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your mind must be on other things like what the setting sun will bring

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Wake is the first one in the cottage, led by her instincts to scope out the place for potential ambushes before she can declare it safe. She's still fresh from the front, more or less, still in the mindset of sneaking into the territory of her longest and most powerful enemy; she was on the doorstep of the final resting place of God himself before Pyrrha pulled her back. That alone was a small miracle on the same level as the babe strapped to Pyrrha's chest. Wake stomps through the cottage that Pyrrha purchased that morning when the others were still asleep. Pyrrha feels the commander's presence through the walls, longs to go in and pin her down in a ritual meant to be cleansing and commemorative. (Pyrrha would take it slow—lovemaking as opposed to fucking, though she wants to do plenty of both in the coming years.) The baby coos. Pyrrha kisses the top of its head. Wake appears in the doorway, eyes hard and expressionless. 

"Clear," she says. 

Perhaps one day Wake will lose the military edge to her voice. Pyrrha starts to pray for it, but silently so as not to offend her lover. 

The front door opens to a large living area, empty for now. In the coming years Pyrrha will fill it with sturdy wood furniture she'll commission from a local carpenter: easy chairs meant for reading, a couch to entertain guests, a low table that Pyrrha will tell a growing child to remove their feet from (then repeat those same words three seconds later), a shelf in the corner for a revolving collection of used books, and another shelf on the opposite wall for toys and games. Perhaps a desk will go in here, a place of work unrelated to necromancy or war or death, a place Pyrrha would handle bills and sign contracts and argue policy. Pyrrha will hang art on the walls instead of weapons. She'll put a couple hooks into the ceiling by the backdoor to hold plants in macrame planter holders. This will be a room for play during the daytime when the windows in the front and the sliding door to the back filter in yellow light from the single sun in the sky. 

In the evenings it will be a place of relaxation, where Pyrrha will ask a lanky teenager if they have finished their homework and debate with herself whether she’ll believe the answer. At night, when the walls reflect the silver and blue moonlight and Pyrrha is the only one awake, it will be a place of meditation. A room where Pyrrha can scrutinize her life here and wonder if the child can recognize it as farce. 

Ten thousand years of hunting, and Pyrrha only managed to do this sort of thing twice before. When the war got to be too much and her Lyctor siblings were too annoying to handle, she would run to find peace. Those other times felt farcical too; she's only ever stayed away for a hundred years at a time, max. She knows she'll return. She hates that she will. 

Against her chest, strapped snugly in the harness there, the babe wiggles its feeble arms and kicks its fat little legs. A snot bubble sticks to its nose as it breathes excitedly. Pyrrha grabs a handkerchief from her back pocket and wipes away the snot. The babe squirms against it, briefly making this simple act so much more difficult. Pyrrha kisses the babe's head as a reward. She will never tire of the soft hair against her lips, of the cooing noises the babe emits when excited, of those adorable tiny toes and their sharp as hell toenails that are so hard to trim. Baby is only a couple months old and still nameless. Pyrrha has an idea for one, but she wants to run it by its momma first. 

Wake stands in the kitchen, in the very spot Pyrrha wants to put a small table, something just for them. Nothing against other people, but Pyrrha has a profound dislike of dinner parties. For the kitchen, which is close and intimate, Pyrrha imagines a magnetic strip on the wall for knives, one or two cast iron pans hanging over the stove, cabinets stuffed with ceramic mugs and plates, drawers full of mismatched eating utensils. Their meals will be made with fresh vegetables from the garden out back and the fridge will be full of home cooked meals and their ingredients. She’ll teach the kid how to wash a pan without scrubbing away the enamel and the importance of elbow grease when cleaning the grout. This kid will only wield a knife against the hard flesh of a carrot, the doughy give of fresh meat, the chocolatey mess of homemade brownies. 

"Well?" Pyrrha asks. Wake faces Pyrrha, expression unreadable, shoulders tense. Her mane of red curls is out of place in this domestic paradise. She still wears the bright orange jumpsuit she donned immediately after giving birth, as though hiding under new skin. Pyrrha knows Wake can never be tamed in the same way she knows this new life will be temporary; still she hopes that Wake will fold into it, if only for the babe's sake. Maybe she'll get distracted enough to grow old here, but Pyrrha recognizes a pipe dream for what it is. 

Before Wake answers, her attention is drawn to the baby, fidgeting in the harness with an excited ferver reserved only for the woman who bore it. Wake's mouth hardens a little. Pyrrha's heart sinks. 

"It'll do." 

 


 

Pyrrha has her rituals with Wake in the bed that they made, and eventually Wake comes back to her body. They take these moments whenever they can—between feedings and naps and the slow accumulation of objects. At first, Pyrrha is as enthusiastic about them as her lover. Wake relearns self-assurance with praise and when she finally takes back herself, she squeezes Pyrrha out of everything: breath, stamina, consciousness. They pass out exhausted. 

Pyrrha wakes up the next morning to her lover standing over her, one arm supporting the babe at her breast, a familiar look that to anyone else would be interpreted as contempt. She looks out of place and feral, something about the casual and confident hold of the babe—with the forearm supporting the back and her palm against the diapered rump—makes Wake look like a woman of the wilds. Like she had been raised by wolves and temporarily set aside her cloak of fur to nurture a being in an act as natural as the seasons. Her neck is bruised from where Pyrrha kissed it and her unoccupied breast is puckered as though waiting. Satisfied with Pyrrha’s bleariness, Wake smirks, her canines pronounced. “Still got it.” 

The most surprising thing is the babe in Wake’s arm. She never coos over the babe, not willingly, and Pyrrha hopes this returned confidence will also bring a semblance of maternality. Wake will bite the head off anyone who refers to her as a mother, even Pyrrha, so the word is taboo in their household. (Pyrrha already knows that she wants to be called Pehpeh, which is a stumble away from Peepee but Rahrah doesn’t suit her. In the back of her mind, she braces for the inevitable heartbreak of the babe calling her neither.) Wake feeding the babe without Pyrrha’s prompting must mean that Pyrrha slept through the cries. 

Wake retreats from the bedroom. Pyrrha gets out of bed and follows her to the nursery across the hall, where Wake cocks a hip and complains, “Isn’t it done yet?”

“She,” Pyrrha corrects as she wraps her arms around her lover and presses kisses to her shoulder. 

“Whatever,” Wake says, quiet, her attention at the babe. She leans against Pyrrha, her free arm coming around to assist the other in its support. The tableau is everything Pyrrha dreamed. The old Lyctor looks down at the babe and freezes. 

She hadn’t seen those eyes for nine thousand years, not since God and Anastasia built the Locked Tomb and buried Alecto. The babe’s eye color wouldn’t settle for another couple months yet, but this color in these eyes was just as unsettling nonetheless. Pyrrha’s mind does gymnastics it isn’t warmed up for, pulling neurons like cold muscles but reaching the same conclusion. A familiar mental routine she would eventually get familiar with—distant reminders of a plan Pyrrha was not informed of, dead dolls in a shuttle, petri dishes and pipettes, Wake puking in the shuttle toilet in the throes of morning sickness. 

Those eyes are yellow like the sunlight against the wall, like egg yolks uncooked and unbroken at breakfast, like the stamen of a daisy in the garden. They peer at Wake around the mound at the babe’s mouth, her small hand resting innocently against a place Pyrrha nuzzled the night before.

Not my child, Pyrrha thinks as she fights relief and despair at once. Then another gymnastic leap as she realizes the implication at the color of those eyes. She rakes her brain for any time He might have bled or otherwise left His genetic code around (a hair, a fingernail, a drop of blood) for someone to pick up. When did He get lax? Or did Mercymorn and Augustine somehow take advantage in their unspoken plan? This child is not the typical miracle of life. This child required work to produce, the product of a plan Pyrrha could only surmise, and the old cavalier was suddenly more committed to this new life than ever before. 

Wake tenses when Pyrrha tenses, and the baby continues to feed. “What?” 

“Gideon,” Pyrrha finally says. 

Wake rolls her eyes, a movement that also includes stretching her neck. She’s more aware than Pyrrha what this child represents to the universe at large, what it took to bring her into the world. They had been arguing about names for weeks with nothing officially sticking. “I hate it,” Wake says. 

“What’s your alternative?” Pyrrha asks. 

“Oppenheimer.”

“No.” Pyrrha strokes the child’s hair, russet like her mother’s. The babe was going to have a wild mane, Pyrrha could tell. “Gideon,” she repeats. “For him.” She doesn’t have to explain it after that. Wake finally caves with a sigh. 

“Fine.” 

Pyrrha understands that the word was meant to be harsh, but the delivery lacked the heart. She resumes kissing Wake’s shoulder, eyes still on the child—on Gideon. Pyrrha smiles against Wake’s copper skin and rests her chin on the clavicle. She smiles at Gideon, at those bright eyes like the warning marks on a poisonous snake, and she says, “Good morning, Gideon.”

Gideon’s eyes widen just a little bit in recognition. 

 


 

For five years, life is pretty good. Gideon is rambunctious, toddling about and getting into everything, pulling at every drawer indoors, pointing at every tree outdoors, and digging up the vegetable starters Pyrrha tries to plant. Pyrrha feels her emotions so intensely it’s like she’s relearning them with Gideon. 

“No,” was a popular word for an annoyingly long while. So was “uh-oh” and “dog” (for the dog) and “bedge” (vegetable) and “wak” (used interchangeably between Wake and walk, the best things in Gideon’s huge and miniscule world). Pyrrha was “Pie” but she was also a constant, so not as exciting as Wak. Pyrrha would take Gideon to the mobile library that came through their small, rural area and Gideon would overextend the word books to be “boooos” all because one of the librarians did that once and Gideon latched onto the tone. 

Before Gideon starts to talk, they adopt an old dog of indeterminate breed with droopy eyes and short legs and big, floppy ears. Pyrrha wanted a puppy. Gideon wanted this dog. This dog wanted Gideon. And the nice lady at the animal shelter two towns over had so many talking points about adopting older animals. Therefore, Pyrrha was outnumbered. Naturally, the dog considers Gideon his human—a fact Pyrrha begrudgingly accepts despite being the one that feeds him. He curls around Gideon for her naps; the image is especially cute when they fall asleep in the garden. Pyrrha sets up a napping umbrella so Gideon doesn’t get sunburned. 

She teaches Gideon what weeds look like, and she doesn’t understand but she slowly recognizes a strawberry bush from a stinging nettle. Gideon likes to play in the dirt and “help” Pie with the weeds. 

Gideon’s favorite place is the playground, where she can run free of Pie and chase the older kids. They both make friends easily. As the kids play whatever games are popular this century, Pyrrha talks homemade pesticide solutions and swaps dinner recipes with the other parents—ten thousand years of domestic knowledge earn Pyrrha respect and trust—the leash of their elderly dog loosely dangling from her wrist. Once or twice, Gideon takes the leash and walks the dog to the slides, but he’s either too sore or too dumb to understand the logistics of climbing a ladder. Pyrrha intervenes before Gideon pulls the leash too hard. 

If there is tension in the cottage, it all comes from Wake. She spends most of her days away, oftentimes overnight, and Pyrrha has suspicions. She doesn’t worry—this isn’t worry. Worry smells like stale liquor on the breath and looks like tightly wrapped, aching breasts and sounds like a baby that doesn’t want the bottle. Worry happened shortly after they moved in when Pyrrha had to plead for one more month, one more week, for Gideon’s sake. No, Pyrrha’s suspicions are related to some financial activity in their account (Pyrrha’s account) and vague news reports from nearby systems. The Nine Houses are nowhere in sight, but Pyrrha recognizes Blood of Eden’s scent in the proverbial wind. 

This doesn’t bother her as much as Wake actively avoiding the child, especially when Gideon excitedly toddles up to her, all smiles and happy screams like a siren. And what kid isn’t excited to see momma? So far, Gideon sees the avoidance as some sort of game and Pyrrha has to intervene with a distraction. Bedtime happens early when Wake is around.

Pyrrha hates fighting in front of the kid. 

They’re in the living room, on one of the rare nights that Wake is home. She’s back from a two week stint in who-cares-where. It feels like Wake would have stuck around for a while this time, but it always feels like that. 

“Why do you avoid her?” Pyrrha asks casually as she sits on the edge of her favorite reading chair. “She’s just a child.” Just a child in the same way the dog is just a dog. Pyrrha doubts Gideon is asleep, especially at this hour. Wake pages through a folder, and Pyrrha pretends to not recognize it for what it is. 

Wake’s nose flares. “She is not.” 

Pyrrha thinks of nine thousand years ago, of those eyes in a grey face with a robotic smile. The terrified screams of Mercymorn and Augustine whenever Alecto got close. Camaraderie that was as fleeting as the life of a fruit fly but remembered for the myriad after it ended. 

“She is,” Pyrrha argues. “She shits, she cries, she plays, she hates her peas. Just like any other child.” Gideon’s smile is so bright, all teeth and lopsided lips. Her giggles are like the gas burners at their stove, keeping the pot holding Pyrrha’s heart at a warm simmer. Pyrrha tries to encourage curiosity and questions and self-confidence. She has no idea how she’s doing. Good people have grown up in worse conditions and came out the other side great. But people have grown up in better situations and came out much, much worse. There is no objective metric to parenting. But according to the other parents at the park, Pyrrha is extremely lucky to have a kid like Gideon, even though Gideon will unwisely try to lead everyone’s dogs down the slide, not just their old adoptee. 

“You’re the one who brought us here,” Wake says. “I barely had any say.” The file remains open in her lap, but Wake’s fingers are tense at the edges. That file is two minutes away from getting scattered across the floor, Pyrrha concludes. 

“You were compromised,” Pyrrha says. “You just had—”

“I had a mission!” 

“And what’s your mission now?” 

Pyrrha likes to think they don’t have to discuss her suspicions or the nature of Wake’s absences. Whatever this was between them, they could find a way to cross it and reunite. If what they had was true love, they would intrinsically understand each other, right? 

Right?

Wake doesn’t answer. She and Pyrrha stare at one another, the threads between them fraying with every moment. Or maybe they had been fraying since they got the cottage and Pyrrha refused to acknowledge it. Wake finally says, “It’s the same mission.” 

“You never said what that mission was.” When centuries feel like years, then five years is the equivalent of five days. In the back of her mind lies a box tightly packed with thoughts Pyrrha chooses to keep among the neurological spiderwebs—thoughts like outliving Gideon and the name of her biological father and other truths that don’t matter under this roof. A roof that was built in a time of peace and for the love of the land beyond the River, this cottage will remain peaceful indefinitely. 

There’s something Wake isn’t saying. What the rebel commander says instead is, “You’re the one that’s compromised now.”

Pyrrha’s mind is warmed up. She mentally reviews the events that led them here. Of a shuttle covered in blood, a crying newborn on the floor still attached to the placenta beside it, of Wake nearly passed out close by, struggling to don a bright orange haz suit equipped with a parachute. She has barely thought about why Wake was trying to descend to the Ninth, and perhaps that was because she already knew what the plan was; she doesn’t want to think about what Wake was going to do once she got there. 

“Oh, do elaborate,” Pyrrha challenges. She is not quite standing, but she is close. The file remains on Wake’s lap, discarded in all but action. 

This is not like the fights early in their relationship. Then, it was just them against each other and damned be the universe. They could fight and fuck and walk away dissatisfied which only forced them to come back for more. Pyrrha did not plan on falling in love, but this was a woman fueled by the intensity she used to burn with, an intensity as hot as a sacrifice. Wake would set fire to the universe and herself in it if it meant the fall of the Emperor Undying and the Nine Houses with him. Pyrrha was indifferent to the rhetoric. She connected with the blaze in Wake’s soul that spilled into her gaze and illuminated the wildness of her mane, that guided her hands across Pyrrha’s body and held Pyrrha down for one brutal, passionate wave after another. Pyrrha let herself fall apart, drown, and be put back together, all at the serrated mercy of her boss’s single biggest enemy. 

That was before Gideon. Before divine eyes like wildflowers and a mischievous grin that twisted her mother’s ferality into innocence. Gideon had the potential to grow in the image of her mother—they already shared a nose and jawline. If the child’s skin was a little tanner it was because she was kissed by the sun every day. Pyrrha couldn’t let herself be consumed so long as Gideon remained dependent. Perhaps that is the crux driving Wake away.

“You cater to the child—to it,” Wake says. She refuses to go on. Pyrrha sees something in Wake’s eyes, a reluctance moving behind the anger and intensity like a shadow in a large crowd. Again, Wake is dancing around something she refuses to say out loud. Pyrrha considers the price of drawing it to the open. 

“Yeah,” Pyrrha says. “That’s what you do as a parent.”

“No!” The file finally falls to the floor as Wake stands. She paces away from the couch, from one end of the room to the other. Gideon did not pick up her toys in the corner and Wake kicks away a stack of painted, wooden blocks. 

Wake continues, “You think you cater to a child, but that is not a child.”

Pyrrha stands too but does not close the gap between them. Let Wake do the heavy lifting here. “Then what is she?”

“She—it—was never supposed to come in like this,” Wake says. She’s rambling, refuses to meet Pyrrha’s eyes. Pyrrha lets her flail. “You weren’t supposed to be there. I was late! I was . . . I would have died bringing her there—it there—and I would have been happy for it. Because then I would have accomplished my mission. I wouldn’t have to deal with five years of this bullshit. I continue to fail every goddamn day and it just gets harder and harder. You”—Wake rounds on Pyrrha, a finger drawn like a rapier—”you make it harder. Because you’re attached! You’re the one that’s compromised because you refuse to see what sh—it—really is. It wasn’t supposed to grow up and become a child. She was supposed to open that tomb!” 

And there it is. 

The tragedy is, this only confirmed Pyrrha’s suspicions. God’s genetic material, the coordinates of the Ninth House, the dead dolls, the pregnancy. All that pointed to Wake being both bearer and harbinger of Gideon’s life, the linchpin in the continuation of the Nine Houses. Perhaps all it took was the admittance. That sentiment is out in the air now, billowing like a bedsheet on the line; instead of terror, Pyrrha feels relief. Because it is out in the open now, she would not feel bad for doing what she had to do. For Gideon. To see that troublemaker make it past her formative years and into adulthood, where she can make a decision on her own terms. 

Pyrrha could never die, even when she willingly gave up her soul, and she will use her immortality as a shield. Someday, Wake’s essence will be forgotten by the universe and only then will Pyrrha erect a memorial in her memory on some dead, rocky planet. That will be Pyrrha’s final act in letting her go. For now, though, Pyrrha will push her out of her daughter’s life and back into the fires she strokes for her rebellion. And when Pyrrha turns around to watch Gideon grow, she will pretend that she doesn’t feel the flames at her back. 

Behind the kitchen, by the bedrooms, a dog sneezes. Wake glances in that direction, but Pyrrha doesn’t take her eyes off her target. 

“Get out.” 

Wake’s gaze returns to Pyrrha, the fire smoldering but weakened and fragile. Lava hardening to obsidian. It isn’t a good look on her. Wake wasn’t a woman who made mistakes, and she is realizing the implications of this revelation. Pyrrha could see it in the way her eyes danced around, thoughts attempting to grasp onto a connection that might keep her here. 

“You don’t belong here,” Pyrrha says, her voice like acid on her tongue. She takes a step towards Wake, towards pushing her out manually. “You never have. I dragged you here for the sake of your child and now you admit this? Get out. I don’t want to see you for at least ten years.”

Wake matches each step until her back lays flush with the front door. She stays there, eyes hard on her opponent, teeth bared. Once upon a time that would have been the hottest thing in the world. It feels like a lifetime ago. 

“That child worships you, constantly asks about you, and this is how you want to take care of her? How you want to raise her? By not raising her? By not even giving her a choice in all that?” Pyrrha reaches forward. Wake doesn’t flinch. Pyrrha turns the knob on the door and pulls it open. It pushes them into each other. Just like old times, down to the calculating look of Wake’s eyes. Pyrrha doesn’t kiss her, doesn’t caress her shoulder, doesn’t wait for her in any way. She pushes Wake out the door and slams it shut at her heels. 

She will change the locks tomorrow. 

Pyrrha turns to the little girl, one arm wrapped around her dog. Both sets of eyes are big and droopy, but only one is a hammer against Pyrrha’s heart. Pyrrha sighs away everything about Wake. Immortal shield, the wall keeping destiny at bay. She crosses the room and scoops Gideon into her arms. 

“I love you, you know that?” Pyrrha says. “I love you until the end of time. I will never do anything to harm you. I will never leave you. I am here and always will be. I love you. I love you. I love you.” She can’t stop talking, showers kisses on Gideon’s damp face, holds her tighter than a swaddle. 

Pyrrha is too big for Gideon’s bed, but she lies there anyway next to the child. The child who needs to know that Pyrrha will always be there. Gideon is not a still sleeper, but tonight Pyrrha endures. She is here. She loves this child. She loves the way Gideon will always share her cookie. Pyrrha loves the way she plays with the old dog with his failing organs and weak but enthusiastic tail. She loves everything about this child with eyes like the sun and hair like a fire. She is going to rock the world some day. 

But only this world, Pyrrha resolves. Gideon will not grow up knowing where she came from. She will not grow up to remember what she was born to do. Gideon will not answer the call of destiny; destiny will have to get through Pyrrha first. 

 


 

Pyrrha has a hard conversation with a five year-old. She repeats this conversation every couple of weeks, around the time Wake would have normally stopped by. It worries Pyrrha that this conversation has to be repeated, if only because Gideon looks devastated every time. Then they feel another loss entirely in the death of the precious dog, the old one who was supposed to live forever. 

For both Pyrrha and Gideon, grief comes as anger. It’s manageable for one of them; it’s overwhelming for the other. They start to visit the park more frequently. Perhaps naively, Pyrrha thinks the physical exertion at the park would tire Gideon enough so she wouldn’t cry herself to sleep again. Plus, Pyrrha can call upon the font of wisdom that is the other parents. 

“I heard martial arts is great for children,” one of the parents, Rachel, says. “I started taking classes with my Ruth and it’s helped her a lot.” 

And then there’s a scream from the field where the older kids were playing rugby, and Pyrrha sees a flash of familiar red and brown wailing on another kid. Pyrrha and Rachel rush to the fray. She pulls Gideon off the kid—Ruth—and carries her away. Gideon fights in her arms until they’re halfway home, then she starts to cry. 

Ruth is all right; Pyrrha makes sure to check later that day and offers to assist with any serious medical care. No serious injuries beyond a bruised ego, Rachel says. Is everything all right at home?

No, Pyrrha doesn’t say. But this incident is an indicator that Gideon’s emotional development hinges on a decision that Pyrrha is unprepared to make. She's hunted down terrorist (rebel) cells and helped design monstrous skeleton constructs and once fought an entire city and won. All her years in the galaxy and she still feels unqualified at this parenting thing. Pyrrha is walking around the garden after midnight, her thoughts on anything but. She passes the grave marker for the old dog, the dirt still fresh, and she looks at the stars and wonders where Wake is at that very moment. 

Does she consult someone about this? She is both incapable and the most qualified person in the galaxy. She wonders what the others back home— home? —would do in this situation. Pyrrha makes herself laugh with the thought of Mercy holding a delighted Gideon upside down by the legs, her lips curling with disgust. Gideon would kick Augustine in the shins and Augustine would let her in the moment, but Pyrrha doesn’t want to conceive what his revenge would look like. Cytherea has the potential to be a halfway decent aunt, provided she never learns the identity of the toddler’s father. 

Pyrrha is grateful that Gideon is growing up at this cottage and not the Mithraeum. Here, Gideon has friends her own age (if she doesn’t isolate them) and access to care that she wouldn’t get with her biological father’s entourage (despite the anatomical knowledge of Mercymorn). She can gaze up at the stars and wonder about their mysteries the same way Pyrrha did when she was first resurrected all those millennia ago. There is a garden that Gideon can sink her hands into to make something worthwhile, to cultivate something that grows. Pyrrha stands over the small bed of flowers they made for the sake of having flowers. Gideon wanted to eat them at one point, but she’s since learned the usefulness of beauty (and Pyrrha learned that violets really are edible). 

Most of all, Gideon has Pyrrha, and Pyrrha has breathing exercises and the discipline of a cavalier. Martial arts is great for children, Rachel had said. 

Gideon isn’t meant to be a fighter; she is going to rock the world but only this one. She is going to have a healthy life, find a partner whom she loves, raise a family in this cottage, all without fulfilling the prophecy that pumps in her blood. She is too young yet to face that decision, and squirreling her away to another planet wouldn’t be helpful to her at this point. 

But Pyrrha knows martial arts. She knows how movement can form channels like blood vessels where emotions can pump until the mind is finished processing. Meditation and discipline and regulation and all the things that can bring a chaotic mind to heel.  

Pyrrha knows that she has to start teaching Gideon to fight, but she doesn’t like that it has to be done. 

 


 

It’s three years before Wake appears again. 

Pyrrha is at the rugby pitch, the only parent sitting on a blanket; she talks about this season’s crop of vegetables and is in the middle of describing a zucchini recipe when she spots a familiar savage mane like a blood splatter in the distance. Even worse, there is Gideon breaking away from her team on the sidelines, running towards it. 

It doesn’t matter that Pyrrha interrupts the ongoing game as she crosses the pitch; her eyes are on a mother and daughter that should not be reunited. The pump of her limbs is a call to the life she is attempting to abandon, a skill from the old world in use to prevent its emergence in this new one. Gideon’s back is to Pyrrha, so the child doesn’t see her until she passes. Inexplicably, the child giggles. 

Pyrrha will deal with that later. For now, her eyes are focused on that wild mane and the woman it is attached to. 

Wake doesn’t look much older than the last time. She looks like she is back in command and command looks good on her. The starved muscles are back, as are the bags underneath her eyes. But her shoulders are prouder than they’ve ever been when she lived at the cottage, and that vexing, joyous smirk pierces Pyrrha as sure and swift as a crossbow’s arrow. Wakes eyes twinkle in victory as she watches the child that she bore. And then Pyrrha overtakes the child and Wake’s eyes grow hard and determined, that familiar edge that could make Pyrrha melt with a blink. 

“I should have known,” Wake snarls as Pyrrha slows to a stop in front of her. “That thing told you, didn’t it?”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Pyrrha demands. She’s barely out of breath.

Wake looks Pyrrha in the eye, but her words sound like she’s puking slugs. “I came for my child.” 

“Motherhood never looked good on you.” Pyrrha says it like a threat. 

There is a fight in Wake’s eyes; the rebel commander is caught in the familiar crossfire between the mission and the presence of Pyrrha; perpetually in opposition but drawn to each other like magnets, north and south and south and north. The ultimate enemies to lovers—or perhaps enemies with benefits is more accurate—but the nature of their relationship changed the moment they came to this planet. Same bullshit, different day, and just as hot. If Pyrrha could take Wake now, she would. She would push the commander into the woods at the edge of this park and have her way. Perhaps against a tree, the bark cutting rivulets down Wake's back. Their screams would embarrass the parents at the rugby pitch and pique the curiosities of the young players. They have been away for three years so there is three years’ worth of explosive sex to get out of their systems. 

Perhaps Pyrrha would have done it. The way Wake squares her shoulders and lowers her arms, the direct look of her eyes and the determined frown of her mouth, that damnably kissable mouth that does extraordinary things to Pyrrha’s displaced body. All it takes is one step, one lift of an arm, one gloriously forbidden kiss, but—

“Pie!” 

Gideon is barely out of breath when she finally catches up, all lank and no grace. She looks back and forth between Pyrrha and Wake, Pie and Wak, betrayal and hope and confusion coats those golden eyes. All those times Pyrrha has to explain that Wake is off-limits, that Gideon should not under any circumstances trust Wake, that Wake is a bad influence—they all fly through the mind behind those sunrise eyes. 

Pyrrha is a shield, she reminds herself. Wake is the fire of rebellion and Pyrrha is the shield between the flame and the child of destiny, still too young to fulfill it. 

“We’re done here,” Pyrrha says. She scoops a protesting Gideon in her arms as she turns her back (perhaps unwisely) to Wake and walks back to the rugby game. Gideon awkwardly leans over Pyrrha’s shoulder, an arm outstretched for a moment before it pounds into Pyrrha’s back. It would bruise, but Pyrrha will be the child’s punching bag. She needs a place to dispel her energy and it occurs to Pyrrha that perhaps this game would not be the best place for it right now. 

Pyrrha stands a distance away from the pitch, her arms firmly supporting the squirming child against her. 

“Do you feel like playing your game?” Pyrrha asks. “Tell me honestly. It’s fine if you don’t. You don’t have to play if you don’t want to. It’s fine if you do. Take a moment to think about it. Use the breathing exercise.”

The breathing exercise that accompanies their morning routine now, where they go over some basic forms for hand-to-hand combat. After almost three years of doing this, Pyrrha noticed that Gideon is more ornery whenever they miss a day. 

Against her shoulder, Gideon breathes deeply for a minute, then she shakes her head, her brow buried against Pyrrha. As Pyrrha walks away from the pitch, she asks Rachel among the parents to bring Gideon’s gear to the cottage when the game is done. Pyrrha allows Gideon to wallow in emotion for a couple blocks, but then they start jogging together, introducing movement and distraction in equal measure. They end their evening at the ice cream parlor, where Pyrrha asks Gideon if she feels ready to take care of a puppy. This results in childish promises of doing chores on time and without being asked—and a few other impossible things. In jest, Pyrrha attempts to eat a bite of Gideon's melting sundae. It goes as expected.  

 


 

The routine for the child—child? teenager? pre-adolescent?—is simple. Wake up, combat forms, feed the dog, breakfast, school, sports, dinner, feed the dog again, unstructured alone time, bed. Gideon attends school in the next town over. She takes the bus, where she declares herself emperor by putting the bus bully in his place. Pyrrha has mixed feelings about this and attempts to teach Gideon the ethics of good leadership. School is sometimes an issue, as Gideon occasionally has problems with authority (did she inherit that from Wake or Pyrrha's leadership lessons?) but her grades are otherwise fine from what Pyrrha can tell. 

Pyrrha doesn’t look at grades as an accurate measure of intelligence. She sometimes asks Gideon questions about the science behind her projects or her thoughts on the latest book she has to read for school. Questions that intend to make Gideon think about what she learns. It does not escape Pyrrha that Gideon enjoys reading poetry because the meter is easy to follow. And science and math, when explained through the lens of sports or body movement, are suddenly infinitely more interesting. So whatever control Pyrrha has over Gideon’s education, those are the facets she encourages. On more than one occasion, Pyrrha expresses frustration over history lessons. These frustrations are repeated in the principal's office more than once, but not by Pyrrha. 

Most important of all, though, are the friends Gideon makes. Despite her reign on the bus to and from school, or maybe because of it, Gideon has a lot of friends. Or perhaps this is just her dynamics from the park extending to her life at school. Outside of which, this means sleepovers and birthday parties and playdates and, every once in a while, Gideon disappearing to a friends’ house for an hour or two during her unstructured time in the evenings. Sometimes she takes the other dog—the dog that will be nothing but “the other dog” like some canine mistress, the one they adopted as a puppy and that Pyrrha is failing to train out of its separation anxiety. (Again, the dog loves Gideon more than Pyrrha, who takes it personally this time.) 

It is during one of these friend events—a sleepover specifically—that Pyrrha cleans the cottage, including Gideon’s room. Pyrrha tries to instill good habits of cleanliness. It’s a process, but at least Pyrrha doesn’t have to move a lot of toys to make room for the vacuum. Something on Gideon’s desk catches Pyrrha’s eye. She idly leans over to spy on what she assumed was an attempt at poetry and halts completely at the first line. The roar of the vacuum parallels the roar that erupts between Pyrrha’s ears. 

Dear Wake, Gideon writes in her childish chicken scratch. The rest of the letter is haphazardly scratched out. From what Pyrrha can read, it sounds like Gideon has trouble articulating what she wants to say. Heartbreaking phrases that start with I feel and Pyrrha says and why aren’t you ever home? and don’t you love me? Everything hidden underneath bold strikethroughs, a window into a vulnerable and tenderfoot soul. 

Heart in her throat, Pyrrha turns off the vacuum and carefully flips through the papers on the desk, looking for the spark of such a letter. It is not hard to find—a birthday card, dated more than a month ago. Pyrrha opens it up to find a message in a familiar scrawl with words that send Pyrrha’s erratic pulse from her throat to the dregs of her stomach. 

It’s from Wake.

Wake sent a card to Gideon. 

What the hell does Wake want with Gideon?

Pyrrha knows the answer to that last question. It’s the same reason Wake tried to lure the child away from the rugby game a few years ago. Perhaps the same reason Wake stuck around the cottage for five years before Pyrrha pushed her bodily out the door. But then Pyrrha comes to the next conclusion, which is that this card made it to Gideon without ever passing in front of Pyrrha. 

The realization that she should have set up some sort of defense perimeter hits like forgetting a swimsuit to the swimming pool. For a decade, Pyrrha coasted on hiding in plain sight; how long had they been vulnerable? How long has Gideon been writing illicit letters? 

Pyrrha digs through the paper pile in search of an envelope, forgetting to be careful about leaving the mess unchanged. She finds none. She digs through the burnables, even knowing that they burn most of their excess paper at least once a fortnight in their neighbor’s bonfire pit. Not there either. In her panic, Pyrrha digs through her own desk, resists the urge to trash everything that is no longer relevant. As suspected, she finds nothing there either. The card is still in her hand, and she reads it once more. 

A birthday card, with a dog in front and a horrible pun inside. Wake’s message is curt and in code, the sort of thing she would have written to Pyrrha back in the days before her pregnancy. 

This is not a project that could be solved in a few panicked hours, and Gideon must not know of its existence. She and the other dog are gone for the night. Knowing how she works best, Pyrrha pretends like Gideon is due back any minute. She returns to the child’s room and finishes vacuuming. Then she vacuums the rest of the cottage. Then, not standing it anymore, she sets the card in a drawer in the living room desk and goes out back where, among the empty overturned soil of a recent harvest, Pyrrha does what she always teaches during times like these: she goes through combat forms, slowly breathing all the way, gives her body time and movement to work the problem. 

A few days later, Pyrrha sits with the principal at Gideon’s school and explains that any and all mail meant for Gideon that did not come from Pyrrha herself will see Pyrrha’s eyes before it goes anywhere else. She sits down to coffee one-by-one with the parents of all of Gideon’s friends and explains the same thing. Gideon has a parent that is dangerous to her well-being—a few choice phrases with that sentiment is all it takes to earn their understanding. Rachel’s eyes are wide and distant as she processes everything. 

In a way, it’s lying, because those phrases have nothing to do with the circumstances at hand. Anything to keep Gideon away from destiny, though. Pyrrha would do anything to make sure she at least makes it through childhood. 

From there, Pyrrha sets up other mechanisms. If the child recognizes what Pyrrha is doing, she doesn’t bring it up. 

Gideon never asks about the missing birthday card. 

 


 

In a blink, Gideon is officially a teenager, a turn of phrase that the official teenager absolutely hates (along with everything else). Pyrrha is delighted with every embarrassed, adolescent groan. This also means that Gideon is now as tall as her parent. In a fit of weakness, Pyrrha measures herself against the door jam marking Gideon’s heights on her birthdays. She silently curses tracking this sort of thing on the front door. The height difference is miniscule and means absolutely nothing, but Pyrrha sighs in relief regardless. Then Gideon walks in with the other dog. 

“What’s up?” Gideon asks, suspicious. She sets the terrier down (the spoiled thing) and it lumbers over to a blanket bed beside the couch. 

“Nothing,” Pyrrha says. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

Gideon studies the history of her growth against the door jam. Seeing nothing there, she leaves it alone; after dinner, Pyrrha catches Gideon sizing herself against the old Lyctor as they hand wash the dishes. Pyrrha tries to talk about other things—like the girl Pyrrha met in the garden the other night and whether Gideon made team captain for rugby and if the girl from the other night is named Ruth—and it is like talking to the cast iron pans over the stove. Pyrrha has better conversations with the sweet peas out back. 

This attitude has been common for a while, and Pyrrha responds with a mismatched balance of responsibility and leeway. Her old friend, parental doubt, is fed by these early adolescent years; Pyrrha’s regular routine includes combat forms in the garden before bed, in addition to the morning routine with her ward. 

“I’m still taller,” Pyrrha says as Gideon retreats to her room, the other dog at her heels. 

Gideon responds with a grunt and an eyeroll. It is oddly satisfying. 

 


 

Perhaps Pyrrha would have never known had she stayed home. But she didn’t. She took an envelope with a policy plan that was only important to the immediate fifty miles around the cottage and she catches a ride with Rachel to the next town over, where Pyrrha delivers the envelope earlier than she says she would. She walks the length of downtown, wondering how late she would get home if she walked, but stops short at a familiar flash of wild red. 

Wake. Command still looks good on her. She looks healthier than she did the last time Pyrrha saw her. Luckily, she is alone. Does she stand out because her clothes are so otherworldly or does she stand out because she is a stranger to a small town full of friendly faces? 

There is only one reason she could be here, and Pyrrha starts to frantically look for it. She finds Gideon a block away, golden eyes wide and nervous. The child (Pyrrha may never stop referring to her as such despite recent growth spurts arguing otherwise) doesn’t see her guardian, yelps in surprise when Pyrrha’s arm wraps around her shoulders and drags her in the opposite direction of the cafe. 

“Wait,” Gideon pleads. “Wait. Please. Pie. Wait!” 

So close; the child is so close. Pyrrha wonders how long she can keep Gideon away from her mother. How long can Gideon live if she never makes it to the Nine Houses? Will she be immortal like her father or have a normal human life span like her mother? Can Pyrrha keep Gideon from the Locked Tomb for five hundred years? That’s a decently long life, right? 

“Pyrrha!” Gideon goes limp and falls to the sidewalk like Pyrrha teaches her to do in their mornings. They’re on the edge of a park now, some blocks away from downtown, and Gideon makes no move to run to Wake, to her mother. Instead, Gideon jumps back to her feet out of Pyrrha’s reach, furious. “What the hell?” 

Those eyes do not have the deep, monstrous knowledge of a planet. They catch the fading afternoon light, in just the way that reminds Pyrrha of Canaan House, of friendly duels and secret rooms, but all they are and ever will be are the eyes of a confused child. Pyrrha is taller than Gideon by two centimeters, and the height is the thing that sparks thoughts of war and conquest. Back in the Nine Houses, Gideon would be old for a Cohort recruit. If she were a necromancer she would be making a name for herself. If she were not a necromancer she would be a cavalier—Pyrrha did not examine how she knew this—and probably attached to some geeky academic by now. 

This was the moment Pyrrha spent a decade and a half avoiding. Now that it’s here, she realizes the unfairness of her decision to keep Gideon in the dark about her origins. She sighs out her defeat. Gideon remains unchanged, but her still-developing neck bulges when she swallows. This is not the place to reveal such a thing, but how long has Pyrrha been hiding this from Gideon? How long has Wake been promising answers to the questions a lost child would ask? 

“You’re a key,” Pyrrha says. “You were conceived to do one thing. And it—” Pyrrha can’t bring herself to say it. Two hundred lifetimes she’s lived, and this is the single hardest thing to say. “—it will kill you,” she manages to finish. 

Gideon’s brow furrows. For once in her idyllic life, she’s patient. 

But that wasn’t an explanation. “There is a Tomb,” Pyrrha says. “It’s sealed with the blood of your biological father, and he’s not opening the Tomb himself. But you can. And that’s where Wake wants to take you. She wants to spill your blood to open a Tomb to kill a man you don’t even know.” 

Pyrrha knows that the defense perimeter she had set up five years ago failed her completely in the way Gideon’s eyes go distant, recounting communiques Pyrrha has never seen. Somehow, at this point, that’s no longer important. Because Gideon is not running away from any of this. Destiny has a fond hand on Gideon’s shoulder, and the fact that it’s so close—has been so close—is positively terrifying. 

“The Nine Houses,” Gideon says. “The Locked Tomb.”

“What do you know?” 

Gideon’s jaw tightens. Her eyes are the color of a poison dart frog. “I know you lied to me all my life.”

Thus starts the clash. This wasn’t like their usual fights, where Gideon fought against Pyrrha’s good intentions—against becoming team captain or submitting to a poetry contest or doing a little bit of extra credit. This wasn’t their debates about the garden, complete control of which Gideon wrestled—literally wrestled—for and won. 

No. This is something that had been gnawing at Gideon for a while, and this is the only place that Pyrrha is open enough to listen. And when Pyrrha does listen, she does not find the timid creature she expects. Gideon is a fighter. She is angry. She is clumsy in her execution, stumbling over her words and letting her emotions get the better of her, but she knows how to handle phrases like knives. Not my real parentstole me like a thieficonoclast of the domestic. Gideon stabs Pyrrha, again and again, lost in the momentum of it. If Pyrrha had been a third party witness to this event, she might have thought some of those phrases poetic. 

But the old Lyctor is never one to take anything lying down. She counters Gideon with knives of her own, less concerned about their effect and more concerned about protecting herself. And it’s Pyrrha that makes Gideon take pause. It’s Pyrrha who brings tears to those sunflower eyes, forces the child—teenager—to draw a shield around herself. 

Gideon runs. 

Pyrrha can’t explain it, but she knows Gideon isn’t going to the cafe where Wake still waits (probably). She debates with herself, weighs the pros and cons of following Gideon versus giving her distance. She already knows that she will be walking home, even though it’s a good six miles from town border to town border. It would be a good walk. Give Pyrrha time to clear her head for when Gideon inevitably comes home. 

Some parental instinct takes over before Pyrrha makes it to their street, though, and she walks several more blocks. Pyrrha does not cross in front of Rachel’s humble abode, a home much bigger than the cottage. She doesn’t even set foot on the street. Instead, she sneaks across a couple yards and discreetly climbs a tree to get a better view through the second-storey window. 

Ruth’s bedroom light is on, and Pyrrha can just make out a pinprick of hair as bright as candy. A shade of blue blocks the window—Ruth, with brightly dyed hair, whom Pyrrha will always call “Gideon’s little garden friend”—and Pyrrha looks away. 

Pyrrha comes home to the terrier whining by the sliding glass doors, the smell of negligence close at hand. Pyrrha lets her out, cleans up the mess, and waits. 

It’s two days before Gideon comes home. Two days of canine whines and solo meals and guilt like the lost ghost of her namesake. She smells like someone else’s soap and her clothes hang off her like she’s worn the same shirt and shorts longer than recommended. The terrier jumps at her hip, tail wagging as enthusiastically as it did when she was a puppy. In the back of her mind, Pyrrha comes to the gruesome conclusion that Gideon cannot leave the cottage while the dog is still alive. 

“I’m sorry,” Pyrrha says, first thing. “I’m so sorry.”

Gideon doesn’t meet her eyes when she says, “I’m sorry too.”

They don’t hug, even though Pyrrha wants to. Gideon leads the terrier to her bedroom and Pyrrha leaves her alone. Maybe they’ll go back to how things were. Maybe they won’t. But the child now knows where she came from, and Pyrrha wishes she could take a century to come to terms with that. 

She doesn’t have a century. She has maybe a month. It takes about that long before Gideon starts to ask questions. Innocent at first, but pointed. Pyrrha doesn’t like answering, but she does, as truthfully as she can. Fifteen years is not a lifetime, but Pyrrha manages to get some promises out of her, such as the promise to finish her education here and wait for the dog to pass and give Pyrrha warning of her departure.  

So now Pyrrha has to make a decision for which she has little information for. Does she stay in the cottage while Gideon is out living her life? Or does Pyrrha rejoin her Lyctor siblings under the reign of a distant emperor? 

 


 

It’s been four years. Pyrrha is trying not to cry. She is failing spectacularly. 

“Pie, you’re embarrassing me.” Gideon curls into herself, arms crossed, eyes glancing to the people ignoring them at the space port. Her hair is freshly trimmed, red baby fuzz at her temples and longer locks falling across her brow. She’s newly an adult. Almost. Just one more step: independence, which she’ll have to truly learn on her own. Pyrrha sees hints of its emergence, encourages its development while she can. Gideon is going to be just fine, Pyrrha knows, but God is she going to miss this tyke. She remembers Gideon’s tiny toenails as she flapped her legs when they first entered the cottage they call home, Gideon as a toddler napping against their old droopy dog under an umbrella, Gideon as a teenager grumbling as she weeds the garden. 

Months ago, Gideon told Pyrrha she got a sports scholarship to a university off-planet. After nearly twenty years, Pyrrha stops fighting the inevitable. 

“I’m going to miss you so much.” Plenty of kids grow up and leave their homes and Pyrrha never cries for any of them, but none of them is her Gideon. Pyrrha doesn’t catch any of those kids in the backyard with another girl, doesn’t roll her eyes at their principals doling petty punishments for petty behavioral problems, doesn’t help them bury another dog in the back garden. 

Gideon’s poison eyes start to shine and a tear falls on her cheek. She wipes it away, still embarrassed, but Pyrrha can tell she’ll miss home. They never talk about what life would be like after today. It hangs unspoken and undiscussed like the half-alive fern in Gideon’s bedroom window. 

They’re hugging as the PA announces the final boarding call for Gideon’s passenger shuttle. Most of her things are already stored as check-in luggage. Pyrrha wonders where she’s going next. She watches her adopted daughter board the shuttle with a wet face. Pyrrha feels like she’s trying to grab incense smoke with her hands, like faceless soldiers are holding her back as they drag away the one thing in the universe that could replace her God. Destiny’s summons has been answered and Pyrrha recalls neither the call nor the response. 

Her cheeks dry as the shuttle takes off, the final severance between herself and parenthood. Then, with a sigh, Pyrrha is alone. She ambles to the food court and grabs something greasy that she doesn’t taste. Then she heads home. 

The cottage is a box of memories. Their final act as child and guardian was to deep clean the whole thing. Gideon suggested rearranging the furniture. Pyrrha liked everything just the way it was. So they moved the couch back to the grooves in the carpet and replaced the cooking utensils into the same old drawers in the same order they were always in. They ate the last of the garden for breakfast; Gideon did not plant anything else that season. Neither did Pyrrha. If Gideon suspected anything by this act, she didn’t express it. 

Pyrrha takes packet after packet of dust sheets from under her bed and starts to cover the furniture. First in the master bedroom, then in the kid’s. Gideon left her bed unmade, so Pyrrha makes it for her. For a moment as brief as eternity, Pyrrha is a parent again with its familiar warmth and begrudging resignation to the whims of a naive and, frankly, spoiled child. She doesn’t touch the stack of magazines under the mattress, or the sword display on the wall, or the shelf of books documenting a childhood’s worth of interests, except to cover it completely with white sheets. 

Pyrrha covers the living room last. The couch, the bookshelves, the lamps. At the desk is some leftover paperwork. She reads the forms one last time, signs them, seals them in separate envelopes marked for different organizations on the planet. The two with offices in the next town will be delivered tomorrow. The third will be posted. The fourth is not a form at all. Pyrrha re-reads the letter to make sure it says everything that needs to be said. Satisfied, she signs it, folds it, and writes a single name. She puts it on the desk before she covers that too. 

Twenty years this life almost lasted. She’ll do her crying later. For now, a part of her that’s been hibernating starts to stir. It keeps the emotions at bay. It helps that there are still some things left to do—each of them for the sake of the child. 

 


 

The Ninth is the same as it ever was. Pyrrha lands in the snow leek fields—the ones that seem the least viable. It’s somehow the closest to the Locked Tomb. 

Her old weapons feel like old friends: the spear strapped across her back, the rapier at her hip, the pistol at her thigh, the pearlescent cloak across her shoulders, the freshly buzzed hair across her skull. It feels as though the past two decades haven’t changed her. She wills them to have an effect. Free from the cottage, with her nose now filled with the scent of decay and rot, her body itches to spring into its old form. She remembers the bubbly giggles of a toddler and something in her heart twinges like a knee injury from two centuries ago. 

She disembarks and marches to the Locked Tomb. There is barely anyone around. It is both comforting (no one will confront her) and despairing (the Cohort fights to defend an empty House). When she gets to the Locked Tomb, the stone is already rolled away. Then relief. Sweet sweet relief. Other than the dirt and detritus of the Ninth, the walkway lacks a corpse of any kind—Wake wouldn’t bother hiding the body if there wasn’t a tactical advantage for it. No stubborn redhead gone too soon from this world lay unnaturally still and silent as a grave. Gideon didn’t possess a still bone in her body, and she would continue to rattle the universe with her unlimited source of energy. 

It’s the relief that surprises Pyrrha, crashing harder than anticipated like freefalling fifty feet into the ocean. A slap to her back as hard as concrete and powerful enough to knock her metaphorical mask clear off. Pyrrha inhales a shuddering breath, swallows it with the urge to sob. She forces herself to take a moment. 

Pyrrha never knew the logistics behind the Tomb’s lock. She speculated the blood ward that kept it sealed, the reason behind Gideon’s conception. The only reason she was born is to get past that. If it weren’t for Pyrrha’s insistence, her persuasion, her shielding, her vigilance—Pyrrha refused to finish that thought. She took a moment to thank any deity but her own that Gideon lives her life and still does what she is made for. She still has choices. She still has untapped potential outside of being a rebellion tool. Wake’s little bomb wasn’t a dud. 

Perhaps her heart isn’t as hard as she thinks it is. 

So she descends the stairs of the Locked Tomb, walks past the triggered traps, and comes to a saltwater moat around a mausoleum. 

“An ice lolly bimbo?”

Pyrrha bites her lip to prevent a laugh. That is Gideon all right. She raises her pistol overhead to keep it dry as she wades through the moat. She purposefully makes noise getting out on the other side. There is appropriate scrambling from inside the mausoleum; two sets of footprints. One unfamiliar, one set she knows, and Pyrrha bites her tongue lest she bark at Gideon for not being light enough. The time for correcting combat forms will come later. 

When Pyrrha enters the mausoleum, she only sees Gideon standing on the other side of a sarcophagus, a Cohort zweihander held on guard, Ninth blacks suggesting that Gideon had been on this planet for at least a few days. The thought is as welcome as vomit on potatoes. At least Gideon’s face is bare.

Pyrrha draws her attention to everything that isn’t the child she raised. This is the final resting place of the Emperor Undying of the Nine Houses. The keeper of his final breath. The source of his greatest fear and his greatest enemy. And she sleeps on ice in a sarcophagus. 

It has been nine thousand years since Pyrrha last saw Alecto. She approaches the coffin, not yet addressing the feet scrambling to the other side of the room or the Cohort zweihander still airborne in sure hands. Alecto is beautiful in her slumber, with chains at her ankles, wrists, and neck; her sword rests atop her breast like a pre-Resurrection warrior in one of John’s old books. It is extremely off-putting to see that grey face at peace. Pyrrha places a hand on the ice. 

She hears Gideon’s quiet whisper of “What the fuck?” Then another whisper, just as quiet, fierce and pointy, “Who is that?” 

Pyrrha glances up and sees the second person in the Tomb. Their face is painted like a skull, hair shorn barely an inch from the scalp. If Pyrrha didn’t know any better, she would think this person was Anastasia reincarnate. Everything about them is draped in black like they grew up with shadows as blankets and the rattle of bones as lullabies. Their neck is wrapped with a necklace of teeth and a human rib cage hugs their torso. One braceleted arm is raised as though ready to throw something. Bone chips perhaps. 

Gideon and her new friend look out of their depth, their eyes wide with shock and wonder like toddlers. The faint light catches on Gideon’s eyes and makes them glow unnaturally. 

They’re too ensconced in confusion to do anything, Pyrrha determines. The old bird leaps onto the sarcophagus and draws her pistol, shoots at Alecto encased in ice. The teenagers scream and scramble; Pyrrha doesn’t even blink. The ice catches the bullet, then seals the cracks that form as quickly as they appeared. Pyrrha frowns, analyzing this new data. She shoots the sarcophagus twice more, each time to the same result. 

“What. The. Fuck?” 

Pyrrha doesn’t bother correcting her language. This is long past the time for such innocence. She is torn between the sarcophagus that represents the world she comes from and the child at the edge of her vision. In order to go forward, those two things will have to get introduced. How familiar is Gideon with this section of the universe? How much did Wake tell her? How much did she learn on her own and through Pyrrha’s answers? Pyrrha wants that flow of information back under her control even though she knows it is wrong—Gideon is now grown up and capable of her own decisions. Pyrrha can no longer claim active authority over the child. 

It occurs to Pyrrha that Gideon represents a tactical advantage. John doesn't know he fathered a child. Of the big players in his game of war, he is probably the only one who lacks the how and the why (Pyrrha also lacks the how, technically, but she knows her God and she knows her sibling Lyctors and she knows the only distraction with a proven track record). That sword in that child's hands means that destiny is still waiting to be fulfilled. Instead of lingering for it's call passively, like she had done for two almost two decades, she makes the call herself.  

“What did Wake tell you about the Emperor Undying?”

Gideon resets her grip on the zweihander. Something about it in her hands looks natural and Pyrrha resists the urge to knock it out of her grasp. Her stance is perfect. Gideon says, “She told me you were one of his goons.” So, not a whole lot then. 

Behind Gideon, the necromancer Pyrrha assumes to be the Reverend Daughter looks between them. Their face is a sneer, but the deep, dark intelligence of their eyes mark them as someone to watch out for. Pyrrha takes note of that and the way Gideon keeps herself between the Reverend Daughter and danger. Pyrrha addresses Gideon. 

“I assume you’re here on some mission from your mother.” Pyrrha jumps from the sarcophagus, the pistol newly holstered. “Did she tell you how to contact her when you’re done?”

Gideon’s eyes flicker in fear as though realizing something important. “No,” she says. 

Pyrrha considers this reaction. “She didn’t expect you would need to contact her? I wonder how she would have known—”

“She, uh, doesn’t know I’m here.”

That surprises Pyrrha. The tip of the zweihander lowers to fool's guard. Pyrrha recognizes the new light in those golden eyes, the same look she would have whenever she got out of detention, or that one time she got off with a suspension when she thought for sure she was going to be expelled. 

So this was . . . a bid to curry Wake’s favor? When was the last time Gideon communicated with the commander of Blood of Eden? 

This is an unexpected turn of events. When Pyrrha bores into Gideon with an incredulous look, Gideon fully lowers the zweihander and rolls her eyes. 

“So, like, I thought about what you said about Wake or mom or whatever and we kinda haven’t talked since that fight. But like, she said I was born to do this thing, right? And she really wanted me to do this thing. And I wanted to know what the hell this thing is all about, so I came here to, I dunno, see what’s what for myself. That’s when I met Harrow here—(“Harrowhark,” her friend corrects sharply)—”and they showed me this Tomb thing and it turns out all we needed was some blood? Anyway, it’s all very anticlimactic and confusing. What the hell are you doing here?”

Pyrrha sighs. Destiny, it turns out, is the result of restlessness and curiosity. And, judging from the way Gideon was as a toddler, how she grew up, how she made friends and asked questions and bugged her teachers—didn’t all that make this an inevitability? Maybe who you are drives you to your destiny. Maybe destiny is something you carve yourself. 

“I thought,” Pyrrha says, “for the longest time, that opening this Tomb meant your death. And as soon as I saw you, that wasn’t an acceptable outcome. Ever. You were—” Pyrrha holds up her hands “—this big. And covered in blood and afterbirth. And your mother was packing you away and I . . . I persuaded her to run away with you and me. She was always guilty about that. I took advantage and whisked you both away to that cottage and thought we would have a life separated from all of this.” Pyrrha gestures to the Tomb at large. 

She looks at Gideon, directly into those wildflower eyes, and continues, “I stalled your mother to give you a chance at life. But if that life is to continue for you, there’s one thing we have to do. 

“You want to help me kill God?” 

 


EPILOGUE

 

Gideon is exhausted when she returns to the cottage. So is the rest of her retinue, a hodge-podge of former necromancers and cavaliers: academics and soldiers and at least one nun. The cottage is too small to house everyone, but it serves as home base until everyone figures out their lives. Gideon does not remember stripping the dust covers from the couches and beds that first night, but she does remember finding a forgotten jar of pickled beets in the kitchen. There was a note from Pyrrha, written like she expected to die, explaining that the cottage was now in Gideon’s name and where to find the proper documents for ownership. It was entirely business but it still made Gideon cry in front of everyone. The note continues to live in the desk years later. 

That first night, she and Harrow curl into each other on her childhood bed, bootless but fully clothed; they refuse to rise until the ache in their bones subsides and their leg muscles grow restless with disuse. 

It has been years since her homecoming; Gideon and Harrow are the only two that remain. 

Having grown up here, Gideon doesn’t want to leave. Harrow finds a new home at Gideon’s side, their old one no longer suitable for them. Gideon starts to talk about the wholesomeness of dogs and how enriching their lives would be with one. Harrow has yet to bite. Instead, they redo the bathroom, get a new bed with a bigger mattress for Gideon’s room, rearrange the furniture to make the space their own. A handful of paint color sample tiles are still taped to the kitchen and living room walls, their presence a forgotten reminder of their intentions. At this point in their lives, they move on to other things to worry about. 

Like colic. 

Harrow looks on the verge of tears, their brow furrowed in confusion and despair. In their arms screams a baby—their baby—feathery dark hair angled every which way and pudgy golden arms that whack at the air around her. As Harrow bounces and rocks, their face sighs into defeat. Which means it is Gideon’s turn. It is heartbreaking to have that familiar crease of annoyance between their brows not be directed to Gideon, to see that same crease on the baby and fail in smoothing it out like a good parent ought to know to do. 

“I got her,” Gideon says as she takes the babe from Harrow. “Try to nap.” Harrow leaves the nursery for a restless snooze—Harrow is a light sleeper without a crying infant, and it is a hard habit to break with one. Gideon clocks them at almost two months without a decent night’s sleep. 

Gideon tries not to pay any mind to the screams even though each wail chisels a little bit more in her chest. She checks the diaper—good—and then swaddles the babe in the softest, coziest blanket at her disposal. Baby wiggles it loose seconds after turning into a burrito. Gideon rests her on her shoulder, cheek to chubby cheek, and starts humming and bouncing. All of this to no avail. So Gideon slowly ambles to the living room, her half-hearted attempts at dancing doing nothing to sway the baby except in the physical sense. 

Yesterday, she tried walking her outside while like this. The young neighbors didn’t take to it well—the neighborhood has moved on from the families that lived there when Gideon grew up. They tried hiring a car and driver to get her to calm down once, and it only resulted in the parents falling asleep along with baby, so the driver drove them around for at least two more hours than they intended. Gideon rubs an eye and feels the bag underneath. Harrow isn’t the only one not getting enough sleep. 

Gideon doesn’t remember how many times she circled the couch (same one from her childhood, comfier with age), she just remembers looking at the file cabinet next to the desk and recalling something she put in the top drawer. 

There’s a big mess to clean up so use this sparingly, Pyrrha had said the last time they’d seen each other. There was a lot left unsaid in that interaction. It was still weird thinking of Pyrrha as a legendary, immortal warrior instead of Pie, the person who raised her. It will forever be weird seeing her with a rapier in one hand, a spear in another, matching blow-for-blow the attacks of John Gaius, Emperor of the Nine Houses, Gideon’s biological father and the mortal enemy of Gideon’s birthmother. Pyrrha and Wake had moved together like they’d never separated. And when Wake fell, it was Pyrrha she called for; Gideon stepped into the fray so they could have their final moment. 

I have responsibilities in the Nine Houses, Pyrrha had said. But I will always be there for you when you need me. Go make a life for yourself. I’m proud of you. I love you.

Gideon doesn’t know what she feels when she opens the drawer and pulls out the comm device. It looks as it always did. Gideon hid it away years ago at Harrow’s insistence. “Call her or not, it’s up to you,” Harrow had said. “But I want to figure this out together.” Then Gideon put it in the filing cabinet; out of sight, out of mind. 

She turns it on, checks the settings, then hits the record button. The first thing the mic picks up is the high-pitched shriek of the babe, whose wailings somehow got worse in less than a second. Gideon prays she can still be heard. She turns her head away and presses the mic to her lips, hoping the three inches and lack of proximity would be enough to make her voice the loudest thing on the recording. 

“Hey Pie, it’s me, I hope you’re well. Listen, um, I’m sure you can hear already but . . . we need a little help. I need a little help. Okay, I need a lot of help.” Her eyes burn as she fumbles the end of the message. “Um, whenever you can, but preferably soon. Missyouloveyoubye.” She saves the recording and sends it before she can second-guess anything. It doesn't occur to her that this would have been the first communication in almost five years and there isn’t even a birth announcement as a preamble. (Oh, fuck, they didn’t even tell their other friends off-planet!) 

Two days later, it feels like no time has passed. Gideon can barely remember changing clothes. Harrow is back in their bedroom, attempting another nap, and Gideon tries holding the babe tight against her shoulder. Her left ear starts to ring, so it is a minor miracle that she hears a familiar set of footfalls walk up the front porch. Gideon doesn’t care that she hasn't showered in two days, or that the babe wiggles out of her blanket (again), or that the house is still a disaster. She knows who is behind that door as sure as she knows the sound of those footsteps, the creak of the wood as they shift their weight outside, the familiar pattern in the knock. 

Gideon has tears in her eyes when she opens the door to Pyrrha, a rolling travel case at her ankles, sunglasses resting on her forehead. Without a word, they melt into each other, the baby calming down between them. As the baby settles into hiccups, Pyrrha ruffles Gideon’s hair. 

“Congratulations, kiddo,” Pyrrha says, voice thick. 

“Thanks,” Gideon says, then adds with a devilish satisfaction, “Grandpie.”

“I am not—”

“Tough shit.”

Then the babe is with Pyrrha, gloriously quiet, and Gideon slumps through the cottage to Harrow in bed. 

“Where is she?” Harrow asks, their voice a threat. Their entire body is on edge at the sight of her wife without their child. 

“Grandpie has her,” Gideon mumbles against the pillow.

“Who?”

“You know.” Gideon waves her hand in the air, her wrist floppy. Every minute explaining what she did is one less minute she has to snooze. “Grandpie. Pie. You met her. Sleep first, argue later.”

Gideon often speaks of Pie with a fondness Harrow has never understood. They remove themselves from the bed and creep to the kitchen to get a peek at the notorious Pie, guardian of the child of God, leader of Cohort intelligence, ancient divine warrior. Harrow’s comprehension totters like a see-saw between the natural way Pyrrha held a spear against God’s throat and the teasing way she called Gideon’s teenage sweetheart “her little garden friend.” 

In the living room, Pyrrha paces around, a baby in her arms once more. The baby has golden skin and dark hair from the former Reverend Daughter, but her features look like Gideon. Pyrrha caresses the babe’s cheeks, boops her nose, kisses her forehead. The ancient warrior can’t help but coo; her heart is much too small for the amount of love she feels for this new tiny person. This wonderful symbol of new life. A call to a peaceful existence Pyrrha had failed to steal thrice before. Fourth time’s a charm, it seems. 

She doesn’t see the former Reverend Daughter creep back into the shadow of the bedroom. 

Later in the evening will be the time to talk about how long Pyrrha would be staying, where she would sleep, what the new parents had been up to. For now, it is enough to just pace and bounce and coo and love.