Written by Gincognifo :: [Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:20] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 29 May 2021 15:50]
Sekai Ward floated ten feet above the summit of Mt. Hawke, a dormant volcano that formed most of an island a thousand miles off the coast of Antarctica. I had been sent to talk to her, and the Agency had insisted on a discreet approach, which is why I had climbed this freezing speck of desolation, alone.
As I approached the summit, the wind died down to a stiff breeze and the visibility cleared to the point where I had a view of the entire island; it was beautiful, in a severe way. I took the opportunity to catch my breath.
Sekai sat on thin air, her legs crossed, one laying flat on top of the other. Her arms hung loosely by her sides. Her eyes were closed, her face serene and untroubled. She wore a pair of loose-fitting yoga pants and several layers of thin, pastel-colored camisole tops. Her feet were bare. Her long, chestnut brown hair, braided into a long chain that trailed down her back flicked around as it caught the wind.
I approached with care, not just to avoid startling her, but because my muscles ached from the climb and the air was thin. She did not acknowledge my presence until I was standing almost directly beneath her.
“Took you long enough,” she said, without opening her eyes.
I had no response. She floated down to my level, still in a sitting position. I stepped back to avoid a collision. She opened her eyes, her emerald green eyes, and held me in a penetrating gaze. I swallowed, involuntarily. Her mocha skin showed no damage from wind or cold, I knew that I would not be so lucky if I were unwise enough to lower the hood of my jacket or remove my goggles.
“I heard you scrambling and puffing your way up the last three and a half thousand feet,” she said.
“I apologize for having disturbed you, Ms. Ward. My name is Karishma McCaig, I work for the Supernormal Affairs Agency, and I need to talk to you about...”
She interrupted the spiel that the Agency had prepared for me. “I was close this time,” She had faraway look on her face. “I could sense it.”
“Close to what?”
She sighed. “I’ve been meditating on top of this mountain for seven months. I was close to something wonderful. A deep connection to the universe.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Ward, I wouldn’t have disturbed you if it wasn’t important. There’s been a murder, you see.”
“Talk to the police. I hear they’re good at that sort of thing.”
“The police would be a little out of their depth on this one.”
A slight expression of curiosity crossed her face.
“Then talk to my sister. She’s the superheroine. I’m sure she would have it all wrapped up in time for the evening news."
“Your sister is the, erm, suspected perpetrator.”
She tilted her head to one side and the faintest hint of a frown disturbed her features.
“And you could not talk to my father about this, because...”
I nodded. “He was the victim, yes. I’m so sorry.”
This time she was the one who had no response. Her father was, had been, Watchman, the world’s first and greatest superhero. For years he had protected the Earth from threats both cosmic and terrestrial. He had raised Sekai and her twin sister, Nyarai, alone, after their mother had been killed in the first few minutes of the Yalin Armada’s sneak attack.
Sekai unfolded her legs and landed on the icy rock next to me. Even in her bare feet, she stood several inches taller than my 5’6”, her slender, toned body was in marked contrast to my stocky frame which was covered with a mishmash of muscle and fat - the legacy of a life spent running away from danger and towards fast food. Without a word, she placed both arms around me, securing me in a bear hug, my masked face barely a fraction of an inch from her neck. She launched herself into the air like a rocket, taking me with her. After a few seconds, she leveled off her flight and took me away from Antarctica. I had no way of knowing where we were going, or how fast, but it felt very fast indeed.
Thirty minutes later, we sat in a cafe in Wellington, New Zealand, overlooking the waterfront. I removed the outer layers of climbing gear and settled into my seat, happy to be on solid ground after our rapid flight.
“That was exhilarating,” I said.
She passed me a menu. “Everything’s good here.”
“What are we doing?”
She smiled; the expression passed over her face and was gone in a fraction of a second.
“We’re having breakfast. I haven’t eaten in seven months and I imagine you could go for some nosh after climbing all that way to see me.”
“Over breakfast, we can discuss the matter at hand.”
Our server arrived before I could respond. “Welcome, ladies. Good to see you again, Ms. Ward,” she said, with a broad smile on her face.
“Thank you, Irene,” said Sekai. “I’ll take a green tea and the Spanish Eggs, hold the chorizo.”
“Of course,” said Irene. “And for your guest?”
I had only had a chance to half-glance at the menu. “Um, bacon and eggs?” I asked. “Scrambled. Coffee as well, lots of coffee.”
“As you wish. I’ll be back with your beverages.”
“So,” said Sekai, when Irene has returned inside the cafe, “my father is dead?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. It happened five days ago. He was a great man.”
“Indeed. How did it happen?”
I fumbled inside my backpack for a highly classified manila folder. I passed a handful of crime scene photographs over the table. As she looked at them, a tear rolled down her cheek and her jaw stiffened.
“The house on Nantucket,” she said. “I used to eat breakfast in that kitchen every day.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Nyarai did this?” she asked.
“We believe so, yes.”
Fury flashed across her face. “You believe so?” Her tone was angry. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “I apologize,” she said. “I should not have been short with you.”
I nodded. As scary as it was to have a woman who could bench press an aircraft carrier mad at me, somehow it was even more scary to have her apologize to me. It made her power seem more real, something barely held in check.
“As you can see, your father’s head was completely severed from his body. The cut is clean and cauterized, indicating the use of a highly focused and powerful beam of energy.”
“My sister’s heat vision?”
“The energy signatures match. As far as we know, you and your sister are the only things on this planet capable of generating a beam like that.”
“How do you know that it wasn’t me?”
My cheeks went red. I had been hoping she would not ask that particular question.
“Because we have had you under constant satellite surveillance for the last seven months,” I said. “We know you haven’t moved from your mountaintop in that time.”
“That’s a violation of my privacy,” she said, her tone neutral.
“You will have to take that up with my superiors,” I said. “My understanding is that they regard your whereabouts to be a matter of global security.”
“You’re worried that I might become a Woman of Mass Destruction?”
“Everyone is on edge after the incident in Tibet.”
Irene returned with a cup of green tea and a large mug of coffee.
Sekai took a sip of her tea. “So, what did my sister say about this?”
I took a swig of coffee. “Nothing. She refused to answer any questions and then she disappeared.”
“Disappeared? You have satellites watching me, but you can’t keep track of the most famous woman on Earth?”
“We’ve never had to keep track of her, she’s always stayed in the public eye.”
She glanced at the folder, which was far from empty. “What else?” she asked.
I pulled more photographs from the folder and placed them in front of her.
“Three incidents,” I said, “In the weeks leading up to the attack on your father. A lot of destruction, but very little loss of life. The areas were under-populated.”
Sekai looked at each photograph carefully, turning each one over to read the notes that had been scrawled on the back with a ballpoint pen.
“An agricultural village in Niigata Prefecture,” she said, “Vinegar Hill in Brooklyn, and the Kibera Slums of Nairobi. Or, to put it another way: Dr. Tsukino’s secret laboratory, the Yalin landing zone, and the Seventh Luminal Nexus. All scenes of battles between my father and some of his most dangerous enemies.”
“Yes. Those areas never fully recovered from those previous incidents, which is why the loss of life was limited this time around. As you can see, there is a wide circle of absolute destruction, identical in each of the three cases. Analysis indicates the most likely scenario is an enraged, super-powered individual.”
“Someone trying to send a message to the old man by revisiting scenes of past triumphs?”
“That’s the working hypothesis. There were no threats beforehand and no claims of responsibility afterwards. There are no surviving witnesses and the security cameras in Vinegar Hill were fried by a large electromagnetic pulse.”
“Such as would accompany a sustained burst of heat vision.”
She ate her breakfast in silence for a few minutes, savoring every bite. I wolfed down my bacon and eggs, hardly taking the time to chew. Years in the field teach you to eat quickly, whenever given the opportunity, since you never know where your next full meal might be coming from. Unlike my dining companion, I could not survive on a diet of sunlight.
“So, this is what I think your bosses are thinking,” she said, swallowing her last mouthful of beans and egg, “My sister goes rogue, for reasons unknown or unknowable.”
I sensed that this was a time to keep quiet and let her monologue.
“She taunts Dad with a series of attack, forcing him to pay attention to her. When he confronts her, she kills him and runs.”
I nodded and suppressed a belch, wishing I had chewed my food properly, “That’s about the size of it.”
“It’s bullshit, of course,” she said.
I was in agreement with her, but I kept my opinions to myself, wanting to hear what she had to say.
“There are no signs of a struggle. My father may be old, but he is still powerful. A fight between him and Nyarai would not have left much of Nantucket. The kitchen appears undisturbed. Attacking areas where old enemies were active makes no sense; if she wanted to taunt him, she would have attacked his remaining friends. If she really has turned evil, then why go on the run and not on a rampage? Why go on the run at all? It’s not like she has anything to fear from anyone.”
“Except you, of course.”
She laughed. “Except me. But I’m the last person she would be able to run from. I know exactly where she went.”
I took my phone from the backpack and opened an encrypted channel to the nearest Supernormal Affairs Agency field office. Sekai glanced at my phone; two beams of red light flashed from her eyes and converged on the device, melting it to slag in less than a second. I dropped it before I got burned and then jumped to my feet to avoid the molten mess dropping onto my legs.
“I can’t let you do that, Karishma,” she said.
I glared at her, angry.
She held her hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “I apologize for trashing your phone, but I need to handle this by myself.”
“My boss isn’t going to like that.”
She shrugged. “I can live with that.”
“Maybe I can’t. Come on,” I said, trying to keep a pleading tone out of my voice, “Let me come with you. The Agency has useful resources and I can look after myself.”
“If Nyarai has gone rogue, then you definitely cannot look after yourself. It’s too dangerous.”
“I signed up for danger when I joined the Agency.”
She seemed unconvinced, but she nodded anyway. “Okay,” she said. “You can come. But you do not tell the Agency anything unless I tell you it’s okay.”
I mimed a zipping motion across my lips and smiled. I held out my hand for her to shake. “Partners?” I asked.
She shook my hand with a grip so firm that I was sure it would leave a bruise. “Partners,” she said.
“So, where are we going?”
The smile that spread across her face was a sight to behold: broad, joyous, and unconstrained, in stark contrast to the tightly controlled persona she had presented since I had met her.
“New Orleans, baby! New Orleans!”
We arrived in New Orleans at 9pm, the day before we had left New Zealand. I’ve travelled around the world, in both directions, multiple times, and the International Date Line always does my head in. The flight had taken a little under three hours, which is by far the fastest I have ever traveled. If you asked me to choose between spending twenty hours cooped up in a metal can with a crying baby in the seat next to me, and spending three hours being held in a bear hug by a beautiful woman while shooting through the air at hypersonic speeds, I would take the nasty metal can every time.
We landed in a small park near the apex of a curve in the Mississippi River. The lights of the French Quarter beckoned to us from across a half-full parking lot.
A spring evening in New Orleans was a lot hotter and stickier than an autumn morning in New Zealand had been and I was still dressed for mountain climbing in Antarctica. I had lost feeling in my arms and legs sometime during the flight, and I really needed to pee. I cursed myself for having drunk so much coffee over breakfast. Sekai sensed my discomfort once I had told her about it at great length.
“Don’t blame me,” she said. “If I hadn’t had to carry you, it would have taken a fraction of the time.”
“I’m not that heavy,” I protested.
“It’s not your weight that’s the problem, it’s that you’re so fragile. If I had carried you at full speed, your brain would be mush.”
I shivered at the thought. “Why New Orleans? There’s hardly any connection to your sister. She patched up the levees and did search and rescue during Hurricane Katrina, but that’s about it.”
Sekai smiled. “You’re wrong. New Orleans is where Dad grew up.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “The Agency has no record of that.”
“We kept it secret. We used to come down here to visit our grandparents every year.”
“The most famous family in the world would come to New Orleans every year and nobody knew about it? That seems impossible.”
“My family eats impossible for breakfast. Besides, locals in New Orleans have never liked to make a big deal about celebrities.”
We talked as we walked towards and then through the French Quarter, passing boutique hotels, neighborhood bars, souvenir shops, antique shops, and restaurants, all packed in next to each other in buildings that belonged in another century.
“Dad’s ship landed in Lake Pontchartrain. Grandma and grandpa were driving near the lakefront and they saw it hit. Next day, grandpa took a boat out to investigate and came back with Dad. He was still a baby.”
“Is the ship still there?”
“No. Dad salvaged it a while back and used it to build the Watchtower.”
“Which was destroyed by the Yalin.”
“Yeah. They killed Mom and destroyed the only remaining memento of his home planet. That was a bad day."
She stopped outside a small bar on the corner of Bienville and Chartres.
“She’s in here.”
“How do you know?”
She tapped the side of her head. “Not just a pretty face, you know.”
We went inside. The clientele was an even mix of locals and obvious tourists. It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the relatively dim lighting. I coughed as an unexpected cloud of cigarette smoke hit me; I had forgotten that there were still places in the US where you could smoke in bars.
Nyarai was sitting alone at the bar, as far from the entrance as possible, her head drooped slightly. She cradled a small glass with one hand and a half-empty bottle of “Old New Orleans” rum in the other. If I hadn’t been looking for her, I might not have noticed. As Sentinel, Nyarai Ward had always presented a face of perfection to the world, right now she looked like a sad, sloppy drunk.
“She can get drunk?” I whispered to Sekai.
Nyarai’s head shot up as I spoke.
“YES!” she shouted from across the bar, “I can get DRUNK!”
Sekai put her hands up in a conciliatory gesture as we approached. The couple that had been sitting next to Nyarai quickly vacated their stools. Sekai settled onto the stool next to Nyarai, and I sat next to Sekai.
“Yes,” said Sekai, quietly, “it takes a lot of alcohol,” she gestured to the half-empty bottle of rum, and a fully empty bottle lying flat on the bar next to it, “but it can be done.”
Nyarai looked at me, emptied her shot glass into her mouth, then flipped her head back with disdain. “Who are you? The new girlfriend?”
To my surprise, I blushed. I caught Sekai’s eye and she smiled ever so slightly, her expression unreadable. “No, Ms. Ward,” I said, “I’m Agent Karishma McCaig with the Supernormal Affairs Agency.”
Nyarai did not pay any attention to my response. She refilled her glass with amber rum.
Sekai rested her hand on her sister’s wrist, an expression of concern that also stopped Nyarai from raising the glass to her lips.
“What’s happening, sister? Talk to me,” said Sekai.
Nyarai’s reaction was as sudden as it was unexpected. She formed her free hand into a fist and slammed it into Sekai’s face. Sekai flew back off the stool and into a wall facing Bienville Street. The force of the punch was so powerful that she smashed through the wall in a shower of plaster and antique brick dust; she flew through the plate glass window of an art gallery across the street and landed in a pile of torn canvas, smashed gilt frames, and broken statuary.
“Fuck off,” said Nyarai.
She looked at me.
“What about you, Agent McCaig?” she said. “Do you want a piece of me?”
Her eyes began to glow red. Instinctively, I threw myself to one side. A livid red beam of intense energy missed my face by a fraction of an inch; the radiant heat burned my cheek.
There was a localized tornado as Sekai returned to the bar at super-speed, cocktail napkins and free newspapers flew around the room in a swirl of confetti. She came to a stop and stood in front of her sister with her hands on her hips.
“Are you crazy, Nyarai?” she shouted. “We can’t fight in the city. Somebody will get hurt!”
“Where do you wanna fight, then?” slurred Nyarai.
“I don’t want to fight!” said Sekai. “I just want to talk.”
“Stupid fucking hippy,” said Nyarai. “Fuck you.”
With those words, she left. One second she was sitting on a barstool, the next she was gone and there was a hole in the roof that went all the way through the upper two floors of the building.
“Are you going to follow her?” I asked as I picked myself up off the floor.
Sekai shook her head. “It would do more harm than good right now. I need to let her sober up and calm down.”
Flashing lights and sirens heralded the arrival of the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments. I made sure that my Agency credentials were in my hand before they entered the wrecked bar.
“I’m going to need the Agency’s help to clean this mess up,” I said. “Is that okay?”
Sekai sighed. “Yeah, do what you need to do. I need to meditate.”
"Meditate?" I asked in disbelief. "Your sister is out of control. You can't just sit around doing nothing!"
"Karishma," she said, placing a hand on my shoulder, "My sister is very angry, and right now, so am I. If I confront her like this, things could escalate out of control. I need to center myself."
"I don't understand."
She smiled, but did not explain. "If Nyarai causes any damage, come find me," she gave me the address of a boutique hotel in the French Quarter, "otherwise, I'll see you for breakfast at Cafe Beignet at 9. I suggest you try to get some sleep."
I worked through most of the night, squaring things with the authorities in New Orleans. A couple of agents drove down from the Agency field office in Baton Rouge to help. My boss didn’t shout at me as much as I had expected, and he said he would let me know if Nyarai was spotted anywhere.
At 5am, I got to a hotel room that the Agency had commandeered for me and took a very hot shower that made the burn on my cheek throb with pain. After that, I grabbed a few hours of restless sleep, tossing and turning as my brain relieved my near miss with Nyarai's heat vision. The agents from Baton Rouge knocked on my door at 8:30, with a large cup of coffee and a bag of fresh clothes, both of which I accepted eagerly. I threw on a pair of jeans, a tee-shirt, and a pair of trainers. When I left the room, I was groggy but somewhat rested.
Sekai was waiting for me, sitting at a table in the courtyard of Cafe Beignet, sipping from a cup of cafe au lait with one hand, while using the other hand to pet a long-haired gray and white cat sprawled over a chair. I opted not to disturb the cat and pulled another chair over.
“Good morning. Feeling more centered?” I asked as I sat down.
Sekai smiled. “Yes I am. The cat is helping more than the meditation did.”
A waitress arrived and placed a large cup of cafe au lait and a small plate of beignets on the table in front of me. I nibbled at the corner of one of the fried treats, trying to keep the icing sugar from exploding over my new clothes, but found that to be impossible.
“So, what happened last night? What’s wrong with your sister?”
“Did you have a happy childhood, Agent McCaig?”
The non-sequitur confused me. “I guess so,” I said. “I grew up Glasgow. I was the only half Indian, half Scottish girl in my school. It was... interesting."
“Nyarai and I had a difficult time growing up.”
“You were in the public eye a lot, that can be hard.”
“We also had over-achieving parents, pressure to take on Dad’s responsibilities when he retired, and an unstable hybrid physiology.”
“Did you ever wonder how my parents were able to have children? Dad may look human, but he is not. He isn’t even from the same planet. Nyarai and I were conceived by DNA hybridization using technology salvaged from a Lhiat Confederation seedship.”
“I had no idea.”
“Nyarai and I are very angry people. She has chosen to deal with her rage by suppressing it and imprisoning it behind walls of duty and absolute self-control. As Sentinel, she has literally allowed herself to do no wrong. I chose... a different path.”
“Meditation and cats?”
She laughed. “Something like that. Self-discovery rather than self-control. It appears that my sister’s self-control has failed, as it was always going to, and the anger she has suppressed for years is exploding."
“So what do we do?”
“We need to find out why she cracked. Finish your breakfast and we’ll go to Brooklyn. I want to see the scene of the attack in Vinegar Hill.”
“Are we flying?”
“I find it to be the only way to travel.”
She stood and held her arms out. I resigned myself to another uncomfortable flight.
Half an hour later, with a mixture of coffee, milk, and fried dough sloshing around in my stomach, we landed on a cobblestone lined street. An entire block of rubble was laid out in front of us, cordoned off with yellow tape and guarded by a group of bored-looking soldiers.
Sekai released me and I staggered on the uneven road surface for a moment before steadying myself. She stared at the scene of devastation with a quizzical look on her face.
“What was here?” she asked.
“Um, I think it was a three story structure. Shops on the ground floor, apartments above. The original 19th century buildings were razed when the Yalin landed, but they rebuilt in a similar style.”
“Do you notice anything strange about this rubble?”
“No. What do you see?”
“Some of it is new since yesterday. Come on.”
Without warning, Sekai grabbed my waist and carried me up and over the remains of a wall, behind which was a twenty foot wide crater. At the bottom of the crater lay Nyarai, unconscious and unmoving. We approached, but she did not stir from her slumber.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“Wait for her to wake up,” said Sekai. “I think that would be best.”
I noticed that Nyarai was snoring. I settled my butt onto a relatively large chunk of broken concrete and watched her sleep.
“Should I call the Agency?” I asked.
Sekai shook her head. We continued to wait.
“Dad loved to grow things,” said Sekai, apropos of nothing. “Have you seen his garden at the house on Nantucket?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“He’ll have harvested the last of the overwintered vegetables a couple of months ago. The beds will be ready for planting spring crops soon. It was something that never failed to surprise him; seeing a tiny seed turn into a healthy plant.”
“It’s hard to think of the man who resolved the Kamchatka Crisis growing tomatoes in his back garden,” I said.
Sekai smiled. “I think Nyarai would have been a lot happier if she had taken up a hobby like gardening. Too frivolous for her, though, she always had an inflated sense of responsibility.”
“At least I had some sense of responsibility,” the words came from Nyarai, as she turned over and eased herself into a sitting position.
“Good morning, sister,” said Sekai.
Nyarai rubbed her eyes and squinted at me, as if trying to remember my face. “Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry about yesterday.”
“Sorry?” I said “You tried to kill me.”
“I tried to scare you. If I had been trying to kill you, you would be dead.”
I shivered at the memory of her heat vision grazing the side of my face, and the thought of what it would have been like if that beam of energy had been shifted a few inches to the left. Would it have been a quick and painless death, or would I have been able to feel the insides of my head boiling out of my skull? I retched at the thought.
“Shame on you, Nyarai,” said Sekai.
“Shame on me? What about you? The woman who abandoned her family and her responsibilities to go hitchhiking. Where were you when I fought the Hyperion Drones? Drinking tea in a monastery in the Himalayas?”
Sekai seemed unwilling to be dragged into what seemed like an old argument. “Tell me why you killed our father.”
Nyarai looked at me again. “Not in front of her.”
“I trust Karishma,” said Sekai.
Nyarai seemed as unconvinced as I was surprised, but she did not push the issue. “Have you been to the sites in Japan and Kenya?” she asked.
“No, this is the only one I have examined.”
“I thought it had to have been you,” said Nyarai. “But they told me that you hadn’t moved from your stupid mountain in months. After Nairobi, it was obvious who was responsible, but I couldn’t confront him at first.”
“Wait a second,” I said, as the pieces started to slot into place in my head, “are you saying that Watchman did this?”
“Why?” I asked.
“He was fighting Dr. Tsukino’s giant lizard, sealing the Seventh Luminal Nexus, and turning back a full-scale Yalin invasion.”
“But those things all happened a long time ago” I said, without thinking. Then I realized what she was saying. “Oh. Oh. I’m so sorry.”
Tears began formed in Nyarai’s eyes. “Even at the end, he was lucid a lot of the time, but on a bad night, he had no idea who I was. He attacked me a few times, thinking I was Mixxezaa the Despoiler, returned for revenge.”
“I’m sorry you had to deal with that,” said Sekai, “you should have contacted me.”
“To do what? How would you have dealt with a senile old man with the power to wreck the world?”
“There must have been another way!”
“There was no other way. He begged me to do it and he knew what he was asking. I could not have asked you to be a part of it.”
Nyarai looked at me with a sour expression on her face. “Then, the Supernormal Affairs Agency came around with all of their questions, and accusations, and investigations, and I couldn’t take it any more. I drank some to dull the memory of killing him, and that helped a little. I drank a lot more, and that was even better.”
“Where do we go from here?” asked Sekai. “You can’t keep doing this. You’ll hurt people and yourself.”
“I have a suggestion,” I said, “but I’m not sure that either of you are going to like it.”
The two sisters looked at me. Their expressions were sceptical. I wondered what I was doing, daring to tell a pair of demi-goddesses what they should do with their lives. I took a deep breath.
“You’re both right,” I said. “Nyarai: you are on a self-destructive course that can only end in darkness. Sekai: you have ignored your responsibilities for too long. I suggest you switch places for a year. Sekai, you become Sentinel. Nyarai, you go out into the world and live without responsibilities for a while.”
“I don’t want to be Sentinel,” said Sekai.
“Too bad,” I said. “Your sister needs you to step up and give her time to heal.”
“She can heal without me becoming a superheroine!”
I shook my head. “No. She needs to know that somebody is looking after the world. She won’t be able to relax, otherwise.”
“What are you going to tell the Agency?” asked Nyarai.
“The truth,” I said, “that Sentinel saved the world, and that she stands ready to do it again.”
Sekai seemed angry. “I’ll do it,” she said, “on one condition.” She pointed at me. “You have to help.”
Three weeks later, I was in Tunisia, trying to hold back twenty heavily armed Sofeq cultists in order to stop them from waking an elder god, while Sekai - Sentinel - traded titanic blows with an iron and jade statue, animated by a hundred years of distilled hate.
I nearly died, of course, but I have to admit that I was having the time of my life.