At about 10 o’clock in the morning after the meal at the restaurant, which had been a really pleasant and relaxed affair, Kenny was slightly surprised to feel a vibration in his pocket, originating from the notepad. He pulled it out and was even more surprised to see a message from Frey.
‘Meet in one hour, my office,’ it read.
“Who’s contacted you?” Svetlana asked, curious.
“Your uncle... I’m not entirely sure why.”
‘I’ll be there,’ Kenny replied to Frey. He frowned as he put away the notepad.
“Yeah, I can’t think why he’d need to see me. My next report’s not due for a little while yet.”
“Maybe he just wants a chat, to catch up?” Svetlana suggested.
“No..., he said to meet him at his office.”
“Oh. I don’t know then.”
One hour later, Kenny was standing outside Frey’s office. The clock in the foyer of the Council Halls struck 11 and Frey arrived.
“Good morning, Kenner,” he said, his tone serious as he unlocked the door.
“Good morning, Frey,” Kenny replied, concerned by the lack of warmth in his mission-giver’s tone.
Frey walked in, let Kenny come in before closing the door and walked up to his desk at the back of the room. He sat on the side furthest away from the door and gestured for Kenny to sit opposite.
Kenny took his seat, wondering why he could have been summoned here.
Worryingly, Frey’s expression was grave.
And then, the horrible lightning bolt, straight out of the blue:
“We registered a Chaos level of 6.6 outside your apartment yesterday. One which you didn’t report, Kenner. Were you absent?”
Kenny’s heart sank.
“Oh no... I should’ve checked; I knew what Joel did was risky.” He looked at the table. “Sorry, Frey. He kicked me.”
“6.6, Kenner,” Frey said softly.
“But surely that wasn’t my fault?” Kenner asked. “I couldn’t have stopped him kicking me.”
“But maybe you could have,” Frey said, leaning back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling. “You must have said or done something provocative.”
“I...” Kenny faltered. “Yes, I did,” he confessed quietly.
“I should withdraw you this second,” Frey said, still addressing the ceiling.
“Frey, please,” Kenny implored. “He was being such a stubborn fool. He just refuses to see reason. He was going to reverse Jennifer’s mind wipe - in fact, he’s probably already done so - and so I trapped him, but then he said he refused to not reverse it unless I dropped the mission; I couldn’t do that, so I let him go, but I made one little comment about his girlfriend and he kicked me.... I teleported to avoid further conflict. I didn’t even retaliate.”
“Kenner, I do not make the rules,” Frey said softly.
“We have a plan,” he said desperately. “Svetlana and I. We’re going to make Joel stand Susanna up - for their one-month anniversary, for a weekend trip to Paris. I just want to see this mission through to its end. Please, Frey; please make an exception for me.”
Frey stood up and walked over to the one window in his room.
“You have an excellent track record, it is true,” he said, seeming to address the glass. “And 6.6 is only just above 6.5. But rules are rules...”
“Just one more chance,” Kenny said quietly.
Frey walked slowly back to his desk. He opened a drawer on his side and looked down into it, his expression distraught.
He slowly pulled out a form and placed it on the table.
“Sign on the dotted line - down here,” he said quietly, pointing to the bottom of the page.
Kenny looked at the top of the page and swallowed.
‘Certificate Confirming Wingburn.
This is to certify that......................................... has suffered Wingburn for a punishable offence. Should s/he commit another punishable offence, s/he will be removed from the mission s/he has undertaken to do.
Burner: .......................... Burnee:...............................’
Kenny knew that Frey wouldn’t have brought out this document unless it was the only way. Trying to be brave, he signed on the dotted line. Signed for his own agony.
Without another word, once done, Kenny stood up, turned to face the door of the office and let his wings uncurl.
“I am so sorry, Kenny,” Frey murmured. “I hope I never have cause to do this again.”
Kenny closed his eyes.
Kenny walked into the apartment feeling stiff and achy. Svetlana stood up from the sofa, alarmed. There was a guest - Kenny could sense their presence without looking at them directly - but he ignored them, walking straight to the bedroom where he lay on his bed, releasing the wings he had to hide from human view and which were throbbing at the root of every feather.
“Kenny?” asked a concerned female voice.
“Lana, come in and shut the door,” Kenny called.
“What did he do to you, Kenner?” she asked anxiously.
“Burnt my wings,” replied Kenny flatly.
“Oh gosh! Then we have to put something on them...”
“I did. Salve of thyme. They still hurt though.”
“Well, of course they do... Kenner, this is terrible: why did Uncle Frey burn your wings?”
“Because Joel kicked me yesterday and it caused a Chaos level of 6.6.”
“Lana, what’s Jennifer doing here?” Kenny asked, closing his eyes, wincing.
“She wanted to talk to you... Apparently Joel told her your address.”
“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” Kenny said bitterly. “Lana, I can’t talk to her. It’s too risky. I don’t want to be taken off this mission.”
“She wants to help us.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Kenny said crossly. “There is no way I am letting her betray her own sister’s trust.”
“Kenner, she could be really useful...”
“SHE’S NOT A GUARDIAN, DAMMIT,” he shouted, suddenly fed up of not being listened to. “Now you go and talk to her, Svetlana Rook, and tell her to go away and leave me alone!”
A few seconds later, the door of the apartment slammed.
“Well, I don’t think I need to do anything,” Svetlana said icily.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say to me, just go away,” Kenny said angrily. “I never asked for your help on this mission: you just chose to interfere. I bet you love it, don’t you? Tricking the humans into believing you’re on their side and then causing them pain and anguish: you’re a sadistic...”
The bedroom door slammed shut as Svetlana left.
Kenny felt slapped awake. What had he just said? He had sounded just like Joel... Poor Svetlana... Poor Jennifer.
Kenny buried his face in his pillow, wanting to go and lie in a hole. Why was being a Guardian of Order so hard? Why was their job always opposed, always the subject of criticism? They were trying to restore balance to the world. Would people really rather Chaos came than Guardians deliberately caused pain?
He thought of the first conversation he had ever had with Jennifer.
“You don’t like the idea that maybe bad things happen for a reason?”
“Not really... It would almost spoil the good things that had arisen from them.”
Was that how everyone thought? Kenny wondered bleakly. Was there just something basically wrong with a Guardian of Order that stopped him thinking of how his role ruined things rather than improved them?
Kenny couldn’t stop himself thinking and for a moment he spiralled into depression. Fortunately, sleep arrived to save the day, taking him away from the thoughts that were hurting his heart almost as much as Frey’s flames had hurt his wings. He slept deeply and dreamlessly, awaking to feel like the slate had been cleaned and he could try again. Try again to find what the right thing to do in this world was. Try again to create balance, to stave off Chaos. Try again with Svetlana, whose fault it wasn’t that had shouted at her. But ... to leave it there with Jennifer, who would be much better off without him.
Kenny sat up, his wings feeling light and painless.
Time to try again to complete this challenging mission.