When Drake returned from upstairs with Alice, he seemed a little happier. Forgetting that Drake was still handcuffed to her, Alice ran over to Natasha, excited, and dragged him behind. Alice was unusually strong for such a short, thin woman.
“Hey!” She said, “It looks like your little sister mightn’t be in so bad of a position as she was before anyway, anymore!”
As usual, Alice’s sentences made sense, but were quite awkwardly constructed.
Natasha waved her off, and then Alice sat at the other side of the long cafeteria table next to Chloe, facing Natasha, Janna, and Chance. Janna faced this newcomer with interest.
“Well, what did Drake tell him?” She asked, eyes swivelling back and forth between them.
“Oh, he talked ever so much about the Servant of Death, who I am not vary much a fond of, and also I don’t like the Servant of Conflict either.”
“Are there any that you do like?” Chance asked, cutting off both Drake and Janna.
“Oh yes!” Alice continued excitedly, “I like Mother Nature, and also especially I like the small god of Friendship!”
“The what?” Janna butted back in, “Hang on, what’s a small god and what does it have to do with Servants?”
“I, uh, well,” Alice was eager to answer, but seemed not to know how.
“I can explain if you like,” Chloe smiled.
Janna knew that Chloe had always loved explaining things, and Janna had the suspicion that she would be able to do it better than Alice. It seemed Alice agreed with this too, as she had stopped stammering and was looking at Chloe expectantly.
“Okay, but don’t go into too much detail. Looks like break is almost over, and I really want to know what Drake told my brother. I mean, what Drake told the Chair.” Janna said.
Drake nodded, “Yes, I would like to tell her.”
“Fine, all right.” Chloe shook her head, “I really don’t like abridging though.”
The table leaned in to listen, as though Chloe was about to tell some sort of epic over an imaginary fireplace.
“Let me start by making one thing clear. The term ‘small god’ is a colloquialism.”
She looked at the confused Alice and continued.
“It’s not proper terminology. A small god is like a lesser Servant, or a Servant in training. Actually,” Chloe paused for only a moment, “Small godhood is really more of a trial. It should be no secret that Servants gain power by serving their cause. Death has been known to spur on wars and assassinations to sate her hunger. Conflict has no issues any more since he figured out how to maintain nearly eternal wars. The conflict between the N’Tariel and the Batzers, and the everwar between the East Metch and the… well we’re still not entirely sure what those creatures are. But, both have been raging for centuries because the Servant of Conflict protects against death! Can’t fight if you’re dead, right?”
“Of course not!” Alice shouted a little too loud.
“And Tendrils-” Chloe went to continue on about Servants when Janna interrupted her.
“Can we get on about the small gods?” Janna prodded, “I’m not sure how much extra time we’ll have with Kain deliberating.”
“Right, sorry,” Chloe knew she had been getting carried away, “So we call a small god a Servant Page. That’s why it’s like a trial, though it’s on a more grand scale than we’re used to thinking about. See, the Page’s task is to gain enough influence that they can ascend, commit apotheosis that is, and become a full Servant to their cause.. Well, failure means death, right? But no one kills you, I mean not usually. Instead it’s just your natural lifespan that ends.”
Janna noticed that Alice was listening with an uncanny attentiveness.
“A lot of Pages fail, and when they die, their cause is lost. Take McPunch, instigator of group hugs. Not a very universal cause, hard to get followers. He was a fine king though, so I’ve read. He should really have supported comradery or something more general,” Chloe was going to list more examples, but she caught Janna’s stare, “Right, well, really there isn’t much more to say.”
“Uh,” Alice said, “Umm, Janna if you don’t really mind that much, I would like to ask about Chloe that I had a question.”
Janna shook her head dismissively. She wasn’t quite sure why.
“Can you tell me about anyone that did ascend?” She asked.
“Of course I can,” Chloe said, “The Servant of Duels for example. Duels is one that Janna really should be paying more attention to. It’s actually a pair of them, Duels. They were N’Tariel duellists that found their art being threatened. Obviously duelling is dangerous, and the N’Tariel dueled with real swords. They created rules to make things safer and avoid bans. It wasn’t long before they got into healing and became Pages for Duels. Their set of rules and first aid spread to the Djeb and Plainkind populations.”
Alice gasped, “I’m a Plainkind!”
Chloe nodded, “It was the spread to wider domains that got them their full Servanthood. The Servant of Music, or Inspiration, or Muses… He keeps changing his cause to similar things. Anyway, Muses and Duels are the youngest Servants as far as I know.”
“Who’s the oldest?” Alice asked.
The sun was drifting toward a horizontal brick that was meant to block it out for a few minutes, marking the end of break.
Natasha broke in, “We had better go upstairs before the rest of them rush off and we have to dodge through a crowd.”
“Well, I think I’d better tell you about Servants later,” Chloe smiled at Alice.
Janna had the vague suspicion that this wasn’t the first time these two had met.
They walked back to the courtroom. It was empty; Kain was still working on his verdict. The session would not continue until he came down from the room upstairs.
Janna was in her usual spot in the centre of the room next to Chance, to their right at their own table sat Chloe and Natasha. Five circular rows of benches radiated out from the centre, breaking for the door at the back of the room, and also at the front of the room, for the Chair’s seat. Alice, still dragging Drake behind her, stood on the left near Janna. Alice decided that she was going to stand, but Drake sat down anyway. Feeling limited by Drake, and having already delivered him from the prison long ago, Alice finally uncuffed the man.
“So who is this Page of Friendship?” Janna asked.
Alice blushed and pointed, “I am.”
“What?” Janna didn’t believe her.
Chloe tilted her head, “Really?”
“Well,” Alice jumped, making Drake grateful that she wasn’t still pulling on him, “I got the temple after the four years I came back here.”
“What?” Janna asked again.
She wasn’t quite used to Alice’s odd manner of speech. It’s like she had some sort of broken and hilarious accent to match her jumpy and hilarious temperament. Alice sort of reminded Janna of a more excited version of her own ditzy sister, Chloe. And like Chloe, it seemed that she was not to be underestimated. Alice was a Vice-Captain, and apparently also a Page.
“I got a temple,” She said a little more slowly now, “It was a Conflict temple, from the man, Batshiva. He willed it to me, you see? The poor dude is dead now.”
Janna found it amusing that Alice had called the old grouch that Batshiva had been a “dude.”
“Right, it was a temple for the Servant of Conflict, but I changed a few things, and Conflict’s presence eventually left. Well, I’ve been living in there and playing with my friends there too as well.” And then for good measure, Alice added, “Also.”
Playing with her friends, Janna repeated the sentence in her mind. This Alice woman talked like she was still a little girl or something. Janna waved it off and told Alice to continue.
“It seems to be have been because I am so friendly of a person!” Alice smiled, “Once I became a guard and started talking to all of the people that I ever met in the town, and being a real friendly person also as well…”
Alice finally took a breath. Janna wondered why she felt it necessary to use “as well” so excessively.
“So, what I mean is, I started to feel a buzzing that was in my brain every single time I talked to someone. At least, every time I talked to someone that liked me as much as I liked them. I liked the buzzing, it was a nice feeling. Well, as the months and weeks happened, the buzzing got more… specific. I mean, definite. I, uh.” She searched for a word.
“Consistent?” Chloe offered from halfway across the courtroom.
“Yes!” Alice jumped again, “It was in my brain, and I heard odd ideas coming into my mind, as if they were my own thoughts. I knew they were not. I learned, seemingly from myself, that I had become something of a channel, a source. I was both an inlet and outlet for friendship! That’s what I thought. At first I figured it was Mother Nature, but my ideas told me that it was instead Father Nature. It seems Mother Nature has been missing for thirty or forty years, so I heard from my thoughts.”
“So… the Servant of the Underside came to congratulate you, because the Servant of the Overside was… missing?” Janna tried to piece together Alice’s story.
Janna was coming to like Alice a whole lot. This little girl, or rather, this young woman had a bit of innocent charm to her.
“Yeah!” Alice replied, “I’m a little worried about Overside, I mean, Mother Nature. It seemed that my thoughts weren’t really though. They were just a little unhappy to be with more responsibility than usual.”
“So what has, ah, what’s happened to Mother Nature?!” Chloe’s voice cut through the air.
She had a notebook in front of her, and it seemed she had been writing about the process of the ascension to Page.
“I…” Alice trailed off, timidly, “I don’t really know.”
“Yeah, come on Chloe, how would she know? You’d have to ask Overside or Father Nature or whatever,” Janna concluded, “But still, look at her, she seems so… Well now wait a minute.”
Janna turned back to Alice.
Accusingly, she said, “Do you passively influence people? Is that what Friendship does? You get the power to make people like you?”
Alice blushed, her eyes darting back and forth between the floor and Janna, “No… It was always like that before. I’m super good at friends.”
Alice stood, shifting on her feet timidly. Janna crossed her arms. This girl had a way about her, and it wasn’t just her bright hair and striking facial features. Alice seemed the kind of person that was very easy to like. Something like an innkeeper, Janna mused.
Kain came down from the top floor at the same time as another set of feet thundered up from the lower floor. This second person collided with Kain when they met at the landing.
“Janna,” Drake took advantage of this confusion to speak up. There was a franticness about him, “It was about Death again. You were possessed by her when we fought down in Venus’s catacombs. That’s why that man died so easily.”
The person who had run into Kain, a dark haired, dishevelled looking man, stood up, having knocked himself to the ground. Kain looked down at him, interested.
“Sorry sir,” Said the second man, who then walked to sit next to Alice.
Alice mumbled something to him, and Janna overheard, “Finch… careful, that man is a man who is also a prince…”
Natasha shook her head at the foolish display, and Chloe laughed. They both seemed to know this man, Finch. Janna vaguely recalled him and Alice attending the court either yesterday or the day before.
Kain took his time walking to the podium with a scroll in hand.
That must be the verdict, Janna thought.
He sat at the head of the room and, with a serious expression on his face, as the crowd began to shuffle back in.
There’s probably only one more after this. Unless I make an epilogue. I do have a sequel series in mind, but I’m not sure if I’ll end up writing it, what with Alice and Finch to finish, as well as my novel CN Natasha.
This is actually a second draft, and a major overhaul of the first. I actually added nearly a thousand words, and I’m not sure if I’m happy about it. See, Alice’s explanation of Pagehood was a little garbled, and so I put it into the hands of Chloe instead. I feel like poor Alice’s speech is becoming more and more like the awful dubbing in Garzey’s Wing… I’ll have to have Chloe or Finch (probably both) help her with that.
P.S. Check out the Table of Contents for more.