The Exalted, red robes so dark they were nearly black, sat in judgement high on the podium.
His father knelt, gray head bowed.
Temple Priest Harold Notcher and Senior Priest Justin Collier bracketed him.
Oh yes, I remember Notcher well. The Exalted's enforcer. Used mainly against any priests who dared to challenge the hierarchy. He used to watch Brekley, thinking—quite rightly—that his hook was too weak.
And Collier, next in line for a major god. He was with the group hunting me down.
And now they're after a scapegoat.
The rest of the courtroom was full, a sea of red robes, gods . . . eight of them stood against the wall opposite.
The rest must be right below us, along this wall. Arbol knows I did that often enough when the Exalted wanted all his Gods on display.
He eased back into the hall. "Trace and Trill here. When we start spraying from the first box on the far side, you soak everyone below, starting with the fat guy pretending he's a judge. And then spray below the box and along this wall."
"Trace, keep her safe. And kill anyone trying to kill Lord Menchuro."
Two solemn nods. The hall led further back, and as he hoped, turned to connect up to the hallway on the far side. Three boxes. Empty, empty . . . He lunged and ran a red robe through. Kicked another. Marius stabbed a third.
"Spray, fast. Now!" Warric grabbed his brother. "Stay with Cactus, get her out of here when that starts looking like a good idea."
"Where are you going?"
"To get Dad."
Warric galloped down the stairs on this side. He knew there were side doors inside the courtroom, but had never seen them from the other side. He dare not slow to search.
Am I insane? There were easily four or five hundred priests and initiates in there. The spray? We'll be lucky if we get half of them. I need a distraction . . . and the obvious one will be more dangerous than the priests.
Shields. Mental shields and the chemical protection spell are the most important. Gloves still on, collar up, hood up.
At the base of the stairs, a door on either side. Right would be outside. Left into the entry of the courtroom.
Warric pulled in power and triggered the God of the Sun Illusion. Arbol only knew what it looked like with the coat and hood. He turned left and stepped through the door.
Stunned the two nearest guards and rushed the others. Tossed a fireball, and suddenly the guards were running away.
He peeked through the double doors.
The red robes were all standing looking up at the box. A faint mist in the air. Further forward, Trill was using the full stream on her sprayer and those priests were turning and starting to search for the unexpected indoor rain.
Warric stepped in and stunned a semi circle around the entrance.
Pity it's so short range.
He pulled up the more complex spell, the antithesis of the Chain. "Control the Gods." He threw it hard to his right, hard to his left . . .
His brief moment of initiative ended.
A hundred priests saw suddenly uncontrolled gods. Their doorway to instant power. They rushed them.
Throwing hooks . . . to his left they'd been within reach of Cactus's spray. A drifting mist . . . The god's former priest was waving his hands in vain. No hook, no Chain. And now hands around his throat.
The other priests were trying as well. The leaders of the rush stalled as nothing happened, the initiates behind them crashed into them, shoved them. The God of Art grinned and pounced.
To the left, the God of Jokes screamed and started punching.
Warric swung his sword and cropped a couple of heads and the priests shrank back. His mental shield creaked under the continuous assault.
Warric spun left. Sword in hand and took the head of the closest priest. Stabbed the man to his right and headed down the center aisle. Men fell, clutching at bolts, or stunned. Screams behind him . . .
Warric spun, killed another priest and spotted the God of Demons. Red of skin, redder from the blood he was gleefully spilling. More struggles along both walls. Warric turned back and slashed his way forward.
Threw the Anti-Chain spell twice more. And stun.
Then he spotted his dad. A knife in each hand, back against the wall of the judges bench. Two priests dead at his feet, Notcher hovering out of weapon range, face distorted in rage.
Lord Menchuro's gaze was sweeping the room, but stalling out on the God of Storms.
The priests were all retreating as that god advanced. Lightning overhead, and now leaping from hand to hand.
Warric stepped out to face him. Storm stopped and eyed Warric.
Right, got my illusions on.
Warric slid his long sword across the floor to his dad, and drew his squirt gun. Met the eyes of the other god.
Raised his gun and soaked the red robe behind him.
Threw the anti-chain spell. "Control the Gods."
Lightning flashed up, hit the ceiling. The god spun, lightning crashed and priests fled, some with flaming robes. More lay still on the floor.
The storm god staggered hands to his head, staring around, for his next victim.
Warric stepped in front of his father. "Not him." A flick of movement in the corner of his eye, dark red. The Exalted was fleeing.
Warric pointed. "He, on the other hand, is all yours."
The god leaped in pursuit.
Warric looked the other way. Notcher was backing away, hands gesturing. Warric could feel the pressure on his shields.
He raised the squirtgun, but Notcher dived behind the God of Drunks, and through a door.
"Dad? We've got to get you out of here. Because, well, I'm leading a revolt."
Lord Menchuro managed a weak smile. "You . . . always were a firebrand."
Warric stifled a giggle as he scanned the room. Bit of ceiling, half flaming, were falling from above. The priests were running away—in various directions—or milling in confusion.
On the nearest balcony, Trill was hanging over the edge and looking for someone to spray. Trace was climbing over the railing, and Warric could see the shimmer of a shield across the back of the box.
Twenty feet down.
Trill tossed the sprayer over the side, a crossbow and something else . . . the bag with all the potions! And as Trace hung there, she climbed over and down him hanging off his foot . . .
Warric threw himself at the panicked crowd trying to get out a side door . . . or maybe capture the God of Drunks who was in his way.
Warric kicked the fat god. Shoved him forward as Trill dropped . . . She hit the staggering drunk's shoulders and flattened him.
Warric grabbed her and whipped her around him and toward his dad. Turned back in time to see Trace hit the god as he tried to rise.
The anti-chain spell . . . then Warric shoved over to the sprayer, the crossbow, the bag and back to the middle aisle.
:: Marius? ::
:: We saw. We're leaving . . . carefully. ::
:: I'll get Dad out the main gate . . . ::
A sudden intrusion from Kevi. :: There's a side door to an alley over here in the women's territory. We've got it under control. ::
:: We? ::
:: All the women. All the women. What they did to the priests here wasn't pretty. We'll keep control here. Mind you it would help if they'd stop having contractions . . . ::
Warric dodged flaming debris. :: If we can't get to the front gate, we'll join you. ::
Trace reached for the crossbow, and headed for the nearest side door. A hallway, a door to the outside was right there and Trace stepped out, jumped back, hand going to his chest . . .
Warric leaped forward, spray wand out and spraying . . . a priest wiped his face . . . more red robes pressed forward . . . and got sprayed.
Not very well.
Trill took the sprayer from him and started pumping up the pressure.
"Kill her!" A priest went down, a crossbow bolt in his throat.
Trace growled. "Was that that hook you talked about? It was like he'd reached through my stomach and grabbed my backbone."
"Yep. Nasty thing that."
Trace raised his bow and shot a fleeing priest in the back.
They were in a narrow space, between the wall of the courtroom and the outer wall of the Temple grounds. Full of red and yellow robes.
Trill raised the wand and started spraying. Warric threw stun spells . . . nothing happened. Too much drifting potion. Damn.
Warric stood on his toes, which put him easily a head above the fleeing crowd. No sign of Marius or Cactus. But while the priests were fleeing, there were guards heading their direction. "Trace, let the priests get away, when the guards get closer, stun them!"
He turned to Trill. "Have we still got the extra potions?"
Trill shrugged off her shoulder bag. Shoved it toward him. "Careful, who knows what's broken in there."
Something was sloshing about. Warric reached carefully, and pulled out the control potion. Tilted a broken shard to read the label. The add-a-power-gene potion. Everything else looked intact . . . he dipped his hands in the wine at the bottom. Ran them across his scalp. Best he could do, right now.
Then he uncorked the control spell bottle and topped off his water pistol.
The stampeding priests finally cleared the narrow space, leaving several stunned and probably trampled as well. With them out of the way, the guards advanced in a disciplined, experienced formation.
Traces' aim swung to the side door as it opened, but it was Marius sticking a cautious head out.
"Marius! We're going to need a shield across the gap there." Warric hustled up. "I've caught too much spray to work magic. So if the guards get within stun range, take them out."
Cactus shrugged off her sprayer. "We need to switch to the control spell."
Warric handed it over and walked up to the shield he could suddenly dimly sense.
"Wall to the right, burning building to the left. Guess we'll go straight ahead."
A chuckle from his dad. "Indeed." The old general eyed the wide open sweep of the courtyard.
Beyond the near guards, three gods were prancing about, kicking and stomping a large red mass. The Exalted hadn't gotten very far.
Further back, priests were gathering. Notcher's organizing them. Damn. Probably half of them still have magic, dammit.
His dad was eyeing the main gates, closed, with lots of guards in front of them. "I really ought to let the king and the parliament know there's a . . . hmm, a revolt among the priests. Several dangerous gods have gotten loose, and I believe that both the Exalted and the leader of the revolt have been killed."
"Notcher. Temple Priest Notcher is staging a coup, and used the major gods to kill the Exalted, but the gods have gotten loose. And other priests are resisting Notcher."
His dad grinned. "That will work, but . . ." He looked worriedly at Warric.
"This is just an illusion, now. I can turn it off and . . . and . . . then exile myself."
Trill grinned. "To Disco. I'll bet Q would love to have an astronomy team that reported to her, not to those . . . not to a single embassy."
Warric nodded. "Do you guys know her?"
"She's the head of their science and exploration division. We see her regularly. She's both nice and smart and we're among the people who are glad you saved her." Marius slapped his shoulder. "So, is it time for all of us to leave?"
"We haven't done anything to, or with, the little gods." Warric eyed the officer of the guards, who seemed to be lining up a massed crossbow barrage. He reached for power. Felt it flow sluggishly in. Concentrated. Small cross-section. Tiny cross-section.
Push! The officer dropped, a tiny spot of blood on his temple.
Some enterprising underling snapped the order and the bolts zipped across the pavement, bounced and shattered on the shield.
Warric stepped out . . . behind them the God of Storms turned away from the bloody mess on the pavement. The guards broke and ran for the main gates.
"Right. Let's head for the women's quarters, and the side door." Warric eased out of the space and looked both directions. "We can hold onto a way to get out of here, and decide what to do next."
He trotted . . . dropped to a more cautious walk . . . The guard's quarters were empty. He spotted men retreating across the lawns, red robes waving their arms and pointing.
Some at them and some at the little gods quarters.
His dad swept a look around. "Tell me what's what."
Warric pointed. "Kitchen to the right, priests homes, initiates quarters in the corner. Down the left side, the Little Gods quarters, the family quarters—the young little gods and their mothers—then the women's quarters from this corner and along this wall. Guards quarters, right behind us.
"The women's quarters have a side door through the wall."
General Menchuro nodded. "So they've cut us off from the kitchen, and they're trying to keep control—or bring into play—the little gods."
Marius grinned. "The kitchen is good—we came in that way and dumped magic potions on a lot of food."
"Umm . . . guys?" Trill backed up closer.
The major gods were following them.
Warric walked up to them. The God of Storms, the Joker, and the Drunk.
The God of Art, like a pale marble statue. Glutony, massively fat; the God of the Oceans, with flipper like hands and the dead eyes of a shark.
"Are you sane enough to be allies, not a random danger?"
An uneasy shift through the little cluster of gods.
"I have potions to remove the power of the priests. You've seen that. I have the secret of the Chain." Warric reached, and banished his illusion. "I know people who can reverse what has been done to you. I'm using an illusion of the monster they made me into."
The gods leaned toward him.
"This is the only chance you'll ever have to return to normal, or to as normal as you are capable of. The priests deserve everything we're about to do to them. But when we are done, it has to stop.
"We are not going to kill children. Not even the young priest candidates. I have a potion to remove the power genes. We will use them.
"We are not going to rape the women in the women's quarters, nor the mothers of the little gods." Warric eyed them all. "When we're done, we must try to be . . . normal."
The gods exchanged uneasy looks. Nods.
"My main concern is that the one phrase I have to unlock the Chain might not work on every Chain spell. So we need some of the senior priests alive."
Warric nodded. "But with no power. So they can't hook any of us, can't control any of us. I have potions to control the guards. So don't kill guards that aren't attacking us."
The God of Art stepped up, held out empty—bloodstained—hands. Moved them . . .
"Ah, you got hit with the power removing spell."
Trill edged up and handed him an unbroken bottle of the power genes potion.
Warric took a swig and held it out to the other god. "This will put them back. Our power genes, not the priests' vampire type."
Art took the bottle. Sipped, took a larger swallow. Drunk, Gluttony, and Oceans all crowded up and took a drink.
"Right. So let's see about freeing the little gods, too." Warric turned back to the others, looking on wide-eyed.
"Warric, how many gods are there?" Trace backed cautiously away.
"Eighteen, including me. We took out Fear. So with these six, well, we could have up to ten major gods still under the priest's control."
His dad nodded. "So we need to keep targeting the priests. But getting the little gods away from them is important too. The more magic we can take away from them, the better our odds."
Warric nodded. "Trill? Cactus? Can you take Dad through the women's quarters and out the side door? Dad . . . if you can convince the king and the parliament to hold all their soldiers outside the walls until, umm, those dangerous gods are under control?"
"Right. Because they'd probably back the priests." The old man stiffened. "Dammit boy . . . keep everyone alive."
They both looked at Trill and Cactus. Received firm negatives.
Warric eyed them. "Will you follow orders? We need to protect our line of retreat. I want you two to block all the ways in except that one." He pointed at the door closest to the back corner. "And the side door once dad's out. We don't want imperial troops attacking from the rear."
The girls scowled. Trill first, then Cactus nodded.
His dad hugged Trill, Marius, Trace, startled Cactus by hugging her.He looked back at Warric, glanced at all of the gods. "And if it all goes to hell, you run for it and take everyone with you that you can, and I'll work over the government and see about getting anyone captured out as well."