His Guardian Thing
Not sleeping had been a mistake. It looked like this body still needed that.
Ocher realized that briefly before dawn and managed to nap a bit, but he still felt dead tired when he was awoken by a knock on the guest bedroom door.
He scrambled off the bed and opened the door. He hoped and feared it would be Hector, but it was one of the villa staff members instead. A bodyguard. After the mess he’d made yesterday, he wasn’t surprised to see Hector sending one of those instead of a maid.
“I was told to escort you down to breakfast when you are ready Mr. Brooks,” the man in a suit said. “Then the boss would like to talk to you, though if you prefer to leave instead, he said you may do so.”
Ocher rubbed his eyes. “I… I’d actually like to go see him right away. Just give me a moment.”
* * *
Hector sat at his desk studying the framed picture that normally stood there. Ocher knew it was a photo of the two Viteris, father and son, the same one he had seen on the night he had first broken into Hector’s home in search of the key. As he timidly approached the desk, Hector set the picture aside and looked up at him. He seemed almost normal in his beige suit and tie. If not for what happened the day before, Wyatt could have thought the Man was just tired.
“Morning, Wyatt, please, take a seat.” He gestured towards a leather armchair in front of the desk. There was a coolness to his voice that wasn’t there before, a dispassionate quality that enhanced the impression of weariness.
“Good morning…” Wyatt muttered, still ashamed of yesterday’s failings and took the seat, resigned. It was all so business-like now, like there had never been anything between them. Maybe that was for the better, he thought, but found the idea painful. All in all he guessed he should be happy with how well Hector was taking this. It was far more civilized than he could have expected of the beast. Or really, of anyone after what he’d done. He wanted to say something, apologize again, but he was never good at starting conversations. So he just sat there, downcast, with dark crescents under his eyes, waiting for Hector to begin.
“How are you feeling?” Hector asked.
“I’m fine. I… hope you’ll be alright as well,” he said quietly. Unable to hold Hector’s gaze, Wyatt stared guiltily at the desk instead. He tried to find the right words to explain what had even transpired.
“I’ll be back to normal in no time,” Hector said with unwavering confidence. “I will also get over the fact that you shot my dogs and stabbed me…”
Ocher blinked slowly. Wait, what…
“My people have already dealt with the van you crashed into the gate… I have no idea where you found it, but it’s in the city dump now, wrecked beyond recognition. I’m glad you didn’t hurt yourself or any of my men to any significant extent.” Hector paused thoughtfully. “It could have all gone much worse in retrospect.”
Wyatt stared at him, bewildered. There was no way he could have prepared a response to that. What stabbing, what shooting, what van… Was Hector the one actually going crazy? But was he even supposed to tell Hector that he got it all wrong? That what had actually happened was that he turned everything into sand, and then tried to extract a key to the cage from Hector’s chest? Would that make any of this better? A part of him was itching to point out the truth, but somehow Ocher didn’t think it was going to help, so he just sat there silently.
“It must all be a blur for you, I understand. You were extremely agitated. What I don’t understand is why. Why did you lash out now? After you’d already run away, and I cut you loose, what upset you so badly that you did all this?” Hector scrutinized Wyatt with a concerned frown.
It wasn’t a blur at all. Everything he had done in the last few days was painfully sharp and clear to him now. But how was he supposed to tell that to Hector? “I was just confused and really stressed out. It’s not going to repeat. I’m really, really sorry.”
“But what stressed you out so much? I’d thought the matters being put to rest you should have stopped worrying.”
“Uh…” Wyatt quickly planned out the answer in his head. If Hector still didn’t get what had really happened yesterday, maybe he shouldn’t tell him. He could say that the matters hadn’t been exactly put to rest. Hector might have thought they were, but the Man had a certain renown and Wyatt had reasons to be scared. Especially when Hector came after him. Who wouldn’t be terrified when a crime lord they just ran away from, tracked them down in the Sahara with a helicopter?
But that wasn’t really it. That was just more lies. And lies were what got them here. He wanted to finally be honest with Hector. To just tell him the truth. And he decided to try it. “Do you really not remember who we both are?” he started, carefully.
Hector tilted his head. “A mobster and a student?”
Wyatt shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. Who we were before this. Many lives ago, in the cosmic wastes. Before you broke free and ran away.”
Now it was Hector’s turn to blink in confusion. “I ran away?”
“Yes. My Makers have defeated you. They put you in the cage, and they appointed me to guard you till the end of time. But I failed, and you escaped. I thought I was doing the right thing, trying to put you back in that cage. But now I’m not so sure. I think you like this world and do no harm here. I mean, on the galactic scale of things.” Ocher felt his heart grow lighter. It felt good to be honest. He looked at Hector expectantly, hoping to see a spark of understanding.
Hector’s expression was unreadable. He looked down at the desk for a minute, appearing to take it all in. “You say you’re not sure. Does that mean you still consider me a threat?”
“No… I mean, it all depends. As Wyatt, I have been scared of you for a long time, but in the end I had a lot of feelings for you that were not just fear. I didn’t run away because I was scared of you. I ran because I realized that instead of trying to find a way to free myself from you, I was falling in love with you.”
“And as… not Wyatt?”
He looked at Hector hopefully. Was he starting to understand him? “Well… as the guardian, I was never scared of you. I mean, I was created specifically for the purpose of holding you captive. When you ran, I was not afraid to rush after you. That’s how we both wound up in this world. Because of some sort of local reincarnation cycle, it took me a long time to recall who we were, and when I did, I still thought my duty was to recapture you. Not because I consider you a threat, but because such were my orders. But I don’t think it is needed. I thought things were simple. That the beast needs to go back into its cage… But after yesterday, I no longer think it is the optimal solution. Right now I’m not even sure where you end and the beast begins.”
Hector looked up at him sadly. “I know it might all feel very real to you, but it’s just the stress that has taken its toll. It is my fault that you’d been driven to this… and I will gladly pay for any therapy you feel could help.”
Ocher looked at him disappointed. He thought they were on common ground here, it seemed to be going so well. How could Hector be denying all that happened? “What therapy? I’m not crazy. I’m telling you the truth. Just look.” He took the pen that was on the desk, and making sure Hector was looking at it, he made it crumble to sand in his fingers.
Hector sighed. “What’s with the sand, Wyatt? Why are you so obsessed with it?”
“I’m not obsessed with it. I was made out of it, and I can turn things into it!” The guardian looked at Hector in frustration. He got up. “Alright, here, look at this armchair. I’m going to turn it into sand.”
“Please, sit back down. I don’t need more sand in my study. I understand you were in the desert, but you didn’t have to bring it into my house.” Hector was completely unfazed, and only a little irked.
The guardian flicked his fingers, and both armchairs in front of Hector’s desk fell into small hills of sand. “You’re asking me to sit back down. What should I sit on, hm?”
Now Hector looked baffled. “Where did you even keep all that sand? Jesus, Wyatt…”
“Well, what should I sit on? What do you think happened to the armchairs?”
Hector looked at the neat piles of sand, then he looked up at Wyatt. “You must have moved them while I wasn’t looking, or something like that, I don’t care about the armchairs. But you clearly have a problem with sand and keys and spinning a fantastic narrative around our relationship. And it’s all my fault. Please, go home, rest. I’ll get you in touch with a trusted shrink, and in a week you’ll be only mildly embarrassed by this whole thing.”
Wyatt let out an exasperated sigh. He had no idea why this was happening, but it became painfully obvious that Hector was in denial about all this. “So you really don’t remember anything from your previous lives? Or from the times when you roamed between the stars, wrecking entire planets? The city trembles when you are angry, do you also not see that?”
“Is that what they teach you at your geology faculty?” Hector looked just as annoyed as Wyatt felt. “It’s called an earthquake, Wyatt.”
“It’s an earthquake alright, but you’re the cause of it. There has never been an earthquake in this area before. Look at the city, look at the weather, your mood is affecting it!”
Hector hid his face in his hands. “Listen to yourself, Wyatt. Now you’re blaming the weather and seismic activity on me. I understand that I hurt you in a lot of ways, but this is too much… Even my ex-wife never went this far…”
Wyatt sighed, defeated. He felt like sitting down, but there was nowhere to sit anymore. He did that to himself.
“Fine, whatever, don’t believe me and think what you will. I tried telling you the truth for once. But it looks like I shouldn’t have bothered.”
Hector looked up at him sadly. “No, I’m sorry. Thanks for being earnest. I’d rather know the extent of the damage I’d done straight away…”
Wyatt frowned at him. He calmed down and shook his head. “No, no, you didn’t do any damage. You have a scary reputation, yes, and I freaked out a lot, but you were nothing but kind to me. You’ve made me feel at home. I wish I hadn’t run and then gone all guardian on you. I’m really sorry about everything that happened.”
“So we’re good?”
Ocher looked at him in confusion for a moment, then quickly nodded. “Yes. Yeah, we’re good.”
“That’s good enough for me. I’ll have someone drive you home. You could use a good night’s sleep, I’m sure. And I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.”
It wasn’t even noon yet, but Hector was right. He was tired and it was better if he went home. “Okay. Please also get some rest. And thank you for being so… level-headed about all this.”
“Don’t worry, I will,” Hector assured him. “And… thanks for not killing me.” Hector smiled.
Ocher looked at the floor, a wave of guilt washed over him again. “I wish I’d never even tried.” When he was leaving the room, he looked at Hector one more time. “Will I see you again?”
“I don’t think so,” Hector said somberly. “What feelings you came to have for me are a product of the twisted lie you had to live to survive. You had the right idea with running away. It’s for the best that we part ways.”
It wasn’t true, but Wyatt didn’t try to argue. He left with his head down.
* * *
As soon as he got back home, he hauled the box of keys from under his bed and finally carried it out to the dumpster. Just as he was about to toss the keys in with the rest of the garbage, he suddenly remembered about his powers and he tipped the box over instead, willing the keys into sand as they spilled out of it. It was extremely confusing trying to comprehend who he was now, what he could do and what he was supposed to.
The past week had been easy. He had acted in a trance, so overtaken by his surfacing memories of the beast and his mission that he let himself forget he still was Wyatt Brooks. Of course, there was an option to give that life up now, it was clearly just one of the many he’d lived. But did he really want to do that? Now that he was done using only half of his brain to think, there were a lot of realizations to be had before he could even begin deciding. Nothing was as clear as it had been in the desert, and things hadn’t been too clear even then, which was to say, all his memories and life choices were a jumbled screaming mess. He didn’t know if he found it upsetting or comforting that Hector’s memories of their common past seemed to be gone completely. His beast thought it was a businessman and a mobster now and acted accordingly. The guardian’s own memories of their previous cycles were muddled, but Ocher recalled Hector had been criminals in multiple incarnations. He had his gang in the Wild West. Before that, he was a pirate captain — Ocher remembered walking the plank in that one — he fought on both sides of the Crusades, he was a warlord, a tribe’s chieftain… and those were just some of the lives where the guardian found him. He did not always find him and when he did, it was never for long, never so awake, and not this close and personal. Well, Hector killed him from time to time, but that was as personal as it got. It was never like what they had in this life, never like this…
Even after the last of the keys fell into sand, and the sand that used to be a cardboard box finished trickling between his fingers, Ocher still kept standing over the dumpster, just looking at the brick wall behind it. At least until an old lady from the neighbourhood tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he was okay.
Was he okay? He didn’t think so. But he automatically smiled and nodded.
On his way back up to his apartment, he asked himself, if he should have really thrown sand into the garbage, and that swiftly brought back the question of whether he should have done anything he had done in the past days. He’d turned Hector’s front gate and dogs into sand. He turned Hector’s armchairs into sand. He almost turned Hector’s heart into sand as well. He messed up big time, and he wasn’t nearly done dwelling on all his failures.
And so his dumpster reverie continued even as he sat on his bed in apathy, turning an hourglass upside down until the red light of the answering machine finally caught his attention.
There were many new messages on it. They’d been sitting there since Christmas, because of course he hadn’t bothered to check them when he dropped back home between returning from Egypt and pursuing the beast. Wyatt braced himself as he rewound the cassette and pressed play. He expected the oldest message to be from Hector. Instead, it was from his mom. His parents decided to check up on him a few days before Christmas. Fuck. They must have called a nation-wide police search by now. What did it matter though? If this body was just another incarnation of his, and he had different parents in every lifetime, was he even supposed to care about this temporary current set of parents?
Shit, what kind of question was that even? He felt ashamed of even thinking this.
He called them back first.
“Oh my god, Wyatt, only now you call us back? Have some shame, child, we thought something happened.”
“Uh… I’m so sorry, Mom. Weird stuff was going on… with my phone. I’m super sorry about this.”
“Oh Wyatt… you could have called us from a friend’s phone or even a street phone. The only reason we did not have heart attacks yet is because I called Hamsi back then, and she said you’re alright, just busy, and told us not to worry.”
“I’m really, really sorry…” Wait a second… “Uh, Mom… you called Hamsi back when exactly?”
“On Christmas Eve, after you weren’t returning my calls for three days!” The voice on the other side of the phone softened a little. His mom was angry at him, but was clearly concerned as well even if she tried not to let it on. “Wyatt… we don’t even care about the merry Christmas wishes, but please don’t scare us like that again. There’s enough side effects of the medicines me and your father are taking to keep us up worrying at night, we know you’re busy with your work, but please think of your old mother and father from time to time.”
He promised that he would, and after apologizing profusely some five more times, and assuring her that he was going to call them on New Year’s for sure, he put down the receiver and took a deep breath. That… could have gone so much worse. At least his parents still gave him some undeserved credit. He hit play again, wondering why Hamsi would cover for him when she had no idea where he was on Christmas Eve.
The next message was from her.
She sounded worried and was asking him to contact her when he gets back from his… soul-searching trip? Her and Abhilasha hoped he was alright and were looking forward to continuing their discussion about the role of reincarnation in Hindu religion. What discussion again? The message would have sounded completely normal if not for that last part. Hamsi had been the one who’d suggested he needed a getaway holiday, so maybe that covered the soul-searching part but… they never had any conversation about reincarnation. Well, aside from him being confused and briefly asking about her religion, but that was back in the first year of university.
Those ponderings were cut short because next came the messages from Hector and those were painful to listen to. There was worry in the Man’s voice. The beast was asking him to call it back. With a shaking hand he reached to fast forward. He couldn’t bring himself to listen to this… but… he had to. He fucked up and he was going to face the music. He withdrew his hand.
Hector had called him three times. Wyatt listened, despondent. Alongside concern, there was the warmth and affection in Hector’s voice that Wyatt was afraid he was never going to be addressed with again. He wouldn’t blame Hector if that was the case. He had really gone and found a way to screw up this relationship when one would have thought it couldn’t get more twisted… no… more like… when it was getting almost normal. The way it was now, he didn’t know what was more lamentable — the concept of the guardian who fell for the beast, or the way this all looked when perceived through human eyes.
He didn’t know how his Creators were going to assess his current situation. His contact with them had been long severed, and it looked like there was no way to re-establish it. He was stuck on Earth, and it seemed like there was no way to get out of here.
Had they been watching all this time? Or had they thought the guardian had lost himself forever in the current of human lives? Did they plan on punishing him for letting the beast escape, or were they content with this new cage that both the beast and the guardian were locked in now? After all, what was one planet on a cosmic scale, just a slightly bigger terrarium to hold Hector in. Honestly, Ocher couldn’t blame the beast for wanting a more spacious cage and one with something, anything of interest inside it. The previous place they were in was so desolate. Nothing but sand all around. Ocher vividly remembered counting all the eyes on the beast’s enormous form. It’s also how he started making a journal of sorts in his head. Anything to keep himself from falling asleep on duty. If the keeper, a compassionless construct built to never feel a thing, somehow still learnt to experience boredom back then, he could only imagine how bored the beast must have been. It was so used to rampaging through the galaxies that being idle for so long must have been a torture. Here at least it could distract and entertain itself with all the lives and stories playing out around it, and the guardian supposed, so could he.
One day he knew he would be judged and tried for it, but for now it all seemed so distant. He guessed there was life to be had here in the meantime. He played back another message, and Hunter was asking if he could go out to drink with him. He sounded kind like his old self again, the miserable Hunter from the lowest downs the thief had been in.
Ocher dialed his number hoping that Two Bits still had his phone.
“Huh… muh, yeah?” Hunter drawled.
“So, I just got back home and got your message. Is everything okay?”
“Wyatt?” There was a pause. “Where you been? I had to start drinking without you… I never finished.”
“Gee, Hunter, I’m sorry… Do you want me to come over? You don’t sound so good.”
There were some inarticulate noises of hesitation and emotional distress. “I dunno. I guess. But it doesn’t really matter, you know. Nothing matters anymore… If you want to wallow in misery together, I’m game. Otherwise I’m afraid I’m even more good for nothing than usual.”
It didn’t escape his notice that Hunter still attempted to use more advanced vocabulary. “I… I think I could wallow a bit in that with you. Or maybe we could both cheer each other up or something.”
“Really?” Hunter sounded hopeful and surprised. “I thought you’d be busy, living the high life, but hey, yeah, if you’re sad too, come over, we can be sad together. I’d like that.”
“Sure, sounds like a plan. I’ll be there soon.”
It was probably irresponsible of him to go meet Hunter without calling Hamsi back. But he had a strange premonition about that message she left, and did not feel like delving into it just yet. He needed… he needed to feel normal. And hanging around with Hunter always gave him that.
The seven were supposed to meet, but again there were only six. This was no longer spoken about. They had a much more urgent matter to discuss.
“Akhenaten, why didn’t you do anything?!” the hero cast his first accusation.
”What, step in the middle of their conflict and commit suicide? Do you think being down to seven isn’t enough?” the heretic barked back. “And it’s not like I was the only one who could do something. Ishtar’s sukkal was there too, and so was the animal!” He pointed towards the silent crone.
“Ninshubur has failed us enough!” The hero spat on the floor. “If she had at least been honest about her inability to kill the guardian, I would have done the deed myself. Now it’s too late!”
The temptress looked at her servant with derision. “You really did disappoint all of us.”
“I’m so sorry, mistress.” Ninshubur lowered her gaze guiltily. “I was too proud to admit defeat.”
Even though the servant had already been accused, punished and humiliated before, the hero was still glaring at her furiously. The doctor looked displeased. The crone just stared. Ninshubur glanced around the room and finally her gaze stopped on the heretic. Their eyes met, and despite his reservations, there was a spark of understanding between them. Akhenaten leaned back in his chair and looked at Ishtar judgingly.
The doctor rubbed his temples, then looked at the rest of them. “We cannot go on like this. Not with the guardian being lucid. We need to fold. And to do so neatly, we need a foolproof plan. There is no room left for mistakes.”
The cold seemed less biting the next day, but it was still way frostier than Ocher remembered the city ever being this time of the year. Was it Hector’s mood that was affecting the weather, or was it just a system of cold air that found its way down here without the beast’s assistance?
The guardian knew it was the former, but today he was inclined to believe the latter. He felt down to Earth again, more Wyatt-ish, which was good, he guessed. The reason behind it was that he had met up with Hunter the previous day, and they had both spilled their bitter cups of sorrows on each other. Hunter’s relationship with Rance, which apparently had mostly existed as such in the thief’s hopeful imagination, had fallen apart when Hunter attempted to invite the mean Mr. Clean to a romantic supper by candlelight. While using sophisticated new words he had learned, of course. Mr. Mean had cut all ties with Hunter after that, leaving him alone in the suddenly rather luxurious and cosy looking apartment that Hunter had managed to furnish during the few weeks when he had stopped gambling to make a positive impression on that nasty, bald Citizen. Now rejected, dejected and drunk, Hunter backslid into his poker addiction, and the new furniture was already disappearing again.
Ocher was horrified to have learnt that Hunter considered suicide before Wilma and Betty showed up on his doorstep, which was a blood-curdling piece of news in its own right. Even though that crisis had been averted, Wyatt still felt as if he’d showed up right on time to rescue Hunter. Hunter needed someone to talk to. A shoulder to cry and whine on. But that went both ways. Wyatt needed moral support too, and they had always been looking out for each other. Hunter was the one who had originally found the born loser potential in Ocher and nurtured it. And that was because it took one to know one. That’s who they were. Losers Anonymous. They’d always kind of known that, but there had never been an agreement as to who was the bigger one. Ocher felt that it was official now — he’d won that award. It didn’t even matter that he wasn’t really human.
Of course he hadn’t told Hunter the truth about that, but he’d said enough for the thief to know that his was not the only relationship that had fallen apart. They drank to that, even though Ocher got Hunter to promise he was going to quit drinking after the New Year.
He was intending to come back to Hunter’s place later today because neither of them wanted to be alone for New Year’s Eve. But for now he had another meeting to attend. He called Hamsi a few hours ago, meaning to try and make sense of her cryptic voicemail, but it had been Abi who picked up and told him to haul his sorry ass over to their place as fast as his short legs would carry him. And so he was going there now, walking briskly through the icy streets. He felt like he had screwed up big time, so being scolded felt reassuring.
Hamsi opened the door. They looked at each other with slight worry for a moment. Then she waved him in. “Come on in, Wyatt. It’s chilly outside, isn’t it?”
She took his jacket, and as she hung it away. She asked him how his university was going, how his parents were doing and if he was hungry. He said it was alright, that they’re fine and that he kind of was. They headed for the living room. Then the normalcy was ruined by Abhilasha.
“Look who finally woke up.” The taller of the Rathi sisters folded her arms, blocking their path. “Congratulations. It only took you some few thousand years.”
Wyatt stared at her, then looked at Hamsi for support.
“Oh come on, don’t look at her. Use your own brain for a change. If you have it, that is. I mean it could be filled with sand for all we know, which would partially explain things.”
“Abi.” Hamsi stared her down.
“Yes, sister?” She made the air quotes with her fingers. “Would you like to start?”
Wyatt looked at them, confused but suspecting. “Do you… do you know about my guardian thing?”
Abhilasha laughed. “His ‘guardian thing’. Oh gods, how perfect. We are so blessed to have you here among us, the powerful guardian, always alert, always ready, all these years keeping the bloodthirsty beast at bay for our sake. The world was just about to fall apart, before you, our savior, the most considerate and competent liberator we could have dreamt of, walked in!”
“Okay, you are mocking me, I get it, I probably deserve it. But how do guys know, because I’m really confused-”
“Probably? You’re nothing but confused. All these years, all these lives, the same old story. Hamsi here will explain everything to you, because she’s patient and holy, and she loves babysitting you, but by Lord Ravana, by Lady Mandodari and Lady Dhanyamalini, I’m so fed up with you, but here’s just a few things-”
“Can we at least take this to the living room?” Hamsi looked between them. “I mean, I thought we’d have tea and something to eat, but if not then at least let’s all sit down. Abi, can you please be a sweetheart…”
Abhilasha sighed, snarled half-heartedly and made way.
They all sat down in the living room.
Hamsi looked at her sister. “So what, show, or tell?”
“I’m not showing him anything. He’s either going to remember the dozens of times we saved his ass or have to rely on his imagination.” She turned to Ocher. “I don’t know what you think you’re guarding, but I know who’s been guarding you. Even now when they tried to come after you. Honestly, fuck you, your convenient unawareness and your selective memory of previous lives.”
“Okay, I’ll show then.” Hamsi’s cosy baggy sweater blurred and vanished, revealing bare and very round breasts.
Ocher was sure glad they weren’t having that tea because he would have had a spit take. His jaw dropped. He and Hamsi had not even got close to this stage when they tried to date once.
The rest of Hamsi’s clothes vanished as well, revealing more and more brown shimmering skin. The only things she wore now were golden hoops around her wrists and ankles, a belt of colorful fabric decorated with gold and a garland of flowers around her neck. Wyatt never imagined the baggy clothes could have been hiding such an hourglass figure. He’d thought with her chest, she would be more plump around the middle, but that was not the case.
Hamsi did not appear to be at all embarrassed by her nakedness. She smiled brightly, like she’d been waiting to have this conversation with him. Her face was changed too. Structurally the same it now seemed more flirty, more playful. She snickered, relishing his shock. She took the glasses off and set them aside, completing the transformation. “So we might not be exactly human either. Which doesn’t mean we can relate much to you and Hector, but we’re this world’s variety of divine entities. Not gods, but in their service. I am a Yakshini, and Abi is a Rakshasi.”
Ocher just stared.
“Also, we might not exactly be sisters.”
“What she means to say,” Abhilasha hissed, “is we’re lovers, so quit gaping at her boobs, and don’t even think of ever touching them with your sandy gay hands ever again. Just stick to fondling the beast’s furry balls or whatever it is you’re into now. Though on the other hand, maybe stop doing that too.”
Hamsi looked at her with a deeply sceptical expression. “Are you done now, Abi?”
“No. Not yet, let me have it.” She turned back to Ocher. “All these centuries, all these centuries, I just calmly rolled with this, saying nothing. But you were her pet project for way too long. Gods, sometimes she would lose you for a few lifetimes, and that would be delightful, but at the end of the day somehow she’d always bring you back home like a stray dog, so instead of me and her there’d always be us and this third wheel guardian that we’re babysitting. Keeping tucked safely away from the terrible, terrible beast. Or if I tried to push you towards the beast to wake you up, she would save you from it at the last moment. Thank mighty Lord Ravana for this long prayed for awakening, even though I never believed this would help anything — and I was right — I’m so glad to finally have you out of my hair in some form at least.”
Ocher sat there, speechless. He just blinked at Abhilasha about a dozen times.
“Are you done now, sweetheart? Sorry about this, Wyatt, it’s not how I meant to-”
“Just one more thing. Whatever she tells you, while she adds more sugar into your tea — that she will sure make in a moment — and puts a bandaid with Mickey Mouse on your finger, you need to get your act together and do your job better. I get it, you just opened your eyes, but they are open now, and starting now, you are responsible for your actions. You are teasing the beast, which is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. It puts this city, and maybe even the whole world as we know it in peril. Let sleeping dogs lie, guardian. We are all better off this way.”
The guardian stared at her now. “Am I allowed to say something?”
“Is it going to be worthwhile?”
Ocher opened his mouth, then closed it.
“I thought so. It’s okay, you’re not supposed to talk now. You need to listen, and carefully so. Hamsi will tell you everything you need to hear, and you better make sure to take that advice. You owe us big time.” She turned to the revealed Yakshini. “Don’t let him out before he understands exactly how serious this is and where he stands and that it’s up to his neck in shit, okay?”
She didn’t have to get his attention. He was already looking.
“Boo!” Her image flickered and for a moment Ocher could see the tusks, the burning eyes and the dark red skin strewn with golden spikes. A forked tongue flicked at him menacingly. The image dispersed after a second, and Abhilasha turned away and walked out of the room. The guardian continued to stare after her wide-eyed for a moment. And not even because of the strange creature he saw, but rather because of how much of that image resembled the regular Abhilasha when she was angry. Somehow that constantly displeased woman had managed to translate that absolutely demonic appearance into her everyday human mimics.
“Come on, Wyatt. Can I still call you that? Let’s have tea now.” Hamsi nodded to the kitchen. She was looking like her regular self again and wore clothes and her glasses. But Ocher knew he had not just hallucinated them both turning. On the intrinsic, factual level, the guardian had known that he and the beast shared this world with some other… mythical creatures. He just never suspected he would personally know any of them already.
He followed Hamsi meekly to the kitchen, and let her sit him down, warm him up some food, take the leftovers of a homemade cake from the fridge and set the water for tea. She talked to him all the while.
“So what you need to understand first is that you and Hector are not alone here. Pretty much everyone of the hm… undying entities knows about Hector to some extent, they don’t understand exactly what he is, but they know he’s different than our gods, that he’s more powerful and dangerous, because they’ve seen proof of that. I don’t know how many except for us and a few acquaintances of ours know about you though. But it’s safe to assume that after your recent display that number significantly increased. We know for sure that some of them knew before, and were even out to get you recently.”
Ocher stared at her, opening his mouth to ask about it, but she put her hand up, not done talking yet.
“We’ll get to that. What I’m aiming at is that you stirred the beast’s slumber, and many new eyes, previously unaware of your existence, have turned that way too. Some don’t know what they are looking at, but most know it’s something to do with Hector again. You see, Hector has been in the center of everyone’s attention for thousands of years. Wherever he goes, people like us choose to either follow him or, for the most part, flee from him to the exact opposite side of the globe. You’re probably the last one to find out what he is.”
Ocher leaned his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands, trying to make sense of every word. He nodded, then asked one of the million questions that swirled in his head. “Wait… let me clarify something. You’re actually calling the beast Hector. So is he the beast? Or is the beast just related to him in some way? I’m still trying to figure this one out.”
“Oh gods, I did not just hear that.” Abhilasha’s voice came from the hall. “Some guardian, my ass. He doesn’t even know what he’s guarding. I’m going out, Hamsi. You two have fun.”
When they heard the sound of the door locking, Ocher breathed a sigh of relief. Hamsi was steeping the tea. They looked at each other.
“Can I ask you some basic questions?” the guardian said. “I know you have important things to tell me, and I am super grateful for everything, but I’m just a tad confused…”
“Did we already have this conversation once?”
“No. We talked, a whole lot, but never like this. You’ve been sleeping very soundly.”
“Abi said you found me many times before. How do you do it?”
“You seem to subconsciously gravitate towards Hector, which makes sense. We’d follow his tracks, and often I’d find you somewhere in the area. You tend to be drawn to things that have to do with rocks, sand, minerals, that kind of thing… I was usually able to locate you through that.”
“So you’re saying that the geology faculty…”
“Yeah.” She smiled. “It’s kind of a pattern with you.”
Ocher frowned. “But how did you know it was me in this life? I mean, there’s so many students.”
“Remember the faculty team-building trip to the Grand Canyon at the beginning of the first year?” She poured the tea into two colorful cups.
“Of course I do, it’s how we met…”
“Exactly. Only we actually met the night before. You sleepwalked through all the corridors of the hostel and took as many room keys as you could pocket, and then I found you counting them in your room and returned them all to where they belonged before people noticed. There was no mistaking you after that. Because you also always have that key fixation of yours.” She set a cup of tea down in front of him and sat on the opposite side of the table with her own cup.
He covered his face with a hand and looked at her defeated. “I know…” Then he uncovered his face and frowned. “But wait, you enrolled into the university because of me?”
“Kind of, but not really. You see, as a Yakshini I like these things too. We specialize in natural wealth. Buried treasures of every kind, including natural resources. I dig it.” Hamsi grinned.
Ocher chuckled at the pun. Then suddenly he turned awkward. “Uh… what about that… thing we had…?”
“Well… you kind of misinterpreted where I was going with our friendship. But it was cute. Had to cut it short though, because Abi was going bonkers about it. There was nothing wrong with you though… sorry about that.”
”It’s okay…” He sighed, still embarrassed and changed the topic. “And what about the lives where you didn’t find me?”
“Sometimes you drifted away from Hector, so I just couldn’t track you down.” Hamsi shrugged and blew on her tea before taking a little sip.
“Makes sense.” He nodded. Then shook his head. “Sorry, everything’s still kinda blurry for me. Like, I vaguely remember the lives when I bumped into Hector, or well, fragments of those lives. But it’s all a jumble of disconnected pieces.”
“It’s because of the reincarnation cycle. We are outside of it, but I know it makes it hard to retain the continuity of memories. And don’t ask me why you and Hector are in it, I’ve no idea. Looks like you just kind of got pulled into it when you got here, however you did that. And it’s not like there’s a manual on how to handle being reborn in general, but even if there was, you and him are an exception. By the way, I think you were both sleepwalking in a way. You were sleepwalking as Wyatt, but you’re awake now. He’s still sleepwalking. And like Abi said… uh… it’s probably better to let him stay like that.”
Ocher nodded. “I… think so too now. I had a really dumb proud moment of trying to kill him, and I saw him for a second there… the sleeping beast I mean. It’s enormous. Then I had another stupid moment of trying to explain things to him… he wouldn’t have any of it.”
“Don’t wake him, it would probably end badly for everyone. Like… I’m not saying it’d be an apocalypse kind of thing… but…”
“But it might be, I know… It’s what the beast did in the past, out there, it’s what I’m supposed to be preventing, it’s basically why I exist.” He acknowledged the concern. He tried to change the topic and found an interesting question. “Do you know if I still have a form that is bigger too? I feel I have lost the sense of the scale of things.”
She hesitated. “Well, bigger yes, probably, but still insignificant compared. I have only ever seen you scattered all over the beast’s fur as you and Hector rippled through history together. At least I’ve always assumed it was you. Ever since then you’ve been human-shaped. But I cannot see the beast. The last time I saw it in another form was back then, thousands of years ago. It was quite a fascinating sight.”
“And you’ve been following me since?”
“On and off…”
“Wow… I… Thank you. I mean. If I always fumble through my lives like I do through this one, I don’t know where I’d be without you.”
Hamsi smiled modestly. “You’re welcome.”
“Say, how do people know where Hector is? I glimpsed the beast for just a second but before that, I had no idea. I mean, maybe on the guardian sixth sense level, but it seems I do kind of have a beast compass inbuilt…”
“Well, he’s always a man, always exceptional and always goes by Hector.” Hamsi snorted. “And as you must have noticed, he affects his surroundings in impactful ways too. He’s kind of hard to miss.”
“And why do some follow him and others stay away? Do they know what he is?”
“Probably not quite, but I know what makes everyone follow or flee. Hector’s power of belief is unique. All belief is important to us, non-humans, but his can be… well, lethal.” Hamsi winced. “If Hector sees one of us die and pays attention, we die forever, because he believes we are merely humans. Just a few years ago he killed an archangel who was working for the FBI.” Hamsi waved a hand noticing Wyatt’s bewilderment. “It’s a thing angels do. They love law enforcement, the Red Cross and other such services… And before that…” She bit her lip and waited until Wyatt swallowed his tea. “Hector destroyed the Christian god.”
“H-he did what…?”
“It happened in this lifetime, when he was nine-years-old. It had something to do with his mother being sick and dying a slow painful death from what I’ve gathered from his interviews to the press when he became a big shot. His family was Catholic, but he lost faith and denied God at that point. He denied him right out of existence.” Hamsi sighed. “You can imagine the madhouse that broke out among all the Christian angels and saints.” She fell silent, letting that sink in.
The guardian just gaped at her. Then he rubbed his temples and ran his fingers through his hair, staying with his face in his hands. “Holy shit…”
“That should explain why most of us avoid Hector. Very few things can kill us permanently, while he can do that without even realizing it, like he did to Yahweh.” Hamsi frowned. “If someone could get close and direct Hector’s power, they could use it to wipe out all undesirable gods and immortals. But it is a dangerous gamble, and in the centuries I’ve kept my vigil, I have not seen anyone try and succeed. Until this lifetime.”
Ocher’s eyes widened. “You mean… me?”
“I wish…” Hamsi looked at him with a sour smile. “You’re not a megalomaniac. Or at least you’ve never displayed that trait in the thousands of years I’ve watched you. No, I’m worried about Shaazgai, Hector’s lawyer. He’s a servant of Ahriman, and he is in the reincarnation cycle. He killed himself on Christmas. Hector was bound to have made note of that fact. And yet Shaazgai walks among us again, reborn in a new body. No one except for you has ever managed to pull this off before, at least not that I know of.” Hamsi looked very serious. “What is worse, before you became lucid, back in summer, Abhilasha and I had to step in and protect you, because someone was trying to kill you. She — I’m quite sure it was a she — was trying to set up fatal accidents and managed to escape our grasp, but she hasn’t acted since, so it looks like we managed to scare her off. I am not entirely sure, but that could have been a daeva of Ahriman, which would mean she is working with Shaazgai. So be very, very careful. Don’t get yourself killed. If you do, you’ll probably get reborn, but if Ahriman’s servants are narrowing down on Hector, then there’s no telling what they might want to use him for, but trust me when I say we don’t want to let it happen.”
Ocher looked at her continually wide-eyed. She did mention off-handedly at the beginning of this conversation that someone was out to get him, but only now it actually dawned on him what she was saying. Now that he thought of it, he recalled some odd incidents, like that falling billboard and that truck that almost drove into him and Hunter… He stared at Hamsi. “Wait… are you basically saying someone’s out to kill me because they know I’m the guardian, and they want me out of the way so they can manipulate Hector? Hector’s lawyer is out to get me?”
“Possibly.” Hamsi shrugged. “His master is a dark and cunning god, way too powerful even as is. Who knows what he is up to, making his servant linger next to Hector like that. It was a deadly gamble. They have to be up to something.”
“Shit…” Ocher appreciated the gravity of the situation. “But you said Shaazgai killed himself… do you think he’s going to try to approach Hector again in that new body? Do you think that I… that I should guard Hector from him? Because I mean, I will, yeah, I will!“ He suddenly sat up straighter, filled with responsibility. He nodded with determination, and gold shimmered under his skin. “I will guard Hector from anyone who wants to use him!” He hit the table with his fist, and spilled some of his yet untouched tea. “Oops, I’m so sorry…”
“No problem.” Hamsi fetched a kitchen cloth and wiped the spilled tea. “Just be careful. Particularly with that lawyer. He is as evil as his master.”
* * *
Ocher left them with a new perspective. His eyes were opened. And not just to the fact that there were enemies out to get him and out to manipulate the apparently unaware beast in ways that even Hamsi could not imagine. Surely the worst that could happen was the end of the world, and that wouldn’t even be the first planet to go. But they… they lived here now. The guardian didn’t want anything even remotely similar to happen. He wanted to guard the beast, like he was supposed to. And maybe… enjoy life too. Yeah, he actually wanted that a lot.
The conversation left him not only vigilant, but humbled too. Just a few days ago when he’d awoken, he had thought himself so superior, while clearly he knew absolutely nothing. But tonight he felt wiser. He was so lucky to have Hamsi, a self-appointed guardian’s guardian and a true friend. Wyatt had already known before that he would have been lost without her in this life… but now the guardian knew he’d have been lost many times before too.
After wishing Hamsi a Happy New Year, he left the sister’s apartment… no… not sisters’ — Hamsi and Abhilasha had just pretended to be those, out of convenience it seemed — and headed out to meet Hunter where he would spend the last hours of this year.
He wished he could be spending them with Hector, but hey, he’d really gone and blown that chance. But at least he wasn’t going to be all alone.
* * *
In the last minutes of 1984 Wyatt and Hunter were sitting in foldable chairs on the balcony of Hunter’s apartment. There was a crate of beer between them, and they had already managed to go through a bottle each. Their second bottles were taking longer. They were drinking them strategically, making sure they still had beer for when midnight struck. Hunter said they would know because there would be fireworks over the Polish district. Fireworks were outlawed in New Coalport, but that did not stop the Poles. Every year they found a way to shoot them at midnight and from his balcony, Hunter had a great view of that display of civil disobedience.
Two Bits was smiling in anticipation. Ocher was too. They exchanged cordial looks.
“It’s good to have you here,” Hunter said earnestly. “I’m glad you’re alive and well, despite this crazy year. We’ve had some close calls, eh?” Hunter’s expression grew wistful, and Wyatt knew he was thinking of Craig. “But we’ve still got each other.”
“We totally do. You know Hunter, I feel like the worst is behind us, and things are going to be looking up soon. Next year will be a good one.” Ocher said with conviction, trying to lift the mood. A lot of horrible things happened this year, but at long last, his mind was clear, and he finally knew what his existence was about. It was sad that at the moment the being it centered around thought he was cuckoo, but he had fully deserved that. And yet, maybe he could still somehow redeem himself in Hector’s eyes.
Hector said that he would have a shrink call him up. Maybe if Ocher went there, things would somehow get better between them. At least he hoped they wouldn’t get worse… He was somewhat worried that if Hector believed him insane, then he would become so in the end. According to Hamsi, killing gods was not Hector’s only skill. His power of belief was a double edged sword — while the things Hector disbelieved failed or ceased to exist, those he believed in… came true. People he put faith in were known to become near-invincible, to succeed and prosper. While the people Hector thought were mad… well, they would become just that.
But he was the guardian. He was created as the beast’s perfect counter. Just like the beast, he was out of this world. And he really hoped that Hector’s power of belief did not apply to him. And not only because he didn’t want to go crazy. What about his feelings for Hector? Did Hector impose them on him because he believed they were in love? No, that was bullshit, and Ocher refused to believe that. If it worked that way, then he would be Hector’s fan, like Hector had believed him to be.
That thought gave Ocher a pause. Because who else, if not the guardian created specifically for the beast, was its greatest fan? He crossed the oceans of space and time to find Hector… Shit. No, this was clearly just a coincidence. He had to be resistant to Hector’s power of belief. Otherwise he would be already convinced that he was just going around with pockets full of sand that he was randomly throwing at people. And he wouldn’t have even got reborn in the first place, not after Hector saw him die in the previous lives. Ocher felt relieved… and yet the thought kept making him uneasy.
“Um, are you okay there Ocher?” Hunter was looking at him with apparent worry.
He looked at Hunter thankfully, finally torn out of the unpleasant reverie. He nodded, then smiled a genuine smile. He would figure out the whole guardian and the beast business in this upcoming year. Meanwhile, another thing was becoming clearer and clearer. No matter what was going on, he still had friends. Friends that helped him through thick and thin. Friends he had never appreciated the way he should have… Hunter was one of them and a strong New Year’s resolution burnt in the guardian’s heart. From now on, he would be their guardian as well. And… he would also get to know them better. Hunter clearly needed some moral support these days, so even though he still didn’t feel comfortable with this topic, he was going to discuss that Mr. Clean guy with him as many times as it took to make Hunter feel better. But maybe not today… or tomorrow. He knew Hunter sufficiently well for tonight.
Or did he?
Suddenly, he looked at the thief a bit wide-eyed as another thought occurred to him. “Say Hunter… can you do magic?”
Hunter chuckled. “Haha, no. The only magic that I can do is making furniture in my apartment disappear… And wallets too,” he added somewhat more proudly.
Ocher laughed too and relaxed. Well, it was relieving to hear that at least someone in his life was perfectly normal. With the stroke of midnight they clang their beer bottles together, and he silently drank to that as the fireworks went off in the Polish district.