My mother's name is Anja. This is the story of how she saved us.
An army devoted to Maw Lute was conquering villages and towns. The people they killed were lucky. A worse fate was being captured and kept in a cage as dragon food. This was early in days of the Age of Intrigue.
We had heard news of the army coming closer every day. Today it would raid our village.
The village was very empty. Most people had fled. They had left days ago to go live someplace far away. But some families had stayed to fight. My family had stayed.
Last night my father prayed to Gnash. Gnash was a new Power that liked fighting. Sometimes the warriors of Maw Lute and Gnash would fight each other. So my father had prayed to Gnash. "Please help us!" he had shouted. "You teach people to never give up. I want to fight. I want to protect my family. I want to protect my home. But without help I will quickly die. Please help us!"
Gnash had answered the prayer. The village got twenty bottles of magic drink. People who drank a bottle could make a magic promise. Then they would not give up. Even after dying their body would keep going, trying to follow the promise to not give up.
Now sixteen men each held a bottle. They were the brave men willing to die. My father was one of them. They all drank. They shouted their promises. "Keep fighting!" "To war!" "Defeat all who oppose us!" "Kill them all!"
They ran down the road, over a hill, and out of sight. We heard the sounds of fighting.
My mother stood with me in the middle of town. Next to us was a small table with four bottles on it. We listened to the fighting for a long time. We cried, because we knew those sixteen men were dead. But their bodies would still keep fighting to win the battle.
After a very long time the sounds got quiet. Then we saw my father running back to our village. He held a sword in one hand, and a torch in the other. Not much was left of his body. He was mostly bones. When he got close to the house closest to him he threw the torch onto the roof. He ran at us with the sword.
Six other shapes ran over the hill towards our village. They were mostly bones.
The sixteen men had saved us from the army. But they would keep fighting. They had promised to keep fighting. We were their new targets.
My mother drank a potion and said, "I will protect the village."
My mother looked at me, drank a second potion, and said, "I will save the people here."
My mother looked at the village, drank a third potion and said, "I will save our homes."
My mother looked at my father, wiped a tear from her eye, and said, "And I will look fabulous doing it."
My father jumped on her. He stabbed her, but she took the sword from his hand and cut off his head and arms and legs. His parts stopped moving.
My mother saved us. She took the sword and ran out of the village. She leapt and dodged. She stabbed and swung. She was almost dancing. She defeated the other fifteen things that once were our brave men.
Then she walked back to the village. She had lost most of an arm, and a lot of a leg. But her face was unhurt and beautiful.
I felt cold. Gnash was there, standing near me.
Gnash spoke to my mother. "Anja, you were magnificent."
I realized both my parents were dead. I began to cry.
Anja bowed to Gnash. "What next?" she asked. "Why do I still stand?"
Gnash told her, "Today I learned a great lesson. It can be hard to be brave and not give up. But those are not enough. Just because something is hard does not make it beautiful. Just because someone keeps a promise does not make them honorable. Just because someone is willing to die for what they believe does not make them magnificent. You taught me how ruthlessness can be noble. It can inspire. I am inspired."
Gnash stood still. He looked at my mother. She looked at him.
Gnash said, "What do you want? Any reward I can give you, I will."
Gnash stood still. He looked at my mother. She looked at him.
Gnash asked Anja, "Do you want your health and life back?"
Anja looked at me. She put her hands on my shoulders. She said to me, "I just killed my husband and friends. I am sorry. I cannot live after that. I love you. We will miss each other. Let my sister be your new mother."
Anja walked toward Gnash. She said, "I could have fled this village with my son. Before I die, I want to know if my choice to stay was the right one. For me. For my son. I don't care if you are inspired. I am sorry. I can't care about you. Not now."
Gnash sighed. "I am sorry, Anja. I do not know."
Gnash paused. He looked at my father's body lying on the ground near us. Gnash said, "I had loved seeing fanatics fight. Their ruthlessness thrilled me. But now that seems empty. What you have taught me will save many lives."
Gnash paused. He looked at me. Gnash said, "I had loved seeing pain patched with vows and feuds. That ruthlessness thrilled me. But now that seems empty. What you have taught me will save many lives."
Gnash paused. He looked at Anja. Gnash said, "But I do not know what future you and your son would have had in a place far away."
Then we all heard the Creator's voice echo around us. "Anja, I know."
Something happened to my mother. She began to glow. She closed her eyes. She relaxed. She smiled.
The Creator's voice echoed around us again. "Anja, I need a ninth Power. Someone brave enough to save people. Someone to understand how stuck people make problems and mistakes. Someone who can help people who are violent yet repentant. Somone strong enough to help people with bloody hands live in peace."
I felt like the Creator was focused on me as the voice said, "Anja, I will give you wisdom and power. But even more important is this promise. You will learn to love those under your care. You will watch and guide them because of your affection and mercy and empathy—not merely because it is a task I have assigned to you. And they will know it, and love you too."
Anja walked up to Gnash, and kissed his cheek. I do not think Gnash was ever kissed before, or has been since. "You have a lot to learn," she told him. "But you are learning. You have a nice future."
Then Anja—my mother—looked up into the sky and smiled again. "I accept," she said.
I watched the Creator change my mother. She was healed. She was herself, all beautiful. But she was also a bright blue glow. And also was also a soft, silver cloud. She was three things at once. It was hard to look at. My eyes watered.
My aunt was watching too. She curtsied to my mother, and took off her cloak and offered it. My mother took it, and put it on so only her face was showing. That was a bit easier to look at.
My mother smiled at me and said, "Farewell, my little one, my son, my love. Do not be angry about today. Maw Lute will face consequences. Gnash is short-sighted but he will learn wisdom. Even a Power can be stuck and make problems and mistakes."
She closed her eyes and thought. Then she opened her eyes. The look on her face was scary. She said, "In fact, I know how to get Maw Lute unstuck. But it might hurt her. A lot."
Then she was gone. I never saw her again. I miss her every day. I miss her as she was that day: so brave and loving, my mother.
Her new name was Remover. She helped people remove problems and misakes.
She removes people from a place they are stuck. She removes items people fight over. She removes lies that make arguments. She removes bad habits and bad guilt.
Actually, she asks other people to do the removing. To risk their lives. To steal items. To make people angry by correcting them. To kidnap people and take them to new places and situations.
Now she scares me. The people who love her scare me. She is no longer my mother. She removed my mother and became something else.
I hope that makes her sad. I know the thought is wrong, but I miss my mother, and Remover scares me.
Many years later I was grown up, and Remover knocked at my door.
"Go away," I said, as I always did.
"I have been blind," she said. "I can see the roots of problems, to remove them. But I was not seeing when I was the root of problems."
"I know that," I said through the door. "I do not hate you. I feel disgust, not hate. I am scared: not of what you might do to me, but what else you might do to yourself."
"I must remove myself. May I see you one last time?"
I opened the door. Remover looked terrible. I said, "You were a great mom. Why are you a terrible Power? Did you choose to become what you are? Or did the Creator make you like that?"
Remover was quiet for a bit. "I was in such pain. I still feel the pain. No one in so much pain should be asked what they want to become. They will want to become someone that does not feel pain. They will want to become someone that is strong and gets revenge. I am what I chose. But the choice should not have been offered."
She looked at me.
She asked, "Do you want to watch?"
"I watched the first time."
She closed her eyes. There was a flash of light. She was still there, but almost transparent.
"Whatever," I said. "You do you." I went inside and closed the door.
Over the next few years I listened for news. She now calls herself Ephemeral. She went away for a long time (some rumors say with Little Humble) and came back. She no longer tries to remove problems. Now she cares about virtue and vice. She is the Power in charge of changing, of stopping bad habits, and of second chances.
She helps people hide, and helps them come out of hiding. She lets people feel what it is like to be someone else for a short time. She lets people see new answers to old problems.
I think she is still in pain. I think she is still one of those confused advisors who try to fix people's issues while blind, not seeing they could do so much more if they first fixed those same issues in their own lives.
I wonder what I am blind to. My parents did not see the problems they were causing. It must be a family curse. What am I not seeing that I do wrong?
I am not yet ready to give a second chance to the Power in charge of second chances. I miss my mother, and Ephemeral scares me.