this to the gods’ attention…

Pasha: But they can’t do anything, right?

Sasha: But who knows? Maybe they can! Go on!

Pasha: ME? Why me??

Sasha, making with the big shiny green eyes: Oh Pashy, yer ever so much braver than I…please…pretty please… (pouts)

Pasha: GAH! Fine! OK, um…ahem…Miss…Miss Sto Helit…Your Divinityness…

Susan Sto Helit, still in a quiet rage, turns on the quivering buga-bunny and fixes her with a red, narrow-eyed glare.

Pasha: Urk! Nevermind!

Pasha gets back behind the bar faster than the eye can follow.

Pasha, in a tiny, scared voice: I think we should wait until she’s in a better mood. Like maybe when I’m old and gray.

Sasha: What about Lordy? Or Godofbeer?

Pasha: Well, they look really busy. And anyway, Lordy looks like he’s in a pretty foul mood too. And Godofbeer…I mean, this really ain’t a problem that’s going to be solved by beer, is it?

Sasha: Well what about young Ravey?

Pasha: Hmm…well, I mean, he’s busy too. And under orders fromSusan to do…whatever this training exercise is they’re supposed to be doing. No, I think…I think we should just wait a little while. And anyway, Mitzi sounds like things are going to be OK now. Even if they could figure a way into that dimension…imagine if a bunch of crazy gods burst into the middle of delicate negotiations! I don’t think she’d be thanking us!

Sasha: Are you sure yer not just justifying yer cowardice?

Pasha: That’s my position and I’m sticking to it.

Sasha, crossing her arms: Humph!

(A large grin appears on Drinkus Maximus’s face. Finally, a challenge that suits his talents. He approaches Lord77 and drops into a fighters crouch. Lord77 prepares to defend himself against the youngster. Drinkus lunges in from the left and is met with a stinging slap. He retreats and then lunges quickly from the right, with a similar result. The smile on his face broadens. He knows this game, understands the dance to probe an enemy’s defenses. He launches a series of probing attacks, using his youthful speed and agility to keep Lord77 on the defensive, never allowing the chance for a counter attack. He accepts the slaps from Lord77 easily, he is used to receiving much worse treatment from monsters on a daily basis. He attacks furiously, using a combination of feints and grabs, concentrating on Lord77’s right side. A swift feint moves Lord77out of position while Drinkus suddenly rolls past his foe’s left side, grabbing and ripping out a piece of Lord77’s toga. Drinkus smiles and lifts his trophy high into the air) I claim victory by the right of first… cloth?

(As Drinkus Maximus moves off with his prize, Godofbeer approaches Lord77 with two beers in his hands.) Don’t feel too bad there, buddy. Drinkus is stupid but when it comes to combat, he’s an idiot savant. (Godofbeer hands Lord77 one of the beers) Don’t look at me like that, I’m not trying to trick you with beer. I wouldn’t do anything like that. We’ll have a beer together and then we’ll face off in this rather bizarre game.

(Godofbeer lowers his voice so that no one else can hear) It occurs to me that you are much more experienced at this game than I am. It is quite possible that you will easily defeat me. This will lead to me losing some of my clothing, which will lead to the other recruits laughing and giggling. (Lord77 smiles at the image this thought conjures) As I love a good joke, I will, of course, laugh with them. And, being in a joking mood, I might have to, purely for fun, mind you, tell Susan that you explained to your father in graphic detail the intimate aspects of your relationship with her. (The smile fades from Lord77’s face as he begins to turn pale) Now, should I somehow manage to win this little contest, I would feel more like spreading the joy around. I would probably then feel obliged to let Susan know that you did all you could to explain the situation to your father.

(Lord77 quietly growls at Godofbeer. Godofbeer looks him in the eye and smiles) It’s all in good fun, I assure you. You know she wouldn’t really kill you, just make your life miserable for a few centuries. The choice is yours, my friend. Just remember that she’s watching. Make it look good. (Both gods finish their beer. With a look of resignation on his face, Lord77 gets into his fighting stance. After a few quick exchanges, Godofbeer rips the top half ofLord77’s toga from him and holds it up, triumphantly. Lord77glares at Godofbeer with a look that promises swift and terrible vengeance. Godofbeer knows that he will probably regret this, but decides to enjoy the moment anyway. He turns and starts walking towards Susan) How was that, Teach? Do I get to graduate? (As he nears Susan he lowers his voice) I know you put Lord77 out there to punish him for what happened in the temple. He did try to explain to his father that your relationship was purely platonic. You can’t really blame him for his father’s ignorance. You know as well as I do that Lord77 is basically a good guy.(He walks over to his hero, pats him on the back, and the two of them move off to have a well deserved beer.)

Susan turns to look at Godofbeer walking away with his human. Her anger subsiding just a little bit, she looks back at the end of the room, where Lord77 is standing, his originally exquisite toga now reduced to shreds.

Well, I can’t call this off now… she mutters to herself “Besides,”she thinks, fighting hard to control a sudden urge to break out in laughter “This is proving to be much more fun than I’d thought it would be…”

Out loud, she says Very good, Drinkus and Godofbeer, you have passed. So, who’s next?!

Lord77, still grumbling over being blackmailed into throwing the match, takes a seat at the bar next to Godofbeer. Sasha quickly pours the two Ales and sets them before the gods.

“Well played, Buddy!” Lord77 forces a smile as he begins to drink his mug.

As Godofbeer lifts his mug and beings to quaff deeply, Lord77 is already muttering a small incantation, quickly draws his will, and nonchalantly points to the Beer God’s mug. Suddenly, the amber color transforms to clear, and the impurities vanish leaving only cold, clean water as it passes the God’s teeth.

Played out in slow motion, as the pure, spring water hits the Beer God’s throat, the tongue registers the change and sends a screaming alert to the brain. An involuntary action of rejection begins resulting in immediate expulsion, unfortunately at the deliverer of the now vile liquid, Sasha.

In real time, the God, quaffs, spit takes, and drenches the poor buga bunny bartender within milliseconds.

Coming to realization of what just happened, Godofbeer looks horrified and embarrassed at the now dripping buga bunny, and then looks to Lord77 who’s drinking his Ale, now with a smile on his face.

“She only said no magic during the exercise,” Lord77 says in a chuckling, low voice, and is rescued from violence by Susan calling him to the front for the next rookie to have their chance.

(His fists clenched in rage, Godofbeer glares at the retreating form of Lord77. As his anger slowly dissipates, the rational part of his mind calmly explains that he brought this all on himself. It lets him know that he probably deserved worse and that he should count his blessings. Eventually, Godofbeer has to admit that, although his rational mind can be a real jerk sometimes, it does have a point. He chuckles softly and mutters under his breath) Well played yourself, buddy. Well played indeed.

(He turns back to the bar and notices the still wet and extremely unhappy bartender behind it. The smile vanishes from his face to be replaced with a look of complete embarrassment.) Sasha! I am so… I didn’t… it wasn’t… he… (He hangs his head in shame) Oh, my darling bunny, I am so sorry. I will do anything to make it up to you. Your wish is my command. Seriously, anything you want, it’s yours.

The Almighty Anne: Sasha, Pasha? you dear bunnies seem worried, is there anything I can do since I’m not doing training? I hear that you are a bit concerned about Mitzi?

Sasha: Oh, Anne! I mean, yer Almightiness! Thank you ever so much! You see, we’ve been receiving these postcards from Mitziand it seems she’s fallen into a bit of trouble in that Mardi placeAzzageddi took her to and—

At that moment, Sasha is drenched by a huge mouthful of water and god saliva from the direction of Godofbeer.

Sasha: … [blink…blink…drip…]

Pasha: WHAT…THE…HELL??? (Grabbing a towel and pointing furiously at GodofBeer) ARE YOU SUDDENLY UNABLE TO HOLD YOUR BOOZE?! I HAVE A GOOD MIND TO BAN YOU FOR 24 HOURS! (Turning to Sasha) Are you OK, baby? Here let me clean you up…wait…this isn’t beer… (Turning back to GodofBeer) Since when do you drink water?

As GodofBeer stutters his apology to Sasha while Pasha dries her off, Sasha brings the entire HQ to a standstill when she screams: I JUST WANT SOMEBODY TO BLOODY LISTEN TO ME!!!

All eyes on her, her normally luxuriant red hair plastered to her head, her freckled cheeks blazing with a blush of embarrassment, chest heaving, she wipes away tears and tries to calm herself enough to speak.

Sasha: Mitzi…and Azzageddi…they’re in trouble. Over there, in that Mardi place they went to. We’ve been gettin’ these postcards…one of ’em’s all burnt and bloody. Azzageddi is in jail or somethin’ and poor Mitzi is fighting in a civil war!

Pasha, putting her arm around Sasha’s shoulder: We know Azz, I mean, Azzageddi said there’s no way to get in or out of that place except at the right time…but maybe there’s something you can do?

Sasha: I’m just…so…worried about her… (these last words barely understandable as Sasha started crying, and Pasha comforts her)

Alarmed by *Sasha*’s words and tone of voice, Susan walks up to her.

I had no idea this was going on, my dear, she says, her voice drenched in sincere concern. Now tell me, how did you take so long to bring this to our attention?

You didn’t look like you wanted to be disturbed with something like this, Miss Susan, the bunny says in a rather small voice, her long ears drooping in utter helplessness. She produces the postcards for the goddess to read.

Well, you should have said something, Susan admonishes the bunnies in a soft voice, taking the postcards. Azzageddi is a good friend, after all…

Did I hear this right? Lord77 asks, approaching the bar. Is our brother in trouble?

Apparently, Susan replies as she reads. He seems to have been arrested and Mitzi appears to have gotten involved in some kind of revolutionary force…

Now, that doesn’t sound like a very relaxing vacation… Lord77says.

No, it doesn’t, Susan responds. Now, here is what I don’t understand… The portal to Mardi should be sealed shut right now, so how are these messages reaching us?

Well, we have been wondering about that… Pasha replies. We never really saw anyone dropping them off. They just… show up.

Hmm… If we could only find out where they’re coming from, maybe we could find out more about what’s really going on,Lord77 muses.

I may be able to help with that, Susan says as she taps some sort of code on the bar counter. The Death of Rats shows up from a previously disregarded spot and comes to sit on the counter, in front of Susan, its little whiskers shaking in anticipation. I need to find out how these are getting here. Find whoever is bringing them and bring them to me, please.

The Death of Rats quickly scurries away, eager to fulfill its task.

Well, it is really just a matter of waiting, now, Susan says, directing a soothing smile at the bunnies. We’re going to go back to the training course and wait for my little bony friend to come back, alright?

Thank you, the bunnies say in chorus. We’ll be waiting.

Uh, sorry for all the screaming, Sasha apologizes, drying her eyes.But I was sooo worried…

All is well, my dear, Susan replies as she turns to return to the training grounds. Run along, Lord77, you are not in the clear yet.

Barely half an hour later, a squeaky voice is heard at the bar. TheDeath of Rats drags a tiny blue imp out from behind a bottle of Bombay Sapphire where it was perfectly camouflaged. The becloaked rat skeleton dumps the imp in front of the regathered gods and salutes with his tiny scythe.

Imp: LEMME GO! I DINT DO NUTHIN!

Susan Sto Helit: So…this is the messenger?

Imp: Messenger? Yeah, I take messages. I make em! I deliver em! Whaddya want?? I’M JUST DOING MY JOB!!! PLEASE DON’T KILL MEEEEEEE!!!

Susan Sto Helit puts a finger on the tiny creature’s head to shut him up. Hush. Nobody is going to harm you, as long as you play straight with us. Now…how are you crossing between this world and the world of Mardi?

Imp: Crossin? I don’t do no crossin! I got me a twin. We was actually the same once…that Azzageddi guy, he split us. Man, that is some tricky devil, that guy. I knew him back in the day… Uh, anyways, he give my twin to the bunny chick.

Susan Sto Helit: Ah…a telepathic connection?

Imp: Dat’s it! She writes the postcards, twin-me takes em, concentrates, I receive, an I make a new postcard over here!

Sasha breaks in: But wait! This one here is all burnt and bloody!

Imp: Oh yeah, I’m really proud of that one! Took me awhile to find some good blood. Mine’s the wrong color, y’know.

Susan Sto Helit: So…it seems that this is not a way in after all. Still, we could send Mitzi a message this way…

Maybe a simple protective spell? Lord77 ventures One that will fit in a postcard and that even a buga buga bunny can cast?

For once, you seem to be making sense. Susan replies in a distant voice as she stares at a blank postcard the imp has provided for the all important message Against all odds, that does actually sound like a good idea.

Gee, thanks…

I think I might just have the right spell. Susan says, apparently immune to sarcasm. It is an invulnerability spell, something mother used to make me say each night, when I was too young to actually use magic. Mitzi should be able to cast it as well..

Will it work on her? Lord77 asks with sincere concern.

I am not sure. Susan concedes It might only produce partial effects, as she is not exactly a goddess. Or even a magic wielder, for that matter…

Well, anything is better than nothing. Lord77 replies And it is our best option so, go for it.

Very well, then. Susan picks up the blank postcard and a quill and begins scratching the words.

My dearest Mitzi Lord77 reads the postcard outloud, over Susan’s shoulder please read this protective spell while looking at the picture:

“To me, my light and power

Forever my faith in thee

Now and in my darkest hour

I will always believe in me."

Hey, which picture are you talking about? Lord77 asks.

The one I was going to draw on the other side of the card before you started to play town herald. Susan shoots, an annoyed look on her face.

Oh, sorry…

Susan then turns the card and starts to draw an exquisite image of a dragon oroborus, encircling a powerful rune. After waiting a moment to allow the ink to dry, she gives it to the imp.

There you go, little soul. she says Do your thing.

While the imp begins to concentrate on his task, Lord77 turns to speak to Susan.

I never thought you’d need protective spells… he commentsEven as a kid.

I didn’t. *Susan replies No monster would ever dare get near me. But mother insisted, nonetheless. She is just psychotic, that way…

That’s… uh… adorable. So, now what? Lord77 asks, looking at the hyperfocused imp.

Now, we wait. Susan says Now, we hope…

(Godofbeer walks around the bar) I wish you had come to us earlier instead of taking all this stress on yourselves. I know we can seem pretty self-absorbed but please, if there is ever anything troubling you, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re here for you. Now, let me take over here and you two ladies move around to the other side of the bar and let me serve you for a change. Believe it or not, I am uniquely qualified to tend bar. You two try to relax while we wait and let us do the worrying.

At Godofbeer’s offer, Sasha and Pasha look at each other, a bit stunned, then smile and give him a simultaneous hug. Even hugging him together, the two of them are almost unable to link hands around his girth.

Pasha, giving him a big kiss on the cheek: Awww, that is so sweet!

Sasha, snuggling against him: Indeed it is!

Releasing him, the bartenders move to the customers’ side and settle onto the barstools.

Pasha: Well! Now that I can get someone else to make a drink for me, let’s see what this cute new bartender can do! I’ll have Sex on the Beach.

Sasha: Ye’ll have a Sex on the Beach, ye mean?

Pasha, winking: Of course that’s what I meant! Didn’t I say that?

Shasha, shaking her head in mock despair: Shameless. Shameless, ye are.

Godofbeer: Not a problem!

Although he doesn’t do it with as much flair and speed as the bunnies would, the Beer God proves that he can handle even somewhat complex cocktails with ease, and sets it before Pasha, who sips and smiles with approval.

Godofbeer: And you, my dear?

Sasha: Oh I’ll just have a beer—your choice. Whatever’s best today.

Godofbeer raises his eyebrows.

Sasha: What? Ye thought I’d be the one with the girly drinks, did ye? No way, mister. I’m a simple beer-or-whisky girl.

Godofbeer: Well, in that case…

He turns and slips his hands into nothingness, reaching into another dimension, carefully pulling a pint, then bringing it into the HQ and turning to set it before Sasha.

Sasha: Pashy, look at it! It’s the finest pint I’ve ever seen! Look at the head on it…perfect! And not too cold…oh, the way the light shines through it, a deep reddish amber! What is it??

Godofbeer: It’s a personal homebrew. I call it Godwiser, the God of Beers.

Sasha takes a long drink, and sighs in satisfaction: Oh, my dear big lunk of a man, you are forgiven for spraying me with yer saliva. That…is amazing.

Pasha: You know, some of us wouldn’t mind being—

Sasha: HUSH, you. I am savorin’ the moment.

Sasha, still blissing out over her Godwiser, with a big silly smile, looks to the side and gasps.

Pasha, playing with a cherry stem: OK, at least this time you didn’t, like, SAY “gasp.”

Sasha: Another postcard! There! Stuck between the Amaretto and the Grey Goose!

Pasha: YOINK! Huh, another hula girl card. Let’s see…OK, OK, no shoving you gods, jeez louise, get outta my light so I can read it! OK…dang she writes tiny on this one…Sash, my reading glasses…thanks, baby…ahem…“My dearest friends, I am so happy to have heard from you, and to know that you are reading my words. Goddess Susan, thank you for that spell. I am not sure how long it will last or whether it will work more than once, so I am saving it for when it is needed most. Negotiations were sabotaged, and though I was wounded, I would have been dead were it not for Lord77’s wonderful gift. The true enemy have shown their hand. I have learned where A. is really being kept, and I have acquired an important ally. I believe we can end this awful war soon, to the great benefit of this land, and I can bring A. home. Love to all, Mitzi.”

Sasha: Wounded? Oh, Mitzi…

Oh Lord77 please tell me that you did not forget us syrona says in a teasing falseelto as lord77 blood drains from his face. Don’t worry we will make this quick and painless this came from ravenvalkyre standing a bits away from syrona but at equal distiance then giveing syronal a quick sign they dashed at unimagable speads each takeing a good part of his toga without useing magic see that was not too hard now was it.

Sasha, drunk on Godwiser: I jus think, ef the gawds wannid Buga Buga Buga Bunnies ta be wannering monsters, they woulda voted for us in th’Idearboks. This…THIS (poking the bar with her finger, hard)—OW! This…place…this is our HOME…an we oughtta stay here. Where we’re SAFE.

Pasha, resting her cheek on her hand and smiling: Yer so cute when yer drunk, y’know that?

Sasha: Who sez Ah’m drunk? YE’R drunk!

Pasha: Tha’s right baby. Now c’mon, we gotta get s’m sleep, cuz t’morrow we gotta start gettin ready for th’big party! They’re gonna deliver that karyokey machine t’morrow. … HAHAHAHAHA lookit that…Lordy’s almost nekkid! WHOO! GO RAVEY!

Sasha: Y’know, I can STILL smell popcorn…

Pasha slides off her barstool and goes all the way to the floor with a thump: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAOWWwwwwwmytail.

Godofbeer: Are you OK? Here, let me help you up…

Godofbeer helps her up, and uses a small amount of Godpower to heal her bruised cottontail.

Pasha, putting her arms around Godofbeer’s neck: Ooo, that feels good. No, you can keep your hand there, han’some.

Godofbeer: Um, I was just, y’know, healing you…

Pasha: Uh-huh, shhuuuuure you were. (giggles) Yer so cute when Ah’m drunk…

Godofbeer, sweating: Uhhhh—

Sasha: GASP! S’annuther postcard!

With a sigh of relief, Godofbeer plops Pasha back onto her barstool and grabs the postcard.

Pasha: Wuzzit say? I c’n hardly see straight.

Godofbeer: Well, there’s a word at the beginning, scratched out. I think it says “Victory.” After that, it says, “The war is over, and A. has been released. He is—” and here some more words are scratched out, then, “injured, as am I, again, I’m afraid. Please don’t be shocked when we return. Love, Mitzi.”

Pasha: Injured…again!? Lemme see that! What…what are these splotches…like raindrops?

Sasha, looking over her friend’s shoulder, her voice sober: Those are teardrops, love. Teardrops.

Standing in front, what was a fine Ephebian cotton toga now rendered to little more than a baby diaper, Lord77 glares at Susan Sto Helit.

“Am I done now?” He inquires.

Susan, smirking behind a hand covering her mouth, nods and points to the Kitchen.

“Thanks.” Marches off to the Kitchen, to the access portal and vanishes.

Short time later, reemerges into the Hall, now wearing a slightly soiled, but intact version of the previously rendered toga. Sits back down at the bar and glances at Godofbeer.

“Had to pull this one out of the dirty hamper.”

Godofbeer chuckles and places a cup of water in front of Lord77.

“Here! Have an Ale!” The Beer God offers, now deeply laughing as he walks to the other side of the bar.

“Damn. I knew that would come back to bite me.” Lord77 mutters and sulks.

Pasha: Groooooooaaaaaaannnnnnn…

Sasha: Good morning, world! Good morning, ye fine, strapping, brave officers of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch! Good morning, Pashy!

Pasha: What are you good morninging ME for? We sleep in the same bed! Ohhhhh gawds my head…

Sasha: Have a little hangover, do we, love? Funny thing, I know I was just as drunk as you, but I feel fine!

Pasha: Why are you torturing me like this!? (grumblegrumble cheery bitch grumblegrumble)

Sasha: WHAT’S THAT, PASHY??

Pasha: Mooooaaaaannnnn…evil…you are evil…evil redhead…I’m going over here and sticking my head in an ice bucket.

Sasha: Well, maybe next time ye’ll stick to good, healthy beer, instead of mixing together so many liquors and fruit juices that ye don’t know what ye’re drinkin’ or how drunk ye’re gettin’, hmm? And all just so ye could make a series of silly double entendres. As if Godofbeer didn’t already know ye have a fuzzy navel, I mean really, Pashy.

Pasha: I don’t even remember what I was trying to imply with that Prickly Margarita. And where did he even find prickly pear puree and agave nectar on such short notice?

Sasha: Oh look! The karaoke machine has been delivered. Come on now, help me set it up on the stage.

Pasha: Groan. Yes’m.

[later]

Pasha: OK, we’ve got the welcome home banner, bar fully stocked, nuts and sandwiches ready to go for when Azz and Mitzi arrive. And we’ve got the decorations and the karaoke machine ready for the Valentine’s Day party the next day.

Sasha: Grand. And we have lots of chocolates and pastries on order to be delivered, along with all the flowers.

Pasha: And all the bunnies know what to do?

Sasha: I believe so. Well, except maybe Flower—she’s over in Lordy’s temple.

Pasha: She usually doesn’t know what to do anyway, bless her heart.

Sasha: True, true. So, ye look like ye feel better.

Pasha: Hard work sweated it out.

Sasha: Well, I’m glad…they’ll be coming home soon, y’know. What’s poor Mitzi been through?

Pasha: Whatever, we’ll be here for her.

Leonard walks in carrying his toolbox to find the karaoke machine placed in a corner of the guildhall. A sudden memory strikes him.

That device looks strangely familiar… a nostalgic smile takes over Leonard’s face as a sudden daydream about new speakers on a karaoke machine, Mith Igorina performing her famous “4 throats and a toenail” requiem, acid rain and, of course, monkeys Yes, just like the one they used to have in the Broken Drum…

Inspecting the karaoke machine closely, Leonard begins to recognize his own handwork.

Yes! he cries in excitement It’s the one I left in the Broken Drum! Oh, just to have it here…

Mmmmmmmm… a muffled voice speaks from inside the brand new Victorian style toolbox.

His hands working without asking for his mind’s permission, Leonard opens the toolbox.

I seh… Manoel ’s voice sounds from the inside why you want di singing máchine if you no can sing, Señor?

His mind registering the insult and turning to his hands to ask “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”, Leonard closes the box again.

MMMMMMMM!!! Manoel screams inside the box.

Looking at the toolbox for the first time, as if he’s just noticed it, Leonard opens the lid.

You close di box on me?! Manoel asks in an angry tone.

Yes. Leonard replies, closing the lid again.

MMMMMMM Manoel screams again, banging the inside of the lid with his handle Thump! Thump!

Now slightly annoyed, Leonard opens the lid and screams into it.

WHAT?!

YOU NO CLOSE DI BOX ON ME, CRAZY SEÑOR! Manoel yells at the top of his… whatever… DIS IS MY HOME! YOU NO CLOSE DI DOOR ON ME, I CLOSE DI DOOR ON YOU!!

Blinded by his anger, Manoel violently closes the lid behind him. After about 2 minutes, Manoel is banging the inside of the lid again.

Thump! Thump! Mmmmmmm…

Well, this is getting tiresome… Leonard says, opening the lid… AGAIN

Sorry, Señor! Manoel replies, slightly embarrassed I get a little loco, yes?! So, why you want di máchine?

It brings back so many memories… Leonard explains, a distant look on his face.

But you no can sing, Señor!

I can too!!

No, you cannot, Señor! Manoel insists I hear you sing, Señor! Di dogs bark, di windows shake, all di nuts hide in di drawer and my cousin Reynaldo, he bends in right angles when you sing, Señor. AND HE IS A CHISEL!!

Well, maybe I can change that Leonard says, somewhat defeated.

You any good at major surgery, Señor? Manoel mocks.

I’M NOT GOING TO CHANGE MYSELF! Just the machine! So anyone who sings can sound great at it.

Well, dis sound good Señor. Manoel says, inspecting the machine and looking for particularly explosive/flammable parts It not going to work like you want it to, but it sound good anyway…

I do have five minutes before I need to get back to that other project… Leonard muses, scratching his chin Alright, give me a hand, then. he looks at Manoel as he realizes what he just saidOh, sorry about that.

You so funny, Señor! the screwdriver replies, jumping out of the toolbox Baboso…

Meanwhile, on the other side of the guildhall, too far to hearLeonard ’s conversation with Manoel, Susan calls the rookies to announce the fourth and final stage of the intensive course.

Very well, ladies and gentlemen! she says It is time to get on with Stage IV, the next and final stage of this intensive course. As I said before, this stage is all about handling and interviewing suspects. I will explain the finer details of this challenge in a minute. But, first… there are some people I would like you all to meet.

With these words, Susan walks to the cells and returns accompanied by four miserable looking characters. All four prisoners (five, if you count the parrot) line up in the center of the room, looking sheepish, hopeless and, all in all, extremely guilty.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your suspects! Susan goes onIntroducing “Hawkeye” Donald and his seeing-eye parrot Troy, “Put That in Writing” Emmet, Oscar, “The Sweet Talker”, and last, but not least, “Never Alone” George.

She says, pointing to each of the men standing in the middle of the room.

As you will soon find out, Susan explains one of the suspects is blind, one is deaf, one is a mute and the fourth… well, he suffers from multiple personality disorder. You are to pick one and interview him. You may NOT pair up for this Stage. If you do, you will fail the test. Now, truth of the matter is, I COULD tell you that one of them is innocent. But I just don’t believe that! So, your task is to figure out what they’ve done, how they did it, to whom and when. A word to the wise: multiple personalities means multiple suspects. You cannot hit them, you cannot inject them with anything, you cannot get them drunk or poisoned. No weapons, no magic. Remember, times are changing and it is not just about kicking their rear ends and throwing them out on the street. Their confessions need to hold in the court of law.

You have 24 hours. The challenge starts… now!

Drinkus Maximus takes “Never Alone” George over to the interrogation table and sits down opposite him. Drinkus looks at George with a look of utter confusion as he tries to decide how to start the interview.

Drinkus: Ummm…

George: What did he say?

George: He said ummm.

George: Why would he say ummm?

George: How should I know why he said ummm?

George: Shut up both of you! We don’t talk to coppers!

Drinkus, his brow furrowing as he concentrates on his next words: Ummm…

George: He said it again.

George: I heard him. I’m not deaf you know.

George: Yes, but why did he say it again?

George: I’m not sure. It’s very suspicious.

George: Will you two shut up? You’ll ruin everything!

Drinkus, with a look of complete bewilderment: Ummm?

George: He keeps saying it. I think it’s a trick.

George: It’s not a trick. I think he’s just stupid.

George: He can’t be stupid. They don’t take stupid people into the watch.

George: Maybe they don’t know he’s stupid.

George: You’re all stupid! Now SHUT UP!

Drinkus, deciding to try one more time: Ummm…

George: It’s a trick, I tell you! He knows! He knows all about us breaking in to the widow Johnson’s house and stealing her silver.

George: That’s ridiculous! How could he possibly know that we broke in through the basement window? We just did that last Thursday, he couldn’t have figured that out yet!

George: He’s cunning, this one. He knows, I tell you! He knows!

George: You idiots! Now everyone knows!

George looks around the room and notices everyone looking at him.Godofbeer laughs, walks over to his hero, and slaps him on the back.

Godofbeer: Good job my articulate friend. He never knew what hit him.

A chuckling Godofbeer leads his clueless hero over to the bar and orders him a beer.

Godofbeer, narrating for himself: I carefully looked the suspects over. They were a shady bunch, to be sure. I especially didn’t like the way the parrot looked at me. They were all guilty, that much was obvious. But the dame in charge said we had to prove it, and I wasn’t about to let her down. She was a real looker, but I could tell right away that she was trouble with a capitol T. What I really needed was a shot of bourbon and a little shuteye, but that would have to wait.

Sasha: Why is he talking like that?

Pasha: Shhh! I love this film noir stuff.

Godofbeer: I had to choose one of the suspects, so I zeroed in on Oscar. They call him “The Sweet Talker”, a nickname with multiple meanings attached. The name was sarcastic in that Oscar was mute and had never said a single word. Word on the street was that there was nothing physically wrong with Oscar. They say that he had been born to a pair of politicians from different parties and that, with the constant speeches and arguments between them, Oscar couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Lack of practice made him completely unable to speak.

A very confused Oscar looks around and vigorously shakes his head.

Godofbeer: He was also called “Sweet Talker” because he was a notorious candy thief. Wherever he went he left a trail of crying babies longer than a cheap wine hangover. Knowing this gave me a good place to start, but getting him to confess wasn’t going to be a piece of cake.

Godofbeer, escorting Oscar to the interrogation chair: I escorted him to the chair and told him to sit down. He pushes a pencil and paper in front of Oscar I gave him a pencil and some paper so that when I broke him down, he could write out his confession. The question remained, how was I going to get him to confess? My usual method was to beat them until they spilled their guts, one way or another. But my dangerously sexy instructor had put the kibosh on that methodology.

Sweat begins to pour down Oscar’s face as he looks around for someone to save him from this madman.

Godofbeer: So I figured I’d have to use simple intimidation. But what would intimidate a hardened candy thief like Oscar. I couldn’t tell him that the use of force had been forbidden for this exercise but the exercise wouldn’t last forever. I couldn’t let him know that my future in the watch might depend on the success of this exercise and that, if I failed, I might no longer be bound by the rules of the watch. I couldn’t make him understand just how angry being embarrassed in front of the lethal but intoxicatingly shapely instructor would make me. If he only knew how much danger his holding out on me is putting him in.

A panicked look crosses Oscar’s face and he begins to write feverishly. Several minutes later, he finishes and hands the paper to Godofbeer. Godofbeer looks it over, shakes his head and begins to laugh.

Godofbeer: I can’t believe that actually worked. Our Mister Sweet Talker has an amazing memory. He hands the paper toSusan Here’s a list of names, places, times, and an explanation of what he stole and how he did it. I believe that about does it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a beer before the reality of what I said about you sinks in and you decide to gruesomely murder me. He moves quickly to the bar and starts chugging down beer like his life depended on it.

Lord77 sits at the bar nursing an ale and only half-watchingGodofbeer work through his test. Suddenly he hears the personal narration include “dangerously sexy instructor”. His head snaps up, looks at Godofbeer wondering if he just heard what he thought he heard. His internal thought is then interrupted by “lethal but intoxicatingly shapely instructor”, and he whips around to see that all to familiar, seething look in Susan Sto Helit’s eyes.

Godofbeer succeeds in his task, sits on the other side of Lord77as if using him as a shield, and begins quickly quaffing his beer.

“Interesting technique,” Lord77 quietly mutters to the Beer God.“I’m sure Susan would agree.”

GodofBeer hunkers down and attempts to make himself smaller in the hopes of hiding more of his massive self behind the slighter God.

Lord77 stands up, grabs his beer mug, and as he takes a seat at the far end whispers to the God, “I’ve seen that look before, you’re dead.”

“Say Susan!” Lord77 loudly states. “Did you want to come over here and congratulate my buddy on his fine detective work?”

Susan narrates to herself: Watching this promising young recruit walk up to the bar while the true meaning of his words sunk in, I started wondering about what would be the best way to respond. Now, he wasn’t much to be seen and left little to yearn, but even so, a kind word about a lady’s looks should not go unpunished. So how to make him pay?

I couldn’t go around cutting him into pieces with his own sword.Godofbeer looks down at his sword to make sure it’s still safely stored in it’s scabbard It would leave to much blood lying around for the rats.

Poisoning him with water was not an option, as it had been done before, here Godofbeer spits out the whole contents of his mouth onto Sasha, yet again.

And how to resist the urge to use the scythe on him? Godofbeercringes and hides behind the bar But, again, it would have been too messy.

I remembered the five basic techniques of torture: blunt, sharp, hot, cold and loud. None seemed to do but I started laying down all the tortures implements I could find on the bar counter, all the same. Susan starts gathering a number of instruments and places pokers, pencil sharpeners, paper clips, staplers, knifes, scissors, spits, chains, broken glass bottles, buckets of ice, whips and a really annoying chihuahua on the counter But none of them was good enough. They were all either too messy, too loud or not painful enough.

But then I remembered. The most painful of all tortures. Unbearable to a beer god and so easy to apply, here Susanwalks behind the bar and starts moving in on Godofbeer, who’s still curled up in a ball, unaware that the goddess is getting near. All I had to now was to catch my victim. A single touch and he would see the flaming mouths of hell. I reached out my hand and…

Susan places her hand on Godofbeer ’s shoulder. The terrified god immediately jumps up with the fright and becomes paralyzed bySusan ’s cold touch. Looking into his eyes like a snake hypnotizing her latest victim, Susan brings her face closer to his ear, her lips softly brushing against his skin as she says in a voice carved to stop the heart and curdle the blood

I have to admit, it WAS very flattering, little soul. Do it again, however, and I will leave you hopping around like a school boy and narrating in falsetto.

Ravenvalkyre takes hawkeye donald into the interveiw roomRavenvalkyre let me make this as simple as I can I am the most simple of all of them as well as the most deadly. Donald…Ravenvalkyre very well though I can not harm you with sword or magic I can break you other wise. He bigins to click his toung in a very strange way that makes donald cover his ears in pain but still can not block it out Donald fine I give it was that old lady named lenor I stole all she had useing troy here that was two days ago at midnight. Now stop that clicking.

After Susan moves off to supervise Ravenvalykre’s task,Godofbeer staggers back to the bar. Realizing that he is not, in fact, going to die a horrendous death, he lets out a huge sigh of relief. A large smile forms on his face and he promptly passes out.

Sasha: Where ARE they? They should ha’ been here by now!

Pasha: Maybe they stopped at Azz’s temple to change? Maybe they needed to heal up or something?

Sasha: Oh look! The Temple Door’s opening! It’s them!

The golden glow from Azzageddi’s temple silhouettes them momentarily, and several voices—everyone present—cry out a welcome to match the big “WELCOME HOME MITZI & AZZAGEDDI” banner hanging above the bar. The tumult cuts off as the door closes and the couple can be more easily seen, and a stunned silence falls over the room.

Azzageddi looks the same as usual, dressed informally but sharply in beige linen trousers and a subdued but beautiful aloha shirt. His skin is a darker shade of brown than its usual café au lait, and his slow movement suggests he may be in a great deal of pain, but he shows no obvious injuries.

Mitzi’s normally pale skin has also been darkened and her black hair lightened by the strong sun of Mardi, but that is the least of her changes. She carries on one shoulder what at first appears to be an enormous feather, perhaps from a Roc, slightly longer than herself, attached to a hilt made of koa wood wrapped in ray skin, long enough to wield the feather two handed. The feather gleams as if made of silver, but appears to weigh very little. She seems to be wearing elbow-length gloves, but on second look her arms are bare, covered elbows to fingertips with blue-black tattoos of straight lines, crosshatchings, and swooping curves. Also, the fur on the upper half of her left ear is now pure white, rather than its usual black, with a straight razor-sharp demarcation between the two colors.

And most shocking of all, she is wearing an eyepatch over her right eye. The patch is green and blue, decorated with small shells and semiprecious stones.

Though Azzageddi towers over her, Mitzi seems to be supporting him, glancing up at him protectively to make sure he’s OK. He nods at her, smiling, and she cautiously leaves his side to approach the bar. Sasha & Pasha, frozen in mid-welcome, look stricken. Mitzicarefully lays the huge feather on the bar and releases it. It levitates about an inch above the bar, but Mitzi puts an admonishing hand over it and barks an order: “Moé!” It seems to resist, and she says sharply, “Alé! Moé! Sleep!” It sinks onto the bar, then suddenly seems to become more solid and heavy, and the bar groans slightly at the weight settling onto it.

Mitzi sighs and seems to relax, as if she had been on high alert while carrying the feather, then smiles at the bartenders and holds out her arms. Pasha whoops as she and Sasha leap over the bar and throw their arms around her, then Sasha is crying over Mitzi’seye and Pasha is begging her forgiveness for not speaking up to the gods more quickly and they are both fussing over the tattoos and the ear and Mitzi is laughing and wiping away tears and telling them that she’s fine, just fine…

syrona walks in with a bunch of cards and some paper and proceds to have emite hold a pen as she lays out the cards without him relizing it he begings to write then sign his confesshon about chaining up a dog with bladder probolmes in his enemys house. no wepons just a trick of the mind.

Meanwhile, Azzageddi approaches the other gods with a very slight limp. He smiles and embraces Lord77 and then, pausing to make sure it’s OK, Susan Sto Helit. He winces but grins at Godofbeer’schortling bearhug, and grips Ravenvalykre’s hand carefully to avoid anything sharp.

Lord77: Brother, what the hell happened?

Azzageddi: Heh, exactly. My attempt to visit home took me further home than I expected.

Susan Sto Helit, looking him over with concern, leads Azzageddito a chair and sits him down. Placing a hand on his chest, she closes her eyes for a moment. For a single instant, less than a second, Azzageddi’s body becomes translucent and then flashes back into a more… solid state.

Susan: I know these wounds. I have seen them before. Your body is not injured. Your pain arises from a deeper, metaphysical trauma. Someone has…tortured you, her voice is shaken. With those terrible things…

Azzageddi: It’s all right…I’ll be all right. Really. I’ve…been through something like it before. I will recover. It’s Mitzi I’m more worried about.

Lord77: What happened to her? We know she fought in some kind of civil war or something…why does she have that eyepatch?? Did you not have enough godpower to heal her? I’ll gladly take care—

Azzageddi shakes his head sadly: No…it won’t work, my friend. Well, I mean, you should try, sure, please try, but…that wound was inflicted by the God-King Peerless Blue Shark, wielding the God-Spear Pierces Eight with One Thrust, a weapon forged out of a bound god…a sort of god itself. It’s almost certain that nothing we can do can restore that eye.

Susan Sto Helit: The spell of protection…

Azzageddi: Oh my dear Susan, yes, she was using it, and it saved her life! I…I can never repay you enough for that…I am forever in your debt! But though the spell allowed her to cut a path through Peerless Blue Shark’s retinue, it was shattered by his attack. But he was so shocked that he had failed to kill her instantly, and she was able to use Feather to cut him down.

Lord77: Feather? That…sword, or whatever it is?

Azzageddi: Owl’s Feather Floats on the Breeze, yes…another god, forged into a weapon of unmatched deadliness. Those Mardians have developed some strange and disturbing magics. They were going to use me for raw materials as well…after some tenderizing. If I had known how easily they can bind gods into servitude…well, let’s just say that was not my best idea for a vacation.

Susan Sto Helit: And the tattoos…they allow her to wield it? To control it?

Azzageddi: Yes, they are binding spells. And we had to bring it back with us. That thing… I wouldn’t trust it in anyone else’s care. It can lay waste to entire armies…

Godofbeer: Is she going to be carrying that thing on the streets of Godville?? The breastplate is one thing, but a sword like that…

Mitzi, despite being surrounded by chattering bunnies and human officers of the Watch, twitches her ears as she hears herself being discussed, and gently breaks away to approach the four gods. With a wry grin, she stops behind Azzageddi’s chair and puts her tattooed hands on his shoulders: Talking about me?

She looks at the gods, smiling. Where once she would have been meek and quiet before them, she stands casually, no trace of arrogance, but relaxed in their presence. Then she starts, as if remembering something.

Mitzi: Oh! Uh…sorry, who is the senior officer present…?

Azzageddi: I think that would be me, but I haven’t officially resumed command yet. Anyway, it would be kind of weird for you to be all salute-y to me, considering what we’ve just been through…Lordy, Susan, which one of you is senior again?

Lord77: Well, I’ve had a temple longer, but I think Susan may have been in the Watch longer…to tell the truth, I’m not sure either. shrugs Take your pick, Mitz.

Mitzi stands to attention and salutes to both Susan Sto Helit andLord77 at once: Constable Mitsumi reporting for duty!

Azzageddi chuckles and says “Constable” under his breath. Mitziglances sidelong, and the gods can almost hear her thinking “Hush, you” at him.

The gods salute her. Susan: Welcome back, little one. Know that you do not need to resume your duties right away.

Mitzi: Thank you, Ma’am, but I’d much rather be back doing what I was meant to do.

Lord77: Yes, “Constable”…you saved our brother’s life. I think some kind of promotion—

Mitzi: No! Um…sorry. I just…the things I did over there…that wasn’t police work, not at all. She looks Lord77 in the eye. I just want to walk my beat, bring in criminals, help old ladies find their cats… Her voice trembles and she has to blink back tears, like she’s barely holding it together. Just good, clean policing. Sir.

Godofbeer: As I was saying before…what about that sword, Constable?

Mitzi: I assure you, Feather will be put away, safely. If I never see him again, I’ll be happy. All I want to carry is my standard kit: truncheon, short sword, and crossbow for raids. And, of course, this breastplate… knocking on it and smiling at Lord77 …it’s so comfortable, after all, and I can hardly say how many times it’s saved my life. It’s like an old friend now. … But oh, that reminds me!

Mitzi pulls a postcard that was tucked behind her breastplate: Ma’am, thank you…your spell made it possible for me to…end the war. But I wish to return it to you. Being invulnerable…it’s not a good thing, for a copper.

Susan Sto Helit takes it back, gravely: A wise choice, I am sure. But to tell the truth, Constable, I do not believe you should resume your duties right away. You have been through a great deal. Office duty only: Interviewing suspects, examining old case reports, that sort of thing. And no crossbows. After all, you have no depth perception.

Mitzi open her mouth to argue, her cheeks flushed with anger, ears back, then shuts her mouth and composes herself: Yes Ma’am. I’m sure you’re right. She salutes again and walks stiffly back to the gathering of bunnies and human cops.

Lord77: Wow, Susan…

Godofbeer: No…Susan’s right. That girl is a ticking time bomb.

Azzageddi: You…may be right.

Pasha: So what happened to your ear, anyway? Let me guess, it was the first wound you mentioned in the postcards.

Mitzi: Huh? Oh…yes. Yeah. I really don’t know who did that…just some random footsoldier. Sliced it right off. I should’ve ducked more. Ha!

Sasha looks like she’s about to be seriously ill at the image.

Mitzi: Oh, I didn’t even notice when it happened! It didn’t start hurting until after I…until after the battle. When Azzageddi healed me, after I got him out of…jail…it grew back white. No idea why.

Pasha, stroking the ear: Well, I say it looks kind of cool.

Sasha, throwing her arms around Mitzi wth a sob: Oh, never leave us again, love! Ye shouldnae be gallivantin’ off ta other worlds!

Mitzi: Ha ha, I swear, I’m fine—

Something shatters loudly. Mitzi shoves Sasha down, leaning over her protectively and half-reaching a hand out toward Feather, which trembles and slides a a little towards her before Mitzi sees thatPoindexter has simply knocked his glass off the table. Her beckoning gesture turns into “stay,” and the weapon quiets.

Sasha: Mitzi, what—

Mitzi: I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Are you OK??

Sasha: Of course I’m OK! Don’t be daft! But why’d you—

Pasha: Mitzi…what the hell was that?!

Mitzi: I need to get that thing out of here. I didn’t want to leave it alone and Azzageddi wanted to consult the other gods on best materials and spells to lock it away with, but they can do that in his temple. It was stupid to bring it here! Excuse me.

Looking badly shaken, she goes to the bar, awakens the sword with a word, and picks it up. As she does, her hair seems to stand slightly on end, as if from static electricity, and she gains an almost godlike aura of power. Grimly, she goes to the temple door, and is joined by Azzageddi, who had stood up like a shot when she half-called the weapon to her. Together, they leave.

Godofbeer trudges back into the guild hall wearing a diaper and fake wings. Ignoring the snickering and, from some people, outright laughter, he stomps his way to one of the back rooms. He emerges a few minutes later in his normal outfit, glares at the still giggling crowd, and stomps his way to the bar. He sits down, looks atSasha and Pasha, and holds out his hand.

Don’t say it! Whatever clever remark you are thinking right now, tell it to each other behind my back later. For now, just be the good friends you’ve always been and pour me a beer. I really need one after that humiliation. I mean, I knew I had ticked Susan off, but this goes beyond cruel and unusual. I hope Lordy does something stupid real soon to take the focus off of me. Or maybe Leonard could blow something up. That would be nice.

Sasha really does try hard not to snicker as she gets Godofbeerhis libation, but she doesn’t quite manage it. When he shoots her a glance, she says: Hey now, you just sprayed me again! You deserve a little ribbin’ after that!

Pasha: Like I said, there’s some here wouldn’t exactly mind being sprayed…

Sasha: Oh, doon’t be gross, Pashy! Oh, Azz and Mitzi are comin’ back…

When they return, Mitzi has changed out of her Watch uniform, into a simple flower-patterned dress with a pleated skirt. Her face is a bit red around the eyes. She walks up to Susan Sto Helit.

Mitzi: Ma’am…Captain…you were right. I think…I need a little time. I’m looking forward to reviewing those old case files…maybe I can find something.

Susan Sto Helit: Take all the time you need, little one. Report to us when you are sure you are ready for it. Until then, rest. And enjoy the party tomorrow.

Mitzi: Oh, right, Valentine’s Day. I wonder what one does for that…

Godofbeer, putting a big hand on her shoulder: Don’t worry, kid. We’ll all figure these things out together.

She nods and returns to her mortal friends.

Lord77 comes back to the bar and sits next to Godofbeer. Sasha(still a bit damp, and smelling of beer) is already pouring him an ale.

“Thank you as always sweetheart. Love your new perfume.”

Sasha giggles and moves down the bar. Out of the corner of his eye, Lord77 sees Godofbeer staring at him, obviously expecting a sarcastic comment pertaining to his earlier attire.

“Relax, buddy,” Lord77 continues. “You, at least, got to wear something that covered your butt. She normally left me with those sick thongs. Try wearing a diaper made of paper clips sometime.”

Pasha: OK, let’s fire this karyokey machine up, test it out before the party.

Sasha: Pasha, I think I saw Leonard working on it yesterday.

Pasha: Awesome! Maybe he got it working.

Sasha: Just be careful…

Pasha: OK, let’s have a little Lauper, just for funsies. Um,pressing buttons, there, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”…

The music begins, but it plays a very different song.

Pasha’s face is confused at first, but she sings it, and sings it very well indeed, in a voice smoky and sweet and almost heartbreaking, her eyes on Sasha’s face the whole time, whileSasha just sits there, mesmerized._

You’re a boy and I’m a girl But you know you can lean on me And I don’t have no fear I’ll take on any man here Who says that’s not the way it should be I stand in front of you I’ll take the force of the blow Protection …You’re a girl and i’m a boy Sometimes you look so small, need some shelter Just runnin’ round and round, helter skelter And I’ve leaned on me for years Now you can lean on me And that’s more than love, that’s the way it should be…

When the song finishes, Sasha goes up and gives Pasha a long hug and a kiss: I thought you were gonna sing the other song.

Pasha: I was! I guess the songs are mixed up…but the thing was, when it started playing, I suddenly NEEDED to sing that song. And now…I feel so good.

Sasha: Oh, me too…

Azzageddi, looking a bit concerned, steps onto the stage and examines the machine: Hmm…let’s try something simple…“Take Me Home, Country Road”, the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version.

The music that comes out could not resemble the chosen song less. Azzageddi is immediately caught up in it, however, as if he’s being controlled by an external force…or an internal one. He throws himself fully into the song, releasing a dark rage that he’d been keeping contained. His exposed skin darkens with tattoos as he morphs into his god-form, serpentine lines turning his face into a terrifying mask, and goat-like horns begin to extend from his forehead.

But I’m not a slave to a god That doesn’t exist But I’m not a slave to a world That doesn’t give a sh!t And when we were good You just closed your eyes So when we are bad We’ll scar your minds FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

When it is over, he is dripping with sweat and exhausted, looking out on the shocked audience, his words of hate ringing in their ears.

Azzageddi, weakly: Yeah…I would say there’s something weird about this karaoke machine. Excuse me. And he slumps to his knees.

Mitzi rushes to his side and helps him stagger off the stage, looking like a small child next to him as he is almost double his usual size. But with each step, he shrinks a bit, and the tattoos fade, and the horns retract, until by the time he slumps into a chair he looks his normal self, albeit worn out.

Lord77: Horns?! You’ve never had HORNS before!

Mitzi glares at Lord77.

Susan Sto Helit: He’s always had them. He just keeps them well hidden.

Azzageddi smiles tiredly at her: You’ve known for some time, haven’t you?

Susan: The clues were all there. It wasn’t hard to figure out. You’ve hinted at it several times, and even said it matter-of-factly, though most people thought you were joking.

Lord77: Wait, what? You’re a devil??

Mitzi: He WAS a devil!

Azzageddi: Well, once a devil…

Lord77: But I thought you were a god!

Azzageddi: I am. I worked my way up. Way, way up. Heck, I started out as nothing but a weak little spirit of temptation, about as low on the totem pole as you can get. My specialty was encouraging people to disobey and rebel. Got a lot of slaves to rise up against their masters over the centuries. Of course, a lot of them were killed for it… He looks downcast. Anyway, by studying and applying myself, I climbed my way out of the pits of Hell. Then, revolutions, coups, I played my little part. Things…often didn’t work out as planned. So I came here, to Godville, swore off changing the world, and I found a hero, and convinced her to worship me and start building my temple. It’s amazing how easy it is to become a god here.

Godofbeer: Evil is as evil does. And you are not evil.

Azzageddi: Thanks, bro. I really do try not to be. I do make mistakes sometimes. Touching Mitzi’s eyepatch. Pretty bad ones.

Mitzi: They needed us. I have no regrets.

Azzageddi: They needed you, War Chieftain Mitsumi.

Mitzi: That’s not who I am.

Azzageddi: I know. It’s only who you had to be, for a little while.

Godofbeer looks at Azz, then at Pasha, and finally at the karaoke machine. Yeah… that was weird. Either that thing is possessed or, even worse, Leonard has been tampering with it. He shudders at the memory of his last run in with one of Leonard’scontraptions. I think I’m going to need a lot more beer before I go anywhere near it. Maybe after the party really gets going and I’m good and drunk. Maybe… as he gazes at the machine, he feels a pull from it, a sense of inevitability. Fighting against it, he manages to return to the bar for another drink.

Lord77 takes to the front after Azzageddi collapses into the chair.

“Wow! That was an unexpected start of the party. But, this is supposed to be a day of fun. So, to kick this off and put it back on track, why don’t I choose…hmm…”looking at the playlist.“Ahh. Here’s a nice drinking song.”

The God pushes a button. Suddenly, the lights dim, mists rise from below, his beard turns very grey, and somehow the effect makes him look very emaciated.

Another kind of drinking song

Must be getting early; clocks are running late. Paint-by-number morning sky looks so phony. Dawn is breaking everywhere; light a candle, curse the glare. Draw the curtains; I don’t care, ‘cause it’s alright I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive.

The song ends, and Lord77 stands, slightly stunned, and quickly checks his hands to make sure his flesh is back.

“Well, that wasn’t the kind of drinking I was thinking of. But, hey, if you want to give it a shot, pick a song you’d like to sing, add a link, and help the readers out by including lyrics.”

“Just remember, the machine changes it. So, make your song different than you present.”

“Who’s next?”

Pasha: Yo, Peaky, we need more hearts over in that corner, stat! And Shade, how are the balloons coming? STOP PLAYING WITH THE HELIUM, YOU DOOFUS!

Shade’s normally deep, cool voice sounding like Daffy Duck: What, you don’t like my voice like this?

Pasha: Creeeeepy. Anyway, helium is a finite resource—quit playing with it! Sasha, how are the pastries coming?

Sasha: The ones we’re ordering out for are being delivered, Pashy. However, sweet little Tootsie has devoured a whole tray of my cinnamon buns.

Pasha: NOOOO! That damn burro! Those are my favorites!

Shade, still with helium voice: She loves your buns, Sasha!

Pasha: Oh, real mature.

Sasha: He learned it all from you, Pashy, just like the massage.

Pasha: …anyway…Keep that burro away from the pastries! I know you keep feeding it, and then it gets gas and it’s like trench warfare in here! Worse than when Nobby Nobbs takes off his shoes!

Sasha: I took the sweet little creature back to Lordy’s.Speaking of which, Flower is asking can she help us, bless her heart.

Pasha: And you told her no, right??

Sasha: I told her Lord77 had great need of her in his temple, of course.

Pasha: Whew! She’s a sweetheart, but I don’t need her helping on top of everything else.

Sasha: Ta, but yer right, the poor wee thing.

Poindexter: I have the lighting system rigged to work in synch with the karaoke machine, Pasha.

Pasha: Good work, sweety. And the bar is fully stocked…you know, I think we’re about ready for this party!

Susan looks around the room in search of Leonard.

Funny how that man always seems to vanish when his inventions start acting up, she says, unable to spot him anywhere in the room. Well, considering what happened a few days ago, I am DEFINITELY not going anywhere near that karaoke machine. Or that stage, for that matter…

Turning to all the rookies in the room, she announces

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the Susan Sto Helit Intensive Course For AMCW Lance-Constables is now complete! Congratulations to those who managed to survive and thrive through all the four Stages of training. Godofbeer,Ravenvalykre, a special word of congratulations goes to the both of you, for participating with such eagerness and sportsmanship. As a reward, enjoy the party! Knowing us, I am sure it will be a blast! Or at least include one, somewhere along the way…

Sasha: Congratulations, Lance-Constables! Get over here for your free drinks! I’m handling the beer—

Pasha: —and I’m on cocktail duty! Who wants our official cocktail, the AMCW Bunny?

Sasha: Also, free kisses for the graduates!

Pasha: Really? Awesome!

Sasha: One each!

Pasha: Awww…

Sasha: And for those that prefer fellas, we’ve got Shade, Peaky, and Poindexter (Poindexter looks aghast and puts his arms up in a big X, mouthing NO NO NO)…uhhh, Shade and Peaky serving sandwiches and pastries around the room.

Pasha, quieter, handing a drink to Susan Sto Helit: Hey, Su—ahh, Miss Creatrix of Bunnies, Ma’am…pardon me, but you really should try the karaoke machine. I gotta say…it just felt great.

Susan Sto Helit: It appears to place a compulsion on its users. I am not at all interested in being compelled.

Pasha: I don’t know…for me, it was more like…something I didn’t even realize about myself, and needed to know.

Sasha, passing near and bumping her hip against Pasha’s: I knew you were protective of me, Pashy dear, but I never knew how important that was to ye.

Pasha: Me neither, baby. And with Azzageddi, it was almost…healing. Look at him. He’s still in pain, but he’s moving a lot more easily, and his smile…well, it was pretty forced earlier, but now it looks for real.

Susan Sto Helit: …

Pasha, suddenly nervous: Well…I just remembered I need to start up the chocolate fountain…I’ll leave you to your thoughts…

Lord77, seeing that the energy in the room is slowing down, returns to the front to get another song going. Rummaging around Karaoke playlist, finds his favorite drinking song.

“OK, folks. This is a party and it’s time to up the celebration a notch. Find your glass and join along!”

Pushes the button. The lights dim, and again a transformation occurs. The God’s toga takes a tie-dyed pattern look, and his hair becomes much longer.

Not quite a drinking song

Just an old-fashioned love song playin’ on the radio. And wrapped around the music is the sound of someone promising they’ll never go. You swear you’ve heard it before as it slowly rambles on and on. No need in bringin’ `em back,`cause they’re never really gone. Just an old-fashioned love song, one I’m sure they wrote for you and me. Just an old-fashioned love song, comin’ down in 3-part harmony.

As the song winds down, he finishes and looks up to see many in in crowd giggling, and Susan watching him intently. Embarrassed at the switch from a German Drinking song to a TDN Love Song, apologizes in a low voice.

“Uh…sorry….damn machine.”

Mitzi gets on the stage next, wearing an uncharacteristic flowery dress but looking incongruously piratical with her flashy eyepatch. She takes a deep breath, nervous, then tries to pick Shine More by Amuro Namie, but ends up with something a bit more raw.

It’s true, we’re all a little insane. / But it’s so clear, / Now that I’m unchained. / Fear is only in our minds, / Taking over all the time. / Fear is only in our minds / but it’s taking over all the time. / You poor sweet innocent thing. / Dry your eyes and testify. / You know you live to break me. / Don’t deny sweet sacrifice. /

Azzageddi looks only slightly surprised at this emotional outpouring, and smiles as Mitzi dives deeply into the song, letting it carry her away, shedding every trace of meekness and submission to authority and just releasing the pain inside.

Afterwords, she shakily replaces the mic in the holder and steps into his embrace.

Sasha: Right, me next! Um…hmm…

Pasha: Oh hurry up! It doesn’t matter what you choose anyway! The machine will change it to something else!

Sasha: Oh right…OK…I’ll try for my favorite karaoke song, anyway.

Of course, it ends up being something else, something just as fun but way sexier, but oddly enough, not in English.

Allo Lola, c’est encore moi / J’ai beaucoup penser à toi, Lola / Allo Lola ne raccroche pas / Ne mets pas de hola Lola ola / Allo Lola, comme un garçon / J’ai le coeur qui fait boum et les cheveux longs / Allo Lola, comme un garçon / C’est la première fois pour moi que tes yeux me font / Boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum / Ola Lola c’est / Boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum / Lola c’est osé…

Pasha bounds onto the stage and presses her cheek to Sasha’s to share the mic, singing joyfully along in a duet for the second half of the song. The two totally ham it up onstage and get everyone singing the “Boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum” part along with them, and they end with huge applause and wolf whistles from the assembled guests before they stumble off stage, laughing.

Pasha: So…do you have any idea what we just sang?

Sasha: How should I know? I don’t know French!

The Almighty Anne totters in wearing heels far too tall for any ordinary mortal, and wearing a quantity of sequins and feathers that would cause a person with any taste to say stop!)

Did I hear someone say karaoke? and chocolate fountain?

Sasha? Pasha? could one of you mix me an Ankhian Bunny? pretty please? I have gotten Agnes to promise not to sing until the party is ending, because we all know that when she sings the party is officially over (since she is the resident Fat Lady, and proud of it!)

Peaky my sweet, could you please help me onto the stage? Careful, don’t step on my feather boa… Now, what to sing? I’m feeling just a little bit theatrical right now… oh, I know

Cabaret!

the karaoke machine rattles ominously

No! Don’t make me do it!

Enough, Enough! Of being sad and tearful, I’ll show my noble stuff, by being bright and cheerful! Haha ha ha ah! lalalalalalalalalalalalalaaaaa! Ha Ha Ha hahaha Ha haha ha ha hahaha….

Oh the shame! if that’s what the machine makes me do, what ever will happen to Agnes?

Please Sasha, Pasha forgive me for all the broken glassware and mix me drink. Strong please, the sort of thing that would make Susan Sto Helit or GodofBeer a bit wobbly. I think I need to forget that dreadful song.

After a while, Susan looks around the now relatively silent Watch House.

Well, this has become one really quiet party…

Walks up behind the bar and slowly starts mixing up an elaborate cocktail.

Hmmm… quiet… calm… karaoke-free…looks at the apparently possessed karaoke machine as a cold chill runs down her spineish… Yes, definitely my kind of party.

Takes a sit at the bar, her back leaning agains the counter as she scans the room for any signs of drunken coma or major injury cases.

Azzageddi comes to the bar after leaving Mitzi curled up asleep on the comfy chair with the soft pillows. Leaning on the bar, he looks at the karaoke machine and smiles at Susan.

You know you’re going to do it, right? No? No, I think we’re going to see you up there, singing I know not what, but I know it’s not going to be some Shirley Temple number. It’s going to be something that tells us all—you included—something about you that we didn’t know.

And it’ll be something that makes us all—you included—love you more.

Oh now, what’s that look? This night of all nights we can talk about such things, and you, Susan Sto Helit, are loved here. Those of us who have come to know you, anyway. And it is to the extent to which you’ve let us in, past that thick armor you wear around your heart, that we, humans, bunnies, gods…other…have come to love you.

Love is only possible where there is vulnerability.

That’s what this machine is…an opportunity to be vulnerable. Give us that gift, my friend. It is a gift to yourself as well.

Smiling again at the silent goddess, he picks up a nearly empty bottle of Caol Isla and takes it back to Mitzi, who has started shivering and whimpering at some dark dream. He carefully soothes her awake and holds her, gentling away the fear.

Stepping onto the stage, Susan looks at the karaoke machine with a “what are you planning to do to me” expression on her face.

I am quite sure I am going to regret doing this before this night is done… she says.

OH, C’MON, SUSAN! Lord77 yells as if to encourage her. IT’S ONE SONG! IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S GOING TO HURT YOU!

Standing near Lord77, Azzageddi nods to Susan, gently encouraging her.

Still hesitant as to the wisdom of giving in and singing a song,Susan goes through the list of songs and selects one of the least embarassing ones. The song that actually plays, however, couldn’t be any more different from it. She scans the crowd with a look of distress on her face, her beckoning gaze falls, first on Azzageddi, then on Lord77, begging them for help. Even though she realizes that help won’t come, Susan ’s expression begins to soften and her eyes close as the song takes over. As the light dims, Susan ’s robes begin to change, turning into a plain long black dress. A burgundy shawl now covers her shoulders, her white hair has turned dark and wavy.

Há quanto tempo já esqueci

porque fiquei longe de ti cada momento é pior,

volta no vento por favor

eu sei quem és para mim,

haja o que houver espero por ti

As the song fades and the unseen guitars go silent, Susan opens her eyes again to look at a stunned and silent crowd. Not really understanding what it is she’s just sung but feeling like she should regret it deeply, Susan leaves the stage and heads to the end of the room. As she walks by Azzageddi and Lord77, she says without bothering to stop.

You can bet your lives that I am NOT doing that again.

Azzageddi can’t fight the big smile on his face as he watchesSusan Sto Helit walk away.

Lord77: Wait…what did she say? It was so beautiful…but what did she say??

Azzageddi smiles at him and claps him on the shoulder: Sorry, you’ll have to ask her.

As he walks over towards Mitzi, who woke up just in time to hear the song, he whispers to himself just loud enough for Godofbeerto hear: Could it be…?

Lord77 is sitting at the bar still sulking over the Karaoke machine’s inability to play his favorite drinking song. Suddenly becomes aware that his hero has died…again. Nonchalantly waves his hand, and to his right, Adam77 is resurrected. The human sees his God and bows low.

“Master, again I am sorry for losing all your gold. The Dust Bunny was too powerful. I am grateful for the resurrection and ask for your blessing.”

“You want my blessing,” Lord77 snarls. “Go up there and sing my drinking song.”

Adam77 stands and looks at the stage and the cursed machine.

“For your honor, my God, I shall!” and Adam77 races to the front.

Looking over the machine and, of course, confused, Adam77 finally finds his master’s song and, exhausting all mental effort, pushes the button. The lights dim, spotlights paint the crowd, and the hero’s outfit changes to a T-shirt and tight jeans.

You guessed it. Not a drinking song.

Hey, girl what’s your name - so loud in here I can’t hear a thing - But I sure do like your style - and I can see you came to rock - In your blue jeans and white tank top - man, that look drives me wild - And it’s hey, now here we go - DJ, don’t you play nothing slow - Keep those girls down on the floor - Gotta make them wanna come back for more - Been here since the sun came down

As the song finishes, the ladies in the crowd are all screaming and cheering the studly hero, blowing kisses and wanting to touch him. Finally, the lights turn back to normal, and Adam77 jumps from the stage back to his God.

Reaching the bar Sasha and Pasha cheer and whistle, then hop over, each hugging a muscular arm. Adam77 looks confused (as usual) at the sudden bunny sandwich he’s become. Looks up atLord77.

“Did I do it right?”His hero asks.

“Yeah, sure. Best damn drinking song I ever heard. Now go kill some more monsters.”

Adam77 highly relieved to receive the blessing gently dislodges himself from the bunnies and races out of the Hall. Lord77watches him as he retreats.

“Kid’s got talent, though,” he mutters.

Both bunnies, twinkles in their eyes, mew “He sure does”.

Sasha: That popcorn smell is growing ever so strong…

Pasha: Yeah, what—

The doors from the basement level burst open, and Leonard enters, pushing a steaming, clanking, whistling contraption of gears and pistons. Rapidfire popping echoes from within.

Leonard: I have finally perfected the popcorn machine!

Pasha: Oh no…

Manoel: Oh no, Señor! Why you build a máchine with a big red button that say “No Push Here”?! You know everyone always push di big shiny red button! Then máchine goes BOOM! Everyone know this!

Tootsie enters, her tongue half out of the side of her mouth, slavering at the smell of butter, trotting towards Leonard and the machine.

Leonard: What? No, back, fell beast! This is not for you!

Manoel: Para, loco! You are pushing me into di button, Señor!

The popcorn machine suddenly goes into Turbo Mode, popping at ten times the rate as before. Leonard tries to hit buttons and pull gears while slapping away Tootsie’s muzzle. He grabs for Manoel to try to unscrew a panel when the machine suddenly explodes, filling the room with popped and unpopped kernels and covering everyone present with warm, delicious butter.

Sasha: splutter Why…am I always getting covered in stuff???

Pasha looks at her and starts laughing, then slips, grabs Sasha, and they both fall to the floor behind the bar, still laughing.

Sasha: Agh! My vest!

Pasha: Whoa! Let’s, uh, fix that!

Grabbing onto the bar fixtures, they claw their way back into view.

Pasha, poking at her hair: Well, at least this stuff is probably good for my ’do.

Sasha: Probably not mine…HA! Oh, look at everyone slipping around, holding onto each other. Oh, no…HAHAHAHAAA!

Pasha: Well, I’m sure it’s good for your skin…you know, this is a perfect opportunity for a massage. And it IS sort of still Valentine’s Day…

Sasha: Oh, um…blushes…well… She quickly puts up the “Gone Fishin’” sign and writes a note on it, “Serve Yourselves.” Oh wait! We can’t go into our room! Bellatrixie is still sleeping it off in there!

Pasha: Hmm, well, we’ll just have to get creative. Come on!

Hand in hand, the buttery bunnies run and slip into the kitchen.

Looking around the extensively lubricated Watch House (and not daring to look down at her buttery robes), Susan sighs and hides her eyes with a greasy hand. As the party attendees struggle to remain on (and in same cases get back to) their feet, and asTootsie prances around happily, licking butter off of random guests and biting others in an insane popcorn binge, she mutters

Why, oh why did I choose Leonard as my mortal?

With another sigh and a snap of her fingers, both guildhall and party guests return to their former, popcorn free state. All the guests are left with a suddenly much cleaner, well hydrated skin while Tootsie, much to her disappointment, finds herself out of a portable buffet. Shrugging (as much as this is allowed for a mule), she goes back to her endless quest for nuts and beer.

A group of male bunnies, dressed as cherubs and looking none too happy about it, walk out onto the stage. They each man a cable and begin to lower something from the ceiling. As the something drops into the light, it resolves itself into the familiar, diaper and wings clad Godofbeer. He is now holding a child’s toy bow and an arrow with a suction cup on the end. He looks around the room as people begin to giggle and point. The sigh that escapes his lips is heavy enough to crush a dragon. He begins his speech, his voice completely devoid of emotion.

Hark ye glorious revelers. It is I… Cupid. We hope that love’s tender arrow has pierced your heart, as it has surely pierced ours. We are forever smitten with love and gratitude for each and every one of you. You are and shall always be, our Valentine. Thank you for gracing our party with your love and joy. You are always welcome within these halls of love. Good night to you all.

Godofbeer gestures to the bunnies and they start pulling on the cables. They strain with all their might, but they are unable to lift the heavy God.

Pull harder! Get me out of here!

The cable slips out of Peaky’s hands. Godofbeer is suddenly flying across the stage. He slams into Shady, knocking the bunny off of the stage. The weight of the beer god is too much for the other bunnies and they all lose their grip on the cables. Godofbeer is slammed, unceremoniously, to the ground. With a clearly audible groan, he gets up, wobbles a bit, dusts himself off and checks to make sure his tiny costume is still covering the important bits. Ignoring the roaring laughter around him, he stomps his way to the bar, grabs two of the kegs, and disappears into the back area of the guild.

As GodofBeer ascends back toward the ceiling, Agnes Nitt and Peaky walk onto the stage dressed in evening wear.

Agnes and Peaky raise their voices and sing…

time to say good bye

Sasha & Pasha return to the Guildhall, freshly showered, skin glowing from a warm-butter massage, wearing white temple-bunny gowns borrowed from Flower over in Lord77’s temple. They arrive just in time to see Godofbeer crashing to the ground and staggering off.

After they pick themselves back up after collapsing on each other with laughter, they see Agnes Nitt taking the stage.

Sasha: Oh no! Our glassware!

Pasha: Our booze! Quick, the soundproofed cabinets! Expensive stuff first!

They are fast, but still, they can’t save everything. By the end of the lovely song, shards of glass and puddles of alcohol cover the floor and bar, and both bunnies are soaked, their gowns stained and reeking, and…

Sasha: Eeep! Pashy! These gowns have become translucent!

Pasha: Sigh…of course they have. Well, I hope Bellatrixie has left, because we need another shower and change of clothes. And YOU! pointing at Peaky You can clean up this mess! Nice pipes, by the way.

Sasha: Yes, that was some lovely singing, the both of ye. I guess the party really is over now.

After finishing off two kegs of Klatchian ale, Godofbeer is feeling much better. Dressed once again in his usual attire, he emerges from the back room to the sound of hammering. Following the sound, he comes across Leonard tinkering with the mysterious, projectile firing machine from the training exercises.

Godofbeer: You’re not thinking of activating that thing again, are you?

Leonard: No, I’m just trying to ascertain what exactly made it malfunction earlier. I suspect user error.

Godofbeer: The error was that anyone used it. This thing is a danger to anyone around it. What was this thing supposed to do anyway?

Leonard: Well, it was a long time ago and I don’t remember for sure what it was for. I’m sure it had an important and beneficial function, of that I am positive.

Godofbeer, raising his voice: Your Mistress got hit by an arrow shot by that damned machine, what do you mean, beneficial?

Leonard: You can’t blame the machine for that. I can’t be responsible for how untrained users mishandle my creation. Besides, she doesn’t appear to have sustained any injuries as a result.

Godofbeer: We still need to know more about it. What about the cipher on the machine’s frame? Doesn’t it tell you what it is and how to work it?

Leonard: As I said, it was a long time ago. A man can’t be expected to recall every brilliant code from his past. And I was working through some issues at the time. I’m sure the machine is perfectly harmless if operated properly.

Godofbeer: Hand me some parchment. I’m going to write this down and see if I can’t figure it out. Under no circumstances are you to reactivate this device until we know more about it. Got it?

Leonard: With all due respect, it is my machine. I think I can decide when it is safe for use.

Godofbeer, spotting his hero: Drinkus! Come over here!

Drinkus: Yes, my Lord?

Godofbeer: Drinkus, I want you to stand guard here while I’m away. If this machine even twitches, you are to smash it into tiny bits. You got that? Machine moves, Drinkus smash.

Drinkus, smiling: Yes, my Lord. You can count on me.

Godofbeer jots down the cipher and moves off to find some answers.

Lord77, sitting at the bar finally enjoying an Ale, reflects on the party’s success and the not so great success with Lord01.

“Cranky old coot,” he mutters to himself. “Good thing he’s gone.”

A shadow passes to the side causing the God to look to his right. Standing there is Susan Sto Helit with a paper in her hand.

“ Susan? What can I do for you?”

She looks down at the paper she’s carrying.

“Now that the party is over, I’ve been thinking about that mausoleum. With it being empty, I think I have an idea for it. Let’s move over to the table there, and I’ll show you.”

Both move to an empty table, and Susan unrolls the paper.

“The buga bunnies have never really had a place of their own since I created them,” she says while looking at Lord77. “And, I was thinking that…was thinking…that.”

Susan shakes her head as if trying to clear out a stray thought.

“Is it hot in here?” she suddenly asks Lord77, massaging her right shoulder.

Taken off track by the question, Lord77 looks around and then back to Susan. “Uhh…not really any different than usual, I think.”

The god then notices something changed about Susan. Rather than focused on the paper before her, she’s now, head tilted, eyes slightly glazed, looking straight at Lord77.

“You know,I have been meaning to tell you… It was really sweet, the way you stood up to your father for me,” she says, reaching over with her right hand and softly taking Lord77’s left hand. “Especially after I had just been so cruel to you…”

Lord77, now completely confused, can only mutter. “Umm…OK?”

Susan continues. “No. Really. He was being a pig, a chauvinist, and it was really nice how you took my side.”

“Oh, it really was nothing.” Lord77 replies, now breaking into a nervous sweat.

“It was nice.” Susan goes on, with a strange smile on her face.“And I guess I just… I wanted you to know that you don’t have to worry. You are nothing like him.”

“Thank you.” Lord77 says, rubbing his neck with his free hand. “I guess, I’m glad to hear that.”

“Don’t mention it,” Susan answers with a slightly pinkish haze staining her blue eyes. Quickly looking towards the kitchen, she then looks back at Lord77. “Look, it’s kind of noisy here. Can we go back to your temple and discuss this?”

Totally befuddled at the situation and not wanting to anger the Goddess, Lord77 can only respond. “Sure, I guess.”

The Goddess, still holding the God’s hand, leads him to the kitchen and towards the portal to his temple. Along the path, a little voice begins screaming in Lord77’s brain. But, it is overridden by confusion, male stupidity, and copious amounts of Klatchian Ale.

While the god and goddess are conversing, Azzageddi reappears into the bar. Watching the two deities leaving, he smiles and mutters under his breath, “I knew it! He’s going to get such an I-told-you-so from me!”

Godofbeer approaches Azzageddi with a parchment in his hand.

“Azzageddi! Glad you returned! Would you please look at this parchment? It came from Leonard’s machine, but written in a script I don’t know. Plus, that Klatchian Ale is blurring blurring my vision right now. You’re the linguist—any idea what it says?”

Azzageddi takes the parchment but his attention is distracted by the awareness of a portal being employed, which could only mean that Susan and Lord77 were passing into Lordy’s temple. “Huh…oh, parchment, right.”

Refocusing on the document: “Whoa. This is obscure. It looks like it’s written in ancient Ephebian. But I think it’s also encoded…”Scratching his head, “Let me take it back to my temple to research my texts. I’ll be back.”

Azzageddi rolls up the parchment an heads back towards his temple.

Susan Sto Helit, still holding Lord77’s hand, leads him through the portal to the common area of the temple.

“Do you want me to set up a table?” Lord77 asks, still acutely aware that he is not the owner of his left hand.

“No,” the goddess says softly, while continuing to lead Lord77past the altar to his sleeping chamber. “Sweetness needs to be rewarded.” And she leads him into the sleeping chamber, closing the door behind him.

Moments later, through the door, the muffled voice of Lord77 is heard.

“Oh, crap!”

Godofbeer walks into the watch house carrying a keg. He noticesLeonard still working on the machine while casting nervous glances at Drinkus Maximus. The hero is holding a sledgehammer with a “go ahead, make my day” look on his face. Godofbeersmiles, safe in the knowledge that this is one task his single minded hero can do. He continues past them and sets the keg behind the bar, drawing inquisitive looks from Sasha and Pasha.

Good morning, ladies. I just obtained this interesting breakfast brew from a rather odd man living in the Ramtops. He told me that he believes a man ought to be able to drink his breakfast without some woman harping about him needing a proper meal. So he created this brew from bacon, eggs, maple syrup, and for some reason, rutabaga. Being curious, I asked about the rutabaga, but all he would say is “you gots to use rutabaga. Any damn fool knows that.” So I brought some back for us to try. It’s called Wakey Breaky Drinky Ale, an odd name from an odd man brewing beer in his spare time. I guess it’s good to have a hobby. Speaking of which, you two seem to really be getting into that fishing thing. The party wasn’t even over before the two of you were off on another fishing trip. Give me a heads up next time and I might tag along. I like to fish.

Azzageddi enters into the Guild Hall, parchment in hand, and spots Godofbeer at the bar, chatting with Sasha & Pasha. He walks up and rolls out the parchment on the bar.

“Well I was right, this was ancient Ephebian, an odd dialect though. Then on top of that, it was in a code, but it didn’t take me long to break it, because it’s one of those Leonard has used in the past…we used to use some of his codes in my revolutionary days…. The glyphs were a little different for the arrows and feelings of love. Hey, what is this from?”

The Beer God explains how it’s from a machine Leonard built, and how, by accident, an arrow had pierced Susan, but left no mark.

Azzageddi looks up at Godofbeer stunned. “This parchment describes an Automated Cupid-Arrow Shooter! And, see this glyph? That’s the Ephebian script for time. The arrows have a time delay on them!”

Both gods look at the kitchen door through which Susan had takenLord77 hours earlier.

Simultaneously, they utter, “Oh, crap!”

Lying on her side, Susan slowly begins to regain consciousness, feeling unusually relaxed and languid while her mind toils to shake off the remainder of the Cupid’s Arrow spell. As she struggles to open her eyes, an unfamiliar picture begins to draw itself in front of her. Although her mind fails to process it, a rumbling sound plays at the edge of hearing.

Funny… she mumbles that wall shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t look like that either.

Lethargically, still fighting the sweet calling of slumber, Susanturns to lie on her back, inspecting the ceiling for answers. Looking just as unfamiliar as the walls, the ceiling offers Susan no clue as to where she might be and how she got there.

Unfamiliar, yes… Susan says to herself And yet I feel like I should know where I am…

Finally working up the energy to move, she sits up. As the rumbling noise starts tapping at the gates of her conscious mind, she takes a long look at the end of the cool, quiet room immersed in daylight pouring in from a single window. For some reason, her robes seem to have been thrown, carelessly, over a table, her shoes lying, separate and disorderly, in different corners of the room.

Hmm… That doesn’t look like something I would do, Susanmutters under her breath, slightly worried at this discovery. I just wish I could remember how I got here.

Upon a longer, more careful inspection, she realizes that her clothes are not the only ones hanging from the various pieces of furniture in the room. Here and there, a grubby toga, weaved out of the purest, if rather stained, Ephebian cotton, and a couple of sandals rest langorously on the dresser and chairs. At the end bedpost, a sealskin thong hangs like an ominous “pièce de resistance”. As her gaze becomes fixed on the hanging piece of underwear, her mind choosing to ignore a typical feminine thought of “well, at least they’re not on the floor,” *Susan*’s eyes start to widen, her brows furrow. Understanding, though not memory, begins to dawn on her.

At this point, the background rumbling breaks through the still numb defenses of her brain, sending a multitude of signals to various corners of her mind. As a terrible suspicion awakes Susanfrom her initial state of confusion, the signals blend to reveal the true nature and point of origin of the rumbling. Suddenly, the goddess realizes she’s not alone in the room. More importantly, she’s not alone in bed! Even without looking, Susan is now fully aware that someone lies sleeping, snoring loudly by her side. Knowing what she will find, yet still afraid to look, she turns to look at the recumbent figure over her shoulder. Her naked shoulder… Eyes wider than ever, Susan looks down at her own, naked body, her pale skin bathed in soft morning light. Mind racing, heart pounding, the goddess begins to hyperventilate as she looks atLord77, who lies sleeping, belly up, snoring loudly by her side.

Overwhelmed by the sudden findings, appalled and terrified, Susanloses control of her thoughts. As rage takes over, she gives in to the uncontrollable urge to scream at the top of her lungs.

Lying on her side, Susan slowly begins to regain consciousness, feeling unusually relaxed and languid while her mind toils to shake off the remainder of the Cupid’s Arrow spell. As she struggles to open her eyes, an unfamiliar picture begins to draw itself in front of her. Although her mind fails to process it, a rumbling sound plays at the edge of hearing.

Funny… she mumbles that wall shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t look like that either.

Lethargically, still fighting the sweet calling of slumber, Susanturns to lie on her back, inspecting the ceiling for answers. Looking just as unfamiliar as the walls, the ceiling offers Susan no clue as to where she might be and how she got there.

Unfamiliar, yes… Susan says to herself And yet I feel like I should know where I am…

Finally working up the energy to move, she sits up. As the rumbling noise starts tapping at the gates of her conscious mind, she takes a long look at the end of the cool, quiet room immersed in daylight pouring in from a single window. For some reason, her robes seem to have been thrown, carelessly, over a table, her shoes lying, separate and disorderly, in different corners of the room.

Hmm… That doesn’t look like something I would do, Susanmutters under her breath, slightly worried at this discovery. I just wish I could remember how I got here.

Upon a longer, more careful inspection, she realizes that her clothes are not the only ones hanging from the various pieces of furniture in the room. Here and there, a grubby toga, weaved out of the purest, if rather stained, Ephebian cotton, and a couple of sandals rest langorously on the dresser and chairs. At the end bedpost, a sealskin thong hangs like an ominous “pièce de resistance”. As her gaze becomes fixed on the hanging piece of underwear, her mind choosing to ignore a typical feminine thought of “well, at least they’re not on the floor,” *Susan*’s eyes start to widen, her brows furrow. Understanding, though not memory, begins to dawn on her.

At this point, the background rumbling breaks through the still numb defenses of her brain, sending a multitude of signals to various corners of her mind. As a terrible suspicion awakes Susanfrom her initial state of confusion, the signals blend to reveal the true nature and point of origin of the rumbling. Suddenly, the goddess realizes she’s not alone in the room. More importantly, she’s not alone in bed! Even without looking, Susan is now fully aware that someone lies sleeping, snoring loudly by her side. Knowing what she will find, yet still afraid to look, she turns to look at the recumbent figure over her shoulder. Her naked shoulder… Eyes wider than ever, Susan looks down at her own, naked body, her pale skin bathed in soft morning light. Mind racing, heart pounding, the goddess begins to hyperventilate as she looks atLord77, who lies sleeping, belly up, snoring loudly by her side.

Overwhelmed by the sudden findings, appalled and terrified, Susanloses control of her thoughts. As rage takes over, she gives in to the uncontrollable urge to scream at the top of her lungs.

A piercing scream launches Lord77 out of his slumber and off the side of the bed to the tile below. The assault in his ears easily overmatches the pain of impact and the coldness now assaulting his uncovered buttocks. Quickly coming to full consciousness, the God locates the source of the screaming, that of Susan Sto Helitsitting upright in his luxurious bed, clutching a bedsheet to her bare bosom and screaming as if witnessing an unspeakable horror.

As he shifts to a kneeling positing, the goddess turns to look at him, her blue eyes changing to red as the flames of Hell build to escape from behind them.

“Oh …crap….”

You… You idiot! Susan screams You miserable excuse for a god!!

Thunder rolls in the background, in tune with *Susan*’s anger. Lightening strikes somewhere nearby.

What did I do that was so wrong? Lord77 asks.

You took advantage of me, even knowing I was under a spell!Susan replies.

Hey, if I recall this correctly, YOU were hitting on ME! Lord77says, in a frail attempt to brush off some of the guilt.

I was under the influence of a spell! Susan goes on, I was not myself! I wasn’t in control of my actions!

Well, you needed to loosen up, anyway! Lord77 screams backAnd you DID, let me tell you that.

Sure I did! Susan ’s eyes glow with anger Right down to the moment when I woke up next to you! Naked!

I… Lord77 hesitates.

No! Do not utter another word! Susan interrupts him What kind of god are you?! What kind of low, deceitful, selfish being are you trying to be?! Lord77, god of drunks, bastards and walruses?! I should destroy you for this! Erase you from existence! Suddenly, Susan is struck by a terrible, evil thought.And, what do you know, I know just how to do it!

Her face disfigured by a sadistic smile, Susan summons an hourglass. Lord77 immediately falls to his knees, his mind realizing what his eyes are still trying to process. Susan holds in her hand the vessel of his life-force.

All I have to do, Susan goes on, is break it and you will no longer bother me.

Anger clouding her every thought, Susan holds the hourglass above her head. She takes one final look into *Lord77*’s eyes. His terror has now turned into an almost unbearable horror, for he knows he faces his own annihilation. Susan looks into the dark, wide, desperate pools his eyes have become, only to see her own reflection in them. She sees herself standing tall, endless, a vision of doom, a demon in her own right, holding life and death in her clenched hand, above her head. Suddenly realizing what she’s about to do, Susan falls to her knees, her anger and hatred giving way to exhaustion.

No, that’s not how we do things, she mutters, looking at the still unharmed hourglass. That’s now how I do things. How could I ever do that? How could I even think of that? What kind of a monster would I be?

Too weak to hold herself straight, defeated by the strength of her own wrath, Susan falls forward, into Lord77 ’s still shaking arms. Her body begins to convulse. Susan is crying.

How could I? she whispers. What kind of monster am I becoming?

Finally defeating his own horror, Lord77 draws Susan near and holds her tight, loosening his grip just enough to deposit a fearful kiss on her forehead.

A monster wouldn’t have stopped, he says.

Is this who I am? she asks.

Now, shh… Lord77 whispers softly Please don’t cry. I would hate to be the one who makes you cry.

You’re not making me cry, my dear. I’M making me cry.

Well, then… Lord77 says, wiping a tear from Susan ’s face, can I be the one who dries your tears? he asks, an apologetic smile on his face.

Slowly, Susan raises her eyes to his. As her expression changes ever so slightly, she reaches a hand to his chin and pulls his face close to hers. Their lips meet for a fleeting, fragile moment, exchanging a soft, tender kiss of pure and honest affection, the first and only of its kind in all the time since they’ve met. Without saying a word, Susan gives in the soothing effects of *Lord77*’s embrace and gradually begins to relax, hiding her face against his chest. Slowly, gently, Lord77 begins to rock Susan back and forth, cradling her in his arms. A few moments later, her crying ceases.Susan sleeps. Held safely in her hands, the much treasured hourglass follows the gentle motion of her now peaceful breathing.

Lord77, now sitting on his bed, cradles the sleeping Susan and holds her until her sleep deepens. Once her breathing becomes rhythmic, he takes the hourglass from her hands and sets it next to her. Then, lifting her gently, he carries her to an adjoining guest room where he softly lays her on the bed, the high window promising sunlight soon.

“You’ll be more comfortable here, dear Goddess.”

Still shaking from the morning’s events, he returns to his bedchamber and quickly dresses. Calling to a temple buga buga bunny, he provides instructions on the goddess’ care. Then, he moves Susan’s clothing and possessions, including the fragile hourglass, into the guest room, setting them lightly on a corner table.

The god steps out from his temple to the back range, checks on Tootsie, and finds her missing…again. Too weary to look for her, he sits on the ground by the animal’s feed bucket, elbows placed on raised knees, and absentmindedly nabs a carrot and chews on it. The combined sounds of mooing and ceramic clanking along with the carrot munching help settle his nerves.

“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid." He shakes his head muttering, then, not surprisingly, decides, "I need a drink.”

Rising, he crosses the yard to his temple. The buga bunny meets him in the common area showing anxiety. The god crosses the temple to the desk, pens a note, and hands it to the bunny along with a package that he retrieves from his bedchamber.

Marching to the temple side, the god enters the transfer portal and vanishes.

Walking swiftly through the kitchen toward the portal to Lord77’s temple, Azzageddi nearly slams into Lord77 as he enters.

Azzageddi: Lordy…I…this scroll…

He sees Lord77’s face and realizes he is far, far too late. He squeezes the scroll, crushing it, and his face darkens in self-directed anger. Faint tracings of tattoos appear. For a moment, he looks like he is about to trash the kitchen.

Azzageddi: You know then? That it was a spell?

Lord77: Yeah. I’m…such an idiot.

Azzageddi: I’m sorry. If only I’d been able to translate it faster…

Lord77: What’s done is done.

Azzageddi, taking a deep breath, returning to normal, and putting an arm around his friend’s shoulders: Come on, let’s go sit down.

At the bar, for several minutes they are quiet other than ordering their drinks, looking introspectively at nothing. Then Azzageddi rouses.

Azzageddi: Look…does she hate you?

Lord77: Actually…no…I don’t think so. She did! Oh boy, did she! I mean, she’s been angry with me before, you know, like when I was cleaning the llama waste and soaked her, or the picture thing at the luau. But this…was very different. She was furious! Actually pulled out my hourglass and was going to destroy it. Scared the crap out of me! Then…then she changed. Broke down. We sat for a bit. I think, maybe…she forgave me. Then she fell asleep. I have her resting in one of my guest chambers now.

Azzageddi: Good. I…you remember when I was teasing you about her liking you? Back with the paperclip thing? Well, I wasn’t completely teasing. I think—I really think, deep down, she’s had feelings for you for some time now.

Lord77: Really? I thought that maybe I finally did the right thing for a change. Should have seen it was a spell. Was too blinded by my own hopes. Stupid. Stupid. Shakes his head. You really think she likes me, or will after this?

Azzageddi: I can’t be sure. Susan is a very, very difficult person to read. But I really do hope so, for both your sakes. You’ve been such good friends to me…I care for you both, very much. Just…give her time. She was under an emotional compulsion—no fault of yours, but that is…traumatic to deal with.

Lord77: Things have been so crazy, lately. You, Mitzi, nowSusan…and me too.

Azzageddi: Almost makes you miss rampaging hippos and fire-breathing bats, doesn’t it?

Lord77, cracking a smile: That reminds me, I haven’t had chili in a long time!

They share a chuckle.

Susan wakes up to a sunny morning and a room filled with soft light, coming in through a single arched window. After taking a moment to recognize her surroundings, Susan quickly becomes aware of where she is.

-Lord77’s temple… she whispers, partially covering her eyes with a trembling hand and making sure she’s alone in bed, this time.Please, please, someone tell me it didn’t happen again, she mutters to herself.

-Master brought you here to rest, Milady, a sweet, slightly overeager voice says, startling Susan, who immediately looks at the door. A female buga-buga-bunny is standing there, holding what seems to be a heavy parcel in her arms. Hi! I’m Flower! He said you were not to be disturbed until you woke up! Sooo…now I’m…disturbing you. Under her breath, she mutters, That didn’t come out right…stop saying stupid stuff, Flower!

Regaining control over her thoughts and actions, Susan ‘s expression softens and she gets up, stretching herself like a cat, taking in the warmth and light of the sun. Looking down, Susanrealizes she’s no longer naked. A simple, white nightgown now covers her pale skin.

-I don’t remember putting this on, she says, with a slight edge to her voice. It doesn’t look like something I’d wear.

-Master ordered me to make you comfortable, Milady, Flower responds. Having you sleep in your birthday suit didn’t look like a comfortable thing. You could catch a cold, you know?

-I see, Susan replies. And where are my robes, exactly?

-I am afraid Tootsie got to your clothes, Milady, the bunny says, somewhat embarrassed at her little faux pas.

-That cannot have been good for her health, Susan says, apparently not affected by the fact. Her face turned to the window, she seems to be too distracted by the warm, renewing sunlight to care about her missing clothes. There were many dangerous things to be found in those robes…

-Oh, I did manage to take all those things out, before it happened, Flower rushes to say. I was going to wash the robes you see? She just got to them after I got a bit distracted by a soap bubble… she confesses, blushing slightly. B-but the contents of your robes are all there, on that table! the bunny announces, pointing to a small table overflowing with a number of curious, useful, or just plain deadly items.

-And what am I supposed to wear now? Susan asks in a distant voice

-When I told Master what had happened he was very, very worried. Kept muttering something about thongs, for some reason…? the bunny replies. But, um, he sends you these robes, with his sincerest apologies (and, heh, mine), Milady.

After saying these last words, Flower reverently places the parcel on the bed and prepares to leave.

-Wait! Susan almost screams, causing the bunny to freeze in her tracks. Then, resuming her normal tone, Is Lor… your master still here, in the temple?

-Oh no, Milady! Flower responds. He’s at the Watch House. But I can call him, if you like?

-No, my dear. It will not be necessary, thank you. You can go now. Flower smiles broadly and exits, barely suppressing a squeal of delight at having been “my dear”ed by her creator.

After waiting to make sure the bunny has left, Susan walks to the bed and opens the parcel. The wrapping paper parts to reveal a new set of robes, just as exquisite as the old ones, but manufactured out of a rich, deep dark-blue fabric. A small note placed on top of the robes, written in terrible, almost indiscernible handwriting that an experienced archaeologist would find extremely difficult to decipher, reads: “Blue is a better color for you. Matches your eyes.” Susansmiles, removes her nightgown and puts the robes on. Taking a quick glance at the mirror, she walks over to the table and laboriously starts to put away all of her belongings. Leaving *Lord77*’s still undisturbed hourglass for last, she hesitates before picking it up.

-Yes…she whispers Maybe black doesn’t quite suit me anymore…

Blowing softly into the hourglass, Susan orders it away, returning it to its rightful place, in Death’s Domain.

Lord77 sits at the bar settling his nerves with an ale. As his Life Hourglass is dispatched back to Death’s Domain, he feels a chill and slight disorientation.

“Wow. That was weird,” He says looking down at his mug.“Maybe drinking was a bad idea.”

Shrugs it off, and takes another drink.

-Say what you want about the guy but he did pick a good colour for you…

Susan stops, recognizing a familiar voice.

-How long have you been in town? she asks, turning to a dark corner of the room, from which a shadow is slowly detaching itself.

-Long enough to know what happened, the strange figure replies.

-I see news travels fast.

-Threatening to break hourglasses, Sue? the newcomer says in a soft, female voice. You who, of all people, knows just how sacred and fleeting life is?

-I have been finding myself doing many things that go against my instincts, lately, Susan answers with a sigh.

-Yes, I know about those too. But none worried and frightened me as terribly as this one.

Susan walks toward the only window of the room and looks outside. I am afraid I am losing control, my friend.

-Yes, you are, the newcomer agrees, walking towards Susan and standing behind her. We both know you cannot be left to your own devices for too long before the weight you bear on your shoulders takes its toll. Before the darkness that surrounds your very existence starts eating away at you.

-Have you ever been so angry you can’t even breathe? Let alone think?

-I have, my dear. You know I have.

-I had forgotten about that, Susan replies.

Susan turns to face the stranger, now fully bathed in the light of day. The goddess standing in front of her couldn’t look any more different from her. Her tanned skin and black hair perfectly balancesSusan ’s white hair and pale hue, a couple of expression lines and a scar on her chin competing with Susan ’s seemingly ageless face. The two goddesses share a warm and friendly embrace.

-My dearest Nyrini…Susan whispers

-I made sure I’d be the one the Commander sent, Nyrini says. I remember all too well, old friend. And I am bringing you, now, what you gave me then. She backs away a little, gently holdingSusan by her wrists. You need time to heal, Sue, to get your head straight.

-So, the order has been issued? Susan inquires, turning to the window again.

-Yes, you have been summoned.

-Where to?

-Überwald, for starters. Nyrini shrugs. The Commander will brief you and provide you with your final destination once you get there.

-I don’t very much care for Überwald, Susan replies, raising an eyebrow. All those undead people make me feel like I’m losing the game because the other team doesn’t quite understand the rules.

-Well, you shouldn’t be there long, Nyrini responds, sitting on the bed. I don’t think they’ll like having you around, either, she says, with a smile.

-Thank you, my friend, Susan says, walking away from the window, to offer her old friend a sincere smile.

-Well, don’t get too excited! It is a working vacation, after all.

-And you will be left here to replace me?

-Oh, I am not quite sure you can be replaced, my dear, Nyrinianswers, getting up. But yes, I will fill in for you during your absence.

-They might not like you very much, at first.

-I don’t see why not. After all, I am so much nicer than you!Nyrini says, smiling a malicious little smile.

-Oh, that you are, without a doubt, Susan replies, with the same smile dancing on her lips. Still, they can be a tough crowd…

-I have faced tough crowds before. I’ll just make sure I have a loaded crossbow on me at all times. Nyrini fakes a bright smile. Seeing Susan ’s suddenly worried expression she adds, I assure you, Susan, there is nothing to worry about. I’ll be just fine.

-Oh, you’re not exactly the one I’m worrying about. I HAVE been on the wrong side of that crossbow of yours, after all. Susanbreathes deep. Let’s get this over with, then.

-Very well, Nyrini says, adopting a professional, stern decorum.Susan Sto Helit, you are hereby relieved from your duties at the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. You are to travel to Überwald and report to Commander Vimes at once.

Susan reaches for her badge, currently lying on the bedside table. Nyrini places her hand over Susan ’s, in a kind gesture to stop her.

-Commander says: keep it! For when you’re ready to return.

-Thank you, Nyr. Susan picks up her badge and puts it away, concealed in a secret pocket of her robes. She walks to a delicately carved wooden desk, placed in a far corner of the room Just give me one second to write a few words of goodbye for the guys at the Watch House.

Sitting at the desk, Susan picks up a piece of parchment and a quill. How is Aillara, by the way?

-My human? Nyrini asks, as if speaking of a particularly dumb pet.Oh, she’s fine. Young, idealistic. She’s a fully credited alchemist, now. Couldn’t do something useful if her life depended on it.

-A perfect fit for Leonard, I am certain.

Susan finishes writing the letter, gives it a moment to dry, and seals it. She then stands up and offers it to Nyrini, who hesitates in taking it.

-Are you sure that this is how you want to say goodbye to them? she asks. You know that he will be crushed.

-Yes…I know he will, Susan says, looking away and slowly shaking her head. You’d expect that, being the Grim Reaper’s granddaughter, I’d be an expert at goodbyes. Alas, I am not.

-That colour does suit you, Nyrini says, taking the letter.

-Thank you. Maybe I’ll opt for it, from now on, Susan says, looking sideways at the mirror. Something else worries her. She turns to Nyrini. They’re good people, at heart. Take care of them for me, will you?

-As if they were my own, dear, Nyrini replies, without a second thought.

-Even Leonard?

-Even Leonard. Embracing Susan one last time, Nyrini asks, Are you going to be OK, Sue?

-Do I have a choice? Susan wonders, gently pushing Nyrini away.

-No, you don’t, Nyrini says, with a sad smile on her lips. Well, I’m not very good at goodbyes either, so…get well and return to us soon, Susan Sto Helit. My oldest, dearest friend…

One open hand resting on her chest, above her heart, Nyrini bows low. Susan responds with a graceful nod of her head. A final thought strikes her.

-By the way, how did you get here? We’re in the middle of nowhere!

Nyrini laughs, her loud and warm laughter filling the room.

-I am the goddess of thresholds and pathways! Do you really think there’s a place I can’t get to, should I decide to go there, or a door that will stop me, should I decide to enter?

Azzageddi: …that was a blast.

Lord77: Speaking of which, I don’t think I’ll ever eat popcorn again.

Azzageddi: I know…and butter, yech. Just thinking of the smell…

Lord77: It was everywhere! My hair is still oily from it.

Azzageddi: Yes, but my skin is so nice and smooth!

Pasha, bringing drinks and quietly singing “Boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum boum”: Ha, you guys just don’t know what to do with butter.

Lord77: Hoo, do you really want to go there? Speaking of which, where DID you and Sasha disappear to?

Pasha: It was a warm, comfortable little place called none o’ yo damn bizniss, Lordy. Where did YOU disappear to a little while ago, hmm?

Lord77: Um…

Pasha: Same answer, huh? That’s right, it is none of my business. She pats him on the shoulder and gives it a squeeze that reminds him of how good she is at finding pressure points. So, can I get you gentlemen anything…oh, who’s that?

Walking quickly with a wide-stepped gait, Nyrini enters the Watch House and covers the distance separating her from the bar. Stopping to scan the people gathered there, a bright little smile dancing on her lips, she opens her mouth to speak.

Well, hello ladies and gentlemen! I am officer Nyrini, Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Überwald division, and I am looking for the senior officer in the premises, she anounces in a warm, loud voice.

Slowly, not really yearning to find out what this is all about,Azzageddi rises from his seat. I am the senior officer here, he says

Sir! Nyrini greets him, touching two fingers to her forehead in an informal field officer’s salute

Oh, right… Azzageddi replies, returning her salute by touching his forehead in a poorly executed movement Azzageddi will do, though. So, what brings you to the Godville Division of the AMCW?

Commander Vimes has ordered a switch. I am to take the place of officer Susan Sto Helit, as she has been summoned to Überwald for a special assignment. Nyrini explains.

Azzageddi ’s face goes pale, then darkens as the words sink in.You are here to do what?! Although he has not raised his voice, the shock in it causes several pairs of eyes to look in his direction.

As senior officer, you are to verify my credentials and swear me in. Nyrini continues, producing her Überwald City Watch badge and identification for inspection Don’t worry too much about that now, though she whispers, winking at him.

I… I… Azz stutters, completely taken aback.

Well, I must say, I was sort of expecting HIM here Nyrini points at Lord77 to be the senior officer.

Realizing the newcomer is talking about him, Lord77 leaves his stool at the bar and walks up to Azzageddi, throwing an inquisitive look is his direction. Azz shakes his head as to tell his friend that he really doesn’t know what’s going on and turns to Nyrini again.

Would you mind repeating that first part?_he asks.

Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Nyrini answers, takingSusan ’s letter from a hidden pocket and delivering it to AzzageddiI believe this should provide the answers you seek.

Azzageddi takes the letter from Nyrini and reads out loud.

My dearest friends,

As you receive this letter from the hands of an old and very close friend of mine, know that it is not with a light heart that I write these lines. Each of the words I must say pierces my heart like a dagger and yet, I have no choice but to commit them to this piece of parchment.

I have been summoned by our Commander and must appear before him as soon as possible for further instructions. I am leaving today and riding to meet him as fast as Binky will canter. Direct orders are not be neglected….

Although I know not what lies ahead, I am certain this means our paths will have to part for a while. I wish this wasn’t so, but alas, the orders have been issued and my fate sealed. Time alone will tell if I’ll ever be allowed to return to you. I hope I will… I really do.

Please, take care of the Watch House, of my poor, dangerous and clueless Leonard, of yourselves, of each other… I can already see that place being consumed by flames, nuclear explosions and various magical creatures while the lot of you run around, trying to extinguish the fire with buckets of rum… And since I am leaving Leonard with you, this should not take long to happen.

And please take care of the buga bunnies. They are new to this world, and need guidance and affection.

Stay true to the values and principles of this wonderful Guild. Uphold them at all times and… if it’s not too much to ask… remember me every now and then as you do so.

I will remember you every step of the way.

I hate goodbyes…

So, for now, I shall leave you with a note of “see you when I see you”, hoping our paths will meet again some time soon.

And please, welcome Nyrini in your midst. She is a little too… extravagant at times but I am sure she will fit right in.

Yours truly, Susan Sto Helit

Silence fills the hall. Azzageddi notes a P.S. addressed to Lord77and hands him the letter, then sits heavily and puts his head in his hands, stunned.

Lord77, in shock from what he just heard read, takes the letter from Azzageddi and reads the post script.

P.S. (for Lord77): My dearest Lordy, I am sorry I didn’t get the chance to speak to you in person before I leave but maybe it is better this way. I have caused so much harm, already… The last thing I wish to do is bring you any more grief. Please, know that I leave of my own volition, though not by my own design, and that none of this is your fault. You have brought nothing but light and laughter into my life and I will be forever grateful to you for that.

Please, take care of yourself. Stay safe. And try not to drink so much. I will try to keep in touch and let you know how I’m doing. I am sure we will meet again, someday. I am already looking forward to that day. Until then, take care of everyone for me and make sure there will still be a Watch House for me to go back to.

Forever yours… Susan.

Stunned, Lord77 drops the letter. Visibly shaken, he takes a tentative step towards the kitchen, and then breaks into a run.

She won’t be there, love! Nyrini yells in a singsong voice, asLord77 starts running towards the kitchen She won’t be in that room!

Oh, yeah?! Lord77 replies, stopping abruptly and turning to faceNyrini And just how do you know that, pray tell?!

Oh, I don’t know… she says, shrugging Maybe because I just left her at the temple’s stables, getting Binky ready for the long ride?

Not bothering to answer the newcomer, Lord77 turns back into the kitchen, disappearing through the portal that leads to his temple.

YOU’RE WELCOME!! Nyrini yells, after him I just hope you make it in time… she mutters, under her breath. Then, turning to inspect the room Right, moving on… Oooooooooh you guys have a bar?! Nice! I can see I’ll like it here!

Standing at the stables, Susan struggles to strap Binky’s saddle, as he shifts his weight, nervously.

Stay still! she commands What’s wrong with you?!

Looking into Binky ‘s eye to remind him of the consequences of disobeying her, Susan realizes he’s being distracted by something. Moving his head slowly, up and down, Binky seems to point at something with his muzzle. As Susan turns to look to where he’s pointing, she sees Lord77 running in her direction, a look of anger and bewilderment in his face. He comes to a halt not three steps away from her, panting heavily from the unusual exercise. Gasping for air, trying hard to control the endless wave of words rushing through his mind, he stands before her in silence, fighting to control his breathing.

“Why?!” he finally manages to say, half choking on the word

You weren’t supposed to be here, Susan says, as she goes back to strapping Binky ’s saddle, not daring to look at Lord77.

You think I wouldn’t run here? Lord77 asks, bewildered.

I thought you would. Susan replies, finally managing to get a much annoyed Binky ready to be ridden I just hoped I would have been gone by then, she goes on, staring accusingly at the rebellious horse.

Then, I would chase you! Lord77 says, taking a couple of steps towards her I would find you!

And how exactly would you accomplish that feat? _*Susan* asks, finally turning to face him _ Not even I know where I’m going.

I just would! But, why leave at all? Is it because of me?

When will you learn, my dear? Susan wonders, smiling a sad smile and slowly shaking her head Not everything is about you!

But, this is so not fair! Lord77 screams, anger taking over All this time! Don’t you realize why I’ve been here all this time?! Taken the hits?! Paid attention?! Finally, you open up, and you run?! Not fair!

Do you think this is easy for me?! Susan yells, taking a single step towards Lord77 Do you really believe, for a moment, that I don’t want to stay?!

Then stay! he asks, holding her arms with his trembling hands and locking his gaze on her deep blue eyes I’ve wanted this since I met you! Stay! Why go?!

I’ve been called to Überwald. Susan can’t help but look away, the look of longing in Lord77's eyes too strong to bear. I’m being punished for… For what I did.

What? What did you do? he wonders, letting go of her arms and slowly reaching a hand to her face, gently forcing her to look straight at him Finally open up? Be more of a real person? What possibly could be considered wrong?

I… I almost killed you. Susan says, her voice barely a whisper I actually wanted to kill you. And that frightens me…

But you didn’t! See?! Lord77 replies, an encouraging note in his voice Touch me! he says, holding her hand and placing it over his chest Feel my heart beating! Go ahead! he goes on, the other hand still gently pressed against Susan ‘s pale cheek You’ve owned it for so long now and didn’t know it! I’m still here!

Without trying to stop Lord77 from pressing her hand to his chest,Susan feels his heartbeat humming, strong and wild, against her skin. Overwhelmed, she can barely speak This is more serious than you think.

It’s not a crime to want to kill someone. Lord77 argues Or your grandfather would have already collected on me.

YOU can’t kill a God! Susan responds, gently using her free hand to remove the one that Lord77 has pressed against her face. But I can, she says, holding both her hand and his to her chest. When I tried to kill you, I betrayed my family’s sacred calling. And for that, I’m being punished. As I should be.

But, wanting and doing are two different things. Lord77 goes on, leaning so that his face is but a few inches away from Susan ‘sYou didn’t do, and punishing for want?…well we’re all guilty for that!

Susan smiles a helpless smile. I am afraid wanting is just the first step, for one such as myself she whispers, looking down and removing her hand from Lord77 ‘s chest. Letting go of his other hand, she turns away from him to hide a rebellious tear Anyway, my orders are in. she explains, her voice now cold again I have to go or I’ll be accused of disobeying a direct order.

Then quit! Lord77 begs her Disobey! Tell them they’re wrong!

And are they? Susan asks, turning her head ever so slightly.

Lord77 puts his arms around her, embracing her tightly from behind. You didn’t do anything wrong, he whispers in her ear.

Maybe. But tell me, what will happen if I stay?

Then we can finally be together. Lord77 insists, his hopeful voice a siren’s song Stay at my temple! Be with me!

And then they will come for you. Susan argues And for anyone who tries to help us.

In my temple, we are safe.

I… I… I need to go.Susan states, releasing herself from Lord77 ‘s arms I need to find out if this is really what’s best for me, she says, turning back to face Lord77. For the both of us.

Defeated, exhausted, Lord77 collapses against a wall Then go, he says, brushing her away with a movement of his hand. If that’s what you need, then go. Come back when you can. I’ll still be here! he announces, opening his arms to encompass the whole building In my temple. I can only hope that you will come back.he mutters sourly before turning to walk away.

As she watches him leave, Susan ‘s unbalanced emotions tear away at her heart Lordy, wait! she cries.

Yes… he stops and turns, the spark of hope dancing in his eyes.

Susan walks, then runs to him. She puts her arms around his neck and kisses him. Pressing his lips against hers, in a deep, desperate and final kiss, Lord77 puts his arms around her, holding her tightly as if to stop her from leaving. For a long time they stand embraced, silent and still, foreheads pressed against each other.

I do want to come back, you know? Susan says in a soft voice.

When? Lord77 asks, his arms loosening their grip in utter defeatHow long?

I don’t know. Susan concedes I’ll keep in touch, I promise. And I’ll let you know… she says, brushing her hand against his faceJust let me make right by everyone, ok? And stay here, so I’ll always know where to find you. I’ll come. I promise…

I will be here. Lord77 replies, reluctant yet resigned Where else would I go? This is my temple.

Standing alone with his broken heart, he watches as Susan turns back and walks way, following her with his eyes while she mountsBinky and rides off into the horizon.

I will be here… he mumbles, turning to leave. Dragging his feet along the way. Mind set in autopilot, Lord77 reaches the passage that leads to the interior of the temple.

“I will be here.” Lord77 says softly as he enters into the temple from the rear passage.

“I will be here.” He continues chanting, over and over, each time a little louder as he passes the Alter and climbs the steps to his throne.

“I will be here.” He says turning slowly and mechanically lowering himself onto his chair.

“I WILL BE HERE!!!” He finally screams tossing his head back, pounding his fists on the armrests, challenging the empty Chancel and Transepts, the bare Alter, the deserted Sanctuary and Apse. The cry rebounding from the depths of the temple, challenging him back, driving further his pain until there is only silence.

“…but you won’t be.” He whispers then collapses forward, holding his face in his hands, shoulders shaking with grief, the rhythmic sobs echoing off the golden metallic walls. The bricks offering no comfort.

Azzageddi, walking up to Godofbeer: I’m starting to get a little worried. No one has heard from Lord77 since he ran back to his temple.

Godofbeer: Do you think it’s possible that he was able to convince Susan to stay? Maybe they’re just enjoying some well-deserved alone time.

Azzageddi: I don’t see that happening. She was summoned by the Commander. She would die before she turned her back on her duty. No matter what happened, I know she’s gone.

Godofbeer: Well, you’ve known her longer than I have. So how do you want to play this?

Azzageddi: I think we better go check on Lordy. Let’s get over to his temple and see if we can find out what’s going on.

Godofbeer, making a feeble attempt at a salute: Yes sir!

Azzageddi, wincing: Don’t do that.

The two gods walk to the kitchen and through the gateway toLord77’s temple. Their footsteps echo ominously as they walk through the empty halls. They eventually find Lord77 slumped down on his throne, his head down and his eyes red and puffy. They quietly approach the grieving god.

Azzageddi: Lordy? Are you all right?

Lord77, in a weak voice: No. No I’m not. I don’t think I’ll ever be all right again.

Azzageddi: Is there anything we can do for you?

Lord77: She left. She just left. The walls were finally down. We had a chance. A chance to be together, finally. And she left. She got on that damn horse and just rode away. But she said she’d be back and I said I’d be here. So here I am. I will be right here. I’ll be here.

Azzageddi: You can’t sit here and wait. There’s no telling how long she’ll be gone. Come back to the guild house with us and we’ll help you get through this.

Lord77: No! There is no getting through this! Can’t you see? There’s nothing left for me out there. She will come back one day and when she does, she’ll find me here.

Azzageddi: You shouldn’t be here all alone. You need to be with people who care about you. Everyone at the guild house loves you. We’re family and we CAN get you through this heartache. Just come back with us.

Lord77: People. I don’t need people or family. I sure as hell don’t need everyone’s pity. If everyone wants to help they can just leave me alone.

Azzageddi, looking at Godofbeer: I could use a little help here.

Godofbeer: Actually, I agree with him.

Azzageddi: What?

Godofbeer: He’s absolutely right. He doesn’t need anybody to get over this. What he needs is booze.

Lord77, lifting his head and looking at Godofbeer: You really think a couple of drinks are gonna make me feel better? My entire universe is crashing around me.

Godofbeer: I’m not talking about a couple of drinks. I’m talking about massive quantities of alcohol. I’m talking about enough booze to make you forget what universe you’re in. Forget for a time and then later, you can worry about healing.

Lord77: Just forget. That does sound good. Forget the pain and deal with it later.

Godofbeer: Of course, we’ll have to go to the guild house, since that’s where the booze is. I don’t see any booze around here. Just come on back and we’ll kill off some brain cells.

Lord77, with a sigh: I guess it’s worth a try.

Lord77 stands up and the three Gods begin walking back to the portal.

Godofbeer: Why isn’t there any booze here? I would think you’d have a bar in here somewhere.

Azzageddi: Actually, we were talking about building one. Sort of an annex to the HQ bar.

Godofbeer: Well I’m definitely going to have a bar in my temple.

Azzageddi: Of course; you’re a beer god. Me, I think I’ll just stick to having a liquor cabinet for special guests.

Godofbeer: I think your followers would appreciate a bar, especially after a long pilgrimage to get there. You hear those echoes from our footsteps? That’s because the place is full of nothing when it could be full of a bar.

Lord77, growling: Could you two argue about the virtues of temple bars later? I’m going through something here. Let’s hurry up and get me drunk.

The three gods continue in silence and vanish through the portal to the guild house.

Ignored by all the gods around them, Sasha & Pasha stand behind the bar. Pasha is holding a glass of Wakey Breaky Drinky Ale, her ears down, her face just stunned. Sasha is looking at her, eyes filling with tears.

Sasha, barely whispering: Pashy? … Pashy…what does it all mean? She’s…gone?

Pasha: …

Sasha: Pashy…?

Pasha: Yes. Her voice is cold. She’s gone. She left us.

Sasha: But…she had to, right? For her duty? Right?

Pasha looks down at the pint in her hand, considers for a moment, then winds up, splashing a stream of it across the bar, and hurls it with all her strength across the room and against the wall. The explosion of glass and beer silences the murmurs of the few people still in the room.

Sasha: Pasha!!!

Pasha: Duty! She says it like she’s spitting a curse. She spins and stalks into her room, slamming the door behind her so hard it’s a wonder that the frame doesn’t crack.

Sasha, looking after her: Pasha…

Mitzi comes behind the bar: Go on. Go be with her.

Sasha: I don’t…I don’t know…I’ve never seen her like this…maybe she wants to be alone?

Mitzi: Don’t be silly. Go. I’ll clean up.

Sasha: But…Mitzi, what about Susan? I don’t understand…

Mitzi: I know. But…I think I do. It’s not just duty. It’s for herself. She needs this, and if we love her we need to let her go…for awhile. Azz told me that she almost killed Lord77. She went too far…too deep into the dark. She needs to find her way back. … To tell the truth…I almost didn’t come back, from Mardi.

Sasha: Mitzi!!!

Mitzi: The things I did there…I can’t explain it. I took lives. Many lives. People can’t just be resurrected there. Death is…the end. I left people maimed. Her voice is shaking. You can’t understand it. I can’t explain it in a way you would understand. And I wouldn’t want you ever to be able to understand it, because to understand it, you have to experience it.

She looks at Sasha, who is looking at her with horror and sadness.

Mitzi, smiling sadly: Yes…that’s why I almost didn’t come back. I was…so ashamed. I was terrified to see that look you’re giving me right now.

Sasha grabs Mitzi just as she’s about to turn away and holds her tightly: Oh, you’re right, I can’t understand, but Mitzi, I love you I love you I love you don’t turn away, never turn away!

They hold each other for awhile, then Mitzi pulls away and wipes her eye: Thank you. Um, look, Pash needs you right now. I’m OK. I just…get like this sometimes. Go on.

Sasha: Are ye sure?

Mitzi: Yes. And…she might yell at you, or throw things. But she’s really not angry at you. Just…be there for her, like you were for me just now.

After Sasha leaves, Mitzi sighs and finds a washcloth and a bucket.

As though echoing Lord77’s mood, the watch house had become dark and smokey, a dark lonely bar where careworn gods went to forget their sorrows in a whiskey soaked smog.

Anne lay on the piano singing bq. falling in love again, never wanted to…

The other gods, heroes and bunnies continued in their somber motions, too sad, scared, or lonely to respond.

Azzageddi, Lord77, and Godofbeer enter the guild hall from the kitchen and notice the dark, somber mood hanging in the air. The sound of Leonard still tinkering with his contraption echoes through the quiet. A dark look comes over the beer god and he turns to his companions.

You two go on ahead to the bar. I’ll catch up after I take care of something.

Godofbeer heads off in the direction off all the noise. He finds the scene unchanged from the last time he was here, Drinkus still on guard holding the massive sledgehammer in a ready position.

LEONARD, move away from that machine NOW!

Leonard is startled by the sudden command. Wondering what’s going on but frightened by the angry tone, he steps away.

This thing has caused too much misery. Drinkus, SMASH!

Godofbeer walks away as his hero gleefully attacks the machine while Leonard cries out in shock.

As Godofbeer approaches the bar with the sound of demolition and screaming behind him, Azzageddi gives him an inquisitive look

Godofbeer: Don’t worry about that. It’s just Drinkus andLeonard having a little bit of fun. How are we doing over here?

Azzageddi: Ravey caught us on the way here and made a rousing speech. It seems to have raised the general morale of the room, but I don’t think Lordy was even listening. He attacked the first drink we saw when we got here. I’m pretty sure it was a bucket of cleaning water. Mitzi grabbed a bottle at random and handed it to him. I’ve never seen anyone drink that ferociously and I’ve seen Lordy on a binge before. This isn’t going to be pretty.

Godofbeer: It doesn’t have to be pretty. The idea is to simply get his mind off of his problem and let time do the healing.

Lord77: You two know I’m right here and can hear you, right?

Godofbeer mumbles out an apology, moves around the bar and relieves Mitzi. He looks at Lord77 with a mischievous glimmer in his eye.

Godofbeer: I suggest we have a rematch on that race that got interrupted by all those weird potions getting slipped into our drinks. This time, I’m adding a little twist to it. I got this idea after watching Jimbob64 during the party. He drank every drink we have in alphabetical order. So here’s the challenge; we have to make and drink every beer, shot, and cocktail this bar offers and do it in alphabetical order. Just to make it extra interesting, we’re going to do it backwards. The alphabet is backwards, I mean, not us. We’ll start with a Zombie Apocalypse and the first one to finish an Aardvark Fizz, wins.

Lord77: You talk too much. Let’s get on with it.

Azzageddi: I think I’ll let you two have fun while I attend to other matters.

Azz looks over at Mitzi and the two of them walk off while Godofbeer and Lord77 begin mixing drinks.

Nyrini looks at the bar with starry eyes.

Man, we never had a bar back home.

Looks around to make sure no one’s paying attention to her and walks behind the bar, taking a moment to read all the labels on the bottles.

Well, this reminds me of that time when we crashed that bar and the Commander ended up covered in sequins… picks up a glass I wonder if I can still mix a “Dead in 4 sips”…

Going through the bottles, Nyrini starts picking up and mixing different drinks,tasting the concoction along the way.

Hmmm, still needs that zing to it… I wonder if there’s any industrial grade cleaner here.

Opening drawers and cabinet doors, *Nyrini fails to find what she’s looking for. Instead, she removes a very small flask from a hidden pocket and pours a single drop of its contents into the mix.

This should do it. I really do have to tell Aillara to bring in some of her special brews.

Carefully, Nyrini plucks a single one of her long black hairs, and drops it into the mix, where it melts almost immediately.

Quality control, check! she says, pouring herself a glass of the mix and gulping it down in one go Ah, yes! Just how I remember it.

As The Almighty Anne ’s sad song fills the room, Nyrini walks towards the piano.

Say, that’s a great voice you have there, love. she says once the music is over Know any good drinking songs, by any chance?

Godofbeer challenges Lord77 to several drinking games and loses every one to the manic drinking of his opponent. The distraction is having the desired effect, though, as intoxication slowly removes some of the pain. Having just finished the latest game, the gods look at each other across the bar.

Lord77: Ha! You loossss agin! I’m waaay better n you n you knowit!

Godofbeer: Nu uh! You’re not better n me! You is just motiva… moti… you gots a bedder reason to drink, thas all!

Lord77: Thas gots nuttin to do wit it. Admit it. I’m a bedder drinker than the great Beer God. I’m bedder than anybodys.

Godofbeer: No way! You are soooo drunk righnow you don’t e’en knowit! An I don’t e’en has a buzz.

Lord77: You just compleely crazy! You gotta be way drunker than me. You can’t e’en talk gooder n me. You’re compleely wasted!

Godofbeer: I coold do this all night! Ann then the nex day! Ann anudder night too!

Lord77: Oh yeah? he pulls out a vial Dis is summing I got fromRavey’s stuff. I dare you ta dringit!

Godofbeer: Oh yeah? I can dringit. No prolem wit me. I dare YOU ta dringit!

Lord77: We bofuhus can dringit and then we’ll see whose is da bestest dringer!

Lord77 pours each of them a shot of the strange liquid. They sneer at each other and quickly down the shots. Defiantly, they stare at each other. Suddenly, Godofbeer’s eyes roll back in his head and he slumps to the ground. A triumphant smile grows on Lord77’sface as he topples over backwards and begins snoring.

Nyrini looks at the bar to see Lord77 and Godofbeer fall off of their seats in a drunken stupor.

Oh, dear! What are they doing? That’s so not what you wanted, big sis. Ah, well… Nyrini to the rescue!

Looking around the guildhall, she spots Azzageddi, who’s sitting with Mitzi in a corner bench, and heads towards him.

Well, hi again! she says in a warm voice I know you’re all very busy mourning Sue, who by the way isn’t dead, but I think I need some help taking the big guy there points to Lord77 back to his temple to sleep it off. I don’t really think the “drown him in booze and hope he’ll get better” is working, anyway.

Azzageddi looks at Lord77 lying on the floor and shivers, knowing that Nyrini is right. He nods in agreement, gets up from his seat and follows Nyrini to the bar.

Hey, I didn’t quite catch your name before, she says in a jovial tone. Mine’s Nyrini, by the way, but you can call me Nyri, for short.

Azzageddi drops Lord77’s limp body onto the bed and looks questioningly at Nyrini, not quite knowing what to say.

Thank you, love! she says. Would you mind going ahead and giving me a couple of minutes with him? Just to make sure he stays here and doesn’t go off somewhere in search of more liquor?

Of course, _*Azzageddi* says, his voice heavy with worry and grief. _ Maybe you can find something to say that will actually work on him, he goes on, turning to leave the room. He stops and turns his head just before walking out the door of the sleeping chamber. Thank you, by the way… for caring, I mean.

Don’t mention it. Nyrini replies as she watches Azz leaving the room. She takes a minute to make sure he’s out of earshot and sits down by Lord77’s side.

Well, you look terrible, she says.

Making an almost inhuman effort to sit up, Lord77 tries to focus his drunken eyes on Nyrini.

Susan? he asks.

No, not Susan, Nyrini. And now that we are alone, love, it is time you and I have a little heart to heart about those suicidal tendencies of yours. Now, I know you won’t remember any of this in the morning, but I want to tell you a little story, anyway. I’m hoping the message will stick.

A long time ago, there was a little girl who lost her parents to a break-in gone wrong. She was hiding under her bed, so the thieves didn’t notice her. The Watch did. She was found by this young female officer. Very pretty, white hair. You may have seen her around… Well, they sent the girl to an orphanage. Terrible place. No proper food, little to no clothing. The little girl soon learned the thieving trade just so that she could feed herself and some of the other kids. Survived like that for years until, one day, she stole the wrong trinket from the wrong guy. She wasn’t as fast or as slick as she thought, you see? So, he chased her and caught up with her in a dark alley. He drew his sword and cut her neck. She was too young and didn’t know how to defend herself from an armed man. Before she knew it, she was lying in that alley, bleeding to death. As soon as the man realized what he’d done, he ran as fast as he could. The world grew cold and dark for the little girl, lying there alone, and suddenly… she wasn’t alone anymore. There was someone standing right by her lifeless body, a pretty woman with long white hair, all dressed in black, the officer from before. She was just standing there looking all shocked as if she’d never seen a dead body before. Then, this other person joins her. He was so much creepier… A walking skeleton dressed in a black cloak, really shiny eyes, holding a scythe… The little girl had never seen the Grim Reaper before so she didn’t recognize him. All she could do was listen to the two characters talking to each other.

Death: WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?

Woman: I was on patrol and heard someone scream. Saw a man running out of this alley and thought I should check it.

Death: SHE IS DEAD.

Woman: I know.

Death: I AM HERE TO COLLECT HER SOUL. I KNOW YOU DON’T LIKE TO WATCH. SO, LEAVE.

Woman: I know her.

Death: YOU SHOULD. YOU WERE THE ONE WHO FOUND HER AFTER HER PARENTS WERE MURDERED.

Woman: I remember. She was so young. And so scared…

Death: YOUR “FELLOW OFFICERS” SENT HER TO AN ORPHANAGE. SHE’S HAD TO STEAL TO SURVIVE ALL THESE YEARS.

Woman: I had no idea.

Death: I HOPE IT MAKES YOU PROUD OF YOUR PRECIOUS LITTLE GUILD.

Woman: Things are as they are. I have joined the Watch because that is where I belong.

Death: YOU ARE AS I AM. YOU BELONG BY MY SIDE.

Woman: Please, don’t take her.

Death: I MUST.

Woman: I am asking you. Please, give her another chance.

Death: I DO NOT MAKE THE RULES.

Woman: It’s is not fair!

Death: FAIR, LITTLE SOUL?! SINCE WHEN DOES JUSTICE MATTER?! DEATH COMES TO ALL! THAT IS ABOUT AS FAIR AS IT GETS!

Woman: She lost her parents. Like I lost mine… I should have checked on her. She deserved more from me. Please, let her live.

Death: I CANNOT!

Woman: There is another way! I know there is! Turn her into a goddess! Give her another chance! Please!

Death: IT IS NOT FOR ME TO CHANGE HER FATE!

Woman: If you do, I will submit!

Death: WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?

Woman: If you give her a second chance, I will submit to the Calling. I will start collecting souls with you.

Death: YOU WOULD FINALLY SUBMIT… FOR HER?!

Woman: I will submit for myself. But I will NOT leave the Watch.

Death: I SEE… WELL, AT LEAST IT’S A START. I WILL TAKE YOU ON YOUR OFFER.

Woman: Thank you.

Death: MAY SHE ALWAYS REMIND YOU OF THIS DAY. AND REMEMBER, IF YOU EVER BETRAY THE CALLING, I WILL TAKE HER AWAY.

It’s is all a bit of a blur from that point on Nyrini goes on but, suddenly, I wasn’t dying anymore. Suddenly I had a new life as a goddess and this scar on my chin to remind me of my previous mortal self. Sue took me under her wing. She trained me, looked over me. I call her my big sister but she could just as well have been my mother. When the time came, I moved to Überwald and joined the Watch there. It was safer… for the both of us.

So, there you go! That’s your Susan! That’s the goddess you fell in love with. She’s stubborn and cold to the core but if there is one thing she understands, it’s the meaning of the word “Sacrifice”. She sacrificed herself for me that day, without a second thought, even without knowing me. She gave me a second chance to live and be happy.

But she’s never been happy, herself. All that “falling head over heels for someone and leaving everything behind” deal, that’s really not Sue. She’ll die for you before daring to believe that she could ever be entitled to that kind of happiness. But you just had to go and take the one thing she’s always kept hidden from the world. You just had to go and steal her heart! You broke through her walls, and she doesn’t really know how to deal with that. Give her time to figure it out! Heck, give yourself time to figure out what it is you want. You’ve known her for a while, now, you know she isn’t an easy person to deal with on a daily basis. Figure yourself out and then wait for her to do the same. Trust me, Sue NEVER disappoints.

Now, Nyrini says, placing her hand on Lord77 ’s shoulder. If after hearing all this you still wanna drown in several pints of beer, I’ll pour them for you myself. Sue would hate me for it, but heck, she’s not here to find out! Who am I to stand between a god and his liquor?! But, think how much it would crush Sue to know she’d done that to you.

Susan… Lord77 mutters as Nyrini gently pushes his shoulder, so that he ends up lying on his side.

Well, I’m going to let you sleep it off now, she says, getting up and walking towards the door. Sweet dreams!

Sasha: Um… are ye feeling better?

Pasha, cleaning a tumbler: About what?

Sasha: You know…about Susan.

CRASH! The tumbler shatters against the wall. The room goes momentarily quiet. Ravenvalykre looks at Pasha with concern.

Pasha: Sorry, I didn’t hear you… About what now?

Sasha: N-nothing. Her ears are down and her eyes are suddenly shiny with tears.

Pasha: … OK then! So— whoa, singing, OK! Yeah, evvvvverybody’s singing, hahaha, yeah, singing… OK then, heh, here’s your beer. Her big smile looks like she’s fighting the urge to scream at someone.

Ravenvalykre touches Pasha’s arm gently and guides her to the back part of the bar, then kneels to he can look her in the eye.

Ravenvalykre: Pasha…you can’t be doing that.

Pasha crosses her arms and glowers at him.

Ravenvalykre: Seriously…what you did just now… sigh… Look, you made Sasha cry.

Pasha looks away, clenching her jaw.

Ravenvalykre: You used violence to shut her down. That’s…just not right.

Pasha’s eyes start to fill with tears.

Ravenvalykre: I know…I miss her too. And I’m angry too. But don’t take it out on Sasha. You love her. And she’s hurting too. You’re just hurting her more.

Pasha, angrily wiping her eyes with her wrist: Su-Susan…she just…left us! She m-made us and then she just left us!

Ravenvalykre: Yes…I know. But Susan…she didn’t want to leave. And I know she didn’t want to leave you. It’s hard to explain…something to do with the rules of Death. I don’t know the details, but I can sense it. She broke a rule.

Pasha, sniffling, wiping tears again: I…still don’t understand but…you’re right. I can’t be scaring Sasha. Oh gods, I feel so stupid…

Ravenvalykre gives her a hug: It’s OK. She’ll forgive you, if you ask her to.

Chin on his shoulder, Pasha gives a teary laugh: Y’know, you’re a lot smarter than I thought you were. Thank you.

As she leaves to talk with Sasha, Ravenvalykre says under his breath: “If only you knew…”

After leaving Ravenvalykre alone at the bar for a little while,Sasha & Pasha return, red-eyed but smiling. Pasha seesGodofbeer in the chair, pulls a pint for him, and goes over.

Pasha: Well…I never really got to try Wakey Breaky Drinky Ale…and actually, I just remembered that you said it had eggs and bacon in it. I’m a vegetarian so… shrug Anyway, here you go, big guy. Are you feeling any better?

Godofbeer: Still feel weird. Don’ wanna speak. Or walk. Dangerous. How ’bout you?

Pasha: I’m…feeling better, yeah. Feeling pretty stupid, but better.

Lord77 still suffering from his giant-sized hangover, but pleased that the rest of the temple is back to…well just big, plods slowly across the floor past the alter to his throne. Gingerly sitting onto the chair, he hushes the fabric of his toga and admonishes it for rubbing too loudly against the armrest.

“Shhhhh,” he whispers to his legs for crossing too loud.

“MASTER! YOU ARE UP! MAY I GET SOMETHING FOR YOU?!”

Lord77 reflexively grabs his head, fearing multiple exits of brain matter and attempts to locate the source of the shouting. Looking down, he finally locates a buga buga bunny standing by his throne; eyes bright and expressive…too bright and expressive…nobody should be that bright and expressive. Damn my head hurts.

“Shhhhh,” again he attempts his decided favorite word right now as he looks at what may be three buga bunnies, but squinting sometimes resolves to one.

“Please, don’t shout.” There. Those are words. Actual words I’ve produced. Lord77 feels better about himself over that feat.

“Master, I am sorry,” she now whispers. “Master Azzageddisuggested that I have these for you when you arise,” handing him two aspirin and a glass of…clear liquid, oh crap, water.

“Thank you, uh…” Stumbling. What is her name? Tulip? Blossom?

“Flower, sir.” Flower fills in.

“Flower! Of course!” Lord77 says, and then regrets immediately as that was too much activity, and he swears his brains have already found the back exit and are making a getaway.

Looking down at the gifts provided, he finally makes the connection as to the proper action to take and pops them into his mouth swallowing the, ug, water to wash them down.

“Thank you, Flower,” The God whispers, then hands her back the cup of that vile liquid, while trying to find a spot left in his screaming grey matter to remember to thank his brother for the kindness of having this ready.

As the bunny turns to leave, happy to have the God’s thanks, a thought makes its way past the throbbing to the God’s voice.

“Wait!” Flower freezes awaiting the God’s command. “Flower, was Susan with me when I was brought here?” The blur of a memory was vaguely there.

“No, master.” Flower now looking down, ears dropping, as her now departed creator’s name was spoken. “The new Goddess, Nyrinicame with Master Azzageddi.”

Lord77 looks at Flower lacking comprehension. “ Nyrini?” Then, noticing the change in the buga bunny’s demeanor, an alarm pierces the fog and realization occurs. The God, rises from his chair, and ignoring for the moment his own agony, takes a step towering over the buga bunny, her eyes now wide with anxiety. Slowly, he drops to his knees to better level their heights, reaches out, and pulls the buga bunny into a hug.

“I’m sorry for your loss dear bunny,” he whispers to her. “I’ve been so wrapped up in my own pain, I’ve forgotten the effect this has on you too.”

“As long as you draw breath in this mortal realm, you are welcome to my house, my temple, and my domain.” The God continues, “I shall try my best to fill the void of your creator’s absence.”

The Bunny’s shock and fear over the intimate closeness with her master is slowly displaced with relief, and for the first time sinceSusan’s departure, the buga buga bunny is able to release her pent-up grief. Slowly, at first, the tears begin. But quickly, they mount, and soon Flower is soaking her master’s shoulder with bunny tears.

Nyrini reenters through the door leading to Lord77’s temple and goes up to the bar to order a drink.

Nyrini: What do you recommend, love?

Pasha gives her a cold look and silently pulls her an ale, and places it in front of her.

Nyrini: Well, that’s a face full of sunshine!

Pasha just goes “hmph!” and starts to turn away.

Nyrini: Oh, hold it there, love! I don’t remember doing anything to upset you.

She turns back: Oh you don’t huh? You think you can just walk in here and…replace her?

Nyrini: Replace who, love?

Pasha: You know who I’m talking about.

Nyrini: Oh, you mean Sue.

Pasha, glaring: …You call her that? To her face?

Nyrini: She’s my big sister. Well, step-sister… sort of…

Pasha: …really?

Nyrini: Yep. We go waaay back…

Pasha: Oh…

Nyrini: Listen, darling. I know you’re hurting but I’m really not here to replace anyone. Sue just can’t be replaced.

Pasha: I…I know.

Nyrini: So… are you still mad at me? Or just at her?

After a long pause, Pasha says: I’m not…mad at you. I’m mad…yeah, I’m mad at her. I’m still really really mad at her.

Nyrini: Aaah… I thought so… Well, it’s ok to be mad. It’s ok to be sad too. It won’t bring her back but. You get to be mad all you want. And then you get to move on.

Pasha sighs: I know… I know…

Nyrini: So, here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna forget all this. Let’s start from the beginning, sunshine.

Pasha: Ha…sunshine…

Nyrini: Well, I don’t really know your name, now, do I?

Pasha: Oh…sorry. I’m Pasha. Pashy to friends, sometimes Pash, Passion… She holds out her hand.

Nyrini takes Pasha’s hand: Well, I’m Nyrini. But Nyri or Nyr will do. It’s a pleasure to meet you dear.

Pasha: It’s good to meet you too. I’m sorry I was…like that.

Nyrini: Ah, don’t worry about that!

Pasha: So…you’re new here…does that make you a Lance Constable?

Nyrini: Well, I was a special agent back in Überwald… it’s really up to my CO, I guess.

Pasha: Oh! Well, anyway, welcome to this crazy place. Nyrini…Nyr.

Nyrini: It’s good to be here, Pasha. So, what can you tell me about the people here? I don’t really know anyone but you, you see.

Pasha: Oh, um, well over there is Sasha…she’s…well, she’s pretty awesome.

Nyrini: Sasha, right.

Pasha: She’s just the sweetest thing ever…I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Nyrini: Hmm…she sounds special.

Pasha: Yeah… Oh look, she’s finally working up her courage to talk to Miss Bellatrixie… oh no, never mind, she just served her a drink after all. Chickened out. Haha, poor Sash!

Nyrini: You don’t mind?

Pasha: Why would I? We both play around, but I know who she really loves… And this guy here is Ravey…his full name’s kind of hard to say. He’s a young god, and I wasn’t too sure about him at first, but boy does he grow on you. He’s a really good guy.

Nyrini: Ravey… I’ll keep that in mind.

Pasha: That guy in the chair is Godofbeer, who amazingly enough is the God of beer, or something, I guess. (laughs) He’s a total sweetheart, too, heart of gold—amber lager, anyway—and brings us the most amazing drinks.

Nyrini smiles: Definitely someone I just have to meet.

Pasha: That guy is Azzageddi… To tell the truth, I have my reservations about him. He tends to get in trouble…and other people get hurt. (frowns) Oh, and there she is, over there, reading that old case file…that’s Mitzi. She’s a constable. One of my best friends.

Nyrini: She looks sad. Kinda like you, sunshine.

Pasha: Yeah…we’re all sad about Susan…but Mitzi’s been through hell recently. Lost her eye…killed people…I can’t imagine.

Nyrini: Sounds like hell, alright. I know a thing or two about hell. She probably just needs time, that’s all.

Pasha: Um, oh, over there is Anne…I really like her. And she’s with Peaky…they’re both amazing singers.

Nyrini: Oh, I love singing!

Pasha: That’s Shady over there…he’s not showing it much, but I think his heart’s been broken.

Nyrini: Sue again, heh?

Pasha: Yeah…he was…kind of her bunny… Not quite like Azz and Mitzi, but…

Nyrini: Oh REALLY?! Sue, oh Sue, I didn’t know you had it in you. Way ta go.

Pasha: Yeah, I’m not really sure exactly what was going on between those two. (wry smile) He never opened up about that.

Nyrini: Ah well, who am I to ask, then? So, what about that other guy who was trying to drink himself to death?

Pasha: He’s still in his temple, I guess…I hope he comes out soon. Poor Lordy… He and Susan…ha ha, Sue…sounds so weird to say Sue… Well, they were … something.

Nyrini: Well, call her whatever you like. Not many people would call her Sue and live to tell the tale.

Pasha: Yeah, I guess I’ll just stick to Susan. Anyway, there’s more people here, some really nice guests, but I don’t know them very well.

Nyrini: Well, so many names to remember.

Pasha: You’ll learn them. You’ll…be just fine here.

Nyrini: Sure I will, love. And so will you.

With the memory blur of Nyrini’s visit still bothering the God,Lord77 leaves the now much more at peace buga bunny and walks back to his sleeping chamber. Arriving to his room, he sits on the bed and tries to recall what was being said, as the length and tone indicated importance. Finally shaking his head (and regretting it), the God gives up trying to recall, and decides instead to take an alternate path.

“OK, little toy. Where did I put you?”

Rummaging through a few drawers, the God reaches into a cabinet and withdraws; his hand now clutching a softly glowing Orb. Placing his hand to the side and concentrating around the Tonga band currently playing percussion on his frontal lobe, he pushes with his will and a small button manifests by his thumb.

Taking his position on the bed where he had laid, Lord77 aims the Orb at the spot where Nyrini had stood and presses “Review”. Rather than reversing time, the Orb opens a window into the past where Lord77 now sees Nyrini standing over him and speaking.

“A long time ago, there was a little girl who lost her parents to a break-in gone wrong…”

Lord77 listens to the story, running commentary in his mind as the story unfolds.

“OK. You were orphaned, and saved by Susan. Hmm. A thief eh? Well, you should fit in well with our little band of misfits.”

The God winces when the story comes to the part where Nyrini is slashed, leaving her for dead, and then watches with intent whenSusan and Death converse. He sees the compromise and Nyrini’selevation to a deity.

“So that’s why Susan would collect souls! I always wondered why she would suddenly have to go off like that, and how she could summon Death’s scythe, or call out the life hourglass.”

The last thought makes the God shudder remembering how close his own existence was almost extinguished during the aftermath of his night together with the Goddess. His internal musings almost makes him miss Nyrini’s closing remarks.

“WAIT! What was that?”

Lord77 quickly reshifts the Orb, resetting the playback time by fifteen seconds, and restarts.

“…But you just had to go and take the one thing she’s always kept hidden from the world. You just had to go and steal her heart! You broke through her walls, and she doesn’t really know how to deal with that. Give her time to figure it out!…”

The tears again begin to roll down the God’s cheeks. But, he lets the Orb continue.

“…If after hearing all this you still wanna drown in several pints of beer, I’ll pour them for you myself. Sue would hate me for it, but heck, she’s not here to find out! Who am I to stand between a god and his liquor?! But, think how much it would crush Sue to know she’d done that to you.”

“ARGH!!” The God shouts, ignoring the pain it generates. “First, my love, you carve my heart out, put it on the pommel of that damn horse and ride off with it! Then you have your proxy here forbid me from drowning myself in the only solution to allow me to dull the pain of my emptiness!”

“OH!” The God rolls into a fetal position on his bed. His mind reviewing the situation from many angles. “I suppose, she’s right…It’s not like it really helped to start with. I mean, it wasn’t a bad idea, but why Godofbeer would turn my desired suicide into a contest…”

Suddenly, the God’s eyes shoot open wide and him quickly rises to a sitting position.

“ Godofbeer! Oh, no! What happened? I left him at the bar!!”

Disoriented and confused, Lord77 leaps to his feet to rush out the door, which is exactly the cue for the hangover percussionist to strike using a full, double-handed swing, his mallet into a hangover gong located slightly behind the eyes.

Lord77 stumbles and then goes to his knees as the gong player happily goes about regonging with every pulse beat.

The God emits a load groan and places his forehead on the cool tile seducing the gong player to take a rest. And as he does, Lord77quickly rises and shoots out the door to the side passage and through the portal before the percussionist realizes he’s been duped.

Arriving on the other side, Lord77 exits the Kitchen and seesGodofbeer sitting at the bar. Visibly relieved, the God continues to the bar and takes his now familiar seat to the right of the Beer God.Sasha, thrilled to see the reemergence of Lord77 quickly pours him an ale. Lord77 looks down at the foaming cup, and considers.

“I guess one drink isn’t considered drowning,” and lifts the mug to his lips.

Setting down his drink, Lord77 looks over to Godofbeer.

“So? Who won?”

Nyrini approaches the bar after her performance and stands next to Azzageddi while waiting for service.

Azzageddi: I really enjoyed that.

Nyrini: Thanks.

Azzageddi: Good guitar playing too. And it seems the machine is making more lasting changes, too. (looking down at his 1960s suit)

Nyrini: Well, provided it sticks with musical instruments, I don’t really mind. Unless it makes me play the tuba…

Azzageddi: (laughs) Well it’s good to see you’re fitting into life here. You’ve even befriended Pasha, it seems.

Nyrini: She’s a sweetheart, (turns to Pasha) aren’t you sunshine? Can I get another drink?

Pasha: Of course I am! And of course you can.

Nyrini: Thank you, love!

Azzageddi: So, we need to talk about how you’re going to fit in here, as far as duties go.

Nyrini: Oh, that. It’s whatever you decide, I guess.

Azzageddi: I’ve been looking over your file. It’s…vague. Lots of details missing, euphemisms for actions taken. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but not in our Watch. More in…spy organizations. What kind of thing were you up to in Überwald?

Nyrini: (chuckles) Oh dear, nothing like that! I was in Internal Affairs, that’s all.

Azzageddi: Internal Affairs, oh my. (sounding amused)

Nyrini: For about a month, ’till someone finally figured out IA officers were supposed to report trouble, not cause it. That was a fun month.

Azzageddi: You know, most police hate the IA.

Nyrini: And you?

Azzageddi: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Someone needs to.

Nyrini: Agreed, love. But I actually ended up in the Homicides, Suicides and Major Wars Department. If it affected less than a continent, it wasn’t really my problem. Unless you count that one time when Commander Vimes told us to handle a small gang war, and list it as 250 individual homicide/suicides. He has a twisted sense of humor, that man…

Azzageddi: Love? (raises eyebrow) Part of me feels like I should harrumph and remind you that I’m your Commanding Officer…I really have been doing this job too long.

Nyrini: Sorry. We were pretty laid back in Überwald.

Azzageddi: Not a problem…the day I start listening to that voice, please kill me.

Nyrini: Oh I will.

Azzageddi: Anyway, that’s some department. Major Wars…as in fighting them, or preventing them? Or ending them…with a knife in the dark?

Nyrini: Is “starting them” an option?

Azzageddi: Oh dear…you remind me of my wicked youth. (takes a drink) I can tell you’re going to be trouble.

Nyrini laughs.

Azzageddi: Well, “love,” you seem to be experienced in areas that we may very well need, though I sincerely hope not. But to start you off…I’m going to put you on patrol. I hope you don’t mind.

Nyrini: It’ll be nice to return to these streets.

Azzageddi: Yes, I thought I detected a Godville accent. Near Three Rats Alley, right?

Nyrini: …That’s a neat trick. Do you do parties, too?

Azzageddi: (smiles, enjoying the disrespect for authority) Well, let me introduce you to your new partner… (clapping his hand on a big beefy shoulder next to him) …Godofbeer!

Still puzzling over why Pasha would want to throw him overboard,Godofbeer doesn’t notice Lord77 approach the bar. At the familiar sound of Lordy’s voice, he turns and smiles. Genuinely happy to see his buddy back amongst the living, the beer god chuckles.

Well, from what I can piece together from my admittedly unreliable memory, you won. I think maybe we will have to have a rematch sometime when you are less suicidal. After the day I’ve had, I’m going to want to wait a while before drinking like that again.

Godofbeer fills his friend in on the bizarre events of his day. Hearing the god laugh at the absurdity of it all gives the beer god hope that his friend is starting to heal.

…And then there was this “PING”, I mean literally, something made a “PING” noise, and then the weirdness stopped. I don’t know what that was all about and I’ve decided to leave that mystery unsolved.

The conversation is interrupted by a clap on his shoulder. He turns to face Azz and Nyrini.

Oh, hey guys. What’s up? Wait, did I hear you say “partner”… and “patrol”? As in “put down that beer you drunken clod and get to work” kind of patrol? He heaves one of his signature heavy sighs and looks at Nyrini. Alright, let me finish this one real quick and I’ll be ready when you are.

Walking the streets of Godville, Godofbeer sets out to show the newcomer the ins and out of good policing, Godville style. UnderGodofbeer ‘s watchful gaze, Nyrini immediately falls into the trademark Watchman’s stance, like an experienced sailor getting back to an old ship.

So, ever been to Godville? Godofbeer asks her.

Yep, Nyrini answers, nodding. I grew up in this town, love. Not very far away from here, actually.

Really? I don’t remember seeing you around.

I left for Überwald a long time ago, Nyrini explains. Right after I joined the Watch. You weren’t around yet, I guess.

Why did you leave? Godofbeer wants to know.

It’s a long story, love. Let’s just say it was a good carreer move.

Hmm… was that before or after you met Susan?

After, Nyrini replies. I’ve known Sue for almost all my life.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would even dare to think of calling her Sue… Godofbeer says, rubbing his temple.

Yeah, I get that a lot, Nyrini concedes, shrugging. I’m afraid my big sis is a bit too uptight for her own good.

YOUR WHAT, NOW?! Godofbeer nearly screams.

Nyrini laughs at her new partner’s bewildered expression. What’s so shocking about it, honey? Can’t see the family resemblance?she asks, a sudden mischievous look, disturbingly similar to Susan’s, flashing in her brown eyes.

Uhh… sure… Godofbeer mumbles uncertainly. Maybe around the eyes… a little..

Let it go, hon! Nyrini says, resuming her usual warm smile. Don’t hurt yourself trying to imagine a young Sue taking care of a baby.

I won’t, I won’t…

So… what’s the next step? Nyrini asks conversationally.

Well, I guess… Godofbeer begins to answer, clearly playing by ear.I guess we can start with basic patrol. Identifying suspicious looking people and such.

Oh, you mean like that guy who keeps trying to pick that lock?Nyrini points at a man standing by a locked door in a dark alley to her right.

What the… Godofbeer turns to scan the shadows, wondering howNyrini managed to spot the perp.

I know, I know!! Nyrini replies. He keeps using the wrong picks. And turning it the wrong way around. It’s up then left, not left then up!

And how exactly do you know that?!

Oh, trust me, love, you DON’T want to know…

After watching the inept thief continue to fail at lock picking, withNyrini laughing and pointing out every mistake, the new partners easily apprehend him and start back to headquarters. Having decided that Nyrini isn’t one to take life too seriously, Godofbeerdecides to have a little fun. Slipping back into his best Sam Spade impression, he begins to narrate.

Godofbeer: Walking down the mean streets, I began to take stock of the situation. The perp was a nobody, just some penny ante operator short on both brains and talent. He had a face only a mother could love and the personality of a throw rug.

Perp: Hey!

Godofbeer: I turned my attention to my new partner. She had the kind of body that men start wars over. Her deep eyes promised danger and the crossbow at her side told me that she could fulfill that promise. The dame carried herself with a self-confident swagger that could make would be assassins suddenly realize that they had somewhere else to be. I hoped that she had a sense of humor and wasn’t about to murder me.

Nyrini, laughing: Has anyone told you that you are a very strange man?

Godofbeer: It has been mentioned.

Feeling a little more confident after not being murdered, Godofbeercontinues his narration.

Godofbeer: I looked around at the neighborhood and thought about the lowlifes that call this home. Con men, thugs, and two-bit floozies all living from scam to scam, scrabbling in the dirt, trying to get a piece of the action. Everyone hoping for that big score that will get them out of this rundown slum.

Perp: What the hell is he talking about? This is the rich area where all the merchants live.

Nyrini: Hush now. I’m enjoying this.

Godofbeer: The perp didn’t know when to shut up. I thought about giving my partner a little demonstration on police brutality. Give her examples of what not to do. Perhaps start with ways to work over the gut without leaving any marks. Then maybe move on to advanced techniques in untraceable head trauma. The punk didn’t look like he would last long enough for a good lesson, so I decided not to bother.

The thief’s eyes suddenly grow wide and he immediately makes a point of showing that his mouth is closed. Nyrini looks at the terrified thief and laughs. She then looks over at Godofbeer and motions for him to continue.

Godofbeer: As I got nearer to the station, I thought about our bust. It was a good collar, we had nabbed him red-handed. We had the case all wrapped up in a neat little package, just waiting for a bow. I looked forward to closing the door on this scumbag and sitting down for a quiet drink with my new partner. I got the feeling this was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Azzageddi takes Godofbeer’s abandoned seat.

Azzageddi: Welcome back. You look like hell.

Lord77: You would know.

Azzageddi: Good to see you, brother.

Lord77: Well, I decided drinking myself to death would…disappoint…someone.

Azzageddi: It would disappoint a lot of someones.

Sasha: Here you go, Lordy, dear. (As serves his drink, she puts her hand on his and squeezes it, and gives him a small smile)

Azzageddi: See?

Lord77: Thanks, Sash. You girls are always so good to me.

Sasha smiles brightly and goes to help another customer.

Lord77: So…the new god, Nyrini.

Azzageddi: (drinking) Mmm-hmm.

Lord77: How’s she fitting in?

Azzageddi: Well. I think she’ll be fine, socially. Her background is…shady. But then, whose isn’t around here?

Lord77: Well, the bunnies…

Azzageddi: Right, they’re making their background right now. Anyway, she’s been involved in some “special circumstances” kind of cop business, which may prove useful.

Lord77: How so? We just do regular police duty around here. With gods and monsters, sure, but what are you talking about?

Azzageddi: … I know I’ve been saying I’m retired from the revolution business, but that’s not entirely true. I’ve been keeping tabs on various groups. Ones that might cause problems.

Lord77: … You keep revealing these secrets. Why didn’t you tell me before?

Azzageddi: (shrugs) My line of work, you keep secrets. I told Susan, actually…just in case I disappeared or something. Now you’re the next-most-senior Captain who is regularly active here, so you need to know. I rely on your discretion.

Lord77: So what do you do with these groups? Disrupt them?

Azzageddi: Depends. Mostly I try to nudge them into acting in ways that will effect actual beneficial change without bloodshed. Some I actively help—our society can’t just stay the same all the time, or it’ll die. And others…well some just have to be stopped.

Lord77: Let me guess…this has something to do with Nyrini.

Azzageddi: (nods) I’m not certain yet, but I think she’d be well-suited to this kind of thing. Let’s see how she works out withGodofbeer, first.

When Godofbeer was about 3 miles away a voice from above resonated. Well well well what a neat suprise looking around they see Ravenvalkyre standing on a tall spire his cloak waving about on the wind. The perp starts strugling let me go that feind is many crimanls nightmare. landimg he grabs the perps and speaks very low Give the other two up or you are going down with accesory after the fact as well as all your crimes so tell me. The warehouse down by the pier please let me go. Thanks calling a hover borde he goes off book him

Godofbeer watches as Ravenvalykre flies away. Shrugging his shoulders, he continues on towards the watch house.

Nyrini, chuckling: Just what, exactly, was that?

Godofbeer: Oh that’s just Ravey. You get used to it. You know, I think it’s about three more miles to HQ and I’m getting kinda thirsty. How about we pop into this convenient pub right here for a pint or two?

Nyrini, pointing to the prisoner: What about him.

Godofbeer: I don’t think he’ll give us any trouble. If he does, I’ll just call Ravey back and let him have the little troublemaker.

Seeing the look of terror on the thief’s face, Godofbeer smiles and leads them into the pub. He leaves Nyrini and the prisoner at a table and moves off to the bar. He returns a few seconds later with two beers, hands one to Nyrini, and sits down across from her.

Perp: Hey, don’t I get one?

Godofbeer: No, I’m afraid not. I would get you one, but it’s strictly against regulations.

Nyrini: So, fairs fair. You heard my story so let’s hear yours. How do you become a beer god?

Godofbeer: To be honest, I don’t know. I came into being as a beer god, I’ve never been anything else. My theory is that sometimes, a god is created because there is a need for him. I believe that is what happened to me. That enough people needed a god to guide them on the path of righteous brewing, and their belief is what created me. Either that or they just wanted someone to blame when things went wrong. Whatever happened, they seek my guidance in the good times, and curse my name in the bad times. The best part is I get free beer everywhere I go. Except for the watch house, for some reason Sasha and Pashacharge me for beer. But everywhere else, it’s “here, great one. Have a brew and bless my stock” or “here, exalted one. Have a brew and please don’t turn my entire stock into light beer.” Yeah, being a beer god is pretty awesome. Well, I guess we better get going.

They finish the beers and walk back onto the street. The rest of the journey back to headquarters is completely uneventful, without any Ravenvalykre sightings at all. They drop their prisoner into a cell and head for the bar for a well-deserved rest.

Walking back toward the bar Godofbeer and Nyrini take their seats at the far end, where they can drink in peace.

Well, that was fun, Nyrini says, stretching herself. It’s been forever since I was last out on patrol.

You didn’t use to patrol much, back in Überwald? Godofbeer asks with a slightly astonished tone to his voice.

Not really, no. Nyrini replies, shrugging. Well, at least not in the light of day. And certainly not at street level.

That sounds shady… Godofbeer mutters. Was that where you learned how to pick a lock?

Well… Nyrini begins to answer but is interrupted, much to her relief, by Pasha, who just happens to be dragging Sasha behind her by an arm.

Hi, there! Pasha says.

Hello, yourself. Godofbeer responds.

Hello, sunshine! Nyrini greets her. Is this the special friend you were telling me about? Don’t tell me… it’s… Sasha. Right?

Yeah! Pasha says. This is Sasha. Sasha, this is Nyrini. She’s the new watchman. Well… watchwoman, she nudges Sasha to greet Nyrini. C’mon now, don’t be rude! She doesn’t bite!

Not unless I absolutely have to, no, Nyrini agrees, extending a friendly hand.

Hello Miss Nyrini, the bunny takes Nyrini ’s hand.

Pleasure to meet you, sugar cube.

Sasha giggles at Nyrini ’s remark.

Did I say something wrong? Nyrini asks with a smile.

Oh, no! Sasha says. Welcome to our bar!

Glad to be here, love. How about a drink?

Oh, sure… love. Sasha giggles again Ooooh, who’s she? she asks, pointing at a woman standing in the middle of the guildhall, looking like someone without a purpose in life.

The tall, well sculpted woman is looking around, the bright, slightly panicky light of her green eyes falling over every corner and soul in the guildhall, the lenses on her thin-framed glasses reflecting everything she sees. Her long, blonde hair frames her pale, freckled cheeks and falls over her delicate shoulders. Instead of the mismatched armour of the inexperienced warrior, she’s wearing a short tunic. A soft, discreet skirt covers her legs right up to her knees.

She’s new here, Godofbeer says, hyperventilating slightly. I would DEFINITELY remember someone who looks like THAT!

Oh, yes! Pasha comments as Sasha heaves a sigh. We’ll have to invite her to go fishing with us, don’t you think, Sash?

Who are you ta… Nyrini begins to ask as she turns to look at the woman. Oh, that’s just Aillara!

You know her? Sasha asks.

In a sense… She’s my mortal. Must have finished moving her stuff in.

She looks very… smart. Godofbeer says.

Alchemists often do. Nyrini replies.

She’s an alchemist?

Yep. Very talented, Nyrini explains, shrugging. For as long as you don’t ask her to do something useful to… let us say… anyone?

Then, please don’t introduce her to Leonard, Godofbeer rushes to ask. He causes enough trouble as it is…

That’ll be a challenge. Sue did ask me to watch over him. Nyriniraises a hand to get Aillara ’s attention. Aillara! Come here, child! There’s some people I want you to meet.

Aillara quickly crosses the guildhall to where her Mistress is sitting. You—you called, my lady? she asks, her head bowed.

That I did. Nyrini says. I want you to… what are you looking at?she asks as Aillara turns her head to look at something else.

Aillara fixes her gaze on Leonard, who is currently crossing the guildhall. Heart starts pounding. She quickly looks the other way, too shy to hold her gaze steady. She looks back at Leonard.

Aillara. Nyrini tries to get her attention. Aillara?! Are you listening to me, child?

From the other side of the room, Leonard has noticed Aillara. His heart skips a beat at the sight of her. Aillara raises her hand and shyly waves at him. In the background, the karaoke starts playing a romantic song out of its own free will.

Aillara, I’m here! Nyrini keeps saying, still oblivious as to what is actually happening. Will you please look at me when I’m talking to you?

Sasha puts a hand on Nyrini ’s shoulder and points at Leonard, who is now walking towards Aillara, a dreamful look on his face.

What, now? Nyrini looks at Sasha, then at where she’s pointing.Oh shoot!

Aillara begins to breathe heavily as Leonard approaches her. She watches each step intently. Leonard is getting closer, and closer and closer and, suddenly… the world goes blank and the music stops. Startled Aillara begins to panic.

What—what happened? she asks, waving like a maniac. Where is he? Where’s everyone?

Nyrini takes her hand to her face in a clear sign of increasing frustration. We’re all here, Aillara. You’re glasses are all fogged up, that’s all.

Oh. Aillara takes off her glasses. Leonard is standing right in front of her, looking like a very, very blurry heavenly piece of scientist. Uh…

Leonard gently takes the glasses from her unresisting hands, clearly fascinated at the foggy lenses.

Hmm… interesting, he says, turning them around in his hands. I could probably fix these for you, my lady.

All it takes is half a brain and a piece of cloth, Leonard.Godofbeer replies.

Well, I don’t think I shall require such extreme measures as brain surgery, sire. Leonard respondsm slightly annoyed. Maybe just a proper cleaning anti-fog solution would suffice.

Uhh… Aillara seems to have forgotten how to speak.

Are you feeling alright, my lady? Leonard asks her, genuinely concerned.

Uhh… Y-yes? Aillara manages to say.

Well, Leonard, while we’re at it, Nyrini says. I am Nyrini and this is Aillara, my mortal. I’ll be taking care of you while Sue’s out.

My Mistress left? Leonard asks, clearly surprised at this.

You didn’t notice?! Godofbeer inquires.

I am sorry if I was too busy trying to keep that barbarian of yours from destroying an important piece of technology, sire, Leonardshoots. I am sure you will be glad to know he has succeeded in his endeavour to destroy my beautiful machine.

Yo— Aillara swallows. Your machine? Do you mean you build machines?

I don’t just build machines, my lady. I design and manufacture perfect devices.

Oh, I love machines. Aillara says, her face lighting up. I used to build all kind of machines. Had to stop when I joined the Guild of Alchemists. What kind of machine did that brute destroy?

Hey, Drinkus is not a… Godofbeer begins to say

Oh, please follow me and I will show you. Leonard interrupts him, returning Aillara ’s glasses to their owner and motioning her to join him as he walks through the hall. My beautiful machine… A work of art, I tell you…

Lord77 steps away from the bar after talking with Azzageddiand drifts over to the office area where he finds Mitzi, still on office duty, sitting behind a desk, puzzling over some old case file. As he takes a seat by her, she looks up, surprised to see the god walk in.

“ Lord77!,” she says. “I’m glad to see you’re back, sir.”

“I’m not sure how much back I am,” he responds. “But, it’s good to be with friends again. And don’t ‘sir’ me.”

“Sorry…it feels weird speaking informally here in the office area. What can I do for you?” she inquires.

Lord77 looks at Mitzi intently for a moment then speaks.

“When you returned with Azzageddi with your injury, he noted to me that the injury was enchanted, hence he could not heal you directly,” wiggling his fingers for emphasis.

Reaching part way towards Mitzi, Lord77 halts. “May, I?”

Mitzi, confused but trusting, leans forward, and Lord77 places his hand on the side of her face covering the eye patch with his palm. Then, he closes his eyes, brows furrowing in concentration.

“Strong…” he mutters, continuing to probe, still with eyes closed.“There are two flavors here. I can feel the difference…one covering the other. Very strong. Doesn’t even bend when I….it’s like pushing on a wall.”

Finally, pulling back, Lord77 opens his eyes, sweat now beading on his forehead, and looks into the buga bunny’s uncovered eye.

“I can see why Azz couldn’t budge it,” he muses. “That spell has some kind of lock covering it. I can definitely feel the spell, but I can’t get to it directly. I would need a counter spell. Hmm…”

Mitzi looks at the god with hope. “Does that mean you can undo it?”

“Darling,” Lord77 softly speaks. “I will offer no promises. That is a very tough spell that was cast. I do not know if there exists an answer or not, but I will try.”

Lord77 stands up, and for the first time in awhile, smiles.“Besides, this gets me out of the Hall for awhile as I’m sure the rest of the group are tired of me moping around here.”

Mitzi stands also and touches his wrist to stop him. “Sir…I mean, well…nobody is tired of having you around.”

Lord77 chuckles. “Nobody likes a party pooper. Besides, I could use a distraction for awhile to take my mind off of…things. This could help both of us, if I can figure it out.”

As he walks out of the office, he shouts to Mitzi. “If anybody is looking for me, I’ll be at the UU library. Let’s see if one of those god wannabes happen to have stumbled across this one.”

And he’s gone.

Mitzi, feeling a little better about her situation, smiles as she picks up the paper she was reading. Then, the smile disappears, and she’s all business again.

Godofbeer glares at the retreating form of Leonard and begins mumbling.

Godofbeer: Don’t call my hero a barbarian, you jumped up mechanic. He’s not a barbarian, he knows how to use a fork. He’s an idiot, but he’s not a barbarian.

He turns back to the bar as the bunnies bring the drinks.

Godofbeer: Thanks, ladies. Nice glasses, Pasha. They look good on you. It’s funny, I didn’t figure you’d need glasses what with eating all those carrots. Anyway, while I’ve got you here, I was thinking of taking some time off and going fishing. Since you ladies seem to be experts in that area, I was hoping you could recommend a good spot.

Pasha and Sasha exchange looks, both of them finding it hard to believe that he hasn’t figured this out yet. They turn back to the beer god, reach across the bar, and pull him close.

Pasha: Look, we don’t actually go fishing. It’s what you call a euphemism. What we actually do is…

Pulling him closer so that no one else can hear, Pasha begins explaining, in graphic detail, the exact nature of the “fishing trips”. At first, the beer god’s eyebrows knit in confusion. Very soon, his eyes begin to widen in shock at what he is hearing. Pashacontinues her explanation with the occasional interjection fromSasha to clarify a point. Part way through, Sasha interrupts.

Sasha: Wait a minute. We’ve never done that.

Pasha: But we could do that if we wanted. That was my point.

Sasha: Oh we should. We should definitely do that. I can get the supplies.

Pasha: Later, I’m not through here.

She leans back in and continues her lecture on the intricacies of their “fishing trips”. As the speech goes on, Godofbeer’s face grows increasingly red and sweat breaks out on his forehead. When she finishes and releases him, he just stands there, completely speechless. He hears a chuckle as Nyrini grabs his arm and begins to drag him out of the bar.

Nyrini: Come here, love, I’ve got a couple of things to tell you about the birds and the bees… really nasty birds and bees.

She laughs at the look on his face and leads her partner out into the night

Godofbeer, still reeling from Pasha’s explanation and Nyrini’sexplanation of the explanation, walks silently down the street with his partner. His thoughts are in turmoil as he tries to dismiss the unwanted visions now plaguing his mind. Reaching a decision, he turns to Nyrini.

Godofbeer: I think it’s high time we did a thorough inspection of the local taverns. We should make sure that the alcohol they serve is up to code.

Without waiting for an answer, the beer god turns into the nearest tavern and heads for the bar. He orders a couple of beers, as he tries to come up with some way to get his mind off of what it is currently on.

Godofbeer: So tell me, what’s Uberwald like? I’ve visited a few of the breweries there, strange places with Igors running around throwing switches and a lot of lightning flashing around, but I’ve never really checked out the region itself.

Nyrini takes a sip of her beer and shrugs: Well, Uberwald is like… Uberwald, really. Too many undead and unliving running around. The rules are different there. You don’t just go around busting werewolves for eating people or vampires for drinking human blood.

Godofbeer, finishing his beer: Oh I guess you get used to it. It’s really just a part of the job, I guess. Well I guess we should check the next pub.

Nyrini, raising an eyebrow at Godofbeer’s strange reaction to her words: Sure. We can go.

They move to the next bar with Godofbeer still desperately trying to avoid the thoughts in his head. He orders them another drink and continues his quest for distraction through small talk.

Godofbeer: I understand you worked with The Commander. I’ve never met him what’s he like?

Nyrini: Oh, he’s fine. Terrific guy provided you don’t mention his ragdoll collection. she says, tentatively. When Godofbeer fails to react to this too and just continues to nod as if paying attention to the conversation, a thought crosses her mind “so that’s what you’re trying to do. Ok, I’ll play along”. And then there’s his longtime love for pink slippers and garden hoses. I think he’s a sleep-gardener, really.

Godofbeer: Wow, that’s pretty impressive. I guess I never really thought about it that way. This bar seems to check out, shall we continue our patrol?

They continue on to the next bar and then to several others.Nyrini allows her partner to numb his mind with alcohol and pointless, outrageous chatter, knowing he needs some time to process the sudden change in his world view. Eventually, she helps him stagger back inside the watch house where they come across Azzageddi. Godofbeer snaps into something vaguely reminiscent of attention and performs a gesture that could, with enough imagination, be a salute.

Godofbeer: Shirr! I’mmm happy to report dat all duh barshh are up ta code and noneuhdem hazz frolicking bunnies doin summin wit heghogs and feathers and stuff.

Not noticing the strange look from Azzageddi or the laughter from Nyrini, Godofbeer crawls into his favorite chair and falls asleep.

As Lord77 leaves Mitzi’s office on the way to UU, Sasha sees him traveling in the direction of the bar. Almost as a reflex, she grabs a mug and turns towards the ale tap.

“Oh, not this time, Dearie. Sorry.” Lord77 interrupts her automatic motions. “I need to stop by the University to do some spell digging. Going to need all the brain cells unpolluted. Besides,” tossing a thumb at Nyrini. “ Susan’s friend there tells me that I’m not allowed to bury myself in drink anymore,” and he continues out the door.

Nyrini, standing nearby but out of earshot, watches Lord77 point towards her and then leave. Out of curiosity, she steps to the bar to see Sasha.

“What did Lord77 want of me?” She asks the buga bunny bartender.

“Oh, nothin’. He just said that you told him that he can’t drink himself stupid anymore.”

Nyrini, now alarmed, turns away from the bar and tells herself.“Well, that wasn’t in the plan. He shouldn’t be able to remember anything.” She raises an eyebrow as a thought crosses her mind.“I wonder what else he remembers…”

And with that, she takes a step forward, then walks quickly out the door to catch up to the god.

Drawing the layout to this part of the city from distant memory,Nyrini manages to catch up with Lord77 in a secluded street some intersections before the UU.

Well, you’re definitely faster than you look. she says, approachingLord77 from behind and laying a hand on his shoulder. You’re better at holdin’ your beer than I thought, too.

Oh, it’s you. Lord77 says in an empty tone. What do you want?

I want to know how much you remember about what I told you before. Nyrini replies.

Look, I really don’t have time for this right now. Lord77 says, turning away.

Well, too bad, love, Nyrini grabs him and forces him to spin around. ’Cause this conversation is gonna happen whether you like it or not.

No, it’s not, Lord77 tries to free himself from her grip. There’s somewhere I have to be and it isn’t here.

This is more important than you think. Nyrini growls. Some of the things you know about me are not for everyone to know, and certainly not for you to remember.

Look dear, Lord77 shakes her off. The fact that felt that you had to chase me down and stop me from my task tells me that you have a real concern here. I get that. But, exactly what kind of group do you think you’ve joined? We’re not exactly choir boys! We’ve got a young guy who carries around elixirs that will have you swinging at imaginary, blood thirsty moths for a week. I’ve started wars with Lawn Gnomes, and am normally drunk or trying to get there. My drinking buddy is the worst enabler ever in that he’s the God of friggin beer, and to top it all off, the senior member and my long time friend and brother is a freaking devil, horns and all!

That doesn’t…

But really, Lord77 cuts Nyrini off. None of that matters. What really matters is that Susan vouches for you. She made a deal with her grandfather for you. She subjected herself to the one thing that she absolutely hated, collecting souls, so that you can stand here today and tell me that you have secrets that you need to hide. I really don’t care what you were or how you got to where you are now. The fact that Susan would put herself on the line for you is good enough for me and everybody else in that Watch House. Nobody, but NOBODY is going to question Susan’sjudgment. Definitely not more than once if they enjoy existence.

They might, Nyrini says taking a step back. If certain things were to come out into daylight. If they knew what I… she hesitates.What Sue… what WE did, we’d both be in serious trouble. she looks deep into Lord77’s eyes. Nothing you could ever save her from.

Listen, Lord77 calms down, noticing the heavy tone in her voice.If this really bothers you, if it really is all that important, then fine. I have no need to go blabbing about you. Your secrets, andSusan’s, stay with me. And, sometime, when I hopefully can beat this spell that has left a dear friend and partner of my brother with only half her sight, I would love to sit down with you over an ale and have you explain to me why you believe that you need to be so guarded about your history. But, in the meantime, I’m a god on a mission, and until that’s over, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to softly work your way into our family here.

Nyrini shrugs and breathes deep.

For as long as you keep quiet about it, love, I really don’t care what else you do, she replies.

Lovely. Lord77 says. Now, can I go?

Be my guest, love. Nyrini turns to walk away. I won’t stop you.

Nyrini walks back into the Watch House, grateful to find her partner still sleeping and snoring peacefully in his chair. Tired of the day’s events, she walks to the bar and asks Pasha to point her to the sleeping quarters. Following the bunny’s instructions, she heads to an empty room, craving a clean bed and the first good night’s sleep since her arrival to the Watch House. As she lays her head on the pillow, not really bothering to take off her clothes or shoes, she begins to listen to a strange tapping sound. She raises her head but fails to spot the source of the tapping. Laying her head back, she tries to sleep. TAP… TAP… TAP… All the while the tapping continues and then, suddenly, stops.

Nice, Nyrini mutters. Now I can get some sleep.

Her peace is disturbed by a sudden feeling of focal, intermittent pressure on the bed, as if a particularly light rat kept jumping on the mattress. Nyrini raises her head again when she feels something landing on her chest. She opens her eyes to find a particularly hairy-chested screwdriver with a luxurious moustache looking back at her.

And who exactly are you? she asks.

I am Manoel, Señorita, the screwdriver bows… leans… uh… tips forward. The other Señorita with the pretty blue eyes create me to be a consciousness for di crazy señor.

Nyrini stares at Manoel for a moment before realization dawns on her.

Wait, so… she says, fighting off a growing need to sleep. Suecreated you to be Leonard’s portable consciousness?

Si, Señorita. But he no listen to me, Manoel complains.

Well, I’ll bet. Leonard has a consciousness. The problem is he thinks that everyone else has one too.

Oh, I no know about that, Señorita. I just work for di crazy señor.

Ok, Nyrini concedes. And what do you want from me?

I come to tell you. I can break them apart, Manoel explains with a conspiratorial look on his face. Him and the other señorita guapa.

You can break Leonard and Aillara apart before they cause any real damage?

If you want me to. Si, Señorita!

Ok, Nyrini shrugs. Worth a shot, I guess.

I go now, Señorita, Manoel bows… leans… whatever, I give up!

The screwdriver hops away, leaving Nyrini finally alone with her thoughts. Two minutes later, though, her rest is disturbed again by the soft, insidious sound of someone crying.

Oh, for crying out loud! Nyrini curses, getting up. What’s next, a singing toothbrush?!

She gets up and tries to pinpoint the source of the crying. Listening carefully, she kneels by the bed and peaks under it. A pair of round, shiny and very wet golden eyes, set against a grey muzzle, peaks back at her.

What on…

Are you my mommy? the bunny says.

Evening, Mitzi, working at her desk, comparing four cold cases, wondering if she’s seeing a pattern or just imagining it. Her left eye tired, she rubs it, and slips a finger under her eyepatch to rub the scar, the missing right eye often giving her a phantom itch in sympathy with the left. Could it be that there is a way to restore her eye? Better not to hope too much.

…her ears twitch as she hears the sound of a child crying. Was that…inside the Watch House? She looks around, expecting to see one of the cops or one of the other bunnies talking with a lost kid, a little human or sumoninja or who-knows-what. No…nothing. And the sound of crying has stopped. Maybe it was from out on the street after all.

Azzageddi in the bar, playing guitar, running in his head the membership lists and connections between shady groups he’s infiltrated, deciding who to support, who to undermine, who to slip false information to, who to leak true information to, who to have arrested…who to disappear.

He forces himself to pause over the last, knowing he really must treat that decision with the utmost gravity, if he wants to hold onto what he has worked so hard to become. Such care over whether to remove a dangerous enemy does not come naturally to him, though. It was not in his nature to care about others, about their pain or wants or needs. But by whispering in their ears, inhabiting their bodies, sharing their victories and defeats…he learned to care.

No, the secretly devil-worshiping leader of the League of Holy Fire will live awhile longer. There may be a way to discredit him and scatter the organization. Wouldn’t want to make him a martyr, after all.

Azzageddi looks up and stops playing. Was that a child crying? No…it’s gone. He shrugs, takes a drink, and starts another song, looking forward to giving another piano lesson when Mitzi is done with her work.

Sitting behind a pile of aging, dusty, somewhat smelly magical reference books, Lord77 reviews “The Treatise of Compound Topological Spells” while muttering to himself.

“Friggin’ basic spell patterns. Not worthy of the paper this is printed on …” Looking up over the current volume, he shouts, “Librarian!”

“Oook?” responds a red-haired Orangutan currently hanging from a high shelf.

“There was a book I recall on combinatorial spells. Do you know of it?”

“Oook. Oook,” comes the response from above and the Librarian swings out of view.

Minutes later, a young low-leveled Wizard comes around the corner carrying yet another old, dusty book, and brings it to the pile. As he approaches, he spots the researcher, a disheveled, most unwizardlike looking man of indeterminate age wearing wire-rimmed reading glasses and a spotted, wrinkled white toga. The young wizard slows as he approaches.

“Excuse me…uh…sir,” the Wizard haltingly starts. “The Librarian asked me to deliver this to you, but…this library is for wizards, sir. Uhh…I don’t think you’re supposed to be here.”

Lord77 halts the current passage he was reading, and softly laying the aged tome on the table, and looks up at the young wizard over his reading glasses. As their eyes meet, the young apprentice’s knees weaken as his early training kicks in and he feels a powerful aura surrounding the researcher.

“Sir? Are you a wizard?”

Lord77 hitches for a second, and then begins to laugh. “A Wizard?! Young man, don’t ever call me that!” and shivers off the insult. “You have a name?"

“Uh…Norman, sir. Level-one wizard.”

Lord77, pushes back his chair, stroking his beard. “Level-one, huh? Beginner. … Tell me Normy, have you ever met a god?”

Norman’s eyes suddenly go wide, and he begins to shake, turning almost perfectly white. “A g-god sir? Are you a god?”

Lord77 nods slightly, then motions to a nearby chair. “Sit down, Normy, before you pass out.”

Lord77 looks over his shoulder as he hears the Librarian returning.

“This the one?” he asks.

“Oook.”

“O-kay.” The god turns back to Norman who now is sitting on the chair, shaking. Lord77 reaches over to his notes and selects a scrap piece of paper. Quickly making some folds and tucks, he blows into it creating a paper ball. He then hands it to the young wizard.

“Son, I want you to look at this. Study it very hard.”

The wizard looks down at the ball, and then shakes his head. “I don’t…”

“No! Don’t say anything yet. Look at it. Study it. Feel it. Now tell me about it.”

Initially confused. The wizard starts, “Well, it’s r-round and hollow.”

“Good. Good. Go on.”

Feeling better about getting the first answers right, Normal begins to relax and respond more.

“It’s very light, has folds on each side. Oh! And there’s writing on the top and bottom.”

“Good, that should do. Now hand it back here.”

The young wizard hands the paper ball back, again confused. “I don’t…”

“Norman, how did you feel when you first started talking to me?”

“Uh…scared, sir.”

Lord77 smiles. “And now that you’ve had a chance to concentrate and share with me your feelings about the ball, how do you feel now?”

“Uh…not as scared now, sir.”

“Good. Now we can talk. I’ve decided that I’m going to need some help going through these writings, and the Librarian tells me that you’re one of the new, bright young talents. Go tell your instructors that you’re going to be missing a few classes to helpLord77 on some research. If any complain, tell them thatLord77 will be happy to discuss it with them…personally. That should end any argument. When you’re done, come back here.”

Norman rises from the chair, beaming from the honor of being selected to help. “Thank you, sir!”

As he turns to leave, he stops and turns back to the God. “Sir? The ball. The writing. Is it…enchanted?”

Lord77 looks back up at the young wizard. “Did you feel anything enchanted about it?”

“No, sir. That’s why I asked.”

The god chuckles. “No. It’s just a paper ball. Here!" Tossing the ball back to Norman. "Keep it. Now go!”

Norman smiles widely, holding the paper ball like a fragile egg. Then, he turns and races out of the library and down the hall.

“I hope you’re right about him being a fast learner, Librarian. Because, he’s about to get tossed in the deep end.”

“Oook.”

Are you my mommy? the bunny asks.

I hope not! Nyrini replies, startled. I don’t think I’ve been that drunk since I got here… What’s your name, dear? She asks in a softer voice.

The bunny sniffs and wipes a tear before answering. Twilight.

Well, hello Twilight, Nyrini tells her. I’m Nyrini.

Where’s my mommy? The bunny asks with bright, scared eyes.

I don’t know, dear. I wish I did, but I don’t.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Twilight cries at the top of her lungs.

Oh, please, love! Nyrini begs, covering her ears. Please, don’t cry! My head feels like it’s gonna explode, already!

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! The bunny keeps crying.

Acting more out of instinct than reason, Nyrini reaches under her bed, grabs hold of Twilight and gently picks her up, holding her close to her chest. Not really knowing why she is doing this but just wanting the crying to stop, Nyrini starts singing a long forgotten lullaby .

Sun goes down and we are here together Fireflies glow like a thousand charms Stay with me and you can dream forever Right here in my arms

As the song progresses, the bunny begins to calm down. Her crying loses its strength, gradually fading into half-hearted sniffing and finally into silence. Twilight falls into a peaceful slumber, safely cradled in Nyrini’s arms. When her breathing becomes deep and even, the goddess softly lays her on her bed. Rubbing her eyes, desperately wishing the bunny won’t be there when she opens them again, Nyrini takes a second look at the bed.Twilight lays there still, peacefully sucking on her thumb as she sleeps.

Damn it! Nyrini curses under her breath. I just wanted to sleep for five minutes. Five bloody minutes, is that too much to ask?

Still rambling in a low voice about how this is not being a good day, she goes out into the guildhall. Looking around in search of someone to talk to about the bunny, she quickly locatesAzzageddi and walks towards him.

Ok, so tell me, she says to him in a voice full of impatience. Who do I talk to about the huge bug in my bed?

Azzageddi and Nyrini enter her tiny room in constables’ dormitory.

“So where’s this big bug you wanted to…oh. Oh…my goodness.”Azzageddi sits very gently on the edge of Nyrini’s bed and carefully brushes back the child’s hair to get a look at her sleeping face.

“Does this kind of thing happen a lot here?!” Nyrini whispers, sounding like she wants to shout.

Azzageddi stares at the little girl a moment longer before rousing himself to answer. “Uh, no. Not exactly. The buga-buga bunnies are one of our more unusual phenomena. They came into existence after Susan created them and submitted them to the Holy Random and the collective vote of all the gods. They were rejected. Normally that would have been the end of them, but…well, I talked with Susan about them. I guess you could say I argued with her…anyway, she allowed them to come into being after all, but as…well, as failed ideas they could only exist here, or other high-magic places, such as temples.”

“And that explains this because…”

“Sorry, yes…well, the bunnies seemed to come into existence on their own, fully formed, and adult…they all seem to be about the equivalent of a human in their early twenties. Actually, I thought they’d stopped appearing once I changed the nature of Reality here—”

“You changed what, now?!”

“Shhh…” Azzageddi puts his hand on the child’s shoulder as she stirs in her sleep. “Well, someone was having trouble with self-discipline, so I slightly adjusted the rigidity of Reality in this Watch House, making it impossible for people unattuned to this place to use magic here. Since then, I thought new bunnies couldn’t appear.”

“You can do that?”

Azzageddi shrugs and nods.

“Ugh… You’re one of THOSE, then…”

Wondering what that meant, but deciding to ignore it for the moment, Azzageddi continues, “Due to their nature, the bunnies are relatively unstable magical creatures. We have to be careful around them. Displays of gross Reality-bending magic could just wink them out of existence as a side effect.”

Nyrini puts her hand to her forehead. “Look, I’m too tired for metaphysics. What about this bunny? Was she just born here and abandoned under my bed?”

“That…doesn’t seem possible. No bunnies have become pregnant, and…well, let’s just say they don’t exactly hold back from—”

“I get it, they’re bunnies.”

“—well, yes. I mean, if it were possible for them to become pregnant, it would’ve happened by now. But even if one had, it’s only been a couple of months since they appeared. Not enough time for one to be born and grow to be…about five years old, I’d guess.”

Nyrini sits on the other end of the bed, and puts her hand on the girl’s head. She opens her mouth to say something, hesitates, then looks at Azzageddi. “She asked if I was her mommy.”

Azzageddi’s eyes widen in surprise. “…oh.”

“Oh what??”

“Well, Susan thought that at least some bunnies have a mystical connection to some people. Mitzi to me, Peaky to Anne…now, I don’t know if that’s true. I rather hope it isn’t, really. I’d rather believe in free will, love—”

“You’re saying this…child may have a connection to me?!”

“Shhh. Maybe. And you…well according to what I’ve heard, you and Susan are sisters. And Susan made the bunnies.”

“Wait, you think— Did I do this?!”

“I really don’t know. But no new bunnies have appeared for weeks, and then you arrived…”

“Are you saying I could actually be a bunny’s mom?”

He looks at her, wishing he could tell her something else, before finally whispering, “…maybe.”

Hand to her forehead again, as if she has a splitting headache,Nyrini mutters, “…I can’t believe this. At least in Überwald all you had to fear was the prospect of actually waking up dead…”

“Look, it’s been a very long day for you. Let’s just try to figure this out in the morning. But in the meantime…well…she should wake up with someone she knows. I understand this is a lot to ask…I could ask Sasha…or Mitzi and I could sleep here, and you could change rooms…I wouldn’t blame you a bit—”

“No,” Nyrini answers quietly. “I’m the only one she knows. I’ll sleep here, next to her. No child should wake up with a stranger.”

Azzageddi smiles. “Good. And I’ll be in the bar tonight. If you need anything, I’ll be nearby.”

“You’re going to sleep in the bar?”

“Won’t be the first time. That’s why we have those comfy chairs. And, here—” He rises and goes to the locker in the corner. “Here’s an extra blanket.” When he turns back, Nyrini is already lying on the bed, spooning around the sleeping girl, eyes closed, almost instantly asleep.

Smiling, the god spreads the blanket over the young goddess and the little buga bunny, and stands looking down at them for a long moment, before leaving quietly.

As Azzageddi leaves the sleeping Nyrini and her young bunny, he hears the strains of a high-beginner’s song for piano, and sees Anne instructing Mitzi. Catching their attention, he gestures them over and says, “Come see this.”

Mitzi gasps when she looks into the room and sees the small girl with bunny ears curled up in Nyrini’s arms. Anne grins and whispers, “You know what this means, don’t you?”

Azzageddi waves them back and closes the door, and on the way back to the bar replies, “Not really.”

“Oh come on, Azz! This young bun is in Nyr’s care! That makes us godparents.”

Azzageddi stops in his tracks. “I suppose it does…”

Anne grins mischievously. “You might even say, fairy godparents!”

“Now wait a second…”

“Well, we have to make the wishes!”

Mitzi, confused by all this, blurts out, “Wishes?”

“Yes, dear! We each make a wish for our godchild. And of course, they’ll come true. That’s how it works.”

“Wait…me? I’m a godmother? But…I’m not a god!”

“Oh pish-posh! Mere details. And it should be three wishes, of course. One from each of us.”

Mitzi looks scared. “M-maybe we should wake up Godofbeer! He’s a god! He could take my place!”

“Too late, my dear. The three of us are the godparents, and would you really want GodofBeer as a godparent to that poor innocent little bun? Now…” Anne says, seating herself at the bar, “I am going to wish that this little darling will love and create music throughout her life, giving joy to herself and all around her.” She pauses and frowns. “However, no singing to bluebirds or other excessively cute behavior. This definitely is not a Disney movie.”

Azzageddi opens a bottle of wine, since Sasha & Pasha are nowhere to be found. Muffled Peruvian pan-pipe music can be barely heard coming from their bedroom. “Well…I wish for her to…care, to have compassion, and try to make the world better in small ways for everyone.” He pours three glasses. “Your turn, my darling.”

Mitzi looks at the two gods, aghast. “I…I…how can I…you’re asking me to choose her destiny!”

Anne’s liquid, beautiful laugh fills the room. “Oh, dear Mitzi, these wishes are not so binding. We have no way of knowing how her talent for music will manifest, for example, or how she will make the world better. Come now, give her the gift of your wish.”

Looking trapped, Mitzi thinks and thinks, and finally says, “I wish…I wish for her to be brave. Even when she is frightened, especially when she is frightened, I wish for her to be brave.”

“There!” says Anne. “Now to complete the ritual, let us toast: to the newest members of our family, Nyrini and her little bunny!”

As the three glasses touch, they don’t hear the ring of glasses, but instead they faintly hear the sounds of an orchestra and choir….

Anne shakes her head in disbelief, I’m sure I said that this wasn’t a Disney movie!

Nyrini wakes up to a face full of bunny hair and the gentle sound of someone peacefully sucking on their thumb. Quickly reviewing yesterday’s events (and trying hard not to inhale any more bunny hair than necessary), she soon remembers where she is (and, more importantly, who she’s with) and starts trying to get up without waking up Twilight.

I really do need to start taking notes on all this, she mutters, sitting on the bed. It’s beginning to be a lot to keep up with…

Hmm… Twilight opens a sleepy eye.

Oh, you’re awake. Nyrini says Good morning, Twilight.

Good morning, Ny… Twilight struggles with the name. Nyri… Nyrin…

Nyri is fine, dear, the goddess rushes to say, noticing the bunny’s difficulties. Nyri is more than enough.

Have you found my mommy? Twilight asks, a hopeful look in her eyes.

From what I’ve been told, baby girl, I am your mommy. Nyrinireplies with a sigh.

You are? Twilight’s eyes grow wide and bright.

Sure, why not…

Does this mean I’m not alone anymore? Twilight quickly kneels on the bed in uncontained excitement.

You’re not alone anymore, Nyrini tells her, brushing her hand against the bunny’s cheek and smiling a soft, reassuring smile.You will never be alone again.

Promise?

I promise.

YEY!! Twilight throws herself in Nyrini’s arms, holding her in a tight and blissful embrace.

Whoa, no need to get to so excited about it. Nyrini says, stroking the bunnies hair. You didn’t exactly end up with supermom, here.

You’re MY mommy. Twilight nearly screams. And you’re the best mommy ever! I just know it!

Well, ok then, Nyrini concedes, gently pushing the bunny away.Time to get up, now. I have to introduce to the rest of the… uuhh… family.

Family? Twilight immediately jumps out of bed. More people like you?

And more bunnies like you.

YEY!! Twilight squeals, starts hopping around in childish excitement and finally, unable to wait anymore, just opens the bedroom door and runs out of the room.

Nyrini looks at all this, shaking her head and trying to make herself a little more presentable before she runs out the door in pursuit of the excited bunny. Following Twilight into the guildhall, she mutters to herself

This is going to be another long day…

As Twilight runs down the hall as fast as her legs can carry her, which for a buga bunny is very fast, she bounces off a pair of the sort of strong, shapely legs that tend to carry around a Hero who does a great deal of trudging about the countryside while carrying a ridiculous load of armor, weapons, and a big bag full of useless crap taken off dead monsters.

Looking up, Twi sees a tall brownish woman with long, curly, black hair, gazing down at her in confusion, wearing short flannel pyjamas. After a moment, the woman smiles a big, rather goofy, friendly smile. “Hi, cutie!”

Then a ghost leans out of the doorway of the dorm room the woman had just stepped out of on her way to the showers. The ghost is tall and covered in bizarre tattoos, his head shaved, his flesh translucent to reveal the skeleton within. He puts a semi-solid hand on the woman’s shoulder, and, looking down at the little bunny, smiles in a way meant to be friendly, but his sharpened cannibal teeth do not produce the intended effect.

Twi’s scream actually produces a Doppler effect as she zips down the hallway into the bar.

By the time Nyrini runs into the hallway to chase down Twilightand find out what the rapidly receding scream is all about, all she sees is a woman pushing past an apparently mostly solid ghost—not a terribly unusual sight for Uberwald, but rather surprising here.

“Queeg you dumb ghost, you scared the hell out of that kid! Just stay here!”

“Where did she go?!” Nyrini shouts.

“Into the bar! Man, she’s fast!”

Together, they rush into the bar, only to see a small group gathering around an unseen but familiarly wailing child. Sasha & Pasha are standing close, looking down in wonder, Sashaclasping her hands, utterly charmed, Pasha looking more doubtful. Peaky and Shade stand with them, the former smiling uncertainly, the latter looking honestly happy for the first time since Susan Sto Helit left. And Godofbeer is coming over from the chair he was sleeping in, scratching his beard and blinking blearily.

Pushing her way closer, Nyrini sees Azzageddi kneeling and holding the frightened Twilight while The Almighty Anne sings for her.

“There she is!” he says, pointing her toward Nyrini. “Look!”

Twilight breaks away from him and staggers to Nyrini, wailing “MOOOOMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY” and throws her arms aroundNyrini’s left leg. Nyrini picks her up and then gasps as the girl wraps her arms around Nyrini’s throat almost tight enough to cut off her breath. She scowls at Azzageddi, who is grinning broadly.

Nyrini looks past him and notices a bunny with a decorated patch over one eye, standing away from the others, looking quite nervous and rather miserable. Then she forgets her as the smell reaches her nose. “Oh…ugh! Twi!”

The strongly built Hero-type leans over and sniffs. “Oh yeah, that’ll happen, you put a little kid in the same hallway with a ghost. Heck, first time I meet Queequeg I nearly did that myself. Uh, y’know, I don’t think we have anything in her size in the laundry…”

“I see a spell here that creates a permanency, but nothing that describes how to remove it.” Norman, Level One wizard, but growing fast, mutters into the book he’s reviewing.

“That’s the problem with wizards,” Lord77 responds from the other side of the table while reading over The Compendium of Counter Spells. “They love creating havoc, but don’t bother figuring out how to clean it up.”

Norman, sets his tome down and looks over to the god. “Sir, we can’t all be that bad. Why do you hate wizards so much?”

Lord77 stops his reading as his absentminded words echo back into his ears. He looks up, over his reading glasses, at the young wizard.

“I’m sorry. That was insensitive. I was painting a broad brush, and shouldn’t …It isn’t that I hate wizards. I’ve met some that were very good and conscientious about their work. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the higher they rise, the more they forget those good traits. After awhile it gets, well, annoying.”

“Well, sir. I will try to remember those traits and not become annoying.” Norman says honestly, happy to have found a personal connection to the god.

Lord77 chuckles softly and is about to return to his reading when the young wizard interrupts him again.

“Sir, while we’re discussing wizards and magic, I’ve had a question on my mind that I wanted to ask.”

The god lowers his book again and looks across the table. “Go ahead.”

“I guess…I guess I don’t understand why you need to do all this. I mean, you’re a god! Can’t you just,” waves his hand in a gesture. “just make it go away?”

Lord77 exhales slowly and lays down his book. Leaning back he crosses his arms.

“Norman, have you ever read the Libro Deos?”

“Book of the Gods, sir? Uhh…no. That’s in the next year’s reading list.”

“Well, I suggest you read up on it a little sooner. It’s actually fairly well written. Well, the first edition was bloody awful. Later editions became a little better, and most recent one is pretty good.”

Lord77 continues. “That book addresses your question, but the quick answer is: I might be able to, but it would be sloppy.”

Norman looks puzzled.

Lord77 realizing that answer wouldn’t satisfy the bright, young wizard, decides to take a research break and explain. “OK. Let’s go through this, then.”

Leaning forward, the god starts a teaching lesson.

“Magic comes in different facets. I’ll leave it to the academics to fight over whether there is only one source, but the fact is both mortals and gods can access magic. They just do it differently.”

Continuing on. “Gods are gods because they can tap into and direct RAW magic or Godpower as it is normally called. It’s very powerful magic, but it’s also uncontrolled. Wizards, sorcerers, mages, and other mortals can access TAMED magic—although, you’ll probably hear it called WIZARD’s magic, because they feel slighted to think their magic is ‘tame’. Hurts their egos. The point is that it’s not as immediately powerful, but it’s far more precise. It also takes more talent to do it, hence,” waving his hand around the library, “all these spell books.

“In many cases, gods can do the same thing using either magic, but it takes a different mindset to do it, and many gods are just lazy. They don’t want to learn the spells.

“All right, let me give you an example. Level One wizards are taught how to unlock a door using magic, right?” Norman nods in agreement. “Right. It’s a fairly simple spell. Well, gods can do the same thing with Godpower. The difference is, where a wizard has to build up the power via a spell through TAMED magic to unlock the door, a god has to use his will to dampen the RAW magic or risk blowing the door apart.

“So, in many cases, it’s more effective to use TAMED magic to be more precise in the work. For instance, I might be able to overcome the protection spell covering the blindness spell on Mitzi. But, even for TAMED magic, this one is fairly strong, and the amount of RAW magic that I would have to unleash would quite possibly kill Mitzi and destroy the Guild Hall in the process. This is an important thing to note too. Although it’s TAMED magic, it isn’t necessarily WEAK magic. Some TAMED spells, like the one we’re facing here, can be quite powerful.

“That’s why I need to find a counter spell. This is a surgical procedure, and using explosives isn’t the answer.”

Norman thinks this over and sits back pondering. “But what happens if there isn’t a counter spell?”

“That, my dear lad, is something that I’m not willing to accept yet. And, we’re going to empty all these books before I do. Now, back to work.”

Norman sits at table with a small notebook open on top of a closed tome. His eyebrows furrow as he attempts to work through an issue. Finally, he looks over at a second table where Lord77has multiple spell books spread out before him.

“Sir? Excuse me, but are you aware of a set of books known as Ancient Texts?”

Lord77 pulls himself from reviewing the Greatest Spells of the 3rd Century compilation, and looks over at the young wizard. “What?”

“Ancient Texts, sir. Have you ever heard of it?”

“Norman, most of these texts are ancient. What do you mean?”

Norman lifts the notebook and walks over to the god. "Here, sir. This is a notebook on disassembly by Nagele. I originally picked it up…well you said to check them all, but I had hope it would show me how to disassemble a broken clock in my room.“

Norman points to a passage in the notebook. “There is discussion of a shielding spell, but the specifics are referred to in the Ancient Texts.” Norman points to another page in the notebook. “And here too sir. Here, the notebook actually contains some information on disassembling spells. But again it to refers to the Ancient Texts for details. Do you know what these are?”

Lord77 sits back pondering and scratching his beard. “Nagele was a wizard from long ago as I recall, many centuries back. I can’t place a specific set of work called Ancient Texts specifically.” He turns and calls out, “Librarian?”

Swinging from a far aisle, the orangutan lands in front of the god. “Oook?”

“We have Nagele’s notebook here, and it is referring to some Ancient Texts. Do you know of any work carrying that title?”

The Librarian scratches his head for a moment, then looks back toLord77. Shaking his head, he responds, “Oook.”

“Well it was worth asking. Sorry Norman, dead end.”

Norman considers the answer and remarks. “Sir, I wonder if there was another Nagele? This notebook seems too new for a centuries old wizard.”

“No, Norman. That’s probably a copy. When texts age, the University will have their copy scribes create a new one for the shelves.”

“Sir, could this be misprint then, a mistake in the copy?”

Lord77 shrugs his shoulder. “Possibly. The only way to make sure would be to reference the original.”

Looking back at the Librarian, “Would you please fetch the original copy?”

“Oook?!”

“Then just be careful with it my good ma…uh primate.”

The Librarian turns and walks off towards a rear stairwell shaking his head, and descends downward. A short time later, he returns gingerly holding an ancient looking notebook with severely browned edges, and carrying a pair of thin white cotton gloves. He lays it down before the god and wizard, and holds out the gloves.

“Seriously?” asks Lord77.

“OOOK!”

“OK, I know! I know!” Lord77 responds, while slipping the gloves on. “I’ll be gentle with it.”

Slowly peeling the ancient document open, the god finds the passage relating to the disassembly of spells.

“Here we go. The disassembly instructions are detailed in the…SONOFA!!” Lord77 begins swearing at the notebook.

“What is it?!” Norman steps back reflexively, witnessing the god’s temper for the first time.

“That’s a possessive! Here,” pointing to a mark preceding Ancient. “This is a possessive mark in Old Script.”

Looking up at the confused, young wizard, Lord77 takes a breath, relaxes, then explains. “In old script, which was used during the early years of the university, if either an object or the owner of an object were considered highly important, then the ownership aspect was enhanced by moving the possessive mark to the front of the word. Those ignorant copy scribes must have missed it. It’s a good thing that Azzageddi didn’t catch this, or that linguist would have skinned those scribes alive.”

“So now, Norman, the question is not what text, but who is this Ancient?”

Norman, shakes his head, and asks in amazement, “How do you know this stuff?”

Lord77 chuckles softly and responds, “Oh, this is one of those things that my father taught me.” Then, suddenly, the god’s demeanor changes, as if an almost audible “DING” occurred.

“NO!” The god shouts. “It can’t be!”

Looking at the Librarian, Lord77 softly speaks. “You can put these books away. I won’t find the answer I need here.”

Then the god steps towards the doorway picking up speed. “C’mon Norman, let’s go.”

The wizard, mystified by events, asks, “Where are we going?”

“To a mausoleum!”

Norman races to catch up muttering, “Oh great! Sure. Now we’re going to use necromancy!”

Nyrini gently lowers Twilight to the floor, twitching her nose at the ominous scent emanating from the bunny.

Ok, I definitely think it’s bath time for you, she says.

That’s probably a good idea, Azzageddi replies. What will you do about her clothes, though?

Oh, I’ll think of something, Nyrini shrugs. I just need to know where the showers are.

Whoa, says the large Hero-looking woman. Our showers here are kinda crummy. I mean, I don’t mind using them, but then I sleep on rocks most of the time…

Taking a deep breath, Mitzi approaches Nyrini, looking sideways at the child. We can’t just let you take her to the showers. She needs a proper bath. Mitzi tells Nyrini as she turns toAzzageddi. Maybe she could use the one in your temple?

Oh, of course, Azzageddi volunteers. I’ll show you—

That’s all right, Mitzi says, cutting him off. I’ll go with them.Azzageddi looks a little surprised at this, but nods.

As they walk towards the temple portal, Nyrini says, Thank you, sweetheart. And you’re Mitzi, right?

Yes…my full name is Mitsumi, actually. Constable of the Watch. But Mitzi will do just fine. And…you’re welcome.

Well, you probably know by now, but I’m Nyrini, the goddess says, conversationally. Feel free to call me Nyri, though.

They stroll through the echoing, gold-lined hall before passing through a door that leads to a much more comfortable, snug suite of rooms, including a library in which an ancient bald man is taking away some dirty dishes that were strewn about a large study table. Mitzi pauses to have a word with him, and he looks over at Nyrini and Twilight, and nods. As Mitzi rejoins them, she says, He will take care of the dirty clothes, and bring something to replace them with, at least until they are cleaned. The bath is this way.

As they enter the bath, Nyrini whistles. Azz really knows how to live!

The room is almost like a cave, inviting, dim but not dark, warm and steamy, with a sunken floor. The bath itself is in one corner, taking up about a third of the floorspace, large enough to accommodate two humans comfortably, with small wooden buckets next to it. It is filled with steaming water that seems to be slowly circulating in from one end and out the other. A shower is in another corner, and two benches line two of the walls, with all the accouterments of bathing—soaps, brushes, bottles of shampoo, and so on—scattered across them. Near the door is a small alcove with three shelves, each supporting a wicker basket containing soft white towels.

We can put our clothes in these baskets, Mitzi says. Actually, perhaps we should put Twilight’s clothes on the top step.

We’re…bathing together? Nyrini asks.

Of course.

Nyrini gets Twilight out of her soiled clothes and, ladling a bucket of warm water from the bath and soaking a towel with it, cleans her off. Mitzi demonstrates how to use the buckets to wet oneself down, then soap up, and once again rinse off with the bucket, all outside the bath itself. The soapy water splashes across the floor and drains away through small grates in the floor. She beckons them both to come near the bath tub and nervously stands aside, trying not to cross paths with the young bunny. Unfamiliar with the concept of taking a bath, Twilight tries to fight and run out of the bathroom, but Nyrini manages to lead her to the bath tub.

Calm down, baby girl, she says softly. It’s not so bad. Mitzi here even made sure the water is nice and warm for you, see?

It…It’s always warm, Mitzi says, her voice quavering slightly as she speaks to the little girl for the first time. That big friendly woman, Aliyaa? She built this place on top of a natural hot spring. The water comes up and keeps us nice and warm. There are bigger baths, for the worshippers. The water has a curative blessing on it.

Nyrini slowly submerges her hand into the water and starts playing with it, to show Twilight that there is nothing to fear. After hesitating for a minute, the bunny reaches a hand to the bath tub and fearfully touches the water, removing it right away. After making sure the water didn’t hurt her, and noticing the small splash this causes, she decides to try it again. And again. And again. Soon, Twilight is happily splashing water on everything and everyone, laughing in pure joy at the newfound game. Mitzismiles and hands Nyrini the soap and shampoo to clean the little girl.

OK, then, Nyrini states, smiling at the happy child. Into the tub you go!

The goddess picks her baby up and lowers her gently into tub.Mitzi joins her and watches her carefully as Nyrini washes herself. Twilight starts splashing merrily, occasionally releasing giggles and exclamations of wonder at the sight of particularly colorful soap bubble floating away from her mother. Suddenly, she looks at Nyrini, as a naughty thought crosses her mind, causing a mischievous little smile to appear on her face. Laughing loudly, she splashes the goddess, who exclaims in annoyance as she gets shampoo in her eyes. At the sight of this, Mitzi, can’t help but laugh. Nyrini and Twilight both look at her, then at each other, then at the water. All of a sudden, Mitzi finds herself being splashes from two directions, and, returning fire, she joins in the bath wars.

After much watery fun, bath time is eventually over. Nyrini andMitzi struggle to get Twilight out of the water. They use a fluffy towel to dry her up and then try to keep her from getting into the water again as Nyrini summons a gentle, warm breeze to dry their hair and outfits.

You are very good with children, Mitzi comments.

Nyrini shrugs, braiding her hair in a more practical hairdo.Practice makes perfect, I guess. We need to find her something to wear, Nyrini says, looking at Twilight, who’s currently playing with her fluffy towel. Maybe I can adapt one of my outfits…

I have already taken care of that, Mitzi says. I probably have more outfits to spare than you, at this point. And she is a bunny. She’ll need… extra holes and such.

Near the door, they find that Twilight’s clothes have been spirited away, replaced by an outfit of Mitzi’s in the lowest basket.

Thank you, sweetheart, Nyrini says.

The short dress is made of a light pale-green fabric printed with a delicate floral design. After dressing Twilight in the much oversized clothes, Nyrini draws on her will to change the dress to fit the bunny. After taking a short moment to inspect her work and to help Mitzi rinse the soap off the floor, Nyrini calls Twilightfrom her fluffy heaven so they can all return to the guildhall.

Say thank you to Mitzi, Twilight. Nyrini says to the bunny hopping by her side.

Thank you, Mitzi. Twilight says, stopping for a moment to hugMitzi’s leg tightly. She looks up and smiles at the older bunny before she dashes off again.

Mitzi smiles. You’re welcome, Twilight. Watching the bunny hopping away with Nyrini following her close behind, she whispers, And thank you.

Godofbeer smiles as he watches Nyrini pick up the small child. He shakes his head and laughs as the word “Mommy” registers in his brain. He wanders over to the bar and pours himself a pint, being careful to leave some money while muttering about the lack of fairness in a universe that makes a beer god pay for beer. After all the excitement is over, Sasha and Pasha return to the bar. Godofbeer turns to them while carefully avoiding eye contact.

Ladies, I want to apologize for my behavior. I was in shock and I didn’t handle it very well. It’s just that I never thought of you two that way. Not that I had delusions of you as perfectly innocent girls. I spend a lot of time here at the bar and I’ve heard the comments, innuendos, and blatant flirting from both of you. I just never followed those comments to their obvious conclusion.

And I don’t want you to think that I’m some kind of prude. I’m one of the major alcohol gods; you can’t get very far in this field being prudish. You end up visiting a lot of frat houses in this job and I’ve seen some things. Believe me, I know all about that stuff… well, maybe not all that stuff. I’m still having trouble with the geometry of some of the things you described. But I am far from being ignorant about this kinda thing.

Bottom line, I need to find a way to process this new information and get past it so that we can go back to the friendship we’ve always had. And I think I know just how to do that; complete and total denial. I’m gonna pretend that these conversations never happened and that nothing has changed. As a God, I have an almost unlimited supply of willpower, and I can use it to maintain my delusion and get back to something resembling normal. It may be a few years before I can even look at a fish, but at least I’ll be able to have a conversation with my favorite bartenders.

Godofbeer looks down and sighs. He then looks up at the bunnies with that familiar smile and chuckles.

So would one of you sweet bartenders get me a refill, please?

As the Godofbeer speaks, Sasha & Pasha’s ears droop further and further, their shoulders slumping and faces growing with dismay as they realize they’ve gone too far with their good friend. Finally Sasha says, “On no!” and Pasha runs around the end of the bar and kneels next to the Beer God, her face a study in misery.

“I…I am SO SORRY! I am such a big, dumb, stupidhead! I swear, we only really do half…heck a third…a quarter even…wait…(counts on her fingers)…OK, a third of the things I said. I didn’t…I didn’t think you’d take it so hard…”

“It’s true, dear Godofbeer” Sasha says. “We’re really not nearly as awful as Pasha made us sound! We’ve never even met a team of Peruvian dancers! We just have some Peruvian pan-pipe music on that iPod thingie Azzageddi gave us. And it’s surprisingly uninteresting! And I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with a hedgehog, other than keep it as a darling little pet!”

“Please forgive us!” Pasha begs, kneeling beside him, enormous puppy-eyes bright with almost-tears. “Please, oh, please don’t erase your memory or whatever you’re going to do! I could never forgive myself if I’d made you do that! It was just a stupid, silly prank!”

Sasha notices the money Godofbeer has put in the bowl. She seizes it and leans over the bar to hold it out to him. “Oh, dearGodofbeer, from now on, yer money’s no good here! Please, take this back and from now on everything ye want is on the house, just please please please forgive us! Just please don’t erase yer memory, just never mind our silliness and keep being our friend!”

Godofbeer looks at the pair of pleading bunnies and begins to feel like a jerk. He reaches down and pulls Pasha to her feet.

Please don’t beg. I can’t stand it when people beg. I’ve never been that kind of God. I’m just a big, dumb jerk and I was trying to take the easy way out. But you girls are gonna make me be all mature and do this the hard way.

He sighs and looks them in the eye.

You two are worth the trouble. You are two of the best friends I have. I just didn’t want anything to change, but I guess any real friendship has to evolve over time. Listen to me, I’m sounding more mature already. This is my issue and I’ll find a way to deal with it. I feel like a father who just realized his daughters are all grown up. It’ll be an adjustment, but I’ll get there.

He sighs again and realizes he does that a lot these days.

And Sasha, I know I grumble a lot, but I don’t actually mind paying for my drinks here. It makes our relationship different from all those pandering sycophants that only care about what I can do for them, or may do to them. If paying was really upsetting me, there’s a pub two blocks away that I could go to and drink myself stupid for free. He chuckles And in case you forgot, I am a beer god. I could conjure up as many kegs as I wanted and never leave my room.

As he sighs yet again, he begins to wonder if he should find another way of expressing himself. Overuse of the heavy sigh could diminish its meaning. This thought brings out another sigh.

I don’t want either of you to change who you are. You’re both perfect and we’re gonna be okay. We’ll talk and we’ll drink and our relationship will become even stronger. So here’s how we’re gonna get started. You’re both gonna give me a hug, then one of you can get me that refill while the other one calls me a lunkhead and we can laugh and move on.

As the Beer God speaks, the bunnies’ ears perk up little by little until they’re standing almost straight again, and sad embarrassed smiles bloom on their faces. As he finishes, Pasha, standing next to him, throws her arms around his neck, while Sasha lies across the bar to reach him, and give him a hug, laughing, then slides back behind the bar and pulls him a glass of their best.

“I guess that means I have to call you a…whatchamacallit?” saysPasha, still hugging him.

“A lunkhead,” says Godofbeer.

“Right, lunkhead. Lunkhead … lunkhead … what a weird word. Lunkhead … lunkhead … lunk…head. You know when you say a word over and over and it starts sounding even weirder? Luuuuuunkhead…”

“OK! I get it!”

Pasha giggles and kisses his forehead as Sasha brings his beer. “You big ol’ silly lunkhead.”

Lord77 quickly walks into the Guild Hall, Norman, trying to keep pace, enters seconds afterwards. Walking up towards the bar, the god sees his drinking buddy being mugged by Pasha and called a “lunkhead”. Walking up, he waives Sasha off who is already grabbing a beer mug and clasps his buddy on the shoulder.

“Hey Buddy! Trying out a new nickname?”

The beer god turns frowning, and attempts to softly dislodge the buga bunny. Over Lord77’s shoulder he sees Norman closing.

“Oh, Godofbeer, let me introduce you to Norman, a Level One Wizard at the UU, and currently helping me with a project.”

Norman stops dead in his tracks looking at the large god. “God…of…Beer?” He haltingly says.

“Yes, Norman. This is the God of Beer. And, don’t stand there and stare. Shake the god’s hand already.” Norman hesitantly puts out his hand and is immediately engulfed by the much larger one of the beer god.

“ Godofbeer, Would you mind getting the lad something to drink? I need to stop by Mitzi for a minute.”

And, Lord77 leaves the two at the bar and marches off in the direction of the offices.

Godofbeer sits Norman down at the bar.

Godofbeer: So, lad, what do you like to drink?

Norman: I usually drink tea, sir.

Godofbeer, chuckling: You can drop that “sir” stuff for starters. I’m a beer god, not the Lord of Universal Destruction, although, for your information, he doesn’t like being called sir either. Definitely something to keep in mind, should your paths cross. If you’re working with Lord77, you’re gonna need something stronger than tea. I guess they probably don’t teach the joy of alcohol consumption at the University, do they?

Norman: I think there is an advanced class in wine drinking, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

Godofbeer, laughing: Well let’s get you a jump start on your education.

They both turn as a clown on a unicycle comes in, followed by a panicky looking goddess.

Godofbeer: Perfect timing, I’m glad you’re here, lad. Tell me now, do you see that clown over there?

Norman: Yes.

Godofbeer, with a relieved sigh: Oh good. I was really worried that time. Us alcohol gods need a reality check from time to time. So let’s get started on your lessons.

Noticing that Sasha and Pasha are busy serving Herrena,Doctor Whiteface, and, apparently, a unicycle, Godofbeermoves behind the bar, pours a couple of beers, and hands one toNorman.

Godofbeer: We’ll start simply. This is a nice, smooth amber ale that’s perfect for the beginner. Try that.

Norman, taking a sip and making a face: That tastes awful!

Godofbeer: That’s because you’re tasting it wrong. You’re letting your taste buds tell you what it tastes like.

Norman: But that’s what they do. They respond to outside stimuli and send a message to the brain which then interprets that message.

Godofbeer: That’s what I mean, you’re doing it wrong. Do your tastebuds have brains? Of course they don’t. So why let them decide what’s good? Those tastebuds will play havoc with your senses if you let them. You need to tell your tastebuds that you are gonna like this beer and they damn well better get used to the idea. Be firm with the little buggers and try again.

Norman, tentatively taking another sip: I guess maybe it was a little better that time.

Godofbeer, laughing: Now we’re getting somewhere. Alright let’s work on your drinking technique now. You can’t sip beer. There are a lot of ways to drink beer, but sipping ain’t one of them. You can take a quick drink, a long slow drink, gulp it down, or even swirl it around before swallowing if you like. But I’m gonna teach you my personal favorite, the quaff. Tilt that glass up as far as you can and don’t put it down till it’s empty. Follow me.

He tips the glass up and quickly downs the amber liquid. Wanting to be a good student, Norman follows the beer god’s example and manages to choke the beer down. A look of disbelief comes over his face as he looks at Godofbeer.

Norman: Wait, that tasted much better that time.

Godofbeer: Alcohol tastes better as you go. The more you drink, the better you enjoy it. You’re doing well, but let’s move on to something a little more advanced.

He pulls out a bottle and two shot glasses. He then pours each of them a shot.

Godofbeer: This is a shot of tequila. For a beginner, you definitely want to take tequila in small doses. What you’re gonna do here is drink it as quickly as possible, or even faster. It will run past your tastebuds so fast they won’t know what hit them. Bottoms up!

They both empty their shot glasses and set them on the bar.Norman immediately starts hyperventillating and pounding his hand on the bar.

Godofbeer: That’s it, lad. Breath through the burn. That’s good stuff, huh?

Norman: Hhhh! Hhhhh! Hhhhh!

Godofbeer, laughing: Well I guess tequila’s not your thing. I tell you what, I know you like tea. Let me introduce you to a Long Island Ice Tea.

The beer god laughs loudly and begins mixing a large drink.

Looking at the bar, where Godofbeer is currently sitting, nursing an ale, Nyrini is immediately reminded of her patrol duties. She quickly walks towards him and places a hand on her partner’s shoulder.

Time to get back out there, don’t you think? she asks, nodding toward the Watch House’s main entrance.

Uh, what are you planning to do about her? Godofbeer asks, looking at Nyrini and then down at Twilight, who is having a rather good time looking at her distorted reflection on the mirrored bar counter.

Looking down at the bunny, Nyrini quickly realizes that she must find Twilight a suitable babysitter if she is to resume her watch duties. She turns to Pasha and Sasha for help.

Hello, ladies. I hope you don’t mind but I need to ask you both a favor…

Sure thing, Nyri. Sasha replies. What d’ya need?

Well, I need to get back out on the streets, Nyrini says. And I sure as sunlight can’t take Twilight here with me.

Are you asking us to babysit? Pasha asks.

Yep. I would ask Mitzi but she has work to do.

Of course, we’ll take care of wee Twilie for ya! Sashaimmediately volunteers, jumping over the bar counter and landing near Twilight, slightly frightening the little bunny. We’ll have so much fun together, won’t we lassie?

Hm… Twilight tightly hugs Nyrini’s leg, and looks sideways atSasha. Nuh huh.

Come on now, baby girl, it’ll be fun, the goddess says, kneeling so her face will be level with the bunny’s. Aunt Pasha and AuntSasha will take good care of you.

I don’t wanna stay here with them! Twilight insists, throwing her arms around Nyrini’s neck. I wanna go with you!

Nyrini sighs and rolls her eyes in frustration as she looks atPasha’s and Sasha’s concerned faces. I can’t take you with me,Twi. I really can’t. There are bad people out there and this is the only place where you’ll be safe.

I DON’T WANNA BE ALONE!! the bunny screams in Nyrini’s ear.YOU SAID I WOULDN’T BE ALONE! YOU PROMISED!!

You won’t be alone, love, the goddess says, gently releasing herself from Twilight’s frightened embrace and turning her around so the bunny faces the guildhall and its current inhabitants. Look around! All these people are your friends. They’re family, ok? You’re never alone with family.

Twilight looks around at the friendly faces smiling at her, sniffs and turns to Nyrini again, rubbing a teary eye.

Will you be out long? she asks in a small voice.

No dear, no longer than I have to, I promise. I’ll be back here real quick, before you even notice I left.

Twilight sniffs some more. Ok…

Nyrini bends and kisses Twilight’s forehead before getting up and turning to speak to Godofbeer.

Let’s go, then, she says, trying hard to ignore Twilight’s heart-piercing cries as the two gods leave the Watch House.

Well, I’m not quite sure this will work. Aillara says, wiping the sweat off her forehead with a dirty sleeve. The main shaft may still need some tweaking.

Well, my designs are famous for their flawlessness. Leonardreplies, wiping his hands on a whites towel that hasn’t been white in a long time. I am certain we have followed my instructions to the letter and, therefore, we are left with a perfect device.

Leonard and Aillara both take a step back to admire their work, accidentally bumping into each other as they move. Leonardimmediately apologizes for his clumsiness while Aillara looks down and blushes with a soft and low cry of “it was nothing”.

Watching the sickly sweet scene from afar, Manoel muttersPerdonarme senor, pero you no need no help to destroy the world with your invencions.

Looking around in search of inspiration for his master plan, the screwdriver manages to lay eyes on an automated sewing machine standing abandoned, in a corner. Whistling nonchalantly, which is quite a feat for one with no lips, he starts hopping toward the machine.

Ay, mi vida! he says in way too loud a voice. I do hope I will no trip and fall on one of the crazy senor’s perfect machines. I am so tired of working all day long.

Manoel then proceeds to pretend to trip and throws himself on top of the machine’s on/ off switch. The sewing machine immediately begins to creak and rattle, sewing away on a trial rag left on the sewing stand. The fabric, however, soon gets caught on a peg belonging to a nearby Auto-Hairdresser 3000, forcing the sewing machine to turn, pushing Manoel into the hairdresser. The pinkish sewing thread, now all knotted, gets caught on Manoel’sphilips head as he flies into the Auto-Hairdresser 3000, creating a makeshift wig which the machine soon styles into a Victorian-style hairdo. As the combs and brushes do their thing, Manoel, helpless in the middle of all this, finds himself being transported into a different device, the Porto-Makeover Full Edition. Three minutes later, the dazed and confused screwdriver is spit out of the machine, looking somewhat like a rather masculine and dishevelled Marie Antoinette, and thrown fullforce past a distracted Leonard and at Aillara’s clueless chest. Taking the full strenght of the impact, Aillara falls on the machine she andLeonard have just spent the last few hours working on, reducing it to a collection of completely unrecognisable pieces. Finally realizing what is going on, Leonard leans towards Aillara.

Are you injured, my lady? he asks Aillara as he offers her his hands and helps her to get up, his face a mask of honest concern.

I— I don’t think so, no. Aillara stutters, inspecting her body for obvious signs of injury.

She looks down at the wrecked machine, barely noticing the chaos now reigning in Leonard’s workshop, as several assorted machines keep rattling and working away, hitting and getting tangled on each others, destroy everything in their path.

Oh, I’m sorry. she says in a hurry, though not failing to notice thatLeonard is still holding her hands. I’m such a clutz!

I assure you it is quite alright, my lady. Leonard looks at the machine and shrugs. I needed to tweak the main shaft on that device, anyway.

Aillara giggles in delight, immediately turning a neon shade of red. Well, I can surely help you with that. And, please, she hesitates. Call me Aillara.

Leonard finally notices that he is still holding the alchemist’s hands and releases them, much to Aillara’s disappointment.

I would be delighted to rely on your assistance, my la… he says. I mean, Aillara.

Aillara giggles again, while Leonard turns to Manoel, who is now lying on the floor, fighting his dress in a failed attempt to get up, and says

Well, don’t you just lay there, Manoel! We will require your assistance on this one.

Buried deep into his frilly and puffy dress, Manoel mutters Maldicion!

Mitzi catches up to Lord77 in the office area.

“Were you looking for me, sir?” she asks with a hopeful look on her face.

“Ahh…There you are! I was passing through, and just wanted to let you know that we’ve made some progress, but still have some work to do. Again, no promises yet, but we’re still on it.”

“We?”

“I’ve liberated a sharp young mind named Norman from the university to help me out. He’s had some particularly insightful viewpoints,” Lord77 responds, and then informs Mitzi of the events of the day leading to his return.

As he finishes his recap, a stumbling thud occurs down the hallway. Both turn to see Norman, suffering the effects ofGodofbeer’s advanced training session, stick his head around the doorframe, grasping the doorway with a death grip, trying to stay vertical.

“Shur! I’m uh…ready tah go to the maus-a…the mous-a…you know, the people dead place!” Norman, slurs as he slumps against the doorframe.

“Oh, crap! How much did you drink?!” Lord77 snarls.

Norman’s eyes go wide, fearing the god’s wrath. “No! No!” Waving his hands, and then grabbing the doorway again. “Not, mush. Really! Just one…and then anodder…plus dere was that other one, I think.” Norman counts on his fingers, then plays with his fingers giggling as he flexes them as if this was the first time.

“Did you know that coughing a beer makes it taste better?” The wizard suddenly announces as a huge discovery.

“The work is ‘quaff’, Norm.” Lord77 corrects, and then shakes his head.

During this interchange, Mitzi’s arms cross as if of their own will. “This is your sharp, young mind?”

Lord77 looks back at the buga bunny, “Well, Mitzi, he was before he ran into the GES.”

“GES?” Mitzi asks.

“Yeah, the Godofbeer Educational System. Motto: Have another!”

Norman suddenly notices Mitzi, stops playing with his fingers, and attempts to point in the general direction of the buga bunny. “Sheeze ah bunny!” He declares.

“Yes, Norman, Constable Mitsumi is a Buga Buga Bunny, and the friend we’re trying to help. Mitzi, this is Norman, Level One wizard at the UU, and before his brain was polluted byGodofbeer he was being a great help working through this problem.”

“Welllll, you don’t have to worry about any more plu-tion, Lordy-O,” Norman starts. “Mr. Godbeer just left with a young lady for patrolling around.” Norman waves down the hallway, loses his tentative balance and collapses to the floor.

“Great. Just, great.” Lord77 mutters rising from his chair. Grabbing Norman by the shoulder, the god picks him up and guides him back towards the hall. “Let’s go work that booze off. I’ll be in touch, Mitzi.”

Mitzi watches them leave the office area, shaking her head. “Maybe I should start worrying about the other eye,” she says softly.

Lord77 half guides, half carries Norman through the Guild Hall towards the kitchen.

“Ah didn’t know, we were saving a bunny bunny?” Norman slurs as they pass the doorway towards the kitchen portal.

“Buga Bunny, Norman.” Lord77 corrects. “They’re a magical creature created by Susan Sto Helit”.

Norman stops dead in his tracks and then grabs the counter for support. “Nooooo. Really?!” He ponders, as if a real thought had swum out of the alcohol bath in which his brain is currently swimming. “That’s Death’s granddaughter!” He announces.

“Yes, Norman. I know that.” The god irritatingly states. “Now let’s go.”

Except, Norman is still transfixed, working through the one coherent, but wavering thought. “She created bunnies?! That’s sooooo nice!” Norman begins to sway, then regrabs the counter. “The Mitzi one is really cute too.”

“I wouldn’t say that too loud, Norman, or Mitzi’s boyfriend might take that the wrong way, in which case you’d wish you were a lot drunker. Now follow me.”

Grabbing Norman’s arm, Lord77 pulls him away from the counter, the leads first through the Portal. Taking a few steps forward into the access passage, he turns and waits for the wizard, then waits, then swears and marches back through the Portal to the kitchen. There, in front of the Portal sits Norman on the floor rubbing his head.

“What happened?” Ask the god.

“I…I down felled.” Norman says, and then giggles. Pointing at the Portal, “I don’t think the magic doorway thingy wants me to go through.”

Lord77 grumbles and turns towards the Portal. “My mistake.” Holding out his right hand, he pulls his will, and the swirling of the Portal changes subtly.

“There Norman. You can go through now,” and he lifts the young wizard back up and propels him through the magic gate. Then he marches after.

As they exit the passage leading to the Portal and enter the main temple area, both god and wizard are greeted with a situation emanating from a small, nearby hallway. The hall is filled with densely packed soap bubbles, and in the middle of the foam is an even denser form, and it’s crying.

“OH, WHAT THE…?!” Lord77 growls and walks towards the foam being trailed by the inebriated wizard. From the depths of the bubble pack, Flower sits drenched, totally covered with the soapy foam. She looks up as the god approaches and begins crying louder.

“All right…uh…dang…Petal, Blossom, FLOWER! Yes, Flower. You don’t have to cry dear.” Finally stopping before the bubble clad buga bunny. “What happened?!”

Through shuddering words, Flower tries to explain. “Well, Master….I was trying to do laundry. But…but I ran out of clothes soap. So, instead…instead I went and got some bath soap. And…and it started bubbling, and bubbling, and bwaaaaa!” As the bunny begins crying again.

Lord77 reaches down to pick up the buga bunny from her soapy mess, when from behind he hears in an overstated bravado, “I can fix this!”

Spinning around quickly, he sees Norman beginning to chant a spell and wave his hands.

“What are you doing?!” The god shouts.

Norman, pausing briefly, and long enough to balance himself against a wall, looks at the god and states with authority, “I read a cleansing spell when we were resear…res…ah finding stuff. Watch!” And, he completes the spell.

Lord77 fearing the worst from a Level One wizard casting a spell he has never practiced dives low in the foam, covering the buga bunny with his body and his head with his hands. As he hits the foam…it disappears. Landing now on dry, clean tile, he skins both elbows coming to a stop. Rapidly looking up, and around, sees that the place is clean and dry with no evidence of soapy spillage.

“Are you OK dear?” Lord77 inquires swiftly of the buga bunny. Flower nods quickly, looks around herself and is overjoyed that her mistakes have all been eliminated.

“Wheee!” She jumps up and launches herself on the young wizard in a powerful bunny hug, which causes the wizard to lose the precarious grip he had on vertical to begin with, and both go down to the floor.

As Flower finishes bestowing her savior thank you kisses on his cheek. Lord77 reaches over and lifts the wizard to his feet. “You’ve never casted that spell before?” The god asks.

“No, shur.” Norman answers, still wobbly from the booze and the bunny take-down.

“And, Godofbeer has you drunk as a skunk?”

“Oh, yes shur!” Norman quickly agrees.

“Amazing,” the god states shaking his head. “That’s pretty impressive.”

Norman, feeling empowered then responds. “And, if you think that was good, I also saw a spell that will clean all those clothes right up,” and begins raising his hands.

“NO! … No! That’s just fine Norman.” Lord77 quickly shouts halting the wizard. Flower can do it the old fashion way. Dear, you’ll find more clothes soap in the cabinet in the storage closet next to the Icarus Wings.”

As Flower runs off, the god guides the wizard through the temple to the rear grounds. “Here, the fresh air will do you good, and I’ll get Tootsie to carry you out to the mausoleum.” Then the god walks off to the stalls to get the burro.

“I could have cleaned those clothes.” Norman says to himself confidently, then with no wall to lean against, finally loses the staying vertical battle and collapses on the grass.

Lord77 trudges across the cattle range leading Tootsie by a tether. Atop the burro is the young, Level One wizard, Norman, slowly recovering from Godofbeer’s speed drinking lesson.

“Something smells funny.” Norman announces.

“Well, it might be your sense of smell finally noticing that you’re passing through a cattle range. Or most likely, your ride perfuming the air around you,” the god responds.

Norman looks down at the burro. “I’m guessing it’s Tootsie.”

As they close the distance to the Mausoleum, Lord77 drops the reins and walks over to one of the higher decorated Lawn Gnomes. After exchanging some words, he comes back to the pair.

“The supervising Gnome tells me that the Mausoleum has been undisturbed since I left, which is what I was hoping. Susan had initially considered doing something with it, and I wanted to make sure that nobody had come by.”

“Is that where the Ancient is buried?” Norman asks, his brain clearing enough to remember why they made this trip.

“Oh, the inhabitant of that building isn’t dead. But, if only some of my suspicions are correct, I may want to kill him,” the god says picking up the rein and closing the distance to the building.

As they approach the threshold, Lord77 again releases the burro and takes the final steps to the door. He notices that the door is again sealed shut.

“That’s odd. I don’t recall sealing the building when we left.” The god muses to himself as he reaches out to the door. Fearing the effort needed to again overcome the seal, he’s surprised as his initial touch causes a latch to release and the door to swing open.

Norman dismounts and walks towards the door, although not it the straightest of lines. “What’s wrong?” He asks seeing a puzzled look on the god’s face.

“This door was sealed but not by me, and it’s keyed now to my essence, similar to how I bar the portal to my temple from the Guild Hall.”

Norman looks at the door and then back to Lord77 confused. “Is that a good thing?”

“I’m not sure yet, lad. But, let’s go in and see.”

Moving through the door and starting down the stairs to the dark crypt, Lord77 summons a luminescent and sends it forward lighting the path. The luminescent travels to the center of the crypt, undisturbed and awaiting the pair.

“Oooh, lumis! We just learned how to create them!” Norman exclaims.

“Shh…” Lord77 rebukes. “Let’s not announce ourselves too much.”

As Lord77 reaches the bottom stair and steps into the crypt, his passage keys a trigger, and the entire crypt is suddenly light as it was during his earlier trip. Norman steps into the crypt wide-eyed.

“It’s an enhancement of the luminescent spell, Norman,” the god remarks. “Again, it appears to be keyed to me. Hmmm…” Stepping forward into the empty crypt, Lord77 barks, “DAD?!” But, there is no answer.

Norman spins all around looking for someone, and the effort takes him to the ground. Lord77 also searches the interior, and then stands scratching his beard.

“Hmmm…didn’t notice that before,” he mummers, then turns to the wizard. “Norman, stand up. I have a task for you.”

Norman finds his feet and reasserts himself vertical, “Sir?”

“I want you to go outside and pace the length of this wall counting your steps, then come back in. Try to keep your steps even.”

“Yes, sir,” and the wizard turns and stumbling on the steps makes it to the top and out. Moments later, her reappears. “Fifty-two steps sir.”

“Good, now pace this crypt.”

Norman moves to one end, and then begins pacing the inside. “Fifteen less, sir.”

“Hmm…that’s what I thought.” The god mutters, and then moves to the far wall. Placing his hands on the rough bricks, he closes his eyes in concentration and moves along the wall. Stopping at one point, he whispers, “Here it is.”

A loud click echoes into the crypt and a section of the wall swings on previously undetected hinges. Lord77 pushes the false door wider to pass through, and from the light streaming in, he sees shelves of books, parchments, and other documents. Stepping into the hidden room, light again appears illuminating the small library. As he takes a cautious step forward he mutters, “The Ancient’s texts”.

Suddenly, from back in the crypt, a small girl’s scream pierces the building, followed shortly thereafter by a now, well-known, cackling laugh.

Aliyaa strides into the bar from the direction of Azzageddi’s temple portal, whistling and looking mighty proud of herself. Before her, she’s pushing a cart overflowing with children’s clothes. Parking it next to the bar, she plops down on a seat and calls for a beer.

“Hey guys! Hey, cutie!” She ruffle’s Twilight’s hair. “Remember me? I’m your Aunt Aliyaa! We met in the hallway this morning.”

Twilight looks a little scared, and says in a small voice, “Is that…ghost…still there?”

“Oh, don’t worry about him! Queequeg’s harmless! He looks weird, but he’s a real nice guy. He’s stayin’ out of sight ‘cause he doesn’t want to scare you, but he’d love to meet you again when you’re ready.”

Pasha brings Aliyaa her beer. “Uh, what’s up with the clothes? Are those for Twilie?”

“Yep!” She quaffs her beer in the Godofbeer-approved manner. “AAAAHHHHHH!!! That hits the spot! BUUURP! Oh, ‘scuse me. Anyways…so I figured we needed some clothes for the little one here, so I got a bright idea. I went into the Great One’s temple—which I built, y’know—”

“We know!” say Sasha and Pasha together, rolling their eyes.

“—AAAAAAND…I went out on that balcony thing, for like addressing the crowd of worshipers, which, y’know, being the Great One’s Prophet, I can do…anyways, I told ’em the Great One needed clothes.”

Sasha knits her brow. “Wait, these aren’t just clothes. They’re clothes for a little girl. Well, mostly,” she says, holding up a small pair of shorts meant for someone with five legs.

“Oh yeah, I told ’em…” Aliyaa stands up and throws out her arms as if addressing a huge crowd, “HOLY AZZAGEDDI NEEDS CLOTHES FOR A FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL! SO IT IS COMMANDED!” She sits back down, looking smug.

The bunnies stare at her, their jaws open. Ravenvalykre facepalms. Pasha is the first to speak. “So…that was it?”

“Well, one guy called out, ‘Uh…any particular clothes?’ So I said back—” She throws out her arms again, almost hitting Ravenvalykre, “—oh, sorry Ravey…so I said ‘THE WHOLE SHEBANG! SHIRTS, DRESSES, UNDERPANTS, SOCKS, WHATEVER! SO IT IS COMMANDED! OH, BUT NO SHOES!’ I put that last part in ‘cause you bunnies sort of have big feet, no offense. Then the guy called back from the crowd, ’Uhhh, OK.’ And they mostly left. A little while later, the donation box started filling up with these.”

“Instead of, oh, coins?” Pasha asks drily.

“Well…yeah. Duh!”

Sasha, still picking through the clothes, making two piles—good stuff, weird stuff—says, “Well, if this is all, it’s not so bad.”

“Oh no! There’s WAY more back at the temple! No way I could carry all of it!”

Aliyaa pauses as she hears a slow tapping noise behind her. She turns to see Mitzi, arms crossed, tapping one toe, looking quite annoyed.

“Oh…hey Mitz…did someone make you mad…?” Aliyaa’s voice trails off as Mitzi’s eye remains locked on her. Then Mitzi turns and impatiently waves for Aliyaa to follow as she walks quickly toward the dorm area, where Azzageddi has been doing something all day.

“Um…see you guys later…” Aliyaa quickly gets up and follows.

A couple of minutes later, they catch a glimpse of Azzageddi heading through the portal to his temple. He seems to be chuckling and shaking his head.

After a couple of hours, Aliyaa emerges from the dorm area, wearing shorts and an old shirt, and a bandanna on her head to keep her hair out of the way. She plops down on a barstool again and sighs.

Sasha brings her a beer. “Azz had ye cleanin’ the showers, did he?”

“Yyyyyup.” Aliyaa drinks off the whole beer in one quaff. “Buuurrrrrrp! Better’n bein’ struck by lightning, right?”

“Oh! Would he…DO that?”

“Naw! He hit me by accident a couple times when He was tryin’ to take down my opponent in the Arena, though. Always bought me drinks after and apologized.”

“Well…I’m glad I’m not a Hero, love. Killing monsters and getting stabbed and bitten and hit by lightning…”

Aliyaa laughs. “Yeah, and fallin’ down holes…man, I do that a lot! Amazing how many holes there are on the roads between the towns.”

“Poor dearie…here, have another.”

“Thanks, babe. But I love it! Out in the sunshine…and rain, and snow, and fog…but you know, out in nature! And killin’ monsters! And spreading the word of my Great One!”

“Oh, he is a nice fellow—”

“NICE? He’s THE Great One! I mean, I like all these other gods well enough, but…” Aliyaa leans forward to whisper to Sasha, loudly enough to be heard across the room, “…they’re not really, y’know, TRUE gods.” She leans back and runs her finger across her lips like a zipper, then winks and nods her head to Sasha, who nods back solemnly before turning away and bursting into silent laughter, holding her stomach until she can get herself under control again.

When she turns back, face red, she asks, “So, uh, what kind of gods are they then?”

“Oh, I dunno. I mean, I’ve thought about that, but it made my head hurt. I asked the Great One about it, and He told me to stop bein’ silly—of course they’re real. An’ I said, ‘I KNOW they’re REAL! But You’re the only REALLY real One, right?’ And He said, ‘ALL the gods are really real.’ An’ that’s when I knew He was testin’ me!”

Sasha shakes her head. “Here ye go, have another. Well, darlin’, ye’re the sweetest fanatic I’ve ever met. Cheers.”

“Thanks, Sash! Cheers!”

Three beers later, Azzageddi returns, followed by three bald men in crimson robes, each of them carrying a large stack of children’s clothes tied with twine. One of them takes the “weird” pile of clothes and sweeps it into the cart, then sets his packet of clothes on top of it. The three robes men turn to Azzageddi and bow—the one without anything in his hands pressing his palms together to make a wai. Azzageddi performs a wai in return, bowing just as deeply as they do. Then the robed men turn to go out the street door, and Azzageddi sits next to his hero.

Aliyaa waves Sasha over. “Hey…burp…get him one on me.”

“Thanks, kid,” Azzageddi says.

“So…gettid awl…straightened out?” she asks as Sasha brings two beers.

“Yes,” he says. “Thank you, Sasha dear. Cheers! Mmm. Yes, I, uh, told them there was a small problem with interpretation, and that the Great One actually wanted old clothes for distribution to poor children of all ages.”

“Aww! I shooda thoughta that!” She leans her head on his shoulder, looking put out.

“Well, you almost did, kiddo. It was a near thing!” He chuckles and kisses her on the top of her head. “So I take it the showers are ready for the big unveiling?”

“Yup! Everything’s all nice and sparkly, mildew’s a goner, an’ I even replaced a few fixtures. And I cleaned the new door, too, even though it hardly needed it.”

“The lock works?”

“Oh yeah, tested it. Only Watch folk’ll have the keys to come in that way.”

Sasha returns, holding Twilight. “What ARE you two talking about?”

Azzageddi holds his arms out and takes Twilight, saying hello to her again and cuddling her. “Well, I thought those showers aren’t really suited to a child, and then I though those showers aren’t really suited to anyone, except maybe Nobby Nobbs. But I didn’t want to be putting in extradimensional rooms or anything like that—you always get plumbing problems with those. So then I realized: I have a big public bath area at my temple, with multiple baths, split into male and female sections, very comfortable and clean and maintained by the monks, for my worshipers and, really, for anyone, though only worshipers get in free.”

“Baths which I BUILT, by the way!”

“Yes, kiddo, you did, and you did a great job too. Anyway, so I installed another portal, leading from our showers to my temple’s baths. Now we can give keys to all the cops and bunnies and gods in the Watch, and they can all use those baths whenever they want. Free, of course.”

“Even though you don’ worship the One True—”

“—OK, OK, now…stop that. This is a police bar, not a church. Sorry about that,” Azzageddi says to Sasha and Pasha, the latter of whom has come over.

Pasha tilts her head toward the street door and asks, “So who were the bald guys?”

“Oh, those are monks. They live at my temple.”

“You have monks?”

“I don’t really have them. I just host them. I go back a long way with their order. They’re a big reason I’m the god I am today. So I asked them what I could do in return, and they asked me to seed small groups of them on multiple worlds, so the order would never die out. Naturally I gave them a monastery within my temple. And they keep the place very clean.”

“Huh. So where are they going?”

“Well, we have a lot of clothes to distribute. I sent them to take some of the clothes to orphanages and such in this part of the city. You know, my temple is actually down at the beach on the other side of the bay. Not actually that convenient for visitors.”

Aliyaa jerks herself awake after half-drifting off. “Wha? Oh, hey…well anyways, at least we got this here pile of clothes for sweet lil Twy-Twy.”

“Are you OK, kid?”

“M’shleepy.”

Azzageddi kisses Twilight on the cheek and hands her back to Sasha, then puts his arm around his Hero and helps her stand. “Come on, kiddo, let’s put you to bed.” He helps Aliyaa stagger off to her dorm room, handing her over to a solicitous ghost, who sighs at the state of her.

Godofbeer and Nyrini stand outside the Watch House, preparing for another day on patrol.

So where to… Mommy? Godofbeer asks, a mocking smile on his face.

Very funny. Nyrini replies after a moment. Keep acting like that and I’ll tell Twilie there you’re her daddy. She gets close to her partner, just close enough for it to be uncomfortable and lowers her voice. WITHOUT benefits.

Uh… Godofbeer mumbles, staring at the young goddess’ lush lips for just a second too long. He swallows. what do you mean, benefits?

Nyrini smiles, victorious. Of course, she goes on, resuming her normal tone and walking away. Considering you had such a problem with the geometry of bunny love before, you probably wouldn’t be missing much, anyway. She stops in the middle of the street, waiting.

Ok… I probably deserved that, Godofbeer mutters before joining her. So, where to, partner?

Somewhere. Anywhere. For as long as there’s no bunnies to sneak up on us.

Pssssst! Someone calls.

Both gods turn to face the source of the call, a suspicious looking character with way too many appendages sticking out, standing in a shadowy side street.

Is that a squid? Godofbeer asks, rubbing his eyes. Am I seeing squids, again?

Do you see them very often? Nyrini asks back.

It’s a recurrent alcohol-related hallucination, yes.

You know, for a beer god, you get hammered real easy!

You try drinking every day for a few centuries and see what kind of nastiness your brain inflicts on you. Godofbeer replies, an hurtful tone in his voice.

Pssssssssssssst! The strange character beckons again.

The gods walk towards him at a slow pace.

You sure that’s not a squid calling us? Godofbeer insists.

Squid? What squid? Nyrini mocks him. Why do you keep mentioning squids?

Oh, damn it! Godofbeer rubs his temples in frustration. Maybe that fifth shot of tequila wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Yeah, probably. Nyrini replies. Anyway, that’s definitely a cuttle fish.

No, I’ma squid, alright. The shady character says.

You sure? Nyrini asks, looking at him from different angles and counting tentacles.

Yeah. Sneezy the Squid, I am. The “definitely a squid” says.Youse thinkin’ of me brother, Snapper the Cuttle Fish.

Oh, that’s probably it, then.

Am I seeing squids or not?! Godofbeer insists in asking.

Yes! Nyrini and Sneezy answer in unison.

So, Sneezy the Squid, what is it that you want from us? Nyrini holds out her hand, summoning some of Aillara’s hard-won gold coins out of thin air.

I gots some good infomation fa youse on this illegal gamblin’ gig goin’ on t’day. Sneezy looks at the coins with greedy eyes.

And where is it going on? Nyrini asks, handing Sneezy the coins.

I ain’t sayin’ nutin ta no cops! Sneezy cries suddenly, in a street-type righteous anger. I ain’t no snitch!

Hey, if I recall, YOU called US! Godofbeer intervenes. I just thought I was hallucinating squids again!

Oh, right! Sneezy concedes, remembering he IS a snitch, after all.Follow me, then. I’ll take ya there!

Sneezy the Squid immediately takes off down the alley.Godofbeer and Nyrini look at each other, shrug, and start after the informant. The squid moves with amazing speed as he leads them through the labyrinthine alleyways. Nyrini nimbly follows the squid, her training and conditioning allowing her to quickly change directions with ease and gracefully flow around any obstacles in her path. Godofbeer, on the other hand, is built exactly as one would expect a beer god to be. Shortly into the chase, his breath becomes labored and his face turns red. It is only through sheer willpower and a willingness to barrel through anything in the way that he is able to keep his partner in sight.

Godofbeer, panting: I am not built for this much exercise. I wonder if Ravey has a spare hoverboard I could borrow. I might have to check.

As the chase continues, the incredibly fast squid gets farther and farther ahead. Even at top speed, the agile Nyrini is still unable to close the gap. After a few minutes, she loses sight of her quarry and stops in an alley to let her lumbering partner catch up. The beer god enters the alley and leans on a wall, trying to catch his breath.

Godofbeer, gasping: This just isn’t right. This is not what I signed up for. From the outside, the watch seemed to be all parties and drinking and having a good time. Nobody said anything about chasing freakishly fast squids through dark alleys.

As his breathing slowly returns to normal, they take in their new surroundings.

Looking around, Nyrini and Godofbeer take in the bleak alley where shadows stretch to touch and embrace each other.

Hey, this must have been some long chase. Godofbeer says. It’s dark already.

Nyrini tilts her head as she recognizes this place, the old and unstable looking buildings leaning against each other, filtering sunlight until just a dim, eerie light hits the dirt street.

It’s always dark in 3 Rats Alley, she replies in a distant voice.Some places in this town never see the light of day.

So… you know where we are?

Yep.

This is a pretty bleak spot. Godofbeer scans the shadowy alley and the half closed blinds in every window, behind which an impossibly high number of eyes peak, in shear panic, at the gods.How come you know about it?

I used to live here. Nyrini says, walking around, her hand resting on grafitti old enough to be considered Neandarthal cave art. A long time ago.

Oh. You mean, back when you were a low level goddess?

The lowest there is.

So… Godofbeer tries to keep cool about the whole situation via meaningless cheap chat. how come they call this 3 Rats Alley?

I have no idea, Nyrini shrugs, turning to her partner. We never really had any rats here. They were too afraid of the Thaumic Cockamoles to even come near this place.

You had cockamoles? Godofbeer asks in a falsely calm voice.

Yep. We really don’t know where they came from but we kept feeding them and they kept coming.

I don’t even know what cockamoles ARE!

Oh, you know… Nyrini shrugs again, as if talking of the most common of street plagues. half cockroach, half mole. Furry, creepy, crawly, voracious little creatures. Usually hang about in groups of 2 or 3.

And why would you feed these… cockamoles? Godofbeer asks, a morbid kind of curiosity overcoming common sense.

No particular reason. It was the closest thing we had to dogs, anyway. At least after they ate’em all.

They ate the dogs?

Nyrini nods. And the cats. And the fish. And a short, annoying man named Gary who used to spend waaaay to much time picking his nose and whistling show tunes on the corner.

And you kept feeding them?! Godofbeer shreaks.

Oh, we taught them tricks too! Nyrini says, nostalgically. I trained three cockamoles to gather food all around town and bring it here. Sniffy, Shrieky and 2-Tone, I used to call them. Didn’t quite work out, though. They were too fond of rotting fish to be of any use. They were great singers, though!

Okay… Godofbeer turns to where they came from, hoping to just forget about all he’s just heard.

Don’t worry, though, Nyrini reassures him. They never hunt during the day. Too much light.

Suddenly, Sneezy appears and approaches the two gods.

Sneezy: What are youse guys doin over here? This ain’t even close. Come on!

Sneezy turns around and runs down the alley. With a low growl,Nyrini bolts after him, leaving her partner behind.

Godofbeer: Oh hell! Here we go again. Next time I’m getting my information from a snail.

Godofbeer breaks into something loosely resembling a run and chases after his partner. Nyrini, determined not to lose the squid again, pushes herself beyond her normal limit and manages to keep pace with the speeding mollusk. The beer god falls behind and quickly loses sight of Nyrini and the squid. He comes to a stop at the next intersection and peers down the new alley. Hopelessly lost in a strange section of the city, he chooses a direction at random and begins walking.

Godofbeer: Well this is just great. I have no idea where I am, where Nyrini is, or even where that stupid squid went. Now all I can do is trudge around these dark alleys until I see something familiar. I hope that the something familiar turns out to have a bar.

Suddenly, the god spies a squid disappearing around a corner. Muttering obscenities, the beer god gives chase. After only a couple of turns, Godofbeer sees the squid disappear through a door at the end of an alley. He runs to the door and attempts to open it. Finding it locked, he pounds on the door. A small window opens in the door and an eye looks out at him.

Doorman: What’s the password?

Godofbeer: I just need to speak to that stupid squid.

Doorman, opening the door: Password accepted. Welcome, sir. I do hope you enjoy yourself.

Godofbeer passes through the small entryway and into the main room. The enormous room is full of people crowded around various gambling tables. At the far end of the room is a bar and behind that bar, now serving drinks, is a squid. As the beer god approaches, he realizes that this is not their informant.

Godofbeer: Hey, you’re not Sneezy!

Gus: No, not today. I did have a pretty bad cold a couple of weeks ago.

Godofbeer: No. I meant… oh never mind. I’ll have a beer.

Gus: Coming right up.

As Gus the squid serves up a large mug of beer, the beer god looks around. Everyone in the room seemed to be enjoying themselves. It looked like his kind of crowd, with everybody drinking and gambling. The word gambling lingered in his mind a moment, as if it was important somehow. The moment passed, as moments often do, without any kind of epiphany. Godofbeerpicks up his mug and heads for the nearest table.

Even going at full speed, ignoring each and every throbbing muscle in her body, Nyrini still doesn’t manage to keep up with Sneezy. Losing sight of him, yet again, the goddess ends up wandering aimlessly around the labyrinthian paths of 3 Rats Alley. Almost without her realizing it, her treacherous feet take her into a dark, terribly familiar alley. Terrified, yet unresisting, Nyrini allows them to guide her to an ancient wall, by the base of which the ground is stained by a half vanished pool of blood.

Now, looky here! A shrieking voice resounds from somewhere in the dark alley, making Nyrini jump and turn in the direction of it’s source. Doesn’t the world turn?! And still… A darker shadow detaches itself from the darkness in the alley and moves slowly towards Nyrini. Some things never change. The darkness never leaves 3 Rats Alley, gods only listen to rich people’s prayers and criminals always return to the scene of their crime. The shadowy figure catches a rare glimpse of sunlight, revealing an old lady of undetermined age.

Who are you? Nyrini asks in a cold voice.

Don’t you remember me, child? The old lady circles the goddess, looking at her as if at a particularly low type of vermin. I remember you. Ye lived here. Died here. Killed here. Yes, you’re one of us. A measly rat turned goddess! She practically spits the word. Doesn’t the world turn?! And don’t we turn with it?!

What do you want from me?

Ye shouldn’t have come here. The lady goes on. You should’ve stayed away. Godville is no place for the likes o’ye. That trinket around your neck should be enough to remind you of that, she points at the silvery locket around Nyrini’s neck.

No one remembers me. Nyrini cries, clenching the locket. I’m a goddess, now. I can be safe wherever I go.

Safe?! The old lady, growls. You’ll never be safe in this town! You can change all ye want, child. Woman, Goddess, Angel even. You can be it all. But you never can change who you are and what ye did, she grabs Nyrini’s chin, locking it in between her bony fingers and forcing the goddess to look into her eyes. The darkness in yer soul will always shine in your pretty eyes and the endless night of Three Rats Alley will follow ye wherever you go.

You are too old to be alive, granny. Nyrini snarls, thrusting her hand forward to grab the old woman’s neck and gasping at the sight of her fingers meeting ghostly flesh.

Oh, but… The old lady cackles. Who said I am?

Still cackling, the woman disappears, leaving Nyrini alone with her troubled thoughts.

Nyrini, shaken up by her encounter with the old lady, wanders aimlessly through the dark alleys. After some time, she turns down an alley and finds Sneezy the squid waiting for her.

Sneezy: There you are. I thought youse was never goin ta get here. It’s through dat door over dere. Da password is “I just need to speak to that stupid squid”. I’m outta here. Youse guys never saw me.

Nyrini watches the strange creature disappear around the corner and turns toward the door. Shaking her head, she walks up to the door and knocks. She gives the password to the doorman and is allowed inside. Her senses on full alert, she casually walks into the crowded gambling den. As she gazes around the room, her attention is suddenly caught by the sight of her partner laughing loudly and pulling chips towards him. She walks quickly over to the beer god’s side.

Godofbeer: Nyri! Where’ve you been? Isn’t this place awesome? I can’t believe I never knew this place was here. They really should advertise more.

Nyrini, leaning in so only the clueless god can hear her: This is the illegal gambling den that we’ve been looking for. These are the people we are supposed to be arresting.

Godofbeer, looking embarrassed: Oh… right… I knew that. I was just… uhh… I was undercover… that’s it. I was keeping an eye on these miscreants until my backup arrived. Now that you’re here, we can bust the lot of them.

As Godofbeer starts to rise, Nyrini puts a hand on his shoulder and sighs.

Nyrini: After the day I’ve had, love, I don’t really feel like busting anyone.

She glares at one of the men seated at the table. With an audible gulp, he gets up and moves away to find a less threatening group to play with. Nyrini sits down and grabs some of the beer god’s winnings.

Nyrini: Alright, deal me in. And someone bring me a drink.

Hey, and did you see that guy’s face well I pulled out the four aces? Nyrini asks, chuckling.

I sure did! Godofbeer replies, walking side by side with his partner in the general direction of the Watch House. He was all “but how can that be? I’m holdin’ two aces in me hand”!!

Yeah, that was fun! Nyrini wipes a tear off her cheek. Hadn’t done that in a while…

Well, you did cheat..

During an already illegal game?! I’m sure it doesn’t count!

Yeah, I guess you’re right. Godofbeer concedes, tapping his pocket. And these 10.000 coins will come in handy for getting my temple… and beer.

They reach the entrance to the Watch House and stop outside.

So, we can’t let them know what we’ve been doing… Godofbeer says, suddenly serious.

I won’t tell if you don’t tell.. Nyrini shrugs and winks at her partner.

They enter the Watch House as if nothing happened. Twilight soon notices their arrival and runs towards Nyrini.

Mommy, mommy! she hugs Nyrini’s leg.

Hello, Twi. Nyrini pets the bunny’s head. So, did you have fun with Pasha and Sasha?

I sure did! Twilight replies. Aunt Pasha taught some really funny games and aunt Sasha taught me this really funny song! she goes on gabbling and singing the song over and over again, as both gods and bunny approach the bar.

So, how did patrol duty go? Azzageddi turns to say.

Oh, fine, Godofbeer says, breaking into a nervous sweat. Just fine.

Azzageddi looks at Godofbeer with narrow eyes. Did anything happen that I should know about?

Nyrini and Godofbeer look at each other for a second before saying in unison.

Sir, no sir!

Azzageddi looks at the faces of the two god-cops, one of them sweating and obviously lying, the other holding an adorable child in her arms and smiling with far too much innocence. He thinks how much it sucks to be in charge, however accidentally and—hopefully!—temporarily, and with a sigh decides to let it go, whatever it is they’re covering up.

“Right then. Well, I have something for you.” He hands them each a key. “This is for the new door in the showers. You’ve both been on a long and I’m sure difficult patrol, whatever you’ve been doing, and this should help make for a good end to a long day.”

Hours later, unsleeping, Azzageddi returns to the HQ from his temple, planning to request some files from the bunny on late-shift duty. Passing by the bar on his way to the main office, he sees someone sitting in one of the comfy chairs in the dim, barely-lit bar. Swinging by the bar to pick up a bottle and two glasses, he walks over and sees it is Nyrini, wearing standard-issue Watch-brown flannel pajamas, with a sleeping Twilight in her lap.

“May I join you?” Nyrini looks up, then gestures for him to sit across from her, which he does, and looks at her questioningly as he pours a whisky and offers it to her.

Nyrini takes it, raises it to him after he pours his own, and takes a drink in silence. She looks down and pets Twilight’s hair. “She couldn’t sleep in our room,” she whispers. “She’s still scared of that ghost boyfriend of Aliyaa’s.”

Azzageddi whispers back, “Ah, Queequeg. He can be a little shocking at first.”

“What’s his story?”

“Well…I found him. Rather, I found his harpoon stuck in an enormous white whale while I was lost at sea. I could sense it had some sort of magical resonance, so I took it from the ancient creature…with its permission, of course. Then I discovered the harpoon had a ghost haunting it. Queeg’s been with me ever since. He’s an excellent companion, once you get used to his eccentricities.”

“Like seeing his bones?”

“That’s one of them.” He sips his whisky and waits for her to say what she needs to say.

Nyrini shifts Twi a little to let her left leg get better circulation. “Look, about earlier…” She trails off.

Azzageddi waits a moment for her to continue, then says quietly, “I don’t mind your having secrets. I have my own. All I ask is that when keeping your secrets seems like it could put us in any danger, you let me know. And by us, I mean any of us who are part of this Watch, this little family we have here. That includes you, naturally.”

Nyri nods. “The reason we were late…it’s not something that puts anyone in danger, I promise.”

“All right, then. But…there something more, isn’t there?”

Nyri hesitates, shakes her head, then speaks as if she had been planning to say something else. “I…stayed out pretty late.”

“Yes.”

“On my first day as a mother.”

Azzageddi nods.

“…Well, aren’t you going to tell me what a terrible mother I am?”

He shrugs. “I made plenty of mistakes, when I was a parent. You learn as you go along.”

“You were a father??”

“I’ll tell you about it some other time. Anyway, it sounds like you’re already feeling pretty bad about it, so why should I add to that? You’re a cop. There are going to be plenty of times when you’re late. So when you have a chance not to be late, take it. Come home to this little one. We’ll all pull together to help take care of her, and we’re happy to do it. And if something should happen to you, well, you know she’ll be in good hands here. But you’ve taken on the burden of being her mother, so she needs you more than she needs the rest of us.”

“…OK.” Nyrini pauses for a minute, then another. Azzageddi continues to sit quietly, looking at her. She looks up to see his quiet gaze, and she frowns, glares at him. “OK, fine!” she says suddenly, causing the little bunny to shift uneasily on her lap. Nyrini soothes the child back to full sleep, taking the opportunity to avoid speaking for a moment.

“Fine…” Nyrini whispers. “Something else happened today…something I have to tell you about.”


You were right when you asked if I came from Three Rats Alley,Nyrini says.

Thinking it best to just listen instead of asking questions, Azzageddi remains silent.

Well, as it turns out, Nyrini goes on, we happened to follow a hint today that lead us right into the heart of Three Rats. We got separated there and I… she hesitates for a second, I ended up taking a really bumpy trip down memory lane.

I can imagine that any memories related to that place must have a bitter taste to them, Azzageddi replies.

It’s more than that, Nyrini insists. It’s about my past. My really distant past…

Look, you don’t have to… Azzageddi tries to say.

Please, let me finish, Nyrini interrupts him. She looks down at the peaceful, slumbering figure of Twilight and breathes deep before saying, Most gods don’t remember a time before they became gods. They were created like that. I… wasn’t. I was human… mortal, before I became a goddess. And it was that mortal that lived and died in Three Rats Alley.

Died?

Nyrini nods slowly. I was murdered in a dark alley, killed over something I stole from the wrong guy. I was going to pawn it later to try and feed myself and a couple other kids, she tries to explain herself. But I never got out of that alley. At least not as a mortal.

So, how did you become a goddess? Azzageddi asks, skilfully steering the conversation.

Susan. We’re not really related by blood, you see, just by heart. She found me. I don’t even know what would possess her to visit that godforsaken place that day but, suddenly, there she was. She… struck a bargain with her grandfather and got me out of there. Looked after me ever since and made sure I got a new life elsewhere.

Azzageddi nods in agreement. Sounds like our Susan.

Yeah. Well, all this happened centuries ago. Nyrini combs Twilight’s hair with her fingers. Everyone I knew then is dead. Or at least, should be.

Do you have any reasons to think otherwise?

Today, I found myself in that very same alley, staring at the faded pool of my own blood. The young goddess looks into the distance, as memory alone forces her back into that place. I was alone and, all of a sudden, I wasn’t alone anymore. There was this old lady there, telling me how I shouldn’t have returned to Godville, how it isn’t safe for me here. Claimed she knew all about my past. Every single dark detail…

You should have brought her back here, for interrogation,Azzageddi tells her.

Well, that’s the thing. I tried to grab her but my hand went right through her. Nyrini holds out her right hand, looking at it as if at a strange artefact.

A ghost, then, Azzageddi deduces.

Probably. The young goddess goes back to petting Twilight. I don’t know. I really don’t know. All I know is that she went the same way she came and now I’m not feeling so sure about this anymore, she sighs. Maybe coming back to this town wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Something tells me there’s more to this than just what you told me, Azzageddi says in a careful tone.

Nyrini shakes her head, more to stop herself from revealing anything else than to provide a negative answer to the god’s question. Look, revealing this was tough enough for me, she explains. I don’t really care what you think about me. I’ve been on my own before—

Azzageddi interrupts her, looking sad. Nyrini…I don’t think badly of you. And I hope you’re not thinking of leaving us. I won’t push you to say more until you’re ready. But I really doubt that you have done worse in your past than I have.

Nyrini nods. Lord77 said…you’re a devil.

He did, did he? Well, it’s not a big secret. Yes, I am. Was. Now I’m trying to see whether it’s possible to balance the books, make up for some of the things I’ve done.

…I can relate to that. Well, this… it doesn’t just involve me. I can’t just go around ruining everything for someone I owe so much to.

You mean Susan.

Yes. And look… My partner knows nothing about this. I’d like to keep it that way. Nyrini looks at Azzageddi, the look in her eyes echoing the plea in her voice.

Azzageddi sits back in his chair. Are you going to keep secrets from him, secrets that could endanger him? He’ll be right there with you if this ghost returns, and possibly attacks. How’s he going to feel if he finds out afterwards that you could have told him, and he could have been prepared? A powerful enough ghost can actually harm a god… He’s a true friend, and, in some matters anyway, quite wise. He’s not going to reject you over a shady past.

Nyrini hangs her head for a moment. All right. Fine. I’ll…I’ll tell him. Just let me do it my own way.

Of course. Azz finishes his drink, and stands up. Well, I think Twi would do well to wake up in her own bedroom and see that no ghosts have bothered her in the night. By the way, did you find the clothes Aliyaa got for her? He holds his hands out to take Twilight so Nyrini can stand up.

Yes. Thanks for that. Nyrini gets up and takes Twilight back into her arms. And for this, she says before walking away.

Sasha comes out of her room in the early morning wearing blue pajamas decorated with little yellow ducks, yawning and running her fingers through her luxuriant red hair. She goes to the bar and starts a pot of coffee. She hears someone sit at the bar, and turns.

“We’re not open yet, love—oh hi Mitzi!”

“Coffee,” Mitzi mutters. She’s wearing her patrol uniform, complete with her much-used but still-shiny breastplate, sword and truncheon on her belt.

“It’ll be ready soon, dear. Are you…going out today?”

Mitzi nods. “It’s time.”

“Oh. I was…well I was hoping you wouldn’t have to do that anymore.”

“Sasha…”

“It’s just…bad things happen when we go out. It’s not safe out there.” Sasha shifts some glasses around unnecessarily.

“Sasha…I have to. It’s what I do.”

Sasha sighs. “I know. I just wish it wasn’t.”

Another cop, Periwinkle, comes over and takes a seat heavily, scratching his day-old beard. “Yo, Mitzi. Uh…sorry, Corporal, I mean. Hey Sasha…cute pajamas. Coffee?”

“Sure, Wink, it’s almost ready.”

“‘Mitz’ is fine, Wink. And when you have some breakfast in you, you and I are patrolling together today.”

“Oh…all right then, Mitz. Sasha, babe, when’ll brekkie be ready?”

“Goodness, give me time to change me clothes, will ye?”

“Aw, you should wear the PJs all day, it’d be a good look.”

Hearing the scream, Lord77 races out of the hidden library into the main crypt.

“Hello Sonny-Boy!” Lord01, the Ancient, stands in the middle of crypt. What was previously a naked bier, now has Lord01’s straight-backed chair and the ancient god standing in front of it.

“Hello, ANCIENT!”

Lord01 winces. “Oh, that’s a nasty name, boy. But sadly, was one I had to use from time to time. Couldn’t use the real one, you know. Names have power over the owner.” Turning towards Norman who currently is prostrate on the floor, looking at the tile and shaking like a leaf, the elder god asks, “Who’s your friend here who screams like a little girl?”

“That’s Norman, Dad. He’s a young, bright wizard from the university who helped me figure out that we needed to come back here.”

“Seems a little short.”

“He’s on all fours, Dad.”

“That would explain it,” Lord01 says stepping over to the young wizard. “Sorry if I scared you, lad.”

Norman looks up from his horizontal position, speechless.

The ancient god looks over to his son, “Not very talkative, is he?”

“He’s gabbier when he has booze in him I found. Unfortunately, I left him too long with Godofbeer, and he’s been having a difficult time today with his surroundings.”

“You talking about that large fellow that was with you last time?”

“Yes, Dad, one and the same.” Turning to the wizard, Lord77 says, “Norman, get up. You can take a seat by the bier.”

Helping Norman up, Lord77 guides the young man towards the edge of the bier. Suddenly, Norman’s eyes widen with shocked realization, and he bolts out of the crypt to the outside lawn where he noisily loses the contents of his stomach.

“Looks like your large friend over-served him.” Then, stepping back up to his chair, Lord01 addresses his son. “So, I see you found my library. That’s what alerted me to your return here. What brought you back?”

“I have a friend with an enchanted injury, Dad. She received it from a battle when she traveled with a another friend, a Watch officer named Azzageddi, to Mardi.”

At the mention of Mardi, the ancient god’s eyes flare and he draws a breath. “Mardi?! What were they doing there?!”

Backing up to the start, Lord77 explains to his father the story of Azzageddi’s return to Mardi, a brief synopsis of the revolution, more detail on Mitzi’s injury, and his quest to find an answer to the enchantments.

“But you were holding out on me, old man,” Lord77 accuses his father. “It took Norman pushing to look at Nagele’s original notebook for me to realize that you were conspiring with the wizards all along. You of all gods! You found them as irritating as I do, yet there it was, right in print.”

Lord01 sits back in his chair. “Well, yes and no son. It wasn’t that I was holding out or conspiring, it was more of I needed their talents and abilities to help me understand and test some things. But, you’re right. It’s time to explain what I’ve been doing. Take a seat. This is a long story.”

The ancient god rises from his chair and steps off the bier. As he paces, he begins his story.

“When I left you those centuries back, I did travel around. I found the bridges that lead from one realm to another. It was nice. I met some other Gods, some interesting cultures, and then, I ran into those Nasties that you call Godbinders. Scared the wits out of me, let me tell you. To think that one or many of those animals could cross the bridge to our realm and start enslaving Gods.” Lord01 shudders.

“So, I stayed low, took some trips to realms where they were practicing, and learned how they were accomplishing their dirty work. Along the way, I even had a few run ins with their Nasties. But, I got what I needed and came back here to prepare. That’s when I built this building, infused it with Godpower to hide the magical experiments, and then sank it so there would be visible trace for the wrong elements to find me.

“When I need to test some part of my experiments, I would go to the university and find the sharpest wizards. I’d cloud my experiments as much as I could, but enough would get revealed that they’d rush to their precious books. Nagele was one of the brightest. He saw things, and then was able to infer some others. He was the only one to whom I had to confide some of the secrets I was doing and why. Until you brought your little friend here, who sounds like he’s up to tossing his toenails, Nagele was the only wizard that ever stepped foot in my building.

“I learned their secrets, son. And I developed the counters that I needed were they to come across. I even set up monitoring spells to warn me if they did come. But, they seemed happy to beat on each other over there. So, I continued my work improving the spells, making sure that they would not fail. And, in case I did fail, I needed to make sure that my work could continue. So, I made you.”

Lord77, stunned at the revelation challenges his father. “But, how was it that I never was in this building, Dad?”

Lord01 chuckles, “Oh, you were here. You just don’t remember it. It was early in your development. Creating you took a lot of RAW energy. I could only do that under these shielded walls. But afterwards, I moved us to that stone castle far away from here. It was only after you went on your own did I return here. That’s when I told you that I was going away. In actuality, I returned here and restarted my work right at the time when Nagele was at the university.

“Things were going just fine. Until, one day on the gate leading to Mardi, a devil came through. The alarms went off like cannons in here. I tracked the devil down, thinking that he was one of those Godbinders. But, there was something different about him than the Nasties I had run-ins with in Mardi. He was different, moral, more decent than most people. He hid himself in a guild to create a normal existence for himself. So, then I was stuck. I needed to watch him to make sure that he was legitimate, but I couldn’t waste all my time doing it.”

“You’re talking about Azzageddi aren’t you?” Lord77 inquires. “Let me guess, you didn’t want to waste your time, so instead, you arranged for me to go there.”

Lord01 nods his head. “Yes, sorry. You were at the point in your life were you were looking for a purpose. I didn’t want to unload all of the work I was doing on you yet. You needed time to experience the world. Yet, I needed someone close to that devil. If I was wrong and he lashed out, I would know it through you, flesh and blood, you know. So, I did some backroom arrangements, and you were suddenly invited into that guild of yours.”

“Dad. Azz is my closest friend and brother. He’s always been legit. I didn’t even know of his background until these recent events.”

“Well, I know that now, son. But, I needed time to work on something else, and having you in that guild served two purposes, gave me an eye on that devil, and it let you grow up. “

“OK Dad, I get it.”

“Well, the time came when I needed to draw the Nasties into Mardi and seal them there. To do that, I needed to develop a one-way barrier. After your friend came over, I worked heavily here creating and perfecting it. Then, I drew them into Mardi and implemented it. I had to leave an ability to go from here to Mardi and return, so that I could continue keep an eye on them. But, Mardi natives cannot pass the barrier. If they try, they get repelled. And if they attack the barrier, I would know. Turns out, that was a mistake. I never expected that devil would want to go back.

“I know this was a tad more than you expected to find. But, the timing was right. You’re at the point now where you could help me, and frankly, I’m afraid that even with all my work, I don’t know if I would have the strength anymore to face an attack like that. That’s why, when it was time for you to start building your temple, I arranged for the locals to be upset with you to force you to build your temple elsewhere, and then I ‘encouraged’ the Baron here to cede this land over to you. Of course, he didn’t know why. He just felt compelled to do so.”

“So all those protests, the angry locals, the reason I had to move my temple way out here in the middle of nowhere were all due to you? I thought everybody hated me! I never thought I’d end up with any worshippers!”

“Son, I can go all day saying ‘I’m sorry’, but the reality is, other than getting your feelings hurt, I’m not sorry for anything I’ve done. Those Nasties are a real threat, and I wasn’t about to allow a few hurt feelings to get in the way of stopping them.” The elder god’s eyes narrow and look hard at his son. “You ever kill anybody, son?”

“No, Dad. Wanted to, but no.”

“I have, more than once. Went up against one of the Nasties when I was drawing them into Mardi. I lured them there and sealed the bridge they crossed. Then, I raced to our bridge. Before I was able to cross they sent one of those Nasties to get me. I got him instead. When they found what was left of him, it was too late to send more. I was already across and sealed our bridge.

“Look! You may have had the luxury of sitting in your guild and drinking your day away. But recess is over. Time to realize what we’re up against, and when you do, maybe you won’t feel so bad about a few hurt feelings. Like I said, probably more than you expected coming in here. So, let’s address your immediate issue, and then you and I need to talk a lot more about things.”

Well, of course I wouldn’t try to make gold, Aillara says. I find it rather silly for people to make that claim.

I agree, Leonard nods. And why gold? Why would people be so fascinated by a piece of shining metal? Why not eggshells? So much more fascinating in their essence..

So true. Aillara replies I actually have some preparations here that I could show you on that subject.

Let us leave this lovely scene for a while and move over to the corner of Aillara’s workbench, where Manoel is trying to hop quickly and stealthfuly, all at once, a quite difficult feat to accomplish for a talking (well, whining at this point) screwdriver.

Crazy señor. Crazy señorita. Make me build new basement. Oh, I shó them. I brek them up or mi nombre is not Manoel Felipe de la Herramienta!

Look at Manoel. His head looks different today. Instead of his bare philips head, he now seems to be wearing a rastafarian wig. Upon closer inspection, you might find that the wig is moving (trying to, at least) of its own accord. The locks of hair are actually the very hairy, very nervous legs of a rather desparate and confused spider that found itself building a web in the shadiest, most dangerous corner of Leonard’s workshop. Manoel has a very definite plan for her, though, and is not letting her go.

Going back to Leonard and Aillara, who are currently sharing notes on biomineralization processes and exchanging blissful smiles, you can just tell how much they wouldn’t be able to detect the loud boom of a nuclear explosion, let alone the familiar whining of a particularly overworked screwdriver. So, none of them notices Manoel getting closer and closer, carrying his hairy burden and lightly depositing it on Aillara’s sleeve before running like mad (yes, he’s not falling off of THAT horse again) to the safety of a mouse hole. The spider begins to crawl all over the young alchemist’s arm, going up and down in a crazy, spidery dance, desperately trying to weave a web that will get her out of this loony bin.

There is nothing quite like the hairy touch of a particularly creepy crawler to wake one up from a day dream, now, is there? Feeling the tickling motions of something traveling up and down her arm, Aillara looks down to find the spider looking back at her. Aillara screams (the spider probably screams too but, seriously, who can tell?). She starts flailing her arm in a panicky attempt to get rid of the spider, while the poor animal hangs on to it in desperation, hoping beyond hope that it won’t have to learn to fly in one quick and painful lesson, today. At first, Leonard doesn’t quite understand what is going on (which is not at all unexpected) but as he begins to be aware of Aillara’s newlyfound arachnophobia, he tries to brush the spider off and calm the young alchemist. He finally manages to dislodge the poor spider, who ends up taking it’s first skydiving lesson into an unidentified beaker. The contents of the beaker react with the spider’s exoskeleton and begin to boi, spitting the spider out just before exploding in a million glass shards. The spider then lands in a tray fullof explosive powders. The liquid that now coats the poor arthropod begins to ooze and mix with the powders, causing them to react and explode, spitting the spider into yet another beaker. As the poor spider is thrown into and spit out of various trays and beakers, Leonard and Aillara dive under the work bench, looking for cover as the alchemist’s lab explodes into glass shards, wood splinters and metal shavings.

Eventually, the explosions stop and the couple of scientists comes out of hiding. Peering carefully in search of any dangerous substances that might be planning to explode or corrode something soon, they find the spider lying on the floor, unmoving, the hues of hundreds of chemicals coating it and making it shine. As they get closer to it and look at the dead arthropod under a different light, they notice it has gained a familiar, unmistakable glow, glint and glimmer.

It’s… It’s turned into gold! Aillara cries.

How can that be? It is just a spider, after all. Leonard argues.

Oh, we must investigate this! Aillara states, gloving up and carefully transporting the spider to a miraculously wreck-free space on her workbench.

I agree. Leonard says, following her.

Now, let us search for Manoel, shall we? He is still hiding in his mouse hole, watching the whole scene in bitter frustration but safe in the knowledge that the hole has long been abandoned by the Watch House’s peculiar brand of particularly intelligent mice (natural selection does work everywhere…).

Maldición! But I no give up! I try again and again and I no stop till I brek them up! Manoel will no be defeated!!

Suddenly, Manoel starts to feel the typical tingling feeling of one who’s just realized he is being watched. The tingling is strong, as the screwdriver is currently being watch by hundreds of small, round, extremely angry eyes.

Oh, señor mean spider. You here? You look like di other spider over there. It has a heart of gold, di other spider. And di gold legs. All gold. Please don’t hurt me, mister scary spider, señor.

Lord01 turns back towards the bier and lifts his hands into the air. “I think first though, we need to end this charade.” Closing his eyes, he mutters an incantation, drops his hands, and the bier disappears, replaced by a long work table and chairs. Off to the side, a high-backed, overstuffed couch now sits, and on each side facing each other are plush chairs separated by a low table.

“There. Home again,” the elder god pronounces, and then proceeds to take one of the work chairs, turns it to face his son, and sits. “So, why don’t you tell me about your friend and her injury? “


As Lord77 is about to start, he halts as lumbering through the doorway comes Norman, looking quite drained, yet less greenish. He briefly looks at both gods, and then notices the couch towards the side. Stumbling over, he falls to the couch, rolls to his back, and puts his arms over his eyes. Lord77, watching the young wizard suffering his first, and Godofbeer willing, probably not his last hangover, chuckles with empathy.

“Dad, Mitzi is a buga buga bunny, a magical creature created by Susan Sto Helit.”

“Death’s Granddaughter? Your girlfriend?” Lord01 interrupts.

The younger god pauses. “Death’s granddaughter, yes. Please don’t start on me about the girlfriend bit. Something has transpired since that I don’t want to go into.”

Lord01 notices the change in mood, nods, then responds, “OK. Fine. Magical creature. Now, go on…the injury.”

Taking a breath and clearing his mind, Lord77 relates the story of Mitzi’s encounter with the God-King Peerless Blue Shark, wielding the God-Spear Pierces Eight. How the spell of protection surrounding Mitzi was shattered, but blunted the blow to only losing an eye. Then, how she cut the God-King down with Feather.

“Nasties,” the ancient god mutters. “Nasties with their enchanted weapons. It’s a wonder that the spear didn’t take her head off. That must have been some spell of protection.”

“Not enough though, Dad. I examined Mitzi myself, and the spear’s impact transferred an enchantment to her eye. At first, I thought it was a blindness spell, but now that I think about it, it must be a spell to ward off magical healing and covered with a protection spell that I couldn’t break through without harming her.”

“What about the third spell?” Lord01 asks.

“What do you mean?”

“The third spell, son. The glue. Protection spells are bound to enchantment by a third spell. “

“I…I don’t believe…”

Lord01 leans forward staring intently at his son. “Son, this is important. Was there a third spell?”

The younger god closes his eyes, replaying the examination he did in his mind. “Dad, I checked her over pretty thoroughly. There were only two flavors there. No third.”

The ancient god sits back, then roars with laughter. “That pompous, overconfident, lazy-assed fool! He was so certain that nobody could beat his spell that he didn’t bother to affix it.”

“Dad?” Lord77 asks, confused.

“The glue son. Without it, the protection spell isn’t bound to the enchantment. That’s how we beat it. We just have to slip in another spell underneath it. Change it out with something that isn’t harmful. Now, all you have to do is decide what spell you want to change it with, and we’ll do the old switcheroo.” Lord01 states waving his hands in a circle.

“Another spell, huh,” Lord77 mutters while stroking his beard.

From off to the side, the collapsed heap of a young wizard mumbles, “Farsight.”

Both gods turn to the wizard. Lord77 questions, “What was that?”

Slowly, the heavily hung-over wizard rolls to a sitting position while holding his head in his hands and elbows on knees. “Farsight.” He announces to the tiled floor. “You related to me the story of the arch-chancellor and his attempt to use farsight. As long as you’re going to be fixing her eye and need a spell on it, you might as well make it do something useful.”

“Norman, as you recall, I mentioned that it killed the arch-chancellor as he couldn’t focus.”

“Then teach her how to,” the young wizard says picking up his head to look at the younger god with bloodshot eyes. “Before she kills herself, teach her how to control it.”

Lord77 becoming irritated, snaps at the wizard, “You can’t just tell a person how to magically focus!”

“You gods! You drive me nuts! You have all this power, and every time you’re called to use it…it’s ‘Well, you really can’t’. What good is it, then?!” Norman exclaims, then grabs tightly to his pounding head. Suddenly, looking up and realizing who he just harangued, goes whiter than he was previously, re-drops his head and moans, “Oh…just go ahead and kill me. It will put me out of my misery anyway.”

Lord01, watching the exchange, chuckles and then rises from his chair. Softly speaking an incantation, his hands begin glowing, surrounded by a red nimbus. As he approaches the young wizard, Norman looks up, eyes getting very wide with fear. The ancient god places his glowing hands on either side of the wizard’s head, finishes the incantation, and the nimbus spreads, surrounding the wizard, then vanishes.

Norman sits up straight, turns his head one way then the other, and realizes quickly that the pain is gone. Looking up at the elder god in wonder, can only stammer. “Wha..?”

“You will still have a little queasiness for a bit. But, that will pass shortly,” Lord01 notes, then turns and retakes his seat.

Lord77 looks over at his father, eyes with surprise. “A hangover abatement spell? Why the hell didn’t you ever teach me that one?!” he snarls.

Lord01 chuckles again. “Three reasons son. First, I didn’t learn it myself until after I left you before and traveled around a bit. It came from one of those nice Gods I ran into. Second, you can’t cast it on yourself. And finally, third, you needed to learn the lessons that you get from a hangover. You’re really a slow learner in that regard, you know. That all-or-nothing mentality of yours when it comes to booze is really a problem. Next time you’re at the library, feel free to look up the definition of moderation. You might be surprised to learn that it can be applied to drinking too.” Leans back still chuckling. “Now getting back to the issue at hand, the lad here may actually have a point.”

“Teach Mitzi focus, Dad?”

“Yep. Ever possess anybody, son?”

Lord77 sits back and whistles slowly. “Yes. More than once. It’s how I’ve managed not to kill some of the idiots that probably I should have. Just change their intentions and send them on their way. But, you’re suggesting tuned possession, aren’t you? Just a mind link.”

“Yep again. You couldn’t use it to, say, teach her how to play a piano. But, t learn to focus farsight, sure.”

Lord77 looks over at the young wizard. “OK, Norman, we’ll use farsight. You feel good enough now to take a walk?”

The wizard stands up and flexes. “Yes, sir!”

“Good. Then go back to the Guild Hall and fetch Mitzi. We’re going to need to do this in my temple to maximize the energy at our disposal. Dad and I will meet you there. And, if you come back before us, then see…uh…dang…Petal, Tulip, FLOWER. Yes, see Flower, that buga bunny that tackled you before. She can get you something to eat. You’re probably going to need it after losing a week’s worth of meals out there.”

“Yes, sir again!” Norman says and happily strides out the door to get Mitzi.

Lord01 watches the young wizard leave, then turns towards his son. “You sure he isn’t an offspring of Nagele? He’s got a lot of the same spirit.”

“I don’t think so, Dad. But, the Librarian vouched for Norman there. Maybe he knows something we don’t.”

“Hmmpf. Well, c’mon son. Let’s crack open some of my texts back there. We have to review how the old switcheroo works and bone up on that farsight spell.” And, both gods recess to the hidden library.

As the two partners begin their patrol, Godofbeer starts narrating. This time, his voice becomes low and quiet, almost completely devoid of emotion.

Godofbeer: This is the city, Godville. Millions of Gods, heroes, and other things make their home here. Most of them go about their daily routine, living their life and following the rules. When they try to get around the rules, that’s when I go to work… I carry a badge.

Nyrini: What are you doing now?

Godofbeer: I thought I’d try Dragnet this time. A hurt expression comes over his face You mean you couldn’t tell? That was my best Joe Friday. It always gets a laugh at parties.

Nyrini, patting him on the arm: I’m afraid I don’t even know who that is, love. I probably left for Überwald before whatever that is became famous. But keep going, I was enjoying it.

Godofbeer, smiling again: It was Thursday, 1033 g.e. I was working the day shift out of the burglary, loitering, and malicious misspelling department of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. My boss was Captain Azzageddi, my partner was Nyrini … my name isGodofbeer. We had gotten a report of some misspelled graffiti at The Purple Firefox Pub.

Nyrini: Wait. Did we really?

Godofbeer: Oh, right. Probably should have mentioned that. It came in just before we left. I thought we could check it out.

Nyrini: You just want to go because it’s at a pub.

Godofbeer, with a big grin: That did make the assignment more appealing.

Nyrini, shaking her head and chuckling: Alright. Let’s go.

Godofbeer: Duh… Duh Duh… Duh. Duh… Duh Duh… Duh… Duh. The story you are about to see is real. None of the names were changed because I wasn’t feeling that creative.

Mitzi returns from patrol with Constable Periwinkle, and bids goodnight to him with a casual salute and a smile, as Wink heads home to the wife and kids after marking himself off-duty on the chalkboard. Mitzi sees Pasha waving at her and heads over to the bar even before she’s removed her armor and weapons. She sees the young man in wizard robes waiting with Pasha, looking much less drunk and relieved to see her. What was his name? Norbert? Norwich? NorMAN, right!

“Hello, Norman? Is everything all right?”

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re back! Lord77 needs to see you in his temple right away—”

“Please! I just got back. Tell me, have you eaten?”

Norman pauses. “Actually, I haven’t…and I’m starving.”

“So am I. Let’s have something to eat, and you can tell me what’s going on. Pasha, can you get us something?”

“Sure, Mitz,” Pasha replies. “Oh, and Azz left you this.” Pasha hands Mitzi a sheet of paper, folded complexly to make a little sealed square.

“But…Lord77 is waiting…” Norman says.

“I’ll tell him we had to eat,” Mitzi reassures the young wizard, placing a hand on his arm and pointing to a nearby table. “Why don’t you take a seat over there? I’ll be right with you.”

Mitzi goes into the locker room in the dorm area and puts away her jacket, helmet, breastplate, and weapons. She opens the note and sighs as she reads:

Darling, I received some news and had to go out. I am afraid I may not return until tomorrow. I’m very sorry. All of my love, A. PS: We have a new Lance Constable. When you get a chance, feel free to drill him on Rules & Regulations.

She returns to find Queequeg looming over the nervous-looking wizard who is seated on the sofa near the piano. The spectral sailor is setting two plates on the low table in front of the sofa. As she approaches, Mitzi hears Norman blurt out a strangled “Thank you” to Queequeg as the sailor becomes more vaporous and drifts away.

Mitzi smiles at Norman’s confusion. “That’s our new cook, apparently.”

“He’s a ghost.”

“He is.” She sits next to him on the sofa. “Pardon me,” says, and immediately digs into her salad, obviously hungry. Still, she manages to eat gracefully, neatly. Then she notices that Norman hasn’t started eating yet.

She swallows. “Is anything wrong?”

He’s poking his spoon at a wet, white cube of some pudding-like matter. “Um…”

“That’s tofu. It’s a kind of bean curd. You’ve never had it before?”

“Bean curd? Sounds…delightful.” He tries to smile in a delighted manner, but does not quite succeed.

“Here,” she says, laughing. “Put this dressing on it. And maybe a dash of this.” She garnishes it for him, her arm brushing against his. “There, now try.”

He scoops a spoonful of it and puts it in his mouth. “Hmm…um, actually…that’s pretty good.”

“You like it?” She smiles.

Norman catches himself staring at her smile and tries to say something, anything. “So…you don’t eat meat?”

“Oh no. We bunnies are herbivores, of course.”

“Oh…I guess that makes sense. It’s just, you look so much like humans, except for…”

“The ears. Yes, and the tail. Our feet are a bit different too.”

“And…your eyes. They’re so big…”

“Well…eye, in my case.”

“Oh…I’m sorry—”

“It’s all right.” She smiles and pats his arm. “Go on, eat.”

When they finish, she notices Norman staring as she dabs her mouth. He realizes he is staring and looks away, blushing. She assumes that it is something to do with her missing eye.

“So…why do I need to go to Lord77’s temple?” she asks.

“Um, well, Lord77 and his father think they’ve found the answer—to removing the spell that’s preventing anyone from healing your eye, I mean.”

She looks at him, not wanting to believe. “Do you mean…I could have my eye back?”

“Oh yes! Yes, I think it’s going to be fine! In fact…I had an idea to make it better than fine—oof!” He is cut off as Mitzi throws her arms around him and holds him tightly for a moment, her head against his chest. He freezes, unable or unwilling to move a muscle.

Mitzi releases him and slides back to her end of the sofa. “I…I’m sorry about that. I didn’t realize…how much hearing that would affect me. I hope I didn’t…offend you, grabbing you like that.”

Norman finally remembers to breathe again. “Uh…no…no you didn’t offend me…of course not!”

“Well, it’s just that we deal with a lot of cultures here and I didn’t know if wizards, you know, hug their friends…”

“Oh…” Norman says in a small, stunned voice. “Um yeah…we-we do that sometimes.”

There is a long pause.

“Well,” Mitzi says, finally. “I suppose we’d better be going.”

Nyrini and Godofbeer arrive at the scene of the supposed crime to find the owner of The Purple Firefox Pub standing outside, an angry look on his face.

So, what seems to be the problem? Nyrini asks.

Like, what?! You can’t see it?! It’s right there! The pub manager yells at the goddess and points to the wall, where the following is painted in huge, dark purple letters:

(On the chest of a barmaid quite pale Was tattooed the prices of ale While on her behind For the sake of the blind Was exactly the same but in brail)

A bucket of paint and a brush can still be found on the street by the wall, waiting patiently to be catalogued as “Evidence A”.

Hey, you’re right! Godofbeer points at the words. Brail?! BRAIL?! Can’t these thugs spell, anymore?

Hey, it is misspelled! Nyrini notices it and shrugs. Is that all? She asks with an air of mild annoyance.

No, that’s not it! The pub manager replies in anger. I don’t want it on my wa… What are you doing?! He cries in horror as Nyrini picks up the brush and adds the missing letters.

There, all fixed! She says.

Yeah, THAT’s some proper bar graffiti! Godofbeer states in satisfaction. Now how about a drink for today’s heroes?

You’re not heroes! The pub manager yells in utter bewilderment. I didn’t want that on my wall in the first place!!

What the hell is this?! A tall, thin, particularly grubby man in a raggedy outfit cries as he comes out of an alley where he’d just been watering the daisies. Who touched my graffiti?!

Wait, that’s you’re doing? The pub manager asks.

Yeah! And some of my best work too!! The man yells gesturing to the writing on the wall. Why would anyone mess with that?! Can’t a guy have his art out there anymore?!

Nyrini looks at Godofbeer and chuckles before saying Don’t you just love it when they’re stupid?

They immediately apprehend the perpetrator, leading him toward the Watch House while the pub manager is left yelling curses and cries of “Who’s going to pay to get this fixed?”. Somewhere along the way, Godofbeer slaps the illiterate street artist silly.

And that’s for misspelling a simple word! the beer god says.

Norman leads Mitzi through the kitchen towards the portal to Lord77’s temple. As he’s about to enter, Mitzi grabs his arm, halting him.

“Wait, Norman. What you said before just hit me. Did you say Lord77 and his father are waiting for us?”

“Oh, yes. Lord01 has been working on this too. He’s one of the ancient gods. His knowledge is quite incr…” Norman halts as the questioning look on Mitzi’s face finally registers. “Have you not met Lord01?”

“Norman, I didn’t even know that Lord77 had a father. What’s he like?”

“Well, like I said, he’s one of the ancients. His knowledge of magic is quite…”

“No, Norman. I mean, as a person. What kind of person is he? Where’s he been all this time?”

“Um…well. He’s like Lord77, only older looking. He’s crankier than his son, and he’s been holing up, I believe, in a mausoleum.”

Mitzi’s eye widens in surprise. “Was he…dead?”

“Oh, no! Very much alive! I guess he just likes living in a mausoleum.”

“Well, he should be…interesting.” Mitzi muses as they cross the portal and leave the Hall.

Father and son are sitting at the work table, books and parchments scattered across it. Both are shoulder to shoulder now peering intently into one text—a family photo of strong resemblance, distanced by millennia.

“So, Son, when I detach that spell from the cap, you’re going to need to insert yourself temporarily. You can use this spell to help maintain the consistency of the cap for a little while, until I get the farsight spell in place.”

“Ouch,” Lord77 winces in anticipation. ”That’s going to take some effort. How long?”

“The spell won’t take long—it’s the eye repair first that’s the problem. You may have to hold that cap at bay for a bit while I do the repair and prep for the spell.”

“You’re just a fountain of good news here, Dad. OK, I’ve got the cap. But, I won’t be able to help you extract the healing prevention spell while I’m wrestling with the cap.”

“You just worry about the cap. I can take out the healing prevention spell.”

“All right. Let’s go. We’ve got a long field to cross.”

Lord01 chuckles. “Sonny boy! These feet don’t touch dirt anymore.”

Grabbing his son’s arm with one hand, the elder god raises his other in the direction of the temple, and with a sudden onrush of will and energy, both Gods disappear.

As Norman and Mitzi enter the main chamber, the temple is empty with no sign of the gods having arrived. Walking from the side passage towards the throne, Norman sees Flower enter from her chamber and approaches the two.

“Wizard Norman!” Flower exclaims and runs up, locking him into a hug. “And Mitsumi…Oooh Corporal bars! Congratulations!” the young bunny says beaming.

“Thank you, Flower,“ Mitzi responds.

“Is there something I can get either of you? I expect the Master will be here soon.”

Norman finally extracts himself from the bunny hug and looks down at the bright and expressive eyes. “Um…no Flower. We ate at the Hall,” and is then interrupted by a disruption from behind the altar. Where moments before there was only emptiness, it is now occupied by two gods, the master of the temple for which it was built, and his ancient father.

“You are going to show me that spell, Dad. Not having to ride Tootsie around back and forth would a great benefit both to my rear and my nose.”

“Personal translocation? Sure. That one is fairly easy actually. You’ve translocated things before.”

“Never myself, Dad. I wasn’t aware you could cast a spell on yourself like that. Although, I’ve seen Azzageddi use the three-name summoning spell, which I guess is similar.”

“Three-name summoning? Feh. He must like people a lot more than I ever did.”

Looking past the altar towards the sanctuary, Lord77 spots the wizard and the two buga bunnies. “Norman! Good. I’m glad you were able to find Mitzi. Both of you, come up here please.”

“Yes, sir.” Norman responds, and immediately strides towards the gods with Mitzi following. Flower watches the wizard leave, sighs, and returns to her chamber to continue her chores.

As the pair walk toward the altar, Mitzi’s attention is on the older god. The resemblance to Lord77 is evident. But the advanced age apparent in his face and posture is contradicted by the sharp, piercing eyes.

“How old is he?” Mitzi whispers to Norman.

“Many millennia I believe.” Norman answers quietly.

As Mitzi steps to the altar, Lord77 guides her towards his throne and motions for her to take a seat.

“Here?” she questions, confused. “This is your throne.”

“It’s also the center of my temple’s power, Mitzi. And, for what we need to do, this is where you need to be.”

Mitzi steps up to the throne, turns and nervously sits on it. Lord77 then gets her attention.

“Mitzi, this is my father, Lord01. He and I will be working on the repair to your eye.”

“Is there something that I can do?” Norman asks in hopes of being useful.

“Yes Norman. Stand in front here and take Mitzi’s hand. I need her to be able to concentrate on something other than what we’re doing for the duration.”

Norman, delighted with that purpose moves to stand in front of Mitzi and takes her tattooed left hand into his right.

Lord01 takes a position to Mitzi’s right as Lord77 moves over to her left. “Dearie, would you mind removing your eye patch? I would like to see the damage that will need to be mended.”

Mitzi reaches behind her head, and undoes the tie to the patch, lowering it down to her lap. Lord01 shifts more to the front, lightly placing his fingertips along the damaged eye socket, now sunken with the missing eye. A scar extends downward starting slightly above the eye, slashing downward across her upper cheek. Norman looks around Lord01 at the pretty face now marred with the battle injury, and inhales quickly in surprise.

“Dad?” Lord77 looks over to his father who, with eyes closed, is concentrating on the injury.

“Not that I would doubt you, son. But, you are correct, no glue…OK, Dearie. Go ahead and put the patch back on while I explain what we’re going to do here.” And the ancient god summarizes the actions the two gods will take. Mitzi reaffixes her patch and then listens nervously to the procedure. Nodding her agreement, Lord01 completes, “And, having the eye patch should reduce the disorientation while we’re doing repair. I have to do the work from the inside anyway,” and then both gods position their hands on Mitzi, one on each shoulder and one on her head.

“You ready, Dearie?” Lord01 asks Mitzi, and gets a short nod in response. “OK, son, here we go.”

Surrounding both gods, red nimbi of energies glow as the gods focus the raw energy channeled through the temple to engage the enchantments. Mitzi holds perfectly still, as professionally as she can maintain herself, even though she imagines a terrible battle is occurring a small distance under her eye patch.

Lord01 now breathing heavier and wheezing slightly into her ear, softly speaks. “I’ve got the spell wrapped. You ready son?”

“Go. Dad.”

“OK. Here it comes.”

A sub-audible snap occurs, which shakes briefly the fabric around the altar. A nimbus ball flame lifts from Mitzi as Lord01 takes a step backwards, holding and containing the malevolent enchantment. On the other side, Lord77 groans as he holds the protective cap spell at bay.

Lord01 lifts his hands, and the red nimbus ball floats up higher into the temple gaining speed as it passes through the brick ceiling and disappears. Moments later, the building rocks slightly under an explosion outside.

“Well, that takes care of that. How you doing son?”

“Just…great…Dad. But…if you..wouldn’t…mind hurrying.” Lord77 responds through clenched teeth as perspiration begins to bead on his forehead.

“Yep. OK, Dearie. Time to give you some sight back.” As, the ancient god places his right hand over the eye patch, he closes his eyes and begins to work spells of healing.

As a few more minutes pass, Lord77’s breathing becomes heavier as the exertion begins to wear on him. “Come on, Dad.” He pleads.

“Hang on, Sonny. Almost there. Done healing the eye and scar. Starting the farsight now.” And the elder god begins to recite an incantation.

“OK, son. Get ready. Here we go.” And again a sub-audible snap occurs. Lord77 staggers back, breathing heavily, while his father continues working. “Applying the glue. Nobody will undo MY work.” Finally, Lord01 opens his eyes, straightens up, and looks at Mitzi. “Would you remove your patch please, Dearie?”

Mitzi reaches around her head with both hands and removes the patch. After blinking a couple of times to adjust to lighting and focuses, she realizes that she can see the altar in front of here in stereo.

“I can see!” She exclaims. “But, there is some fuzziness around the edges. Then, she becomes disoriented briefly and grips the armrests for support. “Ooooh! Dizzy.” Norman rushes in and holds her arms to steady her. Mitzi looks up, smiles, then assures, “It’s better now.”

“That’s the farsight, Dearie. Ignore it for now. Sonny here will work you through that. For now, only concentrate on the things you can see directly.”

Lord77 places a hand on Norman’s arm and has him back up a step. Then, the god kneels down in front of Mitzi and examines the work. Where there was an empty socket and terrible scar, now there is a perfect eye, brown with a silver corona rimming the iris, and the skin is unblemished.

“Nice work, Dad. Silver?” He looks up at his father, questioning.

“Got to give something for the farsight to work with, son. Seemed like the best color.”

Mitzi looks at Lord01 and then focus back on Lord77. “How does it look?”

“You’re beautiful,” comes the answer from slightly behind and above the god. Lord77 turns to see Norman staring at Mitzi. Then, the young wizard realizes that he had spoken out loud, quickly covers his mouth in embarrassment and flushes red.

Mitzi looks at the wizard, and giggles slightly. Lord01 snorts and backs away from the throne. “Well, my work here is done. I’m going to head back to the building. Mitzi, it was a pleasure meeting you. Enjoy the eyesight.” Mitzi responds her sincere thanks, and the elder god smiles, lifts one arm and is gone.

“Mitzi, there’s a polished mirror in the guest room, why don’t you check out your new eye, then come back here? We have to work through the farsight spell.” Lord77 says, and Mitzi jumps off the throne and races to see her new eye.

The god then turns towards the wizard. “Norman, in case your brain was a little polluted at the time, I did want to remind you that she has a boyfriend.”

“Yes, sir. Azzageddi, sir.”

“That’s good that you remember it, and that you’re not getting any wrong ideas about that bunny.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Good, now stick around, because when she returns, you can be of help in her instruction.

As they bring their prisoner into the watch house, Twilight runs up and grabs Nyrini. Godofbeer can’t help but smile at the sight.

Godofbeer: You go ahead with the kid and I’ll get our artist settled in to his new accommodations. Come on, Rembrandt.

Illiterate Artist: Rembrandt was a hack. I am a true street artist.

Godofbeer: Just shut up or you’ll be a swabbie on Never More’sairship. By the way, Never More, I’m pretty sure we’re not actually allowed to press gang the prisoners and make them serve on your airship. It sounds like a good idea, maybe teach them something, but I don’t think we can. If you want to leave some pamphlets, we can place them in the cells. Maybe you’ll get a few converts, who knows?

He takes the prisoner back to the cells and goes through the booking procedures. After he locks the artist in the cell, he slips back into his Dragnet narration.

Godofbeer: Trial was held for the stupid artist in the 283rd Godville district court. In a moment… the results of that trial.

Illiterate Artist: Wait a minute. We haven’t had a trial. What are you talking about?

Godofbeer: Will you be quiet? You’re messing this up. back in his narrator voice The idiot was found guilty of gross stupidity and sentenced to write “I promise to spell check all of my art from now on” 14 million times. He is currently awaiting a large shipment of parchment.

He walks away humming the closing theme song, leaving a very confused street artist behind.

Mitzi happily runs back into the main temple from the guest chambers, exuberant over her new vision. She hops up to the altar and greats the wizard and god with hugs of joy.

“This is wonderful! I never thought I would be able to see again through it! I’ll never be able to thank you enough, both of you. And…that silver rim around the edge is…quite pretty.”

“Yes, Mitzi. That silver rim is what this next part is about. My father told you that we had to replace the enchantment with another spell, and this was the one that our wizard friend here suggested. It’s a known spell, but has a severe drawback. Untrained use will cause a splitting of the consciousness, like what happened to Azzageddi when I foolishly attempted to disprove that stupidly written law.”

Mitzi’s happy mood suddenly vanishes as she comprehends the seriousness of the situation. “Like Azzageddi? But, he almost died.”

“Being a god, he wouldn’t die, but he might as well have if we hadn’t been able to rectify that situation.”

Lord77 again guides Mitzi to his throne and has her take a seat. “What I have to do now is teach you how to use the spell that my father installed without having you suffer the same fate. To do this, I need to guide you very closely, but in a way that you’ve probably not experienced. This will not hurt, dear, I can assure you that. But, it can be a bit…well, scary in the beginning.”

Mitzi looks at the god with concern.

“Dear, do you trust me? And, by that, are you willing to trust me with your very person, your soul?”

She looks back at the god seriously. She seems scared, but she nods. “You’ve given me my sight back, my breastplate for protection. We’ve…had our differences. But you have become my good friend. Yes…I trust you.”

“OK. Then let me explain how this works. I need to enter your consciousness, close enough to feel what you feel and hear what you think. In a totality, it would be called a possession. But, in this case, it’s just a link. You will still be in control of yourself, but your privacy will be open to me to be able to see and guide. That’s the scary part. Get over that quickly, and the rest of this is easy.”

“Do you mean…you’ll be able to read my thoughts?”

“Yes, but mostly only surface ones. And I promise, anything I see, will stay between us, forever.”

Mitzi looks down for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “OK. I trust you. I can do this.”

Lord77 smiles at the buga bunny and touches her on the shoulder. “OK, dear, then let’s get started.”

Taking a position slightly behind and to her right, the god crouches lower to be on the same eye level as Mitzi. “First thing, let’s establish the link for you to get used to it.” And with that, the god closes his eyes, takes a firmer hold of the bunny’s shoulder, and softly speaks an incantation. Mitzi flinches a bit; feeling like some small pressure is in her head, not quite a headache, but something. Entering her mind, he senses her emotions, the anticipation and slight fear of the immediate moment, along with deeper emotions spawned from her recent battles in Mardi, but all held at bay by force of will. He admires her strength and smiles inwardly at what a remarkable person she is. Dear, through the link, you’ll hear me like this. Are you OK?

Mitzi flinches again, as the god’s voice feels too close, almost as if his mouth is right by her ear, but not loud. I…I am, she says through the link, then realizes that she never spoke the words.

Good. This is good. You can hear my thoughts, and I yours now. Also, I can see what you see through this link. Now, we can start. Let’s get a target to work with.

Holding the link open, Lord77 opens his eyes and looks at Norman. “Norman, there is a candle on the altar. Would you please light it?”

Norman looks to the candle, then starts searching around the altar.

“What are you looking for Norman?” the god asks.

“Some flint, sir. Something to start the fire.”

“Norman, calling fire is a basic spell.”

The wizard slaps his forehead with his palm. “Magic. Of course!” And he walks to the candle and casts the spell lighting it. He then turns back to watch the two work their lesson.

OK, dear. We’ll take this nice and slow. I don’t want to risk shattering your essence, as I don’t have Susan here to help me find the pieces. As the words enter Mitzi’s mind, they are immediately followed by an overwhelming emotion that fills her, an emotion of loss, pain and grief. As fast as the emotion fills her, it disappears along with the small pressure that is the god’s presence as he quickly terminates the link and withdraws. But, the damage is done, and Mitzi has no choice but to react. The tears quickly come and spill down her face, and she shakes softly.

“Why is she crying?” Norman asks, alarmed.

Lord77 having released his hold on Mitzi, terminating the link, rocks back on his heels, and waves off the wizard. “It’s OK, Norman,” the god responds softly with a catch in his throat. “We were just getting…adjusted. Do me a favor. Go see Flower and get a soft cloth for Mitzi here to wipe her face.” And with that, Norman runs off.

As he leaves, Lord77 steps to the front of the throne, kneels down, and looks at Mitzi as she recovers from the emotional wave. “I am so very sorry, dear. That one caught me off guard. I thought I was doing better. I should have been more…alert.”

Mitzi, now mostly recovered, wipes the tears from her eyes and looks at the god. Then she gently reaches out and puts her arms around him, and rests her head on one shoulder. “You…you really loved her.”

Lord77 nods his head slowly, hugging her back with one arm and patting her back. “I still do.” He leans back and she releases him, and they smile at each other sadly. Then he stands up as Norman returns, giving the cloth to Mitzi to dry her eyes.

“Well, let’s try that again, more carefully, huh? Norman—another thing you can do for me that I should have thought of before as a precaution. Please go by my desk in the corner. You’ll find four wands in the top drawer. I assume you know how to set up a protection warding?”

“Yes, sir. When we first started magic training, we were taught how to set up wards.”

“Good, then please do so around this altar and throne. If something happens, I can contain her essence nearby. In the meantime, Mitzi, let’s get started again.” And he takes his place again slightly behind her and kneels to her level.

There. We’re together again.

I’m not scared anymore, she tells him, and he feels a friendly affection from her.

I can tell, he replies, and smiles. The feelings of fear and anticipation had evaporated and the heavier emotions were farther away. Now, let’s start by concentrating on the candle. Mitzi stares at the flame. Good. Now, I’m going to have Norman step in front.

“Norman, be so kind to step between Mitzi and the candle.” And as the wizard finishes setting up the ward, he takes a position in front of the candle.

Now, dear, I’m going to take control of your vision and show you how you can still see the candle even with Norman in the way. As Mitzi watches, her vision changes, and suddenly she can see the candle beyond Norman.

That’s incredible! she exclaims through the link.

OK. Now it’s your turn. You have to focus on the object or position first, and then look at it. I know that seems odd, but think of it as jumping to another spot. You can’t scan with this. It has to be focus and then look. Scanning is what will cause you to splinter as the spell will want to focus on more than one thing at a time. Now, try it.

Over the next hour, linked together, the buga bunny and god select targets, initially within the temple, then far into Ankh-Morpork and beyond. Disconnecting the link, Lord77 again steps around to the front of the throne.

“You’re a fast learner, dear. You have the control now. I’m pretty comfortable that you can use this on your own. Remember, no scanning. Focus, then look. And, if you run into any problems, come back here and find Flower. I’m setting up a summoning spell for her only where if she calls me, I’ll hear her.”

“All right!” Mitzi responds, beaming.

“Good,” turning to the wizard. “Norman, we’re done here. Would you please escort Mitzi back to the Hall and please let Azzageddi know that I won’t be around for awhile. I have some reading to catch up on. If anybody needs me, I’ll probably be in my father’s mauso…no, change that. From now on, that’s my father’s library.”

“Yes, sir.” Norman responds.

As, Mitzi gets up from the throne, she turns to the god, and hugs him again. “Thank you for…well, everything.”

Lord77 hugs her back. “This was helpful to me too, dear. Helped me get my head on straight, and now I get to spend some time with my father again.”

As the wizard and buga bunny walk to the portal, the god steps down from his throne, walks out the back passage and finds Tootsie.

“Come on girl. Let’s go for a ride. Dad was right. Recess is over. It’s time to get to work.” And, he nudges her towards his father’s library.

Mitzi reenters the bar through the portal from Lord77’s temple, followed by Norman. She waits a moment for him to catch up and smiles at him, then walks with him up to the bar.

“Sasha,” she says, “I’d like to buy everyone in the bar an Ankhian Bunny, to celebrate.”

Sasha, who was coloring on the backs of some old papers spread across the bar with Twilight, Nyrini, and Godofbeer, looks up. “Celebrate what—” She breaks off, then gasps. “Mitzi! Yer eye!!” The redhead springs right over the bar and grabs her grinning friend by the shoulders, looking into her face with astonishment. “I thought…I thought they couldnae fix it…”

“They fixed it,” Mitzi says, and then laughs as Sasha hugs her tight.

Sasha lets her go and shouts out to the room, “Bunnies for everyone!” She pauses a moment as she realizes what she just said, then rephrases: “Ankhian Bunny cocktails for everyone! And they’re on the house—no, Mitzi, ye’r not paying. Everyone, listen! Our Mitzi…” Sasha’s voice chokes up a little. “Our Mitzi has her eye back!”

Pasha and the bar patrons gather around to congratulate her and marvel at her eye with its new, silver rim around the edge of the iris. She introduces Norman to anyone who hasn’t met him yet and credits him with making this possible, along with Lord77…she leaves out Lord01 for the moment, not sure how public his existence should be. Eventually, she and Norman end up sitting on the same sofa where they had dinner earlier, each holding a second cocktail.

Mitzi touches her glass to his. “Kanpai,” she says. They drink. Mitzi puts her hand up to her head.

“Are you OK?” Norman says, concerned.

“Oh, yes,” she says. “It’s just…that was a lot of training, and it’s been awhile since we ate…and Sasha and Pasha mixed these cocktails pretty strong…my head is swimming.”

“Yeah, me too, a little…” Norman puts his down. “I, uh, don’t want to get as drunk as I did before.”

Mitzi smiles. “Yes, you were very drunk. I guess everyone has to do that once, though.”

“Ugh. Never again.”

“You know, Norman…I feel so lucky.” She takes his hand. “This morning, I went back on patrol after spending weeks on desk duty.”

“You were on desk duty because of your eye?” He looks down at her delicate, tattooed hand in his.

“Well, not just that. Norman…I did some things, experienced some things…terrible things. I was worried I might, well, hurt someone. I thought I shouldn’t be carrying weapons for awhile.”

“Oh…”

“But! This morning I went out again, and it was fine. And then I came back, and had that nice dinner with you.” She smiles at him and squeezes his hand. “And then you and Lord77 and his father gave me my eye back—with a bonus! It’s just been a wonderful day.”

She lets go of his hand and hugs him. He hugs her back, the alcohol making him forget reality for a moment, as he holds her slight form tightly. When she relaxes her grip slightly and looks up at him, smiling, he acts on impulse, kissing her gently on the lips.

He pulls back as her body goes rigid. She had not kissed him back. She looks shocked, her eyes wide with confusion. He lets her go, mortified.

“I-I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

“…Norman. That…wasn’t just a friendly kiss.”

“I just thought…”

She sits back, looking down, reviewing the past few hours in her head. “Oh, Norman…I’m sorry. Maybe you don’t know this, but I’m with someone…”

“Azzageddi…yes, I-I knew that.”

“Azzageddi and I…we’ve been through so much already. I love him, Norman. Very much.”

“Please.” His voice is quiet and miserable. “Can we just…forget what just happened? I…I know I shouldn’t have done that. I had no right. Oh gods, I am so sorry!”

She looks at him, sees he is blushing, looking angry at himself.

“Norman, I’m new to all this. We bunnies are all new at this…at everything, really. And, well, we’re not human. We don’t always understand the way you think. I thought…we were friends. Good friends. I never meant to…”

“No, please don’t apologize. It was my stupid, stupid mistake.”

She cautiously takes his hand and squeezes it. “You are a wonderful guy. I really like you, but…not that way. I am sure you’ll soon find someone who can love you the way you deserve to be loved. But I’m afraid it won’t be me. Oh, I never intended to lead you on. Please…I want to be your friend. Forgive me?”

He hesitates, then squeezes her hand back. “Of course,” he whispers, then speaks normally. “Of course, we’re friends. And…there’s nothing to forgive. Don’t be silly. I’m the one who needs to ask for forgiveness! You didn’t do anything wrong, not at all.” He looks at her and tries to smile. “Look, I really should get back to the University…I’m supposed to be…studying and…stuff.”

Mitzi looks sad. “I understand. But Norman…please come back soon. And I hope you don’t mind if I visit you there. I really mean it when I say I want to be your friend.”

“Yeah…of course. I want that too. And…I’m really…I’m just…sorry.”

He gets up and heads for the street door. Halfway there, it opens, and Azzageddi enters the Watch House. The god acknowledges the wizard with a friendly nod as he passes him. Norman hears Mitzi shout “Azz!” behind him, and the god’s gasp as he sees her healed eye. The young wizard quickens his step, almost running to get out of the building before he overhears any more of their joy.

Nyrini sneaks a peak at Twilight’s colorful drawing. Rectangles, squares and triangles of all colors dance together to make houses of all shapes and sizes while lines and circles make for the limbs and bodies of strange characters.

What are you drawing, dear? she asks softly.

Can’t you see it? Twilight answers from her comfortable position on Nyrini’s lap. That’s me, she points at two circles and half a dozen lines in the drawing. That’s you and that’s Pasha and Sasha and this one with the big belly is Godofbeer.

Oh, right, and this gent with the dark skin is Azzageddi, right?Nyrini points at another figure, chuckling at what passes for Godofbeer in Twilight’s drawing.

Yes, and here’s Mitzi and here’s Ravey.

Oh, you even drew Queegqueg!

Yeah, he’s alright! Twilight turns to smile at Nyrini. Drawing is fun!

Yes, it is, the goddess smiles back at the bunny. You know… this reminds me of a song my mother used to sing to me, a long time ago

A song your mommy used to sing?

Yes, would you like to hear it?

Sure!!

Well…it was a long time ago… Nyrini closes her eyes, searching her memory for the beginning of the song. let me see… I think it went something like this …

Ce matin j’imagine un dessin sans nuage Avec quelques couleurs comme vient mon pinceau Du bleu, du rouge je me sens sage comme une image Avec quelques maisons et quelques animaux

I love it! Twilight says as soon as Nyrini goes quiet. What does it mean?

Well, it’s the story of a little girl, just like you, who is drawing her perfect little world, Nyrini points at Twilight’s drawing.

Will you teach me how to sing it?

Of course.

Mommy… Twilight goes silent for a second. Where is she?

Where is she? Nyrini repeats in confusion.

You know, your mommy.

Oh… Nyrini’s expression suddenly grows sad and dark. Well, some bad men took her away from me.

And she left you behind? Twilight asks, staring intently at the goddess.

Where she was going, I just couldn’t follow. We don’t always get to choose between staying with the ones we love and leaving them behind.

Are you going to leave me? Twilight looks frightened for a minute.

Nyrini puts her arms around the bunny and holds her tight. Not while there’s still a breath of air in my body or a drop of blood in my veins, baby girl. I won’t leave you alone.

Promise? Twilight asks in a small voice.

Yes, I promise. Nyrini summons all of her strength to turn her sad face into a happy mask. And now, how about another song?

YEY!!

Alright, then. Here we go! .

Waving goodbye to Twilie as Nyrini takes her away for bath and bed, Sasha hears a tap on the bar beside her. She looks over, sees nothing…then she looks down and sees a vague shape on the bar, a long cocoon-like object, something thickly wrapped in cobwebs. Two soulful eyes peek out through a gap, silently pleading for service.

“Oh! Hello there, dear!” she says. “Can I get you anything?”

“Hmm hmm hmm!”

“Oh my, yer mouth’s all covered! Let me clean you up, love.” Sasha dampens a cloth and, picking him up gingerly, she gently wipes him down until he is all shiny and clean. She sees now that it is a screwdriver, the dark eyes floating near the metal shaft, over a thick mustache and, on the grip she cradles in her palm, a hirsute, macho chest. “Oh! You must be Leonard’s little friend!”

“Gracias, beautiful señorita! Si, I am di trusted compañero d’el crazy señor,” he says. “You have very soft hands, señorita.”

“Oh…why thank you, señor…” Sasha giggles and primps her hair.

“Ay mi vida, que guapa! What is your name, señorita?”

“Oh, why I’m Sasha…and what is your name, señor?”

“I am Manoel Felipe de la Herramienta! A su servicio, beautiful señorita!”

Sasha giggles again. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet ye, Mister de la Herramienta! And what can I get ye today?”

“Tequila, por favor.”

“Coming right up,” she says, as she sets him on the bar, where somehow he manages to balance upright on the rounded base of his grip. As she turns away, he takes in the view of her bunny tail and sighs in pleasure.

As she pours a shot of El Tesoro de Don Felipe Platinum and slices up a lime, she says over her shoulder, “So, how did ye get all covered in them spidery webs, then?”

“I was trying to stop di crazy señor from bréking di world with di crazy señorita,” he says, sadly. “But I have failed! Manoel is defeated!”

As Sasha sets the tequila before him, with a plate of lime wedges and a little bowl of salt, she sees that he looks crushed. “Oh, poor dear Manoel…”

Suddenly the screwdriver downs the shot of tequila in a single gulp. Sasha’s eyes go wide, not sure exactly how he managed it, seeing as he has no arms, and even were he completely hollow, the volume of tequila would be greater than he could possibly fit inside himself. “Shall I bring another?”

“Si, por favor,” he says, miserably. “Que desgraciado soy…”

“Well, I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds bad. Here ye go…I’ll just leave the bottle here on the bar, shall I?” She leans closer, resting her bosom on the bar to pour him another shot.

Manoel’s eyes, floating near his metal shaft above his manly mustache, widen at the view. “Mira, cariño. Why you no drink with me?”

“Well, if ye’re buyin’, I don’t mind if I do! Thank you! I mean, muchas gracias!” she says, her Spanish sounding muy Scottish. She pours herself a shot as well, licks the side of her hand, and sprinkles salt on it. “Salud!” They drink, and Sasha bites a lime wedge.

“Oh, you speak the language d’el amor!” Manoel exclaims.

Sasha giggles and says, “Well, just a little.”

“Manoel loves di señoritas that speak his language. And you are a very beautiful señorita…” He waggles his bushy eyebrows.

“Oh, señor de la Herramienta! Ye’re flirtin’ with me, you are.”

“Manoel does not flirt. I am a conquistador! Ven guapa, que te voy a besar!”

“Oh my…well, I didn’t quite catch that last bit—eep!” Sasha squeals as Manoel leaps and kisses her. She catches him and holds him in her hands, looking into his eyes, her mouth an O of surprise. “Oh! Señor!”

“Stay with Manoel, señorita. Help me drown mi desgracia in this tequila…And in your lips…”

Sasha’s freckled cheeks blush prettily. “Oh my…I …I must warn you…my heart belongs to another!”

“Quién?!! Who dares take Manoel’s beautiful señorita?! I shall fight him to di death!”

At that, Sasha looks serious. She grips him more tightly and shakes him a bit for emphasis. “Oy, there’ll be no fighting withher, you hear me?”

“Her? Another señorita?”

“Si.” Her expression softens. “But we don’t exactly have an exclusive arrangement, if you know what I mean…” She smiles.

“Ah, si… Well…Manoel nó is jealus. He like all di beautiful señoritas!”

“Well, that’s good,” she says. “I can’t stand the jealous type.” She winks at him.

“Bien, entonces…more tequila!”

“Si! More tequila!”

After a solid week of being immersed into his father’s library, Lord77 steps out of the building, fills his lungs with air, and stretches to get the cricks out of his joints.

“Too much sitting and reading,” he mummers to himself. “This is going to take a lot longer than I had hoped.”

Turning, the god steps back down the stairs to find his father, Lord01, sacked out on his couch asleep, a spell tome sprawled on the floor beside him.

“Hey, Dad! Wake up!” the younger god shouts. His father snorts, and then awakens groggily.

“Wha…What? Oh, did you want something?”

“Yes, Dad, a decent night’s sleep. I’m going to stroll over to my temple and sleep in my bed tonight. I’ve about turned myself into a pretzel falling asleep in chairs while reading these volumes.”

“Son, if you’d just learn that personal translocation spell, you could sleep in your temple every night, then pop back.”

Lord77 waves his father’s suggestion off as he turns back towards the stairs. “Later, Dad. I wanted to finish some of the foundational work you did first, then I can turn towards practical magic. Besides, a little walking will do me some good. I may be gone for a bit though. I need to get some help running the ranch if I’m going to be here for the duration. The ranch buga-bunnies are good at tending the herd, but the only bunnies I’ve met who are any good at running a business are too busy running their bar.”

“Meh. Do what you have to, but get back here soon. We have only scratched the first layer here. Lots to learn yet.”

“OK. Dad. See you in awhile.” And he climbs back up the stairwell to the outside.

Crossing the ranch, Lord77 meets briefly with the buga-bunnies on the state of the herd, and then with the Lawn Gnome King, fresh from the Guild Hall with updates. Finally arriving at the temple, the god enters the rear passage and approaches his throne. Plopping noisily onto the chair, he closes his eyes and enjoys the energies bathing and restoring him. He hears a sharp intake of breath, opens his eyes, and spots a buga-bunny standing near the kitchen entrance staring at him with a surprised look on her face.

“Hello F…Flower! Why are you staring at me?”

“Master! I didn’t hear you arrive! Can I get you something?”

“I’m fine dear, thanks. I came to rest and to change my toga. Just thought I’d plop here first for a recharge…Oh, actually, there is something you can do for me. Send for Adam77, and have him meet me here. I think I’ll pop over to the Guild Hall first for a drink and say hello to everybody. Then, I’m coming back and actually sleeping in my own bed.”

As he rises from his throne and moves towards the side passage hiding the portal, he muses “I really should get that bar set up here.” Then, he steps into the portal and disappears.

(Meanwhile…or rather, a few days later…)

Sitting in a comfy chair in his makeshift “office,” Azzageddi doesn’t even look up as Shade drops off another folder of paperwork for him to sign. Who knew taking care of a small Watch House plus bar-and-grill would take so much paperwork? he thinks wryly. He remembers to mumble thanks to the bunny as Shade picks up the paperwork in the “out” pile on the edge of the chocolate fountain and takes it away to file or mail to Überwald or Ankh-Morpork or to send over to the Godville Admin Offices.Thank goodness we have all these bunnies to write everything up and tell me where to sign.

He looks up when he feels the portal to Lord77’s temple being used, however. Hoping it’s not just sweet little Flower or one of the bunny vaqueros coming over for a visit, he smiles when he sees Lord77 walk into the bar, practically crackling with godpower.

“Hey!” Azzageddi calls out, as he sets papers and pen aside and stands up to start walking over.

Lord77 looks over, and breaks into a smile. “Brother!”

“Long time no see!” Azzageddi says as he embraces his friend. “I was thinking I’d have to go over there and drag you away from…whatever you’re doing.”

“Well, I’m saving you the trouble. Pasha, can I get a—oof! Hah, wow!” he laughs, as Pasha and Sasha both hop over the bar to pile on. He almost falls down as they start kissing him and chattering about him giving Mitzi her eye back. Azzageddi steadies the trio until the bunnies let Lord77 go.

“It’s good to see you too, ladies! No, that’s OK, you can hug me and kiss me as long as you want—I’m quite enjoying this, but yeah, maybe let me sit down before we break something.”

“Your usual ale, Lordy?” Pasha asks.

“Of course.”

“Would ye like anything to eat, dear?”

“Why thank you, Sasha. What’s cooking?”

“Azz put on a big pot of chili this morning.”

Lord77 raises an eyebrow at Azzageddi, who laughs and says, “Don’t worry, it’s no friend of yours this time. Just some beef I bought from that butcher’s down the street.”

Lord77 nods to Sasha, and Azzageddi says “Same for me,” as the two gods sit at the bar.

“I’ve been wanting to thank you,” Azzageddi says. “You did what I couldn’t do. I am in your debt.”

“Oh, come on. You’re my friend. Anyway, I think I did it for me more than anyone else. Although, I’m really glad it worked out for Mitzi so well. I wouldn’t have had a shot at it if it wasn’t for Dad though.”

Azzageddi nods and smiles. “You seem much better than the last time I saw you. You clearly have a purpose driving you. In fact, perhaps you’re letting it drive you too hard,” he says with a note of concern. “I can sense that you’ve just replenished your energies, but you still look tired.”

“I’ve been sleeping in library chairs for a week.”

“Oh…studying. That actually sounds quite pleasant, as long as you don’t overdo it. And you do have a tendency to overdo things, my friend. You know, moderation—”

“Oh, don’t you start in on moderation too! You sound like my father. And I’m pretty sure you’re younger than I am.”

“Heh, hard to say. I was in Hell for a long time, and all those years in dimensions where time runs differently…Oh, thank you, girls,” Azzageddi says as their ales and chili arrive. “To you, my friend. Cheers!” They drink, and then dig in.

“My compliments to the cook,” Lord77 says, around a mouthful of chili.

“Thanks. Are you staying awhile?”

“I need to get back, sleep in my own bed, and then take care of some business at my temple.”

“Mitzi will be sorry she missed you. She’s on patrol.”

“She’s welcome to visit anytime—as are you, of course. Just see Flower. She has a summoning spell for me now.”

“Thank you. But…well, you just mentioned your father. Mitzi told me about him. Very ancient god, she said. I figured he’d be able to detect what I am, and he might not be too keen on having a devil visiting him without warning.”

Lord77 waves off the comment with his spoon. “I wouldn’t worry about that. He knows about you already. He’s actually known about you for quite awhile."

Azzageddi sets down his spoon. “Oh, really?” He leans back on his stool and looks thoughtful, then chuckles.

“What?” asks Lord77.

“Oh, I’ll have a few questions for him when we meet.” He sees Lord77’s look. “Don’t worry, not the kind of questions that’ll start a fight. It’s just…the last time I came through Mardi, just passing through, I came here, planning to shed my past and become a god. I was already on my way, but you know…this is the place to recruit a hero and start getting a temple built, right? Anyway…I kept detecting hints of someone watching me. Little things, easy to ignore at first, but they kept adding up. I thought it might be someone from Hell, or someone on the Heaven side of things. Oddly, it all stopped soon after I joined the Watch.”

“That makes sense, actually,” Lord77 says.

“Huh. Well, I bear no grudges. After all, he never acted against me, and considering what I was, and to some extent still am, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to keep an eye on me. Quite tolerant, considering. And anyway…he helped Mitzi. So this round, we toast your father.”

Lord77 chuckles. “To Dad!…Tolerant, though. That would be a new one for him.”

Picking up his spoon, Azzageddi changes topics. “Hey, I did want to ask you about Norman.”

“Uh, oh.” Lord77 halts his spoon mid-flight. “I had heard there was something about him and Mitzi. You’re not going to hurt him, are you?”

Azzageddi laughs. “No…no. Mitzi talked to me about that already. It’s not a problem… No, this is about something that I have been kicking around concerning the UU. You already know that the Librarian is a member of the Watch…in his capacity. But, I was considering having a regular wizard as a member, to consult on cases involving magic, and to serve as a liaison. And Norman seems a good choice, from all I hear about him.”

“Hmm…” Lord77 mulls that over then responds. “That might actually help the lad. When I pulled him out to help me, I suspected that he might be ostracized somewhat by the others. I don’t exactly have the best relationship with the senior members, you know. Giving him an official role might be a good thing…justify the special attention he has been getting.” Leaning back, he gets quieter. “There is something else to consider here.”

Azzageddi eyes narrow in attention. “Which is?”

“With what I’ve seen of this young lad’s ability, you might be looking at a future Arch-Chancellor. It would be beneficial for you to take him under your wing a bit.”

“Me? I know a few spells, of course, but you’re the wizard-magic guy…”

“No—give him some political coaching. I can help his magical development, but my viewpoint is a little jaundiced in the political respect, especially when it comes to the wizards. Your guidance may help his development, and set a positive tone between the wizards and us Gods for some years to come.”

“All right, then. Mitzi’s been wanting to visit him, for a talk—I’ll ask her to extend the offer.”

“Well, it’s been great seeing you again—and you too, my dear bunnies,” Lord77 says as Sasha and Pasha come over to clear away the glasses and dishes. “Now, with your leave, I’d like to grab some sleep in a real bed for change.”

Azzageddi laughs. “Go, rest! But don’t forget to come back from time to time.”

“Will do. Thanks for the chili.” And the god strides out and heads for the kitchen.

“Ahem.”

Norman raises his head from his books with a start. He shifts in his chair and looks behind him to see Mitzi, in her patrol kit, next to a shelf of books as the Librarian brachiates away on the ceiling support beams, having clearly just escorted her in.

Mitzi smiles. “Hi.”

Norman blinks. “Oh. Hi. Are you working now?”

Mitzi shakes her head. “Lunch break. I asked Constable Periwinkle if he minded eating by himself today. I thought…maybe we could eat together?”

“Oh…well, we can’t eat in here.”

“I know. It’s a nice day, so I thought maybe you and I could go eat outside. It’s been a week since I last saw you, after all.” She points over her shoulder with her thumb at a small rucksack she’s wearing. “I have sandwiches, apples, a flask of juice. I saw some nice benches outside. Shall we?”

Norman looks at his books, the scroll he’s taking notes on. He thinks just for a moment of using his studies as an excuse to avoid this, then curses himself for a coward. He looks back up at her and smiles a little. “Sure. Let’s go.”

Outside, Mitzi pulls out a bundle wrapped up in a beautiful cloth and unties the knot, revealing a stacked set of lacquered-wood boxes. She unstacks them; in each is some items of food. She pulls out a leather flask and two wooden cups and fills them with orange juice. “Cheers,” she says. “Sorry, no alcohol while on duty.”

“That’s fine. I’m thinking of giving up alcohol completely. I don’t…I don’t like who I am when I get drunk.”

“Oh, Norman.”

“I was so stupid. What I did was…wrong.”

“Norman.” Mitzi’s voice is firm. “Yes, OK, what you did was wrong. But listen to me,” she continues, her voice softening. “I deal with people every day who’ve really hurt people, who wouldn’t have stopped like you did the moment they realized they’d misunderstood, who would’ve taken what they wanted and not felt the slightest regret.” She reaches across the bench and pats his hand. “You are a good person, Norman. Stop punishing yourself.”

“I…know people like that too. Other students…who brag about their conquests. I don’t want to be like that.”

“You’re not,” she says. “You won’t be. I know it.”

“Um…so, how’s the farsight?”

“Oh…fine. Thank you again for that. I’ve been practicing. I do find that I get headaches if I do it too much.”

“Really? Oh, maybe it’s because it’s only one eye. You know, with Lord77’s help, I think I could put the spell on both eyes…”

“Actually, I don’t mind the headaches. They remind me not to use it unless I need it. Other than practice, of course. I find that once I start using it, it’s a little hard to resist using it too much. I mean, I want to respect people’s right to privacy.” She shakes her head. “I sort of accidentally looked in on Sasha and Pasha a couple of nights ago. They were with a talking screwdriver…”

“Ummm…OK…”

She blushes. “Anyway, I came here for a couple of reasons. I really did want to see you, and to make sure you’re OK.”

“I’m OK.”

“Good.”

Norman takes a bite of his sandwich. “Is that…potato salad? Oh right, no meat.”

Mitzi smiles. “Pasha made them. She says hi, by the way.”

“Oh…please tell her hi from me. So, what was your other reason for coming?”

“Well, I come with a proposal from Captain Azzageddi.”

“Oh…your boyfriend.”

Mitzi chuckles. “‘Boyfriend’… Well, this is official business, so he’s my captain in this case. He thinks we need a wizard on staff, and he was wondering if you’d be interested.

“Wha—really? He wants me to be…a cop?”

“On a purely advisory basis, of course—he knows you can’t be expected to give up your studies and be a patrol cop. We’d just consult you in special cases, like we do the Librarian.”

“Wait…the Librarian??”

“You didn’t know? He’s been a member of the Watch for ages. He helps us with research all the time.” She puts her hand up to her mouth. “Oh dear, I hope that wasn’t a secret.”

He thinks for a moment. “Did you suggest this to Azzageddi?”

“Well, he did say we needed a wizard for consultation and liaison with the Unseen University, somebody who wasn’t as specialized as the Librarian. So naturally, I suggested you.” She punches him lightly on the shoulder. “Come on, Norman! Who else am I going to recommend?! Anyway…it wasn’t just me. Lord77 thought it was a good idea too.”

“Really? Oh. But…did you tell Azzageddi…about, uh, what happened?”

Mitzi sighs. “Of course I did.”

Norman goes pale. “Oh no.”

She turns her palms up. “Norman! We were in the middle of a party. At least three people saw you kiss me! I had to explain it to him before he started hearing rumors.” Norman looks up at the sky, as if lightning might strike him down any moment.

“Oh, cut it out!” Mitzi says. “I know what you’re thinking. He’s not like that. He said, ‘If he’s your friend, then he’s my friend.’”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. So stop worrying. And stop thinking of him as human. He’s immortal, he…thinks differently.” She shrugs. “Even I don’t always understand him. Anyway, what do you think?”

Norman thinks about it for a long moment, looking very serious, as Mitzi looks on.

He looks at her again. “I need to talk it over with Lord77 first. And…oh boy, I would need to talk about it with Azzageddi too, wouldn’t I? But…I think…maybe, yes.”

Mitzi smiles. “OK. Well…we’re done eating, but I still have some time. Um…would it be OK for me to get another look in the Library? I’ve never seen so many books.”

“Oh, those are just the open shelves. Reference books and such. There are way more books back in the Stacks. I don’t think the Librarian would let you go back there, though, even if he is secretly a cop…”

Norman is surprised to find himself smiling easily as they chat.

Lord77 returns to his temple finally looking forward to his bed and undisturbed sleep. As he walks into the main chamber, he’s greeted by his mortal hero, battle clad with arms covered in the boundless supplies of Icarus Wings.

“You sent for me most Holy?” Adam77 drops to a knee with head bowed.

“Oh…yes. I did, didn’t I.” Responds Lord77, barely repressing a yawn. “I need you to handle some arrangements for me.”

And the god takes the hero out back to the range, points out some items of interest and discusses his thoughts.

“Now, if you would be so kind to handle that for me, I would be most pleased?”

“It would be an honor and privilege to perform this for my god!” Adam77 declares bowing low.

“Great…great.” Lord77 says turning towards his temple and bed chamber.

Stopping, he looks back at his hero. “Uhh…Where’s your pet?”

Adam77 grins and happily responds. “Great one! I remembered this time to tie him to the front!”

“Good man! There may be hope for you yet.” The god pats his hero on his back. Then thinks. “Uhh…What did you tie him to?”

“That small tree, your Holiness.”

“That’s not a very big tree for a Double Dragon.” And the God sees over his hero’s shoulder a Double Dragon emerging from the side of the temple, moving now as fast as the pet can while dragging an uprooted tree.

“Lovely.” The god assesses. “I’m too tired to deal with this. Go get your pet.” And, he turns and reenters the temple while in the background, Adam77 is chasing after the dragon waving his arms and yelling.

Lord77 wakes up in his sleeping chamber feeling wonderfully refreshed after finally getting a night’s sleep in a proper bed. Arising, he finds a new toga, freshly washed and pressed hanging off a hook by his wardrobe along with a tray of cleaned fruit on the corner table.

“I really don’t appreciate Flower enough,” he muses to himself, and then is pleased that he finally remembered her name on the first try.

Feeling good about his day, he steps out into the temple heads towards the rear passage. Exiting the temple, all appears quiet and peaceful. “Good. It looks like Adam was able to retrieve his pet without too much damage.”

Spying down the far end of the range, he spots his father’s library in the distance. Turning towards the stalls, he finds Tootsie munching on a carrot and living up to her name. Breathing shallowly, Lord77 unhitches the burro and takes here out to the field, and then is annoyed over the only slight breeze.

“Come on girl, let’s go back and see Dad. Another ride whiffing your perfume all the way is just the incentive I need to learn that personal translocation spell.”

Norman sits in a crowded classroom, far too cramped for the number of level-one wizards on roster. The instructor, a level-four is droning on about care needed for casting some basic spells. But, Norman isn’t listening. His mind is still in the study area where Mitzi found him…wondering.

“A cop.” He muses to himself. “They want me to be a cop. Well, not a proper cop. But still…”

His attention is then snapped back to the classroom where the droning lecturer has called his name. “Norman! You appear to not believe that this is important enough to pay attention! So, please tell the class the proper way to summon a breeze?”

Norman panics internally for a moment as he really wasn’t paying attention. “Raising…raising…” He thinks. “What did I read…OH, YES!”

Standing up from his seat, he turns to the lecturer and responds, "Sir, the proper way to raise it would be to draw a pentagram on the floor, establish high level wards, then chant ‘Mors praecipio tibi coram me.’ "

The lecturer’s mouth drops open with eyes wide with surprise.

“Norman…” the lecturer stammers. “That’s how to summon Death!…How do you…know this?”

Norman shakes his head. “I’m sorry, sir. Must have been reading some other book. If you would excuse me, sir. I…I have a headache.”

The young wizard grabs his books and swiftly exits the classroom. Leaning against a pillar outside, he breathes deeply, purging the stuffy, classroom air from his lungs and clearing his head.

“I need to see Lord77,” he finally convinces himself, then exits the building and heads for the City Watch. Passing by the Hall, he waves at Pasha and Sasha who appear to be babysitting a pirate hat wearing Twilight.

“Hi, Wizard!” Pasha waves. “If you are looking for Lord77, he passed by here a little while ago. Said he was going to his temple.”

“Thanks!” Norman replies and heads towards the kitchen portal.

Arriving on the other side. Norman enters the main chamber only to find no sign of Lord77. Turning towards the kitchen, he’s blind side hugged and greeted with “Wizard Norman!”

“Ooof. Hi, Flower!” Norman squeaks out of a compressed ribcage. “Uh…I was wondering if you knew where Lord77 is?” And looking down at the bunny, he notices the eyes…those bright and expressive eyes.

Lord77 sits in a chair aside the long work table in his father’s library, again comfortably attired in his toga. Laying flat on the table is a parchment with multiple notes, scratch-outs, and overwrites on the page he’s reviewing for the last hour. As his eyes lose focus, he sits back, removes his reading glasses, and rubs his eyes.

“You know, your handwriting really sucks,” the god states to the occupant sitting on the other side.

“You’re reading the exercise notes, son. I rewrote the final form in that bound tome there.”

“Yeah, I read that. You left out some steps, which is why I grabbed these notes. By the way, your handwriting sucked in that also.”

“Love you too, son.” the elder god replies without raising his eyes above the thin notebook he’s reproofing. “Now, back to work. We’ve only been at this for a week or so, and there’s a lot more to cover.”

OH, LORD!

Lord77 shoots up out of his chair, standing now by the table, his weariness pushed aside. His father looks up quickly with a questioning look. “Did you hear that?” the son asks the father.

“Hear what?”

LORD! OH LORD!

“That! Oh, crap! That’s Flower! That’s the summoning spell. Something’s wrong at the temple.” Lord77 pushes the chair away and begins to head towards the steps.

“Son! What did we just practice?!”

“Oh, right!” Lord77 freezes in his tracks. “Old habits, Dad.”

Closing his eyes, the younger god raises an arm towards the temple, pulls his will, chants a quick incantation, and disappears.

“Kids…sheesh.” Lord01 grumbles and returns back to his notebook.

Lord77 appears to the right side of his throne in the center of his temple. Rapidly scanning the open floor, he sees no sign of disturbance or of Flower.

“OH, LORD!”

“Flower?!” Lord77 yells in honest concern.

“OH, LORD!”

“Flower, where are you?” he shouts again in slight panic at the urgency of the cry. “LORD!”

Quickly, he locates the cry to be coming from Flower’s sleeping chamber, and launches himself off the altar and races to her door. Grabbing the handle, he twists it swiftly, flinging the door open and calls to her. “Flower?!” And then freezes.

In the center of the bed, chaos occurs resulting in the young wizard Norman, now sans wizard’s uniform, flailing and then falling off the bed only to crawl back to it, hugging it for protection. In the middle, clutching a sheet to her bare shoulders is Flower, breathing heavily, hair in disarray, eyes wide and a small bead of sweat traveling down her forehead.

Lord77 takes in the scene, and then roars with laughter. “I’m sorry kids. I…” and then pauses for another round of laughing.

Finally gaining composure, he looks at Flower. “Dear, if you’re going to call out a god’s name in rapture, may I suggest a different god than me?” and begins to back out the room. Stopping, he leans back in. “And I wouldn’t suggest Azzageddi either. He’s been known to play with a three-name summoning spell, and from the sounds of things, he would have beat me here.”

Laughing again, the god closes the door and steps back into the temple. Working his way to the kitchen before returning, he spots a familiar form entering the temple.

“Ol’ Chester! Fortunate timing! I was just passing through my temple.” The god says shaking off the last few chuckles. “I hope the accommodations for you and your family are working out.”

Chester the Rancher, who sometime back sold his cattle herd to Lord77 believing that the Guild Hall was a slaughterhouse, bows low to the god and responds, “Hey there, Almighty! Blessed be the day I stepped into yer hall with all me cows. Fortune smiled on me that day. And, yeah, the family is happy here like chickens in a corn cellar! We is honored to serve you on this here ranch.”

Placing his hand on the rancher as a blessing, Lord77 responds, “Chester, from the moment I met you, I knew I’d found an honest man I would someday reward. Today is that day. I find that my time is limited now for my cattle, and am grateful that you are willing to come and tend my herd. The management of the ranch is now yours. The buga bunny ranch hands will be your aides, and my favorite burro, Tootsie, your ride. All I ask is that you make a profit leaving half for the repair and support of the ranch, a tithing for the temple, and the remainder is yours. Adam77 will come by in my stead for an accounting from time to time. His capability with numbers is somewhat limited. So, please do try to make the books simple.”

Chester again bows low, takes his leave, and exits the temple to the ranch, his passage noted by an echo of his internal musing, “Tootsie, the burro?”

As Lord77 finishes with Chester, he sees a form exiting Flower’s chamber, that of Norman now hastily dressed. Norman approaches the god, a touch of fear in his eyes, and halts.

“Uh…sir, I’m sorry. I…uh…”

“Norman, first of all, I’m glad to see you. Secondly, I’m happy that you got over that Mitzi crush. That had disaster written all over it.”

“Yeah…That’s kind of how I ended up here. I don’t know if you’re aware, but I kind of made a fool of myself in the hall, and then left. Mitzi was really nice about it. But, I felt…well…foolish. I went back to the university, but after all the study I did with you, it just wasn’t challenging anymore. Plus, after the Mitzi thing, I really couldn’t focus well. And then Mitzi stopped by the other day with an offer from Master Azzageddi, and I wanted to come see you about…well…everything.”

“And, Flower found you.” Lord77 says smiling.

“Well…yes.” Norman responds, now slightly grinning and turning red. “As soon as I passed the portal, she saw me and hugged me. I wanted to ask where you were, but…but those eyes. They’re just so bright and expressive.” Now turning a deeper shade of red. “Well, one thing lead to another and…”

“OK. Good enough. I more than get the picture, Norman. Look, ever since you saved her from the bubble factory she created, I had a feeling that she’d finally get her hooks on you. So, I’m not surprised there. Also, face it. This temple is a lonely place for her. Sure, the ranch buga bunnies come through, but in reality, I’m rarely here, nor is anyone else. If you coming by makes her happy, then great. Just do me a favor. I depend on Flower for a number of tasks around here. Try not to take up her time too much, or I’ll have you doing laundry with her to catch up.”

Norman thinks about it for a second, and then starts “Err…”

“No, Norman! You’re not doing laundry. You’d end up wanting to take a shortcut.” Waving his fingers. “And I’ll wind up wearing a clown suit or pirate outfit again as all my togas are now butterflies.”

Behind Norman, Lord77 sees Flower, now dressed, slipping out of her chamber. She looks at the god and wizard with a small, embarrassed smile on her face, and then quickly ducks into the kitchen. Norman turns his head watching the buga bunny disappear, then turns back towards the god smiling, and then blushes again.

Lord77 chuckles, and then continues. “Now if it’s the studies you’re having trouble with, I could understand that. I sent you through some pretty intense stuff, and learning how to summon loomies probably is beneath you now. I discussed that with Azzageddi recently along with that offer he sent through Mitzi. I think the idea of having you on the City Watch team is a great idea. So, tell you what, stop on by Guild Hall and see Azzageddi on it if you’re interested. I’ll be over there in a bit too. Then, after that, go back to the university and finish your studies there for the term. When it’s over, come by my father’s library, and I’ll make sure that you’re challenged with some real learning.”

Norman looks up at the god, a huge smile on his face. “Really? Wow. That would be great, sir.”

“OK, now go. I need to get back to my father anyway, “and the god turns, raises a hand, draws his will and disappears.

“Wow.” Norman stands in awe as the god translocates. Then, as he begins walking towards the side passage to the portal, he stops. Looking back over his shoulder, he spies the entrance of the kitchen. Turning, he abandons his initial path, and swiftly enters the kitchen. Moments later, a bunny giggle is heard followed shortly thereafter by bunny kisses.

As night falls over Godville, all Watch Members return to the Watch House. Storm clouds begin to fill the sky and thunder echoes around the guildhall. Twilight clings desperately to Nyrini.

Nyrini: What’s wrong, baby girl?

Twi: I’m scared, mummy!

Nyrini: There’s nothing to be scared of little one, it’s only a thunderstorm (a loud clap of thunder shakes the Watch House).

Twi: Sing me a song?

Nyrini: Ok, then! How about a song my mother sang me every time I was scared?

Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens…

Pasha: What a beautiful song! Nyrini, could you teach us to sing like you?

Nyrini: Oh, I just sing by ear! Maybe Anne could help you?

Anne: I couldn’t, really… Oh, alright! You don’t have to twist my arm!! OK everyone, to the piano. Azz, could you grab the guitar?

Azz: But I don’t even know what you want me to play!

Anne: That’s OK, it’s very simple…

Let’s start at the very beginning….

Lord77 enters the Watch House, along with Norman and Flower, who are holding hands, only to see everyone singing harmoniously.

Lord77: (laughing), Hey, Godofbeer, since when do you sing in choirs?

Godofbeer: I don’t. I don’t know what happened but ever since this storm started the Watch House’s felt different, like it’s become part of a musical. It’s making me nervous too. Drink?

As Lord77 and Godofbeer sit at the bar drinking, a faint bleating noise can be heard.

Lord77: Goats? Who brought goats into the Watch House?

Norman, looking confused, speaks up: Well, I came here to talk to Azzageddi about joining the Watch, but for some reason…I suddenly want to be a goatherd…

Godofbeer: Oh no, it’s happening again.

Lord77: Well, I do know a song about lonely goatherds…

Godofbeer: (cringing) So do I. (they both turn at the sound of oom paa music) Quick! Drink up before we have to yodel! (both gods quickly drain their tankards)

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…

Having finished singing, Lord77 and Godofbeer turn back to the bar, silently hoping that this is never discussed again.

Norman: Thank you…I think I feel a bit better, and you know, I think maybe I’m not going to be so lonely after all…

He and Flower look into each other’s eyes, and they begin to sing…

“You are 16, going on 17”

Lord77 (shaking his head in disbelief): that boy isn’t going to be good for any kind of magic in the morning…

Twilight: Mummy, I’m sleepy…

Nyrini: I think it’s your bedtime, sweet cheeks.

Twilight: Are you going to bed too Mummy?

Nyrini: Not yet Twi, but I won’t be much longer. Why don’t you head to bed and I’ll come and give you a cuddle before I go to sleep?

Twilight: (sleepily): ’K, mummy.

There’s a strange sort of clanging from the clock in the hall, and the bells in the steeple too…

having finished singing, Twilight, tired but happy, toddles off to bed.

As everyone sits, puzzled by the saccharine sweetness that has overwhelmed the Watch House, Azzageddi quietly strums his guitar. He looks tenderly at Mitzi, her now healed eyes sparkling in the evening light.

Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you greet me

Midway through the song Mitzi raises her voice to sing with her god.

Pasha: Azz, that was beautiful, but, what is an edelweiss?

Azz: I know it’s a flower of some type, but not one from any world I know. It’s not a hibiscus, frangipani, or sakura. I think this storm is having a strange effect on all of us.

A thoughtful lull falls over the watch house, and, as the storm begins to clear, the members of the Watch start to return to their activities, all wondering what the hell just happened. Outside, behind the Watch House, a soft song can still be heard from deep within the gnome mound.

The hills are alive with the sound of music

After the magical musical moment passes, Sasha and Pasha, despite the lateness and the fact that they’re already in their pajamas, decide to reopen the bar to serve nightcaps for the assembled gods, mortals, and bunnies.

Norman, looking dazed, sits down at the bar while Flower gets into a conversation with Mitzi on the other side of the room. He looks over at them, a bit worried, wondering what they’re talking about, then fights not to cringe when they look over at him, and Flower giggles while Mitzi smiles and gives him a “go back to what you were doing” sort of wave.

Pasha’s shadow falls over him. “Hey, Wizard Norman, that was some performance! What can I get you?” She’s wearing fleece pajamas of mottled black and white, a cow pattern.

“Oh, hi! Um…something with…not much alcohol in it, I think. Whatever you recommend.” He looks back over at Flower and Mitzi as they sit down together, still talking. “Oh boy…”

“I’ll get you a Kahlua Milk, sweetie, easy on the Kahlua. It’s a good before-bed drink.” She looks over at Mitzi and Flower. “And hey…good choice there.”

“What?” He looks back at Pasha. “What do you mean?”

“Our Flower is a sweetheart…well, she’s a little bit of a goof, but we love her. She’s been real lonely over at Lordy’s temple. And the last couple times I went over there to see her, guess who she couldn’t stop talking about?”

“Um…?”

“You!” Pasha laughs. “Man, you are a lot like her. Cute and clueless. Anyway, I’m glad you finally wised up enough to see what was right in front of you.” She winks and goes to get his drink.

Someone sits next to him. Norman looks around and freezes when he sees it’s Azzageddi. The dark god catches Pasha’s eye, points at a bottle of whisky, and smiles when she nods. Then he looks at Norman.

“Well…that was interesting, wasn’t it?”

Norman takes a moment to be able to speak. “Y-yes…what wasthat? Sir. I’ve never even thought about being a goat-herd before.”

“I think of it as the Almighty Anne Reality Distortion Field. When the mood takes her she can draw everyone around her into a brief fairy-tale-like scene, usually involving music. I don’t even know if she realizes that she does it…it’s that effortless to her.” The god holds out his hand. “Anyway, I’m glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you from Mitzi and from Lord77.”

Norman takes Azzageddi’s hand cautiously, half-expecting a cruelly crushing grip, but it’s nothing of the sort, simply firm as any normal handshake. “I’m, uh, really glad to hear that, sir.”

Pasha arrives with their drinks. Azzageddi touches glasses with Norman before they drink.

“So, have you thought it over? About working with us, I mean. You know, I was actually glad when Mitzi said you had to think about it, and talk with Lord77 first. Thoughtfulness is a virtue.”

“Lord77 told me that I would act as a go-between with the Unseen University and the Watch, and that you’d consult me on cases involving magic, sometimes.”

“Sure…and anything else that crops up that it seems like you’d be able to help us with. But listen, I want to assure you that I will not ask you to do anything that you feel might conflict with your loyalties to the UU. You will have the right to tell me ‘no’ if, in fact, I do ask something like that of you, without realizing it.”

“OK…that actually had occurred to me. And…I wouldn’t be patrolling?”

“We might sometimes ask you to visit a crime scene, so you can examine it for magic and such. But very few of the crimes we deal with involve magic, and most of those involve gods or other immortal creatures, which are usually going to be under the jurisdiction of us gods, so we may not need you for those.”

“I’m not sure what my professors will think of this.”

“To tell the truth, Norman, I’m sure some of them won’t like it one bit. Not only will you be working with the police, who are considered tools of the State by some professors, but you’ll be working for gods, who some consider the natural enemies of wizards. We’re sort of rivals for the same niche, you might say. And they’d have a good point in both cases. But I’m really trying to change that.”

“Hmm.”

“If you don’t want to do it, I understand. It could potentially hurt your advancement at the UU, and it’ll take some time away from your studies. It may even expose you to danger. But I promise you this: it’ll always be interesting, and you’ll learn a lot. And once you’re part of our little family, you’ll find we always have your back.”

“Well, I actually decided to join already, to be honest. But it’s good to hear that you understand the things that were making me hesitate, sir.”

“Excellent! Let me know when you’re ready to start, and we’ll get you badged and sworn in. But for the moment,” he shakes Norman’s hand again, “welcome.”

“Um…sir…about what, ahem, happened…earlier…”

Azzageddi holds up a hand. “From what I understand, you and Mitzi have worked that out just fine. She’s happy, so I’m happy.”

“Oh…I see.”

“Well, I know you must have a lot on your plate, so I don’t expect you to start right off. Just come in later this week and we’ll take care of it.” The god gets up to join Godofbeer and Lord77 in a conversation.

“D’you want another?” Pasha says as she picks up his empty glass.

“Oh…yes. I didn’t even remember drinking this one.”

Pasha laughs. “You’ll get used to working around gods. And you’ll have to get used to us bunnies, too.”

He makes eye contact with her. “Mitzi said you buga bunnies don’t think quite the same way humans do…”

“That’s right. You better remember it with Flower, or you might end up with a broken heart.”

He smiles hesitantly. “I guess I have a lot to learn.”

Pasha shrugs. “Life lessons from a bartender are free, as long as you keep buying the drinks. And like Azz says, welcome to the family.” She clinks her glass against his.

Nyrini comes out of the dorm room area, glad that Twilight has fallen asleep, leaving her to finally enjoy a quiet, late night drink. She takes a seat at the bar and orders her usual choice in nightly drinks from Pasha. Looking around while awaiting her drink, the goddess spots two paper rectangles stuck in between two bottles. She picks them up and inspects them, all the while swearing she could just hear a tiny little voice going “Oh, Sally, if it weren’t for that fungus problem o’yours, I’d kiss ya right this minute…”

Hmm… postcards… she says, turning the papers in her hand. On closer inspection, one of them seems to depict a lovely landscape consisting of a green hill looking onto the ocean. Slightly to one side, a white horse grazes peacefully while a small, skeletonized rat wrapped in a black cape tries to catch butterflies with a scythe. Nyrini turns the postcard to read its message.

Hey, this is Sue’s handwriting! She cries, reading the lines written in the graceful, cursive handwriting belonging to the departed goddess.


“Dearest, most treasured friends of mine,

As I sit here and begin to write

And the sun outside quits its shine,

The unwilling day gives in to night,

So many words rush in and out

This mind of mine, lost in thought,

And across my heart, filled with doubt

For, what to say, my friends? And what

To leave behind the quill and hand

That scratch the words I mean to bind

To this piece of paper, so you’ll understand

What passes for thought in this lonely mind.

No words will do, no words can tell

How much I miss your voice and sight

And how I hope this finds you well,

Reading these lines with sheer delight.

And I do hope to see, my friends,

Among the darkness and pale moonlight,

A wayward star that falls and lands

Close to where my home once was

And where, that day, I left my heart

Beating for and with you, without a pause,

So not even distance will make us part.

I’m fighting a longing no words can sever.

The world now beckons. Goodbye is rough…

So long, my friends, I’ll be yours forever.

Still…

Forever is not long enough…

Susan Sto Helit”


Nice! Nyrini smiles with sheer delight as she finishes reading the message. It’s been such a long time since Sue wrote her last poem. Maybe she is beginning to feel more like herself…

The goddess sets the first postcard on the bar counter and begins to inspect the other one. Instead of a lovely landscape, this one features the image of a rustic fireplace. The flames seem to dance and crackle in it, while a light grey wolf cub sleeps peacefully in front of it, a contented expression on its lycan muzzle. Everything in the picture appears warm and inviting, transmitting a sense of peace and comfort. Nyrini’s smile widens at the sight and then changes as she turns the postcard to read its message. She stops reading abruptly after the first three words and jumps off her seat just as Pasha arrives to hand her her drink.

Here ya go— Hey, what happened? Pasha asks her

Well, first, this postcard just arrived for all of us here, at the Watch House, Nyrini begins to explain, handing Pasha the first postcard. It’s from Sue, so please make sure everyone gets to read it. I need to deliver this other one to its rightful owner, she blinks an eye at Pasha, waving the second postcard in the air. Do you mind keeping an eye out for Twi, sunshine? Queegqueg is looking after her but…

Don’t you worry your pretty head about it. Sashy and I will take care of Twi.

Thanks, sunshine!! Nyrini says, leaving the bar and walking toward the kitchen.

“Wow, now THIS is a proper mausoleum!” Nyrini states, looking around in wonder. “The ones I’ve been in back in Überwald were all so… crowded.

Lord77 looks up from one of his father’s spell books, “How did you get in here?”

“The same way I get into any place I wanna go, love”, Nyrini shruggs. “I will myself in. I am the goddess of thresholds and pathways, after all. There’s no lock or spell that can keep me out if I wish to enter…Well, I just came to give you this,” handing Lord77 the postcard. “It arrived at the hall today. I thought you’d like to read it before anyone else got a chance to do it.”

“A postcard? I thought we’d gotten rid of those postcard imps…”

“Oh, I don’t know about that… maybe Sue has one. All I know is that she sent you this postcard. There’s another one back at the guildhall for the rest of us. You’d do well to read that one too, once you get the chance.”

“Susan? This postcard is from Susan?”

“You’d know that already if you actually bothered to read it.”

Lord01 reenters the main crypt from the concealed library. “I thought I heard you yapping with someone. Who’s the tart?”

Nyrini immediately shoots. “Who’s the fossil?”

Lord77 turns towards his Dad. “Be nice, Dad. This is the goddess Nyrini, a friend of Susan Sto Helit. She popped in to deliver this postcard to me from Susan. Nyrini, my father, Lord01.”

The ancient god’s eyes widen, “What do you mean ‘popped in’?”

“Dad, Nyrini is the goddess of thresholds and pathways.”

“Thresholds and pathways…What? Do they have a deity for everything now? First beer now doors and halls?”

“I guess the elder gods just ran out of ideas,” Nyrini replies with a dangerous little smile on her face. “They were never very creative to begin with.”

Lord01’s eyes flare. “Now, look here, Missy!”

“All right! That’s quite enough! Both of you!” Lord77 intercedes.

“Yeah…fine. Hmmm…I thought I secured this place from unwelcomed entrance.” Lord01 muses, and then looks hard at the goddess.

“I appreciate you bringing this by,” the younger god states looking at his father. “But I think it’s time to go, goddess.”

Nyrini questions “Is there something wrong?”

“No…not wrong. But, I know that look from Dad, and before he cuts you in half to see what makes you tick, it might just be best for you to return to the Guild Hall.”

“Well, my work here is done anyway. I’ve got a drink and a small bunny waiting for me back at the Watch House. À bientôt!!” And, she disappears.

Lord77 looks down at the card.


My dearest Lord77,

I’m writing just to let you know that I have finally reached my final destination and that I am safe and sound. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to reveal you or anyone else where I am, but I’m glad this postcard imp decided to take shelter in one of Binky’s saddle bags. This way, it is easier to keep in touch with everyone. I miss everyone there so very much. I miss you so very much. You would like it here, I am sure. Although, there is a dramatic shortage of drinks other than water and tea…

I have to go, now. I am the senior officer here and they keep calling me to settle all their stupid little disputes… I’ll try to write more often.

Forever yours,

Susan

P.S.: That wolf in the picture is my newest animal companion, by the way. I named him Silvershade. He is very playful and keeps getting into trouble, trying to bite more than he can chew. Reminds me of you in more ways than one…”


As Lord77 sets the postcard down on the table, Lord01 scans it over briefly then looks at his visibly anguished son.

“I assume this has to do with what transpired between you two that you mentioned before?”

Lord77 still staring at the table, nods. “Yes.”

“If you’re so hung up on her, why don’t you just go to her?”

“She doesn’t say where she is, Dad.”

“But, she used an imp, right?"

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, trace it.”

“HUH?!”

“Oh…you don’t know that spell yet…never mind."

When Nyrini returns to the bar, she beholds a strange sight.

Everyone is gathered around the bar, pressing in closely to hear Pasha reading the poem from Susan’s postcard. But she can see, between the taller bodies of gods and mortals on the periphery, that buga bunnies—perhaps ALL the buga bunnies in the headquarters—are closest to Pasha, as if they had elbowed their way in front of the others, despite their usually less-assertive nature.

Pasha is wearing her reading glasses, but she keeps pausing to take them off to wipe tears from her eyes. Several of the other bunnies are crying as well, while others are staring and listening intently, ears perked up and forward. Many of them are holding hands or hugging. She spots Shade looking forlorn, tears rolling down his cheeks, in the arms of his friend, the one with the Australian accent…Peaky? Hard to keep them all straight.

Pasha finishes the poem but the other bunnies immediately start saying, “Again! Read it again!” Nyrini realizes this probably wasn’t even the first time she’d read it for them. The gods and other mortals start drifting away, reminiscing about Susan, but the bunnies remain, rapt, as Pasha begins again, “Dearest, most treasured friends of mine…" while Sasha puts her arms around Pasha to comfort her.

Nyrini sees Mitzi holding Twilight. The goddess hadn’t really noticed before seeing so many bunnies gathered together, but Mitzi, as small and lightly built as she is, stands a few centimeters taller than any of the other bunnies, towering over them, relatively speaking. She is petting Twilight’s hair and whispering to her, as if explaining what’s going on to the confused-looking child.

Nyrini moves closer and overhears Twilie asking plaintively, “But why? Why did she leave?”

“She just had to, sweetheart,” Mitzi replies softly. “But she’ll come back. She loves us.”

“Even me? But she’s never even met me.”

“Even you, sweetheart. I’m sure of it.”

Deciding this is a moment just for the bunnies, Nyrini drifts out of the bar and into the office, sitting at her rarely-used desk. With no bunnies processing paperwork, she figures it’s time to do some herself.

As the bunnies finally let Pasha stop rereading the poem, as their collective moment of emotional outpouring ends, Mitzi kisses Twilight on the head before handing her over to Azzageddi.

“Take care of her, will you? I need to run that postcard over to Lord77’s place. Flower and the ranch-hands don’t know about it.”

“Do you think they’ll make you read it to them over and over?”

“Sigh. Some of them will want that. Susan…she’s our creator. She’s the closest thing we have to a god.”

Azzageddi stops her when she begins to turn away. “How areyou doing?”

Mitzi smiles sadly. “I’m all right. You know I miss her very much. But I don’t worship her or anything. I guess I’ve got to know some gods too well to be praying to any of them.” She winks her silver-rimmed eye.

“Thank goodness for that. All right, go, and give Flower a hug from me.”

Mitzi goes to get the postcard from Pasha, and then heads for Lord77’s portal.

Two gods, elder and younger stand facing each other on opposite sides of the short end of the library. Both are bathed in red nimbi of godpower as the fabric of the space between them is being warped.

“That’s it son. You have the dual-level spell in place. Now, slip in the RAW. Keep it balanced. Think of it as sliding a postcard in between the two to charge both.”

The mention of postcard causes Lord77 to lose focus momentarily, as images of Susan come to his mind. The lapse of concentration is sufficient, though, to cause an imbalance in the spell. The imbalance quickly cascades into failure and an octarine flash occurs between the two gods hurling both backwards to the walls behind them, the failed spell and their protective nimbus shells flaring against the infused godpower in the building.

Lord77 shakes his head, clearing his vision, and then looks over at his father, alarmed, “Dad! Are you OK?”

Lord01 waves off his son, stands up and looks around at the room. The work table lies against the other far wall, heavily damaged. Two of the chairs are now kindling. “Well, that was…terrible. What the hell happened?”

“I’m sorry, Dad. When you said postcard, my thoughts slipped a bit, and…”

“Son, we’re playing with some pretty nasty spells here!” Lord01 snaps angrily. “Complete concentration is a requirement! Dual-level spells are a fifth stage wizard function. Some of the work I was doing here was to infuse it with RAW to strengthen it. But, if you can’t keep head out of your arse when it comes to that girl, then you need to go get that straightened out first, or you’re going to blow the roof off this place and take us with it.”

Waving his hand towards the furniture, the table is reset, damage repaired. A second wave brings the chairs back to working order. Lord77 watches the nonchalant repairs done, and suddenly chuckles. “I see you’ve had a lot of practice with those spells.”

Lord01, huffs at his son then retreats momentarily to the recessed library room. Returning moments later, he carries a hand bound spell book under his arm. Slamming the book on the table, he flips through some pages until he finds the entry for which he was searching.

“Here!” Stabbing an aged finger. “Read this.”

Lord77 steps to the table, affixes his reading glasses and reviews the scrawl. “Tracer spell?”

“Yes. Apply this to the spot where those wretched cards are coming from, and it will reveal the path those imps are taking. Now, memorize it, and go. Don’t come back until you get your head on straight.”

The younger god reads the spell and commits it to memory. “OK. Dad. Thanks.”

“Meh.” Waving off his son again. “Go.”

Lord77 closes his eyes, raises a hand to the direction of his temple, raises his will, and vanishes.

“I should have made a girl.” Lord01 grumbles, and puts the spell book back on its shelf.

Lord77 steps out of the Guild Hall kitchen and approaches the bar. Sasha, seeing him arrive, goes to grab a mug but then halts this time and throws a questioning look at the god.

“Hi, Darling. No to the drink, thank you. I stopped by because I need to know where those post cards are coming from.”

Sasha, a surprised look on her face, points to the spot between the bottles where the cards would show up. “We would find them there when Mitzi was sending them. And, I believe the same for the cards from Susan. There’s none there now though.”

“That’s OK, dear. Just let me look at it for a second.”

Stepping to the spot, he closes his eyes and recalls the tracking spell. In his mind, a fading octarine filament manifests terminating at the spot between the glasses and projecting out of the building. Following the filament with farsight, he jumps along the thread until he finds the terminus on the other side. Focusing at that point, he looks around and sees a building containing the now familiar City Watch emblem. Holding that spot in his mind, he pulls back to the Guild Hall.

“Lordy, are you OK?” Sasha asks as the god opens his eyes, now looking nervous.

“I don’t know, dear. We’ll find out.” And closing his eyes again, he focuses on the spot, calls his will, and translocates.

Just then Pasha comes to the bar from the back room and sees the god disappear. “What was that all about?”

“I don’t know! He came in wondering about the postcards, and then Poof, he’s gone.” Turning towards the spot where the god disappeared, she relents. “You know, Pashy, he made a lot more sense when he was drunk all the time.”

Lord77 stands outside the Watch Office Building…He knows she’s in there, just doesn’t know what to do. So, he waits.

“I don’t even know where I am?” He mutters. “What am I doing? This is so stupid.”

Suddenly a figure emerges from the building. He knows the figure; it’s burned into his brain. He would recognize it from any distance: the hair, the beautifully flowing gait, the face whose lines and curves are etched into his mind. The psychological ache of seeing her manifests in the physical as if being hit by a club.

She is attended by an animal – a wolf cub. The animal senses his presence and stops. Looks at the figure on the other side of the street, and emits a low growl. The change is noted by her and she looks up, away from the wolf, sees the figure and their eyes meet.

Susan freezes in her steps.

“How?”

“It doesn’t matter…I tried,” Lord77 says closing the distance to her a few steps. “I really tried to stay away. But, I just couldn’t stay away permanently. And, I couldn’t just…wait. It was hurting too much.”

Susan stands in silence for what feels like a small piece of eternity but is actually translated into a mere few seconds. Her heart races as countless questions cross her mind, confusion and fear fighting excitement and joy for the center of her attention. Her eyes narrow as she takes the few steps that separate her from Lord77. Silvershade, the wolf, follows close behind, growling still.

“Who else knows where I am?”

“No one. Not even I know where this is. I just know you’re here.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“I…know”, the god says looking down, warring emotions making his balance uncomfortable. “But…it hurt too much. I had to try.” The god places his hands on Susan’s arms. “I had to come.”

“Lordy, I—”

Sensing the goddess’ hesitation, Lord77 lets go of her arms. “You know what? You’re right. This was a mistake. I’ll just…go. I’m sorry.”

Susan watches Lord77 turning away, their paths parting once more, the missing piece of her soul leaving with him. When before it was racing with shock and fright, her heart now sinks in her chest, almost ceasing to beat for a whole minute. She can’t do this again. The distance, the loneliness, the yearning… She can’t take it anymore. She can’t!

“Lordy, please!” She calls him.

Lord77 freezes in his steps. Clenching and unclenching his right hand, preparing for that final goodbye, he lowers his head and breathes deep. He raises it again, all hope gone from his eyes, determined to end this quickly. The pain, the anguish and the embarrassment of the situation all war inside his head, building anger towards the hurt.

“Please, what?!” He yells, forgetting that they stand in the middle of the street. “What do you want me to do? Stand here while you rip my heart out of my chest again?! Feed it to that wolf?!” Something in her eyes kills his anger like ice cold water to the spine. Looking at an anguish that mirrors his own, he sighs in frustration. “Look, you obviously don’t want me here so, please, let me go!” He turns away.

Susan shortens the distance between them once again and places a hand on his shoulder. Forcing him to turn, she says “I never said I—”

“ARGH!” Lord77 screams in pain, interrupting her. He suddenly falls forward, forcing her to support his weight.

Susan looks down to find Silvershade hanging from the god’s calf by the mouth. Though still little more than a cub, the wolf’s needle sharp teeth tear at the god’s flesh, sending overwhelming signals of terrible pain up his leg.

“Silvershade, let go of him!” Susan commands.

At the sound of her commanding voice, the wolf cub immediately releases his prey. Unable to support Lord77 for much longer, Susan manages to help him sit on the ground and kneels by his side.

The goddess then places her hand over the wolf’s muzzle, forcing his mouth shut in punishment. Silvershade whines and struggles to release himself for a moment, before submitting to her will. Susan looks deeps into the wolf’s eyes.

“No, he is mine! You don’t get to hurt him, Silvershade!” She says with a slight growl to her voice. “He is MINE!”

Susan lets go of Silvershade’s muzzle. The wolf immediately lays down on the ground in full submission. Lord77 watches the whole scene with wide eyes, forgetting the piercing pain on his leg the moment Susan’s words sink in.

“I’m yours?” He asks in a small, skeptical voice.

Susan nods in agreement, a soft smile blossoming on her lips.

“And I yours,” she says and kisses him on the lips.

“I missed you, and I don’t want you to leave,” Susan says in a soft voice. “I was shocked to see you here, that’s all. I don’t want you to leave."

Lord77 exhales in relief, dropping his head to her shoulder. The weight of all the mixed emotions vanishes, draining his strength. “Well, I don’t want to leave either.”

Raising his head back up to look at her, he hears Susan say “But you cannot stay.” Quickly putting a finger over the god’s lips before he can respond, she continues “Now, shh. Let me finish. You cannot stay here permanently. You can’t be here every day or we’ll both be in trouble.”

“But do I get to visit every once in a while?”

“Yes. I would like that.”

The conditions sink in, and Lord77 nods in understanding and agreement. Then, placing a palm on one cheek, he kisses her again. Breaking from the kiss, Susan gets up and offers Lord77 a hand. “Let’s get you to my house so that I can take a look at that wound.”

“What wound?” Lord77 says just as he takes her hand and tries to get up. “Argh! Oh, that one…” He says hopping on one leg, and then taking her arm to steady himself.

With him limping the next few steps, she guides him towards her home. “So, how did you find me?”

Lord77 looks at her, and then forward again, not wanting to see her reaction to the answer, “Dad.”

“Dad…Lord01?!”

“Yes. He’s back. We’ve been doing some things that I’ll tell you about when we get to your place.” And, with her assistance they head home.

Susan wakes up from a strange dream of faraway wars and mausoleums. She rubs her eyes and opens them to see Lord77 still sleeping peacefully by her side. The goddess gently frees herself from his slumbering embrace and slowly gets up. Looking through the window, she can still see the moon perching high in the sky, a sign that the night will still last a few more hours. Susan looks for her robe and puts it on before leaving the room in the direction of the kitchen, in search of a glass of water. As she walks by her living-room table on her way back to the bedroom, something catches her eye. There is a postcard lying on the tabletop. The postcard has writing on both sides, with many small handwritten drawings as well, scattered in the margins alongside and below the main text. It reads:


Dear Susan,

I tried to get A. to write this, but he really thought I should be the one. I wanted you to know that we received your postcard—or was it cards? Pasha said there was another one for Lord77. Anyway, everyone here was glad to hear from you. A. says hello and sends his love, and says he hopes you can return, for a visit or forever, soon. We all feel that way. We bunnies…of course we want to see you again very much. Some of us were quite overwhelmed with emotion at receiving your card. We miss you terribly.

As for what has happened since you had to leave: Nyrini is fitting in well. You may find this surprising, but she has become a mother to a new buga bunny named Twilight, a small girl. I’m not sure how it happened, but Twilight is a delight, and she hopes to meet you someday. Nyrini and Godofbeer are patrol partners and friends. Lord77, with the help of a kind wizard named Norman, was able to restore my eye, and they even gave me farsight. He is also not drinking so much, I thought you should know. Leonard and Aillara seem to have become a couple.

Other things have happened, but now I am writing on the reverse side of the card and others want to pen their greetings as well. Good thing this is a blank card. I know you have your duty, but please return to us when you can.

Love, 三美


As she reads the words, Susan’s lips break into a soft smile. Hovering somewhere between bliss and nostalgia, feeling her eyes become unusually wet, she looks at the rest of the postcard. After the words, and in the margins as well, are brief messages, often nothing more than drawings, from various well-wishers. There is a crude sketch of two bunnies, one with red hair, the other brunette, hugging each other within a valentine, signed “Sasha” and “Pasha.” There is a black broken heart, cracked down the center, unsigned. There is a childish drawing of what is probably a woman in a revealing outfit and a little girl with bunny ears, and carefully written letters saying “Mommy + Twilie.” And there are brief messages from Godofbeer, the Almighty Anne, Ravenvalykre, and others as well. Manoel’s message reads, “Plis come back to stop di crazy señor before he open hole in di world!” Leonard’s message reads, “Send 120kg zinc—needed for project ASAP.”

Susan turns the postcard in her hand, over and over again, too distracted to notice Silvershade’s low growling. Arms reach from behind, binding her in a warm embrace as a soft kiss is laid on her neck. The familiar scent of Lord77’s skin soothes her in her surprise.

“What’s wrong?” He asks. “I woke up and you weren’t there.”

“I woke up from a strange dream and came out for a glass of water. Found this instead,” she shows him the postcard. “They wrote me back to say they miss me.”

“What did you expect, dear?” Lord77 whispers in her ear. “You are loved.”

Susan smiles and nods in agreement as she turns to kiss him. “In more ways than one,” she says.

“It’s still dark outside. Come back to bed.”

Susan leaves the postcard on the table and follows Lord77 into the bedroom. Used to sleeping by the end of the bed, Silvershade quickly slips into the bedroom, just before the door closes. A minute later, the door re-opens and Lord77 puts the struggling wolf cub back outside.

“Sorry, puppy, you’re sleeping out there tonight,” he says as he shuts the door. “Serves you right for biting me.”