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Chapter 21: Rainmaker II

Tyer said nothing, staring up at them. His suit was as impeccably in place as ever, his hair immaculately combed. His grey eyes focused with unnerving solidity, not moving at all as he gazed up.

‘What do we do?’ TM heard Veggie whisper. He looked over; Veggie was glancing desperately across to him, a look of absolute uncertainty in his eyes, while Ziggy stood completely frozen.

TM backed up slowly, putting a hand on the door behind him. Inexplicably, but somehow unsurprisingly, it had shut itself and would not budge. The only way out was down the stairs before them, towards Al Tyer.

‘We have to go down,’ TM said quietly. Ziggy shook her head furiously.

‘We can’t,’ she said, turning to TM. Her eyes were wide, pupils dilated, breathing heavily. ‘We can’t go that way.’

‘What else can we -’ TM stopped as he glanced back down at Tyer. He had moved closer.

‘Hey,’ Veggie called to him, his voice shaking in a way that TM knew was not just from the cold. ‘You’re out late.’

‘As are you,’ Tyer said. His voice, as ever, was perfectly steady. ‘It is a clear night, with little cloud. Rain is not expected.’

‘We’re going to… go now,’ Veggie said, cautiously taking a step down towards him. ‘But thanks for the weather report.’

‘I can’t let you go,’ said Tyer.

‘What are you going to do?’ Veggie asked uncertainly.

‘We need her back,’ Tyer said, raising an arm to point, extended completely straight, at Ziggy.

TM felt his stomach freeze. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, fuck this. We’re going home.’ He descended the steps, grabbing Ziggy’s hand, but found himself stopped halfway down when she failed to move an inch.

‘Ziggy,’ TM said, looking back up at her. ‘We’re going home.’

‘I think that’s where he’s come to take me,’ Ziggy breathed, completely frozen. TM could not make her move, not so much as wobble, no matter how hard he tugged at her hand.

‘What - you mean -’ TM looked back down at Tyer, not letting Ziggy’s hand go.

‘As sad as I’m sure this is, she is correct,’ Tyer said, shifting his weight and drawing his hands back behind him, standing in a stiff formal pose. ‘A star has disappeared. There are consequences to that, and not ones that any of us particularly want to see come to pass.’

‘What sort of consequences?’ Veggie asked, narrowing his eyes at Tyer.

The weatherman spread his arms. ‘I’m not entirely sure. But, as they say: as above, so below.’

‘Nobody says that,’ Veggie said defiantly.

‘You are below,’ Tyer continued, examining his nails. ‘The stars are above. Then there is that which is above again. Perhaps there is yet more above that.’

‘What are you on about?’ Veggie said, stepping down beside TM, shielding Ziggy. ‘You’re just spouting meaningless bullshit, man.’

‘If only,’ Tyer said, taking a step towards them. TM and Veggie folded in, putting as much of themselves as they could between Tyer and Ziggy.

‘Leave us alone,’ TM said, almost pleading. Then he felt Ziggy’s hand on his shoulder.

She pushed TM and Veggie to the sides of the steps, slowly stepping down.

‘What are you -’ TM said quietly, desperately, helplessly watching her descend each step.

‘You’re…’ she said questioningly to Tyer.

He pointed straight upwards, and her head tilted skyward to look. ‘I’m gone,’ she said. ‘And you’re dimmed.’

‘I am,’ he agreed.

‘Altair,’ she said.

‘At your service,’ said Al Tyer. He gave her a small bow. ‘The eagle has missed you, little sister. Aquila is not the same without you.’

‘I know,’ Ziggy said quietly.

Tyer stepped the rest of the way across the street, his feet rapping in perfect rhythm against the slabs. He raised his arm, holding his hand out to her, and as TM watched, helpless, feeling like the world was spinning and falling away underneath him, Ziggy took it.

‘No,’ TM heard himself say, and before he knew what he was doing he found one hand gripping Tyer by the forearm, the other spread protectively between him and Ziggy. ‘No. You can’t have her.’

Ziggy and Tyer turned to look at TM as one.

‘She can’t stay,’ said Tyer. ‘A star is gone from the sky. And without her there, all the forces have become… misaligned. Orbits are changing. Stabilities, bodies held in safe patterns by gravity, have been unbalanced. Before long, all the stars in Aquila will become dispersed, spread across the sky. The balance between the heavenly bodies will shift, their masses failing to intertwine, and release them from their places, and as they cross other paths there will be more disturbances, more falling stars. Collisions. As above, so below, and the earth will soon find itself in an unstable position. An imbalance is not sustainable.’

‘Surely all that can’t really happen from one star going AWOL,’ Veggie protested.

‘It’s about more than that,’ Tyer said, ‘it’s the principle of the thing. You small people have difficulty understanding that the forces in place are there for a reason, and that there are powers higher than what you know which will be angered if they are changed without permission.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Well. They cannot be angered. That is… overly humanising.’ He looked Veggie dead in the eyes; TM saw his friend look away, apparently unable to meet Tyer’s gaze. ‘It would be inaccurate to say that they do anything, fundamentally, other than exist and react to things. They have no intentions. They just are.’

‘Oh, shut up,’ said TM, and punched him in the face.

Tyer fell back, clutching at his nose; TM grabbed Ziggy and heaved her up and over his shoulder, then dashed off down the street with Ziggy hoisted in his arms and Veggie hot on their heels.

‘Don’t let him take me,’ Ziggy pleaded, the words coming out broken as TM vainly did his best not to bump her about too much as he ran.

‘I’m not going to,’ TM told her, breathing fast, darting down narrow streets and sprinting around corners towards home. ‘I promise.’

TM slid to a halt as they made it to their street, set Ziggy down on her feet and fumbled about in his pocket for his keys. ‘Nice to have you back with us, anyway,’ he said, scrabbling about.

‘Sorry,’ Ziggy said. ‘He’s… bigger than me. Brighter. It’s gravity, like he said. If he pulls me, I can’t escape him.’

‘It’s okay,’ TM told her as sincerely as he possibly could, then finally noticed that he didn’t actually have keys. ‘Veg, keys?’

Veggie dragged them out from the depths of his back pocket and tossed them to TM. He held them up to his face, fiddling about, unable to match key to lock in the darkness.

‘I don’t want to go back,’ Ziggy said. ‘I want to stay, and be a person.’

‘We won’t let them take you,’ TM told her, finally slotting the key into the lock. He turned the key, and before he could go to push the door open, an enormous shape bounded out of the darkness at him, knocking him sideways.

‘TM!’ Ziggy yelled. TM felt himself pressed into the ground by two heavy paws on his shoulders, saw vaguely through the darkness and his fear the face of a golden dog snapping at him.

‘Keelut?’ Veggie exclaimed in confusion, barrelling into the dog and knocking it off TM. Ziggy grabbed them both by the hand, sprinting away from Keelut, down the street, turning a corner - and then stopped.

‘Should have known,’ said Veggie, skidding to a stop beside her.

‘Hey,’ said Riegel O’Ryan, leaning casually on a street corner signpost. Al Tyer emerged around the corner to stand beside her, rubbing his chin. ‘Did a bit of a number on Al here, didn’t ya?’

‘Let her go,’ TM said, as firmly as he could.

‘Sorry,’ said O’Ryan. ‘Can’t.’

‘You could,’ Veggie said. ‘Couldn’t you?’

‘We’re under orders, of sorts,’ O’Ryan said, half-disdainfully. ‘Can’t leave without her, I’m afraid.’ TM felt Ziggy shiver beside him, standing frozen again like a rabbit in O’Ryan’s burningly bright headlights.

‘You’re my hero, man,’ Veggie told her, sounding as if he might start sobbing.

‘Well,’ said O’Ryan, standing up straight and folding her arms. Keelut padded up beside her, baring her teeth at TM. ‘You know what they say: never meet your heroes.’

‘Hang on,’ TM said, something dawning on him. ‘You’re… like, a star too?’

O’Ryan pointed upwards. ‘I’m a little bit dimmer than usual, but I’m up there.’

TM looked at the sky for a few moments, then back down at her. ‘I know literally nothing about stars,’ he said.

‘You’ve been living with one, lad,’ O’Ryan said incredulously.

‘This,’ Tyer said, apparently by way of introduction, ‘is more than a star. This is Orion, the Hunter.’

O’Ryan stuck a thumb into her belt, waving with the other hand. ‘In the flesh,’ she said.

TM scoffed, unable to think of anything else to do as he struggled to process it all. ‘So, what, you’re the… lead star of Ziggy’s constellation -’ he pointed at Tyer ‘- and you’re actually an entire constellation on your own, and she’s come to Earth to live some sort of life and you two are pissed off about it so you’ve… come down too?’ He almost laughed. ‘Aren’t the cosmic forces up above pissed about you two being here?’

‘They tolerate it,’ said O’Ryan, shrugging with one hand buried firmly in Keelut’s long hair. ‘The brightest star in her neighbourhood has to come down to bring her back, and I’m the Hunter. So they let me come down when somebody has to be hunted.’

’She doesn’t want to come back,’ TM said, feeling his whole body tense. O’Ryan noticed it.

‘What, you’re going to fight us?’ she said, laughing. ‘We’re fuckin’ stars. I’m the brightest and most beautiful thing in the sky, and I’m about 20 light years bigger than you. So if I were you, I would probably back off.’

‘Well, I’m not going to,’ TM told her, almost to his own surprise. ‘She’s my friend. I’d punch the Sun for her.’

‘I’ll tell him that,’ O’Ryan said, strolling casually towards them. Veggie dived at her; Tyer stepped in, effortlessly lifting Veggie above his head and tossing him aside without disturbing a single crease of his suit. TM backed off, raising his fists, putting himself before the motionless Ziggy, and O’Ryan stopped as she reached him. ‘Last chance,’ she told him. ‘Step aside.’

‘No,’ TM said as loudly as he could manage, which turned out to be a whisper.

O’Ryan looked almost regretful. ‘This isn’t personal,’ she said. Then she grabbed his arm, lifted him into a fireman’s carry across her shoulders, and threw him up in the air. TM started to pray as he went over, his head firmly in her grasp, and then he slammed hard into the ground. He lay there, winded, unable to move, feeling spasms of pain through his neck and back. He could only watch, prone on the concrete, as O’Ryan stood before Ziggy and stared into her eyes.

‘Don’t,’ Ziggy said, so quietly TM wasn’t sure he had really heard it. ‘Please.’

‘Sorry,’ said O’Ryan.

She flipped Ziggy around, grabbed her by the wrists from behind, then let go with one hand and pulled hard with the other. Ziggy went spinning away from her, still held fast by one wrist.

‘What the fuck,’ TM heard Veggie exclaim from the floor a few metres away.

O’Ryan pulled Ziggy back towards her, and slammed her forearm into her face. Ziggy’s feet left the ground with the force of it, flipping fully around, then lay still. Rain began to fall.

‘Rainmaker?’ TM breathed.

Tyer strode over to Ziggy’s prone body and lifted her into his arms like a newborn, her arm and head slumping down as he took her up. The rain left tiny dark dots in his suit, but his hair remained impeccably in place. O’Ryan’s copper mane stuck to her face, plastered on by the raindrops, as she looked on, breathing heavily; Keelut looked about half her usual size with her fur slicked down. O’Ryan put her palm on Ziggy’s forehead, looked at Tyer and nodded.

Then they turned, and walked away into the darkness.

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