The would-be gods came and went, and Damkina gardened.
She had not known, when she was younger, how much damage fighting caused. The last time the gods had been here, she, too, had fought, to hold them off to banish them.
This time she did not fight. She stood by her apprentice’s side and, with the people of the city, she built a garden.
Her boss – her former boss, she supposed, but better to think “once and future” – directed salvage teams to things that ought to be saved. A CEO of a famous business was helping to rearrange housing so that all those refugees who asked for a place could be given it.
Today, as almost every day since they had first held off a would-be godling, a small crowd of people followed her, chanting as she had taught them. Today, as she did every day, she had taken an hour with the strongest voices to show them how to shape the trees and plants to their wishes and not her own.
“Tempero Huamu, Qorawiyay Huamu, Aistrigh Huamu, Quipia Huamu, as Dam-kina Wishes.”
They were stretching their boundary out one block, bending the little nature that existed in this grey city and forcing apart the sidewalks. Damkina raised her voice again – and faltered.
There were three people standing in front of them, and she remembered two of them.
There was a voice behind her, and she remembered it far too well.
Only one of those was possible.
She bowed to the Council lackeys, for she couldn’t imagine what else they would be, and gave Géraldine a thin smile. The voices behind her had faltered. Damnit. That voice behind her was important. “Is the Council here to help?”
“The Council,” answered the self-important one who she didn’t know, “wants to know why you’ve decided to set yourself up as a goddess instead of helping with the war.”
Damkina opened her mouth. Someone behind her spoke.
“If you think she’s not helping, you’re not paying attention. Do you see death and destruction and those alien invaders here?” Terri Padilla, a former aesthetician and one Damkina’s favorite apprentices, came up to her left.
“If you think she’s set herself up as a goddess, you’re just stupid.” That was Jon Marsh; he’d worked at the museum.
“If you think-” Damkina’s heart almost stopped “-that you can tell Dam-kina, Damgalnuna, the great mother of the earth, the Lady of the earth and the waters, She Who Plants, what to do, then clearly you are blind and deaf, ignorant and stupid, as they say.”
He stepped up next to her. She’d seen him in the crowd but not recognized him, how could she not have recognized him? The body had changed but that voice-
And on her other side her apprentice stepped forward, as if piqued. “This city is doing fine. Don’t you have something better to do?”
Géraldine met Daminka’s gaze, or tried to. “You know the Council can’t stand for this. You know they’ll be back.”
There was a voice next to her she hadn’t heard in a thousand years. There was a city in front of her she had claimed like she hadn’t claimed a garden in centuries.
“This is my garden,” she told Géraldine. She’d liked the woman, once. “You know full well how much I care about the Council and their games.”
“You can’t be a goddess!” squawked the third one, the one she didn’t know. Sunder had remained quiet. That suited him; he never spoke unless he needed to. “It’s against the rules!”
The voice that couldn’t be, the one to her left, laughed. “She was a goddess before the rules. Where have you been? Oh, that’s right, not born yet. And not listening to the voices in your head, tch. Go on. You’re not ready to challenge the Gardener’s Garden.”
“Come on,” Géraldine told her companions. “She’s doing what we wanted; she’d drawing a line against the invaders. If she has her own reasons for it, well, she is an Old One. I don’t presume to tell someone older than the Laws how to live.”
They left. They left, and at a word Damkina didn’t really hear herself saying, her acolytes dispersed and, less willingly, her apprentice walked off. Damkina slid to a seated position, a stump shifting to make a seat for her. “You. I watched them kill you. I watched them destroy you.”
“I don’t remember that part.” He sat, and a rock slid out of the ground to make a seat for him. “Which is probably a blessing. I remember them taking me away, and I remember you making the world shake. I remember the trees standing in their way. I remember them staking you to the ground.” His eyes were grey, marbled with quartz. His voice was lower than it had been.
“You were wearing a woman’s body. Before.” Her voice caught. “I thought you died.”
“I did die, I think. They piled dead things on you until you couldn’t move, they tied you down with so much hatred I thought they’d suffocated you. I see it in my dreams. In my nightmares.” He shook his head. “I think I died, because I know I was born. A hundred years ago, I think. I was born, but I thought it was – well, I remembered too much for it to be a first life, not enough for earlier lives to matter. Not until they came back, until they opened the ways up.” He looked away. “The portals open and I remembered.”
“You died.” She tasted the words on her tongue like a berry that might be poison. “You fell and they killed you.” She remembered watching, helpless. She’d walked away from everyone, after that. She’d been walking away until she decided to make a stand here. “You died.”
“And I came back.” He stretched out his fingers and looked at them. “I came back.” He looked around and the ground rumbled, a stone path snaking through her garden. “And I came back to you. To you garden, where I belong.”
“To my garden.” She put her hand atop his. So long ago that written history did not record it, she had lost her only true lover. And here he was, in a new body, in a new life. In her garden. “Come. Let me introduce you.”