A brief flash of light cast the room's shadows into high relief as a dark blue circle grew from nothing on the floor. In the space of a heartbeat, it flashed upwards into a pillar, and then dissolved into tiny motes that settled back to the ground.
Left standing at the centre of the spell was a woman, with long grey hair and feline ears. Her tail was drooping, and she stifled a yawn, but she still held herself with remarkable discipline as the chair across the room swivelled round.
Gil looked up from the book he had been reading, setting aside a glass of wine and closing the screen with an idle gesture. "Aria," he greeted her pleasantly. "It's been almost a week. Lotte was getting worried."
"She had less reason to worry than I did. Silly girl, breaking her arm like that," Aria scolded. "Anyway, I had to hang around for a while after some complications showed up."
An eyebrow rose, and Gil gestured for her to elaborate.
"That dimensional quake didn't do her any good – I was actually afraid for a moment that she was going to go into seizures. I was about to step in when she settled down, though. And it looks like the stress jarred loose our objective."
Gil breathed in sharply, raking long fingers through his hair. "Then it's begun? It's activated?"
"Yes sir," Aria confirmed. "All four familiars have taken form – three females, one male wolf-familiar. The Blade, the Breaker, the Healer and the Hound. I have full photographic dossiers on all of them and their appearances this iteration, and I've made the necessary arrangements as far as their paperwork is concerned. They're Hayate's cousins from out of the country, who've moved back in to look after her. Hayate herself is back in… well, not good health, but as well as might be expected with that damn Book leeching off her."
Her master leaned forward, head in hands.
The familiar reached into her pack, producing a box of papers. "I also have copies of all her medical reports since the last update. Her condition is as predicted – the slight downturn recently might suggest that it was likely to happen soon anyway."
Grief flickered across Gil's face as he glanced across at the smiling picture of a young brown-haired girl on his desk. "So…" he breathed. "No going back from now on. The plan is in motion. I'm sorry, Hayate. I hope you can forgive me for this."
Aria crossed the room to lay a hand on his shoulder supportively. "She would, master," she promised. "I'm sure she would. We're doing the right thing. And she was doomed as soon as that thing chose her as a host."
He nodded heavily. "I know. I just wish it didn't require… this." He sighed. "Go and greet your sister, she's been staying up late each night waiting for you to come back." He watched as Aria nodded and paced out of the room. The girls were more devoted to the cause than he was, in some ways. They didn't have the burden of old age and weariness on their shoulders.
Sometimes their trust, their damnable certainty and faith in him weighed heavily.
He turned back to the picture of Hayate and picked up his glass of wine again, swirling the deep red liquid around in its container.
"So," he murmured to himself, "the Jewel Seed Incident is over." He raised the glass in a mocking toast, feeling older than he had in years.
"Even as the Book of Darkness case begins. May God help us all."
Author's Note: The sequel to Game Theory, Power Games, will be coming soon. Subscribe to my author alert to be notified when it does. Otherwise, thank you for reading. Game Theory was my first major fictional project, and I have learned a lot in the course of writing it. I hope you enjoyed it, and that I will continue to improve as I write its sequels.