“The Sikari?” Alma whispers. “But who controls them? Are they here to save us or–”
“We have to assume they’re here to kill us,” the Commander states. “Officially to kill the assassins, but we’ll be taken out as well, and our deaths blamed on the Dukaines.”
Somrak stiffly sits with a hiss of pain. “Yes,” he says. “It’ll be all, ‘Boo hoo, the Bunnies and their friends died in the line of duty.’ Makes the Dukaines scarier, able to kill Guardia Dei right in the Curia. And their patron doesn’t have to pay the failed assassins.”
Alma is holding Merri now, healing her. It takes only a moment before the Bunnie’s torn and bruised leg is restored to wholeness, her milky skin marred only slightly with reddish marks that will soon fade. Merri seems to want to stay curled up in her creator’s lap, but Alma gives her to still-weeping Cherry, who holds her protectively.
As she does this, Sky feels a touch on his arm and, looking, sees Mayumi gazing up at him in concern. “How...how are you not dead after all that?” she asks. “Last time, you were hurt so badly…”
Sky smiles softly. “In protecting you and your siblings, I’m fulfilling my sphere. Divine power flows most freely when a god does that, and we actually gain mana nearly as fast as we use it. So...I’m much stronger and harder to hurt than usual.” He kneels and holds her shoulder. “I wish I had a backup weapon to lend you, but I dropped my knife.”
She looks determined. “They’ll get to the others over my dead body.” Her voice is grim.
He nods solemnly, knowing that it’s a very real possibility. He squeezes her shoulder and lets her return to see after the other Bunnies.
Alma approaches Somrak. “You’re badly injured. Let me heal you.”
Somrak looks up at her with heavy-lidded eyes. “Save it, Sergeant. You’ll likely need the mana later.”
“It is a more efficient use of mana to heal you now, rather than leave you as a burden on the rest of us,” she replies with a voice of winter. “I daresay I can heal you with greater ease than you can heal yourself.”
He curls his lip in a sardonic smile and glances at the Commander, saying, “I see what you meant about her.”
Alma narrows her eyes at the Commander and seems about to speak, when Sky asks, “Wait – where did those other two Guardia Dei disappear to?”
“Sent to fetch reinforcements,” the Commander says, sounding eager to change the subject away from what he may have told Somrak about Alma. “You missed a lot while you were being used as that big ones’ playtoy.”
Outside there is a sudden increase in the howling, accompanied by sounds of tearing, cutting and rage-filled screaming from that same goddess. Suddenly there is silence.
The Commander looks at Dion. “Can you get them out of here?” he whispers.
Dion looks doubtful. “All of us?”
The Commander shakes his head. “You, her, them,” he whispers, indicating Alma and the Bunnies. “We hold the Sikari here, let them think they have the Bunnies trapped. Go anywhere – don’t tell us where. Now!”
Gwydion nods. He begins to trace a circle on the wall, using his finger to paint glowing lines of gold, adorning the edge of the circle with symbols ancient and esoteric. Alma looks at Somrak again, who waves her off. “Thank you,” the slender god whispers. “But you truly should save it for them.” He nods at the Bunnies. “They may need it.”
Before she joins Dion, she approaches Sky, handing his sword to him hilt-first. He smiles slightly. “Seems like you got some good use out of it,” he says.
“The grip is too thick for my hand, the weight and balance all wrong for my fencing style,” she replies with a small smile of her own. “Still, it is a good weapon. One I think you will be needing.”
Sky nods and takes it, his hand closing on hers for a moment, his eyes looking into hers. Then there is a knock at the door. A voice like something from the grave intones, “Threat eliminated. You may come out.”
Sage whispers, his voice shaking, “Could they be on our side?”
Somrak makes eye contact with him and shakes his head no.
Suddenly the circle Gwydion was enchanting flashes gold and then becomes an opening into another place. Alma hustles the Bunnies through while Gwydion steps aside. He glances at Sky questioningly, but the Inspector juts his chin toward the portal to indicate that Dion should go with them. He does, and the portal snaps shut.
“Right,” says the Commander. “Now to survive.”