Chapter 1: "The First Day" 4

Sky stands in front of the mirror. He puts on his khaki field cap, remembering the day the young rebel leader put it on his head and called him his friend. Those had been good days, with a pure, just cause, in the mountains with his brothers and sisters in arms, fighting together, starving together. As usual, victory had been all-too brief, as the formerly oppressed found new ways of oppressing, and the guns of execution took down old friends as well as foes. The hat reminds him of that last revolution before he gave up in disgust and returned to the City.

He picks up the official Guardia dress kepi. It reminds him of the general, who fled rather than surrender when the tanks rolled in, who kissed him on each cheek after returning home, shook his hand and thanked him for helping the partisan cause. He has long resisted wearing it, preferring the softer field cap, more befitting a soldier. An affectation, really, Sky has to admit, and why is he so annoyed at the thought of wearing the official hat? Is this refusal a declaration of contempt for what he has become? Police, cop, fascist tool of the State. Oppressor.

And now, officer. Leader. He has led raids, patrols, platoons, but never a station. His moments in command have always been ad-hoc, temporary, even a result of emergency. He has been an advisor many times, using his divine powers to see the best strategies, detect the enemy’s weaknesses, strengthen the general’s resolve and the men’s morale. And now here he is, a real leader. A Boss.

Contempt, yes. Self-contempt, and well-earned. He repeats under his breath what he has told himself many times over his decades as the Commander’s weapon, the words of his protector and master: “Your job is to help people. Hold fast to that.” He finds they don’t give him much comfort this morning.

He looks again in the mirror, sees what he was, before Earth, before the City. Child of evil, creature of Hell, spawn of slave-masters overthrown by the gods, locked away by their former slaves beneath the Divine Mountain. Devil. “That is not me,” he whispers to his reflection. He takes off his field cap and hangs it on the hook over the mirror, obscuring it.

He puts on the kepi, straightens his jacket, and goes out to meet his people.


Chapter 1: "The First Day" 3

He stands outside the headquarters, pausing before entering to check his image in the plate glass windows facing the street. Taller than average, but not too tall to be singled out, he bends slightly to check his dress uniform. It is proper looking yet different. The tie is correct in color and form, but made of fine silk. It lies on a spun cotton shirt with a far higher thread count than regulation issue. The dress jacket is form and color correct, but yet again made of materials far richer than issue. The buttons are coated with precious metals, and the fit tailored to accentuate his youthful build. Even the shoes look more fitting for a dance floor than the street, and the wear on them agrees with that assessment in their use. His teeth are perfect and polished white, and the cologne light and masculine with traces that a magical pathologist might find have certain seductive properties to the fairer gender.

Affixing his hat so as not to disturb the expensive cut of his rich, black hair, he enters the building and strides with practiced confidence towards the Commander’s office, stopping by to greet the Commander’s middle-aged but still attractive aide. She looks up and sees the young man approaching, a smile quickly forming on her lips.
“Gwydion!” she exclaims, rising as he approaches. “Oh my, Corporal, don’t you look handsome?”

“My dear!” he responds in a deep, almost baritone voice. Taking both her hands in his, he smoothly kisses her on the cheek. “Please, do call me Dion, as all my friends do.” Stepping back, he appraises the aide. “And how wonderful that the Commander has called me here today so that my eyes can again partake of your beauty.”

The aide, now blushing, waves off the corporal. “Please! You are too kind to an older lady.”

“Nonsense!” he adds, now turning on the full charm. “Wine would wish that a few more years would improve it as much as they have you.”

“Oh, you are so sweet! But the Commander is waiting, so you should probably go in.”

Kissing the back of her right hand, he releases it, flashing the perfect teeth in the handsome grin, and turns to enter the Commander’s office. Turning the knob he steps in the office, again flashing his winning smile.

“Commander! To what do I owe this honor of being called in today?”

“Sit down, Corporal,” the Commander says. Dion registers the distinct lack of a return smile.  “You’re late.”

“My apologies, sir,” he says, still holding to his charm, expecting to soften the Commander’s mood. “Duty caused me to get a later start than I had originally planned.”

“Hmph. I’ll bet,” grumps the Commander as he reaches into a desk drawer retrieving a thin, black, leather-bound folder. Laying it between them but not releasing it, he stares into the corporal’s hazel eyes. “You recognize this?”

The sight of the folder in the Commander’s hand causes Dion’s heart to skip a half-beat.  But it never shows on his much practiced facade. “Well, possibly sir, I own a similar-looking one. May I?” he asks, reaching to reclaim it, but the Commander pulls it back, opening it for study.

“A number of names here,” he notes. “All appear to be daughters of families of the First or Second Ring.” He continues reviewing. “A lot of names...with differing marks by each name. I don’t even want to know what the marks mean.”

“Well sir, they…”

“I said, I don’t want to know!”

“Yes, sir.”

Laying the folder back down on his desk, the Commander continues. “Corporal, I really don’t care what you do with your leisure time, and being part of an Archon’s family, you have more time than many. But here’s my problem. The young lady who is entry eight on page four became aware of entry two, page six.”

“Oh. Well, sir. I’m sure I could straighten this out with them.”

The Commander, stone faced, then reveals, “The young lady then told Miss Entry Two, and they both ran to their fathers.”

Dion, as a reflex, sits back in his chair, the smile gone from his lips. Inhaling deeply, he responds, “Well, that’s…inconvenient.”

“You’re damn right it is!” the Commander shouts. “Worse yet, the word spread, and Miss Entry Eight now knows about almost everybody on page seven!” Continuing to read, he asks, “And what’s a yellow star?”

“That’s actually a funny story, sir. It’s not so much a ‘What’ as it is a ‘How’ and a ‘Where.’”

The Commander waves off the answer and continues to read. “Oh, Hell! Entry Nine is barely legal! I recently attended her coming-out party!”

“Oh, she came all right,” Dion says softly to himself.

“What was that Corporal?”

“Nothing sir. I was just recalling that the young lady has a lot of daddy issues.”

“Her father is an Archon, just like your uncle!” the Commander snarls, slamming the folder back on the desk. “Do you have any idea of what will happen when word gets to him?”

“Well, I wasn’t really aware of her family until after…”

“Forget it! The fact is, this is going to blow up into a major scandal, and your uncle is going to be hard pressed to keep a real crime from occurring once those fathers get together. So I talked this over with your uncle, and this is what we’re going to do.”

Now, Dion shows the first sign of fear, his eyes widening as he looks up at the Commander. “Uncle knows?”

“Oh, yes. Once I came in possession of this, I had to call him immediately.” The Commander exhales slowly and then starts. “Gwydion, your uncle put you with us a few years back for you to learn responsibility and dedicate yourself to the Guardia and your studies.”

“I assure you sir, that I’m very diligent in my magical studies, sir.”

“I’m talking about studies outside of love enchantments, Corporal. And studies do not include a ‘mixer’ of your wizard buddies with the Professional Ladies of the Night Guild.”

Dion grins. “Well, some of the ladies owed me a favor, and it really opened up some avenues of information for me with the Department of Magic.”

“We couldn’t get any information out of the ladies for a week!”

“They may have been a little tired.”

“Regardless. It appears that the tack we’ve taken hasn’t quite met your uncle’s desire for your maturation. And we need a place to hide you until this blows over. So we’re going to move you elsewhere.”

“Where else in First or Second Ring would I not be known?”

“Three Rats, Corporal.”

“Sir? Where’s that?”

“Fourth Ring, Corporal.”

“Fourth?! There’s mostly humans and some other rabble out there! Why Fourth?”

“Because, Gwydion, your uncle is going to need to appease the families that you’ve enraged.  And by sending you there, he can show that you are being punished. There’s a new Guardia station being set up. You’ll be reporting to the new Inspector, Tuma-Sukai.”

“How long will I have to reside there?”

“Until this blows over, and until you grow up, son.” The Commander sighs and walks around his desk. “Stand up, Corporal.”

As Dion rises, the Commander reaches for and removes his corporal bars, pinning instead sergeant stripes. “As much as it pains me to do this, your uncle insisted that your rank should reflect your high social standing when you go out there.” Saluting, he says, “Sergeant Gwydion, Master of Enchantment, Wielder of Magic, I order you in the names of the Ministry of Justice and the Guardia to take station at the Guardia Station of Three Rats. Report to your new Commanding Officer there, as soon as possible. And given the situation as described, as soon as possible here means as soon as you leave my office, you go there. Your uncle is arranging to have your things forwarded.”

Dion, stunned by both the assignment and promotion, returns the salute. “Thank you, sir.”

As Dion turns to leave, the Commander picks up the black folder and slaps it to Dion’s chest. “Here! This is your property. I have no reason to retain it. Stupidity and immaturity are not crimes. But I would suggest that you destroy it when you get to your new station.” He pauses, as if remembering something. “And, Dion. This is your last chance. Time to grow up.”

“Yes, sir,” Dion responds and heads out of the office holding the folder.

As he passes the door, Dion collects himself and smiles as he again approaches the aide.  She notices his exit of the office wearing new sergeant bars. Quickly stepping up to him, she puts her hands on the new bars and excitedly says, “Oh, Dion! Congratulations! I knew something good was going to happen when the Commander sent for you! Oh, some young lady is going to be so lucky to finally land an up-and-comer like you.”

As he looks at the aide, Dion thinks, Well, who knows what wretched refuse will be waiting for me. Maybe a farewell thrill for this older lady before I leave. Then, looking down at the folder and back to the Commander’s door, he rethinks, No, maybe not.

Taking her right hand again, he kisses it. “My dear, none could be luckier than I to see you again before I take my leave.” Then he steps out the door and away from his life of socialites and their naive daughters.

Chapter 1: "The First Day" 2

A pale, thin woman stands on a balcony, looking outside over the balustrade. Her long, pearl-white hair, occasionally punctuated by a bright silvery highlight, frames her face as it falls freely over her bare shoulders, her pallid, soft skin contrasting sharply against her long, dark-blue robes. No lines or scars mark her seemingly ageless face and, if not for the lingering darkness in her eyes, one might be tempted to think she is little more than a young adult.
As she looks outside at the bustling city, her deep blue eyes wander toward the inner Ring. A haven within the city, the home of the greatest, most powerful and revered gods glows with the magnificent shapes and colors of the majestic temple complexes and splendid statues of the extremely restricted elite of elder and popular gods. Gardens snake around the buildings while bright, clear pools, lakes and rivers bring an everlasting sense of freshness and purity into the breathtaking neighborhood where only a privileged few are allowed to dwell. A treacherous thought crosses her mind as a peculiar kind of jealousy leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. Those temples and gardens… How much longer would she be forced to walk among the lesser gods until her family was finally allowed to claim its rightful place among the elders?
A sigh of utter impotence escapes her delicate red lips in anticipation of her next thought. Age and power alone were not enough. Death would always lose the great popularity contest that made for whatever passed for politics in this city.
Her eyes find the familiar silhouette of her family’s great temple, standing close enough to the First Ring so as not to offend its illustrious inhabitants but far enough not to bother their fellow gods with their disturbing presence. An impressive house… but not a home. Never a home. Theatres, libraries, academies, museums, all fall under her gaze as she forces her eyes to look back into the balcony. These places have been more of a home to her than any temple or shrine. And yet, they have never been quite enough…
Her thoughts are disturbed by the quick, angry stride of a dark-skinned man leaving the balcony at speed, and Orin, the sub-secretary, walking to her and bowing low, with the slightly worried look typical of any mortal who is forced to talk to a member of Death's family on his face.
“Corporal Alma, the Commander will see you now”.
“Thank you, Orin,” the goddess replies with a vague smile. “How is your family?”
“All in good health, Corporal, thank you for asking,” the sub-secretary answers quickly. “Please, follow me.”
Now inside the Commander’s luxurious office, Alma walks over to his desk and remains before it, standing rigidly with her hands locked together behind her back. She doesn’t look directly at the Commander, who is standing by the window, looking out as if to inspect his city from this vantage point and apparently unaware of the young goddess’ presence. Instead, she looks ahead, her eyes focusing on nothing as every muscle in her slender body keeps her standing as the coldest, most graceful of marble statues.
“Corporal Alma, of the old and great clan of Death gods,” the Commander says, still refusing to look at her. “It has been a while since you have last stood in this office.”
“I try to stay as far away as possible from this room, sir,” Alma answers to the air in front of her, looking straight ahead as before. “I know how busy you tend to be.”
“You do have a rather disturbing talent for evading my sight,” the Commander concedes, walking away from the window and towards his desk, where a pile of folders patiently awaits his attention. He goes through the pile and picks a particularly thick folder. “And yet every week I get at least one report featuring your 'creative' solutions to difficult problems.”
“And what exactly does my commanding officer say I have done this time?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The damned things give me headaches so I never read them anymore. Here, you read it,” the Commander states, handing the file to Alma.
The goddess takes it and reads quickly, pausing every now and again to decipher a particularly difficult line of bad calligraphy. “Hmm… Funny how I don’t remember letting this petty criminal go free. I don’t even remember coming in for work that day. I was too busy following this particular suspect to his gang’s hideout.”
“The same criminal who was supposed to be in jail?” The Commander asks, raising an eyebrow.
“He must have gotten out, somehow,” Alma replies, shrugging in false ignorance.
“Well, Corporal, I can no longer ignore these reports. Every CO you have ever served under has come to hate you, in spite of your surprisingly high apprehension rates, and I have but one left who won’t jump off that window before accepting you under his orders.”
“I cannot be blamed for other people’s incompetence, sir. That is their crime, not mine.”
“No, but you can be blamed for your own crimes, can you not?” The Commander replies, his every word a dagger laced with deadly poison.
Alma says nothing but her face betrays her alarm for just long enough to be picked up by the Commander.
“Yes, that one in particular,” the Commander responds as if reading the thoughts now moving frantically across the goddess’ mind.
“It is an old crime…” For the first time, Alma allows her eyes to move away from the end of the room and look down.
“Some crimes cannot be forgiven, regardless of how much time goes by. Like creating life without proper authorization and refusing to destroy it even after being ordered to do so by your Commander.”
“The Bunnies are sentient, living beings,” – here the goddess looks straight at her commander – “They have as much right to a life as any other creature.”
The Commander evades her look for a moment before saying “There are many who would consider them abominations. But they will get to live. I will even allow you to free them from that stasis bubble you have been keeping them in.” He looks back at her carefully blank face. “Yes, I do know more about your secrets than you think.”
“And what do I have to do in return?”
“Do as you’re told in your new assignment. And make sure those… creatures are sterile.”
“I am not sure I can change them that much.”
“I trust your abilities,” the Commander states, picking another folder from the pile and handing it to Alma. “You’ll be stationed at Three Rats from now on.”
“The Fourth Ring?” the goddess asks after a quick read. “You are banishing me to the Fourth Ring?”
The Commander looks at the young goddess with the fiery eyes of one who is not used to taking “no” for an answer. “You have dug your own grave, Corporal. Now lie in it.”
“I understand… Sir.” Alma concedes in a voice cold as the Abyss.
“Oh, I’ll bet you do,” the Commander replies, walking up to her. He looks at her robes, frowning as he always does at the corporal’s resistance to wearing the traditional Guardia skirt suit that all female officers are “suggested” to wear. Alma’s bare shoulders hold no corporal insignias. These are held on armbands, one on each arm, made of the same fabric as her robes, and the Commander has but to stretch out both his hands and pull gently to remove the signs of a corporal’s rank. He carefully pins new insignias onto both armbands before stepping back and saluting. Alma salutes back, with a graceful hand gesture honed by years of etiquette lessons.
The Commander quits his salute and says “Sergeant Alma, Bringer of Life,” – here the former corporal raises an eyebrow and breathes deep – “Keeper of Souls, I order you in the names of the Ministry of Justice and the Guardia to take station at the Guardia Station of Three Rats. Report to your new Commanding Officer there, as soon as possible. His name is Inspector Tuma-sukai.”
“I shall commit it to memory.”
“And Alma…” The Commander says in a softer voice. “This is your last chance. Please, don’t waste it.”

Chapter 1: "The First Day" 1

A tall, dark-skinned man leans on a balustrade, watching the red light of a sun setting behind the peak of the great mountain-city. Above, crowning that peak, massive shining temples, white and gold, silver and onyx, are silhouetted, casting long shadows over the lesser buildings down the slope, including the one he is in, headquarters of the Guardia.

Floating through the air, birds and other winged beings
messenger angels, deva, garudafloat along their way, as well as less natural conveyances. Some gods fly in golden chariots, others on wisps of cloud. The designs cross the line into the absurd at times -- he smiles at the enormous baby-elephant balloon, crafted by some trickster deity to lampoon his rival, a god of elephants known for his pompousness. He sees the flicker of light off the golden scales of a wingless dragon, slithering its way through the air directly toward the temple of the Great God of Storm. As the sunlight angles into his eyes, he pulls the brim of his khaki field cap lower.

A door opens at the end of the long balcony, and the Commander's secretary's secretary bows and calls out to him, "Sergeant Tuma-sukai, the Commander is ready to see you now, sir." The police sergeant straightens, adjusts his hat again, tugs at the lapels of his open jacket, and checks his Guardia Dei badge. He breathes deep, mastering his nervousness, annoyed that he still feels it after all this time. Then he nods at the mortal secretary and follows him in.

The heavy wooden doors close almost silently behind him as he walks toward the Commander's desk. Behind it, the Commander sits looking down at an open file, his face like leather stretched over bone, a frown its natural, at-rest expression. The sergeant calmly sits in a comfortable leather chair before the desk.

"Did I invite you to sit?" asks the Commander in a dangerous growl, still reading.

The sergeant leans forward to open the Commander's desktop humidor and take out one of his cigars. He picks up a cutter from next to it and snips off the tip, then uses the lighter, puffing on it to get it going.

The Commander finally looks up with a sigh. "Really? You don't even smoke."

"I've been thinking of taking it up, sir." The police sergeant takes another puff on the cigar.

"Not even going to take off that non-regulation hat, are you?"

"Are you ordering me to, sir?" Tuma-sukai smiles a little, knowing he dresses more regulation than many gods in the Guardia.

"You always get more belligerent when you think you're going to be punished."

The smile disappears. "Am I? For doing my job? The job you specifically assigned me to do?" The sergeant's voice takes on a shade of bitterness.

The Commander's voice grows cold. "I did not assign you to publicly embarrass a high-ranking deity in the Department of Cross-Reality Customs."

Sergeant Tuma-sukai frowns now, his face growing darker as black tattoos writhe into view like ink stains blossoming beneath his skin. "That...deity was taking enormous bribes to look the other way while an interdimensional gang was importing child slaves into the City. Children! To be used as toys!"

The Commander stares at him stone-faced until the sergeant calms himself, the tattoos fading, taking deep breaths to master his emotions. "Sky...I know. But as usual, you didn't think it through. All you did was cause him some minor embarrassment. Because you didn't have all the information, he was able to shift the blame to some flunky and make an empty apology. But you did embarrass him...and cost him some money and a little influence. So now you have a powerful enemy."

Tuma-sukai leans back in the chair, trying to resume his air of nonchalance, taking another puff on the cigar. "So...now you have to punish me. What'll it be? Public shaming? Stripping me of my rank, even my job? Shall I be called a corrupt cop, evidence found that I've been taking bribes?"

"Perhaps your true identity will be revealed."

Sky stops smoking, looking at the wall. After a moment, he says, his voice tight and controlled, "Well...then I wouldn't be of any use to you at all."

The Commander stands and walks over to the seated cop. "Stand up!" he commands, his voice full of divine authority.

The sergeant instantly responds, all pretense gone, his face angry and fearful, his back straight, eyes forward.

"Put that cigar in the ashtray and take off that stupid hat!"

Tuma-sukai does so, trying to keep his face impassive, but his mouth betrays his fury at being controlled like a puppet.

The Commander, not a short man, has to reach up to remove the sergeant's chevrons from the shoulders of the police officer's jacket. Sky's eyes close as he is stripped of his rank. Then he feels the Commander pinning a new insignia to his shoulder. He opens his eyes and takes a sidelong look. His eyes widen when he sees an inspector's pip.

The Commander steps back and snaps a very formal salute. Sky straightens and returns it just as sharply, keeping it there until his Commander lowers his hand.

"Inspector Tuma-sukai, Breaker of Chains, Shadow of Freedom, formerly known as the Devil Azzageddi
" here the former sergeant turns pale, "I order you in the names of the Ministry of Justice and the Guardia to take command of the newly expanded Guardia Station of Three Rats." The Commander hands him a sealed envelope. "Your written orders."

"You're...promoting me?" His body relaxes. "Promoting me...but sending me to someplace called Three Rats?"

"Down in the Fourth Ring...almost the Fifth. They've had a small Guardia Station there for decades, nothing but a half-dozen Guardia Popula and a coffee pot. But we need to expand. The neighborhoods down there need more attention."

"And you need me far away from you."

"See, you can think things through." He closes the files on his desk and hands them over. "These are your new sergeants. Two of them are Guardia Dei, also newly assigned. The third is Guardia Popula, former head of station, promoted from corporal. You'll also have six new constables in addition to the five already there. You'll need to promote a couple to corporal―I suggest you leave that to the mortal sergeant."

"So, I'm not the only god being punished. Look, Commander, you know what I'm like. I'm no leader. This...is a mistake, sir."

"Do you trust me, Sky?"

Sky pauses, thinking it over. "I've worked for you, as your personal troubleshooter, your hatchet man, for nearly forty years. In that time I've learned to trust no one. No one but you."

The Commander smiles. It looks painful. "You have your orders, Inspector. Carry them out."


      A estrada começa com um passo,                   The road begins with a step,
     Com um passo, começa a estrada                    With a step, the road begins.
     Vives a vida num traço                                            You live your life on a line
     Escrito no meio do Nada...                                    Written in the middle of nowhere....